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Shakespeare: His Life, Art, And Characters, Volume I. by H. N. Hudson

Part 8 out of 9

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discord and perturbation; but after a while these things pass away,
and are followed by a more placid and genial time; the experienced
insufficiency of man for himself having charmed our wrestlings of
thought into repose, and our spirits having undergone the chastening
and subduing power of life's sterner discipline.

In some such passage, then, I should rather presume the unique
conception of _Measure for Measure_ to have been formed in the Poet's
mind. I say unique, because this is his only instance of comedy where
the wit seems to foam and sparkle up from a fountain of bitterness;
where even the humour is made pungent with sarcasm; and where the
poetry is marked with tragic austerity. In none of his plays does he
discover less of leaning upon pre-existing models, or a more manly
negligence, perhaps sometimes carried to excess, of those lighter
graces of manner which none but the greatest minds may safely
despise. His genius is here out in all its colossal individuality, and
he seems to have meant it should be so; as if he felt quite sure of
having now reached his mastership; so that henceforth, instead of
leaning on those who had gone before, he was to be himself a
leaning-place for those who should follow.

Accordingly the play abounds in fearless grapplings and strugglings of
mind with matters too hard to consist with much facility and
gracefulness of tongue. The thought is strong, and in its strength
careless of appearances, and seems rather wishing than fearing to have
its roughnesses seen: the style is rugged, irregular, abrupt,
sometimes running into an almost forbidding sternness, but everywhere
throbbing with life: often a whole page of meaning is condensed and
rammed into a clause or an image, so that the force thereof beats and
reverberates through the entire scene: with little of elaborate grace
or finish, we have bold, deep strokes, where the want of finer
softenings and shadings is more than made up by increased energy and
expressiveness; the words going right to the spot, and leaving none of
their work undone. Thus the workmanship is in a very uncommon degree
what I sometimes designate as _steep_, meaning thereby _hard to get to
the top of_. Hence it is perhaps, in part, that so many axioms and
"brief sententious precepts" of moral and practical wisdom from this
play have wrought themselves into the currency and familiarity of
household words, and live for instruction or comfort in the memory of
many who know nothing of their original source. As a strong instance
in point, take Isabella's meaty apothegm,--

"Man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,--
Most ignorant of what he's most assur'd,--
Plays such fantastic tricks before high Heaven
As make the angels weep; who, _with our spleens,
Would all themselves laugh mortal_."

Which means that, if the angels had our disposition to splenetic or
satirical mirth, the sight of our human arrogance strutting through
its absurd antics would cast them into such an ecstasy of ridicule,
that they would laugh themselves clean out of their immortality; this
celestial prerogative being quite incompatible with such ebullitions
of spleen.

* * * * *

Whether from the nature of the subject, or the mode of treating it, or
both, _Measure for Measure_ is generally regarded as one of the least
attractive, though most instructive, of Shakespeare's plays.
Coleridge, in those fragments of his critical lectures which now form
our best text-book of English criticism, says, "This play, which is
Shakespeare's throughout, is to me the most painful--rather say the
only painful--part of his genuine works." From this language,
sustained as it is by other high authorities, I probably should not
dissent; but when, in his _Table Talk_, he says that "Isabella herself
contrives to be unamiable, and Claudio is detestable," I can by no
means go along with him.

It would seem indeed as if undue fault had sometimes been found, not
so much with the play itself as with some of the persons, from trying
them by a moral standard which cannot be fairly applied to them, or
from not duly weighing all the circumstances, feelings, and motives
under which they are represented as acting. Thus Ulrici speaks of
Claudio as being guilty of seduction. Which is surely wide of the
mark; it being clear enough that, according to the usages then and
there established, he was, as he considered himself to be, virtually
married, though not admissible to all the rights of the married life.
Hence we have the Duke assuring Mariana that there would be no crime
in her meeting with Angelo, because he was her "husband on a
pre-contract." And it is well known that in ancient times the ceremony
of betrothment conferred the marriage tie, though not the nuptials, so
that the union of the parties was thenceforth firm in the eye of the
law itself. So again Hallam, speaking of Isabella: "One is disposed
to ask whether, if Claudio had been really executed, the spectator
would not have gone away with no great affection for her; and at least
we now feel that her reproaches against her miserable brother, when he
clings to life like a frail and guilty being, are too harsh." As to
the first branch of this indictment, I might have ventured to ask the
writer how his affection would have stood towards the heroine, if she
had yielded to Angelo's proposal. As to the second branch, though I do
indeed feel that Claudio were rather to be pitied than blamed,
whatever course he had taken in so terrible an alternative, yet the
conduct of his sister strikes me as every way creditable to her. Her
reproaches were indeed too harsh, if they sprang from want of love;
but such is evidently not the case. The truth is, she is in a very
hard struggle between affection and principle: she needs, and she
hopes, to have the strain upon her womanly fortitude lightened by the
manly fortitude of her brother; and her harshness of reproof discovers
the natural workings of a tender and deep affection, in an agony of
disappointment at being urged, by one for whom she would die, to an
act which she shrinks from with noble horror, and justly considers
worse than death. So that we here have the keen anguish of conflicting
feelings venting itself in a severity which, though unmerited, serves
to disclose the more impressively her nobleness of character.

* * * * *

Again, the same critic, referring to the part of Mariana as
indispensable to "a satisfactory termination" of the story, objects,
that "it is never explained how the Duke had become acquainted with
this secret, and, being acquainted with it, how he had preserved his
esteem and confidence in Angelo." But, surely, we are given to
understand at the outset that the Duke has not preserved the esteem
and confidence in question. In his first scene with Friar Thomas,
among his reasons for the action he has on foot, he makes special
mention of this one:

"Lord Angelo is precise;
_Stands at a guard with envy_; scarce confesses
That his blood flows, or that his appetite
Is more to bread than stone: _hence shall we see,
If power change purpose, what our_ SEEMERS _be_."

Which clearly infers that his main purpose in assuming the disguise of
a monk is to unmask the deputy, and demonstrate to others what has
long been known to himself. And he throws out other hints of a belief
or suspicion that Angelo is angling for emolument or popularity, and
baiting his hook with great apparent strictness and sanctity of life;
thus putting on sheep's clothing, in order to play the wolf with more
safety and success. As to the secret concerning Mariana, it seems
enough that the Duke knows it, that the knowledge justifies his
distrust, and that when the time comes he uses it for a good purpose;
the earlier part of the play thus preparing quietly for what is to
follow, and the later explaining what went before. In truth, the Duke
is better able to understand the deputy's character than to persuade
others of it: this is one of his motives for the stratagem. And a man
of his wisdom, even if he have no available facts in the case, might
well suspect an austerity so theatrical as Angelo's to be rather an
art than a virtue: he could not well be ignorant that, when men are so
forward to air their graces and _make_ their light shine, they can
hardly be aiming at any glory but their own.

It is to be supposed, withal, that Angelo has been wont to set himself
up as an example of ghostly rectitude, and to reflect somewhat on the
laxity of the Duke's administration. These reproofs the Duke cannot
answer without laying himself open to the retort of being touched with
jealousy. Then too Angelo is nervously apprehensive of reproach; is
ever on the watch, and "making broad his phylacteries," lest malice
should spy some holes in his conduct; for such is the meaning of
"standing at a guard with envy": whereas "virtue is bold, and goodness
never fearful" in that kind. The Duke knows that such an ostentatious
strictness, however it may take with the multitude, is among the
proper symptoms of a bad conscience; that such high professions of
righteousness are seldom used but as a mask to cover some secret
delinquencies from the public eye. Angelo had entered into a solemn
engagement of marriage, his motive being the lady's wealth; her wealth
being lost, so that she could no longer hold him through his secret
sin of covetousness, he had cruelly deserted her; this great wrong he
had still more cruelly made use of to purchase a brighter semblance of
virtue, blasting her good name with alleged discoveries of crime, and
thus fattening his own reputation with the life-blood of his innocent
and helpless victim. Here was an act of extreme heartlessness and
turpitude, too bad to be believed of one so ensconced in solemn
plausibilities. The matter had come privately to the Duke's knowledge;
but his tongue was tied by the official delicacies of his position.

A certain class of offences had caused a law to be passed of such
overstrained severity that it broke down in the trial; so it fell into
disuse, and became a dead letter,--a perch to birds of prey, and not
their terror. From its extreme rigour, this law was extremely odious;
and, as is always the case with laws so hated, the attempt to enforce
it drew on a commensurate reaction of licentiousness; the law thus
stimulating the evil it was meant to repress,--a mistaken plaster
inflaming the sore. Angelo had been secretly guilty of a far worse sin
than the one this law was aimed against, but had managed to fence
himself about with practical impunity; nay, his crafty, sanctimonious
selfishness had even turned that sin to an increase of honour, and so
made it a basis of pride. As the slumbering law does not touch his
case, he is earnest to have it revived and put to work: so the Duke,
being somewhat divided between the pleadings of justice and mercy,
concludes to let him try his hand. In the discharge of his new office,
which he conceives his great moral strictness to have gained for him,
Angelo thinks to build his reputation still higher by striking at a
conspicuous object. In the prosecution of his scheme, he soon goes to
attempting a vastly deeper breach of the very law he is enforcing than
that of the man whom he has found obnoxious to its penalties.
Claudio's offence was done when the law was sleeping. Angelo has just
awakened it, yet he proceeds against Claudio as if the latter had
transgressed while the law was vigilant. Angelo's transgression has no
such excuse, since he has himself already given new life and force to
the law. Nevertheless he persists in his design, and hardens himself
to the point of resolving to "give his sensual race the rein." The
hitherto unsuspected evil within he is now fully aware of, but looks
it squarely in the face, and rushes headlong into the double crime of
committing in its worst form the sin and at the same time punishing
the lighter form of it with death in another. Thus it turns out that

"This outward-sainted deputy--
Whose settled visage and deliberate word
Nips youth i' the head, and follies doth emmew
As falcon doth the fowl--is yet a devil;
His filth within being cast, he would appear
A pond as deep as Hell."

Yet Angelo is at first not so properly a hypocrite as a self-deceiver.
For it is very considerable that he wishes to be and sincerely thinks
he is, what he affects and appears to be; as is plain from his
consternation at the wickedness which opportunity awakens into
conscious action within him. He thus typifies that sort of men of whom
Bishop Butler says, "they try appearances upon themselves as well as
upon the world, and with at least as much success; and choose to
manage so as to make their own minds easy with their faults, which can
scarce be done without management, rather than to mend them." Even so
Angelo for self-ends imitates sanctity, and then gets taken in by his
own imitation. This "mystery of iniquity" locks him from all true
knowledge of himself. He must be worse before he will be better. The
refined hypocrisies which so elude his eye, and thus nurse his
self-righteous pride, must put on a grosser form, till he cannot
choose but see himself as he is. The secret devil within must blaze
out in a shape too palpable to be ignored. And so, as often happens
where the subtleties of self-deceit are thus cherished, he at length
proceeds a downright conscious hypocrite, this too of the deepest dye.

