« AnteriorContinuar »
Of thought, association, passion, will;
Of matter traced; its virtues, motions, laws;
Leaving the earth at will, he soared to heaven,
Did all that mind assisted most could do;
A deeper lesson this to mortals taught;
73. On Shakspeare.
SHAKSPEARE is a name so interesting, that it would be indecent to pass him without the tribute of admiration. He differs essentially from all other writers. Him we may profess rather to feel than to understand; and it is safer to say, on many occasions, that we are possessed by him, than that we possess him. And no wonder. He scatters the seeds of things, the principles of character and action, with SO cunning a hand, yet with so careless an air, and, master of our feelings, submits himself so little to our judgment, that every thing seems superior. We discern not his course; we see no connection of cause and effect: we are wrapped
in ignorant admiration, and claim no kindred with his abilities. All the incidents, all the parts, look like chance, while we feel, and are sensible, that the whole is design.
His characters not only speak and act in strict conformity to nature, but in strict relation to us: just so much is shown as is requisite, just so much is impressed; he commands every passage to our heads and to our hearts, and moulds us as he pleases; and does it with so much ease, that he never betrays his own exertions. We see these characters act from the mingled motives of passion, reason, interest, and habit, in all their proportions, when they are supposed to know it not themselves; and we are made to acknowledge that their actions and sentiments are, from those motives, the necessary result. He at once blends and distinguishes every thing; every thing is complicated, every thing is plain. I restrai the further expressions of my admiration, lest they should not seem applicable to man; but it is really astonishing, that a mere human being, a part of humanity only, should so perfectly comprehend the whole; and that he should possess such exquisite art, that whilst every woman and every child shall feel the whole effect, his learned editors and commentators should yet so very frequently mistake, or seem ignorant of the cause. A sceptre or a straw is, in his hands, of equal efficacy; he needs no selection; he converts every thing into excellence; nothing is too great, nothing is too base.
Is a character efficient, like Richard? It is every thing we can wish. Is it otherwise, like Hamlet? It is productive of equal admiration. Action produces one mode of excellence, and inaction another: the chronicle, the novel, or the ballad; the king or the beggar; the hero, the madman, the sot, or the fool; it is all one: nothing is worse, nothing is better. The same genius pervades, and is equally admirable in all. Or is a character to be shown in progressive change, and the events of years comprised within the hour? With what a magic hand does he prepare and scatter his spells! The understanding must, in the first place, be subdued; and, lo! how the rooted prejudices of
the child spring up to confound the man! The weird sisters rise, and order is extinguished. The laws of nature give way, and leave nothing in our minds but wildness and horror. No pause is allowed us for reflection; horrid sentiment, furious guilt, and compunction, air-drawn daggers, murders, ghosts, and enchantment shake and possess us wholly. In the mean time, the process is completed. Macbeth changes under our eye; the milk of human kindness is converted into gall: he has "supped full of horrors;" and his "May of life has fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf;" whilst we, the fools of amazement, are insensible to the shifting of place and the lapse of time, and, till the curtain drops, never once wake to the truth of things, or recognize the laws of existence.
Hor. The same, my lord, and your poor servant ever
Ham. Sir, my good friend; I'll change that name with you;
And what make you from Wittemberg, Horatio?
Hor. A truant disposition, good my lord.
Ham. I would not hear your enemy say so;
We'll teach you to drink deep ere you depart.
Hor. My lord, I came to see your father's funeral.
I think it was to see my mother's wedding.
Hor. Indeed, my lord, it followed hard upon.
Ham. Thrift, thrift, Horatio; the funeral baked meats
My father methinks I see my father.
Ham. In my mind's eye, Horatio.
Hor. I saw him once: he was a goodly king.
Hor. My lord, I think I saw him yesternight.
Hor. My lord, the king your father.
Ham. The king my father!
Hor. Season your admiration for a while, With an attent ear; till I deliver,
Upon the witness of these gentlemen,
This marvel to you.
Ham. For Heaven's love, let me hear.
Hor. Two nights together had these gentlemen, Marcellus and Bernardo, on their watch,
In the dead waste and middle of the night,
Been thus encountered: A figure like your father,
Within his truncheon's length; whilst they, distilled
Stand dumb, and speak not to him. This to me
And I with them the third night kept the watch,
Ham. But where was this?
Hor. My lord, upon the platform where we watched
Hor. My lord, I did;
But answer made it none. Yet once methought
Ham. 'Tis very strange.
Hor. As I do live, my honored lord, 'tis true;
Ham. Indeed, indeed, sir, but this troubles me.
Ham. Then saw you not his face?
Hor. O, yes, my lord; he wore his beaver up.
Ham. What, looked he frowningly?
Hor. A countenance more in sorrow than in anger.
Ham. Pale, or red?
Hor. Nay, very pale.
Ham. And fixed his eyes upon you?
Hor. Most constantly.
Ham. I would I had been there!
Hor. It would have much amazed you.
Ham. Very like, very like. Staid it long?
Hor. While one with moderate haste might tell a hundred
Ham. His beard was grizzled?
Hor. It was, as I have seen it in his life,
A sable silvered.
Ham. I'll watch to-night; perchance 'twill walk again. Hor. I warrant 'twill.