William Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 6

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

307.

William Richardson, further thoughts on Hamlet

1798

From Essays on Some of Shakespeare’s Dramatic Characters. To which is added, An Essay on the Faults of Shakespeare. The Fifth Edition (1798).

This collected edition unites all thirteen of Richardson’s essays previously published (Nos 246, 260, 276, and 294), having received some ‘correction and improvement’ (p. vi), and it was reprinted, with further material, in 1812. The passages given here are additions which show some change of mind.

[Where the 1774 and 1783 editions say that Hamlet ‘resolves to conceal himself under the disguise of madness’, Richardson now adds:] Conceiving designs of punishment, and sensible that he is already suspected by the king, he is thrown into violent perturbation. Afraid at the same time lest his aspect or demeanor should betray him, and aware that his project must be conducted with secrecy, his agitation is such as threatens the overthrow of his reason. He trembles as it were on the brink of madness; and is at times not altogether certain that he acts or speaks according to the dictates of a sound understanding. He partakes of such insanity as may arise in a mind of great sensibility from excessive agitation of spirit, and much labour of thought; but which naturally subsides when the perturbation ceases. Yet he must act; and not only so, he must act with prudence. He must even conceal his intentions: and his actual condition suggests a mode of concealment. Knowing that he must appear incoherent and inconsistent, he is not unwilling to have it believed that his reason is somewhat disarranged; and that the strangeness of his conduct admits of no other explanation. [Continues, as before with the ‘antic disposition’ speech.] (98-9)

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