Characteristics of Women - Moral, Poetical, and Historical
by Anna Jameson
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If to do, were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages princes' palaces.

I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.

The crow doth sing as sweetly as the lark, When neither is attended; and, I think, The nightingale, if she should sing by day, When every goose is cackling, would be thought No better a musician than the wren. How many things by season, seasoned are To their right praise and true perfection!

How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world. A substitute shines as brightly as a king, Until a king be by; and then his state Empties itself, as doth an inland brook, Into the main of waters.

Her reflections on the friendship between her husband and Antonio are as full of deep meaning as of tenderness; and her portrait of a young coxcomb, in the same scene, is touched with a truth and spirit which show with what a keen observing eye she has looked upon men and things.

——I'll hold thee any wager, When we are both accouter'd like young men. I'll prove the prettier fellow of the two, And wear my dagger with the braver grace And speak, between the change of man and boy With a reed voice; and turn two mincing steps Into a manly stride; and speak of frays, Like a fine bragging youth; and tell quaint lies— How honorable ladies sought my love, Which I denying, they fell sick and died; I could not do withal: then I'll repent, And wish, for all that, that I had not killed them; And twenty of these puny lies I'll tell, That men should swear, I have discontinued school Above a twelvemonth!

And in the description of her various suitors, in the first scene with Nerissa, what infinite power, wit, and vivacity! She half checks herself as she is about to give the reins to her sportive humor: "In truth, I know it is a sin to be a mocker."—But if it carries her away, if is so perfectly good-natured, so temperately bright, so lady-like, it is ever without offence; and so far, most unlike the satirical, poignant, unsparing wit of Beatrice, "misprising what she looks on." In fact, I can scarce conceive a greater contrast than between the vivacity of Portia and the vivacity of Beatrice. Portia, with all her airy brilliance, is supremely soft and dignified; every thing she says or does, displays her capability for profound thought and feeling, as well as her lively and romantic disposition; and as I have seen in an Italian garden a fountain flinging round its wreaths of showery light, while the many-colored Iris hung brooding above it, in its calm and soul-felt glory; so in Portia the wit is ever kept subordinate to the poetry, and we still feel the tender, the intellectual, and the imaginative part of the character, as superior to, and presiding over its spirit and vivacity.

In the last act, Shylock and his machinations being dismissed from our thoughts, and the rest of the dramatis personae assembled together at Belmont, all our interest and all our attention are riveted on Portia, and the conclusion leaves the most delightful impression on the fancy. The playful equivoque of the rings, the sportive trick she puts on her husband, and her thorough enjoyment of the jest, which she checks just as it is proceeding beyond the bounds of propriety, show how little she was displeased by the sacrifice of her gift, and are all consistent with her bright and buoyant spirit. In conclusion; when Portia invites her company to enter her palace to refresh themselves after their travels, and talk over "these events at full," the imagination, unwilling to lose sight of the brilliant group, follows them in gay procession from the lovely moonlight garden to marble halls and princely revels, to splendor and festive mirth, to love and happiness.

Many women have possessed many of those qualities which render Portia so delightful. She is in herself a piece of reality, in whose possible existence we have no doubt: and yet a human being, in whom the moral, intellectual, and sentient faculties should be so exquisitely blended and proportioned to each other; and these again, in harmony with all outward aspects and influences probably never existed—certainly could not now exist. A woman constituted like Portia, and placed in this age, and in the actual state of society, would find society armed against her; and instead of being like Portia, a gracious, happy, beloved, and loving creature, would be a victim, immolated in fire to that multitudinous Moloch termed Opinion. With her, the world without would be at war with the world within; in the perpetual strife, either her nature would "be subdued to the element it worked in," and bending to a necessity it could neither escape nor approve, lose at last something of its original brightness; or otherwise—a perpetual spirit of resistance, cherished as a safeguard, might perhaps in the end destroy the equipoise; firmness would become pride and self-assurance; and the soft, sweet, feminine texture of the mind, settle into rigidity. Is there then no sanctuary for such a mind?—Where shall it find a refuge from the world?—Where seek for strength against itself? Where, but in heaven?

Camiola, in Massinger's Maid of Honor, is said to emulate Portia; and the real story of Camiola (for she is an historical personage) is very beautiful. She was a lady of Messina, who lived in the beginning of the fourteenth century; and was the contemporary of Queen Joanna, of Petrarch and Boccaccio. It fell out in those days, that Prince Orlando of Arragon, the younger brother of the King of Sicily, having taken the command of a naval armament against the Neapolitans, was defeated, wounded, taken prisoner, and confined by Robert of Naples (the father of Queen Joanna) in one of his strongest castles. As the prince had distinguished himself by his enmity to the Neapolitans, and by many exploits against them, his ransom was fixed at an exorbitant sum, and his captivity was unusually severe; while the King of Sicily, who had some cause of displeasure against his brother, and imputed to him the defeat of his armament, refused either to negotiate for his release, or to pay the ransom demanded.

Orlando, who was celebrated for his fine person and reckless valour, was apparently doomed to languish away the rest of his life in a dungeon, when Camiola Turinga, a rich Sicilian heiress, devoted the half of her fortune to release him. But as such an action might expose her to evil comments, she made it a condition, that Orlando should marry her. The prince gladly accepted the terms, and sent her the contract of marriage, signed by his hand; but no sooner was he at liberty, than he refused to fulfil it, and even denied all knowledge of his benefactress.

Camiola appealed to the tribunal of state, produced the written contract, and described the obligations she had heaped on this ungrateful and ungenerous man; sentence was given against him, and he was adjudged to Camiola, not only as her rightful husband, but as a property which, according to the laws of war in that age, she had purchased with her gold. The day of marriage was fixed; Orlando presented himself with a splendid retinue; Camiola also appeared, decorated as for her bridal; but instead of bestowing her hand on the recreant, she reproached him in the presence of all with his breach of faith, declared her utter contempt for his baseness; and then freely bestowing on him the sum paid for his ransom, as a gift worthy of his mean soul, she turned away, and dedicated herself and her heart to heaven. In this resolution she remained inflexible, though the king and all the court united in entreaties to soften her. She took the veil; and Orlando, henceforth regarded as one who had stained his knighthood, and violated his faith, passed the rest of his life as a dishonored man, and died in obscurity.

Camiola, in "The Maid of Honor," is, like Portia, a wealthy heiress, surrounded by suitors, and "queen o'er herself:" the character is constructed upon the same principles, as great intellectual power, magnanimity of temper, and feminine tenderness; but not only do pain and disquiet, and the change induced by unkind and inauspicious influences, enter into this sweet picture to mar and cloud its happy beauty,—but the portrait itself may be pronounced out of drawing;—for Massinger apparently had not sufficient delicacy of sentiment to work out his own conception of the character with perfect consistency. In his adaptation of the story he represents the mutual love of Orlando and Camiola as existing previous to the captivity of the former, and on his part declared with many vows of eternal faith, yet she requires a written contract of marriage before she liberates him. It will perhaps be said that she has penetrated his weakness, and anticipates his falsehood: miserable excuse!—how could a magnanimous woman love a man, whose falsehood she believes but possible?—or loving him, how could she deign to secure herself by such means against the consequences? Shakspeare and Nature never committed such a solecism. Camiola doubts before she has been wronged; the firmness and assurance in herself border on harshness. What in Portia is the gentle wisdom of a noble nature, appears, in Camiola, too much a spirit of calculation: it savors a little of the counting house. As Portia is the heiress of Belmont, and Camiola a merchant's daughter, the distinction may be proper and characteristic, but it is not in favor of Camiola. The contrast may be thus illustrated:


You have heard of Bertoldo's captivity and the king's neglect, the greatness of his ransom; fifty thousand crowns, Adorni! Two parts of my estate! Yet I so love the gentleman, for to you I will confess my weakness, that I purpose now, when he is forsaken by the king and his own hopes, to ransom him.

Maid of Honor, Act. 3.


What sum owes he the Jew?


For me—three thousand ducats.


What! no more! Pay him six thousand and deface the bond, Double six thousand, and then treble that, Before a friend of this description Shall lose a hair thro' my Bassanio's fault. ——You shall have gold To pay the petty debt twenty times o'er.

Merchant of Venice.

Camiola, who is a Sicilian, might as well have been born at Amsterdam: Portia could have only existed in Italy. Portia is profound as she is brilliant; Camiola is sensible and sententious; she asserts her dignity very successfully; but we cannot for a moment imagine Portia as reduced to the necessity of asserting hers. The idiot Sylli, in "The Maid of Honor," who follows Camiola like one of the deformed dwarfs of old time, is an intolerable violation of taste and propriety, and it sensibly lowers our impression of the principal character. Shakspeare would never have placed Sir Andrew Aguecheek in constant and immediate approximation with such a woman as Portia.

Lastly, the charm of the poetical coloring is wholly wanting in Camiola, so that when she is placed in contrast with the glowing eloquence, the luxuriant grace, the buoyant spirit of Portia, the effect is somewhat that of coldness and formality. Notwithstanding the dignity and the beauty of Massinger's delineation, and the noble self-devotion of Camiola, which I acknowledge and admire, the two characters will admit of no comparison as sources of contemplation and pleasure.

* * * * *

It is observable that something of the intellectual brilliance of Portia is reflected on the other female characters of the "Merchant of Venice," so as to preserve in the midst of contrast a certain harmony and keeping. Thus Jessica, though properly kept subordinate, is certainly

A most beautiful pagan—a most sweet Jew.

