Page images
PDF
EPUB

achievement--as mean, petalant, and ostentatious, and indebted for a little reputation to the circumstance of bis having Pope for an opponent. Sir Thomas Ilanmer was the next who undertook to illustrate Shakspeare: bis work was pablished in 1744, in 6 vols. 4to. He is generally termed the “ Oxford editor;" And, thongb eminently qualified by nature for such pursuits, is said to bave adopted all the innovations of Pope, in addition to the capricious saggestions of his own taste. In 1747, Dr. Warburton, Bishop of Gloucester, published his edition in 8 vols. 8vo., and by an unbounded license in substituting his own chimerical conceits for the plain text of bis author, subjected himself to the impatation of wishing rather to display his own learning, than to illustrate the obscurities of the poet. It bas been said, indeed, of this celebrated critic, that be erected bis throne on a heap of stones, that he might have them at hand to throw at the heads of all who passed by; but though his interpretations are sometimes perverse, and bis conjectures improbablethough he occasionally discovers absurdities where the sense is plain, or dwells upon profundity of meaning which the author never contemplated, yet his emendations are frequently happy, and his commentaries learned and ingenious. In 1765, that distinguished moralist, scholar, and critic, Dr. Samuel Johnson, published these plays with additional criticisms, accompanying them with a preface, wbich is considered a perfect specimen of his own extraordinary genius, and in which, also, the respective merits of all the abovenamed editors are characterized with great candour, and with singular fertility of expression. It is said, that he has commented on the writings of Sbakspeare with a severity far removed from accuracy and justice, and that he did not fully understand the varied merits of his author. But Mr. Malone, in the very intelligent and amusing preface to his edition of our poet, poblished in 1790, vindicates the Doctor's happy and just refutation of Mr, Theobald and Warburton's false glosses, and asserts that bis vigorous and comprehensive understanding threw more light on the involved aud difficult passages of many plays, than the united labour of all his predecessors had been able to do. Io the edition of 1803, published by Mr. Steevens, (in 21 vols. 8vo. commonly called Johnsop and Steevens's Shakspeare, and justly esteemed the best,) all Mr. Malone's original notes and improvements are incorporated. Froin 1716 to 1790, a period of seventy-four years, thirty thousand copies of Shakspeare were circulated in England; and since tbat time, the number has at least been doubled. Some of them issued under the auspices of able and accomplished scholars, particularly the edition of 1805, 10 vols. Svo. by Alexander Chalmers, F.S.A. ; which is distinguished by a sketch of the life of Sbakspeare, founded upon the statements of Rowe, with the additional and corrective remarks of Malone and Steevens. The generality, bowever, are mere reprints, with various degrees of typograpbical embellishments, and in almost every size and shape; but the magnificent copy published some time since by the Messrs. Boydell, in large folio, enriched with the most sumptuous engravings, is justly considered as one of the finest specimens of art ever produced in this, or in any other country.

Nothing is more difficult, in estimating the real merits of a popular writer, tban to “ season the admiration" by judicious rules. These can only be learnt from the opinions of such as have made it their particular business to investigate the pretensions of authors, and to define the boundaries of taste by the best examples which learning and experience supply. Some useful information, applicable to this purpose, may be gained from the following analysis, exhibiting the most formidable objections that have been urged against Shakspeare's dramas, in conjunction with the principal merits by which they are said to be distinguished.

Voltaire, after allowing that Shakspeare, besides possessing a strong fruitful genius, was natnral and sublime, decides that he had not one spark of good taste, por a singlo dramatic role, and that his great merit has been the rain of the English stage. “There are (says he) soch noble, such beautiful, such dreadful scenes in tbis writer's monstrous verses, to which the pame of tragedy is given, that they have always been exhibited with great success. Tiine, wbicb vnly gives reputation to writers, at last makes their very faults venerable. Most of the whimsical gigantic images of this poet, have, through length of time, acquired a right of passing for sublime. In Othello, a inost tender piece, a man strangles his wife upon the stage, and though the poor woman is strangling, she cries out aloud that she dies very unjustly. In Hainlet, the two grave-diggers are drunk, singing ballads, and making bumorous reflections on the skulls which they throw up. The players have not even struck out the buffoonery of the shoemakers and cobblers, wlio are introduced (in Julius Cæsar) in the same scene with Brutus and Cassius."

