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has done so with equal power and success. Excepting the enigmatical sonnets-of which on set purpose we make no account at present-his two poems, and some scattered verses of no moment, Shakspere gave up his life to the production of dramas, in which the characters introduced must be allowed to speak for themselves, and can reveal only their own natures and peculiarities-the passions and prejudices of their different ages, sexes, and conditions. In this class of art it follows that the figures moved are all in all the mover and creator nowhere and nothing. Still, it would be incredible of belief-a miracle rather than a marvel—that the originator of some hundreds of existences, almost every single one of them most human and life-like, should be able so entirely to project himself out of his own personality-to lose his own individual soul, his conscience, his consciousness, in imaginary creations, that he should succeed in hiding from us the original who had given to them all the breath of humanity. For the art of Shak
. spere, after all that can be said regarding its wonderful reach and perfectibility, sprung, like all similar arts, from the two sources of knowledge and experience, superadded to which, in his case, was an unbounded imagination, appearing to us as absolutely superhuman in range and vigour, but which could not work to any proper effect without the materials drawn from observation, reading, and reflection. We have no hesitation, therefore, in saying that Shakspere has not fully succeeded in concealing himself. Our belief rather is that the self-revelation is more complete than is generally allowed, and that inquirers have been more baffled by their own prepossessions and impatience than by the inherent difficulties of the subject.
Although it may not be possible altogether to lift the veil by which Shakspere has chosen to shroud himself from minute critical inspection, so as to render perfectly manifest his every mental peculiarity, still more may be done towards this result than superficial readers are apt to imagine. First, it may be remarked, that wbile inferior consequence only can be attached to isolated expressions used in the course of the works, as revealing the character of their author, we are justified in drawing certain conclusions from their whole scope and meaning. A single deed or expression of cruelty is not to be weighed against the whole purpose of a play as speaking for or against the writer; nor can the presence of one or more villains be made to tell against a spirit of pervading philanthropy. And, taking a
general survey of the entire works, and judging of their author on this ground alone (leaving out of sight even the opinion formed of him by his contemporaries), nothing is more evident than that Shakspere was not what is meant by a bad man; he was not—in the nature of things he could not be-revengeful, insincere, mean, or treacherous. If deductions can be formed at all from his writings, Shakspere must have displayed the reverse of these qualities, and have shown himself as a high-minded man, delighting in gentleness, candour, goodness, and mercy-a true friend, and a forgiving and benignant enemy. Indeed, it becomes manifest from the dramas that his love of humanity is perpetually liable to overcome his sense of justice. He should frequently punish when simple pardon is proclaimed, constrained to the side of mercy by his kindly considerateness for the failings and faults of his fellow-mortals. Of these and similar characteristics a few examples may be given, it being presumed that the perusal of the following will be as welcome to the most ardent Shaksperian as to those most ignorant of the works of the Great Master. Who could have conceived the scene in the Forest of Arden except a man in whom love and kindness were to him as a second self? The colloquy between the Duke and Orlando is so exquisite in its tenderness, so noble in its moral lesson, that it may bear reprinting for the thousandth time:
Duke.—What would you have? Your gentleness shall force
Orlando.—I almost die for food, and let me bave it.
Orlando.-Speak you so gently? Pardon me, I pray you.
In the which hope I blush, and hide my sword.* Another passage of special beauty and significance occurs in the “ Midsummer Night's Dream,” in which the Duke pleads with his betrothed for kindliness and generosity towards the theatrical amateurs, the “ rude mechanicals," who had undertaken to amuse the company :
* We make a note here to say that in this and all other quotations we purposely avoid particular references as pedantic, and as quite unnecessary in the existing widespread knowledge of Shaksperian literature.
Theseus.-1 will hear that play ;
Hippolita.—I love not to see wretchedness o'ercharg'd,
Theseus.—Why, gentle sweet, you shall see no such thing.
Theseus.—The kinder we, to give them thanks for nothing.
Trust me, sweet,
In least speak most, to my capacity. And in this connection every one will remember the injunction Hamlet lays on Polonius regarding the players :
Polonius.—My lord, I will use them according to their desert.
