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for the Queen rebukes Hamlet for the speech, bidding him regard the reigning monarch, and
-“not for ever with veiled lids
Passing through nature to eternity.” Act I, Scene 2. With her Hamlet can hold no discourse on such a theme, and therefore seeks to avoid it by assenting to the generality. But when the mother assumes on his acquiescence to ask
“ If it be, Why seems it so particular to thee ?” Act I. Scene 2. the embittered spirit breaks into a declaration of its estranged belief. He will not permit the reality of his sorrow to be questioned. He indignantly declares his want of faith in things that seem : holding what is felt alone to be real :
“ Seems, Madam ? Nay it is ! I know not seems.
"Tis not alone my inky cloak, good Mother,
Act I. Scene 2. The affection Hamlet ever displays towards his parent, even after he is convinced of her participation in his uncle's guilt, together with the phrase "good Mother," tenderly introduced into the lines, forbids the supposition that any sarcasm was intended by this reply. The vehemence of his feeling, the circumstances of his auditor, and the subject of his discourse, insinuated that appearance, and disabled him to detect it ; but his speech, deprived of this fortuitous aspect, indirectly asserts a disbelief in outward evidences, and declares a faith in that reasoning which has generated the philosophy of sensations to which Hamlet has been induced by the misery that made him ever conscious of present pain, and thus drew his imagination from surrounding objects, rendering ideas to him sensible realities, and divesting actuality of the spirit of life, or making life but as a shadow.
“Oh! God! Oh! God! How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable,
Seem all the uses of this world to me!” Act I. Scene 2. Such scepticism is natural to grief. Who that has tasted sorrow, has not felt its power to shut up the senses, and give to actual occurrences the visionary aspect of a dream? Who that has known death in his home, has not experienced the impulse which denied reality, even while the lips pressed and the tears fell on the sad token of its presence? This disbelief, however, is general only in the first outbreak of lamentation ; but circumstances have tended to keep alive the vehemence of sorrow in Hamlet's disposition ;-a fact illustrated by the laboured and repeated efforts made to divert his melancholy-by his anxiety for seclusion-seeking to bury himself in the studious shades of Wittenberg ;- by his foregoing that desire, rather than encounter the trouble of solicitation ;-by his solitary condition,-being without a confidant or a companion, though a Prince in the Court of his father ;-by his being left alone on the withdrawal of the monarch, -proving he repelled society, and made his wish for privacy to be known and to be respected ; for, when the King retires, all follow; and though newly assured of his interest and invited to exert it, none of the greedy mendicants who lounge about a palace presume to intrude upon his solitude; and more especially by the desolation of heart he expresses in his prayer for dissolution, and his regret that suicide, as a refuge, is forbidden.
Released to his meditations, Hamlet remembers not his recent disappointment, nor bestows a thought upon his own desolate and interesting position ; every present subject is forgotten; and immediately, without a clue to lead or an effort to direct his mind, he is wholly abstracted by the recollections of the past ; even to such total oblivion of outward things is he charmed, that when Horatio enters, an exertion is needed to recognize the familiar face of his fellow student. But to show how this power to emancipate his mind from reality has enlivened his imagination, when he recalls the features of his father, so vividly is the image presented, Horatio, by the distinctness this imparts to the manner of recognizing it, is surprised into a belief the figure was actually visible at the moment. “ Hamlet. My Father-methinks I see my Father. Horatio.
In my mind's eye, Horatio.” Act I. Scene 2. A yet more conclusive evidence of Hamlet's visionary disposition may be discerned in his manner of receiving the intelligence of his Father's spirit having appeared to the guard. Horatio, an inferior character, . disputes the credibility of the apparition, though he is told it had been twice beheld by two people, and on the head of this doubly corroborated testimony, is confidently invited to assure himself of its truth,
“ Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,
And will not let belief take hold of him,
Act I. Scene 1. But Hamlet welcomes the information as with a prepared faith, indicating the extent of his belief by his anxiety to learn all the minute circumstances which accompanied the appearance.
“But where was this?”—“Did you not speak to it?"-"Armed say you ?" -“From top to toe?”_"Then you saw not his face?"_“What looked he frowningly? “ Pale or red?”-“And fixed his eye upon you?”—“Stayed it long?"2" His beard was grizzled ? - No!" Act I. Scene 2, The impatience of his conviction making him anticipate the answer, and ultimately leading him to the verge of folly, seeking impossible information, “ Perchance 'twill walk again?”—this interrogatory being
instantly followed by a determination to join the watch; and his determination no sooner taken than he prepares himself as for a certain interview ; but most of all displaying the dreamy inclination of his faith by the serious importance he attaches to the circumstance in his injunction to hold the matter secret.
Once more alone, Hamlet leaps to a conclusion for which the intelligence he had received was certainly no sufficient warrant. ln Horatio's address to the Ghost, we perceive popular superstition assigned other causes for such appearances than that now adopted by Hamlet ; and though he hits the truth, as yet he had no ground for its assertion beyond those conjectures which he had previously intimated, and resolved to repress. But, however he had struggled not to acknowledge his suspicions to himself, these had gained firm possession of his thoughts.
“ My Father's spirit in arms! All is not well :
I doubt some foul play. Would the night were come!
Act I. Scene 2. The intelligence did not create that impression of his Father having been unfairly dealt with, which Hamlet here for the first time directly avows, as in the previous soliloquy the same terrible doubt is evolved. By this hastiness, another feature of his melancholy is indicated, and the auditor is prepared for its more violent operatiou hereafter. Para. lysed to the world and its enjoyments, Hamlet is, nevertheless, very susceptible to sudden impressions, which, rather felt than conceived, have therefore the greater force upon his conduct; and these impulses, acting on his irritability, gradually swell into passions before which every prudential motive is compelled to yield, -an instance of which is given in his conduct after the spectre has vanished, and may be found almost in his every subsequent action.
During the first scene we have beheld him display that painful characteristic of excessive sorrow, which is denominated mental hysteriathe jesting of agony with its tortures.
The play upon the words of the first line, and the pun in the second, are prompted by such a feeling : but a more startling sign of the disposition of Hamlet's grief to assume this aspect is provoked by Horatio's reason for quitting WittenbergMy Lord, I came to see your Father's funeral ;"
Act I, Scene 2. which proof of affectionate remembrance, contrasting Laertes's courtly motive for leaving France,
Whence, though willingly, I came to Denmark
To show my duty at your coronation," Act I. Scene 2. probes the inflamed sympathies of the Prince.
“ I pray thee, do not mock me, fellow-student,
I think it was to see my Mother's wedding.
Act I, Seere 2.
Searching through the Drama, the same hectic mirth will be found indulged only under excitement, the tranquil inclination of Hamlet's mind being to deepest sadness, while his " whirling words," usually addressed to no party, can, consequently, carry no design, but must be the expression of the passion as experienced at the moment.
Any circumstance which tore open the wounds of Hamlet's sorrow, drove him into that frightful merriment; and the interview with the Ghost, opening all the sources of his woe, goads him to a seeming lightness, which a deep sense of the painful provocation in which it originates, is requisite to redeem from the accusation of indecency or frivolity. He becomes the creature of the hysteric impulse-feels its spirit working within him, is indirectly conscious of its disposition, derives a morbid gratification from its indulgence, and therefore seizes an excuse that he may continue lo vent its strange inspirations.
Let it be remembered, nothing is more common with the generality of mankind, than this species of self-deception; and in cases of confirmed mental alienation, it is by no means unusual for the sufferer to recognize and artfully excuse the prompting of the malady: and, therefore, that Hamlet, finding a relief from the oppression of despondency in the wildness of his hysteric excitement, should seek to prolong its continuance, presents no trait not fully established as natural to any state of mind. He deceives himself, that, encouraging the humour he is sensible to, he is therefore feigning it. The constant dwelling on one subject had in him induced an unhealthy disposition, which exposed him to the operation of this strange humour. Yet, hitherto, though Hamlet has displayed great credulity and equal unbelief, showing his ideas to be unsound, nevertheless he has committed no act that could be argued to warrant a deduction of positive insanity. But after the interview with the Ghost, the strongest proof of his actual madness is to be found in his assumption of lunacy; and, with the putting on of the one, the other may be said to commence in that degree where it is no longer to be mistaken or concealed. He purposes nothing at the time he puts on this new character, and he does nothing afterward which might not have been better done in his real one; therefore, he had no motive for the artifice, and the absence of motive shows it was not a design.
Regarded as a stratagem, there was not a single argument to recommend its adoption. Hamlet had received a revelation which made it his duty to despoil a monarch; but the source of his information was of such a nature, that perfect sanity and unimpeached veracity were needed to ensure its reception by mankind : both of which, if sane, are wilfully destroyed : for they who were deceived by his feigning, could not credit his testimony; and they who believed his madness assumed, would, in the elaborate falsehood it displayed, find no additional motive to implicitly confide in his sincerity.
Moral confidence being shaken, disappointed hopes would afford a ready answer to any direct accusation; and by thus impugning his integrity, the Prince secured the guilty at the moment he was meditating to impeach. The adoption of insanity must also disperse all political influence which the Royal party would naturally absorb, and so be strengthened against attack by his conduct who contemplated to assault. On every hand, the “antic disposition" gave the reigning monarch additional advantages; but the greatest, and that which was most hazardous to Hamlet himself
, was the danger it brought to his personal freedom. A madman must be watched, and may be placed under restraint. The temper of the usurper sanctioned no inference that the authority now madly given would be delicately or scrupulously employed. All privacy was sacrificed. Spies are the first result; and if the popular affection guarded Hamlet's person, he never calculated on such a protection, nor at any time appears conscious of its existence. In his own conception, the only point we have now to consider, he was defenceless when he resigned his right of selfcontrol, and the only real protection he could indeed depend upon was the ignorance of his enemy. If the knowledge Hamlet had of his Father's murder were conceived by the King, every scruple would be removed, and every resort risked to silence the possessor of such a secret. The temper of his adversary-his cunning, his ability, his remorselessness— Hamlet well knew; and knowing this, that no uncertainty may remain as to his actual condition—the first use made of his pretended assumption is the act of madness, to throw down the slender barrier remaining between him and immediate peril--for no higher reason than because it is the impulse of the moment so to do.
The effect which the Player's passionate recitation-(Eneas's tale of Priam's slaughter-a Prince relating the tyrannous murder of a reverend and virtuous King)- has upon the melancholy susceptibility of Hamlet, suggests to him the scheme of the Play; which idea once conceived, he does not reason on its propriety, or arrange any plot of which it is to form a primary part, but proceeds at once to justify his inclination.
“ I have heard
ACT II. Scene 2.
The non sequitur of the inference is one of those delicate touches Shakspere introduces to overpower admiration. It speaks the mind of the reasoner, and shows the temper in which the pretended argument was advanced. On one subject only could Hamlet be guilty of a logical error.
The hearsay about " guilty creatures" was no reason, but an excuse. It was a possibility such an accident might have happened. Yet it required a strange combination of circumstances, and these would be dependent on further circumstances, so that for a certain result a sane mind would not have trusted to, much less have incurred any risk to adopt it. But once inclined, Hamlet is finally determined, his intellect being the slave of his infatuation ; and for his present plan be would impeach the vision, on the veracity of which he has now irretrievably committed himself.