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In Opbelia, again, as in Desdemona, the comparative want of in. telligence, or rather intellectuality, is never felt as a defect. She fills up the idea of excellence just as completely as if she had the intellect of Shakespeare himself. In the rounded equipoise of her character we miss not the absent element, because there is no vacancy to be supplied; and high intellect would strike us rather as a superfluity than a supplement ; its voice would rather drown than complete the harmony of the other tones.
Ophelia is exhibited in the utmost ripeness and mellowness, both of soul and sense, to impressions from without. With her sus. ceptibilities just opening to external objects, her thoughts are so engaged on these as to leave no room for self-contemplation. This exceeding impressibility is the source at once of her beauty and her danger. From the lips and eyes of Hamlet she has drunk in pledges of his love, but has never heard the voice of her own; and knows not how full her heart is of Hamlet, because she has not a single thought or feeling there at strife with him. Mrs. Jameson rightly says, “ she is far more conscious of being loved than of loving; and yet loving in the silent depths of her young heart far more than she is loved." For it is a singolar fact that, though from Hamlet we have many disclosures, and from Ophelia only concealments, there has been much doubt of his love, but never any of bers. Opbelia's silence as, to her own passion has beer sometimes misderived from a wish to hide it from others; but, in truth, she seems not to be aware of it herself; and she uncon. sciously betrays it in the modest reluctance with which she yields up the secret of Hamlet's courtship. The extorted confession of what she has received reveals how much she has given ; the soft tremblings of her bosom being made the plainer by the delicate lawn of silence thrown over it. Even when despair is wringing her innocent young soul into an utter wreck, she seems not to know the source of ber affliction ; and the truth comes out only when her sweet mind, which once breathed such enchanting music, lies broken in fragments before us, and the secrets of her maiden beart are bovering on her demented tongue.
One of the billerest ingredients in poor Ophelia's cup is the belief that by her repulse of Hamlet she has dismantled bis fair and stately house of reason; and when, forgetting the wounds with wbich her own pure spirit is bleeding, over the spectacle of that “ unmatch'd form and feature of blown youth blasted with ecstacy," she meets his, “I loved you not,” with the despairing sigh,“ | was the more deceived," we see that she feels not the sundering of the ties that bind her sweetly-tempered faculties in harmony. Yet we blame pot Hamlet, for he is bimself but a victim of an inexorable power which is spreading its ravages through nim over another life as pure and heavenly as his own. Standing on the verge of an abyss which is yawning to engalph himself, his very effort to frighten her back from it only hurries her in before him
To snatch another jewel from Mrs. Jameson's casket, -He has no thought to link his terrible destiny with hers: he cannot marry lier : he cannot reveal to her, young, gentle, innocent as she is, the terrific influences which have changed the whole current of his life and purposes. In his distraction he overacts the painful part 10 which he has tasked himself; like that judge of the Areopagus who, being occupied with graver matters, flung from him the little hird which had sought refuge in his bosom, and with such ar.gry violence, that he unwittingly killed it."
Ophelia's insanity exhausts the fountains of human pily. It is one of those mysterious visitings over which we can only brood in silent sympathy and awe; which Heaven alone has a heart adcquately to pity, and a hand effectually to heal. Its pathos were 100 much to be borne, but for the sweet incense that rises from her crushed spirit, as "she turns thought and affliction, passion, hell itself, to favour and to prettiness." of her death what shall be said? The victim of crimes in which she has no share but as a sufferer, we hail with joy the event that snatches her from the rack of this world. The "snatches of old lauds," with which she channts, as it were, her own burial service, are like smiles gush ing from the very heart of woe. We must leave her, with the words of Hazlitt: “0, rose of May! 0, flower too soon faded ! Her love, her madness, her death, are described with the truest touches of tenderness and pathos. It is a character which nobody out Shakespeare could have drawn in the way that he has done ; and to the conception of which there is not the smallest approach, except in some of the old romantic ballads."
The Queen's affection for this lovely being is one of those unexpected strokes, so frequent in Shakespeare, which surprise us into reflection by their naturalness. That Ophelia should disclose a vein of goodness in the Queen, was necessary perhaps to keep us both from underrating the influence of the one, and from ex. aggerating the wickedness of the other. The love which she thus awakens tells us that her helplessness springs from innocence, not from weakness; and so serves to prevent the pity which her condition moves from lessening the respect due to her character.
