Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

beauties of art, they often have a higher beauty than art, as truths of nature; and the Poet is no more to be blamed for them than an honest reporter is for the bad taste of a speaker reported. In like sort, we have Milton's Satan satanizing thus :

“The mind is its own place, and of itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” I have often heard people quote this approvingly, as if they thought the better of Satan for thus declaring himself independent of God. But those words coming from Satan are a high stroke of dramatic fitness; and when people quote them with approval, this may be an argument of intellectual impiety in them, but not of Milton's agreement with them in opinion.

But do you say that Shakespeare should not have undertaken to represent any but persons of refined taste and decorous speech ? That were to cut the Drama off from its proper freehold in the truth of human character, and also from some of its fruitfullest sources of instruction and wisdom : so, its office were quite another thing than “holding the mirror up to Nature.” Not indeed but that Shakespeare is fairly chargeable with some breaches of good taste: these however are so few and of such a kind, that they still leave him just our highest authority in the School of Taste. Here, as elsewhere, he is our “ canon of Polycletus.” So Raphael made a painting of Apollo playing the fiddle on Parnassus, — a grosser breach of good taste than anything Shakespeare ever did. And yet Raphael is the painter of the finest taste in the world! – All which just approves the old proverb, that “no man is wise at all hours”: so that we may still affirm without abatement the fine saying of Schlegel, that "genius is the almost unconscious choice of the highest excellence, and, consequently, it is taste in the greatest perfection.”*

* All beauty depends upon symmetry and proportion. An overgrowth that sucks out the strength of a flowering plant, and destroys its shape, may be in the oak a harmless sport of exuberance, and even an ornament to its form : bushes which would be a wilderness in a garden may enhance the beauty of the grander scenes of Nature. Irregularity, when isolated or taken out of its place, will always be ugly ; while in its proper connection it may add to the charm by variety. The good men of Polonius's school, who cannot see beyond their beards, who never get further than such particulars as, “that is a foolish figure," — “that's an ill phrase, a vile phrase," -" that's good,"

It is to be observed, also, that Shakespeare never brings in any characters as the mere shadows or instruments or appendages of others. All the persons, high and low, contain within themselves the reason why they are there and not elsewhere, why they are so and not otherwise. None are forced in upon the scene merely to supply the place of others, and so to be trifled with till the others are ready to return; but each is treated in his turn as if he were the main character of the piece. So true is this, that even if one character comes in as the satellite of another, he does so by a right and an impulse of his own: he is all the while obeying, or rather executing the law of his individuality, and has just as much claim on the other for a primary as the other has on him for a satellite; which may be aptly instanced in Justice Shallow and Justice Silence, or in Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. The consequence is, that all the characters are developed, not indeed at equal length, but with equal perfectness as far as they go; for, to make the dwarf fill the same space as the giant were to dilute, not develop, the dwarf.

Thus much as to Shakespeare's mode of conceiving and working out character. Here, again, as in the matter of dramatic composition, we have the proper solidarity, origi

-“this is too long," — these Hamlet sends “ to the barber's with their beards " and their art criticisms ; they are out of place with such a poet as Shakespeare. All the experience we have gained warns us against following their steps. The whole history of Shakespearian criticism for the last century is but a discovery of the mistakes of those who, for a century before, were thought to have discovered faults in the Poet. For numbers of the errors of taste in Shakespeare have tnrned out to be striking touches of character ; the esthetic deformities imputed to his poetry have proved the moral deformities of certain of his persons ; and what had been denounced as a fault was found to be an excellence. — GERVINUS.

nality, completeness, and disinterestedness of Art, all duly and rightly maintained: that is, what was before found true in reference to all the parts of a drama viewed as a whole; the same holds, also, in regard to all the parts of an individual character considered by itself. In both these respects, and in both alike, the Poet discovers a spirit of the utmost candour and calmness, such as could neither be misled by any inward bias or self-impulse from seeing things as they are, nor swayed from reflecting them according to the just forms and measures of objective truth; while his creative forces worked with such smoothness and equanimity, that it is hardly an extravagance to describe him as another Nature. All this, however, must not be taken as applying, at least not in the full length and breadth, to what I have before spoken of as the Poet's apprenticework. For, I repeat, Shakespeare's genius was not born full-grown, as a good many have been used to suppose. Ben Jonson knew him right well personally, and was, besides, no stranger to his method of working; and, in his noble lines prefixed to the folio of 1623, he puts this point just as, we may be sure, he had himself seen it to be true:

“Yet must I not give Nature all ; thy art,
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part :
For a good poet's made, as well as born ;

And such wert thou.” As to the question how far his genius went by a certain instinctive harmony and happiness of nature, how far by a process of conscious judgment and reflection, this is probably beyond the reach of any psychology to determine. From the way he often speaks of poets and poetry, of art and nature, it is evident that he was well at home in speculative and philosophical considerations of the subject. Then too the vast improvement made in some of his plays, as in Hamlet, upon rewriting them, shows that his greatest successes were by no means owing to mere lucky hits of instinct. On the whole, I suspect he understood the what, the how, and the why of his working as well as any firstclass artist ever did. But genius, in its highest and purest instances, is a sort of unfallen intellect; so that from its pre-established harmony with the laws of mental being it goes right spontaneously. Sophocles comprehended the whole of what is meant by powerful genius working unconsciously, when he said of his great teacher, “ Æschylus does what is right without knowing why.” And the true secret of Shakespeare's excellence mainly lies, I take it, in a perfect co-operative union of instinct and understanding, of purpose and impulse; nature and art, inspiration and study, so working together and interpenetrating, that it is impossible to distinguish their respective shares in the joint result. And the wonder of it is, how the fruits of creative impulse could so pass through the medium of conscious reflection, as they seem to have done, and still retain all the dewy freshness of pure creative nature; insomuch that his art carries such an air of unstudied ease as gives it the appearance of perfect artlessness.*

As to the time when Shakespeare passed from the apprentice into the master, I place this in the year 1597, or thereabouts, when he was thirty-two or thirty-three years old; and I take The Merchant of Venice and King Henry the Fourth as marking the clear and complete advent of the master's hand. And what I have been saying holds altogether true only of the plays written during his mastership. In all his earlier plays, even in A Midsummer Nights Dream, King Richard the Second, and King Richard the Third, probably neither the composition nor the characterization can fairly stand the test of any of the principles of Art, as I have noted them. But especially in the workmanship of that period, along with much that is rightly original, we have not a little, also, of palpable imitation. The unoriginality, however, is rather in the style than in the matter, and so will be more fitly remarked under the head of Style. Still worse, because it goes deeper, we have in those plays a want of clear artistic disinterestedness. The arts and motives of authorship are but too apparent in them; thus showing that the Poet did not thoroughly lose himself in the enthusiasm and truth of his work. In some cases, he betrays not a little sense of his own skill; at least there are plain marks of a conscious and self-observing exercise of skill. And perhaps his greatest weakness, if that word may be used of him at all, lies in a certain vanity and artifice of stage-effect, or in a sort of theatrical and dialogical intemperance, as if he were trying to shine, and pleased with the reflection of his own brilliancy. But as this too was the result of imitation, not of character, so in the earnestness of his work he soon outgrew it, working purely in the interest and from the inspiration of Nature and Truth.

* The working together of instinct and mind in Shakespeare is not exactly wonderful in itself, but only so from the power and strength of it: in a less degree it takes place in all continued occupation among men of a healthy nature; and the brightest moments of success in any work are when the thinking mind is in unison with the instinctive feeling of the working man. It is in this unison tha, genius really displays itself, and not in the sole rule of an irregular instinct or in a state of pretended inspiration. For genius does not manifest itself in the predominance of any single power, nor is it in itself a definite faculty; but it is the harmonious combination, the united totality of all the human faculties. And if in Shakespeare's works we admire his imaginative power not without his understanding, nor both these without his sense of beauty, nor all of them without his moral sense; if we attribute all together to his genius, we must comprehend in this the union of all those faculties, and not regard it as an isolated power, which excludes judgment and reflection, and whose works do not submit to plan and rule. Much rather is the idea of rule essentially inherent to that of genius; and the whole conception of genius acting without law is the invention of pedants, which has had the sad effect of begetting that mass of false geniuses who are morally without law, and ästhetically without law, as if to entitle themselves to the name according to this convenient definition. - GERVINUS.

Before passing on from this branch of the subject, perhaps I ought to add that Shakespeare drew largely from the current popular literature of his time. The sources from which he gathered his plots and materials will be noted pretty fully when I come to speak of particular plays. It may suffice to remark here, that there seems the more cause for dwelling on what the Poet took from other

« AnteriorContinuar »