These, says Dr. Johnson, are the petty cavils of petty minds. Shakspeare's plays arc not, in the rigorous and critical sense, either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind, exhibiting the mingled good and evil, joy and sorrow, inseparable from this sublunary state. That this is a practice contrary to ancient dramatic rules, will be readily allował, but there is always an appeal open from criticism to nature. The end of writing

is to instrnct; the end of poetry, to instruct hy pleasing; and there is no reason why the mingled drama should not convey all the pleasure and instruction of which tragedy or comedy, in their simple form, are capable of doing. The English nation, in the time of Shakspeare, was yet struggling to einerge from barbarity. The philology of Italy had been transplanted bither in the reign of Henry VIII., and the learned languages had been successfully cultivated by Lilly, Linacre, and More; by Pole, Cheke, and Gardiner; and afterwards by Smith, Clerk, Haddon, and Ascham. Greek was taught in the public schools, and many of the Italian and Spanish poets were read with great diligence. But these advantages were confined to distinguished rank, whilst the public at large was still gross and dark. Plebeian learning was confined to giants, dragons, and enchantments; and tbe sober representations of common life would not have been tolerated by a nation wbicb delighted in the wonders of fiction, in the exploits of Palmerin, and the feats of Gay of Warwick. Writing for such audiences as these, Sliakspeare was compelled to look around for strange events ovd fabulous transactions; and that incredibility by which maturer knowledge is offended, was the chief recommendation of his writings to uoskilsal ecriosity. Sach, indeed, is the power of the marvellous, even over those who despise it, that every man finds bis mind more strongly seized by the tragedies of Shakspeare than of any other writer; and be bas, perhaps, excelled all but Homer, in the leading qualifications of a writer, by the power of exciting a restless und unquencbable curiosity. The necessity of observing the unities of time and place, arises from the supposed necessity of making the diama credible ; but it will be found that the slavish adherence to these principles, which Voltaire and others so rigidly enforce, gives much more trouble to the poet, than pleasure to the audience. It is false that any representation is mistaken for realily; for if a spectator can once be persuaded tbat his old acquaintauce are Alexadder and Cæsar, that a room illuminated with candles is the plain of Pharsalia, he is in a state of elevation beyond the reach of truth, and there is no reason why, in such a state of ecstasy, he should count the clock, or consider minutes and hours, as any other than days and years. Whether, therefore, Shakspeare knew the unities, and rejected thein by design, or deviated from them by happy ignorance, it is impossible to decide, and aseless to inquire; since they are not essential 10 a just drama, and though sometimes conducive to pleasure, may always be sacrificed to the nobler beauties of variety and instruction.

Mr. Rowe's was the first editorial commentary on the plays of Sbakspeare, and notwithstanding bis alleged incapacity for criticism, the prominent beauties of our poet are judiciously and not inelegantly pointed out. Like other critics, he praises the fertility of his invention—the bistorical fidelity of his characters-the stateliness of his diction--the power of dis muse in creating terror, or exciting mirth—and the perfection of his writings at a time of almost universal license and ignorance, where there was not one play in existence of sufficient merit to be acted at the present day.

With an ardour, an eloquence, and a discrimination, saited to his highly-gifted mind, and becoming the liberality of his poetical character, Mr. Pope enlarges on the characteristic excellences of our immortal bard. He considers him more original even than Horner; since the art of the latter proceeded through Egyptian strainers, and came to bim not without some tincture of the learning of those that preceded him. In the power of the passions, he declares him to be no less adinirable, than in the coolness of reflection and reasoning; and (as though he had been acquainted with the world hy intuition) that his sentiments are the most pertinent and judicious, even on those great and public scenes, of which he could have had no experience. One cause of Shakspeare's peculiarities was the profession to which he belonged. Players are just judges of what is right, as tailors are of what is graceful Living by the majority, they know no rule but tbat of pleasing the present hamour, and complying with the wit in fashion. Our author first formed himself upon the opinions of this class of inen; and consequently bis faults are less to be ascribed to his wrong judgment as a poct, tban to his right judgment as a player.

Mr. Theobald, in the midst of many compliments to bis own acuteness, and inach irreverent abuse of Pope, whose wit (he says) is as thick as Tewkesbury mustard, thus penegyrizes Shakspeare: “ Whether we respect the force and greatness of his genius, the extent of his knowledge and reading, the power and address with which bo throws opt and applies eilber nature or learning, there is ample scope both for our wonder and pleasure."

Sir Thomas Hanmer commends the rich vein of seose which runs through the entire works of Shakspeare; and declares bim unequalled in the two great branches of dramatic poetry, by the best writers of any age or country.

Dr. Warburton, in a paper replete with brilliant wit and energetic argument, thus speaks of the productions of Shakspeare: “Of all the literary exercitations of speculativa men, whether aesigned for the nse or entertainment of the world, there are none of so much importance as those which let us into the knowledge of our nature. Others muy exercise the reason, or amase the imagination, but these only can improve the heart, and form the mind to wisdom. Now in this science Shakspeare confessedly occupies the foremost place ; whether we consider the amazing sagacity witb which he investigates every hidden spring and wheel of human action; or bis happy manner of communicating this knowledge, in the just and living paintings which be bas givea as of all our passions, appetites, and pursuits.” ..

* To the recorded testimony of tbese eminent writers, it is scarcely necessary that any other should be added; but the inquisitive reader will find tbe merits of Sbakspeare stil! further developed in the essays of Mrs. Montague, Dr. Richardson, Dr. Grey, and Mr. Britton. Dryden, wbose own accomplished genius was sullied and debased by the dramatic impurities in which he indulged, says that Shakspeare had the largest and most comprehensive soul of all modern, and perhaps ancient, poets, and that, in dramatic composition, he bas left no praise for any who come after him. In a similar feeling, and with that stately sentiment which pervades all be bas written, Dr. Young thus exalts the qualifications of our poet : “ Whatever other learning he wanted, he was master of two books unknown to many of the profonndly read, though books which the last conNagration alone can destroy: the book of nature, and that of man.” Mr. Malone calls bim the great refiner and polisher of our language ; and ranks bis compound epithets, his bold metaphors, his energetic expressions, and harmonious numbers, amongst the chief beauties of bis works. Dr. Johnson, whose opinions bave already been recited in opposition to those of Voltaire, declares that a valuable system of civil and economical prudence may be collected from the plays of Shakspeare—that they are filled with practical axioms and domestic wisdom-that almost every verse (as was formerly said of the writings of Euripides) is a precept; but that, at the same time, his real power is shewn in the progress of the fable, and the tenor of the dialogue-and that he who tries to recommend him by select quotations, will succeed like the pedant in Hierocles, wbo, when be offered his house to sale, carried a brick in his pocket as a specimen.

Though the excellence of Shakspeare's productions has become an article of literary faith in England, and though such of his defects as are too palpable to be overlooked, have been gratuitously attributed to the age in which he lived, it is only a necessary suppleinent to the foregoing remarks, and essential to a right appreciation of his character, briefly to point out what those deefcts are. In many of his plays, the latter part is evidently neglected; when he found bimself near the end of his work, and in view of his reward, he shortened the labour to spatch the profit. The plots are often so loosely formed, that a very slight consideration may improve them, and so carelessly pursued, that be seems not always fully to comprehend bis own design. In his comic scenes, the jests are frequently gross, and the pleasantry licentious; nor are his ladies and gentlemen sufficiently distinguished from clowns, by any appearance of refined manners. He is not long soft and pathetic, without some idlo conceit, or contemptible equivocation. What he does best, he soon ceases to do. Let but a quibble spring up before him, and be leaves his work unfinished: he follows it at all adventures, however dignified or profound, however tender or pathetic, the subject which engages his attention. Lastly, he is accused of sacrificing virtue to convenience, and of being much more careful to please than to instruct. He that thinks reasonably, must think morally; bat our poet's precepts drop casually from him; he makes no just distribution of good or eviland after carrying his persons indifferently through right and wrong, he dismisses them at the close without further care, leaving their examples to operate by chance.

