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OBSERVATIONS ON THE TEMPEST OF SHAKSPEARE.
WRITERS of a mixed character, that abound in transcendent beauties and in gross imperfections, are the most proper and most pregnant subjects for criticism. The regularity and correctness of a Virgil or Horace almost confine their commentators to perpetual panegyric, and afford them few opportunities of diversifying their remarks by the detection of latent blemishes. For this reason, I am inclined to think that a few observations on the writings of Shakspeare will not be deemed useless, or unentertaining, because he exhibits more numerous examples of excellence and faults of every kind, than are, perhaps, to be discovered in any other author. I shall, therefore, examine his merit as a poet, without blind admiration or wanton invective.
As Shakspeare is sometimes blameable for the conduct of his fables, which have no unity, and sometimes for his diction, which is obscure and turgid, so his characteristical excellences may possibly be reduced to these three general heads : ‘his lively creative imagination; his strokes of nature and passion; and his preservation of the
consistency of his characters. These excellences, particularly the last, are of so much importance in the drama, that they amply compensate for his transgressions against the rules of time and place, which, being of a more mechanical nature, are often strictly observed by a genius of the lowest order; but to portray characters naturally, and to preserve them uniformly, requires such an intimate knowledge of the heart of man, and is so rare a portion of felicity, as to have been enjoyed, perhaps, only by two writers, Homer and Shakspeare.
Of all the plays of Shakspeare, the Tempest is the most striking instance of his creative power. He has there given the reins to his boundless imagination, and has carried the romantic, the wonderful, and the wild, to the most pleasing extravagance. The scene is a desolate island; and the characters the most new and singular that can well be conceived : a prince who practises magic, an attendant spirit, a monster the son of a witch, and a young lady who had been brought to this solitude in her infancy, and had never beheld a man except her father.
As I have affirmed that Shakspeare's chief excellence is the consistency of his characters, I will exemplify the truth of this remark, by pointing out some master-strokes of this nature in the drama before us.
The poet artfully acquaints us that Prospero is a magician, by the very first words which his daughter Miranda speaks to him:
If by your art, my dearest father, you have
which intimate that the tempest described in the preceding scene was the effect of Prospero's power. The manner in which he was driven from his dukedom of Milan, and landed afterwards on this solitary island, accompanied only by his daughter, is immediately introduced in a short and natural narration.
The offices of his attendant spirit, Ariel, are enumerated with amazing wildness of fancy, and yet with equal propriety: his employment is said
To tread the ooze
to dive into the fire; to ride
In describing the place in which he has concealed the Neapolitan ship, Ariel expresses the secresy of its situation by the following circumstance, which artfully glances at another of his services :
In the deep nook, where once
Ariel, being one of those elves or spirits, whose pastime is to make midnight mushrooms, and who rejoice to listen to the solemn curfew;' by whose
assistance Prospero has bedimmed the sun at noon-tide,
And 'twixt the green sea and the azur’d vault,
has a set of ideas and images peculiar to his station and office; a beauty of the same kind with that which is so justly admired in the Adam of Milton, whose manners and sentiments are all paradisaical. How delightfully, and how suitably to his character, are the habitations and pastimes of this invisible being pointed out in the following exquisite song!
Where the bee sucks, there lurk I I:
Mr. Pope, whose imagination has been thought by some the least of his excellences, has, doubtless, conceived and carried on the machinery in his
Rape of the Lock,' with vast exuberance of fancy. The images, customs, and employments of his sylphs, are exactly adapted to their natures, are peculiar and appropriated, are all, if I may be allowed the expression, sylphish. The enumeration of the punishments they were to undergo, if they neglected their charge, would, on account of its poetry and propriety, and especially the