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Till the foul crimes, done in my days of nature,
Are burnt and purg'd away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,

I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word

Would harrow up thy soul; freeze thy young blood; Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres ;3

"Thou shalt lye in frost and fire

"With sicknesse and hunger;" &c. Again, in Love's Labour's Lost:


love's fasting pain."

It is observable, that in the statutes of our religious houses, most of the punishments affect the diet of the offenders.

But for the foregoing examples, I should have supposed we ought to read-" confin'd to waste in fires." Steevens.

This passage requires no amendment. As spirits were suppos. ed to feel the same desires and appetites that they had on earth, to fast might be considered as one of the punishments inflicted on the wicked. M. Mason.

Are burnt and purg'd away.] Gawin Douglas really changes the Platonic hell into the "punytion of saulis in purgatory :" and it is observable, that when the Ghost informs Hamlet of his doom there

"Till the foul crimes done in his days of nature
"Are burnt and purg'd away."-

The expression is very similar to the Bishop's. I will give you
his version as concisely as I can. "It is a nedeful thyng to suf-
fer panis and torment;-Sum in the wyndis, sum under the
watter, and in the fire uthir sum: thus the mony vices-
"Contrakkit in the corpis be done away
"And purgit.".

Sixte Book of Eneados, fol. p. 191.


Shakspeare might have found this expression in The Hystorie of Hamlet, bl. 1. F. 2, edit. 1608: "He set fire in the foure corners of the hal, in such sort, that of all that were as then therein not one escaped away, but were forced to purge their sinnes by fire." Malone.

Shakspeare talks more like a Papist, than a Platonist; but the language of Bishop Douglas is that of a good Protestant:

"Thus the mony vices

"Contrakkit in the corpis be done away
"And purgit."

These are the very words of our Liturgy, in the commendatory
prayer for a sick person at the point of departure, in the office
for the visitation of the sick:-
:-"Whatsoever defilements it may
have contracted-being purged and done away." Whalley.

3 Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres ;] So, in our poet's 108th Sonnet:

"How have mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted,
"In the distraction of this madding fever!"


Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porcupine:4
But this eternal blazon must not be

To ears of flesh and blood :-List, list, O list!-
If thou didst ever thy dear father love,

Ham. O heaven!

Ghost. Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. Ham. Murder?

Ghost. Murder most foul, as in the best it is;

But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.

Ham. Haste me to know it; that I, with wings as swift As meditation, or the thoughts of love,

fretful porcupine:] The quartos read-fearful, &c. Either epithet may serve. This animal is at once irascible and timid. The same image occurs in The Romaunt of the Rose, where Chaucer is describing the personage of danger:

"Like sharpe urchons his heere was grow."

An urchin is a hedge-hog.

The old copies, however, have-porpentine, which is frequently written by our ancient poets instead of porcupine. So, in Skialetheia, a collection of Epigrams, Satires, &c. 1598:


Porpentine-backed, for here he lies on thornes." Steevens. Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.] As a proof that this play was written before 1597, of which the contrary has been asserted by Mr. Holt in Dr. Johnson's Appendix, I must borrow, as usual, from Dr. Farmer: "Shakspeare is said to have been no extraordinary actor; and that the top of his performance was the Ghost in his own Hamlet. Yet this chef d'œuvre did not please: I will give you an original stroke at it. Dr. Lodge pub. lished in the year 1596, a pamphlet called Wit's Miserie, or the World's Madness, discovering the incarnate Devils of the Age, quarto. One of these devils is, Hate-virtue, or sorrow for another man's good successe, who, says the doctor, is a foule lubber, and looks as pale as the vizard of the Ghost, which cried so miserably at the theatre, Hamlet revenge." Steevens.

I suspect that this stroke was levelled not at Shakspeare, but at the performer of the Ghost in an older play on this subject, exhibited before 1589. Malone.

6 As meditation, or the thoughts of love,] This similitude is extremely beautiful. The word meditation is consecrated, by the mysticks, to signify that stretch and flight of mind which aspires to the enjoyment of the supreme good. So that Hamlet, considering with what to compare the swiftness of his revenge, chooses two of the most rapid things in nature, the ardency of divine and human passion, in an enthusiast and a lover. Warburton. The comment on the word meditation is so ingenious that I hope it is just. Johnson.

I find thee apt;

May sweep to my revenge.


And duller should'st thou be than the fat weed

That rots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,

Would'st thou not stir in this. Now, Hamlet, hear:

And duller should'st thou be than the fat weed

That rots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,] Shakspeare, apparently through ignorance, makes Roman Catholicks of these Pagan Danes; and here gives a description of purgatory; but yet mixes it 'with the Pagan fable of Lethe's wharf. Whether he did it to insinuate to the zealous Protestants of his time, that the Pagan and Popish purgatory stood both upon the same footing of credibility, or whether it was by the same kind of licentious inadvertance that Michael Angelo brought Charon's bark into his picture of the Last Judgment, is not easy to decide. Warburton.

That rots itself in ease, &c.] The quarto reads-That roots itself. Mr. Pope follows it. Otway has the same thought:

66 like a coarse and useless dunghill weed
"Fix'd to one spot, and rot just as I grow."

Mr. Cowper also, in his version of the seventh Iliad, v. 100, has adopted this phrase of Shakspeare, to express

σε σ'Ημενοι αὖθι ἔκοςοι ἀκήριοι,——

"Rot where you sit." v. 112.


In Pope's Essay on Man, Ep. II, 64, we meet with a similar comparison:

"Fix'd like a plant on his peculiar spot,

"To draw nutrition, propagate, and rot."

The superiority of the reading of the folio is to me apparent to be in a crescent state (i. e. to root itself) affords an idea of activity; to rot better suits with the dulness and inaction to which the Ghost refers. Beaumont and Fletcher have a thought somewhat similar in The Humorous Lieutenant :

"This dull root pluck'd from Lethe's flood." Steevens. That roots itself in ease &c.] Thus the quarto, 1604. The folio reads-That rots itself &c. I have preferred the reading of the original copy, because to root itself is a natural and easy phrase, but "to rot itself," not English. Indeed in general the readings of the original copies, when not corrupt, ought, in my opinion, not to be departed from, without very strong reason. That roots itself in ease, means, whose sluggish root is idly extended.

The modern editors read-Lethe's wharf; but the reading of the old copy is right. So, in Sir Aston Cockain's Poems, 1658, p. 177; -fearing these great actions might die,


"Neglected cast all into Lethe lake." Malone.

That Shakspeare, or his first editors, supposed-rots itself to be English, is evident from the same phrase being used in Antony and Cleopatra :

'Tis given out, that, sleeping in mine orchard,

A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death

Rankly abus'd: but know, thou noble youth,
The serpent, that did sting thy father's life,
Now wears his crown.

Ham. O, my prophetick soul! my uncle!

Ghost. Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts,
(O wicked wit, and gifts, that have the power
So to seduce!) won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen:
O, Hamlet, what a falling-off was there!
From me, whose love was of that dignity,
That it went hand in hand even with the vow
I made to her in marriage; and to decline
Upon a wretch, whose natural gifts were poor
To those of mine!

But virtue, as it never will be mov'd,

Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven;
So lust, though to a radiant angel link'd,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed,

And prey on garbage.9

But, soft! methinks, I scent the morning air;
Brief let me be :-Sleeping within mine orchard,1

lackeying the varying tide,

"To rot itself with motion."

See Anthony and Cleopatra, Act I, sc. iv, Vol. XIII. Steevens. his wit,] The old copies have wits. The subsequent line shows that it was a misprint. Malone.

9 sate itself in a celestial bed,

And prey on garbage.] The same image occurs again in Cymbeline:

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ravening first

"The lamb, longs after for the garbage." Steevens. The same sentiment is expressed in a fragment of Euripides, Antiope, v. 86, edit. Barnes:



σε Κόρος δὲ πάντων, καὶ γὰρ ἐκ καλλιόνων

σε Λέκτροις ἐν αἰσχροῖς εἶδον ἐκπεπληγμένες.

σε Δαιτὸς δὲ πληρωθείς τις, "ασμενος πάλιν

σε Φαύλη διαίτη προσβαλών ήσθη στόμα.” Todd.
mine orchard,] Orchard for garden. So, in Romeo and

"The orchard walls are high, and hard to climb." Steevens


My custom always of the afternoon,*
Upon my sécure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of mine ears did pour
The leperous distilment; whose effect
Holds such an enmity with blood of man,
That, swift as quicksilver, it courses through
The natural gates and alleys of the body;
And, with a sudden vigour, it doth posset
And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood: so did it mine;
And a most instant tetter bark'd about,

Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust,


My custom always of the afternoon,] See the Paston Letters, Vol. III, p. 282: "Written in my sleeping time, at afternoon" &c. See note on this passage. Steevens.

3 With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,] The word here used was more probably designed by a metathesis, either of the poet or transcriber, for henebon, that is, henbane; of which the most common kind (hyoscyamus niger) is certainly narcotick, and perhaps, if taken in a considerable quantity, might prove poisonous. Galen calls it cold in the third degree; by which in this, as well as opium, he seems not to mean an actual coldness, but the power it has of benumbing the faculties. Dioscorides ascribes to it the property of producing madness ("υοσκυαμοσ μανιώδης). These qualities have been confirmed by several cases related in modern observations. In Wepfer we have a good account of the various effects of this root upon most of the members of a convent in Germany, who eat of it for supper by mistake, mixed with succory-heat in the throat, giddiness, dimness of sight, and delirium. Cicut. Aquatic. c. xviii. Grey.

So, in Drayton's Barons' Wars, p. 51:

"The pois'ning henbane, and the mandrake drad." Again, in the Philosopher's 4th Satire of Mars, by Robert Anton, 1616:

"The poison'd henbane, whose cold juice doth kill." In Marlowe's Jew of Malta, 1633, the word is written in a different manner:

66 the blood of Hydra, Lerna's bane,

"The juice of hebon, and Cocytus' breath." Steevens.

The leperous distilment ;] So, in Painter's Palace of Pleasure, Vol. II, p. 142: " - which being once possessed, never leaveth the patient till it hath enfeebled his state, like the qualitie of poison distilling through the veins even to the heart." Malone.

Surely, the leperous distilment signifies the water distilled from henbane, that subsequently occasioned leprosy. Steevens.

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