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work of Shakspere does there reign so great a difference of style; the gallant tone of the court, the tragic expression of the passions, the splendour of imagery, the tenderness of love, the perfect naturalness, the entire plainness, almost amounting to rusticity, of many passages, in antithesis to the obscurity of others. This piece still retains possession of the English stage-highly attractive, because it is at the same time history, popular tale, tragedy, and comedy, more boldly mixed, and more freshly coloured, than in any other similar work even of this author.”* Schlegel says
Cymbeline is one of Shakspere's most wonderful compositions. He has connected a novel of Boccaccio with traditionary tales of the ancient Britons, reaching back to the times of the first Roman Emperors; and he has contrived, by the most gentle transitions, to blend together into one harmonious whole the social manners of the latest time with heroic deeds, and even with the appearances . of the gods." + This is a defence, and a just one, of what Johnson calls “faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation." But neither Tieck, nor Schlegel, according to their usual custem, attempt to show that any predominant idea runs through Cymbeline. They each speak of it as a succession of splendid scenes, and high poetry; and, indeed, it cannot be denied that these attributes of this drama most forcibly seize upon the mind, somewhat, perhaps, to the exclusion of ita real action. In Cymbeline, we are thrown back into the half.fabulous history of our own country, and see all objects under the dim light of uncertain events and manners. We have civilisation contending with semi-barbarism; the gorgeous worship of the Pagan world subduing to itself the bore simple worship of the Druidical times; kings and courtiers surrounded with the splendour of "barbaric pearl and gold;" and, even in those days of simplicity, a wilder and a simpler life, amidst the fastnesses of mountains, and the solitude of caves—the hunters' life, who " have seen pothing" —
* Subtle as the fox for prey, Like warlike as the wolf,"
bat who yet, in their natural piety, know “how to adore the heavens.” If these attributes of the drama had been less absorbing, we perhaps might have more readily seen the real course of the dramatic action. We venture with great diffidence to express our opinion, that one predominant idea does exist; for Coleridge, even more distinctly than the German critics, if we apprehend him rightly, inferred the contrary :-" In the Twelfth Night, Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, and Winter's Tale, the total effect is produced by a co-ordination of the characters as in a wreath of flowers. But in Coriolanus, Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, &c., the effect arises from the subordination of all to one, either as the prominent person, or the principal object." Coleridge is speaking of the great significancy of the names of Shakspere's plays. The consonancy of the names with the leading ideas of each drama is exemplified in this passage. He then adds _"Cymbeline is the only exception;" that is, the name of Cymbeline neither expresses the co-ordination of the characters, nor the principal object. He goes on to say, “Even that" (the name of Cymbeline) “has its advantages in preparing the audience for the chaos of time, place, and costume, by throwing the date back into a fabulous king's reign.” We do not understand that Coleridge meant to say that the play of Cymbeline had neither co-ordination of characters nor a prominent object; but we do apprehend that the name was symbolical, in his belief, of the main features of the play-the chaos of time, place, and costume. For he proceeds, immediately, to reinark, in reference to the judgment displayed by our truly dramatic poet in the management of his first scenes, “ With the single exception of Cymbeline, they place before us at one glance both the past and the future in some effect, which implies the continuance and full agency of its cause." # We venture to believe that Cymbeline does not form an exception to the usual course pursued by Shakspere in the management of his first scenes ; and that the first scenes of Cymbeline do place before us the past and the future in a way which we think very strikingly discloses what he intended to be the leading idea of his drama.
The dialogue of the “two Gentlemen ” in the opening scene makes us perfectly acquainted with the relations in which Posthumus and Imogen stand to each other, and to those around them. “She's wedded, her husband banish'd.” We have next the character of the banished husband, and of the unworthy suitor who is the cause of his banishment; as well as the story of the king's two lost
• Shakspeare's Dramatische Werke. Vol. IX. p. 374.
Lectures on Dramatic Literature. Vol. II. • Literary Remains. Vol. II. p. 207.
song. This is essentially the foundation of the past and future of the action. Brief indeed is this scene, but it well prepares us for the parting of Posthumus and Imogen. The course of their affections is turned awry by the wills of others. The angry king at once proclaims himself to us as one not cruel but weak; he has before been described as “touch'd at very heart." It is only in the intensity of her affection for Posthumus that Imogen opposes her own will to the impatient violence of her father, and the more crafty decision of her step-mother. But she is surrounded with a third evil,
“ A father cruel, and a step-dame false,
A foolish suitor to a wedded lady." Worse, however, even than these, her honour is to be assailed, her character vilified, by a subtle stranger ; who, perhaps more in sport than in malice, has resolved to win a paltry wager by the sacrifice of her happiness and that of her husband. What has she to oppose to all this complication of violence and cunning? Her perfect purity-her entire simplicity-her freedom from everything that is selfish-the strength only of her affections. The scene between Iachimo and Imogen is a contest of innocence with guile, most profoundly affecting, in spite of the few coarsenesses that were perhaps unavoidable, and which were not considered offensive in Shakspere's day. The supreme beauty of Imogen's character soars triumphantly out of the impure mist which is around her; and not the least part of that beauty is her ready forgiveness of her assailant, briefly and flutteringly expressed, however, when he relies upon the possibility of deceiving her through her affections :
O happy Leonatus! I may say:
Her assur'd credit!” This is the First Act; and, if we mistake not the object of Shakspere, these opening scenes exhibit one of the most confiding and gentle of human beings, assailed on every side by a determination of purpose, whether in the shape of violence, wickedness, or folly, against which, under ordinary circumstances, innocence may be supposed to be an insufficient shield. But the very helplessness of Imogen is her protection. In the exquisite Second Scene of the Second Act, the perfect purity of Imogen, as interpreted by Shakspere, has converted what would have been a most dangerous situation in the hands of another poet-Fletcher, for example - into one of the most refined delicacy :
" "T is her brea hing that
Perfumes the chamber thus.” The immediate danger is passed; but there is a new danger approaching. The will of her unhappy husband, deceived into madness, is to be added to the evils which she has already received from violence and selfishness. Posthumus, intending to destroy her, writes “ Take notice that I am in Cambria at Milford-Haven; what your own love will out of this advise you, follow.” She does follow her own love,-she has no other guide but the strength of her affections; that strength makes her hardy and fearless of consequences. It is the one duty, as well as the one pleasure, of her existence. How is that affection requited ? Pisanio places in her hand, when they have reached the deepest solitude of the mountains, that letter by which he is commanded to take away her life. One passing thought of herself-one faint reproach of her husband, -and she submits to the fate which it prepared for her:
" Come, fellow, be thou honest.
But her truth and innocence have already subdued the will of the sworn servant of her husband. He comforts her, but he necessarily leaves her in the wilderness. The spells of evil wills are still around her:
"My noble mistress,
Here is a box, I had it from the queen." Perhaps there is nothing in Shakspere more beautifully managed,-more touching in its romance, --more essentially true to nature,-than the scenes between Imogen and her unknown brothers.
The gentleness, the grace, the "grief and patience," of the helpless Fidele, producing at once the deepest reverence and affection in the bold and daring mountaineers, still carry forward the character of Imogen under the same aspects. Belarius has beautifully described the brothers :
" They are as gentle
And make him stoop to the vale." It was in their gentleness that Imogen found a support for her gentleness ;-it was in their rough. Dess that the roughness of Cloten met its punishment. Imogen is still saved from the dangers with which craft and violence have surrounded her. When she swallows the supposed medicine of the queen, we know beforehand that the evil intentions of her step-mother have been counteracted by the benevolent intentions of the physician :
"I do know her spirit, And will not trust one of her malice with
A drug of such damnd nature." "The bird is dead;" she was sick, and we almost fear that the words of the dirge are true:
“ Fear no more the frown of the great,
Thou art pass'd the tyrant's stroke."
But she awakes, and she has still to endure the last and the worst evil-her husband, in her apprehension, lies dead before her. She has no wrongs to think of_“O my lord, my lord," is all, in connexion with Posthumus, that escapes amidst her tears. The beauty and innocence which sared her from Iachimo,-which conquered Pisanio,-which won the wild hunters,—commend her to the Roman general-she is at once protected. But she has holy duties still to perform :
" I'll follow, sir. But, first, an 't please the gods,
I'll hide my master from the flies, as deep
It is the unconquerable affection of Imogen which makes us pity Posthumus even while we blame him for the rash exercise of his revengeful will. But in his deep repentance we more than pity him. We see only another victim of worldly craft and selfishness :
"Gods! if you
Me, wretch, more worth your vengeance."
"O Imogen, I'll speak to thee in silence."
The contest we now feel is over between the selfish and the unselfish, tha crafty and the simple, the proud and the meek, the violent and the gentle.
It is scarcely within our purpose to follow the unravelling of the incidents in the concluding scene. Steevens has worthily endeavoured to make amends for the injustice of the criticism which Cymbeline has received from his associate commentator :-“Let those who talk so confidently about the skill of Shakspeare's contemporary, Jonson, point out the conclusion of any one of his plays which is wrought with more artifice, and yet a less degree of dramatic violence, than this. In the scene before us, all the surviving characters are assembled ; and at the expense of wbatever incongruity the former events may have been produced, perhaps little can be discovered on this occasion to offend the most scrupulous advocate for regularity: and, I think, as little is found wanting to satisfy the spectator by a catastrophe which is intricate without confusion, and not more rich in ornament than in nature."
· The conclusion of Cymbeline has been lauded because it is consistent with poetičal justice. Those who adopt this species of reasoning look very imperfectly upon the course of real events in the moral world. It is permitted, for inscrutable purposes, that the innocent should sometimes fall before the wicked, and the noble be subjected to the base. In the same way, it is sometimes in the course of events that the pure and the gentle should triumph over deceit and outrage. The perishing of Desdemona is as true as the safety of Imogen; and the poetical truth involves as high a moral in the one case as in the other. That Shakspere's notion of poetical justice was not the hackneyed notion of an intolerant age, reflected even by a Boccaccio, is shown by the difference in the lot of the offender in the Italian tale and the lot of Iachimo. The Ambrogiolo of the novelist, who slanders a virtuous lady for the gain of a wager, is fastened to a stake, smeared with honey, and left to be devoured by flies and locusts. The close of our dramatist's story is perfect Shakspere :
-" Post. Speak, Jachimo; I had you down, and might
Have made you finish.
I am down again;
That ever swore her faith.
Kneel not to me,
And deal with others better.