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anticipate his son Guiderius in revolting against Rome, repel an imaginary Roman invasion by a feat of heroism exhibited 900 years later in the wars of the Scots and Danes,1 and then bring himself violently back into line with events by a sudden and unexplained submission.
If Cymbeline is deliberately detached from history, his queen and their children transport us into manifest faerie. The evil stepmother, with her malign beauty, culling the poison-flowers 'while yet the dew's on the ground' is a witch manquée, a Medea not quite perfect in her part; her clownish son is a Caliban made slightly more human and considerably more vulgar; Imogen, with all her added wealth of mind and heart, yet clearly betrays the lineaments of the peerless princess whom the malign stepinother pursues and good fairies defend; while the whole episode of her life in the cave with her unknown brothers, her seeming death and burial, differs from the Märchen of Schneewittchen ('Little Snowwhite') only as the poetry which moves wholly within the human sphere and is wrought out in dramatic detail and imaginative phrase differs from the naïve poetry of the fairy tale.2 The evil stepmother provides her 'poison' by the aid of a physician; the kindly dwarfs become valiant young hunters, and Schneewittchen's crystal coffin becomes a woodland bed of flowers and moss lightly sprinkled on the face of the seeming dead.
son of Æneas and Lavinia, born after his father's death, and mentioned near the outset of the Chronicle (Stone's Holinshed, pp. 17, 18, where several other less clear correspondences are cited).
1 Stone's Holinshed, pp. 6-18. The prowess of Belarius and his adopted sons is modelled on that
of a Scottish husbandman, Hay, who with his two sons' help routed the Danes at Loncourt, 976.
2 The parallel was first traced in detail by Schenkl. It is followed out with peculiar sympathy by Mr. Gollancz in his finely felt Introduction to this play.
It can hardly be denied that these several elements of story are not quite faultlessly wrought together. The complex mechanism of the plot is lubricated by a free use of happy coincidences and fortuities, and explained by conversations and soliloquies which serve merely to explain it. It is even possible to maintain that the motley contrast of the interwoven motives has here and there infected the characters;—that Cloten, more particularly, as he appears in the council of war, is a person of more distinction than the clownish wooer of Imogen and butt of the court wits. As in all the plays of this latest group, mechanical coherence of plot is treated with apparent nonchalance, even character is displayed rather in detached moments than with that subtle power of exhibiting its gradual evolution or decay which contributes so much to the fascination of Hamlet or Othello or Antony and Cleopatra; but these moments are illuminated with a dramatic vision so intense and a poetry so poignantly beautiful, that the less intrinsic movements of the play sink into a subordination of effect in which their incoherences are lost sight of. In the subject matter with which they deal we cannot sharply divide the so-called Romances from the Tragedies; they all deal with tragic harms; both Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale sound several chords of the theme of Othello. But, in the first place, the tragic action is briefer and simpler, less desperate in its outlook, less harrowing in its course; and, in the second, there open out of it vistas of a reposeful and healing seclusion on the one side, of remorse and atonement on the other, which finally converge in scenes of reconciliation and forgiveness. In The Tempest, possibly the last of the Romances, and certainly that in which the Romance character is most completely embodied, the tragic story is already a distant memory when the
action opens. In Cymbeline, as in The Winter's Tale, it occupies the first half of the drama. The cloud which involves the love of Imogen and Posthumus starts up without the least warning in the fourth scene and is unfolded with appalling swiftness. In the sixth scene Iachimo stands before Imogen; in the tenth he has turned Posthumus' fearless faith in her into a frenzy of scorn for all women; in the middle of the third act she has read his fatal letter. Then, for both, the scene changes. Posthumus, when we meet him again, still believes implicitly in Imogen's guilt, but the anguish of having slain a 'wife much better than himself, for wrying but a little,' has entered into his soul. The Roman invasion, which has brought him from Italy, provides him with the means of seeking