ROMEO AND JULIET.
ROMEO AND JULIET is the only tragedy which
Shakespear has written entirely on a love-story.
It is supposed to have been his first play, and
it deserves to stand in that proud rank. There
is the buoyant spirit of youth in every line, in
the rapturous intoxication of hope, and in the
bitterness of despair. It has been said of ROMEO
AND JULIET by a great critic, that "whatever
is most intoxicating in the odour of a southern
spring, languishing in the song of the nightingale,
or voluptuous in the first opening of the
rose, is to be found in this poem." The description
is true; and yet it does not answer to our
idea of the play. For if it has the sweetness of
the rose, it has its freshness too; if it has the
languor of the nightingale's song, it has also its
giddy transport; if it has the softness of a southern
spring, it is as glowing and as bright. There
is nothing of a sickly and sentimental cast.
Romeo and Juliet are in love, but they are not
love-sick. Every thing speaks the very soul
of pleasure, the high and healthy pulse of the
passions: the heart beats, the blood circulates
and mantles throughout. Their courtship is not
an insipid interchange of sentiments lip-deep,
learnt at secondhand from poems and plays,--made
up of beauties of the most shadowy kind,
of "fancies wan that hang the pensive head,"
of evanescent smiles and sighs that breathe not,
of delicacy that shrinks from the touch and feebleness
that scarce supports itself, an elaborate
vacuity of thought, and an artificial dearth of
sense, spirit, truth, and nature! It is the reverse
of all this. It is Shakespear all over, and
Shakespear when he was young.
We have heard it objected to ROMEO AND
JULIET, that it is founded on an idle passion
between a boy and a girl, who have scarcely
seen and can have but little sympathy or rational
esteem for one another, who have had no
experience of the good or ills of life, and whose
raptures or despair must be therefore equally
groundless and fantastical. Whoever objects to
the youth of the parties in this play as "too
unripe and crude" to pluck the sweets of love,
and wishes to see a first-love carried on into a
good old age, and the passions taken at the
rebound, when their force is spent, may find
all this done in the Stranger and in other German
plays, where they do things by contraries,
and transpose nature to inspire sentiment and
create philosophy. Shakespear proceeded in a
more strait-forward, and, we think, effectual way.
He did not endeavour to extract beauty from
wrinkles, or the wild throb of passion from the
last expiring sigh of indifference. He did not
"gather grapes of thorns nor figs of thistles."
It was not his way. But he has given a picture
of human life, such as it is in the order of nature.
He has founded the passion of the two lovers
not on the pleasures they had experienced, but
on all the pleasures they had not experienced.
All that was to come of life was theirs. At
that untried source of promised happiness they
slaked their thirst, and the first eager draught
made them drunk with love and joy. They
were in full possession of their senses and
their affections. Their hopes were of air, their
desires of fire. Youth is the season of love,
because the heart is then first melted in tenderness
from the touch of novelty, and kindled
to rapture, for it knows no end of its enjoyments
or its wishes. Desire has no limit but itself.
Passion, the love and expectation of pleasure,
is infinite, extravagant, inexhaustible, till experience
comes to check and kill it. Juliet
exclaims on her first interview with Romeo--
"My bounty is as boundless as the sea,|
My love as deep."
