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[Footnote 54: In the First Act (I. ii. 138) Hamlet says that his father has been dead not quite two months. In the Third Act (III. ii. 135) Ophelia says King Hamlet has been dead 'twice two months.' The events of the Third Act are separated from those of the Second by one night (II.
[Footnote 55: The only difference is that in the 'To be or not to be' soliloquy there is no reference to the idea that suicide is forbidden by 'the Everlasting.' Even this, however, seems to have been present in the original form of the speech, for the version in the First Quarto has a line about our being 'borne before an everlasting Judge.']
[Footnote 56: The present position of the 'To be or not to be' soliloquy, and of the interview with Ophelia, appears to have been due to an after-thought of Shakespeare's; for in the First Quarto they precede, instead of following, the arrival of the players, and consequently the arrangement for the play-scene. This is a notable instance of the truth that 'inspiration' is by no means confined to a poet's first conceptions.]
[Footnote 57: Cf. again the scene at Ophelia's grave, where a strong strain of aesthetic disgust is traceable in Hamlet's 'towering passion' with Laertes: 'Nay, an thou'lt mouth, I'll rant as well as thou' (V. i. 306).]
O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom:
Nero, who put to death his mother who had poisoned her husband. This passage is surely remarkable. And so are the later words (III. iv. 28):
A bloody deed! almost as bad, good mother, As kill a king, and marry with his brother.
Are we to understand that at this time he really suspected her of complicity in the murder? We must remember that the Ghost had not told him she was innocent of that.]
[Footnote 59: I am inclined to think that the note of interrogation put after 'revenged' in a late Quarto is right.]
[Footnote 60: III. iii. 1-26. The state of affairs at Court at this time, though I have not seen it noticed by critics, seems to me puzzling. It is quite clear from III. ii. 310 ff., from the passage just cited, and from IV. vii. 1-5 and 30 ff., that everyone sees in the play-scene a gross and menacing insult to the King. Yet no one shows any sign of perceiving in it also an accusation of murder. Surely that is strange. Are we perhaps meant to understand that they do perceive this, but out of subservience choose to ignore the fact? If that were Shakespeare's meaning, the actors could easily indicate it by their looks. And if it were so, any sympathy we may feel for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in their fate would be much diminished. But the mere text does not suffice to decide either this question or the question whether the two courtiers were aware of the contents of the commission they bore to England.]
[Footnote 61: This passage in Hamlet seems to have been in Heywood's mind when, in The Second Part of the Iron Age (Pearson's reprint, vol. iii., p. 423), he makes the Ghost of Agamemnon appear in order to satisfy the doubts of Orestes as to his mother's guilt. No reader could possibly think that this Ghost was meant to be an hallucination; yet Clytemnestra cannot see it. The Ghost of King Hamlet, I may add, goes further than that of Agamemnon, for he is audible, as well as visible, to the privileged person.]
[Footnote 62: I think it is clear that it is this fear which stands in the way of the obvious plan of bringing Hamlet to trial and getting him shut up or executed. It is much safer to hurry him off to his doom in England before he can say anything about the murder which he has somehow discovered. Perhaps the Queen's resistance, and probably Hamlet's great popularity with the people, are additional reasons. (It should be observed that as early as III. i. 194 we hear of the idea of 'confining' Hamlet as an alternative to sending him to England.)]
[Footnote 63: I am inferring from IV. vii., 129, 130, and the last words of the scene.]
[Footnote 64: III. iv. 172:
|For this same lord,|
I do repent: but heaven hath pleased it so, To punish me with this and this with me, That I must be their scourge and minister:
i.e. the scourge and minister of 'heaven,' which has a plural sense elsewhere also in Shakespeare.]
[Footnote 65: IV. iii. 48:
_Ham._ For England! _King._ Ay, Hamlet. _Ham._ Good.
King. So is it, if thou knew'st our purposes.
Ham. I see a cherub that sees them.]
[Footnote 66: On this passage see p. 98. Hamlet's reply to Horatio's warning sounds, no doubt, determined; but so did 'I know my course.' And is it not significant that, having given it, he abruptly changes the subject?]
[Footnote 67: P. 102.]
[Footnote 68: It should be observed also that many of Hamlet's repetitions can hardly be said to occur at moments of great emotion, like Cordelia's 'And so I am, I am,' and 'No cause, no cause.'
Of course, a habit of repetition quite as marked as Hamlet's may be found in comic persons, e.g. Justice Shallow in 2 Henry IV.]
[Footnote 69: Perhaps it is from noticing this trait that I find something characteristic too in this coincidence of phrase: 'Alas, poor ghost!' (I. v. 4), 'Alas, poor Yorick!' (V. i. 202).]
