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fatatagion and its meteors flashes Lear, the keday
between the fictitious Greek and Roman histories, which we may call legendary dramas, and the proper ancient histories; that is, between the Pericles or Titus Andronicus and the Coriolanus, or Julius Caesar. Cymbeline is a congener with Pericles, and distinguished from Lear by not having any declared prominent object. But where shall we class the Timon of Athens ? Perhaps immediately below Lear. It is a Lear of the satirical drama; a Lear of domestic or ordinary life;-a local eddy of passion on the high road of society, while all around is the week-day goings on of wind and weather; a Lear, therefore, without its soul-searching flashes, its ear-cleaving thunderclaps, its meteoric splendours—without the contagion and the fearful sympathies of nature, the fates, the furies, the frenzied elements, dancing in and out, now breaking through, and scatteringnow hand in hand with-the fierce or fantastic group of human passions, crimes, and anguishes, reeling on the unsteady ground, in a wild harmony to the shock and the swell of an earthquake. But my present subject was Troilus and Cressida ; and I suppose that, scarcely knowing what to say of it, I by a cunning of instinct ran off to subjects on which I should find it difficult not to say too much, though certain after all that I should still leave the better part unsaid, and the gleaning for others richer than my own harvest.
Indeed, there is no one of Shakespeare's plays harder to characterize. The name and the remembrances connected with it, prepare us for the representation of attachment no less faithful than fervent on the side of the youth, and of sudden and shameless inconstancy on the part of the lady. And this is, indeed, as the gold thread on which the scenes are strung, though often kept out of sight and out of mind by gems of greater value than itself. But as Shakespeare calls forth nothing from the mausoleum of history, or the catacombs of tradition, without giving, or eliciting, some permanent and general interest, and brings forward no subject which he does not moralize or intellectualize,-so here he has drawn in Cressida the portrait of a vehement passion, that, having its true origin and proper cause in warmth of temperament, fastens on, rather than fixes to, some one object by liking and temporary preference. There's language in her eye, her cheek, her lip, Nay, her foot speaks ; her wanton spirits look out At every joint and motive of her body.
This Shakespeare has contrasted with the profound affection represented in Troilus, and alone worthy the name of love ;-affection, passionate indeed, swoln with the confluence of youthful instincts and youthful fancy, and growing in the radiance of hope newly risen, in short enlarged by the collective sympathies of nature ;- but still having a depth of calmer element in a will stronger than desire, more entire than choice, and which gives permanence to its own act by converting it into faith and duty. Hence with excellent judgment, and with an excellence higher than mere judgment can give, at the close of the play, when Cressida has sunk into infamy below retrieval and beneath hope, the same will, which had been the substance and the basis of his love, while the restless pleasures and passionate longings, like sea-waves, had tossed but on its surface,—this same moral energy is represented as snatching him aloof from all neighbourhood with her dishonour, from all lingering fondness and languishing regrets, whilst it rushes with him into other and nobler duties, and deepens the channel, which
his heroic brother's death had left empty for its collected flood. Yet another secondary and subordinate purpose Shakespeare has inwoven with his delineation of these two characters,—that of opposing the inferior civilization, but purer morals, of the Trojans to the refinements, deep policy, but duplicity and sensual corruptions, of the Greeks.
To all this, however, so little comparative projection is given,-nay, the masterly group of Agamemnon, Nestor, and Ulysses, and, still more in advance, that of Achilles, Ajax, and Thersites, so manifestly occupy the foreground, that the subservience and vassalage of strength and animal courage to intellect and policy seems to be the lesson most often in our poet's view, and which he has taken little pains to connect with the former more interesting moral impersonated in the titular hero and heroine of the drama. But I am half inclined to believe, that Shakespeare's main object, or shall I rather say, his ruling impulse, was to translate the poetic heroes of paganism into the not less rude, but more intellectually vigorous, and more featurely, warriors of Christian chivalry,—and to substantiate the distinct and graceful profiles or outlines of the Homeric epic into the flesh and blood of the romantic drama,- in short, to give a grand history-piece in the robust style of Albert Durer.
The character of Thersites, in particular, well deserves a more careful examination, as the Caliban of demagogic life ;-the admirable portrait of intellectual power deserted by all grace, all moral principle, all not momentary impulse ;-just wise enough to detect the weak head, and fool enough to provoke the armed fist of his betters ;-one whom malcontent Achilles can inveigle from malcontent Ajax, under the one condition, that he shall be called on to do nothing but abuse and slander, and that he shall be allowed to abuse as much and as purulently as he likes, that is, as he can ;- in short, a mule,-quarrelsome by the original discord of his nature,-a slave by tenure of his own baseness,—made to bray and be brayed at, to despise and be despicable. Aye, Sir, but say what you will, he is a very clever fellow, though the best friends will fall out. There was a time when Ajax thought he deserved to have a statue of gold erected to him, and handsome Achilles, at the head of the Myrmidons, gave no little credit to his friend Thersites !
Lit. Rem. II. 130.
Coriolanus. This play illustrates the wonderfully philosophic impartiality of Shakespeare's politics. His own country's history furnished him with no matter, but what was too recent to be devoted to patriotism. Besides, he knew that the instruction of ancient history would seem more dispassionate. In Coriolanus and Julius Caesar, you see Shakespeare's good-natured laugh at mobs. Compare this with Sir Thomas Browne's aristocracy of spirit.
Lit. Rem. II. 135. Romeo and Juliet. I have previously had occasion to speak at large on the subject of the three unities of time, place, and action, as applied to the drama in the abstract, and to the particular stage for which Shakespeare wrote, as far as he can be said to have written for any stage but that of the universal mind. I hope I have in some measure succeeded in demonstrating that the former two, instead of being rules, were
mere inconveniences attached to the local peculiarities of the Athenian drama ; that the last alone deserved the name of a principle, and that in the preservation of this unity Shakespeare stood preeminent. Yet, instead of unity of action, I should greatly prefer the more appropriate, though scholastic and uncouth, words homogeneity, proportionateness, and totality of interest-expressions which involve the distinction, or rather the essential difference, betwixt the shaping skill of mechanical talent, and the creative, productive, life-power of inspired genius, In the former each part is separately conceived, and then by a succeeding act put together;—not as watches are made for wholesale-(for there each part supposes a pre-conception of the whole in some mind)—but more like pictures on a motley screen, Whence arises the harmony that strikes us in the wildest natural landscapes—in the relative shapes of rocks, the harmony of colours in the heaths, ferns, and lichens, the leaves of the beech and the oak, the stems and rich brown branches of the birch and other mountain trees, varying from verging autumn to returning spring, -compared with the visual effect from the greater number of artificial plantations ?-From this, that the natural landscape is effected, as it were, by a single energy modified ab intra in each component part. And as this is the particular excellence of the Shakespearian drama generally, so it is especially characteristic of the Romeo and Juliet.
The groundwork of the tale is altogether in family life, and the events of the play have their first origina in family feuds. Filmy as are the eyes of partyspirit, at once dim and truculent, still there is commonly some real or supposed object in view, or principle to be maintained ; and though but the