Oldalképek
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

by the force of feeling when to forego the forms of propriety for the essence of it. His women were in this respect exquisite logicians; for there is nothing so logical as passion. They knew their own minds exactly; and only followed up a favourite purpose, which they had sworn to with their tongues, and which was engraven on their hearts, into its untoward consequences. They were the prettiest little set of martyrs and confessors on record. -Cibber, in speaking of the early English stage, accounts for the want of prominence and theatrical display in Shakespear's female characters from the circumstance, that women in those days were not allowed to play the parts of women, which made it necessary to keep them a good deal in the back-ground. Does not this state of manners itself, which prevented their exhibiting themselves in public, and confined them to the relations and charities of domestic life, afford a truer explanation of the matter? His women are certainly very unlike stage-heroines ; the reverse of tragedy-queens.

We have almost as great an affection for Imogen as she had for Posthumus; and she deserves it better. Of all Shakespear's women she is perhaps the most tender and the most artless. Her incredulity in the opening scene with Iachimo, as to her husband's infidelity, is much the same as Desdemona's backwardness to believe Othello's jealousy. Her answer to the most distressing part of the picture is only, “My lord, I fear, has forgot Britain." Her readiness to pardon Iachimo's false imputations and his designs against herself, is a good lesson to prudes; and may shew that where there is a real attachment to virtue, it has no need to bolster itself up with an outrageous or affected antipathy to vice. The scene in which Pisanio gives Imogen his master's letter, accusing her of incontinency on the treacherous suggestions of Iachimo, is as touching as it is possible for anything to be :

Pisanio. What cheer, Madam?

Imogen. False to his bed! What is it to be false ?
To lie in watch there, and to think on him?

To weep 'twixt clock and clock? If sleep charge nature,
To break it with a fearful dream of him,
And cry myself awake? That's false to's bed, is it?
Pisanio. Alas, good lady!

mogen. I false ? thy conscience witness, Iachimo,
Thou didst accuse him of incontinency,
Thou then look'dst like a villain : now methinks,
Thy favour's good enough. Some Jay of Italy,
Whose mother was her painting, hath betray'd him :
Poor I am stale, a garment out of fashion,
And for I am richer than to hang by th' walls,
I must be ript; to pieces with me. Oh,
Men's vows are women's traitors. All good seeming
By thy revolt, oh husband, shall be thought
Put on for villainy : not born where't grows,
But worn a bait for ladies.

Pisanio. Good Madam, hear me

Imogen. Talk thy tongue weary, speak :
I have heard I am a strumpet, and mine ear,
Therein false struck, can take no greater wound,

Nor tent to bottom that.”. When Pisanio, who had been charged to kill his mistress, puts her in a way to live, she says,

“Why, good fellow,
What shall I do the while? Where bide? How live?
Or in my life what comfort, when I am

Dead to my husband ?” Yet when he advises her to disguise herself in boy's clothes, and suggests “a course pretty and full in view,” by which she may “happily be near the residence of Posthumus,” she exclaims,

“Oh, for such means,
Though peril to my modesty, not death on't,

I would adventure." And when Pisanio, enlarging on the consequences, tells her she must change

." Fear and niceness,
The handmaids of all women, or more truly,
Woman its pretty self, into a waggish courage,
Ready in gibes, quick-answer'd, saucy, and

As quarrellous as the weazel”. she interrupts him hastily-

"Nay, be brief;
I see into thy end, and am almost

A man already." In her journey thus disguised to Milford-Haven, she loses her guide and her way; and unbosoming her complaints, says beautifully

“My dear lord,
Thou art one of the false ones; now I think on thee,
My hunger's gone; but even before, I was

At point to sink for food."
She afterwards finds, as she thinks, the dead body of
Posthumus, and engages herself as a footboy to serve a
Roman officer, when she has done all due obsequies to
him whom she calls her former master-

“And when
With wild wood-leaves and weeds I ha' strew'd his grave,
And on it said a century of pray’rs,
Such as I can, twice o'er, I'll weep and sigh,
And leaving so his service, follow you,

So please you entertain me.” Now this is the very religion of love. She all along relies little on her personal charms, which she fears may have been eclipsed by some painted Jay of Italy; she relies on her merit, and her merit is in the depth of her love, her truth and constancy. Our admiration of her beauty is excited with as little consciousness as possible on her part. There are two delicious descriptions given of her, one when she is asleep, and one when she is supposed dead. Arviragus thus addresses her

“With fairest flowers,
While summer lasts, and I live here, Fidele,
I'll sweeten thy sad grave; thou shalt not lack
The flower that's like thy face, pale primrose, nor
The azur'd hare-bell, like thy veins, no, nor
The leaf of eglantine, which not to slander,

Out-sweeten'd not thy breath." The yellow Iachimo gives another thus, when he steals into her bedchamber :

-“Cytherea,
How bravely thou becom'st thy bed! Fresh lily,
And whiter than the sheets! That I might touch-
But kiss, one kiss—'Tis her breathing that

Perfumes the chamber thus : the flame o' th' taper
Bows toward her, and would under-peep her lids
To see th' enclosed lights now canopied
Under the windows, white and azure, laced
With blue of Heav'ns own tinct-on her left breast
A mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops

l'th' bottom of a cowslip." There is a moral sense in the proud beauty of this last image, a rich surfeit of the fancy,—as that well-known passage beginning, “Me of my lawful pleasure she restrained, and prayed me oft forbearance,” sets a keener edge upon it by the inimitable picture of modesty and self-denial.

The character of Cloten, the conceited, booby lord, and rejected lover of Imogen, though not very agreeable in itself, and at present obsolete, is drawn with much humour and quaint extravagance. The description which Imogen gives of his unwelcome addresses to her—“ Whose lovesuit hath been to me as fearful as a siege "-is enough to cure the most ridiculous lover of his folly. It is remarkable that though Cloten makes so poor a figure in love, he is described as assuming an air of consequence as the Queen's son in a council of state, and with all the absurdity of his person and manners, is not without shrewdness in his observations. So true is it that folly is as often owing to a want of proper sentiments as to a want of understanding! The exclamation of the ancient criticOh Menander and Nature, which of you copied from the other! would not be misapplied to Shakespear.

The other characters in this play are represented with great truth and accuracy, and as it happens in most of the author's works, there is not only the utmost keeping in each separate character ; but in the casting of the different parts, and their relation to one another, there is an affinity and harmony, like what we may observe in the gradations of colour in a picture. The striking and powerful contrasts in which Shakespear abounds could not escape observation ; but the use he makes of the principle of analogy to reconcile the greatest diversities of character and to maintain a continuity of feeling throughout, has

[ocr errors]

not been sufficiently attended to. In Cymbeline, for instance, the principal interest arises out of the unalterable fidelity of Imogen to her husband under the most trying circumstances. Now the other parts of the picture are filled up with subordinate examples of the same feeling, variously modified by different situations, and applied to the purposes of virtue or vice. The plot is aided by the amorous importunities of Cloten, by the persevering determination of lachimo to conceal the defeat of his project by a daring imposture : the faithful attachment of Pisanio to his mistress is an affecting accompaniment to the whole; the obstinate adherence to his purpose in Bellarius, who keeps the fate of the young princes so long a secret in resentment for the ungrateful return to his former services, the incorrigible wickedness of the Queen, and even the blind uxorious confidence of Cymbeline, are all so many lines of the same story, tending to the same point. The effect of this coincidence is rather felt than observed; and as the impression exists unconsciously in the mind of the reader, so it probably arose in the same manner in the mind of the author, not from design, but from the force of natural association, a particular train of thought suggesting different inflections of the same predominant feeling, melting into, and strengthening one another, like chords in music.

The characters of Bellarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus, and the romantic scenes in which they appear, are a fine relief to the intrigues and artificial refinements of the court from which they are banished. Nothing can surpass the wildness and simplicity of the descriptions of the mountain life they lead. They follow the business of huntsmen, not of shepherds ; and this is in keeping with the spirit of adventure and uncertainty in the rest of the story, and with the scenes in which they are afterwards called on to act. How admirably the youthful fire and impatience to emerge from their obscurity in the young princes is opposed to the cooler calculations and prudent resignation of their more experienced counsellor! How well the disadvantages of knowledge and

« ElőzőTovább »