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Lectures on Dramatic Art by August Wilhelm Schlegel trans John Black

Part 9 out of 10

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were not Shakspeare's. In this case, we might well ask them to point out
the other works of the unknown author, who was capable of inventing, among
many others, the noble death-scenes of Talbot, Suffolk, Beaufort, and
York. The assertion is so ridiculous, that in this case _Richard the
Third_ might also not be Shakspeare's, as it is linked in the most
immediate manner to the three other pieces, both by the subject, and the
spirit and style of handling.

All the editors, with the exception of Capell, are unanimous in rejecting
_Titus Andronicus_ as unworthy of Shakspeare, though they always
allow it to be printed with the other pieces, as the scape-goat, as it
were, of their abusive criticism. The correct method in such an
investigation is first to examine into the external grounds, evidences,
&c., and to weigh their value; and then to adduce the internal reasons
derived from the quality of the work. The critics of Shakspeare follow a
course directly the reverse of this; they set out with a preconceived
opinion against a piece, and seek, in justification of this opinion, to
render the historical ground suspicious, and to set them aside. Now
_Titus Andronicus_ is to be found in the first folio edition of
Shakspeare's works, which it is known was published by Heminge and
Condell, for many years his friends and fellow-managers of the same
theatre. Is it possible to persuade ourselves that they would not have
known if a piece in their repertory did or did not really belong to
Shakspeare? And are we to lay to the charge of these honourable men an
intentional fraud in this single case, when we know that they did not show
themselves so very desirous of scraping everything together which went by
the name of Shakspeare, but, as it appears, merely gave those plays of
which they had manuscripts in hand? Yet the following circumstance is
still stronger. George Meres, a contemporary and admirer of Shakspeare, in
an enumeration of his works, mentions _Titus Andronicus_, in the year
1598. Meres was personally acquainted with the poet, and so very
intimately, that the latter read over to him his sonnets before they were
printed. I cannot conceive that all the critical scepticism in the world
would ever be able to get over such a testimony.

This tragedy, it is true, is framed according to a false idea of the
tragic, which by an accumulation of cruelties and enormities, degenerates
into the horrible, and yet leaves no deep impression behind: the story of
Tereus and Philomela is heightened and overcharged under other names, and
mixed up with the repast of Atreus and Thyestes, and many other incidents.
In detail there is no want of beautiful lines, bold images, nay, even
features which betray the peculiar conception of Shakspeare. Among these
we may reckon the joy of the treacherous Moor at the blackness and
ugliness of his adulterous offspring; and in the compassion of Titus
Andronicus, grown childish through grief, for a fly which had been struck
dead, while his rage afterwards, when he imagines he discovers in it his
black enemy, we recognize the future poet of _Lear_. Are the critics
afraid that Shakspeare's fame would be injured, were it established that
in his early youth he ushered into the world a feeble and immature work?
Was Rome the less the conqueror of the world, because Remus could leap
over its first walls? Let any one place himself in Shakspeare's situation
at the commencement of his career. He found only a few indifferent models,
and yet these met with the most favourable reception, because in the
novelty of an art, men are never difficult to please, before their taste
has been made fastidious by choice and abundance. Must not this situation
have had its influence on him before he learned to make higher demands on
himself, and by digging deeper in his own mind, discovered the rich veins
of noble metal that ran there? It is even highly probable that he must
have made several failures before he succeeded in getting into the right
path. Genius is in a certain sense infallible, and has nothing to learn;
but art is to be learned, and must be acquired by practice and experience.
In Shakspeare's acknowledged works we find hardly any traces of his
apprenticeship, and yet apprenticeship he certainly had. This every artist
must have, and especially in a period where he has not before him the
examples of a school already formed. I consider it as extremely probable
that Shakspeare began to write for the theatre at a much earlier period
than the one which is generally stated, namely, after the year 1590. It
appears that, as early as the year 1584, when only twenty years of age, he
had left his paternal home and repaired to London. Can we imagine that
such an active head would remain idle for six whole years without making
any attempt to emerge by his talents from an uncongenial situation? That
in the dedication of the poem of _Venus and Adonis_ he calls it "the
first heir of his invention," proves nothing against the supposition. It
was the first which he printed; he might have composed it at an earlier
period; perhaps, also, in this term, "heirs of his invention," he did not
indulge theatrical labours, especially as they then conferred but little
to his literary dignity. The earlier Shakspeare began to compose for the
theatre, the less are we enabled to consider the immaturity and
imperfection of a work a proof of its spuriousness in opposition to
historical evidence, if only we can discern in it prominent features of
his mind. Several of the works rejected as spurious, may still have been
produced in the period betwixt _Titus Andronicus_, and the earliest of
the acknowledged pieces.

At last, in two supplementary volumes, Steevens published seven pieces
ascribed to Shakspeare. It is to be remarked, that they all appeared in
print in Shakspeare's life-time, with his name prefixed at full length.
They are the following:--

1. _Lochrine._ The proofs of the genuineness of this piece are not
altogether unambiguous; the grounds for doubt, on the other hand, are
entitled to attention. However, this question is immediately connected
with that respecting _Titus Andronicus_, and must with it be resolved
in the affirmative or negative.

2. _Pericles, Prince of Tyre._ This piece was acknowledged by Dryden
to be a work, but a youthful work of Shakspeare's. It is most undoubtedly
his, and it has been admitted into several late editions of his works. The
supposed imperfections originate in the circumstance, that Shakspeare here
handled a childish and extravagant romance of the old poet Gower, and was
unwilling to drag the subject out of its proper sphere. Hence he even
introduces Gower himself, and makes him deliver a prologue in his own
antiquated language and versification. This power of assuming so foreign a
manner is at least no proof of helplessness.

3. _The London Prodigal._ If we are not mistaken, Lessing pronounced
this piece to be Shakspeare's, and wished to bring it on the German stage.

4. _The Puritan; or The Widow of Wailing Street._ One of my literary
friends, intimately acquainted with Shakspeare, was of opinion that the
poet must have wished for once to write a play in the style of Ben Jonson,
and that in this way we must account for the difference between the
present piece and his usual manner. To follow out this idea, however,
would lead to a long and very nice critical investigation.

5. _Thomas Lord Cromwell._

6. _Sir John Oldcastle._--First part.

7. _A Yorkshire Tragedy._

The three last pieces are not only unquestionably Shakspeare's, but in my
opinion they deserve to be classed among his best and maturest works.
Steevens at last admits, in some degree, that they, as well as the rest,
except _Lochrine_, are Shakspeare's, but he speaks of all of them
with great contempt, as worthless productions. His condemnatory sentence
is not, however, in the slightest degree convincing, nor is it supported
by much critical acumen. I should like to see how such a critic would, of
his own natural suggestion, have decided on Shakspeare's acknowledged
master-pieces, and how much he would have thought of praising in them, had
not the public opinion already imposed on him the duty of admiration.
_Thomas Lord Cromwell_ and _Sir John Oldcastle_ are biographical dramas,
and in this species they are models: the first, by its subject, attaches
itself to _Henry the Eighth_, and the second to _Henry the Fifth_. The
second part of _Sir John Oldcastle_ is wanting; I know not whether a copy
of the old edition has been discovered in England, or whether it is lost.
_The Yorkshire Tragedy_ is a tragedy in one act, a dramatised tale of
murder: the tragical effect is overpowering, and it is extremely important
to see how poetically Shakspeare could handle such a subject.

Still farther, there have been ascribed to him, 1st. _The Merry Devil of
Edmonton_, a comedy in one act, printed in Dodsley's Collection of Old
Plays. This has, certainly, some appearance in its favour. It contains a
merry landlord, who bears great similarity to the one in _The Merry Wives
of Windsor_. However, at all events, though a clever, it is but a hasty
sketch. 2nd. _The Arraignment of Paris_. 3rd. _The Birth of Merlin_. 4th.
_Edward the Third_. 5th. _The Fair Em_. (Emma). 6th. _Mucedorus_. 7th.
_Arden of Feversham_. I have never seen any of these, and cannot therefore
say anything respecting them. From the passages cited, I am led to
conjecture that the subject of _Mucedorus_ is the popular story of
Valentine and Orson: a beautiful subject which Lope de Vega has also taken
for a play. _Arden of Feversham_ is said to be a tragedy on the story of a
man from whom the poet descended by the mother's side. This circumstance,
if the quality of the piece be not too directly at variance with its
supposed authorship, would afford an additional probability in its favour.
For such motives were not without their influence on Shakspeare: thus he
treated with a manifest partiality, Henry VII., who had bestowed lands on
his forefathers for services performed by them.

Of Shakspeare's share in _The Two Noble Cousins_, it will be the time
to speak when I come to mention Fletcher's works.

It would be very instructive, if it could be proved that several earlier
attempts of works, afterwards re-written, proceeded from himself, and not
from an unknown author. We should thus be best enabled to trace his
development as an artist. Of the older _King John_, in two parts, (printed
by Steevens among six old plays,) this might probably be made out. That he
sometimes returned to an old piece is certain. With respect to _Hamlet_,
for instance, it is well known, that it was very gradually formed by him
to its present perfect state.

Whoever takes from Shakspeare a play early ascribed to him, and
confessedly belonging to his time, is certainly bound to answer, with some
degree of probability, this question: who then wrote it? Shakspeare's
competitors in the dramatic walk are pretty well known, and if those of
them who have even acquired a considerable reputation, a Lilly, a Marlow,
a Heywood, are still very far below him, we can hardly imagine that the
author of a work, which rises so high beyond theirs, could have remained


Two periods of the English Theatre: the first the most important--The
first conformation of the Stage, and its advantages--State of the
Histrionic Art in Shakspeare's time--Antiquities of Dramatic Literature--
Lilly, Marlow, Heywood--Ben Jonson--Criticism of his Works--Masques--
Beaumont and Fletcher--General characterization of these Poets, and
remarks on some of their Pieces--Massinger and other contemporaries of
Charles the First.

The great master of whom we have spoken in the preceding Lecture, forms so
singular an exception to the whole history of art, that we are compelled
to assign a particular place to him. He owed hardly anything to his
predecessors, and he has had the greatest influence on his successors: but
no man has yet learned from him his secret. For two whole centuries,
during which his countrymen have diligently employed themselves in the
cultivation of every branch of science and art, according to their own
confession, he has not only never yet been surpassed, but has left every
dramatic poet at a great distance behind him.

In the sketch of a history of the English theatre which I am now to give,
I shall be frequently obliged to return to Shakspeare. The dramatic
literature of the English is very rich; they can boast of a large number
of dramatic poets, who possessed in an eminent degree the talent of
original characterization, and the knowledge of theatrical effect. Their
hands were not shackled by prejudices, by arbitrary rules, and by the
anxious observance of so-called proprieties. There has never been in
England an academical court of taste; in art, as in life, every man there
gives his voice for what best pleases him, or what is most suitable to his
nature. Notwithstanding this liberty, their writers have not, however,
been able to escape the influence either of varying modes, or of the
spirit of different ages.

We shall here remain true to our principle of merely dwelling at length on
what we consider as the highest efforts of poetry, and of taking brief
views of all that occupies but the second or third place.

The antiquities of the English theatre have been sufficiently illustrated
by the English writers, and especially by Malone. The earliest dramatic
attempts were here as well as elsewhere Mysteries and Moralities. However
it would seem that in these productions the English distinguished
themselves at an earlier period than other nations. In the History of the
Council of Constance it is recorded that the English prelates, in one of
the intervals between the sittings, entertained their brethren with a
spiritual play in Latin, such as the latter were either entirely
unacquainted with, or at least in such perfection, (as perfection was
understood by the simple ideas of art of those times). The beginning of a
theatre, properly so called, cannot, however, be placed farther back than
the reign of Elizabeth. John Heywood, the buffoon of Henry VIII. is
considered as the oldest comic writer: the single _Interlude_ under
his name, published in Dodsley's collection, is in fact merely a dialogue,
and not a drama. But _Gammer Gurton's Needle_, which was first acted
about the year 1560, certainly deserves the name of a comedy. However
antiquated in language and versification, it possesses unequivocal merit
in the low comic. The whole plot turns on a lost needle, the search for
which is pursued with the utmost assiduity: the poverty of the persons of
the drama, which this supposes, and the whole of their domestic condition,
is very amusingly portrayed, and the part of a cunning beggar especially
is drawn with much humour. The coarse comic of this piece bears a
resemblance to that of the _Avocat Patelin_; yet the English play has
not, like the French, been honoured with a revival on the stage in a new

