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God, is rarely mentioned throughout Macbeth. The one or other occurs constantly in Hamlet through all the persons. No doubt, the use is very commonly to “sugar over the devil.” It is also not infrequently for exclamation and even oath. Indeed, the latter is the first employment, made in the play, of God and heaven. But profane swearing is as natural as piety to a soldier race. It is an effort of musculation to impress by force and fear, for want of energy in the intellect to do so by reason. It has accordingly been relatively slight in the Celtic race. The accession of a Celtic monarch, James I., to the British throne, was forthwith marked by the enactment of a formal law against English swearing. A practice then so universal among this people in all classes, up to his own predecessor pious and female, who swore like troopers, as to have formed the staple rhetoric of even the writers for the stage. I
The exclamations just alluded to are a second feature of the opposition. It might be thought this inarticulate expression of the sentiments should be more common in the Celtic play, the race being what is called "impulsive";
” whereas the Teutons are content to be deemed phlegmatic in comparison. But this is one of the “vulgar errors and inversions already rectified. The impulsiveness is the effect of
It seems, indeed, to have been installed in the Constitution itself. Those called the Commons,” (says Keith, anno 1677) “ had their kind of swearing, and those called the Gentry had theirs; so that the ordinary way of swearing would not serve them both. But as they (the gentry) exceeded the commons in outward greatness, so they thought it a property (propriety, or is it privilege ?) to exceed them in swearing more great and terrible oaths, and these are called gentlemen's oaths." Here are then the constitutional distinctions and dualism.
susceptibility to new motives, as presented to the reason, from abroad, by social influences. To those who do not see these influences nor feel the like themselves, the variations which are the consequence, must seem a meaningless inconstancy ; while on the other hand, their own changes, coming mostly from within, from the individual principle of conscience or opinion, the fact of the occurrence is not only slower and rarer, but may also be unconscious to the conscience, which is the changer. In the race of alleged impulse, such perceive but the effects ; in themselves, they, on the contrary, advert but to the cause ; and as this which is the Conscience, the German ego, continues one, it is habitually insensible, as is the eye, to its own shiftings. To recognise a change of position, three points at least are necessary; but the ego has but two, to wit, itself and its object. So that, while true to itself (in the maxim of Polonius), it may remain persuaded of being false to no one else, though in reality it veers to every point of the moral compass. Hence the corresponding race has passed upon itself and others, the persistency of egoism for the consistency of reason.
Whence it follows, that, on the contrary, this is really the race of impulse, that is to say, of inspiration through the sentiments or conscience; and so, by consequence of exclamations, the proper language of unreasoned feeling. Quite accordingly, the divine Shakespeare has not neglected this deep distinction. While there is scarce one interjection, any more than oath, throughout Macbeth, the only one being the “O horror” ! of Macduff at the murder ; a mere glance will serve to shew that there is scarce a page of Hamlet that is not cyphered with these symbols of a phlegmatic surprise.
The ghost himself is not exempted from this rhetoric of the ego ; as for instance : “O Hamlet !—0 wicked art-list, O list !- horrible, O horrible"! Hamlet, too, is constantly bleating this figure. Polonius alone perhaps, of all the personages great and small, by an exception that lights the rule, is never caught in the naïvity. The old conscienceless politician and coxcomical ratiocinator is surprised into this native accent but by the dagger—“O, I am slain”! How incessant this interjection is with the Germans must be familiar. And so deeply does it lie in the constitution of the race, that a Prussian philosopher has made, the other day, the principle his basis of a theory of language.
One alone of these minor touches has been noted by the critics, though merely as a fact, but which is equally conformable. Coleridge has remarked, very probably after Schlegel, that while the play of Hamlet is overrun with puns, there is nothing of the kind in the piece of Macbeth.
1 M. STEINTHAL. Der Ursprung der Sprache. (Berlin, 1851. With the English, who have less of the primitive simplicity, the impulse seems in general kept down to the arms. This is known to the bill. distributers in the metropolis of commerce. They use the little artifice of hiding the package, and of a sudden “ popping” one into each passer's face, who is commonly surprised into jerking forth the arm, perhaps instinctively to “ward” a blow, but effectually to take the bill.— What profundity of meditation in even those merchants and mechanics, remarks some French feuilletonist come to study English character, and who is sensible that nothing but abstraction of that nature could disarm his own people of a dignified disregard. And when, continues he, we see this thinking absence in the lower classes, what must not be concluded of that terrible aristocracy who keep astride on such a people, and who overthrew Napoleon !—This is seriously a fair example of French philosophy about the English.
And he merely concludes that Shakespeare could abstain when he pleased ; as if he practised this low wit through mere gaïté de cæur. Schlegel, somewhat less ludicrously, vin ates the use of it. He alleges that “a great fondness for it is always evinced among children and nations of simple manners ;"1 by which is meant that the English of Shakespeare's day were a sort of children. Now, our Teutonic brother must not get off in that way.
Macbeth was addressed to the same English as Hamlet. So were Cymbeline and Lear, which are also without punning, to the same people as the plays called historical, which are all full of it. It cannot, therefore, be referred to either the public or the poet, which are both common to the two classes, but to some difference in these classes. This great difference is, that the characters are in the former Celtic; and in the punning category, that they are Teutonic. And that the trait could be no other than a means of characterization must have been held, even in the absence of a distinct comprehension of it, quite implicitly by critics at all versed in Shakespeare's genius.? The punning may be now conceived
| Lect. Dram. Lit, ch, 23.
2 Bacon, who had as keen an ere to national adaptation as Shakespeare himself is the author of a Jest-book. It is said to hare the excellence of all his writings, without the drawback of remaining unfinished. An advantage perhaps due to the fact, that the subject did not call for great expenditure of cohesion or construction.
It would appear too that punning is synonymous with wit and a high mark of talent in the University of Oxford. And the prevalence, as well as poverty, of this amusement at the English bar may be judged of from the specimens recorded of even the Bench, by Lord Campbell, in his “Lives," with a touch of Scotch mischief.
to be, in fact, a result of the mode or stage of intellect distinguished as the muscular. This complexion loves mirth, and at the cheapest mental outlay. We have the word of another poet that “heavy dulness ever loves a joke.” Lycurgus gave the Spartans penates of laughter, as buffoons had been a fixture in the Gothic castles of the middle ages. But the pun reduces wit to the lowest or physical grade ; embodies it to mere sense in the compass of a word, without tasking with the slightest intellectual combination. It is in short, the primer of the art, or Wit-Made-Easy. Hence the fondness for it in children and adult people of “simple manners," or rather of weak intellect, for this is the true meaning. Shakespeare, therefore, well designed it as a trait of a soldier race, as he does the concetti, where the characters are Italian, such as, for example, in the Two Gentlemen of Verona ; and as he generally excludes both, not only from the persons but even from the plays of the race of wit and reason, indulging but esprit, as in Love's Labour Lost.. Schlegel pleads that the Greek tragedy did not disdain to admit punning. It occurs, it is believed, but in a single piece of Sophocles, and in a personage which surely puts a climax to the proof. The Greek punster is the smallbrained and large-bodied Ajax, who still more strictly than Achilles was the type of the warrior character !
The candid reader is now prepared to look for colouring and even character in every detail of this painter, down to forms of expression. Of these there are two that grato repeatedly the ear in Hamlet. The one is the word gentleman, employed in a laudatory, not in a merely ceremonial sense ; while it occurs but in the latter, and a few times in