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novels which fell within their notice. Severe injunctions were issaed against the printing of plays ; nor were any allowed to be published, till revised and approved by persons in anthority. In the temper and feeling of the times, this may be considered a virtual probibition; and tbe publication of Shakspeare's works was therefore jastly accounted a tery doubtsul speculation. For several years after his death, the public taste, ever dependent upos novelty, was strongly directed to the plays of Fletcher, and during the remainder of the seventeenth century, the noble productions of our poet gave place to a species of dramatic composition, equally conspicuous for its wit and its obscenity, and which the more skastened judgment of modern audiences has driven with abhorrence from the stage. The works of his rival and contemporary Jonson, appear indeed to bave passed through several editions, and to have been read with uncommon avidity, wbile those of our poet were doomed to comparative veglect; bat this is chiefly attributable to the passion for classical literatare and collegiate learning, which were then regarded the chief criteria of merit. Only fifty years after his death, Dryden affirms that he was become " a little obsolete ; and Tate, in bis dedicatiou to the altered play of King Lear, speaks of the original as an obscure piece, recommended to his notice by a friend. In the beginning of the last century, Lord Shaftesbary complained of " his rude copolisbed style, and his antiquated phrase and wit;" and it is certain, that for nearly a handred years after his death.--partly owing to the rebellion, when the stage was totally abolisbed—partly from the licentinus taste encouraged in the time of Charles II., which we bare already alladed to-and partly from the incorrect state of bis works, be was almost entirely neglected. When, moreover, in addition to these facts, it is recollected that bis works were published in a very unwieldy size--that the opportanities of attracting notice by advertisements were then very few that the women had not applied to literature, nor was every house furnished with a closet of books the limited sale of bis werks will cease to be a matter of surprise, and may fairly be attributed to the character and predominant occupations of the times which immediately followed his decease. Further examination will equally explain another apparent singularity, and also refute the supposition that Shakspeare was himself insensible of the value of bis works, or careless of any reward beyond present popularity and present profit. He wrote them for a particular theatre, sold them to the managers when only an actor, reserved them in manuscript when himself a manager, and on disposing of bis property in the theatre, they were still preserved in manuscript, to prevent their being acted by the rival hoases. Copies of some of them appear to bave been surreptitiously obtained, and published in a very incorrect state ; but the managers were wise enough to averlook this fraud, rather than publish a correct edition, and so destroy the exclusive property they enjoyed. It is clear, therefore
, on the one hand, that any publication of his plays by himself, would have interfered at first with his own interest, and afterwards with that of his fellow-managers, to whom he had made over his share in them; and on the other, that though the fame which be enjoyed was probably the highest which dramatic genius could bestow, yet that dramatic genius was novel and unappreciated, or perbaps, not beard of beyond the limits of the metropolis
. It is indeed, very doubtful whether be would have gained much by publication, whilst the refinements of criticism were so littie understood, and the sympathies of taste so inadequately felt.
In 1709 an edition was undertaken by Mr. Nicholas Rowe, wbich bad nothing to recommend it bat some biographical particulars of Sbakspeare, commuaicated by Beiterton, the celebrated comedian, who had been at the trouble of a journey into Warwickshire purposely to obtain them. Nearly all the faults of the first edition were perpetuated in this; and according to Dr. Warburton, Mr. Rowe, though a wit, was so utterly anacquainted witb the whole bnsiness of criticism, that he did not examine or consult the early copies of the work which he ventured to re-publish. But it is now very generally allowed, that he made a number of emendations which succeeding editors have received without acknowledgment. In 1725 Mr. Pope published bis edition in 6 vols, 4to, and gave the first example of critical and emendatory notes. He collected the old copies
, and restored many lines to their integrity; bis preface is equally celebrated for elegance of composition, and justness of remark ; but, hy a very compendious criticism, be rejected wbatever he disliked, thinking more of amputation than of cure, and proving bimself a better poet than dramatic critic. Every anomaly of language, and every expression at variance with the accepted phraseology of that day, was considered an error or corruption, and the text was altered, or amended, as it was called, at pleasure. By these fancifal deviations, the poet was so completely modernized, that had he “revisited the glimpses of the moon," he would scarcely have understood his own works. In 1733 Dr. Theobald ventured upon a similar task, giving to bis work ibe imposing title of Shukspeare Restored. Dr. Jobnson describes him as a man of narrow comprehension and small acquirements-festoring a stray comma, and then panegyrizing himself for the
achievement as mean, petnlant, and ostentatious, and indebted for a little reputation to the circumstance of bis having Pope for an opponent. Sir Thomas Flanmer was the next who undertook to illustrate Shakspeare : his work was published in 1741, in 6 vols. 4to. He is generally termed the “ Oxford editor ;" and, thongh eminently qualified by nature for such pursuits, is said to bave adopted all the innovations of Pope, in addition to the capricious snggestions of his own taste. Io 1747, Dr. Warburton, Bishop of Gloucester, published his edition in 8 vols. 8vo., and by an unbounded license in substituting bis own chimerical conceits for the plain text of his author, subjected himself to the imputation of wishing rather to display his own learning, than to illustrate the obscurities of the poet. It has been said, indeed, of this celebrated critic, that he erected bis throne on a heap of stones, that he might have them at hand to throw at the leads of all who passed by; but though bis interpretations are sometimes perverse, and bis conjectures improbable-though he occasionally discovers absurdities where the sense is plain, or dwells upon profundity of meaning wbich the author never contemplated, yet his emendations are frequently happy, and his commentaries learned and ingenious. In 1765, that distinguished moralist, scholar, and critic, Dr. Samuel Jobpson, published these plays with additional criticisms, accompanying them with a preface, which is considered a perfect specimen of bis own extraordinary genias, and in which, also, the respective merits of all the abovenamed editors are characterized with great candour, and with singular fertility of expression. It is said, tbat be bas commented on the writings of Shakspeare with a severity far removed from accuracy and justice, and that he did not fully understand the varied merits of his author. Bot Mr. Malone, in the very intelligent and amusing preface to his edition of our poet, published in 1790, vindicates the Doctor's happy and just refutation of Mr. Theobald and Warburton's false glosses, and asserts that his vigorous and comprehensive understanding threw more light on the iovolved and difficult passages of many plays, than the united labour of all his predecessors bad been able to do. In the edition of 1803, published by Mr. Steevens, (in 21 vols. 8vo. commonly called Johnson and Steevens's Shakspeare, and justly esteemed the best,) all Mr. Malone's original notes and improvements are incorporated. From 1716 to 1790, a period of seventy-four years, thirty thousand copies of Shakspeare were circulated in England ; and since that time, the number has at least been doubled. Some of them issued under the auspices of able and accomplisbed scholars, particularly the edition of 1805, 10 vols. 8vo. by Alexander Chalmers, F.S.A. ; which is distinguished by a sketch of the life of Sbakspeare, founded upon the statements of Rowe, with the additional and corrective remarks of Malone and Steevens. The generality, bowever, are mere reprints, with various degrees of typographical embellishments, and in almost every size and shape; but the magnificent copy published some time since by the Messrs. Boydell, in large folio, enriched with the most sumptuous engravings, is jastly considered as one of the finest specimens of art ever produced in this, or in any other country.
Nothing is more difficult, in estimating the real merits of a popular writer, than to “ season the admiration" by judicious rules. These can only be learnt from the opinions of such as have made it their particular business to investigate the pretensions of authors, and to define the boundaries of taste by the best examples which learning and experience supply. Some useful information, applicable to this purpose, may be gained from the following analysis, exhibiting the most formidable objections that have been urged against Shakspeare's dramas, in conjunction with the principal merits by which they are said to be distinguished.
Voltaire, after allowing that Shakspeare, besides possessing a strong fruitful genius, was natural and sublime, decides that he bad not one spark of good taste, nor a single dramatic role, and that his great merit has been the ruin of the English stage. « There are (says he) such noble, such beautiful, such dreadful scenes in ibis writer's monstrous verses, to which the name of tragedy is given, that they bave always been exbibited with great success. Tiine, which only gives reputation to writers, at last makes their very faults venerable. Most of the whimsical gigantic images of this poet, bare, through length of time, acquired a right of passing for sublime. In Othello, a most tender piece, a man strangles bis wife upon the stage, and though the poor woman is strangling, she cries out aload that she dies very unjustly. In Hamlet, the two grave-diggers are drunk, singing ballads, and making humorous reflections on the skills which they throw up. The players have not even struck out the buffoonery of the shoemakers and cobblers, who are introduced in Jalius Cæsar) in the same scene with Brutus and Cassius."
These, says Dr. Johnson, are the petty cavils of petty minds. Shakspeare's plays are not, in the rigorous and critical sense, either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind, exhibiting the mingled good and evil, joy and sorrow, inseparable from this sublunary state. That this is a practice contrary to ancient dramatic rules, will be readily allowat; but tbere is always av appeal open from criticism to nature. The end of writing
is to izstract; the end of poetry, to instruct by pleasing ; and there is no reason wby the mingled drama should not convey all the pleasure and instruction of wbicli tragedy or comedy, in their simple form, are capable of doing. The English nation, in the time of Sbakspeare, was yet struggling to emerge from barbarity. The plilology of Italy bad been transplanted bither in the reign of Henry VIII., and the learned languages had been successfully cultivated by Lilly, Linacre, and More; by Pole, Cheke, and Gardiner; and afterwards by Smith, Clerk, Haddon, and Ascham. Greek was taught in the public schools, and many of the Italian and Spanish poets were read with great diligence. But these advantages were confined to distinguished rank, whilst the public at large was still gross and dark. Plebeian learning was confined to giants, dragons, and enchantments; and the sober representations of common life would not have been tolerated by a pation which delighted in the wonders of fiction, in the exploits of Palmerin, and the feats of Guy of Warwick. Writing for such audiences as these, Shakspeare was compelled to look around for strange events and fabulous transactions; and that incredibility by wbich matarer knowledge is offended, was the chief recommendation of his writings to unskillal ecriosity. Such, indeed, is the power of the marvellous, even over tbose who despise it,
every man finds bis mind more strongly seized by the tragedies of Shakspeare than of any other writer, and be bas, perbaps, excelled all but Homer, in the leading qualifications of a writer, by the power of exciting a restless and anquenchable curiosity. The necessity of observing the anities of time and place, arises from the supposed necessity of making the drama credible ; bat it will be found ibat the slavish adberence to these principles, which Voltaire and others so rigidly enforce, gives much more trouble to the poet, than pleasure to the audience. It is false ibat any representation is mistaken for reality; for if a spectator can once be persuaded that his old acquaintauce are Alexander and Cæsar, that a room illuminated with candles is the plain of Pharsalia, he is in a state of elevation beyond the reach of truth, and there is no reason why, in such a state of ecstasy, he should count the clock, or consider minutes and hours, as any other than days and years. Whether, therefore, Shakspeare kuew the unities, and rejected thein by design, or deviated from thein by bappy ignorance, it is impossible to decide, and useless to inquire ; since they aru dot essential to a just drama, and though sometimes conducive to pleasure, may always be sacrificed to the pobler beauties of variety and iastraction.
Mr. Ruwe's was the first editorial commentary on the plays of Shakspeare, avd notwithstanding his alleged incapacity for criticism, the prominent beauties of our poet are judiciously and not inelegantly pointed out. Like other critics, lie praises the sertility of his invention--the historical Gdelity of his characters--the stateliness of his diction--the puwes of his muse in creating terror, or exciting mirth and the persection of his writings at a time of almost universal license and ignorance, where there was not one play in existence of sufficient merit to be acted at the present day.
With an ardour, an eloquence, and a discriiniuation, suited to bis highly-gifted mind, and becoming the liberality of his poetical character, Mr. Pope enlarges on the characteristic excellences of our immortal bard. He considers him more original even thao Homer; since the art of the latter proceeded through Egyptian strainers, and came to him not wibnat some tincture of the learning of those that preceded him. In the power of the passions, he declares him to be no less admirable, than in the coolness of reflection and reasoning; and (as though he had been acquainted with the world hy intuition) that his sentiments are the most pertinent and judicious, even on those great and publ
scenes, of which he could have had no experience. One cause of Shakspeare's peculiarities was the profession to which he belonged. Players are just judges of what is right, as tailors are of what is graceful. Living by the majority, they know no rule but that of pleasing the present humour, and complying with the wit in fashion. Our author first formed him self
upon the opinions of this class of men, and consequently bis faults are less to be escribed to his wrong judgment as a poet, than to bis right judgment as a player.
Mr. Theobald, in the midst of many compliments to bis own acuteness, and much irreverent abuse of Pope, whose wit (he says) is as thick as Tewkesbary mustard, thus penegyrizes Shakspeare : " Whether we respect the force and greatness of his genius, the extent of his knowledge and reading, the power and address with which ha ibrows out and applies either nature or learning, there is ample scope both for our wonder and pleasure."
Sir Thomas Hanmer commends the rich vein of seose which runs through the entire works of Shakspeare ; and declares bim unequalled in the two great branches of dramatic poetry, by the best writers of any age or country.
Dr. Warburton, in a paper replete with brilliant wit and energetic argument, thus speaks of the prodactions of Shakspeare: "Of all the literary exercitations of speculative men, whether designed for the use or entertainment of the world, there are none of so
much importance as those which let us into the knowledge of our nature. Others may exercise the reason, or amuse the imagination, but these only can improve the heart, and form the mind to wisdom. Now in this science Sbakspeare confessedly occupies the foremost place ; whether we consider the amazing sagacity with which he investigates every hidden spring and wheel of human action ; or bis bappy manner of commapicaling this knowledge, in the just and living paintings which he bas given as of all our passions, appetites, and pursnits.”
To the recorded testimony of these eminent writers, it is scarcely necessary that any other should be added ; hot the inquisitive reader will find the merits of Sbakspeare still further developed in the essays of Mrs. Montague, Dr. Richardson, Dr. Grey, and Mr. Britton. Dryden, whose own accomplished genius was sullied and debased by the dramatic impurities in which he indulged, says that Sbakspeare had the largest and most comprehensive soul of all modern, and perbaps ancient, poets, and that, in dramatic composition, be bas left no praise for any who come after him. In a similar feeling, and with that stately sentiment which pervades all he has written, Dr. Young tbus exalts the qualifications of our poet : “ Whatever other learning he wanted, he was master of two books unknown to many of the profonndly read, though books wbich the last conflagration alone can destroy: the book of nature, and that of inan.” Mr. Malone calls him the great refiber and polisher of oar language ; and ranks his compound epithets, his bold metaphors, his energetic expressions, and harnionious numbers, amongst the chief beauties of his works. Dr. Johnson, whose opinions have already been recited in opposition to those of Voltaire, declares that a valuable system of civil and economical prudence may be collected from the plays of Shakspeare—that they are filled with practical axioms and domestic wisdom-that almost every verse (as was formerly said of the writings of Euripides) is a precept ; but that, at the same time, his real power is shewn in the progress of the fable, and the tenor of the dialogue and that he who tries to recommend him by select quotations, will succeed like the pedant iu Hierocles, who, when be offered bis boose to sale, carried a brick in bis pocket as a specimen.
Though the excellence of Shakspeare's productions has become an article of literary faith in England, and though such of his defects as are too palpable to be overlooked, have been gratuitously attributed to the age in which he lived, it is only a necessary sapplement to the foregoing remarks, and essential to a right appreciation of his character, briefly to point out what those deefcts are. In many of his plays, the latter part is evidently neglected; when he found himself near the end of his work, and in view of his reward, he sbortened the labour to snatch the profit. The plots are often so loosely formed, that a very slight consideration may improve them, and so carelessly pursued, that he seems not always fully to comprehend bis own design. In bis comic scenes, the jests are frequently gross, and the pleasantry licentious; nor are his ladies and gentlemen sufficiently distinguished from clowns, by any appearance of refined manners. He is not long soft and pathetic, witbout some idle conceit, or contemptible equivocation. What he does best, be soon ceases to do. Let but a quibble spring up before him, and he leaves his work untinisbed. he follows it at all adventures, however dignified or profound, bowever tender or pathetic, the subject which engages his attention. Lastly, be is accused of sacrificing virtue to convenience, and of being much more careful to please than to instruct. He that thinks reasonably, must think morally; bat oar poet's precepts drop casually from him; he makes no jast distribution of good or evil; and after carrying bis persons indifferently through right and wrong, he dismisses them at the close without further care, leaving their examples to operate by chance.
With these imperfect particulars, derived from the united labours of various admirers and commentators, oar brief sketcb of the life of Shakspeare must necessarily conclude. On all the topics which usaally constitate the personal history of an individual, his contemporaries and immediate successors have been equally silent. The meagre facts which were first imbodied in a memoir by Mr. Rowe, and have been moulded into so many forms by the caprice or taste of successive writers, remain to the present day, unaided by any accession of novelty, and unimpeached by the utmost acuteness of criticisin. His early studies the progress of his pen--his moral and social qualities—his friendships and his errors, are completely buried in oblivion, as if the homage which is paid to his splendid poetical genius, should be unmingled with any recollection of his faults and failings as a man. Nor, after an interval of two centuries, is it probable that any andiscovered clue is in existence, by which the memorial of his actions can be redeemed from its present obscurity.
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL NOTICE. THIS playi mupposed to have been written in 1609, comprehenda a potiod of five or six years. The plebeian elti
teus of Rome, apable to pay their debts from poverty consequent upon the long war ngainst Tarquin and the Latins, and ineensed by the supposed indifference of the repators un patriciaus, retired with the undisbanded troeps of Valerius, to a mountain about three miles from Rome, afterwards called Mont Sacer. The city wa thrown into great alarm by this defection, and Meuenius, who is described as "a very discreet person, and a great orator," was sent with other commissioners, to bring about a reconciliatiou. Here he related to them the fable of the belly and its members; the application of which had such an effect, that they were about to follow bim home, when Sicinius and Junius Brutus (two factivus fellows) cuamingly demanding a guarantee for the people, weit in the end appointed their tribunen, with very extraordinary power, in the year following, there was a severe famine ; and Coriolanus (so called for his exploits at Corioli) with other young patricigns, making excursions into the enemy's country, returned, laden with cops. Provisions also arriving froin Sicily, the senate determined upon selling them at a cheap rate to the poor : but Coriolanus proposed the abolitjag of the tribuneship, and the retention of the corn, because the people had obstinately refused to joia fa the expedition sent out to obtain it. The exasperated populace would instantly have thrown him from the Tarpeian rouk, but were repulsed by his friends. Being arraigned at the proper tribunal, he defended himself with so much grace and energy, that the people called out for his acquittal & whereupou one of the tribanes artially and falsely accusing him of illegally appropriating the spoils of war, he was as suddenly sentenced to batishment. In a spirit of revenge, he offered his services to the Volscians, and carried destructiva to the very gates of Rome. The city was on the point of being assaulted, when his mother, accompanied by his wife and children, threw herself at his feet, and worked sb much upon the feelings of wature, that he granted a peace, and withdrew his troops. Ou recurting to Antium, by the perfidious management of Tellus, he was cet in pieces ere he had time to defend his conduct, but the Volsci disapproved the assassination, buried him bo nourably, adorued his tomb with trophies, and the Roman women mourned for bim twelve months. The pởet has adhered very closely to historicat farts. Mr. Pope remarks, that Shakspeare is found "to be very knowing in the customs, rites, antid maniwers of antiquity. In Coriolanus and Julius Cæsar, not only the spirit, but the manners of the Roman art exactly drawn; kuda still nicer distinction is shown bet trecu Roman manRers ia thc time of the former and of the latter.” Many of the principal speeches are copied from Plutarch's Life of Curiolanus, as trauslated by Sir Thomas North. There are some glaring anachronisms in this play, tue # introducing our nicknames of Hob, Dick, &c. cbarch-yards, Kvells, and particularly, theatres for the exbibition of plays, which did not exist until 250 years after the death of Coriolanus. Volumnia, also, was the name of his wife, not of his mother, and the good Menenius died three or four years before his revenge. ful expedition against Rome.---Dr. Johnson says: The tragedy of Coriolanus is one of the most amusing of our author's performances. The old man's merriment in Menenius; the loley lady's dignity in Volumuia, the bridal modesty in Virgilia ; the patrician and military haughtiness in Coriolanus; the plebeian malignity and tribusician insolence in Brútus and Sicinius make a very pleasing and interesting variety; and the various revolution of the hero's fortune fill the mind with anxious curiosity. There is, perhaps, too much bustla in dhe dret ast, and too little in the last.
VOLUMNIA, Mother of Coriolanus,
VALERIA, Friend to Virgilia.
Roman and Yotscian Senators, Patricians, TELLUS AUPIDIUS, General of the Volscians, Ædiles, Lictors, Soldiers, Citizens, Mesa LIEUTENANT to Aufidius.
sengers, Servants to Aufidius, and other CONSPIRATORS with Aufidius.
1 Cit. Let us kill him, and we'll have corn at SCENE I.-Rome.- À Street.
our own price. Is't a verdict ?
Cit. No more talking on't; let it be done : Exter a company of mutinous Citizens, with away, away. Staves, Clubs, and other Weupons.
2 Cit. One word, good citizens.
i Cit. We are accouuted poor citizens ; the paict. Before we proceed any further, hear me tricians, good :* What authority supreits on, would
Cie: Speak, speak. [Several speaking at once. perfuity, while it were wholesome, we might am CitYou are all resolved rather to die, than to guess they
relieved us humanely, but they think
we are too dear : the leanness that afflicts us, the Cit. First you know, Caius Marcius is chief
object of our misery, is as an inventory to parti. CHÉWe know', we know't.
+ Charge of keepiug us uprc than we are worth,
Cit. Resoled, resolved !
enemy to the people,