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presses on me the belief of his genius being superhuman, than this scene between Brutus and Cassius. In the Gnostic heresy it might have been credited with less absurdity than most of their dogmas, that the Supreme had employed him to create, previously to his function of representing, characters.
AXTONY AND CLEOPATRA. SHA
HAKSPEARE can be complimented only by
comparison with himself: all other eulogies are either heterogeneous, as when they are in reference to Spenser or Milton; or they are tlat truisms, as when he is gravely preferred to Corneille, Racine, or even his own immediate successors, Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger and the rest. The highest praise, or rather form of praise, of this play, which I can offer in my own mind, is the doubt which the perusal always occasions in me, whether the Antony and Cleopatra is not, in all exhibitions of a giant power in its strength and vigour of maturity, a formidable rival of Macbeth, Lear, Hamlet, and Othello. Feliciter audax is the motto for its style comparatively with that of Shakspeare's other works, even as it is the general motto of all his works compared with those of other poets. Be it remembered, too, that this happy valiancy of style is but the representative and result of all the material excellencies so expressed.
This play should be perused in mental contrast with Romeo and Juliet ;- as the love of passion and appetite opposed to the love of affection and instinct. But the art displayed in the character of Cleopatra is profound; in this, especially, that the sense of criminality in her passion is lessened by our insight into its depth and energy, at the very moment that we cannot but perceive that the passion itself springs out of the habitual craving of a licentious nature, and that it is supported and rein. forced by voluntary stimulus and sought-for associations, instead of blossoming out of spontaneous emotion.
Of all Shakspeare's historical plays, Antony and Cleopatra is by far the most wonderful. There is not one in which he has followed history so minutely, and yet there are few in which he impresses the notion of angelic strength so much ;- perhaps none in which he impresses it more strongly. This is greatly owing to the manner in which the fiery force is sustained throughout, and to the numerous momentary flashes of nature counteracting the historic abstraction. As a wonderful specimen of the way in which Shakspeare lives up to the very end of this play, read the last part of the concluding
And if you would feel the judgment as well as the genius of Shakspeare in your heart's core, compare this astonishing drama with Dryden's All For Love.
Act. i. sc. 1. Philo's speech:
His captain's heart
The buckles on his breast, reneges all temperIt should be "reneagues,' or 'reniegues,' as ' fatigues,' &c.
Tako but good note, and you shall see in him
Into a strumpet's fool. Warburton's conjecture of stool’ is ingenious, and would be a probable reading, if the scene opening had discovered Antony with Cleopatra on his lap. But, represented as he is walking and jesting with her, ' fool' must be the word. Warburton's objection is shallow, and implies that he confounded the dramatic with the epic style. The pillar' of a state is so common a metaphor as to have lost the image in the thing meant to be imaged. Ib. sc. 2.
Much is breeding; Which, like the courser's hair, hath yet but life, And not a serpent's poison. This is so far true to appearance, that a horsehair, “ laid,' as Hollinshed says, “in a pail of water,' will become the supporter of seemingly one worm, though probably of an immense number of small slimy water-lice. The hair will twirl round a finger, and sensibly compress it. It is a common experiment with school boys in Cumberland and Westmorland.
Act ii. sc. 2. Speech of Ecobarbus :
Her gentlewomen, like the Nereids, So many mermaids, tended her i' th' eyes, And made their bends adornings. At the helm A seeming mermaid steers. I have the greatest difficulty in believing that Shakspeare wrote the first' mermaids.' He never, I think, would have so weakened by useless anticipation the fine image immediately following. The epithet 'seeming' becomes so extremely improper after the whole number had been positively called ' so many mermaids.'
TIMON OF ATIENS.
Act I. sc. 1.
Tim. The man is honest.
His honesty rewards him in itself.
honest, for that reason he will be so in this, and not endeavour at the injustice of gaining my daughter without my consent'-is, like almost all his comments, ingenious in blunder; he can never see any other writer's thoughts for the mist-working swarm of his own. The meaning of the first line the poet himself explains, or rather unfolds, in the second. The man is honest!'— True ;-and for that very cause, and with no additional or extrinsic motive, he will be so. No man can be justly called
honest, who is not so for honesty's sake, itself including its own reward. Note, that · honesty'in Shakspeare's age retained much of its old dignity, and that contradistinction of the honestum from the utile, in which its very essence and definition consist. If it be honestum, it cannot depend on the utile.
Ib. Speech of Apemantus, printed as prose in Theobald's edition :
So, so! aches contract, and starve your supple joints!
I may remark here the fineness of Shakspeare's sense of musical period, which would almost by itself have suggested (if the hundred positive proofs had not been extant,) that the word ' aches' was then ad libitum, a dissyllable-witches. For read it, aches,' in this sentence, and I would challenge you to find any period in Shakspeare's writings with the same musical or, rather dissonant, notation. Try the one, and then the other, by your ear, reading the sentence aloud, first with the word as a dissyllable and then as a monosyllable, and you will feel what I mean.*
* It is, of course, a verse,
Achès contract, and starve your supple joints,and is so printed in all later editions. But Mr. C. was read. ing it in prose in Theobald ; and it is curious to see how his ear detected the rhythmical necessity for pronouncing'aches' as a dissyllable, although the metrical necessity seems for the moment to have escaped him. Ed.