With these imperfect particulars, derived from the united labours of various admirers and commentators, oor brief sketcb of the life of Shakspeare must necessarily conclude. On all the topics which usually constitute the personal history of an individual, his contemporaries and immediate successors bave been equally silent. The meagre facts which were first imbodied in a memoir by Mr. Rowe, and have been moulded into so many forms by the caprice or taste of successive writers, remain to the present day, unaided by any accession of novelty, and unimpeached by the utmost acuteness of criticism. His early studies--the progress of his pen--his moral and social qualities—bis friendships and his errors, are completely buried in oblivion, as if the homage which is paid to his splendid poetical genius, should be onmingled with any recollection of his faults and failings as a man. Nor, after an interval of two centuries, is it probable that any undiscovered clue is in existence, by which the memoria, of his actions can be redeemed from its present obscurity,

CORIOLANUS.

LITERARY AND HISTORICAL NOTICE. THIS play, supposed to have been written in 1609, comprebends a period of five or six years. The plebeian citt

zens of Rome, unable to pay their debts from poverty, consequent upon the long war against Tarquin and the Latins, and incensed by the supposed indifference of the senators and patricians, retired with the undisbanded troops of Valerius, to a mountain about three miles from Rojne, afterwards called Mont Sacer. The city was thrown into great alarm by this defection, and Menenius, who is described as "a very discreet person, and a great orator," was sent with other commissioners, to bring about a reconciliation. Here he related to tbem the fable of the belly and its members; the application of which had such an effect, that they were about to follow him home, when Sicimius and Junius Brutus (two factious fellows) cuaningly demanding a guarantee for the people, were in the end appointed their tribunes, with very extraordinary power. In the year following, there was a severe famine; and Coriolanus (so called for his exploits at Corioli) with other young patricians, making excursions into the enemy's country, returned, laden with cora. Provisions also arriving from Sicily, the senate determined upon selling them at a cheap rate to the poor ; but Coriolanus proposed the abolition of the tribuneship, and the retention of the corn, because the people had obstinately refused to join in the expedition sent out to obtain it. The exasperated populace would instantly have tbrown him from the Tarpeian rock, but were repulsed by his friends. Being arraigned at the proper tribunal, he defended himself with so much grace and energy, that the people called out for his acquittal; whereupon one of the tribunes artfully and falsely accusing him of illegally appropriating the spoils of war, he was as snddenly sentenced to banishment. In a spirit of revenge, he offered his services to the Volscians, and carried destruction to the very gates of Rome. The city was on the point of being assaulted, when his mother, accompanied by his wife and children, threw herself at his feet, and worked so much upon the feelings of nature, that he granted a peace, and withdrew his troops. Ou returning to Antium, by the perfidious management of Tullus, he was cat in pieces ere he had time to defend bis conduct; but the Volsci disapproved the assassination, buried him ho. nourably, adorued his tomb with trophies, and the Roman women niourued for him twelve months. The pues has adhered very closely to historical facts. Mr. Pope remarks, that Shakspeare is found “to be very know ing in the customs, rites, and manuers of antiquity. la Coriolanus and Julius Cæsar, not only the spirit, but the manners of the Romans are exactly draw; and a still nicer distinction is shown between Roman manners ia the time of the former and of the latter." Many of the principal speeches are copied from Plutarch's Life of Curiolanus, as translated by Sir Thomas North. There are some glaring anachronisms in this play, such as iutroducing our nicknames or Hob, Dick, &c. eburch-yards, kuells, and particularly, theatres for the exhibition of plays, which did not exist until 250 years after the death of Coriolanus. Volumnia, also, was the name of his wife, not of his mother; and the good Mencnius died three or four years before his revengeful expedition against Rome..--Dr. Johnson says: 'The tragedy of Coriolabus is one of the most amusing of our author's performances. The old man's merriment in Menenius; the lofty lady's dignity in Yolumnia; the bridal modesty in Virgilia: the patrician and military haughtiness in Coriolanus; the plebeian malignity and tribunitian insolence in Brutus and Sicintus make a very pleasing and interesting variety; and the various revolutions of the hero's fortune fill the mind with anxious curiosity. There is, perhaps, too much bustlo in the first act, and too little in the last.

