Characteristics of Women - Moral, Poetical, and Historical
by Anna Jameson
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

But she immediately adds,—

And I will do it without fear or doubt, To live an unstained wife to my sweet love!

In the scene where she drinks the sleeping potion, although her spirit does not quail, nor her determination falter for an instant, her vivid fancy conjures up one terrible apprehension after another, till gradually, and most naturally in such a mind once thrown off its poise, the horror rises to frenzy—her imagination realizes its own hideous creations, and she sees her cousin Tybalt's ghost.[26]

In particular passages this luxuriance of fancy may seem to wander into excess. For instance,—

O serpent heart, hid with a flowery face! Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave? Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical! Dove-feather'd raven! wolfish ravening lamb, &c.

Yet this highly figurative and antithetical exuberance of language is defended by Schlegel on strong and just grounds; and to me also it appears natural, however critics may argue against its taste or propriety.[27] The warmth and vivacity of Juliet's fancy, which plays like a light over every part of her character—which animates every line she utters—which kindles every thought into a picture, and clothes her emotions in visible images, would naturally, under strong and unusual excitement, and in the conflict of opposing sentiments, run into some extravagance of diction.[28]

With regard to the termination of the play, which has been a subject of much critical argument, it is well known that Shakspeare, following the old English versions, has departed from the original story of Da Porta;[29] and I am inclined to believe that Da Porta, in making Juliet waken from her trance while Romeo yet lives, and in his terrible final scene between the lovers, has himself departed from the old tradition, and, as a romance, has certainly improved it; but that which is effective in a narrative, is not always calculated for the drama, and I cannot but agree with Schlegel, that Shakspeare has done well and wisely in adhering to the old story. Can we doubt for a moment that he who has given us the catastrophe of Othello, and the tempest scene in Lear, might also have adopted these additional circumstances of horror in the fate of the lovers, and have so treated them as to harrow up our very soul—had it been his object to do so? But apparently it was not. The tale is one,

Such as, once heard, in gentle heart destroys All pain but pity.

It is in truth a tale of love and sorrow, not of anguish and terror. We behold the catastrophe afar off with scarcely a wish to avert it. Romeo and Juliet must die; their destiny is fulfilled; they have quaffed off the cup of life, with all its infinite of joys and agonies, in one intoxicating draught. What have they to do more upon this earth? Young, innocent, loving and beloved, they descend together into the tomb: but Shakspeare has made that tomb a shrine of martyred and sainted affection consecrated for the worship of all hearts,—not a dark charnel vault, haunted by spectres of pain, rage, and desperation. Romeo and Juliet are pictured lovely in death as in life; the sympathy they inspire does not oppress us with that suffocating sense of horror, which in the altered tragedy makes the fall of the curtain a relief; but all pain is lost in the tenderness and poetic beauty of the picture. Romeo's last speech over his bride is not like the raving of a disappointed boy: in its deep pathos, its rapturous despair, its glowing imagery, there is the very luxury of life and love. Juliet, who had drunk off the sleeping potion in a fit of frenzy, wakes calm and collected—

I do remember well where I should be, And there I am—Where is my Romeo?

The profound slumber in which her senses have been steeped for so many hours has tranquillized her nerves, and stilled the fever in her blood; she wakes "like a sweet child who has been dreaming of something promised to it by its mother," and opens her eyes to ask for it—

... Where is my Romeo?

she is answered at once,—

Thy husband in thy bosom here lies dead.

This is enough: she sees at once the whole horror of her situation—she sees it with a quiet and resolved despair—she utters no reproach against the Friar—makes no inquiries, no complaints, except that affecting remonstrance—

O churl—drink all, and leave no friendly drop To help me after!

All that is left to her is to die, and she dies. The poem, which opened with the enmity of the two families, closes with their reconciliation over the breathless remains of their children; and no violent, frightful, or discordant feeling is suffered to mingle with that soft impression of melancholy left within the heart, and which Schlegel compares to one long, endless sigh.

"A youthful passion," says Goethe, (alluding to one of his own early attachments,) "which is conceived and cherished without any certain object, may be compared to a shell thrown from a mortar by night: it rises calmly in a brilliant track, and seems to mix, and even to dwell for a moment, with the stars of heaven; but at length it falls—it bursts—consuming and destroying all around, even as itself expires."

* * * * *

To conclude: love, considered under its poetical aspect, is the union of passion and imagination and accordingly, to one of these, or to both, all the qualities of Juliet's mind and heart (unfolding and varying as the action of the drama proceeds) may be finally traced; the former concentrating all those natural impulses, fervent affections and high energies, which lend the character its internal charm, its moral power and individual interest: the latter diverging from all those splendid and luxuriant accompaniments which invest it with its external glow, its beauty, its vigor, its freshness, and its truth.

With all this immense capacity of affection and imagination, there is a deficiency of reflection and of moral energy arising from previous habit and education: and the action of the drama, while it serves to develope the character, appears but its natural and necessary result. "Le mystere de l'existence," said Madame de Stael to her daughter, "c'est le rapport de nos erreurs avec nos peines."


In the character of Juliet we have seen the passionate and the imaginative blended in an equal degree, and in the highest conceivable degree as combined with delicate female nature. In Helena we have a modification of character altogether distinct; allied, indeed, to Juliet as a picture of fervent, enthusiastic, self-forgetting love, but differing wholly from her in other respects; for Helen is the union of strength of passion with strength of character.

"To be tremblingly alive to gentle impressions, and yet be able to preserve, when the prosecution of a design requires it, an immovable heart amidst even the most imperious causes of subduing emotion, is perhaps not an impossible constitution of mind, but it is the utmost and rarest endowment of humanity."[30] Such a character, almost as difficult to delineate in fiction as to find in real life, has Shakspeare given us in Helena; touched with the most soul-subduing pathos, and developed with the most consummate skill.

Helena, as a woman, is more passionate than imaginative; and, as a character, she bears the same relation to Juliet that Isabel bears to Portia. There is equal unity of purpose and effect, with much less of the glow of imagery and the external coloring of poetry in the sentiments, language, and details. It is passion developed under its most profound and serious aspect; as in Isabella, we have the serious and the thoughtful, not the brilliant side of intellect. Both Helena and Isabel are distinguished by high mental powers, tinged with a melancholy sweetness; but in Isabella the serious and energetic part of the character is founded in religious principle; in Helena it is founded in deep passion.

There never was, perhaps, a more beautiful picture of a woman's love, cherished in secret, not self-consuming in silent languishment—not pining in thought—not passive and "desponding over its idol"—but patient and hopeful, strong in its own intensity, and sustained by its own fond faith. The passion here reposes upon itself for all its interest; it derives nothing from art or ornament or circumstance; it has nothing of the picturesque charm or glowing romance of Juliet; nothing of the poetical splendor of Portia, or the vestal grandeur of Isabel. The situation of Helena is the most painful and degrading in which a woman can be placed. She is poor and lowly; she loves a man who is far her superior in rank, who repays her love with indifference, and rejects her hand with scorn. She marries him against his will; he leaves her with contumely on the day of their marriage, and makes his return to her arms depend on conditions apparently impossible.[31] All the circumstances and details with which Helena is surrounded, are shocking to our feelings and wounding to our delicacy: and yet the beauty of the character is made to triumph over all: and Shakspeare, resting for all his effect on its internal resources and its genuine truth and sweetness, has not even availed himself of some extraneous advantages with which Helen is represented in the original story. She is the Giletta di Narbonna of Boccaccio. In the Italian tale, Giletta is the daughter of a celebrated physician attached to the court of Roussillon; she is represented as a rich heiress, who rejects many suitors of worth and rank, in consequence of her secret attachment to the young Bertram de Roussillon. She cures the King of France of a grievous distemper, by one of her fathers prescriptions; and she asks and receives as her reward the young Count of Roussillon as her wedded husband. He forsakes her on their wedding day, and she retires, by his order, to his territory of Roussillon. There she is received with honor, takes state upon her in her husband's absence as the "lady of the land," administers justice, and rules her lord's dominions so wisely and so well, that she is universally loved and reverenced by his subjects. In the mean time, the Count, instead of rejoining her, flies to Tuscany, and the rest of the story is closely followed in the drama. The beauty, wisdom, and royal demeanor of Giletta are charmingly described, as well as her fervent love for Bertram. But Helena, in the play, derives no dignity or interest from place or circumstance, and rests for all our sympathy and respect solely upon the truth and intensity of her affections. She is indeed represented to us as one

Whose beauty did astonish the survey Of richest eyes: whose words all ears took captive; Whose dear perfection, hearts that scorn'd to serve. Humbly called mistress.

As her dignity is derived from mental power, without any alloy of pride, so her humility has a peculiar grace. If she feels and repines over her lowly birth, it is merely as an obstacle which separates her from the man she loves. She is more sensible to his greatness than her own littleness: she is continually looking from herself up to him, not from him down to herself. She has been bred up under the same roof with him; she has adored him from infancy. Her love is not "th' infection taken in at the eyes," nor kindled by youthful romance: it appears to have taken root in her being; to have grown with her years; and to have gradually absorbed all her thoughts and faculties, until her fancy "carries no favor in it but Bertram's," and "there is no living, none, if Bertram be away."

It may be said that Bertram, arrogant, wayward, and heartless, does not justify this ardent and deep devotion. But Helena does not behold him with our eyes; but as he is "sanctified in her idolatrous fancy." Dr. Johnson says he cannot reconcile himself to a man who marries Helena like a coward, and leaves her like a profligate. This is much too severe; in the first place, there is no necessity that we should reconcile ourselves to him. In this consists a part of the wonderful beauty of the character of Helena—a part of its womanly truth, which Johnson, who accuses Bertram, and those who so plausibly defend him, did not understand. If it never happened in real life, that a woman, richly endued with heaven's best gifts, loved with all her heart, and soul, and strength, a man unequal to or unworthy of her, and to whose faults herself alone was blind—I would give up the point: but if it be in nature, why should it not be in Shakspeare? We are not to look into Bertram's character for the spring and source of Helena's love for him, but into her own. She loves Bertram,—because she loves him!—a woman's reason,—but here, and sometimes elsewhere, all-sufficient.

And although Helena tells herself that she loves in vain, a conviction stronger than reason tells her that she does not: her love is like a religion, pure, holy, and deep: the blessedness to which she has lifted her thoughts is forever before her; to despair would be a crime,—it would be to cast herself away and die. The faith of her affection, combining with the natural energy of her character, believing all things possible makes them so. It could say to the mountain of pride which stands between her and her hopes, "Be thou removed!" and it is removed. This is the solution of her behavior in the marriage scene, where Bertram, with obvious reluctance and disdain, accepts her hand, which the king, his feudal lord and guardian, forces on him. Her maidenly feeling is at first shocked, and she shrinks back—

That you are well restor'd, my lord, I am glad: Let the rest go.

But shall she weakly relinquish the golden opportunity, and dash the cup from her lips at the moment it is presented? Shall she cast away the treasure for which she has ventured both life and honor, when it is just within her grasp? Shall she, after compromising her feminine delicacy by the public disclosure of her preference, be thrust back into shame, "to blush out the remainder of her life," and die a poor, lost, scorned thing? This would be very pretty and interesting and characteristic in Viola or Ophelia, but not at all consistent with that high determined spirit, that moral energy, with which Helena is portrayed. Pride is the only obstacle opposed to her. She is not despised and rejected as a woman, but as a poor physician's daughter; and this, to an understanding so clear, so strong, so just as Helena's, is not felt as an unpardonable insult. The mere pride of rank and birth is a prejudice of which she cannot comprehend the force, because her mind towers so immeasurably above it; and, compared to the infinite love which swells within her own bosom, it sinks into nothing. She cannot conceive that he, to whom she has devoted her heart and truth, her soul, her life, her service, must not one day love her in return; and once her own beyond the reach of fate, that her cares, her caresses, her unwearied patient tenderness, will not at last "win her lord to look upon her"—

... For time will bring on summer, When briars shall have leaves as well as thorns, And be as sweet as sharp.

It is this fond faith which, hoping all things, enables her to endure all things:—which hallows and dignifies the surrender of her woman's pride, making it a sacrifice on which virtue and love throw a mingled incense.

The scene in which the Countess extorts from Helen the confession of her love, must, as an illustration, be given here. It is perhaps, the finest in the whole play, and brings out all the striking points of Helen's character, to which I have already alluded. We must not fail to remark, that though the acknowledgment is wrung from her with an agony which seems to convulse her whole being, yet when once she has given it solemn utterance, she recovers her presence of mind, and asserts her native dignity. In her justification of her feelings and her conduct, there is neither sophistry, nor self-deception, nor presumption, but a noble simplicity, combined with the most impassioned earnestness; while the language naturally rises in its eloquent beauty, as the tide of feeling, now first let loose from the bursting heart, comes pouring forth in words. The whole scene is wonderfully beautiful.


What is your pleasure, madam?


You know, Helen, I am a mother to you.


Mine honorable mistress.


Nay, a mother; Why not a mother? When I said a mother, Methought you saw a serpent: what's in mother, That you start at it? I say, I am your mother: And put you in the catalogue of those That were enwombed mine: 'tis often seen, Adoption strives with nature; and choice breeds A native slip to us from foreign seeds. You ne'er oppress'd me with a mother's groan, Yet I express to you a mother's care;— God's mercy, maiden! does it curd thy blood, To say, I am thy mother? What's the matter That this distempered messenger of wet, The many-color'd Iris, rounds thine eye? Why?—that you are my daughter?


That I am not.


I say, I am your mother.


Pardon, madam: The Count Roussillon cannot be my brother: I am from humble, he from honor'd name; No note upon my parents, his all noble: My master, my dear lord he is: and I His servant live, and will his vassal die: He must not be my brother.


Nor I your mother?


You are my mother, madam; would you were (So that my lord, your son, were not my brother,) Indeed my mother, or, were you both our mothers, I care no more for, than I do for Heaven,[32] So I were not his sister; can't no other, But I, your daughter, he must be my brother?


Yes, Helen, you might be my daughter-in-law; God shield, you mean it not! daughter and mother So strive upon your pulse: what, pale again? My fear hath catch'd your fondness: now I see The mystery of your loneliness, and find Your salt tears' head. Now to all sense 'tis gross You love my son; invention is asham'd, Against the proclamation of thy passion, To say, thou dost not: therefore tell me true; But tell me, then, 'tis so:—for, look, thy cheeks Confess it, one to the other. Speak, is't so? If it be so, you have wound a goodly clue! If it be not, forswear't: howe'er, I charge thee, As heaven shall work in me for thy avail, To tell me truly.


Good madam, pardon me!


Do you love my son?


Your pardon, noble mistress!


Love you my son?


Do not you love him, madam?


Go not about; my love hath in't a bond, Whereof the world takes note: come, come, disclose The state of your affection; for your passions Have to the full appeach'd.


Then I confess Here on my knee, before high heaven and you, That before you, and next unto high heaven, I love your son:— My friends were poor, but honest; so's my love Be not offended; for it hurts not him, That he is loved of me; I follow him not By any token of presumptuous suit; Nor would I have him till I do deserve him: Yet never know how that desert should be. I know I love in vain; strive against hope; Yet, in this captious and untenable sieve, I still pour in the waters of my love, And lack not to love still: thus, Indian-like, Religious in mine error, I adore The sun that looks upon his worshipper, But knows of him no more. My dearest madam, Let not your hate encounter with my love, For loving where you do: but, if yourself, Whose aged honor cites a virtuous youth, Did ever in so true a flame of liking, Wish chastely, and love dearly, that your Dian Was both herself and love; O then give pity To her, whose state is such, that cannot choose But lend and give, where she is sure to lose; That seeks not to find that her search implies, But, riddle-like, lives sweetly where she dies.

This old Countess of Roussillon is a charming sketch. She is like one of Titian's old women, who still, amid their wrinkles, remind us of that soul of beauty and sensibility, which must have animated them when young. She is a fine contrast to Lady Capulet—benign, cheerful, and affectionate; she has a benevolent enthusiasm, which neither age, nor sorrow, nor pride can wear away. Thus, when she is brought to believe that Helen nourishes a secret attachment for her son, she observes—

Even so it was with me when I was young! This thorn Doth to our rose of youth rightly belong, It is the show and seal of nature's truth, When love's strong passion is impress'd in youth.

Her fond, maternal love for Helena, whom she has brought up: her pride in her good qualities overpowering all her own prejudices of rank and birth, are most natural in such a mind; and her indignation against her son, however strongly expressed, never forgets the mother.

What angel shall Bless this unworthy husband? he cannot thrive Unless her prayers, whom heaven delights to hear And loves to grant, reprieve him from the wrath Of greatest justice. Which of them both Is dearest to me—I have no skill in sense To make distinction.

This is very skilfully, as well as delicately conceived. In rejecting those poetical and accidental advantages which Giletta possesses in the original story, Shakspeare has substituted the beautiful character of the Countess; and he has contrived, that, as the character of Helena should rest for its internal charm on the depth of her own affections, so it should depend for its external interest on the affection she inspires. The enthusiastic tenderness of the old Countess, the admiration and respect of the King, Lafeu, and all who are brought in connection with her, make amends for the humiliating neglect of Bertram; and cast round Helen that collateral light, which Giletta in the story owes to other circumstances, striking indeed, and well imagined, but not (I think) so finely harmonizing with the character.

It is also very natural that Helen, with the intuitive discernment of a pure and upright mind, and the penetration of a quick-witted woman, should be the first to detect the falsehood and cowardice of the boaster Parolles, who imposes on every one else.

It has been remarked, that there is less of poetical imagery in this play than in many of the others. A certain solidity in Helen's character takes place of the ideal power; and with consistent truth of keeping, the same predominance of feeling over fancy, of the reflective over the imaginative faculty, is maintained through the whole dialogue. Yet the finest passages in the serious scenes are those appropriated to her; they are familiar and celebrated as quotations, but fully to understand their beauty and truth, they should be considered relatively to her character and situation; thus, when in speaking of Bertram, she says, "that he is one to whom she wishes well," the consciousness of the disproportion between her words and her feelings draws from her this beautiful and affecting observation, so just in itself, and so true to her situation, and to the sentiment which fills her whole heart:—

'Tis pity That wishing well had not a body in't Which might be felt: that we the poorer born, Whose baser stars do shut us up in wishes, Might with effects of them follow our friends, And act what we must only think, which never Returns us thanks.

Some of her general reflections have a sententious depth and a contemplative melancholy, which remind us of Isabella:—

Our remedies oft in themselves do lie Which we ascribe to heaven; the fated sky Gives us free scope; only doth backward pull Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull.

Impossible be strange events to those That weigh their pains in sense; and do suppose What hath been cannot be.

He that of greatest works is finisher, Oft does them by the weakest minister; So holy writ in babes hath judgment shown, When judges have been babes.

Oft expectation fails, and most oft there Where most it promises; and oft it hits, Where hope is coldest, and despair most sits.

Her sentiments in the same manner are remarkable for the union of profound sense with the most passionate feeling; and when her language is figurative, which is seldom, the picture presented to us is invariably touched either with a serious, a lofty, or a melancholy beauty. For instance:—

It were all one That I should love a bright particular star, And think to wed it—he's so far above me.

