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its poise, the horror rises to frenzy-her imagination realizes its own hideous creations."
On the contrary, as we have shown, it is the invincible equipoise of her stimulated faculties and feelings, that leads her up, step by step, to this climax of the accumulated horrors, not which she may, but which she must encounter if she wake before the calculated moment. Their pressure on her brain, crowned by the vivid apprehension of anticipated frenzy, does indeed, amid her dim and silent loneliness, produce the momentary hallucination
Oh, look! methinks I see my cousin's ghost
Upon a rapier's point.—Stay, Tybalt, stay! But she instantly recovers herself, recognizes the illusion-which, however, has served to bring back her exiled husband's image more vividly than ever to her mind and heart,—and with calm resolve, in face of the fearful contingency which she has, not fancied, but simply pictured to herself, and sees to be inevitable as it is horrible, she embraces the one chance of earthly reunion with her lord —
Romeo, I come!-this do I drink to thee. Coleridge has given, in so emphatic a manner, the sanction of his justly influential name to so vital a misconception of the spirit of this important passage, that we ought not to proceed without distinctly pointing it out. “Shakespeare," says he on this occasion,
” “provides for the finest decencies. It would have been too bold a thing for a girl of fifteen ;—but she swallows the draught in a fit of fright.”+ Surely, some commonplace stage association must here have interfered (as has happened so frequently with other Shakespearian expositors) to disturb the clearness and firmness of the critic's judgment even upon the poet's text. Otherwise, it seems truly inconceivable, that
**Characteristics,' &c., 3rd edit., vol. i. p. 195.
+ 'Lit. Rem.,' vol. ii. p. 157.
he should have delivered such an opinion after considering the series of scenes we have just been examining, from the moment when Juliet shews herself equal to the resolve
If all else fail, myself have power to die. What is there in her swallowing the draught calmly after all, but the natural, the necessary climax to that ascending scale of enthusiastically dauntless heroism through which we have beheld her passing so rapidly yet so steadily? How could a critic with Coleridge's acumen, so totally miss the leading spirit of this tragedy, as not to perceive that it finds its heroine the timid girl for the very purpose of leaving her the heroic woman, by the expanding agency of sympathetic Love upon her noble and exquisite nature ? This notion of childish fright as necessary to make her do so “ bold a thing” as take the potion, is too much like Mrs. Jameson's finding, in her invocation to Night, “something so almost infantine in her perfect simplicity,”—and telling us of her revival in the tomb, that “she wakes like a sweet child who has been dreaming of something promised to it by its mother, and opens her eyes to ask for it."*
Next to exposing gross distortions of our poet's great creations, it seems to us that there is nothing which it more behoves us to combat, than this continual tendency of our modern English criticism to degrade his noblest developments of feminine nature to a petty and a childish standard. From Love especially, he knew that woman draws more heroism even than man himself. We find this constantly in Shakespeare, because he found it in that “ Nature to which he was ever seeking to hold up” the poetic “mirror.” And in the particular character and scene that we are here considering, we find the most signal example of love-inspired heroism in woman that even he has placed before us. The same want of insight into the inmost spirit * 'Characteristics,' &c., 3rd edit., vol. i. pp. 193, 201.
of this tragedy, and especially into that elevation of character assigned to its heroine, which the poet has exhibited the more effectively by shewing it insulated from all sympathy but that of her lover, has betrayed Coleridge into speaking of the scene of lamentation which follows the discovery of Juliet in her trance, as being “perhaps excusable.”
“ But,” he continues, "it is a strong warning to minor dramatists not to introduce at one time many separate characters agitated by one and the same circumstance. It is difficult to understand what effect, whether that of pity or of laughter, Shakespeare meant to produce;—the occasion and the characteristic speeches are so little in harmony. For example, what the Nurse says is excellently suited to the Nurse's character, but grotesquely unsuited to the occasion.”*
Had Coleridge traced, as we have here been doing, the total absence of sympathetic feeling towards Juliet in life, on the part of every one of those who should most naturally have entertained it, he would have been at no loss to perceive that the monotony of tone in which the same people bewail her seeming death, but gives the finishing-stroke to the same portraiture of their selfishness. The grief of each one of them is devoid of any drop of genuine pity — it is felt purely for the calamity which has befallen themselves, - whether we contemplate the Nurse calling out for her grand consoler, aqua-vita,—or the parents and the suitor with the heartless chime of their halfhowling, half-whining exclamations—so monotonous, simply because, not the generous feeling, but the want of it, is identical in each :
Lady Cap. Accurs’d, unhappy, wretched, hateful day!
Nurse. Oh woe! O woful, woful, woful day!
I did yet behold !
* *Lit. Rem , vol. ii. p. 157.
By cruel, cruel thee quite overthrown!
Cap. Despis’d, distressed, hated, martyr'd, kill'd!—
To murder, murder our solemnity?
, as Coleridge suggests, move a laugh in the auditor—but it is a bitter laugh, and an instructive one—till we are restored to gravity by the worthy Friar's interposition; who, both knowing Juliet and knowing her deplorers, rebukes them so justly and so significantly:
Peace, ho, for shame! confusion's cure lives not
Move them no more, by crossing their high will. Even the following scene of mutual banter between the Nurse's man Peter and the musicians, with whom the whole matter resolves itself into “ 'Faith, we may put up our pipes and be gone,” and “Come, we'll in here, tarry for the mourners, and stay dinner," but completes the picture of comparative indifference in all about her to Juliet's happiness and fate, which prepares us for the more lively appreciation of Romeo's intensely and exquisitely sympathetic effusions and conduct on the same occasion, —when the care of Friar Laurence, that visible Providence of the lovers, after triumphing over those two first blows of their fortune, the duel with Tybalt and the threatened marriage with Paris, is defeated by the unlucky detention of the messenger bearing his letter of explanation to Romeo, and the arrival of the servant of the latter, acquainting his master with the seeming fact.
8.-REUNION OF THE LOVERS.—TRIUMPH OF LOVE.
On the other hand, how exquisitely does the following soliloquy of Romeo, in his exile, express to us the opposite state of his mind, absorbed in the recollection of his last meeting and parting with his bride, and so feeding wholly upon blissful memory and hope :
If I may trust the flattering eye of sleep,
When but love's shadows are so rich in joy! Reunion with his Juliet, we see, is his one engrossing idea, his one exclusive aspiration. His servant suddenly brings him intelligence of his lady's death and burial
. His aspiration remains unaltered—it is still reunion with Juliet; only, now, suspense is changed into certainty-wish into resolve :
Is it even so ?—then I defy you, stars !
, I will lie with thee to-night!
I do remember an apothecary, &c.
The famous passage of description which follows, has been spoken of, by Coleridge* amongst others, as
*'Lit. Rem.,' vol. i. p. 158.