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tor, the harangue of Antony and its effects, the flight of Brutus aud Cassius, their quarrel and and reconcilement, and finally their noble stand for liberty against the sanguinary and atrocious triumvirate, are concatenated with the most happy art; and though, after the fall of Caesar, nothing but the patriotic heroism of Brutus and Cassius is left to occupy the stage, the apprehensions and the interest which have been awakened for their fate, are sustained, and even augmented to the last scene of the tragedy.
30. ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA: 1608. Shakspeare has here spread a wider canvas; he has admitted a vast variety of groups, some of which are crowded, and some too isolated, whilst in the back ground are dimly seen personages and events that, for the sake of perspicuity, ought to have been brought forward with t some share of boldness and relief. The subject, in fact, is too complex and extended, to admit of a due degree of simplicity and wholeness, and the mind is consequently hurried by a multiplicity of incidents, for whose introduction and succession we are not sufficiently prepared.
Yet, notwithstanding these defects, this is a piece which gratifies us by its copiousness and animation; such, indeed, is the variety of its transactions, and the rapidity of its transitions, that the attention is never suffered, even for a moment, to grow languid; and, though occasionally surprised by abruptness, or want of connection, pursues the footsteps of the poet with eager and unabated delight. Neither is the merit of this play exclusively founded on the vivacity and entertainment of its fable; it presents us with three characters which start from their respective groups with a prominency, with a depth of light and shade, that gives the freshness of existing energy to the records of far distant ages.
The martial but voluptuous Antony, whose bosom is the seat of great qualities and great vices; now magnanimous, enterprising, and heroic: now weak, irresolute, and slothful: alternately the slave of ambition and of effeminacy, yet generous, open-hearted, and unsuspicious, is strikingly opposed to the cold-blooded and selfish Octavius. The keeping of these characters is sustained to the last, whilst Cleopatra, the mistress of every seductive and meretricious art, a compound of vanity, sensuality, and pride, adored by the former, and despised by the latter, an instrument of ruin to the one, and of greatness to the other, is decorated, as to personal charms and exterior splendour, with all that the most lavish imagination can bestow.
31. CORIOLANUS: 1609. This play, which refers us to the third century of the Republic, is of a very peculiar character, involving in its course a large intermixture of humorous and political matter. It affords us a picture of what may be termed a Roman electioneering mob; and the insolence of newly-acquired authority on the part of the tribunes, and the ungovernable license and malignant ribaldry of the plebeians, are forcibly, but naturally expressed. The popular anarchy, indeed, is rendered highly diverting through the intervention of Menenius Agrippa, whose sarcastic wit, and shrewd good sense, have lent to these turbulent proceedings a very extraordinary degree of interest and effect. His "pretty tale," as he calls it, of "the belly and the members," which he recites to the people, during their mutiny occasioned by the dearth of corn, is a delightful and improved expansion of the old apologue, originally attributed to Menenius by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, but taken immediately by Shakspeare from Plutarch's Life of Coriolanus, and from Camden's Remains.
The serious and elevated persons of the drama are delineated in colours of equal, if not superior strength. The unrivalled military prowess of Coriolanus, in whose nervous arm, "Death, that dark spirit," dwelt; the severe sublimity of his character, his stern and unbending hauteur, and his undisguised contempt of all that is vulgar, pusillanimous, and base, are brought before us with a raciness and power of impression, and, notwithstanding a very liberal use both of the sentiments and language of his Plutarch, with a freedom of outline which, even in Shakspeare, may be allowed to excite our astonishment.
Among the female characters, a very important part is necessarily attached to the person of Volumnia; the fate of Rome itself depending upon her parental influence and authority. The poet has accordingly done full justice to the great qualities which the Cheronean sage has ascribed to this energetic woman; the daring loftiness of her spirit, her bold and masculine eloquence, and, above all, her patriotic devotion, being marked by the most spirited and vigorous touches of his pencil.
The numerous vicissitudes in the story; its rapidity of action; its contrast of character; the splendid vigour of its serious, and the satirical sharpness and relish of its more familiar scenes, together with the animation which prevails throughout all its parts, have conferred on this play, both in the closet and on the stage, a remarkable degree of attraction.
32. THE WINTER'S TALE: 1610. That this play was written after the accession of King James, appears probable from the following lines:
"If, as Mr. Blackstone supposes," observes Mr. Douce," this be an allusion to the death of the Queen of Scots, it exhibits Shakspeare in the character of a gringing flatterer, accommodating himself to existing circumstances, and is moreover an extremely severe one. But the perpetrator
of that atrocious murder did flourish many years afterwards. May it not rather be designed as a compliment to King James, on his escape from the Gowrie conspiracy, an event often brought to the people's recollection during his reign, from the day on which it happened being made a day of thanksgiving ?"
Thus Osborne tells us, that "amongst a number of other Novelties, he (King James) brought a new Holyday into the Church of England, wherein God had public thanks given him for his Majesties deliverance out of the hands of E. Goury. And this fell out upon Aug. 5;"† and from Wilson we learn, the title which this day bore in the almanacks of the time :-"The fifth of August this year (1603) had a new title given to it. The Kings Deliveries in the North must resound here." +
From an allusion to this play and to The Tempest, in Ben Jonson's "Induction to Bartholomew Fair," 1614, there is some reason to conclude, that these dramas were written within a short period of each other, and that The Winter's Tale was the elder of the two. "He is loth," he says, "to make nature afraid in his plays, like those that beget Tales, Tempests, and such like drolleries." Now, it will be found in the next article, that we have no trifling data for attributing the composition of The Tempest to the year 1611; and, could it be rendered highly probable, that the production of The Winter's Tale did not occur before 1610, an almost incontrovertible support would be given to our chronology of both plays. It happens, therefore, very fortunately, that in a note by Mr. Malone, annexed to his chronological notice of The Winter's Tale, in the edition of our author's plays of 1803, a piece of information occurs, that seems absolutely to prove the very fact of which we are in search. It appears, says this critic, from the entry which has been quoted in a preceding page, that The Winter's Tale **had been originally licensed by Sir George Buck;" and he concludes by remarking, that "though Sir George Buck obtained a reversionary grant of the office of Master of the Revels, in 1603, which title Camden has given him in the edition of his Britania printed in 1607, it appears from various documents in the Pells-office, that he did not get complete possession of his place till August, 1610." In fact, Osborne's Works, Svo, 1689, p. 477.
* Illustrations vol i. p 347.
+ History of Great Britain, folio, 1653, p. 12.
"I am inclined to think," says Mr. Malone, "that he (Jonson) joined these plays in the same censure, in consequence of their having been produced at no great distance of time from cach other.”—That this issage was intended, however, as a cens ire on Shakspeare remains doubtful.
Edmond Tilney, the predecessor of Sir George Buck, died at the very commencement of October, 1610, and was buried at Leatherhead, in Surrey, on the sixth of the same month; and it is very likely that, during his illness, probably commencing in August, Sir George, as his destined successor, might officiate for him. We learn from Mr. Vertue's manuscripts, that The Winter's Tale was acted at court in 1613, a circumstance which, though it may lead us to infer that its popularity on the public stage had been considerable, by no means necessarily warrants the supposition which Mr. Malone is inclined to make, that it had passed through all its stages of composition, public performance, and court exhibition, during the same year.
Instead, therefore, of conjecturing with Mr. Malone that this play was written in 1594, or 1602, or 1604, or 1613, for such has been the vacillation of this gentleman in his chronology of the piece, or with Mr. Chalmers, in 1601, we believe it to have been written, for the reasons which we have already assigned, and which will receive additional corroboration from the arguments to be adduced under the next head, towards the close of 1610, and to have been licensed and performed during the succeeding year.*
"The observation by Dr. Warburton," remarks Mr. Douce, "that The Winter's Tale, with all its absurdities, is very entertaining, though stated by Dr. Johnson to be just, must be allowed at the same time to be extremely frigid." Certainly had Warburton said this, or nothing but this, he had merited the epithet; but Mr. Douce has been misled by Dr. Johnson, for most assuredly Warburton has not said this, but, on the contrary, has spoken of the play not only with taste and feeling, but in a tone of enthusiasm. "This play, throughout," says he, "is written in the very spirit of its author. And in telling this homely and simple, though agreeable country-tale,
"Our sweetest Shakspeare, fancy's child,
Warbles his native wood-notes wild."
"This was necessary to observe in mere justice to the play as the meanness of the fable, and the extravagant conduct of it, had misled some of great name into a wrong judgment of its merit; which, as far as it regards sentiment and character, is scarce inferior to any in the whole collection." This, indeed, is all that Warburton has said on the general character of The Winter's Tale, but it is high praise, and coincides in almost every respect with what Mr. Douce has himself very justly declared on the same subject, when, in the passage immediately following that which we have already quoted from his Illustrations, he adds, "In point of fine writing it may be ranked among Shakspeare's best efforts. The absurdities pointed at by Warburton, together with the whimsical anachronisms of Whitson pastorals, Christian burial, an emperor of Russia, and an Italian painter of the fifteenth century, are no real drawbacks on the superlative merits of this charming drama. The character of Perdita will remain for ages unrivalled; for where shall such language be found as she is made to utter?" +
As Shakspeare was indebted for the story of The Winter's Tale to the “Dorastus and Fawnia" of Robert Greene, which was published in 1588, so it is probable that he was under a similar obligation for its name to "A booke entitled A Wynter Nyght's Pastime," which was entered at Stationers' Hall on May the 22d, 1594. It is, also, not unlikely that the adoption of the title might influence the nature of the composition; for, as Schlegel has remarked, "The Winter's Tale is as appropriately named as The Midsummer-Night's Dream. It is one of those tales which are peculiarly calculated to beguile the dreary leisure of a long winter evening, which are even attractive and intelligible to childhood,
* It appears, from Mr. Malone, that the copy of The Winter's Tale, licensed by Sir George Puck, Fad been lost. Illustrations of Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 301 .
and which, animated by fervent truth in the delineation of character and passion, invested with the decoration of a poetry lowering itself, as it were, to the simplicity of the subject, transport even manhood back to the golden age of imagination."
Such indeed is the character of the latter and more interesting part of this drama, which, separated by a chasm of sixteen years from the business of the three preceding acts, may be said, in some measure, to constitute a distinct play. The fourth act, especially, is a pastoral of the most fascinating description, in which Perdita, pure as
"the fann'd snow
That's bolted by the northern blasts twice o'er,"
Act iv. sc. 3.
ignorant of her splendid origin, yet, under the appearance of a shepherd's daughter, acting with such an intuitive nobleness of mind, that—
exhibits a portrait fresh from nature's loveliest pencil, where simplicity, artless affection, and the most generous resignation are sweetly blended with a fortitude at once spirited and tender. Thus, when Polixenes, discovering himself at the sheepshearing, interdicts the contract between Perdita and his son, and threatens the former with a cruel death, if she persist in encouraging the attachment, the reply which she gives is a most beautiful development of the qualities of mind and heart which we have just enumerated :—
Even here undone?
I was not much afeard: for once, or twice," &c.
Act iv. sc. 3.
The comic characters of this play, which are nearly confined to the last two acts, form a striking contrast and relief to the native delicacy and elegance of manners which distinguish every sentiment and action of the modest and unaffected Perdita; her reputed father and brother and the witty rogue Autolycus being drawn with those strong but natural strokes of broad humour which Shakspeare delighted to display in his characterisation of the lower orders of society. That snapper up of unconsidered trifles," his frolic pedlar, is one of the most enteraining specimens of wicked ingenuity that want and opportunity ever generated. 33. THE TEMPEST: 1611. The dates assigned by the two chronologers, for the composition of this drama, seem to be inferred from premises highly inclusive and mprobable. Mr. Malone conceives it to have been written in 1612, because its itle appears to him to have been derived from the circumstance of a dreadful empest occurring in the October, November, and December of the year 1612; and Mr. Chalmers has exchanged this epoch for 1613, because there happened · a great tempest of thunder and lightning, on Christmas day, 1612." "This ntimation," he subjoins, "necessarily carries the writing of The Tempest into he subsequent year, since there is little probability, that our poet would write his enchanting drama, in the midst of the tempest, which overthrew so many mansions, and wrecked so many ships."
It is very extraordinary that, when all the circumstances which could lead to
⚫ Lectures on Dramatic Literature, vol. ii. p. 181.-That Shakspeare considered the romantic incidents this play as properly designated by the appellation of an old tale, is evident from his own application f the phrase to several parts of the plot. Thus, in the second scene of the fifth act, we find it used in e following passages:—
"How goes it now, sir? this news, which is called true, is so like an old tale." "2d Gent. What, pray you, became of Antigonus, that carried hence the child? 3d Gent. Like an old tale still."
And again, in the next scene :-
That she is living,
Were it but told, you should be hooted at,
the suggestion of the title of The Tempest, are to be found in books, to which, from his allusions, we know our author must have had recourse, and in events which took place, during the two years immediately preceding the period that we have fixed upon, and at the very spot referred to in the play, these critics should have imagined that a series of stormy weather occurring at home, or a single storm on Christmas day, could have operated with the poet in his choice of a name.
It is scarcely possible to avoid smiling at the objection which Mr. Chalmers so seriously brings forward against the conjecture of his predecessor, founded on the improbability of the poet's writing his Tempest in the midst of a tempest; a mode of reputation which could only have been adopted one would think under the supposition, that Shakspeare, during these three stormy months, had wanted the protection of a roof. The inference, however, which he draws from his own storm, on Christmas day, namely, that The Tempest must necessarily have been written in 1613, is still less tenable than the position of Mr. Malone; for we are told, on the authority of Mr. Vertue's Manuscripts," that the Tempest was acted by John Heminge and the rest of the King's company, before Prince Charles. the Lady Elizabeth, and the Prince Palatine elector, in the beginning of the year 1613." Now we learn from Wilson the historian, that the Prince Palatine was married to the Lady Elizabeth in February, 1613, her brother Prince Charles leading her to church; and on this occasion, no doubt, it was, that The Tempest, having been received the preceding season with great favour and popularity, was re-performed; for Wilson tells us, that in consequence of these nuptials, "the feastings, maskings, and other Royall formalities, were as troublesome ('tis presum'd, to the Lovers, as the relation of them here may be to the reader;" and he adds, in the next page, that they were" tired with feasting and jollity."
But how can this relation be reconciled with the chronology of Mr. Chalmers ? for, if The Tempest, as he supposes, was written in 1613, it must have been commenced and finished in the course of one month! a rapidity of composition which, considering the unrivalled excellence of this drama, is scarcely within the bounds of probability. Beside, were The Tempest the production of January, 1613, it must have been written on the spur of the occasion, and for the nuptials in question; and is it to be supposed that no reference to such an event would be found throughout a play composed expressly to adorn, if not to compliment, the ceremony?
If we can, therefore, ascertain, that all the circumstances necessary for the suggestion, not only of the title of The Tempest, but of a considerable part of its fable, may have occurred to Shakspeare's mind anterior to the close of 1611, and would particularly press upon it, during the two years preceding this date, it may, without vanity be expected, that the epoch which we have chosen, will be preferred to those which we have just had reason to pronounce either trivial or inprobable.
So far back as to 1577, have Mr. Steevens and Dr. Farmer referred for some particulars to which Shakspeare was indebted for his conception of the foul witch Sycorax," and her god Setebos; but the circumstances which led to the name of the play, to the storm with which it opens, and to some of the wondrous incidents on the enchanted island, commence with the publication of
* Wilson's Historie of Great Britain, p. 64, 65.
The idea of the witch, says Mr. Steevens, might have been caught from Dionyse Settle's Reporte the Last Voyage of Captaine Frobisher, 12mo. bl. 1. 1577. He is speaking of a woman found on ove the islands described:-"The old wretch, whome divers of our Saylers supposed to be a Divell, or a Witche, plucked off her buskins, to see if she were clouen footed, and for her ougly hewe and deformite, we let her goe."
Eden tells us in his History of Travayle, 1577, that "the giantes, when they found themselves fettered, roared like bulls, and cried upon Setebos to help them."
Mr. Douce thinks that the name of Caliban's mother, Sycorax, was probably taken by Shakspeare from the following passage in "Batman uppon Bartholome," 1582:-"The raven is called corvus of Cerar it is said that ravens birdes be fed with dews of heaven all the time that they have no black feathers, by benefite of age." 1.ib. xii. c. 10-Illustrations, vol. i. p. 8.