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than skill, it is not to be wondered if he has sometimes fallen into inconsistencies, and given us pictures of which the originals were never found in nature. It is really laughable to see what the perfectionists make of the character of Hamlet. One tells us it is a delineation of intense goodness; another, of one's meditation; Goethe thinks it is the exhibition of man whose destiny is too mighty for him; he sinks under it, as the root of the plant may burst the vase in which it grows; one reader I have found, who thought it was a delineation of revenge; especially as he did not kill his father-in-law at prayers, because he wished to destroy his soul as well as his body; and sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, by a forged commission, to their final doom, and yet say:
Why, man, they did make love to this employment;
Now though the perfectionists tell us that the reason of this dif ference is, that the poet is so profound that he hides his purpose so deeply that no critic can find it,3 yet it is a much more natural conclusion, where so many wise men differ, to suppose that Shakespeare, like other mortals, has failed in a province where he is generally so strong.
He has surely little skill in the purely pathetic. I am aware that some of the critics, even of the old school, have claimed this for him. Pope tells us, in his preface, that "the power over our passions was never possessed in a more eminent degree, or displayed in so different instances. Yet all along there is seen no labor, no pains to seize them; no preparation to guide our guess to the effect, or be perceived to lead toward it; but the heart swells and tears burst out, just at the proper places."4 Though we have often been told that he is equally master of the tragic and comic vein, yet no man can be argued out of his perception. That part of tragedy which consists in a mind torn by ambition, darkened by misanthropy, rushing to murder, or sinking in remorse; in depicting these agitations, I grant he leaves almost every other poet out of sight and remembrance. When he opens the superstitious world on us, when he dives to the tomb and recalls the dead, we shudder at his mystic power. But for simple pity he is not eminent. He is always counteracting his own purpose. There can be no mistake here in any reader, who has not
1 Hamlet, Act III, Scene 3.
* See Schlegel's Lectures, L. XXIII, p. 360. Pope's Preface to Shakespeare.
* Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2.
1847.] In exciting pity the Poet is not successful.
wrought himself into an artificial state, and is willing to surrender himself to his own feelings. What is pathos? It is always an abstraction; it is always idealism; and it is no paradox to say that our images and groupings may be too natural to be pathetic. You must show innocence and simplicity suffering, and pure innocence is not found on earth. You must not be too true to nature; you must not throw in those abatements, which are always found in real life. You must hide those circumstances which mar the picture and check the tear, by a contrary power, just as it begins to flow. No doubt, Clarissa Harlow, (if she ever had a prototype in real life,) had many follies and faults which would abate our sympathy. But Richardson was too wise to bring them forward. He makes her a suffering angel. Shakespeare always blabs out the whole secret. Thus Romeo is deeply in love, and at first sight; because he is so inflammable. He passes from Rosaline to Juliet with scarce a moment's pause, and dying for each. Now I have no doubt that this may be nature (for love is more owing to susceptibility, than to excellence in the objective), but it is very little calculated to increase the pathos. Nor is this the worst. In the most pathetic scenes (so intended), where the whole energy of the fable seems to force him and his readers to be serious; when aged imbecility is persecuted with ingratitude, and disappointed love weeps over the tomb, he thrusts in some contemptible joke, which loses its power by having wandered from its place. It is as if Harlequin should break into a room where there was a dead corpse and attempt to dance, in his motley coat, over the coffin. Thus when Juliet hears of her lover's death as she supposes, the poor, afflicted girl breaks out into these dignified and natural lamentations:
[But first the simple reader must understand the beautiful allusion-the word aye, in former times, was pronounced like the pronoun I; and both, of course, like the word eye; so that we have here a triple pun.]
Hath Romeo slain himself? Say thou but I [aye]
But her lover is not a whit wiser; no wonder, they were enamoured; for they were certainly well matched. For Romeo laments his banishment in such strains as these:
Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 2.
Heaven is here,
Where Juliet lives; and every cat, and dog,
After this pathetic mentioning of cats and dogs, he goes on to flies. They may light on her, and he cannot.
Flies may do this, when I from this must fly.1
Such is the pathos of Shakespeare.
He often lurches us, too, in the very scenes where he has raised the greatest expectation. When Juliet is found dead in her bed, (as the family suppose,) and the whole circle is thrown into confusion, (if ever he wished to touch our pity, it was then,) he has introduced his nurse thus lamenting:
O woe! O woful, woful, woful day!
O day! O day! O day! O hateful day!
In Hamlet, no scene is more important than the play in which the young prince expects to detect the guilt of the king; he confines Horatio to observe him even with the very comment of his soul; and our expectations are wrought up to the highest pitch:-we wonder what Hamlet is going to say; when, lo! his feelings evap. orate in this wise speech:
For thou dost know, O Damon dear,
Of Jove himself; and now reigns here
When king Lear, oppressed by his daughters, is turned out into the storm and all nature seems to sympathize with him, the heavens dart their fires; the tempest blows and the poor discrowned king feels as if all the elements were combined against a head
so old and white as this.
