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How these things came about. So fhall you hear
Fort. Let us hafte to hear it,
And call the Noblefs to the audience.
For me, with forrow I embrace my fortune;
Even while men's minds are wild, left more mifchance
Fort. Let four captains
Bear Hamlet, like a foldier, to the Stage;
To have prov'd moft royally. And for his paffage,
Take up the body. Such a fight as this
[Exeunt, marching: after which, a peal of Ordnance is foot off."
If the dramas of Shakespeare were to be characterised, each by the particular excellence which diftinguishes it from the reft, we must allow to the tragedy of Hamlet the praise of variety. The incidents are fo numerous, that the argument of the play would make a long tale. The fcenes are interchangeably diverfified with merriment and folemnity; with merriment that includes judicious and inftructive obfervations, and folemnity, not ftrained by poetical violence above the natural fentiments-of man, New characters appear from time to time in continual fucceffion, exhibiting various forms of life and particular modes of converfation. The pretend ed madnefs of Hamlet caufes much mirth, the mournful diftraction of Ophelia fills the heart with tenderness, and every perfonage produces the effect intended, from the apparition that in the first act chills the blood with horrour, to the fop in the laft, that expofes affectation to just contempt.
The conduct is perhaps not wholly fecure against objections. The action is indeed for the moft part in continual progreffion, but there are fome fcenes which neither forward nor retard it. Of the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears no adequate caufe,
for he does nothing which he might not have done with the reputation of fanity. He plays the madman moft, when he treats Ophelia with fo much rudeness, which feems to be useless and wanton cruelty.
Hamlet is, through the whole play, rather an inftrument thanan agent. After he has, by the ftratagem of the play, convicted the King, he makes no attempt to punish him, and his death is at laft effected by an incident which Hamlet has no part in producing.
The catastrophe is not very happily produced; the exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of neceffity, than a stroke of art. A fcheme might eafily have been formed, to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes with the bowl.
The poet is accused of having fhewn little regard to poetical juftice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpofe; the revenge which he demands is not obtained but by the death of him that was required to take it; and the gratification which would arife from the deftruction of an ufurper and a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmlefs, and the pious,
ACT II. SCENE VII. Page 199.
The rugged Pyrrhus he, &c.] The two greatest poets of this and the last age, Mr. Dryden, in the preface to Troilus and Creffi da, and Mr. Pofe, in his note on this place, have concurred in thinking that Shakespear produced this long paffage with defign to ridicule and expofe the bombaft of the play from whence it was taken; and that Hamlet's commendation of it is purely ironical. This is become the general opinion. I think juft of therwife; and that it was given with commendation to upbraid the false tafte of the audience of that time, which would not fuffer them to do juftice to the fimplicity and fublime of this production. And I reafon, Firft, From the Character Hamlet gives of the Play, from whence the paffage is taken. Secondly, From the paffage itself. And Thirdly, From the effect it had on the audience.
Let us confider the character Hamlet gives of it: The Play, I remember, pleas'd not the m llion, twas Caviar to the general; but it was (as I received it, and others, whofe judgment in fub matters cried in the top of mine) an excellent Play well digefted in the scenes, fet down with as much modefty as cunning. I remember, one faid, there was no falt in the lines to make the matter favoury; por no matter in the phrafe that might indite the author of affec
tion; but called it an honest me thod. They who fuppofe the paffage given to be ridiculed, mult needs fuppofe this character to be purely ironical. But if fo, it is the ftrangeft irony that ever was written. It pleafed not the multitude. This we must conclude to be true, however ironical the rest be. Now the reason given of the defigned ridicule is the fuppofed bombaft. But thofe were the very plays, which at that time we know took with the multitude. And Fletcher wrote a kind of Rehearsal purpofely to expofe them. But fay it is bombaft, and that, therefore, it took not with the multitude. Hamlet prefently tells us what it was that difpleafed them. There was no falt in the lines to make the matter favoury; nor no matter in the phrase that might indite the author of affection; but called it an honeft method. Now whether a perion fpeaks ironically or no, when he quotes others, yet com mon fenfe requires he should quote what they fay. Now it could not be, if this play dif pleafed because of the bombaft, that thofe whom it displeased fhould give this reafon for their diflike. The fame inconfiftencies and abfurdities abound in every other part of Hamlet's speech fuppofing it to be ironical: but take him as fpeaking his fentiments, the whole is of a piece; and to this purpose: The Play, I remember,
