Imágenes de páginas

established. Thus when she, weeping, comes upon him after the terrible disgrace of Actium:

Ant. 0, whither hast thou led me, Egypt? See,
How I convey my shame out of thine eyes
By looking back what I have left behind
'Stroy'd in dishonour.

O my lord, my lord,
Forgive my fearful sails ! I little thought
You would have follow'd.

Egypt, thou knew'st too well
My heart was to thy rudder tied by th' strings,

And thou should'st tow me after."
And when she further entreats his pardon :

“ Fall not a tear, I say ; one of them rates

All that is won and lost : give me a kiss ;

Even this repays me.” Still better, when, some time later, he is in a flush of success, and she comes into his presence, glowing with admiration of his prowess :

“0, thou day o' the world, Chain mine arm'd neck ! leap thou, attire and all, Through proof of harness to my heart, and there

Ride on the pants triumphing." Such is the thraldom to which his heart is reduced; yet it stands half excused to us by our own sense of the too potent witchcraft that subdues him. We think of him as “the noble ruin of her magic”; and of her magic too, as more an inspiration than a purpose, so that she can hardly help it. And he is himself sensible that under her mighty charms his manhood is thawing away, and thence takes a melancholy forecast or presentiment of the perdition that is coming upon him; a presentiment that is only bound the closer pon his thoughts by his inability to break the spell. The cluster and succession of images in which he dimly anticip: tes his own fall is unsurpassed for the union of poetry and p: thos:

Ant. Eros, thou yet behold'st me ?

Ay, noble lord.
Ant. Sometime we see a cloud that's dragonish ;

A vapour sometime like a bear or lion,
A tower'd citadel, a pendent rock,
A forked mountain, or blue promontory
With trees upon 't, that nod unto the world,
And mock our eyes with air: thou'st seen these signs ;
They are black vesper's pageants.

Ay, my lord.
Ant. That which is now a horse, even with a thought
The rack dislimns, and makes it indistinct
As water is in water.

It does, my lord.
Ant. My good knave Eros, now thy Captain is
Even such a body : here I am Antony ;
Yet cannot hold this visible shape, my knave.
I made these wars for Egypt; and the Queen, —
Whose heart I thought I had, for she had mine ;
Which, whilst it was mine, had annex'd unto't
A million more, now lost ;- she, Eros, has
Pack'd cards with Cæsar, and false-play'd my glory
Unto an enemy's triumph. —
Nay, weep not, gentle Eros ; there is left us

Ourselves to end ourselves.” Here we have the great Triumvir's irregular grandeur of soul melting out its innermost sweets in the eloquence of sorrow.

Antony and Cleopatra seem made for each other: their fascination, howsoever begotten, is mutual; and if in the passion that draws and holds them together there be nothing to engage our respect, there is much that compels our sympathy. Witness the heroine's strain at the close :

“Give me my robe, put on my crown ; I have

Immortal longings in me : now no more
The juice of Egypt's grape shall moist this lip. —
Yare, yare, good Iras ; quick ! — Methinks I hear
Antony call; I see him rouse himself
To praise my noble act :- husband, I come :
Now to that name my courage prove my title !
I'm fire and air ; my other elements

I give to baser life.”
And when, on seeing Iras fall, she gives this as the reason
for hastening to overtake her, —


“If she first meet the curled Antony,
He'll make demand of her, and spend that kiss

Which is my Heaven to have,” — we feel that the poetry of passion can go no further. Our reprobation, too, of their life is softened with a just and wholesome flow of pity at their death.

