Imatges de pàgina

Telepbus & Pelews, cum pauper & exul uterque,

Projicit ampullas, & lesquipedalia verba. Not that I would deny, that very bad lines in bad tragedies have had this effect. But then it always proceeds from one or other of these causes :

1. Either when the subject is domestic, and the scene lies at home; the spectators in this case, become interested in the fortunes of the distreiled; and their thoughts are so much taken up with the subje&, that they are not at liberty to attend to the poet; who otherwise, by his faulty sentiments and diction, would have stified the emo. tions springing up from a sense of the distress. But this is nothing to the case in hand. For, as Hamlet says,

Wbat's Hecuba to bim, or be to Hecuba > 2. When bad lines raise this affection, they are bad in the other extreme; low, abject, and groveling, instead of being highly figurative and swelling; yet, when attended with a natural limplicity, they have force enough to strike illiterate and fimple minds. The tragedies of Banks will justify both these observations.

But if any one will still say, that Shakipeare intended to represent a player unnaturally and fantastically affected, we must appeal to Hamlet, that is, to Shakipeare himself in this matter; who, on the reflection he makes upon the player's emotion, in order to excite his own revenge, gives not the least hint that the player was unnatu. rally or injudiciously moved. On the contrary, his fine description of the actor's emotion Thews, he thought just otherwise :

- his player bere,
But in a fi&tion, in a dream of pallion,
Could force bis foul so to bis own conceit,
That from ber working all bis visage ward:
Tears in bis eyes, diftration in bis apeet,

A broken voice, &c. And indeed had Hamlet esteemed this emotion any thing unnatural, it had been a very improper circumstance to spur him to his purpose.

As Shakspeare has here shewn the effects which a fine description of nature, heightened with all the ornaments of art, had upon an intelligent player, whose business habituates him to enter intimately and deeply into the characters of men and manners, and to give Dature its free workings on all occafions; lo he has artfully shewn what effects the very fame scene would have upon a quite different man, Polonius; by nature, very weak and very artificial (two qualities, though commonly enough joined in life, yet generally so much disguised as not to be seen by common eyes to be together; and which an ordinary poet durft not have brought so near one another]; by discipline, practised in a species of wit and eloquence, which was ftiff, forced, and pedantic; and by trade a politician, and therefore, of consequence, without any of the affecting notices of humanity. Such is the man whom Shakespeare has judiciously chosen to represent the false taste of that audience which had condemned the play here reciting. When the actor comes to the finest and most pathetic part of the speech, Polonius

cries out, This is too long; on which Hamlet, in contempt of his ill judgment, replies, li pall to ibe barber's witb tby beard ; [intimating that, by this judgment, it appeared that all his wisdom lay in his length of beard, ] Pr'yebee, Jay on. He's for a jig or a tale of bawdry (the common entertainment of that time, as well as this, of the people] or be fleeps ; Jay on. And yet this man of modern tasre, who itood all this time perfectly unmoved with the forcible imagery of the relator, no sooner hears, amongst many good things, one quaint and fantastical word, put in, I suppose, purposely for this end, than he profelles his approbation of the propriety and dignity of it. Tbar's grod. Mobled queen is good. On the whole then, I think, it plainly appears, that the long quotation is not given to be ridiculed and laughed at, but to be admired. The character given of the play, by Hamlet, cannot be ironical. The passage itself is extremely beautiful. It has the effect that all pathetic relations, naturally written, should have; and it is condemned, or regarded with indifference, by one of a wrong, unnatural talte. From hence (to observe it by the way) the actors, in their representation of this play, may learn how this Speech ought to be spoken, and what appearance Hamlet ought to atlume during the recital.

That which supports the common opinion, concerning this passage, is the turgid exprefiion in some parts of it; which, they think, could never be given by the poet to be commended. We thall therefore, in the next place, examine the lines most obnoxious to centure, and see how much, allowing the charge, this will make for the induction of their conclufion.

