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soiling of Isabella's womanhood, supplies an apt reason for the Duke's mysterious conduct, and yields a pregnant motive for Angelo's pardon, in that his life is thereby bound up with that of a wronged and innocent woman, whom his crimes are made the occasion of restoring to her rights and happiness; so that her virtue may be justly allowed to reprieve him from death.

In the comic parts of Whetstone's drama there is all the grossness of Measure for Measure, without any thing that the utmost courtesy of language can call wit or humour. So that, if the Poet here received no help, neither can he have any excuse, from the workmanship of his predecessor. But he probably saw that some such matter was required by the scheme of the play and the laws of dramatic proportion. And as in these parts the truth and character are all his own, so he can hardly be blamed for not anticipating the delicacy or squeamishness of later times, there being none such in the most refined audiences of his day; while, again, his choice of a subject so ugly in itself is amply screened from censure by the lessons of virtue and wisdom which he used it as an opportunity for delivering. To have trained and taught a barbarous tale of cruelty and lust into such a fruitage of poetry and humanity, may well offset whatever of offence there may be in the play to modern taste.

I have already referred to certain characteristics of style and temper which this play shares with several others probably written about the same time, and which, as before observed, have been thought to mark some crisis in the Poet's life. It cannot well be denied that the plays in question have something of a peculiar spirit, which might aptly suggest that some passage of bitter experience must have turned the milk of his genius for a time into gall, and put him upon a course of harsh and indignant thought. The point is well stated by Hallam: "There seems to have been a period of Shakespeare's life when his heart was ill at ease, and ill content with the world or his own con

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science: the memory of hours misspent, the pang of affection misplaced or unrequited, the experience of man's worser nature, which intercourse with ill-chosen associates peculiarly teaches, these, as they sank down into the depths of his great mind, seem not only to have inspired into it the conception of Lear and Timon, but that of one primary character, the censurer of mankind."* And Verplanck speaks in a similar strain of "that portion of the author's life which was memorable for the production of the additions to the original Hamlet, with their melancholy wisdom; probably of Timon, with its indignant and hearty scorn, and rebukes of the baseness of civilized society; and above all of Lear, with its dark pictures of unmixed, unmitigated guilt, and its terrible and prophet-like denunciations."

These words certainly carry much weight, and may go far to warrant the belief of the writers, that the Poet was smitten with some rude shock of fortune which untuned the melody of his soul, and wrenched his mind from its once smooth and happy course, causing it to recoil upon itself and brood over its own thoughts. Yet there are considerable difficulties besetting a theory of this kind. For, in some other plays referred by these critics to the same period, there is so much of the Poet's gayest and happiest workmanship as must greatly embarrass if not quite upset such a theory. But, whatever may have caused the peculiar tone and the cast of thought in the forenamed plays, it is pretty certain that the darkness was not permanent;

"This type," continues the writer, "is first seen in the philosophic melancholy of Jaques, gazing with an undiminished serenity, and with a gayety of fancy, though not of manners, on the follies of the world. It assumes a graver cast in the exiled Duke of the same play, and one rather more severe in the Duke of Measure for Measure. In all these, however, it is merely a contemplative philosophy. In Hamlet this is mingled with the impulses of a perturbed heart under the pressure of extraordinary circumstances it shines no longer, as in the former characters, with a steady light, but plays in fitful coruscations amid feigned gayety and extravagance Lear, it is the flash of sudden inspiration across the incongruous imagery of madness in Timon, it is obscured by the exaggerations of misanthropy."

