« PreviousContinue »
His Macbeth, pausing, reflective, but, a hazardous attempt, and for the most once committed to his course, of des- part superfluous ;-we shall touch perate courage, exhibits no less dis- merely upon one point, and shall, as tinctly the ambition of the northern much as possible, avoid the repetition chief. The climate hangs over them of remarks made familiar to all, by the both. As you could not transplant eloquence of a Schlegel, a Goëthe, and the jealousy of Othello to the north, a Coleridge. so neither could you divorce the ambi. • For this feigned madness," writes tion of Macbeth from the cold air it Dr Johnson, " there appears no adebreathed, and the wild solitary heath quate cause, for he does nothing which on which it was fostered. There he might not have done with the rebeing this exquisite propriety in some putation of sanity." The feint is not of his portraitures, if a difficulty should quite so unconnected with the plot as arise in understanding others, it is the worthy doctor would here repreallowable to look for the solution with sent it. One very manifest purpose a little curiosity of research. And, of adopting such a disguise, was to in doing this, it is not always obtain access to the king in some moan answer to the critic to say—you ment of unguarded privacy, when are suggesting for the poet an idea, Hamlet could with certainty accomwhich from its very merit, or the im- plish his revenge, or task of retribution. portance you attribute to it, could not The rambling of a maniac over all have been present to his mind ; for, if parts of the palace, and at all hours, it had, he would not have failed to would excite no suspicion; and thus an make better use of it, and to give it opportunity might be afforded him of distinct expression. This remark striking the fatal blow. And this end would be more applicable in the case is in some measure answered; for we of any other authorthan of Shakspeare, may attribute to this counterfeit of inwho, partly perhaps from his freedom sanity, that he actually lights upon the from such critical inquisition, rarely King in his chamber while he is kneel. thinks of explaining what he is about. ing alone and at his prayers; and thus The reason why he does this or that an opportunity is given of executing may not always have been even dis- his revenge, which may not the less tinctly reflected on by himself, although advance the piece because it is not it passed through his mind, bringing taken advantage of. But, though with it a sense of sure conviction. not altogether unconnected with the With him the design and execution plot, this pretended insanity effects seem to have been almost simultane- so little, and is so carelessly sus. ous; he thought with the chisel in his tained, that it might be censured hand, and wrought out his conceptions a bungling contrivance, if it as they arose ; and thus it is not im- had not a still more intimate con. possible that an idea which really nexion with the character and temper guided him, might yet have received of Hamlet himself. It is in him rather
very imperfect enunciation, and than in the plot that the sufficient might fairly admit of a fuller develop- reason of this disguise is to be detected. ment from the critic, than it had even A very slight prospect of advantage, met with in the mind of the poet him. or show of policy, was enough to lead self.
him to adopt a stratagem which acAmongst those discrepancies which corded well with the over-excited and have exercised the patience and in- turbulent condition of his thoughts. genuity of criticism, the feigned niad. For these some disguise was at all ness of Hamlet is one of the most re- events to be found --some concealmarkable. It has been a stumbling- ment from the observation of men; block to several commentators on the and to wear the wild mask of insanity play. Let us see whether it will not was not more toilsome to his spirit, bear such a representation, as not only more burdensome and oppressive, than to be intelligible, but to add something to support that other counterfeit of a to our vivid appreciation of the charac- smooth, unruffled, and contented aster of Hamlet. We are not about to pect. enter into a complete analysis of that To Hamlet, a reflective, wayward, character ;-after the many brilliant melancholy man, the spirit of his criticisms which have been lately writ- father had appeared from the tombten on the same theme, this would be had revealed the secret of his murder,
and committed the task of retributive served for the representation of in. justice. After this intercourse with sanity, was often the most faithful the other world-after having received expression of his feelings. And we thus supernaturally a commission so need hardly add, that a great portion fearful-he who had never been closely of the beauty of the play would be knit to society, would feel himself lost, if we looked upon his extravagant chosen out and separated by an im- speeches as cold inventions to support passable chasm from all other men. a fictitious madness, and did not keep His mind was unceasingly agitated by in view their intimate connexion, and thoughts he could not communicate the connexion of the counterfeit of to others; and he was surrounded by madness itself, with the real temper of à crowd of courtiers and politicians,