The history of the English theatre divides itself naturally into two
periods. The first begins nearly with the accession of Elizabeth, and
extends to about the end of the reign of Charles I., when the Puritans
gained the ascendency, and effected the prohibition of all plays
whatsoever. The closing of the theatres lasted thirteen years; and they
were not again opened till the restoration of Charles II. This
interruption, the change which had taken place in the mean time on the
general way of thinking and in manners, and lastly, the influence of the
French literature which was then flourishing, gave quite a different
character to the plays subsequently written. The works of the older school
were indeed in part sought out, but the school itself was extinct. I apply
the term of a "school" to the dramatical poets of the first aera, in the
same sense as it is taken in art, for with all their personal differences
we may still perceive on the whole a common character in their
productions. Independently of the language or contemporary allusions, we
should never be disposed to take a play of that school, though ignorant of
its author, and the date of its production, for a work of the more modern
period. The latter period admits of many subdivisions, but with these,
however, we may dispense. The talents of the authors, and the taste of the
public, have fluctuated in every possible way; foreign influence has
gained more and more the ascendency, and (to express myself without
circumlocution,) the English theatre has in its progress become more and
more destitute of character and independence. For a critic, who everywhere
seeks originality, troubling himself little about what has arisen from the
following or the avoiding of imitation, the dramatic poets of the first
period are by far the most important, although, with the exception of
Shakspeare, they may be reproached with great defects and extravagances,
and although many of the moderns are distinguished for a more careful

There are times when the human mind all at once makes gigantic strides in
an art previously almost unknown, as if during its long sleep it had been
collecting strength for the effort. The age of Elizabeth was in England
such an epoch for dramatic poetry. This queen, during her long reign,
witnessed the first infantine attempts of the English theatre, and its
most masterly productions. Shakspeare had a lively feeling of this general
and rapid development of qualities not before called into exercise; in one
of his sonnets he calls his age, _these time-lettering days_. The
predilection for the theatre was so great, that in a period of sixty
years, under this and the following reign, seventeen play-houses were
built or fitted up in London, whereas the capital of the present day, with
twice the population, [Footnote: The author might almost have said six
times.--TRANS.] is satisfied with two. No doubt they did not act every
day, and several of these theatres were very small, and probably not much
better fitted up than Marionette booths. However, they served to call
forth the fertility of those writers who possessed, or supposed that they
possessed, dramatic talents; for every theatre must have had its peculiar
repertory, as the pieces were either not printed at all, or at least not
till long after their composition, and as a single theatrical company was
in the exclusive possession of the manuscripts. However many of feeble and
lame productions might have been called forth, still it was impossible
that such an extensive competition should not have been advantageous. Of
all the different species of poetry the dramatic is the only one in which
experience is necessary: and the failure of others is, for the man of
talents, an experiment at their expense. Moreover, the exercise of this
art requires vigorous determination, to which the great artist is often
the least inclined, as in the execution he finds the greatest difficulty
in satisfying himself; while, on the other hand, his greatest enjoyment
consists in embodying in his own mind the beloved creation of his
imagination. It is therefore fortunate for him when the bolder forwardness
of those who, with trifling means, venture on this difficult career
stimulates him to put fresh hand to the work. Further, it is of importance
to the dramatic poet to be connected immediately with the stage, that he
may either himself guide it, or learn to accommodate himself to its wants;
and the dramatic poets of that day were, for the most part, also players.
The theatre still made small claims to literature, and it thus escaped the
pedantry of scholastic learning. There were as yet no periodical writings
which, as the instrument of cabal, could mislead opinion. Of jealousies,
indeed, and bickerings among the authors there was no want: this, however,
was more a source of amusement than of displeasure to the public, who
decided without prejudice or partiality according to the amount of
entertainment. The poets and players, as well as the spectators, possessed
in general the most essential requisite of success: a true love for the
business. This was the more unquestionable, as the theatrical art was not
then surrounded with all those foreign ornaments and inventions of luxury
which serve to distract the attention and corrupt the sense, but made its
appearance in the most modest, and we may well say in the most humble
shape. For the admirers of Shakspeare it must be an object of curiosity to
know what was the appearance of the theatre in which his works were first
performed. We have an engraving of the play-house of which he was manager,
and which, from the symbol of a Hercules supplying the place of Atlas, was
called the Globe: it is a massive structure destitute of architectural
ornaments, and almost without windows in the outward walls. The pit was
open to the sky, and the acting was by day-light; the scene had no other
decoration than wrought tapestry, which hung at some distance from the
walls, and left space for several entrances. In the back-ground of the
stage there was a second stage raised above it, a sort of balcony, which
served for various purposes, and according to circumstances signified all
manner of things. The players appeared, excepting on a few rare occasions,
in the dress of their time, or at most distinguished by higher feathers on
their hats and roses on their shoes. The chief means of disguise were
false hair and beards, and occasionally also masks. The female parts were
played by boys so long as their voice allowed it. Two companies of actors
in London consisted entirely of boys, namely, the choir of the Queen's
Chapel and that of St. Paul's. Betwixt the acts it was not customary to
have music, but in the pieces themselves marches, dances, solo songs, and
the like, were introduced on fitting occasions, and trumpet flourishes at
the entrance of great personages. In the more early time it was usual to
represent the action before it was spoken, in silent pantomime (_dumb
show_) between each act, allegorically or even without any disguise, to
give a definite direction to the expectation. Shakspeare has observed this
practice in the play in _Hamlet_.

By the present lavish appliance of every theatrical accessory;--of
architecture, lighting, music, the illusion of decorations changing in a
moment as if by enchantment, machinery and costume;--by all this, we are
now so completely spoiled, that this earlier meagreness of stage
decoration will in no wise satisfy us. Much, however, might be urged in
favour of such a constitution of the theatre. Where the spectators are not
allured by any splendid accessories, they will be the more difficult to
please in the main thing, namely, the excellence of the dramatic
composition, and its embodying by delivery and action. When perfection is
not attainable in external decoration, the critic will rather altogether
overlook it than be disturbed by its deficiencies and tastelessness. And
how seldom has perfection been here attained! It is about a century and a
half since attention began to be paid to the observance of costume on the
European stage; what with this view has been accomplished has always
appeared excellent to the multitude, and yet, to judge from the engravings
which sometimes accompany the printed plays, and from every other
evidence, it is plain that it was always characterized by puerility and
mannerism, and that in none the endeavours to assume a foreign or antique
appearance, could shake themselves free of the fashions of the time. A
sort of hoop was long considered as an indispensable appendage of a hero;
the long peruques and _fontanges_, or topknots, kept their ground in
heroical tragedy as long as in real life; afterwards it would have been
considered as barbarous to appear without powdered and frizzled hair; on
this was placed a helmet with variegated feathers; a taffeta scarf
fluttered over the gilt paper coat of mail; and the Achilles or Alexander
was then completely mounted. We have now at last returned to a purer
taste, and in some great theatres the costume is actually observed in a
learned and severe style. We owe this principally to the antiquarian
reform in the arts of design, and the approximation of the female dress to
the Grecian; for the actresses were always the most inveterate in
retaining on the stage those fashions by which they turned their charms to
account in society. However, even yet there are very few players who know
how to wear a Grecian purple mantle, or a toga, in a natural and becoming
manner; and who, in moments of passion, do not seem to be unduly occupied
with holding and tossing about their drapery.

Our system of decoration was properly invented for the opera, to which it
is also in reality best adapted. It has several unavoidable defects;
others which certainly may be, but seldom are avoided. Among the
inevitable defects I reckon the breaking of the lines in the side scenes
from every point of view except one; the disproportion between the size of
the player when he appears in the background, and the objects as
diminished in the perspective; the unfavourable lighting from below and
behind; the contrast between the painted and the actual lights and shades;
the impossibility of narrowing the stage at pleasure, so that the inside
of a palace and a hut have the same length and breadth, &c. The errors
which may be avoided are, want of simplicity and of great and reposing
masses; overloading the scenery with superfluous and distracting objects,
either from the painter being desirous of showing his strength in
perspective, or not knowing how otherwise to fill up the space; an
architecture full of mannerism, often altogether unconnected, nay, even at
variance with possibility, coloured in a motley manner which resembles no
species of stone in the world. Most scene-painters owe their success
entirely to the spectator's ignorance of the arts of design; I have often
seen a whole pit enchanted with a decoration from which the eye of skill
must have turned away with disgust, and in whose place a plain green wall
would have been infinitely better. A vitiated taste for splendour of
decoration and magnificence of dress, has rendered the arrangement of the
theatre a complicated and expensive business, whence it frequently happens
that the main requisites, good pieces and good players, are considered as
secondary matters; but this is an inconvenience which it is here
unnecessary to mention.

Although the earlier English stage had properly no decorations, we must
allow, however, that it was not altogether destitute of machinery: without
it, it is almost impossible to conceive how several pieces, for instance,
_Macbeth_, _The Tempest_, and others, could ever be represented. The
celebrated architect, Inigo Jones, who lived in the reign of James the
First, put in motion very complicated and artificial machines for the
decoration of the Masques of Ben Jonson which were acted at court.

With the Spanish theatre at the time of its formation, it was the same as
with the English, and when the stage had remained a moment empty, and
other persons came in by another entrance, a change of scene was to be
supposed though none was visible; and this circumstance had the most
favourable influence on the form of the dramas. The poet was not obliged
to consult the scene-painter to know what could or what could not be
represented; nor to calculate whether the store of decorations on hand
were sufficient, or new ones would be requisite: he was not driven to
impose restraint on the action as to change of times and places, but
represented it entirely as it would naturally have taken place: [Footnote:
Capell, an intelligent commentator on Shakspeare, unjustly underrated by
the others, has placed the advantages in this respect in the clearest
light, in an observation on _Antony and Cleopatra_. It emboldened the
poet, when the truth of the action required it, to plan scenes which the
most skilful mechanist and scene-painter could scarcely exhibit to the
eye; as for instance, in a Spanish play where sea-fights occur.] he left
to the imagination to fill up the intervals agreeably to the speeches, and
to conceive all the surrounding circumstances. This call on the fancy to
supply the deficiencies supposes, indeed, not merely benevolent, but also
intelligent spectators of a poetical tone of mind. That is the true
illusion, when the spectators are so completely carried away by the
impressions of the poetry and the acting, that they overlook the secondary
matters, and forget the whole of the remaining objects around them. To lie
morosely on the watch to detect every circumstance that may violate an
apparent reality which, strictly speaking, can never be attained, is in
fact a proof of inertness of imagination and an incapacity for mental
illusion. This prosaical incredulity may be carried so far as to render it
utterly impossible for the theatrical artists, who in every constitution
of the theatre require many indulgences, to amuse the spectators by their
productions; and thus they are, in the end, the enemies of their own

We now complain, and with justice, that in the acting of Shakspeare's
pieces the too frequent change of scenes occasions an interruption. But
the poet is here perfectly blameless. It ought to be known that the
English plays of that time, as well as the Spanish, were printed without
any mention of the scene and its changes. In Shakspeare the modern editors
have inserted the scenical directions; and in doing so, they have
proceeded with the most pedantic accuracy. Whoever has the management of
the representation of a piece of Shakspeare's may, without any hesitation,
strike out at once all such changes of scene as the following:-"Another
room in the palace, another street, another part of the field of battle,"
&c. By these means alone, in most cases, the change of decorations will be
reduced to a very moderate number.

Of the actor's art on a theatre which possessed so little external
splendour as the old English, those who are in the habit of judging of the
man from his dress will not be inclined to entertain a very favourable
idea. I am induced, however, from this very circumstance, to draw quite a
contrary conclusion: the want of attractions of an accessory nature
renders it the more necessary to be careful in essentials. Several
Englishmen [Footnote: See a Dialogue prefixed to the 11th volume of
Dodsley's _Old Plays_.] have given it as their opinion, that the
players of the first epoch were in all likelihood greatly superior to
those of the second, at least with the exception of Garrick; and if we had
no other proof, the quality of Shakspeare's pieces renders this extremely
probable. That most of his principal characters require a great player is
self-evident; the elevated and compressed style of his poetry cannot be
understood without the most energetic and flexible delivery; besides, he
often supposes between the speeches a mute action of great difficulty, for
which he gives no directions. A poet who labours only and immediately for
the stage will not rely for his main effect on traits which he must
beforehand know will be lost in the representation from the unskilfulness
of his interpreters. Shakspeare consequently would have been driven to
lower the tone of his dramatic art, if he had not possessed excellent
theatrical coadjutors. Of these, some have descended by name and fame even
to our times. As for Shakspeare himself, since we are not fond of allowing
any one man to possess two great talents in an equal degree, it has been
assumed on very questionable grounds, that he was but an indifferent
actor. [Footnote: No certain account has yet been obtained of any
principal part played by Shakspeare in his own pieces. In _Hamlet_ he
played the Ghost; certainly a very important part, if we consider that
from the failure in it, the whole piece runs a risk of appearing
ridiculous. A writer of his time says in a satirical pamphlet, that the
Ghost whined in a pitiful manner; and it has been concluded from this that
Shakspeare was a bad player. What logic! On the restoration of the theatre
under Charles II., a desire was felt of collecting traditions and
information respecting the former period. Lowin, the original Hamlet,
instructed Betterton as to the proper conception of the character. There
was still alive a brother of Shakspeare, a decrepid old man, who had never
had any literary cultivation, and whose memory was impaired by age. From
him they could extract nothing, but that he had sometimes visited his
brother in town, and once saw him play an old man with grey hair and
beard. From the above description it was concluded that this must have
been the faithful servant Adam in _As You Like It_, also a second-
rate part. In most of Shakspeare's pieces we have not the slightest
knowledge of the manner in which the parts were distributed. In two of Ben
Jonson's pieces we see Shakspeare's name among the principal actors.]
Hamlet's instructions, however, to the players prove at least that he was
an excellent judge of acting. We know that correctness of conception and
judgment are not always coupled with the power of execution; Shakspeare,
however, possessed a very important and too frequently neglected requisite
for serious acting, a beautiful and noble countenance. Neither is it
probable that he could have been the manager of the most respectable
theatre, had he not himself possessed the talent both of acting and
guiding the histrionic talents of others. Ben Jonson, though a meritorious
poet, could not even obtain the situation of a player, as he did not
possess the requisite qualifications. From the passage cited from
_Hamlet_, from the burlesque tragedy of the mechanics in the _Midsummer
Night's Dream_, and many other passages, it is evident that there was then
an inundation of bad players, who fell into all the aberrations from
propriety which offend at the present day, but the public, it would
appear, knew well how to distinguish good and bad acting, and would not be
easily satisfied. [Footnote: In this respect, the following simile in
_Richard the Second_ is deserving of attention:--
As in a theatre the eyes of men,
After a well-graced actor leaves the stage,
Are idly bent on him that enters next,
Thinking his prattle to be tedious, &c.]

A thorough critical knowledge of the antiquities of the English theatre
can only he obtained in England; the old editions of the pieces which
belong to the earlier period are even there extremely rare, and in foreign
libraries they are never to be met with; the modern collectors have merely
been able to give a few specimens, and not the whole store. It would be
highly important to see together all the plays which were undoubtedly in
existence before Shakspeare entered on his career, that we might be able
to decide with certainty how much of the dramatic art it was possible for
him to learn from others. The year of the appearance of a piece on the
stage is generally, however, difficult to ascertain, as it was often not
printed till long afterwards. If in the labours of Shakspeare's
contemporaries, even the older who continued to write at the same time
with himself, we can discover resemblances to his style and traces of his
art, still it will always remain doubtful whether we are to consider these
as the feeble model, or the imperfect imitation. Shakspeare appears to
have had all the flexibility of mind, and all the modesty of Raphael, who,
also, without ever being an imitator and becoming unfaithful to his
sublime and tranquil genius, applied to his own advantage all the
improvements of his competitors.

A few feeble attempts to introduce the form of the antique tragedy with
choruses, &c., were at an early period made, and praised, without
producing any effect. They, like most of the attempts of the moderns in
this way, serve to prove how strange were the spectacles through which the
old poets were viewed; for it is hardly to be conceived how unlike they
are to the Greek tragedies, not merely in merit (for that we may easily
suppose), but even in those external circumstances which may be the most
easily seized and imitated. _Ferrex and Porrex, or the Tragedy of
Gorboduc_, is most frequently cited, which was the production of a
nobleman [Footnote: Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, conjointly with
Norton.--F.D.], in the first part of the reign of Elizabeth. Pope bestows
high praise on this piece, on account of its regularity, and laments that
the contemporary poets did not follow in the same track; for thus he
thought a classical theatre might have been formed in England. This
opinion only proves that Pope (who, however, passes for a perfect judge of
poetry,) had not even an idea of the first elements of Dramatic Art.
Nothing can be more spiritless and inanimate, nor more drawling and
monotonous in the language and the versification, than this _Ferrex and
Porrex_; and although the Unities of Place and Time are in no way
observed, and a number of events are crowded into it, yet the scene is
wholly destitute of movement: all that happens is previously announced by
endless consultations, and afterwards stated in equally endless
narratives. _Mustapha_, another unsuccessful work of a kindred
description, and also by a great lord, [Footnote: Grevile, Lord Broke.] is
a tedious web of all sorts of political subtleties; the choruses in
particular are true treatises. However, of the innumerable maxims in
rhyme, there are many which might well have a place in the later pieces of
Corneille. Kyd, one of the predecessors of Ben Jonson, and mentioned by
him in terms of praise, handled the _Cornelia_ of Garnier. This may
be called receiving an imitation of the ancients from the third or fourth

The first serious piece calculated for popular effect is _The Spanish
Tragedy_ [by Thomas Kyd], so called from the scene of the story, and
not from its being borrowed from a Spanish writer. It kept possession of
the stage for a tolerable length of time, though it was often the subject
of the ridicule and the parodies of succeeding poets. It usually happens
that the public do not easily give up a predilection formed in their first
warm susceptibility for the impressions of an art yet unknown to them,
even after they have long been acquainted with better, nay, with excellent
works. This piece is certainly full of puerilities; the author has
ventured on the picture of violent situations and passions without
suspecting his own want of power; the catastrophe, more especially, which
in horror is intended to outstrip everything conceivable, is very sillily
introduced, and produces merely a ludicrous effect. The whole is like the
drawings of children, without the observance of proportion, and without
steadiness of hand. With a great deal of bombast, the tone of the
dialogue, however, has something natural, nay, even familiar, and in the
change of scenes we perceive a light movement, which in some degree will
account for the general applause received by this immature production.

Lilly and Marlow deserve to be noticed among the predecessors of
Shakspeare. Lilly was a scholar, and laboured to introduce a stilted
elegance into English prose, and in the tone of dialogue, with such
success, that for a period he was the fashionable writer, and the court
ladies even formed their conversation after the model of his
_Euphues_. His comedy in prose, _Campaspe_, is a warning example of the
impossibility of ever constructing, out of mere anecdotes and epigrammatic
sallies, anything like a dramatic whole. The author was a learned witling,
but in no respect a poet.

Marlow possessed more real talent, and was in a better way. He has handled
the history of Edward the Second with very little of art, it is true, but
with a certain truth and simplicity, so that in many scenes he does not
fail to produce a pathetic effect. His verses are flowing, but without
energy: how Ben Jonson could come to use the expression "_Marlow's
mighty line_," is more than I can conceive. Shakspeare could neither
learn nor derive anything from the luscious manner of Lilly: but in
Marlow's _Edward the Second_ I certainly imagine that I can discover
the feebler model of the earliest historical pieces of Shakspeare.

Of the old comedies in Dodsley's collection, _The Pinner of Wakefielde_,
and _Grim, the Collier of Croydon_, seem alone to belong to a period
before Shakspeare. Both are not without merit, in the manner of Marionette
pieces; in the first, a popular tradition, and in the second, a merry
legend, is handled with hearty joviality.

I have dwelt longer on the beginnings of the English theatre, than from
their internal worth they deserve, because it has been affirmed recently
in England that Shakspeare shows more affinity to the works of his
contemporaries now sunk in oblivion than people have hitherto been usually
disposed to believe. We are as little to wonder at certain outward
resemblances, as at the similarity of the dresses in portraits of the same
period. In a more limited sense, however, we apply the word resemblance
exclusively to the relation of those features which express the spirit and
the mind. Moreover, such plays alone can be admitted to be a satisfactory
proof of an assertion of this kind as are ascertained to have been written
before the commencement of Shakspeare's career; for in the works of his
younger contemporaries, a Decker, Marston, Webster, and others, something
of a resemblance may be very naturally accounted for: distinct traces of
imitation of Shakspeare are sufficiently abundant. Their imitation was,
however, merely confined to external appearance and separate
peculiarities; these writers, without the virtues of their model, possess
in reality all the faults which senseless critics have falsely censured in

A sentence somewhat more favourable is merited by Chapman, the translator
of Homer, and Thomas Heywood, if we may judge of them from the single
specimens of their works in Dodsley's collection. Chapman has handled the
well-known story of the Ephesian matron, under the title of _The Widow's
Tears_, not without comic talent. Heywood's _Woman Killed with Kindness_
is a familiar tragedy: so early may we find examples of this species,
which has been given out for new. It is the story of a wife tenderly
beloved by her husband, and seduced by a man whom he had loaded with
benefits; her sin is discovered, and the severest resolution which
her husband can bring himself to form is to remove her from him, without
proclaiming her dishonour; she repents, and grieves to death in bitter
repentence. A due gradation is not observed in the seduction, but the last
scenes are truly agitating. A distinct avowal of a moral aim is, perhaps,
essential to the familiar tragedy; or rather, by means of such an aim, a
picture of human destinies, whether afflicting kings or private families,
is drawn from the ideal sphere into the prosaic world. But when once we
admit the title of this subordinate species, we shall find that the
demands of morality and the dramatic art coincide, and that the utmost
severity of moral principles leads again to poetical elevation. The aspect
of that false repentance which merely seeks exemption from punishment, is
painful; repentance, as the pain arising from the irreparable forfeiture
of innocence, is susceptible of a truly tragic portraiture. Let only the
play in question receive a happy conclusion, such as in a well-known piece
[Footnote: The author alludes to Kotzebue's play of _Menschenhass und
Reue--(The Stranger)_.--TRANS.] has, notwithstanding this painful
feeling, been so generally applauded in the present day--viz., the
reconciliation of the husband and wife, not on the death-bed of the
repentant sinner, but in sound mind and body, and the renewal of the
marriage; and it will then be found that it has not merely lost its moral,
but also its poetical impression.

In other respects, this piece of Heywood is very inartistic, and
carelessly finished: instead of duly developing the main action, the
author distracts our attention by a second intrigue, which can hardly be
said to have the slightest connection with the other. At this we need
hardly be astonished, for Heywood was both a player and an excessively
prolific author. Two hundred and twenty pieces were, he says, written
entirely, or for the greatest part, by himself; and he was so careless
respecting these productions, which were probably thrown off without any
great labour, that he had lost the manuscript of the most of them, and
only twenty-five remained for publication through the press.

All the above authors, and many others beside, whatever applause they
obtained in their life-time, have been unsuccessful in transmitting a
living memorial of their works to posterity. Of Shakspeare's younger
contemporaries and competitors, few have attained this distinction; and of
these Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger, are the chief.

Ben Jonson found in Shakspeare a ready encourager of his talents. His
first piece, imperfect in many respects, _Every Man in his Humour_,
was by Shakspeare's intervention brought out on the stage; _Sejanus_
was even retouched by him, and in both he undertook a principal character.
This hospitable reception on the part of that great man, who was far above
every thing like jealousy and petty rivalry, met with a very ungrateful
return. Jonson assumed a superiority over Shakspeare on account of his
school learning, the only point in which he really had an advantage; he
introduced all sorts of biting allusions into his pieces and prologues,
and reprobated more especially those magical flights of fancy, the
peculiar heritage of Shakspeare, as contrary to genuine taste. In his
excuse we must plead, that he was not born under a happy star: his pieces
were either altogether unsuccessful, or, compared with the astonishing
popularity of Shakspeare's, they obtained but a small share of applause;
moreover, he was incessantly attacked, both on the stage and elsewhere, by
his rivals, as a disgraceful pedant, who pretended to know every thing
better than themselves, and with all manner of satires: all this rendered
him extremely irritable and uneven of temper. He possessed in reality a
very solid understanding; he was conscious that in the exercise of his art
he displayed zeal and earnestness: that Nature had denied him grace, a
quality which no labour can acquire, he could not indeed suspect. He
thought every man may boast of his assiduity, as Lessing says on a similar
occasion. After several failures on the stage, he formed the resolution to
declare of his pieces in the outset that they were good, and that if they
should not please, this could only proceed from the stupidity of the
multitude. The epigraph on one of his unsuccessful pieces with which he
committed it to the press, is highly amusing: "As it was never acted, but
most negligently played by some, the King's servants, and more squeamishly
beheld and censured by others, the King's subjects."

Jonson was a critical poet in the good and the bad sense of the word. He
endeavoured to form an exact estimate of what he had on every occasion to
perform; hence he succeeded best in that species of the drama which makes
the principal demand on the understanding and with little call on the
imagination and feeling,--the comedy of character. He introduced nothing
into his works which critical dissection should not be able to extract
again, as his confidence in it was such, that he conceived it exhausted
every thing which pleases and charms us in poetry. He was not aware that,
in the chemical retort of the critic, what is most valuable, the volatile
living spirit of a poem, evaporates. His pieces are in general deficient
in soul, in that nameless something which never ceases to attract and
enchant us, even because it is indefinable. In the lyrical pieces, his
Masques, we feel the want of a certain mental music of imagery and
intonation, which the most accurate observation of difficult measures
cannot give. He is everywhere deficient in those excellencies which,
unsought, flow from the poet's pen, and which no artist, who purposely
hunts for them, can ever hope to find. We must not quarrel with him,
however, for entertaining a high opinion of his own works; since, whatever
merits they have, he owed like acquired moral properties altogether to
himself. The production of them was attended with labour, and
unfortunately it is also a labour to read them. They resemble solid and
regular, edifices, before which, however, the clumsy scaffolding still
remains, to interrupt and prevent us from viewing the architecture with
ease, and receiving from it a harmonious impression.

