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'The incidents are very numerous and minute; and, without surprising, they sufficiently engage. A young man is strongly; prepossessed in favour of the vast possible influence of dramatic representations, and is inflamed with the desire of cooperating in the reformation of'marikind through the medium, of the stage. Hence he becomes connected With two different sets of strollers; and his stage achievements are related at length, but in a tone that bears no relation to Scarron. Afterward, the purposes of the dramatic Quixote are changed; and here the author departs from familiar life, assumes a somewhat graver tone, and pours out the treasures of his fancy.
As a specimen which C3n be most easily detached, and will be read with most interest, we shall select the solution of a difficult problem in English criticism.—For a time, Meister's acquaintance with dramatic literature had been confined to the productions of the Continent; and so long Racine was his favourite: but a fortunate accident brings him acquainted with. Shakspeare. Immediately, a new world of sensations and ideas is opened to him; and he proves himself capable of feeling whatever the transcendent genius of our poet is capable of inspiring. Shakspeare become henceforth the subject of his meditations: in him he lives and breathes ; and his thoughts and discourse are full of the English bard.—The following is the manner in which he himself, on this occasion, pours out the fullness of his heart to the person to whom he owed his first acquaintance with Shakspeare. Does not Goethe describe his own sensations?
* Scarcely had William read a few of the plays when he was unable to proceed. His whole soul fell into commotion. He sought an opportunity of speaking to Jarno, and could not sufficiently thank him for the pleasure which he had afforded him.—" 1 foresaw, (returned his friend,) that you would not be insensible to the excellencies of the most extraordinary and wonderful of writers."—" I recollect not," said William, "that any book, person, or event ever affected me like the precious pieces with which I became acquainted through youf kindness. They appear the work of a celestial genius, which mixed with mankind in order to make us acquainted in the gentlest way with ourselves. They are no poems! The reader seems to have «*j>en before him the immense books of fate, against which the tempest of busiest life is beating, so as to drive the leaves backwards and forwards with violence. The strength and tenderness, the uproar and repose, of these compositions, have so unhinged me that I wait with impatience for the moment when I shall be in a capacity to read on."—" Excellent! (said Jarno, pressing his friend by the hand—) this is just what I di-sired'j—" I wish (replied William briskly) that. I could lay open to you all that is going on within me.—All the anticipations which I ever experienced respecting man and his lot,—and which, unuoticcd by myself, have attended me from my youth,—I
find fulfilled and unfolded in Shakspeare’s plays. It seems as if he had solved all enigmas for us, and yet it is impossible to say, here (or there) is found the key. His characters appear to be creatures of nature, and yet they are not. These most erplexing and most complicated of her productions act before us, in his pieces, as if they were clocks of which the dial-plate and head were of chrystal. They shew, according to their intention, the course of the hours; and you can see at the same time the springs and wheels which impel them.”
. The author becomes more interesting as he descends more to particulars ;-in proof of which, we shall adduce what the hero is made to advance concerning Shakspeare's own conception of the character of Hamlet, and the tenor of that admired but ill-understood drama. Addressing himself to a company of actors, he says:
“You know the incomparable play of Hamlet. You received the greatest pleasure on hearing it read at the castle. We intended to act it; and I, not knowing what I did, undertook the part of Hamlet. I imagined that I was studying it, when I began to get by heart the strongest passages, the soliloquies, aud those scenes in which the powers have full play; where the perturbed mind can vent itself in affecting sentiments, I thought that I entered fully into the spirit of the part, by taking on myself the load of deep melancholy, and under its pressure following my original through his labyrinth of humours and peculiarities. Thus I went on practising, in the conceit of becoming more and more identified with my hero. " “ However, the farther I proceeded, the more difficult I found the comprehension of the whole. At length, it appeared quite impossible to attain any distinct view. I now went through the piece without interruption, and then, alas! I found much that would not fit me. Sometimes the characters, sometimes the expressions, seemed contradictory ; and I almost despaired of finding a tone in which to perform the whole part, with its excentricities and shades. In this perplexity, I went on for some time, till at length I hoped to reach my end by a very peculiar path. . . .
