dates skilfully graduated through a series of events from that which is actually visible and palpable to the eyes, to those transmitted only to the ears, or suggested to the spectator's imagination, through a hundred different channels, until the impression left upon his mind is an impression composed of the visible and invisible, the natural and the dramatic, the real and the illusory'-J. N. Halpin's The Unities of Shakespeare, 1849 (reprinted), edited by Dr C. M. Ingleby; in Transactions of the New Shakespeare Society, 1875, pp. 388-412.

Act I embraces a period of nearly two days—the first night, the intervening day, and the following night somewhat into morning; Act II beginning at a short interval, perhaps a month thereafter for the ambassadors who had been sent to Norway have gone, completed their diplomatic mission, and return in the second act; and Laertes, who, in Act I had set out from Elsinore to Paris, has reached his destination, has conveyed tidings of his arrival, and preferred a request for money-occupies one day, Polonius sends Reynaldo to Laertes with the money; Hamlet has put his 'antic disposition on,' and frightened Ophelia, who reports the occurrence to her father, who immediately conveys the tidings to the king and queen. While they are planning a snare for Hamlet, he enters reading ; Polonius converses with him, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern inform him of their meeting with the players, who arrive, and are introduced while the conversation is going on.

Hamlet gets a taste of their quality,' and commands a play for to-morrow night, by means of which he anticipates being able to catch the conscience of the king.' Act III commences the next day and continues beyond midnight. Act IV brings before us the queen speaking of what she had 'seen to-night,' so that it immediately succeeds in time Act III; and the king resolves to have Hamlet hence to. night. Hamlet, on his way to embarkation, meets Fortinbras going to Poland; and we may suppose that he takes ship immediately thereafter. Meanwhile, news of his father's death has been sent to Laertes at Paris, which he leaves at once for Elsinore, where he arrives with a rabble of Danes, whom he has on his way excited to rebellion. There he sees his sister crazed with grief, and determines that her

• Madness shall be paid by weight
Till our scale turn the beam'-IV, V, 144, 145.

Hamlet had been 'two days old at sea,' had fought, and become the prisoner of the pirates. They had brought him back to Denmark, and he had sent letters to Horatio, his mother, and the king, by sailors who had reached Elsinore with them. At least a fortnight, probably a month, must therefore be allowed for Act IV, which closes with the account of Ophelia's death.

Act V opens with Ophelia's funeral, probably the day after her death, for the king says to Laertes :

'Strengthen your patience in our last night's speech'-V, i, 278;

Hamlet's arrival, and the quarrel-scene in the graveyard. Hamlet in the next scene tells Horatio the story of his voyage, receives the challenge sent to him at the king's suggestion by Osric, and accepts of it now or whensoever, provided I be so able as now'-v, ii, 189. The duel commences almost immediately on the arrival of the king and queen. The denouement occurs. Fortinbras, who had gone to Poland, fought and conquered, returns to see it, and the rest is silence." The whole action, therefore, is comprised within a period of less than three months. *


That Hamlet was regarded as mad in the early days of the production of this play, we may readily gather from the notices of it that have come down to us. In Antony Scoloker, an admirer of

friendly Shakespeare's ' tragedies, we read : Faith, it should please all, like Prince Hamlet. But in sadness, then it were to be feared he would runne mad; forsooth, I will not be moonsicke to please, nor out of my wits though I displeased all.'+ In Westward Hoe! 1607, Tenterhooks proposes to 'play mad Hamlet and crie revenge' -Deckar's Works, vol. ii, p. 353, 1873. E. M. Hood, in 1620, lamenting the death of the famous actor, R. Burbadge, says:

Oft have I seene him leepe into a grave
Suiting the person (which he used to have)
Of a mad lover.'