We have of Jonson two tragical attempts, and a number of comedies and

He could have risen to the dignity of the tragic tone, but, for the
pathetic, he had not the smallest turn. As he incessantly preaches up the
imitation of the ancients, (and he had, we cannot deny, a learned
acquaintance with their works,) it is astonishing to observe how much his
two tragedies differ, both in substance and form, from the Greek tragedy.
From this example we see the influence which the prevailing tone of an
age, and the course already pursued in any art, necessarily have upon even
the most independent minds. In the historical extent given by Jonson to
his _Sejanus_ and _Cataline_, unity of time and place were entirely out of
the question; and both pieces are crowded with a multitude of secondary
persons, such as are never to be found in a Greek tragedy. In _Cataline_,
the prologue is spoken by the spirit of Sylla, and it bears a good deal of
resemblance to that of Tantalus, in the _Atreus and Thyestes_ of Seneca;
to the end of each act an instructive moralizing chorus is appended,
without being duly introduced or connected with the whole. This is the
extent of the resemblance to the ancients; in other respects, the form of
Shakspeare's historical dramas is adhered to, but without their romantic
charm. We cannot with certainty say, whether or not Jonson had the Roman
pieces of Shakspeare before him: it is probable that he had in _Cataline_
at least; but, at all events, he has not learned from him the art of being
true to history, and yet satisfying the demands of poetry. In Jonson's
hands, the subject continues history, without becoming poetry; the
political events which he has described have more the appearance of a
business than an action. _Cataline_ and _Sejanus_ are solid dramatic
studies after Sallust and Cicero, after Tacitus, Suetonius, Juvenal, and
others; and that is the best which we can say of them. In _Cataline_,
which upon the whole is preferable to _Sejanus_, he is also to be blamed
for not having blended the dissimilarity of the masses. The first act
possesses most elevation, though it disgusts us from its want of
moderation: we see a secret assembly of conspirators, and nature appears
to answer the furious inspiration of wickedness by dreadful signs. The
second act, which paints the intrigues and loves of depraved women, by
means of which the conspiracy was brought to light, treads closely on
comedy; the last three acts contain a history in dialogue, developed with
much good sense, but little poetical elevation. It is to be lamented that
Jonson gave only his own text of _Sejanus_ without communicating
Shakspeare's alterations. We should have been curious to know the means by
which he might have attempted to give animation to the monotony of the
piece without changing its plan, and how far his genius could adapt itself
to another's conceptions.

After these attempts, Jonson took his leave of the Tragic Muse, and in
reality his talents were far better suited to Comedy, and that too merely
the Comedy of Character. His characterization, however, is more marked
with serious satire than playful ridicule: the later Roman satirists,
rather than the comic authors, were his models. Nature had denied him that
light and easy raillery which plays harmlessly round every thing, and
which seems to be the mere effusion of gaiety, but which is so much the
more philosophic, as it is not the vehicle of any definite doctrine, but
merely the expression of a general irony. There is more of a spirit of
observation than of fancy in the comic inventions of Jonson. From this
cause his pieces are also defective in point of intrigue. He was a strong
advocate for the purity of the species, was unwilling to make use of any
romantic motives, and he never had recourse to a novel for the subject of
his plots. But his contrivances for the entangling and disentangling his
plot are often improbable and forced, without gaining over the imagination
by their attractive boldness. Even where he had contrived a happy plot, he
took so much room for the delineation of the characters, that we often
lose sight of the intrigue altogether, and the action lags with heavy
pace. Occasionally he reminds us of those over-accurate portrait painters,
who, to insure a likeness, think they must copy every mark of the small-
pox, every carbuncle or freckle. Frequently he has been suspected of
having, in the delineation of particular characters, had real persons in
his eye, while, at the same time, he has been reproached with making his
characters mere personifications of general ideas; and, however
inconsistent with each other these reproaches may appear, they are neither
of them, however, without some foundation. He possessed a methodical head;
consequently, where he had once conceived a character in its leading idea,
he followed it out with the utmost rigour; whatever, having no reference
to this leading idea, served merely to give individual animation, appeared
to him in the light of a digression. Hence his names are, for the most
part, expressive even to an unpleasant degree of distinctness: and, to add
to our satiety, he not unfrequently tacks explanatory descriptions to the
dramatis personae. On the other hand, he acted upon the principle, that
the comic writer must exhibit real life, with a minute and petty accuracy.
Generally he succeeded in seizing the manners of his own age and nation:
in itself this was deserving of praise; but even here he confined himself
too much to external peculiarities, to the singularities and affectations
of the modish tone which were then called humours, and which from their
nature are as transient as dresses. Hence a great part of his comic very
soon became obsolete, and as early as the re-opening of the theatre under
Charles II., no actors could be found who were capable of doing justice to
such caricatures. Local colours like these can only be preserved from
fading by the most complete seasoning with wit. This is what Shakspeare
has effected. Compare, for instance, his Osric, in _Hamlet_, with
Fastidius Brisk, in Jonson's _Every Man out of his Humour_: both are
portraitures of the insipid affectation of a courtier of the day; but
Osric, although he speaks his own peculiar language, will remain to the
end of time an exact and intelligible image of foppish folly, whereas
Fastidius is merely a portrait in a dress no longer in fashion, and
nothing more. However, Jonson has not always fallen into this error; his
Captain Bobadil, for example, in _Every Man in his Humour_, a beggarly and
cowardly adventurer, who passes himself off with young and simple people
for a Hector, is, it is true, far from being as amusing and original as
Pistol; but he also, notwithstanding the change of manners, still remains
a model in his way, and he has been imitated by English writers of comedy
in after times.

In the piece I have just named, the first work of Jonson, the action is
extremely feeble and insignificant. In the following, _Every Man out of
his Humour_, he has gone still farther astray, in seeking the comic
effect merely in caricatured traits, without any interest of situation: it
is a rhapsody of ludicrous scenes without connexion and progress. The
_Bartholomew Fair_, also, is nothing but a coarse _Bambocciate_, in which
no more connexion is to be found than usually exists in the hubbub, the
noise, the quarrelling, and thefts, which attend upon such amusements of
the populace. Vulgar delight is too naturally portrayed; the part of the
Puritan, however, is deserving of distinction: his casuistical
consultation, whether he ought to eat a sucking-pig according to the
custom of the fair, and his lecture afterwards against puppet-shows as a
heathen idolatry, are inimitable, and full of the most biting salt of
comedy. Ben Jonson did not then foresee that, before the lapse of one
generation, the Puritans would be sufficiently powerful to take a very
severe revenge on his art, on account of similar railleries.

In so far as plot is concerned, the greatest praise is merited by
_Volpone, The Alchemist_, and _Epicoene, or the Silent Woman_. In
_Volpone_ Jonson for once has entered into Italian manners, without,
however, taking an ideal view of them. The leading idea is admirable, and
for the most part worked out with masterly skill. Towards the end,
however, the whole turns too much on swindling and villany, which
necessarily call for the interference of criminal justice, and the piece,
from the punishment of the guilty, has everything but a merry conclusion.
In the _Alchemist_, both the deceivers and deceived supply a fund of
entertainment, only the author enters too deeply into the learning of
alchemy. Of an unintelligible jargon very short specimens at most ought to
be given in comedy, and it is best that they should also have a secondary
signification, of which the person who uses the mysterious language should
not himself be aware; when carried to too great a length, the use of them
occasions as much weariness as the writings themselves which served as a
model. In _The Devil's an Ass_ the poet has failed to draw due advantage
from a fanciful invention with which he opens, but which indeed was not
his own; and our expectation, after being once deceived, causes us to
remain dissatisfied with other scenes however excellently comic.

Of all Jonson's pieces there is hardly one which, as it stands, would
please on the stage in the present day, even as most of them failed to
please in his own time; extracts from them, however, could hardly fail to
be successful. In general, much might be borrowed from him, and much might
be learned both from his merits and defects. His characters are, for the
most part, solidly and judiciously drawn; what he most fails in, is the
art of setting them off by the contrast of situations. He has seldom
planned his scenes so successfully in this respect as in _Every Man in
his Humour_, where the jealous merchant is called off to an important
business, when his wife is in expectation of a visit of which he is
suspicious, and when he is anxious to station his servant as a sentinel,
without however confiding his secret to him, because, above all things he
dreads the discovery of his own jealousy. This scene is a master-piece,
and if Jonson had always so composed, we must have been obliged to rank
him among the first of comic writers.

Merely lest we should be charged with an omission do we mention _The
Masques_: allegorical, occasional pieces, chiefly designed for court
festivals, and decorated with machinery, masked dresses, dancing, and
singing. This secondary species died again nearly with Jonson himself; the
only subsequent production in this way of any fame is the _Comus_ of
Milton. When allegory is confined to mere personification, it must
infallibly turn out very frigid in a play; the action itself must be
allegorical, and in this respect there are many ingenious inventions, but
the Spanish poets have almost alone furnished us with successful examples
of it. The peculiarity of Jonson's _Masques_ most deserving of remark
seems to me to be the anti-masque, as they are called, which the poet
himself sometimes attaches to his own invention, and generally allows to
precede the serious act. As the ideal flatteries, for whose sake the gods
have been brought down from Olympus, are but too apt to fall into
mawkishness, this antidote on such occasions is certainly deserving of

Ben Jonson, who in all his pieces took a mechanical view of art, bore a
farther resemblance to the master of a handicraft in taking an apprentice.
He had a servant of the name of Broome, who formed himself as a theatrical
writer from the conversation and instructions of his master, and brought
comedies on the stage with applause.

Beaumont and Fletcher are always named together, as if they had been two
inseparable poets, whose works were all planned and executed in common.
This idea, however, is not altogether correct. We know, indeed, but little
of the circumstances of their lives: this much however is known, that
Beaumont died very young; and that Fletcher survived his younger friend
ten years, and was so unremittingly active in his career as a dramatic
poet, that several of his plays were first brought on the stage after his
death, and some which he left unfinished were completed by another hand.
The pieces collected under both names amount to upwards of fifty; and of
this number it is probable that the half must be considered as the work of
Fletcher alone. Beaumont and Fletcher's works did not make their
appearance until a short time after the death of the latter; the
publishers have not given themselves the trouble to distinguish critically
the share which belonged to each, and still less to afford us any
information respecting the diversity of their talents. Some of their
contemporaries have attributed boldness of imagination to Fletcher, and a
mature judgment to his friend: the former, according to their opinion, was
the inventive genius; the latter, the directing and moderating critic. But
this account rests on no foundation. It is now impossible to distinguish
with certainty the hand of each; nor would the knowledge repay the labour.
All the pieces ascribed to them, whether they proceed from one alone or
from both, are composed in the same spirit and in the same manner. Hence
it is probable that it was not so much the need of supplying the
deficiencies of each other, as the great resemblance of their way of
thinking, which induced them to continue so long and so inseparably

Beaumont and Fletcher began their career in the lifetime of Shakspeare:
Beaumont even died before him, and Fletcher only survived him nine years.
From some allusions in the way of parody, we may conclude that they
entertained no very extravagant admiration of their great predecessor;
from whom, nevertheless, they both learned much, and unquestionably
borrowed many of their thoughts. In the whole form of their plays they
followed his example, regardless of the different principles of Ben Jonson
and of the imitation of the ancients. Like him they drew from novels and
romances; they combined pathetic and burlesque scenes in the same play,
and, by the concatenation of the incidents, endeavoured to excite the
impression of the extraordinary and the wonderful. A wish to surpass
Shakspeare in this species is often evident enough; contemporary
eulogists, indeed, have no hesitation in ranking Shakspeare far below
them, and assert that the English stage was first brought to perfection by
Beaumont and Fletcher. And, in reality, Shakspeare's fame was in some
degree eclipsed by them in the generation which immediately succeeded, and
in the time of Charles II. they still enjoyed greater popularity: the
progress of time, however, has restored all three to their due places. As
on the stage the highest excellence will wear out by frequent repetition,
and novelty always possesses a great charm, the dramatic art is,
consequently, much influenced by fashion; it is more than other branches
of literature and the fine arts exposed to the danger of passing rapidly
from a grand and simple style to dazzling and superficial mannerism.

