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Title: Some Remarks on the Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Written by Mr. William Shakespeare (1736)
Author: Anonymous
Language: English
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*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Some Remarks on the Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Written by Mr. William Shakespeare (1736)" ***

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Series Three:

_Essays on the Stage_

No. 3

Anonymous [attributed to Thomas Hanmer], _Some Remarks on the Tragedy of
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Written by Mr. William Shakespeare_ (1736).

With an Introduction by Clarence D. Thorpe


a Bibliographical Note

The Augustan Reprint Society September, 1947 _Price_: 75c

NILES HOOKER, _University of California, Los Angeles_ H.T. SWEDENBERG,
JR., _University of California, Los Angeles_

_ADVISORY EDITORS_ EMMETT L. AVERY, _State College of Washington_ LOUIS
I. BREDVOLD, _University of Michigan_ BENJAMIN BOYCE, _University of
Nebraska_ CLEANTH BROOKS, _Louisiana State University_ JAMES L.
CLIFFORD, _Columbia University_ ARTHUR FRIEDMAN, _University of Chicago_
SAMUEL H. MONK, _University of Minnesota_ JAMES SUTHERLAND, _Queen Mary
College, London_

Lithoprinted from copy supplied by author by Edwards Brothers, Inc. Ann
Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A. 1947


The identity of the "Anonymous" of _Some Remarks on Hamlet Prince of
Denmark_ has never been established. The tradition that Hanmer wrote the
essay had its highly dubious origin in a single unsupported statement by
Sir Henry Bunbury, made over one hundred years after the work was
written, in his _Correspondence of Sir Thomas Hanmer, with a Memoir of
His Life_ (London, 1838), to the effect that he had reason to believe
that Hanmer was the author. The evidence against this bare surmise is
such, however, as to compel assent to Professor Lounsbury's judgment
that Hanmer's authorship "is so improbable that it may be called
impossible" (_Shakespeare as a Dramatic Artist_, 60). I have elsewhere
set down reasons for my own belief that Hanmer could have had nothing to
do with the composition of the essay, arguing on grounds of ideas,
attitudes, style, and other internal evidence ("Thomas Hanmer and the
Anonymous Essay on _Hamlet_," _MLN_61 [1934], 493-498). Without going
over the case again, I wish here merely to reaffirm my conviction that
Hanmer was not the author, and to say that it would seem that the
difference in styles and the attitude of Anonymous toward Pope and
Theobald are alone convincing proof that Hanmer had no part in the
_Remarks_. Hanmer's style is stiff, formal, pedantic; the style of the
essay is free, easy, direct, more in the Addison manner. Hanmer was a
disciple of Pope's, and in his Preface to his Shakespeare and in his
edition as a whole shows allegiance to Pope. Anonymous, on the contrary,
decisively, though urbanely, rejects Pope's edition in favor of
Theobald's text and notes. The fact that Theobald was at that time still
the king of dunces in the _Dunciad_, adds to the improbability that an
admirer of Pope's, as Hanmer certainly was, would pay Theobald such

Most careful scholars of our day go no further on the question of
authorship than to note that the essay has been "attributed" to Hanmer;
some, like Professor Stoll, seem to have dropped the idea that Hanmer
was in any way connected with it and safely speak of "the author" or
"the anonymous author"; I recall only one case in recent years of an
all-out, incautious assignment of the authorship to Hanmer ("Hamlet
among the Mechanists," _Shakespeare Association Bulletin_ 17 [July,
1942], 138). It would seem advisable to follow Stoll's lead and ignore
Hanmer entirely.

The anonymous essay has been of continued interest to students of
Shakespeare. Echoes of its ideas if not its words appear in such later
critics of the eighteenth century as Gentleman, Steevens, Richardson,
and Morgann; in 1790 Malone copied out some two pages of the best of it
for publication; and in 1864 the whole was reprinted, a not too usual
thing for an obscure eighteenth century pamphlet. Present-day students
of Shakespeare, among them D.N. Smith, Lounsbury, Babcock, Lawrence, and
Stoll have treated the essay with unvarying respect. Remarking that it
anticipates some of Johnson's arguments, Smith calls it in general a
"well-written, interesting book" greatly superior to the anonymous essay
on Hamlet of 1752 (_Eighteenth Century Essays on Shakespeare_, xxn).
Lawrence has recently praised a selected passage for its "wise words ...
which may be pondered with profit" (Hamlet and Fortinbras, _PMLA_61
[1946], 697). And Stoll, who has obviously read the book with care, has
found in one of its statements the very "beginning of historical
criticism" (PQ 24 [1945], 291; _Shakespeare Studies_, 212n.), and has
elsewhere seen much to commend in it.

Reasons for such attention are not difficult to find; for the _Remarks_
is both intrinsically and historically an important piece of criticism.
It is still worth reading for more than one passage of discerning
analysis and apt comment on scene, speech, or character, and for certain
not unfruitful excursions into the field of general aesthetics; while
historically it is a sort of landmark in Shakespearian literature.
Standing chronologically almost midway between Dryden and Johnson,
Kames, and Richardson, the _Remarks_ shows decisively the direction in
which criticism, under the steadily mounting pressure of liberal,
empirical thought, is traveling. This little unpretentious book gathers
into itself, either in faint adumbration or in fairly advanced form, the
tendencies in method and ideas that are to remake criticism in the
eighteenth century. There are reflected here the growing distrust of the
"Rules" and the deepening faith in mind as the measure and in
imagination as the instrument. There is also added recognition of the
integrity of effects as a factor in judging literature.

Anonymous is an earlier member of the School of Taste. He is
none-the-less concerned with firm principles by which to justify his
acceptances and rejections. His announced over-all rule is conformity to
"Reason and Nature"--old words that he uses in the newer way. But he is
also handily equipped with a stock of stubbornly conservative
principles, reaching at times the status of bias, that serve to hold his
taste in balance and effectively check unrestrained admiration.

This conservative side of Anonymous must not pass unnoticed, for it is
the part of him that most closely identifies him with his forebears and
so throws his more original, independent side into stronger relief. Our
author is, not unexpectedly, an invariable moralist; is throughout a
stickler for dignity; is sensitive to absurdities, improprieties, and
slips in decorum; will have no truck with tragi-comedy in any of its
forms. He hates puns and bombast, demands refinement in speech and
restraint in manners. He regards Hamlet's speeches to Ophelia in the
Player scene as a violation of propriety, is shocked by the lack of
decency in the representation of Ophelia's madness, finds Hamlet's
frequent levity and the buffoonery of Polonius alike regrettable
--Shakespeare's favorite foible, he feels, is "that of raising a laugh."
The introduction of Fortinbras and his army on the stage is "an Absurdity";
the grave-diggers' scene is "very unbecoming to tragedy"; the satire on
the "Children of the Chapel" is not allowable in this kind of piece.

In all these things Anonymous is an upholder of the tradition of true,
restrained wit. But unlike some of his contemporaries, he has a formula
for discounting faults. "But we should be very cautious in finding Fault
with Men of such exalted Genius as our Author certainly was, lest we
should blame them when in reality the Fault lies in our own slow
Conceptions ..." This is the language of tolerance, a tolerance that can
overlook faults for the sake of greater beauties--one of the distinct
marks of the new criticism to which the _Remarks_ belongs.

The essay starts out in a boldly challenging tone. Criticism, says the
author, has been badly abused: it has been regarded as an excuse for the
ill-natured to find fault or for the better-natured to eulogize. But
true criticism has for its end "to set in the best light all Beauties,
and to touch upon Defects no more than is necessary." Beyond this it
seeks to set up a right taste for the age. His own purpose is to examine
a great tragedy "according to the Rules of Reason and Nature, without
having any regard to those Rules established by arbitrary Dogmatizing
Critics ..." More specifically, he proposes to show the why of our
pleasure in this piece: "And as to those things which charm by a certain
secret Force, and strike us we know not how, or why; I believe it will
not be disagreeable, if I shew to everyone the Reason why they are
pleas'd ..." This, it need hardly be observed, is all pretty much in
the vein of Addison, whom the author extols and whose papers on
_Paradise Lost_, he tells us, have furnished a model for the present
undertaking. Throughout his criticism Addison had deprecated mere
fault-finding and had urged the positive approach of emphasis on
beauties. In the last twelve essays on Milton's poem he had shown a new
way in critical writing, the way of particular as opposed to general
criticism, with the selection of specific details for praise and
explication; in his essay on the Imagination he had sought to find a
rationale for that kind of criticism: in which a man of true taste,
going beyond the mechanical rules, "would enter into the very Spirit and
Soul of Fine Writing, and shew us the several Sources of that Pleasure
which rises in the Mind upon the Perusal of a Noble Work." With such
ideas in mind, Anonymous proceeds to study _Hamlet_, in what is probably
the first act-by-act, scene-by-scene analysis of a play in English,
according to his understanding of the principles of the "new criticism"
as he finds them illustrated in Addison's theory and practice.

Having brushed aside the "fantastick Rules" of the conventional critics,
he proceeds to apply his laws of "Reason and Nature" as criteria by
which to test the validity of Shakespeare's effects and to discover the
cause of these effects. The results he achieves are in part conditioned
by his interpretation of his basic terms. Reason and Nature had been
invoked by many previous critics; but to Anonymous these words are not
what they were to Boileau and Pope. They particularly have nothing, or
next to nothing, to do with the Deistic concept of a universal nature of
external diversity but of an internal rational and universal order,
which art reveals and to which art at its best conforms. To Anonymous,
who in this is following the lead of the Hobbian school, the nature that
is the norm by which Shakespeare is to be judged is merely human nature,
used as Whately, Richardson, and Morgann are to use it later, and as
Johnson uses it when he argues that there is an appeal open from custom
to nature. Anonymous' interest is in the way the mind works and the way
people customarily act. So also when he talks about reason, he is
thinking only of what is acceptable to a logical, healthy mind. He has
no thought of identifying nature or reason with the traditional Rules or
with Homer. On the contrary, he is willing to set both of them quite
apart from, or even in opposition to the Rules (with a qualifying
concession that they may sometimes meet), and he definitely renounces
obligation to show that Shakespeare bears any relation to the ancients
whatever, denying at the same time the value of the customary shows of
learning in discussing his work. For Shakespeare apparently drew little
from the authors of antiquity: "Nature was our great Poet's Mistress;
her alone has he followed as his Conductress."

Such a view is emancipatory. Free the critic from the idea that nature
and the ancients are the same and that reason and the laws ascribed to
the ancients are identical, and he is ready to look at modern literature
with an independent judgment and to see what it is like and what it is
worth in and by itself. Release the critic from the necessity of
regarding nature as universal order and reason as the directive of this
order, and, whatever the loss in philosophic concept, he is ready for a
more specific and particular investigation that turns its attention to
basic human behavior and the basic ways of the mind as the criterion by
which to judge artistic representation. No need now for quaint parallels
with the ancients to justify modern practice, nor for scholarly
arguments to prove learning; all that is required is to prove adherence
to common nature and common rationality. This is the ground upon which
Anonymous stands, and it is the ground upon which Morgann is to stand
when he gives us the "Falstaff of Nature," and Johnson when he presents
Shakespeare as the dramatist who is "above all modern writers the poet
of nature," whose "persons act and speak by the influence of those
general passions by which all minds are agitated," whose "drama is the
mirror of life," in which his readers may find "human sentiments in
human language," whose practices are to be judged not by appeal to the
rules of criticism, but by reference to the author's design and the
great law of nature and reason.

This position opens the way for further advances. Thus, beginning with
the assumption that the mind of the spectator or the reader is the chief
arbiter in such matters, Anonymous gives us what is perhaps the most
enlightened comment on probability and illusion to be found in the
period between Dryden and Coleridge. His test for probability is what
the imagination will readily accept; and the imagination, he says, will
bear a "strong Imposition." Reason, to be sure, demands that actions and
speeches shall be "natural"--but natural within the framework of the
situation and character as established by the dramatist on the
imaginative level. The author's words on illusion recall the passage in
Dryden about reason's suffering itself to be "hoodwinked" by imaginative
presentation, foreshadow Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief,"
and directly suggest Johnson's passages on the subject. Experience will
show, he says, "that no Dramatick Piece can affect us but by the
Delusion of our Imagination; which, to taste true and real Pleasures at
such Representations, must undergo a very great Imposition." For
example, on our stage all nations speak English, and shock no one; also
the actors are recognized as actors and not as the persons represented,
and the stage as a stage and not Rome, or Denmark. Without such
imposition "farewell all Dramatick Performances."

And then, in continuation of this pre-Johnsonian (and pre-Coleridgean)
argument he goes on to say that delusion must be accepted, never,
however, in defiance of our reason but with the approval of our reason.
That Shakespeare's plays create delusion with the assistance of reason
is proved by the success they have so long enjoyed. Sublimity of
sentiments, exalted diction, and "in short all the Charms of his Poetry,
far outweigh any little absurdities in his Plots." He knew how to work
up "great and moving Circumstances in such a Way as to affect our
Passions strongly." The word used here throughout is _delusion_, but the
sense, just as is largely the case with Johnson, is _illusion_--not a
demand for such a verisimilitude as will deceive, but for such
representation as will lead the imagination to voluntary, pleasurable

Likewise, when Anonymous considers unity his emphasis, like Johnson's
and Hurd's, is no longer on the mechanical unities but on unity of
design. "When Shakespeare's plan is understood most of the criticisms of
Rymer and Voltaire vanish away," Johnson was to write some thirty years
later. Anonymous holds steadily for the integrity of Shakespeare's plan
in Hamlet. Of Act I, iii he says, "Concerning the Design of this scene,
we shall find it is necessary towards the whole plot of the Play"; he
speaks of I, iv as an "important Scene, on which turns the Whole Play";
the killing of Polonious, he explains, "was in Conformity to the Plan
_Shakespeare_ built his Play upon"; and finally, of the piece as a
whole, he asserts that "there is not one Scene but what some way or
other conduces toward the _Denoument_ of the Whole; and thus the Unity
of Action is indisputably kept up by everything tending to what we may
call the main Design, and it all hangs by Consequence so close together,
that no Scene can be omitted, without Prejudice to the Whole." When one
recalls that the idea of unity of design as evolved in Thomas Warton,
Hurd, and Johnson was the intermediate step on the way to a full theory
of organic unity we see the importance of such passages in the forward
march of criticism.

There is in the _Remarks_ a closer examination of event and character
than is usual in the period, again in the light of what it reasonable
and natural. The includes some "psychologizing" of persons in the play,
specifically in partial analyses of Laertes, Polonious, and Hamlet,
enough to foreshadow the later vogue but none of it very remarkable.
More worthy of notice is the author's use of a psychological method that
is to reappear in developed form in Coleridge: that is, a study of
successive scenes leading to a climactic moment--in this case Hamlet's
meeting with the ghost--for evidence of a skillful working up through
right preparatory touches to a point where the audience, in the words of
Anonymous, "are forced ... entirely to suspend their most fixed Opinions
and believe ..." This may have been done before in criticism; but if so
I do not myself recall it.

I should like, also, to risk the suggestion that to the author of _Some
Remarks_ should go the honor of the earliest adumbration of the "Hamlet
problem." For here, before Francis Gentleman or Steevens or Richardson,
Anonymous has raised the tantalising question of the why of Hamlet's
conduct, the problem of his delay in effecting his revenge, and has
glanced at an answer. Anonymous in no wise approves of Hamlet's madness:
it was, he thinks, the best possible way to thwart his design of revenge
and it was carried on with unseemly lack of dignity. Shakespeare has
followed his sources too closely, with bad results. There appears "no
Reason at all in Nature, why the young prince did not put the Usurper to
Death as soon as possible." To be sure this would have ended the play;
the poet must therefore delay the hero's revenge. But, insists
Anonymous, "then he should have contrived some good Reason for it." This
is clearly recognition of the vexing problem that has since occupied the
attention of unnumbered critics--if not in full statement, at least in
its essentials.

Such examples suggest the seminal quality of the best of this little
book. The writer was obviously a man who read closely and reflected to
good effect on what he read, with the result that he saw new things and
helped open new problems and point the way to a generally more fruitful
study of his author. Because of this and its prevailing sound critical
qualities the anonymous essay ranks with the more important
Shakespearian documents of the century. The editors of the _Augustan_
Reprints are to be commended for their decision to give it a place in
their valuable series. A critical work which is so viable, which has so
many points of contact with other good Shakespearian criticism, and
which is in itself so stimulating in approach and specific idea deserves
the added accessibility which such publication permits.

   University of Michigan                       Clarence D. Thorpe

Reprinted from the British Museum copy by permission of The Trustees of
the British Museum.

_There is hardly any Thing which has been more abus'd than the Art of
Criticism; it has been turned to so many bad Purposes among us, that the
very Word it self has almost totally lost its genuine and natural
Signification; for People generally understand by Criticism, finding
fault with a Work; and from thence, when we call a Man a Critick, we
usually mean, one disposed to blame, and seldom to commend. Whereas in
Truth, a real Critick, in the proper Sense of that Word, is one whose
constant Endeavour it is to set in the best Light all Beauties, and to
touch upon Defects no more than is necessary; to point out how such may
be avoided for the future, and to settle, if possible, a right Taste
among those of the Age in which he lives.

Ill-nature, and a Propensity to set any Work in a ridiculous and false
Light, are so far from being the Characteristicks of a true Critick,
that they are the certain Marks whereby we may know that a Man has not
the true Spirit of Criticism in him.

There is a Weakness opposite to this, which indeed is better natur'd,
but is, however, vicious; and that is, the being bigotted to an Author;
insomuch that Men of this Stamp, when they undertake to explain or
comment upon any Writer, they will not allow him to have any Defects;
nay, so far from that, they find out Beauties in him which can be so to
none but themselves, and give Turns to his Expressions, and lend him
Thoughts which were never his Design, or never enter'd into his Brain.

Of all our Countrymen, Mr._ Addison _is the best in Criticism, the most
exempt from the Faults I mention; for his Papers upon_ Milton's Paradise
Lost, _I look upon as the true Model for all Criticks to follow. In
those we see the Beauties and Faults of that great Poet weigh'd in the
most exact and impartial Scales.

Those excellent Papers first gave me an Idea of publishing the following
Sheets. Happy! if I can but any ways follow such a Guide, though at ever
so great a Distance; since I am well persuaded, that by this Means I can
never be totally in Error, tho' I may sometimes deviate for want of
proper Abilities!

Criticism in general, is what few of our Countrymen have succeeded in:
In that respect, our Neighbours have got the better of us; altho' we can
justly boast of the compleatest Essay on that Subject that has been
publish'd in any Language, in which almost every Line, and every Word,
convey such Images, and such Beauties, as were never before found in so
small a Compass, and of whose Author it may properly be said, in that

He is himself that great Sublime he draws.

_I would not have the Reader imagine, that I believe I have pointed out
all the Excellencies in this Tragedy; I am not so vain as to think so.
Besides, these Papers are too few to contain them; and I have so little
of Presumption in me, that I did not think it reasonable to put my
Readers to a greater Expence, by enlarging on the Subject, until I find
that they themselves are not averse to it._

_This is all I have to say at present; whatever else is necessary to
premise, will be found in the Introduction to the Remarks, to which I

       *        *        *        *        *


_Hamlet_ Prince of _Denmark_.

I am going to do what to some may appear extravagant, but by those of a
true Taste in Works of Genius will be approv'd of. I intend to examine
one of the Pieces of the greatest Tragick Writer that ever liv'd,
(except _Sophocles_ and _Euripides_,) according to the Rules of Reason
and Nature, without having any regard to those Rules established by
Arbitrary Dogmatising Criticks, only as they can be brought to bear that

Among the many Parts of this great Poet's Character, so often given by
some of our best Writers, I shall particularly dwell upon those which
they have the least insisted on, which will, however, put every Thing he
has produc'd in its true and proper Light.

He had (beyond Dispute) a most unbounded Genius, very little regulated
by Art.

His particular Excellency consists in the Variety and Singularity of his
Characters, and in the constant Conformity of each Character to it self
from its very first setting out in the Play, quite to the End. And still
further, no Poet ever came up to him, in the Nobleness and Sublimity of
Thought, so frequent in his Tragedies, and all express'd with the most
Energick Comprehensiveness of Diction.

And it must moreover be observed, as to his Characters, that although
there are some entirely of his own Invention, and such as none but so
great a Genius could invent; yet he is so remarkably happy in following
of Nature, that (if I may so express it) he does it even in Characters
which are not in Nature. To clear up this Paradox, my Meaning is, that
if we can but once suppose such Characters to exist, then we must allow
they must think and act exactly as he has described them.

This is but a short Sketch of the main Part of _Shakespeare's_
particular Excellencies; the others will be taken Notice of in the
Progress of my Remarks. And if I am so happy as to point out some
Beauties not yet discovered, or at least not put in the Light they ought
to be, I hope I shall deserve my Reader's Thanks, who will thereby, I
imagine, receive that Pleasure which I have always done upon any new
Discovery of this sort, whether made by my own Labour, or by the
Penetration of others: And as to those Things which charm by a certain
secret Force, and strike us we know not how, or why; I believe it will
not be disagreeable, if I shew to every one the Reason why they are
pleas'd, and by that Confederation they will be capacitated to discover
still more and more Charms in the Works of this great Poet, and thereby
increase their Pleasure without End.

I do not pretend, in Publishing these Remarks of mine, to arrogate any
Superiority of Genius; but I think every one should contribute to the
Improvement of some Branch or other of Literature in this Country of
ours, and thus furnish out his Share towards the Bettering of the Minds
of his Countrymen, by affording some Honest Amusements, which can
entertain a Man, and help to refine his Taste, and improve his
Understanding, and no Ways at the Expence of his Honesty and Virtue. In
the Course of these Remarks, I shall make use of the Edition of this
Poet, given us by Mr. _Theobalds_, because he is generally thought to
have understood our Author best, and certainly deserves the Applause of
all his Countrymen for the great Pains he has been at to give us the
best Edition of this Poet, which has yet appear'd. I would not have Mr.
_Pope_ offended at what I say, for I look upon him as the greatest
Genius in Poetry that has ever appear'd in _England_: But the Province
of an Editor and a Commentator is quite foreign to that of a Poet. The
former endeavours to give us an Author as he is; the latter, by the
Correctness and Excellency of his own Genius, is often tempted to give
us an Author as he thinks he ought to be.

Before I proceed to the particular Parts of this Tragedy, I must
premise, that the great Admirers of our Poet cannot be offended, if I
point out some of his Imperfections, since they will find that they are
very few in Proportion to his Beauties. Amongst the former, we may
reckon some _Anachronisms_, and also the inordinate Length of Time
supposed to be employ'd in several of his Pieces; add to all this, that
the Plots of his Plays in general, are charged with some little
Absurdity or other. But then, how easily may we forgive this, when we
reflect upon his many Excellencies! The Tragedy that is now coming under
our Examination, is one of the best of his Pieces, and strikes us with a
certain Awe and Seriousness of Mind, far beyond those Plays whose Whole
Plot turns upon vehement and uncontroulable Love, such as are most of
our modern Tragedies. These certainly have not the great Effect that
others have, which turn either upon Ambition, the Love of one's Country,
or Paternal or Filial Tenderness. Accordingly we find, that few among
the Ancients, and hardly any of our Author's Plays, are built upon the
Passion of Love in a direct Manner; by which I mean, that they have not
the mutual Attachment of a Lover and his Mistress for their chief Basis.
Love will always make a great Figure in Tragedy, if only its chief
Branches be made use of; as for instance, Jealousy (as in _Othello_) or
the beautiful Distress of Man and Wife (as in _Romeo_ and _Juliet_) but
never when the whole Play is founded upon two Lovers desiring to possess
each other: And one of the Reasons for this seems to be, that this last
Species of that Passion is more commonly met with than the former, and
so consequently strikes us less. Add to this, that there may a Suspicion
arise, that the Passion of Love in a direct Manner may be more sensual
than in those Branches which I have mention'd; which Suspicion is
sufficient to take from its Dignity, and lessen our Veneration for it.
Of all _Shakespeare's_ Tragedies, none can surpass this, as to the noble
Passions which it naturally raises in us. That the Reader may see what
our Poet had to work upon, I shall insert the Plan of it as abridged
from _Saxo-Grammaticus's_ _Danish_ History by Mr. _Theobalds_.
"The Historian calls our Poets Hero _Amlethus_, his Father _Horwendillus_,
his Uncle _Fengo_, and his Mother _Gerutha_. The old King in single
Combat, slew _Collerus_ King of _Norway_; _Fengo_ makes away with his
Brother _Horwendillus_, and marries his Widow _Gerutha_. _Amlethus_, to
avoid being suspected by his Uncle of Designs, assumes a Form of utter
Madness. A fine Woman is planted upon him, to try if he would yield to
the Impressions of Love. _Fengo_ contrives, that _Amlethus_, in order to
sound him, should be closetted by his Mother. A Man is conceal'd in the
Rushes to overhear their Discourse; whom _Amlethus_ discovers and kills.
When the Queen is frighted at this Behaviour of his; he tasks her about
her criminal Course of Life, and incestuous Conversation with her former
Husband's Murtherer; confesses his Madness is but counterfeited, to
protect himself, and secure his Revenge for his Father; to which he
injoins the Queen's Silence. _Fengo_ sends _Amlethus_ to _Britain_: Two
of the King's Servants attend him with Letters to the _British_ King,
stricyly pressing the Death of _Amlethus_, who, in the Night Time,
coming at their Commission, overreads it, forms a new One, and turns the
Destruction designed towards himself on the Bearers of the Letters.
_Amlethus_ returning Home, by a Wile surprizes and kills his Uncle." I
shall have Occasion to remark in the Sequel, that in one Particular he
has follow'd the Plan so closely as to produce an Absurdity in his Plot.
And I must premise also this, that in my Examination of the whole
Conduct of the Play, the Reader must not be surprised, if I censure any
Part of it, although it be entirely in Conformity to the Plan the Author
has chosen; because it is easy to conceive, that a Poet's Judgment is
particularly shewn in chusing the proper Circumstances, and rejecting
the improper Ones of the Ground-work which he raises his Play upon. In
general we are to take Notice, that as History ran very low in his Days,
most of his Plays are founded upon some old wretched Chronicler, or some
empty _Italian_ Novelist; but the more base and mean were his Materials,
so much more ought we to admire His Skill, Who has been able to work up
his Pieces to such Sublimity from such low Originals. Had he had the
Advantages of many of his Successors, ought not we to believe, that he
would have made the greatest Use of them? I shall not insist upon the
Merit of those who first break through the thick Mist of _Barbarism_ in
Poetry, which was so strong about the Time our Poet writ, because this
must be easily sensible to every Reader who has the least Tincture of
Letters; but thus much we must observe, that before his Time there were
very few (if any) Dramatick Performances of any Tragick Writer, which
deserve to be remembred; so much were all the noble Originals of
Antiquity buried in Oblivion. One would think that the Works of
_Sophocles_, _Euripides_, &c. were Discoveries of the last Age only; and
not that they had existed for so many Centuries. There is something very
astonishing in the general Ignorance and Dullness of Taste, which for so
long a Time over-spread the World, after it had been so gloriously
enlighten'd by _Athens_ and _Rome_; especially as so many of their
excellent Master-pieces were still remaining, which one would have
thought should have excited even the Brutes of those barbarous Ages to
have examined them, and form'd themselves according to such Models.

VOL. the 7th of Mr. _Theobald's Shakespeare_.

Page 225.


_Bernardo_ and _Francisco_, two Centinels.

Bernardo. _Who's there?_ &c.

Nothing can be more conformable to Reason, than that the Beginning of
all Dramatick Performances (and indeed of every other kind of Poesie)
should be with the greatest Simplicity, that so our Passions maybe
work'd upon by Degrees. This Rule is very happily observ'd in this Play;
and it has this Advantage over many others, that it has Majesty and
Simplicity joined together. For this whole preparatory Discourse to the
Ghost's coming in, at the same Time that it is necessary towards laying
open the Scheme of the Play, creates an Awe and Attention in the
Spectators, such as very well fits them to receive the Appearance of a
Messenger from the other World, with all the Terror and Seriousness
necessary on the Occasion. And surely the Poet has manag'd the Whole in
such a Manner, that it is all entirely Natural: And tho' most Men are
well enough arm'd against all Belief of the Appearances of Ghosts, yet
they are forced, during the Representation of this Piece, entirely to
suspend their most fixed Opinions, and believe that they do actually see
a Phantom, and that the whole Plot of the Play is justly and naturally
founded upon the Appearance of this Spectre.

Page 227.

   Marcell. HORATIO _says 'tis but our Phantasie,
   And will not let Belief take hold of Him,
   Touching this dreaded Sight twice seen of Us;
   Therefore I have intreated him along
   With us to watch the Minutes of this Night;
   That if again this Apparition come,
   He may approve our Eyes, and speak to it._

   HORATIO, _Tush, Tush, 'twill not appear!_

These Speeches help greatly to deceive us; for they shew one of the
principal Persons of the Drama to be as incredulous, in Relation to the
Appearance of Phantoms, as we can be; but that he is at last convinc'd
of his Error by the Help of his Eyes. For it is a Maxim entirely
agreeable to Truth, if we consider human Nature, that whatever is
supernatural or improbable, is much more likely to gain Credit with us,
if it be introduced as such, and talk'd of as such by the Persons of the
Drama, but at last prov'd to be true, tho' an extraordinary Thing, than
if it were brought in as a Thing highly probable, and no one were made
to boggle at the Belief of it. The Reason of this seems to be, that we
can for once, upon a very great Occasion, allow such an Incident as this
to have happen'd, if it be brought in as a Thing of great Rarity; but we
can by no means so suspend our Judgement and Knowledge, or deceive Our
Understandings, as to grant That to be common and usual which we know to
be entirely Supernatural and Improbable.

Page 227.

   _Enter the Ghost._

Here it is certain, nothing could be better tim'd than the Entrance of
this Spectre; for he comes in and convinces _Horatio_, to save
_Marcellos_ the Trouble of repeating the whole Story, which would have
been tiresome to the Spectators, as these Gentlemen were obliged soon
after to relate the Whole to Prince _Hamlet_.

Horatio's Speeches to the Apparition are exceeding Natural, Aweful, and
Great, and well suited to the Occasion and his own Character.

   _What art Thou, that usurpest this Time of Night,
   Together with that fair and warlike Form,
   In which the Majesty of buried_ Denmark
   _Did some Time march? By Heaven, I charge thee speak_. Page 227.

The other is Page 130.

   ---- _Stay Illusion!
   If thou hast any Sound, or Use of Voice,
   Speak to me!
   If there be any good Thing to be done,
   That may to thee do Ease, and Grace to me,
   Speak to me.
   If thou art privy to thy Country's Fate,
   Which, happily, Fore-knowing may avoid,
   Oh Speak!
   Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy Life
   Extorted Treasure in the Womb of Earth,
   For which, they say, you Spirits oft' walk in Death,
   Speak of it,--Stay and speak!--Stop it_ Marcellus.

His desiring _Marcellus_ to stop it, is also much in Nature, because it
shews a Perturbation of Mind, very much to be expected at such an
Incident. For he must know, being a Scholar, (as they term him) that
Spirits could not be stopp'd as Corporeal Substances can.

But to return to Page 228.

   Bernardo, _How now_ Horatio! _you tremble
   and look pale_, &c.

This is entirely in Nature, for it cannot be supposed, that any Man,
tho' never so much endu'd with Fortitude, could see so strange a Sight,
so shocking to human Nature, without some Commotion of his Frame,
although the Bravery of his Mind makes him get the better of it.

Page 228.

   Horatio, _Before my God, I might not this believe,
   Without the sensible and trite Avouch
   Of mine own Eyes_.

This Speech still helps on our Deception, for the Reasons I have already

Page 228.

   Horatio, _Such was the very Armour he
   had on_, &c.

I have heard many Persons wonder why the Poet should bring in this
Ghost in complete Armour. It does, I own, at first seem hard to be
accounted for; but I think these Reasons may be given for it, viz. We
are to consider, that he could introduce him in these Dresses only; in
his Regal Dress, in a Habit of Interment, in a common Habit, or in some
Phantastick one of his own Invention. Now let us examine which was most
likely to affect the Spectators with Passions proper to the Occasion,
and which could most probably furnish out great Sentiments and fine

The Regal Habit has nothing uncommon in it, nor surprising; nor could it
give rise to any fine Images. The Habit of Interment was something too
horrible; for Terror, not Horror, is to be raised in the Spectators. The
common Habit (or _Habit de Ville_, as the _French_ call it) was by no
Means proper for the Occasion.

It remains then, that the Poet should chuse some Habit from his own
Brain: But this certainly could not be proper, because Invention in such
a Case, would be so much in Danger of falling into the Grotesque, that
it was not to be hazarded.

Now as to the Armour, it was very suitable to a King, who is described
as a great Warrior, and is very particular, and consequently affects the
Spectators, without being phantastick. Besides, if there were no other
Reason, the fine Image which arises from thence, in these Lines, is
Reason enough.

     _Such was the very Armour he had on,
   When He th' ambitious_ Norway _combated,
   So frown'd He once, when in angry Parle,
   He smote the sleaded_ Polack _on the Ice.
     'Tis Strange!_

There is a Stroke of Nature in _Horatio's_ breaking off, from the
Description of the King, and falling into the Exclamation. _'Tis
Strange!_ which is inimitably Beautiful.

Page 228.

   Marcellus. _Good now sit down_, &c.

The whole Discourse concerning the great Preparations making in
_Denmark_ is very Poetical, and necessary also towards the introducing
of _Fortinbrass_ in this Play, whose Appearance gives Rise to one Scene,
which adds a Beauty to the Whole; I mean, That wherein _Hamlet_ makes
those noble Reflections upon seeing That Prince's Army. Besides, this
Discourse is necessary also to give the Ghost Time to appear again, in
order to affect the Spectators still more; and from this Conversation
the Interlocutors draw one Reason, why the Spirit appears in Arms, which
appears rational to the Audience. It gives also _Horatio_ an Opportunity
of addressing the Ghost in that beautiful Manner he does.

Page 229

_Stay Illusion! &c_.

The Description of the Prefages which happen'd to _Rome_, and the
drawing a like Inference from this supernatural Appearance, is very
nervous and Poetical.

Page 230, 231.

Bernardo. _It was about to speak when the Cock crew &c_.

The Speeches in consequence of this Observation are truly beautiful, and
are properly Marks of a great Genius; as also these Lines which describe
the Morning, are in the true Spirit of Poetry.

Page 31. _But, look, the Morn, in Russet Mantle clad, Walks oe'r the Dew
of yon high Eastern Hill_.

And as to _Shakespeare's_ complying with the vulgar Notions of Spirits
amongst the _English_ at that Time, so far from being low, it adds a
Grace and a _Naïveté_ to the whole Passage, which one can much easier be
sensible of than know how to make others so.

SCENE. _The Palace_, (p. 231.) And Sequel.

_Enter the_ King, Queen, Hamlet, &c.

It is very natural and apropos, that the King should bring some
plausible Excuse for marrying his Brother's Wife so soon after the
Decease of his Brother, which he does in his first Speech in this Scene:
It would else have too soon revolted the Spectators against such an
unusual Proceeding. All the Speeches of the King in this Scene to his
Ambassadors _Cornelius_ and _Voltimand_, and to _Laertes_, and to Prince
_Hamlet_, are entirely Fawning, and full of Dissimulation, and makes him
well deserve the Character which the Prince afterwards gives him, of
_smiling, damn'd Villain, &c._ when he is informed of his Crime.

The King's and Queen's Questions to _Hamlet_ are very proper, to give
the Audience a true Idea of the Filial Piety of the young Prince, and of
his virtuous Character; for we are hereby informed of his fixed and
strong Grief for the Loss of his Father: For it does not appear, that
the Usurpation of the Crown from him, sits heavy on his Soul, at least,
it is not seen by any Part of his Behaviour.

How his Uncle came to be preferred to him, we are left entirely in the
dark, but may suppose it to have been done in the same Manner, as
several things of the like Nature have been effected, viz. by Corruption
and Violence, and perhaps upon the Pretence of the Prince's being too

I can by no Means agree with Mr. _Theobalds_, (p. 235.) who thinks, that
it is necessary to suppose a considerable Number of Years spent in this
Tragedy; because Prince _Hamlet_ is said to desire to return to
_Wittenberg_ again, and is supposed to be just come from it; and that
afterwards, the Grave-Digger lets us know that the Prince is Thirty
Years old; my Reasons are, that as _Wittenberg_ was an University, and
_Hamlet_ is represented as a Prince of great Accomplishments, it is no
wonder that he should like to spend his Time there, in going on in his
Improvements, rather than to remain inactive at _Elsinoor_, or be
immers'd in Sottishness, with which he seems to tax his Countrymen; as
will appear in the Sequel. Besides, he might well desire to return
there, when he found his Throne usurped, and his Mother acting so
abominable a Part. And as to the Term of going to School, &c. That does
not at all imply literally a School for Boys, but is poetically used for
Studying at any Age.

Another Reason may be given why there cannot be supposed to be a great
Length of Time in this Play; which is this, That we see in the First
Act, Ambassadors dispatch'd to old _Norway_, concerning his Nephew
_Fortinbras's_ Army, which was then ready to march; and in the Fourth
Act, we see this Prince at the Head of that Army, which immediately,
upon the Embassy from the _Danish_ King to his Uncle, we are naturally
to suppose he leads to that other Enterprize which is mentioned in that
Scene. Now it is no ways likely, that between the Embassy and the
marching of an Army already assembled before that Embassy, there should
be a Number of Years. These Reasons and the whole Conduct of the Piece
convince me, that this is one of _Shakespeare's_ Plays, in which the
least Time is employ'd; how much there is, I cannot pretend to say.

As to the _Prolepsis_, or in other Words, the mentioning the University
of _Wittenberg_, long before its Establishment, thus antedating its
Time, I shall not justify _Shakespeare_; I think it is a fault in him;
but I cannot be of Opinion, that it has any bad Effect in this Tragedy.
_See Mr_. Theobald's _Note_, (p. 235.)

As to _Hamlet's_ Soliloquy, I shall set down the whole Passage, and
shall subjoin the Remarks of a very eminent Author which are in the
Spirit of true Criticism.

     _Oh that this too, too solid Flesh would melt,
   Thaw, and resolve it self into a Dew!
   Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
   His Cannon 'gainst Self-slaughter! Oh God! Oh God!
   How weary, stale, and unprofitable,
   Seem to me all the Uses of this World!
   Fie on't! Oh fie! 'tis an unweeded Garden,
   That grows to Seed; Things rank and gross
         in Nature,
   Possess it merely. That it should come to this,
   But two Months dead! Nay, not so much,
         not Two!
   So Excellent a King, that was to this_,
   Hyperion _to a Satyr: So Loving to my Mother,
   That he would not let e'en the Winds of
   Visit her Face too roughly. Heav'n and Earth!
   Must I remember? Why, she would hang on
   As if Increase of Appetite had grown
   By what it fed on; yet within a Month!
   Let me not think. Frailty! Thy Name is
   A little Month; e'er yet those Shoes were old,
   With which she follow'd my poor Father's
   Like_ Niobe, _all Tears; Why she, even she,
   (Oh Heav'n, a Beast that wants Discourse
      of Reason,
   Would have mourn'd longer) married with
      mine Uncle,
   My Father's Brother; but no more like my
   Than I to_ Hercules. _Within a Month,
   E'er yet the Salt of most unrighteous Tears
   Had left the flushing in her gaul'd Eyes,
   She married. Oh! most wicked Speed, to
   With such Dexterity to incestuous Sheets!_

   _It is not, nor it cannot come to Good.
   But, break my Heart, for I must hold my

"The young Prince, (says this Author in the _Tatler_,) was not yet
acquainted with all the Guilt of his Mother; but turns his Thoughts on
her sudden Forgetfulness of his Father, and the Indecency of her hasty
Marriage. The several Emotions of Mind, and Breaks of Passion in this
Speech, are admirable. He has touch'd every Circumstance that aggravated
the Fact, and seem'd capable of hurrying the Thoughts of a Son into
Distraction. His Father's Tenderness for his Mother, express'd in so
delicate a Particular; his Mother's Fondness for his Father, no less
exquisitely described; the great and amiable Figure of his dead Parent,
drawn by a true Filial Piety; his Disdain of so unworthy a Successor to
his Bed: But above all, the Shortness of the Time between his Father's
Death, and his Mother's Second Marriage, brought together with so much
Disorder, make up as noble a Part as any in that celebrated Tragedy. The
Circumstance of Time I never could enough admire. The Widow-hood had
lasted two Months. This is his first Reflection: But as his Indignation
rises, he sinks to scarce two Months; afterwards into a Month; and at
last, into a _little_ Month. But all this so naturally, that the Reader
accompanies him in the Violence of his Passion, and finds the Time
lessen insensibly, according to the different Workings of his Disdain. I
have not mentioned the Incest of her Marriage, which is so obvious a
Provocation; but can't forbear taking Notice, that when his Fury is at
its Height, he cries, _Frailty, thy Name is Woman!_ as Railing at the
Sex in general, rather than giving himself leave to think his Mother
worse than Others."

Page 238.

_Enter_ Horatio, Bernardo, _and_ Marcellus, _to_ Hamlet.

The Greeting between _Hamlet, Horatio,_ and _Marcellus_, is very easy,
and expresses the benign Disposition of the Prince, and first gives us
an Intimation of his Friendship for _Horatio_.

Page 238.

_We'll teach you to drink deep, e'er you depart_.

This seems designed to reflect upon the sottish Disposition, then
encouraged amongst the _Danes_ by the Usurper, as will appear in the
Sequel; and gives us one Reason why _Elsinoor_ was disagreeable to
Prince _Hamlet_; and certainly, much confirms what I before said, as to
his going back to _Wittenberg_.

Page 238.

The Prince's Reflections on his Mother's hasty Marriage, are very
natural, and shew That to be one of the principal Causes of the deep
fix'd Concern so visible in his Behaviour; and then they serve to
introduce the Relation of the Appearance of his Father's Ghost.

Page 238, to the End of the Scene.

_Hamlet_ receives the Account they give him with such a Surprize as is
very natural, and particularly his breaking off from the Consequence of
his Question, viz. _Hold you the Watch to Night?_ and saying _arm'd?_
that is, returning to the main Question, is exceedingly in Nature.

Their differing in the Account of the Time the Spectre staid, throws an
Air of Probability on the Whole, which is much easier felt than

The Prince's Resolution to speak to the Phantom, let what will be the
Consequence, is entirely suitable to his Heroical Disposition; and his
Reflection upon his Father's Spirit appearing in Arms, is such as one
would naturally expect from him; and the Moral Sentence he ends his
short Speech with, suits his virtuous Temper, at the same Time that it
has a good Effect upon the Audience, and answers the End of Tragedy.

Page 241, to the End of the Scene, in p. 246.

SCENE in _Polonius's_ House.

_Enter_ Laertes _and_ Ophelia, _and afterwards_ Polonius.

It is evident by the whole Tenour of _Polonius's_ Behaviour in this
Play, that he is intended to represent some Buffoonish Statesman, not
too much fraught with Honesty. Whether any particular Person's Character
was herein aim'd at, I shall not determine, because it is not to the
Purpose; for whoever reads our Author's Plays, will find that in all of
them, (even the most serious ones) he has some regard for the meanest
Part of his Audience, and perhaps too, for that Taste for low Jokes and
Punns, which prevailed in his Time among the better Sort. This, I think,
was more pardonable in him, when it was confined to Clowns, and such
like Persons in his Plays; but is by no Means excusable in a Man,
supposed to be in such a Station as _Polonius_ is, Nay, granting that
such Ministers of State were common, (which surely they are not) it
would even then be a Fault in our Author to introduce them in such
Pieces as this; for every Thing that is natural is not to be made use of
improperly: But when it is out of Nature, this certainly much aggravates
the Poet's Mistake. And, to speak Truth, all Comick Circumstances, all
Things tending to raise a Laugh, are highly offensive in Tragedies to
good Judges; the Reason in my Opinion is evident, viz. that such Things
degrade the Majesty and Dignity of Tragedy, and destroy the Effect of
the Intention which the Spectators had in being present at such
Representations; that is, to acquire that pleasing Melancholy of Mind,
which is caus'd by them, and that Satisfaction which arises from the
Consciousness that we are mov'd as we ought to be, and that we
consequently have Sentiments suitable to the Dignity of our Nature. For
these and many other Reasons, too long to mention here, I must confess
myself to be an Enemy also to all ludicrous Epilogues and Farcical
Pieces, at the End of Tragedies; and must think them full as ridiculous
as if we were to dress a Monarch in all his Royal Robes, and then put a
Fool's Cap upon him.

But to come to the Scene now under Examination. It is certain, that
except it be in playing upon the Word _Tender_ p. 244. (of which too he
is sensible himself,) our old Statesman behaves suitably to his Dignity,
and acts fully up to his Paternal Character; so here we shall not tax

The Advice of _Laertes_ to his Sister contains the soundest Reasoning,
express'd in the most nervous and poetical Manner, and is full of
Beauties; particularly, I can never enough admire the Modesty inculcated
in these Lines:

   _The chariest Maid is prodigal enough,
   If She unmask her Beauty to the Moon_.

_Ophelia's_ modest Replies, the few Words she uses, and the virtuous
Caution she gives her Brother, after his Advice to her, are inimitably
charming. This I have observed in general in our Author's Plays, that
almost all his young Women (who are designed as good Characters) are
made to behave with a Modesty and Decency peculiar to those Times, and
which are of such pleasing Simplicity as seem too ignorant and unmeaning
in our well taught knowing Age; so much do we despise the virtuous
Plainness of our Fore-fathers!

_Polonius_ and _Laertes_ Behaviour to each other, is exceeding natural;
and I agree with Mr. _Theobalds's_ Emendation as to that Circumstance,
(p. 243.) of _Polonius_ Blessing his Son; but I can by no Means be of
his Sentiment, that it was a Circumstance, which, if well managed by a
Comick Actor, would raise a Laugh, (See his Note, p. 243.) for I am
perswaded, that _Shakespeare_ was too good a Judge of Nature, to design
any Thing Comick or Buffoonish upon so solemn an Occasion, as that of a
Son's taking leave of his Father in the most emphatical and serious
Manner. And therefore, whatever Actor proceeds upon this Supposition (as
I have seen some do in parallel Cases) does only shew his Ignorance and
Presumption. This Assertion of mine will appear indisputable, if my
Reader considers well the whole Tenour of this Scene, with the grave
and excellent Instructions which it contains, from _Polonius_ to
_Laertes_, and from both to _Ophelia_. It is impossible that any
Buffoonry could be here blended, to make void and insignificant so much
good Sense expressed in the true Beauties of Poetry. As to Prince
_Hamlet's_ Love for _Ophelia_, I shall speak to it in another Place.