Pyrrbus at Priam drives, in rage frikes wide,
But with ibe wbiff and wind of bis fell jword

Tbe unnerved faiber falls.
And again,

Oui, out, obou Arumper fortune! All you gods,
In general synod, take away her power :
Break all the spokes and fellies from ber wheel,
And bowl obe round nave down ibe bill of beaven,

As low as to the fiends.
Now whether these be bombast or not, is not the question; but
whether Shakespeare esteemed them fo. That he did not lo esteem
them appears from his having used the very fame thoughts in the
same expressions, in his best plays, and given them to his principal
characters, where he aims at the sublime. As in the following

Troilus, in Troilus and Crellida, far outftrains the execution of
Pyrrhus's sword, in the character he gives of Hector's:

When many times the caitive Grecians fall
Even in the fan and wind of your fair sword,

You bid tbem rise and live.
Cleopatra, io Antony and Cleopatra, rails at fortune in the same

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No, let me speak, and let me rail fo bigb,
That the false hutwife Furtune break her wheel,

Provok'd at my offence.
But another use may be made of these quotations; a discovery of
this recited play: which, letting us into a circumfiance of our author's
lite (as a writer) hitherto unknown, was the reason I have been to
large upon this question. I think then it appears, from what has
been said, that the play in dispute was Shakspeare's own; and that
this was the occasion of writing it. He was defrous, as soon as he
had found his strength, of restoring the chasteness and regularity of
the ancient stage: and therefore composed this tragedy on the model
of the Greek drama, as may be seen by throwing so much action into
relation. But his attempt proved fruitless; and the raw, unnatural
taite, then prevalent, forced him back again into his old Gothic
manner. For which he touk this revenge upon his audience.

WARBURTON The praise which Hamlet bestows on this piece is certainly dir. sembled, and agrees very well with the character of madness, which, before witnesses, he thought it neceliary to support. The speeches before us have so little merit, that nothing but an affectation of fingularity could have influenced Dr. Warburton to undertake their defence. The poet, perhaps, meant to exhibit a juft resemblance of some of the plays of his own age, in which the faults were too general and too glaring to permit a few splendid paliages to atone for them. The player knew his trade, and spoke the lines in an affecting manner, because Hamlet had declared them to be pathetic, or might be in reality a little moved by them; for, “ There are “ less degrees of nature (says Dryden) by which fome faint emotions “ of pity and terror are raised in us, as á less engine will raise a less “ proportion of weight, though not so much as one of Archimedes' « making." The mind of the prince, it must be confessed, was fitted for the reception of gloomy ideas, and his tears were ready at a Night solicitation. It is by no means proved, that Shakspeare has employed the same tbougbts cloatbed in the jame expreffions, in bis beft plays. If he bids ebe false bu swife Fortune break ber wbeel, he does not defire her to break all'its Spokes; nay, even its periphery, and make use of the nave afterwards for such an immeasureable caft. Though if what Dr. Warburton has said should be found in any instance to be exactly true, what can we infer from thence, but that Shakspeare was sometimes wrong in spite of conviction, and in the hurry of writing committed those very faults which his judgment could detect in others ? Dr. Warburton is inconsistent in his affertions concerning the literature of Shakspeare. In a note on Troilus and Crellida, he affirms, that his want of learning kept him from being acquainted with the writings of Homer; and, in this instance, would suppose him capable of producing a complete tragedy written on the ancient rules; and that the speech before us had sufficient merit to entitle it to a place in tbe fecond book of Virgil's Æneid, even


tvork bad been carried to that perfe&tion wbicb obe Roman poet bad conceived.

Had Shakspeare made one unsuccessful attempt in the manner of the ancients, (that he had any knowledge of their rules, remains to be proved,) it would certainly have been recorded by contemporary writers, among whom Ben Jonson would have been the first. Had his darling ancients been unskilfully imitated by a rival poet, he would ac least have preserved the memory of the fact, to thew how unsafe it was for any one, who was not as thorough a scholar as himself, to have meddled with their sacred remains.

