صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

his daughters is the primary fource of his diftres, and that the lofs of royalty affects him only as 2 secondary and subordinate evil. He obferves th great juttness, that Lear would move our com paffion but little, did we not rather confider the .... jured father than the degraded king.

The ftory of this play, except the epifode of ESmund, which is derived, I think, from Side, is taken originally from Geoffry of Monmouth, whom Holing fhed generally copied, but perhaps imrediately from an old hiftorical ballad. My reafon for believing that the play was pofterior to the ballad, rather than the ballad to the play, is, that the ballad has nothing of Shakespeare's nocturnal tempeft, which is too ftriking to have been omitted, and that it follows the chronicle; it has the rudiments of the play, but none of its amplifications: it first hinted Lear's madnefs, but did not array it in circumftances. The writer of the ballad added fomething to the hiftory, which is a proof that he would have added more, if more had occurred to his mind, and more must have occurred if he had feen Shake peare.


This play is one of the moft pleafing of our author's performances. The fcenes are bufy and various, the incidents numerous and important, the catastrophe irresistibly affecting, and the procefs of the action carried on with fuch probability, at leaft with fuch congruity to popular opinions, as tragedy requires.

Here is one of the few attempts of Shakespeare to exhibit the converfation of gentlemen, to reprefent



the airy fprightlinefs of juvenile elegance. Dryden mentions a tradition, which might easily reach his time, of a declaration made by Shakespeare, that he was obliged to kill Mercutio in the third act, left he should have been killed by him. Yet he thinks him no fuch formidable person, but that he might have lived through the play, and died in his bed, without danger to a poet. Dryden well knew, had he been in quest of truth, that, in a pointed fentence, more regard is commonly had to the words than the thought, and that it is very seldom to be rigorously understood. Mercutio's wit, gaiety, and courage, will always procure him friends that wish him a longer life; but his death is not precipitated, he has lived out the time allotted him in the construction of the play; nor do I doubt the ability of Shakespeare to have continued his existence, though fome of his fallies are perhaps out of the reach of Dryden; whofe genius was not very fertile of merriment, nor ductile to humour, but acute, argumentative, comprehenfive, and fublime.

The Nurse is one of the characters in which the author delighted: he has, with great fubtilty of diftinction, drawn her at once loquacious and fecret, obfequious and infolent, trufty and difhoneft.

His comick fcenes are happily wrought, but his pathetick ftrains are always polluted with fome unexpected depravations. His perfons, however diftreffed, bave a conceit left them in their mifery, a miferable conceit.


If the dramas of Shakespeare were to be characterifed, each by the particular excellence which diftin



guifhes it from the reft, we must allow to the tra gedy of Hamlet the praife of variety. The incidents are fo numerous, that the argument of the play would make a long tale. The fcenes are interchangeably diverfified with merriment and folemnity; with merriment, that includes judicious and inftructive obfervations; and folemnity, not ftrained by poetical violence above the natural fentiments of man. New characters appear from time to time in continual fucceffion, exhibiting various forms of life and particular modes of converfation. The pretended madnefs of Hamlet caufes much mirth, the mournful diftraction of Ophelia fills the heart with tendernefs, and every perfonage produces the effect intended, from the apparition that in the first act chills the blood with horror, to the fop in the last, that expofes affectation to just contempt.

The conduct is perhaps not wholly fecure again.ft objections. The action is indeed for the most part in continual progreffion, but there are fome fcenes which neither forward nor retard it. Of the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears no adequate caufe, for he does nothing which he might not have done with the reputation of fanity. He plays the madman most, when he treats Ophelia with fo much rudeness, which feems to be ufelefs and wanton cruelty.

Hamlet is, through the whole piece, rather an inftrument than an agent. After he has, by the ftratagem of the play, convicted the king, he makes no attempt to punith him; and his death is at last effected by an incident which Hamlet had no part in producing.


The catastrophe is not very happily produced; the exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of neceffity, than a stroke of art. A scheme might easily have been formed to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes with the bowl.

The poet is accused of having shewn little regard to poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose; the revenge which he demands is not obtained, but by the death of him that was required to take it; and the gratification, which would arife from the deftruction of an ufurper and a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmlefs, and the pious.


The beauties of this play imprefs themselves fo ftrongly upon the attention of the reader, that they can draw no aid from critical illuftration. The fiery openness of Othello, magnanimous, artless, and credulous, boundless in his confidence, ardent in his affection, inflexible in his refolution, and obdurate in his revenge; the cool malignity of Iago, filent in his refentment, fubtle in his defigns, and ftudious at once of his intereft and his vengeance; the foft fimplicity of Desdemona, confident of merit, and confcious of innocence, her artlefs perfeverance in her fuit, and her flowness to fufpect that she can be fufpected, are fuch proofs of Shakespeare's skill in human nature, as, I fuppofe, it is vain to feek in any modern writer. The gradual progrefs which Iago makes in the Moor's conviction, and the circumstances


cumftances which he employs to inflame him, are fo artfully natural, that, though it will perhaps not be faid of him as he says of himself, that he is a ma not eafily jealous, yet we cannot but pity him, whea at last we find him perplexed in the extreme.

There is always danger, left wickedness, conjoined with abilities, fhould fteal upon efteem, though it miffes of approbation; but the character of lags is fo conducted, that he is from the firft fcene to the Jaft hated and defpifed.

Even the inferior characters of this play would be very confpicuous in any other piece, not only for their juftnefs, but their strength. Caffio is brave, benevolent, and honeft, ruined only by his want of ftubbornnefs to refift an infidious invitation. Rederigo's fufpicious credulity, and impatient fubmifTion to the cheats which he fees practifed upon him, and which by perfuafion he fuffers to be repeated, exhibit a strong picture of a weak mind betrayed by unlawful defires to a falfe friend; and the virtue of Emilia is fuch as we often find worn loofely, but not caft off, eafy to commit fmall crimes, but quickened and alarmed at atrocious villanies.

The fcenes from the beginning to the end are bufy, varied by happy interchanges, and regularly promoting the progreffion of the ftory; and the narrative in the end, though it tells but what is known already, yet is neceffary to produce the death of Othello.

Had the scene opened in Cyprus, and the preceding incidents been occafionally related, there had been little wanting to a drama of the most exact and fcrupulous regularity.

« السابقةمتابعة »