Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

No. VI.

CRITICAL REMARKS ON OTHELLO.

Of those who possess that superiority of genius which enables them to shine by their own strength, the number has been few. When we take a review of mankind in this respect, we behold a dark and extended tract, illuminated with scattered clusters of stars, shedding their influence, for the most part, with an unavailing lustre. So much however are mankind formed to contemplate and admire whatever is great and resplendent, that it cannot be said that these luminaries have exhibited themselves to the world in vain. Whole nations, as well as individuals, have taken fire at the view of illustrious merit, and have been ambitious in their turn to distinguish themselves from the common mass of mankind. And since, by the happy invention of printing, we have it in our power to gather these scattered rays into one great body, and converge them to one point, we complain without reason of not having light enough to guide us through the vale of life.

Among those to whom mankind is most indebted, the first place is perhaps due to Homer and to Shakspeare. They both flourished in the infancy of society, and the popular tales of the

times were the materials upon which they exerted their genius; they were equally unassisted by the writings of others: the dramatic compositions with which Shakspeare was acquainted, were as contemptible as the crude tales which served as the foundation of Homer's poem. The genius of both poets was then of undoubted originality, and varied as the scene is with which they were conversant. It cannot perhaps be said that an idea is to be found in their works, imitated from another. To whatever subject they turned their attention, a picture of nature, such as was capable of filling their minds alone, arose in full prospect before them. An idea imagined by any other would be inadequate to the grasp of their genius, and uncongenial with their usual mode of conception. Intimately acquainted with the original fountains of human knowledge, accustomed themselves to trace the operations of nature, they disdained to take notice of, or submit to the obscure and imperfect

This is certainly going somewhat too far: that poetry existed before the age of Homer, there can be little doubt; he himself, in fact, has referred to Thamyris, (II. B. 594), and Linus, (II. E. 570), as masters in the art; and that he did not avail himself, in some degree, of their productions, is scarcely to be credited. With regard to Shakspeare, we positively know that he has not only frequently adopted, expanded, and improved the thoughts of his predecessors, but has sometimes even taken the skeleton or outline of their pieces, as framework for his own more highly finished pictures; of which, indeed, it may, without exaggeration, be said that they leave all comparison behind them.

tracts which had been marked out by an inferior pencil. They walked alone and in their own strength, and wherever they have trod, have left marks which time will never efface, or, perhaps, which no superior splendor of genius will obscure or eclipse, but will ever continue to be the highest objects of human ambition and admiration.

But however high the merit of Shakspeare must be, in thus classing him with Homer, it would not be doing justice to either of these fathers of genius to appreciate their respective abilities by merely asserting them to be poets of the first order. The genius of Homer was undoubtedly superior in point of greatness and fire; the most awful and interesting scenes among mankind were the continual subjects of his song; the hurry and grandeur of battle, the strength of mighty heroes, and all the violence of passion, seem to be the high delight of his soul. Like his rival in modern times, he was conspicuous for a display of character; but these were chiefly of the warlike kind: the steady magnanimity of Agamemnon, the irresistible fury of Achilles, the prudent valour of Ulysses, and the bodily strength of Ajax, are painted in strong and striking colours; and though he be not deficient in those of a more humble and amiable kind, yet in this sphere Homer, and every other writer, ancient or modern, are left far behind by Shakspeare, whose merit in this respect is indeed astonishing. He hath described the great and the ludicrous, the good and the bad, with equal

facility, in all their shades of character, and in every scene of human life. Succeeding writers have seldom mentioned his name without the epithet of Inimitable, and with much justice; for there have not been wanting in the English language dramatic writers of merit, who were not insensible to the singular abilities of Shakspeare; but of what writer except himself can it be said, that no imitation has been attempted? None of his characters have been assumed; his simplicity, his sentiments, and even his style is altogether his own. In imitating Homer, many writers have not been unsuccessful. Virgil in beauty and tenderness has exceeded him. Tasso in strength of description has often equalled him; but none has yet, in any degree, appropriated the spirit and the manner of Shakspeare.

In every work of this great author, we discover all the marks of his genius, his diversity of character, his boundless imagination, his acute discernment, and his nervous expression; but in none of them are these qualities more conspicuous than in the tragedy of Othello; a work also, the freest from his irregularities, his puns, his bombast and conceits. No where has he painted virtue with more flaming sublimity than in the character

[ocr errors]

Unqualified as this last assertion may appear, it is one nevertheless to which we are compelled, in the present day, to accede; nor may it, perhaps, be hazarding too much to add, that posterity will, in all probability, have not much more to boast of in this respect than ourselves.

of Othello; with more amiable tenderness than in that of Desdemona; and no where are all the artifices of human nature more fully displayed than in the character of Iago: from the whole, he has contrived a plot the most moral in its tendency, which winds up to the highest pitch our sympathetic feelings in concern for unsuspicious virtue, and at the same time rouses our utmost indignation against deep-laid villainy. From a review of the conduct of the poet in producing such a noble effect, we may expect much pleasure and improvement.

It may be observed of the productions of a profound mind, that, like the source from whence they proceed, they are not apprehended at first sight. Shakspeare often begins his deepest tragedies with the lowest buffoonery of the comic kind, with conversations among the inferior characters, that do not seem to be connected with the main plot; and there is often introduced throughout the work the opinions of those engaged about the lower offices, about the principal actors, and the great designs that are carrying on; and their inadequate conceptions have an excellent effect in enlivening the story; for besides the humour that is thereby produced, it elucidates the subject by placing it in a variety of lights. Examples of such a conduct are frequent in all our author's works, and are not to be expected but from that extensive capacity which is capable at once to view the subject in its rise and progress,

« ZurückWeiter »