Imatges de pÓgina
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not obliterated, by the distractions of the scene around him. Amidst the natural and preternatural horrors of his situation, he might be excused in delicacy from carrying on a regular courtship. When "his father's spirit was in arms," it was not a time for the son to make love in. He could neither marry Ophelia, nor wound her mind by explaining the cause of his alienation, which he durst hardly trust himself to think of. It would have taken him years to have come to a direct explanation on the point. In the harassed state of his mind, he could not have done otherwise than he did. His conduct does not contradict what he says when he sees her funeral—

"I lov'd Ophelia: forty thousand brothers

Could not with all their quantity of love
Make up my sum."

Nothing can be more affecting or beautiful than the Queen's apostrophe to Ophelia on throwing flowers into the

"Sweets to the sweet, farewell.

grave:

I hop'd thou shouldst have been my Hamlet's wife :
I thought thy bride-bed to have deck'd, sweet maid,
And not have strew'd thy grave."

Shakspeare was thoroughly a master of the mixed motives of human character, and he here shows us the Queen, who was so criminal in some respects, not without sensibility and affection in other relations of life.—Ophelia is a character almost too exquisitely touching to be dwelt upon. Oh rose of May, oh flower too soon faded! Her love, her death, are described with the truest touches of tenderness and pathos. It is a character which nobody but Shakspeare could have drawn in the way that he has done, and to the conception of which there is not even the smallest approach, except in some of the old romantic ballads. Her brother, Laertes, is a character we do not like so well: he is too hot and choleric, and somewhat rhodomontade. Polonius is a perfect character in its kind; nor is there any foundation for the objections which have been made to the consistency of this part. It is said that he acts very foolishly and talks very sensibly. There is no inconsistency in that. Again, that he talks wisely

at one time and foolishly at another; that his advice to Laertes is very sensible, and his advice to the King and Queen on the subject of Hamlet's madness very ridiculous. But he gives the one as a father, and is sincere in it; he gives the other as a mere courtier, a busy-body, and is accordingly officious, garrulous, and impertinent. In short, Shakspeare has been accused of inconsistency in this and other characters, only because he has kept up the distinction which there is in nature, between the understandings and the moral habits of men, between the absurdity of their ideas and the absurdity of their motives. Polonius is not a fool, but he makes himself appear one. His folly, whether in his actions or speeches, comes under the head of impropriety of intention.

Hamlet is probably, of all other of Shakspeare's characters, the most difficult to personate on the stage. It is like the attempt to embody a shadow.

"Come then, the colors and the ground prepare,

Dip in the rainbow, trick her off in air!

Chuse a firm cloud, before it falls, and in it

Catch, ere she change, the Cynthia of a minute."

Such, nearly, is the task which the actor imposes on himself in the part of Hamlet. It is quite remote from hardness and dry precision. The character is spun The character is spun to the finest thread, yet never loses its continuity. It has the yielding flexibility of a wave of the sea! It is made up of undulating lines, without a single sharp angle. There is no set purpose, no straining at a point. The observations are suggested by the passing scene— the gusts of passion come and go, like the sounds of music borne on the wind. The interest depends not on the action, but on the thoughts.

THE TEMPEST.

THERE can be little doubt that Shakspeare was the most universal genius that ever lived. "Either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, scene individable or poem unlimited, he is the only man. Seneca can

not be too heavy, nor Plautus too light for him." He has not only the same absolute command over our laughter and our tears, all the resources of passion, of wit, of thought, of observation, but he has the most unbounded range of fanciful invention, whether terrible or playful, the same insight into the world of imagination that he has into the world of reality; and over all there presides the same truth of character and nature, and the same spirit of humanity. His ideal beings are as true and natural as his real characters; that is, as consistent with themselves, for if we supposed such beings to exist at all, they could not act, speak, or feel otherwise than as he makes them. He has invented for them a language, manners, and sentiments of their own, from the tremendous imprecations of the witches in Macbeth, when they do "a deed without a name," to the sylph-like expressions of Ariel, who "does his spiriting gently;" the mischievous tricks and gossipping of Robin Goodfellow, or the uncouth gabbling and emphatic gesticulations of Caliban in this play.

