« AnteriorContinuar »
Advancement of the Art of the Stage? Or is it that he wanted Discernment to see the Justness, and the Greatness, and the Harmony of their Designs, and the Reasonableness of those Rules upon which those Designs are founded? Or how come his Successors to have that Discernment which he wanted, when they fall so much below him in other things ? How comes he to have been guilty of the grossest Faults in Chronology, and how come we to find out those Faults? In his Tragedy of Troylus and Cressida, he introduces Hector speaking of Aristotle, who was born a thousand Years after the Death of Hector. In the same Play mention is made of Milo, which is another very great Fault in Chronology. Alexander is mention'd in Coriolanus, tho' that Conqueror of the Orient liv'd about two hundred Years after him. In this last Tragedy he has mistaken the very Names of his Dramatick Persons, if we give Credit to Livy. For the Mother of Coriolanus in the Roman Historian is Vetturia, and the Wife is Volumnia. Whereas in Shakespear the Wife is Virgilia, and the Mother Volumnia. And the Volscian General in Shakespear is Tullus Aufidius, and Tullus Attius in Livy. How comes it that he takes Plutarch's Word, who was by Birth a Græcian, for the Affairs of Rome, rather than that of the Roman Historian, if so be that he had read the latter? Or what Reason can be given for his not reading him, when he wrote upon a Roman Story, but that in Shakespear's time there was a Translation of Plutarch, and there was none of Livy? If Shakespear was familiarly conversant with the Roman Authors, how came he to introduce a Rabble into Coriolanus, in which he offended not only against the Dignity of Tragedy, but the Truth of Fact, the Authority of all the Roman Writers, the Customs of Ancient Rome, and the Majesty of the Roman People ? By introducing a Rabble into Julius Cæsar, he only offended against the Dignity of Tragedy. For that part of the People who ran about the Streets upon great Festivals, or publick Calamities, or publick Rejoicings, or Revolutions in Government, are certainly
the Scum of the Populace. But the Persons who in the
Offenduntur enim, quibus est equus, aut pater, aut res,
Æquis accipiunt animis donantve Corona.
If Shakespear was so conversant with the Ancients, how comes he to have introduc'd some Characters into his Plays so unlike what they are to be found in History? In the Character of Menenius in the following Tragedy, he has doubly offended against that Historical Resemblance. For first whereas Menenius was an eloquent Person, Shakespear has made him a downright Buffoon. And how is it possible for any Man to conceive a Ciceronian Jack-pudding ? Never was any Buffoon eloquent, or wise, or witty, or virtuous. All the good and ill Qualities of a Buffoon are summ'd up in one Word, and that is a Buffoon. And secondly, whereas Shakespear has made him a Hater and Contemner and Villifier of the People, we are assur’d by the Roman Historian that Menenius was extremely popular. He was so very far from opposing the Institution of the Tribunes, as he is represented in Shakespear, that he was chiefly instrumental in it. After the People had deserted the City, and sat down upon the sacred Mountain, he was the
chief of the Delegates whom the Senate deputed to them, as being look'd upon to be the Person who would be most agreeable to them. In short, this very Menenius both liv'd and dy'd so very much their Favourite, that dying poor he had pompous Funerals at the Expence of the Roman People.
Had Shakespear read either Sallust or Cicero, how could he have made so very little of the first and greatest of Men, as that Cæsar should be but a Fourth-rate Actor in his own Tragedy? How could it have been that, seeing Cæsar, we should ask for Cæsar ? That we should ask, where is his unequallid Greatness of Mind, his unbounded Thirst of Glory, and that victorious Eloquence, with which he triumph'd over the Souls of both Friends and Enemies, and with which he rivall’d Cicero in Genius as he did Pompey in Power? How fair an Occasion was there to open the Character of Cæsar in the first Scene between Brutus and Cassius ? For when Cassius tells Brutus that Cæsar was but a Man like them, and had the same natural Imperfections which they had, how natural had it been for Brutus to reply, that Cæsar indeed had their Imperfections of Nature, but neither he nor Cassius had by any means the great Qualities of Cæsar: neither his Military Virtue, nor Science, nor his matchless Renown, nor his unparallell’d Victories, his unwearied Bounty to his Friends, nor his Godlike Clemency to his Foes, his Beneficence, his Munificence, his Easiness of Access to the meanest Roman, his indefatigable Labours, his incredible Celerity, the Plausibleness if not Justness of his Ambition, that knowing himself to be the greatest of Men, he only sought occasion to make the World confess him such. In short, if Brutus, after enumerating all the wonderful Qualities of Cæsar, had resolv'd in spight of them all to sacrifice him to publick Liberty, how had such a Proceeding heighten'd the Virtue and the Character of Brutus ? But then indeed it would have been requisite that Cæsar upon his Appearance should have made all this good. And as
we know no Principle of human Action but human Sentiment only, Cæsar, who did greater Things, and had greater Designs than the rest of the Romans, ought certainly to have outshin'd by many Degrees all the other Characters of his Tragedy. Cæsar ought particularly to have justified his Actions, and to have heighten'd his Character, by shewing that what he had done, he had done by Necessity ; that the Romans had lost their Agrarian, lost their Rotation of Magistracy, and that consequently nothing but an empty Shadow of publick Liberty remain'd; that the Gracchi had made the last noble but unsuccessful Efforts for the restoring the Commonwealth, that they had fail'd for want of arbitrary irresistible Power, the Restoration of the Agrarian requiring too vast a Retrospect to be done without it; that the Government, when Cæsar came to publick Affairs, was got into the Hands of a few, and that those few were factious, and were contending among themselves, and, if you will pardon so mean an Expression, scrambling as it were for Power ; that Cæsar was reduc'd to the Necessity of ruling, or himself obeying a Master ; and that apprehending that another would exercise the supreme Command without that Clemency and Moderation which he did, he had rather chosen to rule than to obey. So that Cæsar was faulty not so much in seizing upon the Sovereignty, which was become in a manner necessary, as in not re-establishing the Commonwealth, by restoring the Agrarian and the Rotation of Magistracies, after he had got absolute and uncontroulable Power. And if Cæsar had seiz'd upon the Sovereignty only with a View of re-establishing Liberty, he had surpass'd all Mortals in Godlike Goodness as much as he did in the rest of his astonishing Qualities. I must confess, I do not remember that we have any Authority from the Roman Historians which may induce us to believe that Cæsar had any such Design. Nor if he had had any such View, could he, who was the most secret, the most prudent, and the most discerning of Men, have discover'd it
before his Parthian Expedition was over, for fear of utterly disobliging his Veterans. And Cæsar believ'd that Expedition necessary for the Honour and Interest of the State, and for his own Glory.
But of this we may be sure, that two of the most discerning of all the Romans, and who had the deepest Insight into the Soul of Cæsar, Sallust and Cicero, were not without Hopes that Cæsar would really re-establish Liberty, or else they would not have attack'd him upon it; the one in his Oration for Marcus Marcellus, the other in the Second Part of that little Treatise De Republica ordinanda, which is address'd to Cæsar. Hec igitur tibi reliqua pars, says Cicero, Hic restat Actus, in hoc elaborandum est, ut Rempublicam constituas, eaque tu in primis composita, summa Tranquillitate & otio perfruare. Cicero therefore was not without Hope that Cæsar would re-establish the Commonwealth ; and any one who attentively peruses that Oration of Cicero, will find that that Hope was reasonably grounded upon his knowledge of the great Qualities of Cæsar, his Clemency, his Beneficence, his admirable Discernment; and that avoidless Ruine in which the whole Empire would be soon involv'd, if Cæsar did not effect this. Sallust urges it still more home to him and with greater vehemence ; he has recourse to every Motive that may be thought to be powerful over so great a Soul. He exhorts him by the Memory of his matchless Conquests, not to suffer the invincible Empire of the Roman People to be devour'd by Time, or to be torn in pieces by Discord; one of which would soon and infallibly happen, if Liberty was not restor'd.
He introduces his Country and his Progenitors urging him in a noble Prosopopeia, by all the mighty Benefits which they had conferr'd upon him, with so little Pains of his own, not to deny them that just and easy Request of the Restoration of Liberty. He adjures him by those Furies which will eternally haunt his Soul upon his impious Refusal : He implores him by the foresight of