Few critics have even admitted that Hamlet the play is the primary problem, and Hamlet the character only secondary. And Hamlet the character has had an especial temptation for that most dangerous type of critic: the critic with a mind which is naturally of the creative order, but which through some weakness in creative power exercises itself in criticism instead. These minds often find in Hamlet a vicarious existence for their own artistic realization. Such a mind had Goethe, who made of Hamlet a Werther; and such had Coleridge, who made of Hamlet a Coleridge; and probably neither of these men in writing about Hamlet remembered that his first business was to study a work of art. The kind of criticism that Goethe and Coleridge produced, in writing of Hamlet, is the most misleading kind possible. For they both possessed unquestionable critical insight, and both make their critical aberrations the more plausible by the substitution—of their own Hamlet for Shakespeare’s—which their creative gift effects. We should be thankful that Walter Pater did not fix his attention on this play.
Two writers of our own time, Mr. J. M. Robertson and Professor Stoll of the University of Minnesota, have issued small books which can be praised for moving in the other direction. Mr. Stoll performs a service in recalling to our attention the labours of the critics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, observing that:
“they knew less about psychology than more recent Hamlet critics, but they were nearer in spirit to Shakespeare’s art; and as they insisted on the importance of the effect of the whole rather than on the importance of the leading character, they were nearer, in their old-fashioned way, to the secret of dramatic art in general.”
Qua work of art, the work of art cannot be interpreted; there is nothing to interpret; we can only criticise it according to standards, in comparison to other works of art; and for “interpretation” the chief task is the presentation of relevant historical facts which the reader is not assumed to know. Mr. Robertson points out, very pertinently, how critics have failed in their “interpretation” of Hamlet by ignoring what ought to be very obvious; that Hamlet is a stratification, that it represents the efforts of a series of men, each making what he could out of the work of his predecessors. The Hamlet of Shakespeare will appear to us very differently if, instead of treating the whole action of the play as due to Shakespeare’s design, we perceive his Hamlet to be superposed upon much cruder material which persists even in the final form.
We know that there was an older play by Thomas Kyd, that extraordinary dramatic (if not poetic) genius who was in all probability the author of two plays so dissimilar as the Spanish Tragedy and Arden of Feversham; and what this play was like we can guess from three clues: from the Spanish Tragedy itself, from the tale of Belleforest upon which Kyd’s Hamlet must have been based, and from a version acted in Germany in Shakespeare’s lifetime which bears strong evidence of having been adapted from the earlier, not from the later, play. From these three sources it is clear that in the earlier play the motive was a revenge-motive simply; that the action or delay is caused, as in the Spanish Tragedy, solely by the difficulty of assassinating a monarch surrounded by guards; and that the “madness” of Hamlet was feigned in order to escape suspicion, and successfully. In the final play of Shakespeare, on the other hand, there is a motive which is more important than that of revenge, and which explicitly “blunts” the latter; the delay in revenge is unexplained on grounds of necessity or expediency; and the effect of the “madness” is not to lull but to arouse the king’s suspicion. The alteration is not complete enough, however, to be convincing. Furthermore, there are verbal parallels so close to the Spanish Tragedy as to leave no doubt that in places Shakespeare was merely revising the text of Kyd. And finally there are unexplained scenes—the Polonius-Laertes and the Polonius-Reynaldo scenes—for which there is little excuse; these scenes are not in the verse style of Kyd, and not beyond doubt in the style of Shakespeare. These Mr. Robertson believes to be scenes in the original play of Kyd reworked by a third hand, perhaps Chapman, before Shakespeare touched the play. And he concludes, with very strong show of reason, that the original play of Kyd was, like certain other revenge plays, in two parts of five acts each. The upshot of Mr. Robertson’s examination is, we believe, irrefragable: that Shakespeare’s Hamlet, so far as it is Shakespeare’s, is a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son, and that Shakespeare was unable to impose this motive successfully upon the “intractable” material of the old play.
Of the intractability there can be no doubt. So far from being Shakespeare’s masterpiece, the play is most certainly an artistic failure. In several ways the play is puzzling, and disquieting as is none of the others. Of all the plays it is the longest and is possibly the one on which Shakespeare spent most pains; and yet he has left in it superfluous and inconsistent scenes which even hasty revision should have noticed. The versification is variable. Lines like
Look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastern hill
are of the Shakespeare of Romeo and Juliet. The lines in Act v, sc. ii,
Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting
That would not let me sleep . . .
