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400

THE INSECT AND THE KING.

CHAPTER XXX.

Literary Aspects of the Drama.-The King of Dramatists.-Shakespeare's Purity of Tone.-His Pictures of the Period -His Contribution to General Literature.-Amusing French Blunders in Translating from Shakespeare." Who wrote Shikspur?"-An Amusing Travesty.— Shakespeare Reconstructed-Where Dramatists get their Plots.-High Art and Common Sense.—Patrick and the Bull.-Modern Comedy.— What it Needs. - Woman in Comedy.-Decency and Merriment.— Women Dramatists Wanted.-The Pay of Dramatists.-An Old-time Letter.-American Managers and American Playwrights. - How a Philadelphia Manager fooled the Public.-The Gentleman who improved on my "Surf" scene.-The Actor who Improved on his Improvement.-A Ghoulish Boston Notion.-Sensational Plays.-The "Lady of Lyons" Laughed at.—The Traditional Stage Sailor.

In its literary aspects, the stage illustrates at once the highest and the lowest intellectual effort.

All the way from Shakespeare, the king of dramatists, down to Boggs, the burlesque writer (who may be termed the insect of dramatists), the various gradations of human genius, talent, cleverness, so-soishness, stupidity and imbecility have from time to time found illustration on the theatrical stage.

That is of course a more agreeable and inspiring view to take of the dramatic literary world, which shuts out the insect and dwells upon the king.

The immortality of the drama, says an admirer of the theatre, "is inseparable from the immortality of poetry, music and painting. The caprice of fashion may give for a time allurement to other and very different enjoyments. The blunders which may be made from the incapacity or ignorance of directors, may so injure it that it cannot but droop and pine. Managers may be ruined by dozens,

SHAKESPEARE'S CLEANLINESS.

401

and great actors may for a time disappear; but the drama itself is not dead, but sleepeth.

Each new generation must be made acquainted with Shakespeare. Editions of his works succeed each other with astonishing rapidity, and in no country has the great dramatist called forth to his illustration of late years, higher genius, profounder knowledge, or better taste than in our own. No polite education can be obtained without some acquaintance with this author; and the youthful reader will soon sigh for a living representation of the wonders of that creative pen.

The student of Milton, Addison, Pope, Steel, Dryden, Young, Goldsmith, and all the chiefs of English literature, is hourly brought into feelings of interest for the drama and its actors. How absurd, then, to talk of the drama being nearly obsolete! Let a new Kean or a new O'Neal start forth into the mimic world, and the immense and deserved popularity of Rachel will soon cease to be the latest wonder. The importance of the stage is generally undervalued by many who do not, or will not perceive its immediate connection with morals and manners.”

In spite of the sometimes objectionable language Shakespeare puts in the mouths of his characters, his teachings are singularly pure and noble. . « Of all dramatists he is not only the greatest, but the most decorous and cleanly. His is a wit which never poisons our relations to humanity; his is a humor which never sinks into the slough of merely filthy imaginations; his is a broad and sunny fun, which maids and matrons, who were driven from the theatre when Aristophanes was played, can heartily enjoy without contamination. With man's highest faith and holiest hope his sympathy is constant. He approaches no sacred theme without a due sense of its holiness; the heaven of his inspiration is the heaven of our most precious revelation; he draws no

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THE DAYS OF WITCHCRAFT.

ribald priests, and he casts no scorn upon religious belief, however humble or however erroneous; he has no sneer for marriage, no gibe for marital fidelity, no apology for the seducer; but, upon the contrary, a wonderful admiration for female purity, which no freak of unbridled fancy ever leads him to discard. He has left us thirty-seven of the best plays in the world, and not one of them has ever exercised an immoral influence upon young or old. Let that be at once his praise and the eternal vindication of the drama!”