remember, pleafed not the multitude, and the reafon was, its being wrote on the rules of the ancient Drama; to which they were entire ftrangers. But, in my opinion, and in the opinion of those for whofe judgment I have the highest eftéem, it was an excellent Play, well digefted in the fcens, i. e. where the three unities were well preferved. Set down with as much modefly as cunning, i, e, where not only the art of compofition, but the fimplicity of nature, was carefully attended, to. The characters were a faithful picture of life and manners, in which nothing was overcharged into Farce. But thefe qualities, which gained my efteem, loft the public's. For I remember one faid, There was no falt in the lines to make the matter favoury, i. e. there was not, according to the mode of that time, a fool or clown to joke, quibble, and talk freely. Nor no matter in the phrafe that might indite the author of affection, i. e. nor none of those paffionate, pathetic love scenes, fo effential to modern tragedy. But he called it an honeft method, i. e. he owned, however tasteless this method of writing, on the ancient plan, was to our times, yet it was chafte and pure; the diftinguishing character of the Greek Drama. I need only make one obfervation on all this; that, thus interpreted, it is the jufteft picture of a good tragedy, wrote on the arcient rules. And that I have rightly interpreted it appears farther from what we find added in the old Quarto, an honeft method, as wholesome as Sweet, and by
Th' unnerved father falls, &c. To,-So after Pyrrhus' pause. Now this circumftance, illuftrated with the fine fimilitude of the ftorm, is fo highly worked up as to have well deferved a place in Virgil's fecond Book of the Eneid, even tho' the work had been carried on to that perfection which the Roman Poet had conceived.
3. The third proof is, from the effects which followed on the recital. Hamlet, his best character, approves it; the Player is deeply affected in repeating it; and only the foolish Polonius tired with it. We have faid enough before of Hamlet's fentiments. As for the player, he changes colour, and the tears start from his eyes. But our author was too good a judge of nature to make bombaft and unnatural fentiment produce fuch an effect. Nature and Horace both inftructed him,
Si vis me fiere, dolendum eft Primùm ipfi tibi, tunc tua me
infortunia la dent, Telephe, vel Peleu. MALE SI
MANDATA LOQUERIS, Aut dormitabo aut ridebo.
And it may be worth obferving, that Horace gives this precept particularly to fhew, that bombaft and unnatural fentiments are incapable of moving the tender paffions, which he is directing the poet how to raise. For, in the lines juft before, he gives this rule,
Peleus, cùm pauper exul uterque, Projicit Ampullas, & fefquipe
Not that I would deny, that very bad lines in very bad tragedies have had this effect. But then it always proceeds from one or other of these causes.
1. Either when the fubject is domeftic, and the fcene lies at home: The fpectators, in this cafe, become interested in the fortunes of the diftreffed; and their, thoughts are fo much taken up with the fubject, that they are not at liberty to attend to the poet; who, otherwife, by his faulty fentiments and diction, would have stiffed the emotions fpringing up from a fenfe of the diftrefs. But this is nothing to the cafe in hand. For, as Hamlet fays,
What's Hecuba to him, or be to Hecuba?
2. When bad lines raife this affection, they are bad in the other extreme; low, abject, and groveling, inftead of being highly figurative and fwelling; yet when attended with a natural fimplicity, they have force enough to ftrike illiterate and fimple minds. The Tragedies of Banks will justify both thefe obfervations.
But if any one will ftill fay,
that Shakespear intended to reprefent a player unnaturally and fantastically affected, we muft appeal to Hamlet, that is, to Shakespear himself, in this matter? who on the reflection he makes upon the Player's emotion, in order to excite his own revenge, gives not the least hint that the player was unnaturally or indjudiciously moved. On the contrary, his fine defcription of the Actor's emotion fhews, he thought juft otherwise. -this Player bere,
But in a fiction, in a dream of palion,
Could force his foul so to his
Tears in his eyes, diffraction in bis afpect, A broken voice, &c. And indeed had Hamlet efteemed this emotion any thing unnatural, it had been a very improper circumftance to spur him to his purpose.
As Shakespear has here fhewn the effects which a fine defcription of Nature, heightened with all the ornaments of art, had upon an intelligent Player, whose bufinefs habituates him to enter intimately and deeply into the characters of men and manners, and to give nature its free workings on all occafions; fo he has artfully fhewn what effects the very fame fcene would have upon a quite different man, Polonius; by nature, very weak and very artificial [two qualities, tho' commonly enough joined in life, yet generally fo much disguised as not to be feen by common eyes