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Title: Characteristics of Women - Moral, Poetical, and Historical
Author: Jameson, Mrs. (Anna), 1794-1860
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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_From the last London Edition_


Cambridge 1889



In preparing for the press a new edition of this little work, the author
has endeavored to render it more worthy of the approbation and kindly
feeling with which it has been received; she cannot better express her
sense of both than by justifying, as far as it is in her power, the
cordial and flattering tone of all the public criticisms. It is to the
great name of SHAKSPEARE, that bond of sympathy among all who speak his
language, and to the subject of the work, not to its own merits, that
she attributes the success it has met with,--success the more
delightful, because, in truth, it was from the very first, so entirely
unlooked for, as to be a matter of surprise as well as of pleasure and

In this edition there are many corrections, and some additions which the
author hopes may be deemed improvements. She has been induced to insert
several quotations at length, which were formerly only referred to, from
observing that however familiar they may be to the mind of the reader,
they are always recognized with pleasure--like dear domestic faces; and
if the memory fail at the moment to recall the lines or the sentiment to
which the attention is directly required, few like to interrupt the
course of thought, or undertake a journey from the sofa or garden-seat
to the library, to hunt out the volume, the play, the passage, for

When the first edition was sent to press, the author contemplated
writing the life of Mrs. Siddons, with a reference to her art; and
deferred the complete development of the character of Lady Macbeth, till
she should be able to illustrate it by the impersonation and commentary
of that grand and gifted actress; but the task having fallen into other
hands, the analysis of the character has been almost entirely rewritten,
as at first conceived, or rather restored to its original form.

This little work, as it now stands, forms only part of a plan which the
author hopes, if life be granted her, to accomplish;--at all events,
life, while it is spared, shall be devoted to its fulfilment.


INTRODUCTION                                     8

Portia                                          53
Isabella                                        83
Beatrice                                        99
Rosalind                                       110

Juliet                                         119
Helena                                         153
Perdita                                        172
Viola                                          181
Ophelia                                        187
Miranda                                        207

Hermione                                       219
Desdemona                                      240
Imogen                                         259
Cordelia                                       280

Cleopatra                                      302
Octavia                                        341
Volumnia                                       345
Constance of Bretagne                          357
Elinor of Guienne                              387
Blanche of Castile                             389
Margaret of Anjou                              396
Katharine of Arragon                           407
Lady Macbeth                                   437



_Scene--A Library._


You will not listen to me?


I do, with all the deference which befits a gentleman when a lady holds
forth on the virtues of her own sex.

    He is a parricide of his mother's name,
    And with an impious hand murders her fame,
    That wrongs the praise of women; that dares write
    Libels on saints, or with foul ink requite
    The milk they lent us.
                       Yours was the nobler birth,
    For you from man were made--man but of earth--
    The son of dust!


What's this?


"Only a rhyme I learned from one I talked withal;" 'tis a quotation from
some old poet that has fixed itself in my memory--from Randolph, I


'Tis very justly thought, and very politely quoted, and my best courtesy
is due to him and to you:--but now will you listen to me?


With most profound humility.


Nay, then! I have done, unless you will lay aside these mock airs of
gallantry, and listen to me for a moment! Is it fair to bring a
second-hand accusation against me, and not attend to my defence?


Well, I will be serious.


Do so, and let us talk like reasonable beings.


Then tell me, (as a reasonable woman you will not be affronted with the
question,) do you really expect that any one will read this little book
of yours?


I might answer, that it has been a great source of amusement and
interest to me for several months, and that so far I am content: but no
one writes a book without a hope of finding readers, and I shall find a
few. Accident first made me an authoress; and not now, nor ever, have I
written to flatter any prevailing fashion of the day for the sake of
profit, though this is done, I know, by many who have less excuse for
thus coining their brains. This little book was undertaken without a
thought of fame or money: out of the fulness of my own heart and soul
have I written it. In the pleasure it has given me, in the new and
various views of human nature it has opened to me, in the beautiful and
soothing images it has placed before me, in the exercise and improvement
of my own faculties, I have already been repaid: if praise or profit
come beside, they come as a surplus. I should be gratified and grateful,
but I have not sought for them, nor worked for them. Do you believe


I do: in this I cannot suspect you of affectation, for the profession of
disinterestedness is uncalled for, and the contrary would be too far
countenanced by the custom of the day to be matter of reserve or
reproach. But how could you (saving the reverence due to a
lady-authoress, and speaking as one reasonable being to another) choose
such a threadbare subject?


What do you mean?


I presume you have written a book to maintain the superiority of your
sex over ours; for so I judge by the names at the heads of some of your
chapters; women fit indeed to inlay heaven with stars, but, pardon me,
very unlike those who at present walk upon this earth.


Very unlike the fine ladies of your acquaintance, I grant you; but as to
maintaining the superiority, or speculating on the rights of
women--nonsense! why should you suspect me of such folly?--it is quite
out of date. Why should there be competition or comparison?


Both are ill-judged and odious; but did you ever meet with a woman of
the world, who did not abuse most heartily the whole race of men?


Did you ever talk with a man of the world, who did not speak with levity
or contempt of the whole human race of women?


Perhaps I might answer like Voltaire--"Hélas ils pourraient bien avoir
raison tous deux." But do you thence infer that both are good for


Thence I infer that the men of the world and the women of the world are
neither of them--good for much.


And you have written a book to make them better?


Heaven forbid! else I were only fit for the next lunatic asylum. Vanity
run mad never conceived such an impossible idea.


Then, in a few words, what is the subject, and what the object, of your


I have endeavoured to illustrate the various modifications of which the
female character is susceptible, with their causes and results. My life
has been spent in observing and thinking; I have had, as you well know,
more opportunities for the first, more leisure for the last, than have
fallen to the lot of most people. What I have seen, felt, thought,
suffered, has led me to form certain opinions. It appears to me that the
condition of women in society, as at present constituted, is false in
itself, and injurious to them,--that the education of women, as at
present conducted, is founded in mistaken principles, and tends to
increase fearfully the sum of misery and error in both sexes; but I do
not choose presumptuously to fling these opinions in the face of the
world, in the form of essays on morality, and treatises on education. I
have rather chosen to illustrate certain positions by examples, and
leave my readers to deduce the moral themselves, and draw their own


And why have you not chosen your examples from real life? you might
easily have done so. You have not been a mere spectator, or a mere
actor, but a lounger behind the scenes of existence--have even assisted
in preparing the puppets for the stage: you might have given us an
epitome of your experience, instead of dreaming over Shakspeare.


I might so, if I had chosen to become a female satirist, which I will
never be.


You would, at least, stand a better chance of being read.


I am not sure of that. The vile taste for satire and personal gossip
will not be eradicated, I suppose, while the elements of curiosity and
malice remain in human nature; but as a fashion of literature, I think
it is passing away;--at all events it is not my _forte_. Long experience
of what is called "the world," of the folly, duplicity, shallowness,
selfishness, which meet us at every turn, too soon unsettles our
youthful creed. If it only led to the knowledge of good and evil, it
were well; if it only taught us to despise the illusions and retire from
the pleasures of the world, it would be better. But it destroys our
belief--it dims our perception of all abstract truth, virtue, and
happiness; it turns life into a jest, and a very dull one too. It makes
us indifferent to beauty, and incredulous of goodness; it teaches us to
consider _self_ as the centre on which all actions turn, and to which
all motives are to be referred.


But this being so, we must either revolve with these earthly natures,
and round the same centre, or seek a sphere for ourselves, and dwell


I trust it is not necessary to do either. While we are yet young, and
the passions, powers, and feelings, in their full activity, create to us
a world within, we cannot look fairly on the world without:--all things
then are good. When first we throw ourselves forth, and meet burs and
briars on every side, which stick in our very hearts;--and fair tempting
fruits which turn to bitter ashes in the taste, then we exclaim with
impatience, all things are evil. But at length comes the calm hour,
when they who look beyond the superficies of things begin to discern
their true bearings; when the perception of evil, or sorrow, or sin,
brings also the perception of some opposite good, which awakens our
indulgence, or the knowledge of the cause which excites our pity. Thus
it is with me. I can smile,--nay, I can laugh still, to see folly,
vanity, absurdity, meanness, exposed by scornful wit, and depicted by
others in fictions light and brilliant. But these very things, when I
encounter the reality, rather make me sad than merry, and take away all
the inclination, if I had the power, to hold them up to derision.


Unless, by doing so, you might correct them.


Correct them! Show me that one human being who has been made essentially
better by satire! O no, no! there is something in human nature which
hardens itself against the lash--something in satire which excites only
the lowest and worst of our propensities. That avowal in Pope--

                   I must be proud to see
    Men not afraid of God, afraid of me!

--has ever filled me with terror and pity--


From its truth perhaps?


From its arrogance,--for the truth is, that a vice never corrected a
vice. Pope might be proud of the terror he inspired in those who feared
no God in whom vanity was stronger than conscience: but that terror made
no individual man better; and while he indulged his own besetting sin,
he administered to the malignity of others. Your professed satirists
always send me to think upon the opposite sentiment in Shakspeare, on
"the mischievous foul sin of chiding sin." I remember once hearing a
poem of Barry Cornwall's, (he read it to me,) about a strange winged
creature that, having the lineaments of a man, yet preyed on a man, and
afterwards coming to a stream to drink, and beholding his own face
therein, and that he had made his prey of a creature like himself, pined
away with repentance. So should those do, who having made themselves
mischievous mirth out of the sins and sorrows of others, remembering
their own humanity, and seeing within themselves the same lineaments--so
should _they_ grieve and pine away, self-punished.


'Tis an old allegory, and a sad one--and but too much to the purpose.


I abhor the spirit of ridicule--I dread it and I despise it. I abhor it
because it is in direct contradiction to the mild and serious spirit of
Christianity; I fear it, because we find that in every state of society
in which it has prevailed as a fashion, and has given the tone to the
manners and literature, it marked the moral degradation and approaching
destruction of that society; and I despise it, because it is the usual
resource of the shallow and the base mind, and, when wielded by the
strongest hand with the purest intentions, an inefficient means of good.
The spirit of satire reversing the spirit of mercy which is twice
blessed, seems to me twice accursed;--evil in those who indulge it--evil
to those who are the objects of it.


"Peut-être fallait-il que la punition des imprudens et des faibles fut
confiée à la malignité, car la pure vertu n'eût jamais été assez


That is a woman's sentiment.


True--it _was_; and I have pleasure in reminding you that a female
satirist by profession is yet an anomaly in the history of our
literature, as a female schismatic is yet unknown in the history of our
religion. But to what do you attribute the number of satirical women we
meet in society?


Not to our nature; but to a state of society in which the levelling
spirit of _persiflage_ has been long a fashion; to the perverse
education which fosters it; to affections disappointed or unemployed,
which embitter the temper; to faculties misdirected or wasted, which
oppress and irritate the mind; to an utter ignorance of ourselves, and
the common lot of humanity, combined with quick and refined perceptions
and much superficial cultivation; to frivolous habits, which make
serious thought a burden, and serious feeling a bane if suppressed, if
betrayed, a ridicule. Women, generally speaking, are by nature too much
subjected to suffering in many forms--have too much of fancy and
sensibility, and too much of that faculty which some philosophers call
_veneration_, to be naturally satirical. I have known but one woman
eminently gifted in mind and person, who is also distinguished for
powers of satire as bold as merciless; and she is such a compound of all
that nature can give of good, and all that society can teach of evil--


That she reminds us of the dragon of old, which was generated between
the sunbeams from heaven and the slime of earth.


No such thing. Rather of the powerful and beautiful fairy Melusina, who
had every talent and every charm under heaven but once in so many hours
was fated to become a serpent. No, I return to my first position. It is
not by exposing folly and scorning fools, that we make other people
wiser, or ourselves happier. But to soften the heart by images and
examples of the kindly and generous affections--to show how the human
soul is disciplined and perfected by suffering--to prove how much of
possible good may exist in things evil and perverted--how much hope
there is for those who despair--how much comfort for those whom a
heartless world has taught to contemn both others and themselves, and so
put barriers to the hard, cold, selfish, mocking, and levelling spirit
of the day--O would I could do this!


On the same principle, I suppose, that they have changed the treatment
of lunatics; and whereas they used to condemn poor distempered wretches
to straw and darkness, stripes and a strait waistcoat, they now send
them to sunshine and green fields, to wander in gardens among birds and
flowers, and soothe them with soft music and kind flattering speech.


You laugh at me! perhaps I deserve it.


No, in truth; I am a little amused, but most honestly attentive: and
perhaps wish I could think more like you. But to proceed: I allow that
with this view of the case, you could not well have chosen your
illustrations from real life; but why not from history?


As far as history could guide me, I have taken her with me in one or two
recent publications, which all tend to the same object. Nor have I here
lost sight of her; but I have entered on a land where she alone is not
to be trusted, and may make a pleasant companion but a most fallacious
guide. To drop metaphor: history informs us that such things have been
done or have occurred; but when we come to inquire into motives and
characters, it is the most false and partial and unsatisfactory
authority we can refer to. Women are illustrious in history, not from
what they have been in themselves, but generally in proportion to the
mischief they have done or caused. Those characters best fitted to my
purpose are precisely those of which history never heard, or disdains to
speak; of those which have been handed down to us by many different
authorities under different aspects we cannot judge without prejudice;
in others there occur certain chasms which it is difficult to supply;
and hence inconsistencies we have no means of reconciling, though
doubtless they _might_ be reconciled if we knew the whole, instead of a


But instance--instance!


Examples crowd upon me; but take the first that occurs. Do you remember
that Duchesse de Longueville, whose beautiful picture we were looking at
yesterday?--the heroine of the Fronde?--think of that woman--bold,
intriguing, profligate, vain, ambitious, factious!--who made men rebels
with a smile;--or if that were not enough, the lady was not scrupulous,
apparently without principle as without shame, nothing was _too_ much!
And then think of the same woman protecting the virtuous philosopher
Arnauld, when he was denounced and condemned; and from motives which her
worst enemies could not malign, secreting him in her house, unknown even
to her own servants--preparing his food herself, watching for his
safety, and at length saving him. Her tenderness, her patience, her
discretion, her disinterested benevolence, not only defied danger, (that
were little to a woman of her temper,) but endured a lengthened trial,
all the ennui caused by the necessity of keeping her house, continual
self-control, and the thousand small daily sacrifices which, to a vain,
dissipated, proud, impatient woman, must have been hard to bear. Now if
Shakspeare had drawn the character of the Duchesse de Longueville, he
would have shown us the same individual woman in both situations:--for
the same being, with the same faculties, and passions, and powers, it
surely was: whereas in history, we see in one case a fury of discord, a
woman without modesty or pity; and in the other an angel of
benevolence, and a worshipper of goodness; and nothing to connect the
two extremes in our fancy.


But these are contradictions which we meet on every page of history,
which make us giddy with doubt, or sick with belief, and are the proper
subjects of inquiry for the moralist and the philosopher.


I cannot say that professed moralists and philosophers did much to help
_me_ out of the dilemma; but the riddle which history presented I found
solved in the pages of Shakspeare. There the crooked appeared straight;
the inaccessible, easy; the incomprehensible, plain. All I sought, I
found there; his characters combine history and real life; they are
complete individuals, whose hearts and souls are laid open before us:
all may behold, and all judge for themselves.


But all will not judge alike.


No; and herein lies a part of their wonderful truth. We hear
Shakspeare's men and women discussed, praised and dispraised, liked,
disliked, as real human beings; and in forming our opinions of them, we
are influenced by our own characters, habits of thought, prejudices,
feelings, impulses, just as we are influenced with regard to our
acquaintances and associates.


But we are then as likely to misconceive and misjudge them.


Yes, if we had only the same imperfect means of studying them. But we
can do with them what we cannot do with real people: we can unfold the
whole character before us, stripped of all pretensions of self-love, all
disguises of manner. We can take leisure to examine, to analyze, to
correct our own impressions, to watch the rise and progress of various
passions--we can hate, love, approve, condemn, without offence to
others, without pain to ourselves.


In this respect they may be compared to those exquisite anatomical
preparations of wax, which those who could not without disgust and
horror dissect a real specimen, may study, and learn the mysteries of
our frame, and all the internal workings of the wondrous machine of


And it is the safer and the better way--for us at least. But look--that
brilliant rain-drop trembling there in the sunshine suggests to me
another illustration. Passion, when we contemplate it through the
medium of imagination, is like a ray of light transmitted through a
prism; we can calmly, and with undazzled eye, study its complicate
nature, and analyze its variety of tints; but passion brought home to us
in its reality, through our own feelings and experience, is like the
same ray transmitted through a lens,--blinding, burning, consuming where
it falls.


Your illustration is the most poetical, I allow; but not the most just.
But tell me, is the ground you have taken sufficiently large?--is the
foundation you have chosen strong enough to bear the moral
superstructure you raise upon it? You know the prevalent idea is, that
Shakspeare's women are inferior to his men. This assertion is constantly
repeated, and has been but tamely refuted.


Professor Richardson?--


He is as dry as a stick, and his refutation not successful even as a
piece of logic. Then it is not sufficient for critics to assert this
inferiority and want of variety: they first assume the fallacy, then
argue upon it. Cibber accounts for it from the circumstance that all the
female parts in Shakspeare's time were acted by boys--there were no
women on the stage; and Mackenzie, who ought to have known better, says
that he was not so happy in his delineations of love and tenderness, as
of the other passions; because, forsooth, the majesty of his genius
could not stoop to the refinements of delicacy;--preposterous!


Stay! before we waste epithets of indignation, let us consider. If these
people mean that Shakspeare's women are inferior in power to his men, I
grant it at once; for in Shakspeare the male and female characters bear
precisely the same relation to each other that they do in nature and in
society--they are not equal in prominence or in power--they are
subordinate throughout. Richardson remarks, that "if situation
influences the mind, and if uniformity of conduct be frequently
occasioned by uniformity of condition, there _must_ be a greater
diversity of male than of female characters,"--which is true; add to
this our limited sphere of action, consequently of experience,--the
habits of self-control rendering the outward distinctions of character
and passion less striking and less strong--all this we see in Shakspeare
as in nature: for instance, Juliet is the most impassioned of the female
characters, but what are _her_ passions compared to those which shake
the soul of Othello?

    "Even as the dew-drop on the myrtle-leaf
    To the vex'd sea."

Look at Constance, frantic for the loss of her son--then look at Lear,
maddened by the ingratitude of his daughters: why it is the west wind
bowing those aspen tops that wave before our window, compared to the
tropic hurricane, when forests crash and burn, and mountains tremble to
their bases!


True; and Lady Macbeth, with all her soaring ambition, her vigor of
intellect, her subtlety, her courage, and her cruelty--what is she,
compared to Richard III.?


I will tell you what she is--she is a woman. Place Lady Macbeth in
comparison with Richard III., and you see at once the essential
distinction between masculine and feminine ambition--though both in
extreme, and overleaping all restraints of conscience or mercy. Richard
says of himself, that he has "neither pity, love, nor fear:" Lady
Macbeth is susceptible of all three. You smile! but that remains to be
proved. The reason that Shakspeare's wicked women have such a singular
hold upon our fancy, is from the consistent preservation of the feminine
character, which renders them more terrible, because more credible and
intelligible--not like those monstrous caricatures we meet with in


In history?--this is new!


Yes! I repeat, in history, where certain isolated facts and actions are
recorded, without any relation to causes, or motives, or connecting
feelings and pictures exhibited, from which the considerate mind turns
in disgust, and the feeling heart has no relief but in positive, and I
may add, reasonable incredulity. I have lately seen one of Correggio's
finest pictures, in which the three Furies are represented, not as
ghastly deformed hags, with talons and torches, and snaky hair, but as
young women, with fine luxuriant forms and regular features, and a
single serpent wreathing the tresses like a bandeau--but _such_
countenances!--such a hideous expression of malice, cunning, and
cruelty!--and the effect is beyond conception appalling. Leonardo da
Vinci worked upon the same grand principle of art in his Medusa--

    Where it is less the horror than the grace
    Which turns the gazer's spirit into stone--

       *   *   *   *

    'Tis the melodious tints of beauty thrown
    Athwart the hue of guilt and glare of pain,
    That humanize and harmonize the strain.

And Shakspeare, who understood all truth, worked out his conceptions on
the same principle, having said himself, that "proper deformity shows
not in the fiend so horrid as in women." Hence it is that whether he
portrayed the wickedness founded in perverted power, as in Lady Macbeth;
or the wickedness founded in weakness, as in Gertrude, Lady Anne, or
Cressida, he is the more fearfully impressive, because we cannot claim
for ourselves an exemption from the same nature, before which, in its
corrupted state, we tremble with horror or shrink with disgust.


Do you remember that some of the commentators of Shakspeare have thought
it incumbent on their gallantry to express their utter contempt for the
scene between Richard and Lady Anne, as a monstrous and incredible libel
on your sex?


They might have spared themselves the trouble. Lady Anne is just one of
those women whom we see walking in crowds through the drawing-rooms of
the world--the puppets of habit, the fools of fortune, without any
particular inclination for vice, or any steady principle of virtue;
whose actions are inspired by vanity, not affection, and regulated by
opinion, not by conscience: who are good while there is no temptation to
be otherwise, and ready victims of the first soliciting to evil. In the
case of Lady Anne, we are startled by the situation: not three months a
widow, and following to the sepulchre the remains of a husband and a
father, she is met and wooed and won by the very man who murdered them.
In such a case it required perhaps either Richard or the arch-fiend
himself to tempt her successfully; but in a less critical moment, a far
less subtle and audacious seducer would have sufficed. Cressida is
another modification of vanity, weakness, and falsehood, drawn in
stronger colors. The world contains many Lady Annes and Cressidas,
polished and refined externally, whom chance and vanity keep right, whom
chance and vanity lead wrong, just as it may happen. When we read in
history of the enormities of certain women, perfect scarecrows and
ogresses, we can safely, like the Pharisee in Scripture, hug ourselves
in our secure virtue, and thank God that we are not as others are--but
the wicked women in Shakspeare are portrayed with such perfect
consistency and truth, that they leave us no such resource--they
frighten us into reflection--they make us believe and tremble. On the
other hand, his amiable women are touched with such exquisite
simplicity--they have so little external pretensions--and are so unlike
the usual heroines of tragedy and romance, that they delight us more
"than all the nonsense of the beau-ideal!" We are flattered by the
perception of our own nature in the midst of so many charms and virtues:
not only are they what we could wish to be, or ought to be, but what we
persuade ourselves we might be, or would be, under a different and a
happier state of things, and, perhaps, some time or other _may_ be. They
are not stuck up, like the cardinal virtues, all in a row, for us to
admire and wonder at--they are not mere poetical abstractions--nor (as
they have been termed) mere abstractions of the affections,--

    But common clay ta'en from the common earth.
    Moulded by God, and tempered by the tears
    Of angels, to the perfect form of--_woman_.


Beautiful lines!--Where are they?


I quote from memory, and I am afraid inaccurately, from a poem of Alfred


Well, between argument, and sentiment, and logic, and poetry, you are
making out a very plausible case. I think with you that, in the
instances you have mentioned, (as Lady Macbeth and Richard, Juliet, and
Othello, and others,) the want of comparative power is only an
additional excellence; but to go to an opposite extreme of delineation,
we must allow that there is not one of Shakspeare's women that, as a
dramatic character, can be compared to Falstaff.


No; because any thing like Falstaff in the form of woman--any such
compound of wit, sensuality, and selfishness, unchecked by the moral
sentiments and the affections, and touched with the same vigorous
painting, would be a gross and monstrous caricature. If it could exist
in nature, we might find it in Shakspeare; but a moment's reflection
shows us that it would be essentially an impossible combination of
faculties in a female.


It strikes me, however, that his humorous women are feebly drawn, in
comparison with some of the female wits of other writers.


Because his women of wit and humor are not introduced for the sole
purpose of saying brilliant things, and displaying the wit of the
author; they are, as I will show you, real, natural women, in whom _wit_
is only a particular and occasional modification of intellect. They are
all, in the first place, affectionate, thinking beings, and moral
agents; and _then_ witty, as if by accident, or as the Duchesse de
Chaulnes said of herself, "par la grâce de Dieu." As to humor, it is
carried as far as possible in Mrs. Quickly; in the termagant Catherine;
in Maria, in "Twelfth Night;" in Juliet's nurse; in Mrs. Ford and Mrs.
Page. What can exceed in humorous naïveté, Mrs. Quickly's upbraiding
Falstaff, and her concluding appeal--"Didst thou not kiss me, and bid me
fetch thee thirty shillings?" Is it not exquisite--irresistible? Mrs.
Ford and Mrs. Page are both "merry wives," but how perfectly
discriminated! Mrs. Ford has the most good nature--Mrs. Page is the
cleverer of the two, and has more sharpness in her tongue, more mischief
in her mirth. In all these instances I allow that the humor is more or
less vulgar; but a humorous woman, whether in high or low life has
always a tinge of vulgarity.


I should like to see that word _vulgar_ properly defined, and its
meaning limited--at present it is the most arbitrary word in the


Yes, like the word romantic, it is a convenient "exploding word," and in
its general application signifies nothing more than "see how much finer
I am than other people!"[1] but in literature and character I shall
adhere to the definition of Madame de Staël, who uses the word _vulgar_
as the reverse of _poetical_. Vulgarity (as I wish to apply the word) is
the _negative_ in all things. In literature, it is the total absence of
elevation and depth in the ideas, and of elegance and delicacy in the
expression of them. In character, it is the absence of truth,
sensibility, and reflection. The vulgar in manner, is the result of
vulgarity of character; it is grossness, hardness, or affectation.--If
you would see how Shakspeare has discriminated, not only different
degrees, but different kinds of plebeian vulgarity in women, you have
only to compare the nurse in Romeo and Juliet with Mrs. Quickly. On the
whole, if there are people who, taking the strong and essential
distinction of sex into consideration, still maintain that Shakspeare's
female characters are not, in truth, in variety, in power, equal to his
men, I think I shall prove the contrary.


I observe that you have divided your illustrations into classes; but
shades of character so melt into each other, and the various faculties
and powers are so blended and balanced, that all classification must be
arbitrary. I am at a loss to conceive where you have drawn the line;
here, at the head of your first chapter, I find "Characters of
Intellect"--do you call Portia intellectual, and Hermione and Constance
not so?


I know that Schlegel has said that it is impossible to arrange
Shakspeare's characters in classes: yet some classification was
necessary for my purpose. I have therefore divided them into characters
in which intellect and wit predominate; characters in which fancy and
passion predominate; and characters in which the moral sentiments and
affections predominate. The historical characters I have considered
apart, as requiring a different mode of illustration. Portia I regard as
a perfect model of an intellectual woman, in whom wit is tempered by
sensibility, and fancy regulated by strong reflection. It is objected to
her, to Beatrice, and others of Shakspeare's women, that the display of
intellect is tinged with a coarseness of manner belonging to the age in
which he wrote. To remark that the conversation and letters of
high-bred and virtuous women of that time were more bold and frank in
expression than any part of the dialogue appropriated to Beatrice and
Rosalind, may excuse it to our judgment, but does not reconcile it to
our taste. Much has been said, and more might be said on this
subject--but I would rather not discuss it. It is a mere difference of
manner which is to be regretted, but has nothing to do with the essence
of the character.


I think you have done well in avoiding the topic altogether; but between
ourselves, do you really think that the refinement of manner, the
censorious, hypocritical, verbal scrupulosity, which is carried so far
in this "picked age" of ours, is a true sign of superior refinement of
taste, and purity of morals? Is it not rather a whiting of the
sepulchre? I will not even allude to individual instances whom we both
know, but does it not remind you, on the whole, of the tone of French
manners previous to the revolution--that "décence," which Horace Walpole
so admired,[2] veiling the moral degradation, the inconceivable
profligacy of the higher classes?--Stay--I have not yet done--not to
you, but _for_ you, I will add thus much;--our modern idea of delicacy
apparently attaches more importance to words than to things--to manners
than to morals. You will hear people inveigh against the improprieties
of Shakspeare, with Don Juan, or one of those infernal French novels--I
beg your pardon--lying on their toilet table. Lady Florence is shocked
at the sallies of Beatrice, and Beatrice would certainly stand aghast to
see Lady Florence dressed for Almack's; so you see that in both cases
the fashion makes the indecorum. Let her ladyship new model her gowns!


Well, well, leave Lady Florence--I would rather hear you defend


I think it is Coleridge who so finely observes that Shakspeare ever kept
the high road of human life, whereon all travel, that he did not pick
out by-paths of feeling and sentiment; in him we have no moral
highwaymen, and sentimental thieves and rat-catchers, and interesting
villains, and amiable, elegant adulteresses--_à-la-mode Germanorum_--no
delicate entanglements of situation, in which the grossest images are
presented to the mind disguised under the superficial attraction of
style and sentiment. He flattered no bad passion, disguised no vice in
the garb of virtue, trifled with with no just and generous principle. He
can make us laugh at folly, and shudder at crime, yet still preserve our
love for our fellow-beings, and our reverence for ourselves. He has a
lofty and a fearless trust in his own powers, and in the beauty and
excellence of virtue; and with his eye fixed on the lode-star of truth,
steers us triumphantly among shoals and quicksands, where with any other
pilot we had been wrecked:--for instance, who but himself would have
dared to bring into close contact two such characters as Iago and
Desdemona? Had the colors in which he has arrayed Desdemona been one
atom less transparently bright and pure, the charm had been lost; she
could not have borne the approximation: some shadow from the
overpowering blackness of _his_ character must have passed over the
sun-bright purity of _hers_. For observe that Iago's disbelief in the
virtue of Desdemona is not pretended, it is real. It arises from his
total want of faith in all virtue; he is no more capable of conceiving
goodness than she is capable of conceiving evil. To the brutish
coarseness and fiendish malignity of this man, her gentleness appears
only a contemptible weakness; her purity of affection, which saw
"Othello's visage in his mind," only a perversion of taste; her bashful
modesty, only a cloak for evil propensities; so he represents them with
all the force of language and self-conviction, and we are obliged to
listen to him. He rips her to pieces before us--he would have bedeviled
an angel! yet such is the unrivalled, though passive delicacy of the
delineation, that it can stand it unhurt, untouched! It is
wonderful!--yet natural as it is wonderful! After all, there are people
in the world, whose opinions and feelings are tainted by an habitual
acquaintance with the evil side of society, though in action and
intention they remain right; and who, without the real depravity of
heart and malignity of intention of Iago, judge as he does of the
character and productions of others.


Heaven bless me from such critics! yet if genius, youth, and innocence
could not escape unslurred, can I hope to do so? I pity from my soul the
persons you allude to--for to such minds there can exist few
uncontaminated sources of pleasure either in nature or in art.


Ay--"the perfumes of Paradise were poison to the Dives, and made them
melancholy."[3] You pity them, and they will sneer at you. But what have
we here?--"Characters of Imagination--Juliet--Viola;" are these romantic
young ladies the pillars which are to sustain your moral edifice? Are
they to serve as examples or as warnings for the youth of this
enlightened age?


As warnings, of course--what else?


Against the dangers of romance?--but where are they? "Vraiment," as B.
Constant says, "je ne vois pas qu'en fait d'enthousiasme, le feu soit à
la maison." Where are they--these disciples of poetry and romance, these
victims of disinterested devotion and believing truth, these unblown
roses--all conscience and tenderness--whom it is so necessary to guard
against too much confidence in others, and too little in
themselves--where are they?


Wandering in the Elysian fields, I presume, with the romantic young
gentlemen who are too generous, too zealous in defence of innocence, too
enthusiastic in their admiration of virtue, too violent in their hatred
of vice, too sincere in friendship, too faithful in love, too active and
disinterested in the cause of truth--


Very fair! But seriously, do you think it necessary to guard young
people, in this selfish and calculating age, against an excess of
sentiment and imagination? Do you allow no distinction between the
romance of exaggerated sentiment, and the romance of elevated thought?
Do _you_ bring cold water to quench the smouldering ashes of enthusiasm?
Methinks it is rather superfluous; and that another doctrine is needed
to withstand the heartless system of expediency which is the favorite
philosophy of the day. The warning you speak of may be gently hinted to
the few who are in danger of being misled by an excess of the generous
impulses of fancy and feeling; but need hardly, I think, be proclaimed
by sound of trumpet amid the mocks of the world. No, no; there are young
women in these days, but there is no such thing as youth--the bloom of
existence is sacrificed to a fashionable education, and where we should
find the rose-buds of the spring, we see only the fullblown, flaunting,
precocious roses of the hot-bed.


Blame then that _forcing_ system of education, the most pernicious, the
most mistaken, the most far-reaching in its miserable and mischievous
effects, that ever prevailed in this world. The custom which shut up
women in convents till they were married, and then launched them
innocent and ignorant on society, was bad enough; but not worse than a
system of education which inundates us with hard, clever, sophisticated
girls, trained by knowing mothers, and all-accomplished governesses,
with whom vanity and expediency take place of conscience and
affection--(in other words, of romance)--"frutto senile in sul giovenil
fiore;" with feelings and passions suppressed or contracted, not
governed by higher faculties and purer principles; with whom
opinion--the same false honor which sends men out to fight duels--stands
instead of the strength and the light of virtue within their own souls.
Hence the strange anomalies of artificial society--girls of sixteen who
are models of manner miracles of prudence, marvels of learning, who
sneer at sentiment, and laugh at the Juliets and the Imogens; and
matrons of forty, who, when the passions should be tame and wait upon
the judgment, amaze the world and put us to confusion with their doings.


Or turn politicians to vary the excitement--How I hate political women!


Why do you hate them?


Because they are mischievous.


But why are they mischievous?


Why!--why are they mischievous? Nay, ask them, or ask the father of all
mischief, who has not a more efficient instrument to further his designs
in this world, than a woman run mad with politics. The number of
political intriguing women of this time, whose boudoirs and
drawing-rooms are the _foyers_ of party-spirit, is another trait of
resemblance between the state of society now, and that which existed at
Paris before the revolution.


And do you think, like some interesting young lady in Miss Edgeworth's
tales, that "women have nothing to do with politics?" Do you mean to say
that women are not capable of comprehending the principles of
legislation, or of feeling an interest in the government and welfare of
their country, or of perceiving and sympathizing in the progress of
great events?--That they cannot feel patriotism? Believe me, when we do
feel it, our patriotism, like our courage and our love, has a purer
source than with you; for a man's patriotism has always some tinge of
egotism, while a woman's patriotism is generally a sentiment, and of the
noblest kind.


I agree in all this; and all this does not mitigate my horror of
political women in general, who are, I repeat it, both mischievous and
absurd. If you could but hear the reasoning in these feminine
coteries!--but you never talk politics.


Indeed I do, when I can get any one to listen to me; but I prefer
listening. As for the evil you complain of, impute it to that imperfect
education which at once cultivates and enslaves the intellect, and loads
the memory, while it fetters the judgment. Women, however well read in
history, never generalize in politics; never argue on any broad or
general principle; never reason from a consideration of past events,
their causes and consequences. But they are always political through
their affections, their prejudices, their personal _liaisons_, their
hopes, their fears.


If it were no worse, I could stand it; for that is at least feminine.


But most mischievous. For hence it is that we make such blind partisans,
such violent party women, and such wretched politicians. I never heard a
woman _talk_ politics, as it is termed, that I could not discern at once
the motive, the affection, the secret bias which swayed her opinions and
inspired her arguments. If it appeared to the Grecian sage so "difficult
for a man not to love himself, nor the things that belong to him, but
justice only?"--how much more for woman!


Then you think that a better education, based on truer moral principles,
would render women more reasonable politicians, or at least give them
some right to meddle with politics?


It would cease in that case to be _meddling_, as you term it, for it
would be legitimized. It is easy to sneer at political and mathematical
ladies, and quote Lord Byron--but O leave those angry common-places to
others!--they do not come well from you. Do not force me to remind you,
that women have achieved enough to silence them forever,[4] and how
often must that truism be repeated, that it is not a woman's attainments
which make her amiable or unamiable, estimable or the contrary, but her
qualities? A time is coming, perhaps, when the education of women will
be considered, with a view to their future destination as the mothers
and nurses of legislators and statesmen, and the cultivation of their
powers of reflection and moral feelings supersede the exciting drudgery
by which they are now crammed with knowledge and accomplishments.


Well--till that blessed period arrives, I wish you would leave us the
province of politics to ourselves. I see here you have treated of a very
different class of beings, "_women in whom the affections and the moral
sentiments predominate_." Are there many such, think you, in the world?


Yes, many such; the development of affection and sentiment is more quiet
and unobtrusive than that of passion and intellect, and less observed;
it is more common, too, therefore less remarked; but in women it
generally gives the prevailing tone to the character, except where
vanity has been made the ruling motive.


Except! I admire your exception! You make in this case the rule the
exception. Look round the world.


You are not one of those with whom that common phrase "the world"
signifies the circle, whatever and wherever that may be, which limits
our individual experience--as a child considers the visible horizon as
the bounds which shut in the mighty universe. Believe me, it is a sorry,
vulgar kind of wisdom, if it be wisdom--a shallow and confined
philosophy, if it be philosophy--which resolves all human motives and
impulses into egotism in one sex, and vanity in the other. Such may be
the way of _the world_, as it is called--the result of a very artificial
and corrupt state of society, but such is not general nature, nor female
nature. Would you see the kindly, self-sacrificing affections developed
under their most honest but least poetical guise--displayed without any
mixture of vanity, and unchecked in the display by any fear of being
thought vain?--you will see it, not among the prosperous, the high-born,
the educated, "far, far removed from want, and grief, and fear," but
among the poor, the miserable, the perverted--among those habitually
exposed to all influences that harden and deprave.


I believe it--nay, I know it; but how should _you_ know it, or anything
of the strange places of refuge which truth and nature have found in the
two extremes of society?


It is no matter what I have seen or known; and for the two extremes of
society, I leave them to the author of Paul Clifford, and that most
exquisite painter of living manners, Mrs. Gore. St. Giles's is no more
_nature_ than St. James's. I wanted character in its essential truth,
not mortified by particular customs, by fashion, by situation. I wished
to illustrate the manner in which the affections would naturally display
themselves in women--whether combined with high intellect, regulated by
reflection, and elevated by imagination, or existing with perverted
dispositions, or purified by the moral sentiments. I found all these in
Shakspeare; his delineations of women, in whom the virtuous and calm
affections predominate, and triumph over shame, fear, pride, resentment,
vanity, jealousy,--are particularly worthy of consideration, and perfect
in their kind, because so quiet in their effect.


Several critics have remarked in general terms on those beautiful
pictures of female friendship, and of the generous affection of women
for each other, which we find in Shakspeare. Other writers, especially
dramatic writers, have found ample food for wit and satiric delineation
in the littleness of feminine spite and rivalry, in the mean spirit of
competition, the petty jealousy of superior charms, the mutual slander
and mistrust, the transient leagues of folly or selfishness miscalled
friendship--the result of an education which makes vanity the ruling
principle, and of a false position in society. Shakspeare, who looked
upon women with the spirit of humanity, wisdom, and deep love, has done
justice to their natural good tendencies and kindly sympathies. In the
friendship of Beatrice and Hero, of Rosalind and Celia; in the
description of the girlish attachment of Helena and Hermia, he has
represented truth and generous affection rising superior to all the
usual sources of female rivalry and jealousy; and with such force and
simplicity, and obvious self-conviction, that he absolutely forces the
same conviction on us.


Add to these the generous feeling of Viola for her rival Olivia; of
Julia for her rival Sylvia; of Helena for Diana; of the old Countess for
Helena, in the same play; and even the affection of the wicked queen in
Hamlet for the gentle Ophelia, which prove that Shakspeare thought--(and
when did he ever think other than the truth?)--that women have by nature
"virtues that are merciful," and can be just, tender, and true to their
sister women, whatever wits and worldlings, and satirists and
fashionable poets, may say or sing of us to the contrary. There is
another thing which he has most deeply felt and beautifully
represented--the distinction between masculine and feminine _courage_.
A man's courage is often a mere animal quality, and in its most elevated
form a point of honor. But a woman's courage is always a virtue, because
it is not required of us, it is not one of the means through which we
seek admiration and applause; on the contrary, we are courageous through
our affections and mental energies, not through our vanity or our
strength. A woman's heroism is always the excess of sensibility. Do you
remember Lady Fanshawe putting on a sailor's jacket, and his "blue thrum
cap," and standing at her husband's side, unknown to him during a
sea-fight? There she stood, all bathed in tears, but fixed to that spot.
Her husband's exclamation when he turned and discovered her--"Good God,
that love should make such a change as this!" is applicable to all the
acts of courage which we read or hear of in women. This is the courage
of Juliet, when, after summing up all the possible consequences of her
own act, till she almost maddens herself with terror, she drinks the
sleeping potion; and for that passive fortitude which is founded in
piety and pure strength of affection, such as the heroism of Lady Russel
and Gertrude de Wart, he has given us some of the noblest modifications
of it in Hermione, in Cordelia, in Imogen, in Katherine of Arragon.


And what do you call the courage of Lady Macbeth?--

    My hands are of your color, but I shame
    To wear a heart so white.

And again,

    A little water clears us of this deed,
    How easy is it then!

If this is not mere masculine indifference to blood and death, mere
firmness of nerve, what is it?


Not _that_, at least, which apparently you deem it; you will find, if
you have patience to read me to the end, that I have judged Lady Macbeth
very differently. Take these frightful passages with the context--take
the whole situation, and you will see that it is no such thing. A friend
of mine truly observed, that if Macbeth had been a ruffian without any
qualms of conscience, Lady Macbeth would have been the one to shrink and
tremble; but that which quenched _him_ lent her fire. The absolute
necessity for self-command, the strength of her reason, and her love for
her husband, combine at this critical moment to conquer all fear but the
fear of detection, leaving her the full possession of her faculties.
Recollect that the same woman who speaks with such horrible indifference
of a little water clearing the blood-stain from her hand, sees in
imagination that hand forever reeking, forever polluted: and when reason
is no longer awake and paramount over the violated feelings of nature
and womanhood, we behold her making unconscious efforts to wash out
that "damned spot," and sighing, heart-broken, over that little hand
which all the perfumes of Arabia will never sweeten more.


I hope you have given her a place among the women in whom the tender
affections and moral sentiments predominate.


You laugh; but, jesting apart, perhaps it would have been a more
accurate classification than placing her among the historical


Apropos to the historical characters, I hope you have refuted that
_insolent_ assumption, (shall I call it?) that Shakspeare tampered
inexcusably with the truth of history. He is the truest of all
historians. His anachronisms always remind me of those in the fine old
Italian pictures; either they are insignificant, or, if properly
considered, are really beauties; for instance, every one knows that
Correggio's St. Jerome presenting his books to the Virgin, involves
half-a-dozen anachronisms,--to say nothing of that heavenly figure of
the Magdalen, in the same picture, kissing the feet of the infant
Saviour. Some have ridiculed, some have excused this strange combination
of inaccuracies but is it less one of the divinest pieces of sentiment
and poetry that ever breathed and glowed from the canvas? You remember
too the famous nativity by some Neapolitan painter, who has placed Mount
Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples in the background? In these and a hundred
other instances, no one seems to feel that the apparent absurdity
involves the highest truth, and that the sacred beings thus represented,
if once allowed as objects of faith and worship, are eternal under every
aspect, and independent of all time and all locality. So it is with
Shakspeare and his anachronisms. The learned scorn of Johnson and some
of his brotherhood of commentators, and the eloquent defence of
Schlegel, seem in this case superfluous. If he chose to make the Delphic
oracle and Julio Romano contemporary--what does it signify? he committed
no anachronisms of character. He has not metamorphosed Cleopatra into a
turtle-dove, nor Katherine of Arragon into a sentimental heroine. He is
true to the spirit and even to the _letter_ of history; where he
deviates from the latter, the reason may be found in some higher beauty
and more universal truth.


I have proved this, I think, by placing parallel with the dramatic
character all the historic testimony I could collect relative to
Constance, Cleopatra, Katherine of Arragon, &c.


Analyzing the character of Cleopatra must have been something like
catching a meteor by the tail, and making it sit for its picture.


Something like it, in truth; but those of Miranda and Ophelia were more
embarrassing, because they seemed to defy all analysis. It was like
intercepting the dew-drop or the snow-flake ere it fell to earth, and
subjecting it to a chemical process.


Some one said the other day that Shakspeare had never drawn a coquette.
What is Cleopatra but the empress and type of all the coquettes that
ever were--or are? She would put Lady ---- herself to school. But now
for the moral.


The moral!--of what?


Of your book. It has a moral, I suppose.


It has indeed a very deep one, which those who seek will find. If now I
have answered all your considerations and objections, and sufficiently
explained my own views, may I proceed?


If you please--I am prepared to listen in earnest.


[1] See Foster's Essay on the application of the word
_romantic_--_Essays_, vol. I

[2] Correspondence, vol. iii.

[3] An Oriental proverb

[4] In our own time, Madame de Staël, Mrs. Somerville, Harriet
Martineau, Mrs. Marcet; we need not go back to the Rolands and Agnesi,
nor even to our own Lucy Hutchinson.



We hear it asserted, not seldom by way of compliment to us women, that
intellect is of no sex. If this mean that the same faculties of mind are
common to men and women, it is true; in any other signification it
appears to me false, and the reverse of a compliment. The intellect of
woman bears the same relation to that of man as her physical
organization;--it is inferior in power, and different in kind. That
certain women have surpassed certain men in bodily strength or
intellectual energy, does not contradict the general principle founded
in nature. The essential and invariable distinction appears to me this:
in men the intellectual faculties exist more self-poised and
self-directed--more independent of the rest of the character, than we
ever find them in women, with whom talent, however predominant, is in a
much greater degree modified by the sympathies and moral qualities.

In thinking over all the distinguished women can at this moment call to
mind, I recollect but one, who, in the exercise of a rare talent, belied
her sex, but the moral qualities had been first perverted.[5] It is from
not knowing, or not allowing this general principle, that men of genius
have committed some signal mistakes. They have given us exquisite and
just delineations of the more peculiar characteristics of women, as
modesty, grace, tenderness; and when they have attempted to portray them
with the powers common to both sexes, as wit, energy, intellect, they
have blundered in some respect; they could form no conception of
intellect which was not masculine, and therefore have either suppressed
the feminine attributes altogether and drawn coarse caricatures, or they
have made them completely artificial.[6] Women distinguished for wit may
sometimes appear masculine and flippant, but the cause must be sought
elsewhere than in nature, who disclaims all such. Hence the witty and
intellectual ladies of our comedies and novels are all in the fashion of
some particular time; they are like some old portraits which can still
amuse and please by the beauty of the workmanship, in spite of the
graceless costume or grotesque accompaniments, but from which we turn to
worship with ever new delight the Floras and goddesses of Titian--the
saints and the virgins of Raffaelle and Domenichino. So the Millamants
and Belindas, the Lady Townleys and Lady Teazles are out of date, while
Portia and Rosalind, in whom nature and the feminine character are
paramount, remain bright and fresh to the fancy as when first created.

Portia, Isabella, Beatrice, and Rosalind, may be classed together, as
characters of intellect, because, when compared with others, they are at
once distinguished by their mental superiority. In Portia, it is
intellect kindled into romance by a poetical imagination; in Isabel, it
is intellect elevated by religious principle; in Beatrice, intellect
animated by spirit; in Rosalind, intellect softened by sensibility. The
wit which is lavished on each is profound, or pointed, or sparkling, or
playful--but always feminine; like spirits distilled from flowers, it
always reminds us of its origin; it is a volatile essence, sweet as
powerful; and to pursue the comparison a step further the wit of Portia
is like ottar of roses, rich and concentrated; that of Rosalind, like
cotton dipped in aromatic vinegar; the wit of Beatrice is like sal
volatile; and that of Isabel, like the incense wafted to heaven. Of
these four exquisite characters, considered as dramatic and poetical
conceptions, it is difficult to pronounce which is most perfect in its
way, most admirably drawn, most highly finished. But if considered in
another point of view, as women and individuals, as breathing realities,
clothed in flesh and blood, I believe we must assign the first rank to
Portia, as uniting in herself in a more eminent degree than the others,
all the noblest and most lovable qualities that ever met together in
woman; and presenting a complete personification of Petrarch's exquisite
epitome of female perfection:--

        Il vago spirito ardento,
    E'n alto intelletto, un puro core.

It is singular, that hitherto no critical justice has been done to the
character of Portia; it is yet more wonderful, that one of the finest
writers on the eternal subject of Shakspeare and his perfections, should
accuse Portia of pedantry and affectation, and confess she is not a
great favorite of his--a confession quite worthy of him, who avers his
predilection for servant-maids, and his preference of the Fannys and the
Pamelas over the Clementinas and Clarissas.[7] Schlegel, who has given
several pages to a rapturous eulogy on the Merchant of Venice, simply
designates Portia as a "rich, beautiful, clever heiress:"--whether the
fault lie in the writer or translator, I do protest against the word
clever.[8] Portia _clever!_ what an epithet to apply to this heavenly
compound of talent, feeling, wisdom, beauty, and gentleness! Now would
it not be well, if this common and comprehensive word were more
accurately defined, or at least more accurately used? It signifies
properly, not so much the possession of high powers, as dexterity in the
adaptation of certain faculties (not necessarily of a high order) to a
certain end or aim--not always the worthiest. It implies something
common-place, inasmuch as it speaks the presence of the _active_ and
_perceptive_, with a deficiency of the _feeling_ and _reflective_
powers; and applied to a woman, does it not almost invariably suggest
the idea of something we should distrust or shrink from, if not allied
to a higher nature? The profligate French women, who ruled the councils
of Europe in the middle of the last century, were clever women; and that
_philosopheress_ Madame du Châtelet, who managed, at one and the same
moment, the thread of an intrigue, her cards at piquet, and a
calculation in algebra, was a very clever woman! If Portia had been
created as a mere instrument to bring about a dramatic catastrophe--if
she had merely detected the flaw in Antonio's bond, and used it as a
means to baffle the Jew, she might have been pronounced a clever woman.
But what Portia does, is forgotten in what she _is_. The rare and
harmonious blending of energy, reflection, and feeling, in her fine
character, make the epithet _clever_ sound like a discord as applied to
_her_, and place her infinitely beyond the slight praise of Richardson
and Schlegel, neither of whom appear to have fully comprehended her.

These and other critics have been apparently so dazzled and engrossed by
the amazing character of Shylock, that Portia has received less than
justice at their hands; while the fact is, that Shylock is not a finer
or more finished character in his way, than Portia is in hers. These two
splendid figures are worthy of each other; worthy of being placed
together within the same rich framework of enchanting poetry, and
glorious and graceful forms. She hangs beside the terrible, inexorable
Jew, the brilliant lights of her character set off by the shadowy power
of his, like a magnificent beauty-breathing Titian by the side of a
gorgeous Rembrandt.

Portia is endued with her own share of those delightful qualities, which
Shakspeare has lavished on many of his female characters; but besides
the dignity, the sweetness, and tenderness which should distinguish her
sex generally, she is individualized by qualities peculiar to herself;
by her high mental powers, her enthusiasm of temperament, her decision
of purpose, and her buoyancy of spirit. These are innate; she has other
distinguishing qualities more external, and which are the result of the
circumstances in which she is placed. Thus she is the heiress of a
princely name and countless wealth; a train of obedient pleasures have
ever waited round her; and from infancy she has breathed an atmosphere
redolent of perfume and blandishment Accordingly there is a commanding
grace, a highbred, airy elegance, a spirit of magnificence in all that
she does and says, as one to whom splendor had been familiar from her
very birth. She treads as though her footsteps had been among marble
palaces, beneath roofs of fretted gold, o'er cedar floors and pavements
of jasper and porphyry--amid gardens full of statues, and flowers, and
fountains, and haunting music. She is full of penetrative wisdom, and
genuine tenderness, and lively wit; but as she has never known want, or
grief, or fear, or disappointment, her wisdom is without a touch of the
sombre or the sad; her affections are all mixed up with faith, hope and
joy; and her wit has not a particle of malevolence or causticity.

It is well known that the Merchant of Venice is founded on two different
tales; and in weaving together his double plot in so masterly a manner,
Shakspeare has rejected altogether the character of the astutious Lady
of Belmont with her magic potions, who figures in the Italian novel.
With yet more refinement, he has thrown out all the licentious part of
the story, which some of his contemporary dramatists would have seized
on with avidity, and made the best or worst of it possible; and he has
substituted the trial of the caskets from another source.[9] We are not
told expressly where Belmont is situated; but as Bassanio takes ship to
go thither from Venice, and as we find them afterwards ordering horses
from Belmont to Padua, we will imagine Portia's hereditary palace as
standing on some lovely promontory between Venice and Trieste,
overlooking the blue Adriatic, with the Friuli mountains or the Euganean
hills for its background, such as we often see in one of Claude's or
Poussin's elysian landscapes. In a scene, in a home like this,
Shakspeare, having first exorcised the original possessor, has placed
his Portia; and so endowed her, that all the wild, strange, and moving
circumstances of the story, become natural, probable, and necessary in
connexion with her. That such a woman should be chosen by the solving of
an enigma, is not surprising: herself and all around her, the scene, the
country, the age in which she is placed, breathe of poetry, romance, and

    From the four quarters of the earth they come
    To kiss this shrine, this mortal breathing saint
    The Hyrcanian desert, and the vasty wilds
    Of wide Arabia, are as thoroughfares now,
    For princes to come view fair Portia;
    The watery kingdom, whose ambitious head
    Spits in the face of heaven is no bar
    To stop the foreign spirits; but they come
    As o'er a brook to see fair Portia.

The sudden plan which she forms for the release of her husband's friend,
her disguise, and her deportment as the young and learned doctor, would
appear forced and improbable in any other woman but in Portia are the
simple and natural result of her character.[10] The quickness with which
she perceives the legal advantage which may be taken of the
circumstances; the spirit of adventure with which she engages in the
masquerading, and the decision, firmness, and intelligence with which
she executes her generous purpose, are all in perfect keeping, and
nothing appears forced--nothing as introduced merely for theatrical

But all the finest parts of Portia's character are brought to bear in
the trial scene. There she shines forth all her divine self. Her
intellectual powers, her elevated sense of religion, her high honorable
principles, her best feelings as a woman, are all displayed. She
maintains at first a calm self-command, as one sure of carrying her
point in the end; yet the painful heart-thrilling uncertainty in which
she keeps the whole court, until suspense verges upon agony, is not
contrived for effect merely; it is necessary and inevitable. She has two
objects in view; to deliver her husband's friend, and to maintain her
husband's honor by the discharge of his just debt, though paid out of
her own wealth ten times over. It is evident that she would rather owe
the safety of Antonio to any thing rather than the legal quibble with
which her cousin Bellario has armed her, and which she reserves as a
last resource. Thus all the speeches addressed to Shylock in the first
instance, are either direct or indirect experiments on his temper and
feelings. She must be understood from the beginning to the end as
examining, with intense anxiety, the effect of her own words on his mind
and countenance; as watching for that relenting spirit, which she hopes
to awaken either by reason or persuasion. She begins by an appeal to his
mercy, in that matchless piece of eloquence, which, with an irresistible
and solemn pathos, falls upon the heart like "gentle dew from
heaven:"--but in vain; for that blessed dew drops not more fruitless and
unfelt on the parched sand of the desert, than do these heavenly words
upon the ear of Shylock. She next attacks his avarice:

    Shylock, there's _thrice_ thy money offered thee!

Then she appeals, in the same breath, both to his avarice and his pity:

                       Be merciful!
    Take thrice thy money. Bid me tear the bond.

All that she says afterwards--her strong expressions, which are
calculated to strike a shuddering horror through the nerves--the
reflections she interposes--her delays and circumlocution to give time
for any latent feeling of commiseration to display itself--all, all are
premeditated and tend in the same manner to the object she has in view.

    You must prepare your bosom for his knife.
    Therefore lay bare your bosom!

These two speeches, though addressed apparently to Antonio, are spoken
_at_ Shylock, and are evidently intended to penetrate _his_ bosom. In
the same spirit she asks for the balance to weigh the pound of flesh;
and entreats of Shylock to have a surgeon ready--

    Have by some surgeon, Shylock, on your charge,
    To stop his wounds, lest he do bleed to death!


    Is it so nominated in the bond?


    It is not so expressed--but what of that?
    'Twere good you do so much, for _charity_.

So unwilling is her sanguine and generous spirit to resign all hope, or
to believe that humanity is absolutely extinct in the bosom of the Jew,
that she calls on Antonio, as a last resource, to speak for himself. His
gentle, yet manly resignation--the deep pathos of his farewell, and the
affectionate allusion to herself in his last address to Bassanio--

    Commend me to your honorable wife;
    Say how I lov'd you, speak me fair in death, &c.

are well calculated to swell that emotion, which through the whole scene
must have been laboring suppressed within her heart.

At length the crisis arrives, for patience and womanhood can endure no
longer; and when Shylock, carrying his savage bent "to the last hour of
act," springs on his victim--"A sentence come, prepare!" then the
smothered scorn, indignation, and disgust, burst forth with an
impetuosity which interferes with the judicial solemnity she had at
first affected;--particularly in the speech--

    Therefore, prepare thee to cut off the flesh.
    Shed thou no blood; nor cut thou less, nor more,
    But just the pound of flesh; if thou tak'st more,
    Or less than a just pound,--be it but so much
    As makes it light, or heavy, in the substance,
    Or the division of the twentieth part
    Of one poor scruple; nay, if the scale do turn
    But in the estimation of a hair,--
    Thou diest, and all thy goods are confiscate.

But she afterwards recovers her propriety, and triumphs with a cooler
scorn and a more self-possessed exultation.

It is clear that, to feel the full force and dramatic beauty of this
marvellous scene, we must go along with Portia as well as with Shylock;
we must understand her concealed purpose, keep in mind her noble
motives, and pursue in our fancy the under current of feeling, working
in her mind throughout. The terror and the power of Shylock's
character,--his deadly and inexorable malice,--would be too oppressive;
the pain and pity too intolerable, and the horror of the possible issue
too overwhelming, but for the intellectual relief afforded by this
double source of interest and contemplation.

I come now to that capacity for warm and generous affection, that
tenderness of heart, which render Portia not less lovable as a woman,
than admirable for her mental endowments. The affections are to the
intellect, what the forge is to the metal; it is they which temper and
shape it to all good purposes, and soften, strengthen, and purify it.
What an exquisite stroke of judgment in the poet, to make the mutual
passion of Portia and Bassanio, though unacknowledged to each other,
anterior to the opening of the play! Bassanio's confession very properly
comes first:--


    In Belmont is a lady richly left,
    And she is fair, and fairer than that word,
    Of wond'rous virtues: sometimes from her eyes
    I did receive fair speechless messages;

       *   *   *   *

and prepares us for Portia's half betrayed, unconscious election of this
most graceful and chivalrous admirer--


    Do you not remember, lady, in your father's time, a
    Venetian, a scholar, and a soldier, that came hither in
    company of the Marquis of Montferrat?


    Yes, yes, it was Bassanio; as I think, so he was called.


    True, madam; he of all the men that ever my foolish
    eyes looked upon, was the best deserving a fair


    I remember him well; and I remember him worthy of
    thy praise.

Our interest is thus awakened for the lovers from the very first; and
what shall be said of the casket-scene with Bassanio, where every line
which Portia speaks is so worthy of herself, so full of sentiment and
beauty, and poetry and passion? Too naturally frank for disguise, too
modest to confess her depth of love while the issue of the trial remains
in suspense, the conflict between love and fear, and maidenly dignity,
cause the most delicious confusion that ever tinged a woman's cheek, or
dropped in broken utterance from her lips.

    I pray you, tarry, pause a day or two,
    Before you hazard; for in choosing wrong,
    I lose your company; therefore, forbear awhile;
    There's something tells me, (but it is not love,)
    I would not lose you; and you know yourself,
    Hate counsels not in such a quality:
    But lest you should not understand me well,
    (And yet a maiden hath no tongue but thought)
    I would detain you here some month or two
    Before you venture for me. I could teach you
    How to choose right,--but then I am forsworn;--
    So will I never be: so you may miss me;--
    But if you do, you'll make me wish a sin,
    That I had been forsworn. Beshrew your eyes,
    They have o'erlooked me, and divided me:
    One half of me is yours, the other half yours,--
    Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours,
    And so all yours!

The short dialogue between the lovers is exquisite.


           Let me choose,
    For, as I am, I live upon the rack.


    Upon the rack, Bassanio? Then confess
    What treason there is mingled with your love.


    None, but that ugly treason of mistrust,
    Which makes me fear the enjoying of my love.
    There may as well be amity and life
    'Tween snow and fire, as treason and my love.


    Ay! but I fear you speak upon the rack,
    Where men enforced do speak any thing.


    Promise me life, and I'll confess the truth.


    Well then, confess, and live.


                             Confess and love
    Had been the very sum of my confession!
    O happy torment, when my torturer
    Doth teach me answers for deliverance!

A prominent feature in Portia's character is that confiding, buoyant
spirit, which mingles with all her thoughts and affections. And here let
me observe, that I never yet met in real life, nor ever read in tale or
history, of any woman, distinguished for intellect of the highest
order, who was not also remarkable for this trusting spirit, this
hopefulness and cheerfulness of temper, which is compatible with the
most serious habits of thought, and the most profound sensibility. Lady
Wortley Montagu was one instance; and Madame de Staël furnishes another
much more memorable. In her Corinne, whom she drew from herself, this
natural brightness of temper is a prominent part of the character. A
disposition to doubt, to suspect, and to despond, in the young, argues,
in general, some inherent weakness, moral or physical, or some miserable
and radical error of education; in the old, it is one of the first
symptoms of age; it speaks of the influence of sorrow and experience,
and foreshows the decay of the stronger and more generous powers of the
soul. Portia's strength of intellect takes a natural tinge from the
flush and bloom of her young and prosperous existence, and from her
fervent imagination. In the casket-scene, she fears indeed the issue of
the trial; on which more than her life is hazarded but while she
trembles, her hope is stronger than her fear. While Bassanio is
contemplating the caskets, she suffers herself to dwell for one moment
on the possibility of disappointment and misery.

    Let music sound while he doth make his choice;
    Then if he lose, he makes a swan-like end,
    Fading in music: that the comparison
    May stand more proper, my eye shall be the stream
    And watery death-bed for him.

Then, immediately follows that revulsion of feeling, so beautifully
characteristic of the hopeful, trusting, mounting spirit of this noble

                            But he may win!
    And what is music then?--then music is
    Even as the flourish, when true subjects bow
    To a new-crowned monarch: such it is
    As are those dulcet sounds at break of day,
    That creep into the dreaming bridegroom's ear,
    And summon him to marriage. Now he goes
    With no less presence, but with much more love
    Than young Alcides, when he did redeem
    The virgin tribute paid by howling Troy
    To the sea monster. I stand here for sacrifice.

Here, not only the feeling itself, born of the elastic and sanguine
spirit which had never been touched by grief, but the images in which it
comes arrayed to her fancy,--the bridegroom waked by music on his
wedding-morn,--the new-crowned monarch,--the comparison of Bassanio to
the young Alcides, and of herself to the daughter of Laomedon,--are all
precisely what would have suggested themselves to the fine poetical
imagination of Portia in such a moment.

Her passionate exclamations of delight, when Bassanio has fixed on the
right casket, are as strong as though she had despaired before. Fear and
doubt she could repel; the native elasticity of her mind bore up against
them; yet she makes us feel, that, as the sudden joy overpowers her
almost to fainting, the disappointment would as certainly have killed

    How all the other passions fleet to air,
    As doubtful thoughts, and rash-embraced despair,
    And shudd'ring fear, and green-eyed jealousy?
    O love! be moderate, allay thy ecstasy;
    In measure rain thy joy scant this excess;
    I feel too much thy blessing: make it less,
    For fear I surfeit!