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ.
CAIOS MARCIUS CORIOLANUS, a noble Roman.IA CITIZEN of Antium.
Titus LARTIus, Generals against the Vol-Two VOLSCIAN GUARDS.
COYINIUS,
scians.

VOLUMINIA, Mother of Coriolanus.
MENENTUS AGRIPPA, Friend to Coriolanus. VIRGILIA, Wife to Coriolanus.
SICINIUS VELUTUS, Tribunes of the people.

VALERIA, Friend to Virgilia.
JUNIUS BRUTUS,

GENTLEWOMAN, attending Virgilia.
YOUNG MARCIUS, Son to Coriolanus.
A ROMAN HERALD

Roman and Volscian Senators, Patricians, Tullus AUFWIUS, General of the Volscians. Adiles, Lactors, Soldiers, Citizens, Mes. LIEUTENANT to Aufidius.

sengers, Servants to Aufidius, and other CONSPIRATORS with Aufidius.

Attendants.
SCENE : partly in Rome, and partly in the territories of the Volscians and Antiates.

ACT I.

1 Cit. Let us kill him, and we'll have corn at

our own price. Is't a verdict? SCENE 1.-Rome.-A Street.

C'it. No more talking on't ; let it be done : Enter a company of mutinous CITIZENS, with

away, away. Staves, Clubs, and other Weapons.

2 Cit. One word, good citizens.

1 Cit. We are accounted poor citizens ; the pa. i Cit. Before we proceed any further, hear me tricians, good :* What authority surfeits on, would speak.

relieve us ; If they would yield us but the suCit. Speak, speak. [Several speaking at once. perfluity, while it were wholesome, we might

i Cit. You are all resolved rather to die, than to guess they relieved us humanely ; but they think famish?

we are too dear :t the leanness that afflicts us, the Cit. Resoled, resolved !

| object of our misery, is as an inventory to parti. 1 Cit. First you know, Caius Marcius is chief enemy to the people.

Rich Cit. We know't, we know't.

+ Charge of keeping us more than we are worth.

cularize their abundance ; our sufferance is a gain think to fob off our disgrace with a tale : but, to them.--Let us revenge this with our pikes, an't please you, deliver. ere we become rakes :* for the gods know, I speak Men. There was a time, when all the body's this in hunger for bread, not in thirst for revenge.

members 1 Cit. Would you proceed especially against Rebell'd against the belly : thus accus'd it :Caius Marcius ?

That only like a golf it did remain Cit. Against him first : he's a very dog to the l’the midst o'the body, idle and inactive, commonalty.

Still cupboarding the viand, never bearing 2 Cit. Consider you what services he has done Like labour with the rest ; where the other for his country?

instruments i Cit. Very well; and could be content to Did see, and hear, devise, instruct, walk, feel, give bim good report for't, but that he pays him-And, mutually participate,t did minister self with being proud.

| Unto the appetite and affection common 2 Cit. Nay, but speak not maliciously.

of the whole body. The belly answered, i Cit. I say unto you, what he hath done i Cit. Well, Sir, what answer made the belly ? famously, he did it to that end ; though soft-con- Men. Sir, I shall tell you. -With a kind of scienc'd men can be content to say it was for bis

smile, country, he did it to please his mother, and to be which ne'er came from the lungs, but even thus, partly proud : which he is, even to the altitude (For, look you, I may make the belly smile of his virtne.

As well as speak,) it tauntingly replied 2 Cit. What he cannot help in his uature, you To the discontented members, the mutinous parts account a vice in him: You must in no way say Thal envied bis receipt ; even so most titlyt he is covetous.

As you malign our senators, for that i Cit. If I must not, I need not be barren of | They are not such as you accusations; he hath faults, with surplus, to tire i Cit. Your belly's answer : What! in repetition. [Shouts within.) What shouts | The kingly-crowned head, the vigilant eye, are these? The other side o'the city is risen: The counsellor beart, the arm our soldier, Why stay we prating here? to the Capitol ! Our steed the leg, the tongue our trumpeter, Cit. Come, come.

With other muniments and petty helps i Cit. Soft ; who comes here?

In this our fabric, if that they

Men. What then-
Enter MENENTUS AGRUPPA.

'Fore me, this fellow speaks what then I what 2 Cit. Worthy Menenius Agrippa : one that

then bath always loved the people.

| 1 Cit. Shonld by the cormorant belly be re. i Cit. He's one honest enough ; 'Would, all

strain'd, the rest were so !

Who is the sink o'the body, Men. What work's, my countrymen, in haud ? Men. Well, what then i Where go you

I Cit. The former agents, if they did complain, With bats and clubs ? The matter? Speak, 'What could the belly answer? pray you.

Men. I will tell you ; i Cit. Our business is not unknown to the If you'll bestow a small (of what you have little.) senate ; they have had inkling,+ this fortnight Patience, a while, you'll hear the belly's answer. what we intend to do, which now we'll show 'em 1 Cit. You are long about it. in deeds. They say, poor suitors have strong Men. Note ine this, good friend ; breaths; they shall know we have strong arms | Your most grave belly was deliberate, too.

Not rash like his accusers, and thus answer'd. Men. Why, masters, my good friends, mine | True is it, my incorporate friends, quoth he, honest neighbours,

That I receive the general food at first, Will you undo yourselves ?

Which you do live upon : and fit it is ; 1 Čit. We cannot, Sir, we are undone al. Because I am the store-house, and the shop ready.

of the whole body : But if you do remember, Men. I tell you, friends, most charitable care I send it through the rivers of your blood, Have the patricians of you. For your wants, Even to the court, the heart-to the seat Your suffering in this dearth, you may as well

o'the brain; Strike at the heaven with your staves, as lift And, through the cranks and offices of man, them

The strongest nerves, and small inferior veins, Against the Roman state ; whose conrse will on | From me receive that natural competency The way it takes, cracking ten thousand curbs Whereby they live · And though that all at of more strong link asunder, that can ever

once, Appear in your impediment: For the dearth, | You, my good friends, (this says the belly, mark The gods, not the patricians, make it ; and

me,) Your knees 10 them, not arms, must help. I Cit. Ay, Sir; well, well. Alack !

Men. Though all at once cannot You are transported by calamity

See what I do deliver out to each ; Thither where more attends you; and you slander | Yet I can make my audit up, that all The helms o'the state, who care for you like From me do buck receive the flour of all, When you curse thein as eneinies. (fathers, | And leave me but the bran. What say you to't i

i Cil. Care for us! True, indeed! They i Cit. It was an answer : How apply you this? ne'er cared for us yet. Sutter is to famish, and Men. The senators of Rome are this good their store-houses crammed with grain; make

belly, edicts for usury, to support usurers ; repeal daily And you the mutinous members : For examine any wholesome act established against the rich ; | Their counsels and their cares ; digest things and provide inore piercing statutes daily, to

rightly, chain up and restrain the poor. If the wars eat Touching the weal o'the common ; you shall find us not up, they will : and there's all the love No public benefit which you receive, tbey hear us.

But it proceeds, or comes, from them to you, Men. Either you must

And no way from yourselves.-What do you Confess yourselves wondrous malicious,

think? Or be accus'd of folly. I shall tell you

You the great toe of this assembly A pretty tale ; it may be, you bave heard it : 1 Cit. I the great toe? Why the great toe ? But, since it serves my purpose, I will venture Men. For that, being one o'the lowest, basest, To scale't i a little more.

poorest, 1 Cit. Well, I'll hear it, Sir ; yet you mast not

Whereas. Participating. Exatls. • Tbin as rakes. A hint. Spread it.

Yradings

« PreviousContinue »