HAMLET AND OPHELIA
By: South G. Preston
|The following essay was originally published in The Secret of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. South G. Preston. New York: Abbey Press, 1901.
Hamlet is a part of the book of life; a mysterious preparatory chapter of universal human experience. His college training at Wittenberg has not prepared him for life. At his "commencement" he enters the University of Life, and begins the hard struggle with the curricula of personal experience. Experience is the great teacher of Life: to touch the world at many points; to come into relation with many kinds of men; to think, to feel, and to act on a generous scale--these are prime opportunities for growth. Shakespeare had not only a deep knowledge of man, but knowledge of men as well.
Coleridge thought that the character of Hamlet could be traced to his deep and accurate science in mental philosophy, and that in order to understand him it was essential to reflect on the constitution of the human mind.
One must not, however, become the victim of mere meditation, and lost the natural power of action. "The arts and sciences," says Winslow, "alone have never yet civilized a nation, for they are the products, and not the causes, of national superiority. Moreover, they concern the intellect rather than the morals. Unhappily it must be owned that piety, virtue, and self-control are not the constant attendants of learning or splendid genius. Something more potent is required to be put in force for the purpose of regulating the conduct of a responsible being with a free will, like man, safely across the stormy sea of life, from birth to death. The moral sciences alone touch the relationships of life. The intellectual is manifestly subordinate to the spiritual. The spiritual prepares the way for the intellectual, as the morning foreruns the day. Without the supernatural gifts of faith, the mind is nothing but a hopeless mass of scientific darkness and moral impurity, in continual conflict with itself."
The Wittenberg College only instructed its scholars; it did not--could not educate them. Hamlet was well instructed; he was poorly educated; for nothing is more dangerous than knowledge to the mind without the capacity to make a proper use of it. "An education that merely instructs will encourage crime," continues Winslow. "One which co-ordinates the faculties of the mind, which gives exercise to reason and judgment, at the same time that it represses without ignoring the instinctive part of man's nature, will elevate his position in the scale of the creation, and turn those faculties to the services of his fellow creatures which otherwise would be employed to their destruction." If the emotions be constantly trampled down, and invariably subordinated to reason, they will in time assert their claims, and break forth in insanity or crime; if they be constantly indulged, the result will probably be the same. "Teach a man his duty to God, as well as his obligations to his fellow men; lead him to believe that his life is not his own; that disappointment and misery are the penalty of Adam's transgression, and one from which there is no hope of escaping; and, above all, inculcate a resignation to the decrees of Divine Providence. When life becomes a burden, when the mind is sinking under the weight of accumulated misfortune and no gleam of hope penetrates through the vista of futurity to gladden the heart, the intellect says: 'Commit suicide, and escape from a world of wretchedness and woe.' The moral principle says: 'Live; it is your duty to bear with resignation the afflictions that overwhelm you; let the moral influence of your example be reflected in the characters of those by whom you are surrounded.'"
Hamlet charges his habit of delay to:
- Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
- Of thinking too precisely on the event.
The "craven scruple"--the conscience which renders him a coward--is the cause; the oblivion is the effect. Inaction affords relief to doubt, and Hamlet desires to be sure he is right before he acts; whenever events convince, he is ready and willing to act.
The subject of the play of Hamlet is the burden of the mystery of life, and therefore the character of Hamlet is purposely a mystery. Life must be lived to be explained.
Goethe thought that Shakespeare meant to represent the effects of a great action laid upon a soul unfit for the performance of it. It is true that action in the form of deliberate revenge is to Hamlet a questionable duty, peculiarly antipathetic to his nature. But the great author of Wilhelm Meister looks too precisely on this view and fails to realize that, with Hamlet--
- The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,
- That ever I was born to set it right.
He recognizes that this world is one of moral confusion and obscurity: especially the time in which he is called "to set it right."
He is in love with Ophelia, and the two lovers are in harmony with one another and with the purest and highest impulses of their own hearts. They are a pair of "star-crossed lovers," like Romeo and Juliet, who fell in an unequal strife, from the circumstances of the outer world. Hamlet struggles betwixt love and duty; his malady is as deep-seated in his sensibilities and in his heart as it is in his brain. His intellect, however, together with his deep and abiding sense of the moral qualities of things, distinguishes him from Romeo.
