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CHARACTERISTICS OF THOUGHT AND MANNER-DATE OF THE
PLAY, STATE OF THE TEXT, ETC.
connected with man's duties and history, having occasion, in one of his
tragedies, and any one of his best comedies, would give us a notion faithful in kind, although requiring to be augmented in degree.”—(Introductory Lecture on Modern History.)
True as this rule may be, as regards the mass of authors of every age, and even most of those of the very highest rank, it is surely erroneous in reference to Shakespeare, even in the guarded and qualified form in which it is applied to him; and this exception of the great English Poet from so general a law of mind, which has governed the loftiest and most powerful minds, is among the most striking and unequivocal evidences of his superiority. Neither Macbeth nor Hamlet, alone, could give any competent idea of the character of mind and cast of thought, or of the habitual views of life, of the author of Othello; while Lear, with all its wonderful combination of intellect and passion, would as little lead us to imagine that the same author had written such a tragedy as Romeo AND JULIET. This play of the TempeST, especially, is one of those works for which no other production of the anthor's prolific fancy could have prepared his readers. It is wholly of a different cast of temper, and mood of disposition, from those so conspicuous in his gayer comedies; while even the ethical dignity and poetic splendour of the MERCHANT OF VENICE, could not well lead the critic to anticipate the solemn grandeur, the unrivalled harmony and grace, the bold originality, and the grave beauty of the Tempest.
The Midsummer-Night's DREAM, as different from its author's other gayer and more purely poetical works, as the Tempest is from his graver delineations of deeper thought and stronger passion, is that among his dramas which, from its fairy machinery and the predominance of the imaginative over the real, most naturally presents itself as the counterpart of the TEMPEST. Yet it is as essentially different as if it had been the work of some other contemporary poet; being, indeed, rather a contrast than a resembling counterpart. More abounding in single passages of matchless and varied sweetness or brilliancy, it is less perfect as a whole, and differs still more 'com it in its pervading tone of feeling, and the impression it leaves on the mind. The one is joyous in emper, luxuriant in fancy, and dazzling throughout from its sudden and brilliant contrasts. The other is also filled with high and true poetry, but it is poetry pervaded and controlled by a contemplative philosophy; and it is the calm, solemn light of that philosophy that harmonizes, and mellows down, the richest fancies and boldest inventions into one grave and even severe tone of colour. The two dramas are to each other as the full and strong burst of life, and the balmy fragrance of spring, with its joyous and exhilarating influence, and bright confusion of beauties, compared with the autumnal magnificence of our Indian summer, with its calmness and repose, its yellow radiance, and all its pensive yet soothing associations and influences. There are several respects in which the Tempest Thus stands alone, as distinguishable in character from any other of its author's varied creations. Without being his work of greatest power, not equalling several of the other dramas in depth of passion, or in the exhibition of the working of the affections ; surpassed by others in brilliancy of poetic fancy or exquisite delicacies of expression. it is nevertheless among the most perfect (perhaps in fact the most perfect) of all, as a work of art, of the most unbroken unity of effect and sustained majesty of intellect. It is too—if we can speak of degrees of originality in the productions of this most creative of all poets—the most purely original of his conceptions, deriving nothing of any consequence from any other source for the plot, and without any prototype in literature of the more important personages, or any model for the thoughts and language, beyond the materials presented by actual and living human nature, to be raised and idealized into the “wild and wondrous” forms of Ariel and Caliban, of the majestic Prospero, and, above all, of his peerless daughter. Miranda is a character blending the truth of nature with the most exquisite refinement of poetic fancy, unrivalled, even in Shakespeare's own long and beautiful series of portraitures of feminine excellence, and paralleled only by the Eve of Milton, who, I cannot but think, was indirectly indebted for some of her most fascinating attributes to the solitary danghter of Prospero.