And when she is brought to choose a husband from among the young lords at the court, her heart having already made its election, the strangeness of that very privilege for which she had ventured all, nearly overpowers her, and she says beautifully:—

The blushes on my cheeks thus whisper me, "We blush that thou shouldst choose;—but be refused, Let the white death sit on that cheek for ever We'll ne'er come there again!"

In her soliloquy after she has been forsaken by Bertram, the beauty lies in the intense feeling, the force and simplicity of the expressions. There is little imagery, and wherever it occurs, it is as bold as it is beautiful, and springs out of the energy of the sentiment, and the pathos of the situation. She has been reading his cruel letter.

Till I have no wife I have nothing in France. 'Tis bitter! Nothing in France, until he has no wife! Thou shalt have none, Roussillon, none in France, Then hast thou all again. Poor lord! is't I That chase thee from thy country, and expose Those tender limbs of thine to the event Of the none-sparing war? And is it I That drive thee from the sportive court, where thou Wast shot at with fair eyes, to be the mark Of smoky muskets? O you leaden messengers, That ride upon the violent speed of fire, Fly with false aim! move the still-piercing air, That sings with piercing, do not touch my lord! Whoever shoots at him, I set him there; Whoever charges on his forward breast, I am the caitiff that do hold him to it; And though I kill him not, I am the cause His death was so effected; better 'twere I met the ravin lion when he roared With sharp constraint of hunger; better 'twere That all the miseries which nature owes, Were mine at once.

No, no, although The air of paradise did fan the house, And angels officed all; I will be gone.

Though I cannot go the length of those who have defended Bertram on almost every point, still I think the censure which Johnson has passed on the character is much too severe. Bertram is certainly not a pattern hero of romance, but full of faults such as we meet with every day in men of his age and class. He is a bold, ardent, self-willed youth, just dismissed into the world from domestic indulgence, with an excess of aristocratic and military pride, but not without some sense of true honor and generosity. I have lately read a defence of Bertram's character, written with much elegance and plausibility. "The young Count," says this critic, "comes before us possessed of a good heart, and of no mean capacity, but with a haughtiness which threatens to dull the kinder passions, and to cloud the intellect. This is the inevitable consequence of an illustrious education. The glare of his birthright has dazzled his young faculties. Perhaps the first words he could distinguish were from the important nurse, giving elaborate directions about his lordship's pap. As soon as he could walk, a crowd of submissive vassals doffed their caps, and hailed his first appearance on his legs. His spelling book had the arms of the family emblazoned on the cover. He had been accustomed to hear himself called the great, the mighty son of Roussillon, ever since he was a helpless child. A succession of complacent tutors would by no means destroy the illusion; and it is from their hands that Shakspeare receives him, while yet in his minority. An overweening pride of birth is Bertram's great foible. To cure him of this, Shakspeare sends him to the wars, that he may win fame for himself, and thus exchange a shadow for a reality. There the great dignity that his valor acquired for him places him on an equality with any one of his ancestors, and he is no longer beholden to them alone for the world's observance. Thus in his own person he discovers there is something better than mere hereditary honors; and his heart is prepared to acknowledge that the entire devotion of a Helen's love is of more worth than the court-bred smiles of a princess."[33]

It is not extraordinary that, in the first instance, his spirit should revolt at the idea of marrying his mother's "waiting gentlewoman," or that he should refuse her; yet when the king, his feudal lord, whose despotic authority was in this case legal and indisputable, threatens him with the extremity of his wrath and vengeance, that he should submit himself to a hard necessity, was too consistent with the manners of the time to be called cowardice. Such forced marriages were not uncommon even in our own country, when the right of wardship, now vested in the Lord Chancellor, was exercised with uncontrolled and often cruel despotism by the sovereign.

There is an old ballad, in which the king bestows a maid of low degree on a noble of his court, and the undisguised scorn and reluctance of the knight and the pertinacity of the lady, are in point.

He brought her down full forty pound Tyed up within a glove, "Fair maid, I'll give the same to thee, Go seek another love."

"O I'll have none of your gold," she said, "Nor I'll have none of your fee; But your fair bodye I must have, The king hath granted me."

Sir William ran and fetched her then, Five hundred pounds in gold, Saying, "Fair maid, take this to thee, My fault will ne'er be told."

"'Tis not the gold that shall me tempt," These words then answered she; "But your own bodye I must have, The king hath granted me."

"Would I had drank the water clear, When I did drink the wine, Rather than my shepherd's brat Should be a ladye of mine!"[34]

Bertram's disgust at the tyranny which has made his freedom the payment of another's debt, which has united him to a woman whose merits are not towards him—whose secret love, and long-enduring faith, are yet unknown and untried—might well make his bride distasteful to him. He flies her on the very day of their marriage, most like a wilful, haughty, angry boy, but not like a profligate. On other points he is not so easily defended; and Shakspeare, we see, has not defended, but corrected him. The latter part of the play is more perplexing than pleasing. We do not, indeed, repine with Dr. Johnson, that Bertram, after all his misdemeanors, is "dismissed to happiness;" but, not withstanding the clever defence that has been made for him, he has our pardon rather than our sympathy; and for mine own part, I could find it easier to love Bertram as Helena does, than to excuse him; her love for him is his best excuse.


In Viola and Perdita the distinguishing traits are the same—sentiment and elegance; thus we associate them together, though nothing can be more distinct to the fancy than the Doric grace of Perdita, compared to the romantic sweetness of Viola. They are created out of the same materials, and are equal to each other in the tenderness, delicacy, and poetical beauty of the conception. They are both more imaginative than passionate; but Perdita is the more imaginative of the two. She is the union of the pastoral and romantic with the classical and poetical, as if a dryad of the woods had turned shepherdess. The perfections with which the poet has so lavishly endowed her, sit upon her with a certain careless and picturesque grace, "as though they had fallen upon her unawares." Thus Belphoebe, in the Fairy Queen, issues from the flowering forest with hair and garments all besprinkled with the leaves and blossoms they had entangled in their flight; and so arrayed by chance and "heedless hap," takes all hearts with "stately presence and with princely port,"—most like to Perdita!

The story of Florizel and Perdita is but an episode in the "Winter's Tale;" and the character of Perdita is properly kept subordinate to that of her mother, Hermione: yet the picture is perfectly finished in every part;—Juliet herself is not more firmly and distinctly drawn. But the coloring in Perdita is more silvery light and delicate; the pervading sentiment more touched with the ideal; compared with Juliet, she is like a Guido hung beside a Georgione, or one of Paesiello's airs heard after one of Mozart's.

The qualities which impart to Perdita her distinct individuality, are the beautiful combination of the pastoral with the elegant—of simplicity with elevation—of spirit with sweetness. The exquisite delicacy of the picture is apparent. To understand and appreciate its effective truth and nature, we should place Perdita beside some of the nymphs of Arcadia, or the Chloris' and Sylvias of the Italian pastorals, who, however graceful in themselves, when opposed to Perdita, seem to melt away into mere poetical abstractions;—as, in Spenser, the fair but fictitious Florimel, which the subtle enchantress had moulded out of snow, "vermeil tinctured," and informed with an airy spirit, that knew "all wiles of woman's wits," fades and dissolves away, when placed next to the real Florimel, in her warm, breathing, human loveliness.

Perdita does not appear till the fourth act, and the whole of the character is developed in the course of a single scene, (the third,) with a completeness of effect which leaves nothing to be required—nothing to be supplied. She is first introduced in the dialogue between herself and Florizel, where she compares her own lowly state to his princely rank, and expresses her fears of the issue of their unequal attachment. With all her timidity and her sense of the distance which separates her from her lover, she breathes not a single word which could lead us to impugn either her delicacy or her dignity.


These your unusual weeds to each part of you Do give a life—no shepherdess, but Flora Peering in April's front; this your sheep-shearing Is as the meeting of the petty gods, And you the queen on't.


Sir, my gracious lord, To chide at your extremes it not becomes me; O pardon that I name them: your high self, The gracious mark o' the land, you have obscured With a swain's bearing; and me, poor lowly maid, Most goddess-like prank'd up:—but that our feasts In every mess have folly, and the feeders Digest it with a custom, I should blush To see you so attired; sworn, I think To show myself a glass.

The impression of her perfect beauty and airy elegance of demeanor is conveyed in two exquisite passages:—

What you do Still betters what is done. When you speak, sweet, I'd have you do it ever. When you sing, I'd have you buy and sell so; so give alms, Pray so, and for the ordering your affairs To sing them too. When you do dance, I wish you A wave o' the sea, that you might ever do Nothing but that; move still, still so, and own No other function.

I take thy hand; this hand As soft as dove's down, and as white as it; Or Ethiopian's tooth, or the fann'd snow, That's bolted by the northern blasts twice o'er.

The artless manner in which her innate nobility of soul shines forth through her pastoral disguise, is thus brought before us at once:—

This is the prettiest low-born lass that ever Ran on the green sward; nothing she does or seems, But smacks of something greater than herself; Too noble for this place.

Her natural loftiness of spirit breaks out where she is menaced and reviled by the King, as one whom his son has degraded himself by merely looking on; she bears the royal frown without quailing; but the moment he is gone, the immediate recollection of herself, and of her humble state, of her hapless love, is full of beauty, tenderness, and nature:—

Even here undone! I was much afeard: for once or twice, I was about to speak; and tell him plainly The self-same sun, that shines upon his court Hides not his visage from our cottage, but Looks on alike.

Will't please, you Sir, be gone? I told you what would come of this. Beseech you, Of your own state take care; this dream of mine— Being now awake—I'll queen it no inch further, But milk my ewes, and weep.

How often have I told you 'twould be thus How often said, my dignity would last But till 'twere known!


It cannot fail, but by The violation of my faith; and then Let nature crush the sides o' the earth together And mar the seeds within! Lift up thy looks.

* * * *

Not for Bohemia, nor the pomp that may Be thereat glean'd! for all the sun sees, or The close earth wombs, or the profound seas hide In unknown fathoms, will I break my oath To thee, my fair beloved!

Perdita has another characteristic, which lends to the poetical delicacy of the delineation a certain strength and moral elevation, which is peculiarly striking. It is that sense of truth and rectitude, that upright simplicity of mind, which disdains all crooked and indirect means, which would not stoop for an instant to dissemblance, and is mingled with a noble confidence in her love and in her lover. In this spirit is her answer to Camilla, who says, courtier like,—

Besides, you know Prosperity's the very bond of love; Whose fresh complexion, and whose heart together Affliction alters.

To which she replies,—

One of these is true; I think, affliction may subdue the cheek, But not take in the mind.

In that elegant scene where she receives the guests at the sheep-shearing, and distributes the flowers, there is in the full flow of the poetry, a most beautiful and striking touch of individual character: but here it is impossible to mutilate the dialogue.

Reverend sirs, For you there's rosemary and rue; these keep Seeming and savor all the winter long; Grace and remembrance be to you both, And welcome to our shearing!


Shepherdess, (A fair one are you,) well you fit our ages With flowers of winter.


Sir, the year growing ancient, Nor yet on summer's death, nor on the birth Of trembling winter, the fairest flowers o' the season Are our carnations, and streaked gilliflowers, Which some call nature's bastards: of that kind Our rustic garden's barren; and I care not To get slips of them.


Wherefore, gentle maiden, Do you neglect them?


For I have heard it said, There is an art, which in their piedness, shares With great creating nature.


Say there be; Yet nature is made better by no mean But nature makes that mean; so o'er that art Which, you say, adds to nature, is an art That nature makes. You see, sweet maid, we marry A gentle scion to the wildest stock; And make conceive a bark of baser kind By bud of nobler race. This is an art Which does mend nature, change it rather; but The art itself is nature.


So it is.


Then make your garden rich in gilliflowers, And do not call them bastards.


I'll not put The dibble in earth to set one slip of them; No more than were I painted, I would wish This youth should say 'twere well.

It has been well remarked of this passage, that Perdita does not attempt to answer the reasoning of Polixenes: she gives up the argument, but, woman-like, retains her own opinion, or rather, her sense of right, unshaken by his sophistry. She goes on in a strain of poetry, which comes over the soul like music and fragrance mingled: we seem to inhale the blended odors of a thousand flowers, till the sense faints with their sweetness; and she concludes with a touch of passionate sentiment, which melts into the very heart:—

O Proserpina! For the flowers now, that, frighted, thou let'st fall From Dis's wagon! daffodils, That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty; violets dim, But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes, Or Cytherea's breath; pale primroses, That die unmarried, ere they can behold Bright Phoebus in his strength, a malady Most incident to maids; bold oxlips, and The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds, The flower-de-luce being one! O, these I lack, To make you garlands of; and my sweet friend To strew him o'er and o'er.


What! like a corse?


No, like a bank, for Love to lie and play on; Not like a corse: or if,—not to be buried, But quick, and in mine arms!

This love of truth, this conscientiousness, which forms so distinct a feature in the character of Perdita, and mingles with its picturesque delicacy a certain firmness and dignity, is maintained consistently to the last. When the two lovers fly together from Bohemia, and take refuge in the court of Leontes, the real father of Perdita, Florizel presents himself before the king with a feigned tale, in which he has been artfully instructed by the old counsellor Camillo. During this scene, Perdita does not utter a word. In the strait in which they are placed, she cannot deny the story which Florizel relates—she will not confirm it. Her silence, in spite of all the compliments and greetings of Leontes, has a peculiar and characteristic grace and, at the conclusion of the scene, when they are betrayed, the truth bursts from her as if instinctively, and she exclaims, with emotion,—

The heavens set spies upon us—will not have Our contract celebrated.

After this scene, Perdita says very little. The description of her grief, while listening to the relation of her mother's death,—

"One of the prettiest touches of all, was, when at the relation of the queen's death, with the manner how she came by it, how attentiveness wounded her daughter: till from one sign of dolor to another, she did, with an alas! I would fain say, bleed tears:"—

her deportment too as she stands gazing on the statue of Hermione, fixed in wonder, admiration and sorrow, as if she too were marble—

O royal piece! There's magic in thy majesty, which has From thy admiring daughter ta'en the spirits, Standing like stone beside thee!

are touches of character conveyed indirectly, and which serve to give a more finished effect to this beautiful picture.


As the innate dignity of Perdita pierces through her rustic disguise, so the exquisite refinement of Viola triumphs over her masculine attire. Viola is, perhaps, in a degree less elevated and ideal than Perdita, but with a touch of sentiment more profound and heart-stirring; she is "deep-learned in the lore of love,"—at least theoretically,—and speaks as masterly on the subject as Perdita does of flowers.


How dost thou like this tune?


It gives a very echo to the seat Where love is thron'd.

And again,

If I did love you in my master's flame, With such a suffering, such a deadly life— in your denial I would find no sense, I would not understand it.


Why, what would you do?


Make me a willow cabin at your gate, And call upon my soul within the house; Write loyal cantons[35] of contemned love, And sing them loud even in the dead of night. Holla your name to the reverberate hills, And make babbling gossip of the air Cry out, Olivia! O you should not rest Between the elements of air and earth, But you should pity me.


You might do much.

The situation and the character of Viola have been censured for their want of consistency and probability; it is therefore worth while to examine how far this criticism is true. As for her situation in the drama, (of which she is properly the heroine,) it is shortly this. She is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria: she is alone and without protection in a strange country. She wishes to enter into the service of the Countess Olivia; but she is assured that this is impossible; "for the lady having recently lost an only and beloved brother, has abjured the sight of men, has shut herself up in her palace, and will admit no kind of suit." In this perplexity Viola remembers to have heard her father speak with praise and admiration of Orsino, the Duke of the country; and having ascertained that he is not married, and that therefore his court is not a proper asylum for her in her feminine character, she attires herself in the disguise of a page, as the best protection against uncivil comments, till she can gain some tidings of her brother.

If we carry our thoughts back to a romantic and chivalrous age, there is surely sufficient probability here for all the purposes of poetry. To pursue the thread of Viola's destiny;—she is engaged in the service of the Duke, whom she finds "fancy-sick" for the love of Olivia. We are left to infer, (for so it is hinted in the first scene,) that this Duke—who with his accomplishments, and his personal attractions, his taste for music, his chivalrous tenderness, and his unrequited love, is really a very fascinating and poetical personage, though a little passionate and fantastic—had already made some impression on Viola's imagination; and when she comes to play the confidante, and to be loaded with favors and kindness in her assumed character, that she should be touched by a passion made up of pity, admiration, gratitude, and tenderness, does not, I think, in any way detract from the genuine sweetness and delicacy of her character, for "she never told her love."

Now all this, as the critic wisely observes, may not present a very just picture of life; and it may also fail to impart any moral lesson for the especial profit of well-bred young ladies; but is it not in truth and in nature? Did it ever fail to charm or to interest, to seize on the coldest fancy, to touch the most insensible heart?

Viola then is the chosen favorite of the enamoured Duke, and becomes his messenger to Olivia, and the interpreter of his sufferings to that inaccessible beauty. In her character of a youthful page, she attracts the favor of Olivia, and excites the jealousy of her lord. The situation is critical and delicate; but how exquisitely is the character of Viola fitted to her part, carrying her through the ordeal with all the inward and spiritual grace of modesty. What beautiful propriety in the distinction drawn between Rosalind and Viola! The wild sweetness, the frolic humor which sports free and unblamed amid the shades of Ardennes, would ill become Viola, whose playfulness is assumed as part of her disguise as a court-page, and is guarded by the strictest delicacy. She has not, like Rosalind, a saucy enjoyment in her own incognito; her disguise does not sit so easily upon her; her heart does not beat freely under it. As in the old ballad, where "Sweet William" is detected weeping in secret over her "man's array,"[36] so in Viola, a sweet consciousness of her feminine nature is for ever breaking through her masquerade:—

And on her cheek is ready with a blush Modest as morning, when she coldly eyes The youthful Phoebus.

She plays her part well, but never forgets nor allows us to forget, that she is playing a part.


Are you a comedian?


No, my profound heart! and yet by the very fangs of malice I swear, I am not that I play!

And thus she comments on it:—

Disguise, I see thou art wickedness, Wherein the pregnant enemy does much; How easy is it for the proper false In women's waxen hearts to set their forms! Alas! our frailty is the cause, not we.

The feminine cowardice of Viola, which will not allow her even to affect a courage becoming her attire,—her horror at the idea of drawing a sword, is very natural and characteristic; and produces a most humorous effect, even at the very moment it charms and interests us.

Contrasted with the deep, silent, patient love of Viola for the Duke, we have the lady-like wilfulness of Olivia; and her sudden passion, or rather fancy, for the disguised page, takes so beautiful a coloring of poetry and sentiment, that we do not think her forward. Olivia is like a princess of romance, and has all the privileges of one; she is, like Portia, high born and high bred, mistress over her servants—but not like Portia, "queen o'er herself." She has never in her life been opposed; the first contradiction, therefore, rouses all the woman in her, and turns a caprice into a headlong passion; yet she apologizes for herself.

I have said too much unto a heart of stone, And laid mine honor too unchary out; There's something in me that reproves my fault; But such a headstrong potent fault it is, That it but mocks reproof!

And in the midst of her self-abandonment, never allows us to contemn, even while we pity her:—

What shall you ask of me that I'll deny. That honor, saved, may upon asking give?

