Page images


It is still a matter of dispute-and have been by nature a volatile and perhaps the subject has not been ardent Prince, whose temper and fully discussed-whether the mad- disposition had suffered deep impresness of Hamlet should be considered sions by the death of his father, the as real or assumed. The only me- speedy marriage of his mother, and thod by which this problem can be the suspension of his own right consolved is to bring the evidence fairly sequent on that marriage. These forward to issue a commission de circumstances, operating suddenly lunatico inquirendo against Hamlet, on a mind predisposed to gaiety, and judge him by his discourse and and to the follies which spring from conduct.

youthful effervescence, give a tinge That Shakspeare possessed vast of melancholy to his train of thought, knowledge of the human mind, is a which speedily, but imperceptibly, , general and undisputed opinion; by produces an instability of intellect. which is to be understood, that he Whilst thus suffering from mental had not merely an acquaintance depression, the suspicion of his fawith its power or faculties in a ther's murder induces him to put on metaphysical scope, but a profound an antic disposition, that, under cointimacy with the passions by which lour of madness, his actions may be it is moved, and the emotions of less liable to scrutiny, and more free which it is susceptible, in its va- scope be thereby afforded for the rious states of cultivation and excite measures he shall take to arrive at ment. Assuming, therefore, that he full conviction. From this period he had accurately and minutely surveyed strives to wipe from the table of his the human intellect in its sound state, memory all trivial fond records that it still remains to be seen how far hé youth and observation copied there, has succeeded in painting its morbid except as those pressures may tend condition, and this will be best elu- to the accomplishment of his object; cidated by the characters he has and thus in cherishing a favourite drawn in a state of mental derange- design and permitting the Ghost's ment, of which it is contended Hamlet is one.

Commandment all alone to live In collecting the evidence which Within the book and volume of his brain, this play, affords of the insanity of Unmix'd with baser matter, Hamlet, it is not intended to prove he gives growth and maturity, to that his mind was uniformly de- à malady, the seeds of which had ranged, or that his malady disqua- germinated in his mind, until, in lified him altogether for the exer- the end, he actually labours under cise of reason. The draught of such the infirmity which his previous dea character would have defeated the claration shows he but intended to object of the poet, which was to re- feign. present a noble mind, richly endowed That Hamlet was not constituand highly polished—a Being of lofty tionally subject to melancholic denature and important destinies,visited pression, but could, before the death by paroxysms of mental disorder.

of his father, have derived gratificaThe question under consideration tion from those pursuits and follies is, Whether Hamlet was really mad, which usually distinguish the career or only assumed madness?

of young men of uncontrolled pasThe Prince of Denmark has gene- sions, may be collected from the rally been portrayed on the stage as early parts of the play. The king a melancholy being, who, in his hap- speaks of Rosencrantz and Guildenpiest moments, was but a misan- stern, as men who thrope, and who, when roused into feigned madness to cover a purpose, And since so neighbour'd to his youth and

action by a favourite design, merely Being of so young days brought up with which, in the end, he had not courage humour, to

Might by their presence draw liim on to SHAKSPEARE's Hamlet appears to ple.sures. APRIL, 1994.

2 B

were come.

Hamlet says to Horatio,

His canon 'gainst self-slaughter. O God,

O God ! We'll teach you to drink deep ere you de

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable, part.

Seem to me all the uses of this world! That he preferred Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who were mere popin

The supernatural agency of the jays, to the sober Horatio, is clear, Ghost is introduced, for the purpose as he receives the former as his of communicating an important se“ excellent good friends,” and says, cret. When Hamlet receives the in“ Good lads, how do you both? " telligence, his surprise is natural, and whereas he scarcely remembers the not devoid of tenderness: his exalatter, and coldly observes— mination of the persons who had

seen the figure of the late King, miI am glad to see you well : nute and pertinent; and he properly Horatio-or I do forget myself.

resolves to watch in person, in order It is true, he afterwards holds Hora- to be convinced of the reality of the tio to his heart as a just man, but the vision. Although he had not hitherto habits and manners of Hamlet have,

let fall any hint or conjecture respectin the interval, completely changed ing the death of his father, yet

when from what they had been. The Queen alone he displays an apprehension : likewise says to the fops :

