Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]
[graphic][subsumed][subsumed]
[graphic]

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS SE

[ocr errors]

CHARACTERISTICS AND RELATIVE RANK OF THE PLAY-DOUBTS

AND VARYING OPINIONS UPON THE AUTHORSHIP OF PARTS

STATE OF THE TEXT, ETC.
TIMON OF ATHENS is one of several dramas, which add very much to the

a
and unexpected direction, and thus displaying a variety and fertility apparently without
limits; while yet, as compared either with his exquisite poetical comedies or the tragedies
of his matured strength, they must be consigned, by the general suffrage, to a secondary class.

In its spirit, its object, and the style of its execution, Timon of Athens is as much of a class by itself among the wide variety of its author's works, as even the MIDSUMMER-Night's Dream; but it is not, like that, of a class created by and belonging to himself alone, or in the bounds of that magic circle wherein “none durst walk but he.” It was well described by Coleridge, (in those extemporary and unpublished lectures of 1818, of which Mr. Collier has preserved many interesting and precious fragments,) as being “a bitter dramatized satire.” Hazlitt too remarks upon it, as being “as much a satire as a play, containing some of the finest pieces of invective possible to be conceived;" and several of the critics have pointed out its frequent resemblance, not in particular thoughts, but in general spirit, to the vehement and impetuous denunciations of Juvenal. This pervading spirit of bitter indignation is carried throughout the piece, with sustained intensity of purpose, and unbroken unity of effect. Yet Mr. Campbell, admitting the resemblance pointed out, by Schlegel and others, to the great Roman satirist, somewhat splenetically objects that “a tragedy has no business to resemble a biting satire;" and for this reason, and for its general tone of caustic severity, regarding it as the production of its author's spleen rather than of his heart, decides that “altogether Timon of Athens is a pillar in Shakespeare's dramatic fame that might be removed without endangering the edifice.”

Unquestionably it might be removed without endangering the solidity or diminishing the elevation of the “live-long monument” of the great Poet's glory, yet most certainly not without somewhat diminishing its variety and extent. To borrow an illustration from the often used parallel between the Shakespearian and the Greek drama, and the admirable architectural works of their respective ages, I would say that Timon is not, indeed, like one of the massive yet graceful

columns which give support and solidity, as well as beauty and proportion, to the classic portico, but rather resembles one of those grand adjuncts—cloister, or chapel, or chapter-house-attached to the magnificent cathedrals of the middle ages, and, like one of them, might be removed without impairing the solemn sublimity of the sacred edifice, or robbing it of many of its daring lighter graces ;-yet not without the loss of a portion of the pile, majestic and striking in itself, and by its very contrast adding to the nobler and more impressive beauty of the rest, an effect of indefinite and apparently boundless grandeur and extent. Coleridge, ("Literary Remains,") in an early attempt (1802) at arranging the chronological order of Shakespeare's works, designates Timon as belonging, with LEAR and Macbeth, to the last epoch of the Poet's life, when the period of beauty was past, and " that of deinotés and grandeur succeeds.” In this view of the subject, he designates Timon as “ an after-vibration of Hamlet.” It has indeed no little resemblance, both in its poetical and its reflective tone, to the gloomier and meditative passages of Hamlet, especially those which may be attributed to the enlarged and more philosophical Hamlet of 1604; while with the pathos, the tenderness, and the dramatic interest of the tragedy, it has very slight affinity. Yet the sad morality of Hamlet is, like the countenance of the Royal Dane, “ more in sorrow ihan in anger;" while that of Timon is fierce, angry, caustic, and vindictive. It is, therefore, that, instead of being considered as an after-vibration of Hamlet, it would be more appropriately described as a solemn prelude, or a lingering echo, to the wild passion of LEAR. But without immediately connecting its date with that of any other particular drama, it may be remarked that it bears all the indications, literary and moral, in its modes of expression, and prevailing taste in language and imagery, in its colour of thought and sentiment, and tone of temper and feeling, that it belongs to that period of the author's life when he appeared chiefly (to use Mr. Hallam's words) “ as the stern censurer of mankind.”

In LEAR, as in MEASURE FOR MEASURE, the stern, vehement rebuke of frailty and vice is embodied in characters and incidents of high dramatic interest, and made living and individual by becoming the natural outpourings of personal emotions and passions. In Timon the plot is made to turn upon a single incident, and is used merely as a vehicle for the author's own caustic satire, or wrathful denunciation of general vice. A sudden change of fortune, from boundless prosperity to ruin and beggary, is used to teach the principal character the ingratitude of base mankind, and to convert his indiscriminating bounty and overflowing kindness into as indiscriminate a loathing for man and all his concerns. When that was done, and his character created, all further effect at dramatic interest was neglected, and Timon becomes the mouth-piece of the Poet himself, who probably, without any

« ÎnapoiContinuați »