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seems to impede his coronation but his own waywardness or doubtful health. The additional probability imparted to the melancholy and sceptical character of Hamlet by these alterations of Ducis, will be obvious.
On the other hand, if Ducis has denied to Polonius a throne and a wife, 'he has bestowed upon him a daughter. Ophelia is the daughter of Claudius ; an arrangement absolutely necessary, of course, to bring out that opposition of feelings and duties which the French stage demands; Hamlet's hatred of the father being counterbalanced in the dramatic scale by his love for the daughter.
The murdered monarch had been a man, take him for all and all, one would not look upon his like again. In Ducis' version he seems to have been no better than he should be. He had treated, it appears, with injustice and neglect, the merits and services of Claudius; had selfishly and perseveringly opposed the marriage of Hamlet and Ophelia; nay more, we fear, had finally taken to strong liquors.*
In Shakspeare, the participation of the Queen in the murder of her husband is left doubtful. The crime is performed by Claudius, in a strange fashion no doubt, though we believe the leprous distilment has been occasionally administered in that manner. But by a conspicuous refinement of taste, Ducis makes the Queen the actual perpetrator of the crime. She places beside her husband, who was expecting his allowance of strong waters, the cup which Claudius had drugged for the purpose; in short, to borrow a phrase from the police reports, "hocusses " her husband.
So stand matters at the commencement of the piece, and certainly Ducis cannot hitherto be accused of any slavish adherence to his original. Let us now take a few instances of his improvements on Shakspeare, in the conduct of the play itself.
In the second scene, we are introduced to "Claudius, Gertrude, and Guards." Guards, by-the-by, are the indispensable accompaniments of royalty on the French stage, where the
Mon amour plus hardi peut s'expliquer sans crainte."
"Libre de contrainte,"—with a dozen rank and file listening in the background!
There is no accounting, however, for tastes. Gertrude and Claudius feel so much at their ease with this accompaniment, that they actually discuss the subject of their mutual guilt in their presence.
The first introduction of Hamlet on the scene is considered a great coup de theatre in France; and undoubtedly it has all the merit of originality, and of presenting a strong contrast to the calmness with which he is presented on the stage by Shakspeare. Norceste (Horatio) has just arrived from England. He is stopped by Voltimand, as he is about to enter Hamlet's apartment, with the warning
"N'avancez pas, seigneur, le prince fureux,
De ses cris effrayans fait retentir les
Jamais dans ses transports il ne fût plus terrible."
howling at such a rate, that it is not The poor melancholy prince is safe to go near him, and what is worse, these sallies seem to be usual with him. Norceste, however, insists on entering; when-enter Hamlet himself, pursuing the visionary spectre of his father, which has excited all these hideous cries.
"Hamlet. Fuis, spectre epouvantable, Porte au fond des tombeaux ton aspect redoubtable.
Voltemand. Vous l'entendez.
Hamlet. Eh quoi! vous ne le voyez pas. Il vole sur ma tête, il s'attache à mes pas, Je me meurs!"
There is something more than usually striking, in this image of the buried
"Empruntait le secours de ces puissans breuvages. Dont un art bienfaisant montra les avantages.”
majesty of Denmark buzzing round his son's head in the manner here described.
The presence of Norceste having forthwith restored Hamlet's composure, the friends enter into conversation. It appears that precisely at the same time that the King of Denmark had been taken off by poison administered by his wife, the King of England had been murdered in bed in
London by his son. This very probable coincidence (which Hamlet had learned by a letter from Norceste), instantly flashed conviction on his mind that his own father had not met with fair play.
"Je le vis succombant sous de pareil complots.'
His suspicions had been confirmed by the appearance of his father's spirit: but since Voltaire's unsuccessful début with his ghost of Ninus parading the stage in broad day amidst an assembled multitude, it had become a dramatic rule in France, that the presence of a real ghost could not be permitted; and that any communications from the world of spirits must be presented under the disguise of a dream; it being always understood, at the same time, that the dream was to embody a coherent conversation between the spectre and the individual whom he might choose confidentially to honour with his communications. Accordingly, Hamlet sees his father twice in a dream-and, strange to say, the firm old warrior, who smote the sledded Polack on the ice, and talks calmly, in Shakspeare, of his return to penal fires, is weeping bitterly.