Angelo's original fault lay in forgetting or ignoring his own frailty.
As a natural consequence, his "darling sin is pride that apes
humility." And his conceit of virtue,--"my gravity, wherein (let no
man hear me) I take pride,"--while it keeps him from certain vices, is
itself a far greater vice than any it keeps him from; insomuch that
his interviews with Isabella may almost be said to _elevate_ him into
lust. They at least bring him to a just vision of his inward self. The
serpent charms of self-deceit which he has so hugged are now broken.
For even so--and how awful is the fact!--men often wound themselves so
deeply with medicines, that Providence has no way for them,
apparently, but to make wounds medicinal, or, as Hooker says, "to cure
by vice where virtue hath stricken." So indeed it must be where men
turn their virtues into food of spiritual pride; which is the hardest
of all sores to be cured, "inasmuch as that which rooteth out other
vices causeth this." And perhaps the array of low and loathsome vices,
which the Poet has clustered about Angelo in the persons of Lucio,
Pompey, and Mrs. Overdone, was necessary, to make us feel how
unspeakably worse than any or all of these is Angelo's pride of
virtue. It can hardly be needful to add, that in Angelo these fearful
traits of character are depicted with a truth and sternness of pencil,
such as could scarce have been achieved but in an age fruitful in
living examples of them.

* * * * *

The placing of Isabella, "a thing ensky'd and sainted," and who truly
_is_ all that Angelo seems, side by side with such a breathing,
shining mass of pitch, is one of those dramatic audacities wherein
none perhaps but a Shakespeare could safely indulge. Of her character
the most prolific hint that is given is what she says to the
disguised Duke, when he is urging her to fasten her ear on his
advisings touching the part of Mariana: "I have spirit to do any thing
that appears not foul in the truth of my spirit." That is, she cares
not what face her action may wear to the world, nor how much reproach
it may bring on her from others, if it will only leave her the
society, which she has never parted from, of a clean breast and a pure

Called from the cloister, where she is on the point of taking the veil
of earthly renouncement, to plead for her brother's life, she comes
forth a saintly anchoress, clad in the austerest sweetness of
womanhood, to throw the light of her virgin soul upon the dark,
loathsome scenes and characters around her. With great strength of
intellect and depth of feeling she unites an equal power of
imagination, the whole being pervaded, quickened, and guided by a
still, intense religious enthusiasm. And because her virtue is
securely rooted and grounded in religion, therefore she never thinks
of it as her own, but only as a gift from the Being whom she adores,
and who is her only hope for the keeping of what she has. Which
suggests the fundamental point of contrast between her and Angelo,
whose virtue, if such it may be called, is nothing, nay, worse than
nothing, because it is a virtue of his own making, is without any
inspiration from the one Source of all true good, and so has no basis
but pride, which is itself a bubble. Accordingly her character appears
to me among the finest, in some respects the very finest, in
Shakespeare's matchless cabinet of female excellence.

The power and pathos with which she pleads for her brother are well
known. At first she is timid, distrustful of her powers, shrinking
with modest awe of the law's appointed organ; and she seems drawn
unawares into the heights of moral argument and the most
sweetly-breathing strains of Gospel wisdom. Much of what she says has
become domesticated wherever the English language is spoken, and would
long since have grown stale, if it were possible to crush the
freshness of immortal youth out of it. The dialogues between her and
Angelo are extremely subtile and suggestive on both sides, fraught
with meanings to reward the most searching ethical study, but which I
cannot stay to trace out, and which the closest criticism would fail
to exhaust. At the opening of their interview, she is in a struggle
between wishing and not wishing, and therefore not in a mood to "play
with reason and discourse." With her settled awe of purity, she cannot
but admit the law to be right, yet she sees not how, in the
circumstances, mercy can be wrong. At this thought her heart presently
kindles, her eloquence springs to work, and its tones grow deeper,
clearer, more penetrating, as point after point catches her mental
eye. Thenceforth it is a keen encounter of mind with mind; but on his
side it is the conscious logic of an adroit and practised lawyer, who
has full mastery of his case, and is prompt in all the turns of legal
ingenuity; while on her side it is the logic of nature's finest moral
instincts spontaneously using the forces of a quick, powerful, and
well-balanced intellect as their organ of expression. She perceives at
once how subtile and acute of apprehension he is; so, lest her speech
should have too much edge, she veils the matter in figures of a
somewhat enigmatical cast, because she knows that he will instantly
take the sense. Her instinctive knowledge of the human heart guides
her directly to his secret springs of action. With a tact that seems
like inspiration, she feels out his assailable points, and still
surprises and holds him with new and startling appeals to his
innermost feelings. At length, when, his wicked purpose being formed,
he goes to talking to her in riddles, she quickly understands him, but
thinks he is only testing her: her replies leave him in doubt whether
craft or innocence speaks in her: so she draws him on to speaking
plainer and plainer, till at last he makes a full and explicit avowal
of his inhuman baseness. He is especially caught, be it observed, "in
the strong toil" of her moral grace; at least he is pleased to think
so: and as he has been wont to pride himself on being a saint, so he
now takes refuge in the thought, "O cunning enemy, that to catch a
saint, with saints dost bait thy hook!"

It is not to be denied, indeed, that Isabella's chastity is rather too
demonstrative and self-pronounced; but this is because of the
unblushing and emphatic licentiousness of her social environment.
Goodness cannot remain undemonstrative amidst such a rank
demonstrativeness of its opposite: the necessity it is under of
fighting against so much and such aggressive evil forces it into
stress, and so into taking a full measure of itself. Isabella,
accordingly, is deeply conscious and mindful of her virtue, which
somewhat mars the beauty of it, I admit; but in the circumstances it
could not be otherwise: with such a strong stew of corruption boiling
and bubbling all about her, it was not possible that purity in her
case should retain that bland, unconscious repose which is indeed its
greatest charm. From the prevailing rampancy of vice, a certain air of
over-sternness and rigidity has wrought itself into her character,
displacing somewhat of its proper sweetness and amiability: but, in
the right view of things, this loss is well made up in that she is the
more an object of reverence; albeit I have to confess that she would
touch me rather more potently, if she had a little more of loveliness
and a little less of awfulness. And it is remarkable that even Lucio,
light-minded libertine as he is, whose familiar sin it is to jest with
maids, "tongue far from heart," cannot approach her, but that his
levity is at once awed into soberness, and he regards her as one "to
be talk'd with in sincerity, as with a saint."

* * * * *

The Duke has been rather hardly dealt with by critics.
Shakespeare--than whom it would not be easy to find a better judge of
what belongs to wisdom and goodness--seems to have meant him for a
wise and good man: yet he represents him as having rather more skill
and pleasure in strategical arts and roundabout ways than is
altogether in keeping with such a character. Some of his alleged
reasons for the action he goes about reflect no honour on him; but it
is observable that the sequel does not approve them to have been his
real ones: his conduct, as the action proceeds, infers better motives
than his speech offered at the beginning; which naturally suggests
that there may have been more of purpose than of truth in his
speaking. His first dialogue with Angelo is, no doubt, partly
ironical. A liberal, thoughtful, and merciful prince, but with more of
whim and caprice than exactly suits the dignity of his place, humanity
speaks richly from his lips; yet in his actions the philosopher and
the divine are better shown than the statesman and ruler. Therewithal
he seems to take a very questionable delight in moving about as an
unseen providence, by secret counsels leading the wicked designs of
others to safe and just results. It is indeed true, as Heraud observes
regarding him, that so "Divine Providence, while it deputes its
authority to the office-bearers of the world, is still present both
with them and it, and ever ready to punish the evil-doer": still I
doubt of its being just the thing for the world's office-bearers to
undertake the functions of Providence in that particular. Probably the
Duke should not be charged with a fanaticism of intrigue; but he comes
something nearer to it than befits a mind of the first order. Schlegel
thinks "he has more pleasure in overhearing his subjects than in
governing them in the usual way of princes"; and sets him down as an
exception to the proverb, "A cowl does not make a monk": and perhaps
his princely virtues are somewhat obscured by the disguise which so
completely transforms him into a monk. Whether he acts upon the wicked
principle with which that fraternity is so often reproached, or not,
it is pretty certain that some of his means can be justified by
nothing but the end. But perhaps, in the vast complexity of human
motives and affairs, a due exercise of fairness and candour will find
cause enough for ascribing to him the merit of honestly pursuing the
good and true according to the best lights he has. Hereabouts
Schlegel makes the following just remark: "Shakespeare, amidst the
rancour of religious parties, delights in painting monks, and always
represents their influence as beneficial; there being in his plays
none of the black and knavish specimens which an enthusiasm for
Protestantism, rather than poetical inspiration, has put some modern
poets upon delineating. He merely gives his monks an inclination to be
busy in the affairs of others, after renouncing the world for
themselves; though in respect of pious frauds he does not make them
very scrupulous."

As to the Duke's pardoning of Angelo, though Justice seems to cry out
against the act, yet in the premises it were still more unjust in him
to do otherwise; the deception he has practised on Angelo in
substituting Mariana having plainly bound him to the course he finally
takes in that matter. For the same power whereby he works through this
deception might easily have prevented Angelo's crime; and to punish
the offence after thus withholding the means of prevention were
clearly wrong: not to mention how his proceedings here involve an
innocent person; so that he ought to spare Angelo for her sake, if not
for his own. Coleridge indeed strongly reprehends this act, on the
ground that "cruelty, with lust and damnable baseness, cannot be
forgiven, because we cannot conceive them as being morally repented
of." But it seems to me hardly prudent, or becoming thus to set bounds
to the grace of repentance, or to say what amount of sin must
necessarily render a man incapable of being reformed. All which may in
some measure explain the Duke's severity to the smaller crime of
Lucio, after his clemency to the greater one of Angelo.

I must not leave the gentle Duke without remarking how, especially in
the earlier portions of the play, his tongue drops the very manna of
moral and meditative wisdom. His discourse in reconciling Claudio to
the quick approach of death condenses the marrow of all that
philosophy and divinity can urge, to wean us mortals from the "many
deceiving promises of life."

* * * * *

Lucio is one of those mixed characters, such as are often generated
amidst the refinements and pollutions of urban society, in whom low
and disgusting vices, and a frivolity still more offensive, are
blended with engaging manners and some manly sentiments. Thus he
appears a gentleman and a blackguard by turns; and, which is more, he
does really unite something of these seemingly-incompatible qualities.
With a true eye and a just respect for virtue in others, yet, so far
as we can see, he cares not a jot to have it in himself. And while his
wanton, waggish levity seems too much for any generous sentiment to
consist with, still he shows a strong and steady friendship for
Claudio, and a heart-felt reverence for Isabella; as if on purpose to
teach us that "the web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill
together." And perhaps the seeming "snow-broth blood" of Angelo puts
him upon affecting a more frisky circulation than he really has. For
an overacted austerity is not the right way to win others out of a too
rollicking levity.

* * * * *

Dr. Johnson rather oddly remarks that "the comic scenes are natural
and pleasing": not that the remark is not true enough, but that it
appears something out of character in him. And if these scenes please,
it is not so much from any fund of mirthful exhilaration, or any
genial gushings of wit and humour, as for the remorseless, unsparing
freedom, not unmingled with touches of scorn, with which the
deformities of mankind are anatomized. The contrast between the
right-hearted, well-meaning Claudio, a generous spirit walled in with
overmuch infirmity, and Barnardine, a frightful petrification of
humanity, "careless, reckless and fearless of what is past, present,
or to come," is in the Poet's boldest manner.

Nevertheless the general current of things is far from musical, and
the issues greatly disappointing. The drowsy Justice which we expect
and wish to see awakened, and set in living harmony with Mercy,
apparently relapses at last into a deeper sleep than ever. Our loyalty
to Womanhood is not a little wounded by the humiliations to which poor
Mariana stoops, at the ghostly counsels of her spiritual guide, that
she may twine her life with that of the execrable hypocrite who has
wronged her sex so deeply. That, amid the general impunity, the mere
telling of some ridiculous lies to the disguised Duke about himself,
should draw down a disproportionate severity upon Lucio, the lively,
unprincipled, fantastic jester and wag, who might well be let pass as
a privileged character, makes the whole look more as if done in
mockery of justice than in honour of mercy. Except, indeed, the noble
unfolding of Isabella, scarce any thing turns out to our wish; nor are
we much pleased at seeing her diverted from the quiet tasks and holy
contemplations where her heart is so much at home; although, as
Gervinus observes, "she has that two-sided nature, the capacity to
enjoy the world, according to circumstances, or to dispense with it."

