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enough. Guldenstern and Rosen- thinks he has it, in order to frame cranz were the mere tools of the for himself an excuse for his “reking, and probably knew nothing luctance and procrastination.” So of the object of their journey to willingly has this gloss been receivEngland. Hamlet sends them to ed, that Mr Knight, in his edition the fate which the king had des- of Shakespeare, speaks quite contined for him a wild sort of jus- temptuously of any one who could tice. He adds,
possibly understand the speech « They are not on my conscience." in its direct natural meaning. Of This idea—that a meditative man course, some su
course, some such gloss must be acis unfit for action-belongs more to
reto cepted if we are to hold to Goethe's the nineteenth century than it did view " a lovely, pure, noble, and to Shakespeare's time. He wrote at most moral nature, without the a time when the weakness of confirm- strength of nerve which forms a ed irresolution would hardly have
hero, sinking beneath a burden been excused on the plea that the which it cannot bear, and must strength of the man had gone forth not cast away." in thinking. He wrote in the times
Have we any new reading to offer of Bacon and of Raleigh, when men
of the character of Hamlet ? None were rather familiarised with the
whatever. We are not blind, we union of the contemplative and the
hope, to the many exquisite and active in life. Raleigh had a good subtle observations to which the deal of Hamlet in him ; he could
study of this play has given occamuse over the history of the world,
sion. But to us it seems that a critic and touch pathetically on human
who should sit down to portray a life and the usual themes of moral
character of Hamlet, which shall ists, and he nevertheless had the be in keeping with all Hamlet bold spirit of the adventurer, the
says and does in the play, will find warrior, the discoverer. So far from
that he has undertaken an imposHamlet being the delicate and in
sible task.' Shakespeare took up trospective spirit which a Coleridge
a well-known story of some prince or a Shelley would in their own
of Denmark to whom his father's poetry have been tempted to por: ghost had appeared. Some comtray, he unites with his profound
à mentators think it clear that the melancholy a most ferocious spiritual
subject had already been dramaof revenge. He lets pass the only
tised, and that there was an older opportunity which, so far as we P
play which Shakespeare used as a know, is presented to him of kill
sort of skeleton ; others refer us to ing the king—why? Because the
an English translation of the story king is at his prayers, and he will
extracted from Saxo Grammaticus, have a more terrible and complete
as the direct source of Shakespeare's revenge
plot. However that may be, Shake“ Up, sword, and know thou a more horrid
speare finds the story ready made to hent !
his hand, and proceeds to fashion When he is drunk, asleep, or in his rage, it, or re-fashion it, for the stage. In • . about some act
doing this he throws his own mediTbat has no relish of salvation in it." tative spirit into the part of HamThis is so utterly revolting in its let. He thus constructs a Hamlet simple, straightforward meaning, quite his own, who has to move that our more refined age has will about and act in scenes already ingly followed Coleridge in his prescribed for him. What wonder gloss upon the passage. According that the melancholy, reflective Hamto our subtle critic, Hamlet, in this let, that has grown up half out of terrible speech, is in reality only the story and half out of the brooddeluding himself; he has not this ing thoughts of the poet, should motive of almost diabolical revenge; be a somewhat incongruous result? but in this soliloquy he says and The character is distorted by the necessity to accommodate it to the to himself to give himself an excuse already determined plot, or by the for his indecision and delay. necessity to retain much of the Hamlet is not an amiable man if dialogue that belonged to the Ham- we judge him by his conduct. His let of the story. The incongruities cruelty to Ophelia, after all the eloare there, and cannot be effaced. quent excuses that have been made Shakespeare does not here work for it, is felt to have been unnecesfrom “within to without," as it is sary. In fact, it did not grow out said from the character to the con- of Hamlet's character, it was there duct; but the conduct is given, and in the story. The story told “how the character on which he continues Hamlet counterfeited the madman to refine must accommodate itself to escape the tyranny of his uncle, to the prescribed course of action and how he was tempted by a wohow it can.
man (through his uncle's procureBear in mind the exigencies of ment), who thereby thought to unthe theatre. They were never, we dermine the prince, and by that may be sure, out of the mind of means to find out whether he counShakespeare. The ghost appears in terfeited madness or not.” The the first act; the execution of the “woman who tempted him" grew ghost's revenge is to be accomplish- up, under the tender imagination ed at the end of the fifth. How is of Shakespeare, into the lovely and the interval to be filled up? One loving Ophelia, whom her father Poexpedient, and a very successful lonius and the king do make, in some one, was the production of a play way, subservient to their policy. within the play-a play to be acted She herself has no other policy but before the king, of such a nature simply to love Hamlet. But Hamthat the king, in witnessing it, let is still made, in his intercourse should betray his own guilt. But with Ophelia, to have no other obhow could Hamlet, who had seen ject or anxiety than to sustain his and heard his father's ghost, need counterfeit of madness. For he not any such expedient? How could only wipes out his love for Ophelia it confirm his belief in the king's with other “fond records, but in guilt? Besides, although the expe- her presence he is always the maddient did answer, it could not have man; acting, by the way, in this been expected to answer. A man of case, with decision enough. The any nerve would have quietly sat poet again contrives, out of this out the play, let the players have desertion of Ophelia, to obtain the delivered their speeches with what most touching episode in the piece. pathos they might, without any self- The plot prospers, but at some exbetrayal. But the play was wanted; pense to the character of Hamlet. and Hamlet is made, after his so- This counterfeited madness is lemn vows to his father's ghost, to adopted from the story, and most suspect that ghost of being possibly skilfully used to keep up an interest a devil in disguise, coming “out of in the piece, and more especially to my weakness and my melancholy to vary the dialogue by the introducdamn me.” Now we, in this age, tion of a most captivating wildness are willing to believe Hamlet unde- of speech; but no attempt is made cided and procrastinating, but we to give it a rational place in Hamlet's are not willing to attribute to him designs. Dr Johnson long ago obthis vulgar superstition. We make served that he does nothing throughthe same sort of interpretation as out the play which he might not on the occasion when Hamlet de- have done as well with the reputasires not only the death but the tion of sanity. Against this it has damnation of his uncle. The ac- been urged, that it was not as part of cepted gloss is, that Hamlet does any plan for the assassination of his not really think the ghost might uncle that he feigned madness ; it have been the devil, but he says this was a measure of self-protection.
The king had murdered his father, tion to escape from his own feelings and might proceed to murder him of the overwhelming and supernaas next heir to the throne. He tural by a wild translation to the might also think himself in danger ludicrous, a sort of cunning bravafrom Hamlet, if he suspected that do bordering on the flights of dethe prince knew of his guilt. By lirium.". pretending lunacy Hamlet might How beautiful a dramatic poem allay all such fears. In the play we have in “Hamlet' it is superfluthe feigned insanity seems rather to ous to say ; but no ingenuity in have excited than to have calmed the world can reconcile all its parts the suspicion of the king. Neverthe- —what the poet received, and what less, we may suppose him reasoning he brought-so as to make a comafter this fashion ; though, accord- plete consistent representation of ing to our notions, this feint of in- Hamlet's character. Each reader sanity would have thrown bim at satisfies himself by taking what he once into the power of the king, pleases, and leaving what displeases, who would have been justified in or by putting on the latter some the eyes of all Denmark in taking fanciful interpretation. A sort of measures for his restraint and con- religious veneration steals over finement. It would have doomed great poets as over great philosohim to the keeper and the cell. phers or great prophets : we no
But of all this Shakespeare takes longer read all the text, or the text very little heed. This feigned mad- only; we read more and we read ness was in the story. He does less; we read with preconceptions not consider himself responsible and predilections that disguise the for it. Being there, he uses it to literal meaning from us. introduce, as we have said, a wild, Of course Victor Hugo has his pungent, half-rational, half - irra- word to say on the character of tional dialogue, which has added Hamlet, and it is an eloquent word, incalculably to the charm of the it being understood always that the play. So completely has he lib- eloquence of Victor Hugo througherated himself from all responsi- out this book is of a very fitful bility to explain the rationale of order-flashes of lightning, with this affected madness that no one much cloud and darkness. He knows precisely where it begins or starts well :where it ends. There is no trace “ The characteristic of men of genius of it at the time when the fencing- of the first order, is to produce each a match is made with Laertes; in peculiar model of man. . All bestow on some unexplained way it has left humanity its portrait; some laughing, the scene altogether. And where
some weeping, others pensive. These last does it commence? Every one re
are the greatest. Plautus laughs, and gives members those strange grotesque
to man Amphitryon ; Rabelais laughs,
and gives to man Gargantua ; Cervantes utterances which the poet has given laughs, and gives to man Don Quixote; to Hamlet immediately after the Beaumarchais laughs, and gives to man appearance of the ghost; “ You Figaro; Molière weeps, and gives to man hear this fellow in the cellarage," Alceste ; Shakespeare dreams, and gives and the like. Here some commen- to man Hamlet; Æschylus meditates, and tators think thắt Hamlet already
gives to man Prometheus. The others
are great; Æschylus and Shakespeare puts on a show of insanity; others
are immense." have thought that his wish to avoid any further discourse with We thought all men of great gehis friends about the awful appari- nius were equal. But let that pass. tion which they all had witnessed, It would be idle to reason against is sufficient to explain this assumed what we never received as a propolevity. Coleridge, with his accus- sition addressed to the reason. tomed subtlety, sees in these wild " Let us continue," as Victor Hugo and whirling words “ the disposi- says.