"Devorant des pleurs Qu'arrachait de ses yeux l'excés de ses douleurs.'
Without pretending to know much of the etiquette of these ghostly conversations, it does appear to us, that a man who found his father's spirit in arms, instead of entering upon the general question of the state of departed souls after death, would come to the point at once, and ask his business. Not so Hamlet, however, in Ducis' version. The first question is,---"Quel est son sort, lui dis je. Apprends moi quel tableau
S'offre à l'homme etonne dans ce monde nouveau ?"
It is only after the ghost declines any
Shakspeare's device for rousing the guilty conscience of the king, is the unexpected representation before him of a play in which the murder scene in the garden had been exactly copied ; and into which Hamlet has contrived to introduce "some dozen or sixteen lines," so as to make the application more pointed. Taken by surprise in this way, we can readily conceive that "guilty creatures sitting at a play ". would find it no easy matter to preserve their composure. Ducis' plan is to introduce the subject of the murder of the King of England before Claudius and Gertrude; a matter, be it observed, with which they were both perfectly familiar, and which they had doubtless discussed in all its bearings long before the subject was alluded to by Hamlet. And accordingly, as might be expected, though the Queen is a little shaken, Claudius, a" vieux routier" in such matters, keeps his countenance admirably.
But we feel we are devoting more room to Ducis than the occasion justifies, and must hasten at once to the notable use which is made of the
Ducis had seen an urn figuring on the stage in the Orestes, and could not resist the temptation of so fine and classic an instrument of exciting emotion. In his view it seems to have been totally immaterial, that increma tion and urn-burial were as totally unknown to the ancient Danes as powder or peruques. The urn must be introduced upon the scene: Gertrude is called upon by her son to attest her innocence of the murder, beside the vase which contains the ashes of the King. Why this device for discovering her guilt should be resorted to, is not obvious; since Hamlet had not only the Ghost's word for it, which in such a case might be taken for a thousand pounds, but the symptoms of confusion which the Queen had shown when subjected to the test which Claudius with more firmness had endured. Accordingly, in the celebrated scene in the last act, of which we observe Villemain speaks with much respect (though he admits it not to be altogether in Shakspeare's manner), Hamlet suddenly producing the urn, which he seems to carry about with him like a pouncet-box, addresses his mother
[Elle tombe sans connoissance sur un fatueuil.”
We cannot agree with Hamlet in thinking that the Queen's confusion was any proof of guilt, under the circumstances. If the urn was of lead or cast iron and surely the ashes of the deceased monarch must, for decency's sake, have been included in some such repository-it could not have weighed less than a hundredweight; and even if they had been put off with a mere covering of terra cotta, the urn, ashes included, could not have weighed less than about fifty pounds avoirdupois. Now, we really think that few ladies, whether guilty of mur. der or not, would succeed in preserving their composure when a heavy article like this was suddenly left upon their hands; and that most people would be disposed to swear any thing, to get quit of such a disagreeable piece of furniture.
Specimens, quite as extraordinary, of the metamorphoses to which Shakspeare has been subjected at the hand of Ducis, might be selected from the Macbeth; but enough has been quoted to show, that with regard to the real character of Shakspeare's Tragic Drama, no more complete mystification could have been played off on the French nation than was performed in these versions of Ducis.
Ducis has endeavoured also to imitate the Greek drama as well as Shakspeare, and has contrived to produce a very successful drama upon a very simple principle. Sophocles had written an Edipus at Colonos; Euripides an Alcestis; Ducis blends the two subjects in one, From such a union no happy result was to be anticipated; but, as a specimen of the vigour of thought and expression
which Ducis has occasionally thrown into his dialogue, we shall extract the passage in which Edipus denounces his unnatural son Polynices, in which the sombre gloom and energy of ha
tred which it displays, may have been in some degree inspired by that parallel scene in which Lear pronounces his curse upon his daughters.
