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ries, and withal were so sanguine in respect to the future, that the scenes of distress painted by them could never be so heart-rending as those in the English tragedies.
The terror of death was a sentiment, the effects of which, whether from religion or from stoicism, was seldom displayed by the ancients. Shakspeare has represented it in every point of view: he makes us feel that dreadful emotion which chills the blood of him, who, in the full enjoyment of life and health, learns that death awaits him. In the tragedies of Shakspeare, the criminal and the virtuous, infancy and old age, are alike condemned to die, and express every emotion natural to such a situation. What tenderness do we feel, when we hear the complaints of Arthur, a child condemned to death by the order of King John; or when the assassin Tyrrel comes to relate to Richard the Third the peaceful slumber of the children of Edward ? When a hero is painted just going to be deprived of his existence, the grandeur of his character, and the recollection of his achievements, excite the greatest interest; but when men of weak minds, and doomed to an inglorious destiny, are represented as condemned to perish,--such as Henry VI., Richard II., and King Lear,--the great debates of Nature between existence and nonexistence absorb the whole attention of the spectators. Shakspeare knew how to paint with genius that mixture of physical emotions and moral reflections which are inspired by the ap
proach of death, when no intoxicating passion deprives man of his intellectual faculties.
Another sentiment which Shakspeare alone knew how to render theatrical, was pity unmixed with admiration for those who suffer; pity for an insignificant being, and sometimes for a contemptible one.
There must be an infinity of talent to be able to convey this sentiment from real life to the stage, and to preserve it in all its force; but when once it is accomplished, the effect which it produces is more nearly allied to reality than any other. It is for the man alone that we are interested, and not by sentiments which are often but a theatrical romance: it is by a sentiment so nearly approaching the impressions of life, that the illusion is still the greater.
Even when Shakspeare represents personages whose career has been illustrious, he draws the interest of the spectators towards them by sentiments purely natural. The circumstances are grand, but the men differ less from other men than those in the French tragedies." Shakspeare makes you penetrate entirely into the glory which he paints : in listening to him, you pass through all
It is this fidelity to nature, independent of all extrinsic circumstances, which has given to Shakspeare such a decided superiority over all other dramatic writers. Whatever may be the artificialities which surround his characters, we distinctly see, through the veil, the human heart. I would particularly point to the Dramatis Personæ of Troilus and Cressida as a striking proof, among many others, of this excellency.
the different shades and gradations which lead to heroism ; and you arrive at the height without perceiving any thing unnatural.
The national pride of the English, that sentiment displayed in their jealous love of liberty, disposed them much less to enthusiasm for their chiefs than that spirit of chivalry which existed in the French monarchy. In England, they wish to recompense the services of a good citizen; but they have no turn for that unbounded ardour which existed in the habits, the institutions, and the character of the French. That haughty repugnance to unlimited obedience, which at all times characterised the English nation, was probably what inspired their national poet with the idea of assailing the passions of his audience by pity rather than by admiration. The tears which were given by the French to the sublime characters of their tragedies, the English author drew forth for private sufferings; for those who were forsaken; and for such a long list of the unfortunate, that we cannot entirely sympathize with Shakspeare's sufferers without acquiring also some of the bitter experience of real life.
But if he excelled in exciting pity, what energy appeared in his terror! It was from the crime itself that he drew dismay and fear. It may be said of crimes painted by Shakspeare, as the Bible says of Death, that he is the King of TERRORS. How skilfully combined are the remorse and the superspeare, in “
stition which increases with that remorse, in Macbeth.
Witchcraft is in itself much more terrible in its theatrical effect than the most absurd dogmas of religion. That which is unknown, or created by supernatural intelligence, awakens fear and terror to the highest degree. In every religious system, terror is carried only to a certain length, and is always at least founded upon some motive. But the chaos of magic bewilders the mind. Shak
Macbeth,” admits of fatality, which was necessary in order to procure a pardon for the criminal ; but he does not, on account of this fatality, dispense with the philosophical gradations of the sentiments of the mind. This piece would be still more admirable if its grand effects were produced without the aid of the marvellous, although this marvellous consists, as one may say, only of phantoms of the imagination, which are made to appear before the eyes of the spectators. They are not mythological personages bringing their fictitious laws or their uninteresting nature amongst the interests of men : they are the marvellous effects of dreams, when the passions are strongly agitated. There is always something philosophical in the supernatural employed by Shakspeare. When the
. Without this intermixture, which is necessary to give a metaphysical possibility to the interference, the supernatural would degenerate into the puerile. The thrilling terror, which Shakspeare beyond all others knows how to communicate,
witches announce to Macbeth that he is to wear the crown, and when they return to repeat their prediction at the very moment when he is hesitating to follow the bloody counsel of his wife, who cannot see that it is the interior struggle of ambition and virtue which the author meant to represent under those hideous forms?
But he had not recourse to these means in “Richard III.,” and yet he has painted him more criminal still than Macbeth ; but his intention was to pourtray a character without any of those involuntary emotions, without struggles, without remorse; cruel and ferocious as the savage beasts which range the forests, and not as a man who, though at present guilty, had once been virtuous. The deep recesses of crimes were opened to the eyes of Shakspeare, and he descended into the gloomy abyss to observe their torments.
In England, the troubles and civil commotions which preceded their liberty, and which were always occasioned by their spirit of independence, gave rise much oftener than in France to great crimes and great virtues. There are in the English history many more tragical situations than in that of the French ;' and nothing opposes their exercising their talents upon national subjects.
Almost all the literature of Europe began with
depends, in a great measure, upon this skilful blending of the philosophical with the superhuman.
'This can scarcely be said when we recollect the horrors of the late Revolution.