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ON SHAKSPEARE'S DELINEATION OF PASSION.
IF SHAKSPEARE deserves our admiration for his characters, he is equally deserving of it for his exhibition of passion, taking this word in its widest signification, as including every mental condition, every tone from indifference or familiar mirth to the wildest rage and despair. He gives us the history of minds; he lays open to us, in a single word, a whole series of preceding conditions. His passions do not at first stand displayed to us in all their height, as is the case with so many tragic poets, who, in the language of Lessing, are thorough masters of the legal style of love. He paints, in a most inimitable manner, the gradual progress from the first origin ; " he gives,” as Lessing says, “a living picture of all the most minute and secret artifices by which a feeling steals into our souls, of all the imperceptible advantages which it there gains, of all the stratagems by which every other passion is made subservient to it, till it becomes the sole tyrant of our desires and our aversions.” Of all poets, perhaps, he alone has pourtrayed the mental diseases, melancholy, delirium, lunacy, with such inexpressible and, in every respect, definite truth, that the
physician may enrich his observations from them in the same manner as from real cases.'
And yet Johnson has objected to Shakspeare that his pathos is not always natural and free from affectation. There are, it is true, passages, though comparatively speaking very few, where his poetry exceeds the bounds of true dialogue, where a too soaring imagination, a too luxuriant wit, rendered the complete dramatic forgetfulness of himself impossible. With this exception, the censure originates only in a fanciless way of thinking, to which every thing appears unnatural that does not suit its tame insipidity. Hence an idea has been formed of simple and natural pathos, which consists in exclamations destitute of imagery and nowise elevated above every-day life.
But ener: getical passions electrify the whole of the mental powers, and will consequently, in highly favoured natures, express themselves in an ingenious and figurative manner. It has been often remarked
Never was lunacy, as the effect of severe grief and disappointment, painted in stronger or more correct colours than in the person of Lear; and where shall we find the first stage of melancholia expressed in terms more admirably true to nature than in the following description from the lips of Hamlet? “I have of late," he says, “but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth, foregone all custom of exercise; and, indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition, that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me but a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestic roof fretted with golden fire, why it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.'
that indignation gives wit; and as despair occasionally breaks out into laughter, it may sometimes also give vent to itself in antithetical comparisons.
Besides, the rights of the poetical form have not been duly weighed. Shakspeare, who was always sure of his object, to move in a sufficiently powerful manner when he wished to do so, has occasionally, by indulging in a freer play, purposely moderated the impressions when too painful, and immediately introduced a musical alleviation of our sympathy.* He had not those rude ideas of his art which many moderns seem to have, as if the poet, like the clown in the proverb, must strike twice on the same place. An ancient rhetorician delivered a caution against dwelling too long on the excitation of pity; for nothing, he said, dries so soon as tears; and Shakspeare acted conformably to this ingenious maxim without knowing it. The paradoxical assertion of Johnson, that Shakspeare had a greater talent for comedy than tragedy, and that in the latter he has frequently displayed an affected tone, does not even deserve to be so far noticed that we should adduce, by way of refutation, the great tragical compositions of the poet, which, for overpowering effect, leave almost every thing which the stage has yet seen
A contemporary of the poet tenderly felt this while he says:
Yet so to temper passion, that our ears
far behind them : a few of the much less celebrated scenes would be quite sufficient. What might to many readers lend an appearance of truth to this opinion, are the plays on words, which, not unfrequently in Shakspeare, are introduced into serious and sublime passages, and into those also of a peculiarly pathetic nature. I shall here, therefore, deliver a few observations respecting a play on words in general, and its poetical use. A thorough investigation would lead us too far from our subject, and too deeply into considerations on the essence of language, and its relation to poetry, or rhyme, &c. There is, in the human mind, a desire that language should exhibit the object which it denotes in a sensible manner by sound, which may be traced even as far back as the origin of poetry. As, in the shape in which language comes down to us, this is seldom the case in a perceptible degree, an imagination which has been powerfully excited is fond of laying hold of the congruity in sound which may accidentally offer itself, that by such means he may, in a single case, restore the lost resemblance between the word and the thing. For example, it was common to seek in the name of a person, though often accidentally bestowed, a reference to his qualities and fortune,-it was purposely converted into an expressive name. Those who cry out against plays on words as an unnatural and affected invention, only betray their own ignorance. With children, as well as nations
of the most simple manners, a great inclination to them is often displayed, as correct ideas respecting the derivation and affinity of words have not been developed among them, and do not consequently stand in the way of this caprice. In Homer we find several examples; the Books of Moses, the oldest written memorial of the primitive world, are, as is well known, full of them. On the other hand, poets of a very cultivated taste, or orators like Cicero, have delighted in them. Whoever, in Richard the Second, is disgusted with the affecting play of words of the dying John of Gaunt on his own name, let him remember that the same thing occurs in the Ajax of Sophocles. We do not mean to say that all plays on words are on all occasions to be justified. This must depend on the disposition of mind, whether it will admit of such a play of fancy, and whether the sallies, comparisons, and allusions, which lie at the bottom of them, possess internal solidity. Yet we must not proceed upon the principle of trying how the thought appears after it is deprived of the resemblance in sound, any more than we are to endeavour to feel the charm of rhymed versification after being deprived of rhyme. The laws of good taste on this subject must also vary with the quality of the languages. In those which possess a great number of homonymes, that is, words possessing the same, or nearly the same sound, though quite different in their derivation and signification, it is almost more