Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

.

difficult to avoid than to fall on plays of words. It has also been dreaded lest a door might be opened to puerile witticism, if they were not proscribed in the most severe manner. I cannot find, however, that Shakspeare had such an invincible and immoderate passion for plays on words. It is true he often makes a most lavish use of this figure; in other pieces he has introduced it very sparingly; and in some of them, for example in Macbeth, I do not believe that the least vestige of it is to be found. Hence, in respect to the use or the rejection of plays on words, he must have been guided by the measure of the objects, and the different style in which they required to be treated, and have followed probably,

in every thing else, principles which would bear a strict examination.

The objection that Shakspeare wounds our feelings by the open display of the most disgusting moralodiousness, harrows up the mind unmercifully, and tortures even our eyes by the exhibition of the most insupportable and hateful spectacles, is one of much greater importance. He has never, in fact, varnished over wild and blood-thirsty passions with a pleasing exterior, never clothed crime and want of principle with a false show of greatness of soul, and in that respect he is every way deserving of praise. Twice he has portrayed downright villains, and the masterly way in which he has contrived to elude impressions of too painful a nature

as

may be seen in Iago and Richard the Third. I allow that the reading, and still more the sight, of some of his pieces are not advisable to weak nerves, any more than the Eumenides of Æschylus; but is the poet, who can only reach an important object by bold and hazardous means, to allow himself to be influenced by considerations for persons of this description ? If the effeminacy of the present day is to serve as a general standard of what tragical composition may exhibit to human nature, we shall be forced to set very narrow limits to art, and every thing like a powerful effect must at once be renounced. If we wish to have a grand purpose, we must also wish to have the means, and our nerves should in some measure accommodate themselves to painful impressions when, by way of requital, our mind is thereby elevated and strengthened.—The constant reference to a petty and puny race must cripple the boldness of the poet. Fortunately for his art, Shakspeare lived in an age extremely susceptible of noble and tender impressions, but which had still enough of the firmness inherited from a vigorous olden time, not to shrink back with dismay from every strong and violent picture. We have lived to see tragedies of which the catastrophe consists in the swoon of an enamoured princess: if Shakspeare falls occasionally into the opposite extreme, it is a noble error origi

8 See Note b, p. 165.

nating in the fulness of a gigantic strength. And this tragical Titan, who storms the heavens, and threatens to tear the world from off its hinges, who, more fruitful than Æschylus, makes our hair to stand on end, and congeals our blood with horror, possessed at the same time the insinuating loveliness of the sweetest poetry; he plays with love like a child, and his songs are breathed out like melting sighs. He unites in his existence the utmost elevation and the utmost depth; and the most foreign, and even apparently irreconcileable properties subsist in him peaceably together. The world of spirits and nature have laid all their treasures at his feet: in strength a demigod, in profundity of view a prophet, in all-seeing wisdom a protecting spirit of a higher order, he lowers himself to mortals as if unconscious of his superiority, and is as open and unassuming as a child.

AugustUS WILLIAM SCHLEGEL. "

Lectures on Dramatic Literature, Black's Translation, vol. 2. p. 132, et seq. Exalted as this eulogium is, I know not that it surpasses what must have been frequently felt and acknowledged by every poetical mind in reading Shakspeare.

No. XV.

ON THE INDIVIDUALITY OF SHAKSPEARE'S

CHARACTERS.

DR. Johnson praises Shakspeare's characters upon the ground of their being species, not individuals. Johnson could not, from some strange peculiarity in the constitution of his great mind, perceive the individual traits induced upon the general nature presented by the poet. All the persons, for instance, of the play of Henry the Eighth are, in a remarkable degree, individuals : this constitutes its greatest charm; though, most likely, it was the thing that occasioned the contemptuous criticism thereon pronounced by our

• The meek sorrows,' says he, “and virtuous distress of Katherine have furnished some scenes, which may be justly numbered among the greatest efforts of tragedy. But the genius of Shakspeare comes in and goes out with Katherine. Every other part may be easily conceived and easily written.' We cannot subscribe to this verdict. In our opinion, the genius of Shakspeare is equally exhibited in Cardinal Wolsey.

Cardinal Wolsey was a “bold bad man ;' his ambition, that scarlet sin,' prompted him to remove all obstructions in the way of his preferment,

great critic.

1

and he is suspected of practising against the Duke
of Buckingham :-

-He was a man
Of an unbounded stomach, ever ranking
Himself with princes ;

but not without reason, for if he had faults, he had
also many virtues :-

-From his cradle
He was a scholar, and a ripe and good one;
Exceeding wise, fair spoken, and persuading:
Lofty and sour to them that loved him not;
But to those men that sought him, sweet as summer.
And though he were unsatisfied in getting,
(Which was a sin,) yet in bestowing

He was most princely.
Such a man is not without a claim upon our sym-
pathies—he is within the sphere of our common
humanity. The last acts of his life redeem the
preceding. We have often admired the patience
which he displays when Norfolk, Suffolk, and
Surrey produce to him-

-the grand sum of his sins, The articles collected from his life ;

while, in their malice, they exultingly specify the charges against him in the king's possession, he stands in silent endurance, until they leave him with the taunting valediction

So fare you well, my little good Lord Cardinal; —then follows his fine soliloquy, beginning with

« ElőzőTovább »