In this scene, when if ever a poet was called to select the images which elevate the sublime and deepen the pathetic, it was on such a solemn occasion, we have a fool who regularly mixes his
1 Romeo and Juliet, Act IV, Scene 3. Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2.
Shakespeare counteracts his own design.
buffoonery with his master's sorrows, as if the one could not subsist without the other. With regard to this, Schiller has the conscience to say: "When I first, at a very early age, became acquainted with this poet, I felt indignant at his coldness, his hardness of heart, which permitted him in the most melting pathos to utter jests; to mar, by the introduction of a fool, the soul-searching scenes of Hamlet, Lear and other pieces; which now kept him still when my sensibilities hastened forward, now drove him carelessly onward, when I would so gladly have lingered. . . . He was the object of my reverence and zealous study for years before I could love him. I was not yet capable of comprehending nature at first hand." No doubt, the German poet was natural in his first impressions; thousands have felt exactly so. But was he right in his efforts to conquer them? Did he reach nature by "What we call seeking after our duty," says bishop Butler, "is often nothing else but explaining it away."2
It is vain to say here that this method is a close adherence to nature. Surely Shakespeare himself, has some principle of selec tion; and was instinctively drawn to pursue the beautiful even in his utmost devotion to that which is true. I do not object at all, to his passing from the homely and the comic, in the same drama, to the tragic and sublime. I am inclined to think that our smiles prepare the way for our tears; such a drama is, no doubt, a more faithful picture of life. But what I object to, is throwing contrary weights, at the same moment, into the mental balance and thus counteracting the very design the author has in view. If a lion and monkey appear on the ground together, depend on it the sympathy of the spectators will be with the monkey; the ludicrous will overpower the sublime. Not even the high name of Shakespeare can make such mixtures either right or pleasing. If you doubt it I appeal to a kindred art. Mr. Burke tells us of a painter, who delineating the Last Supper,3 placed under the table, beneath Christ and his apostles, a dog gnawing a bone, and he severely censures the bad taste which could join so homely an event with so solemn a scene. Every reader must agree with him; and what is wrong in the painter cannot be right in the poet; for our sentiments in each case are precisely the same.
The fact is, that Shakespeare's love of homely nature led him
1 See Carlyle's Life of Schiller, p. 14, note. Butler's Sermons, Serm. VII. Vol. I.
3 Hints for an Essay on the Drama, Burke's Works, Vol. V. p. 351, Boston edition, 1813.
VOL. IV. No. 15.
away from those beautiful combinations in which pathos must consist. It is folly to heap inconsistent praises on the same man. There can be no mistake here. If Otway, Southern, Richardson, Rowe, Mackenzie, Talfourd in Ion, are pathetic, Shakespeare is not; at least it is not his discriminating excellence. For myself, I must confess (be it shame or truth) I have never had a heartier laugh than at some of his tragic scenes.
He selects very improper subjects for representation. He wants decorum; his ladies are immensely indelicate, and permit such language before them as marks and can scarcely be justified by even a semi-civilized age. It is one of Schlegel's paradoxes that the English had reached the very height of true refinement in queen Elizabeth's day. "With regard to the tone of society in Shakespeare's day, it is necessary to remark, that there is a wide difference between true mental cultivation and what is called polish. That artificial polish which puts an end to everything like free original communication, and subjects all intercourse to the insipid uniformity of certain rules, was undoubtedly wholly unknown to the age of Shakespeare, as in a great measure it still is at the present day in England. It possessed on the other hand, a fulness of healthy vigor, which showed itself always with boldness, and sometimes with petulance. The spirit of chivalry was not yet wholly extinct, and a queen, who was far more jealous of exacting homage to her sex than her throne, and who with her determination, wisdom and magnanimity, was in fact well qualified to inspire the minds of her subjects with an ardent enthusiasm, inflamed that spirit to the noblest love of glory and renown." Her majesty's care in exacting homage to her sex, was seen in pulling off her shoe and throwing it at the head of one courtier; in swearing at another; in being chased into her bed-chamber by a third; in allowing one bishop to tell her publicly that she was an "untamed heifer," and another to describe the whole sex in the following strain: "Women," said bishop Aylmer in a sermon at court, "are of two sorts. Some of them are wiser, better learned, discreeter and more constant, than a number of men; but another and a worse sort of them, and the MOST PART, are fond, foolish, wanton flibbergibs, tattlers, triflers, wavering, witless, without counsel, feeble, careless, rash, proud, dainty, nice, tale-bearers, eves-droppers, rumor-raisers, evil-tongued, worseminded, and in every wise doltified with the dregs of the devil's
1 Lectures on Dramatic Literature, Lect. XXII. p. 349, Black's Translation.