Page images
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]


No; the man of principles must fall before the man of expediency. He can conquer Cassius by his high-mindedness; for Cassius, though somewhat politic, has nobility enough in him to bow before the majesty of virtue. Coleridge says, "I know no part of Shakspeare that more impresses on me the belief of his genius being superhuman than this scene between Brutus and Cassius." This language has been called idolatry: some critic, we believe, says "blasphemous; " yet let any one with common human powers try to produce such a scene. The wonderful thing in it, and that which-in a subsequent sentence, which we scarcely dare quote Coleridge points out, is the complete preservation of character. All dramatic poets have tried to imitate this scene. Dryden preferred his imitation, in the famous dialogue between Antony and Ventidius, to any thing which he had written "in this kind." It is full of high rhetoric, no doubt; but its rhetoric is that of generalizations. The plain, rough soldier, the luxurious chief, reproach and weep, are angry and cool again, shake hands, and end in "hugging," as the stage direction has it. They say all that people would say under such circumstances, and they say it well. But the matchless art of Shakspeare consists as much in what he holds back as in what he puts forward. Brutus subdues Cassius by the force of his moral strength, without the slighest attempt to command the feelings of a sensitive man. When Cassius is subdued, he owns that he has been hasty. They are friends again, hand and heart. Is not the knowledge of character something above the ordinary reach of human sagacity when the following words come in as if by accident?

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


Lucius, a bowl of wine.

Cass. I did not think you could have been so angry.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

Bru. O, Cassius, I am sick of many griefs.

Cass. Of your philosophy you make no use,

If you give place to accidental evils.

Bru. No man bears sorrow better: Portia is dead.

Cass. Ha! Portia ?

Bru. She is dead.

Cass. How 'scaped I killing when I crossed you so!"

This is not in Plutarch.

The shade of Cæsar has summoned Brutus to meet him at Philippi. The conversation of the republican chiefs before the battle is well to be noted:

Now, most noble Brutus,
The gods to-day stand friendly; that we may,
Lovers in peace, lead on our days to age
But, since the affairs of men rest still uncertain,
Let's reason with the worst that may befall.
If we do lose this battle, then is this
The very last time we shall speak together:
What are you then determined to do?

Bru. Even by the rule of that philosophy
By which I did blame Cato for the death
Which he did give himself: - I know not how,
But I do find it cowardly and vile,

For fear of what might fall, so to prevent

The time of life:- arming myself with patience,
To stay the providence of some high powers
That govern us below.

Then, if we lose this battle,
You are contented to be led in triumph
Through the streets of Rome?

Bru. No, Cassius, no: think not, thou noble Roman,

[ocr errors]

That ever Brutus will go bound to Rome;
He bears too great a mind."

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The parallel passage in Plutarch is as follows:

"Then Cassius began to speak first, and said, The gods grant us, O Brutus, that this day we may win the field, and ever after to live all the rest of our life quietly, one with another. But sith the gods have so ordained it that the greatest and chiefest things amongst men are most uncertain, and that, if the battle fall out otherwise to-day than we wish or look for, we

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]


shall hardly meet again, what art thou then determined to do to fly, of die? Brutus answered him, Being yet but a young man, and not overgreatly experienced in the world, I trust (I know not how) a certain rule of philosophy, by the which I did greatly blame and reprove Cato for killing of himself, as being no lawful nor godly act touching the gods, nor concerning men valiant, not to give place and yield to Divine Providence, and not constantly and patiently to take whatsoever it pleaseth him to send us, but to draw back and fly: but being now in the midst of the danger, I am of a contrary mind; for if it be not the will of God that this battle fall out fortunate for us, I will look no more for hope, neither seek to make any new supply of war again, but will rid me of this miserable world, and content me with my fortune."


[ocr errors]

The critics say that Shakspeare makes Brutus express himself inconsistently. He will await the determination of Providence, but he will not go bound to Rome. Mr. Courtenay explains how "the inconsistency arises from Shakspeare's misreading of the first speech; for Brutus, according to North, referred to his opinion against suicide as one that he had entertained in his youth, but had now abandoned." This writer in a note also explains that the perplexity consists in North saying I trust, instead of using the past tense. He then adds, "Shakspeare's adoption of a version contradicted not only by a passage immediately following, but by the event which he presently portrays, is a striking instance of his careless use of his authorities." * Very triumphant, no doubt. Most literal critics, why have you not rather confided in Shakspeare than in yourselves? When he deserts Plutarch, he is true to something higher than Plutarch. In Brutus he has drawn a man of speculation; one who is moved to kill the man he loves upon no personal motive, but upon a theory; one who fights his last battle upon somewhat speculative principles; one, however, who, from his gentleness, his constancy, his fortitude, has subdued men of more active minds to the admiration of his temper and to the adoption of his opinions. Cassius never reasons about suicide: it is his instant rem

* Commentaries on the Historical Plays, vol. ii. p. 255.


edy; a remedy which he rashly adopts, and ruins, therefore, his own cause. Brutus reasons against it; and he does not revoke his speculative opinions even when the consequences to which they lead are pointed out to him. Is not this nature? and must we be told that this nicety of characterization resulted from Shakspeare carelessly using his authorities; trusting to the false tense of a verb, regardless of the context? "But he contradicts himself," says the critic, "by the event which he presently portrays.' Most wonderfully has Shakspeare redeemed his own consistency. It is when the mind of the speculative man ist not only utterly subdued by adverse circumstances, but bowed down before the pressure of supernatural warnings, that he deliberately approaches his last fatal resolve. What is the work of an instant with Cassius is with Brutus a tentative process. Clitus, Dardanius, Volumnius, Strato, are each tried. The irresistible pressure upon his mind, which leads him not to fly with his friends, is the destiny which hovers over him :


"Bru. Come hither, good Volumnius: list a word.
Vol. What says my lord?

Why, this, Volumnius :
The ghost of Cæsar hath appeared to me
Two several times by night: at Sardis, once;
And, this last night, here in Philippi fields.
I know my hour is come.”

The exclamation of Brutus over the body of Cassius is,


[ocr errors]

"The last of all the Romans, fare thee well!"

Brutus himself is the last assertor of the old Roman principles:

"This was the noblest Roman of them all :

All the conspirators, save only he,

Did that they did in envy of great Cæsar;

He only, in a general honest thought,

And common good to all, made one of them."

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

* Literary Remains, vol. ii. p. 142.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The scene is changed. The boldest, perhaps the noblest, of the Roman triumvirs, has almost forgotten Rome, and governs the Asiatic world with a magnificence equalled only by the voluptuousness into which he is plunged. In Rome, Octavius Cæsar is almost supreme. It is upon the cards which shall govern the entire world. The history of individuals is henceforth the history of Rome.

"Of all Shakspeare's historical plays," says Coleridge, "Antony and Cleopatra is by far the most wonderful." He again says, assigning it a place even higher than that of being the most wonderful of the historical plays, "The highest praise, or, rather, form of praise, of this play, which I can offer in my own mind, is the doubt which the perusal always occasions in me, whether the Antony and Cleopatra is not, in all exhibitions of a giant power in its strength and vigor of maturity, a formidable rival of Macbeth, Lear, Hamlet, and Othello." The epithet "wonderful" is unquestionably the right one to apply to this drama. It is too vast, too gorgeous, to be approached without some prostration of the understanding. It pours such a flood of noonday splendor upon our senses, that we cannot gaze upon it steadily. We have read it again and again; and the impression which it leaves again and again is that of wonder. We can comprehend it, reduce its power to some standard, only by the analysis of a part. Mrs. Jameson has adopted this course in one of her most brilliant "Characteristics of Women." Treading in her steps timidly, we may venture to attempt a companion sketch to her portrait of "Cleopatra." It is in the spirit of the play itself, as the last of the Roman series, that we shall endeavor to follow it, by confining ourselves as much as may be to an individual. We use the word in the sense in which Mr. Hare uses it, after some good-natured ridicule of the newspaper "individuals:" a man "is an individual, so far as he is an integral whole, different and distinct from

[ocr errors]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »