Imagens das páginas
[ocr errors]

lanus solicits their votes, laughing and sneering at them all the time.

But these kindly natures become warped and twisted under the influence of the demagogues, who are here represented by the tribunes Junius Brutus and Sicinius Velutus.

The people with some embarrassment tell their tale, describing the election of the new consul, and his extraordinary mode of proceeding which turned the whole affair into a regular comedy. In the scene that ensues, the characters of the tribunes are unfolded by themselves, and their roguery laid bare, with infinitely more delicate and exhaustive touches than could ever be laid on by the hand of an enemy. They are complete adepts in the art of shielding themselves and of throwing all the responsibility upon the people, while pretending to take it on their own shoulders ; “Lay the fault on us,” they say, as if the election of Coriolanus were a fault that could in any way damage their reputation, or make them appear in any other than a favourable light to the friends of the consul; and while leaving to the people all the odium attaching to their retractation, they leave a door open for themselves through which in case of need, they might creep into the good graces of their adversary.

But schemes laid with so much skill could not but prevent any such need arising, and henceforth the two tribunes hold the reins in their own hands and can drive in what direction they please. The great secret of the demagogue is to make use of the people while letting them believe that he is serving them: the well-meaning flock of dupes, deceived by the apparent zeal and devotion to the public good shown by the tribunes, becomes an obedient instrument in their hands, very useful for the furtherance of their design of a social upheaval. When Coriolanus appears before the tribunal of his accusers, everything has been arranged beforehand by


the tribunes; the number of votes necessary to procure his condemnation has been secured, the people have been taught their lesson, and are ready at a given signal to support their orators with their cries and shouts :

“When they hear me say, 'It shall be so
l' the right and strength o'the commons,' be it either,
For death, for fine, or banishment, then let them,

If I say fine, cry ‘Fine;' if death, cry · Death.”” To rouse into fury so impetuous and inflammable a temper as that of Coriolanus was only child's play for such cunning and crafty plotters as the tribunes. He flies into a passion at almost their first words, so that they have no difficulty in carrying out their plan of provoking him to anger to his own hurt.

"I am the State,” Louis XIV. was wont to say, and his courtiers flattered him in the notion. “You are the State,” say popular agitators in democratic times to the mob, who willingly accept their words. When the senators represent to the tribunes that to kindle the fire of internal dissensions is to ruin and to destroy the city, the tribune promptly asks, “What is the city but the people ?” and all the people cry in chorus, " True, the people are the city.”

Shakespeare, with a fine perception of the character of an ordinary demagogue, makes his tribunes violent in nature, and at the same time capable of moderation when their interest requires it. After they have won the victory, they are wise enough not to triumph openly, but to “seem humbler after it is done than when it was adoing," and they return calm answers to Volumnia's furious indignation,—but they wish to have the messenger whipped who brings the news of the approach of the Volscian army. The natural ferocity of their disposition suddenly breaks out with all the greater vehemence because of their uneasy consciousness of the mischief they have worked.

When doubt becomes a certainty, and the rumour spreads that not only the Volscians are marching against Rome, but Coriolanus himself at their head, the people as a matter of course turn against the tribunes as the authors of the evil, and even threaten their lives. This movement on their part is as regular in its order, as much to be expected, as the ebb and flow of the tide, or the changes of the moon; but the best of it all is, that the multitude now allege that they never wished Coriolanus to be banished; and in this they are not exactly telling a falsehood, so utterly are they without any will of their own, or any sequence of thought.

“1 Cit. For mine own part, When I said, banish him, I said 'twas pity.

2 Cit. And so did I.

3 Cit. And so did I; and, to say the truth, so did very many of us. That we did we did for the best, and though we willingly consented to his banishment, yet it was against our will."

On the whole, the people in “ Coriolanus” are not very wicked: they may even, in that equivocal form of praise so distasteful to persons of any intellect, be called goodnatured fellows. They are not indeed good in the sense in which La Rochefoucauld says “a fool has not stuff

a enough in him to be good,” but in that, which by a deplorable abuse of words has in all civilized languages come to be synonymous with folly.



It can hardly be said that the populace in “Coriolanus” is painted in very harsh colours, since the worst faults imputed to it are those of pusillanimity, fickleness, and stupidity; to these, in “Julius Cæsar” that of ferocity is added. If with these two we compare the further picture, drawn by Shakespeare of the people in Part II. of “Henry VI.,” we shall be able to form an adequate notion of Shakespeare's conception of the “many-headed multitude."

Turning to the play in question, we find Jack Cade, in Act IV., Sc. 2, explaining his communistic schemes of social reform to the gaping crowd.

“There shall be, in England, seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops, and I will make it felony to drink small beer. All the realm shall be in common, and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass. And, when I am king (as king I will be)

All. God save your majesty!

Cade. I thank you, good people :—there shall be no money: all shall eat and drink on my score ; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

Dick. The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.
Cade. Nay, that I mean to do."

This mode of applying the doctrines of liberty, equality, and fraternity, is highly approved of by the

[ocr errors]


people, who have founded great hopes upon their leader, and look forward to the day when the magistrates shall be labouring men, and labouring men shall be magistrates.

To Jack Cade and his followers, all aristocracy, whether of birth, or fortune, or merit, is as a matter of course hateful; to know how to read and write and cast up accounts is a crime in their eyes deserving of death. “Dost thou use?” asks Cade of the clerk of Chatham who is brought before him to be tried

“Dost thou use to write thy name? or hast thou a mark to thyself, like an honest plain-dealing man ?

Clerk. Sir, I thank God I have been so well brought up that I can write my name.

All. He hath confessed : away with him ! he's a villain and a traitor.

Cade. Away with him, I say! hang him with his pen and inkhorn about his neck."

Shakespeare especially delights in showing the grossness of the people's logic. We know how easily Antony made them conclude that, as Cæsar refused the crown, he was not ambitious; Jack Cade and his band of admirers make the yet more astounding syllogism : the French are our enemies, Lord Say knows French, therefore he is our enemy :

“He can speak French, and therefore he is a traitor. . . . Nay, answer if you can :—the Frenchmen are our enemies : go to then. I ask but this,-can be that speaks with the tongue of an enemy be a good counsellor, or no ?

All. No, no; and therefore we'll have his head.”


In Act IV., Sc. 7, we have the scene of the trial of Lord Say S

Cade. Thou hast most traitorously corrupted the youth of the realm, in erecting a grammar school. . . . It will be proved to thy face, that thou hast men about thee that usually talk of a noun, and a

and such abominable words as no Christian can endure to hear.


« AnteriorContinuar »