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to the modesty of the cold North, but to a climate in which the sultriness of the nights harmonizes with the warmth of lovers' vows and where love is uttered to the accompaniment of the songs of nightingales.
Another feature of the art of these plays is the skilfulness of their commencements. In Macbeth, for example, the action opens with a momentary glimpse of the Witches on the barren heath; and the sight of their weird figures and the sound of their incantations at once put attention on the strain, to learn what is to follow. In King Lear, with equal skill, the aged monarch is at once introduced partitioning his kingdom among his daughters, and curiosity is aroused to learn what will be the results of this strange procedure. In Romeo and Juliet the opening is more elaborate, but it gives an admirable idea of the lawless condition of the city of Verona and of the extremely strained relations between the Montagues and the Capulets.
Shakspeare is not so successful with his endings, either in these Tragedies or in his plays in general. The action often nearly comes to a dead halt at the very point where it ought to hasten to a close, and the dramatist has numbers of unexplained matters on hand, which he cannot get rid of satisfactorily in the space at his disposal ; so that he has to huddle things up at the close or to introduce a deus ex machina to solve the problem. Many a much inferior author is a
better story-teller : it is in reflections by the way and in the invention of memorable scenes that Shakspeare excels, rather than in the composition and symmetry of the whole.
A third and a very copious source of subordinate interest is in the minor characters. These sometimes illustrate the main theme of the drama in a kind of side-play. Thus, in King Lear, the subject is the parental and filial relation; but this is illustrated not only by Lear and his daughters, who occupy the foreground, but also by the Duke of Gloster and his two sons, Edgar and Edmund, who play their part in the background. In other cases the subordinate characters illustrate, by contrast, the qualities of the principal
Thus, in Othello, the pure and manly love of the hero is thrown into contrast by the dandy pursuit of Desdemona by Roderigo, and the deep and determined wickedness of Iago is thrown into darker shadow by the generous frankness and even by the failings of Cassio. It may be because he is a member of my own profession that I have a special partiality for Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet. He is the spiritual brother of the Duke in Measure for Measure, who not only wears the disguise but has the heart of a clergyman. Shakspeare, unlike Thackeray, was indulgent in his judgment of the clerical profession, making its members the mouthpiece of wisdom and charity. Friar Laurence sympathizes with the star
crossed lovers and assists their schemes, though he chastises their impetuosity with the rebukes of experience. His speeches accompany the whole course of the action as a chorus of mild and placid wisdom; yet he is not incapable of kindling into fiery indignation ; for, when Romeo threatens to commit suicide in his cell, because he is to be banished for a time from the society of Juliet, he exclaims :
Hold thy desperate hand. Art thou a man? Thy form cries out, thou art. Thy tears are womanish; thy wild acts denote The unreasonable fury of a beast. Thou hast amazed me. By my holy order I thought thy disposition better tempered. What, rouse thee, man! Thy Juliet is alive, For whose dear sake thou wast but lately deadThere thou art happy. Tybalt would kill thee, But thou slewest Tybalt--there art thou happy too. The law, that threatened death, becomes thy friend And turns it to exile—there art thou happy. A pack of blessings lights upon thy back; Happiness courts thee in her best array ; But, like a misbehaved and sullen wench, Thou pout'st upon thy fortune and thy love. Take heed, take heed, for such die miserable.
Even in the Tragedies Shakspeare occasionally avails himself of the popularity of comic incidents and
characters. For this he has been censured on account of the incongruity of making people laugh when they have come to weep.
But he can be defended on the ground that all events have two faces—one to turn to the weeping and another to the laughing philosopher —and because where there is shadow there must also be sunshine. If the drama is an image and picture of life, it must exhibit laughing figures as well as weeping ones, for every street in the world contains both.
In King Lear the depth of gloom is oppressive, and it is no doubt in order to relieve this a little that a comic figure is kept moving in and out from the beginning to the end of the action. This is the King's Fool, who, taking advantage of the licence of his office, keeps up a running comment of irony on the progress of events. He strongly disapproves of his master's conduct in giving away his kingdom in his own lifetime; for he says to Lear:
“Give me an egg, nuncle, and I will give thee
two crowns." Lear. “What two crowns shall they be?"
Why, after I have cut the egg i' the middle
and eat up the meat, the two crowns of the egg. When thou clovest thy crown i' the middle and gavest away both parts, thou borest thine ass on thy back o'er the dirt. Thou had'st little wit in thy bald
crown, when thou gavest thy golden one away."
And again :
“Canst thou tell how an oyster makes his
Lear, "No." “Nor I neither; but I can tell why a snail has a
Lear. “Why?” “Why, to put his head in; not to give it away
to his daughters, and leave his horns without a case.'
Yet, in spite of his shrewd perception of his master's folly, he sticks to him through all his misfortunes with the most touching loyalty, and he is, in short, the most pathetic and lovable of all fools.
In Romeo and Juliet, also, the comic element receives pretty free play. Mercutio, the friend of Romeo, has a merry tongue, to which, indeed, he gives only too unhindered course, allowing it to dally sometimes with those things of which it is a shame even to speak. From him we get the famous description of Queen Mab, one of the figures of that fairy world which Shakspeare delighted so much in delineating :