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that dark fierce flood of boiling passion, polluting even his imagination--compose a character entirely original ; most difficult to delineate, but perfectly delineated.
Hamlet might seem to be the intellectual offspring of Shakspeare's love. He alone, of all his offspring, has Shakspeare's own intellect. But he has given him a moral nature that makes his character individual. Princely, gentle, and loving; full of natural gladness, but having a depth of sensibility which is no sooner touched by the harsh events of life than it is jarred, and the mind for ever overcome with melancholy. For intellect and sensibility blended throughout, and commensurate, and both ideally exalted and pure, are not able to pass through the calamity and trial of life: unless they are guarded by some angel from its shock, they perish in it, or undergo a worse change. The play is a singular example of a piece of great length, resting its interest upon the delineation of one character; for Hamlet, his discourses, and the changes of his mind, are all the play. The other persons, even his father's ghost, are important through him ; and in himself, it is the
m There is great truth and no little acumen in this remark; for it may, without fear of contradiction, be asserted that the character of Hamlet is that of a man of very extraordinary and exalted genius, and the only instance, perhaps, on the stage of such a delineation, and of the whole interest of a play turning on the construction and aberrations of the mind of one individual.
variation of his mind, and not the varying events of his life, that affords the interest. In the representation, his celebrated soliloquy is perhaps the part of the play that is most expected, even by the common audience. His interview with his mother, of which the interest is produced entirely from his mind--for about her we care nothing-is in like manner remarkable by the sympathy it excites in those, for whom the most intellectual of Shakspeare's works would scarcely seem to have been written. This play is perhaps superior to any other in existence for unity in the delineation of character.
We have yet to speak of the most pathetic of the plays of Shakspeare-Lear. A story unnatural and irrational in its foundation, but at the same time a natural favourite of tradition, has become, in the hands of Shakspeare, a tragedy of surpassing grandeur and interest. He has seized upon that germ of interest which had already made the story a favourite of popular tradition, and unfolded it into a work for the passionate sympathy of all young, old, rich and
learned and illiterate, virtuous and depraved. The majestic form of the kingly-hearted old man—the reverend head of the broken-hearted father—"a head so old and white as this”—the royalty from which he is deposed, but of which he can never be divested-the father's heart, which, rejected and trampled on by two children, and trampling on its one most young and duteous child, is, in the utmost degree, a father's
still—the two characters, father and king, so high to our imagination and love, blended in the reverend image of Lear—both in their destitution, yet both in their height of greatness—the spirit blighted and yet undepressed—the wits gone, and yet the moral wisdom of a good heart left unstained, almost unobscured—the wild raging of the elements, joined with human outrage and violence to persecute the helpless, unresisting, almost unoffend. ing sufferer--and he himself in the midst of all imaginable misery and desolation, descanting upon himself, on the whirlwinds that drive around him, and then turning in tenderness to some of the wild motley association of sufferers among whom he stands—all this is not like what has been seen on any stage, perhaps in any reality ; but it has made a world to our imagination about one single imaginary individual, such as draws the reverence and sympathy which should seem to belong properly only to living men. It is like the remembrance of some wild perturbed scene of real life. Every thing is perfectly woful in this world of wo. The very assumed madness of Edgar, which, if the story of Edgar stood alone, would be insufferable, and would utterly degrade him to us, seems, associated as he is with Lear, to come within the consecration of Lear's madness. It agrees with all that is brought together ;—the night—the stormsthe houselessness-Gloster with his eyes put outthe fool—the semblance of a madman, and Lear in his madness,-are all bound together by a strange kind of_sympathy, confusion in the elements of nature, of human society and the human soul. Throughout all the play, is there not sublimity felt amidst the continual presence of all kinds of disorder and confusion in the natural and moral world ;-a continual consciousness of eternal order, law, and good ? This it is that so exalts it in our eyes. There is more justness of intellect in Lear's madness than in his right senses—as if the indestructible divinity of the spirit gleamed at times more brightly through the ruins of its earthly tabernacle. The death of Cordelia and the death of Lear leave on our minds, at least, neither pain nor disappointment, like a common play ending ill ; but, like all the rest, they show us human life involved in darkness, and conflicting with wild powers let loose to rage in the world ;-a life which continually seeks peace, and which can only find its good in peace-tending ever to the depth of peace, but of which the peace is not here. The feeling of the play, to those who rightly consider it, is high and calm, because we are made to know, from and through those very passions which seem there convulsed, and that very structure of life and happiness that seems there crushed, even in the law of those passions and that life, this eternal truth, that evil must not be, and that good must be. The only thing intolerable was, that Lear should, by the very truth of his daughter's love, be separated from her love; and his restoration to her love, and therewith to his own perfect mind, consummates all
that was essentially to be desired—a consummation, after which the rage and horror of mere matter-disturbing death seems vain and idle. In fact, Lear's killing the slave who was hanging Cordelia-bearing her dead in his arms-and his heart bursting over her--are no more than the full consummation of their re-united love; and there father and daughter lie in final and imperturbable peace. Cordelia, whom we at last see lying dead before us, and over whom we shed such floods of loving and approving tears, scarcely speaks or acts in the play at all: she appears but at the beginning and the end, is absent from all the impressive and memorable scenes; and to what she does say, there is not much effect given ;-yet, by some divine power of conception in Shakspeare's soul, she always seems to our memory one of the principal characters; and while we read the play, she is continually present to our imagination. In her sister's ingratítude, her filial love is felt; in the hopelessness of the broken-hearted king, we are turned to that perfect hope that is reserved for him in her loving bosom; in the midst of darkness, confusion, and misery, her form is like a hovering angel, seen casting its radiance on the storm.
BLACKWOOD's EDINBURGH MAGAZINE."
" Vol. 5. pp. 217, 226, 7, 8, 9.