Her subsequent surrender of herself in heart and soul, of her maiden
freedom, and her vast possessions, can never be read without deep
emotions; for not only all the tenderness and delicacy of a devoted
woman, are here blended with all the dignity which becomes the princely
heiress of Belmont, but the serious, measured self-possession of her
address to her lover, when all suspense is over, and all concealment
superfluous, is most beautifully consistent with the character. It is,
in truth, an awful moment, that in which a gifted woman first discovers,
that besides talents and powers, she has also passions and affections;
when she first begins to suspect their vast importance in the sum of her
existence; when she first confesses that her happiness is no longer in
her own keeping, but is surrendered forever and forever into the
dominion of another! The possession of uncommon powers of mind are so
far from affording relief or resource in the first intoxicating
surprise--I had almost said terror--of such a revolution, that they
render it more intense. The sources of thought multiply beyond
calculation the sources of feeling; and mingled, they rush together, a
torrent deep as strong. Because Portia is endued with that enlarged
comprehension which looks before and after, she does not feel the less,
but the more: because from the height of her commanding intellect she
can contemplate the force, the tendency, the consequences of her own
sentiments--because she is fully sensible of her own situation, and the
value of all she concedes--the concession is not made with less
entireness and devotion of heart, less confidence in the truth and worth
of her lover, than when Juliet, in a similar moment, but without any
such intrusive reflections--any check but the instinctive delicacy of
her sex, flings herself and her fortunes at the feet of her lover:

    And all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay,
    And follow thee, my lord, through all the world.[11]

In Portia's confession, which is not breathed from a moonlit balcony,
but spoken openly in the presence of her attendants and vassals, there
is nothing of the passionate self-abandonment of Juliet, nor of the
artless simplicity of Miranda, but a consciousness and a tender
seriousness, approaching to solemnity, which are not less touching.

    You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand,
    Such as I am: though for myself alone,
    I would not be ambitious in my wish,
    To wish myself much better; yet, for you,
    I would be trebled twenty times myself;
    A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times
    More rich; that only to stand high in your account,
    I might in virtues, beauties, livings, friends,
    Exceed account; but the full sum of me
    Is sum of something; which to term in gross,
    Is an unlesson'd girl, unschool'd, unpractis'd,
    Happy in this, she is not yet so old
    But she may learn; and happier than this,
    She is not bred so dull but she can learn;
    Happiest of all is, that her gentle spirit
    Commits itself to yours to be directed,
    As from her lord, her governor, her king.
    Myself and what is mine, to you and yours
    Is now converted. But now, I was the lord,
    Of this fair mansion, master of my servants,
    Queen o'er myself; and even now, but now,
    This house, these servants, and this same myself,
    Are yours, my lord.

We must also remark that the sweetness, the solicitude, the subdued
fondness which she afterwards displays, relative to the letter, are as
true to the softness of her sex, as the generous self-denial with which
she urges the departure of Bassanio, (having first given him a husband's
right over herself and all her countless wealth,) is consistent with a
reflecting mind, and a spirit at once tender, reasonable, and

It is not only in the trial scene that Portia's acuteness, eloquence,
and lively intelligence are revealed to us; they are displayed in the
first instance, and kept up consistently to the end. Her reflections,
arising from the most usual aspects of nature, and from the commonest
incidents of life are in such a poetical spirit, and are at the same
time so pointed, so profound, that they have passed into familiar and
daily application, with all the force of proverbs.

     If to do, were as easy as to know what were good to do,
     chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages princes'

     I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be
     one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.

    The crow doth sing as sweetly as the lark,
    When neither is attended; and, I think,
    The nightingale, if she should sing by day,
    When every goose is cackling, would be thought
    No better a musician than the wren.
    How many things by season, seasoned are
    To their right praise and true perfection!

    How far that little candle throws his beams!
    So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
    A substitute shines as brightly as a king,
    Until a king be by; and then his state
    Empties itself, as doth an inland brook,
    Into the main of waters.

Her reflections on the friendship between her husband and Antonio are as
full of deep meaning as of tenderness; and her portrait of a young
coxcomb, in the same scene, is touched with a truth and spirit which
show with what a keen observing eye she has looked upon men and things.

    ----I'll hold thee any wager,
    When we are both accouter'd like young men.
    I'll prove the prettier fellow of the two,
    And wear my dagger with the braver grace
    And speak, between the change of man and boy
    With a reed voice; and turn two mincing steps
    Into a manly stride; and speak of frays,
    Like a fine bragging youth; and tell quaint lies--
    How honorable ladies sought my love,
    Which I denying, they fell sick and died;
    I could not do withal: then I'll repent,
    And wish, for all that, that I had not killed them;
    And twenty of these puny lies I'll tell,
    That men should swear, I have discontinued school
    Above a twelvemonth!

And in the description of her various suitors, in the first scene with
Nerissa, what infinite power, wit, and vivacity! She half checks herself
as she is about to give the reins to her sportive humor: "In truth, I
know it is a sin to be a mocker."--But if it carries her away, if is so
perfectly good-natured, so temperately bright, so lady-like, it is ever
without offence; and so far, most unlike the satirical, poignant,
unsparing wit of Beatrice, "misprising what she looks on." In fact, I
can scarce conceive a greater contrast than between the vivacity of
Portia and the vivacity of Beatrice. Portia, with all her airy
brilliance, is supremely soft and dignified; every thing she says or
does, displays her capability for profound thought and feeling, as well
as her lively and romantic disposition; and as I have seen in an Italian
garden a fountain flinging round its wreaths of showery light, while the
many-colored Iris hung brooding above it, in its calm and soul-felt
glory; so in Portia the wit is ever kept subordinate to the poetry, and
we still feel the tender, the intellectual, and the imaginative part of
the character, as superior to, and presiding over its spirit and

In the last act, Shylock and his machinations being dismissed from our
thoughts, and the rest of the _dramatis personæ_ assembled together at
Belmont, all our interest and all our attention are riveted on Portia,
and the conclusion leaves the most delightful impression on the fancy.
The playful equivoque of the rings, the sportive trick she puts on her
husband, and her thorough enjoyment of the jest, which she checks just
as it is proceeding beyond the bounds of propriety, show how little she
was displeased by the sacrifice of her gift, and are all consistent with
her bright and buoyant spirit. In conclusion; when Portia invites her
company to enter her palace to refresh themselves after their travels,
and talk over "these events at full," the imagination, unwilling to lose
sight of the brilliant group, follows them in gay procession from the
lovely moonlight garden to marble halls and princely revels, to splendor
and festive mirth, to love and happiness.

Many women have possessed many of those qualities which render Portia so
delightful. She is in herself a piece of reality, in whose possible
existence we have no doubt: and yet a human being, in whom the moral,
intellectual, and sentient faculties should be so exquisitely blended
and proportioned to each other; and these again, in harmony with all
outward aspects and influences probably never existed--certainly could
not now exist. A woman constituted like Portia, and placed in this age,
and in the actual state of society, would find society armed against
her; and instead of being like Portia, a gracious, happy, beloved, and
loving creature, would be a victim, immolated in fire to that
multitudinous Moloch termed Opinion. With her, the world without would
be at war with the world within; in the perpetual strife, either her
nature would "be subdued to the element it worked in," and bending to a
necessity it could neither escape nor approve, lose at last something of
its original brightness; or otherwise--a perpetual spirit of resistance,
cherished as a safeguard, might perhaps in the end destroy the
equipoise; firmness would become pride and self-assurance; and the soft,
sweet, feminine texture of the mind, settle into rigidity. Is there then
no sanctuary for such a mind?--Where shall it find a refuge from the
world?--Where seek for strength against itself? Where, but in heaven?

Camiola, in Massinger's Maid of Honor, is said to emulate Portia; and
the real story of Camiola (for she is an historical personage) is very
beautiful. She was a lady of Messina, who lived in the beginning of the
fourteenth century; and was the contemporary of Queen Joanna, of
Petrarch and Boccaccio. It fell out in those days, that Prince Orlando
of Arragon, the younger brother of the King of Sicily, having taken the
command of a naval armament against the Neapolitans, was defeated,
wounded, taken prisoner, and confined by Robert of Naples (the father of
Queen Joanna) in one of his strongest castles. As the prince had
distinguished himself by his enmity to the Neapolitans, and by many
exploits against them, his ransom was fixed at an exorbitant sum, and
his captivity was unusually severe; while the King of Sicily, who had
some cause of displeasure against his brother, and imputed to him the
defeat of his armament, refused either to negotiate for his release, or
to pay the ransom demanded.

Orlando, who was celebrated for his fine person and reckless valour, was
apparently doomed to languish away the rest of his life in a dungeon,
when Camiola Turinga, a rich Sicilian heiress, devoted the half of her
fortune to release him. But as such an action might expose her to evil
comments, she made it a condition, that Orlando should marry her. The
prince gladly accepted the terms, and sent her the contract of marriage,
signed by his hand; but no sooner was he at liberty, than he refused to
fulfil it, and even denied all knowledge of his benefactress.

Camiola appealed to the tribunal of state, produced the written
contract, and described the obligations she had heaped on this
ungrateful and ungenerous man; sentence was given against him, and he
was adjudged to Camiola, not only as her rightful husband, but as a
property which, according to the laws of war in that age, she had
purchased with her gold. The day of marriage was fixed; Orlando
presented himself with a splendid retinue; Camiola also appeared,
decorated as for her bridal; but instead of bestowing her hand on the
recreant, she reproached him in the presence of all with his breach of
faith, declared her utter contempt for his baseness; and then freely
bestowing on him the sum paid for his ransom, as a gift worthy of his
mean soul, she turned away, and dedicated herself and her heart to
heaven. In this resolution she remained inflexible, though the king and
all the court united in entreaties to soften her. She took the veil; and
Orlando, henceforth regarded as one who had stained his knighthood, and
violated his faith, passed the rest of his life as a dishonored man, and
died in obscurity.

Camiola, in "The Maid of Honor," is, like Portia, a wealthy heiress,
surrounded by suitors, and "queen o'er herself:" the character is
constructed upon the same principles, as great intellectual power,
magnanimity of temper, and feminine tenderness; but not only do pain and
disquiet, and the change induced by unkind and inauspicious influences,
enter into this sweet picture to mar and cloud its happy beauty,--but
the portrait itself may be pronounced out of drawing;--for Massinger
apparently had not sufficient delicacy of sentiment to work out his own
conception of the character with perfect consistency. In his adaptation
of the story he represents the mutual love of Orlando and Camiola as
existing previous to the captivity of the former, and on his part
declared with many vows of eternal faith, yet she requires a written
contract of marriage before she liberates him. It will perhaps be said
that she has penetrated his weakness, and anticipates his falsehood:
miserable excuse!--how could a magnanimous woman love a man, whose
falsehood she believes but _possible_?--or loving him, how could she
deign to secure herself by such means against the consequences?
Shakspeare and Nature never committed such a solecism. Camiola doubts
before she has been wronged; the firmness and assurance in herself
border on harshness. What in Portia is the gentle wisdom of a noble
nature, appears, in Camiola, too much a spirit of calculation: it savors
a little of the counting house. As Portia is the heiress of Belmont, and
Camiola a merchant's daughter, the distinction may be proper and
characteristic, but it is not in favor of Camiola. The contrast may be
thus illustrated:


     You have heard of Bertoldo's captivity and the king's
     neglect, the greatness of his ransom; _fifty thousand
     crowns_, Adorni! _Two parts of my estate!_ Yet I so love the
     gentleman, for to you I will confess my weakness, that I
     purpose now, when he is forsaken by the king and his own
     hopes, to ransom him.

                    _Maid of Honor_, _Act. 3_.


    What sum owes he the Jew?


    For me--three thousand ducats.


    What! _no more!_
    Pay him six thousand and deface the bond,
    Double six thousand, and then treble that,
    Before a friend of this description
    Shall lose a hair thro' my Bassanio's fault.
          ----You shall have gold
    To pay the _petty debt_ twenty times o'er.

                    _Merchant of Venice._

Camiola, who is a Sicilian, might as well have been born at Amsterdam:
Portia could have only existed in Italy. Portia is profound as she is
brilliant; Camiola is sensible and sententious; she asserts her dignity
very successfully; but we cannot for a moment imagine Portia as reduced
to the necessity of asserting hers. The idiot Sylli, in "The Maid of
Honor," who follows Camiola like one of the deformed dwarfs of old time,
is an intolerable violation of taste and propriety, and it sensibly
lowers our impression of the principal character. Shakspeare would never
have placed Sir Andrew Aguecheek in constant and immediate approximation
with such a woman as Portia.

Lastly, the charm of the poetical coloring is wholly wanting in Camiola,
so that when she is placed in contrast with the glowing eloquence, the
luxuriant grace, the buoyant spirit of Portia, the effect is somewhat
that of coldness and formality. Notwithstanding the dignity and the
beauty of Massinger's delineation, and the noble self-devotion of
Camiola, which I acknowledge and admire, the two characters will admit
of no comparison as sources of contemplation and pleasure.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is observable that something of the intellectual brilliance of Portia
is reflected on the other female characters of the "Merchant of Venice,"
so as to preserve in the midst of contrast a certain harmony and
keeping. Thus Jessica, though properly kept subordinate, is certainly

    A most beautiful pagan--a most sweet Jew.

She cannot be called a sketch--or if a sketch, she is like one of those
dashed off in glowing colors from the rainbow pallette of a Rubens; she
has a rich tinge of orientalism shed over her, worthy of her eastern
origin. In any other play, and in any other companionship than that of
the matchless Portia, Jessica would make a very beautiful heroine of
herself. Nothing can be more poetically, more classically fanciful and
elegant, than the scenes between her and Lorenzo;--the celebrated
moonlight dialogue, for instance, which we all have by heart. Every
sentiment she utters interests us for her:--more particularly her
bashful self-reproach, when flying in the disguise of a page;--

    I am glad 'tis night, you do not look upon me,
    For I am much asham'd of my exchange;
    But love is blind, and lovers cannot see
    The pretty follies that themselves commit;
    For if they could, Cupid himself would blush
    To see me thus transformed to a boy.

And the enthusiastic and generous testimony to the superior graces and
accomplishments of Portia comes with a peculiar grace from her lips.

    Why, if two gods should play some heavenly match.
    And on the wager lay two earthly women,
    And Portia one, there must be something else
    Pawned with the other; for the poor rude world
    Hath not her fellow.

We should not, however, easily pardon her for cheating her father with
so much indifference, but for the perception that Shylock values his
daughter far beneath his wealth.

     I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in
     her ear!--would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats
     in her coffin!

Nerissa is a good specimen of a common genus of characters; she is a
clever confidential waiting-woman, who has caught a little of her lady's
elegance and romance; she affects to be lively and sententious, falls in
love, and makes her favor conditional on the fortune of the caskets, and
in short mimics her mistress with good emphasis and discretion. Nerissa
and the gay talkative Gratiano are as well matched as the incomparable
Portia and her magnificent and captivating lover.


The character of Isabella, considered as a poetical delineation, is less
mixed than that of Portia; and the dissimilarity between the two
appears, at first view, so complete that we can scarce believe that the
same elements enter into the composition of each. Yet so it is; they are
portrayed as equally wise, gracious, virtuous, fair, and young; we
perceive in both the same exalted principle and firmness of character;
the same depth of reflection and persuasive eloquence; the same
self-denying generosity and capability of strong affections; and we must
wonder at that marvellous power by which qualities and endowments,
essentially and closely allied, are so combined and modified as to
produce a result altogether different. "O Nature! O Shakespeare! which
of ye drew from the other?"

Isabella is distinguished from Portia, and strongly individualized by a
certain moral grandeur, a saintly grace, something of vestal dignity and
purity, which render her less attractive and more imposing; she is
"severe in youthful beauty," and inspires a reverence which would have
placed her beyond the daring of one unholy wish or thought, except in
such a man as Angelo--

    O cunning enemy, that, to catch a saint,
    With saints dost bait thy hook!

This impression of her character is conveyed from the very first, when
Lucio, the libertine jester, whose coarse audacious wit checks at every
feather, thus expresses his respect for her,--

    I would not--though 'tis my familiar sin
    With maids to seem the lapwing, and to jest
    Tongue far from heart--play with all virgins so.
    I hold you as a thing enskyed, and sainted;
    By your renouncement an immortal spirit,
    And to be talked with in sincerity,
    As with a saint.

A strong distinction between Isabella and Portia is produced by the
circumstances in which they are respectively placed. Portia is a
high-born heiress, "Lord of a fair mansion, master of her servants,
queen o'er herself;" easy and decided, as one born to command, and used
to it. Isabella has also the innate dignity which renders her "queen
o'er herself," but she has lived far from the world and its pomps and
pleasures; she is one of a consecrated sisterhood--a novice of St.
Clare; the power to command obedience and to confer happiness are to her
unknown. Portia is a splendid creature, radiant with confidence, hope,
and joy. She is like the orange-tree, hung at once with golden fruit and
luxuriant flowers, which has expanded into bloom and fragrance beneath
favoring skies, and has been nursed into beauty by the sunshine and the
dews of heaven. Isabella is like a stately and graceful cedar, towering
on some alpine cliff, unbowed and unscathed amid the storm. She gives
us the impression of one who has passed under the ennobling discipline
of suffering and self-denial: a melancholy charm tempers the natural
vigor of her mind: her spirit seems to stand upon an eminence, and look
down upon the world as if already enskyed and sainted; and yet when
brought in contact with that world which she inwardly despises, she
shrinks back with all the timidity natural to her cloistral education.

This union of natural grace and grandeur with the habits and sentiments
of a recluse,--of austerity of life with gentleness of manner,--of
inflexible moral principle with humility and even bashfulness of
deportment, is delineated with the most beautiful and wonderful
consistency. Thus when her brother sends to her, to entreat her
mediation, her first feeling is fear, and a distrust in her own powers:

    ... Alas! what poor ability's in me
    To do him good?


    Essay the power you have.


    My power, alas! I doubt.

In the first scene with Angelo she seems divided between her love for
her brother and her sense of his fault; between her self-respect and her
maidenly bashfulness. She begins with a kind of hesitation "at war
'twixt will and will not:" and when Angelo quotes the law, and insists
on the justice of his sentence, and the responsibility of his station,
her native sense of moral rectitude and severe principles takes the
lead, and she shrinks back:--

                              O just, but severe law!
    I _had_ a brother then--Heaven keep your honor!

Excited and encouraged by Lucio, and supported by her own natural
spirit, she returns to the charge,--she gains energy and self-possession
as she proceeds, grows more earnest and passionate from the difficulty
she encounters, and displays that eloquence and power of reasoning for
which we had been already prepared by Claudio's first allusion to her:--

            ... In her youth
    There is a prone and speechless dialect,
    Such as moves men; besides, she hath prosperous art,
    When she will play with reason and discourse,
    And well she can persuade.

It is a curious coincidence that Isabella, exhorting Angelo to mercy,
avails herself of precisely the same arguments, and insists on the
self-same topics which Portia addresses to Shylock in her celebrated
speech; but how beautifully and how truly is the distinction marked! how
like, and yet how unlike! Portia's eulogy on mercy is a piece of
heavenly rhetoric; it falls on the ear with a solemn measured harmony;
it is the voice of a descended angel addressing an inferior nature: if
not premeditated, it is at least part of a preconcerted scheme; while
Isabella's pleadings are poured from the abundance of her heart in
broken sentences, and with the artless vehemence of one who feels that
life and death hang upon her appeal. This will be best understood by
placing the corresponding passages in immediate comparison with each


    The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,
    Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd;
    It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:
    'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
    The throned monarch better than his crown;
    His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
    The attribute to awe and majesty,
    Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
    But mercy is above this sceptred sway--
    It is enthron'd in the hearts of kings.


            Well, believe this,
    No ceremony that to great ones 'longs,
    Not the king's crown, nor the deputed sword,
    The marshal's truncheon, nor the judge's robe.
    Become them with one half so good a grace
    As mercy does.


                  Consider this--
    That in the course of justice, none of us
    Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy;
    And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
    The deeds of mercy.


                              ... Alas! alas!
    Why all the souls that were, were forfeit once;
    And He, that might the 'vantage best have took,
    Found out the remedy. How would you be,
    If He, which is the top of judgment, should
    But judge you as you are? O, think on that,
    And mercy then will breathe within your lips,
    Like man new made!

The beautiful things which Isabella is made to utter, have, like the
sayings of Portia, become proverbial; but in spirit and character they
are as distinct as are the two women. In all that Portia says, we
confess the power of a rich poetical imagination, blended with a quick
practical spirit of observation, familiar with the surfaces of things;
while there is a profound yet simple morality, a depth of religious
feeling, a touch of melancholy, in Isabella's sentiments, and something
earnest and authoritative in the manner and expression, as though they
had grown up in her mind from long and deep meditation in the silence
and solitude of her convent cell:--

                      O it is excellent
    To have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous
    To use it like a giant.

            Could great men thunder,
    As Jove himself does, Jove would ne'er be quiet:
    For every pelting, petty officer
    Would use his heaven for thunder; nothing but thunder
    Merciful Heaven!
    Thou rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt
    Split'st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak
    Than the soft myrtle. O but man, proud man!
    Drest in a little brief authority,
    Most ignorant of what he's most assured,
    His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
    Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
    As make the angels weep.

    Great men may jest with saints, 'tis wit in them;
    But in the less, foul profanation.
    That in the captain's but a choleric word,
    Which in the soldier is flat blasphemy.

    Authority, although it err like others,
    Hath yet a kind of medicine in itself
    That skins the vice o' the top. Go to you, bosom;
    Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know
    That's like my brother's fault: if it confess
    A natural guiltiness such as his is,
    Let it not sound a thought upon your tongue
    Against my brother's life.

    Let me be ignorant, and in nothing good,
    But graciously to know I am no better.

    The sense of death is most in apprehension;
    And the poor beetle that we tread upon,
    In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
    As when a giant dies.

                            'Tis not impossible
    But one, the wicked'st caitiff on the ground,
    May seem as shy, as grave, as just, as absolute
    As Angelo; even so may Angelo,
    In all his dressings, characts, titles, forms,
    Be an arch villain.

Her fine powers of reasoning, and that natural uprightness and purity
which no sophistry can warp, and no allurement betray, are farther
displayed in the second scene with Angelo.


    What would you do?


    As much for my poor brother as myself;
    That is, were I under the terms of death,
    The impression of keen whips I'd wear as rubies,
    And strip myself to death as to a bed
    That, longing, I have been sick for, ere I'd yield
    My body up to shame.


    Then must your brother die.


    And 'twere the cheaper way;
    Better it were a brother died at once,
    Than that a sister, by redeeming him,
    Should die forever.


    Were you not then cruel as the sentence,
    That you have slander'd so!


    Ignominy in ransom, and free pardon,
    Are of two houses: lawful mercy is
    Nothing akin to foul redemption.


    You seem'd of late to make the law a tyrant;
    And rather proved the sliding of your brother
    A merriment than a vice.


    O pardon me, my lord; it oft falls out,
    To have what we'd have, we speak not what we mean:
    I something do excuse the thing I hate,
    For his advantage that I dearly love.

Towards the conclusion of the play we have another instance of that
rigid sense of justice, which is a prominent part of Isabella's
character, and almost silences her earnest intercession for her brother,
when his fault is placed between her plea and her conscience. The Duke
condemns the villain Angelo to death, and his wife Mariana entreats
Isabella to plead for him.

              Sweet Isabel, take my part,
    Lend me your knees, and all my life to come
    I'll lend you all my life to do you service.

Isabella remains silent, and Mariana reiterates her prayer.


    Sweet Isabel, do yet but kneel by me,
    Hold up your hands, say nothing, I'll speak all!
    O Isabel! will you not lend a knee?

Isabella, thus urged, breaks silence and appeals to the Duke, not with
supplication, or persuasion, but with grave argument, and a kind of
dignified humility and conscious power, which are finely characteristic
of the individual woman.

                        Most bounteous Sir,
    Look, if it please you, on this man condemn'd,
    As if my brother liv'd; I partly think
    A due sincerity govern'd his deeds
    Till he did look on me; since it is so
    Let him not die. My brother had but justice,
    In that he did the thing for which he died.
    For Angelo,
    His art did not o'ertake his bad intent,
    That perish'd by the way: thoughts are no subjects.
    Intents, but merely thoughts.

In this instance, as in the one before mentioned, Isabella's
conscientiousness is overcome by the only sentiment which ought to
temper justice into mercy, the power of affection and sympathy.

Isabella's confession of the general frailty of her sex, has a peculiar
softness, beauty, and propriety. She admits the imputation with all the
sympathy of woman for woman; yet with all the dignity of one who felt
her own superiority to the weakness she acknowledges.


    Nay, women are frail too.


    Ay, as the glasses where they view themselves;
    Which are as easy broke as they make forms.
    Women! help heaven! men their creation mar
    In profiting by them. Nay, call us ten times frail,
    For we are soft as our complexions are,
    And credulous to false prints.

Nor should we fail to remark the deeper interest which is thrown round
Isabella, by one part of her character, which is betrayed rather than
exhibited in the progress of the action; and for which we are not at
first prepared, though it is so perfectly natural. It is the strong
under-current of passion and enthusiasm flowing beneath this calm and
saintly self-possession; it is the capacity for high feeling and
generous and strong indignation, veiled beneath the sweet austere
composure of the religious recluse, which, by the very force of
contrast, powerfully impress the imagination. As we see in real life
that where, from some external or habitual cause, a strong control is
exercised over naturally quick feelings and an impetuous temper, they
display themselves with a proportionate vehemence when that restraint is
removed; so the very violence with which her passions burst forth, when
opposed or under the influence of strong excitement, is admirably

Thus in her exclamation, when she first allows herself to perceive
Angelo's vile design--


    Ha! little honor to be much believed,
    And most pernicious purpose;--seeming!--seeming
    I will proclaim thee, Angelo: look for it!
    Sign me a present pardon for my brother,
    Or with an outstretched throat I'll tell the world
    Aloud, what man thou art!

And again, where she finds that the "outward tainted deputy," has
deceived her--

    O I will to him, and pluck out his eyes!
    Unhappy Claudio! wretched Isabel!
    Injurious world! most damned Angelo!

She places at first a strong and high-souled confidence in her brother's
fortitude and magnanimity, judging him by her own lofty spirit:

                    I'll to my brother;
    Though he hath fallen by prompture of the blood,
    Yet hath he in him such a mind of honor,
    That had he twenty heads to tender down,
    On twenty bloody blocks, he'd yield them up
    Before his sister should her body stoop
    To such abhorr'd pollution.

But when her trust in his honor is deceived by his momentary weakness,
her scorn has a bitterness, and her indignation a force of expression
almost fearful; and both are carried to an extreme, which is perfectly
in character:

    O faithless coward! O dishonest wretch!
    Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice?
    Is't not a kind of incest to take life
    From thine own sister's shame? What should I think?
    Heaven shield, my mother play'd my father fair!
    For such a warped slip of wilderness
    Ne'er issued from his blood. Take my defiance;
    Die! perish! might but my bending down,
    Reprieve thee from thy fate, it should proceed.
    I'll pray a thousand prayers for thy death.
    No word to save thee.

The whole of this scene with Claudio is inexpressibly grand in the
poetry and the sentiment; and the entire play abounds in those passages
and phrases which must have become trite from familiar and constant use
and abuse, if their wisdom and unequalled beauty did not invest them
with an immortal freshness and vigor, and a perpetual charm.

The story of Measure for Measure is a tradition of great antiquity, of
which there are several versions, narrative and dramatic. A contemptible
tragedy, the _Promos and Cassandra_ of George Whetstone, is supposed,
from various coincidences, to have furnished Shakspeare with the
groundwork of the play; but the character of Isabella is, in conception
and execution, all his own. The commentators have collected with
infinite industry all the sources of the plot; but to the grand creation
of Isabella, they award either silence or worse than silence. Johnson
and the rest of the black-letter crew, pass over her without a word. One
critic, a lady-critic too, whose name I will be so merciful as to
suppress, treats Isabella as a coarse vixen. Hazlitt, with that strange
perversion of sentiment and want of taste which sometimes mingle with
his piercing and powerful intellect, dismisses Isabella with a slight
remark, that "we are not greatly enamoured of her rigid chastity, nor
can feel much confidence in the virtue that is sublimely good at
another's expense." What shall we answer to such criticism? Upon what
ground can we read the play from beginning to end, and doubt the
angel-purity of Isabella, or contemplate her possible lapse from
virtue? Such gratuitous mistrust is here a sin against the light of

        Having waste ground enough,
    Shall we desire to raze the sanctuary,
    And pitch our evils there?

Professor Richardson is more just, and truly sums up her character as
"amiable, pious, sensible, resolute, determined, and eloquent:" but his
remarks are rather superficial.

Schlegel's observations are also brief and general, and in no way
distinguish Isabella from many other characters; neither did his plan
allow him to be more minute. Of the play altogether, he observes very
beautifully, "that the title Measure for Measure is in reality a
misnomer, the sense of the whole being properly the triumph of mercy
over strict justice:" but it is also true that there is "an original sin
in the nature of the subject, which prevents us from taking a cordial
interest in it."[12] Of all the characters, Isabella alone has our
sympathy. But though she triumphs in the conclusion, her triumph is not
produced in a pleasing manner. There are too many disguises and tricks,
too many "by-paths and indirect crooked ways," to conduct us to the
natural and foreseen catastrophe, which the Duke's presence throughout
renders inevitable. This Duke seems to have a predilection for bringing
about justice by a most unjustifiable succession of falsehoods and
counterplots. He really deserves Lucio's satirical designation, who
somewhere styles him "The Fantastical Duke of Dark Corners." But
Isabella is ever consistent in her pure and upright simplicity, and in
the midst of this simulation, expresses a characteristic disapprobation
of the part she is made to play,

    To speak so indirectly I am loth:
    I would say the truth.[13]

She yields to the supposed Friar with a kind of forced docility, because
her situation as a religious novice, and his station, habit, and
authority, as her spiritual director, demand this sacrifice. In the end
we are made to feel that her transition from the convent to the throne
has but placed this noble creature in her natural sphere: for though
Isabella, as Duchess of Vienna, could not more command our highest
reverence than Isabella, the novice of Saint Clare, yet a wider range of
usefulness and benevolence, of trial and action, was better suited to
the large capacity, the ardent affections, the energetic intellect, and
firm principle of such a woman as Isabella, than the walls of a
cloister. The philosophical Duke observes in the very first scene--

            Spirits are not finely touched,
    But to fine issues: nor nature never lends
    The smallest scruple of her excellence,
    But like a thrifty goddess she determines,
    Herself the glory of a creditor,
    Both thanks and use.[14]

This profound and beautiful sentiment is illustrated in the character
and destiny of Isabella. She says, of herself, that "she has spirit to
act whatever her heart approves;" and what her heart approves we know.

In the convent, (which may stand here poetically for any narrow and
obscure situation in which such a woman might be placed,) Isabella would
not have been unhappy, but happiness would have been the result of an
effort, or of the concentration of her great mental powers to some
particular purpose; as St. Theresa's intellect, enthusiasm, tenderness,
restless activity, and burning eloquence, governed by one overpowering
sentiment of devotion, rendered her the most extraordinary of saints.
Isabella, like St. Theresa, complains that the rules of her order are
not sufficiently severe, and from the same cause,--that from the
consciousness of strong intellectual and imaginative power, and of
overflowing sensibility, she desires a more "strict restraint," or, from
the continual, involuntary struggle against the trammels imposed, feels
its necessity.


    And have you nuns no further privileges?


    Are not these large enough?


    Yes, truly; I speak, not as desiring more,
    But rather wishing a more strict restraint
    Upon the sisterhood!

Such women as Desdemona and Ophelia would have passed their lives in the
seclusion of a nunnery, without wishing, like Isabella, for stricter
bonds, or planning, like St. Theresa, the reformation of their order,
simply, because any restraint would have been efficient, as far as
_they_ were concerned. Isabella, "dedicate to nothing temporal," might
have found resignation through self government, or have become a
religious enthusiast: while "place and greatness" would have appeared to
her strong and upright mind, only a more extended field of action, a
trust and a trial. The mere trappings of power and state, the gemmed
coronal, the ermined robe, she would have regarded as the outward
emblems of her earthly profession; and would have worn them with as much
simplicity as her novice's hood and scapular; still, under whatever
guise she might tread this thorny world--the same "angel of light."


Shakspeare has exhibited in Beatrice a spirited and faithful portrait of
the fine lady of his own time. The deportment, language, manners, and
allusions, are those of a particular class in a particular age; but the
individual and dramatic character which forms the groundwork, is
strongly discriminated; and being taken from general nature, belongs to
every age. In Beatrice, high intellect and high animal spirits meet, and
excite each other like fire and air. In her wit (which is brilliant
without being imaginative) there is a touch of insolence, not unfrequent
in women when the wit predominates over reflection and imagination. In
her temper, too, there is a slight infusion of the termagant; and her
satirical humor plays with such an unrespective levity over all subjects
alike, that it required a profound knowledge of women to bring such a
character within the pale of our sympathy. But Beatrice, though wilful,
is not wayward; she is volatile, not unfeeling. She has not only an
exuberance of wit and gayety, but of heart, and soul, and energy of
spirit; and is no more like the fine ladies of modern comedy,--whose wit
consists in a temporary allusion, or a play upon words, and whose
petulance is displayed in a toss of the head, a flirt of the fan, or a
flourish of the pocket handkerchief,--than one of our modern dandies is
like Sir Philip Sydney.

In Beatrice, Shakspeare has contrived that the poetry of the character
shall not only soften, but heighten its comic effect. We are not only
inclined to forgive Beatrice all her scornful airs, all her biting
jests, all her assumption of superiority; but they amuse and delight us
the more, when we find her, with all the headlong simplicity of a child,
falling at once into the snare laid for her affections; when we see
_her_, who thought a man of God's making not good enough for her, who
disdained to be o'ermastered by "a piece of valiant dust," stooping like
the rest of her sex, vailing her proud spirit, and taming her wild heart
to the loving hand of him whom she had scorned, flouted, and misused,
"past the endurance of a block." And we are yet more completely won by
her generous enthusiastic attachment to her cousin. When the father of
Hero believes the tale of her guilt; when Claudio, her lover, without
remorse or a lingering doubt, consigns her to shame; when the Friar
remains silent, and the generous Benedick himself knows not what to say,
Beatrice, confident in her affections, and guided only by the impulses
of her own feminine heart, sees through the inconsistency, the
impossibility of the charge, and exclaims, without a moment's

    O, on my soul, my cousin is belied!

Schlegel, in his remarks on the play of "Much Ado about nothing," has
given us an amusing instance of that sense of reality with which we are
impressed by Shakspeare's characters. He says of Benedick and Beatrice,
as if he had known them personally, that the exclusive direction of
their pointed raillery against each other "is a proof of a growing
inclination." This is not unlikely; and the same inference would lead us
to suppose that this mutual inclination had commenced before the opening
of the play. The very first words uttered by Beatrice are an inquiry
after Benedick, though expressed with her usual arch impertinence:--

     I pray you, is Signior Montanto returned from the wars, or

     I pray you, how many hath he killed and eaten in these wars?
     But how many hath he killed? for indeed I promised to eat
     all of his killing.

And in the unprovoked hostility with which she falls upon him in his
absence, in the pertinacity and bitterness of her satire, there is
certainly great argument that he occupies much more of her thoughts than
she would have been willing to confess, even to herself. In the same
manner Benedick betrays a lurking partiality for his fascinating enemy;
he shows that he has looked upon her with no careless eye, when he says,

     There's her cousin, (meaning Beatrice,) an' she were not
     possessed with a fury, excels her as much in beauty as the
     first of May does the last of December.

Infinite skill, as well as humor, is shown in making this pair of airy
beings the exact counterpart of each other; but of the two portraits,
that of Benedick is by far the most pleasing, because the independence
and gay indifference of temper, the laughing defiance of love and
marriage, the satirical freedom of expression, common to both, are more
becoming to the masculine than to the feminine character. Any woman
might love such a cavalier as Benedick, and be proud of his affection;
his valor, his wit, and his gayety sit so gracefully upon him! and his
light scoffs against the power of love are but just sufficient to render
more piquant the conquest of this "heretic in despite of beauty." But a
man might well be pardoned who should shrink from encountering such a
spirit as that of Beatrice, unless, indeed, he had "served an
apprenticeship to the taming school." The wit of Beatrice is less
good-humored than that of Benedick; or, from the difference of sex,
appears so. It is observable that the power is throughout on her side,
and the sympathy and interest on his: which, by reversing the usual
order of things, seems to excite us _against the grain_, if I may use
such an expression. In all their encounters she constantly gets the
better of him, and the gentleman's wits go off halting, if he is not
himself fairly _hors de combat_. Beatrice, woman-like, generally has the
first word, and will have the last. Thus, when they first meet, she
begins by provoking the merry warfare:--

     I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick;
     nobody marks you.


     What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?


     Is it possible Disdain should die, while she hath such meet
     food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must
     convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.

It is clear that she cannot for a moment endure his neglect, and he can
as little tolerate her scorn. Nothing that Benedick addresses to
Beatrice personally can equal the malicious force of some of her
attacks upon him: he is either restrained by a feeling of natural
gallantry, little as she deserves the consideration due to her sex, (for
a female satirist ever places herself beyond the pale of such
forbearance,) or he is subdued by her superior volubility. He revenges
himself, however, in her absence: he abuses her with such a variety of
comic invective, and pours forth his pent-up wrath with such a ludicrous
extravagance and exaggeration, that he betrays at once how deep is his
mortification, and how unreal his enmity.

In the midst of all this tilting and sparring of their nimble and fiery
wits, we find them infinitely anxious for the good opinion of each
other, and secretly impatient of each other's scorn: but Beatrice is the
most truly indifferent of the two; the most assured of herself. The
comic effect produced by their mutual attachment, which, however natural
and expected, comes upon us with all the force of a surprise, cannot be
surpassed: and how exquisitely characteristic the mutual avowal!


     By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me.


     Do not swear by it, and eat it.


     I will swear by it that you love me; and I will make him eat
     it, that says, I love not you.


     Will you not eat your word?


     With no sauce that can be devised to it: I protest, I love


     Why, then, God forgive me!


     What offence, sweet Beatrice?


     You stayed me in a happy hour. I was about to protest, I
     loved you.


     And do it with all thy heart.


     I love you with so much of my heart, that there is none left
     to protest.

But here again the dominion rests with Beatrice, and she appears in a
less amiable light than her lover. Benedick surrenders his whole heart
to her and to his new passion. The revulsion of feeling even causes it
to overflow in an excess of fondness; but with Beatrice temper has still
the mastery. The affection of Benedick induces him to challenge his
intimate friend for her sake, but the affection of Beatrice does not
prevent her from risking the life of her lover.

The character of Hero is well contrasted with that of Beatrice, and
their mutual attachment is very beautiful and natural. When they are
both on the scene together, Hero has but little to say for herself:
Beatrice asserts the rule of a master spirit, eclipses her by her mental
superiority, abashes her by her raillery, dictates to her, answers for
her, and would fain inspire her gentle-hearted cousin with some of her
own assurance.

     Yes, faith; it is my cousin's duty to make a curtsey, and
     say, "Father, as it please you;" but yet, for all that,
     cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another
     curtsey, and, "Father, as it please me."

But Shakspeare knew well how to make one character subordinate to
another, without sacrificing the slightest portion of its effect; and
Hero, added to her grace and softness, and all the interest which
attaches to her as the sentimental heroine of the play, possesses an
intellectual beauty of her own. When she has Beatrice at an advantage,
she repays her with interest, in the severe, but most animated and
elegant picture she draws of her cousin's imperious character and
unbridled levity of tongue. The portrait is a little overcharged,
because administered as a corrective, and intended to be overheard.

    But nature never fram'd a woman's heart
    Of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice:
    Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes,
    Misprising what they look on; and her wit
    Values itself so highly, that to her
    All matter else seems weak; she cannot love,
    Nor take no shape nor project of affection,
    She is so self-endeared.


    Sure, sure, such carping is not commendable.


    No: not to be so odd, and from all fashions,
    As Beatrice is cannot be commendable:
    But who dare tell her so? If I should speak,
    She'd mock me into air: O she would laugh me
    Out of myself, press me to death with wit.
    Therefore let Benedick, like cover'd fire,
    Consume away in sighs, waste inwardly:
    It were a better death than die with mocks,
    Which is as bad as die with tickling.

Beatrice never appears to greater advantage than in her soliloquy after
leaving her concealment "in the pleached bower where honeysuckles,
ripened by the sun, forbid the sun to enter;" she exclaims, after
listening to this tirade against herself,--

    What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?
    Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much?

The sense of wounded vanity is lost in bitter feelings, and she is
infinitely more struck by what is said in praise of Benedick, and the
history of his supposed love for her than by the dispraise of herself.
The immediate success of the trick is a most natural consequence of the
self-assurance and magnanimity of her character; she is so accustomed to
assert dominion over the spirits of others, that she cannot suspect the
possibility of a plot laid against herself.

A haughty, excitable, and violent temper is another of the
characteristics of Beatrice; but there is more of impulse than of
passion in her vehemence. In the marriage scene where she has beheld her
gentle-spirited cousin,--whom she loves the more for those very
qualities which are most unlike her own,--slandered, deserted, and
devoted to public shame, her indignation, and the eagerness with which
she hungers and thirsts after revenge, are, like the rest of her
character, open, ardent, impetuous, but not deep or implacable. When she
bursts into that outrageous speech--

     Is he not approved in the height a villain that hath
     slandered, scorned, dishonored my kinswoman? O that I were a
     man! What! bear her in hand until they come to take hands;
     and then, with public accusation, uncovered slander,
     unmitigated rancor--O God, that I were a man! I would eat
     his heart in the market-place!

And when she commands her lover, as the first proof of his affection,
"to kill Claudio," the very consciousness of the exaggeration,--of the
contrast between the real good-nature of Beatrice and the fierce tenor
of her language, keeps alive the comic effect, mingling the ludicrous
with the serious. It is remarkable that, notwithstanding the point and
vivacity of the dialogue, few of the speeches of Beatrice are capable of
a general application, or engrave themselves distinctly on the memory;
they contain more mirth than matter; and though wit be the predominant
feature in the dramatic portrait, Beatrice more charms and dazzles us by
what she is than by what she _says_. It is not merely her sparkling
repartees and saucy jests, it is the soul of wit, and the spirit of
gayety in forming the whole character,--looking out from her brilliant
eyes, and laughing on her full lips that pout with scorn,--which we have
before us, moving and full of life. On the whole, we dismiss Benedick
and Beatrice to their matrimonial bonds rather with a sense of amusement
than a feeling of congratulation or sympathy; rather with an
acknowledgment that they are well-matched, and worthy of each other than
with any well-founded expectation of their domestic tranquillity. If, as
Benedick asserts, they are both "too wise to woo peaceably," it may be
added that both are too wise, too witty, and too wilful to live
peaceably together. We have some misgivings about Beatrice--some
apprehensions that poor Benedick will not escape the "predestinated
scratched face," which he had foretold to him who should win and wear
this quick-witted and pleasant-spirited lady; yet when we recollect that
to the wit and imperious temper of Beatrice is united a magnanimity of
spirit which would naturally place her far above all selfishness, and
all paltry struggles for power--when we perceive, in the midst of her
sarcastic levity and volubility of tongue, so much of generous
affection, and such a high sense of female virtue and honor, we are
inclined to hope the best. We think it possible that though the
gentleman may now and then swear, and the lady scold, the native
good-humor of the one, the really fine understanding of the other, and
the value they so evidently attach to each other's esteem, will ensure
them a tolerable portion of domestic felicity, and in this hope we leave


I come now to Rosalind, whom I should have ranked before Beatrice,
inasmuch as the greater degree of her sex's softness and sensibility,
united with equal wit and intellect, give her the superiority as a
woman; but that, as a dramatic character, she is inferior in force. The
portrait is one of infinitely more delicacy and variety, but of less
strength and depth. It is easy to seize on the prominent features in the
mind of Beatrice, but extremely difficult to catch and fix the more
fanciful graces of Rosalind. She is like a compound of essences, so
volatile in their nature, and so exquisitely blended, that on any
attempt to analyze them, they seem to escape us. To what else shall we
compare her, all-enchanting as she is?--to the silvery summer clouds
which, even while we gaze on them, shift their hues and forms dissolving
into air, and light, and rainbow showers?--to the May-morning, flush
with opening blossoms and roseate dews, and "charm of earliest
birds?"--to some wild and beautiful melody, such as some shepherd boy
might "pipe to Amarillis in the shade?"--to a mountain streamlet, now
smooth as a mirror in which the skies may glass themselves, and anon
leaping and sparkling in the sunshine--or rather to the very sunshine
itself? for so her genial spirit touches into life and beauty whatever
it shines on!

But this impression, though produced by the complete development of the
character, and in the end possessing the whole fancy, is not immediate.
The first introduction of Rosalind is less striking than interesting; we
see her a dependant, almost a captive, in the house of her usurping
uncle; her genial spirits are subdued by her situation, and the
remembrance of her banished father her playfulness is under a temporary

    I pray thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry!

_is_ an adjuration which Rosalind needed not when once at liberty, and
sporting "under the greenwood tree." The sensibility and even
pensiveness of her demeanor in the first instance, render her archness
and gayety afterwards, more graceful and more fascinating.

Though Rosalind is a princess, she is a princess of Arcady; and
notwithstanding the charming effect produced by her first scenes, we
scarcely ever think of her with a reference to them, or associate her
with a court, and the artificial appendages of her rank. She was not
made to "lord it o'er a fair mansion," and take state upon her like the
all-accomplished Portia; but to breathe the free air of heaven, and
frolic among green leaves. She was not made to stand the siege of daring
profligacy, and oppose high action and high passion to the assaults of
adverse fortune, like Isabel; but to "fleet the time carelessly as they
did i' the golden age." She was not made to bandy wit with lords, and
tread courtly measures with plumed and warlike cavaliers, like Beatrice;
but to dance on the green sward, and "murmur among living brooks a music
sweeter than their own."

Though sprightliness is the distinguishing characteristic of Rosalind,
as of Beatrice, yet we find her much more nearly allied to Portia in
temper and intellect. The tone of her mind is, like Portia's, genial and
buoyant: she has something, too, of her softness and sentiment; there is
the same confiding abandonment of self in her affections; but the
characters are otherwise as distinct as the situations are dissimilar.
The age, the manners, the circumstance in which Shakspeare has placed
his Portia, are not beyond the bounds of probability; nay, have a
certain reality and locality. We fancy her a contemporary of the
Raffaelles and the Ariostos; the sea-wedded Venice, its merchants and
Magnificos,--the Rialto, and the long canals,--rise up before us when we
think of her. But Rosalind is surrounded with the purely ideal and
imaginative; the reality is in the characters and in the sentiments, not
in the circumstances or situation. Portia is dignified, splendid, and
romantic; Rosalind is playful, pastoral, and picturesque: both are in
the highest degree poetical, but the one is epic and the other lyric.

Every thing about Rosalind breathes of "youth and youth's sweet prime."
She is fresh as the morning, sweet as the dew-awakened blossoms, and
light as the breeze that plays among them. She is as witty, as voluble,
as sprightly as Beatrice; but in a style altogether distinct. In both,
the wit is equally unconscious; but in Beatrice it plays about us like
the lightning, dazzling but also alarming; while the wit of Rosalind
bubbles up and sparkles like the living fountain, refreshing all around.
Her volubility is like the bird's song; it is the outpouring of a heart
filled to overflowing with life, love, and joy, and all sweet and
affectionate impulses. She has as much tenderness as mirth, and in her
most petulant raillery there is a touch of softness--"By this hand, it
will not hurt a fly!" As her vivacity never lessens our impression of
her sensibility, so she wears her masculine attire without the slightest
impugnment of her delicacy. Shakspeare did not make the modesty of his
women depend on their dress, as we shall see further when we come to
Viola and Imogen. Rosalind has in truth "no doublet and hose in her
disposition." How her heart seems to throb and flutter under her page's
vest! What depth of love in her passion for Orlando! whether disguised
beneath a saucy playfulness, or breaking forth with a fond impatience,
or half betrayed in that beautiful scene where she faints at the sight
of his 'kerchief stained with his blood! Here her recovery of her
self-possession--her fears lest she should have revealed her sex--her
presence of mind, and quick-witted excuse--

    I pray you, tell your brother how well I counterfeited.

and the characteristic playfulness which seems to return so naturally
with her recovered senses,--are all as amusing as consistent. Then how
beautifully is the dialogue managed between herself and Orlando! how
well she assumes the airs of a saucy page, without throwing off her
feminine sweetness! How her wit flutters free as air over every subject!
With what a careless grace, yet with what exquisite propriety!

    For innocence hath a privilege in her
    To dignify arch jests and laughing eyes.

And if the freedom of some of the expressions used by Rosalind or
Beatrice be objected to, let it be remembered that this was not the
fault of Shakspeare or the women, but generally of the age. Portia,
Beatrice, Rosalind, and the rest lived in times when more importance was
attached to things than to words; now we think more of words than of
things; and happy are we in these later days of super-refinement, if we
are to be saved by our verbal morality. But this is meddling with the
province of the melancholy Jaques, and our argument is Rosalind.

The impression left upon our hearts and minds by the character of
Rosalind--by the mixture of playfulness, sensibility, and what the
French (and we for lack of a better expression) call _naïveté_--is like
a delicious strain of music. There is a depth of delight, and a subtlety
of words to express that delight, which is enchanting. Yet when we call
to mind particular speeches and passages, we find that they have a
relative beauty and propriety, which renders it difficult to separate
them from the context without injuring their effect She says some of the
most charming things in the world, and some of the most humorous: but we
apply them as phrases rather than as maxims, and remember them rather
for their pointed felicity of expression and fanciful application, than
for their general truth and depth of meaning. I will give a few

     I was never so be-rhymed since Pythagoras' time--that I was
     an Irish rat--which I can hardly remember.[15]

     Good, my complexion! Dost thou think, though I am
     caparisoned like a man, that I have a doublet and hose in my

     We dwell here in the skirts of the forest, like fringe upon
     a petticoat.

     Love is merely a madness; and, I tell you, deserves as well
     a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why
     they are not so punished and cured is, that the lunacy is so
     ordinary that the whippers are in love too.

     A traveller! By my faith you have great reason to be sad. I
     fear you have sold your own lands to see other men's; then
     to have seen much and to have nothing, is to have rich eyes
     and poor hands.

     Farewell, Monsieur Traveller. Look you lisp, and wear
     strange suits; disable all the benefits of your own country;
     be out of love with your nativity, and almost chide God for
     making you that countenance you are; or I will scarce think
     you have swam in a gondola.

     Break an hour's promise in love! He that will divide a
     minute into a thousand parts, and break but a part of the
     thousandth part of a minute in the affairs of love, it may
     be said of him that Cupid hath clapp'd him o' the shoulder,
     but I warrant him heart-whole.

     Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten
     them--but not for love.

     I could find in my heart to disgrace my man's apparel, and
     to cry like a woman; but I must comfort the weaker vessel,
     as doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to

Rosalind has not the impressive eloquence of Portia, nor the sweet
wisdom of Isabella. Her longest speeches are not her best; nor is her
taunting address to Phebe, beautiful and celebrated as it is, equal to
Phebe's own description of her. The latter, indeed, is more in

Celia is more quiet and retired: but she rather yields to Rosalind, than
is eclipsed by her. She is as full of sweetness, kindness, and
intelligence, quite as susceptible, and almost as witty, though she
makes less display of wit. She is described as less fair and less
gifted; yet the attempt to excite in her mind a jealousy of her lovelier
friend, by placing them in comparison--

    Thou art a fool; she robs thee of thy name;
    And thou wilt show more bright, and seem more virtuous,
    When she is gone--

fails to awaken in the generous heart of Celia any other feeling than an
increased tenderness and sympathy for her cousin. To Celia, Shakspeare
has given some of the most striking and animated parts of the dialogue;
and in particular, that exquisite description of the friendship between
her and Rosalind--

            If she be a traitor,
    Why, so am I; we have still slept together,
    Rose at an instant, learned, played, eat together,
    And wheresoe'er we went, like Juno's swans,
    Still we were coupled and inseparable.

The feeling of interest and admiration thus excited for Celia at the
first, follows her through the whole play. We listen to her as to one
who has made herself worthy of our love; and her silence expresses more
than eloquence.

Phebe is quite an Arcadian coquette; she is a piece of pastoral poetry.
Audrey is only rustic. A very amusing effect is produced by the contrast
between the frank and free bearing of the two princesses in disguise,
and the scornful airs of the real Shepherdess. In the speeches of Phebe,
and in the dialogue between her and Sylvius, Shakspeare has anticipated
all the beauties of the Italian pastoral, and surpassed Tasso and
Guarini. We find two among the most poetical passages of the play
appropriated to Phebe; the taunting speech to Sylvius, and the
description of Rosalind in her page's costume;--which last is finer than
the portrait of Bathyllus in Anacreon.


[5] Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian artist of the seventeenth century,
painted one or two pictures, considered admirable as works of art, of
which the subjects are the most vicious and barbarous conceivable. I
remember one of these in the gallery of Florence, which I looked at
once, but once, and wished then, as I do now, for the privilege of
burning it to ashes.

[6] Lucy Ashton, in the Bride of Lammermoor, may be placed next to
Desdemona; Diana Vernon is (comparatively) a failure as every woman will
allow; while the masculine lady Geraldine in Miss Edgeworth's tale of
Ennui, and the intellectual Corinne are consistent, essential women; the
distinction is more easily felt than analyzed.

[7] Hazlitt's Essays, vol. ii. p. 167.

[8] I am informed that the original German word is _geistreiche_
literally, _rich in soul or spirit_, a just and beautiful epithet. 2d.

[9] In the "Mercatante di Venezia" of Ser. Giovanni, we have the whole
story of Antonio and Bassanio, and part of the story but not the
character of Portia. The incident of the caskets is from the Gesta

[10] In that age, delicate points of law were not determined by the
ordinary judges of the provinces, but by doctors of law, who were called
from Bologna, Padua, and other places celebrated for their legal

[11] Romeo and Juliet, Act ii. Scene 2

[12] Characters of Shakespeare's Plays.

[13] Act iv. Scene 5.

[14] _Use_, i. e. usury, interest.

[15] In Shakspeare's time, there were people In Ireland, (there may be
so still, for aught I know,) who undertook to charm rats to death, by
chanting certain verses which acted as a spell. "Rhyme them to death, as
they do rats in Ireland," is a line in one of Ben Jonson's comedies;
this will explain Rosalind's humorous allusion.

[16] Rousseau could describe such a character as Rosalind, but failed to
represent it consistently. "N'est-ce pas de ton coeur que viennent les
graces de ton enjouement? Tes railleries sont des signes d'intérêt plus
touchants que les compliments d'un autre. Tu caresses quand tu folâtres.
Tu ris, mais ton rire pénètre l'âme; tu ris, mais tu fais pleurer de
tendresse et je te vois presque toujours sérieuse avec les indifférents"



O Love! thou teacher'--O Grief! thou tamer--and Time, thou healer of
human hearts!--bring hither all your deep and serious revelations!--And
ye too, rich fancies of unbruised, unbowed youth--ye visions of long
perished hopes--shadows of unborn joys--gay colorings of the dawn of
existence! whatever memory hath treasured up of bright and beautiful in
nature or in art; all soft and delicate images--all lovely
forms--divinest voices and entrancing melodies--gleams of sunnier skies
and fairer climes,--Italian moonlights and airs that "breathe of the
sweet south,"--now, if it be possible, revive to my imagination--live
once more to my heart! Come, thronging around me, all inspirations that
wait on passion, on power, on beauty; give me to tread, not bold, and
yet unblamed, within the inmost sanctuary of Shakspeare's genius, in
Juliet's moonlight bower, and Miranda's enchanted isle!

       *       *       *       *       *

It is not without emotion, that I attempt to touch on the character of
Juliet. Such beautiful things have already been said of her--only to be
exceeded in beauty by the subject that inspired them!--it is impossible
to say any thing better; but it is possible to say something more. Such
in fact is the simplicity, the truth, and the loveliness of Juliet's
character, that we are not at first aware of its complexity, its depth,
and its variety. There is in it an intensity of passion, a singleness of
purpose, an entireness, a completeness of effect, which we feel as a
whole; and to attempt to analyze the impression thus conveyed at once to
soul and sense, is as if while hanging over a half-blown rose, and
revelling in its intoxicating perfume, we should pull it asunder,
leaflet by leaflet, the better to display its bloom and fragrance. Yet
how otherwise should we disclose the wonders of its formation, or do
justice to the skill of the divine hand that hath thus fashioned it in
its beauty?

Love, as a passion, forms the groundwork of the drama. Now, admitting
the axiom of Rochefoucauld, that there is but one love, though a
thousand different copies, yet the true sentiment itself has as many
different aspects as the human soul of which it forms a part. It is not
only modified by the individual character and temperament, but it is
under the influence of climate and circumstance. The love that is calm
in one moment, shall show itself vehement and tumultuous at another. The
love that is wild and passionate in the south, is deep and
contemplative in the north; as the Spanish or Roman girl perhaps poisons
a rival, or stabs herself for the sake of a living lover, and the German
or Russian girl pines into the grave for love of the false, the absent,
or the dead. Love is ardent or deep, bold or timid, jealous or
confiding, impatient or humble, hopeful or desponding--and yet there are
not many loves, but one love.

All Shakspeare's women, being essentially women, either love or have
loved, or are capable of loving; but Juliet is love itself. The passion
is her state of being, and out of it she has no existence. It is the
soul within her soul; the pulse within her heart; the life-blood along
her veins, "blending with every atom of her frame." The love that is so
chaste and dignified in Portia--so airy-delicate and fearless in
Miranda--so sweetly confiding in Perdita--so playfully fond in
Rosalind--so constant in Imogen--so devoted in Desdemona--so fervent in
Helen--so tender in Viola,--is each and all of these in Juliet. All
these remind us of her; but she reminds us of nothing but her own sweet
self; or if she does, it is of the Gismunda, or the Lisetta, or the
Fiammetta of Boccaccio, to whom she is allied, not in the character or
circumstances, but in the truly Italian spirit, the glowing, national
complexion of the portrait.[17]

There was an Italian painter who said that the secret of all effect in
color consisted in white upon black, and black upon white. How perfectly
did Shakspeare understand this secret of effect! and how beautifully he
has exemplified it in Juliet?

    So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
    As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows!

Thus she and her lover are in contrast with all around them. They are
all love, surrounded with all hate; all harmony, surrounded with all
discord: all pure nature, in the midst of polished and artificial life.
Juliet, like Portia, is the foster child of opulence and splendor; she
dwells in a fair city--she has been nurtured in a palace--she clasps her
robe with jewels--she braids her hair with rainbow-tinted pearls; but in
herself she has no more connection with the trappings around her, than
the lovely exotic, transplanted from some Eden-like climate, has with
the carved and gilded conservatory which has reared and sheltered its
luxuriant beauty.

But in this vivid impression of contrast, there is nothing abrupt or
harsh. A tissue of beautiful poetry weaves together the principal
figures, and the subordinate personages. The consistent truth of the
costume, and the exquisite gradations of relief with which the most
opposite hues are approximated, blend all into harmony. Romeo and Juliet
are not poetical beings placed on a prosaic background; nor are they,
like Thekla and Max in the Wallenstein, two angels of light amid the
darkest and harshest, the most debased and revolting aspects of
humanity; but every circumstance, and every personage, and every shade
of character in each, tends to the development of the sentiment which is
the subject of the drama. The poetry, too, the richest that can possibly
be conceived, is interfused through all the characters; the splendid
imagery lavished upon all with the careless prodigality of genius, and
the whole is lighted up into such a sunny brilliance of effect, as
though Shakspeare had really transported himself into Italy, and had
drunk to intoxication of her genial atmosphere. How truly it has been
said, that "although Romeo and Juliet are in love, they are not
love-sick!" What a false idea would anything of the mere whining
amoroso, give us of Romeo, such as he really is in Shakspeare--the
noble, gallant, ardent, brave, and witty! And Juliet--with even less
truth could the phrase or idea apply to her! The picture in "Twelfth
Night" of the wan girl dying of love, "who pined in thought, and with a
green and yellow melancholy," would never surely occur to us, when
thinking on the enamored and impassioned Juliet, in whose bosom love
keeps a fiery vigil, kindling tenderness into enthusiasm, enthusiasm
into passion, passion into heroism! No, the whole sentiment of the play
is of a far different cast. It is flushed with the genial spirit of the
south: it tastes of youth, and of the essence of youth; of life, and of
the very sap of life.[18] We have indeed the struggle of love against
evil destinies, and a thorny world; the pain, the grief, the anguish,
the terror, the despair; the aching adieu; the pang unutterable of
parted affection; and rapture, truth, and tenderness trampled into an
early grave: but still an Elysian grace lingers round the whole, and the
blue sky of Italy bends over all!

In the delineation of that sentiment which forms the groundwork of the
drama, nothing in fact can equal the power of the picture, but its
inexpressible sweetness and its perfect grace: the passion which has
taken possession of Juliet's whole soul, has the force, the rapidity,
the resistless violence of the torrent: but she is herself as "moving
delicate," as fair, as soft, as flexible as the willow that bends over
it, whose light leaves tremble even with the motion of the current which
hurries beneath them. But at the same time that the pervading sentiment
is never lost sight of, and is one and the same throughout, the
individual part of the character in all its variety is developed, and
marked with the nicest discrimination. For instance,--the simplicity of
Juliet is very different from the simplicity of Miranda: her innocence
is not the innocence of a desert island. The energy she displays does
not once remind us of the moral grandeur of Isabel, or the intellectual
power of Portia;--it is founded in the strength of passion, not in the
strength of character:--it is accidental rather than inherent, rising
with the tide of feeling or temper, and with it subsiding. Her romance
is not the pastoral romance of Perdita, nor the fanciful romance of
Viola; it is the romance of a tender heart and a poetical imagination.
Her inexperience is not ignorance: she has heard that there is such a
thing as falsehood, though she can scarcely conceive it. Her mother and
her nurse have perhaps warned her against flattering vows and man's
inconstancy; or she has even

    ----Turned the tale by Ariosto told,
    Of fair Olympia, loved and left, of old!

Hence that bashful doubt, dispelled almost as soon as felt--

              Ah, gentle Romeo!
    If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully.

That conscious shrinking from her own confession--

    Fain would I dwell on form; fain, fain deny
    What I have spoke!

The ingenuous simplicity of her avowal--

    Or if thou think'st I am too quickly won,
    I'll frown, and be perverse, and say thee nay,
    So thou wilt woo--but else, not for the world!
    In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond,
    And therefore thou may'st think my 'havior light,
    But trust me, gentleman, I'll prove more true
    Than those who have more cunning to be strange.

And the proud yet timid delicacy, with which she throws herself for
forbearance and pardon upon the tenderness of him she loves, even for
the love she bears him--

            Therefore pardon me,
    And not impute this yielding to light love,
    Which the dark night hath so discovered.

In the alternative, which she afterwards places before her lover with
such a charming mixture of conscious delicacy and girlish simplicity,
there is that jealousy of female honor which precept and education have
infused into her mind, without one real doubt of his truth, or the
slightest hesitation in her self-abandonment: for she does not even wait
to hear his asseverations;--

    But if thou mean'st not well, I do beseech thee
    To cease thy suit, and leave me to my grief.


    So thrive my soul--


    A thousand times, good night!

But all these flutterings between native impulses and maiden fears
become gradually absorbed, swept away, lost, and swallowed up in the
depth and enthusiasm of confiding love.

    My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
    My love as deep; the more I give to you
    The more I have--for both are _infinite_!

What a picture of the young heart, that sees no bound to its hopes, no
end to its affections! For "what was to hinder the thrilling tide of
pleasure which had just gushed from her heart, from flowing on without
stint or measure, but experience, which she was yet without? What was to
abate the transport of the first sweet sense of pleasure which her heart
had just tasted, but indifference, to which she was yet a stranger? What
was there to check the ardor of hope, of faith, of constancy, just
rising in her breast, but disappointment, which she had never yet

Lord Byron's Haidée is a copy of Juliet in the Oriental costume, but the
development is epic, not dramatic.[20]

I remember no dramatic character, conveying the same impression of
singleness of purpose, and devotion of heart and soul, except the Thekla
of Schiller's Wallenstein; she is the German Juliet; far unequal,
indeed, but conceived, nevertheless, in a kindred spirit. I know not if
critics have ever compared them, or whether Schiller is supposed to have
had the English, or rather the Italian, Juliet in his fancy when he
portrayed Thekla; but there are some striking points of coincidence,
while the national distinction in the character of the passion leaves to
Thekla a strong cast of originality.[21] The _Princess_ Thekla is, like
Juliet, the heiress of rank and opulence; her first introduction to us,
in her full dress and diamonds, does not impair the impression of her
softness and simplicity. We do not think of them, nor do we sympathize
with the complaint of her lover,--

    The dazzle of the jewels which played round you
    Hid the beloved from me.

We almost feel the reply of Thekla before she utters it,--

                            Then you saw me
    Not with your heart, but with your eyes!

The timidity of Thekla in her first scene, her trembling silence in the
commencement, and the few words she addresses to her mother, remind us
of the unobtrusive simplicity of Juliet's first appearance; but the
impression is different; the one is the shrinking violet, the other the
unexpanded rose-bud. Thekla and Max Piccolomini are, like Romeo and
Juliet, divided by the hatred of their fathers. The death of Max, and
the resolute despair of Thekla, are also points of resemblance; and
Thekla's complete devotion, her frank yet dignified abandonment of all
disguise, and her apology for her own unreserve, are quite in Juliet's

    I ought to be less open, ought to hide
    My heart more from thee--so decorum dictates:
    But where in this place wouldst thou seek for truth
    If in my mouth thou didst not find it?

The same confidence, innocence, and fervor of affection, distinguish
both heroines; but the love of Juliet is more vehement, the love of
Thekla is more calm, and reposes more on itself; the love of Juliet
gives us the idea of infinitude, and that of Thekla of eternity: the
love of Juliet flows on with an increasing tide, like the river pouring
to the ocean; and the love of Thekla stands unalterable, and enduring as
the rock. In the heart of Thekla love shelters as in a home; but in the
heart of Juliet he reigns a crowned king,--"he rides on its pants
triumphant!" As women, they would divide the loves and suffrages of
mankind, but not as dramatic characters: the moment we come to look
nearer, we acknowledge that it is indeed "rashness and ignorance to
compare Schiller with Shakspeare."[22] Thekla is a fine conception in
the German spirit, but Juliet is a lovely and palpable creation. The
coloring in which Schiller has arrayed his Thekla is pale, sombre,
vague, compared with the strong individual marking, the rich glow of
life and reality, which distinguish Juliet. One contrast in particular
has always struck me; the two beautiful speeches in the first interview
between Max and Thekla, that in which she describes her father's
astrological chamber, and that in which he replies with reflections on
the influence of the stars, are said to "form in themselves a fine
poem." They do so; but never would Shakspeare have placed such
extraneous description and reflection in the mouths of _his_ lovers.
Romeo and Juliet speak of themselves only; they see only themselves in
the universe, all things else are as an idle matter. Not a word they
utter, though every word is poetry--not a sentiment or description,
though dressed in the most luxuriant imagery, but has a direct relation
to themselves, or to the situation in which they are placed, and the
feelings that engross them: and besides, it may be remarked of Thekla,
and generally of all tragedy heroines in love, that, however beautifully
and distinctly characterized, we see the passion only under one or two
aspects at most, or in conflict with some one circumstance or contending
duty or feeling. In Juliet alone we find it exhibited under every
variety of aspect, and every gradation of feeling it could possibly
assume in a delicate female heart: as we see the rose, when passed
through the colors of the prism, catch and reflect every tint of the
divided ray, and still it is the same sweet rose.

I have already remarked the quiet manner in which Juliet steals upon us
in her first scene, as the serene, graceful girl, her feelings as yet
unawakened, and her energies all unknown to herself, and unsuspected by
others. Her silence and her filial deference are charming:--

    I'll look to like, if looking liking move;
    But no more deep will I endart mine eye,
    Than your consent shall give it strength to fly

Much in the same unconscious way we are impressed with an idea of her
excelling loveliness:--

    Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!

and which could make the dark vault of death "a feasting presence full
of light." Without any elaborate description, we behold Juliet, as she
is reflected in the heart of her lover, like a single bright star
mirrored in the bosom of a deep, transparent well. The rapture with
which he dwells on the "white wonder of her hand;" on her lips,

    That even in pure and vestal modesty
    Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin.

And then her eyes, "two of the fairest stars in all the heavens!" In his
exclamation in the sepulchre,

    Ah, dear Juliet, why art thou yet so fair!

there is life and death, beauty and horror, rapture and anguish
combined. The Friar's description of her approach,

                           O, so light a step
    Will ne'er wear out the everlasting flint!

and then her father's similitude,

    Death lies on her, like an untimely frost
    Upon the sweetest flower of all the field;--

all these mingle into a beautiful picture of youthful, airy, delicate
grace, feminine sweetness, and patrician elegance.

And our impression of Juliet's loveliness and sensibility is enhanced,
when we find it overcoming in the bosom of Romeo a previous love for
another. His visionary passion for the cold, inaccessible Rosaline,
forms but the prologue, the threshold, to the true--the real sentiment
which succeeds to it. This incident, which is found in the original
story, has been retained by Shakspeare with equal feeling and judgment;
and far from being a fault in taste and sentiment, far from prejudicing
us against Romeo, by casting on him, at the outset of the piece, the
stigma of inconstancy, it becomes, if properly considered, a beauty in
the drama, and adds a fresh stroke of truth to the portrait of the
lover. Why, after all, should we be offended at what does not offend
Juliet herself? for in the original story we find that her attention is
first attracted towards Romeo, by seeing him "fancy sick and pale of
cheer," for love of a cold beauty. We must remember that in those times
every young cavalier of any distinction devoted himself, at his first
entrance into the world, to the service of some fair lady, who was
selected to be his fancy's queen; and the more rigorous the beauty, and
the more hopeless the love, the more honorable the slavery. To go about
"metamorphosed by a mistress," as Speed humorously expresses it,[23]--to
maintain her supremacy in charms at the sword's point; to sigh; to walk
with folded arms; to be negligent and melancholy, and to show a careless
desolation, was the fashion of the day. The Surreys, the Sydneys, the
Bayards, the Herberts of the time--all those who were the mirrors "in
which the noble youth did dress themselves," were of this fantastic
school of gallantry--the last remains of the age of chivalry; and it was
especially prevalent in Italy. Shakspeare has ridiculed it in many
places with exquisite humor; but he wished to show us that it has its
serious as well as its comic aspect. Romeo, then, is introduced to us
with perfect truth of costume, as the thrall of a dreaming, fanciful
passion for the scornful Rosaline, who had forsworn to love; and on her
charms and coldness, and on the power of love generally, he descants to
his companions in pretty phrases, quite in the style and taste of the

    Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
    O any thing, of nothing first create!
    O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
    Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!

    Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs;
    Being purg'd, a fire sparkling in lover's eyes;
    Being vex'd, a sea nourish'd with lover's tears.

But when once he has beheld Juliet, and quaffed intoxicating draughts of
hope and love from her soft glance, how all these airy fancies fade
before the soul-absorbing reality! The lambent fire that played round
his heart, burns to that heart's very core. We no longer find him
adorning his lamentations in picked phrases, or making a confidant of
his gay companions: he is no longer "for the numbers that Petrarch
flowed in;" but all is consecrated, earnest, rapturous, in the feeling
and the expression. Compare, for instance, the sparkling antithetical
passages just quoted, with one or two of his passionate speeches to or
of Juliet:--

                          Heaven is here,
    Where Juliet lives! &c.

    Ah Juliet! if the measure of thy joy
    Be heaped like mine, and that thy skill be more
    To blazon it, then sweeten with thy breath
    This neighbour air, and let rich music's tongue
    Unfold the imagin'd happiness, that both
    Receive in either by this dear encounter.

    Come what sorrow may,
    It cannot countervail the exchange of joy
    That one short minute gives me in her sight.

How different! and how finely the distinction is drawn! His first
passion is indulged as a waking dream, a reverie of the fancy; it is
depressing, indolent, fantastic; his second elevates him to the third
heaven, or hurries him to despair. It rushes to its object through all
impediments, defies all dangers, and seeks at last a triumphant grave,
in the arms of her he so loved. Thus Romeo's previous attachment to
Rosaline is so contrived as to exhibit to us another variety in that
passion, which is the subject of the poem, by showing us the distinction
between the fancied and the real sentiment. It adds a deeper effect to
the beauty of Juliet; it interests us in the commencement for the tender
and romantic Romeo; and gives an individual reality to his character, by
stamping him like an historical, as well as a dramatic portrait, with
the very spirit of the age in which he lived.[25]

It may be remarked of Juliet as of Portia, that we not only trace the
component qualities in each as they expand before us in the course of
the action, but we seem to have known them previously, and mingle a
consciousness of their past, with the interest of their present and
their future. Thus, in the dialogue between Juliet and her parents, and
in the scenes with the Nurse, we seem to have before us the whole of her
previous education and habits: we see her, on the one hand, kept in
severe subjection by her austere parents; and on the other, fondled and
spoiled by a foolish old nurse--a situation perfectly accordant with the
manners of the time. Then Lady Capulet comes sweeping by with her train
of velvet, her black hood, her fan, and her rosary--the very
_beau-idéal_ of a proud Italian matron of the fifteenth century, whose
offer to poison Romeo in revenge for the death of Tybalt, stamps her
with one very characteristic trait of the age and country. Yet she loves
her daughter; and there is a touch of remorseful tenderness in her
lamentation over her, which adds to our impression of the timid softness
of Juliet, and the harsh subjection in which she has been kept:--

    But one, poor one!--one poor and loving child,
    But one thing to rejoice and solace in,
    And cruel death hath catched it from my sight!

Capulet, as the jovial, testy old man, the self willed, violent,
tyrannical father,--to whom his daughter is but a property, the appanage
of his house, and the object of his pride,--is equal as a portrait: but
both must yield to the Nurse, who is drawn with the most wonderful power
and discrimination. In the prosaic homeliness of the outline, and the
magical illusion of the coloring, she reminds us of some of the
marvellous Dutch paintings, from which, with all their coarseness, we
start back as from a reality. Her low humor, her shallow garrulity,
mixed with the dotage and petulance of age--her subserviency, her
secrecy, and her total want of elevated principle, or even common
honesty--are brought before us like a living and palpable truth.

Among these harsh and inferior spirits is Juliet placed; her haughty
parents, and her plebeian nurse, not only throw into beautiful relief
her own native softness and elegance, but are at once the cause and the
excuse of her subsequent conduct. She trembles before her stern mother
and her violent father: but, like a petted child, alternately cajoles
and commands her nurse. It is her old foster-mother who is the
confidante of her love. It is the woman who cherished her infancy, who
aids and abets her in her clandestine marriage. Do we not perceive how
immediately our impression of Juliet's character would have been
lowered, if Shakspeare had placed her in connection with any
common-place dramatic waiting-woman?--even with Portia's adroit Nerissa,
or Desdemona's Emilia? By giving her the Nurse for her confidante, the
sweetness and dignity of Juliet's character are preserved inviolate to
the fancy, even in the midst of all the romance and wilfulness of

The natural result of these extremes of subjection and independence, is
exhibited in the character of Juliet, as it gradually opens upon us. We
behold it in the mixture of self-will and timidity, of strength and
weakness, of confidence and reserve, which are developed as the action
of the play proceeds. We see it in the fond eagerness of the indulged
girl, for whose impatience the "nimblest of the lightning-winged loves"
had been too slow a messenger; in her petulance with her nurse; in those
bursts of vehement feeling, which prepare us for the climax of passion
at the catastrophe; in her invectives against Romeo, when she hears of
the death of Tybalt; in her indignation when the nurse echoes those
reproaches, and the rising of her temper against unwonted


    Shame come to Romeo!


              Blistered be thy tongue,
    For such a wish! he was not born to shame.

Then comes that revulsion of strong feeling, that burst of magnificent
exultation in the virtue and honor of her lover:--

    Upon _his_ brow Shame is ashamed to sit,
    For 'tis a throne where Honor may be crown'd
    Sole monarch of the universal earth!

And this, by one of those quick transitions of feeling which belong to
the character, is immediately succeeded by a gush of tenderness and

    Ah, poor my lord, what tongue shall smooth thy name,
    When I, thy three-hours' wife, have mangled it?

With the same admirable truth of nature, Juliet is represented as at
first bewildered by the fearful destiny that closes round her; reverse
is new and terrible to one nursed in the lap of luxury, and whose
energies are yet untried.

    Alack, alack, that heaven should practise stratagems
    Upon so soft a subject as myself.

While a stay remains to her amid the evils that encompass her, she
clings to it. She appeals to her father--to her mother--

    Good father, I beseech you on my knees,
    Hear me with patience but to speak one word!

       *   *   *   *

    Ah, sweet my mother, cast me not away!
    Delay this marriage for a month,--a week!

And, rejected by both, she throws herself upon her nurse in all the
helplessness of anguish, of confiding affection, of habitual

    O God! O nurse! how shall this be prevented?
    Some comfort, nurse!

The old woman, true to her vocation, and fearful lest her share in these
events should be discovered, counsels her to forget Romeo and marry
Paris; and the moment which unveils to Juliet the weakness and baseness
of her confidante, is the moment which reveals her to herself. She does
not break into upbraidings; it is no moment for anger; it is incredulous
amazement, succeeded by the extremity of scorn and abhorrence, which
take possession of her mind. She assumes at once and asserts all her own
superiority, and rises to majesty in the strength of her despair.


    Speakest thou from thy heart?


    Aye, and from my soul too;--or else
    Beshrew them both!



This final severing of all the old familiar ties of her childhood--

              Go, counsellor!
    Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain!

and the calm, concentrated force of her resolve,

    If all else fail,--myself have power to die;

have a sublime pathos. It appears to me also an admirable touch of
nature, considering the master-passion which, at this moment, rules in
Juliet's soul, that she is as much shocked by the nurse's dispraise of
her lover, as by her wicked, time-serving advice.

This scene is the crisis in the character; and henceforth we see Juliet
assume a new aspect. The fond, impatient, timid girl, puts on the wife
and the woman: she has learned heroism from suffering, and subtlety from
oppression. It is idle to criticize her dissembling submission to her
father and mother; a higher duty has taken place of that which she owed
to them; a more sacred tie has severed all others. Her parents are
pictured as they are, that no feeling for them may interfere in the
slightest degree with our sympathy for the lovers. In the mind of Juliet
there is no struggle between her filial and her conjugal duties, and
there ought to be none. The Friar, her spiritual director, dismisses her
with these instructions:--

    Go home,--be merry,--give consent
    To marry Paris;

and she obeys him. Death and suffering in every horrid form she is ready
to brave, without fear or doubt, "to live an unstained wife:" and the
artifice to which she has recourse, which she is even instructed to use,
in no respect impairs the beauty of the character; we regard it with
pain and pity; but excuse it, as the natural and inevitable consequence
of the situation in which she is placed. Nor should we forget, that the
dissimulation, as well as the courage of Juliet, though they spring from
passion, are justified by principle:--

    My husband is on earth, my faith in heaven;
    How shall my faith return again to earth,
    Unless that husband send it me from heaven?

In her successive appeals to her father, her mother, her nurse, and the
Friar, she seeks those remedies which would first suggest themselves to
a gentle and virtuous nature, and grasps her dagger only as the last
resource against dishonor and violated faith;--

    God join'd my heart with Romeo's,--thou our hands.
    And ere this hand, by thee to Romeo seal'd,
    Shall be the label to another deed,
    Or my true heart with treacherous revolt
    Turn to another,--_this_ shall slay them both!

Thus, in the very tempest and whirlwind of passion and terror,
preserving, to a certain degree, that moral and feminine dignity which
harmonizes with our best feelings, and commands our unreproved sympathy.

I reserve my remarks on the catastrophe, which demands separate
consideration; and return to trace from the opening, another and
distinguishing trait in Juliet's character.

In the extreme vivacity of her imagination, and its influence upon the
action, the language, the sentiments of the drama, Juliet resembles
Portia; but with this striking difference. In Portia, the imaginative
power, though developed in a high degree, is so equally blended with the
other intellectual and moral faculties, that it does not give us the
idea of excess. It is subject to her nobler reason; it adorns and
heightens all her feelings; it does not overwhelm or mislead them. In
Juliet, it is rather a part of her southern temperament, controlling and
modifying the rest of her character; springing from her sensibility,
hurried along by her passions, animating her joys, darkening her
sorrows, exaggerating her terrors, and, in the end, overpowering her
reason. With Juliet, imagination is, in the first instance, if not the
source, the medium of passion; and passion again kindles her
imagination. It is through the power of imagination that the eloquence
of Juliet is so vividly poetical; that every feeling, every sentiment
comes to her, clothed in the richest imagery, and is thus reflected from
her mind to ours. The poetry is not here the mere adornment, the outward
garnishing of the character; but its result, or rather blended with its
essence. It is indivisible from it, and interfused through it like
moonlight through the summer air. To particularize is almost impossible,
since the whole of the dialogue appropriated to Juliet is one rich
stream of imagery: she speaks in pictures and sometimes they are crowded
one upon another--thus in the balcony scene--

    I have no joy of this contract to-night:
    It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,
    Too like the lightning which doth cease to be
    Ere one can say it lightens.

    This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath,
    May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.


                         O for a falconer's voice
    To lure this tassel-gentle back again!
    Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud,
    Else would I tear the cave where Echo lies,
    And make her airy tongue more hoarse than mine
    With repetition of my Romeo's name.

Here there are three images in the course of six lines. In the same
scene, the speech of twenty-two lines, beginning,

    Thou know'st the mask of night is on my face,

contains but one figurative expression, _the mask of night_; and every
one reading this speech with the context, must have felt the peculiar
propriety of its simplicity, though perhaps without examining the cause
of an omission which certainly is not fortuitous. The reason lies in the
situation and in the feeling of the moment; where confusion, and
anxiety, and earnest self-defence predominate, the excitability and play
of the imagination would be checked and subdued for the time.

In the soliloquy of the second act, where she is chiding at the nurse's

    O she is lame! Love's heralds should be thoughts,
    That ten times faster glide than the sun's beams,
    Driving back shadows over low'ring hills:
    Therefore do nimble-pinioned doves draw Love,
    And therefore hath the wind-swift Cupid wings!

How beautiful! how the lines mount and float responsive to the sense!
She goes on--

    Had she affections, and warm youthful blood,
    She'd be as swift in motion as a ball;
    My words should bandy her to my sweet love,
    And his to me!

The famous soliloquy, "Gallop apace, ye fiery-footed steeds," teems with
luxuriant imagery. The fond adjuration, "Come night! come Romeo! _come
thou day in night_!" expresses that fulness of enthusiastic admiration
for her lover, which possesses her whole soul; but expresses it as only
Juliet could or would have expressed it,--in a bold and beautiful
metaphor. Let it be remembered, that, in this speech, Juliet is not
supposed to be addressing an audience, nor even a confidante; and I
confess I have been shocked at the utter want of taste and refinement in
those who, with coarse derision, or in a spirit of prudery, yet more
gross and perverse, have dared to comment on this beautiful "Hymn to the
Night," breathed out by Juliet in the silence and solitude of her
chamber. She is thinking aloud; it is the young heart "triumphing to
itself in words." In the midst of all the vehemence with which she calls
upon the night to bring Romeo to her arms, there is something so almost
infantine in her perfect simplicity, so playful and fantastic in the
imagery and language, that the charm of sentiment and innocence is
thrown over the whole; and her impatience, to use her own expression, is
truly that of "a child before a festival, that hath new robes and may
not wear them." It is at the very moment too that her whole heart and
fancy are abandoned to blissful anticipation, that the nurse enters with
the news of Romeo's banishment; and the immediate transition from
rapture to despair has a most powerful effect.

It is the same shaping spirit of imagination which, in the scene with
the Friar, heaps together all images of horror that ever hung upon a
troubled dream.

    O bid me leap, rather than marry Paris,
    From off the battlements of yonder tower,
    Or walk in thievish ways; or bid me lurk
    Where serpents are--chain me with roaring bears,
    Or shut me nightly in a charnel-house
    O'ercovered quite with dead men's rattling bones;
    Or bid me go into a new made grave;
    Or hide me with a dead man in his shroud;--
    Things that to hear them told have made me tremble

But she immediately adds,--

    And I will do it without fear or doubt,
    To live an unstained wife to my sweet love!

In the scene where she drinks the sleeping potion, although her spirit
does not quail, nor her determination falter for an instant, her vivid
fancy conjures up one terrible apprehension after another, till
gradually, and most naturally in such a mind once thrown off its poise,
the horror rises to frenzy--her imagination realizes its own hideous
creations, and she _sees_ her cousin Tybalt's ghost.[26]

In particular passages this luxuriance of fancy may seem to wander into
excess. For instance,--

    O serpent heart, hid with a flowery face!
    Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
    Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!
    Dove-feather'd raven! wolfish ravening lamb, &c.

Yet this highly figurative and antithetical exuberance of language is
defended by Schlegel on strong and just grounds; and to me also it
appears natural, however critics may argue against its taste or
propriety.[27] The warmth and vivacity of Juliet's fancy, which plays
like a light over every part of her character--which animates every line
she utters--which kindles every thought into a picture, and clothes her
emotions in visible images, would naturally, under strong and unusual
excitement, and in the conflict of opposing sentiments, run into some
extravagance of diction.[28]

With regard to the termination of the play, which has been a subject of
much critical argument, it is well known that Shakspeare, following the
old English versions, has departed from the original story of Da
Porta;[29] and I am inclined to believe that Da Porta, in making Juliet
waken from her trance while Romeo yet lives, and in his terrible final
scene between the lovers, has himself departed from the old tradition,
and, as a romance, has certainly improved it; but that which is
effective in a narrative, is not always calculated for the drama, and I
cannot but agree with Schlegel, that Shakspeare has done well and wisely
in adhering to the old story. Can we doubt for a moment that he who has
given us the catastrophe of Othello, and the tempest scene in Lear,
might also have adopted these additional circumstances of horror in the
fate of the lovers, and have so treated them as to harrow up our very
soul--had it been his object to do so? But apparently it was _not_. The
tale is one,

    Such as, once heard, in gentle heart destroys
    All pain but pity.

It is in truth a tale of love and sorrow, not of anguish and terror. We
behold the catastrophe afar off with scarcely a wish to avert it. Romeo
and Juliet _must_ die; their destiny is fulfilled; they have quaffed off
the cup of life, with all its infinite of joys and agonies, in one
intoxicating draught. What have they to do more upon this earth? Young,
innocent, loving and beloved, they descend together into the tomb: but
Shakspeare has made that tomb a shrine of martyred and sainted affection
consecrated for the worship of all hearts,--not a dark charnel vault,
haunted by spectres of pain, rage, and desperation. Romeo and Juliet are
pictured lovely in death as in life; the sympathy they inspire does not
oppress us with that suffocating sense of horror, which in the altered
tragedy makes the fall of the curtain a relief; but all pain is lost in
the tenderness and poetic beauty of the picture. Romeo's last speech
over his bride is not like the raving of a disappointed boy: in its deep
pathos, its rapturous despair, its glowing imagery, there is the very
luxury of life and love. Juliet, who had drunk off the sleeping potion
in a fit of frenzy, wakes calm and collected--

    I do remember well where I should be,
    And there I am--Where is my Romeo?

The profound slumber in which her senses have been steeped for so many
hours has tranquillized her nerves, and stilled the fever in her blood;
she wakes "like a sweet child who has been dreaming of something
promised to it by its mother," and opens her eyes to ask for it--

    ... Where is my Romeo?

she is answered at once,--

    Thy husband in thy bosom here lies dead.

This is enough: she sees at once the whole horror of her situation--she
sees it with a quiet and resolved despair--she utters no reproach
against the Friar--makes no inquiries, no complaints, except that
affecting remonstrance--

    O churl--drink all, and leave no friendly drop
    To help me after!

All that is left to her is to die, and she dies. The poem, which opened
with the enmity of the two families, closes with their reconciliation
over the breathless remains of their children; and no violent,
frightful, or discordant feeling is suffered to mingle with that soft
impression of melancholy left within the heart, and which Schlegel
compares to one long, endless sigh.

"A youthful passion," says Goëthe, (alluding to one of his own early
attachments,) "which is conceived and cherished without any certain
object, may be compared to a shell thrown from a mortar by night: it
rises calmly in a brilliant track, and seems to mix, and even to dwell
for a moment, with the stars of heaven; but at length it falls--it
bursts--consuming and destroying all around, even as itself expires."

       *       *       *       *       *

To conclude: love, considered under its poetical aspect, is the union of
passion and imagination and accordingly, to one of these, or to both,
all the qualities of Juliet's mind and heart (unfolding and varying as
the action of the drama proceeds) may be finally traced; the former
concentrating all those natural impulses, fervent affections and high
energies, which lend the character its internal charm, its moral power
and individual interest: the latter diverging from all those splendid
and luxuriant accompaniments which invest it with its external glow, its
beauty, its vigor, its freshness, and its truth.

With all this immense capacity of affection and imagination, there is a
deficiency of reflection and of moral energy arising from previous habit
and education: and the action of the drama, while it serves to develope
the character, appears but its natural and necessary result. "Le mystère
de l'existence," said Madame de Staël to her daughter, "c'est le rapport
de nos erreurs avec nos peines."


In the character of Juliet we have seen the passionate and the
imaginative blended in an equal degree, and in the highest conceivable
degree as combined with delicate female nature. In Helena we have a
modification of character altogether distinct; allied, indeed, to Juliet
as a picture of fervent, enthusiastic, self-forgetting love, but
differing wholly from her in other respects; for Helen is the union of
strength of passion with strength of character.

"To be tremblingly alive to gentle impressions, and yet be able to
preserve, when the prosecution of a design requires it, an immovable
heart amidst even the most imperious causes of subduing emotion, is
perhaps not an impossible constitution of mind, but it is the utmost and
rarest endowment of humanity."[30] Such a character, almost as difficult
to delineate in fiction as to find in real life, has Shakspeare given us
in Helena; touched with the most soul-subduing pathos, and developed
with the most consummate skill.

Helena, as a woman, is more passionate than imaginative; and, as a
character, she bears the same relation to Juliet that Isabel bears to
Portia. There is equal unity of purpose and effect, with much less of
the glow of imagery and the external coloring of poetry in the
sentiments, language, and details. It is passion developed under its
most profound and serious aspect; as in Isabella, we have the serious
and the thoughtful, not the brilliant side of intellect. Both Helena and
Isabel are distinguished by high mental powers, tinged with a melancholy
sweetness; but in Isabella the serious and energetic part of the
character is founded in religious principle; in Helena it is founded in
deep passion.

There never was, perhaps, a more beautiful picture of a woman's love,
cherished in secret, not self-consuming in silent languishment--not
pining in thought--not passive and "desponding over its idol"--but
patient and hopeful, strong in its own intensity, and sustained by its
own fond faith. The passion here reposes upon itself for all its
interest; it derives nothing from art or ornament or circumstance; it
has nothing of the picturesque charm or glowing romance of Juliet;
nothing of the poetical splendor of Portia, or the vestal grandeur of
Isabel. The situation of Helena is the most painful and degrading in
which a woman can be placed. She is poor and lowly; she loves a man who
is far her superior in rank, who repays her love with indifference, and
rejects her hand with scorn. She marries him against his will; he leaves
her with contumely on the day of their marriage, and makes his return to
her arms depend on conditions apparently impossible.[31] All the
circumstances and details with which Helena is surrounded, are shocking
to our feelings and wounding to our delicacy: and yet the beauty of the
character is made to triumph over all: and Shakspeare, resting for all
his effect on its internal resources and its genuine truth and
sweetness, has not even availed himself of some extraneous advantages
with which Helen is represented in the original story. She is the
Giletta di Narbonna of Boccaccio. In the Italian tale, Giletta is the
daughter of a celebrated physician attached to the court of Roussillon;
she is represented as a rich heiress, who rejects many suitors of worth
and rank, in consequence of her secret attachment to the young Bertram
de Roussillon. She cures the King of France of a grievous distemper, by
one of her fathers prescriptions; and she asks and receives as her
reward the young Count of Roussillon as her wedded husband. He forsakes
her on their wedding day, and she retires, by his order, to his
territory of Roussillon. There she is received with honor, takes state
upon her in her husband's absence as the "lady of the land," administers
justice, and rules her lord's dominions so wisely and so well, that she
is universally loved and reverenced by his subjects. In the mean time,
the Count, instead of rejoining her, flies to Tuscany, and the rest of
the story is closely followed in the drama. The beauty, wisdom, and
royal demeanor of Giletta are charmingly described, as well as her
fervent love for Bertram. But Helena, in the play, derives no dignity or
interest from place or circumstance, and rests for all our sympathy and
respect solely upon the truth and intensity of her affections. She is
indeed represented to us as one

    Whose beauty did astonish the survey
    Of richest eyes: whose words all ears took captive;
    Whose dear perfection, hearts that scorn'd to serve.
    Humbly called mistress.

As her dignity is derived from mental power, without any alloy of pride,
so her humility has a peculiar grace. If she feels and repines over her
lowly birth, it is merely as an obstacle which separates her from the
man she loves. She is more sensible to his greatness than her own
littleness: she is continually looking from herself up to him, not from
him down to herself. She has been bred up under the same roof with him;
she has adored him from infancy. Her love is not "th' infection taken in
at the eyes," nor kindled by youthful romance: it appears to have taken
root in her being; to have grown with her years; and to have gradually
absorbed all her thoughts and faculties, until her fancy "carries no
favor in it but Bertram's," and "there is no living, none, if Bertram be

It may be said that Bertram, arrogant, wayward, and heartless, does not
justify this ardent and deep devotion. But Helena does not behold him
with our eyes; but as he is "sanctified in her idolatrous fancy." Dr.
Johnson says he cannot reconcile himself to a man who marries Helena
like a coward, and leaves her like a profligate. This is much too
severe; in the first place, there is no necessity that we _should_
reconcile ourselves to him. In this consists a part of the wonderful
beauty of the character of Helena--a part of its womanly truth, which
Johnson, who accuses Bertram, and those who so plausibly defend him, did
not understand. If it never happened in real life, that a woman, richly
endued with heaven's best gifts, loved with all her heart, and soul, and
strength, a man unequal to or unworthy of her, and to whose faults
herself alone was blind--I would give up the point: but if it be in
nature, why should it not be in Shakspeare? We are not to look into
Bertram's character for the spring and source of Helena's love for him,
but into her own. She loves Bertram,--because she loves him!--a woman's
reason,--but here, and sometimes elsewhere, all-sufficient.

And although Helena tells herself that she loves in vain, a conviction
stronger than reason tells her that she does not: her love is like a
religion, pure, holy, and deep: the blessedness to which she has lifted
her thoughts is forever before her; to despair would be a crime,--it
would be to cast herself away and die. The faith of her affection,
combining with the natural energy of her character, believing all things
possible makes them so. It could say to the mountain of pride which
stands between her and her hopes, "Be thou removed!" and it is removed.
This is the solution of her behavior in the marriage scene, where
Bertram, with obvious reluctance and disdain, accepts her hand, which
the king, his feudal lord and guardian, forces on him. Her maidenly
feeling is at first shocked, and she shrinks back--

    That you are well restor'd, my lord, I am glad:
    Let the rest go.

But shall she weakly relinquish the golden opportunity, and dash the cup
from her lips at the moment it is presented? Shall she cast away the
treasure for which she has ventured both life and honor, when it is just
within her grasp? Shall she, after compromising her feminine delicacy by
the public disclosure of her preference, be thrust back into shame, "to
blush out the remainder of her life," and die a poor, lost, scorned
thing? This would be very pretty and interesting and characteristic in
Viola or Ophelia, but not at all consistent with that high determined
spirit, that moral energy, with which Helena is portrayed. Pride is the
only obstacle opposed to her. She is not despised and rejected as a
woman, but as a poor physician's daughter; and this, to an understanding
so clear, so strong, so just as Helena's, is not felt as an unpardonable
insult. The mere pride of rank and birth is a prejudice of which she
cannot comprehend the force, because her mind towers so immeasurably
above it; and, compared to the infinite love which swells within her own
bosom, it sinks into nothing. She cannot conceive that he, to whom she
has devoted her heart and truth, her soul, her life, her service, must
not one day love her in return; and once her own beyond the reach of
fate, that her cares, her caresses, her unwearied patient tenderness,
will not at last "win her lord to look upon her"--

    ... For time will bring on summer,
    When briars shall have leaves as well as thorns,
    And be as sweet as sharp.

It is this fond faith which, hoping all things, enables her to endure
all things:--which hallows and dignifies the surrender of her woman's
pride, making it a sacrifice on which virtue and love throw a mingled

The scene in which the Countess extorts from Helen the confession of her
love, must, as an illustration, be given here. It is perhaps, the finest
in the whole play, and brings out all the striking points of Helen's
character, to which I have already alluded. We must not fail to remark,
that though the acknowledgment is wrung from her with an agony which
seems to convulse her whole being, yet when once she has given it solemn
utterance, she recovers her presence of mind, and asserts her native
dignity. In her justification of her feelings and her conduct, there is
neither sophistry, nor self-deception, nor presumption, but a noble
simplicity, combined with the most impassioned earnestness; while the
language naturally rises in its eloquent beauty, as the tide of feeling,
now first let loose from the bursting heart, comes pouring forth in
words. The whole scene is wonderfully beautiful.


    What is your pleasure, madam?


    You know, Helen, I am a mother to you.


    Mine honorable mistress.


                       Nay, a mother;
    Why not a mother? When I said a mother,
    Methought you saw a serpent: what's in mother,
    That you start at it? I say, I am your mother:
    And put you in the catalogue of those
    That were enwombed mine: 'tis often seen,
    Adoption strives with nature; and choice breeds
    A native slip to us from foreign seeds.
    You ne'er oppress'd me with a mother's groan,
    Yet I express to you a mother's care;--
    God's mercy, maiden! does it curd thy blood,
    To say, I am thy mother? What's the matter
    That this distempered messenger of wet,
    The many-color'd Iris, rounds thine eye?
    Why?--that you are my daughter?


                   That I am not.


    I say, I am your mother.


                    Pardon, madam:
    The Count Roussillon cannot be my brother:
    I am from humble, he from honor'd name;
    No note upon my parents, his all noble:
    My master, my dear lord he is: and I
    His servant live, and will his vassal die:
    He must not be my brother.


                Nor I your mother?


    You are my mother, madam; would you were
    (So that my lord, your son, were not my brother,)
    Indeed my mother, or, were you both our mothers,
    I care no more for, than I do for Heaven,[32]
    So I were not his sister; can't no other,
    But I, your daughter, he must be my brother?


    Yes, Helen, you might be my daughter-in-law;
    God shield, you mean it not! daughter and mother
    So strive upon your pulse: what, pale again?
    My fear hath catch'd your fondness: now I see
    The mystery of your loneliness, and find
    Your salt tears' head. Now to all sense 'tis gross
    You love my son; invention is asham'd,
    Against the proclamation of thy passion,
    To say, thou dost not: therefore tell me true;
    But tell me, then, 'tis so:--for, look, thy cheeks
    Confess it, one to the other.
                               Speak, is't so?
    If it be so, you have wound a goodly clue!
    If it be not, forswear't: howe'er, I charge thee,
    As heaven shall work in me for thy avail,
    To tell me truly.


               Good madam, pardon me!


    Do you love my son?


                    Your pardon, noble mistress!


    Love you my son?


                   Do not you love him, madam?


    Go not about; my love hath in't a bond,
    Whereof the world takes note: come, come, disclose
    The state of your affection; for your passions
    Have to the full appeach'd.


                  Then I confess
    Here on my knee, before high heaven and you,
    That before you, and next unto high heaven,
    I love your son:--
    My friends were poor, but honest; so's my love
    Be not offended; for it hurts not him,
    That he is loved of me; I follow him not
    By any token of presumptuous suit;
    Nor would I have him till I do deserve him:
    Yet never know how that desert should be.
    I know I love in vain; strive against hope;
    Yet, in this captious and untenable sieve,
    I still pour in the waters of my love,
    And lack not to love still: thus, Indian-like,
    Religious in mine error, I adore
    The sun that looks upon his worshipper,
    But knows of him no more. My dearest madam,
    Let not your hate encounter with my love,
    For loving where you do: but, if yourself,
    Whose aged honor cites a virtuous youth,
    Did ever in so true a flame of liking,
    Wish chastely, and love dearly, that your Dian
    Was both herself and love; O then give pity
    To her, whose state is such, that cannot choose
    But lend and give, where she is sure to lose;
    That seeks not to find that her search implies,
    But, riddle-like, lives sweetly where she dies.

This old Countess of Roussillon is a charming sketch. She is like one of
Titian's old women, who still, amid their wrinkles, remind us of that
soul of beauty and sensibility, which must have animated them when
young. She is a fine contrast to Lady Capulet--benign, cheerful, and
affectionate; she has a benevolent enthusiasm, which neither age, nor
sorrow, nor pride can wear away. Thus, when she is brought to believe
that Helen nourishes a secret attachment for her son, she observes--

    Even so it was with me when I was young!
                                This thorn
    Doth to our rose of youth rightly belong,
    It is the show and seal of nature's truth,
    When love's strong passion is impress'd in youth.

Her fond, maternal love for Helena, whom she has brought up: her pride
in her good qualities overpowering all her own prejudices of rank and
birth, are most natural in such a mind; and her indignation against her
son, however strongly expressed, never forgets the mother.

                        What angel shall
    Bless this unworthy husband? he cannot thrive
    Unless _her_ prayers, whom heaven delights to hear
    And loves to grant, reprieve him from the wrath
    Of greatest justice.
                        Which of them both
    Is dearest to me--I have no skill in sense
    To make distinction.

This is very skilfully, as well as delicately conceived. In rejecting
those poetical and accidental advantages which Giletta possesses in the
original story, Shakspeare has substituted the beautiful character of
the Countess; and he has contrived, that, as the character of Helena
should rest for its internal charm on the depth of her own affections,
so it should depend for its _external_ interest on the affection she
inspires. The enthusiastic tenderness of the old Countess, the
admiration and respect of the King, Lafeu, and all who are brought in
connection with her, make amends for the humiliating neglect of Bertram;
and cast round Helen that collateral light, which Giletta in the story
owes to other circumstances, striking indeed, and well imagined, but not
(I think) so finely harmonizing with the character.

It is also very natural that Helen, with the intuitive discernment of a
pure and upright mind, and the penetration of a quick-witted woman,
should be the first to detect the falsehood and cowardice of the boaster
Parolles, who imposes on every one else.

It has been remarked, that there is less of poetical imagery in this
play than in many of the others. A certain solidity in Helen's character
takes place of the ideal power; and with consistent truth of keeping,
the same predominance of feeling over fancy, of the reflective over the
imaginative faculty, is maintained through the whole dialogue. Yet the
finest passages in the serious scenes are those appropriated to her;
they are familiar and celebrated as quotations, but fully to understand
their beauty and truth, they should be considered relatively to her
character and situation; thus, when in speaking of Bertram, she says,
"that he is one to whom she wishes well," the consciousness of the
disproportion between her words and her feelings draws from her this
beautiful and affecting observation, so just in itself, and so true to
her situation, and to the sentiment which fills her whole heart:--

                            'Tis pity
    That wishing well had not a body in't
    Which might be felt: that we the poorer born,
    Whose baser stars do shut us up in wishes,
    Might with effects of them follow our friends,
    And act what we must only think, which never
    Returns us thanks.

Some of her general reflections have a sententious depth and a
contemplative melancholy, which remind us of Isabella:--

    Our remedies oft in themselves do lie
    Which we ascribe to heaven; the fated sky
    Gives us free scope; only doth backward pull
    Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull.

    Impossible be strange events to those
    That weigh their pains in sense; and do suppose
    What hath been cannot be.

    He that of greatest works is finisher,
    Oft does them by the weakest minister;
    So holy writ in babes hath judgment shown,
    When judges have been babes.

    Oft expectation fails, and most oft there
    Where most it promises; and oft it hits,
    Where hope is coldest, and despair most sits.

Her sentiments in the same manner are remarkable for the union of
profound sense with the most passionate feeling; and when her language
is figurative, which is seldom, the picture presented to us is
invariably touched either with a serious, a lofty, or a melancholy
beauty. For instance:--

                It were all one
    That I should love a bright particular star,
    And think to wed it--he's so far above me.

And when she is brought to choose a husband from among the young lords
at the court, her heart having already made its election, the
strangeness of that very privilege for which she had ventured all,
nearly overpowers her, and she says beautifully:--

    The blushes on my cheeks thus whisper me,
    "We blush that thou shouldst choose;--but be refused,
    Let the white death sit on that cheek for ever
    We'll ne'er come there again!"

In her soliloquy after she has been forsaken by Bertram, the beauty lies
in the intense feeling, the force and simplicity of the expressions.
There is little imagery, and wherever it occurs, it is as bold as it is
beautiful, and springs out of the energy of the sentiment, and the
pathos of the situation. She has been reading his cruel letter.

    _Till I have no wife I have nothing in France._
    'Tis bitter!
    Nothing in France, until he has no wife!
    Thou shalt have none, Roussillon, none in France,
    Then hast thou all again. Poor lord! is't I
    That chase thee from thy country, and expose
    Those tender limbs of thine to the event
    Of the none-sparing war? And is it I
    That drive thee from the sportive court, where thou
    Wast shot at with fair eyes, to be the mark
    Of smoky muskets? O you leaden messengers,
    That ride upon the violent speed of fire,
    Fly with false aim! move the still-piercing air,
    That sings with piercing, do not touch my lord!
    Whoever shoots at him, I set him there;
    Whoever charges on his forward breast,
    I am the caitiff that do hold him to it;
    And though I kill him not, I am the cause
    His death was so effected; better 'twere
    I met the ravin lion when he roared
    With sharp constraint of hunger; better 'twere
    That all the miseries which nature owes,
    Were mine at once.

                          No, no, although
    The air of paradise did fan the house,
    And angels officed all; I will be gone.

Though I cannot go the length of those who have defended Bertram on
almost every point, still I think the censure which Johnson has passed
on the character is much too severe. Bertram is certainly not a pattern
hero of romance, but full of faults such as we meet with every day in
men of his age and class. He is a bold, ardent, self-willed youth, just
dismissed into the world from domestic indulgence, with an excess of
aristocratic and military pride, but not without some sense of true
honor and generosity. I have lately read a defence of Bertram's
character, written with much elegance and plausibility. "The young
Count," says this critic, "comes before us possessed of a good heart,
and of no mean capacity, but with a haughtiness which threatens to dull
the kinder passions, and to cloud the intellect. This is the inevitable
consequence of an illustrious education. The glare of his birthright has
dazzled his young faculties. Perhaps the first words he could
distinguish were from the important nurse, giving elaborate directions
about his lordship's pap. As soon as he could walk, a crowd of
submissive vassals doffed their caps, and hailed his first appearance on
his legs. His spelling book had the arms of the family emblazoned on the
cover. He had been accustomed to hear himself called the great, the
mighty son of Roussillon, ever since he was a helpless child. A
succession of complacent tutors would by no means destroy the illusion;
and it is from their hands that Shakspeare receives him, while yet in
his minority. An overweening pride of birth is Bertram's great foible.
To cure him of this, Shakspeare sends him to the wars, that he may win
fame for himself, and thus exchange a shadow for a reality. There the
great dignity that his valor acquired for him places him on an equality
with any one of his ancestors, and he is no longer beholden to them
alone for the world's observance. Thus in his own person he discovers
there is something better than mere hereditary honors; and his heart is
prepared to acknowledge that the entire devotion of a Helen's love is of
more worth than the court-bred smiles of a princess."[33]

It is not extraordinary that, in the first instance, his spirit should
revolt at the idea of marrying his mother's "waiting gentlewoman," or
that he should refuse her; yet when the king, his feudal lord, whose
despotic authority was in this case legal and indisputable, threatens
him with the extremity of his wrath and vengeance, that he should submit
himself to a hard necessity, was too consistent with the manners of the
time to be called _cowardice_. Such forced marriages were not uncommon
even in our own country, when the right of wardship, now vested in the
Lord Chancellor, was exercised with uncontrolled and often cruel
despotism by the sovereign.

There is an old ballad, in which the king bestows a maid of low degree
on a noble of his court, and the undisguised scorn and reluctance of the
knight and the pertinacity of the lady, are in point.

    He brought her down full forty pound
      Tyed up within a glove,
    "Fair maid, I'll give the same to thee,
      Go seek another love."

    "O I'll have none of your gold," she said,
      "Nor I'll have none of your fee;
    But your fair bodye I must have,
      The king hath granted me."

    Sir William ran and fetched her then,
      Five hundred pounds in gold,
    Saying, "Fair maid, take this to thee,
      My fault will ne'er be told."

    "'Tis not the gold that shall me tempt,"
      These words then answered she;
    "But your own bodye I must have,
      The king hath granted me."

    "Would I had drank the water clear,
      When I did drink the wine,
    Rather than my shepherd's brat
      Should be a ladye of mine!"[34]

Bertram's disgust at the tyranny which has made his freedom the payment
of another's debt, which has united him to a woman whose merits are not
towards him--whose secret love, and long-enduring faith, are yet unknown
and untried--might well make his bride distasteful to him. He flies her
on the very day of their marriage, most like a wilful, haughty, angry
boy, but not like a profligate. On other points he is not so easily
defended; and Shakspeare, we see, has not defended, but corrected him.
The latter part of the play is more perplexing than pleasing. We do not,
indeed, repine with Dr. Johnson, that Bertram, after all his
misdemeanors, is "dismissed to happiness;" but, not withstanding the
clever defence that has been made for him, he has our pardon rather than
our sympathy; and for mine own part, I could find it easier to love
Bertram as Helena does, than to excuse him; her love for him is his best


In Viola and Perdita the distinguishing traits are the same--sentiment
and elegance; thus we associate them together, though nothing can be
more distinct to the fancy than the Doric grace of Perdita, compared to
the romantic sweetness of Viola. They are created out of the same
materials, and are equal to each other in the tenderness, delicacy, and
poetical beauty of the conception. They are both more imaginative than
passionate; but Perdita is the more imaginative of the two. She is the
union of the pastoral and romantic with the classical and poetical, as
if a dryad of the woods had turned shepherdess. The perfections with
which the poet has so lavishly endowed her, sit upon her with a certain
careless and picturesque grace, "as though they had fallen upon her
unawares." Thus Belphoebe, in the Fairy Queen, issues from the
flowering forest with hair and garments all besprinkled with the leaves
and blossoms they had entangled in their flight; and so arrayed by
chance and "heedless hap," takes all hearts with "stately presence and
with princely port,"--most like to Perdita!

The story of Florizel and Perdita is but an episode in the "Winter's
Tale;" and the character of Perdita is properly kept subordinate to that
of her mother, Hermione: yet the picture is perfectly finished in every
part;--Juliet herself is not more firmly and distinctly drawn. But the
coloring in Perdita is more silvery light and delicate; the pervading
sentiment more touched with the ideal; compared with Juliet, she is like
a Guido hung beside a Georgione, or one of Paesiello's airs heard after
one of Mozart's.

The qualities which impart to Perdita her distinct individuality, are
the beautiful combination of the pastoral with the elegant--of
simplicity with elevation--of spirit with sweetness. The exquisite
delicacy of the picture is apparent. To understand and appreciate its
effective truth and nature, we should place Perdita beside some of the
nymphs of Arcadia, or the Chloris' and Sylvias of the Italian pastorals,
who, however graceful in themselves, when opposed to Perdita, seem to
melt away into mere poetical abstractions;--as, in Spenser, the fair but
fictitious Florimel, which the subtle enchantress had moulded out of
snow, "vermeil tinctured," and informed with an airy spirit, that knew
"all wiles of woman's wits," fades and dissolves away, when placed next
to the real Florimel, in her warm, breathing, human loveliness.

Perdita does not appear till the fourth act, and the whole of the
character is developed in the course of a single scene, (the third,)
with a completeness of effect which leaves nothing to be
required--nothing to be supplied. She is first introduced in the
dialogue between herself and Florizel, where she compares her own lowly
state to his princely rank, and expresses her fears of the issue of
their unequal attachment. With all her timidity and her sense of the
distance which separates her from her lover, she breathes not a single
word which could lead us to impugn either her delicacy or her dignity.


    These your unusual weeds to each part of you
    Do give a life--no shepherdess, but Flora
    Peering in April's front; this your sheep-shearing
    Is as the meeting of the petty gods,
    And you the queen on't.


    Sir, my gracious lord,
    To chide at your extremes it not becomes me;
    O pardon that I name them: your high self,
    The gracious mark o' the land, you have obscured
    With a swain's bearing; and me, poor lowly maid,
    Most goddess-like prank'd up:--but that our feasts
    In every mess have folly, and the feeders
    Digest it with a custom, I should blush
    To see you so attired; sworn, I think
    To show myself a glass.

The impression of her perfect beauty and airy elegance of demeanor is
conveyed in two exquisite passages:--

                 What you do
    Still betters what is done. When you speak, sweet,
    I'd have you do it ever. When you sing,
    I'd have you buy and sell so; so give alms,
    Pray so, and for the ordering your affairs
    To sing them too. When you do dance, I wish you
    A wave o' the sea, that you might ever do
    Nothing but that; move still, still so, and own
    No other function.

                   I take thy hand; this hand
    As soft as dove's down, and as white as it;
    Or Ethiopian's tooth, or the fann'd snow,
    That's bolted by the northern blasts twice o'er.

The artless manner in which her innate nobility of soul shines forth
through her pastoral disguise, is thus brought before us at once:--

    This is the prettiest low-born lass that ever
    Ran on the green sward; nothing she does or seems,
    But smacks of something greater than herself;
    Too noble for this place.

Her natural loftiness of spirit breaks out where she is menaced and
reviled by the King, as one whom his son has degraded himself by merely
looking on; she bears the royal frown without quailing; but the moment
he is gone, the immediate recollection of herself, and of her humble
state, of her hapless love, is full of beauty, tenderness, and nature:--

              Even here undone!
    I was much afeard: for once or twice,
    I was about to speak; and tell him plainly
    The self-same sun, that shines upon his court
    Hides not his visage from our cottage, but
    Looks on alike.

                  Will't please, you Sir, be gone?
    I told you what would come of this. Beseech you,
    Of your own state take care; this dream of mine--
    Being now awake--I'll queen it no inch further,
    But milk my ewes, and weep.

             How often have I told you 'twould be thus
    How often said, my dignity would last
    But till 'twere known!


                      It cannot fail, but by
    The violation of my faith; and then
    Let nature crush the sides o' the earth together
    And mar the seeds within! Lift up thy looks.

       *   *   *   *

    Not for Bohemia, nor the pomp that may
    Be thereat glean'd! for all the sun sees, or
    The close earth wombs, or the profound seas hide
    In unknown fathoms, will I break my oath
    To thee, my fair beloved!

Perdita has another characteristic, which lends to the poetical delicacy
of the delineation a certain strength and moral elevation, which is
peculiarly striking. It is that sense of truth and rectitude, that
upright simplicity of mind, which disdains all crooked and indirect
means, which would not stoop for an instant to dissemblance, and is
mingled with a noble confidence in her love and in her lover. In this
spirit is her answer to Camilla, who says, courtier like,--

                          Besides, you know
    Prosperity's the very bond of love;
    Whose fresh complexion, and whose heart together
    Affliction alters.

To which she replies,--

                    One of these is true;
    I think, affliction may subdue the cheek,
    But not take in the mind.

In that elegant scene where she receives the guests at the
sheep-shearing, and distributes the flowers, there is in the full flow
of the poetry, a most beautiful and striking touch of individual
character: but here it is impossible to mutilate the dialogue.

                        Reverend sirs,
    For you there's rosemary and rue; these keep
    Seeming and savor all the winter long;
    Grace and remembrance be to you both,
    And welcome to our shearing!


    (A fair one are you,) well you fit our ages
    With flowers of winter.


                    Sir, the year growing ancient,
    Nor yet on summer's death, nor on the birth
    Of trembling winter, the fairest flowers o' the season
    Are our carnations, and streaked gilliflowers,
    Which some call nature's bastards: of that kind
    Our rustic garden's barren; and I care not
    To get slips of them.


              Wherefore, gentle maiden,
    Do you neglect them?


              For I have heard it said,
    There is an art, which in their piedness, shares
    With great creating nature.


               Say there be;
    Yet nature is made better by no mean
    But nature makes that mean; so o'er that art
    Which, you say, adds to nature, is an art
    That nature makes. You see, sweet maid, we marry
    A gentle scion to the wildest stock;
    And make conceive a bark of baser kind
    By bud of nobler race. This is an art
    Which does mend nature, change it rather; but
    The art itself is nature.


                So it is.


    Then make your garden rich in gilliflowers,
    And do not call them bastards.


                I'll not put
    The dibble in earth to set one slip of them;
    No more than were I painted, I would wish
    This youth should say 'twere well.

It has been well remarked of this passage, that Perdita does not attempt
to answer the reasoning of Polixenes: she gives up the argument, but,
woman-like, retains her own opinion, or rather, her sense of right,
unshaken by his sophistry. She goes on in a strain of poetry, which
comes over the soul like music and fragrance mingled: we seem to inhale
the blended odors of a thousand flowers, till the sense faints with
their sweetness; and she concludes with a touch of passionate sentiment,
which melts into the very heart:--

                     O Proserpina!
    For the flowers now, that, frighted, thou let'st fall
    From Dis's wagon! daffodils,
    That come before the swallow dares, and take
    The winds of March with beauty; violets dim,
    But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes,
    Or Cytherea's breath; pale primroses,
    That die unmarried, ere they can behold
    Bright Phoebus in his strength, a malady
    Most incident to maids; bold oxlips, and
    The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds,
    The flower-de-luce being one! O, these I lack,
    To make you garlands of; and my sweet friend
    To strew him o'er and o'er.


                 What! like a corse?


    No, like a bank, for Love to lie and play on;
    Not like a corse: or if,--not to be buried,
    But quick, and in mine arms!

This love of truth, this _conscientiousness_, which forms so distinct a
feature in the character of Perdita, and mingles with its picturesque
delicacy a certain firmness and dignity, is maintained consistently to
the last. When the two lovers fly together from Bohemia, and take refuge
in the court of Leontes, the real father of Perdita, Florizel presents
himself before the king with a feigned tale, in which he has been
artfully instructed by the old counsellor Camillo. During this scene,
Perdita does not utter a word. In the strait in which they are placed,
she cannot deny the story which Florizel relates--she will not confirm
it. Her silence, in spite of all the compliments and greetings of
Leontes, has a peculiar and characteristic grace and, at the conclusion
of the scene, when they are betrayed, the truth bursts from her as if
instinctively, and she exclaims, with emotion,--

    The heavens set spies upon us--will not have
    Our contract celebrated.

After this scene, Perdita says very little. The description of her
grief, while listening to the relation of her mother's death,--

     "One of the prettiest touches of all, was, when at the
     relation of the queen's death, with the manner how she came
     by it, how attentiveness wounded her daughter: till from one
     sign of dolor to another, she did, with an _alas_! I would
     fain say, bleed  tears:"--

her deportment too as she stands gazing on the statue of Hermione, fixed
in wonder, admiration and sorrow, as if she too were marble--

                  O royal piece!
    There's magic in thy majesty, which has
    From thy admiring daughter ta'en the spirits,
    Standing like stone beside thee!

are touches of character conveyed indirectly, and which serve to give a
more finished effect to this beautiful picture.


As the innate dignity of Perdita pierces through her rustic disguise, so
the exquisite refinement of Viola triumphs over her masculine attire.
Viola is, perhaps, in a degree less elevated and ideal than Perdita, but
with a touch of sentiment more profound and heart-stirring; she is
"deep-learned in the lore of love,"--at least theoretically,--and speaks
as masterly on the subject as Perdita does of flowers.


            How dost thou like this tune?


    It gives a very echo to the seat
    Where love is thron'd.

And again,

    If I did love you in my master's flame,
    With such a suffering, such a deadly life--
    in your denial I would find no sense,
    I would not understand it.


              Why, what would you do?


    Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
    And call upon my soul within the house;
    Write loyal cantons[35] of contemned love,
    And sing them loud even in the dead of night.
    Holla your name to the reverberate hills,
    And make babbling gossip of the air
    Cry out, Olivia! O you should not rest
    Between the elements of air and earth,
    But you should pity me.


                     You might do much.

The situation and the character of Viola have been censured for their
want of consistency and probability; it is therefore worth while to
examine how far this criticism is true. As for her situation in the
drama, (of which she is properly the heroine,) it is shortly this. She
is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria: she is alone and without
protection in a strange country. She wishes to enter into the service of
the Countess Olivia; but she is assured that this is impossible; "for
the lady having recently lost an only and beloved brother, has abjured
the sight of men, has shut herself up in her palace, and will admit no
kind of suit." In this perplexity Viola remembers to have heard her
father speak with praise and admiration of Orsino, the Duke of the
country; and having ascertained that he is not married, and that
therefore his court is not a proper asylum for her in her feminine
character, she attires herself in the disguise of a page, as the best
protection against uncivil comments, till she can gain some tidings of
her brother.

If we carry our thoughts back to a romantic and chivalrous age, there is
surely sufficient probability here for all the purposes of poetry. To
pursue the thread of Viola's destiny;--she is engaged in the service of
the Duke, whom she finds "fancy-sick" for the love of Olivia. We are
left to infer, (for so it is hinted in the first scene,) that this
Duke--who with his accomplishments, and his personal attractions, his
taste for music, his chivalrous tenderness, and his unrequited love, is
really a very fascinating and poetical personage, though a little
passionate and fantastic--had already made some impression on Viola's
imagination; and when she comes to play the confidante, and to be loaded
with favors and kindness in her assumed character, that she should be
touched by a passion made up of pity, admiration, gratitude, and
tenderness, does not, I think, in any way detract from the genuine
sweetness and delicacy of her character, for "_she never told her

Now all this, as the critic wisely observes, may not present a very just
picture of life; and it may also fail to impart any moral lesson for the
especial profit of well-bred young ladies; but is it not in truth and in
nature? Did it ever fail to charm or to interest, to seize on the
coldest fancy, to touch the most insensible heart?

Viola then is the chosen favorite of the enamoured Duke, and becomes his
messenger to Olivia, and the interpreter of his sufferings to that
inaccessible beauty. In her character of a youthful page, she attracts
the favor of Olivia, and excites the jealousy of her lord. The situation
is critical and delicate; but how exquisitely is the character of Viola
fitted to her part, carrying her through the ordeal with all the inward
and spiritual grace of modesty. What beautiful propriety in the
distinction drawn between Rosalind and Viola! The wild sweetness, the
frolic humor which sports free and unblamed amid the shades of Ardennes,
would ill become Viola, whose playfulness is assumed as part of her
disguise as a court-page, and is guarded by the strictest delicacy. She
has not, like Rosalind, a saucy enjoyment in her own incognito; her
disguise does not sit so easily upon her; her heart does not beat freely
under it. As in the old ballad, where "Sweet William" is detected
weeping in secret over her "man's array,"[36] so in Viola, a sweet
consciousness of her feminine nature is for ever breaking through her

    And on her cheek is ready with a blush
    Modest as morning, when she coldly eyes
    The youthful Phoebus.

She plays her part well, but never forgets nor allows us to forget, that
she is playing a part.


    Are you a comedian?


    No, my profound heart! and yet by the very fangs of
    malice I swear, I am not that I play!

And thus she comments on it:--

    Disguise, I see thou art wickedness,
    Wherein the pregnant enemy does much;
    How easy is it for the proper false
    In women's waxen hearts to set their forms!
    Alas! our frailty is the cause, not we.

The feminine cowardice of Viola, which will not allow her even to affect
a courage becoming her attire,--her horror at the idea of drawing a
sword, is very natural and characteristic; and produces a most humorous
effect, even at the very moment it charms and interests us.

Contrasted with the deep, silent, patient love of Viola for the Duke, we
have the lady-like wilfulness of Olivia; and her sudden passion, or
rather fancy, for the disguised page, takes so beautiful a coloring of
poetry and sentiment, that we do not think her forward. Olivia is like a
princess of romance, and has all the privileges of one; she is, like
Portia, high born and high bred, mistress over her servants--but not
like Portia, "queen o'er herself." She has never in her life been
opposed; the first contradiction, therefore, rouses all the woman in
her, and turns a caprice into a headlong passion; yet she apologizes for

    I have said too much unto a heart of stone,
    And laid mine honor too unchary out;
    There's something in me that reproves my fault;
    But such a headstrong potent fault it is,
    That it but mocks reproof!

And in the midst of her self-abandonment, never allows us to contemn,
even while we pity her:--

    What shall you ask of me that I'll deny.
    That honor, saved, may upon asking give?

The distance of rank which separates the Countess from the youthful
page--the real sex of Viola--the dignified elegance of Olivia's
deportment, except where passion gets the better of her pride--her
consistent coldness towards the Duke--the description of that "smooth,
discreet, and stable bearing" with which she rules her household--her
generous care for her steward Malvolio, in the midst of her own
distress,--all these circumstances raise Olivia in our fancy, and render
her caprice for the page a source of amusement and interest, not a
subject of reproach. _Twelfth Night_ is a genuine comedy;--a perpetual
spring of the gayest and the sweetest fancies. In artificial society men
and women are divided into castes and classes, and it is rarely that
extremes in character or manners can approximate. To blend into one
harmonious picture the utmost grace and refinement of sentiment, and
the broadest effects of humor; the most poignant wit, and the most
indulgent benignity;--in short, to bring before us in the same scene,
Viola and Olivia, with Malvolio and Sir Toby, belonged only to Nature
and to Shakspeare.


A woman's affections, however strong, are sentiments, when they run
smooth; and become passions only when opposed.

In Juliet and Helena, love is depicted as a passion, properly so called;
that is, a natural impulse, throbbing in the heart's blood, and mingling
with the very sources of life;--a sentiment more or less modified by the
imagination; a strong abiding principle and motive, excited by
resistance, acting upon the will, animating all the other faculties, and
again influenced by them. This is the most complex aspect of love, and
in these two characters, it is depicted in colors at once the most
various, the most intense, and the most brilliant.

In Viola and Perdita, love, being less complex, appears more refined;
more a sentiment than a passion--a compound of impulse and fancy, while
the reflective powers and moral energies are more faintly developed. The
same remark applies also to Julia and Silvia, in the Two Gentlemen of
Verona, and, in a greater degree, to Hermia and Helena in the Midsummer
Night's Dream. In the two latter, though perfectly discriminated, love
takes the visionary fanciful cast, which belongs to the whole piece; it
is scarcely a passion or a sentiment, but a dreamy enchantment, a
reverie, which a fairy spell dissolves or fixes at pleasure.

But there was yet another possible modification of the sentiment, as
combined with female nature; and this Shakspeare has shown to us. He has
portrayed two beings, in whom all intellectual and moral energy is in a
manner latent, if existing; in whom love is an unconscious impulse, and
imagination lends the external charm and hue, not the internal power; in
whom the feminine character appears resolved into its very elementary
principles--as modesty, grace,[37] tenderness. _Without_ these a woman
is no woman, but a thing which, luckily, wants a name yet; _with_ these,
though every other faculty were passive or deficient, she might still be
herself. These are the inherent qualities with which God sent us into
the world: they may be perverted by a bad education--they may be
obscured by harsh and evil destinies--they may be overpowered by the
development of some particular mental power, the predominance of some
passion--but they are never wholly crushed out of the woman's soul,
while it retains those faculties which render it responsible to its
Creator. Shakspeare then has shown us that these elemental feminine
qualities, modesty, grace, tenderness, when expanded under genial
influences, suffice to constitute a perfect and happy human creature:
such is Miranda. When thrown alone amid harsh and adverse destinies, and
amid the trammels and corruptions of society, without energy to resist,
or will to act, or strength to endure, the end must needs be desolation.

Ophelia--poor Ophelia! O far too soft, too good, too fair, to be cast
among the briers of this working-day world, and fall and bleed upon the
thorns of life! What shall be said of her? for eloquence is mute before
her! Like a strain of sad sweet music which comes floating by us on the
wings of night and silence, and which we rather feel than hear--like the
exhalation of the violet dying even upon the sense it charms--like the
snow-flake dissolved in air before it has caught a stain of earth--like
the light surf severed from the billow, which a breath disperses--such
is the character of Ophelia: so exquisitely delicate, it seems as if a
touch would profane it; so sanctified in our thoughts by the last and
worst of human woes, that we scarcely dare to consider it too deeply.
The love of Ophelia, which she never once confesses, is like a secret
which we have stolen from her, and which ought to die upon our hearts as
upon her own. Her sorrows ask not words but tears; and her madness has
precisely the same effect that would be produced by the spectacle of
real insanity, if brought before us: we feel inclined to turn away, and
veil our eyes in reverential pity and too painful sympathy.

Beyond every character that Shakspeare has drawn, (Hamlet alone
excepted,) that of Ophelia makes us forget the poet in his own creation.
Whenever we bring her to mind, it is with the same exclusive sense of
her real existence, without reference to the wondrous power which called
her into life. The effect (and what an effect!) is produced by means so
simple, by strokes so few, and so unobtrusive, that we take no thought
of them. It is so purely natural and unsophisticated, yet so profound in
its pathos, that, as Hazlitt observes, it takes us back to the old
ballads; we forget that, in its perfect artlessness, it is the supreme
and consummate triumph of art.

The situation of Ophelia in the story,[38] is that of a young girl who,
at an early age, is brought from a life of privacy into the circle of a
court--a court such as we read of in those early times, at once rude,
magnificent, and corrupted. She is placed immediately about the person
of the queen, and is apparently her favorite attendant. The affection
of the wicked queen for this gentle and innocent creature, is one of
those beautiful redeeming touches, one of those penetrating glances into
the secret springs of natural and feminine feeling which we find only in
Shakspeare. Gertrude, who is not so wholly abandoned but that there
remains within her heart some sense of the virtue she has forfeited,
seems to look with a kind yet melancholy complacency on the lovely being
she has destined for the bride of her son; and the scene in which she is
introduced as scattering flowers on the grave of Ophelia, is one of
those effects of contrast in poetry, in character and in feeling, at
once natural and unexpected; which fill the eye, and make the heart
swell and tremble within itself--like the nightingales singing in the
grove of the Furies in Sophocles.[39]

Again, in the father of Ophelia, the Lord Chamberlain Polonius--the
shrewd, wary, subtle, pompous, garrulous old courtier--have we not the
very man who would send his son into the world to see all, learn all it
could teach of good and evil, but keep his only daughter as far as
possible from every taint of that world he knew so well? So that when
she is brought to the court, she seems in her loveliness and perfect
purity, like a seraph that had wandered out of bounds, and yet breathed
on earth the air of paradise. When her father and her brother find it
necessary to warn her simplicity, give her lessons of worldly wisdom,
and instruct her "to be scanter of her maiden presence," for that
Hamlet's vows of love "but breathe like sanctified and pious bonds, the
better to beguile," we feel at once that it comes too late; for from the
moment she appears on the scene amid the dark conflict of crime and
vengeance, and supernatural terrors, we know what must be her destiny.
Once, at Murano, I saw a dove caught in a tempest; perhaps it was young,
and either lacked strength of wing to reach its home, or the instinct
which teaches to shun the brooding storm; but so it was--and I watched
it, pitying, as it flitted, poor bird hither and thither, with its
silver pinions shining against the black thunder-cloud, till, after a
few giddy whirls, it fell blinded, affrighted, and bewildered, into the
turbid wave beneath, and was swallowed up forever. It reminded me then
of the fate of Ophelia; and now when I think of her, I see again before
me that poor dove, beating with weary wing, bewildered amid the storm.
It is the helplessness of Ophelia, arising merely from her innocence,
and pictured without any indication of weakness, which melts us with
such profound pity. She is so young, that neither her mind nor her
person have attained maturity; she is not aware of the nature of her own
feelings; they are prematurely developed in their full force before she
has strength to bear them; and love and grief together rend and shatter
the frail texture of her existence, like the burning fluid poured into a
crystal vase. She says very little, and what she does say seems rather
intended to hide than to reveal the emotions of her heart; yet in those
few words we are made as perfectly acquainted with her character, and
with what is passing in her mind, as if she had thrown forth her soul
with all the glowing eloquence of Juliet. Passion with Juliet seems
innate, a part of her being, "as dwells the gathered lightning in the
cloud;" and we never fancy her but with the dark splendid eyes and
Titian-like complexion of the south. While in Ophelia we recognize as
distinctly the pensive, fair-haired, blue-eyed daughter of the north,
whose heart seems to vibrate to the passion she has inspired, more
conscious of being loved than of loving; and yet, alas! loving in the
silent depths of her young heart far more than she is loved.

When her brother warns her against Hamlet's importunities--

    For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favor,
    Hold it a fashion, and a toy of blood,
    A violet in the youth of primy nature,
    Forward not permanent, sweet not lasting,
    The perfume and the suppliance of a minute--
    No more!

she replies with a kind of half consciousness--

             No more but so?


         Think it no more.

He concludes his admonition with that most beautiful passage, in which
the soundest sense, the most excellent advice, is conveyed in a strain
of the most exquisite poetry.

    The chariest maid is prodigal enough,
    If she unmask her beauty to the moon:
    Virtue itself 'scapes not calumnious strokes.
    The canker galls the infants of the spring
    Too oft before their buttons be disclos'd:
    And in the morn and liquid dew of youth,
    Contagious blastments are most imminent.

She answers with the same modesty, yet with a kind of involuntary
avowal, that his fears are not altogether without cause:--

    I shall the effect of this good lesson keep
    As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother,
    Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
    Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;
    Whilst, like the puff'd and reckless libertine,
    Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
    And recks not his own read.[40]

When her father, immediately afterwards, catechizes her on the same
subject, he extorts from her, in short sentences, uttered with bashful
reluctance, the confession of Hamlet's love for her, but not a word of
her love for him. The whole scene is managed with inexpressible
delicacy: it is one of those instances, common in Shakspeare, in which
we are allowed to perceive what is passing in the mind of a person,
without any consciousness on their part. Only Ophelia herself is unaware
that while she is admitting the extent of Hamlet's courtship, she is
also betraying how deep is the impression it has made, how entire the
love with which it is returned.


    What is between you? give me up the truth!


    He hath, my lord, of late, made many tenders
    Of his affection to me.


    Affection! poh! you speak like a green girl,
    Unsifted in such perilous circumstances.
    Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?


    I do not know, my lord, what I should think.


    Marry, I'll teach you: think yourself a baby;
    That you have taken these tenders for true pay
    Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly
    Or (not to crack the wind of the poor phrase,
    Wronging it thus) you'll tender me a fool.


    My lord, he hath importun'd me with love
    In honorable fashion.


    Ay, fashion you may call it; go to, go to.


    And hath given countenance to his speech, my lord,
    With almost all the holy vows of heaven.


    Ay, springes to catch woodcocks.
            This is for all:
    would not, in plain terms, from this time forth
    Have you so slander any moment's leisure
    As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet,
    Look to't, I charge you: come your ways.


    I shall obey, my lord.

Besides its intrinsic loveliness, the character of Ophelia has a
relative beauty and delicacy when considered in relation to that of
Hamlet, which is the delineation of a man of genius in contest with the
powers of this world. The weakness of volition, the instability of
purpose, the contemplative sensibility, the subtlety of thought, always
shrinking from action, and always occupied in "thinking too precisely on
the event," united to immense intellectual power, render him unspeakably
interesting: and yet I doubt whether any woman, who would have been
capable of understanding and appreciating such a man, would have
passionately loved him. Let us for a moment imagine any one of
Shakspeare's most beautiful and striking female characters in immediate
connection with Hamlet. The gentle Desdemona would never have despatched
her household cares in haste, to listen to his philosophical
speculations, his dark conflicts with his own spirit. Such a woman as
Portia would have studied him; Juliet would have pitied him; Rosalind
would have turned him over with a smile to the melancholy Jacques;
Beatrice would have laughed at him outright; Isabel would have reasoned
with him; Miranda could but have wondered at him: but Ophelia loves him.
Ophelia, the young, fair, inexperienced girl, facile to every
impression, fond in her simplicity, and credulous in her innocence,
loves Hamlet; not from what he is in himself, but for that which appears
to her--the gentle, accomplished prince, upon whom she has been
accustomed to see all eyes fixed in hope and admiration, "the expectancy
and rose of the fair state," the star of the court in which she moves,
the first who has ever whispered soft vows in her ear: and what can be
more natural?

But it is not singular, that while no one entertains a doubt of
Ophelia's love for Hamlet--though never once expressed by herself, or
asserted by others, in the whole course of the drama--yet it is a
subject of dispute whether Hamlet loves Ophelia, though she herself
allows that he had importuned her with love, and "had given countenance
to his suit with almost all the holy vows of heaven;" although in the
letter which Polonius intercepted, Hamlet declares that he loves her
"best, O most best!"--though he asserts himself, with the wildest

    I lov'd Ophelia; forty thousand brothers
    Could not, with all their quantity of love,
    Make up my sum:

--still I have heard the question canvassed; I have even heard it denied
that Hamlet did love Ophelia. The author of the finest remarks I have
yet seen on the play and character of Hamlet, leans to this opinion. As
the observations I allude to are contained in a periodical publication,
and may not be at hand for immediate reference, I shall indulge myself
(and the reader no less) by quoting the opening paragraphs of this noble
piece of criticism, upon the principle, and for the reason I have
already stated in the introduction.

"We take up a play, and ideas come rolling in upon us, like waves
impelled by a strong wind. There is in the ebb and flow of Shakspeare's
soul all the grandeur of a mighty operation of nature; and when we think
or speak of him, it should be with humility where we do not understand,
and a conviction that it is rather to the narrowness of our own mind
than to any failing in the art of the great magician, that we ought to
attribute any sense of weakness, which may assail us during the
contemplation of his created worlds.

"Shakspeare himself, had he even been as great a critic as a poet, could
not have written a regular dissertation upon Hamlet. So ideal, and yet
so real an existence, could have been shadowed out only in the colors of
poetry. When a character deals solely or chiefly with this world and its
events when it acts and is acted upon by objects that have a palpable
existence, we see it distinctly, as if it were cast in a material mould,
as if it partook of the fixed and settled lineaments of the things on
which it lavishes its sensibilities and its passions. We see in such
cases the vision of an individual soul, as we see the vision of an
individual countenance. We can describe both, and can let a stranger
into our knowledge. But how tell in words, so pure, so fine, so ideal an
abstraction as Hamlet? We can, indeed, figure to ourselves generally his
princely form, that outshone all others in manly beauty, and adorn it
with the consummation of all liberal accomplishment. We can behold in
every look, every gesture, every motion, the future king,--

    The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword,
    Th' expectancy and rose of the fair state;
    The glass of fashion, and the mould of form,
    Th' observ'd of all observers.

"But when we would penetrate into his spirit, meditate on those things
on which he meditates, accompany him even unto the brink of eternity,
fluctuate with him on the ghastly sea of despair, soar with him into the
purest and serenest regions of human thought, feel with him the curse of
beholding iniquity, and the troubled delight of thinking on innocence,
and gentleness, and beauty; come with him from all the glorious dreams
cherished by a noble spirit in the halls of wisdom and philosophy, of a
sudden into the gloomy courts of sin, and incest, and murder; shudder
with him over the broken and shattered fragments of all the fairest
creations of his fancy,--be borne with him at once, from calm, and
lofty, and delighted speculations, into the very heart of fear, and
horror, and tribulations,--have the agonies and the guilt of our mortal
world brought into immediate contact with the world beyond the grave,
and the influence of an awful shadow hanging forever on our
thoughts,--be present at a fearful combat between all the stirred-up
passions of humanity in the soul of man, a combat in which one and all
of these passions are alternately victorious and overcome; I say, that
when we are thus placed and acted upon, how is it possible to draw a
character of this sublime drama, or of the mysterious being who is its
moving spirit? In him, his character and situation, there is a
concentration of all the interests that belong to humanity. There is
scarcely a trait of frailty or of grandeur, which may have endeared to
us our most beloved friends in real life, that is not to be found in
Hamlet. Undoubtedly Shakspeare loved him beyond all his other creations.
Soon as he appears on the stage we are satisfied: when absent we long
for his return. This is the only play which exists almost altogether in
the character of one single person. Who ever knew a Hamlet in real life?
yet who, ideal as the character is, feels not its reality? This is the
wonder. We love him not, we think of him, not because he is witty,
because he was melancholy, because he was filial; but we love him
because he existed, and was himself. This is the sum total of the
impression. I believe that, of every other character either in tragic or
epic poetry, the story makes part of the conception; but of Hamlet, the
deep and permanent interest is the conception of himself. This seems to
belong, not to the character being more perfectly drawn, but to there
being a more intense conception of individual human life than perhaps
any other human composition. Here is a being with springs of thought,
and feeling, and action, deeper than we can search. These springs rise
from an unknown depth, and in that depth there seems to be a oneness of
being which we cannot distinctly behold, but which we believe to be
there; and thus irreconcilable circumstances, floating on the surface of
his actions, have not the effect of making us doubt the truth of the
general picture."[41]

This is all most admirable, most eloquent, most true! but the critic
subsequently declares, that "there is nothing in Ophelia which could
make her the object of an engrossing passion to so majestic a spirit as

Now, though it be with reluctance, and even considerable mistrust of
myself, that I differ from a critic who can thus feel and write, I do
not think so:--I do think, with submission, that the love of Hamlet for
Ophelia is deep, is real, and is precisely the kind of love which such
a man as Hamlet would feel for such a woman as Ophelia.

When the heathen would represent their Jove as clothed in all his
Olympian terrors, they mounted him on the back of an eagle, and armed
him with the lightnings; but when in Holy Writ the Supreme Being is
described as coming in his glory, He is upborne on the wings of
cherubim, and his emblem is the dove. Even so our blessed religion,
which has revealed deeper mysteries in the human soul than ever were
dreamt of by philosophy till she went hand-in-hand with faith, has
taught us to pay that worship to the symbols of purity and innocence,
which in darker times was paid to the manifestations of power: and
therefore do I think that the mighty intellect, the capacious, soaring,
penetrating genius of Hamlet may be represented, without detracting from
its grandeur, as reposing upon the tender virgin innocence of Ophelia,
with all that deep delight with which a superior nature contemplates the
goodness which is at once perfect in itself, and of itself unconscious.
That Hamlet regards Ophelia with this kind of tenderness,--that he loves
her with a love as intense as can belong to a nature in which there is,
(I think,) much more of contemplation and sensibility than action or
passion--is the feeling and conviction with which I have always read the
play of Hamlet.

As to whether the mind of Hamlet be, or be not, touched with
madness--this is another point at issue among critics, philosophers, ay,
and physicians. To me it seems that he is not so far disordered as to
cease to be a responsible human being--that were too pitiable: but
rather that his mind is shaken from its equilibrium, and bewildered by
the horrors of his situation--horrors which his fine and subtle
intellect, his strong imagination, and his tendency to melancholy, at
once exaggerate, and take from him the power either to endure, or "by
opposing, end them." We do not see him as a lover, nor as Ophelia first
beheld him; for the days when he importuned her with love were before
the opening of the drama--before his father's spirit revisited the
earth; but we behold him at once in a sea of troubles, of perplexities,
of agonies, of terrors. Without remorse, he endures all its horrors;
without guilt, he endures all its shame. A loathing of the crime he is
called on to revenge, which revenge is again abhorrent to his nature,
has set him at strife with himself; the supernatural visitation has
perturbed his soul to its inmost depths; all things else, all interests,
all hopes, all affections, appear as futile, when the majestic shadow
comes lamenting from its place of torment "to shake him with thoughts
beyond the reaches of his soul!" His love for Ophelia is then ranked by
himself among those trivial, fond records which he has deeply sworn to
erase from his heart and brain. He has no thought to link his terrible
destiny with hers: he cannot marry her: he cannot reveal to her, young,
gentle, innocent as she is, the terrific influences which have changed
the whole current of his life and purposes. In his distraction he
overacts the painful part to which he had tasked himself; he is like
that judge of the Areopagus, who being occupied with graver matters,
flung from him the little bird which had sought refuge in his bosom, and
with such angry violence, that unwittingly he killed it.

In the scene with Hamlet,[42] in which he madly outrages her and
upbraids himself, Ophelia says very little: there are two short
sentences in which she replies to his wild, abrupt discourse:--


     I did love you once.


     Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.


     You should not have believed me: for virtue cannot so
     inocculate our old stock, but we shall relish of it. I loved
     you not.


     I was the more deceived.

Those who ever heard Mrs. Siddons read the play of Hamlet, cannot forget
the world of meaning, of love, of sorrow, of despair, conveyed in these
two simple phrases. Here, and in the soliloquy afterwards, where she

    And I of ladies most deject and wretched,
    That sucked the honey of his music vows,

are the only allusions to herself and her own feelings in the course of
the play; and these, uttered almost without consciousness on her own
part, contain the revelation of a life of love, and disclose the secret
burthen of a heart bursting with its own unuttered grief. She believes
Hamlet crazed; she is repulsed, she is forsaken, she is outraged, where
she had bestowed her young heart, with all its hopes and wishes; her
father is slain by the hand of her lover, as it is supposed, in a
paroxysm of insanity: she is entangled inextricably in a web of horrors
which she cannot even comprehend, and the result seems inevitable.

Of her subsequent madness, what can be said? What an affecting--what an
astonishing picture of a mind utterly, hopelessly wrecked!--past
hope--past cure! There is the frenzy of excited passion--there is the
madness caused by intense and continued thought--there is the delirium
of fevered nerves; but Ophelia's madness is distinct from these: it is
not the suspension, but the utter destruction of the reasoning powers;
it is the total imbecility which, as medical people well know,
frequently follows some terrible shock to the spirits. Constance is
frantic; Lear is mad; Ophelia is _insane_. Her sweet mind lies in
fragments before us--a pitiful spectacle! Her wild, rambling fancies;
her aimless, broken speeches; her quick transitions from gayety to
sadness--each equally purposeless and causeless; her snatches of old
ballads, such as perhaps her nurse sung her to sleep with in her
infancy--are all so true to the life, that we forget to wonder, and can
only weep. It belonged to Shakspeare alone so to temper such a picture
that we can endure to dwell upon it:--

    Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself,
    She turns to favor and to prettiness.

That in her madness she should exchange her bashful silence for empty
babbling, her sweet maidenly demeanor for the impatient restlessness
that spurns at straws, and say and sing precisely what she never would
or could have uttered had she been in possession of her reason, is so
far from being an impropriety, that it is an additional stroke of
nature. It is one of the symptoms of this species of insanity, as we are
assured by physicians. I have myself known one instance in the case of a
young Quaker girl, whose character resembled that of Ophelia, and whose
malady arose from a similar cause.

The whole action of this play sweeps past us like a torrent, which
hurries along in its dark and resistless course all the personages of
the drama towards a catastrophe that is not brought about by human will,
but seems like an abyss ready dug to receive them, where the good and
the wicked are whelmed together.[43] As the character of Hamlet has been
compared, or rather contrasted, with the Greek Orestes, being like him,
called on to avenge a crime by a crime, tormented by remorseful doubts,
and pursued by distraction, so, to me, the character of Ophelia bears a
certain relation to that of the Greek Iphigenia,[44] with the same
strong distinction between the classical and the romantic conception of
the portrait. Iphigenia led forth to sacrifice, with her unresisting
tenderness, her mournful sweetness, her virgin innocence, is doomed to
perish by that relentless power, which has linked her destiny with
crimes and contests, in which she has no part but as a sufferer; and
even so, poor Ophelia, "divided from herself and her fair judgment,"
appears here like a spotless victim offered up to the mysterious and
inexorable fates.

"For it is the property of crime to extend its mischiefs over innocence,
as it is of virtue to extend its blessings over many that deserve them
not, while frequently the author of one or the other is not, as far as
we can see, either punished or rewarded."[45] But there's a heaven above


We might have deemed it impossible to go beyond Viola, Perdita, and
Ophelia, as pictures of feminine beauty; to exceed the one in tender
delicacy, the other in ideal grace, and the last in simplicity,--if
Shakspeare had not done this; and he alone could have done it. Had he
never created a Miranda, we should never have been made to feel how
completely the purely natural and the purely ideal can blend into each

The character of Miranda resolves itself into the very elements of
womanhood. She is beautiful, modest, and tender, and she is these only;
they comprise her whole being, external and internal. She is so
perfectly unsophisticated, so delicately refined, that she is all but
ethereal. Let us imagine any other woman placed beside Miranda--even one
of Shakspeare's own loveliest and sweetest creations--there is not one
of them that could sustain the comparison for a moment; not one that
would not appear somewhat coarse or artificial when brought into
immediate contact with this pure child of nature, this "Eve of an
enchanted Paradise."

What, then, has Shakspeare done?--"O wondrous skill and sweet wit of the
man!"--he has removed Miranda far from all comparison with her own sex;
he has placed her between the demi-demon of earth and the delicate
spirit of air. The next step is into the ideal and supernatural; and the
only being who approaches Miranda, with whom she can be contrasted, is
Ariel. Beside the subtle essence of this ethereal sprite, this creature
of elemental light and air, that "ran upon the winds, rode the curl'd
clouds, and in the colors of the rainbow lived," Miranda herself appears
a palpable reality; a woman, "breathing thoughtful breath," a woman,
walking the earth in her mortal loveliness, with a heart as
frail-strung, as passion-touched, as ever fluttered in a female bosom.

I have said that Miranda possesses merely the elementary attributes of
womanhood, but each of these stand in her with a distinct and peculiar
grace. She resembles nothing upon earth; but do we therefore compare
her, in our own minds, with any of those fabled beings with which the
fancy of ancient poets peopled the forest depths, the fountain or the
ocean?--oread or dryad fleet, sea-maid, or naiad of the stream? We
cannot think of them together. Miranda is a consistent, natural, human
being. Our impression of her nymph-like beauty, her peerless grace, and
purity of soul, has a distinct and individual character. Not only is she
exquisitely lovely, being what she is, but we are made to feel that she
_could_ not possibly be otherwise than as she is portrayed. She has
never beheld one of her own sex; she has never caught from society one
imitated or artificial grace. The impulses which have come to her, in
her enchanted solitude, are of heaven and nature, not of the world and
its vanities. She has sprung up into beauty beneath the eye of her
father, the princely magician; her companions have been the rocks and
woods, the many-shaped, many-tinted clouds, and the silent stars; her
playmates the ocean billows, that stooped their foamy crests, and ran
rippling to kiss her feet. Ariel and his attendant sprites hovered over
her head, ministered duteous to her every wish, and presented before
her pageants of beauty and grandeur. The very air, made vocal by her
father's art, floated in music around her. If we can presuppose such a
situation with all its circumstances, do we not behold in the character
of Miranda not only the credible, but the natural, the necessary results
of such a situation? She retains her woman's heart, for that is
unalterable and inalienable, as a part of her being; but her deportment,
her looks, her language, her thoughts--all these, from the supernatural
and poetical circumstances around her, assume a cast of the pure ideal;
and to us, who are in the secret of her human and pitying nature,
nothing can be more charming and consistent than the effect which she
produces upon others, who never having beheld any thing resembling her,
approach her as "a wonder," as something celestial:--

    Be sure! the goddess on whom these airs attend!

And again:--

                  What is this maid?
    Is she the goddess who hath severed us,
    And brought us thus together?

And Ferdinand exclaims, while gazing on her,

    My spirits as in a dream are all bound up!
    My father's loss, the weakness that I feel,
    The wreck of all my friends, or this man's threats,
    To whom I am subdued, are but light to me
    Might I but through my prison once a day
    Behold this maid: all corners else o' the earth
    Let liberty make use of, space enough
    Have I in such a prison.

Contrasted with the impression of her refined and dignified beauty, and
its effect on all beholders, is Miranda's own soft simplicity, her
virgin innocence, her total ignorance of the conventional forms and
language of society. It is most natural that in a being thus
constituted, the first tears should spring from compassion, "suffering
with those that she saw suffer:"--

                    O the cry did knock
    Against my very heart. Poor souls! they perished.
    Had I been any god of power, I would
    Have sunk the sea within the earth, or e'er
    It should the good ship so have swallowed,
    And the freighting souls within her;

and that her first sigh should be offered to a love at once fearless and
submissive, delicate and fond. She has no taught scruples of honor like
Juliet; no coy concealments like Viola; no assumed dignity standing in
its own defence. Her bashfulness is less a quality than an instinct; it
is like the self-folding of a flower, spontaneous and unconscious. I
suppose there is nothing of the kind in poetry equal to the scene
between Ferdinand and Miranda. In Ferdinand, who is a noble creature, we
have all the chivalrous magnanimity with which man, in a high state of
civilization, disguises his real superiority, and does humble homage to
the being of whose destiny he disposes; while Miranda, the mere child of
nature, is struck with wonder at her own new emotions. Only conscious of
her own weakness as a woman, and ignorant of those usages of society
which teach us to dissemble the real passion, and assume (and sometimes
abuse) an unreal and transient power, she is equally ready to place her
life, her love, her service beneath his feet.


                    Alas, now! pray you,
    Work not so hard: I would the lightning had
    Burnt up those logs, that you are enjoined to pile!
    Pray set it down and rest you: when this burns,
    'Twill weep for having weary'd you. My father
    Is hard at study; pray now, rest yourself:
    He's safe for these three hours.


                    O most dear mistress,
    The sun will set before I shall discharge
    What I must strive to do.


                              If you'll sit down,
    I'll bear your logs the while. Pray give me that,
    I'll carry it to the pile.


                            No, precious creature;
    I had rather crack my sinews, break my back,
    Than you should such dishonor undergo,
    While I sit lazy by.


                        It would become me
    As well as it does you; and I should do it
    With much more ease; for my good will is to it,
    And yours against.

                      *   *   *   *


                           You look wearily.


    No, noble mistress; 'tis fresh morning with me
    When you are by at night. I do beseech you,
    (Chiefly that I might set it in my prayers,)
    What is your name?


                          Miranda. O my father
    I have broke your 'hest to say so!


                              Admir'd Miranda!
    Indeed the top of admiration; worth
    What's dearest to the world! Full many a lady
    I have eyed with best regard: and many a time
    The harmony of their tongues hath into bondage
    Brought my too diligent ear: for several virtues
    Have I liked several women; never any
    With so full soul, but some defect in her
    Did quarrel with the noblest grace she owed
    And put it to the foil. But you, O you,
    So perfect and so peerless, are created
    Of every creature's best!


                             I do not know
    One of my sex: no woman's face remember,
    Save, from my glass, mine own; nor have I seen
    Mere that I may call men, than you, good friend,
    And my dear father. How features are abroad
    I am skill-less of: but, by my modesty,
    (The jewel in my dower,) I would not wish
    Any companion in the world but you;
    Nor can imagination form a shape,
    Besides yourself, to like of--But I prattle
    Something too wildly, and my father's precepts
    Therein forget.


                    I am, in my condition
    A prince, Miranda--I do think a king--
    (I would, not so!) and would no more endure
    This wooden slavery, than I would suffer
    The flesh-fly blow my mouth. Hear my soul speak
    The very instant that I saw you, did
    My heart fly to your service; there resides,
    To make me slave to it; and for your sake,
    Am I this patient log-man.


                             Do you love me?


    O heaven! O earth! bear witness to this sound
    And crown what I profess with kind event,
    If I speak true: if hollowly, invert
    What best is boded me, to mischief! I,
    Beyond all limit of what else i' the world,
    Do love, prize, honor you.


                            I am a fool,
    To weep at what I am glad of.


                                  Wherefore weep you


    At mine unworthiness, that dare not offer
    What I desire to give; and much less take,
    What I shall die to want--But this is trifling:
    And all the more it seeks to hide itself,
    The bigger bulk it shows. Hence, bashful cunning;
    And prompt me, plain and holy innocence!
    I am your wife, if you will marry me;
    If not I'll die your maid: to be your fellow
    You may deny me; but I'll be your servant
    Whether you will or no!


                              My mistress, dearest!
    And I thus humble ever.


                            My husband, then?


    Ay, with a heart as willing,
    As bondage e'er of freedom. Here's my hand.


    And mine with my heart in it. And now farewell
    Till half an hour hence.

As Miranda, being what she is, could only have had a Ferdinand for a
lover, and an Ariel for her attendant, so she could have had with
propriety no other father than the majestic and gifted being, who fondly
claims her as "a thread of his own life--nay, that for which he lives."
Prospero, with his magical powers, his superhuman wisdom, his moral
worth and grandeur, and his kingly dignity, is one of the most sublime
visions that ever swept with ample robes, pale brow, and sceptred hand,
before the eye of fancy. He controls the invisible world, and works
through the agency of spirits: not by any evil and forbidden compact,
but solely by superior might of intellect--by potent spells gathered
from the lore of ages, and abjured when he mingles again as a man with
his fellow men. He is as distinct a being from the necromancers and
astrologers celebrated in Shakspeare's age, as can well be imagined:[46]
and all the wizards of poetry and fiction, even Faust and St. Leon, sink
into common-places before the princely, the philosophic, the benevolent

The Bermuda Isles, in which Shakspeare has placed the scene of the
Tempest, were discovered in his time: Sir George Somers and his
companions having been wrecked there in a terrible storm,[47] brought
back a most fearful account of those unknown islands, which they
described as "a land of devils--a most prodigious and enchanted place,
subject to continual tempests and supernatural visitings." Such was the
idea entertained of the "still-vext Bermoothes" in Shakspeare's age; but
later travellers describe them as perfect regions of enchantment in a
far different sense; as so many fairy Edens, clustered like a knot of
gems upon the bosom of the Atlantic, decked out in all the lavish
luxuriance of nature, with shades of myrtle and cedar, fringed round
with groves of coral; in short, each island a tiny paradise, rich with
perpetual blossoms, in which Ariel might have slumbered, and
ever-verdant bowers, in which Ferdinand and Miranda might have strayed:
so that Shakspeare, in blending the wild relations of the shipwrecked
mariners with his own inspired fancies, has produced nothing, however
lovely in nature and sublime in magical power, which does not harmonize
with the beautiful and wondrous reality.

There is another circumstance connected with the Tempest, which is
rather interesting. It was produced and acted for the first time upon
the occasion of the nuptials of the Princess Elizabeth, the eldest
daughter of James I. with Frederic, the elector palatine. It is hardly
necessary to remind the reader of the fate of this amiable but most
unhappy woman, whose life, almost from the period of her marriage, was
one long tempestuous scene of trouble and adversity.

       *       *       *       *       *

The characters which I have here classed together, as principally
distinguished by the predominance of passion and fancy, appear to me to
rise, in the scale of ideality and simplicity, from Juliet to Miranda;
the last being in comparison so refined, so elevated above all stain of
earth, that we can only acknowledge her in connection with it through
the emotions of sympathy she feels and inspires.

I remember, when I was in Italy, standing "at evening on the top of
Fiesole," and at my feet I beheld the city of Florence and the Val
d'Arno, with its villas, its luxuriant gardens, groves, and olive
grounds, all bathed in crimson light. A transparent vapor or exhalation,
which in its tint was almost as rich as the pomegranate flower, moving
with soft undulation, rolled through the valley, and the very earth
seemed to pant with warm life beneath its rosy veil. A dark purple
shade, the forerunner of night, was already stealing over the east; in
the western sky still lingered the blaze of the sunset, while the faint
perfume of trees, and flowers, and now and then a strain of music wafted
upwards, completed the intoxication of the senses. But I looked from the
earth to the sky, and immediately above this scene hung the soft
crescent moon--alone, with all the bright heaven to herself; and as that
sweet moon to the glowing landscape beneath it, such is the character of
Miranda compared to that of Juliet.


[17] Lord Byron remarked of the Italian women, (and he could speak _avec
connaissance de fait_,) that they are the only women in the world
capable of impressions, at once very sudden and very durable; which, he
adds, is to be found in no other nation. Mr. Moore observes afterwards,
how completely an Italian woman, either from nature or her social
position, is led to invert the usual course of frailty among ourselves,
and, weak in resisting the first impulses of passion, to reserve the
whole strength of her character for a display of constancy and
devotedness afterwards.--Both these traits of national character are
exemplified in Juliet--_Moore's Life of Byron_, vol. ii. pp. 303, 338.
4to edit.

[18] _La sève de la vie_, is an expression used somewhere by Madame de

[19] Characters of Shakspeare's Plays.

[20] I must allude, but with reluctance, to another character, which I
have heard likened to Juliet, and often quoted as the heroine _par
excellence_ of amatory fiction--I mean the Julie of Rousseau's Nouvelle
Héloïse; I protest against her altogether. As a creation of fancy the
portrait is a compound of the most gross and glaring inconsistencies; as
false and impossible to the reflecting and philosophical mind, as the
fabled Syrens, Hamatryads and Centaurs to the eye of the anatomist. As a
woman, Julie belongs neither to nature nor to artificial society; and if
the pages of melting and dazzling eloquence in which Rousseau has
garnished out his idol did not blind and intoxicate us, as the incense
and the garlands did the votaries of Isis, we should be disgusted.
Rousseau, having composed his Julie of the commonest clay of the earth,
does not animate her with fire from heaven, but breathes his own spirit
into her, and then calls the "impetticoated" paradox a _woman_. He makes
her a peg on which to hang his own visions and sentiments--and what
sentiments! but that I fear to soil my pages, I would pick out a few of
them, and show the difference between this strange combination of youth
and innocence, philosophy and pedantry, sophistical prudery, and
detestable _grossièreté_, and our own Juliet. No! if we seek a French
Juliet, we must go far--far back to the real Héloïse, to her eloquence,
her sensibility, her fervor of passion, her devotedness of truth. She,
at least, married the man she loved, and loved the man she married, and
more than died for him; but enough of both.

[21] Constant describes her beautifully--"Sa voix si douce au travers le
bruit des armes, sa forme délicate au milieu de cet hommes tous couverts
de fer, la pureté de son âme opposée leurs calculs avides, son calme
céleste qui contraste avec leurs agitations, remplissent le spectateur
d'une émotion constante et mélancolique, telle que ne la fait ressentir
nulle tragédie ordinaire."

[22] Coleridge--preface to Wallenstein.

[23] In the "Two Gentlemen of Verona."

[24] There is an allusion to this court language of love in "All Well
that Ends Well," where Helena says,--

     There shall your master have a thousand loves--
     A guide, a goddess, and a sovereign;
     A counsellor, a traitress, and a dear,
     His humble ambition, proud humility,
     His jarring concord, and his discord dulcut,
     His faith, his sweet disaster, with a world
     Of pretty fond adoptious Christendoms
     That blinking Cupid gossips.--ACT I SCENE 1

The courtly poets of Elizabeth's time, who copied the Italian
sonnetteers of the sixteenth century, are full of these quaint conceits.

[25] Since this was written, I have met with some remarks of a similar
tendency in that most interesting book, "The Life of Lord E.

[26] Juliet, courageously drinking off the potion, after she has placed
before herself in the most fearful colors all its possible consequences,
is compared by Schlegel to the famous story of Alexander and his


     Perhaps 'tis pretty to force together
     Thoughts so all unlike each other;
     To mutter and mock a broken charm,
     To dally with wrong that does no harm!
     Perhaps 'tis tender, too, and pretty,
     At each wild word to feel within
     A sweet recoil of love and pity.
     And what if in a world of sin
     (O sorrow and shame should this be true!)
     Such giddiness of heart and brain
     Comes seldom save from rage and pain,
     So talks as it's most used to do?


These lines seem to me to form the truest comment on Juliet's wild
exclamations against Romeo.

[28] "The censure," observes Schlegel, "originates in a fanciless way of
thinking, to which every thing appears unnatural that does not suit its
tame insipidity. Hence an idea has been formed of simple and natural
pathos which consists in exclamations destitute of imagery, and nowise
elevated above every-day life; but energetic passions electrify the
whole mental powers and will, consequently, in highly-favored natures,
express themselves in an ingenious and figurative manner."

[29] The "Giulietta" of Luigi da Porta was written about 1520. In a
popular little book published in 1565, thirty years before Shakspeare
wrote his tragedy, the name of Juliet occurs as an example of faithful
love, and is thus explained by a note in the margin. "Juliet, a noble
maiden of the citie of Verona, which loved Romeo, eldest son of the Lord
Monteschi; and being privily married together, he at last poisoned
himself for love of her: she, for sorrow of his death, slew herself with
his dagger." This note, which furnishes, in brief, the whole argument of
Shakspeare's play, might possibly have made the first impression on his
fancy. In the novel of Da Porta the catastrophe is altogether different.
After the death of Romeo, the Friar Lorenzo endeavors to persuade Juliet
to leave the fatal monument. She refuses; and throwing herself back on
the dead body of her husband, she resolutely holds her breath and
dies.--"E voltatasi al giacente corpo di Romeo, il cui capo sopra un
origliere, che con lei uell' arca era stato lasciato, posto aveva; gli
occhi meglio rinchiusi avendogli, e di lagrime il freddo volto
bagnandogli, disse;" Che debbo senza di te in vita più fare, signor mio?
e che altro mi resta verso te se non colla mia morte seguirti? "E detto
questo, la sua gran sciagura nell' animo recatasi, e la perdita del caro
amante ricordandosi, deliberando di più non vivere, raccolto a se il
fiato, e per buono spazio tenutolo, e poscia con un gran grido fuori
mandandolo, sopra il morto corpo, morta ricadde."

There is nothing so improbable in the story of Romeo and Juliet as to
make us doubt the tradition that it is a real fact. "The Veronese," says
Lord Byron, in one of his letters from Verona, "are tenacious to a
degree of the truth of Juliet's story, insisting on the fact, giving the
date 1303, and showing a tomb. It is a plain, open, and partly decayed
sarcophagus, with withered leaves in it, in a wild and desolate
conventual garden--once a cemetery, now ruined, to the very graves! The
situation struck me as very appropriate to the legend, being blighted as
their love." He might have added, that when Verona itself, with its
amphitheatre and its Paladian structures, lies level with the earth, the
very spot on which it stood will be consecrated by the memory of Juliet.

When in Italy, I met a gentleman, who being then "_dans le genre
romantique_," wore a fragment of Juliet's tomb set in a ring.

[30] Foster's Essays

[31] I have read somewhere that the play of which Helena is the heroine,
(All's Well that Ends Well,) was at first entitled by Shakspeare "Love's
Labor Won." Why the title was altered or by whom I cannot discover.

[32] i. e. I care as much for as I do for heaven.

[33] New Monthly Magazine, vol. iv.

[34] Percy's Reliques.

[35] i. e. _canzons_, songs

[36] Percy's Reliques, vol. iii.--see the ballad of the "Lady turning
Serving Man."

[37] By this word, as used here, I would be understood to mean that
inexpressible something within the soul, which tends to the good, the
beautiful, the true, and is the antipodes to the vulgar, the violent,
and the false;--that which we see diffused externally over the form and
movements, where there is perfect innocence and unconsciousness, as in

[38] _i. e._ In the story of the drama; for in the original "History of
Amleth the Dane," from which Shakspeare drew his materials, there is a
woman introduced who is employed as an instrument to seduce Amleth, but
not even the germ of the character of Ophelia.

[39] In the Oedipus Coloneus

[40] "And recks not his own read," _i. e._ heeds not his own lesson.

[41] Blackwood's Magazine, vol. 11.

[42] Act iii. scene 1.

[43] Goëthe. See the analysis of Hamlet in Wilhelm Meister

[44] The Iphigenia in Aulis of Euripides.

[45] Goëthe

[46] Such as Cornelius Agrippa, Michael Scott, Dr. Dee. The last was the
contemporary of Shakspeare.

[47] In 1609, about three years before Shakspeare produced the Tempest,
which, though placed first in all the editions of his works, was one of
the last of his dramas.



Characters in which the affections and the moral qualities predominate
over fancy and all that bears the name of passion, are not, when we meet
with them in real life, the most striking and interesting, nor the
easiest to be understood and appreciated; but they are those on which,
in the long run, we repose with increasing confidence and ever-new
delight. Such characters are not easily exhibited in the colors of
poetry, and when we meet with them there, we are reminded of the effect
of Raffaelle's pictures. Sir Joshua Reynolds assures us, that it took
him three weeks to discover the beauty of the frescos in the Vatican;
and many, if they spoke the truth, would prefer one of Titian's or
Murillo's Virgins to one of Raffaelle's heavenly Madonnas. The less
there is of marked expression or vivid color in a countenance or
character, the more difficult to delineate it in such a manner as to
captivate and interest us: but when this is done, and done to
perfection, it is the miracle of poetry in painting, and of painting in
poetry. Only Raffaelle and Correggio have achieved it in one case, and
only Shakspeare in the other.

When, by the presence or the agency of some predominant and exciting
power, the feelings and affections are upturned from the depths of the
heart, and flung to the surface, the painter or the poet has but to
watch the workings of the passions, thus in a manner made visible, and
transfer them to his page or his canvas, in colors more or less
vigorous: but where all is calm without and around, to dive into the
profoundest abysses of character, trace the affections where they lie
hidden like the ocean springs, wind into the most intricate involutions
of the heart, patiently unravel its most delicate fibres, and in a few
graceful touches place before us the distinct and visible result,--to do
this demanded power of another and a rarer kind.

There are several of Shakspeare's characters which are especially
distinguished by this profound feeling in the conception, and subdued
harmony of tone in the delineation. To them may be particularly applied
the ingenious simile which Goëthe has used to illustrate generally all
Shakspeare's characters, when he compares them to the old-fashioned
batches in glass cases, which not only showed the index pointing to the
hour, but the wheels and springs within, which set that index in motion.

Imogen, Desdemona, and Hermione, are three women placed in situations
nearly similar, and equally endowed with all the qualities which can
render that situation striking and interesting. They are all gentle,
beautiful, and innocent; all are models of conjugal submission, truth,
and tenderness, and all are victims of the unfounded jealousy of their
husbands. So far the parallel is close, but here the resemblance ceases;
the circumstances of each situation are varied with wonderful skill, and
the characters, which are as different as it is possible to imagine,
conceived and discriminated with a power of truth and a delicacy of
feeling yet more astonishing.

Critically speaking, the character of Hermione is the most simple in
point of dramatic effect, that of Imogen is the most varied and complex.
Hermione is most distinguished by her magnanimity and her fortitude,
Desdemona by her gentleness and refined grace, while Imogen combines all
the best qualities of both, with others which they do not possess;
consequently she is, as a character, superior to either; but considered
as women, I suppose the preference would depend on individual taste.

Hermione is the heroine of the first three acts of the Winter's Tale.
She is the wife of Leontes, king of Sicilia, and though in the prime of
beauty and womanhood, is not represented in the first bloom of youth.
Her husband on slight grounds suspects her of infidelity with his friend
Polixenes, king of Bohemia; the suspicion once admitted, and working on
a jealous, passionate, and vindictive mind, becomes a settled and
confirmed opinion. Hermione is thrown into a dungeon; her new-born
infant is taken from her, and by the order of her husband, frantic with
jealousy, exposed to death on a desert shore; she is herself brought to
a public trial for treason and incontinency, defends herself nobly, and
is pronounced innocent by the oracle. But at the very moment that she is
acquitted, she learns the death of the prince her son, who

    Conceiving the dishonor of his mother,
    Had straight declined, drooped, took it deeply,
    Fastened and fixed the shame on't in himself,
    Threw off his spirit, appetite, and sleep,
    And downright languished.

She swoons away with grief, and her supposed death concludes the third
act. The last two acts are occupied with the adventures of her daughter
Perdita; and with the restoration of Perdita to the arms of her mother,
and the reconciliation of Hermione and Leontes, the piece concludes.

Such, in few words, is the dramatic situation. The character of Hermione
exhibits what is never found in the other sex, but rarely in our
own--yet sometimes;--dignity without pride, love without passion, and
tenderness without weakness. To conceive a character in which there
enters so much of the negative, required perhaps no rare and astonishing
effort of genius, such as created a Juliet, a Miranda, or a Lady
Macbeth; but to delineate such a character in the poetical form, to
develop it through the medium of action and dialogue, without the aid of
description: to preserve its tranquil, mild, and serious beauty, its
unimpassioned dignity, and at the same time keep the strongest hold upon
our sympathy and our imagination; and out of this exterior calm,
produce the most profound pathos, the most vivid impression of life and
internal power:--it is this which renders the character of Hermione one
of Shakspeare's masterpieces.

Hermione is a queen, a matron, and a mother: she is good and beautiful,
and royally descended. A majestic sweetness, a grand and gracious
simplicity, an easy, unforced, yet dignified self-possession, are in all
her deportment, and in every word she utters. She is one of those
characters, of whom it has been said proverbially, that "still waters
run deep." Her passions are not vehement, but in her settled mind the
sources of pain or pleasure, love or resentment, are like the springs
that feed the mountain lakes, impenetrable, unfathomable, and

Shakspeare has conveyed (as is his custom) a part of the character of
Hermione in scattered touches and through the impressions which she
produces on all around her. Her surpassing beauty is alluded to in few
but strong terms:--

                          This jealousy
    Is for a precious creature; as she is rare
    Must it be great.
    Praise her but for this her out-door form,
    'Which, on my faith, deserves high speech--'

    If one by one you wedded all the world,
    Or from the all that are, took something good
    To make a perfect woman; she you killed
    Would be unparalleled.

    I might have looked upon my queen's full eyes,
    Have taken treasure from her lips--
                        --and left them
    More rich for what they yielded.

The expressions "most sacred lady," "dread mistress," "sovereign," with
which she is addressed or alluded to, the boundless devotion and respect
of those around her, and their confidence in her goodness and innocence,
are so many additional strokes in the portrait.

                        For her, my lord,
    I dare my life lay down, and will do't, sir,
    Please you t' accept it, that the queen is spotless
    I' the eyes of heaven, and to you.

    Every inch of woman in the world,
    Ay, every dram of woman's flesh is false,
    If she be so.
    I would not be a stander-by to hear
    My sovereign mistress clouded so, without
    My present vengeance taken!

The mixture of playful courtesy, queenly dignity, and lady-like
sweetness, with which she prevails on Polixenes to prolong his visit, is


                You'll stay!


    No, madam.


                Nay, but you will.


    I may not, verily.


    You put me off with limber vows; but I,
    Tho' you would seek t' unsphere the stars with oaths
    Should still say, "Sir, no going!" Verily,
    You shall _not_ go! A lady's verily is
    As potent as a lord's. Will you go yet?
    Force me to keep you as a prisoner,
    Not like a guest?

And though the situation of Hermione admits but of few general
reflections, one little speech, inimitably beautiful and characteristic,
has become almost proverbial from its truth. She says:--

              One good deed, dying tongueless,
    Slaughters a thousand, waiting upon that.
    Our praises are our wages; you may ride us
    With one soft kiss a thousand furlongs, ere
    With spur we heat an acre.

She receives the first intimation of her husband's jealous suspicions
with incredulous astonishment. It is not that, like Desdemona, she does
not or cannot understand; but she _will_ not. When he accuses her more
plainly, she replies with a calm dignity:--

              Should a villain say so--
    The most replenished villain in the world--
    He were as much more villain: you, my lord,
    Do but mistake.

This characteristic composure of temper never forsakes her; and yet it
is so delineated that the impression is that of grandeur, and never
borders upon pride or coldness: it is the fortitude of a gentle but a
strong mind, conscious of its own innocence. Nothing can be more
affecting than her calm reply to Leontes, who, in his jealous rage,
heaps insult upon insult, and accuses her before her own attendants, as
no better "than one of those to whom the vulgar give bold titles."

                How will this grieve you,
    When you shall come to clearer knowledge, that
    You have thus published me! Gentle my lord,
    You scarce can right me thoroughly then, to say
    You _did_ mistake.

Her mild dignity and saint-like patience, combined as they are with the
strongest sense of the cruel injustice of her husband, thrill us with
admiration as well as pity; and we cannot but see and feel, that for
Hermione to give way to tears and feminine complaints under such a blow,
would be quite incompatible with the character. Thus she says of
herself, as she is led to prison:--

                There's some ill planet reigns:
    I must be patient till the heavens look
    With an aspect more favorable. Good my lords,
    I am not prone to weeping, as our sex
    Commonly are; the want of which vain dew
    Perchance shall dry your pities; but I have
    That honorable grief lodged here, that burns
    Worse than tears drown. Beseech you all, my lords
    With thought so qualified as your charities
    Shall best instruct you, measure me; and so
    The king's will be performed.

When she is brought to trial for supposed crimes, called on to defend
herself, "standing to prate and talk for life and honor, before who
please to come and hear," the sense of her ignominious situation--all
its shame and all its horror press upon her, and would apparently crush
even _her_ magnanimous spirit, but for the consciousness of her own
worth and innocence, and the necessity that exists for asserting and
defending both.

                 If powers divine
    Behold our human actions, (as they do),
    I doubt not, then, but innocence shall make
    False accusation blush, and tyranny
    Tremble at patience.

                 *   *   *   *

                 For life, I prize it
    As I weigh grief, which I would spare. For honor--
    'Tis a derivative from me to mine,
    And only that I stand for.

Her earnest, eloquent justification of herself, and her lofty sense of
female honor, are rendered more affecting and impressive by that
chilling despair that contempt for a life which has been made bitter to
her through unkindness, which is betrayed in every word of her speech,
though so calmly characteristic. When she enumerates the unmerited
insults which have been heaped upon her, it is without asperity or
reproach, yet in a tone which shows how completely the iron has entered
her soul. Thus, when Leontes threatens her with death:--

                Sir, spare your threats;
    The bug which you would fright me with, I seek.
    To me can life be no commodity;
    The crown and comfort of my life, your favor,
    I do give lost; for I do feel it gone,
    But know not how it went. My second joy,
    The first-fruits of my body, from his presence
    I am barr'd, like one infectious. My third comfort--
    Starr'd most unluckily!--is from my breast,
    The innocent milk in its most innocent mouth,
    Haled out to murder. Myself on every post
    Proclaimed a strumpet; with immodest hatred,
    The childbed privilege denied, which 'longs
    To women of all fashion. Lastly, hurried
    Here to this place, i' the open air, before
    I have got strength of limit. Now, my liege,
    Tell me what blessings I have here alive,
    That I should fear to die. Therefore, proceed,
    But yet hear this; mistake me not. No! life,
    I prize it not a straw:--but for mine honor.
    (Which I would free,) if I shall be condemned
    Upon surmises; all proof sleeping else,
    But what your jealousies awake; I tell you,
    'Tis rigor and not law.

The character of Hermione is considered open to criticism on one point.
I have heard it remarked that when she secludes herself from the world
for sixteen years, during which time she is mourned as dead by her
repentant husband, and is not won to relent from her resolve by his
sorrow, his remorse, his constancy to her memory; such conduct, argues
the critic, is unfeeling as it is inconceivable in a tender and virtuous
woman. Would Imogen have done so, who is so generously ready to grant a
pardon before it be asked? or Desdemona, who does not forgive because
she cannot even resent? No, assuredly; but this is only another proof of
the wonderful delicacy and consistency with which Shakspeare has
discriminated the characters of all three. The incident of Hermione's
supposed death and concealment for sixteen years, is not indeed very
probable in itself, nor very likely to occur in every-day life. But
besides all the probability necessary for the purposes of poetry, it has
all the likelihood it can derive from the peculiar character of
Hermione, who is precisely the woman who could and would have acted in
this manner. In such a mind as hers, the sense of a cruel injury,
inflicted by one she had loved and trusted, without awakening any
violent anger or any desire of vengeance, would sink deep--almost
incurably and lastingly deep. So far she is most unlike either Imogen or
Desdemona, who are portrayed as much more flexible in temper; but then
the circumstances under which she is wronged are very different, and far
more unpardonable. The self-created, frantic jealousy of Leontes is very
distinct from that of Othello, writhing under the arts of Iago: or that
of Posthumus, whose understanding has been cheated by the most damning
evidence of his wife's infidelity. The jealousy which in Othello and
Posthumus is an error of judgment, in Leontes is a vice of the blood;
he suspects without cause, condemns without proof; he is without
excuse--unless the mixture of pride, passion, and imagination, and the
predisposition to jealousy with which Shakspeare has portrayed him, be
considered as an excuse. Hermione has been openly insulted: he to whom
she gave herself, her heart, her soul, has stooped to the weakness and
baseness of suspicion; has doubted her truth, has wronged her love, has
sunk in her esteem, and forfeited her confidence. She has been branded
with vile names; her son, her eldest hope, is dead--dead through the
false accusation which has stuck infamy on his mother's name; and her
innocent babe, stained with illegitimacy, disowned and rejected, has
been exposed to a cruel death. Can we believe that the mere tardy
acknowledgment of her innocence could make amends for wrongs and agonies
such as these? or heal a heart which must have bled inwardly, consumed
by that untold grief, "which burns worse than tears drown?" Keeping in
view the peculiar character of Hermione, such as she is delineated, is
she one either to forgive hastily or forget quickly? and though she
might, in her solitude, mourn over her repentant husband, would his
repentance suffice to restore him at once to his place in her heart: to
efface from her strong and reflecting mind the recollection of his
miserable weakness? or can we fancy this high-souled woman--left
childless through the injury which has been inflicted on her, widowed in
heart by the unworthness of him she loved, a spectacle of grief to
all--to her husband a continual reproach and humiliation--walking
through the parade of royalty in the court which had witnessed her
anguish, her shame, her degradation, and her despair? Methinks that the
want of feeling, nature, delicacy, and consistency, would lie in such an
exhibition as this. In a mind like Hermione's, where the strength of
feeling is founded in the power of thought, and where there is little of
impulse or imagination,--"the depth, but not the tumult of the
soul,"[48]--there are but two influences which predominate over the
will,--time and religion. And what then remained, but that, wounded in
heart and spirit, she should retire from the world?--not to brood over
her wrongs, but to study forgiveness, and wait the fulfilment of the
oracle which had promised the termination of her sorrows. Thus a
premature reconciliation would not only have been painfully inconsistent
with the character; it would also have deprived us of that most
beautiful scene, in which Hermione is discovered to her husband as the
statue or image of herself. And here we have another instance of that
admirable art, with which the dramatic character is fitted to the
circumstances in which it is placed: that perfect command over her own
feelings, that complete self-possession necessary to this extraordinary
situation, is consistent with all that we imagine of Hermione: in any
other woman it would be so incredible as to shock all our ideas of

This scene, then, is not only one of the most picturesque and striking
instances of stage effect to be found in the ancient or modern drama,
but by the skilful manner in which it is prepared, it has, wonderful as
it appears, all the merit of consistency and truth. The grief, the love,
the remorse and impatience of Leontes, are finely contrasted with the
astonishment and admiration of Perdita, who, gazing on the figure of her
mother like one entranced, looks as if she were also turned to marble.
There is here one little instance of tender remembrance in Leontes,
which adds to the charming impression of Hermione's character.

    Chide me, dear stone! that I may say indeed
    Thou art Hermione; or rather thou art she
    In thy not chiding, for she was as tender
    As infancy and grace.

                     Thus she stood,
    Even with such life of majesty--warm life--
    As now it coldly stands--when first I woo'd her!

The effect produced on the different persons of the drama by this living
statue--an effect which at the same moment is, and is _not_
illusion--the manner in which the feelings of the spectators become
entangled between the conviction of death and the impression of life,
the idea of a deception and the feeling of a reality; and the exquisite
coloring of poetry and touches of natural feeling with which the whole
is wrought up, till wonder, expectation, and intense pleasure, hold our
pulse and breath suspended on the event,--are quite inimitable.

The expressions used here by Leontes,--

                    Thus she stood,
    Even with such life of majesty--_warm life_.
      The fixture of her eye has motion in't.
      And we are mock'd by art!

And by Polixines,--

    The very life seems warm upon her lip,

appear strangely applied to a statue, such as we usually imagine it--of
the cold colorless marble; but it is evident that in this scene Hermione
personates one of those images or effigies, such as we may see in the
old gothic cathedrals, in which the stone, or marble, was colored after
nature. I remember coming suddenly upon one of these effigies, either at
Basle or at Fribourg, which made me start: the figure was large as life;
the drapery of crimson, powdered with stars of gold; the face and eyes,
and hair, tinted after nature, though faded by time: it stood in a
gothic niche, over a tomb, as I think, and in a kind of dim uncertain
light. It would have been very easy for a living person to represent
such an effigy, particularly if it had been painted by that "rare
Italian master, Julio Romano,"[49] who, as we are informed, was the
reputed author of this wonderful statue.

The moment when Hermione descends from her pedestal, to the sound of
soft music, and throws herself without speaking into her husband's arms,
is one of inexpressible interest. It appears to me that her silence
during the whole of this scene (except where she invokes a blessing on
her daughter's head) is in the finest taste as a poetical beauty,
besides being an admirable trait of character. The misfortunes of
Hermione, her long religious seclusion, the wonderful and almost
supernatural part she has just enacted, have invested her with such a
sacred and awful charm, that any words put into her mouth, must, I
think, have injured the solemn and profound pathos of the situation.

There are several among Shakspeare's characters which exercise a far
stronger power over our feelings, our fancy, our understanding, than
that of Hermione; but not one,--unless perhaps Cordelia,--constructed
upon so high and pure a principle. It is the union of gentleness with
power which constitutes the perfection of mental grace. Thus among the
ancients, with whom the _graces_ were also the _charities_, (to show,
perhaps, that while form alone may constitute beauty, sentiment is
necessary to grace,) one and the same word signified equally _strength_
and _virtue_. This feeling, carried into the fine arts, was the secret
of the antique grace--the grace of repose. The same eternal nature--the
same sense of immutable truth and beauty, which revealed this sublime
principle of art to the ancient Greeks, revealed it to the genius of
Shakspeare; and the character of Hermione, in which we have the same
largeness of conception and delicacy of execution,--the same effect of
suffering without passion, and grandeur without effort, is an instance,
I think, that he felt within himself, and by intuition, what we study
all our lives in the remains of ancient art. The calm, regular,
classical beauty of Hermione's character is the more impressive from the
wild and gothic accompaniments of her story, and the beautiful relief
afforded by the pastoral and romantic grace which is thrown around her
daughter Perdita.

The character of Paulina, in the Winter's Tale, though it has obtained
but little notice, and no critical remark, (that I have seen,) is yet
one of the striking beauties of the play: and it has its moral too. As
we see running through the whole universe that principle of contrast
which may be called the life of nature, so we behold it every where
illustrated in Shakspeare: upon this principle he has placed Emilia
beside Desdemona, the nurse beside Juliet; the clowns and dairy-maids,
and the merry peddler thief Autolycus round Florizel and Perdita;--and
made Paulina the friend of Hermione.

Paulina does not fill any ostensible office near the person of the
queen, but is a lady of high rank in the court--the wife of the Lord
Antigones. She is a character strongly drawn from real and common
life--a clever, generous, strong-minded, warmhearted woman, fearless in
asserting the truth, firm in her sense of right, enthusiastic in all her
affections: quick in thought, resolute in word, and energetic in action;
but heedless, hot-tempered, impatient, loud, bold, voluble, and
turbulent of tongue; regardless of the feelings of those for whom she
would sacrifice her life, and injuring from excess of zeal those whom
she most wishes to serve. How many such are there in the world! But
Paulina, though a very termagant, is yet a poetical termagant in her
way; and the manner in which all the evil and dangerous tendencies of
such a temper are placed before us, even while the individual character
preserves the strongest hold upon our respect and admiration, forms an
impressive lesson, as well as a natural and delightful portrait.

In the scene, for instance, where she brings the infant before Leontes,
with the hope of softening him to a sense of his injustice--"an office
which," as she observes, "becomes a woman best"--her want of
self-government, her bitter, inconsiderate reproaches, only add, as we
might easily suppose, to his fury.


                      I say I come
    From your good queen!


    Good queen!


    Good queen, my lord, good queen: I say good queen;
    And would by combat make her good, so were I
    A man, the worst about you.


    Force her hence.


    Let him that makes but trifles of his eyes,
    First hand me: on mine own accord I'll off;
    But first I'll do mine errand. The good queen
    (For she is good) hath brought you forth a daughter--
    Here 'tis; commends it to your blessing.


    Will you not push her out! Give her the bastard.


    Unvenerable be thy hands, if thou
    Tak'st up the princess by that forced baseness
    Which he has put upon't!


    He dreads his wife.


    So, I would _you_ did; then 'twere past all doubt
    You'd call your children your's.


                          A callat,
    Of boundless tongue, who late hath beat her husband,
    And now baits me!--this brat is none of mine.


                                    It is yours,
    And might we lay the old proverb to your charge,
    So like you, 'tis the worse.

                      *   *   *   *


                                      A gross hag!
    And lozel, thou art worthy to be hang'd,
    That wilt not stay her tongue.


                Hang all the husbands
    That cannot do that feat, you'll leave yourself
    Hardly one subject.


    Once more, take her hence.


    A most unworthy and unnatural lord
    Can do no more.


    I'll have thee burn'd.


                                 I care not:
    It is an heretic that makes the fire,
    Not she which burns in't.

Here, while we honor her courage and her affection, we cannot help
regretting her violence. We see, too, in Paulina, what we so often see
in real life, that it is not those who are most susceptible in their own
temper and feelings, who are most delicate and forbearing towards the
feelings of others. She does not comprehend, or will not allow for the
sensitive weakness of a mind less firmly tempered than her own. There
is a reply of Leontes to one of her cutting speeches, which is full of
feeling, and a lesson to those, who, with the best intentions in the
world, force the painful truth, like a knife, into the already lacerated


    If, one by one, you wedded all the world,
    Or, from the all that are, took something good
    To make a perfect woman, she you kill'd
    Would be unparallel'd.


    I think so. Kill'd!
    She I kill'd? I did so: but thou strik'st me
    Sorely, to say I did; it is as bitter
    Upon thy tongue, as in my thought. Now, good now,
    Say so but seldom.


    Not at all, good lady:
    You might have spoken a thousand things that would
    Have done the time more benefit, and grac'd
    Your kindness better.

We can only excuse Paulina by recollecting that it is a part of her
purpose to keep alive in the heart of Leontes the remembrance of his
queen's perfections, and of his own cruel injustice. It is admirable,
too, that Hermione and Paulina, while sufficiently approximated to
afford all the pleasure of contrast, are never brought too nearly in
contact on the scene or in the dialogue;[50] for this would have been a
fault in taste, and have necessarily weakened the effect of both
characters:--either the serene grandeur of Hermione would have subdued
and overawed the fiery spirit of Paulina, or the impetuous temper of the
latter must have disturbed in some respect our impression of the calm,
majestic, and somewhat melancholy beauty of Hermione.


The character of Hermione is addressed more to the imagination; that of
Desdemona to the feelings. All that can render sorrow majestic is
gathered round Hermione; all that can render misery heart-breaking is
assembled round Desdemona. The wronged but self-sustained virtue of
Hermione commands our veneration; the injured and defenceless innocence
of Desdemona so wrings the soul, "that all for pity we could die."

