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the great offender without an unbearable violation of our sense of justice. But there was a higher aim in this even than the endeavour to produce a great dramatic effect. It may be convenient if we first regard this comedy as a work of art, constructed with reference to the production of such dramatic effect. Without referring, then, to the peculiar character of the Duke, and his secret objects in delegating “mercy and mortality” to Angelo, we have to look only at the sudden and severe sentence which the fault of Claudio has called down upon him, and at the circumstances which arise out of the intervention of Isabella to procure a remission of his punishment. This is the simple view of the matter which we find in the novel of Cinthio, in Whetstone's play of “Promos and Cassandra,’ and in the pseudohistorical stories which deal with the same popular legend. It is in this point of view that we may consider the character of Isabella, acting upon one single and direct principle, without reference to the machinery of which she afterwards forms a part for carrying out the complicated management of the Duke. She is a being separated from all the evil influences—criminal, or ignorant, or weak—by which she is surrounded. In the eyes of the habitual profligate with whom she comes in contact she is

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shrinking and half ashamed is her first supplication to Angelo. She is as severe in her abstract view of guilt as the stern deputy himself:“There is a vice that most I do abhor, And most desire should meet the blow of justice.”

At the first repulse she is abashed and would retire. She is the cloistress, to whom it appears that to plead for guilt has the semblance of excusing it; but she gradually warms into sympathy and earnestness. She recollects that mercy, as well as justice, is amongst the divine attributes. She first ventures upon the enunciation of a general truth:

“No ceremony that to great ones longs,
Not the king's crown, nor the deputed sword,
The marshal's truncheon, nor the judge's robe,
Become them with one half so good a grace
As mercy does.”

But this general truth leads her to the de

claration of the higher truth which she has

most studied :

“Alas! alas !

Why, all the souls that were, were forfeit once; And He that might the vantage best have took Found out the remedy: How would you be, If He, which is the top of judgment, should But judge you as you are 1 0, think on that; And mercy then will breathe within your lips, Like man new made.”

From this moment she is self-possessed; and she stands before the organ of power pouring forth an impassioned eloquence with all the authority of a heavenly messenger. Then she is bold, even to the point of attacking the self-consciousness of the individual judge:– - “Go to your bosom; Knock there; and ask your heart, what it doth know That's like my brother's fault: if it confess A natural guiltiness, such as is his, Let it not sound a thought upon your tongue Against my brother's life.” And at last, when she believes he will relent, she offers him no thanks, she supplicates him with no tears; but she promises him the reward of

“True prayers, That shall be up at heaven, and enter there, Ere sunrise.”

The foundation of Isabella's character is religion. In the second scene with Angelo the same spirit breathes in every line. Her humility— “Let me be ignorant, and in nothing good,

But graciously to know I am no better;"—

her purity, which cannot understand the oblique purposes of the corrupt deputy;-her martyr-like determination when the hateful alternative is proposed to her—

“Were I under the terms of death, The impression of keen whips I’d wear as rubies, And strip myself to death, as to a bed That longing had been sick for, ere I'd yield;"—

her simplicity, that believes for a moment that virtue has only to denounce wickedness to procure its fall;-her confidence in her brother's “mind of honour;”—all these are the results of the same mental discipline. Most fearfully is her endurance tried, when she has to tell Claudio upon what terms his life may be spared. The unhappy man has calmly listened to the philosophical homily of the Duke, in which he finds what is really somewhat difficult to find in such general exhortations to patience and fortitude—

“To sue to live, I find I seek to die; And seeking death find life.”

He is to be sorely tempted; and his sister knows that he wants the one sustaining power which can resist temptation:

“O, I do fear thee, Claudio; and I quake, Lest thou a feverous life shouldst entertain, And six or seven winters more respect Than a perpetual honour.”

Is her burst of passion, when her fears become true, and he utters the sophistry—

“What sin you do to save a brother's life, Nature dispenses with the deed so far, That it becomes a virtue,”—

is that terrible indignation, “take my defiance,” unnatural or unjust in a mind so

constituted and so educated . The alternative was not for innocence to welcome death, but for purity to be reconciled to pollution. A lady, whose work Dr. Johnson has recommended as elegantly illustrating Shakspere's departures from the novel of Cinthio, has been pleased to call Isabella “a vixen” and “a prude.” It is satisfactory that, if the last age had its Lenox, who understood as little of her own sex as she did of Shakspere, the present has its Jameson. It was truly said by the editors of the first folio, addressing their readers, “if then you do not like, surely you are in some manifest danger not to understand him.” Mrs. Lenox set out upon the principle of depreciating Shakspere, and she therefore utters absurdities such as these. Mrs. Jameson begins by reverencing him, and she therefore habitually gives us criticism as true and as beautiful as that which we now extract:“Nor should we fail to remark the deeper interest which is thrown round Isabella, by one part of her character, which is betrayed, rather than exhibited, in the progress of the action; and for which we are not at first prepared, though it is so perfectly natural. It is the strong under-current of passion and enthusiasm flowing beneath this calm and saintly self-possession; it is the capacity for high feeling, and generous and strong indignation, veiled beneath the sweet austere composure of the religious recluse, which, by the very force of contrast, powerfully impress the imagination. As we see in real life that where, from some external or habitual cause, a strong control is exercised over naturally quick feelings and an impetuous temper, they display themselves with a proportionate vehemence when that restraint is removed; so the very violence with which her passions burst forth, when opposed or under the influence of strong excitement, is admirably characteristic.” The leading idea, then, of the character of Isabella, is that of one who abides the direst temptation which can be presented to a youthful, innocent, unsuspecting, and affectionate woman—the temptation of saving

the life of one most dear, by submitting to a

shame which the sophistry of self-love might represent as scarcely criminal. It is manifest that all other writers who have treated the subject have conceived that the temptation could not be resisted. Shakspere alone has confidence enough in female virtue to make Isabella never for a moment even doubt of her proper course. But he has based this virtue, most unquestionably, upon the very highest principle upon which any virtue can be built. The character of Angelo is the antagonist to that of Isabella. In a city of licentiousness he is

“A man of stricture and firm abstinence.”
He is
Stands at a guard with envy; scarce confesses
That his blood flows.”
He is one who

“Doth rebate and blunt his natural edge With profits of the mind, study and fast.”

But he wanted the one sustaining principle by which Isabella was upheld. Ulrici has sketched his character vigorously and truly: —“Angelo, who makes profession of a rigorous moral purity, boasts continually of his virtue, urges chastisement and severity, and inexorably persecutes sin and weakness, —who, in fact, has also the will to be what he seems, even he falls from his arrogant height, in a far worse manner, into the same crime that, contrary to his pledged word, he would punish with the full severity of the law. Once subdued by human weakness, he becomes the basest hypocrite and deceiver. The vain self-trusting virtue shows itself in him in its thorough weakness and inanity.” After Shakspere had conceived the character of Isabella, and in that conception had made it certain that her virtue must pass unscathed through the fire, he had to contrive a series of incidents by which the catastrophe should proceed onward through all the stages of Angelo's guilt of intention, and terminate in his final exposure. Mr. Hallam says, “There is great skill in the invention of Mariana, and without this the story could not have anything like a satisfactory termination.” But there is great skill also in the management of the incident

in the Duke's hands, as well as in the invention; and this is produced by the wonderful propriety with which the character of the Duke is drawn. He is described by Hazlitt as a very imposing and mysterious stage character, absorbed in his own plots and gravity. This is said depreciatingly. But it is precisely this sort of character that Shakspere meant to put in action. Chalmers has a random hit, which comes, we think, something near the truth. “The commentators seem not to have remarked that the character of the Duke is a very accurate delineation of that of King James.” James was a pedant, and the Duke is a philosopher; but there is the same desire in each to get behind the curtain and pull the strings which move the puppets. We are not sure that Angelo's flattery did not save him, as much as Isabella's intercession:“O my dread lord, I should be guiltier than my guiltiness, To think I can be undiscernible, When I perceive your grace, like power divine, Hath look'd upon my passes.” As a ruler of men the Duke is weak, and he knows his own weakness:–

Fr. It rested in your grace To unloose this tied-up justice when you pleased: And it in you more dreadful would have seem'd Than in lord Angelo. Duke. I do fear, too dreadful:

Sith 't was my fault to give the people scope,

'T would be my tyranny to strike and gall them

For what I bid them do.”

And yet he does really strike and gall them through another; but he saves himself the labour and the slander. And here, then, as it appears to us, we have a key to the purpose of the poet in the introduction of what constitutes the most unpleasant portion of this play,+the exhibition of a very gross general profligacy. There is an atmosphere of impurity hanging like a dense fog over the city of the poet. The philosophical ruler, the saintly votaress, and the sanctimonious deputy, appear to belong to another region to that in which they move. The grossness is not merely described or inferred;—but we see those who minister to the corruptions, and we are brought in contact with the corrupted. This, possibly, was not necessary for the higher dramatic effects of the comedy; but it was necessary for those lessons of political philosophy which we think Shakspere here meant to inculcate, and which he appears to us on many occasions to have kept in view in his later plays. Mr. Hallam has most truly said of “Measure for Measure’ that “the depths and intricacies of being, which he (Shakspere) has searched and sounded with intense reflection, perplex and harass him.” In this play he manifests, as we apprehend, his philosophical view of a corrupt state of manners fostered by weak government: but the subject is scarcely dramatic, and it struggles with his own proper powers. Here we have an exhibition of crimes of passion, and crimes of ignorance. There stands the Duke, the representative of a benevolent and tolerant executive power which does not meddle with the people,_ which subjects them to no harsh restrictions, —which surrounds them with no biting penalties; but which utterly fails in carrying out the essential principle of government when it disregards prevention, and sees no middle course between neglect and punishment. A new system is to be substituted; the laissez faire is to be succeeded by the “axe upon the block, very ready;” and then come all the commonplaces by which a reign of terror is to be defended:— “We must not make a scarecrow of the law, Setting it up to fear the birds of prey, And let it keep one shape, till custom make it Their perch, and not their terror.” + + + + + “The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept : Those many had not dared to do that evil, If the first that did the edict infringe Had answer'd for his deed; now, 't is awake.”

