Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

domestick life, afford a truer explanation of the matter? His women are certainly very unlike stage heroines; the reverse of tragedy queens.

We have almost as great an affection for Imogen as she had for Posthumus; and she deserves it better. Of all Shakspeare's women she is perhaps the most tender and the most artless. Her incredulity in the opening scene with Iachimo, as to her husband's inf. delity, is much the same as Desdemona's backwardness to believe Othello's jealousy. Her answer to the most distressing part of the picture is only, “My lord, I fear has forgot Britain." Her readiness to pardon Iachimo's false imputations and his designs against herself, is a good lesson to prudes; and may shew that where there is a real attachment to virtue, it has no need to bolster itself up with an outrageous or affected antipathy to vice. The scene in which Pisanio gives Imogen his master's letter, accusing her of incontinency on the treacherous suggestions of Iachimo, is as touching as it is possible for any thing to be :-

" Pisanio. What cheer, Madam?

Imogen. False to his bed! What is it to be false ?
To lie in watch there, and to think on bim?
To weep 'twixt clock and clock ? If sleep charge nature,
To break it with a fearful dream of him,
And cry myself awake! That's false to’s bed, is it?

Pisanio. Alas, good lady !

Imogen. I false ? thy conscience witness, Iachimo,
Thou didst accuse him of incontinency,
Thou then look’dst like a villain : now methinks,
Thy favour's good enough. . Some Jay of Italy,
Whose mother was her painting, hath betrayed him :
Poor I am stale, a garment out of fashion,

:

[ocr errors]

And for I am richer than to hang by th' walls,
I must be ript; to pieces with me. Oh,
Men's vows are women's traitors. All good seeming
By thy revolt, oh husband, shall be thought
Put on for villany : not bord where't grows,
But worn a bait for ladies.

Pisanio. Good Madam, hear me

Imogen Talk thy tongue weary, speak :
I have heard I am a strumpet, and mine ear,
Therein false struck, can take no greater wound,
Nor tent to bottom that.".

When Pisanio, who had been charged to kill his mistress, puts her in a way to live, she says,

" Why, good fellow,
What shall I do the while? Where bide ? How live?
Or in my life what comfort, when I am
Dead to my husband ?”

[ocr errors]

Yet when he advises her to disguise herself in boy's clothes, and

suggests a course pretty and full in view," by wbich she

may happily be near the residence of Posthumus," she exclaims,

" Oh, for such means,
Though peril to my modesty, not death on't,
I would adventure.".

And when Pisanio, enlarging on the consequences, tells her she must change

_" Fear and piceness,
The handmaids of all women, or more truly,
Woman its pretty self, into a waggish courage,
Ready in gibes, quick answer'd, saucy, and
As quarrellous as the weazel”-

[ocr errors]

she interrupts him hastily :

“ Nay, be brief ;
I see into thy end, and am almost
A man already."

In her journey thus disguised to Milford-Haven, she loses her guide and her way; and unbosoming her complaints, says beautifully,

“ My dear Lord,
Thou art one of the false ones; now I think ca thee,
My hunger's gone ; but even before, I was
At point to sink for food."

She afterwards finds, as she thinks, the dead body of Posthumus, and engages herself as a footboy to serve a Roman officer, when she has done all due obsequies to him whom she calls her former master

“ And when
With wild wood-leaves and weeds 1 ha' strew'd his grave,
And on it said a century of pray’rs,
Such as I can, twice o'er, I'll weep and sigh,
And leaving so his service, follow you,
So please you entertain me."

Now this is the very religion of love. She all along relies little on her personal charms, which she fears may have been eclipsed by some painted Jay of Italy ; she relies on her merit, and her merit is in the depth of her love, her trụth and constancy. Our admiration of her beauty is excited with as little consciousness as possible on her part. There are two delicious descriptions given of her, one when she is asleep, and one when she is supposed dead. Arvi. ragus thus addresses ber

"With fairest flowers,
While summer lasts, and I live here, Fidele,

I'll sweeten thy sad grave; thou shalt not lack
The flow'r that's like thy face, pale primrose, por
The azur'd hare bell, like thy veins, no, nor
The leaf of eglantine, which not to slander,
Out-sweeten'd not thy breath."

The yellow Iachimo gives another thus, when he steals into her bedchamber

“ Cytherea,
How bravely thou becom'st thy bed ! Fresh lily,
And whiter than the sheets! That I might touch-
But kiss, one kiss – 'Tis her breathing that
Perfumes the chamber thus : the flame o' th' taper
Bows towards her, and would under peep her lids
To see th' enclosed lights now canopied
Under the windows, white and azure, laced
With blue of Heav'ns own tinct--on her left breast
A mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops
l' the bottom of a cowslip."

There is a moral sense in the proud beauty of this last image, a rich surfeit of the fancy,--as that well known passage beginning, "Me of my lawful pleasure she restrained, and prayed me oft forbearance," sets a keener edge upon it by the inimitable picture of modesty and self-denial.

The character of Cloten, the conceited, booby lord, and rejected lover of Imogen, though not very agreeable in itself, and at present obsolete, is drawn with great humour and knowledge of character. The description which Imogen gives of his unwelcome addresses to her " Whose lovesuit bath been to me as fearful as a siege”-is enough to cure the most ridiculous lover of his folly. It is remarkable that though Cloten makes so poor a figure in love, he is

[ocr errors]

described as assuming an air of consequence as the Queen's son in a council of state, and with all the absurdity of his person and manners, is not without shrewdness in his observations. So true is it that folly is as often owing to a want of proper sentiments as to a want of understanding! The exclamation of the ancient critick, Oh Menander and Nature, which of you copied from the other! would not be misapplied to Shakspeare.

The other characters in this play are represented with great truth and accuracy, and as it happens in most of the author's works, there is not only the utmost keeping in each separate character; but in the casting of the different parts and their relation to one another, there is an affinity and harmony, like what we may observe in the gradations of colour in a picture. The striking and powerful contrasts in which Shakspeare abounds could not escape observation ; but the use he makes of the principle of analogy to reconcile the greatest diversities of character and to maintain a continuity of feeling throughout, has not been

, sufficiently attended to. In CYMBELINE, for instance, the principal interest arises out of the unalterable fidelity of Imogen to her husiand under the most trying circumstances. Now the other parts of the pictare are filled up with subordinate examples of the same feeling, variously modified by different situations, and applied to the purposes of virtue or vice. The plot is aided by the amorous importunities of Cloten, by the tragical determination of lachimo to conceal the defeat of his project by a daring imosture : the faithful attachment of Pisanio to his mistress

« VorigeDoorgaan »