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Line 65. To be, or not to be,] Of this celebrated soliloquy, which, bursting from a man distracted with contrariety of desires, and overwhelmed with the magnitude of his own purposes, is connected rather in the speaker's mind, than on his tongue, I shall endeavour to discover the train, and to show how one sentiment produces another.
Hamlet, knowing himself injured in the most enormous and atrocious degree, and seeing no means of redress, but such as must expose him to the extremity of hazard, meditates on his situation in this manner: Before I can form any rational scheme of action under this pressure of distress, it is necessary to decide, whe ther, after our present state, we are to be, or not to be. That is the question, which, as it shall be answered, will determine, whether 'tis nobler, and more suitable to the dignity of reason, to suffer the outrages of fortune patiently, or to take arms against them, and by opposing end them, though perhaps with the loss of life. If to die, were to sleep, no more, and by a sleep to end the miseries of our nature, such a sleep were devoutly to be wished; but if to sleep in death, be to dream, to retain our powers of sensibility, we must pause to consider, in that sleep of death what dreams may come. This consideration makes calamity so long endured; for who would bear the vexations of life, which might be ended by a bare bodkin, but that he is afraid of something in unknown futurity? This fear it is that gives efficacy to conscience, which, by turning the mind upon this regard, chills the ardour of resolution, checks the vigour of enterprize, and makes the current of desire stagnate in inactivity.
We may suppose that he would have applied these general observations to his own case, but that he discovered Ophelia. JOHNSON. -shuffled off this mortal coil,] i. e. turmoil, bustle. WARBURTON. -There's the respect,] i. e. the consideration.
79. the whips and scorns of time,] It may be remarked, that Hamlet, in his enumeration of miseries, forgets, whether properly or not, that he is a prince, and mentions many evils to which inferior stations only are exposed. JOHNSON.
Line 84. might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?] A bodkin was the ancient term for a small dagger,
Line 86. To grunt and sweat-] Thus the old copies. It is undoubtedly the true reading, but can scarcely be borne by modern ears. JOHNSON.
Line 98. Nymph, in thy orisons &c.] This is a touch of nature. Hamlet, at the sight of Ophelia, does not immediately recollect, that he is to personate madness, but makes her an address grave and solemn, such as the foregoing meditation excited in his thoughts. JOHNSON.
Line 161. make your wantonness your ignorance:] You mistake by wanton affectation, and pretend to mistake by ignoJOHNSON. Line 171. -The mould of form,] The model by whom all endeavoured to form themselves. JOHNSON. Line 178. with ecstacy:] The word ecstacy was anciently used to signify some degree of alienation of mind.
STEEVENS. Line 202. be round with him ;] To be round with a person, is to reprimand him with freedom. MALONE.
ACT III. SCENE II.
Line 218. —periwig-pated-] This is a ridicule on the quantity of false hair worn in Shakspeare's time. STEEVENS.
Line 219. the groundlings;] The meaner people then seem to have sat below, as they now sit in the upper gallery,who, not well understanding poetical language, were sometimes gratified by a mimical and mute representation of the drama, previous to the dialogue. JOHNSON.
Line 223. -out-herods Herod :] The character of Herod in the ancient mysteries, was always a violent one. STEEVENS. Line 235. -pressure.] Resemblance, as in a print.
241. -not to speak it profanely,] Any gross or indelicate language was formerly called profane. JOHNSON.
Line 250. speak no more than is set down for them:] The clown very often addressed the audience, in the middle
of the play, and entered into a contest of raillery and sarcasm with such of the audience as chose to engage with him. It is to this absurd practice that Shakspeare alludes. See the Historical Account of our Old English Theatres, Vol. IX. MALONE.
Line 283. Whose blood and judgment-] According to the doctrine of the four humours, desire and confidence were seated in the blood, and judgment in the phlegm, and the due mixture of the humours made a perfect character. JOHNSON. . Line 298. -Vulcan's stithy.] Stithy is a smith's anvil. JOHNSON. -nor mine now.] A man's words, says the proverb, are his own no longer than he keeps them unspoken. JOHNSON.
Line 333. Do you think I meant country matters?] Dr. Johnson, from a casual inadvertence, proposed to read-country manners. The old reading is certainly right. What Shakspeare meant to allude to, must be too obvious to every reader, to require any explanation. MALONE.
Line 347. Nay, then let the devil wear black, for I'll have a suit of sables.] Nay then, says Hamlet, if my father be so long dead as you say, let the devil wear black; as for me, so far from wearing a mourning dress, I'll wear the most costly and magnificent suit that can be procured: a suit trimmed with sables.
MALONE. Line 356. -miching mallecho ;] To mich signifies to lie hid, or play the truant. In Norfolk michers signify pilferers.
Line 363. Be not you ashamed to show, &c.] The conversation of Hamlet with Ophelia, which cannot fail to disgust every modern reader, is probably such as was peculiar to the young and fashionable of the age of Shakspeare, which was, by no means, an age of delicacy.
-sheen,] Splendor, lustre.
Line 377. 397.
-operant powers—] Operant is active. STEEV.
what to ourselves is debt :] The performance of a resolution, in which only the resolver is interested, is a debt only to himself, which he may therefore remit at pleasure.
Line 422. The violence of either grief or joy
Their own enactures with themselves destroy:] What grief or joy enact or determine in their violence, is revoked in their abatement. JOHNSON. Line 447. An anchor's cheer in prison be my scope !] May my whole liberty and enjoyment be to live on hermit's fare in a prison. Anchor is for anchoret. JOHNSON.
Line 477. Ham. I could interpret &c.] This refers to the interpreter, who formerly sat on the stage at all motions or puppetshows, and interpreted to the audience. STEEVENS.
Line 482. Still better, and worse.] i. e. better in regard to the wit of your double entendre, but worse in respect to the grossness of your meaning. STEEVENS.
Line 509. Would not this, Sir, and a forest of feathers, &c.] It appears from Decker's Gul's Hornbooke, that feathers were much worn on the stage in Shakspeare's time. MALONE. Line 510. -turn Turk with me,] Means, I believe, no more than to change condition fantastically. STEEVENS. Line 511. —Provencial roses on my razed shoes,] When shoe-strings were worn, they were covered, where they met in the middle, by a ribband, gathered in the form of a rose.
The poet might have written raised shoes, i. e. shoes with high heels; such as by adding to the stature, are supposed to increase the dignity of a player. STEEVENS.
Line 512. ——a cry of players,] Allusion to a pack of hounds. WARBURTON.
-O Damon dear,] Hamlet calls Horatio by this name, in allusion to the celebrated friendship between Damon and Pythias. STEEVENS.
Line 528. Why then, belike,] Hamlet was going on to draw the consequence, when the courtiers entered. JOHNSON. Line 528. he likes it not, perdy,] Perdy is the corruption of par Dieu, and is not uncommon in the old plays. STEEV. Line 570. by these pickers &c.] By these hands. JOHNS. -Recorders.] i. e. a kind of flute. -620. They fool me to the top of my bent.] They compel me to play, the fool, till I can endure it no longer.
. Line 637. be shent,] To shend, is to reprove harshly.
638. To give them seals-] i. e. put them in execution. WARBURTON.
ACT III. SCENE III.
Line 669. Behind the arras I'll convey myself,] The arrashangings in Shakspeare's time were hung at such a distance from the walls, that a person might easily stand behind them unperceived. MALONE. Line 676. —of vantage.] By some opportunity of secret observation. WARBURTON.
Line 700. May one be pardon'd, and retain the offence?] He that does not amend what can be amended, retains his offence. The king kept the crown from the right heir. JOHNSON. Line 710. Yet what can it, when one can not repent?] What can repentance do for a man that cannot be penitent, for a man who has only part of penitence, distress of conscience, without the other part, resolution of amendment? JOHNSON.
Line 735. Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent:] To hent is used by Shakspeare for to seize, to catch, to lay hold on. Hent is, therefore, hold, or seizure. Lay hold on him, sword, at a more horrid time. JOHNSON.
Line 742. As hell, whereto it goes.] This speech, in which Hamlet, represented as a virtuous character, is not content with taking blood for blood, but contrives damnation for the man that he would punish, is too horrible to be read or to be uttered.
ACT III. Line 753. I'll silence me e'en here.] I'll silence me even here, is, I'll use no more words. JOHNSON.
Line 791. Queen. As kill a king!] This exclamation may be considered as some hint that the Queen had no hand in the murder of Hamlet's father. STEEVENS.
from the body of contraction-] Contraction for
Line 819. That roars so loud,] The meaning is,-What is this act, of which the discovery or mention cannot be made, but with this violence of clamour ?