Abbildungen der Seite

are as venial as any Doctor's in Christendom; perhaps more so, for he makes no pretence to morality. We find him acutely sensible of all his follies; and he weeps for Helen, who is “supposed dead;" why then, in the name of the most straight-laced virtue, should he not be happy ?

This play is seldom noticed, and perhaps little understood, unless there are many like Mrs. Jameson, who has ably analysed the character of Helen. It is called one of the poet's minor plays; and as far as it has no communion with the sublimer passions, the appellation is correct; in other respects it may rank with the best. That Dr. Johnson should have passed sentence on Bertram, according to his scholastic and abstract notions of perfection, instead of charitably considering the positive imperfections of our nature, is, at least, short-sighted. How he could have read the following beautiful passage in favour of our frail fellow-beings, and yet remained inexorable, I cannot imagine; unless, as previously hinted by me, his doctrine and his practical morality took two opposite roads. It is spoken by one of the young lords, while they are canvassing the conduct of Bertram: “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together: our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipt them not; and our crimes would despair, if they were not cherished by our virtues.”

X. Winter's Tale. In this play Shakespeare has followed the liberties taken by his elder dramatists, much in the same degree as they are seen in Pericles.

No reference ought to be made to the Winter's Tale, as his sanction of unchartered rules for the drama; since, in its excess, it is an exception to his general rule. The very title, a Tale, shows that he meant it rather as an amusing romance than as a regular play. Besides, in these undefined regions, and among these strange incidents, he might have found himself more at his ease in the covert compliment he was paying to the Queen. Walpole was the first to point this out; and certainly the exculpation of Anne Bullen was intended in the innocence of the wronged Hermione. He observes, “ The most striking passage, and which had nothing to do in the tragedy, but as it pictured Elizabeth, is, where Paulina, describing the new-born princess, and her likeness to her father, says, “ She has the very trick of his frown."

But, allowing that Perdita was intended for Queen Elizabeth, I am surprised that Walpole did not perceive there was another, perhaps the chief, cause for the compliment being particularly agreeable to herthat of her proved legitimacy; a circumstance most questionable in her case, since she was born before the death of Queen Catherine, who was not, to all men's minds, regularly divorced, and which had been openly disputed. If the audience at that day understood the allusion, the compliment would have been as grateful as it was delicately contrived. Of course her legitimacy was a subject to be hinted at enigmatically, and entirely away from the real objection; yet Perdita's legitimacy, from the moment of her birth, becomes the conquering theme of the tale.

XI. A MIDSUMMER Night's DREAM.– How must Spenser have been enchanted with this poetry! But can we believe that the multitude were enchanted ? or, if they were, could the poetry compensate, in their eyes, for its inapplicability for the stage? Before the invention of scenery, an audience must indeed have carried to the theatre more imagination than is requisite at the present day; yet, still I cannot but think that these ideal beings, in representation, claimed too much of so rare a quality, and that it failed at the first, as when it was last attempted in London. Hazlitt has dwelt on the unmanageable nature of this “ dream” for the stage; and was it not equally unmanageable at all times ?

There is no document to assist me, nothing of argument to back my opinion ; yet I cannot forbear supposing that the failure of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Blackfriars' Theatre, was the cause of Shakespeare having said he would write no more comedies. Then Spenser's regret, deep as his love of Shakespeare's genius, might have induced him to commemorate the event in his Tears of the Muses, where Thalia thus speaks : “ And he, the man whom Nature self had made

To mock herself, and truth to imitate,
With kindly counter, under mimic shade,

Our pleasant Willy, ahl is dead of late;
With whom all joy and jolly merriment
Is also deaded, and in dolour drent.
“In stead thereof, scoffin scurrility,

And scorning folly with contempt is crept,
Rolling in rimes of shameless ribaudry,

Without regard, or due decorum kept;

Each idle wit at will presumes to make,

And doth the learned's task upon him take.
“But that same gentle spirit, from whose pen

Large streams of honey and sweet nectar flow,
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,

Which dare their follies forth so rashly throw,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,

Than so himself to mockery to sell.” Spenser died about thirteen years after Shakespeare's arrival in London. It has been contended that these verses did not point to Shakespeare, but to some other “ pleasant Willy." I know of no other at that time, who, in any man's estimation, far less in Spenser's, could have merited a tithe of such praise. Our former chronologists, not having had the advantage of Mr. Collier's discoveries, might indeed have observed a difficulty in the application. Never having seen the subject discussed, I am ignorant if there is a better argument than one which I once heard gravely adduced, viz. as Spenser died before Shakespeare, it was impossible he could lament Shakespeare's death ! - thus mistaking his being dead to Thalia, by choosing “to sit in idle cell,” for his being actually dead.

Regarding it as certain that Shakespeare was, at one period, unsuccessful as a dramatic poet, we have the more reason to love his nature, which never led him, throughout his works, especially in the Poems to his Friend, where he speaks much of himself, into querulousness at the bad taste of the town, and angry invectives against actors and audiences, so common 10 the disappointed playwrights of his time.


XIII. RICHARD THE THIRD.-Since the appearance of Historic Doubts, by Horace Walpole, it has been the fashion to talk of the dramatic injustice committed against the character of Richard the Third, and to lament that Shakespeare should have heaped infamy on an English king, who was by no means worse than his immediate predecessor and successor. These critics forget that public opinion is a higher kind of history, in relation to kings, than that derived from documents, containing palliatives of their conduct as individuals. Our best historians acknowledge Richard's murder of his nephews, which was beyond a private crime; it extended its outrage to the feelings of the whole nation; and this one crime is forcibly shown by Mr. Sharon Turner as the sole cause of Richard's utter disgrace with his subjects, involving his loss of crown and life. Under this revolting breach of trust as a Protector, this cold blooded cruelty on boys, this infamy on his back, (whether crooked or not, he became deservedly detested, and his private virtues, if he had any, were as deservedly forgotten. Mr. Sharon Turner conjectures that the pathetic ballad of The Children in the Wood was written during his reign; if so, the writer of it probably dethroned him. Another cause for his reign and memory being hated arose from his having, by that atrocity, renewed the civil wars in England. Certainly the policy of the house of Tudor directed history to blacken his character; but the attempt would have been vain, had not the nation been willing

« ZurückWeiter »