« AnteriorContinuar »
Yet, for all this, Miranda not a whit the less touches us as a creature of flesh and blood,
“A being breathing thoughtful breath,
Nay, rather she seems all the more so, inasmuch as the character thus coheres with the circumstances, the virtues and poetries of the place being expressed in her visibly; and she would be far less real to our feelings, were not the wonders of her whereabout thus vitally incorporated with her innate and original attributes.
It is observable that Miranda does not perceive the working of her father's art upon herself. For, when he casts a spell of drowsiness over her, so that she cannot choose but sleep, on being awaked by him she tells him, “The strangeness of your story put heaviness in me.” So his art conceals itself in its very potency of operation; and seems the more like nature for being preternatural. It is another noteworthy point, that while he is telling his strange tale he thinks she is not listening attentively to his speech, partly because he is not attending to it himself, his thoughts being busy with the approaching crisis of his fortune, and drawn away to the other matters which he has in hand, and partly because in her trance of wonder at what he is relating she seems abstracted and self-withdrawn from the matter of his discourse. His own absent-mindedness on this occasion is aptly and artfully indicated by his broken and disjointed manner of speech. That his tongue and thought are not beating time together appears in that
the latter end of his sentences keeps forgetting the beginning.
These are among the fine strokes and delicate touches whereby the Poet makes, or rather permits, the character of his persons to transpire so quietly as not to excite special notice at the time. That Miranda should be so rapt at her father's tale as to seem absent and wandering, is a charming instance in point. For indeed to her the supernatural stands in the place of Nature; and nothing is so strange and wonderful as what actually passes in the life and heart of man: miracles have been her daily food, her father being the greatest miracle of all; which must needs make the common events and passions and perturbations of the world seem to her miraculous. All which is wrought out by the Poet with so much art and so little appearance of art, that Franz Horn is the only critic, so far as I know, that seems to have thought of it.
I must not dismiss Miranda without remarking the sweet union of womanly dignity and childlike simplicity in her character, she not knowing or not caring to disguise the innocent movements of her heart. This, too, is a natural result of her situation. The instance to which I refer is when Ferdinand, his manhood all alive with her, lets her hear his soul speak; and she, weeping at what she is glad of, replies, –
“ Hence, bashful cunning!
Whether you will or no.” Equally fine is the circumstance that her father opens to her the story of his life, and lets her into the secret of her noble birth and ancestry, at a time when she is suffering with those that she saw suffer, and when her eyes are jewelled with “ drops that sacred pity hath engender'd”; as if on purpose that the ideas of rank and dignity may sweetly blend and coalesce in her mind with the sympathies of the woman.
In Fercknand is portrayed one of those happy natures, such as we sometimes meet with, who are built up all the more strongly in truth and good by contact with the vices and meannesses of the world. Courage, piety, and honour are his leading characteristics; and these virtues are so much at home in his breast, and have such an easy, natural ascendant in his conduct, that he thinks not of them, and cares only to prevent or remove the stains which affront his inward eye. The meeting of him and Miranda is replete with magic indeed, - a magic higher and more potent even than Prospero's; the riches that nestle in their bosoms at once leaping forth and running together in a stream of poetry which no words of mine can describe. So much of beauty in so few words, and those few so plain and simple,
“O, wondrous skill and sweet wit of the man !”
Shakespeare's genius is specially venerable in that he makes piety and honour go hand in hand with love. It seems to have been a fixed principle with him, if indeed it was not rather a genial instinct, that where the heart is rightly engaged, there the highest and tenderest thoughts of religion do naturally cluster and converge. For indeed the love that looks to marriage is itself a religion: its first impulse is to invest its object with poetry and consecration: to be “ true to the kindred points of Heaven and home,” is both its inspiration and its law. It thus involves a sort of regeneration of the inner man, and carries in its hand the baptismal fire of a nobler and diviner life.
And so it is in this delectable instance. In Ferdinand, as in all generous natures, “love betters what is best.” Its first springing in his breast stirs his heavenward thoughts and aspirations into exercise: the moment that kindles his heart towards Miranda also kindles his soul in piety to God; and he knows not how to commune in prayer with the Source of good, unless he may couple her welfare with his own, and breathe her name in his holiest service. Thus his love and piety are kindred and coefficient forces, as indeed all true love and piety essentially are. However
thoughtless we may be of the Divine help and guardianship for ourselves, we can hardly choose but crave them for those to whom our souls are knit in the sacred dearness of household ties. And so with this noble pair, the same power
that binds them to each other in the sacraments of love also binds them both in devout allegiance to the Author of their being; whose presence is most felt by them in the sacredness of their mutual truth.
So much for the illustration here so sweetly given of the old principle, that whatsoever lies nearest a Christian's heart, whatsoever he tenders most dearly on Earth, whatsoever draws in most intimately with the currents of his soul, that is the spontaneous subject matter of his prayers ; our purest loves thus sending us to God, as if from an instinctive feeling that unless God be sanctified in our hearts, our hearts cannot retain their
their proper life. In regard to what springs up between Ferdinand and Miranda, it is to be noted that Prospero does little but furpish occasions. He indeed thanks the quaint and delicate Ariel for the kindling touch that so quickly puts them f both in either's power”; for it seems to him the result of à finer inspiration than his art can reach; and so he naturally attributes it to the magic of his airy minister; whereas in truth it springs from a source far deeper than the magic of either, - a pre-established harmony which the mutual recognition now first quickens into audible music. After seeing himself thus outdone by the Nature he has been wont to control, and having witnessed such a “fair encounter of two most rare affections,” no wonder that Prospero longs to be a man again, like other men, and gladly returns to
“ The homely sympathy that heeds
The common life ; our nature breeds ;
Of hearts at leisure."
The strength and delicacy of imagination displayed in the characters already noticed are hardly more admira
ble than the truth and subtilty of observation shown in others. [In the delineation of Antonio and Sebastian, short as it is, we have a volume of wise science, which Coleridge remarks upon
thus: “In the first scene of the second Act, Shakespeare has shown the tendency in bad men to indulge in scorn and contemptuous expressions, as a mode of getting rid of their own uneasy feelings of inferiority to the good, and also of rendering the transition of others to wickedness easy, by making the good ridiculous. Shakespeare never puts habitual scorn into the mouths of other than bad men, as here in the instance of Antonio and Sebastian.” "
Nor is there less of judgment in the means used by Prospero for bringing them to a better mind; provoking in them the purpose of crime, and then taking away the performance; that so he may lead them to a knowledge of themselves, and awe or shame down their evil by his demonstrations of good. For such is the proper effect of bad designs thus thwarted, showing the authors at once the wickedness of their hearts and the weakness of their hands; whereas, if successful in their schemes, pride of power would forestall and prevent the natural shame and remorse of guilt. And we little know what evil it lieth and lurketh in our hearts to will or to do, till occasion invites or permits; and Prospero's art here stands in presenting the occasion till the wicked purpose is formed, and then removing it as soon as the hand is raised. In the case of Antonio and Sebastian, the workings of magic are so mixed up with those of Nature, that we cannot distinguish them; or rather Prospero here causes the supernatural to pursue the methods of Nature.
And the same deep skill is shown in the case of the good old Lord Gonzalo, whose sense of his own infelicities seems lost in his care to minister comfort and diversion to others. Thus his virtue spontaneously opens the springs of wit and humour in him amid the terrors of the storm and ship