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Lectures on Dramatic Art by August Wilhelm Schlegel trans John Black

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spectators it can only be painful.

Notwithstanding the opposition which Diderot experienced, he was however
the founder of a sort of school of which the most distinguished names are
Beaumarchais and Mercier. The former wrote only two pieces in the spirit
of his predecessor--_Eugenie_, and _La Mère Coupable_; and they display
the very same faults. His acquaintance with Spain and the Spanish theatre
led him to bring something new on the stage in the way of the piece of
intrigue, a species which had long been neglected. These works were more
distinguished by witty sallies than by humour of character; but their
greatest attraction consisted in the allusions to his own career as
an author. The plot of the _Barber of Seville_ is rather trite; the
_Marriage of Figaro_ is planned with much more art, but the manners
which it portrays are loose; and it is also censurable in a poetical point
of view, on account of the number of foreign excrescences with which it is
loaded. In both French characters are exhibited under the disguise of a
Spanish costume, which, however, is very ill observed [Footnote: The
numerous sins of Beaumarchais against the Spanish manners and observances,
are pointed out by De la Huerta in the introduction to his _Teatro
Español_.]. The extraordinary applause which these pieces met with
would lead to the conclusion, that the French public do not hold the
comedy of _intrigue_ in such low estimation as it is by the critics:
but the means by which Beaumarchais pleased were certainly, in part it
least, foreign to art.

The attempt of Ducis to make his countrymen acquainted with Shakspeare by
modelling a few of his tragedies according to the French rules, cannot be
accounted an enlargement of their theatre. We perceive here and there
indeed the "torn members of the poet"--_disjecta membra poetae_; but
the whole is so constrained, disfigured, and, from the simple fulness of
the original, tortured and twisted into such miserable intricacy, that
even when the language is retained word for word, it ceases to convey its
genuine meaning. The crowd which these tragedies attracted, especially
from their affording an unusual room to the inimitable Talma for the
display of his art, must be looked upon as no slight symptom of the
people's dissatisfaction with their old works, and the want of others more
powerfully agitating.

As the Parisian theatres are at present tied down to certain kinds, and as
poetry has here a point of contact with the police, the numerous mixed and
new attempts are for the most part banished to the subordinate theatres.
Of these new attempts the _Melo-dramas_ constitute a principal part.
A statistical writer of the theatre informs us, that for a number of years
back the new productions in Tragedy and regular Comedy have been fewest,
and that the melo-dramas have in number exceeded all the others put
together. They do not mean by melo-drama, as we do, a drama in which the
pauses are filled up by monologue with instrumental music, but where
actions in any wise wonderful, adventurous, or even sensuous, are
exhibited in emphatic prose with suitable decorations and dresses.
Advantage might be taken of this prevailing inclination to furnish a
better description of entertainment: since most of the melo-dramas are
unfortunately rude even to insipidity, and resemble abortive attempts at
the romantic.

In the sphere of dramatic literature the labours of a Le Mercier are
undoubtedly deserving of the critic's attention. This able man endeavours
to break through the prescribed limits in every possible way, and is so
passionately fond of his art that nothing can deter him from it; although
almost every new attempt which he makes converts the pit into a regular
field of battle. [Footnote: Since these Lectures were held, such a tumult
arose in the theatre at Paris on the representation of his _Christopher
Columbus_, that several of the champions of Boileau came off with
bruised heads and broken shins. They were in the right to fight like
desperadoes; for if this piece had succeeded, it would have been all over
with the consecrated Unities and good taste in the separation of the
heroic and the low. The first act takes place in the house of Columbus,
the second at the court of Isabella, the third and last on shipboard near
the New World. The object of the poet was to show that the man in whom any
grand idea originates is everywhere opposed and thwarted by the limited
and common-place views of other men; but that the strength of his
enthusiasm enables him to overcome all obstacles. In his own house, and
among his acquaintances, Columbus is considered as insane; at court he
obtains with difficulty a lukewarm support; in his own vessel a mutiny is
on the point of breaking out, when the wished-for land is discovered, and
the piece ends with the exclamation of "Land, land!" All this is conceived
and planned very skilfully; but in the execution, however, there are
numerous defects. In another piece not yet acted nor printed, called _La
Journée des Dupes_, which I heard the author read, he has painted with
historical truth, both in regard to circumstances and the spirit of the
age, a well-known but unsuccessful court-cabal against Cardinal Richelieu.
It is a political comedy, in which the rag-gatherer and the king express
themselves in language suitable to their stations. The poet has, with the
greatest ingenuity, shown the manner in which trivial causes assist or
impede the execution of a great political design, the dissimulation
practised by political personages towards others, and even towards
themselves, and the different tones which they assume according to
circumstances; in a word, he has exhibited the whole inward aspect of the
game of politics.]

From all this we may infer, that the inclinations of the French public,
when they forget the duties they have imbibed from Boileau's _Art of
Poetry_, are not quite so hostile to the dramatic liberties of other
nations as might be supposed, and that the old and narrow system is
chiefly upheld by a superstitious attachment to traditional opinions.

The histrionic art, particularly in high comedy and tragedy, has been long
carried in France to great perfection. In external dignity, quickness,
correctness of memory, and in a wonderful degree of propriety and elegance
in the delivery of verse, the best French actors are hardly to be
surpassed. Their efforts to please are incredible: every moment they pass
on the stage is a valuable opportunity, of which they must avail
themselves. The extremely fastidious taste of a Paris pit, and the
wholesome severity of the journalists, excite in them a spirit of
incessant emulation; and the circumstance of acting a number of classical
works, which for generations have been in the possession of the stage,
contributes also greatly to their excellence in their art. As the
spectators have these works nearly by heart, their whole attention may be
directed to the acting, and every faulty syllable meets in this way with
immediate detection and reprobation.

In high comedy the social refinement of the nation affords great
advantages to their actors. But with respect to tragical composition, the
art of the actor should also accommodate itself to the spirit of the
poetry. I am inclined to doubt, however, whether this is the case with the
French actors, and whether the authors of the tragedies, especially those
of the age of Louis XIV. would altogether recognise themselves in the mode
in which these compositions are at present represented.

The tragic imitation and recitation of the French oscillate between two
opposite extremes, the first of which is occasioned by the prevailing tone
of the piece, while the second seems rather to be at variance with it,--
between measured formality and extravagant boisterousness. The first might
formerly preponderate, but the balance is now on the other side.

Let us hear Voltaire's description of the manner in which, in the time of
Louis XIV., Augustus delivered his discourse to Cinna and Maximus.
Augustus entered with the step of a braggadocio, his head covered with a
four-cornered peruque, which hung down to his girdle; the peruque was
stuck full of laurel leaves, and above this he wore a large hat with a
double row of red feathers. He seated himself on a huge fauteuil, two
steps high, Cinna and Maximus on two low chairs; and the pompous
declamation fully corresponded to the ostentatious manner in which he made
his appearance. As at that time, and even long afterwards, tragedies were
acted in a court-dress of the newest fashion, with large cravats, swords,
and hats, no other movements were practicable but such as were allowable
in an antechamber, or, at most, a slight waving of the hand; and it was
even considered a bold theatrical attempt, when, in the last scene of
_Polyeucte_, Severus entered with his hat on his head for the purpose
of accusing Felix of treachery, and the latter listened to him with his
hat under his arm.

However, there were even early examples of an extravagance of an opposite
description. In the _Mariamne_ of Mairet, an older poet than Corneille,
the player who acted Herod, roared himself to death. This may, indeed, be
called "out-heroding Herod!" When Voltaire was instructing an actress in
some tragic part, she said to him, "Were I to play in this manner, sir,
they would say the devil was in me."--"Very right," answered Voltaire, "an
actress ought to have the devil in her." This expression proves, at least,
no very keen sense for that dignity and sweetness which in an ideal
composition, such as the French Tragedy pretends to be, ought never to be
lost sight of, even in the wildest whirlwind of passion.

I found occasionally, even in the action of the very best players of the
present day, sudden leaps from the measured solemnity in recitation and
gesticulation which the general tone of the composition required, to a
boisterousness of passion absolutely convulsive, without any due
preparation or softening by intervening gradations. They are led to this
by a sort of obscure feeling, that the conventional forms of poetry
generally impede the movements of nature; when the poet any where leaves
them at liberty, they then indemnify themselves for the former constraint,
and load, as it were, this rare moment of abandonment with the whole
amount of life and animation which had been kept back, and which ought to
have been equally diffused over the whole. Hence their convulsive and
obstreperous violence. In bravura they take care not to be deficient; but
they frequently lose sight of the true spirit of the composition. In
general, (with the single exception of the great Talma,) they consider
their parts as a sort of mosaic work of brilliant passages, and they
rather endeavour to make the most of each separate passage, independently
of the rest, than to go back to the invisible central point of the
character, and to consider every expression of it as an emanation from
that point. They are always afraid of underdoing their parts; and hence
they are worse qualified for reserved action, for eloquent silence, where,
under an appearance of outward tranquillity, the most hidden emotions of
the mind are betrayed. However, this is a part which is seldom imposed on
them by their poets; and if the cause of such excessive violence in the
expression of passion is not to be found in the works themselves, they at
all events occasion the actor to lay greater stress on superficial
brilliancy than on a profound knowledge of character [Footnote: See a
treatise of M. Von Humboldt the elder, in Goethe's _Propyläen_, on
the French acting, equally distinguished for a refined and solid spirit of


Comparison of the English and Spanish Theatres--Spirit of the Romantic
Drama--Shakspeare--His age and the circumstances of his Life.

In conformity with the plan which we laid down at the first, we shall now
proceed to treat of the English and Spanish theatres. We have been, on
various occasions, compelled in passing to allude cursorily, sometimes to
the one and sometimes to the other, partly for the sake of placing, by
means of contrast, many ideas in a clearer light, and partly on account of
the influence which these stages have had on the theatres of other
countries. Both the English and Spaniards possess a very rich dramatic
literature, both have had a number of prolific and highly talented
dramatists, among whom even the least admired and celebrated, considered
as a whole, display uncommon aptitude for dramatic animation, and insight
into the essence of theatrical effect. The history of their theatres has
no connexion with that of the Italians and French, for they developed
themselves wholly out of the abundance of their own intrinsic energy,
without any foreign influence: the attempts to bring them back to an
imitation of the ancients, or even of the French, have either been
attended with no success, or not been made till a late period in the decay
of the drama. The formation of these two stages, again, is equally
independent of each other; the Spanish poets were altogether unacquainted
with the English; and in the older and most important period of the
English theatre I could discover no trace of any knowledge of Spanish
plays, (though their novels and romances were certainly known,) and it was
not till the time of Charles II. that translations from Calderon first
made their appearance.

So many things among men have been handed down from century to century and
from nation to nation, and the human mind is in general so slow to invent,
that originality in any department of mental exertion is everywhere a rare
phenomenon. We are desirous of seeing the result of the efforts of
inventive geniuses when, regardless of what in the same line has elsewhere
been carried to a high degree of perfection, they set to work in good
earnest to invent altogether for themselves; when they lay the foundation
of the new edifice on uncovered ground, and draw all the preparations, all
the building materials, from their own resources. We participate, in some
measure, in the joy of success, when we see them advance rapidly from
their first helplessness and need to a finished mastery in their art. The
history of the Grecian theatre would afford us this cheering prospect
could we witness its rudest beginnings, which were not preserved, for they
were not even committed to writing; but it is easy, when we compare
together Aeschylus and Sophocles, to form some idea of the preceding
period. The Greeks neither inherited nor borrowed their dramatic art from
any other people; it was original and native, and for that very reason was
it able to produce a living and powerful effect. But it ended with the
period when Greeks imitated Greeks; namely, when the Alexandrian poets
began learnedly and critically to compose dramas after the model of the
great tragic writers. The reverse of this was the case with the Romans:
they received the form and substance of their dramas from the Greeks; they
never attempted to act according to their own discretion, and to express
their own way of thinking; and hence they occupy so insignificant a place
in the history of dramatic art. Among the nations of modern Europe, the
English and Spaniards alone (for the German stage is but forming), possess
as yet a theatre entirely original and national, which, in its own
peculiar shape, has arrived at maturity.

Those critics who consider the authority of the ancients as models to be
such, that in poetry, as in all the other arts, there can be no safety out
of the pale of imitation, affirm, that as the nations in question have not
followed this course, they have brought nothing but irregular works on the
stage, which, though they may possess occasional passages of splendour and
beauty, must yet, as a whole, be for ever reprobated as barbarous, and
wanting in form. We have already, in the introductory part of these
Lectures, stated our sentiments generally on this way of thinking; but we
must now examine the subject somewhat more closely.

If the assertion be well founded, all that distinguishes the works of the
greatest English and Spanish dramatists, a Shakspeare and a Calderon, must
rank them far below the ancients; they could in no wise be of importance
for theory, and would at most appear remarkable, on the assumption that
the obstinacy of these nations in refusing to comply with the rules, may
have afforded a more ample field to the poets, to display their native
originality, though at the expense of art. But even this assumption, on a
closer examination, appears extremely questionable. The poetic spirit
requires to be limited, that it may move with a becoming liberty, within
its proper precincts, as has been felt by all nations on the first
invention of metre; it must act according to laws derivable from its own
essence, otherwise its strength will evaporate in boundless vacuity.

The works of genius cannot therefore be permitted to be without form; but
of this there is no danger. However, that we may answer this objection of
want of form, we must understand the exact meaning of the term form, since
most critics, and more especially those who insist on a stiff regularity,
interpret it merely in a mechanical, and not in an organical sense. Form
is mechanical when, through external force, it is imparted to any material
merely as an accidental addition without reference to its quality; as, for
example, when we give a particular shape to a soft mass that it may retain
the same after its induration. Organical form, again, is innate; it
unfolds itself from within, and acquires its determination
contemporaneously with the perfect development of the germ. We everywhere
discover such forms in nature throughout the whole range of living powers,
from the crystallization of salts and minerals to plants and flowers, and
from these again to the human body. In the fine arts, as well as in the
domain of nature--the supreme artist, all genuine forms are organical,
that is, determined by the quality of the work. In a word, the form is
nothing but a significant exterior, the speaking physiognomy of each
thing, which, as long as it is not disfigured by any destructive accident,
gives a true evidence of its hidden essence.

Hence it is evident that the spirit of poetry, which, though imperishable,
migrates, as it were, through different bodies, must, so often as it is
newly born in the human race, mould to itself, out of the nutrimental
substance of an altered age, a body of a different conformation. The forms
vary with the direction taken by the poetical sense; and when we give to
the new kinds of poetry the old names, and judge of them according to the
ideas conveyed by these names, the application which we make of the
authority of classical antiquity is altogether unjustifiable. No one
should be tried before a tribunal to which he is not amenable. We may
safely admit, that the most of the English and Spanish dramatic works are
neither tragedies nor comedies in the sense of the ancients: they are
romantic dramas. That the stage of a people who, in its foundation and
formation, neither knew nor wished to know anything of foreign models,
will possess many peculiarities; and not only deviate from, but even
exhibit a striking contrast to, the theatres of other nations who had a
common model for imitation before their eyes, is easily supposable, and we
should only be astonished were it otherwise. But when in two nations,
differing so widely as the English and Spanish, in physical, moral,
political, and religious respects, the theatres (which, without being
known to each other, arose about the same time,) possess, along with
external and internal diversities, the most striking features of affinity,
the attention even of the most thoughtless cannot but be turned to this
phenomenon; and the conjecture will naturally occur, that the same, or, at
least, a kindred principle must have prevailed in the development of both.
This comparison, however, of the English and Spanish theatre, in their
common contrast with every dramatic literature which has grown up out of
an imitation of the ancients, has, so far as we know, never yet been
attempted. Could we raise from the dead a countryman, contemporary, and
intelligent admirer of Shakspeare, and another of Calderon, and introduce
to their acquaintance the works of the poet to which in life they were
strangers, they would both, without doubt, considering the subject rather
from a national than a general point of view, enter with difficulty into
the above idea, and have many objections to urge against it. But here a
reconciling criticism [Footnote: This appropriate expression was, if we
mistake not, first used by M. Adam Müller in his _Lectures on German
Science and Literature_. If, however, he gives himself out for the
inventor of the thing itself, he is, to use the softest word, in error.
Long before him other Germans had endeavoured to reconcile the
contrarieties of taste of different ages and nations, and to pay due
homage to all genuine poetry and art. Between good and bad, it is true, no
reconciliation is possible.] must step in; and this, perhaps, may be best
exercised by a German, who is free from the national peculiarities of
either Englishmen or Spaniards, yet by inclination friendly to both, and
prevented by no jealousy from acknowledging the greatness which has been
earlier exhibited in other countries than in his own.

The similarity of the English and Spanish theatres does not consist merely
in the bold neglect of the Unities of Place and Time, and in the
commixture of comic and tragic elements: that they were unwilling or
unable to comply with the rules and with right reason, (in the meaning of
certain critics these terms are equivalent,) may be considered as an
evidence of merely negative properties. The ground of the resemblance lies
far deeper, in the inmost substance of the fictions, and in the essential
relations, through which every deviation of form, becomes a true
requisite, which, together with its validity, has also its significance.
What they have in common with each other is the spirit of the romantic
poetry, giving utterance to itself in a dramatic shape. However, to
explain ourselves with due precision, the Spanish theatre, in our opinion,
down to its decline and fall in the commencement of the eighteenth
century, is almost entirely romantic; the English is completely so in
Shakspeare alone, its founder and greatest master: in later poets the
romantic principle appears more or less degenerated, or is no longer
perceivable, although the march of dramatic composition introduced by
virtue of it has been, outwardly at least, pretty generally retained. The
manner in which the different ways of thinking of the two nations, one a
northern and the other a southern, have been expressed; the former endowed
with a gloomy, the latter with a glowing imagination; the one nation
possessed of a scrutinizing seriousness disposed to withdraw within
themselves, the other impelled outwardly by the violence of passion; the
mode in which all this has been accomplished will be most satisfactorily
explained at the close of this section, when we come to institute a
parallel between Shakspeare and Calderon, the only two poets who are
entitled to be called great.

Of the origin and essence of the romantic I treated in my first Lecture,
and I shall here, therefore, merely briefly mention the subject. The
ancient art and poetry rigorously separate things which are dissimilar;
the romantic delights in indissoluble mixtures; all contrarieties: nature
and art, poetry and prose, seriousness and mirth, recollection and
anticipation, spirituality and sensuality, terrestrial and celestial, life
and death, are by it blended together in the most intimate combination. As
the oldest lawgivers delivered their mandatory instructions and
prescriptions in measured melodies; as this is fabulously ascribed to
Orpheus, the first softener of the yet untamed race of mortals; in like
manner the whole of the ancient poetry and art is, as it were, a
_rhythmical nomos_ (law), an harmonious promulgation of the permanently
established legislation of a world submitted to a beautiful order, and
reflecting in itself the eternal images of things. Romantic poetry, on the
other hand, is the expression of the secret attraction to a chaos which
lies concealed in the very bosom of the ordered universe, and is
perpetually striving after new and marvellous births; the life-giving
spirit of primal love broods here anew on the face of the waters. The
former is more simple, clear, and like to nature in the self-existent
perfection of her separate works; the latter, notwithstanding its
fragmentary appearance, approaches more to the secret of the universe. For
Conception can only comprise each object separately, but nothing in truth
can ever exist separately and by itself; Feeling perceives all in all at
one and the same time. Respecting the two species of poetry with which we
are here principally occupied, we compared the ancient Tragedy to a group
in sculpture: the figures corresponding to the characters, and their
grouping to the action; and to these two in both productions of art is the
consideration exclusively directed, as being all that is properly
exhibited. But the romantic drama must be viewed as a large picture, where
not merely figure and motion are exhibited in larger, richer groups, but
where even all that surrounds the figures must also be portrayed; where we
see not merely the nearest objects, but are indulged with the prospect of
a considerable distance; and all this under a magical light, which assists
in giving to the impression the particular character desired.

Such a picture must be bounded less perfectly and less distinctly, than
the group; for it is like a fragment cut out of the optic scene of the
world. However the painter, by the setting of his foreground, by throwing
the whole of his light into the centre, and by other means of fixing the
point of view, will learn that he must neither wander beyond the
composition, nor omit any thing within it.

In the representation of figure, Painting cannot compete with Sculpture,
since the former can only exhibit it by a deception and from a single
point of view; but, on the other hand, it communicates more life to its
imitations, by colours which in a picture are made to imitate the lightest
shades of mental expression in the countenance. The look, which can be
given only very imperfectly by Sculpture, enables us to read much deeper
in the mind, and to perceive its lightest movements. Its peculiar charm,
in short, consists in this, that it enables us to see in bodily objects
what is least corporeal, namely, light and air.

The very same description of beauties are peculiar to the romantic drama.
It does not (like the Old Tragedy) separate seriousness and the action, in
a rigid manner, from among the whole ingredients of life; it embraces at
once the whole of the chequered drama of life with all its circumstances;
and while it seems only to represent subjects brought accidentally
together, it satisfies the unconscious requisitions of fancy, buries us in
reflections on the inexpressible signification of the objects which we
view blended by order, nearness and distance, light and colour, into one
harmonious whole; and thus lends, as it were, a soul to the prospect
before us.

The change of time and of place, (supposing its influence on the mind to
be included in the picture; and that it comes to the aid of the theatrical
perspective, with reference to what is indicated in the distance, or half-
concealed by intervening objects;) the contrast of sport and earnest
(supposing that in degree and kind they bear a proportion to each other;)
finally, the mixture of the dialogical and the lyrical elements, (by which
the poet is enabled, more or less perfectly, to transform his personages
into poetical beings:) these, in my opinion, are not mere licenses, but
true beauties in the romantic drama. In all these points, and in many
others also, the English and Spanish works, which are pre-eminently worthy
of this title of Romantic, fully resemble each other, however different
they may be in other respects.

Of the two we shall first notice the English theatre, because it arrived
earlier at maturity than the Spanish. In both we must occupy ourselves
almost exclusively with a single artist, with Shakspeare in the one and
Calderon in the other; but not in the same order with each, for Shakspeare
stands first and earliest among the English; any remarks we may have to
make on earlier or contemporary antiquities of the English stage may be
made in a review of his history. But Calderon had many predecessors; he is
at once the summit and the close nearly of dramatic art in Spain.

The wish to speak with the brevity which the limits of my plan demand, of
a poet to the study of whom I have devoted many years of my life, places
me in no little embarrassment. I know not where to begin; for I should
never be able to end, were I to say all that I have felt and thought on
the perusal of his works. With the poet as with the man, a more than
ordinary intimacy prevents us, perhaps, from putting ourselves in the
place of those who are first forming an acquaintance with him: we are too
familiar with his most striking peculiarities, to be able to pronounce
upon the first impression which they are calculated to make on others. On
the other hand, we ought to possess, and to have the power of
communicating, more correct ideas of his mode of procedure, of his
concealed or less obvious views, and of the meaning and import of his
labours, than others whose acquaintance with him is more limited.

Shakspeare is the pride of his nation. A late poet has, with propriety,
called him "the genius of the British isles." He was the idol of his
contemporaries: during the interval indeed of puritanical fanaticism,
which broke out in the next generation, and rigorously proscribed all
liberal arts and literature, and during the reign of the Second Charles,
when his works were either not acted at all, or if so, very much changed
and disfigured, his fame was awhile obscured, only to shine forth again
about the beginning of the last century with more than its original
brightness; and since then it has but increased in lustre with the course
of time; and for centuries to come, (I speak it with the greatest
confidence,) it will, like an Alpine _avalanche_, continue to gather
strength at every moment of its progress. Of the future extension of his
fame, the enthusiasm with which he was naturalized in Germany, the moment
that he was known, is a significant earnest. In the South of Europe,
[Footnote: This difficulty extends also to France; for it must not be
supposed that a literal translation can ever be a faithful one. Mrs.
Montague has done enough to prove how wretchedly, even Voltaire, in his
rhymeless Alexandrines, has translated a few passages from _Hamlet_
and the first act of _Julius Caesar_.] his language, and the great
difficulty of translating him with fidelity, will be, perhaps, an
invincible obstacle to his general diffusion. In England, the greatest
actors vie with each other in the impersonation of his characters; the
printers in splendid editions of his works; and the painters in
transferring his scenes to the canvas. Like Dante, Shakspeare has received
the perhaps indispensable but still cumbersome honour of being treated
like a classical author of antiquity. The oldest editions have been
carefully collated, and where the readings seemed corrupt, many
corrections have been suggested; and the whole literature of his age has
been drawn forth from the oblivion to which it had been consigned, for the
sole purpose of explaining the phrases, and illustrating the allusions of
Shakspeare. Commentators have succeeded one another in such number, that
their labours alone, with the critical controversies to which they have
given rise, constitute of themselves no inconsiderable library. These
labours deserve both our praise and gratitude; and more especially the
historical investigations into the sources from which Shakspeare drew the
materials of his plays, and also into the previous and contemporary state
of the English stage, and other kindred subjects of inquiry. With respect,
however, to their merely philological criticisms, I am frequently
compelled to differ from the commentators; and where, too, considering him
simply as a poet, they endeavour to enter into his views and to decide
upon his merits, I must separate myself from them entirely. I have hardly
ever found either truth or profundity in their remarks; and these critics
seem to me to be but stammering interpreters of the general and almost
idolatrous admiration of his countrymen. There may be people in England
who entertain the same views of them with myself, at least it is a well-
known fact that a satirical poet has represented Shakspeare, under the
hands of his commentators, by Actaeon worried to death by his own dogs;
and, following up the story of Ovid, designated a female writer on the
great poet as the snarling Lycisca.

We shall endeavour, in the first place, to remove some of these false
views, in order to clear the way for our own homage, that we may thereupon
offer it the more freely without let or hindrance.

From all the accounts of Shakspeare which have come down to us, it is
clear that his contemporaries knew well the treasure they possessed in
him; and that they felt and understood him better than most of those who
succeeded him. In those days a work was generally ushered into the world
with Commendatory Verses; and one of these, prefixed to an early edition
of Shakspeare, by an unknown author, contains some of the most beautiful
and happy lines that ever were applied to any poet [Footnote: It begins
with the words: _A mind reflecting ages past_, and is subscribed,
I.M.S.]. An idea, however, soon became prevalent that Shakspeare was a
rude and wild genius, who poured forth at random, and without aim or
object, his unconnected compositions. Ben Jonson, a younger contemporary
and rival of Shakspeare, who laboured in the sweat of his brow, but with
no great success, to expel the romantic drama from the English stage, and
to form it on the model of the ancients, gave it as his opinion that
Shakspeare did not blot enough, and that as he did not possess much
school-learning, he owed more to nature than to art. The learned, and
sometimes rather pedantic Milton was also of this opinion, when he says,

Our sweetest Shakspeare, fancy's child,
Warbles his native wood-notes wild.

Yet it is highly honourable to Milton, that the sweetness of Shakspeare,
the quality which of all others has been least allowed, was felt and
acknowledged by him. The modern editors, both in their prefaces, which may
be considered as so many rhetorical exercises in praise of the poet, and
in their remarks on separate passages, go still farther. Judging them by
principles which are not applicable to them, not only do they admit the
irregularity of his pieces, but on occasions they accuse him of bombast,
of a confused, ungrammatical, and conceited mode of writing, and even of
the most contemptible buffoonery. Pope asserts that he wrote both better
and worse than any other man. All the scenes and passages which did not
square with the littleness of his own taste, he wished to place to the
account of interpolating players; and he was in the right road, had his
opinion been taken, of giving us a miserable dole of a mangled Shakspeare.
It is, therefore, not to be wondered at if foreigners, with the exception
of the Germans latterly, have, in their ignorance of him, even improved
upon these opinions. [Footnote: Lessing was the first to speak of
Shakspeare in a becoming tone; but he said unfortunately a great deal too
little of him, as in the time when he wrote the _Dramaturgie_ this poet
had not yet appeared on our stage. Since that time he has been more
particularly noticed by Herder in the _Blütter von deutscher Art und
Kunst_; Goethe, in _Wilhelm Meister_; and Tieck, in Letters on Shakspeare
(_Poetisches Journal_, 1800), which break off, however, almost at the
commencement.]. They speak in general of Shakspeare's plays as monstrous
productions, which could only have been given to the world by a disordered
imagination in a barbarous age; and Voltaire crowns the whole with more
than usual assurance, when he observes that _Hamlet_, the profound master-
piece of the philosophical poet, "seems the work of a drunken savage."
That foreigners, and in particular Frenchmen, who ordinarily speak the
most strange language of antiquity and the middle ages, as if cannibalism
had only been put an end to in Europe by Louis XIV. should entertain this
opinion of Shakspeare, might be pardonable; but that Englishmen should
join in calumniating that glorious epoch of their history, [Footnote: The
English work with which foreigners of every country are perhaps best
acquainted is Hume's _History_; and there we have a most unjustifiable
account both of Shakspeare and his age. "Born in a _rude age_, and
educated in the lowest manner, without any instruction either _from the
world_ or from books." How could a man of Hume's acuteness suppose for a
moment that a poet, whose characters display such an intimate acquaintance
with life, who, as an actor and manager of a theatre, must have come in
contact with all descriptions of individuals, had no instruction from the
world? But this is not the worst; he goes even so far as to say, "a
reasonable propriety of thought he cannot for any time uphold." This is
nearly as offensive as Voltaire's "drunken savage."--TRANS.] which laid
the foundation of their national greatness, is incomprehensible.
Shakspeare flourished and wrote in the last half of the reign of Queen
Elizabeth and first half of that of James I.; and, consequently, under
monarchs who were learned themselves, and held literature in honour. The
policy of modern Europe, by which the relations of its different states
have been so variously interwoven with each other, commenced a century
before. The cause of the Protestants was decided by the accession of
Elizabeth to the throne; and the attachment to the ancient belief cannot
therefore be urged as a proof of the prevailing darkness. Such was the
zeal for the study of the ancients, that even court ladies, and the queen
herself, were acquainted with Latin and Greek, and taught even to speak
the former; a degree of knowledge which we should in vain seek for in the
courts of Europe at the present day. The trade and navigation which the
English carried on with all the four quarters of the world, made them
acquainted with the customs and mental productions of other nations; and
it would appear that they were then more indulgent to foreign manners than
they are in the present day. Italy had already produced all nearly that
still distinguishes her literature, and in England translations in verse
were diligently, and even successfully, executed from the Italian. Spanish
literature also was not unknown, for it is certain that _Don Quixote_ was
read in England soon after its first appearance. Bacon, the founder of
modern experimental philosophy, and of whom it may be said, that he
carried in his pocket all that even in this eighteenth century merits the
name of philosophy, was a contemporary of Shakspeare. His fame, as a
writer, did not, indeed, break forth into its glory till after his death;
but what a number of ideas must have been in circulation before such an
author could arise! Many branches of human knowledge have, since that
time, been more extensively cultivated, but such branches as are totally
unproductive to poetry: chemistry, mechanics, manufactures, and rural and
political economy, will never enable a man to become a poet. I have
elsewhere [Footnote: In my Lectures on the _Spirit of the Age_.] examined
into the pretensions of modern enlightenment, as it is called, which looks
with such contempt on all preceding ages; I have shown that at bottom it
is all little, superficial, and unsubstantial. The pride of what has been
called the existing maturity of human intensity, has come to a miserable
end; and the structures erected by those pedagogues of the human race have
fallen to pieces like the baby-houses of children.

With regard to the tone of society in Shakspeare's day, it is necessary to
remark that there is a wide difference between true mental cultivation and
what is called polish. That artificial polish which puts an end to every
thing like free original communication, and subjects all intercourse to
the insipid uniformity of certain rules, was undoubtedly wholly unknown to
the age of Shakspeare, as in a great measure it still is at the present
day in England. It possessed, on the other hand, a fulness of healthy
vigour, which showed itself always with boldness, and sometimes also with
petulance. The spirit of chivalry was not yet wholly extinct, and a queen,
who was far more jealous in exacting homage to her sex than to her throne,
and who, with her determination, wisdom, and magnanimity, was in fact,
well qualified to inspire the minds of her subjects with an ardent
enthusiasm, inflamed that spirit to the noblest love of glory and renown.
The feudal independence also still survived in some measure; the nobility
vied with each other in splendour of dress and number of retinue, and
every great lord had a sort of small court of his own. The distinction of
ranks was as yet strongly marked: a state of things ardently to be desired
by the dramatic poet. In conversation they took pleasure in quick and
unexpected answers; and the witty sally passed rapidly like a ball from
mouth to mouth, till the merry game could no longer be kept up. This, and
the abuse of the play on words, (of which King James was himself very
fond, and we need not therefore wonder at the universality of the mode,)
may, doubtless, be considered as instances of a bad taste; but to take
them for symptoms of rudeness and barbarity, is not less absurd than to
infer the poverty of a people from their luxurious extravagance. These
strained repartees are frequently employed by Shakspeare, with the view of
painting the actual tone of the society in his day; it does not, however,
follow, that they met with his approbation; on the contrary, it clearly
appears that he held them in derision. Hamlet says, in the scene with the
Gravedigger, "By the Lord, Horatio, these three years I have taken note of
it: the age is grown so picked, that the toe of the peasant comes so near
the heel of the courtier, he galls his kibe." And Lorenzo, in the
_Merchant of Venice_, alluding to Launcelot:

O dear discretion, how his words are suited!
The fool hath planted in his memory
An army of good words: and I do know
A many fools, that stand in better place,
Garnish'd like him, that for a tricksy word.
Defy the matter.

Besides, Shakspeare, in a thousand places, lays great and marked stress on
correct and refined tone of society, and lashes every deviation from it,
whether of boorishness or affected foppery; not only does he give
admirable discourses on it, but he represents it in all its shades and
modifications by rank, age, or sex. What foundation is there, then, for
the alleged barbarity of his age? Its offences against propriety? But if
this is to be admitted as a test, then the ages of Pericles and Augustus
must also be described as rude and uncultivated; for Aristophanes and
Horace, who both were considered as models of urbanity, display, at times,
the coarsest indelicacy. On this subject, the diversity in the moral
feeling of ages depends on other causes. Shakspeare, it is true, sometimes
introduces us to improper company; at others, he suffers ambiguous
expressions to escape in the presence of women, and even from women
themselves. This species of petulance was probably not then unusual. He
certainly did not indulge in it merely to please the multitude, for in
many of his pieces there is not the slightest trace of this sort to be
found: and in what virgin purity are many of his female parts worked out!
When we see the liberties taken by other dramatic poets in England in his
time, and even much later, we must account him comparatively chaste and
moral. Neither must we overlook certain circumstances in the existing
state of the theatre. The female parts were not acted by women, but by
boys; and no person of the fair sex appeared in the theatre without a
mask. Under such a carnival disguise, much might be heard by them, and
much might be ventured to be said in their presence, which in other
circumstances would have been absolutely improper. It is certainly to be
wished that decency should be observed on all public occasions, and
consequently also on the stage. But even in this it is possible to go too
far. That carping censoriousness which scents out impurity in every bold
sally, is, at best, but an ambiguous criterion of purity of morals; and
beneath this hypocritical guise there often lurks the consciousness of an
impure imagination. The determination to tolerate nothing which has the
least reference to the sensual relation between the sexes, may be carried
to a pitch extremely oppressive to a dramatic poet, and highly prejudicial
to the boldness and freedom of his compositions. If such considerations
were to be attended to, many of the happiest parts of Shakspeare's plays,
for example, in _Measure for Measure_, and _All's Well that Ends Well_,
which, nevertheless, are handled with a due regard to decency, must be set
aside as sinning against this would-be propriety.

Had no other monument of the age of Elizabeth come down to us than the
works of Shakspeare, I should, from them alone, have formed the most
favourable idea of its state of social culture and enlightenment. When
those who look through such strange spectacles as to see nothing in them
but rudeness and barbarity cannot deny what I have now historically
proved, they are usually driven to this last resource, and demand, "What
has Shakspeare to do with the mental culture of his age? He had no share
in it. Born in an inferior rank, ignorant and uneducated, he passed his
life in low society, and laboured to please a vulgar audience for his
bread, without ever dreaming of fame or posterity."

In all this there is not a single word of truth, though it has been
repeated a thousand times. It is true we know very little of the poet's
life; and what we do know consists for the most part of raked-up and
chiefly suspicious anecdotes, of such a description nearly as those which
are told at inns to inquisitive strangers, who visit the birthplace or
neighbourhood of a celebrated man. Within a very recent period some
original documents have been brought to light, and among them his will,
which give us a peep into his family concerns. It betrays more than
ordinary deficiency of critical acumen in Shakspeare's commentators, that
none of them, so far as we know, have ever thought of availing themselves
of his sonnets for tracing the circumstances of his life. These sonnets
paint most unequivocally the actual situation and sentiments of the poet;
they make us acquainted with the passions of the man; they even contain
remarkable confessions of his youthful errors. Shakspeare's father was a
man of property, whose ancestors had held the office of alderman and
bailiff in Stratford, and in a diploma from the Heralds' Office for the
renewal or confirmation of his coat of arms, he is styled _gentleman_. Our
poet, the oldest son but third child, could not, it is true, receive an
academical education, as he married when hardly eighteen, probably from
mere family considerations. This retired and unnoticed life he continued
to lead but a few years; and he was either enticed to London from
wearisomeness of his situation, or banished from home, as it is said, in
consequence of his irregularities. There he assumed the profession of a
player, which he considered at first as a degradation, principally,
perhaps, because of the wild excesses [Footnote: In one of his sonnets he
O, for my sake do you with fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmless deeds,
That did not better for my life provide,
_Than public means which public manners breeds_.
And in the following:--
Your love and pity doth the impression fill,
Which _vulgar scandal_ stamp'd upon my brow.] into which he was
seduced by the example of his comrades. It is extremely probable, that the
poetical fame which in the progress of his career he afterwards acquired,
greatly contributed to ennoble the stage, and to bring the player's
profession into better repute. Even at a very early age he endeavoured to
distinguish himself as a poet in other walks than those of the stage, as
is proved by his juvenile poems of _Adonis_ and _Lucrece_. He quickly rose
to be a sharer or joint proprietor, and also manager of the theatre for
which he wrote. That he was not admitted to the society of persons of
distinction is altogether incredible. Not to mention many others, he found
a liberal friend and kind patron in the Earl of Southampton, the friend of
the unfortunate Essex. His pieces were not only the delight of the great
public, but also in great favour at court: the two monarchs under whose
reigns he wrote were, according to the testimony of a contemporary, quite
"taken" with him [Footnote: Ben Jonson:--
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames,
That so did take Eliza and our James!]. Many were acted at court; and
Elizabeth appears herself to have commanded the writing of more than one
to be acted at her court festivals. King James, it is well known, honoured
Shakspeare so far as to write to him with his own hand. All this looks
very unlike either contempt or banishment into the obscurity of a low
circle. By his labours as a poet, player, and stage-manager, Shakspeare
acquired a considerable property, which, in the last years of his too
short life, he enjoyed in his native town in retirement and in the society
of a beloved daughter. Immediately after his death a monument was erected
over his grave, which may be considered sumptuous for those times.

