« ElőzőTovább »
Christian ; whilst in the deepest recesses of his feeling and thought, it has always struck me that Shakspeare is far more an ancient.--I mean an ancient not of the Greek, but of the Northern or Scandinavian cast.
j Lectures on the History of Literature, Ancient and Modern, vol. ii. p. 130 et seq.- It is astonishing that Calderon, considering the high estimation in which he is held in his native land, is so little known in this country. A selection from his dramas, which, with his Autos Sacramentales, occupy fifteen volumes 4to, could not fail, I should imagine, to be well received.
SHAKSPEARE AND CORNEILLE COMPARED, WITH
OBSERVATIONS ON SHAKSPEARE'S CHARACTERS
IN LOW LIFE.
VOLTAIRE's comparison of Corneille to our Shakspeare is neither judiciously nor fairly drawn. He does justice to neither. He is at evident pains, but is unable to disguise a peevish envy at his countryman's great fame, and a remarkably partial prejudice against the English poet. It is perfectly evident that he did not sufficiently understand the language, and consequently could not discern the beauties of Shakspeare; yet he pronounces many intolerable censures on him, in the tone of an absolute and authorised judge. It seems very clear that if Corneille had been able, from the nature of his language, and the taste of his cotemporaries, to disengage himself from rhyme and rigid critical rules, he would have resembled Shakspeare more than he does. If Shakspeare had laboured under the prodigious constraint of rhyme, had he been constrained by a systematical art of poetry, as it is called, he would have resembled Corneille very much. However, there is a force of genius in Corneille which often surmounts the
. This is Voltaire's expression.
derangements of rhyme and rule.—Then he is the great dramatic poet, and perfectly resembles Shakspeare, who subjected himself to no rules but such as his own native genius, and judgment prescribed. To this auspicious liberty we chiefly owe the singular pleasure of reading his matchless works, and of seeing his wonderfully various and natural characters occasionally performed by excellent actors of both sexes.
It is extremely remarkable that a player never fails to acquire both fame and fortune by excelling in the proper and natural performance even of low parts in Shakspeare's capital plays, such as from Simple, the Grave-diggers, Launcelot, Dogberry, the Nurse in Romeo, Mrs. Quickley, Mine Host of the Garter, down to Doll Tear-sheet, Bardolph, and Pistol, because true pictures of nature must ever please.—The genius of a great painter is as much distinguished by an insect as a hero, by a simple cottage as by a gorgeous palace. In the course of reading Corneille's plays, I have been repeatedly struck with a pleasing recollection of similar beauties in Shakspeare. Of this I set down one example : after two of the three Horatii were killed, the surviving brother's dexterous retreat was reported at Rome as an inglorious defeat and flight. Old Horatius pours forth his rage and maledictions against the degenerate boy in high strains of poetry, and in the true character of a heroic Roman father. A friend offers rational apologies for the young man, and concludes with
saying, “what could he do against such odds,” the noble answer is, “He could have died.” Voltaire tells us that this sublime passage is always received by the audience, at Paris, with bursts of applause,-much to their credit. I am sure the just admirers of Shakspeare may find similar beauties in his plays. One occurs to me; it is in one of his least esteemed pieces, Henry the Sixth, Part ii, Scene 2. Lord Somerset, in company with other leaders, finding their friend, the gallant Warwick, mortally wounded on the field of battle, exclaims,
O Warwick, Warwick, wert thou as we are,
Even now we heard the news.-0 couldst thou fly!
Why then I would not fly. Perhaps at the hazard of seeming tedious,-my real and hearty admiration for Shakspeare pushes me, irresistibly, into farther remarks on Voltaire's ill-conceived criticisms. He has partly translated Shakspeare's excellent play of Julius Cæsar, which he strangely proposes to his countrymen and all foreigners, as a proper and fair specimen upon which they may form a judgment of the original author's genius, and be fully enabled to compare him with Corneille. In a note on the second
Of this translation his lordship elsewhere observes: “Voltaire invites his countrymen to judge of Shakspeare's merit by page of this feeble translation, he says, “il faut savoir que Shakspeare avait eu peu d'éducation, qu'il avait le malheur d'être réduit à être comédien, qu'il fallait plaire au peuple, que le peuple plus riche en Angleterre qu' ailleurs fréquente les spectacles, et que Shakspeare le servait selon son goût.”—i. e. must be remarked that Shakspeare had little benefit of education; that he was unfortunately reduced to become a comedian ; that he found it necessary to please the populace, who in England are richer than in other countries, and frequent the theatres, and Shakspeare served them with entertainments to their taste.” 'In another place, he says that Shakspeare introduced low characters and scenes of buffoonery to please the people, and to get money. I venture to aver, on full conviction of my own mind, that these imputations are rash, and even grossly false and injurious. Shak
his morsel of literal translation, made, to use his own words, mot pour mot; and then he adds, with astonishing levity, these words, Je n'ai qu'un mot à ajouter, c'est que les vers blancs ne coûtent que la peine de les dicter, cela n'est pas plus difficile qu'une lettre.-i. e. ' I have only a word to add, that is, that compositions in blank verse cost only the trouble of dictating them, which is as easy as a familiar letter.' No man of common sense can wonder that a literal translation, mot pour mot, and written, as Voltaire boasts, with the indolence and ease of a familiar epistle, should be totally inadequate to convey any just idea of original genius. Yet I own I have been surprised to meet with some Frenchmen of reputation for taste and parts, who form their opinions on such a translation and such authority."