Imágenes de páginas

essaries for the sustentation and preservation of man's life.' Prospero's command to Ariel 'to fetch dew from the stillvex'd Bermoothes' makes it certain that the Bermudas are not the scene of The Tempest, though, strangely enough, it has produced the contrary impression on many minds; but this reference to these islands, and allusion to their storm-vexed coast, connects itself naturally with the publication of Jourdan's narrative. It is highly probable, therefore, that The Tempest was written about 1611.

"The thoughtful reader will, however, find in the compact simplicity of its structure, and in the chastened grandeur of its diction and the lofty severity of its tone of thought, tempered although the one is with Shakespeare's own enchanting sweetness, and the other with that most human tenderness which is the peculiar trait of his mind, sufficient evidence that this play is the fruit of his genius in its full maturity."


Shakespeare usually founded his plays upon some wellknown history or romance, and the plot of The Tempest, though the critics have not succeeded in tracing it to its source, was doubtless borrowed from some old Italian or Spanish novel. Collins, the poet, told Thomas Warton that he had seen such a novel, with the title of Aurelio and Isabella, and that it was "printed in Italian, Spanish, French, and English, in 1588;" and Boswell says that a friend of his. assured him that, some years before, he had "actually perused an Italian novel which answered to Collins's description." But Collins was insane when he made the statement, and Boswell's friend may have been mistaken; at any rate, the romance has not yet been found. There is an early German play (published in 1618) called Die Schöne Sidea, by Jacob Ayrer, a notary of Nuremberg, the plot of which is somewhat like that of The Tempest, and this has led several critics to suppose that the two were drawn from the same source; but

the resemblance is hardly close enough to justify the conclu sion. If there is any connection between the plays, it is pos sible that Ayrer had seen The Tempest, or a translation of it. Although, according to Eschenburg, no reference to Shakespeare has been found in German literature farther back than 1682, it is certain that English plays were translated into German as early as 1600.

"As to the actual scene of The Tempest, that is in the realms of fancy. Mr. Hunter has contended that Lampedusa, 'an island in the Mediterranean, lying not far out of a ship's course passing from Tunis to Naples,' and which is uninhabited, and supposed by sailors to be enchanted, was Prospero's place of exile. It may have been; though if it were, we would a little rather not believe so. When the great magician at whose beck it rose from the waters broke his staff, the island sunk, and carried Caliban down with it."*


[From Coleridge's Notes on Shakespeare.†]

The Tempest is a specimen of the purely romantic drama, in which the interest is not historical, or dependent upon fidelity of portraiture, or the natural connection of events; but is a birth of the imagination, and rests only on the coaptation and union of the elements granted to, or assumed by, the poet. It is a species of drama which owes no allegiance to time or space, and in which, therefore, errors of chronology and geography--no mortal sins in any speciesare venial faults, and count for nothing. It addresses itself entirely to the imaginative faculty; and although the illusion may be assisted by the effect on the senses of the complicated scenery and decorations of modern times, yet this sort of assistance is dangerous. For the principal and only genuine excitement ought to come from within-from the moved and sympathetic imagination; whereas, where so much is address† Coleridge's Works (Harper's ed.), vol. iv. pp. 74 foll

* White.

ed to the mere external senses of seeing and hearing, the spiritual vision is apt to languish, and the attraction from without will withdraw the mind from the proper and only legitimate interest which is intended to spring from within.

The romance opens with a busy scene admirably appropriate to the kind of drama, and giving, as it were, the key-note to the whole harmony. It prepares and initiates the excitement required for the entire piece, and yet does not demand any thing from the spectators which their previous habits had not fitted them to understand. It is the bustle of a tempest, from which the real horrors are abstracted; therefore it is poetical, though not in strictness natural, and is purposely restrained from concentring the interest on itself, but used merely as an induction or tuning for what is to follow.

