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The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, October 1902


page 27


The brief notes on the play of "Romeo and Juliet" were received with so much enthusiasm, and proved so beneficial to the English students that the authors in response to many pressing appeals have now much pleasure in submitting to the gracious perusal, of the academic gods, notes on similar lines on the soul-stirring tragical history of "Hamlet."

In diverting somewhat from the beaten tracts, great philological research and much patient labour has been necessary, but we trust that information calculated to extend the personal knowledge of this, perhaps the greatest of Shakespeare's plays, will not be altogether valueless matter for fireside reading at this present season of exams. And if these notes on characters worth studying, and subject matter well requiting the mind's attention shall appear to meet the spirit and to consult the inclinations of the students, our labour will not have been in vain. We would, however, impress upon you, gentle readers, the serious nature of the subject under consideration. We were grieved beyond measure to hear one student complain that our former effort was not sufficiently humorous. We wish to disclaim the slightest pretensions to humour. The matter is not one for idle joking, and we, like Dr. Johnson, have no desire to follow Hamlet's example and "put an antic disposition on." We merely desire to pose as benefactors to our species—pro bono publico, so to speak.

The story of Hamlet is told by Saxo Grammaticus, who lived in the Great Stone Age, and many critics have unjustly accused Shakespeare of " boning" from this author. Clear evidence is shown by certain authenticated documents in our possession (too lengthy to quote here), that Shakespeare had never read a line of Grammaticus, although he knew little Latin and less Greek. What those critics would call rank plagiarism, we strongly uphold as another instance of the electric communion of unuttered intellect, the surprising sympathetic coalition of unrelated talent.

The question of Hamlet's madness has ever been, and ever will be a happy hunting-ground for critics and examiners; we will dispose of it in four words—Hamlet was not mad Hamlet was as cunning as a Fox and as deep as a Pitt, and so, finding there was something rotten in the State of Den- mark (what he does not disclose), decides to "put an antic disposition on," i.e., act the giddy garden goat. When the Ghost tells his hair-lifting "blood-and-thunder" to the harrowed Hamlet, the latter merely says, "Oh my prophetic soul! My uncle! "Takes out his pocket diary and pencil and makes a memo of it, so that it will be —

"Photographically lined
On the tablets of his mind,
When a yesterday has faded from its page."

The question of Hamlet's age has given rise to much discussion. In the first quarto he is quite young—probably nineteen, but the gravedigger in his speech makes him thirty. The greatest critics have hitherto hesitated to give an emphatic decision on the question. Now, the only logical and mathematical solution to our minds, appears to lie in the arithmetic mean of these two numbers, so Hamlet's age would be exactly 19 plus 30 divided by 2, or 24 years and 6 months, an age which accords well with every phase of his character.

page 28

Ophelia is a silly sentimental milk-and-water creature who has not even the taste to choose an elegant method of achieving a felo-de-se. The description of her death, whether intentionally or not, is decidedly humorous. A picture illustrating it might easily he called a "funny-cut." The gravediggers find in it an occasion for a display of logic which is rather interesting and "dead" funny. It should be carefully studied in Act V., Scene 1. Logic is the method of proving clearly and conclusively that things which are exactly opposite to each other are exactly the same, e.g.,

A substantive is something.

But nothing is a substantive.

Therefore, nothing is something, a result which would be somewhat difficult to prove without the aid of logic.

In conclusion we would bring before your attention a few rocks likely to strand the unwary student.

* * * * *

"Has this fellow no feeling of his business that he sings at gravedigging.',

No! That the gravedigger regards death as a jest, no one who carefully studies this passage can possibly doubt, and the expressions "to hop the twig," "to kick the bucket," "to turn up one's toes," " to go off the hooks," and so on, vernacularly used as synonymous with "expire," sufficiently show the jocular light in which the last act of the farce of life is viewed in His Majesty's colonies to-day.

Mercury.—His specific gravity is 13.596.

"What's Hecuba to me, or me to Hecuba."—This insouciance is all very well when exams are not on the tapis. For the benefit of intending candidates we will supply the information that Hecuba was a blue-stocking lady who so cut up a celebrated critic of the name of Johnson, that she did not leave him a leg to stand upon.

Hamlet's Soliloquy.—Varied and ingenious have been the conjectures as to the source whence Shakespeare derived this weird passage. The mystery is a mystery no longer ! With the help of our friend Tischischwitz, we have discovered a parallel passage in the diary of Chrononhontonthologos the Great, with notes in the margin in the striking claw of the bard of Avon. We quote it verbatim:—

"To sit or not to sit, that is the question,
Whether 'tis better at exam to suffer
Whole strings of questions that we cannot answer,
Or to absent ourselves upon the great occasion,
And so escape the ordeal. To sit, to pass
No more. And by a pass to say we end
The lectures and the thousand cram-books set,
For the degree student. "Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To sit, to fail,
To fail, that is, be plucked. Ay, there's the rub,
For in that telegram what news may come :
When we have waited all those weary months
To hear we've failed. There's the regret
For guineas paid and midnight candles burnt,
For who at College would thus nightly hear
The Professors' lore, and then in patience bear
The pangs of labour lost, the long delay,
For the results which tell him of the spurns
His work has met with in the home exam.,
When he might easily escape it all
By never sitting."

page 29

Hercules.—An ardent disciple of Sandow, famous for his pugilistic encounter with Brian Born, whom he knocked out in one round. He began life humbly, as a stable boy in fact, for we read of his being employed in the stables of Augeas, King of Crete. He also did a bit of bullock-punching for the Geryones.

Tush-tush.—An exclamation of impatient incredulity—an interjection' i.e., a short word denoting passion or emotion, as "Oh, Sophonisba, Sophonisba oh," Pooh ! Bali! Eughph ! Lor ! Lauk !

St. Patrick.—We have before us fifty-three descriptions of this time honoured Saint. We select the earliest as being probably the most authentic—

"Seinte Patricke waes a jintlemon,
And kome of dayceinte paiple,
Se bylte a churrche in Dublyne toun,
Ant on yt putte a stayple."

(A. S. Cron., B.C. 55).

"Sugar o'er the, etc., himself."—The sugar is considerably more pleasant than the cane.

The gentleman alluded to in the phrase is the "Prince of Darkness" (do not confuse him with the Black Prince), known to the vulgar as "Old Nick," an appellation which is in every sense of the word a nickname, while the aliases by which, like many of his subjects, he is also called and known, such as "Old Harry," "The Old Gentleman," are, to say the least of them, terms that border on the familiar.

"Have after."—Scat, excede, evade, erumpe.

"Sharked up."—Greedily swept up as the shark voraciously swallows his prey. Sharks are of two kinds, sea sharks and land sharks. The latter betray all the idiosyncrasies of the former.

"He falls to such perusal of my face as he would draw it." Hamlet had already received two terms tuition (and paid for them) from Scathius, Professor of High Art at Wittemberg. He evidently felt the truth of Mr. Anon's lines :—

"A. Hamlet that draws
Is sure of applause."

There are not many who can give even an outline of the character.

"A Tanner will last you nine year."—Although we are compelled to swallow such whales as "passing rich on £40 a year," "a suite for a silver penny," this will hardly go down. " Tenner " has been proposed as an emendation by Lincoln, but we doubt if even the parsimonious Lincoln could exist for nine years on a ten-pound note.

"For oh ! For oh ! The hobby-horse is forgot."—Could Shakespeare have attempted this tragedy in oar day, with equal resources of genius, it is clear he would not have been led to make the above lament. (For further information see our last vol.).

Alexander.—The eminent Shakesperian critic, who always wrote his criticisms in text hand, as he thought it was most conducive to morality. He has justly obtained classic rank by the publication of his "Non-discovery of Latent Talent," of which Matthew Arnold says : "Such transparent candour and artless naîveté will hardly be found in any future age of the world. He is as supreme in his own sphere as Shakespeare is in his; and another Shakespeare is more likely to appear than another Alexander."