Page images
PDF
EPUB

VIRITATE.'

Car enfin pour remplir l'honneur de ma naiffance, Il me faudroit un roi de titre, et de puissance; Mais comme il n'en est plus, je pense m'en devoir, Ou le pouvoir fans nom, ou le nom fans pouvoir.

And upon

the effect of this prudent decision turns the

great

interest of the play. By the laws of romance the men are to be amorous, and the ladies ambitious. Poor Sertorius in his old age is in love with this lady, for whom Perpenna is also dying; and Sertorius, whom we had supposed facrificed to the ambition of his lieutenant, is the vi&im of his jealousy.

Shakespear and Corneille are equally blamable for having complied with the bad taste of the age ; and by doing so, they have both brought unmerited censures on their country. The French impute barbarity and cruelty, to a people that could delight in bloody skirmishes on the stage. The English, as unjustly, but as excusably, accuse of effeminacyand frivoloufness, those

who

who could fit to hear the following address
of a lover to his mistrefs's bodkin, with
which she had just put out one of his
eyes :

PYMANTE.
O toi, qui fecondant son courage inhumain,
Loin d'orner les cheveux, dishonores fa main,
Exécrable instrument de fa brutale rage,
Tu devais pour le moins respecter son image :
Ce portrait accompli d'un chef-d'auvre des cieux ;
Imprimé dans mon coeur, exprimé dans mes yeux,
Quoique te commandât une ame si cruelle,
Devait être adoré de ta pointe rebelle.

Clitandre de Corneille. The whole soliloquy includes seventy lines. I heartily wish for the honour of both nations, the lover and his bodkin, and the foldiers and their halberds, had always been hiffed off the stage. Our countryman was betrayed into hiserror by want of judgment, to difcern what part of his story was not fit for reprefentation. Corneille, for want of dramatic genius, was obliged to have recourse to points, conceits, cold and unin

teresting

[ocr errors]

teresting declamations, to fill up his plays, and these heavily drag along his undramatical drama's to a fifth act.'

The ignorance of the times passed over the defects of each author ; and the bad taste then prevalent did more than endure, it even encouraged and approved what should have been censured.

Mr. Voltaire has faid, that the plots of Shakespear's plays are as wild as that of the Clitandre just quoted; and it must be allowed they are often exceptionable: but at the same time we must observe, that though crouded too much, they are not so perplexed as to be unintelligible, which Corneille confesses his Clitandre might be to those who saw it but once. There is still another more effential difference perhaps, which is, that the wildest and most incorrect pieces of our poet contain some incomparable speeches : whereas the worst plays of Corneille have not a good stanza.

The

The tragedy of King Lear is

very

far from being a regular piece: yet there are speeches in it which perhaps excel any thing that has been written by any tragedian, ancient or modern. However we will only compare one passage of it at present, with another in Clitandre; as they both happen to be on similar subjects. The blinded lover, after many complaints, and wishes for

revenge, hears the noise of a tempest, and thus breaks out :

PYMANTE. Mes menaces déja font trembler tout le monde : Le vent fuit d'épouvante, et le tonnetre en gronde : L'eil du ciel s'en refire, et par un voile noir, N'y pouvant résister, se défend d'en rien voir. Cent nuages épais se distilant en larmes, A force de pitié, veulent m'ôter les armes. La nature étonnée embrasse mon couroux, Et veut m'offrir Dorise, ou devancer mes coups. Tout est de mon parti, le ciel même n'envoie Tant d'éclairs redoublés, qu'afin que je la voie.

King Lear, whom age renders weak and querulous, and who is now beginning to

grow

grow mad, thus very naturally, in the

general calamity of the storm, recurs to his own particular circumstances.

LEAR.

Spit fire, spout rain ; Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters ; I tax you not, you elements, with unkindness, I never gave you kingdoms, call’d you children, You owe me no submission. Then let fall Your horrible pleasure ; here I stand your flave, A poor, infirm, weak, and despis’d old man! And yet I call you servile ministers, That have with two pernicious daughters join'd Your high engender'd battles, 'gainst a head

So old and white as this. Oh! oh! 'tis foul. They must have little feeling that are not touched by this speech, so highly pathetic.

How fine is that which follows !

LEAR.

Let the great Gods, That keep this dreadful pother o'er our heads, Find out their enemies now. Tremble thou wretch, That hast within thee undivulged crimes Unwhipt of justice ! Hide thee thou bloody hand,

Thou

« PreviousContinue »