that there's ne'er a villain dwelling in all Denmark But he's an arrant knave.
When Horatio answers that 'there needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave to tell us this,'  Hamlet asks his friends to shake hands with him and part, giving them to understand that every man has his own business and desire, and that—
for my own poor part, Look you, I'll go pray.
Horatio calls this 'wild and whirling words.' The Prince who at this moment, no doubt, expresses his own true inclination, says:—'I am sorry they offend you—heartily; yes, 'faith, heartily.' It is difficult for him to justify his own procedure. He feels unable to explain his thoughts and sentiments to the clear, unwarped reason of a Horatio, to whom the Ghost did not reply, and to whom no ghost would.
Hamlet assures his friend, for whose sympathy he greatly cares, that the apparition is a true one, an honest ghost. He advises Horatio to give the 'wondrous strange' a welcome even as to 'a stranger;' and, lest he might endeavour to test the apparition by human reason, he speaks the beautiful words:—
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy
Hamlet tells his friends that in future he will put on 'an antic disposition.' Towards them he has, in fact, already done so. His desire for a threefold oath; his repeated shifting of ground; his swearing by the sword on which the hands are laid (a custom referable to the time of the Crusades, and considered tantamount to swearing by the cross, but which, at the same time, is an older Germanic, and hence Danish, custom); his use of a Latin formula, Hic et ubique—all these procedures have the evident object of throwing his comrades into a mystic frame of mind, and to make them keep silence ('so help you mercy!') as to what they have seen. These are the mysterious means which those have to use that would make themselves the medium of a message supernaturally revealed. 
A perusal of the fifty-sixth chapter of the first Essay of Montaigne will show with what great reverence he treated ceremonial customs and hollow formulas; for instance, the sign of the cross, of which he 'continually made use, even if he be but yawning' (sic). It is not a mere coincidence, but a well-calculated trait in the character of Hamlet, that in his speech he goes through a scale of exclamations and asseverations such as Shakspere employs in no other of his poetical creations. Hamlet incessantly mentions God, Heaven, Hell, and the Devil, the Heavenly Hosts, and the Saints. He claims protection from the latter at the appearance of the Ghost. He swears 'by St. Patrick,' by his faith, by God's wounds, by His blood, by His body, by the Cross, and so forth. 
Stubbs, in his 'Anatomy of Abuses' (1583),  lays stress, among other characteristics of the Papists, upon their terrible inclination to swearing: 'in so muche, as if they speake but three or fower words, yet must thei needes be interlaced with a bloudie othe or two, to the great dishonour of God and offence of the hearers.'
An overwhelming grief and mistrust in his own nature filled Hamlet's bold imagination with the desire of receiving a complete mandate for his mission from the hands of superior powers. So he enters the realm of mysticism, where mind wields no authority, and where no sound fruit of human reason can ripen.
Between the first and the second act there is an interval of a few months. The poet gives us no other clue to the condition and the doings of his hero than that, in the words of Polonius,  he 'fell into sadness; then into a fast; thence to a watch; thence into a weakness,' and so forth. We may therefore assume that he has followed his inclination to go to pray; that he tries by fasting, watching, and chastising, as so many before him, to find his way in the dreamland which he has entered following the Ghost; sincerely striving to remain true to his resolution to 'wipe from the table of his memory all pressures past.'
A new passage in the monologue of Hamlet, after the Ghost has left him, is this:—
And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain, Unmix'd with baser matter; yes, by Heaven! O most pernicious woman!
We next hear about the Prince from Ophelia after the interval which, as mentioned above, lies between the first and the second act.  In the old play she relates that, when 'walking in the gallery all alone,' he, the lover, came towards her, altogether 'bereft of his wits.' In the scene of the later play he comes to her closet with a purpose, appearing before her in a state of mental struggle. No doubt, he then approaches her with the intention, which afterwards he carries out, of renouncing woman, the begetter of all evil in the world, which makes such monsters of wise men. The sight of his true love has shaken him. He stands before her: 
... with a look so piteous in purport As if he had been loosed out of hell To speak of horrors... And thrice his head thus waving up and down, He raised a sigh so piteous and profound As it did seem to shatter all his bulk And end his being.
Thus he leaves her, not daring to speak the word which is to separate him from her.
In the following scene between Hamlet and Polonius (act ii. sc. 2 ) there is again a new passage which equally proves that Hamlet's thoughts only dwell upon one theme; that is, the sinfulness of our human nature:—
Hamlet. For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a god, kissing carrion—Have you a daughter? Polonius. I have, my lord. Hamlet. Let her not walk i' the sun. Conception is a blessing; but not as your daughter may conceive:—friend, look to't.
Hamlet said before, that 'To be honest, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.' There is method in Hamlet's madness. With correct logic he draws from dogmas which pronounce Nature to be sinful, the conclusion that we need not wonder at the abounding of evil in this world, seeing that a God himself assists in creating it. He, therefore, warns Polonius against his daughter, too, becoming 'a breeder of sinners.'
Before we follow Hamlet now to the scene with Ophelia, where, 'in an ecstasy of divine inspiration, equally weak in reason, and violent in persuasion and dissuasion,'  he calls upon her to go to a nunnery, we must direct attention to the concluding part of an Essay  of Montaigne. It is only surprising that nobody should as yet have pointed out how unmistakeably, in that famous scene, the inconsistencies of the whimsical French writer are scourged. In that Essay the following thought occurs, which one would gladly accept as a correct one: 'Falsely do we judge the honesty and the beauty of an action from its usefulness. Equally wrong it is to conclude that everyone is bound to do the same, and that it is an honest action for everybody, if it be a useful one.'
Now, Montaigne endeavours to apply this thought to the institution of marriage; and he descends, in doing so, to the following irrational argument:—'Let us select the most necessary and most useful institution of human society: it is marriage. Yet the counsel of the saints deems the contrary side to be more honest; thus excluding the most venerable vocation of men.'
The satire of that famous scene in 'Hamlet' is here apparent. It will now be understood why the Danish Prince comes with a warning to his beloved, 'not to admit honesty in discourse with beauty,' and why his resolution is that 'we will have no more marriage.' Those words of Hamlet, too, 'this was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof,' are easy of explanation. It was not yet so long ago that celibacy had been abolished in England. The 'time' now confirms celibacy once more in this French book.
Most characteristic is the following passage: in this scene the only new one. It goes far to show the intention with which the poet partly re-wrought the play. I mean the words in which Hamlet confesses to Ophelia that he has deceived her. The repentant sinner says: 'You should not have believed me: for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it.'
Can a poet who will not convert the stage into a theological Hall of Controversy, make the soul-struggle of his hero more comprehensible? Hamlet has honestly tried (we have seen with what means) to inoculate and improve the sinful 'old stock.' But how far away he still feels himself from his aim! He calls himself 'proud, revengeful, ambitious.' These are the three sins of which he must accuse himself, when listening to the voice of Nature which admonishes him to fulfil the duty of his life—the deed of blood—that inner voice of his nobler nature which impels him to seize the crown in order to guide the destinies of his country; given over, as the latter is, to the mischievous whims of a villain.
Yet he cries out against Ophelia, 'We are arrant knaves all; believe none of us!' He reproaches this daughter of Eve with her own weaknesses and the great number of her sins in words reminding us of Isaiah,  where the wantonness of the daughters of Zion is reproved. He, the ascetic, calls out to his mistress: 'Go thy ways to a nunnery!... Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?'
Let us hear what his mistress says about him. This passage also, explaining Hamlet's madness, is new:—
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason, Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh; That unmatched form and feature of blown youth, Blasted with ecstasy. 
With what other word can Hamlet's passionate utterances be designated than that of religious ecstasy?
From the first moment when he sees Ophelia, and prays her to remember his sins in her 'orisons,' down to the last moment when he leaves her, bidding her to go to a nunnery, there is method in his madness—the method of those dogmas which brand nature and humanity as sinful, whose impulses they do not endeavour to lead to higher aims, but which, by certain mysteries and formulas, they pretend to be able to overcome. The soul-struggle of Hamlet arises from his divided mind; an inner voice of Nature calling, on the one hand:—
Let not the royal bed of Denmark be A couch for luxury and damned incest;
whilst another voice calls out that, howsoever he pursues his act, he should not 'taint his mind.'
In the English translation of the 'Hystorie of Hamblet,' from which Shakspere took his subject, the art of dissembling is extolled, in most naive language, as one specially useful towards great personages not easily accessible to revenge. He who would exercise the arts of dissembling (it is said there) must be able to 'kisse his hand whome in hearte hee could wishe an hundredfoot depth under the earth, so hee mighte never see him more, if it were not a thing wholly to bee disliked in a Christian, who by no meanes ought to have a bitter gall, or desires infected with revenge.'
