Abbildungen der Seite

what they have heard. Then, moving again, he makes them swear that, if he should think fit to play the antic, they will give no sign of knowing aught of him. The oath is now complete; and, when the Ghost commands them to swear the last time, Hamlet suddenly becomes perfectly serious and bids it rest. [In Fletcher's Woman's Prize, v. iii., a passage pointed out to me by Mr. C. J. Wilkinson, a man taking an oath shifts his ground.]



There are two extreme views about this speech. According to one, Shakespeare quoted it from some play, or composed it for the occasion, simply and solely in order to ridicule, through it, the bombastic style of dramatists contemporary with himself or slightly older; just as he ridicules in 2 Henry IV. Tamburlaine's rant about the kings who draw his chariot, or puts fragments of similar bombast into the mouth of Pistol. According to Coleridge, on the other hand, this idea is 'below criticism.' No sort of ridicule was intended. 'The lines, as epic narrative, are superb.' It is true that the language is 'too poetical—the language of lyric vehemence and epic pomp, and not of the drama'; but this is due to the fact that Shakespeare had to distinguish the style of the speech from that of his own dramatic dialogue.

In essentials I think that what Coleridge says1 is true. He goes too far, it seems to me, when he describes the language of the speech as merely 'too poetical'; for with much that is fine there is intermingled a good deal that, in epic as in drama, must be called bombast. But I do not believe Shakespeare meant it for bombast.

I will briefly put the arguments which point to this conclusion. Warburton long ago stated some of them fully and cogently, but he misinterpreted here and there, and some arguments have to be added to his.

1 It is impossible to tell whether Coleridge formed his view independently, or adopted it from Schlegel. For there is no record of his having expressed his opinion prior to the time of his reading Schlegel's Lectures; and, whatever he said to the contrary, his borrowings from Schlegel are demonstrable.

1. If the speech was meant to be ridiculous, it follows either that Hamlet in praising it spoke ironically, or that Shakespeare, in making Hamlet praise it sincerely, himself wrote ironically. And both these consequences are almost incredible.

Let us see what Hamlet says. He asks the player to recite 'a passionate speech'; and, being requested to choose one, he refers to a speech he once heard the player declaim. This speech, he says, was never 'acted' or was acted only once; for the play pleased not the million. But he, and others whose opinion was of more importance than his, thought it an excellent play, well constructed, and composed with equal skill and temperance. One of these other judges commended it because it contained neither piquant indecencies nor affectations of phrase, but showed 'an honest method, as wholesome as sweet, and by very much more handsome than fine." In this play Hamlet 'chiefly loved' one speech; and he asks for a part of it.

Let the reader now refer to the passage I have just summarised; let him consider its tone and manner; and let him ask himself if Hamlet can possibly be speaking ironically. I am sure he will answer No. And then let him observe what follows. The speech is declaimed. Polonius interrupting it with an objection to its length, Hamlet snubs him, bids the player proceed, and adds, 'He's for a jig or a tale of bawdry: or he sleeps.' 'He,' that is, 'shares the taste of the million for sallets in the lines to make the matter savoury, and is wearied by an honest method.'2 Polonius later interrupts again, for he thinks the emotion of the player too absurd; but Hamlet respects it; and afterwards, when he is alone (and therefore can hardly be ironical), in contrasting this emotion with his own insensibility, he betrays no consciousness that there was anything unfitting in the speech that caused it.

So far I have chiefly followed Warburton, but there is an important point which seems not to have been observed. All

1 Clark and Wright well compare Polonius' antithesis of 'rich, not gaudy': though I doubt if 'handsome' implies richness.

Is it not possible that 'mobled queen,' to which Hamlet seems to object, and which Polonius praises, is meant for an example of the second fault of affected phraseology, from which the play was said to be free, and an instance of which therefore surprises Hamlet?

Hamlet's praise of the speech is in the closest agreement with his conduct and words elsewhere. His later advice to the player (iii. ii.) is on precisely the same lines. He is to play to the judicious, not to the crowd, whose opinion is worthless. He is to observe, like the author of Aeneas' speech, the 'modesty' of nature. He must not tear a 'passion' to tatters, to split the ears of the incompetent, but in the very tempest of passion is to keep a temperance and smoothness. The million, we gather from the first passage, cares nothing for construction; and so, we learn in the second passage, the barren spectators want to laugh at the clown instead of attending to some necessary question of the play. Hamlet's hatred of exaggeration is marked in both passages. And so (as already pointed out, p. 133) in the play-scene, when his own lines are going to be delivered, he impatiently calls out to the actor to leave his damnable faces and begin; and at the grave of Ophelia he is furious with what he thinks the exaggeration of Laertes, burlesques his language, and breaks off with the words,

Nay, an thou'lt mouth,

I'll rant as well as thou.

