« PreviousContinue »
HE peculiar dexterity, with which
the author unfolds the characters, and prepares the events of this play, deserves our attention.
There is not perhaps any thing more difficult in the whole compass of the dramatic art, than to open to the spectator the previous incidents, that were productive of the present circumstances, and the characters of the persons from whose conduct, in such circumstances, the subsequent events are to flow. An intelligent spectator will receive great pleasure from observing every
action naturally arising out of the sentiments and manners of the persons represented. Happier is the poet, when the peculiar dispofitions of his several characters do naturally unfold the perplexities of the fable, than he who uses the liberty, which Horace allows, to call a Deity to his assistance. This play opens by the king's declaring his intention to undertake the crusade, as soon as peace will allow him to do it. Westmorland informs him of the defeat of Mortimer by Owen Glendower; the King relates the news of Percy's victory at Holmedon, which naturally leads him to the praise of this young hero, and to express his envy of Lord Northumberland's happiness.
To be the father of so blest a son,
Of my young Harry : then he mentions Percy's refusal of his prisoners, which Westmorland attributes to the malevolent suggestions of Worcester. Thus at once is presented to the spectator, the condition of the state, the temper of the
times, and the characters of the persons from whom the catastrophe is to arise.
The stern authority the king assumes on Hotspur's disobedience to his commands, could not fail to inflame a warm young
hero flushed with recent victory, and elate with the consciousness of having so well defended a crown, which his father and uncle had in a manner conferred. Nothing can be more natural than that, in such a temper, he should recur to the obligations the king had to his family: and thus while he appears to vent his spleen, he explains to the spectator what is past, and opens the source of the future rebellion; and by connecting former transactions with the present pafsions and events, creates in the reader an interest and a sympathy, which a cold narration or a pompous declamation could not have effected, As the author designed Percy should be an interesting character, his disobedience to the king, in regard to the prisoners, is mitigated by his pleading the unfitness of the person and unfavorableness of the
occafion to urge
him on the subject. To this effeminate courtier (says he) I then, all smarting with my wounds being cold, Out of my grief and my impatience To be so pefter'd with a popingjoy, Answer'd negledingly-I know not what.
Thus has the poet artfully taken from the rebel the hateful crimes of premeditated revolt and deep-laid treachery. He is hurried by an impetuosity of soul out of the sphere of obedience, and, like a comet, though dangerous to the general system, is still an object of admiration and wonder to every beholder. It is marvellous, that Shakespear from bare chronicles, coarse history, and traditional tales, could thus extract the wisdom and caution of the politician Henry, and catch the fire of the martial spirit of Hotspur. The wrath of Achilles in Homer is not sustained with more dignity. Eachi hero is offended that the prize of valour,
Due to many a well-fought day, is rudely snatched from him by the hand of power.-One should suspect an author of
more learning to have had the character of
Impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer..
His misdemeanors rise so naturally out of his temper, and that temper is so noble, that we are almost as much interested for him as for a more virtuous character.
His trespass may be well forgot,
A hare-braind Hotspur govern'd by a spleen.
with the same animation ; he is always that Percy
Whose fpirit lent a fire