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genius shall finally be tried, is such, that perhaps it never yet had reader or spectator, who did not think it too soon at an end.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
There is perhaps not one of Shakspeare's plays more darkened than this, by the peculiarities of its author, and the unskilfulness of its editors, by distortions of phrase, or negligence of transcription.
The novel of Giraldi Cynthio, from which Shakspeare is supposed to have borrowed this fable, may be read in Shakspeare illustrated, elegantly translated, with remarks, which will assist the inquirer to discover how much absurdity Shakspeare has admitted or avoided.
I cannot but suspect that some other had new modelled the novel of Cynthio, or written a story which in some particulars: resembled it, and that Cynthio was not the author whom Shakspeare immediately followed. The emperor in Cynthio is named Maximine ; the duke, in Shakspeare's enumeration of the persons of the drama, is called Vincentio. This appears a very slight remark ; but since the duke has no name in the play, nor is ever mentioned but by his title, why should he be called Vincentio among the persons, but because the name was copied from the story, and placed superfluously at the head of the list by the mere habit of transcription ? It is therefore likely that there was then a story of Vincentio duke of Vienna, different from that of Maximine emperor of the Romans.
Of this play the light or comic part is very natural and pleasing, but the grave scenes, if a few passages be excepted, have more labour than elegance. The plot is rather intricate than artful. The time of the action is indefinite ; some time, we know not how much, must have elapsed between the recess of the duke and the imprisonment of Claudio ; for he must have learned the story of Mariana in his disguise, or he delegated his power to a man already known to be corrupted. The unities of action and place are sufficiently preserved.
LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST.
In this play, which all the editors have concurred to censure, and some have rejected as unworthy of our poet, it must be confessed that there are many passages mean, childish, and vulgar ; and some which ought not to have been exhibited, as we are told they were, to a
But there are scattered through the whole many sparks of genius ; nor is there any play that has more evident marks of the hand of Shakspeare.
MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.
Wild and fantastical as this play is, all the parts in their various modes are well written, and give the kind of pleasure which the author designed. Fairies in his time were much in fashion ; common tradition had made them familiar, and Spenser's poem had made them great.
MERCHANT OF VENICE.
It has been lately discovered, that this fable is taken from a story in the Pecorone of Giovanni Fiorentino, a novelist, who wrote in 1378. The story has been published in English, and I have epitomized the translation. The translator is of opinion, that the choice of the caskets is borrowed from a tale of Boccace, which I have likewise abridged, though I believe that Shakspeare must have had some other novel in view.
Of the MERCHANT OF VENICE the style is even and easy, with few peculiarities of diction, or anomalies of construction. The comic part raises laughter, and the serious fixes expectation. The probability of either one or the other story cannot be maintained. The union of two actions in one event is in this drama eminently happy, Dryden was much pleased with his own address in connecting the two plots of his Spanish Friar, which yet, I believe, the critic will find excelled by this play.
AS YOU LIKE IT.
Of this play the fable is wild and pleasing. I know not how the ladies will approve the facility with which both Rosiland and Celia give away their hearts. To Celia much may be forgiven for the heroism of her friendship. The character of Jaques is natural and well preserved. The comic dialogue is very sprightly, with less mixture of low buffoonery than in some other plays ; and the graver part is elegant and harmonious. By hastening to the end of his work, Shakspeare suppressed the dialogue between the usurper and the hermit, and lost an opportunity of exhibiting a moral lesson in which he might have found matter worthy of his highest powers.
TAMING OF THE SHREW.
Of this play the two plots are so well united, that they can hardly be called two without injury to the art with which they are interwoven. The attention is entertained with all the variety of a double plot yet is not distracted by unconnected incidents.
The part between Katharine and Petruchio is eminent: ly sprightly and diverting. At the marriage of Bianca the arrival of the real father, perhaps, produces more perplexity than pleasure. The whole play is very popular and diverting.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
This play has many delightful scenes, though not sufficiently probable, and some happy characters, though not new, nor produced by any deep knowledge of human nature. Parolles is a boaster and a coward, such as has always been the sport of the stage, but perhaps never raised more laughter or contempt than in the hands of Shakspeare.
I cannot reconcile my heart to Bertram ; a man noble without generosity, and young without truth ; who marries Helen as a coward, and leaves her as a profligate ; when she is dead by his unkindness, sneaks home to a second marriage, is accused by a woman whom he has wronged, defends himself by falsehood, and is dismissed to happiness.
The story of Bertram and Diana had been told before of Mariana and Angelo, and, to confess the truth, scarcely merited to be heard a second time. vot. Il.
This play is in the graver part elegant and easy, and in some of the lighter scenes exquisitely humorous. Ague-cheek is drawn with great propriety, but his character is, in a great measure, that of natural fatuity, and is therefore not the proper prey of a satirist. The soliloquy of Malvolio is truly comic; he is betrayed to ridicule merely by his pride. The marriage of Olivia, and the succeeding perplexity, though well enough contrived to divert on the stage, wants credibility, and fails to produce the proper instruction required in the drama, as it exhibits no just picture of life.
The story of this play is taken from the pleasant History of Dorastus and Fawnia, written by Robert Greene.
This play, as Dr Warburton justly observes, is, with all its absurdities, very entertaining. The character of Autolycus is very naturally conceived, and strongly represented.
This play is deservedly celebrated for the propriety of its fictions, and solemnity, grandeur, and variety of its action, but it has no nice discriminations of character; the events are too great to admit the influence of particular dispositions, and the course of the action necessarily determines the conduct of the agents.