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Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth.
2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.
PAGE 411

mother; then of his uncle, the smooth-spoken scoundrel who has just been smiling on him and calling him 'son.' And in bitter desperate irony he snatches his tables from his breast (they are suggested to him by the phrases he has just used, 'table of my memory,' 'book and volume'). After all, he will use them once again; and, perhaps with a wild laugh, he writes with trembling fingers his last observation: 'One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.'

     But that, I believe, is not merely a desperate jest. It springs from that fear of forgetting. A time will come, he feels, when all this appalling experience of the last half-hour will be incredible to him, will seem a mere nightmare, will even, conceivably, quite vanish from his mind. Let him have something in black and white that will bring it back and force him to remember and believe. What is there so unnatural in this, if you substitute a note-book or diary for the 'tables'? l

     But why should he write that particular note, and not rather his 'word,' 'Adieu, adieu! remember me'? I should answer, first, that a grotesque jest at such a moment is thoroughly characteristic of Hamlet (see p. 151), and that the jocose 'So, uncle, there you are!' shows his state of mind; and, secondly, that loathing of his uncle is vehement in his thought at this moment. Possibly, too, he might remember that 'tables' are stealable, and that if the appearance of the Ghost should be reported, a mere observation on the smiling of villains could not betray anything of his communication with the Ghost. What follows shows that the instinct of secrecy is strong in him.

     It seems likely, I may add, that Shakespeare here was influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by recollection of a place in Titus Andronicus (IV. i.). In that horrible play Chiron and Demetrius, after outraging Lavinia, cut out her tongue and cut off her hands, in order that she may be unable to reveal the outrage. She reveals it, however, by taking a staff in her mouth, guiding it with her arms, and writing in the sand, 'Stuprum. Chiron. Demetrius.' Titus soon afterwards says:

   1The reader will observe that this suggestion of a further reason for his making the note may be rejected without the rest of the interpretation being affected.

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