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in the juice of poppies, and rhythmical as the rain on the roof:—
"Philomel, with melody,
Sing in our sweet lullaby;
The devotion of dainty Titania to the donkey of her heart is conceived in that fine vein of philosophical insight which often runs like a thread of gold through the gayest web from the loom of Shakespeare's fancy, and her fairylike devices for purging away the mortal grossness of Bottom are true to the life. Who has not seen similar and equally futile attempts made by misplaced mortal love, striving to idealize its indifferent object?
In fine contrast to Shakespeare's fairies are the Weird Sisters in " Macbeth," —
"So withered and so wild in their attire;
"The hags of Shakespeare," says Hazlitt, "are foul anomalies, of whom we know not whence they are sprung, nor whether they have beginning or ending. As they are without human passions, so they are without human relations. They come with thunder and lightning, and vanish to airy music. This is all we know of them. Except Hecate, they have no names, which heightens their mysteriousness. The names and some of the properties which Middleton has given to his witches excite smiles.
"The Weird Sisters are serious things. Their presence cannot co-exist with mirth."
Hear their diabolical croon, —
"Fair is foul, and foul is fair,
Blood-curdling indeed is the simmer of that "double trouble," steaming in their charmed caldron. One look into it is a sup of horror.
"Toad that under coldest stone
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire, burn; and cauldron, bubble.
"Fillet of a feuny snake,
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire, buru; and cauldron, bubble.
"Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips;
Cool it with a baboon's blood,
And with what malignant relish the vengeful hag, gossiping with her sister-witch, gloats over her punishment of that frugal sailor's wife who —
"... had chestnuts in her lap
and gave her none! With a cold shiver, one fancies the doomed " master o' the Tiger " crushed " like a rat without a tail," in the hard hand of her vengeance!
When our staid Puritans had their one freak of fancy, — witch-making, — they must here have caught their inspiration. And indeed Banquo's affirmation in respect to the component parts of these chimeras —
"The earth hath bubbles as the water hath,
would seem to suggest the direct descent of our New England witches from the Weird Sisters of Shakespeare.
In the reign of sober reality who can " hold a candle" to this great dramatist? Compare the best-drawn characters of his brother artists — Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Marlowe, and others — with his passion-tossed Othello, his philosophical, refined Hamlet, his sinning and repenting Macbeth, his pitiable, white-haired Lear, or his greedy, hating Shylock, his "cold-blooded, bottled spider," Eichard III., and that subtle, detested villain, lago; and you will see that even when they are at their best, he is a thousand times better than any of them.
The comedies of these dramatists smack of the " hempen homespuns" to whose level they were written. Shakespeare's, though they sometimes stoop, are pitched in another key, and all ablaze with genuine Attic wit. By some divine Instinct he sounded all the mysterious depths of our nature, and like a cunning musician played upon every string of that complex instrument, — the human heart.
Every woman should plant her sprig of rosemary on the grave of Shakespeare; for of all dramatists he has most commended our sex \>y his lofty ideals of womanhood. His are the truest and yet the noblest of women,— not rose-scented specimens of diluted sentimentality, nor yet strong-minded Amazons, but women all instinct with the real beauty of perfect womanhood,— "the sense of weakness leaning on the strength of affection for support." Their tenderness is rich as golden mines, and unalloyed by affectation or disguise. Their purity is like the snow on sky-kissed mountain peaks; their constancy firm as the everlasting hills. Their piety is native as the air they breathe, and without cant or hypocrisy. Timid and delicate by nature, they are, by the might of affection, sometimes sublimed and transfigured into martyrs and saints. They are beautiful as painter's ideals and graceful as sculptor's dreams; yet we often forget their outward charms in the diviner beauty of their souls, and thus —
"... With flowers, with angel offices,
"By quoting passages from Shakespeare's second-rate plays alone, we might," says Hazlitt, "make a volume rich with his praise as is the oozy bottom of the sea with sunken wrack and sunless treasures." Of this sort is King Henry's address to the soldiers at the siege of Harfleur, and that of Cassius to Brutus, instigating him to join in the conspiracy against Caesar, and Mark Antony's address to the throng of citizens in the Forum, over Caesar's corpse.
If space but allowed, page after page might be taken from his drama to prove that in moral sentiment Shakespeare far foreran his age, as in this divine conception of mercy: —
"The quality of mercy is not strained;
'T is mightiest iu the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe aud majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings:
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the heart of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice."
That Shakespeare is great poet as well as great dramatist, we realize as we read this exquisite passage from the "Merchant of Venice " : —
", . . In such a night as this,
In such a night
Stood Dido with a willow in her hand
In such a night
Medea gathered the enchanted herbs
How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!