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consistency of his characters.' These excellences, particularly the last, are of so much importance in the drama, that they amply compensate for his transgressions against the rules of time and place, which, being of a more mechanical nature, are often strictly observed by a genius of the lowest order; but to portray characters naturally, and to preserve them uniformly, requires such an intimate knowledge of the heart of man, and is so rare a portion of felicity, as to have been enjoyed, perhaps, only by two writers, Homer and Shakspeare.
Of all the plays of Shakspeare, the Tempest is the most striking instance of his creative power. He has there given the reins to his boundless imagination, and has carried the romantic, the wonderful, and the wild, to the most pleasing extravagance. The scene is a desolate island; and the characters the most new and singular that can well be conceived : a prince who practises magic, an attendant spirit, a monster the son of a witch, and a young lady who had been brought to this solitude in her infancy, and had never beheld a man except her father.
As I have affirmed that Shakspeare's chief excellence is the consistency of his characters, I will exemplify the truth of this remark, by pointing out some master-strokes of this nature in the drama before us.
The poet artfully acquaints us that Prospero is a magician, by the very first words which his daughter Miranda speaks to him:
If by your art, my dearest father, you have
which intimate that the tempest described in the preceding scene was the effect of Prospero's power. The manner in which he was driven from his dukedom of Milan, and landed afterwards on this solitary island, accompanied only by his daughter, is immediately introduced in a short and natural narration.
The offices of his attendant spirit, Ariel, are enumerated with amazing wildness of fancy, and yet with equal propriety: his employment is said to be,
To tread the ooze
to dive into the fire; to ride
In describing the place in which he has concealed the Neapolitan ship, Ariel expresses the secresy of its situation by the following circumstance, which artfully glances at another of his services :
- In the deep nook, where once
Ariel, being one of those elves or spirits, 'whose pastime is to make midnight mushrooms, and who rejoice to listen to the solemn curfew;' by whose assistance Prospero has bedimmed the sun at noon-tide,
And 'twixt the green sea and the azur'd vault,
has a set of ideas and images peculiar to his station and office; a beauty of the same kind with that which is so justly admired in the Adam of Milton, whose manners and sentiments are all paradisaical. How delightfully, and how suitably to his character, are the habitations and pastimes of this invisible being pointed out in the following exquisite song!
Where the bee sucks, there lurk I:
Mr. Pope, whose imagination has been thought by some the least of his excellences, has, doubtless, conceived and carried on the machinery in his
Rape of the Lock,' with vast exuberance of fancy. The images, customs, and employments of his sylphs, are exactly adapted to their natures, are peculiar and appropriated, are all, if I may be allowed the expression, sylphish. The enumeration of the punishments they were to undergo, if they neglected their charge, would, on account of its poetry and propriety, and especially the mixture of oblique satire, be superior to any circumstances in Shakspeare's Ariel, if we could suppose Pope to have been unacquainted with the Tempest when he wrote this part of his accomplished poem.
She did confine thee Into a cloven pine ; within which rift Imprisoned, thou did'st painfully remain A dozen years; within which space she dy'd, And left thee there; where thou did'st vent thy groans, As fast as mill-wheels strike.
If thou more murmur’st, I will rend an oak,
For this, besure, to-night thou shalt have cramps,
If thou neglect'st or dost unwillingly
Whatever spirit, careless of his charge,
Shrink his thin essence like a shrivell'd flower :
And tremble at the sea that froths below.Pope. The method which is taken to induce Ferdinand to believe that his father was drowned in the late tempest, is exceedingly solemn and striking. He is sitting upon a solitary rock, and weeping overagainst the place where he imagined his father was wrecked, when he suddenly hears with astonishment aerial music creep by him upon the waters, and the spirit gives him the following information in words not proper for any
but a spirit to utter.
Full fathom five thy father lies :
Of his bones are coral made :
Nothing of him that doth fade,
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell.
This is so truly poetical, that one can scarce forbear exclaiming with Ferdinand,
This is no mortal business, nor no sound
The happy versatility of Shakspeare's genius enables him to excel in lyric as well as in dramatic poesy.