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is in effect derived through the heart. The thousand little weaknesses, and troubles, and fluctuations, which the dramatic writer lays before us, are learned in great part from his own nature. It is the sympathy he feels for the character he creates, as well as the knowledge that he gains from the observation of such character, that enables him to paint human nature truly. No scrutiny, however minute or extended, and no power of mere intellect
(meaning thereby reasoning only, or the imagination so far as its rests upon reason), could enable any author to L!
detect the many little processes of the mind, the traits of humor and the affections, which Shakspeare has set li forth. It is certain that, till his time, no man ever knew or could learn so much of the various good qualities and
infirmities of human nature, as one may now learn from the mere study of his plays. No writer before his time ever mingled and made common cause, as it were, with people of all conditions. He was “one of the many.' He did not set himself above the herd, and deal out oracular maxims and apothegms; but allowed and prompted every one to speak as Nature dictated. In a word, he evidently sympathized with all men; and, shewing this, he begat sympathy in his hearers. It is not the display of intellect on abstract subjects, nor the moral dogma, nor sententious wisilom in any shape, nor even the cunning analysis of character, so much as the power of attracting the sympathy of an audience, that commands success.
The judgment of Shakspeare was on a level with his intellect. There is no dramatist who approaches him in this respect. Ben Jonson, one of the most scientific of designers, is far below him in all that relates to the more important parts and real constitution of a play. The conduct of his plots is generally admirable, and the conduct of his dramatis personæ absolutely faultless. There is no playing at cross purposes, no confusion. Everything is
in due order, in due subordination. There are many voices, but they are “matched in mouth like bells," each 11 under each. In the construction of a drama, the dovetailing of the scenes, or even the probability of the story, is
not of the highest moment. It is the entire harmony of the play, its completeness within itself (the story or prem
ises being admittedly, that constitutes its main charmi and merit: it is, in fact, the relation which one character li
bears to another; the due blending of thoughts and incidents; one voice answering to another; one thought or event following another, like the consequence the cause; no object standing out, staring without meaning, disjointed,
unallied to the rest; but all rounded off, classed, arranged: the light deepening into shadow, the darkness grad\ ually emerging into light.
In regard to the characters drawn by Shakspeare, I do not recollect one in his undoubted dramas, that is not at once true, consistent, and complete. Our great poet never squares or clips a character to suit any preconceived theory; but permits each to do his best (or worst) as nature or education may inspire. “ Accommodate," he says, " is a good word; " but to accommodate or remould nature in order to fit a theory or demonstrate a problem, is a sacrifice of truth to conjecture; and Shakspeare in essentials never sacrificed truth. Fault has been found with
the construction of some of his plays — as with the “WINTER'S TALE,” for instance, or the fairy dramas — for 11 doing violence to probability or the unities; but let the characters upon whom he has set his stamp once appear,
and I defy the critic not to admit that every one is wrought out of the true metal. Not one of them is a mask, or a voice, or a chorus; but a man complete. The words he utters belong to himself, and to no one besides. Even the change which we observe to take place in some of his dramatic personages, is one of the strongest proofs of their completeness and truth. That fluctuation which to an ordinary writer might seem to be a deviation from character, he knew to be one of its constituent parts: for the condition of man is complex and various. He is
not built up by nature as a case or sounding-board for one particular note, grave or sharp; but for the whole dia!
pason. To draw a character who shall stand up as the stiff representative of a single virtue, is to betray a woful ignorance of humanity. The virtues, as well as the vices, of man never come singly, but in troops. They abide
with us, perhaps, but they are not rigid or inflexible. On the contrary, they change and are modified by many i
The brave man of to-day may, like Macbeth, be a coward to-morrow; and the nerves of a Richard, who was yesterday foremost in the battle, may to-day be shaken by a dream.
In the mechanical drama (so to speak) — in that which is formed without flexibility or variety in the characters or verse, like some of the French tragedies – there is a regular progress of puppets from the beginning to the end; the same voice of the same ventriloquist guiding them on, without fluctuation or pause. Nothing disturbs the monotony and weariness of the scene; nothing elevates or depresses the dialogue, which is always in alt. One personage is a tyrant, another a lover, a third a warrior, a fourth a friend; and each delivers himself duly of the maxims which belong to the virtue or passion which he is thus engaged to represent. They are all, in short, ahstractions, and not men. Now, Shakspeare's characters are not abstractions, nor are they mere sections of character. They are entire and complete. Neither are they mere characters standing alone or aloof. Each shews the relation he bears to others, and how he is operated upon by them. So Coriolanus, Macbeth, and Othello, exhibit the different phases of their character, according to the light cast upon them by the presence of other persons, or by the predominating passion of the scene. Yet the physical courage and moral weakness of Macbeth, the fierce pride and relenting affection of Coriolanus, the calm command and stormy turbulence of Othello, are qualities naturally linked to each other, and harmonize with each other; as the different events of human life are connected and reconciled by various influences; by time or age, the ingratitude of children, the depression of fortune, or other causes. Sometimes, the greater passions are more completely developed and made manifest by the introduction of trivial objects. And this, which perhaps originated in the wide sympathy of Shakspeare for all men, teaching him to despise none, is at once evidence of his supreme skill. Observe how the brutality of Caliban, and the drunken fooleries of Trinculo and Stephano, throw out in grand relief the grave majesty of Prospero, and contrast with the fresh simplicity of Miranda. So the stilted verse of the Players gives value to the natural words of Hamlet; and the fripperies of Osrick are effective as a prologue to the tragic duel. The loose Iachimo and Fulgar (loten make us look with double respect on the chaste and lonely Imogen ; and the idiotic merriment of the Fool (etrangely weighted and kept down by a sort of instinctive wisdom or shrewdne-s) brings out the madness and sublimity of Lear; acting, by contrast, like a little light, which develops the darkness of the region around. How Shakspeare arrived at his conclusions, and mastered the difficulties of character, is a subject that has not
yet been fathomed. Perhaps he could not himself have explained it so as to make it intelligible to all. Was it intuition, experience, or meditation, that led to those happy creations which no one has equaled ? He painted, seemingly, partly from individual nature, but not wholly. His characters are not copies of particular men or women, for they have the general qualities which belong to their class. Neither are they abstractions (as we have said) of any vice or virtue, for they sometimes abound with humors and infirmities not often found in company with it. Perhaps he may have sketched from persons whom he had seen, and made up what seemed to be wanting in them, or rather what he had had no opportunity of discovering, out of his knowledge of what belonged to human nature; or he illustrated certain qualities of the mind which are usually or frequently found together, after studying instances of individual nature.
If Shakspeare ever selected a single passion as the subject for tragedy (which I doubt), he at least qualified it, and forced it to bend to circumstances, to temperament, to education, or other antagonist causes. Moreover, he surrounded its representative with personages of a different order, opposite or subordinate; and by these means relieved his drama from the bareness and monotony which would otherwise have been inevitable. Thus, Othello is not simply a jealous man, nor is Macbeth merely ambitious. The first is predisposed for his fate by his tropical birth and his martial calling; the other is by nature easy, speculative, and infirm. In each case, the masterpassion is not in the commencement obvious. It is dormant, but capable of being awakened into a power that becomes resistless.
The error of some writers of fiction has been that they have taken a cardinal vice, and severing it from all qualities that might have attended it, have left it single and unsupported, the sole end and object of the play. Others have smoothed down the inequalities of character, for the sake of a noble outline. Sometimes the historian has led the way, and the dramatist has slavishly followed him. Such authors have seen nature through books. Instead of this, they should have looked directly at man himself, examined him, and studied him, as they would a wonder never yet sufficiently known. It is quite clear, that no one can ever become a great dramatist who shall take the world “upon trust.
As bearing upon this part of the subject, I may be excused for devoting a paragraph to the question of “the learning of Shakspeare.” Several writers have perplexed themselves and their readers in endeavoring to ascertain the amount of Shakspeare's learning. In itself, it is a matter inexpressibly unimportant. It is of no importance to us, or to his own fame. Could the precise amount of his learning be weighed out in critical scales (a thing quite impossible), it would neither diminish nor add to his merit. He must rest content, crowned with bays, instead of the doctor's cap.
It is possible, I think, that a man may be encumbered by too much learning: not that he is likely to know too much either of a language or a people; but that, together with the advantages which accompany learning, there present themselves too many models for imitation. One cannot read Homer, without admiring his grand and masculine style; nor Dante, without being impressed by that deep, glowing intense earnestness which carried him on to the end of his extraordinary task. It is necessary to the performance of an original work that a man should be thrown upon his own resources; that he should not be beset by the temptation of following in the track of others, whom he cannot but admire, and whom it is so much easier to imitate than surpass. The indolence of human nature is sometimes found allied to its ambition; and the man who desires fame, or wealth, or power, however he may possess the active principle, sufficient to succeed in any case, is yet ready enough to accomplish his end with as little expense of thought or labor as he can.
It is, I believe, this misfortune (namely, the multitude of models), that impedes the advancement of modern painters. They are oppressed and bewildered by the abundance and magnificence of the Italian schools. They stumble over the statues of antiquity, when they should be taking their way apart, and seeking the true road to the summit of the hill of Fame. Some of the works of the Carracci, of Dominchino, and Guido, are wonderful for color and effect. Yet they always force upon us the conviction that they would not have been what they were, but for the excellence of preceding painters. They would have been worse, or better.
Luckily for Shakspeare, although he had some predecessors in the drama, there was no one sufficiently great to induce him to follow in his track. His early and casual imitations of Marlowe were soon abandoned. This was to be expected; for every poet has, I imagine, begun his career by being in some degree an imitator. The scale and alphabet of his art being already existing, he consults and uses them for a short time; casting them away as the consciousness of his own power becomes better known. Thus Shakspeare's genius speedily rose above all aid and entanglements, and shewed itself, strong, original, and triumphant. It enabled him to look down upon the Roman times, and upon the age of the ntagenets, as from a pinnacle. He did not become, as the more learned Jonson did, a transcriber from Cicero or the Latin classics: but, adopting all that was valuable in historians and orators, he passed beyond them, and surveyed the whole Roman people, from the wars of Coriolanus to the fall of the triumvir, Antony, like one who had the world at his feet, and who set down what he saw before him, and not what he had read translated in books.
The plays of Shakspeare appear to divide themselves into certain classes, viz., the Historical Plays (comprising therein the English and Roman bistories, and also “ Troilus AND CRESSIDA," which is allied to history); the Comedies; and the Tragedies; to which perhaps may be added a miscellaneous class, consisting of those dramas which are founded on fairy mythology, and those in which neither tragedy nor comedy can be said prevail.
In the Historical Plays, one is first struck by the fidelity which Shakspeare has displayed throughout all the scenes (many of them necessarily fictitious) which constitute and complete the story, and the skill with which he has (lisposevi and mannged a crowd of characters. The Roman dramas seem to us even more real than the English; but this arises from the circumstance of the former being founded on events which happened in more remote times, thus preventing us from comparing, with the same severity, the sayings and doings of the personages of the play with the manners of actual life. Of all these plays, “ ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA" appears to me to stand the first. For variety of character, for grandeur of thought, for pathos, and tragic situation, and for all the pride, pomp, and circumstance," which give effect to the stage, this may challenge comparison with any other drama. All is in the “high Roman fashion” in the most magnificent style of tragedy. Hazlitt has said finely and characteristically (when speaking of it), that “Shakspeare's genius has spread over the whole play a richness like the overflowing of the Nile." Amongst the English historical plays, “ RICHARD THE THIRD” exhibits the most intellectual and commanding character, although it has less variety than some others, and comprises few sentences of great poetical interest.
The Comedies are not mere comedies of manners, which are fleeting, but transcripts of humors, which are lasting and belong to human life. Foremost of these, must be placed the two parts of “ HENRY The Fourth," in which, however, there is an admixture of the heroic. It is only necessary to refer to these matchless productions, to shew the abundance that Shakspeare has poured into them. In the “Second Part” there are not less than twenty characters, all clearly marked out, and kept entire and distinct throughout the play. It is impossible to confound one with another. The wit of Falstaff (the most remarkable comic creation on record) illustrates both plays; whilst the chivalrous characters of Hotspur and Glendower, the gravity of Henry, the alternate compunction and levity of his son, and the whole bustle and incident of the story, render it, to all classes of auditors, a performance at all times full of interest.
There is no space here to go through the tragic and comic plays seriatim, and shew their manifold wonders. They are each beyond rivalry in their way: although the tragedy is superior to the comedy, by so much as that which is serious is superior to that which is jocose. This has been already insisted upon by other writers.
But let us not forget the fairy dramas. The “ TEMPEST" and the “MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM” deserves a better defender than I can hope to be. The supernatural machinery which Shakspeare has adopted in these and other plays has been decried, as being little better than that of nursery fables. This, as it appears to me, is mistaking the quality and object of a play. The supernatural is a legitimate portion of the drama. It is as much so as any circumstance which we are apt to call improbable or unnatural, but which in every instance has been outdone by facts. All depends on the mode of introducing the supernatural, and on the use made of it by the poet. Whatever affects the imagination, and excites the sympathies of an audience, may be pronounced fit for the stage. It is only when the childish and ignorant are wrought upon, leaving the mature mind unaffected, that the supernatural becomes absurd. It is, in short, the quantity of intellect thrown into fictions of this order, which determines their general fitness to appear before the world. Taking into consideration the mechanism and general exterior of a represented play, all plays commence as improbabilities. No one begins by being deludled. He knows at the outset that a wooden stage is before him, and that actors are about to represent a fiction. But if, with this indispensable disadvantage, the poet succeeds in exciting the sympathy of the spectator, and makes him for awhile forget the humble appliances of his art, then the drama may be said to be triumphant. In reference to this subject, it should not be forgotten that many characters and effects have been brought upon the stage, which certainly never had any existence in the history of human affairs. These are as essentially opposed to fact as the fairies and ghosts of Shakspeare; and yet we do not object to them, because we say that they are “natural.” But, are not Titania and Oberon natural ? Is not Ariel natural? Is not Caliban natural? nay, is he not a thousand times more natural and more impressive than the pompous perfections and inflated heroes of the French stage?
I shall not attempt to classify the merits of Shakspeare's tragedies; but, as a comparison has frequently been instituted between the four great tragedies, “ MACBETH," "HAMLET,” “OTHELLO,” and “LEAR," I may venture to recur to them. In “MACBETH,” it is said, there is an unity of interest, a rapidity of event, and a combination of the human and supernatural, that place it the first, in these respects, in point of excellence. “ LEAR” is more sublime, I think, all human and passionate as it is, and has meanings more profound than the other, and exhibits greater variety and contrast of character. · HAMLET,” beyond the rest, develops and lays bare the innermost thoughts and workings of a single mind. But, to my thinking,
* OTHELLO " is the most substantial and complete of all his plays. Less refined than “ HAMLET,” less imaginative than “ MACBETH," and less terrible and impressive than “LEAR,” it is, for variety and development of character, more complete than the others. “ MACBETH” is chiefly a tragedy of events. There are no characters, except those of Macbeth and his awful wife. Macheth himself, indeed, is an entire biography; and the “ Lady" is grandly drawn: but otherwise the play (with deep respect be it said) is meager in character. “LEAR" - in which we are whirled about by the passion of the scene, as the old discrowned heartbroken king is by the fury of the elements, is more loosely hung together than “OTHELLO;” and Hamlet, who at first sight appears to be more thoroughly portrayed than any other personage of the stage, will be found, I think, to exhibit his own thoughts, chiefly on abstract and indifferent subjects, rather than to develop his character; always the main object in dramatic fiction. In “OTHELLO,' on the other hand, there are seven characters completely and thoroughly distinguished. There are Brabantio (the model of Priuli), Cassio, Roderigo, Iago, Emilia, Desdemona, the gentle lady married to the Moor,” and finally Otbello, the Moor himself; and to these must be superadded the most absorbing human interest, remarkable variety in the characters, and the most compact and natural story of any within the compass of the English drama. Shakspeare has drawn the Moor with great maguanimity. He has disdained the ordinary notes of preparation, and has gone at once to the main purpose of the play. At first view, nothing appears more unskillful and hopeless than to attempt to extract great interest from Othello. The qualities of the Moor seem precisely those which are opposed to the results which are afterwards so clearly derived from them. What is to be done with a man of extreme simplicity ? one who is brave, honest, tranquil, generous, confiding, free from jealousy (not casily jealous”), and little else? one whose perilous paths and romantic adventures are already traversed? The period of his woeing (always a great refuge for the dramatist) is over, and he comes quietly before us, without any obvious impediment in his way, from which we can foresee a tragic result. He has been moderate in his attachment; and his love, crowned with success, is a principle rather than a sentiment. It is a manifestation of his opinion, the assent of his mind to the high deserts of his bride, and not a humor, the quality of which is determined by the ebb or flow of his blood. He loved Desdemona, not for her beauty, but for her gentleness, her pity, her virtues. She felt compassion for his toils and dangers; and he “loved her that she did pity them.” His love accordingly is not like common love, which is a willful passion, subject to all “ the skiey intluences,” but is a tranquil, contented affection. Apparently, it is quite secure; sheltered, by his own nature and her truth, from all accidents. But wait! there is still one point from which it is assailable; and there Sliakspeare, in his penetration, has struck, IIe sees the seeds of trouble in
Othello; the " color burned upon him.” He sees that his tranquility arises not from temperament but education. He has been transplanted into the camp, and tamed, ever since he was seven years old —
“ (Since these arms of mine had seven years' pith),"
by the habits of military obedience. But he is still the son of a burning soil. The Moor, indeed, is a person of great energy; not shewing itself in impetuous sallies, but in the grave and decisive conduct of a man accustomed to command. It is only when he quits this character, and loses all self-control, that his African blood boils over and consumes him. It is then that his passions rise up in rebellion against him. He has lost, as he imagines, not a phantasm, conceived in imagination or a dream, but a wife unequaled, on whom his soul was set, and whom his deliberate judgment entirely approved. His admiration was not a fancy but a conviction, resting upon the intrinsic worth of her he loved. All, therefore – affection, judgment, the grave opinion of a cautious mind, the hopes and habits of a life now settled down into happiness, - are torn up by the roots and overset. We behold his mind utterly wrecked; and the spirit, which fretfulness and impatience never weakened, now rages without check, and uncontrollable.
One of the characteristic marks of Othello is his language. Shakspeare forgot nothing. Othello is exhibited not only as a soldier, a tender husband, and a jealous man, but also as a Voor. As the drama proceeds, we see the Moorish blood running through and coloring everything he utters; as the red dawn flows in upon and illuminates the eastern sky. His words are as oriental as his dress, – ample, picturesque, and magnificent.
In running over the many dramas of Shakspeare, a thousand things occur to me that appear to deserve remark. There are his love of external nature, his graphic pictures, his humor, his sense of beauty, his appreciation of colors, of odors (“ the air smells wooingly here”), of sweet sounds, and of everything valuable which the world affords. Observe how admirably his plays commence. You always hear the true note of preparation,
- the keynote at the beginning. Observe the difference between his men and women: the men embodying the active principle; the women (with a few exceptions, such as Lady Macbeth and Beatrice) the passive virtues. The men are restless and ambitious, and cut their way to fortune: the women seem moulded to inhabit the circle in which they move. Observe the difference between his poetry and that of Fletcher and others. The latter are poetical in soliloquy or narration only. They cannot make their images bear upon active life. But, look at Shakspeare! his passion springs out of the passion or humor of the time:
“ Rouse thyself! and the weak wanton Cupid
Shall froin thy neck unloose his amorous fold,
But I should require a volume were I to reckon up his minuter beauties, or to attempt to proceed seriatim through his plays; and I must, therefore, rest content with having said a few of the many things that press upon me for utterance. Saying what I have said, I leave the rest to future writers.
If the judgment and general intellect of Shakspeare be great, so is his style worthy of the thoughts which it enshrines. It is, beyond comparison, the most dramatic style extant. Some persons have insisted that he had no style, and have elevated this — which, if it existed, would be a defect — into a positive merit. To my thinking, the hand of Shakspeare can be traced more readily than that of any other dramatic writer. The style of Beaumont and Fletcher, or rather of Fletcher, is also very distinguishable from that of others; it is in fact so peculiar, that it degenerates into mannerism. But though the style of Shakspeare is his own, it contains a flexibility or variety — a power of adapting itself to the different exigencies of the drama that rescues it from mannerism and monotony. With what incomparable skill his verse is fashioned; strong and firm without harshness, musical without weakness. An author and critic of great merit (Mr. Leigh Hunt) is disposed to prefer the versification of Beaumont and Fletcher to that of Shakspeare; who, he thinks, was led away by the attractiveness of Marlowe's
This opinion has been so ably and fairly encountered by Mr. George Darley, in his preface to the works of Beaumont and Fletcher, that it leaves me little to do beyond referring to it. I may be permitted, however, to observe, that the verse of almost all our early dramatists was confined to ten syllables; and that the verse of Shakspeare, judging by his undoubted plays, cannot in fact be said to have been founded on that of Marlowe. The verse of Marlowe, like the verse of Peele, is wanting in dramatic fitness. It is too much like that in which narrative or epic poetry is conveyed. It is better, undoubtedly, than the verse of Peele, or of any other of his cotemporaries, but in frequency, and especially in variety, of its pauses, it is often deficient. If Shakspeare indeed be (contrary to my surmise) the author of “ Titus ANDRONICUS,” it must be admitted that he was, at the outset of his career, an imitator of the verse of Marlowe; but not otherwise.
In addition to the reasons urged by Mr. Darley against the versification of Beaumont and Fletcher, there is one other, namely, that the use of double and triple endings (which in fact constitutes their peculiarity) has a tendency to retard the dialogue, in all cases; and, therefore, should be very rarely used, except in soliloquy or narrative passages. In those cases, where the object is not to hurry on the interest, but in fact to operate as a relief or pause from the excitement of the play, these endings may be adopted with advantage; and acordingly we find that Shakspeare, who knew how to profit hy all things, has recourse to this species of verse, in the soliloquies of Hamlet and other places. In those parts where events are rapidly proceeding, or where the carte and tierce of dialogue is fiercely going on, these endings are abandoned as an incumbrance.
In point of fitness, Shakspeare's style surpasses that of all other writers. Let it be observed, how to the common people, as clowns, servants, &c., he allots common prosaic speech, differing, however, in ench case, as the character to whom it is allotted differs from others; and being grave or humorous, terse or loose, accordingly. But to the greater personages of the drama --- whether raised by native heroism or intellect, or born to a high condition, he gives noble and imaginative language, always appropriate and always adapted to sustain the purposes of the play. It is true that the individual character of certain historical persons, such as Richard the Second and Henry the Sixth, may seem scarcely to justify the fine poetry which they sometimes utter, but it is the condition of a king dethroned that requires it. Not that kings or heroes are for ever in the “Ercles'" vein. Shakspeare knew that they jested and became prosaic like other men. And these occasional descents from high verse to familiar words, in the same person, may be defended on various grounds; sometimes by the quality of the people addressed, sometimes by the circumstance on which the dialogue turns, sometimes by the elevation or tension of the character being lowered or relaxed, in order to accommodate it to some exigency in the drama, or to produce some desirable effect.
The language of Richard the Third is that of a man of the world, bold, practical, and to the point: while that of Macbeth is speculative and imaginative. Yet both are ambitious men, and both brave men; only ambition in one case seems to advance upon an infirm and yielding nature and to excite it, and in the other it is sought by a resolute spirit, in whom the passion seems to have existed from his birth. The language of Henry the Eighth (a successful tyrant) differs from John, a tyrant surrounded by trouble. The lover Romeo differs from the lover Troilus: the capricious Cleopatra from the wanton Cressid: Thersites from Apemantus: and even Richard the Second (although both are kings, both weak, and both in the same state of adversity) from the husband of Margaret of Anjou. The same differences might be shewn by analyzing the characters of Shakspeare separately, and tracing the gradations and shades of language from the commencement to the end of the play. In Lear alone, there is first the generous kingly opening; then the violent language (degenerating into that awful curse) of a wilful monarch thwarted in his humor and self-love; then the bitter language produced by ingratitude; then the sublime pathos; then the babblings and wandering of madness; and, finally, the recurrence of tenderness towards his "joy, although the last not least,” the true-hearted Cordelia, which immediately precedes his death.
I have, upon a former occasion, alluded to two distinguishing peculiarities in Shakspeare's style. One is that his speeches, instead of being directed or limited, for the time, to one person or one subject only, radiate (so to speak), or point on all sides, dealing with all persons present, and with all subjects that can be supposed to influence the speaker. The other distinction is, that the most subtle and profound reflections frequently enrich and are involved (parenthetically) in the dialogue, without impeding it: such as, in “ ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA," where Antony speaks of
“Our slippery people
and, in “ TROILUS AND CRESSIDA,” where Ulysses says
“Right and wrong
and elsewhere in abundance.
In comparison with that of Shakspeare, Ben Jonson's style is crabbed, Beaumont and Fletcher's weak, loose, and disjoin and Massinger's like that of a rhetorician. There is not in these, or in any other dramatic author, as far as I can recollect, a merit, be it of modulation or language, that has not been surpassed over and over again by Shakspeare.
It has been said that there is something occult in the language of true poetry: and, as there is something mysterious in the source of poetry, it may be that there is something mysterious and occult in its demonstrations; and that it is intelligible only, in its fullest extent, to persons of an apprehensive or imaginative intellect (so to speak), being themselves a-kin to poets. Yet perhaps, after all, it may be only the exquisite propriety and taste found in their words and phrases, that (in those parts where there is an absence of any strong evidence of imagination), determines the difference between the true poet, and the mere copyist or compounder of verse.
I have already adverted to the benefits which Shakspeare conferred upon his country; but I shall indulge myself in a few words more upon the subject.
There have been three events in the literary history of England, which, it is said, tended beyond others to raise the public mind out of the barbarism and ignorance of our early times. These were the translation of the Bible, the works of Bacon, and the dramas of Shakspeare. The first, whatever peril may have attended it by severing the Christian church into many sects, assuredly rescued our predecessors from much idolatry and the domination of an ambitious priesthood, and gave an impulse and independence to thought in matters of infinite moment. In like manner, Bacon dissipated the clouds which hung about science, and liberated Reason from the thraldom of precedent and custom. And, finally, Shakspeare arose, like a sun, scattering the darkness, and developing the shape and life of all things; a discoverer (beyond Cadmus or Columbus) of all the varieties of the human race, of all the good and evil, and power and weakness that belong to man. He has left nothing untouched, from the king dividing his dominions, to the insect “that we tread upon;" from the princely philosopher to the braggart and the idiot. His light has shown upon all things, has penetrated all things, and drawn from all things a lesson and a moral, capable of invigorating the intellect and expanding the affections of every being capable of thought. Nor is it alone by what this great writer teaches, but by what he suggests, that we are to estimate his value. It is one of the unfailing signs of a true poet, that the seeds of wisdom which he strews before us should germinate and bring forth fruit. He does not borrow, for our edification, the commonplaces which have been familiar to us from our cradle, and which have ceased to incite us; he does not propound to us barren truths (facts); but he bears us away to “fresh fields” and “pastures,” fertile as well as “new;' and amidst the mysteries and startling objects of a strange region, he leaves us to profit as best we may.