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<i>Antony and Cleopatra</i>

We now come to the finest work of Shakespeare's maturity, to the drama in which his passion for Mary Fitton finds supreme expression.

"Antony and Cleopatra" is an astonishing production not yet fairly appreciated even in England, and perhaps not likely to be appreciated anywhere at its full worth for many a year to come. But when we English have finally left that dark prison of Puritanism and lived for some time in the sun-light where the wayside crosses are hidden under climbing roses, we shall probably couple "Antony and Cleopatra" with "Hamlet" in our love as Shakespeare's supremest works. It was fitting that the same man who wrote "Romeo and Juliet," the incomparable symphony of first love, should also write "Antony and Cleopatra," the far more wonderful and more terrible tragedy of mature passion.

Let us begin with the least interesting part of the play, and we shall see that all the difficulties in it resolve themselves as soon as we think of it as Shakespeare's own confession. Wherever he leaves Plutarch, it is to tell his own story.

Some critics have reproached Shakespeare with the sensualism of "Romeo and Juliet"; no one, so far as I can remember, has blamed the Sapphic intensity of "Antony and Cleopatra," where the lust of the flesh and desire of the eye reign triumphant. Professor Dowden indeed says: "The spirit of the play, though superficially it appear voluptuous, is essentially severe. That is to say, Shakespeare is faithful to the fact." Antony and Cleopatra kill themselves, forsooth, and thus conventional virtue is justified by self-murder. So superficial and false a judgement is a quaint example of mid-Victorian taste: it reminds me of the horsehair sofa and the antimacassar. Would Professor Dowden have had Shakespeare alter the historical facts, making Antony conquer Caesar and Cleopatra triumph over death? Would this have been sufficient to prove to the professor that Shakespeare's morals are not his, and that the play is certainly the most voluptuous in modern literature? Well, this is just what Shakespeare has done. Throughout the play Caesar is a subordinate figure while Antony is the protagonist and engages all our sympathies; whenever they meet Antony shows as the larger, richer, more generous nature. In every act he conquers Caesar; leaving on us the gorgeous ineffaceable impression of a great personality whose superb temperament moves everyone to admiration and love; Caesar, on the other hand, affects one as a calculating machine.

But Shakespeare's fidelity to the fact is so extraordinary that he gives Caesar one speech which shows his moral superiority to Antony. When his sister weeps on hearing that Antony has gone back to Cleopatra, Caesar bids her dry her tears,

But let determined things to destiny Hold unbewailed their way ..."

This line alone suffices to show why Antony was defeated; the force of imperial Rome is in the great phrase; but Shakespeare will not admit his favourite's inferiority, and in order to explain Antony's defeat Shakespeare represents luck as being against him, luck or fate, and this is not the only or even the chief proof of the poet's partiality. Pompey, who scarcely notices Caesar when Antony is by, says of Antony:

"his soldiership
Is twice the other twain."

And, indeed, Antony in the play appears to be able to beat Caesar whenever he chooses or whenever he is not betrayed.

All the personages of the play praise Antony, and when he dies the most magnificent eulogy of him is pronounced by Agrippa, Caesar's friend:

"A rarer spirit never
Did steer humanity; but you, Gods, will give us Some faults to make us men."

Antony is even permitted at the last to console himself; he declares exultantly that in the other world the ghosts shall come to gaze at him and Cleopatra, and:

"Dido and her Aeneas shall want troops."

Shakespeare makes conquering Caesar admit the truth of this boast:

"No grave upon the earth shall clip in it A pair so famous."

To win in life universal admiration and love, and in death imperishable renown, is to succeed in spite of failure and suicide, and this is the lesson which Shakespeare read into Plutarch's story. Even Enobarbus is conquered at the last by Antony's noble magnanimity. But why does Shakespeare show this extraordinary, this extravagant liking for him who was "the bellows and the fan to cool a gipsy's lust," for that Marc Antony who might have been the master of the world, and who threw away empire, life, and honour to be "a strumpet's fool?" There is only one possible explanation: Shakespeare felt the most intense, the most intimate sympathy with Antony because he, too, was passion's slave, and had himself experienced with his dark mistress, Mary Fitton, the ultimate degradation of lust. For this reason he took Plutarch's portrait of Antony, and, by emphasizing the kingly traits, transformed it. In the play, as Dr. Brandes sees, Antony takes on something of the "artist-nature." It is Antony's greatness and weakness; the spectacle of a high intellect struggling with an overpowering sensuality; of a noble nature at odds with passionate human frailty, that endeared him to Shakespeare. The pomp of Antony's position, too, and his kingly personality pleased our poet. As soon as Shakespeare reached maturity, he began to depict himself as a monarch; from "Twelfth Night" on he assumed royal state in his plays, and surely in this figure of Antony he must for the moment have satisfied his longing for regal magnificence and domination. From the first scene to the last Antony is a king of men by right divine of nature.

It is, however, plain that Antony's pride, his superb mastery of life, the touch of imperious brutality in him, are all traits taken from Plutarch, and are indeed wholly inconsistent with Shakespeare's own character. Had Shakespeare possessed these qualities his portraits of men of action would have been infinitely better than they are, while his portraits of the gentle thinker and lover of the arts, his Hamlets and his Dukes, would have been to seek.

The personal note of every one of his great tragedies is that Shakespeare feels he has failed in life, failed lamentably. His Brutus, we feel, failed of necessity because of his aloofness from practical life; his Coriolanus, too, had to fail, and almost forgoes sympathy by his faults; but this Antony ought not to have failed: we cannot understand why the man leaves the sea-battle to follow Cleopatra's flight, who but an act or two before, with lesser reason, realized his danger and was able to break off from his enchantress. Yet the passion of desire that sways Antony is so splendidly portrayed; is, too, so dominant in all of us, that we accept it at once as explaining the inexplicable.

In measure as Shakespeare ennobled Antony, the historical fact of ultimate defeat and failure allowed him to degrade Cleopatra. And this he did willingly enough, for from the moment he took up the subject he identified the Queen of Egypt with his own faithless mistress, Mary Fitton, whom he had already tried to depict as "false Cressid." This identification of himself and his own experience of passion with the persons and passions of the story explains some of the faults of the drama; while being the source, also, of its singular splendour.

In this play we have the finest possible example of the strife between Shakespeare's yielding poetic temperament and the severity of his intellect. He heaps praises on Antony, as we have seen, from all sides; he loved the man as a sort of superb <i>alter ego</i>, and yet his intellectual fairness is so extraordinary that it compelled him to create a character who should uphold the truth even against his heart's favourite. Dr. Brandes speaks of Enobarbus as a "sort of chorus"; he is far more than that; he is the intellectual conscience of the play, a weight, so to speak, to redress the balance which Shakespeare used this once and never again. What a confession this is of personal partiality! A single instance will suffice to prove my point: Shakespeare makes Antony cast the blame for the flight at Actium on Cleopatra, and manages almost to hide the unmanly weakness of the plaint by its infinitely pathetic wording:

"Whither hast them led me, Egypt?

A little later Cleopatra asks:

"Is Antony or we in fault for this?"

and at once Enobarbus voices the exact truth:

"Antony only, that would make his will

  Lord of his reason. What though you fled
    .       .       .       .       .       .
    .       .       . why should he follow?"

Again and again Antony reproaches Cleopatra, and again and again Enobarbus is used to keep the truth before us. Some of these reproaches, it seems to me, are so extravagant and so ill-founded that they discover the personal passion of the poet. For example, Antony insults Cleopatra:

"You have been a boggler ever."

And the proof forsooth is:

"I found you as a morsel cold upon Dead Caesar's trencher."

But to have been Caesar's mistress was Cleopatra's chief title to fame. Shakespeare is here probably reviling Mary Fitton for being deserted by some early lover. Curiously enough, this weakness of Antony increases the complexity of his character, while the naturalistic passion of his words adds enormously to the effect of the play. Again and again in this drama Shakespeare's personal vindictiveness serves an artistic purpose. The story of "Troilus and Cressida" is in itself low and vile, and when loaded with Shakespeare's bitterness outrages probability; but the love of Antony and Cleopatra is so overwhelming that it goes to ruin and suicide and beyond, and when intensified by Shakespeare's personal feeling becomes a world's masterpiece.

We have already seen that the feminine railing Shakespeare puts in the mouth of Antony increases the realistic effect, and just in the same way the low cunning, temper, and mean greed which he attributes to Cleopatra, transform her from a somewhat incomprehensible historical marionette into the most splendid specimen of the courtesan in the world's literature. Heine speaks of her contemptuously as a "kept woman," but the epithet only shows how Heine in default of knowledge fell back on his racial gift of feminine denigration. Even before she enters we see that Shakespeare has not forgiven his dark scornful mistress; Cleopatra is the finest picture he ever painted of Mary Fitton; but Antony's friends tell us, at the outset, she is a "lustful gipsy," a "strumpet," and at first she merely plays on Antony's manliness; she sends for him, and when he comes, departs. A little later she sends again, telling her messenger:

"I did not send you: if you find him sad, Say, I am dancing; if in mirth, report That I am sudden sick: quick, and return."

And when Charmian, her woman, declares that the way to keep a man is to "cross him in nothing," she replies scornfully:

"Thou teachest, like a fool, the way to lose him."

She uses a dozen taunts to prevent her lover from leaving her; but when she sees him resolved, she wishes him victory and success. And so through a myriad changes of mood and of cunning wiles we discover that love for Antony which is the anchor to her unstable nature.

The scene with the eunuch Mardian is a little gem. She asks:

"Hast thou affections?
<i>Mar</i>. Yes, gracious madam.
<i>Cleo</i>. Indeed?
<i>Mar</i>. Not in deed, madam; for I can do nothing.
But what indeed is honest to be done;
Yet have I fierce affections, and think
What Venus did with Mars.
<i>Cleo</i>. O, Charmian!
Where think'st thou he is now? Stands he, or sits he?"

She is with her lover again, and recalls his phrase for her, "my serpent of old Nile," and feeds herself with love's "delicious poison."

No sooner does she win our sympathy by her passion for Antony than Shakespeare chills our admiration by showing her as the courtesan:

Ever love Caesar so?
Did I, Charmian,
<i>Char</i>. O, that brave Caesar!

<i>Cleo</i>. Be choked with such another emphasis! Say, the brave Antony.

<i>Char</i>. The valiant Caesar!

<i>Cleo</i>. By Isis, I will give thee bloody teeth If thou with Caesar paragon again
My man of men.

<i>Char</i>. By your most gracious pardon,
I sing but after you.
<i>Cleo</i>. My salad days,
When I was green in judgement: cold in blood,
To say as I said then!"

Already we see and know her, her wiles, her passion, her quick temper, her chameleon-like changes, her subtle charms of person and of word, and yet we have not reached the end of the first act. Next to Falstaff and to Hamlet, Cleopatra is the most astonishing piece of portraiture in all Shakespeare. Enobarbus gives the soul of her:

"<i>Ant</i>. She is cunning past man's thought.

<i>Eno</i>. Alack, sir, no; her passions are made of nothing but the finest part of pure love....

<i>Ant</i>. Would I had never seen her!

<i>Eno</i>. O, sir, you had then left unseen a wonderful piece of work; which not to have been blest withal would have discredited your travel."

Here Shakespeare gives his true opinion of Mary Fitton: then comes the miraculous expression:

"Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety. Other women cloy The appetites they feed; but she makes hungry Where most she satisfies."

Act by act Shakespeare makes the portrait more complex and more perfect. In the second act she calls for music like the dark lady of the Sonnets:

"Music--moody food of us that trade in love,"

and then she'll have no music, but will play billiards, and not billiards either, but will fish and think every fish caught an Antony. And again she flies to memory:

"That time--O times!-- I laughed him out of patience; and that night I laughed him into patience; and next morn, Ere the ninth hour, I drunk him to his bed; Then put my tires and mantles on him, whilst I wore his sword Philippan."

The charm of it all, the deathless charm and the astounding veracity! The messenger enters, and she promises him for good news "gold and her bluest veins to kiss." When she hears that Antony is well she pours more gold on him, but when he pauses in his recital she has a mind to strike him. When he tells that Caesar and Antony are friends, it is a fortune she'll give; but when she learns that Antony is betrothed to Octavia she turns to her women with "I am pale, Charmian," and when she hears that Antony is married she flies into a fury, strikes the messenger down and hales him up and down the room by his hair. When he runs from her knife she sends for him:

  "I will not hurt him.