Desdemona, as a character, comes nearest to Miranda, both in herself as
a woman, and in the perfect simplicity and unity of the delineation; the
figures are differently draped--the proportions are the same. There is
the same modesty, tenderness, and grace; the same artless devotion in
the affections, the same predisposition to wonder, to pity, to admire;
the same almost ethereal refinement and delicacy; but all is pure poetic
nature within Miranda and around her: Desdemona is more associated with
the palpable realities of every-day existence, and we see the forms and
habits of society tinting her language and deportment; no two beings can
be more alike in character--nor more distinct as individuals.

The love of Desdemona for Othello appears at first such a violation of
all probabilities, that her father at once imputes it to magic, "to
spells and mixtures powerful o'er the blood."

                        She, in spite of nature,
    Of years, of country, credit, every thing,
    To fall in love with what she feared to look on!

And the devilish malignity of Iago, whose coarse mind cannot conceive an
affection founded purely in sentiment, derives from her love itself a
strong argument against her.

    Ay, there's the point, as to be bold with you,
    Not to affect any proposed matches
    Of her own clime, complexion, and degree,
    Whereto, we see, in all things nature tends,[51] &c.

Notwithstanding this disparity of age, character, country, complexion,
we, who are admitted into the secret, see her love rise naturally and
necessarily out of the leading propensities of her nature.

At the period of the story a spirit of wild adventure had seized all
Europe. The discovery of both Indies was yet recent; over the shores of
the western hemisphere still fable and mystery hung, with all their dim
enchantments, visionary terrors, and golden promises! perilous
expeditions and distant voyages were every day undertaken from hope of
plunder, or mere love of enterprise; and from these the adventurers
returned with tales of "Antres vast and desarts wild--of cannibals that
did each other eat--of Anthropophagi, and men whose heads did grow
beneath their shoulders." With just such stories did Raleigh and
Clifford, and their followers return from the New World: and thus by
their splendid or fearful exaggerations, which the imperfect knowledge
of those times could not refute, was the passion for the romantic and
marvellous nourished at home, particularly among the women. A cavalier
of those days had no nearer no surer way to his mistress's heart, than
by entertaining her with these wondrous narratives. What was a general
feature of his time, Shakspeare seized and adapted to his purpose with
the most exquisite felicity of effect. Desdemona, leaving her household
cares in haste, to hang breathless on Othello's tales, was doubtless a
picture from the life; and her inexperience and her quick imagination
lend it an added propriety: then her compassionate disposition is
interested by all the disastrous chances, hair-breadth 'scapes, and
moving accidents by flood and field, of which he has to tell; and her
exceeding gentleness and timidity, and her domestic turn of mind, render
her more easily captivated by the military renown, the valor, and lofty
bearing of the noble Moor--

    And to his honors and his valiant parts
    Does she her soul and fortunes consecrate.

The confession and the excuse for her love is well placed in the mouth
of Desdemona, while the history of the rise of that love, and of his
course of wooing, is, with the most graceful propriety, as far as she is
concerned, spoken by Othello, and in her absence. The last two lines
summing up the whole--

    She loved me for the dangers I had passed,
    And I loved her that she did pity them--

comprise whole volumes of sentiment and metaphysics.

Desdemona displays at times a transient energy, arising from the power
of affection, but gentleness gives the prevailing tone to the
character--gentleness in its excess--gentleness verging on
passiveness--gentleness, which not only cannot resent,--but cannot


    Then of so gentle a condition!


    Ay! too gentle.


    Nay, that's certain

Here the exceeding softness of Desdemona's temper is turned against her
by Iago, so that it suddenly strikes Othello in a new point of view, as
the inability to resist temptation; but to us who perceive the character
as a whole, this extreme gentleness of nature is yet delineated with
such exceeding refinement, that the effect never approaches to
feebleness. It is true that _once_ her extreme timidity leads her in a
moment of confusion and terror to prevaricate about the fatal
handkerchief. This handkerchief, in the original story of Cinthio, is
merely one of those embroidered handkerchiefs which were as fashionable
in Shakspeare's time as in our own; but the minute description of it as
"lavorato alla morisco sottilissimamente,"[52] suggested to the poetical
fancy of Shakspeare one of the most exquisite and characteristic
passages in the whole play. Othello makes poor Desdemona believe that
the handkerchief was a talisman.

              There's magic in the web of it.
    A sibyl, that had numbered in the world
    The sun to make two hundred compasses,
    In her prophetic fury sew'd the work:
    The worms were hallowed that did breed the silk,
    And it was dyed in mummy, which the skilful
    Conserv'd of maidens' hearts.


    Indeed! is't true?


    Most veritable, therefore look to't well.


    Then would to heaven that I had never seen it!


    Ha! wherefore!


    Why do you speak so startingly and rash?


    Is't lost,--Is't gone? Speak, is it out of the way?


    Heavens bless us!


    Say you?


    It is not lost--but what an' if it were?




    I say it is not lost.


    Fetch it, let me see it.


    Why so I can, sir, but I will not now, &c.

Desdemona, whose soft credulity, whose turn for the marvellous, whose
susceptible imagination had first directed her thoughts and affections
to Othello, is precisely the woman to be frightened out of her senses by
such a tale as this, and betrayed by her fears into a momentary
tergiversation. It is most natural in such a being, and shows us that
even in the sweetest natures there can be no completeness and
consistency without moral energy.[53]

With the most perfect artlessness, she has something of the instinctive,
unconscious address of her sex; as when she appeals to her father--

    So much duty as my mother show'd
    To you, preferring you before her father,
    So much I challenge, that I may profess
    Due to the Moor, my lord.

And when she is pleading for Cassio--

                    What! Michael Cassio!
    That came a wooing with you; and many a time.
    When I have spoken of you disparagingly,
    Hath ta'en your part?

In persons who unite great sensibility and lively fancy, I have often
observed this particular species of address, which is always unconscious
of itself, and consists in the power of placing ourselves in the
position of another, and imagining, rather than perceiving, what is in
their hearts. We women have this _address_ (if so it can be called)
naturally, but I have seldom met with it in men. It is not inconsistent
with extreme simplicity of character, and quite distinct from that kind
of art which is the result of natural acuteness and habits of
observation--quick to perceive the foibles of others, and as quick to
turn them to its own purposes; which is always conscious of itself, and,
if united with strong intellect, seldom perceptible to others. In the
mention of her mother, and the appeal to Othello's self-love, Desdemona
has no design formed on conclusions previously drawn; but her intuitive
quickness of feeling, added to her imagination, lead her more safely to
the same results, and the distinction is as truly as it is delicately

When Othello first outrages her in a manner which appears inexplicable,
she seeks and finds excuses for him. She is so innocent that not only
she cannot believe herself suspected, but she cannot conceive the
existence of guilt in others.

              Something, sure, of state,
    Either from Venice, or some unhatch'd practice
    Made demonstrable here in Cyprus to him,
    Hath puddled his clear spirit.
                      'Tis even so--
    Nay, we must think, men are not gods,
    Nor of them look for such observances
    As fit the bridal.

And when the direct accusation of crime is flung on her in the vilest
terms, it does not anger but stun her, as if it transfixed her whole
being; she attempts no reply, no defence; and reproach or resistance
never enters her thought.

    Good friend, go to him--for by this light of heaven
    I know not how I lost him: here I kneel:--
    If e'er my will did trespass 'gainst his love,
    Either in discourse of thought or actual deed;
    Or that mine eyes, mine ears, or any sense,
    Delighted them in any other form;
    Or that I do not yet, and ever did,
    And ever will, though he do shake me off
    To beggarly divorcement, love him dearly,
    Comfort forswear me! Unkindness may do much,
    And his unkindness may defeat my life,
    But never taint my love.

And there is one stroke of consummate delicacy surprising, when we
remember the latitude of expression prevailing in Shakspeare's time, and
which he allowed to his other women generally: she says, on recovering
from her stupefaction--

    Am I that name, Iago?


    What name, sweet lady?


    That which she says my lord did say I was.

So completely did Shakspeare enter into the angelic refinement of the

Endued with that temper which is the origin of superstition in love as
in religion,--which, in fact makes love itself a religion,--she not
only does not utter an upbraiding, but nothing that Othello does or
says, no outrage, no injustice, can tear away the charm with which her
imagination had invested him, or impair her faith in his honor; "Would
you had never seen him!" exclaims Emilia.


    So would not I!--my love doth so approve him,
    That even his stubbornness, his checks and frowns
    Have grace and favor in them.

There is another peculiarity, which, in reading the play of Othello, we
rather feel than perceive: through the whole of the dialogue
appropriated to Desdemona, there is not one general observation. Words
are with her the vehicle of sentiment, and never of reflection; so that
I cannot find throughout a sentence of general application. The same
remark applies to Miranda: and to no other female character of any
importance or interest; not even to Ophelia.

The rest of what I wished to say of Desdemona, has been anticipated by
an anonymous critic, and so beautifully, so justly, so eloquently
expressed, that I with pleasure erase my own page, to make room for his.

"Othello," observes this writer, "is no love story; all that is below
tragedy in the passion of love, is taken away at once, by the awful
character of Othello; for such he seems to us to be designed to be. He
appears never as a lover, but at once as a husband: and the relation of
his love made dignified, as it is a husband's justification of his
marriage, is also dignified, as it is a soldier's relation of his stern
and perilous life. His love itself, as long as it is happy, is perfectly
calm and serene--the protecting tenderness of a husband. It is not till
it is disordered, that it appears as a passion: then is shown a power in
contention with itself--a mighty being struck with death, and bringing
up from all the depths of life convulsions and agonies. It is no
exhibition of the power of the passion of love, but of the passion of
life, vitally wounded, and self over-mastering. If Desdemona had been
really guilty, the greatness would have been destroyed, because his love
would have been unworthy, false. But she is good, and his love is most
perfect, just, and good. That a man should place his perfect love on a
wretched thing, is miserably debasing, and shocking to thought; but that
loving perfectly and well, he should by hellish human circumvention be
brought to distrust and dread, and abjure his own perfect love, is most
mournful indeed--it is the infirmity of our good nature wrestling in
vain with the strong powers of evil. Moreover, he would, had Desdemona
been false, have been the mere victim of fate; whereas he is now in a
manner his own victim. His happy love was heroic tenderness; his injured
love is terrible passion, and disordered power, engendered within itself
to its own destruction, is the height of all tragedy.

"The character of Othello is perhaps the most greatly drawn, the most
heroic of any of Shakspeare's actors; but it is, perhaps, that one also
of which his reader last acquires the intelligence. The intellectual and
warlike energy of his mind--his tenderness of affection--his loftiness
of spirit--his frank, generous magnanimity--impetuosity like a
thunderbolt--and that dark, fierce flood of boiling passion, polluting
even his imagination,--compose a character entirely original, most
difficult to delineate, but perfectly delineated."

Emilia in this play is a perfect portrait from common life, a
masterpiece in the Flemish style: and though not necessary as a
contrast, it cannot be but that the thorough vulgarity, the loose
principles of this plebeian woman, united to a high degree of spirit,
energetic feeling, strong sense and low cunning, serve to place in
brighter relief the exquisite refinement, the moral grace, the
unblemished truth, and the soft submission of Desdemona.

On the other perfections of this tragedy, considered as a production of
genius--on the wonderful characters of Othello and Iago--on the skill
with which the plot is conducted, and its simplicity which a
word unravels,[54] and on the overpowering horror of the
catastrophe--eloquence and analytical criticism have been exhausted; I
will only add, that the source of the pathos throughout--of that pathos
which at once softens and deepens the tragic effect--lies in the
character of Desdemona. No woman differently constituted could have
excited the same intense and painful compassion, without losing
something of that exalted charm, which invests her from beginning to
end, which we are apt to impute to the interest of the situation, and to
the poetical coloring, but which lies, in fact, in the very essence of
the character. Desdemona, with all her timid flexibility and soft
acquiescence, is not weak; for the negative alone is weak; and the mere
presence of goodness and affection implies in itself a species of power;
power without consciousness, power without effort, power with
repose--that soul of grace!

I know a Desdemona in real life, one in whom the absence of intellectual
power is never felt as a deficiency, nor the absence of energy of will
as impairing the dignity, nor the most imperturbable serenity, as a want
of feeling: one in whom thoughts appear mere instincts, the sentiment of
rectitude supplies the principle, and virtue itself seems rather a
necessary state of being, than an imposed law. No shade of sin or vanity
has yet stolen over that bright innocence. No discord within has marred
the loveliness without--no strife of the factitious world without has
disturbed the harmony within. The comprehension of evil appears forever
shut out, as if goodness had converted all things to itself; and all to
the pure in heart must necessarily be pure. The impression produced is
exactly that of the character of Desdemona; genius is a rare thing, but
abstract goodness is rarer. In Desdemona, we cannot but feel that the
slightest manifestation of intellectual power or active will would have
injured the dramatic effect. She is a victim consecrated from the
first,--"an offering without blemish," alone worthy of the grand final
sacrifice; all harmony, all grace, all purity, all tenderness, all
truth! But, alas! to see her fluttering like a cherub in the talons of a
fiend!--to see her--O poor Desdemona!


We come to Imogen. Others of Shakspeare's characters are, as dramatic
and poetical conceptions, more striking, more brilliant, more powerful;
but of all his women, considered as individuals rather than as heroines,
Imogen is the most perfect. Portia and Juliet are pictured to the fancy
with more force of contrast, more depth of light and shade; Viola and
Miranda, with more aerial delicacy of outline; but there is no female
portrait that can be compared to Imogen as a woman--none in which so
great a variety of tints are mingled together into such perfect harmony.
In her, we have all the fervor of youthful tenderness, all the romance
of youthful fancy, all the enchantment of ideal grace,--the bloom of
beauty, the brightness of intellect and the dignity of rank, taking a
peculiar hue from the conjugal character which is shed over all, like a
consecration and a holy charm. In Othello and the Winter's Tale, the
interest excited for Desdemona and Hermione is divided with others: but
in Cymbeline, Imogen is the angel of light, whose lovely presence
pervades and animates the whole piece. The character altogether may be
pronounced finer, more complex in its elements, and more fully developed
in all its parts, than those of Hermione and Desdemona; but the position
in which she is placed is not, I think, so fine--at least, not so
effective, as a tragic situation.

Shakspeare has borrowed the chief circumstances of Imogen's story from
one of Boccaccio's tales.[55]

A company of Italian merchants who are assembled in a tavern at Paris,
are represented as conversing on the subject of their wives: all of them
express themselves with levity, or skepticism, or scorn, on the virtue
of women, except a young Genoese merchant named Bernabo, who maintains,
that by the especial favor of Heaven he possesses a wife no less chaste
than beautiful. Heated by the wine, and excited by the arguments and the
coarse raillery of another young merchant, Ambrogiolo, Bernabo proceeds
to enumerate the various perfections and accomplishments of his Zinevra.
He praises her loveliness, her submission, and her discretion--her skill
in embroidery, her graceful service, in which the best trained page of
the court could not exceed her; and he adds, as rarer accomplishments,
that she could mount a horse, fly a hawk, write and read, and cast up
accounts, as well as any merchant of them all. His enthusiasm only
excites the laughter and mockery of his companions, particularly of
Ambrogiolo, who, by the most artful mixture of contradiction and
argument, rouses the anger of Bernabo, and he at length exclaims, that
he would willingly stake his life, his head, on the virtue of his wife.
This leads to the wager which forms so important an incident in the
drama. Ambrogiolo bets one thousand florins of gold against five
thousand, that Zinevra, like the rest of her sex, is accessible to
temptation--that in less than three months he will undermine her virtue,
and bring her husband the most undeniable proofs of her falsehood. He
sets off for Genoa, in order to accomplish his purpose; but on his
arrival, all that he learns, and all that he beholds with his own eyes,
of the discreet and noble character of the lady, make him despair of
success by fair means; he therefore has recourse to the basest
treachery. By bribing an old woman in the service of Zinevra, he is
conveyed to her sleeping apartment, concealed in a trunk, from which he
issues in the dead of the night; he takes note of the furniture of the
chamber, makes himself master of her purse, her morning robe, or cymar,
and her girdle, and of a certain mark on her person. He repeats these
observations for two nights, and, furnished with these evidences of
Zinevra's guilt, he returns to Paris, and lays them before the wretched
husband. Bernabo rejects every proof of his wife's infidelity except
that which finally convinces Posthumus. When Ambrogiolo mentions the
"mole, cinque-spotted," he stands like one who has received a poniard in
his heart; without further dispute he pays down the forfeit, and filled
with rage and despair both at the loss of his money and the falsehood of
his wife, he returns towards Genoa; he retires to his country house, and
sends a messenger to the city with letters to Zinevra, desiring that she
would come and meet him, but with secret orders to the man to despatch
her by the way. The servant prepares to execute his master's command,
but overcome by her entreaties for mercy, and his own remorse, he spares
her life, on condition that she will fly from the country forever. He
then disguises her in his own cloak and cap, and brings back to her
husband the assurance that she is killed, and that her body has been
devoured by the wolves. In the disguise of a mariner, Zinevra then
embarks on board a vessel bound to the Levant, and on arriving at
Alexandria, she is taken into the service of the Sultan of Egypt, under
the name of Sicurano; she gains the confidence of her master, who, not
suspecting her sex, sends her as captain of the guard which was
appointed for the protection of the merchants at the fair of Acre. Here
she accidentally meets Ambrogiolo, and sees in his possession the purse
and girdle, which she immediately recognizes as her own. In reply to her
inquiries, he relates with fiendish exultation the manner in which he
had obtained possession of them, and she persuades him to go back with
her to Alexandria. She then sends a messenger to Genoa in the name of
the Sultan, and induces her husband to come and settle in Alexandria. At
a proper opportunity, she summons both to the presence of the Sultan,
obliges Ambrogiolo to make a full confession of his treachery, and
wrings from her husband the avowal of his supposed murder of herself:
then falling at the feet of the Sultan discovers her real name and sex,
to the great amazement of all. Bernabo is pardoned at the prayer of his
wife, and Ambrogiolo is condemned to be fastened to a stake, smeared
with honey, and left to be devoured by the flies and locusts. This
horrible sentence is executed; while Zinevra, enriched by the presents
of the Sultan, and the forfeit wealth of Ambrogiolo, returns with her
husband to Genoa, where she lives in great honor and happiness, and
maintains her reputation of virtue to the end of her life.

These are the materials from which Shakspeare has drawn the dramatic
situation of Imogen. He has also endowed her with several of the
qualities which are attributed to Zinevra; but for the essential truth
and beauty of the individual character, for the sweet coloring of
pathos, and sentiment, and poetry interfused through the whole, he is
indebted only to nature and himself.

It would be a waste of words to refute certain critics who have accused
Shakspeare of a want of judgment in the adoption of the story; of
having transferred the manners of a set of intoxicated merchants and a
merchant's wife to heroes and princesses, and of having entirely
destroyed the interest of the catastrophe.[56] The truth is, that
Shakspeare has wrought out the materials before him with the most
luxuriant fancy and the most wonderful skill. As for the various
anachronisms, and the confusion of names, dates, and manners, over which
Dr. Johnson exults in no measured terms, the confusion is nowhere but in
his own heavy obtuseness of sentiment and perception, and his want of
poetical faith. Look into the old Italian poets, whom we read
continually with still increasing pleasure; does any one think of
sitting down to disprove the existence of Ariodante, king of Scotland?
or to prove that the mention of Proteus and Pluto, baptism and the
Virgin Mary, in a breath, amounts to an anachronism? Shakspeare, by
throwing his story far back into a remote and uncertain age, has
blended, by his "own omnipotent will," the marvellous, the heroic, the
ideal, and the classical,--the extreme of refinement and the extreme of
simplicity,--into one of the loveliest fictions of romantic poetry; and,
to use Schlegel's expression, "has made the social manners of the latest
times harmonize with heroic deeds, and even with the appearances of the

But, admirable as is the conduct of the whole play, rich in variety of
character and in picturesque incident, its chief beauty and interest is
derived from Imogen.

When Ferdinand tells Miranda that she was "created of every creature's
best," he speaks like a lover, or refers only to her personal charms:
the same expression might be applied critically to the character of
Imogen; for, as the portrait of Miranda is produced by resolving the
female character into its original elements, so that of Imogen unites
the greatest number of those qualities which we imagine to constitute
excellency in woman.

Imogen, like Juliet, conveys to our mind the impression of extreme
simplicity in the midst of the most wonderful complexity. To conceive
her aright, we must take some peculiar tint from many characters, and so
mingle them, that, like the combination of hues in a sunbeam, the effect
shall be as one to the eye. We must imagine something of the romantic
enthusiasm of Juliet, of the truth and constancy of Helen, of the
dignified purity of Isabel, of the tender sweetness of Viola, of the
self-possession and intellect of Portia--combined together so equally
and so harmoniously, that we can scarcely say that one quality
predominates over the other. But Imogen is less imaginative than Juliet,
less spirited and intellectual than Portia, less serious than Helen and
Isabel; her dignity is not so imposing as that of Hermione, it stands
more on the defensive; her submission, though unbounded, is not so
passive as that of Desdemona; and thus while she resembles each of
these characters individually, she stands wholly distinct from all.

It is true, that the conjugal tenderness of Imogen is at once the chief
subject of the drama, and the pervading charm of her character; but it
is not true, I think, that she is merely interesting from her tenderness
and constancy to her husband. We are so completely let into the essence
of Imogen's nature, that we feel as if we had known and loved her before
she was married to Posthumus, and that her conjugal virtues are a charm
superadded, like the color laid upon a beautiful groundwork. Neither
does it appear to me, that Posthumus is unworthy of Imogen, or only
interesting on Imogen's account. His character, like those of all the
other persons of the drama, is kept subordinate to hers: but this could
not be otherwise, for she is the proper subject--the heroine of the
poem. Every thing is done to ennoble Posthumus, and justify her love for
him; and though we certainly approve him more for her sake than for his
own, we are early prepared to view him with Imogen's eyes; and not only
excuse, but sympathize in her admiration of one

    Who sat 'mongst men like a descended god.

       *   *   *   *

    Who lived in court, which it is rare to do,
    Most praised, most loved:
    A sample to the youngest; to the more mature,
    A glass that feated them.

And with what beauty and delicacy is her conjugal and matronly
character discriminated! Her love for her husband is as deep as Juliet's
for her lover, but without any of that headlong vehemence, that
fluttering amid hope, fear, and transport--that giddy intoxication of
heart and sense, which belongs to the novelty of passion, which we feel
once, and but once, in our lives. We see her love for Posthumus acting
upon her mind with the force of an habitual feeling, heightened by
enthusiastic passion, and hallowed by the sense of duty. She asserts and
justifies her affection with energy indeed, but with a calm and
wife-like dignity:--


    Thou took'st a beggar, would'st have made my throne
    A seat for baseness.


                   No, I rather added a lustre to it


              O thou vile one!


    It is your fault that I have loved Posthumus;
    You bred him as my playfellow, and he is
    A man worth any woman; overbuys me,
    Almost the sum he pays.

Compare also, as examples of the most delicate discrimination of
character and feeling, the parting scene between Imogen and Posthumus,
that between Romeo and Juliet, and that between Troilus and Cressida:
compare the confiding matronly tenderness, the deep but resigned sorrow
of Imogen, with the despairing agony of Juliet, and the petulant grief
of Cressida.

When Posthumus is driven into exile, he comes to take a last farewell of
his wife:--


                      My dearest husband,
    I something fear my father's wrath, but nothing
    (Always reserved my holy duty) what
    His rage can do on me. You must be gone,
    And I shall here abide the hourly shot
    Of angry eyes: not comforted to live,
    But that there is this jewel in the world
    That I may see again.


                      My queen! my mistress!
    O, lady, weep no more! lest I give cause
    To be suspected of more tenderness
    Than doth become a man. I will remain
    The loyal'st husband that did e'er plight troth

                      *   *   *   *

                  Should we be taking leave
    As long a term as yet we have to live,
    The loathness to depart would grow--Adieu!


    Nay, stay a little:
    Were you but riding forth to air yourself,
    Such parting were too petty. Look here, love,
    This diamond was my mother's; take it, heart
    But keep it till you woo another wife,
    When Imogen is dead!

Imogen, in whose tenderness there is nothing jealous or fantastic, does
not seriously apprehend that her husband will woo another wife when she
is dead. It is one of those fond fancies which women are apt to express
in moments of feeling, merely for the pleasure of hearing a protestation
to the contrary. When Posthumus leaves her, she does not burst forth in
eloquent lamentation; but that silent, stunning, overwhelming sorrow,
which renders the mind insensible to all things else, is represented
with equal force and simplicity.


    There cannot be a pinch in death
    More sharp than this is.


                    O disloyal thing,
    That should'st repair my youth; thou heapeat
    A year's age on me!


                      I beseech you, sir,
    Harm not yourself with your vexation; I
    Am senseless of your wrath; a touch more rare[58]
    Subdues all pangs, all fears.


                          Past grace? obedience?


    Past hope and in despair--that way past grace.

In the same circumstances, the impetuous excited feelings of Juliet,
and her vivid imagination, lend something far more wildly agitated, more
intensely poetical and passionate to her grief.


    Art thou gone so? My love, my lord, my friend!
    I must hear from thee every day i' the hour,
    For in a minute there are many days--
    O by this count I shall be much in years,
    Ere I again behold my Romeo!


    Farewell! I will omit no opportunity
    That may convey my greetings, love, to thee.


    O! think'st thou we shall ever meet again?


    I doubt it not; and all these woes shall serve
    For sweet discourses in our time to come.


    O God! I have an ill-divining soul:
    Methinks I see thee, now thou art below,
    As one dead in the bottom of a tomb:
    Either my eye-sight fails, or thou look'st pale.

We have no sympathy with the pouting disappointment of Cressida, which
is just like that of a spoilt child which has lost its sugar-plum,
without tenderness, passions, or poetry: and, in short, perfectly
characteristic of that vain, fickle, dissolute, heartless
woman,--"unstable as water."


    And is it true that I must go from Troy?


    A hateful truth.


                      What, and from Troilus too?


    From Troy and Troilus.


                          Is it possible?


    And suddenly.


    I must then to the Greeks?


                              No remedy.


    A woeful Cressid 'mongst the merry Greeks!
    When shall we see again?


    Hear me, my love. Be thou but true of heart--


    I true! How now? what wicked deem is this?


    Nay, we must use expostulation kindly,
    For it is parting from us;
    I speak not, be thou true, as fearing thee;
    For I will throw my glove to Death himself
    That there's no maculation in thy heart:
    But be thou true, say I, to fashion in
    My sequent protestation. Be thou true,
    And I will see thee.


                        O heavens! be true again--
    O heavens! you love me not.


                    Die I a villain, then!
    In this I do not call your faith in question,
    So mainly as my merit--
                        --But be not tempted.


    Do you think I will?

       *       *       *       *       *

In the eagerness of Imogen to meet her husband there is all a wife's
fondness, mixed up with the breathless hurry arising from a sudden and
joyful surprise; but nothing of the picturesque eloquence, the ardent,
exuberant, Italian imagination of Juliet, who, to gratify her
impatience, would have her heralds thoughts;--press into her service the
nimble pinioned doves, and wind-swift Cupids,--change the course of
nature, and lash the steeds of Phoebus to the west. Imogen only thinks
"one score of miles, 'twixt sun and sun," slow travelling for a lover,
and wishes for a horse with wings--

    O for a horse with wings! Hear'st thou, Pisanio?
    He is at Milford Haven. Read, and tell me
    How far 'tis thither. If one of mean affairs
    May plod it in a week, why may not I
    Glide thither in a day? Then, true Pisanio,
    (Who long'st like me, to see thy lord--who long'st--
    O let me bate, but not like me--yet long'st,
    But in a fainter kind--O not like me,
    For mine's beyond beyond,) say, and speak thick--
    (Love's counsellor should fill the bores of hearing
    To the smothering of the sense)--how far is it
    To this same blessed Milford? And by the way,
    Tell me how Wales was made so happy, as
    To inherit such a haven. But, first of all,
    How we may steal from hence; and for the gap
    That we shall make in time, from our hence going
    And our return, to excuse. But first, how get hence.
    Why should excuse be born, or e'er begot?
    We'll talk of that hereafter. Pr'ythee speak,
    How many score of miles may we well ride
    'Twixt hour and hour?


                        One score, 'twixt sun and sun,
    Madam, 's enough for you; and too much too.


    Why, one that rode to his execution, man,
    Could never go so slow!

There are two or three other passages bearing on the conjugal tenderness
of Imogen, which must be noticed for the extreme intensity of the
feeling, and the unadorned elegance of the expression.

    I would thou grew'st unto the shores o' the haven
    And question'dst every sail: if he should write,
    And I not have it, 'twere a paper lost
    As offer'd mercy is. What was the last
    That he spake to thee?


                          'Twas, His queen! his queen!


    Then wav'd his hankerchief?


                              And kiss'd it, madam.


    Senseless linen! happier therein than I!--
    And that was all?


                    No, madam; for so long
    As he could make me with this eye or ear
    Distinguish him from others, he did keep
    The deck, with glove, or hat, or handkerchief
    Still waving, as the fits and stirs of his mind
    Could best express how slow his soul sail'd on,
    How swift his ship.


                      Thou should'st have made him
    As little as a crow, or less, ere left
    To after-eye him.


                      Madam, so I did.


    I would have broke my eye-strings; cracked them, but
    To look upon him; till the diminution
    Of space had pointed him sharp as my needle;
    Nay, followed him, till he had melted from
    The smallness of a gnat to air; and then
    Have turn'd mine eye, and wept.

Two little incidents, which are introduced with the most unobtrusive
simplicity, convey the strongest impression of her tenderness for her
husband, and with that perfect unconsciousness on her part, which adds
to the effect. Thus when she has lost her bracelet--

                            Go, bid my woman
    Search for a jewel, that too casually,
    Hath left my arm. It was thy master's: 'shrew me,
    If I would lose it for a revenue
    Of any king in Europe. I do think
    I saw't this morning; confident I am,
    Last night 'twas on mine arm--_I kiss'd it.
    I hope it has not gone to tell my lord
    That I kiss aught but he._

It has been well observed, that our consciousness that the bracelet is
really gone to bear false witness against her, adds an inexpressibly
touching effect to the simplicity and tenderness of the sentiment.

And again, when she opens her bosom to meet the death to which her
husband has doomed her, she finds his letters preserved next her heart

                                     What's here!
    The letters of the loyal Leonatus?--
    Soft, we'll no defence.

The scene in which Posthumus stakes his ring on the virtue of his wife,
and gives Iachimo permission to tempt her, is taken from the story. The
baseness and folly of such conduct have been justly censured; but
Shakspeare, feeling that Posthumus needed every excuse, has managed the
quarrelling scene between him and Iachimo with the most admirable
skill. The manner in which his high spirit is gradually worked up by the
taunts of this Italian fiend, is contrived with far more probability,
and much less coarseness, than in the original tale. In the end he is
not the challenger, but the challenged; and could hardly (except on a
moral principle, much too refined for those rude times) have declined
the wager without compromising his own courage and his faith in the
honor of Imogen.


     I durst attempt it against any lady in the world.


     You are a great deal abused in too bold a persuasion; and I
     doubt not you sustain what you're worthy of, by your


     What's that?


     A repulse: though your _attempt_, as you call it, deserve
     more--a punishment too.


     Gentlemen, enough of this. It came in too suddenly; let it
     die as it was born, and I pray you be better acquainted.


     Would I had put my estate and my neighbor's on the
     approbation of what I have said!


     What lady would you choose to assail?


     Yours, whom in constancy you think stands so safe

In the interview between Imogen and Iachimo, he does not begin his
attack on her virtue by a direct accusation against Posthumus; but by
dark hints and half-uttered insinuations, such as Iago uses to madden
Othello, he intimates that her husband, in his absence from her, has
betrayed her love and truth, and forgotten her in the arms of another.
All that Imogen says in this scene is comprised in a few lines--a brief
question, or a more brief remark. The proud and delicate reserve with
which she veils the anguish she suffers, is inimitably beautiful. The
strongest expression of reproach he can draw from her, is only, "My
lord, I fear, has forgot Britain." When he continues in the same strain,
she exclaims in an agony, "Let me hear no more." When he urges her to
revenge, she asks, with all the simplicity of virtue, "How should I be
revenged?" And when he explains to her how she is to be avenged, her
sudden burst of indignation, and her immediate perception of his
treachery, and the motive for it, are powerfully fine: it is not only
the anger of a woman whose delicacy has been shocked, but the spirit of
a princess insulted in her court.

    Away! I do condemn mine ears, that have
    So long attended thee. If thou wert honorable,
    Thou would'st have told this tale for virtue not
    For such an end thou seek'st, as base as strange
    Thou wrong'st a gentleman, who is as far
    From thy report as thou from honor; and
    Solicit'st here a lady that disdains
    Thee and the devil alike.

It has been remarked, that "her readiness to pardon Iachimo's false
imputation, and his designs against herself, is a good lesson to prudes,
and may show that where there is a real attachment to virtue, there is
no need of an outrageous antipathy to vice."[59]

This is true; but can we fail to perceive that the instant and ready
forgiveness of Imogen is accounted for, and rendered more graceful and
characteristic by the very means which Iachimo employs to win it? He
pours forth the most enthusiastic praises of her husband, professes that
he merely made this trial of her out of his exceeding love for
Posthumus, and she is pacified at once; but, with exceeding delicacy of
feeling, she is represented as maintaining her dignified reserve and her
brevity of speech to the end of the scene.[60]

We must also observe how beautifully the character of Imogen is
distinguished from those of Desdemona and Hermione. When she is made
acquainted with her husband's cruel suspicions, we see in her deportment
neither the meek submission of the former, nor the calm resolute dignity
of the latter. The first effect produced on her by her husband's letter
is conveyed to the fancy by the exclamation of Pisanio, who is gazing on
her as she reads.--

    What shall I need to draw my sword? The paper
    Has cut her throat already! No, 'tis slander,
    Whose edge is sharper than the sword!

And in her first exclamations we trace, besides astonishment and
anguish, and the acute sense of the injustice inflicted on her, a flash
of indignant spirit, which we do not find in Desdemona or Hermione

    False to his bed!--What is it to be false?
    To lie in watch there, and to think of him?
    To weep 'twixt clock and clock? If sleep charge nature,
    To break it with a fearful dream of him,
    And cry myself awake?--that's false to his bed,
    Is it?

This is followed by that affecting lamentation over the falsehood and
injustice of her husband, in which she betrays no atom of jealousy or
wounded self-love, but observes in the extremity of her anguish, that
after _his_ lapse from truth, "all good seeming would be discredited,"
and she then resigns herself to his will with the most entire

In the original story, Zinevra prevails on the servant to spare her, by
her exclamations and entreaties for mercy. "The lady, seeing the
poniard, and hearing those words, exclaimed in terror, 'Alas! have pity
on me for the love of Heaven! do not become the slayer of one who never
offended thee, only to pleasure another. God, who knows all things,
knows that I have never done that which could merit such a reward from
my husband's hand.'"

Now let us turn to Shakspeare. Imogen says,--

              Come, fellow, be thou honest;
    Do thou thy master's bidding: when thou seest him,
    A little witness my obedience. Look!
    I draw the sword myself; take it, and hit
    The innocent mansion of my love, my heart.
    Fear not; 'tis empty of all things but grief:
    Thy master is not there, who was, indeed,
    The riches of it. Do his bidding; strike!

The devoted attachment of Pisanio to his royal mistress, all through the
piece, is one of those side touches by which Shakspeare knew how to give
additional effect to his characters.

Cloten is odious;[61] but we must not overlook the peculiar fitness and
propriety of his character, in connection with that of Imogen. He is
precisely the kind of man who would be most intolerable to such a woman.
He is a fool,--so is Slender, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek: but the folly
of Cloten is not only ridiculous, but hateful; it arises not so much
from a want of understanding as a total want of heart; it is the
perversion of sentiment, rather than the deficiency of intellect; he has
occasional gleams of sense, but never a touch of feeling. Imogen
describes herself not only as "sprighted with a fool," but as "frighted
and anger'd worse." No other fool but Cloten--a compound of the booby
and the villain--could excite in such a mind as Imogen's the same
mixture of terror, contempt, and abhorrence. The stupid, obstinate
malignity of Cloten, and the wicked machinations of the queen--

    A father cruel, and a step-dame false,
    A foolish suitor to a wedded lady--

justify whatever might need excuse in the conduct of Imogen--as her
concealed marriage and her flight from her father's court--and serve to
call out several of the most beautiful and striking parts of her
character: particularly that decision and vivacity of temper, which in
her harmonize so beautifully with exceeding delicacy, sweetness, and

In the scene with her detested suitor, there is at first a careless
majesty of disdain, which is admirable.

                         I am much sorry, sir,
    You put me to forget a lady's manners,
    By being so verbal;[62] and learn now, for all,
    That I, which know my heart, do here pronounce,
    By the very truth of it, I care not for you,
    And am so near the lack of charity,
    (T' accuse myself,) I hate you; which I had rather
    You felt, than make 't my boast.

But when he dares to provoke her, by reviling the absent Posthumus, her
indignation heightens her scorn, and her scorn sets a keener edge on her


    For the contract you pretend with that base wretch,
    One bred of alms, and fostered with cold dishes,
    With scraps o' the court; it is no contract, none.


                      Profane fellow!
    Wert thou the son of Jupiter, and no more,
    But what thou art, besides, thou wert too base
    To be his groom; thou wert dignified enough,
    Even to the point of envy, if 'twere made
    Comparative for your virtues, to be styl'd
    The under hangman of his kingdom; and hated
    For being preferr'd so well.

    He never can meet more mischance than come
    To be but nam'd of thee. His meanest garment
    That ever hath but clipp'd his body, is dearer
    In my respect, than all the hairs above thee.
    Were they all made such men.

One thing more must be particularly remarked because it serves to
individualize the character from the beginning to the end of the poem.
We are constantly sensible that Imogen, besides being a tender and
devoted woman, is a princess and a beauty, at the same time that she is
ever superior to her position and her external charms. There is, for
instance, a certain airy majesty of deportment--a spirit of accustomed
command breaking out every now and then--the dignity, without the
assumption of rank and royal birth, which is apparent in the scene with
Cloten and elsewhere; and we have not only a general impression that
Imogen, like other heroines, is beautiful, but the peculiar style and
character of her beauty is placed before us: we have an image of the
most luxuriant loveliness, combined with exceeding delicacy, and even
fragility of person: of the most refined elegance, and the most
exquisite modesty, set forth in one or two passages of description; as
when Iachimo is contemplating her asleep:--

    How bravely thou becom'st thy bed! fresh lily.
    And whiter than the sheets.

                         'Tis her breathing that
    Perfumes the chamber thus. The flame o' the taper
    Bows toward her; and would underpeep her lids
    To see the enclos'd lights, now canopied
    Under those windows, white and azure, lac'd
    With blue of heaven's own tinct!

The preservation of her feminine character under her masculine attire;
her delicacy, her modesty, and her timidity, are managed with the same
perfect consistency and unconscious grace as in Viola. And we must not
forget that her "neat cookery," which is so prettily eulogized by

    He cuts out roots in characters,
    And sauc'd our broths, as Juno had been sick,
    And he her dieter,

formed part of the education of a princess in those remote times.

Few reflections of a general nature are put into the mouth of Imogen;
and what she says is more remarkable for sense, truth, and tender
feeling, than for wit, or wisdom, or power of imagination. The following
little touch of poetry reminds us of Juliet:--

                                Ere I could
    Give him that parting kiss, which I had set
    Between two charming words, comes in my father;
    And, like the tyrannous breathing of the north,
    Shakes all our buds from growing.

Her exclamation on opening her husband's letter reminds us of the
profound and thoughtful tenderness of Helen:--

    O learned indeed were that astronomer
    That knew the stars, as I his characters!
    He'd lay the future open.

The following are more in the manner of Isabel:--

                             Most miserable
    Is the desire that's glorious: bless'd be those,
    How mean soe'er, that have their honest wills,
    That seasons comfort,
                  Against self-slaughter
    There is a prohibition so divine
    That cravens my weak hand.

    Thus may poor fools
    Believe false teachers; though those that are betray'd
    Do feel the reason sharply, yet the traitor
    Stands in worse case of woe,
    Are we not brothers?

                So man and man should be;
    But clay and clay differs in dignity,
    Whose dust is both alike.

                Will poor folks lie
    That have afflictions on them, knowing 'tis
    A punishment or trial? Yes: no wonder,
    When rich ones scarce tell true: to lapse in fulness
    Is sorer than to lie for need; and falsehood
    Is worse in kings than beggars.

The sentence which follows, and which I believe has become proverbial,
has much of the manner of Portia, both in the thought and the

    Hath Britain all the sun that shines? Day, night,
    Are they not but in Britain? I' the world's volume
    Our Britain seems as of it, but not in it;
    In a great pool, a swan's nest; pr'ythee, think
    There's livers out of Britain.

       *       *       *       *       *

The catastrophe of this play has been much admired for the peculiar
skill with which all the various threads of interest are gathered
together at last, and entwined with the destiny of Imogen. It may be
added, that one of its chief beauties is the manner in which the
character of Imogen is not only preserved, but rises upon us to the
conclusion with added grace: her instantaneous forgiveness of her
husband before he even asks it, when she flings herself at once into his

    Why did you throw your wedded lady from you?

and her magnanimous reply to her father, when he tells her, that by the
discovery of her two brothers she has lost a kingdom--

    No--I have gain'd two worlds by it--

clothing a noble sentiment in a noble image, give the finishing touches
of excellence to this most enchanting portrait.

On the whole, Imogen is a lovely compound of goodness, truth, and
affection, with just so much of passion and intellect and poetry, as
serve to lend to the picture that power and glowing richness of effect
which it would otherwise have wanted; and of her it might be said, if we
could condescend to quote from any other poet with Shakespeare open
before us, that "her person was a paradise, and her soul the cherub to
guard it."[63]


There is in the beauty of Cordelia's character an effect too sacred for
words, and almost too deep for tears; within her heart is a fathomless
well of purest affection, but its waters sleep in silence and
obscurity,--never failing in their depth and never overflowing in their
fulness. Every thing in her seems to lie beyond our view, and affects us
in a manner which we feel rather than perceive. The character appears to
have no surface, no salient points upon which the fancy can readily
seize: there is little external development of intellect, less of
passion, and still less of imagination. It is completely made out in the
course of a few scenes, and we are surprised to find that in those few
scenes there is matter for a life of reflection, and materials enough
for twenty heroines. If Lear be the grandest of Shakspeare's tragedies,
Cordelia in herself, as a human being, governed by the purest and
holiest impulses and motives, the most refined from all dross of
selfishness and passion, approaches near to perfection; and in her
adaptation, as a dramatic personage, to a determinate plan of action,
may be pronounced altogether perfect. The character, to speak of it
critically as a poetical conception, is not, however, to be comprehended
at once, or easily; and in the same manner Cordelia, as a woman, is one
whom we must have loved before we could have known her, and known her
long before we could have known her truly.

Most people, I believe, have heard the story of the young German artist
Müller, who, while employed in copying and engraving Raffaelle's Madonna
del Sisto, was so penetrated by its celestial beauty, so distrusted his
own power to do justice to it, that between admiration and despair he
fell into a sadness; thence through the usual gradations, into a
melancholy, thence into madness; and died just as he had put the
finishing stroke to his own matchless work, which had occupied him for
eight years. With some slight tinge of this concentrated kind of
enthusiasm I have learned to contemplate the character of Cordelia; I
have looked into it till the revelation of its hidden beauty, and an
intense feeling of the wonderful genius which created it, have filled me
at once with delight and despair. Like poor Müller, but with more
reason, I _do_ despair of ever conveying, through a different and
inferior medium, the impression made on my own mind to the mind of

Schlegel, the most eloquent of critics, concludes his remarks on King
Lear with these words: "Of the heavenly beauty of soul of Cordelia, I
will not venture to speak." Now if I attempt what Schlegel and others
have left undone, it is because I feel that this general acknowledgment
of her excellence can neither satisfy those who have studied the
character, nor convey a just conception of it to the mere reader. Amid
the awful, the overpowering interest of the story, amid the terrible
convulsions of passion and suffering, and pictures of moral and physical
wretchedness which harrow up the soul, the tender influence of Cordelia,
like that of a celestial visitant, is felt and acknowledged without
being quite understood. Like a soft star that shines for a moment from
behind a stormy cloud and the next is swallowed up in tempest and
darkness, the impression it leaves is beautiful and deep,--but vague.
Speak of Cordelia to a critic or to a general reader, all agree in the
beauty of the portrait, for all must feel it; but when we come to
details, I have heard more various and opposite opinions relative to her
than any other of Shakspeare's characters--a proof of what I have
advanced in the first instance, that from the simplicity with which the
character is dramatically treated, and the small space it occupies, few
are aware of its internal power, or its wonderful depth of purpose.

It appears to me that the whole character rests upon the two sublimest
principles of human action, the love of truth and the sense of duty; but
these, when they stand alone, (as in the Antigone,) are apt to strike us
as severe and cold. Shakspeare has, therefore, wreathed them round with
the dearest attributes of our feminine nature, the power of feeling and
inspiring affection. The first part of the play shows us how Cordelia is
loved, the second part how she can love. To her father she is the object
of a secret preference, his agony at her supposed unkindness draws from
him the confession, that he had loved her most, and "thought to set his
rest on her kind nursery." Till then she had been "his best object, the
argument of his praise, balm of his age, most best, most dearest!" The
faithful and worthy Kent is ready to brave death and exile in her
defence: and afterwards a farther impression of her benign sweetness is
conveyed in a simple and beautiful manner, when we are told that "since
the lady Cordelia went to France, her father's poor fool had much pined
away." We have her sensibility "when patience and sorrow strove which
should express her goodliest:" and all her filial tenderness when she
commits her poor father to the care of the physician, when she hangs
over him as he is sleeping, and kisses him as she contemplates the wreck
of grief and majesty.

    O my dear father! restoration hang
    Its medicine on my lips: and let this kiss
    Repair those violent harms that my two sisters
    Have in thy reverence made!
    Had you not been their father, these white flakes
    Had challenged pity of them! Was this a face
    To be exposed against the warring winds,
    To stand against the deep dread-bolted thunder
    In the most terrible and nimble stroke
    Of quick cross lightning? to watch, (poor perdu!)
    With thin helm? mine enemy's dog,
    Though he had bit me, should have stood that night
    Against my fire.

Her mild magnanimity shines out in her farewell to her sisters, of whose
real character she is perfectly aware:--

    Ye jewels of our father! with washed eyes
    Cordelia leaves you! I know ye what ye are,
    And like a sister, am most loath to call
    Your faults as they are nam'd. Use well our father,
    To your professed bosoms I commit him.
    But yet, alas! stood I within his grace,
    I would commend him to a better place;
    So farewell to you both.


    Prescribe not us our duties!

The modest pride with which she replies to the Duke of Burgundy is
admirable; this whole passage is too illustrative of the peculiar
character of Cordelia, as well as too exquisite, to be mutilated

                  I yet beseech your majesty,
    (If, for I want that glib and oily heart,
    To speak and purpose not, since what I well intend
    I'll do't before I speak,) that you make known,
    It is no vicious blot, murder, or foulness,
    No unchaste action, or dishonored step
    That hath deprived me of your grace and favor;
    But even for want of that, for which I am richer;
    A still soliciting eye, and such a tongue
    I am glad I have not, tho' not to have it
    Hath lost me in your liking.


                                Better thou
    Hadst not been born, than not to have pleased me better.


    Is it but this? a tardiness of nature,
    That often leaves the history unspoke
    Which it intends to do?--My lord of Burgundy,
    What say you to the lady? love is not love
    When it is mingled with respects that stand
    Aloof from the entire point. Will you have her?
    She is herself a dowry.


                            Royal Lear,
    Give but that portion which yourself proposed,
    And here I take Cordelia by the hand
    Duchess of Burgundy.


    Nothing: I have sworn; I am firm.


    I am sorry, then, you have lost a father
    That you must lose a husband.


                 Peace be with Burgundy!
    Since that respects of fortune are his love,
    I shall not be his wife.


    Fairest Cordelia! thou art more rich, being poor,
    Most choice, forsaken, and most lov'd, despised!
    Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon.

She takes up arms, "not for ambition, but a dear father's right." In her
speech after her defeat, we have a calm fortitude and elevation of soul,
arising from the consciousness of duty, and lifting her above all
consideration of self. She observes,--

                      We are not the first
    Who with best meaning have incurred the worst!

She thinks and fears only for her father.

    For thee, oppressed king, am I cast down;
    Myself would else out-frown false fortune's frown.

To complete the picture, her very voice is characteristic, "ever soft,
gentle, and low; an excellent thing in woman."

But it will be said, that the qualities here exemplified--as
sensibility, gentleness, magnanimity, fortitude, generous affection--are
qualities which belong, in their perfection, to others of Shakspeare's
characters--to Imogen, for instance, who unites them all; and yet Imogen
and Cordelia are wholly unlike each other. Even though we should reverse
their situations, and give to Imogen the filial devotion of Cordelia,
and to Cordelia the conjugal virtues of Imogen, still they would remain
perfectly distinct as women. What is it, then, which lends to Cordelia
that peculiar and individual truth of character, which distinguishes her
from every other human being?

It is a natural reserve, a tardiness of disposition, "which often leaves
the history unspoke which it intends to do;" a subdued quietness of
deportment and expression, a veiled shyness thrown over all her
emotions, her language and her manner; making the outward demonstration
invariably fall short of what we know to be the feeling within. Not only
is the portrait singularly beautiful and interesting in itself, but the
conduct of Cordelia, and the part which she bears in the beginning of
the story, is rendered consistent and natural by the wonderful truth and
delicacy with which this peculiar disposition is sustained throughout
the play.

In early youth, and more particularly if we are gifted with a lively
imagination, such a character as that of Cordelia is calculated above
every other to impress and captivate us. Any thing like mystery, any
thing withheld or withdrawn from our notice, seizes on our fancy by
awakening our curiosity. Then we are won more by what we half perceive
and half create, than by what is openly expressed and freely bestowed.
But this feeling is a part of our young life: when time and years have
chilled us, when we can no longer afford to send our souls abroad, nor
from our own superfluity of life and sensibility spare the materials out
of which we build a shrine for our idol--then do we seek, we ask, we
thirst for that warmth of frank, confiding tenderness, which revives in
us the withered affections and feelings, buried but not dead. Then the
excess of love is welcomed, not repelled: it is gracious to us as the
sun and dew to the seared and riven trunk, with its few green leaves.
Lear is old--"fourscore and upward"--but we see what he has been in
former days: the ardent passions of youth have turned to rashness and
wilfulness: he is long passed that age when we are more blessed in what
we bestow than in what we receive. When he says to his daughters, "I
gave ye all!" we feel that he requires all in return, with a jealous,
restless, exacting affection which defeats its own wishes. How many such
are there in the world! How many to sympathize with the fiery, fond old
man, when he shrinks as if petrified from Cordelia's quiet calm reply!


                        Now our joy,
    Although the last not least--
    What can you say to draw
    A third more opulent than your sisters'? Speak!


    Nothing, my lord.






    Nothing can come of nothing: speak again!


    Unhappy that I am! I cannot heave
    My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
    According to my bond; nor more, nor less.

Now this is perfectly natural. Cordelia has penetrated the vile
characters of her sisters. Is it not obvious, that, in proportion as her
own mind is pure and guileless, she must be disgusted with their gross
hypocrisy and exaggeration, their empty protestations, their "plaited
cunning;" and would retire from all competition with what she so
disdains and abhors,--even into the opposite extreme? In such a case, as
she says herself--

    What should Cordelia do?--love and be silent?

For the very expressions of Lear--

               What can you say to draw
    A third more opulent than your sisters'?

are enough to strike dumb forever a generous, delicate, but shy
disposition, such as Cordelia's, by holding out a bribe for professions.

If Cordelia were not thus portrayed, this deliberate coolness would
strike us as verging on harshness or obstinacy; but it is beautifully
represented as a certain modification of character, the necessary result
of feelings habitually, if not naturally, repressed: and through the
whole play we trace the same peculiar and individual disposition--the
same absence of all display--the same sobriety of speech veiling the
most profound affections--the same quiet steadiness of purpose--the same
shrinking from all exhibition of emotion.

"Tous les sentimens naturels ont leur pudeur," was a _vivâ voce_
observation of Madame de Staël, when disgusted by the sentimental
affectation of her imitators. This "pudeur," carried to an excess,
appears to me the peculiar characteristic of Cordelia. Thus, in the
description of her deportment when she receives the letter of the Earl
of Kent, informing her of the cruelty of her sisters and the wretched
condition of Lear, we seem to have her before us:--


    Did your letters pierce the queen to any demonstration of grief?


    Ay, sir, she took them, and read them in my presence
    And now and then an ample tear stole down
    Her delicate cheek. It seemed she was a queen
    Over her passion; who, most rebel-like
    Sought to be king over her.


    O then it moved her!


                        Not to a rage.
    Faith, once or twice she heaved the name of father
    Pantingly forth, as if it pressed her heart,
    Cried, _Sisters! sisters! Shame of ladies! Sisters!
    What, i' the storm? i' the night?
    Let pity not be believed._ Then she shook
    The holy water from her heavenly eyes;

                      *   *   *   *

                      Then away she started,
    To deal with grief alone.

Here the last line--the image brought before us of Cordelia starting
away from observation, "to deal with grief alone," is as exquisitely
beautiful as it is characteristic.

But all the passages hitherto quoted must yield in beauty and power to
that scene, in which her poor father recognizes her, and in the
intervals of distraction asks forgiveness of his wronged child. The
subdued pathos and simplicity of Cordelia's character, her quiet but
intense feeling, the misery and humiliation of the bewildered old man,
are brought before us in so few words, and at the same time sustained
with such a deep intuitive knowledge of the innermost workings of the
human heart, that as there is nothing surpassing this scene in
Shakspeare himself, so there is nothing that can be compared to it in
any other writer.


    How does my royal lord? How fares your majesty?


    You do me wrong to take me out of the grave.
    Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am bound
    Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
    Do scald like molten lead.


                       Sir, do you know me?


    You are a spirit, I know: when did you die?


    Still, still far wide!


    He's scarce awake: let him alone awhile.


    Where have I been? Where am I? Fair daylight!
    I am mightily abused. I should even die with pity
    To see another thus. I know not what to say.
    I will not swear these are my hands: Let's see.
    I feel this pin prick. Would I were assured
    Of my condition.


                      O look upon me, sir,
    And hold your hands in benediction o'er me--
    No, sir, you must not kneel.


              Pray, do not mock me:
    I am a very foolish, fond old man,
    Fourscore and upwards; and to deal plainly with you,
    I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
    Methinks I should know you, and know this man,
    Yet I am doubtful: for I am mainly ignorant
    What place this is; and all the skill I have
    Remembers not these garments; nor I know not
    Where I did lodge last night. Do not laugh at me;
    For as I am a man, I think this lady
    To be my child Cordelia.


                              And so I am, I am.


    Be your tears wet? Yes, faith. I pray you weep not
    If you have poison for me I will drink it.
    I know you do not love me; for your sisters
    Have, as I do remember, done me wrong:
    You have some cause, they have not.


    No cause, no cause!

As we do not estimate Cordelia's affection for her father by the
coldness of her language, so neither should we measure her indignation
against her sisters by the mildness of her expressions. What, in fact,
can be more eloquently significant, and at the same time more
characteristic of Cordelia, than the single line when she and her father
are conveyed to their prison:--

    Shall we not see these _daughters_ and these _sisters_?

The irony here is so bitter and intense, and at the same time so quiet,
so feminine, so dignified in the expression, that who but Cordelia would
have uttered it in the same manner, or would have condensed such ample
meaning into so few and simple words?

We lose sight of Cordelia during the whole of the second and third, and
great part of the fourth act; but towards the conclusion she reappears.
Just as our sense of human misery and wickedness being carried to its
extreme height, becomes nearly intolerable, "like an engine wrenching
our frame of nature from its fixed place," then, like a redeeming angel,
she descends to mingle in the scene, "loosening the springs of pity in
our eyes," and relieving the impressions of pain and terror by those of
admiration and a tender pleasure. For the catastrophe, it is indeed
terrible! wondrous terrible! When Lear enters with Cordelia dead in his
arms, compassion and awe so seize on all our faculties, that we are left
only to silence and to tears. But if I might judge from my own
sensations, the catastrophe of Lear is not so overwhelming as the
catastrophe of Othello. We do not turn away with the same feeling of
absolute unmitigated despair. Cordelia is a saint ready prepared for
heaven--our earth is not good enough for her: and Lear!--O who, after
sufferings and tortures such as his, would wish to see his life
prolonged? What replace a sceptre in that shaking hand?--a crown upon
that old gray head, on which the tempest had poured in its wrath?--on
which the deep dread bolted thunders and the winged lightnings had spent
their fury? O never, never!

    Let him pass! he hates him
    That would upon the rack of this rough world
    Stretch him out longer.

In the story of King Lear and his three daughters, as it is related in
the "delectable and mellifluous" romance of Perceforest, and in the
Chronicle of Geoffrey of Monmouth, the conclusion is fortunate. Cordelia
defeats her sisters, and replaces her father on his throne. Spenser, in
his version of the story, has followed these authorities. Shakspeare has
preferred the catastrophe of the old ballad, founded apparently on some
lost tradition. I suppose it is by way of amending his errors, and
bringing back this daring innovator to sober history, that it has been
thought fit to alter the play of Lear for the stage, as they have
altered Romeo and Juliet: they have converted the seraph-like Cordelia
into a puling love heroine, and sent her off victorious at the end of
the play--exit with drums and colors flying--to be married to Edgar. Now
any thing more absurd, more discordant with all our previous
impressions, and with the characters as unfolded to us, can hardly be
imagined. "I cannot conceive," says Schlegel, "what ideas of art and
dramatic connection those persons have, who suppose we can at pleasure
tack a double conclusion to a tragedy--a melancholy one for hard-hearted
spectators, and a merry one for those of softer mould." The fierce
manners depicted in this play, the extremes of virtue and vice in the
persons, belong to the remote period of the story.[64] There is no
attempt at character in the old narratives; Regan and Goneril are
monsters of ingratitude, and Cordelia merely distinguished by her filial
piety; whereas, in Shakspeare, this filial piety is an affection quite
distinct from the qualities which serve to individualize the human
being; we have a perception of innate character apart from all
accidental circumstance: we see that if Cordelia had never known her
father, had never been rejected from his love, had never been a born
princess or a crowned queen, she would not have been less Cordelia; less
distinctly _herself_; that is, a woman of a steady mind, of calm but
deep affections, of inflexible truth, of few words, and of reserved

As to Regan and Goneril--"tigers, not daughters"--we might wish to
regard them as mere hateful chimeras, impossible as they are detestable;
but fortunately there was once a Tullia. I know not where to look for
the prototype of Cordelia: there was a Julia Alpinula, the young
priestess of Aventicum,[65] who, unable to save her father's life by the
sacrifice of her own, died with him--"_infelix patris, infelix
proles_"--but this is all we know of her. There was the Roman daughter,
too. I remember seeing at Genoa, Guido's "Pieta Romana," in which the
expression of the female bending over the aged parent, who feeds from
her bosom, is perfect,--but it is not a Cordelia: only Raffaelle could
have painted Cordelia.

But the character which at once suggests itself in comparison with
Cordelia, as the heroine of filial tenderness and piety, is certainly
the Antigone of Sophocles. As poetical conceptions, they rest on the
same basis: they are both pure abstractions of truth, piety, and natural
affection; and in both, love, as a passion, is kept entirely out of
sight: for though the womanly character is sustained, by making them the
objects of devoted attachment, yet to have portrayed them as influenced
by passion, would have destroyed that unity of purpose and feeling which
is one source of power; and, besides, have disturbed that serene purity
and grandeur of soul, which equally distinguishes both heroines. The
spirit, however, in which the two characters are conceived, is as
different as possible; and we must not fail to remark, that Antigone,
who plays a principal part in two fine tragedies, and is distinctly and
completely made out, is considered as a masterpiece, the very triumph of
the ancient classical drama; whereas, there are many among Shakspeare's
characters which are equal to Cordelia as dramatic conceptions, and
superior to her in finishing of outline, as well as in the richness of
the poetical coloring.

When Oedipus, pursued by the vengeance of the gods, deprived of sight
by his own mad act, and driven from Thebes by his subjects and his sons,
wanders forth, abject and forlorn, he is supported by his daughter
Antigone; who leads him from city to city, begs for him, and pleads for
him against the harsh, rude men, who, struck more by his guilt than his
misery, would drive him from his last asylum. In the opening of the
"Oedipus Coloneus," where the wretched old man appears leaning on his
child, and seats himself in the consecrated Grove of the Furies, the
picture presented to us is wonderfully solemn and beautiful. The
patient, duteous tenderness of Antigone; the scene in which she pleads
for her brother Polynices, and supplicates her father to receive his
offending son; her remonstrance to Polynices, when she entreats him not
to carry the threatened war into his native country, are finely and
powerfully delineated; and in her lamentation over Oedipus, when he
perishes in the mysterious grove, there is a pathetic beauty, apparent
even through the stiffness of the translation.

    Alas! I only wished I might have died
    With my poor father; wherefore should I ask
    For longer life?
    O I was fond of misery with him;
    E'en what was most unlovely grew beloved
    When he was with me. O my dearest father,
    Beneath the earth now in deep darkness hid,
    Worn as thou wert with age, to me thou still
    Wert dear, and shalt be ever.
    --Even as he wished he died,
    In a strange land--for such was his desire--
    A shady turf covered his lifeless limbs,
    Nor unlamented fell! for O these eyes,
    My father, still shall weep for thee, nor time
    E'er blot thee from my memory.

The filial piety of Antigone is the most affecting part of the tragedy
of "Oedipus Coloneus:" her sisterly affection, and her heroic
self-devotion to a religious duty, form the plot of the tragedy called
by her name. When her two brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, had slain
each other before the walls of Thebes, Creon issued an edict forbidding
the rites of sepulture to Polynices, (as the invader of his country,)
and awarding instant death to those who should dare to bury him. We know
the importance which the ancients attached to the funeral obsequies, as
alone securing their admission into the Elysian fields. Antigone, upon
hearing the law of Creon, which thus carried vengeance beyond the grave,
enters in the first scene, announcing her fixed resolution to brave the
threatened punishment: her sister Ismene shrinks from sharing the peril
of such an undertaking, and endeavors to dissuade her from it, on which
Antigone replies:--

    Wert thou to proffer what I do not ask--
    Thy poor assistance--I would scorn it now;
    Act as thou wilt, I'll bury him myself:
    Let me perform but that, and death is welcome.
    I'll do the pious deed, and lay me down
    By my dear brother; loving and beloved,
    We'll rest together.

She proceeds to execute her generous purpose; she covers with earth the
mangled corse of Polynices, pours over it the accustomed libations, is
detected in her pious office, and after nobly defending her conduct, is
led to death by command of the tyrant: her sister Ismene, struck with
shame and remorse, now comes forward to accuse herself as a partaker in
the offence, and share her sister's punishment; but Antigone sternly and
scornfully rejects her; and after pouring forth a beautiful lamentation
on the misery of perishing "without the nuptial song--a virgin and a
slave," she dies _à l'antique_--she strangles herself to avoid a
lingering death.

Hemon, the son of Creon, unable to save her life, kills himself upon her
grave: but throughout the whole tragedy we are left in doubt whether
Antigone does or does not return the affection of this devoted lover.

Thus it will be seen that in the Antigone there is a great deal of what
may be called the effect of situation, as well as a great deal of poetry
and character: she says the most beautiful things in the world, performs
the most heroic actions, and all her words and actions are so placed
before us as to _command_ our admiration. According to the classical
ideas of virtue and heroism, the character is sublime, and in the
delineation there is a severe simplicity mingled with its Grecian grace,
a unity, a grandeur, an elegance, which appeal to our taste and our
understanding, while they fill and exalt the imagination: but in
Cordelia it is not the external coloring or form, it is not what she
says or does, but what she is in herself, what she feels, thinks, and
suffers, which continually awaken our sympathy and interest. The heroism
of Cordelia is more passive and tender--it melts into our heart; and in
the veiled loveliness and unostentatious delicacy of her character,
there is an effect more profound and artless, if it be less striking and
less elaborate than in the Grecian heroine. To Antigone we give our
admiration, to Cordelia our tears. Antigone stands before us in her
austere and statue-like beauty, like one of the marbles of the
Parthenon. If Cordelia reminds us of any thing on earth, it is of one of
the Madonnas in the old Italian pictures, "with downcast eyes beneath
th' almighty dove?" and as that heavenly form is connected with our
human sympathies only by the expression of maternal tenderness or
maternal sorrow, even so Cordelia would be almost too angelic, were she
not linked to our earthly feelings, bound to our very hearts, by her
filial love, her wrongs, her sufferings, and her tears.



                    ----The gods approve
     The depth, and not the tumult of the soul.


"Il pouvait y avoir des vagues majestueuses et non de l'orage sans son
coeur," was finely observed of Madame de Staël in her maturer years; it
would have been true of Hermione at any period of her life.

[49] Winter's Tale, act v scene 11

[50] Only in the last scene, when, with solemnity befitting the
occasion, Paulina invokes the majestic figure to "descend, and be stone
no more," and where she presents her daughter to her. "Turn, good lady!
our Perdita is found."

[51] Act iii, scene 3.

[52] Which being interpreted into modern English, means, I believe,
nothing more than that the pattern was what we now call _arabesque_.

[53] There is an incident in the original tale, "Il Moro di Venezia,"
which could not well be transferred to the drama, but which is very
effective, and adds, I think, to the circumstantial horrors of the
story. Desdemona does not accidentally drop the handkerchief; it is
stolen from her by Iago's little child, an infant of three years old,
whom he trains and bribes to the theft. The love of Desdemona for this
child, her little playfellow--the pretty description of her taking it in
her arms and caressing it, while it profits by its situation to steal
the handkerchief from her bosom, are well imagined, and beautifully
told; and the circumstance of Iago employing his own innocent child as
the instrument of his infernal villany, adds a deeper, and, in truth an
unnecessary touch of the fiend, to his fiendish character.

[54] Consequences are so linked together, that the exclamation of

     O thou dull Moor!--That handkerchief thou speakest of
     I found by fortune, and did give my husband!--

is sufficient to reveal to Othello the whole history of his ruin.

[55] Decamerone. Novella, 9mo. Giornata, 2do.

[56] _Vide_ Dr. Johnson, and Dunlop's History of Fiction.

[57] See Hazlitt and Schlegel on the catastrophe of Cymbeline.

[58] More rare--_i. e._ more exquisitely poignant.

[59] Characters of Shakspeare's Plays.

[60] _Vide_ act 1. scene 7.

[61] The character of Cloten has been pronounced by some unnatural, by
others inconsistent, and by others obsolete. The following passage
occurs in one of Miss Seward's letters, vol. iii p. 246: "It is curious
that Shakspeare should, in so singular a character as Cloten, have given
the exact prototype of a being whom I once knew. The unmeaning frown of
countenance, the shuffling gait, the burst of voice, the bustling
insignificance, the fever and ague fits of valor, the froward
tetchiness, the unprincipled malice, and, what is more curious, those
occasional gleams of good sense amidst the floating clouds of folly
which generally darkened and confused the man's brain, and which, in the
character of Cloten, we are apt to impute to a violation of unity in
character; but in the some-time Captain C----, I saw that the portrait
of Cloten was not out of nature."

[62] i. e. _full of words_.

[63] Dryden.

[64] King Lear may be supposed to have lived about one thousand years
before the Christian era, being the forth or fifth in descent from King
Brut, the great-grandson of Æneas, and the fabulous founder of the
kingdom of Britain.

[65] She is commemorated by Lord Byron. _Vide_ Childe Harold Canto iii.



I cannot agree with one of the most philosophical of Shakspeare's
critics, who has asserted "that the actual truth of particular events,
in proportion as we are conscious of it, is a drawback on the pleasure
as well as the dignity of tragedy." If this observation applies at all,
it is equally just with regard to characters: and in either case can we
admit it? The reverence and the simpleness of heart with which
Shakspeare has treated the received and admitted truths of history--I
mean according to the imperfect knowledge of his time--is admirable; his
inaccuracies are few: his general accuracy, allowing for the distinction
between the narrative and the dramatic form, is acknowledged to be
wonderful. He did not steal the precious material from the treasury of
history, to debase its purity,--new-stamp it arbitrarily with effigies
and legends of his own devising and then attempt to pass it current,
like Dryden, Racine, and the rest of those poetical coiners: he only
rubbed off the rust, purified and brightened it, so that history herself
has been known to receive it back as sterling.

Truth, wherever manifested, should be sacred: so Shakspeare deemed, and
laid no profane hand upon her altars. But tragedy--majestic tragedy, is
worthy to stand before the sanctuary of Truth, and to be the priestess
of her oracles. "Whatever in religion is holy and sublime, in virtue
amiable or grave, whatsoever hath passion or admiration in all the
changes of that which is called fortune from without, or the wily
subtleties and refluxes of man's thought from within;"[66]--whatever is
pitiful in the weakness, sublime in the strength, or terrible in the
perversion of human intellect, these are the domain of Tragedy. Sibyl
and Muse at once, she holds aloft the book of human fate, and is the
interpreter of its mysteries. It is not, then, making a mock of the
serious sorrows of real life, nor of those human beings who lived,
suffered and acted upon this earth, to array them in her rich and
stately robes, and present them before us as powers evoked from dust and
darkness, to awaken the generous sympathies, the terror or the pity of
mankind. It does not add to the pain, as far as tragedy is a source of
emotion, that the wrongs and sufferings represented, the guilt of Lady
Macbeth, the despair of Constance, the arts of Cleopatra, and the
distresses of Katherine, had a real existence; but it adds infinitely to
the moral effect, as a subject of contemplation and a lesson of

I shall be able to illustrate these observations more fully in the
course of this section, in which we will consider those characters which
are drawn from history; and first, Cleopatra.

Of all Shakspeare's female characters, Miranda and Cleopatra appear to
me the most wonderful. The first, unequalled as a poetic conception; the
latter, miraculous as a work of art. If we could make a regular
classification of his characters, these would form the two extremes of
simplicity and complexity; and all his other characters would be found
to fill up some shade or gradation between these two.

Great crimes, springing from high passions, grafted on high qualities,
are the legitimate source of tragic poetry. But to make the extreme of
littleness produce an effect like grandeur--to make the excess of
frailty produce an effect like power--to heap up together all that is
most unsubstantial, frivolous, vain, contemptible, and variable, till
the worthlessness be lost in the magnitude, and a sense of the sublime
spring from the very elements of littleness,--to do this, belonged only
to Shakspeare that worker of miracles. Cleopatra is a brilliant
antithesis, a compound of contradictions, of all that we most hate,
with what we most admire. The whole character is the triumph of the
external over the innate; and yet like one of her country's
hieroglyphics, though she present at first view a splendid and
perplexing anomaly, there is deep meaning and wondrous skill in the
apparent enigma, when we come to analyze and decipher it. But how are we
to arrive at the solution of this glorious riddle, whose dazzling
complexity continually mocks and eludes us? What is most astonishing in
the character of Cleopatra is its antithetical construction--its
_consistent inconsistency_, if I may use such an expression--which
renders it quite impossible to reduce it to any elementary principles.
It will, perhaps, be found on the whole, that vanity and the love of
power predominate; but I dare not say it _is_ so, for these qualities
and a hundred others mingle into each other, and shift and change, and
glance away, like the colors in a peacock's train.

In some others of Shakspeare's female characters, also remarkable for
their complexity, (Portia and Juliet, for instance,) we are struck with
the delightful sense of harmony in the midst of contrast, so that the
idea of unity and simplicity of effect is produced in the midst of
variety; but in Cleopatra it is the absence of unity and simplicity
which strikes us; the impression is that of perpetual and irreconcilable
contrast. The continual approximation of whatever is most opposite in
character, in situation, in sentiment, would be fatiguing, were it not
so perfectly natural: the woman herself would be distracting, if she
were not so enchanting.

I have not the slightest doubt that Shakspeare's Cleopatra is the real
historical Cleopatra--the "Rare Egyptian"--individualized and placed
before us. Her mental accomplishments, her unequalled grace, her woman's
wit and woman's wiles, her irresistible allurements, her starts of
irregular grandeur, her bursts of ungovernable temper, her vivacity of
imagination, her petulant caprice, her fickleness and her falsehood, her
tenderness and her truth, her childish susceptibility to flattery, her
magnificent spirit, her royal pride, the gorgeous eastern coloring of
the character; all these contradictory elements has Shakspeare seized,
mingled them in their extremes, and fused them into one brilliant
impersonation of classical elegance, Oriental voluptuousness, and gipsy

What better proof can we have of the individual truth of the character
than the admission that Shakspeare's Cleopatra produces exactly the same
effect on us that is recorded of the real Cleopatra? She dazzles our
faculties, perplexes our judgment, bewilders and bewitches our fancy;
from the beginning to the end of the drama, we are conscious of a kind
of fascination against which our moral sense rebels, but from which
there is no escape. The epithets applied to her perpetually
by Antony and others confirm this impression: "enchanting
queen!"--"witch"--"spell"--"great fairy"--"cockatrice"--"serpent of old
Nile"--"thou grave charm!"[68] are only a few of them; and who does not
know by heart the famous quotations in which this Egyptian Circe is
described with all her infinite seductions?

                   Fie! wrangling queen!
    Whom every thing becomes--to chide, to laugh,
    To weep; whose every passion fully strives
    To make itself, in thee, fair and admired.

    Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
    Her infinite variety:--
                          For vilest things
    Become themselves in her.

And the pungent irony of Enobarbus has well exposed her feminine arts,
when he says, on the occasion of Antony's intended departure,--

     Cleopatra, catching but the least noise of this, dies
     instantly: I have seen her die twenty times upon far poorer


     She is cunning past man's thought.


     Alack, sir, no! her passions are made of nothing but the
     finest part of pure love. We cannot call her winds and
     waters, sighs and tears; they are greater storms and
     tempests than almanacs can report; this cannot be cunning
     in her; if it be, she makes a shower of rain as well as

The whole secret of her absolute dominion over the facile Antony may be
found in one little speech:--

    See where he is--who's with him--what he does--
    (I did not send you.) If you find him sad,
    Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report
    That I am sudden sick! Quick! and return.


    Madam, methinks if you did love him dearly,
    You do not hold the method to enforce
    The like from him.


    What should I do, I do not?


    In each thing give him way; cross him in nothing.


    Thou teachest like a fool: the way to lose him.


    Tempt him not too far.

But Cleopatra is a mistress of her art, and knows better: and what a
picture of her triumphant petulance, her imperious and imperial
coquetry, is given in her own words!

                  That time--O times!
    I laugh'd him out of patience; and that night
    I laughed him into patience: and next morn,
    Ere the ninth hour, I drunk him to his bed;
    Then put my tires and mantles on, whilst
    I wore his sword, Philippan.

When Antony enters full of some serious purpose which he is about to
impart, the woman's perverseness, and the tyrannical waywardness with
which she taunts him and plays upon his temper, are admirably depicted.

    I know, by that same eye, there's some good news.
    What says the married woman?[69] You may go;
    Would she had never given you leave to come!
    Let her not say, 'tis I that keep you here;
    I have no power upon you; hers you are.


    The gods best know--


               O, never was there queen
    So mightily betray'd! Yet at the first,
    I saw the treasons planted.




    Why should I think you can be mine, and true,
    Though you in swearing shake the throned gods,
    Who have been false to Fulvia? Riotous madness
    To be entangled with those mouth-made vows,
    Which break themselves in swearing!


                        Most sweet queen!


    Nay, pray you, seek no color for your going,
    But bid farewell, and go.

She recovers her dignity for a moment at the news of Fulvia's death, as
if roused by a blow:--

    Though age from folly could not give me freedom,
    It does from childishness. Can Fulvia die?

And then follows the artful mockery with which she tempts and provokes
him, in order to discover whether he regrets his wife.

                      O most false love!
    Where be the sacred vials thou shouldst fill
    With sorrowful water? Now I see, I see
    In Fulvia's death, how mine receiv'd shall be.


    Quarrel no more; but be prepared to know
    The purposes I bear: which are, or cease,
    As you shall give th' advice. Now, by the fire
    That quickens Nilus' shrine, I go from hence
    Thy soldier, servant, making peace or war,
    As thou affectest.


            Cut my lace, Charmian, come--But
    let it be. I am quickly ill, and well.
    So Antony loves.


                My precious queen, forbear:
    And give true evidence to his love which stands
    An honorable trial.


                         So Fulvia told me.
    I pr'ythee turn aside, and weep for her:
    Then bid adieu to me, and say, the tears
    Belong to Egypt. Good now, play one scene
    Of excellent dissembling; and let it look
    Like perfect honor.


                You'll heat my blood--no more.


    You can do better yet; but this is meetly.


    Now, by my sword--


                   And target--still he mends:
    But this is not the best. Look, pr'ythee, Charmian,
    How this Herculean Roman does become
    The carriage of his chafe!

This is, indeed, most "excellent dissembling;" but when she has fooled
and chafed the Herculean Roman to the verge of danger, then comes that
return of tenderness which secures the power she has tried to the
utmost, and we have all the elegant, the poetical Cleopatra in her
beautiful farewell.

                  Forgive me!
    Since my becomings kill me when they do not
    Eye well to you. Your honor calls you hence,
    Therefore be deaf to my unpitied folly,
    And all the gods go with you! Upon your sword
    Sit laurell'd victory; and smooth success
    Be strew'd before your feet!

Finer still are the workings of her variable mind and lively
imagination, after Antony's departure; her fond repining at his absence,
her violent spirit, her right royal wilfulness and impatience, as if it
were a wrong to her majesty, an insult to her sceptre, that there should
exist in her despite such things as space and time; and high treason to
her sovereign power, to dare to remember what she chooses to forget

    Give me to drink mandragora,
    That I might sleep out this great gap of time
    My Antony is away.

                       O Charmian!
    Where think'st thou he is now? Stands he, or sits he,
    Or does he walk? or is he on his horse?
    O happy horse, to bear the weight of Antony!
    Do bravely, horse! for wot'st thou whom thou mov'st?
    The demi-Atlas of this earth--the arm
    And burgonet of men. He's speaking now,
    Or murmuring, Where's my serpent of old Nile?
    For so he calls me.
                        Met'st thou my posts?


    Ay, madam, twenty several messengers:
    Why do you send so thick?


                   Who's born that day
    When I forget to send to Antony,
    Shall die a beggar. Ink and paper, Charmian.
    Welcome, my good Alexas. Did I, Charmian,
    Ever love Cæsar so?


                        O that brave Cæsar!


    Be chok'd with such another emphasis!
    Say, the brave Antony.


                          The valiant Cæsar!


    By Isis, I will give thee bloody teeth,
    If thou with Cæsar paragon again
    My man of men!


                  By your most gracious pardon,
    I sing but after you.


                         My salad days,
    When I was green in judgment, cold in blood,
    To say as I said then. But, come away--
    Get me some ink and paper: he shall have every day
    A several greeting, or I'll unpeople Egypt.

We learn from Plutarch, that it was a favorite amusement with Antony and
Cleopatra to ramble through the streets at night, and bandy ribald jests
with the populace of Alexandria. From the same authority, we know that
they were accustomed to live on the most familiar terms with their
attendants and the companions of their revels. To these traits we must
add, that with all her violence, perverseness, egotism, and caprice,
Cleopatra mingled a capability for warm affections and kindly feeling,
or rather what we should call in these days, a constitutional
_good-nature_; and was lavishly generous to her favorites and
dependents. These characteristics we find scattered through the play;
they are not only faithfully rendered by Shakspeare, but he has made the
finest use of them in his delineation of manners. Hence the occasional
freedom of her women and her attendants, in the midst of their fears and
flatteries, becomes most natural and consistent: hence, too, their
devoted attachment and fidelity, proved even in death. But as
illustrative of Cleopatra's disposition, perhaps the finest and most
characteristic scene in the whole play, is that in which the messenger
arrives from Rome with the tidings of Antony's marriage with Octavia.
She perceives at once with quickness that all is not well, and she
hastens to anticipate the worst, that she may have the pleasure of being
disappointed. Her impatience to know what she fears to learn, the
vivacity with which she gradually works herself up into a state of
excitement, and at length into fury, is wrought out with a force of
truth which makes us recoil.


                              Antony's dead!
    If thou say so, villain, thou kill'st thy mistress.
    But well and free,
    If thou so yield him, there is gold, and here
    My bluest veins to kiss; a hand that kings
    Have lipp'd, and trembled kissing.


    First, madam, he is well.


    Why, there's more gold. But, sirrah, mark! we use
    To say, the dead are well: bring it to that,
    The gold I give thee will I melt, and pour
    Down thy ill-uttering throat.


    Good madam, hear me.


                        Well, go to, I will.
    But there's no goodness in thy face. If Antony
    Be free and healthful, why so tart a favor
    To trumpet such good tidings? If not well,
    Thou should'st come like a fury crown'd with snakes.


    Wil't please you hear me?


    I have a mind to strike thee ere thou speak'st;
    Yet if thou say Antony lives, is well,
    Or friends with Cæsar, or not captive to him,
    I'll set thee in a shower of gold, and hail
    Rich pearls upon thee.


    Madam, he's well.


                     Well said.


    And friends with Cæsar.


                       Thou art an honest man.


    Cæsar and he are greater friends than ever.


    Make thee a fortune from me.


                           But yet, madam--


    I do not like _but yet_--it does allay
    The good precedence. Fie upon _but yet_:
    _But yet_ is as a gaoler to bring forth
    Some monstrous malefactor. Pr'ythee, friend,
    Pour out thy pack of matter to mine ear,
    The good and bad together. He's friends with Cæsar
    In state of health, thou say'st; and thou say'st free.


    Free, madam! No: I made no such report,
    He's bound unto Octavia.


    For what good turn?


              Madam he's married to Octavia.


    The most infectious pestilence upon thee!
                        [_Strikes him down._


    Good madam, patience.


                  What say you? [_Strikes him again._
    Hence horrible villain! or I'll spurn thine eyes
    Like balls before me--I'll unhair thine head--
    Thou shalt be whipp'd with wire, and stewed in brine
    Smarting in ling'ring pickle.


                                  Gracious madam!
    I, that do bring the news, made not the match.


    Say 'tis not so, a province I will give thee,
    And make thy fortunes proud: the blow thou hadst
    Shall make thy peace for moving me to rage;
    And I will boot thee with what gift beside
    Thy modesty can beg.


                          He's married, madam.


    Rogue, thou hast lived too long. [_Draws a dagger._


    Nay then I'll run.
    What mean you, madam? I have made no fault. [_Exit._


    Good madam, keep yourself within yourself;
    The man is innocent.


    Some innocents 'scape not the thunderbolt.
    Melt Egypt into Nile! and kindly creatures
    Turn all to serpents! Call the slave again;
    Though I am mad, I will not bite him--Call!


    He is afraid to come.


                         I will not hurt him.
    These hands do lack nobility, that they strike
    A meaner than myself.

                      *   *   *   *


    In praising Antony I have dispraised Cæsar.


    Many times, madam.


                     I am paid for't now--
    Lead me from hence.
    I faint. O Iras, Charmian--'tis no matter
    Go to the fellow, good Alexas; bid him
    Report the features of Octavia, her years,
    Her inclination--let him not leave out
    The color of her hair. Bring me word quickly.
                            [_Exit Alex._

    Let him forever go--let him not--Charmian,
    Though he be painted one way like a Gorgon,
    T'other way he's a Mars. Bid you Alexas
                            [_To Mardian._

    Bring me word how tall she is. Pity me, Charmian.
    But do not speak to me. Lead me to my chamber.

I have given this scene entire because I know nothing comparable to it
The pride and arrogance of the Egyptian queen, the blandishment of the
woman, the unexpected but natural transitions of temper and feeling, the
contest of various passions, and at length--when the wild hurricane has
spent its fury--the melting into tears, faintness, and languishment, are
portrayed with the most astonishing power, and truth, and skill in
feminine nature. More wonderful still is the splendor and force of
coloring which is shed over this extraordinary scene. The mere idea of
an angry woman beating her menial, presents something ridiculous or
disgusting to the mind; in a queen or a tragedy heroine it is still more
indecorous;[70] yet this scene is as far as possible from the vulgar or
the comic. Cleopatra seems privileged to "touch the brink of all we
hate" with impunity. This imperial termagant, this "wrangling queen,
whom every thing becomes," becomes even her fury. We know not by what
strange power it is, that in the midst of all these unruly passions and
childish caprices, the poetry of the character, and the fanciful and
sparkling grace of the delineation are sustained and still rule in the
imagination; but we feel that it is so.

I need hardly observe, that we have historical authority for the
excessive violence of Cleopatra's temper. Witness the story of her
boxing the ears of her treasurer, in presence of Octavius, as related by
Plutarch. Shakspeare has made a fine use of this anecdote also towards
the conclusion of the drama, but it is not equal in power to this scene
with the messenger.

The man is afterwards brought back, almost by force, to satisfy
Cleopatra's jealous anxiety, by a description of Octavia:--but this
time, made wise by experience, he takes care to adapt his information to
the humors of his imperious mistress, and gives her a satirical picture
of her rival. The scene which follows, in which Cleopatra--artful,
acute, and penetrating as she is--becomes the dupe of her feminine spite
and jealousy, nay, assists in duping herself; and after having cuffed
the messenger for telling her truths which are offensive, rewards him
for the falsehood which flatters her weakness--is not only an admirable
exhibition of character, but a fine moral lesson.

She concludes, after dismissing the messenger with gold and thanks,

                  I repent me much
    That I so harry'd him. Why, methinks by him
    This creature's no such thing?


    O nothing, madam.


    The man hath seen some majesty, and should know!

Do we not fancy Cleopatra drawing herself up with all the vain
consciousness of rank and beauty as she pronounces this last line? and
is not this the very woman who celebrated her own apotheosis,--who
arrayed herself in the robe and diadem of the goddess Isis, and could
find no titles magnificent enough for her children but those of _the
Sun_ and _the Moon_?

The despotism and insolence of her temper are touched in some other
places most admirably. Thus, when she is told that the Romans libel and
abuse her, she exclaims,--

    Sink Rome, and their tongues rot
    That speak against us!

And when one of her attendants observes, that "Herod of Jewry dared not
look upon her but when she were well pleased," she immediately replies,
"That Herod's head I'll have."[71]

When Proculeius surprises her in her monument, and snatches her poniard
from her, terror, and fury, pride, passion, and disdain, swell in her
haughty soul, and seem to shake her very being.


                   Where art thou, death?
    Come hither, come! come, come and take a queen
    Worth many babes and beggars!


    O temperance, lady?


    Sir, I will eat no meat; I'll not drink, sir:
    If idle talk will once be necessary.
    I'll not sleep neither; this mortal house I'll ruin,
    Do Cæsar what he can! Know, sir, that I
    Will not wait pinion'd at your master's court,
    Nor once be chastis'd with the sober eye
    Of dull Octavia. Shall they hoist me up,
    And show me to the shouting varletry
    Of censuring Rome? Rather a ditch in Egypt
    Be gentle grave to me! Rather on Nilus' mud
    Lay me stark naked, and let the water-flies
    Blow me into abhorring! Rather make
    My country's high pyramids my gibbet,
    And hang me up in chains!

In the same spirit of royal bravado, but finer still, and worked up with
a truly Oriental exuberance of fancy and imagery, is her famous
description of Antony, addressed to Dolabella:--

    Most noble empress you have heard of me?


    I cannot tell.


    Assuredly, you know me.


    No matter, sir, what I have heard or known.
    You laugh when boys, or women, tell their dreams
    Is't not your trick?


    I understand not, madam.


    I dream'd there was an emperor Antony;
    O such another sleep, that I might see
    But such another man!


    If it might please you--


    His face was as the heavens; and therein stuck
    A sun and moon; which kept their course, and lighted
    The little O, the earth.


    Most sovereign creature--


    His legs bestrid the ocean: his reared arm
    Crested the world; his voice was propertied
    As all the tuned spheres, and that to friends;
    But when he meant to quail or shake the orb
    He was as rattling thunder. For his bounty,
    There was no winter in't; an autumn 'twas,
    That grew the more by reaping. His delights
    Were dolphin like; they show'd his back above
    The element they liv'd in. In his livery[72]
    Walk'd crowns and coronets; realms and islands were
    As plates[73] dropp'd from his pocket.




    Think you there was, or might be, such a man
    As this I dream'd of?


    Gentle madam, no.


    You lie,--up to the hearing of the gods!

There was no room left in this amazing picture for the display of that
passionate maternal tenderness, which was a strong and redeeming feature
in Cleopatra's historical character; but it is not left untouched, for
when she is imprecating mischiefs on herself, she wishes, as the last
and worst of possible evils, that "thunder may smite Cæsarion!"

In representing the mutual passion of Antony and Cleopatra as real and
fervent, Shakspeare has adhered to the truth of history as well as to
general nature. On Antony's side it is a species of infatuation, a
single and engrossing feeling: it is, in short, the love of a man
declined in years for a woman very much younger than himself, and who
has subjected him to every species of female enchantment. In Cleopatra
the passion is of a mixed nature, made up of real attachment, combined
with the love of pleasure, the love of power, and the love of self. Not
only is the character most complicated, but no one sentiment could have
existed pure and unvarying in such a mind as hers; her passion in itself
is true, fixed to one centre; but like the pennon streaming from the
mast, it flutters and veers with every breath of her variable temper:
yet in the midst of all her caprices, follies, and even vices, womanly
feeling is still predominant in Cleopatra: and the change which takes
place in her deportment towards Antony, when their evil fortune darkens
round them, is as beautiful and interesting in itself as it is striking
and natural. Instead of the airy caprice and provoking petulance she
displays in the first scenes, we have a mixture of tenderness, and
artifice, and fear, and submissive blandishment. Her behavior, for
instance, after the battle of Actium, when she quails before the noble
and tender rebuke of her lover, is partly female subtlety and partly
natural feeling.


                     O my lord, my lord,
    Forgive my fearful sails! I little thought
    You would have follow'd.


                Egypt, thou know'st too well
    My heart was to the rudder tied by the strings,
    And thou should'st tow me after. O'er my spirit
    Thy full supremacy thou know'st; and that
    Thy beck might from the bidding of the gods
    Command me.


    O, my pardon?


                    Now I must
    To the young man send humble treaties, dodge
    And palter in the shifts of lowness; who
    With half the bulk o' the world play'd as I pleas'd,
    Making and marring fortunes. You did know
    How much you were my conqueror; and that
    My sword, made weak by my affection, would
    Obey it on all cause.


    O pardon, pardon!


    Fall not a tear, I say; one of them rates
    All that is won and lost. Give me a kiss;
    Even this repays me.

It is perfectly in keeping with the individual character, that
Cleopatra, alike destitute of moral strength and physical courage,
should cower terrified and subdued before the masculine spirit of her
lover, when once she has fairly roused it. Thus Tasso's Armida, half
siren, half sorceress, in the moment of strong feeling, forgets her
incantations, and has recourse to persuasion, to prayers, and to tears.

    Lascia gl' incanti, e vuol provar se vaga
    E supplice belta sia miglior maga.

Though the poet afterwards gives us to understand that even in this
relinquishment of art there was a more refined artifice.

         Nella doglia amara
    Già tutte non oblia l' arti e le frodi.

And something like this inspires the conduct of Cleopatra towards Antony
in his fallen fortunes. The reader should refer to that fine scene,
where Antony surprises Thyreus kissing her hand, "that kingly seal and
plighter of high hearts," and rages like a thousand hurricanes.

The character of Mark Antony, as delineated by Shakspeare, reminds me of
the Farnese Hercules. There is an ostentatious display of power, an
exaggerated grandeur, a colossal effect in the whole conception,
sustained throughout in the pomp of the language, which seems, as it
flows along, to resound with the clang of arms and the music of the
revel. The coarseness and violence of the historic portrait are a little
kept down; but every word which Antony utters is characteristic of the
arrogant but magnanimous Roman, who "with half the bulk o' the world
played as he pleased," and was himself the sport of a host of mad (and
bad) passions, and the slave of a woman.

History is followed closely in all the details of the catastrophe, and
there is something wonderfully grand in the hurried march of events
towards the conclusion. As disasters hem her round, Cleopatra gathers up
her faculties to meet them, not with the calm fortitude of a great soul,
but the haughty, tameless spirit of a wilful woman, unused to reverse or

Her speech, after Antony has expired in her arms, I have always regarded
as one of the most wonderful in Shakspeare. Cleopatra is not a woman to
grieve silently. The contrast between the violence of her passions and
the weakness of her sex, between her regal grandeur and her excess of
misery, her impetuous, unavailing struggles with the fearful destiny
which has compassed her, and the mixture of wild impatience and pathos
in her agony, are really magnificent. She faints on the body of Antony,
and is recalled to life by the cries of her women:--


                Royal Egypt--empress!


    No more, but e'en a woman![74] and commanded
    By such poor passion as the maid that milks,
    And does the meanest chares.--It were for me
    To throw my sceptre at the injurious gods:
    To tell them that our world did equal theirs
    Till they had stolen our jewel. All's but naught,
    Patience is sottish, and impatience does
    Become a dog that's mad. Then is it sin
    To rush into the secret house of death
    Ere death dare come to us? How do you, women?
    What, what? good cheer! why how now, Charmian?
    My noble girls!--ah, women, women! look
    Our lamp is spent, is out.
    We'll bury him, and then what's brave, what's noble,
    Let's do it after the high Roman fashion,
    And make death proud to take us.

But although Cleopatra talks of dying "after the high Roman fashion" she
fears what she most desires, and cannot perform with simplicity what
costs her such an effort. That extreme physical cowardice, which was so
strong a trait in her historical character, which led to the defeat of
Actium, which made her delay the execution of a fatal resolve, till she
had "tried conclusions infinite of _easy_ ways to die," Shakspeare has
rendered with the finest possible effect, and in a manner which
heightens instead of diminishing our respect and interest. Timid by
nature, she is courageous by the mere force of will, and she lashes
herself up with high-sounding words into a kind of false daring. Her
lively imagination suggests every incentive which can spur her on to the
deed she has resolved, yet trembles to contemplate. She pictures to
herself all the degradations which must attend her captivity, and let
it be observed, that those which she anticipates are precisely such as a
vain, luxurious, and haughty woman would especially dread, and which
only true virtue and magnanimity could despise. Cleopatra could have
endured the loss of freedom; but to be led in triumph through the
streets of Rome is insufferable. She could stoop to Cæsar with
dissembling courtesy, and meet duplicity with superior art; but "to be
chastised" by the scornful or upbraiding glance of the injured
Octavia--"rather a ditch in Egypt!"

    If knife, drugs, serpents, have
    Edge, sting, or operation, I am safe.
    Your wife, Octavia, with her modest eyes,
    And still conclusion,[75] shall acquire no honor
    Demurring upon me.

                       Now Iras, what think'st thou?
    Thou, an Egyptian puppet, shall be shown
    In Rome as well as I. Mechanic slaves,
    With greasy aprons, rules, and hammers, shall
    Uplift us to the view. In their thick breaths,
    Rank of gross diet, shall we be enclouded,
    And forc'd to drink their vapor.


                                    The gods forbid!


    Nay, 'tis most certain, Iras. Saucy lictors
    Will catch at us like strumpets; and scald rhymers
    Ballad us out o' tune. The quick comedians
    Extemporally will stage us, and present
    Our Alexandrian revels. Antony
    Shall be brought drunken forth; and I shall see
    Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness.

She then calls for her diadem, her robes of state, and attires herself
as if "again for Cydnus, to meet Mark Antony." Coquette to the last, she
must make Death proud to take her, and die, "phoenix like," as she had
lived, with all the pomp of preparation--luxurious in her despair.

The death of Lucretia, of Portia, of Arria, and others who died "after
the high Roman fashion," is sublime according to the Pagan ideas of
virtue, and yet none of them so powerfully affect the imagination as the
catastrophe of Cleopatra. The idea of this frail, timid, wayward woman,
dying with heroism from the mere force of passion and will, takes us by
surprise. The Attic elegance of her mind, her poetical imagination, the
pride of beauty and royalty predominating to the last, and the sumptuous
and picturesque accompaniments with which she surrounds herself in
death, carry to its extreme height that effect of contrast which
prevails through her life and character. No arts, no invention could add
to the real circumstances of Cleopatra's closing scene. Shakspeare has
shown profound judgment and feeling in adhering closely to the classical
authorities; and to say that the language and sentiments worthily fill
up the outline, is the most magnificent praise that can be given. The
magical play of fancy and the overpowering fascination of the character
are kept up to the last, and when Cleopatra, on applying the asp,
silences the lamentations of her women:--

                    Peace! peace!
    Dost thou not see my baby at my breast,
    That sucks the nurse to sleep?--

These few words--the contrast between the tender beauty of the image and
the horror of the situation--produce an effect more intensely mournful
than all the ranting in the world. The generous devotion of her women
adds the moral charm which alone was wanting: and when Octavius hurries
in too late to save his victim, and exclaims, when gazing on her--

                    She looks like sleep--
    As she would catch another Antony
    In her strong toil of grace,

the image of her beauty and her irresistible arts, triumphant even in
death, is at once brought before us, and one masterly and comprehensive
stroke consummates this most wonderful, most dazzling delineation.

I am not here the apologist of Cleopatra's historical character, nor of
such women as resemble her: I am considering her merely as a dramatic
portrait of astonishing beauty, spirit, and originality. She has
furnished the subject of two Latin, sixteen French, six English, and at
least four Italian tragedies;[76] yet Shakspeare alone has availed
himself of all the interest of the story, without falsifying the
character. He alone has dared to exhibit the Egyptian queen with all her
greatness and all her littleness--all her frailties of temper--all her
paltry arts and dissolute passions--yet preserved the dramatic propriety
and poetical coloring of the character, and awakened our pity for fallen
grandeur, without once beguiling us into sympathy with guilt and error.
Corneille has represented Cleopatra as a model of chaste propriety,
magnanimity, constancy, and every female virtue; and the effect is
almost ludicrous. In our own language, we have two very fine tragedies
on the story of Cleopatra: in that of Dryden, which is in truth a noble
poem, and which he himself considered his masterpiece, Cleopatra is a
mere common-place "all-for-love" heroine, full of constancy and fine
sentiments. For instance:--

                                My love's so true,
    That I can neither hide it where it is,
    Nor show it where it is not. Nature meant me
    A wife--a silly, harmless, household dove,
    Fond without art, and kind without deceit.
    But fortune, that has made a mistress of me,
    Has thrust me out to the wild world, unfurnished
    Of falsehood to be happy.

Is this Antony's Cleopatra--the Circe of the Nile--the Venus of the
Cydnus? _She_ never uttered any thing half so mawkish in her life.

In Fletcher's "False One," Cleopatra is represented at an earlier period
of her history: and to give an idea of the aspect under which the
character is exhibited, (and it does not vary throughout the play,) I
shall give one scene; if it be considered out of place, its extreme
beauty will form its best apology.

Ptolemy and his council having exhibited to Cæsar all the royal
treasures in Egypt, he is so astonished and dazzled at the view of the
accumulated wealth, that he forgets the presence of Cleopatra, and
treats her with negligence. The following scene between her and her
sister Arsinoe occurs immediately afterwards.


    You're so impatient!


                        Have I not cause?
    Women of common beauties and low births,
    When they are slighted, are allowed their angers--
    Why should not I, a princess, make him know
    The baseness of his usage?


                              Yes, 'tis fit:
    But then again you know what man--


                            He's no man!
    The shadow of a greatness hangs upon him,
    And not the virtue; he is no conqueror,
    Has suffered under the base dross of nature;
    Poorly deliver'd up his power to wealth.
    The god of bed-rid men taught his eyes treason.
    Against the truth of love he has rais'd rebellion
    Defied his holy flames.


                            He will fall back again
    And satisfy your grace.


                            Had I been old,
    Or blasted in my bud, he might have show'd
    Some shadow of dislike: but to prefer
    The lustre of a little trash, Arsinoe,
    And the poor glow-worm light of some faint jewels
    Before the light of love, and soul of beauty--
    O how it vexes me! He is no soldier:
    All honorable soldiers are Love's servants.
    He is a merchant, a mere wandering merchant,
    Servile to gain; he trades for poor commodities,
    And makes his conquests thefts! Some fortunate captains
    That quarter with him, and are truly valiant.
    Have flung the name of "Happy Cæsar" on him;
    Himself ne'er won it. He's so base and covetous,
    He'll sell his sword for gold.


                                  This is too bitter.


    O, I could curse myself, that was so foolish.
    So fondly childish, to believe his tongue--
    His promising tongue--ere I could catch his temper.
    I'd trash enough to have cloyed his eyes withal,
    (His covetous eyes,) such as I scorn to tread on,
    Richer than e'er he saw yet, and more tempting;
    Had I known he'd stoop'd at that, I'd saved mine honor--
    I had been happy still! But let him take it.
    And let him brag how poorly I'm rewarded;
    Let him go conquer still weak wretched ladies;
    Love has his angry quiver too, his deadly,
    And when he finds scorn, armed at the strongest--
    I am a fool to fret thus for a fool,--
    An old blind fool too! I lose my health; I will not,
    I will not cry; I will not honor him
    With tears diviner than the gods he worships;
    I will not take the pains to curse a poor thing.


    Do not; you shall not need.


                                Would I were prisoner
    To one I hate, that I might anger him!
    I will love any man to break the heart of him!
    Any that has the heart and will to kill him!


    Take some fair truce.


                          I will go study mischief,
    And put a look on, arm'd with all my cunnings.
    Shall meet him like a basilisk, and strike him.
    Love! put destroying flame into mine eyes,
    Into my smiles deceits, that I may torture him--
    That I may make him love to death, and laugh at him

    _Enter_ APOLLODORUS.


    Cæsar commends his service to your grace


    His service? What's his service?


                                    Pray you be patient
    The noble Cæsar loves still.


                                    What's his will?


    He craves access unto your highness.


    Say no; I will have none to trouble me.


    Good sister!--


                None, I say. I will be private.
    Would thou hadst flung me into Nilus, keeper,
    When first thou gav'st consent to bring my body
    To this unthankful Cæsar!


                            'Twas your will, madam.
    Nay more, your charge upon me, as I honor'd you.
    You know what danger I endur'd.


                                  Take this, [_giving a jewel_,
    And carry it to that lordly Cæsar sent thee;
    There's a new love, a handsome one, a rich one,--
    One that will hug his mind: bid him make love to it:
    Tell the ambitious broker this will suffer--

    _Enter_ CÆSAR.


    He enters.




                    I do not use to wait, lady
    Where I am, all the doors are free and open.


    I guess so by your rudeness.


                                You're not angry?
    Things of your tender mould should be most gentle.
    Why should you frown? Good gods, what a set anger
    Have you forc'd into your face! Come, I must temper you.
    What a coy smile was there, and a disdainful!
    How like an ominous flash it broke out from you!
    Defend me, love! Sweet, who has anger'd you?


    Show him a glass! That false face has betray'd me--
    That base heart wrong'd me!


                              Be more sweetly angry.
    I wrong'd you, fair?


                        Away with your foul flatteries;
    They are too gross! But that I dare be angry,
    And with as great a god as Cæsar is,
    To show how poorly I respect his memory
    I would not speak to you.


                      Pray you, undo this riddle,
    And tell me how I've vexed you.


                                    Let me think first,
    Whether I may put on patience
    That will with honor suffer me. Know I hate you!
    Let that begin the story. Now I'll tell you.


    But do it mildly: in a noble lady,
    Softness of spirit, and a sober nature,
    That moves like summer winds, cool, and blows sweetness,
    Shows blessed, like herself.


                                And that great blessedness.
    You first reap'd of me; till you taught my nature,
    Like a rude storm, to talk aloud and thunder,
    Sleep was not gentler than my soul, and stiller.
    You had the spring of my affections,
    And my fair fruits I gave you leave to taste of;
    You must expect the winter of mine anger.
    You flung me off--before the court disgraced me--
    When in the pride I appear'd of all my beauty--
    Appear'd your mistress; took unto your eyes
    The common strumpet, love of hated lucre,--
    Courted with covetous heart the slave of nature,--
    Gave all your thoughts to gold, that men of glory,
    And minds adorned with noble love, would kick at!
    Soldiers of royal mark scorn such base purchase;
    Beauty and honor are the marks they shoot at.
    I spake to you then, I courted you, and woo'd you,
    Called you dear Cæsar, hung about you tenderly,
    Was proud to appear your friend--


                            You have mistaken me.


    But neither eye, nor favor, not a smile
    Was I blessed back withal, but shook off rudely,
    And as you had been sold to sordid infamy,
    You fell before the images of treasure,
    And in your soul you worship'd. I stood slighted;
    Forgotten, and contemned; my soft embraces,
    And those sweet kisses which you called Elysium
    As letters writ in sand, no more remember'd;
    The name and glory of your Cleopatra
    Laugh'd at, and made a story to your captains!
    Shall I endure?


                  You are deceived in all this;
    Upon my life you are; 'tis your much tenderness.


    No, no; I love not that way; you are cozen'd;
    I love with as much ambition as a conqueror,
    And where I love will triumph!


                                  So you shall:
    My heart shall be the chariot that shall bear you:
    All I have won shall wait upon you. By the gods,
    The bravery of this woman's mind has fir'd me!
    Dear mistress, shall I but this once----


                                        How! Cæsar!
    Have I let slip a second vanity
    That gives thee hope?


                              You shall be absolute,
    And reign alone as queen; you shall be any thing.


                      *   *   *   *

        Farewell, unthankful!




                                I will not.

                                          I command.


    Command, and go without, sir,
    I do command _thee_ be my slave forever,
    And vex, while I laugh at thee!


    Thus low, beauty----      [_He kneels_


    It is too late; when I have found thee absolute,
    The man that fame reports thee, and to me,
    May be I shall think better. Farewell, conqueror!


Now this is magnificent poetry, but this is not Cleopatra, this is not
"the gipsey queen." The sentiment here is too profound, the majesty too
real, and too lofty. Cleopatra could be great by fits and starts, but
never sustained her dignity upon so high a tone for ten minutes
together. The Cleopatra of Fletcher reminds us of the antique colossal
statue of her in the Vatican, all grandeur and grace. Cleopatra in
Dryden's tragedy is like Guido's dying Cleopatra in the Pitti Palace,
tenderly beautiful. Shakspeare's Cleopatra is like one of those graceful
and fantastic pieces of antique Arabesque, in which all anomalous shapes
and impossible and wild combinations of form are woven together in
regular confusion and most harmonious discord: and such, we have reason
to believe, was the living woman herself, when she existed upon this


I do not understand the observation of a late critic, that in this play
"Octavia is only a dull foil to Cleopatra." Cleopatra requires no foil,
and Octavia is not dull, though in a moment of jealous spleen, her
accomplished rival gives her that epithet.[77] It is possible that her
beautiful character, if brought more forward and colored up to the
historic portrait, would still be eclipsed by the dazzling splendor of
Cleopatra's; for so I have seen a flight of fireworks blot out for a
while the silver moon and ever-burning stars. But here the subject of
the drama being the love of Antony and Cleopatra, Octavia is very
properly kept in the background, and far from any competition with her
rival: the interest would otherwise have been unpleasantly divided, or
rather Cleopatra herself must have served but as a foil to the tender,
virtuous, dignified, and generous Octavia, the very _beau ideal_ of a
noble Roman lady:--

    Admired Octavia, whose beauty claims
    No worse a husband than the best of men;
    Whose virtues and whose general graces speak
    That which none else can utter.

Dryden has committed a great mistake in bringing Octavia and her
children on the scene, and in immediate contact with Cleopatra. To have
thus violated the truth of history[78] might have been excusable, but to
sacrifice the truth of nature and dramatic propriety, to produce a mere
stage effect, was unpardonable. In order to preserve the unity of
interest, he has falsified the character of Octavia as well as that of
Cleopatra:[79] he has presented us with a regular scolding-match
between the rivals, in which they come sweeping up to each other from
opposite sides of the stage, with their respective trains, like two
pea-hens in a passion. Shakspeare would no more have brought his
captivating, brilliant, but meretricious Cleopatra into immediate
comparison with the noble and chaste simplicity of Octavia, than a
connoisseur in art would have placed Canova's Dansatrice, beautiful as
it is, beside the Athenian Melpomene, or the Vestal of the Capitol.

The character of Octavia is merely indicated in a few touches, but every
stroke tells. We see her with "downcast eyes sedate and sweet, and looks
demure,"--with her modest tenderness and dignified submission--the very
antipodes of her rival! Nor should we forget that she has furnished one
of the most graceful similes in the whole compass of poetry, where her
soft equanimity in the midst of grief is compared to

                The swan's down feather
    That stands upon the swell at flood of tide,
    And neither way inclines.

The fear which, seems to haunt the mind of Cleopatra, lest she should be
"chastised by the sober eye" of Octavia, is exceedingly characteristic
of the two women: it betrays the jealous pride of her, who was conscious
that she had forfeited all real claim to respect; and it places Octavia
before us in all the majesty of that virtue which could strike a kind
of envying and remorseful awe even into the bosom of Cleopatra. What
would she have thought and felt, had some soothsayer foretold to her the
fate of her own children, whom she so tenderly loved? Captives, and
exposed to the rage of the Roman populace, they owed their existence to
the generous, admirable Octavia, in whose mind there entered no particle
of littleness. She received into her house the children of Antony and
Cleopatra, educated them with her own, treated them with truly maternal
tenderness, and married them nobly.

Lastly, to complete the contrast, the death of Octavia should be put in
comparison with that of Cleopatra.

After spending several years in dignified retirement, respected as the
sister of Augustus, but more for her own virtues, Octavia lost her
eldest son Marcellus, who was expressively called the "Hope of Rome."
Her fortitude gave way under this blow, and she fell into a deep
melancholy, which gradually wasted her health. While she was thus
declining into death, occurred that beautiful scene, which has never
yet, I believe, been made the subject of a picture, but should certainly
be added to my gallery, (if I had one,) and I would hang it opposite to
the dying Cleopatra. Virgil was commanded by Augustus to read aloud to
his sister that book of the Eneid in which he had commemorated the
virtues and early death of the young Marcellus. When he came to the

    This youth, the blissful vision of a day,
    Shall just be shown on earth, then snatch'd away, &c.

The mother covered her face, and burst into tears. But when Virgil
mentioned her son by name, ("Tu Marcellus eris,") which he had artfully
deferred till the concluding lines, Octavia, unable to control her
agitation, fainted away. She afterwards, with a magnificent spirit,
ordered the poet a gratuity of ten thousand sesterces for each line of
the panegyric.[80] It is probable that the agitation she suffered on
this occasion hastened the effects of her disorder; for she died soon
after, (of grief, says the historian,) having survived Antony about
twenty years.


Octavia, however, is only a beautiful sketch, while in Volumnia,
Shakspeare has given us the portrait of a Roman matron, conceived in the
true antique spirit, and finished in every part. Although Coriolanus is
the hero of the play, yet much of the interest of the action and the
final catastrophe turn upon the character of his mother, Volumnia, and
the power she exercised over his mind, by which, according to the story,
"she saved Rome and lost her son." Her lofty patriotism, her patrician
haughtiness, her maternal pride, her eloquence, and her towering spirit,
are exhibited with the utmost power of effect; yet the truth of female
nature is beautifully preserved, and the portrait, with all its vigor,
is without harshness.

I shall begin by illustrating the relative position and feelings of the
mother and son; as these are of the greatest importance in the action of
the drama, and consequently most prominent in the characters. Though
Volumnia is a Roman matron, and though her country owes its salvation to
her, it is clear that her maternal pride and affection are stronger even
than her patriotism. Thus when her son is exiled, she burst into an
imprecation against Rome and its citizens:--

    Now the red pestilence strikes all trades in Rome,
    And occupations perish!

Here we have the impulses of individual and feminine nature,
overpowering all national and habitual influences. Volumnia would never
have exclaimed like the Spartan mother, of her dead son, "Sparta has
many others as brave as he;" but in a far different spirit she says to
the Romans,--

                      Ere you go, hear this:
    As far as doth the Capitol exceed
    The meanest house in Rome, so far my son,
    Whom you have banished, does exceed you all.

In the very first scene, and before the introduction of the principal
personages, one citizen observes to another that the military exploits
of Marcius were performed, not so much for his country's sake "as to
please his mother." By this admirable stroke of art, introduced with
such simplicity of effect, our attention is aroused, and we are prepared
in the very outset of the piece for the important part assigned to
Volumnia, and for her share in producing the catastrophe.

In the first act we have a very graceful scene, in which the two Roman
ladies, the wife and mother of Coriolanus, are discovered at their
needle-work, conversing on his absence and danger, and are visited by

                 The noble sisters of Publicola,
    The moon of Rome; chaste as the icicle,
    That's curded by the frost from purest snow,
    And hangs on Dian's temple!

Over this little scene Shakspeare, without any display of learning, has
breathed the very spirit of classical antiquity. The haughty temper of
Volumnia, her admiration of the valor and high bearing of her son, and
her proud but unselfish love for him, are finely contrasted with the
modest sweetness, he conjugal tenderness, and the fond solicitude of his
wife Virgilia.


     When yet he was but tender-bodied, and the only son of my
     womb; when youth with comeliness pluck'd all gaze his way;
     when, for a day of king's entreaties, a mother should not
     sell him an hour from her beholding--considering how honor
     would become such a person; that it was no better than
     picture-like to hang by the wall, if renown made it not
     stir,--was pleased to let him seek danger where he was like
     to find fame. To a cruel war I sent him, from whence he
     returned, his brows bound with oak. I tell thee, daughter--I
     sprang not more in joy at first hearing he was a man-child,
     than now in first seeing he had proved himself a man.


     But had he died in the business, madam? how then?


     Then his good report should have been my son; I therein
     would have found issue. Hear me profess sincerely: had I a
     dozen sons, each in my love alike, and none less dear than
     thine and my good Marcius, I had rather eleven die nobly for
     their country, than one voluptuously surfeit out of action.

     _Enter a_ GENTLEWOMAN.

     Madam, the lady Valeria is come to visit you.


     Beseech you, give me leave to retire myself.


    Indeed you shall not.
    Methinks I hear hither your husband's drum:
    See him pluck Aufidius down by the hair:
    As children from a bear, the Volces shunning him:
    Methinks I see him stamp thus, and call thus--
    "Come on, you cowards! you were got in fear,
    Though you were born in Rome." His bloody brow
    With his mail'd hand then wiping, forth he goes;
    Like to a harvest-man, that's task'd to mow
    Or all, or lose his hire.


    His bloody brow! O Jupiter, no blood!


    Away, you fool! it more becomes a man
    Than gilt his trophy. The breast of Hecuba,
    When she did suckle Hector, look'd not lovelier
    Than Hector's forehead, when it spit forth blood
    At Grecian swords contending. Tell Valeria
    We are fit to bid her welcome.       [_Exit Gent._


    Heavens bless my lord from fell Aufidius!


    He'll beat Aufidius's head below his knee.
    And tread upon his neck.

This distinction between the two females is as interesting and beautiful
as it is well sustained. Thus when the victory of Coriolanus is
proclaimed, Menenius asks, "Is he wounded?"


    O no, no, no!


    Yes, he is wounded--I thank the gods for it!

And when he returns victorious from the wars, his high-spirited mother
receives him with blessings and applause--his gentle wife with "gracious
silence" and with tears.

The resemblance of temper in the mother and the son, modified as it is
by the difference of sex, and by her greater age and experience, is
exhibited with admirable truth. Volumnia, with all her pride and spirit,
has some prudence and self-command; in her language and deportment all
is matured and matronly. The dignified tone of authority she assumes
towards her son, when checking his headlong impetuosity, her respect and
admiration for his noble qualities, and her strong sympathy even with
the feelings she combats, are all displayed in the scene in which she
prevails on him to soothe the incensed plebeians.


                         Pray be counsell'd:
    I have a heart as little apt as yours,
    But yet a brain that leads my use of anger
    To better vantage.


                       Well said, noble woman:
    Before he should thus stoop to the herd, but that
    The violent fit o' the time craves it as physic
    For the whole state, I would put mine armour on,
    Which I can scarcely bear.


                              What must I do?


    Return to the tribunes.


    What then? what then?


                          Repent what you have spoke.


    For them? I cannot do it to the gods;
    Must I then do't to them?


                            You are too absolute,
    Though therein you can never be too noble,
    But when extremities speak.

                         I pr'ythee now, my son,
    Go to them with this bonnet in thy hand;
    And thus far having stretch'd it, (here be with them)
    Thy knee bussing the stones, (for in such business
    Action is eloquent, and the eyes of the ignorant
    More learned than the ears,) waving thy head,
    Which often, thus, correcting thy stout heart
    Now humble, as the ripest mulberry,
    That will not hold the handling. Or, say to them,
    Thou art their soldier, and being bred in broils
    Hast not the soft way which, thou dost confess,
    Were fit for thee to use, as they to claim,
    In asking their good loves; but thou wilt frame
    Thyself, forsooth, hereafter theirs, so far
    As thou hast power and person.


                             This but done,
    Even as she speaks, why all their hearts were yours
    For they have pardons, being asked, as free
    As words to little purpose.


                             Pr'ythee now,
    Go, and be rul'd: although I know thou hadst rather
    Follow thine enemy in a fiery gulf
    Than flatter him in a bower.


    Only fair speech.


                       I think 'twill serve, if he
    Can thereto frame his spirit.


                            He must, and will:
    Pr'ythee, now say you will, and go about it.


    Must I go show them my unbarb'd sconce? Must I
    With my base tongue give to my noble heart
    A lie, that it must bear? Well, I will do't;
    Yet were there but this single plot to lose,
    This mould of Marcius, they to dust should grind it,
    And throw it against the wind. To the market-place
    You have put me now to such a part, which never
    I shall discharge to the life.


    I pr'ythee now, sweet son, as thou hast said,
    My praises made thee first a soldier, so
    To have my praise for this, perform a part
    Thou hast not done before.


                              Well, I must do't:
    Away, my disposition, and possess me
    Some harlot's spirit!

                      *   *   *   *

                          I will not do't:
    Lest I surcease to honor mine own truth,
    And by my body's action, teach my mind
    A most inherent baseness.


                              At thy choice, then:
    To beg of thee, it is my more dishonor,
    Than thou of them. Come all to ruin: let
    Thy mother rather feel thy pride, than fear
    Thy dangerous stoutness: for I mock at death
    With as big heart as thou. Do as thou list--
    Thy valiantness was mine, thou suck'dst it from me
    But owe thy pride thyself.


                              Pray be content;
    Mother, I am going to the market place--
    Chide me no more.

When the spirit of the mother and the son are brought into immediate
collision, he yields before her; the warrior who stemmed alone the whole
city of Corioli, who was ready to face "the steep Tarpeian death, or at
wild horses' heels,--vagabond exile--flaying," rather than abate one jot
of his proud will--shrinks at her rebuke. The haughty, fiery,
overbearing temperament of Coriolanus, is drawn in such forcible and
striking colors, that nothing can more impress us with the real grandeur
and power of Volumnia's character, than his boundless submission to her
will--his more than filial tenderness and respect.

                            You gods! I prate,
    And the most noble mother of the world
    Leave unsaluted. Sink my knee i' the earth--
    Of thy deep duty more impression show
    Than that of common sons!

When his mother appears before him as a suppliant, he exclaims,--

    My mother bows;
    As if Olympus to a molehill should
    In supplication nod.

Here the expression of reverence, and the magnificent image in which it
is clothed, are equally characteristic both of the mother and the son.

Her aristocratic haughtiness is a strong trait in Volumnia's manner and
character, and her supreme contempt for the plebeians, whether they are
to be defied or cajoled, is very like what I have heard expressed by
some high-born and high-bred women of our own day.

                        I muse my mother
    Does not approve me further, who was wont
    To call them woollen vassals; things created
    To buy and sell with groats; to show bare heads
    In congregations; to yawn, be still, and wonder
    When one but of my ordinance stood up
    To speak of peace or war.

And Volumnia reproaching the tribunes,--

                      'Twas you incensed the rabble--
    Cats, that can judge as fitly of his worth,
    As I can of those mysteries which Heaven
    Will not have earth to know.

There is all the Roman spirit in her exultation when the trumpets sound
the return of Coriolanus.

                      Hark! the trumpets!
    These are the ushers of Marcius: before him
    He carries noise, and behind him he leaves tears.

And in her speech to the gentle Virgilia, who is weeping her husband's

    Leave this faint puling! and lament as I do
    In anger--Juno-like!

But the triumph of Volumnia's character, the full display of all her
grandeur of soul, her patriotism, her strong affections, and her sublime
eloquence, are reserved for her last scene, in which she pleads for the
safety of Rome, and wins from her angry son that peace which all the
swords of Italy and her confederate arms could not have purchased. The
strict and even literal adherence to the truth of history is an
additional beauty.

Her famous speech, beginning "Should we be silent and not speak," is
nearly word for word from Plutarch, with some additional graces of
expression, and the charm of metre superadded. I shall give the last
lines of this address, as illustrating that noble and irresistible
eloquence which was the crowning ornament of the character. One
exquisite touch of nature, which is distinguished by italics, was beyond
the rhetorician and historian, and belongs only to the poet.

                              Speak to me, son;
    Thou hast affected the fine strains of honor,
    To imitate the graces of the gods;
    To tear with thunder the wide cheeks o' the air,
    And yet to charge thy sulphur with a bolt
    That should but rive an oak. Why dost not speak?
    Think'st thou it honorable for a nobleman
    Still to remember wrongs? Daughter, speak you:
    He cares not for your weeping. Speak thou, boy;
    Perhaps thy childishness may move him more
    Than can our reasons. There is no man in the world
    More bound to his mother; yet here he lets me prate
    Like one i' the stocks. Thou hast never in thy life
    Show'd thy dear mother any courtesy;
    _When she, (poor hen!) fond of no second brood,
    Has cluck'd thee to the wars, and safely home,
    Laden with honor._ Say my request's unjust,
    And spurn me back: but, if it be not so,
    Thou art not honest, and the gods will plague thee
    That thou restrain'st from me the duty which
    To a mother's part belongs. He turns away:
    Down, ladies: let us shame him with our knees.
    To his surname Coriolanus 'longs more pride,
    Than pity to our prayers; down, and end;
    This is the last; so will we home to Rome,
    And die among our neighbors. Nay, behold us;
    This boy, that cannot tell what he would have,
    But kneels, and holds up hands, for fellowship,
    Does reason our petition with more strength
    Than thou hast to deny't.[81]

It is an instance of Shakspeare's fine judgment, that after this
magnificent and touching piece of eloquence, which saved Rome, Volumnia
should speak no more, for she could say nothing that would not
deteriorate from the effect thus left on the imagination. She is at last
dismissed from our admiring gaze amid the thunder of grateful

    Behold, our patroness,--the life of Rome.


We have seen that in the mother of Coriolanus, the principal qualities
are exceeding pride, self-will, strong maternal affection, great power
of imagination, and energy of temper. Precisely the same qualities enter
into the mind of Constance of Bretagne: but in her these qualities are
so differently modified by circumstances and education, that not even in
fancy do we think of instituting a comparison between the Gothic
grandeur of Constance, and the more severe and classical dignity of the
Roman matron.

The scenes and circumstances with which Shakspeare has surrounded
Constance, are strictly faithful to the old chronicles, and are as
vividly as they are accurately represented. On the other hand, the hints
on which the character has been constructed, are few and vague; but the
portrait harmonizes so wonderfully with its historic background, and
with all that later researches have discovered relative to the personal
adventures of Constance, that I have not the slightest doubt of its
individual truth. The result of a life of strange vicissitude; the
picture of a tameless will, and high passions, forever struggling in
vain against a superior power: and the real situation of women in those
chivalrous times, are placed before us in a few noble scenes. The manner
in which Shakspeare has applied the scattered hints of history to the
formation of the character, reminds us of that magician who collected
the mangled limbs which had been dispersed up and down, reunited them
into the human form, and reanimated them with the breathing and
conscious spirit of life.

Constance of Bretagne was the only daughter and heiress of Conan IV.,
Duke of Bretagne; her mother was Margaret of Scotland, the eldest
daughter of Malcolm IV.: but little mention is made of this princess in
the old histories; but she appears to have inherited some portion of the
talent and spirit of her father, and to have transmitted them to her
daughter. The misfortunes of Constance may be said to have commenced
before her birth, and took their rise in the misconduct of one of her
female ancestors. Her great-grandmother Matilda, the wife of Conan III.,
was distinguished by her beauty and imperious temper, and not less by
her gallantries. Her husband, not thinking proper to repudiate her
during his lifetime, contented himself with disinheriting her son Hoel,
whom he declared illegitimate; and bequeathed his dukedom to his
daughter Bertha, and her husband Allan the Black, Earl of Richmond, who
were proclaimed and acknowledged Duke and Duchess of Bretagne.

Prince Hoel, so far from acquiescing in his father's will, immediately
levied an army to maintain his rights, and a civil war ensued between
the brother and sister, which lasted for twelve or fourteen years.
Bertha, whose reputation was not much fairer than that of her mother
Matilda, was succeeded by her son Conan IV.; he was young, and of a
feeble, vacillating temper, and after struggling for a few years against
the increasing power of his uncle Hoel, and his own rebellious barons,
he called in the aid of that politic and ambitious monarch, Henry II. of
England. This fatal step decided the fate of his crown and his
posterity; from the moment the English set foot in Bretagne, that
miserable country became a scene of horrors and crimes--oppression and
perfidy on the one hand, unavailing struggles on the other. Ten years of
civil discord ensued, during which the greatest part of Bretagne was
desolated, and nearly a third of the population carried off by famine
and pestilence. In the end, Conan was secured in the possession of his
throne by the assistance of the English king, who, equally subtle and
ambitious, contrived in the course of this warfare to strip Conan of
most of his provinces by successive treaties; alienate the Breton nobles
from their lawful sovereign, and at length render the Duke himself the
mere vassal of his power.

In the midst of these scenes of turbulence and bloodshed was Constance
born, in the year 1164. The English king consummated his perfidious
scheme of policy, by seizing on the person of the infant princess,
before she was three years old, as a hostage for her father. Afterwards,
by contracting her in marriage to his third son, Geoffrey Plantagenet,
he ensured, as he thought, the possession of the duchy of Bretagne to
his own posterity.

From this time we hear no more of the weak, unhappy Conan, who, retiring
from a fruitless contest, hid himself in some obscure retreat: even the
date of his death is unknown. Meanwhile Henry openly claimed the duchy
in behalf of his son Geoffrey and the Lady Constance; and their claims
not being immediately acknowledged, he invaded Bretagne with a large
army, laid waste the country, bribed or forced some of the barons into
submission, murdered or imprisoned others, and, by the most treacherous
and barbarous policy, contrived to keep possession of the country he had
thus seized. However, in order to satisfy the Bretons, who were attached
to the race of their ancient sovereigns, and to give some color to his
usurpation, he caused Geoffrey and Constance to be solemnly crowned at
Rennes, as Duke and Duchess of Bretagne. This was in the year 1169 when
Constance was five, and Prince Geoffrey about eight, years old. His
father, Henry, continued to rule, or rather to ravage and oppress, the
country in their name for about fourteen years, during which period we
do not hear of Constance. She appears to have been kept in a species of
constraint as a hostage rather than a sovereign; while her husband
Geoffrey, as he grew up to manhood, was too much engaged in keeping the
Bretons in order, and disputing his rights with his father, to think
about the completion of his union with Constance, although his sole
title to the dukedom was properly and legally in right of his wife. At
length, in 1182, the nuptials were formally celebrated, Constance being
then in her nineteenth year. At the same time, she was recognized as
Duchess of Bretagne _de son chef_, (that is, in her own right,) by two
acts of legislation, which are still preserved among the records of
Bretagne, and bear her own seal and signature.

Those domestic feuds which embittered the whole life of Henry II., and
at length broke his heart, are well known. Of all his sons, who were in
continual rebellion against him, Geoffrey was the most undutiful, and
the most formidable: he had all the pride of the Plantagenets,--all the
warlike accomplishments of his two elder brothers, Henry and Richard;
and was the only one who could compete with his father in talent,
eloquence, and dissimulation. No sooner was he the husband of Constance,
and in possession of the throne of Bretagne, than he openly opposed his
father; in other words, he maintained the honor and interests of his
wife and her unhappy country against the cruelties and oppression of the
English plunderers.[82] About three years after his marriage, he was
invited to Paris for the purpose of concluding a league, offensive and
defensive, with the French king: in this journey he was accompanied by
the Duchess Constance, and they were received and entertained with royal
magnificence. Geoffrey, who excelled in all chivalrous accomplishments,
distinguished himself in the tournaments which were celebrated on the
occasion; but unfortunately, after an encounter with a French knight,
celebrated for his prowess, he was accidentally flung from his horse,
and trampled to death in the lists before he could be extricated.

Constance, being now left a widow, returned to Bretagne, where her
barons rallied round her, and acknowledged her as their sovereign. The
Salique law did not prevail in Bretagne, and it appears that in those
times the power of a female to possess and transmit the rights of
sovereignty had been recognized in several instances; but Constance is
the first woman who exercised those rights in her own person. She had
one daughter, Elinor, born in the second year of her marriage, and a few
months after her husband's death she gave birth to a son. The States of
Bretagne were filled with exultation; they required that the infant
prince should not bear the name of his father,--a name which Constance,
in fond remembrance of her husband, would have bestowed on him--still
less that of his grandfather Henry; but that of Arthur, the redoubted
hero of their country, whose memory was worshipped by the populace.
Though the Arthur of romantic and fairy legends--the Arthur of the round
table, had been dead for six centuries, they still looked for his second
appearance among them, according to the prophecy of Merlin; and now,
with fond and short-sighted enthusiasm, fixed their hopes on the young
Arthur as one destined to redeem the glory and independence of their
oppressed and miserable country. But in the very midst of the rejoicings
which succeeded the birth of the prince, his grandfather, Henry II.,
demanded to have the possession and guardianship of his person; and on
the spirited refusal of Constance to yield her son into his power, he
invaded Bretagne with a large army, plundering, burning, devastating the
country as he advanced. He seized Rennes, the capital, and having by the
basest treachery obtained possession of the persons both of the young
duchess and her children, he married Constance forcibly to one of his
own favorite adherents, Randal de Blondeville, Earl of Chester, and
conferred on him the duchy of Bretagne, to be held as a fief of the
English crown.

The Earl of Chester, though a brave knight and one of the greatest
barons of England, had no pretensions to so high an alliance; nor did he
possess any qualities or personal accomplishments which might have
reconciled Constance to him as a husband. He was a man of diminutive
stature and mean appearance, but of haughty and ferocious manners, and
unbounded ambition.[83] In a conference between this Earl of Chester and
the Earl of Perche, in Lincoln cathedral, the latter taunted Randal with
his insignificant person, and called him contemptuously "_Dwarf_."
"Sayst thou so!" replied Randal; "I vow to God and our Lady, whose
church this is, that ere long I will seem to thee high as that steeple!"
He was as good as his word, when, on ascending the throne of Brittany,
the Earl of Perche became his vassal.

We cannot know what measures were used to force this degradation on the
reluctant and high-spirited Constance; it is only certain that she never
considered her marriage in the light of a sacred obligation, and that
she took the first opportunity of legally breaking from a chain which
could scarcely be considered as legally binding. For about a year she
was obliged to allow this detested husband the title of Duke of
Bretagne, and he administered the government without the slightest
reference to her will, even in form, till 1189, when Henry II. died,
execrating himself and his undutiful children. Whatever great and good
qualities this monarch may have possessed, his conduct in Bretagne was
uniformly detestable. Even the unfilial behavior of his sons may be
extenuated; for while he spent his life, and sacrificed his peace, and
violated every principle of honor and humanity to compass their
political aggrandizement, he was guilty of atrocious injustice towards
them, and set them a bad example in his own person.

The tidings of Henry's death had no sooner reached Bretagne than the
barons of that country rose with one accord against his government,
banished or massacred his officers, and, sanctioned by the Duchess
Constance, drove Randal de Blondeville and his followers from Bretagne;
he retired to his earldom of Chester, there to brood over his injuries,
and meditate vengeance.

In the mean time, Richard I. ascended the English throne. Soon
afterwards he embarked on his celebrated expedition to the Holy Land,
having previously declared Prince Arthur, the only son of Constance,
heir to all his dominions.[84]

His absence, and that of many of her own turbulent barons and
encroaching neighbors, left to Constance and her harassed dominions a
short interval of profound peace. The historians of that period,
occupied by the warlike exploits of the French and English kings in
Palestine, make but little mention of the domestic events of Europe
during their absence; but it is no slight encomium on the character of
Constance, that Bretagne flourished under her government, and began to
recover from the effects of twenty years of desolating war. The seven
years during which she ruled as an independent sovereign, were not
marked by any events of importance; but in the year 1196 she caused her
son Arthur, then nine years of age, to be acknowledged Duke of Bretagne
by the States, and associated him with herself in all the acts of

There was more of maternal fondness than policy in this measure, and it
cost her dear. Richard, that royal firebrand, had now returned to
England: by the intrigues and representations of Earl Randal, his
attention was turned to Bretagne. He expressed extreme indignation that
Constance should have proclaimed her son Duke of Bretagne, and her
partner in power, without his consent, he being the feudal lord and
natural guardian of the young prince. After some excuses and
representations on the part of Constance, he affected to be pacified,
and a friendly interview was appointed at Pontorson, on the frontiers of

We can hardly reconcile the cruel and perfidious scenes which follow
with those romantic and chivalrous associations which illustrate the
memory of Coeur-de-Lion--the friend of Blondel, and the antagonist of
Saladin. Constance, perfectly unsuspicious of the meditated treason,
accepted the invitation of her brother-in-law, and set out from Rennes
with a small but magnificent retinue to join him at Pontorson. On the
road, and within sight of the town, the Earl of Chester was posted with
a troop of Richard's soldiery, and while the Duchess prepared to enter
the gates, where she expected to be received with honor and welcome, he
suddenly rushed from his ambuscade, fell upon her and her suite, put the
latter to flight, and carried off Constance to the strong Castle of St.
Jaques de Beuvron, where he detained her a prisoner for eighteen months.
The chronicle does not tell us how Randal treated his unfortunate wife
during this long imprisonment. She was absolutely in his power; none of
her own people were suffered to approach her, and whatever might have
been his behavior towards her, one thing alone is certain, that so far
from softening her feelings towards _him_, it seems to have added
tenfold bitterness to her abhorrence and her scorn.

The barons of Bretagne sent the Bishop of Rennes to complain of this
violation of faith and justice, and to demand the restitution of the
Duchess. Richard meanly evaded and temporized: he engaged to restore
Constance to liberty on certain conditions; but this was merely to gain
time. When the stipulated terms were complied with, and the hostages
delivered, the Bretons sent a herald to the English king, to require him
to fulfil his part of the treaty, and restore their beloved Constance.
Richard replied with insolent defiance, refused to deliver up either the
hostages or Constance, and marched his army into the heart of the

All that Bretagne had suffered previously was as nothing compared to
this terrible invasion; and all that the humane and peaceful government
of Constance had effected during seven years was at once annihilated.
The English barons and their savage and mercenary followers spread
themselves through the country, which they wasted with fire and sword.
The castles of those who ventured to defend themselves were razed to the
ground; the towns and villages plundered and burnt, and the wretched
inhabitants fled to the caves and forests; but not even there could they
find an asylum; by the orders, and in the presence of Richard, the woods
were set on fire, and hundreds either perished in the flames, or were
suffocated in the smoke.

Constance, meanwhile, could only weep in her captivity over the miseries
of her country, and tremble with all a mother's fears for the safety of
her son. She had placed Arthur under the care of William Desroches, the
seneschal of her palace, a man of mature age, of approved valor, and
devotedly attached to her family. This faithful servant threw himself,
with his young charge, into the fortress of Brest, where he for some
time defied the power of the English king.

But notwithstanding the brave resistance of the nobles and people of
Bretagne, they were obliged to submit to the conditions imposed by
Richard. By a treaty concluded in 1198, of which the terms are not
exactly known, Constance was delivered from her captivity, though not
from her husband; but in the following year, when the death of Richard
had restored her to some degree of independence, the first use she made
of it was to _divorce herself_ from Randal. She took this step with her
usual precipitancy, not waiting for the sanction of the Pope, as was the
custom in those days; and soon afterwards she gave her hand to Guy,
Count de Thouars, a man of courage and integrity, who for some time
maintained the cause of his wife and her son against the power of
England. Arthur was now fourteen, and the legitimate heir of all the
dominions of his uncle Richard. Constance placed him under the
guardianship of the king of France, who knighted the young prince with
his own hand, and solemnly swore to defend his rights against his
usurping uncle John.

It is at this moment that the play of King John opens; and history is
followed as closely as the dramatic form would allow, to the death of
John. The real fate of poor Arthur, after he had been abandoned by the
French, and had fallen into the hands of his uncle, is now ascertained;
but according to the chronicle from which Shakspeare drew his materials,
he was killed in attempting to escape from the castle of Falaise.
Constance did not live to witness this consummation of her calamities;
within a few months after Arthur was taken prisoner, in 1201, she died
suddenly, before she had attained her thirty-ninth year; but the cause
of her death is not specified.

Her eldest daughter Elinor, the legitimate heiress of England, Normandy,
and Bretagne, died in captivity; having been kept a prisoner in Bristol
Castle from the age of fifteen. She was at that time so beautiful, that
she was called proverbially, "La belle Bretonne," and by the English the
"Fair Maid of Brittany." She, like her brother Arthur, was sacrificed to
the ambition of her uncles.

Of the two daughters of Constance by Guy de Thouars, the eldest, Alice,
became Duchess of Bretagne, and married the Count de Dreux, of the royal
blood of France. The sovereignty of Bretagne was transmitted through her
descendants in an uninterrupted line, till, by the marriage of the
celebrated Anne de Bretagne with Charles VIII. of France, her dominions
were forever united with the French monarchy.

In considering the real history of Constance, three things must strike
us as chiefly remarkable.

First, that she is not accused of any vice, or any act of injustice or
violence; and this praise, though poor and negative, should have its due
weight, considering the scanty records that remain of her troubled life,
and the period at which she lived--a period in which crimes of the
darkest dye were familiar occurrences. Her father, Conan, was considered
as a gentle and amiable prince--"gentle even to feebleness;" yet we are
told that on one occasion he acted over again the tragedy of Ugolino and
Ruggiero, when he shut up the Count de Dol, with his two sons and his
nephew, in a dungeon, and deliberately starved them to death; an event
recorded without any particular comment by the old chroniclers of
Bretagne. It also appears that, during those intervals when Constance
administered the government of her states with some degree of
independence, the country prospered under her sway, and that she
possessed at all times the love of her people and the respect of her

Secondly, no imputation whatever has been cast on the honor of Constance
as a wife and as a woman. The old historians, who have treated in a very
unceremonious style the levities of her great-grandmother Matilda, her
grandmother Bertha, her godmother Constance, and her mother-in-law
Elinor, treat the name and memory of our Lady Constance with uniform

Her third marriage, with Guy de Thouars, has been censured as impolitic,
but has also been defended; it can hardly, considering her age, and the
circumstances in which she was placed, be a just subject of reproach.
During her hated union with Randal de Blondeville, and the years passed
in a species of widowhood, she conducted herself with propriety: at
least I can find no reason to judge otherwise.

Lastly, we are struck by the fearless, determined spirit, amounting at
times to rashness, which Constance displayed on several occasions, when
left to the free exercise of her own power and will; yet we see how
frequently, with all this resolution and pride of temper, she became a
mere instrument in the hands of others, and a victim to the superior
craft or power of her enemies. The inference is unavoidable; there must
have existed in the mind of Constance, with all her noble and amiable
qualities, a deficiency somewhere, a want of firmness, a want of
judgment or wariness, and a total want of self-control.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the play of King John, the three principal characters are the King,
Falconbridge, and Lady Constance. The first is drawn forcibly and
accurately from history: it reminds us of Titian's portrait of Cæsar
Borgia, in which the hatefulness of the subject is redeemed by the
masterly skill of the artist,--the truth, and power, and wonderful
beauty of the execution. Falconbridge is the spirited creation of the
poet.[85] Constance is certainly an historical personage; but the form
which, when we meet it on the record of history, appears like a pale
indistinct shadow, half melted into its obscure background, starts
before us into a strange relief and palpable breathing reality upon the
page of Shakspeare.

Whenever we think of Constance, it is in her maternal character. All the
interest which she excites in the drama turns upon her situation as the
mother of Arthur. Every circumstance in which she is placed, every
sentiment she utters, has a reference to him, and she is represented
through the whole of the scenes in which she is engaged, as alternately
pleading for the rights, and trembling for the existence of her son.

The same may be said of the Merope. In the four tragedies of which her
story forms the subject,[86] we see her but in one point of view,
namely, as a mere impersonation of the maternal feeling. The poetry of
the situation is every thing, the character nothing. Interesting as she
is, take Merope out of the circumstances in which she is placed,--take
away her son, for whom she trembles from the first scene to the last,
and Merope in herself is nothing; she melts away into a name, to which
we can fix no other characteristic by which to distinguish her. We
recognize her no longer. Her position is that of an agonized mother; and
we can no more fancy her under a different aspect, than we can imagine
the statue of Niobe in a different attitude.

But while we contemplate the character of Constance, she assumes before
us an individuality perfectly distinct from the circumstances around
her. The action calls forth her maternal feelings, and places them in
the most prominent point of view: but with Constance, as with a real
human being, the maternal affections are a powerful instinct, modified
by other faculties, sentiments, and impulses, making up the individual
character. We think of her as a mother, because, as a mother distracted
for the loss of her son, she is immediately presented before us, and
calls forth our sympathy and our tears; but we infer the rest of her
character from what we see, as certainly and as completely as if we had
known her whole course of life.

That which strikes us as the principal attribute of Constance is
_power_--power of imagination, of will, of passion, of affection, of
pride: the moral energy, that faculty which is principally exercised in
self-control, and gives consistency to the rest, is deficient; or
rather, to speak more correctly, the extraordinary development of
sensibility and imagination, which lends to the character its rich
poetical coloring, leaves the other qualities comparatively subordinate.
Hence it is that the whole complexion of the character, notwithstanding
its amazing grandeur, is so exquisitely feminine. The weakness of the
woman, who by the very consciousness of that weakness is worked up to
desperation and defiance, the fluctuations of temper and the bursts of
sublime passion, the terrors, the impatience, and the tears, are all
most true to feminine nature. The energy of Constance not being based
upon strength of character, rises and falls with the tide of passion.
Her haughty spirit swells against resistance, and is excited into frenzy
by sorrow and disappointment while neither from her towering pride, nor
her strength of intellect, can she borrow patience to submit, or
fortitude to endure. It is, therefore, with perfect truth of nature,
that Constance is first introduced as pleading for peace.

    Stay for an answer to your embassy,
    Lest unadvised you stain your swords with blood:
    My Lord Chatillon may from England bring
    That right in peace, which here we urge in war;
    And then we shall repent each drop of blood,
    That hot, rash haste so indirectly shed.

And that the same woman, when all her passions are roused by the sense
of injury, should afterwards exclaim,

    War, war! No peace! peace is to me a war!

That she should be ambitious for her son, proud of his high birth and
royal rights, and violent in defending them, is most natural; but I
cannot agree with those who think that in the mind of Constance,
_ambition_--that is, the love of dominion for its own sake--is either a
strong motive or a strong feeling: it could hardly be so where the
natural impulses and the ideal power predominate in so high a degree.
The vehemence with which she asserts the just and legal rights of her
son is that of a fond mother and a proud-spirited woman, stung with the
sense of injury, and herself a reigning sovereign,--by birth and right,
if not in fact: yet when bereaved of her son, grief not only "fills the
room up of her absent child," but seems to absorb every other faculty
and feeling--even pride and anger. It is true that she exults over him
as one whom nature and fortune had destined to be _great_, but in her
distraction for his loss, she thinks of him only as her "Pretty Arthur."

    O lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
    My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
    My widow-comfort, and my sorrow's cure!

No other feeling can be traced through the whole of her frantic scene:
it is grief only, a mother's heart-rending, soul-absorbing grief, and
nothing else. Not even indignation, or the desire of revenge, interfere
with its soleness and intensity. An ambitious woman would hardly have
thus addressed the cold, wily Cardinal:--

    And, Father Cardinal, I have heard you say,
    That we shall see and know our friends in heaven:
    If that be true, I shall see my boy again:
    For since the birth of Cain, the first male child,
    To him that did but yesterday suspire,
    There was not such a gracious creature born.
    But now will canker eat my bud,
    And chase the native beauty from his cheek,
    And he will look as hollow as a ghost;
    As dim and merge as an ague's fit;
    And so he'll die; and rising so again,
    When I shall meet him in the court of heaven
    I shall not know him: therefore never, never.
    Must I behold my pretty Arthur more!

The bewildered pathos and poetry of this address could be natural in no
woman, who did not unite, like Constance, the most passionate
sensibility with the most vivid imagination.

It is true that Queen Elinor calls her on one occasion, "ambitious
Constance;" but the epithet is rather the natural expression of Elinor's
own fear and hatred than really applicable.[87] Elinor, in whom age had
subdued all passions but ambition, dreaded the mother of Arthur as her
rival in power, and for that reason only opposed the claims of the son:
but I conceive, that in a woman yet in the prime of life, and endued
with the peculiar disposition of Constance, the mere love of power would
be too much modified by fancy and feeling to be called a _passion_.

In fact, it is not pride, nor temper, nor ambition, nor even maternal
affection, which in Constance gives the prevailing tone to the whole
character; it is the predominance of imagination. I do not mean in the
conception of the dramatic portrait, but in the temperament of the woman
herself. In the poetical, fanciful, excitable cast of her mind, in the
_excess_ of the ideal power, tinging all her affections, exalting all
her sentiments and thoughts, and animating the expression of both,
Constance can only be compared to Juliet.

In the first place, it is through the power of imagination that when
under the influence of excited temper, Constance is not a mere incensed
woman; nor does she, in the style of Volumnia, "lament in anger,
Juno-like," but rather like a sibyl in a fury. Her sarcasms come down
like thunderbolts. In her famous address to Austria--

    O Lymoges! O Austria! thou dost shame
    That bloody spoil! thou slave! thou wretch! thou coward! &c.

it is as if she had concentrated the burning spirit of scorn, and dashed
it in his face: every word seems to blister where it falls. In the
scolding scene between her and Queen Elinor, the laconic insolence of
the latter is completely overborne by the torrent of bitter contumely
which bursts from the lips of Constance, clothed in the most energetic,
and often in the most figurative expressions.


    Who is it thou dost call usurper, France?


    Let me make answer; Thy usurping son.


    Out insolent! thy bastard shall be king,
    That thou may'st be a queen, and check the world!


    My bed was ever to thy son as true,
    As thine was to thy husband; and this boy
    Liker in feature to his father Geffrey,
    Than thou and John in manners: being as like
    As rain to water, or devil to his dam.
    My boy a bastard! By my soul, I think
    His father never was so true begot;
    It cannot be, an if thou wert his mother.


    There's a good mother, boy, that blots thy father.


    There's a good grandam, boy, that would blot thee.

                      *   *   *   *


                        Come to thy grandam, child.


    Do child; go to its grandam, child:
    Give grandam kingdom, and its grandam will
    Give it a plum, a cherry, and a fig:
    There's a good grandam.


                            Good my mother, peace!
    I would that I were low laid in my grave;
    I am not worth this coil that's made for me.


    His mother shames him so, poor boy, he weeps.


    Now shame upon you, whe'r she does or no!
    His grandam's wrongs, and not his mother's shame,
    Draw those heaven-moving pearls from his poor eyes
    Which heaven shall take in nature of a fee:
    Ay, with these crystal beads heav'n shall be bribed
    To do him justice, and revenge on you.


    Thou monstrous slanderer of heaven and earth!


    Thou monstrous injurer of heaven and earth!
    Call me not slanderer; thou and thine usurp
    The dominations, royalties, and rights
    Of this oppressed boy. This is thy eldest son's son
    Infortunate in nothing but in thee.

                      *   *   *   *


    Thou unadvised scold, I can produce
    A will that bars the title of thy son.


    Ay, who doubts that? A will! a wicked will--
    A woman's will--a canker'd grandam's will!

                        KING PHILIP.

    Peace, lady: pause, or be more moderate.

And in a very opposite mood, when struggling with the consciousness of
her own helpless situation, the same susceptible and excitable fancy
still predominates:--

    Thou shalt be punish'd for thus frighting me;
    For I am sick, and capable of fears;
    Oppressed with wrongs, and therefore full of fears
    A widow, husbandless, subject to fears;
    A woman, naturally born to fears;
    And though thou now confess thou didst but jest
    With my vexed spirits, I cannot take a truce,
    But they will quake and tremble all this day.
    What dost thou mean by shaking of thy head?
    Why dost thou look so sadly on my son?
    What means that hand upon that breast of thine?
    Why holds thine eye that lamentable rheum,
    Like a proud river peering o'er his bounds?
    Be these sad signs confirmers of thy words?

       *   *   *   *

    Fellow, begone! I cannot brook thy sight--
    This news hath made thee a most ugly man!

It is the power of imagination which gives so peculiar a tinge to the
maternal tenderness of Constance; she not only loves her son with the
fond instinct of a mother's affection, but she loves him with her
poetical imagination, exults in his beauty and his royal birth, hangs
over him with idolatry, and sees his infant brow already encircled with
the diadem. Her proud spirit, her ardent enthusiastic fancy, and her
energetic self-will, all combine with her maternal love to give it that
tone and character which belongs to her only: hence that most beautiful
address to her son, which coming from the lips of Constance, is as full
of nature and truth as of pathos and poetry, and which we could hardly
sympathize with in any other:--


    I do beseech you, madam, be content.


    If thou, that bid'st me be content, wert grim,
    Ugly, and slanderous to thy mother's womb,
    Full of unpleasing blots and sightless stains,
    Lame, foolish, crooked, swart, prodigious.
    Patched with foul moles and eye-offending marks,
    I would not care--I then would be content;
    For then I should not love thee; no, nor thou
    Become thy great birth, nor deserve a crown.
    But thou art fair, and at thy birth, dear boy!
    Nature and Fortune join'd to make thee great:
    Of Nature's gifts thou mayest with lilies boast,
    And with the half-blown rose: but Fortune, O!
    She is corrupted, chang'd, and won from thee;
    She adulterates hourly with thine uncle John;
    And with her golden hand hath pluck'd on France
    To tread down fair respect of sovereignty.

It is this exceeding vivacity of imagination which in the end turns
sorrow to frenzy. Constance is not only a bereaved and doating mother,
but a generous woman, betrayed by her own rash confidence; in whose mind
the sense of injury mingling with the sense of grief, and her impetuous
temper conflicting with her pride, combine to overset her reason; yet
she is not mad: and how admirably, how forcibly she herself draws the
distinction between the frantic violence of uncontrolled feeling and
actual madness!--

    Thou art not holy to belie me so;
    I am not mad: this hair I tear is mine;
    My name is Constance; I was Geffrey's wife;
    Young Arthur is my son, and he is lost:
    I am not mad; I would to Heaven I were!
    For then, 'tis like I should forget myself:
    O, if I could, what grief should I forget!

Not only has Constance words at will, and fast as the passionate
feelings rise in her mind they are poured forth with vivid, overpowering
eloquence; but, like Juliet, she may be said to speak in pictures. For

    Why holds thine eye that lamentable rheum?
    Like a proud river peering o'er its bounds.

And throughout the whole dialogue there is the same overflow of
eloquence, the same splendor of diction, the same luxuriance of imagery;
yet with an added grandeur, arising from habits of command, from the
age, the rank, and the matronly character of Constance. Thus Juliet
pours forth her love like a muse in a rapture: Constance raves in her
sorrow like a Pythoness possessed with the spirit of pain. The love of
Juliet is deep and infinite as the boundless sea: and the grief of
Constance is so great, that nothing but the round world itself is able
to sustain it.

    I will instruct my sorrows to be proud;
    For grief is proud and makes his owner stout.
    To me, and to the state of my great grief
    Let kings assemble, for my grief's so great,
    That no supporter but the huge firm earth
    Can hold it up. Here I and Sorrow sit;
    Here is my throne,--bid kings come bow to it!

An image more majestic, more wonderfully sublime, was never presented to
the fancy; yet almost equal as a flight of poetry is her apostrophe to
the heavens;--

    Arm, arm, ye heavens, against these perjured kings
    A widow calls!--be husband to me, heavens!

And again--

    O that my tongue were in the thunder's mouth,
    Then with a passion would I shake the world!

Not only do her thoughts start into images, but her feelings become
persons: grief haunts her as a living presence:

    Grief fills the room up of my absent child;
    Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me;
    Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
    Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
    Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
    Then have I reason to be fond of grief.

And death is welcomed as a bridegroom; she sees the visionary monster as
Juliet _saw_ "the bloody Tybalt festering in his shroud," and heaps one
ghastly image upon another with all the wild luxuriance of a distempered

                O amiable, lovely death!
    Thou odoriferous stench! sound rottenness!
    Arise forth from the couch of lasting night,
    Thou hate and terror to prosperity,
    And I will kiss thy detestable bones;
    And put my eye-balls in thy vaulty brows;
    And right these fingers with thy household worms;
    And stop this gap of breath with fulsome dust;
    And be a carrion monster like thyself;
    Come, grin on me, and I will think thou smil'st,
    And buss thee as thy wife! Misery's love,
    O come to me!

Constance, who is a majestic being, is majestic in her very frenzy.
Majesty is also the characteristic of Hermione: but what a difference
between _her_ silent, lofty, uncomplaining despair, and the eloquent
grief of Constance, whose wild lamentations, which come bursting forth
clothed in the grandest, the most poetical imagery, not only melt, but
absolutely electrify us!

On the whole, it may be said that pride and maternal affection form the
basis of the character of Constance, as it is exhibited to us; but that
these passions, in an equal degree common to many human beings, assume
their peculiar and individual tinge from an extraordinary development of
intellect and fancy. It is the energy of passion which lends the
character its concentrated power, as it is the prevalence of imagination
throughout which dilates it into magnificence.

Some of the most splendid poetry to be met with in Shakspeare, may be
found in the parts of Juliet and Constance; the most splendid, perhaps,
excepting only the parts of Lear and Othello; and for the same
reason,--that Lear and Othello as men, and Juliet and Constance as
women, are distinguished by the predominance of the same
faculties,--passion and imagination.

The sole deviation from history which may be considered as essentially
interfering with the truth of the situation, is the entire omission of
the character of Guy de Thouars, so that Constance is incorrectly
represented as in a state of widowhood, at a period when, in point of
fact, she was married. It may be observed, that her marriage took place
just at the period of the opening of the drama; that Guy de Thouars
played no conspicuous part in the affairs of Bretagne till after the
death of Constance, and that the mere presence of this personage,
altogether superfluous in the action, would have completely destroyed
the dramatic interest of the situation;--and what a situation! One more
magnificent was never placed before the mind's eye than that of
Constance, when, deserted and betrayed, she stands alone in her despair,
amid her false friends and her ruthless enemies![88] The image of the
mother-eagle, wounded and bleeding to death, yet stretched over her
young in an attitude of defiance, while all the baser birds of prey are
clamoring around her eyry, gives but a faint idea of the moral sublimity
of this scene. Considered merely as a poetical or dramatic picture, the
grouping is wonderfully fine; on one side, the vulture ambition of that
mean-souled tyrant, John; on the other, the selfish, calculating policy
of Philip: between them, balancing their passions in his hand, the cold,
subtle, heartless Legate: the fiery, reckless Falconbridge; the princely
Louis; the still unconquered spirit of that wrangling queen, old Elinor;
the bridal loveliness and modesty of Blanche; the boyish grace and
innocence of young Arthur; and Constance in the midst of them, in all
the state of her great grief, a grand impersonation of pride and
passion, helpless at once and desperate,--form an assemblage of figures,
each perfect in its kind, and, taken all together, not surpassed for the
variety, force, and splendor of the dramatic and picturesque effect.


Elinor of Guienne, and Blanche of Castile, who form part of the group
around Constance, are sketches merely, but they are strictly historical
portraits, and full of truth and spirit.

At the period when Shakspeare has brought these three women on the scene
together, Elinor of Guienne (the daughter of the last Duke of Guienne
and Aquitaine, and like Constance, the heiress of a sovereign duchy) was
near the close of her long, various, and unquiet life--she was nearly
seventy: and, as in early youth, her violent passions had overborne both
principle and policy, so in her old age we see the same character, only
modified by time; her strong intellect and love of power, unbridled by
conscience or principle, surviving when other passions were
extinguished, and rendered more dangerous by a degree of subtlety and
self-command to which her youth had been a stranger. Her personal and
avowed hatred for Constance, together with its motives, are mentioned by
the old historians. Holinshed expressly says, that Queen Elinor was
mightily set against her grandson Arthur, rather moved thereto by envy
conceived against his mother, than by any fault of the young prince, for
that she knew and dreaded the high spirit of the Lady Constance.

Shakspeare has rendered this with equal spirit and fidelity.

                        QUEEN ELINOR.

    What now, my son! have I not ever said,
    How that ambitious Constance would not cease,
    Till she had kindled France and all the world
    Upon the right and party of her son?
    This might have been prevented and made whole
    With very easy arguments of love;
    Which now the manage of two kingdoms must
    With fearful bloody issue arbitrate.

                        KING JOHN.

    Our strong possession and our right for us!

                        QUEEN ELINOR.

    Your strong possession much more than your right;
    Or else it must go wrong with you and me.
    So much my conscience whispers in your ear--
    Which none but Heaven, and you, and I shall hear.

Queen Elinor preserved to the end of her life her influence over her
children, and appears to have merited their respect. While intrusted
with the government, during the absence of Richard I., she ruled with a
steady hand, and made herself exceedingly popular; and as long as she
lived to direct the counsels of her son John, his affairs prospered. For
that intemperate jealousy which converted her into a domestic firebrand,
there was at least much cause, though little excuse. Elinor had hated
and wronged the husband of her youth,[89] and she had afterwards to
endure the negligence and innumerable infidelities of the husband whom
she passionately loved:[90]--"and so the whirligig of time brought in
his revenges." Elinor died in 1203, a few months after Constance, and
before the murder of Arthur--a crime which, had she lived, would
probably never have been consummated; for the nature of Elinor, though
violent, had no tincture of the baseness and cruelty of her son.


Blanche of Castile was the daughter of Alphonso IX. of Castile, and the
grand-daughter of Elinor. At the time that she is introduced into the
drama, she was about fifteen, and her marriage with Louis VIII., then
Dauphin, took place in the abrupt manner here represented. It is not
often that political marriages have the same happy result. We are told
by the historians of that time, that from the moment Louis and Blanche
met, they were inspired by a mutual passion, and that during a union of
more than twenty-six years they were never known to differ, nor even
spent more than a single day asunder.[91]

In her exceeding beauty and blameless reputation; her love for her
husband, and strong domestic affections; her pride of birth and rank;
her feminine gentleness of deportment; her firmness of temper; her
religious bigotry; her love of absolute power, and her upright and
conscientious administration of it, Blanche greatly resembled Maria
Theresa of Austria. She was, however, of a more cold and calculating
nature; and in proportion as she was less amiable as a woman, did she
rule more happily for herself and others. There cannot be a greater
contrast than between the acute understanding, the steady temper, and
the cool intriguing policy of Blanche, by which she succeeded in
disuniting and defeating the powers arrayed against her and her infant
son, and the rash confiding temper and susceptible imagination of
Constance, which rendered herself and her son easy victims to the fraud
or ambition of others. Blanche, during forty years, held in her hands
the destinies of the greater part of Europe, and is one of the most
celebrated names recorded in history--but in what does she survive to us
except in a name? Nor history, nor fame, though "trumpet-tongued," could
do for _her_ what Shakspeare and poetry have done for Constance. The
earthly reign of Blanche is over, her sceptre broken, and her power
departed. When will the reign of Constance cease? when will _her_ power
depart? Not while this world is a world, and there exists in it human
souls to kindle at the touch of genius, and human hearts to throb with
human sympathies!

       *       *       *       *       *

There is no female character of any interest in the play of Richard II.
The Queen (Isabelle of France) enacts the same passive part in the drama
that she does in history.

The same remark applies to Henry IV. In this admirable play there is no
female character of any importance; but Lady Percy, the wife of Hotspur,
is a very lively and beautiful sketch: she is sprightly, feminine, and
fond; but without any thing energetic or profound, in mind or in
feeling. Her gayety and spirit in the first scenes, are the result of
youth and happiness, and nothing can be more natural than the utter
dejection and brokenness of heart which follow her husband's death: she
is no heroine for war or tragedy; she has no thought of revenging her
loss; and even her grief has something soft and quiet in its pathos. Her
speech to her father-in-law, Northumberland, in which she entreats him
"not to go to the wars," and at the same time pronounces the most
beautiful eulogium on her heroic husband, is a perfect piece of feminine
eloquence, both in the feeling and in the expression.

Almost every one knows by heart Lady Percy's celebrated address to her
husband, beginning,

    O, my good lord, why are you thus alone?

and that of Portia to Brutus, in Julius Cæsar,

    ... You've ungently, Brutus,
    Stol'n from my bed.

The situation is exactly similar, the topics of remonstrance are nearly
the same; the sentiments and the style as opposite as are the characters
of the two women. Lady Percy is evidently accustomed to win more from
her fiery lord by caresses than by reason: he loves her in his rough way
"as Harry Percy's wife," but she has no real influence over him: he has
no confidence in her.

                        LADY PERCY.

    ... In faith,
    I'll know your business, Harry, that I will.
    I fear my brother Mortimer doth stir
    About this title, and hath sent for you
    To line his enterprise, but if you go--


    So far afoot, I shall be weary, love!

The whole scene is admirable, but unnecessary here, because it
illustrates no point of character in her. Lady Percy has no _character_,
properly so called; whereas, that of Portia is very distinctly and
faithfully drawn from the outline furnished by Plutarch. Lady Percy's
fond upbraidings, and her half playful, half pouting entreaties,
scarcely gain her husband's attention. Portia, with true matronly
dignity and tenderness, pleads her right to share her husband's
thoughts, and proves it too

    I grant I am a woman, but withal,
    A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife,
    I grant I am a woman, but withal,
    A woman well reputed--Cato's daughter.
    Think you, I am no stronger than my sex
    Being so father'd and so husbanded?

                      *   *   *   *


    You are my true and honorable wife:
    As dear to me, as are the ruddy drops
    That visit my sad heart!

Portia, as Shakspeare has truly felt and represented the character, is
but a softened reflection of that of her husband Brutus: in him we see
an excess of natural sensibility, an almost womanish tenderness of
heart, repressed by the tenets of his austere philosophy: a stoic by
profession, and in reality the reverse--acting deeds against his nature
by the strong force of principle and will. In Portia there is the same
profound and passionate feeling, and all her sex's softness and
timidity, held in check by that self-discipline, that stately dignity,
which she thought became a woman "so fathered and so husbanded." The
fact of her inflicting on herself a voluntary wound to try her own
fortitude, is perhaps the strongest proof of this disposition. Plutarch
relates, that on the day on which Cæsar was assassinated, Portia
appeared overcome with terror, and even swooned away, but did not in her
emotion utter a word which could affect the conspirators. Shakspeare has
rendered this circumstance literally.


    I pr'ythee, boy, run to the senate house,
    Stay not to answer me, but get thee gone.
    Why dost thou stay?


                      To know my errand, madam.


    I would have had thee there and here again,
    Ere I can tell thee what thou should'st do there.
    O constancy! be strong upon my side:
    Set a huge mountain 'tween my heart and tongue!
    I have a man's mind, but a woman's might.
    ... Ah me! how weak a thing
    The heart of woman is! O I grow faint, &c.

There is another beautiful incident related by Plutarch, which could not
well be dramatized. When Brutus and Portia parted for the last time in
the island of Nisida, she restrained all expression of grief that she
might not shake _his_ fortitude; but afterwards, in passing through a
chamber in which there hung a picture of Hector and Andromache, she
stopped, gazed upon it for a time with a settled sorrow, and at length
burst into a passion of tears.[92]

If Portia had been a Christian, and lived in later times, she might have
been another Lady Russel; but she made a poor stoic. No factitious or
external control was sufficient to restrain such an exuberance of
sensibility and fancy: and those who praise the _philosophy_ of Portia
and the _heroism_ of her death, certainly mistook the character
altogether. It is evident, from the manner of her death, that it was not
deliberate self-destruction, "after the high Roman fashion," but took
place in a paroxysm of madness, caused by overwrought and suppressed
feeling, grief, terror, and suspense. Shakspeare has thus represented


    O Cassius! I am sick of many griefs!


    Of your philosophy you make no use,
    If you give place to accidental evils.


    No man bears sorrow better; Portia's dead.




    She is dead.


    How 'scap'd I killing when I cross'd you so?
    O insupportable and touching loss--
    Upon what sickness?


    Impatient of my absence,
    And grief that young Octavius with Mark Antony
    Had made themselves so strong--(for with her death
    These tidings came)--_with this she fell distract_,
    And, her attendants absent, swallowed fire.

So much for woman's philosophy!


Malone has written an essay, to prove from external and internal
evidence, that the three parts of King Henry VI. were not originally
written by Shakspeare, but altered by him from two old plays,[93] with
considerable improvements and additions of his own. Burke, Porson, Dr.
Warburton, and Dr. Farmer, pronounced this piece of criticism
convincing and unanswerable; but Dr. Johnson and Steevens would not be
convinced, and, moreover, have contrived to answer the _unanswerable_.
"Who shall decide when doctors disagree?" The only arbiter in such a
case is one's own individual taste and judgment. To me it appears that
the three parts of Henry VI. have less of poetry and passion, and more
of unnecessary verbosity and inflated language, than the rest of
Shakspeare's works; that the continual exhibition of treachery,
bloodshed, and violence, is revolting, and the want of unity of action,
and of a pervading interest, oppressive and fatiguing; but also that
there are splendid passages in the Second and Third Parts, such as
Shakspeare alone could have written: and this is not denied by the most

Among the arguments against the authenticity of these plays, the
character of Margaret of Anjou has not been adduced, and yet to those
who have studied Shakspeare in his own spirit, it will appear the most
conclusive of all. When we compare her with his other female characters,
we are struck at once by the want of family likeness; Shakspeare was not
always equal, but he had not two _manners_, as they say of painters. I
discern his hand in particular parts, but I cannot recognize his spirit
in the conception of the whole: he may have laid on some of the colors,
but the original design has a certain hardness and heaviness, very
unlike his usual style. Margaret of Anjou, as exhibited in these
tragedies, is a dramatic portrait of considerable truth, and vigor, and
consistency--but she is not one of Shakspeare's women. He who knew so
well in what true greatness of spirit consisted--who could excite our
respect and sympathy even for a Lady Macbeth, would never have given us
a heroine without a touch of heroism; he would not have portrayed a
high-hearted woman, struggling unsubdued against the strangest
vicissitudes of fortune, meeting reverses and disasters, such as would
have broken the most masculine spirit, with unshaken constancy, yet left
her without a single personal quality which would excite our interest in
her bravely-endured misfortunes; and this too in the very face of
history. He would not have given us, in lieu of the magnanimous queen,
the subtle and accomplished French woman, a mere "Amazonian trull," with
every coarser feature of depravity and ferocity; he would have redeemed
her from unmingled detestation; he would have breathed into her some of
his own sweet spirit--he would have given the woman a soul.

The old chronicler Hall informs us, that Queen Margaret "excelled all
other as well in beauty and favor, as in wit and policy, and was in
stomach and courage more like to a man than to a woman." He adds, that
after the espousals of Henry and Margaret, "the king's friends fell from
him; the lords of the realm fell in division among themselves; the
Commons rebelled against their natural prince; fields were foughten;
many thousands slain; and, finally, the king was deposed, and his son
slain, and his queen sent home again with as much misery and sorrow as
she was received with pomp and triumph."

This passage seems to have furnished the groundwork of the character as
it is developed in these plays with no great depth or skill. Margaret is
portrayed with all the exterior graces of her sex; as bold and artful,
with spirit to dare, resolution to act, and fortitude to endure; but
treacherous, haughty, dissembling, vindictive, and fierce. The bloody
struggle for power in which she was engaged, and the companionship of
the ruthless iron men around her, seem to have left her nothing of
womanhood but the heart of a mother--that last stronghold of our
feminine nature! So far the character is consistently drawn: it has
something of the power, but none of the flowing ease of Shakspeare's
manner. There are fine materials not well applied; there is poetry in
some of the scenes and speeches; the situations are often exceedingly
poetical; but in the character of Margaret herself, there is not an atom
of poetry. In her artificial dignity, her plausible wit, and her endless
volubility, she would remind us of some of the most admired heroines of
French tragedy, but for that unlucky box on the ear which she gives the
Duchess of Gloster,--a violation of tragic decorum, which of course
destroys all parallel.

Having said thus much, I shall point out some of the finest and most
characteristic scenes in which Margaret appears. The speech in which she
expresses her scorn of her meek husband, and her impatience of the power
exercised by those fierce overbearing barons, York, Salisbury, Warwick,
Buckingham, is very fine, and conveys as faithful an idea of those
feudal times as of the woman who speaks. The burst of female spite with
which she concludes, is admirable--

    Not all these lords do vex me half so much
    As that proud dame, the Lord Protector's wife.
    She sweeps it through the court with troops of ladies,
    More like an empress than Duke Humphrey's wife.
    Strangers in court do take her for the queen:
    She bears a duke's revenues on her back,
    And in her heart she scorns our poverty.
    Shall I not live to be avenged on her?
    Contemptuous base-born callet as she is!
    She vaunted 'mongst her minions t'other day,
    The very train of her worst wearing gown
    Was better worth than all my father's lands,
    Till Suffolk gave two dukedoms for his daughter.

Her intriguing spirit, the facility with which she enters into the
murderous confederacy against the good Duke Humphrey, the artful
plausibility with which she endeavours to turn suspicion from
herself--confounding her gentle consort by mere dint of words--are
exceedingly characteristic, but not the less revolting.

Her criminal love for Suffolk (which is a dramatic incident, not an
historic fact) gives rise to the beautiful parting scene in the third
act; a scene which it is impossible to read without a thrill of emotion,
hurried away by that power and pathos which forces us to sympathize with
the eloquence of grief, yet excites not a momentary interest either for
Margaret or her lover. The ungoverned fury of Margaret in the first
instance, the manner in which she calls on Suffolk to curse his enemies,
and then shrinks back overcome by the violence of the spirit she had
herself evoked, and terrified by the vehemence of his imprecations; the
transition in her mind from the extremity of rage to tears and melting
fondness, have been pronounced, and justly, to be in Shakspeare's own

    Go, speak not to me--even now begone.
    O go not yet! Even thus two friends condemn'd
    Embrace, and kiss, and take ten thousand leaves,
    Loather a hundred times to part than die:
    Yet now farewell; and farewell life with thee!

which is followed by that beautiful and intense burst of passion from

    'Tis not the hand I care for, wert thou hence;
    A wilderness is populous enough,
    So Suffolk had thy heavenly company:
    For where thou art, there is the world itself,
    With every several pleasure in the world;
    And where thou art not, desolation!

In the third part of Henry the Sixth, Margaret, engaged in the terrible
struggle for her husband's throne, appears to rather more advantage. The
indignation against Henry, who had pitifully yielded his son's
birthright for the privilege of reigning unmolested during his own life,
is worthy of her, and gives rise to a beautiful speech. We are here
inclined to sympathize with her; but soon after follows the murder of
the Duke of York; and the base revengeful spirit and atrocious cruelty
with which she insults over him, unarmed and a prisoner,--the bitterness
of her mockery, and the unwomanly malignity with which she presents him
with the napkin stained with the blood of his youngest son, and "bids
the father wipe his eyes withal," turn all our sympathy into aversion
and horror. York replies in the celebrated speech, beginning--

    She-wolf of France, and worse than wolves of France,
    Whose tongue more poisons than the adder's tooth--

and taunts her with the poverty of her father, the most irritating topic
he could have chosen.

    Hath that poor monarch taught thee to insult?
    It needs not, nor it boots thee not, proud queen,
    Unless the adage must be verified,
    That beggars, mounted, ride their horse to death.
    'Tis beauty, that doth oft make women proud;
    But, God he knows, thy share thereof is small.
    'Tis virtue that doth make them most admired;
    The contrary doth make thee wondered at.
    'Tis government that makes them seem divine,
    The want thereof makes thee abominable.

       *   *   *   *

    O tiger's heart, wrapped in a woman's hide!
    How could'st thou drain the life-blood of the child
    To bid the father wipe his face withal,
    And yet be seen to bear a woman's face?
    Women are soft, mild, pitiful and flexible,
    Thou stern, obdurate, flinty, rough, remorseless!

By such a woman as Margaret is here depicted such a speech could be
answered only in one way--with her dagger's point--and thus she answers

It is some comfort to reflect that this trait of ferocity is not
historical: the body of the Duke of York was found, after the battle,
among the heaps of slain, and his head struck off: but even this was not
done by the command of Margaret.

In another passage, the truth and consistency of the character of
Margaret are sacrificed to the march of the dramatic action, with a very
ill effect. When her fortunes were at the very lowest ebb, and she had
sought refuge in the court of the French king, Warwick, her most
formidable enemy, upon some disgust he had taken against Edward the
Fourth, offered to espouse her cause; and proposed a match between the
prince her son and his daughter Anne of Warwick--the "gentle Lady Anne,"
who figures in Richard the Third. In the play, Margaret embraces the
offer without a moment's hesitation:[95] we are disgusted by her
versatile policy, and a meanness of spirit in no way allied to the
magnanimous forgiveness of her terrible adversary. The Margaret of
history sternly resisted this degrading expedient. She could not, she
said, pardon from her heart the man who had been the primary cause of
all her misfortunes. She mistrusted Warwick, despised him for the
motives of his revolt from Edward, and considered that to match her son
into the family of her enemy from mere policy was a species of
degradation. It took Louis the Eleventh, with all his art and
eloquence, fifteen days to wring a reluctant consent, accompanied with
tears, from this high-hearted woman.

The speech of Margaret to her council of generals before the battle of
Tewksbury, (Act v. scene 5,) is as remarkable a specimen of false
rhetoric, as her address to the soldiers, on the eve of the fight, is of
true and passionate eloquence.

She witnesses the final defeat of her army, the massacre of her
adherents, and the murder of her son; and though the savage Richard
would willingly have put an end to her misery, and exclaims very

    Why should she live to fill the world with words?

she is dragged forth unharmed, a woful spectacle of extremest
wretchedness, to which death would have been an undeserved relief. If we
compare the clamorous and loud exclaims of Margaret after the slaughter
of her son, to the ravings of Constance, we shall perceive where
Shakspeare's genius did _not_ preside, and where it _did_. Margaret, in
bold defiance of history, but with fine dramatic effect, is introduced
again in the gorgeous and polluted court of Edward the Fourth. There she
stalks around the seat of her former greatness, like a terrible phantom
of departed majesty, uncrowned, unsceptered, desolate, powerless--or
like a vampire thirsting for blood--or like a grim prophetess of evil,
imprecating that ruin on the head of her enemies, which she lived to see
realized. The scene following the murder of the princes in the Tower,
in which Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York sit down on the ground
bewailing their desolation, and Margaret suddenly appears from behind
them, like the very personification of woe, and seats herself beside
them revelling in their despair, is, in the general conception and
effect grand and appalling.

                        THE DUCHESS.

    O, Harry's wife, triumph not in my woes;
    God witness with me, I have wept for thine!

                        QUEEN MARGARET.

    Bear with me, I am hungry for revenge,
    And now I cloy me with beholding it.
    Thy Edward he is dead, that kill'd my Edward;
    Thy other Edward dead, to quit my Edward:
    Young York he is but boot, because both they
    Match not the high perfection of my loss.
    Thy Clarence he is dead, that stabb'd my Edward;
    And the beholders of this tragic play,
    The adulterate Hastings, Rivers, Vaughan, Grey,
    Untimely smother'd in their dusky graves.
    Richard yet lives, hell's black intelligencer,
    Only reserv'd their factor, to buy souls
    And send them thither. But at hand, at hand,
    Ensues his piteous and unpitied end;
    Earth gapes, hell burns, fiends roar for him: saints pray
    To have him suddenly convey'd from hence.
    Cancel his bond of life, dear God, I pray,
    That I may live to say, The dog is dead.[96]

She should have stopped here; but the effect thus powerfully excited is
marred and weakened by so much superfluous rhetoric, that we are tempted
to exclaim with the old Duchess of York--

    Why should calamity be full of words?


To have a just idea of the accuracy and beauty of this historical
portrait, we ought to bring immediately before us those circumstances of
Katherine's life and times, and those parts of her character, which
belong to a period previous to the opening of the play. We shall then be
better able to appreciate the skill with which Shakspeare has applied
the materials before him.

Katherine of Arragon, the fourth and youngest daughter of Ferdinand,
King of Arragon, and Isabella of Castile, was born at Alcala, whither
her mother had retired to winter after one of the most terrible
campaigns of the Moorish war--that of 1485.

Katherine had derived from nature no dazzling qualities of mind, and no
striking advantages of person. She inherited a tincture of Queen
Isabella's haughtiness and obstinacy of temper, but neither her beauty
nor her splendid talents. Her education under the direction of that
extraordinary mother, had implanted in her mind the most austere
principles of virtue, the highest ideas of female decorum, the most
narrow and bigoted attachment to the forms of religion, and that
excessive pride of birth and rank, which distinguished so particularly
her family and her nation. In other respects, her understanding was
strong, and her judgment clear. The natural turn of her mind was simple,
serious, and domestic, and all the impulses of her heart kindly and
benevolent. Such was Katherine; such, at least, she appears on a
reference to the chronicles of her times, and particularly from her own
letters, and the papers written or dictated by herself which relate to
her divorce; all of which are distinguished by the same artless
simplicity of style, the same quiet good sense, the same resolute, yet
gentle spirit and fervent piety.

When five years old, Katherine was solemnly affianced to Arthur, Prince
of Wales, the eldest son of Henry VII.; and in the year 1501, she landed
in England, after narrowly escaping shipwreck on the southern coast,
from which every adverse wind conspired to drive her. She was received
in London with great honor, and immediately on her arrival united to the
young prince. He was then fifteen and Katherine in her seventeenth

Arthur, as it is well known, survived his marriage only five months; and
the reluctance of Henry VII. to refund the splendid dowry of the
Infanta, and forego the advantages of an alliance with the most powerful
prince of Europe, suggested the idea of uniting Katherine to his second
son Henry; after some hesitation, a dispensation was procured from the
Pope, and she was betrothed to Henry in her eighteenth year. The prince,
who was then only twelve years old, resisted as far as he was able to do
so, and appears to have really felt a degree of horror at the idea of
marrying his brother's widow. Nor was the mind of King Henry at rest; as
his health declined, his conscience reproached him with the equivocal
nature of the union into which he had forced his son; and the vile
motives of avarice and expediency which had governed him on this
occasion. A short time previous to his death, he dissolved the
engagement, and even caused Henry to sign a paper in which he solemnly
renounced all idea of a future union with the Infanta. It is observable,
that Henry signed this paper with reluctance, and that Katherine,
instead of being sent back to her own country, still remained in

It appears that Henry, who was now about seventeen, had become
interested for Katherine, who was gentle and amiable. The difference of
years was rather a circumstance in her favor; for Henry was just at that
age, when a youth is most likely to be captivated by a woman older than
himself: and no sooner was he required to renounce her, than the
interest she had gradually gained in his affections, became, by
opposition, a strong passion. Immediately after his father's death, he
declared his resolution to take for his wife the Lady Katherine of
Spain, and none other; and when the matter was discussed in council, it
was urged that, besides the many advantages of the match in a political
point of view, she had given so "much proof of virtue, and sweetness of
condition, as they knew not where to parallel her." About six weeks
after his accession, June 3, 1509, the marriage was celebrated with
truly royal splendor, Henry being then eighteen, and Katherine in her
twenty-fourth year.

It has been said with truth, that if Henry had died while Katherine was
yet his wife, and Wolsey his minister, he would have left behind him the
character of a magnificent, popular, and accomplished prince, instead of
that of the most hateful ruffian and tyrant who ever swayed these
realms. Notwithstanding his occasional infidelities, and his impatience
at her midnight vigils, her long prayers, and her religious austerities,
Katherine and Henry lived in harmony together. He was fond of openly
displaying his respect and love for her; and she exercised a strong and
salutary influence over his turbulent and despotic spirit. When Henry
set out on his expedition to France, in 1513, he left Katherine regent
of the kingdom during his absence, with full powers to carry on the war
against the Scots; and the Earl of Surrey at the head of the army, as
her lieutenant-general. It is curious to find Katherine--the pacific,
domestic, and unpretending Katherine--describing herself as having "her
heart set to war," and "horrible busy" with making "standards, banners,
badges, scarfs, and the like."[97] Nor was this mere silken
preparation--mere dalliance with the pomp and circumstance of war; for
within a few weeks afterwards, her general defeated the Scots in the
famous battle of Floddenfield, where James IV. and most of his nobility
were slain.[98]

Katherine's letter to Henry, announcing this event, so strikingly
displays the piety and tenderness, the quiet simplicity, and real
magnanimity of her character, that there cannot be a more apt and
beautiful illustration of the exquisite truth and keeping of
Shakspeare's portrait.


     My Lord Howard hath sent me a letter, open to your Grace,
     within one of mine, by the which ye shall see at length the
     great victory that our Lord hath sent your subjects in your
     absence: and for this cause, it is no need herein to trouble
     your Grace with long writing; but to my thinking this battle
     hath been to your Grace, and all your realm, the greatest
     honor that could be, and more than ye should win all the
     crown of France, thanked be God for it! And I am sure your
     Grace forgetteth not to do this, which shall be cause to
     send you many more such great victories, as I trust he shall
     do. My husband, for haste, with Rougecross, I could not send
     your Grace the piece of the king of Scots' coat, which John
     Glyn now bringeth. In this your Grace shall see how I can
     keep my promise, sending you for your banners a king's coat.
     I thought to send himself unto you, but our Englishmen's
     hearts would not suffer it. It should have been better for
     him to have been in peace than have this reward, but all
     that God sendeth is for the best. My Lord of Surrey, my
     Henry, would fain know your pleasure in the burying of the
     king of Scots' body, for he hath written to me so. With the
     next messenger, your Grace's pleasure may be herein known.
     And with this I make an end, praying God to send you home
     shortly; for without this, no joy here can be
     accomplished--and for the same I pray. And now go to our
     Lady at Walsyngham, that I promised so long ago to see.

     At Woburn, the 16th day of September, (1513.)

     I send your Grace herein a bill, found in a Scottishman's
     purse, of such things as the French king sent to the said
     king of Scots, to make war against you, beseeching you to
     send Mathew hither as soon as this messenger cometh with
     tidings of your Grace.

    Your humble wife and true servant,


The legality of the king's marriage with Katherine remained undisputed
till 1527. In the course of that year, Anna Bullen first appeared at
court, and was appointed maid of honor to the queen; and then, and not
till then, did Henry's union with his brother's wife "creep too near his
conscience." In the following year, he sent special messengers to Rome,
with secret instructions: they were required to discover (among other
"hard questions") whether, if the queen entered a religious life, the
king might have the Pope's dispensation to marry again; and whether if
the king (for the better inducing the queen thereto) would enter himself
into a religious life, the Pope would dispense with the king's vow, and
leave her there?

Poor Katherine! we are not surprised to read that when she understood
what was intended against her, "she labored with all those passions
which jealousy of the king's affection, sense of her own honor, and the
legitimation of her daughter, could produce, laying in conclusion the
whole fault on the Cardinal." It is elsewhere said, that Wolsey bore the
queen ill-will, in consequence of her reflecting with some severity on
his haughty temper, and very unclerical life.

The proceedings were pending for nearly six years, and one of the causes
of this long delay, in spite of Henry's impatient and despotic
character, is worth noting. The old Chronicle tells us, that though the
men generally, and more particularly the priests and the nobles sided
with Henry in this matter, yet all the ladies of England were against
it. They justly felt that the honor and welfare of no woman was secure
if, after twenty years of union, she might be thus deprived of all her
rights as a wife; the clamor became so loud and general, that the king
was obliged to yield to it for a time, to stop the proceedings, and to
banish Anna Bullen from the court.

Cardinal Campeggio, called by Shakspeare Campeius, arrived in England in
October, 1528. He at first endeavored to persuade Katherine to avoid the
disgrace and danger of contesting her marriage, by entering a religious
house; but she rejected his advice with strong expressions of disdain.
"I am," said she, "the king's true wife, and to him married; and if all
doctors were dead, or law or learning far out of men's minds at the time
of our marriage, yet I cannot think that the court of Rome, and the
whole church of England, would have consented to a thing unlawful and
detestable as you call it. Still I say I am his wife, and for him will I

About two years afterwards, Wolsey died, (in November, 1530;)--the king
and queen met for the last time on the 14th of July, 1531. Until that
period, some outward show of respect and kindness had been maintained
between them; but the king then ordered her to repair to a private
residence, and no longer to consider herself as his lawful wife. "To
which the virtuous and mourning queen replied no more than this, that to
whatever place she removed, nothing could remove her from being the
king's wife. And so they bid each other farewell; and from this time the
king never saw her more."[100] He married Anna Bullen in 1532, while the
decision relating to his former marriage was still pending. The sentence
of divorce to which Katherine never would submit, was finally pronounced
by Cranmer in 1533; and the unhappy queen, whose health had been
gradually declining through these troubles of heart, died January 29,
1536, in the fiftieth year of her age.

Thus the action of the play of Henry VIII. includes events which
occurred from the impeachment of the Duke of Buckingham in 1521, to the
death of Katherine in 1536. In making the death of Katherine precede the
birth of Queen Elizabeth, Shakspeare has committed an anachronism, not
only pardonable, but necessary. We must remember that the construction
of the play required a happy termination; and that the birth of
Elizabeth, before or after the death of Katherine, involved the question
of her legitimacy. By this slight deviation from the real course of
events, Shakspeare has not perverted historic facts, but merely
sacrificed them to a higher principle; and in doing so has not only
preserved dramatic propriety, and heightened the poetical interest, but
has given a strong proof both of his delicacy and his judgment.

If we also call to mind that in this play Katherine is properly the
heroine, and exhibited from first to last as the very "queen of earthly
queens;" that the whole interest is thrown round her and Wolsey--the one
the injured rival, the other the enemy of Anna Bullen--and that it was
written in the reign and for the court of Elizabeth, we shall yet
farther appreciate the moral greatness of the poet's mind, which
disdained to sacrifice justice and the truth of nature to any
time-serving expediency.

Schlegel observes somewhere, that in the literal accuracy and apparent
artlessness with which Shakspeare has adapted some of the events and
characters of history to his dramatic purposes, he has shown equally his
genius and his wisdom. This, like most of Schlegel's remarks, is
profound and true; and in this respect Katherine of Arragon may rank as
the triumph of Shakspeare's genius and his wisdom. There is nothing in
the whole range of poetical fiction in any respect resembling or
approaching her; there is nothing comparable, I suppose, but Katherine's
own portrait by Holbein, which, equally true to the life, is yet as far
inferior as Katherine's person was inferior to her mind. Not only has
Shakspeare given us here a delineation as faithful as it is beautiful,
of a peculiar modification of character; but he has bequeathed us a
precious moral lesson in this proof that virtue alone,--(by which I mean
here the union of truth or conscience with benevolent affection--the
one the highest law, the other the purest impulse of the soul,)--that
such virtue is a sufficient source of the deepest pathos and power with
out any mixture of foreign or external ornament: for who but Shakspeare
would have brought before us a queen and a heroine of tragedy, stripped
her of all pomp of place and circumstance, dispensed with all the usual
sources of poetical interest, as youth, beauty, grace, fancy, commanding
intellect; and without any appeal to our imagination, without any
violation of historical truth, or any sacrifices of the other dramatic
personages for the sake of effect, could depend on the moral principle
alone, to touch the very springs of feeling in our bosoms, and melt and
elevate our hearts through the purest and holiest impulses of our

The character, when analyzed, is, in the first place, distinguished by
_truth_. I do not only mean its truth to nature, or its relative truth
arising from its historic fidelity and dramatic consistency, but _truth_
as a quality of the soul; this is the basis of the character. We often
hear it remarked that those who are themselves perfectly true and
artless, are in this world the more easily and frequently deceived--a
common-place fallacy: for we shall ever find that truth is as undeceived
as it is undeceiving, and that those who are true to themselves and
others, may now and then be mistaken, or in particular instances duped
by the intervention of some other affection or quality of the mind; but
they are generally free from illusion, and they are seldom imposed upon
in the long run by the shows of things and superfices of characters. It
is by this integrity of heart and clearness of understanding, this light
of truth within her own soul, and not through any acuteness of
intellect, that Katherine detects and exposes the real character of
Wolsey, though unable either to unravel his designs, or defeat them.

              ... My lord, my lord,
    I am a simple woman, much too weak
    T' oppose your cunning.

She rather intuitively feels than knows his duplicity, and in the
dignity of her simplicity she towers above his arrogance as much as she
scorns his crooked policy. With this essential truth are combined many
other qualities, natural or acquired, all made out with the same
uncompromising breadth of execution and fidelity of pencil, united with
the utmost delicacy of feeling. For instance, the apparent contradiction
arising from the contrast between Katherine's natural disposition and
the situation in which she is placed; her lofty Castilian pride and her
extreme simplicity of language and deportment; the inflexible resolution
with which she asserts her right, and her soft resignation to unkindness
and wrong; her warmth of temper breaking through the meekness of a
spirit subdued by a deep sense of religion; and a degree of austerity
tinging her real benevolence;--all these qualities, opposed yet
harmonizing, has Shakspeare placed before us in a few admirable scenes.

Katherine is at first introduced as pleading before the king in behalf
of the commonalty, who had been driven by the extortions of Wolsey into
some illegal excesses. In this scene, which is true to history, we have
her upright reasoning mind, her steadiness of purpose, her piety and
benevolence, placed in a strong light. The unshrinking dignity with
which she opposes without descending to brave the Cardinal, the stern
rebuke addressed to the Duke of Buckingham's surveyor, are finely
characteristic; and by thus exhibiting Katherine as invested with all
her conjugal rights and influence, and royal state, the subsequent
situations are rendered more impressive. She is placed in the first
instance on such a height in our esteem and reverence, that in the midst
of her abandonment and degradation, and the profound pity she afterwards
inspires, the first effect remains unimpaired, and she never falls
beneath it.

