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probated by spectators merely possessed of plain sense, who give themselves up to nature, whenever it is at variance with what they are led to expect at that particular place, and destroys the interest which they have already begun to take? The comic intermixtures may be considered as a sort of interlude for the purpose of refreshing the spectators after the straining of their minds in following the more serious parts, if no better purpose can be found for them ; but in the progress of the main action, in the concatenation of the events, the poet must, if possible, display even more superiority of understanding than in the composition of individual character and situations, otherwise he would be like the conductor of a puppet-show, who has confused the wires, so that the puppets, from their mechanism, undergo quite different movements from those which he actually intended.
The English critics are unanimous in their praise of the truth and uniform consistency of his characters, of his heart-rending pathos and his comic wit. Moreover, they extol the beauty and sublimity of his separate descriptions, images, and expressions. This last is the most superficial and cheap mode of criticising works of art. Johnson compares him, who should endeavour to recommend this poet by passages unconnectedly torn from his works, to the pedant in Hierocles, who exhibited a brick as a sample of his house. And yet he himself speaks so little, and so very unsatisfactorily, of the pieces considered as a whole! Let any man, for instance, bring together the short characters which he gives at the close of each play, and see if the aggregate will amount to that sum of admiration which he himself, at his outset, has stated as the correct standard for the appreciation of the poet. It was, generally speaking, the prevailing tendency of the time which preceded our own, a tendency displayed also in physical science, to consider what is possessed of life as a mere accumulation of dead parts, to separate what exists only in connection, and cannot otherwise be conceived, instead of penetrating to the central point, and viewing all the parts as so many irradiations from it. Hence, nothing is so rare as a critic who can elevate himself to the contemplation of an extensive work of art. Shakspeare's compositions, from the very depth of purpose displayed in them, have been exposed to the misfortune of being misunderstood. Besides, this prosaical species of criticism applies always the poetical form to the details of execution; but in so far as the plan of the piece is concerned, it never looks for more than the logical connection of causes and effects, or some partial and trivial moral by way of application ; and all that cannot be reconciled to this is declared a superfluous, or even a detrimental, addition. On these principles we must equally strike out the most of the choral songs of the Greek tragedies, which also contribute nothing to the developement of the action, but are merely an harmonious echo of the impressions aimed at by the poet. In this they altogether mistake the rights of poetry, and the nature of the romantic drama, which, for the very reason that it is and ought to be picturesque, requires richer accompaniments and contrasts for its main groupes. In all art and poetry, but more especially in the romantic, the fancy lays claims to be considered as an independent mental power governed according to its own laws.
In an essay on Romeo and Juliet,* written a number of years ago, I went through the whole of the scenes in their order, and demonstrated the inward necessity of each with reference to the whole; I showed why such a particular circle of characters and relations was placed around the two lovers; I explained the signification of the mirth here and there scattered, and justified the use of the occasional heightening given to the poetical colours. From all this it seemed to follow unquestionably, that with the exception of a few plays of wit now become unintelligible or foreign to the present taste, (imitations of the tone of society of that day,) nothing could be taken away, nothing added, nothing otherwise arranged, without mutilating and disfiguring the perfect work. I should be ready to undertake the same thing in
In the first volume of Charakteristiken und Kritiken, published by my brother and myself.
all the pieces of Shakspeare produced in his maturer years, but this would require a separate book.
AUGUSTUS WILLIAM SCHLEGEL.:
· Lectures on Dramatic Literature, vol. 2. p. 123 to p. 128. No. XI.
ON THE METHOD OF SHAKSPEARE.
Those who tread the enchanted ground of poetry oftentimes do not even suspect that there is such a thing as method to guide their steps. Yet even here we undertake to shew that it not only has a necessary existence, but the strictest philosophical application.—It may surprise some of our readers, especially those who have been brought up in schools of foreign taste, to find that we rest our proof of these assertions on one single evidence, and that that evidence is Shakspeare, whose mind they have probably been taught to consider as eminently immethodical. In the first place, Shakspeare was not only endowed with great native genius, (which indeed he is commonly allowed to have been,) but what is less frequently conceded, he had much acquired knowledge. “His information,” says Professor Wilde, “was great and extensive, and his reading as great as his knowledge of languages could reach. Considering the bar which his education and circumstances placed in his way, he had done as much to acquire knowledge as even Milton. A thousand instances might be given of the intimate knowledge that Shakspeare had of facts. I shall mention only one. I do not say that he gives a