Concerning the Design of this Scene, we shall find it is necessary
towards the whole Plot of the Play, and is by no Means an Episode. As to
_Laertes's_ Character, I shall lay some thing of it else where.

Page 246

Scene. _The Platform before the Palace._

_Enter_ Hamlet, Horatio _and_ Marcellus.

The Beginning of this Scene is easy and natural. The King's taking his
Rowse, seems introduced to fill up a necessary Space of Time, and also
perhaps to blacken still more the Character of the Usurper, who had
revived a sottish Custom (as appears by the Prince's Remarks upon it)
omitted by several of his Predecessors; for it would have been improper
to have had the Ghost appear the Minute the Prince was come on to the
Platform. Some Time was requisite to prepare the Minds of the
Spectators, that they might collect all their Faculties to behold this
important Scene, on which turns the whole Play, with due Attention and
Seriousness; although, indeed, I must think that the Prince's Speech
would not be much worth preserving, but for That Reason: for expressed
and amended, according to the best that can be made of it, (as Mr.
_Theobalds_ has done it) it is but of very obsure Diction, and is much
too long; for a very short Moral is to be drawn from it.

Page 248.

_Enter the Ghost._

We now are come to the sublimest Scene in this whole Piece, a Scene
worthy of the greatest Attention; an Heroical Youth addressing the Shade
of his departed Father, whom he tenderly loved, and who, we are told,
was a Monarch of the greatest Worth. Surely there cannot be imagin'd any
Scene more capable of stirring up our noblest Passions. Let us but
observe with how much Beauty and Art the Poet has managed it. This
Spectre has been once spoken to by the Friend of our young Hero, and it
must be confessed, that _Horatio's_ Speech to it is truly great and
beautiful: But as the like Incident was again to happen; that is, as the
Ghost was again to be addressed, and with this Addition, by the Hero of
the Play, and Son to the King, whose Spirit appears; it was necessary, I
say, upon these Accounts, that this Incident should be treated in a
sublimer Manner than the Former. Accordingly we may take Notice, that
_Hamlet's_ Speech to his Father's Shade is as much superior to that of
_Horatio_ upon the same Occasion, as his is to any Thing of that kind
that I have ever met with in any other Dramatick Poet.

_Hamlet's_ Invocation of the heavenly Ministers, is extremely fine; and
the begging their Protection upon the Appearance of a Sight so shocking
to human Nature, is entirely conformable to the virtuous Character of
this Prince, and gives an Air of Probability to the whole Scene. He
accosts the Ghost with great Intrepidity; and his whole Speech is so
full of the Marks of his Filial Piety, that we may easily observe, that
his Tenderness for his Father gets the better of all Sentiments of
Terror which we could suppose to arise, even in the Breast of the most
undaunted Person, upon the seeing and conversing with so strange an

His breaking from his Friends with that Vehemency of Passion in an
Eagerness of Desire to hear what his Father could say to him, is another
Proof of his Filial Tenderness.

The Reader of himself must easily see why the Spectre would not speak to
the Prince, but a-part from those who were with him: For it was not a
Secret of a Nature fit to be divulg'd. Their earnest Intreaties, and
almost Force which they use to keep him from going, are much in Nature;
the Reasons they give him, and the Reflections they make after he is
gone, are poetically express'd, and very natural.

The Ghost's Account of the base Murther committed on him, is express'd
in the strongest and most nervous Diction that Poetry can make use of;
and he speaks with such Gravity and Weight of Language as well suits his
Condition. The Ideas he raises in the Audience by his short Hint
concerning the Secrets of his Prison-House, are such as must cause that
Terror which is the natural Effect of such Appearances, and must
occasion such Images as should always accompany such Incidents in

The Ghost's bringing out the Account of his Murder by Degrees, and the
Prince's Exclamations as he becomes farther acquainted with the Affair,
are great Beauties in this Scene, because it is all entirely conformable
to Nature; that is, to those Ideas by which we naturally conceive, how a
Thing of this sort would be managed and treated, were it really to

We are to observe further, that the King spurs on his Son to revenge his
foul and unnatural Murder from these two Considerations chiefly, that he
was sent into the other World without having had Time to repent of his
Sins, and without the necessary Sacraments, (according to the Church of
_Rome_,) as Mr. _Theobalds_, (See his Note, _p._ 253.) has well
explained it, and that consequently his Soul was to suffer, if not
eternal Damnation, at least a long Course of Penance in Purgatory;
which aggravates the Circumstances of his Brother's Barbarity. And,
Secondly, That _Denmark_ might not be the Scene of Usurpation and
Incest, and the Throne thus polluted and profaned. For these Reasons he
prompts the young Prince to Revenge; else it would have been more
becoming the Character of such a Prince as _Hamlet's_ Father is
represented to have been, and more suitable to his present Condition, to
have left his Brother to the Divine Punishment, and to a Possibility of
Repentance for his base Crime, which by cutting him off, he must be
deprived of.

His Caution to his Son concerning his Mother, is very fine, and shews
great Delicacy in our Author; as has been observ'd by a great Writer of
our Nation. The Ghost's Interrupting himself (_but soft, methinks, I
scent the Morning Air_, &c.) has much Beauty in it, particularly, as it
complys with the received Notions, that Spirits shun the Light, and
continues the Attention of the Audience by so particular a Circumstance.

The Sequel of this Scene by no Means answers the Dignity of what we have
hitherto been treating of. _Hamlet's_ Soliloquy, after the Ghost has
disappeared, is such as it should be. The Impatience of _Horatio_, &c.
to know the Result of his Conference with the Phantom, and his putting
them off from knowing it, with his Caution concerning his future
Conduct, and his intreating them to be silent in Relation to this whole
Affair; all this, I say, is natural and right; but his light and even
ludicrous Expressions to them; his making them swear by his Sword, and
shift their Ground, with the Ghost's Crying under the Stage, and
_Hamlet's_ Reflection thereupon, are all Circumstances certainly
inferiour to the preceeding Part.

But as we should be very cautious in finding Fault with Men of such an
exalted Genius as our Author certainly was, lest we should blame them
when in reality the Fault lies in our own slow Conception, we should
well consider what could have been our Author's View in such a Conduct.
I must confess, I have turn'd this Matter on every Side, and all that
can be said for it (as far as I am able to penetrate), is that he makes
the Prince put on this Levity of Behaviour, that the Gentlemen who were
with him, might not imagine that the Ghost had reveal'd some Matter of
great Consequence to him, and that he might not therefore be suspected
of any deep Designs. This appears plausible enough; but let it be as it
will, the whole, I think, is too lightly managed, and such a Design as I
have mention'd might, in my Opinion, have been answered by some other
Method more correspondent to the Dignity and Majesty of the preceeding
Part of the Scene. I must observe once more, that the Prince's Soliloquy
is exquisitely beautiful.

I shall conclude what I have to say on this Scene, with observing, that
I do not know any Tragedy, ancient or modern, in any Nation, where the
Whole is made to turn so naturally and so justly upon such a
supernatural Appearance as this is; nor do I know of any Piece whatever,
where a Spectre introduced with so much Majesty, such an Air of
Probability, and where such an Apparition is manag'd with so much
Dignity and Art; in short, which so little revolts the Judgment and
Belief of the Spectators. Nor have I ever met in all my Reading, with a
Scene in any Tragedy, which creates so much Awe, and serious Attention
as this does, and which raises such a Multiplicity of the most exalted
Sentiments. It is certain, our Author excell'd in this kind of Writing,
as has been more than once observed by several Writers, and none ever
before or since his Time, could ever bring Inhabitants of another World
upon the Stage, without making them ridiculous or too horrible, and the
Whole too improbable and too shocking to Men's Understandings.


_Polonius_ and _Reynoldo_, and afterwards _Ophelia_.

_Polonius's_ Discourse to _Reynoldo_ is of a good moral Tenour, and thus
far it is useful to the Audience. His forgetting what he was saying, (p.
260) as is usual with old Men, is extremely natural, and much in
Character for him.

_Ophelia's_ Description of _Hamlet's_ Madness, does as much Honour to
our Poet as any Passage in the whole Play, (p. 261, and 262.) It is
excellently good in the _Pictoresque_ Part of Poetry, and renders the
Thing almost present to us.

Now I am come to mention _Hamlet's_ Madness, I must speak my Opinion of
our Poet's Conduct in this Particular. To conform to the Ground-work of
his Plot, _Shakespeare_ makes the young Prince feign himself mad. I
cannot but think this to be injudicious; for so far from Securing
himself from any Violence which fear'd from the Usurper, which was his
Design in so doing, it seems to have been the most likely Way of getting
himself confin'd, and consequently, debarr'd from an Opportunity of
Revenging his Father's Death, which now seem'd to be his only Aim; and
accordingly it was the Occasion of his being sent away to _England_.
Which Design, had it taken effect upon his Life, he never could have
revenged his Father's Murder. To speak Truth, our Poet, by keeping too
close to the Ground-work of his Plot, has fallen into an Absurdity; for
there appears no Reason at all in Nature, why the young Prince did not
put the Usurper to Death as soon as possible, especially as _Hamlet_ is
represented as a Youth so brave, and so careless of his own Life.

The Case indeed is this: Had _Hamlet_ gone naturally to work, as we
could suppose such a Prince to do in parallel Circumstances, there would
have been an End of our Play. The Poet therefore was obliged to delay
his Hero's Revenge; but then he should have contrived some good Reason
for it.

His Beginning his Scenes of Madness by his Behaviour to _Ophelia_ was
judicious, because by this Means he might be thought to be mad for her,
and not that his Brain was disturb'd about State Affairs, which would
have been dangerous.

Page 263.

_Enter King, Queen_, Rosincrantz, Guildenstern, &c.

The King in this Scene, seems to be but half perswaded that _Hamlet_ is
really mad; had he thoroughly believed it, it was to no Purpose to
endeavour to sound his Mind; and the shortest and best Way, and what,
methinks, the King ought most to have wished for, was to have had him
confin'd; and this was an excellent Reason to give the People for so

The Queen seems to have no Design or Artifice in relation to her Son,
but mere Affection; which, considering all Things, one would little
expect from her.

The Account of the Embassy to _Norway_, was necessary towards the
Introduction of _Fortinbrass_, in the Sequel, whose coming in at the
Close of the Play winds up all very naturally.

_Polonius's_ Character, (p. 267, 268.) is admirably well kept up in that
Scene, where he pretends to have discovered the Cause of the Prince's
Madness, and would much deserve Applause, were such a Character
allowable in such a Piece as this.

_Hamlet's_ Letter to _Ophelia_, which _Polonius_ reads, is none of the
best Parts of this play, and is, I think, too Comick for this Piece. The
whole Conduct of _Hamlet's_ Madness is, in my Opinion, too ludicrous for
his Character, and for the situation his Mind was then really in. I must
confess, nothing is more difficult than to draw a real Madness well,
much more a feign'd one; for here the Poet in _Hamlet's_ Case, was to
paint such a Species of Madness as should not give cause of Suspicion of
the real Grief which had taken Possession of the Prince's Mind. His
Behaviour to those two Courtiers, whom the Usurper had sent to dive into
his Secret, is very natural and just, because his chief Business was to
baffle their Enquiries, as he does also in another Scene, (p. 304.)
where his falling into a sort of a Pun upon bringing in the Pipe, is a
great Fault, for it is too low and mean for Tragedy. But our Author in
this (as in all his Pieces) is glad of any Opportunity of falling in
with the prevailing Humour of the Times, which ran into false Wit, and
a constant endeavour to produce affected Moral Sentences.

