Abbildungen der Seite

are so slight or of such a kind as hardly to infer any connection between them, there appears nothing to hinder that Ayrer's play may have been indebted to The Tempest, it being quite certain that some English dramas were known in Germany at that early period. The whole matter indeed is much too loose for us to build any conclusion upon.

There is an old ballad called The Inchanted Island, which was once thought to have contributed something towards The Tempest. But it is now generally allowed to be more modern than the play, and probably founded upon it; the names and some points of the story being varied, as if on purpose to hide its connection with a work that was popular on the stage. In the ballad no locality is given to the Island : on the contrary we are told:

[blocks in formation]

Wherefore, we shall probably have to rest, for the present, in the belief that in the case of The Tempest Shakespeare drew from no external source but the one already mentioned.

There has been considerable discussion of late years as to the scene of The Tempest. A wide range of critics, from dull Mr. Chalmers to eloquent Mrs. Jameson, have taken for granted that the Poet fixed the scene of his drama in the Bermudas. For this they seem not to have had nor desired any authority but his mention of " the still-vex'd Bermoothes." Ariel's trip from “ the deep nook to fetch dew from the still-vex'd Bermoothes” does indeed show that the Bermudas were in the Poet's mind: but then it also shows that his scene was not there; for it had been no feat at all worth mentioning for Ariel to fetch dew from one part of the island to another. On the other hand, Mr. Hunter is very positive that if we read the play with a map before us, (only think of it! reading The Tempest with a map!) we shall bring up at the island of Lampedusa, which « lies midway between Malta and the African coast.” He will hardly tolerate any other notion : “ What I contend for is the absolute claim of Lampedusa to have been the island in the Poet's mind when he drew the scenes of this drama.” Mr. Hunter makes out a pretty strong case, nevertheless we must be excused; not so much that we positively reject his theory, as that we simply do not care whether it be right or not. But if we must have any supposal about it, the most reasonable as well as most poetical one seems to be, that the Poet, writing without a map, placed his scene upon an island of the mind, that his readers might not have to go away from home to learn the truth of his representation; and that it suited his purpose to transfer to his ideal whereabout some of the wonders and marvels of trans-Atlantic discovery. We should as soon think of going to history for the characters of Ariel and Caliban, as of going to geography for the size, locality, or whatever else, of their dwelling-place.

The Tempest,” says Coleridge, “is a specimen of the purely romantic drama, in which the interest is not historical, or dependent upon fidelity of portraiture, or the natural connection of events,but a birth of the imagination, and rests only on the coaptation and union of the elements granted to, or assumed by, the Poet. It is a species of drama which owes no allegiance to time or space, and in which, therefore, errors of geography and chronology,

no mortal sins in any species, - are venial faults, and count for nothing.”

In these remarks of the great critic there is but one point from which we should at all dissent. We cannot quite agree that the drama is purely romantic. Highly romantic it certainly is, in its wide, free, bold variety of character and incident, in its many. shaded, richly-diversified perspective, in all the qualities indeed that enter into the picturesque ; yet not romantic in such a sort, we think, but that it is at the same time equally classic ; classic, not only in that the unities of time and place are strictly observed, but as having the other qualities which naturally follow and cleave to these laws of the classic form ; in its solemn thought, its severe beauty, and majestic simplicity, its matchless interfusion of the lyrical and the ethical, and in the mellow atmosphere of serenity and composure which hovers over and envelops it : as if on purpose to show the Poet's mastery, not only of both the classic and the romantic drama, but of the common nature out of which both of them grew, and in which both are reconciled. This union of both kinds in one without any hindrance to the distinctive qualities of either, - this it is, we think, that chiefly distinguishes The Tempest from the Poet's other dramas. Some have thought that in this play Shakespeare studiously undertook to silence the pedantic cavillers of his time, by showing that he could keep to the rules of the Greek stage, if he chose to do so, without being any the less himself. But it seems more likely that he was here drawn into such a course by the workings of his wise spirit than by the cavils of contemporary critics; the form appearing too cognate and congenial with the matter to have been dictated by any thing accidental or external to the work itself.

There are some points that naturally suggest a comparison between The Tempest and A Midsummer-Night's Dream. In both the Poet has with equal or nearly equal success carried nature, as it were, beyond her established limits, and peopled a purely ideal region with the power and life of reality, so that the characters seem like substantive, personal beings, which he has but described, not created; but beyond this the resemblance ceases : indeed no two of his plays are more widely different in all other respects.

The Tempest presents a combination of elements apparently so incongruous that we cannot but marvel how they were brought and kept together; yet they blend so sweetly and work together so naturally that we at once feel at home with them, and see nothing to hinder their union in the world of which we are a part. For it seems hardly more than a truism to say, that in the mingling of the natural and the supernatural there is here no gap, no break; nothing disjointed or abrupt; the two being drawn into each other 80 smoothly, and so knit together by mutual participations, that each seems but a continuation of the other, and the place where they meet and join is marked by no distinguishable line.

