William Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 6

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

288.

Richard Cumberland, essays on Shakespeare

1786

From The Observer: being a Collection of Moral, Literary and Familiar Essays (5 vols, 1785-91). Although numbered and dated like a normal serial, this periodical was issued in volume form, the five-volume edition being dated 1786 (vols i-iii), 1788 (vol. iv), and 1791 (vol. v).

Apart from smaller discussions, five whole essays are devoted to Shakespeare—Nos 55-8 on Macbeth and Richard III (which owes much to Whately’s essay) and No. 86: ‘Remarks upon the characters of Falstaff and his group’. No. 109 includes an extended comparison between the scenes of witchcraft in Macbeth and those in Ben Jonson’s Masque of the Queens. On Cumberland see the head-note to Vol. 5, No. 232, and R. Dircks, Richard Cumberland (Boston, 1976).

[From No. 55, ‘A delineation of Shakespeare’s characters of Macbeth and Richard’]

Let us contemplate them in the three following periods; viz. The premeditation of their crime; the perpetration of it; and the catastrophe of their death…. (II, 225-6)

[Quotes Macbeth, 1.3.130ff.: ‘This supernatural soliciting/Cannot be ill; cannot be good.’] A soliloquy then ensues, in which the poet judiciously opens enough of his character to shew the spectator that these preternatural agents are not superfluously set to work upon a disposition prone to evil, but one that will have to combat many compunctious struggles before it can be brought to yield even to oracular influence. This alone would demonstrate (if we needed demonstration) that Shakespeare, without resorting to the antients, had the judgment of ages as it were instinctively. From this instant we are apprised

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