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Among the numberless exquisite portraits delineated, for the delight and instruction of the world, by the hand of the great Dramatic Master, there is one which in a pre-eminent degree solicits and detains the universal gaze; — "the observed of all observers.” It is that of a young and amiable Prince, in whom the traits of intellect and of feeling are admirably blended : his fine and varied countenance exhibits humor and sensibility, wit and philosophy, in the justest proportions: yet over all, and through all, there is still visible that “pale cast of thought,” which might lead even the mere unacquainted spectator to infer, that the possessor had been burthened with a weight of mysterious care, which long oppressed, and finally overwhelmed him. This is that interesting and ever-eloquent friend, with whom we have held delightful converse from boyhood, even to the present hour; whose thoughts have penetrated to the innermost parts of our being; and whom, in despite of his occasional waywardness, weakness, and inconsistency, we have ever loved and respected as a dear and intimate personal friend.—This, in a word, is HAMLET.
Of all human compositions, there is, perhaps, not one which in the same compass contains so much just, original, and profound thought, as this gigantic effort of genius; none so suggestive, so imaginative, and yet so practical; none which in an equal degree charms alike the philosopher and the simple rustic, — the poet and the man of the world. From the hour of its first appearance, it has been the especial darling of all classes ; and has thus tended, more than anything else, to shew the high capabilities of the universal human mind; – to justify the high eulogium which Hamlet himself, “ the general favorite, as the general friend,” pronounces so emphatically on his kindred " quintessence of dust.” In reference to this point, it may be appropriately mentioned, that in the most remote eastern minor theatre - a locality which an inhabitant of more genial theatric climes would be apt to regard as a mere Bæotia, helplessly devoted to Pantomime and Melodrame — even here, the subtile wisdom and poetic beauty of the play before us, drew crowded houses, at a recent period, for upwards of sixty nights in a single season!
The main incidents on which the play of “ HAMLET ” is founded, are related by Saxo-Grammaticus, the Danish historian. The story is also told in the novels of Belleforest, and in a small black-letter volume, entitled - THE HISTORIE OF HAMBLETT.” Shakspeare's drama was first printed in 1603; a copy of this edition (supposed to be unique), was discovered of late years, and reprinted in 1825. The title runs thus: — " The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke, by William Shake-speare. As it hath beene diverse times acted by his Highnesse servants in the Cittie of London: as also in the two Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and elsewhere. At London, printed for N. L. and John Trundell.” The title to the second quarto edition, published in 1604, states the play to have been “ enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect coppie." It exhibits also some variations, both of plot and in the names of the characters, as compared with the original sketch. There were reprints of the enlarged quarto in 1605, 1609, and 1611; besides another edition without date. These various evidences of the great popularity of the play, were all precursors of the general folio collection, published by the Poet's " fellows,” in 1623. Some further remarks on the different versions of “ HAMLET" will be found in the Notes.
GERTRUDE, Queen of DENMARK, and Mother of HAMLET.
Messengers, and other Attendants.
SCENE I.-Elsinore. A Platform before the Castle.' Ber. Say,
| What, is Horatio there? FRANCISCO on his post. Enter to him BERNARDO.
Hor. A piece of him.
Ber. Welcome, Horatio ; welcome, good MarBer. Who's there.
cellus. Fran. Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold Hor. What, has this thing appeared again toyourself.
night? Ber. Long live the king !
Ber. I have seen nothing. Fran. Bernardo?
Mar. Horatio says, 't is but our fantasy; Ber. He.
And will not let belief take hold of him, Fran. You come most carefully upon your hour. Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us : Ber. 'Tis new struck twelve; get thee to bed, Therefore I have entreated him along Francisco.
With us to watch the minutes of this night ; Fran. For this relief, much thanks : 't is bitter That, if again this apparition come, cold,
He may approve our eyes, and speak to it. And I am sick at heart.
Hor. Tush, tush ! 't will not appear. Ber. Have you had quiet guard ?
Ber. Sit down awhile, Fran. Not a mouse stirring.
And let us once again assail your ears, Ber. Well, good night.
That are so fortified against our story, If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
| What we two nights have seen. The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste. Hor. Well, sit we down,
And let us hear Bernardo speak of this.
Ber. Last night of all, Fran. I think I hear them : Stand, ho? Who When yon same star, that's westward from the is there?
pole, Hor. Friends to this ground.
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven Mar. And liegemen to the Dane.
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself, Fran. Give you good night.
The bell then beating one, — Mar. O, farewell, honest soldier :
Mar. Peace, break thee off; look where it Who hath relieved you?
comes again! Fran. Bernardo hath my place.
Enter Ghost (armed). Give you good night.
[Exit. Mar. Holla! Bernardo!
Ber. In the same figure, like the king that's dead.
Mar. Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio. Doth make the night joint-laborer with the day;
Hor. That can I; Hor. Most like:- it harrows me with fear and At least, the whisper goes so. Our last king, wonder.
Whose image even but now appeared to us, Ber. It would be spoke to.
Was, as you know, by Fortinbras of Norway, Mar. Question it, Horatio.
Thereto pricked on by a most emulate pride, Hor. What art thou, that usurp'st this time of Dared to the combat; in which our valiant Hamlet night,
(For so this side of our known world esteemed Together with that fair and warlike form
him) In which the majesty of buried Denmark Did slay this Fortinbras; who, by a sealed compact, Did sometimes march? By heaven I charge thee, Well ratified by law and heraldry, speak!
Did forfeit with his life, all those his lands Mar. It is offended.
Which he stood seized of, to the conqueror : Ber. See! it stalks away.
Against the which, a moiety competent Hor. Stay; speak : speak, I charge thee, speak! Was gagéd by our king; which had returned
[Exit Ghost. To the inheritance of Fortinbras, Mar. 'T is gone, and will not answer.
Had he been vanquisher; as by the same cov'nant, Ber. How now, Horatio ? you tremble and look And carriage of the article designed, pale :
His fell to Hamlet. — Now, sir, young Fortinbras, Is not this something more than fantasy? Of unimproved mettle hot and full, What think you on’t?
Hath in the skirts of Norway, here and there, Hor. Before my God, I might not this believe, Sharked up a list of lawless resolutes, Without the sensible and true avouch
For food and diet, to some enterprise Of mine own eyes.
That hath a stomach in 't: which is no other Mar. Is it not like the king?
(As it doth well appear unto our state) Hor. As thou art to thyself:
But to recover of us, by strong hand, Such was the very armor he had on,
And terms compulsatory, those 'foresaid lands When he the ambitious Norway combated; So by his father lost : and this, I take it, So frowned he once, when, in an angry parle, Is the main motive of our preparations; He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.
The source of this our watch; and the chief head 'T is strange.
Of this post-haste and romage in the land. Mar. Thus twice before, and just at this dead Ber. I think it be no other, but even so : hour,
Well may it sort, that this portentous figure With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch. Comes arméd through our watch; so like the king Hor. In what particular thought to work, I That was, and is, the question of these wars know not;
Hor. A mote it is, to trouble the mind's eye. But, in the gross and scope of mine opinion, In the most high and palmy state of Rome, This bodes some strange eruption to our state. A little ere the mightiest Julius fell, Mar. Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead knows,
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets. *** Why this same strict and most observant watch As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood, So nightly toils the subject of the land ? Disasters in the sun; and the moist star, And why such daily cast of brazen cannon, Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands, And foreign mart for implements of war; Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse. Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task And even the like precurse of fierce events Does not divide the Sunday from the week : (As harbingers preceding still the fates, What might be toward, that this sweaty haste | And prologue to the omen coming on)