Page images
PDF
EPUB

as well as if counsel had been assigned him. In one sense, Shakespear was no moralist at all: in another, he was the greatest of all moralists. He was a moralist in the same sense in which nature is one. He taught what he had learnt from her. He shewed the greatest knowledge of humanity with the greatest fellow-feeling for it.

One of the most dramatic passages in the present play is the interview between Claudio and his sister, when she comes to inform him of the conditions on which Angelo will spare his life.

"Claudio. Let me know the point.

Isabella. O, I do fear thee, Claudio: and I quake,
Lest thou a feverous life should'st entertain,
And six or seven winters more respect
Than a perpetual honour. Dar'st thou die?
The sense of death is most in apprehension;
And the poor beetle, that we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
As when a giant dies.

Claudio. Why give you me this shame?
Think you I can a resolution fetch
From flowery tenderness; if I must die,
I will encounter darkness as a bride,
And hug it in mine arms.

Isabella. There spake my brother! there my father's
grave

Did utter forth a voice! Yes, thou must die:
Thou art too noble to conserve a life
In base appliances. This outward-sainted deputy—
Whose settled visage and deliberate word

Nips youth i' the head, and follies doth emmew,
As falcon doth the fowl—is yet a devil.

Claudio The princely Angelo?

Isabella. Oh, 'tis the cunning livery of hell,
The damned'st body to invest and cover
In princely guards! Dost thou think, Claudio,
If I would yield him my virginity,
Thou might'st be freed?

Claudio. Oh, heavens! it cannot be.

Isabella. Yes, he would give it thee, for this rank offence,

So to offend him still: this night's the time
That I should do what I abhor to name,
Or else thou dy'st to-morrow. ,

Claudio. Thou shalt not do't.

Isabella. Oh, were it but my life,
I'd throw it down for your deliverance
As frankly as a pin.

Claudio. Thanks, dear Isabel.

Isabella. Be ready, Claudio, for your death to-morrow.

Claudio. Yes.—Has he affections in him, J That thus can make him bite the law by the nose? When he would force it, sure it is no sin; Or of the deadly seven it is the least.

Isabella. Which is the least?

Claudio. If it were damnable, he, being so wise,
Why would he for the momentary trick
Be perdurably fin'd? Oh, Isabel!

Isabella. What says my brother?

Claudio. Death is a fearful thing.

Isabella. And shamed life a hateful.

Claudio. Aye, but to die, and go we know not where; To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot; This sensible warm motion to become A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit

To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside

In thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice;

To be imprison'd in the viewless winds,

And blown with restless violence round about

The pendant world; dr to be worse than worst

Of those, that lawless and incertain thoughts

Imagine howling !—'tis too horrible!

The weariest and most loathed worldly life,

That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment

Can lay on nature, is a paradise

To what we fear of death.

Isabella. Alas! alas!

Claudio. Sweet sister, let me live: What sin you do to save a brother's life, Nature dispenses with the deed so far, That it becomes a virtue."

What adds to the dramatic beauty of this scene and the effect of Claudio's passionate attachment to life is, that it immediately follows the Duke's lecture to him, in the character of the Friar, recommending an absolute indifference to it.

— " Reason thus with life,— If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing, That none but fools would keep: a breath thou art, Servile to all the skyey influences That do. this habitation, where thou keep'st, Hourly afflict: merely, thou art death's fool; For him thou labour'st by thy flight to shun, And yet run'st toward him still: thou art not noble; For all the accommodations, that thou bear'st, Are nurs'd by baseness: thou art by no means valiant; For thou dost fear the soft and tender fork

Of a poor worm: thy best of rest is sleep,

And that thou oft provok'st; yet grossly fear'st

Thy death, which is no more. Thou art not thyself;

For thou exist'st on many a thousand grains

That issue out of dust: happy thou art not;

For what thou hast not, still thou striv'st to get;

And what thou hast, forget'st: thou art not certain;

For thy complexion shifts to strange effects,

After the moon; if thou art rich, thou art poor;

For, like an ass, whose back with ingots bows,

Thou bear'st thy heavy riches but a journey,

And death unloads thee: friend thou hast none;

For thy own bowels, which do call thee sire,

The mere effusion of thy proper loins,

Do curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum,

For ending thee no sooner: thou hast nor youth, nor age;

But, as it were, an after-dinner's sleep,

Dreaming on both: for all thy blessed youth

Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms

Of palsied eld; and when thou art old, and rich,

Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty,

To make thy riches pleasant. What's yet in this.

That bears the name of life? Yet in this life

Lie hid more thousand deaths; yet death we fear.

That makes these odds all even."

THE

MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.

The Merry Wives Of Windsor is no doubt a very amusing play, with a great deal of humour, character, and nature in it: but we should have liked it much better, if any one else had been the hero of it, instead of Falstaff. We could have been contented if Shakespear had not been "commanded to shew the knight in love." Wits and philosophers, for the most part, do not shine in that character; and Sir John himself, by no means, comes off with flying colours. Many people complain of the degradation and insults to which Don Quixote is so frequently exposed in his various adventures. But what are the unconscious indignities which he suffers, compared with the sensible mortifications which Falstaff is made to bring upon himself? What are the blows and buffettings which the Don re

« PreviousContinue »