Now if Hamlet's praise of the Aeneas and Dido play and speech is ironical, his later advice to the player must surely be ironical too: and who will maintain that? And if in the one passage Hamlet is serious but Shakespeare ironical, then in the other passage all those famous remarks about drama and acting, which have been cherished as Shakespeare's by all the world, express the opposite of Shakespeare's opinion: and who will maintain that? And if Hamlet and Shakespeare are both serious—and nothing else is credible—then, to Hamlet and Shakespeare, the speeches of Laertes and Hamlet at Ophelia's grave are rant, but the speech of Aeneas to Dido is not rant. Is it not evident that he meant it for an exalted narrative speech of 'passion,' in a style which, though he may not have adopted it, he still approved and despised the million for not approving,—a speech to be delivered with temperance or modesty, but not too tamely neither? Is he not aiming here to do precisely what Marlowe aimed to do when he proposed to lead the audience

From jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits,

And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay,

to 'stately' themes which beget 'high astounding terms'? And is it strange that, like Marlowe in Tamburlaine, he adopted a style marred in places by that which we think bombast, but which the author meant to be more 'handsome than fine'?

2. If this is so, we can easily understand how it comes about that the speech of Aeneas contains lines which are unquestionably grand and free from any suspicion of bombast, and others which, though not free from that suspicion, are nevertheless highly poetic. To the first class certainly belongs the passage beginning, 'But as we often see.' To the second belongs the description of Pyrrhus, covered with blood that was

Baked and impasted with the parching streets,
That lend a tyrannous and damned light

To their lord's murder;

and again the picture of Pyrrhus standing like a tyrant in a picture, with his uplifted arm arrested in act to strike by the crash of the falling towers of Ilium. It is surely impossible to say that these lines are merely absurd and not in the least grand; and with them I should join the passage about Fortune's wheel, and the concluding lines.

But how can the insertion of these passages possibly be explained on the hypothesis that Shakespeare meant the speech to be ridiculous?

3. 'Still,' it may be answered, 'Shakespeare must have been conscious of the bombast in some of these passages. How could he help seeing it? And, if he saw it, he cannot have meant seriously to praise the speech.' But why must he have seen it? Did Marlowe know when he wrote bombastically? Or Marston? Or Heywood? Does not Shakespeare elsewhere write bombast? The truth is that the two defects of style in the speech are the very defects we do find in his writings. When he wished to make his style exceptionally high and passionate he always ran some risk of bombast. And he was even more prone to the fault which in this speech seems to me the more marked, a use of metaphors which sound to our ears 'conceited' or grotesque. To me at any rate the metaphors in 'now is he total gules' and 'mincing with his sword her husband's limbs' are more disturbing than any of the bombast. But, as regards this second defect, there are many places in Shakespeare worse than the speech of

Aeneas; and, as regards the first, though in his undoubtedly genuine works there is no passage so faulty, there is also no passage of quite the same species (for his narrative poems do not aim at epic grandeur), and there are many passages where bombast of the same kind, though not of the same degree, occurs.

Let the reader ask himself, for instance, how the following lines would strike him if he came on them for the first time out of their context:

Whip me, ye devils,

From the possession of this heavenly sight!

Blow me about in winds! Roast me in sulphur!
Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!

Are Pyrrhus's 'total gules' any worse than Duncan's 'silver skin laced with his golden blood,' or so bad as the chamberlains' daggers 'unmannerly breech'd with gore'? If 'to bathe in reeking wounds,' and 'spongy officers,' and even 'alarum'd by his sentinel the wolf, Whose howl's his watch,' and other such phrases in Macbeth, had occurred in the speech of Aeneas, we should certainly have been told that they were meant for burlesque. I open Troilus and Cressida (because, like the speech of Aeneas, it has to do with the story of Troy), and I read, in a perfectly serious context (iv. v. 6 f.):

Thou, trumpet, there's thy purse.

Now crack thy lungs, and split thy brazen pipe:
Blow, villain, till thy sphered bias cheek

Outswell the colic of puff'd Aquilon:

Come, stretch thy chest, and let thy eyes spout blood;

Thou blow'st for Hector.

'Splendid!' one cries. Yes, but if you are told it is also bombastic, can you deny it? I read again (v. v. 7):

bastard Margarelon

Hath Doreus prisoner,

And stands colossus-wise, waving his beam,

Upon the pashed corses of the kings.

Or, to turn to earlier but still undoubted works, Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet,

here will I remain

With worms that are thy chamber-maids ;

The extravagance of these phrases is doubtless intentional (for Macbeth in using them is trying to act a part), but the absurdity of the second can hardly be so.

« ZurückWeiter »