Page images
PDF
EPUB

Then marvel not, thou great and complete man!
That all the Greeks begin to worship Ajax.

The cry went once on thee,
And still it might, and yet it may again,
If thou wouldst not entomb thyself alive,
And case thy reputation in thy tent.

But the great beauty of this play, as it is of all the genuine writings of Shakspeare, beyond all didactic morality, beyond all mere flights of fancy, and beyond all sublime, a beauty entirely his own, and in which no writer, ancient or modern, can enter into competition with him, is, that his men are men; his sentiments are living, and his characters marked with those delicate, evanescent, undefinable touches, which identify them with the great delineations of nature. The speech of Ulysses just quoted, when taken by itself, is purely an exquisite specimen of didactic morality; but when combined with the explanation given by Ulysses, before the entrance of Achilles, of the nature of his design, it becomes the attribute of a real man, and starts into life. Achilles (says he) affectionate manner in which Ulysses addresses himself to Achilles with the key which he here furnishes to his meaning, and especially with the epithet “derision,” we have a perfect elucidation of his character, and must allow that it is impossible to exhibit the crafty and smooth-tongued politician in a more exact or animated style. The advice given by Ulysses is in its nature sound and excellent, and in its form inoffensive and kind; the name, therefore, of “derision” which he gives to it, marks to a wonderful degree the cold and self-centred subtlety of his character. : The following is a most beautiful example of the genuine Shakspearian manner, such as I have been attempting to describe ; where Cressida first proceeds so far as to confess to Troilus that she loves him :

stands in the entrance of his tent.
Please it our general to pass strangely by him,
As if he were forgot; and princes all,
Lay negligent and loose regard upon him :
I will come last : 'tis like, he'll question me,
Why such unplausive eyes are bent, why turn'd on him :
If so, I have derision med'cinable,
To use between your strangeness and his pride,

Which his own will shall have desire to drink.
When we compare the plausible and seemingly

CRESSIDA.
Boldness comes to me now, and brings me heart :-
Prince Troilus, I have loy'd you night and day,
For many weary months.

TROILUS.

Why was my Cressid then so hard to win?

CRESSIDA.
Hard to seem won; but I was won, my lord,
With the first glance that ever-Pardon me
If I confess much, you will play the tyrant.
I love you now; but not, till now, so much •
But I might master it :-in faith, I lie;
My thoughts were like unbridled children, grown
Too headstrong for their mother:-See, we fools!
Why have I blabb’d? Who shall be true to us,

When we are so upsecret to ourselves ?
But, though I lov'd you well, I woo'd you not;-
And yet, good faith, I wish'd myself a man ;
Or that we women had men's privilege
Of speaking first.-Sweet, bid me hold my tongue;
Por, in this rapture, I shall surely speak
The thing I shall repent.-See, see, your silence,
Cunning in dumbness, from my weakness draws
My very soul of counsel.-Stop my mouth.

Act iii, Scene 2. What charming ingenuousness, what exquisite naïveté, what ravishing confusion of soul, are expressed in these words! We seem to perceive in them every fleeting thought as it rises in the mind of Cressida, at the same time that they delineate with equal skill all the beautiful timidity and innocent artifice which grace and consummate the feminine character. Other writers endeavour to conjure up before them their imaginary personages, and seek with violent effort to arrest and describe what their fancy presents to them : Shakspeare alone (though not without many exceptions to this happiness) appears to have the whole train of his characters in voluntary attendance upon him, to listen to their effusions, and to commit to writing all the words, and the very words, they utter.

GODWIN,

Life of Chaucer, 8vo, vol. i. p. 499 et seq.

No. XXII.

SHAKSPEARE AND CALDERON COMPARED.

It is only in the first and lowest scale of the drama, that I can place those pieces in which we are presented with the visible surface of life alone, the fleeting appearance of the rich picture of the world. It is thus that I view them, even although they display the highest sway of passion in tragedy, or the perfection of all social refinements and absurdities in comedy, so long as the whole business of the play is limited to external appearances, and these things are brought before us merely in perspective, and as pictures for the purposes of drawing our attention, and awakening the sympathy of our passions. The second order of the art is that, where in dramatic representations, together with passion and the pictoric appearance of things, a spirit of more profound sense and thought is predominant over the scene, wherein there is displayed a deep knowledge, not of individuals and their affairs alone, but of our whole species, of the world and of life, in all their manifold shapes, contradictions, and catastrophes, of man and of his being. Were this profound knowledge of us and our nature the only end of dramatic poetry, Shakspeare would not merely deserve to be called the first in his art, but there could scarcely be found a single poet, either among the ancients or the moderns, worthy for a moment to be compared with him. But in my opinion the art of the dramatic poet has, besides all this, yet another and a higher end. The enigma of life should not barely be expressed but solved; the perplexities of the present should indeed be represented, but from them our view should be led to the last developement and the final issue. The poet should entwine the future with the present, and lay before our eyes the mysteries of the internal man.

The three worlds of Dante represent to us three great classes of human beings, some in the abyss of despair, some in the region of hope and purification, some in the enjoyment of perfect blessedness.-Corresponding to these, dénouements of human destiny, there are also three modes of that high, serious, dramatic representation, which sets forth not merely the appearances of life, but also its deeper, purpose and spirit, which gives us not only the knot but the solution of our existence. In one of these we lose sight of the hero in the dark: ness of a perfect destruction; in another, the conclusion, although mingled with a certain dawn of pleasure, is yet half sorrowful in its impression ; and there is a third, wherein out of misery and death we see a new life arisen, and behold the illumination of the internal man. To show what I mean by dramas, whose termination is the total

« PreviousContinue »