Fechter as Hamlet

TEN months have passed since Charles Albert Fechter, unheralded save by a few words of praise from the pen of that best of dramatic critics, Charles Dickens, made his début before an American audience. Eight vivid human creations have stood before us on the stage, and the first blush of enthusiasm has had time to pale in the presence of the broad daylight of sober second thought. But what if enthusiasm be still aglow, and the verdict of the first night remain the verdict of the last, more strongly put, more strongly felt, because of this same test of time ? And time declares that not Ruy Blas, nor Claude Melnotte, nor Henri de Lagardfère, nor Don Cæsar, nor Frédéric de Marsan, nor Monte Cristo, give proper scope to Fechter’s ability. You see him in sections, not as a well-rounded whole. Of all his répertoire thus far given in this country Hamlet is the only character that has fully called out Fechter’s resources ; and whether or not his conception be acknowledged as Shakespeare’s, you are strangely moved. Who, however, is presumptuous enough to proclaim Shakespeare’s conception of Hamlet ? From Voltaire, who declared Hamlet to be the work of a drunken savage, to Goethe, who would have made innumerable changes in the plot, from Coleridge to our own brilliant Lowell, “ there has been much throwing about of brains.” That Shakespeare has not “revisited the glimpses of the moon ” to tell us what he does mean is strong evidence against the theory of modern spiritualism. Never have written words, the Bible excepted, inspired a like amount of controversy; and as Catholic and Protestant, Episcopalian and “ Radical,” Presbyterian and Unitarian, find their creeds in the Testaments, so do critics find authority for their various dogmas concerning Hamlet. While no two entirely sympathize, shall the right of private judgment be abolished ? and because a great actor disagrees with certain great writers, shall he be crucified and told that his is not Shakespeare’s Hamlet? It is an easy criticism to make, Shakespeare being “safely stowed” and no contradiction possible. It is so cheap as to fall first from the lips of those who have never given Hamlet a thought, and are therefore quite prepared to pass judgment.

“It isn’t Shakespeare’s Hamlet,” exclaimed an illiterate man, who sat behind me at the theatre one night.

It is n’t right, you know. He does n’t give you the proper accents. It’s a foreigner’s interpretation.”

“Well, but—Hamlet’s a foreigner, is n’t he ? ” asked a timid little woman, in a timid little voice.

“Yes,” responded the critic, with a somewhat troubled expression of face, “he’s a foreigner, he’s a foreigner, but,” and then exultation broke through the trouble, — “ but you see it’s an English play !

Argument ceased. Everybody was carried away by the illiterate man’s superior intelligence. Nevertheless, the timid little woman did murmur that it was very interesting and there must be something in it, as heretofore she had always gone to sleep over Hamlet.

According to Mr. Richard Grant White, Hamlet is twenty years old at the beginning of the play, and ten years older at its close. If this computation be correct, Hamlet is indeed guilty of most wretched vacillation ; but does not proof run full tilt against Mr. White’s theory? In the graveyard scene, as everybody knows, we learn that Hamlet is thirty years of age, and after carefully scanning the play, we see that its entire action cannot cover more than ten days. In the first act Laertes leaves for France, and Hamlet decides to “ put an antic disposition on.” The second act opens with Polonius sending Reynaldo to keep watch over Laertes, after which comes Ophelia’s description of Lord Hamlet with his doublet all unbraced; this being the first symptom of Hamlet’s madness, not more than a day is likely to have elapsed between the conception and execution of his plan. Concluding with the arrival of the players and Hamlet’s arrangement for the performance of “ The Murder of Gonzago,” which he distinctly declares shall take place the following night, — “We’ll have’t to-morrow night,” — there can be no questioning as to the date of the third act. And the fourth is like unto it. Hamlet kills Polonius in the third act. The fourth act opens with the Queen’s narration of the bloody deed,

“ Ah, my good lord, what have I seen to-night ?”

by which it is clear that the fourth act begins in point of time as quickly as the third act closes, that is, on the night of the third day. In the third scene Hamlet is brought in guarded, and replies to Claudius that “ you shall nose him (Polonius) as you go up the stairs into the lobby.” The time still remains the same, as proved by the King’s immediately despatching Hamlet to England : “ I ’ll have him hence to-night.” In scene fourth Hamlet appears upon a plain in Denmark, not yet having sailed. It may still be the night of the third day, although the meeting with Fortinbras and his forces would rather indicate daylight. If so, the fourth day has set in. Between this scene and scene sixth four days must elapse, as it is then that Horatio receives Hamlet’s letter in which he says: “ Ere we were two days old at sea, a pirate of very warlike appointment gave us chase. ... These good fellows will bring thee where I am.” Two days out and two days returning to Denmark make four, and adding the previous four days, we have eight in all. The next and last scene follows speedily, therein Hamlet’s letter to the King being delivered.

Well, but how is it with Laertes, who reappears in scene fifth, proclaiming revenge for the death of his father ? How can he return from France in four days, especially if he be in Paris, where Polonius has sent Reynaldo to seek him ? Not leaving until the first act, it is utterly impossible for Laertes to have made very great progress in his journey, and travelling leisurely, as would be likely, he is overtaken and brought back. Yes, but he sets sail for France, and is it probable that, having such a start, he can be overtaken ? Of course he sets sail, Elsinore being on an island ; but the route to Paris is far more direct by land than by sea, and the time indicates that Laertes must have taken to horse on the mainland, a mode of travelling in which he could be easily reached by forced posting. Drowned at the close of the fourth, Ophelia is buried in the last act, so that but few days can intervene between the two events. How many, one cannot assert; although as Hamlet in his letter to Claudius, in the fourth act, says, “ to-morrow shall I beg leave to see your kingly eyes,” and the fifth act brings about this meeting, twenty-four hours need not have elapsed. European Catholics bury their dead speedily. It is therefore safe to declare that the fifth act could transpire on the ninth day, and cannot in reason be delayed beyond the tenth.

