« ZurückWeiter »
his female characters. It leaves the impression of having been originally hard and awkward of presentment, into which he threw some high lights here and there. The queen is a powerful and logically developed type, but she is no Shakespearian woman. It is not Shakespeare's way to present to us, as a heroine, a woman who entirely lacks the first quality requisite for such a character, namely, heroism. It is not Shakespeare's way to show us a woman who endures, unyieldingly, the most terrible catastrophes and reverses of fortune, who with unbroken courage resists trials calculated to break the spirit of a strong man, without at the same time granting her personal qualities that make our hearts sympathise with her tireless fight against evil fate. Further, in order to describe this figure, he has set himself in distinct contradiction to the truth of history. Recalling his usual methods, we should have said that he would have made of Margaret of Anjou, the great-hearted queen, such as she appears in history, not merely the false and cunning French woman endowed with every trait of rough boorishness and corruption, who wakes no sentiment save abhorrence. Chronicles assure us that Queen Margaret was distinguished among women for beauty, intellect, and sagacity, but that her whole character was rather masculine than feminine, and that Henry's friends fell away from him after his marriage. The great families were divided among themselves, the people rose against their lawful king, a terrible civil war broke out. The blood of thousands flowed in sanguinary battles. In the end the king was dethroned, his son murdered, and the queen banished, sent back "with even as much pain and suffering as she had come with splendour and triumph." The delineation of Margaret's character in the play seems to touch history at this point, but without the depth and art in its development we are wont to admire in Shakespeare. The Margaret of the play is adorned with all the charms of her sex, armed with all its weapons; she is bold, cunning, resolute in action, steadfast in endurance, but false, haughty, capable of every form of dissimulation, vindictive, furious in temper. All her womanliness has vanished in the frightful bloody battles for the maintenance of her power. Only maternal love has remained as its last trace. Detached scenes rise to poetical beauty, but from the character of Margaret as a whole every atom of poetry has disappeared. We need but mention the scene where, forgetting her dignity as a queen, as woman, she boxes the Duchess of Gloster on the car. Very beautiful, and characteristic, at the same time, of the period and the personage, is the scene in which she blames with bitter scorn the king's weakness, complains in angry railing of the influence of the great and haughty nobles, and gives passionate expression to her rage against, and jealousy of, the Duchess of Gloster:
Not all these lords do vex me half so much
Second lart of Henry VI., act i. scene 3.
She was mixed up in all the intrigues which the nobles hatched against the good Duke of Gloster, the upright patriot. She knew well that he cared only for the welfare and greatness of England, that he did not approve of the king's marriage with a princess who had neither lands nor money, and whose price was the two provinces conquered by Henry V. Hence she looks upon him as her mortal enemy.
After his shameful murder she succeeds, with
skilful and well-calculated cunning, in turning suspicion from herself, and in confusing the good king's mind with a dizzy whirl of words that conceal the truth. When the king speaks to the Duke of Suffolk, who has told him of the demise of Gloster with a feigned astonishment, harsh words that show he deems him guilty of this sudden death, she defends Suffolk and herself with characteristic but shocking hypocrisy:
Lord of Suffolk thus ?
may be judged I made the Duke away;
When King Henry breaks out into a cry of woe for his murdered uncle, she overwhelms him with the abovementioned verbal torrent, which contains the most unregal, the most repulsive dissimulation.
Be woe for me, more wretched than he is.
Drove back again unto my rative clime ?
Second Part of Henry VI., act iii. scene 2.
While this scene is so repulsive, the parting scene between Suffolk and Margaret is touching and truly Shakespearian. The weak king, incapable of ruling, has been driven for once, by an uprising of the populace, furious at the murder of the good Duke of Gloster, to an act of energy, and has spoken a sentence of banishment against Suffolk.
Let me quote first the womanly curse, full of rage against the king's sentence:
Mischance and sorrow go along with you !
Second Part of Henry VI., act üi, 'scene 2.
When, at Suffolk's prayer, that she will cease from cursing, she accuses herself of cowardice and womanly softness of heart, “that she has not spirit to curse her enemies."
When Suffolk then pours forth curses with unbridled fury, even she grows alarmed at the rage she has conjured up, and turns to her beloved with sorrow, tears, and infinite tenderness :
Give me thy hand,
Second Part of llenry VI., act iii. scene 2.
Meantime arrives the news of the dangerous illness of another accomplice in Gloster's murder, the Cardinal of Winchester, and Margaret breaks into lamentations over this new blow. But she straightway reproaches herself for thinking at such a moment of anything but her gricf at parting with Suffolk :