Page images
PDF
EPUB

But if any one will still say, that Shakspeare intended to reprefent a player unnaturally and fantastically affected, we must appeal to Hamlet, that is, to Shakspeare himself in this matter; who, on the reflection he makes upon the player's emotion, in order to excite his own revenge, gives not the least hint that the player was unnaturally or injudiciously moved. On the contrary, his fine description of the actor's emotion Mows, he thought just other. wise :

- this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of paffion,
Could, force his soul to 10 his own conceit,
That from her working all his visage wan'd:
Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect,

A broken voice, &c. And indeed had Hamlet esteemed this emotion any thing unnatural, it had been a very improper circumstance to spur him to his purpose.

As Shakspeare has here shown the effects which a fine description of nature, heightened with all the ornaments of art, bad upon an intelligent player, whose business habituates him to enter intimately and deeply into the characters of men and manners, and to give nature its free workings on all occasions; fo he has artfully shown what effects the very fame scene would have upon a quite different man, Polonius; by nature, very weak and very artificial (two qualities, though commonly enough joined in life, yet generally fo much disguised as not to be seen by common eyes to be together; and which an ordinary poet durft not have brought so near onc another]; by discipline, practised in a species of wit and cloquence, which was ftiff, forced, and pedantic; and by trade a politician, and therefore, of consequence, without any of the affecting notices of humanity. Such is the man whom Shakspeare has judiciously chosen to represent the false taste of that audience which had condemned the play here reciting. When the actor comes to the finest and most pathetic part of the speech, Polonius cries out This is too long; on which Hamlet, in contempt of his ill judgement, replies, It Mall to the barber's with thy beard; (intimating that, by this judgement, it appeared that all his wildom lay in his length of beard]. Prythee, Jay on. He's for a jig or a tale of bawdry [the common entertainment of that time, as well as this, of the people] or he feeps; say on. And yet this man of modern taste, who stood all this time perfectly unmoved with the forcible imagery of the relator, no sooner hcars, amongst many good things, one quaint and fantastical word, pat in, I suppose, purposely for this end, than he professes his approbation of the propriety and dignity of it. That's good. Mobled queen is good. On the whole then, I think, it plainly appears, that the long quotation is not given to be ridiculed and laughed at, but to be admired. The character given of the play, by Hamlet, cannot be ironical. The passage itself is extremely beautiful. It has the effect that all pathetick relations, naturally written, should have; and it is condemned, or regarded with indifference, by one of a wrong, unnatural taste. From hence (to observe it by the way) the actors, in their representation of this play, may learn how this speech ought to be spoken, and what appearance Hamlet ought to assume during the recital.

That which supports the common opinion, concerning this passage, is the turgid expression in some parts of it; which, they think, could never be given by the poet to be commended. We shall therefore, in the next place, examine the lines moft obnoxious to censure, and see how much, allowing the charge, this will make for the induction of their conclusion :

Pyrrhus a: Priam drives, in rage firikes wide,
But with the whiff and wind of his fell word

The unnerved father falls.
And again,

Out, out, thou flrumpet fortune! All you gods,
In general synod, take away her power:
Break all the spokes and fellies from her wheel,
und bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven,

As low as to the fiends. Now whether these be bombast or not, is not the question; but whether Shakspeare esteemed them so. That he did not fo esteem them appears from his having used the very same thoughts in the fame expressions, in his best plays, and given them to his principal characters, where he aims at the sublime. As in the following passages:

Troilus, in Troilus and Crellida, far outstrains the execution of Pyrrhus's sword in the character he gives of Hector's:

" When many times the caitive Grecians fall
« Even in the fan and wind of your fair sword,

You bid obem rise and live.Cleopatra, in Antony and Cleopatra, rails at fortune in the same manner:

« No, let me speak, and let me rail so high,
“ That the false huswife Fortune break her wheel,

Provok'd at my offence." But another use may be made of these quotations; a discovery of this recited play: which, letting us into a circumstance of our author's life (as a writer) hitherto unknown, was the riafon I have been fo large upon this question. I think then it appears, from what has been said, that the play in dispute was Shakipeare's own; and that this was the occasion of writing it. He was desirous, as foon as he had found his strength, of restoring the chafteness and regularity of the ancient stage: and therefore composed this tragedy on the model of the Greek drama, as may be seen by throwing so much action into relation. But his attempt proved fruitless; and the raw, unnatural taste, then prevalent, forced him back again into his old Gothic manner. For which he took this revenge upon his audience. WARBURTON.

I formerly thought that the lines which have given rise to the foregoing observations, were extracted from some old play, of which it appeared to me probable that Christopher Marlowe was the author; but whatever Shakspeare's view in producing them may have been, I am now decidedly of opinion they were written by himself, not in any former unsuccessful piece, but expressly for the play of Hamlet. It is observable that what Dr. Warburton calls “ the fine fimilitude of the storm," is likewise found in our poet's Venus and Adonis. MALONE.

The praise which Hamlet bestows on this piece is certainly dilo sembled, and agrees very well with the character of madness, which, before witnesses, he thought it necessary to support. The speeches before us have so little merit, that nothing but an affectation of fingularity, could have influenced Dr. Warburton to undertake their defence. The poet, perhaps, meant to exhibit a just resemblance of some of the plays of his own age, in which the faults were too general and too glaring to permit a few splendid passages to atone for them. The player knew his trade, and spoke the lines in an affecting manner, because Hamlet had declared them to be pathetick, or might be in reality a little moved by them; for, “ There are less degrees of nature (says Dryden) by which some faint emotions of pity and terror are raised in us, as a less engine will raise a less proportion of weight, though not so much as one of Archimedes' making." The mind of the prince, it must be confessed, was fitted for the reception of gloomy ideas, and his tears were ready at a Night solicitation. It is by no means proved, that Shakspeare has employed the same thoughts clothed in the same exprillions, in his beft plays. If he bids the false hulwife Fortune break her wheel, he does not desire her to break all its spokes; nay, even its periphery, and make use of the nave afterwards for such an immeasurable cast. Though if what Dr. Warburton has said should be found in any instance to be exactly true, what can we infer from thence, but that Shakspeare was sometimes wrong in spite of conviction, and in the hurry of writing committed those very faults which his judgement could detect in others ? Dr. Warburton is inconsistent in his affertions concerning the literature of Shakspeare. In a note on Troilus and Cressida, he affirms, that his want of learning kept him from being acquainted with the writings of Homer; and, in this inftance, would suppose him capable of producing a complete tragedy wrillex on the ancient rules; and that the speech before us had sufficient merit. to entitle it to a place in the second book of Virgil's Æneid, even though the work had been carried to that perfection which the Roman foet had conceived,

Had Shakspeare made öne unsuccessful attempt in the manner of the ancients (that he had any knowledge of their rules, remains to be proved,) it would certainly have been recorded by contemporary writers, among whom Ben Jonson would have been the first. Had his darling ancients been unskilfully imitated by a rival poet, he would at least have preserved the memory of the fact, to show how unsafe it was for any one, who was not as thorough a scholar as himself, to have meddled with their facred remains.

« Within that circle none durst walk but he.” He has repre. sented Inigo Jones as being ignorant of the very names of those claffick authors, whose architecture he undertook to correct; in his Poetafter he has in several places hinted at our poet's injudicious use of words, and seems to have pointed his ridicule more than once at some of his descriptions and characters. It is true that he has praised him, but it was not while that praise could have been of any service to him; and posthumous applause is always to be had on easy conditions. Happy it was for Shakspeare, that he took nature for his guide, and, engaged in the warm pursuit of her beauties, left to Jonson the repositories of learning : fo has he escaped a con, test which might have rendered his life uneasy, and bequeathed to our poffeffion the more valuable copies from nature herself: for Shakspeare was (says Dr. Hurd, in his notes on Horace's Art of Poetry) “ the first that broke through the bondage of classical fuperftition. And he owed this felicity, as he did some others, to his want of what is called the advantage of a leamed education. Thus uninfluenced by the weight of early prepossession, he struck at once into the road of nature and common sense: and without defigning, without knowing it, hath left us in his historical plays, with all their anomalies, an exacter resemblance of the Athenian stage than is any where to be found in its most professed admirers and copyifts.” Again, ibid: “It is poflible, there are, who think a want of reading, as well as vast superiority of genius, hath con

• It appears to me not only that Shakspeare had the favourable opinion of these lines which he makes Hamlet express, but that they were extracted from some play which he, at a more early period, had either produced or projected upon the story of Dido and Æneas. The verses recited are far superior to those of any coeval writer : the parallel passage in Marlowe and Nashe's Dido will not bear the comparison. Possibly, indeed, it might have been his first attempt, before the dwinity sbat loded wir bin bin had instructed him to defpife the tumid and unnatural ityle so much and to unjustly admired in his predecessors or contemporaries, and which he afterward fo happily ridiculed in the swaggering vaine of Ancient Pistol." RITSON. VOL. XV.

Bb

tributed to lift this astonishing man, to the glory of being esteemed the most original THINKER and SPEAKER, fince the times of Homer."

To this extract I may add the sentiments of Dr. Edward Young on the fame occasion. “ Who knows whether Shakspeare might not have thought less, if he had read more? Who knows if he might not have laboured under the load of Jonson's learning, as Enceladus under Ætna ? His mighty genius, indeed, through the most mountainous oppression would have breathed out some of his inextinguishable fire; yet possibly, he might not have risen up into that giant, that much more than common man, at which we now gaze with amazement and delight. Perhaps he was as learned as his dramatick province required; for whatever other learning be wanted, he was master of two books, which the last conflagration alone can destroy ; the book of nature, and that of man. These he had by heart, and has transcribed many admirable pages of them into his immortal works. These are the fountain-head, whence the Castalian streams of original composition flow; and these are often mudded by other waters, though waters in their distinct channel, most wholesome and pure; as two chemical liquors, separately clear as crystal, grow foul by mixture, and offend the fight. So that he had not only as much learning as his dramatick province required, but, perhaps as it could safely bear. If Milton had spared some of his learning, his muse would have gained more glory than he would have lost by it."

Conje&tures on Original Composition. The first remark of Voltaire on this tragedy, is that the former king had been poisoned by his brother and his queen. The guilt of the latter, however, is far from being ascertained. The Ghost forbears to accuse her as an accessary, and very forcibly recommends her to the mercy of her son. I may add, that her conscience appears undisturbed during the exhibition of the mock tragedy, which produces so visible a disorder in her husband who was really criminal. The last observation of the same author has no greater degree of veracity to boast of; for now, says he, all the actors in the piece are swept away, and one Monsieur Fortenbras is introduced to conclude it. Can this be true, when Horatio, Ofrick, Voltimand, and Cornelius survive? These, together with the whole court of Denmark, are supposed to be present at the cacaf. trophe, so that we are not indebted to the Norwegian chief for having kept the itage from vacancy.

Monsieur de Voltaire has since transmitted, in an epistle to the Academy of Belles Lettres, some remarks on the late French trans. lation of Shakspeare ; but, alas! no traces of genius or vigour are discoverable in this crambe repetita, which is notorious only for ita insipidity, fallacy, and malice. It serves indeed to show an appa.

« PreviousContinue »