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in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in:—What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all; believe none of us: Go thy ways to a nunnery. Where's your father?
Oph. At home, my lord.
Ham. Let the doors be shut upon him; that he may play the fool no where but in's own house. Farewel.
Ham. I have heard of your paintings too well enough; God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and nickname God's creatures, and make your wantonness your ignorance: Go to; I'll no more on't; it hath made me mad. I say, we will have no more marriages: those that are married already, all but one, shall live; the rest shall keep as they are. To conclude
Ham. We shall know by this fellow; the players cannot keep counsel; they'll tell all.
Ophe Will he tell us what this show meant?
Ham. Ay, or any show that you'll show him: be not you asham’d to show, he'll not shame to tell you what it means.
To extenuate this scandalous conduct, it will be said, as it has been already, that this deportment was proper and necessary to support the character of madness assumed by Hamlet. This is an error. There were numberless modes of effecting that object; all of them at least as likely to succeed, and as rational, as the very exceptionable one adopted. And were this the only practicable scheme, a single spark of decency or delicacy would have forbale a recurrence to it. I lay but little stress on the circumstance, that the futility of this extenuation is unanswerably proved by the abandonment of all pretences to madness in so many cases as I have cited.
To diminish the disgust which the coarseness and obscenity of Hamlet's discourse to Ophelia must naturally excite, we are gravely informed, that various forms of expression which modern delicacy or fastidiousness proscribes, were “ in days of yore," regarded as innocent and unexceptionable; and that it is, therefore, injustice in the extreme to try ancient writing by modern rules. To a certain extent, this plea is just. But I am fully persuaded, that there never was a period in civilized society, in which it was regarded as decorous or proper for a ge leman to use bscenity rudeness in his discourse with a lady.
These observations, however they may differ from the opinions of others, have at least the merit of sincerity to recommend them. I assuredly believe in the truth of what I advance. I have in vain essayed to change my view of the tragedy of Hamlet. For I really despise the affectation of singularity as much as a servile acquiescence in the decision of others. My motto on this point, as on all others, has ever been
Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri. If I am in error, I shall rejoice to have it pointed out; and if convinced, I shall cheerfully abandon my present opinions without hesitation.
P.S. To judge correctly of this critique, it is necessary to examine an authentic copy of Hamlet. The common editions are all mutilated.
KING LEAR,—AND Mr. COOKE IN THAT CHARACTER.
(Continued from page 396, Vol. III.] Kent has always been a favourite with the public. His bluntness, integrity, courage, fidelity, and generous adherence to his old master in his adversity, are qualities which, portrayed as they are with the boldest pencil that man ever held, would of themselves sufficiently recommend him to esteem; but the rich vein of humour that pervades the greater part of his speeches, give a certain attractiveness to the character that secures a steady attention to his conduct, recommends all he says and does to the fancy, and transmits it to the memory with a force which renders the impression of it indelible. As for those shivering critics, who have so far cased up their feelings and common sense in the flint of impenetrable system as to reject all mixture of comic with tragic scenes, and who, in the name of Aristotle, denounce the lights of nature which immortalize Shakspeare, we can afford them no further notice than the charitable prayer of Holofernes, “ God comfort thy capacity!"-But to those who, like us, admire an occasional mixture of the kind, and own its impressiveness without considering why, we will remark, that it must be agreeable to every uncorrupted taste, because it is founded in nature. “ The web of our life," says Shakspeare, “is of a mingled yarn: our virtues would be “ proud, if our faults whipped them not,"_and we may add, that melancholy would destroy our energies, or lose its usefulness by continuity, if mirth did not occasionally relieve it by contrast, and, by suspending its operation, renovate its powers and effects. As the character of Kent has been sneered at by some of those inveterate system-mongers for ill-timed drollery, this is as proper an occasion as any that can occur for saying a few words on the subject of tragicomedy. Let it be understood however, that it is not to them, but to those who may be led into error by their pedantry, that this is addressed. To remove, by reasoning, a prejudice nourished by vanity in defiance of nature, is rarely found to be practicable: to appear judicious, learned, and Aristotelian, is too great a temptation to be resisted;-to acknowledge ourselves in error is an effort to which, unfortunately, few are equal. If, therefore, we were disposed to waste time in making an experiment upon incorrigible system-mongers, we should resort, as to the least hopeless method of all others, to the expedient of the swine-driver, who having to make his herd pass over a bridge in a certain direction, sagaciously made as if he would drive them the opposite way. On the other hand, the followers of those system-mongers may be compared to sheep, who leap with wonderful determination and agility over the fence of their penfold, if only one lead the way; and scorn to go over any other part than that which their leader has taken, even though a gap lie open for them at a foot distance.
Let those who, yielding to the impulse of nature and everyday observation, relish that “mingled yarn" of the stage to which we refer, comfort themselves, and be confirmed in their taste, with the following assurances.
