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This did his love, and this his mirth digest: One imitates him most, the other best. If they have since out-writ all other men, "Tis with the drops which fell from Shakespeare's pen.'
The storm which vanish'd on the neighb'ring
Was taught by Shakespear's Tempest first to
That innocence and beauty which did smile
That liberty to vulgar wits allow,
Which works by magic supernatural things: But Shakespear's power is sacred as a king's. Those legends from old priesthood were receiv'd,
And he then writ, as people then believ'd.
Of DRYDEN's personal admiration of Shakspere, of his profound veneration for Shakspere, there is abundant proof. He belonged to the transition period of English poetry. His better judgment was sometimes held in subjection to the false taste that prevailed around him. He attempted to found a school of criticism, which should establish rules of art differing from those which produced the drama of Shakspere, and yet not acknowledging the supremacy of the tame and formal school of the French tragedians. He did not perfectly understand the real nature of the romantic drama. He did not see that, as in all other high poetry, simplicity was one of its great elements. He was of those who would "gild refined gold." But for genial hearty admiration of the great master of the romantic drama no one ever went beyond him. Take, for example, the conclusion of his preface to 'All for Love :' "In my style I have professed to imitate the divine Shakespear; which that I might perform more freely, I have disencumbered myself from rhyme. Not that I condemn my former way, but that this is more proper to my present purpose. I hope I need not to explain myself that I have not copied my author servilely. Words and phrases must of necessity receive a change in succeeding
ages. But 'tis almost a miracle that much of his language remains so pure; and that he who began dramatic poetry amongst us, untaught by any, and, as Ben Jonson tells us, without learning, should, by the force of his own genius, perform so much, that in a manner he has left no praise for any who came after him."
Dryden had the notion, in which Shaftesbury followed him, that the style of Shakspere was obsolete, although we have just seen that he says, ""Tis almost a miracle that much of his language remains so pure." Yet with this notion, which he puts forward as an apology for tampering with Shakspere, he never ceases to express his admiration of him; and, what is of more importance, to show how general was the same feeling. The preface to Troilus and Cressida' thus begins: The poet Eschylus was held in the same veneration by the Athenians of after-ages as Shakspeare is by us." In this preface is introduced the 'Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy,' in which the critic applies a variety of tests to the art of Shakspere, which only show that he did not understand the principles upon which Shakspere worked: but still there is everywhere the most unqualified admiration; and in the prologue to the altered play, which, being addressed to the people, could scarcely deal with such rules and exceptions for the formation of a judgment, we have again the most positive testimony to the public sense of Shakspere. This prologue is " spoken by Mr. Betterton, representing the ghost of Shakspeare."
"See, my lov'd Britons, see your Shakespear rise,
An awful ghost confess'd to human eyes!
Untaught, unpractis'd, in a barbarous age,
On foreign trade I needed not rely,
Like fruitful Britain, rich without supply.
In this my rough-drawn play you shall be- | box.
Some master-strokes, so manly and so bold,
Now, where are the successors to my name?
One thing is perfectly clear: that, when Dryden is addressing the people, he speaks of Shakspere as their especial favourite. He is then "your Shakspere." The crafty and prosaic Pepys, on the contrary, no doubt expressed many a courtier's sentiment about Shakspere. In the entry of his Diary of August 20th, 1666, we have, "To Deptford by water, reading 'Othello, Moor of Venice,' which I ever heretofore esteemed a mighty good play; but, having so lately read 'The Adventures of Five Hours,' it seems a mean thing." "The Adventures of Five Hours,' a tragi-comedy, by Sir Samuel Tuke, was a translation from the Spanish, which Echard commends for its variety of plots and intrigues. We can easily understand how Pepys, and "my wife's maid," counted 'Othello' a mean thing in comparison with it. Pepys shows us pretty clearly the sort of audience that in that day was called fashionable, and the mode in which they displayed their interest in a theatrical entertainment :
With these repeated acknowledgments of Shakspere's supremacy, it is at first difficult to understand how, in 1665, Dryden should have written, "others are now generally preferred before him." The age, as he himself tells us, differed in this respect from that of Shakspere's own age, and also from that of Charles I. He says, in the same 'Essay on Dramatic Poesy,' speaking of Beaumont and Fletcher, "Their plays are now the most pleasant and frequent entertainments of the stage, two of theirs being acted through the year for one of Shakespear's or Jonson's." But this is not neglect or oblivion of Shakspere. We learn pretty clearly from Dryden, though he does not care to say so, for that would have been self-condemnation, that a licentiousness which was not found in Shakspere was an agreeable thing to a licentious audience: "They” (Beaumont and Fletcher) "understood and imitated the conversation of gentlemen much better, whose wild debaucheries, and quickness of wit in repartees, no poet before them could paint as they have done. . . . They represented all the passions very lively, but, above all, love." The highest things in Shakspere can only be fitly appreciated by a people amongst whom there is a high moral tone, capable of understanding and of originating the highest poetical things. With all their faults, the ages of Elizabeth and James possessed this tone; and it is impossible now to estimate how greatly Shakspere contributed to its preservation. But nine years after the Re-prefaces. It is the summary of the judgstoration there was no public principle in ment of the highest critical authority of England, and little private honour. The this period,-when the public taste had been keenest relish for Shakspere most probably corrupted with music and spectacle, and existed out of the Court; and Betterton, in comedies of licentious intrigue abounded, in all likelihood, felt the applause of the pit company with the rhyming tragedies of more truly valuable than that of the king's | Dryden himself, and the ranting bombast of
"My wife and I to the King's playhouse, and there saw 'The Island Princess,' the first time I ever saw it; and it is a pretty good play, many good things being in it, and a good scene of a town on fire. We sat in an upper box, and the jade Nell came and sat in the next box; a bold, merry slut, who lay laughing there upon people." Again: "To the King's house to 'The Maid's Tragedy;' but vexed all the while with two talking ladies and Sir Charles Sedley; yet pleased to hear their discourse, he being a stranger." We can easily imagine that the "jade Nell," and the "talking ladies," were the representatives of a very large class, who preferred "other plays" to those of Shakspere.
We select a few passages from 'The Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy,' which contains a more condensed view of Dryden's opinions of Shakspere than any other of his
his inferior rivals. This essay first appeared ought to be shown in every man, as predominant over all the rest; as covetousness in Crassus, love of his country in Brutus ; and the same in characters which are feigned.
"How defective Shakespear and Fletcher have been in all their plots, Mr. Rymer has discovered in his 'Criticisms:' neither can we, who follow them, be excused from the same or greater errors; which are the more unpardonable in us, because we want their beauty to countervail our faults.
"The difference between Shakespear and Fletcher, in their plotting, seems to be thisthat Shakespear generally moves more terror, and Fletcher more compassion. For the first had a more masculine, a bolder, and more fiery genius; the second, a more soft and womanish. In the mechanic beauties of the plot, which are the observation of the three unities-time, place, and action-they are both deficient; but Shakespear most. Ben Jonson reformed those errors in his comedies, yet one of Shakespear's was regular before him; which is, 'The Merry Wives of Windsor.'
"After the plot, which is the foundation of the play, the next thing to which we ought to apply our judgment is the manners; for now the poet comes to work above ground. The groundwork indeed is that which is most necessary, as that upon which depends the firmness of the whole fabric; yet it strikes not the eye so much as the beauties or imperfections of the manners, the thoughts, and the expressions. .
