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SHAKESPEARE'S FEMALE CHARACTERS.*

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SHAKESPEARE'S FEMALE CHARACTERS.* ["Shakespeare's Female Characters." By Helena Faucit Lady Martin. William Blackwood and Sons, 1885.] This is one of the books we dare hardly criticize. We are content rather to admire the depth and delicacy of sympathy with which Lady Martin has identified herself with a few of her favourite characters from Shakespeare. She has dreamed them and lived with them, till represen- tations on the stage became the expression and the embodiment of feelings ever freshened by a fervid imagination. She says far too little in her preface when she modestly expresses the hope that her sister-women might give her the happiness of thinking that she has helped them to appreciate and to love with a love like her own these sweet and noble representatives of their sex. For to every one she has thrown the flashes of new and suggestive lights over some of the most delightful creations of Shakespeare's genius. Incidentally, besides, she has brought out with great force the marvellously fertile and effective resources of his instinctive dramatic power. Sometimes she lets her fancy outstrip her knowledge, as when she imagines a bright future for Portia and the redemption of a re- pentant Shylock, after the curtain has come down on Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. For fanciful pictures like that, she half apologizes, very unnecessarily and altogether we have sel- dom met with a book which has given us more refined enjoyment as we read, and more original matter for meditation afterwards. We may add that it is gemmed with extracts which gain new beauties from the setting of the running com- mentary, which by placing them in unfamiliar lights lends them a fresh lustre. Freshness is indeed the characteristic of the monographs, which take the form of letters to Shakespearian enthusiasts, as the stage-interpre- tations of the heroines are thoughtfully and sympathetically original. Lady Martin tells us that she was hampered by no traditions; that her ideals were not interfered with by recollections of what others had done. As for her own concep- tions-her Rosalind was an exception-most of them had dated from very early days. An old edition of the great dramatist in her hand, she had strolled and declaimed as a girl along the sea- shore, with the big dog of the household as her only audience. She had gone somewhat further with Juliet, acting the balcony scene with an 11 y elder sister; and it was the chance of the lessee of a Richmond theatre accidentally overhearing them that led first to her trying the stage as a pro- fession. As for the" Ophelia" with which she begins, she says,âOphelia' was one of the pet dreams of my girlhood-partly, perhaps, from the mystery of her madness." When she came to play the part, her mind had long been made up, and her acting was the shaping of those girlish dreams. She had figured to herself the daughter of a worldly and unsympathetic father, left to the kindly tending of simple country folk. Transplanted suddenly to the artificial atmos- phere of a Court, all the country customs and the country songs were still clinging fondly to her memory, and that presumption reconciles with her native purity those snatches of ballads which sound strange on her lips, and which have lent themselves to the calumnious suggestions of coarse-minded critics. She loves Hamlet as Hamlet has loved her till the discovery of his adored mother's infidelity to the memory of his dead father makes him regard all the treacherous sex with contempt or suspicion. Thenceforth the innocent advances of the compassionate Ophelia are met with distrust and rebuffs, which drive her into insanity through despair. Still there is method and there is memory in the mad- ness when she meets her brother after the catastrophe. A faint remembrance comes over her of his warning words, of the shock they gave her, and of the misery which came so soon afterwards. The soul of sense being gone, the sweet mind had become such stuff as dreams are made of. I Lady Martin seeks the key to the conduct and the characters of Portia and Desdemona in com- paring, or rather contrasting, their respective up- bringing. Portia had been the rich heiress of a doting parent, who had neglected nothing that might cultivate and adorn her mind, who had even trained her keen judgment in the principles of law, by the medium of their kinsman Bellario. He died and left the maiden orphaned, but, though preparing a trying ordeal for her, he did his best to secure her married happiness among a crowd of rival suitors. While as for the unfor- tunate Desdemona, with her loving nature and her longing for love, she had been chilled by a cold and even a cruel parent. The more readily she lent an ear to the soldier Moor, and when he touched her heart he became all in all to her. The filial duty she still owed to Brabantio was outweighed by the love and the duty she had vowed to her husband. And so when the Moor has won his cause, the mortified Brabantio lets out the cold malignity of his natural disposition :â Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see She has deceiv'd her father, and may thee." The malicious shaft, shot half at random, carried home only too truly. It suggested to Iago his hellish plot; it prepared the mind of Othello to receive the venom of suspicion. As for Othello's boast of being not easily jealous, Lady Martin does not admit it. His jealousy was only too easily awakened by trifles that should really have seemed light as air, while Desdemona's faith and consciousness of innocence are so strong that the shrewd and subtle Iago does not even attempt to beguile her, though he makes tools of all else in their turn. And apropos to the grand death-scene, Lady Martin gives an instance- one among manyâof the passion of sympathetic feeling with which she entered into those emotional parts. "My friends used to say, as Mr. Macready did, that in Desdemona I was very hard to kill.' How could I be otherwise? I would not die dishonoured in Othello's esteem. This was bitterer than 50,000 deaths. Then I thought of all his after-suffering when he had come to know how he bad mistaken me." The first of the two letters on Juliet is almost entirely devoted to most interesting reminis- cences of the beginning of the writer's career as an actress. She had made her debut at Richmond, as we have said; her sister was to play Lady Capulet to give her courage. The timid Juliet, in a paroxysm of nervousness and stage fright, rushed into Lady Capulet's arms, who was scarcely less agitated. Nor was she to be lured from them again during the scene by all the cajolings of the Nurse." Happily for her courage, shecau°ht through the mists floating before her eyes the gaze of one in the audience to whom she owed much. She made a mighty effort, the enthusiasm of her part gradually possessed her, and Juliet "went on swimmingly." Indeed, so utterly was she carried away that, all Utl- consciously, she crushed in her hand the phial that contained the potion, till at last she saw a stream of blood trickling down over her dress, when she turned sick, and literally fainted on the bed. When she then acted the part she had been too young to enter into Juliet's innermost feelings. Afterwards she realized her heroine as a creature who, among chilling domestic sur- roundings, had bloomed into early girlhood, with a rich imagination full of romance, and with a boundless capacity for self-devotion." Juliet dreams the future which so far she nnds she meets her ideal hero in Romeo. The passage beginning Thou know'st the mask of night is on my face" Lady Martin declares to be supreme in subtlety and expression, where all is beautiful, in a scene which as a whole is the noblest pasan to Love ever written." She gives wonderfully original interpretations, too, of the scenes with the Nurse, while the culmination of the catas- trophe in the family vault is elucidated with extraordinary power and pathos. Among the other studies-and we have left ourselves no space to do them even the most partial and unsatisfactory justice-our favourite is the Rosa- lind. Lady Martin, having been only introduced to her heroine for the occasion, made a compara- tive failure of her first appearance. She was told, much to her mortification, by candid friends that she had been merely playing, not acting. But the disappointment sent her to a careful examina- tion of the character, and she confessed that in its depths it was only revealed to her, when she came to know it minutely and represent it frequently. She came to the conclusion that it was "by a strange perversion" that Rosalind, like Portia, used to be habitually assigned to actresses whose strength lay only in comedy." For herself, she has analyzed with rare per- spicuity and delicacy the veins of passion, pathos, and sparkling playfulness which are perpetually intermingling and confounding themselves in one of the wittiest and most bewitching of Shakespeare's heroines.-The Times.

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