« PreviousContinue »
terrible kind; and why, after its accomplishment, instead of being stigmatized with the name of conspirator and assassin, the decrees of an august senate, and the voice of Rome, unite to place him one of the first on the roll of patriots; and the successor of the murdered Cæsar, who devoted to destruction the most illustrious men of Rome, durst not offer violation to the statue of Brutus !
To create, in the English spectator, the same reverence for him, it is necessary we should be made to imbibe those doctrines, and to adopt those opinions, by which he himself was actuated. We must be in the very capitol of Rome ; stand at the base of Pompey's statue, surrounded by the effigies of their patriots ; we must be taught to adore the images of Junius Brutus, the Horatii, Decii, Fabii, and all who had offered dear and bloody sacrifice to the liberty of their country, in order to see this action in the point of view in which it offered itself to the deliberation of Brutus, and in which it was beheld by those, who judged of it
when done. To the very scene, to the very time, therefore, does our poet transport us : at Rome, we become Romans; we are affected by their manners; we are caught by their enthusiasm. But what a variety of imilations were there to be made by the artist to effect this! and who but Shakspeare was capable of such a task ? A poet of ordinary genius would have endeavoured to interest us for Brutus, by the means of some imagined fond mother, or fonder mistress. But can a few female tears wipe out the stains of assassination ? A base conspirator, a vile assassin, like the wretched Cinna, of Corneille, would Brutus have appeared to us, if the same feeble arts only had been exerted for him. It is for the genuine son of ancient Rome, the lover of the liberty of his country, that we are interested. A concern for him, mixed with compassion for any other person, would only, from these discordant sentiments, have excited some painful emotions in the spectator. Indeed, the common aim of tragedy-writers seems to be merely to make us uneasy, for some reason or other, during the drama. They take any
thing to be tragedy, in which there are great persons, and much lamentation ; but our poet never represents an action of one sort, and raises emotions and passions of another sort. He excites the sympathies, and the concern, proper to the story. The passion of love, or maternal affection, may afford good subjects for a tragedy. In the fables of Phædra and Merope, those sentiments belong to the action ; but they had no share in the resolution taken to kill Cæsar; and, if they
; are made to interfere, they adulterate the imitation; if to predominate, they spoil it. Our author disdains the legerdemain trick of substituting one passion for another. He is the great magician who can call forth passions of any sort. If they are such as time has destroyed, or custom extinguished, he summons from the dead those souls in which they once existed. Having sufficiently enlarged on the general scope of our author in this play, we will now consider it in the detail.
The first scene is in the streets of Rome. The Tribunes chide the people for gathering
together to do honour to Cæsar's triumph. As certain decorums were unknown to the writers of Shakspeare's days, he suffers some poor mechanics to be too loquacious. As it was his business to depress the character of Cæsar, and render his victory over his illustrious rival as odious as possible, he judiciously makes one of the Tribunes thus address himself to the people:
Wherefore rejoice ? what conquest brings he home ?
Made in his concaye shores?
The next speech expresses the general apprehension of Cæsar's assuming too great a degree of power.
Let no images
The second scene is the course at the Lupercal games, in which Antony appears the humble courtier of Cæsar. A soothsayer bids him beware the Ides of March.