Page images
PDF
EPUB

at one time and foolishly at another; that his advice to Laertes is very sensible, and his advice to the King and Queen on the subject of Hamlet's madness very ridiculous. But he gives the one as a father, and is sincere in it; he gives the other as a mere courtier, a busy.body, and is accordingly officious, garrulous, and impertinent. In short, Shakspeare has been accused of inoon. sistency in this and other characters, only because he has kept up the distinction which there is in nature, between the under standings and the moral habits of men, between the absurdity of their ideas and the absurdity of their motives. Polonius is not a fool, but he makes himself appear one. His folly, whether in his actions or speeches, comes under the head of impropriety of intention.

Hamlet is probably, of all other of Shakspeare's characters, the most difficult to personate on the stage. It is like the attempt to embody a shadow.

* Come then, the color and the ground prepare,
Dip in the rainbow, trick her off in air !
Chase a firm cloud, before it falls, and in it
Catch, ere she change, the Cynthia of a minute."

Such, nearly, is the task which the actor imposes on himself in the part of Hamlet. It is quite remote from hardness and dry precision. The character is spun to the finest thread, yet never loses its continuity. It has the yielding flexibility of a wave of the sca! It is made up of undulating lines, without a single sharp angle. There is no set purpose, no straining at . point. "The observations are suggested by the passing scene the gusts of passion come and go, like the sounds of music borne on the wind. The interest depends not on the action, but on the thoughts.

THE TEMPEST.

THERE can be little doubt that Shakspeare was the most universal genius that ever lived. “Either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, scene in. dividable or poem unlimited, he is the only man. Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus too light for him.” He has not only the same absolute command over our laughter and our tears, all the resources of passion, of wit, of thought, of observation, but he has the most unbounded range of fanciful invention, whether terrible or playful, the same insight into the world of imagination that he has into the world of reality; and over all there presides the same truth of character and nature, and the same spirit of humanity. His ideal beings are as true and natural as his real characters ; that is, as consistent with themselves, for if we supposed such beings to exist at all, they could not act, speak, or feel otherwise than as he makes them. He has invented for them a language, manners, and sentiments of their own, from the tremendous imprecations of the witches in Macbeth, when they do “a deed without a name,” to the sylph-like expressions of Ariel, who “ does his spiriting gently;" the mischievous tricks and gossipping of Robin Goodfellow, or the uncouth gabbling and emphatic gesticulations of Caliban in this play.

The Tempest is one of the most original and perfect of Shak. speare's productions, and he has shown in it all the variety of his powers. It is full of grace and grandeur. The human and imaginary characters, the dramatic and the grotesque, are blended together with the greatest art and without any appear

ance of it. Though he has here given “ to airy nothing a local habitation and a name," yet that part which is only the fantastic creation of his mind, has the same palpable texture, and coheres " semblably” with the rest. As the preternatural part has the air of reality, and almost haunts the imagination with a sense of truth, the real characters and events partake of the wildness of a dream. The stately magician, Prospero, driven from his dukedom, but around whom (so potent is his art) airy spirits throng numberless to do his bidding; his daughter Miranda ("* worthy of that name"), to whom all the power of his art points, and who seems the goddess of the isle ; the princely Ferdinand, cast by fate upon the haven of his happiness; the delicate Ariel ; the savage Caliban, half brute, half demon; the drunken ship's crew-are all connected parts of the story, and could not be spared from the place they fill. Even the local scenery is of a piece and character with the subject. Pros. pero's enchanted island seems to have risen up out of the soa ; the airy music, the tempest-tost vessel, the turbulent waves, all have the effect of the landscape back.ground of some fine pic ture. Shakspeare's pencil is (to use an allusion of his own)

like the dyer's hand, subdued to what it works in." Every. thing in him, though it partakes “of the liberty of wit," is also subjected to "the law" of the understanding. For instance, even the drunken sailors share, in the disorder of their minds and bodies, in the tumult of the elements, and seem on shore to be as much at the mercy of chance as they were before at the mercy of the winds and waves. These fellows, with their sea-wit, are the least to our taste of any part of the play: but they are as like drunken sailors as they can be, and are an indirect foil to Caliban, whose figure acquires a classical dignity in the comparison.