The title of this play is apt to give a wrong impression of its scope
and purpose. _Measure for Measure_ is itself equivocal; but the
subject-matter here fixes it to be taken in the sense, not of the old
Jewish proverb, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," but of
the divine precept, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do
ye even so to them." Thus the title falls in with one of Portia's
appeals to Shylock, "We do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth
teach us all to render the deeds of mercy." The moral centre of the
play properly stands in avoidance of extremes,--

"the golden mean and quiet flow
Of truths that soften hatred, temper strife."


The Tempest is on all hands regarded as one of Shakespeare's
perfectest works. Some of his plays, I should say, have beams in their
eyes; but this has hardly so much as a mote; or, if it have any, my
own eyes are not clear enough to discern it. I dare not pronounce the
work faultless, for this is too much to affirm of any human
workmanship; but I venture to think that whatever faults it may have
are such as criticism is hardly competent to specify. In the
characters of Ariel, Miranda, and Caliban, we have three of the most
unique and original conceptions that ever sprang from the wit of man.
We can scarce imagine how the Ideal could be pushed further beyond
Nature; yet we here find it clothed with all the truth and life of
Nature. And the whole texture of incident and circumstance is framed
in keeping with that Ideal; so that all the parts and particulars
cohere together, mutually supporting and supported.

The leading sentiment naturally inspired by the scenes of this drama
is, I believe, that of delighted wonder. And such, as appears from the
heroine's name, Miranda, who is _the_ potency of the drama, is
probably the sentiment which the play was meant to inspire. But the
grace and efficacy in which the workmanship is steeped are so ethereal
and so fine, that they can hardly be discoursed in any but the poetic
form: it may well be doubted whether Criticism has any fingers
delicate enough to grasp them. So much is this the case, that it
seemed to me quite doubtful whether I should do well to undertake the
theme at all. For Criticism is necessarily obliged to substitute, more
or less, the forms of logic for those of art; and art, it scarce need
be said, can do many things that are altogether beyond the reach of
logic. On the other hand, the charm and verdure of these scenes are so
unwithering and inexhaustible, that I could not quite make up my mind
to leave the subject untried. Nor do I know how I can better serve my
countrymen than by engaging and helping them in the study of this
great inheritance of natural wisdom and unreproved delight. For,
assuredly, if they early learn to be at home and to take pleasure in
these productions, their whole after-life will be the better and the
happier for it.

* * * * *

_The Tempest_ is one of the plays that were never printed till in the
folio of 1623; where, for reasons unknown to us, it stands the first
in the volume; though, as we shall presently see, it was among the
last of the Poet's writing.

It has been ascertained clearly enough that the play was written
somewhere between 1608 and 1613. On the one hand, the leading features
of Gonzalo's Commonwealth, as described in the play, were evidently
taken from Florio's translation of Montaigne. As the passage is
curious in itself, and as it aptly illustrates the Poet's method of
appropriating from others, I will quote it:

"_Gon_. Had I plantation of this isle, my lord,
And were the King on 't, what would I do?
I' the Commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things: for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all;
And women too,--but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty;--

_Seb_. Yet he would be King on't.

_Ant_. The latter end of his Commonwealth forgets the beginning.

_Gon_. All things in common Nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavour: treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but Nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people."

In Montaigne's Essay _Of the Cannibals_, as translated by Florio, we
have the following: "It is a nation, would I answer Plato, that hath
no kind of traffic, no knowledge of letters, no intelligence of
numbers, no name of magistrate, nor of politic superiority; no use of
service, of riches, or of poverty; no contracts, no successions, no
dividences; no occupation, but idle; no respect of kindred, but
common; no apparel, but natural; no manuring of lands; no use of wine,
corn, or metal: the very words that import lying, falsehood, treason,
dissimulation, covetousness, envy, detraction, and pardon, were never
heard amongst them."

Here the borrowing is too plain to be questioned; and this fixes the
writing of _The Tempest_ after 1603. On the other hand, Malone
ascertained from some old records that the play was acted by the
King's players "before Prince Charles, the Princess Elizabeth, and the
Prince Palatine, in the beginning of 1613."

For any nearer fixing of the date we have nothing firm to go upon but
probabilities. Some of these, however, are pretty strong. I must rest
with noting one of them:

Some hints towards the play were derived, apparently, from a book
published by one Jourdan in 1610, and entitled, _A Discovery of the
Bermudas, otherwise called the Isle of Devils_. The occasion was as
follows: A fleet of nine ships, with some five hundred people, sailed
from England in May, 1609. Among the officers were Sir George Somers,
Sir Thomas Gates, and Captain Newport. The fleet was headed by the
_Sea-Venture_, called the Admiral's Ship. On the 25th of July they
were struck by a terrible tempest, which scattered the whole fleet,
and parted the _Sea-Venture_ from the rest. Most of the ships,
however, reached Virginia, left the greater part of their people
there, and sailed again for England, where Gates arrived in August or
September, 1610, having been sent home by Lord Delaware. Jourdan's
book, after relating their shipwreck, continues thus: "But our
delivery was not more strange in falling so happily upon land, than
our provision was admirable. For the Islands of the Bermudas, as every
one knoweth that hath heard or read of them, were never inhabited by
any Christian or Heathen people, but ever reputed a most prodigious
and enchanted place, affording nothing but gusts, storms, and foul
weather. Yet did we find the air so temperate, and the country so
abundantly fruitful, that, notwithstanding we were there for the space
of nine months, we were not only well refreshed, but out of the
abundance thereof provided us with some reasonable quantity of
provision to carry us for Virginia, and to maintain ourselves and the
company we found there." About the same time, the Council of Virginia
also put forth a narrative of "the disasters which had befallen the
fleet, and of their miraculous escape," wherein we have the following:
"These Islands of the Bermudas have ever been accounted an enchanted
pile of rocks, and a desert inhabitation of devils; but all the
fairies of the rocks were but flocks of birds, and all the devils that
haunted the woods were but herds of swine."

In this account and these extracts there are several points which
clearly connect with certain things in the play. To mark those points,
or to trace out that connection, seems hardly worth the while. It may
be well to add that the Poet's _still-vexed Bermoothes_ seems to link
his work in some way with Jourdan's narrative. So that 1610 is as
early a date as can well be assigned for the writing of _The Tempest_.
The supernatural in the play was no doubt the Poet's own creation; but
it would have been in accordance with his usual method to avail
himself of whatever interest might spring from the popular notions
touching the Bermudas. In his marvellous creations the people would
see nothing but the distant marvels with which their fancies were

Concurrent with all this is the internal evidence of the play itself.
The style, language, and general cast of thought, the union of
richness and severity, the grave, austere beauty of character which
pervades it, and the organic compactness of the whole structure, all
go to mark it as an issue of the Poet's ripest years. Coleridge
regarded it as "certainly one of Shakespeare's latest works, judging
from the language only." Campbell the poet considers it his very
latest. "_The Tempest_," says he, "has a sort of sacredness as the
last work of a mighty workman. Shakespeare, as if conscious that it
would be his last, and as if inspired to typify himself, has made his
hero a natural, a dignified, and benevolent magician, who could
conjure up 'spirits from the vasty deep,' and command supernatural
agency by the most seemingly-natural and simple means. Shakespeare
himself is Prospero, or rather the superior genius who commands both
Prospero and Ariel. But the time was approaching when the potent
sorcerer was to break his staff, and bury it fathoms in the ocean
'deeper than did ever plummet sound.' That staff has never been and
will never be recovered." But I suspect there is more of poetry than
of truth in this; at least I can find no warrant for it: on the
contrary, we have fair ground for believing that at least _Coriolanus,
King Henry the Eighth_, and perhaps _The Winter's Tale_ were written
after _The Tempest_. Mr. Verplanck, rather than give up the notion so
well put by Campbell, suggests that the Poet may have _revised The
Tempest_ after all his other plays were written, and inserted the
passage where Prospero abjures his "rough magic," and buries his
staff, and drowns his book. But I can hardly think that Shakespeare
had any reference to himself in that passage: for, besides that he did
not use to put his own feelings and purposes into the mouth of his
characters, the doing so in this case would infer such a degree of
self-exultation as, it seems to me, his native and habitual modesty
would scarce permit.

* * * * *

No play or novel has been discovered to which Shakespeare could have
been at all indebted for the plot or matter of _The Tempest_. There is
indeed an old ballad called _The Inchanted Island_, which was once
thought to have contributed something towards the play: but it is now
generally held to be more modern than the play, and probably founded
upon it; the names and some of the incidents being varied, as if on
purpose to disguise its connection with a work that was popular on the

* * * * *

There has been considerable discussion as to the scene of _The
Tempest_. A wide range of critics from Mr. Chalmers to Mrs. Jameson
have taken for granted that the Poet fixed his scene in the Bermudas.
For this they have alleged no authority but his mention of "the
still-vex'd Bermoothes." Ariel's trip from "the deep nook to fetch dew
from the still-vex'd Bermoothes" does indeed show that the Bermudas
were in the Poet's mind; but then it also shows that his scene was not
there; for it had been no feat at all worth mentioning for Ariel to
fetch dew from one part of the Bermudas to another. An aerial voyage
of some two or three thousand miles was the least that so nimble a
messenger could be expected to make any account of. Besides, in less
than an hour after the wrecking of the King's ship, the rest of the
fleet are said to be upon the Mediterranean, "bound sadly home for
Naples." On the other hand, the Rev. Mr. Hunter is very positive that,
if we read the play with a map before us, we shall bring up at the
island of Lampedusa, which "lies midway between Malta and the African
coast." He makes out a pretty fair case, nevertheless I must be
excused; not so much that I positively reject his theory as that I
simply do not care whether it be true or not. But if we must have any
supposal about it, the most reasonable as well as the most poetical
one seems to be, that the Poet, writing without a map, placed his
scene upon an island of the mind; and that it suited his purpose to
transfer to his ideal whereabout some of the wonders of trans-Atlantic
discovery. I should almost as soon think of going to history for the
characters of Ariel and Caliban, as to geography for the size,
locality, or whatsoever else, of their dwelling-place. And it is to be
noted that the old ballad just referred to seems to take for granted
that the island was but an island of the mind; representing it to
have disappeared upon Prospero's leaving it:

"From that day forth the isle has been
By wandering sailors never seen:
Some say 'tis buried deep
Beneath the sea, which breaks and roars
Above its savage rocky shores,
Nor e'er is known to sleep."