In the second scene, Prospero's speeches, till the entrance of Ariel, contain the finest example I remember of retrospective narration for the purpose of exciting immediate interest, and putting the audience in possession of all the information. necessary for the understanding of the plot. Observe, too, the perfect probability of the moment chosen by Prospero (the very Shakespeare himself, as it were, of the tempest) to open out the truth to his daughter, his own romantic bearing, and how completely any thing that might have been disagreeable to us in the magician is reconcilable and shaded in the humanity and natural feelings of the father. In the very first speech of Miranda the simplicity and tenderness of her character are at once laid open-it would have been lost in direct contact with the agitation of the first scene.


Ariel has in everything the airy tint which gives the name. And it is worthy of remark that Miranda is never directly brought into comparison with Ariel, lest the natural and human of the one and the supernatural of the other should tend to neutralize each other. Caliban, on the other hand, is all earth, all condensed and gross in feelings and images; he has the dawnings of understanding, without reason or the

moral sense; and in him, as in some brute animals, this advance to the intellectual faculties, without the moral sense, is marked by the appearance of vice. For it is in the primacy of the moral being only that man is truly human; in his intellectual powers he is certainly approached by the brutes, and, man's whole system duly considered, those powers cannot be considered other than means to an end, that is, to morality. . . .

In this play are admirably sketched the vices generally accompanying a low degree of civilization; and in the first scene of the second act Shakespeare has, as in many other places, shown the tendency in bad men to indulge in scorn and contemptuous expressions, as a mode of getting rid of their own uneasy feelings of inferiority to the good, and also, by making the good ridiculous, of rendering the transition of others to wickedness easy. Shakespeare never puts habitual scorn into the mouths of other than bad men, as here in the instance of Antonio and Sebastian. The scene of the intended assassination of Alonso and Gonzalo is an exact counterpart of the scene between Macbeth and his lady, only pitched in a lower key throughout, as designed to be frustrated or concealed, and exhibiting the same profound management in the manner of familiarizing a mind not immediately recipient to the suggestion of guilt, by associating the proposed crime with something ludicrous or out of placesomething not habitually matter of reverence. By this kind of sophistry the imagination and fancy are first bribed to contemplate the suggested act, and at length to become acquainted with it. Observe how the effect of this scene is heightened by contrast of another counterpart of it in low life— that between the conspirators, Stephano, Caliban, and Trinculo, in the second scene of the third act, in which there are the same essential characteristics.

In this play, and in this scene of it, are also shown the springs of the vulgar in politics-of that kind of politics which

is inwoven with human nature.


In his treatment of this sub

ject, wherever it occurs, Shakespeare is quite peculiar. In other writers we find the particular opinions of the individual; . . . but Shakespeare never promulgates any party tenHe is always the philosopher and the moralist, but, at the same time, with a profound veneration for all the established institutions of society, and for those classes which form the permanent elements of the state-especially never introducing a professional character, as such, otherwise than as respectable. If he must have any name, he should be styled a philosophical aristocrat, delighting in those hereditary institutions which have a tendency to bind one age to another, and in that distinction of ranks of which, although few may be in possession, all enjoy the advantages. Hence, again, you will observe the good nature with which he seems always to make sport with the passions and follies of a mob, as with an irrational animal. He is never angry with it, but hugely content with holding up its absurdities to its face; and sometimes you may trace a tone of almost affectionate superiority, something like that in which a father speaks of the rogueries of a child. See the good-humoured way in which he describes Stephano, passing from the most licentious freedom to absolute despotism over Trinculo and Caliban. The truth is, Shakespeare's characters are all genera intensely individualized; the results of meditation, of which observation supplied the drapery and the colours necessary to combine them with each other. He had virtually surveyed all the great component powers and impulses of human nature-had seen that their different combinations and subordinations were in fact the individualizers of men, and showed how their harmony was produced by reciprocal disproportions of excess or deficiency. The language in which these truths are expressed was not drawn from any set fashion, but from the profoundest depths of his moral being, and is therefore for all ages.

« AnteriorContinuar »