One is also tempted to “ wrangle gently” with Mr. White for his statement, that the Ghost does not appear in the third act, Hamlet being the victim of an optical delusion. Does not the Ghost speak to Hamlet ? Why is not the Ghost as real in the third as in the first act? Merely because invisible to the Queen, and visible to Horatio and Marcellus ? This is nothing new in supernatural scenes. “ Be subject to no sight but thine and mine,” says Prospero to Ariel, “ invisible to every eyeball else ” ; and Ariel curvets, unseen of mortals. Hamlet would have doubted his senses had not the guards and cooler-headed Horatio beheld the Ghost; but how contrary to the dead King’s tender nature to make himself visible to the Queen, who, already-plunged in agony, would probably be crazed by so awful a spectacle as the apparition of her murdered husband ?

And with regard to Wittenberg, which seems to be the source of so much discussion, there is nothing to indicate Hamlet’s still being a student. Overcome with grief, disgusted with the world, he talks of going to his old university town, where he passed his youth and where he is most likely to find true friends, among them Horatio. He is easily dissuaded by his mother, and Wittenberg is brought to him in the guise of fellow-students. From first to last the text infers Hamlet’s long acquaintance with the court and outside world. His welcome to his old friend, “ Horatio, or I do forget myself,” denotes that the two have not met for some time. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are spoken of as

“ Being of so young days brought up with him ” ;

and Hamlet conjures them “ by the consonancy of our youth.” If people would only cast commentators aside, and read Hamlet by the light of their own understanding, they would be surprised to find how much clearer the text is than writers are willing to have it appear.

Fechter’s Hamlet is not the introverted student of tradition. He is a man of the world, in the noblest sense of the term, of joyous disposition, whose temper —and here he agrees with Goethe — assumes its mournful tinge upon the death of his father and the unseemly marriage of his mother; “ not reflective or sorrowful by nature, reflection and sorrow have become for him a heavy obligation.” The Queen refers to him as “ my too much changed son,” and the King marvels at Hamlet’s transformation: —

“ So I call it,
Since nor th’ exterior nor the inward man
Resembles that it was.”

“ I have of late lost all my mirth, foregone all custom of exercises,” Hamlet states ; by which we get a glimpse of a boon companion, “ the observed of all observers,” one “ loved of the distracted multitude,” who delights in all manner of sports, who up to the last moment is so sensitive of his prowess in fencing as to be somewhat jealous of Laertes’s reputation, and longs to cross weapons with him.

His first impulse in grief is to commit suicide, — ever the panacea of hotblooded, sanguine temperaments. No civilized country can rival France in the number of its suicides, yet no people are possessed of equal esprit and buoyancy. But Hamlet is a good Catholic : “ The Everlasting has fixed his canon ’gainst self-slaughter ” ; and, though he twice meditates taking his life, is restrained by religious faith. He is brave and daring, as a soldier ought to be. He is not afraid of his father’s ghost; for on hearing of its appearance he quickly exclaims, “ I would I had been there,” and “ I will speak to it though hell itself should gape, and bid me hold my peace ” ; hence he is awed, not terrified, by the Ghost’s presence. The Ghost makes night hideous, because it shakes his disposition “ with thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls.” Is this the language of a man given to cloistered musings and inward living ? How can Hamlet possess

“ Courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword,”

and lead the life of a seer ? It is impossible. He is first courtier and lastly scholar, be it observed. He is a lover of acting, he is an acute critic, and therefore must be of the world, as well as in it. Introverted minds take little pleasure in the studies to which Hamlet evidently gave much time. Hamlet’s humor is so deeply implanted, that even in the most solemn moments he cannot refrain from apposite punning. It is carried even to grimness “over this fellow in the cellarage.” This extreme from grave to gay is not an attribute of introversion, but quite accords with the nature of such a man as Fechter puts before us.

Fechter leaves no doubt as to Hamlet’s passionate love for Ophelia, and truly it is grateful to see the meaning of the text fulfilled. A man who “hath given countenance to his speech with almost all the holy vows of heaven,” who begs “ dear Ophelia” to

“ Doubt that the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move ;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love ”;

who over her grave declares, “ that forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up his sum,” and who immediately upon the assumption of madness falls to such perusal of Ophelia’s face “ as he would draw it,” and

“ Raised a sigh so piteous and profound,
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being,”

must be a much more intense lover than actors and Shakespearian commentators have heretofore admitted. If words mean anything, they mean that Hamlet’s passion is far stronger than Ophelia’s. With his intellect and unusual depth of feeling, it must of necessity be so ; and if Ophelia goes mad, it is because she has less character to withstand sorrow.

Neither is Fechter’s Hamlet at any time really mad, Coleridge and the Kembles (Charles Kemble excepted) to the contrary. He carries out what Lowell has since admirably written : “ If Shakespeare himself, without going mad, could so observe and remember all the abnormal symptoms as to be able to reproduce them in Hamlet, why should it be beyond the power of Hamlet to reproduce them in himself? If you deprive Hamlet of reason, there is no truly tragic motive left. He would be a fit subject for bedlam, but not for the stage. We might have pathology enough, but no pathos. Ajax first becomes tragic when he recovers his wits. If Hamlet is irresponsible, the whole play is a chaos. That he is not so might be proved by evidence enough, were it not labor thrown away.”

True to his times, Hamlet does not scruple to take life when it comes between him and the work of his destiny.

“ By Heaven, I ’ll make a ghost of him that lets me,” is the threat launched at even so dear a friend as Horatio. “ I find thee apt” in revenge, says the Ghost; and quicker than thought Hamlet dedicates his life to one fell purpose, beginning by wiping away all “trivial, fond records,” — Ophelia’s love. Nevertheless, he is held back by “a wise scepticism,” “ the first attribute of a good critic,” which suggests the possibility of the spirit’s being a devil. Fechter’s Hamlet is restrained by reasonable doubt, not vacillation of purpose, and no sooner “catches the conscience of the King ” than he could drink hot blood. He does not kill the King at prayers, because of that Catholic faith which would send this same villain to heaven, and thus kill all revenge, which is the motive of his action.

“ Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven,
Or ever I had seen that day,”

— his mother’s second wedding day,— is the heaviest curse that Hamlet can invoke upon his own head. Would he then be likely voluntarily to bring about its fulfilment ? He keeps himself in training by self-reproach of cowardice, of which there is not the slightest evidence in deeds. He cannot, as he has promised the Ghost,

“ With wings as swift
As meditation, or the thoughts of love,
Sweep to his revenge,”

and he “ falls a cursing like a very drab,” “ unpacking his heart with words,” as such natures are very apt to do when circumstances stay their actions. Without a moment’s hesitation he stabs Polonius, but repents the deed, and is engaged in drawing aside the body when he is seized and brought guarded before the King, in which condition he is unarmed. Hurried with “fiery quickness ” on board a bark for England, there is no opportunity for action, but, thoughts being bloody, he forges letters whereby Guildenstern and Rosencrantz — “ they are not near my conscience,” pleads Hamlet — are doomed to death the moment they reach their destination. Chased by pirates, Hamlet alone becomes their prisoner, and returns to Denmark. Horatio goes to meet him ; and as they tarry in a graveyard, the burial of Ophelia drives him to momentary frenzy. Without weapons, he cannot then and there kill the King, nor is the most desperate mind controlled by more than one great passion at a time. In the next scene, which must be immediate, — as not till then does Hamlet refer to his escape and plot against his treacherous fellow-students,— he does not hesitate to tell Horatio of his purpose to “quit the King with his arm ” during the short interval that must elapse ere the fate of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz is known in Denmark. Being sorry for having forgotten himself to Laertes, whom he loves and whom he has wronged, he accepts the challenge of a bout at fencing, that he may then and there apologize to the brother of his adoption, and also gain easy approach to his intended victim, the King. He cannot kill the King with bated rapier; but the moment he learns that the weapon in his hand is unbated and envenomed, Hamlet stabs the evil genius of the play. The King has no doubt of Hamlet’s capability of murder, as proved by his saying after hearing of the death of Polonius, “ It had been so with us had we been there,” and by his haste in sending him to England.

Such, from his acting, is Fechter’s conception of Hamlet, sympathetic to me in all things, except perhaps in this matter of vacillation ; and even here one may make out a strong case. The only lines that can be quoted against Fechter’s theory are the few appertaining to the Ghost’s reappearance.

“ Do you not come your tardy son to chide,
That, lapsed in time and passion, lets go by
Th’ important acting of your dread command ?
O, say! ”

inquires Hamlet.

Ghost. Do not forget. This visitation
Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.”

Hamlet but repeats the self-accusation prompted by over-sensibility as to the performance of an awful duty.

“ Ah, but what blunted purpose does the Ghost come to whet ? ” asks the reader. Suppose now this visitation be to whet Hamlet’s almost blunted purpose of speaking daggers, but using none? The Ghost, unlike his former self, says not one word about Claudius. He straightway exhorts Hamlet to step between his mother and her fighting soul! Whereupon Hamlet’s tone changes from violent denunciation to soft questioning, “ How is it with you, lady ? ” One moment more and the passion that made a corpse of Polonius might have wreaked vengeance on the guilty Oueen ; for though Hamlet declares that he is “neither splenitive nor rash,” yet is there “something dangerous ” in him, a something that might have led him to strangle Laertes had he lost entire self-control. That the Queen believes her son capable of the deed, is seen at the opening of this scene, when Hamlet says : —

“ Come, come, and sit you down ; you shall not budge;
You go not, till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you.”

These are not desperate words, and yet the Queen cries out : —

“ What wilt thou do ? Thou milt not murder me ?
Help, help, ho ! ”

Killing the Queen would not be impossible to the Hamlet of Fechter, who is convinced of her complicity in his. father’s murder.

“ O Hamlet! speak no more :
Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul; I
And there I see such black and grained spots
As mill not leave their tinct.”

Mere marriage with a brother-in-law, even after two months of widowhood, hardly admits of so fearful a confession ; and her fear of being murdered by Hamlet, leads to the inference that she knows she deserves the punishment. Further coloring for this hypothesis may be obtained in Hamlet’s response to the Ghost: —

“ Do not look upon me ;
Lest with this piteous action you convert
My stern effects ; then what I have to do
Will want true colors; tears perchance, for blood.”

