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lection, was extant in Shakspeare's days. Il Pecorone, though written almost two centuries before, was not published until 1558, when the first edition came forth at Milan.

The love and elopement of Jessica and Lorenzo have been noticed by Mr. Dunlop as bearing a similitude to the fourteenth tale of the second book of the "Novellino" of Massuccio Di Salerno; but it must be recollected, that until the play alluded to by Gosson can be produced, it is impossible to ascertain to whom Shakspeare is most peculiarly indebted for the materials of his complicated plot.

There is much reason to conclude, however, that the felicitous union of the two principal actions of this drama, that concatenation of cause and effect, which has formed them into a whole, is to be ascribed, almost exclusively, to the judgment and the art of Shakspeare. There is also another unity of equal moment, seldom found wanting, indeed, in any of the genuine plays of our poet, but which is peculiarly observable in this, that unity of feeling which we have once before had occasion to notice, and which, in the present instance, has given an uniform, but an extraordinary, tone to every part of the fable. Thus the unparalleled nature of the trial between the Jew and his debtor required, in order to produce that species of dramatic consistency so essential to the illusion of the reader or spectator, that the other important incident of the piece should assume an equal cast of singularity; the enigma, therefore, of the caskets is a most suitable counterpart to the savage eccentricity of the bond, and their skilful combination effects. the probability arising from similitude of nature and intimacy of connection.

Yet the ingenuity of the fable is surpassed by the truth and originality of the characters that carry it into execution. Avarice and revenge, the prominent vices of Shylock, are painted with a pencil so discriminating, as to appear very distinct from the same passions in the bosom of a Christian. The peculiar circumstances, indeed, under which the Jews have been placed for so many centuries, would of themselves be sufficient, were the national feelings correctly caught, to throw a peculiar colouring over all their actions and emotions; but to these were unhappily added, in the age of Shakspeare, the most rooted prejudices and antipathies; an aversion, indeed, partaking of hatred and horror, was indulged against this persecuted people, and consequently the picture which Shakspeare has drawn exhibits not only a faithful representation of Jewish sentiments and manners, the necessary result of a singular dispensation of Providence, but it embodies in colours, of almost preternatural strength, the Jew as he appeared to the eye of the shuddering Christian.

In Shylock, therefore, while we behold the manners and the associations of the Hebrew mingling with every thing he says and does, and touched with a verisimilitude and precision which excite our astonishment, we, at the same time, perceive, that, influenced by the prepossessions above-mentioned, the poet has clothed him with passions which would not derogate from a personification of the evil principle itself. He is, in fact, in all the lighter parts of his character, a generical exemplar of Judaism, but demonized, individualized, and rendered awfully striking and horribly appalling by the attribution of such unrelenting malice, as we will hope, for the honour of our species, was never yet accumulated, with such intensity, in any human breast.

So vigorous, however, so masterly is the delineation of this Satanic character, and so exactly did it, until of late years, chime in with the bigotry of the Christian world, that no one of our author's plays has experienced greater popularity. Fortunately the time has now arrived when the Jew and the Christian can meet with all the feelings of humanity about them; a state of society which, more than any other, is calculated to effect that conversion for which every disciple of our blessed religion will assuredly pray.

There is, also, to be found in this beautiful play a charm for the most gentle and amiable minds, a vein of dignified melancholy and pensive sweetness which endears it to every heart, and which fascinates the more as affording

the most welcome relief to the merciless conduct of its leading character. What, for instance, can be more soothing and delightful to the feelings, than the generous and disinterested friendship of Antonio, when contrasted with the hard and selfish nature of Shylock; what more noble than the sublime resignation of the merchant, when opposed to the deadly and relentless hatred of his prosecutor' Never was friendship painted more intense and lovely than in the parting scene of Antonio and Bassanio; Salarino, speaking of the former, says,

"A kinder gentleman treads not the earth.

I saw Bassanio and Antonio part:

Bassanio told him, he would make some speed
Of his return : he answer'd-' Do not so," &c.

Act ii. sc. 8.

Nor do the female personages of the drama contribute less to this grateful effect; the sensible, the spirited, the eloquent Portia, who has a principal share in the business of both plots, is equally distinguished for the tenderness of her disposition and the goodness of her heart, and her pleadings for mercy in behalf of the injured Antonio will dwell on the ear of pity and admiration to the last syllable of recorded time.

With a similar result do we enter into the character of Jessica, whose artlessness, simplicity, and affectionate temper excite, in an uncommon degree, the interest of this reader. The opening of the fifth act, where Lorenzo and Jessica are represented conversing on a summer's night, in the avenue at Belmont, and listening with rapture to the sounds of music, produces, occurring as it does immediately after the soul-harrowing scene in the court of justice, the most enchanting emotion; it breathes, indeed, a repose so soft and delicious, that the mind seems dissolving in tranquil luxury:

"How sweet the moon-light sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears; soft stillness, and the night,
Become the touches of sweet harmony."

Act v. sc. 1.

Shakspeare was an enthusiast in music in a musical age; and though his subsequent encomium upon it be somewhat extravagant, and his reprobation of the man who "is not moved with concord of sweet sounds," undeservedly harsh and severe, yet are they both more applicable and judicious than the flippant and undiscriminating censure of Mr. Steevens, whose note on the subject has met with its due castigation from the pen of Mr. Douce, who after stigmatising the commentator's disingenuous effort to throw an odium on this recreation, in conjunction with the feeble aid of an illiberal passage from Lord Chesterfield's Letters, justly and beautifully adds, that

"It is a science which, from its intimate and natural connexion with poetry and painting, deserves the highest attention and respect. He that is happily qualified to appreciate the better parts of music, will never seek them in the society so emphatically reprobated by the noble lord, nor altogether in the way he recommends. He will not lend an ear to the vulgarity and tumultuous roar of the tavern catch, or the delusive sounds of martial clangour; but he will enjoy this heavenly gift, this exquisite and soul-delighting sensation, in the temples of his God, or in the peaceful circles of domestic happiness: he will pursue the blessings and advantages of it with ardour, and turn aside from its abuses." *

The fifth act of this play, which consists of but one scene, appears to have been intended by the poet to remove the painful impressions incident to the nature of his previous plot; it is light, elegant, and beautifully written, and, though the main business of the drama finishes with the termination of the fourth act, it is not felt as an incumbrance, but on the contrary is beheld and enjoyed as a graceful, animated, and consolatory close to one of the most perfect productions of its author.

* Illustrations of Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 269, 270.

15. HAMLET: 1597. That this tragedy had been performed before 1598 is evident from Gabriel Harvey's note in Speght's edition of Chaucer, as quoted by Mr. Malone; and, from the intimations of time brought forward by Mr. Chalmers, we are induced to adopt the era of this gentleman, placing the first sketch of Hamlet early in 1597, and its revision with additions in 1600. after which, namely, on the 26th of July, 1602, it was entered on the Stationers' book, the first edition hitherto discovered being printed in the year 1604.


No character in our author's plays has occasioned so much perplexity, as that of Hamlet. Yet we think it may be proved that Shakspeare had a clear and definite idea of it throughout all its seeming inconsistencies, and that a very few lines taken from one of the monologues of this tragedy, will develop the ruling and efficient feature which the poet held steadily in his view, and through whose unintermitting influence every other part of the portrait has received a peculiar modification. We are told, as the result of a deep but unsatisfactory meditation on the mysteries of another world, on "the dread of something after death," that

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Now this pale cast of thought and its consequences, which, had not Hamlet been interrupted by the entrance of Ophelia, he would have himself applied to his own singular situation, form the very essence, and give rise to the prominent defects of his character. It is evident, therefore, that Shakspeare intended to represent him as variable and indecisive in action, and that he has founded this want of volition on one of those peculiar constitutions of the mental and moral faculties which have been designated by the appellation of genius, a combination of passions and associations which has led to all the useful energies, and all the exalted eccentricities of human life; and of which, in one of its most exquisite but speculative forms, Hamlet presents us with perhaps the only instance on theatric record.

To a frame of mind naturally strong and contemplative, but rendered by extraordinary events sceptical and intensely thoughtful, he unites an undeviating love of rectitude, a disposition of the gentlest kind, feelings the most delicate and pure, and a sensibility painfully alive to the smallest deviation from virtue or propriety of conduct. Thus, while gifted to discern and to suffer from every moral aberration in those who surround him, his powers of action are paralysed in the first instance, by the unconquerable tendency of his mind to explore, to their utmost ramification, all the bearings and contingencies of the meditated deed; and in the second, by that tenderness of his nature which leads him to shrink from the means which are necessary to carry it into execution. Over this irresolution and weakness, the result, in a great measure, of emotions highly amiable, and which in a more congenial situation had contributed to the delight of all who approached him, Shakspeare has thrown a veil of melancholy so sublime and intellectual, as by this means to constitute him as much the idol of the philosopher, and the man of cultivated taste, as he confessedly is of those who feel their interest excited principally through the medium of the sympathy and compassion which his ineffective struggles to act up to his own approved purpose naturally call forth. It may be useful, however, in order to give more strength and precision to this general outline, to enter into a few of the leading particulars of Hamlet's conduct. He is represented at the opening of the play as highly distressed by the sudden death of his father, and the hurried and indecent nuptials of his mother, when the awful appearance of the spectre overwhelms him with astonishment, unhinges a mind already partially thrown off its bias, and fills it with indelible apprehension, suspicion, and dismay. For though, on the first communication of the murder, his bosom burns with the thirst of vengeance, yet reflection and the gen

tleness of his disposition soon induce him to regret that he has been chosen as the instrument of effecting it,

"That ever he was born to set it right;"

and then, under the influence of this reluctance, he begins to question the validity and the lawfulness of the medium through which he had received his information, describing with admirable self-consciousness the vacillation of his will, and the tendency of his temper:

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Here, therefore, on a structure of mind originally indecisive as to volition, on feelings rendered more than usually sensitive and serious by domestic misfortune, operate causes calculated, in a very extraordinary degree, to augment the sources of irresolution and distress. The imagination of Hamlet, agitated and inflamed by a visitation from the world of spirits, is lost amid the mazes of conjecture, amid thoughts which roam with doubt and terror through all the labyrinths of fate and superhuman agency; whilst, at the same time, indignation at the crime of his uncle, and aversion to the vindictive task which has been imposed upon him, raise a conflict of passion within his breast.

Determined, however, if possible, to obey what seems both a commission from heaven, and a necessary filial duty: but sensible that the wild workings of imagination, and the tumult of contending emotions have so far unsettled his mind, as to render his control over it at times precarious and imperfect, and that consequently he may be liable to betray his purpose, he adopts the expedient of counterfeiting madness, in order that if any thing should escape him in an unguarded moment, it may, from being considered as the effect of derangement, fail to impede his designs.

And here again the bitterness of his destiny meets him; for, with the view of disarming suspicion as to his real intention, he finds it requisite to impress the king and his courtiers with the idea, that disappointed love is the real basis of his disorder; justly inferring, that as his attachment to Ophelia was known, and still more so the tenderness of his own heart, any harsh treatment of her, without an adequate provocation, must infallibly be deemed a proof, not only of insanity, but of the cause whence it sprang; since though some reserve on her part had been practised, in obedience to her father's commands, it could not, without a dereliction of reason, have produced such an entire change in his conduct and disposition. And such indeed would have been the result, had Hamlet possessed a perfect command of himself; but his feelings overpowered his consistency, and the very part which he had to play with Ophelia, was one of the most excruciating of his afflictions; for he tells us, and tells us truly, that

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consequently what he suffers on this occasion, on this compulsory treatment, as it were, of the being dearest to his heart, gives him one of the strongest claims upon our sympathy. With what agony he pursues this line of conduct, and how foreign it is to every feeling of the man, appears at the close of his celebrated soliloquy on the expediency of suicide, and just previous to the rudest and most sarcastic instance of his behaviour towards Ophelia. That hapless maiden suddenly crosses him, when, starting at her sight, and forgetting his assumed character, he exclaims, in an exquisite tone of solemnity and pathos

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It is impossible, we think, to compare this passage, this burst of undistinguished emotion, with the tenour of the immediately subsequent dialogue, without the deepest commiseration for the fate of the unfortunate prince.

In this play, as in King Lear, we have madness under its real and its assumed aspect, and in both instances they are accurately discriminated. We find Lear and Ophelia constantly recurring, either directly or indirectly, to the actual causes of their distress; but it was the business of Edgar and of Hamlet, to place their observers on a wrong scent, and to divert their vigilance from the genuine sources of their grief, and the objects of their pursuit. This is done with undeviating firmness by Edgar; but Hamlet occasionally suffers the poignancy of his feelings, and the agitation of his mind, to break in upon his plan, when, heedless of what was to be the ostensible foundation of his derangement, his love for Ophelia, he permits his indignation to point, and on one occasion almost unmasked, towards the guilt of his uncle. In every other instance, he personates insanity with a skill which indicates the highest order of genius, and imposes on all but the king, whose conscience, perpetually on the watch, soon enables him to detect the inconsistencies and the drift of his nephew.

It has been objected to the character of Hamlet, whose most striking feature is profound melancholy, that its keeping is broken in upon by an injudicious admixture of humour and gaiety; but he who is acquainted with the workings of the human heart, 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. Thus it is with Hamlet in those parts of this inimitable tragedy in which we behold him suddenly deviating into mirth and jocularity; they are scintillations which only light us

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"to discover sights of woe,

for no where do we perceive the depth of his affliction and the energy of his sufferings more distinctly than when under these convulsive efforts to shake off the incumbent load.

Of that infirmity of purpose which distinguishes Hamlet during the pursuit of his revenge, and of that exquisite self-deceit by which he endeavours to disguise his own motives from himself, no clearer instance can be given, than from the scene where he declines destroying the usurper because he was in the act of prayer, and might therefore go to heaven, deferring his death to a period when, being in liquor or in anger, he was thoroughly ripe for perdition; an enormity of sentiment and design totally abhorrent to the real character of Hamlet, which was radically amiable, gentle, and compassionate, but affording a striking proof of that hypocrisy which, owing to the untowardness of his fate, he was constantly exercising on himself. Struck with the symptoms of repentance in Claudius, his resentment becomes softened; and at all times unwilling, from the tenderness of his nature, and the acuteness of his sensibility, to fulfil his supposed duty, and execute retributive justice on his uncle, he endeavours to find some excuse for his conscious want

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