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gained by thus breaking the continued representation of the Grecian theatre, they had themselves only to blame; for they certainly possessed the means of effectively preserving all the power of the unities at a very small expense of difficulty and labour. It is for his inattention to the integrity of the scene during the continuance of each single act that I conceive Shakspeare to be principally censurable; and the variety, to which we are instructed to look as the consequence of his lawlessness in this instance, to be an insufficient compensation for the outrage of probability, for the frequent violation of our feelings, and for the vicious example with which he has corrupted the good taste, and has diminished the efficiency of the English stage. A recent commentator, however, has discovered, and he seems to applaud himself on the felicitous discovery, that our great bard has been faithful to one unity of the drama, though he has treated the others with disregard-that he has been faithful to the unity of feeling-to the unity of feeling! What! when he transports us from the revels and the wit of Falstaff to the council chamber of the politic Bolingbroke, to the military array of the young Percy, to the field of Shrewsbury, to the castle of the plaintive Northumberland. The tragedies of Rowe, and the comedies of Congreve may vaunt of their unity of feeling: but that mixt species of drama, in which Shakspeare delights, will admit the praise of any other unity in preference to that of feeling
If the limits prescribed to me on the present occasion would admit of such a disquisition, I would submit to my readers an analysis of one of our Poet's finest plays, that I might distinctly show how much he has lost by bis neglect of the dramatic unities; and how much more effectually he might have wrought for his purpose if he had not disdained or been too idle to solicit their assistance. In two lines of supreme fustian and nonsense, Johnson says of him,
“ Existence saw him spurn her bounded reign ;
If he spurn’d the reign of existence, he must have plunged into some illimitable void, if there be such, in the infinity of space; and what is the idea intended to be conveyed by “ Panting time toiling after him in vain," I will confess that I do not precisely comprehend. I conclude, however, that of these lines the first refers to the superhuman creatures of the dramatist's invention, to his fairies, his magicians, and his ghosts: and these, indeed, are proud evidences of his imaginative powers; and that the second, in the ludicrous image, which it presents, of old Time, panting and toiling in vain to catch the active and runaway Poet, must allude to the contempt occasionally discovered by our lawless bard for probability and the limitation of time; and this, of which any scribbler may be guilty, is, in truth, the most effective dispraise. But it is more wonderful that Shakspeare, who may be regarded as the father of the English drama, accomplished so much for its perfection, than that he failed to accomplish more.
We have now considered this extraordinary man as the giver of a poetic soul to historic narration, as the framer of a dramatic fable, and excelling equally in the sublime, the pathetic, and the ludicrous; as luxuriating by himself, in a sort of inaccessible glory, in a world of his own imagination; as neglecting the dramatic unities, either from ignorance of their effect, or from an indolent dislike of their restraint. We have inade, in short, a cursory survey of his excellencies and his defects. His diction only now remains to be the subject of our attention; and in this subordinate portion of the drama, we shall find bim to be as superior to competition as he is in the characteristic and the imaginative. His diction is an instrument, which is admirably adapted to all his purposes. In his tragic strains, it sounds every note of the gamut; and is either sublime or tender, vehement or pathetic, with the passion of which it is the organ: in description it is picturesque, animated and glowing; and every where its numbers are so harmonious, so varied, almost to infinity, in their cadence and their pauses, that they give to the ear a perpetual
feast, in which there is no satiety. As the diction of Sbakspeare rises in his higher scenes, without effort or tumour, to the sublime of poetry, so does it fall, in bis comic, with facility and grace, into the humility of prose. It has been charged with being harsh and ungrammatical. I believe it to be harsh and unrhythmical (I confine the remark, of course, to the verse portion of it) only when it bas been deformed by the perverse industry of tasteless commentators, referring us to incorrect transcriptions for authorities; and to the same cause may be ascribed, as I am satisfied, many if not all of its grosser grammatical errors. It will not, indeed, in every instance, as we are willing to allow, abide the rigid analysis of grammar; for it sometimes impresses the idea forcibly and distinctly on the mind without the aid of regular grammar, and without discovering the means by which the exploit has been achieved. As one example of this power of Shakspeare's diction, among many of a similar nature wbich might be adduced, we will transcribe the often-cited answer of Claudio to his sister, in “ Measure for Measure,” respecting the unknown terrors of death. The expressions in italics convey their meaning with great accuracy to the hearer's or the reader's mind; but, if submitted to the philosopbical grammarian's examination, they will not easily stand under it; and they may puzzle us to account for their effect in the communication of the poet's ideas.
“ Ay, but to die, and go we know not where :
This entire passage, terminating at “ howling,” is defi. cient in grammatical correctness, for it contains an antecedent not succeeded by a consequent: but is there a reader of taste who would wish it to be any thing but what it is? As for those barbarisms of the double negative and the double comparative, which Malone is studious to recall from the old copies into Shakspeare's text, I have already declared my conviction that they are falsely charged upon Shakspeare. They are not to be found in those effusions of his muse which issued from the press under his own immediate inspection; and they must assuredly be considered as the illiterate errors of an illiterate transcriber.
I could now easily, and the task would be delightful to me, produce examples, from the page of Shakspeare, of all the excellencies which I have attributed to his diction; of its sublimity, its force, its tenderness, its pathos, its picturesque character, its sweet and evervarying harmony. But I have already very far transgressed the limits prescribed to me in my volume; and I must restrain myself. When, therefore, I have cited, at the close of what I am now writing, the description by Jaques, in “ As you Like it,” of the seven ages of man, as an evidence of Shakspeare's power to touch the most familiar topics into poetry, as the Phrygian monarch could touch the basest substances into gold, I shall conclude this long and, as I fear, this fatiguing treatise on Shakspeare and his works, by asking if he be not a mighty genius, sufficiently illustrious and commanding to call forth the choice spirits of a learned and intellectual century to assert his greatness, and to march in his triumph to fame?
Yes, Master of the buman heart! we own
At thy command the varied tamolt rolls :
These are thy wonders, Nature's darling birth!
In ages far remote, when Albion's state
Aug. 4th, 1825.
THE SEVEN AGES OF MAN.
- All the world's a stage,