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that for awhile he was chiefly occupied in adapting inferior plays for representation, that he commenced with this soon after his arrival.
« It hath been sung at festivals,
On ember-eves and holy ales ;
Have read it for restoratives."-Prologue. Transferred from the halls of lords and ladies to the theatre, it was a favourite with the people; but, owing to the improvement of dramatic poetry and art, it at length required higher claims than it possessed to support its popularity. To entirely remodel this wild and strangely improbable romance might have benumbed its attraction; for it is rare to find that the multitude is pleased with direct changes in a traditionary tale. Shakespeare therefore employed himself in restoring the romance to its former importance on the stage, by numerous retouchings in the dialogue, and by writing whole scenes of great dramatic power. .
Unless we suppose it had been ineffectually retouched previously to his adaptation, we cannot well account for the appearance of three distinct styles : one bald and utterly unpoetical, though bearing an antique air, urging on the commencement with a dogged will; the second only passable, and too frequent throughout the four first acts; and the third, truly worthy of Shakespeare. It may be that the lines which I term only passable had been all partially changed by him. Yet, wanting the effect of his shadow merely passing over them, I must conjecture
that some one had been before him in the task, and that he had retained many of the former alterations entire. However that may have been, the question now is as to his unmixed property.
In the first place, we have to overcome that great drawback, a want of varied colour in the characters, the essential stamp of his genius. Far from having colour, they are unshaded outlines, filled up with black and white, to represent the bad or the good, and thus shoved on and off the stage. Nothing can be discovered of his profound knowledge of human nature, or of his philosophy, nothing beyond the work of a poet and an artist, and they appear but faintly in the two first acts. The language of Pericles himself rises from poverty gradually into strength and dignity, until it attains its utmost height; as if Shakespeare had learned, during his task, to throw more and more aside of the original; to feel, as he proceeded, a high confidence in his own powers; and at last to have discovered there was a soul in the romance, in spite of its deformities, which inspired him to attempt his hitherto untried excellence, to spread his wings, and to set, as it were, an example to himself for the future.
The fishermen in the second act glance at us, in their comic dialogue, with the very trick of his eye; but we meet with no scene of his invention, or complete reconstruction, till we enter Cerimon's house at Ephesus in the third act. Every line there is his undoubted property. Trivial as the sketch may be called of this good physician, it is a portrait; we see him, and we know him, though observed only under one phase. Here, in the recovery of the queen from her trance, we have a most natural description of the physician's skill being suddenly called into action, his swift orders mingled with his reasoning on cases, his haste to apply the remedies, the broken sentences, his reproof to a loitering servant, the keeping the gentle men back to "give her air;" the whole, as if by magic, making the reader an absolute spectator of the scene. “ Cerimon.
This chanced to-night.
Nay, certainly to-night;
yet the fire of life kindle again
(Enter a Servant with boxes, napkins, and fire.)
will live : nature awakes ; a warmth Breathes out of her; she hath not been entranced Above five hours. Seel-how she 'gins to blow
Into life's flower again !" A single epithet in the next scene marks the passage for his own : “We'll bring your grace even to the edge oʻthe shore;
Then give you up to the mask'd Neptune, and
From the moment Marina appears, Shakespeare himself takes her by the hand, and leads her gently onward; but I cannot perceive he had any connexion with the vile crew who surround her.
Compared to all that precedes it, or to any thing else, the first scene of the fifth act is wonderfully grand, beautiful, and refined in art. Every one ought to know it; but it is too long for me to quote. The recall from a state of stupefaction caused by grief, and the prolonged yet natural recognition of Marina, interwoven with a thousand delicate hues of poetry, lead us on in admiration till we think nothing can be added to the effect. Still the crown of all is to come, in the poetical conclusion, true to nature while it rests on our imagination. Pericles, instantly after his sudden rush of joy, his overwrought excitement, fancies he listens to the “music of the spheres !" -he wonders that others do not hear these “ rarest sounds;" — then he sinks on his couch to rest, and still insisting that there is “most heavenly music,” falls into a sleep, while Marina, like an angel, watches at his side !
IV. V. HENRY THE SIXth. Second and Third Parts.—Malone has carefully compared these with the two original plays, whence they were taken, and the result is as follows, in respect to the number of lines to be wholly or in part assignable to Shakespeare : -1899 are entirely his own.—2373 are partly his own, having been formed by him from original lines. -1771 are retained, without alteration, from the originals.
From this statement we perceive that the plays are more than two-thirds rewritten by him, and that the remaining third is his adoption. Though the construction and characteristic features remain generally the same, the difference is most striking, owing to the energy and art displayed by Shakespeare in their adaptation.
Considering the multiplicity of stirring events, and the length of time supposed to elapse during each play, it is surprizing that so many characters are well defined, and actually made prominent.
So vivid an epitome of the wars between the red and white roses affords an instructive contrast to the proverbial saying—“ The good old times.”
Here swords are despicable unless continually dropping blood, and warrior's heads are tumbled on the scene as if for sport, while the uproar of drums and trumpets is drowned in clamorous scolding. We naturally look for the cause of all this; when the fury is found to have arisen from Henry's mildness; the inhumanity from his abhorence of it. Severe satire on the good old times !"
We are called an ungallant nation; yet, amidst these murderous excesses, when even the boy Rutland could not escape, the women passed on unscathed; so entirely so, that Margaret, the “ Amazonian trull," cannot persuade any of the butchers, in her despair, to kill her.
The same may be said of our Commonwealth wars,—the women were unharmed; which is some satisfaction to an Englishman, when he fails in picking up a lady's fan gracefully.