« ZurückWeiter »
directest contrast to Hamlet.
He is the 'pruner of his periods,' the controller of his flights of imagination, the protester against extravagances of speech. He is also opposed to him as being the man on whose composure good or bad fortune has no influence; the man so faithful to himself that he can never be false to any other man. But above all other contrasts in the play stands out that which Hamlet himself recognizes,—the one between himself and Laertes. The latter is as purely worldly in his thoughts as Hamlet is the reverse. He is the man of Parisian training. Fencing and music are his studies. He is false and treacherous, as one trained at the court of France in Shakespeare's time was likely to be; while Hamlet is most generous, and void of suspicion. In all his utterances there is no tinge of Hamlet's reflectiveness. But in spite of all this there is one quality in which he is immeasurably Hamlet's superior. This is that important one of instant energy and decision. When his father is slain, he does exactly what Hamlet longs in vain to be able to do, he 'sweeps' home from France to his revenge. Nor is any needless moment of time allowed to pass before he is bursting open the gates of the palace, with a crowd of partisans at his back who are already proclaiming him King of Denmark,a more apt one, perhaps, for those rough days, than poor Hamlet would have been."
The following remarks on Ophelia are selected from Mrs. Jameson's delineation of the character (" Characteristics of Women," Boston, 1875): "Beyond every character that Shakespeare has drawn (Hamlet alone excepted), that of Ophelia makes us forget the poet in his own creation. Whenever we bring her to mind, it is with the same exclusive sense of her real existence, without
reference to the wondrous power which called her into life. The effect (and what an effect !) is produced by means so simple, by strokes so few and so unobtrusive, that we take no thought of them. It is so purely natural and unsophisticated, yet so profound in its pathos, that, as Hazlitt observes, it takes us back to the old ballads: we forget that in its perfect artlessness it is the supreme and consummate triumph of art. . . It is the helplessness of Ophelia, arising merely from her innocence, and pictured without any indication of weakness, which melts us with such profound pity. She is so young, that neither her mind nor her person has attained maturity. She is not aware of the nature of her own feelings: they are prematurely developed in their full force before she has strength to bear them; and love and grief together rend and shatter the frail texture existence, like the burning fluid poured into a crystal vase. very little, and what she does say seems rather intended to hide than to reveal the emotions of her heart; yet in those few words we are made as perfectly acquainted with her character, and with what is passing in her mind, as if she had tnrown forth her soul with all the glowing eloquence of Juliet. . . . When her father catechises her . . . he extorts from her in short sentences, uttered with bashful reluctance, the confession of Hamlet's love for her, but not a word of her love for him. The whole scene is managed with inexpressible delicacy. It is one of those instances, common in Shakespeare, in which we are allowed to perceive what is passing in the mind of a person without any consciousness on his part. Only Ophelia herself is unaware, that, while she is admitting the extent of Hamlet's courtship, she is also betraying how deep is the impression it has made, how entire the love with which it is returned. . . . Of her subsequent madness, what can
be said ? What an affecting, what an astonishing, picture of a mind utterly, hopelessly wrecked!-past hope, past cure! There is the frenzy of excited passion; there is the madness caused by intense and continued thought; there is the delirium of fevered nerves. But Ophelia's madness is distinct from these; it is not the suspension, but the utter destruction, of the reasoning powers; it is the total imbecility which, as medical people well know, frequently follows some terrible shock to the spirits. Constance is frantic; Lear is mad; Ophelia is insane. Her sweet mind lies in fragments before us—a pitiful spectacle! Her wild, rambling fancies; her aimless, broken speeches; her quick transitions from gayety to sadness,—each equally purposeless and causeless; her snatches of old ballads, such as perhaps her nurse sung her to sleep with in her infancy, — are all so true to life that we forget to wonder, and can only weep. It belonged to Shakespeare alone so to temper such a picture that we can endure to dwell upon it.
SCENE I. Elsinore. A Platform before the Castle.
FRANCISCO at his post.
Enter to him BERNARDO.
Bernardo. Who's there?
Francisco. Nay, answer me:1 stand, and unfold yourself.
1 "Me" is here used with emphasis. It is for the sentinel on duty to challenge all comers, and demand the watchword; which here Bernardo immediately gives.
Friend to. office
Francisco. You come most carefully upon your hour.
Bernardo. 'Tis now struck twelve: get thee to bed, Francisco.
And I am sick at heart.
Bernardo. Have you had quiet guard ?
Bernardo. Well, good night.
If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
The rivals 1 of my watch, bid them make haste.
Horatio. Friends to this ground.
Francisco. Give you good night.
Who hath reliev'd you?
Not a mouse stirring.
Enter HORATIO and MARCELLUS.
And liegemen to the Dane.2
O, farewell, honest soldier:
Bernardo has my place.
Holla! Bernardo !
Give you good night.
What, is Horatio there?
A piece of him.
Bernardo. Welcome, Horatio: welcome, good Marcellus.
Marcellus. Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,3
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us:
Liegemen to the Dane," i.e., subjects of the King of Denmark. 3 Fancy; imagination.