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that makes us “let fall a tear.” Amongst the “noble scenes” of this drama, that in which Buckingham addresses “all good people” is very noble. The deepest pathos is in— “When I came hither I was lord high constable, And duke of Buckingham; now, poor Edward Bohun.”
But there is a deeper pathos that will “draw the eye to flow.” It is foreshadowed to us even while the eye is still wet for Buckingham :—
“Did you not of late days hear A buzzing, of a separation Between the King and Katharine?”
The courtiers speak of this freely :—
“Cham. It seems the marriage with his brother's wife Has crept too near his conscience. Suf. No, his conscience Has crept too near another lady.”
And shall we “let fall a tear” because a just and spotless wife is about to be parted from a self-willed, capricious, tyrannical husband? If we read her character aright, we, shall understand where lies the depth of her “misery.” It is not in Anne Bullen's description alone that we can estimate “the pang that pinches.” It is not alone that she has “lived long” with “his highness”— “Still growing in a majesty and pomp, the which To leave a thousand-fold more bitter than 'Tis sweet at first to acquire.”
This is the interpretation of a young woman, to whom “majesty and pomp.” look dazzling. In her notion the “divorce” from “temporal” glory is “a sufferance, panging As soul and body severing.”
It is held that this pity of Anne for her mistress is a stroke of dramatic art to render her amiable under her equivocal situation. Is it not rather the poet's profound display of the weakness of Anne's own character The sufferings of Katharine lie deeper than this. She is one who feels that she is about to be surrounded with the snares of injustice. She is defenceless—“a most poor woman, and
a stranger.” She has been “a true and humble wife.” But she is proud—nobly proud:—
*Sir, I am about to weep; but, thinking that We are a queen, (or long have dream'd so,) certain The daughter of a king, my drops of tears I’ll turn to sparks of fire.”
The eloquence of that “simple woman"— her lofty bearing, her bold resolve—is not born of the clinging to temporal pomp: it issues out of the bruised spirit, whose affections are outraged, whose honour is insulted, whose dignity is trodden upon. She is all in all in this great scene. Before the grandeur of her earnest and impassioned pleading the intellect of Wolsey quails, and the self-will of Henry resorts to a justification of his motives. What a picture next is opened of the “poor weak woman, fallen from favour!” The poetry of the situation is unequalled: the queen, sitting amongst her women at work—and listening to that delicious song of “Orpheus with his lute made trees.” Then is revealed the innermost grief of that wounded heart:— “Would ye have me Put my sick cause into his hands that hates me? Alas! he has banish'd me his bed already; His love, too long ago: I am old, my lords, And all the fellowship I hold now with him Is only my obedience. What can happen To me above this wretchedness?”
But the pride still remains—the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella speaks in the fallen woman's “nothing but death Shall e'er divorce my dignities.” She has lost even the power of making her dependants happy:“Alas! poor wenches, where are now your fortunes?” and then comes, out of this tenderness, the revulsion from that lofty passion to the humility of an absorbing despair:“Do what ye will, my lords: And, pray, forgive me,
If I have used myself unmannerly.”
There is nothing in the compass of poetry more touching than this exhibition of the gradual subjection of a high spirit to the force of circumstances.
Another turn of “the ever-whirling wheel!” Wolsey next falls. He had none of our sympathies. We gaze upon his commanding intellect; we marvel at “his unbounded stomach;” —but we fear the crafty and daring politician. Up to the moment when the treacherous Henry gathers up his power to hurl the bolt at him—
“and then to breakfast, with What appetite you have”—
we rejoice at “the instant cloud.” But by the exercise of his marvellous art the poet throws the fallen man upon our pity. He restores him to his fellowship with humanity by his temporal abasement. The trappings of his ambition are stripped off, and we see him in his natural dignity. He puts on the armour of fortitude, and we reverence him. The scene is changed. The stage is crowded with processional displays. There has been a coronation. We see it not; but its description is worth more than the sight:—
“The rich stream Of lords, and ladies, having brought the queen To a prepared place in the choir, fell off A distance from her: while her grace sat down To rest a while, some half an hour, or so, In a rich chair of state, opposing freely The beauty of her person to the people.”
Anne passes from the stage;—Katharine is led in sick. Her great enemy is dead. She cannot but number up his faults; but she listens to “his good.” They have a fellowship in misfortune; and she honours his ashes. She is passing from the world. The grave hides that pure, and gentle, and noble sufferer. Anne is crowned. Her example of
“How soon this mightiness meets misery”
was not to be shown. But who can forget it? Then comes the shadowing out of new intrigues and new hatreds; and the despot puts on an attitude of justice. Elizabeth is born. The link is completed between the generation which is past and the generation which looks upon
“The very persons of our noble story, As they were living.”
Shakspere has closed his great series of “Chronicle Histories.’ This last of them was to be “sad, high, and working.” It has laid bare the hollowness of worldly glory; it has shown the heavy “load” of “too much honour.” It has given us a picture of the times which succeeded the feudal strifes of the other ‘Histories.' Were they better times? To the mind of the poet the age of corruption was as “sad” as the age of force. The one tyrant rides over the obligations of justice, wielding a power more terrible than that of the sword. The poet's consolation is to be found in the prophetic views of the future. The prophecy of Cranmer upon the reigns of Elizabeth and James is the eulogy of just government—partially realized in the age of Shakspere, but not the less a high conception, (however beyond the reality,) of
“What makes a nation happy, and keeps it so.”
We have a few words to add on the style of this drama. It is remarkable for the elliptical construction of many of the sentences and for an occasional peculiarity in the versification, which is not found in any other of Shakspere's works. The Roman plays, decidedly amongst the latest of his productions, possess a colloquial freedom of versification which in some cases approaches almost to ruggedness. But in the “Henry VIII.' this freedom is carried much farther. We have repeated instances in which the lines are so constructed that it is impossible to read them with the slightest pause at the end of each line:—the sentence must be run together, so as to produce more the effect of measured prose than of blank-verse. As an example of what we mean, we will write a sentence of fourteen lines as if it had been printed as prose :—
“Hence I took a thought this was a judgment on me; that my kingdom, well worthy the best heir of the world, should not be gladded in 't by me: Then follows, that I weigh'd the danger which my realms stood in by this my issue's fail: and that gave to me many a groaning throe. Thus hulling in the wild sea of my conscience, I did steer towards this remedy, whereupon we
are now present here together; that's to say, I meant to rectify my conscience,—which I then did feel full sick, and yet not well,—by all the reverend fathers of the land, and doctors learn'd.”
If the reader will turn to the passage (Act II. Scene 4) he will see that many of the lines end with particles, and that scarcely one of the lines is marked by a pause at the termination. Many other passages could be pointed out with this peculiarity. A theory has been set up that Jonson “tampered” with the versification. We hold this notion to be utterly untenable; for there is no play of Shakspere's which has a more decided character of unity—no one from which any passage could be less easily struck out. We
believe that Shakspere worked in this particular upon a principle of art which he had proposed to himself to adhere to wherever the nature of the scene would allow. The elliptical construction, and the licence of versification, brought the dialogue, whenever the speaker was not necessarily rhetorical, closer to the language of common life. Of all his historical plays, the “Henry VIII.’ is the nearest in its story to his own times. It professed to be a “truth.” It belongs to his own country. It has no poetical indistinctness about it, either of time or place: all is defined. If the diction and the versification had been more artificial, it would have been less a reality.
CHAPTER WI. THE ROMAN PLAY S.
THE three plays of ‘Coriolanus,’ ‘Julius Caesar,’ and ‘Antony and Cleopatra,’ were first printed in the folio collection of 1623. The German critic, Horn, concludes some remarks upon Shakspere’s ‘King John’ with a passage that may startle those who believe that the truth of history, and the truth of our great dramatic teacher of history, are altogether different things:—
“The hero of this piece stands not in the list of personages, and could not stand with them; for the idea should be clear without personification. The hero is England.
“What the poet chose to express of his view of the dignity and worth of his native land he has confided to the Bastard to embody in words:–
‘This England never did, nor never shall,
But Shakspere is immeasurably more than Faulconbridge, and he would have the reader and the spectator more also. These lines are not intended to be fixed upon England at the beginning of the fourteenth century alone; they are not even confined to Eng
land generally. They are for the elevation of the views of a state—of a people. Happy for England that she possesses a poet who so many years since has spoken to her people as the highest and most splendid teacher The full consequences of his teaching have not yet been sufficiently revealed; they may perhaps never wholly be exhibited. We, however, know that in England a praiseworthy zeal for their country's history prevails amongst the people. But who first gave true life to that history?” In the three great Roman dramas, the idea, not personified, but full of a life that animates and informs every scene, is RomE. Some one said that Chantrey's bust of a great living poet was more like than the poet himself. Shakspere's Rome, we venture to think, is more like than the Rome of the Romans. It is the idealized Rome, true indeed to her every-day features, but embodying that expression of character which belongs to the universal rather than the accidental. And yet how varied is the idea of Rome which the poet presents to us in these three great mirrors of her history !
In the young Rome of Coriolanus we see the terrible energy of her rising ambition checked and overpowered by the factious violence of her contending classes. We know that the prayer of Coriolanus is a vain prayer:“The honour'd gods Keep Rome in safety, and the chairs of justice Supplied with worthy men plant love among us ! Throng our large temples with the shows of peace, And not our streets with war !”
In the matured Rome of Julius Caesar we see her riches and her glories about to be swallowed up in a domestic conflict of principles:— “Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods ! When went there by an age, since the great flood, But it was famed with more than with one man? When could they say, till now, that talk'd of Rome, That her wide walks encompass'd but one man 3”
In the slightly older Rome of Antony, her power, her magnificence, are ready to perish in the selfishness of individuals:—
“Let Rome in Tiber melt and the wide arch Of the ranged empire fall !”
Rome was saved from anarchy by the supremacy of one. Shakspere did not live to make the Caesars more immortal. Schlegel has observed that “these plays are the very thing itself; and, under the apparent artlessness of adhering closely to history as he [Shakspere] found it, an uncommon degree of art is concealed.” The poet almost invariably follows Plutarch, as translated by North, sometimes even to the literal adoption of the biographer's words. This is the “apparent artlessness.” But Schlegel has also shown us the principles of the “uncommon art:”—“Of every historical transaction Shakspere knows how to seize the true poetical point of view, and to give unity and rounding to a series of events detached from the immeasurable extent of
history, without in any degree changing them.” But he adopts the literal only when it enters into “the true poetical point of view,” and is therefore in harmony with the general poetical truth, which in many subordinate particulars necessarily discards all pretension of “adhering closely to history.” Jonson has left us two Roman plays produced essentially upon a different principle. In his ‘Sejanus’ there is scarcely a speech or an incident that is not derived from the ancient authorities; and Jonson's own edition of the play is crowded with references as minute as would have been required from any modern annalist. In his Address to the Readers, he says—“Lest in some nice nostril the quotations might savour affected, I do let you know that I abhor nothing more; and I have only done it to show my integrity in the story.” The character of the dramatist's mind, as well as the abundance of his learning, determined this mode of proceeding: but it is evident that he worked upon a false principle of art. His characters are, therefore, puppets carved and stuffed according to the descriptions, and made to speak according to the very words of Tacitus and Suetonius;–but they are not living men. It is the same in his ‘Catiline.” Cicero is the great actor in that play ; and he moves as Sallust, corrected by other authorities, made him move; and speaks as he spoke himself in his own orations. Jonson gives the whole of Cicero's first oration against Catiline, in a translation amounting to some three hundred lines. It may be asked, what can we have that may better present Cicero to us than the descriptions of the Roman historians, and Cicero's own words We arower, six lines of Shakspere, not found in the books:–
“The angry spot doth glow on Caesar's brow,
Gifford, speaking of Jonson's two Roman tragedies, says—“He has apparently succeeded in his principal object, which was to exhibit the characters of the drama to the spectators of his days precisely as they appeared to those of their own.” The plan was scholastic, but it was not judicious. The difference between the dramatis persona, and the spectators was too wide ; and the very accuracy to which he aspired would seem to take away much of the power of pleasing. Had he drawn men instead of Romans, his success might have been more assured.”* We presume to think that there is here a slight confusion of terms. If Jonson had succeeded in his principal object, and had exhibited his characters precisely as they appeared in their own days, his representation would have been the truth. But he has drawn, according to this intelligent critic, Romans instead of men, and therefore his success was not perfectly assured. Not drawing men, he did not draw his characters as they appeared in their own days : but as he pieced out their supposed appearance from incidental descriptions or formal characterizations—from party historians or prejudiced rhetoricians. If he had drawn Romans as they were, he would have drawn men as they were. They were not the less men because they were Romans. He failed to draw the men, principally on account of the limited range of his imaginative power; he copied instead of created. He repeated, says Gifford, “the ideas, the language, the allusions,” which “could only be readily caught by the contemporaries of Augustus and Tiberius.” He gave us, partly on this account also, shadows of life, instead of the “living features of an age so distant from our own,” as his biographer yet thinks | he gave. Shakspere worked upon different principles, and certainly with a different SulcCeSS. The leading idea of ‘Coriolanus”—“the pivot upon which all the action turns—the key to the bitterness of factious hatred
which runs through the whole drama—is
the contest for power between the patricians and plebeians. This is a broad principle, assuming various modifications in various states of society, but very slightly varied in
* “Memoirs of Jonson,’ p. ccxx.—Works, 9 vols.
its foundations and its results. He that truly works out the exhibition of this principle must paint men, let the scene be the Rome of the first Tribunes, or the Venice of the last Doges. With the very slightest changes of accessaries, the principle stands for the contests between aristocracy and democracy, in any country or in any age— under a republic or a monarchy. The his— torical truth, and the philosophical principle, which Shakspere has embodied in “Coriolanus’ are universal. But suppose he had possessed the means of treating the subject with what some would call historical accuracy; had learnt that Plutarch, in the story of ‘Coriolanus,” was probably dealing only with a legend ; that, if the story is to be received as true, it belongs to a later period ; that in this later period there were very nice shades of difference between the classes composing the population of Rome ; that the balance of power was a much more complex thing than he found in the narrative of Plutarch : further suppose that, proud of this learning, he had made the universal principle of the plebeian and patrician hostility subsidiary to an exact display of it, according to the conjectures which modern industry and acuteness have brought to bear on the subject. It is evident, we think, that he would have been betrayed into a false principle of art, and would necessarily have drawn Roman shadows instead of vital and enduring men. As it is, he has drawn men so vividly—under such permanent relations to each other—with such universal manifestations of character, that some persons of strong political feelings have been ready to complain, according to their several creeds, either that his plebeians are too brutal, or his patricians too haughty. A polite democracy, a humane oligarchy, would be better. Jonson somewhat rejoices in the amusing exhibition of “plebeian malignity and tribunitian insolence.” Hazlitt, who is more than half angry on the other side of the question, says —“The whole dramatic moral of ‘Coriolanus’ is that those who have little shall have less, and that those who have much shall take all that others have left.” Let us see.