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adverse destiny-those "inauspicious stars"--of which Romeo is so repeatedly made conscious that he bears the inevitable “ yoke.
But it was from no such equivocal germ as this, that Shakespeare's genius ever developed a great ideal tragedy,--nor that any genius ever did or ever will unfold one.
In Shakespeare, especially, whenever a hero's calamities are to be incurred by his own fault, the character is made one of violent disproportion, both mentally and morally,-producing either the inordinate wickedness of a Macbeth or an Iago, or the inordinate folly of a Timon or a Lear. When, on the contrary, the hero is to be exhibited before us as the victim of ill-fortune, and so to demand our pity in the highest and the purest sense,
the character is ever most carefully compounded as one of ideal dignity and harmony. Of Shakespeare's application of this latter principle, Hamlet' is the master example of
• ' all; but next to Hamlet,' the “Romeo and Juliet' is one of the most remarkable. In a former paper,
we have shown how that habitually degrading misinterpretation of Shakespeare which has descended to us from the most disgraceful period of English history, whether in politics, in morals, or in taste, still daily inverts, on our stage and in our criticism, the relation which the poet has established between the character and the fortune of Macbeth. We have shown how Shakespeare has made the intensely selfish, cowardly, and remorseless ambition of that hero, plunge him headlong from the highest summit of reputation and prosperity to the lowest depth of calamity and execration,—the prescience of the weird sisters, and the moral firmness of his wife-things in themselves good or indifferentbeing converted by himself into helps toward the fulfilment of his own evil purpose, gratuitously and spontaneously conceived. We have also shown how our critics and our actors, absolutely reversing this relation, persist in holding up to us Macbeth as an
* See ' Characters in Macbeth,' pp. 109 to 198 of this volume.
inherently good and feeling man, for whom the poet claims our pity, as the victim of wicked instigations in which earth and hell are combined against him. And we have indicated the deep moral mischievousness of this theatrical and critical perversion.
Now, it is remarkable, that in the acting and the criticism of Hamlet,' an analogous perversion has taken place,—though, from the opposite nature of the subject, operating exactly in an inverse direction. Against Hamlet, in Shakespeare, the evil practices of earth, the suggestions of hell, and the enmity of Fortune, are literally and truly combined, to perplex and to crush him; but the just harmony of his mental constitution,
Where every god did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man, bears it out against
The slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune, beaten and shattered indeed, and finally broken, but unswerving to the last. And yet, up to this very hour, cannot the critics of this Shakespearian masterpieceincluding even Goethe, and Schlegel, and Coleridgenotwithstanding that its hero is
benetted round with villanies, and has a preternatural embarrassment of the most horrible kind superadded-find any adequate source of his calamities, but in what they represent as the 66 morbid” disproportion of his own character-his “excess” of reflection and imagination—his “defi
ciency” of passion and of will. We may, ere long, find occasion to shew, that Hamlet's consciousness of “inauspicious stars," so continually recurring throughout the piece, is as well-grounded as that of Romeo himself, and that under their influence alone does he sink,—that with sensibility and imagination,-with judgment and reflection,—with passion and will,with sympathy and self-devotion,—and with “ the hand to dare," no less than the will to do," --Shakespeare has studiously endowed him,-each in an ideally exalted degree, and all harmoniously combined into a character of perfect ideal strength and beauty.
Meanwhile, those to whom such an announcement may seem startling, notwithstanding our recent demonstration in the instance of Macbeth, how possible it is for essential misunderstandings of this most profound of artists to establish themselves under the most respectable critical names,---may be somewhat prepared for the like demonstration in the case of • Hamlet' by tracing with us, in the following pages, that strictly analogous misinterpretation of Romeo and Juliet' which, as indicated at the opening of this essay, our current criticism and acting concur to uphold.
Even Coleridge* simply tells us, concerning Romeo's fortunes, that “his change of passion, his sudden marriage, and his rash death, are all the effects of youth.” And respecting those of Juliet, the authoress of the Characteristics of Women, who has written so many pages upon this heroine, embodies the prevalent misconception in her concluding paragraph:
“With all this immense capacity of affection and imagination there is a deficiency of reflection and of moral energy, arising from previous habit and education; and the action of the drama, while it serves to develope the character, appears but its natural and necessary result.
