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• Jana Ellinn
MRS. W. WEST.
Mrs. W. WEST (formerly Miss Cooke) is a native of Bath. The eminent success of a relation, the late George Frederick COOKE, was enough to awaken the dormant dramatic energies which might have existed in any of his family, and to stimulate them to the exercise of their peculiar powers. Her father was also a great admirer of the histrionic art, and had been a performer in Bath some time before the birth of his daughter. Under these circumstances it was natural Miss Cooke should have imbibed a passion for the stage.
Miss Cooke made her first public appearance in her native city, in the character of Miss Hardcastle. Her success was deservedly great. She next visited Cheitenham Theatre, where she sustained the characters of the Widow Cheerly, Lady Teazle, Lady Townly, &c. with distinguished success. Her talents were considered at that time to be decidedly comic; bụt on her performing a tragic part, it was regarded by the Cheltenham critics as much superior to her comic efforts. Mrs. C. Kemble, being at that time at Cheltenham, was so satisfied of Miss Cooke's superior talents, that she procured her an engagement at Covent Garden Theatre, where she appeared on the 28th of September, 1812, in the character of Desdemona; which performance was crowned with
At the expiration of her engagement, Miss Cooke went to Edinburgh, where she made her debut in the arduous character of Juliet, which she performed ten nights in succession. During this lady's residence at
Edinburgh she was married to Mr. W. West, who was also a member of the Edinburgh company. Mr. and Mrs. West accepted an offer from the Bath proprietor, where they performed for three seasons. In 1818, Mr. Stephen Kemble sent an offer to Mrs.West to sustain the leading characters in Tragedy at Drury Lane, which she accepted, and where she has continued almost ever since.
Mrs. W. West decidedly possesses the best judgment, with the least pretension, of any actress on the stage. She therefore reaches the point of excellence by means the most pleasing to the audience, and the most creditable to her own taste and feelings. Her Desdemona is a creature made up of such softness and delicacy, that she appears too good for a community of mortals : contrasted with the grim fury of Othello, it is angelic, and be. speaks a soul unconscious of guile, and incapable of wrong either in act or thought. Her Cora is a pure specimen of feminine loveliness. Easy and graceful in the presence of her husband ; anxious, yet confiding, in his absence. Her picture of Cora throws light upon, and gives effect to, those of Alonzo and Rolla. Their heroism, honour, and fidelity, would have been mere duties, had they only to obey the calls of their country: but, departing from the presence of Cora to meet dangers, they are compelled to be something more than men to avoid being thought something less.
Our limits will not permit us to go over the list of distinguished characters in which this lady excels. We shall merely add, that when we feel disposed to visit the theatre, one of our first and most agreeable thoughts is that of seeing Mrs. W. West.
There is no study more delightful than that of tracing the various authorities that furnished Shakspeare with the plots, the incidents, and the characters, of his immortal dramis.- 11 is worthy of the scholar, since it affords him innumerable opportunities of pursuing his antiquarian researches--of the man of taste, for, in the wide tield of literature, where will he find such abundance of
“ Flowers of all hues, and, without thorn, the rose !" and even that man who is devoid of imagination--who is insensible to the higher and more exalted beanties of so divine a mose, shall receive ample instruction in mere matters of fact, as connected with history, morals, and philosophy ;-in history, comprehending events the most memorable and interesting of ancient and inodern times; in morals, through the medium of examples the most hohle and pure; and, in philosophy-not the thing so iniscalled, which opposes a bold front of scorn and infidelity, but that philosophy, the principles of which spring from revelation and truth:
The Merchant of Venice, one of the most finished productions of Shakspeare, unites three distinct plots. Those of the caskets and of the bond are derived from an old play entitled " The Jew," which, according to Gosson,' was “ shewn at the Bull," and was by him pronounced to be a goode and sweete playe;" and Mr. Dunlop remarks, that the story of Lorenzo and Jessica bears sorne similitude to the fourteenth tale in the second book of the Novellino of Massuccio Di Salerno ; and that learned, elegant, and juilicious critic, Mr. Douce, observes, that neither the author of the old play, nor Shakspeare, have confined themselves to one source, in the conta struction of their plot; but that the Pecorone, the Gestu Romano rum, and probably the ancient Bullad of Geruntus, had been respectively resorted to. That the incident of the bond was borrowed from the former, there remains no doubt; and the whetting of the knife might be suggested by the latter; while the reasoning of Shylock before the Senate is evidently taken from Silvayn's Orator, translateci by Munday, and printed in 1596;—it remained for the genius of Shakspeare to unite ihese various actions; and, from a rnde and imperfect sketch of the “greediness of worldly choosers," and the “ bloody minds of usurers,* to produce a character so awfully striking, that, in the whole range of the ancient and modern drama, it cannot be paralleled.
Shylock has been set up as a mark for universal detestation; he is represented as avaricious, savage, and revengeful. Before, how. ever, we pronounce his final condemnation, let us pause, and look into his character a little deeper than the surface.
He is avaricious-the extortions and injustice of men had made him so. He is savage-their furious persecution and relenting cruelty had wronght his nature to a similitude to their own. He is revengeful and wbo shall wonder, when, with a spirit so goadell,
# " School of Abuse."-- 1579.
and excited by the bitterest scorn, he beholds his enemy prostrate at his feet? If, therefore, we consider Shylock as the representative of a despised and persecnted race, fulfilling to the very letter, an awful and mysterious dispensation of Providence, he may surely claim to be heard in his own defence; and such a defence has Shakspeare very emphatically urged, in the midst of circumstances heightened for the purpose of casting an odium upon the disposition of this celebrated Jew.
After recapitulating to Antonio the reproaches he had received from him publicly, not only for being an usurer, but a Jew, he fan, cies himself making this ironical reply, to his request to lend hiin “ monies"
“Fair sir, you spit on me, on Wednesılay last;
You spurned me such a day; another time
I'll lend you thus much monies ;” and did we not know in what superstitious abhorrence the Jews were held, for a long series of ages, it would be difficult to find an apology for the taunting reiteration of Antonio:
“ I am as like to call thee so again,
To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too." The two great passions that possess the heart of Shylock, are avarice and revenge; but revenge has the mastery; and there is not, in the literature of the world, a more terrific picture of this malignant passion, than in the scene where Tubal tortures Shylock with the news of his daughter's prodigal disposition of his jewels, and alternately relieves him with the news of Antonio's bad fortune. His griet for the loss of his wealth is aggravated, an bundred fold, by the reflexion that it is lavished upon such unworthy trifles :-
“ TUBAL. One of them showed me a ring, that he had of your daughter for a monkey.
“ SHYLOCK. Out upon her! Thou torturest me, Tubal. 1 would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys."
While the malicions joy that he discovers at the prospect of the forfeiture of Antonio's bond, forms a fine picture of the opposite effects produced by the same passion; and, though the means employed are almost ludicrous, the impression they excite is truly appalling. The well-known remark, that there is but one step from the ridiculous to the sublime, never met with a better illustration than in this singular scene.
The reasonings of Shylock, as to his feelings and motives, are shrewd and eloquent. The remonstrances of the Duke, and the exe. crations of Gratiano, are no answer to them; and it is not until Portia delivers her divine speech upon Mercy, that we turn from the stubborn disposition of the Jew with horror and reprobation. And, even then, we are constrained to acknowledge, that his provocations were many, and were great; and, though we feel gratified that his extreme malice has lost him the value of his bond, we feel equally certain, that he has lost it by a quibble.
Interspersed through this powerfui drama, are some of the choicest flowers of Shakspeare's poetry. The speech upon Mercy is above all praise; but there is one passage, in which the Platonic doctrine of the harmony of the spheres and of the humaa sond, is illustrated in language so sublime and beautiful, as to impress us with the convic.