« PreviousContinue »
fome people have not, in remembrance of the diverfion he had formerly afforded them, been forry to see his friend Hal ufe him fo fcurvily, when he comes to the crown in the end of The Second Part of Henry the Fourth. Amongst other extravagancies, in The Merry Wives of Windfor he has made him a deer-ftealer, that he might at the fame time remember his Warwickshire profecutor, under the name of Justice Shallow; he has given him very near the fame coat of arms which Dugdale, in his Antiquities of that county, defcribes for a family there, and makes the Welsh parfon descant very pleasantly upon them. That whole play is admirable; the humours are various and well oppofed; the main defign, which is to cure Ford of his unreasonable jealoufy, is extremely well conducted. In Twelfth Night there is fomething fingularly ridiculous and pleafant in the fantastical steward Malvolio. The parafite and the vain-glorious in Parolles, in All's well that ends well, is as good as any thing of that kind in Plautus or Terence. Petruchio, in The Taming of the Shrew, is an uncommon piece of humour. The converfation of Benedick and Beatrice, in Much Ado about Nothing, and of Rofalind, in As you like it, have much wit and fprightliness all along. His clowns, without which character there was hardly any play writ in that time, are all very entertaining: and, I believe,
-the fame coat of arms which Dugdale, in his Antiquities of that county, defcribes for a family there,] There are two coats, I obferve, in Dugdale, where three filver fishes are borne in the name of Lucy; and another coat to the monument of Thomas Lucy, fon of Sir William Lucy, in which are quar tered in four feveral divifions, twelve little fishes, three in each divifion, probably luces. This very coat, indeed, feems alluded to in Shallow's giving the dozen white luces; and in Slender's faying he may quarter. THROBALD.
point out one more, which is, I think, as ftrong and as uncommon as any thing I ever faw; it is an image of Patience. Speaking of a maid in love, he fays,
"But let concealment, like a worm i'th' bud,
Smiling at Grief."
What an image is here given! and what a task would it have been for the greateft mafters of Greece and Rome to have expreffed the paffions defigned by this sketch of ftatuary! The ftyle of his comedy is, in general, natural to the characters, and eafy in itself; and the wit moft commonly sprightly and pleasing, except in those places where he runs into doggrel rhymes, as in The Comedy of Errors, and fome other plays. As for his jingling fometimes, and playing upon words, it was the common vice of the age he lived in and if we find it in the pulpit, made ufe of as an ornament to the fermons of some of the graveft divines of those times, perhaps it may not be thought too light for the stage.
But certainly the greatness of this author's genius does no where fo much appear, as where he gives his imagination an entire loose, and raises his fancy to a flight above mankind, and the limits of the vifible world. Such are his attempts in The Tempest, Midfummer-Night's Dream, Macbeth, and Hamlet. Of these, The Tempeft, however it comes to be placed the firft by the publishers of his works, can never have been the firft written by him: it feems to me as perfect in its kind, as almost any thing we have of his. One may obferve, that the
unities are kept here, with an exactnefs uncommon to the liberties of his writing; though that was what, I fuppofe, he valued himself leaft upon, fince his excellencies were all of another kind. I am very fenfible that he does, in this play, depart too much from that likeness to truth which ought to be obferved in thefe fort of writings; yet he does it fo very finely, that one is eafily drawn in to have more faith for his fake, than reafon does well allow of. His magick has fomething in it very folemn and very poetical and that extravagant character of Caliban is mighty well fuftained, fhows a wonderful invention in the author, who could strike out fuch a particular wild image, and is certainly one of the fineft and moft uncommon grotefques that ever was feen. The obfervation, which, I have been informed, three very great men concurred in making upon this part, was extremely juft; that Shakspeare had not only found out a new character in his Caliban, but had alfo devifed and adapted a new manner of language for that character.
It is the fame magick that raifes the Fairies in A Midfummer-Night's Dream, the Witches in Mac beth, and the Ghoft in Hamlet, with thoughts and language fo proper to the parts they fuftain, and fo peculiar to the talent of this writer. But of the two last of these plays I fhall have occasion to take
9 which, I have been informed, three very great men concurred in making-] Lord Falkland, Lord C. J. Vaughan, and Mr. Selden. RowE.
Dryden was of the fame opinion. His perfon (fays he, fpeaking of Caliban,) is monftrous, as he is the product of unnatural luft, and his language is as hobgoblin as his perfon: in all things he is diftinguished from other mortals." Preface to Troilus and Creffida. MALONE.
notice, among the tragedies of Mr. Shakspeare. If one undertook to examine the greatest part of these by those rules which are established by Ariftotle, and taken from the model of the Grecian ftage, it. would be no very hard tafk to find a great many faults; but as Shakspeare lived under a kind of: mere light of nature, and had never been made acquainted with the regularity of those written precepts, fo it would be hard to judge him by a law he knew nothing of. We are to confider him as a: man that lived in a ftate of almoft univerfal licence and ignorance: there was no established judge, but every one took the liberty to write according to the dictates of his own fancy. When one confiders, that there is not one play before him, of a reputation good enough to entitle it to an appearance on the present stage, it cannot but be a matter of great wonder that he fhould advance dramatick poetry fo far as he did. The fable is what is generally placed the firft, among thofe that are reckoned the conftituent parts of a tragick or heroick poem; not, perhaps, as it is the most difficult or beautiful, but as it is the first properly to be thought of in the contrivance and courfe of the whole; and with the fable ought to be confidered the fit difpofition, order, and conduct of its feveral parts. As it is not in this province of the drama that the ftrength and maftery of Shakspeare lay, fo I fhall not undertake the tedious and ill-natured trouble to point out the feveral faults he was guilty of in it. His tales were feldom invented, but rather taken either from the true hiftory, or novels and romances: and he commonly made ufe of them in that order, with thofe incidents, and that extent of time in which he found them in the authors from whence he borrowed them. So The Winter's Tale,
which is taken from an old book, called The Delectable Hiftory of Doraftus and Fawnia, contains the space of fixteen or seventeen years, and the scene is fometimes laid in Bohemia, and sometimes in Sicily, according to the original order of the story. Álmost all his hiftorical plays comprehend a great length of time, and very different and diftinct places: and in his Antony and Cleopatra, the fcene travels over the greatest part of the Roman empire. But in recompence for his carelessnefs in this point, when he comes to another part of the drama, the manners of his characters, in acting or speaking what is proper for them, and fit to be shown by the poet, he may be generally juftified, and in very many places greatly commended. For those plays which he has taken from the English or Roman hiftory, let any man compare them, and he will find the character as exact in the poet as the hiftorian. He feems indeed fo far from propofing to himfelf any one action for a fubject, that the title very often tells you, it is The Life of King John, King Richard, &c. What can be more agreeable to the idea our hiftorians give of Henry the Sixth, than the picture Shakspeare has drawn of him? His manners are every where exactly the fame with the story; one finds him ftill defcribed with fimplicity, paffive fanctity, want of courage, weakness of mind, and eafy fubmiffion to the governance of an imperious wife, or prevailing faction: though at the fame time the poet does juftice to his good qualities, and moves the pity of his audience for him, by fhowing him pious, difinterested, a contemner of the things of this world, and wholly refigned to the fevereft difpenfations of God's providence. There is a fhort fcene in The Second Part of Henry the Sixth, which I cannot think but admirable in its kind. Cardinal Beaufort,