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O thus ! quoth Dighton, lay the gentle babes ;
These are some of those wonderful bursts of feel. ing, done to the life, to the very height of fancy and nature, which our Shakspeare alone could give. We do not insist on the repetition of these last passages as proper for the stage: we should indeed be loth to trust them in the mouth of almost any actor: but we should wish them to be retained in preference at least to the fantoccini exhibition of the young pria. ces, Edward and York, bandying childish wit with their uncle,
This play contains little action or violence of passion, yet it has considerable interest of a mild and thoughtful cast, and some of the most striking passages in the author's works. The character of Queen Katherine is the most perfect delineation of matronly dignity, sweetness, and resignation, that can be conceived. Her appeals to the protection of the king, her remonstrances to the cardinals, her conversations with her women, shew a noble and generous spirit accompanied with the utmost gentleness of nature. What can be more affecting than her answer to Campeius and Wolsey, who come to visit her as pretended friends.
“ Nay, forsooth, my friends,
Dr. Johnson observes of this play, that "the meek sorrows and virtuous distress of Katherine have furnished some scenes, which may be justly numbered among the greatest efforts of tragedy. But the genius of Shakspeare comes in and goes out with Katheri ne. Every other part may be easily conceived
and easily written." This is easily said; but with all due deference to so great a reputed authority as that of Johnson, it is not true. For instance, the scene of Buckingham led to execution is one of the most affecting and natural in Shakspeare, and one to which there is hardly an approach in any other author. Again, the character of Wolsey, the description of his pride and of his fall, are inimitable, and have, besides their gorgeousness of effect, a pathos, which only the genius of Shakspeare could lend to the distresses of a proud, bad man, like Wolsey. There is a sort of child-like simplicity in the very helplessness of his 'situation, arising from the recollection of his past overbearing ambition. After the cutting sarcasms of his enemies on his disgrace, against which he bears up with a spirit conscious of his own superiority, he breaks out into that fine apostrophe
Farewell, a long farewell, to all my greatness !
More pangs and fears than war and women have ;
There is in this passage, as well as in the well known dialogue with Cromwell which follows, some thing which stretches beyond commonplace; nor is the account which Griffiths gives of Wolsey's death less Shakspearian.; and the candour with which Queen Katherine listens to the praise of “him whom of all men while living she hated most," adds the last graceful finishing to her character.
Among other images of great individual beauty, might be mentioned the description of the effect of Ann Boleyn's presenting herself to the crowd at her coronation.
" While her grace sat down
The character of Henry VIII. is drawn with great truth and spirit. It is like a very disagreeable portrait, sketched by the hand of a master.
His gross appearance, his blustering demeanour, his vulgarity, his arrogance, his sensuality, his cruelty, bis hypocrisy, his want of common decency and common humanity, are marked in strong lines. His traditional peculiarities of expression complete the reality of the picture. The authoritative expletive, “ Ha !” with wbich he intimates his indignation or surprise,
has an effect like the first startling sound that breaks from a thunder-cloud. He is of all the monarchs in our history the most disgusting : for he unites in himself all the vices of barbarism and refinement, without their virtues. Other kings before him (such as Richard III.) were tyrants and murderers out of ambition or necessity: they gained or established unjust power by violent means: they destroyed their enemies, or those who barred their access to the throne or made its tenure insecure. But Henry VIII.'s power is most fatal to those whom he loves : he is cruel and remorseless to pamper his luxurious appetites: bloody and voluptuous: an amorous murderer; an uxorious debauchee. His hardened insensibility to the feelings of others is strengthened by the most profligate self-indulgence. The religious hypocrisy, under which he masks his cruelty and his lust, is admirably displayed in the speech in which he describes the first misgivings of his conscience and its increasing throes and terrours, which have induced him to divorce his queen. The only thing in his favour in this play is his treatment of Cranmer: there is also another circumstance in his favour, which is his patronage of Hans Holbein.It has been said of Shakspeare—“No maid could live near such a man." It might with as good rea. son be said—“No king could live near such a man,', His eye would have penetrated through the pomp of circuinstance and the veil of opinion. As it is he has represented such persons to the life-his plays are in this respect the glass of history-he has done them the same justice as if he had been a privy counsellor all his life, and in each succes.