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sists either in the preparation and exhibition of a joyous festival, or in a complicated tangle of trick and incident, which is ultimately loosed by the charmed roots of Oberon, or the royal behests of Theseus. Every character is pervaded by and represents the general idea that the individual in and by himself is as nothing, and without importance except as a moment in the development of the whole. Ordinary criticism, however, adheres by preference to characterization alone—that cheap and easy criterion of poetry; and this fact accounts for the unfavourable judgment which most English critics have passed upon the piece, and which has induced them to assign it as early a date as possible in the poet's career. E. Capell, who places it the latest of all, gives 1597 as the year of its birth. It is probable, however, as Chalmers also seems to think, that it did not appear till the beginning of 1598, in which year it is mentioned by Meres. Tieck supposes it to have been composed in honour of the marriage of the poet's friend, Southampton-who, however, was not married to Miss Vernon until November of this year and conjectures, I think without reason, that the piece did not receive its present form before 1600, when it was first printed. It is not easy to see how the title of “Midsummer-Night's Dream,” under which, however, it is mentioned by Meres, could ever have suited “The Mask” of Oberon and Titania, with its anti-mask—the play of the artizans—in short, a mere piece composed for a marriage festival.
The “ Tempest" is at once the complement of, and the pendant to, the “Winter's Tale," and the “Midsummer Night's Dream." While in the last the mind and life of man are contemplated from the side of fancy and feeling, and in the “Winter's Tale" from that of passion and affection—the highest degrees of pain and pleasure—it is in will and action that it appears in the “ Tempest.” Here all is design and forethought; all is bristling with resolres and deeds. But inasmuch as we are still within the comic domain, its resolution seems to be born only of the moment; and the will, capricious and rapidly determined to evil, or swayed again to good, never ripens into action; it is soon overthrown by higher opposing powers, and after fruitless endeavours soon relapses into impotency. Thus the banished Duke Prospero, though doomed to destruction, is wonderfully saved on an uninhabited island. The powers of nature, which his magic science enables him to press into his service, place in his hands his enemies, who, on their return to Naples, are driven to the same island by a tempest. Here Antonio, the brother of Prospero, and Sebastian, brother to the King of Naples, form a sudden design of puting the King and his faithful followers to death while they sleep, in order to possess themselves of his territories, notwithstanding that they have no prospect of ever being able to return home to enjoy them. Their design, however, is frustrated by the magic arts of Prospero ; and, while stung with remorse, they, together with the King himself, are deprived of their senses by his sorceries and charms. In like manner, the plan of Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo, to put Prospero to death, and seize his books of magic, miscarries, and its wicked folly recoils on its foolish authors. In the meanwhile the King's son Ferdinand, and Prospero's daughter Miranda, enjoy the quiet happiness of love and courtship. But Ferdinand must purchase the fulfilment of his hopes by self-restraint, obedience, and the lowest menial services. At last the whole terminates in reconciliation, happiness, and peace. The delusions of madness fall from the eyes of the King, Antonio, and Sebastian; the guilty repent and the injured forgive, while folly is derided and its arrogant pretensions humbled; the wronged are restored to their rights, and the lovers made happy by the gratification of their wishes.
The following is, in our opinion, the ground-thought of the whole piece. Within the domain of Comedy, human life, regarded chiefly in volition and action, appears like a tempest, wh sweeping over the earth is at once destructive and beneficial-an instrument of ruin, but of good also. How the wind blows we know not, nor whence it comes nor whither it goes : such exactly is the will of man: setting itself free from God, who alone is its true objective ground, it resolves on whatever is foolish, perverse, and evil; it has a mere subjective principle, and is consequently a groundless and irrational caprice. The evil will knows not itself-neither whence it issues nor whither it is hurrying. Thus in the present piece resolves are born which never grow to maturity; a higher power interferes, and nips them in the bud. The will quickly annuls its
own resolves, which disappear as groundlessly as they first came; and, untrue to itself and its own determinations, it falls an easy prey to foreign influence. For evil has no abidance; if it does not quickly transform itself to good, it is nevertheless and involuntarily a means of blessing. The irresistible energy of good, which shines forth even in the necessity of self-annihilation which is inherent in evil, is here represented by the mysterious, magic influence of the powers of nature. As the end of nature is neither physical nor moral evil, but good alone, the might of good is no doubt a power of nature, and as such works with an untiring, determinate energy. But it is not a mere power of nature, for as such it would destroy the freedom of the mind; more correctly speaking, it is in its principle and truth an intellectual power, manifesting itself and operating by the instrumentality of nature. Accordingly, the natural powers which, in the fantastic form of magic and sorcery, are here made to influence the plans and deeds of the acting personages, are rightly placed under the guidance of a human mind and will. This mind has, as it were, brought the air itself into subjection, and also that volatile atmosphere of human volition which surrounds the plans and designs of individuals: and so, in the tempest which hurries along individual inclinations, there does but breathe the general spirit of our deeds and resolves. The mighty mind who rules his age derives his power solely from the spirit of the age, which is nothing else than the mass of individual wills. This endless action and re-action, this backward and forward movement between the several members of the organic whole, is but the pulse of history—“the whistling loom of time.”
