Abbildungen der Seite

accession scatters gold, among the populace; and there is not one, perhaps, of his subordinate agents, who has not his peculiar features and a complexion of his own. So mighty is our Poet as a dramatic creator, that characters of the most opposite description are thrown in equal perfection and with equal facility from his hand. The executive decision of Richard; the meditative inefficiency of Hamlet: the melancholy of Jaques, which draws subjects of moral reflexion from every object around him; and the bilarity of Mercutio, which forsakes bim pot in the very act of dying: the great soul of Macbeth, maddened and bursting under accumulated guilt; and “the unimitated and inimitable Falstaff" (as he is called by S. Johnson, in the single outbreak of enthusiasm extorted from him by the wonders of Shakspeare's page) revelling in the tavern at Eastcheap, or jesting on the field of Shrewsbury, are all the creatures of one plastic intellect, and are absolute and entire in their kind. Malignity and revenge constitute the foundation on which are constructed the two very dissimilar characters of Shylock and Iago. But there is something terrific and even awful in the inexorability of the Jew, whilst there is nothing but meanness in the artifices of the Venetian standard-bearer. They are both men of vigorous and acute understandings: we hate them both; but our hatred of the former is mingled with involuntary respect; of the latter our detestation is made more intensely strong by its association with contempt.

In his representation of madness, Shakspeare must be · regarded as inimitably excellent; and the picture of

this last degradation of humanity, with nature always for his model, is diversified by him at his pleasure. Even over the wreck of the human mind he throws the variegated robe of character. How different is the genuine insanity of Lear from the assumed insanity of Edgar, with which it is immediately confronted; and how distinct, again, are both of these from the disorder which prevails in the brain of the lost and the tender Ophelia. In one illustrious effort of his dramatic power, our Poet has had the confidence to produce two delineations of the same perversion of the human heart, and to present them, at once similar and dissimilar, to the examination of our wondering eyes. In Timon and Apemantus is exhibited the same deformity of misanthropy: but in the former it springs from the corruption of a noble mind, stricken and laid prostrate by the ingratitude of his species: in the latter it is a poisome weed, germinating from a bitter root, and cherished by per, verse cultivation into branching malignity. In each of them, as the vice has a different parentage, so has it a diversified aspect.

With such an intimacy with all the fine and subtle workings of Nature in her action on the human heart, it is not wonderful that our great dramatist should possess an absolute controll over the passions; and should be able to unlock the cell of each of them as the impulse of his fancy may direct. When we follow Macbeth to the chamber of Duncan: when we stand with him by the enchanted caldron; or see him, under the infliction of conscience, glaring at the spectre of the blood-boltered Banquo in the possession of the royal chair, horror is by our side, thrilling in our veins and bristling in our hair. When we attend the Danish prince to his midnight conference with the shade of his murdered father, and hear the ineffable accents of the dead, willing, but prohibited, “ to tell the secrets of his prisonhouse,” we are appalled, and our faculties are suspended in terror. When we see the faithful and the lovely Juliet awaking in the house of darkness and corruption with the corpse of her husband on her bosom: when we behold the innocent Desdemona dying by the hand, to which she was the most fondly attached; and charging on herself, with her latest breath, the guilt of her murderer: when we witness the wretchedness of Lear, contending with the midnight storm, and strewing his white locks on the blast; or carrying in his withered arms the body of his Cordelia murdered in his cause, is it possible that the tear of pity should not start from our eyes and trickle down our cheeks? In the forest of

Arden, as we ramble with its accidental inmates, our
spirits are soothed into cheerfulness, and are, occasion-
ally, elevated into gaiety. In the tavern at Eastcheap,
with the witty and debauched knight, we meet with
“ Laughter holding both his sides;” and we surrender
ourselves, willingly and delighted, to the inebriation of
bis influence. We could dwell for a long summer's day
amid the fertility of these charming topics; if we were
not called from them to a higher region of poetic enjoy-
ment, possessed by the genius of Shakspeare alone ;
where he reigns sole lord; and where his subjects are
the wondrous progeny of his own creative imagination.
From whatever quarter of the world, eastern or northern,
England may have originally derived her elves and her
fairies, Shakspeare undoubtedly formed these little be-
ings, as they flutter in his scenes, from an idea of his
own; and they came from his hand, beneficent and
friendly to man; immortal and invulnerable ; of such
corporeal minuteness as to lie in the bell of a cowslip;
and yet of such power as to disorder the seasons; as

-- " to bedim
The noontide sun; call forth the mutinous winds :
And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault,

Set roaring war.” To this little etherial people our Poet has assigned manners and occupations in perfect consistency with their nature; and has sent them forth, in the richest array of fancy, to gambol before us, to astonish and delight us. They resemble nothing upon earth: but if they could exist with man, they would act and speak as they act and speak, with the inspiration of our Poet, in “The Tempest,” and “ A Midsummer Night's Dream.” In contrast with his Ariel,“ a spirit too delicate," as the servant of a witch, “ to act her earthy and abhorr'd commands:" but ready, under the controll of his philosopbic master,

“ To answer his best pleasure, be it to fly,
To swim; to dive into the fire ; to ride
On the carl'd clouds;">

in contrast with this aërial being, the imagination of Shakspeare has formed a monster, the offspring of a hag and a demon; and has introduced him into the scene with a mind and a character appropriately and strictly his own. As the drama, into which are introduced these two beings, beyond the action of Nature, as it is discoverable on this earth, one of them rising above, and one sinking beneath the level of humanity, may be received as the proudest evidence, which has hitherto been produced, of the extent and vigour of man's imagination; so it bids fair to stand unrivalled amid all the loftiest aspirations of the human mind in the ages which are yet to come. The great Milton's imagination alone can be placed in competition with that of Sbakspeare ; and even Milton's must yield the palm to that which is displayed in “ A Midsummer Night's Dream," and in the almost divine“ Tempest.”

But having sported a while with the fairies,

-“as on the sands with printless feet They chase the ebbing Neptune,”


-“ in the spiced Indian air,
They dance their ringlets to the whistling wiod,”

the mighty Poet turns from their bowers, “overcanopied with luscious woodbine,” and plants us on “ the blasted heath,” trodden by the weird sisters, the Fates of the north; or leads us to the dreadful cave, where they are preparing their infernal caldron, and singing round it the incantations of hell. What a change, from all that is fascinating, to all that is the most appalling to the fancy; and yet each of these scenes is the product of the same astonishing intellect, delighting at one time to lull us on beds of roses, with the spirit of Orpheus, and at another to curdle our blood by throwing at us the viper lock of Alecto. But to show his supreme command of the superhuman world, our royal Poet touches the sepulchre with his magic rod, and the sepulcbre opens“ its pond'rous and marble jaws,” and gives its dead to“ revisit the glimpses of the moon.” The belief that the dead, on some awful occasions, were permitted to assume the semblance of those bodies, in which they had walked upon earth; or that the world of spirits was sometimes disclosed to the eye of mortality, has prevailed in every age of mankind, in the most enlightened as well as in the most dark. When philosophy had attained its widest extent of power, and had enlarged and retined the intellect, not only of its parent Greece, but of its pupil Rome, a spectre is recorded to have shaken the firmness of Dion, the scholar and the friend of Plato; and another to have assayed the constancy of the philosophic and the virtuous Brutus. In the superstitious age of our Elizabeth and of her Scottish successor, the belief in the existence of ghosts and apparitions was nearly universal; and when Shakspeare produced upon his stage the shade of the Danish sovereign, there was not, perhaps, a heart, amid the crowded audience, which did not palpitate with fear. But in any age, however little tainted it might be with superstitious credulity, would the ghost of royal Denmark excite an agitating interest, with such awful solemnity is he introduced, so sublimely terrible is his tale of woe, and such are the effects of his appearance on the persons of the drama, who are its immediate witnesses. We catch, indeed, the terrors of Horatio and the young prince; and if the illusion be not so strong as to seise in the first instance on our own minds, it acts on them in its result from theirs. The melancholy, which previously preyed on the spirits of the youthful Hainlet, was certainly heightened into insanity by this ghostly conference; and from this dreadful moment his madness is partly assumed, and partly unaffected. It is certain that no spectre, ever brought upon the stage, can be compared with this phantom, created by the power of Shakspeare. The apparition of the host, in “ The Lover's Progress," by Fletcher, is too contemptible to be mentioned on this occasion: the spirit of Almanzor's mother, in “ The Conquest of Granada,” by Dryden, is not of a higher class; and even the ghost of Darius, in “ The Persians,”

« ZurückWeiter »