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especially as they acted by day, and their stage was not so well illuminated as ours; and as the masks kept the lips from moving, so that it · could scarcely be perceived who spoke, it would not appear so ridiculous to us to have two engaged in the same part as we may imagine.
In France, Corneille and Racine have somewhat improved, though not much, on the Greek drama. They have introduced many more incidents into their plays than were found in the antient tragedies. Corneille is reinarked by the French critics for his sublimity ; Racine for describing the tender emotions; but the merit of both appears to me over-rated. Voltaire is more animated than Racine, and more intereste ing than either him or Corneille. Love always predominates in the French tragedies, and it is in general the love of a petit-maître. The French are also fantastically delicate, for they have banished all bloodshed from their stage; but this refinement, some of their own critics acknowledge they have carried too far, and, according to their own countryman Voltaire, they have quite enervated tragedy. It
may perhaps be affirmed that it is only on the English stage that a perfect tragedy is to be
seen. It is there that we find the just representation of nature, an action exhibited, such as the historian might: narrate.
The events not forced or unnatural, nor crowded within too narrow a space.
There we see characters such as are to be found in real life, such as serve to conduct the business of the plot in its natural course, and to a natural catastrophe; not stiffly and artificially contrasted, as in the French dramas, where every principal character must have his particular opponent, of different stature, differently habited, of opposite manners; made just to contradict each other, like the buffoons on the stage of the mountebank.
In this as well as in every other department of the drama, Shakspeare necessarily stands alone, His was the infancy of the art, and the whole field was open to him. The judicious Lowth observes, " That the passion of jealousy, its causes, circufbstances, progress, and effects, are more accurately, more copiously, more satisfactorily described in one drama of Shakspeare, than in all the disputations of philosopby.”
Perbaps it may be allowed, in deference to
Bishop Lowth's judgment, that the drama to which he refers, Othello, is the most perfect of all our author's productions; and consequently the most perfect tragedy in existence in all its parts. If unity of action is (as I think) an excellence, here every incident contributes to the main design. The characters are incomparably adapted to the action. The unsuspecting simplicity of Othello is well combined with the violence of passion by which he is agitated when he thinks himself abused. When I was a very young man, I used to think the Zanga of Dr. Young a better drawn character than Iago, and so it is according to the artificial rules “ for making tragedies," set forth by the tasteless followers of Aris!otle, and the French cri. tics; but more knowledge of the world has convinced me of my error. Zanga stärts up at once a complete villain-He has the whole plot, its circumstances and consequences at once in view. This is not natural: not to speak of the improbability of his treasuring up his revenge, unabated and unchanged, for so great a series of years. We read in Tacitus of one (Tiberius) whose character was “ odium in longum jaciens,” but this is not the odium of
Zanga, stored up for so many years, uneffaced by reiterated kindnesses.
Iago, on the contrary, is a villain only by degrees. Malignant, en vious, and fond of mischief, he enters upon his plan at first with only the vague and malevolent design of creating some uneasiness. In every progressive step he finds himself more deeply entangled, till at length in his own defence he is compelled to proceed. Even when the plot is considerably advanced, he sees not the end
* Tis here but yet confused,
The villainy of lago is also prompted from time to time by many circumstances; offence, jealousy and resentment àt Othello, envy of Cassio, the having cheated, and continuing to cheat Roderigo, all serve to involve him deeper and deeper, and to promote the catastrophe.
The incidents are truly interesting; the theft of the handkerchief, and Othello seeing it in Cassio's hand, are incomparably wrought up: In short, whether in the tumultuous scene in the street, of rousing Brabantio, or in the scenes
after the arrival at Cyprus, we can scarcely imagine that it is a fiction which is presented to us.
The poetry of the impassioned parts is of the bighest kind, and I think in the concluding speech of Othello there are more beauties than are any where comprized in the same compass.
Such is this astonishing production of human intellect; and yet I feel it almost rashness to pronounce it the master-piece of our author. In Lear there is something still grander, and perhaps the fable is still more generally in. teresting. Granting that the plots were not his own, still it is the judgment, taste, and genius of Shakspeare that is displayed in selecting such stories as serve for the basis of the most magnificent display of all the great passions incidental to human nature. Who will compare the cold and inanimate declamation of Edipus, in the Greek tragedy, with the sublime burst of passion, when the old king resents the un feeling ingratitude of his daughters? But even Edipus, in the hands of Shakspeare, would have been a different character.
One thing I must remark of this exquisite drama, because I have not seen it remarked by others, and that is, the perfect consistency, in