We shall find later on that Hamlet's gall also claims its rights; all the more so as he endeavours, by an unnatural and superstitious use of dogmatism, to suppress and to drive away the 'excitements of the reason and of the blood.' We have heard from Polonius that the Prince, after his 'sadness,' fell into a 'fast.' And everything he says to his schoolfellows Rosencrantz and Guildenstern  about his frame of mind, confirms us in the belief that he has remained faithful to the intention declared in the first act—'Look you, I will go pray'—so as to prepare himself, like many others, to contemplate passively a world sinful from its very nature, and therefore not to be changed and bettered.
This scene is, in the first quarto, a mere hasty sketch, but faintly indicated. In the second quarto it is, so to say, a new one; and a comparison between the two need, therefore, not be instituted.
Before his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet, for a few moments, gives up his brain-racking thoughts of penitence; he even endeavours to philosophise, as he may have done at the University of Wittenberg before he allowed himself to be lured into dreamland. He utters a thought—'There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so'—which occurs in an Essay of Montaigne, and is thus given by Florio (127):—
'If that what we call evil and torment be neither torment nor evil, but that our fancy only gives it that quality, is it in us to change it?' 
Hamlet then pictures his mental condition in words of deepest sincerity. In order to fully understand this description, we have once more to refer to an Essay of Montaigne,  in which he asserts that man is not furthered by his reason, his speculations, his passions; that they give him no advantage over other creatures. A divinely appointed authority—the Church—confers upon him 'those great advantages and odds he supposes to have over other creatures.' It is she that seals to him the patent and privilege which authorises him to 'keep account both of the receipts and layings-out of the world.' Ay, it is she who convinces him that 'this admirable swinging-round of the heavenly vaults, the eternal light of those constellations rolling so nobly over our heads, the terrible commotions of this infinite ocean, were established, and have continued for so many ages, for his advantage and his service.' To her authority he must wholly surrender himself; by her he must allow himself to be guided. And in doing so, it is 'better for us to have a weak judgment than a strong one; better to be smitten with blindness than to have one's eyes open and clear-sighted.'
Striving to live up to similar views, Hamlet 'lost all his mirth.' This is the cause of his heavy disposition; of his having 'foregone all custom of exercise'—so 'that this goodly frame, the earth,' seems to him 'a sterile promontory,' a mere place of preparation for gaining the next world through penance and prayer. Verily, 'this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire,' appears to him no better 'than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.' Quite in accordance with such tenets which we need not qualify by name, Man, to him, is but a 'quintessence of dust.'
Both man, and still more sinful woman, displease Hamlet. Yet he has not succeeded in so wholly subjugating Nature within himself as to be fully secured against her importunate claims. Now we would point out here that Montaigne  mentions a tyrant of antiquity who 'could not bear seeing tragedies acted in the theatre, from fear that his subjects should see him sob at the misfortunes of Hecuba and Andromache—him who, without pity, caused daily so many people to be cruelly killed.' Again, Montaigne  speaks of actors, mentioned by Quinctilian, who were 'so deeply engaged in a sorrowful part that they wept even after having returned to their lodgings;' whilst Quinctilian reports of himself that, 'having undertaken to move a certain passion in others, he had entered so far into his part as to find himself surprised, not only with the shedding of tears, but also with a paleness of countenance and the behaviour of a man truly weighed down with grief.'
Hamlet has listened to the player. In the concluding monologue of the second act—which is twice as long in the new quarto—we are told of the effect produced upon his mind when seeing that an actor, who merely holds a mirror up to Nature—
... but in a fiction, in a dream of passion, Could force his soul so to his own conceit That from her working all his visage wann'd.... ... And all for nothing!—For Hecuba?
whilst he (Hamlet), 'a dull and muddy-mettled rascal,'  like John-a-dreams, in spite of his strong 'motive and the cue for passion,' mistrusts them and is afraid of being guided by them.
All at once, Hamlet feels the weight and pressure of a mode of thought which declares war against the impulses of Nature, calling man a born sinner.
Who calls me villain? ... ... Gives me the lie i' the throat, As deep as to the lungs? Who does me this? Ha! 'S wounds, I should take it: for it cannot be. But I am pigeon-liver'd, and lack gall To make oppression bitter; or ere this I should have fatted all the region kites With this slave's offal. 
The feelings of Hamlet, until then forcibly kept down, now get the mastery over him. He gives vent to them in oaths of which he is himself at last ashamed, when he compares himself to 'a very drab, a scullion,' who 'must fall a-cursing.'
He now will set to work and get more natural evidence of the King's guilt. He begins to entertain doubts as to those mystic views by which he meant to be guided. He mistrusts the apparition which he had called an honest ghost ('true-penny'):—
The spirit that I have seen May be the Devil: and the Devil hath power To assume a pleasing shape. Yea, perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy, As he is very potent with such spirits, Abuses me to damn me: I'll have grounds More relative than this. 
Over weakness the Devil is potent; all flesh is weak. What mode of thought is this? What philosophy taught this doctrine? Hamlet's weakness, if we may believe Polonius,  has been brought on by fasting and watching.
Over melancholy, too, the Devil is powerful. Are we not here in the sombre atmosphere of those who turn away their reason from ideal aspirations; who denounce the impulses of nature as sinful excitements; who would fain look upon the earth as 'a sterile promontory'—having dark death more before their mind's eye than beautiful life? Are such thoughts not the forerunners of melancholy?
Hamlet's incessant thoughts of death are the same as those of his model, Montaigne. In an Essay,  entitled 'That to Philosophise is to Learn how to Die,' the latter explains that the Christian religion has no surer basis than the contempt for the present life, and that we are in this world only to prepare ourselves for death. His imagination, he says, has occupied itself with these thoughts of death more than with anything else. Referring to a saying of Lykurgos, he approves of graveyards being laid out close to churches and in the most frequented places of a city, so as to accustom the common people, women, and children not to be scared at the sight of a dead person, and to forewarn everyone, by this continual spectacle of bones, tombs, and funerals, as to our real condition.
Montaigne also, like Hamlet, ponders over suicide. He devotes a whole Essay  to it. Life, he observes, would be a tyranny if the liberty to die were wanting. For this liberty, he thinks, we have to thank Nature, as for the most favourable gift which, indeed, deprives us of all right to complain of our condition. If—as Boiocal, the German chieftain,  said—earth is wanting to us whereon to live, earth is never wanting to us for death. 
That is the wisdom of Montaigne, the admirer of antiquity. But Montaigne, the modern man, introduces the Essay in which he dares to utter such bold thoughts with the following restriction:—
'If, as it is said, to philosophise be to doubt, with much more reason to play pranks (niaiser) and to rave, as I do, must be to doubt. For, to inquire and to discuss, behoves the disciples. The decision belongs to the chairman (cathedrant). My chairman is the authority of the divine will which regulates us without contradiction, and which occupies its rank above those human and vain disputes.' This chairman, as often observed, by which Montaigne's thoughts are to be guided, is an ecclesiastic authority.
In 'Hamlet,' also, it is a 'canon'  fixed against self-slaughter, which restrains him from leaving, out of his own impulse, this whilom paradise, this 'unweeded garden' of life.
Montaigne, whose philosophy aims at making us conversant with death as with a friend, is yet terrified by it. Altogether, he says, he would fain pass his life at his ease; and if he could escape from blows, even by taking refuge under a calf's skin,  he would not be the man who would shrink from it.
In a few graphic words Shakspere brands this cowardly clinging to life. In the scene where Hamlet gives to Polonius nothing more willingly than his leave, the new quarto (in every other respect the conclusion of this scene is identical in both editions) contains these additional words:—'Except my life, except my life, except my life.' Of the 'calf's skin' we hear in the first scene of act v., where those are called sheep and calves, who seek out assurance in parchments which are made of sheep-skins and of calves-skins too.
Montaigne, who does not cease pondering over the pale fellow, Death, looks for consolation from the ancients. He takes Sokrates as the model of all great qualities; and he reproduces, in his own manner, the speech this sage, who was fearless of death, made before his judges. First of all, he makes him say that the qualities of death are unknown to him, as he has never seen anybody who could instruct him in them. 'Those who fear death, presuppose that they know it.... Perhaps death may be an indifferent thing; perhaps a desirable one. However, one may believe that, if it be a transmigration from one place to another, it will be an amelioration ... and free us from having any more to do with wicked and corrupt judges. If it be a consummation (aneantissement)  of our being, it is also an amelioration to enter into a long and quiet night. We find nothing so sweet in life as a quiet rest—a tranquil and profound sleep without dreams.'
Now compare the monologue, 'To be or not to be,' of the first quarto with the one contained in the second. It will then be seen that those Sokratic ideas, rendered by Montaigne in his own manner, have been worked into the first quarto. In the latter we hear nothing at all about the end of our being (a complete destruction or consummation) producing an amelioration.  Shakspere expresses this thought by the words that if we could say that, by a sleep, we 'end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to—'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.' 