Coleridge says "_The Tempest_ is a specimen of the purely romantic
drama." The term _romantic_ is here used in a technical sense; that
is, to distinguish the Shakespearian from the Classic Drama. In this
sense, I cannot quite agree with the great critic that the drama is
_purely_ romantic. Highly romantic it certainly is, in its wide, free,
bold variety of character and incident, and in all the qualities that
enter into the picturesque; yet not romantic in such sort, I think,
but that it is at the same time equally classic; classic, not only in
that the unities of time and place are strictly observed, but as
having the other qualities which naturally go with those laws of the
classic form; in its severe beauty and majestic simplicity, its
interfusion of the lyrical and the ethical, and in the mellow
atmosphere of serenity and composure which envelopes it: as if on
purpose to show the Poet's mastery not only of both the Classic and
Romantic Drama, but of the common Nature out of which both of them
grew. This union of both kinds in one without hindrance to the
distinctive qualities of either,--this it is, I think, that chiefly
distinguishes _The Tempest_ from the Poet's other dramas. Some have
thought that in this play Shakespeare specially undertook to silence
the pedantic cavillers of his time by showing that he could keep to
the rules of the Greek stage, if he chose to do so, without being any
the less himself. But it seems more likely that he was here drawn into
such a course by the leadings of his own wise spirit than by the
cavils of contemporary critics; the form appearing too cognate with
the matter to have been dictated by any thing external to the work

There are some points that naturally suggest a comparison between
_The Tempest_ and _A Midsummer-Night's Dream_. In both the Poet has
with equal or nearly equal success carried Nature, as it were, beyond
herself, and peopled a purely ideal region with the attributes of life
and reality; so that the characters touch us like substantive,
personal beings, as if he had but described, not created them. But,
beyond this, the resemblance ceases: indeed no two of his plays differ
more widely in all other respects.

_The Tempest_ presents a combination of elements apparently so
incongruous that we cannot but marvel how they were brought together;
yet they blend so sweetly, and co-operate so smoothly, that we at once
feel at home with them, and see nothing to hinder their union in the
world of which we are a part. For in the mingling of the natural and
the supernatural we here find no gap, no break; nothing disjointed or
abrupt; the two being drawn into each other so harmoniously, and so
knit together by mutual participations, that they seem strictly
continuous, with no distinguishable line to mark where they meet and
join. It is as if the gulf which apparently separates the two worlds
had been abolished, leaving nothing to prevent a free circulation and
intercourse between them.

* * * * *

Prospero, standing in the centre of the whole, acts as kind of
subordinate Providence, reconciling the diverse elements to himself
and in himself to one another. Though armed with supernatural might,
so that the winds and waves obey him, his magical and mysterious
powers are tied to truth and right: his "high charms work" to none but
just and beneficent ends; and whatever might be repulsive in the
magician is softened and made attractive by the virtues of the man and
the feelings of the father: Ariel links him with the world above us,
Caliban with the world beneath us, and Miranda--"thee, my dear one,
thee my daughter"--with the world around and within us. And the mind
acquiesces freely in the miracles ascribed to him; his thoughts and
aims being so at one with Nature's inward harmonies, that we cannot
tell whether he shapes her movements or merely falls in with them;
that is, whether his art stands in submission or command. His sorcery
indeed is the sorcery of knowledge, his magic the magic of virtue. For
what so marvellous as the inward, vital necromancy of good which
transmutes the wrongs that are done him into motives of beneficence,
and is so far from being hurt by the powers of Evil, that it turns
their assaults into new sources of strength against them? And with
what a smooth tranquillity of spirit he everywhere speaks and acts! as
if the discipline of adversity had but served

"to elevate the will,
And lead him on to that transcendent rest
Where every passion doth the sway attest
Of Reason seated on her sovereign hill."

Shakespeare and Bacon, the Prince of poets and the Prince of
philosophers, wrought out their mighty works side by side, and nearly
at the same time, though without any express recognition of each
other. And why may we not regard Prospero as prognosticating in a
poetical form those vast triumphs of man's rational spirit which the
philosopher foresaw and prepared? For it is observable that, before
Prospero's coming to the island, the powers which cleave to his
thoughts and obey his "so potent art" were at perpetual war, the
better being in subjection to the worse, and all being turned from
their rightful ends into a mad, brawling dissonance: but he teaches
them to know their places; and, "weak masters though they be," without
such guidance, yet under his ordering they become powerful, and work
together as if endowed with a rational soul and a social purpose;
their insane gabble turning to speech, their savage howling to music;
so that

"the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not."

Wherein is boldly figured the educating of Nature up, so to speak,
into intelligent ministries, she lending man hands because he lends
her eyes, and weaving her forces into vital union with him.

"You by whose aid--
Weak masters though ye be--I have bedimm'd
The noontide Sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds,
And 'twixt the green sea and the azure vault
Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire, and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt: the strong-bas'd promontory
Have I made shake; and by the spurs pluck'd up
The pine and cedar."

In this bold imagery we seem to have a kind of prophecy of what human
science and skill have since achieved in taming the great forces of
Nature to man's hand, and harnessing them up into his service. Is not
all this as if the infernal powers should be appeased and soothed by
the melody and sweetness of the Orphean harp and voice? And do we not
see how the very elements themselves grow happy and merry in serving
man, when he by his wisdom and eloquence has once charmed them into
order and concert? Man has but to learn Nature's language and obey her
voice, and she clothes him with plenipotence. The mad warring of her
forces turns to rational speech and music when he holds the torch of
reason before them and makes it shine full in their faces. Let him but
set himself steadfastly to understand and observe her laws, and her
mighty energies hasten to wait upon him, as docile to his hand as the
lion to the eye and voice of Lady Una. So that we may not unfairly
apply to Prospero what Bacon so finely interprets of Orpheus, as "a
wonderful and divine person skilled in all kinds of harmony, subduing
and drawing all things after him by sweet and gentle methods and

All this, to be sure, is making the work rather an allegory than a
drama, and therein of course misrepresents its quality. For the
connecting links in this strange intercourse of man and Nature are
"beings individually determined," and affect us as persons, not as

* * * * *

Ariel and Caliban are equally preternatural, though in opposite
directions. Ariel's very being is spun out of melody and fragrance; at
least, if a feeling soul and an intelligent will are the warp, these
are the woof of his exquisite texture. He has just enough of
human-heartedness to know how he would feel were he human, and a
proportionable sense of gratitude, which has been aptly called "the
memory of the heart": hence he needs to be often reminded of his
obligations, but is religiously true to them so long as he remembers
them. His delicacy of nature is nowhere more apparent than in his
sympathy with right and good: the instant he comes within their touch
he follows them without reserve; and he will suffer any torments
rather than "act the earthy and abhorr'd commands" that go against his
moral grain. And what a merry little personage he is withal! as if his
being were cast together in an impulse of play, and he would spend his
whole life in one perpetual frolic.

But the main ingredients of Ariel's zephyr-like constitution are shown
in his leading inclinations; as he naturally has most affinity for
that of which he is framed. Moral ties are irksome to him; they are
not his proper element: when he enters their sphere, he feels them to
be holy indeed; but, were he free, he would keep out of their reach,
and follow the circling seasons in their course, and always dwell
merrily in the fringes of Summer. Prospero quietly intimates his
instinctive dread of the cold by threatening to make him "howl away
twelve Winters." And the chief joy of his promised release from
service is, that he will then be free to live all the year through
under the soft rule of Summer, with its flowers and fragrances and
melodies. He is indeed an arrant little epicure of perfume and sweet
sounds, and gives forth several songs which "seem to sound in the air,
and as if the person playing them were invisible."

A part of Ariel's unique texture is well shown in the scene where he
relents at the sufferings of the shipwrecked lords, and remonstrates
with his master in their behalf:

"_Ariel_. The King,
His brother, and yours, abide all three distracted;
And the remainder mourning over them,
Brimful of sorrow and dismay; but chiefly
He that you term'd _the good old lord, Gonzalo_:
His tears run down his beard, like Winter's drops
From eaves of reeds: your charm so strongly works 'em.
That, if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender.

_Pros_. Dost thou think so, spirit?

_Ariel_. Mine would, sir, were I human."

Another mark-worthy feature of Ariel is, that his power does not stop
with the physical forces of Nature, but reaches also to the hearts and
consciences of men; so that by his music he can kindle or assuage the
deepest griefs of the one, and strike the keenest pangs of remorse
into the other. This comes out in the different effects of his art
upon Ferdinand and the guilty King, as related by the men themselves:

"Where should this music be? i' the air or th' earth?
It sounds no more:--and, sure, it waits upon
Some god o' the island. Sitting on a bank,
Weeping again the King my father's wreck,
This music crept by me upon the waters,
Allaying both their fury and my passion
With its sweet air: thence I have follow'd it,
Or it hath drawn me rather:--but it is gone.
No, it begins again."

Such is the effect on Ferdinand: now mark the contrast when we come to
the King:

"O, it is monstrous, monstrous!
Methought the billows spoke, and told me of it;
The winds did sing it to me; and the thunder,
That deep and dreadful organ-pipe, pronounc'd
The name of Prosper: it did bass my trespass.
Therefore my son i' the ooze is bedded; and
I'll seek him deeper than e'er plummet sounded,
And with him there lie mudded."

In the planting of love, too, Ariel beats old god Cupid all to
nothing. For it is through some witchcraft of his that Ferdinand and
Miranda are surprised into a mutual rapture; so that Prospero notes at
once how "at the first sight they have chang'd eyes," and "are both in
either's power." All which is indeed just what Prospero wanted; yet he
is himself fairly startled at the result: that fine issue of nature
outruns his thought; and the wise old gentleman takes care forthwith
lest it work too fast:

"This swift business
I must uneasy make, lest too light winning
Make the prize light."

I must note one more trait in Ariel. It is his fondness of mischievous
sport, wherein he reminds us somewhat of Fairy Puck in _A
Midsummer-Night's Dream_. It is shown in the evident gust with which
he relates the trick he has played on Caliban and his confederates,
when they were proceeding to execute their conspiracy against the
hero's life:

"As I told you, sir, they were red-hot with drinking;
So full of valour, that they smote the air
For breathing in their faces; beat the ground
For kissing of their feet; yet always bending
Towards their project. Then I beat my tabor;
At which, like unback'd colts, they prick'd their ears,
Advanc'd their eyelids, lifted up their noses
As they smelt music: so I charm'd their ears,
That, calf-like, they my lowing follow'd through
Tooth'd briers, sharp furzes, pricking goss, and thorns,
Which enter'd their frail shins: at last I left them
I' the filthy-mantled pool beyond your cell,
There dancing up to th' chins."

Of Ariel's powers and functions as Prospero's prime minister, no
logical forms, nothing but the Poet's art, can give any sort of an
idea. No painter, I am sure, can do any thing with him; still less can
any sculptor. Gifted with the ubiquity and multiformity of the
substance from which he is named, before we can catch and define him
in any one shape, he has passed into another. All we can say of him
on this score is, that through his agency Prospero's thoughts
forthwith become things, his volitions events. And yet, strangely and
diversely as Ariel's nature is elemented and composed, with touches
akin to several orders of being, there is such a self-consistency
about him, he is so cut out in individual distinctness, and so
rounded-in with personal attributes, that contemplation freely and
easily rests upon him as an object. In other words, he is by no means
an abstract idea personified, or any sort of intellectual diagram, but
a veritable _person_; and we have a personal feeling towards the dear
creature, and would fain knit him into the living circle of our human
affections, making him a familiar playfellow of the heart, to be
cherished with "praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles."

* * * * *

If Caliban strikes us as a more wonderful creation than Ariel, it is
probably because he has more in common with us, without being in any
proper sense human. Perhaps I cannot hit him off better than by saying
that he represents, both in body and soul, a sort of intermediate
nature between man and brute, with an infusion of something that
belongs to neither; as though one of the transformations imagined by
the Developmentists had stuck midway in its course, where a breath or
vapour of essential Evil had knit itself vitally into his texture.
Caliban has all the attributes of humanity from the moral downwards,
so that his nature touches and borders upon the sphere of moral life;
still the result but approves his exclusion from such life, in that it
brings him to recognize moral law only as making for self; that is, he
has intelligence of seeming wrong in what is done to him, but no
conscience of what is wrong in his own doings. It is a most singular
and significant stroke in the delineation, that sleep seems to loosen
the fetters of his soul, and lift him above himself: then indeed, and
then only, "the muddy vesture of decay" doth not so "grossly close him
in," but that some proper spirit-notices come upon him; as if in his
passive state the voice of truth and good vibrated down _to_ his
soul, and stopped there, being unable to kindle any answering tones
within: so that in his waking hours they are to him but as the memory
of a dream.

