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Ay, lady, 'twas my word. Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewel! [To Pol.
spotting his name with a double vice, incestuous adulterie, and paracide murther. This adulterer and infamous murtherer Slaundered his dead brother, that he would have slaine his wife, and that hee by chance finding him on the point ready to do it, in defence of the lady, had slaine him.-The unfortunate and wicked woman that had received the honour to be the wife of one of the valiantest and wisest princes in the North, imbased herselfe in such vile sort as to falsifie her faith unto him, and, which is worse, to marrie him that had bin the tyrannous murtherer of her lawful husband; which made diverse men think that she had been the causer of the murther, thereby to live in her adulterie without controle. Hyst. of Hamb. sig. C 1. 2.
In the conference, however, with her son, on which the present scene is founded, she strongly asserts her innocence with respect to this fact:
“I know well, my sonne, that I have done thee great wrong in marrying with Fengon, the cruel tyrant and murtherer of thy father, and my loyal spouse ; but when thou shalt consider the small means of resistance, and the treason of the palace, with the little cause of confidence we are to expect, or hope for, of the courtiers, all wrought to his will; as also the power he made ready if I should have refused to like him; thou wouldst rather excuse, than accuse me of lasciviousness or inconstancy, much less offer me that wrong to suspect that ever thy mother Geruth ence consented to the death and murther of her husband: swearing unto thee by the majestie of the gods, that if it had layne in me to have resisted the tyrant, although it had beene with the losse of my blood, yea and of my life, I would surely have saved the life of my lord and husband.” Ibid. sig. D 4. · It is observable, that in the drama neither the king or queen make so good a defence. Shakspeare wished to render them as odious as he could, and therefore has not in any part of the play furnished them with even the semblance of an excuse for their conduct. .
Though the inference already mentioned may be drawn from the surprize which our poet has here made the Queen express at being charged with the murder of her husband, it is observable that when the Player-Queen in the preceding scene says:
“In second husband let me be accurst!.
“ None wed the second, but who kill'd the first." he has made Hamlet exclaim-“that's wormwood." The Prince, therefore, both from the expression and the words addressed to his mother in the present scene, must be supposed to think her guilty.- Perhaps after all this investigation, the truth is, that Shakspeare himself meant to leave the matter in doubt. Malone.
I know not in what part of this tragedy the King and Queen could have been expected to enter into a vindication of their mutual conduct. The former indeed is rendered contemptible as
I took thee for thy better; take thy fortune:
well as guilty; but for the latter our poet seems to have felt all that tenderness which the Ghost recommends to the imitation of her son. Steevens.
Had Shakspeare thought fit to have introduced the topicks I have suggested, can there be a doubt concerning his ability to introduce them? The king's justification, if to justify had been the poet's object, (which it certainly was not) might have been made in a soliloquy; the queen's, in the present interview with her son. Malone.
It might not unappositely be observed, that every new com. mentator, like Sir T. Hanmer's Othello, must often “ make the meat he feeds on.” Some slight objection to every opinion already offered, may be found ; and, if in doubtful cases we are to presume that “the poet tells his stories as they have been told before,” we must put new constructions on many of his scenes, as well as new comments on their verbal obscurities.
For instance-touching the manner in which Hamlet disposed of Polonius's body. The black-letter history tells us he “cut it in pieces, which he caused to be boiled, and then cast it into an open vault or privie.” Are we to conclude therefore that he did so in the play before us, because our author has left the matter doubtful ? Hamlet is only made to tell us, that this dead counsellor was “safely stowed.” He afterwards adds, “- you shall nose him” &c.; all which might have been the case, had the di. rection of the aforesaid history been exactly followed. In this transaction then (which I call a doubtful one, because the remains of Polonius might have been rescued from the forica, and afterwards have received their “hugger-mugger" funeral,) am 1 at liberty to suppose he had the fate of Heliogabalus, in cloa. cam missus?
That the Queen (who may still be regarded as innocent of murder) might have offered some apology for her “over-hasty marriage,” can easily be supposed; but Mr. Malone has not suggested what defence could have been set up by the royal fratricide. My acute predecessor, as well as the novelist, must have been aware that though female weakness, and an offence against the forms of the world, will admit of extenuation, such guilt as that of the usurper, could not have been palliated by the dramatick art of Shakspeare ; even if the father of Hamlet had been represented as a wicked instead of a virtuous character.
Queen. What have I done, that thou dar'st wag thy
tongue In noise so rude against me? Ham.
Such an act, That blurs the grace and blush of modesty; Calls virtue, hypocrite; takes off the roses
8 takes off the rose, &c.] Alluding to the custom of wearing roses on the side of the face. See a note on a passage in King Fohn, Act I. Warburton.
I believe Dr. Warburton is mistaken; for it must be allowed that there is a material difference between an ornament worn on the forehead, and one exhibited on the side of the face. Some have understood these words to be only a metaphorical enlargement of the sentiment contained in the preceding line:
“- blurs the grace and blush of modesty :" but as the forehead is no proper situation for a blush to be displayed in, we may have recourse to another explanation.