And why should it not? What was to hinder
the thrilling tide of pleasure, which had just
gushed from her heart, from flowing on without
stint or measure, but experience which she was
yet without? What was to abate the transport
of the first sweet sense of pleasure, which her
heart and her senses had just tasted, but indifference
which she was yet a stranger to? What
was there to check the ardour of hope, of faith,
of constancy, just rising in her breast, but disappointment
which she had not yet felt? As
are the desires and the hopes of youthful passion,
such is the keenness of its disappointments,
and their baleful effect. Such is the
transition in this play from the highest bliss to
the lowest despair, from the nuptial couch to an
untimely grave. The only evil that even in apprehension
befalls the two lovers is the loss of the
greatest possible felicity; yet this loss is fatal
to both, for they had rather part with life than
bear the thought of surviving all that had made
life dear to them. In all this, Shakespear has but
followed nature, which existed in his time, as
well as now. The modern philosophy, which
reduces the whole theory of the mind to habitual
impressions, and leaves the natural impulses
of passion and imagination out of the account,
had not then been discovered; or if it had,
would have been little calculated for the uses of
It is the inadequacy of the same false system
of philosophy to account for the strength of our
earliest attachments, which has led Mr. Wordsworth
to indulge in the mystical visions of Platonism
in his Ode on the Progress of Life. He
has very admirably described the vividness of
our impressions in youth and childhoods and how
"they fade by degrees into the light of common
day," and he ascribes the change to the supposition
of a pre-existent state, as if our early thoughts
were nearer heaven, reflections of former trails of
glory, shadows of our past being. This is idle.
It is not from the knowledge of the past that the
first impressions of things derive their gloss and
splendour, but from our ignorance of the future,
which fills the void to come with the warmth of
our desires, with our gayest hopes, and brightest
fancies. It is the obscurity spread before it that
colours the prospect of life with hope, as it is
the cloud which reflects the rainbow. There is
no occasion to resort to any mystical union and
transmission of feeling through different states
of being to account for the romantic enthusiasm
of youth; nor to plant the root of hope in the
grave, nor to derive it from the skies. Its root
is in the heart of man: it lifts its head above
the stars. Desire and imagination are inmates
of the human breast. The heaven "that lies
about us in our infancy" is only a new world, of
which we know nothing but what we wish it to
be, and believe all that we wish. In youth and
boyhood, the world we live in is the world of desire,
and of fancy: it is experience that brings
us down to the world of reality. What is it that
in youth sheds a dewy light round the evening
star? That makes the daisy look so bright?
That perfumes the hyacinth? That embalms
the first kiss of love? It is the delight of novelty,
and the seeing no end to the pleasure that
we fondly believe is still in store for us. The
heart revels in the luxury of its own thoughts,
and is unable to sustain the weight of hope and
love that presses upon it.--The effects of the
passion of love alone might have dissipated Mr.
Wordsworth's theory, if he means any thing more
by it than an ingenious and poetical allegory.
That at least is not a link in the chain let down
from other worlds; "the purple light of love"
is not a dim reflection of the smiles of celestial
bliss. It does not appear till the middle of life,
and then seems like "another morn risen on
mid-day." In this respect the soul comes into
the world "in utter nakedness." Love waits
for the ripening of the youthful blood. The
sense of pleasure precedes the love of pleasure,
but with the sense of pleasure, as soon as it is
felt, come thronging infinite desires and hopes
of pleasure, and love is mature as soon as born.
It withers and it dies almost as soon!
This play presents a beautiful coup-d'oeil of
the progress of human life. In thought it occupies
years, and embraces the circle of the affections
from childhood to old age. Juliet has
become a great girl, a young woman since we
first remember her a little thing in the idle, prattle
of the nurse, Lady Capulet was about her
age when she became a mother, and old Capulet
somewhat impatiently tells his younger visitors,
----"I've seen the day,|
That 1 have worn a visor, and could tell
A whispering tale in a fair lady's ear,
Such as would please; 'tis gone, 'tis gone, 'tis gone."
Thus one period of life makes way for the following,
and one generation pushes another off
the stage. One of the most striking passages to
shew the intense feeling of youth in this play is
Capulet's invitation to Paris to visit his entertainment.
"At my poor house, look to behold this night|
Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light;
Such comfort as do lusty young men feel
When well-apparel'd April on the heel
Of limping winter treads, even such delight
Among fresh female-buds shall you this night
Inherit at my house."
