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who acts and the Hamlet who thinks and speaks. Shakspere has walked on the northern wild, and the flowers of the south have sprung up in his footsteps. A shadowy outline of the subtlety with which oppressed innocence defended itself in primitive days is filled in with all the resources of a supreme intellect. If this were done designedly, it would be consummate art. For the simplicity of Hamlet, in his grief, in his love, in his friendship, in his artifice, in his revenge, is brought home with hundred-fold, but ever undetected power to that inmost and deepest tenderness of every human soul, the remembrance and the remains of its childhood. In order to reconcile those two characters, the commentators have imagined one character misshapen and disordered.

But the same incongruity appears, as it could not but appear, in all the other persons of the play. The sage and beautiful counsel of Laertes to his sister rises far above the level of his character. The inimitable maxims of Polonius which some critics, in their blind pursuit of consistency, have striven to depreciate, contrast with his subsequent follies. The spy Rosencrantz makes a majestic speech in defence of majesty (iii. iii.). It is impossible not to feel a pang of regret that a man who was so familiar with the sublimities of nature and the philosophy of political history, and could clothe his thoughts in such flowing verse as the gentleman or attendant (iv. v.) who brings news of the approach of Laertes attended by the rabble, should have filled so humble a position at the Danish court. Here is an instance of keen observation profoundly reflective, and of balanced conservatism haughtily contemptuous of popular encroachment, stepping with graceful dignity on the stage for a moment, and thenceforward immersed in obscurity. Was an ancestor of the poet a prisoner at the court of Claudius? Similarly, the first attendant in the same scene (not Horatio, as some copies read,) who brings intelligence of Ophelia's derangement, shows a fineness of perception in the connection between thought and language that proves him to have been a metaphysician and a grammarian, and a power of accurate survey of mental aberration that would do honour to a modern commissioner in lunacy. Is it not perverse ingenuity to seek for solutions of improbability and explanations of disproportion between form and substance in the work of a man who could not help turning whatever he touched into gold?

The soliloquies, it may be observed, are not properly integral parts of the tragedy. They are addresses to the audience explanatory and suggestive. They fill almost exactly the part of the ancient chorus. Ophelia (iii. i.) utters a soliloquy though she is aware that the king and her father are listening. The Dumb Show which should have affrighted the king, yet passes unnoticed by him, comes under this head. It was intended for the audience only.

The moral of Hamlet is artistic rather than ethical. The duty Shakspere set before himself was to write an effective play, a play that would glow in acting and entrance in hearing, a play that would stir with power the strongest passions of actor and audience. He has succeeded beyond measure. If we behold his creation from the front, suitably to its purpose, and judge by the potency of its skill upon us, we do not venture to criticise. But if we go behind the scenes and minutely examine the various parts, we only per. plex ourselves with details, whose mutual relation and combined effect the creative mind of Shakspere alone could know. Every incongruity is explained by the general aim. Deep impressions are made not by continuity, symmetry, equipoise, but by flash and fragment and unexpectedness. We do not love smooth complete


We love broken nature, rugged mountains, chequered sunlight. We have no fondness for tranquil demi-gods and serenely secure virtue. Our hearts lean to imperfect men struggling to do right, and dying in the struggle. We are not held captive by Johnson's Irene, or Addison's Cato, or Milton's Comus. We are held captive by Hamlet. Here Shakspere has rung changes on every mood of the soul, solemn monotone, mirthful peal and jangling of sweet bells out of tune. If he has dealt sometimes with the ephemeral, it was that too great a strain might not be put upon us by thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls. If he has played on the surface, it was that we might get relief from the long breathlessness of suspense. Each scene is a perfect study for the student who would understand or would describe human nature. The assemblage of scenes is kept in its place in the mind of the reader like a galaxy in the heavens. The personages, the interests, the events are brought near each other from the remotest spheres, and when we seek for the influences that group them they seem so subtle that we are not sure whether they

were designed. If we are uncertain when we say that the whole play is bound and held together by delicate nerves of feeling, by abiding memories that constitute its identity, our doubt is allayed by remembering that nature, and every true imitator of nature, acts without our consciousness. The play is full of unseen unities.

