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Does it produce tranquillity? All beyond is desperation:—
“Macb. Saw you the weird sisters? Len. No, my lord. Macb. Came they not by you? Len. No, indeed, my lord. Macb. Infected be the air whereon they ride; And damn'd all those that trust them —I did hear The galloping of horse: Who was 't came by? Len. 'T is two or three, my lord, that bring you word, Macduff is fled to England. Macb. Len. Ay, my good lord. Macb. Time, thou anticipat'st my dread exploits: The flighty purpose never is o'ertook, Unless the deed go with it: From this moment, The very firstlings of my heart shall be The firstlings of my hand. And even now, To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done: The castle of Macduff I will surprise; Seize upon Fife; give to the edge o' the Sword His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls That trace him in his line.”
The retribution which falls upon Lady Macbeth is precisely that which is fitted to her guilt. The powerful will is subjected to the domination of her own imperfect senses. We cannot dwell upon her terrible punishment. There can be nothing beyond the agony of
“Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”
Fled to England!
The vengeance falls more gently on Macbeth; for he is in activity; he is still confident in prophetic securities. The contemplative melancholy which, however, occasionally comes over him in the last struggle is still true to the poetry of his character:—
“Seyton —I am sick at heart. When I behold—Seyton, I say!—This push Will cheer me ever, or dis-seat me now. I have liv'd long enough: 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 dare not.” This passage, and the subsequent one of “To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty space from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death,”— tell us of something higher and better in his character than the assassin and the usurper. He was the victim of “the equivocation of the fiend;” and he has paid a fearful penalty for his belief. The final avenging is a compassionate one, for he dies a warrior's death:— “I will not yield, To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet, And to be baited with the rabble's curse. Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane, And thou oppos'd, being of no woman born, Yet I will try the last: Before my body I throw my warlike shield.”
The principle which we have thus so imperfectly attempted to exhibit, as the leading characteristic of this glorious tragedy, is, without doubt, that which constitutes the essential difference between a work of the highest genius and a work of mediocrity. Without power—by which we here especially mean the ability to produce strong excitement by the display of scenes of horror—no poet of the highest order was ever made; but this alone does not make such a poet. If he is called upon to present such scenes, they must, even in their most striking forms, be associated with the beautiful. The preeminence of his art in this particular can alone prevent them affecting the imagination beyond the limits of pleasurable emotion. To keep within these limits, and yet to preserve all the energy which results from the power of dealing with the terrible apart from the beautiful, belongs to few that the world has seen : to Shakspere it belongs surpassingly.
B O O K W III.
CHAPTER I. A WINTER’S TALE.
WE have no edition of the “Winter's Tale’ prior to that of the folio of 1623; nor was it entered upon the registers of the Stationers' Company previous to the entry by the proprietors of the folio. The original text, which is divided into acts and scenes, is remarkably correct. Chalmers has assigned the “Winter's Tale' to 1601. The play contains this passage:– “If I could find example Of thousands that had struck anointed kings And flourish'd after, I’d not do ’t: but since Nor brass, nor stone, nor parchment, bears not one, Let villainy itself forswear't.” “These lines,” says Chalmers, “were called forth by the occasion of the conspiracy of Essex.” “No,” says Malone, “these lines could never have been intended for the ear of her who had deprived the Queen of Scots of her life. To the son of Mary they could not but have been agreeable.” Upon this ground he assigned the comedy to 1604. There is a third critic, of much higher acuteness than the greater number of those who have given us speculations on the chronology of Shakspere's plays, we mean Horace Walpole, whose conjecture is so ingenious and amusing that we copy it without abridgment:“The “Winter's Tale' may be ranked among the historic plays of Shakspere, though not one of his numerous critics and commentators have discovered the drift of it. It was certainly intended (in compliment to Queen Elizabeth) as an indirect apology for her mother, Anne Boleyn. The address of the poet appears nowhere to more advantage. The subject was too delicate to be exhibited on the stage without a veil; and it was too recent, and touched the queen too nearly, for the bard to have ventured
so home an allusion on any other ground than compliment. The unreasonable jealousy of Leontes, and his violent conduct in consequence, form a true portrait of Henry VIII., who generally made the law the engine of his boisterous passions. Not only the general plan of the story is most applicable, but several passages are so marked that they touch the real history nearer than the fable. Hermione on her trial, SayS, ‘For honour, 'T is a derivative from me to mine, And only that I stand for.”
This seems to be taken from the very letter of Anne Boleyn to the king before her execution, where she pleads for the infant princess his daughter. Mamillius, the young prince, an unnecessary character, dies in his infancy; but it confirms the allusion, as Queen Anne, before Elizabeth, bore a still-born son. But the most striking passage, and which had nothing to do in the tragedy but as it pictured Elizabeth, is where Paulina, describing the new-born princess, and her likeness to her father, says, “She has the very trick of his frown.” There is one sentence, indeed, so applicable both to Elizabeth and her father, that I should suspect the poet inserted it after her death. Paulina, speaking of the child, tells the king— ‘’T is yours: And might we lay the old proverb to your charge, So like you,'t is the worse.’
The ‘Winter's Tale’ was therefore in reality a Second Part of ‘Henry VIII.’”
Plausible as this may appear, the conjecture falls to the ground when we consider that Shakspere adopted all that part of the plot of this comedy which relates to the “unreasonable jealousy of Leontes” from a novel
lost, the king should die without issue; for the child was carried into Bohemia, and there laid in a forest, and brought up by a shepherd. And the King of Bohemia's son married that wench, and how they fled into Sicilia to Leontes; and the shepherd having showed the letter to the nobleman whom Leontes sent, it was that child, and by the jewels found about her she was known to be Leontes' daughter, and was then sixteen years old.
“Remember, also, the rogue that came in all tattered, like Coll Pipin, and how he feigned him sick and to have been robbed of all he had, and how he cozened the poor man of all his money, and after came to the sheep-shear with a pedlar's pack, and there cozened them again of all their money. And how he changed apparel with the King of Bohemia's son, and then how he turned courtier, &c.
“Beware of trusting feigned beggars or fawning fellows.”
The novel of Robert Greene, called ‘Pandosto,” and “The History of Dorastus and Fawnia, which Shakspere undoubtedly followed, with very few important deviations, in the construction of the plot of his “Winter's Tale,' is a small book, occupying fifty-nine pages in the reprint, with an Introductory Notice by Mr. Colliert. It was a work of extraordinary popularity, there being fourteen editions known to exist. Of the nature of Shakspere's obligations to this work, Mr. Collier thus justly speaks:–
“Robert Greene was a man who possessed all the advantages of education: he was a graduate of both Universities—he was skilled in ancient learning and in modern languages—he had, besides, a prolific imagination, a lively and elegant fancy, and a grace of expression rarely exceeded; yet, let any person well acquainted with the “Winter's Tale’ read the novel of ‘Pandosto, upon which it was founded, and he will be struck at once with the vast pre-eminence of Shakespeare, and with the admirable manner in which he has converted materials supplied by another to his own use. The bare outline of the story (with the exception of Shakespeare's miraculous conclusion) is nearly the same in both; but this is all they have in common, and Shakespeare may be said to have scarcely adopted a single hint for his descriptions, or a line for his dialogue; while in point of passion and sentiment Greene is cold, formal, and artificial—the very opposite of everything in Skakespeare.”
* “New Particulars, p. 20. ł ‘Shakespeare's Library, Part I.
Without wearying the reader with any very extensive comparisons of the novel and the drama, we shall run through the production of Greene, to which our great poet has incidentally imparted a real interest.
“In the country of Bohemia,” says the novel, “there reigned a king called Pandosto.” The “Leontes’ of Shakspere is the ‘Pandosto' of Greene. The Polixenes of the play is Egistus in the novel:—
“It so happened that Egistus, King of Sicilia, who in his youth had been brought up with Pandosto, desirous to show that neither tract of time nor distance of place could diminish their former friendship, provided a navy of ships, and sailed into Bohemia to visit his old friend and companion.”
Here, then, we have the scene of the action reversed. The jealous king is of Bohemia, —his injured friend of Sicilia. But the visitor sails into Bohemia. The wife of Pandosto is Bellaria; and they have a young son called Garinter. Pandosto becomes jealous, slowly, and by degrees; and there is at least some want of caution in the queen to justify it:-
“Bellaria noting in Egistus a princely and bountiful mind, adorned with sundry and excellent qualities, and Egistus finding in her a virtuous and courteous disposition, there grew such a secret uniting of their affections, that the one could not well be without the company of the other.”
| The great author of “Othello” would not
deal with jealousy after this fashion. He had already produced that immortal portrait
“Of one, not easily jealous, but, being wrought, Perplex'd in the extreme.”
