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in 1602. This quarto edition of 1603 exhibits, as Mr Dyce says, 6 a text most strangely mangled and corrupted throughout, and manifestly formed on the notes of some short-hand writer, who had imperfectly taken it down during the representation of the play. In this imperfect copy, Polonius is called Corambis, and Reynaldo, Mòntano, which may have been names in the old play of Hamlet retained by Shakespeare, but rejected when he enlarged and improved his drama. The enlarged copy appeared a twelvemonth after the first—The Tragical Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, by William Shakespeare: newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much again as it was, according to the true and perfect coppie, 1604. It was reprinted several times before the collection of Shakespeare's works in 1623, and contains passages not in the folio, while the latter includes other passages which were left out in the quarto of 1604, although we have the evidence of the quarto of 1603 that they were originally acted. The text is thus formed by a comparison of the different editions. The poet's editors, Heminge and Condell, 'added considerably to the prose dialogue in Act II. sc. 2, and inserted elsewhere lines and words which are wanting in the quartos, besides rectifying various mistakes of those quartos ;' but they sanctioned, as Mr Dyce remarks, ‘minor mutilations of the text, omitted in the course of the play about one hundred and sixty verses (including nearly the whole of the Fourth Scene of Act IV.), and left out a portion of the prose dialogue in Act V. sc. 2, besides allowing a multitude of errors to creep in passim. The omissions had most likely been made by the players in order to shorten the representation, for Hamlet is the longest of all Shakespeare's dramas.
"The basis of Hamlet's character seems to be an extreme sensibility of mind, apt to be strongly impressed by its situation, and overpowered by the feelings which that situation excites. Naturally of the most virtuous and most amiable dispositions, the circumstances in which he was placed unhinged those principles of action, which in another situation would have delighted mankind, and made himself happy. His misfortunes were not the misfortunes of accident, which, though they may overwhelm at first, the mind will soon call up reflections to alleviate, and hopes to cheer; they were such as reflection only serves to irritate, such as rankle in the soul's tenderest part, her sense of virtue and feelings of natural affection; they arose from an uncle's villany, a mother's guilt, a father's murder! Yet amidst the gloom of melancholy, and the agitation of passion, in which his calamities involve him, there are occasional breakingsout of a mind richly endowed by nature and cultivated by education. We perceive gentleness in his demeanour, wit in his conversation, taste in his amusements, and wisdom in his reflections. Finding such a character in real life, of a person endowed with feelings so delicate as to border on weakness, with sensibility too exquisite to allow of determined action, he has placed it where it could be best exhibited, in scenes of wonder, of terror, and of indignation, where its varying emotions might be most strongly marked amidst the workings of imagination and the war of the passions. This is the very management of the character by which, above all others, we could be interested in its behalf. Had Shakespeare made Hamlet pursue his vengeance with a steady determined purpose, had he led him through difficulties arising from accidental causes, and not from the doubts and hesitation of his own mind, the anxiety of the spectator might have been highly raised; but it would have been anxiety for the event, not for the person. As it is, we feel not only the virtues, but the weaknesses of Hamlet, as our own ; we see a man who, in other circumstances, would have exercised all the moral and social virtues, one whom nature had formed to be
'The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
placed in a situation in which even the amiable qualities of his
mind serve but to aggravate his distress, and to perplex his conduct. Our compassion for the first, and our anxiety for the latter, are excited in the strongest manner; and hence arises that indescribable charm in Hamlet, which attracts every reader and every spectator, which the more perfect characters of other tragedies never dispose us to feel.:-HENRY MACKENZIE, in The Mirror.
The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right !' "In these words, I imagine, will be found the key to Hamlet's whole procedure. To me it is clear that Shakespeare meant, in the present case, to represent the effects of a great action laid upon a soul unfit for the performance of it. In this view the whole piece seems to me to be composed. There is an oak-tree planted in a costly jar, which should have borne only pleasant flowers in its bosom ;-the roots expand, the jar is shivered. A lovely, pure, noble, and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a hero, sinks beneath a burden which it cannot bear, and must not cast away. All duties are holy for him; the present is too hard. Impossibilities have been required of him ;- not in themselves impossibilities, but such for him. He winds, and turns, and torments himself; he advances and recoils; is ever put in mind, ever puts himself in mind; at last does all but lose his purpose from his thoughts; yet still without recovering his peace of mind.'-GOETHE.