These hands do lack nobility, that they strike A meaner than myself."

She has the fascination of great pride and the magic of manners. When the messenger returns she is a queen again, most courteous-wise:

"Come hither, sir.
Though it be honest, it is never good To bring bad news."

She wants to know the features of Octavia, her years, her inclination, the colour of her hair, her height--everything.

A most veracious full-length portrait, with the minute finish of a miniature; it shows how Shakespeare had studied every fold and foible of Mary Fitton's soul. In the third act Cleopatra takes up again the theme of Octavia's appearance, only to run down her rival, and so salve her wounded vanity and cheat her heart to hope. The messenger, too, who lends himself to her humour now becomes a proper man. Shakespeare seizes every opportunity to add another touch to the wonderful picture.

Cleopatra appears next in Antony's camp at Actium talking with Enobarbus:

"<i>Cleo</i>. I will be even with thee, doubt it not.

<i>Eno</i>. But why, why, why?

<i>Cleo</i>. Thou hast forspoke my being in these wars, And say'st it is not fit."

Each phrase of the dialogue reveals her soul, dark fold on fold.

She is the only person who strengthens Antony in his quixotic-foolish resolve to fight at sea.

"<i>Cleo</i>. I have sixty sails, Caesar none better."

And then the shameful flight.

I have pursued this bald analysis thus far, not for pleasure merely, but to show the miracle of that portraiture the traits of which can bear examination one by one. So far Cleopatra is, as Enobarbus calls her, "a wonderful piece of work," a woman of women, inscrutable, cunning, deceitful, prodigal, with a good memory for injuries, yet as quick to forgiveness as to anger, a minion of the moon, fleeting as water yet loving-true withal, a sumptuous bubble, whose perpetual vagaries are but perfect obedience to every breath of passion. But now Shakespeare without reason makes her faithless to Antony and to love. In the second scene of the third act Thyreus comes to her with Caesar's message:

"<i>Thyr</i>. He knows that you embrace not Antony As you did love but as you feared him.

<i>Cleo</i>. O!

<i>Thyr</i>. The scars upon your honour therefore he Does pity as constrained blemishes, Not as deserved.

<i>Cleo</i>. He is a god, and knows
What is most right. Mine honour was not yielded,
But conquered merely.

<i>Eno</i>. [<i>Aside</i>.] To be sure of that
I will ask Antony.--Sir, sir, thou'rt so leaky
That we must leave thee to thy sinking, for
Thy dearest quit thee."

And when Thyreus asks her to leave Antony and put herself under Caesar's protection, who "desires to give," she tells him:

  "I am prompt

To lay my crown at his feet, and there to kneel."

Thyreus then asks for grace to lay his duty on her hand. She gives it to him with the words:

"Your Caesar's father oft, When he hath mused of taking kingdoms in, Bestowed his lips on that unworthy place As it rained kisses."

It is as if Antony were forgotten, clean wiped from her mind. The whole scene is a libel upon Cleopatra and upon womanhood. When betrayed, women are faithless out of anger, pique, desire of revenge; they are faithless out of fear, out of ambition, for fancy's sake--for fifty motives, but not without motive. It would have been easy to justify this scene. All the dramatist had to do was to show us that Cleopatra, a proud woman and scorned queen, could not forget Antony's faithlessness in leaving her to marry Octavia; but she never mentions Octavia, never seems to remember her after she has got Antony back. This omission, too, implies a slur upon her. Nor does she kiss Caesar's "conquering hand" out of fear. Thyreus has told her it would please Caesar if she would make of his fortunes a staff to lean upon; she has no fear, and her ambitions are wreathed round Antony: Caesar has nothing to offer that can tempt her, as we shall see later. The scene is a libel upon her. The more one studies it, the clearer it becomes that Shakespeare wrote it out of wounded personal feeling. Cleopatra's prototype, Mary Fitton, had betrayed him again and again, and the faithlessness rankled. Cleopatra, therefore, shall be painted as faithless, without cause, as Cressid was, from incurable vice of nature. Shakespeare tried to get rid of his bitterness in this way, and if his art suffered, so much the worse for his art. Curiously enough, in this instance, for reasons that will appear later, the artistic effect is deepened.

The conclusion of this scene, where Thyreus is whipped and Cleopatra overwhelmed with insults by Antony, does not add much to our knowledge of Cleopatra's character: one may notice, however, that it is the reproach of cold-heartedness that she catches up to answer. The scene follows in which she plays squire to Antony and helps to buckle on his armour. But this scene (invented by Shakespeare), which might bring out the sweet woman-weakness in her, and so reconcile us to her again, is used against her remorselessly by the poet. When Antony wakes and cries for his armour she begs him to "sleep a little"; the touch is natural enough, but coming after her faithlessness to her lover and her acceptance of Caesar it shows more than human frailty. It is plain that, intent upon ennobling Antony, Shakespeare is willing to degrade Cleopatra beyond nature. Then comes Antony's victory, and his passion at length finds perfect lyrical expression:

"O thou day o' the world,
Chain mine armed neck; leap thou, attire and all, Through proof of harness to my heart, and there Ride on the pants triumphing."

At once Cleopatra catches fire with that responsive flame of womanhood which was surely her chiefest charm:

"Lord of lords!
O infinite virtue! Com'st thou smiling from The world's great snare uncaught?"

What magic in the utterance, what a revelation of Cleopatra's character and of Shakespeare's! To Cleopatra's feminine weakness the world seems one huge snare which only cunning may escape.

Another day, and final irremediable defeat drives her in fear to the monument and to that pretended suicide which is the immediate cause of Antony's despair:

"Unarm, Eros: the long day's task is done, And we must sleep."

When Antony leaves the stage, Shakespeare's idealizing vision turns to Cleopatra. About this point, too, the historical fact fetters Shakespeare and forces him to realize the other side of Cleopatra. After Antony's death Cleopatra did kill herself. One can only motive and explain this suicide by self-immolating love. It is natural that at first Shakespeare will have it that Cleopatra's nobility of nature is merely a reflection, a light borrowed from Antony. She will not open the monument to let the dying man enter, but her sincerity and love enable us to forgive this:

"I dare not, dear,-- Dear my lord, pardon,--I dare not, Lest I be taken...."

Here occurs a fault of taste which I find inexplicable. While Cleopatra and her women are drawing Antony up, he cries;

"O quick, or I am gone."

And Cleopatra answers:

"Here's sport, indeed!--How heavy weighs my lord! Our strength has all gone into heaviness, That makes the weight."

The "Here's sport, indeed"! seems to me a terrible fault, an inexcusable lapse of taste. I should like to think it a misprint or misreading, but it is unfortunately like Shakespeare in a certain mood, possible to him, at least, here as elsewhere.

Cleopatra's lament over Antony's dead body is a piece of Shakespeare's self-revealing made lyrical by beauty of word and image. The allusion to his boy-rival, Pembroke, is unmistakable; for women are not contemptuous of youth:

"Young boys and girls Are level now with men; the odds is gone, And there is nothing left remarkable Beneath the visiting moon."

When Cleopatra comes to herself after swooning, her anger is characteristic because wholly unexpected; it is one sign more that Shakespeare had a living model in his mind:

  "It were for me

To throw my sceptre at the injurious gods; To tell them that this world did equal theirs Till they had stolen our jewel. All's but naught."

Her resolve to kill herself is borrowed:

"We'll bury him; and then, what's brave, what's noble, Let's do it after the high Roman fashion, And make death proud to take us."

But the resolution holds:

  "It is great

To do that thing that ends all other deeds, Which shackles accidents and bolts up change."

It is this greatness of soul in Cleopatra which Shakespeare has now to portray. Caesar's messenger, Proculeius, whom Antony has told her to trust, promises her everything in return for her "sweet dependency." On being surprised she tries to kill herself, and when disarmed shows again that characteristic petulant anger:

"Sir, I will eat no meat, I'll not drink, sir;
. . . . . This mortal house I'll ruin,
Do Caesar what he can."

And her reasons are all of pride and hatred of disgrace. She'll not be "chastised with the sober eye of dull Octavia," nor shown "to the shouting varletry of censuring Rome." Her imagination is at work now, that quick forecast of the mind that steels her desperate resolve:

  "Rather on Nilus' mud

Lay me stark nak'd, and let the water-flies Blow me into abhorring."

The heroic mood passes. She tries to deceive Caesar as to her wealth, and is shamed by her treasurer Seleucus. The scene is appalling; poor human nature stripped to the skin--all imperfections exposed; Cleopatra cheating, lying, raging like a drab; her words to Seleucus are merciless while self-revealing:

"O slave, of no more trust Than love that's hired."

This scene deepens and darkens the impression made by her unmotived faithlessness to Antony. It is, however, splendidly characteristic and I think needful; but it renders that previous avowal of faithlessness to Antony altogether superfluous, the sole fault in an almost perfect portrait. For, as I have said already, Shakespeare's mistakes in characterization nearly always spring from his desire to idealize; but here his personal vindictiveness comes to help his art. The historical fact compels him now to give his harlot, Cleopatra, heroic attributes; in spite of Caesar's threats to treat her sons severely if she dares to take her own life and thus deprive his triumph of its glory, she outwits him and dies a queen, a worthy descendant, as Charmian says, of "many royal kings." Nothing but personal bitterness could have prevented Shakespeare from idealizing such a woman out of likeness to humanity. But in this solitary and singular case his personal suffering bound him to realism though the history justified idealization. The high lights were for once balanced by the depths of shadow, and a masterpiece was the result.

Shakespeare leaves out Caesar's threats to put Cleopatra's sons to death; had he used these menaces he would have made Caesar more natural in my opinion, given a touch of characteristic brutality to the calculating intellect; but he omitted them probably because he felt that Cleopatra's pedestal was high enough without that addition.

The end is very characteristic of Shakespeare's temper. Caesar becomes nobly generous; he approves Cleopatra's wisdom in swearing falsehoods about her treasure; he will not reckon with her like "a merchant," and Cleopatra herself puts on the royal robes, and she who has played wanton before us so long becomes a queen of queens. And yet her character is wonderfully maintained; no cunning can cheat this mistress of duplicity:

"He words me, girls, he words me that I should not Be noble to myself."

She holds to her heroic resolve; she will never be degraded before the base Roman public; she will not see

"Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness."

It is, perhaps, worth noting here that Shakespeare lends Cleopatra, as he afterwards lent Coriolanus, his own delicate senses and neuropathic loathing for mechanic slaves with "greasy aprons" and "thick breaths rank of gross diet"; it is Shakespeare too and not Cleopatra who speaks of death as bringing "liberty." In "Cymbeline," Shakespeare's mask Posthumus dwells on the same idea. But these lapses are momentary; the superb declaration that follows is worthy of the queen:

"My resolution's placed, and I have nothing Of woman in me: now from head to foot I am marble-constant; now the fleeting moon No planet is of mine."

The scene with the clown who brings the "pretty worm" is the solid ground of reality on which Cleopatra rests for a breathing space before rising into the blue:

"<i>Cleo</i>. Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal longings in me. Now no more The juice of Egypt's grape shall moist this lip.-- Yare, yare, good Iras! quick.--Methinks I hear Antony call; I see him rouse himself To praise my noble act; I hear him mock The luck of Caesar, which the gods give men To excuse their after-wrath. Husband, I come, Now to that name my courage prove my title! I am fire and air; my other elements I give to baser life."

The whole speech is miraculous in speed of mounting emotion, and when Iras dies first, this Cleopatra finds again the perfect word in which truth and beauty meet:

"This proves me base:
If she first meet the curled Antony He'll make demand of her, and spend that kiss Which is my heaven to have. Come, thou mortal wretch, [<i>To the asp, which she applies to her breast</i>.] With thy sharp teeth this knot intrinsicate Of life at once untie: poor venomous fool, Be angry, and despatch. O, could'st thou speak, That I might hear thee call great Caesar, ass Unpolicied!"

The characteristic high temper of Mary Fitton breaking out again--"ass unpolicied"--and then the end:

  "Peace, peace!

Dost thou not see my baby at my breast, That sucks the nurse asleep?"

The final touch is of soft pleasure:

"As sweet a balm, as soft as air, as gentle,-- Antony!--Nay, I will take thee too. [<i>Applying another asp to her arm</i>.] What should I stay--"

For ever fortunate in her self-inflicted death Cleopatra thereby frees herself from the ignominy of certain of her actions: she is woman at once and queen, and if she cringes lower than other women, she rises, too, to higher levels than other women know. The historical fact of her self-inflicted death forced the poet to make false Cressid a Cleopatra--and his wanton gipsy-mistress was at length redeemed by a passion of heroic resolve. The majority of critics are still debating whether indeed Cleopatra is the "dark lady" of the sonnets or not. Professor Dowden puts forward the theory as a daring conjecture; but the identity of the two cannot be doubted. It is impossible not to notice that Shakespeare makes Cleopatra, who was a fair Greek, gipsy-dark like his sonnet-heroine. He says, too, of the "dark lady" of the sonnets:

"Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill, That in the very refuse of thy deeds There is such strength and warrantise of skill, That, in my mind, thy worst all best exceeds?"

Enobarbus praises Cleopatra in precisely the same words:

  "Vilest things,

Become themselves in her."

Antony, too, uses the same expression:

  "Fie, wrangling queen!

Whom everything becomes--to chide, to laugh, To weep; whose every passion fully strives To make itself, in thee, fair and admired."

These professors have no distinct mental image of the "dark lady" or of Cleopatra, or they would never talk of "daring conjecture" in regard to this simple identification. The points of likeness are numberless. Ninety-nine poets and dramatists out of a hundred would have followed Plutarch and made Cleopatra's love for Antony the mainspring of her being, the <i>causa causans</i> of her self-murder. Shakespeare does not do this; he allows the love of Antony to count with her, but it is imperious pride and hatred of degradation that compel his Cleopatra to embrace the Arch-fear. And just this same quality of pride is attributed to the "dark lady." Sonnet 131 begins:

"Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art, As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel."

Both are women of infinite cunning and small regard for faith or truth; hearts steeled with an insane pride, and violent tempers suited with scolding slanderous tongues. Prolonged analysis is not needed. A point of seeming difference between them establishes their identity. Cleopatra is beautiful, "a lass unparalleled," as Charmian calls her, and accordingly we can believe that all emotions became her, and that when hopping on the street or pretending to die she was alike be-witching; beauty has this magic. But how can all things become a woman who is not beautiful, whose face some say "hath not the power to make love groan," who cannot even blind the senses with desire? And yet the "dark lady" of the sonnets who is thus described, has the "powerful might" of personality in as full measure as Egypt's queen. The point of seeming unlikeness is as convincing as any likeness could be; the peculiarities of both women are the same and spring from the same dominant quality. Cleopatra is cunning, wily, faithless, passionately unrestrained in speech and proud as Lucifer, and so is the sonnet-heroine. We may be sure that the faithlessness, scolding, and mad vanity of his mistress were defects in Shakespeare's eyes as in ours; these, indeed, were "the things ill" which nevertheless became her. What Shakespeare loved in her was what he himself lacked or possessed in lesser degree--that dæmonic power of personality which he makes Enobarbus praise in Cleopatra and which he praises directly in the sonnet-heroine. Enobarbus says of Cleopatra:

"I saw her once
Hop forty paces through the public street, And, having lost her breath, she spoke and panted, That she did make defect perfection, And, breathless, power breathe forth."

One would be willing to wager that Shakespeare is here recalling a performance of his mistress; but it is enough for my purpose now to draw attention to the unexpectedness of the attribute "power." The sonnet fastens on the same word:

"O, from what power hast thou this powerful might With insufficiency my heart to sway?"

In the same sonnet he again dwells upon her "strength": she was bold, too, to unreason, and of unbridled tongue, for, "twice forsworn herself," she had yet urged his "amiss," though guilty of the same fault. What he admired most in her was force of character. Perhaps the old saying held in her case: <i>ex forti dulcedo</i>; perhaps her confident strength had abandonments more flattering and complete than those of weaker women; perhaps in those moments her forceful dark face took on a soulful beauty that entranced his exquisite susceptibility; perhaps--but the suppositions are infinite.

Though a lover and possessed by his mistress Shakespeare was still an artist. In the sonnets he brings out her overbearing will, boldness, pride--the elemental force of her nature; in the play, on the other hand, while just mentioning her "power," he lays the chief stress upon the cunning wiles and faithlessness of her whose trade was love. But just as Cleopatra has power, so there can be no doubt of the wily cunning--"the warrantise of skill"--of the sonnet-heroine, and no doubt her faithlessness was that "just cause of hate" which Shakespeare bemoaned.

It is worth while here to notice his perfect comprehension of the powers and limits of the different forms of his art. Just as he has used the sonnets in order to portray certain intimate weaknesses and maladies of his own nature that he could not present dramatically without making his hero ridiculously effeminate, so also he used the sonnets to convey to us the domineering will and strength of his mistress--qualities which if presented dramatically would have seemed masculine-monstrous.

By taking the sonnets and the play together we get an excellent portrait of Shakespeare's mistress. In person she was probably tall and vain of her height, as Cleopatra is vain of her superiority in this respect to Octavia, with dark complexion, black eyebrows and hair, and pitch-black eyes that mirrored emotion as the lakelet mirrors the ever-changing skies; her cheeks are "damask'd white"; her breath fragrant with health, her voice melodious, her movements full of dignity--a superb gipsy to whom beauty may be denied but not distinction.

If we have a very good idea of her person we have a still better idea of her mind and soul. I must begin by stating that I do not accept implicitly Shakespeare's angry declarations that his mistress was a mere strumpet. A nature of great strength and pride is seldom merely wanton; but the fact stands that Shakespeare makes a definite charge of faithlessness against his mistress; she is, he tells us, "the bay where all men ride"; no "several plot," but "the wide world's common place." The accusation is most explicit. But if it were well founded why should he devote two sonnets (135 and 136) to imploring her to be as liberal as the sea and to receive his love-offering as well as the tributes of others?

"Among a number one is reckon'd none Then in the number let me pass untold."

It is plain that Mistress Fitton drew away from Shakespeare after she had given herself to his friend, and this fact throws some doubt upon his accusations of utter wantonness. A true "daughter of the game," as he says in "Troilus and Cressida," is nothing but "a sluttish spoil of opportunity" who falls to Troilus or to Diomedes in turn, knowing no reserve. It must be reckoned to the credit of Mary Fitton, or to her pride, that she appears to have been faithful to her lover for the time being, and able to resist even the solicitings of Shakespeare. But her desires seem to have been her sole restraint, and therefore we must add an extraordinary lewdness to that strength, pride, and passionate temper which Shakespeare again and again attributes to her. Her boldness is so reckless that she shows her love for his friend even before Shakespeare's face; she knows no pity in her passion, and always defends herself by attacking her accuser. But she is cunning in love's ways and dulls Shakespeare's resentment with "I don't hate you." Unwilling perhaps to lose her empire over him and to forego the sweetness of his honeyed flatteries, she blinded him to her faults by occasional caresses. Yet this creature, with the soul of a strumpet, the tongue of a fishwife and the "proud heart" of a queen, was the crown and flower of womanhood to Shakespeare, his counterpart and ideal. Hamlet in love with Cleopatra, the poet lost in desire of the wanton--that is the tragedy of Shakespeare's life.

In this wonderful world of ours great dramatic writers are sure to have dramatic lives. Again and again in his disgrace Antony cries:

"Whither hast thou led me, Egypt?"

Shakespeare's passion for Mary Fitton led him to shame and madness and despair; his strength broke down under the strain and he never won back again to health. He paid the price of passion with his very blood. It is Shakespeare and not Antony who groans:

  "O this false soul of Egypt! this grave charm,--
         *       *       *       *       *
  Like a right gipsy, hath, at fast and loose,
  Beguil'd me to the very heart of loss."

Shakespeare's love for Mary Fitton is to me one of the typical tragedies of life--a symbol for ever. In its progress through the world genius is inevitably scourged and crowned with thorns and done to death; inevitably, I say, for the vast majority of men hate and despise what is superior to them: Don Quixote, too, was trodden into the mire by the swine. But the worst of it is that genius suffers also through its own excess; is bound, so to speak, to the stake of its own passionate sensibilities, and consumed, as with fire.

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