Abbildungen der Seite

Zanga, stored up for so many years, uneffaced by reiterated kindnesses.

Iago, on the contrary, is a villain only by degrees. Malignant, envious, and fond of mis. chief, he enters upon his plan at first with only the vague and malevolent design of creating some uneasiness. In every progressive step he finds himself more deeply entangled, till at length in his own defence he is compelled to. proceed. Even when the plot is considerably advanced, he sees not the end

« Tis here but yet confused,
• Knavery's plain face is never seen till used.”

The villainy of Iago is also prompted from time to time by many circumstances; offence, jealousy and resentment at Othello, envy of Cassio, the having cheated, and continuing to cheat Roderigo, all serve to involve bim deeper and deeper, and to promote the catastrophe.

The incidents are truly interesting; the theft of the handkerchief, and Othello seeing it in Cassio's hand, are incomparably wrought up. In short, whether in the tumultuous scene in the street, of rousing Brabantio, or in the scenes

[ocr errors]

after the arrival at Cyprus, we can scarcely imagine that it is a fiction which is presented to us.

The poetry of the impassioned parts is of the highest kind, and I think in the concluding speech of Othello there are more beauties than are any where comprized in the same compass.

Such is this astonishing production of human intellect; and yet I feel it almost rashness to pronounce it the master-piece of our author. In Lear there is something still grander, and perhaps the fable is still more generally interesting. Granting that the plots were not his own, still it is the judgment, iaste, and genius of Shakspeare that is displayed in selecting such stories as serve for the basis of the most magni. ficent display of all the great passions incidental to human nature. Who will compare the cold and inanimate declamation of Edipus, in the Greek tragedy, with the sublime burst of passion, when the old king resents the unfeeling ingratitude of his daughters? But even Edipus, in the hands of Shakspeare, would have been a different character.

One thing I must remark of this exquisite drama, because I have not seen it remarked by others, and that is, the perfect consistency, in

the midst of seeming inconsistencies, with which the principal character is supported. Lear is introduced as a very choleric person ; and, conscious of the error of his own disposition, and distrustful of himself, it is curious to observe how he doubts the reality of his daughters' ingratitude, and appears desirous of referring at first to his own frailty. Thus, when the unkindness of his eldest daughter is first hinted to him, he observes

66 Thou but rememberest me of mine own faint conception : I have perceived a most faint neglect of late; which I have rather blamed as mine own jealous curiosity.”

The unity of action is perhaps not quite so well preserved as in Othello. The under plot of Gloster and Edgar presents, it is true, a kind of contrast to the other; but it is not necessary to the main action. All the characters are finely sustained ; that of Kent is original, and the i most interesting under character perhaps to be found in any drama. Some of the speeches of Lear are highly poetical, especially

I tax not you, ye elements,” &c.

Hamlet is perhaps the most faulty of our au.

thor's dramas; and yet it is perhaps the most interesting of them all in the representation. The plot is very ill conducted: the appearance of a ghost violates the probability of the action; and yet, as Dr. Johnson well remarks, " the apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose : the reyenge that was required is not obtained but by the death of him who was required to take it.” The murder of Polonius, and the subsequent madness and death of poor Ophelia, who is all along. cruelly treated, outrages humanity; and Hamlet's neglect of the opportunity to kill the king when at prayers (and that upon the most shocking of motives, lest from the occasion he might obtain mercy of Heaven) seems to defeat the object of the play; and reduces the author to a very awkward and disgusting catastrophe.

Where then lies the charm of Hamlet ? I answer, in the matchless genius of Shakspeare, who has combined in this play more variety of incident, more refinement of moral sentiment, more exquisite displays of human character than are to be found in any other drama. The ghost is such as no other author could have conjured up, solemn, dignified, yet ten

[blocks in formation]

der and pathetic. The incident of the play exhibited before the court is finely contrived; the spectator's interest is kept alive from the beginning for the fate of Hamlet; and the closet scene with the Queen is perhaps the finest specimen extant of dramatic dialogue. The pictures referred to are undoubtedly supposed to hang against the wall, as part of the furni. ture of the queen's closet.

Macbeth scarcely holds a lower rank than any of the preceding. I cannot agree with Dr. Johnson, that it is deficient in discrimination of character. I think the progress of wickedness is more finely marked in Macbeth than in any portrait that I have ever found. mences a brave, honourable, and loyal person. One false step conducts to another, and he becomes gradually so depraved, that he declares

He com

“ I am in blood
Stept in so far, that should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”

The machinery, which is grounded upon historical, or at least traditional evidence, is finely supported. I think it is Dryden that says:

« ZurückWeiter »