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magnificent conceptions which were afterwards embodied in the Lear, the Macbeth, Othello, and Tempest of his tragic muse.
The chronology of Shakspeare's plays has been arbitrarily fixed by Malone and others, without adequate authority. Mr Collier has shown its incorrectness in various particulars. He has proved, for example, that Othello' was on the stage in 1602, though Malone assigns its first appearance to 1604. Macbeth' is put down to 1606, though we only know that it existed in 1610. Henry VIII. is assigned to 1603, yet it is mentioned by Sir Henry Wotton as a new play in 1613, and we know that it was produced with unusual scenic decoration and splendour in that year. The Roman plays were undoubtedly among his latest works. The Tempest' has been usually considered the last, but on no decisive authority. Adopting this popular belief, Mr Campbell has remarked, that the Tempest' has a sort of sacredness' as the last drama of the great poet, who, as if conscious that this was to be the case, has been inspired to typify himself as a wise, potent, and benevolent magician.'
like the work of Greene or Peele. Titus Andronicus resembles the style of Marlow, and if written by Shakspeare, as distinct contemporary testimony affirms, it must have been a very youthful production. The Taming of the Shrew is greatly indebted to an old play on the same subject, and must also be referred to the same period. It is doubtful whether Shakspeare wrote any of the first part of Henry VI. The second and third parts are modelled on two older plays, the Contention of York and Lancaster,' and the True Tragedy of the Duke of York.' Whether these old dramas were early sketches of Shakspeare's own, or the labours of some obscure and forgotten playwright, cannot now be ascertained: they contain the death-scene of Cardinal Beaufort, the last speech of the Duke of York, and the germs of that vigorous delineation of character and passion completed in 'Richard III.' We know no other dramatist of that early period, excepting Marlow, who could have written those powerful sketches. From the old plays, Shakspeare borrowed no less than 1771 entire lines, and nearly double that number are merely alterations. Such wholesale appropriation of the labours of others is There seems no good reason for believing that found in none of his other historical plays (as King Shakspeare did not continue writing on to the period. John, Richard III., &c., modelled on old dramas), of his death in 1616; and such a supposition is counand we therefore incline to the opinion, that the tenanced by a tradition thus recorded in the diary Contention and the True Tragedy were early pro- of the Rev. John Ward, A.M., vicar of Stratfordductions of the poet, afterwards enlarged and im-on-Avon, extending from 1648 to 1679. I have proved by him, as part of his English historical series, and then named Henry VI.
heard,' says the careless and incurious vicar, who might have added largely to our stock of Shakspearian facts, had he possessed taste, acuteness, or industry- I have heard that Mr Shakspeare was a
The gradual progress of Shakspeare's genius is supposed to have been not unobserved by Spenser. In 1594, or 1595, the venerable poet wrote his pas-natural wit, without any art at all. He frequented toral, entitled Colin Clout's Come Home Again,' in which he commemorates his brother poets under feigned names. The gallant Raleigh is the Shepherd of the Ocean, Sir Philip Sidney is Astrophel, and other living authors are characterised by fictitious appellations. He concludes as follows:
And then, though last not least, is Aëtion,
the plays all his younger time, but in his elder days lived at Stratford, and supplied the stage with two plays every year, and for it had an allowance so large, that he spent at the rate of £1000 a-year, as I have heard. Shakspeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson, had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard, for Shakspeare died of a fever there contracted.' We place no great reliance on this testimony, either as to facts literary or personal. Those who have studied the works of the great dramatist, and marked his successive approaches to perfection, must see that he united the closest study to the keenest observation, that he attained to the highest pitch of dramatic art, and the most accurate philosophy of the human mind, and that he was, as Schlegel has happily remarked, a profound artist, and not a blind and wildly-luxuriant genius.**
*Coleridge boasted of being the first in time who publicly demonstrated, to the full extent of the position, that the supposed irregularity and extravagances of Shakspeare were the mere dreams of a pedantry that arraigned the eagle because it usual fine poetical appreciation and feeling, that that law of had not the dimensions of the swan.' He maintains, with his
The sonorous and chivalrous-like name of Shakspeare seems here designated. The poet had then published his two classical poems, and probably most of his English historical plays had been acted. The supposition that Shakspeare was meant, is at least a pleasing one. We love to figure Spenser and Raleigh sitting under the shady alders' on the banks of Mulla, reading the manuscript of the 'Faery Queen; but it is not less interesting to consider the great poet watching the dawn of that mighty mind which was to eclipse all its contemporaries. A few years afterwards, in 1598, we meet with an important notice of Shakspeare by Francis Meres, a conunity which has its foundations, not in the factitious necessity temporary author. As Plautus and Seneca,' he of custom, but in nature itself, the unity of feeling, is everywhere, says, 'are accounted the best for comedy and tra- and at all times, observed by Shakspeare in his plays. Read gedy among the Latins, so Shakspeare, among the Romeo and Juliet-all is youth and spring; youth with its folEnglish, is the most excellent in both kinds for the lies, its virtues, its precipitancies; spring with its odours, its stage; for comedy, witness his Gentlemen of Verona, flowers, and its transiency; it is one and the same feeling that his Errors, his Love's Labour Lost, his Love's commences, goes through, and ends the play. This unity of Labour Won (or All's Well that Ends Well), his Mid-action, or of character and interest, conspicuous in Shakspeare, summer Night's Dream, and his Merchant of Venice; Coleridge illustrates by an illustration drawn, with the taste of Whence arises the harmony for tragedy, his Richard II., Richard III., Henry a poet, from external nature. IV., King John, Titus Andronicus, and his Romeo that strikes us in the wildest natural landscapes-in the rela and Juliet.' This was indeed a brilliant contribu- tive shapes of rocks-the harmony of colours in the heaths, tion to the English drama, throwing Greene, Peele, stems and rich brown branches of the birch and other mounand Marlow immeasurably into shade, and fartain trees, varying from verging autumn to returning springtranscending all the previous productions of the English stage. The harvest, however, was not yet half reaped the glorious intellect of Shakspeare was still forming, and his imagination nursing those
ferns, and lichens-the leaves of the beech and the oak-the
compared with the visual effect from the greater number of artificial plantations? From this-that the natural landscape is effected, as it were, by a single energy modified ab intra în each component part. In working out his conceptions, either
Eleven of the dramas were printed during Shak-guage (like 'light from heaven')—his imagery and speare's life, probably from copies piratically ob- versification. tained. It was the interest of the managers that new and popular pieces should not be published; but we entertain the most perfect conviction, that the poet intended all his original works, as he had revised some, for publication. The Merry Wives of Windsor' is said to have been written in fourteen days, by command of Queen Elizabeth, who wished to see Falstaff in love. Shakspeare, however, was anxious for his fame, as well as eager to gratify the queen; when the temporary occasion was served, he returned to his play, filled up his first imperfect outline, and heightened the humour of the dialogue and character. Let not the example of this greatest name in English literature be ever quoted to support the false opinion, that excellence can be attained without study and labour!
In 1623 appeared the first collected edition of Shakspeare's dramatic works-seven years after his own death, and six months after that of his widow, who, we suspect, had a life-interest in the plays. The whole were contained in one folio volume, and a preface and dedication were supplied by the poet's fellow comedians, Hemming and Condell.
