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tained with a prominence in the action, which make their personal destiny the principal, almost the only, source of sympathy; but they are, moreover, preserved in a kind of isolation from the other personages, and move among them like beings of another world. That both these things are true of Hamlet, every one admits. He is himself the tragedy, and he stands alone in it, with no friend, no adviser, no helper; for Horatio is a cypher in action, and the deepest thoughts and feelings of the prince's shaken mind are uttered only in the ear of heaven. Indeed, through the device of his feigned madness, which enables him to give open vent to many of his most perturbed thoughts, his whole part becomes, in one sense, a continued soliloquy. But the same things are equally true of Macbeth and his wife. They stand together as parts of one being; or rather perhaps, like a mortal and sensitive being, prompted by one of another nature;-now acting like the flood of passion to quench the gnawing fire of conscience, now like a sterner volition to make up for his faltering will; and now like an informing intellect to point out the way to the completion of purposes. The terrible secrets of this guilty pair are breathed to none; their acts, their hopes, their terrors, are their own: alone as conspirators against the king, they sit not less solitary on the bloodstained throne; and alone they meet their awful punishment. The stronger of the two is first overthrown, not by the hand of man, but by the avenging arm of heaven; that conscience which was not dead, which did not even sleep, but which preyed on the heart that scorned to own its bleeding, reveals its internal agonies to us through the betrayal of sleep; and soon the cry of women announces the consummation of a struggle which the body was too weak to bear. Macbeth himself, sinking in resolution before his wife's death, retains, after he has lost her, no hope, no care, hardly even a fear;-nothing but heart-sick weariness of life, and that lingering spark of martial spirit and personal pride, which drives him into the field to meet destruction from the fated hand of his adversary.

The second expedient common to both dramas is the use of the supernatural. Yet nothing can be more characteristic than the distinction between the uses made of this element of poetry in each In Macbeth' the supernatural promptings are absolutely and fiendishly evil, and the creation of evil is the task they have to perform. The imperfect speakers are foul anomalies;' 'fates, furies, and materializing witches are their elements;' their words are but answers to the questions which the guilty heart asks itself-answers which encourage sin by falsely seeming to promise impunity. The first sounds which reach our ears in the



magnificent drama are those of the spectral chant amid the storm on the heath, where the hags mysteriously announce their hellish mission the last words of their guilty victim contain a scornful and despairing defiance of their lying auguries. The apparition in Hamlet,' on the other hand, is neither earthly nor malevolent: it is the spirit of an erring yet wronged mortal, permitted to revisit the glimpses of the moon as a prompter of righteous vengeance. It is a thing apart, revealing itself but so far as is necessary for the mighty purpose of which it is the instrument-silent to the soldiers on guard, invisible to the guilty Queen. The affections of earth cling about it, in harrowing union with the unutterable experiences of the tomb; and religion and filial love, the awe of men and the picturesque presence of night, join in hallowing the scenes across which its shadowy figure stalks.

But nothing can be, at the same time, more dissimilar, and more accurately in unison with the leading conception of each of these two dramas, than the cast of the action which forms the plot of each. Macbeth,' says Hazlitt, is alike distinguished for the lofty imagination it displays, and for the tumultuous vehemence of the action; and the one is made the moving principle of the other. The overwhelming pressure of preternatural agency urges on the tide of human passion with redoubled force.' What a contrast exists between this tempestuous action, prompted in every step by an unholy alliance of guilty human will with demoniac agency, and that series of accidents which, in Hamlet, display the impotence of human plans and passions! In the latter, the incidents are numerous and varied; but none of them is brought into existence by the hero of the piece. From the beginning to the end, his resolutions either fail in producing action at all, or produce action of a kind entirely different from that which he intended; and with a beautiful exemplification of that parallelism which Shakspeare's works every where exhibit, a similar result follows from the designs of the other characters.

We would yet linger awhile over those immortal tragedies, to contemplate the general impressions and views of life suggested, especially by the tone and management of their closing scenes.


I know,' says Lessing, but one tragedy which love itself helped to elaborate; and that tragedy is Romeo and Juliet."' In all its wildness, in all its sweetness, in all that sadness which angels banished to earth might feel in dreaming of their native heaven, the spirit of love breathes over this vision of the poet's young imagination. Through a veil whose folds are alternately composed of pictures of earthly passions and entangle

ments, and of other elements which criticism has sometimes sought to palliate as faults of an inexperienced artist, and sometimes more boldly to exalt into designed and essential beauties, the form of love gleams over the scene, bearing to the troubled wastes of life peace, and hope, and atonement. By one of the most felicitous of the poet's changes on his models-a change which has been often misunderstood, but is now no longer misapprehended by any one who duly appreciates Shakspeare or the drama-the catastrophe is softened by omitting that harrowing scene produced in the original novel by the awaking of Juliet while Romeo struggles in the last agonies. One after the other the lovers sink into the embrace of death, like infants whom their mother sings to sleep. But not even here, not in the dissolving tenderness of the dying hour, do the banks of the Adige fade from our sight: the fragrance of the flowers so early withered is wafted far from the grave on which they are strewed, and peace and reconcilement shed consolation over a whole city.

