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listen to the stories of national glory or favourite romance, to tremble at their own superstitions or to smile at their own local follies : his range of images is greater by far than that of any other poet; he united the characteristics of all painters ; if he was at one time as gentle as bland, at another no scene of Salvator was more wild ; “nor could use wither or custom stale his infinite variety.” A character once sketched was forgotten ; even a passion once delineated is seldom again displayed. Other dramatists and novelists give us a thousand reflected representations of favourite and well-drawn characters, but we have no second Falstaff, Hamlet, Lear, or Othello. All this contributed to give an originality and exuberance to his dramas, which a spectator felt irresistibly, and which he still continues to feel ; it gave activity to his plot; richness and figurative boldness, as well as an occasional quaintness, to his style ; and intense interest to his personages ; whether their parts were simple or elaborate-heroes or fools. He was not less skilful in the arrangement of these various characters; his plots are generally formed with consummate skill, and modern improvements show that nothing essential to them can be added or withdrawn with impunity. Akin to this is Shakspeare's great art in preserving the character, “which is such,” says Pope, “throughout his plays, that had all the speeches been printed without the very names of the persons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every speaker.” And this is equally the case when they are acting under different impulses and even in different plays. One never sees any thing in Henry V., in the battle or on the throne, which is inconsistent with his revels in East-Cheap—he is gay and bold, with feelings not very warm, though displaying them when suddenly called out, as in his father's chamber on the night before the battle, yet caring not very deeply for the loss of a wife, or the death of an old boon companion who is absent from his sight; so Sly in the palace, and Bottom among the fairies, though they are not insensible to the change, are always Sly and Bottom-we may remark, that while these characters are in the main much alike, they are admirably distinguished by the superior vanity of Bottom, which leads him to believe in his actual metamorphosis, while honest Sly inflexibly adheres to his original identity.
Another mark of Shakspeare's judgment, and cause of his popularity, is the selection of his subjects. He always endeavoured to catch the tone of popular feeling, and invest his subject with those extrinsic attractions which old prejudices or national enthusiasm could give it; hence he chose very generally, well-known favourite romances, and embodied, enlarged upon, and diversied the incidents; or what was still better, he took historical characters and events chiefly of his own country,
but if not, such as were very striking and familiar, and clothed them, as he had always power to do, with nature and life. So he was fond, from the same view, of delineating peculiar trades, professions, and national peculiarities, well knowing that they gave an air of truth and freshness to his exhibitions. He loved to picture common life, and did so with a remarkable knowledge of its manners and customs, and wonderful sagacity and common sense; for when his characters are most original, there is something about them that makes the spectator almost believe he has seen them; no one ever encountered Falstaff or Shallow, yet who would be surprised at doing so? When he brings the Roman mob, or Jack Cade and his illustrious companions, on the scene, their dull jokes and stupid wit, mixed with occasional shrewdness, are as natural as their greasy night-caps and ragged clothes; on the contrary, when Catherine, or Wolsey, or Lear, pour out the feelings of injured pride, of wrecked ambition, or of wild despair, the language they utter is in strong unison with their feelings. So, from the same attention to popular gratification, he spread throughout his dramas short songs, eminently calculated to administer to it-sometimes they were stanzas from old and favourite ballads, but oftener they were his own—much in the same style, but of unequalled beauty—they were such as his countrymen and countrywomen loved to sing-if, at least, his own account of them be true
they were old and plain.
Did use to chant them.” Shakspeare possessed, in an uncommon degree, the art of exciting those feelings of pity and fear which touch most sensibly a mixed audience. Nothing is more surprising, than the wonderful manner in which he has introduced on the stage supernatural beings, or depicted the ravings of insanity, or described the approach of death in all its forms. He, least of all men, was stopped by the flaming ramparts of this world; wherever imagina
led, boldly followed, and new beings sprung up as he passed along, to be subdued and rendered subservient to his power. Though he was skilful in availing himself of popular belief, yet he was not content with adopting its creations, or confining himself within its limits, but he formed beings such as had never been heard of either in history or tradition, giving them characteristics perfectly natural, if we may use the expression, and admirably adapting them to the plots and scenes they were destined to assist and adorn. His fairies are the most poetic creatures that imagination has ever conceived; their beauty, their sports, their labours, their cares, their affections, and their quarrels, are told with inimitable grace; the air in which they hoVOL. VI.--N0. 11.
ver, the earth on which they tread, become enchanted-gometimes they are nightly controllers of the elements, bringing about the ends of moral justice—sometimes they are gay, thoughtless revellers, lurking in cowslip bells, or frightening maidens of the villages,
“Or on the beached margent of the sea,
Dancing their ringlets to the whistling wind.” Wherever they are introduced, their agency gives new animation and variety to the plot, and new beauty to the scene.
His ghosts form a more striking, and not less admirable feature in his machinery, and one perhaps still more original. How impressive are they when compared with the feeble creations of preceding poets—how strongly do they fall in with, and operate on, the popular belief in the appearance of departed beings, which, if it be now passed away, was firmly seated in the days of Shakspeare-how admirably are they framed to excite and display the latent, the concealed, or the less prominent points of those characters on which they are to act. What could convince and wind up the doubting and unstable mind of Hamlet like the spirit of his father rising from his grave and bidding him not to forget his purposed vengeance? what could display the weakness, the sense of shame and horror that secretly filled the soul of Macbeth, when he seemed the gayest and the boldest of monarchs, in the midst of royal festivities and obsequious vassals, but the silent witness that could not be doubted, who testified to his crime, his cowardice, and the feebleness of his power?
-what could have waked remorse and desperation in the bold mind of Richard, on the eve of battle, proud and confident of success, his hopes, his energy, all aroused, his thoughts engaged only with the future, but the terrible forebodings of those who he felt could not err?—With what skill are these prodigies introduced—where they are to instruct and encourage the good, their approach is solemn and impressive, their figure gracious ; how do we listen to the tales of the sentinels, as they await the apparition on the distant and silent platform of the castle, to the better instructed, yet misgiving thoughts of Horatio, to the ardent, longing, yet uncertain, unconscious fears of the deserted and affectionate son. Where they are to punish, they arise in the midst of banquets, or in the proud moments of warlike confidence, to strike sudden terror to the heart.
His witches are supernatural beings not less impressive, yet how different--they push by malignant instigation to the perpetration of the act--they foretell the future, they palter with their victim in a double sense, and the words that lure him to his crime announce his punishment--they come out, not in quiet, terrible solemnity, so much as in wildness and in mystery ; they appear on the deserted heaths, borne on the chilling blast; they
are thinking, not of one victim or one object, but they are occupied with malicious plots against all mankind.
Scarcely less wonderful, though perhaps less original, than this, is the effect Shakspeare has produced by dreams. How in one short, but harrowing scene, does Lady Macbeth display the secret, never-dying remorse which preys upon her proud heart--that which shows, that though her undaunted mettle might dare all crimes, and conceal from the world around, and even her own husband, the stings of conscience, she was for ever secretly haunted with thick-coming fancies, and rooted sorrows weighing upon her heart.
Turning from supernatural to human agency, we are struck at once with the use Shakspeare has made of the uncontroulable misfortunes of which our race are the inheritors—in his hands, it is not merely the passions and affections of men that are his agents, but he has brought before us the human mind when disordered by the loss of reason, or overthrown by the approaches of death. No one, before or since, has delineated madness as he has done the observations of professional experience are scarcely as perfect -it is confined to no particular degree-it acts upon various persons—it is contrasted with that which is assumed, and distinguished from it, by evident, though indescribable traits; it is weak, silly, scarcely perceptible in the mental imbecility of Aguecheek; it is plaintive and heart-rending in Ophelia ; it is melancholy in Hamlet; it is impetuous, and suddenly aroused and depressed in Lear—in all, it is an agent that produces on the stage a wonderful effect. So, if the death-bed be in real life a scene full of impressiveness and awe, it becomes, as represented by the hand of the master, one not less so; one which never fails of its effect on the hearts of those who read of or behold it. It is exhibited with all the accompaniments of horror and crimc, or it excites the warmest emotions of pity and affection. Its variety is as infinite as that of the characters portrayed; in the innocent childhood of Edward's infants, death steals on as they lay locked in each others' arms; in Juliet, it seeks poison on the dead lips of him she loves; in Othello, it displays the returning calmness of a noble mind, perplexed and led on to its own undoing, but looking back to its former virtues and happiness, not with regret, but honourable pride; in the gentle soul of Brutus, it assumes all the quiet resignation of philosophy, and becomes the reward, not unwished for, of disappointed aspirations for the success of liberty and virtue—with the wicked it is clad in terrors; it haunts the couch of John with shrieks of agony; it summons round the bed of Beaufort the phantoms of remorse; to Richard II., worldly and vain, rather than guilty, it recalls the recollection of pleasures reluctantly yielded up, and his ideas of death are blended with the loss of his sceptre, bis palace, and his throne; to Henry VI., meek,
benevolent, and pious, the last images which arise are those of innocent and slaughtered flocks and imprisoned birds, and all his feelings are directed to the future sufferings of his subjects,
“To many an old man's sigh, and many a widow's,
And many an orphan's water standing eye.” To Wolsey, noble and generous in soul, but misled by ambition and pride, death so brings back his virtues, and makes us forget his crimes, that it has left him greater glory than he would have ever gained, had he still possessed the power he long struggled for. Such is the manner in which Shakspeare drew moral and useful lessons, from the superstitions, the infirmities, and the fatal termination of human life-such was the power by which he introduced them into his dramas, to add, as they have done, their powerful effect upon his audience; an effect which could never have been produced by the force of his genius alone, independent of delineations so artfully calculated to excite and enlist the feelings.
These delineations, too, are scarcely more striking from their own nature, than from the art with which they are introduced. Shakspeare, above all men, understood the effect of situation and contrast. The heart is never so open to sorrow, as when it sees unconscious gaiety and revelry around-like the dream of poor Amie, in which the gay sounds of the Queen's reveillé become the death notes wound by her miserable and deserted father. Innumerable scenes of Shakspeare might be cited, which are familiar to all who have studied his dramas. Few have ever witnessed the tragedy of Hamlet, without feeling, however used to it, a sudden surprise at the appearance of the ghost, lulled as we are into forgetfulness of what we are expecting, by the careless conversation of the prince and his companions. The drowsy tune and easy slumbers of the page, make but more striking the restless inquietude of Brutus, as he awaits the dawn that is to light him to Philippi. Music and gaiety, and all the lively bustle of the marriage ceremonies, fill the mansion where Juliet lies in wretchedness and seeming death. The song of the nightingale, the fragrance of the rose, and the gentle brilliancy of moonlit gardens, are blended with the sighs of sorrow, the loathsome dampness of the sepulchre, the dreary darkness of the church-yard, and the stillness of death. So in the persons as well as in the scenes; the ethereal lightness, good humour, and beauty of Prospero's little sprite, become more dear from his contrast with the disgusting drudge, who is also the slave of the same powerful master. Orlando and Adam present in one picture the generosity of youth, with the faithful gratitude of age. Capulet is the gouty old beau, who no longer whispers his tale in a fair lady's ear, while Mercutio flourishes at his side in all the exuberance of youthful vivacity and wit. Prince Henry is gallant