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stifled the emotions springing up from a sense of the distress.But this is nothing to the case in band. For, as Hamlet says:
“ What 's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba.” 2. When bad lines raise this affection, they are bad in the other extreme; low, abject, and grovelling, instead of being highly figurative and swelling; yet, when attended with a natural simplicity, they have force enough to strike illiterate and simple minds. The tragedies of Banks will justify both these observations.
But if any one will still say, that Shakspeare intended to represent a player unnaturally and fantastically affected, we must appeal to Hamlet, that is, to Shakspeare limself in this matter; who, on the reflection he makes upon the player's emotion, in order to excite his own revenge, gives not the least bint that the player was unnaturally or injudiciously moved. On the contrary, bis fine description of the actor's emotion shows, he thought just otherwise :
ibis player here,
“ A broken voice," 8c. And indeed had Hamlet esteemed this emotion any thing unnatural, it had been a very improper circumstance to spur him to his purpose.
As Shakspeare has here shown the effects which a fine description of nature, heightened with all the ornaments of art, had upon an intelligent player, whose business habituales him to enter intimately and deeply into the characters of men and manners, and to give nature its free workings on all occasions; so he has art fully shown what effects the same scene would have upon a quite different man, Polonius; by nature, very weak and very artificial (two qualities, though commonly enough joined in life, yet generally so much disguised as not to be seen by common eyes to be together; and which an ordinary poet durst not have brought so near one another}; by discipline, practised in a species of wit and eloquence, which was stiff, forced, and pedantic; and by trade a politician, and therefore, of consequence, without any of the affecting notices of humanity. Such is the man whom Shakspeare has judiciously chosen to represent the false taste of that audience which had condemned the play here reciting. When the actor comes to the finest and most pathetic part of the speech, Polonius cries out This is too long; on which Hamlet, in contempt of his ill judgment, replies, It shall to the barber's with thy beard; [intimating that, by this judgment, it appeared that all his wisdom lay in his length of beard]. Priythee, say on. He's for a jig or a tale of bawdry (the common entertainment of that time, as well as this, of the people] or he sleeps; say on. And yet this man of modern taste, who stood all this time perfectly unmoved with the forcible imagery of the relator, no sooner bears,
amongst many good things, one quaint and fantastical word, put in, I suppose, purposely for this end, than he professes his appro. bation of the propriety and dignity of it. That's good. Mobled queen is good. On the whole then, I think, it plainly appears, that the long quotation is not given to be ridiculed and laughed at, but to be admired. The character given of the play, by Hamlet, cannot be ironical. The passage itself is extremely beautiful. It has the effect that all pathetick relations, naturally written, should have; and it is condemned, or regarded with indifference, by one of a wrong, unnatural taste. From hence (to observe it by the way) the actors, in the representation of this play, may learn how this speech ought to be spoken, and what appearance Ham. let ought to assume during the recital.
That which supports the common opinion, concerning this passage, is the turgid expression in some parts of it; which, they think, could never be given by the poet to be commended. We shall, therefore, in the next place, examine the lines most obnoxious to censure, and see how much, allowing the charge, this will make for the induction of their conclusion:
“ Pyrrhus at Priam drives, in rage strikes wide,
66 The unnerved father falls." And again,
“Out, out, thou strumpet fortune! All you gods,
" As low as to the fiends." Now whether these be bombast or not, is not the question; but whether Shakspeare esteemed them so. That he did not so esteem them appears from his having used the very same thoughts in the same expressions, in his best plays, and given them to his principal characters, where he aims at the sublime. As in the fol. lowing passages:
Troilus, in Troilus and Cressida, far outstrains the execution of Pyrrhus's sword in the character he gives of Hector's:
“When many times the caitive Grecians fall
“ You bid them rise and live." Cleopatra, in Antony and Cleopatra, rails at fortune in the same manner:
“ No, let me speak, and let me rail so high,
“ Provok'd at my offence.” But another use may be made of these quotations; a discovery of this recited play: which, letting us into a circumstance of our author's life (as a writer) hitherto unknown, was the reason I have been so large upon this question. I think then it appears, from what has been said, that the play in dispute was Shakspeare's own; and that this was the occasion of writing it. He was desir. ous, as soon as he had found his strength, of restoring the chaste.
ness and regularity of the ancient stage: and therefore composed this tragedy on the model of the Greek drama, as may be seen by throwing so much action into relation. But his attempt proved fruitless; and the raw, unnatural taste, then prevalent, forced him back again into his old Gothic manner. For which he took this revenge upon bis audience. Warburton.
I formerly thought that the lines which have given rise to the foregoing observations, were extracted from some old play, of which it appeared to me probable that Christopher Marlowe was the author; but whatever Shakspeare's view in producing them may have been, I am now decidedly or opinion they were written by himself, not in any former unsuccessful piece, but expressly for the play of Hamlet. It is observable that what Dr. Warburton calls - the tine similitude of the storm,” is likewise found in our poet's Venus and Actonis. Malone.
The praise which Hamlet bestows on this piece is certainly dissembled, and agrees very well with the character of madness, which, before witnesses, be thought it necessary to support. The speeches before us have so little merit, that nothing but an affectation of singularity, could bare influenced Dr. Warburton to undertake their defence. The poet, perhaps, meant to exhibit a just resemblance of some of the plays of his own age, in which the faults were too general and 100 giaring to permit a few splendid passages to atone for them. The player krew bis trade, and spoke the lines in an affecting manner, because Hamlet had de. clared them to be pathetick, or might be in reality a little moved by them; for, “ There are less degrees of nature (says Dryden) by which some faint emotions of pity and terror are raised in us, as a less engine will raise a less proportion of weight, though not so much as one of Archimedes' making.” The mind of the prince, it must be confessed, was fitted for the reception of gloomy ideas, and pris tears were ready at a slight solicitation. It is by no means proved, that Shakspeare has employed the same thoughts clothed in the same expressions, in his best plays. It be bids the false huswife Fortune break her wheel, he does not desire her to break all its spokes; nay, even its periphery, and make use of the nave afterwards for such an immensurable cast Though if what Dr. Warburton has said should be found in any instance to be exactly true, what can we infer from thence, but that Shakspeare was sometimes wrong in spite of conviction, and in the hurry of writing committed those very faults which his judgement could detect in others ? Dr. Warburton is inconsistent in his assertions concerning the literature of Shakspeare. In a note on Troilus and Cressida, he affirms, that his want of learning kept him from being acquainted with the writings of Homer; and, in this instance, would suppose him capable of producing a complete tragedy written on the ancient rules; and that the speech before us had sufficient merit to entitle it to a place in the second book of Virgil's Æneid, even though the work had been carried to that perfection which the Roman poet had con. ceived. *
Had Shakspeare made one unsuccessful attempt in the manner of the ancients (that he had any knowledge of their rules, remains to be proved,) it would certainly have been recorded by contemporary writers, among whom Ben Jonson would have been the first. Had bis darling ancients been unskilfully imitated by a rival poet, he would at least have preserved the memory of the fact, to show how unsafe it was for any one, who was not as thorough a scholar as himself, to have meddled with their sacred remains.
