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proof that Timon, but much that Twelfth Night, was written dur. ing the period in question: besides, even in the plays referred to there is so much of unquestionable difference blended with the acknowledged likeness, as will greatly embarrass, if not quite defeat, such a theory. But whatsoever may have caused the peculiar tone, the darker cast of thought, in these plays, it is pleasing to know that that darkness passed away; the clear azure, soft sunshine, and serene sweetness of The Tempest and The Winter's Tale being unquestionably of a later date. And surely, in the life of so thoughtful a man as Shakespeare, there might well be, nay, there must needs have been, times when, without any special woundings or bruisings of fortune, his mind got fascinated by the awful mystery, the appalling presence of evil that haunts our fallen nature
That these hours, however occasioned, were more frequent at one period of his life than at others, is indeed probable. And it was equally natural that their coming should sometimes engage him in heart-tugging and brain-sweating efforts to scrutinize the inscrutable workings of human guilt, and thus stamp itself strongly upon the offspring of his mind. Thus, without any other than the ordinary progress of thoughtful spirits, we should naturally have a middle period, when the early enthusiasm of hope and successful endeavour had passed away, and before the deeper, calmer, but not less cheerful tranquillity of resignation had set in, the experienced insufficiency of man for himself having charmed the wrestlings of thought into repose, and his spirit having undergone the chastening and subduing power of life's sterner discipline.
In some such passage as this, then, we should rather presume the unique conception of Measure for Measure to have been wrought up in his mind. We 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 exhibit less of leaning upon preexisting 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 ge nius is here out in all its colossal individuality, and he seems to have meant it should be so; as if he felt that he had now reached his mastership; as if a large experience and long testing of his powers had taught him a just self-reliance, and given him to know that, from being the offspring, he was to become the soul of us age; that from his accumulated and well-practised learnings he had built up a power to teach still nobler lessons; so that, instead of leaning any longer upon those who had gone before, he was to be himself a safe leaning-place for those that were to follow. Accordingly, if we here miss something of what Wordsworth finely ralis
"That monumental grace
Of Faith, which doth all passions tame
That Reason should control,
yet we have the wise though fearless grapplings and strugglings of mind with thoughts too big for human mastery, whereby the imperfection was in due time to be outgrown. The thought is strong, and in its strength careless of appearances, and rather wishing than fearing to have its roughnesses seen the style is rugged, irregular, abrupt, sometimes running into an almost forbidding sternness, but every where throbbing with life; the words, direct of movement, sudden and sure of result, always going right to the spot, and leaving none of their work undone with but little of elaborate grace or finish, we have a few bold, deep strokes, where the want of finer softenings and shadings is more than made up by increased energy and expressiveness: often a rush and flood of thought is condensed and rammed into a line or clause, so that the life thereof beats and reverberates through the whole scene. Hence, perhaps, it is, in part, that so many axioms and brief sententious precepts" of moral and political 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.
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 pays. Coleridge, in those precious fragments of his critical lecwhich now form our best text-book of English criticism, says, This play, which is Shakespeare's throughout, is to me the most painful say rather, the only painful part of his genule works. The comic and tragic parts equally border on the Monrov, the one being disgusting, the other horrible; and the pardon and marriage of Angelo not merely baffles the strong indignant claims of justice, (for cruelty, with lust and damnable baseness, cannot be forgiven, because we cannot conceive them as being morally repented of ;) but it is likewise degrading to woman." This language, though there is much in other critics to bear it out, seems not a little stronger than the subject will fairly justify; and when, in his Table Talk, he says that "Isabella hersest contrives to be unamiable, and Claudio is detestable," we can by no means go along with him.