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the clear azure, soft sunshine, and serene sweetness of The Tempest and The Winter's Tale being unquestionably of a later date. And, surely, in the life of so earnest and thoughtful a man as Shakespeare, there might well be, nay, there must have been, times when, without any special woundings or bruisings of fortune, his mind got fascinated by the appalling mystery of evil that haunts our fallen nature. That such darker hours, however occasioned, were more frequent at one period of the Poet's life than at others, is indeed probable. And it was equally natural that their coming should sometimes engage him in heart-tugging and brain-sweating efforts to scrutinize the inscrutable workings of human guilt, and thus stamp itself strongly upon the offspring of his mind. Thus, without any other than the ordinary progress of thoughtful spirits, we should naturally have a middle period, when the early enthusiasm of hope had passed away, and before the deeper, calmer, but not less cheerful tranquillity of resignation had set in. For so it is apt to be in this life of ours: the angry barkings of fortune, or what seem such, have their turn with us; "the fretful fever and the stir unprofitable" work our souls full of discord and perturbation; but after a while these things pass away, and are followed by a more placid and genial time; the experienced insufficiency of man for himself having charmed our wrestlings of thought into repose, and our spirits having undergone the chastening and subduing power of life's sterner discipline.

In some such passage, then, I should rather presume the unique conception of Measure for Measure to have been formed in the Poet's mind. I say unique, because this is his only instance of comedy where the wit seems to foam and sparkle up from a fountain of bitterness; where even the humour is made pungent with sarcasm; and where the poetry is marked with tragic austerity. In none of his plays does he discover less of leaning upon pre-existing models, or a more manly negligence, perhaps sometimes carried to excess, of those lighter graces of manner which

none but the greatest minds may safely despise. His genius is here out in all its colossal individuality, and he seems to have meant it should be so; as if he felt quite sure of having now reached his mastership; so that henceforth, instead of leaning on those who had gone before, he was to be himself a leaning-place for those who should follow.

Accordingly the play abounds in fearless grapplings and strugglings of mind with matters too hard to consist with much facility and gracefulness of tongue. The thought is strong, and in its strength careless of appearances, and seems rather wishing than fearing to have its roughnesses seen: the style is rugged, irregular, abrupt, sometimes running into an almost forbidding sternness, but everywhere throbbing with life: often a whole page of meaning is condensed and rammed into a clause or an image, so that the force thereof beats and reverberates through the entire scene: with little of elaborate grace or finish, we have bold, deep strokes, where the want of finer softenings and shadings is more than made up by increased energy and expressiveness; the words going right to the spot, and leaving none of their work undone. Thus the workmanship is in a very uncommon degree what I sometimes designate as steep, meaning thereby hard to get to the top of. Hence it is perhaps, in part, that so many axioms and "brief sententious precepts" of moral and practical wisdom from this play have wrought themselves into the currency and familiarity of household words, and live for instruction or comfort in the memory of many who know nothing of their original source. As a strong instance in point, take Isabella's meaty apothegm,

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Which means that, if the angels had our disposition to

splenetic or satirical mirth, the sight of our human arrogance strutting through its absurd antics would cast them into such an ecstasy of ridicule, that they would laugh themselves clean out of their immortality; this celestial prerogative being quite incompatible with such ebullitions of spleen.

Whether from the nature of the subject, or the mode of treating it, or both, Measure for Measure is generally regarded as one of the least attractive, though most instructive, of Shakespeare's plays. Coleridge, in those fragments of his critical lectures which now form our best text-book of English criticism, says, "This play, which is Shakespeare's throughout, is to me the most painful—rather say the only painful part of his genuine works." From this language, sustained as it is by other high authorities, I probably should not dissent; but when, in his Table Talk, he says that "Isabella herself contrives to be unamiable, and Claudio is detestable," I can by no means go along with him.

It would seem indeed as if undue fault had sometimes been found, not so much with the play itself as with some of the persons, from trying them by a moral standard which cannot be fairly applied to them, or from not duly weighing all the circumstances, feelings, and motives under which they are represented as acting. Thus Ulrici speaks of Claudio as being guilty of seduction. Which is surely wide of the mark; it being clear enough that, according to the usages then and there established, he was, as he considered himself to be, virtually married, though not admissible to all the rights of the married life. Hence we have the Duke assuring Mariana that there would be no crime in her meeting with Angelo, because he was her husband on a pre-contract." And it is well known that in ancient times the ceremony of betrothment conferred the marriage tie, though not the nuptials, so that the union of the parties was thenceforth firm in the eye of the law itself. So again Hallam, speaking of Isa

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