The feelings of youth and of the spring are
here blended together like the breath of opening
flowers. Images of vernal beauty appear to have
floated before the author's mind, in writing this
poem, in profusion. Here is another of exquisite
beauty, brought in more by accident than
by necessity. Montague declares of his son
smit with a hopeless passion, which he will not
"But he, his own affection's counsellor,|
Is to himself so secret and so close,
So far from sounding and discovery,
As is the bud bit with an envious worm,
Ere he can spread his sweet leaves to the air;
Or dedicate his beauty to the sun."
This casual description is as full of passionate
beauty as when Romeo dwells in frantic fondness
on "the white wonder of his Juliet's hand."
The reader may, if he pleases, contrast the exquisite
pastoral simplicity of the above lines with
the gorgeous description of Juliet when Romeo
first sees her at her father's house, surrounded
by company and artificial splendour.
"What lady's that which cloth enrich the hand|
Of yonder knight?
O she doth teach the torches to burn bright;
Her beauty hangs upon the cheek of night,
Like a rich jewel in an Aethiop's ear."
It would be hard to say which of the two
garden scenes is the finest, that where he first
converses with his love, or takes leave of her
the morning after their marriage. Both are like
a heaven upon earth: the blissful bowers of
Paradise let down upon this lower world. We
will give only one passage of these well known
scenes to shew the perfect refinement and delicacy
of Shakespear's conception of the female
character. It is wonderful how Collins, who
was a critic and a poet of great sensibility, should
have encouraged the common error on this subject
by saying--"But stronger Shakespear felt for man alone."
The passage we mean is Juliet's apology for
her maiden boldness.
"Thou know'st the mask of night is on my face;|
Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek
For that which thou hast heard me speak to-night.
Fain would I dwell on form, fain, fain deny
What I have spoke--but farewel compliment:
Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say, ay,
And I will take thee at thy word--Yet if thou swear'st,
Thou may'st prove false; at lovers' perjuries
They say Jove laughs. Oh gentle Romeo,
If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully;
Or if thou think I am too quickly won,
I'll frown and be perverse, and say thee nay,
So thou wilt woo: but else not for the world,
In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond;
And therefore thou may'st think my 'haviour light;
But trust me, gentleman, I'll prove more true
Than those that have more cunning to be strange.
I should have been more strange, I must confess,
But that thou over-heard'st, ere I was ware,
My true love's passion; therefore pardon me,
And not impute this yielding to light love,
Which the dark night hath so discovered."
In this and all the rest her heart fluttering between
pleasure, hope, and fear, seems to have
dictated to her tongue, and "calls true love
spoken simple modesty." Of the same sort, but
bolder in virgin innocence, is her soliloquy after
her marriage with Romeo.
"Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,|
Towards Phoebus' mansion; such a waggoner
As Phaëton would whip you to the west,
And bring in cloudy night immediately.
Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night;
That run-aways' eyes may wink; and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalked of, and unseen!--
Lovers can see to do their amorous rites
By their own beauties: or if love be blind,
It best agrees with night.--Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron, all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match,
Play'd for a pair of stainless maidenhoods:
Hood my unmann'd blood bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle; till strange love, grown bold,
Thinks true love acted, simple modesty.
Come night!--Come, Romeo! come, thou day in night;
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than new snow on a raven's back.--
Come, gentle night; come, loving, black-brow'd night,
Give me my Romeo: and when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine,
That all the world shall be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.--
O, I have bought the mansion of a love,
But not possess'd it; and though I am sold,
Not yet enjoy'd: so tedious is this day,
As is the night before some festival
To an impatient child, that hath new robes,
And may not wear them."
We the rather insert this passage here, inasmuch
as we have no doubt it has been expunged
from the Family Shakespear. Such critics do
not perceive that the feelings of the heart sanctify,
without disguising, the impulses of nature.
