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mixing in the plot against the bachelor liberty of Benedick-enjoying the frolics in Eastcheap as much as Falstaff or the Prince or joining his own voice in the boisterous glee of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew.
But MEASURE FOR MEASURE breathes a sterner spirit than belongs to the productions of either the earlier or the later periods. Dr. Johnson has said that its “comic scenes are natural and pleasing.” Their fidelity to nature cannot, indeed, be denied.
But if they please, they do so from their faithfulness of portraiture; not like the scenes of Bottom, or Falstaff, and their companions, from their exuberance of mirthful sport, or their rich origi. nality of invention and wit. They, as well as the loftier scenes of the piece, are but too faithful pictures of the degrading and hardening influence of licentious passion, from the lighter profligacy of Lucio, the dissipated gentle. man, to the grosser and contented degradation of the Clown; and if these are all painted with the truth of Ho garth, or Crabbe, they are depicted with no air of sport or mirth, but rather with that of bitter scorn. The author seems to smile like his own Cassius, “as if he mocked himself.” Thus Elbow, in his self-satisfied conceit and pedantic ignorance, would appear, as some of the critics regard him, simply as an inferior version of Dogberry. But he is not a Dogberry in whose absurdities the author himself luxuriates, but one whose peculiarities are delineated with a contemptuous sneer. Lucio, again, is a character unfortunately too common in civilized, and especially in city life—a gentleman in manners and education, and of good natural ability, made frivolous in mind and debased in sentiment and disposition by licentious and idle habits—thus substantially not a very different character from some of the lighter personages of the prior dramas ; but he differs mainly from them because exhibited under a very different light, and regarded in a different temper. The others are represented in his scenes as they ap peared to the transient acquaintance, or the companions of their pleasures. But the Poet looks deeper into the heart and life of Lucio, and pourtrays this man of pleasure in the same mood which governs the higher and more tragic scenes of this dramama mood sometimes contemptuous, sometimes sad, often indignant, but never such as had been his former wont, either merely playful or imaginative. Thus it seems to me that, if his comic scenes excite mirth from their truth, it is a mirth in which the author did not participate ; and their sarcastic humour assimilates itself in feeling to that of the stern and grave interest of the plot, and the strong passion of its poetic
Characters, in themselves light and amusing, are branded with contempt from the degradation of licen. tious habits; while the same passion, in a form of less grossness, but of deeper guilt, prostrates before it high reputation, talent, and wisdom. The intellectual and amiable Claudio, willing to purchase “the weariest and most loathed worldly life," at any cost of shame and sin, is strangely contrasted with the drunken Barnardine, “careless, reckless, and fearless of what is past, present, or to come.” Indeed, the higher characters are mainly discriminated from the lower ones, in this moral delineation, in that conscience is dull or dead in the latter, while it appears in all its terrors in Angelo and Claudio, and in all the majesty of purity in Isabella. There is little formality of moral instruction, but the secret workings of guilt and fear are laid open with the rapidity, suddenness, and brevity of unuttered and half-formed thoughts. That men of lax moral opinions should shrink with disgust as sone of his critics have done, from this too true a delineation of so common a vice, is not to be wondered at. It was less to be expected that Coleridge should have formed the judgment he has expressed on this drama, though there are not a few readers who will assent to it. He observes, in his “ Literary Remains :"-" This play, which is Shakespeare's throughout, is to me the most painful, say rather the only painful part of his genuine works. The comic and tragic parts equally border on the miseteon-the one being disgusting, the other horrible; and the pardon and marriage of Angelo not merely baffles the strong, indignant claim of justice, (for cruelty, with lust and damuable baseness, cannot be forgiven, because we cannot conceive them as being morally repented of,) but it is likewise degrading to the character of woman." We also learn from Mr. Collier that, in the course of Lectures on Shakespeare, delivered in 1818, (which were delivered from imperfect notes, and never written out,) Coleridge pointed especially to the artifice of Isabella, and her seeming consent to the suit of Angelo, as the circumstances which tended to lower the character of the female sex. He then called MEASURE FOR MEASURE Ouly the “least agreeable" of Shakespeare's dramas.
This criticism, however little laudatory, is still substantially an acknowledgment of the severe unity of feeling and purpose which pervades the piece, and the impressive power with which it enforces revolting and humbling truths. These are the more conspicuous, because the dark painting of moral degradation, of guilt, remorse, the dread of death, is not relieved, as is the Poet's use elsewhere, by passages of descriptive beauty, or fancy, or teuderuess. The only strong contrast which supplies their place is that of the severe beauty of Isabella's character, and the majestic wisdom and deep sentiment of her fervid eloquence. That in this sense the drama is not agreeable, and that it is even painful, is very true; yet the degree of pain thus given is precisely that by which the intellect is most excited, and which is thus the source of the deep and absorbing interest excited by all gloomy yet true pictures of life, in its sadder shapes of crime and woe. Though the subject and the thoughts be in themselves repulsive, yet when, as here, we feel that the author is breathing through them the strong emotions of his own soul, the attention is fixed, and the sympathy enchained. This is the secret of Dante's power, and of that of the nobler portion of Byron's poetry. That MEASURE FOR MEASURE possesses much of this power, is proved by the fact that, in spite of the objections of critics of every degree, it has always taken a strong hold of the general mind. No one of the high female characters of tragedy has been found more effective in representation than Isabella ; while there is perhaps no composition, of the same length, in tho language, which has left more of its expressive phrases, its moral aphorisms, its brief sentences crowded with meaning, fixed in the general memory, and embodied by daily use in every form of popular eloquence, argument, and literature.
The language and the rhythm have also peculiar boldness and austerity, congruous to the intellectual character and the sentiment of the drama, and as much marked in their difference from the author's preceding works. The
NOTES ON MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM.
nothingia Anacreon more perfect thanthesethirty lines, or half-orich and imaginative. They firm aspeckles diamool"—("Literary Remains")
***en again another by Colman, (the elder:) *** later one by Reynolds, a popular dramatist ** generation. There are o two or three
lootballs and galleries are thrown backward, and seldom shut."
continenteripa of Horace;)
not as a playwright.
compact of imagination: 'something of great constancy, for consistency; “sweet Pyramus translated there: ‘the law of Athens, which by no means we may eaten wate.' I have considerable doubts whether any of these expressions would be found in the contemporary prose of Elizabeth's reign, which was less overrun by pedantry than that of her successor; but, could authority be produced for Latinisms so forced, it is still not very likely that one, who did not understand their proper meaning, would have introduced them into poetry. It would be a weak answer that we do not detect in Shakespeare any imitations of the Latin poets. His knowledge of the language may have been chiefly derived, like that of schoolboys, from the dictionary, and insufficient for the thorough appreciation of their beauties. But, if we should believe him well acquainted with Virgil or Ovid, it would be by no means surprising that his learning does not display itself in imitation. Shakespeare seems now and then to have a tinge on his imagination from former o but he never designedly imitates, though, as we have seen, he has sometimes adopted. The streams of invention flowed too fast from his own mind to leave him time to accommodate the words of a foreign language to our own. He knew that to create would be easier, and pleasanter. and better.”—HALLAM.
events of Grecian history. Now, in the plural number,
shakespeare is not amenable to this charge; for he al
ludes to only one event in that history, namely, to the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta; and, as to the introduction of fairies, I am not aware that he makes any of the Athenian personages believe in their existence, though they are subject to their influence. Let us be candid on the subject. If there were fairies in modern Europe, which no rational believer in fairy tales will deny, why should those fine creatures not have existed previously in Greece, although the poor, blind, heathen Greeks, on whom the gospel of Gothic mythology had not yet dawned, had no conception of them 7 If Theseus and Hippolyta had talked believingly about the dapper elves, there would have been some room for critical complaint; but otherwise the fairies have as good a right to be in Greece, in the days of Theseus, as to play their pranks any where else, or at any other time.
“There are few plays (says the same critic) which consist of such incongruous materials as a MidsummerNight's DREAM. It comprises four histories—that of Theseus and Hippolyta, that of the four Athenian Lovers, that of the Actors, and that of the Fairies; and the link of connection between them is exceedingly slender. In answer to this, I say that the plot contains
nothing (about any of the four parties concerned) approaching to the pretension of a history. Of Theseus
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