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such perfect harmony. In her, we have all the fervour of youthful tenderness, all the romance of youthful fancy, all the enchantment of ideal grace-the bloom of beauty, the brightness of intellect, and the dignity of rank taking a peculiar hue from the conjugal character which is shed over all, like a consecration and a holy charm. In Othello and the Winter's Tale, the interest excited for Desdemona and Hermione is divided with others; but in Cymbeline, Imogen is the angel of light, whose lovely presence pervades and animates the whole piece. The character altogether may be pronounced finer, more complex in its elements, and more fully developed in all its parts, than those of Hermione and Desdemona; but the position in which she is placed is not, I think, so fine—at least, not so effective, as a tragic situation.
Shakspeare has borrowed the chief circumstances of Imogen's story from one of Boccaccio's tales.
A company of Italian merchants who are assembled in a tavern at Paris are represented as conversing on the subject of their wives. All of them express themselves with levity, or scepticism, or scorn, on the virtue of women, except a young Genoese merchant named Bernabo, who maintains that by the especial favour of Heaven he possesses a wife no less chaste than beautiful. Heated by the wine, and excited by the arguments and the coarse raillery of another young merchant, Ambrogiolo, Bernabo proceeds to enumerate the various perfections and accomplishments of his Zinevra. He praises her loveliness, her submission, and her discretion— her skill in embroidery, her graceful service, in which the best trained page of the court could not exceed her; and he adds, as rarer accomplishments, that she could mount a horse, fly a hawk, write and read, and cast up accounts, as well as any merchant of them all. His enthusiasm only excites the laughter and mockery of his companions, particularly of Ambrogiolo, who, by the most artful mixture of contradiction and argument, rouses the anger of Bernabo, and he at length exB
claims that he would willingly stake his life, his head, on the virtue of his wife. This leads to the wager which forms so important an incident in the drama. Ambrogiolo bets one thousand florins of gold against five thousand that Zinevra, like the rest of her sex, is accessible to temptation--that in less than three months he will undermine her virtue, and bring her husband the most undeniable proofs of her falsehood. He sets off for Genoa in order to accomplish his purpose; but on his arrival, all that he learns, and all that he beholds with his own eyes, of the discreet and noble character of the lady, make him despair of success by fair means; he therefore has recourse to the basest treachery. By bribing an old woman in the service of Zinevra, he is conveyed to her sleeping apartment concealed in a trunk, from which he issues in the dead of the night; he takes note of the furniture of the chamber, makes himself master of her purse, her morning robe, or cymar, and her girdle, and of a certain mark on her person. He repeats these observations for two nights, and, furnished with these evidences of Zinevra's guilt, he returns to Paris, and lays them before the wretched husband. Bernabo rejects every proof of his wife's infidelity except that which finally convinces Posthumus. When Ambrogiolo mentions the “mole, cinque-spotted," he stands like one who has received a poniard in his heart; without further dispute he pays down the forfeit, and filled with rage and despair both at the loss of his money and the falsehood of his wife, he returns towards Genoa. He retires to his country-house, and sends a messenger to the city with letters to Zinevra, desiring that she would come and meet him, but with secret orders to the man to despatch her by the way. The servant prepares to execute his master's command, but overcome by her entreaties for mercy and his own remorse, he spares her life, on condition that she will fly from the country forever. He then disguises her in his own cloak and cap, and brings back to her husband the assurance that she is killed, and that her
body has been devoured by the wolves. In the disguise of a mariner, Zinevra then embarks on board a vessel bound to the Levant, and on arriving at Alexandria she is taken into the service of the Sultan of Egypt, under the name of Sicurano. She gains the confidence of her master, who, not suspecting her sex, sends her as captain of the guard which was appointed for the protection of the merchants at the fair of Acre. Here she accidentally meets Ambrogiolo, and sees in his possession the purse and girdle, which she immediately recognizes as her own. In reply to her inquiries, he relates with fiendish exultation the manner in which he had obtained possession of them, and she persuades him to go back with her to Alexandria. She then sends a messenger to Genoa in the name of the Sultan, and induces her husband to come and settle in Alexandria. At a proper opportunity, she summons both to the presence of the Sultan, obliges Ambrogiolo to make a full confession of his treachery, and wrings from her husband the avowal of his supposed murder of herself; then, falling at the feet of the Sultan, discovers her real name and sex, to the great amazement of all. Bernabo is pardoned at the prayer of his wife, and Ambrogiolo is condemned to be fastened to a stake, smeared with honey, and left to be devoured by the flies and locusts. This horrible sentence is executed; while Zinevra, enriched by the presents of the Sultan and the forfeit wealth of Ambrogiolo, returns with her husband to Genoa, where she lives in great honour and happiness, and maintains her reputation of virtue to the end of her life.
