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was still more fresh in public recollection, and a wiser expedient could not have been devised, for asserting the innocence of Elizabeth's mother, than by portraying Henry's injustice towards Queen Catherine. For we are obliged to infer, that if the tyrant could thus misuse the noble Catherine, the purest innocence in her lovely successor could be no shield against his cruelty."*
I do not believe in this elaborate management: I have already said t that Shakspeare took pretty freely from the chronicle those passages of Henry's life which he introduced into his play. But I see no reason to believe that Elizabeth was more anxious about the repu. tation of her mother, than about the character of her father: or that she would willingly consent that Henry should be pronounced unjust, in order that Anne might be deemed innocent. Her anxiety, if she had any as to this matter probably was, that the divorce and subsequent marriage should be held good ; and this is sufficiently established in the play.
MACBETH.—Of this play Hallam says
“ The majority of readers, I believe, assign to Macbeth, which seems to have been written about 1606, the pre-eminence among the works of Shak
speare; many, however, would rather name Othello, one of his latest, which is referred to 1611; and a few might prefer Lear to either. The great Epic drama, as the first may be called, deserves, in my own judgment, the post it has attained as being, in the language of Drake, “the greatest effort of our author's genius, the most sublime and impressive drama which the world has ever beheld.""*
CORIOLANUS. — After mentioning that in others of his Roman plays Shakspeare copies Plutarch too closely, Hallam says
“ This fault is by no means discerned in the third Roman tragedy of Shakspeare, Coriolanus. He luckily found an intrinsic historical remedy which he could not have destroyed, and which his magnificent delineation of the chief personage has thoroughly maintained. Coriolanus himself has the grandeur of sculpture ; his proportions are colossal, nor would less than this transcendant superiority by which he towers over his fellow citizens, warrant, or seem for the moment to warrant, his haughtiness and their pusillanimity. The surprising judgment of Shakpeare is visible in this. A dramatist of the second class, a Corneille, a Schiller, or an Alperi, would not have lost the occasion of representing the plebeian form of courage and patriotism. A tribune would have been made to utter noble speeches, and some
• Hallam jij. 570.
critics would have extolled the balance and contract of the antagonist principles. And this might have degenerated into the general laws of ethics and politics which philosophical tragedians love to pour forth. But Shakspeare instinctively perceived, that to render the arrogance of Coriolanus endurable to the spectator, or dramatically probable, he must debase the plebeians to a contemptable populace. The sacrifice of historic truth is often necessary to the truth of poetry. The citizens of early Rome, "rusticorum, mascula, militum, prolos,” are indeed calumniated in his scenes, and might almost pass for burgessess of Stratford ; but the unity of emotion is not dissipated by contradictory energies.”*
I cannot agree with Hallam. Shakspeare could not have made his plebeians utter noble sentiments without inconsistency with his own views. He regarded all commons as “ rude unpolished hinds."
Julius Cæsar.—" In Julius Cæsar the plot wants even that historical unity which the romantic drama requires ; the third and fourth Act are ill connected; it is deficient in female characters, and in that combination which is generally apparent amidst all the intricacies of his fable. But it abounds in fine scenes and fine passages; the spirit of Plutarch’s Brutus
is well seized; the characters have that individuality which Shakspeare seldom misses."*
I acknowledge carelessness in omitting to notice the address of Marcellus, the tribune to the people:“ Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he
• P. 571.
Run to your houses, fall upon your knees,
Of these lines, Campbell says, that “ they are among the most magnificent in the English language,” and so they strike me. With slight exceptions, the ideas are simple and homely; but the words tell, like one of the Duke of Wellington's speeches, where florid ornament might fail.
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. — “ This play,” says Hallam, “ does not furnish perhaps, so many striking beauties as the last, but is at least equally redolent of the genius of Shakspeare. Antony, indeed, was given him by history, and he has but embodied in his own vivid colours the irregular mind of the triumvir-ambitious and daring against all enemies but himself. In Cleopatra he had less to guide him. She is another incarnation of the same passions, more lawless and insensible to reason and honour, as they are found in women. This character being not one that can please, its strong and spirited delineation has not been sufficiently observed. It has, indeed, only a political originality, the type was in the courtezan of common life, but the resemblance is that of Michael Angelo's sybils to a muscular woman. In this tragedy, like Julius Cæsar, as has been justly observed by Schlegel, the events that do not pass on the stage are scarcely made clear enough to one who is not previously