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There are few instances in any poet, where the influences of contending emotions are so nicely balanced and distinguished: for while in this amiable picture we discern the corrected severity of that behaviour which a sense of propriety dictates, initigated and brought down by fine sensibility, and the softness of the female character; we also see this softness upheld, and this sensibility rendered still more engaging, by the influence of a sense of propriety.
Need I add to these illustrations, the sisterly and filial affections of Ophelia, leading her to such deference for a father, as to praclise deceit at his suggestion on a generous lover, and strive to entangle him in the toils of political cunning? Need I add the pride, the violence, the abilities, and the disappointed ambition of Margaret? Need I add Dame Quickly and Lady Anne?-If, notwithstanding all these, you persist in saying that Shakespeare has produced no eminent female characters, because in the words of the poet whom you quote, most women have no character at all;' you must mean in the spirit or manner of the satirist, and
with an eye to the personage
last-mentioned, to pun rather than to refute. But you tell me—" the gentle Desdemona is like the gentle Cordelia; the tender Imogen like the tender Juliet; the sensible Isabella like the sensible Portia ; the violent Margaret like the violent Constance; and the cruel Regan like the cruel Goneril: in short, that they are all copies of one another; that any differences appearing between them are occasioned by difference of external circumstances; that Portia, in Isabella's situation, would have been another Isabella: and so with the rest.”—If this be urged as an objection, it cannot be admitted. Desdemona, in the same situation with Margaret, would not have inveighed, nor vented imprecation. Cordelia was situated in the same circumstances with Regan, but performed a very different part. Notwithstanding the similarity in the instances above-mentioned, there is still so much diversity as to obviate the objection.-Still further, if you reason in this manner, allow me to say, in the words of the poet, you reason “too curiously;" and would reduce the sum of dramatic characters, how different soever their names and fortunes, to an inconsiderable number. Does it not strike you too, that to disregard such discrimination as proceeds from external condition, is contrary to the truth of nature, and the justice of impartial criticism ? Many persons may have received from nature similar talents and dispositions; but being differently placed in society, they exert the same power, or gratify the same desire, with different degrees of force, and different modes of indulgence. Their characters are therefore different, and if so in reality, so also in imitation. Similarity of original structure does not constitute similarity or sameness of character, unless that similarity appear in the same circumstances, in the same manner, and with equal force. I still therefore adhere to my former opinion; and have not ventured, I hope, in vain to assert the merits of Shakespeare's females.
OF CHARACTERISTICAL, AND PARTICULARLY OF
ILLUSTRATED IN THE CHARACTER OF FLUELLEN.
IT has been the fate of criticism, more péro haps than of any other science, to have suf- . fered by the use of undefined expressions. There is, indeed, a sort of general and loose meaning usually annexed to the terms, most frequently employed by critics; and which answers the purposes of that slight amusement which is obtained by cursory reading: yet inattention to the explanation of terms, so highly detrimental in other departments of literature, has contributed a
good deal, to retard the progress of critical knowledge. Even antient writers have not always been very precise or explicit, on subjects of this nature: and Aristotle himself, with all his accuracy and discernment, not sufficiently aware, that definition may be of service even in obvious matters, has left ample room for discussion. Among other undefined expressions employed in criticism, may, perhaps, be included the term Manners. Eminent and enlightened critics may probably have thought the meaning so manifest, as not to have required any particular explanation. Yet if the just imitation of manners heightens the merit of fine-writing, some considerations to direct the writer, or those who would judge of his performance, are indispensably necessary: and if so, a definition, or at least some description of the thing required, how obvious soever it may appear, would not be useless. Previous therefore to the discussion of our present subject, I will endeavour to ascertain the meaning, and offer some illustration of the term.