« PreviousContinue »
HE peculiar dexterity, with which the author unfolds the characters, and prepares the events of this play, deferves our attention.
There is not perhaps any thing more difficult in the whole compafs of the dramatic art, than to open to the spectator the previous incidents, that were productive of the prefent circumstances, and the characters of the perfons from whose conduct, in fuch circumstances, the fubfequent events are to flow. An intelligent spectator will receive great pleasure from obferving every action
action naturally arifing out of the sentiments and manners of the perfons represented. Happier is the poet, when the peculiar difpofitions of his several characters do naturally unfold the perplexities of the fable, than he who uses the liberty, which Horace allows, to call a Deity to his affiftance. This play opens by the king's declaring his intention to undertake the crufade, as foon as peace will allow him to do it. Weftmorland informs him of the defeat of Mortimer by Owen Glendower; the King relates the news of Percy's victory at Holmedon, which naturally leads him to the praife of this young hero, and to exprefs his envy of Lord Northumberland's happiness.
To be the father of so blest a son,
While I (fays he)
See riot and difhonour ftain the brow
Of my young Harry:
then he mentions Percy's refufal of his pri foners, which Weftmorland attributes to the malevolent fuggestions of Worcefter. Thus at once is presented to the spectator, the condition of the state, the temper of the
times, and the characters of the perfons from whom the catastrophe is to arise.
The stern authority the king affumes on Hotspur's disobedience to his commands, could not fail to inflame a warm young hero flushed with recent victory, and elate with the consciousness of having fo well defended a crown, which his father and uncle had in a manner conferred. Nothing can be more natural than that, in fucha temper, he should recur to the obligations the king had to his family and thus while he appears to vent his spleen, he explains to the fpectator what is paft, and opens the fource of the future rebellion; and by connecting former tranfactions with the prefent paffions and events, creates in the reader an intereft and a fympathy, which a cold narration or a pompous declamation could not have effected. As the author defigned Percy should be an interesting character, his disobedience to the king, in regard to the prisoners, is mitigated by his pleading the unfitness of the perfon and unfavorableness of the
occafion to urge him on the subject. To this effeminate courtier (fays he)
I then, all smarting with my wounds being cold,
To be so pefter'd with a popingjoy,
Thus has the poet artfully taken from the rebel the hateful crimes of premeditated revolt and deep-laid treachery, He is hurried by an impetuofity of foul out of the fphere of obedience, and, like a comet, though dangerous to the general fyftem, is ftill an object of admiration and wonder to every beholder. It is marvellous, that Shakefpear from bare chronicles, coarfe hiftory, and traditional tales, could thus extract the wifdom and caution of the politician Henry, and catch the fire of the martial spirit of Hotspur. The wrath of Achilles in Homer is not sustained with more dignity. Each hero is offended that the prize of valour, Due to many a well-fought day, is rudely fnatched from him by the hand of power. One should fufpect an author of