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Inn Fields, Othello, A Midsummer-Night's Dream, and The Taming of the Shrew, are the only plays of Shakspeare which Downes the prompter mentions, as having been performed by the united companies : A Midsummer Night's Dream was transformed into an opera, and The Tuming of the Shrew was exhibited as altered by Lacy. Dryden's Troilus and Cressida, however, the two parts of King Henry IV. Twelfth Night, Macbeth, King Henry VIII. Julius Cæsar, and Hamlet, were without doubt sometimes represented in the same period : and Tate and Durfey furnished the scene with miserable alterations of Coriolanus, King Richard II. King Lear, and Cymbeline. Otway's Caius Marius, which was produced in 1680, usurped the place of our poet's Romeo and Juliet for near seventy years, and Lord Lansdown's Jew of Venice kept possession of the stage from the time of its first exhibition in 1701, to the year 1741. Dryden's All for Love, from 1678 to 1759, was performed instead of our author's Antony and Cleopatra ; and D'Avenant's alteration of Macbeth in like manner was, preferred to our author's tragedy, from its first exhibition in 1663, for near eighty years.
In the year 1700 Cibber produced his alteration of King Richard III. I do not find that this play, which was so popular in Shakspeare's time, was performed from the time of the Restoration to the end of the seventeenth century. The play with Cibber's alterations was once performed at Drury Lane in 1703, and lay dormant from that time to the 28th of Jan. 1710, when it was revived at the Opera House in the Haymarket; since which time it has been represented, I believe, more frequently than any of our author's dramas, exc. cept Hamlet.
On April 23, 1704, The Merry Wives of Windsor, by command of the Queen, was performed at St. James's, by the actors of both houses, and afterwards publickly represented at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Field's, May 18, in the same year, by Mr. Betterton's company; but although the whole force of his company was exerted in the representation, the piece had so little success, that it was not re
s King Richard II. and King Lear were produced by Tate in 1681, before the union of the two companies ; and Coriolanus, under the title of The Ingratitude of a Commonwealth, in 1682, In the same year appeared Durfey's alteration of Cymbeline, under the title of The Injured Princess,
peated till Nov. 3, 1720, when it was again revived at the same theatre, and afterwards frequently performed.
From 1709, when Mr. Rowe published his edition of Shakspeare, the exhibition of his plays became much more frequent than before. Between that time and 1740, our poet's Hamlet, Julius Cæsar, King Henry VIII. Othello, King Richard III. King Leur, and the two parts of King Henry IV. were very frequently exhibited. Still, however, such was the wretched taste of the audiences of those days, that in many instances the contemptible alterations of his pieces were preferred to the originals. Durfey's Injured Princess, which had not been acted from 1697, was again revived at Drury Lane, October 5, 1717, and afterwards often represented. Even Ravenscroft's Titus Andronicus, in which all the faults of the original are greatly aggravated, took its turn on the scene, and after an intermission of fifteen years was revived at Drury Lane in August, 1717, and afterwards frequently performed both at that theatre and the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, where it was exhibited for the first time, Dec. 21, 1720. Coriolanus, which had not been acted for twenty years, was revived at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, Dec. 13, 1718; and in Dec. 1719, King Richard II. was revived at the same theatre : but probably neither of these plays was then represented as originally written by Shakspeare. . Measure for Measure, which had not been acted, I imagine, from the time of the suppression of the theatres in 1642, was revived at the same theatre, Dec. 8, 1720, for the purpose of producing Mr. Quin in the character of the Duke, which he frequently performed with success in that and the following years. Much Ado about Nothing, which had not been acted for thirty years, was revived at Lincoln's Inn Fields, Feb. 9, 1721 ; but after two representations, on that and the following evening, was laid aside. In Dec. 1723, King Henry V. was announced for representation, " on Shakspeare's foundation,” and performed at Drury Lane six times in that month ; after which we hear of it no more : and on Feb. 26, 1737, King John was revived at Covent Garden. Neither of these plays, I believe, had been exhibited from the time of the downfall of the stage.—At the same theatre our poet's second part of
8 In the theatrical advertisement, Feb. 6, 1738, King Richard II. (which was then produced at Covent Garden,) was said not to have been acted for forty years,
King Henry IV. which had for fifty years been driven from the scene by the play which Mr. Betterton substituted in its place, resumed its station, being produced at Covent Garden, Feb. 16, 1738; and on the 23d of the same month Shakspeare's King Henry W. was performed there as originally written, after an interval, if the theatrical advertisement be correct, of forty years. In the following March the same company once exhibited The First Part of King Henry VI. for the first time, as they asserted, for fifty years. As you like it was announced for representation at Drury Lane, December 20, 1740, as not having been acted for forty years, and represented twenty-six times in that season. At Goodman's Fields, Jan. 15, 1741, The Winter's Tale was nounced, as not having been acted for one hundred years; but was not equally successful, being only performed nine times. At Drury Lane, Feb. 14, 1741, The Merchant of Venice, which, I believe, had not been acted for one hundred years, was once more restored to the scene by Mr. Macklin, who on that night first represented Shylock; a part which for near fifty years he performed with unrivalled success. In the following month the company at Goodman's Fields endeavoured to make a stand against him by producing All's well that ends well, which, they asserted, “ had not been acted since Shakspeare's time.” But the great theatrical event of this year was the appearance of Mr. Garrick at the theatre in Goodman's Fields, Oct. 9, 1741; whose good taste led him to study the plays of Shakspeare with more assiduity than any of his predecessors. Since that time, in consequence of Mr. Garrick's adınirable performance of many of his principal characters, the frequent representation of his plays in nearly their original state, and above all, the various researches which have been made for the purpose of explaining and illustrating his works, our poet's reputation has been yearly increasing, and is now fixed upon a basis, which neither the lapse of time nor the fluctuation of opinion will ever be able to shake. Here therefore I conclude this imperfect account of the origin and progress of the English Stage.
7 King Henry VI. altered from Shakspeare by Theophilus Cibber, was performed by a summer company at Drury Lane, July 5, 1723 ; but it met with no success, being represented only once.
IT is not my design to enter into a criticism upon this
author; though to do it effectually, and not superficially, would be the best occasion that any just writer could take, to form the judgment and taste of our nation. For of all English poets Shakspeare must be confessed to be the fairest and fullest subject for criticism, and to afford the most numerous, as well as most conspicuous instances, both of beauties and faults of all sorts. But this far exceeds the bounds of a preface, the business of which is only to give an account of the fate of his works, and the disadvantages under which they have been transmitted to us. We shall hereby extenuate many faults which are his, and clear him from the imputation of many which are not : a design, which, though it can be no guide to future criticks to do him justice in one way, will at least be sufficient to prevent their doing him an injustice in the other.
I cannot however but mention some of his principal and characteristick excellencies, for which notwithstanding his defects) he is justly and universally elevated above all other dramatick writer Not that this is the proper place of praising him, but because I would not omit any occasion of doing it.
If ever any author deserved the name of an original, it was Shakspeare. Homer himself drew not his art so immediately from the fountains of nature; it proceeded through Ægyptian strainers and channels, and came to him not without some tincture of the learning, or some cast of the models, of those before him. The poetry of Shakspeare was inspiration indeeed: he is not so much an imitator, as an
jostrument of nature; and it is not so just to say that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him.
His characters are so much nature herself, that it is a sort of injury to call them by so distant a name as copies of her. Those of other poets have a constant resemblance, which shows that they received them from one another, and were but multipliers of the same image: each picture, like a mockrainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every single character in Shakspeare is as much an individual, as those in life itself: it is as impossible to find any two alike; and such as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear most to be twins, will, upon comparison, be found remarkably distinct. To this life and variety of character, we must add the wonderful preservation of it; which is such throughout bis plays, that had all the speeches been printed without the very names of the persons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every speaker.'
The power over our passions was never possessed in a more eminent degree, or displayed in so different instances. Yet all along, there is seen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide or guess to the effect, or be perceived to lead toward it : but the heart swells, and the tears burst out, just at the proper places: we are surprised the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the passion so just, that we should be surprised if we had not wept, and wept at that very moment.
How astonishing is it again, that the passions directly opposite to these, laughter and spleen, are no less at his command! that he is not more a master of the great than of the ridiculous in human nature; of our noblest tenderness, than of our vainest foibles; of our strongest emotions, than of our idlest sensations!
Nor does he only excel in the passions : in the coolness of reflection and reasoning he is full as admirable. His sentiments are not only in general the most pertinent and judicious upon every subject; but by a talent very peculiar, something between penetration and felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argument turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfectly amazing,
* Addison, in the 273d Spectator, has delivered a similar opinion respecting Homer : “ There is scarce a speech or action in the Iliad, which the reader may not ascribe to the person who speaks or acts, without seeing his name at the head of it.”