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them to his page or his canvas, in colours more or less vigorous but where all is calm without, and around, to dive into the profoundest abysses of character, trace the affections where they lie hidden like the ocean springs, wind into the most intricate involutions of the heart, patiently unravel its most delicate fibres, and in a few graceful touches place before us the distinct and visible result,—to do this, demanded power of another and a rarer kind.
There are several of Shakspeare's characters which are especially distinguished by this profound feeling in the conception, and subdued harmony of tone in the delineation. To them may be particularly applied the ingenious simile which Goëthe has used to illustrate generally all Shakspeare's characters, when he compares them to the old-fashioned watches in glass cases, which not only showed the index pointing to the hour, but the wheels and springs within, which set that index in motion.
Imogen, Desdemona, and Hermione, are three women placed in situations nearly similar, and
equally endowed with all the qualities which can render that situation striking and interesting. They are all gentle, beautiful, and innocent; all are models of conjugal submission, truth, and tenderness; and all are victims of the unfounded jealousy of their husbands. So far the parallel is close, but here the resemblance ceases; the circumstances of each situation are varied with wonderful skill, and the characters, which are as different as it is possible to imagine, conceived and discriminated with a power of truth and a delicacy of feeling yet more astonishing.
Critically speaking, the character of Hermione is the most simple in point of dramatic effect, that _7 of Imogen the most varied and complex. Hermione is most distinguished by her magnanimity and her fortitude, Desdemona by her gentleness and refined grace, while Imogen combines all the best qualities of both, with others which they do not possess; consequently she is, as a character, superior to either; but considered as women, I suppose the preference would depend on individual
Hermione is the heroine of the three first acts of the Winter's Tale. She is the wife of Leontes, king of Sicilia, and though in the prime of beauty and womanhood, is not represented in the first bloom of youth. Her husband on slight grounds suspects her of infidelity with his friend Polixenes, king of Bohemia; the suspicion once admitted, and working on a jealous, passionate, and vindicative mind, becomes a settled and confirmed opinion. Hermione is thrown into a dungeon; her new-born infant is taken from her, and by the order of her husband, frantic with jealousy, exposed to death on a desert shore; she is herself brought to a public trial for treason and incontinency, defends herself nobly, and is pronounced innocent by the oracle. But at the very moment that she is acquitted, she learns the death of the prince her son, who
Conceiving the dishonour of his mother,
Had straight declined, drooped, took it deeply,
And downright languished.
She swoons away with grief, and her supposed death concludes the third act. The two last acts are occupied with the adventures of her daughter Perdita; and with the restoration of Perdita to the arms of her mother, and the reconciliation of Hermione and Leontes, the piece concludes.
Such, in few words, is the dramatic situation. The character of Hermione exhibits what is never found in the other sex, but rarely in our own-yet sometimes;-dignity without pride, love without passion, and tenderness without weakness, To conceive a character, in which there enters so much of the negative, required perhaps no rare and astonishing effort of genius, such as created a Juliet, a Miranda, or a lady Macbeth; but to delineate such a character in the poetical form, to develope it through the medium of action and dialogue, without the aid of description; to preserve its tranquil, mild and serious beauty, its unimpassioned dignity, and at the same time keep the strongest hold upon our sympathy and our imagination; and out of this exterior calm, produce the most profound pathos, the most vivid impres
sion of life and internal power:-it is this which renders the character of Hermione one of Shakspeare's masterpieces.
Hermione is a queen, a matron, and a mother: she is good and beautiful, and royally descended. A majestic sweetness, a grand and gracious simplicity, an easy, unforced, yet dignified self-possession, are in all her deportment, and in every word she utters. She is one of those characters, of whom it has been said proverbially, that "still waters run deep." Her passions are not vehement, but in her settled mind the sources of pain or pleasure, love or resentment, are like the springs that feed the mountain lakes, impenetrable, unfathomable, and inexhaustible.
Shakspeare has conveyed (as is his custom) a part of the character of Hermione in scattered touches, and through the impressions which she produces on all around her. Her surpassing beauty is alluded to in few but strong terms:
Is for a precious creature: as she is rare,
Must it be great.