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Though some resemblance may be traced between the charms in Macbeth, and the incantations in the Witch of Middleton, which is supposed to have preceded it, this coincidence will not detract much from the originality of Shakspeare. His witches are distinguished from the witches of Middleton by essential differences. These are creatures to whom man or woman plotting some dire mischief, might resort for occasional consultation. Those originate deeds of blood, and begin bad impulses to men.
From the moment that their eyes first meet with Macbeth's, he is spellbound. That meeting sways his destiny. He can never break the fascination. These witches can hurt the body; those have power over the that my plays are not exposed to the world in volumes, to bear the title of works (as others), one reason is that many of them by shifting and change of companies have been negligently lost. Others of them are still retained in the hands of some actors, who think it against their peculiar profit to have them come into print, and a third that it NEVER WAS ANY GREAT AMBITION IN ME TO BE IN THIS KIND VOLUMINOUSLY READ. All that I have further to say at this time is only this : censure, I entreat, as favourably as it is exposed to thy view freely. “Ever studious of thy pleasure and profit,
Th. Heywood." It is highly probable, I think, that such would have been precisely the reasons alleged by Shakspeare, had he been called
upon to account for his inattention to, and indifference about the fate of his dramas,
soul. Hecate in Middleton has a son, a low buffoon : the hags of Shakspeare have neither child of their own, nor seem to be descended from any parent. They are foul anomalies, of whom we know not whence they are sprung, nor whether they have beginning or ending. As they are without human passions, so they seem to be without human relations. They come with thunder and lightning, and vanish to airy music. This is all we know of them. Except Hecate, they have no names, which heightens their mysteriousness. The names, and some of the properties, which Middleton has given to his hags, excite smiles. The Weird Sisters are serious things. Their presence cannot co-exist with mirth. But, in a lesser degree, the witches of Middleton are fine creations. Their power too is, in some measure, over the mind. They raise jars, jealousies, strifes, like a thick scurf o'er life.
WITH FULKE GREVILLE, LORD BROOKE.
The tragedies of Lord Brooke might with more propriety have been termed political treatises than plays. Their author has strangely contrived to make passion, character, and interest, of the highest order, subservient to the expression of state dogmas and mysteries. He is nine parts Machiavel and Tacitus for one part Sophocles or Seneca. In this writer's estimate of the faculties of his own mind, the understanding must have held a most tyrannical pre-eminence. Whether we look into his plays, or his most passionate love-poems, we shall find all frozen and made rigid with intellect. The finest movements of the human heart, the utmost grandeur of which the soul is capable, are essentially comprised in the actions and speeches of Cælica and Camena, in his two tragedies of Alaham and Mustapha. Shakspeare, who seems to have had a peculiar delight in contemplating womanly perfection, whom for his many sweet images of female excellence all women are in an especial manner bound to love, has not raised the ideal of the female character higher than Lord Brooke in these two women has done. But it requires a study equivalent to the learning of a new language to understand their meaning when they speak. It is indeed hard to hit :
Much like thy riddle, Samson, in one day
It is as if a being of pure intellect should take upon him to express the emotions of our sensitive natures. There would be all knowledge, but sympathetic expression would be wanting.
WITH SIDNEY AND FLETCHER.
One characteristic of the excellent old poets their being able to bestow grace upon subjects which naturally do not seem susceptible of any. I will mention two instances : Zelmane in the Arcadia of Sidney, and Helena in the All's Well that Ends Well of Shakspeare. What can be more unpromising at first sight than the idea of a young man disguising himself in a woman's attire, and passing himself off for a woman among women ? and that too for a long space of time? yet Sir Philip has preserved such a matchless decorum, that neither does Pyrocles' manhood suffer any stain for the effeminacy of Zelmane, nor is the respect due to the princesses at all diminished when the deception comes to be known. In the sweetly constituted mind of Sir Philip Sidney, it seems as if no ugly thought nor unhandsome meditation could find a harbour. He turned all that he touched into images of honour and virtue. Helena in Shakspeare is a young woman seeking a man in marriage. The ordinary laws of courtship are reversed; the habitual feelings are violated. Yet with such exquisite address this dangerous subject is handled, that Helena's forwardness loses her no honour; delicacy dispenses with her laws in her favour, and Nature in her single case seems content to suffer a sweet violation.
Aspatia in the Maid's Tragedy of Beaumont and Fletcher, is a character equally difficult with Helena of being managed with grace. She too is a slighted woman, refused by the man who had once engaged to marry her. Yet it is artfully contrived that, while we pity her, we respect her, and she descends without degradation. So much true poetry and passion can do to confer dignity upon subjects which do not seem capable of it. But Aspatia must not be compared at all points with Helena; she does not so absolutely predominate over her situation but she suffers some diminution, some abatement of the full lustre of the female character, which Helena never does : her character has many degrees of sweetness, some of delicacy, but it has weakness which if we do not despise, we are sorry for.
I have always considered Ordella, in the Thierry and Theodoret of Fletcher, the most perfect idea of the female heroic character, next to Calantha in the Broken Heart of Ford, that has been embodied in fiction. She is a piece of sainted nature. Yet, noble as the whole scene is, it must be confessed that the manner of it, compared with Shakspeare's finest scenes, is slow and languid. Its motion is circular, not progressive. Each line revolves on itself in a sort of separate orbit. They do not join into one another like a running hand. Every step that we go, we are stopped to admire some single object, like walking in beautiful scenery with a guide. This slowness I shall elsewhere have occasion to remark as characteristic of Fletcher. Another
p Of this dramatist Mr. Lamb, in a note to a scene from his Broken Heart, has justly said that “ he was of the first order of poets. He sought for sublimity not by parcels in metaphors or visible images, but directly where she has her full residence in the heart of man; in the actions and sufferings of the greatest minds."