Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

ON THE

PLAYS OF SHAKESPEARE. .

TEMPEST. It is observed of The Tempest, that its plan is regular ; this the author of The Revisal' thinks, what I think too, an accidental effect of the story, not intended or regarded by our author. But whatever might be Shakespeare's intention in forming or adopting the plot, he has made it instrumental to the production of many characters, diversified with boundless invention, and preserved with profound skill in nature, extensive knowledge of opinions, and accurate observation of life. In a single drama are here exhibited princes, courtiers, and sailors, all speaking in their real characters. There is the agency of airy spirits, and of an earthly goblin; the operations of magick, the tumults of a storm, the adventures of a desert island, the native effusion of untaught affection, the punishment of guilt, and the final happiness of the pair for whom our passions and reason are equally interested.

TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.

In this play there is a strange mixture of knowledge and ignorance, of care and negligence. The versification is often excellent, the allusions are learned and just; but the author conveys his heroes by sea from one inland town to another in the same country; he places the emperour at Milan, and sends his young men to attend him, but never mentions him more; he makes Protheus, after an interview with Silvia, say he has only seen her picture;' and, if we may credit the old copies, he has, by mistaking places, left his scenery inextricable. The reason of all this confusion seems to be, that he took his story from a novel, which he sometimes followed, and sometimes forsook, sometimes remembered, and sometimes forgot.

1 Mr. Heath, who wrote a Revisal of Shakespeare's text, published in 8vo. circa 1760.

That this play is rightly attributed to Shakespeare, I have little doubt. If it be taken from him, to whom shall it be given? This question may be asked of all the disputed plays, except Titus Andronicus; and it will be found more credible that Shakespeare might sometimes sink below his highest flights, than that any other should rise up to his lowest.

MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. or this play there is a tradition preserved by Mr. Rowe, that it was written at the command of queen Elizabeth, who was so delighted with the character of Falstaff, that she wished it to be diffused through more plays; but, suspecting that it might pall by continued uniformity, directed the poet to diversify his manner, by showing him in love. No task is harder than that of writing to the ideas of another. Shakespeare knew what the queen, if the story be true, seems not to have known, that by any real passion of tenderness, the selfish craft, the careless jollity, and the lazy luxury of Falstaff must have suffered so much abatement,

. This is not a blunder of Shakespeare's, but a mistake of Johnson's, who considers the passage alluded to in a more literal sense than the author intended it. Sir Proteus, it is true, had seen Silvia for a few moments; but though he could form from thence some idea of her person, he was still unacquainted with her temper, manners, and the qualities of her mind. He, there. fore, considers himself as having seen her picture only. The thought is just and elegantly expressed. So in the Scornful Lady, the elder Loveless says to her, I was mad once when I loved pictures. For what are shape and colours else but pictures?"-- Mason in Malone's Shak, iv. 137.-ED.

[ocr errors]

that little of his former cast would have remained. Falstaff could not love, but by ceasing to be Falstaff. He could only counterfeit love, and his professions could be prompted, not by the hope of pleasure, but of money. Thus the poet approached as near as he could to the work enjoined him; yet having, perhaps, in the former plays, completed his own idea, seems not to have been able to give Falstaff all his former power of entertainment.

This comedy is remarkable for the variety and number of the personages, who exhibit more characters appropriated and discriminated, than, perhaps, can be found in any other play.

Whether Shakespeare was the first that produced upon the English stage the effect of language distorted and depraved by provincial or foreign pronunciation, I cannot certainly decide! This mode of forming ridiculous characters can confer praise only on him who originally discovered it, for it requires not much of either wit or judgment; its success must be derived almost wholly from the player, but its power in a skilful mouth even he that despises it is unable to resist.

