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opposing prejudice, must often fail to move, or shake but feebly, the force of rootedly hostile misconception. And the actress, it need scarcely be observed, from the yet greater delicacy of art which she has to display, especially in the more ideal heroines of Shakespeare, finds herself at a still greater and more hazardous disadvantage in endeavouring to substitute a new and just in place of an erroneous but prescriptive interpretation.
And then, as if expressly to deprive the stage of such power of this kind as was otherwise inherent in it, came the preposterous dimensions of the rebuilt patent theatres, to seal, for a dismal season, the doom of fine acting itself, especially in the characters of Shake
The Kembles, indeed, and the other genuine artists already formed and established, were in little danger of descending to adapt themselves to the monstrous physical circumstances thus created around them; they simply ceased to be seen and heard, felt and enjoyed, as of old. But the new aspirants in such an arena, having their reputation to make in it,
This mathematically necessary consequence of the inordinate magnitude of the new houses, has been demonstrated most conclusively again and again : but to all of the present generation to whom the argument may not be familiar, we recommend it, to peruse attentively the deliberate and very competent as well as feeling testimony of Sir Walter Scott to this injurious fact-speaking as an experienced eye and ear witness,—in reviewing Boaden's Life of John Philip Kemble, in the Quarterly Review (No. 67) for June, 1826.
had every temptation to rant and gesticulate, in order to be sure of impressing at all the majority of their audience. Thus it was not only natural, but inevitable, that the school of high histrionic art among us, rapidly declining, should make room for the chief melodramatic actor of the day to offer himself, and be accepted by the new generation, as a hero of Shakespearian tragedy.
But in the same proportion as this physical condition of our national theatres has been favourable and encouraging to vulgar exaggeration in the performer, has it been depressing to any true and refined inspiration. We find this especially exemplified in the professional history of our first living actress.
Once removed from the absorbing and effacing vastness of the great London theatres, and at the same time from the oppressive contact of an uncongenial style in an ascendant actor,—that noble, delicate, and various imagination, — those rich, exquisite, and versatile powers of expression, — with which Nature and culture have so remarkably endowed her,-have made themselves more known and estimated by the world. Hers is the singular fortune, to have added to her true Shakespearian honours the glory of reviving to our very senses the noblest dramatic heroines of ancient Greece-not the corrupt antique of the French, nor the mock
antique of any other modern school—but the genuine creations of a Sophocles and an Euri
Yet well she might do so. The noblest womanhood is essentially the same in every age. It revealed itself to the soul of Sophocles as to that of Shakespeare. And verily, the men and women of old Greece, to whose “nature” her dramatists “held up the mirror,” were not framed of marble-as a certain sort of critics among us seem to suppose—but of sensitive, imaginative, and impassioned, as well as intellectual and heroic, flesh and blood. The Grecian fire inspired the Grecian grace.
An Antigone is elder sister to an Imogen.
The writer of these pages is peculiarly bound to acknowledge his obligations to the artist here in question. To the study of her Shakespearian performances, amid the dearth of high poetic art upon our stage, he mainly owes his lively and profound conviction of the indispensability of adequate acting, to bring the full sense of Shakespeare home to the minds and feelings of mankind,—and of its yet more pressing necessity, to aid the efforts of the literary expositor in eradicating false conceptions which the stage itself has implanted or confirmed. The author's reasons for dwelling especially, in these essays, upon the leading female characters of Shakespeare, he gave
* Miss Helen Faucit's Antigone is well known and established as one of the great classic features of modern histrionic art; and the testimonial which it produced her from the whole body of men of highest classical attainment in the Anglo-Irish metropolis, has been recognized as one of the proudest ever rendered to a great intellectual artist. For the account of her Iphigenia in Aulis, see all the Dublin journals of Monday, November 30th, 1846.
in the first of the series of papers that follow : but he owes it to the same performer, now to state explicitly, that every successive study of her acting has more and more convinced him of that which he suspected from the first—the deeply injurious depreciation which the poet's finest models of exalted womanhood have suffered, both from theatrical and from critical hands. Well indeed, then, may his countrywomen of the present day be assured—even as they have faith in woman and in Shakespeare that not only the honour of the one sex, but the improvement and the happiness of both, are interested in their studying, and causing to be studied, the Shakespearian personations of such an artist, so true in conception and so perfect in expression.
STUDIES OF SHAKESPEARE,
[February 4th, 1843.]
The present essay is one result of certain reflections into which we have been led on the state of our current theatrical criticism,-especially of that upon the acting of Shakespeare's plays,—so unsatisfactory does it seem to us on the whole, so inadequate either to guide the taste and judgment of the public, or to instruct and encourage the performer.
This, no doubt, is partly attributable to the very limited space and time which alone any kind of periodical can devote to such notices, in the form which is almost exclusively assigned to them, as articles of news. However, we cannot but regard the deficiency in question as arising in some degree from deeper sources, distinct from each other, yet closely akin ;—first, the still crude and imperfect state of such criticism as we possess of Shakespeare's plays themselves, viewed, not under a merely literary aspect, as poetry in the limited sense, but in their proper and primary character, as productions of dramatic art; and secondly, the prevalent want, in the theatrical