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horror is suggested by that definite indefinity than if the comparison had been in terms to a crocodile or a kraken! And in other modes, and for other reasons than the strengthening of an image, Shakespeare is sometimes vague, and, in expressing abstract thought or simple emotion, seems purposely indefinite. He is aided in his effect of this kind by a singular felicity in framing phrases which convey ideas by mere suggestion, and which at once fill mind and ear with a satisfaction the reason for which escapes close analysis.
Akin to this power in Shakespeare is that of pushing hyperbole to the verge of absurdity; of mingling heterogeneous metaphors and similes, which, coldly examined, seem discordant; in short, of apparently setting at nought all rules of rhetoric, without paying the penalty by the critics in such case made and provided. There is in a play, which, though not the greatest production of Shakespeare's genius, displays more completely than any other all the qualities of his style, The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, - a passage, which, in its resistless sweep and majestic imagery, is not surpassed by any other of his writing, and which is an extreme example at once of the vagueness, the mingling of metaphor, and the extravagance with which he could dare to write, and splendidly succeed. Northumberland, after several speeches, during which he, with rapidly rising emotion, is led to the certain knowledge of his son Hotspur's death, - enraged with grief, thus closes his outbreak of wrath and sorrow:
Now bind my brows with iron, and approach
And let this world no longer be a stage,
How big this is with strong emotion! how turbulent with grand and multitudinous impersonation! The very abstract subjects are all endowed with life and passion. Yet no clear images are left upon the mind; the attributed actions are, in themselves, preposterous, impossible; and the imprecation of the end of all things, upon occasion of the death of one man in battle, shows, by attaining it, that there can be a limit even to extravagance. But what reader, except a rhetorician of the last century, ever attempted to form an image of a personified heaven kissing a personified earth! How great a loss would be the knowledge of what the wild flood is which nature keeps confined! Who ever supposed that Shakespeare meant that a stage could strictly be said to feed any thing, much more feed contention! The truth is, that in such passages as that in question, when they are the work of a hand strong enough to carry the reader with the writer, the mind does not take the personifying words in their strict sense. That sense, as in the phrases “ let heaven kiss earth," “ let order die,” “ to feed contention," is only suggested, and gives a certain color and intensity to expression. And, in Northumberland's speech, the quick opposing changes of impersonation perturb the passage with a stir of words and clash of thought which corresponds to, and portrays the strong, deep agitation of, the speaker's soul.
Shakespeare mixes not only metaphors, but metaphors and plain language. He unites even the material and the spiritual; and yet his image loses neither strength nor beauty because its head is of gold and its feet of clay. When Hamlet says,
“ and bless'd are those Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled That they are not a pipe for Fortune's finger
To play what stop she please,” what a union of weight and edge is given to the passage by the welding of the physical idea of blood with the moral idea of judgment! Yet the rhetoricians have forbidden the banns of such unions. But the period as a whole, no less than the first member of it, is obnoxious to their denunciation, for the last half is as apparently incongruous with the first as the elements of the first are with each other. How can the commingling of blood and judgment make a pipe? But Shakespeare did not write for men who read after this mole-eyed fashion. Nor did he here mean that blood and judgment made a pipe. The blood and judgment make the man, and the man is then compared to a pipe in the hands of Fortune. This is not discovered by an analysis, however rapid, but apprehended at once by the understanding of every reader who can and does admit the entrance of more than one idea into his mind at the same time. It is the faculty of combining the expression of an impressive truth, or of a genuine human feeling, with fancies which by themselves would seem extravagant, that gives Shakespeare's style its peculiar and never-failing charm; a faculty which, in its action, transcends all law except that of its own being. He has, in the height of his hyperbole, and even in the occasional inflation of his imagery, a keeping which makes his expressions seem those of simple, though elevated, nature. He possesses also, in its highest manifestation, the correlative power of giving, by the reflected light of his intellect, beauty to that which is in itself repulsive. Not only passion, guilt, and woe, but even inhumanity and baseness, are presented to us so tempered and elevated through the medium of his genius that we are not wounded or repelled by the picture, while we mourn over, or condemn, or even loathe that which it represents. We may say of his genius as Laertes says of the crazed Ophelia, —
Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself,
She turns to favour and to prettiness.” Thus Shakespeare furnishes us with the very language in which we can pass critical judgment upon himself; so that it is possible that the best and completest expression of his genius could be culled from the works which that genius has produced.
Shakespeare, from the height to which he soars, can overlook and disregard that which affronts lowlier eyes ; or, by the universal solvent of his genius, he can compel the union of elements whose natural repugnance resists less potent alchemy. Yet, with no material detriment to his fame, it may be admitted that precisians and purists, and all who admire as Samson fought — only when the law is on their side, can find a true bill of extravagance against him. For what was justly said of Plato, that “if he had not erred he would have done less," is quite as applicable to the great dramatic poet as to the great philosopher; and the allowance may be more reasonably made in the case of Shakespeare. If we will have high-sounding poetry we must risk an occasional flight beyond the bounds of reason. Genius has produced some bombast which is really grand, and some tinsel that will shine forever.
Much more objectionable than such extravagance as that into which Shakespeare sometimes, though rarely, fell, are the opposite faults of style, an elaboration of nice conceit, and a proneness to verbal quibbling, into which he was led by a conformity to the taste of his period. These trivial blemishes, easily discernible, were just of the kind to bring down the censure of the last century's critics, who were never tired of packing at Shakespeare for the readiness with which he sprang at an opportunity for a pun; and there can be no doubt that some fine passages of his poetry are less purely beautiful than they would have been were they not spotted with this labored use of words in a double sense. Of the kindred fault, which did not take the form of an absolute pun, but which is hardly less offensive, the Lucrece furnishes the following perfect specimen : “ Even here she sheathed in her harmless breast
A harmful knife, which thence her soul unsheath'd." Conceits like this, which abound in all departments of the literature of the Elizabethan age, are mere labored, verbal antitheses corresponding to parallel antitheses of thought. The humorous side of this conceit in style is a pun, in which there is correspondence of words, but incongruity of thought. The development of taste has taught us that in serious writing these antitheses are impertinent; but the pleasing surprise of a certain lack of pertinence, which yet seems pertinent, forms no small ingredient in our enjoyment of wit. Of this kind of wit, no less than of that subtler comic quality which we call humor, Shakespeare has shown himself in F staff the matchless master. And thus we find his most objectionable and most noticeable fault nearly related to one of his most exquisite and charming graces. It is interesting to know that while he conformed to the fashion of his day in this matter of conceits and quibbles, he saw how petty and