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words of Romeo show the change that has come o’er him. He went into that “hall in Capulet's house,” fearing
“Some consequence yet hanging in the stars.” He had “a soul of lead”—he would be “a candle holder and look on.” But he has seen Juliet; and with what gorgeous images has that sight filled his imagination!
“O she doth teach the torches to burn bright;
As a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear.” We have now the poetry of passion bursting upon us with its purple light. Compare this with the pale poetry of sentiment in the first scene, when he talks of Rosaline being
“ too fair, too wise, wisely too fair.” Perfectly in accordance with this exaltation of mind is the address of Romeo to Juliet. The dialogue must be considered as that of persons each acting a character. But there is more in it than meets the ear;—it is not entirely the half expression of the thoughts of two maskers :—there is an under-current of reality which blends the language of affection with the language of compliment. When Romeo asks of the Nurse, “What is her mother?" and when Juliet inquires,
“What 's he that now is going out of door ?" we see “the beginning of the end.” But we do not forget that the anger of Tybalt at Romeo's presence has thrown a shadow over the brightness of their young love. The maskers are gone—the torches are extinguished—the voice of the revelry has ceased.
Romeo has leapt the wall of Capulet's garden. There are no longer
“Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light.” He has found a sequestered spot far apart from that banquetinghall from which his Juliet descended, amidst the gay groups that floated about in that garden, to hang
“ upon the cheek of night
As a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear.” He is alone. The moon
“Tips with silver all those fruit-tree tops.” He hears in the distant street the light-hearted Mercuti calling upon him by the names of
“Humours, passion, madman, lover.” But he heeds him not. Juliet appears. She speaks.
“O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art
As glorious to this night, being o'er my head,
And sails upon the bosom of the air." From this poetical elevation it would seem almost impossible for the lover to descend to earth,—and yet the earth hath visions of tenderness and purity, which equally belong to the highest region of poetry. The fears of Juliet for his safety ;- the “farewell compliment;"—the
“In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond;" — the “ do not swear;"—the
“Stay but a little, I will come again;"the
“ If that thy bent of love be honourable :”— all these indications of the union of “purity of heart and the glow of imagination” belong to the highest region of an ideal world, and yet are linked to this our own world of beauty and frailty. This is one of the great scenes of the poem which cannot be comprehended if disjoined from all that is about it; any more than Juliet's soliloquy, in the third act, after her marriage. It is one of the scenes that is consequently obnoxious to a false ridicule, and, what is worse, to a grovelling criticism. In the midst of the intensity of Juliet's “timidly-bold declaration of love,” Steevens inserts one of the atrocious notes that he perpetrated under the fictitious name of Amner. It is a warning to us how far a prosaic spirit may descend into dirt, when it attempts to deal with a great artist without reverence for his art. There are three modes in which criticism, or what is called criticism, may be applied to high art. The first is, where the critic endeavours to look at an entire work,—not at parts of a work only,– in some degree through the same medium as the poet looked at his unformed creations. The second is, where the critic rejects that medium, for the most part through incapacity of using it, and peers through the smoked glass of what he calls common sense, that his eyes, forsooth, may not be dazzled. The third is, where the critic, from a superabundance of the power of detecting what appears the ridiculous side of things (which results from a deficiency of imagination), takes a caricaturist's view of the highest exercises of the intellect, and asserts his own cleverness by presenting a travestie. The first system, though it may be the most difficult, is the most safe; the third, though it appears the most insidious, is the least injurious; the second is, at once, easy and debasing; it may begin in Steevens and end in Amner.
The “silver-sweet” sound of “lovers' tongues by night" is hushed. “ The grey-eyed morn" sees the friar in his cell, bearing his “ osier-cage” of
“Baleful weeds, and precious juiced flowers.” Here is a new link in the conduct of the story. And what a beautiful transition have we made from the elevated poetry of passion to the scarcely less elevated poetry of philosophy! The old man, whose pious thoughts shape themselves into sweet and solemn cadences, stands as the antagonist principle of the passionate conflicts that are going on around him. He is to be a great agent in the workings of the drama. He would close up the dissentions of the rival houses-he would make the new lovers blessed in their union -he would assuage the misery of Romeo’s exile—he would save his lady from an unholy marriage-he would join them again in life, although the tomb appears to have separated them. The good old man will rely too much upon his philosophy, and his skilful dealing with human actions; as the lovers have already relied too much upon the integrity of their passion as a shield against calamity. The half-surprise, the half-gladness of the friar, when Romeo tells him where his “heart's dear love is set,” are delightful. The reproof that is meant for a commendation—the “come, young waverer”the “wisely and slow,”—are all true to nature. But Romeo has secured his purpose, and his heart is at ease. Then is he fit to play a part in the comic scenes that succeed, -to bandy words with Mercutio--to be pleasant with the Nurse. But Juliet's soliloquy while she is waiting for the Nurse,
“O, she is lame ! love's heralds should be thoughts,” and the scene with Romeo, Juliet, and the friar, again bring us back to the high region of poetry. The latter scene was greatly elaborated after the first draft.
We have almost lost sight of the quarrels of the rival houses of Verona.-We see only the two lovers, who cannot sum up “half their sum of wealth,” and have forgotten their names of Montague and Capulet as names of strife. But an evil hour is approaching. The brawl with which the drama opened is to be renewed
“The day is hot, the Capulets abroad.” The “fiery Tybalt” and the “bold Mercutio ” are the first victims of this factious hate—and Romeo is banished. The action does not move laggingly—all is heat and precipitation. Juliet sits alone in her bower, unconscious of all but her impassioned imaginings. She thinks aloud in the solitude which is around her, with a characteristic vehemence of temperament; but in this soliloquy “there is something so almost infantine in her perfect simplicity, so playful and fantastic in the imagery and language, that the charm of sentiment and innocence is thrown over the whole.”* The scene in which the Nurse tells her disjointed story of Tybalt's death is a masterpiece. We have here to encounter the often-repeated objection, that Shakspere uses conceits when he ought to be expressing the language of vehement passion. The conceits are not in accordance with the general taste of our own age, though they were so with that of Shakspere's. But they have a much higher justification. They are the results of strong emotion, seeking to relieve itself by a violent effort of the intellect, that the will may recover its balance. Immediately after the lines in which we have that play upon words whose climax is
“I am not I, if there be such an 1,” we come at once to an exclamation of the deepest pathos and simplicity :
“O break my heart!-poor bankrout;"— and then, when Juliet knows that Romeo is not dead, but that Tybalt has fallen by the hand of her husband, what a natural revulsion of feeling succeeds!
“0, that deceit should dwell
In such a gorgeous palace !" The transition from her reproach of Tybalt's murderer, to a glorious trust in the integrity of her lord, is surpassingly beautiful. Not less beautiful is the passion which Romeo exhibits in the friar's cell. Each of the lovers in these scenes shows the intensity of their abandonment to an overmastering will. “They see only themselves in the universe.” That is the true moral of their fate. But, even under the direst calamity, they catch at the one joy which is leftthe short meeting before the parting. And what a parting that is ! Here, again, comes the triumph of the beautiful over the merely tragic. They are once more calm. Their love again breathes of all the sweet sights and sounds in a world of beauty. They are parting—but the almost happy Juliet says
“ It is not yet near day,
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.”
“It was the lark, the herald of the morn." Then what a burst of poetry follows !
* Mrs. Jameson's . Characteristics of Women,' third edition, vol. i. p. 193.
“ Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountains' tops.” The scene closes with that exquisite display of womanly tenderness in Juliet, which hurries from the forgetfulness of joy in her husband's presence to apprehension for his safety. After this scene we are almost content to think, as Romeo fancied he thought,
"come what sorrow can, It cannot countervail the exchange of joy." The sorrow does come upon poor Juliet with redoubled force. The absolute father, the unyielding mother, the treacherous Nurse, –all hurrying her into a loathed marriage, - might drive one less resolved to the verge of madness. But from this moment her love has become heroism. She sees
“ No pity sitting in the clouds "she rejects her Nurse—she resolves to deceive her parents. This scene brings out her character in its strongest and most beautiful relief. The Nurse, in the grossness of her nature, has dared to talk to the wife of Romeo—the all-loving and devoted wife-of the green eye of Paris ! The Nurse mistook the one passion of Juliet—the sense raised into soul—for a grovelling quality that her lofty imagination would utterly despise. “O most wicked fiend !” Not so Juliet's other counsellor. The friar estimated her constancy, and he did “ spy a kind of hope” that it might be rewarded. He saw that Juliet would, at all hazards, put away “the shame” of marrying Paris. Well had the friar reckoned upon her “strength of will.” The scene in his cell, and the subsequent scene when she swallows the draught, are amongst the most powerful in the play; and yet we never lose sight of the highest poetry, mingling what is grand with what is beautiful. When Juliet is supposed to be dead, nature again asserts her empire over the tetchy and absolute father, and the mother weeps over the
“One, poor one, one poor and loving child.” Here, again, the gentle poetry of common feelings comes to the relief of the scene; and the friar brings in a higher poetry in the consolations of divine truth.
As we approach the catastrophe, the poetical cast of Romeo's mind becomes even more clearly defined than in the earlier scenes. It was first fanciful, then imaginative, then impassioned—but when deep sorrow has been added to his love, and he treads upon the threshold of the world of shadows, it puts on even a higher character of beauty. We have elsewhere spoken * of the celebrated speech of the “ Apothecary;' refusing to believe that it forms an ex
* Illustrations of Act V.