fortitude, with sensibility that overpowers its strength.



The following observations on the conduct of Hamlet, taken from the lectures on Shakspeare lately delivered at Hamburgh by Mr. George Egestorf, and inserted in the Literary Gazette, appear to me to exhibit uncommon acuteness and profundity of remark, both with regard to Hamlet, and to the object of the poet in the delineation of this remarkable character.

Singular it is,” he observes, “ that so many theories should have been formed respecting the personal character of Hamlet, and that all should fall so far short of it, as drawn by Shakspeare himself, and as the poet has put it into his own mouth in the well-known monologue,

To be, or not to be, &c. a monologue, in which all is comprised that can make a man exclaim,

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable,

Seem to me all the uses of this world! and, at the same time, every consideration summed up that *must give us pause,' &c.

« In this state of mind, he is too much disgusted with every thing, that the assumed air of kindness in the usurper should be able to make any impression upon him. He is shocked at the evident want of discretion, and at the inconstancy of bis mother:

Why she would hang on him,
As if increase of appetite had grown

By what it fed on: and yet within a month, &c.

Frailty, thy name is woman! After the discovery has been made by the Ghost, and he is convinced of the licentiousness and infidelity of his parent, he exclaims,

O most pernicious woman! This makes him so doubtful respecting conjugal faith, that his gloomy state of mind even casts a dark shade on the object of his affection—the amiable Ophelia ; a shade which is not dispelled until it is too late. That he did not merely feign an attachment to Ophelia, but really loved her, is evident from his conduct at her grave, which, indeed, reminds us of the beautiful lines of Goldsmith :

To give repentance to her lover,

And wring his bosom, is—to die. “ It is worthy of remark that the poet does not once bring Ophelia into the presence of Hamlet during her alienation of mind : had Hamlet seen her thus, and had he still remained unmoved by her calamity, of which he must have known his conduct to have been the cause, his want of feeling would have amounted to unnatural hardness of heart, and necessarily have lessened him in our esteem, or have even made us despise and hate him. The harshness of his conversation with her must likewise be ascribed to the state of mind he was in when he encountered her,-immediately after that energetic and important monologue. Subsequently to this, as, for instance, at the representation of the play, his colloquy with her is much more qualified and less severe, though still ironical and sarcastic.

“ It is, however, Hamlet's irresolution, his want of firmness, his constantly wavering between a resolve and its execution, his poring and sceptic disposition, as displayed in the abovecited monologue, that the poet intended to display in the personal character of his hero; the danger of a want of stability, which Shakspeare points out to us, a state of mind that is indeed inimical to happiness, and that renders us inadequate to the discharge of the duties of our station in life. Hamlet is not a character of exemplary virtue, and was not designed by the poet to be such; he is, however, perfectly a dramatical character, and engages our attention from the commencement to the conclusion of the representation, which could not be the case if he were a character unfit for representation on the stage. Those who, notwithstanding this, would fain dispute the point, would do well to examine the character of Achilles, and then tell us whether the choler and obstinate desire of vengeance in Achilles, so pernicious in their effects, and which brought a thousand ills on the Grecian camp,—whether these be characteristics of a hero who may be pointed out as being virtuous ? and whether we are thence to conclude that Homer, the father of poets, made an injudicious choice in the subject of his epopée? The unbounded pride of Achilles, his disobedience to his general, his cruelty to his dead enemy, and his selling the body of his son to old Priam,--all these we abhor while we read them; and the poet only shows them, as Dryden justly observes, not to be imitated, but like rocks and quicksands, to be carefully avoided and shunned. Thus Shakspeare has set up the character of Hamlet, like some pharos or beacon-light, at the bickering flame of which we are not to kindle the torch which is to light us on our way, but of which we are to steer clear on the ocean of our lives.”—Literary Gazette, October 13, 1827.

m The Mirror, No. 99, April 18, 1780.

No. X.



The view of Hamlet's character exhibited in the last number,'may, perhaps, serve to explain a difficulty which has always occurred both to the reader and the spectator, on perceiving his madness, at one time, put on the appearance, not of fiction, but of reality; a difficulty by which some have been induced to suppose the distraction of the prince a strange unaccountable mixture throughout of real insanity and counterfeit disorder.

The distraction of Hamlet, however, is clearly affected through the whole play, always subject to the controul of his reason, and subservient to the accomplishment of his designs. At the grave of Ophelia, indeed, it exhibits some temporary marks of a real disorder. His mind, subject from nature to all the weakness of sensibility, agitated by the incidental misfortune of Ophelia's death, amidst the dark and permanent impression of his revenge, is thrown for a while off its poise, and, in the paroxysm of the moment, breaks forth into that extravagant rhapsody which he utters to Laertes.

Counterfeited madness, in a person of the cha

racter I have ascribed to Hamlet, could not be so uniformly kept up, as not to allow the reigning impressions of his mind to show themselves in the midst of his affected extravagance. It turned chiefly on his love to Ophelia, which he meant to hold forth as its great subject; but it frequently glanced on the wickedness of his uncle, his knowledge of which it was certainly his business to conceal.

In two of Shakspeare's tragedies are introduced, at the same time, instances of counterfeit madness and of real distraction. In both plays the same distinction is observed, and the false discriminated from the true by similar appearances. Lear's imagination constantly runs on the ingratitude of his daughters, and the resignation of his crown; and Ophelia, after she has wasted the first ebullience of her distraction in some wild and incoherent sentences, fixes on the death of her father for the subject of her song:

They bore him bare-fac'd on the bier.-
And will he not come again?
And will he not come again ? &c.

But Edgar puts on a semblance as opposite as may be to his real situation and his ruling thoughts. He never ventures on any expression bordering on the subjects of a father's cruelty, or a son's misfortune. Hamlet, in the same manner, were he as firm in mind as Edgar, would never hint any thing in his affected disorder that might lead to a

« ElőzőTovább »