My father's spirit in arms! Allis not well : Good Gentlemen, he hath much talk'd of I doubt some foul play: would the night

you ; And sure I am two men there are not living, Hamlet's interview with the spirit of To whom he more adheres.

his father, is on his part a solemn disis grossly indecent-when speaking the Ghost, which, for a time, forcibly

His first sally to these court-flies play of duty and affection. of their being Fortune's favourites; the Ghost, which, for a time, forcibly and shows at once their intimacy and records the reflections and feelings their habits. In the same scene he that ought to impress him, he sudsays to them,

denly starts off, his thoughts are ab

ruptly diverted, and he produces his By the rights of our fellowship, by the tablet for memoranda, to set downconsonancy of our youth, by the obligation not the horrible contrivance of his of our ever-preserved love, and by what father's murder, as divulged by his more dear a better proposer cou'd charge you withal, be even and direct with me

spirit, but a common remark: whether you were sent for or no.

That one may smile and smile--and be a Ros. (to Guildenstern.) What say you ?

villain ! Hamlet (aside.) Nay, then, I have an eye At least, I'm sure it may be so in Den

mark: Up to this time Hamlet deals So, Uncle, there you are. frankly with the fops, regarding them

When Hamlet is joined by Horatio as his friends and familiar associates and Marcellus, after the awful dis--their reluctance to answer his ques- closure, he displays a levity wholly tion first puts him on suspicion of unbefitting the solemnity of the octheir being spies on his conduct. It casion. This is so glaring, that Hois a common and universal remark, ratio is compelled to remarkthat men of gay disposition feel more acutely a sudden visitation of afflic. These are but wild and hurling words, my tion than those of less buoyant mind.

Lord. How Hamlet “ lost all his mirth" And when he proposes that they will be shown by the evidence ad- should swear to secrecy upon his duced of his insanity.

sword-and the Ghost, from his subSoon after the second marriage of terranean confine, urges them to the his mother, his feelings assume a oath-he descends to coarse jest and morbid character; and in his first so- ridiculous buffoonery : liloquy, in the second scene of the play, he debates on suicide :

Ah, ha, boy ! say'st thou so ? Art thou

there, true-penny ? Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt, Come on! you hear this fellow in the celThaw, and resolve itself into a dew!

larage : Or that the everlasting had not fixt Consent to swear.

[ocr errors]

of you.

And again :

And with a look, so piteous in purport, Well said, old mole! Can'st work i'th' As if he had been loosed out of hell, ground so fast ?

To speak of horrors, he comes before me. A worthy pioneer !

With this connect the remainder of The oath itself is of a complicated her description and the letter sent to nature: it enjoins them not to reveal her by Hamlet, which is shown to the appearance of the Ghost, and the King and Queen by Polonius. likewise not to express surprise at Some of these are sufficient indicathe future absurdity of his conduct: tions of an insane mind, of a state

that cannot be assumed; nor can they How strange or odd soe'er I bear myself be attributed to intensity of feeling, (As I, perchance, hereafter shall think or the extremity of natural passion, meet

they pass the boundaries of both, and To put an antic disposition on).

must be viewed as mental distortions Up to this period Hamlet has ex

from a morbid cause. pressed no purpose for which he could

Hamlet's letter to Ophelia confeign madness; and, consequently, all cludes with “ Thine evermore, most his previous actions and words may dear lady, whilst this machine is to be considered as proceeding from a himHamlet."-On which Mr. Stee perfectly free agent; and he is sub- vens remarks, “ These words will not ject to or freed from the charge of be ill explained by the conclusion of insanity, as those words and actions one of the letters of the Paston fashall, or shall not, afford evidence of mily, vol. ii. p. 43; ‘for your pleasure a rational mind.

whyle my wytts be my owne.'' In the Here it may fairly be asked, whe- interview with Polonius, where Hamlet ther Hamlet's determination to as

calls him a fishmonger, it may be sume madness, considering the cir- granted that he assumes a crazy vein; cumstances in which he was placed, but even then he was found reading does not of itself furnish the strongest a description of the evils of long life. evidence of his insanity. He wishes