He was very capable of drawing _Hamlet_ in Madness with much more
Dignity, and without any Thing of the Comick; although it is difficult,
as I said, to describe a feign'd Madness in a Tragedy, which is not to
touch on the real Cause of Grief.

Page 277.

The Scene of the Players is conducive to the whole Scheme of this
Tragedy, and is managed with great Beauty. We are to observe, that the
Speeches spoken by the Prince, and one of the Players, are dismal
Bombast, and intended, no doubt, to ridicule some Tragedy of those Days.

The Poet's stepping out of his Subject to lash the Custom of Plays being
acted by the Children of the Chapel, is not allowable in Tragedy, which
is never to be a Satire upon any modern particular _Foible_ or Vice that
prevails, but is to be severe upon Crimes and Immoralities of all Ages,
and of all Countries.

Hamlet's Speech, (p. 281.) after his Conversation with the Players, is
good; and by it we see that the Poet himself seems sensible of the Fault
in his Plot. But that avails not, unless he had found Means to help it,
which certainly might have been.

The Prince's Design of confirming by the Play, the Truth of what the
Ghost told him, is certainly well imagin'd; but as the coming of these
Players is supposed to be accidental, it could not be a Reason for his


Page 284.

_How smart a Lash, that Speech doth give my Conscience_, &c.

The Poet here is greatly to be commended for his Conduct. As consummate
a Villain as this King of _Denmark_ is represented to be, yet we find
him stung with the deepest Remorse, upon the least Sentence that can any
ways be supposed to relate to his Crime. How Instructive this is to the
Audience, how much it answers the End of all publick Representations by
inculcating a good Moral, I leave to the Consideration of every Reader.

Hamlet's Conversation with _Ophelia_, we may observe, is in the Style of
Madness; and it was proper that the Prince should conceal his Design
from every one, which had he conversed with his Mistress in his natural
Style could not have been.

I am perswaded, that our Author was pleas'd to have an Opportunity of
raising a Laugh now and then, which he does in several Passages of
_Hamlet's_ satirical Reflections on Women; but I have the same
Objections to this Part of the Prince's Madness, that I have before
mentioned, viz. that it wants Dignity. _Ophelia's_ melancholy
Reflections upon _Hamlet's_ having lost his Sovereignty of Reason, is
natural and very beautiful. As to the King's sending him to _England_,
See Mr. _Theobald's_ Note. I purposely omit taking Notice of the famous
Speech, _To be, or not to be_, &c. every _English_ Reader knows its

The Prince's Directions to the Players are exceeding good, and are
evidently brought in as Lessons for the Players, who were
_Shakespeare's_ Companions, and he thought this a very proper Occasion
to animadvert upon those Faults which were disagreeable to him. Whoever
reads these Observations of his, if one may prove a Thing by a negative
Argument, must believe _Shakespeare_ to have been an excellent Actor
himself; for we can hardly imagine him to have been guilty of the
Mistakes he is pointing out to his Brethren.

Notwithstanding all this, and that the Opportunity seems natural enough
to introduce these Remarks, yet I cannot think them agreeable in such a
Piece as this; they are not suitable to the Dignity of the Whole, and
would be better plac'd in a Comedy.

Page 292, Act 3d.

Hamlet's Expression of his Friendship for _Horatio_, has great Beauties;
it is with Simplicity and Strength, and the Diction has all the Graces
of Poetry. It was well imagin'd, that he should let his Friend know the
Secret of his Father's Murder, because, thus his Request to him, to
observe the King's Behaviour at the Play, is very naturally introduc'd
as a prudent Desire of the Prince's. The Friendship of _Eneas_ for
_Achates_ in the _Eneid_, is found Fault with much for the same Reasons
that some Criticks might carp at this of _Hamlet's_ for _Horatio_, viz.
that neither of them are found to perform any great Acts of Friendship
to their respective Friends. But, I think, that the Friendship of
_Hamlet_ and _Horatio_ is far superior to that of _Eneas_ and _Achates_,
as appears in the last Scene, where _Horatio's_ Behaviour is exceeding
Tender, and his Affection for the Prince likely to prove very useful to
his Memory.

Hamlet's whole Conduct, during the Play which is acted before the King,
has, in my Opinion, too much Levity in it. His Madness is of too light a
Kind, although I know he says, he must be idle; but among other Things,
his Pun to _Polonius_ is not tolerable. I might also justly find Fault
with the want of Decency in his Discourses to _Ophelia_, without being
thought too severe. The Scene represented by the Players is in wretched
Verse. This we may, without incurring the Denomination of an ill-natur'd
Critick, venture to pronounce, that in almost every Place where
_Shakespeare_ has attempted Rhime, either in the Body of his Plays, or
at the Ends of Acts or Scenes, he falls far short of the Beauty and
Force of his Blank Verse: One would think they were written by two
different Persons. I believe we may justly take Notice, that Rhime
never arrived at its true Beauty, never came to its Perfection in
_England_, until long since _Shakespeare's_ Time.

The King's rising with such Precipitation, and quitting the Play upon
seeing the Resemblance of his own foul Crime, is very much in Nature,
and confirms the Penetration of our Author's Hero.

Page 302.

Hamlet's Pleasantry upon his being certified that his Uncle is Guilty,
is not a-propos in my Opinion. We are to take Notice that the Poet has
mix'd a Vein of Humour in the Prince's Character, which is to be seen in
many Places of this Play. What was his Reason for so doing, I cannot
say, unless it was to follow his Favourite _Foible_, viz. that of
raising a Laugh.

Page 306.

The Prince's Resolution upon his going to his Mother, is beautifully
express'd, and suitable to his Character.

Page 306, 307.

What _Rosincrantz_ says of the Importance of the King's Life, is
express'd by a very just Image.

Page 307.

The King's seeming so very much touch'd with a Sense of his Crime, is
supposed to be owing to the Representation he had been present at; but I
do not well see how _Hamlet_ is introduced so as to find him at Prayers.
It is not natural, that a King's Privacy should be so intruded on, not
even by any of his Family, especially, that it should be done without
his perceiving it.

Page 309.

Hamlet's Speech upon seeing the King at Prayers, has always given me
great Offence. There is something so very Bloody in it, so inhuman, so
unworthy of a Hero, that I wish our Poet had omitted it. To desire to
destroy a Man's Soul, to make him eternally miserable, by cutting him
off from all hopes of Repentance; this surely, in a Christian Prince, is
such a Piece of Revenge, as no Tenderness for any Parent can justify. To
put the Usurper to Death, to deprive him of the Fruits of his vile
Crime, and to rescue the Throne of _Denmark_ from Pollution, was highly
requisite: But there our young Prince's Desires should have stop'd, nor
should he have wished to pursue the Criminal in the other World, but
rather have hoped for his Conversion, before his putting him to Death;
for even with his Repentance, there was at least Purgatory for him to
pass through, as we find even in a virtuous Prince, the Father of

Page 310.

_Enter the Queen and_ Polonius, _and afterwards_ Hamlet.

We are now come to a Scene, which I have always much admired. I cannot
think it possible, that such an Incident could have been managed
better, nor more conformably to Reason and Nature. The Prince, conscious
of his own good Intentions, and the Justness of the Cause he undertakes
to plead, speaks with that Force and Assurance which Virtue always
gives; and yet manages his Expressions so as not to treat his Mother in
a disrespectful Manner. What can be expressed with more Beauty and more
Dignity, than the Difference between his Uncle and Father! The Contrast
in the Description of them both, is exquisitely fine: And his inforcing
the Heinousness of his Mother's Crime with so much Vehemence, and her
guilty half Confessions of her Wickedness, and at last her thorough
Remorse, are all Strokes from the Hand of a great Master in the
Imitation of Nature.

His being obliged to break off his Discourse by the coming in of his
Father's Ghost once more, adds a certain Weight and Gravity to this
Scene, which works up in the Minds of the Audience all the Passions
which do the greatest Honour to human Nature. Add to this, the august
and solemn Manner with which the Prince addresses the Spectre after his
Invocation of the Celestial Ministers.

The Ghost's not being seen by the Queen, was very proper; for we could
hardly suppose, that a Woman, and a guilty one especially, could be able
to bear so terrible a Sight without the Loss of her Reason. Besides
that, I believe, the Poet had also some Eye to a vulgar Notion, that
Spirits are only seen by those with whom their Business is, let there be
never so many Persons in Company. This Compliance with these popular
Fancies, still gives an Air of Probability to the Whole. The Prince
shews an extreme Tenderness for his Father in these Lines,

   _On Him! on Him!_ &c.
   _His Form and Cause conjoin'd_, &c.

and really performs all the strictest Rules of Filial Piety thro' out
the whole Play, both to Father and Mother; and particularly, to the
Latter in this Scene, whilst he endeavours to bring her to Repentance.
In a Word, We have in this important Scene, our Indignation raised
against a vile Murderer, our Compassion caus'd for the inhuman Death of
a virtuous Prince; our Affection is heighten'd for the Hero of the Play;
and, not to enter into more Particulars, we are moved in the strongest
Manner, by every Thing that can gain Access to our Hearts.

Hamlet's killing _Polonius_, was in Conformity to the Plan _Shakespeare_
built his Play upon; and the Prince behaves himself on that Occasion, as
one who seems to have his Thoughts bent on Things of more Importance. I
wish the Poet had omitted _Hamlet's_ last Reflection on the Occasion,
_viz. This Counsellor, &c._ It has too much Levity in it; and his
_tugging_ him away into another Room, is unbecoming the Gravity of the
rest of the Scene, and is a Circumstance too much calculated to raise a
Laugh, which it always does. We must observe, that _Polonius_ is far
from a good Character, and that his Death is absolutely necessary
towards the _Denoüement_ of the whole Piece. And our Hero had not put
him to Death, had not he thought it to have been the Usurper hid behind
the _Arras_; so that upon the Whole, this is no Blemish to his

Hamlet's Behaviour to the King, &c. (Act _fourth_, p 320 and Sequel,)
concerning _Polonius's_ Body, is too jocose and trivial.

Page 326. _Enter_ Fortinbrass _with an Army_.

This is a Conduct in most of our Author's Tragedies, and in many other
of our Tragedy Writers, that is quite unnatural and absurd; I mean,
introducing an Army on the Stage. Although our Imagination will bear a
great Degree of Illusion, yet we can never so far impose on our
Knowledge, and our Senses, as to imagine the Stage to contain an Army:
Therefore in such a Case, the Recital of it, or seeing the Commander,
and an Officer or Two of it, is the best Method of conducting such a
Circumstance. _Fortinbrass's_ Troops are here brought in, I believe, to
give Occasion for his appearing in the last Scene, and also to give Rise
to _Hamlet's_ reflections thereon, (p. 327.) which tend to give some
Reasons for his deferring the Punishment of the Usurper.

Laertes's Character is a very odd one; it is not easy to say, whether it
is good or bad; but his consenting to the villainous Contrivance of the
Usurper's to murder _Hamlet_, (p. 342.) makes him much more a bad Man
than a good one. For surely Revenge for such an accidental Murder as was
that of his Father's (which from the Queen, it is to be supposed he was
acquainted with all the Circumstances of) could never justify him in any
treacherous Practices. It is a very nice Conduct in the Poet to make the
Usurper build his Scheme upon the generous unsuspicious Temper of the
Person he intends to murder, and thus to raise the Prince's Character by
the Confession of his Enemy, to make the Villain ten Times more odious
from his own Mouth. The Contrivance of the Foil unbated (i.e. without a
Button) is methinks too gross a Deceit to go down even with a Man of the
most unsuspicious Nature.

The Scenes of _Ophelia's_ Madness are to me very shocking, in so noble a
Piece as this. I am not against her having been represented mad; but
surely, it might have been done with less Levity and more Decency.
Mistakes are less tolerable from such a Genius as _Shakespeare's_ and
especially in the very Pieces which give us such strong Proofs of his
exalted Capacity. Mr. _Warburton's_ Note (in Mr. _Theobalds_) on
_Laertes's_ Rebellion, is very judicious, (as indeed are all those of
that Gentleman) only I cannot think _Laertes_ (for the Reasons I have
given) a good Character.


The Scene of the Grave-Diggers. (p. 344.) I know is much applauded, but
in my humble Opinion, is very unbecoming such a Piece as this, and is
only pardonable as it gives Rise to _Hamlet's_ fine moral Reflections
upon the Infirmity of human Nature.

Page 354.

Hamlet's Return to _Denmark_ is not ill contriv'd; but I cannot think
that his Stratagem is natural or easy, by which he brings that
Destruction upon the Heads of his Enemies, which was to have fallen upon
himself. It was possible, but not very probable; because methinks, their
Commission was kept in a very negligent Manner, to be thus got from them
without their knowing it. Their Punishment was just, because they had
devoted themselves to the Service of the Usurper in whatever he should
command, as appears in several Passages.

It does not appear whether _Ophelia's_ Madness was chiefly for her
Father's Death, or for the Loss of _Hamlet_. It is not often that young
Women run mad for the Loss of their Fathers. It is more natural to
suppose, that like _Chimene_ in the _Cid_, her great Sorrow proceeded
from her Father's being kill'd by the Man she lov'd, and thereby making
it indecent for her ever to marry him.

Page 351.

In _Hamlet's_ leaping into _Ophelia's_ Grave, (which is express'd with
great Energy and Force of Passion) we have the first real Proof of his
Love for her, which during this whole Piece has been forced to submit to
Passions of greater Weight and Force, and here is suffered to break out
chiefly, as it is necessary towards the Winding up of the Piece. It is
but an Under-Passion in the Play, and seems to be introduced more to
conform to the Plan our Poet built upon, than for any Thing else; tho'
as the whole Play is managed, it conduces towards the Conclusion, as
well as it diversifies, and adds Beauties to the whole Piece.

Page 357.

The Scene of the Fop _Osrick_ is certainly intended as a Satire upon the
young Courtiers of those Days, and is humourously express'd, but is, I
think, improper for Tragedy.

Hamlet's feeling, as it were, a Presage in his own Breast, of the
Misfortune impending from his accepting _Laertes's_ Challenge, is
beautiful; and we are to note, that our Author in several of his Plays,
has brought in the chief Personages as having a sort of prophetick Idea
of their Death; as in _Romeo_ and _Juliet_. It was (I doubt not) the
Opinion of the Age he lived in.

Laertes's Death, and the Queen's, are truly poetical Justice, and very
naturally brought about; although I do not conceive it to be so easy to
change Rapiers in a Scuffle, without knowing it at the Time.

The Death of the Queen is particularly according to the strictest Rules
of Justice, for she loses her Life by the Villany of the very Person,
who had been the Cause of all her Crimes.

Page 364.

Since the Poet deferred so long the Usurper's Death, we must own, that
he has very naturally effected it, and still added fresh Crimes to those
the Murderer had already committed.

Upon _Laertes's_ Repentance for contriving the Death of _Hamlet_, one
cannot but feel some Sentiments of Pity for him; but who can see or read
the Death of the young Prince without melting into Tears and Compassion?
_Horatio's_ earned Desire to die with the Prince, (_p. 365, and
Sequel_,) thus not to survive his Friend, gives a stronger Idea of his
Friendship for _Hamlet_ in the few Lines on that Occasion, than many
Actions or Expressions could possibly have done. And _Hamlet's_ begging
him to _draw his Breath in this Harsh World_ a little longer, to clear
his Reputation and manifest his Innocence, is very suitable to his
virtuous Character, and the honest Regard that all Men should have not
to be misrepresented to Posterity; that they may not let a bad Example,
when in reality they have set a good one; which is the only Motive that
can, in Reason, recommend the Love of Fame and Glory.

Page 366.

When the Ambassadors from _England_ say,

   _Where shall we have our Thanks?_

And _Horatio_ answers,

   _Not from his Mouth,
   He never gave_, &c.

I wonder that Mr. _Theobalds_ should see any Difficulty in this; for it
is but applying to the King what _Horatio_ says, who knew the whole
Affair, and then his Answer is just and true; and indeed, I think it
cannot well be understood in any other Sense from the whole Tenour of
the Passage.

Horatio's Desire of having the Bodies carried to a Stage, &c. is very
well imagined, and was the best way of satisfying the Request of his
deceased Friend. And he acts in this, and in all Points, suitably to the
manly, honest Character under which he is drawn throughout the whole
Piece. Besides, it gives a sort of Content to the Audience, that tho'
their Favourite (which must be _Hamlet_) did not escape with Life, yet
the greatest amends will be made him, which can be in this World, viz.
Justice done to his Memory.

Fortinbrass comes in very naturally at the Close of this Play, and lays
a very just Claim to the Throne of _Denmark_, as he had the dying Voice
of the Prince. He in few Words gives a noble Character of _Hamlet_, and
serves to carry off the deceased Hero from the Stage with the Honours
due to his Birth and Merit.

I shall close these Remarks with some general Observations, and shall
avoid (as I have hitherto done) repeating any Thing which has been said
by others, at least as much as I possibly can: Nor do I think it
necessary to make an ostentatious Shew of Learning, or to draw quaint
Parallels between our Author and the great Tragic Writers of Antiquity;
for in Truth, this is very little to the Purpose in reviewing
_Shakespeare's_ Dramatic Works; since most Men are I believe convinced,
that he is very little indebted to any of them; and a remarkable
Influence of this is to be observed in his Tragedy of _Troilus_ and
_Cressida_, wherein it appears (as Mr. _Theobalds_ has evidently
demonstrated it,) that he has chosen an old _English_ Romance concerning
the _Trojan_ War, as a worthier Guide than even _Homer_ himself. Nature
was our great Poet's Mistress; her alone has he followed as his
Conductress; and therefore it has been with regard to her only, that I
have considered this Tragedy. It is not to be denied, but that
_Shakespeare's_ Dramatic Works are in general very much mix'd; his Gold
is strangely mingled with Dross in most of his Pieces. He fell too much
into the low Taste of the Age he liv'd in, which delighted in miserable
Puns, low Wit, and affected sententious Maxims; and what is most
unpardonable in him, he has interspersed his noblest Productions with
this Poorness of Thought. This I have shewn in my Remarks on this Play.
Yet, notwithstanding the Defects I have pointed out, it is, I think,
beyond Dispute, that there is much less of this in _Hamlet_ than in any
of his Plays; and that the Language in the Whole, is much more pure, and
much more free from Obscurity or Bombast, than any of our Author's
Tragedies; for sometimes _Shakespeare_ may be justly tax'd with that
Fault. And we may moreover take Notice, that the Conduct of this Piece
is far from being bad; it is superior in that respect (in my Opinion) to
many of those Performances in which the Rules are said to be exactly
kept to. The Subject, which is of the nicest Kind, is managed with great
Delicacy, much beyond that Piece wherein _Agamemnon's_ Death is revenged
by his Son _Orestes_, so much admired by all the Lovers of Antiquity;
for the Punishment of the Murderer alone by the Son of the murdered
Person, is sufficient; there is something too shocking in a Mother's
being put to Death by her Son, although she be never so guilty.
_Shakespeare's_ Management in this Particular, has been much admired by
one of our greatest Writers, who takes Notice of the beautiful Caution
given by the Ghost to _Hamlet_,

   _But howsoever thou pursuest this Act_, &c.

The making the Whole to turn upon the Appearance of a Spectre, is a
great Improvement of the Plan he work'd upon; especially as he has
conducted it in so sublime a Manner, and accompanied it with all the
Circumstances that could make it most perfect in its kind.

I have observed in my Remarks, that the Poet has, with great Art,
brought about the Punishment of the guilty Queen by the very Person who
caused her Guilt, and this without Staining her Son's Hands with her

There is less Time employ'd in this Tragedy, as I observed else where,
than in most of our Author's Pieces, and the Unity of Place is not much
disturbed. But here give me leave to say, that the Critick's Rules, in
respect to these two Things, if they prove any Thing, prove too much;
for if our Imagination will not bear a strong Imposition, surely no Play
ought to be supposed to take more Time than is really employ'd in the
Acting; nor should there be any Change of Place in the least. This shews
the Absurdity of such Arbitrary Rules. For how would such a Genius as
_Shakespeare's_ have been cramped had he thus fettered himself! But
there is (in Truth) no Necessity for it. No Rules are of any Service in
Poetry, of any kind, unless they add Beauties, which consist (in
Tragedy) in an exact Conformity to Nature in the Conduct of the
Characters, and in a sublimity of Sentiments and nobleness of Diction.
If these two Things be well observed, tho' often at the Expence of
Unity of Time and Place, such Pieces will always please, and never
suffer us to find out the little Defects in the Plot; nay it generally
happens (at least Experience has shewn it frequently) that those Pieces
wherein the fantastick Rules of Criticks have been kept strictly to,
have been generally flat and low. We are to consider, that no Dramatick
Piece can affect us but by the Delusion of our Imagination; which, to
taste true and real Pleasures at such Representations, must undergo very
great Impositions, even such as in Speculation seem very gross, but
which are nevertheless allowed of by the strictest Criticks. In the
first Place, our Understandings are never shocked at hearing all
Nations, on our Stage, speak _English_; an Absurdity one would think
that should immediately revolt us; but which is, however, absolutely
necessary in all Countries where Dramatick Performances are resorted to,
unless the Characters be always supposed to be of each respective
Nation; as for instance, in all _Shakespeare's_ Historical Plays. I say,
this never shocks us nor do we find any Difficulty in believing the
Stage to be _Rome_, (or _Denmark_, for instance, as in this Play;) or
_Wilks_ to be _Hamlet_, or _Booth_ to be a Ghost, &c. These Things, I
repeat it, appear difficult in Speculation; but we find, that in Reality
they do go down; and must necessarily do so, or else farewel all
Dramatick Performances; for unless the Distress and Woes appear to be
real (which they never can, if we do not believe we actually see the
Things that are represented) it is impossible our Passions should be
moved. Let any one fairly judge, if these do not seem as great
Impositions on our Reason, as the Change of Place, or the Length of
Time, which are found fault with in our Poet. I confess there are Bounds
set to this Delusion of our Imaginations, (as there are to every Thing
else in this World) for this Delusion is never perform'd in direct
Defiance of our Reason; on the contrary, our Reason helps on the Deceit;
but she will concur no farther in this Delusion, than to a certain Point
which she will never pass, and that is, the Essential Difference between
Plays which deceive us by the Assistance of our Reason, and others which
would impose upon our Imaginations in Despight of our Reason. It is
evident by the Success our Author's Pieces have always met with for so
long a Course of Time; it is, I say, certain by this general
Approbation, that his Pieces are of the former, not of the latter Sort.
But to go to the Bottom of this Matter, would lead me beyond what I

Since therefore it is certain, that the strict Observance of the
Critick's Rules might take away Beauties, but not always add any, why
should our Poet be so much blamed for giving a Loose to his Fancy? The
Sublimity of Sentiments in his Pieces, and that exalted Diction which is
so peculiarly his own, and in fine, all the Charms of his Poetry, far
outweigh any little Absurdity in his Plots, which no ways disturb us in
the Pleasures we reap from the above-mention'd Excellencies. And the
more I read him, the more I am convinced, that as he knew his own
particular Talent well, he study'd more to work up great and moving
Circumstances to place his chief Characters in, so as to affect our
Passions strongly, he apply'd himself more to This than he did to the
Means or Methods whereby he brought his Characters into those
Circumstances. How far a general Vogue is the Test of the Merit of a
Tragedy, has been often considered by eminent Writers, and is a Subject
of too complicated a Nature to discuss in these few Sheets. But I shall
just hint two or three of my own Thoughts on that Head. Nature is the
Basis of all Tragick Performances, and no Play that is unnatural, i.e.
wherein the Characters act inconsistently with themselves, and in a
Manner repugnant to our natural Ideas, can please at all. But a Play may
be natural, and yet displease one Sett of People out of Two, of which
all Audiences are composed. If a Play be built upon low Subjects, but
yet carried on consistently, and has no Merit but Nature, it will please
the Vulgar; by which I mean, all the unlearned and ill-educated, (as for
Instance, _George Barnwell_, a Piece calculated for the Many) but it
must be nauseous to the Learned, and to those of improved and exalted
Understandings. So on the other Hand, a Piece which turns upon
Passions, which regard those of high Station chiefly, cannot be so
pleasing to the Vulgar; for tho' all Men are born with the same
Passions, yet Education very much exalts and refines them. Thus the
Loves of Boors and Peasants may delight the Populace, but those of
better Sort must have Delicacy in that Passion to see it represented
with any tolerable Patience. The same is to be said of Jealousy and
Revenge, which are indeed felt by all, but in Breasts well educated are
felt with sharper Pangs, and are combated with more Vehemence, and from
more and greater Motives; therefore such People are fitter to judge, and
more likely to be taken with noble and sublime Representations of such
Incidents. I need not observe, that the Vulgar cannot judge of the
Historical Propriety of a great Character, This is obvious to every one;
nor can they judge of the Passion of Ambition, as it has Power with
Princes and great Men, because not being versed by Reading in parallel
Stories, and not being in such a Situation of Life, as to feel the
Torments of such Passions, they cannot certainly tell whether such
Things are represented with proper Circumstances, and proper
Consequences drawn from them. And moreover, as all Men are by Nature
more prone to some Passions than to others, This must cause Variety of
Sentiments in relation to the same Piece. Besides all this, we may be
very certain that different Education, different Degrees of
Understanding, and of the Passions common to all Men, must cause a
Variety of Sentiments concerning such Representations. To prove this,
let us observe how the Tastes of Nations differ in relation to these
Things; so much, that one would be tempted sometimes to think, that they
did not all partake of the same Passions; but certainly they vary in the
Degrees of them; therefore by a Parity of Reason we may justly conclude,
that Difference of Education among those of the same Nation must affect
their Passions and Sentiments. The better sort have (if one may so
express it) some acquired Passions which the lower sort are ignorant of.
Thus indeed it seems at first Sight; but on a nearer View they are found
to be, as I said, the same Passions augmented or refined, and turned
upon other Objects. The different Manner in which one of _Corneille's_
or _Racine's_ Pieces would be received by an Audience of _Turks_ or
_Russians_, and an Audience of _Frenchmen_, (supposing the former to
understand the Language, and the latter to be free from any national
Prejudices for the Authors) is a lively and strong Emblem of the Force
of Education and Custom among Creatures, all cast in the same Mould, and
endued with the same Faculties and Passions with very little real
Difference. Still farther, we may observe, that even good Acting will
recommend some bad Pieces, as bad Acting will take away half the Merit
of good Ones; and some National Subjects are pleasing (as the _Albion
Queens_ and _Earl_ of _Essex_) to the Many, tho' they very little
affect the Few. When I speak of Plays, I desire to be understood of
Tragedies, in which I think the _English_ excell; for I can mention very
few of our Comedies with any Approbation; since in the Latter, neither
the Morals of the Inhabitants of this Nation are regarded, or Nature
followed. In short, not to pursue a Subject, that would carry me great
Lengths, I conclude from this, that a Piece which has no Merit in it but
Nature, will please the Vulgar; whereas exalted Sentiments, and Purity
and Nobleness of Diction, as well as Nature, are absolutely requisite to
please those of a true Taste. And it is very possible, that a Play which
turns upon some great Passion, seldom felt by the Vulgar, and wherein
that Passion is treated with the greatest Delicacy and Justness; I say,
it is very possible that such a Piece may please the Few, and displease
the Many. And as a Proof of the bad Taste of the Multitude, we find in
this Nation of ours, that a vile _Pantomime_ Piece, full of Machinery,
or a lewd blasphemous Comedy, or wretched Farce, or an empty obscure low
Ballad Opera, (in all which, to the scandal of our Nation and Age, we
surpass all the World) shall draw together crowded Audiences, when there
is full Elbow-Room at a noble Piece of _Shakespeare's_ or _Rowe's_.

Before I conclude, I must point out another Beauty in the Tragedy of
_Hamlet_, besides those already mentioned, which does indeed arise from
our Author's conforming to a Rule which he followed, (probably, without
knowing it,) only because it is agreeable to Nature; and this is, that
there is not one Scene in this Play but what some way or other conduces
towards the _Denoüement_ of the Whole; and thus the Unity of Action is
indisputably kept up by every Thing tending to what we may call the main
Design, and it all hangs by Consequence so close together, that no Scene
can be omitted, without Prejudice to the Whole. Even _Laertes_ going to
_France_, and _Ophelia's_ Madness, however trivial they may seem (and
how much soever I dislike the Method of that last mentioned) are
Incidents absolutely necessary towards the concluding of all; as will
appear to any one upon due Consideration. This all holds good,
notwithstanding it is my Opinion, that several of the Scenes might have
been altered by our Author for the better; but as they all stand, it is,
as I said, quite impossible to separate them, without a visible
Prejudice to the Whole. I must add, that I am much in Doubt, whether
Scenes of Prose are allowable, according to Nature and Reason, in
Tragedies which are composed chiefly of Blank Verse; the Objection to
them seems to be this, that as all Verse is not really in Nature, but
yet Blank Verse is necessary in Tragedies, to ennoble the Diction, and
by Custom is become natural to us, Prose mixed with it serves only,
methinks, to discover the Effects of Art, by the Contraste between
Verse and Prose. Add to all this, That it is not suitable to the Dignity
of such Performances.

In short, Vice is punished in this excellent Piece, and thereby the
Moral Use of it is unquestionable. And if _Hamlet's_ Virtue is not
rewarded as we could wish, Mr. _Addison's_ Maxim ought to satify us,
which is this, "That no Man is so thoroughly Virtuous as to claim a
Reward in Tragedy, or to have Reason to repine at the Dispensations of
Providence; and it is besides more Instructive to the Audience, because
it abates the Insolence of Human Nature, and teaches us not to judge of
Men's Merit by their Successes. And he proceeds farther, and says, that
though a virtuous Man may prove unfortunate, yet a vicious Man cannot be
happy in a well wrought Tragedy." This last Rule is well observed here.

Another Reason why we ought to bear with more Patience the Sufferings of
a virtuous Character, is the Reflection on the future Rewards prepared
for such, which is more suitable to the Moral Maxims established in a
Christian Country. Besides, had it pleased our Author to have spared
_Hamlet's_ Life, we had been deprived of that pleasing Sensation which
always (as I have else where observed) accompanies a Consciousness that
we are moved as we ought to be; which we most assuredly are, when we
feel Compassion rise in us for the young Prince's Death in the last
Scene. I shall just touch upon one Thing more, and then I shall end
these Reflections.

I am very sensible that our Nation has long been censur'd for delighting
in bloody Scenes on the Stage, and our Poets have been found fault with
for complying with this vicious Taste. I cannot but own, that there is a
great deal of Justice in these Complaints; and must needs be of Opinion,
that such Sights should never be exhibited but in order, visibly, to
conduce to the Beauty of the Piece. This is sometimes so much the Case,
that Action is often absolutely necessary. And to come more particularly
to the Subject now in hand, I desire any unprejudiced Man, of any Nation
whatever, (if such can be found) who understands our Language, to
consider whether the Appearance of the Ghost, and the Deaths of the
several principal Personages, (with whatever else may offend the
Delicacy I mention) could possibly have that great, that noble Effect,
by being told to the Audience, as they most undoubtedly have, by being
brought on the Stage. If this Matter be well examined with all possible
Candour, I am well perswaded that it would be found in the End, that
this Piece would, by the Method I speak of, loose half its Beauty.

The _French_, (as has been often observ'd) by their Rules of Criticism,
have voluntarily imposed on themselves an unnecessary Slavery; and when
little Genius's among them have written Tragedies with these Chains on,
they have made most miserable work of it, and given Plays entirely void
of Spirit. Even the great Genius's in that Nation, such as _Corneille_
and _Racine_, and Mr. _De Voltaire_ (which last being capacitated by
having liv'd among us, and by learning our Language, to judge of the
Defects and Merits of both Nations, is highly sensible of the Truth of
what I now say, as appears in his Preface to his _Brutus_) even they
have been forced to damp their Fire, and keep their Spirit from soaring
in almost all their Pieces; and all this is owing to the false Notions
of Decency, and a Refinement of Taste among our Neighbours, which is
getting now to such a Height, that so far from being able to bear the
Representation of Tragical Actions, they are hardly able to bear any
Subjects which turn upon the weightier Passions; such as Ambition,
Revenge, Jealousy, &c. The Form of their Government, indeed, is of such
a Nature, that many Subjects cannot be treated as they ought, nor work'd
up to that Height which they are here, and were formerly at _Athens_,
&c. and Love, for that Reason among others is made to be the Basis of
almost all their Tragedies. Nay, the Education of the People under such
a Government, prevents their delighting in such Performances as pleased
an _Athenian_ or a _Roman_, and now delight us _Britons_. Thus every
Thing conduces to debase Tragedy among them, as every Thing here
contributes to form good Tragick Writers; yet how few have we! And what
is very remarkable, each Nation takes Delight in that, which, in the
Main, they the least excel in, and are the least fit for. The Audience
in _England_ is generally more crowded at a Comedy, and in _France_ at a
Tragedy; yet I will venture to affirm, (and I shall be ready upon
Occasion to support my Assertion by good Reasons) that no Comick Writer
has ever equal'd _Moliere_, nor no Tragick Writer ever came up to
_Shakespeare_, _Rowe_, and Mr. _Addison_. Besides the many Reasons I
have already given in Relation to the _French_, I might add, that their
Language is less fit for Tragedy, and the Servitude of their Rhime
enervates the Force of the Diction. And as for Our Comedies, they are so
full of Lewdness, Impiety and Immorality, and of such complicated
perplexed Plots, so stuffed with Comparisons and Similies, so
replenished with Endeavours at Wit and Smartness, that I cannot forbear
saying, that whoever sees or reads them for Improvement (I make some
Exceptions in this Censure) will find a contrary Effect; and whatever
Man of a True Taste expects to see Nature, either in the Sentiments or
Characters, will (in general) find himself very much mistaken.


The _Remarks_ was printed anonymously, in 1736, with the following
title page:

   Some / Remarks / on the / Tragedy / of /
   _Hamlet_ Prince of _Denmark_, / Written by /
   Mr. _William Shakespeare_. / [double rule
   enclosing a printer's device] / _London_: /
   Printed for W. Wilkins, in _Lombard_-/
   _Street_. M,DCC,XXXVI. price 1s.

The edition of 1736 was reprinted in London, 1864, for sale by John
Russell Smith, with an identical title page. The reprint bore the
following cover:

   Reprints of Scarce Pieces of Shakespeare
   Criticism. No. 1. Remarks on Hamlet,

The usual ascription of the essay heretofore to Sir Thomas Hanmer
derives from the statement by Sir Henry Bunbury, on page 80 of his _The
Correspondence of Sir Thomas Hanmer, Bart_, London, 1838, that he had
"reason to believe that he was the author ..."

--Wallace A. Bacon Northwestern University






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