« ForrigeFortsett »
the drama. But the exercise of that power was essentially different in each. Coleridge, in another place, says, “In his very first production he projected his mind out of his own particular being, and felt, and made others feel, on subjects no way connected with himself except by force of contemplation, and that sublime faculty by which a great mind becomes that on which it meditates." * But this “sublime faculty" went greatly farther when it became dramatic. In the narrative poems of an ordinary man we perpetually see the narrator. Coleridge, in a passage previously quoted, has shown the essential superiority of Shakspeare's narrative poems, where the whole is placed before our view, the poet unparticipating in the passions. There is a remarkable example of how strictly Shakspeare adhered to this principle in his beautiful poem of a Lover's Complaint. There the poet is actually present to the scene :
- From off a hill whose concave womb re-worded
A plaintful story from a sistering vale,
But not one word of comment does he offer upon the revelations of the "fickle maid full pale.” The dramatic power, however, as we have said, is many steps beyond this. It dispenses with narrative altogether. It renders a complicated story, or stories, one in the action. It makes the characters reveal themselves, sometimes by a word. It trusts for every thing to the capacity of an audience to appreciate the greatest subtilties, and the nicest shades of passion, through the action. It is the very reverse of the oratorical power, which repeats and explains. And how is it able to effect this prodigious mastery over the senses and the understanding ? By raising the mind of the spectator, or reader, into such a state of poetical excitement as corresponds in some degree to the excitement of the poet, and Malone says,
* “Literary Remains," vol. ii. p. 54.
x 29.1.a...+1-17117WWVt4*2*3*tviya,YA. S14.11.2.) (...NIU...***/IY, SIUVARSAW+11WTY**21.77.57:49.11.0" ! 2:1617*
thus clears away the mists of our ordinary vision, and irradiates the whole complex moral world in which we for a time live, and move, and have our being, with the brightness of his own intellectual sunlight. Now it appears to us that, although the Venus and Adonis, and the Lucrece, do not pretend to be the creations of this wonderful power -- their forms did not demand its complete exercise -- they could not have been produced by a man who did not possess the power, and had assiduously cultivated it in his own proper field. In the second poem, more especially, do we think the power has reached a higher development, indicating itself in “a yet wider range of knowledge and reflection.?
" I have observed that Painter has inserted the story of Lucrece in the first volume of his Palace of Pleasure,' 1567, on which I make no doubt our author formed his poem.” Be it so. The story of Lucrece in Painter's novel occupies four pages. The first page describes the circumstances that preceded the unholy visit of Tarquin to Lucrece; nearly the whole of the two last pages detail the events that followed the death of Lucrece. A page and a half at most is given to the tragedy. This is proper enough in a narrative, whose business it is to make all the circumstances intelligible. But the narrative poet, who was also thoroughly master of the dramatic power, concentrates all the interest upon the main circumstances of the story. He places the scene of those circumstances before our eyes at the very opening :
“ From the besieged Ardea all in post,
The preceding circumstances which impel this journey are then rapidly told. Again, after the crowning action of the tragedy, the poet has done. He tells the consequences of it with a brevity and simplicity indicating the most consummate art :
“ When they had sworn to this advised doom,
They did conclude to bear dead Lucrece thence;
The Romans plausibly did give consent
He has thus cleared away all the encumbrances to the progress of the main action. He would have done the same had he made Lucrece the subject of a drama. But he has to tell his painful story, and to tell it all : not to exhibit a portion of it, as he would have done had he chosen the subject for a tragedy. The consummate delicacy with which he has accomplished this is beyond all praise, perhaps above all imitation. He puts forth his strength on the accessaries of the main incident.
He delights to make the chief actors analyse their own thoughts, — reflect, explain, expostulate. All this is essentially undramatic, and he meant it to be so. But then, what pictures does he paint of the progress of the action, which none but a great dramatic poet, who had visions of future Macbeths and Othellos before him, could have painted! Look, for example, at that magnificent scene, when
“ No comfortable star did lend his light,"
of Tarquin leaping from his bed, and softly smiting his falchion on a flint, lighting a torch
" Which must be loadstar to his lustful eye.”
Look, again, at the exquisite domestic incident which tells of the quiet and gentle occupation of his devoted vicThe hand to which that glove belongs is described in the very perfection of poetry :
By the light he spies
VEPRUNUN ANALA9.COL.LEO TAMU LOKALER...
66 Without the bed her other fair hand was,
On the green coverlet; whose perfect white
In the chamber of innocence Tarquin is painted with terrific grandeur, which is overpowering by the force of con
“ This said, he shakes aloft his Roman blade,
The complaint of Lucrece after Tarquin has departed was meant to be undramatic. The action advances not. The character develops not itself in the action. But the poet makes his heroine bewail her fate in every variety of lament that his boundless command of imagery could furnish. The letter to Collatine is written a letter of the most touching simplicity :
Thou worthy lord
So I commend me from our house in grief ;
Again the action languishes, and again Lucrece surrenders herself to her grief. The
“Skilful painting, made for Priam's Troy,”
is one of the most elaborate passages of the poem, essentially cast in an undramatic mould. But this is but a prelude to the catastrophe, where, if we mistake not, a strength of passion is put forth which is worthy him who drew the terrible agonies of Lear :--
“Here with a sigh, as if her heart would break,
She throws forth Tarquin's name : • He, he,' she says,
She utters this: He, he, fair lords, 'tis he,
Malone, in his concluding remarks upon the Venus and Adonis, and Lucrece, says, “ We should do Shakspeare injustice were we to try them by a comparison with more modern and polished productions, or with our present idea of poetical excellence. This was written in the year 1780
- the period which rejoiced in the " polished productions” of Hayley and Miss Seward, and founded its "idea of poetical excellence on some standard which, secure in its conventional forms, might' depart as far as possible from simplicity and nature, to give us words without thought, arranged in verses without music. It would be injustice indeed to Shakspeare to try the Venus and Adonis, and Lucrece, by such a standard of “poetical excellence." But we have outlived that period. By way of apology for Shakspeare, Malone adds, “that few authors rise much above the age in which they live.” He further says " The poems of Venus and Adonis, and the Rape of Lucrece, whatever opinion may be now entertained of them, were certainly much admired in Shakspeare's lifetime.” This is consolatory. In Shakspeare's lifetime there were a few men that the world has since thought somewhat qualified to establish an idea of poetical excellence ” — Spenser, Drayton, Jonson, Fletcher, Chapman, for example. These were not much valued in Malone's golden age of " more modern and polished productions ; " -- but let that pass. We are coming back to the opinions of this obsolete school ; and we venture to think the majority of readers now will not require us to make an apology for Shakspeare's poems.
If Malone thought it necessary to solicit indulgence for the Venus and Adonis, and Lucrece, he drew even a more timid breath when he ventured to speak of the Son