Page images
[ocr errors]

beautiful proofs. For the two last especially, you find them exactly as they are described by Plutarch, from whom certainly Shakspeare copied them. He has indeed followed his original pretty close, and taken in several little incidents that might have been spared in a play. But, as I hinted before, his design seems most commonly rather to describe those great men in the several fortunes and accidents of their lives, than to take any single great action and form his work simply upon that. However, there are some of his pieces, where the fable is founded upon one action only. Such are more especially, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Othello. The design in Romeo and Juliet is plainly the punishment of their two families, for the unreasonable feuds and animofities that had been so long kept up between them, and occasioned the effufion of fo much blood. In the management of this story, he has shewn something wonderfully tender and paffionate in the love-part, and very pitiful in the distress. Hamlet is founded on much the same tale with the Electra of Sophocles. In each of them a young prince is engaged to revenge the death of his father, their mothers are equally guilty, are both concerned in the murder of their husbands, and are afterwards married to the murderers. There is in the first part of the Greek tragedy fomething very moving in the grief of Electra; but, as Mr. Dacier has observed, there is something very unnatural and shocking in the manners he has given that Princess and Orestes in the latter part.



are both concerned in the murder of their husbands, ] It does not appear that Hamlet's mother was concerned in the death of her hulband. MALONE.

imbrues his hands in the blood of his own mother; and that barbarous action is performed, though not immediately upon the stage, yet so near, that the audience héar Clytemnestra crying out to Ægysthus for help, and to her son for mercy: while Electra her daughter, and a Princess, (both of them characters that ought to have appeared with more decency,) stands upon the stage and encourages her brother in the parricide. What horror does this not raise! Clytemnestra was a wicked woman, and had deserved to die; nay, in the truth of the story, she was killed by her own son; but to represent an action of this kind on the stage, is certainly an offence against those rules of manners proper to the persons, that ought to be observed there. On the contrary, let us only look a little on the conduct of Shakspeare. Hamlet is represented with the same picty towards his father, and a resolution to revenge his death, as Orestes; he has the fame abhorrence for his mother's guilt, which, to provoke him the more, is heightened by incest: but it is with wonderful art and justness of judgment, that the poet restrains him from doing violence to his mother. To prevent any thing of that kind, he makes his father's Ghost forbid that part of his vengeance :

" But howsoever thou pursu'st this a&.
“ Taint not thy mind, nor let thy foul contrive

Against thy mother aught; leave her to heav'n,
5. And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge,
"To prick and sting her."

[ocr errors]

This is to distinguish rightly between horror and terror. The latter is a proper passion of tragedy, but the former ought always to be carefully avoided. And certainly no dramatick writer ever suca ceeded better in raising terror in the minds of an audience than Shakspeare has done. The whole tragedy of Macbeth, but more especially the scene where the King is murdered, in the second ad, as well as this play, is a noble proof of that manly fpirit with which he writ; and both shew how powerful he was, in giving the strongest motions to our souls that they are capable of. I cannot leave Hamlet, without taking notice of the advantage with which we have seen this master-piece of Shakspeare distinguish itself upon the stage, by Mr. Betterton's fine performiance of that part. A man; who, though he had no other good qualities, as he has a great many, must have made his way into the esteem

of all men of letters, by this only excellency: No man is better acquairited with Shakspeare's manner of expression, and indeed he has studied him so well, and is so much a master of him, that whatever part of his he performs, he does it as if it had been written on purpose for him, and that the author had exactly conceived it as he plays it. I must own a particular obligation to him, for the most considerable part of the passages relating tô this life, which I have here transmitted to the publick; his veneration for the memory of Shakspeare having engaged him to make a journey into Warwickshire, on purpose to gather up what remains he could of a name for which he had so great a veneration. +

of a name for which he had so great a veneration. ] Mr. Betterton was born in 1635, and had many opportunities of collc&ing information relative to Shakspeare, but unfortunately the age in which he lived was not an age of curiosity. VOL. 1,



[ocr errors]

To the foregoing Accounts of SHAKSPEARE'S LIFE, I

have only one Pasage to add, which Mr. Pope re

lated, as communicated to him by Mr. Rowe. IN

N the time of Elizabeth, coaches being yet uncommon, and hired coaches not at all in use, those who were too proud, too tender, or too idle to walk, went on horseback to any distant business or diverfion.

Many came on horseback to the play,' and when Shakspeare fled to London from the terror of a criminal prosecution, his first expedient was to wait at the door of the playhouse, and hold the horses of those that had no fervants, that they might be ready again after the perform

In this office he became so conspicuous for his care and readiness, that in a short time every man as he alighted called for Will. Shakspeare, and scarcely any other waiter was trusted with a horse


Had either he or Dryden or Sir William D'Avenant taken the trouble to visit our poet's youngest daughter, who lived till 1662, or his grand-daughter, who did not die till 1670, many particulars might have been preferved which are now irrecoverably loft. Shakspeare's filter, Joan Hart, who was only five years younger than him, died at Stratford in Nov. 1646, at the age of seventy-fix; and from her undoubtedly his two daughters, and his grand-daughter Lady Barnard, had learned feveral circumstances of his early history antecedens year

1600. MALONE. This Account of the Life of Shakspeare is printed from Mr. Rowe's second edition, in which it had been abridged and altered by himself after its appearance in 1709. STEEVENS.

5- Many came on horseback to the play, ) Plays were at this time performed in the afternoon. "The pollicie of plaies is very necessary, howsoever fome shallow-brained censurers (not the deepest fearchers into the secrets of government) mightily oppugne them. For whereas the afternoon being the

to the

while Will. Shakspeare could be had. This was the first dawn of better fortune. Shakspeare, finding more horses put into his hand than he could hold, hired boys to wait under his inspection, who, when Will. Shakspeare was summoned, were immediately to present themselves, I am Shakspeare's boy, Sir.

In time Shakfpeare found higher employment: but as long as the practice of riding to the playhouse continued, the waiters that held the horses retained the appellation of, Shakspeare's boys.6 JOHNSON.


idlest time of the day wherein men that are their own masters (as gentlemen of the court, the innes of the court; and a number of captains and foldiers about London) do wholly bestow themselves upon pleasure, and that.pleafure they divide (how virtuously it skills not) either in gaming, following of harlots, drinking, or seeing a play, is it not better (fince of four extreames all the world cannot keepe them but they will choose one) that they should betake them to the least, which is plaies?” Nash's Pierce Pennilele his Supplication to the Dea vil, 1592. STEEVENS.

the waiters that held the horses reained the appellatiort of Shakspeare's boys. ] I cannot dismiss this anecdote without observing that it seems to want every mark of probability. Though Shakspeare quitted Stratford on account of a juvenile irregularity, we have no reason to suppose that he had forfeited the protection of his father who was engaged in a lucrative buGness, or the love of his wife who had already brought him two children, and was herself the daughter of a fubftantial yeoman.

It is unlikely therefore, when he was beyond the reach of his profecutor, that he should conceal his plan of life, or place of residence, from those who, if he found himself distressed, could not fail to afford. him such fupplies as would have fet him above the necessity of holding horses for fubsistence. Mr. Malone has remarked in his Attempt to ascertain the Order in which the Plays of ShakSpeare mere written, that he might have found an easy introduction to the stage; for Thomas Green, a celebrated

« PreviousContinue »