Part 4 out of 7
mouse stirring_.' The attention to minute sounds,--naturally associated
with the recollection of minute objects, and the more familiar and
trifling, the more impressive from the unusualness of their producing
any impression at all--gives a philosophic pertinency to this last
image; but it has likewise its dramatic use and purpose. For its
commonness in ordinary conversation tends to produce the sense of
reality, and at once hides the poet, and yet approximates the reader or
spectator to that state in which the highest poetry will appear, and in
its component parts, though not in the whole composition, really is, the
language of nature. If I should not speak it, I feel that I should be
thinking it;--the voice only is the poet's,--the words are my own. That
Shakspeare meant to put an effect in the actor's power in the very first
words--"Who's there?"--is evident from the impatience expressed by the
startled Francisco in the words that follow--"Nay, answer me: stand and
unfold yourself." A brave man is never so peremptory, as when he fears
that he is afraid. Observe the gradual transition from the silence and
the still recent habit of listening in Francisco's--"I think I hear
them"--to the more cheerful call out, which a good actor would observe,
in the--"Stand ho! Who is there?" Bernardo's inquiry after Horatio, and
the repetition of his name and in his own presence indicate a respect or
an eagerness that implies him as one of the persons who are in the
foreground; and the scepticism attributed to him,--
Horatio says,'tis but our fantasy; And will not let belief take hold of
prepares us for Hamlet's after eulogy on him as one whose blood and
judgment were happily commingled. The actor should also be careful to
distinguish the expectation and gladness of Bernardo's 'Welcome,
Horatio!' from the mere courtesy of his 'Welcome, good Marcellus!'
Now observe the admirable indefiniteness of the first opening out of the
occasion of all this anxiety. The preparation informative of the
audience is just as much as was precisely necessary, and no more;--it
begins with the uncertainty appertaining to a question:--
'Mar'. What, has _this thing_ appear'd again to-night?--
Even the word 'again' has its 'credibilizing' effect. Then Horatio, the
representative of the ignorance of the audience, not himself, but by
Marcellus to Bernardo, anticipates the common solution--''tis but our
fantasy!' upon which Marcellus rises into
This dreaded sight, twice seen of us--
which immediately afterwards becomes 'this apparition,' and that, too,
an intelligent spirit, that is, to be spoken to! Then comes the
confirmation of Horatio's disbelief;--
Tush! tush! 'twill not appear!--
and the silence, with which the scene opened, is again restored in the
shivering feeling of Horatio sitting down, at such a time, and with the
two eye-witnesses, to hear a story of a ghost, and that, too, of a ghost
which had appeared twice before at the very same hour. In the deep
feeling which Bernardo has of the solemn nature of what he is about to
relate, he makes an effort to master his own imaginative terrors by an
elevation of style,--itself a continuation of the effort,--and by
turning off from the apparition, as from something which would force him
too deeply into himself, to the outward objects, the realities of
nature, which had accompanied it:--
'Ber'. Last night of all,
When yon same star, that's westward from the pole,
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,
The bell then beating one--
This passage seems to contradict the critical law that what is told,
makes a faint impression compared with what is beholden; for it does
indeed convey to the mind more than the eye can see; whilst the
interruption of the narrative at the very moment, when we are most
intensely listening for the sequel, and have our thoughts diverted from
the dreaded sight in expectation of the desired, yet almost dreaded,
tale--this gives all the suddenness and surprise of the original
'Mar'. Peace, break thee off; look, where it comes again!--
Note the judgment displayed in having the two persons present, who, as
having seen the Ghost before, are naturally eager in confirming their
former opinions,--whilst the sceptic is silent, and after having been
twice addressed by his friends, answers with two hasty syllables--'Most
like,'--and a confession of horror:
--It harrows me with fear and wonder.
O heaven! words are wasted on those who feel, and to those who do not
feel the exquisite judgment of Shakspeare in this scene, what can be
said?--Hume himself could not but have had faith in this Ghost
dramatically, let his anti-ghostism have been as strong as Samson
against other ghosts less powerfully raised.
Act i. sc. I.
'Mar'. Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch, &c.
How delightfully natural is the transition to the retrospective
narrative! And observe, upon the Ghost's reappearance, how much
Horatio's courage is increased by having translated the late individual
spectator into general thought and past experience,--and the sympathy of
Marcellus and Bernardo with his patriotic surmises in daring to strike
at the Ghost; whilst in a moment, upon its vanishing, the former solemn
awe-stricken feeling returns upon them:--
We do it wrong, being so majestical,
To offer it the show of violence.--
'Ib.' Horatio's speech:--
I have heard,
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day, &c.
No Addison could be more careful to be poetical in diction than
Shakspeare in providing the grounds and sources of its propriety. But
how to elevate a thing almost mean by its familiarity, young poets may
learn in this treatment of the cock-crow.
'Ib.' Horatio's speech:--
And, by my advice,
Let us impart what we have seen to-night
Unto young Hamlet; for, upon my life,
The spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.
Note the inobtrusive and yet fully adequate mode of introducing the main
character, 'young Hamlet,' upon whom is transferred all the interest
excited for the acts and concerns of the king his father.
'Ib.' sc. 2. The audience are now relieved by a change of scene to the
royal court, in order that Hamlet may not have to take up the leavings
of exhaustion. In the king's speech, observe the set and pedantically
antithetic form of the sentences when touching that which galled the
heels of conscience,--the strain of undignified rhetoric,--and yet in
what follows concerning the public weal, a certain appropriate majesty.
Indeed was he not a royal brother?--
'Ib.' King's speech:--
And now, Laertes, what's the news with you? &c.
Thus with great art Shakspeare introduces a most important, but still
subordinate character first, Laertes, who is yet thus graciously treated
in consequence of the assistance given to the election of the late
king's brother instead of his son by Polonius.
'Ham'. A little more than kin, and less than kind.
'King'. How is it that the clouds still hang on you?
'Ham'. Not so, my lord, I am too much i' the sun.
Hamlet opens his mouth with a playing on words, the complete absence of
which throughout characterizes Macbeth. This playing on words may be
attributed to many causes or motives, as either to an exuberant activity
of mind, as in the higher comedy of Shakspeare generally;--or to an
imitation of it as a mere fashion, as if it were said--'Is not this
better than groaning?'--or to a contemptuous exultation in minds
vulgarized and overset by their success, as in the poetic instance of
Milton's Devils in the battle;--or it is the language of resentment, as
is familiar to every one who has witnessed the quarrels of the lower
orders, where there is invariably a profusion of punning invective,
whence, perhaps, nicknames have in a considerable degree sprung up;--or
it is the language of suppressed passion, and especially of a hardly
smothered personal dislike. The first, and last of these combine in
Hamlet's case; and I have little doubt that Farmer is right in supposing
the equivocation carried on in the expression 'too much i' the sun,' or
'Ham'. Ay, madam, it is common.
Here observe Hamlet's delicacy to his mother, and how the suppression
prepares him for the overflow in the next speech, in which his character
is more developed by bringing forward his aversion to externals, and
which betrays his habit of brooding over the world within him, coupled
with a prodigality of beautiful words, which are the half embodyings of
thought, and are more than thought, and have an outness, a reality 'sui
generis', and yet retain their correspondence and shadowy affinity to
the images and movements within. Note also Hamlet's silence to the long
speech of the king which follows, and his respectful, but general,
answer to his mother.
'Ib.' Hamlet's first soliloquy:--
O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew! &c.
This 'taedium vitae'; is a common oppression on minds cast in the Hamlet
mould, and is caused by disproportionate mental exertion, which
necessitates exhaustion of bodily feeling. Where there is a just
coincidence of external and internal action, pleasure is always the
result; but where the former is deficient, and the mind's appetency of
the ideal is unchecked, realities will seem cold and unmoving. In such
cases, passion combines itself with the indefinite alone. In this mood
of his mind the relation of the appearance of his father's spirit in
arms is made all at once to Hamlet:--it is--Horatio's speech, in
particular--a perfect model of the true style of dramatic
narrative;--the purest poetry, and yet in the most natural language,
equally remote from the ink-horn and the plough.
'Ib.' sc. 3. This scene must be regarded as one of Shakspeare's lyric
movements in the play, and the skill with which it is interwoven with
the dramatic parts is peculiarly an excellence of our poet. You
experience the sensation of a pause without the sense of a stop. You
will observe in Ophelia's short and general answer to the long speech of
Laertes the natural carelessness of innocence, which cannot think such a
code of cautions and prudences necessary to its own preservation.
'Ib.' Speech of Polonius:--(in Stockdale's edition.)
Or (not to crack the wind of the poor phrase,)
Wronging it thus, you'll tender me a fool.
I suspect this 'wronging' is here used much in the same sense as
'wringing' or 'wrenching;' and that the parenthesis should be extended
to 'thus.' 
'Ib.' Speech of Polonius:--
--How prodigal the soul
Lends the tongue vows:--these blazes, daughter, &c.
A spondee has, I doubt not, dropped out of the text. Either insert 'Go
to' after 'vows;'--
Lends the tongue vows:--Go to, these blazes, daughter--
Lends the tongue vows:--These blazes, daughter, mark you--
Shakspeare never introduces a catalectic line without intending an
equivalent to the foot omitted in the pauses, or the dwelling emphasis,
or the diffused retardation. I do not, however, deny that a good actor
might by employing the last mentioned means, namely, the retardation, or
solemn knowing drawl, supply the missing spondee with good effect. But I
do not believe that in this or any other of the foregoing speeches of
Polonius, Shakspeare meant to bring out the senility or weakness of that
personage's mind. In the great ever-recurring dangers and duties of
life, where to distinguish the fit objects for the application of the
maxims collected by the experience of a long life, requires no fineness
of tact, as in the admonitions to his son and daughter, Polonius is
uniformly made respectable. But if an actor were even capable of
catching these shades in the character, the pit and the gallery would be
malcontent at their exhibition. It is to Hamlet that Polonius is, and is
meant to be, contemptible, because in inwardness and uncontrollable
activity of movement, Hamlet's mind is the logical contrary to that of
Polonius, and besides, as I have observed before, Hamlet dislikes the
man as false to his true allegiance in the matter of the succession to
'Ib.' sc. 4. The unimportant conversation with which this scene opens is
a proof of Shakspeare's minute knowledge of human nature. It is a well
established fact, that on the brink of any serious enterprise, or event
of moment, men almost invariably endeavour to elude the pressure of
their own thoughts by turning aside to trivial objects and familiar
circumstances: thus this dialogue on the platform begins with remarks on
the coldness of the air, and inquiries, obliquely connected, indeed,
with the expected hour of the visitation, but thrown out in a seeming
vacuity of topics, as to the striking of the clock and so forth. The
same desire to escape from the impending thought is carried on in
Hamlet's account of, and moralizing on, the Danish custom of wassailing:
he runs off from the particular to the universal, and, in his repugnance
to personal and individual concerns, escapes, as it were, from himself
in generalizations, and smothers the impatience and uneasy feelings of
the moment in abstract reasoning. Besides this, another purpose is
answered;--for by thus entangling the attention of the audience in the
nice distinctions and parenthetical sentences of this speech of
Hamlet's, Shakspeare takes them completely by surprise on the appearance
of the Ghost, which comes upon them in all the suddenness of its
visionary character. Indeed, no modern writer would have dared, like
Shakspeare, to have preceded this last visitation by two distinct
appearances,--or could have contrived that the third should rise upon
the former two in impressiveness and solemnity of interest.
But in addition to all the other excellencies of Hamlet's speech
concerning the wassel-music--so finely revealing the predominant
idealism, the ratiocinative meditativeness, of his character--it has the
advantage of giving nature and probability to the impassioned continuity
of the speech instantly directed to the Ghost. The 'momentum' had been
given to his mental activity; the full current of the thoughts and words
had set in, and the very forgetfulness, in the fervour of his
argumentation, of the purpose for which he was there, aided in
preventing the appearance from benumbing the mind. Consequently, it
acted as a new impulse,--a sudden stroke which increased the velocity of
the body already in motion, whilst it altered the direction. The
co-presence of Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo is most judiciously
contrived; for it renders the courage of Hamlet and his impetuous
eloquence perfectly intelligible. The knowledge,--the unthought of
consciousness,--the sensation,--of human auditors,--of flesh and blood
sympathists--acts as a support and a stimulation 'a tergo', while the
front of the mind, the whole consciousness of the speaker, is filled,
yea, absorbed, by the apparition. Add too, that the apparition itself
has by its previous appearances been brought nearer to a thing of this
world. This accrescence of objectivity in a Ghost that yet retains all
its ghostly attributes and fearful subjectivity, is truly wonderful.
'Ib.' sc. 5. Hamlet's speech:--
O all you host of heaven! O earth! What else?
And shall I couple hell?--
I remember nothing equal to this burst unless it be the first speech of
Prometheus in the Greek drama, after the exit of Vulcan and the two
Afrites. But Shakspeare alone could have produced the vow of Hamlet to
make his memory a blank of all maxims and generalized truths, that
'observation had copied there,'--followed immediately by the speaker
noting down the generalized fact,
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain!
'Mar'. Hillo, ho, ho, my lord!
'Ham'. Hillo, ho, ho, boy! come bird, come, &c.
This part of the scene after Hamlet's interview with the Ghost has been
charged with an improbable eccentricity. But the truth is, that after
the mind has been stretched beyond its usual pitch and tone, it must
either sink into exhaustion and inanity, or seek relief by change. It is
thus, well known that persons conversant in deeds of cruelty, contrive
to escape from conscience, by connecting something of the ludicrous with
them, and by inventing grotesque terms and a certain technical
phraseology to disguise the horror of their practices. Indeed,
paradoxical as it may appear, the terrible by a law of the human mind
always touches on the verge of the ludicrous. Both arise from the
perception of something out of the common order of things--something, in
fact, out of its place; and if from this we can abstract danger, the
uncommonness will alone remain, and the sense of the ridiculous be
excited. The close alliance of these opposites--they are not
contraries--appears from the circumstance, that laughter is equally the
expression of extreme anguish and horror as of joy: as there are tears
of sorrow and tears of joy, so is there a laugh of terror and a laugh of
merriment. These complex causes will naturally have produced in Hamlet
the disposition to escape from his own feelings of the overwhelming and
supernatural by a wild transition to the ludicrous,--a sort of cunning
bravado, bordering on the flights of delirium. For you may, perhaps,
observe that Hamlet's wildness is but half false; he plays that subtle
trick of pretending to act only when he is very near really being what
The subterraneous speeches of the Ghost are hardly defensible:--but I
would call your attention to the characteristic difference between this
Ghost, as a superstition connected with the most mysterious truths of
revealed religion,--and Shakspeare's consequent reverence in his
treatment of it,--and the foul earthly witcheries and wild language in
Act ii. sc. 1. Polonius and Reynaldo.
In all things dependent on, or rather made up of, fine address, the
manner is no more or otherwise rememberable than the light motions,
steps, and gestures of youth and health. But this is almost every
thing:--no wonder, therefore, if that which can be put down by rule in
the memory should appear to us as mere poring, maudlin,
cunning,--slyness blinking through the watery eye of superannuation. So
in this admirable scene, Polonius, who is throughout the skeleton of his
own former skill and statecraft, hunts the trail of policy at a dead
scent, supplied by the weak fever-smell in his own nostrils.
'Ib.' sc. 2. Speech of Polonius:--
My liege, and madam, to expostulate, &c.
Then as to the jingles, and play on words, let us but look into the
sermons of Dr. Donne, (the wittiest man of that age) and we shall find
them full of this vein.
I have, and that most carefully, read Dr. Donne's sermons, and find none
of these jingles. The great art of an orator--to make whatever he talks
of appear of importance--this, indeed, Donne has effected with
'Ham'. Excellent well; You are a fishmonger.