Ideath in the field. In the 'silly dress' of a British peasant he fights with blind fury by the side of Belarius and his sons, and the Roman victory becomes a rout; then, once more a Roman, he yields himself captive and astonishes his gaoler with the 'prone eagerness' in which he awaits execution. He does not atone by death, but by the absorption of his whole being in the one consuming passion for atonement. Several of Shakespeare's tragic figuresOthello, Enobarbus-express remorse as poignant as his; but only to find an immediate solution of it on their swords. It is only in the great prison soliloquy of Posthumus that the quivering nerves of the tormented brain are laid bare before our eyes, and the intellectual processes unfolded which make life seem an intolerable cruelty of the gods. A happier lot awaits him, but reunion with Imogen and discovery of her purity do not relax the keenness of his remorse, and it is the self-abasement of a fellow-criminal, rather than the lofty benignity of a judge, which speaks in his famous words of pardon to Iachimo :
The power that I have on you is to spare you;
The war, which thus provides a channel for Posthumus' remorse, also affects the fortunes of Imogen. But the more significant part of her afterstory is, evidently, the 'Schneewittchen' sojourn in her brothers' cave. The history of Guiderius and Arviragus has no rigid coherence with the dramatic plot. But it satisfied the inclination, which all the latest dramas of Shakespeare betray, to bring his most ideal characters into a peculiarly sympathetic relation with the fresh charm of Nature. Not that Shakespeare's Naturalism is at all closely allied to Wordsworth's. His 'Nature' is a far less potent enchantress. She does not breed noble men except from noble race; she does not suffice for their breeding. His Mopsas and Dorcases live all their lives in the continual presence of Nature' without losing a particle of their native vulgarity. And the youth of Miranda and Perdita, of Guiderius and Arviragus, so graciously unfolded in seclusion, only prepares them to be right men and women in the world. In the most idyllic mood of his Stratford retirement, Shakespeare assuredly never disparaged the educative contact with great events. But he thought, it is hardly less evident, that a noble strain of manhood was most effectively shaped for that contact by a rough and simple training. Belarius' cave is a little world peopled by such men, so trained, without any of the coarser human alloy which serves as foil to Perdita and Miranda. It is, so to speak, the point de repaire for all the noble elements of the drama. To this little world Imogen, the soul of truth, finds her way, a stranger, and is instantly taken to their hearts. And, when the hunters have turned into a battalion of destroying angels,' it is
Posthumus, in his agony of remorse, who becomes their single-handed ally. Thus the half-epic, halflegend-like story of Belarius, notwithstanding its loose cohesion with the structure of the plot, plays an essential part in its perspective and proportion.
The dénoûment, in which these several elements of story are brought into harmony, is an admitted masterpiece of dramatic technique. But one detail in it has always excited amazement and given an air of justification to Johnson's ferocious censure of the play. Posthumus' vision, the oracle, and a soothsayer's exposition of it, are, as literature, mean, frigid, and prosaic. As dramatic business, they affect only the outermost fringe of the plot, the political relations of Britain and Rome. It is possible to defend the bald style of the ghosts as imitated from the archaisms of the time when Posthumus' parents lived; but the grotesque descent of Jupiter is as un-Shakespearean in conception as it is incompetent in execution. Richard III. had dreamed to better purpose before Bosworth. Perhaps, with Mr. Fleay, we may find the solution in attributing to Shakespeare only the dumb show, which some foolhardy person rushed in to versify. The oracle, which Posthumus finds on his breast, is employed with a singular disregard of dramatic effect. It serves no purpose but to provide the British king with a not very logical reason for offering, though the victor,' to submit to Cæsar, and thus completing by a volteface amazing even in this impulsive and capricious Celtic king, this feebler Lear -the universal reconciliation. This gratuitous close has the air of having been inwoven in the fabric of Shakespeare's work,-perhaps with concealed political intention. It may be noted as a possible mark of imperfect piecing, that Cymbeline twice (v. 5. 398, 475) summons the assembly to do sacrifice to the gods.