Abbildungen der Seite

The curtain rose, and the performers who opened the play were received with the usual marks of favour. But when Shylock and Bassanio entered in the third scene, there was an awful silence, a pin might have been heard if dropt upon the stage. Macklin was much affected by this coolness of the audience on his entrance. He had been a favourite for several years, and his appearance was generally hailed with loud plaudits. Conceive then Macklin's feelings at this juncture, when not a hand moved

the beginning, that such a character, if properly the feelings of poor Shylock at this precise supported, afforded a wide scope for the display juncture. Macklin knew that he was right, of his abilities; but he had a great deal to en--but he could not be sure of a kind reception counter and surmount. The public had been from a mixed and stormy audience. for a long time to see and approve the representation of the Jew of Venice, in which the part of Shylock, instead of being the principal, was the most subordinate in the play, and was always personated by a very low comedian. Macklin, however, persevered. During the rehearsals he did not let any person, not even the players, see how he intended to act the part. He merely repeated the lines of the character, and did not by so much as one single look, tone, gesture, or attitude, disclose his manner of personating the cruel Israelite. The actors declared that Mack-to encourage him. Notwithstanding all this, lin would spoil the performance; and Quin went so far as to say that he would be hissed off the stage for his arrogance and presumption. Nay, even the manager himself expostulated with him, as to the propriety of having The Merchant of Venice represented in opposition to the judgment of so eminent a person as lord Lansdowne; still Macklin, supported through out by his sound sense and acute discrimination, continued firm, and The Merchant of Venice was announced for representation on the 14th of February. It was cast in the following

[blocks in formation]

he approached with Bassanio, who solicits a loan of three thousand ducats on the credit of Antonio. Still not a whisper could be heard in the house. Antonio enters, and the Jew declares the cause of his antipathy against the merchant. Macklin had no sooner delivered this speech, than the audience suddenly burst into a thunder of applause, and as he proceeded with his masterly delineation of the character, the admiring and delighted spectators testified their approbation of the actor's astonishing merit, by still louder and louder plaudits and acclamations to the end of the play. Never was a dramatic triumph more complete. The performance was repeated again and again with unbounded approbation. In short, it ran nineteen nights successively, the last of which was appropriated for Macklin's benefit.

Macklin, there can be no doubt, looked, as well as spoke, the character of Shylock, much better than any other person. In the level scenes, his voice was most happily suited to that sententious gloominess of expression the author intended; which, with a sullen solemnity of deportment, marked the character strongly. In his malevolence, there was a forcible and terrifying ferocity. During the interview with Tubal, in the third act, he was at once malevolent and then infuriate, and then malevolent again; the transitions were strictly natural, and the variation of his countenance admirable. In the dumb action of the trial scene he was amazingly descriptive; and, through the whole, displayed such unequalled merit, as justly entitled him to the comprehensive though concise compliment paid him by Pope, who sat in the stage-box on the third night of the representation, and emphatically exclaimed

"This is the Jew,

That Shakspeare drew."

The Jew of Venice made his final exit, and The Merchant of Venice has held quiet possession of the stage ever since.

Macklin died in July, 1797, being then considerably upwards of a hundred years old.


The following passage from Boaden's Life of this truly great and most excellent man, will be read with interest: "Mr. Kemble, as to his person, might be said to be majestic by effort rather than habit; he could become so in a moment. His ordinary gait was careless, his look rather kind than penetrating. He did not, except professionally, strive to be considered the noble creature that he was. Per haps the discrimination of Tacitus as to the appearance of Agricola, was more than slightly characteristic of Kemble. He was of that make and stature, which may be said to be graceful, not majestic. His countenance had not that commanding air which strikes with awe: a sweetness of expression was the prevailing character. You would have been easily convinced that he was a good man, and you would have been willing to believe him a great one. I have sufficiently, I hope, guarded this application to Mr. Kemble in private life. On the stage, he burst upon you with a dignity unseen but in his person and gesture; and embodied all that imagination, perhaps alone, has suggested of ancient manners."

We now proceed to give a slight sketch of his performance in four of Shakspeare's characters, not so much in the hope of doing justice to his preeminent talents, as with the humbler expectation of giving our readers pleasure, by exciting their recollection of past enjoyments.

