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dramatic writer of his age has more battles or ghosts. His representations abound with the usual appendages of mechanical terror, and he adopts all the superstitions of the theatre. This problem can only be resolved into the activity or the superiority of a mind, which either would not be entangled by the formality, or which saw through the futility, of this unnatural and extrinsic ornament. It was not by declamation or by pantomime that Shakespeare was to fix his eternal dominion over the hearts of mankind.
To return to Sackville. That this tragedy was never a favorite among our ancestors, and has long fallen into general oblivion, is to be attributed to the nakedness and uninteresting nature of the plot, the tedious length of the speeches, the want of a discrimination of character, and almost a total absence of pathetic or critical situations. It is true that a mother kills her
But this act of barbarous and unnatural impiety, to say nothing of its almost unexampled atrocity in the tender sex, proceeds only from a brutal principle of sudden and impetuous revenge. It is not the consequence of any deep machination, nor is it founded in a proper preparation of previous circumstances. She is never before introduced to our notice as a wicked or designing character. She murthers her son Porrex, because in the commotions of a civil difension, in self-defence, after repeated provocations, and the strongest proofs of the basest ingratitude and treachery, he had Nain his rival brother, not without the deepest compunction and remorse for what he had done. A mother murthering a son is a fact which must be received with horror ; but it required to be complicated with other motives, and prompted by a cooperation of other causes, to rouse our attention, and work upon our passions. I do not mean that any other motive could have been found, to palliate a murther of such a nature. Yet it was possible to heighten and to divide the distress, by rendering this bloody mother, under the notions of human frailty, an object of our compassion as well as of our abhorrence, But perhaps these artifices were not yet known
or wanted. The general story of the play is great in its political consequences ; and the leading incidents are important, but not sufficiently intricate to awaken our curiosity, and hold us in suspence. Nothing is perplexed and nothing unravelled. The opposition of interests is such as does not affect our nicer feelings. In the plot of a play, our pleasure arises in proportion as our expectation is excited.
Yet it must be granted, that the language of GORDOBUC has great purity and perfpicuity; and that it is entirely free from that tumid phraseology, which does not seem to have taken place till play-writing had become a trade, and our poets found it their interest to captivate the multitude by the false sublime, and by those exaggerated imageries and pedantic metaphors, which are the chief blemishes of the scenes of Shakespeare, and which are at this day mistaken for his capital beauties by too many readers.
Here alfo we perceive another and a strong reason why this play was never popular.
Sir Philip Sydney, in his admirable DeFeNCE OF Poesie, remarks, that this tragedy is full of notable moralitie.
But tragedies are not to instruct us by the intermixture of moral sentences, but by the force of example, and the effect of the story. In the first act, the three counsellors are introduced debating about the division of the kingdom in long and elaborate speeches, which are replete with political advice and maxims of civil prudence. But this stately sort of declamation, whatever eloquence it may display, and whatever policy it may teach, is undramatic, unanimated, and unaffecting. Sentiment and argument will never supply the place of action upon the stage. Not to mention, that these grave harangues have some tincture of the formal modes of address, and the ceremonious oratory, which were then in fashion. But we must allow, that in the strain of dialogue in which they are professedly written, they have uncommon merit, even without drawing an apology in their favour from their antiquity : and that they contain much dignity, strength of reflection, and good sense, couched in clear expres
Z z 2
fion and polished numbers. I fhall first produce a specimen from the fpeech of Arostus who is styled a Counsellor to the King, and who is made to defend a specious yet perhaps the least rational side of the question.
And in your lyfe, while you Tall so beholde
and noble minds,
Partie, edit. 1565
. It is, edit. 1565.
And, edit. 1565.
Which endes your life, shal first begin their reigne,
From an obsequious complaisance to the king, who is present, the topic is not agitated with that opposition of opinion and variety of arguments which it naturally suggests, and which would have enlivened the disputation and displayed diversity of character. But Eubulus, the king's secretary, declares his fentiments with fome freedom, and seems to be the most animated of all our three political orators. To parte your realme ynto my
is his desire to climbe aloft
Your grace remembreth, howe in passed yeres • States, edit. 1565.
w For with, edit. 1565. t To free randon, edit. 1565.
* Natural, Act i. Sc. ii.
The mightie Brute, first prince of all this lande,
Ruthfull remembraunce is yet raw in minde, &c.
Spence, with a reference to the situation of the author lord Buckhurst in the court of queen Elisabeth, has observed in his preface to the modern edition of this tragedy, that “ 'tis no “ wonder, if the language of kings and statesmen should be less
happily imitated by a poet than a privy counsellor.” This is an insinuation that Shakespeare, who has left many historical tragedies, was less able to conduct some parts of a royal story than the statesman lord Buckhurst. But I will venture to pronounce, that whatever merit there is in this play, and particularly in the speeches we have just been examining, it is more owing to the poet than the privy counsellor. If a first minister was to write a tragedy, I believe the piece will be the better, the less it has of the first minister. When a statesman turns poet, I should not with him to fetch his ideas or his language from the canbinet. I know not why a king should be better qualified than a private man, to make kings talk in blank verse.
The chaste elegance of the following description of a region abounding in every convenience, will gratify the lover of classical purity. + Bruti, edit. 1563.
Had, edit. 1565. Sithence, edit. 1565.
• Ibid. • Honour, edit. 1565.