the man. with whose interests, and schemes, and It bears out this description, that projects, his could no longer assume we find his imitations of lunacy, and even the ordinary show of participa- the spontaneous expression of his pertion. A father murdered, a mother turbed and over-excited feelings, to be wedded to the murderer, himself com. at times scarce distinguishable, so missioned to revenge this crime, as naturally do they flow the one into the yet a profound secret to the world- other. He deals unsparingly his wild with these subjects fastened on his and whirling speech in parts of the mind, and stinging him perpetually play where he cannot be suspected of to all moody, and sarcastic, and hos- counterfeiting madness—where he is tile reflections, he would naturally addressing his confidential friends, and avoid society-would escape, if pos- where he is in the most solemn and sible, into solitude; but, if he must tragical situations of the drama. After mingle with the crowd of courtiers- the appearance of his father's spirit, if he must hold communion with them and the horrible disclosure it had -We feel that an overstrained levity, a made, when he is swearing Marcellus wild, bitter, uncertain, variable speech, and the rest to secresy as to what would be the manner and style of con- they themselves had witnessed, the versation into which he would sponta- ghost from beneath adds his voice, and neously fall. The ordinary tone of calls on them to “ Swear!” What says social intercourse, would be the last Hamlet, fresh from the very converse he would willingly or successfully with the dead ? - Come on-you hear support. Now this feint of madness, this fellow in the cellarage!” And while it promised to advance his pro- again, when, by the artifice of the play ject in the obvious manner already acted before the King, he has confirmed hinted at, offered a disguise to him. the testimony of the ghost, and satisself more welcome, and which called fied himself of his uncle's guilt, and he for less constraint, than the laboured is left alone with his friend Horatio, support of an ordinary, unnoticeable who is privy to the stratagem, what is demeanour. The mimickry of mad- the tragedy-speech which Shakspeare ness was but the excess of that levity has put into his mouth? He repeats and wildness which naturally sprung some doggerel versesfrom his impatient and overwrought spirit. It afforded some scope to those
Why, let the stricken deer go weep, disquieted feelings which it served to The hart ungalled play,” &c. ; eonceal. The feint of madness cover
and then asks his friend, “ Would not ed all—even the sarcasm,. and dis
this, sir, and a forest of feathers (if the gust, and turbulence, which it freed
rest of my fortunes turn Turk with in some measure from an intolerable
me) with two Provençal roses in my restraint. Nor was it a disguise un
raised shoes, get me a fellowship in a grateful to a moody spirit, grown cry of players ?" Is it surprising that careless of the respect of men, and indifferent to all the ordinary projects most confidential moments, should in
one who spoke in this vein in his and desires of life. The masquerade his intercourse with courtiers and coxbrought with it no sense of humilia
combstion-it pleased a misanthropic hu
" think it meet mour-it gave him shelter and a
To put an antic disposition on ?” sort of escape from society, and it cost him little effort. That min. Did he fall in with a Polonius, what gled bitterness and levity which greater relief than to be allowed, un
der the license of this counterfeit, to had not entered a region of more break from and utterly confound the difficult conquest than that airy king. mortal garrulity of that old courtier? dom of spirits and of fairies which he Did he encounter an Ophelia, whom had subdued and rendered tributary. he had loved, but whose image he They might have said that he had never had obliterated, or meant to obliterate, seized upon those deep yet wayward or with all trivial fond records," from feelings which have no origin in the the tablet of his memory, what more common objects and notorious puraccordant to his vexed and troubled poses of life, but are the changeful spirit, than, under the same disguise, to creatures of the mind alone-on that indulge the mingled feelings of regret reflective melancholy which appears so and renunciation, tenderness and sar- very causeless to those whom it has casm, and all the bitter contradictions never visited--that aspiration which that were struggling together in his has no aim-that discontent which bosom?