Hamlet is quite different at the end of his short life from what he was at the beginning of his real life--which began at the opening of the play. He is now in years of full manhood, a student of philosophies, an amateur in art, a ponderer on the things of life and death, cultured in everything except the culture of active life. He is Shakespeare's ideal man; the beloved son of his genius, introduced to the world through the baptism of a great suffering--the death of his father--and driven into the wilderness of life's temptations by the supernatural voice from the spirit world, with its revelation of horror, and command of revenge for the dishonored majesty of Denmark.
When Horatio, a fellow student and friend of Hamlet, tells him of the apparition of his father, the strong will of the hero speaks:
- If it assume my noble father's presence,
- I'll speak to it, though hell itself should gape
- And bid me hold my peace.
He keeps his resolution, for against the vehement protestations of his friends he not only speaks to the Ghost, but follows it:
- My fate cries out,
- And makes each petty artery in this body
- As hardy as the Nemean lion's nerve.
- Still am I called. Unhand me, gentlemen!
- By heaven I'll make a ghost of him that let's me!
- I say away!--Go on; I'll follow thee.
The Ghost, who has a message for Hamlet only, leads him to a secluded place and reveals the startling truth of the unnatural alliance and murder, coupled with the command of revenge, with these restrictions:
- But however thou pursuest this act,
- Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
- Against thy mother aught.
The supernatural will and command strengthens the strong will of Hamlet, and he swears to perform the commandment for revenge and to forget all things else:
- Remember thee!
- Yea from the table of my memory
- I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,
- All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,
- That youth and observation copied there;
- And thy commandment all alone shall live
- Within the book and volume of my brain,
- Unmixed with baser matter.
Horatio and Marcellus who have followed Hamlet in fear, endeavor to get the revelation of the Ghost, but Hamlet, who is strangely wrought upon by the interview, desires solitude and time in order to think out the method to pursue in fulfilling the command of the Ghost: how he can accomplish the mandate, without "contriving aught" against his mother, and without "tainting his mind." He feels his helplessness and need of prayer, and that he must be about his father's business, which to him has now become a duty--a duty that contends against desire. To the entreaty of his friends for the secret of the Ghost, he says:
- And so, without more circumstances at all,
- I hold it fit that we shake hands and part;
- You, as your business and desire shall point you,
- For every man has business and desire,
- Such as it is; and for mine own poor part,
- Look you, I'll go pray.
He feels that he cannot go about his "business and desire," except through the way of prayer. Hamlet has met before this, another spirit--for to him Ophelia has not "always lived upon the earth." He is a prince, an uncrowned king; she his other self, an uncrowned queen; but from their first meeting, these two have changed eyes.
- He is the half part of a blessed man,
- Left to be finished by such as she;
- And she a fair divided excellence
- Whose fulness of perfection lies in him.
We do not see Hamlet as a lover, nor as Ophelia first beheld him; for the days when he importuned her with love were before the opening of the drama, before his father's spirit revisited the earth; but we behold him at once in a sea of trouble, of perplexities, of agonies, of terrors. Without remorse he endures all its horrors; without guilt he endures all its shame. He hates the crime he is called upon to revenge; revenge is abhorrent to his nature, and he is consequently at strife with himself; the supernatural visitation has perturbed his soul to its inmost depths; all things else, all interests, all hopes, all affections, appear as futile, when the majestic shadow comes lamenting from its place of torment "to shake him with thoughts beyond the reaches of his soul!"
His love for Ophelia, so utterly hopeless now; the gulf of circumstances so wide and deep between them. He cannot link his terrible destiny with hers; his great love forbids it: he cannot reveal to her--young, gentle, and innocent as she is--the terrific influences which have changed the whole current of his life and purposes. In his distraction he overacts the painful part to which he had tasked himself; he is like that judge of the Areopagus who, being occupied with graver matters, flung from him the little bird which had sought refuge in his bosom, and with such angry violence that unwittingly he killed it.
