« AnteriorContinuar »
Bozrah ? Would “the comer » be poetical without his «dyed garments,” which strike and startle the spectator, and identify the approaching object ?
The mother of Sisera is represented listening for the wheels of his chariot.” Solomon, in his Song, compares the nose of his beloved to a “tower,” which to us appears an Eastern exaggeration. If he had said that her stature was like that of a “tower it would have been as poetical as if he had compared her to a tree.
«The virtuous Marcia towers above her sex,” is an instance of an artificial image to express a moral superiority. But, Solomon, it is probable, did not compare his beloved's nose to a “tower” on account of its length, but of its symmetry; and making allowance for Eastern hyperbole, and the difficulty of finding a discreet image for a female nose in nature, it is perhaps as good a figure as any other.
Art is not inferior to nature for poetical purposes. What makes a regiment of soldiers a more noble object of view than the same mass of mob? Their arms, their dresses, their banners, and the art and artificial symmetry of their position and movements. A Highlander's plaid, a Musselman's turban, and a Roman toga, are more poetical than the tattooed or untattooed New Sandwich savages, although they were described by William Wordsworth himself like the idiot in his glory.”
I have seen as many mountains as most men, and more fleets than the generality of landsmen; and, to my mind, a large convoy with a few sail of the line to conduct them is as noble and as poetical a prospect as all that inanimate nature can produce. I prefer the “mast of some great admiral,” with all its tackle, to the Scotch fir or the Alpine tarnen, and think that more poetry has been made out of it. In what does the infinite superiority of Falconer's Shipwreck” over all other shipwrecks consist? In his admirable application of the terms of his art; in a poet sailor's description of the sailor's fate. These very terms, by his application, make the strength and reality of his poem. Why? because he was a poet, and in the hands of a poet art will not be found less ornamental than nature. It is precisely in general nature, and in stepping out of his element, that Falconer fails; where he digresses to speak of ancient Greece, and such branches of learning.”
From his “Defense of Pope.»
S TALL CAINE, famous as the author of «The Deemster,” «The
12 Manxman,” and « The Christian,” was born in Cheshire, EngE
land, May 14th, 1853. His great reputation as a novelist should not lead his admirers to forget that he is one of the most attractive of living English essayists. His studies of Shakespeare, which, with his other essays, are still uncollected, are made from the standpoint of the novelist, who, as a creator of imaginary characters, studies the great dramatist to gain assurance in creative work.
ASPECTS OF SHAKESPEARE'S ART
THERE can be little doubt that Shakespeare found the nucleus 1 of fact on which he based his characters in real intercourse
with men. But he did more than transfer the figures he saw in life to the canvas of his invention. If he had merely set down, however faithfully, the men and women he actually beheld in the flesh, he must soon have been forgotten. Some of his contemporaries did that, and with what results we know. He doubtless saw many a Sir John Falstaff strutting bodily before him at the Mermaid Tavern, but he did not depict under that name any individual charlatan he chanced to meet there. If he had done so, we who live in days when soldiers do not think it necessary for the better support of their valor to forswear thin potations, and addict themselves to sack, would probably care very little for the character, notwithstanding the attractions pertaining to it of that Rabelaisean humor which never disturbs us with any question as to the side of our face on which the laugh should be. But the whole family of swaggering topers from Sir John's day down to our own have had certain features of family resemblance, and these features Shakespeare waited for and portrayed. So Sir John Falstaff becomes a type, and hence is applicable to every age, because representative of his phase of humanity in every age. The same truth that explains to us the basis of the immortality of Falstaff applies to every notable character Shakespeare depicts. The poet never goes to work (as, according to an acute critic, the young pre-Raphaelites did in 1850) as a photographic camera, but always as a creative intelligence, and this is what Coleridge means in the argument in which he shows that Shakespeare passed every conception through the medium of his meditative genius. Nor is this true merely of Shakespeare's method of projecting character in the realm of what the actors call eccentric comedy, for in dealing with heroic character his art is the same. Glance at Romeo. It is hardly to be supposed that an individual answering to the young Montague engaged in that shadowy historical occurrence which is referred to the first years of the fourteenth century; but none the less on that account is he typical of certain romantic young lovers in all ages. He begins by sighing over some fugitive passion for a mythical Rosaline, and presently forgets the paragon in his new-found passion for the more responsive Juliet. There may not exist either historical or traditional ground for believing that the original of the Romeo of Luigi da Porto and Bandello had in fact any such preliminary passion; but Shakespeare knew from observation, and perhaps from personal experience, that a vague, indeterminate condition of mind and heart usually precedes the ordeal known as falling in love, and therefore (following Arthur Brooke in part) he gave Romeo an unrequited attachment, or shadow of attachment, in which he is much more in love with his own thoughts than with anything more substantial. So Romeo, without ceasing to be a son of the house of Montague, becomes a type of all the sons of the house of Love. It was the typical feature of Romeo's character that Mr. Irving brought most into prominence in his recent impersonation of the part, and in giving relief to so salient a characteristic Mr. Irving did well; but perhaps the chief imperfection of his performance was a too prolonged dwelling upon this subjective side of Romeo's passion, apparently to the total disregard of the clear fact that Shakespeare meant no more by it than to generalize on the beginnings of all human passion, and then pass on to the story of an individual and very concrete affection.
