Page images

N 100. SATURDAY, APRIL 22, 1780.

[merged small][ocr errors]

The view of Hamlet's character, exhibited in my last Number, may, perhaps, serve to explain a difficulty which has always occurred both to the rea. der and the spectator, on perceiving his madness, at one time, put on the appearance, not of fiction, but of reality; a difficulty by which some have been induced to suppose the distraction of the prince a strange unaccountable mixture throughout, of real insanity and counterfeit disorder.

The distraction of Hamlet, however, is clearly affected through the whole play, always subject to the control of his reason, and subservient to the accomplishment of his designs. At the grave of Ophelia, indeed, it exhibits some temporary marks of a real disorder. His mind, subject from Nature to all the weakness of sensibility, agitated by the incidental misfortune of Ophelia's death, amidst the dark and permanent impression of his revenge, is thrown for a while off its poise,and, in the paroxysm of the moment, breaks forth into that extravagant rhapsody which he utters to Laertes.

Counterfeited madness, in a person of the character I have ascribed to Hamlet, could not be so uniformly kept up, as not to allow the reigning impressions of his mind to shew themselves in the midst of his affected extravagance. It turned chiefly on his love to Ophelia, which he meant to hold forth as its great subject ; but it frequently glanced on the wickedness of his uncle, his knowledge of which it was certainly his business to conceal,

[ocr errors]

In two of Shakspeare's tragedies are introduced, at the same time, instances of counterfeit madness, and of real distraction. In both plays the same distinction is observed, and the false discriminated from the true by similar appearances. Lear's ima. gination constantly runs on the ingratitude of his daughters, and the resignation of his crown ; and Ophelia, after she has wasted the first ebullience of her distraction in some wild and incoherent sentences, fixes on the death of her father for the subject of her song:

• They bore him bare-fac'd on the bier

And will he not come again?

• And will he not come again?' &c. But Edgar puts on a semblancc as opposite as may be to his real situation and his ruling thoughts. He never ventures on any expression, bordering on the subjects of a father's cruelty, or a son's misfortune. Hamlet, in the same manner, were he as firm in mind as Edgar, would never hint any thing in his affected disorder, that might lead to a suspicion of his having discovered the villany of his uncle ; but his feeling, too powerful for his prudence, often breaks through that disguise which it seems to have been his original, and ought to have continued his invariable, purpose to maintain, till an opportunity should present itself of accomplish. ing the revenge which he meditated.

Of the reality of Hamlet's love, doubts have also been suggested. But if that delicacy of feeling, approaching to weakness, for which I contend, be allowed him, the affected abuse, which he suffers at last to grow into scurrility, of his mistress, will, I think, be found not inconsistent with the truth of his affection for her. Feeling its real force, and beginning to play the madman on that ground, he would naturally go as far from the reality as possible. Had he not loved her at all, or slightly loved her, he might have kept up some appearance of passion amidst his feigned insanity; but really loving her, he would have been hurt by such a resemblance in the counterfeit. We can bear a downright caricature of our friend much easier than an unfavou. rable likeness,

It must be allowed, however, that the momentous scenes in which he is afterwards engaged, seem to have smothered, if not extinguished, the feelings of his love. His total forgetfulness of Ophelia so soon after her death cannot easily be justified. It is vain, indeed, to attempt justifying Shakspeare in such particulars. Time,' says Dr. Johnson, * toild after him in vain.' He seems often to forget its rights, as well in the progress of the passions, as in the business of the stage. That change of feeling and of resolution which time only can effect, he brings forth within the limits of a single scene. Whether love is to be excited, or resentment allayed, guilt to be made penitent, or sorrow cheerful, the effect is frequently produced in a space hadly sufficient for words to express it.

It has been remarked, that our great poet was not so happy in the delineation of love as of the other passions. Were it not treason against the majesty of Shakspeare, one might observe, that, though he looked with a sort of instinctive perception into the recesses of Nature, yet it was impossible for him to possess a knowledge of the refinements of delicacy; or to catch in his pictures the nicer shades of polished manners; and, without this knowledge, love can seldom be introduced on the stage, but with a degree

of coarseness which will offend an audience of good taste. This observation is not meant to extend to Shakspeare's tragic scenes : in situations of

[ocr errors]

deep distress, or violent emotion, the manners are lost in the passions ; but if we examine his lovers, in the lighter scenes of ordinary life, we shall generally find them trespassing against the rules of de. corum, and the feelings of delicacy,

That gaiety and playfulness of deportment and of conversation, which Hamlet sometimes not only assumes, but seems actually disposed to, is, I apprehend, no contradiction to the general tone of melancholy in his character. That sort of melancholy which is the most genuine, as well as the most amiable of any, neither arising from natural sourness of temper, nor prompted by accidental chagrin, but the effect of delicate sensibility, im. pressed with a sense of sorrow, or a feeling of its own weakness, will, I believe, often be found in. dulging itself in a sportfulness of external behaviour, amidst the pressure of a sad, or even the anguish of a broken heart. Slighter emotions affect our ordinary discourse ; but deep distress, sitting in the secret gloom of the soul, casts not its regard on the common occurrences of life, but suffers them to trick themselves out in the usual garb of indifference, or of gaiety, according to the fashion of the society around it, or the situation in which they chance to arise. The melancholy man feels in himself (if I may be allowed the expression) a sort of double person; one which, covered with the dark. ness of its imagination, looks not forth into the world, nor takes any concern in vulgar objects or frivolous pursuits; another, which he lends, as it were, to ordinary men, which can accommodate itself to their tempers and manners, and indulge, without feeling any degradation from the indulgence, a smile with the cheerful, and a laugh with the giddy.

The conversation of Hamlet with the Grave-digger


seems to me to be perfectly accounted for under this supposition; and, instead of feeling it counteract the tragic effect of the story, I never see him in that scene, without receiving, from his transient jests with the clown before him, an idea of the deepest melancholy being rooted at his heart. The light point of view in which he places serious and important things, marks the power of that great impression, which swallows up every thing else in his mind, which makes Cæsar and Alexander so in. different to him, that he can trace their remains in the plaster of a cottage, or the stopper of a beer. . barrel. It is from the same turn of mind, which, from the elevation of its sorrow, looks down on the bustle of ambition, and the pride of fame, that he breaks forth into the reflection, in the fourth act, on the expedition of Fortinbras.

It is with regret, as well as deference, that I accuse the judgment of Mr. Garrick, or the taste of his audience; but I cannot help thinking, that the exclusion of the scene of the Grave-digger, in his alteration of the tragedy of Hamlet, was not only a needless, but an unnatural violence done to the work of his favourite poet.

Shakspeare's genius attended him in all his extravagancies. In the licence he took of departing from the regularity of the drama, or in his ignorance of those critical rules which might have re. strained him within it, there is this advantage, that it gives him an opportunity of delineating the passions and affections of the human mind, as they exist in reality, with all the various colourings which they receive in the mixed scenes of life ; not as they are accommodated by the hands of more artificial poets, to one great undivided impression, or an un. interrupted chain of congenial events.

It seenis

« PreviousContinue »