ePub 版

delight, that he was content to purchase it by sity of making the drama credible. The crilics the sacrifice of reason, propriety, and truth. hold it impossible, that an action of months or A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for years can be possibly believed to pass in three which he lost the world, and was content to lose hours; or that the spectator can suppose himit.

self to sit in the theatre, while ambassadors go It will be thought strange, that, in enume- and return between distant kings, while armies rating the defects of this writer, I have not yet are levied and towns besieged, while an exile mentioned his neglect of the unities, bis viola- wanders and returns, or lill he whom they saw tion of those laws which have been instituted courting his mistress, shall lament the untimely and established by the joint authority of poels fall of his son. The mind revolts from evident and of critics.

falsehood, and fiction loses its force when it For his other deviations from the art of writ- departs from the resemblance of reality. ing / resign him to critical justice, without From the narrow limitation of time necessamaking any other demand in his favour, tban rily arises the contraction of place. The specthat which must be indulged to all human ex- lator, who knows that he saw the first act at cellence; that bis virtues be rated with his fail- Alexandria, cannot suppose that he sees the ings; but, from the censure wbich this irre- next at Rome, at a distance to which not the gularity may bring upon him, I shall, with due dragons of Medea could, in so short a time, have reverence to that learning which I must oppose, transported him; he knows with certainly that adventure to try bow I can defend him. he has not changed his place, and he knows

His histories, being neither tragedies nor that place cannot change itself; that what was comedies, are pol subject to any of their laws; a house cannot become a plain ; that what was nothing more is necessary to all the praise which Tbebes can never be Persepolis. they espect, than that the changes of action be Such is the triumphant larguage with which so prepared as to be understood, that the inci- a critic exulls over the misery of an irregular dents be various and affecting, and the charac-poet, and exults commonly without resistance ters consistent, natural, and distinct. No other or reply. It is time the fore to tell him, by unily is intended, and therefore none is to be the authority of Shakspeare, that he assumes, sougbt.

as an unquestionable principle, a position, lo his other works he has well enough pre- which, while his breath is forming it into served the unity of action. He has not, indeed, words, his understanding pronounces to be an intrigue regularly perplexed and regularly false. It is false, that any representation is uaravelled; he does not endeavour to hide his mistaken for reality; that any dramatic fable in design only to discover it, for this is seldom the ils materiality was ever credible, or, for a single order of real events, and Shakspeare is the poet moment, was ever credited. d nature : but his plan has commonly what The objection arising from the impossibility Aristotle requires, a beginning, a middle, and of passing the first hour at Alexandria, and the an eod; one event is concatenated with another, next at Rome, supposes, that when the play and the cooclusion follows by easy consequence. opens, the spectator really imagines himself at There are perhaps some incidents that might Alexandria, and believes that his walk to the be spared, and in other poets there is much theatre has been a voyage to Egypt, and that talk tbat ooly fills up time upon the stage ; but he lives in the days of Antony and Cleopatra. the general syslem makes .gradual advances, Surely he ibat imagines this may imagine more. and the end of tbe play is the end of expecta- He that can take the stage at one time for the tion.

palace of the Ptolemies, may take it in half an To the unities of time and place he has shown hour for the promontory of Actium. Delusion, Do tegard : and perhaps a nearer view of the ir delusion be admitted, has no certain limilaprinciples on which they stand will diminish lion; if the specialor can be once persuaded, their value, and withdraw from them the vene- that his old acquaintances are Alexander and ration which, from the time of Corneille, they Cæsar, that a room illuminated with candles is bave very generally received, by discovering that the plain of Pharsalia, or the banks of Granicus, they have given more trouble to the poet, he is in a state of elevation above the reach of then pleasure to the auditor.

reason, or of truth, and from the heights of emThe necessity of observing the unities of pyrean poetry, may despise the circumscriptions lime and place arises from the supposed neces- of terrestrial nature. There is no reason why a mind thas wandering in ecstasy should count possibility than suppose the presence of misery, the clock, or why an hour should not be a cen- as a mother weeps over her babe, when she retury in that calenture of the brains that can make members that death may take it from her. the stage a field.

The delight of tragedy proceeds from our con The truth is, that the spectators are always in sciousness of fiction; if we thought murders their senses, and know, from the first act to the and treasons real, they would please us no last, that the stage is only a stage, and the more. players are only players. They come to bear Imitations produce pain or pleasure, not a certain number of lines recited with just gesture because they are mistaken for realities, but beand elegant modulation. The lines relate to cause they bring realities to mind. When the some action, and an action must be in some imagination is recreated by a painted landscape, place; but the different actions that complete a the trees are not supposed capable to give us story may be in places very remote from each sbade, or the fountains coolness ; but we conother : and where is the absurdity of allowing sider, how we should be pleased with such that space to represent first Athens, and then fountains playing beside us, and such woods Sicily, which was always known to be neither waving over us. We are agitated in reading Sicily nor Athens, but a modern theatre? the history of Henry the Fifth, yet no man takes

By supposition, as place is introduced, time bis book for the field of Agincourt. A dramatic may be extended ; the time required by the exhibition is a book recited with concomitants sable elapses for the most part between the acts; that increase or diminish its effect. Familiar for, of so much of the action as is represented, comedy is often more powerful on the theatre, the real and poetical duration is the same. Ir, than in the page ; imperial tragedy is always in the first act, preparations for war against less. The humour of Petruchio may be heightMithridates are represented to be made in ened by grimace; but what voice or what gesture Rome, the event of the war may, without ab- can bope to add dignity or force to the soliloquy surdity, be represented, in the catastrophe, as of Cato? bappening in Pontus; we know that there is A play read affects the mind like a play neither war, nor preparation for war; we know acted. It is therefore evident, that the action that we are neilber in Rome nor Pontus: that is not supposed to be real; and it follows, that neither Mithridates nor Lucullus are before us. between the acts a longer or shorter time may The drama exhibits successive imitations of suc- , be allowed to pass, and that no more account cessive actions, and why may not the second of space or duration is to be taken by the auditor imitation represent an action that happened of a drama, than by the reader of a narrative, years after the first; if it be so connected with before whom may pass in an hour the life of a it, that nothing but time can be supposed to in- bero, or the revolutions of an empire. tervene? Time is, of all modes of existence, Whether Shakspeare knew the unities, and most obsequious to the imagination ; a lapse of rejected them by design, or deviated from them years is as easily conceived as a passage or by bappy ignorance, it is, I think, impossible to hours. In contemplation we easily contract the decide, and useless to inquire. We may reasontime of real actions, and therefore willingly ably suppose, that when he rose to notice, be permit it to be contracted when we only see did not want the counsels and admonitions of their imitation.

scholars and critics, and that be at last delibeIt will be asked, how the drama moves, if it rately persisted in a practice, which he might is not credited. It is credited with all the credit have begun by chance. As nothing is essential due to a drama. It is credited, whenever it to the fable, but unity of action, and as the moves, as a just picture of a real original ; unities of time and place arise evidently from as representing to the auditor what he would false assumptions, and, by circumscribing the himself feel, if he were to do or suffer what is extent of the drama, lessen its variety, I cannot there feigned to be suffered or to be done. The think it much to be lamented, that they were reflection that strikes the heart is not, that the not known by him, or not observed : por, if evils before us are real evils, but that they are such another poet could arise, should I very evils to which we ourselves may be exposed. vehemently reproach him, that his first act If there be any fallacy, it is not that we fancy passed at Venice, and his next in Cyprus. the players, but that we fancy ourselves up - Such violations of rules merely positive, become happy for a moment ; but we rather lament ibe the comprehensive genius of Shakspeare, and

sacb censures are suitable to the minute and a book be not worse or better for the circumsleuder criticism of Voltaire.

stances of the author, yet as there is always a

silent reference of human works lo human *Non usque adeo permiscuit imis

abilities, and as the enquiry, how far man may Longus samma dies, ut non, si voce Metelli Serveatur leges, malint a Cæsare tolli."

extend bis designs, or how high he may rate his

native force, is of far greater dignily than in Yet when I speak thus slightly of dramatic wbat rank we shall place any particular perrules, I cannot but recollect how much wit and formance, curiosity is always busy to discover learning may be produced against me; before the instruments, as well as to survey the worksoek authorities I am afraid to stand; not that manship, to know how much is to be ascribed I think the present question one of those that to original powers, and how much to casual are to be decided by mere authority, but be- and adventitious help. The palaces of Peru or cause it is to be suspected, that these precepls Mexico were certainly mean and incommodious bave not been so easily received, but for better habitations, if compared to the houses of reasons than 1 bave yet been able to find. European monarchs; yet who could forbear to The result of my inquiries, in which it would be view them with astonishment, who remembered ludicrous to boast of impartiality, is, that the that they were built without the use of iron ? upilies of time and place are not essential to a The English nation, in the time of Shakjust drama; that though they may sometimes speare, was yet struggling to emerge from conduce lo pleasure, they are always to be barbarily. The philology of Italy had been sacrificed to the nobler beauties of variety and transplanted hither in the reign of Henry the instruction; and that a play, written with nice Eighth ; and the learned languages had been observation of critical rules, is to be contem-successfully cultivated by Lilly, Linacre, and plated as an elaborate curiosily, as the product More ; by Pole, Cheke, and Gardiner ; and of superfluous and ostentatious art, by which is afterwards by Smith, Clerk, Haddon, and shown, ralber what is possible, than what is Ascham. Greek was now laught to boys in the necessary.

principal schools; and those who unitedd eleHe that, without diminution of any other gance with learning, read, with great diligence, excellence, shall preserve all the unilies un- the Italian and Spanish poels.

But literature broken, deserves the like applause with the was yet confined to prosessed scholars, or to architect, who shall display all the orders of men and women of high rank. The public architecture in a citadel, without any deduction was gross and dark; and to be able lo read and from its strength : but the principal beauty of write, was an accomplishment still valued for a citadel is to exclude the enemy; and the its rarity. greatest graces of a play are to copy nature, and Nations, like individuals, have their infancy. instruct life.

A people newly awakened to literary curiosity, Perhaps, what I have here not dogmatically being yet unacquainted with the true state of but deliberately written, may recall the prin- things, knows not how to judge of that which ciples of the drama to a new examination. Po is proposed as its resemblance. Whatever is am almost frighted at my own temerity; and remote from common appearances is always when I estimate the fame and the strength of welcome to vulgar, as to childish credulity; those that maintain the contrary opinion, am and of a country unenlightened by learning, ready to sink down in reverential silence; as the whole people is the vulgar. The study of Eneas withdrew from the defence of Troy, those who then aspired to plebcian learning wben he saw Neptune shaking the wall, and was laid out upon adventures, giants, dragons, Juno heading the besiegers.

and enchantments. The Death of Arthur was Those whom my arguments cannot persuade the favourite volume. lo give their approbation to the judgment of The mind, which has feasted on the luxurious Shakspeare, will easily, if they consider the wonders of fiction, bas no taste of the insipidity condition of his life, make some allowance for of truth. A play which imitated only the combis ignorance.

mon occurrences of the world, would, upon the Every man's performances, to be rightly admirers of Palmerin and Guy of Warwick, estimated, must be compared to the state of the have made little impression ; he that wrote age in which he lived, and with his own par- for such an audience was under the necessity of licular opportunities; and though to a reader looking round for strange events and fabulous transactions, and that incredibilily, by which author's extravagancies are endured by a nation, maturer knowledge is offended, was the chief re- which has seen the tragedy of Cato. Let him commendation of writings, to unskilful curiosity. be answered, that Addison speaks the language

Our author's plots are generally borrowed of poels, and Shakspeare of men. We find in from novels; and it is reasonable to suppose, Cato innumerable beauties which enamour us of ibat he chose the most popular, such as were its author, but we see nothing that acquaints read by many, and related by more; for his us with human sentiments or buman actions ; audience could not have followed him through we place it with the fairest and noblest progeny the intricacies of the drama, had they not which judgment propagates by conjunction with held the thread of the story in their bands. learning; but Othello is the vigorous and

The stories, which we now find only in vivacious offspring of observation impregnated remoter authors, were in his time accessible by genius. Cato affords a splendid exhibition and familiar. The fable of As you like it, of artificial and fictitious manners, and delivers which is supposed to be copied from Chaucer's just and noble sentiments, in diction easy, Gamelyn, was a little pamphlet of those times; clevated, and barmonious; but ils hopes and and old Mr. Cibber remembered the tale of fears communicate no vibration to the heart; Hamlet in plain English prose, which the the composition refers us only to the writer; critics have now to seek in Saro Grammaticus.

we pronounce the name of Cato, but we think His English histories he look from English on Addison. chronicles and English ballads; and as the The work of a correct and regular writer is ancient writers were made known to his coun

a garden accurately formed and diligently planltrymen by versions, they supplied him with pew ed, varied with shades and scented with flowers; subjects ; be dilated some of Plutarch's lives into the composition of Shakspeare is a forest, in plays, when they had been translated by North. which oaks extend their branches, and pines

His plots, whether bistorical or fabulous, are tower in the air, interspersed somelimes with always crowded with incidents, by which the weeds and brambles, and sometimes giving attention of a rude people was more easily caught shelter to myrtles and to roses; filling the eye than by sentiment or argumentation; and such with awful pomp, and gratifying the mind with is the power of the marvellous, even over those endless diversity. Other poets display cabinets who despise it, that every man finds bis mind

of precious rarities, minutely finished, wrought more strongly seized by the tragedies of Shak- into shape, and polished into brightness. Shakspeare than of any other writer ; others please speare opens a mine which contains gold and us by particular speeches, but he always makes diamonds in unexhaustable plenty, though cloudus anxious for the event, and has perhaps excel-ed by incrustations, debased by impurities, and led all but Homer in securing the first purpose mingled with a mass of meaner minerals. of a writer, by exciting restless and unquench- It has been much disputed, whether Shakable curiosity, and compelling him that reads speare owed bis excellence to his own nalive his work to read it through.

force, or whether he had the common helps of The shows and bustle with which his plays scholastic education, the precepts of critical abound have the same original. As knowledge science, and the examples of ancient authors. advances, pleasure passes from the eye to the There has always prevailed a tradition, that ear, but returns, as it declines, from the ear Shakspeare wanted learning, that he had no to the eye.

Those to whom our author's regular education, nor much skill in the dead labours were exhibited had more skill in pomps languages. Jonson, his friend, affirms, thal or processions than in poetical language, and he had small Lalin, and less Greek; * wbo, perhaps wanted some visible and discriminated

* " and no Greek.” Orig. Edit. 1765. Dr. Farevenis, as comments on the dialogue. He mer, in his “Essay on the learning of Shakspeare,” knew how he should most please; and whether has the following note, alluding to this alteration, bis practice is more agreeable to nalure, or

“This passage of Ben Jonson, so often quoted, is whether his example bas prejudiced the nation, tion, with a various reading, ‘small Latin and no

given us in the admirable preface to the late ediwe still find that on our stage something must Greek,' which had been held up to the public be done as well as said, and inactive declama- for a modern sophistication: yet whether an error tion is very coldly heard, however musical or or not, it was adopted above a century ago by elegant, passionate or sublime.

