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In the second act thenceforward we are transported to the forest; and here we have, amidst some monstrosities and theatrical exaggerations, some truly poetical illustrations. That scene which introduces the retainers of the exiled Duke, with their dogs and hawks, was worthy of any artist's conception, for grouping and general effect, if, indeed, it was not compiled from some of the delineations of celebrated painters. It the most approached to illusion of any of the scenes, because it was most continuous and harmonious, and had no discrepancies to contend with. The scene under the Greenwood Tree was bowery, and had a pleasant air of forest depths and retreats about it; but the straight benches and forms, unfortunately, carried one to Cremorne House, and brought too forcibly to one's mind the modern tea-garden. The benches should have been ruder; and, indeed, " the cave" might have been a more appropriate place for the Duke to dine in, and have afforded a finer illustration. The cote that Rosalind purchases was rather too floridly depicted, and the introduction of the singing-birds an attempt to produce a reality quite beyond the reach of art. Besides, it had the disadvantage of bringing to mind-- not the warbling of the sweet bird's throat-but the performance of a gentleman who stands at the foot of Newcastle-street, and sells water-whistles for a halfpenny. If the crowing of the cock in “ Hamlet”is dismissed, why should these be retained ? It would occupy too much time here to prove why it is meretricious and not artistic to introduce such aids. But ask Sir Augustus Calcott or Mr. Allen to introduce the sails of a mill, turned by watch-work, into one of their landscapes, and see what they would say to such a reality.
The labour, and talent, and fancy, required to represent physically the visions of such a poet as Shakespeare is a mighty task, and it is only by repeated efforts that it can be done. To give a gorgeous theatrical pageant is a very different thing, and is a very different aim to realizing the conceptions of the poet. The last is attempted by Mr. Macready, and is a very high aim, and in some instances, it must be allowed that it has been effected in the present. This is not the place for a dissertation on scenic illusion, but it may be remarked, that there is yet much to be done, if that principle is resolved to be carried out. The proscenium must be altered, the mode of lighting constructed on more scientific principles, and the ground of the stage varied. It is in vain to represent a boarded forest, or even a boarded Gothic building. More or less must be done. The imagination must be more fancifully suggested to; or if the senses are to be taken by facts, these must be represented unbrokenly. Else one discrepancy will show the deceit. It is doubtful, however, if fancy could not much better produce illusion, and whether art, in its genuine acceptation, has not yet to be introduced to the theatre.
These, however, are considerations which must be pursued at another time and in another place.
Having examined what may be called the illustrations of the play, let us look to the acting of it.
And, first, Mrs. Nisbett's Rosalind; certainly not the prismatic being of the author-that soul of deep sentiment and passion infused with the gayest and most joyous wit. Certainly that lady did not give
us those lights and shades, rapidly intersecting each other, that the author has exemplified ; those delicate traits of woman's nature, that at once make her the most enchanting and the most perplexing of creations; that raise in her lover the most intense passion and the most intense solicitude. Such an enchantress has been met by men of passion and feeling, but who but Shakespeare has ever delineated “The Cynthia of the minute?” Mrs. Nisbett is, as all the world acknowledges, a very charming woman, but does not yet appear to have penetrated the depths of Shakespearian delineations. Indeed it is a study, and it is doubtful if she has given it the requisite application. A thousand graces would rise to her fancy-hundreds of points would present themselves, did she ponder sufficiently on them. The female characters of Shakespeare, like the male, demand profound knowledge, and to play a few well, as is the case with the great characters of Hamlet, Macbeth, &c., is all that the greatest actors or actresses can aspire to, That Mrs. Nisbett would ultimately play Rosalind there is no doubt, could she afford the requisite sacrifice of time to study and perfect the intricate and delicate delineation. By the way, we are at a loss to know why she omits the speech to Jaques, bantering him as a traveller ; especially as it is so exceedingly characteristic of both personages.
Mrs. Stirling's Celia was a clever piece of theatrical art, but had none of the princess-like gentleness and sweetness of the original.
Mrs. Keeley's Audrey seized at once, and in perfection, the conception of the author. The rude animal nature, simple and coarse, was perfectly delineated : without grossness, without buffoonery. A high and perfect piece of imagination represented in its full integrity, without flaw or crack. It was indeed acting.
Of the men, Jaques deserves first notice, though Orlando ought to be the most prominent. This, too, was an homogeneous conception. And though there may be some objection to the key which was taken, still it must be acknowledged, that all parts were in perfect harmony. Mr. Macready conceives him to be more merely sarcastic than was perhaps his nature. It surely should be considered how infinite was his fancy, how generous his conduct. He loves to ally himself to the fallen ; he is not rude, but honest. How he hates baseness and insincerity ! returning to the usurping Duke when he is the fallen. Was not his melancholy that of a noble soul seeking in vain for nobility in a rank and o'er-grown soil ? His sympathies are in direct opposition with those of the world. He is certainly tart, and the noble wine has by some thunder-shock been a little soured. The speech so hackneyed, and yet never trite, on the seven ages, was an instance, we think, of Mr. Macready's wrong conception of some portion of the character. The indulgence of a fancy so ripe and ready as that displayed, must, at the time of utterance, have given an excitement and glow to the utterer. Each picture, as it rose to his fancy, must have kindled as it flowed on, until it deepened into a profound and almost solemn real reflection, closing in a deep and mournful truth. His audience (and such an audience, for they were all fine fellows,) would have been charmed with his fancy, until gradually touched with his intensity, they would have caught his solemn tone, and the concluding deep and sad truth would have left them all for a moment in a profound and touching reverie. Never was there an author delighted or excelled more in contrast than Shakespeare, and therefore he demands of all the impersonators of his characters the most varied and opposite powers.
Orlando is the incarnation of all that is noble in man. His high qualities are not obtruded on us by long descriptions, but every sentence he utters, every thing he does shows him to be noble, tender, and manly. His intellect is as sound and clear as his moral nature, and we admire him equally in his indignation at his brother's conduct, in bis tenderness to Adam, in his passion for Rosalind, and in his banter with Jaques. He is indeed a well-developed man, with youth and comeliness to adorn him. It cannot be said that Mr. Anderson delineated all these phases of his character. There was no elevation in his personation. Orlando was of much the same class as the crack young men in the modern comedies, “Tall and proper” enough, but that was all. The various characteristics the dramatist has so finely brought out were slurred into one indiscriminating manner. He was not the athlete with the wrestler, the impassioned lover with Rosalind, the outraged man with his brother, the tender friend with old Adam, the easy gentleman with the Duke, and the careless wit with Jaques. Mr. Anderson has one set manner for courage, another for love, and so on, and these the various modes he uses in all his characters, so that there is no genuine flavour in any one of them. Indeed, he seems to give himself no time to perfect himself in any one part, playing as he does all kinds. There is yet hope of him, if he would leave off mouthing, try to be natural, and deeply study any great character he undertakes.
Mr. Phelps's Adam was not calculated to sustain his well earned reputation. This character, it is said, was originally played by Shakespeare himself, and if minutely considered, it will be found to abound in inimitable touches. The tenderness and affection is excessive, yet most gently and temperately expressed. It is full of the weakness of age, but has in it too the overflowing fondness of that period. The scenes between Orlando and Adam are fraught with manly affection and tenderness. Mr. Phelps was vehement, and violent, and weak, but he failed to bring out the truly pathetic parts of the character.
Touchstone, by Keeley, was exceedingly amusing, as that highly sensible and shrewd actor could not fail to make it. Every individual point told, and the actor fully comprehended the words. There was, however, a deficiency in the characterization. Touchstone is a humourist ridiculous in himself. His conceit is immense, and he occupies the place of our modern valet. He has all the left off airs of the court. He even patronises the banished Duke. Yet is be “a good man and true.” He does not forsake Rosalind, nor endeavour to debauch Audrey. The fantastic part of the character Mr. Keeley did not give. His excessive absurdity and oddity of conduct were not marked enough. The very name of Touchstone seems to imply his nature. He is a test for true wit and true worth.
The usurping Duke, by Mr. Bennett, was a very theatrical piece of personation. The banished Duke, by Mr. Ryder, better, because quieter, but sadly lacking that fine alacrity of spirit that belongs to the noble exile. Mr. Elton, as the First Lord, recited well. Mr. Hudson's Le Beau was much applauded because much exaggerated;
it being as near to a true characterization as the lover in a pantomime. Charles the Wrestler was a very characteristic little bit by Mr. Howell. The country people were well performed. William excellently by Compton, and Corin by Mr. W. Bennet. Oliver sensibly by Mr. Graham.
The singing was delicious; and Mr. Allen's most true to the nature of the poetry, and exquisitely touching. It was judiciously introduced, and harmonized, (in every sense of the word,) with the scene. Miss Horton also sang very agreeably, and played very characteristically the small part she undertook.
The little masque of “ Hymen” was admirably arranged, and was quaintly picturesque. Very like an ancient pageant.
It may seem to some persons inconsistent to have devoted so much space to the account of the production of one play; but when this production involves many principles it surely cannot be deemed so. It is in the first place due to the labour and cost that has been expended to give attention to it; and if it has been devoted, as in this instance, to the production of a work of art, it deserves, and may demand, every attention and encouragement. The production of “ As You Like It," in the mode in which it has been done at Drury Lane Theatre, is certainly an epoch in the Drama. It is a proof of the spirit of the age, which seems rather to seek to fulfil to the utmost the perfection of the great things that have been produced, than to produce great ones itself. Next to producing greatness, certainly the highest thing is to aid in manifesting it.
It is sincerely to be hoped that every lover of Shakespeare will go himself, and induce those he can to go, and see this laborious and talented illustration of our greatest poet. It is indeed a case in which the highest and noblest in the land should exert themselves. When a private individual risks and expends thousands in illustrating a national poet, the least those can do who are supposed to have some influence, if not on taste, on fashion, is to encourage it by repeated visits. If Elizabeth and her Court encouraged the great originator, surely the present Sovereign and her Court ought to encourage the manager who so liberally and tastefully seeks to honour his memory by a gorgeous and poetical revival. Such exhibitions as these must refine and purify the public taste : must enlarge the sympathies and elevate the sentiments of all who see them ; and therefore it is the duty of the influential to promote them; and the Queen and her Consort could not do a more serviceable thing to poetry and the arts than to visit them frequently : not only in the cold formality of a ceremonious visit, but cordially and sincerely, and in such a mode as to take the Court and Gentry with them, and give an impulse of fashion to so reasonable and so beautiful an entertainment.
CHANSON PAR BÉRANGER,
Je viens revoir l'asile où ma jeunesse
C'est un grenier ; point ne veux qu'on l'ignore.