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is beside our immediate purpose to inquire.

We must, however, observe, that our Shakespearian criticism of the last century was too much in the spirit of Polonius's own; dwelling exclusively on parts and details-shewing an analytic mind of a vulgar order. “ This is too long” “That is good; mobled queen is good” "_" That's an ill phrase, a vile phrase; beautified is a vile phrase."-Such is the critical style of Shakespeare's loquacious and pedantic lord chamber

and much about the same is that of his commentators of the old school. In Hamlet himself, on the contrary, we find, among so many other ideal qualities, a type of the superior critic, who not only examines and judges, but who understands and feels. Again, Polonius criticises like a true matter-of-fact man, abounding in worldly wisdom, as we see in his admirable parting advice to his son; Hamlet, like a poet--and a dramatic poet especially for we find him playing both the manager and the dramatist yet more than the critic. Indeed, none but a poetic mind is a competent judge of poetry, literary or artistic.

Such minds, within the present century, have seriously and systematically applied themselves to appreciate and illustrate the dramatic genius of Shakespeare. But even the Schlegels and the Coleridges have scarcely done more than trace out and indicate the central idea, the individual spirit, which informs each one of his greater dramas, and moulds every one of its features in harmony with that peculiar inspiring soul. To descend to those features themselves-to trace the vital ramification through all the details of character, incident, and dialogue-a process indispensable to the reader's thorough conception and feeling of the piece, and to the manager's perfectly intelligent preparation of its performance is the important and attractive labour which remains to be performed by English criticism.

We say, it remains to be performed—for it is remarkable that even Hazlitt, in his Characters of Shakespear's Plays,' while assigning the publication of Schlegel's . Dramatic Lectures' in English as his immediate motive to the composition of that volume of essays, and citing Schlegel's estimate of Shakespeare so largely in his preface, does not apply to any one play as a whole, nor to any individual character in it, that method of examination which an attentive perusal of Schlegel's book should, we think, have naturally suggested. The English critic, with all his sagacity, keen sense of poetic beauty, and logical acuteness, seems but imperfectly to have apprehended the inmost spirit of Shakespeare as the great dramatic artist. This fundamental deficiency, leaving him without that sure guide which he would otherwise have found to the surveying of each play, and each character in it, from the one right point of view, not only prevented him from clearly expounding to us the distinguishing individual spirit of each drama as a whole, but has caused him, even among, so many striking and instructive observations which those essays contain, to fall into some serious misconceptions respecting divers of the prominent characters, which we shall venture to point out, should occasion require it from us.

Still less does the authoress of the Characteristics of Women'seem to us to display that highest artistic

well as philosophically poetic appreciation of Shakespeare's dramatic personages, which can only be acquired by surveying each entire drama, in the first instance, from the most elevated point of view. Nevertheless, Mrs. Jameson's work contains much agreeable and some original remark; and gives a more systematic and complete account of Shakespeare's female characters, than Hazlitt's volume affords of his characters in general.

Now, the more that a deep and intimate knowledge of the noble and subtle essence of Shakespeare's leading characters is acquired and diffused, the stronger and more general, assuredly, will be the feeling of reverence for the qualities of a great Shakespearian

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performer, and the nearer will the spirit of current criticism on Shakespearian acting approach to that double character which the sublimely humane influence of Shakespeare's own genius should infuse into it,-of gratitude for all of that divine essence which the actor has succeeded in embodying,—and of the most urbane admonition and kindest instruction regarding his apparent deficiencies. Since, then, it so happens, that in that literary examination and appreciation of the characters, which we deem indispensable for preparing the public mind to render discriminating justice to the histrionic performance of them, it is the female ones, in all their rich and delicate variety, that have been most fully and elaborately treated, and that by a feminine hand,--for this reason chiefly it is—this greater preparation which the wide circulation of Mrs. Jameson's Characteristics' has given to the public mind for the study of Shakespeare's women, beyond what has hitherto reached it respecting the characters of his men, that we may be led, as their theatrical performance shall furnish the occasion, to consider his principal female characters before entering, except incidentally, on the examination of his male ones.

We confess, too, that another feeling — surely a natural and a manly one—inclines us to this coursethe peculiar interest which we cannot but feel for the position, personal and artistical, of the representatives of his matchless heroines. Ministering as they do in the noblest of all temples of art and poetry, they seem to us, in their professional vocation, to bear a character peculiarly sacred; adding to the Shakespearian scene that crowning charm, that “bright consummate flower” of genuine female grace, which the mighty magician who so transcendently conceived it was destined never to behold upon his boards. In this view, the shade of Shakespeare himself might be grateful to them, for their sweet enrichment of the modern stage. What though it be given to few of them to approach the excellence of a Barry or a

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Siddons -- let us consider how much we have to thank them for attaining — and it will strike us that we shall sin far less in being “to their faults a little blind,” than we should in withholding from them our cordial acknowledgments for rendering to us so much of what is most delightful in the most delicate beings of the poet's creation. And the greater the variety of

powers in the actress, the more should this feeling be deepened in our hearts. Some few weeks ago, for instance, we beheld the same young performer who, the very evening before, had shaken us with the passionate indignation, melted and thrilled us with the awfully beautiful despair, of Constance of Bretagne, in that stately historic play, infuse into the part of Rosalind all the tender though lively grace which the poet has made its principal attribute and most exquisite attraction—breathing the soul of elegance, wit, and feeling, through that noble forest pastoral. Reflecting upon this, we said to ourselves, Truly there is something in female genius and female energy-something worthy of Shakespeare-worthy to be cherished with the holiest of all sacred feelings, that of affectionate veneration.

As the historical play of King John, produced by Mr. Macready with so much care and magnificence, has occupied so large a place among the performances of the present season, we shall, in pursuance of the course we have indicated, devote one or two following papers to the characters of the three royal ladies in that richly various drama, Constance of Bretagne, Elinor of Guienne, and Blanch of Castilenot quite forgetting the Lady Faulconbridge, “ whose fault was not her folly.” In the course of this, as of all our subsequent examinations, while freely acknowledging such indications as we may derive, either from Hazlitt's Characters,' or from Mrs. Jameson's work, we shall point out with equal freedom those instances in which it shall appear to us that either the deceased or the living critic has 'formed an erroneous or imperfect conception of their common subject.

II.

FEMALE CHARACTERS IN 'KING JOHN.'

1.

CHARACTER OF THE LADY CONSTANCE.

[February 11th, 1843.]

In her elaborate consideration of the character of The Lady Constance, Mrs. Jameson falls somewhat into the error which has constantly, more or less, been committed in treating of Shakespeare's historical plays—that of failing to consider, not only the composition of each drama on the whole, but the conception and developement of every character in it, primarily and independently with relation to dramatic art, and without any regard whatever to real or alleged departures from the literal or even the substantial truth of history. Unless this point of view be steadily maintained by the critic in forming his dramatic judgment, his opinions will, at every moment, be liable to fall into inconsistency and injustice. A very little reflection should have sufficed to shew any commentator the preposterousness of dragging Shakespeare, the dramatist—the dramatist transcendently and exclusively—to the bar of historical criticism a kind of procedure which, in the following observations, we shall studiously avoid.

The subject of the piece before us, then, is not so much The Life and Death of King John,' as it is the

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