« Within that circle none durst walk but he.” He has represented Inigo Jones as being ignorant of the very names of those clasick au. thors, whose architecture he undertook to correct: in his Poetafter he has in several places hinted at our poet's injudicious use of words, and feems to have pointed his ridicule more than once at some of his defcriptions and characters. It is true that he has praised him, but it was not while that praise could have been of any service to him; and posthumous applause is always to be had on easy conditions. Happy it was for Shakspeare, that he took nature for his guide, and, engaged in the warm pursuit of her beauties, left to Jonson the repofitories of learning: fo has he escaped a contest which might have rendered his life uneasy, and bequeathed to our poflellion the more valuable copies from nature herself: for Shakspeare was (says Dr. Hurd, in his notes on Horace's Art of Poetry) “ the first that broke through the bondage of classical superstition. And he owed this felicity, as he did some others, to his want of what is called the advantage of a learned educa. tion. Thus, uninfluenced by the weight of early prepofleflion, he struck at once into the road of nature and common sense: and without designing, without knowing it, hath left us in his historical plays, with all their anomalies, an exacter resemblance of the Athenian stage, than is any where to be found in its most profeffed admirers and copyists.” Again, ibid. “It is posible, there are, who think a want of reading, as well as vaft superiority of genius, hath contributed to lift this astonishing man, to the glory of being esteemed the most original THINKER and SPEAKER, since the times of Homer.”

To this extract I may add the sentiments of Dr. Edward Young on the same occasion. “ Who knows whether Shakspeare might not have thought less, if he had read more? Who knows if he might not have laboured under the load of Jonson's learning, as Enceladus under Ætna? His mighty genius, indeed, through the most mountainous oppression would have breathed out some of his inextinguishable fire; yet possibly, he might not have risen up into that giant, that much more than common man, at which we now gaze with amazement and delight. Perhaps he was as learned as his dramatic province required; for whatever other learning he wanted, he was master of two books, which the last conflagration alone can destroy; the book of nature, and that of man. These he had by heart, and has transcribed many admirable pages of them into his immortal works. These are the fountain-head, whence VOL. IX.



the Caftalian streams of original composition Aow; and these are often mudded by other waters, though waters in their distinct channel mott wholesome and pure; as two chemical liquors, separately clear as crystal, grow foul by mixture, and oftend the fight. So that he had not only as much learning as his dramatic province required, but, perhaps, as it could safely bear. If Milton had spared some of his learning, his muse would have gained more glory, than he would have lost by it."

Conje&tures of Original Compofirion. The first remark of Voltaire on this tragedy, is that the former king had been poisoned by his brother and bis queen. The guilt of the latter, however, is far from being a certained. The Ghost forbears to accuse her as an acceliary, and very forcibly recommends her to the mercy of her son. I may add, that her conscience appears undisturbed during the exhibition of the mock tragedy, which produces so vibble a disorder in her husband, who was really criminal. The last observation of the same author has no greater degree of veracity to boaft of; for now, says he, all the actors in the piece are swept away, and one Monfieur Fortenbras is introduced to conclude it. Can this be true, when Horatio, Ofrick, Voltimand, and Cornelius, survive? These, together with the whole court of Denmark, are supposed to be present at the catastrophe ; so that we are not indebted to the Norwegian chief for having kept the stage from vacancy.

Monheur de Voltaire has since transmitted in an Epistle to the Aca. demy of Belles Lettres some remarks on the late French translation of Shakspeare; but alas ! no traces of genius or vigour are discoverable in this crambe repetita, which is notorious only for its infipidity, fallacy, and malice. It serves indeed to fhew an apparent decline of talents and spirit in its writer, who no longer relies on his own ability to depreciate a rival, but appeals in a plaintive train to the queen and princelies of France for their allistance to stop the further circulation of Shakspeare's renown.

Impartiality, nevertheless, muft acknowledge that his private corre. spondence displays a superior degree of animation. Perhaps an ague shook him when he appealed to the publick on this subject; but the effects of a fever seem to predominate in his subsequent letter to Monfieur D'Argenteuil on the same occafion; for such a letter it is as our John Dennis (while his frenzy lasted) might be supposed to have write

« C'est moi qui autrefois parlai le premier de ce Shakspeare : c'est moi qui le premier montrai aux François quelques perles quela j'avois trouvé dans ton enorme fumier,” Mrs. Montague, the juftly celebrated authorets of the Ejay on the genius and writings of our author, was at Paris, and in the circle where these ravings of the Frenchman were first publickly recited. On hearing the illiberal expression already quoted, with no less elegance than readiness the replied—« C'est un fumier qui a fertilizé une terre bien ingrate."-In short, the author of Zayre, Mabomet, and Semiramis, pofsefles all the mischievous qualities of a midnight feloa, who, in the hope to conceal his guilt, sets the house which he has robbed on fire.


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