The distance of rank which separates the Countess from the youthful page—the real sex of Viola—the dignified elegance of Olivia's deportment, except where passion gets the better of her pride—her consistent coldness towards the Duke—the description of that "smooth, discreet, and stable bearing" with which she rules her household—her generous care for her steward Malvolio, in the midst of her own distress,—all these circumstances raise Olivia in our fancy, and render her caprice for the page a source of amusement and interest, not a subject of reproach. Twelfth Night is a genuine comedy;—a perpetual spring of the gayest and the sweetest fancies. In artificial society men and women are divided into castes and classes, and it is rarely that extremes in character or manners can approximate. To blend into one harmonious picture the utmost grace and refinement of sentiment, and the broadest effects of humor; the most poignant wit, and the most indulgent benignity;—in short, to bring before us in the same scene, Viola and Olivia, with Malvolio and Sir Toby, belonged only to Nature and to Shakspeare.


A woman's affections, however strong, are sentiments, when they run smooth; and become passions only when opposed.

In Juliet and Helena, love is depicted as a passion, properly so called; that is, a natural impulse, throbbing in the heart's blood, and mingling with the very sources of life;—a sentiment more or less modified by the imagination; a strong abiding principle and motive, excited by resistance, acting upon the will, animating all the other faculties, and again influenced by them. This is the most complex aspect of love, and in these two characters, it is depicted in colors at once the most various, the most intense, and the most brilliant.

In Viola and Perdita, love, being less complex, appears more refined; more a sentiment than a passion—a compound of impulse and fancy, while the reflective powers and moral energies are more faintly developed. The same remark applies also to Julia and Silvia, in the Two Gentlemen of Verona, and, in a greater degree, to Hermia and Helena in the Midsummer Night's Dream. In the two latter, though perfectly discriminated, love takes the visionary fanciful cast, which belongs to the whole piece; it is scarcely a passion or a sentiment, but a dreamy enchantment, a reverie, which a fairy spell dissolves or fixes at pleasure.

But there was yet another possible modification of the sentiment, as combined with female nature; and this Shakspeare has shown to us. He has portrayed two beings, in whom all intellectual and moral energy is in a manner latent, if existing; in whom love is an unconscious impulse, and imagination lends the external charm and hue, not the internal power; in whom the feminine character appears resolved into its very elementary principles—as modesty, grace,[37] tenderness. Without these a woman is no woman, but a thing which, luckily, wants a name yet; with these, though every other faculty were passive or deficient, she might still be herself. These are the inherent qualities with which God sent us into the world: they may be perverted by a bad education—they may be obscured by harsh and evil destinies—they may be overpowered by the development of some particular mental power, the predominance of some passion—but they are never wholly crushed out of the woman's soul, while it retains those faculties which render it responsible to its Creator. Shakspeare then has shown us that these elemental feminine qualities, modesty, grace, tenderness, when expanded under genial influences, suffice to constitute a perfect and happy human creature: such is Miranda. When thrown alone amid harsh and adverse destinies, and amid the trammels and corruptions of society, without energy to resist, or will to act, or strength to endure, the end must needs be desolation.

Ophelia—poor Ophelia! O far too soft, too good, too fair, to be cast among the briers of this working-day world, and fall and bleed upon the thorns of life! What shall be said of her? for eloquence is mute before her! Like a strain of sad sweet music which comes floating by us on the wings of night and silence, and which we rather feel than hear—like the exhalation of the violet dying even upon the sense it charms—like the snow-flake dissolved in air before it has caught a stain of earth—like the light surf severed from the billow, which a breath disperses—such is the character of Ophelia: so exquisitely delicate, it seems as if a touch would profane it; so sanctified in our thoughts by the last and worst of human woes, that we scarcely dare to consider it too deeply. The love of Ophelia, which she never once confesses, is like a secret which we have stolen from her, and which ought to die upon our hearts as upon her own. Her sorrows ask not words but tears; and her madness has precisely the same effect that would be produced by the spectacle of real insanity, if brought before us: we feel inclined to turn away, and veil our eyes in reverential pity and too painful sympathy.

Beyond every character that Shakspeare has drawn, (Hamlet alone excepted,) that of Ophelia makes us forget the poet in his own creation. Whenever we bring her to mind, it is with the same exclusive sense of her real existence, without reference to the wondrous power which called her into life. The effect (and what an effect!) is produced by means so simple, by strokes so few, and so unobtrusive, that we take no thought of them. It is so purely natural and unsophisticated, yet so profound in its pathos, that, as Hazlitt observes, it takes us back to the old ballads; we forget that, in its perfect artlessness, it is the supreme and consummate triumph of art.

The situation of Ophelia in the story,[38] is that of a young girl who, at an early age, is brought from a life of privacy into the circle of a court—a court such as we read of in those early times, at once rude, magnificent, and corrupted. She is placed immediately about the person of the queen, and is apparently her favorite attendant. The affection of the wicked queen for this gentle and innocent creature, is one of those beautiful redeeming touches, one of those penetrating glances into the secret springs of natural and feminine feeling which we find only in Shakspeare. Gertrude, who is not so wholly abandoned but that there remains within her heart some sense of the virtue she has forfeited, seems to look with a kind yet melancholy complacency on the lovely being she has destined for the bride of her son; and the scene in which she is introduced as scattering flowers on the grave of Ophelia, is one of those effects of contrast in poetry, in character and in feeling, at once natural and unexpected; which fill the eye, and make the heart swell and tremble within itself—like the nightingales singing in the grove of the Furies in Sophocles.[39]

Again, in the father of Ophelia, the Lord Chamberlain Polonius—the shrewd, wary, subtle, pompous, garrulous old courtier—have we not the very man who would send his son into the world to see all, learn all it could teach of good and evil, but keep his only daughter as far as possible from every taint of that world he knew so well? So that when she is brought to the court, she seems in her loveliness and perfect purity, like a seraph that had wandered out of bounds, and yet breathed on earth the air of paradise. When her father and her brother find it necessary to warn her simplicity, give her lessons of worldly wisdom, and instruct her "to be scanter of her maiden presence," for that Hamlet's vows of love "but breathe like sanctified and pious bonds, the better to beguile," we feel at once that it comes too late; for from the moment she appears on the scene amid the dark conflict of crime and vengeance, and supernatural terrors, we know what must be her destiny. Once, at Murano, I saw a dove caught in a tempest; perhaps it was young, and either lacked strength of wing to reach its home, or the instinct which teaches to shun the brooding storm; but so it was—and I watched it, pitying, as it flitted, poor bird hither and thither, with its silver pinions shining against the black thunder-cloud, till, after a few giddy whirls, it fell blinded, affrighted, and bewildered, into the turbid wave beneath, and was swallowed up forever. It reminded me then of the fate of Ophelia; and now when I think of her, I see again before me that poor dove, beating with weary wing, bewildered amid the storm. It is the helplessness of Ophelia, arising merely from her innocence, and pictured without any indication of weakness, which melts us with such profound pity. She is so young, that neither her mind nor her person have attained maturity; she is not aware of the nature of her own feelings; they are prematurely developed in their full force before she has strength to bear them; and love and grief together rend and shatter the frail texture of her existence, like the burning fluid poured into a crystal vase. She says very little, and what she does say seems rather intended to hide than to reveal the emotions of her heart; yet in those few words we are made as perfectly acquainted with her character, and with what is passing in her mind, as if she had thrown forth her soul with all the glowing eloquence of Juliet. Passion with Juliet seems innate, a part of her being, "as dwells the gathered lightning in the cloud;" and we never fancy her but with the dark splendid eyes and Titian-like complexion of the south. While in Ophelia we recognize as distinctly the pensive, fair-haired, blue-eyed daughter of the north, whose heart seems to vibrate to the passion she has inspired, more conscious of being loved than of loving; and yet, alas! loving in the silent depths of her young heart far more than she is loved.

When her brother warns her against Hamlet's importunities—

For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favor, Hold it a fashion, and a toy of blood, A violet in the youth of primy nature, Forward not permanent, sweet not lasting, The perfume and the suppliance of a minute— No more!

she replies with a kind of half consciousness—

No more but so?


Think it no more.

He concludes his admonition with that most beautiful passage, in which the soundest sense, the most excellent advice, is conveyed in a strain of the most exquisite poetry.

The chariest maid is prodigal enough, If she unmask her beauty to the moon: Virtue itself 'scapes not calumnious strokes. The canker galls the infants of the spring Too oft before their buttons be disclos'd: And in the morn and liquid dew of youth, Contagious blastments are most imminent.

She answers with the same modesty, yet with a kind of involuntary avowal, that his fears are not altogether without cause:—

I shall the effect of this good lesson keep As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother, Do not, as some ungracious pastors do, Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven; Whilst, like the puff'd and reckless libertine, Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads, And recks not his own read.[40]

When her father, immediately afterwards, catechizes her on the same subject, he extorts from her, in short sentences, uttered with bashful reluctance, the confession of Hamlet's love for her, but not a word of her love for him. The whole scene is managed with inexpressible delicacy: it is one of those instances, common in Shakspeare, in which we are allowed to perceive what is passing in the mind of a person, without any consciousness on their part. Only Ophelia herself is unaware that while she is admitting the extent of Hamlet's courtship, she is also betraying how deep is the impression it has made, how entire the love with which it is returned.


What is between you? give me up the truth!


He hath, my lord, of late, made many tenders Of his affection to me.


Affection! poh! you speak like a green girl, Unsifted in such perilous circumstances. Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?


I do not know, my lord, what I should think.


Marry, I'll teach you: think yourself a baby; That you have taken these tenders for true pay Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly Or (not to crack the wind of the poor phrase, Wronging it thus) you'll tender me a fool.


My lord, he hath importun'd me with love In honorable fashion.


Ay, fashion you may call it; go to, go to.


And hath given countenance to his speech, my lord, With almost all the holy vows of heaven.


Ay, springes to catch woodcocks. This is for all: would not, in plain terms, from this time forth Have you so slander any moment's leisure As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet, Look to't, I charge you: come your ways.


I shall obey, my lord.

Besides its intrinsic loveliness, the character of Ophelia has a relative beauty and delicacy when considered in relation to that of Hamlet, which is the delineation of a man of genius in contest with the powers of this world. The weakness of volition, the instability of purpose, the contemplative sensibility, the subtlety of thought, always shrinking from action, and always occupied in "thinking too precisely on the event," united to immense intellectual power, render him unspeakably interesting: and yet I doubt whether any woman, who would have been capable of understanding and appreciating such a man, would have passionately loved him. Let us for a moment imagine any one of Shakspeare's most beautiful and striking female characters in immediate connection with Hamlet. The gentle Desdemona would never have despatched her household cares in haste, to listen to his philosophical speculations, his dark conflicts with his own spirit. Such a woman as Portia would have studied him; Juliet would have pitied him; Rosalind would have turned him over with a smile to the melancholy Jacques; Beatrice would have laughed at him outright; Isabel would have reasoned with him; Miranda could but have wondered at him: but Ophelia loves him. Ophelia, the young, fair, inexperienced girl, facile to every impression, fond in her simplicity, and credulous in her innocence, loves Hamlet; not from what he is in himself, but for that which appears to her—the gentle, accomplished prince, upon whom she has been accustomed to see all eyes fixed in hope and admiration, "the expectancy and rose of the fair state," the star of the court in which she moves, the first who has ever whispered soft vows in her ear: and what can be more natural?

But it is not singular, that while no one entertains a doubt of Ophelia's love for Hamlet—though never once expressed by herself, or asserted by others, in the whole course of the drama—yet it is a subject of dispute whether Hamlet loves Ophelia, though she herself allows that he had importuned her with love, and "had given countenance to his suit with almost all the holy vows of heaven;" although in the letter which Polonius intercepted, Hamlet declares that he loves her "best, O most best!"—though he asserts himself, with the wildest vehemence,—

I lov'd Ophelia; forty thousand brothers Could not, with all their quantity of love, Make up my sum:

—still I have heard the question canvassed; I have even heard it denied that Hamlet did love Ophelia. The author of the finest remarks I have yet seen on the play and character of Hamlet, leans to this opinion. As the observations I allude to are contained in a periodical publication, and may not be at hand for immediate reference, I shall indulge myself (and the reader no less) by quoting the opening paragraphs of this noble piece of criticism, upon the principle, and for the reason I have already stated in the introduction.

"We take up a play, and ideas come rolling in upon us, like waves impelled by a strong wind. There is in the ebb and flow of Shakspeare's soul all the grandeur of a mighty operation of nature; and when we think or speak of him, it should be with humility where we do not understand, and a conviction that it is rather to the narrowness of our own mind than to any failing in the art of the great magician, that we ought to attribute any sense of weakness, which may assail us during the contemplation of his created worlds.

"Shakspeare himself, had he even been as great a critic as a poet, could not have written a regular dissertation upon Hamlet. So ideal, and yet so real an existence, could have been shadowed out only in the colors of poetry. When a character deals solely or chiefly with this world and its events when it acts and is acted upon by objects that have a palpable existence, we see it distinctly, as if it were cast in a material mould, as if it partook of the fixed and settled lineaments of the things on which it lavishes its sensibilities and its passions. We see in such cases the vision of an individual soul, as we see the vision of an individual countenance. We can describe both, and can let a stranger into our knowledge. But how tell in words, so pure, so fine, so ideal an abstraction as Hamlet? We can, indeed, figure to ourselves generally his princely form, that outshone all others in manly beauty, and adorn it with the consummation of all liberal accomplishment. We can behold in every look, every gesture, every motion, the future king,—

The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword, Th' expectancy and rose of the fair state; The glass of fashion, and the mould of form, Th' observ'd of all observers.

"But when we would penetrate into his spirit, meditate on those things on which he meditates, accompany him even unto the brink of eternity, fluctuate with him on the ghastly sea of despair, soar with him into the purest and serenest regions of human thought, feel with him the curse of beholding iniquity, and the troubled delight of thinking on innocence, and gentleness, and beauty; come with him from all the glorious dreams cherished by a noble spirit in the halls of wisdom and philosophy, of a sudden into the gloomy courts of sin, and incest, and murder; shudder with him over the broken and shattered fragments of all the fairest creations of his fancy,—be borne with him at once, from calm, and lofty, and delighted speculations, into the very heart of fear, and horror, and tribulations,—have the agonies and the guilt of our mortal world brought into immediate contact with the world beyond the grave, and the influence of an awful shadow hanging forever on our thoughts,—be present at a fearful combat between all the stirred-up passions of humanity in the soul of man, a combat in which one and all of these passions are alternately victorious and overcome; I say, that when we are thus placed and acted upon, how is it possible to draw a character of this sublime drama, or of the mysterious being who is its moving spirit? In him, his character and situation, there is a concentration of all the interests that belong to humanity. There is scarcely a trait of frailty or of grandeur, which may have endeared to us our most beloved friends in real life, that is not to be found in Hamlet. Undoubtedly Shakspeare loved him beyond all his other creations. Soon as he appears on the stage we are satisfied: when absent we long for his return. This is the only play which exists almost altogether in the character of one single person. Who ever knew a Hamlet in real life? yet who, ideal as the character is, feels not its reality? This is the wonder. We love him not, we think of him, not because he is witty, because he was melancholy, because he was filial; but we love him because he existed, and was himself. This is the sum total of the impression. I believe that, of every other character either in tragic or epic poetry, the story makes part of the conception; but of Hamlet, the deep and permanent interest is the conception of himself. This seems to belong, not to the character being more perfectly drawn, but to there being a more intense conception of individual human life than perhaps any other human composition. Here is a being with springs of thought, and feeling, and action, deeper than we can search. These springs rise from an unknown depth, and in that depth there seems to be a oneness of being which we cannot distinctly behold, but which we believe to be there; and thus irreconcilable circumstances, floating on the surface of his actions, have not the effect of making us doubt the truth of the general picture."[41]

This is all most admirable, most eloquent, most true! but the critic subsequently declares, that "there is nothing in Ophelia which could make her the object of an engrossing passion to so majestic a spirit as Hamlet."

Now, though it be with reluctance, and even considerable mistrust of myself, that I differ from a critic who can thus feel and write, I do not think so:—I do think, with submission, that the love of Hamlet for Ophelia is deep, is real, and is precisely the kind of love which such a man as Hamlet would feel for such a woman as Ophelia.

When the heathen would represent their Jove as clothed in all his Olympian terrors, they mounted him on the back of an eagle, and armed him with the lightnings; but when in Holy Writ the Supreme Being is described as coming in his glory, He is upborne on the wings of cherubim, and his emblem is the dove. Even so our blessed religion, which has revealed deeper mysteries in the human soul than ever were dreamt of by philosophy till she went hand-in-hand with faith, has taught us to pay that worship to the symbols of purity and innocence, which in darker times was paid to the manifestations of power: and therefore do I think that the mighty intellect, the capacious, soaring, penetrating genius of Hamlet may be represented, without detracting from its grandeur, as reposing upon the tender virgin innocence of Ophelia, with all that deep delight with which a superior nature contemplates the goodness which is at once perfect in itself, and of itself unconscious. That Hamlet regards Ophelia with this kind of tenderness,—that he loves her with a love as intense as can belong to a nature in which there is, (I think,) much more of contemplation and sensibility than action or passion—is the feeling and conviction with which I have always read the play of Hamlet.

As to whether the mind of Hamlet be, or be not, touched with madness—this is another point at issue among critics, philosophers, ay, and physicians. To me it seems that he is not so far disordered as to cease to be a responsible human being—that were too pitiable: but rather that his mind is shaken from its equilibrium, and bewildered by the horrors of his situation—horrors which his fine and subtle intellect, his strong imagination, and his tendency to melancholy, at once exaggerate, and take from him the power either to endure, or "by opposing, end them." We do not see him as a lover, nor as Ophelia first beheld him; for the days when he importuned her with love were before the opening of the drama—before his father's spirit revisited the earth; but we behold him at once in a sea of troubles, of perplexities, of agonies, of terrors. Without remorse, he endures all its horrors; without guilt, he endures all its shame. A loathing of the crime he is called on to revenge, which revenge is again abhorrent to his nature, has set him at strife with himself; the supernatural visitation has perturbed his soul to its inmost depths; all things else, all interests, all hopes, all affections, appear as futile, when the majestic shadow comes lamenting from its place of torment "to shake him with thoughts beyond the reaches of his soul!" His love for Ophelia is then ranked by himself among those trivial, fond records which he has deeply sworn to erase from his heart and brain. He has no thought to link his terrible destiny with hers: he cannot marry her: he cannot reveal to her, young, gentle, innocent as she is, the terrific influences which have changed the whole current of his life and purposes. In his distraction he overacts the painful part to which he had tasked himself; he is like that judge of the Areopagus, who being occupied with graver matters, flung from him the little bird which had sought refuge in his bosom, and with such angry violence, that unwittingly he killed it.

In the scene with Hamlet,[42] in which he madly outrages her and upbraids himself, Ophelia says very little: there are two short sentences in which she replies to his wild, abrupt discourse:—


I did love you once.


Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.


You should not have believed me: for virtue cannot so inocculate our old stock, but we shall relish of it. I loved you not.


I was the more deceived.

Those who ever heard Mrs. Siddons read the play of Hamlet, cannot forget the world of meaning, of love, of sorrow, of despair, conveyed in these two simple phrases. Here, and in the soliloquy afterwards, where she says,—

And I of ladies most deject and wretched, That sucked the honey of his music vows,

are the only allusions to herself and her own feelings in the course of the play; and these, uttered almost without consciousness on her own part, contain the revelation of a life of love, and disclose the secret burthen of a heart bursting with its own unuttered grief. She believes Hamlet crazed; she is repulsed, she is forsaken, she is outraged, where she had bestowed her young heart, with all its hopes and wishes; her father is slain by the hand of her lover, as it is supposed, in a paroxysm of insanity: she is entangled inextricably in a web of horrors which she cannot even comprehend, and the result seems inevitable.

Of her subsequent madness, what can be said? What an affecting—what an astonishing picture of a mind utterly, hopelessly wrecked!—past hope—past cure! There is the frenzy of excited passion—there is the madness caused by intense and continued thought—there is the delirium of fevered nerves; but Ophelia's madness is distinct from these: it is not the suspension, but the utter destruction of the reasoning powers; it is the total imbecility which, as medical people well know, frequently follows some terrible shock to the spirits. Constance is frantic; Lear is mad; Ophelia is insane. Her sweet mind lies in fragments before us—a pitiful spectacle! Her wild, rambling fancies; her aimless, broken speeches; her quick transitions from gayety to sadness—each equally purposeless and causeless; her snatches of old ballads, such as perhaps her nurse sung her to sleep with in her infancy—are all so true to the life, that we forget to wonder, and can only weep. It belonged to Shakspeare alone so to temper such a picture that we can endure to dwell upon it:—

Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself, She turns to favor and to prettiness.

That in her madness she should exchange her bashful silence for empty babbling, her sweet maidenly demeanor for the impatient restlessness that spurns at straws, and say and sing precisely what she never would or could have uttered had she been in possession of her reason, is so far from being an impropriety, that it is an additional stroke of nature. It is one of the symptoms of this species of insanity, as we are assured by physicians. I have myself known one instance in the case of a young Quaker girl, whose character resembled that of Ophelia, and whose malady arose from a similar cause.

The whole action of this play sweeps past us like a torrent, which hurries along in its dark and resistless course all the personages of the drama towards a catastrophe that is not brought about by human will, but seems like an abyss ready dug to receive them, where the good and the wicked are whelmed together.[43] As the character of Hamlet has been compared, or rather contrasted, with the Greek Orestes, being like him, called on to avenge a crime by a crime, tormented by remorseful doubts, and pursued by distraction, so, to me, the character of Ophelia bears a certain relation to that of the Greek Iphigenia,[44] with the same strong distinction between the classical and the romantic conception of the portrait. Iphigenia led forth to sacrifice, with her unresisting tenderness, her mournful sweetness, her virgin innocence, is doomed to perish by that relentless power, which has linked her destiny with crimes and contests, in which she has no part but as a sufferer; and even so, poor Ophelia, "divided from herself and her fair judgment," appears here like a spotless victim offered up to the mysterious and inexorable fates.

"For it is the property of crime to extend its mischiefs over innocence, as it is of virtue to extend its blessings over many that deserve them not, while frequently the author of one or the other is not, as far as we can see, either punished or rewarded."[45] But there's a heaven above us!


We might have deemed it impossible to go beyond Viola, Perdita, and Ophelia, as pictures of feminine beauty; to exceed the one in tender delicacy, the other in ideal grace, and the last in simplicity,—if Shakspeare had not done this; and he alone could have done it. Had he never created a Miranda, we should never have been made to feel how completely the purely natural and the purely ideal can blend into each other.

The character of Miranda resolves itself into the very elements of womanhood. She is beautiful, modest, and tender, and she is these only; they comprise her whole being, external and internal. She is so perfectly unsophisticated, so delicately refined, that she is all but ethereal. Let us imagine any other woman placed beside Miranda—even one of Shakspeare's own loveliest and sweetest creations—there is not one of them that could sustain the comparison for a moment; not one that would not appear somewhat coarse or artificial when brought into immediate contact with this pure child of nature, this "Eve of an enchanted Paradise."

What, then, has Shakspeare done?—"O wondrous skill and sweet wit of the man!"—he has removed Miranda far from all comparison with her own sex; he has placed her between the demi-demon of earth and the delicate spirit of air. The next step is into the ideal and supernatural; and the only being who approaches Miranda, with whom she can be contrasted, is Ariel. Beside the subtle essence of this ethereal sprite, this creature of elemental light and air, that "ran upon the winds, rode the curl'd clouds, and in the colors of the rainbow lived," Miranda herself appears a palpable reality; a woman, "breathing thoughtful breath," a woman, walking the earth in her mortal loveliness, with a heart as frail-strung, as passion-touched, as ever fluttered in a female bosom.

I have said that Miranda possesses merely the elementary attributes of womanhood, but each of these stand in her with a distinct and peculiar grace. She resembles nothing upon earth; but do we therefore compare her, in our own minds, with any of those fabled beings with which the fancy of ancient poets peopled the forest depths, the fountain or the ocean?—oread or dryad fleet, sea-maid, or naiad of the stream? We cannot think of them together. Miranda is a consistent, natural, human being. Our impression of her nymph-like beauty, her peerless grace, and purity of soul, has a distinct and individual character. Not only is she exquisitely lovely, being what she is, but we are made to feel that she could not possibly be otherwise than as she is portrayed. She has never beheld one of her own sex; she has never caught from society one imitated or artificial grace. The impulses which have come to her, in her enchanted solitude, are of heaven and nature, not of the world and its vanities. She has sprung up into beauty beneath the eye of her father, the princely magician; her companions have been the rocks and woods, the many-shaped, many-tinted clouds, and the silent stars; her playmates the ocean billows, that stooped their foamy crests, and ran rippling to kiss her feet. Ariel and his attendant sprites hovered over her head, ministered duteous to her every wish, and presented before her pageants of beauty and grandeur. The very air, made vocal by her father's art, floated in music around her. If we can presuppose such a situation with all its circumstances, do we not behold in the character of Miranda not only the credible, but the natural, the necessary results of such a situation? She retains her woman's heart, for that is unalterable and inalienable, as a part of her being; but her deportment, her looks, her language, her thoughts—all these, from the supernatural and poetical circumstances around her, assume a cast of the pure ideal; and to us, who are in the secret of her human and pitying nature, nothing can be more charming and consistent than the effect which she produces upon others, who never having beheld any thing resembling her, approach her as "a wonder," as something celestial:—

Be sure! the goddess on whom these airs attend!

And again:—

What is this maid? Is she the goddess who hath severed us, And brought us thus together?

And Ferdinand exclaims, while gazing on her,

My spirits as in a dream are all bound up! My father's loss, the weakness that I feel, The wreck of all my friends, or this man's threats, To whom I am subdued, are but light to me Might I but through my prison once a day Behold this maid: all corners else o' the earth Let liberty make use of, space enough Have I in such a prison.

Contrasted with the impression of her refined and dignified beauty, and its effect on all beholders, is Miranda's own soft simplicity, her virgin innocence, her total ignorance of the conventional forms and language of society. It is most natural that in a being thus constituted, the first tears should spring from compassion, "suffering with those that she saw suffer:"—

O the cry did knock Against my very heart. Poor souls! they perished. Had I been any god of power, I would Have sunk the sea within the earth, or e'er It should the good ship so have swallowed, And the freighting souls within her;

and that her first sigh should be offered to a love at once fearless and submissive, delicate and fond. She has no taught scruples of honor like Juliet; no coy concealments like Viola; no assumed dignity standing in its own defence. Her bashfulness is less a quality than an instinct; it is like the self-folding of a flower, spontaneous and unconscious. I suppose there is nothing of the kind in poetry equal to the scene between Ferdinand and Miranda. In Ferdinand, who is a noble creature, we have all the chivalrous magnanimity with which man, in a high state of civilization, disguises his real superiority, and does humble homage to the being of whose destiny he disposes; while Miranda, the mere child of nature, is struck with wonder at her own new emotions. Only conscious of her own weakness as a woman, and ignorant of those usages of society which teach us to dissemble the real passion, and assume (and sometimes abuse) an unreal and transient power, she is equally ready to place her life, her love, her service beneath his feet.


Alas, now! pray you, Work not so hard: I would the lightning had Burnt up those logs, that you are enjoined to pile! Pray set it down and rest you: when this burns, 'Twill weep for having weary'd you. My father Is hard at study; pray now, rest yourself: He's safe for these three hours.


O most dear mistress, The sun will set before I shall discharge What I must strive to do.


If you'll sit down, I'll bear your logs the while. Pray give me that, I'll carry it to the pile.


No, precious creature; I had rather crack my sinews, break my back, Than you should such dishonor undergo, While I sit lazy by.


It would become me As well as it does you; and I should do it With much more ease; for my good will is to it, And yours against.

* * * *


You look wearily.


No, noble mistress; 'tis fresh morning with me When you are by at night. I do beseech you, (Chiefly that I might set it in my prayers,) What is your name?


Miranda. O my father I have broke your 'hest to say so!


Admir'd Miranda! Indeed the top of admiration; worth What's dearest to the world! Full many a lady I have eyed with best regard: and many a time The harmony of their tongues hath into bondage Brought my too diligent ear: for several virtues Have I liked several women; never any With so full soul, but some defect in her Did quarrel with the noblest grace she owed And put it to the foil. But you, O you, So perfect and so peerless, are created Of every creature's best!


I do not know One of my sex: no woman's face remember, Save, from my glass, mine own; nor have I seen Mere that I may call men, than you, good friend, And my dear father. How features are abroad I am skill-less of: but, by my modesty, (The jewel in my dower,) I would not wish Any companion in the world but you; Nor can imagination form a shape, Besides yourself, to like of—But I prattle Something too wildly, and my father's precepts Therein forget.


I am, in my condition A prince, Miranda—I do think a king— (I would, not so!) and would no more endure This wooden slavery, than I would suffer The flesh-fly blow my mouth. Hear my soul speak The very instant that I saw you, did My heart fly to your service; there resides, To make me slave to it; and for your sake, Am I this patient log-man.


Do you love me?


O heaven! O earth! bear witness to this sound And crown what I profess with kind event, If I speak true: if hollowly, invert What best is boded me, to mischief! I, Beyond all limit of what else i' the world, Do love, prize, honor you.


I am a fool, To weep at what I am glad of.


Wherefore weep you


At mine unworthiness, that dare not offer What I desire to give; and much less take, What I shall die to want—But this is trifling: And all the more it seeks to hide itself, The bigger bulk it shows. Hence, bashful cunning; And prompt me, plain and holy innocence! I am your wife, if you will marry me; If not I'll die your maid: to be your fellow You may deny me; but I'll be your servant Whether you will or no!


My mistress, dearest! And I thus humble ever.


My husband, then?


Ay, with a heart as willing, As bondage e'er of freedom. Here's my hand.


And mine with my heart in it. And now farewell Till half an hour hence.

As Miranda, being what she is, could only have had a Ferdinand for a lover, and an Ariel for her attendant, so she could have had with propriety no other father than the majestic and gifted being, who fondly claims her as "a thread of his own life—nay, that for which he lives." Prospero, with his magical powers, his superhuman wisdom, his moral worth and grandeur, and his kingly dignity, is one of the most sublime visions that ever swept with ample robes, pale brow, and sceptred hand, before the eye of fancy. He controls the invisible world, and works through the agency of spirits: not by any evil and forbidden compact, but solely by superior might of intellect—by potent spells gathered from the lore of ages, and abjured when he mingles again as a man with his fellow men. He is as distinct a being from the necromancers and astrologers celebrated in Shakspeare's age, as can well be imagined:[46] and all the wizards of poetry and fiction, even Faust and St. Leon, sink into common-places before the princely, the philosophic, the benevolent Prospero.

The Bermuda Isles, in which Shakspeare has placed the scene of the Tempest, were discovered in his time: Sir George Somers and his companions having been wrecked there in a terrible storm,[47] brought back a most fearful account of those unknown islands, which they described as "a land of devils—a most prodigious and enchanted place, subject to continual tempests and supernatural visitings." Such was the idea entertained of the "still-vext Bermoothes" in Shakspeare's age; but later travellers describe them as perfect regions of enchantment in a far different sense; as so many fairy Edens, clustered like a knot of gems upon the bosom of the Atlantic, decked out in all the lavish luxuriance of nature, with shades of myrtle and cedar, fringed round with groves of coral; in short, each island a tiny paradise, rich with perpetual blossoms, in which Ariel might have slumbered, and ever-verdant bowers, in which Ferdinand and Miranda might have strayed: so that Shakspeare, in blending the wild relations of the shipwrecked mariners with his own inspired fancies, has produced nothing, however lovely in nature and sublime in magical power, which does not harmonize with the beautiful and wondrous reality.

There is another circumstance connected with the Tempest, which is rather interesting. It was produced and acted for the first time upon the occasion of the nuptials of the Princess Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of James I. with Frederic, the elector palatine. It is hardly necessary to remind the reader of the fate of this amiable but most unhappy woman, whose life, almost from the period of her marriage, was one long tempestuous scene of trouble and adversity.

* * * * *

The characters which I have here classed together, as principally distinguished by the predominance of passion and fancy, appear to me to rise, in the scale of ideality and simplicity, from Juliet to Miranda; the last being in comparison so refined, so elevated above all stain of earth, that we can only acknowledge her in connection with it through the emotions of sympathy she feels and inspires.

I remember, when I was in Italy, standing "at evening on the top of Fiesole," and at my feet I beheld the city of Florence and the Val d'Arno, with its villas, its luxuriant gardens, groves, and olive grounds, all bathed in crimson light. A transparent vapor or exhalation, which in its tint was almost as rich as the pomegranate flower, moving with soft undulation, rolled through the valley, and the very earth seemed to pant with warm life beneath its rosy veil. A dark purple shade, the forerunner of night, was already stealing over the east; in the western sky still lingered the blaze of the sunset, while the faint perfume of trees, and flowers, and now and then a strain of music wafted upwards, completed the intoxication of the senses. But I looked from the earth to the sky, and immediately above this scene hung the soft crescent moon—alone, with all the bright heaven to herself; and as that sweet moon to the glowing landscape beneath it, such is the character of Miranda compared to that of Juliet.


[17] Lord Byron remarked of the Italian women, (and he could speak avec connaissance de fait,) that they are the only women in the world capable of impressions, at once very sudden and very durable; which, he adds, is to be found in no other nation. Mr. Moore observes afterwards, how completely an Italian woman, either from nature or her social position, is led to invert the usual course of frailty among ourselves, and, weak in resisting the first impulses of passion, to reserve the whole strength of her character for a display of constancy and devotedness afterwards.—Both these traits of national character are exemplified in Juliet—Moore's Life of Byron, vol. ii. pp. 303, 338. 4to edit.

[18] La seve de la vie, is an expression used somewhere by Madame de Stael.

[19] Characters of Shakspeare's Plays.

[20] I must allude, but with reluctance, to another character, which I have heard likened to Juliet, and often quoted as the heroine par excellence of amatory fiction—I mean the Julie of Rousseau's Nouvelle Heloise; I protest against her altogether. As a creation of fancy the portrait is a compound of the most gross and glaring inconsistencies; as false and impossible to the reflecting and philosophical mind, as the fabled Syrens, Hamatryads and Centaurs to the eye of the anatomist. As a woman, Julie belongs neither to nature nor to artificial society; and if the pages of melting and dazzling eloquence in which Rousseau has garnished out his idol did not blind and intoxicate us, as the incense and the garlands did the votaries of Isis, we should be disgusted. Rousseau, having composed his Julie of the commonest clay of the earth, does not animate her with fire from heaven, but breathes his own spirit into her, and then calls the "impetticoated" paradox a woman. He makes her a peg on which to hang his own visions and sentiments—and what sentiments! but that I fear to soil my pages, I would pick out a few of them, and show the difference between this strange combination of youth and innocence, philosophy and pedantry, sophistical prudery, and detestable grossierete, and our own Juliet. No! if we seek a French Juliet, we must go far—far back to the real Heloise, to her eloquence, her sensibility, her fervor of passion, her devotedness of truth. She, at least, married the man she loved, and loved the man she married, and more than died for him; but enough of both.

[21] Constant describes her beautifully—"Sa voix si douce au travers le bruit des armes, sa forme delicate au milieu de cet hommes tous couverts de fer, la purete de son ame opposee leurs calculs avides, son calme celeste qui contraste avec leurs agitations, remplissent le spectateur d'une emotion constante et melancolique, telle que ne la fait ressentir nulle tragedie ordinaire."

[22] Coleridge—preface to Wallenstein.

[23] In the "Two Gentlemen of Verona."

[24] There is an allusion to this court language of love in "All Well that Ends Well," where Helena says,—

There shall your master have a thousand loves— A guide, a goddess, and a sovereign; A counsellor, a traitress, and a dear, His humble ambition, proud humility, His jarring concord, and his discord dulcut, His faith, his sweet disaster, with a world Of pretty fond adoptious Christendoms That blinking Cupid gossips.—ACT I SCENE 1

The courtly poets of Elizabeth's time, who copied the Italian sonnetteers of the sixteenth century, are full of these quaint conceits.

[25] Since this was written, I have met with some remarks of a similar tendency in that most interesting book, "The Life of Lord E. Fitzgerald."

[26] Juliet, courageously drinking off the potion, after she has placed before herself in the most fearful colors all its possible consequences, is compared by Schlegel to the famous story of Alexander and his physician.


Perhaps 'tis pretty to force together Thoughts so all unlike each other; To mutter and mock a broken charm, To dally with wrong that does no harm! Perhaps 'tis tender, too, and pretty, At each wild word to feel within A sweet recoil of love and pity. And what if in a world of sin (O sorrow and shame should this be true!) Such giddiness of heart and brain Comes seldom save from rage and pain, So talks as it's most used to do?


These lines seem to me to form the truest comment on Juliet's wild exclamations against Romeo.

[28] "The censure," observes Schlegel, "originates in a fanciless way of thinking, to which every thing appears unnatural that does not suit its tame insipidity. Hence an idea has been formed of simple and natural pathos which consists in exclamations destitute of imagery, and nowise elevated above every-day life; but energetic passions electrify the whole mental powers and will, consequently, in highly-favored natures, express themselves in an ingenious and figurative manner."

[29] The "Giulietta" of Luigi da Porta was written about 1520. In a popular little book published in 1565, thirty years before Shakspeare wrote his tragedy, the name of Juliet occurs as an example of faithful love, and is thus explained by a note in the margin. "Juliet, a noble maiden of the citie of Verona, which loved Romeo, eldest son of the Lord Monteschi; and being privily married together, he at last poisoned himself for love of her: she, for sorrow of his death, slew herself with his dagger." This note, which furnishes, in brief, the whole argument of Shakspeare's play, might possibly have made the first impression on his fancy. In the novel of Da Porta the catastrophe is altogether different. After the death of Romeo, the Friar Lorenzo endeavors to persuade Juliet to leave the fatal monument. She refuses; and throwing herself back on the dead body of her husband, she resolutely holds her breath and dies.—"E voltatasi al giacente corpo di Romeo, il cui capo sopra un origliere, che con lei uell' arca era stato lasciato, posto aveva; gli occhi meglio rinchiusi avendogli, e di lagrime il freddo volto bagnandogli, disse;" Che debbo senza di te in vita piu fare, signor mio? e che altro mi resta verso te se non colla mia morte seguirti? "E detto questo, la sua gran sciagura nell' animo recatasi, e la perdita del caro amante ricordandosi, deliberando di piu non vivere, raccolto a se il fiato, e per buono spazio tenutolo, e poscia con un gran grido fuori mandandolo, sopra il morto corpo, morta ricadde."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse