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waiting until he knows the name of the father; then he arrives all of a sudden, means to kill her, but so that she shall taste the lees of death. She must suffer much, but above all, she must not die too quickly! She must suffer in mind; these griefs are worse than the body's. He sends assassins to kill Antonio, and meanwhile comes to her in the dark, with affectionate words; pretends to be reconciled, and suddenly shows her waxen figures, covered with wounds, whom she takes for her slaughtered husband and children. She staggers under the blow, and remains in gloom without crying out. Then she says:
“Good comfortable fellow,
Persuade a wretch that's broke upon the wheel
Bosola. Come, be of comfort, I will save your life.
Duchess. Indeed, I have not leisure to tend
B. Now, by my life, I pity you.
D. Thou art a fool, then,
As cannot pity itself. I am full of daggers." Slow words, spoken in a whisper, as in a dream, or as if she were speaking of a third person. Her brother sends to her a company of madmen, who leap and howl and rave around her in mournful wise; a pitiful sight, calculated to unseat the reason; a kind of foretaste of hell. She says nothing, looking upon them; her heart is dead, her eyes fixed, with vacant stare:
“ Cariola. What think you of, madam ?
Duchess. Of nothing:
C. Like a madman, with your eyes open ?
D. Dost thou think we shall know one another
C. Yes, out of question.
D. O that it were possible we might
2 Ibid, iv. 2.
1 Duchess of Malfi, iv. I. VOL. I.
In this state, the limbs, like those of one who has been newly executed, still quiver, but the sensibility is worn out; the miserable body only stirs mechanically; it has suffered too much. At last the gravedigger comes with executioners, a coffin, and they sing before her a funeral dirge:
“Duchess. Farewell, Cariola
syrup for his cold, and let the girl
Bosola. Strangling; here are your executioners.
D. I forgive them :
After the mistress the maid; the latter cries and struggles :
6 Cariola. I will not die; I must not; I am contracted
Ist. Executioner. Here's your wedding-ring.
C. If you kill me now,
B. When ? 2
C. am quick with child." 3 They strangle her also, and the two children of the duchess. Antonio is assassinated; the cardinal and his mistress, the duke and his confidant, are poisoned or butchered; and the solemn words of the dying, in the midst of this butchery, utter, as from funereal trumpets, a general curse upon existence:
6. We are only like dead walls or vaulted graves,
"In all our quest of greatness,
Like wanton boys, whose pastime is their care,
1 Duchess of Malfi, iv. 2.
2 “When,” an exclamation of impatience, equivalent to “make haste,” very comnion among the old English dramatists.-TR.
3 Duchess of Malfi, iv, 2.
4 Ibid. v. 5.
We follow after bubbles blown in the air.
Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust.” 1
We can well imagine what powerful characters are necessary to sustain these terrible dramas. All these personages are ready for extreme acts; their resolves break forth like blows of a sword; we follow, meet at every change of scene their glowing eyes, wan lips, the starting of their muscles, the tension of their whole frame. Their powerful will contracts their violent hands, and their accumulated passion breaks out in thunderbolts, which tear and ravage all around them, and in their own hearts. We know them, the heroes of this tragic population, Iago, Richard III., Lady Macbeth, Othello, Coriolanus, Hotspur, full of genius, courage, desire, generally mad or criminal, always self-driven to the tomb. There are as many around Shakespeare as in his own works. Let me exhibit one character more, written by the same dramatist, Webster. No one, except Shakespeare, has seen further into the depths of diabolical and unchained nature. The “White Devil" is the name which he gives to his heroine. His Vittoria Corombona receives as her lover the Duke of Brachiano, and at the first interview dreams of the issue:
“To pass away the time, I'll tell your grace
A dream I had last night.” It is certainly well related, and still better chosen, of deep meaning and very clear import. Her brother Flaminio says, aside:
“Excellent devil ! she hath taught him in a dream
To make away his duchess and her husband.” 2 So, her husband, Camillo, is strangled, the Duchess poisoned, and Vittoria, accused of the two crimes, is brought before the tribunal. Step by step, like a soldier brought to bay with his back against a wall, she defends herself, refuting and defying advocates and judges, incapable of blenching or quailing, clear in mind, ready in word, amid insults and proofs, even menaced
1 Duchess of Malfii, v. 4
2 Vittoria Corombona, i. 2.
with death on the scaffold. The advocate begins to speak in Latin.
“ Vittoria. Pray my lord, let him speak his usual tongue;
V. I do, sir; but amongst this auditory
She wants a duel, bare-breasted, in open day, and challenges the advocate:
“I am at the mark, sir : I'll give aim to you,
And tell you how near you shoot.” She mocks his legal phraseology, insults him, with biting irony:
“Surely, my lords, this lawyer here hath swallow'd
Some pothecaries' bills, or proclamations;
Why, this is Welsh to Latin."
“To the point,
The filth returns in's face.” 1
blow: a parry and a thrust :
“But take you your course: it seems you have beggar'd me first,
ls, and a poor remnant of crusadoes :
Would those would make you charitable !”
“In faith, my lord, you might go pistol flies;
They condemn her to be shut up in a house of convertites :
1 Webster Dyce, 1857, Vittoria Corombona, p. 20–21.
6 V. A house of convertites! What's that ?
V. Do the noblemen in Rome
The sarcasm comes home like a sword-thrust; then another behind it; then cries and curses. She will not bend, she will not weep. She goes off erect, bitter and more haughty than ever:
“I will not weep;
V. It shall not be a house of convertites;
Than thy soul, though thou art a cardinal." Against her furious lover, who accuses her of unfaithfulness, she is as strong as against her judges; she copes with him, casts in his teeth the death of his duchess, forces him to beg pardon, to marry her; she will play the comedy to the end, at the pistol's mouth, with the shamelessness and courage of a courtesan and an empress; 3 snared at last, she will be just as brave and more insulting when the dagger's point threatens her:
“Yes, I shall welcome death
And then thou wilt be famous.” 4 When a woman unsexes herself, her actions transcend man's, and there is nothing which she will not suffer or dare.
Opposed to this band of tragic characters, with their distorted features, brazen fronts, combative attitudes, is a troop of sweet and timid figures, pre-eminently tender-hearted, the most graceful and loveworthy whom it has been given to man to depict. In Shakespeare you will meet them in Miranda, Juliet, Desde
2 lbid. p. 24.
i Vittoria Corombona, iii. 2, p. 23.
4 Vittoria Corombona, v. last scene, pp. 49–50.