That Shakspeare deviated from the dramatic unities of time, place, and action, laid down by the ancients, and adopted by the French theatre, is wellknown, and needs no defence. In his tragedies, he amply fulfils what Aristotle admits to be the end and object of tragedy, to beget admiration, terror, or sympathy. His mixture of comic with tragic scenes is sometimes a blemish, but it was the fault of his age; and if he had lived to edit his works, some of these incongruities would doubtless have been expunged. But, on the whole, such blending of opposite qualities and characters is accordant with the actual experience and vicissitudes of life. No course of events, however tragic in its results, moves on in measured, unvaried solemnity, nor would the English taste tolerate this stately French style. The great preceptress of Shakspeare was Nature: he spoke from her inspired dictates, warm from the heart and faithful to its fires;' and in his disregard of classic rules, pursued at will his winged way through all the labyrinths of fancy and of the human heart. These celestial flights, however, were regulated, as we have said, by knowledge and taste. Mere poetiThe plots of Shakspeare's dramas were nearly all cal imagination might have created a Caliban, or borrowed, some from novels and romances, others evoked the airy spirits of the enchanted island and from legendary tales, and some from older plays. the Midsummer Dream; but to delineate a DesdeIn his Roman subjects, he followed North's transla- mona or Imogen, a Miranda or Viola, the influence tion of Plutarch's Lives; his English historical plays of a pure and refined spirit, cultivated and disciare chiefly taken from Holinshed's Chronicle. From plined by 'gentle arts,' and familiar by habit, thought, the latter source he also derived the plot of Mac- and example, with the better parts of wisdom and beth,' perhaps the most transcendent of all his works. humanity, were indispensably requisite. Peele or A very cursory perusal will display the gradual pro- Marlow might have drawn the forest of Arden, with gress and elevation of his art. In the Two Gentle- its woodland glades, but who but Shakspeare could men of Verona,' and the earlier comedies, we see the have supplied the moral beauty of the scene?-the timidity and immaturity of youthful genius; a half- refined simplicity and gaiety of Rosalind, the philoformed style, bearing frequent traces of that of his sophic meditations of Jaques, the true wisdom, tenpredecessors; fantastic quibbles and conceits (which derness, and grace, diffused over the whole of that he never wholly abandoned); only a partial develop- antique half-courtly and half-pastoral drama. These ment of character; a romantic and playful fancy; and similar personations, such as Benedict and Beabut no great strength of imagination, energy, or pas- trice, Mercutio, &c., seem to us even more wondersion. In Richard II. and III., the creative and master ful than the loftier characters of Shakspeare. No mind are visible in the delineation of character. In types of them could have existed but in his own the Midsummer Night's Dream,' the Merchant of mind. The old drama and the chroniclers furnished Venice,' 'Romeo and Juliet,' &c., we find the ripened the outlines of his historical personages, though poetical imagination, prodigality of invention, and a destitute of the heroic ardour and elevation which searching, meditative spirit. These qualities, with he breathed into them. Plutarch and the poets a finer vein of morality and contemplative philo- kindled his classic enthusiasm and taste; old Chapsophy, pervade As You Like It,' and the Twelfth man's Homer perhaps rolled its majestic cadences Night.' In 'Henry IV.,' the 'Merry Wives,' and 'Mea- over his ear and imagination; but characters in sure for Measure,' we see his inimitable powers of which polished manners and easy grace are as precomedy, full formed, revelling in an atmosphere of dominant as wit, reflection, or fancy, were then unjoyous life, and fresh as if from the hand of nature. known to the stage, as to actual life. They are He took a loftier flight in his classical dramas, con- among the most perfect creations of his genius, and, ceived and finished with consummate taste and free-in reference to his taste and habits, they are valuable dom. In his later tragedies, Lear,' 'Hamlet' (in its improved form), 'Othello,' 'Macbeth,' and the 'Tem- In judgment, Shakspeare excels his contemporary pest,' all his wonderful faculties and acquirements are dramatists as much as in genius, but at the same found combined-his wit, pathos, passion, and sub- time it must be confessed that he also partakes of limity-his profound knowledge and observation of their errors. To be unwilling to acknowledge any mankind, mellowed by a refined humanity and bene- faults in his plays, is, as Hallam remarks, an exvolence-his imagination richer from skilful culture travagance rather derogatory to the critic than and added stores of information-his unrivalled lan-honourable to the poet.' Fresh from the perusal of
materials for his biography.
any of his works, and under the immediate effects of of character or passion, we conceive Shakspeare to have laboured his inspirations-walking, as it were, in a world of for ultimate and lasting fame, not immediate theatrical effect. his creating, with beings familiar to us almost from His audiences must often have been unable to follow his philo-infancy-it seems like sacrilege to breathe one word
sophy, his subtle distinctions, and his imagery. The actors must have been equally unable to give effect to many of his
personations. He was apparently indifferent to both-at least in his great works-and wrote for the mind of the universe. There was, however, always enough of ordinary nature, of pomp, or variety of action, for the multitude; and the English historical plays, connected with national pride and glory, must have rendered their author popular.
Yet truth must admit that some of his
plays are hastily and ill-constructed as to plot; that his proneness to quibble and play with words is brought forward in scenes where this peculiarity constitutes a positive defect; that he is sometimes indelicate where indelicacy is least pardonable, and where it jars most painfully with the associations of
the scene; and that his style is occasionally stiff, turgid, and obscure, chiefly because it is at once highly figurative and condensed in expression. Ben Jonson has touched freely, but with manliness and fairness, on these defects.
excluded by that inquiring temper, which is as characteristic of literature in our times, as is its appear. ance of comparative animation.'