More solemnly, more thoughtfully, more philosophically gentle, but not less harmoniously tender, nor less dramatically true, is the scene which closes the agitated life of Lear. We, who have watched the struggle of good with evil through all its revolutions, we who have looked on with unclouded senses, cannot forget the awfulness of the spectacle; we dare not hide from our imagination, we dare not hide from our consciences, the pageant of crime and error, and the solemn lessons it has taught. And full of horror and reflectiveness, shaken to their inmost souls, are those secondary characters who gather round the dying and the dead, witnesses of scenes after which men are grave for years. But there is one who feels nothing of this horror, one over whose intellect the night of lunacy, once already spread, and once for a time lifted, has again been allowed to sink by that merciful interposition which tempers the wind to the shorn lamb. The aged king sits in the midst. Before him lie the corpses of his guilty daughters; but for him it was a needless precaution to cover those faces stiffening from the pangs of violent death; he knows, he recollects, he sees nothing, save the body of Cordelia, which rests upon his knees. He must die; he cannot but die; what should he do longer in a world which has no soul to love him- a world where his own bruised heart can neither act nor feel? But he dies in peace, nay, even happy and consoled. His belief in his daughter's death, the last symptom of his sanity, departs as his mind begins to wander again; he remembers nothing but her gentleness, her love-that love which had blessed him, like the voice of an angel, after all his wrongs and agony.

Again the doubt comes and swells into choking grief, but again it gives way as he gazes on the face of the dead. The pale lips seem to part as he bends down to kiss them; and an answering smile illumines his aged features as his heart breaks amid the dream of bliss.

In Hamlet,' the catastrophe rushes on us by surprise, and with portentous rapidity. At one moment, the kingly assassin, the tool of his vengeance, the paramour of his guilt, and his intended victim-all stand before us, grouped as actors in what seems to be but a scene of sport-another moment, and all lie before us dead. The actively guilty have gone to their long account, and he whose sins were those of weakness has perished with them. It seems as if, after the will of man had been baffled in every attempt to disentangle the tragic knot, the hand of Heaven itself had been suddenly stretched out to assert its own prerogative; and as a divine judgment our feelings teach us to regard the whole piece and its catastrophe. It has been justly observed by more than one critic, that, in the extinction of Hamlet's line, and that substitution of Fontinbras which follows, there is something not unlike those judicial punishments that, in the Greek drama, consign to annihilation princely houses stained with unnatural crime; and this is one feature, though not the leading one, which constitutes the ruling temper. As we look back towards the scene of blood, we see it restored to calmness, and gladdened by the hope of returning innocence and peace: but our own minds brood, as they brooded amid the vicissitudes of the tragedy, over the awful enigma of life, which action but perplexes more, and thought makes more hopelessly dark-the enigma whose solution is found only in death, and in those revelations which partially unveil the world beyond the grave.

We quit the contemplation of Macbeth' in a sterner mood. All here is simple, purely tragic, and derived directly from moral and religious reflection. The serious temper is not invaded by a single play upon words, nor by a single jest; for the only comic scene is, in all likelihood, an interpolation. The decree of Heaven seems to have guided every thing, manifestly for good in. its issue, through ways mysterious, like those in which real life is made to walk. Supernatural solicitings have been permitted to shake the mind of man, and to aid in generating a time of guilt and trouble-a reign of blood, beneath whose throne the innocent are slain as offerings to the powers of evil. But the punishment has not been delayed for a moment. It has instantly followed the guilt-it has accompanied it—it has even preceded it in the terrors and anticipations of remorse; and through increasing atrocity, which increasing misery tracks as

many men of genius as well as learning, who, attracted towards the greatest of modern poets by the same irresistible fascination which assembled the philosophers and scholars of ancient Greece in homage around the throne of Homer, are fair representatives of the literature of their times, in its strength not less than in its weakness. But others there are, lower than helots in the republic of letters, who have attached themselves to the triumphal car as their only means of reaching notoriety; and these men, resembling in their intrusion lazy schoolboys who cling to the back of a stage-coach, resemble them also in the chance they have of obtaining conveyance to their destination, at the expense of certain contempt and probable punishment from the rightful occupants of the vehicle.

It has always seemed to us, that the strongest of testimonies to the majesty of Shakspeare's genius, is to be gathered from what has been said of him in times when he was most depreciated because least understood. No one endowed with even a glimmering of poetical feeling has ever studied the poet, and attempted to enunciate his own impressions, without betraying the operation of the spell which the great magician had worked. Let his philosophy have been the shallowest possible-his theories of dramatic art the most thoroughly erroneous-his purpose in commenting the most decidedly hostile,-the mind of the critic is overborne by an influence not to be resisted. He who came to scoff or cavil remains to admire and reverence; and his words are like those of a false prophet, compelled, in spite of himself, to utter truth. We cannot pause to indicate how this incongruity appears, amidst the indifference of the period between the breaking out of the civil war, and the end of the seventeenth century. The light of nature often shone through during the revolutionary age, when political emancipation was purchased at the expense of gloomy puritanism, and when stern realities chased the illusions of imagination; and not less frequently did it emerge in the yet darker time that followed, when the restored monarchy, like a ship infected with the plague, brought with it a corruption that degraded equally literature, morality, and religion.

But our purpose invites us to bestow more particular notice on the same phenomenon, as it presented itself during the eighteenth century. In science and letters, not less than in political enquiry, the spirit of the time was that of negation. The institutions of states, the opinions of philosophers, the monuments of literature and art-all things, in short, that advanced a claim to reverence—were brought to the bar of the understanding, and required to prove the grounds of the demand

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