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ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.
IN these “Characters,” Friend Reader, my main object has been to contribute to your intellectual recreation: to consider myself in the light of your "Poetical Remembrancer ;” not your teacher, not your pedagogue, but your companion, your brother botanist, culling the simples of beauty, and wisdom, and truth—and this is the highest wisdom—from that rich terrene of anthology, the pages of Shakespeare ;-our Shakespearethe whole world's Shakespeare. And, indeed, a bare recurrence to the amplewisdom and bland morality of such a humanist as Shakespeare, brings with it both recreation and improvement; for what is his mind but a transmission in daguerreotype of the created world, animate and inanimate? and who that is endowed with the reflective faculty, ever looks that creation in the face without an accompanying thought that brings him into communion with the Author of all that is great, and good, and fair ?—the deep solemnity of the blue firmament, “fretted with gold;" the restless expanse of ocean; the green earth, and the mountains bare; the waving forests; and the unchartered wind, that “bloweth where it listeth,”—all preach to us a lesson of “wisdom” and “beauty," of "truth" and peace," beyond whate'er was spoken.”
And he who has told us that we may find “ books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything," does but square his moral code with the grand principle of legislative wisdom promulgated in the book of universal nature; for there is “good in everything,” even in “ things evil;" which, like the “primal curse," may be converted into inestimable blessings: and he who studies the principle of human action in a philosophical spirit, must come to the same conclusion. So with the writings of a genius like Shakespeare; that man must have a limited or perverted vision, who does, not perceive in them a whole Macrocosm-a Great World of human knowledge, in which the principles of Good and Evil are no more confounded than we find them in nature ; and this axiom should be invariably asserted with reference to his moral philosophy-indeed, the main point on which he is to be studied for improvement, as well as recreation ; and I shall have fulfilled my intention if I succeed in impressing this truth,-one not sufficiently recognised by the casual reader of his wonderful productions.
What a world of associations does not the fancy conjure up, as we enter the precincts of the picturesque career of Antony and Cleopatra! The mind runs back through the remote vista of scenes and events connected with the theatre and arena on which they ran their wilful and tragical course. Those long pageants and swart dynasties, the Pharaohs, the Ptolemies, and the Sesostrises, with all the drums and tramplings of a thousand conquests and depopulations,—kings in their triumphal chariots borne home upon the tide of a conquered and captive people,—all pass in shadowy, silent review before the mind's eye: and we stretch on in thought to that most strange era, when the young Hebrew redeemed his tribe from the bondage of their hard task-masters, and led them forth to freedom, as on “dry land in the midst of the sea."
No region of the world is more fruitful in local and historical interest than the country of Egypt :-its monumental mounds and mountain sculptures ; its gigantic and unique architecture; its pyramids, “so doting with age,” (as old Fuller quaintly describes them,) that they have forgotten not only the "names of their founders,” but even their intention ; its extraordinary river, which periodically sends forth its great throbbing pulse of vitality over the parched earth; and lastly, its curious and infant-like picture literature ;-all is mysterious, and all is interesting because of the mystery ; and it is like nothing else in the whole world.
This was the stage of Cleopatra's voluptuous and reckless career ; and this point in the world's history Shakespeare has touched with his magician's wand, and the characters start into light, life, and identity. I cannot think that in any one of his historical dramas, he has more grandly conveyed the ideal, with the implicitly accurate in the historical, than in the play now under consideration.
The historical character of Cleopatra may be briefly summed. She was the grandest coquette that ever lived. Cæsars were her fit slaves, for she had imperial powers of captivation. She was a gorgeous personification of female fascination, of bewitching womanhood in regal magnificence. She used her female graces as enhancements of her queenly state; and made her power of pleasing, a crown to her royal power. She was born a princess, reigned a queen, won an emperor, swayed a hero, and defeated a conqueror ; while her personal blandishments live, in the imagination of posterity, as far outweighing the facts of her fortune. We think of her as the queen of enslavers, more than as queen of Egypt. She stands conspicuous to fancy in might of allurement.*
* As the earnings of the wife are, by law, the property of the husband, I lay claim to this summary of Egypt's queen from the pages of “World-noted Women.”
She overcame Julius Cæsar by placing herself in his power, —thereby trusting to her own,—and relying on his magnanimity and chivalry. She overcame Antony by dictating to him, and then displaying the full panoply of her charms before him. He had summoned her (as Triumvir of Rome -and of the world) to appear before him, and answer certain accusations that had been brought against her. She made so light of his summons, as not to answer one of his letters; but set forward in her barge (gorgeously furnished beyond all Eastern romance of luxury) to meet him. The whole population came forth to see her in her state ; while Antony was left totally alone, in the market-place, waiting for her ;—the summoning judge,—the inquirer into her conduct,-left to abide her coming. This was her first advantage over Antony.
When she had landed, and he had beheld her, and had had an interview, he sent to invite her to supper with him. She returned for answer, (having, at a glance, seen him through and through,) that he would do better to come and sup with her; and Plutarch says, “ He, to show himself courteous to her on her arrival, was contented to obey her, and went to sup with her; where he found such sumptuous fare, that no tongue can express it." Step the second-his invitation set aside, hers accepted; and the delinquent, instead of being entertained of the judge, becoming his entertainer. And afterwards, when he did entertain her, she found his feast so gross and soldier-like, that (as the historian continues) “she gave it him finely; and, without fear, taunted him thoroughly." Here was she already installed as rater of his conduct, instead of rendering him an account of hers; and, in the end, she drew him completely within the spell of her witchery ;-the fact being that she saw, at one review, that her victim was weak in judgment, and, in every sense, a sensualist; she therefore baited for, and caught her prey.