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He is justly serv’d;
Never believe it;
As thou 'rt a man,
What warlike noise is this? Osr. Young Fortinbras, with conquest come from
It should seem from this line, and Laertes's next speech, that Hamlet here forces the expiring King to drink some of the poi. soned cup, and that he dies while it is at his lips. Malone.
2 That are but mutes and audience to this act,] That are either auditors of this catastrophe, or at most only mute performers, that fill the stage without any part in the action. Fohnson. 3 (as this fell sergeant, death, Is strict in his arrest,)] So, in our poet's 74th Sonnet: “
when that fell arrest, “ Without all bail, shall carry me away, -.” Malone. A serjeant is a bailiff, or sheriff's officer. Ritson.
* God!-Horatio, &c.] Thus the quarto, 1604. Folio: 0 good Horatio. Malone.
5 shall live behind me?] Thus the folio. The quartos read shall I leave behind me. Steevens.
This warlike volley.
O, I die, Horatio;
6 The potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit;] Thus the first quarto, and the first folio. Alluding, I suppose, to a victorious cock exulting over his conquered antagonist. The same word occurs in Lingua, &c. 1607 :
“ Shall I? th’ embassadress of gods and men,
“ Be over-crow'd, and breathe without revenge?" Again, in Hall's Satires, Lib. V, Sat. ï:
“ Like the vain bubble of Iberian pride,
“ That over-croweth all the world beside." This phrase often occurs in the controversial pieces of Gabriel Harvey, 1593, &c. It is also found in Chapman's translation of the twenty-first Book of Homer's Odyssey: “
and told his foe
“ The poorest guest - Steevens. This word, [o'er-crows] for which Mr. Pope and succeeding, editors have substituted over-grows, is used by Holinshed in his History of Ireland : “ These noblemen laboured with tooth and nayle to over-crow, and consequently to overthrow, one another."
Again, in the epistle prefixed to Nashe's Apologie of Pierce Pennilesse, 1593: “ About two yeeres since a certayne demi. divine took upon him to set his foote to mine, and over-crowe me with comparative terms."
I find the reading which Mr. Pope and the subsequent editors adopted, (o'ergrows,) was taken from a late quarto of no autho. rity, printed in 1637. Malone.
The accepted reading is the more quaint, the rejected one the more elegant of the two; at least Mr. Rowe has given the latter to his dying Amestris in The Ambitious Stepmother :
“ The gloom grows o'er me.” Steevens. 7 the occurrents,] i. e. incidents. The word is now disused. So, in The Hog hath lost his Pearl, 1614:
“ Such strange occurrtits of my fore-past life.” Again, in The Barons' ll'ars, by Drayton, Canto I:
“ With each occurrent, right in his degree.” Again, in Chapman's version of the twenty-fourth Iliad: “Of good occurrents and none ill am I ambassadresse.”
Hor. Now cracks a noble heart:-Good night, sweet
prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!!
: Which have solicited.] Solicited, for brought on the event.
Warburton. Warburton says, that solicited means brought on the event; but that is a meaning the word cannot import. That have solicited, means that have excited; but the sentence is left imperfect.
M. Mason. What Hamlet would have said, the poet has not given us any ground for conjecturing. The words seem to mean no more than -_which have incited me to . Malone. 9 Now cracks a noble heart:-Good night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest !] So, in Pericles, Prince of Tyre, 1609:
är If thou livost, Pericles, thou hast a heart,
“ That even cracks for woe.” The concluding words of the unfortunate Lord Essex's prayer on the scaffold were these : “ -- and when my life and body shall part, send thy blessed angels, which may receive my soule, and convey it to the joys of heaven.”
Hamlet had certainly been exhibited before the execution of that amiable nobleman; but the words here given to Horatio might have been one of the many additions made to this play. As no copy of an earlier date than 1604 has yet been discovered, whether Lord Essex's last words were in our author's thoughts, cannot be now ascertained. Malone.
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!] Rather from Marston's Insatiate Countess, 1603:
“An host of angels be thy convey hence!" Steevens. Let us review for a moment the behaviour of Hamlet, on the strength of which Horatio founds this eulogy, and recommends him to the patronage of angels.
