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and its transiency; it is one and the same feeling that commences, goes through, and ends the play. The old men, the Capulets and the Montagues, are not common old men; they have an eagerness, a heartiness, a vehemence, the effect of spring with Romeo, his change of passion, his sudden marriage, and his rash death, are all the effects of youth; whilst in Juliet love has all that is tender and melancholy in the nightingale, all that is voluptuous in the rose, with whatever is sweet in the freshness of spring; but it ends with a long deep sigh, like the last breeze of the Italian evening. This unity of feeling and character pervades every drama of Shakespeare."
In accordance with the principles here suggested, we find every thing on the run; all the passions of the drama are in the same fiery-footed and unmanageable excess: the impatient vehemence of old Capulet, the furious valour of Tybalt, the brilliant volubility of Mercutio, the petulant loquacity of the Nurse, being all but so many symptoms of the reigning irritability and impetuosity. Amid this general stress of impassioned life, old animosities are rekindled, old feuds have broken out anew; while the efforts of private friendship and public authority to quench the strife only go to prove it unquenchable, the same violent passions that have caused the tumults being brought to the suppression of them. The prevalence of extreme hate serves of course to generate the opposite extreme; out of the most passionate and fatal enmities there naturally springs a love as passionate and fatal. With dispositions too gentle and noble to share in the animosities so rife about them, the hearts of the lovers are but rendered thereby the more alive and open to impressions of a contrary nature; the fierce rancour of their houses only swelling in them the emotions that prevent their sympathising with it.
In this way, both the persons and the readers of the drama are prepared for the forthcoming issues: the leading passion, intense as it is, being so associated with others of equal intensity, that we receive it without any sense of disproportion to nature; whereas, if cut out of the harmony in which it exists, it would seem overwrought and incredible. Thus the Poet secures continuity of impression, and carries us smoothly along through all the aching joys and giddy transports of the lovers, by his manner of disposing the objects and persons about them. And he does this with so much ease as not to betray his exertions; his means are hidden in the skill with which he uses them; and we forget the height to which he soars, because he has the strength of wing to bear us along with him, or rather gives us wings to rise with him of ourselves.
Not the least considerable feature of this drama is, how, by divers little showings, we are let into the general condition of life where the scene is laid, and how this again is made to throw light on the main action. We see before us a most artificial and un
healthy state of society, where all the safety-valves of nature are closed up by an oppressive conventionality, and where the better passions, being clogged down to their source, have turned their strength into the worse; men's antipathies being the more violent, because no free play is given to their sympathies. Principle and impulse are often spoken of as opposed to each other; and, as men are, such is indeed too often the case: but in ingenuous natures and in well-ordered societies the two grow forth together, each serving to unfold and deepen the other, so that principle gets warmed into impulse, and impulse fixed into principle. When such is the case, the state of man is at peace and unity; otherwise, he is a house divided against itself, where principle and impulse strive each for the mastery, and sway by turns; headlong and sensual in his passions, cunning and selfish in his reason.
Now, this fatal divorce of reason and passion is strongly apparent in the condition of life here reflected. The generous impulses of nature are overborne and stifled by a discipline of selfishness. Coldly calculative where they ought to be impassioned, people are of course blindly passionate where they ought to be deliberate and cool. Even marriage is plainly stripped of its sacredness, made an affair of expediency, not of affection, insomuch that a previous union of hearts is discouraged, lest it should interfere with a prudent union of hands. So that we have a state of society, where the hearts of the young are, if possible, kept sealed against all deep and strong impressions, and the development of the nobler impulses foreclosed by the icy considerations of interest and policy.
Amidst this heart-withering refinement, the hero and the heroine stand out the unschooled and unspoiled creatures of native sense and sensibility. Art has tried its utmost upon them, but nature has proved too strong for it in the silent creativeness of youth their feelings have insensibly matured themselves; and they come before us glowing with the warmth of natural sentiment, with susceptibilities deep as life, and waiting only for the kindling touch of passion. So that they exemplify the simplicity of nature thriving amidst the most artificial manners: nay, they are the more natural for the excess of art around them; as if nature, driven from the hearts of others, had taken refuge in theirs.
Principle, however, is as strong in them as passion; they have the purity as well as the impulsiveness of nature; and because they are free from immodest desires, they therefore put forth no angelic pretensions. Idolizing each other, they would, however, make none but permitted offerings. Not being led by the conventionalities of life, they therefore are not to be misled by them: as their hearts are joined in mutual love, so their hands must be joined in mutual honour; for, while loving each other with a love as boundless as the sea, they at the same time love in each other whatsoever is precious and heavenly in their unsoiled imaginations.
Thus their fault lies not in the nature of their passion, but in its excess, that they love each other in a degree that is due only to their Maker; but this is a natural reaction from that idolatry of interest and of self which pervades the rest of society, turning marriage into merchandise, and sacrificing the holiest instincts of nature to avarice, ambition, and pride.
The lovers, it is true, are not much given to reflection, because this is a thing that cannot come to them legitimately but by experience, which they are yet without. Life lies glittering with golden hopes before them, owing all its enchantment, perhaps, to distance if their bliss seems perfect, it is only because their bounty is infinite; but such bounty and such bliss "may not with mortal man abide." Bereft of the new life they have found in each other, nothing remains for them but the bitter dregs from which the wine has all evaporated; and they dash to earth the stale and vapid draught, when it has lost all the spirit that caused it to foam and sparkle before them. Nevertheless, it is not their passion, but the enmity of their houses, that is punished in their death; and the awful lesson read in their fate is against that barbarism of civilization, which makes love excessive by trying to exclude it from its rightful place in life, and which subjects men to the just revenges of nature, because it puts them upon thwarting her noblest purposes. Were we deep in the ways of Providence, we might doubtless anticipate from the first, that these two beings, the pride and hope of their respective friends, would, even because themselves most innocent, fall a sacrifice to the guilt of their families; and that in and through their death would be punished and healed those fatal strifes and animosities which have made it at once so natural and so dangerous for them to love.
It has been aptly remarked, that the hero and heroine of this play, though in love, are not love-sick. Romeo, however, is something love-sick before his meeting with Juliet. His seeming love for Rosaline is but a matter of fancy, with which the heart has little or nothing to do. That the Poet so meant it, is plain from what is said about it in the Chorus at the end of Act i. Accordingly, it is airy, affected, and fantastical, causing him to think much of his feelings, to count over his sighs, and play with language, as a something rather generated from within than inspired from without his thoughts are not so much on Rosaline or any thing he has found in her, as on a figment of his own mind, which he has baptised into her name and invested with her form. This is just the sort of love with which people often imagine themselves about to die, but which they always manage to survive, and that, without any further harm than the making them somewhat ridiculous. Romeo's love is a thing infinitely different. A mere idolater, Juliet converts him into a true worshipper; and the fire of his new passion burns up the old idol of his fancy. Love works a sort of regeneration upon him his dreamy, sentimental
fancy giving place to a passion that interests him thoroughly in an external object, all his fine energies are forthwith tuned into harmony and eloquence, so that he becomes a true man, with every thing clear and healthy and earnest about him. As the Friar suggests, it was probably from an instinctive sense of his self-delusion, and that he made love by rote and not by heart, that Rosaline rejected his suit. The dream, though, has the effect of preparing him for the reality, while the contrast between them heightens our appreciation of the latter.