Of the minor characters, the Queen's two favourite wo men, Charmian and Iras, especially the former, besides having no little interest in themselves, are full of relative significance. Their spirited, frolicsome levity and wantonness of thought and speech, together with their death-braving

ities of the atmosphere which Cleopatra creates about her. The dialogue they hold with Alexas, Enobarbus, and the Soothsayer, in the second scene, is exceedingly artful; though not so much for what it contains as for what it suggests and infers. The intense sexuality of the heroine's thoughts, while it abates nothing of her charms in Antony's eyes, since his own thoughts are pitched in the same key, would however, if directly expressed, take off much of the fascination which she exercises and was meant to exercise upon as. And in fact we have only two or three hints of it from her mouth, though these are indeed charged to the utmost with meaning. But we have a vivid reflection of it in the talk of her nearest attendants, who of course habitually trim iheir tongues in the glass of her private example. Order is thus taken, in the outset of the play, that what the Queen's thoughts in this respect are made of shall become known to us indirectly; her dignity being thus spared, and yet her character discovered : for Shakespeare was by no means ignorant of the truth so strongly expressed in the saying of Burke, that in certain points “vice itself loses half its evil, by losing all its grossness.”

I have but to add, that in this play we have for the most part a capital instance of dramatic organization; that is,

the parts, notwithstanding they are so numerous and varied, all appear to know their places, and to understand one another perfectly; insomuch that it seems impossible to change either the form or order of them without impairing their mutual intelligence.


SHAKESPEARE in his policy of authorship just reverses that of the popular fiction-writers of our day. Niggard of space, prodigal of thought, he uses the closest compression, they the widest expansion : his aim is to crowd the greatest possible wealth of mind into a given time; theirs, to fill the largest possible time with a certain modicum of matter. The difference is greatly owing, no doubt, to the different spirit of the present age, which requires the popular author to be a miser of his own time, and a spendthrift of the reader's.

The Poet's structure of language and mode of expression are in keeping with this policy, and indeed took their growth under its discipline. Nor is this all. His whole cast of dramatic architecture and composition proceeds by the same laws. In studying a work of his, the mind, if really alive, does not stop with the work itself; for indeed this stands in vital continuity with a world outside of itself. He so keeps the relations of things, that besides what is expressed a great many things are suggested, and far more is inferred than is directly seen. Whatever matter he has specially in hand to bring forward and press upon the attention, the delineation opens out into a broad and varied background and a far-stretching perspective, with seedpoints of light shooting through it in all directions. Thus, if we look well to it, we shall find that in one of his dramatic groups the entire sphere of social humanity is represented, though sometimes under one aspect, sometimes under another; for the variety of these is endless; and the mind, instead of being held to what is immediately shown, is suggested away, as by invisible nerves of thought, into a vast field of inference and reflection. This is because the part of nature, as he gives it, is relative to the whole of nature; isolated to the eye indeed, for so it must be, but not to the mind. Hence, in reading one of his plays the hundredth time, one finds not only new thoughts, but new trains of thought springing up within him. For indeed what he opens to us is not a cask, but a fountain, and is therefore literally inexhaustible.

And this habit of mind, if that be the right name for it, grew upon the Poet as he became older and more himself, or more practised in his art. It may almost be said indeed that his later works would be better, if they were not so good; they being so overcharged with life and power as rather to numb the common reader's apprehensive faculties than kindle them; and in fact it is doubtful whether the majority of those who read Shakespeare ever grow to a hearty relish of them. For average readers, he was better when less himself; and so I have commonly found such readers preferring his earlier plays. And it is remarkable that even some of his critics and editors, especially those of the last age, thought he must have been past his prime and in the decadence of his powers, when he wrote Antony and Cleopatra, which is perhaps his crowning instance of workmanship overcharged with poetic valour and potency. But, generally, in the plays of his latest period, we have his fiery force of intellect concentrating itself to the highest intensity which the language could be made to bear, and often exceeding even its utmost capacity; while in turn the language in his use became as a thing inspired, developing an energy and flexibility and subtilty such as may well make him at once the delight and the despair of all who undertake to write the English tongue. For he here seems a perfect autocrat of expression, moulding and shaping it with dictatorial prerogative; all this too, with the calmness

« AnteriorContinuar »