« AnteriorContinuar »
great men concurr'd in making upon this part, was extremely juft; That Shakespear bad not only found out a new CharaEter in bis Caliban, but bad also devis’d and adapted a new manner of Language for ibat Cbaraller.
It is the fame magick that raises she Fairies in Midsummer-Night's Dream, che Witches in Macbeth, and the Ghost in Hamlet, with thoughts and language so proper to the parts they sustain, and so peculiar to the talents 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 the fe by those rules which are establish'd by Aristotle, and taken from the model of the Grecian Stage, it would be no very hard talk to find a great niany f.ules. 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 con. lider him as a man that liv'd in a state of almost uni-. versal licence and ignorance : there was no establisa'd judge, but every one took the liberty to write according to the dictates of his own fancy. When one confiders, 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 fo far as he did. The fable is what is generally plac'd the first, among those that are reckon'd the confti. tuent parts of a Tragick or Heroic Poem ; not, perhaps, as it is the most difficult or beautiful, but as it is 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 SbakeSpear Ly, fo 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. 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 cravels 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 fil 10 be foown 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 Poet as the Historian. He seems indeed so far from proposing to himself any one action for a Subject, that the Title very often tells you, 'tis The Life of King John, King Richard, &c. What can be more agreeable to the idea our historians give of Henry the fixth, than the Picture Shakespear has drawn of him! Bis manners are every where exactly the same with the story; one finds him ftill describ'd with simplicity, passive fan&tity, want of courage, weakness of mind, and ealy submission to the governance of an imperious Wife, or prevailing Faction Tho' at the same time the Poet does justice to his good qualities, and moves the pity of his audience for him, by thewing him pious, disinterested, a contemner of the things of this world, and wholly resign'd to the severest dispensations of God's providence. There is a short Scene in the second part of Henry VI. which I cannot but think ad pirable in its kiud. Cardinal Beaufort, who had murder'd the Duke of Gloucester, is shewn in the last agonies on his death-bed,
with the good King praying over him. There is so much terror in one, so much tenderness and moving piety in the other, as must touch any one who is capable either of fear or pity. In his Henry VIII, that Prince is drawn with that greatness of mind, and all those good qualities which are attributed to him in any account of his reign. If his faults are not shewn in an equal degree, and the shades in this picture do not bear a just proportion to the lights, it is not that the Artist wanted either colours or skill in the disposition of 'em; but the truth, I believe, might be, that he forbore doing it out of regard to Queen Elizabeth, since it could have been no very great respect to the memory of his Mistress, to have expos’d some certain parts of her father's life upon the stage. He has dealt much more freely with the Minister of that great King, and certainly nothing was ever more justly written, than the character of Cardinal Wolsey. He has shewn him insolent in his prosperity ; and yet, by a wonderful address, he makes his fall and ruin the subject of general compassion. The whole man, with his vices and virtues, is finely and exactly describ'd in the second scene of the fourth act. The diftreffes likewise of Queen Catbarine, in this play, are very movingly touch'd; and tho’ the art of the Poet has screen'd King Henry from any gross imputation of injustice, yet one is inclin'd to wish, the Queen had met with a fortune more worthy of her birth and virtue. Nor are the Manners, proper to the persons represented, less justly observ’d, in those characters taken from the Roman History; and of this, the fierceness and impatience of Coriolanus, his courage and disdain of the common people, the virtue and philosophical temper of Brutus, and the irregular greatness of mind in M. Antony, are beautiful proofs. For the two last especially, you find 'em exactly as they are describ'd by Plutarch, from whom certainly ShakeSpear copy'd 'em. He has indeed followed his origiVol. I,
nal pretty close, and taken in several little incidents that might have been spared in a Play. But, as I hinted before, his designs seem most commonly rather to describe those great men in the several fortunes and accidents of their lives, than to take any single great action, and form his work simply upon that. However, there are fome of his pieces, where the Fable is founded upon one action only. Such are more especially, Romeo and juliet, Flamlct, and Otle!.. The design in Romeo and Juliet, is plainly the punishment of their two families, for the unreasonable feuds and animolities that had been so long kept up between 'em, and occafion'd the effusion of so much blood. In the m:nagement of this story, he has shewn something wonderfully tender and passionate in the loveparr, and very pititul in the distress. L'arlet is founded on much the same tale with the Elcere of Sophocles. In each of 'em a young Prince is engaged to revenge the death of his father, their mothers are equally guilty, are both concern'd in the murder of their husbands, and are aiterwards married to the murderers. There is in the first part of the Greek Tragedy, something very moving in the grief of El Era; but as Mr. Dacier has obferv'd, there is something very unnatural and shocking in the Manners he has given that Princess and Orestes in the latter part. Orestes embrues his hands in the blood of his own mother; and that barbarous action is perform’d, tho' not immediately upon the stage, yet so near, that the audience hear Ciytemnestra crying out to Ægyflus for help, and to her son for mercy: While EleEra her daughter, and a Princess (both of them characters that ought to have appear’d with more decency) stands upon the stage and encourages her brother in the ParTicide. What horror does this not raise ! Cytemnesira was a wicked won an, and had deserv'd to die; nay, in the truth of the story, fhe was kill'd by her own fon; but to represent an action of this kind on the
itace, is certainiy an offence against those rules of manne.'s proper to the persons, chat ought to be obferred there. On the contrary, let us only look a little 0:1 he con üt of Stokespear. Hamlet is represented with the fame piety to vards his father, and resolution to revenze his death, as Oretes; he has the same ab. hor ence for his mother's guilt, which, to provoke him the more, is heightend by incest : But 'tis with wonderful art and jufineis of judgment, that the Poet restrains him from doing violence to his mother. To prevent any thing of that kind, he makes his father's Ghost forbid that part of his vengeance.
But howsoever thou pursu’jt this Act,
This is to distinguish rightly between Horror and Ter
The latter is a proper pasion of Tragedy, but the former ought always to be carefully avoided. And certainly no dranatick Wiiter ever fucceeded better in raising Terror in the minds of an audience than Shakespecr has done. The whole Tragedy of Macbeth, but more especially the scene where the King is murder'd, in the second Act, as well as this play, is a noble proof of that manly spirit with which he writ and both shew how powerful he was, in giving the strongest motions to our souls that they are capable of. I cannot leave Hamlet, without taking notice of the advantage with which we have seen this Master-piece of Shakespear distinguish itself upon the stage, by Mr. Betterton's fine performance of that part. A man, who th, he had no other good qualities, as he has a great many, must have made his way into the estcem of all men of letters, by this only excellency. No man is better acquainted with Shakespear's manner of