Without refinement themselves, they confound
modesty with hypocrisy. Not so the German
critic, Schlegel. Speaking of ROMEO AND JULIET,
he says, "It was reserved for Shakespear
to unite purity of heart and the glow of imagination,
sweetness and dignity of manners and passionate
violence, in one ideal picture." The
character is indeed one of perfect truth and
sweetness. It has nothing forward, nothing coy,
nothing affected or coquettish about it;--it is a
pure effusion of nature. It is as frank as it is
modest, for it has no thought that it wishes to
conceal. It reposes in conscious innocence on
the strength of its affections. Its delicacy does
not consist in coldness and reserve, but in combining
warmth of imagination and tenderness of
heart with the most voluptuous sensibility.
Love is a gentle flame that rarefies and expands
her whole being. What an idea of trembling
haste and airy grace, borne upon the thoughts of
love, does the Friar's exclamation give of her,
as she approaches his cell to be married--
"Here comes the lady. Oh, so light of foot|
Will ne'er wear out the everlasting flint:
A lover may bestride the gossamer,
That idles in the wanton summer air,
And yet not fall, so light is vanity."
The tragic part of this character is of a piece
with the rest. It is the heroic founded on tenderness
and delicacy. Of this kind are her resolution
to follow the Friar's advice, and the conflict
in her bosom between apprehension and
love when she comes to take the sleeping poison.
Shakespear is blamed for the mixture of low
characters. If this is a deformity, it is the source
of a thousand beauties. One instance is the
contrast between the guileless simplicity of Juliet's
attachment to her first love, and the convenient
policy of the nurse in advising her to marry
Paris, which excites such indignation in her
mistress. "Ancient damnation! oh most wicked fiend," &c.
Romeo is Hamlet in love. There is the same
rich exuberance of passion and sentiment in the
one, that there is of thought and sentiment in
the other. Both are absent and self-involved,
both live out of themselves in a world of imagination.
Hamlet is abstracted from every thing;
Romeo is abstracted from every thing but his
love, and lost in it. His "frail thoughts dally
with faint surmise," and are fashioned out of the
suggestions of hope, "the flatteries of sleep."
He is himself only in his Juliet; she is his only
reality, his heart's true home and idol. The
rest of the world is to him a passing dream.
How finely is this character pourtrayed where
he recollects himself on seeing Paris slain at the
tomb of Juliet!
"What said my man when my betossed soul|
Did not attend him as we rode? I think
He told me Paris should have married Juliet."
And again, just before he hears the sudden tidings
of her death--
"If I may trust the flattery of sleep,|
My dreams presage some joyful news at hand;
My bosom's lord sits lightly on his throne,
And all this day an unaccustom'd spirit
Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts.
I dreamt my lady came and found me dead,
(Strange dream! that gives a dead man leave to think)
And breath'd such life with kisses on my lips,
That I reviv'd and was an emperour.
Ah me! how sweet is love itself possess'd,
When but love's shadows are so rich in joy!"
Romeo's passion for Juliet is not a first love:
it succeeds and drives out his passion for another
mistress, Rosaline, as the sun hides the stars.
This is perhaps an artifice (not absolutely necessary)
to give us a higher opinion of the lady,
while the first absolute surrender of her heart to
him enhances the richness of the prize. The
commencement, progress, and ending of his second
passion are however complete in themselves,
not injured, if they are not bettered by
the first. The outline of the play is taken from
an Italian novel; but the dramatic arrangement
of the different scenes between the lovers, the
more than dramatic interest in the progress of
the story, the developement of the characters
with time and circumstances, just according to
the degree and kind of interest excited, are not
inferior to the expression of passion and nature.
It has been ingeniously remarked among other
proofs of skill in the contrivance of the fable,
that the improbability of the main incident in
the piece, the administering of the sleeping-potion,
is softened and obviated from the beginning
by the introduction of the Friar on his first appearance
culling simples and descanting on their
virtues. Of the passionate scenes in this tragedy,
that between the Friar and Romeo when
he is told of his sentence of banishment, that
between Juliet and the Nurse when she hears of
it, and of the death of her cousin Tybalt (which
bear no proportion in her mind, when passion
after the first shock of surprise throws its weight
into the scale of her affections) and the last
scene at the tomb, are among the most natural
and overpowering. In all of these it is not
merely the force of any one passion that is given,
but the slightest and most unlooked-for transitions
from one to another, the mingling currents
of every different feeling rising up and prevailing
in turn, swayed by the master-mind of the poet,
as the waves undulate beneath the gliding storm.