Hamlet introduced Mr. Kemble to a London audience, and it may well be doubted whether the part was ever so ably represented, either before or since. The calm, contemplative nature of the royal Dane, seemed to sit peculiarly well upon him, and the noble poetry of the part came from his mouth clothed with all the richness and harmony of eloquence. His scene with the Ghost was all that the most critical judgment could require; for without once degenerating into rant, he was impressive in the highest degree. While the spectre continued before him, his eye was fixed in eager inquiry,

[ocr errors]

and his voice, in the fine abjuration "Angels and ministers of grace defend us!" sinking into a hushed irresolute tone, betrayed the amazement of the speaker. When he heard the tale of his father's murder, a sudden hectic of anger flitted over his pale cheek, but it was succeeded by intense sorrow, as he ejaculated "Alas! poor ghost." The devotedness with which he promised revenge appeared to rise naturally out of the circumstances; but the way in which he sunk on his knees as the phantom vanished, asking by his clasped hands, and imploring looks, the paternal blessing, was above praise. In the play scene his wildly expressed affection towards Ophelia, and his anxious scrutiny of the King, combined with the assumed follies of fatuity, deadened the spectator's perception that the whole was a fiction, and cheated him into a belief that real events were passing before him. In the closet scene, his upbraidings of Gertrude were finely tempered by the affection he still bore her as a son; but the attitude of dumb dismay in which he stood on the reappearance of the Ghost, would have justified Partridge's criticism in Tom Jones, who could find nothing wonderful in Garrick's terror at seeing a spirit. In the last act, when apprised of Ophelia's death, his exclamation "What, the fair Ophelia ?" was given in a tone of such heart-rending pathos that every eye in the audience became involuntarily dimmed with tears. The soliloquy, "To be or not to be," and the advice to the players, were given with appropriate effect; and indeed every portion of the character received the highest possible finish. "When Mr. Kemble first appeared (says Boaden), he played the part in a modern court dress of rich black velvet, with a star on the breast, the garter and pendant ribband of an order, mourning sword and buckles, with deep ruffles: the hair in powder, which in the scenes of feigned distraction flowed dishevelled in front and over the shoulders."

Macbeth, as represented by Kemble, was a character that to the very last seemed entitled to our sympathies; his natural bias was to virtue, overwhelming circumstances had plunged him in guilt. He trod the blasted heath a truly magnificent being, flushed with victory, happy in the present, and full of hope for the future. His dress as a Scottish thane, shewed his fine person to great advantage; the graceful negligence of the tartan, the ample plumage of the bonnet, the warlike semblance of the brightly bossed shield, all conspired to produce a pic


ture, not classical indeed, but romantic in the | Julius Cæsar, which most artists would leave highest degree. The appearance of the Weird tiresome and tedious, was in Kemble's hands a Sisters seemed to paralyse the triumphant source of exquisite delight to every auditor of chieftain, and their "All hail," with the de- taste. His address to the conspirators was ceitful prophesies that followed, took hold of the outpouring of a patriot's soul; and his rehis imagination and sunk into his brain with gretful glance at Cæsar as he passed into the fatal power. You saw at this moment, as Capitol, was a fine commentary on the text of Kemble represented the part, a virtuous and Shakspeare. When the dictator lay dead at his single-bearted soldier on the point of being feet, while he shook his ensanguined sword, seduced from his onward course into crooked and called on his country's Gods, Liberty first, paths of evil, and the feeling inspired was de- his figure dilated as he spoke, and his voice cidedly compassion. In the scene where his seemed an echo from the glories of ancient fiend-like wife persuades him to assassinate his Rome. His oration to the plebeians, was guest, the noble burst what it always should be-clear, nervous, authoritative, patriotic. The tent scene, certainly one of the author's noblest efforts, was perhaps the greatest triumph of the actor. The spirit of the death-despising Brutus appeared to modulate his tones, alike incapable of passion or prejudice, his calmness was as awful as his

I dare do all that may become a man,
Who dares do more is none,"

oak of the forest, which the storm may break, but cannot bend. Even this, however, was inferior to the concentrated grief which marked the exclamation

