Obrázky na stránke
[ocr errors]

knoweth that hath heard or read of them, were never inhabited by any Christian or Heathen people, but ever reputed a most prodigious and enchanted place, affording nothing but gusts, storms, and foul weather. Yet did we find the air so temperate, and the country so abundantly fruitful, that, notwithstanding we were there for the space of nine months, we were not only well refreshed, but out of the abundance thereof provided us with some reasonable quantity of provision to carry us for Virginia, and to maintain ourselves and the company we found there." About the same time, the Council of Virginia also put forth a narrative of “the disasters which had befallen the fleet, and of their miraculous escape," wherein we have the following: “These Islands of the Bermudas have ever been accounted an enchanted pile of rocks, and a desert inhabitation of devils; but all the fairies of the rocks were but flocks of birds, and all the devils that haunted the woods were but herds of swine.”

In this account and these extracts there are several points which clearly connect with certain things in the play. To mark those points, or to trace out that connection, seems hardly worth the while. It may be well to add that the Poet's still-vexed Bermoothes seems to link his work in some way with Jourdan's narrative. So that 1610 is as early a date as can well be assigned for the writing of The Tempest. The supernatural in the play was no doubt the Poet's own creation; but it would have been in accordance with his usual method to avail himself of whatever interest might spring from the popular notions touching the Bermudas. In his marvellous creations the people would see nothing but the distant marvels with which their fancies were prepossessed.

Concurrent with all this is the internal evidence of the play itself. The style, language, and general cast of thought, the union of richness and severity, the grave, austere beauty of character which pervades it, and the organic compactness of the whole structure, all go to mark it as an issue of the

[ocr errors]

Poet's ripest years. Coleridge regarded it as “certainly one of Shakespeare's latest works, judging from the language only." Campbell the poet considers it his very latest.The Tempest,says he, “has a sort of sacredness as the last work of a mighty workman. Shakespeare, as if conscious that it would be his last, and as if inspired to typify himself, has made his hero a natural, a dignified, and benevolent magician, who could conjure up spirits from the vasty deep, and command supernatural agency by the most seemingly-natural and simple means. Shakespeare himself is Prospero, or rather the superior genius who commands both Prospero and Ariel. But the time was approaching when the potent sorcerer was to break his staff, and bury it fathoms in the ocean deeper than did ever plummet sound. That staff has never been and will never be recovered.” But I suspect there is more of poetry than of truth in this; at least I can find no warrant for it: on the contrary, we have fair ground for believing that at least Coriolanus, King Henry the Eighth, and perhaps The Winter's Tale were written after The Tempest. Mr. Verplanck, rather than give up the notion so well put by Campbell, suggests that the Poet may have revised The Tempest after all his other plays were written, and inserted the passage where Prospero abjures his “rough magic,” and buries his staff, and drowns his book. But I can hardly think that Shakespeare had any reference to himself in that passage: for, besides that he did not use to put his own feelings and purposes into the mouth of his characters, the doing so in this case would infer such a degree of self-exultation as, it seems to me, his native and habitual modesty would scarce permit.

No play or novel has been discovered to which Shakespeare could have been at all indebted for the plot or matter of The Tempest. There is indeed an old ballad called The Inchanted Island, which was once thought to have contributed something towards the play: but it is now gen

erally held to be more modern than the play, and probably founded upon it; the names and some of the incidents being varied, as if on purpose to disguise its connection with a work that was popular on the stage.

[ocr errors]

There has been considerable discussion as to the scene of The Tempest. A wide range of critics from Mr. Chalmers to Mrs. Jamieson have taken for granted that the Poet fixed his scene in the Bermudas. For this they have alleged no authority but his mention of “the still-vex'd Bermoothes." Ariel's trip from the deep nook to fetch dew from the still-vex'd Bermoothes” does indeed show that the Bermudas were in the Poet's mind; but then it also shows that his scene was not there; for it had been no feat at all worth mentioning for Ariel to fetch dew from one part of the Bermudas to another. An aerial voyage


some two or three thousand miles was the least that so nimble a messenger could be expected to make any account of. Besides, in less than an hour after the wrecking of the King's ship, the rest of the fleet are said to be upon the Mediterranean, “ bound sadly home for Naples." On the other hand, the Rev. Mr. Hunter is very positive that, if we read the play with a map before us, we shall bring up at the island of Lampedusa, which “lies midway between Malta and the African coast.” He makes out a pretty fair case, nevertheless I must be excused; not so much that I positively reject his theory as that I simply do not care whether it be true or not. But if we must have any supposal about it, the most reasonable as well as the most poetical one seems to be, that the Poet, writing without a map, placed his scene upon an island of the mind; and that it suited his purpose to transfer to his ideal whereabout some of the wonders of trans-Atlantic discovery. I should almost as soon think of going to history for the characters of Ariel and Caliban, as to geography for the size, locality, or whatsoever else, of their dwelling-place. And it is to be noted that the old ballad just referred to seems to take for granted that the island was but an island of the mind; representing it to have disappeared upon Prospero's leaving it:

“ From that day forth the isle has been
i By wandering sailors never seen :

Some say 'tis buried deep
Beneath the sea, which breaks and roars
Above its savage rocky res,

Nor e'er is known to sleep.”

Coleridge says The Tempest is a specimen of the purely romantic drama.' The term romantic is here used in a technical sense; that is, to distinguish the Shakespearian from the Classic Drama. In this


I cannot quite agree with the great critic that the drama is purely romantic. Highly romantic it certainly is, in its wide, free, bold variety of character and incident, and in all the qualities that enter into the picturesque; yet not romantic in such sort, I think, but that it is at the same time equally classic; classic, not only in that the unities of time and place are strictly observed, but as having the other qualities which naturally go with those laws of the classic form; in its severe beauty and majestic simplicity, its interfusion of the lyrical and the ethical, and in the mellow atmosphere of serenity and composure which envelopes it: as if on purpose to show the Poet's mastery not only of both the Classic and Romantic Drama, but of the common Nature out of which both of them grew. This union of both kinds in one without hindrance to the distinctive qualities of either, - this it is, I think, that chiefly distinguishes. The Tempest from the Poet's

other dramas. Some have thought that in this play Shakespeare specially undertook to silence the pedantic cavillers of his time by showing that he could keep to the rules of the Greek stage, if he chose to do so, without being any the less himself. But it seems more likely that he was here drawn into such a course by the leadings of his own wise spirit than by the cavils of contemporary critics; the form appearing too cognate with the matter to have been dictated by any thing external to the work itself.

There are some points that naturally suggest a comparison between The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream. In both the Poet has with equal or nearly equal success carried Nature, as it were, beyond herself, and peopled a purely ideal region with the attributes of life and reality; so that the characters touch us like substantive, personal beings, as if he had but described, not created them. But, beyond this, the resemblance ceases: indeed no two of his plays differ more widely in all other respects. The Tempest presents a combination of elements apparently so incongruous that we cannot but marvel how they were brought together; yet they blend so sweetly, and co-operate so smoothly, that we at once feel at home with them, and see nothing to hinder their union in the world of which we are a part. For in the mingling of the natural and the supernatural we here find no gap, no break; nothing disjointed or abrupt; the two being drawn into each other so harmoniously, and so knit together by mutual participations, that they seem strictly continuous, with no distinguishable line to mark where they meet and join. It is as if the gulf which apparently separates the two worlds had been abolished, leaving nothing to prevent a free circulation and intercourse between them.7

[ocr errors]

Prospero, standing in the centre of the whole, acts as a kind of subordinate Providence, reconciling the diverse elements to himself and in himself to one another. Though armed with supernatural might, so that the winds and waves obey him, his magical and mysterious powers are tied to truth and right : his “high charms work” to none but just and beneficent ends; and whatever might be repulsive in the magician is softened and made attractive by the virtues of the man and the feelings of the father : Ariel links him with the world above us, Caliban with the world beneath us, and Miranda “thee, my dear one, thee my daughter — with the world around and within us. And the mind acquiesces freely in the miracles ascribed to

« PredošláPokračovať »