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anguish or terror ? Now, the expressions of mirth, in such cases are plainly neither the reality nor the affectation of mirth. Peu. ple, when overwhelmed with distress, certainly are not in a condition either to feel merry or to feign mirib; yet tbey do some tines express it. The truth is, such extremes naturally and spon: taneously express themselves by their opposites. In like manner, Hainlet's madness, it seems to us, is neither real nor affected, but a sort of natural and spontaneous imitation of madness; the tri. umph of his reason over his passion naturally expressing itself in the tokens of insanity, just as the agonies of despair naturally vent themselves in flashes of mirth. Accordingly, Coleridge remarks, that “ Hamlet's wildness is but half false ; be plays that subile trick of pretending to act, only when he is very near really being what he acts."
Again : It is not uncommon for men, in times of great depres. sion, to fly off into prodigious humours and eccentricities. We have known people under such extreme pressure to throw their most intimate friends into consternation by their extravagant play ings and frolickings. Such symptoms of wildness are sometimes the natural, though perhaps spasmodic, reaction of the mind against the weight that oppresses it. The mind thus spontaneously becomes eccentric in order to recover or preserve its centre. Even so Hamlet's aberrations seem the conscious, half-voluntary bending of his faculties beneath an overload of thought, to keep them from breaking. His mind being deeply disturbed, agitated to its centre, but not disorganized, those irregularities are rather a throwing-off of that disturbance than a giving-way to it.
On the whole, therefore, Goethe's celebrated criticism seems quite beside the mark: nevertheless, as it is the calm judgment of a great mind, besides being almost too beautiful in itself pot to be true, we gladly subjoin it. “It is clear to me," says he, “that Shakespeare's intention was, to exhibit the effects of a great action imposed as a duly upon a mind too feeble for its accomplishment. In this sense I find the character consistent through out. Here is an oak planted in a china vase, proper to receive only the most delicate flowers : the roots strike out, and the vessel flies to pieces. A pure, noble, highly moral disposition, but without that energy of soul which constitutes the bero, sinks under a load which it can neither support nor resolve to abandur altogether. All his obligations are sacred to him ; but this alone is above bis powers. An impossibility is required at his hands; not an impossibility in itself, but that wbich is so to him."
Suill we have to confess, as stated before, that there is a piystery about Hamlet, which baffles all our resources of criticism; and our remarks should be taken as expressing rather what we have thought on the subject than any setuled judgment. We will dismiss the theme by quoting what seems to us a very admirable passage from a paper in Blackwood's Magazine, vol. ii., signe) 'T. C.” The writer is speaking of Hamlet : “lu him, his char. acter, and his situation, there is a concentration of all the interests that belong to humanity. There is scarcely a trait of frailty or of grandeur, which may have endeared to us our most beloved friends in real life, that is not found in Hamlet. Undoubtedly Shakespeare loved him beyond all his other creations. Soon as be appears on the stage, we are satisfied : when absent, we long for his return. This is the only play which exists almost altogether in the character of one single person. Who ever knew a Hamlet in real life ? yet who, ideal as the character is, feels not its reality ? This is the wonder. We love him not, we think of bim not, tecause he was witty, because he was melancholy, be. cause he was filial; but we love him because he existed, and was himself. This is the grand sum-total of the impression. I believe that of every other character, either in tragic or epic poetry, the story makes a part of the conception ; but, of Hamlet, the deep and permanent interest is the conception of himself. This seems to belong, not to the character being more perfectly drawn, but to there being a more intense conception of individual human life than perhaps in any other human composition ; that is, a being with springs of thought, and feeling, and action, deeper than we can search. These springs rise up from an unknown depth, and in that depth there seems lo be a oneness of being which we cannot distinctly behold, but which we believe to be there, and thus irreconcileable circumstances, floating on the surface of his actions, have not the effect of making us doubt the truth of the general picture."
From the same eloquent paper we must make another extract louching the apparition of “that fair and warlike form, in which the majesty of buried Denmark did sometimes march:” “With all the mighty power which this tragedy possesses over us, arising from qualities now very generally described ; yet, without that kingly shadow, who tbrows over it such preternatural grandeur, it could never have gained so universal an ascendancy over the miods of men. Now, the reality of a ghost is measured to that state of imagination in which we ought to be held for the fullest powers of tragedy. The appearance of such a phantom at once ibrows open those recesses of the inner spirit over which flesh was closing. Magicians, thunder-storms, and demons produce upon me something of the same effect. I feel myself brought instantaneously back to the creed of childhood. Imagination then seems not a power which I exert, but an impulse which I obey. Thus does the Ghost in Hamlet carry us into the presence of eternity.
"Never was a more majestic spirit more majestically revealed. The shadow of his kingly grandeur and his warlike might rests massily upon him. He passes before us sad, silent, and stately, He brings the whole weight of the tragedy in his disclosures. His speech is ghos olike, and blends with ghost conceptions. The popular memory of his words proves bow profoundly they sink into our souls. The preparation for his first appearance is most soleinn. The night-watch, - the more common effect on the two soldiers, - the deeper effect on the next party, and their specula tions, - Horatio's communication with the shadow, that seeins as it were half-way hetween theirs and Hamlet's, - his adjurations, the degree of impression which they produce on the Ghost's mind, who is about to speak but for the due ghost-like interruption of the bird of morning ; - all these things lead our minds up to the last pitch of breathless expectation ; and while yet the wbole weight of mystery is left hanging over the play, we feel that some dread disclosure is reserved for Hamlet's ear, and that an apparition from the world unknown is still a partaker of the noblest of all earthly affections."
Horatio is a very noble character ; but he moves so quietly in the drama, that his modest worth and solid manliness have not bad justice done them. Should we undertake to go through the play without bim, we should then feel how much of the best spirit and impression of the scenes is owing to his presence and character. For he is the medium tbroogh which many of the hero's finest and noblest traits are conveyed to us ; yet himself so clear and transparent that he scarcely catches the attention. Mr. Verplanck, we believe, was the first to give him his due. “Wbile," says he, " every other character in this play, Ophelia, Polonius, and even Osrick, has been analyzed and discussed, it is remarkable ihat no critic bas stept forward to notice the great beauty of Horatio's character, and its exquisite adaptation to the effect of the piece. His is a character of great excellence and accomplishment; but wbile this is distinctly showni, it is but sketched, not elaborately painted. His qualities are brought out only by single and seemingly-accidental touches ; the whole being toned down to a quiet and unobtrusive beauty that does not tempt the mind to wander from the main interest, which rests alone upon Hainlet ; while it is yet distinct enough to increase that interest, by showing him worthy to be Hamlet's trusted friend in life, and the chosen defender of his honour after death. Such a character, in the hands of another author, would have been made the centre of some sec. ondary plot. But here, while he commands our respect and es. leem, he never for a moment divides a passing interest with the Prince. He does not break in upon the main current of our feel. ings. He contributes only to the general effect; so that it requires an effort of the mind to separate him for critical admiration."
The main features of Polonius have been seized and set forth by Dr. Johnson with the hand of a master. It is one of the best pieces of personal criticism ever penned. “ Polonius," says he, “is a man bred in courts, exercised in business, stored with obser vation, confident in his knowledge, proud of his eloquence, ana declining into dotage. His mode of oratory is designed to id icule the practice of thc se times, of prefaces that made no intro duction, and of method that embarrassed rather than explained. This part of his character is accidental, the rest natural. Such a man is positive and confident, because he knows that his mind was once strong, and knows not that it has become weak. Such a man excels in general principles, but fails in particular application. He is know.ng in retrospeci, and ignorar i foresight. While he de. pends upon his memory, and can draw from his depositaries of knowledge, he ullers weighty sentences, and gives useful counsel; but, as the mind in its enfeebled state cannot be kept long busy and intent, the old man is subject to the dereliction of his facul. ties; he loses the order of his ideas, and entangles himself in his own thoughts, till be recover the leading principle, and fall into his former train. The idea of dotage encroaching upon wisdom will solve all the phenomena of the character of Polonius.”
In all this Polonius is the exact antithesis of Hamlet, though Hamlet doubtless includes bim, as the heavens do the earth. A man of but one method, that of intrigue ; with his fingers ever itching to pull the wires of some intricale plot; and without any sense or perception of times and occasions; he is called to act in a matter where such arts and methods are peculiarly unfitting, and therefore only succeeds in over-reaching himself. Thus in him we have the type of a superannuated politician, and all his follies and blunders spring from undertaking io act the politician where he is most especially required to be a man. From books, too, he has gleaned maxims, but not gained development; sought to equip, not feed, his mind out of them : he has therefore made books his idols, and books have made bim pedautic.
To such a mind, or rather half-mind, the character of Hamlet must needs be a profound enigma. It takes a whole man to know such a being as Hamlet; and Polonius is but the allic story of a man! As in his mind the calculative faculties have eaten out the perceptive, of course his inferences are seldom wrong, his premises seldom right. Assuming Hamlet to be thus and so, he reasons and acts most admirably in regard to bim ; but the fact is, be cannot see Hamlet ; bas no eye for the true premises of the case; and, being wrong in these, his very correctness of logic makes him but the more ridiculous. His method of coming at the meaning of men, is by reading them backwards; and this method, used upon such a character as Hamlet, can but betray the user's infirmity.
Shakespeare's skill in revealing a character through its most characteristic transpirations is finely displayed in the directions Polonius gives his servant, for detecting the habits and practices of his absent son. Here the old politician is perfectly at home; his mind seems to revel in the mysteries of wire-pulling and trapsetting. In the Prince, however, he finds an impracticable sub
ject; bere all his strategy is nonplussed, and bimself caught in the trap he sels ic catch the truth. The mere torch of policy, nature or Hamlet, who is an embodiment of nature, blows him out; 30 that, in attempting to throw light on the Prince, he just rays out nothing but smoke. The sport of circumstances, it was only by a change of circumstances that Hamlet came to know him. Once the hououred minister of his royal father, now the despised tool of that father's murderer, Hamlet sees in him only the crooked, sup. ple time-server; and the ease with which he baffles and plagues the old fox shows how much craftier one can be who scorns craft, than one who courts it.
Habits of intrigue having extinguished in Polonius the powers of honest insight and special discernment, he therefore perceives pot the unfitness of his old methods to the new exigency; while at the same time his faith in the craft, hitherto found so successful, stuffs him with overweening assurance. Hence, also, that singular but most characteristic specimen of grannyism, namely, bis pedantic and impertinent dallying with artful turns of thought and speech amidst serious business ; where he appears not unlike a certain person who “could speak no sense in several languages." Superannuated politicians, indeed, like him, seldom bave any strength but as they fall back upon the resources of memory: ou! of these, the ashes, so to speak, of extinct faculties, they may seem wise after the fountains of wisdom are dried up within them; as a man who has lost his sight may seem to distinguish colours, so long as he refrains from speaking of the colours thal are before bim.
of all Shakespeare's heroines, the impression of Ophelia is perhaps the most difficult of analysis, partly because she is so real, partly because so undeveloped. Like Cordelia, she is brought forward but little in the play, yet the whole play seems full of her. Her very silence ulters her: unseen, she is missed, and so thought of the more : when absent in person, she is still present in effect, by what others bring from ber. Whatsoever grace comes from Polonius and the Queen is of her inspiring : Laertes is scarce regarded but as he loves his sister : of Hamlet's soul, 100, she is the sunrise and morning hymn. The soul of innocence and gentle. ness, wisdom seems to radiate from her insensibly, as fragrance is exhaled from flowers. It is in such forms that heaven most freqnently visits us!
Ophelia's situation much resembles Imogen's; their characters are in marked contrast. Both appear amid the corruptions of a wicked court; Ophelia escapes them by insensibility of their pres. ence, Imogen, by determined resistance: The former is unassail. able in her innocence; the latter, unconquerable in her strength : Ignorance protects Opbelia, knowledge, Imogen : The conception of vice has scarce found its way into Ophelia's mind ; in Imogen the daily perception of vice bas but called for a power to redel it