The philosophical poet sweeps these saws away with an indignation which is the more emphatic as coming from the mouth of the only truly moral character of the whole drama:—

“Could great men thunder

As Jove himself does, Jove would ne'er be

quiet, For every pelting, petty officer Would use his heaven for thunder: nothing but thunder.”

But he does more—he exhibits to us the every-day working of the hot fit succeeding the cold of legislative and executive power. It works always with injustice. The Duke of the comedy is behind the scenes, and sees how it works. The weak governor resumes his authority, and with it he must resume his principles, and he therefore pardons all. The mouth-repenting deputy, and the callous ruffian, they each escape. We forget; he does not pardon all; the prating coxcomb, who has spoken slander of his own person, is alone punished. Was this accident in the poet Great crimes may be looked over by weak governments, but the pettiest libeller of power is inevitably punished. The catastrophe of this comedy necessarily leaves upon the mind an unsatisfactory impression. Had Angelo been adequately punished it would have been more unsatisfactory. When the Duke took the management of the affair into his own hands, and averted the consequences of Angelo's evil intentions by a series of deceptions, he threw away the power of punishing those evil intentions. We agree with Coleridge that the pardon and marriage of Angelo “baffle the strong indignant claims of justice;” but we cannot see how it could be otherwise. The poet, as it appears to us, exhibits to the end the inadequacy of human laws to enforce public morals upon a system of punishment. But he has not forgotten to exhibit to us incidentally the most beautiful lessons of tolerance; not using “Measure for Measure’ in the sense of the jus talionis, but in a higher spirit—that spirit which moves Isabella to supplicate for mercy towards him who had most wronged her:

“Most bounteous sir, Look, if it please you, on this man condemn'd, As if my brother lived : I partly think, A due sincerity govern'd his deeds, Till he did look on me; since it is so, Let him not die.”


THE comprehension of this tragedy is the history of a man's own mind. In some shape or other, “Hamlet the Dane" very early becomes familiar to almost every youth of tolerable education. He is sometimes presented through the medium of the stage; more frequently in some one of the manifold editions of the acted play. The sublime scenes where the ghost appears are known even to the youngest school-boy, in his “Speakers’ and “Readers;’ and so is the soliloquy, “To be, or not to be.” As we in early life become acquainted with the complete acted play”, we hate the King-we weep for Ophelia, we think Hamlet is cruel to her, we are perhaps inclined with Dr. Johnson to laugh at Hamlet's madness, (“the pretended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth,”) we wonder that Hamlet does not kill the King earlier, and we believe, as Garrick believed, that the catastrophe might have been greatly improved, seeing that the wicked and the virtuous ought not to fall together, as it were by accident. A few years onward, and we have become acquainted with the ‘Hamlet” of Shakspere, —not the ‘Hamlet” of the players. The book is now the companion of our lonely walks;–its recollections hang about our most cherished thoughts. We think less of the dramatic movement of the play than of the glimpses which it affords of the high and solemn things that belong to our being. We see Hamlet habitually subjected to the spiritual part of his nature, communing with thoughts that are not of this world,— abstracted from the business of life, but yet exhibiting a most vigorous intellect, and an exquisite taste. But there is that about him which we cannot understand. Is he essentially “in madness,” or mad “only in craft?” Where is the line to be drawn between his artificial and his real character?

* A notice of the earliest edition of “ Hamlet” will be found in Book 11., chapter III., page 57.

There is something altogether indefinable and mysterious in the poet's delineation of this character;-something wild and irregular in the circumstances with which the character is associated;—we see that Hamlet is propelled, rather than propelling. But why is this turn given to the delineation? We cannot exactly tell. Perhaps some of the very charm of the play to the adult mind is its mysteriousness. It awakes not only thoughts of the grand and the beautiful, but of the incomprehensible. Its obscurity constitutes a portion of its sublimity. This is the stage in which most minds are content to rest, and, perhaps, advantageously so, with regard to the comprehension of ‘Hamlet.” The final appreciation of the ‘Hamlet” of Shakspere belongs to the development of the critical faculty, to the cultivation of it by reading and reflection. Without much acquaintance with the thoughts of others, many men, we have no doubt, being earnest and diligent students of Shakspere, have arrived at a tolerably adequate comprehension of his idea in this wonderful play. In passing through the stage of admiration, they have utterly rejected the trash which the commentators have heaped upon it, under the name of criticism, the solemn commonplaces of Johnson, the flippant and insolent attacks of Steevens. When the one says, “the apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose,”—and the other talks of the “absurdities” which deform the piece, and “the immoral character of Hamlet,”— the love for Shakspere tells them, that remarks such as these belong to the same class of prejudices as Woltaire's “monstruosités et fossoyeurs.” But, after they have rejected all that belongs to criticism without love, the very depth of the reverence of another school of critics may tend to perplex them. This is somewhat our own position. The quantity alone that has been written in illustration of ‘Hamlet ' is embarrassing.

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