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Shakspeare are heavy and improbable spectacles. I do not dispute that they contain beautiful passages. I am not going, don't be afraid, to deny his mèrits, but only to say, that he has been more praised, not, perhaps, than he may be found to deserve, but than he has been read. His plots are quite extravagant, his characters are often caricatures, and the stars of his poetry are so involved amidst clouds of mediocrity, that a stranger, without a guide, migh look for them all the livelong night of the shortest day, and probably not find one of them.”
“ When I see you so inclined to be peremptory,” replied Benedict, “ I think it is always best to let you have the argument your own way. But surely, my love, you do not intend to maintain that Shakspeare is not the greatest genius among the moderns ?”
66 Of the comparative greatness of his genius I was saying nothing,” cried the Nymph more sharply than was consistent with conjugal subordination, “ but only that his dramas are very dull; yea, and very absurdly constructed. Can any thing be worse, as a piece of art, than 6 Hamlet,” which we have this evening endeavoured to endure throughout ? I say endeavoured; for, notwithstanding your affected adoration of the few and far between passages of nature and poetry which it contains, I was often under more apprehension for the consequences of your yawning, than for the dramatic result of any one incident.”
“ Why,” exclaimed the Bachelor, “ nobody goes to see a play of Shakspeare from any curiosity with respect to the result of the scenes, as connected with the story, but to consider how far the personations of the actors come up to the ideas we form of the characters by having studied them in our closets.”
« Now look ye, friend," said the Nymph briskly, “ does not that proceed from a preconceived, or preadopted, opinion of some superior excellence in his delineation of character ? and yet, find me two critics who are agreed whether Hamlet is to be considered as serious, or half-mad, or pretending to be so ? Look how lame and impotent the conclusion of the plot is, compared to what was to be expected from the introduction of a prelude so solemn as the appearance of a ghost! But I will not make a stand merely on the mechanical part of his dramas—the construction of the fable ;--some of his noblest passages are not superior to similar passages in the plays of his contemporaries. Take down his works, and give me those of Beaumont and Fletcher, and I will match you."
Benedict, as all obedient husbands should do, when so required, to keep peace in the house, acquiesced; and when the books were arranged before them, he opened Cymbeline, and said," Here is a description of the military enthusiasm of a boy,-match it if you
c" This Paladour (whom The king his father call’d Guiderius) Jove ! When on my three-foot stool I sit, and tell The warlike feats I've done, his spirits fly out Into my story: say thus mine enemy fell, And thus I set my foot on's neck-even then The princely blood flows in his cheek, he sweats, Strains his young nerves, and puts himself in posture That acts my words."
“ Good," said Egeria, “ very good," turning over the leaves of the Maid's Tragedy ; but here is Melantius' account of the heroic aspirations of Amintor while a boy, and it is better :"
“When he was a boy, As oft as I returned (as, without beast, I brought home conquest), be would gaze upon me, And view me round, to find in what one limb The virtue lay to do those things he heard ; Then would he wish to see my sword, and feel The quickness of the edge, and in his hand Weigh it.--He oft would make me smile at this; His youth did promise much, and his ripe years Will see it all performed.”
“ But,” exclaimed the Bachelor, opening As You like It, “ find me any thing half so touching and romantic as the moralizing of Jaques ?”
“To-day my lord of Amiens and myself
Duke. But what said Jaques ? Did he not moralize this spectacle?
1 Lord. Oh, yes, into a thousand similes : First, for his weeping in the needless stream; Poor deer, quoth he, thou mak’st a testament As worldlings do, giving thy sum of more To that which had too much; then being alone, Left and abandon’d of his velvet friends : 'Tis right, quoth he, thus misery doth part The flux of company: Anon a careless herd, Full of the pasture, jumps along by him, And never stays to greet him : Ay, quoth Jaques, Sweep on, ye fat and greasy citizens, 'Tis just the fashion,” &c.
“I am quite as sensible as you can be," said Egeria, “ to all the beauty of that passage ; but it is not so romantic as this in Philaster,—nor so poetical, nor withal more pathetic:"_
“I have a boy
Which gave him roots, and of the crystal springs
66 There is, however, nothing in all Beaumont and Fletcher,” said Benedict, “half so tender, innocent, and delicate as the answer of Julia, when disguised as a boy, on being asked how tall Julia was :"
“ About my stature; for at Pentecost,
“ In the Maid's Tragedy,” replied Egeria, “ I have an allusion to the same story of Ariadne. Aspatia, forsaken by her lover, finds her maid Antiphila working a picture of Ariadne, and says,"—
“ But where's the lady ?
Ant. There, madam.