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podometry; and the jealousy work out at the very toes of them. Words, be they Spanish or Polish, or any inarticulate sound, have the same effect, they can only serve to distinguish, and, as it ' were, beat time to the action. But here we see a known language does wofully encumber and clog the operation : as either forced, or heavy, or trifling, or incoherent, or improper, or most impro"bable. When no words interpose to spoil the conceit, every one 'interprets, as he likes best; so in that memorable dispute between • Panurge and our English Philosopher in Rabelais, performed
without a word speaking, the Theologians, Physicians, and Sur"geons, made one inference; the Lawyers, Civilians, and Canonists, drew another conclusion more to their mind.'
Mr. Rymer thus objects to the superlative villany of Iago, on his advising Desdemona's murder. “Iago had some pretence to be
discontent with Othello and Cassio, and what passed hitherto was the operation of revenge. Desdemona had never done him any
harm; always kind to him, and to his wife; was his countrywo'man, a dame of quality. For him to abet her murder, shows nothing of a soldier, nothing of a man, nothing of nature in it. The Ordinary of Newgate never had the like monster to pass under his examination. Can it be any diversion to see a rogue beyond
what the Devil ever finished ? or would it be any instruction to an audience? Iago could desire no better than to set Cassio and Othello, his two enemies, by the ears together, so that he might have been revenged on them both at once; and choosing for his own share the murder of Desdemona, he had the opportunity to play booty, and save the poor harmless wretch. But the poet must do every thing by contraries; to surprise the audience still with something horrible and prodigious, beyond any human ima'gination. At this rate, he must outdo the Devil, to be a poet in the rank with Shakespear.'
Mr. Rymer is decorously enraged to think that the tragedy should turn on a handkerchief
. Why,' he asks in virtuous indignation, 'was not this called the tragedy of the handkerchief? what
can be more absurd than (as Quintilian expresses it) in parvibus "litibus has tragedias movere? We have heard of Fortunatus his 'purse, and of the invisible cloak long ago worn thread-bare, and stowed
in the wardrobe of obsolete romances; one might think ' that were a fitter place for this handkerchief than that it, at this time of day, be worn on the stage, to raise every where all this clutter and turmoil,? And again, the handkerchief is so remote a trifle, no booby on this side Mauritania could make any consequence from it.'
Our author suggests a felicitous alteration of the catastrophe of Othello. He proposes that the handkerchief, when lost, should have been folded in the bridal couch; and when Othello was sti
fling Desdemona, the fairy napkin might have started up to dis'arm his fury, and stop his ungracious mouth. Then might she (in a trance for fear) have lain as dead. Then might he (believing her dead) touched with remorse, have honestly cut his own throat, by the good leave, and with the applause of all the specta. tors; who might thereupon have gone home with a quiet mind,
admiring the beauty of providence, fairly and truly represented on the theatre.
The following is the summing up and catastrophe of this marvellous criticism : What can remain with the audience to carry
home with them from this sort of poetry, for their use and edification? How can it work, unless (instead of settling the mind and purging our passions) to delude our senses, disorder our thoughts, addle our brain, pervert our affections, hair our imaginations, corrupt our appetite—and fill our head with vanity, confusion, "tintamarre, and jingle-jangle, beyond what all the parish clerks of
London, with their Old Testament farces and interludes, ju Richard the Second's time, could ever pretend to? Our only "hopes, for the good of their souls, can be that these people go to the play-house as they do to church--to sit still, look on one another, make no reflection, nor mind the play more than they would a sermon.'
"There is in this play some burlesque, some humour, and ramble of comical wit, some show, and some mimicry to divert the spectators; but the tragical part is clearly none other than a bloody 'farce, without salt or savour.'
Our author's criticism on Julius Caesar, is very scanty, compared with that on Othello, but it is not less decisive. Îndeed, his classical zeal here sharpens his critical rage; and he is incensed against Shakspeare, not only as offending the dignity of the tragic muse, but the memory of the noblest Romans. He might,' exclaims the indignant critic, .be familiar with Othello and lago, as his own natural acquaintance, but Cæsar and Brutus were above his conversation; to put them in fool's coats, and make them Jack Puddens in the Shakespear dress, is a sacrilege beyond any
thing in Spelman. The truth is, this author's head was full of 'villanous unnatural images—and history has furnished him with 'great names, thereby to recommend them to the world, by wri* ting over them- This is Brutus, this is Cicero, this is Cesar.' He affirms, that the language Shakespear puts into the mouth of Brutus, would not suit or be convenient, unless from some son of the shambles, or some natural offspring of the butchery.' He abuses the poet for making the conspirators dispute about daybreak—seriously chides him for not allowing the noble Brutus a watch-candle in his chamber on this important night, rather than * puzzling his man Lucius to grope in the dark for a flint and tinder box, to get the taper lighted-speaks of the quarrel scene be tween Brutus and Cassius, as that in which they are to play a prize, a trial of skill in huffing and swaggering, like two drunk
en Hectors of a twopenny reckoning. And finally, alluding to the epilogue of Laberius, forced by the Emperor to become an actor, he thus sums up his charges : “This may show with what 'indignity our poet treats the noblest Romans. But there is no other cloth in his wardrobe. Every one must wear a fool's 'coat, that comes to be dressed by him; nor is he more civil to the ladies—Portia, in good manners, might have challenged
more respect; she that shines, a glory of the first magnitude in 'the gallery of heroic dames, is, with our poet, scarce one remove * from a natural; she is the own cousin-german of one piece, the 'very same impertinent, silly flesh and blood with Desdemona. Shakespear's genius lay for comedy and humour. In tragedy 'he appears quite out of his element; his brains are turned-be 'raves and rambles without any coherence, any spark of reason, or any rule to control him, to set bounds to his phrenzy.'
One truth, though the author did not understand it, is told in this critique on Julius Cæsar ; that Shakspeare's “senators and his orators had their learning and education at the same school
, be they Venetians, Ottamites, or noble Romans.' They drew, in their golden urns, from the deep fountain of humanity, those living waters which lose not their sweetness or their inspiration, in the changes of man's external condition.
These attacks on Shakspeare are very curious, as evincing how gradual has been the increase of his fame. Their whole tone shows that the author was not advancing what he thought the world would regard as paradoxical or strange. He speaks as one with authority to decide. We look now on his work amazedly; and were it put forth by a writer of our times, should regard it as " the very ecstacy of madness.” Such is the lot of genius. How ever small the circle of contemporary admirers, it must "gather same” as time rolls on. It appeals to natural beauty and feeling, which cannot alter. The minds who once have deeply felt it, can never lose the impression it first made upon them--they transmit it to others of a kindred feeling, by whom it is extended to those who are worthy to treasure it within their souls.
We should not, however, have thus dwelt on the attacks of Ryd mer, had we regarded them merely as objects of wonder, or as proofs of the partial influence of Shakspeare's genius. They are far from deserving unmingled scorn.-Their author has a heartiness, an earnestness almost romantic, which we cannot despise
, though directed against our idol. With a singular obtuseness to poetry, he has a chivalric devotion to all that he regards as excellent, stately, and grand. He looks on the supposed errors of thrę
poet as moral crimes. He confounds fiction with fact-grows warm in defence of shadows-feels a violation of poetical justice, as a wrong conviction by a jury—moves a Habeas Corpus for all damsels imprisoned in romance and if the bard kills those of his characters who deserve to live, pronounces judgment on him as in case of felony, without benefit of clergy. He is the Don Quixote of criticism. Like the illastrious hero of Cervantes, he is roused to avenge fictitious injuries, and would demolish the scenic exhibition in his disinterested rage. He does more honour to the poet, than any other writer, for he seems to regard him as an arbiter of life and death-responsible only to the critic for the administration of his powers.
Mr. Rymer has his own stately notions of what is proper for tragedy. He is zealous for poetical justice; and as he thinks that vice cannot be punished too severely, and that the poet ought to leave his victims objects of pity, he protests against the introduction of very wicked characters. Therefore,' says he, among the 'ancients we find no malefactors of this kind; a wilful murderer,
is, with them, as strange and unknown as a parricide to the old Romans. Yet need we not fancy that they were squeamish, or 'unacquainted with any of those great lumping crimes in that age : “when we remember their Edipus, Orestes, or Medea. But they took care to wash the viper, to cleanse away the venom, and with such art to prepare the morsel : they made it all junket to the "taste, and all physic in the operation. Our author understands exactly the balance of power in the affections. He would dispose of all the poet's characters to a hair, according to his own rules of fitness. He would martial them in array as in a procession, and mark out exactly what each ought to do or suffer. According to him, so much of presage and no more should be given-such a degree of sorrow, and no more, ought a character to endure; vengeance should rise precisely to a given height, and be executed by a certain appointed hand. He would regulate the conduct of fictitious heroes as accurately as of real beings, and often reasons very beautifully on his own poetic decalogue. Amintor,' says he, (speaking of a character in the Maid's Tragedy,) should have begged the king's pardon; should have suffered all the racks and 'tortures a tyrant could inflict; and from Perillus's bull should have still bellowed out that eternal truth, that his promise was to 'be kept--that he is true to Aspatia, that he dies for his mistress! Then would his memory have been precious and sweet to after 'ages; and the midsummer maidens would have offered their gar"lands all at his grave.'
Some there are, who trace the emotions of strange delight which tragedy awakens entirely to the love of strong excitement, which is gratified by spectacles of anguish. According to their doctrine,
many are exci
the more nearly the representation of sorrow approaches reality, the more intense will be the gratification of the spectator. Thus Burke has gravely asserted, that if the audience at a tragedy were informed of an execution about to take place in the neighbourhood, they would leave the theatre to witness it. We believe that experience does not warrant a speculation so dishonourable to our nature. How few, except those of the grossest minds, are ever attracted by the punishment of capital offenders! Even of those whom the dreadful infliction draws together, how ted merely by curiosity, and a desire to view that last mortal agony, which in a form more or less terrible all must endure! We think that if, during the representation of a tragedy, the audience were compelled to feel vividly that a fellow creature was struggling in the agonies of a violent death, many of them would retire-but pot to the scene of horror. The reality of human suffering would come too closely home to their hearts, to permit their enjoyment of the fiction. How often, during the scenic exhibition of intolerable agony-unconsecrated and unredeemed-have we been com- gide pelled to relieve our hearts from a weight too heavy for endurance, by calling to mind that the woes are fictitious! It cannot be the highest triumph of an author, whose aim is to heighten the enjoyments of life, that he forces us, in our own defence, to escape from his power. If the pleasure derived from tragedy were merely occasioned by the love of excitement, the pleasure would be in proportion to the depth and the reality of the sorrow. Then would The Gamester be more pathetic [and interesting] than Othello, and Isabella call forth deeper admiration than Macbeth or Lear. Then would George Burnwell be the loftiest tragedy, and the Newgate Calendar the sweetest collection of pathetic tales. To name those instances, is sufficiently to refute the position on which they are founded.
Equally false is the opinion, that the pleasure derived from tragedy arises from a source of individual security, while others are suffering. There are no feelings more distantly removed from the selfish, than those which genuine tragedy awakens. We are carried at its representation out of ourselves and “ the ignorant present time," by earnest sympathy with the passions and the sorrows, not of ourselves, but of our nature. We feel our community with the general heart of man. The encrustments of selfishness and low passion are rent asunder, and the warm tide of human sympa: thies gushes triumphantly from its secret and divine sources.
It is the high duty of the tragic poet to exhibit humanity sublimest in its distresses—to dignify or to sweeten sorrow—10 exhibit eternal energies wrestling with each other, or with the accidents of the world and to disclose the depth and the immortality of the affections. He must represent humanity as a rock, beaten, and