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Cooke those of this. It was one o'clock in the morning before the name ceased to reverberate through the city, and “ have you got a seat? How shall I get a seat?
-How shall I contrive to see him?-Oh I shall never see him!Dear me, I shall never get a seat.-I'd give ten dollars for a seat.-Alas, he'll go away before I see him-Will he play Richard again?-What an unfortunate creature I am!I shall never see Cooke in Richard!"with similar questions and lamentations; and little else were heard throughout Philadelphia all the evening of Saturday; those who went to bed dreamed of Cooke; and there is good reason to apprehend that this very extraordinary personage employed a larger share of the SUNDAY thoughts and conversation of our city than was consistent with strict piety. As it fares with some British kings, whose bodies are deposited at Westminster Abbey while their hearts are locked up at Windsor, so it fared with many a janty spark and lady fair, whose pretty persons were disposed through our various churches, while their hearts were locked up with Richard and his horse in the play-house.
On opening the doors on Monday evening the tumult was as great and the struggles to get places no less, than those of Saturday. The conduct of the managers on the occasion was praiseworthy: they would not allow a ticket to be sold till five o'clock, with a view to the persons who had taken boxes being enabled to get into their seats without interruption; nor would they suffer more tickets to be disposed of than would suffice to fill the house. When the hour for admission came however, the doors were so blocked up and beset that the managers opened the back door and gave the ladies access to their boxes across the stage.
It was not altogether unreasonable to think as many people did, that there could be but one opinion formed upon Cooke's performance of Richard; and that he who in the theatres of London, Dublin and Edinburgh had torn the laurel from every rival's brow and kept it firmly on his own for many years, would, though he might not please every individual, have escaped ungracious and inhospitable censure in this country, where, sooth to say, a first rate performer of Richard had never before been seen. * Nevertheless we thought differently; and there are those who, before Cooke came here, heard
Though Cooper and Hodgkinson displayed much spirit in Gloster, and Mr. Fennell speaks it (and what does he not?) elegantly, we cannot truly call any of them first rate Richards.
us remark, that there were in Philadelphia many to whom the very excellence of that actor, and the universality of his fame, would serve as motives for censure; and that the probability was that GARRICK, if he were alive, and were to appear on our stage, would by some be thought an actor inferior even to Cooke-for no other reason but because he was a better. He has yet much of our common nature to learn who does not know that the affectation of knowledge and discernment is one of the resources of ignorance; that men are pretty generally disposed to appear wise in proportion to their want of wisdom, and that those who wish to set up as dealers in sagacity, without having any stock in trade, are vastly fond of paradoxes, as things the failure in which they think leaves them at worst no lower than they were before. In the intellectual as in the commercial world, he who sets up business on false capital may be a bankrupt, but cannot possibly lose any thing.
Besides, in the endless diversity of human opinion, the same object will not only strike two different persons of sound judgment as not the same, but will strike the judicious, and the injudicious as being diametrically opposite. Even men eminent for learning and genius have been led away from common sense and truth by the will-o-the-wisp suggestions of exorbitant vanity, and a metaphysical paradox hunter would rather wheedle his neighbour into the crater of Vesuvius than let his perverted pride go unsatiated. To acknowledge that there is any thing of which we cannot judge as well as any other person, is a pill too bitter for some of us to swallow; and there are multitudes utterly incompetent to many of the meanest offices in life, who would yet be highly affronted with any one that doubted their capacity, or, as they would call it, their right, to decide at once upon questions which would make wise men hesitate and puzzle the most learned.
Moreover, that kind, or as the phrase is, that school of acting which began with Garrick, and lay in a trance since his death till Cooke revived it, was almost as unknown to this country, till Cooke visited us, as it was to Great Britain before the appearance of Garrick; and with many here it is as it was with Partridge, in Tom Jones--they can see no merit in Cooke as an actor, because he does exactly what a man in real life would do if he were in the situation of the character he represents. To some palates molasses is preferable to sallad as a condiment. Habit makes it so: and the sarcastic, biting Gloster himself is disgusting unless he be made a
very sweet fellow. Besides' we may see Nature every day in the open streets and fields for nothing: why then pay a dollar, and get a squeezing, for seeing it on the stage? for we see little else in Cooke.
Since then there are wisewoulds, who impeach the judgment of Cooke's admirers, and set up their opinions against the nearly unanimous voice of the most luminous and learned critics in this country and Great Britain, it becomes more than ever incumbent on the public critic not only to assert and promulgate his opinion, but to establish his decisions by fair reasoning. The task is laborious-it is unexpected too; but it is one we undertake with readiness; not with the vain hope of convincing those who, taking their own will for their warrant, not reason for their guide, would rather remain to doomsday in error, than own they could possibly be wrong; but to lend the light which experience has put in our hands to those who have not yet been in the way of acquiring it, and to warn them against having too much faith in the judgment of those heaven-born critics, who pretend to know all things while they have most things yet to learn. In order to do justice to the actor, we must accompany him, step by step, through the character, and compare his representation of it with the evident drift and intention of the poet.
Though Richard is styled an historical play, the character of Gloster is, as much as Prospero, Falstaff, or Mercutio, a mere creation of Shakspeare's wonderworking fancy. How far it comported, in a moral view, with justice or integrity, to calumniate Richard the Third, we will not here insist upon. Perhaps our bard was really led astray by fragments of old stories, as to the character of Richard; but there is reason to apprehend that his object was to please Queen Elizabeth, by slandering the house of York, rather than to investigate truth, which would have fastened the crimes he gives to Richard on the character of her grandfather, Henry the Seventh.
As a dramatic poet, Shakspeare's main object in the composition of Richard seems to be this:--to exhibit in the strongest colors the unlimited powers of stupendous intellect when united with stupendous courage. To this end he forms a monster who, to the pollution of every crime that can make man noxious to man and offensive to God, adds the most disgusting personal deformity, and yet renders him terribly great, and admirable and sublimely attractive, by the
mere force of valor, which nothing can dismay, and of intellect capacious of every thing. These are the fundamental parts of the composition which a true philosophic actor like Cooke will take for his guide; arising from them as corollaries the more minute considerations, present themselves: among those are a continual, evident consciousness in Gloster of his own superior powers, and, arising from that again, the most ineffable contempt for the understanding of all other persons.
Notwithstanding Dr. Johnson's opinion to the contrary, it may be doubted whether in any of his works Shakspeare has evinced more consummate genius, more profound knowledge of the human heart, more invention in devising extraordinary yet natural conjunctures, or more dexterity in making them productive of after effects than in this of Richard. May we not say too that in making, like another Prometheus, and animating with fire not stolen from heaven but borrowed from hell, this being of his own, of which there was no prototype in history or romance to guide him, he has displayed a spirit of prophecy? The time was, and that not long ago, when Shakspeare's Gloster was considered as a composition which not only never had, but could not in the nature of things have an exemplar: yet when we come to analyse that same composition, and compare its constituent parts article by article with those of the tyrant who now tramples Europe under foot, we shall not find one wanting in either that belongs not to the other, not even excepting the wonderful command of temper which, when it suits his purpose, Shakspeare's monster displays, but which, like that of our modern Gloster, was evidently not natural to him. : - Gloster's first appearance is in the tower, whither he comes for the purpose of cutting off, as he avows, the captive king: " My first step shall be on Henry's head.” Mr. Cooke's face, person, deportment, and utterance of that fine soliloquy were all Richard, and his entrance was hailed with repeated volleys of plaudits. In soliloquy Cooke is allowed, even by his adversaries, to stand wholly unrivalled: he seems really alone; and if ever any actor better than all others conveyed the most perfect idea of self-conference, that actor is Cooke. Yet in this soliloquy he seemed to have fallen short of the expectation of the audience, to which, truly, so extravagantly high was it raised, no man that ever lived could possibly come up
In this admirable speech Gloster gives a partial view of his
nature, and gains a sort of admiration by his total disregard of mere external personal beauty and ornament. This he evinces by the levity with which he treats his own manifold deformity, and his derision of the fripperies of this piping time of peace."
Instead of mounting barbed steeds,
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute. Never were features and voice more happily associated than Mr. Cooke's for the production of that impression which Shakspeare meant to effect by this speech; and the very harshness of his voice contributed to the perfection of it, particularly in the lines
Then, since this earth affords no joy
As are of happier person than myself. The next scene presents Gloster in the chamber with Henry; and here it was that the audience were first compelled to make an unanimous acknowledgment of the actor's superior powers. To those who had never before seen character delineated with all its adjuncts, or passion exhibited, not by mere verbal recital, but by its corporeal indications, the action of Cooke in this scene must have been an extraordinary—a povel spectacle. The matchless expression of his countenance, in which one might read impatience and conscious guilt with fury and hatred, rendered more terrible by occasional gleams of derision and contempt, while Henry accuses him of his barbarous crimes, so perfectly identified the monster intended by the poet, and rendered the whole soul of the tyrant so visible, that his perception must be dull indeed who could not understand the character from the actor's looks alone; yet were these not more expressive or appropriate than his actions. His fiddling with his sword, the quivering of his lip and under jaw, the convulsive starting of his muscles, the clawing with his fingers, and the universal agita- . tion produced throughout his whole frame by the violence of his passion, bid defiance to every attempt at description. His impatience and the fellness of his purpose were marked with more singular emphasis by his play with his sword, than by any other single circumstance: instead of putting his right hand to it every now and then as others do, he fiddled with the hilt with his left, his thumb beating upon it with convulsive agitation.