You are Inhaling Poison
April 15, 1858 — Convention of School-masters and School-mistresses of Onondaga County, Town Hall, Syracuse, NY
I will read you Hamlet’s soliloquy and speech to the players.
Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it,
as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget
a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it
offends me to the soul to hear a robustious
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who
for the most part are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumbshows and noise: I would have such
a fellow whipped for o’erdoing Termagant; it
out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.
Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion
be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the
word to the action; with this special o’erstep not
the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is
from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone,
or come tardy off, though it make the unskilful
laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the
censure of the which one must in your allowance
o’erweigh a whole theatre of others. O, there be
players that I have seen play, and heard others
praise, and that highly, not to speak it profanely,
that, neither having the accent of Christians nor
the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so
strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of
nature’s journeymen had made men and not made them
well, they imitated humanity so abominably.
O, reform it altogether. And let those that play
your clowns speak no more than is set down for them;
for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to
set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh
too; though, in the mean time, some necessary
question of the play be then to be considered:
that’s villanous, and shows a most pitiful ambition
in the fool that uses it. Go, make you ready.
The air of this room is pestiferous. You have here no ventilation, and those rusty sheet-iron stoves are all but red-hot.
I will now read you the lament of her brothers over the supposed dead body of Imogen.
Fear no more the heat o’ the sun;
Nor the furious winter’s rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney sweepers come to dust.
Fear no more the frown of the great,
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke:
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.
Fear no more the lightning-flash,
Nor the all-dread thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan;
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.
No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renowned be thy grave!
You have now thrown open windows at the top and bottom, on opposite sides of the hall, producing violent draughts of cold air. Such of you as are exposed to them will get colds or the rheumatism.
I will now read to you Mercutio’s speech about dreams.
O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider’s web,
The collars of the moonshine’s watery beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone, the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not so big as a round little worm
Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid;
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on court’sies straight,
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,
O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:
Sometime she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail
Tickling a parson’s nose as a’ lies asleep,
Then dreams, he of another benefice:
Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plats the manes of horses in the night,
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage.
There is a strong escape of gas going on in this room; the screws in the gas-burners are none of them turned square; you are inhaling poison and I am being choked.
I will now read you Othello’s defense before the Senate of Venice.
Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors,
My very noble and approved good masters,
That I have ta’en away this old man’s daughter,
It is most true; true, I have married her;
The very head and front of my offending
Hath this extent, no more. Rude am I in my speech,
And little blest with the soft phrase of peace;
For since these arms of mine had seven years’ pith,
Till now some nine moons wasted, they have used
Their dearest action in the tented field,
And little of this great world can I speak,
More than pertains to feats of broil and battle;
And therefore little shall I grace my cause
In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,
I will a round unvarnish’d tale deliver
Of my whole course of love: what drugs, what charms,
What conjuration, and what mighty magic
For such proceeding I am charged withal
I won his daughter.
I do beseech you,
Send for the lady to the Sagittary,
And let her speak of me before her father:
If you do find me foul in her report,
The trust, the office I do hold of you,
Not only take away, but let your sentence
Even fall upon my life.
And till she come, as truly as to heaven
I do confess the vices of my blood,
So justly to your grave ears I’ll present
How I did thrive in this fair lady’s love
And she in mine.
Her father loved me, oft invited me,
Still question’d me the story of my life
From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes,
That I have pass’d.
I ran it through, even from my boyish days
To the very moment that he bade me tell it:
Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field,
Of hairbreadth ‘scapes i’ the imminent deadly breach,
Of being taken by the insolent foe,
And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence,
And portance in my travels’ history;
Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,
Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven,
It was my hint to speak,— such was the process;
And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders. This to hear
Would Desdemona seriously incline;
But still the house affairs would draw her thence,
Which ever as she could with haste dispatch,
She’ld come again, and with a greedy ear
Devour up my discourse; which I observing,
Took once a pliant hour, and found good means
To draw from her a prayer of earnest heart
That I would all my pilgrimage dilate,
Whereof by parcels she had something heard,
But not intentively. I did consent,
And often did beguile her of her tears
When I did speak of some distressful stroke
That my youth suffer’d. My story being done,
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs;
She swore, in faith, ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange;
‘Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful.
She wish’d she had not heard it, yet she wish’d
That heaven had made her such a man; she thank’d me,
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story,
And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake:
She loved me for the dangers I had pass’d,
And I loved her that she did pity them.
This only is the witchcraft I have used.
Here comes the lady; let her witness it.
[Kemble then shut her book and asked her audience “of what use it was for them to listen to or learn poetical declamation while they were sitting there violating every principle of health and neglecting the most necessary of all elementary knowledge, that which concerns the physical well-being of themselves and their pupils.”]
Source: Further Records 1848-1883: A Series of Letters by Frances Anne Kemble, Forming a Sequel to Records of a Girlhood and Records of Later Life (New York: Henry Holt & Co.) 1891, p. 323.