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grief of mind, she could hardly keep within, but was frighted with every little noise and cry she heard, as those that are taken and possessed with the fury of the Bacchantes; asking every man that came from the market-place what Brutus did, and still sent messenger after messenger to know what news.” We are thankful for anything so full of life and stir as this, but in the drama it is fuller still. (Act II., Sc. 4.)


Por. I prithee, boy, run to the senate-house;
Stay not to answer me, but get thee gone ;
Why dost thou stay?

To know my errand, madam.
Por. I would have had thee there, and here again,
Ere I can tell thee what thou should'st do there.-
O constancy, be strong upon my side !
Set a huge mountain 'tween my heart and tongue !
I have a man's mind, but a woman's might.
How hard it is for women to keep counsel !
Art thou here yet ?

Madam, what should I do?
Run to the Capitol, and nothing else?
And so return to you, and nothing else?

Por. Yes, bring me word, boy, if thy lord look well,
For he went sickly forth: and take good note
What Cæsar doth, what suitors press to him.
Hark, boy! what noise is that?

Luc. I hear none, madam.

Prithee, listen well.
I hear a bustling rumour, like a fray,
And the wind brings it from the Capitol.
Luc. Sooth, madam, I hear nothing.

Enter Soothsayer.

Come hither, fellow. ...
What is't o'clock ?

About the ninth hour, lady.
Por. Is Cæsar yet gone to the Capitol ?

Sooth. Madam, not yet; I go to take my stand
To see him pass on to the Capitol.

Por. Thou hast some suit to Cæsar, has thou not ?

Sooth. That I have, lady: if it will please Cæsar
To be so good to Cæsar as to hear me,
I shall beseech him to befriend himself.

Por. Why, know'st thou any harm's intended towards

Sooth. None that I know will be, but much that I fear

may chance.

Good morrow to you.

Por. I must go in.—Ah me, how weak a thing
The heart of woman is! O Brutus !
The heavens speed thee in thy enterprise !
Sure the boy heard me :- -Brutus hath a suit
That Cæsar will not grant.-0, I


Run, Lucius, and commend me to my lord ;
Say I am merry : come to me again,
And bring me word what he doth say to thee.”

The tragi-comic incident of the death of the poet Cinna is also made more of in Shakespeare than in Plutarch. The difference will be noticed further on, when we come to study the part played by the people in the Roman tragedies, and it will serve to show how Shakespeare occasionally modified the matter given by the historian, for his fidelity to his model is, after all, by no means absolute; important reservations have to be made on this point, and several noticeable exceptions must be observed. For instance, Plutarch says positively that Coriolanus, when desirous of obtaining the consulate, conformed without resistance to all the usages of the law : Shakespeare's Coriolanus, on the contrary, revolts against the idea of soliciting the votes of the people, and is infinitely more haughty and imperious all through the play, from beginning to end, than he is represented in Plutarch.

The plebeians of the early days of the Republic, with their strong sense of their rights, but also of their duties, passionately attached to their country and its laws,firm, grave, resolute men, who offered a perfectly quiet and pacific resistance to the pretensions of the nobles by their orderly retreat to Mons Sacer,—the old Romans who could hardly have been the dregs of humanity, since from them sprang Rome in all her greatness, become in Shakespeare's plays the mob of a modern London or Paris ; a blind mass incapable of any political thought, led by low and obscure instincts, swayed by demagogues this way and that, stupid, base, and above all dastardly, in spite of Plutarch's express statement to the contrary.*

In Plutarch, Antony is frankly despicable and even positively odious, while Shakespeare adds many happy and delicate touches which render him, if not an altogether lovable, at least an interesting and well-nigh a beautiful character. Again, Plutarch insists upon the paternal tie by which, according to a scandalous story of the time, Brutus was united to Cæsar; to this, Shakespeare has thought it unnecessary to make the slightest allusion.

In every case of deviation from Plutarch, Shakespeare finding himself placed, as it were, between poetry and history, which are sometimes at variance, invariably followed the higher laws of poetry; in some instances unconsciously, and in others with a clear knowledge of what he was doing. He was, doubtless, perfectly aware

, that he was heightening the character of Coriolanus, that he was idealizing that of Antony, and increasing the grandeur of that of Brutus ; but it was probably without knowing it or intending it, that he was unjust towards the plebeians of the early Republic, and changed them into a common street rabble. But here, also, his instinct as a poet guided him aright,-taking Shakespeare's conception of the subject, some such alteration was imperatively called for, in order to justify the torrents of scorn poured out by Coriolanus upon the people, and to prevent his character from appearing in too offensive a light, and in order also to secure the concentration of our whole admiration on this colossus of haughtiness and passion, without a moment's disturbance from the world of mediocrities by which he was surrounded and isolated.* That a poet is not an historian, and that he is not called upon to write an historical work, is a truth that can never be too often repeated. And it is on account of this, and because nothing could aim less at being a course of Roman history than Shakespeare's Roman tragedies, that there is no occasion to invert their order, and substituting the succession of historical facts for that of their composition, to study " Coriolanus” before " Julius Cæsar.” To take these tragedies as a text or pretext for historical commentary would be a very formidable undertaking, which would involve more rectifying of mistakes than marks of approval, but besides this and more than this, it would be one of those deadly sins against poetry which are too often committed at a time when literary criticism, strictly so-called, is universally neglected and its place usurped by every kind of learned research which belongs to quite another region. Shakespeare has been lauded by many critics for his vast knowledge of Roman affairs, but there is quite as much error in these praises as there is truth ; all that appeals to the poetic sense, such as the grandeur of soul of a Brutus, the patriotism of a Volumnia, the aristocratic pride of a Coriolanus, has been seized by Shakespeare, and as admirably rendered as it could have been by Corneille. The remarkable affinity, moreover, that exists between the genius and character of the English people and that of the Romans, stood him in peculiarly good stead.

* Shakespeare's injustice towards the plebeians of early Rome has been particularly well shown by Kreyssig, in his commentary on Coriolanus. See his “ Vorlesungen über Shakespeare,” Vol. I., pp. 468 and following.

“A certain hardness without any poetry," writes Heinrich Heine, "an avidity in sanguinary pursuits, an indefatigable energy and firmness of character, are qualities that distinguish Englishmen of today as much as they did the ancient Romans; only these last were land rats rather than water rats, but as to the utter absence of amiability it is as strongly marked in the one case as in the other.” Shakespeare has portrayed his Romans truthfully, in so far as they are Englishmen, --so far goes his historical exactitude, and no further. As to the incongruous details with which these plays abound, I attach no importance to them whatever, but the case is very different when it comes to confusing, as he has done, the early days of the Republic with those of the Empire, and no greater mistake could be made than to confound the proud brave plebeians of Rome, at the beginning of her greatness, with the degraded populace of the Rome of later times.

* See Hallam's “ Literature of Europe," Vol. III., p. 329.

With the exception of this one blunder, which is the only one of any consequence, Shakespeare's tragedies are poetically true. Poetic truth is not quite the same thing as historical truth, and it is poetic truth alone that should be demanded of a poet who chances to borrow the subject of his plays from history. History offers an immense proportion of insignificant details which contain no interest and no ideas, and are consequently of not the slightest value in the sight of art, and the true function of the poet is to penetrate to the centre of this vain and useless heap, and to seize the very soul of things : he idealizes by leaving aside all that is superfluous, by disengaging the essential elements, by being clearer than history and truer,—that is to say, by giving to the thought a greater prominence and a firmer solidity than it is practically possessed of—an operation that has been compared by Vinet to that of the extraction from carbon of the diamond. The tragedy of “ Antony and Cleopatra,” for instance, produces a more vivid impression upon the imagination than any accounts given by history do, of an era drawing to its close, of an order of things about to

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