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nought but the crums that fall from the translator's trencher.- That could scarcely latinize their neck verse if they should have neede; yet English Seneca read by candlelight yeelds many good sentences he will afford you whole Hamletts
, I should say, handfuls of tragicall speeches.” -I cannot determiņe exactly when this Epiftle was first published; but, I fancy, it will carry the original Hamlet somewhat further back than we have hitherto done: and it may be observed, that the oldest copy now extant, is faid to be “ enlarged to al: most as much again as it was.” Gabriel Harvey printed at the end of the
66 Foure Letters and certaine Sonnets, especially touching Robert Greene:" in one of which his Arcadia is mentioned. Now Nall's Epistle must have been previous to these, as Gabriel is quoted in it with applause; and the Foure Letters were the beginning of a quarrel. Nash replied, in “ Strange news of the intercepting certaine Letters, and a Convoy of Verses, as they were going privilie to vi&tual thé Low Countries, 1593." Harvey rejoined the same year in “ Pierce's Supererogation, or a new praise of the old Asse.” And Nash again, in " Have with you to Safron-Walden, or Gabriell Harvey's Hunt is up; containing a full answer to the eldest sonne of the halter-inaker, 1596."-Nah died before 1606, as appears from an old comedy called “ The Return from Parnassus."
THAT piece of Shakespear's, which appears to have moft affected English hearts, and has, perhaps, been oftenest acted of any that have come upon our stage, is almost one continued moral; a series of deep reflections drawn from one mouth, upon the sub;ect of one single accident and calamity, naturally fitted to move horror and compassion. It
may be faid of this Play, if I mistake not, that it has properly but one character, or principal part. It contains no adoration or flattery of the sex; no ranting at the gods; no blustering heroisin; nor any thing of
What curious mixture of the fierce and tender, which makes the hinge of modern tragedy, and nicely varies it between the points of love and bonour."
I F the dramas of Shakespear were to be characterised, each by the particular excellence which distinguishes it from the rest, we must allow to the tragedy of Hamlet the praise of variety. The incidents are so nunerous, that the argument of the play would make a long tale. The scenes are interchangeably diversified with inerriment and folemnity; with merriment that includes judicicus and instructive observations; and folemnity, not strained by poetical violence above the natural fentiments of man. New characters appear from time to time in continual succession, exhibiting various forms of life and particular modes of convertation. tended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth, the mournful distraction of Ophelia fills the heart with tonderness, and every personage produces the efiect intended, from the apparition that in the first act chills the blood with horror, to the fop in the last, that expoles affectation to just contempt
The conduct is perhaps not wholly secure against objections. The action is indeed for the most part in continual progression, but there are some scenes which neither forward nor retard it. Of the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears no adequate caule, for he does nothing which he inight not have done with the reputation of fanity. He plays the madman most, when he treats Ophelia with so much rudeness, which seems to be useler's and wanton cruelty.
Hamlet is, through the whole piece, rather an instrument than an agent. After he has, by the stratagem of the play, convicted the King, he makes no sitempt to punish him; and his death is at lait efiicted by an incident which Harlet had no part in producing
The catatirophe is not very h.ppily produced; the exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of pecetli y,
than a stroke of art. A scheme might easily be formed to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes with the bowl.
"The poet is accused of having shewn little regard to poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose; the revenge which he de mands is not obtained, but by the death of him that. was required to take it; and the gratification, which would arise from the deitruction of an ufurper and a a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmless, and the pious.
The rugged Pyrrhus, be, &c.] The two greatest poets of this and the last age, Mr. Dryden, in the preface Troilus and Crofida, and Mr. Pope, in his note on this place, have concurred in thinking that Shakespear produced this long paffage with design to ridicule and expole the bombaft of the play from whence it was taken ; and that Hamlet's commendation of it is purely ironical. This is become the general opinion. I think just otherwise; and that it was given with commendation to upbraid the false taste of the audience of that time, which would not suffer them to do justice to the fimplicity and fublime of this production. And I reason, firit, from the character Hamlet gives of the play, from whence the palage is taken. Secondly, from the paffage itself, And thirdly, from the effect it had on the audience.
Let us consider the character Hamlet gives of it, The play, I remember, pleased not ile million, 'was Caviare to il general; but it was (as I received it, and others, whole judgment in such matters cried in the top of mine) an cuerlient play, well digcfied in the fienes, fet dosun wirb as much modifiy as cunning. I renember, one said, there was an failt in the lines to make the matter favoury'; ncr no matter in the phrase that might indite the author of afestirn; but called it an honest method. They who Tuppese the pallage given to be ridiculed, muit
' needs suppose
fuppose this character to be purely ironical. But if so, it is the strongest irony that ever was written. It pleased not the multitude. This we must conclude to be true, however ironical the rest be. Now the reason given of the defigned ridicule is the supposed bombast. But those were the very plays, which at that time we know took with the multitude. And Fletcher wrote a kind of Rehearsal purposely to expose them. But say it is bombast, and that therefore it took not with the multitude. Hamlet presently tells us what it was that difpleased them. There was no falt in the lines to make the watter favoury ; nor no maiter in obe phrase that might indite the author of affection ; but called it an honest mer thod. Now whether a person speaks ironically or no, when he quotes others, yet common sense requires he Should quote what they say.
Now it could not be, if this play displealed because of the bombast, that those whom it displeased should give this reason for their diflike. The fame inconsistencies and absurdities abound in every other part of Hamlet's speech, fupposing it to be ironical : but take him as speaking his sentiments, the whole is of a piece, and to this purpose. The play, I remember, pleased not the multitude, and the reason was, its being wrote on the rules of the ancient drama; to which they were entire strangers. But, in my opinion, and in the opinion of those for whose judgment I have the highest esteem, it was an excellent play, cvell digested in the scenes, i.e. where the three unities were well preserved. Set down with as much modeļiy as cunning, i. e. where not only the art of compofition, but the fimplicity of nature, was carefully attended to. The characters were a faithful picture of life and manners, in which nothing was overcharged into farce. But these qualities, which gained my esteem, lost the public's, For I remember one said, There was no falt in the lines to make the matter favoury, i. e. there was not, according to the mode of that time, a fool or clown to joke, quib. ble, and talk freely. Nor no matter in the phrase that might indite the aiuhor of affection, i. e, nor none of those paslionate, pathetic love scenes, fo essential to modern tragedy. But he called it an honest method, i. e. he owned, however tasteless this method of writing, on the ancient plan,, was to our times, yet it was chaste and pure ; the distinguishing character of the Greek drama. I need only make one observation on all this; that, thus interpreted, it is the justest picture of a good tragedy, wrote on the ancient rules. And that I have rightly interpreted it, appears farther from what we find in the old quarto, An boncft method, as wholesome as feweet, and by very much more HANDSOME than FINE, i. e. it had a natural beauty, but none of the fucus of false art.
2. A second proof that this speech was given to be admired, is from the intrinsic merit of the speech itself;. which contains the description of a circumstance very happily imagined, namely, Ilium and Prian's falling together, with the effect it had on the destroyer..
The bellish Pyrrhus, &c.
The unnervcd father falls, &c.
To, -So after Pyrrhus' pause. Now this circumstance, illustrated with the fine fimilitude of the storin, is fo highly worked up, as to have well deserved a place in Virgil's second book of the Eneid, even though the work had been carried on to that perfection which the Roman poet had conceived.
3. The third proof is, from the effects which folloved on the recital. Hamlet, his best character, approves it; the player is deeply affected in repeating it; and only the foolish Polonius tired with it. We have faid enough before of Hamlet's sentiments. As for the player, he changes colour, and the tears start from his eyès. But our author was too good a judge of nature to make bombast and unnatural sentiment produce such an effect. Nature and Horace both initructed him,