Surely this does not indicate absence of will on Hamlet’s part; and as stage ghosts always produce the effect they desire, the dead king attained the purpose of his “ pale glaring.” Certainly he had no such tearful influence over Hamlet during the first interview. Is the object, then, the same ? Indeed it would seem not ; and since I find Shakespeare so ready to agree with Fechter, I doubt my ability longer to withhold allegiance to this startling innovation.

The critic may entertain one opinion of Hamlet one day and another the next; he may be very positive in some particulars and not quite sure in others. He can leave a door open by which his opinions may make a dignified exit, should an intellectual breeze threaten to overthrow them ; but the actor enjoys no such privilege. He must thoroughly understand his intentions before being able to interpret them. He must feel certain that, according to his light, his conception is right, or he cannot render it with force or send conviction to the hearts and heads of his audience. The business of the critic, therefore, in this matter of Hamlet, is not so much with the conception of the character as with the manner in which the actor’s conception is carried out. If it is consistent from beginning to end, if it takes hold of you so strongly as to prevent any escape from it, if its great power absolutely bullies you out of cherished theories, if its humanity makes you look back upon previous Hamlets as so many lay figures galvanized into spasmodic action, if it absorbs attention and creates a positive sensation, then does the actor merit critical enthusiasm ; for the critic’s business is to appreciate, to appreciate is to estimate justly, and just estimation calls for as much delight at what is fine as disapprobation of what is false. Fechter produces all these effects. He is great, not only in his originality, but in his rendering, the greatness of which I will do my poor best to show by photographing his Hamlet in such details as are food for critics and actors.

Fechter’s study has not been confined to his own part, as is seen immediately in the reading of Horatio, upon the entrance of the Ghost : —

But, soft ; behold ! lo, where it comes again
I' ll cross it, though it blast me. Stay, illusion !
If thou hast any sound or use of voice,
Speak to me. (Ghost steps.)”

Heretofore Horatios have senselessly crossed the Ghost’s path, as if such a step would stay its progress. Not so with Fechter, whose Horatio makes the sign of the cross, at which the Ghost stops, as a Catholic ghost should. Once interpreted thus, intelligence exclaims “ Of course ” ; and yet Horatios have been crossing the stage for three hundred years !

He is gloomy enough, is Fechter’s Hamlet, as he sits beside his mother, starting when the King addresses him as “ our son,” yet gently exclaiming, while kissing the Queen’s hand with courtly grace, and giving by almost imperceptible accent a key to the estimate in which he holds his uncle-father,

“ I shall in all my best, obey you, madam.”

Left to himself, he gazes fondly at his father’s portrait, worn about his neck, and illustrates the beautiful apostrophe by reference to it. Thus does Fechter prepare you for the text. You can’t misunderstand, if you would. His Hamlet deceives no one. He is as honest as the day is light. He draws his lines plainly between friend and acquaintance, and his fondness for Horatio is strongly defined from the moment of meeting. There are three distinct shades of tone in “ my good friend ” (meaning Horatio), “ I am very glad to see you ” (meaning Marcellus), and “ Good even, sir ” (meaning Bernardo). Hamlet wastes no affection. He is generous, but he is losing faith in mankind, and trusts few.

An expression of great and tender beauty passes over Fechter’s face as, with clasped hands, he murmurs,

“ My father, — methinks I see my father” ;

while there is filial pride in his explanation, with hand upon Horatio’s shoulder,

“ He was a man ; take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.”

When Horatio describes his encounter with the Ghost, Fechter crosses his hands the moment his father is mentioned, as if praying for the unhappy spirit. The action is entirely natural to a Catholic. Appealingly sweet is his “ Did you not speak to it?”

addressed to Marcellus, to which his Horatio replies,

“ My lord, I did.”

Doubting, not willing to believe without strong evidence, he gives the line, “ Then saw you not his face ? ” as if it read “ Then you did not see his face,” which seems reasonable from Horatio’s answer : —

“ O yes, my lord, he wore his beaver up.
Hamlet. I would I had been there.
Hor. It would have much amazed you.
Ham. Very like, very like.”

These lines have always been given as a response to Horatio, fechter, meditating on the startling intelligence that the apparition wore his beaver up, murmurs, “ Very like,” as if the sentence read, “Very like — my father.” Of course the Ghost would amaze Hamlet. He is already amazed, therefore the “ very like ” fits far more gracefully into Fechter’s setting. Tears fill his eyes as he asks,

“ Stayed it long ? ”

When Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus appear in the fourth scene, Fechter causes Hamlet to come from an opposite direction. Why ? Because he has previously said that he would visit them “ upon the platform, ’twixt eleven and twelve.” They meet for the first time, and the dialogue says as much. Strange that it takes a Frenchman to find this out.

Enveloped in a gray picturesque cloak and black velvet cowl, Fechter’s Hamlet drops the former, and, with hands on Horatio at sight of the Ghost, delivers the invocation with solemn, tender earnestness, removing the cowl at the word “king,” and throwing a filial pathos into “ father.”

“ Go on, I ’ll follow thee.”

His exit is slow, but in no way unnaturally measured, with sword unsheathed and held in the left hand as if it were a cross.

“ Alas, poor ghost ! ”

is given with pitying sweetness of tone. Kneeling at the words, “ I am thy father’s spirit,” Fechter does not rise until the adjuration, “ Haste me to know,” etc.; and though his back is turned to the audience during the Ghost’s confession, there is much expression in his pantomime. Nevertheless, but for the exceedingly clever management of the Ghost’s instantaneous disappearance,— the invention being Fechter’s, — it were a pity to lose the play of feature which Fechter could throw into his eager, listening silence. He bows profoundly at the Ghost’s, “ Fare thee well at once ! ” and when Horatio calls without, “ Heaven secure him !” meaning Hamlet, Fechter, intent upon the Ghost, prayerfully adds, “ So be it,” turning the words to a deeper significance than they have ever possessed. What immediately follows is no less acutely treated. Horatio alone is his valued friend, Horatio alone has so far sworn not to reveal the news, and Hamlet hurriedly begins to tell his story, “ There’s ne’er a villain in all Denmark,” when, suddenly remembering and doubting Marcellus, he turns from his purpose and adds, “ but he ’s an arrant knave ” ; at which platitude Horatio has reason to criticise his friend. The line,

“ You, as your business and desire shall point you,”

is addressed to Marcellus. Hamlet’s wild and whirling words are because of his presence. He is talking to conceal thought. Taking Horatio’s hand (according to stage direction), he remarks to him,

“ Touching this vision here, —
It is an honest ghost, that let me tell you.”

Then looking at Marcellus, he continues,

“ For your desire to know what is between us,
O’ermaster it as you may.”

Fechter’s Hamlet does not insult Horatio by assuming superior wisdom and exclaiming, “ There are more things in heav’n and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” but accents philosophy, by which the pronoun possesses the same significance as when Edmund Kean substituted our for your.

With arm linked in Horatio’s, Hamlet says, “ Let us go in together,” and, leaving Marcellus down the stage, addresses to him the parting injunction, “ And still your fingers on your lips, I pray.” The line is certainly intended for Marcellus, who cannot be included in Hamlet’s invitation, inasmuch as, after the exit, Hamlet must impart the Ghost’s secret to Horatio, the two friends not meeting again until the third act, when Hamlet, in referring to the play, says, —

One scene come near the circumstance
Which I have told thee, of my father’s death.”

If circumstantial evidence prove aught, it proves the truth of Fechter’s conception. There is no ranting in his rendering of the couplet,

“ The time is out of joint,” etc.

Its power is in its concentrated desperation.

The admirable shades and touches in the second act are equally “ pertinent.” Dialogue never received more varied or more thoughtful treatment. Polonius never attempted to master such keen madness. “ Conception is a blessing ; but as your daughter may conceive,— friend, look to 't.” It is a mad laugh that follows “friend.’ Hamlet points to his open book as he mutters, “look to ’t,” and Polonius, literal in all things, runs his eye over the page to learn the “ cause of this defect.” Hamlet watches him narrowly, as if to see how the simulated madness takes effect, when the old man delivers his side speech beginning, “How pregnant sometimes his replies are ! ” and there is a world of weariness pent up in his reiterated exclamation, “ Except my life ! ” Tired, tired, tired ! Revenge and sorrow were never nature’s heritage to such as he. Too brave, too conscientious to shake duty off, relief is sought in word and expression.

Hamlet’s reception of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is most cordial, until he sees his uncle’s portrait around the neck of the latter; then expression and manner change, and the question, “Were you not sent for?” is put eagerly, with suspicion of foul play, which waxes stronger as he bids them speak “ to the purpose.” Words mean something when thus interpreted. Hamlet’s rejoinder, “And those that would make mouths at him while my father lived give twenty, forty, fifty, an hundred ducats apiece for his picture in little,” is illustrated by his taking up the picture pendent from Guildenstern’s neck. Upon dropping it, he crosses to the right, and makes an “ aside,” perfectly comprehensible to all, of the succeeding sentence, “ There is something in this more than natural, if philosophy could find it out.” Were audiences given to acute criticism, and did reason rule the day, theatres would resound with bravos at such renderings as this, rather than at the tearing of passion to tatters.

You know by the tender music of Hamlet’s voice in exclaiming, “O Jephthah, Judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst thou ! ” that his thoughts are with “the fair Ophelia,” and it is this memory that renders him so gentle in checking Polonius for interrupting the player. Hushing him, commanding silence by putting finger on lips, with as much kindliness as if the old courtier were indeed a big baby, Hamlet takes up the text, “ So ; proceed you,” and for the first time you see the little word “ so ” set in its proper action. Hamlet listens with such interest to the actor’s speech as to accompany it with unconscious pantomime and silent repetition of the words ; but this is not original with Fechter, Garrick having done the same.

“ But woe, ah, woe ! had seen the mobled queen.”

“The mobled queen!” repeats Fechter’s Hamlet, thinking of his mother; and, struck by the coincidence, becomes so absorbed as to leave Polonius unchecked when he again interrupts the first actor. There is genuine, respectful sympathy in Hamlet’s manner of instructing that the players be well treated ; such sympathy as, if prevalent in society, would raise the stage to its proper level, — beside the pulpit. Equally wonderful in its humanity is the pity breathing through Hamlet’s command to the first actor, that Polonius be not mocked. The tremendous soliloquy closing this act is marvellous in variety. Its gradual crescendo and diminuendo are most artistic, while the climax,

“ The play’s the thing,
Wherein I ’ll catch the conscience of the Ring,”

comes like a sudden revelation to a tortured brain, and is clutched at (if I may say so) with all the energy with which nature seizes upon forlorn hopes.

Fechter points the moral of the soliloquy, “To be or not to be,” by bringing on an unsheathed sword, as it he had again been contemplating the suicide that would free him from bis oath.

Very beautiful and equally original is Hamlet’s scene with Ophelia. He is a lover the moment his eyes fall upon her, and casts aside every semblance of madness until Ophelia returns his letters, when the change of Fechter’s expression is as great as the change of language; but when listening to the gentle maiden’s reproaches, there is pictured such agonized regret at throwing away every chance of happiness as makes the heart ache ; for Fechter’s Hamlet is always real, always a suffering man, never an actor.

And how pantomime illuminates a sentence is seen in Hamlet’s reference to the power of beauty, which “ will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd, than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness ; this was sometime a paradox,” — here Fechter pauses, looks sadly at the letters in his hand returned by the woman Hamlet loves, and then adds, — “ but now the time gives it proof.” Still his heart is bursting to speak the truth, and the confession, “ I did love you once,” is given with tearful eyes and choked utterance. When Ophelia exclaims, “ I was the more deceived,” his tender action, unseen by her, denotes that he must fold her in his arms ; but, forced to restraint, he honestly, earnestly begs her to get to a nunnery, as the only sanctuary worthy of her. Then, seeing Polonius, he, to test Ophelia’s truthfulness, asks, “Where’s your father?” and, finding her false, bursts into frenzied raving, intended far more for the ears of her father than for the helpless creature trembling before him. Again subdued by love, Hamlet approaches Ophelia with extended arms, almost embraces her, but, recollecting that he is watched by Polonius, cries pathetically, “To a nunnery, go,” and, thoroughly overcome, rushes off the stage. In this scene Fechter does not allow Hamlet to see the King, for this espionage would so convince him of his uncle’s guilt, as to render the play unnecessary.

Nothing can be finer of its kind than Fechter’s intelligent and colloquial delivery of Hamlet’s advice to the players ; and in this connection it should be stated that he was the first to introduce a boy with chopins, in lieu of a woman actress.

Hamlet gazes fondly at Ophelia when announcing the Court’s coming to the play, showing first the lover before putting on the mask.

“ I eat the air, promise-crammed ; you cannot feed capons so, ” says Hamlet.

“ I have nothing with this answer, Hamlet; these words are not mine,” rejoins the King.

“ No, nor mine, now ” ; and Fechter, by an exquisite action of the hand, makes you see why those words are no longer his. They have passed into the air for all time, and belong to space. Pantomime has its prose and its poetry. This action is rhythmic.

He never forgets to spare Polonius in the presence of others. “ I did enact Julius Caesar,” maunders the old man. “ I was killed i’ the capital; Brutus killed me.”

“It was a brute part of him,” Hamlet replies; and then, walking away, adds as an aside, “ to kill so capital a calf there.” The very word “ there ” suggests this treatment of the sentence, and yet again Fechter discovers it.

“ Nay, then, let the Devil wear black, for I ’ll have a suit of sables,” reads the customary text; but what says Fechter ? “ Let the Devil wear black ’fore

I’ll have a suit of sable.” The mystery is solved at once, and, turning to the folio Shakespeare, you find the line so written down. As the folio is supposed to have been printed from a playhouse copy, Fechter’s version is probably as correct as it is intelligible.

Ophelia. ’T is brief, my lord.
Hamlet. As woman’s love.”

Most Hamlets insult Ophelia by hurling this reply at her. Fechter gives it as if communing with his own thoughts, and looks the while toward his mother. “ That’s wormwood,” is addressed to Horatio; and, “ If she should break it now,” to King and Queen.

Admirable is Fechter’s action after the discovery and call for “lights.” Throughout the play Hamlet has lain at Ophelia’s feet, but has amused himself (so reads the conventional stage business) with nothing, not even with the specified fan. Before him lies the text of the play, which he follows closely, thus anticipating it and watching the effect upon the royal pair. Discovery made and audience gone, Fechter tears the leaves from his play-book and scatters them in the air, as he rises and delivers the well-known quatrain. His utterance is rapid, excitement at last renders it thick. The blood rushes to his head, he puts his hand to his throat as if choking, “ Ah, ha ! ” becomes a gasp, he leans upon Horatio, and for relief, for solace, calls for music. There is no bridging over an inexplicable chasm, such as we have seen from childhood. It is perfect nature. Upon the entrance of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz Hamlet falls into a chair, from exhaustion, until his mother’s name is mentioned, when, out of that courtesy which is rarely forgotten, he rises.

Guildenstern, with tha locket about his neck, is far more hateful to Hamlet than less treacherous Rosencrantz.

“Ham. Sir, I cannot.
Gull, What, my lord ?
“Ham- Make you a wholesome answer:.....
but, sir, such answer as I can make, you shall command : or rather, as you say, my mother ; therefore,
no more, but to the matter: my mother, you say —
Ros. Then, thus she says : your behavior hath
struck her into amazement and admiration.”

Here Hamlet snubs Guildenstern, and “my mother, you say,” is addressed to Rosencrantz, who immediately takes up the thread of argument as shown. Hazlitt declares that acting Hamlet is like the attempt to embody a shadow. He would never have made this statement had he seen Fechter’s key to the character.

The whole scene with the Queen is one panorama of tragic pictures. Having killed Polonius, Fechter elaborates Shakespeare’s few words by the agony of his expression at having made so fatal a mistake, and by throwing away his sword that it may not be repeated.

