Page images
PDF
EPUB

of the action, but are merely an harmonious echo of the impressions aimed at by the poet. In this they altogether mistake the rights of poetry, and the nature of the romantic drama, which, for the very reason that it is and ought to be picturesque, requires richer accompaniments and contrasts for its main groupes. In all art and poetry, but more especially in the romantic, the fancy lays claims to be considered as an independent mental power governed according to its own laws.

In an essay on Romeo and Juliet,* written a number of years ago, I went through the whole of the scenes in their order, and demonstrated the inward necessity of each with reference to the whole ; I showed why such a particular circle of

; characters and relations was placed around the two lovers; I explained the signification of the mirth here and there scattered, and justified the use of the occasional heightening given to the poetical colours. From all this it seemed to follow unquestionably, that with the exception of a few plays of wit now become unintelligible or foreign to the present taste, (imitations of the tone of society of that day,) nothing could be taken away, nothing added, nothing otherwise arranged, without mutilating and disfiguring the perfect work. I should be ready to undertake the same thing in

• In the first volume of Charakteristiken und Kritiken, published by my brother and myself.

K

all the pieces of Shakspeare produced in his maturer years, but this would require a separate book.

AUGUSTUS WILLIAM SCHLEGEL.:

• Lectures on Dramatic Literature, vol. 2. p. 123 to p. 128. No. XI.

ON THE METHOD OF SHAKSPEARE.

Those who tread the enchanted ground of poetry oftentimes do not even suspect that there is such a thing as method to guide their steps. Yet even here we undertake to shew that it not only has a necessary existence, but the strictest philosophical application.--It may surprise some of our readers, especially those who have been brought up in schools of foreign taste, to find that we rest our proof of these assertions on one single evidence, and that that evidence is Shakspeare, whose mind they have probably been taught to consider as eminently immethodical. In the first place, Shakspeare was not only endowed with great native genius, (which indeed he is commonly allowed to have been,) but what is less frequently conceded, he had much acquired knowledge. “His information,” says Professor Wilde, “was great and extensive, and his reading as great as his knowledge of languages could reach. Considering the bar which his education and circumstances placed in his way, he had done as much to acquire knowledge as even Milton. A thousand instances might be given of the intimate knowledge that Shakspeare had of facts. I shall mention only one. I do not say that he gives a good account of the Salic law, though a much worse has been given by many antiquaries. But he who reads the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech in Henry the Fifth, and who shall afterwards say that Shakspeare was not a man of great reading and information, and who loved the thing itself, is a person whose opinion I would not ask or trust upon any matter of investigation.” Then, was all this reading, all this information, all this knowledge of our great dramatist, a mere rudis indigestaque moles ? Very far from it. Method, we have seen, demands a knowledge of the relations which things bear to each other, or to the observer, or to the state and apprehensions of the hearers. In all and each of these was Shakspeare so deeply versed, that in the personages of a play, he seems “to mould his mind as some incorporeal material alternately into all their various forms.” In every one of his various characters we still feel ourselves communing with the same human nature. Every where we find individuality; no where mere portrait. The excellence of his productions consists in a happy union of the universal with the particular. But the universal is an idea. Shakspeare, therefore, studied mankind in the idea of the human race; and he followed out that idea into all its varieties by a method which never failed to guide his steps aright. Let us appeal to him, to illustrate by example the difference between a sterile and an exuberant mind, in respect to what we have ventured to call

*

the science of method. On the one hand observe Mrs. Quickley's relation of the circumstances of Sir John Falstaff's debt.* On the other hand consider the narration given by Hamlet to Horatio, of the occurrences during his proposed transportation to England, and the events that interrupted þis voyage.

If, overlooking the different value of the matter in these two narrations, we consider only the form, it must be confessed that both are immethodical. We have asserted that method results from a balance between the passive impression received from outward things, and the internal inactivity of the mind in reflecting and generalising; but neither Hamlet nor the Hostess hold this balance accurately. In Mrs. Quickley, the memory alone is called into action; the objects and events recur in the narration in the same order, and with the same accompaniments, however accidental or impertinent, as they had first occurred to the narrator. The necessity of taking breath, the efforts of recollection, and the abrupt rectification of its failures, produce all her pauses, and constitute most of her connexions. But when we look to the Prince of Denmark's recital, the case is widely different. Here the events, with the circumstances of time and place, are all stated with equal compression and rapidity ; not one introduced which could have been omitted without injury to

* Henry IV. Part 1. Act 2. Sc. 1.

* Act 5. Sc. 2.

« PreviousContinue »