Almost any other author would have depicted Gertrude without a single alleviating trait in her character. Beaumont and Fletcher would probably have made her simply frightful or loathsome, and capable only of exciting abhorrence or disgust; if, indeed, in her monstrons depravity she had not rather failed to excite any feel. mg. Shakespeare, with far more effect as well as far more truth, exbibits her with such a mixture of good and bad, as neither dis. arms censore nor precludes pily. Herself dragged along in the terrible train of consequences which her own guilt had a band in starting, she is hurried away into the same dreadful abyss along with those whom she loves, and against whom she has sinned. In her tenderness towards Hamlet and Ophelia, we recognise the vir
tues of the mother without in the least palliating the guilt of the wife; while the crimes in which she is an accomplice almost dis appear in those of which she is the victim.
The plan of this drama seems to consist in the persons being represented as without plans ; for, as Goethe happily remarks, " the hero is without any plan, but the play itself is full of plan.' As the action, so far as there is any, is shaped and determined rather for the characters than from them, all their energies could the better be translated into thought. Hence of all the Poet's dramas this probably combines the greatest strength and diversity of faculties. Sweeping round the whole circle of human thought and passion, its alternations of amazement and terror; if lust, ambition, and remorse ; of hope, love, friendship, anguish, madness, and despair; of wit, humour, pathos, poetry, and philosophy; now congealing the blood with horror, now melting the heart with pity, now launching the mind into eternity, now startling conscience from her lonely seat with supernatural visitings; - it unfolds indeed a world of truth, and beauty, and sublimity.
Of ils varied excellences, only a few of the less obvious need be specified. The platform scenes are singularly charged with picturesque effect. The chills of a northern winter midnight seem creeping on us, as the heart-sick sentinels pass in view, and, steeped in moonlight and drowsiness, exchange their meeting and parting salutations. The thoughts and images that rise in their minds are just such as the anticipation of preternatural visions would be likely to inspire. As the bitter cold stupefies their senses, an indescribable feeling of dread and awe steals over them, preparing the mind to realise its own superstitious imaginings. And the feeling one has in reading these scenes is not unlike that of a child pass ing a grave-yard by moonlight. Out of the dim and drowsy moonbeams apprehension creates its own objects; his fancies embody themselves in surrounding facts; his fears give shape to outward things, while those things give outwardness to his fears.The heterogeneous elements that are brought together in the grave. digging scene, with its strange mixture of songs and witticisms and dead men's bones, and its still stranger transitions of the grave, the sprightly, the meditative, the solemn, the playful, and the gro. lesque, make it one of the most wonderful yet most natural scenes in the drama. - In view of the terrible catastrophe, Goethe has the following weighty sentence: “It is the tendency of crime 10 spread its evils over innocence, as it is of virtue to diffuse its blessings over many who deserve them not; while, frequently, the author of the one or of the other is not, so far as we can see, prin ished or rewarded."
CLAUDIUS, King of Denmark.
GERTRUDE, Mother of Hamlet, and Queen.
Lords, Ladies, Officers, Soldiers, Players, Sailors, Messea
gers, and Attendants.
THE TRAGEDY OF HAMLET.
SCENE I. Elsinore.
A Platform before the Castle.
FRANCISCO on his Post. Enter to him BERNARDO.
Ber. Who's there?
That is, answer me, as I have the right to challenge you. Berardo then gives in answer the watch-word, “ Long live the king!” –“Compare," says Coleridge, “ tbe easy language of common life, in which this drama commences, with the direful music and wild wayward rhythm and abrupt lyrics of the opening of Macbeth. The tone is quite familiar: there is no poetic descriplion of night, no elaborale information conveyed by one speaker to another of what both bad iminediately before their senses; and yet nothing bordering on the comic on the one hand, nor any striving of the intellect on the other. It is precisely the language of sensation among men who feared no charge of effeminacy for seeling what they had no want of resolution to bear. Yet the ar. mour, the dead sidence, the watchfulness that first interrupts it, the welcome relief of the guard, the cold, ihe broken expressions of compelled attention to bodily feelings still under control, - all excellently accord with, and prepare for, the after gradual rise into tragedy; but, above all, into a tragedy, the interest of which is as eminently ad et apud intra, as that of Macbeth is directly id ortra."