« VorigeDoorgaan »
doubtful plays above enumerated are superior or even equal to the best of theirs. The Yorkshire Tragedy, which Schlegel speaks of as an undoubted production of our author's, is much more in the manner of Heywood than of Shakspeare. The ef. fect is indeed overpowering, but the mode of producing it is by no means poetical. The praise which Schlegel give to Thomas, Lord Cromwell, and to Sir John Oldcastle, is altogether exaggerated. They are very indifferent compositions, which have not the slightest pretensions to rank with Henry V. or Henry VIII. We suspect that the German critic was not very well acquainted with the dramatic contemporaries of Shakspeare, or aware of their general merits; and that accordingly he mistakes a resemblance in style and manner for an equal degree of excellence. Shakspeare differed from the other writers of his age not in the treating of his subjects, but in the grace and power which he displayed in them. The reason assigned by a literary friend of Schlegel's for supposing The Puritan; or, the Widow of Watling Street, to be Shakspeare's, viz., that it is in the style of Ben Jonson, that is to say, in a style just the reverse of his own, is not very satisfactory to a plain English understanding. Locrine, and The London Prodigal, if they were Shakspeare's at all, must have been among the sins of his youth. Arden of Feversham contains several striking passages, but the passion which they express is rather that of a sanguine temperament than of a lofty imagination, and in this respect they approximate more nearly to the style of other writers of the time than to Shakspeare's. Titus Andronicus is certainly as unlike Shakspeare's usual style as it is possible. It is an accumulation of vulgar physical hor. rors, in which the power exercised by the poet bears no proportion n the repugnance excited by the subject. The character of Aaron the Moor is the only thing which shows any originality of conception ; and the scene in which he expresses his joy “at the blackness and ugliness of his child begot in adultery," the only one worthy of Shakspeare. Even this is worthy of him only in the display of power, for it gives no pleasure. Shakspeare managed these things differently. Nor do we think it a sufficient answer to say that this was an embryo or crude production of the author. In its kind it is full grown, and its features decided and overcharged. It is not like a first imperfect essay, but shows a confirmed habit, a systematic preference of violent effect to everything else. There are occasional detached images of great beauty and delicacy, but these were not beyond the powers of other writers then living. The circumstance which inclines us to reject the external evidence in favor of this play being Shakspeare's is, that the grammatical construction is constantly false and mixed up with vulgar abbreviations, a fault that never occurs in any of his genuine plays. A similar defect, and the halting measure of the verse, are the chief objections to Pericles of Tyre, if we except the far-fetched and complicated absurdity of the story. The movement of the thoughts and passions has something in it not unlike Shakspeare, and several of the de. scriptions are either the original hints of passages which Shak. speare has ingrafted on his other plays, or are imitations of them by some cotemporary poet. The most memorable idea in it is in Marina's speech, where she compares the world to a "Jasting storm, hurrying her from her friends."
POEMS AND SONNETS
Our idolatry of Shakspeare (not to say our admiration) ceases with his plays. In his other productions, he was a mere author, though not a common author, It was only by representing others, that he became himself. He could go out of himself, and express the soul of Cleopatra ; but in his own person, he appeared to be always waiting for the prompter's cue.
In express. ing the thoughts of others, he seemed inspired; in expressing his own, he was a mechanic. The licence of an assumed character was necessary to restore his genius to the privileges of nature, and to give him courage to break through the tyranny of fashion, the trammels of custom. In his plays, he was broad and casing as the general air:" in his poems, on the contrary, he appears to be “cooped, and cabined in ” by all the technicalities of art, by all the petty intricacies of thought and language which poetry had learned from the controversial jargon of the schools, where words had been made a substitute for things. There was, if we mistake not, something of modesty, and a painful sense of personal propriety at the bottom of this. Shak. speare's imagination, by identifying itself with the strongest cha. racters in the most trying circumstances, grappled at once with nature, and trampled the littleness of art under his feet: the rapid changes of situation, the wide range of the universe, gave him life and spirit, and afforded him full scope to his genius; but returned into his closet again, and having assumed the badge of his profession, he could only labor in his vocation, and conform himself to existing models. 'The thoughts, the passions, the words which the poet's pen, “glancing from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,” lent to others, shook off the fetters of pedantry and affectation ; while his own thoughts and feel. ings, standing by themselves, were seized upon as lawful prey, and tortured to death &ccording to the established rules and practice of the day. In a word, we do not like Shakspeare's poems, because we like his plays: the one, in all their excellen. ces, are just the reverse of the other. It has been the fashion of late to cry up our author's poems as equal to his plays: this is the desperate cant of modern criticism. We would ask, was there the slightest comparison between Shakspeare, and either Chaucer or Spenser, as mere poets? Not any.-The two poems of Venus and Adonis and of Tarquin and Lucrece appear to us like a couple of ice-houses. They are about as hard, as glittering, and as cold. The author seems all the time to be thinking of his verses, and not of his subject, -not of what his characters would feel, but of what he shall say; and as it must happen in all such cases, he always puts into their mouths those things which they would be the last to think of, and which it shows the greatest ingenuity in him to find out. The whole is laborvel, up. hill work. The poet is perpetually singling out the difficultore of the art to make an exhibition of his strength and skill in wrestling with them. He is making perpetual trials of them, as is his mastery over them were doubled. The images, which are often striking, are generally applied to things which they are the least like: so that they do not blend with the powm, but seem stuck upon it, like splendid patch work, or remain quitos distinct from it, like detached substances, painted and varmuseet over. A beautiful thought is sure to bom lemt in an endless conmentary upon it. The speakers are like persons who have tvrh lessure and inclination to make riddles on their own situation, and to twist and turn every object or incident into arrieirs and anagrams. Everything is spun out into allegory; and a dietes. sia is always preferred to the main story. Sentiment is built up upwe plays of words; the hero or heroine feels, not from the impulse of passion, but from the force of dialectics. There is besides a strange attempt to substitute the language of painting for that of pery, to make us see their feelings in the faces of the perns; and again, consistently with this, in the demperen of the picture in Tarquin and Lurrree, thus circumstanong are chiefly insisted on, which it would be impossible to convey except by words. The invocation to Opportunity in the Tarquin and Lucrece is full of thoughts and images, but at the same time it is over-loaded by them. The concluding stanza expresses all our objections to this kind of poetry
“Oh! idle words, servants to shallow fools ;
Since that my case is past all help of law.” The description of the horse in Venus and Adonis has been particularly admired, and not without reason ;
“ Round hoord, short jointed, fetlocks shag and long,
Now this inventory of perfections shows great knowlerige of the horse ; and is good matter-of-fact poetry. Let the reader but compare it with a speech in The Midsummer Nighi's Dream where Theseus describes his hounds
“ And their heads are hung
and he will perceive at once what we mean by the difference between Shakspeare's own poetry, and that of his plays. We prefer the Passionate Pilgrim very much 10 the Lover's Com. plaint. It has been doubted whether the latter poem is Shakspeare's.
Of the Sonnets we do not well know what to say. The subject of them seems to be somewhat equivocal; but many of them are highly beautiful in themselves, and interesting as they relate to the state of the personal feelings of the author. The following are some of the most striking :