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most damping evidence of his wife's infidelity. The jealousy which in Othello and Posthumus is an error of judgment, in Leontes is a vice of the blood; he suspects without cause, condemns without proof; he is without excuse-unless the mixture of pride, passion, and imagination, and the predisposition to jealousy, with which Shakspeare has portrayed him, be considered as an excuse. Hermione has been openly insulted : he to whom she gave herself, her heart, her soul, has stooped to the weakness and baseness of suspicion ; has doubted her truth, has wronged her love, has sunk in her esteem, and forfeited her confidence. She has been branded with vile names; her son, her eldest hope, is dead-dead through the false accusation which has stuck infamy on his mother's name; and her innocent babe, stained with illegitimacy, disowned and rejected, has been exposed to a cruel death. Can we believe that the mere tardy acknowledgment of her innocence could make amends for wrongs and agonies such as these? or heal a heart which must have bled inwardly, consumed by that untold grief“ which burns worse than tears drown?" Keeping in view the peculiar character of Hermione, such as she is delineated, is she one either to forgive hastily or forget quickly? and though she might, in her solitude, mourn over her repentant husband, would his repentance suffice to restore him at once to his place in her heart; to efface from her strong and reflecting mind the recollection of his miserable weakness? or can we fancy this high-souled woman-left childless through the injury which has been inAlicted on her, widowed in heart by the unworthiness of him she loved, a spectacle of grief to all, to her husband a continual reproach and humiliation-walking through the parade of royalty in the court which had witnessed her anguish, her shame, her degradation, and her despair? Methinks that the want of feeling, nature, delicacy, and consistency would lie in such an exhibition as this. In a mind like Hermione's, where the strength of feeling is founded in the power of thought, and
where there is little of impulse or imagination—"the depth, but not the tumult, of the soul”*—there are but two influ. ences which predominate over the will-tiine and religion. And what then remained but that, wounded in heart and spirit, she should retire from the world ?- not to brood over her wrongs, but to study forgiveness, and wait the fulfilment of the oracle which had promised the termination of her sor
Thus a premature reconciliation would not only have been painfully inconsistent with the character; it would also have deprived us of that most beautiful scene in which Hermione is discovered to her husband as the statue or image of herself. And here we have another instance of that admirable art with which the dramatic character is fitted to the circumstances in which it is placed: that perfect command over her own feelings, that complete self-possession necessary to this extraordinary situation, is consistent with all that we imagine of Hermione; in any other woman it would be so incredible as to shock all our ideas of probability. ..
The effect produced on the different persons of the drama by this living statue—an effect which at the same moment is and is not illusion—the manner in which the feelings of the spectators become entangled between the conviction of death and the impression of life, the idea of a deception and the feeling of a reality; and the exquisite colouring of poetry and touches of natural feeling with which the whole is wrought up, till wonder, expectation, and intense pleasure hold our pulse and breath suspended on the event-are quite inimitable. ...
The moment when Hermione descends from her pedestal, to the sound of soft music, and throws herself, without
*" The gods approve The depth, and not the tumult, of the soul.”—WORDSWORTH. “ Il pouvait y avoir des vagues majestueuses et non de l'orage dans son cæur,” was finely observed of Madame de Staël in her maturer years; it would have been true of Hermione at any period of her life.
speaking, into her husband's arms, is one of inexpressible interest. It appears to me that her silence during the whole of this scene (except where she invokes a blessing on her daughter's head) is in the finest taste as a poetical beauty, besides being an admirable trait of character. The misfortunes of Hermione, her long religious seclusion, the wonderful and almost supernatural part she has just enacted, have invested her with such a sacred and awful charm that any words put into her mouth must, I think, have injured the solemn and profound pathos of the situation.
There are several among Shakspeare's characters which exercise a far stronger power over our feelings, our fancy, our understanding, than that of Hermione; but not oneunless perhaps Cordelia — constructed upon so high and pure a principle. It is the union of gentleness with power which constitutes the perfection of mental grace. Thus among the ancients, with whom the graces were also the charities (to show, perhaps, that while forin alone may constitute beauty, sentiment is necessary to grace), one and the same word signified equally strength and virtue. This feeling, carried into the fine arts, was the secret of the antique grace--the grace of repose. The same eternal nature—the same sense of immutable truth and beauty, which revealed this sublime principle of art to the ancient Greeks, revealed it to the genius of Shakspeare; and the character of Hermione, in which we have the same largeness of conception and delicacy of execution-the same effect of suffering without passion, and grandeur without effort - is an instance, I think, that he felt within himself, and by intuition, what we study all our lives in the remains of ancient art. The calm, regular, classical beauty of Hermione's character is the more impressive from the wild and Gothic accompaniments of her story, and the beautiful relief afforded by the pastoral and romantic grace which is thrown around her daughter, Perdita.
[From Dowden's “Shakspere.”*] The plays belonging to Shakspere's final period of authorship, which I shall consider, are three: Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest. The position in which they were placed in the first Folio (whether it was the result of design or accident) is remarkable. The Winter's Tale is the last of the comedies, which all lie between this play and The Tempest. The circumstance may have been a piece of accident ; but if so, it was a lucky accident, which suggests that our first and our last impression of Shakspere shall be that of Shakspere in his period of large, serene wisdom, and that in the light of the clear and solemn vision of his closing years all his writings shall be read. Characteristics of versification and style, and the enlarged place given to scenic spectacle, indicate that these plays were produced much about the same time. But the ties of deepest kinship between them are spiritual. There is a certain romantic element in each.† They receive contributions from every portion of Shakspere's genius, but all are mellowed, refined, made exquisite ; they avoid the extremes of broad humour and of tragic intensity; they were written with less of passionate concentration than the plays which immediately precede them, but with more of a spirit of deep or exquisite recreation....
The period of the tragedies was ended. In the tragedies Shakspere had made his inquisition into the mystery of evil. He had studied those injuries of man to man which are irreparable. He had seen the innocent suffering with the guilty. Death came and removed the criminal and his victim from human sight, and we were left with solemn awe
Shakspere: a Critical Study of his Mind and Art, by Edward Dowden (2d ed. London, 1876), p. 402 fol.
† The same remark applies to Shakspere's part of Pericles, which belongs to this period.
upon our hearts in presence of the insoluble problems of life. . . . At the same time that Shakspere had shown the tragic mystery of human life, he had fortified the heart by showing that to suffer is not the supreme evil with man, and that loyalty and innocence, and self-sacrifice, and pure redeeming ardour, exist, and cannot be defeated. Now, in his last period of authorship, Shakspere remained gravehow could it be otherwise ? — but his severity was tempered and purified. He had less need of the crude doctrine of Stoicism, because the tonic of such wisdom as exists in Stoicism had been taken up, and absorbed into his blood.
Shakspere still thought of the graver trials and tests which life applies to human character, of the wrongs which man inflicts on man ; but his present temper demanded not a tragic issue—it rather demanded an issue into joy or peace. The dissonance must be resolved into a harmony, clear and rapturous, or solemn and profound. And, accordingly, in each of these plays, The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, The Tempest, while grievous errors of the heart are shown to us, and wrongs of man to man as cruel as those of the great tragedies, at the end there is a resolution of the dissonance, a reconciliation. This is the word which interprets Shakspere's later plays — reconciliation, “word over all, beautiful as the sky.” It is not, as in the earlier comedies—The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It, and others-a mere dénouement. The resolution of the discords in these latest plays is not a mere stage necessity, or a necessity of composition, resorted to by the dramatist to effect an ending of the play, and little interesting his imagination or his heart. Its significance here is ethical and spiritual ; it is a moral necessity.
In The Winter's Tale, the jealousy of Leontes is not less, but more fierce and unjust than that of Othello. No Iago whispers poisonous suspicion in Leontes' ear. His wife is