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Such the father, and such the son Laertes, in whom we find a repetition of the qualities which Polonius possessed, a courtier bold in action, able to head a revolt in revenge for his father's death, but, not able to face the countenance of the King, or the majesty of the robes, ready, at the King's bidding-at his mere asking and hinting-to poison his sword with an unction so powerful as to cause certain death. In laying thus open the many plaguespots of disease, we but analyze the play as it has come to us direct from Shakspeare, we do not attempt to garnish the flower-beds of his thoughts with "compost." character of the avenging Laertes stands out in strong contradiction to that of Hamlet; it is the manliness of the world opposed to the manliness of the soul. Another instrument in the hands of the King, another tool, however, sharp
enough to wound itself-ensnared by that basilisk gaze and tempted to his fate, Laertes dies, as did the father of Hamlet,
"Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhonsel'd, disappointed, unanel'd, No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head."
He dies justly killed by his own treachery with murder, a would-be revenge on his conscience, and by the wiles of the King we have here the moral death following the physical. We are given some idea, violence through the of their various deaths, of the proper readings of the characters of Polonius and his children. Examine them how we will, treachery seems to be a predominating feature which leads them on even against their own better inclinations. The dance of death is moving rapidly forwards; three of the principal characters have died, the news of the execution of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who endeavoured to thrust themselves between the King and Hamlet, is thus excused by the great poet himself:
Why, man, they did make love to this employment;
They are not near my conscience; their defeat
Does by their own insinuation grow: 'Tis dangerous, when the baser nature
Between the pass and fell incense-l points
Of mighty opposites."
We have one more character to examine, the most difficult, becaus the most repugnant of all-Claudius the King, who, next to Hamlet seems to have been worked ou with especial care. Here, Here, agai conscience is made to speak wit loud tongue, to maintain its wate
even over this "smiling, damned villain." From the first to the last, we are prepared to find in Claudius the murderer, coward, and yet the ambitious man, ready to sacrifice all to attain the ends he wishes. The murder which he has committed he
passes over with a smile, and yet
we can but feel that within is raging the bitterness of the knowledge of being a fratricide. The cups he is ever quaffing, and his hope to lead Hamlet, by the aid of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to adopt a life of licentiousness, have in them a deeper motive than would at first strike the eye; conscience must be appeased. He knows full well the measure of his crime, and perhaps the finest description of the full effect of prayer upon the mind of one who knows his own guilt is to be found issuing from his lips:
Pray can I not, Though inclination be as sharp as will; My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double purpose bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect.
May one be pardon'd, and retain the offence?
In the corrupted currents of this world, Offence's gilded hand may shove by justice
And oft 'tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law: but 'tis not so above.
There is no shuffling, there the action
In his true nature; and we ourselves compell'd,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence."
And after that his stubborn knees have bowed in a prayer, which he feels to be false, in an excitement
produced by the feverishness of the moment:-
"My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.
Words without thoughts never to heaven go."
The only moment when he appears to any advantage is when facing Laertes, knowing that
"There's such divinity doth hedge a king,
That treason can but peep to what it would,
Acts little of his will."
In Act iv. Scene 7, he excuses himself to Laertes by a cunning piece of casuistry; he has not found it possible to punish Hamlet's conduct towards himself, as his love for Hamlet's mother is so great that he cannot act against her will; another reason which he also gives
"Why to a public count I might not go,
Is the great love the general gender bear him."
He fears the people, he knows that suspicions are rife, vague rumours fill the air,
"So that my arrows, Too slightly timber'd for so loud a wind,
Would have reverted to my bow again,
But a terror fills him on the re
ceipt of Hamlet's letter, and he prepares to accept the challenge thrown down to him, Laertes must slay Hamlet, yet the death must appear accidental, so that
"Even his mother shall uncharge the practice,
And call it accident."
The duel between Laertes and Hamlet is the physical sequence
of the mental combat that has been taking place all through the play between Claudius and Hamlet. Drawing this as our conclusion, we cannot but be struck by the beauty of the whole conception, by the clearness of thought and deep insight into character evinced all through this work. Claudius does not fear that Hamlet will attack him secretly, as in the advice given to Laertes he thus describes their common opponent:—
"He, being remiss,
Most generous, and free from all contriving,
Will not peruse the foils; so that, with ease,
Or with a little shuffling, you may choose
A sword unbated, and, in a pass of practice,
Requite him for your father."
Laertes then catches at the idea; and his mind reverts at once to the poison, as, should he fail, his own treachery will be evident to all, his chivalry will be ridiculed. Hamlet must die; the accomplices swear it with bated hissing breath. The manly apology made by Hamlet to Laertes is received with a chill composure
"I do receive your offer'd love like love,
And will not wrong it ;"
and, saying this, changes his foil. The circle is now complete, the struggle soon ends, and death, with a wide sweep, mows down all before it-the Queen, Laertes. With a shriek of horror at the treachery practised upon him
"The point envenom'd too!" Hamlet digs the sword with repeated thrusts into the body of the King, and himself falls dead beside his mother's corpse; close to the body of the King, the object of all his hatred. With a strength of
will almost incomprehensible at first, Hamlet spared Claudius when kneeling, waiting for some more fit opportunity when he is
"About some act
That has no relish of salvation in it, Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven;
And that his soul may be damn'd, and black
As hell, whereto it goes."
And thus, with murder on his soul, Claudius dies.
