Графични страници
PDF файл

yers, civilians, and canonists, drew another conclusion more to their mind.”

Mr. Rymer thus objects to the superlative villainy of Iago, on his advising Desdemona's murder.

“Iago had some pretence to be discontent with Othello and Cassio, and what passed hitherto was the operation of revenge. Desdemona had never done him any harm; always kind to him, and to his wife; was his countrywoman, a dame of quality. For him to abet her murder, shows nothing of a soldier, nothing of a man, nothing of nature in it. The ordinary of Newgate never had the like monster to pass under his examination. Can it be any diversion to see a rogue beyond what the devil ever finished! or would it be any instruction to an audience? Iago could desire no better than to set Cassio and Othello, his two enemies, by the ears together, so that he might have been revenged on them both at once; and choosing for his own share the murder of Desdemona, he had the opportunity to play booty, and save the poor harmless wretch. But the poet must do every thing by contraries; to surprise the audience still with something horrible and prodigious, beyond any human imagination. At this rate, he must outdo the devil, to be a poet in the rank with Shakspeare.”

Mr. Rymer is decorously enraged, to think that the tragedy should turn on a handkerchief. “Why,” he asks in virtuous indignation, “was not this called the tragedy of the handkerchief! what can be more absurd than (as Quintilian expresses it) in parvibus (sic) litibus has tragedias movere? We have heard of Fortunatus, his purse, and of the invisible cloak long ago worn thread-bare, and stowed up in the wardrobe of obsolete romances; one might think that were a fitter place for this handkerchief than that it, at this time of day, be worn on the stage, to raise every where all this clutter and turmoil.” And again, “the handkerchief is so remote a trifle, no booby on this side Mauritania could make any consequence from it.”

Our author suggests a felicitous alteration of the catastrophe of Othello. He proposes, that the handkerchief, when

lost, should have been folded in the bridal couch; and when Othello was stifling Desdemona,

“ The fairy napkin might have started up to disarm his fury, and stop his ungracious mouth. Then might she in a trance for fear) have lain as dead. Then might he (believing her dead) touched with remorse, have honestly cut his own throat, by the good leave, and with the applause, of all the spectators; who might thereupon have gone home with a quiet mind, admiring the beauty of providence, fairly and truly represented on the theatre."

The following is the summing up and catastrophe of this marvellous criticism:

“ What can remain with the audience to carry home with them from this sort of poetry, for their use and edification ? How can it work, unless (instead of settling the mind and purging our passions) to delude our senses, disorder our thoughts, addle our brain, pervert our affections, hair our imaginations, corrupt our appetite-and fill our head with vanity, confusion, tintamarre, and jingle-jangle, beyond what all the parish clerks of London, with their Old Testament farces and interludes, in Richard the Second's time, could ever pretend to? Our only hopes, for the good of their souls, can be that these people go to the play-house as they do to church-to sit still, look on one another, make no reflection, nor mind the play more than they would a sermon."

“ There is in this play some burlesque, some humour, and ramble of comical wit, some show, and some mimicry to divert the spectators; but the tragical part is clearly none other than a bloody farce, without salt or savor.

Our author's criticism on Julius Cæsar is very scanty, compared with that of Othello, but it is not less decisive. Indeed, his classical zeal here sharpens his critical rage; and he is incensed against Shakspeare, not only as offend. ing the dignity of the tragic muse, but the memory of the noblest Romans. “He might,” exclaims the indignant critic, “ be familiar with Othello and Iago, as his own natural acquaintance, but Cæsar and Brutus were above his conversation; to put them in fools' coats, and make them Jack Puddens in the Shakspeare dress, is a sacrilege beyond any thing in Spelman. The truth is, this author's head was full of villanous unnatural images and history has furnished him with great names, thereby to recommend them to the world, by writing over them—This is Brutus, this is Cicero, this is Cæsar.” He affrms, “ that the language Shakspeare puts into the mouth of Brutus would not suit or be convenient, unless from some son of the shambles, or some natural offspring of the butchery." He abuses the poet for making the conspirators dispute about day-break-seriously chides him for not allowing the noble Brutus a watch-candle in his chamber on this important night, rather than puzzling his man, Lucius, to grope in the dark for a flint and tinder-box to get the taper lighted"-speaks of the quarrel scene between Brutus and Cassius, as that in which “ they are to play a prize, a trial of skill in huffing and swaggering, like two drunken Hectors of a two-penny reckoning." And finally, alluding to the epilogue of Laberius, forced by the emperor to become an actor, he thus sums up his charges:

“ This may show with what indignity our poet treats the noblest Romans. But there is no other cloth in his wardrobe. Every one must wear a fool's coat that comes to be dressed by him; nor is he more civil to the ladies-Portia, in good manners, might have challenged more respect, she that shines a glory of the first magnitude in the gallery of heroic dames, is with our poet scarce one remove from a natural; she is the own cousin-german of one piece, the very same impertinent silly flesh and blood with Desdemona. Shakspeare's genius lay for comedy and humour. In tragedy he appears quite out of his element; his brains are turnedhe raves and rambles without any coherence, any , spark of reason, or any rule to control him, to set bounds to his phrenzy."

One truth, though the author did not understand it, is told in this critic on Julius Cæsar; that Shakspeare's “senators and his orators had their learning and education at the

same school, be they Venetians, Ottamites, or noble Romans.” They drew, in their golden urns, from the deep fountain of humanity, those living waters which lose not their sweetness in the changes of man's external condition.

These attacks on Shakspeare are very curious, as evincing how gradual has been the increase of his fame. Their whole tone shows that the author was not advancing what he thought the world would regard as paradoxical or strange. He speaks as öne with authority to decide. We look now on his work amazedly; and were it put forth by a writer of our times, should regard it as “the very ecstasy of madness." Such is the lot of genius. However small the circle of cotemporary admirers, it must “ gather fame" as time rolls on. It appeals to feelings which cannot alter. The minds who once have deeply felt it, can never lose the impression at first made upon them—they transmit it to others, by whom it is extended to those who are worthy to treasure it. Its stability and duration at length awaken the attention of the world which thus acknowledges the sanction of time, and professes an admiration for the author, which it only feels for his name. We should not, however, have thus dwelt on the attacks of Rymer, had we regarded them merely as objects of wonder, or as proofs of the partial influence of Shakspeare's genius. They are far from deserving unmingled scorn. They display, at least, an honest, unsophisticated hatred, which is better than the maudlin admiration of Shakspeare, expressed by those who were deluded by Ireland's forgeries. Their author has a heartiness, an earnestness almost romantic, which we cannot despise, though directed against our idol. With a singular obtuseness to poetry, he has a chivalric devotion to all that he regards as excellent, and grand. He looks on the supposed errors of the poet as moral crimes. He confounds fiction with fact-grows warm in defence of shadows— feels a violation of poetical justice, as a wrong conviction by a jury-moves a Habeas Corpus for all damsels imprisoned in romance and if the bard kills those of his characters who deserve to live, pronounces judgment on him as in case of felony, without benefit of clergy. He is the Don Quixote of criticism. Like the hero of Cervantes, he is roused to avenge fictitious injuries, and would demolish the scenic exhibition in his disinterested rage. In one

sense he does more honour to the poet than any other writer, for he seems to regard him as an arbiter of life and deathresponsible only to the critic for the administration of his powers.

Mr. Rymer has his own stately notions of what is proper for tragedy. He is zealous for poetical justice; and as he thinks that vice cannot be punished too severely, and yet that the poet ought to leave his victims objects of pity, he protests against the introduction of very wicked characters. “Therefore,” says he, “ among the ancients we find no malefactors of this kind; a wilful murderer is, with them, as strange and unknown as a parricide to the old Romans. Yet need we not fancy that they were squeamish, or unacquainted with many of those great lumping crimes in that age: when we remember their Edipus, Orestes, or Medea. But they took care to wash the viper, to cleanse away the venom, and with such art to prepare the morsel : they made it all junket to the taste, and all physic in the operation."

Our author understands exactly the balance of power in the affections. He would dispose of all the poet's characters to a hair, according to his own rules of fitness. He would marshal them in array as in a procession, and mark out exactly what each ought to do or suffer. According to him, so much of presage and no more should be given-such a degree of sorrow, and no more ought a character endure; vengeance should rise precisely to a given height, and be executed by a certain appointed hand. He would regulate the conduct of fictitious heroes as accurately as of real beings, and often reasons well on his own poetic decalogue. “ Amintor," says he, (speaking of a character in the Maid's Tragedy) should have begged the king's pardon; should have suffered all the racks and tortures a tyrant could inflict; and from Perillus's bull should have still bellowed out that eternal truth, that his promise was to be kept—that he is true to Aspatia, that he dies for his mistress! Then would his memory have been precious and sweet to after ages; and the midsummer maidens would have offered their garlands all at his grave.

Mr. Rymer is an enthusiastic champion for the poetical prerogatives of kings. No courtier ever contended more strenuously for their divine right in real life, than he for their

« ПредишнаНапред »