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Shakespeare. We have no low buffoonery in the former, such as disgraces Enobarbus, and is hardly redeemed by his affecting catastrophe. Even the Egyptian Alexas acquires some respectability, from his patriotic attachment to the interests of his country, and from his skill as a wily courtier. He expresses, by a beautiful image, the effeminate attachment to life, appropriated to his character and country:
O, that I less could fear to lose this being,
The Octavia of Dryden is a much more important personage than in the " Antony and Cleopatra" of Shakespeare. She is, however, more cold and unamiable; for, in the very short scenes in which the Octavia of Shakespeare appears, she is placed in rather an interesting point of view. But Dryden has himself informed us, that he was apprehensive the justice of a wife's claim upon her husband would draw the audience to her side, and lessen their interest in the lover and the mistress. He seems accordingly to have studiedly lowered the character of the injured Octavia, who, in her conduct towards her husband, shews much duty and little love ; and plainly intimates, that her rectitude of conduct flows from a due regard to her own reputation, rather than from attachment to Antony's person, or sympathy with him in his misfortunes. It happens, therefore, with Octavia, as with all other very good selfish kind of people; we think it unnecessary to feel any thing for her, as she is obviously capable of taking very good care of herself. I must not omit, that her scolding scene with čleopatra, although anxiously justified by the author in the preface, seems too coarse to be in character, and is a glaring exception to the general good taste evinced throughout the rest of the piece.
It would be too long a task to contrast the beauties of these two great poets in point of diction and style. But the reader will doubtless be pleased to compare the noted descriptions of the voyage of Cleopatra down the Cydnus. It is thus given in Shakespeare :
The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
O'er-picturing that Venus, where we see
Antony and Cleopatra, Act i. Scene 2
The parallel passage in Dryden runs thus :
The tackling silk, the streamers waved with gold,
Dola. No more: I would not hear it.
Ant. 0, you must !
In judging betwixt these celebrated passages, we feel almost afraid to avow a preference of Dryden, founded partly upon the easy flow of the verse, which seems to soften with the subject, but chiefly upon the beauty of the language and imagery, which is flowery
without diffusiveness, and rapturous without hyperbole. I fear Shakespeare cannot be exculpated from the latter fault; yet I am sensible, it is by sifting his beauties from his conceits that his imitator has been enabled to excel him.
It is impossible to bestow too much praise on the beautiful passages which occur so frequently in “ All for Love." Having already given several examples of happy expression of melancholy and tender feelings, I content myself with extracting the sublime and terrific description of an omen presaging the downfall of Egypt.
Serap. Last night, between the hours of twelve and one,
Having quoted so many passages of exquisite poetry, and having set this play in no unequal opposition to that of Shakespeare, it is, perhaps, unnecessary to mention by what other poets the same subject has been treated. Daniel, Mary Countess of Pembroke, May, and Sir Charles Sedley, each produced a play on the fortunes of Antony. Of these pieces I have never read the three former, and will assuredly never read the last a second time.
Lest any reader should have anticipated better things of “ Sedley's noble muse,” the Lisideius of our author's dialogue on dramatic poetry, I subjoin a specimen, taken at hazard :
Gape, hell, and to thy dismal bottom take
“ All for Love," as the most laboured performance of our author, received the full tribute of applause and popularity which had often graced his less perfect and more hurried performances. Davies gives us the following account of its first representation.
“ In Dryden's All for Love,' Booth's dignified action and forcible elocution, in the part of Antony, attracted the public to that heavy, though, in many parts, well written play, six nights successively, without the assistance of pantomime, or farce, which, at that time, was esteemed something extraordinary.-But, indeed, he was well supported by an Oldfield, in his Cleopatra, who, to a most harmonious and powerful voice and fine person, added grace and elegance of gesture. When Booth and Oldfield met in the second act, their dignity of deportment commanded the applause and approbation of the most judicious critics. When Antony said to Cleopatra,
You promised me your silence, and you break it
this check was so well understood by Oldfield, and answered with such propriety of behaviour, that, in Shakespeare's phrase, her. bendings were adornings.'
“ The elder Mills acted Ventidius with the true spirit of a rough and generous old soldier. To render the play as acceptable to the public as possible, Wilkes took the trifling part of Dolabella, nor did Colley Cibber disdain to appear in Alexas. These parts would scarcely be accepted now by third-rate actors. Still to add more weight to the performance, Octavia was a short charac
Some ran to Cæsar, like a headlong tide,
“ This passion, with the death of a dear friend, would go nigh to make one sad;" yet some of the authors of the day held a very different doctrine. Shad. well, in his dedication to “ A true Widow," tells Sedley, “ You have in that Mulberry Garden shewn the true wit, humour, and satire of a comedy; and, in Antony and Cleopatra, the true spirit of a tragedy ; the only one, except two of Jonson's and one of Shakespeare's, wherein Romans are made to speak and do like Romans. There are to be found the true characters of Antony and Cleopatra, as they were ; whereas a French author would have made the Egyptian and Roman both become French under his pen. And even our English authors are too much given to make history (in these plays) romantic and impossible ; but, in this play, the Romans are true Romans, and their style is such ; and I dare affirm, that there is not in any play of this age so much of the spirit of the classic authors, as in your Antony and Cleopatra.” I cannot help suspecting that much of this hyperbolical praise of Sedley was obliquely designed to mortify Dryden.
ter of a scene or two, in which Mrs Porter drew not only respect, but the more affecting approbation of tears, from the audience. Since that time, All for Love' has gradually sunk into forgetfulness.”
If this last observation be true, it is, under Mr Davies' favour, a striking illustration of the caprice of the public taste. The play of “ All for Love” was first acted and printed in 1678.