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receive with reverence. He throws into their manners and language a mysterious solemnity, favourable to superstition in general, with something highly characteristic of each particular being which he exhibits. His witches, his ghosts, and his fairies, seem spirits of health or goblins damn'd; bring with them airs from heaven, or blasts from hell. His ghosts are sullen, melancholy, and terrible. Every sentence, uttered by the witches, is a prophecy or a charm; their manners are malignant, their phrases ambiguous, their promises delusive.The witches' cauldron is a collection of all that is most horrid, in their supposed incantations. Ariel is a spirit, mild, gentle, and sweet, possessed of supernatural powers, but subject to the command of a great magician.
The fairies are sportive and gay; the innocent artificers of harmless frauds, and mirthful delusions. Puck's enumeration of the feats of a fairy is the most agreeable recital of their supposed gambols.
To all these beings our Poet has assigned tasks, and appropriated manners adapted to their imputed dispositions and characters; which are continually developing through the whole piece, in a series of operations conducive to the catastrophe. They are not brought in as subordinate or casual 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 species of poetry has it distinct duties and obligations. The Drama does not, like the Epic, admit of episode, unnecessary persons, or things incredible: for, as it is observed by a critic of great ingenuity and taste; "That which passes in repre"sentation, and challenges, as it were, "the scrutiny of the eye, must be truth itself, or something very nearly approach"ing to it." It should indeed be what our
* Hurd, on Dramatic Imitation.
imagination will adopt though our reason would reject 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 person, regard must be had to fix it in such scenes, and to display it in such actions, as are agreeable to the popular opinion. Witches holding their sabbath, and saluting passengers on the blasted heath; ghosts, at the midnight hour, visiting the glimpses of the moon, and whispering a bloody secret, derive from priety of place and action a credibility very propitious to the scheme of the poet. Reddere persona-convenientia cuique,cannot be less his duty in regard to these superior and metaphysical, than to human characters. Indeed, from the invariableness of their natures, a greater consistency and uniformity is necessary; but most of all, as the belief of their intervention depends entirely on their manners and sentiments suiting with the preconceived opinion of them.
The magician Prospero raising a storm; witches performing infernal rites; or any other exertion of the supposed powers and qualities of the agent, were easily credited by the vulgar.
The genius of Shakspeare informed him that poetic fable must rise above the simple tale of the nurse; therefore he adorns the beldame, tradition, with flowers gathered on classic ground, but still wisely suffering those simples of her native soil, to which the established superstition of her country has attributed a magic spell, to be predominant. Can any thing be more poetical than Prospero's address to his attendant spirits before he dismisses them?
Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves,
Whereof the ewe not bites; and you, whose aid
To hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid
(Weak masters tho' ye be) I have bedimm'd
The noon-tide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds,
And 'twixt the green-sea and the azur'd vault
Here the popular stories concerning the power of magicians are agreeably collected. The incantations of the witches in Macbeth are more solemn and terrible than those of the Erichtho of Lucan, or of the Canidia of Horace. It may be said, indeed, that Shakspeare had an advantage derived from the more direful character of his national superstitions.
A celebrated writer, in his ingenious