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tention did not always reign through the whole drama.
It was just now observed, that Shakspeare has an advantage over the Greek poets, in the more solemn, gloomy, and mysterious air of his national superstitions ; but this avails him only with critics of deep penetration and true taste, and with whom sentiment has more sway than authority. The learned have received the popular tales of Greece from their poets; ours are derived to them from the illiterate vulgar. The phantom of Darius in the tragedy of the Persians, evoked by ancient rites, is beheld with reverence by the scholar, and endured by the bel esprit. To these the ghost of Hamlet is an object of contempt or ridicule. Let us candidly examine these royal shades, as exhibited to us by those great masters in the art of exciting pity and terror, ÆschyJus and Shakspeare ; and impartially decide which poet throws most of the sublime into the præternatural character; and, also, which has the art to render it most efficient
in the drama. This enquiry may be the more interesting, because the French wits have often mentioned Hamlet's ghost an instance of the barbarism of our theatre. The Persians, of Æschylus, is certainly one of the most august spectacles that ever was represented on a theatre; nobly imagined, happily sustained, regularly conducted, deeply interesting to the Athenian people, and favourable to their great scheme of resisting the power of the Persian monarch. It would be absurd to depreciate this excellent piece, or to bring into a general comparison with it, a drama of so different a kind as the tragedy of Hamlet. But it is surely allowable to compare the Persian phantom with the Danish ghost; and to examine, whether any thing but prejudice, in favour of the ancients, protects the superstitious circumstances relative to the one, from the same ridicule with which the others have been treated. Atossa, the widow of Darius, relates to the sages of the Persian council, a dream and an omen; they advise her to consult the shade of her dead lord, upon what is to be done in the unfortunate situation of Xerxes just defeated by the Greeks. In the third act she enters offering to the manès a libation composed of milk, honey, wine, oil, &c. Upon this, Darius issues from his tomb. Let the wits, who are so smart on our ghost's disappearing at the cock's crowing, explain why, in reason, a ghost in Persia, or in Greece, should be more fond of milk and honey, than averse, in Denmark, to the crowing of acock. Each poet adopted, in his work, the superstition relative to his subject; and the poet who does so, understands his business much better than the critic, who, in judging of that work, refuses it his attention The phantom of Darius comes forth in his regal robes to Atossa and the satraps in council, who, in the eastern manner, pay their silent adorations to their emperor. His quality of ghost does not appear to make any impression upon them; and the satraps so exactly preserve the characters of courtiers, that they do not venture to tell him the true state of the affairs of his kingdom, and its recent disgraces : finding he cannot get any information from them, he addresses himself
to Atossa, who does not break forth with that passion and tenderness one should expect, on the sight of her long-lost husband; but very calmly informs him, after some flattery on the constant prosperity of his reign, of the calamitous state of Persia under Xerxes, who has been stimulated by his courtiers, to make war upon Greece. The phantom, who was to appear ignorant of what was past, that the ear of the Athenians might be soothed and flattered with the detail of their victory at Salamis, is allowed, for the same reason, such prescience, as to foretell their future triumph at Platea. Whatever else he adds by way of counsel or reproof, either in itself, or in the mode of delivering it, is nothing more than might be expected from any experienced counsellor of state. Darius advises the old men to enjoy whatever they can, because riches are of no use in the grave. As this touches the most absurd and ridiculous foible in human nature, the increase of a greedy and solicitous desire of wealth, when the period of enjoyment of it becomes more precarious and short, the admonition has something of a comic and satirical turn, unbecoming the solemn character of the speaker, and the sad exigency upon which he was called. The intervention of this præternatural being gives nothing of the marvellous or the sublime to the piece, nor adds to, or is connected with its interest. The supernatural, divested of the august and the terrible, make but a poor figure in any species of poetry; useless and unconnected with the fable, it wants propriety, in dramatic poetry. Shakspeare had so just a taste, that he never introduced any præternatural character on the stage, that did not assist in the conduct of the drama. Indeed he had such prodigious force of talents, that he could make every being his fancy created, subservient to his designs. The uncouth, awkward monster, Caliban, is so subject to his genius, as to assist in bringing things to the proposed end and perfection. And the slight fairies, weak masters though they be, even in their wanton gambols and idle sports, perform great tasks by his so potent art.