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MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
This is a play as full of genius as it is of wisdom. Yet there is an original sin in the nature of the subject, which prevents us from taking a cordial interest in it. " The height of moral ar. gument” which the author has here maintained in the intervals of passion, or blended with the more powerful impulses of nature, is hardly surpassed in any of his plays. But there is in general a want of passion; the affections are at a stand ; our sympathies are repulsed and defeated in all directions. The only passion which influences the story is that of Angelo ; and yet he seems to have a much greater passion for hypocrisy than for his mistress. Neither are we greatly enamored of Isabella's rigid chastity, though she could not act otherwise than she did. We do not feel the same confidence in the virtue that is “ sublimely good” at another's expense, as if it had been put to some less disinterested trial. As to the Duke, who makes a very imposing and mysterious stage-character, he is more absorbed in his own plots and gravity than anxious for the welfare of the state ; more tenacious of his own character than attentive to the feelings and apprehensions of others. Claudio is the only person who feels naturally; and yet he is placed in circumstances of distress which almost preclude the wish for his deliverance. Mariana is also in love with Angelo, whom we hate. In this respect, there may be said to be a general system of cross-purposes between the feelings of the different characters and the sympathy of the reader or the audience. This principle of repugnance seems to have reached its height in the character of Master Bar.' nardine, who not only sets at defiance the opinions of others, hut has even thrown off all self-regard, i one that apprehends
death no more dreadfully but as a drunken sleep; careless, reckless, and fearless of what's past, present, and to come.” He is a fine antithesis to the morality and hypocrisy of the other characters of the play. Barnardine is Caliban transported from Prospero's wizard island to the forests of Bohemia or the prisons of Vienna. He is a creature of bad habits, as Caliban is of gross instincts. He has, however, a strong notion of the natural fitness of things, according to his own sensations—" He has been drinking hard all night, and he will not be hanged that day"and Shakspeare has let him off at last. We do not understand why the philosophical German critic, Schlegel, should be so severe on those pleasant persons, Lucio, Pompey, and Master Froth, as to call them“ wretches.” They appear all mighty comfortable in their occupations, and determined to pursue them, “ as the flesh and fortune shall serve.” A very good exposure of the want of self-knowledge and contempt for others, which is so common in this world, is put into the mouth of Abhorson, the jailor, when the Provost proposes to associate Pompey with him in his office—“ A bawd, sir ? Fie upon him, he will discredit our mystery." And the same answer would serve, in nine instances out of ten, to the same kind of remark, “Go to, sir, you weigh equally; a feather will turn the scale." Shakspeare was in one sense the least moral of all writers; for morality (commonly so called) is made up of antipathies; and his talent consisted in sympathy with human nature, in all its shapes, degrees, depres. sions, and elevations. The object of the pedantic moralist is to find out the bad in everything : his was to show that “there is some soul of goodness in things evil.” Even Master Barnardine is not left to the mercy of what others think of him; but, when he comes in, speaks for himself, and pleads his own cause, as well as if counsel had been assigned him. In one sense, Shakspeare was no moralist at all : in another, he was the greatest of all moralists. He was a moralist in the same sense in which nature is one. He taught what he had learnt from her. Hshowed the greatest knowledge of humanity, with the greates fellow-feeling for it.
One of the most dramatic passages in the present play is thu interview between Claudio and his sister, when she comes to
inform him of the conditions on which Angelo will spare his life.
“ CLAUDIO. Let me know the point.
ISABELLA. O, I do fear thee, Claudio: and I quake,
CLAUDIO. Why give you me this shame?
ISABELLA. There spake my brother! there my father's grave
CLAUDIO. The princely Angelo ?
ISABELLA. Oh, 'tis the cunning livery of hell,
ISABELLA. Yes, he would give it thee, for this rank offence,
CLAUDIO. Thou shalt not do 't.
ISABELLA. Oh, were it but my life,
CLAUDIO. Thanks, dear Isabel.
ISABELLA. Which is the least »
CLAUDIO. If it were damnable, he, being so wise,
ISABELLA. What says my brother?
CLAUDIO. Ay, but to die, and go we know not where,
ISABELLA. Alas! alas !
CLAUDIO. Sweet sister, let me live.
What adds to the dramatic beauty of this scene and the effect of Claudio's passionate attachment to life is, that it immediately follows the Duke's lecture to him, in the character of the Friar, recommending an absolute indifference to it.
- “Reason thus with life,–
Thy death, which is no more. Thou art not thyself: