Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

and divinity can urge, to wean us mortals from the "many deceiving promises of life."

Lucio is one of those mixed characters, such as are often generated amidst the refinements and pollutions of urban society, in whom low and disgusting vices, and a frivolity still more offensive, are blended with engaging manners and some manly sentiments. Thus he appears a gentleman and a blackguard by turns; and, which is more, he does really unite something of these seemingly-incompatible qualities. With a true eye and a just respect for virtue in others, yet, so far as we can see, he cares not a jot to have it in himself. And while his wanton, waggish levity seems too much for any generous sentiment to consist with, still he shows a strong and steady friendship for Claudio, and a heart-felt reverence for Isabella; as if on purpose to teach us that "the web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together." And perhaps the seeming "snow-broth blood" of Angelo puts him upon affecting a more frisky circulation than he really has. For an overacted austerity is not the right way to win others out of a too rollicking levity.

Dr. Johnson rather oddly remarks that "the comic scenes are natural and pleasing ": not that the remark is not true enough, but that it appears something out of character in him. And if these scenes please, it is not so much from any fund of mirthful exhilaration, or any genial gushings of wit and humour, as for the remorseless, unsparing freedom, not unmingled with touches of scorn, with which the deformities of mankind are anatomized. The contrast between the right-hearted, well-meaning Claudio, a generous spirit walled in with overmuch infirmity, and Barnardine, a frightful petrification of humanity, "careless, reckless and fearless of what is past, present, or to come," is in the Poet's boldest manner.

Nevertheless the general current of things is far from musical, and the issues greatly disappointing. The drowsy Justice which we expect and wish to see awakened, and set in living harmony with Mercy, apparently relapses at last into a deeper sleep than ever. Our loyalty to Womanhood is not a little wounded by the humiliations to which poor Mariana stoops, at the ghostly counsels of her spiritual guide, that she may twine her life with that of the execrable hypocrite who has wronged her sex so deeply. That, amid the general impunity, the mere telling of some ridiculous lies to the disguised Duke about himself, should draw down a disproportionate severity upon Lucio, the lively, unprincipled, fantastic jester and wag, who might well be let pass as a privileged character, makes the whole look more as if done in mockery of justice than in honour of mercy. Except, indeed, the noble unfolding of Isabella, scarce any thing turns out to our wish; nor are we much pleased at seeing her diverted from the quiet tasks and holy contemplations where her heart is so much at home; although, as Gervinns observes, "she has that two-sided nature, the capacity to enjoy the world, according to circumstances, or to dispense with it."

The title of this play is apt to give a wrong impression of its scope and purpose. Measure for Measure is itsell equivocal; but the subject-matter here fixes it to be taken in the sense, not of the old Jewish proverb, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," but of the divine precept, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Thus the title falls in with one of Portia's appeals to Shylock, "We do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy." The moral centre of the play properly stands in avoidance of extremes, —

"the golden mean and quiet flow
Of truths that soften hatred, temper strife.

THE TEMPEST.

The Tempest is on all hands regarded as one oflfShakespeare's^peHecJIjesC works. Some of his plays, I should say, havirbeams in their eyes; but this has hardly so much as a mote; or, if it have any, my own eyes are not clear enough to discern it. I dare not pronounce the work faultless, for this is too much to affirm of any human workmanship; but I venture to think that whatever faults it may have are such as criticism is hardly competent to specify. In the characters of Ariel, Miranda, and Caliban, we have three of the most unique and original conceptions that ever sprang from the wit of man. We can scarce imagine how the Ideal could be pushed further beyond Nature; yet we here find it clothed with all the truth and life of Nature. And the whole texture of incident and circumstance is framed in keeping with that Ideal; so that all the parts and particulars cohere together, mutually supporting and supported.

The leading sentiment naturally inspired by the scenes of this drama is, I believe, that of delighted wonder. And such, as appears from the heroine's name, Mirandgj who is the potency of the drama, is probably the sentiment which the play was meant to inspire. But the grace and efficacy in which the workmanship is steeped are so ethereal and so fine, that they can hardly be discoursed in any but the poetic form: it may well be doubted whether Criticism has any fingers delicate enough to grasp them. So much is this the case, that it seemed to me quite doubtful whether I should do well to undertake the theme at all. For Criticism is necessarily obliged to substitute, more or less, the forms of logic for those of art; and art, it scarce need be said, can do many things that are altogether beyond the reach of logic. On the other hand, the charm and verdure of these scenes are so unwithering and inexhaustible, that I could not quite make up my mind to leave the subject untried. Nor do I know how I can better serve my country-

men than by engaging and helping them in the study of • this great inheritance of natural wisdom and unreproved delight. For, assuredly, if they early learn to be at home and to take pleasure in these productions, their whole afterlife will be the better and the happier for it.

The Tempest is one of the plays that were never printed till in the folio of 1623; where, for reasons unknown to us, it stands the first in the volume; though, as we shall presently see, it was among the last of the Poet's writing.

It has been ascertained clearly enough that the play was written somewhere between 1603 and 1613. On the one hand, the leading features of Gonzalo's Commonwealth, as described in the play^were evidently taken from Florio's translation of Montaigne. As the passage is curious in itself, and as it aptly illustrates the Poet's method of appropriating from others^ I will quote it:

"Oon. Had I plantation of this isle, my lord,
And were the King on't, what would I do t
V the Commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things : for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation ; all men idle, all;
And women too, — but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty; —

Seb. Yet he would be King on't.

Ant. The latter end of his Commonwealth forgets the beginning.

Gon. All things in common Nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavour: treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but Nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people."

In Montaigne's Essay Of the Cannibals, as translated by Florio, we have the following: "It is a nation, would I answer Plato, that hath no kind of traffic, no knowledge of letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate, nor of politic superiority; no use of service, of riches, or of poverty; no contracts, no successions, no dividences; no occupation, but idle; no respect of kindred, but common; no apparel, but natural; no manuring of lands; no use of wine, corn, or metal: the very words that import lying, falsehood, treason, dissimulation, covetousness, envy, detraction, and pardon, were never heard amongst them."

Here the borrowing is too plain to be questioned; and this fixes the writing of The Tempest after 1603. On the other hand, Malone ascertained from some old records that the play was acted by the King's players "before Prince Charles, the Princess Elizabeth, and the Prince Palatine, in the beginning of 1613."

For any nearer fixing of the date we have nothing firm to go upon but probabilities. Some of these, however, are pretty strong. I must rest with noting one of them:

Some hints towards the play were derived, apparently, from a book published by one Jourdan in 1610, and entitled, A. Discovery of the Bermudas, otherwise called the Isle of Devils. The occasion was as follows: A fleet of nine ships, with some five hundred people, sailed from England in May, 1609. Among the officers were Sir George Somers, Sir Thomas Gates, and Captain Newport. The fleet was headed by the Sea-Venture, called the Admiral's Ship. On the 25th of July they were struck by a terrible tempest, which scattered the whole fleet, and parted the Sea-Venture from the rest. Most of the ships, however, reached Virginia, left the greater part of their people there, and sailed again for England, where Gates arrived in August or September, 1610, having been sent home by Lord Delaware. Jourdan's book, after relating their shipwreck, continues thus: "But our delivery was not more strange in falling so happily upon land, than our provision was admirable. For the Islands of the Bermudas, as every one

« ZurückWeiter »