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of libertine tongues his noble sensitiveness instinctively resents as the worst possible affront to himself. We have Iachimo's subsequent voucher for it, that during their conversation “ he was as calm as virtue,” guiding his words with discretion, as well as uttering them with spirit; and, withal, that "he was too good to be where ill men were, and was the best of all amongst the rar’st of good ones." It is to be noted further, that he shows no purpose of accepting the wager, till the villain most adroitly hints that his reluctance springs from some lurking doubt of the lady's firmness; his very religion being thus entrapped into an allowance of the trial. And he rests in perfect confidence that the result will not only vindicate the honour of the sex, but give him the right to call the man to account for his impudent and impious levity. The worst, then, we can say of him on this point is, that, like the noble Kent in King Lear, he “had more man than wit about him.” But this, I opine, should rather augment our love than abate our respect.
I believe no one questions the sufficiency of Iachimo's proofs. The impartial Philario is convinced, and so are all the rest. And we have a shrewd approval of their judgment in what the Princess says on missing the bracelet from her arm: “I hope it be not gone to tell my lord that I kiss aught but him." Posthumus does not indeed suspect any lying and treachery in the business, and it would hardly be to his credit if he did. It is not in his nature nor in his principles to be any thing by halves. And his very fulness of confidence at first renders him the more liable to the reverse in the contingency that is to arrive: because he is perfectly sure that no proofs of success can be shown, therefore, when some such are shown, he falls the more readily into the opposite state. And this, undoubtedly, is in the right line of nature. For to shake the confidence of such a man in such a case, is to invert it all into distrust at once.
As to his rash and cruel scheme of revenge, what I have
to say here is, that the best thing any man can do is, not to sin; the next best, when he has sinned, to repent. And it will do us no hurt to consider that the crown of all heroism in man or woman is repentance, so it be of the right sort. Now Posthumus does repent, — repents most nobly and heroically; keeping his repentance entirely to himself, and never giving the least hint of it to any person, till he has an opportunity to show it by “doing works meet for repentance.” For an ostentatious repentance is only a replacing of one bad thing by a worse. No sooner does our hero receive the counterfeit token of his order having been performed, than his memory begins to be panged for what he has done. Revenge gives way wholly to pity and remorse. He forgets the wrong he seems to have suffered, in the wrong he has done. Even granting the worst that he has been led to think, still he has no room but for grief that he did not leave the erring one a chance for the same “godly sorrow” with which his own heart is now exercised:
“You married ones,
“Gods ! if you
Me, wretch more worth your vengeance." Henceforth he only studies to burn into his soul the bitter remembrance of his own ill. And in this process personal and patriotic feelings work together. For the wrong he has done to Imogen is not all: he seems to have wronged his country still more, in putting out the light of its dearest hopes, “ the expectancy and rose of the fair State.” Weary of life, he enlists into the army levied against Britain. Once more upon his native soil, he will do what he can to make amends :
“I am brought hither Among th' Italian gentry, and to fight Against my lady's kingdom: 'tis enough
That, Britain, I have kill'd thy mistress ; peace !
Myself I'll dedicate.” And how nobly the effect of all this inward discipline is pronounced at the close! Our hero has had enough of revenge: no more of that for him. He can easier pardon even Iachimo's crime than his own. And so, when the reformed rake sinks on his knee, and begs him, “ Take that life which I so often owe”; he replies, –
“Kneel not to me : The power that I have on you is to spare you ; The malice towards you to forgive you : live,
And deal with others better.” Such is the liberal redemption with which the character of Posthumus is crowned in the latter part of the play. And if he, a Pagan, could so feel the sweetness of mercy, I think we Christians should not feel it less. — Posthumus is secretly noble; and that is nobleness indeed!