“So, each of the men of genius tries the action blows each moment in an in. on in his turn this immense human verse direction, man is governed by the mask; and such is the strength of the winds. .. soul which they cause to pass through “ Doubt counselled by a ghost, that the mysterious aperture of the eyes, that is Hamlet. Hamlet has seen his dead this look changes the mask, and from father, and has spoken to him. Is he terrible makes it comic, then pensive; convinced ! No, he shakes his head. and it is Job, Ajax, Priam, &c. &c. ... What shall he do? He does not know.
“Two marvellous Adams, we have just His hands clench, then fall by his side. said, are the man of Æschylus, Prome. Livid hesitation is in his mind. theus, and the man of Shakespeare, “Nevertheless, at least one half of Hamlet.
Hamlet is anger, transport, outrage, “Prometheus is action, Hamlet is hurricane, sarcasm to Ophelia, maledichesitation.
tion on his mother, insult to himself. “In Prometheus the obstacle is ex. He talks with the grave-diggers, nearly terior ; in Hamlet it is interior.
laughs, then clutches Laertes by the “ In Prometheus the will is securely hair in the very grave of Ophelia, and nailed down by nails of brass, and cannot stamps furiously upon the coftin. Sword. get loose ; besides, it has by its side two thrusts at Polonius, sword-thrusts at watchers, Force and Power. In Hamlet Laertes, Sword-thrusts at Claudius. the will is more tied down yet; it is From time to time his inaction is torn bound by previous meditation, the end. in twain, and from the rent comes forth less chain of the undecided. Try to get thunder. out of yourself if you can ! What a “He is tormented by that possible Gordian knot is our reverie! Slavery life, intermixed with reality and chimera, from within, that is slavery indeed. the anxiety of which is shared by all Scale this enclosure 'to dream!' Escape, of us. There is in all his actions an exif you can, from this prison to love ! panded somnambulism. One might alThe only dungeon is that which walls most consider his brain as a formation ; conscience in. Prometheus, in order to there is a layer of suffering, a layer of be free, has but a bronze collar to break thought, then a layer of dreaminess. It and a god to conquer. Hamlet must is through this layer of dreaminess that break and conquer himself. Promethe- he feels, comprehends, learns, perceives, us can raise himself upright if he only drinks, eats, frets, mocks, weeps, and lifts a mountain ; to raise himself up, reasons. There is between life and him Hamlet must lift his own thoughts. If a transparency; it is the wall of dreams; Prometheus plucks the vulture from his one sees beyond, but one cannot step breast, all is said ; Hamlet must tear over it. A kind of cloudy obstacle every Hamlet from his breast.”
where surrounds Hamlet. Hamlet is not · It will be seen at once that it is
upon the spot where his life is. He has
ever the appearance of a man who talks the dreamy, undecided, meditative
to you from the other side of a stream, Hamlet, sketched by Coleridge and He is at a distance from the catastrophe Goethe, that Victor Hugo adopts in which he takes part, from the passerand exaggerates.
by whom he interrogates, from the “Hamlet, appalling, unaccountable
be thought that he carries, from the action being, complete in the incomplete. All,
Vi that he performs. It is isolation in its in order to be nothing. He is prince and
highest degree. It is as if your own self demagogue, sagacious and extravagant,
was absent and had left you there,” profound and frivolous, man and neuter. We have selected the most intelHe has but little faith in the sceptre, ligible parts of this elaborate derails at the throne, has a student for his scription, and if our quotation is comrade, converses with any one passing « garbled." it is the quite obscure by, argues with the first comer, under stands the people, despises the mob,
or quite grotesque that we have hates strength, suspects success, ques.
