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merely a faint reflection into his mind, as a ray of light which falls into a dark cave, incapable of communicating to it either heat or illumination, serves merely to set in motion the poisonous vapours. The delineation of this monster is throughout inconceivably consistent and profound, and, notwithstanding its hatefulness, by no means hurtful to our feelings, as the honour of human nature is left untouched.
In the zephyr-like Ariel the image of air is not to be mistaken ; his name even bears an allusion to it; as, on the other hand, Caliban signifies the heavy element of earth. Yet they are neither of them simple, allegorical personifications, but beings individually determined. In general we find in The Midsummer Night's Dream, in The Tempest, in the magical part of Macbeth, and wherever Shakespeare avails himself of the popular belief in the invisible presence of spirits, and the possibility of coming in contact with them, a profound view of the inward life of Nature and her mysterious springs, which, it is true, can never be altogether unknown to the genuine poet, as poetry is altogether incompatible with mechanical physics, but which few have possessed in an equal degree with Dante and himself.
[From Mrs. Jameson's "Characteristics of Women.”] 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 Shakespeare 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 del
icately refined, that she is all but ethereal. Let us imagine any other woman placed beside Miranda
one of Shakespeare'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 Shakespeare 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 colours 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 frailstrung, 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 stands 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 fa. ther's art, floated in music around her. If we can presup. pose 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 :
Most sure, the goddess on whom these airs attend !
What is this maid ?
And brought us thus together ?
suffer ;” 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 honour 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.
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 Shakespeare's age as can well be imagined :* and all the wizards of poetry and fiction, even
* Such as Cornelius Agrippa, Michael Scott, Dr. Dee. The last was the contemporary of Shakespeare.
Faust and St. Leon, sink into commonplaces before the princely, the philosophic, the benevolent Prospero.
[From Hazlitt's “Characters of Shakespeare's Plays.'*] The Tempest is one of the most original and perfect of Shakespeare's productions, and he has shown in it all the variety of his powers. It is full of grace and grandeur. The human and imaginary characters, the dramatic and the grotesque, are blended together with the greatest art, and without any appearance of it. Though he has here given “to airy nothing a local habitation and a name,” yet that part which is only the fantastic creation of his mind has the same palpable texture, and coheres “semblably” with the rest. As the preternatural part has the air of reality, and almost haunts the imagination with a sense of truth, the real characters and events partake of the wildness of a dream. The stately magician Prospero, driven from his dukedom, but around whom (so potent is his art) airy spirits throng numberless to do his bidding; his daughter Miranda (“worthy of that name"), to whom all the power of his art points, and who seems the goddess of the isle ; the princely Ferdinand, cast by fate upon the haven of his happiness in this idol of his love; the delicate Ariel ; the savage Caliban, half brute, half demon; the drunken ship's crew—are all connected parts of the story, and can hardly be spared from the place they fill. Even the local scenery is of a piece and character with the subject. Prospero's enchanted island seems to have risen up out of the sea; the airy music, the tempest-tossed vessel, the turbulent waves, all have the effect of the landscape background of some fine picture. Shakespeare's pencil is (to use an allusion of his own) “like the dyer's hand, subdued to what it works in.” Everything in him, though it partakes of“ the liberty of wit,” is also subjected to "the law” of the understanding. For instance, even the drunken sailors, who are made
* Edited by Wm. Carew Hazlitt, London, 1869, p. 82 foll.