« AnteriorContinuar »
common with that of Maurice Morgann and the romantic critics, in practice it is very different. He treats the characters from without : he lacks the intuitive sympathy which is the secret of later criticism. To him the play is a representation of life, not a transcript from life. The characters, who are more real to us than actual persons of history, and more intimate than many an acquaintance, appear to him to be creatures of the imagination who live in a different world from his own. Warton describes the picture : he criticises the portraits of the characters rather than the characters themselves.
The gradual change in the critical attitude is illustrated also by Lord Kames, whom Heath had reason to describe, before the appearance of Johnson's Preface, as “the truest judge and most intelligent admirer of Shakespeare.”; The scheme of his Elements of Criticism (1762) allowed him to deal with Shakespeare only incidentally, as in the digression where he distinguishes between the presentation and the description of passion, but he gives more decisive expression to Warton's view that observance of the rules is of subordinate importance to the truthful exhibition of character. The mechanical part, he observes, in which alone Shakespeare is defective, is less the work of genius than of experience, and it is knowledge of human nature which gives him his supremacy.
The same views are repeated in the periodical essays. The Mirror regards it as“ preposterous” to endeavour to regularise his plays, and finds the source of his superiority in his almost supernatural powers of invention, his absolute command over the passions, and his wonderful knowledge of nature; and the Lounger says that he presents the abstract of life in all its modes and in every time. The rules are forgotten, we cease to hear even that they are useless. But the Elements of Criticism gave Kames no opportunity to show that his attitude to the characters themselves was other than Warton's.
See the Dedication of the Revisal of Shakespeare's Text.
No critic had questioned Shakespeare's truth to nature. The flower of Pope's Preface is the section on his knowledge of the world and his power over the passions. Lyttleton showed his intimacy with Pope's opinion when in his Dialogues of the Dead he made him say: “No author had ever so copious, so bold, so creative an imagination, with so perfect a knowledge of the passions,
the humours and sentiments of mankind. He painted all - characters, from kings down to peasants, with equal truth
and equal force. If human nature were destroyed, and
In truth,” said Gray, “Shakespeare's language is one of his principal beauties; and he has no less advantage over your Addisons and Rowes in this than in those other great excellences you mention. Every word in him is a
1 Characteristicks, 1711, i., p. 275.
3 From a letter to Richard West, written apparently in 1742 : see Works, ed. Gosse, ii., p. 109.
The first book devoted directly to the examination of Shakespeare's characters was by William Richardson, Professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow. His Philosophical Analysis and Illustration of some of Shakespeare's remarkable Characters, which dealt with Macbeth, Hamlet, Jaques, and Imogen, appeared in 1774; ten years later he added a second series on Richard III., King Lear, and Timon of Athens; and in 1789 he concluded his character studies with his essay on Falstaff. As the titles show, Richardson's work has a moral purpose. His intention, as he tells us, was to make poetry subservient to philosophy, and to employ it in tracing the principles of human conduct. Accordingly, he has prejudiced his claims as a literary critic. He is not interested in Shakespeare's art for its own sake ; but that he should use Shakespeare's characters as the subjects of moral disquisitions is eloquent testimony to their truth to nature. His classical bias, excusable in a Professor of Latin, is best seen in his essay.“ On the Faults of Shakespeare,"1 of which the title was alone sufficient to win him the contempt of later critics. His essays are the dull effusions of a clever man. Though they are not inspiriting, they are not without interest. He recognised that the source of Shakespeare's greatness is that he became for the time the person whom he represented.
Richardson believed that the greatest: blemishes in Shakespeare “ proceeded from his want of consummate taste.” The same idea had been expressed more forcibly by Hume in his Appendix to the Reign of James I.: “His total ignorance of all theatrical art and conduct, however material a defect, yet, as it affects the spectator rather than the reader, we can more easily excuse than that want of taste which often prevails in his productions, and which gives way only by intervals to the irradiations of genius.” Hugh Blair, whose name is associated with the Edinburgh edition of 1753, had said in his lectures on rhetoric in the University of Edinburgh that Shakespeare was " deficient in just taste, and altogether unassisted by knowledge or art." And Adam Smith believed so strongly in the French doctrines that Wordsworth could call him “the worst critic, David Hume not excepted, that Scotland, a soil to which this sort of weed seems natural, has produced.” Kames, however, was a Scot.
Before the appearance of Richardson's Philosophical Analysis, Thomas Whately had written his Remarks on Some of the Characters of Shakespeare ; but it was not published till 1785. The author, who died in 1772, had abandoned it in order to complete, in 1770, his Observations on Modern Gardening. The book contains only a short introduction and a comparison of Macbeth and Richard III. The fragment is sufficient, however, to indicate more clearly than the work of Richardson the coming change. The author has himself remarked on the novelty of his method. The passage must be quoted, as it is the first definite statement that the examination of Shakespeare's characters should be the main object of Shakespearian criticism :
“The writers upon dramatic composition have, for the most part, confined their observations to the fable ; and the maxims received amongst them, for the conduct of it, are therefore emphatically called, The Rules of the Drama. It has been found easy to give and to apply them ; they are obvious, they are certain, they are general : and poets without genius have, by observing them, pretended to fame ; while critics without discernment have assumed importance from knowing them. But the
But the regularity thereby established, though highly proper, is by no means the first requisite in a dramatic composition. Even waiving all consideration of those finer feelings which a poet's imagination or sensibility imparts, there is, within the colder provinces of judgment and of knowledge, a subject for criticism more worthy of attention than the common topics of discussion : I mean the distinction and preserva
tion of character.” The earlier critics who remarked on Shakespeare's depiction of character had not suspected that the examination of it was to oust the older methods.
A greater writer, who has met with unaccountable neglect, was to express the same views independently. Maurice Morgann had apparently written his Essay on the Dramatic Character of Sir John Falstaff about 1774, in an interval of political employment, but he was not prevailed upon to publish it till 1777. The better we know it, the more we shall regret that it is the only critical work which he allowed to survive. He too refers to his book as a " novelty.” He believes the task of considering Shakespeare in detail to have been “hitherto unattempted.” But his main object, unlike Whately's or Richardson's, is a “critique on the genius, the arts, and the conduct of Shakespeare.” He concentrates his attention on a single character, only to advance to more general criticism. “Falstaff is the word only, Shakespeare is the theme.”
Morgann's book did not meet with the attention which it deserved, nor to this day has its importance been fully recognised. Despite his warnings, his contemporaries regarded it simply as a defence of Falstaff's courage. One spoke of him as a paradoxical critic, and others doubted if he meant what he said. All were unaccountably indifferent to his main purpose. The book was unknown even to Hazlitt, who in the preface to his Characters of Shakespearey Plays alludes only to Whately and Richardson as his English predecessors. Yet it is the true/forerunner of the romantic criticism of Shakespeare. Morgann's attitude to the characters is the same as Coleridge's and Hazlitt's; his criticism, neglecting all formal matters, resolves itself into a study of human nature. It was he who first said that Shakespeare's creations should be treated as historic rather
Hazlitt confounds Whately with George Mason, author of An Essay on Design in Gardening, 1768. 'Whately's book was published as “ by the author of Observations on Modern Gardening.” His name was given in the second edition, 1808.
J. P. Kemble replied to Whately's Remarks in Macbeth re-considered (1986; republished in 1817 with the title Macbeth and King Richard