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he has only been pretending to be eccentric. However, the question of Hamlet's condition, except so far as it affects Ophelia, is apart from the present question. His state of mind, after the ghost leaves him, is clearly enough described in his pathetic soliloquy :
Remember thee !
That youth and observation copied there.
He had been separated by her repulse from the only being he loved; now he feels that love, marriage, happiness in this world are not for him ; his terrible task has absorbed all his energies and left no room for any softer emotions. He will pay her, who was his love, a last farewell.
It is difficult to understand how in the affecting scene, described by Ophelia, any one can ever have supposed Hamlet to be feigning; for Ophelia the scene is real enough; she is alarmed, and on Polonius suggesting that Hamlet is mad for love of her, doubtfully acquiesces. Ultimately Polonius decides to bring the matter before the King, to whom, and to the Queen, Hamlet's recently changed manner had occasioned great concern. He accordingly goes to the castle and lays the case before the King and Queen, and the issue of this conference is that a meeting shall be brought about, as if by accident, between Hamlet and Ophelia, of which the King and Polonius shall be unseen spectators, and hereupon ensues the difficult scene of Act III.
Casuists have amused themselves with speculating as to what circumstances render deception justifiable. I believe all are agreed that such a course is not only justifiable but right and proper, when practised upon a sick man, with the object of relieving him. It was obviously necessary that Ophelia should join in the scheme, and, whatever the motive of the others, her motive was sincere and honorable. She now knows that no objection will be made to her marriage with Hamlet, on account of their difference in rank, and she avows, with modest simplicity, her affection for him and hopes for his recovery.
And for your part, Ophelia, I do wish
It has been much debated whether at any time during this scene Hamlet suspects that he is being overheard. It is evident in the soliloquy he believes that he is alone; but it is possible that he detected some constraint in Ophelia's manner, which caused him to doubt, and he knew from their own confession that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern had been set upon him; there is, however, no such indication in the text, and it is difficult to conceive that Hamlet could in his right mind so wantonly and cruelly insult the girl he had loved, merely for the sake of mystifying the King or whoever might be listening. It seems more natural to suppose that, irritated by Ophelia's offering to return his presents, one of his mad fits seized him, and that he lost all self-control and spoke at random. We know that another such fit seized him in the scene with Laertes in the churchyard. "This is mere madness," said the Queen on that occasion, "and thus awhile the fit will work on him.” And when Hamlet again met Laertes, before the fencing, he himself says:
What I have done
But we are rather concerned with Ophelia's behavior in this trying scene. She has entered into her father's scheme with the hope that she may be the means of restoring Hamlet by inviting him to renew his attentions to her, and she now knows that she would be acceptable to the King and Queen as a daughter-in-law. At their last interview he had bidden her a strange farewell, and she will test his sincerity by returning his presents. His first words to her show him to be in one of his moods.
Good my lord
My lord, I have remembrances of yours,
There, my lord.
Ha, ha! are you honest ?
... Are you fair ? Words which affect us almost as a personal affront to ourselves. Ophelia can only reply by startled exclamations. · After some wild language, he breaks off :
I did love you once.
I was the more deceived.
Where's your father?
Of course this was an untruth, and, if deception is never justifiable, may be condemned by those moralists who do not live in glass houses. But what was she to do? Could she betray her father? No doubt a less truthful person would have found a ready equivocation, but she is not practised in that art.
Probably this question of Hamlet's was merely a bow at a venture; if he had suspected any one was listening, he would have taken it to be the King, as in the case of the interview with the Queen after the play.
If Hamlet had known Polonius was listening, he would cer. tainly have taxed Ophelia with lying, but as it is, he accepts her answer.
Ophelia, with “love's fine wit,” perceives only too clearly the state of the case; she has now no doubt, and all her fond hopes forsake her.
O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown !
A few hours later, on the very same day, Hamlet again meets Ophelia; apparently he has no recollection of what has so recently passed between them; he speaks to her as if nothing had happened; but now, for the first time, he makes use of equivocal expressions in talking to her. It has been sought to account for this, by reference to the manners of the period, and no doubt contemporary instances of such language are to be met with ; but, as Gervinus remarks, neither Romeo, nor Bassanio, nor even Proteus, has spoken so with their beloved ones. This has an important bearing to be referred to Ophelia's songs; for the present it is sufficient to note the quiet unobservance with which she puts his allusions aside.
An interval occurs before we again encounter Ophelia-and then it is not Ophelia we see. Hamlet has slain her father in mistake for the King, and in order not to excite public attention to the manner of his death, he has been buried in an obscure fashion and not according to his rank and dignity, and Hamlet himself has been sent away to England. The calamity of her father's death coming upon the top of her other troubles has overwhelmed her; her reason has given way and she has sunk into the most hopeless and pitiable of the ills that flesh is heir to, when life has become nothing but a jumbled and distorted memory. There is no need to recall the affecting scene in which she sings her snatches of songs, distributes flowers, and utters enigmatical sayings; it is only
necessary to refer to one of the ballads, which the poet, with consummate art, has introduced among her songs. If there is one characteristic of mental derangement more constant than another it is the impairment of the sense of decency. This is the explanation of Hamlet's equivocal talk. Shakespeare makes Lear say: “An ounce of civil good apothecary to sweeten my imagination.” “ The foul Auid,” is a constant allusion of Ed. gar's during his assumption of madness, and without assuming anything as to the connection between demoniacal possession and lunacy, it may not be out of place to refer to the frequent description of the devils as unclean spirits. Sir Edward Strachey has pointed out how, in mental derangement, delicate and refined women will use language so coarse that it is diffi. cult to guess where they can ever have even heard such words, and reminds us that such a nurse as Juliet's would be quite sufficient to account for all that falls from Ophelia's lips. It is moreover certain that the recording tablets of the brain, as Æschylus calls them, may unconsciously receive impressions which may remain latent like the invisible picture on the photographic plate, ready to Aash into consciousness when the occasion arrives. Is it possible that this saddest trait of Ophelia's malady has been so misunderstood, as to give rise to a suspi. cion of her honor ?
Surely Coleridge's is the truer insight: “Note the conjunction here of these two thoughts, that had never subsisted in disjunction, the love for Hamlet and her filial love; with the guileless floating on the surface of her pure imagination, of the cautions so lately expressed, and the fears not too delicately avowed, by her father and brother, concerning the dangers to which her honor lay exposed. Thought, affliction, passion, murder itself she turns to prettiness."
The Queen tells us the manner of her death and her gentle words at the grave almost dispose us to forgive her for her part in the tragedy.
Such is Shakespeare's Ophelia, a creation in which he seems to have combined the purity and innocence of Miranda and the gentle tenderness of Julia with the indefinable grace which comes of patient suffering and resignation. Truly Hamlet spoke wiser than he was aware of, when he said: "Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny."