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fraud and violence in which it was their fate to move. In King Henry V. Shakespeare had presented a great man of action, a master of events. When we have given him the meed of admiration which is his due, we let him pass upon his glorious way. Hamlet, who is no master of events, who executes his purpose desperately at last, and as it were by chancemedley, whose life has effected so little that, comparing it with his great endowments, we may call it a failure, interests us profoundly, and we return again and again to gaze into the shadowy precincts of his thought, and can never quite satisfy our curiosity.
§ 37. Of the great tragedies of passion which follow who can speak adequately? Perhaps the least inadequate word ever said respecting them is that fine extravagance of Goethe in Wilhelm Meister: "They are no fictions (Gedichte). You would think while reading them, you stood before the unclosed awful Books of Fate, while the whirlwind of most impassioned life was howling through the leaves, and tossing them fiercely to and fro." And the speaker in Goethe's romance goes on to tell of their tenderness as well as their strength, their calm as well as their force. These terrible leaves of the Book of Fate, which we name Macbeth, Othello, Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Timon, are all concerned with the breaches of the law wrought by passion, the rending of the bonds of loyalty, of wedlock, of filial duty, of love of country and love of humanity; they represent man at odds with the moral order of things; they exhibit evil in its incubation and in its temporary triumph; passion in its
complexity of motion, its occult movements, its outbreak and violent fluctuations. But the effect left on the spirit of the reader or spectator of these plays is not one of disorder. The laws of human life are not shaken; the pillars of the divine order stand sure. Even though Cordelia lie strangled upon the lap of Lear we do not despair: "Upon such sacrifices the gods themselves throw incense."
§ 38. Othello (1604), founded on a tale in Cinthio's Hecatommithi, presents a striking contrast with Hamlet, which perhaps immediately preceded it in the chronological order. Here, instead of a student, the hero is a great soldier, a man framed for prompt and decisive action; instead of the reflective temperament of the North, we are shown in their terrible workings the torrid passions of the South; instead of wandering in vague mists and cloud we seem to encounter a simoom. The subtleties of Hamlet's intellect, the lingerings of Hamlet's will caused us to dread a grievous miscarriage of justice; it is the blind precipitancy of Othello's heart and hand which strikes us with terror. In the Moor there is somewhat of the grand simplicity of the barbarian, and he is taken in the toils of the craftiest and boldest brain in Italy. His love is a rapture of chivalry and fond protectiveness; his jealousy is no mean offspring of injured personal pride, but the anguish of despair for human purity and truth. Iago is Shakespeare's one absolute, irredeemable villain; irredeemable, because he has lost all faith in the existence of goodness, and because all passions are dead within him except those which gather about self. There is no weak point in his panoply
of disbelief and egoism; man and woman are but tools in his hand which he uses, and despises in the use. Two contrasted figures so superb and so striking as Othello and Iago had never before been set over against each other in tragedy; it is still the ambition of great actors to present in turn each of the two parts which demand such high and such opposing accomplishments of art. Desdemona, the very rose of purest passion, made to worship and to be worshipped, is flung away like a noisome weed; to slay her is as it were to slay love itself in its native and original form. And yet we are made to feel that love, not hatred, is the slayer. Desdemona dies with the sacred falsehood of true love on her lips; and Othello, in discovering her loyalty and executing the doom upon himself, is restored to faith and charity, if not to hope. It is the destroyer Iago who really perishes as a withered branch from the tree of humanity.
§ 39. In Othello the tragedy turns upon the rending of the bonds between husband and wife. In King Lear (1605) the tragedy is that of violated filial ties, and of a father saved-and scarcely savedfrom the despair, following upon unnatural cruelty, by the redeeming passion of love in one daughter's heart. The scale on which everything is presented in this drama borders on the Titanic. The double plot heightens and intensifies the effect. Gloucester's wrong and Gloucester's suffering are great, but they fall well within the limits of humanity. The passions of Lear almost break the bounds; there is in them something vast and elemental; and Nature herself, with her deluging streams, and fierce thrusts
of lightning, and reverberated thunders, seems to partake in and to reflect the chaos of the moral world. Where hatred, deceit, and egoism are outrageous, love is deep and still, a pure and quiet fount of blessing; Cordelia utters no passionate outcry, but all that is of virtuous power in the play organizes itself about her, or unconsciously takes part with her. She dies as the martyr of love; but when her father falls upon her body, and his strong, worn heart at last breaks through excess of strain, he is looking for that unuttered word of love upon her lips, the very expectation of which has saved him from despair and moral death. Cordelia dies, but love is not defeated.
§ 40. Macbeth (1606) probably followed next to King Lear. Our interest in this play is centred in the pair of wedded criminals; Duncan and Banquo and Macduff are figures of minor importance. Through an act of guilty ambition the bond-no longer a mere domestic bond—of loyalty between king and subject is severed; the culminating point in the action of the play is the murder of Duncan; the aspiring path to crime, and that dim blood-stained path which leads downward from crime to the abyss are traced in the earlier and in the later scenes. The essence of the tragedy lies not so much in the death of a virtuous king as in the parting of Macbeth from whatever possibilities for good lay within his nature. We watch him with an awful interest as we might watch one, beyond our reach to succour, who was slipping further and further down the edge of some ghastly precipice, clinging feebly for a time to grasses and shingle, and then fascinated by the
horror of his descent, and plunging forward. Macbeth's wife is more finely organized than he; she weighs with steady hand the crown against the crime, and having willed the end, accepts with it the inevitable means. But, in assisting at the slaughter of Duncan, she has slain herself; her strength for crime is quickly exhausted; she is herself banished from life by those good laws of the world which she had violated. The witches are at once sublime and grotesque; they are not mere creatures of the brain like the dagger that appeared before the murderer's eyes; they are the incarnation of those evil powers which exist around us, if not in nature, assuredly in the world of human society, which are impotent against the man whose heart is set on righteousness, and lure to his ruin the man who pauses half-hearted between good and evil.
§ 41. Antony and Cleopatra (1607) and Coriolanus (1608) may be viewed as contrasted dramatic studies. In both plays a Roman is alienated from Rome; the bond between the citizen and his mother-country is in one case slowly dissolved, in the other it is violently strained and severed. The crime of Antony is that of a rich, pleasure-loving, voluptuous emperament; the crime of Coriolanus springs from overweening pride. Each is a great nature,.manificently endowed; and over each the influence of a woman- —a mistress or a mother-dominates. Having painted in magic colours, as various as those of the shifting sea, the Eastern witch, Antony's "Serpent of Old Nilus", Shakespeare turned to carve, as it were in deathless marble, the figure of his Roman matron, a majestic caryatid upbearing the weight o