Laertes, the brother of Ophelia, reveals his character by his warning judgment against Hamlet:
- For Hamlet and the trifling of his favour,
- Hold it a fashion and a toy in blood,
- A violet in the youth of primy nature,
- Forward, not permanent; sweet, not lasting;
- The perfume and suppliance of a minute;
- No more.
She replies in a tone of surprise:
- OPHELIA: No more, but so?
- LAERTES: Think it no more....
- Perhaps he loves you now,
- And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch
- The virtue of his will; but you must fear,
- His greatness weighed, his will is not his own,
- For he himself is subject to his birth.
Immediately following this warning, the commands of Polonius are received by Ophelia. Polonius, the fault-finder in age--too often the fault-doer in youth and manhood--with his worldly-wise maxims substantially forbids her "from this time forth," to receive or even talk with "the Lord Hamlet."
OPHELIA: I shall obey, my lord.
Two months have passed--years almost to Hamlet and Ophelia. Hamlet, to all save Horatio, is mad--insane. There is, however, a "method in his madness." He has, as the only fitting thing, concluded to veil himself in mystery, waiting, hoping, suffering, till his hour comes for action.
Before the interview with the Ghost, he was filled with suspicion, shame, and grief, with "vailed lids," longing to commune with his father, and ascertain in advance the secrets behind the scenery of nature and the grave. His mother thus entreats him:
- Do not forever with thy vailed lids
- Seek for thy noble father in the dust.
Poor Hamlet, he hovered about the tomb of his father, like his father's Ghost hovered about the Royal Castle of Elsinore. And in his loneliness, Uncertainty, grief, and despair, he cries out in agonizing soliloquy:
- O that this too, too solid flesh would melt,
- Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
- Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
- His cannon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!
- How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
- Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Referring to his mother, he cries:
Frailty, thy name is woman!
And expressing his fears and agony, concludes:
- It is not, nor it can not come to good;
- But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.
Hamlet could scarcely bear the presence of his Uncle Claudius, and since the revelation of the Ghost confirming his suspicions as felt by his "prophetic soul," he resolves to appear more strange, veiling his thoughts, purposes, and condition from all save Horatio: for how else could he now demean himself in the presence of the King and Queen, and besides, it might prove advantageous to him, and seemed to have the sanction of the Ghost; for he says:
- There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
- Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
- But come;
- Here, as before, never, so help you Mercy,
- How strange or odd soe'er I bear myself,
- And perchance hereafter shall think meet
- To put an antic disposition on,
- That you, at such time seeing me, never shall,
- With arms encumber'd thus, or this head shake,
- Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase,
- As "Well, well, we know," or "We could, and if we would;"
- Or "If we list to speak," or "There be an if they might,"
- Or such ambiguous giving-out, to note
- That you know aught of me: this not to do,
- So Grace and Mercy at your most need help you.
- GHOST: (Beneath) Swear.
And poor Ophelia! How she has struggled with love and duty; the command of her father and her fear of her lover's insanity, and her love for him, that longs to hear his voice, share his sufferings, but cannot. Conscious of Hamlet's loneliness, by her own sympathetic feeling, and knowing that in the lobby he walks, "for hours together," hoping as she believes to see her, his "rose of May," who has received his letters and his "solicitings, as they fell out by time, by means, and place," but refused to answer them, denying her lover interviews, or even explanations of her changed behavior. Hamlet realizes that it is because of her father's influence, suggested it may be by Claudius; but his deepest sorrow results from the belief that Ophelia doubts his love, with to the sensitive nature of the Prince is more than an imputation of his honor; and this from her is almost unbearable, and he closes one of his letters in his manner of extemporizing poetry as follows:
- Doubt that the stars are fire;
- Doubt that the sun doth move;
- Doubt truth to be a liar;
- But never doubt I love.
- O dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers.
- I have not art to reckon my groans; but that
- I love thee best, O most best, believe it. Adieu.
- Thine evermore, most dear lady, whilst this machine is to him,
This was evidently Hamlet's last letter to Ophelia, and in it he in despair takes leave of her in the word "Adieu." Days pass, and no response, and at last, in desperation, he forces himself into her presence.
- Lord Hamlet--with his doublet all unbrac'd;
- No hat upon his head; his stockings foul'd,
- Ungarter'd, and down-gyved to his ankle;
- Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other;
- And with a look so piteous in purport
- As if he had been loosed out of hell
- To speak of horrors--he comes before me.
- POLONIUS: Mad for thy love.
- OPHELIA: My lord, I do not know;
- But truly I do fear it.
- POLONIUS: What said he?
- OPHELIA: He took me by the wrist and held me hard;
- Then goes he to the length of all his arm,
- And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow,
- He falls to such perusal of my face
- As he would draw it. Long stay'd he so;
- At last, a little shaking of my arm,
- And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
- He rais'd a sigh so piteous and profound
- As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
- And end his being: that done, he let me go;
- And, with his head over his shoulder turn'd,
- He seem'd to find his way without his eyes;
- For out o' doors he went without their help,
- And, to the last, bended their light on me.
What a picture of the struggle of Hamlet's love as it sought to change the purpose of his soul, in the execution of his father's command. His knees knocking each other! Is this the same Hamlet who firmly followed the beckoning Ghost? What a change! "There is more than the love of forty thousand brothers in that hand grasp of the wrist, in that long gaze at arm's length, in that force that might but will not draw her nearer. And never a word from this king of words! His first great silence; the second is his death."
He leaves her, as she had left him, without a word of explanation. A father's commands, enforced by fears and suspicions, are the cause of that action of Hamlet and Ophelia, each toward the other.
Shakespeare does not attempt to dramatize the scene in which Hamlet gazes with hypnotic glare into the face of the pure Ophelia. Only those who have partially experienced the malady of these two lovers could possibly understand the description, even if it were possible to translate the heart, and give sighs, tones, and looks expression in words. What would Shakespeare's description be to "the million" but "words, words, words?" And so, he reports in the impassioned speech of Ophelia to her father, in explanation of her "affrighted looks." What a struggle in the silent gaze of these two lovers, as they looked long into each other's eyes, across the deep wide gulf of outward circumstances that separated them, hopelessly, so far as this world was concerned. Each thinks the other to blame: Ophelia doubting Hamlet's love and believing him insane; Hamlet, because of the Ghost's revelations, doubting womankind, and fearing the atmosphere in which Ophelia lives has contaminated "the rose of May." Ophelia's attitude toward Hamlet is just as inexplicable to him, as his actions are inexplicable toward Ophelia.
The struggle of the strong, subtle power of silent looks is most suggestive. There is the revelation of purpose, power, and character in a look. There are glances shot from human eyes that trouble the beholder! Guilt and dissimulation can not bear the lingering, inquiring gaze of innocence and purity. And what a power is there in a look when grief turns to anger; when "despised love" itself becomes wrath!
What marshalled forces struggle in life's conflicts, revealing themselves on the battle ground of the human countenance--that weird "changeful symbol which God has hung in front of the unseen spirit." It is possible that Shakespeare intended to give a sequel to Hamlet, following the fortunes of the chief characters across the borderland of this world; but if he could not describe the meeting of these two spirits in the struggle for supremacy in this silent battle of love, agony, misunderstanding, and despair, how could he attempt a description of their meeting in that "undiscovered country" beyond the grave? As it is, we are left to imagine the struggle of inner glory as it transfigured the faces of the two lovers in their unconscious conflict.
Dante says of Beatrice, as he saw her in the Paradiso, that--
- She smiled so joyously,
- That God seemed in her countenance to rejoice.
And his philosophy accounts for the external glory as the expression of an internal spiritual effulgence. It is the angel face in flesh and blood rarely, yet at times met by those who have eyes to see. The radiance in Ophelia's face that finally overawed Hamlet, cannot be counterfeited. It was superior to æsthetic or intellectual luminosity; there was not earthly look in it--all the higher faculties led by conscience, harmoniously blended in the composite look, that shines through the beautiful form of her heaven-lighted face.
