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So full of artless jealousy is guilt,
It spills itself in fearing to be spilt.” Ibid. 1. 17-20. And it is the workings of this faculty beyond the grave, that prevents Hamlet from that act, which so haunts him as a remedy for the ills of the present life. As he says, “ Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;"'
Act III., sc. I.,
1. 83. though to be cowardly here, is to be truly brave.
In the soliloquy of Hamlet's uncle we have many fundamental doctrines compressed into the smallest space. Hamlet's uncle feels his moral inability.
“Pray can I not,
And both neglect.” Act III., sc. III., 1. 38-43.
“ What then? what rests ?
Art more engaged.” Ibid. 1. 64-69. In this soliloquy, also, we have the true doctrine of the atonement; the efficacy of the blood of Christ, when applied to the penitent soul; that the degree of sin is no real hindrance to forgiveness.
“What if this cursed hand
My fault is past.” Ibid. 1. 43–51.
“ But, 0, what form of prayer
That can not be; since I am still possessed
May one be pardoned and retain the offence?” Ibid. 1. 50–55. The doctrine of a future judgınent we find in the complaint of Hamlet's father, as to the manner of his death,
“ No reckoning made, but sent to my account,
With all my imperfections on my head;" Act 1., sc. V., 1. 78–79. in his caution to Hamlet, so touchingly forgiving,
“ Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught; leave her to heaven,
To prick and sting her;" Ibid. I. 85–88. and in Hamlet's own account of his father's death, when meditating that of his uncle, while he is at prayers :
“ Ile took my father grossly, full of bread:
With all his crimes broad-blown, as flush as May,
'Tis heavy with him,” Act III., sc. III., 1. 80–84. as well as in his playful rejoinder, when Rosencrantz tells him for news, "the world is grown honest" ;
“ Then is doomsday near;” Act II., sc. II., 1. 242. which seems to be an allusion to the millennium.
The two future worlds, as places of happiness and misery, are very forcibly described in Hamlet's address to his father's spirit :
“ Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damned,
Bring with thee airs from heaven, or blasts from hell,
That I will speak to thee.” Act I., sc. IV., 1. 40–44. And this is just what he had threatened to do in a passage which contains a similar allusion to one of these worlds :
If it assume my noble father's person,
And bid me hold my peace.” Act 1., sc. II., 1. 244–246. Ophelia, also, in describing Hamiet's strange appearance, as she sat sewing in her closet, alludes to the same dwellingplace of torment:
“Pale as his shirt; his knees knocking each other;
And with a look so piteous in purport,
Act 11., sc. I., 1, 81–84. And Laertes, when challenging the king as to his father's death, adopts the violent language which follows:
“How came he dead? I'll not be juggled with:
To hell, allegiance ! vows, to the blackest devil !
Most throughly for my father.” Act iv., sc. V., 1. 129–1 The spiritual nature of future punishment Hamlet intimates in his celebrated soliloquy in Act third :
“ To die; to sleep —
Than fly to others that we know not of?” Sc. I., 1. 60. The nature, too, of the joys of the better world, may be inferred also from Hamlet's wish :
“Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven
Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio.” Act I., sc. 11., 1. 182–183. And, then, in the last Scene of the last Act of the play, Hamlet implores Horatio,
“If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
The characters in this play believe in the personality of good and evil spirits. When he first sees his father's ghost, Hamlet exclaims
• Angels and ministers of grace defend us !" Act 1., sc. IV., 1. 39. Ophelia thus ejaculates for Hamlet's recovery:
• O heavenly powers, restore him!” Act III., sc. I., 1. 147. Hamlet's uncle, when he finds how hard his heart is, thus apostrophizes :
“ Help, angels ! make assay!" Act III., sc. II., 1. 68. Hamlet's fears, on the other hand, lest he may he mocked by a lying spirit, he discloses in this passage :
“The spirit that I have seen
Abuses me to damn me.” Act II., sc. II., 1. 627–632. Again, while he upbraids his mother for her unfaithfulness, he asks this question,
" What devil was't
Act III., sc. IV.,
1. 76. And Laertes thus imprecates on him the woes of the lost, when he leaps after him into Ophelia's grave:
“ The devil take thy soul!" Act v., sc. I., 1. 281. In this play, the Scriptural allusions are quite frequent. For example, to the Sabbath in the lines :
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sure task
Act I, sc. I., 1. 75, 76. and in Ophelia's talk about rue, calling it “herb of grace, o’Sundays ;" to Christmas, in the lines :
“ Some say, that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
Act 1., sc. I., 1. 158-160. to the killing of Abel, in the lines
“ It hath the primal, eldest curse upon 't,
and, in the scene in the churchyard, where Hamlet says
of skull thrown up by the grave-digger :
“ How the knave jowls it to the ground, as if it were Cain's jaw-bone, that did the first murder !" Act v., sc. I., 1. 84. as, also, where the first clown traces his profession back to Adam ; and where Hamlet speaks of Jephthah and his daughter.
These Scriptural allusions, too, are sometimes confined merely to language; as where Hamlet says of the partly made grave,
“ 'Tis for the dead, not for the quick;" Act v., sc. 1., 1. 138. and again, There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow."
Act v., sc. II., 1. 231. Thus have we tried to discover the theological doctrines of this wonderful drama. In the main we have found them to be strictly evangelical. If we except the superstition respecting ghosts, and certain Romish dogmas, such as the doctrine of purgatory and extreme unction, the play is full of the most thoroughly orthodox sentiments. This is a reinarkable providence, that the most commanding intellect of all generations, the writer of the English tongue most read and quoted by cultivated minds, should have so freighted his immortal lines with the fundamental doctrines of revealed religion. Sceptics, who shun the Bible as a text-book respecting the future world, will yet read and admire this prince of English bards; will thus bring their minds into contact with the great truths, which as a matter of revelation, they stoutly reject.
It seems to us, too, that the key to Hamlet's character is to be found in the same direction. He vacillates and starts, he is inconsistent, he appears insincere, not merely because he has committed to him an undertaking too vast for a philosophic, in distinction from a practical mind, but because the undertaking is one against which his whole better nature revolts. It is immoral. It is heinously wicked. It is not his prerogative to avenge his father's murder. The canon of “the Everlasting,” is really as much against the murder of an uncle, as the murder of himself, as the murder of a brother. The Creator has hedged in every human life with certain sanctions, such as men