« ZurückWeiter »
ful manner, by humouring the wanderings of his reason, and then striving to dazzle him with cheerful
At the last, we behold him, when all his efforts are proved unavailing, utterly dumb. “And my poor fool is hanged !"
XXVII. TAMING OF THE SHREW.— At the end of a note in Morgann's Essay, he says, “ The reader will be pleased to think that I do not reckon into the works of Shakespeare certain absurd productions, which his editors have been so good as to compliment him with. I object, and strenuously too, even to The Taming of the Shrew; not that it wants merit, but that it does not bear the peculiar features and stamp of Shakespeare.” He does not seem to have been aware, or to have recollected, that this comedy was rewritten, generally line for line, with few additions, from an older play; nor does he regard it in the same light with me, as a comedy bearing the “peculiar features and stamp" of Italy. Shakespeare's mind and language, however, is distinguishable throughout.
Garrick cut down this comedy to an afterpiece. Others have considered the entire plot as too intricate to be entertaining, and approve of the curtailment. The afterpiece, to me, is like the head cut out of a full-length portrait; and my opinion, offered with hesitation, is that it would succeed admirably in its original state. The Induction might or might not be retained ; perhaps not, as it is now our custom for a farce to follow, not to precede a play. On the other hand, I can venture to assert, without the slightest hesitation, that it cannot succeed until our actors have learnt that familiar dialogue is not to be spoken with the lengthened and measured cadence of a sermon. This has been greatly to my annoyance in our comedies, and in many portions of our tragedies. English actors seek too labouredly to create an impression, and cannot allow the words to come “trippingly on the tongue." I have heard a gentleman, since the days of Lewis, utter the most rapid thoughts in tedious sequence; a lady has scolded her husband like Medea invoking the awful spirits of another world; and common messages have been delivered as if they were the mandates of fate. Often, for no other reason, scenes have been unmercifully shortened, which, with easyspoken actors, would not meet with a Polonius exclaiming “ This is too long." This faulty practice is not witnessed on the French, German, or Italian stage ; not even on the Russian.
MACBETH. 1606. There is something more to be observed on the witches than suited my purpose while speaking of them purely as dramatic creations. Metaphysically, not in a perverse cold allegorical sense, they are evil suggestions. I do not believe that Shakespeare intended we should regard them otherwise than as supernatural agents; but, in his truth to nature, in his view of an ambitious man, necessarily influenced by superstitious yearnings for the future, he has treated them as allegorical beings, if we choose to regard them as such. Should any one infer that he was thus evincing his superiority to the credulity of the age, I should be apt to deny it, though I cannot conceive it possible that he had faith in witchcraft. They admit of this interpretation.
Macbeth and Banquo, somewhat in advance of their victorious army, are walking together across the heath, when their conversation is interrupted by evil suggestions. Macbeth is Thane of Glamis; he may soon wear the title of the conquered Thane of Cawdor; and hereafter he may be king; and Banquo may possibly be the progenitor of a line of kings. Such are their suggestions communicated to each other; and immediately a messenger meets them greeting Macbeth as Thane of Cawdor. The chiefs, surprised at this sudden fulfilment of a part of their conversation, are inclined to imagine it was inspired; that they had undergone a “supernatural soliciting.” Such evil suggestions strike harmlessly on Banquo; but Macbeth is half disposed to yield to them. In this mood he acquaints his wife with them; and, at her instigation, he “screws his courage to the sticking place.” As king he is surrounded by enemies, and becomes a cruel tyrant; when fearful of losing his throne and life, he again has recourse to his evil suggestions for the means of insuring safety. These, aided by fancied conclusions drawn from actual events, or by deluding prophecies of interested and servile flatterers, or by dreams, offer ample protection from danger, though in terms, as usual in such cases, of riddling import, which happen or not to be riddlingly fulfilled.
It is probable that the witches found their place in the pages of historians, from Banquo's having related the strange coincidence attending their conversation on the heath; an origin sufficiently strong for the vulgar's having pronounced that they were met and hailed with predictions by three witches.
Now, having treated them dramatically and allegorically, I have a few words to say of them theatrically. No one can be more delighted with Dr. Lock's music than myself; yet I think it monstrous to enjoy it at the experise of the scene's solemnity. To see the stage crowded with singing witches is an affront to the understanding as well as the imagination. The tragedy commands that only the three witches shall appear, except where Hecate comes in, to conclude the enchantment, attended by three others, who are to join in singing, “ Black spirits and white," &c. In a previous scene Shakespeare borrows a song from Middleton, “ Come away, come away,” &c., which is sung in the air ; but who wrote for the theatre that offensive scene at the close of the second act? There we listen to shoals of witches, who draw moral deductions, and boast of their malignity and skill in dancing! Were the scenes of Shakespeare's witches played precisely as they were written, and no more, I have no doubt their effect would not permit us to regret the loss of Dr. Lock's music.
Mrs. Inchbald calls Macbeth, in its contaminated state, a “grand tragic opera.” True; and it reminds us of the old epigram :
“ An opera, like a pillory, may be said
To nail the ears down, and expose the head.”
XXIX. TIMON OF ATHENS.
XXXI. ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.
XXXII. CORIOLANUS.–To a criticism on this tragedy Hazlitt has attached a political argument to prove that our Shakespeare “ had a leaning to the arbitrary side of the question." I am not inclined, at the close of my volume, to enter into a lengthened difference in opinion with him, mixing together politics and poetry; though I see no difficulty in proving, from direct
portions, and from the general hue of Shakespeare's works, that his contempt for a mob, in which we must all join, is a trifle compared to his earnest inculcation of the doctrine that knowledge is power; and certainly he was the first poet who unceremoniously placed royalty on a level with humanity, and openly exclaimed against every species of corruption. His works are indeed fruitful, especially the later ones, in speculative discussions on government and political economy; but a consideration of them would be better suited to a separate paper, and probably better in other hands than mine. Hazlitt's opinion would have been applicable to Ben Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher.
XXXIII. THE TEMPEST.-We can well imagine that Shakespeare wrote this play after having long endured the accusation of inability to create an original fable, and to obey the law of the three unities. Free of all consideration for the stage, which, as respects every one of his works, is of very inferior importance, The Tempest ranks among the noblest of his