The deterioration that takes place in the language and demeanour of Polonius, after the first act, is occasioned mainly by his accommodating himself to the supposed infirmity of Hamlet. He speaks sillily to him just as we speak in broken English to a foreigner who does not know our language. The first scene in the second act, which is omitted on the stage, and is declared by the critics to have no share in furthering the plot, is a modification of the character of Polonius from the first exhibition of it, preparing the spectator for what is to come.

The device of Hamlet to assume madness, in fact, disorders the whole course of events, and lands them on a declining plain that ends in the final catastrophe. The ghost is first to follow the wild motion. Polonious is shaken from his wisdom, the king from his calm, the queen from her apathy, Ophelia from her tranquil home life, Laertes from his youthful pleasures, and under its fatal influence all at last perish. If it be asked, why does Hamlet die with the others? The answer is that such must be the fate of the hero of a tragedy.

Perhaps the most constantly affecting circumstance in the whole poem, though like the numberless other magic touches on our heartstrings with which it abounds, it eludes our notice, is the manner in which Hamlet, after Ophelia's rejection of him, reposes on the friendship of Horatio. There is nothing in nature so provocative of ineffable sympathy as a man compelled to unbosom himself to a man. It is because of this that the few cases of male attachment which history presents occupy so disproportionately large a place in our attention. Thy love to me was wonderful, says David of Jonathan, passing the love of women.

Hamlet's opening "aside" remark, "a little more than kin and less than kind," is the keynote to his future development. It is the germ from which expands the life of suppressed thought, relieving itself only in solitude, of environing danger from which he can escape only by subterfuges, of betrayed affection seeking

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alleviation in bitter irony. It prepares us for the victim to whom

the heavens seem dark, and whom not man nor woman delight.


Horatio introduces himself by the characteristic words, "A piece of him," and at once an expectant attitude is struck. We see one who does not exhaust his heart in words, who reserves his larger self for silent help, on whom will devolve at last the office of making clear all that his friend left unexplained. The king's first lines tell us the manner of man that he is, and reveal the canker of his nature:

Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death
The memory be green-

Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature,
That we with wisest sorrow think on him,
Together with remembrance of ourselves.

In this balanced and unabashed pretension of "ourselves" we see the selfish voluptuary and murderer. There is a vast difference between the man who is conscious of the instincts of selfishness and the man who has no shame in asserting them on a trying and solemn occasion. We at once know Claudius, and the knowledge grows on us till, when conspiring with Laertes to do a dastardly murder, he again says in excuse

I loved your father, and we love ourself,

and we see his base self love lead him to his death.

When Laertes and Ophelia first appear before us, Laertes is just about to sail for France. He bids his sister farewell, and asks that he may hear from her. "Do you doubt that ?" is her confiding and confident reply. There are a few women whose love, devoid of passion, dwells in deep and silent pools of home associations, that grow fuller and deeper each day, and never alters from the unquestioning trust of childhood. Their affection never runs over. They can love but once, for they can have no second father. Ophelia was one of these.

In the first scene, on the platform before the castle, the "honest soldier," Francisco, when relieved by Bernardo, speaks-"For this relief, much thanks: 'tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart;" and he departs, never to appear again. But the memory of his words does not leave us. Like an obscure unlocalised pain,


like a mournful echo, like a secret foreboding, they are felt midst every sound and heard in every pause; and as the play advances towards the end we unknowingly crave for their solution. Like some mysterious syllables terminating a line in an irregular poem, they hang on our ears, and we watch with growing impatience for something that will rhyme to them, until at last, as the chill shadow of his approaching doom settles on Hamlet, he says to Horatio in words of saddest unburdening, "Thou canst not tell how ill all's here about my heart;" and we feel that we have at length plucked out the heart of the mystery.

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