Beaumont and Fletcher were in fact men of the most distinguished talents;
they scarcely wanted anything more than a profounder seriousness of mind,
and that artistic sagacity which everywhere observes a due measure, to
rank beside the greatest dramatic poets of all nations. They possessed
extraordinary fecundity and flexibility of mind, and a facility which
however too often degenerated into carelessness. The highest perfection
they have hardly ever attained; and I should have little hesitation in
affirming that they had not even an idea of it: however, on several
occasions they have approached quite close to it. And why was it denied
them to take this last step? Because with them poetry was not an inward
devotion of the feeling and imagination, but a means to obtain brilliant
results. Their first object was effect, which the great artist can hardly
fail of attaining if he is determined above all things to satisfy himself.
They were not like the most of their predecessors, players, [Footnote: In
the privilege granted by James I. to the royal players, a _Laurence
Fletcher_ is named along with Shakspeare as manager of the company. The
poet's name was John Fletcher. Perhaps the former might be his brother or
near relation.] but they lived in the neighbourhood of the theatre, were
in constant intercourse with it, and possessed a perfect understanding of
theatrical matters. They were also thoroughly acquainted with their
contemporaries; but they found it more convenient to lower themselves to
the taste of the public than to follow the example of Shakspeare, who
elevated the public to himself. They lived in a vigorous age, which more
willingly pardoned extravagancies of every description than feeblenesss
and frigidity. They therefore never allowed themselves to be restrained by
poetical or moral considerations; and in this confidence they found their
account: they resemble in some measure somnambulists, who with closed eyes
pass safely through the greatest dangers. Even when they undertake what is
most depraved they handle it with a certain felicity. In the commencement
of a degeneracy in the dramatic art, the spectators first lose the
capability of judging of a play as a whole; hence Beaumont and Fletcher
bestow very little attention on harmony of composition and the observance
of due proportion between all the different parts. They not unfrequently
lose sight of a happily framed plot, and appear almost to forget it; they
bring something else forward equally capable of affording pleasure and
entertainment, but without preparation, and in the particular place where
it occurs without propriety. They always excite curiosity, frequently
compassion--they hurry us along with them; they succeed better, however,
in exciting than in gratifying our expectation. So long as we are reading
them we feel ourselves keenly interested; but they leave very few
imperishable impressions behind. They are least successful in their tragic
attempts, because their feeling is not sufficiently drawn from the depths
of human nature, and because they bestowed too little attention on the
general consideration of human destinies: they succeed much better in
Comedy, and in those serious and pathetic pictures which occupy a middle
place betwixt Comedy and Tragedy. Their characters are often arbitrarily
drawn, and, when it suits the momentary wants of the poet, become even
untrue to themselves; in external matters they are tolerably in keeping.
Beaumont and Fletcher employ the whole strength of their talents in
pictures of passion; but they enter little into the secret history of the
heart; they pass over the first emotions and the gradual heightening of a
feeling; they seize it, as it were, in its highest maturity, and then
develope its symptoms with the most overpowering illusion, though with an
exaggerated strength and fulness. But though its expression does not
always possess the strictest truth, nevertheless it still appears natural,
every thing has free motion; nothing is laboriously constrained or far-
fetched, however striking it may sometimes appear. In their dialogue they
have completely succeeded in uniting the familiar tone of real
conversation and the appearance of momentary suggestion with poetical
elevation. They even run into that popular affectation of the natural
which has ensured such great success to some dramatic poets of our own
time; but as the latter sought it in the absence of all elevation of
fancy, they could not help falling into insipidity. Beaumont and Fletcher
generally couple nature with fancy; they succeed in giving an
extraordinary appearance to what is common, and thus preserve a certain
fallacious image of the ideal. The morality of these writers is ambiguous.
Not that they failed in strong colours to contrast greatness of soul and
goodness with baseness and wickedness, or did not usually conclude with
the disgrace and punishment of the latter, but an ostentatious generosity
is often favourably exhibited in lieu of duty and justice. Every thing
good and excellent in their pictures arises more from transient ebullition
than fixed principle; they seem to place the virtues in the blood; and
close beside them impulses of merely a selfish and instinctive nature hold
up their heads, as if they were of nobler origin. There is an incurable
vulgar side of human nature which, when he cannot help but show it, the
poet should never handle without a certain bashfulness; but instead of
this Beaumont and Fletcher throw no veil whatever over nature. They
express every thing bluntly in words; they make the spectator the
unwilling confidant of all that more noble minds endeavour even to hide
from themselves. The indecencies in which these poets indulged themselves
go beyond conception. Licentiousness of language is the least evil; many
scenes, nay, even whole plots, are so contrived that the very idea, not to
mention the beholding of them, is a gross insult to modesty. Aristophanes
is a bold mouth-piece of sensuality; but like the Grecian statuaries in
the figures of satyrs, &c., he banishes them into the animal kingdom to
which they wholly belong; and judging him by the morality of his times, he
is much less offensive. But Beaumont and Fletcher hold up to view the
impure and nauseous colours of vice in quite a different sphere; their
compositions resemble the sheet, in the vision of the Apostle, full of
pure and impure animals. This was the universal tendency of the dramatic
poets under James and Charles I. They seem as if they purposely wished to
justify the assertion of the Puritans, that theatres were so many schools
of seduction and chapels of the Devil.

To those who merely read for amusement and general cultivation, we can
only recommend the works of Beaumont and Fletcher with some limitation
[Footnote: Hence I cannot approve of the undertaking, which has been
recently commenced, of translating them into German. They are not at all
adapted for our great public, and whoever makes a particular study of
dramatic poetry will have little difficulty in finding his way to the
originals.]. For the practical artist, however, and the critical judge of
dramatic poetry, an infinite deal may be learned from them; as well from
their merits as their extravagancies. A minute dissection of one of their
works, for which we have not here the necessary space, would serve to
place this in the clearest light. With regard to representation, these
pieces had, in their day, this advantage, that they did not require such
great actors to fill the principal characters as Shakspeare's plays did.
In order to bring them on the stage in our days, it would be necessary to
re-cast most of them; which might be done with some of them by omitting,
moderating, and purging various passages [Footnote: So far as I know only
one play has yet been brought on the German theatre, namely, _Rule a Wife
and have a Wife_, re-written by Schröder under the title of _Stille Wasser
sind tief_ (Still Waters run deep) which, when well acted, has always been
uncommonly well received.].

_The Two Noble Kinsmen_ is deserving of more particular mention, as
it is the joint production of Shakspeare and Fletcher. I see no ground for
calling this in question; the piece, it is true, did not make its
appearance till after the death of both; but what could be the motive with
the editor or printer for any deception, as Fletcher's name was at the
time in as great, at least, if not greater celebrity than Shakspeare's?
Were it the sole production of Fletcher, it would, undoubtedly, have to be
ranked as the best of his serious and heroic pieces. However, it would be
unfair to a writer of talent to take from him a work simply because it
seems too good for him. Might not Fletcher, who in his thoughts and images
not unfrequently shows an affinity to Shakspeare, have for once had the
good fortune to approach closer to him than usual? It would still be more
dangerous to rest on the similarity of separate passages to others in
Shakspeare. This might rather arise from imitation. I rely therefore
entirely on the historical statement, which, probably, originated in a
tradition of the players. There are connoisseurs, who, in the pictures of
Raphael, (which, as is well know, were not always wholly executed by
himself,) take upon them to determine what parts were painted by Francesco
Penni, or Giulio Romano, or some other scholar. I wish them success with
the nicety of their discrimination; they are at least secure from
contradiction, as we have no certain information on the subject. I would
only remind these connoisseurs, that Giulio Romano was himself deceived by
a copy from Raphael of Andrea del Sarto's, and that, too, with regard to a
figure which he had himself assisted in painting. The case in point is,
however, a much more complicated problem in criticism. The design of
Raphael's figures was at least his own, and the execution only was
distributed in part among his scholars. But to find out how much of _The
Two Noble Kinsmen_ may belong to Shakspeare, we must not only be able
to tell the difference of hands in the execution, but also to determine
the influence of Shakspeare on the plan of the whole. When, however, he
once joined another poet in the production of a work, he must also have
accommodated himself, in a certain degree, to his views, and renounced the
prerogative of unfolding his inmost peculiarity. Amidst so many grounds
for doubting, if I might be allowed to hazard an opinion, I should say,
that I think I can perceive the mind of Shakspeare in a certain ideal
purity, which distinguishes this piece from all others of Fletcher's, and
in the conscientious fidelity with which the story adheres to that of
Chaucer's _Palamon and Arcite_. In the style Shakspeare's hand is at
first discoverable in a brevity and fulness of thought bordering on
obscurity; in the colour of the expression, almost all the poets of that
time bear a strong resemblance to each other. The first acts are most
carefully laboured; afterwards the piece is drawn out to too great a
length and in an epic manner; the dramatic law of quickening the action
towards the conclusion, is not sufficiently observed. The part of the
jailor's daughter, whose insanity is artlessly conducted in pure
monologues, is certainly not Shakspeare's; for, in that case, we must
suppose him to have had an intention of arrogantly imitating his own

Moreover, it was then a very general custom for two or even three poets to
join together in the production of one play. Besides the constant example
of Beaumont and Fletcher, we have many others. The consultations,
respecting the plan, were generally held at merry meetings in taverns.
Upon one of these occasions it happened that one in a poetical
intoxication calling out, "I will undertake to kill the king!" was
immediately taken into custody as a traitor, till the misunderstanding was
cleared up. This mode of composing may answer very well in the lighter
species of the drama, which require to be animated by social wit. With
regard to theatrical effect, four eyes may, in general, see better than
two, and mutual objections may be of use in finding out the most suitable
means. But the highest poetical inspiration is much more eremitical than
communicative; for it always seeks to express something which sets
language at defiance, which, therefore, can only be weakened and
dissipated by detached words, and can only be attained by the common
impression of the complete work, whose idea is hovering before it.

_The Knight of the Burning Pestle_, of Beaumont and Fletcher, is an
incomparable work and singular in its kind. It is a parody of the chivalry
romances; the thought is borrowed from _Don Quixote_, but the imitation is
handled with freedom, and so particularly applied to Spenser's _Fairy
Queen_, that it may pass for a second invention. But the peculiarly
ingenious novelty of the piece consists in the combination of the irony of
a chimerical abuse of poetry with another irony exactly the contrary, of
the incapacity to comprehend any fable, and the dramatic form more
particularly. A grocer and his wife come as spectators to the theatre:
they are discontented with the piece which has just been announced; they
demand a play in honour of the corporation, and Ralph, their apprentice,
is to act a principal part in it. Their humour is complied with; but still
they are not satisfied, make their remarks on every thing, and incessantly
address themselves to the players. Ben Jonson had already exhibited
imaginary spectators, but they were either benevolent expounders or
awkward censurers of the poet's views: consequently, they always conducted
his, the poet's, own cause. But the grocer and his wife represent a whole
genus, namely, those unpoetical spectators, who are destitute of a feeling
for art. The illusion with them becomes a passive error; the subject
represented has on them all the effect of reality, they accordingly resign
themselves to the impression of each moment, and take part for or against
the persons of the drama. On the other hand, they show themselves
insensible to all genuine illusion, that is, of entering vividly into the
spirit of the fable: for them Ralph, however heroically and chivalrously
he may conduct himself, is always Ralph their apprentice; and in the whim
of the moment they take upon them to demand scenes which are quite
inconsistent with the plan of the piece that has been commenced. In short,
the views and demands with which poets are often oppressed by a prosaical
public are very cleverly and amusingly personified in these caricatures of

_The Faithful Shepherdess_, a pastoral, is highly extolled by some
English critics, as it is without doubt finished with great care, in
rhymed, and partly, in lyrical verses. Fletcher wished also to be
classical for once, and did violence to his natural talent. Perhaps he had
the intention of surpassing Shakspeare's _Midsummer Night's Dream_;
but the composition which he has ushered into the world is as heavy as
that of the other was easy and aërial. The piece is overcharged with
mythology and rural painting, is untheatrical, and so far from pourtraying
the genuine ideality of a pastoral world, it even contains the greatest
vulgarities. We might rather call it an immodest eulogy of chastity. I am
willing to hope that Fletcher was unacquainted with the _Pastor Fido_
of Guarini, for otherwise his failure would admit of less justification.

We are in want of space to speak in detail of the remaining works of
Beaumont and Fletcher, although they might be made the subject of many
instructive observations. On the whole, we may say of these writers that
they have built a splendid palace, but merely in the suburbs of poetry,
while Shakspeare has his royal residence in the very centre point of the

The fame of Massinger has been lately revived by an edition of his works.
Some literary men wish to rank him above Beaumont and Fletcher, as if he
had approached more closely to the excellence of Shakspeare. I cannot see
it. He appears to me to bear the greatest resemblance to Beaumont and
Fletcher in the plan of the pieces, in the tone of manners, and even in
the language and negligences of versification. I would not undertake to
decide, from internal symptoms, whether a play belonged to Massinger, or
Beaumont and Fletcher. This applies also to the other contemporaries; for
instance, to Shirley, of whose pieces two are stated to have crept into
the works ascribed to the two last-named poets. There was (as already
said) at this time in England a school of dramatic art, a school of which
Shakspeare was the invisible and too often unacknowledged head; for Ben
Jonson remained almost without successors. It is a characteristic of what
is called manner in art to efface the features of personal originality,
and to make the productions of various artists bear a resemblance to each
other; and from manner no dramatic poet of this age, who succeeded
Shakspeare, can be pronounced altogether free. When, however, we compare
their works with those of the succeeding age, we perceive between them
something about the same relation as between the paintings of the school
of Michel Angelo and those of the last half of the seventeenth and the
first half of the eighteenth century. Both are tainted with manner; but
the manner of the former bears the trace of a sublime origin in the first
ages; in the latter, all is little, affected, empty, and superficial. I
repeat it: in a general history of the dramatic art, the first period of
the English theatre is the only one of importance. The plays of the least
known writers of that time, (I venture to affirm this, though I am far
from being acquainted with all of them) are more instructive for theory,
and more remarkable, than the most celebrated of all the succeeding times.


Closing of the Stage by the Puritans--Revival of the Stage under Charles
the Second--Depravity of Taste and Morals--Dryden, Otway, and others--
Characterization of the Comic Poets from Wycherley and Congreve to the
middle of the eighteenth century--Tragedies of the same Period--Rowe--
Addison's _Cato_--Later Pieces--Familiar Tragedy: Lillo--Garrick--
Latest state.

In this condition nearly the theatre remained under the reign of Charles
I. down to the year 1647, when the invectives of the Puritans (who had
long murmured at the theatre, and at last thundered loudly against it,)
were changed into laws. To act, or even to be a spectator of plays was
prohibited under a severe penalty. A civil war followed, and the
extraordinary circumstance here happened, that the players, (who, in
general, do not concern themselves much about forms of government, and
whose whole care is usually devoted to the peaceable entertainment of
their follow-citizens,) compelled by want, joined that political party the
interests of which were intimately connected with their own existence.
Almost all of them entered the army of the King, many perished for the
good cause, the survivors returned to London and continued to exercise
their art in secret. Out of the ruins of all the former companies of
actors, one alone was formed, which occasionally, though with very great
caution, gave representations at the country seats of the great, in the
vicinity of London. For among the other singularities to which the
violence of those times gave rise, it was considered a proof of attachment
to the old constitution to be fond of plays, and to reward and harbour
those who acted them in private houses.

Fortunately the Puritans did not so well understand the importance of a
censorship as the Governments of our day, or the yet unprinted dramatic
productions of the preceding age could not have issued from the press, by
which means many of them would have been irrecoverably lost. These gloomy
fanatics were such enemies of all that was beautiful, that they not only
persecuted every liberal mental entertainment, calculated in any manner to
adorn life, and more especially the drama, as being a public worship of
Baal, but they even shut their ears to church music, as a demoniacal
howling. If their ascendency had been maintained much longer, England must
infallibly have been plunged in an irremediable barbarity. The oppression
of the drama continued down to the year 1660, when the free exercise of
all arts returned with Charles II.

The influence which the government of this monarch had on the manners and
spirit of the time, and the natural reaction against the principles
previously dominant, are sufficiently well known. As the Puritans had
brought republican principles and religious zeal into universal odium, so
this light-minded monarch seemed expressly born to sport away all respect
for the kingly dignity. England was inundated with foreign follies and
vices in his train. The court set the fashion of the most undisguised
immorality, and its example was the more contagious, the more people
imagined that they could only show their zeal for the new order of things
by an extravagant way of thinking and living. The fanaticism of the
republicans had been associated with strictness of manners, nothing
therefore could be more easy and agreeable than to obtain the character of
royalists, by the extravagant indulgence of all lawful and unlawful
pleasures. Nowhere was the age of Louis XIV. imitated with greater
depravity. But the prevailing gallantry of the court of France had its
reserve and a certain delicacy of feeling; they sinned (if I may so speak)
with some degree of dignity, and no man ventured to attack what was
honourable, however at variance with it his own actions might be. The
English played a part which was altogether unnatural to them: they gave
themselves up heavily to levity; they everywhere confounded the coarsest
licentiousness with free mental vivacity, and did not perceive that the
kind of grace which is still compatible with depravity, disappears with
the last veil which it throws off.

We can easily conceive the turn which, under such auspices, the new
formation of taste must have taken. There existed no real knowledge of the
fine arts, which were favoured merely like other foreign fashions and
inventions of luxury. The age neither felt a true want of poetry, nor had
any relish for it: in it they merely wished for a light and brilliant
entertainment. The theatre, which in its former simplicity had attracted
the spectators solely by the excellence of the dramatic works and the
skill of the actors, was now furnished out with all the appliances with
which we are at this day familiar; but what it gained in external
decoration, it lost in internal worth.

To Sir William Davenant, the English theatre, on its revival after the
interruption which we have so often mentioned, owes its new institution,
if this term may be here used. He introduced the Italian system of
decoration, the _costume_, as it was then well or ill understood, the
opera music, and in general the use of the orchestra. For this undertaking
Charles II. had furnished him with extensive privileges. Davenant was a
sort of adventurer and wit; in every way worthy of the royal favour; to
enjoy which, dignity of character was never a necessary requisite. He set
himself to work in every way that a rich theatrical repertory may render
necessary; he made alterations of old pieces, and also wrote himself
plays, operas, prologues, &c. But of all his writings nothing has escaped
a merited oblivion.

Dryden soon became and long remained the hero of the stage. This man, from
his influence in fixing the laws of versification and poetical language,
especially in rhyme, has acquired a reputation altogether disproportionate
to his true merit. We shall not here inquire whether his translations of
the Latin poets are not manneristical paraphrases, whether his political
allegories (now that party interest is dead) can be read without the
greatest weariness; but confine ourselves to his plays, which considered
relatively to his great reputation, are incredibly bad. Dryden had a gift
of flowing and easy versification; the knowledge which he possessed was
considerable, but undigested; and all this was coupled with the talent of
giving a certain appearance of novelty to what however was borrowed from
all quarters; his serviceable muse was the resource of an irregular life.
He had besides an immeasurable vanity; he frequently disguises it under
humble prologues; on other occasions he speaks out boldly and confidently,
avowing his opinion that he has done better than Shakspeare, Fletcher, and
Jonson (whom he places nearly on the same level); all the merit of this he
is, however, willing to ascribe to the refinement and advances of the age.
The age indeed! as if that of Elizabeth compared with the one in which
Dryden lived, were not in every respect "Hyperion to a Satyr!" Dryden
played also the part of the critic: he furnished his pieces richly with
prefaces and treatises on dramatic poetry, in which he chatters most
confusedly about the genius of Shakspeare and Fletcher, and about the
entirely opposite example of Corneille; of the original boldness of the
British stage, and of the rules of Aristotle and Horace.--He imagined that
he had invented a new species, namely the Heroic Drama; as if Tragedy had
not from its very nature been always heroical! If we are, however, to seek
for a heroic drama which is not peculiarly tragic, we shall find it among
the Spaniards, who had long possessed it in the greatest perfection. From
the uncommon facility of rhyming which Dryden possessed, it cost him
little labour to compose the most of his serious pieces entirely in rhyme.
With the English, the rhymed verse of ten syllables supplies the place of
the Alexandrine; it has more freedom in its pauses, but on the other hand
it wants the alternation of male and female rhymes; it proceeds in pairs
exactly like the French Alexandrine, and in point of syllabic measure it
is still more uniformly symmetrical. It therefore unavoidably communicates
a great stiffness to the dialogue. The manner of the older English poets
before them, who generally used blank verse, and only occasionally
introduced rhymes, was infinitely preferable. But, since then, on the
other hand, rhyme has come to be too exclusively rejected.

Dryden's plans are improbable, even to silliness; the incidents are all
thrown out without forethought; the most wonderful theatrical strokes fall
incessantly from the clouds. He cannot be said to have drawn a single
character; for there is not a spark of nature in his dramatic personages.
Passions, criminal and magnanimous sentiments, flow with indifferent
levity from their lips, without ever having dwelt in the heart: their
chief delight is in heroical boasting. The tone of expression is by turns
flat or madly bombastical; not unfrequently both at the same time: in
short, this poet resembles a man who walks upon stilts in a morass. His
wit is displayed in far-fetched sophistries; his imagination in long-spun
similies, awkwardly introduced. All these faults have been ridiculed by
the Duke of Buckingham in his comedy of _The Rehearsal_. Dryden was
meant under the name of Bayes, though some features are taken from
Davenant and other contemporary writers. The vehicle of this critical
satire might have been more artificial and diversified; the matter,
however is admirable, and the separate parodies are very amusing and
ingenious. The taste for this depraved manner was, however, too prevalent
to be restrained by the efforts of so witty a critic, who was at the same
time a grandee of the kingdom.

Otway and Lee were younger competitors of Dryden in tragedy. Otway lived
in poverty, and died young; under more favourable circumstances greater
things perhaps would have been done by him. His first pieces in rhyme are
imitations of Dryden's manner; he also imitated the _Berenice_ of Racine.
Two of his pieces in blank verse have kept possession of the stage--_The
Orphan_ and _Venice Preserved_. These tragedies are far from being good;
but there is matter in them, especially in the last; and amidst much empty
declamation there are some truly pathetic passages. How little Otway
understood the true rules of composition may be inferred from this, that
he has taken the half of the scenes of his _Caius Marius_ verbally, or
with disfiguring changes, from the _Romeo and Juliet_ of Shakspeare.
Nothing more incongruous can well he conceived, than such an episode in
Roman manners, and in a historical drama. This impudent plagiarism is in
no manner justified by his confessing it.

Dryden altered pieces of Shakspeare; for then, and even long afterwards,
every person thought himself qualified for this task. He also wrote
comedies; but Wycherley and Congreve were the first to acquire a name in
this species of composition. The mixed romantic drama was now laid
entirely aside; all was either tragedy or comedy. The history of each of
these species will therefore admit of being separately handled--if,
indeed, that can be correctly said to have a history where we can perceive
no progressive development, but mere standing still, or even retrograding,
and an inconstant fluctuation in all directions. However, the English,
under Charles II. and Queen Anne, and down to the middle of the eighteenth
century, had a series of comic writers, who may be all considered as
belonging to one common class; for the only considerable diversity among
them arises merely from an external circumstance, the varying tone of

I have elsewhere in these Lectures shown that elegance of form is of the
greatest importance in Comedy, as from the want of care in this respect it
is apt to degenerate into a mere prosaical imitation of reality, and
thereby to forfeit its pretensions to rank as either poetry or art. It is
exactly, however, in the form, that the English comedies are most
negligent. In the first place, they are written entirely in prose. It has
been well remarked by an English critic, that the banishment of verse from
Comedy had even a prejudicial influence on versification in Tragedy. The
older dramatists could elevate or lower the tone of their Iambics at
pleasure; from the exclusion of this verse from familiar dialogue, it has
become more pompous and inflexible. Shakspeare's comic scenes, it is true,
are also written, for the most part, in prose; but in the Mixed Comedy,
which has a serious, wonderful, or pathetic side, the prose, mixed with
the elevated language of verse, serves to mark the contrast between vulgar
and ideal sentiments; it is a positive means of exhibition. Continued
prose in Comedy is nothing but the natural language, on which the poet has
failed to employ his skill to refine and smoothe it down, while apparently
he seems the more careful to give an accurate imitation of it: it is that
prose which Moličre's Bourgeois Gentilhomme has been speaking his whole
lifetime without suspecting it.

Moreover, the English comic poets tie themselves down too little to the
unity of place. I have on various occasions declared that I consider
change of scene even a requisite, whenever a drama is to possess
historical extent or the magic of romance. But in the comedy of common
life the case is somewhat altogether different. I am convinced that it
would almost always have had a beneficial influence on the conduct of the
action in the English plays, if their authors had, in this respect,
subjected themselves to stricter laws.

The lively trickery of the Italian masks has always found a more
unfavourable reception in England than in France. The fool or clown in
Shakspeare's comedies is far more of an ironical humorist than a mimical
buffoon. Intrigue in real life is foreign to the Northern nations, both
from the virtues and the defects of their character; they have too much
openness of disposition, and too little acuteness and nicety of
understanding. It is remarkable that, with greater violence of passion,
the Southern nations possess, nevertheless, in a much higher degree the
talent of dissembling. In the North, life is wholly founded on mutual
confidence. Hence, in the drama, the spectators, from being less practised
in intrigue, are less inclined to be delighted with concealment of views
and their success by bold artifice, and with the presence of mind which,
in unexpected events of an untoward nature, readily extricates its
possessor from embarrassment. However, there may be an intrigue in Comedy,
in the dramatic sense, though none of the persons carry on what is
properly called intrigue. Still it is in the entangling and disentangling
their plots that the English comic writers are least deserving of praise.
Their plans are defective in unity. From this reproach I have, I conceive,
sufficiently exculpated Shakspeare; it is rather merited by many of
Fletcher's pieces. When, indeed, the imagination has a share in the
composition, then it is far from being as necessary that all should be
accurately connected together by cause and effect, as when the whole is
framed and held together exclusively by the understanding. The existence
of a double or even triple intrigue in many modern English comedies has
been acknowledged even by English critics themselves. [Footnote: Among
others, by the anonymous author of a clever letter to Garrick, prefixed to
Coxeter's edition of _Massinger's Works_, who says--"What with their
plots, and double plots, and counter-plots, and under-plots, the mind is
as much perplexed to piece out the story as to put together the disjointed
parts of an ancient drama."] The inventions to which they have recourse
are often everything but probable, without charming us by their happy
novelty; they are chiefly deficient, however, in perspicuity and easy
development. Most English comedies are much too long. The authors overload
their composition with characters: and we can see no reason why they
should not have divided them into several pieces. It is as if we were to
compel to travel in the same stage-coach a greater number of persons, all
strangers to each other, than there is properly room for; the journey
becomes more inconvenient, and the entertainment not a whit more lively.