These are the materials from which Shakspeare has drawn the dramatic situation of Imogen. He has also endowed her with several of the qualities which are attributed to Zinevra; but for the essential truth and beauty of the individual character, for the sweet colouring of pathos, and sentiment, and poetry interfused through the whole, he is indebted only to nature and himself. . . .
When Ferdinand tells Miranda that she was 66 created of every creature's best," he speaks like a lover, or refers only to her personal charms: the same expression might be applied critically to the character of Imogen; for, as the portrait of Miranda is produced by resolving the female character into its original elements, so that of Imogen unites the greatest number of those qualities which we imagine to constitute excellency in woman.
Imogen, like Juliet, conveys to our mind the impression of extreme simplicity in the midst of the most wonderful complexity. To conceive her aright, we must take some peculiar tint from many characters, and so mingle them that, like the combination of hues in a sunbeam, the effect shall be as one to the eye. We must imagine something of the romantic enthusiasm of Juliet, of the truth and constancy of Helen, of the dignified purity of Isabel, of the tender sweetness of Viola, of the self-possession and intellect of Portiacombined together so equally and so harmoniously that we can scarcely say that one quality predominates over the other. But Imogen is less imaginative than Juliet, less spirited and intellectual than Portia, less serious than Helen and Isabel; her dignity is not so imposing as that of Hermione-it stands more on the defensive; her submission, though unbounded, is not so passive as that of Desdemona; and thus, while she resembles each of these characters individually, she stands wholly distinct from all.
It is true that the conjugal tenderness of Imogen is at once the chief subject of the drama and the pervading charm of her character; but it is not true, I think, that she is merely interesting from her tenderness and constancy to her husband. We are so completely let into the essence of Imogen's nature that we feel as if we had known and loved her before she was married to Posthumus, and that her conjugal virtues are a charm superadded, like the colour laid upon a beautiful groundwork. Neither does it appear to me that
Posthumus is unworthy of Imogen, or only interesting on Imogen's account. His character, like those of all the other persons of the drama, is kept subordinate to hers; but this could not be otherwise, for she is the proper subject-the heroine of the poem. Everything is done to ennoble Posthumus and justify her love for him; and though we certainly approve him more for her sake than for his own, we are early prepared to view him with Imogen's eyes, and not only excuse, but sympathize in her admiration of one
'Who sat 'mongst men like a descended god;
who liv'd in court
Which rare it is to do-most prais'd, most lov'd;
One thing more must be particularly remarked, because it serves to individualize the character from the beginning to the end of the poem. We are constantly sensible that Imogen, besides being a tender and devoted woman, is a princess and a beauty, at the same time that she is ever superior to her position and her external charms. There is, for instance, a certain airy majesty of deportment—a spirit of accustomed command breaking out every now and thenthe dignity, without the assumption, of rank and royal birth, which is apparent in the scene with Cloten and elsewhere; and we have not only a general impression that Imogen, like other heroines, is beautiful, but the peculiar style and character of her beauty is placed before us. We have an image of the most luxuriant loveliness, combined with exceeding delicacy, and even fragility, of person; of the most refined elegance and the most exquisite modesty, set forth in one or two passages of description; as when Iachimo is contemplating her asleep:
How bravely thou becom'st thy bed! fresh lily,