[ocr errors]

Sir Thomas Hanmer, in Some Remarks on the Tragedy of Hamlet, 1736, says, that 'to conform to the groundwork of his plot, Shakespeare makes the young prince feign himself mad. .. There appears no reason at all in nature why this young prince did not put the usurper to death as soon as possible, especially as Hamlet is represented as a youth so brave and so careless of his own life. The case indeed is this, had Hamlet gone naturally to work, there would have been an end of our play. The poet, therefore, was obliged to delay his hero's revenge ; but then he should have contrived some good reason for it. His beginning his scenes of madness by his behaviour to Ophelia was judicious, because by this means he might be thought to be mad for her, and not that his brain was disturbed about state affairs, which would have been dangerous'-p. 33. Dr Samuel Johnson similarly observes: “Of the

* See further on this subject, Dr Ludwig Eckardt's Vorlesungen über Hamlet, 1853; Fechter as Hamlet' in The Atlantic Monthly, November 1870: Dr Jacob Heussi's Shakespeare's Hamlet, Erklärt 1872; George B. Ward's Essays, 1873, etc

* Diaphantus; or the Passions of Love, 1604.

feigned madness of Hamlet, there appears no adequate cause, for he does nothing which he might not have done with the reputation of saint. He plays the madman most when he treats Ophelia with so much rudeness, which seems to be useless and wanton cruelty'— The Plays of Shakespeare, 1765, vol. viii, p. 311. 'Hamlet was fully sensible how strange these improprieties must appear to others; he was conscious he could not suppress them; he knew he was surrounded with spies, and he was justly apprehensive lest his suspicions or purposes should be discovered. But how are these consequences to be prevented ? By counterfeiting an insanity which in part exists '-Professor William Richardson's Shakespeare's Dramatic Characters, 1786, p. 163.

* Aaron Hill,' we are told by Davies, in Dramatic Miscellanies, iü, 148, 1785, 'above forty years ago—in a paper called The Prompter-observed, that besides Hamlet's assumed insanity, there was in him a melancholy which bordered on madness, arising from his peculiar situation.' Dr Mark Akenside, the poet, we are told by Steevens, suggested that Hamlet should be regarded as 'a young man whose intellects were in some degree impaired by his own misfortunes, by the death of his father, the loss of expected sovereignty, and a sense of shame, resulting from his mother's hasty marriage' - The Plays of William Shakespeare, 1785, vol. x, p. 521. Henry Mackenzie thought that the distraction of Hamlet is clearly affected through the whole play, always subject to the control of his reason, and subservient to the accomplishment of his designs'— The Mirror, No. 100, 22d April 1780.

John Ferriar, M.D., Manchester, in describing latent lunacy, suggests that the character of Hamlet can only be understood on this principle. He feigns madness for political purposes, while the poet means to represent his understanding as really (and unconsciously to himself) unhinged by the cruel circumstances in which he is placed. His real insanity is only developed after the mock-play. Then, in place of a systematic conduct conducive to his purposes, he becomes irresolute, inconsequent; and the plot appears. to stand unaccountably still. Instead of striking at his object, he resigns himself to the current of events, and sinks at length ignobly under the stream An Essay towards a Theory of Apparitions, 1813, p. 114. Dr Drake considers that Hamlet' personates insanity with a skill which indi. cates the highest order of genius and imposes on all but the king, whose conscience, perpetually on the watch, soon enables him to detect the inconsistencies of his nephew'-Shakespeare and his Times, vol. ii, p. 396, 1817.

An able writer under the signature of T. C. (which probably means Thomas Campbell), in Blackwood's Magazine, February 1818, pursues the question thus: 'It has been much canvassed by critics whether Hamlet's madness were altogether feigned or in some degree real. Most certain it is that his whole perfect being had received a shock that had unsettled his faculties. That there

was disorder in his soul, none can doubt-that is, a shaking and unsettling of its powers from their due sources of action. But who can believe for a moment that there was in his mind the least degree of that which, with psychological meaning, we call disease ? Such a supposition would at once destroy that intellectual sovereignty in his being which, in our eyes, constitutes his exaltation. Shakespeare never could intend that we should be allowed to feel pity for a mind to which we were meant to bow, nor does it seem to be consistent with the nature of his own imagination to have subjected one of his most ideal beings to such mournful mental infirmity. That the limits of disorder are not easily distinguishable in the representation is certain. How should they? The limits of disorder in reality lie in the mysterious and inscrutable depths of nature. Neither surely could it be intended by Shakespeare that Hamlet should for a moment cease to be a moral agent, as he must then have been. Look at him upon all great occasions, where, had there been madness in his mind, it would have been most remarkable; look on him in his mother's closet, or listen to his dying words, and then ask if there was any disease of madness in his soul '--p. 509. To a republication of this article in his Memorials of Shakespeare, 1828, Dr N. Drake added the following note: 'It is impossible for a moment to conceive that Shakespeare ever intended to represent the mental faculties of Hamlet, though powerfully and deeply influenced by the circumstances around him, and simulating madness for purposes of personal safety and effective retribution, as under any degree of morbid derangement; all moral responsibility and intellectual greatness of character would vanish on such a supposition'-p. 400.