Up from my cabin,
My sea-gown scarf’d about me, in the dark
Grop’d I to find out them: had my desire;
Finger’d their packet;
are of his quite mature. Both workmanship and thought are in an unstable position. We are surely justified in attributing the play, with that other profoundly interesting play of “intractable” material and astonishing versification, Measure for Measure, to a period of crisis, after which follow the tragic successes which culminate in Coriolanus. Coriolanus may be not as “interesting” as Hamlet, but it is, with Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare’s most assured artistic success. And probably more people have thought Hamlet a work of art because they found it interesting, than have found it interesting because it is a work of art. It is the “Mona Lisa” of literature.
“[Hamlet’s] tone is that of one who has suffered tortures on the score of his mother’s degradation. . . . The guilt of a mother is an almost intolerable motive for drama, but it had to be maintained and emphasized to supply a psychological solution, or rather a hint of one.”
This, however, is by no means the whole story. It is not merely the “guilt of a mother” that cannot be handled as Shakespeare handled the suspicion of Othello, the infatuation of Antony, or the pride of Coriolanus. The subject might conceivably have expanded into a tragedy like these, intelligible, self-complete, in the sunlight. Hamlet, like the sonnets, is full of some stuff that the writer could not drag to light, contemplate, or manipulate into art. And when we search for this feeling, we find it, as in the sonnets, very difficult to localize. You cannot point to it in the speeches; indeed, if you examine the two famous soliloquies you see the versification of Shakespeare, but a content which might be claimed by another, perhaps by the author of the Revenge of Bussy d’Ambois, Act v, sc. l. We find Shakespeare’s Hamlet not in the action, not in any quotations that we might select, so much as in an unmistakable tone which is unmistakably not in the earlier play.
The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked. If you examine any of Shakespeare’s more successful tragedies, you will find this exact equivalence; you will find that the state of mind of Lady Macbeth walking in her sleep has been communicated to you by a skilful accumulation of imagined sensory impressions; the words of Macbeth on hearing of his wife’s death strike us as if, given the sequence of events, these words were automatically released by the last event in the series. The artistic “inevitability” lies in this complete adequacy of the external to the emotion; and this is precisely what is deficient in Hamlet. Hamlet (the man) is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear. And the supposed identity of Hamlet with his author is genuine to this point: that Hamlet’s bafflement at the absence of objective equivalent to his feelings is a prolongation of the bafflement of his creator in the face of his artistic problem. Hamlet is up against the difficulty that his disgust is occasioned by his mother, but that his mother is not an adequate equivalent for it; his disgust envelops and exceeds her. It is thus a feeling which he cannot understand; he cannot objectify it, and it therefore remains to poison life and obstruct action. None of the possible actions can satisfy it; and nothing that Shakespeare can do with the plot can express Hamlet for him. And it must be noticed that the very nature of the données of the problem precludes objective equivalence. To have heightened the criminality of Gertrude would have been to provide the formula for a totally different emotion in Hamlet; it is just because her character is so negative and insignificant that she arouses in Hamlet the feeling which she is incapable of representing.
The “madness” of Hamlet lay to Shakespeare’s hand; in the earlier play a simple ruse, and to the end, we may presume, understood as a ruse by the audience. For Shakespeare it is less than madness and more than feigned. The levity of Hamlet, his repetition of phrase, his puns, are not part of a deliberate plan of dissimulation, but a form of emotional relief. In the character Hamlet it is the buffoonery of an emotion which can find no outlet in action; in the dramatist it is the buffoonery of an emotion which he cannot express in art. The intense feeling, ecstatic or terrible, without an object or exceeding its object, is something which every person of sensibility has known; it is doubtless a subject of study for pathologists. It often occurs in adolescence: the ordinary person puts these feelings to sleep, or trims down his feelings to fit the business world; the artist keeps them alive by his ability to intensify the world to his emotions. The Hamlet of Laforgue is an adolescent; the Hamlet of Shakespeare is not, he has not that explanation and excuse. We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him. Why he attempted it at all is an insoluble puzzle; under compulsion of what experience he attempted to express the inexpressibly horrible, we cannot ever know. We need a great many facts in his biography; and we should like to know whether, and when, and after or at the same time as what personal experience, he read Montaigne, II, xii, Apologie de Raimond Sebond. We should have, finally, to know something which is by hypothesis unknowable, for we assume it to be an experience which, in the manner indicated, exceeded the facts. We should have to understand things which Shakespeare did not understand himself.
The action is the same, as also is the order of the dialogues and soliloquies; but the later are much elaborated, always with an accession of dramatic force. The following will serve as an instance:
Edition of 1603
- HAMLET: My lord, 'tis not the sable suit I wear;
- No, nor the tears that still stand in my eyes,
- Nor the distracted 'havior in the visage,
- Nor altogether mixt with outward semblance,
- Is equal to the sorrow of my heart;
- Him have I lost I must of force forego,
- Thes, but the ornaments and suits of woe.
Edition of 1604
- HAMLET: 'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
- Nor customary suits of solemn black,
- Nor windy suspiration of forced breath;
- No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
- Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage,
- Together with all the forms, modes, shows of grief,
- That can denote me truly; these, indeed, seem,
- For they are actions that a man might play;
- But I have that within which passeth show;
- These, but the trappings and the suits of woe.
In this, the profoundest of plays, is a tragedy of thought inspired by continual and never-satisfied meditation on human destiny and the dark perplexity of the events of this world, one calculated to call forth the very same meditation in the minds of the spectators. This enigmatical work resembles somewhat those irrational equations in which a fraction of unknown magnitude always remains, that will in no way admit of solution. Much has been said, much written, on this piece, and yet no critic who anew expresses himself on it will entirely coincide with his predecessors. What most astonishes us is the fact that with such hidden purposes, with a foundation laid in such unfathomable depth, the whole should, at first view, exhibit an extremely popular appearance. The dread appearance of the ghost takes possession of the mind and the imagination almost at the very commencement; then the play within the play, in which, as in a glass, we see reflected the crime whose fruitlessly attempted punishment constitutes the subject-matter of the piece; the alarm with which it fills the king; Hamlet's pretended and Ophelia's real madness; her death and burial; the meeting of Hamlet and Laertes at her grave; their combat and the grand termination; lastly, the appearance of the young hero Fortinbras, who, with warlike pomp, pays the last honors to an extinct family of kings; the interspersion of comic characteristic scenes with Polonius, the courtiers and the grave-diggers, which have each of them their signification--all this fills the stage with and animated and varied movement. The only point of view from which this piece might be judged to be less theatrical than other tragedies of Shakespeare, is that in the last scenes the main action either stands still or appears to be retrograde. This, however, was inevitable, and lay in the nature of the subject. The whole is intended to show that a too close consideration, which exhausts all the relations and possible consequences of a deed, must cripple the power of action; as Hamlet himself expresses it:
- And thus the native hue of resolution
- Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;
- And enterprises of great pith and moment,
- With this regard, their currents turn awry,
- And lose the name of action.
The mystery which surrounds the play centres in the character of Hamlet himself. He is of a highly cultivated mind, a prince of royal manners, endowed with the finest sense of propriety, susceptible of noble ambition, and open in the highest degree to an enthusiastic admiration of that excellence in others in which he himself is deficient. He acts the part of madness with unrivalled power, convincing the persons who are sent to examine into his supposed loss of reason merely by telling them unwelcome truths and rallying them with the most caustic wit. But in the resolutions which he so often embraces and always leaves unexecuted, his weakness is too apparent; he is not solely impelled by necessity to artifice and dissimulation, he has a natural inclination for crooked ways; he is a hypocrite toward himself; his far-fetched scruples are often mere pretexts to cover his want of determination--thoughts, as he says, which have
- ----but one part wisdom
- And ever three parts coward.
He has been condemned both for his harshness in repulsing the love of Ophelia, which he himself had cherished, and for his insensibility at her death. But he is too much overwhelmed with his own sorrow to have any compassion to spare for others; besides, his outward indifference gives us by no means the measure of his internal perturbation. On the other hand, we evidently perceive in him a malicious joy, when he has succeeded in getting rid of his enemies, more through necessity and accident, which alone are able to impel him to quick and decisive measures, than by the merit of his own courage, as he himself confesses after the slaying of Polonius. Hamlet has no firm belief either in himself or in anything else. From expressions of religious confidence he passes over to skeptical doubts; he believes in the ghost of his father as long as he sees it, but as soon as it has disappeared, it appears to him almost in the light of a deception. He has even gone so far as to say "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so;" with him the poet loses himself here in the labyrinths of thought, in which neither end nor beginning is discoverable. The stars themselves, from the course of events, afford no answer to the questions so urgently proposed to them. A voice from another world, commissioned, it would appear, by heaven, demands vengeance for a monstrous enormity, and the demand remains without effect; the criminals are at last punished, but, as it were, by an accidental blow, and not in the solemn way requisite to convey to the world a warning example of justice; irresolution, cunning treachery and impetuous rage hurry on to a common destruction; the less guilty and the innocent are equally involved in the general ruin. The destiny of humanity is here exhibited as a gigantic Sphinx, which threatens to precipitate into the abyss of skepticism all who are unable to solve her dread enigmas.
As one example of the many niceties of Shakespeare which have been generally misunderstood, may be mentioned the style in which the player's speech about Hecuba is conceived. It has been the subject of much controversy among commentators whether this was taken by Shakespeare from himself or from another, and whether, in the praise of the piece of which it is supposed to be a part, Hamlet was speaking seriously, or merely meant to ridicule the tragical bombast of his contemporaries. It seems never to have occurred to them that this speech must not be judged by itself, but in connection with the place where it is introduced. To distinguish it in the play itself as dramatic poetry, it was necessary that it should rise above the dignified poetry of the former in the same proportion that theatrical elevation always soars above simple nature. Hence Shakespeare has composed the play in Hamlet altogether in sententious rhymes full of antitheses. But this solemn and measured tone did not suit a speech in which violent emotion ought to prevail, and the poet had no other expedient than the one of which he made choice--overcharging the pathos. Unquestionably the language of the speech in question is falsely emphatical; but this fault is so mixed up with true grandeur that a player practiced in artificially calling forth in himself the emotion he is imitating may certainly be carried away by it. Besides, it will hardly be believed that Shakespeare knew so little of his art as not to be aware that a tragedy in which there is a lengthy epic relation of a transaction that happened so long before as the destruction of Troy, could neither be dramatic nor theatrical.
There is something altogether indefinable and mysterious in the poet's delineation of this character--something wild and irregular in the circumstances with which the character is associated. We see that Hamlet is propelled rather than propelling. But why is this turn given to the delineation? We cannot exactly tell. Doubtless much of the very charm of the play is its mysteriousness. It awakes not only thoughts of the grand and the beautiful, but of the incomprehensible. Its obscurity constitutes a portion of its sublimity. This is the stage in which most minds are content to rest, and perhaps better so, with regard to the comprehension of Hamlet.
The final appreciation of the Hamlet of Shakespeare belongs to the development of the critical faculty. Goethe, Coleridge, Schlegel, Lamb, Hazlitt, Mrs. Jameson and other writers out of number, some of the very highest order of excellence, have brought to the criticism and explanation of this play a most valuable fund of judgment, taste and aesthetical knowledge. To condense what is most deserving of remembrance in these admirable productions within due limits would be impossible. We must, therefore, place ourselves in the condition of one who has, however imperfectly, worked out in his own mind a comprehension of the idea of Shakespeare.
The opening of Hamlet is one of the most absorbing scenes in the Shakespearean drama. It produces its effect by the supernatural being brought into the most immediate contact with the real. The sentinels are prepared for the appearance of the ghost, Horatio being incredulous, but they are all surrounded with an atmosphere of common life. "Long live the king," "'Tis bitter cold," "Not a mouse stirring," and the familiar pleasantry of Horatio, exhibit to us minds under the ordinary state of human feeling. At the moment when the recollections of Bernardo arise into that imaginative power which belongs to the tale he is about to tell, the ghost appears. All that was doubtful in the narrative of the supernatural vision--what left upon Horatio's mind the impression only of a "thing"--because as real as the silence, the cold and the midnight. The vision is then "most like the king"--
Such was the very armor he had on.
The ghost remains but an instant, and we are again among the realities of common life. When it reappears there is still a tinge of skepticism in the soldiers:
Shall I strike at it with my partisan?
But their incredulity is at once subdued, and a resolution is taken by Horatio upon the conviction that what he once held as "fantasy" is a dreadful being, of whose existence there can be no doubt.
- Let us impart what we have seen tonight
- Unto young Hamlet: for, upon my life,
- This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.
We have here, by anticipation, all the deep and inexplicable consequences of this vision laid upon young Hamlet; it is his destiny.
Here we need not stop to analyze the scenes and acts that follow, for of all Shakespeare's plays this is the most familiar, and it is also one on which most men have already formed their own opinion. It will be sufficient to dwell very briefly on a few of its most striking features, and first as to the question of Hamlet's madness. Before the appearance of the ghost his spirit has been wounded by a sudden blow--a father dead, a crown snatched from him, a mother disgracefully married. Thus he looks with a jaundiced eye on "all the uses of this world," on the "unweeded garden" that he fain would leave to be possessed by "things rank and gross in nature." Yet he communes with himself in a tone which bespeaks the habitual refinement of his thoughts, and his words shape themselves into images that belong to a high and cultivated intellect. Then comes the dread vision, with its appalling revelation, which lays on him a responsibility greater than his nature can bear. The mental disturbance which it causes becomes apparent while he thinks aloud, almost as soon as the ghost has disappeared; but he is not mad either in the popular or in the physiological sense; it is merely the mental derangement of a noble, but not an heroic, nature, sinking beneath a burden which it cannot bear and must cast away. Coleridge attributes what he consider's Hamlet's assumed eccentricity, after the ghost scene, to "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 delirium." It is under the immediate influence of the disorder in his soul that he resolves to feign madness. With a mind horribly disturbed with thoughts beyond mortal reach he still believes that the habitual powers of his intellect can control this disturbance and even render it an instrument of his safety. It has been observed that if there be anything disproportioned in his mind, it seems to be this only--that intellect is in excess; it is too subtle; it is even ungovernable. It is in his own high and overwrought consciousness of intellect that he describes the perfect man, "in apprehension how like a god." Much that requires elucidation in the play can be explained by this exceptional predominance of the intellectual faculty, and to this, perhaps, belongs the idea of pretending insanity as a cloak for his real designs.
Here begins the complexity of Hamlet's character, and in his new guise he is thus presented to us by Ophelia, then for the first time showing the preoccupation, which afterward appears in many of his sayings:
- He took me by the wrist, and held me hard;
- Then goes he to the length of all his arm;
- And with his other hand thus o'er his brow,
- He falls to such perusal of my face,
- As he would draw it. Long stay'd he so;
- At last,--a little shaking of mine arm,
- And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
- He raised a sigh so piteous and profound,
- That it did seem to shatter all his bulk,
- And end his being. That done, he lets me go;
- And, with his head over his shoulder turned,
- He seem'd to find his way without his eyes;
- For out o' doors he went without their help,
- And, to the last, bended their light on me.
In this was none of the "antic disposition" which Hamlet thought fit to put on; still less was it, as Polonius deemed, the "ecstasy of love" produced by Ophelia's coldness. It was the utterance, so far as it could be uttered, of his sense of the hard necessity that was upon him to go forth to a mortal struggle with evil powers and influences; to tear himself from all the soothing and delicious fancies that would arise out of his growing affection for the simple maid whom he treated so roughly. Under the pressure of his vow that the ghost's injunction should "live within the volume of his brain, unmix'd with baser matter," all else in the world has become to him mean and unimportant. Love was now to him "a trivial fond record," and philosophy "the saws of books."
That the king and his courtiers considered Hamlet insane, and freely talked of his insanity, is of no significance, for this was merely the "antic disposition," and the sarcasm directed against them, in which he appeared to be merely wandering, was but to relieve the bitterness of his soul. They did not see through his disguise any more than did Polonius, who, while pronouncing him "far gone," yet could not help noticing "how pregnant his replies are." In truth, the old man was himself verging on imbecility, though he had not wit enough to become entirely crazy--a condition which presupposes the possession of brains.
In the scene with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Hamlet is natural enough; for with them, as his old school-fellows, he is perfectly at ease, and he is again the Hamlet they knew of old--the gentleman and the scholar. He even discloses to them a glimpse of the deep melancholy which weighs on his soul: "O God, I could be bounded in a nut-shell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams." He knows that his friends were sent to him as spies; but he suppresses his feelings, and bursts out into the majestic piece of rhetoric beginning, "What a piece of work is man!"--one that could only have been conceived by a being of the highest intellectual power, in the fullest possession of his faculties. In the scene with the players, also, Hamlet is entirely himself. He has escaped for a moment from the one o'ermastering thought, but even here that thought follows him: "Dost thou hear me, old friend; can you play the murder of Gonzago?" Then comes the soliloquy, "Now I am alone," in which, as Charles Lamb expresses it, "the silent meditations with which his bosom is bursting are reduced to words for the sake of the reader." Hamlet's indecision is not due to want of courage, as appears in several instances--
- My fate cries out,
- And makes each petty artery in this body
- As hardy as the Nemean lion's nerve.
