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therefore preposterous to endeavour to regularize his plays at the expense of depriving them of this peculiar excellence, especially as the alteration can only produce a very partial and limited improvement, and can never bring his pieces to the standard of criticism, or the form of the Aristotelian drama. Within the bounds of a pleasure-garden, we may be allowed to smooth our terraces, and trim our hedge-rows; but it were equally absurd as impracticable, to apply the minute labours of the roller and the pruning-knife to the nobler irregularity of trackless mountains and impenetrable forests.
The Mirror, No. 100, April 22, 1780.-If, as is asserted at the close of this paper, the licence which Shakspeare assumed, enabled him to paint the passions and affections of the human mind as they exist in reality, and not as they are accommodated by more artificial poets to an arbitrary and exclusive system, who shall or can regret his infringement of any strict observance of the unities of time and place?
OBSERVATIONS ON THE TRAGEDY OF HAMLET.
Though hundreds of critics have written of Shakspeare and his works, and though not only all his characters, but even their most minute and unimportant expressions, have been weighed and sifted; yet such is the boundless range of his intellect, that each play still retains all the charm of the very freshest novelty, and on each successive perusal a swarm of unexpected ideas seems to rise
up from every page. Though the discussion of his genius has been thus incessant, the public mind is still unsated ; and we all turn to any criticism on Shakspeare with an interest and curiosity felt towards no other mortal being. We entertain a kind of religious faith in his poetry. We have all rejoiced in the broad and open light of his inspiration ; and in the midst of that doubt, and darkness, and perplexity, which often brood over his delineation of human passion, we eagerly turn to every voice that tries to explain or elucidate any of those solemn mysteries, being well assured that they all are the mysteries of nature.
We take up a play, and ideas come rolling in upon us, like waves impelled by a strong wind. There is in the ebb and flow of Shakspeare's soul all the grandeur of a mighty operation of nature ; and when we think or speak of him, it should be with humility, where we do not understand, and a conviction that it is rather to the narrowness of our own ken than to any failing in the art of the great magician, that we ought to attribute any sense of imperfection and of weakness which may assail us during the contemplation of his created worlds.
I believe that our admiration, and wonder, and love of our mighty dramatist are so intense, that we cannot endure any long, regular, and continued criticism upon him; for we know that there is an altitude of his soul which cannot be taken, and a depth that may not be fathomed. We wish rather to have some flashings of thought--some sudden streams of light thrown over partial regions of the mental scenery,—the veil of clouds here and there uplifted, and the sound of the cataract to be unexpectedly brought upon the silence. We ask not for a picture of the whole landscape of the soul, nor for a guide who shall be able to point out all its wonders; but we are glad to listen to every one who has travelled through the kingdoms of Shakspeare. Something interesting there must be even in the humblest journal ; and we turn with equal pleasure from the converse of those who have climbed over the magnificence of the highest mountains there, to the lowlier tales of less am
bitious pilgrims, who have sat on the green and sunny knoll, beneath the whispering tree, and by the music of the gentle rivulet.
When I single out the tragedy of Hamlet, I enter, as it were, into a wilderness of thought where I know my soul must soon be lost, but from which it cannot return to our every-day world, without bringing back with it some lofty and mysterious conceptions, and a deeper insight into some of the most inscrutable recesses of human nature.
Shakspeare himself, had he even been as great a critic as a poet, could not have written a regular dissertation on Hamlet. So ideal, and yet so real an existence, could have been shadowed out only in the colours of poetry. When a character deals solely or chiefly with this world and its events, when it acts, and is acted upon, by objects that have a palpable existence, we see it distinctly, as if it were cast in a material mould, -as if it partook of the fixed and settled lineaments of the things on which it lavishes its sensibilities and its passions. We see, in such cases, the vision of an individual soul, as we see the vision of an individual counte
We can describe both, and can let a
- Never was there a more eloquent description than this of the avidity and gratification with which every ingenious illustration of Shakspeare, as of a being gifted beyond others in the mysteries of nature, is read and studied. May it not without much presumption be considered as highly recommendatory of the object, and, as the editor hopes, not inapplicable to the character of the present volume ?
stranger into our knowledge. But how tell in words, so pure, so fine, so ideal an abstraction as HAMLET ? We can indeed figure to ourselves generally his princely form, that outshone all other manly beauty, and adorn it with the consummation of all liberal accomplishment. We can behold in every look, every gesture, every motion, the future king,
The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword:
Th' observ'd of all observers ! But when we would penetrate into his spirit,-meditate on those things on which he meditates, -accompany him even unto the brink of eternity,-fluctuate with him on the ghastly sea of despair,--soar with him into the purest and serenest regions of human thought,-feel with him the curse of beholding iniquity, and the troubled delight of thinking on innocence, and gentleness, and beauty,--come with him, from all the glorious dreams cherished by a noble spirit in the halls of wisdom and philosophy, of a sudden into the gloomy courts of sin, and incest, and murder, shudder with him over the broken and shattered fragments of all the fairest creation of his fancy,be borne with him at once from calm, and lofty, and delighted speculations, into the very heart of fear, and horror, and tribulation,--have the agonies and the guilt of our mortal world brought into immediate contact with the world beyond the grave,