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ALL FOR LOVE.
The prologue to the preceding play has already acquainted us, that Dryden's taste for Rhyming, or Heroic Plays, was then upon the wane; and, accordingly, “ Aureng.Zebe” was the last tragedy which he formed upon that once admired model. “ Henceforth a series of new times began,"for, when given up by the only writer, whose command of flowing and powerful numbers had rendered it impressive, that department of the drama was soon abandoned by the inferior class of play-writers, to whom it presented multiplied difficulties, without a singleadvantage. The new taste, which our author had now decidedly adopted, was founded upon
the style of Shakespeare, of whose works he appears always to have been a persevering student, and, at length, an ardent admirer. Accordingly, he informs us, in the introduction, that this play is professedly written in imitation of the divine Shakespeare." As if to bring this more immediately under the eye of the reader, he has chosen a subject upon which his immortal original had already laboured ; and, perhaps, the most proper introduction to “ All for Love,” may be a parallel betwixt it and Shakespeare's “ Antony and Cleopatra.'
The first point of comparison is the general conduct, or plot, of the tragedy. And here Dryden, having, to use his own language, undertaken to shoot in the bow of Ulysses, imitates the wily Antinous in using art to eke out his strength, and suppling the weapon before he attempted to bend it.
Shakespeare, with the licence peculiar to his age and character, had diffused the action of his play over Italy, Greece, and Egypt; but Dryden, who was well aware of the advantage to be derived from a simplicity and concentration of plot, has laid every scene in the city of Alexandria. By this he guarded the audience from that vague and puzzling distraction which must necessarily attend a violent change of place. It is a mistake to suppose, that the argument in favour of the unities depends upon preserving the deception of the scene; they are necessarily connected with the intelligibility of the piece. It may be true, that no spectator supposes that the stage before him is actually the court of Alexandria;
yet, when he has once made up his mind to let it pass as such during the representation, it is a cruel tax, not merely on his imagination, but on his powers of comprehension, if the scene be sudden. ly transferred to a distant country. Time is lost before he can form new associations, and reconcile their bearings with those originally presented to him ; and if he be a person of slow compre-. hension, or happens to lose any part of the dialogue, announcing the changes, the whole becomes unintelligible confusion. In this respect, and in discarding a number of uninteresting characters, the plan of Dryden's play must be unequivocally preferred to that of Shakespeare, in point of coherence, unity, and simplicity. It is a natural consequence of this more artful arrangement of the story, that Dryden contents himself with the concluding scene of Antony's history, instead of introducing the incidents of the war with Cneius Pompey, the negociation with Lepidus, death of his first wife, and other circumstances, which, in Shakespeare, only tend to distract our attention from the main interest of the dra.
The unity of time, as necessary as that of place to the intelligibility of the drama, bas, in like manner, been happily attain. ed ; and an interesting event is placed before the audience with no other change of place, and no greater lapse of time, than can be readily adapted to an ordinary imagination.
But, having given Dryden the praise of superior address in managing the story, I fear he must be pronounced in most other respects inferior to his grand prototype. Antony, the principal character in both plays, is incomparably grander in that of Shakespeare. The majesty and generosity of the military hero are happily expressed by both poets ; but the awful ruin of grandeur, undermined by passion, and tottering to its fall, is far more striking in the Antony of Shakespeare. Love, it is true, is the predominant; but it is not the sole ingredient in his character. It has usurped possession of his mind, but is assailed by his original passions, ambition of power, and thirst for military fame. He is, therefore, often, and it should seem naturally represented, as feeling for the downfall of his glory and power, even so intensely as to withdraw his thoughts from Cleopatra, unless considered as the cause of his ruin. Thus, in the scene in which he compares himself to "black Vesper's pageants,” he runs on in a train of fantastic and melancholy similes, having relation only to his fallen state, till the mention of Egypt suddenly recalls the idea of Cleopatra. But Dryden has taken a different view of Antony's character, and more closely approaching to his title of “ All for Love."-" He seems not now that awful Antony." His whole thoughts and being are dedicated to his fatal passion; and though a spark of resentment is occasionally struck out by the reproaches of Ventidius, he instantly relapses into love-sick melancholy. The following beautiful speech exhibits the romance of despairing love, without the deep
and mingled passion of a dishonoured soldier, and dethroned emperor:
Ant. [ Throwing himself down.] Lie there, thou shadow of an emperor;
Ven. Methinks I fancy
Ant. The herd come jumping by me,
Even when Antony is finally ruined, the power of jealousy is called upon to complete his despair, and he is less sensible to the idea of Cæsar's successful arms, than to the risk of Dolabella's rivalling him in the affections of Cleopatra. It is true, the An. tony of Shakespeare also starts into fury, upon Cleopatra permitting Thyreus to kiss her hand ; but this is not jealousy ; it is pride offended, that she, for whom he had sacrificed his glory and empire, should already begin to court the favour of the conqueror, and vouchsafe her hand to be saluted by a jack of Cæsars." Hence Enobarbus, the witness of the scene, alludes immediately to the fury of mortified ambition and falling power :
'Tis better playing with a lion's whelp,
Having, however, adopted an idea of Antony's character, rather suitable to romance than to nature, or history, we must not deny VOL. V.
Dryden the praise of having exquisitely brought out the picture he intended to draw. He has informed us, that this was the only play written to please himself; and he has certainly exerted in it the full force of his incomparable genius. Antony is throughout the piece what the author meant him to be; a victim to the omnipotence of love, or rather to the infatuation of one engrossing passion.
In the Cleopatra of Dryden, there is greatly less spirit and originality than in Shakespeare's. The preparation of the latter for death has a grandeur which puts to shame the same scene in Dryden, and serves to support the interest during the whole fifth act, although Antony has died in the conclusion of the fourth. No circumstance can more highly evince the power of Shakepeare's genius, in spite of his irregularities ; since the conclusion in Dryden, where both lovers die in the same scene, and after a reconciliation, is infinitely more artful and better adapted to theatrical effect.
In the character of Ventidius, Dryden has filled up, with ability, the rude sketches, which Shakespeare has thrown off in those of Scæva and Eros. The rough old Roman soldier is painted with great truth ; and the quarrel betwixt him and Antony, in the first act, is equal to any single scene that our author ever wrote, excepting, perhaps, that betwixt Sebastian and Dorax; an opinion in which the judgment of the critic coincides with that of the poet. It is a pity, as has often been remarked, that this dialogue occurs so early in the play, since what follows is necessarily infe. rior in force. Dryden, while writing this scene, had unquestionably in his recollection the quarrel betwixt Brutus and Cassius, which was justly so great a favourite in his time, and to which he had referred as inimitable in his prologue to“ Aureng-Zebe.”+
The inferior characters are better supported in Dryden than in
Dryden has himself, in the prologue, alluded to this predominance of sentiment in his hero's character.
His hero, whom you wits his bully call,
+ But, spite of all his pride, a secret shame
Invades his breast at Shakespeare's sacred name :