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The Art Of Shakspere, As Revealed By Himself
by [?]


For much imaginary work was there;
Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind,
That for Achilles’ image stood his spear,
Griped in an armed hand; himself behind
Was left unseen, save to the eye of mind:
A hand, a foot, a face, a leg, a head,
Stood for the whole to be imagined.


And, from the walls of strong-besieged Troy,
When their brave hope, bold Hector, marched to field,
Stood many Trojan mothers, sharing joy
To see their youthful sons bright weapons wield,
And to their hope they such odd action yield;
That through their light joy seemed to appear,
Like bright things stained, a kind of heavy fear.


And from the strond of Dardan, where they fought,
To Simois’ reedy banks, the red blood ran;
Whose waves to imitate the battle sought,
With swelling ridges; and their ranks began
To break upon the galled shore, and then
Retire again, till, meeting greater ranks,
They join, and shoot their foam at Simois’ banks.

The oftener I read these verses, amongst the very earliest compositions of Shakspere, I am the more impressed with the carefulness with which he represents the work of the picture–“shows the strife of the painter.” The most natural thought to follow in sequence is: How like his own art!

The scope and variety of the whole picture, in which mass is effected by the accumulation of individuality; in which, on the one hand, Troy stands as the impersonation of the aim and object of the whole; and on the other, the Simois flows in foaming rivalry of the strife of men,–the pictorial form of that sympathy of nature with human effort and passion, which he so often introduces in his plays,–is like nothing else so much as one of the works of his own art. But to take a portion as a more condensed representation of his art in combining all varieties into one harmonious whole: his genius is like the oratory of Nestor as described by its effects in the seventh and eighth stanzas. Every variety of attitude and countenance and action is harmonized by the influence which is at once the occasion of debate, and the charm which restrains by the fear of its own loss: the eloquence and the listening form the one bond of the unruly mass. So the dramatic genius that harmonizes his play, is visible only in its effects; so ethereal in its own essence that it refuses to be submitted to the analysis of the ruder intellect, it is like the words of Nestor, for which in the picture there stands but “thin winding breath which purled up to the sky.” Take, for an instance of this, the reconciling power by which, in the mysterious midnight of the summer-wood, he brings together in one harmony the graceful passions of childish elves, and the fierce passions of men and women, with the ludicrous reflection of those passions in the little convex mirror of the artisan’s drama; while the mischievous Puck revels in things that fall out preposterously, and the Elf-Queen is in love with ass-headed Bottom, from the hollows of whose long hairy ears–strange bouquet-holders–bloom and breathe the musk-roses, the characteristic odour-founts of the play; and the philosophy of the unbelieving Theseus, with the candour of Hippolyta, lifts the whole into relation with the realities of human life. Or take, as another instance, the pretended madman Edgar, the court-fool, and the rugged old king going grandly mad, sheltered in one hut, and lapped in the roar of a thunderstorm.

My object, then, in respect to this poem, is to produce, from many instances, a few examples of the metamorphosis of such excellences as he describes in the picture, into the corresponding forms of the drama; in the hope that it will not then be necessary to urge the probability that the presence of those artistic virtues in his own practice, upon which he expatiates in his representation of another man’s art, were accompanied by the corresponding consciousness–that, namely, of the artist as differing from that of the critic, its objects being regarded from the concave side of the hammered relief. If this probability be granted, I would, from it, advance to a higher and far more important conclusion–how unlikely it is that if the writer was conscious of such fitnesses, he should be unconscious of those grand embodiments of truth, which are indubitably present in his plays, whether he knew it or not. This portion of my argument will be strengthened by an instance to show that Shakspere was himself quite at home in the contemplation of such truths.