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We must conclude this criticism; and we will do it with a quotation or two. One of the most beautiful passages in Chaucer's tale is the description of Cresseide's first avowal of her love.
"And as the new abashed nightingale,
See also the two next stanzas, and particularly that divine one beginning
"Her armes small, her back both straight and soft," &c.
Compare this with the following speech of Troilus to Cressida in the play.
"O, that I thought it could be in a woman;
These passages may not seem very characteristic at first sight, though we think they are so. We will give two, that cannot be mistaken. Patroclus says to Achilles,
"Rouse yourself; and the weak wanton Cupid Shall from your neck unloose his amorous fold, And like a dew-drop from the lion's mane, Be shook to air."
Troilus, addressing the God of Day on the approach of the morning that parts him from Cressida, says with much scorn,
"What! proffer'st thou thy light here for to sell? Go, sell it them that smalls seles grave."
If nobody but Shakespear could have written the former, nobody but Chaucer would have thought of the latter.—Chaucer was the most literal of poets, as Richardson was of prose* writers.
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.
This is a very noble play. Though not in the first class of Shakespear's productions, it stands next to them, and is, we think, the finest of his historical plays, that is, of those in which he made poetry the organ of history, and assumed a certain tone of character and sentiment, in conformity to known facts, instead of trusting to his observations of general nature or to the unlimited indulgence of his own fancy. What he has added to the history, is upon a par with it. His genius was, as it were, a match for history as well as nature, and could grapple at will with either. This play is full of that pervading comprehensive power by which the poet could always make himself master of time and circumstances. It presents a fine picture of Roman pride and Eastern magnificence: and in the struggle between the two, the empire of the world seems suspended, "like the swan's downfeather,
"That stands upon the swell at full of tide, And neither way inclines."
The characters breathe, move, and live. Shakespear does not stand reasoning on what his characters would do or say, but at once becomes them, and speaks and acts for them. He does not present us with groups of stage-puppets or poetical machines making set speeches on human life, and acting from a calculation of ostensible motives, but he brings living men and women on the scene, who speak and act from real feelings, according to the ebbs and flows of passion, without the least tincture of pedantry of logic or rhetoric. Nothing is made out by inference and analogy, by climax and antithesis, but every thing takes place just as it would have done in reality, according to the occasion.—The character of Cleopatra is a master-piece. What an extreme contrast it affords to Imogen 1 One would think it almost impossible for the same person to have drawn both. She is voluptuous, ostentatious, conscious, boastful of her charms, haughty, tyrannical, fickle. The luxurious pomp and gorgeous extravagance of the Egyptian queen are displayed in all their force and lustre, as well as the irregular grandeur of the soul of Mark Antony. Take only the first four lines that they speak as an example of the regal style of lovemaking.
"Cleopatra. If it be love, indeed, tell me how much? Antony. There's beggary in the love that can be reckon'd. Cleopatra. I'll set a bourn how far to be belov'd. Antony. Then must thou needs find out new heav'n, new earth."
The rich and poetical description of her person, beginning—
"The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
seems to prepare the way for, and almost to justify the subsequent infatuation of Antony when in the sea-fight at Actium, he leaves the battle, and "like a doating mallard" follows her flying sails.
Few things in Shakespear (and we know of nothing in any other author like them) have more of that local truth of imagination and character than the passage in which Cleopatra is represented conjecturing what were the employments of Antony in his absence. "He's speaking now, or murmuring—Where's my serpent of old Nile?" Or again, when she says to Antony, after the defeat at Actium, and his summoning