Page images
PDF
EPUB

he enquires if certain alterations are made in his armour, and even orders what particular horse he intends to charge with. He is gay with his chief officers, and even gracious to some he confides in: his gallantry is of so dazzling a quality, that we begin to feel the pride of Englishmen, and, overlooking his crimes, glory in our courageous king. Richmond is one of those civil, conscientious gentlemen, who are not very apt to captivate a spectator; and Richard, loaded as he is with enormities, rises in the comparison, and, I suspect, carries the good wishes of many of his audience into action, and dies with their regret.'

| The character of Richard owes, in fact, its interest almost entirely to its intellectuality. “Richard," I have elsewhere observed, “ stripped as he is of all the softer feelings, and all the common charities of humanity, possessed of. neither pity, love, nor fear,' and loaded with every dangerous and dreadful vice, would, were it not for his unconquerable powers of mind, be insufferably revolting. But, though insatiate in his ambition, envious and hypocritical in his disposition, cruel, bloody, and remorseless in all his deeds, he displays such an extraordinary share of cool and determined courage, such alacrity and buoyancy of spirit, such constant self-possession, such an intuitive intimacy with the workings of the human heart, and such a matchless skill in rendering them subservient to his views, as so far to subdue our detestation and abhorrence of his villainy, that we, at length, contemplate this fiend in human shape with a mingled sensation of intense curiosity and grateful terror.

“ Yet, the moral of this play is great and impressive. Richard, having excited a general sense of indignation, and a general desire of revenge, and, unaware of his danger from having lost, through familiarity with guilt, all idea of moral obligation, becomes at length the victim of his own enor

As soon as he retires to his tent, the poet begins to put in motion his great moral machinery of the ghosts. Trifles are not made for Shakspeare; difficulties, that would have plunged the spirit of any other poet, and turned his scenery into inevitable ridicule, are nothing in his way. He brings forward a long string of ghosts, and puts a speech into each of their mouths without any fear of consequences. Richard starts from his couch, and before he has shaken off the terrors of his dream, cries out

Give me another horse !--Bind up my wounds !
Have mercy, Jesu !-Soft, I did but dream

O coward conscience, &c. But I may conclude my subject; every reader can go on with the soliloquy, and no words of mine can be wanted to excite their admiration.

CUMBERLAND.

mous crimes; he falls not unvisited by the terrors of conscience, for, on the eve of danger and of death, the retribution of another world is placed before him; the spirits of those whom he had murdered reveal the awful sentence of his fate, and his bosom heaves with the infliction of eternal torture."Shakspeare and his Times, vol. i. p. 373–375.

8 The Observer, No. 58.

No. XVI.

CRITICAL REMARKS ON THE CHARACTER OF

FALSTAFF.

sure.

That “poet and creator are the same,” is equally allowed in criticism as in etymology; and that, without the powers of invention and imagination, nothing great or highly delightful in poetry can be achieved.

I have often thought that the same thing holds in some measure with regard to the reader as well as the writer of poetry. Without somewhat of a congenial imagination in the former, the works of the latter will afford a very inferior degree of plea

The mind of him who reads should be able to imagine what the productive fancy of the poet creates and presents to his view; to look on the world of fancy set before him with a native's ear; to acknowledge its manners, to feel its passions, and to trace, with somewhat of an instinctive glance, those characters with which the poet has peopled it.

If in the perusal of any poet this is required, Shakspeare, of all poets, seems to claim it the most. Of all poets, Shakspeare appears to have possessed a fancy the most prolific, an imagination the most luxuriantly fertile. In this particular he has been frequently compared to Homer, though those who have drawn the parallel, have done it, I know not why, with a sort of distrust of their assertion. Did we not look at the Greek with that reverential awe which his antiquity impresses, I think we might venture to affirm that in this respect the other is more than his equal. In invention of incident, in diversity of character, in assemblage of images, we can scarcely indeed conceive Homer to be surpassed ; but in the mere creation of fancy, I can discover nothing in the Iliad that equals the Tempest or the Macbeth of Shakspeare. The machinery of Homer is indeed stupendous; but of that machinery the materials were known; or though it should be allowed that he added something to the mythology he found, yet still the language and the manners of his deities are merely the language and the manners of men. Of Shakspeare, the machinery may be said to be produced as well as combined by himself. Some of the beings of whom it is composed, neither tradition nor romance afforded him; and of those whom he borrowed thence, he invented the language and the manners,-language and manners peculiar to themselves, for which he could draw no analogy from mankind. Though formed by fancy, however, his personages are true to nature; and a reader of that pregnant imagination which I have mentioned above, can immediately decide on the justness of his conceptions; as he who beholds the masterly expression of certain portraits, pronounces

with confidence on their likeness, though unacquainted with the persons from whom they were drawn.

But it is not only in these untried regions of magic or of witchery, that the creative power of Shakspeare has exerted itself. By a very singular felicity of invention, he has produced, in the beaten field of ordinary life, characters of such perfect originality, that we look on them with no less wonder at his invention than on those preternatural beings which “ are not of this earth ;” and yet they speak a language so purely that of common society, that we have but to step abroad into the world to hear every expression of which it is composed. Of this sort is the character of Falstaff

On the subject of this character I was lately discoursing with a friend, who is very much endowed with that critical imagination of which I have suggested the use in the beginning of this paper. The general import of his observations may form neither an useless nor unamusing field for speculation to my readers.

Though the character of Falstaff, said my friend, , is of so striking a kind as to engross almost the whole attention of the audience in the representation of the play in which it is first introduced, yet it was probably only a secondary and incidental object with Shakspeare in composing that play. He was writing a series of historical dramas on the most remarkable events of the English history,

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »