« AnteriorContinuar »
what himself has long known. And the Duke throws out other hints of a belief or suspicion that Lord Angelo is angling for emolument or popular breath, and baiting his hook with great apparent strictness and sanctity of life; thus putting on sheep's clothing to the end that he may play the wolf with safety and suc
Nor was there much cause for explaining how the Duke came by the secret concerning Mariana ; it being enough that he knows it, that the knowledge thereof justifies his distrust, and that when the time comes he uses it for a good purpose; the latter part of the work thus throwing light on what has gone before, and the former preparing the mind for what is to follow. Nor is it unreasonable to presume that one of the Duke's motives for the stratagem was, that he was better able to understand the deputy's character than persuade others of it: for a man of his wisdom, even if he had no available facts in the case, could hardly be ignorant that an austerity so theatrical as Angelo's must needs be not so much a virtue as an art; and that one so forward to air his graces and make his light shine could scarce intend thereby any other glory than his own.
Yet Angelo is not so properly a hypocrite as a self-deceiver. For it is very considerable that he wishes to be, and sincerely thinks that he is what he affects and appears to be; as is plain from his consternation at the wickedness which opportunity awakens into conscious action within him. For a most searching and pregnant exposition of this type of character the reader may be referred to Bishop Butler's Sermon before the House of Lords on the 30th of January ; where that great and good man, whose every sentence is an acorn of wisdom, speaks of a class of men who “ try appearances upon themselves as well as upon the world, and with at least as much success; and choose to manage so as to make their own minds easy with their faults, which can scarce be done without management, rather than to mend them.” Thus Angelo for self-ends imitates sanctity, and gets taken in by his own imitation. His original fault lay in forgetting or ignoring his own frailty. As a natural consequence, his « darling sin is pride that apes humility ;” and his pride of virtue, his conceit of purity,“ my gravity wherein (let no man hear me) I take pride,” while it keeps him from certain vices, is itself a far greater vice than any it keeps him from; insomuch that Isabella's presence may almost be said to elevate him into lust. And perhaps the array of low and loathsome vices, which the Poet has clustered about him in the persons of Lucio, the Clown, and Mrs. Over-done, was necessary to make us feel how unspeakably worse than any or all of these is Angelo's pride of virtue. It can hardly be needful to add, that in Angelo this “ mystery of iniquity” is depicted with a truth and sternness of pencil, that could scarce have been achieved but in an age fruitful in living examples of it.
The placing of Isabella, “ a thing enskied and sainted," and who truly is all that Angelo seems, side by side with such a breathing shining mass pitch, is one of those dramatic audacities wherein none perhaps but a Shakespeare could safely indulge. Of her character the most prolific hint that is given is what she says to the Duke, when he is urging her to fasten her ear on his advisings touching the part of Mariana : “ I have spirit to do any thing that appears not foul in the truth of my spirit.” That is, she cares not what face the action may wear to the world, nor how much reproach it may bring upon her from others, if it will only leave her the society, which she has never parted from, of a clean breast and an unsoiled conscience. In strict keeping with this, her character appears to us among the finest, in some respects the very finest in Shakespeare's maichless cabinet of female excellence. Called from the cloister, where she is on the point of taking the veil of earthly renouncement, to plead for her brother's life, she comes forth a saintly anchoress, clad in the sweet austere composures of womanhood, to throw the light of her virgin soul upon the dark, loathsome scenes and characters around her. With great strength of intellect and depth of feeling she unites an equal power of imagination, the whole being pervaded, quickened, and guided by a still, intense religious enthusiasm. And because her virtue is securely rooted and grounded in religion, therefore she never once thinks of it as her own, but only as a gift from the God whom she loves, and who is her only hope for the keeping of what she has. Which suggests the fundamental point of contrast between her and Angelo, whose virtue, if such it may be called, is nothing, nay, worse than nothing, because it is one of his own making, and has no basis but pride, which is itself but a bubble. Accordingly, there is a vestal beauty about her, to which we know of nothing equal save in the lives of some of the whitest saints. The power and pathos with which she pleads for her brother are well known. At first she is timid, distrustful of her powers, shrinking with modest awe of the law's appointed organ; and she seems drawn unawares into the heights of moral argument and the most sweetly-breathing strains of Gospel wisdom. Much of what she says has become domesticated wherever the English language is spoken, and would long since have grown old, if it were possible by any means to crush the freshness of immortal youth out of it.
The Duke has been rather hardly dealt with by critics. The Poet — than whom it would not be easy to find a better judge of what belongs to wisdom and goodness seems to have meant him for a wise and good man; yet he has represented him as having rather more skill and pleasure in strategical arts and roundabout ways than is altogether compatible with such a character. Some of his alleged reasous for the action he is going about reflect no honour on him ; but it is observable that the result does not approve them to have been his real ones : his conduct at the end infers better motives than his speech offered at the beginning ; which naturally suggests that there may have been more of purpose than of truth in his statement of them. A liberal, sagacious, and merciful prince, but with more of whim and caprice than suits the d gnity of his place, humanity speaks richly from his lips; yet in his action the philosopher and divine is better shown than the statesman; and he seems to take a very questionable delight in moving about as an unseen providence, by secret counsels leading the wicked designs of others to safe and wholesome issues. Schlegel thinks he has more pleasure in overhearing his subjects than in governing them in the usual way of princes ;” and sets him down as an exception to the old proverb, -"A cowl does not make a monk :” and perhaps his princely virtues are somewhat obscured by the disguise which so completely transforms him into a monk.
Whether he acts upon the wicked principle with which that fraternity is so often reproached, or not, it is pretty certain that some of his means can be justified by nothing but the end : so that if he be not himself wrong in what he does, he has no shield from the charge but the settled custom of the order whose functions he undertakes. Schlegel justly remarks, that “ Shakespeare, amidst the rancour of religious parties, delights in painting monks, and always represents their influence as beneficial; there being in his plays none of the black and knavish specimens, which an enthusiasm for Protestantism, rather than poetical inspiration, has put some modern poets upon delineating. He merely gives his monks an inclination to be busy in the affairs of others, after renouncing the world for themselves ; though in respect of pious frauds he does not make them very scrupulous.” As to the Duke's pardon of Angelo, though Justice seems to cry out against the act, yet in the premises it were still more unjust in him to do otherwise; the deception he has practised upon Angelo in the substituting of Mariana having plainly bound him to the course he takes. For the same power whereby he effects this could easily have prevented Angelo's crime ; and to punish the offence after thus withhold. ing the means of prevention were obviously wrong ; not to men tion how his proceedings here involve an innocent person, so that he ought to spare Angelo for her sake, if not for his own. Nor does it strike us as very prudent to set bounds to the grace of repentance, or to say what amount of sin must render a man incapable of it. All which may in some measure explain the Duke's severity to the smaller crime of Lucio after his clemency to the greater one of Angelo.
Lucio is one of those mixed characters, such as are often gen. erated amidst the refinements of city lise, in whom low and disgusting vices, and a frivolity still more offensive, are blended with engaging manners and some manly sentiments. Thus he appears a gentleman and a bla guard turns, and, what is more, does really unite something of these seemingly incompatible qualities. With a true eye and a just sympathy for virtue in others, yet, so
far as we can see, he cares not a jot to have it in himself And while his wanton, waggish levity seems too much for any generous feeling to consist with, still he shows a strong and hearty friendship for Claudio ; as if on purpose to teach us how the web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.”
Dr. Johnson rather oddly remarks, that " the comic scenes are natural and pleasing ;” not indeed but that the remark is true enough, but that it seems rather out of character. And if these scenes please, it is not so much from any fund of mirthful exhilaration, or any genial gushes of wit and humour, as from the reckless, unsympathizing freedom, not unmingled with touches of scorn, with which the detormities of mankind are shown up.
The contrast between the right-thoughted, well-meaning Claudio, a grnerous spirit walled in with overmuch infirmity, and Barnardine, a frightful petrifaction of humanity,“ careless, reckless, and fearless of what is past, present, or to come,” is in the Poet's boldest
Nevertheless, the general current of things is far from musical, and the issues greatly disappoint the reader's feelings. The drowsy Just.ce, which we expect and wish to see awakened, and set in liv'ng harmony with Mercy, apparently relapses at last into a deeper sleep than ever. Our loyalty to Womanhood is not a little wounded by the humiliations to which poor Mariana stoops, at the ghostly counsels of her spiritual guide, that she may twine her life with that of the cursed hypocrite who has wronged her sex so deeply. That, amid the general impunity of so much crime, the mere telling of some ridiculous lies to the Duke about himself should draw down a disproportionate severity upon Lucio, the lively, unprincipled jester and wag, who might well be let pass as a privileged character, makes the whole look more as if done in mockery of justice than in honour of mercy. Except, indeed, the noble unfolding of Isabella, scarce any thing turns out as we would have it; nor are we much pleased at seeing her diverted from the quiet tasks and holy contemplations which she is so able and worthy to enjoy.
It will not be ainiss to add, that the title of this play is apt to give a wrong impression of its
Measure for Measure is in itself equivocal ; but the subject matter here fixes it to be taken in the sense, not of the old Jewish proverb, “ An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” but of the divine precept, “ Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” Thus the title falls in with that noble line by Coleridge, “ What nature inakes us mourn, she bids us heal; " or with a similar passage in the Merchant of Venice, “ We do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.”
VINCENTIO, Duke of Vienna.
ISABELLA, Sister to CLAUDIO.
Lords, Gentlemen, Guards, Officers, and other