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passionately desiring the title of king. Putarch says "The chiefest cause that made him mortally hated was the covetous desire he had to be called king." This is the pivot upon which the whole action of Shakspere's tragedy turns. There might have been another mode of treating the subject. The death of Julius Cæsar might have been the catastrophe. The republican and the monarchical principles might have been exhibited in conflict. The republican principle would have triumphed in the fall of Cæsar; and the poet would have previously held the balance between the two principles, or have claimed, indeed, our largest sympathies for the principles of Cæsar and his friends, by a true exhibition of Cæsar's greatness and Cæsar's virtues. The poet chose another course. And are we, then, to talk, with ready flippancy, of ignorance and carelessness-that he wanted classical knowledge that he gave himself no trouble? "The fault of the character is the fault of the plot," says Hazlitt. It would have been nearer the truth had he said the character is determined by the plot. While Cæsar is upon the scene, it was for the poet, largely interpreting the historian, to show the inward workings of "the covetous desire he had to be called king:" and most admirably, according to our notions of characterization, has he shown them. Cæsar is "in all but name a king." He is surrounded by all the external attributes of power; yet he is not satisfied :
"The angry spot doth glow on Cæsar's brow." He is suspicious-he fears. But he has acquired the policy of greatness-to seem what it is not. To his intimate friend he is an actor :
"I rather tell thee what is to be fear'd
Than what I fear; for always I am Cæsar." When Calphurnia has recounted the terrible portents of the night-when the augurers would not that Cæsar should stir forth-he exclaims:
No, Cæsar shall not: Danger knows full well
But to whom does he utter this, the "boastful language," which so offends Boswell? To the servant who has brought the message from the augurers; before him he could show no fear. But the very inflation of his language shows that he did fear; and an instant after, when the servant no doubt is intended to have left the scene, he says to his wife
"Mark Antony shall say I am not well,
And, for thy humour, I will stay at home." Read Pluturch's account of the scene between Decius and Cæsar, when Decius prevails against Calphurnia, and Cæsar decides to go. In the historian we have not a hint of the splendid characterization of Cæsar struggling between his fear and his pride. Wherever Shakspere found a minute touch in the historian that could harmonise with his general plan, he embodied it in his character of Cæsar. Who does not remember
the magnificent lines which the poet puts
into the mouth of Cæsar ?
"Cowards die many times before their deaths;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
A very slight passage in Plutarch, with reference to other circumstances of Cæsar's life, suggested this:-"When some of his friends did counsel him to have a guard for the safety of his person, and some also did offer themselves to serve him, he would never consent to it, but said it was better to die once than always to be afraid of death." We have already noticed the skill with which Shakspere, upon a very bald narrative, has dramatised the last sad scene in which Cæsar was an actor. The tone of his last speech is indeed boastful :
"I do know but one That unassailable holds on his rank,
Unshaked of motion: and, that I am he,
That Cæsar knew his power, and made others
We have seen the stoic Brutus-in reality a man of strong passions and deep feelingsgradually warm up to the great enterprise of asserting his principles by one terrible blow, for triumph or for extinction. The blow is given. The excitement which succeeds is wondrously painted by the poet, without a hint from the historian. calm of the gentle Brutus is lifted up, for the moment, into an attitude of terrible sublimity. It is he who says
Stoop, Romans, stoop,
And let us bathe our hands in Cæsar's blood
show his wonderful penetration into the
"You shall not in your funeral speech blame us,
The opportunity is not lost by Antony.
"I am no orator, as Brutus is." Brutus was not an orator. Under great excitement he is twice betrayed into oratory: when he addresses the conspirators-" No, not an oath ;" and after the assassination
Then walk we forth, even to the market-place; "Stoop, Romans, stoop." He is a man of
And, waving our red weapons o'er our heads, Let's all cry, Peace, Freedom, and Liberty!” From that moment the character flags; the calmness returns; something also of the irresolution comes back. Brutus is too high-minded for his position. Another comes upon the scene; another of different temperament, of different powers. He is not one that, like Brutus, will change "offence' to "virtue and to worthiness" by the force of character. He is one that "revels long o' nights." But he possesses courage, eloquence, high talent, and, what renders him most dangerous, he is sufficiently unprincipled. Cassius knew him, and would have killed him. Brutus does not know him, and he suffers him "to bury Cæsar." The conditions upon which Brutus permits Antony to speak are Shakspere's own; and they
just intentions, of calm understanding, of settled purpose, when his principles are to become actions. But his notion of oratory is this:
"I will myself into the pulpit first,
And show the reason of our Cæsar's death."
