« AnteriorContinuar »
hardly possible to conceive of anybody but Shakespeare's having succeeded. And yet here it is that we are to look for the idea and formal cause of Hermione's character, while her character, again, is the shaping and informing power of the whole drama. For this idea is really the living centre and organic law in and around which all the parts of the work are vitally knit together. But, indeed, the Poet's own most original and inimitable mode of conceiving and working out character is everywhere dominant.
So much has been said about the anachronisms of this play, that it seems needful to add a word concerning them. We have already seen that the making of seaports and landing of ships in Bohemia were taken from Greene. Mr. Verplanck conjectures that by Bohemia Shakespeare meant simply the land of the Boii, an ancient people several tribes of whom settled in the maritime parts of France: but I hardly think he would have used the name with so much license at a time when the boundaries of that country were so well fixed and so widely known. For the events of the Reformation had made Bohemia an object of special interest to the people of England, and there was much intercourse between the English and Bohemian Courts. I have no notion indeed that this breach of geography was a blunder: it was meant, no doubt, for the convenience of thought; and such is its effect, until one goes to viewing the parts of the work with reference to ends not contemplated in the use here made of them. And the same is to be said touching several points of chronological confusion; such as the making Whitsun pastorals, Christian burial, Julio Romano, the Emperor of Russia, and Puritans singing psalms to hornpipes, all contemporary with the Oracle of Delphi; wherein actual things are but marshalled into an ideal order, so as to render Memory subservient to Imagination. In these and such points, it is enough that the materials be apt to combine among themselves, and that they agree in working out the issue proposed, the end thus regulating the use of the means. For a work of art, as such, should be itself an object for the mind to rest upon, not a directory to guide it to something else. So that here we may justly say “the mind is its own place”; and, provided the work be true to this intellectual whereabout, breaches of geography and history are of little consequence. And Shakespeare knew full well, that in poetical workmanship Memory stands absolved from the laws of time, and that the living order of art has a perfect right to overrule and supersede the chronological order of facts. In a word, history and chronology have no rights which a poet, as such, is bound to respect. In his sphere, things draw together and unite in virtue of other affinities than those of succession and coexistence. A work of art must indeed aim to be understood and felt; and so far as historical order is necessary to this, so far it may justly claim a prerogative voice. But still such a work must address itself to the mind and heart of man as man, and not to particular men as scholars or critics. That Shakespeare did this better than anybody else is the main secret of his supremacy. And it implies a knowledge far deeper than books could give, — the knowledge of a mind so intuitive of Nature, and so at home with her, as not to need the food of learning, because it fed directly on that which is the original food of learning itself.
Hence the conviction which I suppose all true Shakespearians to have, that no amount of scholastic advantages and acquirements could really do any thing towards explaining the mystery of his works. To do what he did at all, he must have had a native genius so strong and clear and penetrative, as to become more than learned without the aid of learning. What could the hydrants of knowledge do for a mind which thus dwelt at its fountain ? Or why should he need to converse with Wisdom's messengers, whose home was in the very court and pavilion of Wisdom herself? Shakespeare is always weakest when a fit of learning takes him. But then he is stronger without learning than any one else is with it, and, perhaps, than he
would have been with it himself; as the crutches that help the lame are but an incumbrance to the whole.
Perhaps I ought to add, touching the forecited anachro-T nisms, that the Poet's sense of them may be fairly regarded as apparent in the naming of the piece. He seems to have judged that, in a dramatic tale intended for the delight of the fireside during a long, quiet Winter's evening, such things would not be out of place, and would rather help than mar the entertainment and life of the performance. Thus much indeed is plainly hinted more than once in the course of the play; as in Act v. scene 2, where, one of the Gentlemen being asked, “ What became of Antigonus, that carried hence the child ?” he replies, “ Like an old tale still, which will have matter to rehearse, though credit be asleep, and not an ear open.”
Much the same is to be said touching the remarkable freedom which the Poet here takes with the conditions of time; there being an interval of sixteen years between the third and fourth Acts, which is with rather un-Shakespearian awkwardness bridged over by the Chorus introducing .. Act iv. This freedom, however, was inseparable from the .. governing idea of the piece, nor can it be faulted but upon such grounds as would exclude all dramatized fiction from the stage. It is to be noted also that while the play thus ?.. divides itself into two parts, these are skilfully woven together by a happy stroke of art. The last scene of the ; third Act not only finishes the action of the first three, but by an apt and unforced transition begins that of the other two; the two parts of the drama being smoothly drawn into the unity of a continuous whole by the introduction. of the old Shepherd and his son at the close of the one and the opening of the other. This natural arrangement saves the imagination from being disturbed by any yawning or obtrusive gap of time, notwithstanding the lapse of so : many years in the interval. On this point, Gervinus remarks that, “while Shakespeare has in other dramas permitted a twofold action united by a common idea, he could
not in this instance have entirely concentrated the twe actions; he could but unite them indistinctly by a leading idea in both; though the manner in which he has outwardly united them is a delicate and spirited piece of art.
In the delineation of Leontes there is an abruptness of change which strikes us, at first view, as not a little a-clash with nature: we cannot well see how one state of mind grows out of another: his jealousy shoots in comet-like, as something unprovided for in the general ordering of his character. Which causes this feature to appear as if it were suggested rather by the exigencies of the stage than by the natural workings of human passion. And herein the Poet seems at variance with himself; his usual method being to unfold a passion in its rise and progress, so that we go along with it freely from its origin to its consummation. And, certainly, there is no accounting for Leontes' conduct, but by supposing a predisposition to jealousy in him, which, however, has been hitherto kept latent by his wife's clear, firm, serene discreetness, but which breaks out into sudden and frightful activity as soon as she, under a special pressure of motives, slightly overacts the confidence of friendship. There needed but a spark of occasion to set this secret magazine of passion all a-blaze.
The Pandosto of the novel has, properly speaking, no character at all: he is but a human figure going through a set of motions; that is, the person and the action are put together arbitrarily, and not under any law of vital correspondence. Almost any other figure would fit the motions just as well. It is true, Shakespeare had a course of action marked out for him in the tale. But then he was bound by his own principles of art to make the character such as would rationally support the action, and cohere with it. For such is the necessary law of moral development and transpiration. Nor is it by any means safe to affirm that. he has not done this. For it is to be noted that Polixenes has made a pretty long visit, having passed, it seems, no
less than nine changes of the Moon at the home of his royal friend. And he might well have found it not always easy to avoid preferring the Queen's society to the King's; for she is a most irresistible creature, and her calm, ingenuous modesty, itself the most dignified of all womanly graces, is what, more than any thing else, makes her so. What secret thoughts may have been gathering to a head in the mind of Leontes during that period, is left for us to divine from the after-results. And I believe there is a jealousy of friendship, as well as of love. Accordingly, though Leontes invokes the Queen's influence to induce a lengthening of the visit, yet he seems a little disturbed on seeing that her influence has proved stronger than his own.
“ Leon. Is he won yet ?
Herm. He 'll stay, my lord.
At my request he would not.
Never, but once.
Why, that was when
There is, I think, a relish of suppressed bitterness in this last speech, as if her long reluctance had planted in him a germ of doubt whether, after all, her heart was really in her words of consent. For the Queen is a much deeper character than her husband. It is true, these notices, and various others, drop along so quiet and unpronounced, as hardly to arrest the reader's attention. Shakespeare, above all other men, delights in just such subtile insinuations of purpose; they belong indeed to his usual method of preparing for a given issue, yet doing it so slyly as not to preclude surprise when the issue comes. VOL. I.