In the beginning of the second act we are prepared for the proceedings
of the divorce, and our respect for Katherine heightened by the general
sympathy for "the good queen," as she is expressively entitled, and by
the following beautiful eulogium on her character uttered by the Duke of

    He (Wolsey) counsels a divorce--a loss of her
    That like a jewel hath hung twenty years
    About his neck, yet never lost her lustre.
    Of her that loves him with that excellence
    That angels love good men with; even of her,
    That, when the greatest stroke of fortune falls,
    Will bless the King!

The scene in which Anna Bullen is introduced as expressing her grief and
sympathy for her royal mistress, is exquisitely graceful.

                      Here's the pang that pinches;
    His highness having liv'd so long with her, and she
    So good a lady, that no tongue could ever
    Pronounce dishonor of her,--by my life
    She never knew harm-doing. O now, after
    So many courses of the sun enthron'd,
    Still growing in a majesty and pomp,--the which
    To leave is a thousand-fold more bitter, than
    'Tis sweet at first to acquire,--after this process,
    To give her the avaunt! it is a pity
    Would move a monster.

                        OLD LADY.

                        Hearts of most hard temper
    Melt and lament for her.


                            O, God's will! much better
    She ne'er had known pomp: though it be temporal,
    Yet if that quarrel, fortune, do divorce
    It from the bearer, 'tis a sufferance, panging
    As soul and body's severing.

                        OLD LADY.

                                Alas, poor lady!
    She's a stranger now again.


                                So much the more
    Must pity drop upon her. Verily,
    I swear 'tis better to be lowly born,
    And range with humble livers in content,
    Than to be perk'd up in a glistering grief,
    And wear a golden sorrow.

How completely, in the few passages appropriated to Anna Bullen, is her
character portrayed! with what a delicate and yet luxuriant grace is she
sketched off, with her gayety and her beauty, her levity, her extreme
mobility, her sweetness of disposition, her tenderness of heart, and, in
short, all her _femalities_! How nobly has Shakspeare done justice to
the two women, and heightened our interest in both, by placing the
praises of Katherine in the mouth of Anna Bullen! and how characteristic
of the latter, that she should first express unbounded pity for her
mistress, insisting chiefly on her fall from her regal state and worldly
pomp, thus betraying her own disposition:--

    For she that had all the fair parts of woman,
    Had, too, a woman's heart, which ever yet
    Affected eminence, wealth, and sovereignty.

That she should call the loss of temporal pomp, once enjoyed, "a
sufferance equal to soul and body's severing;" that she should
immediately protest that she would not herself be a queen--"No, good
troth! not for all the riches under heaven!"--and not long afterwards
ascend without reluctance that throne and bed from which her royal
mistress had been so cruelly divorced!--how natural! The portrait is not
less true and masterly than that of Katherine; but the character is
overborne by the superior moral firmness and intrinsic excellence of the
latter. That we may be more fully sensible of this contrast, the
beautiful scene just alluded to immediately precedes Katherine's trial
at Blackfriars, and the description of Anna Bullen's triumphant beauty
at her coronation, is placed immediately before the dying scene of
Katherine; yet with equal good taste and good feeling Shakspeare has
constantly avoided all personal collision between the two characters;
nor does Anna Bullen ever appear as queen except in the pageant of the
procession, which in reading the play is scarcely noticed.

To return to Katherine. The whole of the trial scene is given nearly
verbatim from the old chronicles and records; but the dryness and
harshness of the law proceedings is tempered at once and elevated by the
genius and the wisdom of the poet. It appears, on referring to the
historical authorities, that when the affair was first agitated in
council, Katherine replied to the long expositions and theological
sophistries of her opponents with resolute simplicity and composure: "I
am a woman, and lack wit and learning to answer these opinions; but I am
sure that neither the king's father nor my father would have
condescended to our marriage, if it had been judged unlawful. As to your
saying that I should put the cause to eight persons of this realm, for
quietness of the king's conscience, I pray Heaven to send his Grace a
quiet conscience and this shall be your answer, that I say I am his
lawful wife, and to him lawfully married, though not worthy of it; and
in this point I will abide, till the court of Rome, which was privy to
the beginning, have made a final ending of it."[101]

Katherine's appearance in the court at Blackfriars, attended by a noble
troop of ladies and prelates of her counsel, and her refusal to answer
the citation, are historical.[102] Her speech to the king--

    Sir, I beseech you do me right and justice,
    And to bestow your pity on me, &c. &c.

is taken word for word (as nearly as the change from prose to blank
verse would allow) from the old record in Hall. It would have been easy
for Shakspeare to have exalted his own skill, by throwing a coloring of
poetry and eloquence into this speech, without altering the sense or
sentiment; but by adhering to the calm argumentative simplicity of
manner and diction natural to the woman, he has preserved the truth of
character without lessening the pathos of the situation. Her challenging
Wolsey as a "foe to truth," and her very expressions, "I utterly
refuse,--yea, from my soul _abhor_ you for my judge," are taken from
fact. The sudden burst of indignant passion towards the close of this

                      In one who ever yet
    Had stood to charity, and displayed the effects
    Of disposition gentle, and of wisdom
    O'ertopping woman's power;

is taken from nature, though it occurred on a different occasion.[103]

Lastly, the circumstance of her being called back after she had appealed
from the court, and angrily refusing to return, is from the life. Master
Griffith, on whose arm she leaned, observed that she was called: "On,
on," quoth she; "it maketh no matter, for it is no indifferent court for
me, therefore I will not tarry. Go on your ways."[104]

King Henry's own assertion, "I dare to say, my lords, that for her
womanhood, wisdom, nobility, and gentleness, never prince had such
another wife, and therefore if I would willingly change her I were not
wise," is thus beautifully paraphrased by Shakspeare:--

    That man i' the world, who shall report he has
    A better wife, let him in nought be trusted,
    For speaking false in that! Thou art, alone,
    If thy rare qualities, sweet gentleness,
    (Thy meekness saint-like, wife-like government,
    Obeying in commanding; and thy parts,
    Sovereign and pious else, could speak thee out,)
    The queen of earthly queens. She is noble born,
    And, like her true nobility, she has
    Carried herself towards me.

The annotators on Shakspeare have all observed the close resemblance
between this fine passage--

    I am about to weep; but, thinking that
    We are a queen, or long have dreamed so, certain
    The daughter of a king--my drops of tears
    I'll turn to sparks of fire.

and the speech of Hermione--

    I am not prone to weeping as our sex
    Commonly are, the want of which vain dew
    Perchance shall dry your pities: but I have
    That honorable grief lodged here, which burns
    Worse than tears drown.

But these verbal gentlemen do not seem to have felt that the resemblance
is merely on the surface, and that the two passages could not possibly
change places, without a manifest violation of the truth of character.
In Hermione it is pride of sex merely: in Katherine it is pride of place
and pride of birth. Hermione, though so superbly majestic, is perfectly
independent of her regal state: Katherine, though so meekly pious, will
neither forget hers, nor allow it to be forgotten by others for a
moment. Hermione, when deprived of that "crown and comfort of her
life," her husband's love, regards all things else with despair and
indifference except her feminine honor: Katherine, divorced and
abandoned, still with true Spanish pride stands upon respect, and will
not bate one atom of her accustomed state

              Though unqueened, yet like a queen
    And daughter to a king, inter me!

The passage--

    A fellow of the royal bed, that owns
    A moiety of the throne--a great king's daughter,
                  ... here standing
    To prate and talk for life and honor 'fore
    Who please to come to hear,[105]

would apply nearly to both queens, yet a single sentiment--nay, a single
sentence--could not possibly be transferred from one character to the
other. The magnanimity, the noble simplicity, the purity of heart, the
resignation in each--how perfectly equal in degree! how diametrically
opposite in kind![106]

Once more to return to Katherine.

We are told by Cavendish, that when Wolsey and Campeggio visited the
queen by the king's order she was found at work among her women, and
came forth to meet the cardinals with a skein of white thread hanging
about her neck; that when Wolsey addressed her in Latin, she interrupted
him, saying, "Nay, good my lord, speak to me in English, I beseech you;
although I understand Latin." "Forsooth then," quoth my lord, "madam, if
it please your grace, we come both to know your mind, how ye be disposed
to do in this matter between the king and you, and also to declare
secretly our opinions and our counsel unto you, which we have intended
of very zeal and obedience that we bear to your grace." "My lords, I
thank you then," quoth she, "of your good wills; but to make answer to
your request I cannot so suddenly, for I was set among my maidens at
work, thinking full little of any such matter; wherein there needeth a
longer deliberation, and a better head than mine to make answer to so
noble wise men as ye be. I had need of good counsel in this case, which
toucheth me so near; and for any counsel or friendship that I can find
in England, they are nothing to my purpose or profit. Think you, I pray
you, my lords, will any Englishmen counsel, or be friendly unto me,
against the king's pleasure, they being his subjects? Nay, forsooth, my
lords! and for my counsel, in whom I do intend to put my trust, they be
not here; they be in Spain, in my native country.[107] Alas! my lords, I
am a poor woman lacking both wit and understanding sufficiently to
answer such approved wise men as ye be both, in so weighty a matter. I
pray you to extend your good and indifferent minds in your authority
unto me, for I am a simple woman, destitute and barren of friendship and
counsel, here in a foreign region; and as for your counsel, I will not
refuse, but be glad to hear."

It appears, also, that when the Archbishop of York and Bishop Tunstall
waited on her at her house near Huntingdon, with the sentence of the
divorce, signed by Henry, and confirmed by act of parliament, she
refused to admit its validity, she being Henry's wife, and not his
subject. The bishop describes her conduct in his letter: "She being
therewith in great choler and agony, and always interrupting our words,
declared that she would never leave the name of queen, but would persist
in accounting herself the king's wife till death." When the official
letter containing minutes of their conference was shown to her, she
seized a pen, and dashed it angrily across every sentence in which she
was styled _Princess-dowager_.

If now we turn to that inimitable scene between Katherine and the two
cardinals, (act iii. scene 1,) we shall observe how finely Shakspeare
has condensed these incidents, and unfolded to us all the workings of
Katherine's proud yet feminine nature. She is discovered at work with
some of her women--she calls for music "to soothe her soul grown sad
with troubles"--then follows the little song, of which the sentiment is
so well adapted to the occasion, while its quaint yet classic elegance
breathes the very spirit of those times, when Surrey loved and sung.


    Orpheus with his lute-made trees,
    And the mountain-tops that freeze,
      Bow themselves when he did sing
    To his music, plants and flowers
    Ever sprung, as sun and showers
      There had made a lasting spring.

    Every thing that heard him play,
    Even the billows of the sea,
      Hung their heads and then lay by
    In sweet music is such art,
    Killing care, and grief of heart,
      Fall asleep, on hearing, die.

They are interrupted by the arrival of the two cardinals. Katherine's
perception of their subtlety--her suspicion of their purpose--her sense
of her own weakness and inability to contend with them, and her mild
subdued dignity, are beautifully represented; as also the guarded
self-command with which she eludes giving a definitive answer; but when
they counsel her to that which she, who knows Henry, feels must end in
her ruin, then the native temper is roused at once, or, to use
Tunstall's expression, "the choler and the agony," burst forth in words.

    Is this your christian counsel? Out upon ye!
    Heaven is above all yet; there sits a Judge
    That no king can corrupt.


            Your rage mistakes us.

                        QUEEN KATHERINE.

    The more shame for ye! Holy men I thought ye,
    Upon my soul, two reverend cardinal virtues;
    But cardinal sins, and hollow hearts, I fear ye:
    Mend them, for shame, my lords: is this your comfort
    The cordial that ye bring a wretched lady?

With the same force of language, and impetuous yet dignified feeling,
she asserts her own conjugal truth and merit, and insists upon her

    Have I liv'd thus long, (let me speak myself,
    Since virtue finds no friends,) a wife, a true one
    A woman, (I dare say, without vain-glory,)
    Never yet branded with suspicion?
    Have I, with all my full affections,
    Still met the king--lov'd him next heaven, obey'd him
    Been out of fondness superstitious to him--
    Almost forgot my prayers to content him,
    And am I thus rewarded? 'tis not well, lords, &c.

    My lord, I dare not make myself so guilty,
    To give up willingly that noble title
    Your master wed me to: nothing but death
    Shall e'er divorce my dignities.

And this burst of unwonted passion is immediately followed by the
natural reaction; it subsides into tears, dejection, and a mournful

    Would I had never trod this English ground,
    Or felt the flatteries that grow upon it.
    What will become of me now, wretched lady?
    I am the most unhappy woman living.
    Alas! poor wenches! where are now your fortunes?
                    [_To her women_
    Shipwrecked upon a kingdom, where no pity,
    No friends, no hope, no kindred weep for me!
    Almost no grave allowed me! Like the lily that once
    Was mistress of the field, and flourish'd,
    I'll hang my head and perish.

Dr. Johnson observes on this scene, that all Katherine's distresses
could not save her from a quibble on the word _cardinal_.

            Holy men I thought ye,
    Upon my soul, two reverend cardinal virtues;
    But cardinal sins, and hollow hearts, I fear ye!

When we read this passage in connection with the situation and
sentiment, the scornful play upon the words is not only appropriate and
natural, it seems inevitable. Katherine, assuredly, is neither an
imaginative nor a witty personage; but we all acknowledge the truism,
that anger inspires wit, and whenever there is passion there is poetry.
In the instance just alluded to, the sarcasm springs naturally out from
the bitter indignation of the moment. In her grand rebuke of Wolsey, in
the trial scene, how just and beautiful is the gradual elevation of her
language, till it rises into that magnificent image--

    You have by fortune and his highness' favors,
    Gone slightly o'er low steps, and now are mounted,
    Where powers are your retainers, &c.

In the depth of her affliction, the pathos as naturally clothes itself
in poetry.

                              Like the lily,
    That was mistress of the field, and flourish'd,
    I'll hang my head and perish.

But these, I believe, are the only instances of imagery throughout; for,
in general, her language is plain and energetic. It has the strength and
simplicity of her character, with very little metaphor and less wit.

In approaching the last scene of Katherine's life, I feel as if about to
tread within a sanctuary, where nothing befits us but silence and tears;
veneration so strives with compassion, tenderness with awe.[108]

We must suppose a long interval to have elapsed since Katherine's
interview with the two cardinals. Wolsey was disgraced, and poor Anna
Bullen at the height of her short-lived prosperity. It was Wolsey's fate
to be detested by both queens. In the pursuance of his own selfish and
ambitious designs, he had treated both with perfidy; and one was the
remote, the other the immediate, cause of his ruin.[109]

The ruffian king, of whom one hates to think, was bent on forcing
Katherine to concede her rights, and illegitimize her daughter, in favor
of the offspring of Anna Bullen: she steadily refused, was declared
contumacious, and the sentence of divorce pronounced in 1533. Such of
her attendants as persisted in paying her the honors due to a queen were
driven from her household; those who consented to serve her as
princess-dowager, she refused to admit into her presence; so that she
remained unattended, except by a few women, and her gentleman usher,
Griffith. During the last eighteen months of her life, she resided at
Kimbolton. Her nephew, Charles V., had offered her an asylum and
princely treatment; but Katherine, broken in heart, and declining in
health, was unwilling to drag the spectacle of her misery and
degradation into a strange country: she pined in her loneliness,
deprived of her daughter, receiving no consolation from the pope, and no
redress from the emperor. Wounded pride, wronged affection, and a
cankering jealousy of the woman preferred to her, (which though it never
broke out into unseemly words, is enumerated as one of the causes of her
death,) at length wore out a feeble frame. "Thus," says the chronicle,
"Queen Katherine fell into her last sickness; and though the king sent
to comfort her through Chapuys, the emperor's ambassador, she grew worse
and worse; and finding death now coming, she caused a maid attending on
her to write to the king to this effect:--

"My most dear Lord, King, and Husband;

"The hour of my death now approaching, I cannot choose but, out of the
love I bear you, advise you of your soul's health, which you ought to
prefer before all considerations of the world or flesh whatsoever; for
which yet you have cast me into many calamities, and yourself into many
troubles: but I forgive you all, and pray God to do so likewise; for the
rest, I commend unto you Mary our daughter, beseeching you to be a good
father to her, as I have heretofore desired. I must intreat you also to
respect my maids, and give them in marriage, which is not much, they
being but three, and all my other servants a year's pay besides their
due, lest otherwise they be unprovided for: lastly, I make this vow,
that mine eyes desire you above all things.--Farewell!"[110]

She also wrote another letter to the ambassador, desiring that he would
remind the king of her dying request, and urge him to do her this last

What the historian relates, Shakspeare realizes. On the wonderful beauty
of Katherine's closing scene we need not dwell; for that requires no
illustration. In transferring the sentiments of her letter to her lips,
Shakspeare has given them added grace, and pathos, and tenderness,
without injuring their truth and simplicity: the feelings, and almost
the manner of expression, are Katherine's own. The severe justice with
which she draws the character of Wolsey is extremely characteristic! the
benign candor with which she listens to the praise of him "whom living
she most hated," is not less so. How beautiful her religious
enthusiasm!--the slumber which visits her pillow, as she listens to that
sad music she called her knell; her awakening from the vision of
celestial joy to find herself still on earth--

    Spirits of peace! where are ye? are ye gone,
    And leave me here in wretchedness behind ye?

how unspeakably beautiful! And to consummate all in one final touch of
truth and nature, we see that consciousness of her own worth and
integrity which had sustained her through all her trials of heart, and
that pride of station for which she had contended through long
years,--which had become more dear by opposition, and by the
perseverance with which she had asserted it,--remaining the last strong
feeling upon her mind, to the very last hour of existence.

                 When I am dead, good wench,
    Let me be used with honor: strew me over
    With maiden flowers, that all the world may know
    I was a chaste wife to my grave; embalm me,
    Then lay me forth: although unqueen'd, yet like
    A queen, and daughter to a king, inter me
    I can no more.--

In the epilogue to this play,[111] it is recommended--

    To the merciful construction of good women,
    For _such a one_ we show'd them:

alluding to the character of Queen Katherine. Shakspeare has, in fact,
placed before us a queen and a heroine, who in the first place, and
above all, is a _good_ woman; and I repeat, that in doing so, and in
trusting for all his effect to truth and virtue, he has given a sublime
proof of his genius and his wisdom;--for which, among many other
obligations, we women remain his debtors.


I doubt whether the epithet _historical_ can properly apply to the
character of Lady Macbeth; for though the subject of the play be taken
from history, we never think of her with any reference to historical
associations, as we do with regard to Constance, Volumnia, Katherine of
Arragon, and others. I remember reading some critique, in which Lady
Macbeth was styled the "_Scottish queen_;" and methought the title, as
applied to _her_ sounded like a vulgarism. It appears that the real wife
of Macbeth,--she who lives only in the obscure record of an obscure
age, bore the very unmusical appellation of Graoch, and was instigated
to the murder of Duncan, not only by ambition, but by motives of
vengeance. She was the grand-daughter of Kenneth the Fourth, killed in
1003, fighting against Malcolm the Second, the Father of Duncan. Macbeth
reigned over Scotland from the year 1039 to 1056--but what is all this
to the purpose? The sternly magnificent creation of the poet stands
before us independent of all these aids of fancy: she is Lady Macbeth;
as such she lives, she reigns, and is immortal in the world to
imagination. What earthly title could add to her grandeur? what human
record or attestation strengthen our impression of her reality?

Characters in history move before us like a procession of figures in
_basso relievo_: we see one side only, that which the artist chose to
exhibit to us; the rest is sunk in the block: the same characters in
Shakspeare are like the statues _cut out_ of the block, fashioned,
finished, tangible in every part: we may consider them under every
aspect, we may examine them on every side. As the classical times, when
the garb did not make the man, were peculiarly favorable to the
development and delineation of the human form, and have handed down to
us the purest models of strength and grace--so the times in which
Shakspeare lived were favorable to the vigorous delineation of natural
character. Society was not then one vast conventional masquerade of
manners. In his revelations, the accidental circumstances are to the
individual character, what the drapery of the antique statue is to the
statue itself; it is evident, that, though adapted to each other, and
studied relatively, they were also studied separately. We trace through
the folds the fine and true proportions of the figure beneath: they seem
and are independent of each other to the practised eye, though carved
together from the same enduring substance; at once perfectly distinct
and eternally inseparable. In history we can but study character in
relation to events, to situation and circumstances, which disguise and
encumber it: we are left to imagine, to infer, what certain people must
have been, from the manner in which they have acted or suffered.
Shakspeare and nature bring us back to the true order of things; and
showing us what the human being _is_, enable us to judge of the possible
as well as the positive result in acting and suffering. Here, instead of
judging the individual by his actions, we are enabled to judge of
actions by a reference to the individual. When we can carry this power
into the experience of real life, we shall perhaps be more just to one
another, and not consider ourselves aggrieved, because we cannot gather
figs from thistles and grapes from thorns.

In the play or poem of Macbeth, the interest of the story is so
engrossing, the events so rapid and so appalling, the accessories so
sublimely conceived and so skilfully combined, that it is difficult to
detach Lady Macbeth from the dramatic situation, or consider her apart
from the terrible associations of our first and earliest impressions. As
the vulgar idea of a Juliet--that all-beautiful and heaven-gifted child
of the south--is merely a love-sick girl in white satin, so the
common-place idea of Lady Macbeth, though endowed with the rarest
powers, the loftiest energies, and the profoundest affections, is
nothing but a fierce, cruel woman, brandishing a couple of daggers, and
inciting her husband to butcher a poor old king.

Even those who reflect more deeply are apt to consider rather the mode
in which a certain character is manifested, than the combination of
abstract qualities making up that individual human being; so what should
be last, is first; effects are mistaken for causes, qualities are
confounded with their results, and the perversion of what is essentially
good, with the operation of positive evil. Hence it is, that those who
can feel and estimate the magnificent conception and poetical
development of the character, have overlooked the grand moral lesson it
conveys; they forget that the crime of Lady Macbeth terrifies us in
proportion as we sympathize with her; and that this sympathy is in
proportion to the degree of pride, passion, and intellect, we may
ourselves possess. It is good to behold and to tremble at the possible
result of the noblest faculties uncontrolled or perverted. True it is,
that the ambitious women of these civilized times do not murder sleeping
kings: but are there, therefore, no Lady Macbeths in the world? no women
who, under the influence of a diseased or excited appetite for power or
distinction, would sacrifice the happiness of a daughter, the fortunes
of a husband, the principles of a son, and peril their own souls?

       *       *       *       *       *

The character of Macbeth is considered as one of the most complex in the
whole range of Shakspeare's dramatic creations. He is represented in the
course of the action under such a variety of aspects; the good and evil
qualities of his mind are so poised and blended, and instead of being
gradually and successively developed, evolve themselves so like shifting
lights and shadows playing over the "unstable waters," that his
character has afforded a continual and interesting subject of analysis
and contemplation. None of Shakspeare's personages have been treated of
more at large; none have been more minutely criticized and profoundly
examined. A single feature in his character--the question, for instance,
as to whether his courage be personal or constitutional, or excited by
mere desperation--has been canvassed, asserted, and refuted, in two
masterly essays.

On the other hand, the character of Lady Macbeth resolves itself into
few and simple elements. The grand features of her character are so
distinctly and prominently marked, that, though acknowledged to be one
of the poet's most sublime creations, she has been passed over with
comparatively few words: generally speaking, the commentators seem to
have considered Lady Macbeth rather with reference to her husband, and
as influencing the action of the drama, than as an individual conception
of amazing power, poetry, and beauty: or if they do individualize her,
it is ever with those associations of scenic representation which Mrs.
Siddons has identified with the character. Those who have been
accustomed to see it arrayed in the form and lineaments of that
magnificent woman, and developed with her wonder-working powers, seem
satisfied to leave it there, as if nothing more could be said or

But the generation which beheld Mrs. Siddons in her glory is passing
away, and we are again left to our own unassisted feelings, or to all
the satisfaction to be derived from the sagacity of critics and the
reflections of commentators. Let us turn to them for a moment.

Dr. Johnson, who seems to have regarded her as nothing better than a
kind of ogress, tells us, in so many words, that "Lady Macbeth is merely
detested." Schlegel dismisses her in haste, as a species of female fury.
In the two essays on Macbeth already mentioned, she is passed over with
one or two slight allusions. The only justice that has yet been done to
her is by Hazlitt, in the "Characters of Shakspeare's Plays." Nothing
can be finer than his remarks as far as they go, but his plan did not
allow him sufficient space to work out his own conception of the
character, with the minuteness it requires. All that he says is just in
sentiment, and most eloquent in the expression; but in leaving some of
the finest points altogether untouched, he has also left us in doubt
whether he even felt or perceived them; and this masterly criticism
stops short of the _whole_ truth--it is a little superficial, and a
little too harsh.

In the mind of Lady Macbeth, ambition is represented as the ruling
motive, an intense over-mastering passion, which is gratified at the
expense of every just and generous principle, and every feminine
feeling. In the pursuit of her object, she is cruel, treacherous, and
daring. She is doubly, trebly dyed in guilt and blood; for the murder
she instigates is rendered more frightful by disloyalty and ingratitude,
and by the violation of all the most sacred claims of kindred and
hospitality. When her husband's more kindly nature shrinks from the
perpetration of the deed of horror, she, like an evil genius, whispers
him on to his damnation. The full measure of her wickedness is never
disguised, the magnitude and atrocity of her crime is never extenuated,
forgotten, or forgiven, in the whole course of the play. Our judgment is
not bewildered, nor our moral feeling insulted, by the sentimental
jumble of great crimes and dazzling virtues, after the fashion of the
German school and of some admirable writers of our own time. Lady
Macbeth's amazing power of intellect, her inexorable determination of
purpose, her superhuman strength of nerve, render her as fearful in
herself as her deeds are hateful; yet she is not a mere monster of
depravity, with whom we have nothing in common, nor a meteor whose
destroying path we watch in ignorant affright and amaze. She is a
terrible impersonation of evil passions and mighty powers, never so far
removed from our own nature as to be cast beyond the pale of our
sympathies; for the woman herself remains a woman to the last--still
linked with her sex and with humanity.

This impression is produced partly by the essential truth in the
conception of the character, and partly by the manner in which it is
evolved; by a combination of minute and delicate touches, in some
instances by speech, in others by silence: at one time by what is
revealed, at another by what we are left to infer. As in real life, we
perceive distinctions in character we cannot always explain, and receive
impressions for which we cannot always account, without going back to
the beginning of an acquaintance, and recalling many and trifling
circumstances--looks, and tones, and words: thus, to explain that hold
which Lady Macbeth, in the midst of all her atrocities, still keeps upon
our feelings, it is necessary to trace minutely the action of the play,
as far as she is concerned in it, from its very commencement to its

We must bear in mind, that the first idea of murdering Duncan is not
suggested by Lady Macbeth to her husband: it springs within _his_ mind,
and is revealed to us, before his first interview with his wife,--before
she is introduced or even alluded to.


                         This supernatural soliciting
    Cannot be ill; cannot be good. If ill,
    Why hath it given me earnest of success,
    Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor--
    If good, why do I yield to that suggestion,
    Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair,
    And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
    Against the use of nature?

It will be said, that the same "horrid suggestion" presents itself
spontaneously to her, on the reception of his letter; or rather, that
the letter itself acts upon her mind as the prophecy of the Weird
Sisters on the mind of her husband, kindling the latent passion for
empire into a quenchless flame. We are prepared to see the train of
evil, first lighted by hellish agency, extend itself to _her_ through
the medium of her husband; but we are spared the more revolting idea
that it originated with her. The guilt is thus more equally divided than
we should suppose, when we hear people pitying "the noble nature of
Macbeth," bewildered and goaded on to crime, solely or chiefly by the
instigation of his wife.

It is true that she afterwards appears the more active agent of the two;
but it is less through her preëminence in wickedness than through her
superiority of intellect. The eloquence--the fierce, fervid eloquence
with which she bears down the relenting and reluctant spirit of her
husband, the dexterous sophistry with which she wards off his
objections, her artful and affected doubts of his courage--the sarcastic
manner in which she lets fall the word coward--a word which no man can
endure from another, still less from a woman, and least of all from a
woman he loves--and the bold address with which she removes all
obstacles, silences all arguments, overpowers all scruples, and marshals
the way before him, absolutely make us shrink before the commanding
intellect of the woman, with a terror in which interest and admiration
are strangely mingled.

                        LADY MACBETH.

    He has almost supp'd: why have you left the chamber?


    Hath he ask'd for me?

                        LADY MACBETH.

                                   Know you not, he has?


    We will proceed no farther in this business;
    He hath honored me of late, and I have bought
    Golden opinions from all sorts of people,
    Which would be worn now in their newest gloss,
    Not cast aside so soon.

                        LADY MACBETH.

                                  Was the hope drunk,
    Wherein you dress'd yourself? hath it slept since,
    And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
    At what it did so freely? From this time,
    Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
    To be the same in thine own act and valor,
    As thou art in desire? Would'st thou have that
    Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life,
    And live a coward in thine own esteem;
    Letting I dare not wait upon I would,
    Like the poor cat i' the adage?


                                 Pr'ythee, peace
    I dare do all that may become a man;
    Who dares do more, is none.

                        LADY MACBETH.

                                 What beast was it then,
    That made you break this enterprise to me?
    When you durst do it, then you were a man;
    And, to be more than what you were, you would
    Be so much more the man. Nor time, nor place,
    Did then adhere, and yet you would make both;
    They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
    Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know
    How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
    I would, while it were smiling in my face,
    Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
    And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn, as you
    Have done to this.


                                If we should fail.--

                        LADY MACBETH.

                                    We fail.[113]
    But screw your courage to the sticking-place,
    And we'll not fail.

Again, in the murdering scene, the obdurate inflexibility of purpose
with which she drives on Macbeth to the execution of their project, and
her masculine indifference to blood and death, would inspire unmitigated
disgust and horror, but for the involuntary consciousness that it is
produced rather by the exertion of a strong power over herself, than by
absolute depravity of disposition and ferocity of temper. This
impression of her character is brought home at once to our very hearts
with the most profound knowledge of the springs of nature within us, the
most subtle mastery over their various operations, and a feeling of
dramatic effect not less wonderful. The very passages in which Lady
Macbeth displays the most savage and relentless determination, are so
worded as to fill the mind with the idea of sex, and place the _woman_
before us in all her dearest attributes, at once softening and refining
the horror, and rendering it more intense. Thus, when she reproaches her
husband for his weakness--

                            From this time,
    Such I account thy love!


                    Come to my woman's breasts,
    And take my milk for gall, ye murdering ministers,
    That no compunctions visitings of nature
    Shake my fell purpose, &c.

    I have given suck, and know how tender 'tis
    To love the babe that milks me, &c.

And lastly, in the moment of extremest horror comes that unexpected
touch of feeling, so startling, yet so wonderfully true to nature--

    Had he not resembled my father as he slept,
    I had done it!

Thus in one of Weber's or Beethoven's grand symphonies, some unexpected
soft minor chord or passage will steal on the ear, heard amid the
magnificent crash of harmony, making the blood pause, and filling the
eye with unbidden tears.

It is particularly observable, that in Lady Macbeth's concentrated,
strong-nerved ambition, the ruling passion of her mind, there is yet a
touch of womanhood: she is ambitious less for herself than for her
husband. It is fair to think this, because we have no reason to draw
any other inference either from her words or actions. In her famous
soliloquy, after reading her husband's letter, she does not once refer
to herself. It is of him she thinks: she wishes to see her husband on
the throne, and to place the sceptre within _his_ grasp. The strength of
her affections adds strength to her ambition. Although in the old story
of Boethius we are told that the wife of Macbeth "burned with
unquenchable desire to bear the name of queen," yet in the aspect under
which Shakspeare has represented the character to us, the selfish part
of this ambition is kept out of sight. We must remark also, that in Lady
Macbeth's reflections on her husband's character, and on that milkiness
of nature, which she fears "may impede him from the golden round," there
is no indication of female scorn: there is exceeding pride, but no
egotism in the sentiment or the expression;--no want of wifely and
womanly respect and love for _him_, but on the contrary, a sort of
unconsciousness of her own mental superiority, which she betrays rather
than asserts, as interesting in itself as it is most admirably conceived
and delineated.

    Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be
    What thou art promised:--Yet do I fear thy nature;
    It is too full o' the milk of human kindness,
    To catch the nearest way. Thou would'st be great,
    Art not without ambition; but without
    The illness should attend it. What thou would'st highly
    That would'st thou holily; would'st not play false.
    And yet would'st wrongly win: thou'dst have, great Glamis,
    That which cries, _Thus thou must do, if thou have it;
    And that which rather thou dost fear to do,
    Than wishest should be undone_. Hie thee hither,
    That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;
    And chastise with the valor of my tongue
    All that impedes thee from the golden round,
    Which fate and metaphysical[114] aid doth seem
    To have thee crowned withal

Nor is there any thing vulgar in her ambition: as the strength of her
affections lends to it something profound and concentrated, so her
splendid imagination invests the object of her desire with its own
radiance. We cannot trace in her grand and capacious mind that it is the
mere baubles and trappings of royalty which dazzle and allure her: hers
is the sin of the "star-bright apostate," and she plunges with her
husband into the abyss of guilt, to procure for "all their days and
nights sole sovereign sway and masterdom." She revels, she luxuriates in
her dream of power. She reaches at the golden diadem, which is to sear
her brain; she perils life and soul for its attainment, with an
enthusiasm as perfect, a faith as settled, as that of the martyr, who
sees at the stake, heaven and its crowns of glory opening upon him.

    Great Glamis! worthy Cawdor!
    Greater than both, by the all-hail _hereafter_!
    Thy letters have transported me beyond
    This ignorant present, and I feel now
    The future in the instant!

This is surely the very rapture of ambition! and those who have heard
Mrs. Siddons pronounce the word _hereafter_, cannot forget the look, the
tone, which seemed to give her auditors a glimpse of that awful
_future_, which she, in her prophetic fury, beholds upon the instant.

But to return to the text before us: Lady Macbeth having proposed the
object to herself, and arrayed it with an ideal glory, fixes her eye
steadily upon it, soars far above all womanish feelings and scruples to
attain it, and stoops upon her victim with the strength and velocity of
a vulture; but having committed unflinchingly the crime necessary for
the attainment of her purpose, she stops there. After the murder of
Duncan, we see Lady Macbeth, during the rest of the play, occupied in
supporting the nervous weakness and sustaining the fortitude of her
husband; for instance, Macbeth is at one time on the verge of frenzy,
between fear and horror, and it is clear that if she loses her
self-command, both must perish:--


    One cried, _God bless us!_ and, _Amen!_ the other,
    As they had seen me, with these hangman's hands.
    Listening their fear, I could not say, _Amen!_
    When they did say, _God bless us!_

                        LADY MACBETH.

                          Consider it not so deeply!


    But wherefore could not I pronounce, amen?
    I had most need of blessing, and amen
    Stuck in my throat.

                        LADY MACBETH.

                     These deeds must not be thought
    After these ways: so, it will make us mad.


    Methought I heard a voice cry,
    "Sleep no more," &c. &c.

                        LADY MACBETH.

    What do you mean? who was it that thus cried?
                 Why, worthy Thane,
    You do unbend your noble strength, to think
    So brainsickly of things.--Go, get some water, &c. &c.

Afterwards, in act iii., she is represented as muttering to herself,

                               Nought's had, all's spent,
    When our desire is got without content;

yet immediately addresses her moody and conscience-stricken husband--

    How now, my lord? why do you keep alone,
    Of sorriest fancies your companions making?
    Using those thoughts, which should indeed have died
    With them they think on? Things without remedy,
    Should be without regard; what's done, is done.

But she is nowhere represented as urging him on to new crimes, so far
from it, that when Macbeth darkly hints his purposed assassination of
Banquo, and she inquires his meaning, he replies,

         Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,
    Till thou approve the deed.

The same may be said of the destruction of Macduff's family. Every one
must perceive how our detestation of the woman had been increased, if
she had been placed before us as suggesting and abetting those
additional cruelties into which Macbeth is hurried by his mental

If my feeling of Lady Macbeth's character be just to the conception of
the poet, then she is one who could steel herself to the commission of a
crime from necessity and expediency, and be daringly wicked for a great
end, but not likely to perpetrate gratuitous murders from any vague or
selfish fears. I do not mean to say that the perfect confidence existing
between herself and Macbeth could possibly leave her in ignorance of his
actions or designs: that heart-broken and shuddering allusion to the
murder of Lady Macduff (in the sleeping scene) proves the contrary:--

    The thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now?

But she is nowhere brought before us in immediate connection with these
horrors, and we are spared any flagrant proof of her participation in
them. This may not strike us at first, but most undoubtedly has an
effect on the general bearing of the character, considered as a whole.

Another more obvious and pervading source of interest arises from that
bond of entire affection and confidence which, through the whole of this
dreadful tissue of crime and its consequences, unites Macbeth and his
wife; claiming from us an involuntary respect and sympathy, and shedding
a softening influence over the whole tragedy. Macbeth leans upon her
strength, trusts in her fidelity, and throws himself on her tenderness.

    O full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!

She sustains him, calms him, soothes him--

                                        Come on;
    Gentle my lord, sleek o'er your rugged looks;
    Be bright and jovial 'mong your guests to-night.

The endearing epithets, the terms of fondness in which he addresses her,
and the tone of respect she invariably maintains towards him, even when
most exasperated by his vacillation of mind and his brain-sick terrors,
have, by the very force of contrast, a powerful effect on the fancy.

By these tender redeeming touches we are impressed with a feeling that
Lady Macbeth's influence over the affections of her husband, as a wife
and a woman, is at least equal to her power over him as a superior mind.
Another thing has always struck me. During the supper scene, in which
Macbeth is haunted by the spectre of the murdered Banquo, and his reason
appears unsettled by the extremity of his horror and dismay, her
indignant rebuke, her low whispered remonstrance, the sarcastic
emphasis with which she combats his sick fancies, and endeavors to
recall him to himself, have an intenseness, a severity, a bitterness,
which makes the blood creep.

                        LADY MACBETH.

                                   Are you a man?


    Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that
    Which might appall the devil.

                        LADY MACBETH.

                         O proper stuff!
    This is the very painting of your fear:
    This is the air-drawn dagger, which, you said,
    Led you to Duncan. O, these flaws and starts
    (Impostors to true fear) would well become
    A woman's story, at a winter's fire,
    Authoriz'd by her grandam! Shame itself!
    Why do you make such faces? When all's done
    You look but on a stool.
                   What! quite unmann'd in folly?

Yet when the guests are dismissed, and they are left alone, she says no
more, and not a syllable of reproach or scorn escapes her: a few words
in submissive reply to his questions, and an entreaty to seek repose,
are all she permits herself to utter. There is a touch of pathos and of
tenderness in this silence which has always affected me beyond
expression: it is one of the most masterly and most beautiful traits of
character in the whole play.

Lastly, it is clear that in a mind constituted like that of Lady
Macbeth, and not utterly depraved and hardened by the habit of crime,
conscience must wake some time or other, and bring with it remorse
closed by despair, and despair by death. This great moral retribution
was to be displayed to us--but how? Lady Macbeth is not a woman to start
at shadows; she mocks at air-drawn daggers; she sees no imagined
spectres rise from the tomb to appall or accuse her.[115] The towering
bravery of _her_ mind disdains the visionary terrors which haunt her
weaker husband. We know, or rather we feel, that she who could give a
voice to the most direful intent, and call on the spirits that wait on
mortal thoughts to "unsex her," and "stop up all access and passage of
remorse"--to that remorse would have given nor tongue nor sound; and
that rather than have uttered a complaint, she would have held her
breath and died. To have given her a confidant, though in the partner of
her guilt, would have been a degrading resource, and have disappointed
and enfeebled all our previous impressions of her character; yet justice
is to be done, and we are to be made acquainted with that which the
woman herself would have suffered a thousand deaths of torture rather
than have betrayed. In the sleeping scene we have a glimpse into the
depths of that inward hell: the seared brain and broken heart are laid
bare before us in the helplessness of slumber. By a judgment the most
sublime ever imagined, yet the most unforced, natural, and inevitable,
the sleep of her who murdered sleep is no longer repose, but a
condensation of resistless horrors which the prostrate intellect and
powerless will can neither baffle nor repel. We shudder and are
satisfied; yet our human sympathies are again touched: we rather sigh
over the ruin than exult in it; and after watching her through this
wonderful scene with a sort of fascination, we dismiss the unconscious,
helpless, despair-stricken murderess, with a feeling which Lady Macbeth,
in her waking strength, with all her awe-commanding powers about her,
could never have excited.

It is here especially we perceive that sweetness of nature which in
Shakspeare went hand in hand with his astonishing powers. He never
confounds that line of demarcation which eternally separates good from
evil, yet he never places evil before us without exciting in some way a
consciousness of the opposite good which shall balance and relieve it.

I do deny that he has represented in Lady Macbeth a woman "_naturally
cruel_,"[116] "_invariably savage_,"[117] or endued with "_pure demoniac
firmness_."[118] If ever there could have existed a woman to whom such
phrases could apply--a woman without touch of modesty, pity or
fear,--Shakspeare knew that a thing so monstrous was unfit for all the
purposes of poetry. If Lady Macbeth had been _naturally_ cruel, she
needed not so solemnly to have abjured all pity, and called on the
spirits that wait on mortal thoughts to _unsex_ her; nor would she have
been loved to excess by a man of Macbeth's character; for it is the
sense of intellectual energy and strength of will overpowering her
feminine nature, which draws from him that burst of intense admiration--

                         Bring forth men children only,
    For thy undaunted metal should compose
    Nothing but males.

If she had been _invariably_ savage, her love would not have comforted
and sustained her husband in his despair, nor would her uplifted dagger
have been arrested by a dear and venerable image rising between her soul
and its fell purpose. If endued with _pure demoniac firmness_, her
woman's nature would not, by the reaction, have been so horribly
avenged, she would not have died of remorse and despair.

       *       *       *       *       *

We cannot but observe that through the whole of the dialogue
appropriated to Lady Macbeth, there is something very peculiar and
characteristic in the turn of expression: her compliments, when she is
playing the hostess or the queen, are elaborately elegant and
verbose: but, when in earnest, she speaks in short energetic
sentences--sometimes abrupt, but always full of meaning; her thoughts
are rapid and clear, her expressions forcible, and the imagery like
sudden flashes of lightning: all the foregoing extracts exhibit this,
but I will venture one more, as an immediate illustration.


                             My dearest love,
    Duncan comes here to-night.

                        LADY MACBETH.

                             And when goes hence?


    To-morrow,--as he purposes.

                        LADY MACBETH.

                                   O never
    Shall sun that morrow see!
    Thy face, my thane, is as a book, where men
    May read strange matters;--to beguile the time,
    Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye
    Your tongue, your hand; look like the innocent flower,
    But be the serpent under it.

What would not the firmness, the self-command, the enthusiasm, the
intellect, the ardent affections of this woman have performed, if
properly directed? but the object being unworthy of the effort, the end
is disappointment, despair, and death.

The power of religion could alone have controlled such a mind; but it is
the misery of a very proud, strong, and gifted spirit, without sense of
religion, that instead of looking upward to find a superior, looks
round and sees all things as subject to itself. Lady Macbeth is placed
in a dark, ignorant, iron age; her powerful intellect is slightly tinged
with its credulity and superstition, but she has no religious feeling to
restrain the force of will. She is a stern fatalist in principle and
action--"what is done, is done," and would be done over again under the
same circumstances; her remorse is without repentance, or any reference
to an offended Deity; it arises from the pang of a wounded conscience,
the recoil of the violated feelings of nature: it is the horror of the
past, not the terror of the future; the torture of self-condemnation,
not the fear of judgment; it is strong as her soul, deep as her guilt,
fatal as her resolve, and terrible as her crime.

If it should be objected to this view of Lady Macbeth's character, that
it engages our sympathies in behalf of a perverted being--and that to
leave her so strong a power upon our feelings in the midst of such
supreme wickedness, involves a moral wrong, I can only reply in the
words of Dr. Channing, that "in this and the like cases our interest
fastens on what is _not_ evil in the character--that there is something
kindling and ennobling in the consciousness, however awakened, of the
energy which resides in mind; and many a virtuous man has borrowed new
strength from the force, constancy, and dauntless courage of evil

This is true; and might he not have added, that many a powerful and
gifted spirit has learnt humility and self-government, from beholding
how far the energy which resides in mind may be degraded and perverted?

       *       *       *       *       *

In general, when a woman is introduced into a tragedy to be the
presiding genius of evil in herself, or the cause of evil to others, she
is either too feebly or too darkly portrayed; either crime is heaped on
crime, and horror on horror, till our sympathy is lost in incredulity,
or the stimulus is sought in unnatural or impossible situations, or in
situations that ought to be impossible, (as in the Myrrha or the Cenci,)
or the character is enfeebled by a mixture of degrading propensities and
sexual weakness, as in Vittoria Corombona. But Lady Macbeth, though so
supremely wicked, and so consistently feminine, is still kept aloof from
all base alloy. When Shakspeare created a female character purely
detestable, he made her an accessory, never a principal. Thus Regan and
Goneril are two powerful sketches of selfishness, cruelty, and
ingratitude; we abhor them whenever we see or think of them, but we
think very little about them, except as necessary to the action of the
drama. They are to cause the madness of Lear, and to call forth the
filial devotion of Cordelia, and their depravity is forgotten in its
effects. A comparison has been made between Lady Macbeth and the Greek
Clytemnestra in the Agamemnon of Eschylus. The Clytemnestra of
Sophocles is something more in Shakspeare's spirit, for she is something
less impudently atrocious; but, considered as a woman and an individual,
would any one compare this shameless adulteress, cruel murderess, and
unnatural mother, with Lady Macbeth? Lady Macbeth herself would
certainly shrink from the approximation.[120]

The Electra of Sophocles comes nearer to Lady Macbeth as a poetical
conception, with this strong distinction, that she commands more respect
and esteem, and less sympathy. The murder in which she participates is
ordained by the oracle--is an act of justice, and therefore less a
murder than a sacrifice. Electra is drawn with magnificent simplicity
and intensity of feeling and purpose, but there is a want of light, and
shade, and relief. Thus the scene in which Orestes stabs his mother
within her chamber, and she is heard pleading for mercy, while Electra
stands forward listening exultingly to her mother's cries, and urging
her brother to strike again, "another blow! another!" &c. is terribly
fine, but the horror is too shocking, too _physical_--if I may use such
an expression: it will not surely bear a comparison with the murdering
scene in Macbeth, where the exhibition of various passions--the
irresolution of Macbeth, the bold determination of his wife, the deep
suspense, the rage of the elements without, the horrid stillness within,
and the secret feeling of that infernal agency which is ever present to
the fancy, even when not visible on the scene--throw a rich coloring of
poetry over the whole, which does not take from "the present horror of
the time," and yet relieves it. Shakspeare's blackest shadows are like
those of Rembrandt; so intense, that the gloom which brooded over Egypt
in her day of wrath was pale in comparison--yet so transparent that we
seem to see the light of heaven through their depth.

In the whole compass of dramatic poetry, there is but one female
character which can be placed near that of Lady Macbeth; the MEDEA. Not
the vulgar, voluble fury of the Latin tragedy,[121] nor the Medea in a
hoop petticoat of Corneille, but the genuine Greek Medea,--the Medea of

There is something in the _Medea_ which seizes irresistibly on the
imagination. Her passionate devotion to Jason, for whom she had left her
parents and country--to whom she had given all, and

    Would have drawn the spirit from her breast
    Had he but asked it, sighing forth her soul
    Into his bosom;[123]

the wrongs and insults which drive her to desperation--the horrid
refinement of cruelty with which she plans and executes her revenge upon
her faithless husband--the gush of fondness with which she weeps over
her children, whom in the next moment she devotes to destruction in a
paroxysm of insane fury, carry the terror and pathos of tragic situation
to their extreme height. But if we may be allowed to judge through the
medium of a translation, there is a certain hardness in the manner of
treating the character, which in some degree defeats the effect. Medea
talks too much: her human feelings and superhuman power are not
sufficiently blended. Taking into consideration the different impulses
which actuate Medea and Lady Macbeth, as love, jealousy, and revenge on
the one side, and ambition on the other, we expect to find more of
female nature in the first than in the last: and yet the contrary is the
fact: at least, my own impression as far as a woman may judge of a
woman, is, that although the passions of Medea are more feminine, the
character is less so; we seem to require more feeling in her
fierceness, more passion in her frenzy; something less of poetical
abstraction,--less art, fewer words: her delirious vengeance we might
forgive, but her calmness and subtlety are rather revolting.

These two admirable characters, placed in contrast to each other, afford
a fine illustration of Schlegel's distinction between the ancient or
Greek drama, which he compares to sculpture, and the modern or romantic
drama, which he compares to painting. The gothic grandeur, the rich
chiaroscuro, and deep-toned colors of Lady Macbeth, stand thus opposed
to the classical elegance and mythological splendor, the delicate yet
inflexible outline of the Medea. If I might be permitted to carry this
illustration still further, I would add, that there exists the same
distinction between the Lady Macbeth and the Medea, as between the
Medusa of Leonardo da Vinci and the Medusa of the Greek gems and bas
reliefs. In the painting, the horror of the subject is at once exalted
and softened by the most vivid coloring, and the most magical contrast
of light and shade. We gaze--until, from the murky depths of the
background, the serpent hair seems to stir and glitter as if instinct
with life, and the head itself, in all its ghastliness and brightness,
appears to rise from the canvass with the glare of reality. In the
Medusa of sculpture, how different is the effect on the imagination! We
have here the snakes convolving round the winged and graceful head: the
brows contracted with horror and pain; but every feature is chiselled
into the most regular and faultless perfection; and amid the gorgon
terrors, there rests a marbly, fixed, supernatural grace, which, without
reminding us for a moment of common life or nature, stands before us a
presence, a power, and an enchantment!


[66] Milton.

[67] "That the treachery of King John, the death of Arthur, and the
grief of Constance, had a real truth in history, sharpens the sense of
pain, while it hangs a leaden weight on the heart and the imagination.
Something whispers us that we have no right to make a mock of calamities
like these, or to turn the truth of things into the puppet and plaything
of our fancies."--See Characters of Shakspeare's Plays.--To consider
_thus_ is not to consider _too_ deeply, but not deeply _enough_.

[68] _Grave_, in the sense of mighty or potent.

[69] Fulvia, the first wife of Antony.

[70] The well-known violence and coarseness of Queen Elizabeth's
manners, in which she was imitated by the women about her, may in
Shakspeare's time have rendered the image of a royal virago less
offensive and less extraordinary.

[71] She was as good as her word. See the life of Antony in Plutarch.

[72] _i. e._ retinue.

[73] _i. e._ silver coins, from the Spanish _plata_.

[74] Cleopatra replies to the first word she hears on recovering her
sense, "No more _an empress_, but a mere woman!"

[75] _i. e._ sedate determination.--JOHNSON

[76] The Cleopatra of Jodelle was the first regular French tragedy: the
last French tragedy on the same subject was the Cléopatre of Marmontel.
For the representation of this tragedy Vaucanson, the celebrated French
mechanist, invented an automaton asp, which crawled and hissed to the
life,--to the great delight of the Parisians. But it appears that
neither Vaucanson's asp, nor Clairon, could save Cléopatre from a
deserved fate. Of the English tragedies, one was written by the Countess
of Pembroke, the sister of Sir Philip Sydney; and is, I believe, the
first instance in our language, of original dramatic writing, by female.

[77] "The sober eye of dull Octavia."--Act v. scene 2.

[78] Octavia was never in Egypt.

[79] "The Octavia of Dryden is a much more important personage than in
the Antony and Cleopatra of Shakspeare. She is, however, more cold and
unamiable, for in the very short scenes in which the Octavia of
Shakspeare is introduced, she is placed in rather an interesting point
of view. But Dryden has himself informed us that he was apprehensive
that the justice of a wife's claim would draw the audience to her side,
and lessen their interest in the lover and the mistress. He seems
accordingly to have studiously lowered the character of the injured
Octavia who, in her conduct to her husband, shows much duty and little
love." Sir W. Scott (in the same fine piece of criticism prefixed to
Dryden's All for Love) gives the preference to Shakspeare's Cleopatra.

[80] In all, about two thousand pounds.

[81] The corresponding passage in the old English Plutarch runs thus:
"My son, why dost thou not answer me? Dost thou think it good altogether
to give place unto thy choler and revenge, and thinkest thou it not
honesty for thee to grant thy mother's request in so weighty a cause?
Dost thou take it honorable for a nobleman to remember the wrongs and
injuries done him, and dost not in like case think it an honest
nobleman's part to be thankful for the goodness that parents do show to
their children, acknowledging the duty and reverence they ought to bear
unto them? No man living is more bound to show himself thankful in all
parts and respects than thyself, who so universally showest all
ingratitude. Moreover, my son, thou hast sorely taken of thy country,
exacting grievous payments upon them in revenge of the injuries offered
thee; besides, thou hast not hitherto showed thy poor mother any
courtesy. And, therefore, it is not only honest, but due unto me, that
without compulsion I should obtain my so just and reasonable request of
thee. But since by reason I cannot persuade ye to it, to what purpose do
I defer my last hope?" And with these words, herself, his wife, and
children, fell down upon their knees before him.

[82] _Vide_ Daru, Histoire de Bretagne.

[83] _Vide_ Sir Peter Leycester's Antiquities of Chester.

[84] By the treaty of Messina, 1190

[85] Malone says, that "In expanding the character of the bastard,
Shakspeare seems to have proceeded on the following slight hint in an
old play on the story of King John:--

     Next them a bastard of the king's deceased--
     A hardy wild-head, rough and venturous."

It is easy to _say_ this; yet who but Shakspeare could have expanded the
last line into a Falconbridge?

[86] The Greek Merope, which was esteemed one of the finest of the
tragedies of Euripides, is unhappily lost; those of Maffei, Alfieri, and
Voltaire, are well known. There is another Merope in Italian, which I
have not seen: the English Merope is merely a bad translation from

[87] "Queen Elinor saw that if he were king, how his mother Constance
would look to bear the most rule in the realm of England, till her son
should come of a lawful age to govern of himself."--HOLINSHED.

[88] King John, Act iii, Scene 1.

[89] Louis VII. of France, whom she was accustomed to call, in contempt,
_the monk_. Elinor's adventures in Syria, whither she accompanied Louis
on the second Crusade, would form a romance.

[90] Henry II. of England. It is scarcely necessary to observe that the
story of Fair Rosamond, as far as Elinor is concerned, is a mere
invention of some ballad-maker of later times.

[91] _Vide_ Mezerai.

[92] When at Naples, I have often stood upon the rock at the extreme
point of Posilippo, and looked down upon the little Island of Nisida,
and thought of this scene till I forgot the Lazaretta which now deforms
it: deforms it, however, to the fancy only, for the building itself, as
it rises from amid the vines, the cypresses and fig-trees which embosom
it, looks beautiful at a distance.

[93] "The contention of the two Houses of York and Lancaster," in two
parts, supposed by Malone to have been written about 1590.

[94] I abstain from making any remarks on the character of Joan of Arc,
as delineated in the First part of Henry VI.; first, because I do not in
my conscience attribute it to Shakspeare, and secondly, because in
representing her according to the vulgar English traditions, as half
sorceress, half enthusiast, and in the end, corrupted by pleasure and
ambition, the truth of history, and the truth of nature, justice, and
common sense, are equally violated. Schiller has treated the character
nobly: but in making Joan the slave of passion, and the victim of love,
instead of the victim of patriotism, has committed, I think, a serious
error in judgment and feeling; and I cannot sympathize with Madame de
Staël's defence of him on this particular point. There was no occasion
for this deviation from the truth of things, and from the dignity and
spotless purity of the character. This young enthusiast, with her
religious reveries, her simplicity, her heroism, her melancholy, her
sensibility, her fortitude, her perfectly feminine bearing in all her
exploits, (for though she so often led the van of battle unshrinking,
while death was all around her, she never struck a blow, nor stained her
consecrated sword with blood,--another point in which Schiller has
wronged her,) this heroine and martyr, over whose last moments we shed
burning tears of pity and indignation, remains yet to be treated as a
Dramatic character, and I know but one person capable of doing this.

[95] See Henry VI. Part III. Act. iii. sc. 3--

               QUEEN MARGARET.

     Warwick, these words have turned my hate to love,--
     And I forgive and quite forget old faults,
     And joy that thou becom'st King Henry's friend.

[96] Horace Walpole observes, that "it is evident from the conduct of
Shakspeare, that the house of Tudor retained all their Lancasterian
prejudices even in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. In his play of Richard
the Third, he seems to deduce the woes of the house of York from the
curses which Queen Margaret had vented against them; and he could not
give that weight to her curses, without supposing a right in her to
utter them."

[97] See her letters in Ellis's Collection.

[98] Under similar circumstances, one of Katherine's predecessors,
Philippe of Hainault, had gained in her husband's absence the battle of
Neville Cross, in which David Bruce was taken prisoner.

[99] Ellis's Collection. We must keep in mind that Katherine was a
foreigner, and till after she was seventeen, never spoke or wrote a word
of English.

[100] Hall's Chronicle

[101] Hall's Chronicle, p. 781.

[102] The court at Blackfriars sat on the 28th of May, 1529. "The queen
being called, accompanied by the four bishops and others of her counsel,
and a great company of ladies and gentlewomen following her; and after
her obeisance, sadly and with great gravity, she appealed from them to
the court of Rome."--_See Hall and Cavendish's Life of Wolsey._

The account which Hume gives of this scene is very elegant; but after
the affecting _naïveté_ of the old chroniclers, it is very cold and

[103] "The queen answered the Duke of Suffolk very highly and
obstinately, with many high words: and suddenly, in a fury she departed
from him into her privy chamber."--_Vide Hall's Chronicle_.

[104] _Vide_ Cavendish's Life of Wolsey.

[105] Winter's Tale, act iii. scene 2.

[106] I have constantly abstained from considering any of these
characters with a reference to the theatre; yet I cannot help remarking,
that if Mrs. Siddons, who excelled equally in Hermione and Katherine,
and threw such majesty of demeanor, such power, such picturesque effect,
into both, could likewise feel and convey the infinite contrast between
the ideal grace, the classical repose and imaginative charm thrown round
Hermione, and the matter-of-fact, artless, prosaic nature of Katherine;
between the poetical grandeur of the former, and the moral dignity of
the latter,--then she certainly exceeded all that I could have imagined
possible, even to _her_ wonderful powers.

[107] This affecting passage is thus rendered by Shakspeare:--

     Nay, forsooth, my friends,
     They that must weigh out my afflictions--
     They that my trust must grow to, live not here--
     They are, as all my other comforts, far hence,
     In mine own country, lords.

          _Henry VIII._ _act_ iii. _sc._ 1

[108] Dr. Johnson is of opinion, that this scene "is above any other
part of Shakspeare's tragedies, and perhaps above any scene of any other
poet, tender and pathetic; without gods, or furies, or poisons, or
precipices; without the help of romantic circumstances; without
improbable sallies of poetical lamentation, and without any throes of
tumultuous misery."

I have already observed, that in judging of Shakspeare's characters as
of persons we meet in real life, we are swayed unconsciously by our own
habits and feelings, and our preference governed, more or less, by our
individual prejudices or sympathies. Thus, Dr. Johnson, who has not a
word to bestow on Imogen, and who has treated poor Juliet as if she had
been in truth "the very beadle to an amorous sigh," does full justice to
the character of Katherine, because the logical turn of his mind, his
vigorous intellect, and his austere integrity, enabled him to appreciate
its peculiar beauties: and, accordingly, we find that he gives it, not
only unqualified, but almost exclusive admiration: he goes so far as to
assert, that in this play the genius of Shakspeare comes in and goes out
with Katherine.

[109] It will be remembered, that in early youth Anna Bullen was
betrothed to Lord Henry Percy, who was passionately in love with her.
Wolsey, to serve the king's purposes, broke off this match, and forced
Percy into an unwilling marriage with Lady Mary Talbot. "The stout Earl
of Northumberland," who arrested Wolsey at York, was this very Percy; he
was chosen for his mission by the interference of Anna Bullen--a piece
of vengeance truly feminine in its mixture of sentiment and
spitefulness; and every way characteristic of the individual woman.

[110] The king is said to have wept on reading this letter, and her body
being interred at Peterbro', in the monastery, for honor of her memory
it was preserved at the dissolution, and erected into a bishop's
see.--_Herbert's Life of Henry VIII._

[111] Written, (as the commentators suppose,) not by Shakspeare, but by
Ben Jonson.

[112] Mrs. Siddons left among her papers an analysis of the character of
Lady Macbeth, which I have never seen: but I have heard her say, that
after playing the part for thirty years, she never read it without
discovering in it something new. She had an idea that Lady Macbeth must
from her Celtic origin have been a small, fair, blue-eyed woman.
Bonduca, Fredegonde, Brunehault, and other Amazons of the gothic ages
were of this complexion; yet I cannot help fancying Lady Macbeth dark,
like Black Agnes of Douglas--a sort of Lady Macbeth in her way.

[113] In her impersonation of the part of Lady Macbeth, Mrs. Siddons
adopted successively three different intonations in giving the words _we
fail_. At first a quick contemptuous interrogation--"_we fail?_"
Afterwards with the note of admiration--_we fail!_ and an accent of
indignant astonishment, laying the principal emphasis on the word
_we_--_we_ fail! Lastly, she fixed on what I am convinced is the true
reading--we fail. with the simple period, modulating her voice to a
deep, low, resolute tone, which settled the issue at once--as though she
had said, "if we fail, why then we fail, and all is over." This is
consistent with the dark fatalism of the character and the sense of the
line following, and the effect was sublime, almost awful.

[114] _Metaphysical_ is here used in the sense of spiritual or

[115] Mrs. Siddons, I believe, had an idea that Lady Macbeth beheld the
spectre of Banquo in the supper scene, and that her self-control and
presence of mind enabled her to surmount her consciousness of the
ghastly presence. This would be superhuman, and I do not see that either
the character or the text bear out this supposition.

[116] Cumberland.

[117] Professor Richardson.

[118] Foster's Essays.

[119] See Dr. Channing's remarks on Satan, in his essay "On the
Character and Writings of Milton."--_Works_, p 181.

[120] The vision of Clytemnestra the night before she is murdered, in
which she dreams that she has given birth to a dragon, and that, in
laying it to her bosom, it draws blood instead of milk, has been greatly
admired; but I suppose that those who most admire it would not place it
in comparison with Lady Macbeth's sleeping scene. Lady Ashton, in the
Bride of Lammermoor, is a domestic Lady Macbeth; but the development
being in the narrative, not the dramatic form, it follows hence that we
have a masterly portrait, not a complete individual: and the relief of
poetry and sympathy being wanting, the detestation she inspires is so
unmixed as to be almost intolerable: consequently the character,
considered in relation to the other personages of the story, is perfect;
but abstractedly, it is imperfect; a basso relievo--not a statue.

[121] Attributed to Seneca.

[122] A comparison has already been made in an article in the
"Reflector." It will be seen on a reference to that very masterly Essay,
that I differ from the author in his conception of Lady Macbeth's

[123] Appollonius Rhodius.--_Vide_ Elton's Specimens of the Classic


Books by Mrs. Anna Jameson



MEMOIRS OF THE LOVES OF THE POETS. Biographical Sketches of Women
celebrated in Ancient and Modern Poetry.


Raphael's Madonna del San Sisto.


LEGENDS OF THE MADONNA as represented in the Fine Arts.


LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS as represented in the Fine Arts. Forming
the Second Series of Sacred and Legendary Art.

Each volume, 16mo, $1.25; the ten volumes, in box, $12.50; half calf,
$25.00; tree calf, $35.00.

       *       *       *       *       *

Houghton, Mifflin & Co., _Publishers_, BOSTON AND NEW YORK.

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