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father; and the quaint mixture of wisdom, pleasantry, and satire in the language of the honest fool, who yet heightens, while he means to alleviate the distresses of his master, are elements of mental strife which harmonise with, and add a kind of illimitable horror to the storm which howls around.
Nor inferior to this in merit, though of a totally different cast, is the scene in which the exhausted monarch, having been lulled to sleep through the effects of an opiate, is awakened by the sound of music, whilst Cordelia, hanging over him, with an almost breathless anxiety, at length ventures to address him. The language of the poor old man, in the moment of partial reminiscence, is, beyond any other effort of human composition, simple and affecting:
66 Cor. How does my royal lord? How fares your majesty?
Lear. You do me wrong, to take me out of the grave:
Sir, do you know me?
Cor. O, look upon me, sir,
hands in benediction o'er me:
Pray, do not mock me:
And so I am, I am.
No cause, no cause.
You must bear with me;
27. CYMBELINE: 1605. This play, if not, in the construction of its fable, one of the most perfect of our author's productions, is, in point of poetic beauty, of variety and truth of character, and in the display of sentiment and emotion, one of the most lovely and interesting. Nor can we avoid expressing our astonishment at the sweeping condemnation which Johnson has passed upon it; charging its fiction with folly, its conduct with absurdity, its events with impossibility; terming its faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation. +
Of the enormous injustice of this sentence, nearly every page of Cymbeline will, to a reader of any taste or discrimination, bring the most decisive evidence. That it possesses many of the too common inattentions of Shakspeare, that it exhibits a frequent violation of costume, and a singular confusion of nomenclature, cannot be denied; but these are trifles light as air, when contrasted with its merits, which are of the very essence of dramatic worth, rich and full in all that breathes of vigour, animation, and intellect, in all that elevates the fancy, and improves the heart, in all that fills the eye with tears, or agitates the soul with hope and fear.
In possession of excellences, vital as these must be deemed, cold and fastidious is the criticism that, on account of irregularities in mere technical detail, would shut its eyes upon their splendour. Nor are there wanting critics of equal learning with, and superior taste to Johnson, who have considered what he has branded with the
unqualified charge of " confusion of manners," as forming, in a certain point of view, one of the most pleasing recommendations of the piece. Thus Schlegel, after characterising Cymbeline as one of Shakspeare's most wonderful compositions, adds, — “ He has here connected a novel of Boccacio 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 times with the heroic deeds, and even with appearances of the gods.”* It may be also remarked, that, if the unities of time and place be as little observed in this play, as in many others of the same poet, unity of character and feeling, the test of genius, and without which the utmost effort of art will ever be unavailing, is uniformly and happily supported.
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xvii. pp. 564—567. Act iv. sc. 7. + Ibid. vol. xviii. p. 649.
Imogen, the most lovely and perfect of Shakspeare's female characters, the pattern of connubial love and chastity, by the delicacy and propriety of her sentiments, by her sensibility, tenderness, and resignation, by her patient endurance of persecution from the quarter where she had confidently looked for endearment and protection, irresistibly seizes upon our affections; and when compelled to fly from the paternal roof, from
" A father cruel, and a step-dame false,
A foolish suitor to a wedded lady,
she is driven to assume, under the name of Fidele, the disguise of a page, we follow her footsteps with the liveliest interest and admiration.
The scenes which disclose the incidents of her pilgrimage; her reception at the cave of Belarius; her intercourse with her lost brothers, who are ignorant of their birth and rank, her supposed death, funeral rites, and resuscitation, are wrought up with a mixture of pathos and romantic wildness, peculiarly characteristic of our author's genius, and which has had but few successful imitators. Among these few, stands pre-eminent the poet Collins, who seems to have trodden this consecrated ground with a congenial mind, and who has
sung the sorrows of Fidele in strains worthy of their subject, and
* Lectures on Dramatic Literature, vol. ii. p. 183.
which will continue to charm the mind and soothe the heart « till pity's self be dead.”
When compared with this fascinating portrait, the other personages of the drama appear but in a secondary light. Yet are they adequately brought out, and skilfully diversified; the treacherous subtlety of lachimo, the sage experience of Belarius, the native nobleness of heart, and innate heroism of mind, which burst forth in the vigorous sketches of Guiderius and Arviragus, the temerity, credulity, and penitence of Posthumus, the uxorious weakness of Cymbeline, the hypocrisy of his Queen, and the comic arrogance of Cloten, half fool and half knave, produce a striking diversity of action and sentiment.
Of this latter character, the constitution has been thought so extraordinary, and involving elements of a kind so incompatible, as to form an exception to the customary integrity and consistency of our author's draughts from nature. But the following passage from the pen of an elegant female writer, will prove, that this curious assemblage of frequently opposite qualities, has existed, and no doubt did exist in the days of Shakspeare :
:-“ It is curious that Shakspeare should, in so singular a character as Cloten, have given the exact prototype of a being whom I once knew. The unmeaning frown of the countenance; the shuffling gait; the burst of voice; the bustling insignificance; the fever and ague fits of valour ; the froward tetchiness; the unprincipled malice; and, what is most curious, those occasional gleams of good sense, amidst the floating clouds of folly which generally darkened and confused the man's brain ; and which, in the character of Cloten, we are apt to impute to a violation of unity in character ; but in the some time Captain C-n, I saw that the portrait of Cloten was not out of nature.” *
Poetical justice has been strictly observed in this drama; the vicious characters meet the punishment due to their crimes, while virtue, in all its various degrees, is proportionably rewarded. The scene of retribution, which is the closing one of the play, is a masterpiece of skill; the developement of the plot, for its fullness, completeness, and ingenuity, surpassing any effort of the kind among our author's contemporaries, and atoning for any partial incongruity which the structure or conduct of the story may have previously displayed.
* Letters of Anna Seward, vol. iii.
28. MACBETH : 1606. We have now reached what may justly be termed the greatest effort of our author's genius ; the most sublime and impressive drama which the world has ever beheld.
Than the conception of the character of Macbeth, it is scarcely possible to conceive a picture more original and grand ? Too great and good to fall beneath the common temptations to villany, Shakspeare has called in the powers of supernatural agency, and seizing upon ambition as the vulnerable part of his hero's character, and placing him between the suggestions of hell on one side, and those of his fiend-like wife on the other, he has, in conformity to the letter of the traditions which were before him, brought about a catastrophe, which, as he has conducted it, is the most awful on dramatic record. For, whilst the influence of the world unknown throws a dread solemnity over the principal incidents, the volition of Macbeth remains sufficiently free to enable the poet to bring into full play the strongest passions of the human breast.
Originally brave, magnanimous, humane, and gentle,
“ not without ambition ; but without The illness should attend it,”
and wishing to do that holily which he would highly; fully sensible also of the enormous ingratitude and guilt which he should incur by the assassination of the monarch who had loaded him with honours, and who was moreover his kinsman and his guest, the struggle would necessarily have terminated on the side of virtue, had not the predictions of the weird sisters, in part, instantly accomplished, and assuming the form therefore of inevitable destiny, concealed from his