Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

where the conspirators deliberate whether he shall fall with Cæsar. Brutus is against it—

"And for Mark Antony, think not of him;

For he can do no more than Cæsar's arm,

When Cæsar's head is off.

[ocr errors]

⚫ CASSIUS. Yet do I fear him:

For in th' ingrafted love he bears to Cæsar—

Brutus. Alas, good Cassius, do not think of him;

If he love Cæsar, all that he can do

Is to himself, take thought, and die for Cæsar :

And that were much, he should; for he is giv'n

To sports, to wildness, and much company.

Trebonius. There is no fear in him; let him not die : For he will live, and laugh at this hereafter."

They were in the wrong; and Cassius was right.

The honest manliness of Brutus is, however, sufficient to find out the unfitness of Cicero to be included in their enterprise, from his affected egotism and literary vanity.

66 O, name him not; let us not break with him;

For he will never follow anything,

That other men begin."

His scepticism as to prodigies, and his moralising on the weather —“ This disturbed sky is not to walk in "—are in the same spirit of refined imbecility.

Shakspeare has in this play and elsewhere shown the same penetration into political character and the springs of public events as into those of every-day life. For instance, the whole design to liberate their country fails from the generous temper and overweening confidence of Brutus in the goodness of their cause and the assistance of others. Thus it has always been, Those who mean well themselves, think well of others, and fall a prey to their security. That humanity and sincerity which dispose men to resist injustice and tyranny render them unfit to cope with the cunning and power of those who are opposed to them. The friends of liberty trust to the professions of others, because they are themselves sincere, and endeavor to secure the public good with the least possible hurt to its enemies, who have no regard to anything but their own unprincipled ends, and stick

at nothing to accomplish them. Cassius was better cut out for a conspirator. His heart prompted his head. His habitual jealousy made him fear the worst that might happen, and his irritability of temper added to his inveteracy of purpose, and sharpened his patriotism. The mixed nature of his motives made him fitter to contend with bad men. The vices are never so well employed as in combating one another. Tyranny and servility are to be dealt with after their own fashion, or they will triumph over those who spare them.

The quarrel between Brutus and Cassius is managed in a masterly way. The dramatic fluctuation of passion, the calmness of Brutus, the heat of Cassius, are admirably described; and the exclamation of Cassius on hearing of the death of Portia, which he does not learn till after their reconciliation, "How 'scap'd I killing when I crost you so?" gives double force to all that has gone before. The scene between Brutus and Portia, where she endeavors to extort the secret of the conspiracy from him, is conceived in the most heroical spirit, and the burst of tenderness in Brutus—

"You are my true and honorable wife; As dear to me as are the ruddy drops That visit my sad heart,"—

is justified by her whole behavior. Portia's breathless impatience to learn the event of the conspiracy, in the dialogue with Lucius, is full of passion. The interest which Portia takes in Brutus, and that which Calphurnia takes in the fate of Cæsar, are discriminated with the nicest precision. Mark Antony's speech over the dead body of Cæsar has been justly admired for the mixture of pathos and artifice in it: that of Brutus certainly is not so good.

The entrance of the conspirators to the house of Brutus at midnight is rendered very impressive. In the midst of this scene, we meet with one of those careless and natural digressions which occur so frequently and beautifully in Shakspeare. After Cassius has introduced his friends one by one, Brutus says,

"They are all welcome.

What watchful cares do interpose themselves

Betwixt your eyes and night?

Cassius. Shall I entreat a word?

(They whisper.)

Decius. Here lies the east: doth not the day break here?

Casca. No.

Cinna. O pardon, Sir, it doth; and yon grey lines,

That fret the clouds, are messengers of day.

Casca. You shall confess, that you are both deceiv'd:
Here, as I point my sword, the sun arises,

Which is a great way growing on the south,
Weighing the youthful season of the year.

Some two months hence, up higher toward the north
He first presents his fire, and the high east
Stands as the Capitol, directly here."

We cannot help thinking this graceful familiarity better than all the formality in the world. The truth of history in Julius Cæsar is very ably worked up with dramatic effect. The councils of generals, the doubtful turns of battles, are represented to the life. The death of Brutus is worthy of him—it has the dignity of the Roman senator with the firmness of the Stoic philosopher. But what is perhaps better than either, is the little incident of his boy, Lucius, falling asleep over his instrument, as he is playing to his master in his tent, the night before the battle. Nature had played him the same forgetful trick once before on the night of the conspiracy. The humanity of Brutus is the same on both 'occasions.

"It is no matter:

Enjoy the honey heavy dew of slumber.

Thou hast no figures nor no fantasies,

Which busy care draws in the brains of men.

Therefore thou sleep'st so sound."

[ocr errors][merged small]

I has been said that tragedy purifies the affections by terror and pity. That is, it substitutes imaginary sympathy for mere selfishness. It gives us a high and permanent interest, beyond ourselves, in humanity as such. It raises the great, the remote, and the possible to an equality with the little, the near, and thereal. It makes man a partaker with his kind. It subdues and softens the stubbornness of his will. It teaches him that there are and have been others like himself, by showing him as in a 、 glass what they have felt, thought, and done. It opens the chambers of the human heart. It leaves nothing indifferent to us that can affect our common nature. It excites our sensibility by exhibiting the passions wound up to the utmost pitch of the power of imagination or the temptation of circumstances; and corrects their fatal excesses in ourselves by pointing to the greater extent of sufferings and crimes to which they have led others. Tragedy creates a balance of the affections. It makes us thoughtful spectators in the lists of life. It is the refiner of the species; a discipline of humanity. The habitual study of poetry and works of imagination is one chief part of a wellgrounded education. A taste for liberal art is necessary to complete the character of a gentleman. Science alone is hard and mechanical. It exercises the understanding upon things out of ourselves, while it leaves the affections unemployed, or engrossed with our own immediate, narrow interests.—Othello furnishes an illustration of these remarks. It excites our sympathy in an extraordinary degree. The moral it conveys has a closer application to the concerns of human life than that of any other of

Shakspeare's plays. "It comes directly home to the bosoms and business of men." The pathos in Lear is indeed more dreadful and overpowering: but it is less natural, and less of every day's occurrence. We have not the same degree of sympathy with the passions described in Macbeth. The interest in Hamlet is more remote and reflex. That of Othello is at once equally profound and affecting.

The picturesque contrasts of character in this play are almost as remarkable as the depth of the passion. The Moor Othello, the gentle Desdemona, the villain Iago, the good-natured Cassio, the fool Roderigo, present a range and variety of character as striking and palpable as that produced by the opposition of costume in a picture. Their distinguishing qualities stand out to the mind's eye, so that even when we are not thinking of their actions or sentiments, the idea of their persons is still as present to us as ever. These characters and the images they stamp upon the mind are the farthest asunder possible, the distance between them is immense: yet the compass of knowledge and invention which the poet has shown in embodying those extreme creations of his genius is only greater than the truth and felicity with which he has identified each character with itself, or blended their different qualities together in the same story. What a contrast the character of Othello forms to that of Iago: at the same time, the force of conception with which these two figures are opposed to each other is rendered still more intense by the complete consistency with which the traits of each char. acter are brought out in a state of the highest finishing. The making one black and the other white, the one unprincipled, the other unfortunate in the extreme, would have answered the common purposes of effect, and satisfied the ambition of an ordinary painter of character. Shakspeare has labored the finer shades of difference in both with as much care and skill as if he had had to depend on the execution alone for the success of his design. On the other hand, Desdemona and Æmilia are not meant to be opposed with anything like strong contrast to each other. Both are, to outward appearance, characters of common life, not more distinguished than women usually are, by difference of rank and situation. The diversity of their thoughts and senti

« AnteriorContinua »