Obrázky stránek

women here have forgiven me: if the gentlemen will not, then the gentlemen do not agree with the gentlewomen; which was never seen before in such an assembly.

One word more, I beseech you. If you be not too much cloy'd with fat meat, our humble author will continue the story, with Sir John in it, and make you merry with fair Catharine of France: where, for any thing I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat, unless already 'a be kill'd with your hard opinions ;ø for Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man. My tongue is weary; when my legs are too, I will bid you good night; and so kneel down before you ;— but, indeed, to pray for the Queen.?

6 Mr. White is of the opinion that this epilogue was not written by Shakespeare; and, sure enough, it does not seem to have the right Shakesperian taste. Be that as it may, the promise touching Falstatt, for some cause or other, was not carried out: Sir John does not once appear in the play of King Henry V. The Poet probably judged, as indeed he well might, that Falstaff's dramatic office and mission were fairly at an end when his co nection with Prince Henry was broken off; the purpose of the character being to explain the Prince's wild and riotous courses. — The original plan was to include King Henry V. in this volume; but it was found that this could not be done without making the volume too thick.

7 Most of the ancient interludes conclude with a prayer for the King or Queen. Hence, perhaps, the Vivant Rex et Regina, at the bottom of modern English play bills.


THIS tragedy was first printed in the folio of 1623, and with the


trouble about it, most of the errors being easily corrected. The date of the writing has been variously argued ; some placing the work in the middle period of the author's labours, others among the latest. I was fully satisfied long ago, from the style alone, that it belonged with the former. But, as no clear contemporary notice or allusion had been produced, the question could not be determined. It is now pretty certain, however, that the play was written as early as 1601, Mr. Hal. liwell having lately produced the following from Weever's Mirror of Dartyrs, which was printed that year :

“ The many-hea led multituile were drawn
By Brutus' speech, that Cæsar was ambitious:
When eloquent Mark Antony had shown

His virtues, who but Brutus then was vicious ?As there is nothing in the history that could have suggested this, we can only ascribe it to some acquaintance with the play : so that the passage may be justly regarded as decisive of the question.

The historical matter ot' this play was taken from the Lives of Julius Cæsar, of Brutus, and of Antony, as set forth in Sir Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch, first published in 1579. In nearly all the leading incidents the charming old Greek is minutely followed, though in divers cases those incidents are worked out with surpassing fertil. ity of invention and art. Any abstract of the Plutarchian matter may well be spared, since it would be little else than a repetition, in prose, of what the drama gives in a much better shape. On the 15th of February, B. C. 44, the feast of Lupercalia was held, when the crown was offered to Cæsar by Antony. On the 15th of March fol. lowing, Cæsar was slain. In November, B. C. 43, the Triumvirs, Octavius, Antony, and Lepidus, met on a small island near Bononia, and there made up their bloody proscription. The overthrow of Brutus and Cassius, near Philippi, took place in the Fall of the next year. So that the events of the drama cover a period of something over two years and a half.

Several critics of high judgment have found fault with the naming of this play, on the ground that Brutus, and not Cæsar, is the hero of it. It is indeed true that Brutus is the hero; nevertheless the play is, I think, rightly named, inasmuch as Cæsar is not only the subject but also the governing power throughout. He is the centre and spring-head of the entire action, giving law and shape to all that is said and done. This is manifestly true in what occurs before his death ; and it is true in a still deeper sense afterwards, since his genius then becomes the Nemesis or retributive Providence, presiding over the whole course of the drama. Accordingly, the key-note of the play is rightly given by Brutus near the close :

"0. Julius Cæsar, thou art mighty yet !
Tly spirit walks abroadl, ani turns our swords

