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Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth.
2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.
PAGE 413

what they have heard. Then, moving again, he makes them swear that, if he should think fit to play the antic, they will give no sign of knowing aught of him. The oath is now complete; and, when the Ghost commands them to swear the last time, Hamlet suddenly becomes perfectly serious and bids it rest. [In Fletcher's Woman's Prize, V. iii., a passage pointed out to me by Mr. C. J. Wilkinson, a man taking an oath shifts his ground.]




     There are two extreme views about this speech. According to one, Shakespeare quoted it from some play, or composed it for the occasion, simply and solely in order to ridicule, through it, the bombastic style of dramatists contemporary with himself or slightly older; just as he ridicules in 2 Henry IV. Tamburlaine's rant about the kings who draw his chariot, or puts fragments of similar bombast into the mouth of Pistol. According to Coleridge, on the other hand, this idea is 'below criticism.' No sort of ridicule was intended. 'The lines, as epic narrative, are superb.' It is true that the language is 'too poetical -- the language of lyric vehemence and epic pomp, and not of the drama'; but this is due to the fact that Shakespeare had to distinguish the style of the speech from that of his own dramatic dialogue.

     In essentials I think that what Coleridge says1 is true. He goes too far, it seems to me, when he describes the language of the speech as merely 'too poetical'; for with much that is fine there is intermingled a good deal that, in epic as in drama, must be called bombast. But I do not believe Shakespeare meant it for bombast.

     I will briefly put the arguments which point to this conclusion. Warburton long ago stated some of them fully and cogently, but he misinterpreted here and there, and some arguments have to be added to his.

   1It is impossible to tell whether Coleridge formed his view independently, or adopted it from Schlegel. For there is no record of his having expressed his opinion prior to the time of his reading Schlegel's Lectures; and, whatever he said to the contrary, his borrowings from Schlegel are demonstrable.

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