Thus when Juliet has by her complaints encouraged
the Nurse to say, "Shame come to Romeo,"
she instantly repels the wish, which she,
had herself occasioned, by answering--
"Blister'd be thy tongue|
For such a wish, he was not born to shame.
Upon his brow shame is ashamed to sit,
For 'tis a throne where honour may be crown'd
Sole monarch of the universal earth!
O, what a beast was I to chide him so?
Nurse. Will you speak well of him that killed your cousin?
Juliet. Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?
Ah my poor lord, what tongue shall smooth thy name,
When I, thy three-hours' wife, have mangled it?"
And then follows on the neck of her remorse
and returning fondness, that wish treading almost
on the brink of impiety, but still held back
by the strength of her devotion to her lord,
that "father, mother, nay, or both were dead,"
rather than Romeo banished. If she requires
any other excuse, it is in the manner in which
Romeo echoes her frantic grief and disappointment
in the next scene: at being banished from
her.--Perhaps one of the finest pieces of acting
that ever was witnessed on the stage, is Mr.
Kean's manner of doing this scene and his repetition
of the word, Banished. He treads close
indeed upon the genius of his author.
A passage which this celebrated actor and
able commentator on Shakespear (actors are the
best commentators on the poets) did not give
with equal truth or force of feeling was the one
which Romeo makes at the tomb of Juliet, before
he drinks the poison.
----"Let me peruse this face--|
Mercutio's kinsman! noble county Paris!
What said my man, when my betossed soul
Did not attend him as we rode! I think,
He told me, Paris should have marry'd Juliet!
Said he not so? or did I dream it so?
Or am I mad, hearing him talk of Juliet,
To think it was so?--O, give me thy hand,
One writ with me in sour misfortune's book!
I'll bury thee in a triumphant grave--
For here lies Juliet.
* * * * * * * *
----O, my love! my wife!
Death that hath suck'd the honey of thy breath,
Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty:
Thou art not conquer'd; beauty's ensign yet
Is crimson in thy lips, and in thy cheeks,
And Death's pale flag is Dot advanced there.--
Tybalt, ly'st thou there in thy bloody sheet?
O, what more favour can I do to thee,
Than with that hand that cut thy youth in twain,
To sunder his that was thine enemy?
Forgive me, cousin! Ah, dear Juliet,
Why art thou yet so fair! I will believe
That unsubstantial death is amorous;
And that the lean abhorred monster keeps
Thee here in dark to be his paramour.
For fear of that, I will stay still with thee;
And never from this palace of dim night
Depart again: here, here will I remain
With worms that are thy chamber-maids; O, here
Will I set up my everlasting rest;
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From this world-wearied flesh.--Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace! and lips, O you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death!--
Come, bitter conduct, come unsavoury guide!
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks my sea-sick weary bark!
Here's to my love!--[Drinks.] O, true apothecary!
Thy drugs are quick.--Thus with a kiss I die."
The lines in this speech describing the loveliness
of Juliet, who is supposed to be dead,
have been compared to those in which it is said
of Cleopatra after her death, that she looked
"as she would take another Antony in her
strong toil of grace;" and a question has been
started which is the finest, that we do not pretend
to decide. We can more easily decide
between Shakespear and any other author, than
between him and himself.--Shall we quote any
more passages to shew his genius or the beauty
of ROMEO AND JULIET? At that rate, we
might quote the whole. The late Mr Sheridan,
on being strewn a volume of the Beauties of
Shakespear, very properly asked--"But where
are the other eleven?" The character of Mercutio
in this play is one of the most mercurial
and spirited of the productions of Shakespeare