"Sometime a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had wak'd after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak'd,
I cried to dream again."

Thus Caliban is part man, part demon, part brute, each being drawn
somewhat out of itself by combination with the others, and the union
of all preventing him from being either; for which cause language has
no generic term that fits him. Yet this strange, uncouth, but
life-like confusion of natures Prospero has educated into a sort of
poet. This, however, has nowise tamed, it has rather increased, his
innate malignity and crookedness of disposition; education having of
course but _educed_ what was in him. Even his poetry is, for the most
part, made up of the fascinations of ugliness; a sort of inverted
beauty; the poetry of dissonance and deformity; the proper music of
his nature being to curse, its proper laughter to snarl. Schlegel
finely compares his mind to a dark cave, into which the light of
knowledge falling neither illuminates nor warms it, but only serves to
put in motion the poisonous vapours generated there.

Now it is by exhausting the resources of instruction on such a being
that his innate and essential deficiency is best shown. For, had he
the germs of a human soul, they must needs have been drawn forth by
the process that has made him a poet. The magical presence of spirits
has indeed cast into the caverns of his brain some faint reflection of
a better world, but without calling up any answering emotions or
aspirations; he having no susceptibilities to catch and take in the
epiphanies that throng his whereabout. So that, paradoxical as it may
seem, he exemplifies the two-fold triumph of art over nature, and of
nature over art; that is, art has triumphed in making him a poet, and
nature, in still keeping him from being a man; though he has enough of
the human in him to evince in a high degree the swelling of
intellectual pride.

But what is most remarkable of all in Caliban is the perfect
originality of his thoughts and manners. Though framed of grossness
and malignity, there is nothing vulgar or commonplace about him. His
whole character indeed is developed from within, not impressed from
without; the effect of Prospero's instructions having been to make him
all the more himself; and there being perhaps no soil in his nature
for conventional vices and knaveries to take root and grow in. Hence
the almost classic dignity of his behaviour compared with that of the
drunken sailors, who are little else than a sort of low, vulgar
conventionalities organized, and as such not less true to the life
than consistent with themselves. In his simplicity, indeed, he at
first mistakes them for gods who "bear celestial liquor," and they wax
merry enough at the "credulous monster"; but, in his vigour of thought
and purpose, he soon conceives such a scorn of their childish interest
in whatever trinkets and gewgaws meet their eye, as fairly drives off
his fit of intoxication; and the savage of the woods, half-human
though he be, seems nobility itself beside the savages of the city.

In fine, if Caliban is, so to speak, the organized sediment and dregs
of the place, from which all the finer spirit has been drawn off to
fashion the delicate Ariel, yet having some parts of a human mind
strangely interwoven with his structure; every thing about him, all
that he does and says, is suitable and correspondent to such a
constitution of nature. So that all the elements and attributes of his
being stand and work together in living coherence, thus rendering him
no less substantive and personal to our apprehension than he is
original and peculiar in himself.

* * * * *

Such are the objects and influences amidst which the clear, placid
nature of Miranda has been developed. Of the world whence her father
was driven, its crimes and follies and sufferings, she knows nothing;
he having studiously kept all such notices from her, to the end,
apparently, that nothing might thwart or hinder the plastic efficacies
that surrounded her. And here all the simple and original elements of
her being, love, light, grace, honour, innocence, all pure feelings
and tender sympathies, whatever is sweet and gentle and holy in
womanhood, seem to have sprung up in her nature as from celestial
seed: "the contagion of the world's slow stain" has not visited her;
the chills and cankers of artificial wisdom have not touched nor come
nigh her: if there were any fog or breath of evil in the place that
might else dim or spot her soul, it has been sponged up by Caliban, as
being more congenial with his nature; while he is simply "a villain
she does not love to look on." Nor is this all. The aerial music
beneath which her soul has expanded with answering sweetness seems to
rest visibly upon her, linking her as it were with some superior order
of beings: the spirit and genius of the place, its magic and mystery,
have breathed their power into her face; and out of them she has
unconsciously woven herself a robe of supernatural grace, in which
even her mortal nature seems half hidden, so that we are in doubt
whether she belongs more to Heaven or to Earth. Thus both her native
virtues and the efficacies of the place seem to have crept and stolen
into her unperceived, by mutual attraction and assimilation twining
together in one growth, and each diffusing its life and beauty over
and through the others. It would seem indeed as if Wordsworth must
have had Miranda in his eye, (or was he but working in the spirit of
that Nature which she so rarely exemplifies?) when he wrote,

"The floating clouds their state shall lend
To her; for her the willow bend:
Nor shall she fail to see
Even in the motions of the storm
Grace that shall mould the maiden's form
By silent sympathy.

The stars of midnight shall be dear
To her; and she shall lean her ear
In many a secret place
Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
And beauty born of murmuring sound
Shall pass into her face."

Yet, for all this, Miranda not a whit the less touches us as a
creature of flesh and blood,

"A being breathing thoughtful breath,
A traveller between life and death."

Nay, rather she seems all the more so, inasmuch as the character thus
coheres with the circumstances, the virtues and poetries of the place
being expressed in her visibly; and she would be far less real to our
feelings, were not the wonders of her whereabout thus vitally
incorporated with her innate and original attributes.

It is observable that Miranda does not perceive the working of her
father's art upon herself. For, when he casts a spell of drowsiness
over her, so that she cannot choose but sleep, on being awaked by him
she tells him, "The strangeness of your story put heaviness in me." So
his art conceals itself in its very potency of operation; and seems
the more like nature for being preternatural. It is another noteworthy
point, that while he is telling his strange tale he thinks she is not
listening attentively to his speech, partly because he is not
attending to it himself, his thoughts being busy with the approaching
crisis of his fortune, and drawn away to the other matters which he
has in hand, and partly because in her trance of wonder at what he is
relating she seems abstracted and self-withdrawn from the matter of
his discourse. His own absent-mindedness on this occasion is aptly and
artfully indicated by his broken and disjointed manner of speech. That
his tongue and thought are not beating time together appears in that
the latter end of his sentences keeps forgetting the beginning.

These are among the fine strokes and delicate touches whereby the Poet
makes, or rather permits, the character of his persons to transpire so
quietly as not to excite special notice at the time. That Miranda
should be so rapt at her father's tale as to seem absent and
wandering, is a charming instance in point. For indeed to her the
supernatural stands in the place of Nature; and nothing is so strange
and wonderful as what actually passes in the life and heart of man:
miracles have been her daily food, her father being the greatest
miracle of all; which must needs make the common events and passions
and perturbations of the world seem to her miraculous. All which is
wrought out by the Poet with so much art and so little appearance of
art, that Franz Horn is the only critic, so far as I know, that seems
to have thought of it.

I must not dismiss Miranda without remarking the sweet union of
womanly dignity and childlike simplicity in her character, she not
knowing or not caring to disguise the innocent movements of her heart.
This, too, is a natural result of her situation. The instance to which
I refer is when Ferdinand, his manhood all alive with her, lets her
hear his soul speak; and she, weeping at what she is glad of,

"Hence, bashful cunning!
And prompt me, plain and holy innocence!--
I am your wife, if you will marry me;
If not, I'll die your maid: to be your fellow
You may deny me; but I'll be your servant,
Whether you will or no."

Equally fine is the circumstance that her father opens to her the
story of his life, and lets her into the secret of her noble birth and
ancestry, at a time when she is suffering with those that she saw
suffer, and when her eyes are jewelled with "drops that sacred pity
hath engender'd"; as if on purpose that the ideas of rank and dignity
may sweetly blend and coalesce in her mind with the sympathies of the

* * * * *

In Ferdinand is portrayed one of those happy natures, such as we
sometimes meet with, who are built up all the more strongly in truth
and good by contact with the vices and meannesses of the world.
Courage, piety, and honour are his leading characteristics; and these
virtues are so much at home in his breast, and have such an easy,
natural ascendant in his conduct, that he thinks not of them, and
cares only to prevent or remove the stains which affront his inward
eye. The meeting of him and Miranda is replete with magic indeed,--a
magic higher and more potent even than Prospero's; the riches that
nestle in their bosoms at once leaping forth and running together in a
stream of poetry which no words of mine can describe. So much of
beauty in so few words, and those few so plain and simple,--"O,
wondrous skill and sweet wit of the man!"

Shakespeare's genius is specially venerable in that he makes piety and
honour go hand in hand with love. It seems to have been a fixed
principle with him, if indeed it was not rather a genial instinct,
that where the heart is rightly engaged, there the highest and
tenderest thoughts of religion do naturally cluster and converge. For
indeed the love that looks to marriage is itself a religion: its first
impulse is to invest its object with poetry and consecration: to be
"true to the kindred points of Heaven and home," is both its
inspiration and its law. It thus involves a sort of regeneration of
the inner man, and carries in its hand the baptismal fire of a nobler
and diviner life.

And so it is in this delectable instance. In Ferdinand, as in all
generous natures, "love betters what is best." Its first springing in
his breast stirs his heavenward thoughts and aspirations into
exercise: the moment that kindles his heart towards Miranda also
kindles his soul in piety to God; and he knows not how to commune in
prayer with the Source of good, unless he may couple her welfare with
his own, and breathe her name in his holiest service. Thus his love
and piety are kindred and coefficient forces, as indeed all true love
and piety essentially are. However thoughtless we may be of the
Divine help and guardianship for ourselves, we can hardly choose but
crave them for those to whom our souls are knit in the sacred dearness
of household ties. And so with this noble pair, the same power that
binds them to each other in the sacraments of love also binds them
both in devout allegiance to the Author of their being; whose presence
is most felt by them in the sacredness of their mutual truth.

So much for the illustration here so sweetly given of the old
principle, that whatsoever lies nearest a Christian's heart,
whatsoever he tenders most dearly on Earth, whatsoever draws in most
intimately with the currents of his soul, that is the spontaneous
subject-matter of his prayers; our purest loves thus sending us to
God, as if from an instinctive feeling that unless God be sanctified
in our hearts, our hearts cannot retain their proper life.

In regard to what springs up between Ferdinand and Miranda, it is to
be noted that Prospero does little but furnish occasions. He indeed
thanks the quaint and delicate Ariel for the kindling touch that so
quickly puts them "both in either's power"; for it seems to him the
result of a finer inspiration than his art can reach; and so he
naturally attributes it to the magic of his airy minister; whereas in
truth it springs from a source far deeper than the magic of either,--a
pre-established harmony which the mutual recognition now first
quickens into audible music. After seeing himself thus outdone by the
Nature he has been wont to control, and having witnessed such a "fair
encounter of two most rare affections," no wonder that Prospero longs
to be a man again, like other men, and gladly returns to

"The homely sympathy that heeds
The common life; our nature breeds;
A wisdom fitted to the needs
Of hearts at leisure."

The strength and delicacy of imagination displayed in the characters
already noticed are hardly more admirable than the truth and subtilty
of observation shown in others.

In the delineation of Antonio and Sebastian, short as it is, we have a
volume of wise science, which Coleridge remarks upon thus: "In the
first scene of the second Act, Shakespeare has shown the tendency in
bad men to indulge in scorn and contemptuous expressions, as a mode of
getting rid of their own uneasy feelings of inferiority to the good,
and also of rendering the transition of others to wickedness easy, by
making the good ridiculous. Shakespeare never puts habitual scorn into
the mouths of other than bad men, as here in the instance of Antonio
and Sebastian."

Nor is there less of judgment in the means used by Prospero for
bringing them to a better mind; provoking in them the purpose of
crime, and then taking away the performance; that so he may lead them
to a knowledge of themselves, and awe or shame down their evil by his
demonstrations of good. For such is the proper effect of bad designs
thus thwarted, showing the authors at once the wickedness of their
hearts and the weakness of their hands; whereas, if successful in
their schemes, pride of power would forestall and prevent the natural
shame and remorse of guilt. And we little know what evil it lieth and
lurketh in our hearts to will or to do, till occasion invites or
permits; and Prospero's art here stands in presenting the occasion
till the wicked purpose is formed, and then removing it as soon as the
hand is raised. In the case of Antonio and Sebastian, the workings of
magic are so mixed up with those of Nature, that we cannot distinguish
them; or rather Prospero here causes the supernatural to pursue the
methods of Nature.

And the same deep skill is shown in the case of the good old Lord
Gonzalo, whose sense of his own infelicities seems lost in his care to
minister comfort and diversion to others. Thus his virtue
spontaneously opens the springs of wit and humour in him amid the
terrors of the storm and shipwreck; and he is merry while others are
suffering, and merry even from sympathy with them; and afterwards his
thoughtful spirit plays with Utopian fancies; and if "the latter end
of his Commonwealth forgets the beginning," it is all the same to him,
his purpose being only to beguile the anguish of supposed bereavement.
It has been well said that "Gonzalo is so occupied with duty, in which
alone he finds pleasure, that he scarce notices the gnat-stings of wit
with which his opponents pursue him; or, if he observes, firmly and
easily repels them."

The comic portions and characters of this play are in Shakespeare's
raciest vein; yet they are perfectly unique and singular withal, being
quite unlike any other of his preparations in that kind, as much so as
if they were the growth of a different planet.

The presence of Trinculo and Stephano in the play has sometimes been
regarded as a blemish. I cannot think it so. Their part is not only
good in itself as comedy, but is in admirable keeping with the rest.
Their follies give a zest and relish to the high poetries amidst which
they grow. Such things go to make up the mysterious whole of human
life; and they often help on our pleasure while seeming to hinder it:
we may think they were better left out, but, were they left out, we
should somehow feel the want of them. Besides, this part of the work,
if it does not directly yield a grateful fragrance, is vitally
connected with the parts that do. For there is perhaps no one of the
Poet's dramas of which it can be more justly affirmed that all the
parts draw together in organic unity, so that every thing helps every
other thing.

* * * * *

Such are the strangely-assorted characters that make up this charming
play. This harmonious working together of diverse and opposite
elements,--this smooth concurrence of heterogeneous materials in one
varied yet coherent impression,--by what subtile process this is
brought about, is perhaps too deep a problem for Criticism to solve.

I cannot leave the theme without remarking what an atmosphere of
wonder and mystery overhangs and pervades this singular structure; and
how the whole seems steeped in glories invisible to the natural eye,
yet made visible by the Poet's art: so that the effect is to lead the
thoughts insensibly upwards to other worlds and other forms of being.
It were difficult to name any thing else of human workmanship so
thoroughly transfigured with

"the gleam,
The light that never was on sea or land,
The consecration and the poet's dream."

The celestial and the earthly are here so commingled,--commingled, but
not confounded,--that we see not where the one begins or the other
ends: so that in the reading we seem transported to a region where we
are strangers, yet old acquaintances; where all things are at once new
and familiar; the unearthly visions of the spot hardly touching us
with surprise, because, though wonderful indeed, there is nothing
about them but what readily finds or creates some answering powers and
sympathies within us. In other words, they do not surprise us, because
they at once kindle us into fellowship with them. That our thoughts
and feelings are thus at home with such things, and take pleasure in
them,--is not this because of some innate aptitudes and affinities of
our nature for a supernatural and celestial life?

"Point not these mysteries to an art
Lodg'd above the starry pole?"


In Shakespeare's time there lived in London one Simon Forman, M.D., to
whom we are indebted for our earliest notice of THE WINTER'S TALE. He
was rather an odd genius, I should think; being an adept in occult
science and the arts of magic, and at the same time an ardent lover
of the stage; thus symbolizing at once with the most conservative and
the most radical tendencies of the age: for, strange as it may seem,
the Drama then led the van of progress; Shakespeare being even a more
audacious innovator in poetry and art than Bacon was in philosophy. Be
this as it may, Forman evidently took great delight in the theatre,
and he kept a diary of what he witnessed there. Not many years ago,
the manuscript of this diary was discovered by Mr. Collier in the
Ashmolean Museum, and a portion of its contents published. Forman was
at the Globe theatre on Wednesday, the 15th of May, 1611, and under
that date he records "how Leontes the King of Sicilia was overcome
with jealousy of his wife with the King of Bohemia, his friend that
came to see him, and how he contrived his death, and would have had
his cup-bearer poison him, who gave the King warning thereof, and fled
with him to Bohemia. Also, how he sent to the oracle of Apollo, and
the answer of Apollo was that she was guiltless; and except the child
was found again that was lost, the King should die without issue: for
the child was carried into Bohemia, and there laid in a forest, and
brought up by a shepherd; and the King of Bohemia's son married that
wench, and they fled into Sicilia, and by the jewels found about her
she was known to be Leontes' daughter, and was then sixteen years

This clearly identifies the performance seen by Forman as _The
Winter's Tale_ of Shakespeare. It is altogether probable that the play
was then new, and was in its first course of exhibition. For Sir
George Buck became Master of the Revels in October, 1610, and was
succeeded in that office by Sir Henry Herbert in 1623, who passed _The
Winter's Tale_ without examination, on the ground of its being an "old
play formerly allowed by Sir George Buck." As the play had to be
licensed before it could be performed, this ascertains its first
performance to have been after October, 1610. So that _The Winter's
Tale_ was most likely presented for official sanction some time
between that date and the 15th of May following, when Forman saw it
at the Globe. To all this must be added the internal characteristics
of the play itself, which is in the Poet's ripest and most idiomatic
style of art. It is not often that the date of his workmanship can be
so closely remarked. _The Winter's Tale_ was never printed, so far as
we know, till it appeared in the folio of 1623.

* * * * *

In the plot and incidents of this play, Shakespeare followed very
closely the _Pandosto_, or, as it was sometimes called, the _Dorastus
and Fawnia_, of Robert Greene. This novel appears to have been one of
the most popular books of the time; there being no less than fourteen
old editions of it known, the first of which was in 1588. Greene was a
scholar, a man of some genius, Master of Arts in both the
Universities, and had indeed much more of learning than of judgment in
the use and application of it. For it seems as if he could not write
at all without overloading his pages with classical allusion, nor hit
upon any thought so trite and commonplace, but that he must run it
through a series of aphoristic sentences twisted out of Greek and
Roman lore. In this respect, he is apt to remind one of his
fellow-dramatist, Thomas Lodge, whose _Rosalynd_ contributed so much
to the Poet's _As You Like It_: for it was then much the fashion for
authors to prank up their matter with superfluous erudition. Like all
the surviving works of Greene, _Pandosto_ is greatly charged with
learned impertinence, and in the annoyance thence resulting one is apt
to overlook the real merit of the performance. It is better than
Lodge's _Rosalynd_ for this reason, if for no other, that it is
shorter. I must condense so much of the tale as may suffice to
indicate the nature and extent of the Poet's obligations.

Pandosto, King of Bohemia, and Egistus, King of Sicilia, had passed
their boyhood together, and grown into a mutual friendship which kept
its hold on them long after coming to their crowns. Pandosto had for
his wife a very wise and beautiful lady named Bellaria, who had made
him the father of a prince called Garinter in whom both himself and
his people greatly delighted. After many years of separation, Egistus
"sailed into Bohemia to visit his old friend," who, hearing of his
arrival, went with a great train of lords and ladies to meet him,
received him very lovingly, and wished his wife to welcome him. No
pains were spared to honour the royal visitor and make him feel at
home. Bellaria, "to show how much she liked him whom her husband
loved," treated Egistus with great confidence, often going herself to
his chamber to see that nothing should be amiss. This honest
familiarity increased from day to day, insomuch that when Pandosto was
busy with State affairs they would walk into the garden and pass their
time in pleasant devices. After a while, Pandosto began to have
doubtful thoughts, considering the beauty of his wife, and the
comeliness and bravery of his friend. This humour growing upon him, he
went to watching them, and fishing for proofs to confirm his
suspicions. At length his mind got so charged with jealousy that he
felt quite certain of the thing he feared, and studied for nothing so
much as revenge. He resolved to work by poison, and called upon his
cup-bearer, Franion, to execute the scheme, and pressed him to it with
the alternative of preferment or death. The minister, after trying his
best to dissuade the King, at last gave his consent, in order to gain
time, then went to Egistus, and told him the secret, and fled with him
to Sicilia. Full of rage at being thus baffled, Pandosto then let
loose his fury against the Queen, ordering her forthwith into close
prison. He then had his suspicion proclaimed as a certain truth; and
though her character went far to discredit the charge, yet the sudden
flight of Egistus caused it to be believed. And he would fain have
made war on Egistus, but that the latter not only was of great
strength and prowess, but had many kings in his alliance, his wife
being daughter to the Emperor of Russia.

Meanwhile the Queen in prison gave birth to a daughter, which put the
King in a greater rage than ever, insomuch that he ordered both the
mother and the babe to be burnt alive. Against this cruel sentence his
nobles stoutly remonstrated; but the most they could gain was, that he
should spare the child's life; his next device being to put her in a
boat and leave her to the mercy of the winds and waves. At the hearing
of this hard doom, the Queen fell down in a trance, so that all
thought her dead; and on coming to herself she at last gave up the
babe, saying, "Let me kiss thy lips, sweet infant, and wet thy tender
cheeks with my tears, and put this chain about thy little neck, that
if fortune save thee, it may help to succour thee."

When the day of trial came, the Queen, standing as a prisoner at the
bar, and seeing that nothing but her death would satisfy the King,
"waxed bold, and desired that she might have law and justice," and
that her accusers might be brought before her face. The King replied
that their word was enough, the flight of Egistus confirming what they
had said; and that it was her part "to be impudent in forswearing the
fact, since she had passed all shame in committing the fault." At the
same time he threatened her with a cruel death; which she met by
telling him that her life had ever been such as no spot of suspicion
could stain, and that, if she had borne a friendly countenance towards
Egistus, it was only as he was her husband's friend: "therefore, if
she were condemned without further proof, it was rigour, and not law."
The judges said she spoke reason, and begged that her accusers might
be openly examined and sworn; whereupon the King went to browbeating
them, the very demon of tyranny having got possession of him. The
Queen then told him that, if his fury might stand for law, it was of
no use for the jury to give their verdict; and therefore she begged
him to send six of his noblemen to "the Isle of Delphos," to inquire
of Apollo whether she were guilty or not. This request he could not
refuse. The messengers using all haste soon came back with the sealed
answer of Apollo. The court being now assembled again, the scroll was
opened and read in their presence, its contents being much the same as
in the play. As soon as Apollo's verdict was known, the people raised
a great shout, rejoicing and clapping their hands, that the Queen was
clear. The repentant King then besought his nobles to intercede with
the Queen in his behalf, at the same time confessing how he had tried
to compass the death of Egistus; and while he was doing this word came
that the young Prince was suddenly dead; at the hearing of which the
Queen fell down, and could never be revived: the King also sank down
senseless, and lay in that state three days; and there was nothing but
mourning in Bohemia. Upon reviving, the King was so frenzied with
grief and remorse that he would have killed himself, but that his
peers being present stayed his hand, entreating him to spare his life
for the people's sake. He had the Queen and Prince very richly and
piously entombed; and from that time repaired daily to the tomb to
bewail his loss.

Up to this point, the play, so far as the mere incidents are
concerned, is little else than a dramatized version of the tale:
henceforth the former diverges more widely from the latter, though
many of the incidents are still the same in both.

The boat with its innocent freight was carried by wind and tide to the
coast of Sicilia, where it stuck in the sand. A poor shepherd, missing
one of his sheep, wandered to the seaside in search of it. As he was
about to return he heard a cry, and, there being no house near, he
thought it might be the bleating of his sheep; and going to look more
narrowly he spied a little boat from which the cry seemed to come.
Wondering what it might be, he waded to the boat, and found the babe
lying there ready to die of cold and hunger, wrapped in an embroidered
mantle, and having a chain about the neck. Touched with pity he took
the infant in his arms, and as he was fixing the mantle there fell at
his feet a very fair rich purse containing a great sum of gold. To
secure the benefit of this wealth, he carried the babe home as
secretly as he could, and gave her in charge to his wife, telling her
the process of the discovery. The shepherd's name was Porrus, his
wife's Mopsa; the precious foundling they named Fawnia. Being
themselves childless, they brought her up tenderly as their own
daughter. With the gold Porrus bought a farm and a flock of sheep,
which Fawnia at the age of ten was set to watch; and, as she was
likely to be his only heir, many rich farmers' sons came to his house
as wooers; for she was of singular beauty and excellent wit, and at
sixteen grew to such perfection of mind and person that her praises
were spoken at the Sicilian Court. Nevertheless she still went forth
every day with the sheep, veiling her face from the Sun with a garland
of flowers; which attire became her so well, that she seemed the
goddess Flora herself for beauty.

King Egistus had an only son, named Dorastus, a Prince so adorned with
gifts and virtues, that both King and people had great joy of him. He
being now of ripe age, his father sought to match him with some
princess; but the youth was little minded to wed, as he had more
pleasure in the exercises of the field and the chase. One day, as he
was pursuing this sport, he chanced to fall in with the lovely
shepherdess, and while he was rapt in wonder at the vision one of his
pages told him she was Fawnia, whose beauty was so much talked of at
the Court.

The story then goes on to relate the matter of their courtship; how
the Prince resolved to forsake his home and inheritance, and become a
shepherd, for her sake, as she could not think of matching with one
above her degree; how, forecasting the opposition and dreading the
anger of his father, he planned for escaping into Italy, in which
enterprise he was assisted by an old servant of his named Capnio, who
managed the affair so shrewdly, that the Prince made good his escape,
taking the old shepherd along with him; how, after they got to sea,
the ship was seized by a tempest and carried away to Bohemia; and how
at length the several parties met together at the Court of Pandosto,
which drew on a disclosure of the facts, and a happy marriage of the
fugitive lovers.

I must add one more item from the novel, as it aptly shows what
advantage is sometimes to be gained by tracing the Poet in his
reading. In the play, the Shepherd on finding the babe is made to
exclaim, "What have we here? Mercy on 's, a bairn; a very pretty
bairn! a boy, or a child, I wonder?" For some hundred years, editorial
ingenuity has been strained to the utmost to explain why _child_
should be thus used in opposition to _boy_; and nothing would do but
to surmise an obsolete custom of speech which made _child_ signify
_girl_. The simple explanation is, that _boy_ is a misprint for _god_.
For this felicitous restoration we are indebted to Mr. R.G. White, of
New York, who was guided to it by the corresponding passage of the
novel: "The shepherd, who before had never seen so fair a babe nor so
rich jewels, thought assuredly that it was _some little god_, and
began with great devotion to knock on his breast. The babe, who
writhed with the head to seek for the pap, began again to cry, whereby
the poor man knew _it was a child_." That we are not gods, is indeed
evident enough when we cry. Of course the man's devotion turned all to
pity as soon as he caught that little but most unequivocal note of

* * * * *

From the foregoing sketch, it would seem that the Poet must have
written with the novel before him, and not merely from general
recollection. Here, again, as in case of _As You Like It_, to
appreciate his judgment and taste, one needs to compare his
workmanship in detail with the original, and to note what he left
unused. The free sailing between Sicily and Bohemia he retained,
inverting, however, the local order of the persons and incidents, so
that Polixenes and Florizel are Bohemian Princes, whereas their
prototypes, Egistus and his son, are Sicilians. The reason of this
inversion does not appear. Of course, the Poet could not have done it
with any view to disguise his obligations; as his purpose evidently
was, to make the popular interest of the tale tributary to his own
success and profit. The most original of men, he was also the most
free from pride and conceit of originality. In this instance, too, as
in others, the instinctive rectitude of his genius is manifest in
that, the subject once chosen, and the work begun, he thenceforth lost
himself in the inspiration of his theme; all thoughts of popularity
and pay being swallowed up in the supreme regards of Nature and Truth.
For so, in his case, however prudence might dictate the plan, poetry
was sure to have command of the execution. If he was but human in
electing what to do, he became divine as soon as he went to doing it.
And it is further considerable that, with all his borrowings in this
play, the Poet nowhere drew more richly or more directly from his own
spring. The whole life of the work is in what he gave, not in what he
took; the mechanism of the story being used but as a skeleton to
underpin and support the eloquent contexture of life and beauty. In
the novel, Paulina and the Clown are wanting altogether; while Capnio
yields but a slight hint, if indeed it be so much, towards the part of
Antolycus. And, besides the great addition of life and matter in these
persons, the play has several other judicious departures from the

In Leontes all the revolting features of Pandosto, save his jealousy,
and the headstrong insolence and tyranny thence proceeding, are purged
away; so that while the latter has neither intellect nor generosity to
redeem his character, jealousy being the least of his faults, the
other has a liberal stock of both. And in Bellaria the Poet had little
more than a bare framework of incident wherein to set the noble, lofty
womanhood of Hermione,--a conception far, far above the reach of such
a mind as Greene's. In the matter of the painted statue, Shakespeare,
so far as is known, was altogether without a model, as he is without
an imitator; the boldness of the plan being indeed such as nothing but
entire success could justify, and wherein it is hardly possible to
conceive of anybody but Shakespeare's having succeeded. And yet here
it is that we are to look for the idea and formal cause of Hermione's
character, while her character, again, is the shaping and informing
power of the whole drama. For this idea is really the living centre
and organic law in and around which all the parts of the work are
vitally knit together. But, indeed, the Poet's own most original and
inimitable mode of conceiving and working out character is everywhere

* * * * *

So much has been said about the anachronisms of this play, that it
seems needful to add a word concerning them. We have already seen that
the making of seaports and landing of ships in Bohemia were taken from
Greene. Mr. Verplanck conjectures that by Bohemia Shakespeare meant
simply the land of the Boii, an ancient people several tribes of whom
settled in the maritime parts of France: but I hardly think he would
have used the name with so much license at a time when the boundaries
of that country were so well fixed and so widely known. For the events
of the Reformation had made Bohemia an object of special interest to
the people of England, and there was much intercourse between the
English and Bohemian Courts. I have no notion indeed that this breach
of geography was a blunder: it was meant, no doubt, for the
convenience of thought; and such is its effect, until one goes to
viewing the parts of the work with reference to ends not contemplated
in the use here made of them. And the same is to be said touching
several points of chronological confusion; such as the making Whitsun
pastorals, Christian burial, Julio Romano, the Emperor of Russia, and
Puritans singing psalms to hornpipes, all contemporary with the Oracle
of Delphi; wherein actual things are but marshalled into an ideal
order, so as to render Memory subservient to Imagination. In these and
such points, it is enough that the materials be apt to combine among
themselves, and that they agree in working out the issue proposed, the
end thus regulating the use of the means. For a work of art, as such,
should be itself an object for the mind to rest upon, not a directory
to guide it to something else. So that here we may justly say "the
mind is its own place"; and, provided the work be true to this
intellectual whereabout, breaches of geography and history are of
little consequence. And Shakespeare knew full well, that in poetical
workmanship Memory stands absolved from the laws of time, and that the
living order of art has a perfect right to overrule and supersede the
chronological order of facts. In a word, history and chronology have
no rights which a poet, as such, is bound to respect. In his sphere,
things draw together and unite in virtue of other affinities than
those of succession and coexistence. A work of art must indeed aim to
be understood and felt; and so far as historical order is necessary to
this, so far it may justly claim a prerogative voice. But still such a
work must address itself to the mind and heart of man as man, and not
to particular men as scholars or critics. That Shakespeare did this
better than anybody else is the main secret of his supremacy. And it
implies a knowledge far deeper than books could give,--the knowledge
of a mind so intuitive of Nature, and so at home with her, as not to
need the food of learning, because it fed directly on that which is
the original food of learning itself.

Hence the conviction which I suppose all true Shakespearians to have,
that no amount of scholastic advantages and acquirements could really
do any thing towards explaining the mystery of his works. To do what
he did at all, he must have had a native genius so strong and clear
and penetrative, as to become more than learned without the aid of
learning. What could the hydrants of knowledge do for a mind which
thus dwelt at its fountain? Or why should he need to converse with
Wisdom's messengers, whose home was in the very court and pavilion of
Wisdom herself? Shakespeare is always weakest when a fit of learning
takes him. But then he is stronger without learning than any one else
is with it, and, perhaps, than he would have been with it himself; as
the crutches that help the lame are but an incumbrance to the whole.

Perhaps I ought to add, touching the forecited anachronisms, that the
Poet's sense of them may be fairly regarded as apparent in the naming
of the piece. He seems to have judged that, in a dramatic _tale_
intended for the delight of the fireside during a long, quiet Winter's
evening, such things would not be out of place, and would rather help
than mar the entertainment and life of the performance. Thus much
indeed is plainly hinted more than once in the course of the play; as
in Act v. scene 2, where, one of the Gentlemen being asked, "What
became of Antigonus, that carried hence the child?" he replies, "Like
an _old tale_ still, which will have matter to rehearse, though credit
be asleep, and not an ear open."

Much the same is to be said touching the remarkable freedom which the
Poet here takes with the conditions of time; there being an interval
of sixteen years between the third and fourth Acts, which is with
rather un-Shakespearian awkwardness bridged over by the Chorus
introducing Act iv. This freedom, however, was inseparable from the
governing idea of the piece, nor can it be faulted but upon such
grounds as would exclude all dramatized fiction from the stage. It is
to be noted also that while the play thus divides itself into two
parts, these are skilfully woven together by a happy stroke of art.
The last scene of the third Act not only finishes the action of the
first three, but by an apt and unforced transition begins that of the
other two; the two parts of the drama being smoothly drawn into the
unity of a continuous whole by the introduction of the old Shepherd
and his son at the close of the one and the opening of the other. This
natural arrangement saves the imagination from being disturbed by any
yawning or obtrusive gap of time, notwithstanding the lapse of so many
years in the interval. On this point, Gervinus remarks that, "while
Shakespeare has in other dramas permitted a twofold action united by a
common idea, he could not in this instance have entirely concentrated
the two fictions; he could but unite them indistinctly by a leading
idea in both; though the manner in which he has outwardly united them
is a delicate and spirited piece of art."

* * * * *

In the delineation of Leontes there is an abruptness of change which
strikes us, at first view, as not a little a-clash with nature: we
cannot well see how one state of mind grows out of another: his
jealousy shoots in comet-like, as something unprovided for in the
general ordering of his character. Which causes this feature to appear
as if it were suggested rather by the exigencies of the stage than by
the natural workings of human passion. And herein the Poet seems at
variance with himself; his usual method being to unfold a passion in
its rise and progress, so that we go along with it freely from its
origin to its consummation. And, certainly, there is no accounting for
Leontes' conduct, but by supposing a predisposition to jealousy in
him, which, however, has been hitherto kept latent by his wife's
clear, firm, serene discreetness, but which breaks out into sudden and
frightful activity as soon as she, under a special pressure of
motives, slightly overacts the confidence of friendship. There needed
but a spark of occasion to set this secret magazine of passion all

The Pandosto of the novel has, properly speaking, no character at all:
he is but a human figure going through a set of motions; that is, the
person and the action are put together arbitrarily, and not under any
law of vital correspondence. Almost any other figure would fit the
motions just as well. It is true, Shakespeare had a course of action
marked out for him in the tale. But then he was bound by his own
principles of art to make the character such as would rationally
support the action, and cohere with it. For such is the necessary law
of moral development and transpiration. Nor is it by any means safe to
affirm that, he has not done this. For it is to be noted that
Polixenes has made a pretty long visit, having passed, it seems, no
less than nine changes of the Moon at the home of his royal friend.
And he might well have found it not always easy to avoid preferring
the Queen's society to the King's; for she is a most irresistible
creature, and her calm, ingenuous modesty, itself the most dignified
of all womanly graces, is what, more than any thing else, makes her
so. What secret thoughts may have been gathering to a head in the mind
of Leontes during that period, is left for us to divine from the
after-results. And I believe there is a jealousy of friendship, as
well as of love. Accordingly, though Leontes invokes the Queen's
influence to induce a lengthening of the visit, yet he seems a little
disturbed on seeing that her influence has proved stronger than his

"_Leon_. Is he won yet?

_Herm_. He'll stay, my lord.

_Leon_. At my request he would not.
Hermione, my dear'st, thou never spok'st
To better purpose.

_Herm_. Never?

_Leon_. Never, but once.

_Herm_. What! have I twice said well? when was't before?
I pr'ythee tell me.

_Leon_. Why, that was when
Three crabbed months had sour'd themselves to death,
Ere I could make thee open thy white hand,
And clap thyself my love: then didst thou utter,
_I'm yours forever_."

There is, I think, a relish of suppressed bitterness in this last
speech, as if her long reluctance had planted in him a germ of doubt
whether, after all, her heart was really in her words of consent. For
the Queen is a much deeper character than her husband. It is true,
these notices, and various others, drop along so quiet and
unpronounced, as hardly to arrest the reader's attention. Shakespeare,
above all other men, delights in just such subtile insinuations of
purpose; they belong indeed to his usual method of preparing for a
given issue, yet doing it so slyly as not to preclude surprise when
the issue comes.

So that in his seeming abruptness Leontes, after all, does but
exemplify the strange transformations which sometimes occur in men
upon sudden and unforeseen emergencies. And it is observable that the
very slightness of the Queen's indiscretion, the fact that she goes
but a little, a very little too far, only works against her, causing
the King to suspect her of great effort and care to avoid suspicion.
And on the same principle, because he has never suspected her before,
therefore he suspects her all the more vehemently now: that his
confidence has hitherto stood unshaken, he attributes to extreme
artfulness on her part; for even so, to an ill-disposed mind perfect
innocence is apt to give an impression of consummate art. A passion
thus groundless and self-generated might well be full-grown as soon as
born. The more greedy and craving, too, that it has nothing real to
eat; it therefore proceeds at once to "make the meat it feeds on,"
causing him to magnify whatever he sees, and to imagine many things
that are not. That jealousy, however, is not the habit of his mind,
appears in that it finds him unprepared, and takes him by surprise;
insomuch that he forthwith loses all self-control, and runs right
athwart the rules of common decency and decorum, so that he becomes an
object at once of pity, of hatred, and scorn.

I think the Poet hardly anywhere shows a keener and juster insight of
nature than in the behaviour of this man while the distemper is upon
him. He is utterly reason-proof, and indeed acts as one literally
insane. For the poison infects not only his manners, but his very
modes of thought: in fact, all his rational and imaginative forces,
even his speech and language, seem to have caught the disease. And all
the loathsome filth which had settled to the bottom of his nature is
now shaken up to the surface, so that there appears to be nothing but
meanness and malignity and essential coarseness in him. Meanwhile an
instinctive shame of his passion and a dread of vulgar ridicule put
him upon talking in dark riddles and enigmas: hence the confused,
broken, and disjointed style, an odd jumble of dialogue and soliloquy,
in which he tries to jerk out his thoughts, as if he would have them
known, and yet not have them known. I believe men generally credit
themselves with peculiar penetration when they are in the act of being
deluded, whether by themselves or by others. Hence, again, the strange
and even ludicrous conceit in which Leontes wraps himself. "Not noted,
is 't," says he, referring to the Queen's imaginary crime,--

"not noted, is 't,
But of the finer natures? by some severals
Of head-piece extraordinary? lower messes,
Perchance, are to this business purblind."

Thus he mistakes his madness for a higher wisdom, and clothes his
delusion with the spirit of revelation; so that Camillo rightly

"You may as well
Forbid the sea for to obey the Moon
As or by oath remove or counsel shake
The fabric of his folly, whose foundation
Is pil'd upon his faith."

I must note one more point of the delineation. When Leontes sends his
messengers to Delphos, he avows this as his reason for doing so:

"Though I am satisfied, and need no more
Than what I know, yet shall the Oracle
Give rest to th' minds of others."

Which means simply that he is not going to let the truth of the charge
stand in issue, and that he holds the Divine authority to be a capital
thing, provided he may use it, and need not obey it; that is, if he
finds the god agreeing with him in opinion, then the god's judgment is
infallible; if not, then, in plain terms, he is no god. And they who
have closely observed the workings of jealousy, know right well that
in all this Shakespeare does not one whit "overstep the modesty of

The Poet manages with great art to bring Leontes off from the
disgraces of his passion, and repeal him home to our sympathies, which
had been freely drawn to him at first by his generosity of friendship.
To this end, jealousy is represented as his only fault, and this as a
sudden freak, which passes on directly into a frenzy, and whips him
quite out of himself, temporarily overriding his characteristic
qualities, but not combining with them; the more violent for being
unwonted, and the shorter-lived for being violent. In his firm,
compact energy of thought and speech, after his passion has cleared
itself, and in his perennial flow of repentance after his bereavement,
are displayed the real tone and texture of his character. We feel
that, if his sin has been great, his suffering is also great, and that
if he were a greater sinner, his suffering would be less. Quick,
impulsive, headstrong, he admits no bounds to anger or to penitence;
condemns himself as vehemently as he does others; and will spend his
life in atoning for a wrong he has done in a moment of passion: so
that we are the more willing to forgive him, inasmuch as he never
forgives himself.

* * * * *

The old poets seem to have contemplated a much wider range of female
excellence than it has since grown customary to allow; taking for
granted that whatsoever we feel to be most divine in man might be
equally so in woman; and so pouring into their conceptions of
womanhood a certain _manliness_ of soul, wherein we recognize an union
of what is lovely with what is honourable,--such a combination as
would naturally inspire any right-minded man at the same time with
tenderness and with awe. Their ideas of delicacy did not preclude
strength: in the female character they were rather pleased than
otherwise to have the sweetness of the violet blended with the
grandeur of the oak; probably because they saw and felt that woman
might be big-hearted and brave-minded, and yet be none the less
womanly; and that love might build all the higher and firmer for
having its foundations laid deep in respect. This largeness of heart
and liberality of thought often comes out in their writings, and that
too whether in dealing with ideal or with actual women; which suggests
that in what they chose to create they were a good deal influenced by
what they were accustomed to see. For in a thing that works so much
from the sympathies, it could hardly be but that they reflected the
mind and spirit of their age. Of this the aptest illustration that my
reading has lighted upon is in Ben Jonson's lines on the Countess of
Bedford, describing "what kind of creature I could most desire to
honour, serve, and love":

"I meant to make her fair, and free, and wise,
Of greatest blood, and yet more good than great;
I meant the day-star should not brighter rise,
Nor lend like influence from his lucent seat:
I meant she should be courteous, facile, sweet,
Hating that solemn vice of greatness, pride;
I meant each softest virtue there should meet,
Fit in that softer bosom to reside:
Only a learned and a manly soul
I purpos'd her; that should with even powers
The rock, the spindle, and the shears control
Of Destiny, and spin her own free hours."

That Shakespeare fully shared in this magnanimous bravery of
sentiment, we need no further proof than is furnished in the heroine
of this play. We can scarce call Hermione sweet or gentle, though she
is both; she is a _noble_ woman,--one whom, even in her greatest
anguish, we hardly _dare_ to pity. The whole figure is replete with
classic grace, is shaped and finished in the highest style of classic
art. As she acts the part of a statue in the play, so she has a
statue-like calmness and firmness of soul. A certain austere sweetness
pervades her whole demeanour, and seems, as it were, the essential
form of her life. It is as if some masterpiece of ancient sculpture
had warmed and quickened into life from its fulness of beauty and

Appearing at first as the cheerful hostess of her husband's friend,
and stooping from her queenly elevation to the most winning
affabilities, her behaviour rises in dignity as her sorrow deepens.
With an equal sense of what is due to the King as her husband, and to
herself as a woman, a wife, and a mother, she knows how to reconcile
all these demands; she therefore resists without violence, and submits
without weakness. And what her wise spirit sees to be fit and
becoming, that she always has strength and steadiness of character to
do: hence, notwithstanding the insults and hardships wantonly put upon
her, she still preserves the smoothnesses of peace; is never betrayed
into the least sign of anger or impatience or resentment, but
maintains, throughout, perfect order and fitness and proportion in act
and speech: the charge, so dreadful in itself, and so cruel in its
circumstances, neither rouses her passions, as it would Paulina's, nor
stuns her sensibilities, as in the case of Desdemona; but, like the
sinking of lead in the ocean's bosom, it goes to the depths without
ruffling the surface of her soul. Her situation is indeed full of
pathos,--a pathos the more deeply-moving to others, that it stirs no
tumults in her; for her nature is manifestly fitted up and furnished
with all tender and gentle and womanly feelings; only she has the
force of mind to control them, and keep them all in the right place
and degree. "They are the patient sorrows that touch nearest." And so,
under the worst that can befall, she remains within the region of
herself, calm and serenely beautiful, stands firm, yet full of grace,
in the austere strengths of reason and conscious rectitude. And when,
at her terrible wrongs and sufferings, all hearts are shaken, all eyes
wet, but her own, the impression made by her stout-hearted fortitude
is of one whose pure, tranquil, deep-working breast is the home of
sorrows too big for any eye-messengers to report:

"Calm pleasures there abide, majestic pains."

The delineation keeps the same tone and texture through all its parts,
but the sense of it is specially concentrated in what she says when
the King winds up his transport of insane fury by ordering her off to

"Good my lords,
I am not prone to weeping, as our sex
Commonly are; the want of which vain dew
Perchance shall dry your pities; but I have
That honourable grief lodg'd here which burns
Worse than tears drown. 'Beseech you all, my lords,
With thoughts so qualified as your charities
Shall best instruct you, measure me;--and so,
The King's will be perform'd!--'Beseech your Highness,
My women may be with me; for, you see,
My plight requires it.--Do not weep, good fools;
There is no cause: when you shall know your mistress
Has deserv'd prison, then abound in tears,
As I come out.--.... Adieu, my lord:
I never wish'd to see you sorry; now
I trust, I shall."

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