Keen commentators have pointed out the contradiction in Hamlet's monologue, where he speaks of—
The undiscovered country from whose bourn No traveller returns,
whilst he saw such a traveller in his father's ghost. Certainly there were then, even as there are now, besides the logical thinkers, also a considerable number of inconsistent persons who believed in supernaturally revealed messages, and who, nevertheless, now and then, felt contradictory thoughts rising within themselves. Why should the great master, who exhausted in his dramatic personages almost all types of human nature, not have put such a character also on the stage?
To the poet, whose object it was to show 'to the very age and body of time his form and pressure' (this passage is wanting in the first quarto), the presentation of such a psychological problem of contradictory thoughts must have been of far greater attraction than an anticipatory description of a metaphysician aching under the heavy burden of his philosophic speculations. The latter is the character attributed, by some, to Hamlet. But we think that such an utterly strange modern creature would have been altogether incomprehensible to the energetic English mind of this period.
In the course of the drama, Shakspere makes it sufficiently clear that the thoughts by which Hamlet's 'native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er,' have come from the narrow cells of a superstitious Christianity, not from the free use of his reason. According to Montaigne, however, we ought to 'use our reason only for strengthening our belief.'
Hamlet, with Purgatory and Hell, into which he has cast a glance, before his eyes, would fain fly, like Montaigne, from them. In his Essay I. 19  the latter says that our soul must be steeled against the powers of death; 'for, as long as Death frightens us, how is it possible to make a single step without feverish agitation?'
Hamlet as little attains this condition of quiet equanimity as the pensive and pondering Montaigne. The latter, however, speaks of souls that know no fear. It is true, he has to go to the ancients in order to meet with this frame of mind. Quoting Horace —
Non vultus instantis tyranni Mente quatit solida, neque Auster, Dux inquieti turbidus Adriae, Nec fulminantis magna Jovis manus—
he describes such a soul as being made 'mistress over her passions and concupiscence; having become proof against poverty and disgrace, and all the other injuries of fortune. Let those who can, gain this advantage. Herein lies true and sovereign freedom that allows us to scorn force and injustice, and to deride prisons and fetters.'
To a friend with such a soul, to a living Horace or Horatio, Hamlet addresses himself. Horatio also is his fellow-student and friend from the University days at Wittenberg, and he has made the views of the new philosophical school quite his own. He does not tremble before the fire of Purgatory and Hell. Despising death, he wishes, in the last scene, to empty the cup of poison from which his friend Hamlet has drunk, in order to follow him. When the latter keeps him back, Horatio makes answer—
I am more an antique Roman than a Dane.
Hamlet, trusting more to this firmer and truly antique character than to his own, requests Horatio to aid him during the play-scene in watching the King, so as to procure more natural evidence of his guilt. This school-friend—how often may he have philosophised with him!—is to him
as just a man As e'er my conversation coped withal.
The following passage,  in which Horatio's character is described by Hamlet, is wanting in the first quarto:—
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice, And could of men distinguish, her election Hath seal'd thee for herself; for thou hast been As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing; A man that fortune's buffets and rewards Hath ta'en with equal thanks: and blest are those Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled That they are not a pipe for Fortune's finger To sound what stop she please. Give me that man That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart, As I do thee.
How near these words of Shakspere come to those with which Montaigne describes an intrepid man after the poem of Horace!
But, in spite of subtle reasoning, the French philosopher cannot fathom the cause why he himself does not attain any mind's ease, and why he has no plain and straightforward faculty (nulle faculte simple) within himself. He once  uses the expression, 'We trouble death with the care of life, and life with the care of death;' but he does not succeed in firmly attaching himself to life with all the fibres of his nature, and gathering strength from the mother-earth, like Antaeus. He oscillates between two antagonistic views, and feels unable to decide for either the one or the other.
We have explained the elements of which Hamlet's complex character is made up. He is an adherent of old superstitions and dogmas; he believes in Purgatory, a Hell, and a Devil, and in the miraculous powers of confession, holy communion, and the extreme unction. Yet, to some degree, he is a Humanist, and would fain grant to Nature certain rights. Scarcely has he yielded to the impulses of his blood, than doubts begin to rise in him, and he begins to fear the Devil, who might lure him into perdition. This inner discord, creating, as it does, a mistrust in his own self, induces him, in the most important task of his life, to appeal to Horatio. To him he says that, if the King's occulted guilt does not come out ('unkennel itself'), he (Hamlet) will look upon the apparition as a damned ghost, and (this is new) will think that his 'imaginations are as foul as Vulcan's stithy.' 
By the interlude, Hamlet—and in this he is confirmed by Horatio—becomes convinced of the King's guilt. All that he thereupon does is—to recite a little ditty!
We have already made the acquaintance of Montaigne the soft-hearted, who, as above mentioned, always was touched when seeing innocent animals hunted to death, and who felt much emotion at the tears of the hart asking us for mercy. At the same time we have directed the reader's attention to the fact of his having said that the 'common weal requires some to betray, some to lie, and some to massacre,'  and that this task must be left to those who are ready to sacrifice their honour and their conscience, and that men who do not feel up to such deeds must leave their commission to the stronger ones. This French nobleman naively avows that he has resolved upon withdrawing into private life, not because he is averse to public life—for the latter, he says, would 'perhaps equally suit him'—but because, by doing so, he hopes to serve his Prince all the more joyfully and all the more sincerely, thus following the free choice of his own judgment and reason, and not submitting to any restraint (obligation particuliere), which he hates in every shape. And he adds the following curious moral doctrine:—'This is the way of the world. We let the laws and precepts follow their way, but we keep another course.' 
Who could mistake Shakspere's satire against this sentimental nobleman, who fights shy of action, in making Hamlet recite a little ditty at a moment when he has become convinced of the King's guilt:—
Why, let the stricken deer go weep, The hart ungalled play; For some must watch, while some must sleep: Thus runs the world away.
This gifted Frenchman, Montaigne, was a new, a strange, phenomenon in the eyes of Shakspere and his active and energetic countrymen. A man, a nobleman too, who lives for no higher aim; who allows himself to be driven about, rudderless, by his feelings and inclinations; who even boasts of this mental disposition of his, and sends a vain book about it into the world! What is it to teach? What good is it to do? It gives mere words, behind which there is no manly character. Are there yet more beaux esprits to arise who, in Epicurean fashion, enjoy the beautiful thoughts of others, whilst they themselves remain incapable for action, letting the time go out of joint?
Let us further study the character of Hamlet, and we shall find that the satire against Montaigne becomes more and more striking—a veritable hit.
The Queen asks for her son. Before he fulfils her wish and comes to her, he utters a lullaby of superstition (these lines are new), wherewith to tide over the excitement of his nature:—
'Tis now the very witching time of night, When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood, And do such bitter business as the day Would quake to look on.
Hamlet, always shrinking back from the impulses of his blood, fears that the Devil might once more gain power over him:—
Soft! now to my mother! O heart, lose not thy nature!
This nature of his, inclining to mildness and gentleness, he wishes to preserve, and he resolves upon being 'cruel, not unnatural.' In vain one seeks here for logic, and for the boundary between two words which to ordinary common sense appear synonymous. In Montaigne, however, we discover the clue of such a senseless argumentation. In one of his Essays,  which contains a confusion of ideas that might well make the humane Shakspere shudder, he writes:—
'Our condition, both public and private, is full of imperfections; yet there is nothing useless in Nature, not even uselessness itself.... Our being is cemented with sickly qualities: ambition, jealousy, envy, vengeance, superstition, despair dwell in us, and hold there so natural a possession that their counterfeit is also recognised in beasts; for instance, cruelty—so unnatural a vice. Yet he who would root out the seed of these qualities from the human breast would destroy the fundamental conditions of our life.'
Now, Hamlet's resolution to be 'cruel, but not unnatural,' is but a fresh satire against Montaigne's train of thoughts, who would fain be a Humanist, but who does not break with the reasoning of Loyola and of the Church, by which he permits himself to be guided as by the competent authority, and which tolerates cruelty—nay, orders its being employed for the furtherance of what it calls the 'good aim.'
The idea that cruelty is a necessary but useful evil, no doubt induced Montaigne  to declare that to kill a man from a feeling of revenge is tantamount to our protecting him, for we thus 'withdraw him from our attacks.' Furthermore, this Humanist argues that revenge is to be regretted if its object does not feel its intention; for, even as he who takes revenge intends to derive pleasure from it, so he upon whom revenge is taken must perceive that intention, in order to be harrowed with feelings of pain and repentance. 'To kill him, is to render further attacks against him impossible; not to revenge what he has done.'
Shakspere already gives Hamlet an opportunity in the following scene to prove to us that there is no boundary between cruel and unnatural conduct; and that one cannot be cruel and yet remain natural. In the most telling words, the cause of Hamlet's want of energy is substantiated. Fate gives the criminal, the King, into the hands of Hamlet. It is the most important moment of the drama. A stroke of the sword would be enough to do the deed of revenge. The cause which makes Hamlet hesitate is, that the criminal is engaged in prayer, and that—
He took my father grossly, full of bread, With all his crimes broad-blown, as flush as May; And how his audit stands, who knows save Heaven?
Does Hamlet, then, not act with refined cruelty?
Here, a new thought is inserted, which we mentioned already in the beginning, and which turns the balance at the decisive moment:—
But in our circumstance and course of thought It is heavy with him. 
A Shaksperean hero, with drawn sword, allows himself to be restrained from action by the thought that, because 'it is heavy' with his own murdered father, who is suffering in Purgatory, he (Hamlet) ought not to kill the criminal now, but later on, when the latter is deeply wading in sin—
When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, ... And that his soul may be as damn'd and black As Hell, whereto it goes.
Hamlet has been called a philosopher whose energy has been paralysed by too great a range of thought. For the sovereignty of human reason this is a most dangerous premiss. Do we not owe to the full and free use of that reason everything great which mankind has created? History speaks of a thousand heroes (only think of Alexander, of Julius Caesar, of Frederick the Great!) whose doings convince us that a strong power of thought and action can go hand in hand, nay, that the latter cannot be successful without the former.
But, on the other hand, there is a way of thinking with preconceived supernatural conclusions—or rather, we must call it an absence of thinking—when men allow themselves to be moved by the circumstances of a traditional course of thought. Against such intellectual slavery the great century of the Reformation rose. And the greatest Humanist, Shakspere, scourges that slavery in the catharsis of his powerful drama.
Questions of religion were not permitted to be treated on the stage. But not merely the one deeply intelligent person for whom Shakspere asks the players to act, and for whom the great master certainly endeavoured to write—no, the public at large, too, will have understood that the 'course of thought' which induced Hamlet to forego action from a subtle refinement of cruelty, was not the course of thought prevalent on this side of the Channel, and held up, in this important scene, as that of a hero to be admired.
Hamlet resolved upon keeping out the soul of Nero from his 'firm bosom.' (What a satire there is in this adjective 'firm'!) He means to be cruel, but not unnatural; he will 'speak daggers, but use none.' A man who lets himself be moved by extraneous circumstances is not his own master. In cruel, unnatural manner, for no object whatever, he murders poor Polonius. Then he begins to speak daggers in such a manner as to get into a perfect ecstasy. Nor need any priest have been ashamed of the sermon he preaches to his own mother.
In the first edition of 'Hamlet,' the scene between mother and son is rather like a sketch in which most things are merely indicated, not worked out. Only the part of the Ghost, with the exception of the line:—
Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works,
which is wanting in the first edition, and Hamlet's address to the Ghost, are in both quartos the same. Even as in the first act, so this time also, Hamlet, on seeing the Ghost, calls upon the saints:—
Save me, and hover o'er me with your wings, You heavenly guards!
This was the usual course on the occasion of such doubtful apparitions, of which one did not know whether they were 'airs of heaven' or 'blasts from hell.'
A new intercalation is (in the first quarto there is no vestige of it), that Hamlet reproaches his mother with having degraded 'sweet religion' to 'a rhapsody of words;' that he says 'the Devil hath conquered her at hoodman blind ;' that she should confess herself to Heaven, and 'assume a virtue if she have it not;' that 'virtue itself of vice must pardon beg in the fatness of these pursy times, yea, curb and woo, for leave to do him good.' So also is the Queen's question new:—
Ay me, what act, That roars so loud, and thunders in the index? 
There is no trace, in the first quarto, of the following most characteristic thoughts:—
For, use almost can change the stamp of Nature  And either curb (?) the Devil, or throw him out With wondrous potency.... And when you are desirous to be blest, I'll blessing beg of you.
Let us figure to ourselves before what public Hamlet first saw the wanderer from Purgatory; before what youth he bade Ophelia go to a nunnery; before what men he remained inactive at the critical moment simply because the criminal is engaged in his prayers, whilst his own murdered father died without Holy Communion, without having confessed and received the Extreme Unction. Let us remember before what audience he purposely made the thunders of the Index roar so loud; at what place he gets into ecstasy; and where he first preaches to his mother that the Devil may be mastered and thrown out.
Here, certainly, we have questions of religion!
Shakspere's genius has known how to transport these most important questions of his time, away from the shrill contact with contemporary disputes, into the harmonious domain of the Muses. He, and his friends and patrons, did not look upon the subjects discussed in this tragedy with the passionless, indifferent eyes of our century. Many men, no doubt, were filled with the thought, to which Bacon soon gave a scientific form, that the human mind can only make true progress if it turns towards the inquiry into Nature, keeping far away from the hampering influence of transcendental dogmas. The liberal, intellectual tendencies of the Reformation were not yet fettered in England with the new dogmatic strait waistcoat of a narrow-minded, melancholy sect. And Shakspere's views, which he has embodied in 'Hamlet,' were not in divinatory advance of his age; they were easily comprehensible to the best of his time.
Our chief argument will be contained in the chapter in which we shall hear Shakspere's adversaries launch out furiously against the tendency of this drama. Meanwhile, we will exhaust the course of its action.
Hamlet has already come very near to that point of view where Reason at last ceases to guide his conduct, and where he becomes convinced that indiscretion often is of better service than deep planning.
Now in Montaigne's Essay  already mentioned we read:—'When an urgent circumstance, or any violent or unexpected accident of State necessity, induces a Prince to break his word and faith, or otherwise forces him out of his ordinary duty, he is to ascribe that compulsion to a lash of God's rod.'
The passage in which Hamlet consoles himself in regard to the murder committed against Polonius is new:—
I do repent: but heaven hath pleased it so, To punish me with this, and this with me, That I must be their scourge and minister.
Hamlet, beholding the victim of his indiscretion, excuses himself thus:—
I must be cruel, only to be kind.
The cruel deed he has done, he palliates with the remark that lovingkindness has forced him to it. Love of her God also forced Catherine of Medicis to the massacre of St. Bartholomew.
Thus bad begins, and worse remains behind.
Yes; worse is coming! Hamlet knows that he is to be sent to England; that the letters are sealed; that his two schoolfellows whom he trusts as he will adders, bear the mandate. What does he do to prevent further misfortune?
He rejoices that—
they must sweep my way, And marshall me to knavery. 
He enjoys, in advance, the sweet presentiment of revenge which he intends taking upon them. He lets things go without hindrance:—
Let it work! For 'tis sport to have the engineer Hoist with his own petard.
He enjoys his own crafty policy which shall blow his school-friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (who yet, so far as he knows, have not been guilty in any way towards him!) 'at the moon:'—
O, 'tis most sweet When in one line two crafts directly meet.
Because Hamlet gives utterance to high-sounding thoughts, to sentimental dreams, and melancholy subtleties, it has been assumed that his character is one nourished with the poet's own heart's blood. A thousand times the noble sentiment of duty has been dwelt upon, which it is alleged he is inspired with; and on account of his fine words he has been more taken a fancy to than any other Shaksperian figure. But that was not the poet's object. Great deeds were more to him than the finest words. His contemporaries understood him; for Montaigne—as we shall prove—was given over to the lowest scorn of the age through 'Hamlet,' because the whole reasoning of Hamlet not only was a fruitless, but a pernicious one.
In the fourth scene of the fourth act, the poet describes the frame of mind of the hero before he steps on board ship. 'Excitements of his reason and his blood' once more call him to revenge. This monologue, in which Hamlet gives expression to his feelings and thoughts, is only in the quarto of 1604. The folio of 1623 does not contain it. Shakspere, in later years, may have thought that the soul-struggle of his hero had been ended; and so he may have regarded the passage as a superfluous one, in which Hamlet's better self once more asks him to seize the reins of destiny with his own hands.
He sees how young Fortinbras, the delicate and tender prince, 'puff'd with divine ambition, mouthes the invisible event for a piece of land not large enough to hide the slain.' Hamlet philosophises that the man who uses not his god-like reason is but a beast; for—
—He that made us with such large discourse Looking before and after, gave us not That capability and god-like reason, To fust in us unused.
We further hear how Hamlet reasons about the question as to how 'to be rightly great.' All the thoughts he produces, seem to flow from the pen of the French philosopher. In Essay III. (13) of Montaigne we read the beautiful words that 'the noblest master-work of man is to live for a purpose (yivre d fropos),' and:—'The greatness of the soul does not consist so much in drawing upwards, and haling forwards, than in knowing how to range and to circumscribe itself. It holds everything to be great, which is sufficient in itself. It shows its superiority in more loving humble things than eminent ones.'