The conduct of this drama is deficient; the action begins and ends often before the conclusion, and the different parts might change places without inconvenience; but its general power, that power by which all works of genius shall finally be tried, is such, that, perhaps, it never yet had reader or spectator, who did not think it too soon at an end.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE. There is, perhaps, not one of Shakespeare's plays more

! In the Three Ladies of London, 1584, is the character of an Italian merchant, very strongly marked by foreign pronunciation. Dr. Dodypoll, in the Comedy which bears his name, is, like Caius, a French physician. This piece appeared, at least, a year before The Merry Wives of Windsor. The hero of it speaks such another jargon as the antagonist of Sir Hugh, and, like him, is cheated of his mistress. In several other pieces, more ancient than the earliest of Shakespeare's, provincial characters are introduced—Steevens.

In the old play of Henry V. French soldiers are introduced speaking broken English --Boswell.

darkened than this, by the peculiarities of its author, and the unskilfulness of its editors, by distortions of phrase, or negligence of transcription.

The novel of Giraldi Cynthio, from which Shakespeare is supposed to have borrowed this fable, may be read in Shakespeare Illustrated, elegantly translated, with remarks, which will assist the inquirer to discover how much absurdity Shakespeare has admitted or avoided.

I cannot but suspect that some other had new modelled the novel of Cynthio, or written a story which, in some particulars, resembled it, and that Cynthio was not the author whom Shakespeare immediately followed. The emperour, in Cynthio, is named Maximine; the duke, in Shakespeare's enumeration of the persons of the drama, is called Vincentio. This appears a very slight remark; but since the duke has no name in the play, nor is ever mentioned but by his title, why should he be called Vincentio among the persons, but because the name was copied from the story, and placed superfluously at the head of the list, by the mere habit of transcription? It is, therefore, likely that there was then a story of Vincentio duke of Vienna, different from that of Maximine emperour of the Romans.

Of this play, the light or comick part is very natural and pleasing, but the grave scenes, if a few passages be excepted, have more labour than elegance. The plot is rather intricate than artful. The time of the action is indefinite; some time, we know not how much, must have elapsed between the recess of the duke and the imprisonment of Claudio; for he must have learned the story of Mariana in his disguise, or he delegated his power to a man already known to be corrupted. The unities of action and place are sufficiently preserved.

LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST.

In this play, which all the editors have concurred to censure, and some have rejected as unworthy of our poet, it must be confessed that there are many passages mean, childish and vulgar; and some which ought not to have been exhibited, as we are told they were, to a maiden queen. But there are scattered through the whole many sparks of genius; nor is there any play that has more evident marks of the hand of Shakespeare".

MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM.

Wild and fantastical as this play is, all the parts, in their various modes, are well written, and give the kind of pleasure which the author designed. Fairies in his time were much in fashion ; common tradition had made them familiar, and Spenser's poem had made them great*.

MERCHANT OF VENICE.

It has been lately discovered, that this fable is taken from a story in the Pecorone y of Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, a novelist, who wrote in 1378. The story has been published in English, and I have epitomized the translation. The translator is of opinion that the choice of the caskets is borrowed from a tale of Boccace, which I have, likewise, abridged, though I believe that Shakespeare must have had some other novel in view.

Of The Merchant of Venice the style is even and easy, with few peculiarities of diction, or anomalies of construction. The comick part raises laughter, and the serious fixes expectation. The probability of either one or the other story cannot be maintained. The union of two ac

* See, however, Dr. Drake's Essays on Rambler &c. ü. 392.—ED.

* Johnson's concluding observation on this play, is not conceived with his usual judgment. There is no analogy or resemblance whatever between the fairies of Spenser, and those of Shakespeare. The fairies of Spenser, as appears from his description of them in the second book of the Faerie Queene, Canto 10. were a race of mortals created by Prometheus, of the human size, shape, and affections, and subject to death. But those of Shakespeare, and of common tradition, as Johnson calls them, were a diminutive race of sportful beings, endowed with immortality and supernatural power, totally different from those of Spenser.-M. Mason,

The first novel of the fourth day. An epitome of the novels, from which the story of this play is supposed to be taken, is appended to it in Malone's edition, v, 154,

« ZurückWeiter »