Page images
PDF
EPUB

Duke of Norfolk. 'Tis so:

He counsels a divorce; a loss of her
That, like a jewel, has hung twenty years
About his neck, yet never lost her luster,
Of her that loves him with that excellence
That angels love good men with, even of her
That when the greatest stroke of fortune falls,

Will bless the King; and is not this course pious ?
Lord Cham. Heaven keep me from such counsel; 'Tis

most true
These news are everywhere; every tongue speaks 'em,
And every true heart weeps for 't; all that dare
Look into these affairs see this main end."

(Hen. VIII. 2. ii.) Professor Trench further intimates that the audiences of Shakespeare adjudged the marriage of Catherine to be as void as Gertrude's; “for if it were not so, Queen Elizabeth would have had little right to occupy the throne.” Such an opinion is discredited by the history of the times. Though the statute by which Elizabeth had been pronounced illegitimate was still in force, she ascended the throne without opposition. Of her right there could be no doubt. It had been established by the statute for the thirty fifth Henry VIII.' and nothing, therefore remained for the two houses but to recognize the accession of the new sovereign. She was wel. comed by both the Catholic and Protestant parties. The former believed that her conversion to the ancient faith which she professed during the reign of her sister, was real and sincere; the latter, while lamenting her apostacy, persuaded themselves that her sentiments were feigned. “It is probable that, in her own mind, she was indifferent to either form oi worship; but her ministers, whose prospects depended on the 5 Ibidem, p. 257.

& 'Lingard's History of England'', Vol. VI, c. I. 7 "Henry's many marriages and divorces had so complicated the question of the

succession, that Parliament, to avoid disputes after Henry's death, had given him power to settle the matter by will. This he did, directing that the crown should descend to his son Edward and his heirs; in case Edward dies childless, it was to go to Mary and her heirs, and then to Elizabeth and her heirs." Myers' "Mediaeval and Modern History'', p. 415. See also Lingard's "History of England',' Vol. V, p. 225.

[ocr errors]

change, urged their mistress to reject and proscribe the religion which proclaimed her a bastard, and to support the reformed doctrines which alone could give stability to her throne.

If the drama does not enter upon antecedent details, it is because it already presupposes three accomplished facts: the murder of Hamlet's father, the incestuous marriage of Claudius, and the Prince defrauded of the crown. To make the drama retroactive would retard the action of a tragedy already overcrowded with incidents, and give too great a prominence to Claudius to the detriment of the main character. Shakespeare does, however, emphasize more than once the all-important fact that the marriage of Claudius was only putative or supposed, and therefore null and void, and this fact he would impress upon our minds by frequent repetitions.

Hence, he causes Hamlet to speak of it so often as a matter of deep grief, to charge his mother with criminal conduct, to implore her to abandon her unholy and shameful union with his uncle:

Queen. O, Hamlet, speak no more!

Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul,
And there I see such black and grained spots

As will not leave their tinct.
Hamlet.

Nay, but to live
Stew'd in corruption,
Queen. 0, speak to me no more!

These words, like daggers, enter into mine ears,

No more, sweet Hamlet !
Hamlet. Confess thyself to heaven;

Repent what's past, avoid what is to come;
And do not spread the compost on the weeds,

To make them ranker.
Queen. O, Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.
Hamlet. O, throw away the worser part of it,

And live the purer with the other half.
Good night! But go not to mine uncle's bed;

Assume a virtue if you have it not.
Lingard — Ibidem.

[ocr errors]

The Poet even causes the King himself, when attempting repentance, to confess the futility of hope of pardon, unless he restore the crown and abandon his criminal union :

Forgive me my foul murder
That cannot be; since I am still possess 'd
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition and my Queen.

May one be pardoned and retained the offence?If then from the play itself, it is evident that the marriage of Claudius is incestuous and unlawful, and in fact no marriage, it can confer on him no claim nor right to the throne; and, in consequence, if he be de facto king, he is not so de jure, and must, therefore, be considered an imposter and actual usurper.

CHAPTER VIII

The Real or Assumed Madness

of Hamlet

The mooted question of the Prince's sanity has divided the readers of Shakespeare into two opposing schools; the one defending a feigned, and the other an unfeigned madness. The problem arises from the Poet's unrivalled genius in the creation of characters. So vivid were his conceptions of his ideal creations that, actually living and acting in them, he gives them an objective existence in which they seem living realities, or persons walking among us, endowed with our human emotions and passions, and subject to the vicisitudes of our common mortality. The confounding of this ideal with the real has given rise to two divergent schools. The critics of the one, unmindful of the fact that Hamlet is wholly an ideal existence, are accustomed to look upon him as real and actual as the men they daily meet in social intercourse, and accordingly judge him as they would a man in ordinary life. The other school, ignoring the different impersonations of Hamlet upon the public stage, considers him only as an ideal existence, and places the solution of the problem in the discovery of the dramatist's intention in the creation of the character.

The Poet with consummate art has so portrayed the abnormal actions of a demented mind, and so truly pictured all the traits of genuine madness, even in its minutest symptoms, that a real madman could not enact the character more perfectly. Conscious of his skill in this portrayal so true to life, he has in consequence depicted the court of Claudius divided in opinion on Hamlet's feigned or unfeigned madness, just as the Shakespearean world is divided

to-day. To say that the Queen, and Polonius, and others thought him mad, is no proof of his real madness; but only that by his perfect impersonation he succeeded in creating this belief; and that such was his purpose is clear from the play. If the court firmly believed in the dementia of the Prince, Claudius, who was of a deeper and more penetrating mind and an adept in crafty cunning, stood firm in his doubt from the first. The consciousness of his guilt made him alert and, like a criminal ever fearing detection, he suspected the concealment of some evil design under Hamlet's mimic madness. If to-day we find eminent physicians standing with Polonius and the Queen in the belief of Hamlet's real madness, we see on the opposite side others with the astute king and an overwhelming majority of Shakespeare's readers. That many physicians should deem the Prince's madness a reality is nothing surprising. Well known are the celebrated legal cases in which medical specialists of the highest rank were divided in judgment on the sanity or insanity of the man on trial.

Let a man mimic madness as perfectly as Hamlet, and be summoned to court on trial of his sanity. If it be shown by judicial evidence, that before beginning to enact the role of madman, he had never throughout his life exhibited the least symptom of dementia, but, on the contrary, was known as a man of a sound and strong mind; if it be shown that before assuming the antics of a madman, he had actually summoned his trusted friends, informed them of his purpose, cautioned them against betrayal, and even sworn them to secrecy; if it be proved that on every occasion, when moving among his intimate friends, he is consistently sane, and feigns madness only in presence of those who, he fears, will thwart his secret design; and if it be shown on reputable testimony that he entered upon his course of dementia to guard an incommunicable secret, and to shield himself in the pursuit of a specified end, difficult

« PreviousContinue »