« PreviousContinue »
This is become the general opinion. I think just otherwise; and that it was given with commendation to upbraid the false taste of the audience of that time, which would not suffer them to do jus. tice to the simplicity and sublime of this production. And I rea. son, first, from the character Hamlet gives of the play, from whence the passage is taken. Secondly, from the passage itself. And thirdly, from the effect it had on the audience.
Let us consider the character Hamlet gives of it. The play I remember, pleased not the million; 'twas caviare to the general: but it was (as I received it, and others, whose judgement in such matters cried in the top of mine) an excellent play, well digested in the scenes, set down with as much modesty as cunning. I remember one said, there 9.33 no salt in the lines to make the matter savoury; nor no matter in the phrase that might indite the author of affection; but called it an honest method. They who suppose the passage given to be ridi. culed, must needs suppose this character to be purely ironical. But if so, it is the strangest irony that ever was written. It pleased not the multitude. This we must conclude to be true, however iro. nical the rest be. Now the reason given of the designed ridicule is the supposed bombast. But those were the very plays, which at that time we know took with the multitude. And Fletcher wrote a kind of Rehearsal purposely to expose them. But say it is bom. bast, and that therefore it took not with the multitude. Hamlet presently tells us what it was that displeased them, There was no salt in the lines to make the matter savoury; nor no matter in the phrase that might indite the author of affection; but called it an hunest method. Now whether a person speaks ironically or no, when he quotes others, yet common sense requires he should quote what they say. Now it could not be, if this play displeased because of the bombast, that those whom it displeased should give this reason for their dislike. The same inconsistencies and absur. dities abound in every other part of Hamlet's speech, supposing it to be ironical; but take him as speaking his sentiments, the whole is of a piece; and to this purpose. The play, I remember, pleased not the multitude, and the reason was, its being wrote on the rules of the ancient drama; to which they were entire strangers. But, in my opinion, and in the opinion of those for whose judgment I have the highest esteem, it was an excellent play, well digested in the scenes, i. e. where the three unities were well pre. served. Set down with as much modesty as cunning, i. e. where not only the art of composition, but the simplicity of nature, was care. fully attended to. The characters were a faithful picture of life and manners, in which nothing was overcharged into farce. But these qualities, which gained my esteem, lost the publick's. For I remember, one said, There was no salt in the lines to make the matter savoury, i. e. there was not, according to the mode of that time, a fool or clown, to joke, quibble, and talk freely. Nor no matter in the phrase that might indite the author of affection, i. e. nor none of those passionate, pathetick love scenes, so essential to modern tragedy. But he called it an honest method, i. e. he owned, however tasteless this method of writing, on the ancient plan, was to our
times, yet it was chaste and pure; the distinguishing character of the Greek drama. I need only make one observation on all this; that, thus interpreted, it is the justest picture of a good tra. gedy, wrote on the ancient rules. And that I have rightly interpreted it, appears farther from what we find in the old quarto,An honest method, as wholesome as sweet, and by very much more HANDSOME than FINE, i. e. it had a natural beauty, but none of the fucus of false art.
2. A second proof that this speech was given to be admired, is from the intrinsick merit of the speech itself; which contains the description of a circumstance very happily imagined, namely, Ilium and Priam's falling together, with the effect it had on the destroyer.
The hellish Pyrrhus, &c. To,
“Repugnant to command.
“ The unnerved father fails, c. To,
So after Pyrrhus' pause." Now this circumstance, illustrated with the fine similitude of the storm is so highly worked up, as to have well deserved a place in Virgii's second book of the Æneid, even though the work had been carried on to that perfection which the Roman poet had conceived.
3. The third proof is, from the effects which followed on the recital. Hamlet, his best character, approves it; the player is deeply affected in repeating it; and only the foolish Polonius tired with it. We have said enough before of Hamlet's sentiments. As for the player, he changes colour, and the tears start from his eyes. But our author was too good a judge of nature to make bombast and unnatural sentiment produce such an effect. Nature and Horace both instructed him:
“Si vis me ilere, dolendum est
“ Aut dormitabo aut ridebo." And it may be tortli observing, that Horace gives this precept particularly to show, that bombast and unnatural sentiments are incapable of moving the tender passions, which he is directing the poet how to raise. For, in the lines just before, he gives this rule:
“Telephus & Peleus, cùm pauper & exul uterque,
“Projicit ampullas, & sesquipedalia verba.” Not that I would deny, that very bad lines in bad tragedies have had this effect. But then it always proceeds from one or other of these causes:
1. Either when the subject is domestick, and the scene lies at home; the spectators, in this case, become interested in the for. tunes of the distressed; and their thoughts are so much taken up with the subject, that they are not at liberty to attend to the poet; who otherwise, by his faulty sentiments and diction, would have
stifled the emotions springing up from a sense of the distress.But this is nothing to the case in hand. 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 himself in this matter; who, on the reflection he makes upon the player's emotion, in order to excite his out n revenge, gives not the least hint that the player was unnaturally or injudiciously moved. On the contrary, his fine description of the actor's emotion shows, he thought just otherwise:
this player here,
" A broken voice," Esc. And indeed lad Hamlet esteemed this emotion any thing innatural, 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 habituates him to enter intimately and deeply into the characters of men and man. ners, and to give nature its free workings on all occasions; so he has artfully shown what effects the very 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 bis 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). Pr’ythee, 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 un. proved with the forcible imagery of the relator, no sooner hears, amongst many good things, one quaint and fantastical word, put in, I suppose, purposely for this end, than he professes his approbation of the propriety and dignity of it. That's good. Mobled queen is good. On the whole then, I think, it plainly appears, that ihe 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,
6 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 es. teem 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
“ 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 his 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 of 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. Warbur. ton calls “the fine similitude of the storm,” is likewise found in our poet's Venus and Adonis. Malone.
The praise which Hamlet bestows on this piece is certainly dissembled, and agrees very well with the character of madness, which, before witnesses, he thought it necessary to support. The speeches before us have so little merit, that nothing but an affectation of singularity, could have influenced Dr. Warburton to un. dertake 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 too glaring to permit a few splen. did passages to atone for them. The player knew his trade, and spoke the lines in an affecting manner, because Hamlet had de. clared them to be pathetick, or mighi be in reality a little moved by them; for, “ There are less degrees of nature (says Dryden) by which some funt 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, jt must be confessed, was fitted for the reception of gloomy ideas, and his tears were really 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. If he bids the false huswife Fortune break her wheel, he does not desire her to break all its sputes; nay, even its periphery, cmd make use of the nave afterwards for such an immeasurable 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. War. burton 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 ca. pable 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 worle had been carried to that perfection which the Roman poet had conceived.*