omitted. Victor Hugo selects one tions obscurity, and says 'thou' to mys phase of the character of Hamlet, tery. . . .
and dwells upon it, in his exagger" Hamlet, ever full of life, is not sure
ating manner, till he has produced of his existence. In this tragedy, which is at the same time a philosophy, every
something not only unlike Shakething floats, hesitates, delays, staggers,
speare, but unlike anything in nabecomes discomposed, scatters, and is
ture. Hamlet is a somnambulist, dispersed. Thought is a cloud, will is living in a perpetual nightmare; a vapour, resolution is a crepuscule; indeed, in a passage which space did not permit us to quote, he ex- “Sound this profound thing. Othello pressly compares Hamlet's habitual is the night, and, being night, and wishstate of mind to the incapacity for
ing to kill, what does he take to slay
with ? Poison? The club? The axe? movement we feel in a nightmare.
The knife ? No, the pillow. To kill is As we have already said, Shake
to lull to sleep. Shakespeare himself speare makes the indecision or the perhaps did not take this into account. delay of Hamlet one of the causes The creator sometimes, almost unknown that postpone the act of revenge. to himself, yields to his type, so much Hamlet speaks of himself as ham
is that type a power. And it is thus
that Desdemona, spouse of the man pered by doubts, and as sometimes
Night, dies stifled by the pillow, which shrinking from his purpose; but
has had the first kiss, and which has the Shakespeare does not represent a last sigh." morbid individual, generally incapable of action. Placed in Hamlet's
o We can well believe that Shakeposition, who would not pause and speare himself had not taken this hesitate? After all, it was the wild
wild into account. Othello— Nightjustice of revenge he was prosecut
Pillow - this association of ideas ing. It was a deathblow he had
had probably never occurred to any to inflict. Who would not have
one before. We suspect there is paused ? Macbeth pauses, and
very little in any of these delineaOthello hesitates. There are situa
tions of Victor Hugo that Shaketions in which every rational, every
speare had taken into account. reflective man, feels the torture of
Our author succeeds better when he conflicting motives. When Victor
discourses in general terms of the Hugo describes this torture, as he
genius of Shakespeare, commends does most forcibly in the hero of
its riotous fertility, rejoices in its "Les Misérables' (on an occasion
untameable exuberance, its amazing which every one who has read the prodigality : novel will remember), he does not “Othello, Romeo, lago, Macbeth, therefore imply that Valjean is an Shylock, Oberon, Puck, Ophelia, Desundecided man. The indecision of demona, Juliet, Titania-men, women, Hamlet does in part belong to the
witches, fairies, souls-Shakespeare is
the grand distributor; take, take, take, man and in part to the situation;
all of you! Do you want more? Here but Shakespeare assuredly never
is Ariel, Parolles, Macduff, Prospero, meant to portray a sort of Prince Viola, Miranda, Caliban. More yet? Athanase, a man in whom the nerve Here is Jessica, Cordelia, Portia, Polonof action had been destroyed, a ius, Horatio, Mercutio, Imogene, Panweak and morbid individual
darus of Troy, Bottom, Theseus. Ecce Victor Hugo's Hamlet is a favour
Deus, it is the poet : he offers himself;
who will have me? He gives, scatters, able specimen of his manner of delin
squanders himself; he is never empty. eating the characters of Shakespeare. Why? He cannot be. Exhaustion Macbeth, Othello, Lear, all sit for with him is impossible. There is in him their portraits; but it is not so much something of the fathomless." as if they were drawn on the cloud, “What then?” he says farther on, in as if the cloud itself were the pencií a strain that, at all events, suits the pre
sent occasion. “No criticising? No. that drew them, so vague is the out
No blame? No. You explain everyline presented to us. What could be th
thing? Yes. Genius is an entity like more awfully indefinite than this of nature, and requires, like nature, to be Othello, and more grotesque withal? accepted purely and simply. A moun.
tain must be accepted as such, or left “What is Othello ? He is Night. An alone. There are men who would make immense fatal figure. Night is amorous a criticism on the Himalayas, pebble by of Day. Darkness loves the Dawn. The pebble. Mount Etna blazes and slavers, African adores the white woman. Des. throws out its glare, its wrath, its lava, demona is Othello's brightness and and its ashes; these men take scales and frenzy! And then how easy to him is weigh those ashes, pinch by pinch. Meanjealousy! How speedily has night beck. while genius continues its eruption. oned to death!
Everything in it has its reason for exist