« AnteriorContinuar »
Murmuring river, gently flowing
Self-same beauty ever showing,
In the image of thy life,
Shines an emblem of our day; Thine with time a mortal strife,
Struggling down a rocky way.
u Jjovb! 1 would be always thine!
Not lingering or in chill decline,
Declare me ripened for the tomb.
No! rather, let my sun descend
Through azure skies to instant night;
As days in burning tropics end,
But while on life's bright shore I dwell,
Be mine, in golden song, to tell
The apparent, heaven-descended, power,
Thou gavest me in my natal hour—
CO.NTIHUED FROM PAGE 9 9.
"The play's the thing i he'll catch the conscience of the king."
however, he has caught the king's
when, by holding the mirror
(to his soul, he has forced "his occulted
to "unkennel itself;" along with
ainty of the crime, he gains food for
I further reflection. The demonstration
I bis uncle's guilt arrests the very purpose
~r which that demonstration was sought.
i own conscience is but startled into a
of the retribution he has disclosed
tfce conscience of another. He has
bt grounds of punishment in the
notations of remorse; and the very
i which, to his mind, justify the in
flicting of death, themselves spring from a worse death than he has power to inflict. It is thus that Hamlet is distracted with a purpose which he is at once too good a son to dismiss, and too good a man to perform. Under an injunction with which he knows not what to do, he casts about, now for excuses, now for censures, of his non-performance; and religion prevents him from doing what filial piety reproves him for omitting. While he dare not abandon '":~" of killing the king, he is at the Me of forming can only do it, t, under a sudaused by some >t so much actis an instrument as a self-deter
;t is rather cone motives which king, when he these motives, :nd to entertain, is evident from if such motives g the deed then, d have kept him lese motives are he quiets his filial iecn..6„ g his conscience.
He thus effects a compromise between his religion and his affection, by adjourning a purpose which the one will not sufl'er him to execute, nor the other to abandon. The question, "Is it not perfect conscience to quit him with this arm?" which he afterwards puts to Horatio, while relating the king's plot against his own life, proves that he had not even then overcome his moral repugnance to the deed.
Properly speaking, therefore, Hamlet lacks not force of will, as some have argued, but only force of self-will; that is, his will is strictly subjected to his reason and conscience, and is of course powerless when it conies in conflict with them ; where they impede not his volitions, he seems, as hath been said, all will. Wc are apt to estimate men's force of will according to what they do; but we ought often to estimate it according to what they do not do; for to hold still often require smuch greater strength of will, than to go ahead; and the peculiarity of this representation consists in the hero's being so placed, that his will has its proper exercise not so much in acting as in thinking. In this way the working of his whole mind is rendered as anomalous as his situation; and this is just what the subject demands. Moreover, in the perfect harmony of the will and the reason, force of will would naturally disappear altogether; for in that case, the will being entirely subject to the law, nothing but the law would be risible in our conduct. And yet, to preserve or restore this harmony of will and reason, is undoubtedly the greatest achievement in human power. Thus the highest possible exercise of will is in renouncing itself, and taking the law instead; so that, paradoxical as it may seem, he may be justly said to have most strength of will, who has, or rather shows, none at all. Hamlet is equal to the performance of any duty, but not to the reconciliation of incompatible duties; and he cannot act for the simple reason, that he has equal "respect unto all" the duties of his situation. In a word, his inability is purely of a moral, not of a complexional kind; and this inability is only another name for the highest sort of power.
Hence, doubtless, as some one has remarked, Hamlet would seem greater, were he not so great. In his thoughts, and feelings, and principles, he soars so far above our ordinary standards of greatness, as to dwarf himself by the distance. He who ruleth his spirit is greater than he who taketh a city, but he who takcth a city seems greater than he who ruleth his spirit. We, in our littleness, estimate greatness by the noise it makes: true greatness moves in harmony, false greatness in conflict, with the moral order of things; the conflict is loud, but the harmony is still. Why, Christianity, when first published, made infinitely less noise than the last French novel: the former came from heaven, the latter came from nowhere, or from a worse place; that has revolutionized the world, this has done
and can do nothing but kill time, or rather. kill mind awhile, and then die itself. Who strives only to do what he ought, is sileni even in his achievements; he whose Odw strife is to do what he 'can, fe Wkt even in his failures: his noise indeed is« sign he is failing ; if he were going to succeed, he would be sure to keep still aboo; it, because, in order to succeed, he imw work in depths where the ear cannot penttrate. It is what acts on the surface thai makes a noise; it is what works in tfct centre that does something. Who htever heard the sun shine? who has not heard a straw-fire blaze?
