Imagens das páginas

With labour, and the thing she took to quench it,
She would to each one sip. You are retired,
As if you were a feasted one, and not
The hostess of the meeting. Pray you, bid
These unknown friends to 's welcome; for it is
A way to make us better friends, more known.
Come, quench your blushes, and present yourself
That which you are, mistress o' the feast; come on,
And bid us welcome to your sheep-shearing,

As your good flock shall prosper. Then ensue the revels of the country-festival, over which seems to blow the fresh air from the hills of everlasting youth, while the spirits of love, fun and melody attend the frolicsome rustics.

It seems to me, however, that another influence must have contributed to the creation of these bright figures in Shakspeare's imaginary world. It is on record that his fame as a dramatist secured for him the entrée to the higher ranks of society, and that he had several intimate friends among the nobility. In the existence of the wealthy and nobly-born there is no feature so prepossessing as the beauty and highspirit of their children. Whatever may be the effect of wealth and long descent on morals, there can be no question that breeding, as it is called, exercises the happiest influence on the physical development, imparting especially to the young in this section of society an external charm which nothing can surpass.

The exclamation of Miranda, in The Tempest, at sight of the courtiers, is exactly such as might have escaped from the breast of a poet born in the bourgeois class at sight of a group of young people in some lordly house :

Oh wonder ! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beautous mankind is! Oh brave new world,

That has such people in't! Shakspeare insists much, in these plays, on the effects of gentle blood. The lost children of queens and kings, though brought up as rustics, betray, by the refinement of their manners and by their soaring aspirations, that their origin has been regal. Thus, in Cymbeline, the lost sons of the King, though brought up by their banished uncle as huntsmen and unaware of their descent, are constantly revealing a spirit above their condition, so that their uncle exclaims :

How hard it is to hide the sparks of nature !
These boys know little they are sons to the king,
Nor Cymbeline dreams that they are alive.
They think they're mine; and, though trained up

thus meanly l' the cave wherein they bow, their thoughts do hit The roofs of palaces; and nature prompts them, In simple and low things, to prince it much beyond The trick of others;

and again :

O thou goddess,
Thou divine Nature, how thyself thou blazonest
In these two princely boys They are as gentle
As zephyrs, blowing below the violet
Not wagging his sweet head, and yet as rough,
Their royal blood enchafed, as the rudest wind
That by the top doth take the mountain-pine
And make him stoop to the vale! 'Tis wonder
That an invisible instinct should frame them
To royalty unlearned, honour untaught,
Civility not seen from other, valour
That wildly grows in them, but yields a crop
As if it had been sowed.

This is a different reading of human nature from that to which we are accustomed in this democratic age; but it agrees with the teachings of the modern theory of heredity and evolution. Shakspeare was leveller: he believed that


Clay and clay differs in dignity
Whose dust is both alike.

It is more than likely that the delightful figures of grown-up children with which these plays of his later life abound may have owed something to Shakspeare's own most intimate personal experiences; but it is a much more risky suggestion to hint that possibly

the figures of noble women, equally conspicuous in these plays, may have had something to do with his domestic relations. Every reader of Shakspeare has wondered, many a time, what manner of human being the woman was to whom was appointed the singular lot of being the wife of this greatest of all men of genius—who was six-and-twenty when he married her in his nineteenth year, whom he left in Stratford-onAvon when he went forth to seek his fortune in the world and, as far as is known, never invited to join him in London, but whom he went back to live with in the closing years of his life. What sort of person did he, who had seen and experienced so much, find her to be after the comparative estrangement of these long years ? was she, in any degree, fit to be the partner of the thoughts of that mighty mind? There is some evidence that his father's house was one in which earnest religion prevailed, and there is better evidence, also, that the same influence was conspicuous in his own family in the next generation. Religion, where it is experimental and scriptural, is able to deepen and refine natures which have had no advantages of education or society; and it has been conjectured that the wife of Shakspeare, in her loneliness, may have been thrown back on this resource. Did he, on his return, find her to be worthier than he had supposed and worthier, perhaps, than he deserved ? His later Comedies, at any rate, abound with women who have

been separated from their husbands, who have been misunderstood and suspected, but who have ever been loyal and whose excellences have, in the long run, been discovered and acknowledged.

It is common to praise the women of Shakspeare's plays, in the bulk, as perfect and matchless expositions of female character, and especially as being in every instance true to nature. So accepted is this criticism that anyone dissenting from it lays himself open to the taunt that, by so doing, he betrays his own incompetence. Yet true criticism is best served by everyone, who has studied the subject with an open mind, saying what he feels; and, I confess, I am not an unlimited admirer of Shakspeare's women.

It has been already mentioned that in his day the female characters in the theatre were not played by women, but by boys dressed up as women; and this circumstance could not but have a strong, if unconscious, influence on the mind of the playwriter. Some of Shakspeare's women seem to me exactly this-smart young men in women's clothing. Such is the awful heresy I hold; and I am quite aware how dangerous it is to avow it. But now, let me add, how fervently I love and admire many of the women of Shakspeare. This, indeed, is a theme which has inspired more than one able pen. Mrs. Jameson and Lady Martin have written on it; and the poet Heine has a book entitled “Shakspeare's Maidens and Women”. Among Shakspeare's natural and

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