Imogen is the peer of Cordelia and Hermione and Perdita and Miranda ; though at the same time as different from them all as any two of them are from each other. Other of Shakespeare's heroines are equal to her in the conception, but none of them is carried out with such sus tained force and wealth of development: she is the circle and aggregate of eloquent womanhood, and we are given to see and feel all that she is. For, as Gervinus remarks, “she is, next to Hamlet, the most fully-drawn character of Shakespeare's poetry.” Perhaps she does not touch the imagination quite so enchantingly as Miranda, nor the heart quite so deeply as Cordelia; but she goes near to make up the account by combining, as far as seems possible, the interest of both.
Already a wife when we first see her, Imogen acts but little in any other quality; yet in this one she approves herself the mistress of all womanly perfections, such as would make glad the heart and life of whoever stood in any relationship with her. That her attractions may appear the more as in herself, not in the feelings of others, that is, in her character, not in her sex, the latter is part of the time hidden from those about her: yet without any of the advantages that would arise from its being known what she is; disrobed of all the poetry and religion with which every right-minded man invests the presence of womanhood; still she kindles a deep, holy affection in every one that meets with her. Hazlitt, with much liveliness but more perversity of criticism, says, “ Posthumus is only interesting from the interest she takes in him, and she is only interesting herself from her tenderness and constancy to her husband.” If this be true, how is it that she so wins and wears the hearts of those who suspect not what she is ? Why should wise and reverend manhood exclaim at sight of her, “ Behold divineness no elder than a boy!” In truth, the “sweet, rosy lad," and the “page so kind, so duteous-diligent,” is hardly less interesting, though in a different sort, than the lady, the princess, and the wife. But is it to us, and not to the other persons of the drama, that “she is only interesting from her tenderness and constancy to her husband ” ? Nay, much of the interest we take in her as a woman and a wife springs from the feelings kindled in others towards her as a sad, sweet, lovely boy. Indeed, so far from just is Hazlitt's remark, that there is no character in Shakespeare more apt to inspire one with the sentiment, —
“What joy to hear thee, and to see !
Thy elder brother I would be,
Thy father, any thing to thee.” I have noted what it is that leads in the transpiration of Imogen's character. But, observe, hers is a fidelity not only of person to person, but of person to truth and right. Her moral delicacy shrinks from the least atom of untruth. This is touchingly shown when Lucius finds her weeping upon the headless trunk of Cloten, which, being dressed in her husband's clothes, she mistakes for his : she gives Richard du Champ as the name of her slain master, and then says aside, “If I do lie, and do no harm by it, though the gods hear, I hope they'll pardon it.” We have already seen how, in the case of Iachimo, her moral beauty “creates a soul under the ribs of death.” The Queen, too, hard-faced tyrant as she is, and so skilled to “ tickle where she wounds,” cannot choose but soften towards her: “She's a lady so tender of rebukes, that words are strokes, and strokes death to her.” Even to the dull Cloten, “ from every one the best she hath, and she, of all compounded, outsells them all.” And when she asks the Roman General to take her into his service as a page: “ Ay, good youth; and rather father thee than master thee.” To old Belarius, when he returns with his youthful companions, and finds her in the cave: “But that it eats our victuals, I should think here were a fairy.” — “By Jupiter, an angel! or, if not, an earthly paragon!” And ti the noble lads : “How angel-like he sings!”.—“But his neat cookery! he cut our roots in characters, and sauc'd our broths, as Juno had been sick and he her dieter.” — “Nobly he yokes a smiling with a sigh; as if the sigh was that it was for not being such a smile." And her father, when all are together, and their troubles over:
“ Posthumus anchors upon Imogen ;
And she, like harmless lightning, throws her eye
Each object with a joy.” But it is needless to dwell upon, impossible to exhaust, the beauty of this delineation. The whole play is full of the divinest poetry, and it is nearly all inspired by the heroine, except what she herself utters and is.
Imogen has all the intelligence of Portia in The Merchant of Venice, without any of Portia's effort or art. Portia always tries to be wise, and always succeeds; Imogen succeeds at least as well without trying: and her wisdom is