Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

Now the reason given of the designed ridicule is the supposed bombast. But those were the very plays, which at that time we know took with the multitude. And Fletcher wrote a kind of Rehearsal purposely to expose them. But say it is bombast, and that therefore it took not with the multitude. Hamlet presently tells us what it was that displeased them. There was 10 falt in the lines to make the matter favoury ; nor no matter in the phrase that might indite the author of affection ; but called it an honest method. Now whether a person speaks ironically or no, when he quotes others, yet common sense requires he should quote what they say. Now it could not be, if this play displeased because of the hombaft, that those whom it displeased Thould give this reason for their dislike. The same inconfiitencies and absurdities abound in every other part of Hamlet's speech supposing it to be ironical : but take him as speaking his sentiments, the whole is of a piece ; and to this purpose, The play, I remember, pleased not the multitude, and the reason was, its being wrote on the rules of the ancient drama ; to which they were entire strangers. But, in my opinion, and in the opinion of those for whose judgment I have the highest esteem, it was an excellent play, well digested in the scenes, i. e, where the three unities were well preserved. Set down with as much modisły as cunning, i. e. where not only the art of composition, but the simplicity of nature, was carefully attended to. The characters were a faithful picture of life and manners, in which nothing was overcharged into farce. But these qualities, which gained my esteem, lost the public's. For I remember one said, There was no sult in the lines to make the matter Savoury, i. e. there was not, according to the mode of that time, a fool or clown to joke, quibble, and talk freely. Nor no matter in the phrase that might indite the author of affection, i. e, nor

none of those passionate, pathetic love scenes, fu effential to modern tragedy. But he called it an honest method, i. e. he owned, however teftchefs this method of writing, on the ancient plan, was to our times, yet it was chaste and pure; the distinguishing character of the Greek drama. I need only make one observation on all this ; that, thus interpreted, it is the justest picture of a good tragedy, wrote on the ancient rals. And that I have rightly interpreted it appears farther from what we find in the old quarto, Än honest method, as wholesome as sweet, and by very much more HANDSome than FINE, i. e. it had a natural beauty, but none of the fucus of false

2. A second proof that this speech was given to be admired, is from the intrinsic merit of the speech itself: which contains the description of a circumftance very happily imagined, namely, lliuin and Priam's falling together, with the etie& it had on the destroyer.

ari.

The hellish Pyrrhus, &c.
To, Repugnant to command.'

The unnerved father falls, &c. To, - So after Pyrrhus' pause. Now this circumstance, illustrated with the fine fimilitude of the storm, is so highly worked up, as to have well deserved a place in Virgil's second book of the Æneid, even though the work had been carried on to that perfection which the Roman poet had conceived.

3. The third proof is, from the effects which followed on the recital. Hamlet, his beit character, approves it; the player is deeply affected in repeating it; and only the foolish Polonius tired with it. We have faid enough before of Hamlet's fentiments. As for the player, he changes colour, and the tears start from his eyes. But our author was too good a judge of nature to make bombast and unnatural sentiment produce such an effect. Nature and Horace both instructed him,

Si vis me flere, dolendum eft
Primùm ipf: tibi, tunc tua me infortunia ladent,
Telephe, vel Peleu. MALE SI MANDATA LOQUERIS,

Aut dormitabo out ridebo. And it may be worth observing, that Horace gives this precept particularly to shew, that bombast and unnatural sentiments are incapable of moving the tender passions, which he is directing the poet how to raise. For, in the lines just before, he gives this rule,

Telephus & Peleus, cùm pauper & exul uterque,

Projicit Ampullas, & sejquipedalia verba. Not that I would deny, that very bad lines in bad tragedies have had this effect. But then it always proceeds from one or other of these causes.

1. Either when the subject is domestic, and the scene lies at home : the spectators, in this case, become interested in the fortunes of the distrefied; and their thoughts are so much taken up with the subject, that they are not at liberty to attend to the poet ; who, otherwise, by his faulty sentiments and diction, would have filled the emotions springing up from a sense of the distress. But this is nothing to the case in hand. For, as Hamlet says,

What's Hecuba to him, or he 10 Hecuta? 2. When bad lines raise this affection, they are bad in the other extreme; low, abjcct, and groveling, infiead of being highly figurative and swelling ; yet, when attended with a natural fimplicity, they have force enough to ftrike illiterate and simple minds. The tragedies of Banks will justify both these observations.

But if any one will fill say, that Shakespeare intended to represent a player unnaturally and fantastically affected, we

must

muft appeal to Hamlet, that is, to Shakespeare himself in this matter; who, on the refection he makes upon the player's emotion, in order to excite his own revenge, gives not the leat hint that the player was unnaturally or injudiciously moved. On the contrary, his fine description of the actor's emction News, he thought just otherwise :

-this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his foul jo to his own conceit,
That from her vorking all his visage wan'd:
Tears in his eyes, diffraction in his aspect,

A broken voice, &c. And indeed had Hamlet esteemed this emotion any thing unnatural, it had been a very improper circumstance to fpur him to his purpose.

