ePub 版



lessly upon one of our poet's most delightful, Heaven-inspired productions, The Tempest; which he altered into one of the most disgusting pieces of mummery that ever was represented on a stage. Yet this stuff held possession of the stage till Garrick, one of vanity's spoiled children, by way of turning this old reheated pie into a new pasty, converted the whole into an opera. An act for which his admiring biographer, Murphy, gives him a little gentle castigation. « Garrick,” says Murphy, “ought not to have suffered such a play " to dwindle into an opera. The harmony of the versification want“ed no aid from music. He had said in a former prologue, that he « wished to lose no drop of that immortal man, and here he lost a “ tun of him. Had he revived the Tempest as it stands in the ori. “ginal, and played the part of Prospero, he would have done

justice to the god of his idolatry, and honour to himself.”—The doing of that act of justice to Shakspeare, and honour to himself, however, was reserved for Mossop, whose performance of Prospero we never think of without recollections which give us pain for the past, and render us hopeless of the future.

As we intend, on some future occasion, to enter largely into the general subject of these abuses of Shakspeare, we shall at present carry it no farther than as it relates to the tragedy now before us, which has undergone the most cruel maiming and defacing from the hands, first of Mr. Nahum Tate, then of Mr. George Colman, and, in humble imitation of these, from the still more sacrilegious hands of all the managers and prompters in Great Britain, as it suited their convenience or as it squared with their interest, or their more sordid taste.

We are the more inclined to be full and explicit upon this subject because the alterations of Lear have, as Lansdowne's Merchant of Venice once did, got possession of the stage to the exclusion of Shakspeare's much better original work—and because in an old critical work, which is too often taken for conclusive authority, we mean the British Dramatic Censor, these alterations are spoken of with approbation. Nor have we the least apprehension of incurring a retort of the charge of vanity upon us for holding this opinion, when we can show that we are supported in it by the authority of Mr. Addison, who blames Tate for his alteration and declares that it has deprived the tragedy of half its beauty.

It is no justification of altering a play of Shakspeare's to say that it is rendered thereby more pleasing to a majority of the au. dience. The poet has rights of which no one should be allowed the privilege of depriving him: he has a right to speak for him. self-to have the production of his mind given to the world such as it is--and not to have fathered upon his muse the squalid brats of feeble Grub-street brains, littered in garrets or cellars. We remember a case in point, which occurred in our presence. A low comedian of the name of Jackson, who played for some time in Dublin, was in the habit of introducing into the character of Jerry Sneak, in Foote's farce of The Mayor of Garrat, a droll song

called « Johnny. Pringle's Pig."—Whenever he played Jerry he sung this song; and as sure as he sung it, so sure was he to be encored. Foote arrived in Dublin; and the first night the Mayor of Garrat was performed by him, Johnny Pringle's pig being encored, Foote threw out a jibe upon the song, and, of course, upon the taste of the audience they resented it; upon which the wit, who knew better than any man in the house the ground on which he stood, boldly stepped forward, asserted his right as an author to reject interpolations,—maintained that right respectfully but firmly-laid down the law in support of authors, and was, as he deserved to be, highly applauded, and succeeded in having Johnny Pringle's pig exiled to its proper sty, so long at least as he remained in Dublin.

Were those alterations an improvement even, we deny their admissibility;--but as they greatly injure the play, they ought not to be endured. Where an excellent play happens to be, here and there, defaced with obscenity, the offensive parts ought to be expunged, or the piece withheld from representation: but against the introduction of any matter not belonging to the author, against any material defalcation, or any addition at all, and against the slightest change in the arrangement of the scenes, justice, common sense, criticism, taste and sound judgment will for ever set their faces. Thus we would not insist upon retaining the opening scene of Lear, because in it Gloster informs Kent of the illegitimacy of his , son Edmund, in terms too coarse for female delicacy to hear: but we see no reason for dislocating the play by bringing Edmund himself forward to relate it in this place, which he might as well be left to do in that appointed by Shakspeare-that is in the second scene, in a soliloquy which, by the by, is not one atom less coarse than the part expunged. Therefore we would put Mr. Tate aside, pass over Gloster and Kent's conversation, and open the play with King Lear surrounded by his court.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


With the hypercriticisms uttered upon this tragedy we have still less patience than with the alterations of Messrs. Tate and Colman. When a hypercritic once gets mounted on his hobby-horse, he seems to think that he has a right to ride over every thing. Instead of taking the character as the poet intended it, and then trying how far the language, the incidents, the sentiments, and the arrangement of the various parts of the scheme be calculated to give force and illustrate that character, they set out with finding fault with the character itself. We remember to have met with one of those hol. low talkers, who pertinaciously maintained that Fielding's character of Alworthy ought to have been drawn in some particulars different from what it is or, in other words, that it ought to be that which the author did not intend it to be: “ for, sir,” said this wisehead, “ Mr. Alworthy ought not to have treated Jones so hastily, nor « abandoned him upon the suggestions of his enemies.” It was in vain to say to this sagacious critic-Fielding intended to draw Mr. Alworthy—and he has done so-a natural character,--a good man—but not a perfect one. No; it would not do;—and because it did not square with this sage critic's idea, he would insist that Alworthy, one of the finest characters ever imagined by the human fancy, was nothing but a poor unmeaning piece of stuff—a nothing! We have now before us a long and laboured criticism on King Lear, in which the author, who by the way pronounces it the first of all dramatic productions, censures Lear, in many places, for the very things which constitute his extraordinary character; and begins by deriding the notion of Lear's measuring the division of his kingdom among his daughters, by their respective answers to the question, « which loves us most?"-Now, when the moral intention of Shakspeare in drawing King Lear is fully and considerately examined, it will appear that every particular point, objected to by the hypercritics, is in reality a beauty not only wonderful in the skilfulness of its application to the general purpose of the play, but absolutely essential to the full illustration of the particular character of old Lear itself.

We have heretofore* said that Shakspeare's main object in the composition of Richard the Third seemed to be to exhibit in the

strongest colours the unlimited powers of stupendous intellect 6 when united with stupendous courage.” In King Lear his design evidently appears to be this—to point out the danger of excessive sensibility, and to warn us that the indulgence of that benevolent impulse (precious and useful as it is when under correction) is, when unaccompanied by cool reflection, and unguided by a strict sense of duty, the source of incalculable mischiefs to the possessor, liable to extravagance, excess, and outrage; and ultimately leading to the shipwreck of felicity, fortune, and character.

* See page 183.

If we were to judge of the feelings of men from their writings, we should be led to believe, by his plays, that sensibility was a misfortune from which Shakspeare had suffered severely: for, master as he is of every passion, we find none on which he has expatiated more frequently, more feelingly, or indeed more effectually. Without adverting to many other proofs of this, we will barely mention the characters of HAMLET, JAQUES, in As you like it, and Timon, besides this of LEAR; in each of which we find the unhappy effects of extreme sensibility depicted, though in different shapes, in such warm language and glowing colours as nothing but a heart that acutely felt it could supply. Instructed by nature in all the diversities of the human passions, conversant in all the infirmities they produce, and skilful in discriminating their various symptoms, Shakspeare knew that they frequently produce effects apparently the most incongruous,—that the same passion frequently shows itself in the same person with the most discordant and contrary indications, and that sensibility, the most kindly and beneficent of the social impulses, if repulsed from its object, is apt to recoil to an opposite and a vitious extreme.

Lear, accustomed to authority, and to the most flattering and servile submission to his will, had never experienced any of those checks which would serve to diminish the influence of the passions over ordinary men. Having complexionally a strong sensibility, he has all his life had the means of indulging it without fear of evil consequences, or check from inconvenience. Kingly opulence enabled him to be munificent without danger-kingly authority exempted him from responsibility to any one. Thus his natural sensibility, nourished by long enjoyment, and inflamed by the flattery of those who profited by it, grew every day more dominant over his reason, till at last its dominion became perfect, while the latter, debilitated by age, and pride, and fondness, dwindled away and left him a prey to all his wayward feelings. Still he was a king-still he had power and authority;-and so long as these remained, he was safe from the worst effects of his infirmities. He might be privately smiled at for his weakness—but he could not be openly derided-he could not be trampled upon—he could not be utterly undone. Such is his condition at the opening of the tragedy; Shakspeare judiciously making his appearance in the play commence with that first act of superlative folly which strips him of his authority and leads to his undoing.

It is the nature of extreme sensibility so far to transform its victims from the ordinary mould of men of this world that they never fail to ascribe their own dispositions to those whom they regard, and to expect from them correspondent feelings and affec. tions. They never dream of-nay, they will not believe it possible that any difference of mind could exist between them. On this ground we find old Lear so confident in the affections of his belov. ed daughters, and most of all in his youngest whom most he loves, that he resolves to give up every thing to them, and to become in his turn dependent on their affections. This naturally leads him to the question which of them loves him most; in their answers to which he makes sure, by a reference to his own heart, of the fondest from her of whom he is most fond. Childish as this may appear to hasty critics, it is nevertheless founded in an accurate observance of human nature.

Now, our joy,
Although the last, not least; to whose young love
The vines of France and milk of Burgundy
Strive to be interess’d; what can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.

All the lecturers on morality in the world could not give, in the Inost elaborate details, a more copious view of the debilitating effects of sensibility than Shakspeare has in this one scene. As it is the nature of sensitive persons to transfer their own dispositions to those they love, and to expect a full reciprocation of them, it is their nature too, as a matter of consequence, to feel the most poignant anguish if their own extravagant and unreasonable ardour is not suitably returned; and this pain is violent in proportion to the excess of their expectations and the magnitude of their disappointment. In conformity to this doctrine, our great poet raises the resentment, the disappointment, and the pain of Lear to an excessive degree of poignancy and exasperation; and on his hearing the ungracious answer of Cordelia, which is so

[ocr errors]
« 上一頁繼續 »