The tendency of the play is the strong effect of a conscientious mind governing a naturally impassioned body. The many attempts at proving Hamlet to have been insane, or even monomaniac, cannot bear against judicial examination. Every attack in this duel is made with a possible recovery. The brains of the adversaries are at full play, thrust succeeds thrust, met by a strong guard; the avenger, powerful in his purpose, has yet a terrible opponent, powerful in his guilt. Several instances occur when Hamlet feels urged on to suicide, but conscience warns him against breaking the canons of the Eternal Power; he is intended as an instrument in the hands of an avenging Deity, before whom he must bow. The death which he might inflict upon himself may be but a sleep, a dream-he kuows not what it is-and
There is a prohibition so divine That cravens my weak hand."
Thus all through this play we are surrounded and environed by death in all its terrors, in all its forms, and yet with the peace that accompanies it. Violence has raged terribly, havoc and slaughter have been at work, the actors die, but ere their eyes are closed in death, life comes on in the person of Fortinbras, surrounded by a brilliant troupe; death has had its victory, life comes once again to assert its power.
The play that has come down to us has puzzled many through its emendations. That this particular tragedy was a favourite with the great master, none can doubt who reads it with attentive care.
may be allowed to quote a few passages from the play as it is supposed to have first appeared on the stage, leaving to our readers the task of drawing their own conclusions whether the mind of Shakspeare can be supposed to have guided the pen :
"To be, or not to be. I, there's the
To die, to sleepe-is that all? I, all.
then it goes.
For in that dreame of deathe, when
And, borne before an everlasting
From whence no traveller returned,
The happy smile, and the accurs'd damn'd.
But for this, the joyfull hope of this,
Scorn'd by the right rich, the rich
To grunt and sweate under this weary
When he may his full Quietus make With a bare bodkin, who could this indure
But for a hope of something after death ?
Which pusles the braine and doth confound the sence,
Which make us rather beare those euilles we have
Than flie to others that we know not of.
I that, this conscience makes cowardes
of us all.
Lady, in thy orizons be all my sinnes remembred."
In the above lines we have the ideas clothed in loose, disjointed sentences, such as might have been pealed forth from the chest of some lusty actor repeating words unconscious of their force. Shakspeare then saw the beauty hidden under its rough garb, and polished the diamond for our use. Many wouldbe detractors have quoted parts of this edition in proof of their arguments that our great poet sought from many sources his inspirations. Such arguments cannot, however, be listened to otherwise than with feelings of contempt, being about as potent as would be a comparison of the Hamlet of Shakspeare with the Amlethus of Saxo Grammaticus, who makes his hero act a part befitting a clown in a pantomime.
The edition of 1603 is the first known to us, and bears the following on its title-page: "The Tragical Historie of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke. By William Shakespeare. As it hath beene diuerse times acted by his Highnesse servants in the Cittie of London: as also in the two Vniversities of Cambridge and Oxford, and else-where. At London printed for N. L. and John Trundell, 1603." Only two copies of this edition are in existe ence. The text of the play, as it is now read, has the following title:
"The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke. By William Shakespeare. Newly imprinted and to almost againe as it was, according to the true and perfect coppie. At London, printed by J. R. for N. L., and are to be sold at his shop under Saint Dunston's Church in Fleetstreet, 1604." "The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke," is to be found in the folio edition of the collected dramas of Shakspeare, published in the year 1623.
Collier, an undoubted authority and valued opinion, considers the edition of 1603 in the light of an attempt by the troupe to introduce the play to the public, and that the poet worked out his ideas in a more full and detailed manner at a later period. Knight treats it as fraudulent attempt by the publishers to palm off an inferior work as a genuine success from the writer's pen. Staunton regards this edition, with all its erasures and emendations, to be the work of Shakspeare, written, however, at an early period of his dramatic career. If we, however, examine closely the passage quoted above with what has come down to us, we feel inclined rather to agree with Knight, refusing to admit the justice of the publication by N. L. of what may be looked upon as a sketch of the great drama- a sketch hastily finished, without the beauties of light and shade in which the poet revelled.
Another silent witness may, however, be brought forward as evidence -namely, the registers of the ancient guild of book publishers, in which the following entry, attached after the name of James Roberts, attracts attention, "James Roberts: A booke, the Revenge of Hamlett Prince of Denmarke, as yt was latelie acted by the Lord Chamberlayn his servantes." This entry bears as date July 26, 1602, proving that this play was acted previous to
the date imprinted on the first edition. We may assume, therefore, with all safety, that we have in the first edition the drama now printed, but which had, perhaps, been well known to an interested public, in which we find to be sketched out details to be filled in at a later time, and that N. L. (Nicolas Ling) and John Truudell hastened into the market, adding the name of Shakspeare, already favourably known, to the title-page.
Lodge, the poet, in the year 1596, causes a devil to look "as pale as the vizard of the ghost who cried
miserably at the theatre : Hamlet, revenge." This may be cited as proof that such a character was well known on the stage; but we are totally unable to maintain, from evidence adduced, whether the author of the play was Shakspeare, or whether the poet worked out and filled up some perhaps poor manuscript, from which he himself recited, together with Babbage, words which caught his fancy, and which he enriched from the fulness of his genius. What may be the case we leave to be decided by those who are willing to wade through many authorities, and conclude with a short account of the general source from which the character was taken.
The story of Hamlet is to be found in the French work by Belleforest and Boisteau: Cent "Histoires tragiques, Paris, 1564," which was translated into English and published in the year 1596, though previous to this date many parts had been laid before the public as the "Historie of Hamblet." The French editors had, however, only compiled their account from that' of the Dane Saxo Grammaticus, who, in a certain measure, had prepared the plot, as may be seen from the headings of the chapters, which we append :
CHAPTER I. How Horvendile