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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
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,
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 perhaps 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,
The passage after Antony's defeat by Augustus, where he is made to say
“ Yes, yes ; he at Philippi kept
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 bebold'st me?
Antony. Sometime we see a cloud that's dragonish,
Eros. Ay, my lord.
Antony. That which is now a horse, even with a thought
As water is in water.
Eros. It does, my lord.
This is, without doubt, one of the finest pieces of poetry in Shakspeare. The splendour of the imagery, the semblance of reality, the lofty range of picturesque objects hanging over the world, their evanescent nature, the total uncertainty of what is left behind, are just like the mouldering schemes of human greatness. It is finer than Cleopatra's passionate lamentation over his fallen grandeur, because it is more dim, unstable, unsubstantial. Antony's headstrong presumption and infatuated determination to yield to Cleopatra's wishes to fight by sea instead of land, meet a merited punishment; and the extravagance of his resolutions, increasing with the desperateness of his circumstances, is well commented upon by Enobarbus.
“I see men's judgments are
The repentance of Enobarbus after his treachery to his master is the most affecting part of the play. He cannot recover from the blow which Antony's generosity gives him, and he dies broken hearted a master leaver and a fugitive."
Shakspeare's genius has spread over the whole play a riehness like the overflowing of the Nile.
This is that Hamlet the Dane, whom we read of in our youth, and whom we seem almost to remember in our after years; he who made that famous soliloquy on life, who gave the advice to the players, who thought" this goodly frame, the earth, a steril promontory, and this brave o'erhanging firmament, the air, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours ;" whom man delighted not, nor woman neither ;" he who talked with the gravediggers, and moralized on Yorick's skull; the schoolfellow of Rosencraus and Guildenstern at Wittenberg; the friend of Horatio; the lover of Ophelia ; he that was mad and sent to England : the slow avenger of his father's death; who lived at the court of Horwendillus five hundred years before we were born, but all whose thoughts we seem to know as well as we do our own, because we have read them in Shakspeare.
Hamlet is a name : his speeches and sayings but the idle coinage of the poet's brain. What then, are