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sion. In place of this, he now beholds himself excluded by his uncle, in spite of specious promises, most probably forever. He is now poor in goods and favor, and a stranger in the scene which from youth he had looked upon as his inheritance. His temper here assumes its first mournful tinge. He feels that now he is not more, that he is less, than a private nobleman; he offers himself as the servant of every one; he is not courteous and condescending, he is needy and degraded.
“ His past condition he remembers as a vanished dream. It is in vain that his uncle strives to cheer him, to present his situation in another point of view. The feeling of his nothingness will not leave him.
“The second stroke that came upon him wounded deeper, bowed still more. It was the marriage of his mother. The faithful, tender son had yet a mother, when his father passed away. He hoped in the company of his surviving, noble-minded parent, to reverence the heroic form of the departed; but his mother too he loses, and it is something worse than death that robs him of her. The trustful image which a good child loves to form of its parents is gone. With the dead there is no help; on the living no hold. She also is a woman, and her name is Frailty, like that of all her sex.
“Now first does he feel himself completely bent and orphaned; and no happiness of life can repay what he has lost. Not reflective or sorrowful by nature, reflection and sorrow have become for him a heavy obligation. It is thus that we see him first enter on the scene. I do not think that I have mixed aught foreign with the piece, or overcharged a single feature of it.”
Serlo looked at his sister and said, “Did I give thee a false picture of our friend? He begins well; he has still many things to tell us, many to persuade us of.” Wilhelm asseverated loudly that he meant not to persuade but to convince; he begged for another moment's patience.
“Figure to yourselves this youth,” cried he, “this son of princes; conceive him vividly, bring his state before your eyes, and then observe him when he learns that his father's spirit walks ; stand by him in the terrors of the night, when the venerable ghost itself appears before him. A horrid shudder passes over him; he speaks to the mysterious form; he sees it beckon him; he follows it, and hears. The fearful accusation of his uncle rings in his ears ; the summons to revenge, and the piercing oft-repeated prayer, Remember me !
“And when the ghost has vanished, who is it that stands before us? A young hero panting for vengeance? A prince by birth, rejoicing to be called to punish the usurper of his crown? No! trouble and astonishment take hold of the solitary young man; he grows bitter against smiling villains, swears that he will not forget the spirit, and concludes with the significant ejaculation:
«The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!' “In these words, I imagine, will be found the key to Hamlet's whole procedure. To me it is clear that Shakspeare meant, in the present case, to represent the effects of a great action laid upon a soul unfit for the performance of it. In this view the whole piece seems to me to be composed. There is an oak-tree planted in a costly jar, which should have borne only pleasant flowers in its bosom; the roots expand, the jar is shivered.
“A lovely, pure, noble, and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a hero, sinks beneath a burden which it cannot bear and must not cast away.
All duties are holy for him; the present is too hard. Impossibilities have been required of him, not in themselves impossibilities, but such for him. He winds, and turns, and torments himself; he advances and recoils; is ever put in mind, ever puts himself in mind; at last does all but lose his purpose from his thoughts; yet still without recovering his peace of mind."
Aurelia seemed to give but little heed to what was passing ; at last she conducted Wilhelm to another room, and going to the window, and looking out at the starry sky she said to him, “ You have still much to tell us about Hamlet; I will not hurry you ; my brother must hear it as well as I; but let me beg to know your thoughts about Ophelia.”
“Of her there cannot much be said," he answered; “for a few master strokes complete her character. The whole being of Ophelia floats in sweet and ripe sensation. Kindness for the Prince, to whose hand she may aspire, flows so spontaneously, her tender heart obeys its impulses so unresistingly, that both father and brother are afraid ; both give her warning harshly and directly. Decorum, like the thin lawn upon her bosom, cannot hide the soft, still movements of her heart; it on the contrary betrays them. Her fancy is smit; her silent modesty breathes amiable desire; and if the friendly goddess Opportunity should shake the tree, its fruit would fall.”
" And then," said Aurelia, “when she beholds herself forsaken, cast away, despised; when all is inverted in the soul of her crazed lover, and the highest changes to the lowest, and instead of the sweet cup of love he offers her the bitter cup of woe
“ Her heart breaks,” cries Wilhelm ; "the whole structure of her being is loosened from its joinings; her father's death strikes fiercely against it; and the fair edifice altogether crumbles into fragments.”
Serlo, at this moment entering, inquired about his sister; and looking in the book which our friend had hold of, cried, “So you are again at · Hamlet'? Very good! Many doubts have arisen in me, which seem not a little to impair the canonical aspect of the piece as you would have it viewed. The English themselves have admitted that its chief interest concludes with the third act; the last two lagging sorrily on, and scarcely uniting with the rest: and certainly about the end it seems to stand stock still."
"It is very possible,” said Wilhelm," that some individuals of a nation which has so many masterpieces to feel proud of, may be led by prejudice and narrowness of mind to form false judgments; but this cannot hinder us from looking with our own eyes, and doing justice where we see it due. I am very far from censuring the plan of Hamlet'; on the other hand, I believe there never was a grander one invented; nay, it is not invented, it is real."
“How do you demonstrate that?" inquired Serlo.
"I will not demonstrate anything," said Wilhelm; “I will merely show you what my own conceptions of it are.”
Aurelia rose up from her cushion, leaned upon her hand, and looked at Wilhelm; who, with the firmest assurance that he was in the right, went on as follows:
“It pleases us, it flatters us to see a hero acting on his own strength; loving and hating as his heart directs him; undertaking and completing ; casting every obstacle aside; and at length attaining some great object which he aimed at. Poets and historians would willingly persuade us that so proud a lot may fall to man. In · Hamlet' we are taught another lesson: the hero is without a plan, but the piece is full of plan. Here we have no villain punished on some self-conceived and rigidly accomplished scheme of vengeance: a horrid deed occurs; it rolls itself along with all its consequences, dragging guiltless persons also in its course; the perpetrator seems as if he would evade the abyss which is made ready for him, yet he plunges in, at the very point by which he thinks he shall escape and happily complete his course.
“For it is the property of crime to extend its mischief over innocence, as it is of virtue to extend its blessings over many that deserve them not; while frequently the author of the one or of the other is not punished or rewarded at all. Here in this play of ours, how strange! The Pit of Darkness sends its spirit and demands revenge; in vain! All circumstances tend one way, and hurry to revenge; in vain ! Neither earthly nor infernal thing may bring about what is reserved for Fate alone. The hour of judgment comes : the wicked falls with the good; one race is mowed away, that another may spring up."
After a pause, in which they looked at one another, Serlo said: “You pay no great compliment to Providence, in thus exalting Shakspeare ; and besides, it appears to me that for the honor of your poet, as others for the honor of Providence, you ascribe to him an object and a plan which he himself had never thought of."
“Let me also put a question," said Aurelia. “I have looked at Ophelia's part again; I am contented with it, and conceive that under certain circumstances I could play it. But tell me, should not the poet have furnished the insane maiden with another sort of songs ? Could not one select some fragments out of melancholy ballads for this purpose? What have double meanings and lascivious insipidities to do in the mouth of such a noble-minded person?”
“Dear friend,” said Wilhelm, “even here I cannot yield you one iota. In these singularities, in this apparent impropriety, a deep sense is hid. Do we not understand from the very first what the mind of the good, soft-hearted girl was busied with ? Silently she lived within herself, yet she scarce concealed her wishes, her longing; the tones of desire were in secret ringing through her soul; and how often may she have attempted, like an unskillful nurse, to lull her senses to repose with songs which only kept them more awake? But at last, when her selfcommand is altogether gone, when the secrets of her heart are hovering on her tongue, that tongue betrays her; and in the innocence of insanity she solaces herself, unmindful of king or queen, with the echo of her loose and well-beloved songs, Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day,' and · By Gis and by Saint Charity.'
“I am much mistaken,” cried he, “if I have not now discovered how the whole is to be managed; nay, I am convinced that Shakspeare himself would have arranged it so, had not his mind been too exclusively directed to the ruling interest, and perhaps misled by the novels which furnished him with his materials.”
“Let us hear,” said Serlo, placing himself with an air of solemnity upon the sofa ; “I will listen calmly, but judge with rigor.”
“I am not afraid of you," said Wilhelm ; "only hear me. In the composition of this play, after the most accurate investigation and the most mature reflection, I distinguish two classes of objects. The first are the grand internal relations of the persons and events, the powerful effects which arise from the characters and proceedings of the main figures: these, I hold, are individually excellent, and the order in which they are presented cannot be improved. No kind of interference must be suffered to destroy them, or even essentially to change their form. These are the things which stamp themselves deep into the soul; which all men long to see, which no one dares to meddle with. Accordingly, I understand, they have almost wholly been retained in all our German theaters.
“But our countrymen have erred, in my opinion, with regard to the second class of objects which may be observed in this tragedy: I allude to the external relations of the persons, whereby they are brought from place to place, or combined in various ways by certain accidental incidents. These they have looked upon as very unimportant; have spoken of them only in passing, or left them out altogether. Now indeed it must be owned that these threads are slack and slender; yet they run through the entire piece, and bind together much that would otherwise fall asunder, and does actually fall asunder when you cut them off, and imagine you have done enough and more if you have left the ends hanging.
“ Among these external relations I include the disturbances in Norway, the war with young Fortinbras, the embassy to his uncle, the settling of that feud, the march of young Fortinbras to Poland, and his coming back at the end; of the same sort are Horatio's return from Wittenberg, Hamlet's wish to go thither, the journey of Laertes to France, his return, the dispatch of Hamlet into England, his capture by pirates, the death of the two courtiers by the letter which they carried.
All these cir