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The characters breathe, move, and live. Shakspeare does not stand reasoning on what his characters would do or say, but at once becomes them, and speaks and acts for them. He does not present us with groups of stage puppets or poetical machines making set speeches on human life, and acting from a calculation of ostensible motives, but he brings living men and women on the scene, who speak and act from real feelings, according to the ebbs and flows of passion, without the least tincture of pedantry of logick or rhetorick. Nothing is made out by inference and analogy, by climax and antithesis, but every thing takes place just as it would have done in reality, according to the occasion. The character of Cleopatra is a masterpiece. What an extreme contrast it affords to Imogen! One would think it almost impossible for the same person to have drawn both. She is voluptuous, ostentatious, conscious, boastful of her charms, haughty, tyrannical, fickle. The luxurious pomp and gorgeous extravagance of the Egyptian queen are displayed in all their force and lustre, as well as the irregular grandeur of the soul of Mark Antony. Take only the first four lines that they speak, as an example of the regal style of lovemaking.
"Cleopatra. If it be love, indeed, tell me how much?
Antony. There's beggary in the love that can be reckon'd.
Antony. Then must thou needs find out new heav'n, new
The rich and poetical description of her person, beginning
"The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
Burnt on the water; the poop was beaten gold,
The winds were lovesick"
seems to prepare the way for, and almost to justify, the subsequent infatuation of 'Antony when in the seafight at Actium, he leaves the battle, and, "like a doating mallard," follows her flying sails.
Few things in Shakspeare (and we know of nothing in any other author like them) have more of that local truth of imagination and character than the passage in which Cleopatra is represented conjecturing what were the employments of Antony in his absence. "He's speaking now, or murmuring-Where's my serpent of old Nile?" Or again, when she says to Antony, after the defeat at Actium, and his summoning up resolution to risk another fight-" It is my birthday; I had thought to have held it poor; but since my lord is Antony again, I will be Cleopatra." Perhaps the finest burst of all is Antony's rage after his final defeat when he comes in, and surprises the messenger of Cæsar kissing her hand
"To let a fellow that will take rewards,
My playfellow, your hand; this kingly seal,
And plighter of high hearts."
It is no wonder that he orders him to be whipped i
but his low condition is not the true reason there is another feeling which lies deeper, though Antony's pride would not let him shew it, except by his rage; he suspects the fellow to be Cæsar's proxy.
Cleopatra's whole character is the triumph of the voluptuous, of the love of pleasure and the power of giving it, over every other consideration. Octavia is a dull foil to her, and Fulvia a shrew and shrill-tongued. What a picture do those lines give of her
"Age cannot wither her, nor custom steal
The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry
What a spirit and fire in her conversation with Antony's messenger who brings her the unwelcome news of his marriage with Octavia! How all the pride of beauty and of high rank breaks out in her promised reward to him
"There's gold, and here My bluest veins to kiss !"
She had great and unpardonable faults, but the beauty of her death almost redeems them. She learns from the depth of despair and strength of her affections. She keeps her queen-like state in the last disgrace, and her sense of the pleasurable in the last moments of her life. She tastes a luxury in death. After applying the asp, she says with fond
"Dost thou not see my baby at my breast,
As sweet as balm, as soft as air, as gentle.
It is worth while to observe that Shakspeare has contrasted the extreme magnificence of the descriptions in this play with pictures of extreme suffering and physical horrour, not less striking-partly per haps to excuse the effeminacy of Mark Antony to whom they are related as having happened, but more to preserve a certain balance of feeling in the mind. Cæsar says, hearing of his conduct at the
court of Cleopatra,
Leave thy lascivious wassels. When thou once
Did famine follow, whom thou fought'st against,
Which beast would cough at. Thy palate then did deign
Yea, like the stag, when snow the pasture sheets,
It is reported, thou didst eat strange flesh,
The passage after Antony's defeat by Augustus, where he is made to say
"Yes, yes; he at Philippi kept
His sword e'en like a dancer; while I struck
The lean and wrinkled Cassius, and 'twas I
is one of those fine retrospections which shew us the winding and eventful march of human life. The jealous attention which has been paid to the unities both of time and place has taken away the principle of perspective in the drama, and all the interest which objects derive from distance, from contrast, from privation, from change of fortune, from long cherished passion; and contracts our view of life from a strange and romantick dream, long, obscure, and infinite, into a smartly contested, three hours' inaugural disputation on its merits by the different candidates for theatrical applause.
The latter scenes of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA are full of the changes of accident and passion. Success and defeat follow one another with startling rapidity. Fortune sits upon her wheel more blind and giddy than usual. This precarious state and the approaching dissolution of his greatness are strikingly displayed in the dialogue between Antony and Eros.
"Antony. Eros, thou yet behold'st me?
Eros. Ay, noble lord.
Antony. Sometime we see a cloud that's dragonish,
A towered citadel, a pendant rock,
A forked mountain, or blue promontory
With trees upon't, that nod unto the world
And mock our eyes with air. Thou hast seen these signs,
Eros. Ay, my lord.
Antony. That which is now a horse, even with a thought