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he has once in his own gentle way led us to believe that Prospero, through his high art, is able to overrule Natureand how willingly do we believe in these higher powers of man !-how completely natural, and, to a certain degree, what merely pleasant trifles, are all the wonders which we see playing around us! These higher powers, also, are not confined to Prospero alone; Ferdinand and Miranda have, without any enchanted wand or any prolix instruction, full superiority over the wonders of nature, and they allow them to pass around them merely as a delightful drama; for the highest wonder is in their own breasts-love, the pure human, and even on that account holy, love.
Even the pure mind and the firm heart, as they are shown in old Gonzalo, are armed with an almost similar power. With our poet, a truly moral man is always amiable, powerful, agreeable, and quietly wards off the shares laid for him. This old Gonzalo is so entirely occupied with his duty, in which alone he finds his pleasure, that he scarcely notices the gnatstings of wit with which his opponents persecute him ; or, if he observes, easily and firmly repels them. What wit indeed has he to fear, who, in a sinking ship, has power remaining to sustain himself and others with genuine humour ? Shakespeare seems scarcely to recognize a powerless virtue, and he depicts it only in cases of need; so everything closes satisfactorily. The pure poetry of nature and genius inspires us; and when we hear Prospero recite his far too modest epilogue, after laying down his enchanted wand, we have no wish to turn our minds to any frivolous thoughts, for the magic we have experienced was too charming and too mighty not to be enduring
[From Verplanck's Introduction to the Play.] The Tempest is one of those works for which no other production of the author'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. . .
There are several respects in which the play 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 other of the 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 daughter of Prospero.
Caliban, a being without example or parallel in poetic invention, degraded in mind, as well as in moral affections, below the level of humanity, and yet essentially and purely poetical in all his conceptions and language, is a creation to whose originality and poetic truth every critic, from Dryden
downward, has paid homage. Nor is it a less striking peculiarity that the only buffoon characters and dialogue in the drama are those of the sailors, who seem to be introduced for the single purpose of contrasting the grossness and lowness of civilized vice with the nobler forms of savage and untutored depravity.
It is partly on account of this perfect novelty of invention, and probably still more from the fairy and magical machinery of the plot, that the later critics have designated The Tempest as specially belonging to the Romantic Drama. Yet to me it appears, not only in its structure, but in its taste and feeling, to bear a more classical character, and to be more assimilated to the higher Grecian drama, in its spirit, than any other of its author's works, or indeed any other poem of
The rules of the Greek stage, as to the unities of time and place, are fully complied with. This cannot well be the result of accident, for in an age of classical translation, and learned (even pedantic) imitation, it needed no classical learning to make the unities known to any dramatic author ; and as Shakespeare had, in his other plays, totally rejected them, he would seem here to have expressly designed to conform his plot to their laws. But there also appears to me to be something in the poetic character and tone of the drama, approaching to the spirit and manner of the Greek dramatic poetry, which can certainly not be ascribed to intentional imitation, any more than to the unconscious resemblance often produced by habitual familiarity with favourite models. It has nothing of the air of learned and elaborate imitation which, in the works of Tasso, and Milton, and Gray, make the scholar everywhere as perceptible as the poet. But it is the resemblance of solemn thought, of calm dignity, of moral wisdom, of the dramatic dialogue in its most majestic form, passing now into the lyrical and now into the didactic or ethical. This resemblance of taste and feeling is rendered more striking by a similar bold and free invention and combination of poetic diction, making the English language as flexible as the Greek to every shade of thought. In all these respects, the resemblance to antiquity goes just far enough to show that its result is not artificial or intentional, but the result of the same mental causes operating upon the author's poetic temperament and taste at the time, which predominated in forming the “lofty grave tragedians” of ancient Athens.