Look now at Hamlet. When Shakespeare took up that character it was a bald, traditional conception, simply of a commonplace young prince, having coarse appetites and gross passions, who had been supplanted in the royal succession by an uncle who had murdered his father and married his mother; but Shakespeare shed a flood of light upon the character, and the traditional prince became the representative man. When Shakespeare took in hand the character of Macbeth, it was in the Holinshed Chronicle) a tradition of individual ambition and cruelty; but from him it was to get a world of purpose that should make it typical of a vast section of humanity. In order to realize how exactly Hamlet and Macbeth are of opposite types, let us glance at one scene from each of the plays in question. Im. mediately after the play in “Hamlet,” the guilty king, whose conscience has been caught by the trap laid for it, retires to a chamber to pray. Hamlet is now convinced of his uncle's guilt; he will take the word of the ghost for a thousand pounds; in the heat of his resolve he believes he could drink hot blood, his purpose is so firm that he prays that the soul of Nero may not enter into his bosom, and that to his mother, at least, he may speak daggers, but use none. In this crowning witness of the justice of the act he contemplates, he shrieks frantic and bitter doggerel. He is summoned to his mother's chamber, and on the way thither he passes through the room where the stubborn knees of the king are bent in the prayer that is meant to purge the black bosom of its rank offense. Now might Hamlet do the deed his soul is bent on; but no, the king prays, and Hamlet dares not to raise the sword against him. Would not the murderer go to heaven if taken in this purging of his soul? Here creeps in Hamlet's apology to himself for doing nothing, and he goes out again, his purpose shaken and undone. Contrast this conduct of Hamlet with that of Macbeth at a juncture no less terrible. After he has murdered Duncan, and possessed himself of the sovereignty, he is more than ever tossed about with fears. He cannot sleep; he has murdered the innocent asleep; he thinks it were better to be with the dead, whom he has sent to rest, than to lie upon the rack of a tortured mind. Duncan is in his grave. After life's fitful fever he sleeps well. Banquo is dead, but Fleance has escaped, and Macbeth's fears stick deep in Banquo's issue. He will seek afresh the Weird Sisters, and so goes to the pit of Acheron. Small comfort he gets there, the secret, black, and midnight hags show him apparitions that foretell his speedy overthrow; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight kings pass before his eyes, and the last bears a glass in hand that shows him many more. He curses the witches; infected be the air whereon they ride, and damned all those that trust them! But what is the result ? Does Macbeth arrest himself in his deeds of blood ? A hundreth part of such an evidence against him would have seemed to Hamlet excuse enough for ignoring the “canon 'gainst self-slaughter.” Macbeth is of another mettle; he is so far steeped in blood that to go backward were as hard as to go on. This is what he says as he comes out of the cave:
« Time, thou anticipat'st my dread exploits;
The fighty purpose never is o'ertook
“But no more sights!” This man can do any deed of horrible cruelty, but he cannot now, he will not, think; he will not count the cost. By thinking too precisely on the event, Hamlet's purposes lost the name of action. Hamlet's flighty purpose never was overtaken (it may be said to have overtaken him), because the deed never did go with it. Hamlet could look on thoughts, but not on blood; Macbeth could look on blood, but not on thoughts. Macduff's wife and little ones Macbeth could cruelly butcher in one fell swoop,” but he could not, would not, look on the future. «This deed I'll do,” he says, “but no more sights!” Here, then, we have two types of character: the man that can think and will not act, and the man that can act and will not think; and these together represent, perhaps, a full half of the entire human family. In the one we have the dread of action which never fails to present itself in the meditative genius; in the other we have the impatience of brooding reflection which as constantly exhibits itself in the active intelligence. Hamlet envies Laertes, fresh from France, the good opinion he has won for skill with rapier and dagger, but despises Rosencrantz, who, straight, probably from Wittenberg, talks metaphysics to him; he is never so satisfied with himself as when he recalls his speedy