"From the manners the characters of persons are derived; for indeed the characters are no other than the inclinations, as they appear in the several persons of the poem. A character, or that which distinguishes one man from all others, cannot be supposed to consist of one particular virtue, or vice, or passion only; but it is a composition of qualities which are not contrary to one another in the same person. Thus, the same man may be liberal and valiant, but not liberal and covetous; so in a comical character, or humour, (which is an inclination to this or that particular folly,) Falstaff is a liar and a coward, a glutton and a buffoon, because all these qualities may agree in the same man; yet it is still to be observed that one virtue, vice, and passion,
"The present French poets are generally accused, that, wheresoever they lay the scene, or in whatsoever age, the manners of their heroes are wholly French. Racine's Bajazet is bred at Constantinople, but his civilities are conveyed to him by some secret passage from Versailles into the Seraglio. But our Shakespear, having ascribed to Henry the Fourth the character of a king and of a father, gives him the perfect manners of each relation, when either he transacts with his son or with his subjects. Fletcher, on the other side, gives neither to Arbaces, nor to his king in 'The Maid's Tragedy,' the qualities which are suitable to a monarch. To return once more to Shakespear: no man ever drew so many characters, or generally distinguished them better from one another, excepting only Jonson. I will instance but in one, to show the copiousness of his invention; it is that of Caliban, or the monster, in 'The Tempest.' He seems there to have created a person which was not in nature-a boldness which at first sight would appear intolerable; for he makes him a species of himself, begotten by an incubus on a witch; but this, as I have elsewhere proved, is not wholly beyond the bounds of credibility,—at least the vulgar still believe
it. We have the separated notions of a spirit and of a witch-(and spirits, according to Plato, are vested with a subtle body; according to some of his followers, have different sexes);—therefore, as from the distinct apprehensions of a horse and of a man, imagination has formed a Centaur, so from those of an incubus and a sorceress Shakespear has produced his monster. Whether or no his generation can be defended I leave to philosophy; but of this I am certain, that the poet has most judiciously furnished him with a person, a language, and a character which will suit him, both by father's and mother's side: he has all the discontents and malice of a witch and of a devil, besides a convenient proportion of the deadly
sins-gluttony, sloth, and lust are manifest ; | melting-pot. But I fear (at least let me fear the dejectedness of a slave is likewise given it for myself) that we who ape his sounding him, and the ignorance of one bred up in a words have nothing of his thought, but are desert island. His person is monstrous, as all outside; there is not so much as a dwarf he is the product of unnatural lust and within our giant's clothes. Therefore let not his language is as hobgoblin as his person: Shakespear suffer for our sakes; it is our fault, in all things he is distinguished from other who succeed him in an age which is more mortals. The characters of Fletcher are refined, if we imitate him so ill that we copy poor and narrow in comparison of Shake- his failings only, and make a virtue of that spear's: I remember not one which is not in our writings which in his was an imperborrowed from him, unless you will except fection. that strange mixture of a man in the 'King and no King.' So that in this part Shakespear is generally worth our imitation; and to imitate Fletcher is but to copy after him who was a copier. . . .
"If Shakespear be allowed, as I think he must, to have made his characters distinct, it will easily be inferred that he understood the nature of the passions; because it has been proved already that confused passions make undistinguishable characters. Yet I cannot deny that he has his failings; but they are not so much in the passions themselves as in his manner of expression: he often obscures his meaning by his words, and sometimes makes it unintelligible. I will not say of so great a poet, that he distinguished not the blown puffy style from true sublimity, but I may venture to maintain that the fury of his fancy often transported him beyond the bounds of judgment, either in coining of new words and phrases, or racking words which were in use into the violence of a catachresis.
"To speak justly of this whole matter, it is neither height of thought that is discommended, nor pathetic vehemence, nor any nobleness of expression in its proper place; but it is a false measure of all these, something which is like them and is not them: it is the Bristol stone which appears like a diamond; it is an extravagant thought instead of a sublime one; it is roaring madness instead of vehemence; and a sound of words instead of sense. If Shakespear were stripped of all the bombast in his passions, and drest in the most vulgar words, we should find the beauties of his thoughts remaining; if his embroideries were burnt down, there would still be silver at the bottom of the
"For what remains, the excellency of that poet was, as I have said, in the more manly passions; Fletcher's in the softer: Shakespear writ better betwixt man and man, Fletcher betwixt man and woman; consequently the one described friendship better, the other love; yet Shakespear taught Fletcher to write love; and Juliet and Desdemona are originals. It is true the scholar had the softer soul, but the master had the kinder. Friendship is both a virtue and a passion essentially: love is a passion only in its nature, and is not a virtue but by accident. Good nature makes friendship, but effeminacy love. Shakespear had an universal mind, which comprehended all characters and passions; Fletcher a more confined and limited: for, though he treated love in perfection, yet honour, ambition, revenge, and generally all the stronger passions, he either touched not, or not masterly. To conclude all, he was a limb of Shakespear."
"The Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy' is held by Dr. Johnson to be an answer to 'The Tragedies of the last Age considered and examined,' by the celebrated THOMAS RYMER. Rymer's book was originally published in 1678; and Dryden's Preface to 'Troilus and Cressida,' in which the supposed answer is contained, appeared in the following year. Rymer is generally known as the learned editor of the vast collection of national documents, arranged and published by him in his official capacity of Historiographer Royal, under the name of Foedera.' But this publication was not commenced till 1703, and for many years previous he had been a miscellaneous writer in polite literature. In 1678, he produced a tragedy entitled Edgar.' It is almost painful to consider
that an author to whose gigantic labours all students of English history are so deeply indebted should have put forth the most ludicrous criticisms upon Shakspere that exist in the English language. In 'The Tragedies considered,' he proposes to examine "the choicest and most applauded English tragedies of this last age; as 'Rollo,' 'A King and no King.' 'The Maid's Tragedy,' by Beaumont and Fletcher; 'Othello,' and 'Julius Cæsar,' by Shakespear; and 'Catiline,' by worthy Ben." But at this period he did not carry through his design. The whole of this book is devoted to the three plays of Beaumont and Fletcher. It would be beside our purpose to show how he disposes of them; but the following passage will exhibit the nature of his judgment:-"I have thought our poetry of the last age as rude as our architecture. One cause thereof might be, that Aristotle's "Treatise of Poetry' has been so little studied amongst us." The completion of Rymer's plan was deferred for fifteen years. In 1693, appeared A Short View of Tragedy; its original Excellency and Corruption. With some Reflections on Shakespear, and other Practitioners for the Stage.' This second treatise thus begins: "What reformation may not we expect now that in France they see the necessity for a chorus to their tragedies!
The chorus was the root and original, and is certainly almost the most necessary part, of tragedy." It would be exceedingly unjust to Rymer to collect the disjecta membra of his criticism upon, or rather abuse of, Shakspere, without exhibiting what were his own notions of dramatic excellence; and certainly in the whole range of the ludicrous there are few things more amusing than his solemn scheme for a tragedy on the subject of the Spanish Armada, in imitation of "The Persians,' of Eschylus. We cannot resist the temptation of presenting it to our readers:
"The place, then, for the action may be at Madrid, by some tomb, or solemn place of resort; or, if we prefer a turn in it from good to bad fortune, then some drawingroom in the palace near the king's bedchamber.
"The time to begin, twelve at night.
"The scene opening presents fifteen grandees of Spain, with their most solemn beards and accoutrements, met there (suppose) after some ball, or other public occasion. They talk of the state of affairs, the greatness of their power, the vastness of their dominions, and prospect to be infallibly, ere long, lords of all. With this prosperity and goodly thoughts transported, they at last form themselves into the chorus, and walk such measures, with music, as may become the gravity of such a chorus.
"Then enter two or three of the cabinet council, who now have leave to tell the secret that the preparations and the invincible Armada was to conquer England. These, with part of the chorus, may communicate all the particulars-the provisions, and the strength by sea and land; the certainty of success, the advantages by that accession; and the many tun of tar-barrels for the heretics. These topics may afford matter enough, with the chorus, for the second act.
"In the third act, these gentlemen of the cabinet cannot agree about sharing the preferments of England, and a mighty broil there is amongst them. One will not be content unless he is King of Man; another will be Duke of Lancaster. One, that had seen a coronation in England, will by all means be Duke of Aquitaine, or else Duke of Normandy. And on this occasion two competitors have a juster occasion to work up and show the muscles of their passion than Shakespear's Cassius and Brutus. After, the chorus.
"The fourth act may, instead of Atossa, present some old dames of the court, used to dream dreams, and to see sprites, in their night-rails and forehead-cloths, to alarm our gentlemen with new apprehensions, which make distraction and disorders sufficient to furnish out this act.
"In the last act the king enters, and wisely discourses against dreams and hobgoblins, to quiet their minds: and, the more to satisfy them, and take off their fright, he lets them to know that St. Loyola had appeared to him, and assured him that all is well. This said, comes a messenger of the ill news; his account is lame, suspected, he sent to prison.