Portia's dead!" it was the

was delivered with all the energy of truth, and he seemed for a moment to have broken from the trammels of his destiny. Immediately previous to the murder, when conscience pre-energy, and he stood in his integrity, like an sents the visionary dagger to appal him, his terrible ruminations were given in a tone of hurry and alarm, and with looks of dread and irresolution, admirably appropriate. The crime completed, you heard the voice of the assassin voice of nature whispered from the heart of a as he descended from the chamber of his victim, stoic. The way in which he relieved his drowsy and the effect of those few words was absolutely page from his instrument, was a delightful sublime; for they were enunciated in a hollow piece of domestic kindness. His deportment sepulchral tone, which bespoke all the horror, on beholding the shade of Cæsar, and his andespair, and punishment of a murderer. Pre-swer to the prophecy "Thou shalt meet me at sently, moving mechanically, like a madman in Phillippi," were inconceivably grand, as his for. breathless haste to escape from some undefined [titude under defeat, and his constancy in death, evil, came Macbeth, staring with eyes that were in the highest degree affecting and digseemed starting from their sockets, on his nified. bloody hands, and weapons " unmannerly breeched with gore." At the banquet, when Banquo's apparition rises, the frenzy of his amazement was adequate to its cause. He dashed down the untasted globet, and gazed as if hell had yawned at his feet. Nor can we omit to remark the melancholy beauty bestowed by Kemble on the closing scenes of Macbeth. Who that heard him deliver it, can ever forget the deep pathos of his manner, in the soliloquy beginning "My way of life is fallen into the sear," alas! how different from the "sound fury" of more recent performers.

Brutus. In the representation of this part, and indeed of all his Roman characters, this actor never had a rival. His person, always grand and commanding, in the dress of a Roman senator or warrior swelled into a majesty of port and demeanour that seemed too high for mere mortality. The garden scene in

Coriolanus.-In this character Mr. Kemble took his leave of the stage: it was a glorious performance. Forgetting all the infirmities of age (he was then sixty, and had been for years a martyr to the gout), he threw all his mighty intellect into the lofty-minded Patrician, and rushed upon the stage with the step and air, and enthusiasm of youth. The same ardour supported him through the whole play; his bitter scorn of the plebeians had never been given with such annihilating force, the Tribunes shrunk into nothingness before him; and at Corioli, he seemed like a youthful Mars bearing death and victory on his sword. When suing for the Consulship, the royalty of scorn with which he drew back from the prying eyes of the people, and the impatient enumeration which he made of his claims to preferment, produced an electric effect. Even this was but the level part of the character; the vehe

mence of his indignation, when charged with treason, was terrible; and the burst of contempt, "There is a world elsewhere," rolled from his lips like a thunder-peal. The scenes of Antium merit equal praise; but language sinks beneath the attempt to describe his excelence in the last act, it was a wonderful display of genius : Raphael might have ennobled his conceptions by studying it.


The following account of Cooke's personal qualifications for the histrionic art, is taken from Goëde, a German critic, and it seems to be correct and impartial: "Cooke does not possess the elegant figure of Kemble, but his Countenance beams with expression. The most prominent features in the physiognomy of Cooke, are a long and somewhat hooked nose, of uncommon breadth between the eyes, which are fiery, dark, and at times terribly expressive, with prominent lids, and flexible brows; a lofty and broad forehead, and the muscles around the mouth pointedly marked. His Countenance is certainly not so dignified as Kemble's; but its expression of passion, particularly the worst passions of our nature, is stronger. His voice, though sharp, is powerfal and of great compass, a pre-eminence which be possesses by nature over Kemble, and of

[blocks in formation]

which he skilfully avails himself. His atti-No description can give an adequate idea of the tades are far less picturesque than those of withering bitterness of sarcasm with which he Kemble; but they are just, appropriate, and natural."

The account we shall now give of Cooke in his three principal characters, is extracted from his life by Dunlop, with reference however to other sources of information.

On the 31st of October, 1800, Mr. Cooke, then in the forty-fifth year of his age, appeared for the first time on the Covent Garden stage, Richard III. and at once established his fame as a first-rate tragedian. "Never," he says, "was a reception more flattering, nor did I ever receive more encouraging, indulgent, and warm approbation, that on that night, both through the play and at the conclusion. Mr. Kemble did me the honour of making one of the audience." Mr. Cooke's figure and manner in many portions of his representation of the crafty tyrant, were eminently dignified and graceful, and his superiority over other performers in the


The Tower?

Ay, the Tower-the Tower !"

or of his departure from the unfortunate Buckingham,

"I'm busy-Thou troublest me-I'm not i' th' vein."

Richard's scene in the fourth act with Stanly, beginning

Gloster..Well, my lord, what is the news with you?
Stanley..Richmond is on the seas, my lord.

who can forget that ever heard Cooke throw his soul into the overwhelming burst of passion at

Gloster..There let him sink, and be the seas on him! White-liver'd runagate, what does he there? Stanley..I know not, mighty sovereign, but by guess, Gloster..Well, as you guess?

This last line, given in a manener so perconfident dissimulation, and the bitter sarcasm fectly contrasted with "There let him sink," of the character, is acknowledged on all hands. yet with a transition as natural as it was rapid,


and the whole intellect thrown into the sneering expression of the face and tone of voice, said in the four words such unutterable things as defy language.

Cooke's acting throughout the last scenes was amazingly energetic; the horrors of the night preceding the battle, and the death of Richard, were fearfully depicted.

On the 10th November following, Cooke performed Shylock for the first time before a London audience. Nothing can be conceived more perfectly "The Jew that Shakspeare drew," than the voice, face, manner, and expression of this great actor. In the great scene of the third act, he was greeted with shouts of applause. The gloomy satisfaction that seemed to accompany the recollection of the bond by which he had Antonio "on the hip," and the savage exultation of his laugh when the full amount of his enemy's loss is stated, were frightfully impressive. The transitions were made in a masterly manner, and the speech in which Shylock urges his own wrongs and vindicates his tribe, formed a climax of as well wrought passion as can be conceived. In the trial scene, the "lodged hate" of the impenetrable Israelite was kept constantly in view. The audience were surprised and delighted at the abruptness of his reply to Portia's request that he would permit the bond to be torn. "When it is paid according to the tenor," he hastily replies, indicating a degree of apprehension lest she should tear it; and at the same time, a malignant recognition of the penalty due. In fact, the whole of this scene ever was, in Cooke's hands, inimitable, and defies all competition. Cooke frequently threw beauties into his performance which he did not find in his author. Those who have seen him in Shylock well remember the reverential bowing of his head, when, in Portia's speech exhorting him to mercy, she comes to the line,

"It is an attribute of God himself;"

by rejecting the application to himself or those of his belief.

On the 18th of the same month, Mr. Cooke personated lago, a part in which he had no competitor. He had only to combat the recollection of Henderson, and those who had seen that noble tragedian, pronounced him his legiti male successor, while the younger part of the audience agreed that they had never seen lago until then. In the exhibition of every species of hypocrisy, Cooke excelled all other players. In lago he has been accused of betraying so much of the workings of cunning and deceit to the audience, that it appears wonderful how Othello could be deceived by him: but it must be remembered, first, that it was to the spectators, and not to Othello, that he betrayed the workings of his soul on his expressive countenance; and secondly, that Othello, seeing through the jaundiced medium of jealousy, is not capable of discovering, even in the eager and obtrusive suggestions of lago, any other motive than his extreme love and honesty. Cooke's peculiarities of manner and voice were singularly adapted to this part: while the quickness of his action, and the strongly natural expression of feeling, which were as exclusively his, identified him with the character, and marked him as its true representative. From the first scene of lago to the last, his excellence was of the highest order: we notice one passage by way of illustration. Othello, convinced of Desdemona's infidelity, kneels to seal his purpose of revenge by a vow. lago kneels with him, and swears to assist in the execution of his bloody purpose. rise, and Othello says,


"Within these three days let me hear thee say,
That Cassio's not alive,"

Cooke used then to start; and the spectator might read plainly in his expressive face, "What! murder my friend and companion?" he then covered his face with his hands, and gradually lifting his head, when he withdrew his hands, his face and eyes were turned upwards; he then

and the rejecting shake of his head and waving started again, as if remembering the oath he of his hand, when she says,

........We do pray for mercy, And that same prayer doth teach us all To render the deeds of mercy."

Shakspeare here makes Portia, in her zeal, quote the Lord's Prayer, and enforce its divine precepts as applicable to Shylock; but the great actor, by his looks, and the movement of his head and band, gives a comment on the text,

had just taken, and after a second mental struggle, said, as if submitting to necessity, and the obligation imposed on him by his vow,

"My friend is dead."

This unrivalled actor died at New York, on the 26th of September, 1812, in his 58th year; the victim of a long course of brutalizing intemperance, which alone prevented him from

« ZurückWeiter »