The morality of Shakespeare's drama illustrated: By Mrs. Griffith.[Page]
Ille per extentum funem mihi poſſe videturIre poëta, meum qui pectus inaniter angit;Irritat, mulcet, falſis terroribus implet,Ut magus; et modò me Thebis, modò ponit Athenis.HOR.
THERE is no perſon whoſe patronage a Work of this kind may ſo properly claim, as Your's; Your private life having done ſo much honour to the moral part, and Your public one ſuch juſtice to the principal Characters, repreſented in our Author's writings.
Your action has been a better comment on his Text, than all his Editors have been able to ſupply. You mark his beauties; They but clear his blots. You impreſs us with the living ſpirit; They only preſent us the dead letter.
There is one ſtriking ſimilarity between Shakeſpeare and You, in a very uncommon particular: He is the only Dramatic Writer, who ever alike excelled [Page iv] in Tragedy and Comedy; and we may without flattery venture to affim, That you are the only Performer who ever appeared with equal advantage, both in the Sock and Buſkin.
If I had an higher opinion of this Work than I have, I ſhould have ſtill but an higher inducement for addreſſing it to You. From this conſideration You are bound to receive it, with all its imperfections on its head, being offered as a tribute of that friendſhip and eſteem with which I have the honour to be,
Your much obliged, and moſt obedient Servant, E. G.November 1, 1774.
AMONG the many writers of our nation, who have by their talents contributed to entertain, inform, or improve our minds, no one has ſo happily or univerſally ſucceeded, as he whom we may juſtly ſtile our firſt, our greateſt Poet, Shakeſpeare. For more than a century and a half, this Author has been the delight of the Ingenious, the text of the Moraliſt, and the ſtudy of the Philoſopher. Even his cotemporary writers have ingenuouſly yielded their plaudit to his fame, as not preſuming it could leſſen theirs, ſet at ſo great a diſtance. Such ſuperior excellence could never be brought into a comparative light; and jealouſy is dumb, when competition muſt be vain. For him, then, they chearfully twined the laurel-wreath, and unrepining placed it on his brow; where it will ever bloom, while ſenſe, taſte, and natural feelings of the heart, ſhall remain amongſt the characteriſtics of this, or any other nation, that can be able to conſtrue his language. He is a Claſſic, and cotemporary with all ages.
True Nature's Drama repreſents all time;Though old the laſt, the firſt retains its prime.
[Page vi] But amidſt all this burſt of applauſe, one ſingle diſcordant voice is faintly heard. Voltaire has ſtood forth his opponent. One might imagine ſuch a writer to have had taſte enough to reliſh his poetical beauties, at leaſt, tho' poſſibly ſome doubt might ariſe about his ſympathy with his moral ones. But he unfairly tries him by Pedant laws, which our Author either did not know, or regarded not. His compoſitions are a diſtinct ſpecies of the Drama; and not being an imitation of the Greek one, cannot be juſtly ſaid to have infringed its rules. Shakeſpeare is a model, not a copy; he looked into nature, not into books, both for men and works. 'Tis learned ignorance, therefore, to quote the antient exemplars againſt him. Is there no ſpring inſpired, but Aganippe's font? No raptured viſion, but on Parnaſſus' mount? The Grecian Bards themſelves had conceived a more liberal notion, in this particular, who, by making Phoebus the God of Poetry, ſeem to have acknowledged inſpiration to be univerſal.
But as it may ſhew more impartiality upon this ſubject, to oppoſe one French authority to another, I ſhall here quote againſt M. Voltaire, the Abbé Le Blanc's opinion of our Author, in his Letters on the Engliſh Nation, written to his Friend. ‘He is, ſays he, of all Writers, antient or modern, the moſt of an original. He is truly a great genius, and Nature has endowed him with powers to ſhew it. His imagination is rich and ſtrong: he paints whatever he ſees, and embelliſhes whatever he deſcribes. The Loves in the train of Venus are not repreſented with more grace, in [Page vii] the Pictures of Albanus, than this Poet gives to thoſe that attend on Cleopatra, in his deſcription of the pomp with which that Queen preſents herſelf to Mark Antony, on the banks of the Cydnus.’
‘The reputation of this Author is ſo great, that I ſhall not be ſurprized if you ſuſpect me of exaggeration in this account of him. Thoſe of our nation who have ever mentioned him, have been content to praiſe, without being capable of judging ſufficiently of his merits. ’
To the further honour of our Author be it ſaid, that a Lady * of diſtinguiſhed merit has lately appeared a champion in his cauſe, againſt this minor critic, this minute philoſopher, this fly upon a pillar of St. Paul's. It was her example which has ſtirred up my emulation to this attempt; for I own that I am ambitious of the honour of appearing to think, at leaſt, though I deſpair of the ſucceſs of writing, like her.
Mr. Pope, in the Preface to his edition of this Author, ſays, ‘Of all the Engliſh Poets, Shakeſpeare muſt be confeſſed to be the faireſt and fulleſt ſubject for Criticiſm, and to afford the moſt numerous, as well as moſt conſpicuous, inſtances, both of beauties and blemiſhes, of all ſorts.’ And again: ‘I cannot, however, but mention ſome of his principal and characteriſtic excellencies; for which, notwithſtanding his defects, he is juſtly and deſervedly elevated above all other Dramatic Writers.’
[Page viii] He might have added the following obſervation, from Longinus, to his remarks, who ſays, that ‘In reading Homer, Plato, or any other of the great geniuſes of antiquity; whenever we happen to meet with paſſages which appear to be unintelligible or abſurd, we ought fairly to conclude, that were they alive to explain themſelves in thoſe places, we ſhould to our confuſion be convinced, that the ignorance or error lay in our own conceptions alone.’ Horace, too, may be referred to upon this occaſion, who indulgently ſays, that The blaze of fine writing gilds o'er its blots. Such was the candor, ſuch the modeſty, and ſuch the deference, ſhewn by Antient Commentators to the works of literature or genius. The brightneſs of the ſun concealed its ſpots from them; but ſecond-hand critics, to ſpeak in the words of a modern Author, peer through a ſmoked glaſs to obſerve them.
The learned and ingenious Doctor Johnſon has given us a juſt and beautiful ſimile, on this ſubject: ‘The works of a correct and regular writer, ſays he, is a garden accurately formed, and diligently planted; varied with ſhades, and ſcented by flowers. The compoſition of Shakeſpeare is a foreſt, in which oaks extend their branches, and pines tower in the air, interſperſed ſometimes with weeds and brambles, and ſometimes affording ſhelter to myrtles and roſes; filling the eye with awful pomp, and gratifying the mind with endleſs diverſity.’
This laſt-mentioned Editor is the only one who has conſidered Shakeſpeare's writings in a [Page ix] moral light; and therefore I confeſs myſelf of opinion that he has beſt underſtood them, by thus pointing to their higheſt merit, and nobleſt excellence. And from ſeveral paſſages in the Doctor's Preface, particularly where he ſays, that ‘From his writings, indeed, a ſyſtem of ſocial duties may be ſelected; for he who thinks reaſonably, muſt think morally;’ as well as from frequent reflections of my own, reſpecting the oeconomical conduct of life and manners, which have always ariſen in my mind on the peruſal of Shakeſpeare's works, I have ventured to aſſume the taſk of placing his Ethic merits in a more conſpicuous point of view, than they have ever hitherto been preſented in to the Public.
My difficulty will not be what to find, but what to chuſe, amidſt ſuch a profuſion of ſweets, and variety of colours; nay, ſometimes, how to ſeparate the moral from the matter, in this Author's writings; which are often ſo contexted, that, to continue Doctor Johnſon's allegory above quoted, they may be compared to an intermixture of the phyſic with the kitchen garden, where both food and medicine may be culled from the ſame ſpot.
Shakeſpeare is not only my Poet, but my Philoſopher alſo. His anatomy of the human heart is delineated from nature, not from metaphyſics; referring immediately to our intuitive ſenſe, and not wandering with the ſchoolmen, through the pathleſs wilds of theory. We not only ſee, but feel his diſſections juſt and ſcientific.—The late ingenious Lord Lyttelton, ſpeaking of Sakeſpeare, ſays, ‘No author had [Page x] ever ſo copious, ſo bold, ſo creative an imagination, with ſo perfect a knowledge of the paſſions, the humours, and ſentiments of mankind. He painted all characters, from heroes and kings, down to inn-keepers and peaſants, with equal truth, and equal force. If human nature were quite deſtroyed, and no monument left of it, except his Works, other Beings might learn what man was, from thoſe writings *.’ And Ben Johnſon had long before ſaid of him:
Nature herſelf was proud of his deſigns,And joyed to wear the dreſſings of his lines.
Shakeſpeare ſeems to poſſeſs that happy and peculiar kind of ſuperiority over all other Dramatic Authors, that the ancient poets and hiſtorians confeſſedly bear above the modern ones, with regard to the genuine characters, manners, and ſentiments, of the perſons exhibited in their reſpective writings. In the firſt, we ſee the men of Nature; in the latter, but the children of the Schools.
The world at preſent is held more in trammels, than it formerly was.—From our modes of education, policies, and breeding, our conduct and demeanor are become more ſophiſticate, our minds leſs candid, and our actions more diſguiſed. Our modern literary painters repreſent us ſuch as we appear; but the genuine unadulterate heart can be moved by no affection, allied by no ſympathy, with ſuch factitious perſonages, ſuch puppets of polity, ſuch automata of modern refinement. Hence, love, friendſhip, patriotiſm, are long ſince become [Page xi] the obſolete ſentiments of chivalry and romance. But in all the repreſentations of Shakeſpeare, we are ſenſible of a connection; his whole Dramatis Perſonae ſeem to be our acquaintance and countrymen; while in moſt other exhibitions, they appear to be ſtrangers and foreigners. Doctor Johnſon, upon comparing the Tragedy of Cato with one of our Author's plays, ſays juſtly, that ‘Addiſon ſpeaks the language of Poets, but Shakeſpeare that of Men. ’
Doctor Warburton ſays, ‘Of all the literary exercitations of ſpeculative men, whether deſigned for the uſe or entertainment of the world, there are none of ſo much importance, or what are more of our immediate concern, than thoſe which let us into a knowledge of our nature. Others may exerciſe the reaſon, or amuſe the imagination; but theſe only can improve the heart, and form the mind to wiſdom. Now, in this ſcience our Shakeſpeare is confeſſed to occupy the foremoſt place; whether we conſider the amazing ſagacity with which he inveſtigates every hidden ſpring and wheel of human action; or his happy manner of communicating this knowledge, in the juſt and lively paintings which he has given us of all our paſſions, appetites, and purſuits. Theſe afford a leſſon, which can never be too often repeated, or too ſtrongly inculcated.’
Shaftſbury, though ſevere, I think rather too much ſo, againſt Shakeſpeare's faults, allows, that ‘By the juſtneſs of his moral, the [Page xii] aptneſs of his deſcriptions, and the plain and natural turn of ſeveral of his characters, he pleaſes his audience, and gains their ear, without a ſingle bribe from luxury or vice. ’
Our Author's poetical beauties have been already ſelected, though they needed it not, as they are undoubtedly ſo ſtriking as ſcarcely to require the being particularly pointed out to any Reader capable of conceiving or reliſhing them; but a ſingle line, ſometimes a word, in many inſtances throughout his Works, may convey a hint, or impreſs a ſentiment upon the heart, if properly marked, which might poſſibly be overlooked, while curioſity is attending to the fable, or the imagination tranſported with the ſplendor of diction, or ſublimity of images.
There is a Moral ſometimes couched in his Fable, which whenever I have been able to diſcover, I have pointed out to the Reader; and from thoſe pieces where this excellence is deficient in the Argument, as particularly in his Hiſtorical Plays, where poetical juſtice cannot always obtain, human life not being the whole of our exiſtence, I have given his moral and inſtruction in detail, by quoting the paſſages as they happen to lie detached, or referring to the ſcope and tenor of the dialogue.
In theſe remarks and obſervations I have not reſtricted myſelf to morals purely ethic, but have extended my obſervations and reflections to whatever has reference to the general oeconomy of life and manners, reſpecting prudence, polity, decency, and decorum; or relative to the [Page xiii] tender affections and fond endearments of human nature; more eſpecially regarding thoſe moral duties which are the trueſt ſource of mortal bliſs—domeſtic ties, offices, and obligations.
This code of morality has an advantage over any other of the kind, on account of its not being conducted ſyſtematically. In all books that treat upon theſe ſubjects, the precepts are diſpoſed methodically, under ſeparate heads or chapters; as Ambition, Bravery, Conſtancy, Devotion, and ſo on to the end of the alphabet; which mode, though uſeful on account of references, or as a common-place book, cannot be near ſo entertaining, and conſequently ſo well able to anſwer the utile dulci, as a work of this ſort, where the documents riſe out of the action immediately before our eyes, and are conſtantly varying with the quick ſhifting of ſcenes, perſon, and ſubjects; where love ſometimes follows war, jealouſy ſucceeds friendſhip, parſimony liberality; and ſo proceeding throughout the intire quicquid agunt homines of human life.
- Page 2, line laſt but 4, read, referable, and next line, ſtrike out to the Reader.
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- ALONZO, King of Naples.
- SEBASTIAN, his Brother.
- FERDINAND, Son to the King of Naples.
- PROSPERO, rightful Duke of Milan.
- GONZALO, an honeſt old Courtier of Naples.
- TRINCULO, a Jeſter.
- ARIEL, an airy Spirit.
- CALIBAN, a ſavage, and deformed Slave.
N. B. It is to be obſerved, that in this and all the other Dramatis Perſonae, I inſert the names of thoſe only whom I have brought upon the Scene, in the courſe of theſe remarks, either as ſpeaking themſelves, or being ſpoken to by others.
- THESEUS, Duke of Athens.
- LYSANDER, in love with Hermia.
- DEMETRIUS, in love with Hermia.
- PHILOSTRATE, Maſter of the Sports to Theſeus.
- OBERON, King of the Fairies.
- PUCK, a Fairy.
- MOROCHIUS, a Mooriſh Prince.
- PRINCE of Arragon.
- ANTHONIO, the Merchant of Venice.
- BASSANIO, his Friend.
- SALANIO, Friends to Anthonio and Baſſanio.
- SOLARINO, Friends to Anthonio and Baſſanio.
- GRATIANO, Friends to Anthonio and Baſſanio.
- LORENZO, in love with Jeſſica.
- SHYLOCK, a Jew.
- LAUNCELOT, Servant to the Jew.
- A DUKE, exiled from his dominions.
- AMIENS, attending upon the Duke in his baniſhment.
- JAQUES, attending upon the Duke in his baniſhment.
- A LORD, attending upon the Duke in his baniſhment.
- OLIVER, eldeſt Son to Sir Rowland de Boys.
- ORLANDO, his brother.
- ADAM, an old Steward of Sir Rowland de Boys.
- TOUCHSTONE, an Attendant on Celia and Roſalind.
- CORIN, an old Shepherd.
- SYLVIUS, a young one.
- THE KING of Navarre.
- BIRON, three Lords attending upon the King in his retirement.
- LONGAVILLE, three Lords attending upon the King in his retirement.
- DUMAIN, three Lords attending upon the King in his retirement.
- DON ADRIANO DE ARMADO, a vain bombaſtical Spaniard.
- MOTH, his Page,
- NATHANAEL, a Curate.
- HOLOFERNES, a Schoolmaſter.
- LEONTES, King of Sicilia.
- POLIXENES, King of Bohemia.
- FLORIZEL, Prince of Bohemia.
- CAMILLO, Sicilian Lords.
- CLEOMINES, Sicilian Lords.
- Another Sicilian Lord.
- ARCHIDAMUS, a Bohemian Lord.
- A GENTLEMAN.
- AUTOLICUS, a Sharper.
- VINCENTIO, Father of Lucentio.
- LUCENTIO, in love with Bianca.
- PETRUCHIO, a ſuitor to Catharine.
- HORTENSIO, Rivals, in love with Bianca.
- GREMIO, Rivals, in love with Bianca.
- TRANIO, ſervant to Lucentio.
- LEONATO, Governor of Meſſina.
- ANTONIO, his brother.
- DON PEDRO, Prince of Arragon.
- CLAUDIO, his friend.
- DON JOHN, baſtard brother to Don Pedro.
- CONRADE, his friend.
- BENEDICK, a young lord, a marriage-hater.
- A FRIAR.
- A MESSENGER.
I have here finiſhed my notes upon all the Comedies of Shakeſpeare, and hope that the indulgent Reader will be ſo kind as to diſmiſs me in this part of my work, with a favourable application of the laſt title, or, All's well that ends well.
[Page 172] Perhaps I may not be allowed the diſtinction of Comedies, as referred to the fourteen foregoing Plays; as the ſhipwreck in the Tempeſt, Antigonus being devoured by a bear, and the Prince dying of grief, in the Winter's Tale, &c. are not very comic circumſtances; but this is the diviſion that is generally made of our author's drama; though, ſtrictly ſpeaking, his Plays cannot properly be ſtiled either Tragedies or Comedies, but are, in truth, a more natural ſpecies of compoſition than either.
- RICHARD the Second.
- DUKE of York. Uncles to the King.
- JOHN of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaſter. Uncles to the King.
- MOWBRAY, Duke of Norfolk.
- BOLINBROKE, Son to John of Gaunt.
- AUMERLE, Son to the Duke of York.
- EARL of Northumberland.
- BISHOP of Carliſle.
- SIR STEPHEN SCROOP.
- EXTON, Governor of Pomfret Caſtle.
- BUSHY, Servants to the King.
- SCROOP, Servants to the King.
- THE KING.
- PRINCE OF WALES.
- PRINCE JOHN OF LANCASTER.
- HUMPHREY OF GLOUCESTER.
- THOMAS OF CLARENCE.
- EARL OF NORTHUMBERLAND. Againſt the King.
- ARCHBISHOP OF YORK. Againſt the King.
- LORD BARDOLPH. Againſt the King.
- MORTON. Againſt the King.
- EARL OF WARWICK. For the King.
- LORD CHIEF JUSTICE. For the King.
- SIR JOHN FALSTAFF.
- HENRY the Fifth.
- KING OF FRANCE.
- THE DAUPHIN.
- DUKE OF YORK, Uncles to Henry.
- DUKE OF EXETER, Uncles to Henry.
- DUKE OF BEDFORD, Brothers to Henry.
- DUKE OF GLOUCESTER, Brothers to Henry.
- ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY.
- BISHOP OF ELY.
- EARL OF WESTMORLAND.
- EARL OF CAMBRIDGE, Conſpirators.
- LORD SCROOP, Conſpirators.
- SIR THOMAS GREY, Conſpirators.
- DUKE OF BURGUNDY.
- DUKE OF ORLEANS.
- FLUELLIN, a Welch Captain.
- RAMBURES, French Lords.
- GRANDPREE, French Lords.
- The Conſtable of France.
- SIR THOMAS ERPINGHAM.
- MOUNTJOY, a French Herald.
- BATES and WILLIAMS, Engliſh Soldiers.
- HENRY THE SIXTH.
- DUKE OF GLOUCESTER, Protector, and Uncle to the King.
- BISHOP OF WINCHESTER, Cardinal, and Great Uncle to the King.
- RICHARD PLANTAGENET, afterwards Duke of York.
- DUKE OF SOMERSET.
- DUKE OF ALANSON, A French Peer.
- MORTIMER, Earl of March.
- EARL OF WARWICK.
- EARL OF SUFFOLK.
- LORD TALBOT.