Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

Caliban, who, savage as he is, is still touched with those supernatural harmonies; and thus exhorts his less poetical associates

“ Be not afraid, the isle is full of noises,

Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twanging instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices,
That if I then had waked after long sleep,

Would make me sleep again.” Observe, too, that this and the other poetical speeches of this incarnate demon, are not mere ornaments of the poet's fancy, but explain his character and describe his situation more briefly and effectually, than any other words could have done. In this play, indeed, and in the Midsummer-Night's Dream, all Eden is unlocked before us, and the whole treasury of natural and supernatural beauty poured out profusely, to the delight of all our faculties. We dare not trust ourselves with quotations ; but we refer to those plays generally — to the forest scenes in As You Like It — the rustic parts of the Winter's Tale — several entire scenes in Cymbeline, and in Romeo and Juliet -- and many passages in all the other plays — as illustrating this love of nature and natural beauty of which we have been speaking — the power it had over the poet, and the power it imparted to him. Who else would have thought, on the very threshold of treason and midnight murder, of bringing in so sweet and rural an image as this, at the portal of that blood-stained castle of Macbeth ?

“ This guest of summer,
The temple-haunting martlet, does approve
By his loved masonry that heaven's breath
Smells wooingly here. No jutting frieze,
Buttress, nor coigne of vantage, but this bird

Has made his pendent bed, and procreant cradle." Nor is this brought in for the sake of an elaborate contrast between the peaceful innocence of this exterior, and the guilt and horrors that are to be enacted within. There is no hint of any such suggestion — but it is set down from the pure love of nature and reality - because the kindled mind of the poet brought the whole scene

[blocks in formation]

before his eyes, and he painted all that he saw in his vision. The same taste predominates in that emphatic exhortation to evil, where Lady Macbeth says,

Look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under it.”
And in that proud boast of the bloody Richard —

“ But I was born so high :
Our aery buildeth in the cedar's top,

And dallies with the wind, and scorns the sun! The same splendour of natural imagery, brought simply and directly to bear upon stern and repulsive passions, is to be found in the cynic rebukes of Apemantus to Timon.

“ Will these moist trees
That have out-liv'd the eagle, page thy heels,
And skip when thou point'st out? will the cold brook,
Candied with ice, caudle thy morning taste

To cure thine o'er-night's surfeit?" No one but Shakespeare would have thought of putting this noble picture into the taunting address of a snappish misanthrope — any more than the following into the mouth of a mercenary murderer.

“ Their lips were four red roses on a stalk,

And in their summer beauty kissed each other!” Or this delicious description of concealed love, into that of a regretful and moralizing parent.

“ But he, his own affections Counsellor,

Is to himself so secret and so close,
As is the bud bit with an envious worm
Ere he can spread his sweet leaves to the air,

Or dedicate his beauty to the sun.” And yet all these are so far from being unnatural, that they are no sooner put where they are, than we feel at once their beauty and their effect; and acknowledge our obligations to that exuberant genius which alone could thus throw out graces and attractions where there seemed to be neither room nor call for them. In the same spirit of prodigality he puts this rapturous and passionate exaltation of the beauty of Imogen, into the mouth of one who is not even a lover.

76

SHAKESPEARE

HIS FEMALE CHARACTERS.

" It is her breathing that
Perfumes the chamber thus! the flame o* th' taperii; 1:1)
Bows towards her! and would under-peep her lids
To see th' enclosed lights, now canopied
Under the windows, white and azure, laced
With blue of Heaven's own tinct ! - on her left breast
A mole cinque-spotted, like the crimsou drops

I' the bottom of a cowslip!" But we must break at once away from these manifold enchantments and recollect that our business is with Mr. Hazlitt, and not with the great' and gifted author on whom he is employed: And, to avoid the danger of any further preface, we shall now let him speak a little for himself. In his remarks on Cymbeline, which is the first play in his arrangement, he takes occasion to make the following observations on the female characters of his author, Dil Dil : IH to'sht, sit at all, it's

" It is the peculiar characteristic of Shakspeare's heroines, that they seem to exist only in their attachment to others. They are pure abstractions of the affections. We think as little of their persons as they do themselves; because we are let into the secrets of their hearts, which are more important, We are too much interested in their affairs to stop to look at their faces, except by stealth and at intervals. No one ever hit the true perfection of the female character, the sense of weakness leaning on the strength of its affections for support, so well as Shakespeare no one ever so well painted natural tenderness free from affectation and disguise no one else ever so well showed how delicacy and timidity, when driven to extremity, grow romantic and extravagant: For the romance of Itis heroines (in which they abound) is only an excess of the habitual prejudices of their sex; scrupulous of being false to their vows or truant to their affections, and taught by the foree 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. , Gibber, in speaking of the early English stage, accounts for the want of prominence and theatrical display in Shakespeare'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 there to the relations and charities of domestic life, afford a truer explanation of the matter? » His women are certainly very unlike stage-heroines.' P.13, 4.132 in

):1", y)) His remarks on Macbeth are of a higher and bolder character: After noticing the wavering and perplexity of Macbeth's resolution, • driven on, as it were, by the

[ocr errors]

MACBETH AND RICHARD.)

77

violence of his Fate, and staggering under the weight of his own purposes," he strikingly observes,

* This part of his character is admirably set off by being brought in connection with that of Lady Macbeth, whose obdurate strength of will and masculine firmness give her the ascendancy over her husband's faltering virtue. She at once seizes on the opportunity that offers for the accomplishment of their wished-for greatness; and never flinches from her object till all is over. The magnitude of her resolution almost covers the magnitude of her guilt. She is a great bad woman, whom we hate, but whom we fear more than we hate. She does not excite our loathing and abhorrence like Regan and Goneril. She is only wicked to gain a great end; and is perhaps more distinguished by her commanding presence of mind, and inexorable self-will, which do not suffer her to be diverted from a bad purpose, when once formed, by weak and womanly regrets, than by the hardness of her heart or want of natural affectious.".-P. 18, 19.

17'y taste t. But the best part perhaps of this critique, is the comparison of the Macbeth with the Richard of the same author:

* * The leading features in the character of Macbeth are striking enough, and they form what may be thought at first only a bold, rude, Gothic outline. By comparing it with other characters of the same author we shall perceive the absolute truth and identity which is observed in the midst of the giddy whirl and rapid career of events. Thus he is as distinct a being from Richard III. as it is possible to imagine, though these two characters in common hands, and indeed in the hands of any other poet, would have been a repetition of the same general idea, more or less exaggerated. '. For both are tyrants, usurpers, murderers, ---- both aspiring and ambitious, --- both courageous, cruel, treacherous.'! But Richard is cruel from nature and constitution. Macbeth becomes so from accidental circumstances. « Richard is from his birth deformed in body and mind, and naturally incapable of good." Macbeth is full of the milk of human kindness,' is frank, sociable, generous. He is tempted to the commission of guilt by golden opportunities, by the instigations of his wife, and by prophetic warnings. • Fate and metaphysical aid' conspire against his virtue and his loyalty.' Richard on the contrary needs no prompter; but wades through a series of crimes to the height of his ambition, from the ungovernable violence of his temper and a reckless love of mischief. He is never gay but in the prospect or in the success of his villanies : Macbeth is full of horror at the thoughts of the murder of Duncan, *which he is with difficulty prevailed on to commit; and of remorse after its perpetration. Richard 'has no mixture of common humanity in his composition, no regard to kindred or posterity — he owns no" fel. lowship with others; he is : himself alone.' Macbeth is not destitute of feelings of sympathy, is accessible to pity, is even made in some measure the dupe of his uxoriousness; ranks the loss of friends, of the cordial' love of his followers, and of his good name, among the

78

HAZLITT'S SHAKESPEARE - JULIUS CÆSAR.

The super

causes which have made him weary of life; and regrets that he has
ever seized the Crown by unjust means, since he cannot transmit it to
his posterity. There are other decisive differences inherent in the
two characters. Richard may be regarded as a man of the world, a
plotting hardened knave, wholly regardless of everything but his own
ends, and the means to secure them — Not so Macbeth.
stitions of the age, the rude state of society, the local scenery and cus-
toms, all give a wildness and imaginary grandeur to his character.
From the strangeness of the events that surround him, he is full of
amazement and fear; and stands in doubt between the world of reality
and the world of fancy. He sees sights not shown to mortal eye, and
hears unearthly music. All is tumult and disorder within and with-
out his mind; his purposes recoil upon himself, are broken and dis-
jointed; he is the double thrall of his passions and his destiny. Richard
is not a character either of imagination or pathos, but of pure self-will..
There is no conflict of opposite feelings in his breast. In the busy
turbulence of his projects he never loses his self-possession, and makes
use of every circumstance that happens as an instrument of his long-
reaching designs. In his last extremity we regard him but as a wild
beast taken in the toils : But we never entirely lose our concern for
Macbeth; and he calls back all our sympathy by that fine close of
thoughtful melancholy.

My way of life
Is fallen into the sear, the yellow leaf;
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have! But in their stead,
Curses not loud but deep; mouth-honour, breath,
Which the
poor heart would fain deny, and dares not!"

p. 26 — 30. In treating of the Julius Cæsar, Mr. H. extracts the following short scene, and praises it so highly, and, in our opinion, so justly, that we cannot resist the temptation of extracting it too — together with his brief commentary.

Brutus. The games are done, and Cæsar is returning.

Cassius. As they pass by, pluck Casca by the sleeve, And he will, after his sour fashion, tell you What has proceeded worthy note to-day.

Brutus. I will do so; but look you, Cassius
The

angry spot doth glow on Cæsar's brow,
And all the rest look like a chidden train.
Calphurnia's cheek is pale; and Cicero
Looks with such ferret and such fiery eyes,
As we have seen him in the Capitol,
Being crossed in conference by some senator.

Cassius. Casca will tell us what the matter is.
Casar. Antonius
Antony. Cæsar ?

« ÎnapoiContinuați »