« FöregåendeFortsätt »
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1856,
By J. S. REDFIELD, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, in and for the Southern
District of New York.
This volume contains the different articles on Shakespeare, by the late Dr. Maginn, which appeared in Bentley's Miscellany and Fraser's Magazine. They excited considerable attention, in this country as well as in England, when they were originally published, and are here first collected. They consist of essays or critical disquisitions upon certain prominent characters in Shakespeare's plays, and of a scholarly and extremely “slashing" analysis of, and attack upon, Dr. Farmer's Essay upon the Learning of Shakespeare, which was written to prove that the poet was ignorant of every language except the English, and obtained his classical allusions, as well as his knowledge of ancient mythology and history, exclusively from translations.
It has not been necessary to trouble the reader with much of my own annotations, in these pages (I have exclusively confined myself to matter of fact in my own notes), but I have freely drawn upon the highest literary authorities who have commented upon the life and writings of Shakespeare, in order that the reader might have their opinions, in accordance with or in opposition to Dr. Maginn's criticism, and thus have the advantage of immediate comparison of the new commentator with his most distinguished predecessors. I have, with this view, carefully sought, and largely, though not tediously, pressed into my service, the opinions of Campbell, Coleridge, Collier, De Quincey, Giles, Hazlitt, Hunter, Johnson, Knight, Verplanck, and Wilson, as well as of Mrs. Jamieson and Mrs.
Siddons. Here, also, will be found passages from German critics of high authority — Goethe, Schlegel, and Ulrici.
No doubt, there will be a great diversity of opinion, among Shakespearian readers, respecting the views which Dr. Maginn has taken of certain characters in the plays. It certainly does appear rather paradoxical that Falstaff, who is generally looked upon as a mere “tun of flesh,” abounding in jest, a gross winebibber, braggart, and coward, should be presented as being wise as well as witty, not deficient in manly courage, possessing the courtly manners of an accomplished soldier, endowed with considerable intellect, and instead of being only a ribald jester, cherishing in his “ heart of heart” deep regrets for the evanished spring-time of life, when he had “love, honor, and obedience, troops of friends," with, amid the riotous living into which he had fallen, high aspirations for a better mode of earthly exist
So, also, when Jaques, reflective and saddened in his forest haunts, instead of being exhibited as “melancholy and gentlemanlike,” is shown as a mere humorist who has little cause for sorrowful contemplation, who follows the fancy of his head, and not the impulse of his heart, in moralizing upon the scenes in which he is placed, the characters whom he meets, and the incidents which occur within his observation. Falstaff, with an under-current of melancholy, and Jaques, with a substratum of mirth, may startle ordinary Shakespearian readers, but the arguments by which these conclusions are attained are unquestionably worth attention.
The exposition of the character of Polonius - almost invariably represented, on the stage, as a dotard - is more in accord with the estimate usually formed by those who read the tragedy of Hamlet. So, also, the idea of Romeo, as a sort of “Murad the Unlucky" of tragedy-of Bottom, as the incarnation of self-conceit- of Timon's misanthropy and Iago's devilish wiles — do not materially differ from the generally received views. Maginn's rationale of the character of Lady Macbeth - a paper on which he has evidently bestowed much thought
– will probably surprise many readers, who had been used to think of her as an unsexed creature, whose violent ambition and strong passion and remorseless cruelty influenced her hus
band, a man infirm of purpose, to plange into a sticcession of the heaviest crimes in order to obtain the Scottish sceptre. In Maginn's paper, she is humanized, and a strong case in her favor is made out, to show her“ more sinned against than sioning" — rather ruled than ruling.
Edward Kenealy (who wrote an excellent biography of Maginn, for the Dublin Unirersity Magazine), says that these papers “consist of some of the ablest and most beautiful characters of our dramatist that adorn the language. They incline a little too much, perhaps, to paradox, but their great ability is universally admitted. Combined with his · Essay on Dr. Farmer' they form a most valuable and interesting body of facts, surmises, and annotations of our great poet.” Vaginn had long meditated critical editions of Homer and Shakespeare, but never had time to apply continuously to the labor. In this memoir, among recollections of Vaginn's conversation, we have “Talking on one occasion about his. Shakespeare Papers,' I asked him why he did not write the character of Hamlet? •I have often thought of it,' he said, “but never could make up my mind to it. I am afraid of him.” On another occasion Maginn said, “I think Shakespeare intended The Tempest to be nothing more than a grand pantomime, in which he could lay aside all rules of composition, and allow his imagination to revel at will, without the fear of criticism; inserting in it many speeches and ideas that had long been floating in his fancy; and I think it was the last play he wrote.” (De Quincey and Campbell also believe, with Malone, that in this drama, Shakespeare, like Prospero, symbolically broke his enchanter’s wand.] Maginn told Kenealy that, whenever he had time, he would write a paper on Falstaff's Page. Many a one like him,” added he, " have I met in my time, in the shape of a printer's devil. He is the prince of all boys."
Much has been written on the questio vexata of Shakespeare's learning. His poetry so abounds with classical allusions that one might wonder how his scholarship could have been ever doubted. But Ben Jonson's declaration, as to his having had little Latin and less Greek, appears, from the first, to have been the foundation for a belief that he really was almost un
educated. Hume, the historian, a writer who is well known to foreigners, declares that Shakespeare could not for any time uphold a reasonable propriety of thought. Nay, although scholarship was abundant, and even fashionable in his time (not only Ascham's gentle Scholar, the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey,
a scholar and a ripe one,” but Elizabeth and the ladies of her court were acquainted with Latin and Greek, and taught even to speak the former), Hume speaks of him as “Born in a rude age, and educated without any instruction either from the world or from books." It appears a double anomaly that Shakespeare should have mixed in society, as a manager
and author, with the leading writers of his time, as well as with some of the most distinguished of the nobility, without obtaining any “instruction from the world,” and that he should have exhibited so many proofs of erudition without having had recourse to books.
For a long time, however, the general opinion was opposed to giving Shakespeare credit for the learning he must have possessed. Dr. Farmer's Essay, here dissected by Maginn, was published in 1766, and went through three editions in a few
years. Its author was a very well-read man, and, on bis death in 1797, the sale of his library occupied thirty-five days, and produced £2,200. Maginn, closely as he criticised the critic, by no means exhausted the subject.
The idea, so long a favorite with the commentators upon Shakespeare (including Addison, whose knowledge of English Literature was scanty, and Johnson, who appears to have gone through an extensive and constant perusal of the dramatic literature of the Elizabethan era), that Shakespeare was not noticed until the eighteenth century, is now generally admitted to be incorrect. He was personally noticed by Elizabeth, with all her faults one of the greatest-by James, with all his pedantry one of the most learned — of sovereigns. Sir Walter Scott has adroitly reminded us in “ Woodstock") that the volume containing Shakespeare's writings was the closet companion of Charles I. He obtained the warmest praise from contemporary and immediately succeeding poets of the first order—including Ben Jonson, Milton, and Dryden. At an age when, from various causes,