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changes of accident and passion. Success and defeat follow one another with startling rapidity. Fortune sits upon her wheel more blind and giddy than usual. This precarious state and the approaching dissolution of his greatness are strikingly displayed in the dialogue between Antony and Eros.
" ANTONY. Eros, thou yet behold'st me?
ANTONY. Sometime we see a cloud that's dragonish,
Enon, Ay, my lord.
ANTONY. That which is now a horses, even with a thought
Enos. It does, my lord.
Antony. My good knave, Eron, now thy captain is
This is, without doubt, one of the finest pieces of poetry in Shakspeare. The splendor of the imagery, the semblance of reality, the lofty range of picturesque objects hanging over the world, their evanescent nature, the total uncertainty of what is left behind, are just like the mouldering schemes of human greatness. It is finer than Cleopatra's passionate lamentation over his fallen grandeur, because it is more dim, unstable, unsubstantial. Antony's beadstrong presumption, and infatuated determination to yield to Cleopatra's wishes to fight by sea instead of land, meet a merited punishment; and the extravagance of his resolations, increasing with the desperateness of his circumstan. ces, is well commented upon by (Enobarbus,
---" I see men's judgments are
The repentance of Enobarbus after his treachery to his mas
ter is the most affecting part of the play. He cannot recover from the blow which Antony's generosity gives him, and he dies broken-hearted, “a master-leaver and a fugitive.”
Shakspeare's genius has spread over the whole play a richness like the overflowing of the Nile.
This is that Hamlet the Dane, whom we read of in our youth, and whom we seem almost to remember in our after.years ; he who made that famous soliloquy on life, who gave the advice to the players, who thought this goodly frame, the earth, a steril promontory, and this brave o'er-hanging firmament, the air, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors ;" whom "man delighted not, nor woman neither;" he who talked with the grave-diggers, and moralised on Yorick's skull; the school fellow of Rosencrantz and Guil. denstern at Wittenberg; the friend of Horatio ; the lover of Ophelia; he that was mad and sent to England; the slow avenger of his father's death ; who lived at the court of Horwendillus five hundred years before we were born, but all whose thoughts we seem to know as well as we do our own, because we have read them in Sbakspeare.
Hamlet is a name : his speeches and sayings but the idle coinage of the poet's brain. What then, are they not real! They are as real as our own thoughts. Their reality is in the reader's mind. It is we who are Hamlet. This play has a prophetic truth, which is above that of history. Whoever has become thoughtful and melancholy through his own mishaps or those of others; whoever has borne about with him the clouded brow of reflection, and thought himself “ too much i' th' sun ;** whoever has seen the golden lamp of day dimmed by envious mists rising in his own breast, and could find in the world be fore him only a dull blank with nothing left remarkable in it; whoever has known the pangs of despised love, the insolence of office, or the spurns which patient merit of the unworthy takes;" he who has felt his mind sink within him, and sadness cling to his heart like a malady, who has had his hopes blighted and his youth staggered by the apparitions of strange things; who cannot be well at ease, while he sees evil hovering near him like a spectre ; whose powers of action have been eaten up by thought; he to whom the universe seems infinite, and himself nothing; whose bitterness of soul makes him careless of consequences, and who goes to a play as his best resource to drive off, to a second remove, the evils of life by a mock representation of them—this is the true Hamlet. 39
We have been so used to this tragedy that we hardly know how to criticise it any more than we should know how to deseribe our own faces. But we must make such observations as we can. It is the one of Shakspeare's plays that we think of oftenest; because it abounds most in striking reflections on human life, and because the distresses of Hamlet are transferred, by the turn of his mind, to the general account of humanity. Whatever happens to him, we apply to ourselves, because he applies it so himself as a means of general reasoning. He is a great moraliser; and what makes him worth attending to is, that he moralises on his own feelings and experience. He is not a common-place pedant. If Lear shows the greatest depth of passion, HAMLET is the most remarkable for the ingenuity, originality, and unstudied development of character. Shakspeare had more of the magnanimity of genius than any other poet, and he has shown more of it in this play than in any other. There is no attempt to force an interest : everything is left to time and circumstances. The attention is excited without pre. meditation or effort, the incidents succeed each other as matters of course, the characters think and speak and act just as they would do if left entirely to themselves. There is no set purpose, no straining at a point. The observations are suggested by the passing scene-the gusts of passion come and go like sounds of music borne on the wind. The whole play is an exact transcript of what might be supposed to have taken place at the court of Denmark, at the remote period of time fixed upon, before the modern refinements in morals and manners were heard of. It would have been interesting enough to have
been admitted as a bystander in such a scene, at such a time, to have heard and seen something of what was going on. But here we are more than spectators. We have not only " the out. ward pageants and the signs of grief;" “but we have that within which passes show." We read the thoughts of the heart, we catch the passions living as they rise. Other dramatic writ. ers give us very fine versions and paraphrases of nature : but Shakspeare, together with his own comments, gives us the ori. ginal text, that we may judge for ourselves. Here, as in all his other works, the poet appears for the time being to be identified with each character he wishes to represent, and to pass from one to the other like the same soul, successively animating dif. ferent bodies. By an art like that of the ventriloquist, he throws his imagination out of himself, and makes every word appear to proceed from the very mouth of the person whose name it beers. His plays alone are properly expressions of the passions, not descriptions of them. His characters are real beings of flesh and blood; they speak like men, not like authors. Each object and circumstance seems to exist in his mind as it existed in nature; each several train of thought and freling goes on of itself without an effort or confusion ; in the world of his imagi. nation everything has a life, a place, and being of its own.
The character of Hamlet is itself a pure effusion of genius. It is not a character marked by strength of passion or will, but by refinement of thought and feeling. Hamlet is as little of the hero as a man can well be: but he is a young and princely no. vice, full of high enthusiasm and quick sensibility-the sport of circumstances, questioning with fortune, and refining on his own feelings, and forced from the natural bias of his cbaracter by the strangeness of his situation. He seems incapable of delibe. rate action, and is only hurried into extremities on the spur of the occasion, when he has no time to reflect, as in the scene where be kills Polonius, and again, where he alter the letters which Rosencrantz and Guildenstera are taking with them to England, purporting his death. At other times when he is met bund to act, he remains puzzled, undecided and sceptical, dal. lies with his purposes, till the occasion is lost, and always finde some pretence to relapse into indolence and thoughtfulness again.