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world too had not had its facred fables, While there is any national fuperftition which credulity has confecrated, any hallowed tradition long revered by vulgar faith; to that fanctuary, that afylum, may the poet refort. Let him tread the holy ground with reverence; refpect the established doctrine; exactly observe the accustomed rites, and the attributes of the object of veneration ; then shall he not vainly invoke an inexorable or abfent deity. Ghofts, fairies, goblins, elves, were as propitious, were as affiftant to Shakespear, and gave as much of the fublime, and of the marvellous, to his fictions, as nymphs, fatyrs, fawns, and even the triple Geryon, to the works of ancient bards. Our poet never carries his præternatural beings beyond the limits of the popular tradition. It is true, that he boldly exerts his poetic genius and fascinating powers in that magic circle, in which none e'er durft walk but he : but as judicious as bold, he contains himfelf within it. He calls up all the stately phantoms in the regions of fuperftition, which our faith will
receive with reverence. He throws into their manners and language a mysterious folemnity, favorable to superstition in general, with something highly characteristic of each particular being which he exhibits. His witches, his ghofts, and his fairies, feem fpirits of health or goblins damn'd; bring with them airs from heaven, or blasts from bell. 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 promises delufive. - The witches cauldron is a horrid collection of what is most horrid in their supposed incantations. Ariel is a fpirit, mild, gentle, and sweet, poffefs'd of fupernatural powers, but subject to the command of a great magician.
The fairies are sportive and gay; the innocent artificers of harmless frauds, and mirthful delufions. Puck's enumeration of the feats of a fairy is the most agreeable recital of their supposed gambols.
To all thefe 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 feries of operations conducive to the cataftrophe. They are not brought in as fubordinate or cafual agents, but lead the action, and govern the fable; in which respect our countryman has entered more into theatrical propriety than the Greek tragedians.
Every fpecies of poetry has its distinct duties and obligations. The drama does not, like the epic, admit of episode, superfluous perfons, or things incredible; for, as it is obferved by a critic of great ingenuity and taste, *" that which passes in represen“tation, and challenges, as it were, the B& 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 must be paid to fix it in fuch scenes, and to display it in fuch actions, as are agreeable to the popular opinion. Witches holding their fabbath, and faluting paffengers on the blasted heath; ghofts, at the midnight hour, visiting the glimpses of the moon, and whispering a bloody fecret, from propriety of place and action, derive à credibility very propitious to the scheme of the poet. Reddere perfonæconvenientia cuique, cannot be less his duty in regard to these superior and divine, 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 easily credited by the vulgar.
The genius of Shakespear informed him that poetic fable must rise above the fimple tale of the nurse; therefore he adorns the beldame tradition with flowers gathered on claffic ground, but ftill wifely fuffering those fimples of her native foil, to which the established superstition of her country has attributed a magic spell, 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,