In our own proper entrails." The characterization is, I confess, in some parts not a little per. plexing to me. I do not feel quite sure as to the temper of mind in which the Poet conceived some of the persons, or why he should have given them the aspect they wear in the play. For instance, Cæsar is far from being himself in these scenes" hardly one of the speeches put into his mouth can be regarded as historically characteristic; tak ing all of them together, they are little short of a downright caricature. As here represented, he is indeed little better than a grand, strutting piece of puff-paste; and when he speaks, it is very much in the style of a glorious vapourer and braggart, full of lofty airs and mock thunder; than which nothing could be further from the truth of the man, whose character, even in his faults, was as compact and solid as adamant, and at the same time as limber and ductile as the finest gold. Yet we have ample proof that the Poet understood "the mightiest Julius ” thoroughly. He has many allusions to him scattered through his plays, all going to show that he regarded him as, what Merivale pronounces him, the greatest name in history.” And in. deed it is clear from this play itself, that the Poet's course did not proceed at all from ignorance or misconception of the man. For it is remarkable that though Cæsar delivers himself so out of character, yet others, both foes and friends, deliver him much nearer the truth; so that, while we see almost nothing of him directly, we nevertheless get, upon the whole, a pretty just reflection of him. Especially, in the marvellous speeches of Antony, and in the later events of the drama, both his inward greatness and his right of mastership over the Roman world are fully vindicated. For in the play, as in history, Cæsar's blood just cements the empire which the conspirators thought to prevent. He proves indeed far mightier in death than in life; as if bis spirit were become at once the guardian angel of his cause, and an avenging angel to his foes. And so it was in fact. For nothing did so much to set the people in love with royalty, both name and thing, as the reflection that their beloved Cæsar, the greatest of their national heroes, the crown and consummation of Ruman genius and manhood, had been murdered for aspiring to it.

Now I have no doubt that Shakespeare perfectly understood the whole height and compass of Cæsar's vast and varied capacity. And I sometimes regret that he did not render him as he evidently saw him, inasmuch as be alone, perhaps, of all the men who ever wrote, could have given an adequate expression of that colossal man. And this seeming contradiction between Cæsar as k own and Cæsar as rendered by him, is what, more than anything else in the drama, perplexes me But there is, I think, a very refined, subtle, and peculiar irony pervading this, more than any other of the Poet's plays; not intended as such, indeed, by the speakers, but a sort of historic irony the irony of Providence, so to speak, or, if you please, of fate; much the same as is implied in the proverb, “ A haughty spirit goes before a tall.” This irony crops out in many places. Thus we have Cæsar most blown with self-importance and godding it in the loftiest style when the daggers of the assassins are on the very point of leaping at him. So too, all along, we find Brutus most confident in those very things where he is most at fault, or acting like a man “most ignviant of what he's most assur'd ;” as when he says that Antony "can do no more than Cæsar's arm when Cæsar's head is off.” 'This, to be sure, is not meant ironically by him; but it is turned into irony by the fact that Antony soon tears the cause of the conspirators all to pieces with his tonglie. So, again, of the passage where Cassius mockingly gods Cæsar: the subsequent course of events has the effect of inverting his mockery against himself; as much as to say, “ You have made fine work with your ridding the world of great Cæsar : since your daggers pricked the gas out of him, you see what

grand humbug he was !”

As regards the historical aspect of the matter, I have met wit.. nothing better than some remarks by Dr. Schinitz, a recent historian

[ocr errors]

of Rome. “ The death of Cæsar,” says he," was an irreparable loss, not only to the Roman people, but to the whole civilized world; for the Republic was utterly ruined, and no earthly power could restore it. Cæsar's death involved the State in fresh struggles and civil wars for many a year, until in the end it fell again (and this was the best that, under the circumstances, could have happened to it) under the supremacy of Augustus, who had neither the talent, nor the will, nor the power, to carry out all the beneficial plans which his greatuncle had formed. It has been truly said, that the murder of Cæsar was the most senseless act the Romans ever committed. Had it been possible at all to restore the Republic, it would unavoidably have fallen into the hands of a most profligate aristocracy; who would have sought nothing but their own aggrandizement; would have demoralized the people still more; and would have established their own greatness upon the ruins of their country. It is only nec: essary to recollect the latter years of the Republic, the depravity and corruption of the ruling classes, the scenes of violence and bloodshed which constantly occurred in the streets of Rome, to render it evident to every one that peace and security could not be restored, except by the strong hand of a sovereign; and the Roman world would have been fortunate indeed, if it had submitted to the mild and beneficent sway of Cæsar.”

To this may be fitly added Merivale's summing-up of Cæsar's char. acter. “While other illustrious men have been reputed great for their excellence in some one department of human genius, it was declared by the concurrent voice of antiquity, that Cæsar was excellent in all. He had genius, understanding, memory, taste, reflection, industry, and exactness. He was great, repeats a modern writer, in every thing he undertook ; as a captain, a statesman, a lawgiver, a jurist, an orator, a poct, an historian, a grammarian, a mathematician, and an architect. The secret of his manifold excellence was discovered by Pliny in the unparalleled energy of his intellectual powers, which he could devote without distraction to several objects at once, or rush at any moment from one occupation to another with the abruptness and rapidity of lightning. Cæsar could be writing and reading, dictating and listening, all at the same time; he was wont to occupy four amanuenses at once; and had been known, on occasions, to employ as inany as seven together. And, as if to complete the picture of the most perfect specimen of human ability, we are assured that in a!! the exercises of the camp his vigour and skill were not less conspicuous. He fought at the most perilous moments in the ranks of the soldiers ; he could manage his charger without the use of reins; and he saved his life at Alexandria by his address in the art of swimming."

From all which it may well be thought that Cæsar was too great for the hero of a drama, since his greatness, if brought forward in full measure, would leave no room for any thing else, at least would preclude any proper dramatic balance and equipoise. It was only as a sort of underlying potency, or a force withdrawn into the background, that his presence was compatible with that harmony and reciprocity of several characters which a well-ordered drama requires. At all events, it is pretty clear that, where he was, such figures as Brutus and Cassius could never be very considerable, save as his assassins. They would not have been heard of in our day, if they had not “struck the foremost man of all this world.” Now, in the drama, whatever there was in Brutus and Cassius that was noble, and there was much that was noble in them, has a full and fair showing; and if Cæsar is sacrificed to them, the reason may be that there was more danger of doing injustice to them than to him, inasmuch as Cæsar could better take care of himself.

The honesty of Brutus and the ability of Cassius are very strong features in the drama. The latter is indeed much the worse man, but much the better conspirator. Accordingly, in every case where Brutus crosses him, Brutus is wrong, and he is right, - right, that is if success be their aim. Cassius judges, and rightly, I think, that the end should give law to the means; and that“ the honorable men whose daggers have stabb’d Cæsar” should not be hampered much with conscientious scruples. Still Brutus overawes him by his moral energy and elevation of character, and by the open-faced rectitude and purity of his principles. The character of Brutus is indeed full of beauty and sweetness. In all the relations of life he is upright, gentle, and pure; of a sensitiveness and delicacy of principle that cannot bosom the slightest stain; his mind enriched and fortified with the best extractions of philosophy; a man adorned with all the V.rtues which, in public and private, at home and in the circle of friends, win respect and charm the heart. Being such a man, of course he could only do what he did under some sort of delusion. And so indeed it is. Yet this very delusion serves, apparently, to en. noble and beautify him, as it takes him and works upon him through his virtues. At heart he is a real patriot, every inch of him. But his patriotism, besides being somewhat hidebound with Patrician pride, is of the speculative kind, and dwells, where his whole character has been chiefly formed, in a world of poetical and philosophical ideals. He is an enthusiastic student of books. And what a delightful, what a noble creature, his Portia is! How little we see of her, yet how complete is our impression of her character! Well might the poet Campbell say, -“For the picture of that wedded pair, at once august and tender, human nature and the dignity of conjugal faith are indebted.” I am not sure, however, but the boy Lucius is the best character in the play. So loving and so dutiful, so careful for his master and so careless of himself, he is in leed a mighty dear little fellow! Shakespeare's great soul was especially at home with children.

As a whole, this play does not, to my mind, stand among the Poet's masterpieces. But it abounds in particular scenes and passages fraught with the highest virtue of his genius. Among these may be specially mentioned the second scene of the first Act, where Cassius lays the egg of the conspiracy in Brutus' mind, warmed with such a wrappage of instigation as to assure its being quickly hatched. Also the first scene of the second Act, unfolding the birth of the conspiracy, and winding up with the interview, so charged with domestic glory, of Brutus and Portia. The oration of Antony in Cæsar's funeral is such an interfusion of art and passion as realizes the very perfection of its kind. Adapted at once to the comprehension of the lowest mind and the delectation of the highest, and running its pathos into the very quick of them that hear it, it tells with terrible eflec: on the people; and when it is done, we feel that Cæsar's bleeding rounds are mightier than ever his genius and fortune were. The quarrel of Brutus and Cassius is deservedly celebrated. Dr. Johnson thought it “somewhat cold and unaffecting.” Coleridge thought otherwise. “I know," says he, "of' no part of Shukrspeare that more impresses on me the belief of his genius being superhuman, than this scene.” I am content to err with Coleridge here, if it be an error. But there is nothing in the play that seems to me touched more divinely than the brief scene of Brutus and his boy Lucius, in Act iv. The gentle and loving nature of Brulus is there out in its noblest and sweetest transpiration.

« PředchozíPokračovat »