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human being who shall reflect on the course of his own life. Act V. SCENE iii. (v. ü. 41-2.)
As Peace should still ber wbeaten garland wear,
And stand a COMMA 'tween their amities ; The expression of our authour is, like many of his phrases, sufficiently constrained and affected, but it is not incapable of explanation. The Comma is the note of connection and continuity of sentences; the Period is the note of abruption and disjunction. Shakespeare had it perhaps in his mind to write, That unless England complied with the mandate, war should put a period to their amity; he altered his mode of diction, and thought that, in an opposite sense, he might put, That Peace should stand a Comma between their amities. This is not an easy style ; but is it not the style of: Shakespeare? Act V. SCENE V. (v. ii. 240.)
HAMLET. Give me your pardon, Sir. I've done you wrong.
I wish Hamlet had made some other defence ; it is unsuitable to the character of a good or a brave man, to shelter himself in falsehood.
If the dramas of Shakespeare were to be characterised, each by the particular excellence which
distinguishes it from the rest, we must allow to the ---tragedy of Hamlet the praise of variety. The incidents
are so numerous, that the argument of the play would make a long tale. The scenes are interchangeably diversified with merriment and solemnity; with merriment that includes judicious and instructive observations, and solemnity, not strained by poetical violence above the natural sentiments of man. New characters appear from time to time in continual succession, exhibiting various forms of life and particular modes
of conversation. The pretended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth, the mournful distraction of Ophelia fills the heart with tenderness, and every personage produces the effect intended, from the apparition that in the first act chills the blood with horror, to the fop in the last, that exposes affectation to just contempt.
The conduct is perhaps not wholly secure against objections. The action is indeed for the most part in continual progression, but there are some scenes which neither forward nor retard it. Of the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears no adequate cause, for he does nothing which he might not have done with the reputation of sanity. He plays the madman most, when he treats Ophelia with so much rudeness, which seems to be useless and wanton cruelty.
Hamlet is, through the whole play, rather an instrument than an agent. After he has, by the stratagem of the play, convicted the King, he makes no attempt to punish him, and his death is at last effected by an incident which Hamlet has no part in producing.
The catastrophe is not very happily produced ; the exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of necessity, than a stroke of art. A scheme might easily have been formed, to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes with the bowl.
The poet is accused of having shewn little regard to poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose; the revenge which he demands is not obtained but by the death of him that was required to take it; and the gratification: which would arise from the destruction of an usurper and a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmless, and the pious.
Act I. SCENE viii. (1. iii. 134 foll.)
I spoke of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field; Whoever ridicules this account of the progress of love, shews his ignorance, not only of history, but of nature and manners. It is no wonder that, in any age, or in any nation, a lady, recluse, timorous, and delicate, should desire to hear of events and scenes which she could never see, and should admire the man who had endured dangers, and performed actions, which, however great, were yet magnified by her timidity. Act II. SCENE viji. (11. i. 308-9.)
Tbe tbougbı wbercof Dorb, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my inwards. This is philosophical. Mineral poisons kill by corrosion.
Act III. SCENE V. (111. üi. 90.) Excellent Wretcb!
The meaning of the word wretch, is not generally understood. It is now, in some parts of England, a term of the softest and fondest tenderness. It expresses the utmost degree of amiableness, joined with an idea, which perhaps all tenderness includes, of feebleness, softness, and want of protection. Othello, considering Desdemona as excelling in beauty and virtue, soft and timorous by her sex, and by her situation absolutely in his power, calls her, Excellent Wretch. It may be expressed,
Dear, harmless, helpless Excellence.
Act III. SCENE V. (u. iii. 206.)
She did deceive ber fatber, marrying you. This and the following argument of Iago ought to be deeply impressed on every reader. Deceit and falsehood, whatever conveniences they may for a time promise or produce, are, in the sum of life, obstacles to happiness. Those who profit by the cheat, distrust the deceiver, and the act by which kindness was sought, puts an end to confidence.
The same objection may be made with a lower degree of strength against the imprudent generosity of disproportionate marriages. When the first heat of passion is over, it is easily succeeded by suspicion, that the same violence of inclination which caused one irregularity, may stimulate to another; and those who have shewn, that their passions are too powerful for their prudence, will, with very slight appearances against them, be censured, as not very likely to restrain them by their virtue.
Act III. SCENE vi. (m. iii. 262–3.)
Let ber down the wind
To prey at fortune. The falconers always let fly the hawk against the wind; if she flies with the wind behind her, she seldom returns. If therefore a hawk was for any reason to be dismissed, she was let down the wind, and from that time shifted for herself, and prey'd at fortune. This was told me by the late Mr. Clark.
Act III. SCENE Xi. (11. iv. 102.)
'Tis not a year, or two, shews us a man. From this line it may be conjectured, that the authour intended the action of this play to be considered as longer than is marked by any note of time. Since their arrival at Cyprus, to which they were hurried
on their wedding-night, the fable seems to have been in one continual progress, nor can I see any vacuity into which a year or two, or
ven a month or two, could be put. On the night of Othello's arrival, a feast was proclaimed ; at that feast Cassio was degraded, and immediately applies to Desdemona to get him restored. lago indeed advises Othello to hold him off a while, but there is no reason to think, that he has been held off long. A little longer interval would increase the probability of the story, though it might violate the rules of the drama.
Act IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 40-2.)
Nature would not invest berself in such shadowing passion witbour some instruction.
There has always prevailed in the world an opinion, that when any great calamity happens at a distance, notice is given of it to the sufferer by some dejection or perturbation of mind, of which he discovers no external cause. This is ascribed to that general communication of one part of the universe with another, which is called sympathy and antipathy; or to the secret monition, instruction, and influence of a superior Being, which superintends the order of Nature and of life. Othello says, Nature could not invest herself in such shadowing passion, without instruction. It is not words that shakes me thus. This passion which spreads its clouds over me is the effect of some agency more than the operation of words ; it is one of those notices which men have of unseen calamities.
ACT V. SCENE vi. (v. ii. 21-2.)
This Sorrow's beavenly ;
It strikes, wbere it dotb love. I wish these two lines could be honestly ejected. It is the fate of Shakespeare to counteract his own pathos.