Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

particularly in the following narrative, which instantly seizes on the mind, and fills it with that indefinite kind of terror that leads to the most horrible imaginings :

66 Ghost. My hour is almost come,
When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames
Must render up myself.
Ham.

Alas, poor ghost !
Ghost. I am thy father's spirit;
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night;
And, for the day, confin’d to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes, done in my days of nature,
Are burnt and purg'd away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul; freeze thy young blood ;
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres;
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
Like quills upon the fretful porcupine:
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood.” *

In this hazardous experiment, of placing before our eyes a spirit from the world of departed souls, no one has approached, by many degrees, the excellence of our poet. The shade of Darius, in the Persians of Æschylus, has been satisfactorily shown, by a critic of great ability, to be far inferior t; nor can the ghosts of Ossian, who is justly admired for delineations of this kind, be brought into competition with the Danish spectre ; neither the Grecian, nor the Celtic mythology, indeed, affording materials equal, in point of impression, to those which existed for the English bard. We may also venture to affirm, that the management of Shakspeare, in the disposition of his materials, from the first shock which the sentinels receive, to that which Hamlet sustains in the closet of his mother, is perfectly unrivalled, and, more than any other, calculated to excite the highest degree of interest, pity, and terror.

* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xviii. pp. 77–80. Act i. sc. 5. + See Montagu on the Preternatural Beings of Shakspeare, in her Essay, p. 160. 165. VOL. II.

Зн

It is likewise no 'small proof of judgment in our poet, that he has only once attempted to unveil, in this direct manner, the awful destiny of the dead, and to embody, as it were, at full length, a missionary from the grave; for the ghost of Banquo, and the spectral appearances in Julius Cæsar and Richard the Third, are slight and powerless sketches, when compared with the tremendous visitation in Hamlet, beyond which no human imagination can ever hope to pass.

*

* It has been asserted by Gildon, but upon what foundation does not appear, that Shakspeare wrote the scene of the Ghost in Hamlet, in the church-yard bordering on his house at Stratford. - Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. v, p. 4.

.

CHAPTER XI.

OBSERVATIONS ON KING JOHN; ON ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL; ON XING HENRY

THE FIFTH; ON MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING; ON AS YOU LIKE IT; ON MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR; ON TROILUS AND CRESSIDA; ON HENRY THE EIGHTH; ON TIMON OF ATHENS; ON MEASURE FOR MEASURE; ON KING LEAR; ON CYMBELINE; ON MACBETH. DISSERTATION ON THE POPULAR BELIEF IN WITCHCRAFT DURING THE AGE OF SHAKSPEARE, AND ON HIS MANAGEMENT OF THIS SUPERSTITION IN THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH.

[ocr errors]

We are well aware, that, to many of our readers, the chronological discussion incident to a new arrangement, will be lamented as tedious and uninteresting; the more so, as nothing absolutely certain can be expected as the result. That this part of our subject, therefore, may be as compressed as possible, we shall, in future, be very brief in offering a determination between the decisions of the two previous chronologers, reserving a somewhat larger space for the few instances in which it may be thought necessary to deviate from both.

Of the plays enumerated by Meres, in September, 1598, only two remain to be noticed in this portion of our work, namely, King John and Love's Labour's Wonne :

16. KING JOHN : 1598. Mr. Chalmers having detected some allusions in this play to the events of 1597, in addition to those which Mr. Malone had accurately referred to the preceding year, it becomes necessary, with the former of these gentlemen, to assign its production to the spring of 1598. * If King John, as a whole, be not entitled to class

very first rate compositions of our author, it can yet exhibit some scenes of superlative beauty and effect, and two characters supported with unfailing energy and consistency.

among the

[ocr errors]

* Chalmers's Supplemental Apology, p. 357,

The bastard Faulconbridge, though not perhaps a very amiable personage, being somewhat too interested and worldly-minded in his conduct to excite much of our esteem, has, notwithstanding, so large a portion of the very spirit of Plantagenet in him, so much heroism, gaiety, and fire in his constitution, and, in spite of his vowed accommodation to the times *, such an open and undaunted turn of mind, that we cannot refuse him our admiration, nor, on account of his fidelity to John, however ill-deserved, our occasional sympathy and attachment. The alacrity and intrepidity of his daring spirit are nobly supported to the very last, where we find him exerting every nerve to rouse and animate the conscience-stricken soul of the tyrant.

In the person of Lady Constance, Maternal Grief, the most interesting passion of the play, is developed in all its strength; the picture penetrates to the inmost heart, and seared must those feelings be, which can withstand so powerful an appeal ; for all the emotions of the fondest affection, and the wildest despair, all the rapid transitions of anguish, and approximating phrenzy, are wrought up into the scene with a truth of conception which rivals that of nature herself.

The innocent and beauteous Arthur, rendered doubly attractive by the sweetness of his disposition and the severity of his fate, is thus described by his doating mother:

“ But thou art fair, and at thy birth, dear boy!

Nature and fortune join'd to make thee great ;
Of Nature's gifts thou may'st with lillies boast,
And with the half-blown rose." +

When he is captured, therefore, and imprisoned by John, and, consequently, sealed for destruction, who but Shakspeare could have done justice to the agonising sorrows of the parent ? Her invocation

а

• Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. x. p. 362.

p

,
« For he is but a bastard to the time,

That doth not smack of observation," &c. + Reed's Shakspeare, vol. x. p. 413. Act iii. sc. 1.

to death, and her address to Pandulph, paint maternal despair with a force which no imagination can augment, and of which the tenderness and pathos have never been exceeded :

[ocr errors]

.

“ Death, death:-O amiable lovely death! -
Come, grin on me; and I will think thou smil'st,

Misery's love,
O, come to me!

Father cardinal, I have heard you say,
That we shall see and know our friends in heaven:
If that be true I shall see my boy again;
For, since the birth of Cain, the first male child,
To him that did but yesterday suspire,
There was not such a gracious creature born.
But now will canker sorrow eat my bud,
And chase the native beauty from his cheek,
And he will look as hollow as a ghost;
As dim and meagre as an ague's fit;
And so he'll die; and, rising so again,
When I shall meet him in the court of heaven
I shall not know him : therefore never, never
Must I behold my pretty Arthur more.

Pand. You hold too heinous a respect of grief.
Const. He talks to me, that never had a son.
K. Phi. You are as fond of grief, as of your child,

Const. Grief fills the room up of my absent child.
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me;
Puts on his pretty looks, l'epeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,

a
I I could give better comfort than you do. -

.
I will not keep this form upon my head, (Tearing off her head-dress.
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O lord ! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son !
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrow's cure !”

[Exit.

Independent of the scenes which unfold the striking characters of Constance and Faulconbridge, there are two others in this play which

• Reed's Shakspeare, vol. x. pp. 451.454–456. Act iii. sc. 4.

« ForrigeFortsett »