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reporter, of diligently and conscientiously applying such critical light as has been thrown upon the general spirit of a play, or the conception of its individual characters, in forming his judgment as to the truth and efficiency of any given histrionic expression of them...
.1.1s is the hope of contributing, however slightly, ..towards remedying each of these critical deficiencies, that we have resolved to notice, from time to time, without binding ourselves to any strictly systematic review, such points of interest regarding the spirit, structure, or characters of the piece, the general management of its representation, or the acting of the particular parts, as shall most conveniently present themselves to us in such of the Shakespearian dramas as derive a more immediately vivid interest in the public mind, from the fact of their being for the time before the public eye, upon the actual stage.
We are strongly persuaded that no revolution of national manners, still less any_mere variation of fashionable habits, will ever, with Englishmen, confine the study of Shakespeare to the closet, and destroy their appetite for having his creations placed before them visibly and audibly. Of no other dramatist whatever, of any country, are we prepared to affirm so much; but of him, the one, unrivalled and alone in his human omniscience and his dramatic omnipotence, we believe it. Nay, we believe the
very contrary of that which some people seem to anticipate--that the present great extension of the reading of Shakespeare, by the publication of such multiplied editions, so accessible by their cheapness or so attractive by their embellishments, will more or less relax the public desire to see and hear his imaginings “bodied forth” in vivid reality of sight and sound. We believe that the more intently his - Delphic lines” are perused—the more that “deep impression
" which Milton attributes to them, is imbibed in the closetthe more irresistible will be the reader's inclination to repair thither where he can be assured of having
them rendered to him with all the glowing and thrilling expressiveness of eye, and voice, and action.
Why this is so transcendently the case with the dramas of Shakespeare, will hereafter receive some particular illustration; but the greatest, most comprehensive reason of all exists, we conceive, in the happy fatality which ordained that the man who, of all men known to us, possessed the truest and most pervading insight into every condition of the human mind and heart, was trained in dramatic composition upon the very boards—that the great poet and the great manager grew as one—that the great artist whom they combined to form, composed immediately for
The very faculties of eyes and ears. How much this constant writing, or rather, we should say, creating, to a living and present audience, must have contributed to that wonderfully concentrated force, and that exquisite fitness for dramatic effect, which are found in every part of his action, character, and dialogue, it needs little reflection to discover. No wonder that the real world so habitually presented itself to him as
This wide and universal theatre.
No wonder that he could, with such consummate art, introduce the theatre itself
scene, and so give double force to the illusion of his principal action.
It is in the play of Hamlet,' as every one knows, that he has done this most systematically and elaborately. Here he has not only made use of this means to deliver, in a form at once brief and luminous, all the essential principles both of dramatic and of histrionic art, but has triumphantly vindicated the true dignity of both; that dignity to which, in his own age and country, he must have been conscious that he had chiefly contributed to raise them. In Polonius's estimate of the players, and the style of his criticism, are admirably exhibited the manner in which they were actually treated in Shakespeare's time, and the spirit in which they were commonly regarded by the court and by the great—by those who looked upon the theatre as they did upon the domestic fool, merely as a source of idle and profitless pastime; while in all'Hamlet's discourses to, or concerning them, we trace the great dramatist's own idea of the high moral as well as æsthetic purpose of their art, and the corresponding appreciation which it merited from the highest order of cultivated intellect and taste. It was, in fact, an unanswerable assertion of the highest prerogatives of the drama, as the noblest field of art and the most effective school of morals, not only in his own time, but for all time to come.
So long as the great poet and manager could preside over the rehearsal of his own plays, it is clear that no other guide was necessary or admissible to direct the actors to the true conception and expression of every character they contain. Neither could the termination of his personal connexion with the stage, nor even his decease, prevent the tradition of his own readings—his own view of the histrionic rendering of each part—from being handed down pretty faithfully during the comparatively short period which elapsed until the conclusion of the first great era of our dramatic history, by the entire closing of the theatres under the sway of the Puritans.
“ It was one of the vital and lasting injuries inflicted on the theatrical system by the puritanical suppression, that the old line of actors, which had risen and flourished along with the great and vigorous dramatic school of the age of Elizabeth and James, and had intimately imbibed its healthy natural tonehad 'grown with its growth and strengthened with its strength-was violently and fatally interrupted. A new race of actors had to arise, who, not having, like their predecessors of the former period, the example and the awe of the great histrionic models of the old school before them, found it a much easier task to strut and rant in the delivery of unnatural
bombast, than to sound the depths and reach the delicacies of Nature's favourite poet. And thus an additional facility was opened for the introduction and perpetuation upon the stage, of the factitious taste of Dryden and his followers.
“Ğarrick’s restoration of Shakespeare to his rightful supremacy over the English theatre, has entailed upon his countrymen a permanent debt of gratitude, which is yet more glorious to the memory of that great performer than the idolatrous admiration of his contemporaries for his unrivalled histrionic powers. It was nothing less than the removal of one great mark, worn for eighty years before, of national degradation, morally and intellectually. Here, too, we have a signal instance of the great degree in which the dignity and prosperity of a national theatre, at any given period, may depend on the taste and genius of a single actor, especially when that actor becomes a leading manager also. In the instance in question, this was more peculiarly and necessarily the case. When the condition of the English stage for three generations before is considered, it is quite evident that no person but an actor of very high genius could achieve the theatrical resuscitation of the greatest of all dramatic poets. Had any such actor existed at the Restoration of Charles the Second, he might probably have done much to prevent the wretched denationalization of the theatre, which was so much favoured by that king's exotic and vitiated taste. It was left for one qualified to be the great actor of nature, to lead forth the sublime poet of nature from his long theatrical obscurity. The clear, deep, quick, and varied truth which appeared in Garrick's interpretation of Shakespeare's leading characters, after all the cold, leaden, formal declamation under which even the best-esteemed performers had so long been accustomed to smother their spirit, was nothing less than a revelation to the play-going public of that day.
* Article on Drainatic Art and Literature, in the Penny Cyclopædia.
Yet the injury done by the loss above-mentioned, of all theatrical tradition on the subject, to the true conception, both on the part of the actors and the public, not only of each individual character of Shakespeare, but of its relation to every other in the same play, and to the general spirit of the piece, was not capable of being repaired by a theatrical manager, how high soever his qualifications might otherwise be, who had become such, not like Shakespeare, by virtue of being a great dramatist, but through his being a great actor merely. The
engross. ing attention which his histrionic vocation occasioned him to give to a certain number of the most prominent parts, and that full share of professional vanity which constantly inclined him to attach to those parts a too exclusive and absorbing importance, were quite enough to prevent even Garrick from ascending to that highest artistic view of any one of the dramas of Shakespeare, which had occupied their first great manager's own mind. Yet the full possession of this highest view can alone enable the individual who presides over the distribution and rehearsal of the parts in any one of those plays, to discharge his high office with such perfect comprehension and discrimination as to realize, in the whole performance, and in all its details, the true and original idea conceived of the work by its great creator. Garrick, then, we repeat, did all, and more than all, that an actor could have been expected to do in this matter—he gave the first grand and decisive impulse towards the revivification of Shakespeare on the stage.
But before this great resuscitation could be thoroughly accomplished, it was an indispensable prelude, that not only the genius of Shakespeare in general, but the spirit, structure, and execution of each particular drama, should be expounded by a criticism of the very highest order.
Why, down to the early part of the present century, no such exalted criticism in any department of art, and least of all in dramatic art, arose in England,