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THE APOTHEOSIS OF SHAKSPEARE.
Were a monument to be raised to the most celebrated of English poets, like that which antiquity has already erected to Homer in Scio and Smyrna, the inspired pencil of Retzsch should indicate the plan, and the apotheosis which precedes his allegorical work should figure as its pediment...
rejoices in bearing him above the clouds, and in transporting him towards those regions of glory, where in a circle already are assembled, half visible, those sublime bards Homer, AEschylus, Ossian, etc. The book open on the knees of the poet contains the celestial fruits of his sacred inspiration. Two The eagle with extended wings, the two divi- noble and benignant muses, in the air and on either nities which accompany it and may be said to side of him, sustain above his head the crown of impersonify the Thames and the Avon, rivers of Eng- mortality; one of them surrounded with floating land, similar to the Meander and Ilissus; the con- draperies, represents the melancholy Melpomene. templative attitude of the poet and the genii near The tragic mask that covers half her forehead, renhim, call to mind that beautiful composition whichders the expression of her downcast eyes more ornaments a precious curiosity, in the cabinet of grave and solemn; she bears the sword with which antiquities, belonging to the king of Naples, and in Hamlet she plays so terrible a part. The other, formerly perhaps among the bas-reliefs of a cele- light and gay, has thrown back her comic mask; brated temple. the pastoral crook announces the laughing Thalia, The eagle, ith which the german artist has de- and characterises her rustic origin. In fine, the signed the symbol of the apotheosis, supports the two genii, emblematic perhaps of fame, in being throne and the feet of the poet; its eyes are turn-attached to the supporters of his throne, complete ed towards him with affection, and express how the symbolic group. light the burthen is that it supports, how much it
It would have been a glorious triumph for the artist | if the 17 designs composing this collection could have been given without explanations, and if in each of them the feeling, which is extended through the whole of the subject, could have been readily discovered; but this difficulty is too great entirely to overcome. However the affixed plate must perhaps be considered as an expressive and ingenious introduction to the forth-coming, since the fratricide and the manner in which the murder was perpetrated form its subject.
It is worthy of remark that when Retzsch conceived the first outline of this sketch, he had not seen, the picturesque work that Thurston had consecrated to the genius of Shakspeare, and which had been engraved on wood by the accomplished Thompson; and yet the two artists were inspired by the same subject, but with this difference, that Thurston has given it in a manner purely symbolical, and Retzsch in his illustration has put all the allegory into the accessories.
The secret murder appears before our eyes as the ghost relates it to Hamlet. Claudius, perfidiously
profiting of his brother's sleep, pours into his ear the poisonous juice of hen-bane, which, according to the received belief in those times of ignorance, was mortal, and he places at the same time his daring hand upon the royal crown. The scene is not taking place in an orchard, according to the poet, but under the portico of a gothic building, through the opening of which the trees of the garden may be perceived. This slight variation from the text has allowed the artist to surround his group with emblematic objects which heighten the general effect. For instance, the form and decoration of the seat, on which the monarch overcome by sleep has placed his crown, is not without a meaning in giving it the feet of a lion for its suppo and the head of an angel as an ornament, the artist had in view the idea of representing, strength and mildness, virtues upon which the power and the might of all kingdoms are sustained. The entrance of the gothic arch presents us with a singular object, it is the face of an old man, whose beard and long hairs fall negligently upon his breast. The sunken eyes of his austere face are fixed upon the action
which the murderer is committing, implying, according to the idea of the artist, that walls, as the ancient proverb says, have eyes as well as ears, and, therefore, that the most secret crime can never ultimately escape punishment. The imposing statue of the inflexible Nemesis, placed in a niche behind, confirms the truth of this idea, whilst her attributhe sword lifted over the murderer, the
pair of scales which weigh the actions of the dead, and the penetrating eye of justice which adorns the bosom of the goddess are conclusive; the serpent that she treads under her feet, calls to mind the words of the ghost:
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