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1 because we are let into the secrets of their hearts, which are more important. We are too much inter-' ested in their affairs to stop to look at their faces, cept by stealth and at intervals. No one ever hit the true perfection of the female character, the sense of weakness leaning on the strength of its affections for support, so well as Shakspeare-no one ever so well painted natural tenderness free from affectation and disguise no one else ever so well shewed how delicacy and timidity, when driven to extremity, grow romantick and extravagant; for the romance of his heroines (in which they abound) is only an excess of the habitual prejudices of their sex, scrupulous of being false to their vows, truant to their affections, and taught by the force of feeling when to forego the forms of propriety for the essence of it.
His women were in this respect exquisite logicians; for there is nothing so logical as passion. They knew their own minds exactly; and only followed up a favourite idea, which they had sworn to with their tongues, and which was engraven on their hearts, into its untoward consequences.
They were the prettiest little set of martyrs and confessors on record.-Cibber, in speaking of the early English stage, accounts for the want of prominence and theatrical display in Shakspeare's female characters from the circumstance, that women in those days were not allowed to play the parts of women, which made it pecessary to keep them a good deal in the background. Does not this state of manners itself, which prevented their exhibiting themselves in publick, and confined them to the relations and charities of
domestick life, afford a truer explanation of the matter?
His women are certainly very unlike stage heroines; the reverse of tragedy queens.
We have almost as great an affection for Imogen as she had for Posthumus; and she deserves it better. Of all Shakspeare's women she is perhaps the most tender and the most artless. Her incredulity in the opening scene with Iachimo, as to her husband's infidelity, is much the same as Desdemona’s backwardness to believe Othello's jealousy. Her answer to the most distressing part of the picture is only," My lord, I fear has forgot Britain." Her readiness to pardon Iachimo's false imputations and his designs against herself, is a good lesson to prudes; and may shew that where there is a real attachment to virtue, it has no need to bolster itself up with an outrageous or affected antipathy to vice. The scene in which Pisanio gives Imogen his master's letter, accusing her of incontinency on the treacherous suggestions of Iachimo, is as touching as it is possible for any thing to be :-
" Pisanio: What cheer, Madam?
Imogen. False to his bed! What is it to be false ?
Pisanio. Alas, good lady !
Imogen. I false ? thy conscience witness, lachimo,
And for I am richer than to hang by th' walls,
Pisanio. Good Madam, hear me
Imogen. Talk thy tongue weary, speak :
When Pisanio, who had been charged to kill his mistress, puts her in a way to live, she says,
“ Why, good fellow,
Yet when he advises her to disguise herself in boy's clothes, and suggests a course pretty and full in view," by which she may “happily be near the residence of Posthumus,” she exclaims,
" Oh, for such means,
And when Pisanio, enlarging on the consequences, tells her she must change
L" Fear and niceness,
she interrupts him hastily :
"Nay, be brief;
In her journey thus disguised to Milford-Haven, she loses her guide and her way; and unbosoming her complaints, says beautifully,
“ My dear Lord,
She afterwards finds, as she thinks, the dead body of Posthumus, and engages herself as a footboy to serve a Roman officer, when she has done all due obsequies to him whom she calls her former master
" And when
Now this is the very religion of love.
She all along relies little on her personal charms, which she fears may have been eclipsed by some painted Jay of Italy ; she relies on her merit, and her merit is in the depth of her love, her truth and constancy. Our admiration of her beauty is excited with as little consciousness as possible on her part. There are two delicious descriptions given of her, one when she is asleep, and one when she is supposed dead. Arviragus thus addresses her
" With fairest flowers,
P'll sweeten thy sad grave; thou shalt not lack
The yellow Jachimo gives another thus, when he steals into her bedchamber :
There is a moral sense in the proud beauty of this last image, a rich surfeit of the fancy,-as that well known passage beginning, “ Me of my lawful pleasure she restrained, and prayed me oft forbearance," sets a keener edge upon it by the inimitable picture of modesty and self-denial.
The character of Cloten, the conceited, boohy lord, and rejected lover of Imogen, though not very agreeable in itself, and at present obsolete, is drawn with great humour and knowledge of character. The description which Imugen gives of his unwelcome addresses to her--" Whose lovesuit hath been to me as fearful as a siege”-is enough to cure the most ridiculous lover of his folly. It is remarkable that though Cloten makes so poor a figure in love, he is