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he offered his house for sale, carried a brick in his pocket as a specimen; and also, that his real power was not shown in the splendour of particular passages, but by the progress of his fable and the tenour of his dialogue ; still, nevertheless, he had no alternative but to make extracts. Before doing this, however, he would remark upon Shakspere's writings generally, and upon his historical plays in particular. They were neither tragedies nor comedies, properly so-called. There was a striking difference between them and the plays of the Ancients. Shakspere delighted in mixture and combinations. He blended together nature and art, poetry and prose, seriousness and mirth, recollection and anticipation, spirituality and sensuality, terrestrial and celestial, life and death. All the ancient poetry was, as it were, a rhythmetical law-a promulgation of permanently established rules, and reflected in itself the eternal image of things. But romantic poetry disdained the trammels of prescribed laws; and was perpetually striving after new and marvellous births. One was conception—the other, feeling; and while conception could only comprise each object separately, feeling could take in all at one and the same glance. The one kind of poetry was sometimes compared with sculpture, and the other with painting.
Shakspere was evidently careless of fame, to judge from the vicissitudes to which he wilfully exposed his first compositions. His was indeed the poetry of nature ; his characters were the genuine progeny of common humanity, such as the world would always supply, and observation always select. It was, then, to the praise of Shakspere that his drama was the mirror of life. He has, however, been censured by men of no mean capacity for the wildness and irregularity of his compositions. Hume preferred Pope to Milton, Addison to Shakspere; whilst Voltaire has in the height of his presumption designated Shakspere a barbarian. But these men were so wedded to the rules of the Greek schools of composition, that they could not appreciate the great bard : they seemed to forget the object of the drama was to furnish a faithful picture of human life as it was; or, in Shakspere's own words—" to hold the mirror up to nature.” The fact was, that Shakspere's contempt for the petty proprieties contended for by these prejudiced critics, constituted the chief grandeur of his plays. The more we examined them the more we were
convinced that those stirring scenes of his, which now delighted and astonished us, could not have been produced had he observed the rules for dramatic composition which his predecessors had never dared to violate.
The historic plays are ten in number:-1. King John ; 2. Richard II.; 3 and 4. Henry IV.; 5. Henry V.; 6, 7, 8. Henry VI. ; 9. Richard III. ; and the last, not least, 10. Henry VIII. In writing historical dramas, a certain poetical license was allowed, of which Shakspere did not scruple to avail himself. He seems to have studied the old English chronicles with great diligence ; and when it was appropriate, even followed Hollinshed so closely as to introduce into his plays whole speeches from that author's book. He of course took the liberty of moulding the facts of history to suit his purpose ; but he always gave a true picture of the times he delineated. It has been said as a reproach that our youth derived their history from Shakspere, but he should take care to refer to other sources upon aïl points where he thought the Bard was untrustworthy and it must be borne in mind that the dramatist intended his representation not to be a history, but a play, the very name of which implies a fictitious narrative. For his part (said the lecturer) he felt truly grateful to those men who by indulging us with an account of what they saw and felt while on their aerial flights, though their sensations were but fancies, raised us—in imagination, at least-above the common-places around us, and enabled us for the moment to forget our relation to the dust. It was refreshing now and then to be set dreaming and castle building; for he reckoned that a castle in the air was better than no castle at all; and he was thankful to those who could afford him such refreshment. There were limits, no doubt: it was Shakspere's productions which dealt with probabilities that were generally most appreciated ; that was the secret of the influence he exercised over us, and by which he had kept for two centuries and a-half the admiration of the world.
The object of Shakspere in the historical plays was to revive the past; to bring the mighty dead once more before the eyes of the living; and, like the Prophet of Israel, to cause the shadow to go backwards on the dialplate of time. The mists that gathered round the dead could not obscure his vision. His was a genius capable of
re-illumining the darkest and most distant periods of our history-of awakening the monarch from his slumbers, of raising the hero from his tomb, of captivating the lover anew, of restoring the beauty in all her former loveliness. His plays were real, living, breathing history, and they afforded us a better conception of England in the olden time, than all the laborious volumes which the subject had called forth. They might be regarded as the interpreters of the mind of the nation in the Elizabethan era; anel from them we learnt with pride what a fine race the old English people were. How they delighted in the remembrance of their ancient kings, statesmen, and warriors ; how they gloried in the recollection of Agincourt; and how proud they were of the high position which they occupied in the world ; and how fully conscious, even then, of their destiny to become the first of all nations in politics, philosophy, literature, and commerce, arms and arts; and to be in every age the leaders in the vanguard of civilisation. In this "history," too, the author appeared not only as a great poet and a great philosopher, by whom the deepest recesses of the human heart had been explored, but also as a true patriot, striving to familiarise his countrymen with the noblest passages of their history—to fill their minds with. lofty aspirations—to teach them to regard their native isle as the nursery of a race destined to play a great part in the world—to conquer and to ruleand to whose keeping was entrusted the dearest interests of humanity. Those noble lines in praise of England, which Shakspere put into the mouth of “Old John of Gaunt,” ought to be engraven on the hearts of all her
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
(Feared by their breed, and famous for their birth,
None but a real patriot could have written this of his fatherland.-Mr. Kemble went on to review the history of the era in which Shakspere was born, of which he gave a graphic description; and which alone, he said, could be compared with the present times. The mists the middle ages had just rolled away; and civilisation, like the sun just emerged from the dark cloud, was shining with renewed brilliancy upon regions hitherto unvisited by its rays. The mind of man, escaped from the fetters of superstition and tyranny, which had so long enchained it, was exulting in its new-found freedom. The art of printing had been recently discovered, and the printing press was doing its work in the diffusion of knowledge among the people.
Archimedes once said—“Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum strong enough, and with my own weight I will move the earth.” In the age in which Shakspere lived, the requisite lever and fulcrum were found, and the earth was moved. Luther was the Archimedes, and the printing press was the lever; the mind of man was the fulcrum ; and the combined force of these powers proved irresistible. At the very first outset, the stronghold of superstition, tyranny, ignorance, and misery, was levelled with the dust. Wherever Luther and the printing press appeared, a new life sprung into existence; the desert was no longer barren—the dungeon was no longer a place of gloom. The first boon of the printing press was the Reformation. This great educator of the people set men reasoning, thinking, and exercising the right of private judgment; and the history of the world was changed. Of this age Shakspere's works were the truest history; and whoever would acquire a general knowledge of “England and the English” during those exciting times, and would judge of the hopes, fears, and aspirations to which the stirring events of that day gave rise, should study Shak
spere's "Historical Plays.” They formed the noblest History of England that ever was written, for if they were not an exposition of minute events, they were the pictures of life. For, as in human existence itself, which in its alternations of joy and sorrow resembled the ever-changing aspect of an April day-now sunshine and now showers so tears and laughter by turns affected us as we perused those just portraits of the vicissitudes of life. As we proceeded in the examination of those works, we should become acquainted with many characters that really existed, and with circumstances which really occurred in the world. By the aid of that Great Magician, we should be able to summon into our presence men who had long since made their final exit from the world's stage. We should seem to see them play over again the parts which they had gone to answer for before Him who takes no account of the lapse of ages—with whom“ one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” The object of his lecture was to follow their history with a view to their own profit; to understand their follies and quarrels; and to weep over their sorrows, their wickedness, and their crimes. Human life, of which ourselves were partakers, and which was so vividly and truthfully pourtrayed in the dramas they were considering, was environed with wonders. Behind us was an eternitybefore us was an eternity: like a star shooting through the sky-like a wave breaking on the shore—man appeared for a moment in existence, and in a moment again disappeared.
After this eloquent introduction, the lecturer described the histories of Shakspere more in detail, observing that eight out of thirteen were so linked together as to embrace an uninterrupted period of nearly one hundred years of English history ;="King John” being the prologue, and “Henry VIII.” the epilogue to the other eight. The play of “King John” was the only one which he proposed to deal with on the present occasion. He traced the life of the craven-hearted tyrant, by Shakspere's narrative, from the commencement of his reign, to his death at Swinstead Abbey. It was in that play that we first heard of the grumblings of the storm which, bursting forth in a later age, separated for ever the Church of England from the Church of Rome. Turning from considerations such as