Imagens das páginas

Shakespeare is above all writers, at least above all modern writers, the poet of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirrour of manners 2nd of life. His characters are not modified by the cuftoms of particular places, unpractifed by the reft of the world; by the peculiarities of ftudies or profeffions, which can operate but upon fmall numbers; or by the accidents of tranfient. fashions or temporary opinions: they are the genuine progeny of common humanity, fuch as the world will always fupply, and obfervation will always find. His perfons act and speak by the influence of those general paffions and principles by which all minds are agitated, and the whole fyftem of life is continued in motion. In the writings of other poets a character is too often an individual; in thofe of Shakespeare it is commonly a species,

It is from this wide extenfion of defign that fo much inftruction is derived. It is this which fills the plays of Shakespeare with practical axioms and domeftick wisdom. It was faid of Euripides, that every verfe was a precept; and it may be faid of Shakefpeare, that from his works may be collected a fyftem of civil and oeconomical prudence. Yet his real power is not fhewn in the fplendour of particular paffages, but by the progrefs of his fable, and the tenour of his dialogue; and he that tries to recommend him by felect quotations, will fucceed like


[A 3]

[ocr errors]



the pedant in Heracles, who, when he offered his houfe to fale, carried a brick in his pocket as a fpe


01 1998 A 5 aliow




cimen. 1575 In on é


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]






It will not eafily be imagined how much ShakeSpeare excells in accommodating his fentiments to real life, but by comparing him with other authours. It was observed of the ancient fchools of declamation, that the more diligently they were frequented, the more was the ftudent difqualified for the world, becaufe he found nothing there which he fhould ever meet in any other place. The fame remark may be applied to every ftage but that of Shakespeare. The theatre, when it is under any other direction, is peopled by fuch characters as were never feen, converfing in a language which was never heard, upon topicks which will never arife in the commerce of mankind. But the dialogue of this authour is often fo evidently determined by the incident which produces it, and is pursued with so much eafe and fimplicity, that it seems scarcely to claim the merit of fiction, but to have been gleaned by diligent felection out of common converfation, and common occurrences.


cut. oh no

Upon every other ftage the univerfal agent is love, by whofe power all good and evil is diftributed, and every action quickened or retarded. To bring a lover, à lady and a rival into the fable; to entangle them


[merged small][ocr errors]


sist or SitS

in contradictory obligations, perplex them with oppofitions of intereft, and harrass them with violence or defires inconfiftent with each other; to make tiem meet in rapture and part in agony; to fill their mouths, with hyperbolical joy and outrageous forrow; to diftrefs them as nothing human ever was diftrefled; to deliver them as nothing human ever was delivered, is the bufinefs of a modern dramatift. For this probability is violated, life is mifreprefented, and language is depraved. But love is only one of many paffions, and as it has no great influence upon the fum of life, it has little operation in the dramas of a poet, who caught his ideas from the living world, and exhibited only what he faw before him. He knew, that any other paffion, as it was regular or exorbitant, was a cause of happiness or calamity.

[ocr errors]


Characters thus ample and general were not easily difcriminated and preferved, yet perhaps no poet ever kept his perfonages more diftinct from each other, I will not fay with Pope, that every fpeech may be affigned to the proper speaker, because many speeches there are which have nothing characteristical; but perhaps, though fome may be equally adapted to every perfon, it will be difficult to find, any that can be properly transferred from the prefent poffeffor to another claimant. The choice is right, when there is reafon for choice.

[A 4]



Other dramatists can only gain attention by hyperbolical or aggravated characters, by fabulous and unexampled excellence or depravity, as the writers of barbarous romances, invigorated the reader by a giant and a dwarf, and he that fhould form his expectations of human affairs from the play, or from the tale, would be equally deceived. Shakespeare has no heroes; his fcenes are occupied only by men, who act and speak as the reader thinks that he fhould himself have spoken or acted on the fame occafion : Even where the agency is fupernatural the dialogue is level with life. Other writers difguife the most natural paffions and moft frequent incidents; fo that he who contemplates them in the book will not know them in the world: Shakespeare approximates the remote, and familiarizes the wonderful; the event which he reprefents will not happen, but if it were poffible, its effects would probably be fuch as he has affigned; and it may be faid, that he has not only fhewn human nature as it acts in real exigences, but as it would be found in trials, to which it cannot be expofed.

[ocr errors]

This therefore is the praife of Shakespeare, that his drama is the mirrour of life; that he who has mazed his imagination, in following the phantoms which other writers raife up before him, may here be cured of his delirious extafies, by reading human fentiments in human language; by fcenes from which


[ocr errors]

a hermit may estimate the tranfactions of the world, and a confeffor predict the progrefs of the paffions.

His adherence to general nature has expofed him to the cenfure of criticks, who form their judgments upon narrower principles. Dennis and Rhymer think his Romans not fufficiently Roman; and Voltaire cenfures his kings as not completely royal. Dennis is offended, that Menenius, a fenator of Rome, fhould play the buffoon; and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency violated when the Danish Ufurper is reprefented as a drunkard. But Shakespeare always makes nature predominate over accident; and if he preferves the effential character, is not very careful of diftinctions fuperinduced and adventitious. His story requires Romans or kings, but he thinks only on men. He knew that Rome, like every other city, had men of all difpofitions; and wanting a buffoon, he went into the fenate-houfe for that which the fenate-house would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to fhew an ufurper and a murderer not only odious but defpicable, he therefore added drunkenness to his other qualities, knowing that kings love wine like other men, and that wine exerts its natural power upon kings. These are the petty cavils of petty minds; a poet overlooks the cafual diftinction of country and condition, as a painter, fatisfied with the figure, neglects the drapery.


« AnteriorContinuar »