First, that the public has for ages decided in its favour cannot be denied: Now between the unlettered critics of nature, who com. pose what we here call the public, and the few whose judgments have been shaped by profound reading and inquiry and by experience and long observation, little just criticism is ever found. He who, like Sterne's notable critic, judges by a stop-watch, and has packed up in his brains a heap of trash of unities, dactyls, spondees, and rules, and measures, to encounter the simple operations of nature upon his feelings and common sense, and who stupidly pondering upon an unimportant blemish, suffers a host of beauties to pass by unobserved, is almost as much inferior to the natural critic of the two shilling gallery, as he is to the most luminous of Shakspeare s commentators. These last, as well as the former, have decided in favour of tragicomedy,—And what the opinion of the most exalted and enlightened writers of modern times is we could demonstrate by a multitude of instances—but, for brevity, will confine ourselves to two. And first we will give that of Doctor Johnson.
“ Shakspeare's plays,” says the Doctor, “ are not, in the rigor"ous and critical sense, either tragedies or comedies, but compo“sitions of a distinct kind; exhibiting the real state of sublunary “ nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled “ with endless variety of proportion and innumerable modes of " combination; and expressing the course of the world, in which “ the loss of one is the gain of another; in which at the same time “ the reveller is hastening to his wine and the mourner burying his “ friend; in which the malignity of one is sometimes defeated by the “ frolic of another; and many mischiefs and many benefits are done “ and hindered without design.
“ Out of this chaos of mingled purposes and casualties, the an“ cient poets, according to the laws which custom had prescribed, “ selected some the crimes of men, and some their absurdities; “ some the momentous vicissitudes of life, and some the lighter « occurrences; some the terrors of distress, and some the gaities of “ prosperity. Thus rose the two modes of imitation, known by the “ names of tragedy and comedy; compositions intended to promote “ different ends by contrary means, and considered as so little " allied, that I do not recollect among the Greeks or Romans a 6 single writer who attempted both.
“ Shakspeare has united the powers of exciting laughter and " sorrow not only in one mind, but in one composition. Almost all “ his plays are divided between serious and ludicrous characters, “ and, in the successive evolutions of the design, sometimes pro“ duce seriousness and sorrow, and sometimes levity and laughter.
“ That this is a practice contrary to the rules of criticism will u be readily allowed; but there is always an appeal open from cri“ ticism to nature.* The end of writing is to instruct; the end of “ poetry is to instruct by pleasing. That the mingled drama may “ convey all the instruction of tragedy or comedy cannot be “ denied, because it includes both in its alternations of exhibition; " and approaches nearer than either to the appearance of life, by
Quere-What is meant by criticism. In the drama, which is, or ought to be, a representation of nature, can that be just criticism which does not take its rules and laws from nature? Ed. M. T.
"showing how great machinations and slender designs may pro“ mote or obviate one another, and the high and the low cooperate “ in the general system by unavoidable concatenation.*
“ It is objected, that by this change of scenes the passions are “ interrupted in their progression, and that the principal event, “being not advanced by a due gradation of preparatory incident, “ wants at least the power to move, which constitutes the perfec“ tion of dramatic poetry. This reasoning is so specious, that it is “ received as true, even by those who in daily experience know it " to be false. The interchanges of mingled scenes seldom fail to
produce the intended vicissitudes of passion. Fiction cannot “ move so much, but that the attention may be easily transferred; " and though it must be allowed that pleasing melancholy be « sometimes interrupted by unwelcome levity, yet let it be consi“ dered likewise, that melancholy is often not pleasing, and that " the disturbance of one man may be the relief of another; that dif« ferent auditors have different habitudes; and that, upon the whole, " all pleasure consists in variety."
Such is the decision of the great rock of criticism, upon whose judgment the wisest and the most learned think themselves safe in building their opinions:—but since there are some who may object to it as founded in the prejudice of an ardent mind—(for prejudice has, for some years past, been the fashionable repulse to an unanswerable argument)-we beg leave to lay before our readers the sentiments of Doctor Beattie, whose sober, unimpassioned and unprejudiced judgment will receive that credit which may be refused to the other, though the higher authority.
“ If all actors," says Doctor Beattie, speaking of Garrick, “ were “ like this one, I do not think it would be possible for a person of 5 sensibility to outlive the representation of Hamlet, Lear, or “ Macbeth: which, by the by, seems to suggest a reason for that " mixture of comedy and tragedy of which our great poet was “ so fond, and which the Frenchified critics think such an in“ tolerable outrage both against nature and decency. Against na“ ture it is no outrage at all: the inferior officers of a court know “ little of what passes among kings and statesmen, and may be
very merry where their superiors are very sad; and if so, the porter's soliloquy in Macbeth may be a very just imitation of na
* Dryden's “Spanish Friar" is a most admirable exemplification of this truth, and one of the very best specimens of tragicomic invention. Ed. M. T.