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CHARACTERS IN CYMBELINE.'
1. IMOGEN AND POSTHUMUS.
[March 11th, 1843.]
The true subject of Cymbeline' is, the trial of heroic affection in the bosom of a wife, and its triumph, not only wrought in the deepest sympathies of mankind at large, but in the fortunes of the heroine herself, -a triumph, not merely over all the worst adversities,not merely over the most cruel doubts and suspicions conjured up by diabolical art in the breast of a noblespirited husband,—but, more glorious far, over the disbelief in all conjugal virtue, held and professed by à voluptuary of the first order in refinement and accomplishment
In bringing ourselves to feel, as well as understand, the character of any one of Shakespeare's more ideal heroines, we should begin with considering the very form and sound of her name; for in them we shall commonly find the key-note, as it were, to the whole rich piece of harmony developed in her person, language, sentiments, and conduct. In the present instance, resolving to give, in one delightful being, “a local habitation and a name
all the qualities that man
resolving to give to that sweet ideal of feminine excellence all possible prominence and elevation, by combining it with, and making it proof against, the possession of the most exalted rank, it would seem as if the very revolving in his mind of this intended quintessence of feminine beauty and dignity, physical, moral, and intellectual, had caused his inmost and most exquisite spirit to breathe out spontaneously the name of Imogen—a word all nobleness and sweetness, all classic elegance and romantic charm.
- Sweet Imogen,” ever and anon, throughout this drama, comes delicately on our ear, even as the softest note swept fitfully from an Æolian lyre. And as “her breathing perfumes the chamber," even so does her spirit lend fragrance, and warmth, and purity, and elevation, to the whole body of this nobly romantic play.
Her personal beauty is of a character which so speaks the beauties of her soul,-her mental loveliness so perfectly harmonizes with her outward graces,that it is difficult, nay impossible, to separate them in our contemplation. In this case, most transcendently, do we find the spirit moulding the body, the sentiment shaping the manner, after its own image, even to the most delicate touches. This meets our apprehension at once, even if we look upon her with the
of Iachimo, the unsentimental though very tasteful eyes of the elegant voluptuary and accomplished connois
It was not her external charms alone, however peerless, that could daunt a man like him; it was the heavenly spirit beaming through them at every point.
All of her that is out of door, most rich!
Rather, directly fly. His rapturous commendations of her beauty that follow in the same scene, might, indeed, be set down
to the account of deliberate and designing flattery;
Had I this cheek
Fixing it only here, &c. At all events, his exclamations over her in the sleeping scene must be regarded as a disinterested homage to her soul-illumined charms, the power of which detains him, in admiration, even from
his perilous task of noting the decorations of her chamber:
On her left breast
l' the bottom of a cowslip ! Was ever the victory of silent beauty, elegance, and purity, over the awe-struck spirit of a sensualist, so exquisitely painted or so nobly celebrated as in these lines! It is not “ the flame othe taper” that here “bows toward her," but the unhallowed flames in a voluptuary and a treacherous breast, that render extorted yet grateful homage to that lovely, spotless, and fragrant soul!
This passage exhibits to us the beauty of Imogen surrounded by all its appropriate feminine adornments, amid the elegancies of a court, like the rose yet blooming in her native garden. How charmingly
do the words of Pisanio, when instructing her how to assume her male disguise, prepare us for the contemplation of the same sweet flower, drooping and faded in the wilderness !
Nay, you must
You made great Juno angry! *
But that it eats our victuals, I should think
Behold divineness No elder than a boy! Yet how identical the spirit of beauty that calls forth the exclamations of two so very different admirers ! How exquisite, again, the contrast, at once, and analogy, between lachimo's description of the “fresh lily, and whiter than the sheets,” and that given us by Belarius and his two youths, of their “sweetest, fairest lily," the seemingly dead Fidele !
Belarius. How found you him ?
Stark, as you see;
Why, he but sleeps.
* This passage forms one of the dramatic no less than poetic beauties which seein needlessly suppressed in the present acting.
With fairest flowers,
Out-sweeten'd not thy breath!
Exquisite sweetness and harmony of voice, again, were not to be forgotten by Shakespeare among the endowments for such a heroine—so fondly conceived a type of feminine perfection. How finely is the idea of this gift of hers conveyed to us in the simple exclamation of Cymbeline on hearing the first words that she utters on reviving after Posthumus has struck her
T'he tune of Imogen!
If that his head have ear in music.
How angel-like he sings!
But his neat cookery! He cut our roots in characters;
And he her dieter.
She hath all courtly parts more exquisite