ePub 版


picture, like a mock rainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every single character in Shakspeare, is as much an individual, as those in life itself; it is as impossible to find any two alike ; and such, as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear most to be twins, will, upon comparison, be found remarkably distinct. To this life and variety of character, we must add the wonderful preservation of it; which is such throughout his plays, that had all the speeches been printed without the very names of the persons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every speaker.”

The object of the volume here offered to the publick, is to illustrate these remarks in a more particular manner by a reference to each play. . A gentleman by the name of Mason, the author of a Treatise on Ornamental Gardening, (not Mason the poet) began a work of a similar kind about forty years ago, but he only lived to finish a parallel between the characters of Macbeth and Ricbard III., which is an exceedingly ingenious piece of analytical criticism. Richardson's Essays include but a few of Shakspeare's principal characters. The only work which seemed to supersede the necessity of an attempt like the present was Schlegel's very admirable Lectures on the Drama, which give by far the best account of the plays of Shakspeare that has hitherto appeared. The only


circumstances in which it was thought not impossible to improve on the manner in which the German critick has executed this part of his design, were in avoiding an appearance of mysticism in his style, not very attractive to the English reader, and in bringing illustrations from particular passages of the plays themselves, of which Schlegel's work, from the extensiveness of his plan, did not admit. We will at the same time confess, that some little jealousy of the character of the national understanding was not without its share in producing the following undertaking, for are piqued” that it should be reserved for a foreign critick to give

reasons for the faith which we English have in Shakspeare.” Certainly, no writer among ourselves has shewn either the same enthusiastick admiration of his genius, or the same philosophical acuteness in pointing out his characteristick excellencies. As we have pretty well exhausted all we had to say upon this subject

in the body of the work, we shall here tran- scribe Schlegel's general account of Shakspeare, which is in the following words :

Never, perhaps, was there so comprehensive a talent for the delineation of character as Shakspeare's. It not only grasps the diversities of rank, sex, and age, down to the dawnings of infancy; not only do the king and the beggar,“

[ocr errors]

the hero and the pickpocket, the sage and the idiot speak and act with equal truth; not only does he transport himself to distant ages and foreign nations, and pourtray in the most accurate manner, with only a few apparent violations of costume, the spirit of the ancient Romans, of the French in their wars with the English, of the English themselves during a great part of their history, of the Southern Europeans (in the serious part of many comedies) the cultivated society of that time, and the former rude and barbarous state of the North; his human characters have not only such depth and precision that they cannot be arranged under classes, and are inexhaustible, even in conception :-no --this Prometheus not merely forms men, he opens the gates of the magical world of spirits ; calls up the midnight ghost; exhibits before us his witches amidst their unhallowed mysteries ; peoples the air with sportive fairies and sylphs : -and these beings, existing only in imagination, possess such truth and consistency, that even when deformed monsters like Caliban, he extorts the conviction, that if there should be such beings, they would so conduct themselves. In a word, as he carries with him the most fruitful and daring fancy into the kingdom of nature, on the other hand, he carries nature into the re'gions of fancy, lying beyond the confines of real

his onvensity

ity. We are lost in astonishment at seeing the extraordinary, the wonderful, and the unheard of, in such intimate nearness.

“If Shakspeare 'deserves our admiration for his characters, he is equally deserving of it for his exhibition of passion, taking this word in its.com widest signification, as including (every mental condition, every tone, from indifference or familiar mirth to the wildest rage and despair) He gives us the history of minds; he lays open to us, in a single word, a whole series of preceding conditions. His passions do not at first stand displayed to us in all their height, as is the case with so many tragick poets, who, in the language of Lessing, are thorough masters of the legal style of love. He paints, in a most inimitable manner, the gradual progress from the first origin. • He gives, as Lessing says, “a living picture of all the most minute and secret artifices by which a feeling steals into our souls; of all the imperceptible advantages which it there gains; of all the stratagems by which every other passion is made subservient to it, till it becomes the sole tyrant of our desires and our aversions." Of all poets, perhaps, he alone has pourtrayed the mental diseases, melancholy, delirium, lunacy, with such inexpressible, and, in every respect, definite truth, that the physician may enrich his observations from them in the same manner as from real cases.


“And yet Johnson has objected to Shakspeare, that his pathos is not always natural and free from affectation. There are, it is true, passages, though, comparatively speaking, very few, where his poetry exceeds the bounds of true dialogue, where a too soaring imagination, a too luxuriant wit, rendered the complete dramatick forgetfulness of himself impossible. With this exception, the censure originates only in a fanciless way of thinking, to which every thing appears unnatural that does not suit its own tame insipidity. Hence, an idea has been formed of simple and natural pathos, which consists in exclamations destitute of imagery, and nowise elevated above every-day life. But energetical passions electrify the whole of the mental powers, and will, consequently, in highly favoured natures, express themselves in an ingenious and figurative manner.

It has been often remarked, that indignation gives wit; and, as despair occasionally breaks out into laughter, it may sometimes also give vent to itself in antithetical comparisons.

“Besides, the rights of the poetical form have not been duly weighed. Shakspeare, who was always sure of his object, to move in a sufficiently powerful manner when he wished to do so, has occasionally, by indulging in a freer play, purposely moderated the impressions when too painful, and immediately introduced a musical

« 上一頁繼續 »