“I hunted out every vestige of the character of Hamlet previously to his father's death. I observed what this interesting youth had been, independently of that melancholy event, and of the subsequent shocking occurrences; and what he probably would have been without them. . -
“Delicate and stately advanced the royal scion under the immediate influence of majesty. The idea of what is just, and of the highest dignity; the .. of what is good and becoming, and of his own high birth; unfolded themselves together in his mind. Bora to sovereignty, he wished to reign only that the good might practise their virtues uhmolested. Of an agreeable form, of a benevolent heart, and of a virtuous disposition, he was the pattern of youth, and was destined to become the delight of mankind.
“ Without o predominant passion, in his love to Ophelia he but anticipated the sweetest feelings of his nature. His ardour for knightly sports was not entirely original. It was necessary to
rf. Rev. Vol. xxvii. PP strengthen
Strengthen this propensity by bestowing praise on another. fcKs ura. 'sophisticated feelings enabled him to recognize the upright; and he knewhow to value the repose which a sincere mind enjoys on the bosom of a friend. To a certain point he could estimate the good and fair in art and Science. What was absurd disgusted hinv^ and if hatred could exist in so humane a mind, it was only strong enough to 'despise und to- sport with light and hollow courtiers. He was temperate in his feelings, and' simple m his demeanor ; not sctf-approving in idleness, nor eager for occupation. He seemed to keep up at court a fashion of academical lounging. He had more merriment of "humour than of heart f was a good companion, full of deference, modesty, and attention. He could forgive and forget an injury, but could never consort with the man who overstepped the Bounds which justice, goodness, and propriety would observe.
"When we read the play together again, you w3T be able to judge whether I am in the right. I at least think that I can corroborate my opinion by passages."
Oji another occasion, and in other society, Meister continues fo Unfold his system. Having stated to Serlo, the manager of a ffteaffe and a man of taste, the above idea- of Hamlet's charactef: .
"All this being granted," says the latter, " what would you dc.duce I"—" An explanation of much, of every thmgr,T replied Meister. "Conceive such a prince, as I haife painted, losing his father unexpectedly. Ambition, and the love of sway, are not lu's ruling -passions. He would be well contented in being the son of a king:— but he is now, for the first time, obliged to remark the distance that separates the sovereign aind the subject. The right to the crown was not then hereditary in Denmark; yet, had his father lived longer, his hopes would have been confirmed, and his expectations .secured; . Now, in spite of plausible professions, he sees himself, perhaps for ever, excluded by his uncle. He feels himself poor in favour and in possessions, and a stranger to that which in his youth he could consider as his own property. Hence his mind takes its hrst melancholy tiut. He feels that he is no more than any other nobleman, nay not so much s he gives himself out for every body's servant i—-it is not politeness; it is not condescension, but dejection and penury.
,r To his former situation he looks back as to a vanished dream. . In vain docs his uncle encourage him ; in vain would he persuade him to view his state in a different light. The sense of his nothingness never forsakes him.
The second stroke bowed him lower, and wounded him more deeply. It was his mother's marriage. He had lost a father: but to the faithful and affectionate son a mother was yet left. He hoped, in society with the noble parent who remained, to have cultivated tliev memory of the illustrious departed :—but he loses also his mother; . and loses hsr in a way much more cruel than if he had been robbed of her. by death.
, _" The idea which every well-disposed child so willingly forms of ,bis parent, as one on whom he can rely, disappears. From the dead
ia. is no help; on tr\e living is no dependancc. She top' is a woman. She to.o is comprehended under the sex's name of frailty.
"Now, for the first time, he feels himself completely humbled, now completely forlorn. No good fortune can restore what he has lost. Being neither sorrowful nor reflecting by nature, he feels reflection and sorrow a weary load. It is thus that we sec him make his appearance, t do not think that I force any thing extraneous into the piece, nor overcharge a single trait.
* Serlo, looking at his sister, said: "Did I give you a wrong idea of our friend? See how well he begins. He will have much to tell and to make us believe." William declared that he wanted not to make them believe, but to convince them, and requested but a moment's patience.
