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arbitrary, or only locally necessary, he has adopted two of which it may be said, that neither time, circumstance, nor opinion, can diminish the utility. To unity of action, the indispensable requisite of every well-constituted fable, he has added, what in him is found more perfect than in any other writer, unity of feeling, as applicable not only to individual character, but to the prevailing tone and influence of each play. Thus, while it must be confessed that the former is, in a few instances, broken in upon, by the admission of extraneous personages or occurrences, in no respect is the latter, throughout the whole
range of his productions, forgotten or violated. It is to this sedulous attention in the preservation of unity of feeling, that Shakspeare owes much of his fascination and powers of impression over the hearts and minds of his audience. It has been duly panegyrised by the critics with respect to his delineation of character; but as referable to the expression and effect of an entire drama, it has been too much overlooked. What, for example, can be more distinct than the tone of feeling which pervades every portion of Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, and how consistently is this tone preserved throughout each ! Through the first, from its opening to its close, breathe the freshness and the fragrance of youth and spring, their sweetness, their innocency, and alas ! their transiency; while in the second, a tempest of more than midnight horror, and the still more turbulent strife of human vice and passion, howl for ever in our ears ! Again, how delightful is the tender and philosophic melancholy, which steals upon us in every scene of As You Like It, and how contrasted with the bustle and vivacity, the light and effervescent wit which animate, and sparkle in, the dialogue of Much Ado about Nothing ! We consider this unity, by which the separate parts of a drama are rendered so strictly subservient to a single and a common object, namely, the production of a combined and uniform impression, as one of the most remarkable proofs of the depth and comprehensiveness of the mind of Shakspeare.
This excellence is the more extraordinary, as no part in the conduct of his drama is perhaps so prominent, as that mixture of seriousness
and 'mirth, of comic and tragic effect, which springs from the very structure itself of the romantic drama. But this interchange of emotion serves only to place the intention of the poet, and the fulness of his success, more completely in our view ; for he has almost always contrived, that the ludicrous personages of his play should give essential aid to the pre-determined effect of the composition as a whole; and this co-operation is even most apparent, where the impression intended to be excited is the most tragic: thus the anguish which lacerates the bosom of Lear, when deserted by his children, and driven forth amid the horrors of the tempest, is augmented almost to madness by the sarcastic drollery of the fool ; developed, indeed, with an energy and strength which no other expedient could have accomplished.
These contrasts, which are, in fact, of the very essence of the romantic drama, as requiring richer and more varied accompaniments than the antique species, form, in their whole spirit and effect, a sufficient apology, were one in the least necessary, for the tragi-comic texture of our author's principal productions.
By embracing in one view the whole of the checkered scene of human existence, its joys and sorrows, its perpetually shifting circumstances and relations, and by blending these into one harmonious picture, Shakspeare has achieved a work to which the ancient world had nothing similar, and which, of all the efforts of human genius, demands perhaps the widest and profoundest exertion of intellect. It demands a knowledge of man, both as a genus and a species ; of man, as acting from himself, and of man in society under all its aspects and revolutions : it demands a knowledge of what has influenced and modified his character from the earliest dawn of record and, above all, it demands a conversancy of the most intimate kind with his constitution, moral, intellectual, and religious ; so that in detaching a portion of history for the purposes of dramatic composition, the philosopher shall be as discernible in the execution as
It is this depth and comprehension of design in the conduct of his drama, this amplitude of “a mind reflecting ages past *,” which, while it has rendered Shakspeare an object of admiration to the intelligent student of nature, has occasioned him to be so often and so grossly misinterpreted by the narrow critic and the careless reader.
To these brief remarks on the Genius and Conduct, it will be necessary to add a few observations on the Characters, the Passions, the Comic Painting, and the Imaginative Powers, of his drama.
is, indeed, a task of the utmost magnitude and difficulty, but one in which our poet has succeeded with a felicity altogether unparalleled. His characters live and breathe before us; we perceive not only what they say and do, but what they feel and think ; and we are tempted to believe, that like some magician of old, he possessed the art of transfusing himself into the frame, and of speaking through the organs, of those whom he wished to represent; so exactly has he drawn, without deviation from the general laws and broad tract of life, each class and condition of mankind.
Whether he delineate the possessor of a throne, or the tenant of a cottage ; the warrior in battle, or the statesman in debate ; youth in its fervour, or old age in its repose; guilt in agony, or innocence in
* This expression, and the verses which open some of the leading subjects of this summary, are taken from a poem “On worthy Master Shakspeare,” supposed to have been the composition of Jasper Mayne, but which Mr. Godwin, if we recollect aright, for the book is not before us, is desirous of attributing, on account of its singular excellence, to the pen of Milton. See his Lives of E. and J. Philips, 4to. VOL. II.
peace; the votaries of pleasure, or the victims of despair ; we behold each character developing itself, not through the medium of selfdescription, but, as in actual experience, through the influence and progression of events, and through the re-action of surrounding agents. Thus, from the mutual working of conflicting interests and emotions, from their various powers of coalescence and repulsion, the characters of Shakspeare are, like those in real life, evolved with an energy and strength, with a freedom and boldness of outline which will, probably for ever, stamp them with the seal of unapproachable excellence.
Nor is he less distinguished for an illimitable sway over the Passions :
are some of the noblest attributes of the dramatic poet, and more peculiarly characteristic of Shakspeare than of any other writer. The birth and progress of the numerous passions which awaken pity and terror, he has unfolded, indeed, with such minute fidelity to nature, that it is scarcely possible, as Madame De Stael has observed, to sympathise thoroughly with Shakspeare's sufferers, without tasting also of the bitter experience of real life.
The pathos of Shakspeare is either simple or figurative, in accordancy with the character, and in proportion to the intensity of the feeling, from which it emanates. The sigh of suffering merit, or the pang of unrequited love, affects us most when clothed in the language of perfect simplicity ; but the energy, the paroxysm of extreme sorrow, naturally bursts into figurative language, nay often demands that very play of imagery and words, for which our bard has been ignorantly condemned, but which, like laughter amid the horrors of
madness, can alone impress us with an adequately keen sense of the overwhelming agony of the soul.
of the soul. Of these two modes of exciting pity, we possess very striking examples in the sufferings of Katherine in Henry the Eighth, and in the parental afflictions of Constance in King John.
The excitement, indeed, of unallayed pity must necessarily either be
very short, or very painful, and it has therefore been the endeavour of our dramatist, according to the language of the fine old bard just quoted,
so to temper passion, that our ears Take pleasure in their pain ;"
and this he has effected, and often with great skill and judgment, by a transient intermixture of playful fancy or comic allusion, of which, instances without number are to be found dispersed throughout his plays.
Yet great as we acknowledge the influence of Shakspeare to have been, in eliciting the tears of pity and compassion, he has surpassed not only others, but himself, in the power and extent of his dominion over the sources and operation of terror.
be said of crimes painted by Shakspeare,” remarks an accomplished critic, “ as the Bible says of Death, that he is the King of TERRORS * ;” an assertion fully
KING OF warranted by an appeal to Richard, to Lear, to Hamlet, to Macbeth, where this soul-harrowing emotion, as derived from natural or supernatural causes, from remorseless cruelty, from phrenzy-stricken sorrow, from conscious guilt or withering fear, is depicted with an energy so awful and appalling as to blanch the cheek and chill the blood of every intellectual being. More especially do we pursue his creations with trembling hope and breathless apprehension, when he traces the wanderings of despair, when he presents to our view that “ ship
*“ The Influence of Literature upon Society," by Madame De Stael-Holstein, vol. i. p. 294. Translation, 2d. edit. 1812.