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receive with reverence. He throws into their manners and language a myfterious folemnity, favorable to Superftition in general, with fomething highly characteristic of each particular Being which he exhibits. His witches, his ghofts, and his fairies, feem Spirits of health or goblins damn'd; bring with them airs from heaven, or blafts from hell. His ghofts are fullen, melancholy, and terrible. Every fentence, utter'd by the Witches, is a prophecy or a charm; their manners are malignant, their phrases ambiguous, their promifes delufive.The witches cauldron is a collection of all that is most horrid, in their fuppofed incantations. Ariel is a fpirit, mild, gentle, and fweet, poffefs'd of fupernatural powers, but fubject to the command of a great magician.
The Fairies are fportive and gay; the innocent artificers of harmless frauds, and mirthful delufions. Puck's enumeration of the feats of a fairy is the moft agreeable recital of their fuppofed gambols.
To all these Beings our Poet has affigned tasks, and appropriated manners adapted to their imputed difpofitions and characters; which are continually developing through the whole piece, in a series of operations conducive to the catastrophe. They are not brought in as fubordinate or cafual agents, but lead the action, and govern the fable; in which refpect our countryman has entered more into theatrical propriety than the Greek tragedians.
Every fpecies of poetry has its diftinct duties and obligations. The drama does not, like the epic, admit of episode, unneceffary persons, or things incredible; for, as it is obferved by a critic of great ingenuity and tafte, * "that which paffes in Reprefen"tation, and challenges, as it were, the "fcrutiny of the eye, must be truth itself, or fomething very nearly approaching to it." It should indeed be what our Imagination will adopt, though our Reafon would reject
Hurd, on Dramatic Imitation.
it. Great caution and dexterity are required in the dramatic Poet, to give an air of reality to fictitious existence.
In the bold attempt to give to airy nothing a local habitation and a perfon, regard muft be had to fix it in fuch fcenes, and to display it in fuch actions, as are agreeable to the popular opinion.-Witches holding their sabbath, and saluting passengers on the blasted heath; ghosts, at the midnight hour, vifiting the glimpses of the moon, and whispering a bloody fecret, from propriety of place and action, derive a credibility very propitious to the scheme of the Poet. Reddere perfona-convenientia cuique, cannot be less his duty in regard to these fuperior and me→ taphyfical, than to human characters. Indeed, from the invariableness of their natures, a greater confiftency and uniformity is neceffary; but most of all, as the belief of their intervention depends entirely on their manners and fentiments fuiting with the preconceived opinion of them.
The magician Profpero raising a storm; witches performing infernal rites; or any other exertion of the fuppofed powers and qualities of the agent, were eafily credited by the vulgar.
The genius of Shakespear informed him that poetic fable must rise above the simple tale of the nurse; therefore he adorns the Beldame, Tradition, with flowers gathered on claffic ground, but ftill wifely fuffering thofe fimples of her native foil, to which the established superstition of her country has attributed a magic fpell, to be predominant. Can any thing be more poetical than Profpero's address to his attendant spirits before he difmiffes them?
Ye elves of hills, brooks, ftanding lakes, and groves,
Whereof the ewe not bites; and you, whofe paftime
Is to make midnight mushrooms; that rejoice
To hear the folemn curfew; by whofe aid
(Weak masters tho' ye be) I have bedimm'd
And 'twixt the green-fea and the azur'd vault
Here the popular ftories concerning the power of magicians are agreeably collect ed. The incantations of the witches in Macbeth are more folemn and terrible than those of the Erichtho of Lucan, or of the Canidia of Horace. It may be faid, indeed, that Shakespear had an advantage derived from the more direful character of his national fuperftitions.