No wonder that the "look so piteous in purport," of Hamlet, quailed before the look of injured innocence, conscious purity, and wounded love of Ophelia. No wonder her gaze transfixed at the distance of "the length of all his arm," silently with such "perusal" of her "face as he would draw it." No wonder "he raised a sigh so piteous and profound as it did seem to shatter all his bulk and end his being." No wonder he loosed his grasp,
- And with his head over his shoulder turn'd,
- He seem'd to find his way without his eyes;
- For out o' doors he went without their helps,
- And, to the last, bended their light on me.
What mysterious somnambulistic power; but the light in the face of Ophelia outshone and vanquished the light in the face of Hamlet the Dane.
The mind of Hamlet after the silent struggle with Ophelia, when he in a state of somnambulism entered her apartment unannounced, cannot better be described than he does in his famous soliloquy. The King who fears his "turbulent and dangerous lunacy," consents to the plan of Polonius, whereby Hamlet is to meet Ophelia in order that the King and Polonius "may of their encounter frankly judge, and gather by him as he is behaved, if 't be the afflictions of his love or no that thus he suffers." Ophelia, at the suggestion of her father, pretends to be reading a book, while the King and Polonius are hid from view, but in hearing. Hamlet, oblivious of the presence of any one, soliloquizes:
- To be or not to be--that is the question:
- Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
- The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
- Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
- And by opposing end them? To die--to sleep--
- No more; and by a sleep to say we end
- The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks,
- That flesh is heir to--'tis a consummation
- Devoutly to be wished. To die--to sleep--
- To sleep? Perchance to dream! ay, there's the rub:
- For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
- When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
- Must give us pause: there's the respect
- That makes calamity of so long life;
- For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
- The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
- The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
- The insolence of office, and the spurns
- That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
- When he himself might his quietus make
- With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear
- To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
- But that the dread of something after death,
- The undiscover'd country from whose bourne
- No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
- And makes us rather bear those ills we have
- Than fly to others that we know not of?
- Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
- And thus the native hue of resolution
- Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
- And enterprises of great pith and moment,
- With this regard, their currents turn awry,
- And lose the name of action.--Soft you now!
- The fair Ophelia!--Nymph, in thy orisons
- Be all my sins remember'd.
- OPHELIA: Good, my lord,
- How does your honor for this many a day?
- HAMLET: I humbly thank you; well, well, well.
- OPHELIA: My lord, I have remembrances of yours
- That I have longed to redeliver;
- I pray you now receive them.
- HAMLET: NO, not I;
- I never gave you aught.
- OPHELIA: My honour'd lord, I know right well you did;
- And with them words of so sweet breath compos'd
- 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.
- There, my lord.
- 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 to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness: this was sometimes a paradox, but now the time gives it proof. 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 innoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it: I loved you not.
- OPHELIA: I was the more deceived.
Hamlet believes that Ophelia has been contaminated by the arts of Claudius, and that she is even now his willing agent; and so in the subsequent conversation with her, he warns her to fly from the contamination of this world--not by suicide, but to a nunnery.
- Go thy way to a nunnery. Where's your father?
- OPHELIA: At home, my lord.
Hamlet does not believe that Polonius is at home; he has a suspicion that the King and his lord chamberlain are in hearing, and so he takes leave of Ophelia in words intended for the ears of the King:
- I say, we will have no more marriages: those that are married already, all but one, shall live; the rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery go!
- OPHELIA: O what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!
- The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword;
- The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
- The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
- The observ'd of all observers, quite, quite down
- And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
- That suck'd the honey of his music vows,
- Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
- Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
- That unmatch'd form and feature of blown youth
- Blasted with ecstasy: O, woe is me,
- To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!
The King and Polonius come from their hiding place, with somewhat different views of Hamlet.
- KING: Love! his affections do not that way tend;
- Nor what he spake, though it lacked form a little,
- Was not like madness.
Polonius still thinks--
- The origin and commencement of his grief
- Sprung from neglected love.
The King concludes to send Hamlet to England, and so informs Polonius, in the presence of Ophelia. Hamlet overhears the plan of the King.
"Ophelia believes Hamlet crazed; she is repulsed, she is forsaken, she is outraged, when she had bestowed her young heart with all its hopes and wishes; her father is slain by the hand of her lover, as it is supposed, in a paroxysm of insanity: she is entangled inextricably in a web of horror which she cannot even comprehend, and the result seems inevitable."