It was once the custom for those who were betrothed, to wear some flower as an external and conspicuous mark of their mutual engagement. So, in Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar for April:
“ Bring coronations and sops in wine,
“Worn of paramours." Lyte, in his Herbal, 1578, enumerates sops in wine among the smaller kind of single gilliflowers or pinks.
An Address “ To all Judiciall Censurers,” prefixed to The Whipper of the Satyre his Pennance in a White Sheete, or the Beadle's Confutation, 1601, begins thus :
“ Brave spirited gentles, on whose comely front
“ The rose of favour sits majesticall, —," Sets a blister there, has the same meaning as in Measure for Measure :
“ Who falling in the flaws of her own youth,
“ Hath blister'd her report.” Steevens. I believe, by the rose was only meant the roseate hue. The forehead certainly appears to us an odd place for the hue of innocence to dwell on, but Shakspeare might place it there with as much propriety as a smile. In Troilus and Cressida we find these lines:
“ So rich advantage of a promis'd glory,
“ As smiles upon the forehead of this action." That part of the forehead which is situated between the eye. brows, seems to have been considered by our poet as the seat of innocence and modesty. So, in a subsequent scene: “
brands the harlot, “Even here, between the chaste and unsmirch'd brow
“ Of my true mother.” Malone. In the foregoing quotation from Troilus and Cressida, I understand that the forehead is smiled upon by advantage, and not that
From the fair forehead of an innocent love,
the forehead is itself the smiler. Thus, says Laertes in the play before us :
“ Occasion smiles upon a second leave." But it is not the leave that smiles, but occasion that smiles upon it.
In the subsequent passage our author had no choice; for having alluded to that part of the face which was anciently branded with a mark of shame, he was compelled to place his token of innocence in a corresponding situation. Steevens.
9_ from the body of contraction —] Contraction for marriage Contract. Warburton. 1- Heaven's face doth glow;
Tea, the solidity and compound mass,
Is thought-sick at the act.] If any sense can be found here, it is this. The sun glows (and does it not always ?] and the very solid mass of earth has a tristful visage, and is thought-sick. All this is sad stuff. The old quarto reads much nearer to the poet's sense :
Heaven's face does glow,
Is thought-sick at the act.
Heaven's face doth glow,
Is thought-sick at the act. This makes a fine sense, and to this effect. The sun looks upon our globe, the scene of this murder, with an angry and mournful countenance, half hid in eclipse, as at the day of doom. Warburton.
The word heated, though it agrees well enough with glow, is, I think, not so striking as tristful, which was, I suppose, chosen at the revisal. I believe the whole passage now stands as the allthor gave it. Dr. Warburton's reading restores two improprieties, which Shakspeare, by his alteration, had removed. In the first, and in the new reading, Heaven's face glows with tristful visage; and, Heaven's face is thought-sick. To the common reading there is no just objection. Fohnson.
I am strongly inclined to think that the reading of the quarto, Queen.
- Ah me, what act, That roars so loud, and thunders in the index ?3
Ham. Look here, upon this picture, and on this;4
1604, is the true one. In Shakspeare's licentious diction, the meaning may be, -The face of heaven doth glow with heated visage over the earth: and heaven as against the day of judgment, is thought-sick at the act.
Had not our poet St. Luke's description of the last day in his thoughts?" And there shall be signs in the sun and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring: men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking on those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken," &c. Malone.
2 That roars so loud, 7 The meaning is,- What is this aot, of which the discovery, or mention, cannot be made, but with this violence of clamour? Johnson.
3- and thunders in the index?] Mr. Edwards observes, that the indexes of many old books were at that time inserted at the beginning, instead of the end, as is now the custom. This observation I have often seen confirmed.
So, in Othello, Act II, sc. vii:“ an index and obscure prologue to the history of lust and foul thoughts." Steevens.
Bullokar in his Expositor, 8vo. 1616, defines an Index by “ A table in a booke.” The table was almost always prefixed to the books of our poet's age. Indexes, in the sense in which we now understand the word, were very uncommon. Malone.
4 Look here, upon this picture, and on this;] It is evident from . the following words,
“ A station like the herald Mercury,” &c. that these pictures which are introduced as miniatures on the stage, were meant for whole lengths, being part of the furniture of the Queen's closet:
" like Maia's son he stood,
“ And shook his plumes:" Paradise Lost, Book V. Hamlet, who, in a former scene, has censured those who gave “ forty, fifty, a hundred ducats apiece” for his uncle's “ picture in little,” would hardly have condescended to carry such a thing in his pocket. Steevens.
The introduction of miniatures in this place appears to be a modern innovation. A print prefixed to Rowe's edition of Ham. let, published in 1709, proves this. There, the two royal portraits are exhibited as half-lengths, hanging in the Queen's closet; and either thus, or as whole-lengths, they probably were exhibited from the time of the original performance of this tragedy to the death of Betterton. To half-lengths, however, the same objection lies, as to miniatures. Malone.
We may also learn, that from this print the trick of kicking the chair down on the appearance of the Ghost, was adopted by modern Hamlets from the practice of their predecessors. Steevens. :