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cially endeavoured how much of silent effect he could produce, without diverging from the dramatic form. To this end, he provides resting-places for thought; suspending or retarding the action by musical pauses and periods of lyrical movement, and breathing in the mellowest strains of poetical harmony, till the eye is "made quiet by the power of beauty," and all tumult of mind is hushed in the very intensity of feeling.
In the last two Acts we have a most artful interchange and blending of romantic beauty and comic drollery. The lost Princess and the heir-apparent of Bohemia, two of the noblest and loveliest beings that ever fancy conceived, occupy the centre of the picture, while around them are clustered rustic shepherds and shepherdesses amid their pastimes and pursuits, the whole being enlivened by the tricks and humours of a merry pedler and pickpocket. For simple purity and sweetness, the scene which unfolds the loves and characters of the Prince and Princess is not surpassed by any thing in Shakespeare. Whatsoever is enchanting in romance, lovely in innocence, elevated in feeling, and sacred in faith, is here concentrated; forming, all together, one of those things which we always welcome as we do the return of Spring, and over which our feelings may renew their youth for ever. So long as flowers bloom and hearts love, they will do it in the spirit of this scene.
It is a pastoral frolic, where free thoughts and guileless hearts rule the hour, all as true and as pure as the tints and fragrances with which field and forest and garden have beautified the occasion. The neighbouring swains and lasses have gathered in, to share and enhance the sport. The old Shepherd is present, but only as a looker-on, having for the nonce resigned the command to his reputed daughter. Under their mutual inspiration, the Prince and Princess are each in the finest rapture of fancy, while the surrounding influences of the rustic festival are just enough to enfranchise their inward music into modest and delicate utterance. He has tastefully decked her person with flowers, till no tra
ces of the shepherdess can be seen, and she seems herself a multitudinous flower; having also attired himself "with a swain's wearing," so that the prince is equally obscured.
"These your unusual weeds to each part of you
Do give a life: no shepherdess; but Flora,
And you the queen on 't."
Thus he opens the play. And when she repeats her fears of the event:
"Thou dearest Perdita,
With these forc'd thoughts, I pr'ythee, darken not
Or not my father's; for I cannot be
Mine own, nor any thing to any, if
I be not thine: to this I am most constant,
The King and Camillo steal upon them in disguise, and while they are present we have this:
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
So singular in each particular,
Crowning what you have done i̇' the present deed,
That all your acts are queens.
Your praises are too large but that your youth,
Do plainly give you out an unstain'd shepherd,
You woo'd me the false way.
I think you have
As little skill to fear as I have purpose
Polix. This is the prettiest low-born lass that ever
He tells her something
Polix. 'Pray you, good shepherd, what fair swain is this
Shep. They call him Doricles; and boasts himself
To have a worthy feeding: I but have it
Upon his own report, and I believe it;
He looks like sooth. He says he loves my daughter:
I think so too; for never gaz'd the Moon
Upon the water, as he 'll stand, and read,
As 't were, my daughter's eyes: and, to be plain,
I think there is not half a kiss to choose
Who loves another best.
She dances featly.
Shep. So she does any thing, though I report it,
Perdita, notwithstanding she occupies so little room in the play, fills a large space in the reader's thoughts, almost disputing precedence with the Queen. And her mother's best native qualities reappear in her, sweetly modified by pastoral associations; her nature being really much the same, only it has been developed and seasoned in a different atmosphere; a nature too strong indeed to be displaced by any power of circumstances or supervenings of art, but at the same time too delicate and susceptive not to take a lively and lasting impress of them. So that, while she has thoroughly assimilated, she nevertheless clearly indicates, the food of place and climate, insomuch that the dignities of the princely and the simplicities of the pastoral character seem striving which shall express her goodliest. We can hardly call her a poetical being; she is rather poetry itself, and every thing lends and borrows beauty at her
touch. A playmate of the flowers, when we see her with them, we are at a loss whether they take more inspiration from her or she from them; and while she is the sweetest of poets in making nosegays, the nosegays become in her hands the richest of crowns. If, as Schlegel somewhere remarks, the Poet is "particularly fond of showing the superiority of the innate over the acquired," he has surely nowhere done it with finer effect than in this unfledged angel. There is much to suggest a comparison of Perdita and Miranda; yet how shall I compare them? Perfectly distinct indeed as individuals, still their characters are strikingly similar; only Perdita has perhaps a sweeter gracefulness, the freedom, simplicity, and playfulness of nature being in her case less checked by external restraints; while Miranda carries more of a magical and mysterious charm woven into her character from the supernatural influences of her whereabout. So like, yet so different, it is hard saying which is the better of the two, or rather one can hardly help liking her best with whom he last conversed. It is an interesting fact also, for such it seems to be, that these two glorious delineations were produced very near together, perhaps both the same year; and this too when Shakespeare was in his highest maturity of poetry and wisdom; from which it has been not unjustly argued that his experience both in social and domestic life must have been favourable to exalted conceptions of womanhood. The Poet, though in no sort a bigot, was evidently full of loyal and patriotic sentiment; and I have sometimes thought that the government of Elizabeth, with the grand national enthusiasm which clustered round her throne and person, may have had a good deal to do in shaping and inspiring this part of his workmanship. Be that as it may, with but one great exception, I think the world now finds its best ideas of moral beauty in Shakespeare's women.
Florizel's character is in exquisite harmony with that of the Princess. To be sure, it may be said that if he is
all on the understandings of the spectators; and they seem to feel the power without the fact of animation, or to have a sense of mobility in a vision of fixedness. And such is the magic of the scene, that we almost fancy them turning into marble, as they fancy the marble turning into flesh.
END OF VOL. I.