[Footnote 70: This letter, of course, was written before the time when the action of the drama begins, for we know that Ophelia, after her father's commands in I. iii., received no more letters (II. i. 109).]
[Footnote 71: 'Frailty, thy name is woman!' he had exclaimed in the first soliloquy. Cf. what he says of his mother's act (III. iv. 40):
|Such an act|
That blurs the grace and blush of modesty, Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose From the fair forehead of an innocent love And sets a blister there.]
[Footnote 72: There are signs that Hamlet was haunted by the horrible idea that he had been deceived in Ophelia as he had been in his mother; that she was shallow and artificial, and even that what had seemed simple and affectionate love might really have been something very different. The grossness of his language at the play-scene, and some lines in the Nunnery-scene, suggest this; and, considering the state of his mind, there is nothing unnatural in his suffering from such a suspicion. I do not suggest that he believed in it, and in the Nunnery-scene it is clear that his healthy perception of her innocence is in conflict with it.
He seems to have divined that Polonius suspected him of dishonourable intentions towards Ophelia; and there are also traces of the idea that Polonius had been quite ready to let his daughter run the risk as long as Hamlet was prosperous. But it is dangerous, of course, to lay stress on inferences drawn from his conversations with Polonius.]
[Footnote 73: Many readers and critics imagine that Hamlet went straight to Ophelia's room after his interview with the Ghost. But we have just seen that on the contrary he tried to visit her and was repelled, and it is absolutely certain that a long interval separates the events of I. v. and II. i. They think also, of course, that Hamlet's visit to Ophelia was the first announcement of his madness. But the text flatly contradicts that idea also. Hamlet has for some time appeared totally changed (II. ii. 1-10); the King is very uneasy at his 'transformation,' and has sent for his school-fellows in order to discover its cause. Polonius now, after Ophelia has told him of the interview, comes to announce his discovery, not of Hamlet's madness, but of its cause (II.
[Footnote 74: If this is an allusion to his own love, the adjective 'despised' is significant. But I doubt the allusion. The other calamities mentioned by Hamlet, 'the oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, the law's delay, the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes,' are not at all specially his own.]
[Footnote 75: It should be noticed that it was not apparently of long standing. See the words 'of late' in I. iii. 91, 99.]
[Footnote 76: This, I think, may be said on almost any sane view of Hamlet's love.]
[Footnote 77: Polonius says so, and it may be true.]
[Footnote 78: I have heard an actress in this part utter such a cry as is described above, but there is absolutely nothing in the text to justify her rendering. Even the exclamation 'O, ho!' found in the Quartos at IV. v. 33, but omitted in the Folios and by almost all modern editors, coming as it does after the stanza, 'He is dead and gone, lady,' evidently expresses grief, not terror.]
[Footnote 79: In the remarks above I have not attempted, of course, a complete view of the character, which has often been well described; but I cannot forbear a reference to one point which I do not remember to have seen noticed. In the Nunnery-scene Ophelia's first words pathetically betray her own feeling:
|Good my lord,|
How does your honour for this many a day?
She then offers to return Hamlet's presents. This has not been suggested to her by her father: it is her own thought. And the next lines, in which she refers to the sweet words which accompanied those gifts, and to the unkindness which has succeeded that kindness, imply a reproach. So again do those most touching little speeches:
Hamlet. ... I did love you once.
Ophelia. Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.
Hamlet. You should not have believed me ... I loved you not.
Ophelia. I was the more deceived.
Now the obvious surface fact was not that Hamlet had forsaken her, but that she had repulsed him; and here, with his usual unobtrusive subtlety, Shakespeare shows how Ophelia, even though she may have accepted from her elders the theory that her unkindness has driven Hamlet mad, knows within herself that she is forsaken, and cannot repress the timid attempt to win her lover back by showing that her own heart is unchanged.
I will add one note. There are critics who, after all the help given them in different ways by Goethe and Coleridge and Mrs. Jameson, still shake their heads over Ophelia's song, 'To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day.' Probably they are incurable, but they may be asked to consider that Shakespeare makes Desdemona, 'as chaste as ice, as pure as snow,' sing an old song containing the line,
If I court moe women, you'll couch with moe men.]
[Footnote 80: I.e. the King will kill her to make all sure.]
[Footnote 81: I do not rely so much on his own statement to Laertes (IV.
[Footnote 82: This also is quietly indicated. Hamlet spares the King, he says, because if the King is killed praying he will go to heaven. On Hamlet's departure, the King rises from his knees, and mutters:
My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.]
[Footnote 83: I am indebted to Werder in this paragraph.]
[Footnote 84: The attempt to explain this meeting as pre-arranged by Hamlet is scarcely worth mention.]
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