Shakespeare's pictures of the period in which his plays are laid, are curiously accurate. A writer instances as one of the most remarkable of these his picture of the feeling of the days when witchcraft ruled. “When Ford lays bis cudgel across the shoulders of Falstaff, supposing him to be the wise woman of Brentford,' he only does what all around approve. Ford is a gentleman and (excepting his groundless jealousy) a man of sense. In the presence of a justice of the peace, a clergyman and a physician, of his neighbor Page, and the several members of their families, he inflicts brutal chastisement upon an old woman, and not a word of remonstrance is uttered. There can be no doubt that Shakespeare has here given us a true picture of the feelings of his day. He has embodied the grander and more terrible idea of witchcraft in the tragedy of · Macbeth.' There is scarcely an ingredient of the witches' cauldron for which an authority could not be found in some of the trials of that day. The details of the enchantment, the sailing in a sieve, the 'pilot's thumb,' the ‘finger of birth-strangled babe,' the 'rat without a tail,' were all objects of terror in an age when it was believed that the life of the king had been endangered on his return from Denmark, by a storm raised by these very means, when the king himself had presided in person at the trials of the witches, 'taking great delight

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to be present at their examinations, and had employed his royal pen to prove alike their existence and their criminality. The tailless rats were very peculiarly objects of terror. Imps, 'in shape somewhat like a rat, but without tail or ears—' things about the bignesse of mouses—’ 'things like moles, having four feet a-piece, but without tayls,' meet us on every page of the witch trials.”

Few people realize, I think, how much Shakespeare has contributed to general literature. Many of the expressions of the great poet are “household words” to those who have never seen a copy of his plays.A very few illustrations will sufficiently prove thisfor one might easily fill a chapter with examples.

Misery makes us acquainted with strange bedfellows;' “ The Devil can cite Scripture;" “All that glitters is not gold;" “My cake is dough ;" “Screw your courage to the sticking place;" “Scotched the snake, not killed it;" “Give the Devil his due;" “Tell the truth and shame the Devil;” “Very like a whale;” “The cat will mew, the dog will have his day ;” “They laugh that win;" and so

Besides these homely examples, many more poetic and grand illustrations of the universality of Shakespeare's genius might be given, but they are already the common property of mankind, and my readers need only wait until the next speech they hear, or not improbably—and with all due respect-until the next sermon.

The French—who have justly a most exalted opinion of their national dramatic literature - have translated many if not all of Shakespeare's plays; and some very amusing blunders in translation have passed into history. The exclamation

“Hail, horrors ! hail!" nce translated into the French of

on.

was

“How d'ye do, horrors ? how d’ye do ?”

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RIDICULOUS BLUNDERS.

This is not more ridiculous than some of the blunders of a French commentator on “Hamlet.” Speaking of Hamlet killing Polonius, the writer gives the English and the French translation of the words which accompany the coup-de-grace :How how! a rat!“Qu'est-ce que cela? Un rien.” (What is that? A nothing.) Again we have given by the same critic the following Shakesperean bit with the French translation of the meaning and of the dignity of the language :" Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell !

take, thy fortune; Thou find'st to be too busy is some danger." “Adieu, pauvre fou indiscret et temeraire, adicu!

Subis ton sort! Tu as appris qu'il y a du danger a se trop meler des affaires d'autrui." (Goodbye, poor madman, indiscreet and rash, good-bye. Submit to thy fate! Thou hast learned that there is danger in mixing up too much in the business of other people.)

This does not equal the Gallic writer, who took Macbeth in hand, and praised Shakespeare for his great attention to particulars, instancing in proof his allusion to the climate of Scotland in the words, “Hail, hail, all hail !" Grele, grele, toute grele! (Hail, hail, everything is hailing.)

, In the farce “High Life Below Stairs,” the literary lady's maid was asked “Who wrote Shikspur?” and answered, “Why, Ben Jonson, to be sure.”

In later days, there have been various efforts made to prove that somebody else beside Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's works. A New England woman, Miss Delia Bacon, accredited Shakespeare's works to Lord Bacon, some years ago, in “Putnam's Magazine.” The article failed to provoke a reply, and was not followed up by its intended succcessors.

Miss Bacon went to Eng. land, and there elaborated her whole theory, publishing it in a ponderous octavo volume, which, in the words of her best if not her only apologist, Mr. Hawthorne, "fell with a dead thump at the feet of the public, and has never been picked up."

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