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“ A Book about Shakspeare is a literary want” of England as much as of Germany; and especially a work written on the high principles of æsthetical criticism. In this country, indeed, much labour has been spent of late years upon Shakspeare, but it has confined itself chiefly, if not exclusively, either to elucidating the external history of the works of our great national dramatist, or to philological illustrations of his allusions to the temporary matters of by-gone customs, costume, and phraseology. Little, if any thing, has been done since the days of Coleridge, Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, and Wilson, to trace the eternal principles and ideas which gave birth to and still vitalize the imperishable productions of Shakspeare. And although the high praise of bringing about a truer estimate of the dramatic genius of Shakspeare, and of the artistic perfection of his compositions, must be awarded to Coleridge, Hazlitt, and the rest, still it was from the purer and deeper fountain of German criticism that they themselves drew the clear waters of a refined taste and exquisite judgment with which they irrigated the literary mind of Eng. land.
In England, Shakspeare is read by many, and is talked of by more, but it is in Germany that he is studied, and studied too on the pregnant and instructive principles of a truly phi
losophical criticism. Whether any of the several results of this study exhaust the truth may be questionable; but that all are truthful, and well calculated to lead to a deeper and fuller appreciation of the whole, will be generally allowed. The present work seems, on this account, likely to be welcomed by the English student of Shakspeare, but especially because it attempts to discover the leading ideas which Shakspeare may have had before him in the composition of his plays. Many, perhaps, who will be most disposed to question the successfulness of the attempt, may be led by it to more felicitous essays of their own.
At any rate it will serve to familiarize the reader with higher principles of æsthetical criticism than are generally to be met with in our national estimates of Shakspeare.
Whether the valuable introductions of Collier to the several plays, in his edition of Shakspeare, might or not have modified any of Dr. Ulrici's historical opinions—as, for instance, the genuineness of the disputed parts of “Henry the Sixth,” it is impossible to say. They were unpublished at the date of Dr. Ulrici's work. The Translator, however, would call the reader's attention to them, as well as to the “Shakspeare Library," by Collier, which contains most of the original novels and tales on which Shakspeare is supposed to have founded his several dramas. Instead of the work of Echtermeyer and Simrock, the English reader will consult the “Shakspeare Library.”
As an interesting illustration of the Mysteries, or religious Plays, the Translator appends the following extract from the Journal of the Bishop of Madras, from which it would seem that they still exist. Though, in obedience to the Synod of Mexico, the clergy are no longer themselves impersonators of the religious story, the Jesuits, apparently, still avail themselves of its objective and sensuous teaching as a substitute for the more powerful but slower training by the intellectual inculcation of religious truths.
“ Trichinopoly is the strong hold of popery in Southern India, and aspires to be what Madura was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As I entered the town I observed a gaudily decorated temporary theatre in the open air, exactly like the theatrical booths which I have often seen when a boy in a county fair in England, except that this was surmounted by the cross. And here the popish priests exhibit to their miserably deluded proselytes some so-called sacred drama; 'St. Michael and the Dragon, or it may be his battle with the same arch-enemy over the body of Moses, or I know not what other parody of unspeakable things."
The Translator must beg of the reader to correct before perusal, the errata given in a subsequent page, and kindly to excuse them and any bibliographical errors, on the ground of the Translator's distance from London during the printing of the chief portion of the work.
A. J. W. M.
London, 14th March, 1846.