Imágenes de páginas

notice, among the tragedies of Mr. Shakspeare. If one undertook to examine the greatest part of these by thofe rules which are established by Ariftotle, and taken from the model of the Grecian ftage, it would be no very hard task to find a great many faults; but as Shakspeare lived under a kind of mere light of nature, and had never been made acquainted with the regularity of those written precepts, fo it would be hard to judge him by a law he knew nothing of. We are to confider him as a man that lived in a state of almoft univerfal licence and ignorance: there was no established judge, but every one took the liberty to write according to the dictates of his own fancy. When one confiders, that there is not one play before him of a reputation good enough to entitle it to an appearance on the prefent ftage, it cannot but be a matter of great wonder that he fhould advance dramatick poetry fo far as he did. The fable is what is generally placed the first, among those that are reckoned the conftituent parts of a tragick or heroick poem; 'not, perhaps, as it is the most difficult or beautiful, but as it is the first properly to be thought of in the contrivance and courfe of the whole; and with the fable ought to be confidered the fit difpofition, order, and conduct of its feveral parts. As it is not in this province of the drama that the ftrength and maftery of Shakspeare lay, fo I fhall not undertake the tedious and ill-natured trouble to point out the several faults he was guilty of in it. His tales were seldom invented, but rather taken either from the true hiftory, or novels and romances: and he commonly made ufe of them in that order, with those incidents, and that extent of time in which he found them in the authors from whence he borrowed them. So The Winter's Tale,

which is taken from an old book, called The Delectable Hiftory of Doraftus and Fawnia, contains the fpace of fixteen or seventeen years, and the scene is fometimes laid in Bohemia, and fometimes in Sicily, according to the original order of the story. Álmost all his hiftorical plays comprehend a great length of time, and very different and diftinct places: and in his Antony and Cleopatra, the scene travels over the greatest part of the Roman empire. But in recompence for his carelessnefs in this point, when he comes to another part of the drama, the manners of his characters, in acting or speaking what is proper for them, and fit to be shown by the poet, he may be generally juftified, and in very many places greatly commended. For those plays which he has taken from the English or Roman hiftory, let any man compare them, and he will find the character as exact in the poet as the hiftorian. He feems indeed fo far from propofing to himself any one action for a fubject, that the title very often tells you, it is The Life of King John, King Richard, &c. What can be more agreeable to the idea our hiftorians give of Henry the Sixth, than the picture Shakspeare has drawn of him? His manners are every where exactly the fame with the ftory; one finds him ftill defcribed with fimplicity, paffive fanctity, want of courage, weakness of mind, and eafy fubmiffion to the governance of an imperious wife, or prevailing faction though at the fame time the poet does justice to his good qualities, and moves the pity of his audience for him, by fhowing him pious, difinterested, a contemner of the things of this world, and wholly refigned to the fevereft difpenfations of God's providence. There is a fhort fcene in The Second Part of Henry the Sixth, which I cannot think but admirable in its kind. Cardinal Beaufort,

who had murdered the Duke of Gloucefter, is fhown in the last agonies on his death-bed, with the good king praying over him. There is fo much terror in one, fo much tenderness and moving piety in the other, as must touch any one who is capable either of fear or pity. In his Henry the Eighth, that prince is drawn with that greatness of mind, and all those good qualities which are attributed to him in any account of his reign. If his faults are not shown in an equal degree, and the fhades in this picture do not bear a just proportion to the lights, it is not that the artift wanted either colours or fkill in the difpofition of them; but the truth, I believe, might be, that he forbore doing it out of regard to Queen Elizabeth, fince it could have been no very great respect to the memory of his mistress, to have expofed fome certain parts of her father's life upon the stage. He has dealt much more freely with the minifter of that great king; and certainly nothing was ever more juftly written, than the character of Cardinal Wolfey. He has fhown him infolent in his profperity; and yet, by a wonderful address, he makes his fall and ruin the subject of general compaffion. The whole man, with his vices and virtues, is finely and exactly defcribed in the fecond fcene of the fourth Act. The diftreffes likewise of Queen Katharine, in this play, are very movingly touched; and though the art of the poet has screened King Henry from any grofs imputation of injuftice, yet one is inclined to wifh, the Queen had met with a fortune more worthy of her birth and virtue. Nor are the manners, proper to the perfons represented, lefs juftly obferved, in those characters taken from the Roman hiftory; and of this, the fiercenefs and impatience of Coriolanus, his courage and difdain of the common people, the virtue and philosophical temper of Brutus, and the

irregular greatnefs of mind in M. Antony, are beautiful proofs. For the two laft efpecially, you find them exactly as they are defcribed by Plutarch, from whom certainly Shakspeare copied them. He has indeed followed his original pretty clofe, and taken in feveral little incidents that might have been spared in a play. But, as I hinted before, his defign feems most commonly rather to defcribe thofe great men in the feveral fortunes and accidents of their lives, than to take any fingle great action, and form his work fimply upon that. However, there are fome of his pieces, where the fable is founded upon one action only. Such are more efpecially, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Othello. The defign in Romeo and Juliet is plainly the punishment of their two families, for the unreasonable feuds and animofities that had been fo long kept up between them, and occafioned the effufion of fo much blood. In the management of this story, he has shown something wonderfully tender and paffionate in the love-part, and very pitiful in the diftrefs. Hamlet is founded on much the fame 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 obferved, there is fomething very unnatural and shocking in the manners he has given that princess and Oreftes in the latter part. Oreftes


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

imbrues his hands in the blood of his own mother; and that barbarous action is performed, though not immediately upon the ftage, yet fo near, that the audience hear Clytemneftra crying out to Egyfthus for help, and to her fon for mercy: while Electra her daughter, and a princefs, (both of them characters that ought to have appeared with more decency,) ftands upon the ftage, and encourages her brother in the parricide. What horror does this not raife! Clytemneftra was a wicked woman, and had deserved to die; nay, in the truth of the ftory, fhe was killed by her own fon; but to reprefent an action of this kind on the ftage, is certainly an offence against thofe rules of manners proper to the perfons, that ought to be obferved there. On the contrary, let us only look a little on the conduct of Shakspeare. Hamlet is represented with the fame piety towards his father, and resolution to revenge his death, as Oreftes; he has the fame abhorrence for his mother's guilt, which, to provoke him the more, is heightened by inceft but it is with wonderful art and juftnefs of judgment, that the poet reftrains him from doing violence to his mother. To prevent any thing of that kind, he makes his father's Ghoft forbid that part of his


"But how foever thou purfu'ft this act,

"Taint not thy mind, nor let thy foul contrive
"Against thy mother aught; leave her to heaven,
"And to thofe thorns that in her bofom lodge,
"To prick and fting her."

This is to diftinguish rightly between horror and terror. The latter is a proper paffion of tragedy, but the former ought always to be carefully avoided. And certainly no dramatick writer ever fucceeded better in raifing terror in the minds of an audience than Shakspeare has done. The whole

« AnteriorContinuar »