Hamlet.-Man, much better. Use every man after his desert, and who shall 'scape whipping ? Use them after your own honour and dignity. The less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.*
Shakspere's warmth and geniality of heart may be inferred from other passages of his works. A harsh, severe, or revengeful man could scarcely have written the pleadings for mercy put into the mouths of Portia in the “ Merchant of Venice' and Isabel in “ Measure for Measure," nor with the character of such a man could we reconcile the abounding spirit of humanity shining through most of the writings of Shakspere. We may give one or two examples of his method of treatment, showing that, in his own phraseology, he “sits among us like a descended god,” dispensing justice to sinners but mercy above all.
* Shakspere's connection with the stage no doubt helped to inspire him with that kindly feeling towards actors which peeps out so frequently-as in “The Taming of the Shrew,” to take another example, where the Lord orders his servant to take the players “ to the buttery,"
And give them friendly welcome every one.
Hamlet's father has a deep and terrible cause for revenge on all concerned in his foul and most unnatural" murder, but the majestic spectre will not allow one of the principal actors in the crime to be unmercifully punished:
Leave her to Heaven,
To prick and sting her. In the 66 Two Gentlemen of Verona," the prevailing lesson is that of pardon and reconciliation, the outlaws in the end sharing in the general happiness. In the “ Merry Wives of Windsor,” the author, as if lacking heart to punish Falstaff any further for his notoriously loose behaviour, winds up the play with his being invited to supper ; and throughout his whole management of this difficult character, the great artist has contrived to make us like the man-as he himself obviously did-in spite of his numberless rascalities ;-a liar, a boaster, a debauchee, a coward, and notwithstanding a man whose company is most pleasant and agreeable-a double-dyed rogue, but still a king of good fellows, whose wit and observations on life we would not miss for a world of respectable platitudes. The simple villain Angelo and the stoney-eyed ruffian Richard the Third are treated with like clemency, the first being pardoned, and the enormous crimes of the latter half-redeemed by his energy and courage in the hour of danger. Shakspere sympathises with Brutus; he mourns over Mark Antony as well as Cleopatra. The loving and noble-minded Catherine he loves as a sister; the selfish Wolsey he looks on as a brother, his great errors being redeemed by his many virtues. Even that repulsive character Barnardine (in “ Measure for Measure") the benignant Shakspere cannot find it in his heart to doom to death
For these earthly faults I quit them all ;
For better times to come. The sketch of this character stands alone even in Shakspere, and is worth looking at again as a picture of unmitigated sottishness, yet in its features as true to nature as Coriolanus or
" the noblest Roman of them all :"_ Duke.--He hath borne himself penitently in prison ; how seems he to be touched ?
Provost.-A man that apprehends death no more than a drunken sleep; careless, reckless, and fearless of what's past, present, or to come ; insensible of mortality, and desperately mortal.
Duke. He wants advice.
prison ; give him leave to escape hence, he would not; drunk many times a day, if not many days entirely drunk. We have very oft awaked bim, as if to carry him to execution, and showed him a seeming warrant for it; it hath not moved him at all.
This wretch, such as he is, Shakspere will not have to die; with God's grace, there may be hope even for him, albeit he looks woefully like the beasts that perish. Nor will he allow judgment to be pronounced even on the worst of sinners by his fellow-man. « So bad a death," says Warwick, on seeing the frightful end of Cardinal Beaufort, argues a monstrous life.">
King Henry.--Forbear to judge, for we are sinners all.
Peace to his soul, if God's good pleasure be. Of this feature of humanity, kindness, clemency, in the works of our bard, examples need not be multiplied, yet we cannot allow ourselves to pass over one of the finest. When Ariel pleads to Prospero for the shipwrecked crew, the spirit says that if his master beheld them in their diré misfortunes and deep humiliation, his affections would be moved to pity :
Prospero.-Dost thou think so, spirit !
Prospero. And mine shall.
And they shall be themselves. In like manner the high-minded Posthumus says to the mortal enemy of his peace, on pleading for forgiveness
Kneel not to me.
And deal with others better. The virtuous characters of Shakspere, especially his virtuous and heroic women, he seems to be absolutely enamoured of-dwelling as fondly over the latter as a doting father might do over a beloved daughter, or a sculptor over a favourite piece of handywork, and striving with infinite pains and art to display all their beauties to the admiration of the world. These and such-like qualities