In the same year (1828) there appeared in Blackwood's Magazine a paper by Hartley Coleridge, published in his Essays and Marginalia, 1851, in which this topic is thus touched: 'If it be asked, Is Hamlet really mad? or for what purpose does he assume madness ? we reply, that he assumes madness to conceal from himself and others his real distemper. Mad he certainly is not in the sense that Lear and Ophelia are mad. Neither his sensitive organs nor the operations of his will are impaired. His mind is lord over itself, but it is not master of his will. The ebb and flow of his feelings are no longer obedient to calculable impulses; his actions and practical conclusions are not consistent with the premises in his mind and senses. An overwhelming motive produces inertness—he is blinded with excess of light'-p. 162. This subject is further pursued in some Observations on the Laws of Mortality and Disease, by George Farren, 1829; an Essay on Popular and Classical Illustrations of Insanity, by Sir Henry Halford, read in 1829 and published in 1833. In a critique on The Essays and Orations of Sir Henry Halford, in the Quarterly Review, some valuable observations on this theme occur, as well as in an article contributed to Fraser's Magazine in 1836, and reissued in the Shake. speare Papers of Dr Maginn, 1860. Another writer in Blackwooa's

Magazine, in treating of The Feigned Madness of Hamlet, says: • The mimicry of madness was but the excess of that levity and wildness which naturally sprang from his impatient and overwrought spirit. It afforded some scope to these disquieted feelings which it served to conceal. The feint of madness covered all, even the sarcasm and disgust and turbulence, which it freed in some measure from an intolerable restraint. Nor was it a disguise ungrateful to a moody spirit, grown careless of the respect of men, and indifferent to all the ordinary projects and desires of life. The masquerade brought with it no sense of humiliation-it pleased a misanthropic humour-it gave him shelter and a sort of escape from society, and it cost him little effort. That mingled bitterness and levity, which served for the representation of insanity, was often the most faithful expression of his feelings '-October 1839, p. 452. Charles Knight, in his Shakespeare, 1841, concludes that 'Shakespeare did not, either in his first sketch or his amended copy, intend his audience to be. lieve that Hamlet was essentially mad'- Introductory Notice to Hamlet.' About (as nearly as we can discover) 1844, Professor Henry Reed, of Pennsylvania, in Two Lectures on Tragic Poetry, republished in his English History and Tragic Poetry, Illustrated by Shakespeare, 1856, expressed the opinion that, from combinative influences, the mind of Hamlet was in a state of undue susceptibility of both unnatural excitement and depression; and though further agitated by a supernatural visitation, by which, in his own words, he felt his “disposition horribly shaken with thoughts beyond the reaches of our soul." .. He became conscious that the sove. reignty of his reason was in jeopardy, and it is that very conscious. ness—the apprehension of insanity—which suggests to an intellect so active the thought of feigning madness—the desire of assuming an outer disposition which would give the spiritual elements of his nature an unwonted freedom, and which might always be controlled by his intellectual strength'-p. 253,

In 1846, the late Charles Cowden Clarke, in his interesting lectures on Shakespeare Characters, published 1863, found it advisable to state this question for discussion : 'The readers of this most mysterious of all the characters in Shakespeare are divided into those who believe in his real insanity, occasioned by that woful accumulation of circumstances-the revealing of his father's spirit, the promulgation of his murder, and the tremendous responsibility arising out of it to avenge his violent and unnatural death, while the other party hold the opinion that the poet intended to convey nothing more than the assumed madness of the prince, for the purpose of shrouding his course of retribution ;' and enforces his conviction that this latter is the true reading of the character,' thus: 'In all his soliloquies he never utters an incoherent phrase. When he is alone, he reasons clearly and consistently, it may be inconclu. sively, because he seeks in sophism an excuse for deferring the task of revenge imposed upon him; but it is always coherently.' * In the scenes, too, with his heart-friend Horatio, Hamlet is uni

[ocr errors]
« ElőzőTovább »