Hamlet, at the command of his father's ghost, undertakes with seeming alacrity to revenge the murder; and declares he will banish all other thoughts from his mind. He makes, however, but one effort to keep his word, and that is, when he mis. takes Polonius for the King. On another occasion, he defers his purpose till he can find an opportunity of taking his uncle when he is least prepared for death, that he may insure damnation to his soul. Though he assassinated Polonius by accident, yet he deliberately procures the execution of his school-fellows, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who appear not, from any circumstances in this play, to have been acquainted with the treacherous purposes of the mandate they were employed to carry. To embitter their fate, and hazard their punishment beyond the graye, he denies them even the few moments necessary for a brief confession of their sins. Their end (as he declares in a subsequent conversation with Horatio) gives him no concern, for they obtruded
Why does the drum come hither?
themselves into the service, and he thought he had a right to de. stroy them. From his brutal conduct towards Ophelia, he is not less accountable for her distraction and death. He interrupts the funeral designed in honour of this lady, at which both the King and Queen were present; and, by such an outrage to decency, renders it still more necessary for the usurper to lay a second stratagem for his life, though the first had proved abortive. He insults the brother of the deal, and boasts of an affection for his sister, which, before, he had denied to her face; and yet at this very time must be considered as desirous of supporting the character of a madman, so that the openness of his confession is not to be imputed to him as a virtue. He apologizes to Horatio af. terwards for the absurdity of this behaviour, to which, he says, he was provoked by that nobleness of fraternal grief, which, indeed, he ought rather to have : pplauded than condemned. Dr. , Johnson has observed, that to bring about a reconciliation with Laertes, he has availed himself of a dishonest fallacy; and to conclude, it is obvious to the most careless spectator or reader, that he kills the King at last to revenge himself, and not his father.
Hamlet cannot be said to have pursued his ends by very warrantable means; and if the poet, when he sacrificed him at last, meant to have enforced such a moral, it is not the worst that can be deduced from the play; for, as Maximus, in Beaumont and Fletcher's Valentinian, says
“ Although his justice were as white as truth,
“ His way was crooked to it; that condemns him.” The late Dr. Akenside once observed to me, that the conduct of Hamlet was every way unnatural and indefensible, unless he were to be regarded as a young man whose intellects were in some degree impaired by his own misfortunes; by the death of his father, the loss of expected sovereignty, and a sense of shame resulting from the hasty and incestuous marriage of his mother.
I have dwelt the longer on this subject, because Hamlet seems to have been hitherto regarded as a hero not undeserving the pity of the audience; and because no writer on Shakspeare has taken the pains to point out the immoral tendency of his character..
Steevens. Mr. Ritson controverts the justice of Mr. Steevens's strictures on the character of Hamlet, which he undertakes to defend. The arguments he makes use of for this purpose are too long to be here inserted, and therefore I shall content myself with referring to them. See REMARKS, p. 217 to 224. Reed
Some of the charges here brought against Hamlet appear to me questionable at least, if not unfounded. I have already observed that in the novel on which this play is constructed, the ministers who by the king's order accompanied the young prince to England, and carried with them a packet in which his death was concerted, were apprized of its contents: and therefore we
Enter FORTINBRAS, the English Ambassadors,and Others.
Fort. Where is this sight?
may presume that Shakspeare meant to describe their representatives, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as equally criminal; as combining with the King to deprive Hamlet of his life. His procuring their execution therefore does not with certainty appear to have been unprovoked cruelty, and might have been considered by him as necessary to his future safety; knowing, as he must have known, that they had devoted themselves to the service of the King in whatever he should command. The principle on which he acted, is ascertained by the following lines, from which also it may be inferred that the poet meant to represent Hamlet's school-fellows às privy to the plot against his life :
“There 's letters seal'd: and my two school-fellows-
“ And blow them to the moon.” Another charge is, that “he comes* to disturb the funeral of Ophelia:" but the fact is otherwise represented in the first scene of the fifth Act: for when the funeral procession appears, (which he does not seek, but finds,) he exclaims
" The queen, the courtiers: who is this they follow,
“ And with such maimed rites ?” nor does he know it to be the funeral of Ophelia, till Laertes mentions that the dead body was that of his sister.
I do not perceive that he is accountable for the madness of Ophelia. He did not mean to kill her father when concealed behind the arras, but the King; and still less did he intend to deprive her of her reason and her life: her subsequent distraction therefore can no otherwise be laid to his charge, than as an unforeseen consequence from his too ardently pursuing the object recommended to him by his father.
He appears to have been induced to leap into Ophelia's grave, not with a design to insult Laertes, but from his love to her, (which then he had no reason to conceal,) and from the bravery of her brother's grief, which excited him (not to condemn that brother, as has been stated, but) to vie with him in the expression of affection and sorrow:
“ Why, I wili fight him upon this theme,
“ Make up my sum." When Hamlet says, “ the bravery of his grief did put me inte * he comes -] The words stood thus in edit. 1778, &c.