At the same time it is profoundly intimated, that nothing but pre-eminence of thought, religious, scientific, or artistic, can place an individual in the exalted position of leader of the historical progress. The deed must be first of all a thought before it can become a resolve or an act; all the grand events of history, such as the Reformation, the French Revolution, may ultimately be traced to the religious, moral, and philosophical development of the collective mind; in which the individual, even while he is pursuing his own personal objects or wholly subordinate and material interests, and even though he has not himself created the
thought which he is realizing, and is unconscious of its true import, nevertheless acts simply as the instrument of its development, and by its influence rules the minds and wills of others. Thus it is that Prospero is indebted for his supremacy to the profundity and might of his science and art. In direct contrast to Prospero, who represents the secret and irresistible influence of goodness, stands Caliban, the monster of evil and brute nature, born of the lowest dregs of human reprobation, and the very personification of evil will. He is tamed merely for a time by foreign force and by his own impotence; in will he is still mischievous, and he exemplifies the profound truth, that although, as action, evil invariably destroys itself and ministers to good, still as will, even in the moment of its weakness, and in the divine and consequently eternal act of its annihilation, which is at the same time, its punishment, it is itself eternal, in so far as it is a part of the immortal mind and liberty of man. This appears to us to be the profound meaning of this singular creation of Shakspeare's poetic phantasy, which, in spite of all its rare and fanciful monstrosity, looks, nevertheless, marvellously real and like to life. He is no arbitrary creation of poetic caprice-no chance birth; although, in order to harmonize with the fanciful character of the whole piece, fantastically shapen and grotesque, he is yet a necessary member of the artistic organisation. As Prospero evidently is a mind of more than ordinary endowments, and who, like every other eminent leader of men, maintains the supremacy of the universal and objective over the subjective and individual, so Caliban, his organic contrary, is not merely individual, but also a representative of the general, in so far as the universal sinfulness of man is, as it were, concentrated and personified in his character. With him are joined Trinculo, Stephano, and the Boatswain, as the impersonations of folly and perversity, and of rude, sensual materialism. The very unconsciousness with which they do wrong constitutes their guilt, and in this respect they form, as it were, the transition to Antonio, Sebastian, and the King, whose faults are not undesigned or unconsciously committed, but nevertheless redeemed by some noble and generous traits. Their criminality is far from equal; all, however, are not so far lost as to be incapable of rapid conversion and repentanoe. On the other side, Ferdinand, Miranda, and the old noble Gonzalo, side with virtue and goodness, and group themselves with Prospero. Lastly, the courtiers Adrian and Francisco are the general types and representatives of the middle classes, and appear to be introduced for no other purpose than to supply the intermediate gaps between good and evil, and to leave no space unoccupied on the stage of history
In this way do the characters of the piece, severally and col. lectively, harmonize with the ground-idea, and constitute an organic and consistent whole. Out of them, the action, as I have described it, flows easily and naturally, and is in perfect union with the general conception. Viewed from this centre every particular appears to possess its deep and adequate motive, and all the parts to hang together in beautiful and well-ordered connexion.
That the “Tempest” was not produced before 1609-10 is shewn to be probable, by Drake (ü. 503). At all events, so serious and earnest a tone pervades it—the general structure, the composition, language, and characterization, so decidedly betoken the writer's perfect mastery of his subject matter and his art—that the majority of critics agree in placing it among the latest of our poet's productions. All that is certainly known of it is, that it was acted in the beginning of 1613. (Collier, i. 383). Tieck is of opinion that it had a reference to the marriage of the Princess Elizabeth with the Palsgrave Frederick, which took place in February, 1613. Besides other passages, he is inclined to consider the interlude of Miranda's courtship with Ferdinand in this light, which as a mere episode is, no doubt, somewhat tediously spun out. But it is impossible to look upon this noble poem as a mere occasional piece, which owes its value and importance solely to the object of its production, and, to be rightly understood, requires to be interpreted by such allusions. Shakspeare may no doubt at times have taken advantage of the passing interests of the day, and in this respect we cannot suffi. ciently admire the rare taste and judgment which he has shewn in interweaving such ephemeral references with the profound and deathless meaning of his poems, without doing dishonour to the high dignity of art.