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The Elder Hamlet
by [?]

Armed in the complete steel of a suit well known to the eyes of the sentinels, visionary none the less, with useless truncheon in hand, resuming the memory of old martial habits, but with quiet countenance, more in sorrow than in anger, troubled–not now with the thought of the hell-day to which he must sleepless return, but with that unceasing ache at the heart, which ever, as often as he is released into the cooling air of the upper world, draws him back to the region of his wrongs–where having fallen asleep in his orchard, in sacred security and old custom, suddenly, by cruel assault, he was flung into Hades, where horror upon horror awaited him–worst horror of all, the knowledge of his wife!–armed he comes, in shadowy armour but how real sorrow! Still it is not pity he seeks from his son: he needs it not–he can endure. There is no weakness in the ghost. It is but to the imperfect human sense that he is shadowy. To himself he knows his doom his deliverance; that the hell in which he finds himself shall endure but until it has burnt up the hell he has found within him–until the evil he was and is capable of shall have dropped from him into the lake of fire; he nerves himself to bear. And the cry of revenge that comes from the sorrowful lips is the cry of a king and a Dane rather than of a wronged man. It is for public justice and not individual vengeance he calls. He cannot endure that the royal bed of Denmark should be a couch for luxury and damned incest. To stay this he would bring the murderer to justice. There is a worse wrong, for which he seeks no revenge: it involves his wife; and there comes in love, and love knows no amends but amendment, seeks only the repentance tenfold more needful to the wronger than the wronged. It is not alone the father’s care for the human nature of his son that warns him to take no measures against his mother; it is the husband’s tenderness also for her who once lay in his bosom. The murdered brother, the dethroned king, the dishonoured husband, the tormented sinner, is yet a gentle ghost. Has suffering already begun to make him, like Prometheus, wise?

But to measure the gentleness, the forgiveness, the tenderness of the ghost, we must well understand his wrongs. The murder is plain; but there is that which went before and is worse, yet is not so plain to every eye that reads the story. There is that without which the murder had never been, and which, therefore, is a cause of all the wrong. For listen to what the ghost reveals when at length he has withdrawn his son that he may speak with him alone, and Hamlet has forestalled the disclosure of the murderer:

“Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts,
(O wicked wit and gifts that have the power
So to seduce!) won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming virtuous queen:
Oh, Hamlet, what a falling off was there!
From me, whose love was of that dignity
That it went hand in hand even with the vow
I made to her in marriage, and to decline
Upon a wretch, whose natural gifts were poor
To those of mine!
But virtue–as it never will be moved
Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven,
So lust, though to a radiant angel linked,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed,
And prey on garbage.”

Reading this passage, can any one doubt that the ghost charges his late wife with adultery, as the root of all his woes? It is true that, obedient to the ghost’s injunctions, as well as his own filial instincts, Hamlet accuses his mother of no more than was patent to all the world; but unless we suppose the ghost misinformed or mistaken, we must accept this charge. And had Gertrude not yielded to the witchcraft of Claudius’ wit, Claudius would never have murdered Hamlet. Through her his life was dishonoured, and his death violent and premature: unhuzled, disappointed, unaneled, he woke to the air–not of his orchard-blossoms, but of a prison-house, the lightest word of whose terrors would freeze the blood of the listener. What few men can say, he could–that his love to his wife had kept even step with the vow he made to her in marriage; and his son says of him–