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of them.” He looked upon them as in all cases not objective, but subjective, that is, images on the brain of the beholder, mistaken by him for outward objects. In the essay, to exemplify his view of Hamlet as one who is overmeditative and thought-oppressed, he says: “Hamlet's thoughts and the images of his fancy are far more vivid than his actual perceptions, and his very perceptions, instantly passing through the medium of his contemplations, acquire, as they pass, a form and a color not naturally their own." Now, by his
. treatment of the Ghost he verifies a remark about himself in his reported Table-talk : “I have a smack of Hamlet myself, if I may say so;” that is, of Hamlet as he interprets him above ; for he permits his critical perceptions to be so smothered in his meditations as not to allow him to become aware that Shakespeare has with marked design and care guarded the Ghost of Hamlet's father against the damaging imputation of subjectivity. To shield him from the possibility of such impeachment, he brings “this dreaded sight" twice, on two different nights, before the sentinels Marcellus and Bernardo. When Marcellus relates to Horatio what they have seen,
the calm, clear-headed Horatio assured him that it was a subjective ghost, that is, an image on their brains. Had there been but one brain the explanation of Horatio would have been more plausible. And so Marcellus has
“Entreated him along
Horatio. Tush, tush 't will not appear.”
In a few moments it does appear, and Horatio is harrowed with fear and wonder. The Ghost stalks away, but reappears in the midst of their talk. Here are three men who have seen the Ghost, all three of them twice, and two of them four times. But for his strong desire thus to secure his great Ghost against the dishonoring suspicion of being taken for a brain-born phantom, Shakespeare would have had him appear to Hamlet alone. There was no other motive for his appearance, and repeated appearance, to the sentinels.
And now let us make acquaintance with Hamlet before he has seen the Ghost, or has heard of him.
When, at the opening of the second scene of the play, Hamlet first comes before us, in the suite of the King and Queen, he is suffering from two stunning, moral blows. The brother of his father had, a few weeks before, by foul arts, usurped the throne which by expectation and legitimate right was Hamlet's ; and his mother, within less than two months after his father's sudden death, had made an incestuous marriage with the usurper. The first words uttered by Hamlet are a significant aside. The King, -- after despatch of some public business and the granting of Laertes' petition to return to France, — with hypocritical demeanor, in words which to the deeply wronged and wounded Prince must have seemed almost mockery, addresses Hamlet :
“But now, my cousin Hamlet and my son, Ham. [Aside] A little more than kin, and less than kind. King. How is it that the clouds still hang on you? Ham. Not so, my lord : I am too much i’ the sun.”
Kind, in the second line, is the German word for child, and was, doubtless, intelligible in that sense in England in Shakespeare's day. Being “too much i' the sun" means, to be turned out of doors, Hamlet bitterly veiling what he felt in a proverb.
Mortified, subdued by his mother's unholy marriage, humiliated by his own abased position, Hamlet, not a self-asserter or self-seeker, is just in that depressed, flaccid state to yield to his mother's request that he go not back to Wittenberg. A few moments after this compliance, being alone, he breaks forth into the first great soliloquy. In this frank communion with himself is suddenly brought to view the depth as well as tenderness of his nature:
“ Ham. O, that this too, too solid flesh would melt,
To write what Shakespeare wrote, –aye, to write only this one play, - the writer's brain must be a glowing globe whose healthy pulses shoot forth beams that inflame whatever they fall on with a new warmth and a new light, darting forth at the same time, under the resistless impulse of feeling, intellectual threads to bind to itself with its thought the highest as well as the subtlest relations among created things. A being thus sensitive and sympathetic and thoughtful is especially liable to hours of reaction from the raptures of its creative liveliness, — hours when the blank contrast between the world its own flames have lighted up and the flat, brutish, shallow doings around it wring from it a cry of despair. The soul is then disgusted with its temporary clay tenement, and would flee away to its eternal home. Shakespeare was strong too in animal passion; had he not been, we should have had no Shakespeare's dramas. This passion will not always keep in its place, but will be pushing the legitimate, spiritual rulers from their throne, or intoxicating them with sensuous in
Hence lapses and errors and crimes. Moreover, to a certain kind of lapse the poetically imaginative is more exposed than his prosaic fellow.
What conflicts and remorses and depressions dear Shakespeare may have been subject to in London, away from wife and family, we may conjecture from the glimpses vouchsafed us. And here let us have no whining, biographical impertinence, and, least of all, no self-righteousness : we will