Imatges de pÓgina

of deep and anxious affection, whose first personal desire must have been to ascertain the present feelings of a man who had been her lover. But there is nothing in the text or stage directions that convicts Ophelia of actual complicity. Her feeling was probably somewhat vague and confused, especially as she would not be taken more into confidence than was necessary. Much that was said in the preceding interview between the Queen, the King, and Polonius might have been spoken apart from Ophelia, the room in the castle being probably a large one, in which a knot of talkers might not be overheard by a preoccupied person. When suggestions of this sort are condemned as over-refined, it is, I think, too often forgotten that it must be settled between stage managers and players in every case how the latter are to dispose themselves when on the stage; that Shakspeare himself must have very much affected the complexion of his plays by his personal directions; that the most suggestive, and therefore most valuable, of these have been lost; and that in reproducing old plays, in which there is much scope and even great necessity for subtle indications of this kind, nothing can be too refined which intelligibly conveys to an audience a rational idea of each individuality and a consistent theory of the whole.


That Ophelia burns with a desire to meet Hamlet, and that her thoughts are full of the meeting she expects, we can well believe. would suggest as the natural and desirable course of things, in order to limit in the most probable manner Ophelia's share in the transaction, that after Polonius says to her Walk you here,' his words, 'Gracious, so please you we will bestow ourselves,' should be spoken to the King aside. If this be so accepted, there is no other evidence that Ophelia was fully possessed of the nature of the plot, though she knew that the interview with Hamlet was devised. The words addressed by the King to the Queen previously, in explanation of this plan—

Her father and myself (lawful espials)

Will so bestow ourselves, that, seeing, unseen,
may of their encounter frankly judge-

do not sound as if intended to be heard by Ophelia, and suggest that it was part of the project to observe both the lovers unawares. Note, also, how unlikely it is that Polonius, after directing his daughter to colour her loneliness by reading a book of devotion (perhaps hanging from her girdle), would utter in her hearing the cynical words which follow :

We are oft to blame in this—
'Tis too much proved--that with devotion's visage
And pious action we do sugar o'er

The devil himself.

When we consider the poignant aside' of the King thereupon

O, 'tis too true.
How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience !--

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nothing can be more natural than to suppose that Polonius has turned to him from Ophelia to utter his characteristic scrap of morality. Hamlet's first address to Ophelia, Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remembered!' implies that he knows what she is reading, and it is a pretty idea (suggested, I believe, by Mr. F. A. Marshall in his beautiful Study of Hamlet) that she may probably be at a prie-dieu when he catches sight of her, having, in greater seriousness than had been expected, turned her mind to prayer— praying, not merely reading, and praying not as a mere colour for loneliness, but with that sincerity which, in a maiden placed as she was, would far exceed the cold instructions of her father which prompted to action her anxiety for Hamlet's restoration to his former self.

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There is nothing venturesome in the supposition that remembrances of Ophelia have mingled with the more tragical matter of Hamlet's thoughts before he meets her. He has mentioned in his soliloquy the pangs of despised love' among the things which make death almost preferable to life; and although it is possible to take these as mere general words, it is difficult to suppose that he could have uttered them without tender thoughts of the poor girl to whom he has been compelled to appear heartless, without the power to explain the cause. Hamlet knows how deeply she must have felt this, and his sense of her pain is now revived by the flood of memories which pours upon him when he finds himself in her presence. He cannot escape. He cannot again play the madman. He stands before her the forlorn and weary, the sad and loving prince. In mere courtesy he must address her, but it is not in mere courtesy that his words are conceived. In their very accent, as in their very spirit, there is a plaintive reminiscence of the tender past.

How eagerly must poor Ophelia drink in the sweet sounds, and for a moment dream that her bright sun will shine on her again! The pangs of despised love' will give place to a feeling of the pity of it, the pity of it,' as she reads the pale face of her lost lover, gazes into his sleepless eyes, notes the deep-shaded hollows of his cheeks, and wonders at the mystery of pain which, in a few short months of unexplained and seemingly capricious separation, has ploughed furrows on his brow. Poor Ophelia? Nay, poor Prince! Thy golden lamp of day' is dimmed indeed.

Her response to Hamlet's first words is full of tender solicitude, and yet is quite within the limits of maidenly reserve and inferior rank: How does your honour for this many a day?' What must be the effect of this all but mute appeal upon Hamlet? The voice of Ophelia recalls the past. He shrinks from the revival of the influence its tender tones once had upon him. No doubt the words of his vow recur to his mind. He is pledged from his memory to wipe away all trivial fond records.' His Well, well, well' is a nervous, hurried reply, with a quick glance around as if for exit or


relief. But there is none. The hour he would most have avoided has come. His choking words uttered, we may suppose him hurrying from the scene, when Ophelia's next words arrest him and compel his attention. This time it is not in appeal for compassion that she speaks. It is with maidenly dignity in the simple act of returning presents which in times past were tokens of her lover's devotion- remembrances' that she had 'longed long to redeliver.' In the imbecility of helplessness, rather than with any resort to his previously assumed manner, he replies, 'No, not I; I never gave you aught.' And then follows Ophelia's most beautiful and heartrending answer:

My honoured lord, you know right well you did;
And with them words of so sweet breath composed,
As made the things more rich: their perfume lost,
Take these again; for to the noble mind,

Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.


Under any circumstances such words must have wrung the very heartstrings of such a nature as Hamlet's. There, my lord '--she presses the casket into his hands. He cannot but take it, and he can speak no word of solace to her. She is no puppet of a wooden tragedy, remember-no faint gauzy figure in the background of a stilted classic play. She is the idol of this young man's heart-a living, loving, pleading woman-fair, pure, and fascinating, with all the most thrilling memories of her lover's life trembling at her lightest breath. But he knows she is lost to him for ever. He knows, too, that he must appear to her, from the very contradictions of his case, a mere heartless trifler. It is at this point that the scene takes its sudden and violent transition. The next words are 'Ha! ha! are you honest?' May we not form a rational explanation of the swiftness with which this exclamation was conceived?

In all Hamlet's assumptions of mental wandering he is greatly aided by the excitability of his temperament. His emotions are always ready to carry him away, and his wild imaginings easily lend themselves to the maddest disguises of speech. A flash of volition may often be the exponent of a chain of thought, and perhaps the action of Hamlet's mind was somewhat after this manner: He feels the woe of Ophelia and his own. He writhes under the stigma of heartlessness which he cannot but incur. How remove it? How wipe away the stain? It is impossible. It is impossible. Cursed then be the cause. His whole nature surges up against it-the incestuousness of this King; the havoc of illicit passion, which has killed his noble father, wrecked his fairest hopes, stolen from him his mother's love-nay, robbed him even of the maternal ideal which remains to many a man in unblemished purity and even sweetness long after a breach has taken place between his mother and himself. His (Hamlet's) mother was once fair and honest, honest as Ophelia now. Is

Impossible to think otherwise.

But it were a

Ophelia honest? mad quip to ask her, and let the after dialogue take its own course. Take what course it will, it must dwell on the one subject which will harden Hamlet's heart, and give rigour to his nature. Thus comes the paradox :

Hamlet. Ha, ha! are you honest ?
Ophelia. My lord!

Hamlet. Are you fair?

Ophelia. What means your lordship?

Hamlet. That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty.

Ophelia. Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty?

Hamlet. Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is, than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness: this was some time a paradox, but now the time gives it proof.

Did it occur to listening old Polonius, with the statesman's head, of which he was so proud, that this, and not my daughter,' was the idea on which Hamlet was harping? His knowledge was probably not sufficient, but the wily Claudius saw it-note his first speech after the interview-and the course of Hamlet's thought is clear enough to those who are in the King's secret. Hamlet's mother's beauty had been her snare, had tempted her adulterous lover. His mother's honesty had fallen a victim to her beauty. Let beauty and honesty therefore-here was the stroke of mad exaggeration-have no discourse.

Hamlet. I did love you once.

Ophelia. Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.

Hamlet. You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock, but we shall relish of it.

The thought underlying this is one of almost peevish aggravation of the root-grievance cankering in the speaker's mind: I am nothing but vicious. You should not have believed me. My old stockthat is, the vice I had from my mother-would so contaminate all that was honest in my nature, or all the good I might have got through my intercourse with you would be so polluted by the overpowering bad impulses in me, that you had better not have known me-infinitely better not have loved me.' And then with a wild 'bolt,' as it were, he utters the words that may most sharply end all—


I loved you not.' This is the surgeon's knife for such complaints, and many a man has used it coolly and callously. But such men were not Hamlets. He uses it more in frenzy than in judgment, in an agony of pain, amid a thousand fond remembrances, but dominated by the one conviction that he must break with Ophelia, cost what it may. His instincts were accurate, though his temperament was not calculating, and the impetus of necessity drove him, in that moment of miserable stress, to use words which could not have been

more ruthlessly and effectually chosen by the most cold-blooded of deceivers.

There is nothing more pitiable, tender, or forlorn, in the whole range of the drama, than Ophelia's reply: 'I was the more deceived.' These are her last voluntary words, except her ejaculations of prayer that Heaven may help and restore her lover; but these do not come till further wild and whirling words have convinced her that it is with a madman she is talking. For the moment it is enough that she is abandoned, and the past repudiated. Her heart is wrecked. She incoherently answers the one question Hamlet puts to her'Where's your father?'-and gazes and listens in frozen horror to the tirades which he has now worked himself up to deliver.


But his words are not devoid of sequence, nor is their harshness untouched with sympathy. Get thee to a nunnery.' Where else, but in such a sanctuary, should so pure a being be sheltered? Where else could Ophelia so well escape the contamination on which her lover's mind was still running? The next lines, violent, selfaccusing, cynical, almost gross in their libel of humanity, are probably uttered in desperate and yet restrained anxiety to snatch at and throw to the heart-pierced maiden some strange, morbid consolation, but without giving her any faint shadow of the one solace which he so well knows would be all-sufficing. It is neither necessary nor possible to suppose that all this was deliberately thought out by Hamlet. At such moments as he was passing through, the high pressure of a forcible mind carries it over the difficulties in its course, and as truly so when the leaps and bounds seem without system as when the progress is more regular. But, for any purpose of comfort, how utterly is this without effect! Mute is Ophelia, and after his burst of self-condemning, man-condemning fury, her lover is mute also.

Let us now pause and imagine them thus together, when suddenly Hamlet remembers-there is no need for him to have any reminder the hidden presence of the King. He sharply asks Ophelia 'Where's your father?' How shall we interpret her reply?

Her words are "At home, my lord.' How comes she to say this? If she had known her father and the King were behind the arras, she might still have made the same reply, so wrapt in her thoughts that all recollection of the King's and Polonius's presence might have left her: in short, the words might have been spoken in mere vacancy. If she did not know the King and her father were watching, as I have argued she did not, of course the words were simple sincerity and truth; or, taken by surprise by the question, and feeling herself to be an unwilling instrument in something that was going on, while, though her own motive was pure, she was at a loss how to explain it, she may have given a reply which she knew to be false in the desire to clear herself of complicity in what Hamlet would certainly think

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