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THE GENIUS OF SHAKSPERE.
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IN seeking to consider the genius of Shakspere, the subject should be approached with that reverent admiration which its importance demands. No one man ever fully understood, or can ever fully understand the works of Shakspere in their entirety, nor is Unity of thought and opinion to be expected of one who is so diffuse, so general and so human.* The works of Shakspere are all things to all men, and in this universality is found the power and greatness of his genius. The spirit of criticism, developed by the school of critics, who flourished in the latter part of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries, of whom, Rymer may be selected as the representative, has happily passed away. The classic school, who believed in the “ chorus” as “the root and original,” and “as certainly almost the most necessary part of tragedy," no longer exist. Those great admirers of the cuckoo school of “ rules of art,” Dennis and Gildon, were succeeded by Rowe, Pope, Hanmer, Theobald and Johnson, whose preface to an edition of the bard's works in 1765, was looked upon as a remarkable effort of Shaksperean criticism. The influence of Johnson's preface, has been for evil, for he evidently misunderstands our poet, nor has he completely shaken off the trammels of an earlier school, and it so abounds with ponderous and long-sounding words of Latin origin, that there is not much to compensate the reader for his trouble. To Johnson, succeeded Stevens, Capell, and Malone, and their efforts have been highly serviceable to the world of Shakspere literature. The labours of Malone, as displayed in his edition of Shakspere, the best at the time of its publication, (1790), have been adopted by most modern commentators, as the basis for a true chronological arrangement of Shakspere's works.
*"Æschylus and Shakspere seem made to prove that contraries may be admirable. The point of departure for the one is absolutely opposite to the point of departure of the other. Æschylus is concentration, Shakspere is diffusion. One must be much applauded because he is condensed, and the other because he is diffuse; to schylus unity, to Shakspere ubiquity. Between them they divide God. And, as such intellects are always complete, one feels, in the drama unit of Æschylus, the free agitation of passion, and in the diffuse drama of Shakspere the convergence of all the rays of life. The one starts from unity and reaches a multiple, the other starts from the multiple and arrives at unity.”- Victor Hugo on Shakspere, P. 246.
A more genial school of critics has arisen since Johnson's time, for not fettered by any observance of unities and other such like classic inanities, they have developed the truthfulness and greatness of Shakspere above all other dramatic poets. The works of Lessing, Wieland, Schlegel, Horn, Goethe, Ulrici, Lencke, Bodenstedt, and Gervinius among the Germans, and the works of Hazlitt, Coleridge, Lamb, Jameson, Knight, Collier, Halliwell, Walker, White and Dyce, among the English, have added largely to our means of comprehending Shakspere, and the love of his works which they have generated, hath become so strong, that time will not eradicate the feeling, nor man destroy it.
Shakspere is truly the world's poet, to him all things owe allegiance. He is the genius of humanity,