The difficulty of making selections from Shakspeare must be obvious. If of character, his characters are as numerous and diversified as those in human life; if of style, he has exhausted all styles, and has one for each description of poetry and action; if of wit, humour, satire, or pathos, where shall our choice fall, where all are so abundant? We have felt our task to be something like being deputed to search in some magnificent forest for a handful of the finest leaves or plants, and as if we were diligently exploring the world of woodland beauty to accomplish faithfully this hopeless adventure. Happily, Shakspeare is in all hands, and a single leaf will recall the fertile and majestic scenes of his inspiration.
[Murder of King Duncan.]
[Macbeth, prompted by ambition, and pushed on by his savage wife, resolves to murder the king, then his guest, and seize the crown.]
MACBETH and a Servant.
Macb. Go bid thy mistress, when my drink is ready, She strike upon the bell. Get thee to bed.
'I remember,' he says, 'the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakspeare, that in his writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, would he had blotted a thousand! which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but for their ignorance who chose that circumstance to commend their friend by wherein he most faulted, and to justify mine own candour; for I loved the man, and do honour his memory on this side idolatry as much as any. He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent phantasy, brave notions, and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped, sufflimandus erat, as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had been so too! Many times he fell into those things could not escape laughter, as when he said, in the person of Cæsar, one speaking to him, "Cæsar, thou dost me wrong," he replied, "Cæsar did never wrong but with just cause," and such like, which were ridiculous. But he redeemed his vices with his virtues. There was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned.' Is this a dagger which I see before me, The first edition of Shakspeare was published, as The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. already stated, in 1623. A second edition was pub-I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. lished in 1632, the same as the first, excepting that Art thou not, futal vision, sensible it was more disfigured with errors of the press. A To feeling as to sight? or art thou but third edition was published in 1644, and a fourth in A dagger of the mind, a false creation 1685. The public admiration of this great English Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain! classic now demanded that he should receive the As this which now I draw. I see thee yet, in form as palpable honours of a commentary; and Rowe, the poet, Thou marshal'st me the way that I was going; gave an improved edition in 1709. Pope, Warbur- And such an instrument I was to use. ton, Johnson, Chalmers, Steevens, and others, successively published editions of the poet, with copious Or else worth all the rest. I see thee still; Mine eyes are made the fools o' th' other senses, notes. The best of the whole is the voluminous And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, edition by Malone and Boswell, published in twenty- Which was not so before. There's no such thing. one volumes, in 1821. The critics of the great poet It is the bloody business, which informs are innumerable, and they bid fair, like Banquo's Thus to mine eyes. Now, o'er one half the world progeny, to stretch to the crack of doom.' The Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse scholars of Germany have distinguished themselves The curtain'd sleep: now witchcraft celebrates by their philosophical and critical dissertations on Pale Hecate's offerings; and wither'd Murder, the genius of Shakspeare. There never was an Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf, author, ancient or modern, whose works have been Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace, so carefully analysed and illustrated, so eloquently With Tarquin's ravishing strides, tow'rds his design expounded, or so universally admired. Moves like a ghost. Thou sound and firm-set earth, Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear Thy very stones prate of my whereabout, And take the present horror from the time, Which now suits with it. Whilst I threat, he livesWords to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.
He so sepulchred in such pomp dost lie,
'Since the beginning of the present century,' says a
*Jonson's allusion is to the following line in the third act of Julius Cæsar
Know Cæsar doth not wrong, nor without cause
The passage was probably altered by Ben's suggestion, or still
Lady. Alack! I am afraid they have awak'd; And 'tis not done. Th' attempt, and not the deed, I laid their daggers ready; Had he not resembled
Confounds us. Hark!
My father as he slept, I
[Enter Macbeth] had done't.
Mach. I've done the deed-didst thou not hear a noise ?
Enter Lady MACBETH.
Lady. My hands are of your colour; but I shame
Hath left you unattended. [Knocking.] Hark, more
Lady. I heard the owl scream, and the crickets cry. Get on your night-gown, lest occasion call us,
Did not you speak!
Macb. As I descended?