The great merit of the English comic poets of this period consists in the
delineation of character; yet though many have certainly shown much
talent, I cannot ascribe to any a peculiar genius for characterization.
Even in this department the older poets (not only Shakspeare, for that may
easily be supposed, but even Fletcher and Jonson) are superior to them.
The moderns seldom possess the faculty of seizing the most hidden and
involuntary emotions, and giving a comic expression to them; they
generally draw merely the natural or assumed surface of men. Moreover, the
same circumstance which in France, after Moličre's time, was attended with
such prejudicial effects, came here also into play. The comic muse,
instead of becoming familiar with life in the middle and lower ranks (her
proper sphere), assumed an air of distinction: she squeezed herself into
courts, and endeavoured to snatch a resemblance of the _beau monde_.
It was now no longer an English national, but a London comedy. The whole
turns almost exclusively on fashionable love-suits and fashionable
raillery; the love-affairs are either disgusting or insipid, and the
raillery is always puerile and destitute of wit. These comic writers may
have accurately hit the tone of their time; in this they did their duty;
but they have reared a lamentable memorial of their age. In few periods
has taste in the fine arts been at such a low ebb as about the close of
the seventeenth and during the first half of the eighteenth century. The
political machine kept its course; wars, negotiations, and changes of
states, give to this age a certain historical splendour; but the comic
poets and portrait-painters have revealed to us the secret of its
pitifulness--the former in their copies of the dresses, and the latter in
the imitation of the social tone. I am convinced that if we could now
listen to the conversation of the _beau monde_ of that day, it would
appear to us as pettily affected and full of tasteless pretension, as the
hoops, the towering head-dresses and high-heeled shoes of the women, and
the huge perukes, cravats, wide sleeves, and ribbon-knots of the men.
[Footnote: When I make good or bad taste in dress an infallible criterion
of social elegance or deformity, this must be limited to the age in which
the fashion came up; for it may sometimes be very difficult to overturn a
wretched fashion even when, in other things, a better taste has long
prevailed. The dresses of the ancients were more simple, and consequently
less subject to change of fashion; and the male dress, in particular, was
almost unchangeable. However, even from the dresses alone, as we see them
in the remains of antiquity, we may form a pretty accurate judgment of the
character of the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans. In the female
portrait-busts of the time of the later Roman emperors, we often find the
head-dresses extremely tasteless; nay, even busts with peruques which may
be taken off, probably for the purpose of changing them, as the originals
themselves did.]

The last, and not the least defect of the English comedies is their
offensiveness. I may sum up the whole in one word by saying, that after
all we know of the licentiousness of manners under Charles II., we are
still lost in astonishment at the audacious ribaldry of Wycherley and
Congreve. Decency is not merely violated in the grossest manner in single
speeches, and frequently in the whole plot; but in the character of the
rake, the fashionable debauchee, a moral scepticism is directly preached
up, and marriage is the constant subject of their ridicule. Beaumont and
Fletcher portrayed an irregular but vigorous nature: nothing, however, can
be more repulsive than rude depravity coupled with claims to higher
refinement. Under Queen Anne manners became again more decorous; and this
may easily be traced in the comedies: in the series of English comic
poets, Wycherley, Congreve, Farquhar, Vanbrugh, Steele, Cibber, &c., we
may perceive something like a gradation from the most unblushing indecency
to a tolerable degree of modesty. However, the example of the predecessors
has had more than a due influence on the successors. From prescriptive
fame pieces keep possession of the stage such as no man in the present day
durst venture to bring out. It is a remarkable phenomenon, the causes of
which are deserving of inquiry, that the English nation, in the last half
of the eighteenth century, passed all at once from the most opposite way
of thinking, to an almost over-scrupulous strictness of manners in social
conversation, in romances and plays, and in the plastic arts.

Some writers have said of Congreve that he had too much wit for a comic
poet. These people must have rather a strange notion of wit. The truth is,
that Congreve and the other writers above mentioned possess in general
much less comic than epigrammatic wit. The latter often degenerates into a
laborious straining for wit. Steele's dialogue, for example, puts us too
much in mind of the letters in the _Spectator_. Farquhar's plots seem
to me to be the most ingenious of all.

The latest period of English Comedy begins nearly with Colman. Since that
time the morals have been irreproachable, and much has been done in the
way of refined and original characterization; the form, however, has on
the whole remained the same, and in that respect I do not think the
English comedies at all models.

Tragedy has been often attempted in England in the eighteenth century, but
a genius of the first rank has never made his appearance. They laid aside
the manner of Dryden, however, and that at least was an improvement. Rowe
was an honest admirer of Shakspeare, and his modest reverence for this
superior genius was rewarded by a return to nature and truth. The traces
of imitation are not to be mistaken: the part of Gloster in _Jane Shore_
is even directly borrowed from _Richard the Third_. Rowe did not possess
boldness and vigour, but was not without sweetness and feeling; he could
excite the softer emotions, and hence in his _Fair Penitent_, _Jane
Shore_, and _Lady Jane Gray_, he has successfully chosen female heroines
and their weaknesses for his subjects.

Addison possessed an elegant mind, but he was by no means a poet. He
undertook to purify the English Tragedy, by bringing it into a compliance
with the supposed rules of good taste. We might have expected from a judge
of the ancients, that he would have endeavoured to approach the Greek
models. Whether he had any such intention I know not, but certain it is
that he has produced nothing but a tragedy after the French model.
_Cato_ is a feeble and frigid piece, almost destitute of action,
without one truly overpowering moment. Addison has so narrowed a great and
heroic picture by his timid manner of treating it, that he could not,
without foreign intermixture, even fill up the frame. Hence, he had
recourse to the traditional love intrigues; if we count well, we shall
find in this piece no fewer than six persons in love: Cato's two sons,
Marcia and Lucia, Juba and Sempronius. The good Cato cannot, therefore, as
a provident father of a family, avoid arranging two marriages at the
close. With the exception of Sempronius, the villain of the piece, the
lovers are one and all somewhat silly. Cato, who ought to be the soul of
the whole, is hardly ever shown to us in action; nothing remains for him
but to admire himself and to die. It might be thought that the stoical
determination of suicide, without struggle and without passion, is not a
fortunate subject; but correctly speaking, no subjects are unfortunate,
every thing depends on correctly apprehending them. Addison has been
induced, by a wretched regard to Unity of Place, to leave out Caesar, the
only worthy contrast to Cato; and, in this respect even Metastasio has
managed matters better. The language is pure and simple, but without
vigour; the rhymeless Iambic gives more freedom to the dialogue, and an
air somewhat less conventional than it has in the French tragedies; but in
vigorous eloquence, Cato remains far behind them.

Addison took his measures well; he placed all the great and small critics,
with Pope at their head, the whole militia of good taste under arms, that
he might excite a high expectation of the piece which he had produced with
so much labour. _Cato_ was universally praised, as a work without an
equal. And on what foundation do these boundless praises rest? On
regularity of form? This had been already observed by the French poets for
nearly a century, and notwithstanding its constraints they had often
attained a much stronger pathetic effect. Or on the political sentiments?
But in a single dialogue between Brutus and Cassius in Shakspeare there is
more of a Roman way of thinking and republican energy than in all _Cato_.

I doubt whether this piece could ever have produced a powerful impression,
but its reputation has certainly had a prejudicial influence on Tragedy in
England. The example of _Cato_, and the translation of French tragedies,
which became every day more frequent, could not, it is true, render
universal the belief in the infallibility of the rules; but they were held
in sufficient consideration to disturb the conscience of the dramatic
poets, who consequently were extremely timid in availing themselves of the
prerogatives they inherited from Shakspeare. On the other hand, these
prerogatives were at the same time problems; it requires no ordinary
degree of skill to arrange, with simplicity and perspicuity, such great
masses as Shakspeare uses to bring together: more of drawing and
perspective are required for an extensive fresco painting, than for a
small oil picture. In renouncing the intermixture of comic scenes when
they no longer understood their ironical aim, they did perfectly right:
Southern still attempted them in his _Oroonoko_, but in his hands
they exhibit a wretched appearance. With the general knowledge and
admiration of the ancients which existed in England, we might have looked
for some attempt at a true imitation of the Greek Tragedy; no such
imitation has, however, made its appearance; in the choice and handling of
their materials they show an undoubted affinity to the French. Some poets
of celebrity in other departments of poetry, Young, Thomson, Glover, have
written tragedies, but no one of them has displayed any true tragical

They have now and then had recourse to familiar tragedy to assist the
barrenness of imagination; but the moral aim, which must exclusively
prevail in this species, is a true extinguisher of genuine poetical
inspiration. They have, therefore, been satisfied with a few attempts. The
_Merchant of London_, and _The Gamester_, are the only plays in this way
which have attained any great reputation. _George Barnwell_ is remarkable
from having been praised by Diderot and Lessing, as a model for imitation.
This error could only have escaped from Lessing in the keenness of his
hostility to the French conventional tone. For in truth it is necessary to
keep Lillo's honest views constantly in mind, to prevent us from finding
_George Barnwell_ as laughable as it is certainly trivial. Whoever
possesses so little, or rather, no knowledge of men and of the world,
ought not to set up for a public lecturer on morals. We might draw a very
different conclusion from this piece, from that which the author had in
view, namely, that to prevent young people from entertaining a violent
passion, and being led at last to steal and murder, for the first wretch
who spreads her snares for them, (which they of course cannot possibly
avoid,) we ought, at an early period, to make them acquainted with the
true character of courtezans. Besides, I cannot approve of not making the
gallows visible before the last scene; such a piece ought always to be
acted with a place of execution in the background. With respect to the
edification to be drawn from a drama of this kind, I should prefer the
histories of malefactors, which in England are usually printed at
executions; they contain, at least, real facts, instead of awkward

Garrick's appearance forms an epoch in the history of the English theatre,
as he chiefly dedicated his talents to the great characters of Shakspeare,
and built his own fame on the growing admiration for this poet. Before his
time, Shakspeare had only been brought on the stage in mutilated and
disfigured alterations. Garrick returned on the whole to the true
originals, though he still allowed himself to make some very unfortunate
changes. It appears to me that the only excusable alteration of Shakspeare
is, to leave out a few things not in conformity to the taste of the time.
Garrick was undoubtedly a great actor. Whether he always conceived the
parts of Shakspeare in the sense of the poet, I, from the very
circumstances stated in the eulogies on his acting, should be inclined to
doubt. He excited, however, a noble emulation to represent worthily the
great national poet; this has ever since been the highest aim of actors,
and even at present the stage can boast of men whose histrionic talents
are deservedly famous.

But why has this revival of the admiration of Shakspeare remained
unproductive for dramatic poetry? Because he has been too much the subject
of astonishment, as an unapproachable genius who owed everything to nature
and nothing to art. His success, it is thought, is without example, and
can never be repeated; nay, it is even forbidden to venture into the same
region. Had he been considered more from an artistic point of view, it
would have led to an endeavour to understand the principles which he
followed in his practice, and an attempt to master them. A meteor appears,
disappears, and leaves no trace behind; the course of a heavenly body,
however, ought to be delineated by the astronomer, for the sake of
investigating more accurately the laws of general mechanics.

I am not sufficiently acquainted with the latest dramatic productions of
the English, to enter into a minute account of them. That the dramatic art
and the public taste are, however, in a wretched state of decline, may, I
think, be safely inferred from the following circumstance. Some years ago,
several German plays found their way to the English stage; plays, which,
it is true, are with us the favourites of the multitude, but which are not
considered by the intelligent as forming a part of our literature, and in
which distinguished actors are almost ashamed of earning applause. These
pieces have met with extraordinary favour in England; they have, properly
speaking, as the Italians say, _fatto furore_, though indeed the critics
did not fail to declaim against their immorality, veiled over by
sentimental hypocrisy. From the poverty of our dramatic literature, the
admission of such abominations into Germany may be easily comprehended;
but what can be alleged in favour of this depravity of taste in a nation
like the English, which possesses such treasures, and which must therefore
descend from such an elevation? Certain writers are nothing in themselves;
they are merely symptoms of the disease of their age; and were we to judge
from them, there is but too much reason to fear that, in England, an
effeminate sentimentality in private life is more frequent, than from the
astonishing political greatness and energy of the nation we should be led
to suppose.

May the romantic drama and the grand historical drama, those truly native
species, be again speedily revived, and may Shakspeare find such worthy
imitators as some of those whom Germany has to produce!


Spanish Theatre--Its three Periods: Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Calderon--
Spirit of the Spanish Poetry in general--Influence of the National History
on it--Form, and various species of the Spanish Drama--Decline since the
beginning of the eighteenth century.

The riches of the Spanish stage have become proverbial, and it has been
more or less the custom of the Italian, French, and English dramatists, to
draw from this source, and generally without acknowledgment. I have often,
in the preceding Lectures, had occasion to notice this fact; it was
incompatible, however, with my purpose, to give an enumeration of all that
has been so borrowed, for it would have assumed rather a bulky appearance,
and without great labour it could not have been rendered complete. What
has been taken from the most celebrated Spanish poets might be easily
pointed out; but the writers of the second and third rank have been
equally laid under contribution, and their works are not easily met with
out of Spain. Ingenious boldness, joined to easy clearness of intrigue, is
so exclusively peculiar to the Spanish dramatists, that whenever I find
these in a work, I consider myself justified in suspecting a Spanish
origin, even though the circumstance may have been unknown to the author
himself, who drew his plagiarism from a nearer source. [Footnote: Thus for
example, _The Servant of two Masters_, of Goldoni, a piece highly
distinguished above his others for the most amusing intrigue, passes for
an original. A learned Spaniard has assured me, that he knows it to be a
Spanish invention. Perhaps Goldoni had here merely an older Italian
imitation before him.]

