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“ Where late the diadem stood; and, for a robe, “ About her lank and all o'er-teemed loins, " A blanket, in the alarm of fear caught up; “ Who this had seen, with tongue in venom steep’d “ 'Gainst Fortune's state would treason have pronounc'd; “ But if the gods themselves did see her then, “ When she saw Pyrrhus make malicious sport “ In mincing with his sword her husband's limbs; “ The instant burst of clamour that she made
(Unless things mortal move them not at all) Would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven, “ And passion in the gods,” What a pudder is here kept in raising the expression of trifling thoughts! Would not a man have thought that the poet had been bound ’prentice to a wheel-wright for his first rant? and had followed a ragman, for the clout and blanket, in the second ? Fortune is painted on a wheel, and therefore the writer, in a rage, will have poetical justice done upon every member of that engine ; after this execution, he bowls the nave downhill, from heaven to the fiends ; (an unreasonable long mark a man would think ;) it is well there are no solid orbs to stop it in the way, or no element of fire to consume it ; but when it came to the earth, it must be monstrous heavy, to break ground as low as to the centre. His making milch the burning eyes of heaven was a pretty tolerable flight too, and I think no man ever drew milk out of
eyes before him ; yet to make the wonder greater, these eyes were burning. Such a sight, indeed, were enough to have raised passion in the gods; but to excuse the effects of it, he tells you, perhaps they did not see it. Wise men would be glad to find a little sense couched under all those pompous words, for bombast is commonly the delight of that audience which loves poetry, but understands it not ; and as commonly has been the practice of those writers, who, not being able to infuse a natural passion into the mind, have made it their business to ply the ears, and to stun their judges by the noise. But Shakspeare does not often thus ; for the passions in his scene between Brutus and Cassius are extremely natural, the thoughts are such as arise from the matter, and the expression of them not viciously figurative. I cannot leave this subject before I do justice to that divine poet, by giving you one of his passionate descriptions ; it is of Richard the Second, when he was deposed, and led in triumph through the streets of London by Henry of Bolingbroke : the painting of it is so lively, and the words so moving, that I have scarce read any thing comparable to it in any other language. Suppose you have seen already the fortunate usurper passing through the crowd, and followed by the shouts and acclamations of the people ; and now behold King Richard entering upon the scene : consider the wretchedness of his condition, and his carriage in it, and refrain from pity, if you can:
“ As in a theatre, the eyes of men,
Thinking his prattle to be tedious,“ Even so, or with much more contempt, men's eyes " Did scowl on Richard: no man cry'd-God save him; " No joyful tongue gave him his welcome home; “ But dust was thrown upon his sacred head, " Which with such gentle sorrow he shook off, “ His face still combating with tears and smiles, “ The badges of his grief and patience, “ That had not God, for some strong purpose, steeld
The hearts of men, they must perforce have melted, And barbarism itself have pitied him."
To speak justly of this whole matter,—it is neither height of thought that is discommended, nor pathetick vehemence, nor any nobleness of expression in its proper place ; but it is a false measure of all these, something which is like them and is not them : it is the Bristol stone, which appears like a diamond; it is an extravagant thought, instead of a sublime onc; it is roaring madness, instead of vehemence; and a sound of words, instead of sense. If Shakspeare were stripped of all the bombast in his passions, and
Pope had a singular notion on this subject, which Mr. Spence has preserved in his ANECDOTES :
“ Shakspeare generally used to stiffen his style with high words and metaphors, for the speeches of kings and great men: he mistook it for a mark of greatness. This is strongest in his early plays; but in his very last, OTHELLO, what a forced language has he put into the mouth of the Duke of Venice! This was the way of Chapman, Massinger, and all the tragick writers of those days.”
dressed in the most vulgar words, we should find the beauties of his thoughts remaining; if his embroideries were burnt down, there would still be silver at the bottom of the melting-pot : but I fear (at least, let me fear it for myself), that we who ape his sounding words have nothing of his thought, but are all outside ; there is not so much as a dwarf within our giant's clothes. Therefore, let not Shakspeare suffer for our sakes ; it is our
Shakspeare may perhaps have thought that a certain stateliness of expression was suited to royalty ; yet Mr. Pope's notion does not appear to me to be altogether just. The language of King John, Richard the Second, Richard the Third, Henry the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth, and Henry the Eighth, is not more metaphorical than that of the other considerable personages introduced in the various plays in which they appear. Which were Shakspeare's early and which his late productions, Pope undoubtedly did not know; for he believed TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, which appeared in 1602, or before, to be one of his latest dramas; and in the passage just quoted he decisively pronounces OTHELLO to have been his last play; whereas in truth it was written (as I shall hereafter prove) in 1604, twelve years before his death. In the period between the years 1604 and 1607, this great poet seems to have attained “ the full meridian of his glory.” In this short interval, he appears to have produced his three most splendid tragedies, OTHELLO, MACBETH, and KING LEAR.
Mr. Pope's notion, that Shakspeare stiffened his style for kings and great men, I suspect was derived from the play of TroiLUS AND CRESSIDA, where, in the speeches of Agamemnon, Nestor, Ulysses, &c. a good deal of this stiffened language may certainly be found.
fault, who succeed him in an age which is more refined, if we imitate him so ill, that we copy his failings only, and make a virtue of that in our writings, which in his was an imperfection.
For what remains, the excellency of that poet was, as I have said, in the more manly passions, Fletcher's in the softer : Shakspeare writ better betwixt man and man, Fletcher betwixt man and woman ; consequently, the one described friendship better, the other love ; yet Shakspeare taught Fletcher to write love ; and Juliet and Desdemona are originals. It is true, the scholar had the softer soul ; but the master had the kinder. Friendship is both a virtue and a passion essentially ; love is a passion only in its nature, and is not a virtue but by accident: good nature makes friendship, but effeminacy love. Shakspeare had an universal mind, which, comprehended all characters and passions ; Fletcher a more confined and limited ; for though he treated love in perfection, yet honour, ambition, revenge, and generally all the stronger passions, he either touched not, or not masterly. To conclude all, he was a limb of Shakspeare.
I had intended to have proceeded to the last property of manners, which is, that they must be constant, and the characters maintained the same from the beginning to the end ; and from thence to have proceeded to the thoughts and expressions suitable to a tragedy ; but I will first see how this will relish with the age. It is, I confess, but