"Conceive (he resumed) this young riian, this prince. Make his situation present to you } and then observe him when he learns that his father's shade appears. Attend him on the dreadful night when the venerable spirit himself is visible to him. He is seized by profound horror; he addresses the miraculous form; sees it beckon him, follows, and hearkens. The most dreadful charge against the uncle thunders on his car—he is summoned to take vengeance—and this urgent request is repeatedly addressed to him—Remember me!— When the ghost disappears, whom do we find standing before us? Is it a young hero, breathing revenge ?—A prince born, who feels himself happy in being challenged to destroy the usurper of his throne ?—No! Astonishment and sorrow overwhelm the lonely sufferer. He grows bitter against smiling villains; swears not to forges the departed ( and finishes with the significant ejaculation,
"The time is out of joint; O, cursed spight!
"In these words* I think, we find the key to Hamlet's whole conduct. I am clear (hat Shakspeare designed to exhibit a gr/at deed imposed upon a mind which mas not Jilted for the commission. According to this plan, I find the piece throughout constructed. An oaken plant is set in a costly vase, fit only for cherishing tender flowers. The roots spread abroad* the vase is shivered.
"An amiable, pure, noble, and highly moral Being sinks under a burden which it can neither support nor relinquish. Every duty is sacred: but this duty is too difficult. Impossibility is required of him; not what is impossible in itself, but that wluch to him is an im« possibility. How he turns, writhes, retreats, advances, is ever reminded, ever reminding himself, and at last suffers his intention almost entirely to escape from his mind without ever feeling relieved!"
On another occasion, to a question concerning Ophelia, Meistcr is made to reply: '• "IF
"Of Ophelia much cannot be said. Her character is cornplcted by a few master-strokes. Her whole essence consists in ripe stnstial feeling. Her inclination for the prince» to whose hand she is entitled to pretend, flows so entirely from this fountain; the good heart resigns itself so entirely to its desires; that father and brother' bdtti
P p 2 feaj-,
frar, and both warn in direct and even gross terrris. Decorum, like the gauze on her bosom, cannot hide the emotions of her Heart: it is father a betrayer of these gentle emotions. Her imagination is infected; her still modesty nrcathes voluptuous desire; and should the convenient goddess Opportunity shake the tree, the fruit would fall forthwith. - .
"And now," said Aurelia, " when she sees herself abandoned, rejected, put to shame; when the mind of her insane lover is turned topsy-turvy; and instead ©f.thc sweet goblet of love,, he presents her the bitter cup of sorrow——
. " Her heart breaks." exclaims William, " the whole frame of her existence starts out of its joints. Her father's death then falls' on it, and crushes the beautiful structure to atoms."
Afterward, the subject is thus continued:
* Serlo entering the room, and observing what book our friend had in his hand, exclaimed—" Again over your Hamlet ?—Apropos —Many doubts have arisen in my mind which seem to degrade the canonical respectability in which you would exhibit your piece. The English themselves aeknowlcge that at the third act the chief interest ceases, the last two barely holding the whole together;—and it is true that, near the end, we do not advance a step."
"It is possible," said William, "that some individuals of a nationwhich ha3 so many master-pieces to display may he led, by prejudice or narrowness, to false views:—but should that prevent our looking with our own eyes, and doing justice? I am far from censuring the plan of thii tragedy. I rather believe that a nobler was never invented. Nay, it is not invented; it is what it is."
** How will you make that out V said Serlo. .
"I will- make nothing out," replied William. "I shall only state what 1 conceive."
* Aurelia, rising from her pillow, and leaning on her hand, looked steadily'at our friend; who, in full confidence of being in the right, thus proceeded: " We are so pleased, so flattered to behold a hero who acts for himself; who loves and hates according to the dictates of his heart; who undertakes and executes, bears down all bin-' drances, and arrives at a great end! that historians and poets would fain persuade us that so proud a lot can fall to mafn. Here we are taught otherwise. The hero lias no plan :—-hut the piece is full of plan. Htre no villain is punished in conformity with an idea of vengeance stiffly carried through. Not a monstrous deed is committed: it rolls forwards in its consequences, and sweeps the innocent along ;■ the perpetrator appears willing to escape the fated precipice, and is hurled down at the very .spot at which he thinks happily to escape the^langerous path. It is the property of crime to scatter evil over the innocent, as it is the quality of virtuous actions to benefit the undeserving; while the agent in each case may be neither punished nor rewarded. How wonderfully is this shewn in our play! Purgatory sends forth its spirit to call for vengeance, but in vara. Every circumstance combines to forward vengeance—in vain. Neither1 »arth nor hell can succeed in what is reserved for Fate. The hour
/ * arrives j