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vention of Shakspeare seized all and more than superstition supplied to Æschylus.

CUMBERLAND.

bo Observer, vol. ii. p.

225. and

p

231 to p. 235.

No. XXI.

SHAKSPEARE AND CHAUCER COMPARED.

The Troilus and Cressida of Shakspeare has for its main foundation the poem of Chaucer. , The Troilus and Creseide of the elder bard seems long to have been regarded by our ancestors in a manner somewhat similar to that in which the Æneid was viewed among the Romans, or the Iliad by the ancient Greeks. Every reader who advanced any pretensions to poetical taste, felt himself obliged to speak of it as the great classical regular English poem, which reflected the highest lustre upon our language. Shakspeare therefore, as a man, felt it but a just compliment to the merits of the great father of our poetry, to introduce his characters in a tangible form, and with all the advantages and allurements he could bestow upon them before the eyes of his countrymen ; and as a constructor of dramas, accustomed to consult their tastes and partialities, he conceived that he could not adopt a more promising plan than to entertain them with a tale already familiar to their minds, which had been the associate and delight of their early years, which every man had himself praised, and had heard applauded by all the tasteful and the wise.

We are not, however, left to probability and conjecture as to the use made by Shakspeare of the poem of Chaucer. His other sources were Chapman's translation of Homer, the Troy Book of Lydgate, and Caxton's History of the destruction of Troy. It is well known that there is no trace of the particular story of Troilus and Creseide among the ancients. It occurs indeed in Lydgate and Caxton; but the name and actions of Pandarus, a very essential personage in the tale as related by Shakspeare and Chaucer, are entirely wanting, except a single mention of him by Lydgate, and that with an express reference to Chaucer as his authority. Shakspeare has taken the story of Chaucer with all its imperfections and defects, and has copied the series of its incidents with his customary fidelity; an exactness seldom to be found in any other dramatic writer.

Since then two of the greatest writers this island has produced have treated the same story, each in his own peculiar manner, it may be neither unentertaining nor uninstructive to consider the merit of their respective modes of composition as illustrated in the present example. Chaucer's poem includes many beauties, many genuine touches of nature, and many strokes of an exquisite pathos. It is on the whole, however, written in that style which has unfortunately been so long imposed upon the world as dignified, classical, and chaste. It is naked of incidents, of ornament, of whatever should most awaken the imagination, astound the fancy, or hurry away the soul. It has the stately march of a Dutch burgomaster as he appears in a procession, or a French poet as he shows himself in his works. It reminds one too forcibly of a tragedy of Racine. Every thing partakes of the author, as if he thought he should be everlastingly disgraced by becoming natural, inartificial, and alive. We travel through a work of this sort as we travel over some of the immense downs with which our island is interspersed. All is smooth, or undulates with so gentle and slow a variation as scarcely to be adverted to by the sense. But all is homogeneous and tiresóme: the mind sinks into a state of aching torpidity; and we feel as if we should never get to the end of our eternal journey.* What a contrast to a journey among mountains and vallies, spotted with herds of various kinds of cattle, interspersed with villages, opening ever and anon to a view of the distant ocean, and refreshed with rivulets and streams; where if the eye is ever fatigued, it is only with the boundless flood of beauty which is incessantly pouring upon it! Such is the tragedy of Shakspeare.

The historical play of Troilus and Cressida exhibits as full a specimen of the different styles in which this wonderful writer was qualified to excel, as is to be found in any of his works. A more poetical passage, if poetry consists in sublime picturesque and beautiful imagery, neither ancient

• These remarks apply to nine-tenths of the poem, though by no means to those happier passages in which the author unfolds the sentiments of his personages.

nor modern times have produced, than the exhor-
tation addressed by Patroclus to Achilles, to per-
suade him to shake off his passion for Polyxena,
the daughter of Priam, and reassume the terrors
of his military greatness :

Sweet, rouse yourself; and the weak wanton Cupid
Shall from

your

neck unloose his amorous fold,
And like a dew-drop from the lion's mane,
Be shook to air.

Act üii, Scene 3.

• Never did morality hold a language more profound, persuasive, and irresistible, than in Shakspeare's Ulysses, who in the same scene, and engaged in the same cause with Patroclus, thus expostulates with the champion of the Grecian forces :

For emulation hath a thousand sons,
That one by one pursue. If you give way,
Or hedge aside from the direct forth right,
Like to an enter'd tide, they all rush by,
And leave you hindmost: there you lie,
Like to a gallant horse fallen in first rank,
For pavement to the abject rear, o'er-run
And trampled on.

-0, let not virtue seek
Remuneration for the thing it was !
For beauty, wit, high birth, desert in service,
Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all
To envious and calumniating time.
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,...
That all with one consent praise new-born gauds,
And give to dust, that is a little gilt,
More praise than they will give to gold o'erdusted.

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