« VorigeDoorgaan »
quaint and affected; an unhappy attempt, as the learned commentator observes, to imitate that brevity and simplicity of expression, of which this noble Roman was a professed admirer. Our author, who followed with great exactness every circumstance mentioned in Plutarch, would probably have attempted to give to Antony the pomp of Asiatic eloquence, if his good sense had not informed him, that, to be pathetic, it is necessary to be simple.
The quarrelbetween Brutus and Cassius does not by any means deserve the ridicule thrown upon it by the French critic. The characters of the men are well sustained. It is natural, it is interesting ; but it rather retards than brings forward the catastrophe, and is useful only in setting Brutus in a good light. A sublime genius, in all its operations, sacrifices little things to great, and parts to the whole. Modern criticism dwells on minute articles. The principal object of our Poet was to interest the spectator for Brutus ; to do this he was to shew, that his temper was the farthest imaginable
from any thing ferocious or sanguinary; and by his behaviour to his wife, his friends, his servants, to demonstrate, thạt out of respect to public liberty, he made as difficult a conquest over his natural disposition, as his great predecessor had done for the like cause over natural affection. Clemency and humanity add lustre to the greatest hero; but here these sentiments determine the whole character of the man and the colour of his deed. The victories of Alexander, Hannibal, and Cæsar, whether their wars were just or unjust, must obtain for them the laurel wreath, which is the ambition of conquerors : but the act of Brutus, in killing Cæsar, was of such an ambiguous kind, as to receive its denomination from the motive by which it was suggested : it is that which must fix
patriot or assassin. Our author, therefore, shews great judgment in taking various opportunities to display the softness and gentleness of Brutus: the little circumstance of his forbearing to awaken the servant who was playing to him on the lute, is very beautiful ; for one cannot conceive, that he
whose tender humanity respected the slumber of his boy Lucilius, would from malice or cruelty have cut short the important and illustrious course of Cæsar's life.
Shakspeare seems to have aimed at giving an exact représentation on the stage, of all the events and characters comprehended in Plutarch's life of Marcus Brutus ; and he has wonderfully executed his plan. One may perhaps wish, that a writer, possessed of all the magic of poetical powers, had not so scrupulously confined himself within the limits of true history. The regions of imagination, in which the poet is allowed an arbitrary sway, seems his proper dominion. There he reigns like Pluto over shadows huge and terrible, of mighty and august appearance, but yielding and unresisting. The terra firma of real life, and the open daylight of truth, forbid many pleasing delusions, and produce difficulties too stubborn to yield to his art. On this solid foundation, however, our author knew he could always establish a strong interest for his piece. Great knowledge of the human heart had inform
ed him, how easy it is to excite a sympathy with things believed real. He knew too, that curiosity is a strong appetite, and that every incident connected with a great event, and every particularity belonging to a great character, engages the spectator. He wrote to please an untaught people, guided wholly by their feelings, and to those feelings he applied : and they are often touched by circumstances that have not dignity and splendour enough to please the eye accustomed to the specious miracles of ostentatious art, and the nice selection of refined judgment. If we blame his making the tragic muse too subservient to the historical, we must at least allow it to be much less hurtful to the effect of his representation upon
passions, than the liberties taken by many poets to represent well-known characters and events, in lights so absolutely different from whatsoever universal fame, and the testimony of ages, had taught us to believe of them, that the mind resists the new impression attempted to be made upon it. Shakspeare, perhaps not injudiciously, thought that it was more the business of the dramatic writer to excite sympathy than admiration ; and that to acquire an empire
l over the passions, it was well worth while to relinquish some pretensions to excellencies of less efficiency on the stage.
As it was Shakspeare's intention to make Brutus his hero, he has given a disadvantageous representation of Cæsar, and thrown an air of pride and insolence into his behaviour, which is intended to create an apprehension in the spectator of his disposition to tyrannize over his fellow-citizens. In this haughty style he answers the petitions of Metellus Cimber, and the other conspirators, for the repeal of Publius Cimber's banishment: the speech suits the purpose of the poet, but is very blameable if compared with the historical character of the speaker, which ought certainly to have been more attended to. It will divert the English reader to see what Mr. Voltaire assures us to be a faithful translation of this speech; and I will therefore give the original and translation. When Metellus is going to fall at Cæsar's feet, he says to him: