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Act 1. SCENE ix. (1. V. 154.) Swear by my sword.
Mr. Garrick produced me a passage, I think, in Brantôme, from which it appeared, that it was common to swear upon the sword, that is,
the cross which the old swords had upon the hilt.
Act II. SCENE Ü. (11. i. 114-17.)
It is as proper to our age
To lack discretion. This is not the remark of a weak man. The vice of age is too much suspicion. Men long accustomed to the wiles of life cast commonly beyond themselves, let their cunning go further than reason can attend it. This is always the fault of a little mind, made artful by long commerce with the world.
Act II. SCENE IV. (11. i.)
Polonius is a man bred in courts, exercised in business, stored with observation, confident of his knowledge, proud of his eloquence, and declining into dotage. His mode of oratory is truly represented as designed to ridicule the practice of those times, of prefaces that made no introduction, and of method that embarrassed rather than explained. This part of his character is accidental, the rest is natural. Such a man is positive and confident, because he knows that his mind was once strong, and knows not that it is become weak. Such a man excels in general principles, but fails in the particular application. He is knowing in retrospect, and ignorant in foresight. While he depends upon his memory, and can draw from his repositories of knowledge, he utters weighty sentences, and gives useful counsel; but as the mind in its enfeebled state cannot be kept long busy and intent, the old man is subject to
sudden dereliction of his faculities, he loses the order of his ideas, and entangles himself in his own thoughts, till he recovers the leading principle, and falls again into his former train. This idea of dotage encroaching upon wisdom, will solve all the phænomena of the character of Polonius.
Act II. SCENE vi. (11. Ü. 269.) The sbadow of a dream.
Shakespeare has accidentally inverted an expression of Pindar, that the state of humanity is okiàs õvap, the dream of a shadow.
Act III. SCENE Ü. (11. i. 56 foll.) To be, or noi to be ?
Of this celebrated soliloquy, which bursting from a man distracted with contrariety of desires, and overwhelmed with the magnitude of his own purposes, is connected rather in the speaker's mind, than on his tongue, I shall endeavour to discover the train, and to shew how one sentiment produces another.
Hamlet, knowing himself injured in the most enormous and atrocious degree, and seeing no means of redress, but such as must expose him to the extremity of hazard, meditates on his situation in this manner : Before I can form any rational scheme of action under this pressure of distress, it is necessary to decide, whether, after our present state, we are to be or not to be. That is the question, which, as it shall be answered, will determine, whether 'tis nobler, and more suitable to the dignity of reason, to suffer the outrages of fortune patiently, or to take arms against them, and by opposing end them, though perhaps with the loss of life. If to die, were to sleep, no more, and by a sleep to end the miseries of our nature, such a sleep were devoutly to be wished; but if to sleep in death, be to dream, to retain our powers of sensibility, we must pause to consider, in that sleep of death what dreams may come. This consideration makes calamity so long endured; for who would bear the vexations of life, which might be ended by a bare bodkin, but that he is afraid of something in unknown futurity? This fear it is that gives efficacy to conscience, which, by turning the mind upon this regard, chills the ardour of resolution, checks the vigour of enterprise, and makes the current of desire stagnate in activity.
We may suppose that he would have applied these general observations to his own case, but that he discovered Ophelia. Act III. SCENE Ü. (ın. i. 70.) The whips and scorns of time. It
may be remarked, that Hamlet, in his enumeration of miseries, forgets, whether properly or not, that he is a prince, and mentions many evils to which inferior stations only are exposed. Act III. SCENE II. (m. i. 89). Nymph, in tby orisons, &c.
This is a touch of nature. Hamlet, at the sight of Ophelia, does not immediately recollect, that he is to personate madness, but makes her an address grave and solemn, such as the foregoing meditation excited in his thoughts. Act III. SCENE V.
I know not why our editors should, with such implacable anger, persecute our predecessors. Oi νεκροί μή δάκνουσιν, the dead it is true can make no resistance, they may be attacked with great security; but since they can neither feel nor mend, the safety of mauling them seems greater than the pleasure; nor perhaps would it much misbeseem us to remember, amidst our triumphs over the nonsensical and the senseless, that we likewise are men; that debemur morti, and as Swift observed to Burnet, shall soon be among the dead ourselves.
Act III: SCENE ix. (11. üi. 94-5.)
Tbar bis soul may be as damn'd and black
As bell, wbereto it goes. This speech, in which Hamlet, represented as a virtuous character, is not content with taking blood for blood, but contrives damnation for the man that he would punish, is too horrible to be read or to be
Act IV. SCENE V. (iv. v. 84.) In bugger mugger to interr bim. All the modern editions that I have consulted give it,
In private to inter him ;That the words now replaced are better, I do not undertake to prove; it is sufficient that they are Shakespeare's : If phraseology is to be changed as words grow uncouth by disuse, or gross by vulgarity, the history of every language will be lost; we shall no longer have the words of any authour; and, as these alterations will be often unskilfully made, we shall in time have very little of his meaning.
Act IV. SCENE IX. (ıv. vii. 20–1.)
Would, like the spring ibat turneib wood to stone,
Convert bis gyves to graces. This simile is neither very seasonable in the deep interest of this conversation, nor very accurately applied. If the spring had changed base metals to gold, the thought had been more proper.
Act V. SCENE i. (v. i. 84-5.)
This might be the pate of a politician, which ebis ass o'er-offices.
In the quarto, for over-offices is, over-reaches, which agrees better with the sentence. I believe both the words were Shakespeare's. An authour in revising his work, when his original ideas have faded from his mind, and new observations have produced new sentiments, easily introduces images which have been more newly impressed upon him, without observing their want of congruity to the general texture of his original design. Act V. SCENE Ü. (v. i. 254.)
Allow'd ber virgin RITES. The old quarto reads virgin CRANTS.
I have been informed by an anonymous correspondent, that crants is the German word for garlands, and I
suppose it was retained by us from the Saxons. To carry garlands before the bier of a maiden, and to hang them over her grave, is still the practice in rural parishes.
Crants therefore was the original word, which the authour, discovering it to be provincial, and perhaps not understood, changed to a term more intelligible, but less proper.
Maiden rites give no certain or definite image. He might have put maiden wreaths, or maiden garlands, but he perhaps bestowed no thought upon it, and neither genius nor practice will always supply a hasty writer with the most proper diction. Act V. SCENE ü. (v. ü. 6–7.)
Rasbly, And prais'd be rashness for it. Hamlet, delivering an account of his escape, begins with saying, That he rashly-and then is carried into a reflection upon the weakness of human wisdom. I rashly—praised be rashness for it-Let us not think these events casual, but let us know, that is, take notice and remember, that we sometimes succeed by indiscretion, when we fail by deep plots, and infer the perpetual superintendence and agency of the Divinity. The observation is just, and will be allowed by every