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"Could great men thunder

As Jove himself does, Jove would ne'er be quiet,

For every pelting, petty officer

Would use his heaven for thunder: nothing but thunder."

ruffian, they each escape.

long to another region to that in which they move. The grossness is not merely described or inferred; but we see those who minister to the corruptions, and we are brought in contact with the corrupted. This, possibly, was not necessary for the higher dramatic effects of the comedy; but it was necessary But he does more-he exhibits to us the for those lessons of political philosophy which every-day working of the hot fit succeeding we think Shakspere here meant to inculcate, the cold of legislative and executive power. and which he appears to us on many occaIt works always with injustice. The Duke sions to have kept in view in his later plays. of the comedy is behind the scenes, and sees Mr. Hallam has most truly said of Measure how it works. The weak governor resumes for Measure' that "the depths and intricacies his authority, and with it he must resume of being, which he (Shakspere) has searched his principles, and he therefore pardons all. and sounded with intense reflection, perplexThe mouth-repenting deputy, and the callous and harass him." In this play he manifests, as we apprehend, his philosophical view of a corrupt state of manners fostered by weak government: but the subject is scarcely dramatic, and it struggles with his own proper powers. Here we have an exhibition of crimes of passion, and crimes of ignorance. There stands the Duke, the representative of a benevolent and tolerant executive power which does not meddle with the people, which subjects them to no harsh restrictions, ---which surrounds them with no biting penalties; but which utterly fails in carrying out the essential principle of government when it disregards prevention, and sees no middle course between neglect and punishment. A new system is to be substituted; the laissez faire is to be succeeded by the "axe upon the block, very ready;" and then come all the commonplaces by which a reign of terror is to be defended:

We forget; he does not pardon all; the prating coxcomb, who has spoken slander of his own person, is alone punished. Was this accident in the poet? Great crimes may be looked over by weak governments, but the pettiest libeller of power is inevitably punished. The catastrophe of this comedy necessarily leaves upon the mind an unsatisfactory impression. Had Angelo been adequately punished it would have been more unsatisfactory. When the Duke took the management of the affair into his own hands, and averted the consequences of Angelo's evil intentions by a series of deceptions, he threw away the power of punishing those evil intentions. We agree with Coleridge that the pardon and marriage of Angelo "baffle the strong indignant claims of justice;" but we cannot see how it could be otherwise. The poet, as it appears to us, exhibits to the end the inadequacy of human laws to enforce public morals upon a system of punishment. But

"We must not make a scarecrow of the law,
Setting it up to fear the birds of prey,
And let it keep one shape, till custom make it he has not forgotten to exhibit to us in-
Their perch, and not their terror."

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cidentally the most beautiful lessons of to-
lerance; not using 'Measure for Measure' in
the sense of the jus talionis, but in a higher
spirit that spirit which moves Isabella to
supplicate for mercy towards him who had
most wronged her:-

"Most bounteous sir,
Look, if it please you, on this man condemn'd,
As if my brother lived: I partly think,
A due sincerity govern'd his deeds,
Till he did look on me; since it is so,
Let him not die."

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THE comprehension of this tragedy is the history of a man's own mind. In some shape or other, Hamlet the Dane very early becomes familiar to almost every youth of tolerable education. He is sometimes presented through the medium of the stage; more frequently in some one of the manifold editions of the acted play. The sublime scenes where the ghost appears are known even to the youngest school-boy, in his 'Speakers' and 'Readers;' and so is the soliloquy, "To be, or not to be." As we in early life become acquainted with the complete acted play*, we hate the King,-we weep for Ophelia, we think Hamlet is cruel to her, we are perhaps inclined with Dr. Johnson to laugh at Hamlet's madness, ("the pretended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth,") we wonder that Hamlet does not kill the King earlier, and we believe, as Garrick believed, that the catastrophe might have been greatly improved, seeing that the wicked and the virtuous ought not to fall together, as it were by accident.

