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world too had not had its facred fables, While there is any national superstition which credulity has consecrated, any hallowed tradition long revered by vulgar faith; to that fanctuary, that asylum, may the poet resort. ---Let him tread the holy ground with reverence ; respect the established doctrine '; exactly observe the accustomed rites, and the attributes of the object of veneration ; then Thall he not vainly invoke an inexorable or absent deity. Ghosts, fairies, goblins, elves, were as propitious, were as assistant to Shakespear, and gave as much of the sublime, and of the marvellous, to his fi&tions, as nymphs, satyrs, fawns, and even the triple Geryon, to the works of ancient bards. - Our poet never carries his præternatural beings beyond the limits of the popular tradition. It is true, that he boldly exerts his poetic genius and fascinating powers in that may ic circle, in which none e'er durft walk but be : but as judicious as bold, he contains himself within it. He çalls up all the stately phantoms in the regions of superstition, which our faith will
receive with reverence. He throws into their manners and language a mysterious folemnity, favorable to superstition in general, with something highly characteristic of each particular being which he exhibits. His witches, his ghosts, and his fairies, seem spirits of health or goblins damn'd ; bring with them airs from heaven, or blasts from bell. His ghosts are sullen, melancholy, and terrible. Every sentence, utter'd by the witches, is a prophecy of a charm ; their manners are malignant, their phrases ambiguous, their promises delusive. The witches cauldron is a horrid collection of what is most horrid in their supposed incantations. Ariel is a spirit, mild, gentle, and sweet, pofsess’d of supernatural powers, but subject to the command of a great magician.
The fairies are sportive and gay; the innocent artificers of harmless frauds, and mirthful delusions. Puck's enumeration of the feats of a fairy is the most agreeable recital of their supposed gambols.
To all thefe beings our poet has afligned tasks, and appropriated manners adapted to their imputed dispositions and characters ; which are continually developing through the whole piece, in a series of operations conducive to the catastrophe. They are not brought in as fubordinate or casual agents, but lead the action, and govern the fable; in which respect our countryman has entered more into theatrical propriety than the Greek tragedians.
Every species of poetry has its distinct duties and obligations. The drama does not, like the epic, admit of episode, superfuous perfons, or things incredible ; for, as it is observed by a critic of great ingenuity and taste, * “ that which passes in represen“ tation, and challenges, as it were, the “ fcrutiny of the eye, must be truth itself, or si fomething very nearly approaching to it.” It should indeed be what our imagination will adopt, though our reason would reject
* Hurd, on Dramatic Imitation.
it. Great caution and dexterity are required in the dramatic poet to give an air of reality to fictitious existence.
In the bold attempt to give to airy nothing a local habitation and a person, regard must be paid to fix it in such scenes, and to display it in such actions, as are agreeable to the popular opinion. --Witches holding their fabbath, and faluting passengers on the blasted heath; ghosts, at the midnight hour, visiting the glimpses of the moon, and whispering a bloody secret, from propriety of place and action, derive à credibility very propitious to the scheme of the poet, Reddere persona convenientia cuique, cannot be less his duty in regard to these superior and divine, than to human characters. Indeed, from the invariableness of their natures, a greater confiftency and uniformity is necessary ; but most of all, as the belief of their intervention depends entirely on their manners and sentiments suiting with the preconceived opinion of them.
The magician Prospero raising a storm ; witches performing infernal rites ; or any other exertion of the supposed powers and qualities of the agent, were easily credited by the vulgar.
The genius of Shakespear informed him that poetic fable must rise above the simple tale of the nurse; therefore he adorns the beldame tradition with flowers gathered on classic ground, but still wisely suffering those simples of her native soil, to which the established superstition of her country has attributed a magic spell, to be predominant. Can any thing be more poetical than Prospero's address to his attendant spirits before he dismisses them?
PROSPERO. Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves, And ye that on the sands with printless foot Do chase the ebbing Neptune ; and do Ay him in When he comes back ; ye demy-puppets, that, By the moonshine, the green sour ringlets make,