Abbildungen der Seite

but nations or rather races. For the causes are the most general and latent element in all objects, and it is latency and generality combined that produce interest. This, in fact, is the golden mean between the extremes of Pope and Johnson, and of which Schlegel had a sentiment, though merely æsthetical. The generality, if it extended to the human species, would be common-place, and lack the latency, the novelty which gives both interest and instruction. On the other hand, the latency, if shrunk to personal peculiarities, would become equally uninteresting, for the same reason of insignificance. This is the Charybdis and Scylla of the critics. It is that which has been stated with his curious felicity by the first, and yet the best of their number since Aristotle, in the phrase : Difficile est proprie communia dicere. In fact, the interest of the drama, as of all art, lies intermediate, and ranges in proportion to the purview of the age or audi

Accordingly, while Eschylus and the ancient drama generally kept the sphere of action to the limits of the family, the similar founder of the modern advanced it to larger groupings, in obedience to popular progress in the knowledge of men and nature. What Asia Minor and mere Greece were to the demos of Athens, entire Europe and its confines were to the British of the Renaissance. The spring of action, the range of character which have been furnished to the ancients by the primitive and the extraneous causation of theology, came, in the moderns, to be widened, and consequently deepened, into the human and intrinsic fatalism of organization. What to Eschylus were the houses of the Pelopidæ and the Labdocidæ, became to Shakespeare the Teutonic, the Italic, the Celtic races. Such, at all events, is the conse


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

quence of the principles suggested, and to verify the fact is the object of the volume.

The manner and defects of the poet's execution, as far as they are noted, follow likewise from that source. He must, doubtless, be abandoned to the common-place criticism on the point of the higher “unities,” without defence, though not excuse. If restricted to the latter, Johnson's pleading had been pertinent. The local audience is an element in the problem of the play-wright. And if the poet, who had to do with a “public gross and dark,” to look for bread to an English pit,? more than for fame to posterity, has made Bohemia a sea-board country, Hector argue from Aristotle, and Hamlet swear by St. Patrick, he gave “the pressure of the time.” To soar above it had been useless, and thus devoid of art; for art considers but efficiency, and so has been of

; the day and district-it being the privilege of science to be ubiquitous and eternal.

1 This melancholy situation of the poet and of the public was wont to find expression in the prologues. For example, in one to the play of Henry VIII., although composed when Shakespeare must have attained to independence :

Those that come to see
Only a show or two, and so agree
The play may pass, if they be still and willing,
I'll undertake may see away their shilling,
Richly in two short hours. Only they
That come to hear a merry bawdy play;
A noise of targets ; or to see a fellow

In a long motley coat guarded with yellow, etc.
What would the poet, who thus ridicules the taste of the sixteenth cen-
tury, say, were he to know that, at the noon of the nineteenth, the gravest
of his masterpieces would be travestied in London by the participation of
a dog, in like costume !

[ocr errors]

But though this plea would shield the artist, it would not shew the genius ; which ceases to be such when it descends from truth to policy. There is, accordingly, a fairer but deeper excuse for Shakespeare. It is furnished by a counterpart of the same law of progress above indicated in the general history of the drama, and which is necessarily repeated in its internal organism. If Shakespeare opened, as is shown, a wider province to the art, he must proportionably have receded in the application of the unities. For the observance increased in difficulty as the subject in comprehensiveness, and, on the other hand, as the three unities themselves in relative complexity. The series of this quality is from the person to the place and time, as it, indeed, is stated usually, and may be rendered plain to sense. In fact, the unity has in the category of person a physical groundwork, by which the attributes constituent of the character are offered concretely, and the mind eased of the twofold effort of combining and continuing them. In that of place, the former effort, the combination must be met; the various characters must be manquvred upon an abstract but still fixed basis ; where, however, the relations of locality are co-existent, and even take a sub-embodiment from the surface of the earth. But this in turn becomes fluctuant in the category of time, which, without concrete or co-existence, can derive unity but from the intellect, and hence the difficulty Gæthe noted in conceiving an aesthetic whole. Thus it is clear that in full measure as the ground-plan was enlarged, the superstructure of the innovator must fall off in the inverse order-be most defective in the unity pertaining to the Acts, somewhat less so in the Scenes, and least in that of the bare Personages. For the dramatists have, in these familiar divisions of the piece, been forced by nature to observe the unities without knowing why, or while deriding them.

This procession is accordingly observed in Greek tragedy. Eschylus is strict but on the unity of character, from which almost alone he draws his grandeur, pathos, terror. Sophocles advances to the unity of place, and charms by the grouping of the characters and situations. The unity of time is compassed perfectly, but by Euripides, who is accordingly, by Aristotle, assigned the palm of Greek tragedy ; not only does he, like his rival and respective predecessors, at once edify by character and interest by contrasts, but, in particular, he indoctrinates by the contexture of the fable : all three, however, do these things, not absolutely well, but relatively. The same necessary march in regularity, organization, and also with the same distinctions of inspiration, art, philosophy, recurs in France in Corneille, Racine, and Voltaire. Now, the first of these degrees appears precisely the place of Shakespeare, with the difference explained of an extension of the subject. Hence the burthen of his action lingers in the lowest category. Hence the multitude of personages he is censured for introducing. It was not seen that this is necessary as a sort of compensation. For want of principles, the action could progress but by adding persons, even as animal organization begins with multipeds to end with bipeds. Shakespeare's plot is, perhaps naturally, like the national constitution, which has no tangible existence beside the multitude of the officials. Also, like it, in being executed less by action than by talk. As the edifice could not be raised into the regions of space and time, it must, to have the same capacity, be strewn along a larger ground : or rather, it was because Shakespeare had built upon a broader basis, that even his genius could not raise it to classic elegance and order. This vaster canvas, which presents at once a positive and general unity, remote alike from the extremes of singularity and vague humanity, and wedding novelty to sympathy, is the idea of race. It furnishes a species of action in itself ; admits a multitude of personages to unfold its various aspects, and dissembles, by its physical extension through space and time, the lack of regular observance of the corresponding unities. In this position lies the secret of the Shakespearian drama.

Not, however, that it can in truth dispense with these higher requisites. They constitute the future of the tragic stage in Europe. The drama may still look for a Sophocles and a Euripides, who shall exhibit the several races, drawn by Shakespeare but in portrait ; the former in the altercation of passions and politics, the latter in the combination of principles and social harmony. And these would be the greatest teachers of legislation and social progress. The expectancy assures a long enjoyment of the drama. But the passage in succession of the groundwork of Shakespeare, through these two ulterior unities or grades of organization, puts an end to the progression, if not practice, of the art. Why this should be with the third stage and the principle of race, it would be long and unnecessary here to discuss. It may be gathered by the thoughtful from the whole exposition. Then the fact, at least, is certified by the examples cited. At two anterior stages, the theatres of Greece and France, the tragic art is found exhausted with a third representative.

« ZurückWeiter »