From the political preponderance of Spain in the sixteenth century, a
knowledge of its language became widely diffused throughout Europe. Even
in the first half of the seventeenth century, many traces are to be found
of an acquaintance with Spanish literature in France, Italy, England, and
Germany; since that time, however, the study of it had every where fallen
into neglect, till of late some zeal for it has been again excited in
Germany. In France they have no other idea of the Spanish theatre, than
what can be formed from the translations of Linguet. These again have been
rendered into German, and their number has been increased by others, in no
respect better, derived immediately from the originals. The translators
have, however, confined themselves almost exclusively to the department of
comedies of intrigue, and though all the Spanish plays with the exception
of a few _Entremeses_, _Saynetes_, and those of a very late period, are
versified, they have turned the whole into prose, and even considered
themselves entitled to praise for having carefully removed every thing
like poetical ornament. After such a mode of proceeding nothing but the
material scaffolding of the original could remain; the beautiful colouring
must have disappeared together with the form of execution. That
translators who could show such a total want of judgment as to poetical
excellences would not choose the best pieces of the store, may be easily
supposed. The species in question, though in the invention of innumerable
intrigues, of such a kind as the theatrical literature of all other
countries can produce but few examples of it, it certainly shows
astonishing acuteness, is, nevertheless, by no means the most valuable
part of the Spanish theatre, which displays a much greater brilliancy in
the handling of wonderful, mythological, or historical subjects.

The selection published by De la Huerta in sixteen small volumes, under
the title of _Teatro Hespańol_, with introductions giving an account
of the authors of the pieces and the different species, will not afford,
even to one conversant with the language, a very extensive acquaintance
with the Spanish theatre. His collection is limited almost exclusively to
the department of comedies in modern manners, and he has not admitted into
it any of the pieces of an earlier period, composed by Lope de Vega, or
his predecessors. Blankenburg and Bouterwek [Footnote: The former, in his
annotations on _Sulzers Theorie der schönen Künste_, the latter in
his _Geschichte der Spanischen Poesie_.] among ourselves have laboured to
throw light on the earlier history of the Spanish theatre, before it
acquired its proper shape and attained literary dignity,--a subject
involved in much obscurity. But even at an after period, an immense number
of works were written for the stage which never appeared in print, and
which are either now lost or only exist in manuscript; while, on the other
hand, there is hardly an instance of a piece being printed without having
first been brought on the stage. A correct and complete history of the
Spanish theatre, therefore, can only be executed in Spain. The notices of
the German writers above-mentioned, are however of use, though not free
from errors; their opinions of the poetical merit of the several pieces,
and the general view which they have taken, appear to me exceedingly

The first advances of Dramatic Art in Spain were made in the last half of
the sixteenth century; and with the end of the seventeenth it ceased to
flourish. In the eighteenth, after the War of the Succession, (which seems
to have had a very prejudicial influence on the Spanish literature in
general,) very little can be mentioned which does not display
extravagance, decay, the retention of old observances without meaning, or
a tame imitation of foreign productions. The Spanish literari of the last
generation frequently boast of their old national poets, the people
entertain a strong attachment to them, and in Mexico, as well as Madrid,
their pieces are always represented with impassioned applause.

The various epochs in the formation of the Spanish theatre may be
designated by the names of three of its most famous authors, Cervantes,
Lope de Vega, and Calderon.

The earliest and most valuable information and opinions on this subject
are to be found in the writings of Cervantes; chiefly in _Don
Quixote_ (in the dialogue with the Canon), in the Preface to his later
plays, and in the _Journey to Parnassus_. He has also in various
other places thrown out occasional remarks on the subject. He had
witnessed in his youth the commencement of the dramatic art in Spain; the
poetical poverty of which, as well as the meagreness of the theatrical
decorations, are very humorously described by him. He was justified in
looking upon himself as one of the founders of this art; for before he
gained immortal fame by his _Don Quixote_ he had diligently laboured
for the stage, and from twenty to thirty pieces (so negligently does he
speak of them) from his pen had been acted with applause. On this account,
however, he made no very high claims, nor after they had fulfilled their
momentary destination did he allow any of them to be printed; and it was
only lately that two of these earlier labours were for the first time
published. One of these plays, probably Cervantes' first, _The Way of
Living in Algiers_ (_El Trato de Argel_), still bears traces of the
infancy of the art in the preponderance of narrative, in the general
meagreness, and in the want of prominency in the figures and situations.
The other, however, _The Destruction of Numantia_, has altogether the
elevation of the tragical cothurnus; and, from its unconscious and
unlaboured approximation to antique grandeur and purity, forms a
remarkable phenomenon in the history of modern poetry. The idea of destiny
prevails in it throughout; the allegorical figures which enter between the
acts supply nearly, though in a different way, the place of the chorus in
the Greek tragedies; they guide the reflection and propitiate the feeling.
A great deed of heroism is accomplished; the extremity of suffering is
endured with constancy; but it is the deed and the suffering of a whole
nation whose individual members, it may almost be said, appear but as
examples of the general fortitude and magnanimity, while the Roman heroes
seem merely the instruments of fate. There is, if I may so speak, a sort
of Spartan pathos in this piece: every single and personal consideration
is swallowed up in the feeling of patriotism; and by allusions to the
warlike fame of his nation in modern times, the poet has contrived to
connect the ancient history with the interests of his own day.

Lope de Vega appeared, and soon became the sole monarch of the stage;
Cervantes was unable to compete with him; yet he was unwilling altogether
to abandon a claim founded on earlier success; and shortly before his
death, in the year 1615, he printed eight plays and an equal number of
smaller interludes, as he had failed in his attempts to get them brought
on the stage. They have generally been considered greatly inferior to his
other prose and poetical works; their modern editor is even of opinion
that they were meant as parodies and satires on the vitiated taste of the
time: but to find this hypothesis ridiculous, we have only to read them
without any such prepossession. Had Cervantes entertained such a design,
he would certainly have accomplished it in a very different way in one
piece, and also in a manner both highly amusing and not liable to
misconception. No, they were intended as pieces in the manner of Lope:
contrary to his own convictions, Cervantes has here endeavoured, by a
display of greater variety, of wonderful plots, and theatrical effect to
comply with the taste of his contemporaries. It would appear from them
that he considered a superficial composition as the main requisite for
applause; his own, at least, is for the most part, extremely loose and
ill-connected, and we have no examples in his prose works of a similar
degree of negligence. Hence, as he partly renounced his peculiar
excellences, we need not be astonished that he did not succeed in
surpassing Lope in his own walk. Two, however, of these pieces, _The
Christian Slaves in Algiers (Los Bańos de Argel_), an alteration of the
piece before-mentioned, and _The Labyrinth of Love_, are, in their
whole plot, deserving of great praise, while all of them contain so many
beautiful and ingenious traits, that when we consider them by themselves,
and without comparing them with the _Destruction of Numantia_, we
feel disposed to look on the opinion entertained pretty generally by the
Spanish critics as a mere prejudice. But on the other hand, when we
compare them with Lope's pieces, or bear in mind the higher excellences to
which Calderon had accustomed the public, this opinion will appear to
admit of conditional justification. We may, on the whole, allow that the
mind of this poet was most inclined to the epic, (taking the word in its
more extensive signification, for the narrative form of composition); and
that the light and gentle manner in which he delights to move the mind is
not well suited to the making the most of every moment, and to the rapid
compression which are required on the theatre. But when we, on the other
hand, view the energetical pathos in _The Destruction of Numantia_,
we are constrained almost to consider it as merely accidental that
Cervantes did not devote himself wholly to this species of writing, and
find room in it for the complete development of his inventive mind.

The sentence pronounced by Cervantes on the dramas of his later
contemporaries is one of the neglected voices which, from time to time, in
Spain have been raised, insisting on the imitation of the ancient
classics, while the national taste had decidedly declared in favour of the
romantic drama in its boldest form. On this subject Cervantes, from causes
which we may easily comprehend, was not altogether impartial. Lope de Vega
had followed him as a dramatic writer, and by his greater fertility and
the effective brilliancy of his pieces, had driven him from the stage; a
circumstance which ought certainly to be taken into account in explaining
the discontent of Cervantes in his advanced age with the direction of the
public taste and the constitution of the theatre. It would appear, too,
that in his poetical mind there was a certain prosaical corner in which
there still lurked a disposition to reject the wonderful, and the bold
play of fancy, as contrary to probability and nature. On the authority of
the ancients he recommended a stricter separation of the several kinds of
the drama; whereas the romantic art endeavours, in its productions, as he
himself had done in his romances and novels, to blend all the elements of
poetry; and he censured with great severity, as real offences against
propriety, the rapid changes of time and place. It is remarkable that Lope
himself was unacquainted with his own rights, and confessed that he wrote
his pieces, contrary to the rules with which he was well acquainted,
merely for the sake of pleasing the multitude. That this object entered
prominently into his consideration is certainly true; still he remains one
of the most extraordinary of all the popular and favourite theatrical
writers that ever lived, and well deserves to be called in all seriousness
by his rival and adversary, Cervantes, a wonder of nature.

The pieces of Lope de Vega, numerous beyond all belief, have partly never
been printed; while of those that have, a complete collection is seldom to
be found, except in Spain. Many pieces are probably falsely ascribed to
him; an abuse of which Calderon also complains. I know not whether Lope
himself ever gave a list of the pieces actually composed by him; indeed he
could hardly at last have remembered the whole of them. However, by
reading a few, we shall advance pretty far towards an acquaintance with
this poet; nor need we be much afraid lest we should have failed to peruse
the most excellent, as in his separate productions he does not surprise us
by any elevated flight nor by laying open the whole unfathomable depths of
his mind. This prolific writer, at one time too much idolized, at another
too much depreciated, appears here undoubtedly in the most advantageous
light, as the theatre was the best school for the correction of his three
great errors, want of connexion, diffuseness, and an unnecessary parade of
learning. In some of his pieces, especially the historical ones, founded
on old romances or traditional tales, for instance, _King Wamba_, _The
Youthful Tricks of Bernardo del Carpio_, _The Battlements of Toro,_ &c.,
there prevails a certain rudeness of painting, which, however, is not
altogether without character, and seems to have been purposely chosen to
suit the subjects: in others, which portray the manners of his own time,
as for instance, _The Lively Fair One of Tolédo_, _The Fair deformed,_ we
may observe a highly cultivated social tone. All of them contain, besides
truly interesting situations, a number of inimitable jokes; and there are,
perhaps, very few of them which would not, if skilfully treated and
adapted to our stages, produce a great effect in the present day. Their
chief defects are, a profusion of injudicious invention, and negligence in
the execution. They resemble the groups which an ingenious sketcher
scrawls on paper without any preparation, and without even taking the
necessary time; in which, notwithstanding this hasty negligence every line
is full of life and significance. Besides the want of careful finish, the
works of Lope are deficient in depth, and also in those more delicate
allusions which constitute the peculiar mysteries of the art.

If the Spanish theatre had not advanced farther, if it had possessed only
the works of Lope and the more eminent of his contemporaries, as Guillen
de Castro, Montalban, Molina, Matos-Fragoso, &c., we should have to praise
it, rather for grandeur of design and for promising subjects than for
matured perfection. But Don Pedro Calderon de la Barca now made his
appearance, a writer as prolific and diligent as Lope, and a poet of a
very different kind,--a poet if ever any man deserved that name. The
"wonder of nature," the enthusiastic popularity, and the sovereignty of
the stage were renewed in a much higher degree. The years of Calderon
[Footnote: Born in 1601.] keep nearly equal pace with those of the
seventeeth century; he was consequently sixteen when Cervantes, and
thirty-five when Lope died, whom he survived nearly half a century.
According to his biographer's account, Calderon wrote more than a hundred
and twenty plays, more than a hundred spiritual allegorical acts
(_Autos_), a hundred merry interludes or _Saynetes_ [Footnote: This
account is perhaps somewhat rhetorical. The most complete, and in every
respect the best edition of the plays, that of Apontes, contains only
a hundred and eight pieces. At the request of a great Lord, Calderon,
shortly before his death, gave a list of his genuine works. He names a
hundred and eleven plays; but among them there are considerably more than
three which are not to be found in the collection of Apontes. Some of them
may, indeed, be concealed under other titles, as, for instance, the piece,
which Calderon himself calls, _El Tuzani de la Alpujarra_, is named
in the collection, _Amar despues de la Muerte_. Others are unquestionably
omitted, for instance, a _Don Quixote_, which I should be particularly
desirous of seeing. We may infer from many circumstances that Calderon had
a great respect for Cervantes. The collection of the _Autos sacramentales_
contains only seventy-two, and of these several are not mentioned by
Calderon. And yet he lays the greatest stress on these; wholly devoted to
religion, he had become in his age more indifferent towards the temporal
plays of his muse, although he did not reject them, and still continued to
add to the number. It might well be with him as with an excessively
wealthy man, who, in a general computation, is apt to forget many of the
items of his capital. I have never yet been able to see any of the
_Saynetes_ of Calderon; I cannot even find an account whether or not they
have been ever collected and printed.] besides a number of poems which
were not dramatical. As from his fourteenth to his eighty-first year, that

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