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“ROMEO AND JULIET is a picture of love and its pit- DREAM, that none of Shakespeare's plays have fewer iable fate, in a world whose atmosphere is too rough for blemishes. We can by no means repeat this commendathis tenderest blossom of human life. Two beings cre- tion of ROMEO AND JULIET. It may be said rather that ated for each other, feel mutual love at first glance; few, if any, are more open to reasonable censure; and every consideration disappears before the invisible in- we are almost equally struck by its excellences and its fluence of living in one another: they join themselves defects. secretly, under circumstances in the highest degree hos- “ Mad. de Stail has truly remarked, that in Romeo tile to the union, relying merely on the protection of an AND JULIET we have, more than in any other tragedy, irresistible power. By unfriendly events following blow the mere passion of love; love, in all its vernal promupon blow, their heroic constancy is exposed to all man- ise, full of hope and innocence, ardent beyond all rener of trials, till, forcibly separated from each other, straint of reason, but tender as it is warm. The conthey are united in the grave to meet again in another trast between this impetuosily of delirious joy, in which world.
the youthful lovers are first displayed, and the horrors “ All this is to be found in the beautiful story which of the last scene, throws a charm of deep melancholy Shakespeare has not invented; and which, however over the whole. Once alone each of them, in these simply told, will always excite a tender sympathy: but earlier moments, is toucbed by a presaging fear; it it was reserved for Shakespeare to unite purity of heart passes quickly away from them, but is not lost on the and the glow of imagination, sweetness and dignity of reader. To him there is a sound of despair in the wild manners and passionate violence, in one ideal picture. effusions of their hope, and the madness of grief is min. By the manner in which he has handled it, it has be- gled with the intoxication of their joy. And hence it come a glorious song of praise on that inexpressible is that, notwithstanding its many blemishes, we all read feeling which ennobles the soul, and gives to it its high- and witness this tragedy with delight. It is a symbolic est sublimity, and which elevates even the senses them- mirror of the fearful realities of life, where “ the course selves into soul; and at the same time is a melancholy of true love" has so often “not run smooth," and moelegy on its frailty, from its own nature and external ments of as fond illusion as beguiled the lovers of Vecircumstances : at once the deification and the burial rona have been exchanged, perhaps as rapidly, not of love. It appears here like a heavenly spark that, indeed for the dagger and the bowl, but for the manydescending to the earth, is converted into a flash of headed sorrows and sufferings of humanity.” lightning, by which mortal creatures are alınost in the
After remarking upon the character of Romeo, as same moment set on fire and consumed.
one of excessive tenderness, and observing that his first “Whatever is most intoxicating in the odour of a
passion for Rosaline, which no vulgar poet would have sonthern spring, languishing in the song of the nightin
brought forward, displays a constitutional susceptibility, gale, or voluptuous in the first opening of the rose, is
Hallam notices the character of Mercutio, as already to be found in this poem. But, even more rapidly than the first blossoms of youth and beauty decay, it hurries
mentioned, (see note on act iii. scene 1,) and thus pro
ceeds :on from the first timidly-bold declaration of love and modest return, to the most unlimited passion, to an irre- “ Juliet is a child, whose intoxication in loving and vocable union : then, amidst alternating storms of rap- being loved whirls away the little reason she may have ture and despair, to the death of the two lovers, who possessed. It is however impossible, in my opinion, lo still appear enviable as their love survives them, and place her among the great female characters of Shakeas by their death they have obtained a triumph over speare's creation. every separating power.
Of the language of this tragedy what shall we say ? “ The sweetest and the bitterest love and hatred, fes- It contains passages that every one remembers, that tivity and dark forebodings, tender embraces and sepul- are among the nobler efforts of Shakespeare's poetry, chres, the fulness of life and self-annihilation, are all and many short and beautiful touches of his proverbial here brought close to each other: and all these con- sweetness. Yet, on the other hand the faults are in trasts are so blended, in the harmonious and wonderful prodigious number. The conceits, the phrases that jar work, into a unity of impression, that the echo which on the mind's ear, if I may use such an expression, and the whole leaves behind in the mind resembles a sin- interfere with the very emotion the Poet would excite, gle but endless sigh.”—SCHLEGEL.
occur, at least in the first three acts, without intermis
sion. It seems to have formed part of his conception It is the plan of this edition to present at least an outline of the higher Shakespearian criticism, and with
of this youthful and ardent pair, that they should talk ont confining the reader to those views which accord
irrationally. The extravagance of their fancy, howwith the editor's own conclusions, to indicate generally
ever, not only forgets reason, but wastes itself in frigid such other critical opinions as have received the sanc
metaphors and incongruous conceptions; the tone of
Romeo is that of the most bombastic common-place of tion of eminent critics. It is therefore proper to add to this glowing eulogy,
gallantry, and the young lady differs only in being one the masterly but sterner criticism of Hallam :
degree more mad. The voice of virgin love has been
counterfeited by the authors of many fictions: I know “In one of the Italian novels to which Shakespeare none who have thought the style of
iet would reprehad frequently recourse for his fable, he had the good sent it. Nor is this confined to the happier moments fortune to meet with this simple and pathetic subject. of their intercourse. False thoughts and misplaced What he found he has arranged with great skill. The phrases deform the whole of the third act. It may be incidents in ROMEO AND JULIET are rapid, various, un- added that, if not dramatic propriety, at least the inintermitting in interest, sufficiently probable, and tend- terest of the character, is affected by some of Juliet's ing to the catastrophe. The most regular dramatist allusions. She seems indeed to have profited by the has hardly excelled one writing for an infant and bar- lessons and language of her venerable guardian; and barian stage. It is certain that the observation of the those who adopt the edifying principle of deducing a unity of time, which we find in this tragedy, unfash- moral from all they read, may suppose that Shakespeare ionable as the name of unity has become in our criti- intended covertly to warn parents against the contami. eism, gives an intenseness of interest to the story, which nating influence of such domestics. These censures is often diluted and dispersed in a dramatic history. apply chiefly to the first three acts; as the shadows No play of Shakespeare is more frequently represented, deepen over the scene, the language assumes a tone or honoured with more tears.
more proportionate to the interest ; many speeches are “ If from this praise of the fable we pass to other exquisitely beautiful; yet the tendency to quibbles is considerations, it will be more necessary to modify our never wholly eradicated.”—Hallam's Literature of eulogies. It has been said of the MIDSUMMER Night's Europe.
Yet the plays upon words, and sports of fancy in the will, consequently, in highly-favoured natures, express lighter dialogue, were but a picture of the more ambi- themselves in an ingenuous and figurative manner.” tious and courtly style of conversation of those who Mr. Hallam has justly remarked upon the increased aspired to the praise of refined elegance in the Poet's || interest given to the action by the Poet's adherence to age, while the extravagance of metaphor and of lan- | the unity of time, but he has not observed that the peguage may well be excused if not defended for the ef- culiarities which he notices as faults, (and, separately fect it produces in harmonizing with the general tone considered, they may be so,) arise from and powerfully of a tale of romantic passion, and conducing to the conduce to the poetic unity of feeling to which this grand effect as a whole, however open to criticism it drama owes so much of its effect. On this point, Comay be when examined critically in detail. Such || leridge thus incidentally remarks :seems to be the impression made upon Coleridge, Haz- “That law of unity, which has its foundations, not litt, Mrs. Jameson, and Schlegel. Other names might in the factitious necessity of custom, but in nature itbe added.
self, the unity of feeling, is everywhere and at all times “ This highly figurative and antithetical exuberance observed by Shakespeare in his plays. Read ROMEO of language appears natural, however critics may argue AND JULIET ;-all is youth and spring ;--youth with against its taste or propriety. The warmth and viva- || its follies, its virtues, its precipitancies ;-spring, with city of Juliet's fancy, which plays like a light over its odours, its flowers, and its transiency; it is one and every part of her character—which animates every line the same feeling that commences, goes through, and she utters—which kindles every thought into a picture, ends the play. The old men, the Capulets and the and clothes her emotions in visible images, would natu- Montagues, are not common old men; they have an rally, under strong and unusual excitement, and in the eagerness, a heartiness, a vehemence, the effect of conflict of opposing sentiments, run into some extrava- spring : with Romeo, his change of passion, his sudden gance of diction.”—MRS. JAMESON.
marriage, and his rash death, are all the effects of “The censure,” says Schlegel, “ originates in a fan- | youth ;-while, in Juliet, love has all that is tender ciless way of thinking, to which every thing appears and melancholy in the nightingale, all that is volupunnatural that does not suit its tame insipidity. Hence tuous in the rose, with whatever is sweet in the freshan idea has been formed of simple and natural pathos, ness of spring; but it ends with a long deep sigh, like which consists of exclamations destitute of imagery, the last breeze of the Italian evening. This unity of and nowise elevated above every day life; but ener- feeling and character pervades every drama of Shakegetic passions electrify the whole mental powers, and speare.”