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of words, they are the legitimate ring that should be formed round such “ intellectual prize-fighters.” Talking is the direct object of the imitation here. But in all the best dramas, and in Shakspeare above all, how obvious it is, that the form of speaking, whether it be in soliloquy or dialogue, is only a medium, and often a highly artificial one, for putting the reader or spectator into possession of that knowledge of the inner structure and workings of mind in a character, which he could otherwise never have arrived at in that form of composition by any gift short of intuition. We do here as we do with novels written in the epistolary form. How many improprieties, perfect solecisms in letter-writing, do we put up with in Clarissa, and other books, for the sake of the delight which that form upon the whole gives us.
But the practice of stage representation reduces everything to a controversy of elocution. Every character, from the boisterous blasphemings of Bajazet to the shrinking timidity of womanhood, must play the orator. The love-dialogues of Romeo and Juliet, those silver-sweet sounds of lovers' tongues by night; the more intimate and sacred sweetness of nuptial colloquy between an Othello or a Posthumus with their married wives ; all those delicacies which are so delightful in the reading, as when we read of those youthful dalliances in paradise
" As beseem'd Fair couple link'd in happy nuptial league,
Alone ;" by the inherent fault of stage representation, how are these things sullied and turned from their very nature by being exposed to a large assembly; when such speeches as Imogen addresses to her lord come drawling out of the mouth of a hired actress, whose courtship, though nominally addressed to the personated Posthumus, is manifestly aimed at the spectators, who are to judge of her endearments and her returns of love.
The character of Hamlet is perhaps that by which, since the days of Betterton, a succession of popular performers have had the greatest ambition to distinguish themselves. The length of the part may be one of their reasons. But for the character itself, we find it in a play; and therefore we judge it a fit subject of dramatic representation. The play itself abounds in maxims and reflections beyond any other, and therefore we consider it as a proper vehicle for conveying moral instruction. But Hamlet himself—what does he suffer meanwhile by being dragged forth as the public schoolmaster, to give lectures to the crowd! Why, nine parts in ten of what Hamlet does are transactions between himself and his moral sense ; they are the effusions of his solitary musings, which he retires to holes, and corners, and the most sequestered parts of the palace to pour forth; or rather, they are the silent meditations with which his bosom is bursting, reduced to words for the sake of the reader, who must else remain ignorant of what is passing there. These profound sorrows, these lightand-noise-abhorring ruminations, which the tongue scarcu dares utter to deaf walls and chambers, how can they be represented by a gesticulating actor, who comes and mouths them out before an audience, making four hundred people his confidants at once. I say not that it is the fault of the actor so to do ; he must pronounce them ore rotundo, he must accompany them with his eye, he must insinuate them into his auditory by some trick of eye, tone, or gesture, or he fails. He must be thinking all the while of his appearance, because he knows that all the while the spectators are judging of it. And this is the way to represent the shy, negligent, retiring Hamlet.
It is true that there is no other mode of conveying a vast quantity of thought and feeling to a great portion of the audience, who otherwise would never earn it for themselves by reading, and the intellectual acquisition gained this way may, for aught I know, be inestimable; but I am not arguing that Hamlet should not be acted, but how much Hamlet is made another thing by being acted. I have heard much of the wonders which Garrick performed in this part; but, as I never saw him, I must have leave to doubt whether the representation of such a character came within the province of his art. Those who tell me of him, speak of his eye, of the magic of his eye, and his commanding voice-physical properties, vastly desirable in an actor, and without which he can never insinuate meaning into an auditory ; but what have they to do with Hamlet; what have they to do with intellect? In fact, the things aimed at in theatrical representation are to arrest the spectator's eye upon the form and the gesture, and so to gain a more favourable hearing to what is spoken: it is not what the character is, but how he looks ; not what he says, but how he speaks it. I see no reason to think that if the play of Hamlet were written over again by some such writer as Banks or Lillo, retaining the process of the story, but totally omitting all the poetry of it, all the divine features of Shak speare, his stupendous intellect, and only taking care to give us enough of passionate dialogue, which Banks or Lillo were never at a loss to furnish, I see not how the effect could be much different upon an audience, nor how the actor has it in his power to represent Shakspeare to us differently from his representation of Banks or Lilo. Hamlet would still be a you:hful accomplished prince, and must be gracefully persona ated; he might be puzzled in his mind, wavering in his conduct, seemingly cruel to Ophelia ; he might see a ghost, and start at it, and address it kindly when he found it to be his father : all this in the poorest and most homely language of the servilest creeper after nature that ever consulted the palate of an audience, without troubling Shakspeare for the matter: and I see not but there would be room for all the power which an actor has to display itself. All the passions and changes of passion might remain : for those are much less difficult to write or act than is thought; it is a trick easy to be attained ; it is but rising or falling a note or two in the voice, a whisper, with a significant foreboding look to announce its approach, and so contagious the counterfeit appearance of any emotion is, that let the words be what they will, the look and tone skall carry it off and make it pass for deep skill in the passions.
It is common for people to talk of Shakspeare's plays being so natural ; that everybody can understand him. They are natural indeed, they are grounded deep in nature, so deep that the depth of them lies out of the reach of most of us. You shall hear the same person say that George Barnwell is very natural, and Othello is very natural, that they are both very deep; and to them they are the same kind of thing. At the one they sit and shed tears, because a good sort of young man is tempted by a naughty woman to commit a trifling peccadillo, the murder of an uncle or so,* that is all, and so comes to an untimely end, which is so moving ; and at the other because a blackamoor in a fit of jealousy kills his innocent white Wife : and the odds are, that ninety-nine out of a hundred would willingly behold the same catastrophe happen to both the heroes, and have thought the rope more due to Othello than to Barnwell. For of the texture of Othello's mind, the inward construction marvellously laid open with all its strengths and weaknesses, its heroic confidences and its human misgivings, its agonies of hate springing from the depths of love, they see no more than the spectators at a cheaper rate, who
If this note could hope to meet the eye of any of the managers, I would entreat and beg of them, in the name of both the galleries, that this insult upon the morality of the common people of London should cease to be eternally repeated in the holyday weeks. "Why are the 'prentices of this famous and well.governed city, instead of an amusement, to be treated over and over again with a nauseous sermon of George Barnwell? Why at the end of their vistas are we to place the gallows ? Were I an uncle, I should not much like a nephew of mine to have such an example placed before his eyes. It is really making uncle-murder too trivial to exhibit it as done upon such slight motives ; it is attributing too much to such characters as Millwood; it is putting things into the heads of good young men, which they would never otherwise have dreamed of. Uncles that think anything of their lives should fairly retition the chamberlain against it.
pennies apiece to look through the man's telescope in Leicester fields, see into the inward plot and topography of the
Some dim thing or other they see; they see an actor personating a passion, of grief, or anger, for instance, and they recognise it as a copy of the usual external effects of such passions; or at least as being true to that symbol of the emotion which passes current at the theatre for it, for it is often no more than that: but of the grounds of the passion, its correspondence to a great or heroic nature, which is the only worthy object of tragedy—that common auditors know anything of this, or can have any such notions dinned into them by the mere strength of an actor's lungs—that apprehensions foreign to them should be thús infused into them by storm, I can neither believe, nor understand how it can be possible.
We talk of Shakspeare's admirable observation of life, when we should feel, that not from a petty inquisition into those cheap and every-day characters which surrounded him, as they surround us, but from his own mind, which was, to borrow a phrase of Ben Jonson's, the very “ sphere of humanity," he fetched those images of virtue and of knowledge, of which every one of us, recognising a part, think we comprehend in our natures the whole ; and oftentimes mistake the powers which he positively creates in us for nothing more than indigenous faculties of our own minds, which only waited the application of corresponding virtues in him to return a full and clear echo of the same.
To return to Hamlet. Among the distinguishing features of that wonderful character, one of the most interesting (yet painful) is that soreness of mind which makes him treat the intrusions of Polonius with harshness, and that asperity which he puts on in his interviews with Ophelia. These tokens of an unhinged mind (if they be not mixed in the latter case with a profound artifice of love, to alienate Ophelia by affected discourtesies, so to prepare her mind for the breaking off of that loving intercourse, which can no longer find a place amid business so serious as that which he has to do) are parts of his character, which to reconcile with our admiration of Hamlet, the most patient consideration of his situation is no more than necessary; they are what we forgive afterward, and explain by the whole of his character, but at the time they are harsh and unpleasant. Yet such is the actor's necessity of giving strong blows to the audience, that I have never seen a player in this character who did not exaggerate and strain to the utmost these ambiguous features -- these temporary deformities in the character. They make him express a vulgar scorn at Polonius which utterly degrades his gentility, and
which no explanation can render palatable; they make him show contempt, and curl up the nose at Ophelia's father-contempt in its very grossest and most hateful form : but they get applause by it: it is natural, people say ; that is the words are scornful, and the actor expresses scorn, and hat they can judge of : but why so much scorn, and of that sort, they never think of asking.
So to Ophelia. All the Hamlets that I have ever seen rant and rave at her as if she had committed some great crime, and the audience are highly pleased, because the words of the part are satirical, and they are enforced by the strongest expression of satirical indignation of which the face and voice are capable. But, then, whether Hamlet is likely to have put on such brutal appearances to a lady whom he loved so dearly, is never thought on ; the truth is, that in all such deep affections as had subsisted between Hanilet and Ophelia, there is a stock of supererogatory love, (if I may venture to use the expression) which, in any great grief of heart, especially where that which preys upon the mind cannot be communicated, confers a kind of indulgence upon the grieved party to express itself, even to its heart's dearest object, in the language of a temporary alienation ; but it is not alienation, it is a distraction purely, and so it always makes itself to be felt by that object : it is not anger, but grief assuming the appearance
angerlove awkwardly counterfeiting hate; as sweet countenances when they try to frown: but such sternness and fierce disgust as Hamlet is made to show is no counterfeit, but the real face of absolute aversion-of irreconcilable alienation. be said he puts on the madman ; but, then, he should only so far put on this counterfeit lunacy as his own real distraction will give him leave ; that is, incompletely, imperfectly ; not in that confirmed, practised way, like a master of his art, or, as Dame Quickly would say, like one of those harlotry players."
I mean no disrespect to any actor, but the sort of pleasure which Shakspeare's plays give in the acting, seems to me not at all to differ from that which the audience receive from those of other writers; and, they being in themselves essentially so different from all others, I must conclude that there is something in the nature of acting which levels all distinctions. And, in fact, who does not speak indifferently of the Gamester and of Macbeth as fine stage performances, and praise the Mrs. Beverley in the same way as the Lady Macbeth of Mrs. S. ? Belvidera, and Calista, and Isabella, and Euphrasia, are they less liked than Imogen, or than Juliet, or than Desdemona ? Are they not spoken of and remembered in the same way? Is