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position which their works now occupy, being chiefly known by the detached specimens strung together by Charles Lamb, is another important proof of the weakness of their powers, and at the same time, a strong argument against their giant developments.
SHAKSPERE AS AN ACTOR.—Upon the merits of Shakspere as an actor, there has existed, and still does exist, a wide difference of opinion. Many have held that he was but an inferior actor, playing but parts of a lesser degree, and in no instance rising higher than the part of “Adam,” in “As You Like It,” or the “Ghost" in the tragedy of Hamlet. Both these parts are really of a higher character than most persons generally assign, they require a more than ordinary amount of ability to properly sustain them, and it is but seldom upon the modern stage that they are well played. The “Ghost” in Hamlet, is a part which only Shakspere could have played, for none but himself could have conceived and understood the mode and manner in which a spirit could and would talk. Rowe, who edited an edition of Shakspere's works, 1709, says he never rose higher than the part of the Ghost in Hamlet, while Chettle says, he was “excellent in the quality he professeth.” By Wright we are told that “he was a much better poet than player,” and by pleasant gossiping Aubrey, we are told he did “act exceeding well.” Stage traditions, however give him a much higher position as an actor, for he is said to have been the original Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet,” a character, which judging from his works, is an outline of his own, embracing the fire, energy, sweetness, and all the other attributes of his genius. It is also said of him, that Queen Elizabeth being present at the playhouse, so engrossed was Shakspere in the kingly part he was personating, that he failed to notice the presence of her majesty, who dropped her glove to excite his attention, upon which he immediately picked it up, adding the following extempore lines to his speech:
“And though now bent on this high embassy,
Yet stoop we to take up our cousin's glove.' Whatever may have been his merits as an actor, the success he attained, affords pretty good proof that his position was a high one. Most of his contemporaries spoke of his success, and in most of his pieces it is known, that he played parts. Had he have been but an indifferent actor, he would not have been attached to the king's company of players, performing before the court of James I. If Downes, who was the prompter of the day, can be relied upon, Taylor and Lowen, two of the original actors in Shakspere’s pieces, were instructed in their various parts by the poet himself, and those instructions were afterwards handed down to Betterton, by Sir W. Davenant, who attributed Betterton's success in the parts of Henry the Eighth and Hamlet, in a great measure to those instructions. These circumstances, coupled with Hamlet's advice to the players, warrants the conclusion, that Shakepere, was as great in practice as he was perfect in theory.
SHAKSPERE'S BIRTHDAY.—It is most remarkable, yet no more remarkable than true, that no public recognition has yet taken place in acknowledgment of the greatness of the genius of Shakspere, and the influence his works have had in the formation of the national character. Our progress as a nation, is in a great measure, owing to the works of the bard of Stratford, who taught that the common good is the highest aim, and the only one for the activity of man to be directed to. The world is the great school in which mankind must be tested, and those only can be perfect, who have been “tried and tutored." Possessing a world-wide reputation, “the best among the rarest of good ones," his name is not held in that respect and honour in his own country, that it deserves to be. His works are “familiar in our mouths as household words;" they impregnate the ordinary conversation of the day, and his thoughts direct, mould and form the thoughts and manners of our time. In Germany, his natal day is celebrated with great rejoicings. The literati of that nation devote their intellectual energies to the development of his works, and numerous are the essays which are published, as a rule, on the 23rd of April. Much feasting is also held in celebration of his name, while in England, with the exception of the annual dinner at Stratford-upon-Avon, no rejoicing is held in general recognition of the “myriad-minded poet.” It is to be regretted that this should be so; it is also to be regretted that our people should be wanting in this respect, for “how poor an instrument may do a noble deed," and what deed could be nobler than paying honour to him, who hath conferred greatness and honour upon our country. It is much to be regretted that our people pay their external devotions, more to those who have conquered with the sword, than those who have conquered with the pen,-to those who have directed armies and achieved victories upon the battle-field, than to those whose works have built up and formed the character of the people of this great nation, foremost among whom standeth the name of William Shakspere, whose fame, "folds in this orb of the earth.” It is to be hoped that in the progress of society and it can really be affirmed that society has progressed, intellectually and morally, and is still progressing, that the time is not far distant, when the people of the United Kingdom will not fail to observe the birthday of Shakspere as a national festival, for on the people must this task devolve. Those in high places, and those who are possessed of ample means, set no example, nor take any steps to accomplish such a purpose. From “poor men's cottages," not "princes' palaces," must the public expression of thankfulness come, for the manifold advantages which have accrued to our nation, from the productions of the incomparable swan of Avon.
SHAKSPERE'S NON-OBSERVANCE OF THE UNITIES.Owing to Shakspere's non-observance of the unities of time and place—though he strictly observes unity of feeling, the true law of unity—he has been called by many critics a barbarian, wanting art; a wild, untutored genius, without learning, poor in scholarship and void of a knowledge of classic lore. This class of critics, agreeing with nothing but what coincided with the peculiarities of their education, contended for the full observances of the unities, from the simple reason that the Greek dramatists always observed them. They entirely lost sight of the circumstances attending the introduction of the unities, and the nature of the Greek drama, when contrasted with that of Shakspere. The introduction of the unities was an innovation equally as great as Shakspere's disregard of them. The Greek dramatists introduced that which was in unison with their feelings and in keeping with the spirit of their stage. In their dramas, they appealed chiefly to the reason of their hearers through their outward senses, inasmuch as they supposed an ideal state, instead of referring to an existing reality. On the other hand, the Shaksperean drama appeals to the imagination; to that power which looking within, contemplates our inward nature and its relation to humanity.
Though the productions of the Greek dramatists contain many passages of surpassing beauty, yet there is a want of dramatic power. This want arises from their seeking to represent men as they should be, while the drama being a poem accommodated to action, its object and aim is to represent the phases of human life; to display the motives of human action, and to show the effects of various circumstances upon the human race; to unravel the pages of old time's mighty book, and to unmask the human character with all its follies and vices, its hopes and sorrows, its varied aspirations, its meanness and its greatness, and thus teaching a lesson of great moral worth.
For Shakspere to have preserved the unities of time and place in his dramas, he must have introduced long speeches, describing events, such speeches being equivalent to the chorus of the ancients. Had he have done this, instead of the presence of character and the realization of the event, we should have had a wondrous amount of word-painting, which in itself would have overwhelmed the progress of the drama For Shakspere to have strictly followed the unities of time and place, he could not have shown Macbeth upon the heath