"Of her subsequent madness," continues Mrs. Jameson, "what can be said? What an affecting--what an astonished 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 the 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:
- Thoughts and afflictions, passion, hell itself,
- She turns to favour and to prettiness.
The reality of the supernatural is posited and expressed in the form of the appearance of the Ghost. The spirit of Hamlet's father commands him. The supernatural command appears as the law of duty to the son. His nature struggles with the imposed command from the other world. The struggle is an inner struggle; betwixt love and law. Hamlet loves Ophelia; and there are other difficulties in the way that cause him to hesitate. He is not at first sure that the Ghost is his father's; it may be the devil:
- The spirit that I have seen
- May be the devil; and the devil hath power
- To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
- Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
- As he is very potent with such spirits,
- Abuses me to damn me.
But, admitting the reality of the Ghost and its commands, his nature shrinks from taking life, much less human life. His conscience makes a coward of him. At times he thinks he is the heaven appointed avenger; then he doubts, postpones, waits for circumstances to decide, or at least, put him in a position that he must decide.
Every human life, real or ideal, results from three factors: first, a nature originally determined to the individual; secondly, something freely chosen; and thirdly, something which comes from circumstances. And Shakespeare in Hamlet, desiring to represent in the character the inner struggles of Humanity, the apotheosis of the human conflict in life, as well as life itself, must present it in the form of a person. He gives Hamlet a nature "originally determined;" places him in such circumstances that he is called upon to act, and freely choose a certain course of action.
The problems to be solved in the study of human life and character are three: "Given the character of a man and the conditions of life around him, what will be his career? Or, given his character and career, of what kind were his surroundings? Character, career, circumstances; the relation of these three factors to each other is severely logical. From them is deduced all genuine history. Character is the chief element; for it is both a result of influences and a cause of results.
"In Hamlet, the career and circumstances are plainly given; but the character of the Prince has only been dimly conceived by interpreters of the play. Phases and moods have been unduly emphasized, and a part magnified into the whole. The play reveals the cautious, hesitating element of life, that vacillates from Pessimism to Optimism; that postpones action until the capacity for action is weakened, and the power of faith itself atrophied.
"Hamlet is a player, an actor; life is his stage and he plays many parts, illustrating moods and the changes in his character--for the character of Hamlet is changing and being moulded during the progress of the play. He only appears insane; a "method in his madness" is surely recognized, but as a player he is perfect: the actions of an insane person and the characterization of insanity upon the stage would to the beholder appear the same.
"Hamlet manifests a variety of mental states; he is Shakespeare's mouth, speech--modulated in the mental agitation of the hero, in the exhibition of typical mental and moral struggles. He is not a person, but humanity personated; the mental and moral struggles, the vehicles of the thought--Shakespeare's view and philosophy of life. It is the conflict between the human will and passions; the spiritual struggle of every life.
"Jealousy controls Othello; ambition, Macbeth; love, Romeo--in each case the will is overpowered by the passion: in Hamlet, every passion opposes the will; but the will is reinforced by the imposed will of the supernatural world, uttered in the form and voice of his father's spirit, and the resultant action is held within the sphere of the conflicting powers. The lesson is of great importance--that revelation and command from the spirit world that is opposed by the inner revelation of the human spirit, in its highest faculties, should not be obeyed.
"Life here is not to be explained, for in Hamlet "the way of life" is not revealed. The other world, or rather the time and condition for the solution of life, is not here. The Gospels are the sequel to Hamlet; or rather Hamlet is Shakespeare's plea for the necessity of the Gospel of Revelation, that solves the mysteries of Life, by the revelation and life of Him who was obedient to the Will of the Father, tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin, without "contriving aught" against any one, or "tainting his mind."
The play of Hamlet is a confession of the failure of philosophy in dealing with the mystery of life. Man is a composite of passions, faculties, and will. He is called upon to assert inner dominion, to rule himself, by the imposed command of the supernatural. What a tragedy is life, when spent in contemplation! And what a heavy burden life becomes when a profound sorrow has robbed it of all charm!
And the life of suppression--what a tragedy: and what will be the character of the suppressed life, when it at last expresses itself?