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That gaiety and playfulness of deportment and of conversation which Hamlet sometimes not only assumes, but seems actually disposed to, is, I apprehend, no contradiction to the general tone of melancholy in his character. That sort of melancholy which is the most genuine as well as the most amiable of any, neither arising from natural sourness of temper, nor prompted by accidental chagrin, but the effect of delicate sensibility, impressed with a sense of sorrow, or a feeling of its own weakness, will, I believe, often be found in. dulging itself in a sportfulness of external behaviour, amidst the pressure of a sad, or even the anguish of a broken heart. Slighter emotions affect our ordinary discourse; but deep distress,
love-scenes of Shakspeare are often more chaste and delicate than even much of the correspondence on amatory subjects of the higher classes of the Elizabethan era.
• “He who is acquainted with the workings of the human heart," as I have remarked elsewhere, “will be far, very far indeed, from considering this as any deviation from the truth of nature. Melancholy, when not the offspring of an ill-spent life, or of an habitual bad temper, but the consequence of mere casualties and misfortunes, or of the vices and passions of others, operating on feelings too gentle, delicate, and susceptible, to bear up against the ruder evils of existence, will sometimes spring with playful elasticity from the pressure of the heaviest burden, and dissipating, for a moment, the anguish of a breaking heart, will, like a sun-beam in a winter's day, illumine all around it with a bright but transient ray, with the sallies of humorous wit, and even with the hilarity of sportive simplicity; an interchange which serves but to render the returning storm more deep and gloomy.”-Shakspeare and his Times, vol. ii. p. 396. sitting in the secret gloom of the soul, casts not its regard on the common occurrences of life, but suffers them to trick themselves out in the usual garb of indifference or of gaiety, according to the fashion of the society around it, or the situation in which they chance to arise. The melancholy man feels in himself (if I may be allowed the expression) a sort of double person; one which, covered with the darkness of its imagination, looks not forth into the world, nor takes any concern in vulgar objects or frivolous pursuits; another, which he lends, as it were, to ordinary men, which can accommodate itself to their tempers and manners, and indulge, without feeling any degradation from the indulgence, a smile with the cheerful, and a laugh with the giddy
The conversation of Hamlet with the Gravedigger seems to me to be perfectly accounted for under this supposition; and, instead of feeling it counteract the tragic effect of the story, I never see him in that scene without receiving, from his transient jests with the clown before him, an idea of the deepest melancholy being rooted at his heart. The light point of view in which he places serious and important things, marks the power of that great impression which swallows up every thing else in his mind, which makes Cæsar and Alexander so indifferent to him, that he can trace their remains in the plaster of a cottage, or the stopper of a beer-barrel. It is from the same turn of mind, which, from the elevation of its sorrow, looks down
on the bustle of ambition, and the pride of fame, that he breaks forth into the reflection, in the fourth act, on the expedition of Fortinbras. · It is with regret as well as deference that I accuse the judgment of Mr. Garrick, or the taste of his audience; but I cannot help thinking that the exclusion of the scene of the Grave-digger in his alteration of the tragedy of Hamlet, was not only a needless, but an unnatural violence done to the work of his favourite poet.”
Shakspeare's genius attended him in all his extravagances. In the licence he took of departing from the regularity of the drama, or in his ignorance of those critical rules which might have restrained him within it, there is this advantage, that it gives him an opportunity of delineating the passions and affections of the human mind, as they exist in reality, with all the various colourings which they receive in the mixed scenes of life; not as they are accommodated by the hands of more artificial poets to one great undivided impression, or an uninterrupted chain of congenial events. It seems
P“ It is the church-yard scene, in the fifth act," observes M. Egestorf, “ from which we are to learn the moral of this tragedy; a scene that has been considered as an exuberant excrescence, which, however, appears to be a chief corner-stone of the main edifice ; for there we see the nothingness of all sublunary advantages—there we see how gaiety, beauty, talent, and wit—how greatness and power
nay, how even the government of a world, are not only transient in themselves, but how in the end they lead to nothing."-Vide Literary Gaette for October, 1827.
therefore preposterous to endeavour to regularize his plays at the expense of depriving them of this peculiar excellence, especially as the alteration can only produce a very partial and limited improvement, and can never bring his pieces to the standard of criticism, or the form of the Aristotelian drama. Within the bounds of a pleasure-garden, we may be allowed to smooth our terraces, and trim our hedge-rows; but it were equally absurd as impracticable, to apply the minute labours of the roller and the pruning-knife to the nobler irregularity of trackless mountains and impenetrable forests.
4 The Mirror, No. 100, April 22, 1780.-If, as is asserted at the close of this paper, the licence which Shakspeare assumed, enabled him to paint the passions and affections of the human mind as they exist in reality, and not as they are accommodated by more artificial poets to an arbitrary and exclusive system, who shall or can regret his infringement of any strict observance of the unities of time and place?
Though hundreds of critics have written of Shakspeare and his works, and though not only all his characters, but even their most minute and unimportant expressions, have been weighed and sifted; yet such is the boundless range of his intellect, that each play still retains all the charm of the very freshest novelty, and on each successive perusal a swarm of unexpected ideas seems to rise up from every page. Though the discussion of his genius has been thus incessant, the public mind is still unsated; and we all turn to any criticism on Shakspeare with an interest and curiosity felt towards no other mortal being. We entertain a kind of religious faith in his poetry. We have all rejoiced in the broad and open light of his inspiration ; and in the midst of that doubt, and darkness, and perplexity, which often brood over his delineation of human passion, we eagerly turn to every voice that tries to explain or elucidate any of those solemn mysteries, being well assured that they all are the mysteries of nature.
We take up a play, and ideas come rolling in upon us, like waves impelled by a strong wind.