"Rightly to be great,
Such, it seems to us, is Hamlet's great ness, and not the less truly his, because b disclaims it. Hamlet, indeed, is emphati cally greater than he knows. The man that is not greater than he knows is *> very small affair!
Hamlet, it is true, is continually chargiH the fault of his situation on hhus Herein is involved one of the finest strokes in the whole delineation. True vinonever publishes itself; it does not ev« know itself. Radiating from the bean through all the functions of life, its transpirations are so free, and smooth, and deep, as to escape the ear of consciousness Hence people are generally aware of theif virtue in proportion as they have it *<*■ We are apt to estimate the merit of out good deeds according to the struggles »< make in doing them; whereas, the greatu our virtue, the less we shall have tostruc gle in order to do them, and it is purer; the weakness and imperfection of our virttn that makes it so hard for us to do w<?'< Accordingly we find that he who does »< duty without being goaded up to it.< conscious of much more virtue than be has while he who does every duty as a tliinJ of course and a matter of delight, is or. conscious of his virtue simply because t has so much of it.
Moreover, in his conflict of duties, Hat let naturally thinks he is taking the wronj one; for the calls of the claim he meets an hushed by satisfaction, while the calls« the claim he neglects are increased by disippointmcnt. Thus the motives which he resists out-tongue those which he obeys, •o that he hears nothing but the voice of :he duty he omits. We are of course infusible of the current with which we move; but we are made sensible of the ;urrent against which we move by the very struggle it costs. In this way Hamlet :omes to mistake his scruples of conscience for want of conscience, and from his very sensitiveness of principle, tries to reason himself into a conviction of guilt. If, however, he were really guilty of what he accuses himself, he would be trying to find or make excuses wherewith to opiate his conscience. For the bad naturally try to hide their badness, the good their goodness, from themselves; for which cause the former seek narcotics, the latter stimulants, for their consciences. The good man is apt to think he bas not conscience enough, because it does not trouble him; the bad man naturally thinks he has more conscience than he needs, because it troubles him all the while; which accounts fur the well-known readiness of bad men to supply their neighbors with conscience. Of this sort were those men we read of, whose tenderness of conscience was such that they could not bear to take civil oaths, though they did not scruple to break those they had already taken.
And yet Hamlet "thinks meet to put an antic disposition on." This, if, indeed, it be not rather the anticipation of a real thin the pre-announcement of a feigned insanity, seems to us a profound artifiee of honesty. Hamlet cannot kill his uncle, and disdains to conciliate him; and apparent madness is the only practicable outlet of thoughts and feelings which he scorns to hide. Towards the king as a fratricide, » regicide, and a usurper, as the thief of his father's life, and crown, and queen, he tabs the deepest abhorrence. The Lord Chamberlain, as a skillful bat unprincipled tool of sovereignty, reckless whom, and «ring only for what, he serves, Hamlet regards with the contempt which a man of noble qualities naturally feels for a man of merely useful qualities. To express his •enliments to these in his real character, *ould he but to defeat his purpose and endanger his life. Since, therefore, in his true character he can only express false
feelings, he assumes a false character to express his true feelings. Thus his apparent mental insanity becomes the triumph of his moral sanity. Such, then, appears the true moral aspect and explanation of Hamlet's madness. It is the spontaneous effort of his mind to be true to itself. He resorts to formal hypocrisy as the only available refuge from essential hypocrisy. Moreover, Hamlet sees that in this way he can tent the king's conscience to the quick with impunity. Accordingly it is not till pierced by the shaft, that the king discovers Hamlet's aim; and this discovery is a perfect demonstration of liis own guilt. Thus Hamlet turns the very disturbance with which his soul is struggling into a means at once of safety to himself and of punishment to the king. In the uneasy suspicions and remorses which his antics awaken in the king, Hamlet has at the same time proof of his guilt and revenge for his crime; and the setting a wicked man's conscience to biting and stinging him, is always a lawful and even a laudable kind of revenge. Herein Hamlet shows his profound cunning, when he will stoop to cunning. He so lays his plan, that the king cannot possibly detect him, without betraying himself. From the nature of the case, the moment the king shows that he suspects what Hamlet is about, that moment Hamlet knows infallibly what the king has been about.
