Page images


the belief that by her repulse of Hamlet she has dismantled his fair and stately house of reason; and when, forgetting the wounds with which 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, "I 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 not Hamlet, for he is himself but a victim of an inexorable power which is spreading its ravages through him over another life as pure and heavenly as his own. Standing on the verge of an abyss which is yawning to engulf 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 her: 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 to which he has tasked himself; like that judge of the Areopagus who, being occupied with graver matters, flung from him the little bird which had sought refuge in his bosom, and with such angry violence, that he unwittingly killed it."

Ophelia's insanity exhausts the fountains of human pity. It is one of those mysterious visitings over which we can only brood in silent sympathy and awe; which Heaven alone has a heart adequately to pity, and a hand effectually to heal. Its pathos were too 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 favor 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 chaunts, as it were, her own burial service, are like smiles gushing from the very heart of woe. We must leave her, with the words of Hazlitt: "O, rose of May!

O, 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 but 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 exaggerating 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 charac


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 monstrous depravity she had not rather failed to excite any feeling. Shakespeare, with far more effect as well as far more truth, exhibits her with such a mixture of good and bad, as neither disarms censure nor precludes pity. Herself dragged along in the terrible train of consequences which her own guilt had a hand 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 recognize the virtues of the mother without in the least palliating the guilt of the wife; while the crimes in which she is an accomplice almost disappear 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

[ocr errors]

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; of lust, ambition, and remorse; of hope, love, friendship, anguish, madness, and despair; of wit, humor, 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 its 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 realize its own superstitious imaginings. And the feeling one has in reading these scenes is not unlike that of a child passing a graveyard 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 grotesque, 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 to 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, punished or rewarded."






The character of Hamlet stands quite by itself. It is not a character marked by strength of will or even of passion, but by refinement of thought and sentiment. Hamlet is as little of the hero as a man can well be: but he is a young and princely novice, full of high enthusiasm and quick sensibility—the sport of circumstances, questioning with fortune and refining on his own feelings, and forced from the natural bias of his disposition by the strangeness of his situation. He seems incapable of deliberate action, and is only hurried into extremities on the spur of the occasion, when he has no time to reflect, as in the scene where he kills Polonius, and again, where he-alters the letters which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are taking with them to England, purporting his death. At other times, when he is most bound to act, he remains puzzled, undecided, and sceptical, dallies with his purposes, till the occasion is lost, and finds out some pretense to relapse into indolence and thoughtfulness again. For this reason he refuses to kill the King when he is at his prayers, and by a refinement in malice, which is in truth only an excuse for his own want of resolution, defers his revenge to a more fatal opportunity, when he shall be engaged in some act "that has no relish of salvation in it.”

He is the prince of philosophical speculators; and be cause he cannot have his revenge perfect, according to the most refined idea his wish can form, he declines it altogether So he scruples to trust the suggestions of the ghost, contrives the scene of the play to have surer proof

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »