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The Tempest and The Midsummer Night's Dream are the noblest efforts of that sublime and amazing imagination, peculiar to Shakspeare, which soars above the bounds of nature, without forsaking sense; or, more properly, carries nature along with him beyond her established limits. Fletcher seems particularly to have admired these two plays, and hath wrote two in imitation of them, The Sea Voyage and The Faithful Shepherdess. But, when he presumes to break a lance with Shakspeare, and write in emulation of him, as he does in The False One, which is the rival of Antony and Cleopatra, he is not so successful. After him, Sir John Suckling and Milton catched the brightest fire of their imagination from these two plays; which shines fantastically indeed in The Goblins, but much more nobly and serenely in The Mask at Ludlow Castle. Warburton.
No one has hitherto been lucky enough to discover the romance on which Shakspeare may be supposed to have founded this play, the beauties of which could not secure it from the criticism of Ben Jonson, whose malignity appears to have been more than equal to his wit. In the introduction to Bartholomew Fair, he says: "If there be never a servant monster in the fair, who can help it, he says, nor a nest of antiques? He is loth to make nature afraid in his plays, like those that beget Tales, Tempests, and such like drolieries." Steevens.
I was informed by the late Mr. Collins of Chichester, that Shakspeare's Tempest, for which no origin is yet assigned, was formed on a romance called Aurelio and Isabella, printed in Italian, Spanish, French, and English, in 1588. But, though this information has not proved true on examination, an useful conclusion may be drawn from it, that Shakspeare's story is somewhere to be found in an Italian novel, at least that the story preceded Shakspeare. Mr. Collins had searched this subject with no less fidelity than judgment and industry; but his memory failing in his last calamitous indisposition, he probably gave me the name of one novel for another. I remember he added a circumstance, which may lead to a discovery,—that the principal character of the romance, answering to Shakspeare's Prospero, was a chemical necromancer, who had bound a spirit like Ariel to obey his call, and perform his services. It was a common pretence of dealers in the occult sciences to have a demon at command. At least Aurelio, or Orelio, was probably one of the names of this romance, the production and multiplicity of gold being the grand object of alchemy. Taken at large, the magical part of The Tempest is founded on that sort of philosophy which was practised by John Dee and his associates, and has been called the Rosicrucian. The name Ariel came from the Talmudistick mysteries with which the learned Jews had infected this science.
Mr. Theobald tells us, that The Tempest must have been written after 1609, because the Bermuda Islands, which are mentioned in it, were unknown to the English until that year; but this is a mistake. He might have seen in Hackluyt, 1600, folio, a description of Bermuda, by Henry May, who was shipwrecked there in 1593.
It was, however, one of our author's last works. In 1598, he played a part in the original Every Man in his Humour. Two of the characters are Prospero and Stephano. Here Ben Jonson taught him the pronunciation of the latter word, which is always right in The Tempest:
"Is not this Stephano, my drunken butler ?"
And always wrong in his earlier play, The Merchant of Venice, which had been on the stage at least two or three years before its publication in 1600:
"My friend Stephano, signify I pray you," &c.
-So little did Mr. Capell know of his author, when he idly supposed his school literature might perhaps have been lost by the dissipation of youth, or the busy scene of publick life! Farmer.
To contrast the dryness of these speculations with the flowers of Poetry, the reader is presented with a passage from the elegant stanzas of the Rev. W. L. Bowles, whose praise will, perhaps, persuade to a new perusal of The Tempest.
"O SOVEREIGN MASTER, who with lonely state
On whom soft airs and shadowy spirits wait,
On thy wild shores forgetful could I lie
And list, till earth dissolv'd, to thy sweet minstrelsy!
"Call'd by thy magick from the hoary deep,
Aerial forms should in bright troops ascend,
While sounds, that the earth own'd not, seem to blend
Alonso, king of Naples.
Sebastian, his brother.
Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan.
Antonio, his brother, the usurping Duke of Milan.
Gonzalo, an honest old counsellor of Naples.
Caliban, a savage and deformed slave.
Trinculo, a jester.
Stephano, a drunken butler.
Master of a ship, Boatswain, and Mariners.
The sea, with a ship; afterwards an uninhabited island.