W. Towers, in a panegyric on Cartwright. His

eulogy, with more than fifty others, on this now Voltaire espresses his wonder, that our forgotten poet, was prefixed to the edit. 1651."

This was a

besides that he had no imaginable templation no imitations of French or Italian authors have w falsehood, wrote at a time when the cha- been discovered, though the Italian poetry was racter and acquisitions of Shakspeare were then high in esleem, I am inclined to believe, known to multitudes. His evidence ought that he read little more than English, and chose tberefore to decide the controversy; unless some for his fables only such tales as he found transtestimony of equal force could be opposed. lated.

Some have imagined, that they have disco- That much knowledge is scattered over bis vered deep learning in many imitations of old works is very justly observed by Pope, but it is writers; but the examples which I have known often such knowledge as books did not supply. urged, were drawn from books translated in bis He that will understand Sbakspeare, must not time; or were such easy coincidences of be content to study him in the closet, he must lboughts, as will happen to all who consider the look for his meaning sometimes among the same subjects; or such remarks on life or sports of the field, and sometimes among the akioms of morality as float in conversation, and manufactures of the shop. are transmilted through the world in proverbial There is, however, proof enough that he was sentences.

a very diligent reader, nor was our language I bave found it remarked, that in this impor- then so indigent.of books, but that he might tant sentence, Go before, I'll follow, we read very liberally indulge his curiosity without exa translation of, I præ , sequar. I have been cursion into foreign literature. Many of the lold, that when Caliban, after a pleasing dream, Roman authors were translated, and some of says, I cried to sleep again, the author imitates the Greek; the Reformation had filled the Anacreon, who had, like every other man, the kingdom wilh theological learning; most of the same wish on the same occasion.

topics of human disquisition had found English There are a few passages which may pass writers; and poelry had been cultivated, not for imilations, but so sew, that the exceplion only with diligence, but success. only confirms the rule; be obtained them from stock of knowledge sufficient for a mind so accidental quotations, or by oral communica- capable of appropriating and improving it. tion, and as he used what he bad, would have But the greater part of his excellence was the used more if he had obtained it.

product of his own genius. He found the The Comedy of Errors is confessedly taken English slage in a stale of the utmost rudeness ; from the Menachmi of Plautus, from the only no essays either in tragedy or comedy had play of Plaulus which was then in English. appeared, from which it could be discovered What can be more probable, than that he who to what degree of delight either one or other copied that, would have copied more; but that might be carried. Neither character nor diathose which were not translated were inacces- logue were yet understood. Shakspeare may sible ?

be truly said to have introduced them both Whether he knew the modern languages is amongst us, and in some of his happier scenes mcertain. That his plays have some French lo have carried them both lo the ulmost height. stedes proves but little; be might easily procure By what gradations of improvement he prothem to be wrillen, aad probably, even though ceeded, is not easily known; for the chronology be bad known the language in the common of his works is yet unsellled. Rowe is of opidegree, he could not have written it without nion, that perhaps we are not to look for his assistance. In the story of Romeo and Juliet beginning, like those of other writers, in his be is observed to have followed the English least perfect works; art had so little, and translation, where it deviates from the Italian; nature so large a share in what he did, that but this on the other part proves nothing against for aught I know, says he, the performances of bis koowledge of the original. He was to copy, his youth, as they were the most vigorous, were bol obat he knew himself, but wbat was known the best. But the power of nature is only the

power of using to any certain purpose the maIt is most likely that he bad learned Lalin terials which diligence procures, or opportunity sufficiently to make him acquainted with con- supplies. Nature gives no man knowledge, struction, but that be never advanced to an and when images are collected by study and exeasy perusal of the Roman authors. Concern-perience, can only assist in combining or applying his skill in modern languages, I can find ing them. Sbakspeare, however favoured by na suficient ground of determination ; but as nature, could impart only wbat be bad learned ;

to bis audience.

« 上一頁繼續 »