And he does show the reason. The critics have made amusing work with this speech. Warburton says, "This speech of Brutus is wrote in imitation of his famed laconic brevity, and is very fine in its kind; but no more like that brevity than his times were like Brutus'." To this Mr. Monk Mason rejoins,--"I cannot agree with Warburton that this speech is very fine in its kind. I can see no degree of excellence in it, but think it a very paltry speech, for so great a man, on so great an occasion." The commentators have not a word of approbation
for the speech of Antony to counterbalance There was a man, however, of their times, Martin Sherlock, who wrote 'A Fragment on Shakspere,' in a style sufficiently hyperbolical, but who nevertheless was amongst the few who then ventured to think that "the barbarian," Shakspere, possessed art and judgment. Of Antony's speech he thus expresses his opinion :-" Every line of this speech deserves an eulogium; and, when you have examined it attentively, you will allow it, and will say with me that neither Demosthenes, nor Cicero, nor their glorious rival, the immortal Chatham, ever made a better." There may be exaggerations in both styles of criticism: the speech of Antony may not be equal to Demosthenes, and the speech of Brutus may not be a very paltry speech. But, each being written by the same man, we have a right to accept each with a conviction that the writer was capable of making a good speech for Brutus as well as for Antony; and that, if he did not do so, he had very abundant reasons. It requires no great refinement to understand his The excitement of the great assertion of republican principles, which was to be acted over,
"In states unborn, and accents yet unknown,"
That were you, Antony, the son of Cæsar,
Such an intense representation of selfishness was never before given in a dozen lines. What power have Brutus and Cassius to oppose to this worldly wisdom? Is it the virtue of Brutus? Of him who
"Condemn'd and noted Lucius Pella, For taking bribes here of the Sardians." Of him who
"Had rather be a dog, and bay the moon,"
"Contaminate his fingers."
He is already preparing in mind for "the
For dignity composed and high exploit:
"I had rather coin my heart, And drop my blood for drachmas, than to wring
From the hard hands of peasants their vile trash
By any indirection."
No; the man of principles must fall before
Cassius by his high-mindedness; for Cassius, though somewhat politic, has nobility enough in him to bow before the majesty of virtue. Coleridge says "I know no part of Shakspere that more impresses on me the belief of his genius being superhuman than this scene between Brutus and Cassius." This language has been called idolatry: some critic, we believe, says "blasphemous;" yet let any one with common human powers try to produce such a scene. The wonderful thing in it, and that which-in a subsequent sentence, which we scarcely dare quoteColeridge points out, is the complete preservation of character. All dramatic poets have tried to imitate this scene. Dryden preferred his imitation, in the famous dialogue between Antony and Ventidius, to anything which he had written "in this kind." It is full of high rhetoric, no doubt; but its rhetoric is that of generalizations. The plain rough soldier, the luxurious chief, reproach and weep, are angry and cool again, shake hands, and end in "hugging," as the stage direction has it. They say all that people would say under such circumstances, and they say it well. But the matchless art of Shakspere consists as much in what he holds back as in what he puts forward. Brutus subdues Cassius by the force of his moral strength, without the slightest attempt to command the feelings of a sensitive man. When Cassius is subdued, he owns that he has been hasty. They are friends again, hand and heart. Is not the knowledge of character something above the ordinary reach of human sagacity when the following words come in as if by accident?—
The shade of Cæsar has summoned Brutus to meet him at Philippi. The conversation of the republican chiefs before the battle is well to be noted:
Now, most noble Brutus,
Let's reason with the worst that may befall.
Bru. Even by the rule of that philosophy By which I did blame Cato for the death Which he did give himself:-I know not how, But I do find it cowardly and vile,
For fear of what might fall, so to prevent The time of life:-arming myself with patience,
To stay the providence of some high powers, That govern us below.
Then, if we lose this battle,
Bru. No, Cassius, no: think not, thou noble
That ever Brutus will go bound to Rome;
The parallel passage in Plutarch is as follows:
"Then Cassius began to speak first, and said -The gods grant us, O Brutus, that this day we may win the field, and ever after to live all the rest of our life quietly, one with another. But sith the gods have so ordained it that the greatest and chiefest things amongst men are most uncertain, and that, if the battle fall out otherwise to-day than we wish or look for, we shall hardly meet again, what art thou then determined to do-to fly, or die? Brutus answered him, Being yet but a young man, and not overgreatly experienced in the world, I trust (I know not how) a certain rule of philosophy, by the which I did greatly blame and reprove Cato for killing of himself, as being no lawful nor godly act touching the gods, nor concerning men valiant, not to give place and yield to Divine Providence, and not constantly and patiently to take whatsoever it pleaseth him to send us, but to draw back and fly: but, being now in the midst of the danger, I am of a contrary mind;
for, if it be not the will of God that this battle fall out fortunate for us, I will look no more for hope, neither seek to make any new supply of war again, but will rid me of this miserable world, and content me with my fortune."
The critics say that Shakspere makes Brutus express himself inconsistently. He will await the determination of Providence, but he will not go bound to Rome. Mr. Courtenay explains how "the inconsistency arises from Shakspere's misreading of the first speech; for Brutus, according to North, referred to his opinion against suicide as one that he had entertained in his youth, but had now abandoned." This writer in a note also explains that the perplexity consists in North saying I trust, instead of using the past tense. He then adds, "Shakspere's adoption of a version contradicted not only by a passage immediately following, but by the event which he presently portrays, is a striking instance of his careless use of his authorities."* Very triumphant, no doubt. Most literal critics, why have you not rather confided in Shakspere than in yourselves? When he deserts Plutarch, he is true to something higher than Plutarch. In Brutus he has drawn a man of speculation; one who is moved to kill the man he loves upon no personal motive, but upon a theory; one who fights his last battle upon somewhat speculative principles; one, however, who, from his gentleness, his constancy, his fortitude, has subdued men of more active minds to the admiration of his temper and to the adoption of his opinions. Cassius never reasons about suicide: it is his instant remedy; a remedy which he rashly adopts, and ruins therefore his own cause. Brutus reasons against it; and he does not revoke his speculative opinions even when the consequences to which they lead are pointed out to him. Is not this nature? and must we be told that this nicety of characterization resulted from Shakspere carelessly using his authorities; trusting to the false tense of a verb, regardless of the context? "But he contradicts himself," says the critic, "by the event which he presently portrays." Most wonderfully has Shakspere redeemed his own
*Commentaries on the Historical Plays,' vol. ii. p.255.
consistency. It is when the mind of the speculative man is not only utterly subdued by adverse circumstances, but bowed down before the pressure of supernatural warnings, that he deliberately approaches his last fatal resolve. What is the work of an instant with Cassius is with Brutus a tentative process. Clitus, Dardanius, Volumnius, Strato, are each tried. The irresistible pressure upon his mind, which leads him not to fly with his friends, is the destiny which hovers over him :
"Bru. Come hither, good Volumnius: list a
Vol. What says my lord?
Why, this, Volumnius:
The exclamation of Brutus over the body of Cassius is
"The last of all the Romans, fare thee well!"
Brutus himself is the last assertor of the old
"This was the noblest Roman of them all:
The scene is changed. The boldest, perhaps the noblest, of the Roman triumvirs has almost forgotten Rome, and governs the Asiatic world with a magnificence equalled only by the voluptuousness into which he is plunged. In Rome, Octavius Cæsar is almost supreme. It is upon the cards which shall govern the entire world. The history of individuals is henceforth the history of Rome.
"Of all Shakspere's historical plays," says Coleridge, "Antony and Cleopatra' is by far the most wonderful." He again says, assigning it a place even higher than that of being the most wonderful of the historical plays, "The highest praise, or rather form of praise, of this play, which I can offer in my own mind, is the doubt which the perusal always occasions in me, whether the 'Antony and Cleopatra' is not, in all exhibitions of