« AnteriorContinuar »
The last speech of Atalide, in the tragedy of Bajazel, of the same author, is a continued discourse; and but a faini representation of he violent passion which forced her to put an end to her own life ·
Enfin, c'en est donc fait. Et par mes artinces,
Act V. Sc. last. Though works, not authors, are the professed subject of this critical undertaking, I am tempted, by the present speculation, to transgress, once again, the limits prescribed, and to venture a cursory reflection upon that justly celebrated author; that he is always sensible, generally correct, never falls low, maintains a moderate degree of dignity, without reaching the sublime, paints delicately the tender affections, but is a stranger to the genuine language of enthusiastic or fervid passion.
If, in general, the language of violent passion ought to be broken and interrupted, soliloquies ought to be so in a peculiar manner: language is intended by nature for society: and a man when alone, though he always clothes his thoughts in words, seldom gives his words utterance, unless when prompted by some strong emotion; and even then by starts and intervals only.* Shakspeare's soliloquies may be justly established as a model; for it is not easy to conceive any model more perfect: of his many incomparable soliloquies, I confine myself to the two following, being different in their manner.
Hamlet. Oh, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
* Soliloquies accounted for, Chap. 15.
That grows to seed: things rank and gross in nature
Hamlet, Act I, Sc. 3. Ford. Hum! ha! is this a vision ? is this a dream ? do I sleep? Mr. Ford, Awake; awake, Mr. Ford ; there's a hole made in your best coat, Mr. Ford! this 'tis to be married ! this 'tis to have linen and buck-baskets ! Well, I will proclaim myself what I am; I will now take the leacher; he is at my honse ; be cannot ’scape me; 'tis impossible he should; he cannot creep into a halfpenny. purse, nor into a pepper-box. But lest the devil that guides him should aid him, I will search impossible places, though what I am I cannot aroid, yet to be wh I would not, shall not make me tame.
Merry Wives of Windsor, Act III. Sc. last. These soliloquies are accurate and bold copies of nature: in a passionate soliloquy one begins with thinking aloud; and the strongest feelings only, are expressed; as the speaker warms, he begins to imagine one listening, and gradually slides into a connected discourse.
How far distant are soliloquies generally from these models ? So far, indeed, as to give disgust instead of pleasure. The first scene of Iphigenia in Tauris discovers that princess, in a soliloquy, gravely reporting to herself her own history. There is the same impropriety in the first scene of Alcestes, and in the other introductions of Euripides, almost without exception. Nothing can be more ridiculous: it puts one in mind of a most curious device in Gothic paintings, that of making every figure explain itself by a written label issuing from its mouth. The description which a parasite, in the Eunuch of Terence,* gives of himself, makes a sprightly solilo quy: but it is not consistent with the rules of propriety; for no man, in his ordinary state of mind, and upon a familiar subject, ever thinks of talking aloud to himself
. The same objection lies against a soliloquy in the Adelphi of the same author.f The soliloquy which makes the third scene, act third, of his Heicyra, is insufferable; for there Pamphilus, soberly and circumstantially, relates to himself an adventure which had happened to him a moment before. * Act II. Sc. 2.
Act I. Sc. 1
Corneille is not more happy in his soliloquies than in his dialogue. Take for a specimen the first scene of Cinna.
Racine also is extremely faulty in the same respect. His soliloquies are regular harangues, a chain completed in every link, without interruption or interval : that of Antiochus in Berenice* resembles a regular pleading, where the parties pro and con display their arguments at full length. The following soliloquies are equally faulty: Bajazet, act 3. sc. 7; Mithridate, act 3. sc. 4. and act 4 sc. 5; Iphigenia, act 4. sc. 8.
Soliloquies upon lively or interesting subjects, but without any turbulence of passion, may be carried on in a continued chain of thought. If, for example, the nature and sprightliness of the subject prompt a man to speak his thoughts in the form of a dialogue, the expression must be carried on without break or interruption, as in a dialogue between two persons; which justifies Falstaff's soliloquy
What need I be so forward with Death, that calls not on me? Well, 'tis no inatter, Honor pricks me on. But how if Honor prick me off, when I come on? how then ? Can Honor set a leg? No: or an arm ? No: or take away the grief of a wound ? No. Honor hath no skill in surgery then? No. What is Honor ? A word.- What is that word honor ? Air, a trim reckoning.Who hath it? He that dy'd a Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. Is it insensible then ? Yes, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I'll none of it; honor is a mere scutcheon; and so ends my catechism.
First Part Henry IV. Act V. Sc. 1. And even without dialogue, a continued discourse may be justified, where a man reasons in a soliloquy upon an important subject; for if in such a case it be at all excusable to think aloud, it is necessary that the reasoning be carried on in a chain; which justifies that admirable soliloquy in Hamlet upon life and immortality, being a serene meditation upon the most interesting of all subjects. And the same consideration will justify the soliloquy that introduces the 5th act of Addison's Cato.
The next class of the grosser errors which all writers ought to avoid, shall be of language elevated above the tone of the sentiment; of which take the following instances :
Zara. Swift as occasion, I
Mourning Bride, Act III. Sc. 4. The language here is undoubtedly too pompous and labored for describing so simple a circumstance as absence of sleep. In the following passage, the tone of the language, warm and plaintive, is well suited to the passion, which is recent grief: but every
will • Act I. Sc. 2.
be sensible, that in the last couplet save one, the tone is changed, and the mind suddenly elevated to be let fall as suddenly in the last couplet:
Il déteste à jamais sa coupable victoire,
Henriade, Chant. VIII. 229. Language too artificial or too figurative for the gravity, dignity, or importance, of the occasion, may be put in a third class.
Chimene demanding justice against Rodrigue who killed her father, instead of a plain and pathetic expostulation, makes a speech stuffed with the most artificial flowers of rhetoric:
Sire, mon père est mort, mes yeux ont vû son sang
Mes pleurs et mes soupirs vous diront mieux le reste.
Son flanc étoit ouvert, ct, pour mieux m'émouvoir,
Act II. Sc. 9 Nothing can be contrived in language more averse to the tone of the passion than this florid speech : I should imagine it more apt to pro voke laughter than to inspire concern or pity.
In a fourth class shall be given specimens of language too light or airy for a severe passion.
Imagery and figurative expression are discordant, in the highest degree, with the agony of a mother, who is deprived of two hopeful sons by a brutal murder. Therefore the following passage is undoubtedly in a bad taste.
Queen. Ah, my poor princes ! ah, my tender babes!
Richard III. Act IV. Sc. 4 Again,
K. Philip. You are as fond of grief as of your child.
Constance. Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
King John, Act III. Sc. 4. A thought that turns upon the expression instead of the subject, commonly called a play of words, being low and childish, is unworthy of any composition, whether gay or serious, that pretends to any degree of elevation : thoughts of this kind make a fifth class.
In the Amynta of Tasso,* the lover falls into a mere play of words, demanding how he who had lost himself, could find a mistress. And for the same reason, the following passage in Corneille has been generally condemned:
Chimene. Mon père est mort, Elvire, et la premiéré è pée
Cid, Act III. Sc. 3.
Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act III. Sc. I.
Ail's well that ends well, Act III. Sc. 2.
Second Part Henry IV. Act IV. Sc. 4. Antony, speaking of Julius Cæsar:
O world! thou wast the forest of this hart
Julius Cæsar, Act III. Sc. 1. Playing thus with the sound of words, which is still worse than a pun, is the meanest of all conceits. But Shakspeare, when he descends to a play of words, is not always in the wrong: for it is done sometimes to denote a peculiar character, as in the following passage:
K. Philip. What say'st thou, boy ? look in the lady's face.
Lewis. I do, my lord, and in her eye I find
Act 1. Sc. 2.