Page images
PDF
EPUB

My play-fellow, your hand; this kingly seal,
And plighter of high hearts."

It is no wonder that he orders him to be whipped ; but his low condition is not the true reason: there is another feeling which lies deeper, though Antony's pride would not let him show it, except by his rage ; he suspects the fellow to be Casar's proxy.

Cleopatra's whole character is the triumph of the voluptuous, of the love of pleasure and the power of giving it, over every other consideration. Octavia is a dull foil to her, and Fulvia, a shrill-tongued shrew. What a picture do those lines give of her

*Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety. Other women cloy
The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry
Where most she satisfies.**

What a spirit and fire in her conversation with Antony's mes. senger, who brings her the unwelcome news of his marriage with Octavia ! How all the pride and beauty of high rank breaks out in her promised reward to him

[ocr errors]

She had great and unpardonable faults, but the beauty of her death almost redeems them. She learns from the depth of de spair the strength of her affections. She keeps her queen-like state in the last disgrace, and her sense of the pleasurable in the last moments of her life. She tastes a luxury in death. After applying the asp, she says with fondness

* Dost thou not see my baby at my breast,
That sucks the nurse asleep?
As sweet as balm, u soft as air, as gentle.
Oh Antony ***

It is worth while to observe that Shakspeare has contrasted the extreme magnificence of the descriptions in this play with pictures of extreme suffering and physical horror, not less strik. ing-partly, perhaps, to excuse the effeminacy of Mark Antony, to whom they are related as having happened, but more to preserve a certain balance of feeling in the mind. Cæsar says, hearing of his conduct at the court of Cleopatra,

-“ Antony,
Leave thy lascivious wassels. When thou once
Wert beaten from Mutina, where thou slew'st
Hirtius and Pansa, consuls, at thy heel
Did famine follow, whom thou fought'st against,
Though daintily brought up, with patience more
Than savages could suffer. Thou did'st drink
The stale of horses, and the gilded puddle
Which beast would cough at. Thy palate then did deign
The roughest berry on the rudest kedge,
Yea, like the stag, when snow the pasture sheets,
The barks of trees thou browsed'st. On the Alps,
It is reported, thou did'st eat strange flesh,
Which some did die to look on: and all this,
It wounds thine honor that I speak it now,
Was borne so like a soldier, that thy cheek
So much as lank'd not.”

The passage after Antony's defeat by Augustus, where he is made to say

« Yes, yes; he at Philippi kept
His sword e'en like a dancer; while I struck
The lean and wrinkled Cassius, and 't was I
That the mad Brutus ended "-

is one of those fine retrospections which show us the winding and eventful march of human life. The jealous attention which has been paid to the unities both of time and place, has taken away the principle of perspective in the drama, and all the interest which objects derive from distance, from contrast, from privation, from change of fortune, from long-cherished passion ; and contracts our view of life from a strange and romantic dream, long, obscure, and infinite, into a smartly contested three hours' inaugural disputation on its merits by the different candidates for theatrical applause.

The latter scenes of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA are full of the

changes of accident and passion. Success and defeat follow one -another with startling rapidity. Fortune sits upon her wheel more blind and giddy than usual. This precarious state and the approaching dissolution of his greatness are strikingly displayed in the dialogue between Antony and Eros.

" ANTONY. Eros, thou yet beholdt'st me!
Eros. Ay, noble lord.

ANTONY. Sometime we see a cloud that's dragonish,
A vapor sometime, like a bear or lion,
A towered citadel, a pendant rock,
A forked mountain, or blue promontory
With trees upon 't, that nod unto the world
And mock our eyes with air. Thou hast seen these signs,
They are black vesper's pageants,

Enos. Ay, my lord.

ANTONY. That which is now a horse, even with a thought
The nack dislimns, and makes it indistinct
As water is in water.

Enos. It does, my lord.

ANTONY. My good knave, Eros, now thy captain is
Even such a body," &c.

This is, without doubt, one of the finest pieces of poetry in Shakspeare. The splendor of the imagery, the semblance of reality, the lofty range of picturesque objects hanging over the world, their evanescent nature, the total uncertainty of what is left behind, are just like the mouldering schemes of human great ness. It is finer than Cleopatra's passionate lamentation over his fallen grandeur, because it is more dim, unstable, unsubstan. tial. Antony's beadstrong presumption, and infatuated detrz. mination to yield to Cleopatra's wishes to fight by sea instead of land, meet a merited punishment; and the extravagance of his resolations, increasing with the desperateness of his circumstan. ces, is well commented upon by Enobarbus,

-*l ser men's judgments are
A parcel of their fortunes, and things outward
Do draw the inward quality after them
To sofer all alike.**

The repentance of

pobarbus after his treachery to his mas. ter is the most affecting part of the play. He cannot recover from the blow which Antony's generosity gives him, and he dies broken-hearted, “a master-leaver and a fugitive."

Shakspeare's genius has spread over the whole play a richness like the overflowing of the Nile.

HAMLET.

This is that Hamlet the Dane, whom we read of in our youth, and whom we seem almost to remember in our after years; he who made that famous soliloquy on life, who gave the advice to the players, who thought “this goodly frame, the earth, a steril promontory, and this brave o'er-hanging firmament, the air, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors;" whom “man delighted not, nor woman neither;" he who talked with the grave-diggers, and moralised on Yorick's skull; the school-fellow of Rosencrantz and Guil. denstern at Wittenberg; the friend of Horatio ; the lover of Ophelia; he that was mad and sent to England; the slow avenger of his father's death; who lived at the court of Horwendillus five hundred years before we were born, but all whose thoughts we seem to know as well as we do our own, because we have read them in Shakspeare.

Hamlet is a name : his speeches and sayings but the idle coinage of the poet's brain. What then, are they not real! They are as real as our own thoughts. Their reality is in the reader's mind. It is we who are Hamlet. This play has a prophetic truth, which is above that of history. Whoever has become thoughtful and melancholy through his own mishaps or those of others; whoever has borne about with him the clouded brow of reflection, and thought himself " too much i' th' sun ;** whoever has seen the golden lamp of day dimmed by envious mists rising in his own breast, and could find in the world be fore him only a dull blank with nothing left remarkable in it; whoever has known "the pangs of despised love, the insolence of office, or the spurns which patient merit of the unworthy

« PreviousContinue »