But his will is subject to his higher faculties, and he sees no course clear enough to satisfy his understanding. He would have been greater had he been less great.
In his great soliloquy, "To be or not to be," he is interrupted by Ophelia in the midst of a most solemn train of thought. When she says to him--
My lord, I have remembrances of yours.
--it is probable that his rude denial of having given Ophelia remembrances, and his "Ha, ha! are you honest?" with all the bitter words that follow, are meant to indicate the disturbance which is produced in his mind by the clashing of his love for her with the predominant thought which now makes all that belongs to his personal happiness worthless. His bitterness escapes in generalizations; it is not against Ophelia, but against her sex, that he exclaims. To that gentle creature, the harshest thing he says is: "Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny." Coleridge things that the harshness in Hamlet's manner is produced by his perceiving that Ophelia was acting a part toward him and that they were watched. Perhaps, as Lamb expresses it, these "tokens of an unhinged mind" are mixed "with a certain artifice, to alienate Ophelia by affected discourtesies, so as to prepare her mind for the breaking off of that intercourse which can no longer find a place amid business so serious as that which he has to do." At any rate, the gentle and tender Ophelia is not outraged. Her pity only is excited; and, if the apparent rudeness of Hamlet requires a proper appreciation of his character to reconcile it with our admiration of him, Shakespeare has at this moment most adroitly presented to us that description of him which Goethe anticipated:
- The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword,
- The expectancy and rose of the fair state.
Hamlet recovers a temporary tranquillity. He has something to do, and that something is connected with his great business. He has to prepare the players to speak his speech. Those who look upon the surface only may think these directions out of place; but nothing can really be more appropriate than that such rules of art, so just, so universal and so complete should be put by Shakespeare into the mouth of him who had preëminently "the scholar's tongue." The satisfaction he takes in the device, the hopes which he has that his doubts may be resolved lend a real elevation to his spirits, which may pass for his feigned madness. He utters whatever comes uppermost; and the freedoms which he takes with Ophelia, while they are equally remote from bitterness or harshness, are such as in Shakespeare's age would not offend pure ears.
The test is applied; the king is "frighted with false fire," and the elation of Hamlet's mind is at its height. Then comes the climax--"Now could I drink hot blood." Yet he is not raving, and in the scene with the queen he vindicates his own sanity:
- It is not madness
- That I have uttered: bring me to the test,
- And I the matter will re-word; which madness
- Would gambol from.
The question may be asked, why is it, when we think upon the fate of the poor stricken Ophelia, that we never reproach Hamlet? We are certain that it was no "trifling of his favor" that broke her heart; we are assured that his seeming harshness did not sink deep into her spirit; we believe that he loved her more than "forty thousand brothers;" and yet she certainly perished through Hamlet and his actions. But we blame him not, for her destiny was involved in his. Says a writer in Blackwood's Magazine: "Soon as we connect her destiny with Hamlet we know that darkness is to overshadow her, and that sadness and sorrow will step in between her and the ghost-haunted avenger of his father's murder. Soon as our pity is excited for her it continues gradually to deepen, and, when she appears in her madness, we are as deeply moved as when we hear of her death. Perhaps the description of that catastrophe by the queen is poetical rather than dramatic; but its exquisite beauty prevails, and Ophelia, dying and dead, is still the same Ophelia that first won our love. Perhaps the very forgetfulness of her, throughout the remainder of the play, leaves the soul at full liberty to dream of the departed. She has passed away from the earth like a beautiful dream."
Garrick omitted the grave-diggers. He had the terror of Voltaire before his eyes. The English audiences compelled their restoration, for there was something in the scene that brought Hamlet home to the humblest in the large reach of his universal philosophy. The conversation of the clowns before he comes upon the scene is, indeed, pleasantry mixed with sarcasm; but, the moment that Hamlet opens his lips, the meditative richness of his mind is poured out upon us, and he grapples with the most familiar and yet the deepest thoughts of human nature, in a style that is sublime from its simplicity. The catastrophe is in perfect accord with the ultimate prostration of his mind. It is the result of an accident produced we know not how. The general massacre on which the curtain falls has been the subject of much adverse comment; but Shakespeare does nothing without excellent reasons.