It would seem indeed as if undue censure had often passed, not so much on the play itself, as upon some of the persons, from try
g them by a moral standard which cannot be fairly applied to inem, as they are not supposed to have any means of knowing it; 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 by the standard of morality then and there approved, he was, as he considered himself, virtually married, though not admissible to all the rights of the married life; in accordance with what the Duke says to Mariana, that there would be no crime in her meeting with Angelo, because he was her husband on a pre-contract." And who does not know that, in ancient times, the ceremony of betrothment conferred the marriage tie, but not the nuptials, so that the union of the parties was thenceforth firm in the eyes of the law itself? Mr. Hallam, in like sort, speaking of Isabella, says, -"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." In reply to the first part of which, we would venture to ask this accomplished critic whether she would not have suffered a still greater depreciation in his esteem, if she had yielded to Angelo's proposal. As to the second part, though we 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 us as every way creditable to her. Her reproaches were indeed too harsh, if they appeared to spring from any want of love; but as it is their very harshness does her honour, as it shows the natural workings of a tender and deep affection, in an agony of disappointment at being counselled, by one for whom she would die, to an act which she shrinks from with noble horror, and justly regards as worse than death. We have here the keen anguish of conflicting feelings venting itself in a severity which, though certainly undeserved, only serves to disclose the more impressively the treasured riches of her character. And the same judicious writer, after stating that, without the part of Mariana, "the story could not have had any thing like a satisfactory termination," goes on,- -"Yet 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 in 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
"Lo Angelo is precise;
Stands at a guard with envy; scarce confesses
Is more to bread than stone: hence shall we see.
thus inferring that his main purpose, in assuming the disguise of a monk, is to unmask the deputy, and demonstrate to others
And the Duke throws out othe
what himself has long known. hints of a belief or suspicion that Lord Angelo is angling for emolument or popular breath, and baiting his hook with grea apparent strictness and sanctity of life; thus putting on sheep's clothing to the end that he may play the wolf with safety and suc cess. Nor was there much cause for explaining how the Duke came by the secret concerning Mariana; it being enough that he knows it, that the knowledge thereof justifies his distrust, and that when the time comes he uses it for a good purpose; the latter part of the work thus throwing light on what has gone before, and the former preparing the mind for what is to follow. Nor is it unreasonable to presume that one of the Duke's motives for the stratagem was, that he was better able to understand the deputy's character than persuade others of it: for a man of his wisdom, even if he had no available facts in the case, could hardly be ignorant that an austerity so theatrical as Angelo's must needs be not so much a virtue as an art; and that one so forward to air his graces and make his light shine could scarce intend thereby any other glory than his own.
Yet Angelo is not so properly a hypocrite as a self-deceiver. For it is very considerable that he wishes to be, and sincerely thinks that 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. For a most searching and pregnant exposition of this type of character the reader may he referred to Bishop Butler's Sermon before the House of Lords on the 30th of January; where that great and good man, whose every sentence is an acorn of wisdom, speaks of a class of men who "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." Thus Angelo for self-ends imitates sanctity, and gets taken in by his own imitation. His original fault lay in forgetting or ignoring his own frailty. As a natural consequence, his " darling sin is pride that apes humility;" and his pride of virtue, his conceit of purity, "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 auy it keeps him from; insomuch that Isabella's presence may al most be said to elevate him into lust. And perhaps the array of how and loathsome vices, which the Poet has clustered about him in the persons of Lucio, the Clown, and Mrs. Over-done, 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 this "mystery of iniquity" is depicted with a truth and sternness of pencil, that could scarce have been achieved but in an age fruitful in living examples of it.
The placing of Isabella, " a thing enskied and sainted." and
wno truly is all that Angelo seems, side by side with such a breath ing 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 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 the action may wear to the world, nor how much reproach it may bring upon her from others, it will only leave her the society, which she has never parted from, of a clean breast and an unsoiled conscience. In strict keeping with this, her character appears to us among the finest, in some respects the very finest in Shakespeare's matchless cabinet of female excellence. 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 sweet austere composures 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 once thinks of it as her own, but only as a gift from the God whom she loves, 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 one of his own making, and has no basis but pride, which is itself but a bubble. Accordingly, there is a vestal beauty about her, to which we know of nothing equal save in the lives of some of the whitest saints. 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 old, if it were possible by any means to crush the freshness of immortal youth out of it.
The Duke has been rather hardly dealt with by critics. The Poet 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 has represented him as having rather more skill and pleasure in strategical arts and roundabout ways than is altogether compatible with such a character. Some of his alleged reasons for the action he is going about reflect no honour on him; but it is observable that the result does not approve them to have been his real ones: his conduct at the end infers better motives than his speech offered at the beginning;