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And how exquisitely does the poet ridicule the reasoning in fashion, where he makes Polonius remark on Hamlet's madness :
Though this be madness, yet there's method in't: As if method, which the wits of that age thought the most essential quality of a good discourse, would make amends for the madness. It was madness indeed, yet Polonius could comfort himself with this reflection, that at least it was method. It is certain Shakspere excels in nothing more than in the preservation of his characters: To this life and variety of character (says our great poet in his admirable preface to Shakspere) we must add the wonderful preservation. We have said what is the character of Polonius; and it is allowed on all hands to be drawn with wonderful life and spirit, yet the unity of it has been thought bv some to be grossly violated in the excellent precepts and instructions which Shakspere makes his statesman give to his son and servant in the middle of the first, and beginning of the second act. But I will venture to say, these criticks have not entered into the poet's art and address in this particular. He had a inind to ornament his scenes with those fine lessons of social life; but his Polonius was too weak to be author of them, though he was pedant enough to have met with them in his reading, and fop enough to get them by heart, and retail them for his own. And this the poet has finely shewn us was the case, where, in the middle of Polonius's instructions to his servant, he
makes him, though without having received any interruption, forget his lesson, and say,
And then, sir, does he this;
I was about to say something - where did I leave? The servant replies,
At, closes in the consequence. This sets Polonius right, and he goes on,
At, closes in the consequence:
He closes thus :- I know the gentleman, &c. which shews the very words got by heart which he was repeating.
Otherwise closes in the consequence, which conveys no particular idea of the subject he was upon, could never have made him recollect where he broke off. This is an extraordinary instance of the poet's art, and attention to the preservation of character.
WARBURTON. This account of the character of Polonius, though it sufficiently reconciles the seeming inconsistency of so much wisdom with so much folly, does not perhaps correspond exactly to the ideas of our author. The commentator makes the character of Polonius, a character only of manners, discriminated by properties superficial, accidental, and acquired. The poet intended a nobler delineation of a mixed character of manners and of nature. Polonius is a man bred in courts, exercised in business, stored with ob. servation, confident of his knowledge, proud of his
eloquence, and declining into dotage. His mode of oratory is truly represented as designed to ridicule the • practice of those times, of prefaces that made no introduction, and of method that embarrassed rather than explained. This part of his characters is acci. dental, the rest is natural. Such a man is positive and confident, because he knows that his mind was once strong, and knows not that it is become weak. Such a man excels in general principles, but fails in the particular application. He is knowing in retrospect, and ignorant in foresight. While he depends upon
his memory, and can draw from his repositories of knowledge, he utters weighty sentences, and gives useful counsel; but as the mind in its enfeebled state cannot be kept long busy and intent, the old man is subject to sudden dereliction of his faculties, he loses the order of his ideas, and entangles himself in his own thoughts, till he recovers the leading principle, and falls again into his former train. This idea of dotage encroaching upon wisdom, will solve all the phænomena of the character of Polonius. JOHNSON.
219. --to expostulate] To expostulate, for to inquire or discuss.
WARBURTON. 242. To the celestial, and my soul's idol, the most beautified Ophelia-] Heywood, in his History of Edward VI.
“ Katherine Parre, queen dowager to king Henry VIII. was a woman beautified with many excellent virtues.'
FARMER. 246. These in her excellent white bosom,
-] So, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona :
“ Even in the milk-white bosom of thy love."
STEEVENS. 255. -0 most best-] So, in Acolastus, a comedy, 1540: 15--that same most best redresser, or reformer, is God."
STEEVENS. 259. -more above,--] Is, moreover, besides.
JOHNSON. 271. If I had play'd the desk, or table-book ;
Or given my heart a working, mute and dumb;
What might you think?-) i.e. If either. I had conveyed intelligence between them, and been the confident of their amours [play'd the desk or tablebook], or had connived at it, only observed them in secret, without acquainting my daughter with my discovery (given my heart a mute and dumb working]; or lastly, had been negligent in observing the intrigue, and overlooked it [looked upon this love with idle sight] ; what would you have thought of me?
WARBURTON 272. Or given my heart a working,–] The folio reads a winking
STEVENS. Or given my heart a working mute and dumb;The same pleonasm is found in our author's Rape of Lucrece : “ And in my hearing be you mute and dumb."
MALONE. 277. -precepts gave her,] Thus the folio. The two elder quartos read, prescripts.
280. Which done, she took the fruits of my advice :
And he, repulsed-] She took the fruits of ad. vice when she obeyed advice, the advice was then made fruitful.
JOHNSON. 281. -(a short tale to make),
Fell into a sadness; then into a fast, &c.] The ridicule of this character is here admirably sustained. He would not only be thought to have discovered this intrigue by his own sagacity, but to have remarked all the stages of Hamlet's disorder, from his sadness to his raving, as regularly as his physician could have done : when all the while the madness was only feigned. The humour of this is exquisite from a man who tells us, with a confidence peculiar to small politicians, that he could find
Where truth was hid, though it were hid indeed
WARBURTON. 298. -four hours together,] Perhaps it would be better were we to read indefinitely, - for hours together.
Tyrwhirr. I should not hesitate to admit Mr. Tyrwhitt's conjecture into the text. The same mistake has I think happened in Webster's Dutchess of Malfy, 1623 : “ She will muse four hours together; and her
silence " Methinks expressed more than if she speak.”
MALONE. 301. At such a time I'll loose my daughter to him :
Be you and i' behind an arras then;