In the midst of such brilliant success, and with such distinguished proofs
of respect and honour from his contemporaries, it would be singular indeed
if Shakspeare, notwithstanding the modesty of a great mind, which he
certainly possessed in a peculiar degree, should never have dreamed of
posthumous fame. As a profound thinker he had pretty accurately taken the
measure of the circle of human capabilities, and he could say to himself
with confidence, that many of his productions would not easily be
surpassed. What foundation then is there for the contrary assertion, which
would degrade the immortal artist to the situation of a daily labourer for
a rude multitude?--Merely this, that he himself published no edition of
his whole works. We do not reflect that a poet, always accustomed to
labour immediately for the stage, who has often enjoyed the triumph of
overpowering assembled crowds of spectators, and drawing from them the
most tumultuous applause, who the while was not dependent on the caprice
of crotchety stage directors, but left to his own discretion to select and
determine the mode of theatrical representation, naturally cares much less
for the closet of the solitary reader. During the first formation of a
national theatre, more especially, we find frequent examples of such
indifference. Of the almost innumerable pieces of Lope de Vega, many
undoubtedly were never printed, and are consequently lost; and Cervantes
did not print his earlier dramas, though he certainly boasts of them as
meritorious works. As Shakspeare, on his retiring from the theatre, left
his manuscripts behind with his fellow-managers, he may have relied on
theatrical tradition for handing them down to posterity, which would
indeed have been sufficient for that purpose if the closing of the
theatres, under the tyrannical intolerance of the Puritans, had not
interrupted the natural order of things. We know, besides, that the poets
used then to sell the exclusive copyright of their pieces to the theatre
[Footnote: This is perhaps not uncommon still in some countries. The
Venetian Director Medebach, for whose company many of Goldoni's Comedies
were composed, claimed an exclusive right to them.--TRANS.]: it is
therefore not improbable that the right of property in his unprinted
pieces was no longer vested in Shakspeare, or had not at least yet
reverted to him. His fellow-managers entered on the publication seven
years after his death (which probably cut short his own intention,) as it
would appear on their own account and for their own advantage.


Ignorance or Learning of Shakspeare--Costume as observed by Shakspeare,
and how far necessary, or may be dispensed with in the Drama--Shakspeare
the greatest drawer of Character--Vindication of the genuineness of his
pathos--Play on words--Moral delicacy--Irony--Mixture of the Tragic and
Comic--The part of the Fool or Clown--Shakspeare's Language and

Our poet's want of scholarship has been the subject of endless
controversy, and yet it is surely a very easy matter to decide. Shakspeare
was poor in dead school-cram, but he possessed a rich treasury of living
and intuitive knowledge. He knew a little Latin, and even something of
Greek, though it may be not enough to read with ease the writers in the
original. With modern languages also, the French and Italian, he had,
perhaps, but a superficial acquaintance. The general direction of his mind
was not to the collection of words but of facts. With English books,
whether original or translated, he was extensively acquainted: we may
safely affirm that he had read all that his native language and literature
then contained that could be of any use to him in his poetical avocations.
He was sufficiently intimate with mythology to employ it, in the only
manner he could wish, in the way of symbolical ornament. He had formed a
correct notion of the spirit of Ancient History, and more particularly of
that of the Romans; and the history of his own country was familiar to him
even in detail. Fortunately for him it had not as yet been treated in a
diplomatic and pragmatic spirit, but merely in the chronicle-style; in
other words, it had not yet assumed the appearance of dry investigations
respecting the development of political relations, diplomatic
negotiations, finances, &c., but exhibited a visible image of the life and
movement of an age prolific of great deeds. Shakspeare, moreover, was a
nice observer of nature; he knew the technical language of mechanics and
artisans; he seems to have been well travelled in the interior of his own
country, while of others he inquired diligently of travelled navigators
respecting their peculiarity of climate and customs. He thus became
accurately acquainted with all the popular usages, opinions, and
traditions which could be of use in poetry.

The proofs of his ignorance, on which the greatest stress is laid, are a
few geographical blunders and anachronisms. Because in a comedy founded on
an earlier tale, he makes ships visit Bohemia, he has been the subject of
much laughter. But I conceive that we should be very unjust towards him,
were we to conclude that he did not, as well as ourselves, possess the
useful but by no means difficult knowledge that Bohemia is nowhere bounded
by the sea. He could never, in that case, have looked into a map of
Germany, who yet describes elsewhere, with great accuracy, the maps of
both Indies, together with the discoveries of the latest navigators.
[Footnote: _Twelfth Night, or What You Will_--Act iii. scene ii.] In
such matters Shakspeare is only faithful to the details of the domestic
stories. In the novels on which he worked, he avoided disturbing the
associations of his audience, to whom they were known, by novelties--the
correction of errors in secondary and unimportant particulars. The more
wonderful the story, the more it ranged in a purely poetical region, which
he transfers at will to an indefinite distance. These plays, whatever
names they bear, take place in the true land of romance, and in the very
century of wonderful love stories. He knew well that in the forest of
Ardennes there were neither the lions and serpents of the Torrid Zone, nor
the shepherdesses of Arcadia: but he transferred both to it, [Footnote:
_As You Like It._] because the design and import of his picture
required them. Here he considered himself entitled to take the greatest
liberties. He had not to do with a hair-splitting, hypercritical age like
ours, which is always seeking in poetry for something else than poetry;
his audience entered the theatre, not to learn true chronology, geography,
and natural history, but to witness a vivid exhibition. I will undertake
to prove that Shakspeare's anachronisms are, for the most part, committed
of set purpose and deliberately. It was frequently of importance to him to
move the exhibited subject out of the background of time, and bring it
quite near us. Hence in _Hamlet_, though avowedly an old Northern
story, there runs a tone of modish society, and in every respect the
costume of the most recent period. Without those circumstantialities it
would not have been allowable to make a philosophical inquirer of Hamlet,
on which trait, however, the meaning of the whole is made to rest. On that
account he mentions his education at a university, though, in the age of
the true Hamlet of history, universities were not in existence. He makes
him study at Wittenberg, and no selection of a place could have been more
suitable. The name was very popular: the story of _Dr. Faustus of
Wittenberg_ had made it well known; it was of particular celebrity in
protestant England, as Luther had taught and written there shortly before,
and the very name must have immediately suggested the idea of freedom in
thinking. I cannot oven consider it an anachronism that Richard the Third
should speak of Macchiavel. The word is here used altogether proverbially:
the contents, at least, of the book entitled _Of the Prince (Del
Principe,)_ have been in existence ever since the existence of tyrants;
Macchiavel was merely the first to commit them to writing.

That Shakspeare has accurately hit the essential costume, namely, the
spirit of ages and nations, is at least acknowledged generally by the
English critics; but many sins against external costume may be easily
remarked. But here it is necessary to bear in mind that the Roman pieces
were acted upon the stage of that day in the European dress. This was, it
is true, still grand and splendid, not so silly and tasteless as it became
towards the end of the seventeenth century. (Brutus and Cassius appeared
in the Spanish cloak; they wore, quite contrary to the Roman custom, the
sword by their side in time of peace, and, according to the testimony of
an eye witness, [Footnote: In one of the commendatory poems in the first
folio edition:
And on the stage at _half sword parley_ were
Brutus and Cassius.] it was, in the dialogue where Brutus stimulates
Cassius to the conspiracy, drawn, as if involuntarily, half out of the
sheath.) This does in no way agree with our way of thinking: we are not
content without the toga. The present, perhaps, is not an inappropriate
place for a few general observations on costume, considered with reference
to art. It has never been more accurately observed than in the present
day; art has become a slop-shop for pedantic antiquities. This is because
we live in a learned and critical, but by no means poetical age. The
ancients before us used, when they had to represent the religions of other
nations, which deviated very much from their own, to bring them into
conformity with the Greek mythology. In Sculpture, again, the same dress,
namely, the Phrygian, was adopted, once for all, for every barbaric tribe.
Not that they did not know that there were as many different dresses as
nations; but in art they merely wished to acknowledge the great contrast
between barbarian and civilized: and this, they thought, was rendered most
strikingly apparent in the Phrygian garb. The earlier Christian painters
represent the Saviour, the Virgin Mary, the Patriarchs, and the Apostles
in an ideal dress; but the subordinate actors or spectators of the action,
in the dresses of their own nation and age. Here they were guided by a
correct feeling: the mysterious and sacred ought to be kept at an awe-
inspiring distance, but the human cannot be rightly understood if seen
without its usual accompaniments. In the middle ages all heroical stories
of antiquity, from Theseus and Achilles down to Alexander, were
metamorphosed into true tales of chivalry. What was related to themselves
spoke alone an intelligible language to them; of differences and
distinctions they did not care to know. In an old manuscript of the
_Iliad_, I saw a miniature illumination representing Hector's funeral
procession, where the coffin is hung with noble coats of arms, and carried
into a Gothic church. It is easy to make merry with this piece of
simplicity, but a reflecting mind will see the subject in a very different
light. A powerful consciousness of the universal validity and the solid
permanency of their own manner of being, an undoubting conviction that it
has always so been and will ever continue so to be in the world: these
feelings of our ancestors were symptoms of a fresh fulness of life; they
were the marrow of action in reality as well as in fiction. Their plain
and affectionate attachment to every thing around them, handed down from
their fathers, is by no means to be confounded with the obstreperous
conceit of ages of mannerism, who, out of vanity, introduce the fleeting
modes and fashion of the day into art, because to them everything like
noble simplicity seems boorish and rude. The latter impropriety is now
abolished: but, on the other hand, our poets and artists, if they would
hope for our approbation, must, like servants, wear the livery of distant
centuries and foreign nations. We are everywhere at home except at home.
We do ourselves the justice to allow that the present mode of dressing,
forms of politeness, &c., are altogether unpoetical, and art is therefore
obliged to beg, as an alms, a poetical costume from the antiquaries. To
that simple way of thinking, which is merely attentive to the inward truth
of the composition, without stumbling at anachronisms, or other external
inconsistencies, we cannot, alas! now return; but we must envy the poets
to whom it offered itself; it allowed them a great breadth and freedom in
the handling of their subject.

Many things in Shakspeare must be judged of according to the above
principles, respecting the difference between the essential and the merely
learned costume. They will also in their measure admit of an application
to Calderon.

So much with respect to the spirit of the age in which Shakspeare lived,
and his peculiar mental culture and knowledge. To me he appears a profound
artist, and not a blind and wildly luxuriant genius. I consider, generally
speaking, all that has been said on the subject a mere fable, a blind and
extravagant error. In other arts the assertion refutes itself; for in them
acquired knowledge is an indispensable condition of clever execution. But
even in such poets, as are usually given out as careless pupils of nature,
devoid of art or school discipline, I have always found, on a nearer
consideration of the works of real excellence they may have produced, even
a high cultivation of the mental powers, practice in art, and views both
worthy in themselves and maturely considered. This applies to Homer as
well as to Dante. The activity of genius is, it is true, natural to it,
and, in a certain sense, unconscious; and, consequently, the person who
possesses it is not always at the moment able to render an account of the
course which he may have pursued; but it by no means follows, that the
thinking power had not a great share in it. It is from the very rapidity
and certainty of the mental process, from the utmost clearness of
understanding, that thinking in a poet is not perceived as something
abstracted, does not wear the appearance of reflex meditation. That notion
of poetical inspiration, which many lyrical poets have brought into
circulation, as if they were not in their senses, and like Pythia, when
possessed by the divinity, delivered oracles unintelligible to themselves
--this notion, (a mere lyrical invention,) is least of all applicable to
dramatic composition, one of the most thoughtful productions of the human
mind. It is admitted that Shakspeare has reflected, and deeply reflected,
on character and passion, on the progress of events and human destinies,
on the human constitution, on all the things and relations of the world;
this is an admission which must be made, for one alone of thousands of his
maxims would be a sufficient refutation of whoever should attempt to deny
it. So that it was only for the structure of his own pieces that he had no
thought to spare? This he left to the dominion of chance, which blew
together the atoms of Epicurus. But supposing that, devoid of any higher
ambition to approve himself to judicious critics and posterity, and
wanting in that love of art which longs for self-satisfaction in the
perfection of its works, he had merely laboured to please the unlettered
crowd; still this very object alone and the pursuit of theatrical effect,
would have led him to bestow attention to the structure and adherence of
his pieces. For does not the impression of a drama depend in an especial
manner on the relation of the parts to each other? And, however beautiful
a scene may be in itself, if yet it be at variance with what the
spectators have been led to expect in its particular place, so as to
destroy the interest which they had hitherto felt, will it not be at once
reprobated by all who possess plain common sense, and give themselves up
to nature? The comic intermixtures may be considered merely as a sort of
interlude, designed to relieve the straining of the mind after the stretch
of the more serious parts, so long as no better purpose can be found in
them; but in the progress of the main action, in the concatenation of the
events, the poet must, if possible, display even more expenditure of
thought than in the composition of individual character and situations,
otherwise he would be like the conductor of a puppet-show who has
entangled his wires, so that the puppets receive from their mechanism
quite different movements from those which he actually intended.

The English critics are unanimous in their praise of the truth and uniform
consistency of his characters, of his heartrending pathos, and his comic
wit. Moreover, they extol the beauty and sublimity of his separate
descriptions, images, and expressions. This last is the most superficial
and cheap mode of criticising works of art. Johnson compares him who
should endeavour to recommend this poet by passages unconnectedly torn
from his works, to the pedant in Hierocles, who exhibited a brick as a
sample of his house. And yet how little, and how very unsatisfactorily
does he himself speak of the pieces considered as a whole! Let any man,
for instance, bring together the short characters which he gives at the
close of each play, and see if the aggregate will amount to that sum of
admiration which he himself, at his outset, has stated as the correct
standard for the appreciation of the poet. It was, generally speaking, the
prevailing tendency of the time which preceded our own, (and which has
showed itself particularly in physical science,) to consider everything
having life as a mere accumulation of dead parts, to separate what exists
only in connexion and cannot otherwise be conceived, instead of
penetrating to the central point and viewing all the parts as so many
irradiations from it. Hence nothing is so rare as a critic who can elevate
himself to the comprehensive contemplation of a work of art. Shakspeare's
compositions, from the very depth of purpose displayed in them, have been
especially liable to the misfortune of being misunderstood. Besides, this
prosaic species of criticism requires always that the poetic form should
he applied to the details of execution; but when the plan of the piece is
concerned, it never looks for more than the logical connexion of causes
and effects, or some partial and trite moral by way of application; and
all that cannot be reconciled therewith is declared superfluous, or even a
pernicious appendage. On these principles we must even strike out from the
Greek tragedies most of the choral songs, which also contribute nothing to
the development of the action, but are merely an harmonious echo of the
impressions the poet aims at conveying. In this they altogether mistake
the rights of poetry and the nature of the romantic drama, which, for the
very reason that it is and ought to be picturesque, requires richer
accompaniments and contrasts for its main groups. In all Art and Poetry,
but more especially in the romantic, the Fancy lays claims to be
considered as an independent mental power governed according to its own

In an essay on _Romeo and Juliet_, [Footnote: In the first volume of
_Charakteristiken und Kritiken_, published by my brother and myself.]
written a number of years ago, I went through the whole of the scenes in
their order, and demonstrated the inward necessity of each with reference
to the whole; I showed why such a particular circle of characters and
relations was placed around the two lovers; I explained the signification
of the mirth here and there scattered, and justified the use of the
occasional heightening given to the poetical colours. From all this
it seemed to follow unquestionably, that with the exception of a few
witticisms, now become unintelligible or foreign to the present taste,
(imitations of the tone of society of that day,) nothing could be taken
away, nothing added, nothing otherwise arranged, without mutilating and
disfiguring the perfect work. I would readily undertake to do the same for
all the pieces of Shakspeare's maturer years, but to do this would require
a separate book. Here I am reduced to confine my observations to the
tracing his great designs with a rapid pencil; but still I must previously
be allowed to deliver my sentiments in a general manner on the subject of
his most eminent peculiarities.

Shakspeare's knowledge of mankind has become proverbial: in this his
superiority is so great, that he has justly been called the master of the
human heart. A readiness to remark the mind's fainter and involuntary
utterances, and the power to express with certainty the meaning of these
signs, as determined by experience and reflection, constitutes "the
observer of men;" but tacitly to draw from these still further
conclusions, and to arrange the separate observations according to grounds
of probability, into a just and valid combination, this, it may be said,
is to know men. The distinguishing property of the dramatic poet who is
great in characterization, is something altogether different here, and
which, (take it which way we will,) either includes in it this readiness
and this acuteness, or dispenses with both. It is the capability of
transporting himself so completely into every situation, even the most
unusual, that he is enabled, as plenipotentiary of the whole human race,
without particular instructions for each separate case, to act and speak
in the name of every individual. It is the power of endowing the creatures
of his imagination with such self-existent energy, that they afterwards
act in each conjuncture according to general laws of nature: the poet, in
his dreams, institutes, as it were, experiments which are received with as
much authority as if they had been made on waking objects. The
inconceivable element herein, and what moreover can never be learned, is,
that the characters appear neither to do nor to say any thing on the
spectator's account merely; and yet that the poet simply, by means of the
exhibition, and without any subsidiary explanation, communicates to his
audience the gift of looking into the inmost recesses of their minds.
Hence Goethe has ingeniously compared Shakspeare's characters to watches
with crystalline plates and cases, which, while they point out the hours
as correctly as other watches, enable us at the same time to perceive the
inward springs whereby all this is accomplished.

Nothing, however, is more foreign to Shakspeare than a certain anatomical
style of exhibition, which laboriously enumerates all the motives by which
a man is determined to act in this or that particular manner. This rage of
supplying motives, the mania of so many modern historians, might be
carried at length to an extent which would abolish every thing like
individuality, and resolve all character into nothing but the effect of
foreign or external, influences whereas we know that it often announces
itself most decidedly in earliest infancy. After all, a man acts so
because he is so. And what each man is, that Shakspeare reveals to us most
immediately: he demands and obtains our belief, even for what is singular
and deviates from the ordinary course of nature. Never perhaps was there
so comprehensive a talent for characterization as Shakspeare. It not only
grasps every diversity of rank, age, and sex, down to the lispings of
infancy; not only do the king and the beggar, the hero and the pickpocket,
the sage and the idiot, speak and act with equal truthfulness; not only
does he transport himself to distant ages and foreign nations, and portray
with the greatest accuracy (a few apparent violations of costume excepted)
the spirit of the ancient Romans, of the French in the wars with the
English, of the English themselves during a great part of their history,
of the Southern Europeans (in the serious part of many comedies), the
cultivated society of the day, and the rude barbarism of a Norman fore-
time; his human characters have not only such depth and individuality that
they do not admit of being classed under common names, and are
inexhaustible even in conception: no, this Prometheus not merely forms
men, he opens the gates of the magical world of spirits, calls up the
midnight ghost, exhibits before us the witches with their unhallowed
rites, peoples the air with sportive fairies and sylphs; and these beings,
though existing only in the imagination, nevertheless possess such truth
and consistency, that even with such misshapen abortions as Caliban, he
extorts the assenting conviction, that were there such beings they would
so conduct themselves. In a word, as he carries a bold and pregnant fancy
into the kingdom of nature, on the other hand, he carries nature into the
regions of fancy, which lie beyond the confines of reality. We are lost in
astonishment at the close intimacy he brings us into with the
extraordinary, the wonderful, and the unheard-of.

Pope and Johnson appear strangely to contradict each other, when the first
says, "all the characters of Shakspeare are individuals," and the second,
"they are species." And yet perhaps these opinions may admit of
reconciliation. Pope's expression is unquestionably the more correct. A
character which should be merely a personification of a naked general idea
could neither exhibit any great depth nor any great variety. The names of
genera and species are well known to be merely auxiliaries for the
understanding, that we may embrace the infinite variety of nature in a
certain order. The characters which Shakspeare has so thoroughly
delineated have undoubtedly a number of individual peculiarities, but at
the same time they possess a significance which is not applicable to them
alone: they generally supply materials for a profound theory of their most
prominent and distinguishing property. But even with the above correction,
this opinion must still have its limitations. Characterization is merely
one ingredient of the dramatic art, and not dramatic poetry itself. It
would be improper in the extreme, if the poet were to draw our attention
to superfluous traits of character, at a time when it ought to be his
endeavour to produce other impressions. Whenever the musical or the
fanciful preponderates, the characteristical necessarily falls into the
background. Hence many of the figures of Shakspeare exhibit merely
external designations, determined by the place which they occupy in the
whole: they are like secondary persons in a public procession, to whose
physiognomy we seldom pay much attention; their only importance is derived
from the solemnity of their dress and the duty in which they are engaged.
Shakspeare's messengers, for instance, are for the most part mere
messengers, and yet not common, but poetical messengers: the messages
which they have to bring is the soul which suggests to them their
language. Other voices, too, are merely raised to pour forth these as
melodious lamentations or rejoicings, or to dwell in reflection on what
has taken place; and in a serious drama without chorus this must always be
more or less the case, if we would not have it prosaical.

If Shakspeare deserves our admiration for his characters, he is equally
deserving of it for his exhibition of passion, taking this word in its
widest signification, as including every mental condition, every tone,
from indifference or familiar mirth to the wildest rage and despair. He
gives us the history of minds; he lays open to us, in a single word, a
whole series of their anterior states. His passions do not stand at the
same height, from first to last, as is the case with so many tragic poets,
who, in the language of Lessing, are thorough masters of the legal style
of love. He paints, with inimitable veracity, the gradual advance from the
first origin; "he gives," as Lessing says, "a living picture of all the
slight and secret artifices by which a feeling steals into our souls, of
all the imperceptible advantages which it there gains, of all the
stratagems by which it makes every other passion subservient to itself,
till it becomes the sole tyrant of our desires and our aversions." Of all
the poets, perhaps, he alone has portrayed the mental diseases,
melancholy, delirium, lunacy, with such inexpressible and, in every
respect, definite truth, that the physician may enrich his observations
from them in the same manner as from real cases.

And yet Johnson has objected to Shakspeare that his pathos is not always
natural and free from affectation. There are, it is true, passages, though
comparatively speaking very few, where his poetry exceeds the bounds of
actual dialogue, where a too soaring imagination, a too luxuriant wit,
rendered a complete dramatic forgetfulness of himself impossible. With
this exception, the censure originated in a fanciless way of thinking, to
which everything appears unnatural that does not consort with its own tame
insipidity. Hence an idea has been formed of simple and natural pathos,
which consists in exclamations destitute of imagery and nowise elevated
above every-day life. But energetical passions electrify all the mental
powers, and will consequently, in highly-favoured natures, give utterance
to themselves in ingenious and figurative expressions. It has been often
remarked that indignation makes a man witty; and as despair occasionally
breaks out into laughter, it may sometimes also give vent to itself in
antithetical comparisons.

Besides, the rights of the poetical form have not been duly weighed.
Shakspeare, who was always sure of his power to excite, when he wished,
sufficiently powerful emotions, has occasionally, by indulging in a freer
play of fancy, purposely tempered the impressions when too painful, and
immediately introduced a musical softening of our sympathy. [Footnote: A
contemporary of the poet, the author of the already-noticed poem,
(subscribed I. M. S.,) tenderly felt this while he says--
Yet so to temper passion, that our ears
Take pleasure in their pain, and eyes in tears
Both smile and weep.] He had not those rude ideas of his art which many
moderns seem to have, as if the poet, like the clown in the proverb, must
strike twice on the same place. An ancient rhetorician delivered a caution
against dwelling too long on the excitation of pity; for nothing, he said,
dries so soon as tears; and Shakspeare acted conformably to this ingenious
maxim without having learned it. The paradoxical assertion of Johnson that
"Shakspeare had a greater talent for comedy than tragedy, and that in the
latter he has frequently displayed an affected tone," is scarcely
deserving of lengthy notice. For its refutation, it is unnecessary to
appeal to the great tragical compositions of the poet, which, for
overpowering effect, leave far behind them almost everything that the
stage has seen besides; a few of their less celebrated scenes would be
quite sufficient. What to many readers might lend an appearance of truth
to this assertion are the verbal witticisms, that playing upon words,
which Shakspeare not unfrequently introduces into serious and sublime
passages, and even into those also of a peculiarly pathetic nature.

I have already stated the point of view in which we ought to consider this
sportive play upon words. I shall here, therefore, merely deliver a few
observations respecting the playing upon words in general, and its
poetical use. A thorough investigation would lead us too far from our
subject, and too deeply into considerations on the essence of language,
and its relation to poetry, or rhyme, &c.

There is in the human mind a desire that language should exhibit the
object which it denotes, sensibly, by its very sound, which may be traced
even as far back as in the first origin of poetry. As, in the shape in
which language comes down to us, this is seldom perceptibly the case, an
imagination which has been powerfully excited is fond of laying hold of
any congruity in sound which may accidentally offer itself, that by such
means he may, for the nonce, restore the lost resemblance between the word
and the thing. For example, How common was it and is it to seek in the
name of a person, however arbitrarily bestowed, a reference to his
qualities and fortunes,--to convert it purposely into a significant name.
Those who cry out against the play upon words as an unnatural and affected
invention, only betray their own ignorance of original nature. A great
fondness for it is always evinced among children, as well as with nations
of simple manners, among whom correct ideas of the derivation and affinity
of words have not yet been developed, and do not, consequently, stand in
the way of this caprice. In Homer we find several examples of it; the
Books of Moses, the oldest written memorial of the primitive world, are,
as is well known, full of them. On the other hand, poets of a very
cultivated taste, like Petrarch, or orators, like Cicero, have delighted
in them. Whoever, in _Richard the Second_, is disgusted with the affecting
play of words of the dying John of Gaunt on his own name, should remember
that the same thing occurs in the _Ajax_ of Sophocles. We do not mean to
say that all playing upon words is on all occasions to be justified. This
must depend on the disposition of mind, whether it will admit of such a
play of fancy, and whether the sallies, comparisons, and allusions, which
lie at the bottom of them, possess internal solidity. Yet we must not
proceed upon the principle of trying how the thought appears after it is
deprived of the resemblance in sound, any more than we are to endeavour to
feel the charm of rhymed versification after depriving it of its rhyme.
The laws of good taste on this subject must, moreover, vary with the
quality of the languages. In those which possess a great number of
homonymes, that is, words possessing the same, or nearly the same,
sound, though quite different in their derivation and signification, it is
almost more difficult to avoid, than to fall on such a verbal play. It
has, however, been feared, lest a door might be opened to puerile
witticism, if they were not rigorously proscribed. But I cannot, for my
part, find that Shakspeare had such an invincible and immoderate passion
for this verbal witticism. It is true, he sometimes makes a most lavish
use of this figure; at others, he has employed it very sparingly; and at
times (for example, in _Macbeth_), I do not believe a vestige of it
is to be found. Hence, in respect to the use or the rejection of the play
upon words, he must have been guided by the measure of the objects, and
the different style in which they required to be treated, and probably
have followed here, as in every thing else, principles which, fairly
examined, will bear a strict examination.

The objection that Shakspeare wounds our feelings by the open display of
the most disgusting moral odiousness, unmercifully harrows up the mind,
and tortures even our eyes by the exhibition of the most insupportable and
hateful spectacles, is one of greater and graver importance. He has, in
fact, never varnished over wild and blood-thirsty passions with a pleasing
exterior--never clothed crime and want of principle with a false show of
greatness of soul; and in that respect he is every way deserving of
praise. Twice he has portrayed downright villains, and the masterly way in
which he has contrived to elude impressions of too painful a nature may be
seen in Iago and Richard the Third. I allow that the reading, and still
more the sight, of some of his pieces, is not advisable to weak nerves,
any more than was the _Eumenides_ of Aeschylus; but is the poet, who
can only reach an important object by a bold and hazardous daring, to be
checked by considerations for such persons? If the effeminacy of the
present day is to serve as a general standard of what tragical composition
may properly exhibit to human nature, we shall be forced to set very
narrow limits indeed to art, and the hope of anything like powerful effect
must at once and for ever be renounced. If we wish to have a grand
purpose, we must also wish to have the grand means, and our nerves ought
in some measure to accommodate themselves to painful impressions, if, by
way of requital, our mind is thereby elevated and strengthened. The
constant reference to a petty and puny race must cripple the boldness of
the poet. Fortunately for his art, Shakspeare lived in an age extremely
susceptible of noble and tender impressions, but which had yet inherited
enough of the firmness of a vigorous olden time, not to shrink with dismay
from every strong and forcible painting. We have lived to see tragedies of
which the catastrophe consists in the swoon of an enamoured princess: if
Shakspeare falls occasionally into the opposite extreme, it is a noble
error, originating in the fulness of a gigantic strength. And this
tragical Titan, who storms the heavens and threatens to tear the world
from off its hinges, who, more terrible than Aeschylus, makes our hair to
stand on end, and congeals our blood with horror, possessed at the same
time the insinuating loveliness of the sweetest poesy; he toys with love
like a child, and his songs die away on the ear like melting sighs. He
unites in his soul the utmost elevation and the utmost depth; and the most
opposite and even apparently irreconcilable properties subsist in him
peaceably together. The world of spirits and nature have laid all their
treasures at his feet: in strength a demi-god, in profundity of view a
prophet, in all-seeing wisdom a guardian spirit of a higher order, he
lowers himself to mortals as if unconscious of his superiority, and is as
open and unassuming as a child.

If the delineation of all his characters, separately considered, is
inimitably bold and correct, he surpasses even himself in so combining and
contrasting them, that they serve to bring out each other's peculiarities.
This is the very perfection of dramatic characterization: for we can never
estimate a man's true worth if we consider him altogether abstractedly by
himself; we must see him in his relations with others; and it is here that
most dramatic poets are deficient. Shakspeare makes each of his principal
characters the glass in which the others are reflected, and by like means
enables us to discover what could not be immediately revealed to us. What
in others is most profound, is with him but surface. Ill-advised should we
be were we always to take men's declarations respecting themselves and
others for sterling coin. Ambiguity of design with much propriety he makes
to overflow with the most praiseworthy principles; and sage maxims are not
unfrequently put in the mouth of stupidity, to show how easily such
common-place truisms may be acquired. Nobody ever painted so truthfully as
he has done the facility of self-deception, the half self-conscious
hypocrisy towards ourselves, with which even noble minds attempt to
disguise the almost inevitable influence of selfish motives in human
nature. This secret irony of the characterization commands admiration as
the profound abyss of acuteness and sagacity; but it is the grave of
enthusiasm. We arrive at it only after we have had the misfortune to see
human nature through and through; and when no choice remains but to adopt
the melancholy truth, that "no virtue or greatness is altogether pure and
genuine," or the dangerous error that "the highest perfection is
attainable." Here we therefore may perceive in the poet himself,
notwithstanding his power to excite the most fervent emotions, a certain
cool indifference, but still the indifference of a superior mind, which
has run through the whole sphere of human existence and survived feeling.

The irony in Shakspeare has not merely a reference to the separate
characters, but frequently to the whole of the action. Most poets who
pourtray human events in a narrative or dramatic form take themselves a
part, and exact from their readers a blind approbation or condemnation of
whatever side they choose to support or oppose. The more zealous this
rhetoric is, the more certainly it fails of its effect. In every case we
are conscious that the subject itself is not brought immediately before
us, but that we view it through the medium of a different way of thinking.
When, however, by a dexterous manoeuvre, the poet allows us an occasional
glance at the less brilliant reverse of the medal, then he makes, as it
were, a sort of secret understanding with the select circle of the more
intelligent of his readers or spectators; he shows them that he had
previously seen and admitted the validity of their tacit objections; that
he himself is not tied down to the represented subject, but soars freely
above it; and that, if he chose, he could unrelentingly annihilate the
beautiful and irresistibly attractive scenes which his magic pen has
produced. No doubt, wherever the proper tragic enters every thing like
irony immediately ceases; but from the avowed raillery of Comedy, to the
point where the subjection of mortal beings to an inevitable destiny
demands the highest degree of seriousness, there are a multitude of human
relations which unquestionably may be considered in an ironical view,
without confounding the eternal line of separation between good and evil.
This purpose is answered by the comic characters and scenes which are
interwoven with the serious parts in most of those pieces of Shakspeare
where romantic fables or historical events are made the subject of a noble
and elevating exhibition. Frequently an intentional parody of the serious
part is not to be mistaken in them; at other times the connexion is more
arbitrary and loose, and the more so the more marvellous the invention of
the whole, and the more entirely it is become a light revelling of the
fancy. The comic intervals everywhere serve to prevent the pastime from
being converted into a business, to preserve the mind in the possession of
its serenity, and to keep off that gloomy and inert seriousness which so
easily steals upon the sentimental, but not tragical, drama. Most
assuredly Shakspeare did not intend thereby, in defiance to his own better
judgment, to humour the taste of the multitude: for in various pieces, and
throughout considerable portions of others, and especially when the
catastrophe is approaching, and the mind consequently is more on the
stretch and no longer likely to give heed to any amusement which would
distract their attention, he has abstained from all such comic
intermixtures. It was also an object with him, that the clowns or buffoons
should not occupy a more important place than that which he had assigned
them: he expressly condemns the extemporizing with which they love to
enlarge their parts [Footnote: In Hamlet's directions to the players. Act
iii, sc. 2.]. Johnson founds the justification of the species of drama in
which seriousness and mirth admixed, on this, that in real life the vulgar
is found close to the sublime, that the merry and the sad usually
accompany and succeed one another. But it does not follow that because
both are found together, therefore they must not be separable in the
compositions of art. The observation is in other respects just, and this
circumstance invests the poet with a power to adopt this procedure,
because every thing in the drama must be regulated by the conditions of
theatrical probability; but the mixture of such dissimilar, and apparently
contradictory, ingredients, in the same works, can only be justifiable on
principles reconcilable with the views of art, which I have already
described. In the dramas of Shakspeare the comic scenes are the
antechamber of the poetry, where the servants remain; these prosaic
attendants must not raise their voices so high as to deafen the speakers
in the presence-chamber; however, in those intervals when the ideal
society has retired they deserve to be listened to; their bold raillery,
their presumption of mockery, may afford many an insight into the
situation and circumstances of their masters.

Shakspeare's comic talent is equally wonderful with that which he has
shown in the pathetic and tragic: it stands on an equal elevation, and
possesses equal extent and profundity; in all that I have hitherto said, I
only wished to guard against admitting that the former preponderated. He
is highly inventive in comic situations and motives: it will be hardly
possible to show whence he has taken any of them, whereas, in the serious
part of his dramas, he has generally laid hold of some well-known story.
His comic characterization is equally true, various, and profound, with
his serious. So little is he disposed to caricature, that rather, it may
be said, many of his traits are almost too nice and delicate for the
stage, that they can only be made available by a great actor, and fully
understood by an acute audience. Not only has he delineated many kinds of
folly, but even of sheer stupidity has he contrived to give a most
diverting and entertaining picture. There is also in his pieces a peculiar
species of the farcical, which apparently seems to be introduced more
arbitrarily, but which, however, is founded on imitation of some actual
custom. This is the introduction of the merry-maker, the fool with his cap
and bells, and motley dress, called more commonly in England _Clown_,
who appears in several comedies, though not in all, but of the tragedies
in _Lear_ alone, and who generally merely exercises his wit in
conversation with the principal persons, though he is also sometimes
incorporated into the action. In those times it was not only usual for
princes to have their court fools, but many distinguished families, among
their other retainers, kept such an exhilarating housemate as a good
antidote against the insipidity and wearisomeness of ordinary life, and as
a welcome interruption of established formalities. Great statesmen, and
even ecclesiastics, did not consider it beneath their dignity to recruit
and solace themselves after important business with the conversation of
their fools; the celebrated Sir Thomas More had his fool painted along
with himself by Holbein. Shakspeare appears to have lived immediately
before the time when the custom began to be abolished; in the English
comic authors who succeeded him the clown is no longer to be found. The
dismissal of the fool has been extolled as a proof of refinement; and our
honest forefathers have been pitied for taking delight in such a coarse
and farcical amusement. For my part, I am rather disposed to believe, that
the practice was dropped from the difficulty in finding fools able to do
full justice to their parts: [Footnote: See Hamlet's praise of Yorick. In
_The Twelfth Night_, Viola says:--
This fellow is wise enough to play the fool,
And to do that well craves a kind of wit;
He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
The quality of the persons, and the time;
And like the haggard, check at every feather
That comes before his eye. This is a practice
As full of labour as a wise man's art:
For folly that he wisely shows if fit,
But wise mens' folly fall'n quite taints their wit.--AUTHOR.
The passages from Shakspeare, in the original work, are given from the
author's masterly translation. We may be allowed, however, to observe that
the last line--
"Doch wozu ist des Weisen Thorheit nutz?"
literally, _Of what use is the folly of the wise?_--does not convey
the exact meaning of Shakespeare.--TRANS.] on the other hand, reason, with
all its conceit of itself, has become too timid to tolerate such bold
irony; it is always careful lest the mantle of its gravity should be
disturbed in any of its folds; and rather than allow a privileged place to
folly beside itself, it has unconsciously assumed the part of the
ridiculous; but, alas! a heavy and cheerless ridicule. [Footnote: "Since
the little wit that fools have was silenced, the little foolery that wise
men have makes a greater show."--_As You Like It_. Act i., sc. 2.] It
would be easy to make a collection of the excellent sallies and biting
sarcasms which have been preserved of celebrated court fools. It is well
known that they frequently told such truths to princes as are never now
told to them. [Footnote: Charles the Bold, of Burgundy, is known to have
frequently boasted that he wished to rival Hannibal as the greatest
general of all ages. After his defeat at Granson, his fool accompanied him
in his hurried flight, and exclaimed, "Ah, your Grace, they have for once
Hanniballed us!" If the Duke had given an ear to this warning raillery, he
would not so soon afterwards have come to a disgraceful end.] Shakspeare's
fools, along with somewhat of an overstraining for wit, which cannot
altogether be avoided when wit becomes a separate profession, have for the
most part an incomparable humour, and an infinite abundance of intellect,
enough indeed to supply a whole host of ordinary wise men.

I have still a few observations to make on the diction and versification
of our poet. The language is here and there somewhat obsolete, but on the
whole much less so than in most of the contemporary writers, a sufficient
proof of the goodness of his choice. Prose had as yet been but little
cultivated, as the learned generally wrote in Latin: a favourable
circumstance for the dramatic poet; for what has he to do with the
scientific language of books? He had not only read, but studied the
earlier English poets; but he drew his language immediately from life
itself, and he possessed a masterly skill in blending the dialogical
element with the highest poetical elevation. I know not what certain
critics mean, when they say that Shakspeare is frequently ungrammatical.
To make good their assertion, they must prove that similar constructions
never occur in his contemporaries, the direct contrary of which can,
however, be easily shown. In no language is every thing determined on
principle; much is always left to the caprice of custom, and if this has
since changed, is the poet to be made answerable for it? The English
language had not then attained to that correct insipidity which has been
introduced into the more recent literature of the country, to the
prejudice, perhaps, of its originality. As a field when first brought
under the plough produces, along with the fruitful shoots, many luxuriant
weeds, so the poetical diction of the day ran occasionally into
extravagance, but an extravagance originating in the exuberance of its
vigour. We may still perceive traces of awkwardness, but nowhere of a
laboured and spiritless display of art. In general Shakspeare's style yet
remains the very best model, both in the vigorous and sublime, and the
pleasing and tender. In his sphere he has exhausted all the means and
appliances of language. On all he has impressed the stamp of his mighty
spirit. His images and figures, in their unsought, nay, uncapricious
singularity, have often a sweetness altogether peculiar. He becomes
occasionally obscure from too great fondness for compressed brevity; but
still, the labour of poring over Shakspeare's lines will invariably meet
an ample requital.

The verse in all his plays is generally the rhymeless Iambic of ten or
eleven syllables, occasionally only intermixed with rhymes, but more
frequently alternating with prose. No one piece is written entirely in
prose; for even in those which approach the most to the pure Comedy, there
is always something added which gives them a more poetical hue than
usually belongs to this species. Many scenes are wholly in prose, in
others verse and prose succeed each other alternately. This can only
appear an impropriety in the eyes of those who are accustomed to consider
the lines of a drama like so many soldiers drawn up rank and file on a
parade, with the same uniform, arms, and accoutrements, so that when we
see one or two we may represent to ourselves thousands as being every way
like them.

In the use of verse and prose Shakspeare observes very nice distinctions
according to the ranks of the speakers, but still more according to their
characters and disposition of mind. A noble language, elevated above the
usual tone, is only suitable to a certain decorum of manners, which is
thrown over both vices and virtues, and which does not even wholly
disappear amidst the violence of passion. If this is not exclusively
possessed by the higher ranks, it still, however, belongs naturally more
to them than to the lower; and therefore in Shakspeare dignity and
familiarity of language, poetry, and prose, are in this manner distributed
among the characters. Hence his tradesmen, peasants, soldiers, sailors,
servants, but more especially his fools and clowns, speak almost without
exception, in the tone of their actual life. However, inward dignity of
sentiment, wherever it is possessed, invariably displays itself with a
nobleness of its own, and stands not in need, for that end, of the
artificial elegancies of education and custom; it is a universal right of
man, of the highest as well as the lowest; and hence also, in Shakspeare,
the nobility of nature and morality is ennobled above the artificial
nobility of society. Not unfrequently also he makes the very same persons
express themselves at times in the sublimest language, and at others in
the lowest; and this inequality is in like manner founded in truth.
Extraordinary situations, which intensely occupy the head and throw mighty
passions into play, give elevation and tension to the soul: it collects
together all its powers, and exhibits an unusual energy, both in its
operations and in its communications by language. On the other hand, even
the greatest men have their moments of remissness, when to a certain
degree they forget the dignity of their character in unreserved
relaxation. This very tone of mind is necessary before they can receive
amusement from the jokes of others, or what surely cannot dishonour even a
hero, from passing jokes themselves. Let any person, for example, go
carefully through the part of Hamlet. How bold and powerful the language
of his poetry when he conjures the ghost of his father, when he spurs
himself on to the bloody deed, when he thunders into the soul of his
mother! How he lowers his tone down to that of common life, when he has to
do with persons whose station demands from him such a line of conduct;
when he makes game of Polonius and the courtiers, instructs the player,
and even enters into the jokes of the grave-digger. Of all the poet's
serious leading characters there is none so rich in wit and humour as
Hamlet; hence he it is of all of them that makes the greatest use of the
familiar style. Others, again, never do fall into it; either because they
are constantly surrounded by the pomp of rank, or because a uniform
seriousness is natural to them; or, in short, because through the whole
piece they are under the dominion of a passion, calculated to excite, and
not, like the sorrow of Hamlet, to depress the mind. The choice of the one
form or the other is everywhere so appropriate, and so much founded in the
nature of the thing, that I will venture to assert, even where the poet in
the very same speech makes the speaker leave prose for poetry, or the
converse, this could not be altered without danger of injuring or
destroying some beauty or other. The blank verse has this advantage, that
its tone may be elevated or lowered; it admits of approximation to the
familiar style of conversation, and never forms such an abrupt contrast as
that, for example, between plain prose and the rhyming Alexandrines.

Shakspeare's Iambics are sometimes highly harmonious and full sounding;
always varied and suitable to the subject, at one time distinguished by
ease and rapidity, at another they move along with ponderous energy. They
never fall out of the dialogical character, which may always be traced
even in the continued discourses of individuals, excepting when the latter
run into the lyrical. They are a complete model of the dramatic use of
this species of verse, which, in English, since Milton, has been also used
in epic poetry; but in the latter it has assumed a quite different turn.
Even the irregularities of Shakspeare's versification are expressive; a
verse broken off, or a sudden change of rhythmus, coincides with some
pause in the progress of the thought, or the entrance of another mental
disposition. As a proof that he purposely violated the mechanical rules,
from a conviction that too symmetrical a versification does not suit with
the drama, and on the stage has in the long run a tendency to lull the
spectators asleep, we may observe that his earlier pieces are the most
diligently versified, and that in the later works, when through practice
he must have acquired a greater facility, we find the strongest deviations
from the regular structure of the verse. As it served with him merely to
make the poetical elevation perceptible, he therefore claimed the utmost
possible freedom in the use of it.

The views or suggestions of feeling by which he was guided in the use of
rhyme may likewise be traced with almost equal certainty. Not unfrequently
scenes, or even single speeches, close with a few rhyming lines, for the
purpose of more strongly marking the division, and of giving it more
rounding. This was injudiciously imitated by the English tragic poets of a
later date; they suddenly elevated the tone in the rhymed lines, as if the
person began all at once to speak in another language. The practice was
welcomed by the actors from its serving as a signal for clapping when they
made their exit. In Shakspeare, on the other hand, the transitions are
more easy: all changes of forms are brought about insensibly, and as if of
themselves. Moreover, he is generally fond of heightening a series of
ingenious and antithetical sayings by the use of rhyme. We find other
passages in continued rhyme, where solemnity and theatrical pomp were
suitable, as, for instance, in the mask, [Footnote: I shall take the
opportunity of saying a few words respecting this species of drama when I
come to speak of Ben Jonson.] as it is called, _The Tempest_, and in
the play introduced in _Hamlet_. Of other pieces, for instance, the
_Midsummer Night's Dream_, and _Romeo and Juliet_, the rhymes form a
considerable part; either because he may have wished to give them a
glowing colour, or because the characters appropriately utter in a more
musical tone their complaints or suits of love. In these cases he has even
introduced rhymed strophes, which approach to the form of the sonnet, then
usual in England. The assertion of Malone, that Shakspeare in his youth
was fond of rhyme, but that he afterwards rejected it, is sufficiently
refuted by his own chronology of the poet's works. In some of the
earliest, for instance, in the Second and Third Part of _Henry the
Sixth_, there are hardly any rhymes; in what is stated to be his last
piece, _The Twelfth Night, or What You Will_, and in _Macbeth_, which is
proved to have been composed under the reign of King James, we find them
in no inconsiderable number. Even in the secondary matters of form
Shakspeare was not guided by humour and accident, but, like a genuine
artist, acted invariably on good and solid grounds. This we might also
show of the kinds of verse which he least frequently used; for instance,
if the rhyming verses of seven and eight syllables, were we not afraid of
dwelling too long on merely technical peculiarities.

In England the manner of handling rhyming verse, and the opinion as to its
harmony and elegance, have, in the course of two centuries, undergone a
much greater change than is the case with the rhymeless Iambic or blank
verse. In the former, Dryden and Pope have become models; these writers
have communicated the utmost smoothing to rhyme, but they have also tied
it down to a harmonious uniformity. A foreigner, to whom antiquated and
new are the same, may perhaps feel with greater freedom the advantages of
the more ancient manner. Certain it is, the rhyme of the present day, from
the too great confinement of the couplet, is unfit for the drama. We must
not estimate the rhyme of Shakspeare by the mode of subsequent times, but
by a comparison with his contemporaries or with Spenser. The comparison
will, without doubt, turn out to his advantage. Spenser is often diffuse;
Shakspeare, though sometimes hard, is always brief and vigorous. He has
more frequently been induced by the rhyme to leave out something necessary
than to insert anything superfluous. Many of his rhymes, however, are
faultless: ingenious with attractive ease, and rich without false
brilliancy. The songs interspersed (those, I mean, of the poet himself)
are generally sweetly playful and altogether musical; in imagination,
while we merely read them, we hear their melody.

The whole of Shakspeare's productions bear the certain stamp of his
original genius, but yet no writer was ever farther removed from every
thing like a mannerism derived from habit or personal peculiarities.
Rather is he, such is the diversity of tone and colour, which varies
according to the quality of his subjects he assumes, a very Proteus. Each
of his compositions is like a world of its own, moving in its own sphere.
They are works of art, finished in one pervading style, which revealed the
freedom and judicious choice of their author. If the formation of a work
throughout, even in its minutest parts, in conformity with a leading idea;
if the domination of one animating spirit over all the means of execution,
deserves the name of correctness (and this, excepting in matters of
grammar, is the only proper sense of the term); we shall then, after
allowing to Shakspeare all the higher qualities which demand our
admiration, be also compelled, in most cases, to concede to him the title
of a correct poet.

It would be in the highest degree instructive to follow, if we could, in
his career step by step, an author who at once founded and carried his art
to perfection, and to go through his works in the order of time. But, with
the exception of a few fixed points, which at length have been obtained,
all the necessary materials for this are still wanting. The diligent
Malone has, indeed, made an attempt to arrange the plays of Shakspeare in
chronological order; but he himself only gives out the result of his
labours for hypothetical, and it could not possibly be attended with
complete success, since he excluded from his inquiry a considerable number
of pieces which have been ascribed to the poet, though rejected as
spurious by all the editors since Rowe, but which, in my opinion, must, if
not wholly, at least in great measure be attributed to him. [Footnote:
Were this book destined immediately for an English public, I should not
have hazarded an opinion like this at variance with that which is
generally received, without supporting it by proofs. The inquiry, however,
is too extensive for our present limits, and I have therefore reserved it
for a separate treatise. Besides at the present moment, while I am putting
the last hand to my Lectures, no collection of English books but my own is
accessible to me. The latter I should have enlarged with a view to this
object, if the interruption of intercourse with England had not rendered
it impossible to procure any other than the most common English books. On
this point, therefore, I must request indulgence. In an Appendix to this
Lecture I shall merely make a few cursory observations.]


Criticisms on Shakspeare's Comedies.

The best and easiest mode of reviewing Shakspeare's dramas will be to
arrange them in classes. This, it must be owned, is merely a makeshift:
several critics have declared that all Shakspeare's pieces substantially
belong to the same species, although sometimes one ingredient, sometimes
another, the musical or the characteristical, the invention of the
wonderful or the imitation of the real, the pathetic or the comic,
seriousness or irony, may preponderate in the mixture. Shakspeare himself,
it would appear, did but laugh at the petty endeavours of critics to find
out divisions and subdivisions of species, and to hedge in what had been
so separated with the most anxious care; thus the pedantic Polonius in
_Hamlet_ commends the players, for their knowledge of "tragedy, comedy,
history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-
historical, tragical-comical, historical-pastoral, scene-undividable, or
poem unlimited." On another occasion he ridicules the limitation of
Tragedy to an unfortunate catastrophe:

"And tragical, my noble lord, it is;
For Pyramus therein doth kill himself."

However the division into Comedies, Tragedies, and Historical Dramas,
according to the usual practice, may in some measure be adopted, if we do
not lose sight of the transitions and affinities. The subjects of the
comedies are generally taken from novels: they are romantic love tales;
none are altogether confined to the sphere of common or domestic
relations: all of them possess poetical ornament, some of them run into
the wonderful or the pathetic. With these two of his most famous tragedies
are connected by an immediate link, _Romeo and Juliet_ and _Othello_; both
true novels, and composed on the same principles. In many of the
historical plays a considerable space is occupied by the comic characters
and scenes; others are serious throughout, and leave behind a tragical
impression. The essential circumstance by which they are distinguished is,
that the plot bears reference to a poetical and national interest. This is
not equally the case in _Hamlet_, _Lear_, and _Macbeth_; and therefore it
is that we do not include these tragedies among the historical pieces,
though the first is founded on an old northern, the second on a national
tradition; and the third comes even within the era of Scottish history,
after it ceased to be fabulous.

Among the comedies, _The Two Gentlemen of Verona_, _The Taming of the
Shrew_, and _The Comedy of Errors_, bear many traces of an early origin.
_The Two Gentlemen of Verona_ paints the irresolution of love, and its
infidelity to friendship, pleasantly enough, but in some degree
superficially, we might almost say with the levity of mind which a passion
suddenly entertained, and as suddenly given up, presupposes. The faithless
lover is at last, on account of a very ambiguous repentance, forgiven
without much difficulty by his first mistress; for the more serious part,
the premeditated flight of the daughter of a Prince, the capture of her
father along with herself by a band of robbers, of which one of the Two
Gentlemen, the betrayed and banished friend, has been against his will
elected captain: for all this a peaceful solution is soon found. It is as
if the course of the world was obliged to accommodate itself to a
transient youthful caprice, called love. Julia, who accompanies her
faithless lover in the disguise of a page, is, as it were, a light sketch
of the tender female figures of a Viola and an Imogen, who, in the latter
pieces of Shakspeare, leave their home in similar disguises on love
adventures, and to whom a peculiar charm is communicated by the display of
the most virginly modesty in their hazardous and problematical situation.

