Imagens das páginas
PDF

something truly fearful in the resolution and energy of her discourse with the Friar; yet we feel that she is still the same soft, tender, gentle being whose breath was lately so rich and sweet with words of love. When told the desperate nature of the remedy, she rises to a yet higher pitch, her very terror of the deed inspiring her with fresh energy of purpose. And when she comes to the performance, she cannot indeed arrest the workings of her imagination, neither can those workings shake her resolution ; on the contrary, in their reciprocal action each adds vigour and intensity to the other, the terrific images which throng upon her excited fancy developing within her a strength and courage to face them. In all which there is certainly much of the heroine, but Then the heroisin is the free, spontaneous, unreflecting outcome of her native womanhood.

It is well worth noting, with what truth to nature the different qualities of the female character are in this representation distributed. Juliet has both the weakness and the strength of woman, and she has them in the right, that is, the natural places. For, if she appears as frail as the frailest of her sex in the process of becoming a lover, her frailty ends with that process : weak in yielding to the first touch of passion, all her strength of character comes out in courage and constancy afterwards. Thus it is in the cause of the wife that the greatness proper to her as a transpires. Moore, in his Life of Byron, speaks of this as a peculiarity of the Italian women; but surely it is nowise peculiar to them, save that they may have it in a larger measure than others. For, if we mistake not, the general rule of women everywhere is, that the easiest to fall in love are the hardest to get out of it, and at the same time the most religiously tenacious of their honour in it.

It is very considerable that Juliet, though subject to the same necessity of loving as Romeo, is nevertheless quite exempt from the delusions of fancy, and therefore never gets bewildered with a love of her own making. The elements of passion in her do not, it is against her nature that they should, act in such a way as to send her in quest of an object : indeed they are a secret even to herself, she suspects not their existence, till the proper object appears, because it is the inspiration of that object that kindles them into effect. - Her modesty, too, is much like Romeo's honour; that is, it is a living attribute of her character, and not merely a form impressed upon her manners from without. She therefore does not try to conceal or disguise from herself the impulses of her nature, because she justly regards them as sanctified by the religion of her heart. On this point, especially with reference to her famous soliloquy at the beginning of the second scene in Act iii., we leave her in the hands of Mrs. Jameson ; who, with a rare gift to see what is right, joins an equal felicity in expressing what she sees. “Let it be remembered," says she," that in this speech

[ocr errors]

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.'

The Nurse is in some respects another edition of Mrs. Quickly, though in a different binding. The character has a tone of reality that almost startles us on a first acquaintance. She gives the impression of a literal transcript from actual life ; which is doubtless owing in part to the predominance of memory in her mind ing her to think and speak of things just as they occurred; as in her account of Juliet's age, where she cannot go on without bring. ing in all the accidents and impertinences which stand associated with the subject. And she has a way of repeating the same thing in the same words, so that it strikes us as a fact cleaving to her thoughts, and exercising a sort of fascination over them : it seems scarce possible that any but a real person should be so enslaved to actual events.

This general passiveness to what is going on about her natural. ly makes her whole character “ smell of the shop.” And she has a certain vulgarized air of rank and refinement, as if, priding herself on the confidence of her superiors, she had caught and assim. ilated their manners to her own vulgar nature. In this mixture of refinement and vulgarity, both elements are made the worse for being together; for, like all those who ape their belters, she ex. aggerates whatever she copies ; or, borrowing the proprieties of those above her, she turns them into their opposite, because she bas no sense of propriety. Without a particle of truth, or honour, or delicacy; one to whom life has no sacredness, virtue no beauty, love no holiness ; a woman, in short, without womanhood; she abounds, however, in serviceable qualities; has just that low ser. vile prudence which at once fits her to be an instrument, and makes her proud to be used as such. Yet she acts not so much from a positive disregard of right as from a lethargy of conscience; or as if her soul had run itself into a sort of moral dry-rot through a leak at the mouth.

Accordingly, in her basest acts she never dreams but that she is a pattern of virtue. And because she is thus unconscious and, as it were, innocent of her own vices, therefore Juliet thinks her free from them, and suspects not but that beneath her petulant, vulgar loquacity she has a vein of womanly honour and sensibility. For she has, in her way, a real affection for Juliet; whatsoever would give pleasure to herself, that she will do any ihing to compass for her young mistress; and, until love and marriage become the question, there has never been any thing to disclose the essential oppugnancy of their natures. When, however, in her noble agony, Juliet appeals to the Nurse for counsel, and is met with the advice to marry Paris, she sees at once what her soul is made of; that her former praises of Romeo were but the offspring of a sensual pruriency easing itself with talk; that in her long life she has gained only that sort of experience which works the debasement of its possessor; and that she knows less than nothing of love and marriage, because she has worn their prerogatives without any feeling of their sacredness.

Mercutio is one of the instances which strikingly show the excess of Shakespeare's powers above his performances. Though giving us more than any other man, he still seems to have given but a small part of himself; for we see not but he could have gone on indefinitely revelling in the same “exquisite ebullience and overflow" of life and wit which he has started in Mercutio. As seeking rather to instruct us with character than to entertain us with talk, he lets off just enough of the latter to disclose the former, and then stops, leaving the impression of an inexhaustible abundance withheld to give scope for something better. From the nature of the subject, he had to leave unsatisfied the desire which in Mercutio is excited. Delightful as Mercutio is, the Poet valued and makes us value his room more than his company. It has been said that he was obliged to kill Mercutio, lest Mercutio should kill him. And certainly it is not easy to see how he could have kept Mercutio and Tybalt in the play without spoiling it, nor how he could have kept them out of it without killing them : for, so long as they live, they seem bound to have a chief hand in whatsoever is going on about them; and they cannot well have a hand in any thing without turning it, the one into a comedy, the other into a butchery. The Poet, however, so manages them and their fate as to aid rather than interrupt the proper interest of the piece; the impression of their death, strong as it is, being overcome by the sympathy awakened in us with the living.

Mercutio is a perfect embodiment of animal spirits acting in and through the brain. So long as the life is in him his blood must dance, and so long as the blood dances the brain and tongue must play. His veins seem filled with sparkling champagne. Always revelling in the conscious fulness of his resources, he pours out and pours out, heedless whether he speaks sense or nonsense ; nay, his very stumblings seem designed as triumphs of agility; he studies, apparently, for failures, as giving occasion for further trials, and thus serving at once to provoke his skill and to set it off. Full of the most companionable qualities, he often talks loosely indeed, but not profanely; and even in his loosest talk there is a subtilty and refinement both of nature and of breeding, that mark him for the prince of good fellows. Nothing could more finely evince the essential frolicsomeness of his composition, than that, with his ruling passion strong in death, he should play the wag in the face of his grim enemy, as if to live and to jest were the same thing with him.

Of Mercutio's wit it were vain to attempt an analysis. From a fancy as quick and aerial as the Aurora Borealis, the most unique and graceful combinations come forth with almost inconceivable facility and felicity. If wit consists in a peculiar briskness, airiness, and apprehensiveness of spirit, catching, as by instinct, the most remote and delicate affinities, and putting things together most unexpectedly and at the same time most appropriately, it can hardly be denied that Mercutio is the prince of wits, as well as of good fellows.

We have always felt a special comfort in the part of Friar Laurence. How finely his tranquillity contrasts with the surrounding agitation! And how natural it seems that he should draw lessons of tranquillity from that very agitation! Calm, thoughtful, benevolent, withdrawing from the world, that he may benefit society the more for being out of it, his presence and counsel in the play are as oil poured, yet poured in vain, on troubled waters. Sympathising quietly yet deeply with the very feelings in others which in the stillness of thought he has subdued in himself, the storms that waste society only kindle in him the sentiments that raise him above them; wbile his voice, issuing from the heart of humanity, speaks peace, but cannot give it, to the passions that are raging around him.

Schlegel has remarked with his usual discernment on the skill with which the Poet manages to alleviate the miracle of the sleeping-potion ; and how, by throwing an air of mysterious wisdom round the Friar, he renders us the more apt to believe strange things concerning him ; representing him as so conjunctive and private with nature, that incredulity touching what he does is in a great measure forestalled by impressions of reverence for his cbaracter. “ How," says he, “does the Poet dispose us to believe that Father Laurence possesses such a secret ? He exhibits him at first in a garden, collecting herbs, and descanting on their wonderful virtues. The discourse of the pious old man is full of deep meaning : be sees everywhere in nature emblems of the moral world ; the same wisdom with which he looks through her has also made him master of the human heart. In this way, what would else have an ungrateful appearance, becomes the source of a great beauty.”

Much fault has been found with the winding-up of this play, that it does not stop with the death of Juliet. Looking merely to the uses of the stage, it might indeed be better so; but Shakespeare wrote for humanity as well as, yea, rather than, for the stage. And as the evil fate of the lovers springs from the bitter feud of their houses and from a general stilling of nature under a hard crust of artificial manners, he wisely represents it as reacting upon and removing the cause. We are thus given to see and feel that they have not suffered in vain; and the heart has something to mitigate and humanise its over-pressure of grief. The absorbing, devouring selfishness of society generates the fiercest rancour between its leading families, and that rancour issues in the death of the very members through whom they had thought most to advance their rival pretensions; earth's best and noblest creatures are snatched away, because, by reason of their virtue, they can best afford to die, and because, for the same reason, their death will be most bitterly deplored. The good old Friar indeed thought that by the marriage of the lovers the rancour of their houses would be healed. But a Wiser than he knew that the deepest touch of sorrow was required to awe and melt their proud, selfish hearts ; that nothing short of the most afflicting bereavement, together with the feeling that themselves had both caused it and deserved it, could teach them rightly to "prize the breath they share with human kind," and remand them to the impassioned attachments of nature. Accordingly, the hatred that seemed immortal is buried in the tomb of the faithful lovers; families are reconciled, society renovated, by the storm that has passed upon them; the tyranny of selfish custom is rebuked and broken up by the insurrection of nature which itself has provoked ; tears flow, hearts are softened, hands joined, truth, tenderness, and piety inspired, by the noble example of devotion and self-sacrifice which stands before them. Such is the sad but wholesome lesson to be gathered from the heart-rending story of “ Juliet and her Romeo.”

« AnteriorContinuar »