페이지 이미지

drawn out into the length of three plays; and even the account of his death, given by his old landlady Mrs. Quickly, in the first act of Henry V. though it be extremely natural, is yet as diverting as any part of his life. If there be any fault in the draught he has made of this lewd old fellow, it is, that though he has made him a thief, lying, cowardly, vain-glorious, and, in fhort, every way vicious, yet he has given him fo much wit as to make him almoft too agreeable: and I don't know whether fome people have not, in remembrance of the diverfion he had formerly afforded them, been forry to fee his friend Hal use him fo fcurvily, when he comes to the crown in the end of the fecond part of Henry the fourth. Amongst other extravagancies, in the Merry Wives of Windfor, he has made him a deer-ftealer, that he might at the fame time remember his Warwickshire profecutor, under the name of justice Shallow; he has given him very near the fame coat of arms which Dugdale, in his antiquities of that county, describes for a family there, and makes the Welsh parfon defcant very pleasantly upon them. That whole play is admirable; the humours are various, and well oppofed; the main defign, which is to cure Ford of his unreasonable jealousy, is extremely well conducted. In Twelfth-Night there is fomething fingularly ridiculous and pleasant in the fantastical steward Malvolio. The parasite and the vain-glorious in Parolles, in All's Well that Ends well, is as good as any thing of that kind in Plautus, or Terence. Petruchio, in The Taming of the Shrew, is an uncommon piece of humour. The converfation of Benedick and Beatrice, in Much Ado about Nothing, and of Rofalind in As you like it, have much wit and fprightlinefs all along. His clowns, without which character there was hardly any play writ in that time, are all very entertaining: and, I believe, Therfites in Troilus and Creffida, and Apemantus in Timon, will be allowed to be masterpieces of ill-nature, and fatyrical fnarling. To thefe I might add, that incomparable character of Shylock the Jew, in the Merchant of Venice; but though we have seen that play received and acted as a comedy, and the part of the Jew performed by an excellent comedian,

[blocks in formation]

yet, I cannot but think, it was defigned tragically by the author. There appears in it such a deadly spirit of revenge, fuch a favage fiercenefs and fellness, and fuch a bloody defignation of cruelty and mischief, as cannot agree either with the style or characters of comedy. The play itself, take it altogether, seems to me to be one of the most finished of any of Shakespear's. The tale, indeed, in that part relating to the caskets, and the extravagant and unusual kind of bond given by Antonio, is too much removed from the rules of probability: but, taking the fact for granted, we must allow it to be very beautifully written. There is fomething in the friendship of Antonio to Baffanio very great, generous, and tender. The whole fourth act (fuppofing, as I said, the fact to be probable) is extremely fine. But there are two paffages that deferve a particular notice. The first is, what Portia fays in praise of mercy, and the other on the power of mufick. The melancholy of Jaques, in As you like it, is as fingular and odd as it is diverting. And if, what Horace fays,

Difficile eft proprie communia dicere,

'twill be a hard task for any one to go beyond him in the description of the feveral degrees and ages of man's life, though the thought be old, and common enough.


All the world is a ftage,

And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts:
His acts being feven ages. First, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then, the whining fchoolboy with his fatchel,
And fining morning face, creeping like fnail
Unwillingly to School. And then, the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then, a foldier,


Full of frange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in bonour, fudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation

Ev'n in the cannon's mouth. And then, the justice
In fair round belly, with good capon lin'd,
With eyes fevere, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wife faws and modern inftances,
And fo he plays his part. The fixth age shifts
Into the lean and flipper'd pantaloon,
With Spectacles on nofe, and pouch on fide;
His youthful hofe, well fav'd, a world too wide
For his fhrunk fbanks; and his big manly voice,
Turning again tow'rd childish treble, pipes
And whiffles in his found. Laft fcene of all,
That ends this frange eventful biftory,

Is fecond childishness, and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, fans eyes, fans tafte, fans every thing.
Vol. 2. p. 200.

His images are, indeed, every where fo lively, that the thing he would reprefent ftands full before you, and you poffefs every part of it. I will venture to point out one more, which is, I think, as strong and as uncommon as any thing I ever faw; 'tis an image of patience. Speaking of a maid in love, he fays:

She never told her love,

But let concealment, like a worm i' th' bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: fhe pin'd in thought,
And fat like Patience on a monument,

Smiling at Grief.

What an image is here given! and what a task would it have been for the greatest masters of Greece and Rome to have expreffed the passions designed by this sketch of ftatuary! The style of his comedy is, in general, natural to the characters, and easy in

e 2


[ocr errors]

itfelf; and the wit moft commonly sprightly and pleasing, except in thofe places where he runs into doggerel rhymes, as in The Comedy of Errors, and fome other plays. As for his jingling fometimes, and playing upon words, it was the common vice of the age he lived in: and if we find it in the pulpit, made use of as an ornament to the fermons of fome of the graveft divines of those times; perhaps, it may not be thought too light for the stage.

BUT certainly the greatness of this author's genius does no where so much appear, as where he gives his imagination an entire loose, and raises his fancy to a flight above mankind, and the limits of the vifible world. Such are his attempts in The Tempeft, Midfummer-Night's Dream, Macbeth, and Hamlet. Of thefe, The Tempest, however it comes to be placed the first by the publishers of his works, can never have been the first written by him: it seems to me as perfect in its kind, as almost any thing we have of his. One may obferve, that the unities are kept here, with an exactness uncommon to the liberties of his writing: though that was what, I fuppofe, he valued himself leaft upon, fince his excellencies were all of another kind. I am very sensible that he does, in this play, depart too much from that likeness to truth which ought to be observed in these sort of writings; yet he does it fo very finely, that one is easily drawn in to have more faith for his fake, than reafon does well allow of. His magick has fomething in it very folemn and very poetical: and that extravagant character of Caliban is mighty well fuftained, fhows a wonderful invention in the author, who could ftrike out fuch a particular wild image, and is certainly one of the finest and most uncommon grotefques that was ever seen. The obfervation, which I have been informed 'three very great men concurred in making upon this part, was extremely juft: that Shakespear had not only found out a new character in his Caliban, but had alfo devifed and adapted a new manner of language for that character.

* Lord Falkland, Lord C. J. Vaughan, and Mr. Selden.

1. It is the fame magick that raises the fairies in Midfummer Night's Dream, the witches in Macbeth, and the ghoft in Hamlet, with thoughts and language so proper to the parts they sustain, and fo peculiar to the talent of this writer. But of the two laft of thefe plays I fhall have occafion to take notice, among the tragedies of Mr. Shakespear. If one undertook to examine the greatest part of thefe by thofe rules which are established by Ariftotle, and taken from the model of the Grecian stage, it would be no very hard task to find a great many faults: but as Shakespear lived under a kind of mere light of nature, and had never been made acquainted with the regularity of those written precepts, fo it would be hard to judge him by a law he knew nothing of. We are to confider him as a man that lived in a state of almost universal license and ignorance: there was no established judge, but every one took the liberty to write according to the dictates of his own fancy. When one confiders, that there is not one play before him of a reputation good enough to entitle it to an appearance on the prefent ftage, it cannot but be a matter of great wonder that he should advance dramatick poetry so far as he did. The fable is what is generally placed the first, among thofe that are reckoned the conftituent parts of a tragick or heroick poem; not, perhaps, as it is the most difficult or beautiful, but as it is the first properly to be thought of in the contrivance and.courfe of the whole; and with the fable ought to be confidered, the fit difpofition, order and conduct of its feveral parts. As it is not in this province of the Drama that the ftrength and mastery of Shakespear lay, fo I fhall not undertake the tedious and ill-natur'd trouble to point out the several faults he was guilty of in it. His tales were feldom invented, but rather taken either from true hiftory, or novels and romances: and he commonly made ufe of them in that order, with those incidents, and that extent of time in which he found them in the authors from whence he borrowed them. Almost all his historical plays comprehend a great length of time, and very different and distinct places: and in his Antony and Cleopatra, the fcene travels over


« 이전계속 »