That is, you are sent to fish out this secret. This is Hamlet's own
'Ham'. For if the sun breeds maggots in a dead dog,
Being a god, kissing carrion--
These purposely obscure lines, I rather think, refer to some thought in
Hamlet's mind, contrasting the lovely daughter with such a tedious old
fool, her father, as he, Hamlet, represents Polonius to himself:--'Why,
fool as he is, he is some degrees in rank above a dead dog's carcase;
and if the sun, being a god that kisses carrion, can raise life out of a
dead dog,--why may not good fortune, that favours fools, have raised a
lovely girl out of this dead-alive old fool?' Warburton is often led
astray, in his interpretations, by his attention to general positions
without the due Shakspearian reference to what is probably passing in
the mind of his speaker, characteristic, and expository of his
particular character and present mood. The subsequent passage,--
O Jephtha, judge of Israel! what a treasure hadst thou!
is confirmatory of my view of these lines.
'Ham'. You cannot, Sir, take from me any thing that I will more
willingly part withal; except my life, except my life, except my life.
This repetition strikes me as most admirable.
'Ham'. Then are our beggars, bodies; and our monarchs, and
out-stretched heroes, the beggars' shadows.
I do not understand this; and Shakspeare seems to have intended the
meaning not to be more than snatched at:--'By my fay, I cannot reason!'
The rugged Pyrrhus--he whose sable arms, &c.
This admirable substitution of the epic for the dramatic, giving such a
reality to the impassioned dramatic diction of Shakspeare's own
dialogue, and authorized, too, by the actual style of the tragedies
before his time (Porrex and Ferrex, Titus Andronicus, &c.)--is well
worthy of notice. The fancy, that a burlesque was intended, sinks below
criticism: the lines, as epic narrative, are superb.
In the thoughts, and even in the separate parts of the diction, this
description is highly poetical: in truth, taken by itself, this is its
fault that it is too poetical!--the language of lyric vehemence and epic
pomp, and not of the drama. But if Shakspeare had made the diction truly
dramatic, where would have been the contrast between Hamlet and the play
--had seen the _mobled_ queen, &c.
A mob-cap is still a word in common use for a morning cap, which
conceals the whole head of hair, and passes under the chin. It is nearly
the same as the night-cap, that is, it is an imitation of it, so as to
answer the purpose ('I am not drest for company'), and yet reconciling
it with neatness and perfect purity.
'Ib.' Hamlet's soliloquy:
O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I! &c.
This is Shakspeare's own attestation to the truth of the idea of Hamlet
which I have before put forth.
The spirit that I have seen, May be a devil: and the devil hath power To
assume a pleasing shape; yea, and, perhaps Out of my weakness, and my
melancholy, (As he is very potent with such spirits) Abuses me to damn
See Sir Thomas Brown:
I believe----that those apparitions and ghosts of departed persons are
not the wandering souls of men, but the unquiet walks of devils,
prompting and suggesting us unto mischief, blood and villany,
instilling and stealing into our hearts, that the blessed spirits are
not at rest in their graves, but wander solicitous of the affairs of
'Relig. Med'. Pt. I. Sect. 37.
Act iii. sc. 1. Hamlet's soliloquy:
To be, or not to be, that is the question, &c.
This speech is of absolutely universal interest,--and yet to which of
all Shakspeare's characters could it have been appropriately given but
to Hamlet? For Jaques it would have been too deep, and for Iago too
habitual a communion with the heart; which in every man belongs, or
ought to belong, to all mankind.
That undiscover'd country, from whose bourne
No traveller returns.--
Theobald's note in defence of the supposed contradiction of this in the
apparition of the Ghost.
O miserable defender! If it be necessary to remove the apparent
contradiction,--if it be not rather a great beauty,--surely, it were
easy to say, that no traveller returns to this world, as to his home, or
'Ham'. Ha, ha! are you honest?
'Oph'. My lord?
'Ham'. Are you fair?
Here it is evident that the penetrating Hamlet perceives, from the
strange and forced manner of Ophelia, that the sweet girl was not acting
a part of her own, but was a decoy; and his after speeches are not so
much directed to her as to the listeners and spies. Such a discovery in
a mood so anxious and irritable accounts for a certain harshness in
him;--and yet a wild up-working of love, sporting with opposites in a
wilful self-tormenting strain of irony, is perceptible throughout. 'I
did love you once:'--'I lov'd you not:'--and particularly in his
enumeration of the faults of the sex from which Ophelia is so free, that
the mere freedom therefrom constitutes her character. Note Shakspeare's
charm of composing the female character by the absence of characters,
that is, marks and out-juttings.
'Ib.' Hamlet's speech:--
I say, we will have no more marriages: those that are married already,
all but one, shall live: the rest shall keep as they are.
Observe this dallying with the inward purpose, characteristic of one who
had not brought his mind to the steady acting point. He would fain sting
the uncle's mind;--but to stab his body!--The soliloquy of Ophelia,
which follows, is the perfection of love--so exquisitely unselfish!
'Ib.' sc. 2. This dialogue of Hamlet with the players is one of the
happiest instances of Shakspeare's power of diversifying the scene while
he is carrying on the plot.
'Ham'. My lord, you play'd once i' the university, you say?
To have kept Hamlet's love for Ophelia before the audience in any direct
form, would have made a breach in the unity of the interest;--but yet to
the thoughtful reader it is suggested by his spite to poor Polonius,
whom he cannot let rest.
'Ib.' The style of the interlude here is distinguished from the real
dialogue by rhyme, as in the first interview with the players by epic
'Ros'. My lord, you once did love me.
'Ham'. So I do still, by these pickers and stealers.
I never heard an actor give this word 'so' its proper emphasis.
Shakspeare's meaning is--'lov'd you? Hum!--_so_ I do still, &c.' There
has been no change in my opinion:--I think as ill of you as I did. Else
Hamlet tells an ignoble falsehood, and a useless one, as the last speech
to Guildenstern--'Why, look you now,' &c.--proves.
'Ib.' Hamlet's soliloquy:--
Now could I drink hot blood,
And do such business as the bitter day
Would quake to look on.
The utmost at which Hamlet arrives, is a disposition, a mood, to do
something:--but what to do, is still left undecided, while every word he
utters tends to betray his disguise. Yet observe how perfectly equal to
any call of the moment is Hamlet, let it only not be for the future.
'Ib.' sc. 4. Speech of Polonius. Polonius's volunteer obtrusion of
himself into this business, while it is appropriate to his character,
still itching after former importance, removes all likelihood that
Hamlet should suspect his presence, and prevents us from making his
death injure Hamlet in our opinion.
'Ib.' The king's speech:--
O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven, &c.
This speech well marks the difference between crime and guilt of habit.
The conscience here is still admitted to audience. Nay, even as an
audible soliloquy, it is far less improbable than is supposed by such as
have watched men only in the beaten road of their feelings. But the
final--'all may be well!' is remarkable;--the degree of merit attributed
by the self-flattering soul to its own struggle, though baffled, and to
the indefinite half-promise, half-command, to persevere in religious
duties. The solution is in the divine 'medium' of the Christian doctrine
of expiation:--not what you have done, but what you are, must determine.
'Ib.' Hamlet's speech:--
Now might I do it, pat, now he is praying:
And now I'll do it:--And so he goes to heaven:
And so am I revenged? That would be scann'd, &c.
Dr. Johnson's mistaking of the marks of reluctance and procrastination
for impetuous, horror-striking, fiendishness!--Of such importance is it
to understand the germ of a character. But the interval taken by
Hamlet's speech is truly awful! And then--
My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
Words, without thoughts, never to heaven go,--
O what a lesson concerning the essential difference between wishing and
willing, and the folly of all motive-mongering, while the individual
'Ib.' sc. 4.
'Ham'. A bloody deed;--almost as bad, good mother,
As kill a king, and marry with his brother.
'Queen'. As kill a king?
I confess that Shakspeare has left the character of the Queen in an
unpleasant perplexity. Was she, or was she not, conscious of the
Act iv. sc. 2.
'Ros'. Take you me for a spunge, my lord?
'Ham'. Ay, Sir; that soaks up the King's countenance, his rewards, his
Hamlet's madness is made to consist in the free utterance of all the
thoughts that had passed through his mind before;--in fact, in telling
Act. iv. sc. 5. Ophelia's singing. O, note the conjunction here of these
two thoughts that had never subsisted in disjunction, the love for
Hamlet, and her filial love, with the guileless floating on the surface
of her pure imagination of the cautions so lately expressed, and the
fears not too delicately avowed, by her father and brother concerning
the dangers to which her honour lay exposed. Thought, affliction,
passion, murder itself--she turns to favour and prettiness. This play of
association is instanced in the close:--
My brother shall know of it, and I thank you for your good counsel.
'Ib.' Gentleman's speech:--
And as the world were now but to begin,
Antiquity forgot, custom not known,
The ratifiers and props of every ward--
They cry, &c.
Fearful and self-suspicious as I always feel, when I seem to see an
error of judgment in Shakspeare, yet I cannot reconcile the cool, and,
as Warburton calls it, 'rational and consequential,' reflection in these
lines with the anonymousness, or the alarm, of this Gentleman or
Messenger, as he is called in other editions.
'Ib.' King's speech:--
There's such divinity doth hedge a king,
That treason can but peep to what it would,
Acts little of his will.
Proof, as indeed all else is, that Shakspeare never intended us to see
the King with Hamlet's eyes; though, I suspect, the managers have long
'Ib.' Speech of Laertes:--
To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil!
Laertes is a 'good' character, but, &c. (WARBURTON.)
Mercy on Warburton's notion of goodness! Please to refer to the seventh
scene of this act;--
I will do it;
And for this purpose I'll anoint my sword, &c.
uttered by Laertes after the King's description of Hamlet;--
He being remiss,
Most generous, and free from all contriving,
Will not peruse the foils.
Yet I acknowledge that Shakspeare evidently wishes, as much as possible,
to spare the character of Laertes,--to break the extreme turpitude of
his consent to become an agent and accomplice of the King's
treachery;--and to this end he re-introduces Ophelia at the close of
this scene to afford a probable stimulus of passion in her brother.
'Ib.' sc. 6. Hamlet's capture by the pirates. This is almost the only
play of Shakspeare, in which mere accidents, independent of all will,
form an essential part of the plot;--but here how judiciously in keeping
with the character of the over-meditative Hamlet, ever at last
determined by accident or by a fit of passion!
'Ib.' sc. 7. Note how the King first awakens Laertes's vanity by
praising the reporter, and then gratifies it by the report itself, and
finally points it by--
Sir, this report of his
Did Hamlet so envenom with his envy!--
'Ib.' King's speech:
For goodness, growing to a _pleurisy_,
Dies in his own too much.
Theobald's note from Warburton, who conjectures 'plethory.'
I rather think that Shakspeare meant 'pleurisy,' but involved in it the
thought of _plethora_, as supposing pleurisy to arise from too much
blood; otherwise I cannot explain the following line--
And then this _should_ is like a spendthrift sigh,
That hurts by easing.
In a stitch in the side every one must have heaved a sigh that 'hurt by
Since writing the above I feel confirmed that 'pleurisy' is the right
word; for I find that in the old medical dictionaries the pleurisy is
often called the 'plethory.'
'Queen'. Your sister's drown'd, Laertes.
'Laer'. Drown'd! O, where?
That Laertes might be excused in some degree for not cooling, the Act
concludes with the affecting death of Ophelia,--who in the beginning lay
like a little projection of land into a lake or stream, covered with
spray-flowers quietly reflected in the quiet waters, but at length is
undermined or loosened, and becomes a faery isle, and after a brief
vagrancy sinks almost without an eddy!
Act v. sc. 1. O, the rich contrast between the Clowns and Hamlet, as two
extremes! You see in the former the mockery of logic, and a traditional
wit valued, like truth, for its antiquity, and treasured up, like a
tune, for use.
'Ib.' sc. 1 and 2. Shakspeare seems to mean all Hamlet's character to be
brought together before his final disappearance from the scene;--his
meditative excess in the grave-digging, his yielding to passion with
Laertes, his love for Ophelia blazing out, his tendency to generalize on
all occasions in the dialogue with Horatio, his fine gentlemanly manners
with Osrick, and his and Shakspeare's own fondness for presentiment:
But thou would'st not think, how ill all's here about my heart: but it
is no matter.
[Footnote 1: It is so pointed in the modern editions.--Ed.]
NOTES ON MACBETH.
Macbeth stands in contrast throughout with Hamlet; in the manner of
opening more especially. In the latter, there is a gradual ascent from
the simplest forms of conversation to the language of impassioned
intellect,--yet the intellect still remaining the seat of passion: in
the former, the invocation is at once made to the imagination and the
emotions connected therewith. Hence the movement throughout is the most
rapid of all Shakspeare's plays; and hence also, with the exception of
the disgusting passage of the Porter (Act ii. sc. 3.), which I dare
pledge myself to demonstrate to be an interpolation of the actors, there
is not, to the best of my remembrance, a single pun or play on words in
the whole drama. I have previously given an answer to the thousand times
repeated charge against Shakspeare upon the subject of his punning, and
I here merely mention the fact of the absence of any puns in Macbeth, as
justifying a candid doubt at least, whether even in these figures of
speech and fanciful modifications of language, Shakspeare may not have
followed rules and principles that merit and would stand the test of
philosophic examination. And hence, also, there is an entire absence of
comedy, nay, even of irony and philosophic contemplation in
Macbeth,--the play being wholly and purely tragic. For the same cause,
there are no reasonings of equivocal morality, which would have required
a more leisurely state and a consequently greater activity of mind;--no
sophistry of self-delusion,--except only that previously to the dreadful
act, Macbeth mistranslates the recoilings and ominous whispers of
conscience into prudential and selfish reasonings, and, after the deed
done, the terrors of remorse into fear from external dangers,--like
delirious men who run away from the phantoms of their own brains, or,
raised by terror to rage, stab the real object that is within their
reach:--whilst Lady Macbeth merely endeavours to reconcile his and her
own sinkings of heart by anticipations of the worst, and an affected
bravado in confronting them. In all the rest, Macbeth's language is the
grave utterance of the very heart, conscience-sick, even to the last
faintings of moral death. It is the same in all the other characters.
The variety arises from rage, caused ever and anon by disruption of
anxious thought, and the quick transition of fear into it.
In Hamlet and Macbeth the scene opens with superstition; but, in each it
is not merely different, but opposite. In the first it is connected with
the best and holiest feelings; in the second with the shadowy,
turbulent, and unsanctified cravings of the individual will. Nor is the
purpose the same; in the one the object is to excite, whilst in the
other it is to mark a mind already excited. Superstition, of one sort or
another, is natural to victorious generals; the instances are too
notorious to need mentioning. There is so much of chance in warfare, and
such vast events are connected with the acts of a single
individual,--the representative, in truth, of the efforts of myriads,
and yet to the public and, doubtless, to his own feelings, the aggregate
of all,--that the proper temperament for generating or receiving
superstitious impressions is naturally produced. Hope, the master
element of a commanding genius, meeting with an active and combining
intellect, and an imagination of just that degree of vividness which
disquiets and impels the soul to try to realize its images, greatly
increases the creative power of the mind; and hence the images become a
satisfying world of themselves, as is the case in every poet and
original philosopher:--but hope fully gratified, and yet the elementary
basis of the passion remaining, becomes fear; and, indeed, the general,
who must often feel, even though he may hide it from his own
consciousness, how large a share chance had in his successes, may very
naturally be irresolute in a new scene, where he knows that all will
depend on his own act and election.
The Wierd Sisters are as true a creation of Shakspeare's, as his Ariel
and Caliban,--fates, furies, and materializing witches being the
elements. They are wholly different from any representation of witches
in the contemporary writers, and yet presented a sufficient external
resemblance to the creatures of vulgar prejudice to act immediately on
the audience. Their character consists in the imaginative disconnected
from the good; they are the shadowy obscure and fearfully anomalous of
physical nature, the lawless of human nature,--elemental avengers
without sex or kin:
Fair is foul, and foul is fair; Hover thro' the fog and filthy air.
How much it were to be wished in playing Macbeth, that an attempt should
be made to introduce the flexile character-mask of the ancient
pantomime;--that Flaxman would contribute his genius to the embodying
and making sensuously perceptible that of Shakspeare!
The style and rhythm of the Captain's speeches in the second scene
should be illustrated by reference to the interlude in Hamlet, in which
the epic is substituted for the tragic, in order to make the latter be
felt as the real-life diction. In Macbeth, the poet's object was to
raise the mind at once to the high tragic tone, that the audience might
be ready for the precipitate consummation of guilt in the early part of
the play. The true reason for the first appearance of the Witches is to
strike the key-note of the character of the whole drama, as is proved by
their re-appearance in the third scene, after such an order of the
king's as establishes their supernatural power of information. I say
information,--for so it only is as to Glamis and Cawdor; the 'king
hereafter' was still contingent,--still in Macbeth's moral will;
although, if he should yield to the temptation, and thus forfeit his
free agency, the link of cause and effect 'more physico' would then
commence. I need not say, that the general idea is all that can be
required from the poet,--not a scholastic logical consistency in all the
parts so as to meet metaphysical objectors. But O! how truly
Shakspearian is the opening of Macbeth's character given in the
'unpossessedness' of Banquo's mind, wholly present to the present
object,--an unsullied, unscarified mirror!--And how strictly true to
nature it is, that Banquo, and not Macbeth himself, directs our notice
to the effect produced on Macbeth's mind, rendered temptible by previous
dalliance of the fancy with ambitious thoughts:
Good Sir, why do you start; and seem to fear
Things that do sound so fair?
And then, again, still unintroitive, addresses the Witches:--
I' the name of truth,
Are ye fantastical, or that indeed
Which outwardly ye show?
Banquo's questions are those of natural curiosity,--such as a girl would
put after hearing a gipsy tell her schoolfellow's fortune;--all
perfectly general, or rather planless. But Macbeth, lost in thought,
raises himself to speech only by the Witches being about to depart:-
Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more:-
and all that follows is reasoning on a problem already discussed in his
mind,--on a hope which he welcomes, and the doubts concerning the
attainment of which he wishes to have cleared up. Compare his
eagerness,--the keen eye with which he has pursued the Witches'
Speak, I charge you!
with the easily satisfied mind of the self-uninterested Banquo:--
The air hath bubbles, as the water has,
And these are of them:--Whither are they vanish'd?
and then Macbeth's earnest reply,--
Into the air; and what seem'd corporal, melted
As breath into the wind.--_'Would they had staid!_
Is it too minute to notice the appropriateness of the simile 'as
breath,' &c. in a cold climate?
Still again Banquo goes on wondering like any common spectator:
Were such things here as we do speak about?
whilst Macbeth persists in recurring to the self-concerning:--
Your children shall be kings.
'Ban'. You shall be king.
'Macb'. And thane of Cawdor too: went it not so?
So surely is the guilt in its germ anterior to the supposed cause, and
immediate temptation! Before he can cool, the confirmation of the
tempting half of the prophecy arrives, and the concatenating tendency of
the imagination is fostered by the sudden coincidence:--
Glamis, and thane of Cawdor: The greatest is behind.
Oppose this to Banquo's simple surprise:--
What, can the devil speak true?
'Ib.' Banquo's speech:--
That, trusted home,
Might yet enkindle you unto the crown,
Besides the thane of Cawdor.
I doubt whether 'enkindle' has not another sense than that of
'stimulating;' I mean of 'kind' and 'kin,' as when rabbits are said to
'kindle.' However Macbeth no longer hears any thing 'ab extra':--
Two truths are told,
As happy prologues to the swelling act
Of the imperial theme.
Then in the necessity of recollecting himself--
I thank you, gentlemen.
Then he relapses into himself again, and every word of his soliloquy
shows the early birthdate of his guilt. He is all-powerful without
strength; he wishes the end, but is irresolute as to the means;
conscience distinctly warns him, and he lulls it imperfectly:--
If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me
Without my stir.
Lost in the prospective of his guilt, he turns round alarmed lest others
may suspect what is passing in his own mind, and instantly vents the lie
My dull brain was wrought
With things _forgotten_;--
And immediately after pours forth the promising courtesies of a usurper
Kind gentlemen, your pains
Are register'd where every day I turn
The leaf to read them.
'Ib.' Macbeth's speech:
Presents _fears_ Are less than horrible imaginings.
Warburton's note, and substitution of 'feats' for 'fears.'
Mercy on this most wilful ingenuity of blundering, which, nevertheless,
was the very Warburton of Warburton--his inmost being! 'Fears,' here,
are present fear-striking objects, 'terribilia adstantia'.
'Ib.' sc. 4. O! the affecting beauty of the death of Cawdor, and the
presentimental speech of the king:
There's no art
To find the mind's construction in the face:
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust--
O worthiest cousin!
on the entrance of the deeper traitor for whom Cawdor had made way! And
here in contrast with Duncan's 'plenteous joys,' Macbeth has nothing but
the common-places of loyalty, in which he hides himself with 'our
duties.' Note the exceeding effort of Macbeth's addresses to the king,
his reasoning on his allegiance, and then especially when a new
difficulty, the designation of a successor, suggests a new crime. This,
however, seems the first distinct notion, as to the plan of realizing
his wishes; and here, therefore, with great propriety, Macbeth's
cowardice of his own conscience discloses itself. I always think there
is something especially Shakspearian in Duncan's speeches throughout
this scene, such pourings forth, such abandonments, compared with the
language of vulgar dramatists, whose characters seem to have made their
speeches as the actors learn them.
'Ib.' Duncan's speech:--
Sons, kinsmen, thanes,
And you whose places are the nearest, know,
We will establish our estate upon
Our eldest Malcolm, whom we name hereafter
The Prince of Cumberland: which honour must
Not unaccompanied, invest him only;
But signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine
On all deservers.
It is a fancy;--but I can never read this and the following speeches of
Macbeth, without involuntarily thinking of the Miltonic Messiah and
'Ib.' sc. 5. Macbeth is described by Lady Macbeth so as at the same time
to reveal her own character. Could he have everything he wanted, he
would rather have it innocently;--ignorant, as alas! how many of us are,
that he who wishes a temporal end for itself, does in truth will the
means; and hence the danger of indulging fancies. Lady Macbeth, like all
in Shakspeare, is a class individualized:--of high rank, left much
alone, and feeding herself with day-dreams of ambition, she mistakes the
courage of fantasy for the power of bearing the consequences of the
realities of guilt. Hers is the mock fortitude of a mind deluded by
ambition; she shames her husband with a superhuman audacity of fancy
which she cannot support, but sinks in the season of remorse, and dies
in suicidal agony. Her speech:
Come, all you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, &c.
is that of one who had habitually familiarized her imagination to
dreadful conceptions, and was trying to do so still more. Her
invocations and requisitions are all the false efforts of a mind
accustomed only hitherto to the shadows of the imagination, vivid enough
to throw the every-day substances of life into shadow, but never as yet
brought into direct contact with their own correspondent realities. She
evinces no womanly life, no wifely joy, at the return of her husband, no
pleased terror at the thought of his past dangers; whilst Macbeth bursts
My dearest love--
and shrinks from the boldness with which she presents his own thoughts
to him. With consummate art she at first uses as incentives the very
circumstances, Duncan's coming to their house, &c. which Macbeth's
conscience would most probably have adduced to her as motives of
abhorrence or repulsion. Yet Macbeth is not prepared:
We will speak further.
'Ib.' sc. 6. The lyrical movement with which this scene opens, and the
free and unengaged mind of Banquo, loving nature, and rewarded in the
love itself, form a highly dramatic contrast with the laboured rhythm
and hypocritical over-much of Lady Macbeth's welcome, in which you
cannot detect a ray of personal feeling, but all is thrown upon the
'dignities,' the general duty.
'Ib.' sc. 7. Macbeth's speech:
We will proceed no further in this business:
He hath honor'd me of late; and I have bought
Golden opinions from all sorts of people,
Which would be worn now in their newest gloss,
Not cast aside so soon.
Note the inward pangs and warnings of conscience interpreted into
Act ii. sc. 1. Banquo's speech:
A heavy summons lies like lead upon me,
And yet I would not sleep. Merciful powers!
Restrain in me the cursed thoughts, that nature
Gives way to in repose.
The disturbance of an innocent soul by painful suspicions of another's
guilty intentions and wishes, and fear of the cursed thoughts of sensual
'Ib.' sc. 2. Now that the deed is done or doing--now that the first
reality commences, Lady Macbeth shrinks. The most simple sound strikes
terror, the most natural consequences are horrible, whilst previously
every thing, however awful, appeared a mere trifle; conscience, which
before had been hidden to Macbeth in selfish and prudential fears, now
rushes in upon him in her own veritable person:
Methought I heard a voice cry--
Sleep no more! I could not say Amen,
When they did say, God bless us!
And see the novelty given to the most familiar images by a new state of
'Ib.' sc. 3. This low soliloquy of the Porter and his few speeches
afterwards, I believe to have been written for the mob by some other
hand, perhaps with Shakspeare's consent; and that finding it take, he
with the remaining ink of a pen otherwise employed, just interpolated
I'll devil-porter it no further: I had thought to have let in some of
all professions, that go the primrose way to th' everlasting bonfire.
Of the rest not one syllable has the ever-present being of Shakspeare.
Act iii. sc. 1. Compare Macbeth's mode of working on the murderers in
this place with Schiller's mistaken scene between Butler, Devereux, and
Macdonald in Wallenstein. (Part II. act iv. sc. 2.) The comic was wholly
out of season. Shakspeare never introduces it, but when it may react on
the tragedy by harmonious contrast.
'Ib.' sc. 2. Macbeth's speech:
But let the frame of things disjoint, both the worlds suffer,
Ere we will eat our meal in fear, and sleep
In the affliction of these terrible dreams
That shake us nightly.
Ever and ever mistaking the anguish of conscience for fears of
selfishness, and thus as a punishment of that selfishness, plunging
still deeper in guilt and ruin.
'Ib.' Macbeth's speech:
Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,
Till thou applaud the deed.
This is Macbeth's sympathy with his own feelings, and his mistaking his
wife's opposite state.
'Ib.' sc. 4.
'Macb'. It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood:
Stones have been known to move, and trees to speak;
Augurs, and understood relations, have
By magot-pies, and choughs, and rooks, brought forth
The secret'st man of blood.
The deed is done; but Macbeth receives no comfort,--no additional
security. He has by guilt torn himself live-asunder from nature, and is,
therefore, himself in a preter-natural state: no wonder, then, that he
is inclined to superstition, and faith in the unknown of signs and
tokens, and super-human agencies.
Act iv. sc. 1.
'Len'. 'Tis two or three, my lord, that bring you word,
Macduff is fled to England.
'Macb'. Fled to England?
The acme of the avenging conscience.
'Ib.' sc. 2. This scene, dreadful as it is, is still a relief, because a
variety, because domestic, and therefore soothing, as associated with
the only real pleasures of life. The conversation between Lady Macduff
and her child heightens the pathos, and is preparatory for the deep
tragedy of their assassination. Shakspeare's fondness for children is
every where shown;--in Prince Arthur, in King John; in the sweet scene
in the Winter's Tale between Hermione and her son; nay, even in honest
Evans's examination of Mrs. Page's schoolboy. To the objection that
Shakspeare wounds the moral sense by the unsubdued, undisguised
description of the most hateful atrocity--that he tears the feelings
without mercy, and even outrages the eye itself with scenes of
insupportable horror--I, omitting Titus Andronicus, as not genuine, and
excepting the scene of Gloster's blinding in Lear, answer boldly in the
name of Shakspeare, not guilty.
'Ib.' sc. 3. Malcolm's speech:
Than such a one to reign.
The moral is--the dreadful effects even on the best minds of the
soul--sickening sense of insecurity.
'Ib.' How admirably Macduff's grief is in harmony with the whole play!
It rends, not dissolves, the heart. 'The tune of it goes manly.' Thus is
Shakspeare always master of himself and of his subject,--a genuine
Proteus:--we see all things in him, as images in a calm lake, most
distinct, most accurate,--only more splendid, more glorified. This is
correctness in the only philosophical sense. But he requires your
sympathy and your submission; you must have that recipiency of moral
impression without which the purposes and ends of the drama would be
frustrated, and the absence of which demonstrates an utter want of all
imagination, a deadness to that necessary pleasure of being
innocently--shall I say, deluded?--or rather, drawn away from ourselves
to the music of noblest thought in harmonious sounds. Happy he, who not
only in the public theatre, but in the labours of a profession, and
round the light of his own hearth, still carries a heart so
Alas for Macbeth! Now all is inward with him; he has no more prudential
prospective reasonings. His wife, the only being who could have had any
seat in his affections, dies; he puts on despondency, the final
heart-armour of the wretched, and would fain think every thing shadowy
and unsubstantial, as indeed all things are to those who cannot regard
them as symbols of goodness:--
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
NOTES ON THE WINTER'S TALE.
Although, on the whole, this play is exquisitely respondent to its
title, and even in the fault I am about to mention, still a winter's
tale; yet it seems a mere indolence of the great bard not to have
provided in the oracular response (Act ii. sc. 2.) some ground for
Hermione's seeming death and fifteen years voluntary concealment. This
might have been easily effected by some obscure sentence of the oracle,
as for example:--
'Nor shall he ever recover an heir, if he have a wife before that
The idea of this delightful drama is a genuine jealousy of disposition,
and it should be immediately followed by the perusal of Othello, which
is the direct contrast of it in every particular. For jealousy is a vice
of the mind, a culpable tendency of the temper, having certain well
known and well defined effects and concomitants, all of which are
visible in Leontes, and, I boldly say, not one of which marks its
presence in Othello;--such as, first, an excitability by the most
inadequate causes, and an eagerness to snatch at proofs; secondly, a
grossness of conception, and a disposition to degrade the object of the
passion by sensual fancies and images; thirdly, a sense of shame of his
own feelings exhibited in a solitary moodiness of humour, and yet from
the violence of the passion forced to utter itself, and therefore
catching occasions to ease the mind by ambiguities, equivoques, by
talking to those who cannot, and who are known not to be able to,
understand what is said to them,--in short, by soliloquy in the form of
dialogue, and hence a confused, broken, and fragmentary, manner;
fourthly, a dread of vulgar ridicule, as distinct from a high sense of
honour, or a mistaken sense of duty; and lastly, and immediately,
consequent on this, a spirit of selfish vindictiveness.
Act i. sc. 1--2.
Observe the easy style of chitchat between Camillo and Archidamus as
contrasted with the elevated diction on the introduction of the kings
and Hermione in the second scene: and how admirably Polixenes' obstinate
refusal to Leontes to stay--
There is no tongue that moves; none, none i' the world
So soon as yours, could win me;--
prepares for the effect produced by his afterwards yielding to
Hermione;--which is, nevertheless, perfectly natural from mere courtesy
of sex, and the exhaustion of the will by former efforts of denial, and
well calculated to set in nascent action the jealousy of Leontes. This,
when once excited, is unconsciously increased by Hermione:--
Yet, good deed, Leontes, I love thee not a jar o' the clock behind
What lady she her lord;--
accompanied, as a good actress ought to represent it, by an expression
and recoil of apprehension that she had gone too far.
At my request, he would not:--
The first working of the jealous fit;--
Too hot, too hot:--
The morbid tendency of Leontes to lay hold of the merest trifles, and
his grossness immediately afterwards--
Padling palms and pinching fingers:--
followed by his strange loss of self-control in his dialogue with the
Act iii. sc. 2. Paulina's speech:
That thou betray'dst Polixenes,'twas nothing;
That did but show thee, of a _fool_, inconstant,
And damnable ingrateful.--
Theobald reads 'soul.'
I think the original word is Shakspeare's.
1. My ear feels it to be Shakspearian;
2. The involved grammar is Shakspearian;--'show thee, being a fool
naturally, to have improved thy folly by inconstancy;'
3. The alteration is most flat, and un-Shakspearian. As to the grossness
of the abuse--she calls him 'gross and foolish' a few lines below.
Act iv. sc. 2. Speech of Autolycus:--
For the life to come, I sleep out the thought of it.
Fine as this is, and delicately characteristic of one who had lived and
been reared in the best society, and had been precipitated from it by
dice and drabbing; yet still it strikes against my feelings as a note
out of tune, and as not coalescing with that pastoral tint which gives
such a charm to this act. It is too Macbeth-like in the 'snapper up of
'Ib.' sc. 3. Perdita's speech:--
From Dis's waggon! daffodils.
An epithet is wanted here, not merely or chiefly for the metre, but for
the balance, for the aesthetic logic. Perhaps, 'golden' was the word
which would set off the 'violets dim.'
That die unmarried.--
And the rathe primrose that forsaken dies.
'Ib.' Perdita's speech:--
Even here undone:
I was not much afraid; for once or twice
I was about to speak, and tell him plainly,
The self-same sun, that shines upon his court,
Hides not his visage from our cottage, but
Looks on alike. Wilt please you, Sir, be gone!
I told you, what would come of this. Beseech you,
Of your own state take care: this dream of mine,
Being awake, I'll queen it no inch farther,
But milk my ewes, and weep.
O how more than exquisite is this whole speech!--And that profound
nature of noble pride and grief venting themselves in a momentary
peevishness of resentment toward Florizel:--
--Wilt please you, Sir, be gone!
'Ib.' Speech of Autolycus:--
Let me have no lying; it becomes none but tradesmen, and they often
give us soldiers the lie; but we pay them for it in stamped coin, not
stabbing steel;--therefore they do not _give_ us the lie.
As we _pay_ them, they, therefore, do not _give_ it us.
NOTES ON OTHELLO
Act I. sc. 1. Admirable is the preparation, so truly and peculiarly
Shakspearian, in the introduction of Roderigo, as the dupe on whom Iago
shall first exercise his art, and in so doing display his own character.
Roderigo, without any fixed principle, but not without the moral notions
and sympathies with honor, which his rank and connections had hung upon
him, is already well fitted and predisposed for the purpose; for very
want of character and strength of passion, like wind loudest in an empty
house, constitute his character. The first three lines happily state the
nature and foundation of the friendship between him and Iago,--the
purse,--as also the contrast of Roderigo's intemperance of mind with
Iago's coolness,--the coolness of a preconceiving experimenter. The mere
language of protestation--
If ever I did dream of such a matter, abhor me,--
which falling in with the associative link, determines Roderigo's
continuation of complaint--
Thou told'st me, thou didst hold him in thy hate--
elicits at length a true feeling of Iago's mind, the dread of contempt
habitual to those, who encourage in themselves, and have their keenest
pleasure in, the expression of contempt for others. Observe Iago's high
self-opinion, and the moral, that a wicked man will employ real
feelings, as well as assume those most alien from his own, as
instruments of his purposes:--
--And, by the faith of man, I know my place,
I am worth no worse a place.
I think Tyrwhitt's reading of 'life' for 'wife'--
A fellow almost damn'd in a fair _wife_--
the true one, as fitting to Iago's contempt for whatever did not display
power, and that intellectual power. In what follows, let the reader feel
how by and through the glass of two passions, disappointed vanity and
envy, the very vices of which he is complaining, are made to act upon
him as if they were so many excellences, and the more appropriately,
because cunning is always admired and wished for by minds conscious of
inward weakness;--but they act only by half, like music on an
inattentive auditor, swelling the thoughts which prevent him from
listening to it.
'Rod'. What a full fortune does the 'thick-lips' owe,
If he can carry't thus.
Roderigo turns off to Othello; and here comes one, if not the only,
seeming justification of our blackamoor or negro Othello. Even if we
supposed this an uninterrupted tradition of the theatre, and that
Shakspeare himself, from want of scenes, and the experience that nothing
could be made too marked for the senses of his audience, had practically
sanctioned it,--would this prove aught concerning his own intention as a
poet for all ages? Can we imagine him so utterly ignorant as to make a
barbarous negro plead royal birth,--at a time, too, when negros were not
known except as slaves?--As for Iago's language to Brabantio, it implies
merely that Othello was a Moor, that is, black. Though I think the
rivalry of Roderigo sufficient to account for his wilful confusion of
Moor and Negro,--yet, even if compelled to give this up, I should think
it only adapted for the acting of the day, and should complain of an
enormity built on a single word, in direct contradiction to Iago's
'Barbary horse.' Besides, if we could in good earnest believe Shakspeare
ignorant of the distinction, still why should we adopt one disagreeable
possibility instead of a ten times greater and more pleasing
probability? It is a common error to mistake the epithets applied by the
'dramatis personae' to each other, as truly descriptive of what the
audience ought to see or know. No doubt Desdemona saw Othello's visage
in his mind; yet, as we are constituted, and most surely as an English
audience was disposed in the beginning of the seventeenth century, it
would be something monstrous to conceive this beautiful Venetian girl
falling in love with a veritable negro. It would argue a
disproportionateness, a want of balance, in Desdemona, which Shakspeare
does not appear to have in the least contemplated.
'Ib.' Brabantio's speech:--
This accident is not unlike my dream:--
The old careful senator, being caught careless, transfers his caution to
his dreaming power at least.
'Ib.' Iago's speech:--
--For their souls,
Another of his fathom they have not,
To lead their business:--
The forced praise of Othello followed by the bitter hatred of him in
this speech! And observe how Brabantio's dream prepares for his
recurrence to the notion of philtres, and how both prepare for carrying
on the plot of the arraignment of Othello on this ground.
'Ib.' sc. 2.
'Oth'. 'Tis better as it is.
How well these few words impress at the outset the truth of Othello's
own character of himself at the end--'that he was not easily wrought!'
His self-government contradistinguishes him throughout from Leontes.
'Ib.' Othello's speech:--
--And my demerits
May speak, _unbonnetted_--
The argument in Theobald's note, where 'and bonnetted' is suggested,
goes on the assumption that Shakspeare could not use the same word
differently in different places; whereas I should conclude, that as in
the passage in Lear the word is employed in its direct meaning, so here
it is used metaphorically; and this is confirmed by what has escaped the
editors, that it is not 'I,' but 'my demerits' that may speak
unbonnetted,--without the symbol of a petitioning inferior.
'Ib.' Othello's speech:--
Please your grace, my ancient;
A man he is of honesty and trust:
To his conveyance I assign my wife.
Compare this with the behaviour of Leontes to his true friend Camillo.
'Ib.' sc. 3.
'Bra'. Look to her, Moor; have a quick eye to see;
She has deceiv'd her father, and may thee.
'Oth'. My life upon her faith.
In real life, how do we look back to little speeches as presentimental
of, or contrasted with, an affecting event! Even so, Shakspeare, as
secure of being read over and over, of becoming a family friend,
provides this passage for his readers, and leaves it to them.
'Ib.' Iago's speech:--
Virtue? a fig! 'tis in ourselves, that we are thus, or thus, &c.
This speech comprises the passionless character of Iago. It is all will
in intellect; and therefore he is here a bold partizan of a truth, but
yet of a truth converted into a falsehood by the absence of all the
necessary modifications caused by the frail nature of man. And then
comes the last sentiment,--
Our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts, whereof I
take this, that you call--love, to be a sect or scion!
Here is the true Iagoism of, alas! how many! Note Iago's pride of
mastery in the repetition of 'Go, make money!' to his anticipated dupe,
even stronger than his love of lucre: and when Roderigo is completely
I am chang'd. I'll go sell all my land--
when the effect has been fully produced, the repetition of triumph--
Go to; farewell; put money enough in your purse!
The remainder--Iago's soliloquy--the motive-hunting of a motiveless
malignity--how awful it is! Yea, whilst he is still allowed to bear the
divine image, it is too fiendish for his own steady view,--for the
lonely gaze of a being next to devil, and only not quite devil,--and yet
a character which Shakspeare has attempted and executed, without disgust
and without scandal!
Dr. Johnson has remarked that little or nothing is wanting to render the
Othello a regular tragedy, but to have opened the play with the arrival
of Othello in Cyprus, and to have thrown the preceding act into the form
of narration. Here then is the place to determine, whether such a change
would or would not be an improvement;--nay, (to throw down the glove
with a full challenge) whether the tragedy would or not by such an
arrangement become more regular,--that is, more consonant with the rules
dictated by universal reason, on the true common-sense of mankind, in
its application to the particular case. For in all acts of judgment, it
can never be too often recollected, and scarcely too often repeated,
that rules are means to ends, and, consequently, that the end must be
determined and understood before it can be known what the rules are or
ought to be. Now, from a certain species of drama, proposing to itself
the accomplishment of certain ends,--these partly arising from the idea
of the species itself, but in part, likewise, forced upon the dramatist
by accidental circumstances beyond his power to remove or
control,--three rules have been abstracted;--in other words, the means
most conducive to the attainment of the proposed ends have been
generalized, and prescribed under the names of the three unities,--the
unity of time, the unity of place, and the unity of action,--which last
would, perhaps, have been as appropriately, as well as more
intelligibly, entitled the unity of interest. With this last the present
question has no immediate concern: in fact, its conjunction with the
former two is a mere delusion of words. It is not properly a rule, but
in itself the great end not only of the drama, but of the epic poem, the
lyric ode, of all poetry, down to the candle-flame cone of an
epigram,--nay of poesy in general, as the proper generic term inclusive
of all the fine arts as its species. But of the unities of time and
place, which alone are entitled to the name of rules, the history of
their origin will be their best criterion. You might take the Greek
chorus to a place, but you could not bring a place to them without as
palpable an equivoque as bringing Birnam wood to Macbeth at Dunsinane.
It was the same, though in a less degree, with regard to the unity of
time:--the positive fact, not for a moment removed from the senses, the
presence, I mean, of the same identical chorus, was a continued measure
of time;--and although the imagination may supersede perception, yet it
must be granted to be an imperfection--however easily tolerated--to
place the two in broad contradiction to each other. In truth, it is a
mere accident of terms; for the Trilogy of the Greek theatre was a drama
in three acts, and notwithstanding this, what strange contrivances as to
place there are in the Aristophanic Frogs. Besides, if the law of mere
actual perception is once violated--as it repeatedly is even in the
Greek tragedies--why is it more difficult to imagine three hours to be
three years than to be a whole day and night? Observe in how many ways
Othello is made, first, our acquaintance, then our friend, then the
object of our anxiety, before the deeper interest is to be approached!
'Mont'. But, good lieutenant, is your general wiv'd?
'Cas'. Most fortunately: he hath achiev'd a maid
That paragons description, and wild fame;
One that excels the quirks of blazoning pens,
And, in the essential vesture of creation,
Does bear all excellency.
Here is Cassio's warm-hearted, yet perfectly disengaged, praise of
Desdemona, and sympathy with the 'most fortunately' wived Othello;--and
yet Cassio is an enthusiastic admirer, almost a worshipper, of
Desdemona. O, that detestable code that excellence cannot be loved in
any form that is female, but it must needs be selfish! Observe Othello's
'honest,' and Cassio's 'bold' Iago, and Cassio's full guileless-hearted
wishes for the safety and love-raptures of Othello and 'the divine
Desdemona.' And also note the exquisite circumstance of Cassio's kissing
Iago's wife, as if it ought to be impossible that the dullest auditor
should not feel Cassio's religious love of Desdemona's purity. Iago's
answers are the sneers which a proud bad intellect feels towards woman,
and expresses to a wife. Surely it ought to be considered a very exalted
compliment to women, that all the sarcasms on them in Shakspeare are put
in the mouths of villains.
'Des'. I am not merry; but I do beguile, &c.
The struggle of courtesy in Desdemona to abstract her attention.
('Iago aside'). He takes her by the palm: Ay, well said, whisper; with
as little a web as this, will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio. Ay,
smile upon her, do, &c.
The importance given to trifles, and made fertile by the villainy of the
'Ib.' Iago's dialogue with Roderigo:
This is the rehearsal on the dupe of the traitor's intentions on
'Ib.' Iago's soliloquy:
But partly led to diet my revenge,
For that I do suspect the lusty Moor
Hath leap'd into my seat.
This thought, originally by Iago's own confession a mere suspicion, is
now ripening, and gnaws his base nature as his own 'poisonous mineral'
is about to gnaw the noble heart of his general.
'Ib.' sc. 3. Othello's speech:
I know, Iago,
Thy honesty and love doth mince this matter,
Making it light to Cassio.
Honesty and love! Ay, and who but the reader of the play could think
'Ib.' Iago's soliloquy:
And what's he then that says--I play the villain?
When this advice is free I give, and honest,
Probable to thinking, and, indeed, the course
To win the Moor again.
He is not, you see, an absolute fiend; or, at least, he wishes to think
himself not so.
Act iii. sc. 3.
'Des.' Before AEmilia here, I give thee warrant of this place.
The over-zeal of innocence in Desdemona.
'Enter Desdemona and AEmilia.'
'Oth.' If she be false, O, then, heaven mocks itself!
I'll not believe it.
Divine! The effect of innocence and the better genius!
Act iv. sc. 3.
'AEmil.' Why, the wrong is but a wrong i' the world; and having the
world for your labour,'tis a wrong in your own world, and you might
quickly make it right.
What any other man, who had learning enough, might have quoted as a
playful and witty illustration of his remarks against the Calvinistic
'thesis', Warburton gravely attributes to Shakspeare as intentional; and
this, too, in the mouth of a lady's woman!
Act v. last scene. Othello's speech:--
--Of one, whose hand,
Like the base _Indian_, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe, &c.
Theobald's note from Warburton.
Thus it is for no-poets to comment on the greatest of poets! To make
Othello say that he, who had killed his wife, was like Herod who killed
Mariamne!--O, how many beauties, in this one line, were impenetrable to
the ever thought-swarming, but idealess, Warburton! Othello wishes to
excuse himself on the score of ignorance, and yet not to excuse
himself,--to excuse himself by accusing. This struggle of feeling is
finely conveyed in the word 'base,' which is applied to the rude Indian,
not in his own character, but as the momentary representative of
Othello's. 'Indian'--for I retain the old reading--means American, a
savage 'in genere'.
Finally, let me repeat that Othello does not kill Desdemona in jealousy,
but in a conviction forced upon him by the almost superhuman art of
Iago, such a conviction as any man would and must have entertained who
had believed Iago's honesty as Othello did. We, the audience, know that
Iago is a villain from the beginning; but in considering the essence of
the Shakspearian Othello, we must perseveringly place ourselves in his
situation, and under his circumstances. Then we shall immediately feel
the fundamental difference between the solemn agony of the noble Moor,
and the wretched fishing jealousies of Leontes, and the morbid
suspiciousness of Leonatus, who is, in other respects, a fine character.
Othello had no life but in Desdemona:--the belief that she, his angel,
had fallen from the heaven of her native innocence, wrought a civil war
in his heart. She is his counterpart; and, like him, is almost
sanctified in our eyes by her absolute unsuspiciousness, and holy
entireness of love. As the curtain drops, which do we pity the most?
'Extremum hunc'--.There are three powers:--
Wit, which discovers partial likeness hidden in general diversity;
subtlety, which discovers the diversity concealed in general apparent
and profundity, which discovers an essential unity under all the
semblances of difference.
Give to a subtle man fancy, and he is a wit; to a deep man imagination,
and he is a philosopher. Add, again, pleasurable sensibility in the
threefold form of sympathy with the interesting in morals, the
impressive in form, and the harmonious in sound,--and you have the poet.
But combine all,--wit, subtlety, and fancy, with profundity,
imagination, and moral and physical susceptibility of the pleasurable,--
and let the object of action be man universal; and we shall have--O,
rash prophecy! say, rather, we have--a SHAKSPEARE!
NOTES ON BEN JONSON.
It would be amusing to collect out of our dramatists from Elizabeth to
Charles I proofs of the manners of the times. One striking symptom of
general coarseness of manners, which may co-exist with great refinement
of morals, as, alas! 'vice versa', is to be seen in the very frequent
allusions to the olfactories with their most disgusting stimulants, and
these, too, in the conversation of virtuous ladies. This would not