“Within that circle none durst walk but he.” He has represented Inigo Jones as being ignorant of the very names of those classick authors, whose architecture he undertook to correct; in his Poetaster he has in several places hinted at our poet's injudi. cious use of words, and seems to have pointed his ridicule more than once at some of his descriptions and characters. It is true that he has praised him, but it was not while that praise could have been of any service to him; and posthumous applause is always to be had on easy conditions. Happy it was for Shakspeare, that be took nature for his guide, and, engaged in the warm pursuit of her beauties, left to Jonson the repositories of learning : so has he escaped a contest which might have rendered bis life uneasy, and bequeathed to our possession the more valuable copies from nature berself: for Shakspeare was (says Dr. Hurd, in his notes on Horace's Art of Poetry)“ the first that broke through the bondage of classical superstition. And he owed this felicity, as he did some others, to his want of what is called the advantage of a learned education. Thus uninfluenced by the weight of early prepossession, he struck at once into the road of nature and com. mon sense: and without designing, witlout knowing it, hath left us in his historical plays, with all their anomalies, an exacter re. semblance of the Athenian stage than is any where to be found in its most professed admirers and copyists.” Again, ibid: “It is possible, there are, who think, a want of rea:ling, as well as vast superiority of genius, hath contributed to lift this astonishing man, to the glory of being esteemed the most original THINKER and SPEAKER, since the times of Homer."
To this extract I may add the sentiments of Dr. Edward Young on the same occasion. “ Who knows whether Shakspeare might
It appears to me not only that Shakspeare had the favourable opinion of these lines which he makes Hamlet express, but that they were extracted from some play which he, at a more early pe. riod, had either produced or projected upon the story of Dido and Æneas. The verses recited are far superior those of any coeval writer: the parallel passage in Marlowe and Nashe's Dido will not bear the comparison. Possibly, indeed, it might have been his first attempt, before the divinity that lodz'l within him had instruct. ed him to despise the tumid and unnatural siyle so much and so unjustly admired in his preclccessors or contemporaries, and which he afterwards so happily ridiculed in "the swaggering vaine of Ancient Pistol.” Ritson.
not have thought less, if he had read more? Who knows if he might not have laboured under the load of Jonson's learning, as Enceladus under Ætna ? His mighty genius, indeed, through the most mountainous oppression would have breathed out some of his inextinguishable fire; yet possibly, he might not have risen up into that giant, that much more than common man, at which we now gaze with amazement and delight. Perbaps he was as learned as his dramatick province required; for whatever other learning he wanted, he was master of two books, which the last conflagration alone can destroy; the book of nature, and that of man These he had by heart, and has transcribed many admirable pages of them into his immortal works. These are the fountain-head, whence the Castalian streams of original composition flow; and these are often mudded by other waters, though waters in their distinct channel, most wholesome and pure; as two chemical li. quors, separately clear as chrystal, grow foul by mixture, and of. fend the sight. So that he had not only as much learning as his dramatick province required, but, perhaps as it could safely bear. If Milton had spared some of his learning, his muse would have gained more glory than he would have lost by it.”
Conjectures on Original Composition. The first remark of Voltaire on this tragedy, is that the former king had been poisoned by his brother and his queen. The guilt of the latter, however, is far from being ascertained. The Ghost forbears to accuse her as an accessary, and very forcibly recommends her to the mercy of her son I may add, that her con. science appears undisturbed during the exhibition of the mock tragedy, which produces so visible a disorder in her husband who was really criminal. The last observation of the same author has no greater degree of veracity to boast of; for now, says he, all the actors in the piece were swept away, and one Monsieur For. tenbras is introduced to conclude it. Can this be true, when Horatio, Osric, Voltimand, and Cornelius survive? These, together with the whole court of Denmark, are supposed to be present at the catastrophe, so that we are not indebted to the Norwegian chief for baving kept the stage from vacancy:
Monsieur de Voltaire has since transmitted, in an epistle to the Academy of Belles lettres, some remarks on the late French translation of Shakspeare; but, alas! no traces of genius or vigour are discoverable in this crambe repetita, which is notorious only for its insipirlity, fallacy, and malice. It serves indeed to show an apparent decline of talents and spirit in its writer, who no longer relies on his own ability to depreciate a rival, but appeals in a plaintive strain to the queen and princesses of France for their assistance to stop the further circulation of Shakspeare's
Impartiality, nevertheless, must acknowledge that his private correspondence displays a superior degree of animation. Perhaps an ague shook him when he appealed to the publick on this sub. ject; but the effects of a fever seem to predominate in his subsequent letter to Monsieur D'Argenteuil on the same occasion; for