Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/80

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

though the latter is finally slain by Hamlet, is all brought about by the management of other heads and hands, and its conclusion evidently unforeseen by the Prince. From first to last he accomplishes nothing of set purpose. He moralizes by temperament and habit, but acts only when inaction is the more difficult resource. The fine spirit, the clear insight, the keen reader of other men's thoughts, is imprisoned in walls of adipose, and the desire for action dies out with the utterance of wise maxims, philosophic doubts, and morbid upbraidings of his own inertness. Hamlet is like one of those persons (to be met with in every community) who can relieve themselves by talking. This is a kind of character well understood by Shakespeare. In the third Richard's conference with the murderers of Clarence, one replies to him:

"Tut, tut, my lord, we will not stand to prate;
Talkers are no great doers."

Again, in describing a character the very opposite to that of Hamlet—one of few words, Cordelia—the poet makes her say, "What I well intend, I'll do't before I speak." Now, of all the characters drawn by Shakespeare, Hamlet is preeminently the man of words; not only his famous soliloquies but his dialogues take up unwonted space; he is the most prolific moralizer of the dramatist's conception, and thus all practical manhood is allowed to ooze out in words.

To judge the better whether Shakespeare intended in this play to show how the body may clog the aspirations of the mind, we have only to observe that whenever the physical appearance of any character is described by him, we find that leanness is an element of the executive man, and "bulk" or fatness of the dilatory and procrastinating, just as we see it in every-day life. Says Prince Henry to Falstaff:

"What! stand'st thou idle here? Lend me thy sword!"

And the fat knight replies:

"O Hal, I prithee give me leave to breathe awhile"—

the very expression used by both the King and Queen in regard to Hamlet, and in which he also describes his own case.

On another occasion Prince John addresses the pseudo-hero of Salisbury Plain:

"Now, Falstaff, where have you been all this while?

—When everything is ended, then you come."

And the inimitable old rogue, knowing that he must be pardoned for his fat, answers:

"Do you think me a swallow, an arrow, a bullet?"

So also Cæsar, recognizing the physiological improbability of a fat man actually carrying out a treasonable conspiracy, says:

"Let me have men about me that are fat."