As Shakespeare has here shewn the effects which a fine description of nature, heightened with all the ornaments of art, had upon an intelligent player, whofe business habituates him to enter intimately and deeply into the characters of men and manners, and to give nature its free workings on all occasions; so he has artfully thewn what effects the very same scene would have upon a quite different man, Polonius ; by nature, very weak and very artificial (two qualities, though commonly enough joined in life, yet generally so much disguised as not to be seen by common eyes to be together; and which an ordinary pret durft not have brought so near one another] by difcipline, practifed in a species of wit and eloquence, which was ftiff, forced, and pedantic ; and by trade a politician, and therefore, of confequence, without any of the affecting notices of humanity. Such is the man whom Shakespeare has judi. ciously chosen to represent the false taste of that audience which had condemned the play here reciting. When the actor comes to the fineft and most pathetic part of the speech, Polonius cries out, This is too long; on which Hamlet, in contempt of his ill judgment, replies, It mall to the barber's with thy beard (intimating that, by this judgment, it appeared that all his wildom lay in his length of beard,] Pry't bee, say on. He's for a jig or a tale of buwdry [the common entertainment of that time, as well as this, of the people] or he sleeps, fay on. And yet this man of modern taite, who stood all this time perfe&tly unmoved with the forcible imagery of the relator, no sooner hears, amongit many good things, one quaint and fantaftical word, put in, I suppose, purposely for this end, than he profesies his approbation of the propriety and dignity of it. That's good. Mebled queen is good. On the whole then, I think, it plainly appears, that the long quotation is not given to be ridiculed and laughed at, but to be admired. The character given of the play, by Hamlet, cannot be iro

nical. The passage itself is extremely beautiful. It has the effect that all pathetic relations, naturally written, fhould have; and it is condemned, or regarded with indifference, by one of a wrong, unnatural taste. From hence (to observe it by the way) the actors, in their representation of this play, may learn how this speech ought to be spoken, and what appearance Hamlet ought to assume during the recital.

That which supports the common opinion, concerning this paffage, is the turgid expreffion in fome parts of it; which, They think, could never be given by the poet to be commended. We shall therefore, in the next place, examine the lines most obnoxious to censure, and see how much, allowing the charge, this will make for the induction of their conclusion.

Pyrrhus at Priam drives, in rage strikes wide,
But with the whiff and wind of his fell fword

The unnerved father falls.
And again,

Out, out, thou frumpet fortune! All you gods,
In general synod, take away her power :
Break all the spokes and fellies from her wheel,
And bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven,

As low as to the fiends. Now whether there be bombast or not, is not the question ; but whether Shakespeare esteemed them so. That he did not so esteem them appears from his having used the very fame thoughts in the same expression, in his best plays, and given them to his principal characters, where he aims at the sublime. As in the following passages.

Troilus, in Troilus and Creshda, far outstrains the execution of Pyrrhus's sword, in the character he gives of Hector's :

When many times the cative Grecians fall
Even in the fan and wind of

your

fair sword, You bid them rise and live. Cleopatra, in Antony and Cleopatra, rails at fortune in the same manner :

No, let me speak, and let me rail so high,
That the false huswife Fortune break her wheel,

Provok'd at my offence. But another use may be made of these quotations; a discovery of the author of this recited play: which, letting us into a circumstance of our author's life (as a writer) hitherto unknown, was the reason I have been so large upon this question. I think then it appears, from what has been said, that the play in dispute was Shakespeare's own : and that this was the occafion of writing it. He was desirous, as soon as he had found his strength, of restoring the chasteness and regularity of the ancient itage ; and therefore composed this tragedy on the model of the Greek drama, as may be seen by throwing fu

much

[ocr errors]

much ažlion into relation. But his attempt proved fruitless ; and the raw, unnatural tafe, then prevalent, forced him back again into his old Gothic manner. For which he took this revenge upon his aud:erce. WARBURTON.

The praise which Hamlet bestows on this piece, is certainly dissembled, and agrees very well with the character of madness, which, before witnesses, he thought it necessary to support. The speeches before us have so little merit, that nothing but an affectation of fingularity could have influenced Dr. Warburton to undertake their defence. The poet, perhaps, meant to exhibit a just resemblance of some of the plays of his own age, in which the faults were too many in number to permit a few splendid passages to atone for a general defect. The player knew his trade, and spoke the lines in an affe&ting manner, because Hamlet had declared them to be pathetic; or might be in reality a little moved by them : for, “ There

are less degrees of nature (says Dryden) by which some “ faint emotions of pity and terror are raised in us, as a less “ engine will raise a less proportion of weight, though not so “ much as one of Archimedes' making.” The mind of the prince, it must be confeffed, was fitted for the reception of gloomy ideas, and his tears were ready at a light solicitation. It is by no means proved, that Shakespeare has employed the same thoughts cleatbed in the same expresions, in his best plays. If he bids the falje hufwife Fortune treak her wheel, he does not defire her to break all its spokes; nay, even its periphery, and make use of the nave afterwards for juch an immeasureable caft. Though if what Dr. Warburton has said should be found in any inftance to be exactly true, what can we infer from thence, but that Shakespeare was sometimes wrong in spite of conviction, and in the hurry of writing committed thote very faults which his judgment could detect in others ? Dr. Warburton is inconfiftent in his assertions concerning the literature of Shakespeare. in a note on Troilus and Cressida, he affirms, that his want of learning kept him from being acquainted with the writings of Homer; and, in this instance, would suppose him capable of . producing a complete tragedy written on the ancient rules; and that the speech before us had sufficient merit to intitle it to a place in the second book of Virgil's Æneid, even though the work had been carried to that perfeciion which the Roman poet had conceived.

Had Shakespeare made one unsuccessful attempt in the man. ner of the ancients (that he had any knowledge of their rules remains to be proved) it would certainly have been recorded by contemporary writers, among whom Ben Jonson would have been the firit. Had lis darling ancients been unsilfully imitated by a rival poct, he would at lealt have preserved the memory of the fact, to thew how unsafe it was for any one, who

was

« AnteriorContinuar »