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This rough magic
I'll break my staff,
And, when, still later, he intimates that he will retire to Milan, where every third thought will be his grave, the reference to the poet's own retiral can hardly be mistaken.
The Tempest is like a great piece of music, capable of expressing many meanings; and there is one thought still, behind, which is the profoundest of all. If this island, in the atmosphere of which musical sounds floated and magical forces worked, represented the realm of poetry, and especially represented the stage -that is, the little world on the surface of which the poet's genius displayed the passions and the principles which govern the great world—then the dropping of the curtain and the vanishing of the scene might easily suggest the final catastrophe of the world itself. This thought is not foreign to Shakspeare's other writings, but it is expressed in The Tempest in lines as grand as any he ever penned, occurring at the close of a tableau of classical divinities, presented as a play within the play:
These our actors,
In this thought, that our so solid-seeming earth is only a transient phantasm, and that the hot and stormy ambitions of men are only the tossings of an uneasy dream, there is a solemnity almost biblical.
In short, this passage is the echo of a hundred texts of Holy Writ; and, in order to make the truth complete, we have only to add, from the same source, the reflection, that behind these fleeting appearances there lies a reality which the mutations of time can never touch, because it is embodied in Him who is the same yesterday and today and forever.
It is generally allowed that the crowning achievements of Shakspeare's genius are the four Tragedies which he penned in the first five or six years of the seventeenth century, when he had reached the maturity of his powers, being about forty years of ageHamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth-to which, however, must be added Romeo and Juliet, a splendid effort in the same species of drama written some years earlier. These five are not, indeed, his only tragedies; for several of his Histories would come under this designation; but they may conveniently be treated by themselves.
First, we have to ask what Tragedy is. If a comedy is a play written to move laughter, a tragedy is one written to draw tears. People like to laugh, but they also like to weep-not real tears, indeed, which are very different things-but tears that can be easily wiped away. It is one of the mysteries of our nature that, while real grief is so abhorrent, counterfeit grief should afford pleasure. But the fact is undeniable.