To the majesty of the human reason also, Montaigne, in spite of his so often condemning it, knows how to render justice. In Essay I. (40) he remarks: 'Shall we then dare to say that this advantage of reason at which we rejoice so very much, and out of respect for which we hold ourselves to be lords and emperors of all other creatures, has been put into us for our torment? Why strive for the knowledge of things if we become more cowardly thereby? if we lose, through it, the rest and the tranquillity in which we should be without it? ... Shall we use the intellect that has been given to us for our greatest good, to effect our ruin; combating the designs of Nature and the general order of things which implies that everyone should use his tools and means for his own convenience?'
Noble thoughts! But it is not enough to play an aesthetic game with them. The energetic English genius wishes that they should regulate our life; that we should act in accordance with them, so that no tragic complication should form itself, which could only be solved by the ruin and death of the innocent together with the guilty. The monologue concludes thus:—
O, from this time forth, My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!
Nevertheless, Hamlet continues his voyage.
The reader will remember that Montaigne spoke of an instinctive impulse of the will—a daimon—by which he often, and to his final advantage, had allowed himself to be guided, so much so that such strong impulses might be attributed to divine inspiration. A daimon of this kind, under whose influence Hamlet acts, is described in the second scene of the fifth act. The passage is wanting in the first quarto.  Hamlet tells Horatio how he lay in the ship, and how in his heart there was a kind of fighting which would not let him sleep. This harassing condition, the result of his unmanly indecision, he depicts in these words:—
Methought I lay Worse than the mutines in the bilboes.
Then all at once (how could an impulsive manner of action be better described?), before he could 'make a prologue to his brains,' Hamlet lets himself be overcome by such a daimonic influence. He breaks open the grand commission of others, forges a seal with a signet in his possession, becomes a murderer of two innocent men, and draws the evil conclusion therefrom:—
Let us know, Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well, When our deep plots do pall; and that should learn us, There's a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will.
This view we have already quoted from Essay III. (12). In Florio's translation (632):—'Therefore do our dessigns so often miscarry.... The heavens are angry, and I may say envious of the extension and large privilege we ascribe to human wisdome, to the prejudice of theirs: and abridge them so more unto us, by so much more we endeavour to amplifie them.'
Hamlet takes the twofold murder committed against Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as little to heart as the 'indiscreet' deed by which Polonius was killed. Then the consolation was sufficient for him that lovingkindness had forced him to be cruel. This time, his conscience is not touched, because—
't is dangerous when the baser nature comes Between the pass and fell incensed points Of mighty opposites.
With such argumentation every tyranny may be palliated, especially by those who, like Hamlet, think that—
A man's life 's no more than to say 'One.'
Yet another peculiarity of Montaigne's complex being is depicted by Shakspere in the graveyard scene. He shows us every side of this whimsical character who says of himself that he has no staying power for any standpoint, but that he is driven about by incalculable emergencies.
Let us read a passage in Essay II (12), and compare it with Hamlet's enigmatic conduct towards Laertes. Montaigne describes himself in these sentences:—'Being of a soft and somewhat heavy temperament, I have no great experience of those violent agitations which mostly come like a surprise upon our mind without allowing it leisure to collect itself.' In spite of the resistance—he further says—which he endeavoured to offer, even he, however, was occasionally thus seized. He felt these agitations rising and growing in, and becoming master over, himself. As in drunkenness, things then appeared to him otherwise than he usually saw them. 'I manifestly saw the advantages of the object which I sought after, augmenting and growing; and I felt them becoming greater and swelling by the wind of my imagination. I felt the difficulties of my enterprise becoming easier and simpler, my reasoning and my conscience drawing back. But, that fire being gone, all of a sudden, as with the flash of lightning, my mind resumed another view, another condition, another judgment.'
In this manner Hamlet conducts himself towards Laertes. A great grief takes possession of him when he hears of the death of Ophelia: he leaps, like Laertes, into her grave; he grapples with him; he warns him that, though 'not splenetive and rash,' he (Hamlet) yet has 'something dangerous' in him. (He means the daimon which so fatally impelled him against Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.) Hamlet and Laertes wrestle, but they are parted by the attendants. Hamlet begins boasting, in high-flown language, of what great things he would be able to do.
The Queen describes Hamlet's rage in these words:—
And thus awhile the fit will work on him; Anon, as patient as the female dove, When that her golden couplets are disclosed, His silence will sit drooping. 
In the meantime, the fire with which Hamlet's soul had been seized, is gone, like a flash of lightning. He changes to another point of view—probably that one according to which everything goes its way in compliance with a heavenly decree. The little verse he recites in parting:—
Let Hercules himself do what he may, The cat will mew and dog will have his day,
quite corresponds to such a passive philosophy which has gained the mastery over him, and to which he soon falls a victim.
We are approaching the conclusion of the great drama. Here, again, in order to explain Hamlet's action, or rather his yielding to influences around him, we have to direct the attention of the reader to Essay (III. 10), in which Montaigne tells how easily he protects himself against the dangers of inward agitation by dropping the subject which threatens to become troublesome to him before he is drawn on and carried along by it. The doughty nobleman says that he has escaped from many difficulties by not staking frivolously, like others, happiness and honour, life and everything, on his 'rapier and his dagger.' 
There may be some truth in Montaigne's charge that the cause of not a few struggles he has seen, was often of truly pitiful origin, and that such struggles were only carried on from a mistaken feeling of self-respect. It may be true also that it is a bad habit—as he maintains—to proceed still further in affairs of this kind simply because one is implicated. But how strange a confession of a nobleman from whom we at all times expect bravery: 'For want of judgement our hearte fails us.' 
Hamlet is engaged in such a struggle with Laertes through the graveyard scene. The King, who has had good cause to study Hamlet's character more deeply than anyone else, reckons upon his vanity in order to decide him to the fencing-match. 'Rapier and dagger' are forced upon weak-willed Hamlet by Osric.  How subtle is this satire! For appearance' sake, in order to outshine Laertes, the Prince accepts the challenge.  Happiness and life, which he ought long ago to have risked for the purpose of avenging his father and his honour, are now staked from sheer vanity. The 'want of prudence' Hamlet displays in accepting a challenge which he must 'carry out from a (mistaken) feeling of self-respect,' has the 'intolerable' consequence that, shortly before he crosses swords with Laertes, he confesses to Horatio:—'But thou would'st not think how ill all's here about my heart.'
Again, Shakspere, very briefly, but not less pointedly, depicts the way in which Hamlet allows himself to be influenced and driven to a decision. This time the poet does so by bringing in a clearly expressed dogmatic tenet whereby Hamlet's fate is sealed. It is 'ill all about his heart.' He would prefer not going to meet Laertes. 
Horatio. If your mind dislike anything, obey it. I will forestal their repair hither, and say you are not fit.
The fatalist Hamlet, whom we have seen coming ever closer to the doctrine of Predestination, answers as follows:—
'Not a whit; we defy augury; there is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.  If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come; the readiness is all. Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes? Let be.'
This time it is a 'Let be!'—even as it was a 'Let it go' when he was sent to England.
Now let us read Montaigne's Essay,  'To Philosophise is to Learn how to Die:'—
'Our religion has had no surer human foundation than the contempt of life. Not only does the course of our reason lead us that way; for, why should we fear to lose a thing which, when lost, cannot be regretted?—but also, seeing that we are threatened by so many kinds of death, is it not a greater inconvenience to fear them all than to endure one? What does it matter when Death comes, since it is inevitable?... Moreover, nobody dies before his hour. The time you leave behind was no more yours than that which was before your birth, and concerns you no more.'
No further comment is needed to prove that Hamlet's and Montaigne's thoughts are in so close a connection that it cannot be a mere accident. And the nearer we come to the conclusion of the drama, the more striking become Shakspere's satirical hits.
Hamlet allows his hand to be put into that of Laertes by the King. He does not think of the wrong he has done to Laertes—of the murder of the latter's father, or the unhappiness he has criminally brought upon Laertes' sister. In most cowardly manner, hoping that Laertes would desist from the combat, Hamlet endeavours to excuse his conduct at the grave of Ophelia, by pleading his own madness. Laertes insists on the combat; adding that he would stand aloof 'till by some elder masters of known honour' the decision were given.
Hamlet avenges the death of his father; he kills the criminal, the enemy, when his wrath is up and aflame, and every muscle of his is swelled with indignation—but it is too late. Together with himself, he has dragged them all into the grave. It is blind passion, unbridled by reason, which does the deed: a sublime satire upon the words of Montaigne in Essay II. (12), 'that the most beautiful actions of the soul proceed from, and have need of, this impulse of passion; valour, they say, cannot become perfect without the help of wrath; and that nobody pursues the wicked and the enemies with sufficient energy, except he be thoroughly in anger.'
Even the kind of death by which Shakspere makes Hamlet lose his life, looks like a satire against Montaigne. The latter, always a coward in regard to death, and continually pondering over it, says: —'I would rather have chosen to drink the potion of Sokrates than wound myself as Cato did.' Their 'virtuous deeds' he calls  'vain and fruitless ones, because they were done from no love of, or obedience to, the true Creator of all things.'
Hamlet dies wounded and poisoned, as if Shakspere had intended expressing his abhorrence of so vacillating and weak-willed a character, who places the treacherous excesses of passion above the power of that human reason in whose free service alone Greeks and Romans did their most exalted deeds of virtue. 
The subtlety of the best psychologists has endeavoured to fix the limits of Hamlet's madness, and to find the proper name for it. No agreement has been arrived at. We think we have solved the problem as to the nature of Hamlet's madness, and to have shown why thought and action, in him, cannot be brought into a satisfactory harmony. Every fibre in Shakspere's artistic mind would have rebelled against the idea of making a lunatic the chief figure of his greatest drama. He wished to warn his contemporaries that the attempt of reconciling two opposite circles of ideas—namely, on the one hand, the doctrine that we are to be guided by the laws of Nature; and on the other, the yielding ourselves up to superstitious dogmas which declare human nature to be sinful—must inevitably produce deeds of madness.
The main traits of Montaigne's character Shakspere confers upon the Danish Prince, and places him before a difficult task of life. He is to avenge his father's death. (Montaigne was attached to his father with all his soul, and speaks of him almost in the same words as Hamlet does of his own.) He is to preserve the State whose legitimate sovereign he is. The materials for a satire are complete. And it is written in such a manner as to remain the noblest, the most sublime poetical production as long as men shall live.
The two circles of ideas which in the century of the Reformation began a struggle that is not yet brought to an end, are, in that drama, represented on the stage. The poet shows, by making the gifted Prince perish, on which side every serious thinker ought to place himself. That these intentions of Shakspere were understood by his more intelligent contemporaries and friends, we shall prove when we come to the camp of his adversaries, at whose head a Roman Catholic stood, who launches out in very marked language against the derision of Montaigne as contained in the character of Hamlet.
The noblemen who went to the theatre for the sake of the intellectual attractions (the fairer sex being still excluded from acting on the stage and therefore not forming a point of attraction) were initiated into the innermost secret of what authors meant by their productions. Dekker, in his 'Gulls Horn Book' (c. 6), reports that 'after the play was over, poets adjourned to supper with knights, where they, in private, unfolded the secret parts of their drama to them.'
As in no other of his plays, there is in Shakspere's 'Hamlet'—the drama richest in philosophy—a perfect wealth of life. Argument is pitted against argument; every turn of a phrase is a missile, sharp, and hitting the mark. In not a few cases, the aim and object is no longer recognisable. Here and there we believe we shall be able to shed the light of day upon some dark passages of the past.
To the doughty friends of Shakspere, this French Knight of the Order of St. Michael, who says  that, if his freedom were in the least encroached upon, or 'if the laws under which he lives threatened merely the tip of his finger, he would at once betake himself to any other place to find better ones;' but who yet lets everything around him go out of joint without offering a helping hand for repair, because 'the maintenance of States is probably something beyond our powers of understanding' —verily, to Shakspere's doughty friends, such a specimen of humanity as Montaigne must have been quite a new and strange phenomenon. They were children of an age which achieved great things because its nobler natures willingly suffered death when the ideals of their life were to be realised. In them, the fire of enthusiasm of the first Reformation, of the glorious time of Elizabeth, was still glowing. They energetically championed the cause of Humanism. The sublime conceptions of their epoch were not yet marred by that dark and gloomy set of men whose mischievous members were just beginning to hatch their hidden plans in the most remote manors of England.
The friends of Shakspere well understood the true meaning of Hamlet's words: —'What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven?'  They easily seized the gist and point of the answer given to the King's question: —'How fares our cousin Hamlet?' when Hamlet replies:—
Excellent, i' faith; of the chameleon's dish!
Surely, some of them had read the Essay 'On the Inconsistency of our Actions,' and had smiled at the passage:—
'Our ordinary manner is, to follow the inclination of our appetite—this way, that way; upwards, downwards; even as the wind of the occasion drives us. We never think of what we would have, but at the moment we would have it; and we change like that animal (the chameleon) of which it is said that it takes the colour of the place where it is laid down.' 
Shakspere's teaching is, that if the nobler-gifted man who stands at the head of the commonwealth, allows himself to be driven about by every wind of the occasion, instead of furthering his better aims with all his strength and energy of will, the wicked, on their part, will all the more easily carry out their own ends. He therefore makes the King say: —
That we would do, We should do when we would; for this 'would' changes...
Shakspere's friends understood the allusion contained in the first act, after the apparition of the Ghost, when Hamlet calls for his 'tablets.' They knew that the much-scribbling Montaigne was meant, who, as he avows, had so bad a memory that he could not receive any commission without writing it down in his 'tablets' (tablettes). This defect of his, Montaigne mentions over and over again, and may have been the cause of his many most ludicrous contradictions. 
After Hamlet has written down the important fact that 'one may smile, and smile, and be a villain—at least, I am sure it may be so in Denmark,' he exclaims:—'Now to my word!' That 'word' undoubtedly consists of the admonition addressed to him by the Ghost, that Hamlet, after having heard his duty, also should fulfil it—that is:—
'So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear.'
But he only recollects the last words of the Ghost; and Hamlet's parole, therefore, is only this:—
Adieu, adieu, adieu! Remember me!
The value of Montaigne's book is harshly treated in the second scene of the second act. To the question of Polonius as to what he is reading, Hamlet replies:—'Words, words, words!' Indeed, Shakspere did not think it fair that 'the satirical rogue' should fill the paper with such remarks (whole Essays of Montaigne consist of similar useless prattle) as 'that old men have grey beards; that their faces are wrinkled; their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum; and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams.' 
The ideas of Shakspere as to the duties of a writer were different, indeed, from the contents of the book which Hamlet characterises by his exclamation.
As to Polonius' answer: 'Though this be madness, yet there's method in it,' the public had no difficulty in finding out what was meant by that 'madness,' and to whom it applied.
What may the great master have thought of an author who, as Montaigne does, jots down everything in kaleidoscopic manner, just as changeful accident brings it into his head? In Essay III. (2) we read:—
'I cannot get a fixed hold of my object. It moves and reels as if with a natural drunkenness. I just seize it at some point, such as I find it at the moment, when I amuse myself with it. I do not describe its essence, but its volatile passage ... from one minute to the other.'
Elsewhere he prides himself on his method of being able to write as long as there is paper and ink.
Hamlet says to the players: 'We'll e'en to it like French falconers: fly at anything we see.' Montaigne's manner of spying out and pouncing upon things cannot be better depicted than by comparing it with a French falconer's manner. In the first act already, Hamlet, after the ghost-scene, answers the friends who approach, with the holla-call of a falconer:—
Hillo, ho, ho, boy; come, bird, come!
Furthermore, Hamlet says in act ii. sc. 2:—'I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handshaw (heronshaw!).' Now, the north-west wind would drive Montaigne back into his native province, Perigord, where, very likely according to Shakspere's view, he ought to have remained with his sham logic. The south wind, on the contrary, brings the able falconer to England. The latter possesses such a penetrating glance for the nature of things as to be able to distinguish the bird (the heronshaw) that is to be pursued from the hawk that has been unhooded and cast.
In the second scene of the fifth act, between Hamlet and Horatio (to the weak-minded Osrick the words spoken there are incomprehensible), the excellent qualities of Laertes are apparently judged.  This whole discussion is meant against Montaigne; and in the first quarto the chief points are wanting. Florio calls Montaigne's Essays 'Moral, Political, and Military Discourses.'  Osrick praises the qualities of the cavalier who has returned from France; and Hamlet replies that 'to divide him inventorily would dizzy the arithmetic of memory.'
The further, hitherto utterly unexplained, words ('and yet but yaw neither in respect of his quick sail') seem to have reference to the sonnet  by which the third book of the Essays is dedicated by Florio to Lady Grey. Montaigne is praised therein under the guise of Talbot's name, who, 'in peace or war, at sea or land, for princes' service, countries' good, sweetly sails before the wind.' In act ii. sc. 2, the north-north-west and the south wind were already alluded to, which are said to influence Hamlet's madness.
The translators and admirers of Montaigne are meant when Hamlet says that 'to make true diction of him, his semblable' must be 'his mirror; and, who else would trace him, his umbrage—nothing more.' That is, one must be Montaigne, or become his absolute admirer, 'his umbrage,' 'his semblable,' in order to do justice to him. The whole scene is full of allusions, easily explainable from the point of view we have indicated. So also, the reference to self-knowledge ('to know himself) —an art which Montaigne never learnt and the 'two weapons' with which he fights, are full of deep meaning.
It was probably no small number of men that took delight in the French essayist. No doubt, the jest of the gravedigger is directed against them, when he says that if the mad Hamlet does not recover his wits in England, it is no great matter there, because there the men are as mad as he.
Montaigne, especially in Essay III. (2) and III. (5), brings forward indecencies of the most shameless kind. We quite bear in mind what period it was when he wrote. Our manners and ideas are totally different from those of the sixteenth century. But what indignation must Shakspere have felt—he who had already created his noblest female characters, Helena and Olivia; and who had sung his paean of love, 'Romeo and Juliet'—when he read the ideas of the French nobleman about love and women! Nowhere, and on no occasion, does Shakspere in his dramas, in spite of phrases which to-day we qualify as obscene ones, lower the ideal of the womanly character—of the ewig Weibliche.
But let us read Montaigne's view: —
'I find that love is nothing else than a thirst of enjoying a desired subject; nor that Venus is anything else but the pleasure of emptying one's seminary vessels, similar to the pleasure which Nature has given us in discharging other parts.'
Now, this significant quality also, of saying indecencies without shame, Hamlet has in common with Montaigne. No character in Shakspere's dramas uses such language as Hamlet; and in this case, let it be observed, it is not used between men, but towards the beloved one! We shall remark upon his relations with Ophelia later on.
The frivolous Montaigne speaks of love as one might do of a good dish to be enjoyed at every degree of age, according to taste and inclination. In Essay III.(4) we learn how, in his youth, 'standing in need of a vehement diversion for the sake of distraction, he made himself amorous by art and study.' Elsewhere he tells what great things he was able, as a young man, to achieve in this line.  He, therefore, does not agree with the sage who praises age because it frees us from voluptuousness. 
He, on the contrary, says:—'I shall never take kindly to impotence, whatever good it may do me.'
Montaigne, the old and young lover, is lashed in act v. sc. I, in disfigured verses of a song sung by the grave-digger, which dates about from the year 1557, and at Shakspere's time probably was very popular. In the original, where the image of death is meant to be represented, an old man looks back in repentance, and with great aversion, upon his youthful days when he found pleasure in love. The original verse stood thus:—
I lothe that I did love, In youth that I thought swete, As time requires for my behove, Methinks they are not mete.
Until now, no sense could be made of the first verse which the gravedigger sings. It runs thus:—
In youth, when I did love, did love, Methought it was very sweet, To contract, OH! the time, for, AH! my behove, O, methought, there was nothing meet.
Let it be observed what stress is laid on the 'Oh!'—the proper time, and the 'Ah!'—the delight felt at the moment of enjoyment. The meaning of the old verse is changed in such a manner as to show that old Montaigne looks back with pleasure upon the time of his dissolute youth, whilst the author of the original text shrinks back from it.
The second verse  is a further persiflage of the old song. Its reading, too, is changed. It is said there that age, with his stealing steps, as clawed the lover in his clutch  and shipped him into the land as if he 'never had been such.'
By none has the relation between Ophelia and Hamlet been better felt and described than by Goethe. He calls her 'the good child in whose soul, secretly, a voice of voluptuousness resounds.' Hamlet who—driven rudderless by his impulse, his passion, his daimon, from one extreme to the other—drags everything that surrounds him into the abyss, also destroys the future of the woman that might truly make him happy. He disowns and rejects her whom Nature has formed for love. At a moment when fanatical thoughts have mastered his reason, he bids her go to a nunnery.
Once more we must point to the Essay in which Montaigne lays down his ideas about woman and love. French ladies, he says, study Boccaccio and such-like writers, in order to become skilful (habiles). 'But there is no word, no example, no single step in that matter which they do not know better than our books do. That is a knowledge bred in their very veins ... Had not this natural violence of their desires been somewhat bridled by the fear and a feeling of honour wherewith they have been provided, we would be dishonoured (diffamez).' Montaigne says he knows ladies who would rather lend their honour than their 'coach.' 
'At last, when Ophelia has no longer any power over her own mind,' says Goethe, 'her heart being on her tongue, that tongue becomes a traitor against her.' 
In the scene of Ophelia's madness, we hear songs, thoughts, and phrases probably caught up by her from Hamlet. The ideal which man forms of woman, is the moral altitude on which she stands. Now, let the language be called to mind, which Hamlet, before the players' scene, uses towards his beloved!
Ophelia's words: 'Come, my coach ' will be understood from the passage in Montaigne above quoted. The meaning of: 'Oh, how the wheel becomes it!' has reference to a thought developed by Montaigne in Essay III. (11),  which we cannot render here, as it is opposed to every feeling of decency.
All commentators agree in thinking that the character of Laertes is in direct contrast to that of Hamlet. In the first quarto, the figure of Laertes is but rapidly indicated. Only that scene is worked out where he cries out against the priest who will not follow his sister to the grave:—
A ministering angel shall my sister be. When thou liest howling.
In the second quarto only, we meet with the most characteristic speeches in which the strong-willed Laertes,  unmindful of any future world, calls for revenge with every drop of his indignant blood:—
To Hell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devils! Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation.... ... Both the worlds I give to negligence, Let come what comes ... ... to cut his throat i' the church.
That passage, too, is new, in which Ophelia's madness is explained as the consequence of blighted love:—
Nature is fine in love, and where 't is fine, It sends some precious instance of itself After the thing it loves.
Her own reason, which succumbs to her love, is the precious token.
In the same way, those words are not in the first quarto, in which Laertes gives vent to the oppressed feelings of his heart, on hearing of the death of his sister:—
Nature her custom holds, Let shame say what it will. When these (the tears) are gone, The woman will be out.
All those beautiful precepts, also, which Laertes gives to his sister, are wanting in the quarto of 1603. 
Hamlet is the most powerful philosophical production, in the domain of poetry, written at the most critical epoch of mankind—the time of the Reformation. The greatest English genius recognised that it was everyone's duty to set a time out of joint to right. Shakspere showed to his noble friends a gifted and noble man whose life becomes a scourge for him and his surroundings, because he is not guided by manly courage and conscience, but by superstitious notions and formulas.
This colossal drama ranges from the thorny, far-stretching fields which man, only trusting in himself, has to work with the sweat of his brow, to that wonder-land of mystery—
Where these good tidings of great joy are heard. 
If the principles that are fought out in this drama, in tragic conflict, were to be described by catchwords, we might say: Reason stands against Dogma; Nature against Tradition; Self-Reliance against Submission. The great elementary forces are here at issue, which the Reformation had unchained, and with which we all have to reckon.
Shakspere's loving, noble heart beautifully does justice to the defeated Hamlet by making him be borne to his grave 'like a soldier,' with all the honouring 'rites of war.' The poet who knew the human heart so well, no doubt had seen many brave and gifted men who, after having been to Wittenberg's Halls of Intellectual Freedom, and become disciples of Humanism, once more were turned into slaves of dogmas which, under a new guise, not less restricted the free use of reason than the tenets of the old faith had done:—
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse, Looking before and after, gave us not The capability and god-like reason To fust in us unused.
The life of the most gifted remains fruitless if, through fear of what may befall us in a future world, we cravenly shrink back from following the dictates of our reason and our conscience. From them we must take the mandate and commission for the task of our life; not from any mysterious messenger, nor from any ghost out of Purgatory. On the way to action, no 'goblin damned' must be allowed to cross our path with his assumed terrors. That which we feel to be right we must do, even if 'it be the very witching time of night, and hell breathes contagion into the world.'
Shakspere broke with all antiquated doctrines. He was one of the foremost Humanists in the fullest and noblest meaning of the word. 
1: Essay II. 12.
2: Essay I. 26.
3: The whole contents of this chapter may be said to be condensed into two lines of Shakspere:—
'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'
4: Essay III. 13.
5: See Bacon's Essay 'Of Simulation and Dissimulation,' where he says that 'dissimulation followeth many times upon secrecy by a necessity: so that he that will be secret must be a dissembler in some degree,' &c.
6: The following are Hamlet's modes of asseveration:— 'Angels and ministers of grace,' 'All you host of Heaven,' 'God's love,' 'God and mercy,' 'God's willing,' 'Help and mercy,' 'God's love,' 'By St. Patrick,' 'God-a-mercy,' 'By my fay (ma foi),' 'S' blood (God's blood),' 'S' wounds,' 'God's bodykins,' 'By'r Lady,' 'Perdy (Pardieu),' 'By the rood (Cross),' 'Heavenly guards,' 'For love and grace,' 'By the Lord,' 'Pray God,' &c.
7: New Shakspere Society (Stubbs, Abuses in England), 1879, p. 131.
8: Act ii. sc. 2.
9: Act ii. sc. i.
10: This description is wanting in the first quarto. The passages there are essentially different; there is no allusion to Hamlet's mental struggle.