Hazlitt pronounces Romeo to be Hamlet in love; than which he could not well have made a greater mistake. In all that most truly constitutes character, the two, it seems to us, have nothing in common. To go no further, Hamlet all procrastination, Romeo all precipitancy: the one reflects away the time of action, and loses the opportunity in getting ready for it; the other, pliant to impulse, and seizing the opportunity at once, or making it, acts first, and then reflects on what he has done, not on what he has to do. With Hamlet, it is a necessity of nature to think; with Romeo, to love the former, studious of consequences, gets entangled with a multitude of conflicting passions and purposes; the latter, absorbed in one passion and one purpose, drives right ahead regardless of consequences. It is this necessity of loving that, until the proper object appears, creates in Romeo an object for itself: hence the love-bewilderment in which he first comes before Which explains and justifies the suddenness and vehemence of his passion, while the difference between this and his fancysickness amply vindicates him from the reproach of inconstancy.
Being of passion all compact, Romeo of course does not generalize, nor give much heed to abstract truth: intelligent indeed of present objects and occasions, he does not, however, study to shape his feelings or conduct by any rules: he therefore sees no use of philosophy in his case, unless it can make a Juliet; nor does he care to hear others speak of what they do not feel. He has no life but passion, and passion lives altogether in and by its object: therefore it is that he dwells with such wild exaggeration on the sentence of banishment. Thus his love, by reason of its excess, exalting a subordinate into a sovereign good, defeats its own security and peace.
Yet there is a sort of instinctive rectitude in his passion, which makes us rather pity than blame its excess; and we feel that death comes upon him through it, not for it. We can scarce conceive any thing more full of manly sweetness and gentleness than his character. Love is the only thing wherein he seems to lack selfcontrol, and this is the very thing wherein self-control is least a virtue. He will risk his life for a friend, but he will not do a mean thing to save it; has no pride and revenge to which he would sacrifice others, but has high and brave affections to which he will not shrink from sacrificing himself. Thus even in his resentments he
is in noble contrast with those about him. His heart is so preoccupied with generous thought as to afford no room for those furious transports which prove so fatal in others: where their swords jump in wild fury from their scabbards, his sleeps quietly by his side; but then, as he is very hard to provoke, so is he very dangerous when provoked.
Mr. Hallama man who weighs his words well before pronouncing them gives as his opinion, that "it is impossible to place Juliet among the great female characters of Shakespeare's creation." Other critics of high esteem, especially Mrs. Jameson, take a different view; but this may result, in part, from the representation being so charged, not to say overcharged, with poetic warmth and brilliancy, as to hinder a cool and steady judgment of the character. For the passion in which Juliet lives is most potently infectious; one can scarce venture near enough to sec what and whence it is, without falling under its influence; while in her case it is so fraught with purity and tenderness, and selfforgetting ardour and constancy, and has so much, withal, that challenges a respectful pity, that the moral sense does not easily find where to fix its notes of reproof. And if in her intoxication of soul and sense she loses whatsoever of reason her youth and inexperience can have gathered, the effect is breathed forth with an energy and elevation of spirit, and in a transporting affluence of thought and imagery, which none but the sternest readers can well resist, and which, after all, there may not be much virtue in resisting.
We have to confess, however, that Juliet appears something better as a heroine than as a woman, the reverse of which commonly holds in the Poet's delineations. But she is a real heroine, in the best sense of the term; her womanhood being developed through her heroism, not eclipsed or obscured by it. Wherein she differs from the general run of tragic heroines, who act as if they knew not how to be heroic, without unsexing themselves, and becoming something mannish or viraginous: the trouble with them being, that they set out with a special purpose to be heroines, and study to approve themselves such; whereas Juliet is surprised into heroism, and acts the heroine without knowing it, simply because it is in her to do so, and, when the occasion comes, she cannot do otherwise.
It is not till the marriage with Paris is forced upon her, that the proper heroism of her nature displays itself. All her feelings as a woman, a lover, and a wife, are then thoroughly engaged; and because her heart is all truth, therefore she cannot but choose rather to die an unstain'd wife to her sweet love," than to live on any other terms. To avert what is to her literally an infinite evil, she appeals imploringly to her father, her mother, and the Nurse, in succession; nor is it till she is cast entirely on her own strength that she finds herself sufficient for herself. There is