Imágenes de páginas

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 present ftage, it cannot but be a matter of great wonder that he should advance dramatick poetry fo far as he did. The fable is what is generally placed the first among thofe that are reckoned the contituent 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 course of the whole; and with the fable ought to be considered 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 feveral faults he was guilty of in it. His tales were feldom invented, but rather taken either from true hiftory, or novels and romances and he commonly made ufe of them in that order, with thofe incidents, and that extent of time in which he found them in the authors from whence he borrowed them. Almost all his hiftorical plays comprehend a great length of time, and very different and diftin& places and in his Antony and Cleopatra, the fccne travels over the greatest part of the Roman empire. But in recompence for his careleffnefs 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 Shewn by the poet, he may be generally justified, and in very many places greatly commended. For thofe plays which he has taken from the English or Roman hiftory, let any man compare them, and he will find the character as exa 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 story; one finds him ftill defcribed with fimplicity, paffive fanctity, want of courage, weakness of mind, and eaty fubmiffion to the gover


nance of an imperious wife, or prevailing faction: though at the fame time the poet does juftice to his good qualities, and moves the pity of his audience for him, by fhewing 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 but think admirable in its kind. Cardinal Beaufort, who had murdered the Duke of Gloucefter, is fhewn in the last agonies on his death-bed, with the good king praying over him. There is fo much terror in one, fo much tendernefs and moving piety in the other, as muft touch any one who is capable either of fear or pity. In his Henry the Eighth, that prince is drawn with that greatnefs of mind, and all thofe good qualities which are attributed to him in any account of his reign. If his faults are not fhewn in an equal degree, and the fhades in this picture do not bear a juft proportion to the lights, it is not that the artist 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 refpect to the memory of his miftrefs, to have expofed fome certain parts of her father's life upon the stage. He has dealt much more freely with the minister of that great king, and certainly nothing was ever more juftly written than the character of Cardinal Wolfey He has fhewn him infolent in his profperity; and yet, by a wonderful address, he makes his fall and ruin the fubject of general compaffion. The whole man, with his vices and virtucs, is finely and exactly defcribed in the second scene of the fourth act. The diftreffes likewife of Queen Catharine, in this play, are very movingly touched; and though the art of the poet has fcreened King Henry from any grofs imputation of injuftice, yet one is inclined to with the Queen had met with a fortune more worthy of her birth and virtue. Nor are the manners, proper to the perfons reprefented, lefs juftly obferved, in thofe 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 philofophical temper of Brutus, and the irregular greatness of mind in M. Antony, are beautiful proofs. For the two laft efpecially, you find them exactly as they are described 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 moft 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 unreafonable feuds and animofities that had been fo long kept up between them, and occationed the effufion of fo much blood. In the management of this story, he has fhewn fomething wonderfully tender and paffionate in the love-part, and very pitiful in. the distress. 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 hufbands, 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 fhocking in the manners he has given that Princefs and Oreftes in the latter part. Orettes imbrues his hands in the blood of his own mother; and that barbarous action is performed, though not immediately upon the ftage, yet fo fe near, that the audience hear Clytemneftra crying out to Egyfthus for help, and to her fon for mercy: while Elec tra her daughter, and a Princefs (both of them characters that ought to have appeared with more decency) ftands' upon the stage, and encourages her brother in the parti

What horror does this not raife! Clytemneftra was a wicked woman, and had deferved to die; nay, in the truth of the ftory, the 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 Shakfpeare. Hamlet is reprefented with the fame piety towards his father, and refolution to revenge his death, as Oreftes; he has the fame abhorrence for his mother's guilt, which, to provoke him the inore, is heightened by inceft: But it is with wonderful art and juftnefs of judgment, that VOL. I.



the poet restrains 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 vengeance :

But how foever thou purfu'ft this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy foul contrive
Againft thy mother aught; leave her to heav'n,
And to thofe thorns that in her bofom lodge,
To prick and fiting 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 tragedy of Macbeth, but more especially the scene. where the King is murdered, in the second act, as well as this play, is a noble proof of that manly fpirit with which he writ; and both fhew how powerful he was, in giving the strongest motions to our fouls that they are capable of. I cannot leave Hamlet, without taking notice of the advantage with which we have feen this mafter-piece of Shakspeare diftinguish itself upon the ftage, by Mr. Betterton's fine performance of that part; a man, who, though he had no other good qualities, as he has a great many, muft have made his way into the esteem of all men of letters, by this only excellency. No man is better acquainted with Shakspeare's manner of expreffion, and indeed he has ftudied him fo well, and is fo much a mafter of him, that whatever part of his he performs, he does it as if it had been written on purpofe for him, and that the author had exactly conceived it as he plays it. I must own a particular obligation to him, for the most confiderable part of the pallages relating to this life, which I have here tranfmitted to the publick; his veneration for the memory of Shakspeare having engaged him to make a journey into Warwickshire, on purpose to gather up what remains he could, of a name for which he had fo great a veneration *.

*This Account of the Life of Shakspeare is printed from Mr. Rowe's fecond edition, in which it had been abridged and al wered by himfelf after its appearance in 1709. STEEVENS.


The following Inftrument was tranfmitted by John Anftis, Efq. Garter King at Arms: It is mark'd G. 13. P. 349.

There is alfo a Manufcript in the Herald's Office*, mark’¿ W. 2. p. 276; where Notice is taken of this Coat; and that the Perfon, to whom it was granted, had borne Magistracy at Stratford upon Avon.]

[ocr errors]

O all and fingular noble and gentlemen of all eftates and degrees, bearing arms, to whom thefe prefents Thall come; William Dethick, Garter Principal King of Arms of England, and William Camden, alias Clarencieulx, King of Arms for the foutli, eaft, and weft parts of this realm, fend greetings. Know ye, that in all nations and kingdoms the record and remembrance of the valiant facts and virtuous difpofitions of worthy men have been made known and divulged by certain fhields of arms and tokens of chivalrie; the grant or teftimony whereof ap-. pertaineth unto us, by virtue of our offices from the Queen's moft Excellent Majefty, and her Highnefs's most noble and victorious progenitors: wherefore being folicited, and by credible report informed, that John Shakespeare, now of Stratford upon Avon, in the county of Warwick, gentleman, whofe great grandfather, for his faithful and approved fervice to the late moft prudent prince, king Henry VII. of famous memory, was advanced and rewarded with lands and tenements, given to him in thofe parts of Warwickshire, where they have continued by fomne defcents in good reputation and credit; and for that the faid John Shakespeare having married the daughter and one of the heirs of Robert Arden of Wellingcote, in the faid county, and alfo produced this his ancient coat of arms, heretofore affigned to him whilft he was her majefty's officer and bailiff of that town. In confideration of the premises, and for the encouragement of h.s pofterity, unto whom fuch blazon of arms and atchievements of inheri tance from their faid mother, by the ancient custom and

In the Herald's Office are the first draughts of John Shakefpeare's grant or confirmation of arms, by William Dethick, Garter Principal King at Arms, 1596. See Vincent's Preis, vol. 257, N° 23, and Ño 24, STEEVENS.

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinuar »