« AnteriorContinuar »
that incomparable character of Shylock the Jew in The Merchant of Venice ; but tho' we have seen that play receiv'd and acted as a Comedy, and the part of the Jew perform'd by an excellent Comedian, yet I cannot but think it was design'd tragically by the Author. There appears in it such a deadly spirit of revenge, such a savage fierceness and fellness, and such a bloody designation of cruelty and mischief, as cannot agree either with the stile or characters of Comedy. The Play it self, take it all together, seems . to me to be one of the most finish'd of any of Shakespear's. The tale indeed, in that part relating to the caskets, and the extravagant and unusual kind of bond given by Antonio, is a little too much remov'd from the rules of probability : But taking the fact for granted, we must allow it to be very beautifully written. There is something in the friendship of Antonio to Bassanio very great, generous, and tender. The whole fourth act, supposing, as I said, the fact to be probable, is extremely fine. But there are two passages that deserve a particular notice. The first is, what Portia says in praise of mercy, and the other on the power of musick. The melancholy of Jaques, in As you like it, is as singular and odd as it is diverting. And if what Horace says,
Difficile est proprie communia dicere, 'twill be a hard task for any one to go beyond him in the description of the several degrees and ages of man's life, tho' the thought be old, and common enough.
-All the World's a Stage,
Seeking the bubble Reputation
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans ev'ry thing.
She never told her love,
Smiling at Grief.
ommonly sprightly and pleasing, except in those places where he runs into dogrel rhymes, as in The Comedy of Errors, and a passage or two in some other plays. As for his jingling sometimes, and playing upon words, it was the common vice of the age he liv'd in : And if we find it in the Pulpit, made use of as an ornament to the Sermons of some of the gravest Divines of those times ; perhaps it may not be thought too light for the Stage.
But certainly the greatness of this Author's genius do's no where so much appear, as where he gives his imagina
tion an entire loose, and raises his fancy to a flight above mankind and the limits of the visible world. Such are his attempts in The Tempest, Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, and Hamlet. Of these, The Tempest, however it comes to be plac'd the first by the former publishers of his works, can never have been the first written by him : It seems to me as perfect in its kind, as almost any thing we have of his. One may observe, that the Unities are kept here, with an exactness uncommon to the liberties of his writing ; tho' that was what, I suppose, he valu'd himself least upon, since his excellencies were all of another kind. I am very sensible that he do's, in this play, depart too much from that likeness to truth which ought to be observ'd in these sort of writings; yet he do’s it so very finely, that one is easily drawn in to have more faith for his sake, than reason does well allow of. His Magick has something in it very solemn and very poetical : And that extravagant character of Caliban is mighty well sustain'd, shews a wonderful invention in the Author, who could strike out such a particular wild image, and is certainly one of the finest and most uncommon Grotesques that
The observation, which I have been inform’d 1 three very great men concurr'd in making upon this part, was extremely just : That Shakespear had not only found out a new Character in his Caliban, but had alsoq deviš'd and adapted a new manner of Language for that Character. Among the particular beauties of this piece, I think one may be allow'd to point out the tale of Prospero in the first Act; his speech to Ferdinand in the fourth, upon the breaking up the masque of Juno and Ceres ; and that in the fifth, when he dissolves his charms, and resolves to break his magick rod. This Play has been alter'd by Sir William D'Avenant and Mr. Dryden ; and tho' I won't arraign the judgment of those two great men, yet I think I may be allow'd to say, that there are some things left out by them, that might, and even ought to have been kept in. Mr. Dryden was an admirer of our Author, and, indeed,
*Ld. Falkland, Ld. C. J. Vaughan, and Mr. Selden.
was ever seen.
he owed him a great deal, as those who have read them both may very easily observe. And, I think, in justice to 'em both, I should not on this occasion omit what Mr. Dryden has said of him.
Shakespear, who, taught by none, did first impart
Prologue to The Tempest, as it is alter'd by Mr. Dryden. 1667 It is the same magick that raises the Fairies in Midsummer Night's Dream, the Witches in Macbeth, and the Ghost in Hamlet, with thoughts and language so proper to the parts they sustain, and so peculiar to the talent of this Writer. But of the two last of these Plays I shall have occasion to take notice, among the Tragedies of Mr. Shakespear. If one undertook to examine the greatest part of these by those rules which are establish'd by Aristotle, and taken from the model of the Grecian stage, it would be no very hard task to find a great many faults : But as Shakespear liv'd under a kind of mere light of nature, and had never been made acquainted with the regularity of those written precepts, so it would be hard to judge him by a law he knew nothing of. We are to consider him as a man that liv'd in a state of almost universal
* Alluding to the Sea-Voyage of Fletcher.
licence and ignorance: There was no establish'd judge, but every one took the liberty to write according to the dictates of his own fancy. When one considers that there is not one play before him of a reputation good enough to entitle it to an appearance on the present Stage, it cannot but be a matter of great wonder that he should advance dramatick Poetry so far as he did. The Fable is what is generally plac'd the first, among those that are reckon’d the constituent parts of a Tragick or Heroick Poem ; not, perhaps, as it is the most difficult or beautiful, but as it is the first properly to be thought of in the contrivance and course of the whole ; and with the Fable ought to be consider'd the fit Disposition, Order, and Conduct of its several parts. As it is not in this province of the Drama that the strength and mastery of Shakespear lay, so I shall not undertake the tedious and ill-natur'd trouble to point out the several faults he was guilty of in it. His Tales were seldom invented, but rather taken either from true History, or Novels and Romances : And he commonly made use of 'em in that order, with those incidents, and that extent of time in which he found 'em in the Authors from whence he borrow'd them. So The Winter's Tale, which is taken from an old book, call’d The Delectable History of Dorastus and Faunia, contains the space of sixteen or seventeen years, and the Scene is sometimes laid in Bohemia, and sometimes in Sicily, according to the original order of the Story. Almost all his historical Plays comprehend a great length of time, and very different and distinct places : And in his Antony and Cleopatra, the Scene travels over the greatest part of the Roman empire. But in recompence for his carelessness in this point, when he comes to another part of the Drama, The Manners of his Characters, in acting or speaking what is proper for them, and fit to be shown by the Poet, he may be generally justify'd, and in very many places greatly commended. For those Plays which he has taken from the English or Roman history, let any man compare 'em, and he will find the character as exact in the