"Toi, va t'en scélérat, ou plutôt reste encore,
This is better, we think, than Crebillon, and as good as most passages in the same vein in Voltaire.
We shall imitate the example of M. Villemain, and pass over the names of Champfort, Duclos, Rulhiere, and Raynald. men of wit and talent, but merely the creatures of their time, and altogether without originality of mind. Nor does poetry, during this period of decline, offer any thing on which the reader would willingly linger. The school of descriptive poetry, indeed, after its introduction by St Lambert and Delille, found numerous imitators, such as Roucher, whose poem Les Mois, has been rather unjustly treated by La Harpe; and Rosset, who deserves our gratitude, were it merely for a conscientious attempt to banish that eternal mythology in which French pastoral and descriptive poetry had so invariably dealt.
"Les epis sans Ceres dans les sillons jaunissent,
Les raisins sans Bacchus sous le pampre noircissent;
De Pan et d'Appollon, les fabuleux troupeaux,
N'ont point des immortels entendu les pipeaux."
But the best of the class of descriptive writers after Delille is Fontanes, whose Verger and Jour des Morts dans une Campagne contain some very pleasing passages. Fontanes too, was
not without lyrical inspiration, and some of his compositions in this class, such as his stanzas to Chateaubriand, seem to us to possess more real feeling and elevation than those of J. B. Rousseau.
In the lighter departments of the song and the romance or ballad, the inferiority of the French poetry of this period is less perceptible. Many of the songs of Desaugiers, the predecessor of Beranger, are excellent; and nothing can be better in its way than Moncrif's ballad of Alexis and Alix. How pleasing, for instance, the simplicity of these stanzas—
"Que sert d'avoir bague et dentelle
Ah! la richesse la plus belle,
Est de s'aimer.
Quand on a commence la vie,
Oui, vous serez, ma mie,
Quand l'age augmente encore l'envie
Qu' avec un autre, on nous marie-
Cinq ans, en dépit d'elle même,
Pour chasser de sa souvenance
Ou se donne tout de souffrance
Pour peu d'effet!
Une si douce fantaisie
Toujours revient ;
En songeant qu'il faut qu'on l'oublie,
We have now reached the lowest point of decline in the French Literature of the Eighteenth Century; in our next and concluding article on the subject, we shall witness its partial revival. Upon the productive energies of genius, the excitement of opinion which preceded the actual developement of the French Revolution, and even the opening scenes of that tragic drama, pregnant as they were with suspense and deep interest, undoubtedly produced a salutary influence. The sluggish surface of literature, which had begun "to cream and mantle like a standing pool," was healthfully stirred and freshened by the first motions of the breeze which was afterwards to rise into a tempest. As the time drew near when all those theories of political and moral regeneration, which had been brooded over till they had lost their freshness of interest, seemed hurrying to their accomplishment, that enthusiasm which had greeted their original announcement, in a great measure revived. The national mind-buoyed up with hopes of a new era, but agitated also by fear, when reflecting on the hazards with
which the experiment was attendedpausing like Cæsar on the brink of the Rubicon of revolution-resolved like him to pass it, but like him, also, fully aware of the irrevocable step about to be taken-felt itself roused and elevated by the energetic operation of the pas sions by which it was alternately swayed. The stamp of greater energy and sincerity again became visible on the literature in which these emotions were reflected; feeling began to speak a warmer language; the love of nature and simplicity, in some degree to reappear; and religion, as if conscious that the hour was at hand when her still but solemn accents would be drowned in the roar of civil commotion, seemed to collect her last breath for an earnest farewell. A principle of faith and spirituality is perceived struggling against the old atheistical and sensual philosophy. The opposition to materialism, which had been faintly indicated by Condillac, is carried out by Bonald and Le Maistre. In romance, a new path is opened by the tenderness of St Pierre's Paul and Virginia, and the enthusiastic feeling of the René of Chateaubriand; fresh spirit is imparted to the drama by Beaumarchais and Chenier; and eloquence awakens from its long slumber, to become at once the predominant power of the time, and to startle assembled senates in the terrible accents of Mirabeau.