A few years onward, and we have become acquainted with the 'Hamlet' of Shakspere, -not the 'Hamlet' of the players. The book is now the companion of our lonely walks ;-its recollections hang about our most cherished thoughts. We think less of the dramatic movement of the play than of the glimpses which it affords of the high and solemn things that belong to our being. We see Hamlet habitually subjected to the spiritual part of his nature,-communing with thoughts that are not of this world, abstracted from the business of life, but yet exhibiting a most vigorous intellect, and an exquisite taste. But there is that about him which we cannot understand. Is he essentially "in madness," or mad "only in craft?" Where is the line to be drawn between his artificial and his real character?

A notice of the earliest edition of Hamlet' will be found in Book 11., chapter 111., page 57.


There is something altogether indefinable and mysterious in the poet's delineation of this character;-something wild and irregular in the circumstances with which the character is associated ;— -we see that Hamlet is propelled, rather than propelling. But why is this turn given to the delineation? We cannot exactly tell. Perhaps some of the very charm of the play to the adult mind is its mysteriousness. It awakes not only thoughts of the grand and the beautiful, but of the incomprehensible. Its obscurity constitutes a portion of its sublimity. This is the stage in which most minds are content to rest, and, perhaps, advantageously so, with regard to the comprehension of 'Hamlet.'

The final appreciation of the 'Hamlet' of Shakspere belongs to the development of the critical faculty,-to the cultivation of it by reading and reflection. Without much acquaintance with the thoughts of others, many men, we have no doubt, being earnest and diligent students of Shakspere, have ar rived at a tolerably adequate comprehension of his idea in this wonderful play. In passing through the stage of admiration, they have utterly rejected the trash which the coumentators have heaped upon it, under the name of criticism, the solemn commonplaces of Johnson, the flippant and insolent attacks of Steevens. When the one says, "the apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose," and the other taiks of the "absurdities" which deform the piece, and "the immoral character of Hamlet," the love for Shakspere tells them, that remarks such as these belong to the same chass of prejudices as Voltaire's "monstruosités et fossoyeurs." But, after they have rejected all that belongs to criticism without love, the very depth of the reverence of another school of critics may tend to perplex them. This is somewhat our own position. The quantity alone that has been written in illustration of Hamlet' is embarrass.

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Goethe, Coleridge, Schlegel, Lamb, Hazlitt, | But their incredulity is at once subdued ; and we may add Mrs. Jameson,-besides and a resolution is taken by Horatio upon anonymous writers out of number, and some the conviction that what he once held as a of the very highest order of excellence, "fantasy," is a dreadful thing, of whose exhave brought to the illustration of this play istence there can be no doubt:a most valued fund of judgment, taste, and æsthetical knowledge. To condense what is most deserving of remembrance in these admirable productions, within due limits, would be impossible. We must endeavour, therefore, to feel ourselves in the condition of one who has, however imperfectly, worked out in his own mind a comprehension of the idea of Shakspere; occasionally assisting our development of this inadequate comprehension by a few extracts from some of the eloquent pages to which we have adverted.

The opening of 'Hamlet' is one of the most absorbing scenes in the Shaksperean drama. It produces its effect by the supernatural being brought into the most immediate contact with the real. The sentinels are prepared for the appearance of the ghost, -Horatio is incredulous, but they are all surrounded with an atmosphere of common life. "Long live the King,"-" Get thee to bed,"-" "Tis bitter cold,"-" Not a mouse stirring," and the familiar pleasantry of Horatio, " a piece of him,"-exhibit to us minds under the ordinary state of human feeling. At the moment when the recollections of Bernardo arise into that imaginative power which belongs to the tale he is about to tell, the ghost appears. All that was doubtful in the narrative of the supernatural vision-what left upon Horatio's mind the impression only of a "thing," becomes as real as the silence, the cold, and the midnight. The vision is then, "most like the King,"

"Such was the very armour he had on.” The ghost remains but an instant; and we are again amongst the realities of common life, the preparations for war-the history of the quarrel that caused the preparation. The vision, in the mind of Horatio, is connected with the fates of his "climatures and

countrymen." When the ghost re-appears, there is still a tinge of scepticism in the


"Shall I strike at it with my partizan?"

"Let us impart what we have seen to-night
Unto young Hamlet: for, upon my life,
This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him."
We have here, by anticipation, all the deep
and inexplicable consequences of this vision
laid upon young Hamlet; it is his destiny-
it is to him the-

"Prologue to the omen coming on."

Goethe, in his Wilhelm Meister,' has made his hero describe the mode in which he endeavoured to understand 'Hamlet.' "I set about investigating every trace of Hamlet's character, as it had shown itself before his father's death. I endeavoured to distinguish what in it was independent of this mournful event; independent of the terrible events that followed; and what most probably the young man would have been, had no such thing occurred." In this spirit he tells us, that he was pleasing, polished, courteous, united the idea of moral rectitude with princely elevation, desirous of praise, pure in sentiment, tasteful, calm in his temper, artless in his conduct, possessing more mirth of humour than of heart. This is ingenious, but it appears to us to refine somewhat too much. In Shakspere's dramas, the characters, as they are developed by the incidents, expound themselves, and in the order in which the exposition becomes necessary. Wilhelm Meister's preliminary analysis of Hamlet's character stands only in the place of the description by which dramatists inferior to Shakspere present a character to an audience. Our poet first shows us what Hamlet is, before his mind is laid under the terrific weight and responsibility of a revelation. His moral sense is outraged by the indecent marriage of his mother. We have a slight intimation that his honourable ambition was disappointed in the election of his uncle to the sovereignty. The sudden death of his father had called forth all the sensi

bilities that belonged to a deeply meditative nature:

"I have that within which passeth show."

But he com

It is in this period that his own wounded spirit compels him to look with a jaundiced eye upon "all the uses of this world," and to indulge a wish, restrained only by a sense of piety, that the "unweeded garden" might be left by him to be possessed by "things rank, and gross in nature." munes with himself in a tone which bespeaks the habitual refinement of his thoughts; and his words shape themselves into images which belong to the high and cultivated intellect. The mode in which he receives Horatio shows that his dejection is not habitual. It has been impressed on his nature by a sudden blow;-a father dead,-a mother disgrace fully married,—a crown snatched from him. He welcomes his old friend with the warmth and frankness of the gentleman; but the abiding sorrow in a moment comes over him:

"I pray thee, do not mock me, fellow-student." The disclosure of Horatio's purpose in his visit is admirably managed in its abruptness. Nothing, it appears to us, within the power of language, can produce the effect of the questions which Hamlet puts to Horatio; and his answer to the somewhat commonplace remark, "It would have much amaz'd you ;”—“ very like, very like," is something beyond art; it looks like an instinctive perception of the most complex mental pro


Coleridge calls the next scene, that between Laertes, Ophelia, and Polonius, one of Shakspere's lyric movements;" and he elegantly adds, "you experience the sensation of a pause without the sense of a stop." It was necessary to interpose a scene between Horatio's narrative and the appearance of the ghost to Hamlet; and the scene before us carries out the dramatic characters which are essential to the plot, without interrupting the main interest. But the hour of Hamlet's trial is come. The revelation is to be made. He is to endure an ordeal which is to shake his disposition,

"With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls."

The vision, which, even when his incredulity has passed away, seems to Horatio only a "thing majestical," is to Hamlet, "king, father, royal Dane." From the first word of Horatio's narrative to this moment of the real presence of the apparition, Hamlet has

no doubts. The excited state of his mind

had prepared him to welcome the belief that

than are dreamt of in our philosophy." "there are more things in heaven and earth Beautifully characteristic is his determination to follow the vision; and when the revelation comes, who could have managed it like Shakspere! The images are of this

world, and are not of this world. They

and to the highest poetry. Nothing can be belong at once to popular superstition, more distinct than the narrative of the vision; nothing more mysterious than the "eternal blazon" that "must not be to ears of flesh and blood." How exquisite are the last lines of the ghost ;-full of the poetry of external nature, and of the depth of for so short a time been cut off from life, human affections, as if the spirit that had to know the secrets of the "prison-house," still clung to the earthly remembrance of the beautiful and the tender that even a spirit might indulge:

"The glow-worm shows the matin to be near, And 'gins to pale his ineffectual fire: Adieu, adieu, Hamlet! remember me."

