Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

But, as she herself protests, she is not mad; and not being mad, her most impassioned are also her most logical passages; as is ever the case with a being like her, in whom a noble nature has unfolded itself in harmonious vigour. Her glowing heart, indeed, stirred by the deepest of ali passions, a widowed mother's boundless and idolatrous love, puts her rich and lively fancy into most active play; but only her bright strong intellect could mould and elevate those crowding images into glorious and deathless imagininge. Whatever the actual princess might be, Shakespeare's Constance is a poetess of the first order: and so, in one sense, must the actress be who undertakes to personate her. Feeling, fancy, and reason, in her soul, must each be strong, and all harmoniously blended.

This brings us to the histrionic part of our observations; and as, in the course of Mrs. Siddons's theatrical career, the Lady Constance became one of her great parts, we turn, of necessity, to the record which Mr. Campbell's Life of that great performer affords us, of what were her conception and execution of this arduous character.

The remarks, then, extracted from Mrs. Siddons's memoranda on the character of Constance, whom she designates as “the majestic, the passionate, the tender,” show that she felt and appreciated the essential tenderness of the character more fully and justly than the literary critic of her own sex, from whom we have been quoting. Still we find, from a careful perusal of the great actress's observations, that the ideas of pride and majesty and command unduly predominate in her conception of the gentle Constance." One source of this error it is important to point out.

The first mention of Constance in the play speaks of her as os that ambitious Constance;" and we affirm most confidently, that there is not another syllable in the piece from which it is possible to infer ambition on her part. It is quite plain, that the indolence or carelessness of most readers—a carelessness or indolence of which we

[ocr errors]

might cite many similar examples—has caused this description of Constance to pass with them as the dramatist's own view of the character. But what is the fact? That these words come from the lips of Constance's deadly enemy and rival, Queen Elinor, who almost in the same breath confesses to us the fact of her and her son John's usurpation. This same essential fact, attested by their own words, leaves not the smallest scope for ambition in Constance, even supposing, that the poet had, which he has not, represented her as loving power for its own sake. Surely it is no more a proof of ambition, that she desires to see her son possessed of a crown which is his birthright, than it is of covetousness for a man to desire the payment of a debt which is justly due to him. Yet we find even the acute perception of Mrs. Siddons to have been misled by the prevailing prepossession,—though, abandoning the most absurd form of it, she says, “ Ï believe I shall not be thought singular when I assert, that though she has been designated the ambitious Constance, she has been ambitious only for her son. It was for him, and him alone, that she aspired to, and struggled for hereditary sovereignty.” The same mistaken impression leads the great performer to speak repeatedly of “disappointed ambition,” « baffled ambition,” as among the indignant feelings of Constance at the treachery of her allies. To the same source it must surely be attributed, that this interesting critic tells us at the very outset of her observations—“My idea of Constance is that of a lofty and proud spirit, associated with the most exquisite feelings of maternal tenderness."

This mistake, on which we have already had occasion to descant, of regarding her in the grand scene with her treacherous protectors, as possessed by a pride inherent and personal, instead of seeing that her sublime scorn and indignation spring exclusively from her deep, keen sense of violated friendship, now added with lightning suddenness to outraged right and feeling and affection, lent, we suspect, a colouring not quite appropriate, a

[ocr errors]

"66

too predominant bitterness and asperity of tone, to Mrs. Siddons's acting of this scene, majestic and wonderful as it must have been. The sarcasms, we fear, were uttered too much in the manner of a woman habitually sarcastic; and she seems to have fallen somewhat into the same error which we have pointed out in Mrs. Jameson's criticism, of confounding with mere frenzy the awful poetry that bursts from the tortured heart of the heroine. « Goaded and stung," she says, "by the treachery of her faithless friends, and almost maddened by the injuries they have heaped upon her, she becomes desperate and ferocious as a hunted tigress in defence of her young, and it seems that existence itself must surely issue forth with the utterance of that frantic and appalling exclamation,

A wicked day, and not a holy day! &c.” Yet Constance might more justly be likened to a hunted hind than a hunted tigress; nor should her exclamations on this occasion, however appalling, be termed frantic. In all this, the poet, ever true to nature, has observed a due gradation. Here, indeed, is grief in its utmost, its proudest intensity; but here is no despair-she is not even on the way to frenzy, as we find her to be in the scene which follows the capture of her son.

