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elevation of the views of a state-of a people.
of a people. Happy for England that she possesses a poet who so many years since has spoken to her people as the highest and most splendid teacher! The full consequences of his teaching have not yet been sufficiently revealed; they may perhaps never wholly be exhibited. We, however, know that in England a praiseworthy zeal for their country's history prevails amongst the people. But who first gave true life to that history?"
In the three great dramas that are before us, the idea, not personified, but full of a life that animates and forms every scene, is ROME. Some one said that Chantrey's bust of a great living poet was more like than the poet himself. Shakspeare's Rome, we venture to think, is more like than the Rome of the Romans. It is the idealized Rome, true indeed to her every-day features, but embodying that expression of character which belongs to the universal rather than the accidental. And yet how varied is the idea of Rome which the poet presents to us in these three great mirrors of her history! In the young Rome of Coriolanus we see the terrible energy of her rising ambition checked and overpowered by the factious violence of her contending classes. We know that the prayer of Coriolanus is a vain prayer :
- The honored gods
In the matured Rome of Julius Cæsar we see her riches and her glories about to be swallowed up in a domestic conflict of principles :
" Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods !
In the slightly older Rome of Antony, her power, her magnificence, are ready to perish in the selfishness of individuals :
« Let Rome in Tiber melt! and the wide arch
uncommon art :
Rome was saved from anarchy by the supremacy of one. Shakspeare did not live to make the Cæsars inore immortal.
Schlegel has observed that "these plays are the very thing itself; and under the apparent artlessness of adhering closely to history as he [Shakspeare] found it, an uncommon degree of art is concealed." In our edition of these plays we have given, with great fulness, the passages from Plutarch, as translated by North, which the poet followed — sometimes even to the literal adoption of the biographer's words. This is the "apparent artlessness.” But Schlegel has also shown us the principles of the " "Of every historical transaction Shakspeare knows how to seize the true poetical point of view, and to give unity and rounding to a series of events detached from the immeasurable extent of history, without in any degree changing them."
But he adopts the literal only when it enters into "the true poetical point of view;" and is, therefore, in harmony with the general poetical truth, which in many subordinate particulars necessarily discards all pretension of "adhering closely to history.” Jonson has left us two Roman plays produced essentially upon a different principle. In his “Sejanus" there is scarcely a speech or an incident that is not derived from the ancient authorities; and Jonson's own edition of the play is crowded with references as minute as would have been required from any modern annalist. In his Address to the Readers he says, “Lest in some nice nostril the quotations might savor affected, I do let you know that I abhor nothing more ; and I have only done it to show my integrity in the story." The character of the dramatist's mind, as well as the
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abundance of his learning, determined this mode of proceeding; but it is evident that he worked upon a false principle of art. His characters are, therefore, puppets carved and stuffed according to the descriptions, and made to speak according to the very words, of Tacitus and Suetonius; but they are not living men. It is the same in his 66 Catiline." Cicero is the great actor in that play ; and he moves as Sallust, corrected by other authorities, made him move; and speaks as he spoke himself in his own orations. Jonson gives the whole of Cicero's first oration against Catiline, in a translation amounting to some three hundred lines. It may be asked, what can we have that may better present Cicero to us than the descriptions of the Roman historians, and Cicero's own words? We answer, six lines of Shakspeare, not found in the books :
“ The angry spot doth glow on Cæsar's brow,
And all the rest look like a chidden train.
Gifford, speaking of Jonson's two Roman tragedies, says, “He has apparently succeeded in his principal object, which was to exhibit the characters of the drama to the spectators of his days precisely as they appeared to those of their own. The plan was scholastic, but it was not jndicious. The difference between the dramatis persone and the spectators was too wide; and the very accuracy to which he aspired would seem to take away much of the power of pleasing. Had he drawn men instead of Romans, his success might have been more assured." * We presume to think that there is here a slight confusion of terms. If Jonson had succeeded in his principal object, and had exhibited his characters precisely as they appeared
in their own days, his representation would have been the truth. But he has drawn, according to this intelligent critic, Romans instead of men, and therefore his success was not perfectly assured. Not drawing men, he did not draw his characters as they appeared in their own days; but as he pieced out their supposed appearance from incidental descriptions or formal characterizations - from party historians or prejudiced rhetoricians. If he had drawn Romans as they were, he would have drawn men as they were. They were not the less men because they were Romans. He failed to draw the men, principally on account of the limited range of his imaginative power ; he copied instead of created. He repeated, says Gifford, "the ideas, the language, the allusions," which “could only be readily caught by the contemporaries of Augustus and Tiberius.”
He gave us, partly on this account, also, shadows of life, instead of the “living features of an age so distant from our own," as his biographer yet thinks he gave. Shakspeare worked upon different principles, and certainly with a different success.
The leading idea of Coriolanus — the pivot upon which all the action turns the key to the bitterness of factious hatred which runs through the whole drama -- is the contest for power between the patricians and plebeians. This is a broad principle, assuming various modifications in various states of society, but very slightly varied in its foundations and its results. He that truly works out the exhibition of this principle must paint men, let the scene be the Rome of the first Tribunes, or the Venice of the last Doges. With the very slightest changes of accessaries, the principle stands for the contests between aristocracy and democracy, in any country or in any age - under a republic or a monarchy — in England under Queen Victoria, in the United States under President Tyler. The historical truth, and the philosophical principle, which Shakspeare has embodied in Coriolanus are universal. But suppose he had possessed the means of treating the subject with what
some would call historical accuracy; had learnt that Plutarch, in the story of Coriolanus, was probably dealing only with a legend; that, if the story is to be received as true, it belongs to a later period ; that in this later period there were very nice shades of difference between the classes composing the population of Rome; that the balance of power was a much more complex thing than he found in the narrative of Plutarch : further suppose that, proud of this learning, he had made the universal principle of the plebeian and patrician hostility subsidiary to an exact display of it, according to the conjectures which modern industry and acuteness have brought to bear on the subject. It is evident, we think, that he would have been betrayed into a false principle of art; and would necessarily have drawn Roman shadows, instead of vital and enduring men. As it is, he has drawn men so vividly -under such permanent relations to each other — with such universal manifestations of character, that some persons of strong political feelings have been ready to complain, according to their several creeds, either that his plebeians are too brutal, or his patricians too haughty. A polite democracy, a humane oligarchy, would be better. Johnson somewhat rejoices in the amusing exhibition of "plebeian malignity and tribunitian insolence.” Hazlitt, who is more than half angry on the other side of the question, says, " The whole dramatic moral of Coriolanus is, that those who have little shall have less, and that those who have much shall take all that others have left." Let
With his accustomed consummate judgment in his opening scenes, Shakspeare throws us at once into the centre of the contending classes of early Rome. We have no description of the nature of the factions; we behold them:
61 Cit. You are all resolved rather to die than to famish.
Cit. Resolved, resolved !