Macb. Hark-who lies i' th' second chamber?
Macb. This is a sorry sight. [Looks on his hands.
Macb. There's one did laugh in's sleep, and one
That they did wake each other; I stood and heard
But they did say their prayers, and address'd them
Lady. There are two lodg'd together.
Macb. One cried, God bless us! and Amen! the other;
As they had seen me with these hangman's hands,
Lady. Consider it not so deeply.
Macb. But wherefore could not I pronounce Amen?
Lady. These deeds must not be thought,
Macb. Methought I heard a voice cry, Sleep no
Macb. I'll go no more.
I am afraid to think what I have done ;
Lady. Infirm of purpose:
Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead
And show us to be watchers. Be not lost
Macb. To know my deed, 'twere best not know
Wake, Duncan, with this knocking. Ay, 'would thou couldst !
[Love Scene by Night in a Garden.]
Romeo. He jests at scars, that never felt a wound-
[Juliet appears above at a window.
She speaks, yet she says nothing. What of that?
I am too bold; 'tis not to me she speaks:
Jul. Ah me!
Rom. She speaks.
Oh, speak again, bright angel! for thou art
Jul. O Romeo, Romeo- - wherefore art thou Romeo!
Rom. Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at
Jul. 'Tis but thy name that is my enemy:
Rom. By a name
I know not how to tell thee who I am:
Had I it written, I would tear the word.
Jul. My ears have yet not drunk a hundred words Of that tongue's uttering, yet I know the sound. Art thou not Romeo, and a Montague !
Rom. Neither, fair saint, if either thee dislike. Jul. How cam'st thou hither, tell me, and wherefore? The orchard walls are high, and hard to climb; And the place death, considering who thou art, If any of my kinsmen find thee here.
Rom. With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls,
For stony limits cannot hold love out;
Jul. If they do see thee, they will murder thee. Rom. Alack! there lies more peril in thine eye Than twenty of their swords; look thou but sweet, And I am proof against their enmity.
Jul. I would not for the world they saw thee here. Rom. I have night's cloak to hide me from their eyes, And but thou love me, let them find me here; My life were better ended by their hate, Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love.
Jul. By whose direction found'st thou out this place?
As that vast shore, wash'd with the farthest sea,
Jul. Thou know'st the mask of night is on my face,
Rom. Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear, That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops
Jul. O swear not by the moon, th' inconstant moon, That monthly changes in her circled orb: Lest that thy love prove likewise variable. Rom. What shall I swear by ?
Jul. Do not swear at all;
Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self, Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I'll believe thee.
Rom. If my heart's dear love
Jul. Well, do not swear. Although I joy in thee, I have no joy of this contract to-night; It is too rash, too unadvis'd, too sudden, Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be, Ere one can say it lightens. Sweet, good-night ! This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath, May prove a beauteous flower, when next we meet. Good-night, good-night-as sweet repose and rest Come to thy heart, as that within my breast! Rom. O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?
Jul. Three words, dear Romeo, and good-night indeed.
If that thy bent of love be honourable,
I come, anon-but if thou mean'st not well,
I do beseech thee-[Within: Madam !] By and by,
To cease thy suit, and leave me to my grief.
Rom. So thrive my soul
Jul. A thousand times good night. [Exrt. Rom. A thousand times the worse, to want thy light. Love goes tow'rd love, as school-boys from their books; But love from love, tow'rds school with heavy looks.
Enter JULIET again.
Jul. Hist! Romeo, hist! O for a falconer's voice, To lure this tassel gentle back again. Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud; Else would I tear the cave where Echo lies, And make her airy tongue more hoarse than mine, With repetition of my Romeo's name.
Rom. It is my soul that calls upon my name. How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night, Like softest music to attending ears!
Jul. Romeo !
Rom. My sweet!
Jul. At what o'clock to-morrow
Shall I send to thee?
Rom. At the hour of nine.
Jul. I will not fail; 'tis twenty years till then.
I have forgot why I did call thee back.
Rom. Let me stand here till thou remember it. Jul. I shall forget, to have thee still stand there; Rememb'ring how I love thy company.
Rom. And I'll still stay to have thee still forget, Forgetting any other home but this.
Jul. Tis almost morning. I would have thee gone;
Rom. I would I were thy bird.
Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing.