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And the armies of their creatures all and some
Do serve to them, and with impòrtune might
THE RUINS OF ROME.'
pray of Time, which all things doth devowre !
(1) From the poem of this name, stanzas 4, 27–29. (2) Flit—to fly away rapidly. (3) These ample ruines vew—the sight of these ample ruins. (4) One would judge, &c.i.e. one would imagine that the genius or spirit of Rome were striving to reanimate the mouldering body. (5) Pouldred-powdered, mouldering.
He that hath seene a great oke drie and dead,
of some trophees olde,
(1) Ove her fall-i.e. her fall is, as it were, due-she is doomed to fall by the first wind. (2) Much more-i.e. than the oak does amongst trees. (3) Whilome --formerly. “In the antiquated word whilom, at times, we have a remnant of the old dative in m. The sense of the word is adverbial ; its form, however, is that of a dative case."-Latham. (4) Embrave-make brave or fine, adorn. (5) Practique-skilful, cunning. (6) Wit-ingenuity or genius. (7) Prise---praise, value.
PRINCIPAL EVENTS OF HIS LIFE.-William Shakspere-called by Coleridge the “myriad-minded man was born in 1564, at Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire. So scanty
So scanty is our information respecting the events of his life, that we may without much exaggeration, say in the language of one of his critics :1 “All that is known with any degree of certainty concerning Shakspere is, that he was born at Stratford-upon-Avor ; married and had children there; went to London, where he commenced actor, and wrote poems and plays; returned to Stratford, made his will, died, and was buried.” The few additional items which modern research has furnished, give little further aid in illustrating Shakspere's character, either as a man or a poet. The important events of his life were, in truth, the publications from time to time of those famous works with which his name has become inseparably connected. These, however, rather exhibit to us the universal range and capabilities, than the characteristic features of his mind, so that our attention is confined rather to what he did, than what he was; as we enjoy the genial light of the sun by feeling its reflection from objects around us, rather than by gazing at the luminary itself
. He died in 1616, eight years after the birth of Milton. Shakspere's was an era of distinguished men—the age of Spenser, Sidney, Raleigh, Ben Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher in England; of Tasso in Italy, of Cervantes in Spain, and of Camoens in Portugal.
PRINCIPAL WORKS.-Shakspere wrote a few miscellaneous poems
many dramatical works, of which the “ Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet,” the “Merchant of Venice,"
Lear," “ Timon of Athens,” “Othello," the “ Tempest,” “Macbeth,” and “Hamlet,” are the most admired.
CHARACTERISTIC SPIRIT AND STYLE.—“He [Shakspere] was the man, who of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously but
(2) “How much,” says Mr. Hallam (“Edinburgh Review," 1808), “has been written upon Shakespeare and Shakespere---what long pedigrees of the Halls, Harts, and Hathaways--while the reader, amidst the profusion of learning, searches in vain for a vestige of the manners and opinions of him, in whom alone he is interested! Pars minima est ipse poeta sui."
luckily: when he describes anything, you more than see it, you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation; he was naturally learned ; he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot say he is everywhere alike; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind; he is many times flat and insipid; his comic wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great when great occasion is presented to him. No man can say he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of poets
Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi.'
back for names worthy of being put into competition with his, to the first great masters of dramatic invention ; and even in the points of dissimilarity between them and him, discovers some of the highest indications of his genius. Compared with the classical composers of antiquity, he is to our conceptions nearer the character of a universal poet; more acquainted with man in the real world, and more terrific and bewitching in the præternatural. He expanded the magic circle of the drama beyond the limits that belonged to it in antiquity; made it embrace more time and locality; filled it with larger business and action, with vicissitudes of gay and serious emotion which classical taste had kept divided ; with characters which developed humanity in stronger lights and subtler movements; and with a language more wildly, more playfully diversified by fancy and passion, than was ever spoken on any stage. Like nature herself, he presents alternations of the gay and the tragic; and his mutability, like the suspense and precariousness of real existence, often deepens the force of our impression.”2
“ When Aristotle defined it to be the province of Tragedy to move pity and terror, he did not intend that the excitement of these emotions was its ultimate use. These are the instruments it employs to impress its moral. It woos and urges thus our attention and sympathy. Where then, can such a Tragic Bard be found as this ? Where can we trace the same power to soften and to alarm the heart? Where are the same strokes of pathos and images of horror? Never was simplicity more sweet, never was pomp more magnificent. Beauty unfolds before us modest as
(1) Dryden. “Essay of Dramatic Poesy."
the violet, fair as the lily, lovely as the rose; greatness rises up, fearful as the incantation, daring, as the battle, terrible as the storm. He is everything that he describes; wand could not wave more awfully from magician's hand, crook could not recline more easily on shepherd's arm, diadem could not rest more gracefully around monarch’s brow, wing could not flap more buoyantly in spirit's flight. The mask is no portion of his tragic paraphernalia; and he but strikes, for his most touching and most stirring chords, the strings of the human heart."
“ He has a magic power over words: they come winged at his bidding; and seem to know their places. They are struck out at a heat, on the spur of the occasion, and have all the truth and vividness which arise from an actual impression of the objects. His epithets and single phrases are like sparkles thrown off from an imagination fired by the whirling rapidity of its own motion. His language is hieroglyphical. It translates thoughts into visible images. It abounds in sudden transitions and illiptical expressions. This is the source of his mixed metaphors, which are only abbreviated forms of speech. These, however, give no pain from long custom, they have, in fact, become idioms in the language. They are the building, and not the scaffolding to thought. We take the meaning and effect of a well-known passage entire, and no more stop to scan and spell out the particular words and phrases, than the syllables of which they are composed.”2
VERSIMCATION.—“His versification is no less powerful, sweet, and varied. It has every occasional excellence of sullen intricacy, crabbed and perplexed, or of the smoothest and loftiest expansion from the ease and familiarity of measured conversation to the lyrical sounds
. Of ditties highly penned, Sung by a fair queen in a bower of beauty,
With ravishing division to her lute.'”3 “It is the only blank verse in the language, except Milton's, that for itself is readable. It is not stately and uniformly swelling like his, but varied and broken by the inequalities of the ground it has to pass over in its uncertain course.'
(1) Dr. Hamilton. “Nugæ Literariæ," p. 233.