Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Lectures and Notes on Shakspere
and Other English Poets. Ed. T. Ashe. London: George Bell and Sons, 1897. Shakespeare Navigators. <http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com/hamlet/Coleridge>
344             NOTES ON SOME OTHER             [1818


ward objects and the inward operations of the intellect; for if there be an overbalance in the contemplative faculty, man thereby becomes the creature of mere meditation, and loses his natural power of action. Now one of Shakspere's modes of creating characters is, to conceive any one intellectual or moral faculty in morbid excess, and then to place himself, Shakspere, thus mutilated or diseased, under given circumstances. In Hamlet he seems to have wished to exemplify the moral necessity of a due balance between our attention to the objects of our senses, and our meditation on the workings of our minds, -- an equilibrium between the real and the imaginary worlds. In Hamlet this balance is disturbed: his thoughts, and the images of his fancy are far more vivid than his actual perceptions, and his very perceptions, instantly passing through the medium of his contemplations, acquire, as they pass, a form and a colour not naturally their own. Hence we see a great, an almost enormous, intellectual activity, and a proportionate aversion to real action consequent upon it, with all its symptoms and accompanying qualities. This character Shakspere places in circumstances, under which it is obliged to act on the spur of the moment: -- Hamlet is brave and careless of death; but he vacillates from sensibility, and procrastinates from thought, and loses the power of action in the energy of resolve. Thus it is that this tragedy presents a direct contrast to that of "Macbeth;" the one proceeds with the utmost slowness, the other with a crowded and breathless rapidity.
     The effect of this overbalance of the imaginative power is beautifully illustrated in the everlasting broodings and superfluous activities of Hamlet's mind, which, unseated from its healthy relation, is constantly occupied with the world within, and abstracted from the world without, giving substance to shadows, and throwing a mist over all common-place actualities. It is the nature of thought to
SECT. IV.]             PLAYS OF SHAKSPERE.             345


be indefinite; -- definiteness belongs to external imagery alone. Hence it is that the sense of sublimity arises, not from the sight of an outward object, but from the beholder's reflection upon it; -- not from the sensuous impression, but from the imaginative reflex. Few have seen a celebrated waterfall without feeling something akin to disappointment: it is only subsequently that the image comes back full into the mind, and brings with it a train of grand or beautiful associations. Hamlet feels this; his senses are in a state of trance, and he looks upon external things as hieroglyphics. His soliloquy --
"O! that this too too solid flesh would melt," &c.
springs from that craving after the indefinite -- for that which is not -- which most easily besets men of genius; and the self-delusion common to this temper of mind is finely exemplified in the character which Hamlet gives of himself: --
               "It cannot be
But I am pigeon-liver'd, and lack gall
To make oppression bitter."
He mistakes the seeing his chains for the breaking them, delays action till action is of no use, and dies the victim of mere circumstance and accident.
     There is a great significancy in the names of Shakspere's plays. In the "Twelfth Night," "Midsummer Night's Dream," " As You Like It," and "Winter's Tale," the total effect is produced by a co-ordination of the characters as in a wreath of flowers. But in "Coriolanus," "Lear," "Romeo and Juliet," "Hamlet," "Othello," &c., the effect arises from the subordination of all to one, either as the prominent person, or the principal object. "Cymbeline" is the only exception; and even that has its advantages in preparing the audience for the chaos of time, place, and