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SUPERIOR to the unworthy fate that strikes her down, the good IIermione stili reigns in every uncorrupted heart, though barbarously thrust from his who most possessed and least deserved her love. She constitutes one of the most perfect, yet attractive, of Shakspeare's heroines. In her is seen the matron of warm affections and blameless life; exemplary in the relations of wife and mother, yet graceful and animated in discourse, amusing in herself and willingly amused; equally devoid of boldness and austerity; queenly, yet affable in prosperity ; dignified, patient, and triumphant in unmerited disgrace. To detail the beauties of the character would be to analyze each scene in which Hermione appears. What can be imagined more winning than her sportive efforts to detain Polixenes at her lord's request; what more delicately flattering than her questions of their earlier days, when they were "pretty lordings ?” Nothing short of insanity — actual, though temporary madness — could induce a husband to suspect a wife so fondly anxious to gain his good opinion, and to have the time recorded when “ once before she
spoke to the purpose.” — In the scene with her ladies and precocious son Mamillius, the mother shines with luster no less mild and cheering than the wife had done before. One little trait of ever-watchful maternity is here especially observable:– Hermione's anxiety that the boy should be seated, and not fatigue himself while relating his promised winter's tale of sprites and goblins. Three times is the entreaty urged:“Pray you, sit by us, and tell 's a tale ;” “Come on, sit down ;” “Nay, come, sit down : then on.” The poet's exquisite art is shewn no less in these fine touches, than in the stronger delineations that appertain to ambitious manhood or to sexual love.
Leontes can neither be excused (nor understood, perhaps) except on the supposition already intimated — that he is for the time insane: though this, it may be, is but saying in other words that his disposition is naturally suspicious. He appears to be one of those indefinable beings — wretched themselves, and making wretched all around them — to whom Emilia's description far more accurately applies than to the magnanimous Othello: “ They are jealous, for they are jealous." His long and bitter repentance, however, — his just appreciation of the treasure he has wantonly cast from him, and resolute rejection of all future wedlock, — go far to induce forgiveness of his crime, or pity for his frenzy: although, upon the whole, it were still difficult to believe that the warmhearted, though indiscreet Paulina, throws him one taunt, or causes him one pang, too many or too sharp. He gains full cheaply, on such terms, the bliss she has prepared for him in the fine and masterly catastrophe.
Ferdita may be termed a softened likeness of her mother, — an embodiment of what Hermione might have been at equal age, and under similar circumstances. The daughter displays the same natural dignity, the same sweetness of disposition, the same feeling of self-respect, unmixed with pride or shadow of pretension. Her character is chiefly developed in the lovely pastoral that graces the fourth act.
Autolycus is one of the richest of Shakspeare's comic creations: the quantity of humor and observation crowded into this brief character is quite marvelous. Like Falstaff, the facetious scapegrace amuses and interests, despite his open and acknowledged rogueries. Doubtless, this effect arises from similar causes — wit and neverfailing spirits. The better part of his philosophy is contained in the stanzas he makes his exit singing, after having imposed upon that good-natured simpleton, the younger Shepherd, and left his purse “not hot enough to purchase his spice:”
“ Jog on, jog on, the foothpath way,
And merrily hent the stilo-a;
Your sad tires in a mile-a." These unpolished lines supply a hint that may be serviceable to wiser and better men than Autolycus. There is no reason in the nature of things why the “ snappers-up of unconsidered trifles” should be allowed to appropriate all the cheerfulness that was meant for general and important use.
In triumphant defiance of a few critical objections, the “WINTER'S TALE” remains one of Shakspeare's most delightful dramas. It was first published in the folio of 1623. The principal incidents were furnished by Greene's novel of “ PandOSTO" and the “HISTORY OF DORASTUS AND FAWNIA ;" of which production some mention will be found in the Notes.
PERSONS REPRESENTED !
LEONTES, King of Sicilia.
, } attending the Queen.
} Shepherdesses. Lords, Ladies, and Attendants ; Satyrs for a Dance;
Shepherds, Shepherdesses, Guards, &c.
SCENE I. — Sicilia. An Antechamber in LEONTES' | sities made separation of their society, their enPalace.
counters, though not personal, have been royally
attornied, with interchange of gifts, letters, loving Enter CAMILLO and ARCHIDAMUS.
embassies; that they have seemed to be together, Arch. If you should chance, Camillo, to visit though absent; shook hands, as over a vast; and Bohemia on the like occasion wherein my ser- embraced, as it were, from the ends of the opposed vices are now on foot, you shall see, as I have winds. The heavens continue their loves ! said, great difference betwixt our Bohemia and Arch. I think there is not in the world either
malice or matter to alter it. You have an unspeakCam. I think, this coming summer, the King able comfort of your young Prince Mamillius; it of Sicilia means to pay Bohemia the visitation is a gentleman of the greatest promise that ever which he justly owes him.
came into my note. Arch. Wherein our entertainment shall shame Cam. I
in the hopes of us, we will be justified in our loves : for, in-bim. It is a gallant child; one that, indeed, physdeed,
ics the subject, makes old hearts fresh : they that Cam. 'Beseech you,
went on crutches ere he was born, desire yet their Arch. Verily, I speak it in the freedom of my life, to see him a man. knowledge: we cannot with such magnificence - Arch. Would they else be content to die ? in so rare
I know not what to say. — We will Cam. Yes; if there were no other excuse why give you sleepy drinks; that your senses, unintel- they should desire to live. ligent of our insufficience, may, though they can- Arch. If the king had no son, they would desire not praise us, as little accuse us.
to live on crutches till he had one. [Exeuut Cam. You pay a great deal too dear for what's given freely.
Arch. Believe me, I speak as my understand- SCENE II. — The same. A Room of state in the ing instructs me, and as mine honesty puts it to
Enter LEONTES, POLIXENES, HERMIONE, MACam. Sicilia cannot shew himself over kind to Bohemia. They were trained together in their
MILIUS, CAMILLO, and Attendants. childhood; and there rooted betwixt them then such Pol. Nine changes of the watery star have been an affection which cannot choose but branch now. The shepherd's note, since we have left our throne Since their more mature dignities and royal neces- / Without a burden : time as long again