« ZurückWeiter »
alewife of Wincot, if she know me not; if she say I am not fourteen pence on the score for sheer ale, score me up for the lying'st knave in Christendom." This is honest. "The Slies are no rogues," as he says of himself. We have a great predilection for this representative of the family; and what makes us like him the better is, that we take him to be of kin (not many degrees removed) to Sancho Panza.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
THIS is a play as full of genius as it is of wisdom. Yet there is an original sin in the nature of the subject, which prevents us from taking a cordial interest in it." The height of moral argument," which the author has maintained in the intervals of passion or blended with the more powerful impulses of nature, is hardly surpassed in any of his plays. But there is in general a want of passion; the affections are at a stand; our sympathies are repulsed and defeated in all directions. The only passion which influences the story is that of Angelo; and yet he seems to have a much greater passion for hypocrisy than for his mistress. Neither are we greatly enamoured of Isabella's rigid chastity, though she could not act otherwise than she did. We do not feel the same confidence in the virtue that is " sublimely good" at another's expense, as if it had been put to some less disinterested trial. As to the Duke, who makes a very imposing and mysterious stage character, he is more absorbed in his own plots and gravity than anxious for the welfare of the state; more tenacious of his own character than attentive to the feelings
and appréhensions of others. Claudio is the only person who feels naturally; and yet he is placed in circumstances of distress which almost preclude the wish for his deliverance. Mariana is also in love with Angelo, whom we hate. In this respect, there may be said to be a general system of cross-purposes between the feelings of the different characters and the sympathy of the reader or the audience. This principle of repugnance seems to have reached its height in the character of Master Barnardine, who not only sets at defiance the opinions of others, but has even thrown off all selfregard,- one that apprehends death no more dreadfully but as a drunken sleep; careless, reckless, and fearless of what's past, present, and to come." He is a fine antithesis to the morality and the hypocrisy of the other characters of the play. Barnardine is Caliban transported from Prospero's wizard island to the forests of Bohemia or the prisons of Vienna. He is the creature of bad habits as Caliban is of gross instincts. He has however a strong notion of the natural fitness of things, according to his own sensations" He has been drinking hard all night, and he will not be hanged that day"-and Shakspeare has let him off at last. We do not understand why the philosophical German critick, Schlegel, should be so severe on those pleasant persons, Lucio, Pompey, and Master Froth, as to call them "wretches." They appear all mighty comfortable in their occupations, and determined to pursue them," as the flesh and fortune should serve." A very good exposure of the want of self-knowledge and contempt for others, which
is so common in the world, is put into the mouth of Abhorson, the jailor, when the Provost proposes to associate Pompey with him in his office“ A bawd, sir? Fie upon him, he will discredit our mystery." And the same answer would serve in nine instances out of ten to the same kind of remark, "Go to, sir, you weigh equally; a feather will turn the scale." Shakspeare was in one sense the least moral of all writers; for morality (commonly so called) is made up of antipathies; and his talent consisted in sympathy with human nature, in all its shapes, degrees, depressions, and elevations. The object of the pedantick moralist is to find out the bad in every thing: his was to shew that "there is some soul of goodness in things evil." Even Master Barnardine is not left to the mercy of what others think of him; but when he comes in, speaks for himself, and pleads his own cause, as well as if counsel had been assigned him. In one sense, Shakspeare was no moralist at all: in another, he was the greatest of all moralists. He was a moralist in the same sense in which nature is one. He taught what he had learnt from her. He shewed the greatest knowledge of humanity with the greatest fellow-feeling for it.
One of the most dramatick passages in the present play is the interview between Claudio and his sister, when she comes to inform him of the conditions on which Angelo will spare his life.
"Claudio. Let me know the point.
Isabella. O, do fear thee, Claudio : and I quake,
Lest thou a feverous life should'st entertain,
And six or seven winters more respect
Than a perpetual honour. Dar'st thou die ?
Claudio. Why give you me this shame?
- From flowery tenderness; if I must die, I will encounter darkness as a bride,
And hug it in mine arms.
Isabella. There spake my brother! there my father's grave Did utter forth a voice! Yes, thou must die :
Thou art too noble to conserve a life
In base appliances. This outward sainted deputy-
Nips youth i' the head, and follies doth emmew,
Claudio. The princely Angelo ?
Isabella. Oh, 'tis the cunning livery of hell,
Thou might'st be freed?'
Claudio. Oh, heavens ! it cannot be.
Isabella. Yes, he would give it thee, for this rank offence,
So to offend him still: this night's the time
That I should do what I abhor to name,
Or else thou dy'st to-morrow.
Claudio. Thou shalt not do't.
Isabella. Oh, were it but my life,
I'd throw it down for your deliverance
As frankly as a pin.
Claudio. Thanks, dear Isabel.
Isabella. Be ready, Claudio, for your death to-morrow.
Claudio. Yes.-Has he affections in him,
That thus can make him bite the law by the nose?
When he would force it, sure it is no sin;
Or of the deadly seven it is the least.
Claudio. If it were damnable, he, being so wise,
Why would he for the momentary trick
Be perdurably fin'd? Oh, Isabel !