Of all the perplexities, however, involved in this play, the question of Hamlet's madness is perhaps the hardest of solution. Whether his insanity be real or feigned, or whether it be a species of intermittent insanity, or whether it be sometimes real, sometimes feigned, arc questions which, like many that ai ise on similar points in actual life, can never be fully and finally settled one way or the other. Aside from the ordinary impossibility of deciding precisely where sanity ends and insanity begins, there are, as there naturally must be. peculiarities in Hamlet's character and conduct, resulting from the minglings of th« preternatural in his situation, which, as they lie beyond the compass of our common experience, so they can never be reduced to anything more than probable conjecture. If sanity consists in a certain harmony and sympathy between a man's actions and his circumstances, it must be difficult indeed to say what would be insanity in a man so circumstanced as Hamlet. Of course our own view in this matter will pass for just what it is worth.
Many of us, no doubt, have experienced in ourselves or observed in others an almost irrepressible tendency, in times of great depression, to fly oil' into extravagant humors and eccentricities. We have ourselves known people, in hours of extreme despondency, to throw their most intimate friends into consternation by -their prodigious extravagances; their minds being in a very paroxysm of frolic, when they almost felt like hanging themselves. Such symptoms of wildness and insanity are often but the natural, though perhaps spasmodic, reaction of the mind against the weight that oppresses it. The mind thus spontaneously becomes eccentric, in order to recover or preserve its centre; voluntarily departs from its orbit, to escape what might else throw it from its orbit. This is especially apt to be the case with minds which, like Hamlet's, unite great intellectual power with exceeding fineness and fullness of sensibility. The truth is, almost all extreme emotions naturally express themselves by their opposites: extreme sorrow often utters itself in laughter; extreme joy, in tears; utter despair sometimes breaks out in a voice of mirth; a wounded spirit, ih gushes of humor. Hence Shakspeare, with a depth of nature which has often puzzled both readers and critics, has heightened the effect of some of his awfullest catastrophes by making the persons indulge in flashes of merriment: for there is nothing so appalling as a person laughing in distress; it shows that the spirit is loaded to the utmost extent of its endurance. And the same thing often occurs in actual life. Sir Thomas More's wit upon the scaffold, " than the bare axe more luminous and keen," is an instance of this kind, familiar perhaps to us all. It is not to be presumed, we take it, that More's playfulness on this awful occasion sprung from merry feelings; on the contrary, it must have sprung, one would think, from the other extreme of feeling—a man smiling and playing from excess of anguish and terror. In like manner Hamlet's mental aberrations seem to spring, not from deficiency, but from excess of intellectual strength; the conscious, half-voluntary
bondings and swayings of his faculties beneath an overload of thought, to keep them from breaking. Amid overpowering excitements of his reason and his blood, his intellect is neither crippled by disease nor enthralled by illusion, but distracted with conflicting duties, and hurried away into antics and eccentricities. His mind being deeply disturbed, agitated to its centre, but not disorganized, those irregularities are rather a throwing off of that disturbance than a giving way to it. Goethc'r celebrated illustration, therefore, though almost too beautiful not to be troe, seems entirely irrelevant and inadmissible "Here," says he, "is an oak planted in i china vase, proper to receive only th« most delicate flowers; the roots strike out, and the vessel flies to pieces." If Hamlet's mind were really disorganized, broken in fragments, as this expressM implies, we do not see how it could alternate, as it unquestionably does, between integrity and unsoundness; between tie most exquisite harmony and the most jarring dissonance.
Now the expressions of mirth whitl come from extreme depression, are obviously neither the reality nor the affectation of mirth. People, when overwhelmed bv despair, certainly are not in a condition t<" feel merry, and they are as little in a condition to feign mirth; yet, though neither feeling nor feigning it, they do, nevertheless, sometimes express it. The truth is, such extremes naturally and spontaneously Ojpress themselves by their opposites; A* very contradiction between the passim and expression best revealing the unutterable intensity of the passion. In Bh manner Hamlet's madness, paradoxical aw contradictory as the statement may appear is, it seems to us, neither real nor affected but a sort of natural and spontanea imitation of madness, resulting from tin successful, though convulsive, efforts of si overburdened mind to brace and stay itself under the burden. The triumphs * his reason over his passion naturallyei press themselves in the tokens of insanity just as the agonies of despair natural!; vent themselves in flashes of mem ment. It is not so correct, therefore, ti say that Hamlet puts an antic on, as tbt he lets it on; and his pre-announcement » it seems to spring rather from foresight o