Prospero, standing in the centre of the whole, acts as a kind of subordinate Providence, reconciling the diverse elements to himself, and in himself to one another. Though armed with supernatural might, so that the winds and waves obey him, his magical and mysterious powers are tied to truth and right; his " high charms work” only to just and beneficent ends; and whatsoever might be repulsive in the magician is softened and made attractive by the virtues of the man and the feelings of the father : Ariel links him with the world above us, Caliban with the world beneath us, and Miranda “ (thee, my dear one! thee, my daughter !). " with the world around and within us. And the mind acquiesces in the miracles attributed to him, his thoughts and aims being so at one with nature's preěstablished harmonies as to leave it doubtful whether he controls her movements or falls in with them. His sorcery indeed is the sorcery of knowledge, his magic the magic of virtue; for what so marvellous as the inward, vital necromancy of good, which transmutes the wrongs that are done him into motives of beneficence, and is so far from being hurt by the powers of Evil that it turns their assaults into new sources of strength against them! And with what a smooth tranquillity of spirit he every where speaks and acts! as if the rough discipline of adversity had but served

61 to elevate the will,
And lead him on to that transcendent rest
Where every passion doth the sway attest
Of reason, seated on her sovereign hill.”

It is observable that the powers, which cleave to his thoughts and obey his “so potent art,” before his coming were at perpetual war, the better being in subjection to the worse, and all turned from their several ends into a mad, brawling dissonance : but he teaches them to know their places, and, “weak masters though they be,” under his ordering they become powerful, and work together as if endowed with a rational soul ; their insane gabble being turned to speech, their savage howling to music, so that

« the isle is full of noises, Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.”

Wherein is boldly figured the educating of nature up, so to speak, into intelligent ministries, she lending man hands because he lends her eyes ; weaving her forces, as it were, into vital union with him, to the end that she may rise above herself and attain to a more excellent form.

This, to be sure, is making the work rather an allegory than a drama, and therein of course misrepresents its quality; for the connecting links in this strange intercourse of the natural and the supernatural are “ beings individually determined,” and affect us as persons, not as propositions.

Ariel and Caliban are equally preternatural, though in opposite directions. Arieľs very being is spun out of melody and fragrance; at least, if a feeling soul and an intelligent will be the warp, these are the woof of his exquisite texture.

He has just enough of human-heartedness to know how he would feel were he human, and a proportionable sense of gratitude, which has been aptly called “the memory of the heart :” hence he needs to be often reminded of his obligations, but does all his spiriting gently while he holds the remembrance of them. Yet his delicacy of nature is nowhere more apparent than in his sympathy with right and good : the instant he comes within their touch he follows them without reserve; and he will suffer any tortures rather than “ act the earthy and abhorred commands” that go against his moral grain. And what a merry little personage he is withal ! as if his being were cast together in an impulse of play, and he would spend his whole life in one perpetual frolic. But the main ingredients of his zephyr-like constitution are shown in his leading inclinations; for he must needs have most affinity for that of which he is framed. Moral ties are irksome to him ; they are not his proper element : when he enters their sphere he feels them to be holy indeed; but, were he free, he would keep out of their reach, and follow the circling seasons in their course, and always dwell merrily in the fringes of summer. He is indeed an arrant little epicure of perfume and sweet sounds, and gives forth several songs which “seem to sound in the air, and as if the person playing them were invisible;” and which, “ without conveying any distinct images, seem to recall all the feelings connected with them, like snatches of half-forgotten music heard indistinctly and at intervals." *

Of Ariel's powers and functions as Prospero's prime minister no logical forms, nothing but art, and perhaps no art but the poet's, can give any sort of an idea. Gifted with the ubiquity and multiformity of the substance from which he is named, before we can catch and define him in any one shape he has passed into another. All we can say of him on this score is, that through his agency Prospero's thoughts forthwith become things, his volitions events. And yet, strangely and diversely as his nature is elemented and compacted, with touches akin to several orders of being, there is such a self-consistency about him, he is so cut out in individual distinctness and rounded in with personal attributes, that contemplation freely and easily rests upon him as an object.

* Hazlitt.

If Caliban strike us as a more wonderful creation than Ariel, it is probably because he has more in common with us without being in any proper sense human. Perhaps we cannot hit him better than by saying he represents, both in soul and body, a sort of intermediate nature between man and brute, with an infusion of something that belongs to neither : as though one of the transformations, imagined by the author of “ Vestiges of Creation,” had stuck midway in its course, where a breath or vapour of essential Evil had knit itself vitally into his texture. If he have all the attributes of humanity from the moral downwards, so that his naturc touches and borders upon the sphere of moral life; still the result but approves his exclusion from such life, in that it brings him to recognize moral law only as making for self. It is a most singular and significant stroke in the representation, that sleep seems to loosen the fetters of his soul and lift him above himself: then indeed, and then only, the “ muddy vesture of decay" doth not so “grossly close him in " but that

[ocr errors]

“ The clouds, methought, would open, and show riches

Ready to drop upon me;” as though in his passive state the voice of truth and good vibrated down to his soul, and stopped there, being unable to kindle any answering tones within ; so that in his waking hours they are to him but as the memory of a dream.

Thus Caliban is part man, part demon, part brute, each being drawn somewhat out of itself by combination with the others, and the union of all preventing his being either ; for which cause language has no generic term that fits him. Yet this strange, uncouth, but life-like confusion of natures Prospero has educated into a sort of poet. This, however, has nowise tamed, it has rather increased his innate malignity and crookedness of disposition ; education having of course but educed what was in him. Even his poetry is for the most part made up of the fascinations of ugliness ; a sort of inverted beauty; the poetry of dissonance and deformity : the proper music of his nature being to curse, ils proper laughter to snarl. Schlegel finely compares his mind to a dark cave into

« ZurückWeiter »