frames no wish_that profound indif. It is not to be supposed that the ference and meditative vacancy which state of mind we have been attempting disregards and rejects the actual detail to describe as prompting to the choice and personal interests of human existof this disguise, would be one of long ence, but is never weary of looking at continuance ; and accordingly we it from aloof, as a thing, upon the find, towards the close of the piece, whole, of strangest and perpetual mysthat the feint of madness, which has tery. But all this, and more, Shaknever in fact been very sedulously sup- speare has shadowed forth in his Hamported, is laid aside, and that without let. Whatever had been the fate of any seeming embarrassment. As the the young Prince of Denmark, he excitement of his mind wears itselfout, would still have been one of those who Hamlet assumes an ordinary tone. He ever musing, with perplexed jests with the courtier, Osric, as he thought, upon themselves_their own would have done in his gayer days; inscrutable nature-and on mankind at and, from that time to the conclusion large, and the little good that the great of the drama, he presents to us the world answers :--one of those who find aspect of one exhausted by the vio- all action struck with futility, yet relence and intensity of his feelings. cognise that repose without action is The Ghost might appear to him now, impossible-whose mind feeds upon itwe think, and have been seen without self--and who never have a passion or a start—the tragedy of life was be purpose but the next moment they turn coming as indifferent as its pleasures it into a subject of mere reflection. and the secrets of another world Thus constituted, he is plunged in would soon have been as little exciting circumstances of supernatural horror as they had previously made the inter. -the tomb has yielded up its dead, ests of this. The bidding of his fa- that he might be sent upon a mission of ther's spirit is still remembered ; but blood-the reflective spirit of the man we might almost doubt whether it is overwhelmed-he seeks relief in would have been fulfilled, if the treach- bursts of extravagant and fictitious ery of the King had not suddenly re- levity-and, in this mood, he picks up kindled his wrath, and called upon the mask of idiotism, and brandishes him to revenge his own as well as his it not unwillingly; assuming to himself, father's death.
at the same time, a crafty purpose, If Shakspeare had not written the which, being little suited to his nature, play of Hamlet, his critics might, is but loosely adhered to. Such is our perhaps, have said that, although he reading of the feigned madness of Hamhad portrayed to admiration the mark. let. A mind unhinged, vexed, tored and obvious passions of mankind tured, and bewildered, adopts as a love, and ambition, and jealousy- scheme of action what, after all, is there was one region into which he more impulse than policy.
It is remarkable, in the sense of recesses of common domestic life. being noticeable and interesting, but The delicacy of youthful wives, for not in the sense of being surprising, example, was often not less grievousthat Casuistry has fallen into disre. ly shocked than the manliness of huspute throughout all Protestant lands. bands, by refinements of monkish subThis disrepute is a result partly due tlety applied to cases never meant for to the upright morality which usually religious cognisance, but far better follows in the train of the Protestant left to the decision of good feeling, of faith. So far it is honourable, and nature, and of pure household moan evidence of superior illumination. rality. Even this revolting use of But, in the excess to which it has casuistry, however, did less to injure been pushed, we may trace also a its name and pretensions than a perblind and somewhat bigoted reaction suasion, pretty generally difi'used, that of the horror inspired by the abuses the main purpose and drift of this of the Popish Confessional. Unfor- science was a sort of hair-splitting tunately for the interests of scientific process, by which doubts might be ethics, the first cultivators of casuis applied to the plainest duties of life, try had been those who kept in view or questions raised on the extent of the professional service of auricular their obligations, for the single benefit confession. Their purpose was--to of those who sought to evade them. assist the reverend contessor in ap- A casuist was viewed, in short, as a praising the quality of doubtful ac. kind of lawyer or special pleader in tions, in order that he might properly morals, such as those who, in London, adjust his scale of counsel, of warn- are known as Old Bailey practitioning, of reproof, and of penance. ers, called in to manage desperate Some, therefore, in pure simplicity cases—to suggest all available advanand conscientious discharge of the tages to raise doubts or distinctions duty they had assumed, but others, where simple morality saw no room from lubricity of morals or the irrita- for either-and generally to teach the tions of curiosity, pushed their inves- art, in nautical phrase, of sailing as tigations into unhallowed paths of near the wind as possible, without fear speculation. They held aloft a torch of absolutely foundering. for exploring guilty recesses of hu- Meantime it is certain that casuis. man life, which it is far better for us try, when soberly applied, is not only all to leave in their original darkness. a beneficial as well as a very interestCrimes that were often all but imagi- ing study ; but that, by whatever title, nary, extravagances of erring passion it is absolutely indispensable to the that would never have been known as practical treatment of morals. We possibilities to the young and the in. may reject the name: the thing we nocent, were thus published in their cannot reject. And accordingly the most odious details. At first, it is custom has been, in all English treatrue, the decent draperies of a dead tises on ethics, to introduce a good language were suspended before these, deal of casuistry under the idea of abominations : but sooner or later special illustration, but without any some knave was found, on mercenary reference to casnistry as a formal motives, to tear away this partial veil ; branch of research. Indeed, as soand thus the vernacular literature of ciety grows complex, the uses of most nations in Southern Europe, was casuistry become more urgent. Even gradually polluted with revelations Cicero could not pursue his thene that had been originally made in the through such barren generalizations avowed service of religion. Indeed, as entirely to evade all notice of spethere was one aspect of such books cial cases : and Paley has given ile which proved even more extensively chief interest to his very loose invesdisgusting. Speculations pointed to tigations of morality, by scattering a monstrous offences, bore upon their selection of such cases over the whole very face and frontispiece the intima. field of his discussion. tion that they related to cases rare The necessity of casuistry might, and anomalous. But sometimes casu. in fact, be deduced from the very ori. istry pressed into the most hallowed gin and genesis of the word. First
came the general law or rule of ac- it exists in every civilized land, is no. tion. This was like the major pro- thing but casuistry. Simply because position of a syllogism. But next new cases are for ever arising to raise came a special instance or case, so new doubts whether they do or do not stated as to indicate whether it did or fall under the rule of law, therefore it did not fall under the general rule. is that law is so inexhaustible. The This, again, was exactly the minor law terminates a dispute for the pre. proposition in a syllogism. For ex- sent by a decision of a court, (which ample, in logic we say, as the major constitutes our “common law,") or by proposition in a syllogism, Man is an express act of the legislature,
' mortal. This is the rule. And then (which constitutes our “ statute law.") “ subsuming" (such is the technical For a month or two matters flow on phrase-subsuming) Socrates under smoothly. But then comes a new the rule by a minor proposition—viz. case, not contemplated or not verbally Socrates is a man-we are able me- provided for in the previous rule. It diately to connect him with the predi. is varied by some feature of differ. cate of that rule, viz. ergo, Socrates
This feature, it is suspected, is mortal.* Precisely upon this mo- makes no essential difference: subdel arose casuistry. A general rule, stantially it may be the old case. or major proposition, was laid down- Ay-but that is the very point to be suppose that he who killed any human decided. And so arises a fresh suit being, except under the palliations X, at law, and a fresh decision. For exY, 2, was a murderer. Then, in a ample, after many a decision and minor proposition, the special case of many a statute, (all arising out of cases the suicide was considered. It was supervening upon cases,) suppose that affirmed, or it was denied, that his that great subdivision of jurisprudence case fell under some one of the pallia- called the Bankrupt Laws to have tions assigned. And then, finally, been gradually matured. It has been accordingly to the negative or affir- settled, suppose that he who exermative shape of this minor proposi- cises a trade, and no other whatsotion, it was argued, in the conclusion, ever, shall be entitled to the benefit of that the suicide was, or was not, a the bankrupt laws. So far is fixed : murderer. Out of these cases, i. e. and people vainly imagine that at oblique deflexions from the universal length a station of rest is reached, rule (which is also the grammarian's and that in this direction, at least, the sense of the word case) arose cusuis- onward march of law is barred. Not try.
at all. Suddenly a schoolmaster beAfter morality has done its very comes insolvent, and attempts to avail utmost in clearing up the grounds himself of privileges as a technical upon which it rests its decisions- bankrupt. But then arises a resistafter it has multiplied its rules to any ance on the part of those who are inpossible point of circumstantiality- terested in resisting: and the question there will always continue to arise is raised- Whether the calling of a cases without end, in the shifting com- schoolmaster can be legally consider. binations of human action, about ed a trade? This also is settled : it which a question will remain whether is solemnly determined that a school. they do or do not fall under any of master is a tradesman.
But next these rules. And the best way for arises a case, in which, from peculiar seeing this truth illustrated on a broad variation of the circumstances, it is scale, the shortest way and the most doubtful whether the teacher can decisive, is—to point our attention to technically be considered a schoolone striking fact, viz. that all luw, as master. Suppose that case settled : &
* The ludicrous blunder of Reid (as first published by Lord Kames in his Sketches,) and of countless others, through the last seventy or eighty years, in their critiques on the logic of Aristotle, has been to imagine that such illustrations of syllogism as these were meant for specimens of what syllogism could perform. What an elaborate machinery, it was said, for bringing out the merest self-evident truisms! But just as reasonably it might have been objected, when a mathematician illustrated the process of addition by saying 3+4=7, Behold what pompous nothings! These Aristotelian illustrations were purposely drawn from cases not open to disputé, and simply as exemplifications of the meaning: they were intentionally self-evident.