11: About various allusions and satirical hints in this scene later on.
12: Florio, 21; Montaigne, I. ii.
13: Essay III. i.
14: Isaiah, ch. iii. v. 16.
15: The word 'ecstasy,' which is often used in the new quarto, is wanting in the first edition where only madness, lunacy, frenzy—the highest degrees of madness—are spoken of.
16: In the old play their names are 'Rosencroft' and 'Guilderstone.' Reynaldo, in the first quarto, is called 'Montano.' This change of name in a dramatis persona of minor importance indicates, in however a trifling manner, that the interest excited by the name of Montaigne (to which 'Montano' comes remarkably near in English pronunciation) was now to be concentrated on another point.
17: Essay I. 40.
18: II. 12.
19: Essay II. 27, p. 142.
20: Essay III. 4, p. 384.
21: Rather sharp translations of songe-creux, as Montaigne calls himself (Florio, i. 19, p. 34). 'I am given rather to dreaming and sluggishness.'
22: ''S wounds' (God's wounds)—a most characteristic expression; used by Shakspere only in Hamlet, in this scene, and again in act v. sc. 2.
23: As yet, Hamlet has but one ground of action—namely, the one which, after the apparition of the Ghost, he set down in his tablets: 'that one may smile, and smile, and be a villain; at least, I am sure, it may be so in Denmark.'
24: Act ii. sc. 2.
25: Essay I. 19.
26: II. 3.
27: Tacitus, annal. xiii. 56.
28: Essay I. 19.
29: Act. i. sc. 2.
30: Shakspere already uses this expression in King John (1595) for purposes of mirthful mockery. He makes the Bastard say to the Archduke of Austria (act iii. sc. i):—'Hang a calf's skin on those recreant limbs!'—a circumstance which convinces us that Shakspere knew the Essays of Montaigne from the original at an early time. We think it a fact important enough to point out that Florio translates peau d'un veau by 'oxe-hide' (fo. 34). We cannot think of any other explanation than that the phrase in question had become so popular through King John as to render it advisable for Florio to steer clear of this rock. Jonson, in his Volpone (act. i. sc. i), makes Mosca the parasite say in regard to his master: 'Covered with hide, instead of skin.'
31: Florio's translation: 'If it be a consummation of one's being' (p. 627). Shakspere: 'a consummation devoutly to be wished.' This word is only once used by Shakspere in such a sense. It occurs in another sense in King Lear (iv. 6) and Cymbeline (iv. 2), but nowhere else in his works.
32: Monologue of the first quarto:—
'To be, or not to be, I there's the point, To Die, to sleepe, is that all? I all: No, to sleepe, to dreame, I, mary there it goes, For in that dreame of death, when wee awake, And borne before an everlasting judge, From whence no passenger ever returned, The undiscovered country, at whose sight The happy smile, and the accursed damned. But for this, the joyful hope of this, Whol'd beare the scornes of flattery of the world, Scorned by the right rich, the rich curssed of the poore? The widow being oppress'd, the orphan wronged, The taste of hunger, or a tyrants raigne, And thousand more calamities besides, To grunte and sweate under the weary life, When that he may his full quietus make, With a bare bodkin, who would this indure, But for a hope of something after death? Which pushes the brain and doth connfound the sence, Which makes us rather beare those evilles we have, Than flie to others that we know not of. I that, O this conscience makes cowardes of us all. Lady in thy orizons, be all my sinnes remembered.
33: On closely examining the copy of Montaigne's Essays in the British Museum, which bears Shakspere's autograph on the title-page, we found—long after our treatise had been completed—that on the fly-leaf at the end of the volume is written: Mors incrta, (Written somewhat indistinctly, meaning probably incerta. It might also be an abbreviation of 'incertam horam' [incr. ho.], as contained in the Latin verse on p. 626:—
Incertam frustra, mortales, funeris horam Quaeritis, et qua sit mors aditura via.)
626, 627. These two numbers, apparently, refer to the corresponding pages of Montaigne's work, which contain nothing but thoughts about the uncertainty of the hour of death and the hereafter. On p. 627 there is the speech of Sokrates, which in Florio's translation, as shown above, bears such striking resemblance to Hamlet's monologue. There are other Latin sentences on the same fly-leaf, pronounced by Sir Frederic Madden to be written by a later pen than Shakspere's. To us, at any rate, the above words and numbers appear to proceed from a different hand than the other sentences. Judgments thereon from persons well versed in the writings of that time would be of great interest.
34: P. 103.
35: I. 19.
36: Act iii. sc. 2.
37: III. 12 (Florio, 626).
38: We do not doubt that this is a sly thrust at Florio, who, in the preface to his translation, calls himself 'Montaigne's Vulcan,' who hatches out Minerva from that 'Jupiter's bigge brain'.
39: Florio, 476.
40: Florio, 592: 'Thus goe the world, and so goe men.'
41: III. 1.
42: II. 27.
43: Clarendon: 'Circumstance of thought' means here the details over which thought ranges, and from which its conclusions are formed.
44: 'Index,' in our opinion, does not signify here either the title, or prologue, or the indication of the contents of a book, but is an allusion to the Index of the Holy See and its thunders.
45: Montaigne, III. 10; Florio, 604: 'Custome is a second nature, and no less powerfull.... To conclude, I am ready to finish this man, not to make another. By longe custome this forme is changed into substance, Fortune into Nature.'
46: III. 1.
47: This is wanting in the first quarto, like the whole conclusion of this scene.
48: This whole scene between Horatio and Hamlet consists of the following four lines in the old quarto:—
Hamlet. Beleeuve me, it greeuves me much, Horatio, That to Laertes I forgot myselfe: For by myselfe methinkes I feel his greefe, Though there's a difference in each other's way.
Does this not look like a draught destined to be the kernel of a scene? The end of the scene where Osrick comes in, is also much shorter in the older play.
49: Florio, 330: 'We amend ourselves by privation of reason and by her drooping.' Hamlet's conduct is only to be explained by his quietly sitting down until his reason should droop.—II. 12.
50: Florio, 608.
51: Florio, 609.
52: This whole scene is nearly new (in the first quarto it is a mere sketch). There are in it several direct allusions to Montaigne's book, on which we shall touch later on.
53: Here the dramatist, in order to paint a trait of vanity in Hamlet's character, uses a device. He makes the latter say that, since Laertes went into France, he (Hamlet) has been in continual practice. Yet we know (act ii. sc. 2) that he had given up his accustomed exercise. In that scene the poet wishes to describe Hamlet's melancholy; in the other, his vanity. He chooses the colours which are apt to produce quickest impressions among the audience.
54: Act v. sc. 2.
55: See St. Matthew x.29.
56: I. 19.
57: III. 9.
58: II. 12.
59: The Queen describes Hamlet as 'fat, and scant of breath.' Here is Montaigne's description of himself (Essai II. 27):—'J'ay, au demourant, la taille forte et ramassee; le visage non pas gras, mais plein, la complexion entre le jovial et le melancholique, moyennement sanguine et chaude.' Florio's translation, p. 372:—'As for me, I am of a strong and well compact stature, my face is not fat, but full, my complexion betweene joviall and melancholy, indifferently sanguine and hote—('not splenetive and rash').
60: III. 13
61: III. 9.
62: Act iii. sc. 1.
63: We shall now oftener touch upon satirical passages uttered by the character himself against whom they are directed. The true dramatist gives the public no time to think over an incident in full leisure. Every means—as we have already shown before—is welcome to him, which aids in rapidly bringing out the telling traits of his figures. No surprise need therefore be felt that Hamlet, though representing Montaigne, sneers at, and morally flagellates, himself.
64: Act iii. sc. 2.
65: II. 1.
66: Act iv. sc. 7.
67: I. 9, 25; II. 10, &c. If an attentive reader will take the trouble to closely examine that part of the scene in Shakspere's Tempest (act ii. sc. 1) wherein the passage occurs, which he borrowed from Essay I. 30—'On Cannibals'—and compare it with this most 'strange Essay,' he will clearly convince himself that Shakspere can only have made use of it as a satire on Montaigne's defective memory, which entangles this author in the most ludicrous contradictions. Gonzala declares that, if he were king of the isle on which he and his companion were wrecked, he would found a commonwealth as described in the above passage. He concludes this description, saying he would have 'no sovereignty.'
Sebastian justly remarks: 'Yet he would be king on't;' and Antonio continues by saying: 'The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning.'
Even such is the contradiction in Montaigne's fanciful Essay 'On Cannibals,' where, towards the end, he speaks of a captain who holds authority over these savages, not only in war, but also in peace, 'that when he went to visit the village of his dependence, they cut him paths through the thick of their woods, through which he might pass at ease.' The beginning of this Essay described the commonwealth of these cannibals as tolerating no politic superiority, no use of service, no occupation, &c. 'What short memory! much wanting tablets!'