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occasion is lost, and always finds some reason to relapse into indolence and thoughtfulness again. For this reason he refuses to kill the King when he is at his prayers,
and by a refinement in malice, which is only an excuse for his own want of resolution, defers his revenge to some more fatal opportunity, when he shall be engaged in some act "that has no relish of salvation in it.” So he scruples to trust the suggestions of the Ghost, contrives the scene of the play to have surer proof of his uncle's guilt, and then rests satisfied with this confirmation of his suspicions, and the success of his experiment, instead of acting upon it. The moral perfection of this character has been called in question. It is more natural than conformable to rules; and if not more amiable, is certainly more dramatic on that account. Hamlet is not, to be sure,'a Sir Charles Grandison. In general, there is little of the drab-coloured quakerism of morality in the ethical delineations of " that noble and liberal casuist," as Shakespeare has been well called. He does not set his heroes in the stocks of virtue, to make mouths at their own situation. His plays are not transcribed from the “Whole Duty of Man"! We confess we are a little shocked at the want of refinement in those who are shocked at the want of refinement in Hamlet. The want of punctilious exactness of behaviour either partakes of the "licence of the time," or belongs to the very excess of intellectual refinement in the character, which makes the common rules of life, as well as his own purposes, sit loose
upon him. He may be said to be amenable only to the tribunal of his own thoughts, and is too much occupied with the airy world of contemplation, to lay as much stress as he ought on the practical consequences of things. His habitual principles of action are unhinged, and "out of joint" with the time.
This character is probably of all others the most difficult to personate on the stage. It is like the attempt to embody a shadow.
Come, then, the colours and the ground prepare,
Such nearly is the task which the actor imposes on himself in the part of Hamlet. It is quite remote from hardness and dry precision. The character is spun to the finest thread, yet never loses its continuity. It has the yielding flexibility of "a wave of the sea." It is made up of undulating lines, without a single sharp angle. There is no set purpose, no straining at a point. The observations are suggested by the passing scenethe gusts of passion come and go, like the sounds of music borne on the wind. The interest depends not on the action, but on the thoughts-on " that within which passeth show." Yet, in spite of these difficulties, Mr. Kean's representation of the character had the most brilliant success. It did not, indeed, come home to our feelings as Hamlet (that very Hamlet whom we read of in our youth, and seem almost to remember in our afteryears), but it was a most striking and animated rehearsal of the part.
High as Mr. Kean stood in our opinion before, we have no hesitation in saying that he stands higher in it (and, we think, will in that of the public), from the powers displayed in this last effort. If it was less perfect as a whole, there were parts in it of a higher cast of ex
Pope, Moral Essays, Epistle II.
cellence than any part of his Richard. We will say at once in what we think his general delineation of the character wrong. It was too strong and pointed. There was often a severity, approaching to virulence, in the common observations and answers. There is nothing of this in Hamlet. He is, as it were, wrapped up in the cloud of his reflections, and only thinks aloud. There should, therefore, be no attempt to impress what he says upon others by any exaggeration of emphasis or manner, no talking at his hearers. There should be as much of the gentleman and scholar as possible infused into the part, and as little of the actor. A pensive air of sadness should sit unwillingly upon his brow, but no appearance of fixed and sullen gloom. He is full of “weakness and melancholy," but there is no harshness in his nature. Hamlet should be the most amiable of misanthropes. There is no one line in this play which should be spoken like any one line in Richard, yet Mr. Kean did not appear to us to keep the two characters always distinct. He was least happy in the last scene with Guildenstern and Rosencrantz. In some of these more familiar scenes, he displayed more energy than was requisite, and in others, where it would have been appropriate, did not rise equal to the exigency of the occasion. In particular, the scene with Laertes, where he leaps into the grave, and utters the exclamation, “'Tis I, Hamlet the Dane," had not the tumultuous and overpowering effect we pected from it. To point out the defects of Mr. Kean's performance of the part, is a less grateful but a much shorter task than to enumerate the many striking beauties which he gave to it, both by the power of his action and by the true feeling of nature. His surprise when he first sees the Ghost, his eagerness and filial confidence in
following it, the impressive pathos of his action and voice in addressing it, "I'll call thee Hamlet, Father, Royal Dane," were admirable.
Mr. Kean has introduced in this part a new reading, as it is called, which we think perfectly correct. In the scene where he breaks from his friends to obey the command of his father, he keeps his sword pointed behind him, to prevent them from following him, instead of holding it before him to protect him from the Ghost. The manner of his taking Guildenstern and Rosencrantz under each arm, under pretence of communicating his secret to them, when he only means to trifle with them, had the finest effect, and was, we conceive, exactly in the spirit of the character. So was the suppressed tone of irony in which he ridicules those who gave ducats for his uncle's picture, though they would “make mouths at him” while his father lived. Whether the
in which Mr. Kean hesitates in repeating the first line of the speech in the interview with the player, and then, after several ineffectual attempts to recollect it, suddenly hurries on with it, “The rugged Pyrrhus," &c., is in perfect keeping, we have some doubts; but there was great ingenuity in the thought, and the spirit and life of the execution was beyond everything. Hamlet's speech in describing his own melancholy, his instructions to the players, and the soliloquy on death, were all delivered by Mr. Kean in a tone of fine, clear, and natural recitation. His pronunciation of the word "contumely" in the last of these is, we apprehend, not authorised by custom, or by the metre.
Both the closet scene with his mother, and his remonstrances to Ophelia, were highly impressive. there had been less vehemence of effort in the latter, it
would not have lost any of its effect. But whatever nice faults might be found in this scene, they were amply redeemed by the manner of his coming back after he has gone to the extremity of the stage, from a pang of parting tenderness to press his lips to Ophelia's hand. It had an electrical effect on the house. It was the finest commentary that was ever made on Shakespeare. It explained the character at once (as he meant it), as one of disappointed hope, of bitter regret, of affection suspended, not obliterated, by the distractions of the scene around him! The manner in which Mr. Kean acted in the scene of the Play before the King and Queen was the most daring of any, and the force and animation which he gave to it cannot be too highly applauded. Its extreme boldness “ bordered on the verge of all we hate,” and the effect it produced was a test of the extraordinary powers of this extraordinary actor.
MR. KEAN'S OTHELLO.
Morning Chronicle, May 6, 1814. "OTHELLO” was acted at Drury Lane last night, the part of Othello by Mr. Kean. His success was fully equal to the arduousness of the undertaking. In general, we might observe that he displayed the same excellences and the same defects as in his former characters. His voice and person were not altogether in consonance with the character, nor was there throughout that noble tide of deep and sustained passion, impetuous, but majestic, that "flows on to the Propontic, and knows no ebb," which raises our admiration and pity of the lofty-minded Moor. There were, however, repeated bursts of feeling
* Iago by Pope, whom Leigh Hunt criticised so vigorously.