« PreviousContinue »
How these things came about. So fhall you heap
Of accidental judgments, cafual flaughters;
Fall'n on th' inventors' heads. All this can I
Fort. Let us hafte to hear it,
And call the Noblefs to the audience.
For me, with forrow I embrace my fortune;
And from his mouth whofe voice will draw on more: But let this fame be prefently perform'd,
Even while men's minds are wild, left more mifchance On plots and errors happen.
Fort. Let four captains
Bear Hamlet, like a foldier, to the Stage;
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have prov'd moft royally. And for his paffage,
And from his mouth whofe voice will draw no more.] This is the reading of the old Quarto's, but certainly amiftaken one. We fay, a man will no more draw breath; but that a mau's will draw no more, is, I believe, an expreffion without any authority. I chufe to efpoufe the reading of the elder folio;
And from his mouth, whofe voice will draw on more. And this is the poet's meaning.
Hamlet, juft before his death, had faid;
But I do prophefy, th' election lights
On Fortinbras: He has my dy ing voice; So tell him, &c. Accordingly, Horatio here delivers that mefiage; and very justly infers, that Hamlet's voice will be feconded by others, and procure them in favour of Fore tinbras's fucceffion.
Take up the body.
Such a fight as this Becomes the field, but here fhews much amifs. Go, bid the Soldiers fhoot.
[Exeunt, marching: after which, a peal of
If the dramas of Shakespeare
The conduct is perhaps not wholly fecure against objections. The action is indeed for the moft part in continual progreffion, but there are fome fcenes which neither forward nor retard it. Of the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears no adequate caufe,
for he does nothing which he
Hamlet is, through the whole
The catastrophe is not very happily produced; the exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of neceffity, than a ftroke of art. A fcheme might eafily have been formed, to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes with the bowl.
The poet is accused of having fhewn little regard to poetical juftice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpofe; the revenge which he demands is not obtained but by the death of him that was required to take it; and the gratification which would arife from the deftruction of an ufurper and a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmlefs, and the pious,
ACT II. SCENE VII. Page 199.
The rugged Pyrrhus be, &c.] The two greatest poets of this and the last age, Mr. Dryden, in the preface to Troilus and Creffi da, and Mr. Pofe, in his note on this place, have concurred in thinking that Shakespear produced this long paffage with defign to ridicule and expofe the bombaft of the play from whence it was taken; and that Hamlet's commendation of it is purely ironical. This is become the general opinion. I think juft otherwife; and that it was given with commendation to upbraid the false taste of the audience of that time, which would not fuffer them to do juftice to the fimplicity and fublime of this production. And I reafon, Firft, From the Character Hamlet gives of the Play, from whence the paffage is taken. Secondly, From the paffage itself. And Thirdly, From the effect it had on the audience.
Let us confider the character Hamlet gives of it: The Play, I remember, pleas'd not the m llion, 'twas Caviar to the general; but it was (as I received it, and others, whofe judgment in fub matters cried in the top of mine) an excellent Play well digefted in the fcenes, fet down with as much modefty as cunning. I remember, one foid, there was no falt in the lines to make the matter favoury; nor no matter in the phrafe that might indite the author of affec
tion; but called it an honeft mer thod. They who fuppofe the paffage given to be ridiculed, mult needs fuppofe this character to be purely ironical. But if fo, it is the ftrangest irony that ever was written. It pleafed not the multitude. This we must conclude to be true, however ironical the rest be. Now the reason given of the defigned ridicule is the fuppofed bombaft. But thofe were the very plays, which at that time we know took with the multitude. And Fletcher wrote a kind of Rehearsal purposely to expofe them. But fay it is bombaft, and that, therefore, it took not with the multitude. Hamlet prefently tells us what it was that difpleafed them. There was no falt in the lines to make the matter favoury; nor no matter in the phrase that might indite the author of affection; but called it an honeft method. Now whether a perion fpeaks ironically or no, when he quotes others, yet common fenfe requires he should quote what they fay. Now it could not be, if this play dif pleafed because of the bombaft, that thofe whom it displeased fhould give this reafon for their diflike. The fame inconfiftencies and abfurdities abound in every other part of Hamlet's fpeech fuppofing it to be ironical: but take him as fpeaking his fentiments, the whole is of a piece; and to this purpose: The Play, I remember
remember, pleafed not the multitude, and the reafon was, its being wrote on the rules of the ancient Drama; to which they were entire ftrangers. But, in my opinion, and in the opinion of those for whofe judgment I have the highest eftéem, it was an excellent Play, well digefted in the fcens, i. e. where the three unities were well preferved. Set down with as much modefly as cunning, i, e, where not only the art of compofition, but the fimplicity of nature, was carefully attended, to. The characters were a faithful picture of life and manners, in which nothing was overcharged into Farce. But thefe qualities, which gained my efteem, loft the public's. For I remember one faid, There was no falt in the lines to make the matter favoury, i. e. there was not, according to the mode of that time, a fool or clown to joke, quibble, and talk freely. Nor no matter in the phrafe that might indite the author of affection, i. e. nor none of those paffionate, pathetic love fcenes, fo effential to modern tragedy. But he called it an boneft method, i. e. he owned, however tasteless this method of writing, on the ancient plan, was to our times, yet it was chafte and pure; the diftinguishing character of the Greek Drama. I need only make one obfervation on all this; that, thus interpreted, it is the jufteft picture of a good tragedy, wrote on the arcient rules. And that I have rightly interpreted it appears farther from what we find added in the old Quarto, an honest method, as wholesome as feet, and by
very much more HANDSOME, than FINE, i. e. it had a natural beauty, but none of the fucus of falfe art.
2. A fecond proof that this fpeech was given to be admired, is from the intrinfic merit of the fpeech itself: which contains the defcription of a circumftance very happily imagined, namely Ilium and Priam's falling together, with the effect it had on the deftroyer.
-The hellish Pyrrhus, &c. To, Repugnant to command.
Thunnerved father falls, &c. To,-So after Pyrrhus' pause. Now this circumftance, illuftrated with the fine fimilitude of the ftorm, is fo highly worked up as to have well deferved a place in Virgil's fecond Book of the Eneid, even tho' the work had been carried on to that perfection which the Roman Poet had conceived.
3. The third proof is, from the effects which followed on the recital. Hamlet, his best character, approves it; the Player is deeply affected in repeating it; and only the foolish Polonius tired with it. We have faid enough before of Hamlet's fentiments. As for the player, he changes colour, and the tears ftart from his eyes. But our author was too good a judge of nature to make bombast and unnatural fentiment produce fuch an effect. Nature and Horace both inftructed him,
Si vis me fiere, dolendum eft
Not that I would deny, that very bad lines in very bad tragedies have had this effect. But then it always proceeds from one or other of these causes.
1. Either when the fubject is domeftic, and the fcene lies at home: The fpectators, in this cafe, become interested in the fortunes of the diftreffed; and their thoughts are fo much taken up with the fubject, that they are not at liberty to attend to the poet; who, otherwife, by his faulty fentiments and diction, would have ftifled the emotions fpringing up from a sense of the diftrefs. But this is nothing to the cafe in hand. For, as Hamlet fays,
What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba?
2. When bad lines raife this affection, they are bad in the other extreme; low, abject, and groveling, inftead of being highly figurative and fwelling; yet when attended with a natural fimplicity, they have force enough to ftrike illiterate and fimple minds. The Tragedies of Banks will justify both thefe obfervations.
But if any one will fill fay,
that Shakespear intended to reprefent a player unnaturally and fantastically affected, we muft appeal to Hamlet, that is, to Shakespear himself, in this matter? who on the reflection he makes upon the Player's emotion, in order to excite his own revenge, gives not the least hint that the player was unnaturally or indjudiciously moved. On the contrary, his fine defcription of the Actor's emotion fhews, he thought juft otherwife.
-this Player bere,
But in a fiction, in a dream of palion,
Could force bis foul so to his own conceit,
That from her working all his vifage wan'd:
Tears in his eyes, diffraction in bis afpect,
A broken voice, &c. And indeed had Hamlet efteemed this emotion any thing_unnatural, it had been a very improper circumftance to fpur him to his purpose.
As Shakespear has here fhewn the effects which a fine defcription of Nature, heightened with all the ornaments of art, had upon an intelligent Player, whofe bufinefs habituates him to enter intimately and deeply into the characters of men and manners, and to give nature its free workings on all occafions; fo he has artfully fhewn what effects the very fame fcene would have upon a quite different man, Polonius; by nature, very weak and very artificial (two qualities, tho' commonly enough joined in life, yet generally fo much disguised as not to be feen by common