'Le mystère de l'existence,' said Madame de Staël to her daughter, c'est le rapport de nos erreurs avec nos peines.'”+
* “Characteristics of Shakspeare's Dramas,' in Coleridge's 'Literary Remains,' 8vo. vol. ii. p. 77.
*Characteristics,'&c.—3rd edit.- vol. i. p. 203. It seems due to Madame de Staël, to point out that she is not at all responsible for this application of her general remark. She says nothing of the kind regarding Juliet, though she speaks of her at considerable length in the second chapter of the seventh book of her ‘Corinne.' Not merely her general treatment of the character in those pages, but the very fact of her selecting it for personation by her own heroine under those peculiar circumstances, shews that she conceived the individuality of Juliet as more exalted and vigorous, more nobly womanly, as well as richly poetical, than it appears in Mrs. Jameson's appreciation.
Included under this general misconception is another critical and popular mistake—the notion that Shakespeare, in this piece, reads a lesson to youth against imprudently disregarding, in the affair of marriage, the authority, or the consent, or the knowledge, of their parents. It is, indeed, certain that Shakespeare, like every greatly wise man—whether poet, or philosopher, or both—was deeply impressed with the importance, to social welfare, of a due relation being preserved, in this matter, between filial choice and parental control. No writer of fiction has more impressively recommended the utmost deference, on such occasions, to parental counsel, kindly and disinterestedly administered; but neither was any one ever more alive to the worse than irreligion, the black impiety, as well as unnatural cruelty, committed by such parents as, to gratify their own selfish ambition or wilful caprice, will force their children to belie their hearts and perjure their souls in the face of heaven, by calling God to witness the sincerity of a union which their feelings reject. Our dramatist was not slow to read the former kind of lessons; they are abundant in his works; but in the present instance, it is to parents, and to fathers especially, that the moral is applicable, which results from the conduct of the heroine and her parents respectively. Nevertheless, the contrary notion as to the poet's intention is so firmly established, that even prudent matrons of rank have taken their girls to witness the performance of this play, as a warning against the dangers attendant on a clandestine union.
Closely connected, again, with the commonplace light in which this drama has been regarded, as a mere story of an imprudent love affair between two interesting young people, is the notion that Shakespeare has exhibited in these lovers, and in Juliet more especially, a temperament of peculiarly Italian vehemence ; and this impetuosity of their southern blood is held to account for what we find continually talked of by the critics as the “precipitarcy” of their marriage, and the “rashness ” of their suicide.
In opposition to these prevalent views of the matter, we must now proceed to shew that Shakespeare, in this piece, has made it his business to idealize poetically, under the dramatic form, the power and the triumph of Love, in its largest and noblest sense—not merely Love as existing in a particular race or climate, but the sovereign passion of humanity at large, as exhibiting itself in the most exquisitely organized individuals.
Verona, Giulietta, and Romeo, as they appear in the Italian legend, have furnished to his drama simply “a local habitation and a name.” The personages of his hero and heroine, we repeat, are ideal in the largest acceptation-in the human, or at least the European, not merely the Italian sense. indispensable to produce completely the twofold development which we trace in the progress of the piece,—that sympathetic love is the most rapid and powerful agent in drawing forth the energies of the individual,—and that such union of hearts, when once perfected, has a force, beyond all other moral power, to resist the direst assaults of Fortune-even as the firm-set Roman arch itself, which external violence may shatter, but can never cause to swerve.
2.-ROMEO BEFORE HIS MEETING WITH JULIET.
The supremely poetical constitution of heart and mind, as well as ideal beauty of person, in both Juliet and Romeo, are the more effectively brought home to us by introducing them, as the dramatist has done, in immediate contrast with the lively picture of vulgar discord between the rival families, and their adherents, which opens the play. When the comic bravadoes between the servants of the Capulet and the Montague,