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or Milton ; or they are flat truisms, as when he is gravely preferred to Corneille, Racine, or even his own immediate successors, Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger and the rest. The highest praise, or rather form of praise, of this play, which I can offer in my own mind, is the doubt which the perusal always occasions in me, whether the Antony and Cleopatra is not, in all exhibitions of a giant power in its strength and vigour of maturity, a formidable rival of Macbeth, Lear, Hamlet, and Othello. Feliciter audax is the motto for its style comparatively with that of Shakespeare's other works, even as it is the general motto of all his works compared with those of other poets. Be it remembered, too, that this happy valiancy of style is but the representative and result of all the material excellencies so expressed.
This play should be perused in mental contrast with Romeo and Juliet ;-as the love of passion and appetite opposed to the love of affection and instinct. But the art displayed in the character of Cleopatra is profound; in this, especially, that the sense of criminality in her passion is lessened by our insight into its depth and energy, at the very moment that we cannot but perceive that the passion itself springs out of the habitual craving of a licentious nature, and that it is supported and reinforced by voluntary stimulus and sought-for associations, instead of blossoming out of spontaneous emotion.
Of all Shakespeare's historical plays, Antony and Cleopatra is by far the most wonderful. There is not one in which he has followed history so minutely, and yet there are few in which he impresses the notion of angelic strength so much ;--perhaps none in which he impresses it more strongly. This is greatly owing to the manner in which the fiery force
is sustained throughout, and to the numerous momentary flashes of nature counteracting the historic abstraction. As a wonderful specimen of the way in which Shakespeare lives up to the very end of this play, read the last part of the concluding scene. And if you would feel the judgment as well as the genius of Shakespeare in your heart's core, compare this astonishing drama with Dryden's All for Love.
Lit. Rem. II. 142.
Ben Jonson is original ; he is, indeed, the only one of the great dramatists of that day who was not either directly produced, or very greatly modified, by Shakespeare. In truth, he differs from our great master in everything-in form and in substanceand betrays no tokens of his proximity. He is not original in the same way as Shakespeare is original; but after a fashion of his own, Ben Jonson is most truly original.
The characters in his plays are, in the strictest sense of the term, abstractions. Some very prominent feature is taken from the whole man, and that single feature or humour is made the basis upon which the entire character is built up. Ben Jonson's dramatis persono are almost as fixed as the masks of the ancient actors; you know from the first scene-sometimes from the list of names-exactly what every one of them is to be. He was a very accurately observing man; but he cared only to observe what was external or open to, and likely to impress, the senses. He individualizes, not so much, if at all, by the exhi. bition of moral or intellectual differences, as by the varieties and contrasts of manners, modes of speech
and tricks of temper; as in such characters as Puntarvolo, Bobadill, &c.
I believe there is not one whim or affectation in common life noted in any memoir of that age which may not be found drawn and framed in some corner or other of Ben Jonson's dramas; and they have this merit, in common with Hogarth's prints, that not a single circumstance is introduced in them which does not play upon, and help to bring out, the dominant humour or humours of the piece. Indeed I ought very particularly to call your attention to the extraordinary skill shown by Ben Jonson in contriving situations for the display of his characters. In fact, his care and anxiety in this matter led him to do what scarcely any of the dramatists of that age did—that is, invent his plots. It is not a first perusal that suffices for the full perception of the elaborate artifice of the plots of the Alchemist and the Silent Woman ;-that of the former is absolute perfection for a necessary entanglement, and an unexpected, yet natural, evolution.
Ben Jonson exhibits a sterling English diction, and he has with great skill contrived varieties of construction ; but his style is rarely sweet or harmonious, in consequence of his labour at point and strength being so evident. In all his works, in verse and prose, there is an extraordinary opulence of thought; but it is the produce of an amassing power in the author, and not the growth from within. Indeed a large proportion of Ben Jonson's thoughts may be traced to classic or obscure modern writers, by those who are learned and curious enough to follow the steps of this robust, surly, and observing dramatist.
Lit. Rem. I. 98-100.
Volpone. I am inclined to consider The Fox as the greatest of Ben Jonson's works. But his smaller works are full of poetry.
T. T. June 24, 1827. This admirable, indeed, but yet more wonderful than admirable, play is from the fertility and vigour of invention, character, language, and sentiment the strongest proof, how impossible it is to keep up any pleasurable interest in a tale, in which there is no goodness of heart in any of the prominent characters. After the third act, this play becomes not a dead, but a painful, weight on the feelings. Zeluco is an instance of the same truth. Bonario and Celia should have been made in some way or other principals in the plot; which they might have been, and the objects of interest, without having been made characters. In novels, the person, in whose fate you are most interested, is often the least marked character of the whole. If it were possible to lessen the paramountcy of Volpone himself, a most delightful comedy might be produced, by making Celia the ward or niece of Corvino, instead of his wife, and Bonario her lover.
Lit. Rem. II. 276.
Poetaster. Crisp. 0-oblatrant-furibund— fatuate-strenuous.
0-conscious. -Act iv, Sc. 3. It would form an interesting essay, or rather series of essays, in a periodical work, were all the attempts to ridicule new phrases brought together, the proportion observed of words ridiculed which
have been adopted, and are now common, such as strenuous, conscious, &c., and a trial made how far any grounds can be detected, so that one might determine beforehand whether a word was invented under the conditions of assimilability to our language or not. This much is certain, that the ridiculers were as often wrong as right; and Shakespeare himself could not prevent the naturalization of accommodation, remuneration, &c.; or Swift the gross abuse even of the word idea.
Lit. Rem. II. 273.
BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER The plays of Beaumont and Fletcher are mere aggregations without unity; in the Shakespearian drama there is a vitality which grows and evolves itself from within,—a key note which guides and controls the harmonies throughout. What is Lear? -It is storm and tempest—the thunder at first grumbling in the far horizon, then gathering around us, and at length bursting in fury over our headssucceeded by a breaking of the clouds for a while, a last flash of lightning, the closing in of night, and the single hope of darkness! And Romeo and Juliet? - It is a spring day, gusty and beautiful in the morn, and closing like an April evening with the song of the nightingale ;-whilst Macbeth is deep and earthy-composed to the subterranean music of a troubled conscience, which converts everything into the wild and fearful !
Doubtless from mere observation, or from the occasional similarity of the writer's own character, more or less in Beaumont and Fletcher and other such writers will happen to be in correspondence
orang ana pring darkness ! Asing in for a