William Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 6

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

269.

Unsigned essay, Hamlet defends himself

1782

From ‘A Dialogue between two theatrical heroes of Shakespeare and Corneille’, London Magazine, li (November 1782), pp. 513-15.

Theseus is the hero of Corneille’s play Oedipe (1659).

THESEUS AND HAMLET.

Thes. What, still that contracted brow! still those deep traces of grief and disappointment! I expected to find in thee a savage barbarous joy—an exulting triumph, for thou at last killedst thy uncle with all his imperfections on his head—with all his crimes full blown.

Ham. The sneers of Theseus I never expected, nor dreaded his reproaches. The savage tamer of monsters—the betrayer of Ariadne—the licentious favourite of a gigantic amazon, would have been silent. It is the French Theseus, the frivolous coxcomb—the effeminate dangler, who lives only in his mistress’s smiles—who dares now to insult the avenger of his father’s murderer and the usurper of his throne. I once adored thee, Theseus!—thy power controlled those monsters which were the most dangerous pests of infant society—thy authority curbed for a time the licence of faction, and thy force compelled when thy eloquence could not persuade. But from the hands of thy second parent thou art the glittering butterfly of a summer’s day, which every ruder blast will destroy. The name of Theseus, by recalling what thou hast been, is the severest satire on what thou art.

Thes. Thy railings and thy flattery make an equal impression—they shall not divert me from my purpose. I might in my turn soothe thy ear by courtesy, or rouse thee by upbraidings; but I would more calmly enquire into thy conduct in thy second

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