_The Comedy of Errors_ is the subject of the _Menaechmi_ of Plautus,
entirely recast and enriched with new developments: of all the works of
Shakspeare this is the only example of imitation of, or borrowing
from, the ancients. To the two twin brothers of the same name are added
two slaves, also twins, impossible to be distinguished from each other,
and of the same name. The improbability becomes by this means doubled: but
when once we have lent ourselves to the first, which certainly borders on
the incredible, we shall not perhaps be disposed to cavil at the second;
and if the spectator is to be entertained by mere perplexities they cannot
be too much varied. In such pieces we must, to give to the senses at least
an appearance of truth, always pre-suppose that the parts by which the
misunderstandings are occasioned are played with masks, and this the poet
no doubt observed. I cannot acquiesce in the censure that the discovery is
too long deferred: so long as novelty and interest are possessed by the
perplexing incidents, there is no need to be in dread of wearisomeness.
And this is really the case here: matters are carried so far that one of
the two brothers is first arrested for debt, then confined as a lunatic,
and the other is forced to take refuge in a sanctuary to save his life. In
a subject of this description it is impossible to steer clear of all sorts
of low circumstances, abusive language, and blows; Shakspeare has however
endeavoured to ennoble it in every possible way. A couple of scenes,
dedicated to jealousy and love, interrupt the course of perplexities which
are solely occasioned by the illusion of the external senses. A greater
solemnity is given to the discovery, from the Prince presiding, and from
the re-union of the long separated parents of the twins who are still
alive. The exposition, by which the spectators are previously instructed
while the characters themselves are still involved in ignorance, and which
Plautus artlessly conveys in a prologue, is here masterly introduced in an
affecting narrative by the father. In short, this is perhaps the best of
all written or possible Menaechmi; and if the piece be inferior in worth
to other pieces of Shakspeare, it is merely because nothing more could be
made of the materials.

_The Taming of the Shrew_ has the air of an Italian comedy; and indeed the
love intrigue, which constitutes the main part of it, is derived mediately
or immediately from a piece of Ariosto. The characters and passions are
lightly sketched; the intrigue is introduced without much preparation, and
in its rapid progress impeded by no sort of difficulties; while, in the
manner in which Petruchio, though previously cautioned as to Katherine,
still encounters the risks in marrying her, and contrives to tame her--in
all this the character and peculiar humour of the English are distinctly
visible. The colours are laid on somewhat coarsely, but the ground is
good. That the obstinacy of a young and untamed girl, possessed of none of
the attractions of her sex, and neither supported by bodily nor mental
strength, must soon yield to the still rougher and more capricious but
assumed self-will of a man: such a lesson can only be taught on the
stage with all the perspicuity of a proverb.

The prelude is still more remarkable than the play itself: a drunken
tinker, removed in his sleep to a palace, where he is deceived into the
belief of being a nobleman. The invention, however, is not Shakspeare's.
Holberg has handled the same subject in a masterly manner, and with
inimitable truth; but he has spun it out to five acts, for which such
material is hardly sufficient. He probably did not borrow from the English
dramatist, but like him took the hint from a popular story. There are
several comic motives of this description, which go back to a very remote
age, without ever becoming antiquated. Here, as well as everywhere else,
Shakspeare has proved himself a great poet: the whole is merely a slight
sketch, but in elegance and delicate propriety it will hardly ever be
excelled. Neither has he overlooked the irony which the subject naturally
suggested: the great lord, who is driven by idleness and ennui to deceive
a poor drunkard, can make no better use of his situation than the latter,
who every moment relapses into his vulgar habits. The last half of this
prelude, that in which the tinker, in his new state, again drinks himself
out of his senses, and is transformed in his sleep into his former
condition, is from some accident or other, lost. It ought to have followed
at the end of the larger piece. The occasional remarks of the tinker,
during the course of the representation of the comedy, might have been
improvisatory, but it is hardly credible that Shakspeare should have
trusted to the momentary suggestions of the players, whom he did not hold
in high estimation, the conclusion, however short, of a work which he had
so carefully commenced. Moreover, the only circumstance which connects the
play with the prelude, is, that it belongs to the new life of the supposed
nobleman to have plays acted in his castle by strolling actors. This
invention of introducing spectators on the stage, who contribute to the
entertainment, has been very wittily used by later English poets.

_Love's Labour Lost_ is also numbered among the pieces of his youth.
It is a humorsome display of frolic; a whole cornucopia of the most
vivacious jokes is emptied into it. Youth is certainly perceivable in the
lavish superfluity of labour in the execution: the unbroken succession of
plays on words, and sallies of every description, hardly leave the
spectator time to breathe; the sparkles of wit fly about in such
profusion, that they resemble a blaze of fireworks; while the dialogue,
for the most part, is in the same hurried style in which the passing masks
at a carnival attempt to banter each other. The young king of Navarre,
with three of his courtiers, has made a vow to pass three years in rigid
retirement, and devote them to the study of wisdom; for that purpose he
has banished all female society from his court, and imposed a penalty on
the intercourse with women. But scarcely has he, in a pompous harangue,
worthy of the most heroic achievements, announced this determination, when
the daughter of the king of France appears at his court, in the name of
her old and bed-ridden father, to demand the restitution of a province
which he held in pledge. Compelled to give her audience, he falls
immediately in love with her. Matters fare no better with his companions,
who on their parts renew an old acquaintance with the princess's
attendants. Each, in heart, is already false to his vow, without knowing
that the wish is shared by his associates; they overhear one another, as
they in turn confide their sorrows in a love-ditty to the solitary forest:
every one jeers and confounds the one who follows him. Biron, who from the
beginning was the most satirical among them, at last steps forth, and
rallies the king and the two others, till the discovery of a love-letter
forces him also to hang down his head. He extricates himself and his
companions from their dilemma by ridiculing the folly of the broken vow,
and, after a noble eulogy on women, invites them to swear new allegiance
to the colours of love. This scene is inimitable, and the crowning beauty
of the whole. The manner in which they afterwards prosecute their love-
suits in masks and disguise, and in which they are tricked and laughed at
by the ladies, who are also masked and disguised, is, perhaps, spun out
too long. It may be thought, too, that the poet, when he suddenly
announces the death of the king of France, and makes the princess postpone
her answer to the young prince's serious advances till the expiration of
the period of her mourning, and impose, besides, a heavy penance on him
for his levity, drops the proper comic tone. But the tone of raillery,
which prevails throughout the piece, made it hardly possible to bring
about a more satisfactory conclusion: after such extravagance, the
characters could not return to sobriety, except under the presence of some
foreign influence. The grotesque figures of Don Armado, a pompous
fantastic Spaniard, a couple of pedants, and a clown, who between whiles
contribute to the entertainment, are the creation of a whimsical
imagination, and well adapted as foils for the wit of so vivacious a

_All's Well that Ends Well_, _Much Ado about Nothing_, _Measure for
Measure_, and _The Merchant of Venice_, bear, in so far, a resemblance to
each other, that, along with the main plot, which turns on important
relations decisive of nothing less than the happiness or misery of life,
and therefore is calculated to make a powerful impression on the moral
feeling, the poet, with the skill of a practised artist, has contrived to
combine a number of cheerful accompaniments. Not, however, that the poet
seems both to allow full scope to the serious impressions: he merely adds
a due counterpoise to them in the entertainment which he supplies for the
imagination and the understanding. He has furnished the story with all the
separate features which are necessary to give to it the appearance of a
real, though extraordinary, event. But he never falls into the lachrymose
tone of the sentimental drama, nor into the bitterness of those dramas
which have a moral direction, and which are really nothing but moral
invectives dramatized. Compassion, anxiety, and dissatisfaction become too
oppressive when they are too long dwelt on, and when the whole of a work
is given up to them exclusively. Shakspeare always finds means to
transport us from the confinement of social institutions or pretensions,
where men do but shut out the light and air from each other, into the open
space, even before we ourselves are conscious of our want.

_All's Well that Ends Well_ is the old story of a young maiden whose
love looked much higher than her station. She obtains her lover in
marriage from the hand of the King as a reward for curing him of a
hopeless and lingering disease, by means of a hereditary arcanum of her
father, who had been in his lifetime a celebrated physician. The young man
despises her virtue and beauty; concludes the marriage only in appearance,
and seeks in the dangers of war, deliverance from a domestic happiness
which wounds his pride. By faithful endurance and an innocent fraud, she
fulfils the apparently impossible conditions on which the Count had
promised to acknowledge her as his wife. Love appears here in humble
guise: the wooing is on the woman's side; it is striving, unaided by a
reciprocal inclination, to overcome the prejudices of birth. But as soon
as Helena is united to the Count by a sacred bond, though by him
considered an oppressive chain, her error becomes her virtue.--She affects
us by her patient suffering: the moment in which she appears to most
advantage is when she accuses herself as the persecutor of her inflexible
husband, and, under the pretext of a pilgrimage to atone for her error,
privately leaves the house of her mother-in-law. Johnson expresses a
cordial aversion for Count Bertram, and regrets that he should be allowed
to come off at last with no other punishment than a temporary shame, nay,
even be rewarded with the unmerited possession of a virtuous wife. But has
Shakspeare ever attempted to soften the impression made by his unfeeling
pride and light-hearted perversity? He has but given him the good
qualities of a soldier. And does not the poet paint the true way of the
world, which never makes much of man's injustice to woman, if so-called
family honour is preserved? Bertram's sole justification is, that by the
exercise of arbitrary power, the King thought proper to constrain him, in
a matter of such delicacy and private right as the choice of a wife.
Besides, this story, as well as that of Grissel and many similar ones, is
intended to prove that woman's truth and patience will at last triumph
over man's abuse of his superior power, while other novels and
_fabliaux_ are, on the other hand, true satires on woman's inconsistency
and cunning. In this piece old age is painted with rare favour: the plain
honesty of the King, the good-natured impetuosity of old Lafeu, the
maternal indulgence of the Countess to Helena's passion for her son, seem
all as it were to vie with each other in endeavours to overcome the
arrogance of the young Count. The style of the whole is more sententious
than imaginative: the glowing colours of fancy could not with propriety
have been employed on such a subject. In the passages where the
humiliating rejection of the poor Helena is most painfully affecting, the
cowardly Parolles steps in to the relief of the spectator. The
mystification by which his pretended valour and his shameless slanders are
unmasked must be ranked among the most comic scenes that ever were
invented: they contain matter enough for an excellent comedy, if
Shakspeare were not always rich even to profusion. Falstaff has thrown
Parolles into the shade, otherwise among the poet's comic characters he
would have been still more famous.

The main plot in _Much Ado about Nothing_ is the same with the story
of _Ariodante and Ginevra_ in Ariosto; the secondary circumstances
and development are no doubt very different. The mode in which the
innocent Hero before the altar at the moment of the wedding, and in the
presence of her family and many witnesses, is put to shame by a most
degrading charge, false indeed, yet clothed with every appearance of
truth, is a grand piece of theatrical effect in the true and justifiable
sense. The impression would have been too tragical had not Shakspeare
carefully softened it in order to prepare for a fortunate catastrophe. The
discovery of the plot against Hero has been already partly made, though
not by the persons interested; and the poet has contrived, by means of the
blundering simplicity of a couple of constables and watchmen, to convert
the arrest and the examination of the guilty individuals into scenes full
of the most delightful amusement. There is also a second piece of
theatrical effect not inferior to the first, where Claudio, now convinced
of his error, and in obedience to the penance laid on his fault, thinking
to give his hand to a relation of his injured bride, whom he supposes
dead, discovers on her unmasking, Hero herself. The extraordinary success
of this play in Shakspeare's own day, and even since in England, is,
however, to be ascribed more particularly to the parts of Benedict and
Beatrice, two humoursome beings, who incessantly attack each other with
all the resources of raillery. Avowed rebels to love, they are both
entangled in its net by a merry plot of their friends to make them believe
that each is the object of the secret passion of the other. Some one or
other, not over-stocked with penetration has objected to the same artifice
being twice used in entrapping them; the drollery, however, lies in the
very symmetry of the deception. Their friends attribute the whole effect
to their own device; but the exclusive direction of their raillery against
each other is in itself a proof of a growing inclination. Their witty
vivacity does not even abandon them in the avowal of love; and their
behaviour only assumes a serious appearance for the purpose of defending
the slandered Hero. This is exceedingly well imagined; the lovers of
jesting must fix a point beyond which they are not to indulge in their
humour, if they would not be mistaken for buffoons by trade.

In _Measure for Measure_ Shakspeare was compelled, by the nature of
the subject, to make his poetry more familiar with criminal justice than
is usual with him. All kinds of proceedings connected with the subject,

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