He had now to exhibit the distractions of a mind to which jealousy was native; to depict the terrible access of passion, uprooting in a moment all deliberation, all reason, all
gentleness. The instant the idea enters the mind of Leontes the passion is at its height:—
“I have tremor cordis on me:-my heart dances.”
Very different is the jealous king of Greene:—
“These and such-like doubtful thoughts, a long time smothering in his stomach, began at last to kindle in his mind a secret mistrust, which, increased by suspicion, grew at last to a flaming jealousy that so tormented him as he could take no rest.”
Coleridge has described the jealousy of Leontes with incomparable truth of analysis:–
“The idea of this delightful drama is a genuine jealousy of disposition, and it should be immediately followed by the perusal of ‘Othello, which is the direct contrast of it in every particular. For jealousy is a vice of the mind, a culpable tendency of the temper, having certain well-known and well-defined effects and concomitants, all of which are visible in Leontes, and, I boldly say, not one of which marks its presence in Othello;-such as, first, an excitability by the most inadequate causes, and an eagerness to snatch at proofs; secondly, a grossness of conception, and a disposition to degrade the object of the passion by sensual fancies and images; thirdly, a sense of shame of his own feelings exhibited in a solitary moodiness of humour, and yet, from the violence of the passion, forced to utter itself, and therefore catching occasions to ease the mind by ambiguities, equivoques, by talking to those who cannot, and who are known not to be able to, understand what is said to them,-in short, by soliloquy in the form of dialogue, and hence a confused, broken, and fragmentary manner; fourthly, a dread of vulgar ridicule, as distinct from a high sense of honour, or a mistaken sense of duty; and lastly, and immediately consequent on this, a spirit of selfish vindictiveness.”
The action of the novel and that of the drama continue in a pretty equal course. Pandosto tampers with his cupbearer, Franion, to poison Egistus; and the cupbearer, terrified at the fearful commission, reveals the design to the object of his master's hatred." Eventually they escape together:
“Egistus, fearing that delay might breed danger, and willing that the grass should not be cut from under his feet, taking bag and baggage, by the help of Franion conveyed himself and his men out at a postern gate of the city, so secretly and speedily, that without any suspicion they got to the sea-shore; where, with many a bitter curse taking their leave of Bohemia, they went aboard.”
* * Literary Remains,’ vol. ii.
Bellaria is committed to prison where she gives birth to a daughter. The guard
“carried the child to the king, who, quite devoid of pity, commanded that without delay it should be put in the boat, having neither sail nor rudder to guide it, and so to be carried into the midst of the sea, and there left to the wind and wave as the destinies please to appoint.”
The queen appeals to the oracle of Apollo; and certain lords are sent to Delphos, where they receive this decree:–
“SUSPICION IS NO PROOF: JEALOUSY IS AN UNEQUAL JUDGE: BELLARIA IS CHASTE; EGISTUS BLAMELESS: FRANION A TRUE SUBJECT; PANDOSTO TREACHEROUS: HIS BABE INNOCENT; AND THE KING SHALL LIVE WITHOUT AN HEIR, IF THAT WHICH IS LOST BE NOT FOUND.”
On their return, upon an appointed day, the queen was “brought in before the judgmentseat.” Shakspere has followed a part of the tragical ending of this scene; but he preserves his injured Hermione, to be reunited to her daughter after years of solitude and suffering.
“Bellaria had no sooner said but the king commanded that one of his dukes should read the contents of the scroll, which, after the commons had heard, they gave a great shout, rejoicing and clapping their hands that the queen was clear of that false accusation. But the king, whose conscience was a witness against him of his witless fury and false suspected jealousy, was so ashamed of his rash folly that he entreated his nobles to persuade Bellaria to forgive and forget these injuries; promising not only to show himself a loyal and loving husband, but also to reconcile himself to Egistus and Franion; revealing then before them all the cause of their secret flight, and how treacherously he thought to have practised his death, if the good mind of his cupbearer had not prevented his purpose. As thus he was relating the whole