The character of Caliban is generally thought (and justly so) to be one of the author's masterpieces. It is not indeed plea sant to see this character on the stage Lay more then it is to see the god Pan personated there. But in itsek i* fe que of the wildest and most abstracted of all houra.o's s caolens ; whose deformity, whether of body or mind, is redeon -y the power and truth of the imagination displayed in it. in the

cter and wild, uncramrin, eartby."linstinctivel

essence of grossness, but there is not a particle of vulgarity in it. Shakspeare has described the brutal mind of Caliban in contact with the pure and original forms of nature ; the cha. racter grows out of the soil where it is rooted, uncontrolled, uncouth, and wild, uncramped by any of the meannesses of cus. tom. It is “ of the earth, earthy.” It seems almost to have been dug out of the ground, with a soul instinctively superadded to it, answering to its wants and origin. Vulgarity is not natural coarseness, but conventional coarseness, learnt from others, contrary to, or without an entire conformity of natural power and disposition; as fashion is the common-place affectation of what is elegant and refined without any feeling of the essence of it. Schlegel, the admirable German critic on Shakspeare, observes that Caliban is a poetical character, and “always speaks in blank verse." He first comes in thus :

* CALIBAN. As wicked dew as e'er my mother brush'd
With raven's feather from unwholesome fen,
Drop on you both : a south-west blow on ye,
And blister you all o'er !

PROSPERO. For this, be sure, to-night thou shalt have cramps,
Side stitches that shall pen thy breath up; urchins
Shall for that vast of night that they may work,
All exercise on thee; thou shalt be pinch'd
As thick as honey-combs, each pinch more stinging
Than bees that made 'em.

CALIBAN. I must eat my dinner.
This island's mine by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me. When thou camest first,
Thou strok’dst me, and mad'st much of me; would'st give me
Water with berries in 't; and teach me how
To name the bigger light and how the less
That burn by day and night'; and then I loved thee,'
And show'd thee all the qualities of th' isle,
The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile :
Curs'd be I that I did so! All the charms
Or Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Who first was mine own king; and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest oth' island."

And again, he promises Trinculo his services thus, if he will free him from his drudgery.

"r'll show thee the best springs; I'll pluck thee berries,
I'll fish for thee, and get thee wood enough.
I pr’ythee let me bring thee where crabs grow.
And I with my long nails will dig thee pig-nuts :
Show thee a jay's nest, and instruct thee how
To share the nimble marmozet: I'll bring thee
To clust'ring filberds; and sometimes I'll get thee
Young scamels from the rock."

In conducting Stephano and Trinculo to Prospero's cell, Cali. ban shows the superiority of natural capacity over greater knowledge and greater folly; and in a former soene, when Ariel frightens them with his music, Caliban to encourage them accounts for it in the eloquent poetry of the senses.

_** Be not afraid, the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twanging instruments
Will hum about mine cans, and sometimes voices,
That if I then had waked after long sleep,
Would make me sleep again, and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon mne: when I wak'd
I cried to dream again."

This is not more beautiful than it is true. The poet here shows us the savage with the simplicity of a child, and makee the strange monster amiable. Shakspeare had to paint the human animal rude and without choice in its pleasures, but not without the sense of pleasure or some germ of the affections. Master Barnardine, in Measure for Measure, the savage of civilized life, is an admirable philosophical counterpart to Cali. ban.

Shakspeare has, as it were by design, drawn off from Caliban the elements of whatever is ethereal and refined, to compound them in the unearthly mould of Ariel. Nothing was ever more finely conceived than this pontrast between the material and the spiritual, the gross and delioate. Ariel is imaginary power, the

« PreviousContinue »