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A courtier that each where was highly had in price,
Shakespeare's Mercutio is the one brilliant figure in that outer world of hate which enspheres and hurries to its tragic doom the inner world of love. In the hands of previous tellers the story had gathered one after another the motley figures which compose this alien milieu :-Bandello's Benvolio with his temperate counsels against love; Brooke's Nurse, with her vulgar parody of it; and now Shakespeare's Mercutio, transfixing love with the shafts of his cynical and reckless wit, a gayer but not less effective negation of romance. But Shakespeare has made the other negations of calm reason and of Philistine grossness sharper and even more decisive than he found them. The Nurse, the Capulet father and mother, are all recognisable in Brooke: Shakespeare alone makes us feel the tragic loneliness of Juliet in their midst; and that not less by his ruthless insistence on every mean and vulgar trait in them, than by the flamelike purity and intensity in which he has invested Juliet herself. Brooke's Juliet is a conventional heroine of romance, distinguished from other heroines only by the particular cast of her experiences, and not palpably superior. to her father, whose unreason even acquires from Brooke's rhetoric a certain Roman dignity of invective. Shakespeare's Juliet resembles an ideal creation of Raphael or Lionardo environed in the bustling domestic scenery, the Flemish plenty and prose, of Teniers or Ostade. We are spared no poignancy of contrast. The last rich cadences of the lovers' dawn-song die into the bluster of old Capulet; and Juliet's sublime 'Romeo, I come!' is immediately
1 Juliet's monologue belongs
change has completely transin outline to Brooke; but formed the conclusion. In Shakespeare by an unobtrusive Brooke, after imagining the
succeeded by the rattling of keys and dishes, and cooks calling for dates and quinces in the 'pastry.'
Thus Shakespeare at once heightened the tragic antagonism of Romeo and Juliet's world and the lyric fervour of passion which sweeps them athwart it. The entire weight of the tragic effect is thrown upon the clashing dissonance of the human elements. this earliest of the tragedies, alone among them all, there is no guilt, no deliberate contriving of harm. Far from suggesting a moral, Shakespeare seems to contemplate with a kind of fatalist awe the mixture of elements from which so profound a convulsion He eliminates every pretext for regarding the catastrophe as a retribution upon the lovers. Their love violates no moral law: it springs imperiously from their youth, and Shakespeare has here significantly gone beyond his source and endowed his Juliet with the single-souled girlhood of fourteen;1 neither of them dreams of any illicit union, and their marriage runs counter only to the unnatural feud between their houses. The chief agent
in their tragic doom is the one wise and actively benign character in the play. The imposing figure of Friar Laurence, so clearly congenial to the poet, has tempted some critics, like Gervinus and Kreyssig, to regard him as a chorus, and to read Shakespeare's judgment upon the lovers in his weighty utterance:
These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
horrors of the vault, she drinks lest her resolution should give way
Dreading that weakness might or
Hinder the execution of the purposed
sudden vision of Romeo in the vault, and Tybalt vengefully seeking him out, drown all consideration but the longing to join him there.
1 In the Italian versions she is eighteen, in Brooke sixteen.
The love of Romeo and Juliet is in short condemned by its unmeasured intensity. 'Shakespeare on his eagle flight above all the heights and depths of human being and feeling, assuredly did not overlook these romantic abysses of the supreme passion.'1 But we have to do not with the Olympian Shakespeare of The Tempest, but with a Shakespeare who, if we may trust the Sonnets, was not 'flying above' but plunging strenuously through the heights and depths of human feeling, and to this Shakespeare the matter was hardly so clear. He can never, it is true, have shared the modern Romantic's scorn for the world that lies outside love. He who almost from the outset grasped so profoundly the meaning of national life and the potency of law, could never have complete sympathy for lyric emotion, however entrancing, which defies them. But that he saw an ethical problem in the case is plain from the pathos which gathers, under his handling, about the lyric rebel to law, Richard II. That History presents suggestive analogies to our Tragedy. But Romeo and Juliet's passion, sovran and uncontrolled as it is, has a bearing upon public interests quite other than that of Richard's lyric self-love. His measureless caprice disorganises a great and ordered State; their passion breaks like a purifying flame upon one rotten with disease. For the lovers themselves the price of that purification is death; but our pity for them is blended with wonder and even envy. Juliet's glorious womanhood is the creation of her love; Romeo, a weaker nature, retains more infirmity,2 yet he too stands out in heroic stature
1 Kreyssig, Vorlesungen über Shakespeare, ii. 40.
2 Juliet's clear vision never leaves her. Cf. the waking in the vault. Brooke's Juliet is at first much amazed to see in tomb so great a light
against the suitor par convenance, Paris, and the quondam wooer of Rosalinde. It is easy to dwell upon his despair at banishment, his fatal errors of judgment, as when he fails to suspect life in Juliet's still warm and rosy form.1 But to suppose that he is unmanned by his love of Juliet contradicts the whole tenour of Shakespeare's implicit teaching. Passion for a Cressida or a Cleopatra saps the nerve of Troilus and Antony; but nowhere does Shakespeare represent a man as made less manly by absolute soul-service of a true woman: rather, this was a condition of that 'marriage of true minds' to which, in his loftiest sonnet, he refused to 'admit impediments.'
1 Cf. Bulthaupt, Dramaturgie des Schauspiels, ii. 189 f.