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CHARACTERISTICS OF THOUGHT AND MANNER-DATE OF THE
HE late Dr. Arnold, a most original and sagacious inquirer into every subject
in kind, although requiring to be augmented in degree."-(Introductory Lecture on Modern History.) True as this rule may be, as regards the mass of authors of every age, and even most of those of the very highest rank, it is surely erroneous in reference to Shakespeare, even in the guarded and qualified form in which it is applied to him; and this exception of the great English Poet from so general a law of mind, which has governed the loftiest and most powerful minds, is among the most striking and unequivocal evidences of his superiority. Neither MACBETH nor HAMLET, alone, could give any competent idea of the character of mind and cast of thought, or of the habitual views of life, of the author of OTHELLO; while LEAR, with all its wonderful combination of intellect and passion, would as little lead us to imagine that the same author had written such a tragedy as ROMEO AND JULIET. This play of the TEMPEST, especially, is one of those works for which no other production of the author's prolific fancy could have prepared his readers. It is wholly of a different cast of temper, and mood of disposition, from those so conspicuous in his gayer comedies; while even the ethical dignity and poetic splendour of the MERCHANT OF VENICE, could not well lead the critic to anticipate the solemn grandeur, the unrivalled harmony and grace, the bold originality, and the grave beauty of the TEMPEST.
The MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM, as different from its author's other gayer and more purely poetical works, as the TEMPEST is from his graver delineations of deeper thought and stronger passion, is that among his dramas which, from its fairy machinery and the predominance of the imaginative over the real, most naturally presents itself as the counterpart of the TEMPEST. Yet it is as essentially different as if it had been the work of some other contemporary poet; being, indeed, rather a contrast than a resembling counterpart. More abounding in single passages of matchless and varied sweetness or brilliancy, it is less perfect as a whole, and differs still more 'com it in its pervading tone of feeling, and the impression it leaves on the mind. The one is joyous in emper. luxuriant in fancy, and dazzling throughout from its sudden and brilliant contrasts. The other is also filled with high and true poetry, but it is poetry pervaded and controlled by a contemplative philosophy; and it is the calm, solemn light of that philosophy that harmonizes, and mellows down, the richest fancies and boldest inventions into one grave and even severe tone of colour. The two dramas are to each other as the full and strong burst of life, and the balmy fragrance of spring, with its joyous and exhilarating influence, and bright confusion of beauties. compared with the autumnal magnificence of our Indian summer, with its calmness and repose, its yellow radiance, and all its pensive yet soothing associations and influences. There are several respects in which the TEMPEST thus stands alone, as distinguishable in character from any other of its author's varied creations. Without being his work of greatest power, not equalling several of the other dramas in depth of passion, or in the exhibition of the working of the affections; surpassed by others in brilliancy of poetic fancy or exquisite delicacies of expression. it is nevertheless among the most perfect (perhaps in fact the most perfect) of all, as a work of art, of the most unbroken unity of effect and sustained majesty of intellect. It is too-if we can speak of degrees of originality in the productions of this most creative of all poets-the most purely original of his conceptions, deriving nothing of any consequence from any other source for the plot, and without any prototype in literature of the more important personages, or any model for the thoughts and language, beyond the materials presented by actual and living human nature, to be raised and idealized into the "wild and wondrous" forms of Ariel and Caliban, of the majestic Prospero, and, above all, of his peerless daughter. Miranda is a character blending the truth of nature with the most exquisite refinement of poetic fancy, unrivalled, even in Shakespeare's own long and beautiful series of portraitures of feminine excellence, and paralleled only by the Eve of Milton, who, I cannot but think, was indirectly indebted for some of her most fascinating attributes to the solitary daughter of Prospero.
Caliban, a being without example or parallel in poetic invention, degraded in mind, as well as in moral affections, below the level of humanity, and yet essentially and purely poetical in all his conceptions and language, is a creation to whose originality and poetic truth every critic, from Dryden downward, has paid homage. Nor is it a less striking peculiarity, that the only buffoon characters and dialogue in the drama are those of the sailors, who seem to be introduced for the single purpose of contrasting the grossness and lowness of civilized vice with the nobler forms of savage and untutored depravity.