'In Hamlet he (Shakespeare] seems to have wished to exemplify the moral necessity of a due balance between our attention to the objects of our senses, and our meditations on the workings of our minds an equilibrium between the real and the imaginary worlds. In Hamlet this balance is disturbed : his thoughts, and the images of his fancy, are far more vivid than his actual perceptions, and his very perceptions, instantly passing through the medium of his contemplations, acquire, as they pass, a form and a colour not naturally their own. Hence we see a great, an almost enormous intellectual activity, and a proportionate aversion to real action, consequent upon it, with all
its symptoms and accompanying qualities. This character, Shakespeare places in circumstances under which it is obliged to act on the spur of the moment : Hamlet is brave and careless of death ; but he vacillates from sensibility, and procrastinates from thought, and loses the power of action in the energy of resolve. Thus it is that this tragedy presents a direct contrast to that of Macbeth; the one proceeds with the utmost slowness, the other with a crowded and breathless activity. The effect of this overbalance of the imaginative power is beautifully illustrated in the everlasting broodings and superfluous activities of Hamlet's mind, which, unseated from its healthy relation, is constantly occupied with the world within, and abstracted from the world without-giving substance to shadows, and throwing a mist over all common-place actualities. It is the nature of thought to be indefinite-definiteness belongs to external imagery alone. Hence it is that the sense of sublimity arises, not from the sight of an outward object, but from the beholder's reflection upon it—not from the sensuous impression, but from the imaginative reflex. Few have seen a celebrated water-fall without feeling somewhat akin to disappointment: it is only subsequently that the image comes back full into the mind, and brings with it a train of grand or beautiful illustrations. Hamlet feels this ; his senses are in a state of trance, and he looks upon external things as hieroglyphics. His soliloquy
“O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,' &c.— springs from that craving after the indefinite, for that which is not, which most easily besets men of genius; and the selfdelusion coinmon to this temper of mind is finely exemplified in the character which Hamlet gives of himself :
'It cannot be But I am pigeon-liver'd, and lack gall
To make oppression bitter.' He mistakes the seeing his chains for the breaking them, delays action till action is of no use, and dies the victim of mere circumstance and accident.'-COLERIDGE.
"We should bear in mind, however, that the favour of the public must, in part, have been attached to this play through the vast variety of incident and characters which it unfolds ; from its rapid interchange of solemnity, pathos, and humour; and more particularly from the awful, yet grateful terror which the shade of buried Denmark diffuses over the scene.'—DRAKE.
That shadowy conception, the protesting apparition, the awful projection of the human conscience, belongs to the Christian mind : and in all Christendom who, let us ask, who but Shakespeare has found the power for effectually working this mysterious mode of being ? In summoning back to earth “the majesty of buried Denmark,” how like an awful necromancer does Shakespeare appear! All the pomps and grandeurs which religion, which the grave, which the popular superstition had gathered about the subject of apparitions, are here converted to his purpose, and bend to one awful effect. The wormy grave brought into antagonism with the scenting of the early dawn; the trumpet of resurrection suggested, and again as an antagonistic idea to the crowing of the cock (a bird ennobled in the Christian mythus by the part he is made to play in the Crucifixion); its starting “as a guilty thing,” placed in opposition to its majestic expression of offended dignity when struck at by the partisans of the sentinels ; its awful allusions to the secrets of its prison-house ; its ubiquity, contrasted with its local presence; its aërial substance, yet clothed in palpable armour ; the heart-shaking solemnity of its language, and the appropriate scenery of its haunt, viz., the ramparts of a capital fortress, with no witnesses but a few gentlemen mounting guard at the dead of night-what a mist, what a mirage of vapour, is here accumulated, through which the dreadful being in the centre looms upon us in far larger proportions than could have happened had it been insulated and left naked of this circumstantial pomp !'DE QUINCEY.