« PreviousContinue »
ROMEO AND JULIET..
ROMBO AND JULIET is the only tragedy which Shakspeare has written entirely on a love-story. It is supposed to have been his first play, and it deserves to stand in that proud rank. There is the buoyant spirit of youth in every line, in the rapturous in toxication of hope, and in the bitterness of despair. It has been said of ROMEO AND JULIET by a great critic, that “whatever is most intoxicating in the odor of a southern spring, languishing in the song of the nightingale, or voluptuous in the first opening of the rose, is to be found in this poem.” The description is true; and yet it does not come up to our idea of the play. For if it has the sweetness of the rose, it has its freshness too; if it has the languor of the nightingale's song, it has also its giddy transport; if it has the softness of a southern spring, it is as glowing and as bright. There is nothing of a sickly and senti. mental cast. Romeo and Juliet are in love, but they are not love-sick. Everything speaks the very soul of pleasure, the high and healthy pulse of the passions: the heart beats, the blood circulates and mantles throughout. Their courtship is not an insipid interchange of sentiments lip-deep, learnt at secondhand from poems and plays,—made up of beauties of the most shadowy kind, of “ fancies wan,” of evanescent smiles and sighs that breathe not, of delicacy that shrinks from the touch, and feebleness that scarce supports itself, an elaborate vacuity of thoaght, and an artificial dearth of sense, spirit, truth, and nature! It is the reverse of all this. It is Shakspeare all over, and Shakspeare when he was young.
We have heard it objected to ROMEO AND JULIET, that it is founded on an idle passion between a boy and a girl, who have scarcely seen and can have but little sympathy or rational esteem for one another, who have had no experience of the good or ills of life, and whose raptures or despair must be therefore equally groundless and fantastical. Whoever objects to the youth of the parties in this play as “too unripe and crude” to pluck the sweets of love, and wishes to see a first-love carried on into a good old age, and the passions taken at the rebound, when their force is spent, may find all this done in the Stranger and in other German plays, where they do things by contraries, and transpose nature to inspire sentiment and create philosophy. Shakspeare proceeded in a more straightforward, and, we thinks, more effectual way. He did not endeavor to extract beauty from wrinkles, or the wild throb of passion from the last expiring sigh of indifference. He did not " gather grapes of thorns nor figs of thistles.” It was not his way. But he has given a picture of human life, such as it is in the order of nature. He has founded the passion of the two lovers not on the pleasures they had experienced, but on all the pleasures they had not experienced. All that was to come of life was theirs. At that untried source of promised happiness they slaked their thirst, and the first cager draught made them drunk with love and joy. They were in full possession of their senses and their atieciions. Their hopes were of air, their desires of fire. Youth is the season of love, because the beart is then first melted in tenderness from the touch of novelty, and kindled to rapture, for it knows no end of its enjoy. ments or its wishes. Desire has no limit but itself. Passion, the love and expectation of pleasure, is infinite, extravagant, inex. haustible, till experience comes to check and kill 4. Juliet exclaims on her first interview with Romeo s tai linii de
"My bounty is as brundless as the sea,
My love us deep." And why should it not? What was to hinder the thrilling tide af pleasure, which had just gushed from her beart, from flowing on without stint or measure, but experience which she was yet without? What was to abate the transport of the first swoos sense of pleasure, which ber beart and her senses had just lasted, but indifference, which she was yet a stranger to l What was there to check the ardor of hope, of faith, of constaney, just rising in her breast, but disappointment which she had not yet felt? As are the desires and hopes of youthful passion, such is the keenness of its disappointments, and their baleful effect. Such is the transition in this play from the highest bliss to the lowest despair, from the nuptial couch to an untimely grave. The only evil that even in apprehension befalls the two lovers is the loss of the greatest possible felicity; yet this loss is fatal to both, for they had rather part with life than bear the thought of surviving all that had made life dear to them. In all this, Shakspeare has but followed nature, which existed in his time, as well as now. The modern philosophy, which reduces the whole theory of the mind to habitual impressions, and leaves the natural impulses of passion and imagination out of the account, had not then been discovered; or, if it had, would have been little calculated for the uses of poetry. Ning 101 Aci il maild Literature
It is the inadequacy of the same false system of philosophy to account for the strength of our earliest attachments, which has led Mr. Wordsworth to indulge in the mystical visions of Platonism in his Ode on the Progress of Life. He has very admi. rably described the vividness of our impressions in youth and childhood, and how they fade by degrees into the light of common day," and he ascribes the change to the supposition of a pre-existent state, as if our early thoughts were nearer heaven, reflections of former trails of glory, shadows of our past being. This is idle. It is not from the knowledge of the past that the first impressions of things derive their gloss and splendor, but from our ignorance of the future, which fills the void to come with the warmth of our desires, with our gayest hopes and brightest fancies. It is the obscurity spread before it that colors the prospect of life with hope, as it is the cloud which reflects the rainbow. There is no occasion to resort to any mystical union and transmission of feeling, through different states of being, to account for the romantic enthusiasm of youth ; nor to plant the root of hope in the grave, nor to derive it from the skies. Its root is in the heart of man: it lifts its head above the stars. Desire and imagination are inmates of the human breast: The heaven “that lies about us in our infancy” is only a new world, of which we know nothing but what we wish it to be,
and believe it all that we wish. In youth and boyhood, the world we live in is the world of desire, and of fancy: it is experience that brings us down to the world of reality. What is it that in youth sheds a dewey light round the evening star! That makes the daisy look so bright? That perfumes the hyacinth ? That embalms the first kiss of love? It is the delight of novelty, and the seeing no end to the pleasure that we fondly believe is still in store for us. The heart revels in the luxury of its own thoughts, and is unable to sustain the weight of hope and, love that presses upon it. The effects of the passion of love alone might have dissipated Mr. Wordsworth's theory, if he means anything more by it than an ingenious and poetical allegory.
That at least is not a link in the chain let down from other worlds; " the purple light of love" is not a dim reflection of the smiles of celestial bliss. It does not appear till the middle of life, and then seems like “ another morn risen on mid day." In this respect the soul comes into the world in utter nakedness. Love waits for the ripening of the youthful blood. The sense of plexsure precedes the love of pleasure, but with the sense of pleasure, as soon as it is felt, come througing infinite desires and hopes of pleasure, and love is mature as soon as born. It withers and it dies almost as soon !
This play presents a beautiful coup d'æil of the progress of human life. lo thought it occupies years, and embraces the circle of the affections from childhood to old age. Juliet bas become a great girl, a young woman, since we first remember her a little thing in the idle prattle of the nurse. Lady Capulet was about her age when she became a mother, and old Capulet somewhat impatiently tells his younger visitors,
"I've seen the day
Thus one period of life makes way for the following, and one generation pushes another of the stage. One of the most striking pasages to show the intense feeling of youth in this play is Capulet's invitation to Paris to visit his entertainment.
“At my poor house, look to behold this night
The feelings of youth and of the spring are here blended together like the breath of opening flowers. Images of vernal beauty appear to have floated before the author's mind, in writing this poem, in profusion. Here is another of exquisite beauty, brought in more by accident than by necessity. Montague declares of his son smit with a hopeless passion, which he will not reveal
“ But he, his own affection's counsellor,
This casual description is as full of passionate beauty as when Romeo dwells in frantic fondness on “ the white wonder of his Juliet's hand.” The reader may, if he pleases, contrast the exquisite pastoral simplicity of the above lines with the gorgeous description of Juliet when Romeo first sees her at her father's house, surrounded by company and artificial splendor.
" What lady's that which doth enrich the hand
It would be hard to say which of the two garden scenes is the finest, that where he first converses with his love, or takes leave of her the morning after their marriage. Both are like a heaven upon earth; the blissful bowers of Paradise let down upon this lower world. We will give only one passage of these well. known scenes to show the perfect refinement and delicacy of