It is partly on account of this perfect novelty of invention, and probably still more from the fairy and magical machinery of the plot, that the later critics have designated the TEMPEST as specially belonging to the Romantic Drama. Yet to me it appears, not only in its structure, but in its taste and feeling, to bear a more classical character, and to be more assimilated to the higher Grecian drama, in its spirit, than any other of its author's works, or indeed any other poem of his age. The rules of the Greek stage, as to the unities of time and place, are fully complied with. This cannot well be the result of accident, for in an age of classical translation, and learned (even pedantic) imitation, it needed no classical learning to make the unities known to any dramatic author; and as Shakespeare had, in his other plays, totally rejected them, he would seem here to have expressly designed to conform his plot to their laws. But there also appears to me to be something in the poetic character and tone of the drama, approaching to the spirit and manner of the Greek dramatic poetry, which can certainly not be ascribed to intentional imitation, any more than to the unconscious resemblance often produced by habitual familiarity with favourite models. It has nothing of the air of learned and elaborate imitation which, in the works of Tasso and Milton and Gray, make the scholar everywhere as perceptible as the poet. But it is the resemblance of solema thought, of calm dignity, of moral wisdom, of the dramatic dialogue in its most majestic form, passing now into the lyrical and now into the didactic or ethical. This resemblance of taste and feeling is rendered more striking. by a similar bold and free invention and combination of poetic diction, making the English language as flexible as the Greek to every shade of thought. In all these respects, the resemblance to antiquity goes just far enough to show that its result is not artificial or intentional; but the result of the same mental causes operating upon the author's poetic temperament and taste, at the time, which predominated in forming the "lofty, grave tragedians of ancient Athens.
It is partly for these reasons, and partly also in consequence of the grave and sustained harmony of its versification, that the TEMPEST SO constantly reminds the reader of Milton's noblest strains. Yet here again the similitude arises, in a very small degree, not from direct imitation or adaptation of diction, or imagery, or sentiment—for of these Milton has borrowed more largely from others of Shakespeare's dramas-but in the general effect upon the ear, and the solemn impression left upon the mind.
All these circumstances, while they indicate the maturity of genius, and the judgment and taste exercised and refined by long experience, combine with its stately tone of pensive, yet not gloomy moralizing, to give to the TEMPEST the calm magnificence of a golden sunset in autumn, according fully with (if indeed it did not originally suggest) the commonly entertained opinion that this was its author's latest work. Thus it has become invested with a sort of "sacredness, as the last work of a mighty workman;" while many an admiring critic has thought. with Campbell," that Shakespeare, as if conscious it would be his last, and as if inclined to typify himself, has made his hero a natural, a dignified and benevolent magician, who would conjure up 'spirits from the vasty deep' 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 ais staff, and to bury it fathoms in the ocean
Deeper than did ever plummet sound."
I am unwilling to reject this pleasing, and, in itself, not improbable opinion; and it may, perhaps, be to some extent reconciled with the evidence we now possess of the date of the TEMPEST, though that proves nothing positively, but that this was one among the author's four or five later works, belonging to the period of the WisTER'S TALE, CYMBELINE, and CORIOLANUS.
The most direct piece of chronological testimony is one which was not accessible to any editor or critic before Mr. Collier. This proves that the TEMPEST was performed at court, before James I., on Nov. 1, 1611. This appears from the "Extracts from the Accounts of the Revels at Court," (lately published for the Shakespeare Society,) which contains this memorandum:-" Hallomas night, was presented at Whithall, before the King's Majestie, a play called the Tempest." The WINTER'S TALE was also among the plays selected for the royal amusement, and was acted at court four days after. According to the well-ascertained customs of the times, it is highly probable, from this circumstance, that both of these dramas were new and successful plays, which had just passed the public ordeal. This probability, as to the TEMPEST, is confirmed by the whole internal evidence of the style, the rhythm. and other characteristics of authorship, which have certainly little affinity to those of the author's youthful taste. but very much with his productions of a later date. Coleridge, in his lectures, (as reported by Mr. Collier,) pronounced that the TEMPEST was "one of Shakespeare's latest works, judging from the language alone;" and the same argument seems to have led to the similar decisions of Schlegel and of Campbell. We have, in addition to this, the fact that there is no mention of the TEMPEST by Meares, nor any satisfactory reference to it by any contemporary, prior to 1611; and there are, moreover, several smaller points of circumstantial evidence; the whole amounting to very satisfactory proof that the TEMPEST was not written very long before that date. The evidence of the last class is thus stated by Mr. Collier :