She cannot be called a sketch—or if a sketch, she is like one of those dashed off in glowing colors from the rainbow pallette of a Rubens; she has a rich tinge of orientalism shed over her, worthy of her eastern origin. In any other play, and in any other companionship than that of the matchless Portia, Jessica would make a very beautiful heroine of herself. Nothing can be more poetically, more classically fanciful and elegant, than the scenes between her and Lorenzo;—the celebrated moonlight dialogue, for instance, which we all have by heart. Every sentiment she utters interests us for her:—more particularly her bashful self-reproach, when flying in the disguise of a page;—

I am glad 'tis night, you do not look upon me, For I am much asham'd of my exchange; But love is blind, and lovers cannot see The pretty follies that themselves commit; For if they could, Cupid himself would blush To see me thus transformed to a boy.

And the enthusiastic and generous testimony to the superior graces and accomplishments of Portia comes with a peculiar grace from her lips.

Why, if two gods should play some heavenly match. And on the wager lay two earthly women, And Portia one, there must be something else Pawned with the other; for the poor rude world Hath not her fellow.

We should not, however, easily pardon her for cheating her father with so much indifference, but for the perception that Shylock values his daughter far beneath his wealth.

I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear!—would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin!

Nerissa is a good specimen of a common genus of characters; she is a clever confidential waiting-woman, who has caught a little of her lady's elegance and romance; she affects to be lively and sententious, falls in love, and makes her favor conditional on the fortune of the caskets, and in short mimics her mistress with good emphasis and discretion. Nerissa and the gay talkative Gratiano are as well matched as the incomparable Portia and her magnificent and captivating lover.


The character of Isabella, considered as a poetical delineation, is less mixed than that of Portia; and the dissimilarity between the two appears, at first view, so complete that we can scarce believe that the same elements enter into the composition of each. Yet so it is; they are portrayed as equally wise, gracious, virtuous, fair, and young; we perceive in both the same exalted principle and firmness of character; the same depth of reflection and persuasive eloquence; the same self-denying generosity and capability of strong affections; and we must wonder at that marvellous power by which qualities and endowments, essentially and closely allied, are so combined and modified as to produce a result altogether different. "O Nature! O Shakespeare! which of ye drew from the other?"

Isabella is distinguished from Portia, and strongly individualized by a certain moral grandeur, a saintly grace, something of vestal dignity and purity, which render her less attractive and more imposing; she is "severe in youthful beauty," and inspires a reverence which would have placed her beyond the daring of one unholy wish or thought, except in such a man as Angelo—

O cunning enemy, that, to catch a saint, With saints dost bait thy hook!

This impression of her character is conveyed from the very first, when Lucio, the libertine jester, whose coarse audacious wit checks at every feather, thus expresses his respect for her,—

I would not—though 'tis my familiar sin With maids to seem the lapwing, and to jest Tongue far from heart—play with all virgins so. I hold you as a thing enskyed, and sainted; By your renouncement an immortal spirit, And to be talked with in sincerity, As with a saint.

A strong distinction between Isabella and Portia is produced by the circumstances in which they are respectively placed. Portia is a high-born heiress, "Lord of a fair mansion, master of her servants, queen o'er herself;" easy and decided, as one born to command, and used to it. Isabella has also the innate dignity which renders her "queen o'er herself," but she has lived far from the world and its pomps and pleasures; she is one of a consecrated sisterhood—a novice of St. Clare; the power to command obedience and to confer happiness are to her unknown. Portia is a splendid creature, radiant with confidence, hope, and joy. She is like the orange-tree, hung at once with golden fruit and luxuriant flowers, which has expanded into bloom and fragrance beneath favoring skies, and has been nursed into beauty by the sunshine and the dews of heaven. Isabella is like a stately and graceful cedar, towering on some alpine cliff, unbowed and unscathed amid the storm. She gives us the impression of one who has passed under the ennobling discipline of suffering and self-denial: a melancholy charm tempers the natural vigor of her mind: her spirit seems to stand upon an eminence, and look down upon the world as if already enskyed and sainted; and yet when brought in contact with that world which she inwardly despises, she shrinks back with all the timidity natural to her cloistral education.

This union of natural grace and grandeur with the habits and sentiments of a recluse,—of austerity of life with gentleness of manner,—of inflexible moral principle with humility and even bashfulness of deportment, is delineated with the most beautiful and wonderful consistency. Thus when her brother sends to her, to entreat her mediation, her first feeling is fear, and a distrust in her own powers:

... Alas! what poor ability's in me To do him good?


Essay the power you have.


My power, alas! I doubt.

In the first scene with Angelo she seems divided between her love for her brother and her sense of his fault; between her self-respect and her maidenly bashfulness. She begins with a kind of hesitation "at war 'twixt will and will not:" and when Angelo quotes the law, and insists on the justice of his sentence, and the responsibility of his station, her native sense of moral rectitude and severe principles takes the lead, and she shrinks back:—

O just, but severe law! I had a brother then—Heaven keep your honor! [Retiring.

Excited and encouraged by Lucio, and supported by her own natural spirit, she returns to the charge,—she gains energy and self-possession as she proceeds, grows more earnest and passionate from the difficulty she encounters, and displays that eloquence and power of reasoning for which we had been already prepared by Claudio's first allusion to her:—

... In her youth There is a prone and speechless dialect, Such as moves men; besides, she hath prosperous art, When she will play with reason and discourse, And well she can persuade.

It is a curious coincidence that Isabella, exhorting Angelo to mercy, avails herself of precisely the same arguments, and insists on the self-same topics which Portia addresses to Shylock in her celebrated speech; but how beautifully and how truly is the distinction marked! how like, and yet how unlike! Portia's eulogy on mercy is a piece of heavenly rhetoric; it falls on the ear with a solemn measured harmony; it is the voice of a descended angel addressing an inferior nature: if not premeditated, it is at least part of a preconcerted scheme; while Isabella's pleadings are poured from the abundance of her heart in broken sentences, and with the artless vehemence of one who feels that life and death hang upon her appeal. This will be best understood by placing the corresponding passages in immediate comparison with each other.


The quality of mercy is not strain'd, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven, Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd; It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes: 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown; His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings. But mercy is above this sceptred sway— It is enthron'd in the hearts of kings.


Well, believe this, No ceremony that to great ones 'longs, Not the king's crown, nor the deputed sword, The marshal's truncheon, nor the judge's robe. Become them with one half so good a grace As mercy does.


Consider this— That in the course of justice, none of us Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy.


... Alas! alas! Why all the souls that were, were forfeit once; And He, that might the 'vantage best have took, Found out the remedy. How would you be, If He, which is the top of judgment, should But judge you as you are? O, think on that, And mercy then will breathe within your lips, Like man new made!

The beautiful things which Isabella is made to utter, have, like the sayings of Portia, become proverbial; but in spirit and character they are as distinct as are the two women. In all that Portia says, we confess the power of a rich poetical imagination, blended with a quick practical spirit of observation, familiar with the surfaces of things; while there is a profound yet simple morality, a depth of religious feeling, a touch of melancholy, in Isabella's sentiments, and something earnest and authoritative in the manner and expression, as though they had grown up in her mind from long and deep meditation in the silence and solitude of her convent cell:—

O it is excellent To have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous To use it like a giant.

Could great men thunder, As Jove himself does, Jove would ne'er be quiet: For every pelting, petty officer Would use his heaven for thunder; nothing but thunder Merciful Heaven! Thou rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt Split'st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak Than the soft myrtle. O but man, proud man! Drest in a little brief authority, Most ignorant of what he's most assured, His glassy essence, like an angry ape, Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven, As make the angels weep.

Great men may jest with saints, 'tis wit in them; But in the less, foul profanation. That in the captain's but a choleric word, Which in the soldier is flat blasphemy.

Authority, although it err like others, Hath yet a kind of medicine in itself That skins the vice o' the top. Go to you, bosom; Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know That's like my brother's fault: if it confess A natural guiltiness such as his is, Let it not sound a thought upon your tongue Against my brother's life.

Let me be ignorant, and in nothing good, But graciously to know I am no better.

The sense of death is most in apprehension; And the poor beetle that we tread upon, In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great As when a giant dies.

'Tis not impossible But one, the wicked'st caitiff on the ground, May seem as shy, as grave, as just, as absolute As Angelo; even so may Angelo, In all his dressings, characts, titles, forms, Be an arch villain.

Her fine powers of reasoning, and that natural uprightness and purity which no sophistry can warp, and no allurement betray, are farther displayed in the second scene with Angelo.


What would you do?


As much for my poor brother as myself; That is, were I under the terms of death, The impression of keen whips I'd wear as rubies, And strip myself to death as to a bed That, longing, I have been sick for, ere I'd yield My body up to shame.


Then must your brother die.


And 'twere the cheaper way; Better it were a brother died at once, Than that a sister, by redeeming him, Should die forever.


Were you not then cruel as the sentence, That you have slander'd so!


Ignominy in ransom, and free pardon, Are of two houses: lawful mercy is Nothing akin to foul redemption.


You seem'd of late to make the law a tyrant; And rather proved the sliding of your brother A merriment than a vice.


O pardon me, my lord; it oft falls out, To have what we'd have, we speak not what we mean: I something do excuse the thing I hate, For his advantage that I dearly love.

Towards the conclusion of the play we have another instance of that rigid sense of justice, which is a prominent part of Isabella's character, and almost silences her earnest intercession for her brother, when his fault is placed between her plea and her conscience. The Duke condemns the villain Angelo to death, and his wife Mariana entreats Isabella to plead for him.

Sweet Isabel, take my part, Lend me your knees, and all my life to come I'll lend you all my life to do you service.

Isabella remains silent, and Mariana reiterates her prayer.


Sweet Isabel, do yet but kneel by me, Hold up your hands, say nothing, I'll speak all! O Isabel! will you not lend a knee?

Isabella, thus urged, breaks silence and appeals to the Duke, not with supplication, or persuasion, but with grave argument, and a kind of dignified humility and conscious power, which are finely characteristic of the individual woman.

Most bounteous Sir, Look, if it please you, on this man condemn'd, As if my brother liv'd; I partly think A due sincerity govern'd his deeds Till he did look on me; since it is so Let him not die. My brother had but justice, In that he did the thing for which he died. For Angelo, His art did not o'ertake his bad intent, That perish'd by the way: thoughts are no subjects. Intents, but merely thoughts.

In this instance, as in the one before mentioned, Isabella's conscientiousness is overcome by the only sentiment which ought to temper justice into mercy, the power of affection and sympathy.

Isabella's confession of the general frailty of her sex, has a peculiar softness, beauty, and propriety. She admits the imputation with all the sympathy of woman for woman; yet with all the dignity of one who felt her own superiority to the weakness she acknowledges.


Nay, women are frail too.


Ay, as the glasses where they view themselves; Which are as easy broke as they make forms. Women! help heaven! men their creation mar In profiting by them. Nay, call us ten times frail, For we are soft as our complexions are, And credulous to false prints.

Nor should we fail to remark the deeper interest which is thrown round Isabella, by one part of her character, which is betrayed rather than exhibited in the progress of the action; and for which we are not at first prepared, though it is so perfectly natural. It is the strong under-current of passion and enthusiasm flowing beneath this calm and saintly self-possession; it is the capacity for high feeling and generous and strong indignation, veiled beneath the sweet austere composure of the religious recluse, which, by the very force of contrast, powerfully impress the imagination. As we see in real life that where, from some external or habitual cause, a strong control is exercised over naturally quick feelings and an impetuous temper, they display themselves with a proportionate vehemence when that restraint is removed; so the very violence with which her passions burst forth, when opposed or under the influence of strong excitement, is admirably characteristic.

Thus in her exclamation, when she first allows herself to perceive Angelo's vile design—


Ha! little honor to be much believed, And most pernicious purpose;—seeming!—seeming I will proclaim thee, Angelo: look for it! Sign me a present pardon for my brother, Or with an outstretched throat I'll tell the world Aloud, what man thou art!

And again, where she finds that the "outward tainted deputy," has deceived her—

O I will to him, and pluck out his eyes! Unhappy Claudio! wretched Isabel! Injurious world! most damned Angelo!

She places at first a strong and high-souled confidence in her brother's fortitude and magnanimity, judging him by her own lofty spirit:

I'll to my brother; Though he hath fallen by prompture of the blood, Yet hath he in him such a mind of honor, That had he twenty heads to tender down, On twenty bloody blocks, he'd yield them up Before his sister should her body stoop To such abhorr'd pollution.

But when her trust in his honor is deceived by his momentary weakness, her scorn has a bitterness, and her indignation a force of expression almost fearful; and both are carried to an extreme, which is perfectly in character:

O faithless coward! O dishonest wretch! Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice? Is't not a kind of incest to take life From thine own sister's shame? What should I think? Heaven shield, my mother play'd my father fair! For such a warped slip of wilderness Ne'er issued from his blood. Take my defiance; Die! perish! might but my bending down, Reprieve thee from thy fate, it should proceed. I'll pray a thousand prayers for thy death. No word to save thee.

The whole of this scene with Claudio is inexpressibly grand in the poetry and the sentiment; and the entire play abounds in those passages and phrases which must have become trite from familiar and constant use and abuse, if their wisdom and unequalled beauty did not invest them with an immortal freshness and vigor, and a perpetual charm.

The story of Measure for Measure is a tradition of great antiquity, of which there are several versions, narrative and dramatic. A contemptible tragedy, the Promos and Cassandra of George Whetstone, is supposed, from various coincidences, to have furnished Shakspeare with the groundwork of the play; but the character of Isabella is, in conception and execution, all his own. The commentators have collected with infinite industry all the sources of the plot; but to the grand creation of Isabella, they award either silence or worse than silence. Johnson and the rest of the black-letter crew, pass over her without a word. One critic, a lady-critic too, whose name I will be so merciful as to suppress, treats Isabella as a coarse vixen. Hazlitt, with that strange perversion of sentiment and want of taste which sometimes mingle with his piercing and powerful intellect, dismisses Isabella with a slight remark, that "we are not greatly enamoured of her rigid chastity, nor can feel much confidence in the virtue that is sublimely good at another's expense." What shall we answer to such criticism? Upon what ground can we read the play from beginning to end, and doubt the angel-purity of Isabella, or contemplate her possible lapse from virtue? Such gratuitous mistrust is here a sin against the light of heaven.

Having waste ground enough, Shall we desire to raze the sanctuary, And pitch our evils there?

Professor Richardson is more just, and truly sums up her character as "amiable, pious, sensible, resolute, determined, and eloquent:" but his remarks are rather superficial.

Schlegel's observations are also brief and general, and in no way distinguish Isabella from many other characters; neither did his plan allow him to be more minute. Of the play altogether, he observes very beautifully, "that the title Measure for Measure is in reality a misnomer, the sense of the whole being properly the triumph of mercy over strict justice:" but it is also true that there is "an original sin in the nature of the subject, which prevents us from taking a cordial interest in it."[12] Of all the characters, Isabella alone has our sympathy. But though she triumphs in the conclusion, her triumph is not produced in a pleasing manner. There are too many disguises and tricks, too many "by-paths and indirect crooked ways," to conduct us to the natural and foreseen catastrophe, which the Duke's presence throughout renders inevitable. This Duke seems to have a predilection for bringing about justice by a most unjustifiable succession of falsehoods and counterplots. He really deserves Lucio's satirical designation, who somewhere styles him "The Fantastical Duke of Dark Corners." But Isabella is ever consistent in her pure and upright simplicity, and in the midst of this simulation, expresses a characteristic disapprobation of the part she is made to play,

To speak so indirectly I am loth: I would say the truth.[13]

She yields to the supposed Friar with a kind of forced docility, because her situation as a religious novice, and his station, habit, and authority, as her spiritual director, demand this sacrifice. In the end we are made to feel that her transition from the convent to the throne has but placed this noble creature in her natural sphere: for though Isabella, as Duchess of Vienna, could not more command our highest reverence than Isabella, the novice of Saint Clare, yet a wider range of usefulness and benevolence, of trial and action, was better suited to the large capacity, the ardent affections, the energetic intellect, and firm principle of such a woman as Isabella, than the walls of a cloister. The philosophical Duke observes in the very first scene—

Spirits are not finely touched, But to fine issues: nor nature never lends The smallest scruple of her excellence, But like a thrifty goddess she determines, Herself the glory of a creditor, Both thanks and use.[14]

This profound and beautiful sentiment is illustrated in the character and destiny of Isabella. She says, of herself, that "she has spirit to act whatever her heart approves;" and what her heart approves we know.

In the convent, (which may stand here poetically for any narrow and obscure situation in which such a woman might be placed,) Isabella would not have been unhappy, but happiness would have been the result of an effort, or of the concentration of her great mental powers to some particular purpose; as St. Theresa's intellect, enthusiasm, tenderness, restless activity, and burning eloquence, governed by one overpowering sentiment of devotion, rendered her the most extraordinary of saints. Isabella, like St. Theresa, complains that the rules of her order are not sufficiently severe, and from the same cause,—that from the consciousness of strong intellectual and imaginative power, and of overflowing sensibility, she desires a more "strict restraint," or, from the continual, involuntary struggle against the trammels imposed, feels its necessity.


And have you nuns no further privileges?


Are not these large enough?


Yes, truly; I speak, not as desiring more, But rather wishing a more strict restraint Upon the sisterhood!

Such women as Desdemona and Ophelia would have passed their lives in the seclusion of a nunnery, without wishing, like Isabella, for stricter bonds, or planning, like St. Theresa, the reformation of their order, simply, because any restraint would have been efficient, as far as they were concerned. Isabella, "dedicate to nothing temporal," might have found resignation through self government, or have become a religious enthusiast: while "place and greatness" would have appeared to her strong and upright mind, only a more extended field of action, a trust and a trial. The mere trappings of power and state, the gemmed coronal, the ermined robe, she would have regarded as the outward emblems of her earthly profession; and would have worn them with as much simplicity as her novice's hood and scapular; still, under whatever guise she might tread this thorny world—the same "angel of light."


Shakspeare has exhibited in Beatrice a spirited and faithful portrait of the fine lady of his own time. The deportment, language, manners, and allusions, are those of a particular class in a particular age; but the individual and dramatic character which forms the groundwork, is strongly discriminated; and being taken from general nature, belongs to every age. In Beatrice, high intellect and high animal spirits meet, and excite each other like fire and air. In her wit (which is brilliant without being imaginative) there is a touch of insolence, not unfrequent in women when the wit predominates over reflection and imagination. In her temper, too, there is a slight infusion of the termagant; and her satirical humor plays with such an unrespective levity over all subjects alike, that it required a profound knowledge of women to bring such a character within the pale of our sympathy. But Beatrice, though wilful, is not wayward; she is volatile, not unfeeling. She has not only an exuberance of wit and gayety, but of heart, and soul, and energy of spirit; and is no more like the fine ladies of modern comedy,—whose wit consists in a temporary allusion, or a play upon words, and whose petulance is displayed in a toss of the head, a flirt of the fan, or a flourish of the pocket handkerchief,—than one of our modern dandies is like Sir Philip Sydney.

In Beatrice, Shakspeare has contrived that the poetry of the character shall not only soften, but heighten its comic effect. We are not only inclined to forgive Beatrice all her scornful airs, all her biting jests, all her assumption of superiority; but they amuse and delight us the more, when we find her, with all the headlong simplicity of a child, falling at once into the snare laid for her affections; when we see her, who thought a man of God's making not good enough for her, who disdained to be o'ermastered by "a piece of valiant dust," stooping like the rest of her sex, vailing her proud spirit, and taming her wild heart to the loving hand of him whom she had scorned, flouted, and misused, "past the endurance of a block." And we are yet more completely won by her generous enthusiastic attachment to her cousin. When the father of Hero believes the tale of her guilt; when Claudio, her lover, without remorse or a lingering doubt, consigns her to shame; when the Friar remains silent, and the generous Benedick himself knows not what to say, Beatrice, confident in her affections, and guided only by the impulses of her own feminine heart, sees through the inconsistency, the impossibility of the charge, and exclaims, without a moment's hesitation,

O, on my soul, my cousin is belied!

Schlegel, in his remarks on the play of "Much Ado about nothing," has given us an amusing instance of that sense of reality with which we are impressed by Shakspeare's characters. He says of Benedick and Beatrice, as if he had known them personally, that the exclusive direction of their pointed raillery against each other "is a proof of a growing inclination." This is not unlikely; and the same inference would lead us to suppose that this mutual inclination had commenced before the opening of the play. The very first words uttered by Beatrice are an inquiry after Benedick, though expressed with her usual arch impertinence:—

I pray you, is Signior Montanto returned from the wars, or no?

I pray you, how many hath he killed and eaten in these wars? But how many hath he killed? for indeed I promised to eat all of his killing.

And in the unprovoked hostility with which she falls upon him in his absence, in the pertinacity and bitterness of her satire, there is certainly great argument that he occupies much more of her thoughts than she would have been willing to confess, even to herself. In the same manner Benedick betrays a lurking partiality for his fascinating enemy; he shows that he has looked upon her with no careless eye, when he says,

There's her cousin, (meaning Beatrice,) an' she were not possessed with a fury, excels her as much in beauty as the first of May does the last of December.

Infinite skill, as well as humor, is shown in making this pair of airy beings the exact counterpart of each other; but of the two portraits, that of Benedick is by far the most pleasing, because the independence and gay indifference of temper, the laughing defiance of love and marriage, the satirical freedom of expression, common to both, are more becoming to the masculine than to the feminine character. Any woman might love such a cavalier as Benedick, and be proud of his affection; his valor, his wit, and his gayety sit so gracefully upon him! and his light scoffs against the power of love are but just sufficient to render more piquant the conquest of this "heretic in despite of beauty." But a man might well be pardoned who should shrink from encountering such a spirit as that of Beatrice, unless, indeed, he had "served an apprenticeship to the taming school." The wit of Beatrice is less good-humored than that of Benedick; or, from the difference of sex, appears so. It is observable that the power is throughout on her side, and the sympathy and interest on his: which, by reversing the usual order of things, seems to excite us against the grain, if I may use such an expression. In all their encounters she constantly gets the better of him, and the gentleman's wits go off halting, if he is not himself fairly hors de combat. Beatrice, woman-like, generally has the first word, and will have the last. Thus, when they first meet, she begins by provoking the merry warfare:—

I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick; nobody marks you.


What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?


Is it possible Disdain should die, while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.

It is clear that she cannot for a moment endure his neglect, and he can as little tolerate her scorn. Nothing that Benedick addresses to Beatrice personally can equal the malicious force of some of her attacks upon him: he is either restrained by a feeling of natural gallantry, little as she deserves the consideration due to her sex, (for a female satirist ever places herself beyond the pale of such forbearance,) or he is subdued by her superior volubility. He revenges himself, however, in her absence: he abuses her with such a variety of comic invective, and pours forth his pent-up wrath with such a ludicrous extravagance and exaggeration, that he betrays at once how deep is his mortification, and how unreal his enmity.

In the midst of all this tilting and sparring of their nimble and fiery wits, we find them infinitely anxious for the good opinion of each other, and secretly impatient of each other's scorn: but Beatrice is the most truly indifferent of the two; the most assured of herself. The comic effect produced by their mutual attachment, which, however natural and expected, comes upon us with all the force of a surprise, cannot be surpassed: and how exquisitely characteristic the mutual avowal!


By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me.


Do not swear by it, and eat it.


I will swear by it that you love me; and I will make him eat it, that says, I love not you.


Will you not eat your word?


With no sauce that can be devised to it: I protest, I love thee.


Why, then, God forgive me!


What offence, sweet Beatrice?


You stayed me in a happy hour. I was about to protest, I loved you.


And do it with all thy heart.


I love you with so much of my heart, that there is none left to protest.

But here again the dominion rests with Beatrice, and she appears in a less amiable light than her lover. Benedick surrenders his whole heart to her and to his new passion. The revulsion of feeling even causes it to overflow in an excess of fondness; but with Beatrice temper has still the mastery. The affection of Benedick induces him to challenge his intimate friend for her sake, but the affection of Beatrice does not prevent her from risking the life of her lover.

The character of Hero is well contrasted with that of Beatrice, and their mutual attachment is very beautiful and natural. When they are both on the scene together, Hero has but little to say for herself: Beatrice asserts the rule of a master spirit, eclipses her by her mental superiority, abashes her by her raillery, dictates to her, answers for her, and would fain inspire her gentle-hearted cousin with some of her own assurance.

Yes, faith; it is my cousin's duty to make a curtsey, and say, "Father, as it please you;" but yet, for all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsey, and, "Father, as it please me."

But Shakspeare knew well how to make one character subordinate to another, without sacrificing the slightest portion of its effect; and Hero, added to her grace and softness, and all the interest which attaches to her as the sentimental heroine of the play, possesses an intellectual beauty of her own. When she has Beatrice at an advantage, she repays her with interest, in the severe, but most animated and elegant picture she draws of her cousin's imperious character and unbridled levity of tongue. The portrait is a little overcharged, because administered as a corrective, and intended to be overheard.

But nature never fram'd a woman's heart Of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice: Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes, Misprising what they look on; and her wit Values itself so highly, that to her All matter else seems weak; she cannot love, Nor take no shape nor project of affection, She is so self-endeared.


Sure, sure, such carping is not commendable.


No: not to be so odd, and from all fashions, As Beatrice is cannot be commendable: But who dare tell her so? If I should speak, She'd mock me into air: O she would laugh me Out of myself, press me to death with wit. Therefore let Benedick, like cover'd fire, Consume away in sighs, waste inwardly: It were a better death than die with mocks, Which is as bad as die with tickling.

Beatrice never appears to greater advantage than in her soliloquy after leaving her concealment "in the pleached bower where honeysuckles, ripened by the sun, forbid the sun to enter;" she exclaims, after listening to this tirade against herself,—

What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true? Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much?

The sense of wounded vanity is lost in bitter feelings, and she is infinitely more struck by what is said in praise of Benedick, and the history of his supposed love for her than by the dispraise of herself. The immediate success of the trick is a most natural consequence of the self-assurance and magnanimity of her character; she is so accustomed to assert dominion over the spirits of others, that she cannot suspect the possibility of a plot laid against herself.

A haughty, excitable, and violent temper is another of the characteristics of Beatrice; but there is more of impulse than of passion in her vehemence. In the marriage scene where she has beheld her gentle-spirited cousin,—whom she loves the more for those very qualities which are most unlike her own,—slandered, deserted, and devoted to public shame, her indignation, and the eagerness with which she hungers and thirsts after revenge, are, like the rest of her character, open, ardent, impetuous, but not deep or implacable. When she bursts into that outrageous speech—

Is he not approved in the height a villain that hath slandered, scorned, dishonored my kinswoman? O that I were a man! What! bear her in hand until they come to take hands; and then, with public accusation, uncovered slander, unmitigated rancor—O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market-place!

And when she commands her lover, as the first proof of his affection, "to kill Claudio," the very consciousness of the exaggeration,—of the contrast between the real good-nature of Beatrice and the fierce tenor of her language, keeps alive the comic effect, mingling the ludicrous with the serious. It is remarkable that, notwithstanding the point and vivacity of the dialogue, few of the speeches of Beatrice are capable of a general application, or engrave themselves distinctly on the memory; they contain more mirth than matter; and though wit be the predominant feature in the dramatic portrait, Beatrice more charms and dazzles us by what she is than by what she says. It is not merely her sparkling repartees and saucy jests, it is the soul of wit, and the spirit of gayety in forming the whole character,—looking out from her brilliant eyes, and laughing on her full lips that pout with scorn,—which we have before us, moving and full of life. On the whole, we dismiss Benedick and Beatrice to their matrimonial bonds rather with a sense of amusement than a feeling of congratulation or sympathy; rather with an acknowledgment that they are well-matched, and worthy of each other than with any well-founded expectation of their domestic tranquillity. If, as Benedick asserts, they are both "too wise to woo peaceably," it may be added that both are too wise, too witty, and too wilful to live peaceably together. We have some misgivings about Beatrice—some apprehensions that poor Benedick will not escape the "predestinated scratched face," which he had foretold to him who should win and wear this quick-witted and pleasant-spirited lady; yet when we recollect that to the wit and imperious temper of Beatrice is united a magnanimity of spirit which would naturally place her far above all selfishness, and all paltry struggles for power—when we perceive, in the midst of her sarcastic levity and volubility of tongue, so much of generous affection, and such a high sense of female virtue and honor, we are inclined to hope the best. We think it possible that though the gentleman may now and then swear, and the lady scold, the native good-humor of the one, the really fine understanding of the other, and the value they so evidently attach to each other's esteem, will ensure them a tolerable portion of domestic felicity, and in this hope we leave them.


I come now to Rosalind, whom I should have ranked before Beatrice, inasmuch as the greater degree of her sex's softness and sensibility, united with equal wit and intellect, give her the superiority as a woman; but that, as a dramatic character, she is inferior in force. The portrait is one of infinitely more delicacy and variety, but of less strength and depth. It is easy to seize on the prominent features in the mind of Beatrice, but extremely difficult to catch and fix the more fanciful graces of Rosalind. She is like a compound of essences, so volatile in their nature, and so exquisitely blended, that on any attempt to analyze them, they seem to escape us. To what else shall we compare her, all-enchanting as she is?—to the silvery summer clouds which, even while we gaze on them, shift their hues and forms dissolving into air, and light, and rainbow showers?—to the May-morning, flush with opening blossoms and roseate dews, and "charm of earliest birds?"—to some wild and beautiful melody, such as some shepherd boy might "pipe to Amarillis in the shade?"—to a mountain streamlet, now smooth as a mirror in which the skies may glass themselves, and anon leaping and sparkling in the sunshine—or rather to the very sunshine itself? for so her genial spirit touches into life and beauty whatever it shines on!

But this impression, though produced by the complete development of the character, and in the end possessing the whole fancy, is not immediate. The first introduction of Rosalind is less striking than interesting; we see her a dependant, almost a captive, in the house of her usurping uncle; her genial spirits are subdued by her situation, and the remembrance of her banished father her playfulness is under a temporary eclipse.

I pray thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry!

is an adjuration which Rosalind needed not when once at liberty, and sporting "under the greenwood tree." The sensibility and even pensiveness of her demeanor in the first instance, render her archness and gayety afterwards, more graceful and more fascinating.

Though Rosalind is a princess, she is a princess of Arcady; and notwithstanding the charming effect produced by her first scenes, we scarcely ever think of her with a reference to them, or associate her with a court, and the artificial appendages of her rank. She was not made to "lord it o'er a fair mansion," and take state upon her like the all-accomplished Portia; but to breathe the free air of heaven, and frolic among green leaves. She was not made to stand the siege of daring profligacy, and oppose high action and high passion to the assaults of adverse fortune, like Isabel; but to "fleet the time carelessly as they did i' the golden age." She was not made to bandy wit with lords, and tread courtly measures with plumed and warlike cavaliers, like Beatrice; but to dance on the green sward, and "murmur among living brooks a music sweeter than their own."

Though sprightliness is the distinguishing characteristic of Rosalind, as of Beatrice, yet we find her much more nearly allied to Portia in temper and intellect. The tone of her mind is, like Portia's, genial and buoyant: she has something, too, of her softness and sentiment; there is the same confiding abandonment of self in her affections; but the characters are otherwise as distinct as the situations are dissimilar. The age, the manners, the circumstance in which Shakspeare has placed his Portia, are not beyond the bounds of probability; nay, have a certain reality and locality. We fancy her a contemporary of the Raffaelles and the Ariostos; the sea-wedded Venice, its merchants and Magnificos,—the Rialto, and the long canals,—rise up before us when we think of her. But Rosalind is surrounded with the purely ideal and imaginative; the reality is in the characters and in the sentiments, not in the circumstances or situation. Portia is dignified, splendid, and romantic; Rosalind is playful, pastoral, and picturesque: both are in the highest degree poetical, but the one is epic and the other lyric.

Every thing about Rosalind breathes of "youth and youth's sweet prime." She is fresh as the morning, sweet as the dew-awakened blossoms, and light as the breeze that plays among them. She is as witty, as voluble, as sprightly as Beatrice; but in a style altogether distinct. In both, the wit is equally unconscious; but in Beatrice it plays about us like the lightning, dazzling but also alarming; while the wit of Rosalind bubbles up and sparkles like the living fountain, refreshing all around. Her volubility is like the bird's song; it is the outpouring of a heart filled to overflowing with life, love, and joy, and all sweet and affectionate impulses. She has as much tenderness as mirth, and in her most petulant raillery there is a touch of softness—"By this hand, it will not hurt a fly!" As her vivacity never lessens our impression of her sensibility, so she wears her masculine attire without the slightest impugnment of her delicacy. Shakspeare did not make the modesty of his women depend on their dress, as we shall see further when we come to Viola and Imogen. Rosalind has in truth "no doublet and hose in her disposition." How her heart seems to throb and flutter under her page's vest! What depth of love in her passion for Orlando! whether disguised beneath a saucy playfulness, or breaking forth with a fond impatience, or half betrayed in that beautiful scene where she faints at the sight of his 'kerchief stained with his blood! Here her recovery of her self-possession—her fears lest she should have revealed her sex—her presence of mind, and quick-witted excuse—

I pray you, tell your brother how well I counterfeited.

and the characteristic playfulness which seems to return so naturally with her recovered senses,—are all as amusing as consistent. Then how beautifully is the dialogue managed between herself and Orlando! how well she assumes the airs of a saucy page, without throwing off her feminine sweetness! How her wit flutters free as air over every subject! With what a careless grace, yet with what exquisite propriety!

For innocence hath a privilege in her To dignify arch jests and laughing eyes.

And if the freedom of some of the expressions used by Rosalind or Beatrice be objected to, let it be remembered that this was not the fault of Shakspeare or the women, but generally of the age. Portia, Beatrice, Rosalind, and the rest lived in times when more importance was attached to things than to words; now we think more of words than of things; and happy are we in these later days of super-refinement, if we are to be saved by our verbal morality. But this is meddling with the province of the melancholy Jaques, and our argument is Rosalind.

The impression left upon our hearts and minds by the character of Rosalind—by the mixture of playfulness, sensibility, and what the French (and we for lack of a better expression) call naivete—is like a delicious strain of music. There is a depth of delight, and a subtlety of words to express that delight, which is enchanting. Yet when we call to mind particular speeches and passages, we find that they have a relative beauty and propriety, which renders it difficult to separate them from the context without injuring their effect She says some of the most charming things in the world, and some of the most humorous: but we apply them as phrases rather than as maxims, and remember them rather for their pointed felicity of expression and fanciful application, than for their general truth and depth of meaning. I will give a few instances:—

I was never so be-rhymed since Pythagoras' time—that I was an Irish rat—which I can hardly remember.[15]

Good, my complexion! Dost thou think, though I am caparisoned like a man, that I have a doublet and hose in my disposition?

We dwell here in the skirts of the forest, like fringe upon a petticoat.

Love is merely a madness; and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not so punished and cured is, that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too.

A traveller! By my faith you have great reason to be sad. I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men's; then to have seen much and to have nothing, is to have rich eyes and poor hands.

Farewell, Monsieur Traveller. Look you lisp, and wear strange suits; disable all the benefits of your own country; be out of love with your nativity, and almost chide God for making you that countenance you are; or I will scarce think you have swam in a gondola.

Break an hour's promise in love! He that will divide a minute into a thousand parts, and break but a part of the thousandth part of a minute in the affairs of love, it may be said of him that Cupid hath clapp'd him o' the shoulder, but I warrant him heart-whole.

Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them—but not for love.

I could find in my heart to disgrace my man's apparel, and to cry like a woman; but I must comfort the weaker vessel, as doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat.

Rosalind has not the impressive eloquence of Portia, nor the sweet wisdom of Isabella. Her longest speeches are not her best; nor is her taunting address to Phebe, beautiful and celebrated as it is, equal to Phebe's own description of her. The latter, indeed, is more in earnest.[16]

Celia is more quiet and retired: but she rather yields to Rosalind, than is eclipsed by her. She is as full of sweetness, kindness, and intelligence, quite as susceptible, and almost as witty, though she makes less display of wit. She is described as less fair and less gifted; yet the attempt to excite in her mind a jealousy of her lovelier friend, by placing them in comparison—

Thou art a fool; she robs thee of thy name; And thou wilt show more bright, and seem more virtuous, When she is gone—

fails to awaken in the generous heart of Celia any other feeling than an increased tenderness and sympathy for her cousin. To Celia, Shakspeare has given some of the most striking and animated parts of the dialogue; and in particular, that exquisite description of the friendship between her and Rosalind—

If she be a traitor, Why, so am I; we have still slept together, Rose at an instant, learned, played, eat together, And wheresoe'er we went, like Juno's swans, Still we were coupled and inseparable.

The feeling of interest and admiration thus excited for Celia at the first, follows her through the whole play. We listen to her as to one who has made herself worthy of our love; and her silence expresses more than eloquence.

Phebe is quite an Arcadian coquette; she is a piece of pastoral poetry. Audrey is only rustic. A very amusing effect is produced by the contrast between the frank and free bearing of the two princesses in disguise, and the scornful airs of the real Shepherdess. In the speeches of Phebe, and in the dialogue between her and Sylvius, Shakspeare has anticipated all the beauties of the Italian pastoral, and surpassed Tasso and Guarini. We find two among the most poetical passages of the play appropriated to Phebe; the taunting speech to Sylvius, and the description of Rosalind in her page's costume;—which last is finer than the portrait of Bathyllus in Anacreon.


[5] Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian artist of the seventeenth century, painted one or two pictures, considered admirable as works of art, of which the subjects are the most vicious and barbarous conceivable. I remember one of these in the gallery of Florence, which I looked at once, but once, and wished then, as I do now, for the privilege of burning it to ashes.

[6] Lucy Ashton, in the Bride of Lammermoor, may be placed next to Desdemona; Diana Vernon is (comparatively) a failure as every woman will allow; while the masculine lady Geraldine in Miss Edgeworth's tale of Ennui, and the intellectual Corinne are consistent, essential women; the distinction is more easily felt than analyzed.

[7] Hazlitt's Essays, vol. ii. p. 167.

[8] I am informed that the original German word is geistreiche literally, rich in soul or spirit, a just and beautiful epithet. 2d. Edit.

[9] In the "Mercatante di Venezia" of Ser. Giovanni, we have the whole story of Antonio and Bassanio, and part of the story but not the character of Portia. The incident of the caskets is from the Gesta Romanorum.

[10] In that age, delicate points of law were not determined by the ordinary judges of the provinces, but by doctors of law, who were called from Bologna, Padua, and other places celebrated for their legal colleges.

[11] Romeo and Juliet, Act ii. Scene 2

[12] Characters of Shakespeare's Plays.

[13] Act iv. Scene 5.

[14] Use, i. e. usury, interest.

[15] In Shakspeare's time, there were people In Ireland, (there may be so still, for aught I know,) who undertook to charm rats to death, by chanting certain verses which acted as a spell. "Rhyme them to death, as they do rats in Ireland," is a line in one of Ben Jonson's comedies; this will explain Rosalind's humorous allusion.

[16] Rousseau could describe such a character as Rosalind, but failed to represent it consistently. "N'est-ce pas de ton coeur que viennent les graces de ton enjouement? Tes railleries sont des signes d'interet plus touchants que les compliments d'un autre. Tu caresses quand tu folatres. Tu ris, mais ton rire penetre l'ame; tu ris, mais tu fais pleurer de tendresse et je te vois presque toujours serieuse avec les indifferents" Heloise.



O Love! thou teacher'—O Grief! thou tamer—and Time, thou healer of human hearts!—bring hither all your deep and serious revelations!—And ye too, rich fancies of unbruised, unbowed youth—ye visions of long perished hopes—shadows of unborn joys—gay colorings of the dawn of existence! whatever memory hath treasured up of bright and beautiful in nature or in art; all soft and delicate images—all lovely forms—divinest voices and entrancing melodies—gleams of sunnier skies and fairer climes,—Italian moonlights and airs that "breathe of the sweet south,"—now, if it be possible, revive to my imagination—live once more to my heart! Come, thronging around me, all inspirations that wait on passion, on power, on beauty; give me to tread, not bold, and yet unblamed, within the inmost sanctuary of Shakspeare's genius, in Juliet's moonlight bower, and Miranda's enchanted isle!

* * * * *

It is not without emotion, that I attempt to touch on the character of Juliet. Such beautiful things have already been said of her—only to be exceeded in beauty by the subject that inspired them!—it is impossible to say any thing better; but it is possible to say something more. Such in fact is the simplicity, the truth, and the loveliness of Juliet's character, that we are not at first aware of its complexity, its depth, and its variety. There is in it an intensity of passion, a singleness of purpose, an entireness, a completeness of effect, which we feel as a whole; and to attempt to analyze the impression thus conveyed at once to soul and sense, is as if while hanging over a half-blown rose, and revelling in its intoxicating perfume, we should pull it asunder, leaflet by leaflet, the better to display its bloom and fragrance. Yet how otherwise should we disclose the wonders of its formation, or do justice to the skill of the divine hand that hath thus fashioned it in its beauty?

Love, as a passion, forms the groundwork of the drama. Now, admitting the axiom of Rochefoucauld, that there is but one love, though a thousand different copies, yet the true sentiment itself has as many different aspects as the human soul of which it forms a part. It is not only modified by the individual character and temperament, but it is under the influence of climate and circumstance. The love that is calm in one moment, shall show itself vehement and tumultuous at another. The love that is wild and passionate in the south, is deep and contemplative in the north; as the Spanish or Roman girl perhaps poisons a rival, or stabs herself for the sake of a living lover, and the German or Russian girl pines into the grave for love of the false, the absent, or the dead. Love is ardent or deep, bold or timid, jealous or confiding, impatient or humble, hopeful or desponding—and yet there are not many loves, but one love.

All Shakspeare's women, being essentially women, either love or have loved, or are capable of loving; but Juliet is love itself. The passion is her state of being, and out of it she has no existence. It is the soul within her soul; the pulse within her heart; the life-blood along her veins, "blending with every atom of her frame." The love that is so chaste and dignified in Portia—so airy-delicate and fearless in Miranda—so sweetly confiding in Perdita—so playfully fond in Rosalind—so constant in Imogen—so devoted in Desdemona—so fervent in Helen—so tender in Viola,—is each and all of these in Juliet. All these remind us of her; but she reminds us of nothing but her own sweet self; or if she does, it is of the Gismunda, or the Lisetta, or the Fiammetta of Boccaccio, to whom she is allied, not in the character or circumstances, but in the truly Italian spirit, the glowing, national complexion of the portrait.[17]

There was an Italian painter who said that the secret of all effect in color consisted in white upon black, and black upon white. How perfectly did Shakspeare understand this secret of effect! and how beautifully he has exemplified it in Juliet?

So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows, As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows!

Thus she and her lover are in contrast with all around them. They are all love, surrounded with all hate; all harmony, surrounded with all discord: all pure nature, in the midst of polished and artificial life. Juliet, like Portia, is the foster child of opulence and splendor; she dwells in a fair city—she has been nurtured in a palace—she clasps her robe with jewels—she braids her hair with rainbow-tinted pearls; but in herself she has no more connection with the trappings around her, than the lovely exotic, transplanted from some Eden-like climate, has with the carved and gilded conservatory which has reared and sheltered its luxuriant beauty.

But in this vivid impression of contrast, there is nothing abrupt or harsh. A tissue of beautiful poetry weaves together the principal figures, and the subordinate personages. The consistent truth of the costume, and the exquisite gradations of relief with which the most opposite hues are approximated, blend all into harmony. Romeo and Juliet are not poetical beings placed on a prosaic background; nor are they, like Thekla and Max in the Wallenstein, two angels of light amid the darkest and harshest, the most debased and revolting aspects of humanity; but every circumstance, and every personage, and every shade of character in each, tends to the development of the sentiment which is the subject of the drama. The poetry, too, the richest that can possibly be conceived, is interfused through all the characters; the splendid imagery lavished upon all with the careless prodigality of genius, and the whole is lighted up into such a sunny brilliance of effect, as though Shakspeare had really transported himself into Italy, and had drunk to intoxication of her genial atmosphere. How truly it has been said, that "although Romeo and Juliet are in love, they are not love-sick!" What a false idea would anything of the mere whining amoroso, give us of Romeo, such as he really is in Shakspeare—the noble, gallant, ardent, brave, and witty! And Juliet—with even less truth could the phrase or idea apply to her! The picture in "Twelfth Night" of the wan girl dying of love, "who pined in thought, and with a green and yellow melancholy," would never surely occur to us, when thinking on the enamored and impassioned Juliet, in whose bosom love keeps a fiery vigil, kindling tenderness into enthusiasm, enthusiasm into passion, passion into heroism! No, the whole sentiment of the play is of a far different cast. It is flushed with the genial spirit of the south: it tastes of youth, and of the essence of youth; of life, and of the very sap of life.[18] We have indeed the struggle of love against evil destinies, and a thorny world; the pain, the grief, the anguish, the terror, the despair; the aching adieu; the pang unutterable of parted affection; and rapture, truth, and tenderness trampled into an early grave: but still an Elysian grace lingers round the whole, and the blue sky of Italy bends over all!

In the delineation of that sentiment which forms the groundwork of the drama, nothing in fact can equal the power of the picture, but its inexpressible sweetness and its perfect grace: the passion which has taken possession of Juliet's whole soul, has the force, the rapidity, the resistless violence of the torrent: but she is herself as "moving delicate," as fair, as soft, as flexible as the willow that bends over it, whose light leaves tremble even with the motion of the current which hurries beneath them. But at the same time that the pervading sentiment is never lost sight of, and is one and the same throughout, the individual part of the character in all its variety is developed, and marked with the nicest discrimination. For instance,—the simplicity of Juliet is very different from the simplicity of Miranda: her innocence is not the innocence of a desert island. The energy she displays does not once remind us of the moral grandeur of Isabel, or the intellectual power of Portia;—it is founded in the strength of passion, not in the strength of character:—it is accidental rather than inherent, rising with the tide of feeling or temper, and with it subsiding. Her romance is not the pastoral romance of Perdita, nor the fanciful romance of Viola; it is the romance of a tender heart and a poetical imagination. Her inexperience is not ignorance: she has heard that there is such a thing as falsehood, though she can scarcely conceive it. Her mother and her nurse have perhaps warned her against flattering vows and man's inconstancy; or she has even

——Turned the tale by Ariosto told, Of fair Olympia, loved and left, of old!

Hence that bashful doubt, dispelled almost as soon as felt—

Ah, gentle Romeo! If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully.

That conscious shrinking from her own confession—

Fain would I dwell on form; fain, fain deny What I have spoke!

The ingenuous simplicity of her avowal—

Or if thou think'st I am too quickly won, I'll frown, and be perverse, and say thee nay, So thou wilt woo—but else, not for the world! In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond, And therefore thou may'st think my 'havior light, But trust me, gentleman, I'll prove more true Than those who have more cunning to be strange.

And the proud yet timid delicacy, with which she throws herself for forbearance and pardon upon the tenderness of him she loves, even for the love she bears him—

Therefore pardon me, And not impute this yielding to light love, Which the dark night hath so discovered.

In the alternative, which she afterwards places before her lover with such a charming mixture of conscious delicacy and girlish simplicity, there is that jealousy of female honor which precept and education have infused into her mind, without one real doubt of his truth, or the slightest hesitation in her self-abandonment: for she does not even wait to hear his asseverations;—

But if thou mean'st not well, I do beseech thee To cease thy suit, and leave me to my grief.


So thrive my soul—


A thousand times, good night!

But all these flutterings between native impulses and maiden fears become gradually absorbed, swept away, lost, and swallowed up in the depth and enthusiasm of confiding love.

My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to you The more I have—for both are infinite!

What a picture of the young heart, that sees no bound to its hopes, no end to its affections! For "what was to hinder the thrilling tide of pleasure which had just gushed from her heart, from flowing on without stint or measure, but experience, which she was yet without? What was to abate the transport of the first sweet sense of pleasure which her heart had just tasted, but indifference, to which she was yet a stranger? What was there to check the ardor of hope, of faith, of constancy, just rising in her breast, but disappointment, which she had never yet felt?"[19]

Lord Byron's Haidee is a copy of Juliet in the Oriental costume, but the development is epic, not dramatic.[20]

I remember no dramatic character, conveying the same impression of singleness of purpose, and devotion of heart and soul, except the Thekla of Schiller's Wallenstein; she is the German Juliet; far unequal, indeed, but conceived, nevertheless, in a kindred spirit. I know not if critics have ever compared them, or whether Schiller is supposed to have had the English, or rather the Italian, Juliet in his fancy when he portrayed Thekla; but there are some striking points of coincidence, while the national distinction in the character of the passion leaves to Thekla a strong cast of originality.[21] The Princess Thekla is, like Juliet, the heiress of rank and opulence; her first introduction to us, in her full dress and diamonds, does not impair the impression of her softness and simplicity. We do not think of them, nor do we sympathize with the complaint of her lover,—

The dazzle of the jewels which played round you Hid the beloved from me.

We almost feel the reply of Thekla before she utters it,—

Then you saw me Not with your heart, but with your eyes!

The timidity of Thekla in her first scene, her trembling silence in the commencement, and the few words she addresses to her mother, remind us of the unobtrusive simplicity of Juliet's first appearance; but the impression is different; the one is the shrinking violet, the other the unexpanded rose-bud. Thekla and Max Piccolomini are, like Romeo and Juliet, divided by the hatred of their fathers. The death of Max, and the resolute despair of Thekla, are also points of resemblance; and Thekla's complete devotion, her frank yet dignified abandonment of all disguise, and her apology for her own unreserve, are quite in Juliet's style,—

I ought to be less open, ought to hide My heart more from thee—so decorum dictates: But where in this place wouldst thou seek for truth If in my mouth thou didst not find it?

The same confidence, innocence, and fervor of affection, distinguish both heroines; but the love of Juliet is more vehement, the love of Thekla is more calm, and reposes more on itself; the love of Juliet gives us the idea of infinitude, and that of Thekla of eternity: the love of Juliet flows on with an increasing tide, like the river pouring to the ocean; and the love of Thekla stands unalterable, and enduring as the rock. In the heart of Thekla love shelters as in a home; but in the heart of Juliet he reigns a crowned king,—"he rides on its pants triumphant!" As women, they would divide the loves and suffrages of mankind, but not as dramatic characters: the moment we come to look nearer, we acknowledge that it is indeed "rashness and ignorance to compare Schiller with Shakspeare."[22] Thekla is a fine conception in the German spirit, but Juliet is a lovely and palpable creation. The coloring in which Schiller has arrayed his Thekla is pale, sombre, vague, compared with the strong individual marking, the rich glow of life and reality, which distinguish Juliet. One contrast in particular has always struck me; the two beautiful speeches in the first interview between Max and Thekla, that in which she describes her father's astrological chamber, and that in which he replies with reflections on the influence of the stars, are said to "form in themselves a fine poem." They do so; but never would Shakspeare have placed such extraneous description and reflection in the mouths of his lovers. Romeo and Juliet speak of themselves only; they see only themselves in the universe, all things else are as an idle matter. Not a word they utter, though every word is poetry—not a sentiment or description, though dressed in the most luxuriant imagery, but has a direct relation to themselves, or to the situation in which they are placed, and the feelings that engross them: and besides, it may be remarked of Thekla, and generally of all tragedy heroines in love, that, however beautifully and distinctly characterized, we see the passion only under one or two aspects at most, or in conflict with some one circumstance or contending duty or feeling. In Juliet alone we find it exhibited under every variety of aspect, and every gradation of feeling it could possibly assume in a delicate female heart: as we see the rose, when passed through the colors of the prism, catch and reflect every tint of the divided ray, and still it is the same sweet rose.

I have already remarked the quiet manner in which Juliet steals upon us in her first scene, as the serene, graceful girl, her feelings as yet unawakened, and her energies all unknown to herself, and unsuspected by others. Her silence and her filial deference are charming:—

I'll look to like, if looking liking move; But no more deep will I endart mine eye, Than your consent shall give it strength to fly

Much in the same unconscious way we are impressed with an idea of her excelling loveliness:—

Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!

and which could make the dark vault of death "a feasting presence full of light." Without any elaborate description, we behold Juliet, as she is reflected in the heart of her lover, like a single bright star mirrored in the bosom of a deep, transparent well. The rapture with which he dwells on the "white wonder of her hand;" on her lips,

That even in pure and vestal modesty Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin.

And then her eyes, "two of the fairest stars in all the heavens!" In his exclamation in the sepulchre,

Ah, dear Juliet, why art thou yet so fair!

there is life and death, beauty and horror, rapture and anguish combined. The Friar's description of her approach,

O, so light a step Will ne'er wear out the everlasting flint!

and then her father's similitude,

Death lies on her, like an untimely frost Upon the sweetest flower of all the field;—

all these mingle into a beautiful picture of youthful, airy, delicate grace, feminine sweetness, and patrician elegance.

And our impression of Juliet's loveliness and sensibility is enhanced, when we find it overcoming in the bosom of Romeo a previous love for another. His visionary passion for the cold, inaccessible Rosaline, forms but the prologue, the threshold, to the true—the real sentiment which succeeds to it. This incident, which is found in the original story, has been retained by Shakspeare with equal feeling and judgment; and far from being a fault in taste and sentiment, far from prejudicing us against Romeo, by casting on him, at the outset of the piece, the stigma of inconstancy, it becomes, if properly considered, a beauty in the drama, and adds a fresh stroke of truth to the portrait of the lover. Why, after all, should we be offended at what does not offend Juliet herself? for in the original story we find that her attention is first attracted towards Romeo, by seeing him "fancy sick and pale of cheer," for love of a cold beauty. We must remember that in those times every young cavalier of any distinction devoted himself, at his first entrance into the world, to the service of some fair lady, who was selected to be his fancy's queen; and the more rigorous the beauty, and the more hopeless the love, the more honorable the slavery. To go about "metamorphosed by a mistress," as Speed humorously expresses it,[23]—to maintain her supremacy in charms at the sword's point; to sigh; to walk with folded arms; to be negligent and melancholy, and to show a careless desolation, was the fashion of the day. The Surreys, the Sydneys, the Bayards, the Herberts of the time—all those who were the mirrors "in which the noble youth did dress themselves," were of this fantastic school of gallantry—the last remains of the age of chivalry; and it was especially prevalent in Italy. Shakspeare has ridiculed it in many places with exquisite humor; but he wished to show us that it has its serious as well as its comic aspect. Romeo, then, is introduced to us with perfect truth of costume, as the thrall of a dreaming, fanciful passion for the scornful Rosaline, who had forsworn to love; and on her charms and coldness, and on the power of love generally, he descants to his companions in pretty phrases, quite in the style and taste of the day.[24]

Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate, O any thing, of nothing first create! O heavy lightness, serious vanity, Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!

Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs; Being purg'd, a fire sparkling in lover's eyes; Being vex'd, a sea nourish'd with lover's tears.

But when once he has beheld Juliet, and quaffed intoxicating draughts of hope and love from her soft glance, how all these airy fancies fade before the soul-absorbing reality! The lambent fire that played round his heart, burns to that heart's very core. We no longer find him adorning his lamentations in picked phrases, or making a confidant of his gay companions: he is no longer "for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in;" but all is consecrated, earnest, rapturous, in the feeling and the expression. Compare, for instance, the sparkling antithetical passages just quoted, with one or two of his passionate speeches to or of Juliet:—

Heaven is here, Where Juliet lives! &c.

Ah Juliet! if the measure of thy joy Be heaped like mine, and that thy skill be more To blazon it, then sweeten with thy breath This neighbour air, and let rich music's tongue Unfold the imagin'd happiness, that both Receive in either by this dear encounter.

Come what sorrow may, It cannot countervail the exchange of joy That one short minute gives me in her sight.

How different! and how finely the distinction is drawn! His first passion is indulged as a waking dream, a reverie of the fancy; it is depressing, indolent, fantastic; his second elevates him to the third heaven, or hurries him to despair. It rushes to its object through all impediments, defies all dangers, and seeks at last a triumphant grave, in the arms of her he so loved. Thus Romeo's previous attachment to Rosaline is so contrived as to exhibit to us another variety in that passion, which is the subject of the poem, by showing us the distinction between the fancied and the real sentiment. It adds a deeper effect to the beauty of Juliet; it interests us in the commencement for the tender and romantic Romeo; and gives an individual reality to his character, by stamping him like an historical, as well as a dramatic portrait, with the very spirit of the age in which he lived.[25]

It may be remarked of Juliet as of Portia, that we not only trace the component qualities in each as they expand before us in the course of the action, but we seem to have known them previously, and mingle a consciousness of their past, with the interest of their present and their future. Thus, in the dialogue between Juliet and her parents, and in the scenes with the Nurse, we seem to have before us the whole of her previous education and habits: we see her, on the one hand, kept in severe subjection by her austere parents; and on the other, fondled and spoiled by a foolish old nurse—a situation perfectly accordant with the manners of the time. Then Lady Capulet comes sweeping by with her train of velvet, her black hood, her fan, and her rosary—the very beau-ideal of a proud Italian matron of the fifteenth century, whose offer to poison Romeo in revenge for the death of Tybalt, stamps her with one very characteristic trait of the age and country. Yet she loves her daughter; and there is a touch of remorseful tenderness in her lamentation over her, which adds to our impression of the timid softness of Juliet, and the harsh subjection in which she has been kept:—

But one, poor one!—one poor and loving child, But one thing to rejoice and solace in, And cruel death hath catched it from my sight!

Capulet, as the jovial, testy old man, the self willed, violent, tyrannical father,—to whom his daughter is but a property, the appanage of his house, and the object of his pride,—is equal as a portrait: but both must yield to the Nurse, who is drawn with the most wonderful power and discrimination. In the prosaic homeliness of the outline, and the magical illusion of the coloring, she reminds us of some of the marvellous Dutch paintings, from which, with all their coarseness, we start back as from a reality. Her low humor, her shallow garrulity, mixed with the dotage and petulance of age—her subserviency, her secrecy, and her total want of elevated principle, or even common honesty—are brought before us like a living and palpable truth.

Among these harsh and inferior spirits is Juliet placed; her haughty parents, and her plebeian nurse, not only throw into beautiful relief her own native softness and elegance, but are at once the cause and the excuse of her subsequent conduct. She trembles before her stern mother and her violent father: but, like a petted child, alternately cajoles and commands her nurse. It is her old foster-mother who is the confidante of her love. It is the woman who cherished her infancy, who aids and abets her in her clandestine marriage. Do we not perceive how immediately our impression of Juliet's character would have been lowered, if Shakspeare had placed her in connection with any common-place dramatic waiting-woman?—even with Portia's adroit Nerissa, or Desdemona's Emilia? By giving her the Nurse for her confidante, the sweetness and dignity of Juliet's character are preserved inviolate to the fancy, even in the midst of all the romance and wilfulness of passion.

The natural result of these extremes of subjection and independence, is exhibited in the character of Juliet, as it gradually opens upon us. We behold it in the mixture of self-will and timidity, of strength and weakness, of confidence and reserve, which are developed as the action of the play proceeds. We see it in the fond eagerness of the indulged girl, for whose impatience the "nimblest of the lightning-winged loves" had been too slow a messenger; in her petulance with her nurse; in those bursts of vehement feeling, which prepare us for the climax of passion at the catastrophe; in her invectives against Romeo, when she hears of the death of Tybalt; in her indignation when the nurse echoes those reproaches, and the rising of her temper against unwonted contradiction:—


Shame come to Romeo!


Blistered be thy tongue, For such a wish! he was not born to shame.

Then comes that revulsion of strong feeling, that burst of magnificent exultation in the virtue and honor of her lover:—

Upon his brow Shame is ashamed to sit, For 'tis a throne where Honor may be crown'd Sole monarch of the universal earth!

And this, by one of those quick transitions of feeling which belong to the character, is immediately succeeded by a gush of tenderness and self-reproach—

Ah, poor my lord, what tongue shall smooth thy name, When I, thy three-hours' wife, have mangled it?

With the same admirable truth of nature, Juliet is represented as at first bewildered by the fearful destiny that closes round her; reverse is new and terrible to one nursed in the lap of luxury, and whose energies are yet untried.

Alack, alack, that heaven should practise stratagems Upon so soft a subject as myself.

While a stay remains to her amid the evils that encompass her, she clings to it. She appeals to her father—to her mother—

Good father, I beseech you on my knees, Hear me with patience but to speak one word!

* * * *

Ah, sweet my mother, cast me not away! Delay this marriage for a month,—a week!

And, rejected by both, she throws herself upon her nurse in all the helplessness of anguish, of confiding affection, of habitual dependence—

O God! O nurse! how shall this be prevented? Some comfort, nurse!

The old woman, true to her vocation, and fearful lest her share in these events should be discovered, counsels her to forget Romeo and marry Paris; and the moment which unveils to Juliet the weakness and baseness of her confidante, is the moment which reveals her to herself. She does not break into upbraidings; it is no moment for anger; it is incredulous amazement, succeeded by the extremity of scorn and abhorrence, which take possession of her mind. She assumes at once and asserts all her own superiority, and rises to majesty in the strength of her despair.


Speakest thou from thy heart?


Aye, and from my soul too;—or else Beshrew them both!



This final severing of all the old familiar ties of her childhood—

Go, counsellor! Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain!

and the calm, concentrated force of her resolve,

If all else fail,—myself have power to die;

have a sublime pathos. It appears to me also an admirable touch of nature, considering the master-passion which, at this moment, rules in Juliet's soul, that she is as much shocked by the nurse's dispraise of her lover, as by her wicked, time-serving advice.

This scene is the crisis in the character; and henceforth we see Juliet assume a new aspect. The fond, impatient, timid girl, puts on the wife and the woman: she has learned heroism from suffering, and subtlety from oppression. It is idle to criticize her dissembling submission to her father and mother; a higher duty has taken place of that which she owed to them; a more sacred tie has severed all others. Her parents are pictured as they are, that no feeling for them may interfere in the slightest degree with our sympathy for the lovers. In the mind of Juliet there is no struggle between her filial and her conjugal duties, and there ought to be none. The Friar, her spiritual director, dismisses her with these instructions:—

Go home,—be merry,—give consent To marry Paris;

and she obeys him. Death and suffering in every horrid form she is ready to brave, without fear or doubt, "to live an unstained wife:" and the artifice to which she has recourse, which she is even instructed to use, in no respect impairs the beauty of the character; we regard it with pain and pity; but excuse it, as the natural and inevitable consequence of the situation in which she is placed. Nor should we forget, that the dissimulation, as well as the courage of Juliet, though they spring from passion, are justified by principle:—

My husband is on earth, my faith in heaven; How shall my faith return again to earth, Unless that husband send it me from heaven?

In her successive appeals to her father, her mother, her nurse, and the Friar, she seeks those remedies which would first suggest themselves to a gentle and virtuous nature, and grasps her dagger only as the last resource against dishonor and violated faith;—

God join'd my heart with Romeo's,—thou our hands. And ere this hand, by thee to Romeo seal'd, Shall be the label to another deed, Or my true heart with treacherous revolt Turn to another,—this shall slay them both!

Thus, in the very tempest and whirlwind of passion and terror, preserving, to a certain degree, that moral and feminine dignity which harmonizes with our best feelings, and commands our unreproved sympathy.

I reserve my remarks on the catastrophe, which demands separate consideration; and return to trace from the opening, another and distinguishing trait in Juliet's character.

In the extreme vivacity of her imagination, and its influence upon the action, the language, the sentiments of the drama, Juliet resembles Portia; but with this striking difference. In Portia, the imaginative power, though developed in a high degree, is so equally blended with the other intellectual and moral faculties, that it does not give us the idea of excess. It is subject to her nobler reason; it adorns and heightens all her feelings; it does not overwhelm or mislead them. In Juliet, it is rather a part of her southern temperament, controlling and modifying the rest of her character; springing from her sensibility, hurried along by her passions, animating her joys, darkening her sorrows, exaggerating her terrors, and, in the end, overpowering her reason. With Juliet, imagination is, in the first instance, if not the source, the medium of passion; and passion again kindles her imagination. It is through the power of imagination that the eloquence of Juliet is so vividly poetical; that every feeling, every sentiment comes to her, clothed in the richest imagery, and is thus reflected from her mind to ours. The poetry is not here the mere adornment, the outward garnishing of the character; but its result, or rather blended with its essence. It is indivisible from it, and interfused through it like moonlight through the summer air. To particularize is almost impossible, since the whole of the dialogue appropriated to Juliet is one rich stream of imagery: she speaks in pictures and sometimes they are crowded one upon another—thus in the balcony scene—

I have no joy of this contract to-night: It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden, Too like the lightning which doth cease to be Ere one can say it lightens.

This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath, May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.


O for a falconer's voice To lure this tassel-gentle back again! Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud, Else would I tear the cave where Echo lies, And make her airy tongue more hoarse than mine With repetition of my Romeo's name.

Here there are three images in the course of six lines. In the same scene, the speech of twenty-two lines, beginning,

Thou know'st the mask of night is on my face,

contains but one figurative expression, the mask of night; and every one reading this speech with the context, must have felt the peculiar propriety of its simplicity, though perhaps without examining the cause of an omission which certainly is not fortuitous. The reason lies in the situation and in the feeling of the moment; where confusion, and anxiety, and earnest self-defence predominate, the excitability and play of the imagination would be checked and subdued for the time.

In the soliloquy of the second act, where she is chiding at the nurse's delay:—

O she is lame! Love's heralds should be thoughts, That ten times faster glide than the sun's beams, Driving back shadows over low'ring hills: Therefore do nimble-pinioned doves draw Love, And therefore hath the wind-swift Cupid wings!

How beautiful! how the lines mount and float responsive to the sense! She goes on—

Had she affections, and warm youthful blood, She'd be as swift in motion as a ball; My words should bandy her to my sweet love, And his to me!

The famous soliloquy, "Gallop apace, ye fiery-footed steeds," teems with luxuriant imagery. The fond adjuration, "Come night! come Romeo! come thou day in night!" expresses that fulness of enthusiastic admiration for her lover, which possesses her whole soul; but expresses it as only Juliet could or would have expressed it,—in a bold and beautiful metaphor. Let it be remembered, that, in this speech, Juliet is not supposed to be addressing an audience, nor even a confidante; and I confess I have been shocked at the utter want of taste and refinement in those who, with coarse derision, or in a spirit of prudery, yet more gross and perverse, have dared to comment on this beautiful "Hymn to the Night," breathed out by Juliet in the silence and solitude of her chamber. She is thinking aloud; it is the young heart "triumphing to itself in words." In the midst of all the vehemence with which she calls upon the night to bring Romeo to her arms, there is something so almost infantine in her perfect simplicity, so playful and fantastic in the imagery and language, that the charm of sentiment and innocence is thrown over the whole; and her impatience, to use her own expression, is truly that of "a child before a festival, that hath new robes and may not wear them." It is at the very moment too that her whole heart and fancy are abandoned to blissful anticipation, that the nurse enters with the news of Romeo's banishment; and the immediate transition from rapture to despair has a most powerful effect.

It is the same shaping spirit of imagination which, in the scene with the Friar, heaps together all images of horror that ever hung upon a troubled dream.

O bid me leap, rather than marry Paris, From off the battlements of yonder tower, Or walk in thievish ways; or bid me lurk Where serpents are—chain me with roaring bears, Or shut me nightly in a charnel-house O'ercovered quite with dead men's rattling bones; Or bid me go into a new made grave; Or hide me with a dead man in his shroud;— Things that to hear them told have made me tremble

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