Imágenes de páginas

her, both heard by report and saw with her eyes how it framed against her good ladyship: although she showed neither unto Mistress Anne Boleyn nor unto the King any kind or spark of grudge or displeasure ; but accepted all things in good part, and with wisdom and great patience dissembled the same, having Mistress Anne in more estimation, for the King's sake, than she was before.”

Catharine in her seclusion, and discrowned of all but her honour and her sorrow, is one of the authors' noblest and sweetest deliverances. She there leads a life of homely sim- i plicity. Always beautiful on the throne, in her humiliation she is more beautiful still. She carries to the place no grudge or resentment or bitterness towards any; nothing but faith, hope, and charity ; a touching example of womanly virtue and gentleness; hourly in Heaven for her enemies ; her heart garrisoned with “ the peace that passeth all understanding.” Candid and plain herself, she loves and honours plainness and candour in others; and it seems a positive relief to her to hear the best spoken that can be of the fallen great man who did more than all the rest to work her fall. Her calling the messenger “ a saucy fellow,” who breaks in so abruptly upon her, discloses just enough of human weakness to make us feel that she is not quite an angel yet; and in her death-scene we have the divinest notes of a “soul by resignation sanctified.”

The portrait of the King, all the circumstances considered in which it was drawn, is a very remarkable piece of work, being no less true to the original than politic as regards the authors : for the cause which Henry had been made to serve, though against his will, and from the very rampancy of his vices, had rendered it a long and hard process for the nation to see him as he was. The authors keep the worst parts of his character mainly in the background, veiling them

to all who are willing to see them: in other words, they do not directly expose or affirm his moral hatefulness, but

place it silently in facts, and so make him characterize himself in a way to be felt: nay, they even make the other persons speak good things of him, but at the same time let him refute and reprove their words by his deeds. At all events, the man's hard-hearted and despotic capriciousness is brought to points of easy inference; yet the matter is carried by the authors with such an air of simplicity as if they were hardly aware of it; though, when one of the persons is made to say of Henry, “ His conscience has crept too near another lady," it is manifest that the authors understood his character perfectly. His little traditional peculiarities of manner, which would be ridiculous, but that his

mixture of hypocrisy and fanaticism, which endeavours to misderive his bad passions from Divine sources, and in the strength of which he is enabled to believe a lie, even while he knows it to be a lie, and because he wishes it true ; — all these things are shown up, without malice indeed, but without mercy too. — Such and so great is the psychagogic refinement displayed in this delineation.

In the whole matter of the divorce, Henry is felt to be acting from motives which he does not avow: already possessed with a criminal passion for which he is lawlessly bent on making a way, he still wants to think he has strong public reasons for the measure, and that religion and conscience are his leading inducements; and he shows much cunning and ability in pressing these considerations into view : but it is plain enough that he rather tries to persuade himself they are true than really believes them to be so; though there is no telling how far, in this effort to hide the real cause from the world, he may strangle the sense of it in his own breast. All this, however, rather heightens the meanness than relieves the wickedness of his course. The power or the poison of self-deceit can indeed work wonders; and in such cases it is often extremely difficult to judge whether a man is wilfully deceiving others or unconsciously deceivas to compound a sort of honest hypocrisy, or a state between belief and not-belief: but Henry wilfully embraces and hugs and holds fast the deceit, and rolls all arguments for it as sweet morsels under his tongue, because it offers a free course for his carnal-mindedness and raging self-will. But the history of his reign after the intellect of Wolsey and the virtue of Catharine were removed is the best commentary on the motives that swayed him at this time; and there I must leave him.

In the brief delineation of Anne Boleyn there is gathered up the essence of a long story. She is regarded much less for what she is in herself than for the gem that is to proceed from her; and her character is a good deal screened by the purpose of her introduction, though not so much but that it peeps significantly through. With little in her of a positive nature one way or the other; with hardly any legitimate object-matter of respect or confidence, she appears notwithstanding a rather amiable person ; possessed with a girlish fancy and hankering for the vanities and glitterings of state, but having no sense of its duties and dignities. She has a kindly heart, but is so void of womanly principle and delicacy as to be from the first evidently elated by those royal benevolences which to any just sensibility of honour would minister nothing but humiliation and shame. She has a real and true pity for the good Queen, which however goes altogether on false grounds; and she betrays by the very terms of it an eager and uneasy longing after what she scarcely more fears than hopes the Queen is about to lose. As for the true grounds and sources of Catharine's noble sorrow, she strikes vastly below these, and this in such a way as to indicate an utter inability to reach or conceive them. Thus the effect of her presence is to set off and enhance that deep and solid character of whose soul truth is not so much a quality as the very substance and essential form ; and who, from the serene and steady light thence shining within her, much rather than from acuteness or strength of intellect, is enabled to detect the duplicity and serpentine policy which are playing their engines about her. For this thorough integrity of heart, this perfect truth in the inward parts, is as hard to be deceived as it is incapable of deceiving. I can well imagine that, with those of the audience who had any knowledge in English history, – and many of them no doubt had much, - the delineation of Anne, broken off as it is at the height of her fortune, must have sent their thoughts forward to reflect how the self-same levity of character, which lifted her into Catharine’s place, soon afterwards drew upon herself a far more sudden and terrible reverse. And indeed some such thing may be needful, to excuse the authors for not carrying out the truth of history from seedtime to harvest, or at least indicating the consummation of that whereof they so faithfully unfold the beginnings.

The moral effect of this play as a whole is very impres

admits of general statement, may be said to stand in showing how sorrow makes sacred the wearer, and how, to our human feelings, suffering, if borne with true dignity and strength of soul, covers a multitude of sins; or, to carry out the point with more special reference to Catharine, it consists, as Mrs. Jameson observes, in illustrating how, by the union of perfect truth with entire benevolence of character, a queen, and a heroine of tragedy, though “stripped of all the pomp of place and circumstance," and without any of “ the usual sources of poetical interest, as youth, beauty, grace, fancy, commanding intellect, could depend on the moral principle alone to touch the very springs of feeling in our bosoms, and melt and elevate our hearts through the purest and holiest impulses."




THE STORY which furnished the ground-work of The TRAGEDY OF ROMEO AND JULIET was exceedingly popular in Shakespeare's time. The original author of the tale as then received was Luigi da Porto, whose novel, La Giulietta, was first published in 1535. From him the matter was borrowed and improved by Bandello, who published it in 1554. Bandello represents the incidents to have occurred when Bartholomew Scaliger was lord of Verona; and the Veronese, who believe the tale to be historically true, fix its date in 1303, when the family of Scaliger held the government of the city.

The story is next met with in the French version of Belleforest, and makes the third in his collection of Tragical Histories. These were avowedly taken from Bandello. Some of them however vary considerably from the Italian; as, for example, in this piece Bandello brings Juliet out of her trance in time to hear Romeo speak and see him die; and then, instead of using his dagger against herself, she dies of a broken heart; whereas the French orders this matter the same as we have it in the play.

The earliest English version of the tale that has come down to us is a poem entitled The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, written by Arthur Brooke, and published in 1562. This purports to be from the Italian of Bandello; but it agrees with the French version in making

« AnteriorContinuar »