Imágenes de páginas

suffer for the seduction of his mistress before marriage, loose wretches brought in by the police, nay, even a hardened criminal whom the preparations for his execution cannot awake out of his callousness. But yet, notwithstanding this convincing truth, how tenderly and mildly the whole is treated ! The piece takes improperly its name from the punishment : the sense of the whole is properly the triumph of mercy over strict justice, no man being himself so secure from errors as to be entitled to deal it out among his equals. The most beautiful ornament of the composition is the character of Isabella, who, in the intention of taking the veil, allows herself to be again prevailed on by pious love to tread the perplexing ways of the world, while the heavenly purity of her mind is not even stained with one unholy thought by the general corruption. In the humble robes of the novice of a nunnery, she is a true angel of light. When the cold and hitherto unsullied Angelo, whom the Duke has commissioned to restrain the excess of dissolute immorality by a rigid administration of the laws during his pretended absence, is even himself tempted by the virgin charms of Isabella, as she supplicates for her brother Claudio ; when he first insinuates, in timid and obscure language, but at last impudently declares his readiness to grant the life of Claudio for the sacrifice of her honour; when Isabella repulses him with a noble contempt; when she relates what has happened to her brother, and the latter at first applauds her, but at length, overpowered by the dread of death, wishes to persuade her to consent to her dishonour; in these masterly scenes Shakespeare has sounded the depth of the human heart. The interest here reposes altogether on the action ; curiosity constitutes no part of our delight; for the Duke, in the disguise of a monk, is always present to watch over his dangerous representatives, and to avert every evil which could possibly be apprehended : we look here with confidence to the solemn decision. The Duke acts the part of the Monk naturally, even to deception ; he unites in his person the wisdom of the priest and the prince. His wisdom is merely too fond of roundabout ways; his vanity is flattered with acting invisibly like an earthly providence; he is more entertained with overhearing his subjects than governing them in the customary manner. As he at last extends pardon to all the guilty, we do not see how his original purpose of restoring the strictness of the laws by committing the execution of them to other hands, has been in any wise accomplished. The poet might have had this irony in view—that of the numberless slanders of the Duke, told him by the petulant Lucio, without knowing the person to whom he spoke, what regarded his singularities and whims was not wholly without foundation.

“ It is deserving of remark, that Shakespeare, amidst the rancour of religious parties, takes a delight in representing the condition of a monk, and always represents his influence as beneficial. We find in him none of the black and knavish monks, which an enthusiasm for the Protestant religion, rather than poetical inspiration, has suggested to some of our modern poets. Shakespeare merely gives his monks an inclination to busy themselves in the affairs of others, after renouncing the world for themselves ; with respect, however, to privy frauds, he does not represent them as very conscientious. Such are the parts acted by the Monk in Romeo and Juliet, and another in Much ado about Nothing, and even by the Duke, whom, contrary to the wellknown proverb, 'the cowl seems really to make a monk' (Vol. ii. p. 169).”

This is, we confess, a very poor criticism on a very fine play ; but we are not in the humour (even if we could) to write a better. A very obvious beauty, which has escaped the critic, is the admirable description of life, as poetical as it is metaphysical, beginning, "If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing," &c., to the truth and justice of which Claudio assents, contrasted almost immediately afterwards with his fine description of death as the worst of ills :

To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot ;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod, and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice.

'Tis too horrible !
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment,
Can lay on nature, is a paradise
To what we fear of death.

Neither has he done justice to the character of Master Barnardine, one of the finest and that's saying a bold word) in all Shakespeare. He calls him a hardened criminal. He is no such thing. He is what he is by nature, not by circumstance,"careless, reckless, and fearless of past, present, and to come.” He is Caliban transported to the forests of Bohemia or the prisons of Vienna. He has, however, a sense of the natural fitness of things: "He has been drinking hard all night, and he will not be hanged that day," and Shakespeare has let him off at last. Emery does not play it well, for Master Barnardine is not the representative of a Yorkshireman, but of an universal class in nature. We cannot say that the Clown Pompey suffered in the hands of Mr. Liston; on the contrary, he played it inimitably well. His manner of saying "a dish of some three-pence” was worth anything. In the scene of his examination before the Justice, he delayed, and dallied, and dangled in his answers, in the true spirit of the genius of his author.

We do not understand why the philosophical critic, whom we have quoted above, should be so severe on those pleasant persons Lucio, Pompey, and Master Froth, as to call them "wretches.” They seem all mighty comfortable in their occupations, and determined to pursue them, “as the flesh and fortune should serve." Shakespeare was the least moral of all writers; for morality (commonly so called) is made up of antipathies, and his talent consisted in sympathy with human nature, in all its shapes, degrees, elevations, and depressions. The object of the pedantic moralist is to make the worst of everything ; his was to make the best, according to his own principle, "There is some soul of goodness in things evil." Even Master Barnardine is not left to the mercy of what others think of him, but when he comes in, he speaks for himself. We would recommend it to the Society for the Suppression of Vice to read Shakespeare.

Mr. Young played the Duke tolerably well. As to the cant introduced into Schlegel's account of the Duke's assumed character of a Monk, we scout it altogether. He takes advantage of the good-nature of the poet to impose on the credulity of mankind. Chaucer spoke of the Monks historically, Shakespeare poetically. It was not in the nature of Shakespeare to insult over the enemies of the human race" just after their fall. We however object to them entirely in this age of the revival of Inquisitions and Protestant massacres. We have not that stretch of philosophical comprehension which, in German metaphysics, unites popery and free-thinking together, loyalty and regicide, and which binds up the Bible and Spinoza in the same volume ! Mr. Jones did not make a bad Lucio. Miss O'Neill's Isabella, though full of merit, disappointed us; as indeed she has frequently done of late. Her “Oh fie, fie,” was the most spirited thing in her performance. She did not seize with much force the spirit of her author, but she seemed in complete possession of a certain conventicle twang. She whined and sang out her part in that querulous tone that has become unpleasant to us by ceaseless repetition. She at present plays all her parts in the Magdalen style. We half begin to suspect that she represents the bodies, not the souls of women, and that her forte is in tears, sighs, sobs, shrieks, and hysterics. She does not play either Juliet or Isabella finely. She must stick to the commonplace characters of Otway, Moore, and M Hannah More, or she will ruin herself. As Sir Joshua Reynolds concluded his last lecture with the name of Michael Angelo, as Vetus wished the name of the Marquis Wellesley to conclude his last letter, so we will conclude this article with a devout apostrophe to the name of Mrs. Siddons.

The same


Examiner, February 18, 1816. We saw Mr. Kean's Sir Giles Overreach on Friday night from the boxes at Drury Lane Theatre, and are not surprised at the incredulity as to this great actor's powers, entertained by those persons who have only seen him from that elevated sphere. We do not hesitate to say, that those who have only seen him at that distance, have not seen him at all. The expression of his face is quite lost, and only the harsh and grating tones of his voice produce their full effect on the ear. recurring sounds, by dint of repetition, fasten on the attention, while the varieties and finer modulations are lost in their passage over the pit. All you discover is an abstraction of his defects, both of person, voice, and

He appears to be a little man in a great passion. The accompaniment of expression is absolutely necessary to explain his tones and gestures : and the outline which he gives of the character, in proportion as it is bold and decided, requires to be filled up and modified by all the details of execution. Without seeing the workings of his face, through which you read the movements of his soul, and anticipate their violent effects on his utterance and action, it is impossible to understand or feel pleasure in the part. All strong expression, deprived of gradations and connecting motives, unavoidably


« AnteriorContinuar »