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speare's low characters have so curious and so perfect a resemblance to nature, that they must always please, as I have observed, like masterpieces in painting; and, moreover, they never fail to illustrate and endear the great characters. Take away the odd, humorous, natural characters and scenes of Falstaff, Poins, Bardolph, Pistol, Mrs. Quickley, &c. in his two plays of Henry the IV., and particularly the common soldier, Williams, in his play of Henry the V., and I venture to affirm that you at once extinguish more than one half of our cordial esteem and admiration of that favourite hero. In the same manner, expunge from the play of Julius Cæsar the representation of a giddy, fickle, and degenerate Roman mob, and you diminish, in a very great degree, our estimation of the two noble republican characters,the honest, sincere, philosophical Brutus, and his brave, able, and ambitious friend Cassius. The just admirers and frequent readers of Shakspeare will, on their own reflection, and without farther explanation, find that these observations, though, as far as I know, they are new, are clearly applicable to every one of his plays in which low characters are introduced. Shakspeare was incapable of deviating from the truth of nature and character to please the great, or sooth the vulgar; and no dramatic writer ever treated the common people with so much contempt. His scenes in ridicule of them are as exquisite as they are various; though Voltaire ignorantly says he courted their favour. Of this the ludicrous characters and true comic drollery of Dogberry the constable, and his low associates, in the play of Much Ado About Nothing, is one proof; there is still a more precious scene, of the same kind, in that part of his play of Henry the VI., where Jack Cade and his gang deliberate on a reformation of the state: this is a singular piece of comedy and ridicule of low life, applicable to all periods and all nations; it has that character of eternal nature which distinguishes Shakspeare.
1 Anderson's Bee, vol. iv. p. 291. I cannot dismiss this number without remarking that the observations on Shakspeare's characters in low life appear to me, from the judgment and ingenuity which they display, to be entitled to no slight consideration.
SHAKSPEARE AND VOLTAIRE COMPARED, AS TO THEIR USE AND MANAGEMENT OF PRETERNA.
Is it never permitted now to admit a ghost on the scene? Is this source of the terrible, of the pitiable entirely exhausted ? By no means; that would be too great a loss to the poetic art. Cannot we produce many instances where genius confounds all our philosophy by rendering things terrible to the imagination, which to the cool reason would appear perfectly ridiculous? We must reason differently then ; perhaps the first principle we argue from is not well founded.
- We believe no longer in apparitions.” Who has said this? or rather, what does it mean when it is said ? Does it signify that we are so far enlightened as to be able to demonstrate their impossibility ? Are those incontestable truths which contradict the idea of such prodigies so universally spread, -are they always so much in the minds of the people, that every thing that is repugnant to them must necessarily appear ridiculous and absurd ? That can never be the sense of the phrase. “We believe no longer in apparitions,” then can only mean this. On a subject on which different opinions may be supported, and which never has been and never can be decided, the prevailing opinion of the day occasions the balance to preponderate on the negative side : many individuals are convinced that there are no apparitions; a great many more pretend to be convinced; and these harangue on the subject, and give and support the fashionable doctrine. But the multitude are silent; they are indifferent on the subject; they sometimes take one side, and sometimes the other; they laugh at ghosts in broad day-light, and listen with trembling avidity at night to the terrible stories that are told of them.*
The disbelief of spectres in this sense neither can nor ought to prevent the use of them in dramatic poetry. We have all in us at least the seeds of this belief, and they will be found most in the minds of the people for whom the poet* principally composes. It depends on his art to make them vegetate, and on his address, in the rapidity of the moment to give force to the arguments in favor of the reality of these phantoms. If he suc
* “ I am too well convinced," says Mr. Pye,
" of the accuracy of M. Lessing's knowledge of human nature to doubt the truth of this account of German credulity. It would have better suited this country half a century ago than at present. But, even now, there are more people who will feel the truth of it than will own it, even in England."
Especially the dramatic poet. It is said of Moliere that he used to read all his comedies to an old female servant, and generally found her decisions confirmed by the public.–Pye.
ceeds, we may be at liberty in common life to believe as we please, but at the theatre he will be the arbiter of our faith.
Shakspeare knew this art, and he is almost the only one who ever did know it. At the appearance of his ghost, in Hamlet, the hair stands an end, whether it cover the brain of incredulity or superstition. M. Voltaire was much in the wrong to appeal to this ghost, which makes both him and his apparition of Ninus ridiculous. The ghost of Shakspeare really comes from the other world, at least it appears so to our feelings; for it arrives in the solemn hour, in the dead silence of midnight, accompanied by all those gloomy and mysterious accessory ideas with which our nurses have taught us to expect the appearance of spectres; while that of Voltaire's is not fit even to terrify a child. It is merely an actor who neither says nor does any thing to persuade us he is what he pretends to be : on the contrary, all the circumstances with which it appears, destroy the illusion, and betray the hand of a cold poet, who wishes indeed to deceive and terrify us, but does not know how to go about it. It is in the middle of the day,* in the
• Shakspeare knew the consequence of adapting his scenery to his action, in exciting terror by natural as well as supernatural agents :
The sun is in the heaven ; and the proud day,