The excitement produced by the Ghost’s appearance yields to regret at his departure, and a tenderness toward his guilty mother, who finally kneels before him, being raised up gently at the words, “Confess yourself to Heaven,” etc. When Hamlet bids her good night, she attempts to bless him, but is firmly, not unkindly repelled. This action is followed by the lines,

“ And when you are desirous to be blessed,
I ’ll blessing beg of you.”

Before the sobbing Queen retires, she once more turns to her son, exclaiming, “ Hamlet,” — this is Fechter’s introduction, — and stretches out her hands for a filial embrace. Hamlet holds up his father’s picture, the sight of which speaks volumes to the wretched woman, who staggers from the stage. Kissing this picture, Hamlet murmurs sadly,

“ I must be cruel, only to be kind ”:

then, taking light in hand and raising the arras, gazes at Polonius, exclaiming,

“ Thus bad begins, and worse remains behind.”

After the third act Hamlet is but half his former self. The actor would willingly stop short, leaving the last two acts to the imagination, and in the present condition of stock companies the critic would gladly assent to curtailment; but it must be five acts or nothing, and patience endures to the last. Fechter’s treatment of the King in the fourth act is that of undisguised contempt. “If your messenger find him (Polonius) not there (in heaven,) seek him in the other place yourself'’ ; and you see that if Hamlet were not guarded, he would then and there send the King to “the other place ” in search of his courtier.

When Fechter produces Hamlet in his own theatre, the time of the churchyard scene is that of a brilliant sunset, making a fine contrast between the thoughtless joy of Nature and the grief of humanity. Moreover, it is neither customary nor practicable to dig graves by the fickle light of the moon feebly assisted by one small lantern ; and when truth is compatible with art, — for my part I believe the two walk hand in hand, — it should be adhered to. Fechter’s apostrophe to poor Yorick is singularly tender: “Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft ” ; and Fechter carries the skull almost to his lips, when he puts it away with a shiver. From time immemorial Ophelia’s body has been borne from church to churchyard, when the text tells us that her burial in sanctified ground is granted under protest.

“ She is allowed her virgin crants,
Her maiden strewmems, and the bringing home,
Of bell and burial
. . . . .
We should profane the service of the dead,
To sing a requiem, and such rest to her
As to peace-parted souls.”

Hence Fechter causes Ophelia to be brought through the churchyard gateway, and the officiating priest wears none of the insignia of his office, the gown excepted.

“Whitt, the fair Ophelia ?”

and, overwhelmed with agony, Hamlet falls on his knees beside a tomb and buries his head in his hands. In the controversy between Hamlet and Laertes, Macready and Kembie leaped into the grave, and there went through the grappling in true Punch and Judy fashion. The illustrious example has been often followed ; but Fechter wisely abstains from the absurdity, not approaching the grave until his last word is spoken, when, gazing in agony at the gaping void and at Ophelia’s corse, he is dragged off the stage by Horatio.

In the art of fencing Fechter is consummate ; consequently the final scene is full of spirit and interest. His arrangement of the stage is likewise admirable. In the background runs a gallery, to which a short flight of stairs leads on each side of the stage, and by which all exits and entrances are made. To the left stands the throne where sits the King. The moment Hamlet exclaims,

“ Ho ! let the door be locked ;
Treachery ! seek It out,”

the King exhibits signs of fear; and while Laertes makes his terrible confession, he steals to the opposite stairs, shielding himself from Hamlet’s observation behind the group of courtiers, who, paralyzed with horror, fail to remark the action. Laertes no sooner utters the words, “ The King’s to blame,” than Hamlet turns suddenly to the throne in search of his victim ; discovering the ruse, he rushes up the left-hand stairs, meets the King in the centre of the gallery, and stabs him. It would be difficult to conceive a more effective manner of dispatching Claudius, or one more in harmony with good taste. He is not butchered as in the old “business,” and the stage is relieved of one dead body. Descending, the potent poison steals upon Hamlet, who murmuring, “The rest is silence,” falls dead on the corpse of Laertes, thus showing his forgiveness of treachery and remembrance of Ophelia. There is no contortion in Fechter’s manner of dying. Edmund Kean was no doubt right in illustrating a death by poison ; but if Hamlet dies thus, surely Laertes must meet his doom in like manner. Two such exhibitions would be beyond human endurance, and, as Laertes dies first, Hamlet’s effects would be lost. Therefore Fechter is not without reason in abstaining; from literalness.

Does not the photograph, dim as it is, show Fechter’s power in Hamlet? Does it not give evidence of ideas and ideality.

The fair hair of Fechter’s Hamlet is not an original idea, though from the criticism one might imagine as much. Goethe declares that, “ as a Dane, as a Northman, he is fair-haired and blueeyed by descent.” " Absurd ! ” cries a voice ; “ how is this possible when we are distinctly told that his father’s hair is ‘sable silvered'?” Does it follow that Hamlet the younger must therefore be dark-haired ? To my way of thinking, Fechter gives us the ideal Hamlet, who with all his manly beauty “is fat and scant of breath.” “ Brown-complexioned people in their youth are seldom plump,” argues Goethe. Fechter is thoroughly manly, as Hamlet, who is much given to exercise, should be. No contrary opinion can take comfort in Hamlet’s declaration that Claudius is no more like his father than lie to Hercules, for Hercules performed such feats of prowess as astounded both gods and men. He is robust without being unpleasantly so, he is graceful, he is supple as an athlete, he is courtly, he is wondrously picturesque, and his beautiful flaxen wig so transforms his coloring that his dark hazel eyes are mistaken for blue !

There has been something said of Fechter’s liberties with Shakespeare’s language. Curious to know how much truth lay in this accusation, I have followed him while acting with book in hand. Fechter spoke no more than is set down to him, — nor less. He was what is called, in stage parlance, “ letter perfect.” There were a few trips of accent, — very few, — made with the lips entirely ; for when the offending passages were afterwards shown to Fechter, he spoke them correctly, showing that the head had not been at fault. And here lies the secret of the charge, that Fechter has no settled Convictions as to the reading of Hamlet. Rarely repeating the same error, he supplements it with another, as, for example,

“ O horrible, horrible, most horrible !

intending most horrible, and so delivering the passage on the following performance. These are slight blemishes to weigh against a beautiful work of art.

“ When reason yields to passion’s wild alarms,
And tire whole state of man is up in arms,
What but a critic would condemn the player
For pausing here, when co,oi sense pauses there?
Whilst working from the heart, the fire I trace,
And mark it strongly flaming to the face ;
Whilst in each sound I hear the very man
I can't catch -words, and pity those who can.”

Nor is there much more foundation for the accusation of “cutting "Shakespeare. No actor has ever spoken the whole of Hamlet. Betterton took many liberties, and what Garrick did finally shall be referred to. When performing this character in Dublin, an Irish critic suggested the advisability of his leaving out Hamlet’s “abominable” soliloquy while the King is at prayers. Garrick carried out the suggestion, and it has never been restored by any English actor. Fechter’s version is that of Kemble and of the stage. If, in the last act, he does not always deliver the frenzied speech addressed to Laertes, and cuts short his dying words, it is because of exceptional circumstances.

Whether there ever lived a thoroughly satisfactory Hamlet is extremely doubtful. What Burbage was nobody knows. What Betterton made of the character it is possible to conceive ; for with all Cibber’s praise of this actor, Quin owned that he “ would not go down in Garrick’s days,” and as Quin himself, grounded on Booth’s and Betterton’s school, died artistically as soon as Garrick’s genius illuminated the English stage, the critic has very grave doubts as to any standard set up by Cibber, who showed his bad taste by cordially hating Garrick’s acting. Then as to Garrick’s Hamlet, it comes in “ questionable shape ” ; for though the great little man was the first to produce the play in 1742, shorn of every objectionable word and the traditional music, he gave the address to the players like a pedagogue, walked backward and forward, twirling a white handkerchief, while exclaiming,

“Some must laugh, while some must weep,”

and performed other antics hardly compatible with Shakespeare’s Dane. That lie failed to appreciate the character is evident from the manner in which he slaughtered the play thirty years after, when he “ improved " Shakespeare out of sight in the last acts, and contemplated turning the grave-diggers and Osric, “ the Danish macaroni,” into a farce ! Yet this “ mass of deformity” held the stage eight years with a Hamlet that exemplified the theory of perpetual motion ! Cooke in Hamlet was “ one mass of awkward error ” ; neither does Kemble, nor does the elder Kean, owe his fame to his personation of the character. Knowing this, F echter acquires additional respect for his rendition of Hamlet.

Possessing good height, small hands and feet, a face so like Garrick’s in contour and complexion as in a Garrick wig to render the resemblance astonishing, and so wonderful in expression as, like Talma’s, to need but the passing of a hand to transform broad comedy into deepest tragedy; with a large, magnetic, ever - changing hazel eve, with pantomime that rivals Ristori’s, with a rich, melodious voice that runs the gamut of the passions with abundant sentiment and humor equally developed, with a sculptor’s knowledge of form, a painter’s love of costume and color, and a Frenchman’s education in the best school of acting, Fechter takes his place among the few great actors of the world* With regard to his pronunciation of English there is really very little fault to be found. In private it rarely occurs to the most careful listeners that Fechter is not, so far as concerns accent, an Englishman. On the stage, however, there are times when, if he does not feel well, his speech becomes thick, or when, if he is carried away by passion, his delivery becomes somewhat indistinct; but this is seldom. Ordinarily his enunciation is wonderfully distinct, and his English far purer than that spoken by the actors around him. It is somewhat amusing to hear Americans, who arc proverbially inelegant in their language, finding fault with Fechter’s occasional slips of the tongue. What would they say to Garrick, with his shupreme, shuperior, vurtue, fersely (for fiercely), Isrel for Israel, villin for villain, and appeal for appall ? Churchill, in his Rosciad, declared that “ Garrick never did or never could speak ten successive lines of Shakespeare with grammatical propriety.” Nevertheless Garrick was great. What would they say to Kemble’s “foggy throat,” that was wont to

“ Fill all thy bones with achës,”

and whose vitiated orthoepy induced Leigh Hunt to publish a lexicon, that theatre-goers might have a key to the text. Kean (the elder) had countless vulgarisms of pronunciations. Vulgarity is inexcusable ; a slight foreign accent may not be desirable, yet it is far more grateful to a musical ear than the common variety of nasal “ twang ” in which both our pulpit and stage indulge to an intolerable extent.

Writer, as well as sculptor and actor, Fechter is the author of many original French plays to which he has never appended his name, as well as of the several English dramatizations. No mean poet, he has rendered Romeo and Juliet into French verse. In the prime of life, there are still rich possibilities for Fechter as a dramatist and as an interpreter of Shakespeare.

“ Hence, to thy praises,” Fechter, “ I agree,
And pleased with nature, must be pleased with
thee ! ”

Kate Field.