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Cressida." If the sonnets about the verdicts on works of art may be worth dark lady were, as I do not doubt, in little, its mere verdict is worth much. some degree autobiographical, Shake- Here, it seems to me, it must be acspeare may well have used his per- cepted. One may notice that, in calling sonal experience both when he drew “Antony and Cleopatra” wonderful or Cressida and when he drew Cleopatra. astonishing, we appear to be thinking And, if he did, the story in the later tirst of the artist and his activity, while play was the nearer to his own; for in the case of the four famous tragedies Antony might well have said what it is the product of this activity, the Troilus could never say,
thing presented, that first engrosses us.
I know that I am stating this difference When my love swears that she is made of truth,
too sharply, but I believe that it is · I do believe her, though I know she
often felt; and, if this is so, the fact lies.
is significant. It implies that, although
“Antony and Cleopatra” may be for us But in the later play, not only is the as wonderful an acbievement as the poet's vision unclouded, but his whole
greatest of Shakespeare's plays, it has nature, emotional as well as intellect- not an equal value. Besides, in the ual, is free. The subject no more em- attempt to rank it with them there is bitters or seduces him than the ambi- involved something more, and more imtion of Macbeth. So that here too we portant, than an error in valuation, feel the angelic strength of which Cole- There is a failure to discriminate the ridge speaks. If we quarrel with the peculiar marks of “Antony and Cleopaphrase at all, it must be because we tra" itself, marks which, whether or seem to trace in Shakespeare's attitude no it be the equal of "Hamlet" or something of the irony of superiority; “Lear," make it decidedly different. and this may not altogether suit our If I proceed to speak of some of these conception of an angel.
differences it is because they thus go I have still another sentence to quote to make the individuality of the play, from Coleridge.
and because in criticism they seem
often not to be distinctly apprehended. The highest praise, or rather form of praise, of this play which I can offer in my own mind (he writes), is the
Why, let us begin by asking, is “Andoubt which the perusal always occa
tony and Cleopatra," though so wondersions in me, whether the “Antony and ful a work and so full of angelic Cleopatra” is not, in all exhibitions of
strength, a play rarely acted? For a a giant power in its strength and vigor
tragedy, it is not painful. Though unof maturity, a formidable rival of
fit for children, it cannot be called in“Macbeth,” “Lear,” “Hamlet,” and
decent: some slight omissions, and such **Othello."
a flattening of the heroine's part as Unless the clause here about the "giant may confidently be expected, would power" may be taken to restrict the leave it perfectly presentable. It is, no rivalry to the quality of angelic doubt, in the third and fourth dots, strength, Coleridge's doubt seems to very defective in construction. Even show a lapse in critical judgment. To on the Elizabethan stage, where scene regard this tragedy as a rival of the followed scene without a pause, this famous four, whether on the stage or must have been felt; and in our thein the study, is surely an error. The atres it would be felt much more. world certainly has not so regarded it; There, in fact, these two and forty and, though the world's reasons for its scenes could not possibly be acted as they stand. But defective construction "Julius Cæsar" the first suggestion of would not distress the bulk of an audi- the murder, the preparation for it in a ence, if the matter presented were that “tempest dropping fire," the murder itof “Hamlet” or “Othello," of "Lear" or self, the speech of Antony over the "Macbeth.” The matter must lack some- corpse, and the tumult of the furious thing which is present in those trage- crowd; in “Coriolanus" the bloody batdies; and here is the point of difference tles on the stage, the scene in which which explains the fact that "Antony the hero attains the consulship, the and Cleopatra" has never attained their scene of rage in which he is banished. popularity either on the stage or off it. And remember that all this, in each of
Most of Shakespeare's tragedies are those seven cases, comes before the dramatic in a special sense of the word, third Act is finished. as well as in its general sense, from In the first three Acts of our play beginning to end. The story is not what is there resembling this? Almerely exciting and impressive from most nothing. People converse, disthe movement of conflicting forces to- cuss, accuse one another, excuse themwards a terrible issue; but from time selves, mock, describe, drink together, to time there come situations and arrange a marriage, meet and part; events which, even apart from their but they do not kill, do not even trembearing on the future, appeal most ble or weep. We see hardly one viopowerfully to the dramatic feelings- lent movement; until the battle of Acscenes of action or passion which agi- tium is over we witness scarcely any tate the audience with alarm, horror, vehement passion; and that battle, as it painful expectation, or absorbing sym- is a naval action, we do not see. Even pathies and antipathies. Think of the later, Enobarbus, when he dies, simply street fights in “Romeo and Juliet," dies; he does not kill himself. We the killing of Mercutio and Tybalt, the hear wonderful talk; but it is not talk, rapture of the lovers, and their despair like that of Macbeth and Lady Macwhen Romeo is banished. Think of beth, or Othello and Iago, at which we the ghost scenes in the first Act of hold our breath, The scenes that we “Hamlet,” the passion of the early so- remember first are those that portray liloquies, the scene between Hamlet Cleopatra; Cleopatra coquetting, torand Ophelia, the play-scene, the sparing menting, beguiling her lover to stay; of the King at prayer, the killing of Cleopatra left with her women and Polonius. Is not “Hamlet," if you longing for him; Cleopatra receiving the choose so to regard it, the best melo- news of his marriage; Cleopatra quesdrama in the world? Think at your tioning the messenger about Octavia's leisure of "Othello," “Lear," and "Mac- personal appearance. But this is to say beth” from the same point of view; that the scenes we remember first are but consider here and now even the the least indispensable to the plot. One two tragedies which, as dealing with at least is not essential to it at all. Roman history, are companions of “An- And this, the astonishing scene where tony and Cleopatra.” Consider in she storms at the messenger, strikes
1 We are to understand, surely, that Enobarbus The character of Enobarbus is practically an dies of "thought" (melancholy or grief), and has invention of Shakespeare's. The death-scene, I no need to seek a "swifter mean." Cf. iv, vi, 34
may add, is one of the many passages which seq., with the death-scene and his address there
prove that he
often wrote what pleased his to the moon as the “sovereign mistress of true imagination but would lose half its effect in the melancholy" (iv, ix). CI. also III, xiii, where, theatre. The darkness and moonlight could not to Cleopatra's question after Actium, "What be represented on a public stage in his time. shall we do, Enobarbus?" he answers, “Think, and die."
him, and draws her dagger on him, is severity of the struggle and the magni. the one passage in the first half of the tude of the fatal step. And the strucdrama that contains either an explo- ture of the play might seem at first to sion of passion or an exciting bodily suggest this intention. At the opening action. Nor is this all. The first half Antony is shown almost in the beginof the play, though it forebodes trag. ning of his infatuation; for Cleopatra is edy, is not definitely tragic in tone. not sure of her power over him, exerts Certainly the Cleopatra scenes, even all her fascination to detain him, and the one just referred to, are not so. plays the part of the innocent victim We read them, and we should witness who has yielded to passion and must them, in delighted wonder and even now expect to be deserted by her sewith amusement. The only scene that ducer: Alarmed, and ashamed at the can vie with them, that of the revel news of the results of his inaction, he on Pompey's ship, is in great part hu- rouses himself, tears himself away, inorous. Enobarbus, in this part of and speeds to Italy. His very comthe play, is always humorous. Even ing is enough to frighten Pompey into later, when the tragic tone is deepen- peace. He reconciles himself with Ocing, the whipping of Thyreus, in spite tavius, and, by his marriage with the of Antony's rage, moves mirth. A good and beautiful Octavia, seems to play of which all this can truly be said have knit a bond of lasting amity with may well be as masterly as "Othello" her brother, and to have guarded himor "Macbeth,” and more delightful; self against the passion that threatened but, in the greater part of its course, him with ruin. At this point his it cannot possibly excite the same emo- power, the world's peace, and his own tions. It does not attempt to do so; peace, appear to be secured; his forand to regard it as though it made this tune has mounted to its apex. But attempt is to miss its specific character soon (very much sooner than in Pluand the intention of its author.
tarch's story) comes the downward turn That character depends only in part or counter-stroke. New causes of ofon Shakespeare's fidelity to his histori- fence arise between the brothers-incal authority. This fidelity (I may re
law. To remove them Octavia leaves mark) is often greatly exaggerated; for her husband in Athens and hurries to Shakespeare did not merely present the Rome. Immediately Antony returns story of ten years as though it occupied to Cleopatra and, falling at once into a perhaps one-fifth of that time, nor did far more abject slavery than before, is he merely invent freely, but in critical quickly driven to his doom. places he made startling changes in the Now Shakespeare, I say, with his order and combination of events. Still matchless power of depicting an init may be said that, dealing with a his- ward struggle, might have made this tory so famous, he could not well make story, even where it could not furnish the first half of his play very exciting, him with thrilling incidents, the source moving, or tragic. And this is true so of powerful tragic emotions; and, in far as mere situations and events are doing so, he would have departed from concerned. But, if he had chosen, he his authority merely in his conception might easily bave heightened the tone of the hero's character. But he does and tension in another way. He might no such thing till the catastrophe is have made the story of Antony's at- near. Antony breaks away from Cleotempt to break his bondage, and the patra without any strenuous conflict. story of his relapse, extremely excit- In a variety of ways we are preing, by portraying with all his force the vented from feeling any real doubt of
his return-through the impression its business, from this point of view. made on us by Octavius, through occa- is to show the reduction of these three sional glimpses into Antony's mind, to one. That Lepidus will not be this through the absence of any doubt in one was clear already in “Julius Enorbarbus, through scenes in Alexan- Cæsar"; it must be Octavius or Andria which display Cleopatra and dis- tony. Both ambitious, they are also play her irresistible. And finally, the men of such opposite tempers that they downward turn itself, the fatal step of would scarcely long agree even if they Antony's return, is shown without the wished to, and even if destiny were not slightest emphasis. Nay, it is not stronger than they. As it is, one of shown, it is only reported; and not a them has fixed his eyes on the end, line portrays any inward struggle pre- sacritices everything for it, uses everyceding it. On this side also, then, the thing as a means to it. The other, drama makes no attempt to rival the though far the greater soldier and worother tragedies; and it was essential to shipped by his followers, has no such its own peculiar character and its most singleness of aim; nor yet is power, transcendent effects that this attempt however desirable to him, the most deshould not be made, but that Antony's sirable thing in the world. At the be-' passion should be represented as ginning he is risking it for love; at the force which he could hardly even de- end he has lost his half of the world, sire to resist. By the very scheme of and lost his fife, and Octavius rules the work, therefore, tragic impressions alone. Whether Shakespeare had this of any great volume or depth were re- clearly in his mind is a question neither served for the last stage of the con- answerable nor important; this is what flict; while the main interest, down to came out of his mind. the battle of Actium, was directed to Shakespeare, I think, took little inmatters exceedingly interesting and terest in the character of Octavius, and even, in the wider sense, dramatic, but he has not made it wholly clear. It is neither terrible nor piteous-on the one not distinct in Plutarch's "Life of Anhand, the political aspect of the story; tony"; and I have not found traces that on the other, the personal causes which the poet studied closely the “Life of helped to make the issue inevitable. Octavius," included in North's volume,
To Shakespeare he is one of those men, The political situation and its devel- like Bolingbroke and Ulysses, who have opment are simple. The story is taken plenty of “judgment" and not much up almost where it was left, years be- "blood.” Victory in the world, accordfore, in "Julius Cæsar." There Brutus ing to the poet, almost always goes to and Cassius, to prevent the rule of one such men; and he makes us respect, man, assassinate Cæsar.
fear, and dislike them. His Octavius is pose is condemned to failure, not very formidable. His cold determinamerely because they make mistakes, tion half paralyzes Antony; it is so even but because that political necessity in "Julius Cæsar.” In "Antony and which Napoleon identified with destiny Cleopatra" Octavius is more than once requires the rule of one man, They in the wrong, but he never admits it; spill Cæsar's blood, but his spirit walks he silently pushes his rival a step backabroad and turns their swords against ward; and, when he ceases to fear, he their own breasts; and the world is shows contempt. He neither enjoys left divided among three men, his war nor is great in it; at first, therefriends and his heir. Here “Antony fore, he is anxious about the power of and Cleopatra" takes up the tale; and Pompey, and stands in need of Antony.
as Antony's presence has quite as intelligent as his readers, must served his turn, and he has patched up have asked himself some such quesa union with him and seen him safely tion; but he may have chosen not to off to Athens, he destroys first Pom- answer it even to himself; and, in any pey and next Lepidus. Then, dexter- case, he has left the actor (at least the ously using Antony's faithlessness to actor in days later than his own) to Octavia and excesses in the East in or- choose an answer. If I were forced to der to put himself in the right, he choose, I should take the view that makes for his victim with admirable Octavius was, at any rate, not wholly celerity while he is still drunk with the honest; partly because I think this joy of reunion with Cleopatra. For his view best suits Shakespeare's usual ends Octavius is perfectly efficient, way of conceiving a character of this but he is so partly from his limitations. kind; partly because Plutarch One phrase of his is exceedingly char- strued in this manner Octavius's beacteristic. When Antony in rage and havior in regard to his sister at a later desperation challenges him to single time, and this hint might naturally incombat. Octavius calls him "the old fluence the poet's way of imagining his ruffian." There is a horrid aptness in earlier action.” the pharse, but it disgusts us. It is Though the character of Octavius is shameful in this boy, as hard and neither attractive nor wholly clear, his smooth as polished steel, to feel at such figure is invested with a certain tragic a time nothing of the greatness of his dignity, because he is felt to be the victim and the tragedy of his victim's Man of Destiny, the agent of forces fall. Though the challenge of Antony against which the intentions of an inis absurd, we would give much to see dividual would avail nothing. He is them sword to sword. And, when Cleo represented as having himself some patra by her death cheats the con- feeling of this kind. His lament over queror of his prize, we feel unmised Antony, his grief that their stars were delight.
irreconcilable, may be genuine, though The doubtful point in the character is we should be surer if it were uttered this. Plutarch says that Octavius was in soliloquy. His austere words to Ocreported to love his sister Octavia tavia again may speak his true mind:dearly; and in the drama he several times expresses such love. When,
Be you not troubled with the time,
which drives then, he proposed her marriage with
O’er your content these strong necessiAntony (for of course it was he who
ties; spoke through Agrippa), was he honest, But let determined things to destiny or was he laying a trap and, in doing Hold unbewailed their way. so, sacrificing his sister? Did he hope the marriage would really unite him In any case the feeling of destiny with his brother-in-law; did he comes through to us. It is aided by merely mean it to be a source of future slight touches of supernatural effect; differences; or did he calculate that, first in the Soothsayer's warning to Anwhether it secured peace or dissension, tony that his genius or angel is overit would in either case bring him great powered whenever he is near Octavius; advantage? Shakespeare, who was then in the strangely effective scene
"Xow whilest Antonius was busie in this preparation, Octauia his wife, whom he had left at Rome, would needs take sea to come vnto him. Her brother Octauius Cæsar was willing vnto it, not for his respect at all (as most
LIVING AGE. VOL. (XII. 1670,
authors do report) as for that he might have an honest colour to make warre with Antonius ir he did misuse her, and not esteeme of her as she ought to be."-"Life of Antony' (North's Translation), sect. 29.