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Every thing in Chaucer has a downright reality. A simile or a sentiinent is as if it were given in upon evidence. In Shakespear the commonest matter-of-fact has a romantic grace about it; or seems to float with the breath of imagination in a freer element. No one could have more depth of feeling or observation than Chaucer, but he wanted resources of invention to lay open the stores of nature or the human heart with the same radiant light that Shakespear has done. However fine or profound the thought, we know what is coming, whereas the effect of reading Shakespear is “ like the eye of vassalage at unawares encountering majesty.” Chaucer's mind was consecutive, rather than discursive. He arrived at truth through a certain process ; Shakespear saw every thing by intuition. Chaucer had a great variety of power, but he could do only one thing at once. He set himself to work on a particular subject. His ideas were kept separate, labelled, ticketed and parcelled out in a set form, in pews and compartments by themselves. They did not play into one another's hands. They did not re-act upon one another, as the blower's breath moulds the yielding glass. There is something hard and dry in them. What is the most wonderful thing in Shakespear's faculties is their excessive sociability, and how they gossiped and compared We must conclude this criticism; and we will do it with a quotation or two. One of the most beautiful passages in Chaucer's tale is the description of Cresseide's first avowal of her love.
“ And as the new abashed nightingale, .
See also the two next stanzas, and particu. larly that divine one beginning
“Her armes small, her back both straight and soft,” &c.
Compare this with the following speech of Troilus to Cressida in the play :-..
“O, that I thought it could be in a woman;
These passages may not seem very characteristic at first sight, though we think they are so. We will give two, that cannot be mistaken. Patroclus says to Achilles,
- “ Rouse yourself; and the weak wanton Cupid Shall from your neck unloose his amorous fold, And like a dew-drop from the lion's mane, Be shook to air.”
Troilus, addressing the God of Day on the approach of the morning that parts him from Cressida, says with much scorn,
- What! proffer'st thou thy light here for to sell ? Go sell it them that smallé selés grave.”
If nobody but Shakespear could have written the former, nobody but Chaucer would have thought of the latter.-Chaucer was the most literal of poets, as Richardson was of prosewriters.
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.
This is a very noble play. Though not in the first class of Shakespear's productions, it stands next to them, and is, we think, the finest of his historical plays, that is, of those in which he made poetry the organ of history, and assumed a certain tone of character and sentiment, in conformity to known facts, instead of trusting to his observations of general nature or to the unlimited indulgence of his own fancy. What he has added to the actual story, is upon a par with it. His genius was, as it were, a match for history as well as nature, and could grapple at will with either. The play is full of that pervading comprehensive power by which the poet could always make himself master of time and circumstances. It presents a fine picture of Roman pride and Eastern magnificence: and in
world seems suspended," like the swan's downfeather,
“ That stands upon the swell at full of tide,
The characters breathe, move, and live. Shakespear does not stand reasoning on what his characters would do or say, but at once becomes them, and speaks and acts for them. He does not present us with groups of stage-puppets of poetical machines making set speeches on human life, and acting from a calculation of problematical motives, but he brings living men and women on the scene, who speak and act from real feelings, according to the ebbs and flows of passion, without the least tincture of pedantry of logic or rhetoric. Nothing is made out by inference and analogy, by climax and antithesis, but every thing takes place just as it would have done in reality, according to the occasion. The character of Cleopatra is a master-piece. What an extreme contrast it affords to Imogen! One would think it almost impossible for the same person to have drawn both. She is voluptuous, ostentatious, conscious, boastful of her charms, haughty, tyrannical, fickle. The luxurious pomp and gorgeous extravagance of the Egyptian queen are displayed in all their