“ The satirical rogue says here (alto throw the King completely off his luding to the book he holds) that old guard and to scrutinize his conduct, men have grey beards.” By the sawithout exciting observation or pro

tirical rogue, he means Juvenal, in voking restraint on his own behaviour. his tenth satire. To accomplish this, he proposes to Da spatium vitæ, multos da, Jupiter, annos ; act the madman. None but a mad- Hoc recto vultu, solum hoc et pallidus opman could have conceived such a project, as, so far from a belief in his Sed quam continuis et quantis longa seo madness being favourable to his purpose, it would completely counteract Plena malis ? deformem et tetrum ante it, by causing him to be closely omnia vultum, watched and properly restrained. Dissimilemque sui, deformem pro cute The King says:


Pendentesque genas, et tales aspice rugas, Maulness in great ones must not unwatched Quales,umbriferos ubi panditTabraca saltus, go.

In vetulâ scalpit jam mater simia bucca. The next act of the play exhibits In the subsequent scene with Roa Hamlet fully invested with his antic sencrantz and Guildenstern, which disposition; and if it had been assumed, commences with quaint jest and indeit is certain he would have had power licate levity, he furnishes, without to control it. Let us now hear the affectation or reserve, a lamentable relation of Ophelia, who is a compe- but natural picture of gloom and detent witness. Speaking to her father, spondency." I have of late, but

wherefore I know not, lost all my My Lord, as I was sewing in my chamber, and indeed it goes so heavily with

mirth, forgone all custom of exercise: Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced,

my disposition, that this goodly frame, No hat upon his head, bis stockings foul'd, the earth, seems to me a sterile proUngarter'd, and down-gyved to his ancle, montory; this most excellent canopy, Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each the air, look you, this brave o'erother,

hanging, this majestical roof, fretted



she says:


with golden fire: why it appears no own state of mind, he had determined other thing to me, than a foul and to have “grounds more relative than pestilent congregation of vapours."— this :" Abruptly his thoughts creak on the

the play's the thing worn hinges of his Uncle-father and wherein I'll catch the conscience of the Aunt-mother, whom he states to be

King. deceived; that he is but “mad northnorth-west: when the wind is south- the play could be acted, or a solu

Yet in the very next scene, before erly, I know a hawk from a hand- tion of the doubt be obtained, he de

bates on suicide, in nearly the same The soliloquy that ensues, in which he reproaches himself for tardiness terms as in the first soliloquy, evincand irresolution, is an unconnected ing throughout, both before and after assemblage of 'intruding thoughts intolerance of life, and a correspond


of the Ghost, a great and conflicting passions. . At length ing anxiety for its speedy extinction. he appears sensible of it himself, and starts to his project of the play “About You cannot, Sir, take from me any my brain."- Although he had before thing I will more willingly part withal—exa declared to Horatio that it was “ an cept my life, except my life, except my honest ghost,” he now begins to life. waver, and timidly debates:

In the interview with his mother,

in her closet, one of the most solemn, - The spirit that I have seen May be a devil, and the devil hath power

grand, and impressive of dramatic T' assume a pleasing shape, yea, and per- representations--the composition of haps

which is so felicitous and sublime Out of my weakness, and my melancholy,

that it will endure with the language As he is very potent with such spirits, of our country—there is a steadliness Abuses me to damn me. I'll have grounds of purpose, a mastery of exposition More relative than this.

that never deflects from the object.

The poet was well aware that the imIn the celebrated soliloquy, “ To portant interest of the scene, and the be, or not to be,” he again tumely conflicting workings of the soul, deliberates on suicide.

could not have been displayed under It cannot escape observation, that a feebleness or perversion of intellect. whenever Hamlet is alone, and re

The killing of Polonius was evidentlieved from the presence of those, ly a mistake: Humlet supposed and whom it is his purpose to deceive, hoped it had been the King :the true state of his mind developes itself in melancholy soliloquies. Even Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farebefore the appearance of the Ghost,

well; when harbouring no suspicion as tó I took thee for thy betters. the cause of his father's death, Ham

Afterwards, he feels a momentary let debated on suicide. When reproaching himself for not executing

regret :

For this same lord his purpose, he feels and confesses his « weakness and melancholy,"

I do repent; but Heaven hath pleased it so. and that the devil is very potent However, his contrition soon va“ with such spirits.”

nishes, and is commuted for unseelThese apprehensions are sure indi

ing insult to the remains of the man cations of mental disease. King Lear, he has killed, that man being the sawhen on the very confines of mad- ther of Ophelia : ness, says, “ My wits begin to turn."

I'll lug the guts into the neighbour room. Oh that way madness lies : let me shun

Indeed this counsellor that,

Is now most still, most secret, and most No more of that.

grave, It has been shown that Hamlet de- Come. Sir, to draw toward an end with you.

Who was in life a foolish prating knave.liberated on suicide, before he had expressed any intention of putting on The subsequent retorts on Rosenan antic disposition, that when dis- crantz and Guildenstern, who were trusting the assurances of the Ghost, spies on his conduct, and his insoand expressing apprehensions of his lence to the King, whom he detested,



vour :


might be tolerated on an indifferent of Laertes, and that the death of occasion : but after the commission Ophelia was the result of disappointof such a flagrant outrage to resort to ed love' and filial sorrow, he bellows contumelious sarcasm, and hur] the from his covertlanguage of defiance, must force the conclusion that he was a senseless

-What is he whose griefs and abandoned miscreant, if charity

Bear such an emphasis ?-whose phrase of and a nicer estimate did not urge us

Conjures the wand'ring stars, and makes to the commiseration of a masterless

them stand infirmity.

Like wonder-wounded hearers ? This is I, King. Where is Polonius ?

Hamlet the Dane. Hamlet. In Heaven : send thither to

It is only necessary to peruse the see; if your messenger find him not there, steek him in the other place yourself. But remainder of the scene to stamp this indeed, if you find him not within this violent explosion with the character month, you shall nose him as you go up the of madness. After his mind has been stairs into the lobby.

seriously occupied on another subKing. Go seek him there (To some ato ject, and reflection returns, he extendants).

presses to Horatio his extreme regret; Hamlet. He will stay till you come. and, as is usual in such cases, assigns Although excited by the Ghost, the

an unsatisfactory reason :sole purpose

of whose second visita- But I am very sorry, good Horatio, tion is to goad him to revenge, the That to Laertes I forgot myself ; admonition is disregarded ; and with- For by the image of my cause I see out repining at his banishment, he The portraiture of his. I'll court his facheerfully departs for England.

The last instance that will be ad- But sure the bravery of his grief did put duced of the uncontrollable sallies that constituted his mental calamity, Into a towering passion. is his conduct at the grave of Ophe, lia. After a season of fastidious mo- And before he commences his fencing ralising with Horatio, and an inter- match he is still more explicitly rechange of gross repartee with the pentant:Grave-Digger, during the funeral Give me your pardon, Sir, I've done you procession, the Prince recognises

wrong; Laertes, whom he points out to Ho- But pardon't as you are a gentleman. ratio:

This presence knows, That is Laertes, a very noble youth : mark! And you must needs have heard, how I am

punish'd When Hamlet understands that his With sore distraction. What I have done, lamentations bewail a chaste and That might your nature, honour, and ex. hapless sister, he exclaims


Roughly awake, I here proclaim was mad. What, the fair Ophelia ? but there is no sentiment or reflexion Was 't Hamlet wrong'd Laertes ? Never annexed to the expression. Laertes, If Hamlet from himself be ta'en away,

Hamlet. in a transport of grief, leaps into her And, when he's not himself, does wrong grave, and, frantic with affliction,

Laertes, calls out

Then Hamlet does it not: Hamlet denies

it. Now, pile your dust upon the quick and dead,

Who does it then? His madness. If't be so, Till of this hat a mountain you have made, Hamlet is of the faction that is wrongd : T' o'ertop old Pelion, or the skyish head

His madness is poor Hamlet's enemy. Of blue Olympus.

If Hamlet be considered as not When these words, the desponding really mad, his unmanly outrage on effusions of a brother's love, reach Laertes, at the grave of Ophelia, and the ear of Hamlet, unconscious of the the despicable lie he utters by way solemnity of the scene, wholly for- of apology, in the presence of the getful of his former unkindness, in- King, whom he detests, must stamp sensible that he had slain the father him as the most cruel, senseless, and


« PreviousContinue »