Mr. Campbell, who, in speaking of Mrs. Siddons's performance of this character, professes to have “almost as many circumstantial recollections of her as there are speeches in the part," and who saw her enact it when ten years of practice and improvement in it must have brought her performance to its greatest perfection, relates one particular of it which seems to us to exemplify very strikingly the erroneous bias which we have indicated as warping her judgment respecting the essential qualities of the character. “When," says her biographer, "she patted Lewis on

“ the breast with the words, Thine honour! oh, thine honour!' there was a sublimity in the laugh of her sarcasm.” Now, we must affirm, that anything like

6

Her ex

sarcastic expression of this passage is quite inconsistent
with the essential character of Constance, and most
inappropriate to the occasion upon which it is deliv-
ered. Here we must again insist upon the strict con-
sequentiality and the sterling policy of the heroine's
behaviour throughout this agitated scene.
pressions of indignation and her appeals to heaven,
are not only natural in themselves, but the inspiring
instinct of maternal solicitude teaches her, that friend-
less and powerless as she is otherwise left, they are the
only instruments, the only weapons, remaining to her.
Her one sole chance of redress now lies in the effect
which her indignant logic may yet work upon the sen-
sibility to shame and guilt that lingers in the breasts
of some at least of her selfish allies, and which, it is
barely possible, may move them to recede from their
last disgraceful compact. Her invocation, in itself so
sublimely fervent and impressive-

Arm, arm, you heavens, against these perjur'd kings!
A widow cries ; be husband to me, heavens !
Let not the hours of this ungodly day
Wear out the day in peace; but, ere sunset,
Set armed discord 'twixt these perjur'd kings !

Hear O hear me!takes the awful character of prophecy from the almost immediate appearance of the legate, in whose mission

, there comes to her aid an accidental indeed, and indifferent, but a most powerful ally. She is now encouraged to strain every nerve of her intellect and her eloquence in enforcing the cardinal's denunciation against her principal oppressor, and his menace to the most potent of her treacherous friends. The dauphin, whose sense of honour, throughout the piece, is represented as more susceptible than his father's, is the first to shew signs of retracting their late political engagements. Upon this relenting emotion she eagerly lays hold; and in opposition to the entreaty of his bride, the Lady Blanch, who kneels to beg that he will not turn his arms against her uncle, makes the fervent religious adjuration

me,

D

Oh, upon my knee,
Made hard with kneeling, I do pray to thee,
Thou virtuous dauphin, alter not the doom

Forethought by heaven!
And to Blanch's last appeal-

Now shall I see thy love. What motive may

Be stronger with thee than the name of wife ?she rejoins by urging triumphantly the noble moral sentiment

That which upholdeth him that thee upholds,

His honour : oh, thine honour, Lewis, thine honour ! And on Philip's consenting to break the treaty, she concludes with the grateful exclamation

Oh, fair return of banish'd majesty ! Where, we would ask, is the tone of sarcasm in all this? The slightest touch of it might have defeated the very object, dearest to her on earth, for which she was pleading, by checking and offending those “compunctious visitings" the first symptoms of which she was alert to observe and to nourish in the breasts of her unfaithful friends. Sarcasm from her lips, at such a moment! No, indeed— Constance, and Shakespeare, know too well what they are about.

[ocr errors]

2. ACTING OF THE LADY CONSTANCE, QUEEN ELINOR,

THE LADY BLANCH, AND LADY FAULCONBRIDGE; BY
MISS HELEN FAUCIT, MISS ELLIS, MISS FAIRBROTHER,
AND MRS. SELBY.

[February 18th, 1843.]

MORE interesting even than Mrs. Siddons's estimate of the character of Constance, are her observations on the difficulties which its personation presents to the actress, and the means which she herself so

« AnteriorContinuar »