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Introduction.

"The tragedy of Coriolanus' was first printed in the folio collection of 1623. With the exception of a few obvious typographical errors, such as invariably occur even under the eye of an author when a book is printed from manuscript, the text is wonderfully accurate,

The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, compared together by Plutarch, done into English by Thomas North,' is a book on many accounts to be venerated. It is still the best translation of Plutarch we have,-full of fine robust English,-a book worthy of Shakspere to read and sometimes to imitate. Here he found the story of Coriolanus told in the most graphic manner; and he followed it pretty literally. Niebuhr places this story amongst the fabulous legends of Rome. Plutarch, and especially Shakspere, have made it almost impossible to believe that such Romans did not really live, and think, and talk, and act, as we see them in these wonderful pictures of humanity.

The leading idea of Shakspere's • Coriolanus '- the pivot upon which all the action turns—the key to the bitterness of factious hatred which runs through the whole drama is the contest for power between the patricians and plebeians. This is a broad principle, assuming various modifications in various states of society, but very slightly varied in its foundations and its results. He that truly works out the exhibition of this principle inust paint men, let the scene be the Rome of the first Tribunes, or the Venice of the last Doges. With the very slightest changes of accessaries, the principle stands for the contests between aristocracy and democracy, in any country or in any age. The historical truth, and the philosophical principle, which Shakspere has embodied in Coriolanus' are universal. But suppose he had possessed the means of treating the subject with what some would call historical accuracy; had learnt that Plutarch, in the story of Coriolanus, was probably dealing only with a legend; that, if the story is to be received as true, it belongs to a later period ; that in this later period there were very nice shades of difference between the classes composing the population of Rome; that the balance of power was a much more complex thing than he found in the narrative of Plutarch: further suppose that, proud of this learning, he had made the universal principle of the plebeian and patrician hostility subsidiary to an exact display of it, according to the conjectures which modern industry and acuteness have brought to bear on the subject. It is evident, we think, that he would have been betrayed into a false principle of art; and would necessarily have drawn Roman shadows instead of vital and enduring men. As it is, he has drawn men so vividly-under such permanent relations to each other -with such universal manifestations of character, that some persons of strong political feelings have been ready to complain, according to their several creeds, either that his plebeians are too brutal, or his patricians too haughty. The tribute to Shakspere's political impartiality is complete.

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