Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

that to-morrow he must die. The explanation of
these two falsehoods would be far to seek, unless we
take it that they were invented simply in order to
prolong our interest in the drama. But this assump-
tion, though probable, does not increase our sym-
pathy with the protagonist—the lies seem to be too
carelessly uttered to be even characteristic—nor yet
our admiration of the structure of a play that needs
to be supported by such flimsy buttresses. Still this
very carelessness of fact, as I have said, is Shake-
spearean; the philosophic dreamer paid little atten-
tion to the mere incidents of the story,

The talk between the Duke and Isabella follows.
The form of the Duke's speech, with its touch of
euphuistic conceit, is one which Hamlet-Shakespeare
affects:

[ocr errors]

“ The hand that hath made you fair hath made you good: the goodness that is cheap in beauty makes beauty brief in goodness; but grace, being the soul of your complexion, shall keep the body of it ever fair.”

This Duke plays philosopher, too, in and out of season as Hamlet did: he says to Isabella :

[ocr errors]

“Virtue is bold, and goodness never fearful,”

generalizing his praise even to a woman.

Again, when Pompey is arrested, he passes from
the individual to the general, exclaiming:
“ That we were all as some would seem to be,

Free from our faults, as from faults seeming free!”

[ocr errors]

Then follows the interesting talk with Lucio, who awakens the slightly pompous Duke to natural life with his contempt. When Lucio tells the Duke, who

66

is disguised as a friar, that he (the Duke) was a notorious loose-liver—" he had some feeling of the sport; he knew the service ”—the Duke merely denies the soft impeachment; but when Lucio tells him that the Duke is not wise, but “a very superficial, ignorant, unweighing fellow,” the Duke bursts out, “ either this is envy in you, folly, or mistaking:

. . Let him but be testimonied in his own bringings-forth, and he shall appear to the envious a scholar, a statesman, and a soldier,” which recalls Hamlet's “Friends, scholars, and soldiers," and Ophelia's praise of Hamlet as “courtier, soldier, scholar.” Lucio goes off, and the Duke “moralizes” the incident in Hamlet's very accent:

“No might nor greatness in mortality

Can censure 'scape; backwounding calumny
The whitest virtue strikes. What king so strong
Can tie the gall up in the slanderous tongue?!

Hamlet says to Ophelia:

Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny.”

And Laertes says that “ virtue itself” cannot escape calumny.

The reflection is manifestly Shakespeare's own, and here the form, too, is characteristic. It may be as well to recall now that Shakespeare himself was calumniated in his lifetime; the fact is admitted in Sonnet 36, where he fears his " guilt” will“ shame” his friend.

In his talk with Escalus the Duke's speech becomes almost obscure from excessive condensation of thought—a habit which grew upon Shakespeare.

Escalus asks:

What news abroad in the world?”

The Duke answers :

“ None, but that there is so great a fever on goodness, that the dissolution of it must cure it: novelty is only in request. • . . There is scarce truth enough alive to make societies secure, but security enough to make fellowships accursed."

Escalus then tells us of the Duke's temperament in words which would fit Hamlet perfectly; for, curiously enough, they furnish us with the best description of Shakespeare's melancholy:

“Rather rejoicing to see another merry, than merry at anything which professed to make him rejoice.”

And, lastly, the curious rhymed soliloquy of Vincentio which closes this third act, must be compared with the epilogue to “ The Tempest”:

“He who the sword of Heaven will bear

Should be as holy as severe;
Pattern in himself to know,
Grace to stand and virtue go;

[ocr errors]

Shame to him whose cruel striking
Kills for faults of his own liking!
Twice treble shame on Angelo,
To weed my vice and let his grow!”

In the fifth act the Duke, freed from making plots and plans, speaks without constraint and reveals his nature ingenuously. He uses words to Angelo that recall the sonnets:

“O, your desert speaks loud; and I should wrong it,

To lock it in the wards of covered bosom,
When it deserves, with characters of brass,
A forted residence 'gainst the tooth of time
And razure of oblivion.” 1

Again, the Duke argues in gentle Shakespeare's fashion for Angelo and against Isabella :

If he had so offended,
He would have weighed thy brother by himself
And not have cut him off.”

It seems impossible for Shakespeare to believe that the sinner can punish sin. It reminds one of the sacred “ He that is without sin among you let him first cast a stone." The detections and forgivings of the last act follow.

It will be admitted, I think, on all hands that Duke Vincentio speaks throughout the play with Shakespeare's voice. From the point of view of literary art his character is very far from being as complex or as deeply realized as that of Hamlet or Macbeth, or even as that of Romeo or of Jaques, and yet one other trait besides that of sceptical brooding is so over-accentuated that it can never be forgotten. In the last scene the Duke orders Barnardine to the block and the next moment respites him; he condemns

“An Angelo for Claudio; death for death,”

then pardons Angelo, and at once begins to chat with him in kindly intimacy; he asserts that he cannot forgive Lucio, Lucio who has traduced him, ?

1 Cf. Sonnet 122 with its “ full character'd” and “razed oblivion.”

1

shall be whipped and hanged, and in the same breath he remits the heavy penalty. Truly he is “an unhurtful opposite ”1 whose anger has no steadfastness; but the gentle forgivingness of disposition that is so marked in Vincentio is a trait we found emphasized in Romeo, and again in Hamlet and again in Macbeth. It is, indeed, one of the most permanent characteristics of Shakespeare. From the beginning to the end of the play, Duke Vincentio is weaklykind in act and swayed by fitful impulses ; his assumed austerity of conduct is the thin varnish of vanity that will not take on such soft material. The Hamlet weakness is so exaggerated in him, and so unmotived, that I am inclined to think Shakespeare was even more irresolute and indisposed to action than Hamlet himself.

In the character of Posthumus, the hero of “Cymbeline,” Shakespeare has painted himself with extraordinary care; has, in fact, given us as deliberate

1 The critics are at variance over this ending, and, indeed, over the whole play. Coleridge says that “ our feelings of justice are grossly wounded in Angelo's escape”; for “cruelty with lust and damnable baseness cannot be forgiven.” Mr. Swinburne, too, regrets the miscarriage of justice; the play to him is a tragedy, and should end tragically with the punishment of the “autotype of the huge national vice of England." Perhaps, however, Puritan hypocrisy was not so widespread or so powerful in the time of Shakespeare as it is nowadays; perhaps, too, Shakespeare was not so good a hater as Mr. Swinburne, nor so strenuous a moralist as Coleridge was, at least in theory. In any case it is evident that Shakespeare found it harder to forgive Lucio, who had hurt his vanity, than Angelo, who pushed lust to outrage and murder, which strange, yet characteristic, fact I leave to the mercy of future commentators. Mr. Sidney Lee regards Measure for Meas

one of Shakespeare's greatest plays.” Coleridge, however, thought it “a hateful work ”; it is also a poor work, badly constructed, and for the most part carelessly written. In essence it is a mere tract against Puritanism, and in form a sort of Arabian Nights' Entertainment in which the hero plays the part of Haroun-al-Raschid.

[ocr errors]

ure

as

.

« VorigeDoorgaan »