The Tempest is one of the most original and perfect of Shakspeare's productions, and he has shown in it all the variety of his powers. It is full of grace and grandeur. The human and imaginary characters, the dramatic and the grotesque, are blended together with the greatest art and without any appear

ance of it. Though he has here given "to airy nothing a local habitation and a name," yet that part which is only the fantastic creation of his mind, has the same palpable texture, and coheres "semblably" with the rest. As the preternatural part has the air of reality, and almost haunts the imagination with a sense of truth, the real characters and events partake of the wildness of a dream. The stately magician, Prospero, driven from his dukedom, but around whom (so potent is his art) airy spirits throng numberless to do his bidding; his daughter Miranda ("worthy of that name"), to whom all the power of his art points, and who seems the goddess of the isle; the princely Ferdinand, cast by fate upon the haven of his happiness; the delicate Ariel; the savage Caliban, half brute, half demon; the drunken ship's crew are all connected parts of the story, and could not be spared from the place they fill. Even the local scenery is of a piece and character with the subject. Prospero's enchanted island seems to have risen up out of the sea; the airy music, the tempest-tost vessel, the turbulent waves, all have the effect of the landscape back-ground of some fine picture. Shakspeare's pencil is (to use an allusion of his own) "like the dyer's hand, subdued to what it works in." Everything in him, though it partakes "of the liberty of wit," is also subjected to "the law" of the understanding. For instance, even the drunken sailors share, in the disorder of their minds and bodies, in the tumult of the elements, and seem on shore to be as much at the mercy of chance as they were before at the mercy of the winds and waves. These fellows, with their sea-wit, are the least to our taste of any part of the play: but they are as like drunken sailors as they can be, and are an indirect foil to Caliban, whose figure acquires a classical dignity in the comparison.

The character of Caliban is generally thought (and justly so) to be one of the author's masterpieces. It is not indeed pleasant to see this character on the stage any more than it is to see the god Pan personated there. But in itself it is one of the wildest and most abstracted of all Shakspeare's characters; whose deformity, whether of body or mind, is redeemed by the power and truth of the imagination displayed in it. It is the

essence of grossness, but there is not a particle of vulgarity in it. Shakspeare has described the brutal mind of Caliban in contact with the pure and original forms of nature; the character grows out of the soil where it is rooted, uncontrolled, uncouth, and wild, uncramped by any of the meannesses of custom. It is "of the earth, earthy." It seems almost to have been dug out of the ground, with a soul instinctively superadded to it, answering to its wants and origin. Vulgarity is not natural coarseness, but conventional coarseness, learnt from others, contrary to, or without an entire conformity of natural power and disposition; as fashion is the common-place affectation of what is elegant and refined without any feeling of the essence of it. Schlegel, the admirable German critic on Shakspeare, observes that Caliban is a poetical character, and "always speaks in blank verse." He first comes in thus:—

CALIBAN. As wicked dew as e'er my mother brush'd

With raven's feather from unwholesome fen,

Drop on you both: a south-west blow on ye,

And blister you all o'er !

Prospero. For this, be sure, to-night thou shalt have cramps,
Side stitches that shall pen thy breath up; urchins

Shall for that vast of night that they may work,

All exercise on thee: thou shalt be pinch'd

As thick as honey-combs, each pinch more stinging
Than bees that made 'em.

Caliban. I must eat my dinner.

This island's mine by Sycorax my mother,

Which thou tak'st from me. When thou eamest first,

Thou strok'dst me, and mad'st much of me; would'st give me

Water with berries in 't; and teach me how

To name the bigger light and how the less

That burn by day and night; and then I loved thee.

And show'd thee all the qualities o' th' isle,

The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile :
Curs'd be I that I did so! All the charms

Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!

For I am all the subjects that you have,

Who first was mine own king; and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o' th' island."

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