The modes in which Hamlet thinks aloud, after the spirit has faded away, suggests this subtle illustration to Coleridge: "Shaksperc alone could have produced the vow of Hamlet to make his memory a blank of all maxims and generalized truths that 'observation had copied there,'-followed immediately by the speaker noting down the generalized fact

'That one may smile, and smile, and, be a villain.'"

Coleridge, of course, means to offer this as a trait of the disturbance of Hamlet's intellect-(not madness, even in the popular sense of the term,-certainly not madness,

"He took me by the wrist, and held me hard;
Then goes he to the length of all his arm;
And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face,

As he would draw it. Long stay'd he so ;
At last,-
‚—a little shaking of mine arm,
And thrice his head thus waving up and


physiologically speaking, but unfixedness, to us, at some short period after the superderangement, we would have said, had not natural visitation :— that word become a sort of synonym for madness), which Shakspere intended, as it appears to us, to exhibit as the result of his supernatural visitation. "To Goethe says, me it is clear that Shakspere meant, in the present case, to represent the effects of a great action laid upon a soul unfit for the performance of it." Coleridge, in speaking of that part of the scene after the interview with the ghost, in which Hamlet assumes what has been called "an improbable eccentricity," attributes to Hamlet "the disposition to escape from his own feelings of the overwhelming and supernatural by a wild transition to the ludicrous, a sort of cunning bravado, bordering on the flights of delirium." He adds, "For you may perhaps observe that Hamlet's wildness is but half false." It is under the immediate influence of this "disorder in his soul,"-this "shaking and unsettling of its powers from their due sources of action,' "* that Hamlet takes the instantaneous resolution of feigning himself mad. He feels that his mind is horridly disturbed with thoughts beyond mortal reach; but he believes that the habitual powers of his intellect can control this disturbance, and even render it an instrument of his own safety. The very able writer from whose anonymous paper we have just quoted says, "If there be anything disproportioned in his mind, it seems to be this only,--that intellect is in excess. It is even ungovernable, and too subtle. His own description of perfect man, ending with 'In apprehension how like a god!' appears to me consonant with that character, and spoken in the high and overwrought consciousness of intellect. Much that requires explanation in the play may perhaps be explained by this predominance and consciousness of great intellectual power. Is it not possible that the instantaneous idea of feigning himself mad belongs to this ?"

It is here, then, that the complexity of Hamlet's character begins. It is in the description of Ophelia that he is first presented

* Blackwood's Magazine, vol. 11. page 504.

He rais'd a sigh so piteous and profound, That it did seem to shatter all his bulk, And end his being: That done, he lets me go: And, with his head over his shoulder turn'd, He seem'd to find his way without his eyes; For out o' doors he went without their help, And, to the last, bended their light on me." This was not the "antic disposition" which Hamlet thought meet to put on. It was not the ecstacy of love," produced by Ophelia's coldness, according to Polonius. But it was the utterance, as far as it could be uttered, of his sense of the hard necessity that was put upon him to go forth to a mortal struggle with evil powers and influences; to cast away all the high and pleasant thoughts that belonged to the cultivation of his understanding;—to tear himself from all the soothing and delicious fancies that would arise out of the growth of his affection for that simple maid upon whom he bestowed "a sigh so piteous." Under the pressure of the one absorbing "commandment" that had been imposed upon him, he had vowed that it should live "within the volume of his brain, unmixed with baser matter." All else in the world had become to him mean and unimportant. Love was now to him a “trivial fond record,"—the wisdom of philosophy," the saws of books." All "that youth and observa tion copied," was to be forgotten in that dread word, "remember me." But Hamlet had put the "antic disposition on." The King had seen his "transformation." The courtiers talked familiarly of his "lunacy." The disguise which he had adopted was not accidentally chosen. The subtlety of his intellect directed him to that tone of-wayward sarcasm in which, while he appeared to others to be merely wandering, the bitter



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