THERE can be little doubt that Shakespear
was the most universal genius that ever lived.
"Either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral,
pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, scene individable
or poem unlimited, he is the only
man. Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus
too light for him." He has not only the
same absolute command over our laughter and
our tears, all the resources of passion, of wit,
of thought, of observation, but he has the most
unbounded range of fanciful invention, whether
terrible or playful, the same insight into
the world of imagination that he has into the
world of reality; and over all there presides
the same truth of character and nature, and
the same spirit of humanity. His ideal beings
are as true and natural as his real characters;
that is, as consistent with themselves,
or if we suppose such beings to exist at all, they
could not act, speak, or feel otherwise than as
he makes them. He has invented for them a
language, manners, and sentiments of their own,
from the tremendous imprecations of the Witches
in Macbeth, when they do "a deed without a
name," to the sylph-like expressions of Ariel,
who "does his spiriting gently;" the mischievous
tricks and gossipping of Robin Goodfellow,
or the uncouth gabbling and emphatic gesticulations
of Caliban in this play.
The TEMPEST is one of the most original and
perfect of Shakespear's productions, and he has
strewn in it all the variety of his powers. It is
full of grace and grandeur. The human and
imaginary characters, the dramatic and the
grotesque, are blended together with the greatest
art, and without any appearance of it. Though
he has here given "to airy nothing a local habitation
and a name," yet that part which is only
the fantastic creation of his-mind has the same
palpable texture, and coheres "semblably" with
the rest. As the preternatural part has the air
of reality, and almost haunts the imagination
with a sense of truth, the real characters and
events partake of the wildness of a dream. The
stately magician, Prospero, driven from his
dukedom, but around whom (so potent is his
art) airy spirits throng numberless to do his
bidding; his daughter Miranda ("worthy of
that name") to whom all the power of his art
points, and who seems the goddess of the isle;
the princely Ferdinand, cast by fate upon the
haven of his happiness in this idol of his love;
the delicate Ariel; the savage Caliban, half brute,
half demon; the drunken ship's crew--are all
connected parts of the story, and can hardly
be spared from the place they fill. Even the
local scenery is of a piece and character with
the subject. Prospero's enchanted island seems
to have risen up out of the sea; the airy music,
the tempest-tost vessel, the turbulent waves, all
have the effect of the landscape back-ground of
some fine picture. Shakespear's pencil is (to use
an allusion of his own) "like the dyer's hand,
subdued to what it works in." Every thing in
him, though it partakes of "the liberty of wit," is
also subjected to "the law" of the understanding.
For instance, even the drunken sailors, who
are made reeling-ripe, share, in the disorder of
their minds and bodies, in the tumult of the
elements, and seem on shore to be as much at
the mercy of chance as they were before at the
mercy of the winds and waves. These fellows
with their sea-wit are the least to our taste of any
part of the play: but they are as like drunken
sailors as they can be, and are an indirect foil
to Caliban, whose figure acquires a classical
dignity in the comparison.
The character of Caliban is generally thought
(and justly so) to be one of the author's masterpieces.
It is not indeed pleasant to see this character
on the stage any more than it is to see
the God Pan personated there. But in itself it
is one of the wildest and most abstracted of all
Shakespear's characters, whose deformity whether
of body or mind is redeemed by the power
and truth of the imagination displayed in it.
It is the essence of grossness, but there is not
a particle of vulgarity in it. Shakespear has
described the brutal mind of Caliban in contact
with the pure and original forms of nature; the
character grows out of the soil where it is rooted
uncontrouled, uncouth and wild, uncramped by
any of the meannesses of custom. It is "of the
earth, earthy." It seems almost to have been
dug out of the ground, with a soul instinctively
superadded to it answering to its wants and
origin. Vulgarity is not natural coarseness, but
conventional coarseness, learnt from others,
contrary to, or without an entire conformity
of natural power and disposition; as fashion
is the common-place affectation of what
is elegant and refined without any feeling of
the essence of it. Schlegel, the admirable
German critic on Shakespear, observes that
Caliban is a poetical character, and "always
speaks in blank verse." He first comes in thus:
"Caliban. As wicked dew as e'er my mother brush'd|
With raven's feather from unwholesome fen,
Drop on you both: a south-west blow on ye,
And blister you all o'er!
Prospero. For this, be sure, to-night thou shalt have cramps,
Side-stitches that shall pen thy breath up; urchins
Shall for that vast of night that they may work,
All exercise on thee: thou shalt be pinch'd
As thick as honey-combs, each pinch more stinging
Than bees that made 'em.
Caliban. I must eat my dinner.
This island's mine by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me. When thou camest first,
Thou stroak'dst me, and mad'st much of me; would'st give me
Water with berries in't; and teach me how
To name the bigger light and how the less
That burn by day and night; and then I lov'd thee,
And shew'd thee all the qualities o' th' isle,
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile:
Curs'd be I that I did so! All the charms
Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Who first was mine own king; and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o' th' island."
And again, he promises Trinculo his services
thus, if he will free him from his drudgery.
"I'll shew thee the best springs; I'll pluck thee berries,|
I'll fish for thee, and get thee wood enough.
1 pr'ythee let me bring thee where crabs grow,
And I with my long nails will dig thee pig-nuts:
Shew thee a jay's nest, and instruct thee how
To snare the nimble marmozet: I'll bring thee
To clustering filberds; and sometimes I'll get thee
Young scamels from the rock."
In conducting Stephano and Trinculo to Prospero's
cell, Caliban shews the superiority of
natural capacity over greater knowledge and
greater folly; and in a former scene, when Ariel
frightens them with his music, Caliban to encourage
them accounts for it in the eloquent
poetry of the senses.
--"Be not afraid, the isle is full of noises,|
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twanging instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices,
That if I then had waked after long sleep,
Would make me sleep again; and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and shew riches
Ready to drop upon me: when I wak'd
I cried to dream again."
This is not more beautiful than it is true.
The poet here shews us the savage with the
simplicity ot a child, and makes the strange
monster amiable. Shakespear had to paint the
human animal rude and without choice in its
pleasures, but not without the sense of pleasure
or some germ of the affections. Master Barnardine
in Measure for Measure, the savage of
civilized life, is an admirable philosophical counterpart
Shakespeare has, as it were by design, drawn
off from Caliban the elements of whatever is
ethereal and refined, to compound them in the
unearthly mould of Ariel. Nothing was ever
more finely conceived than this contrast between
the material and the spiritual, the gross
and delicate Ariel is imaginary power, the
swiftness of thought personified. When told
to make good speed by Prospero, he says, "I
drink the air before me." This is something
like Puck's boast on a similar occasion, "I'll
put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes."
But Ariel differs from Puck in having
a fellow feeling in the interests of those he is
employed about. How exquisite is the following
dialogue between him and Prospero!
"Ariel. Your charm so strongly works 'em,|
That if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender.
Prospero. Dost thou think so, spirit?
Ariel. Mine would, sir, were I human.
Prospero. And mine shall.
Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply,
Passion'd as they, be kindlier moved than thou art?"
It has been observed that there is a peculiar
charm in the songs introduced in Shakespear,
which, without conveying any distinct images,
seem to recall all the feelings connected with
them, like snatches of half-forgotten music heard
indistinctly and at intervals. There is this effect
produced by Ariel's songs, which (as we are told)
seem to sound in the air, and as if the person
playing them were invisible. We shall give one
instance out of many of this general power.
"Enter FERDINAND; and ARIEL invisible, playing and singing.
Come unto these yellow sands,
And then tale hands;
Curt'sied when you have, and kiss'd,
(The wild waves whist;)
Foot it featly here and there;
And sweet sprites the burden bear.
Hark, hark! bowgh-wowgh: the watch-dogs bark,
Ariel. Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Ferdinand. Where should this music be? in air or earth?|
It sounds no more: and sure it waits upon
Some god o' th' island. Sitting on a bank
Weeping against the king my father's wreck,
This music crept by me upon the waters,
Allaying both their fury and my passion
With its sweet air; thence I have followed it,
Or it hath drawn me rather:--but 'tis gone.--
No, it begins again.
Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea change,
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell--
Hark! now I hear them, ding-dong bell.
Ferdinand. The ditty does remember my drown'd father.|
This is no mortal business, nor no sound
That the earth owns: I hear it now above me."--
The courtship between Ferdinand and Miranda
is one of the chief beauties of this play.
It is the very purity of love. The pretended
interference of Prospero with it heightens its interest,
and is in character with the magician,
whose sense of preternatural power makes him
arbitrary, tetchy, and impatient of opposition.
The TEMPEST is a finer play than the Midsummer
Night's Dream, which has sometimes
been compared with it; but it is not so fine a
poem. There are a greater number of beautiful
passages in the latter. Two of the most striking
in the TEMPEST are spoken by Prospero. The
one is that admirable one when the vision which
he has conjured up disappears, beginning "The
cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces," &c.
which has been so often quoted, that every
school-boy knows it by heart; the other is that
which Prospero makes in abjuring his art.
"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 fly him
When he comes back; you demi-puppets, that
By moon-shine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites; and you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew, by whose aid
(Weak masters tho' ye be) I have be-dimm'd
The noon-tide sun, called forth the mutinous winds,
And 'twixt the green sea and the azur'd vault
Set roaring war to the dread rattling thunder
Have I giv'n fire, and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-bas'd promontory
Have I made shake, and by the spurs pluck'd up
The pine and cedar: graves at my command
Have wak'd their sleepers; op'd, and let 'em forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure; and when I have requir'd
Some heav'nly music, which ev'n now I do,
(To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for) I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fadoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound,
I'll drown my book."--
We must not forget to mention among other
things in this play, that Shakespear has anticipated
nearly all the arguments on the Utopian
schemes of modern philosophy.
"Gonzalo. Had I the plantation of this isle, my lord--|
Antonio. He'd sow't with nettle-seed.
Sebastian. Or docks or mallows.
Gonzalo. And were the king on't, what would I do?
Sebastian. 'Scape being drunk, for want of wine.
Gonzalo. I' th' commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things: for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; wealth, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation, all men idle, all,
And women too; but innocent and pure:
Sebastian. And yet he would be king on't.
Antonio. The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the
Gonzalo. All things in common nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavour. Treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine
Would I not have; but nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind, all foizon, all abundance
To feed my innocent people!
Sebastian. No marrying 'mong his subjects?
Antonio. None, man; all idle; whores and knaves.
Gonzalo. I would with such perfection govern, sir,
T' excel the golden age.
Sebastian. Save his majesty!"