On Romeo and Juliet

“Ueber Shakespeare’s Romeo und Julia.”
Die Horen (1797) 10, no. 6, 18—48. [*]

The following translation of this essay by Julius Charles Hare, albeit published anonymously, appeared as

“A. W. Schlegel on Shakspeare’s Romeo and Juliet;
with Remarks upon the Character of German Criticism.”
Ollier’s Literary Miscellany in Prose and Verse by several hands.
To be continued occasionally
, no. I (London 1820) 1–39.

In his essay “Shakespearean Character Study to 1800,” [1] John Bligh remarks concerning the theory of “organicism” that emerged at the time:

The relevance of this theory to Shakespearian criticism was quickly seen by A. W. Schlegel: the critic should look at a play as an organic whole and try to show how each scene and each character fits into the organism, or harmonizes with the overall tone. In an essay, “Romeo und Julia,” published in Schiller’s periodical Die Horen, 1797, Schlegel, applying the new method, shows among other things that the qualities given to the minor characters are dictated by the total design of the play. . . . It is no less regrettable than amazing that this epoch-making essay, which inaugurated a new era in Shakespearian criticism, should have passed into oblivion.

The text of Wilhelm and Caroline’s essay proper begins on p. 15 after Hare’s preliminary comments on the “character of German criticism.” Footnotes are here identified as being from Wilhelm Schlegel, Julius Charles Hare, or the present editor. Pages 37 and 38 (parts of pp. 45–47 in the original article in Die Horen) seem to have been omitted in Ollier’s Literary Miscellany through a printer’s error (unfortunately, only one copy, in the British Library, seems to be extant in any case); the translation of those pages is my own and is indicated in the pagination; the original text of those pages in Die Horen does not differ from that reprinted in the Charakteristiken und Kritiken (Julius Charles Hare, as he will point out, used that latter text as the basis for his translation) except in orthography and one prepositional change, none of which affect the meaning.


Julius Charles Hare
A. W. Schlegel on Shakspeare’s Romeo and Juliet;
with Remarks upon the Character of German Criticism

|1| “Romeo and Juliet,” says A. W. Schlegel, in his Lectures upon Dramatic Art,

“is a picture of love, and of its mournful destiny in a world, the atmosphere of which is too rough for this tenderest blossom of human existence. Two beings formed for one another become each all to the other at the first sight; every consideration disappears before the irresistible impulse to live in one another; they unite themselves secretly amidst opposing circumstances relying solely upon the protection of the unseen powers. By hostile events that follow blow upon blow, their heroic truth is within a few days put to the trial, till, forcibly separated, by a voluntary death they reunite themselves in the grave and beyond the grave. All this is to be found already in the beautiful story, which Shakspeare has not invented, and which, told in the most simple manner, will always excite a tender interest. But it was reserved for Shakspeare to combine purity of heart and glow of imagination, grace and dignity of manners and passionate impetuosity, in one ideal picture. Through his treatment it has become a noble song of praise on that unspeakable feeling, which raises the soul to the highest pitch and transfigures the senses themselves into soul, and at the same |2| time a melancholy elegy on its perishableness by reason of its own nature and of outward circumstances; at once the deification and the funeral procession of love. Love appears here as a heavenly spark, which falling down upon earth changes itself into a thunderbolt, by which mortal creatures are almost in the same moment kindled and consumed. Whatever is intoxicating in the breath of a southern spring, yearning in the song of the nightingale, voluptuous in the first blossoming of the rose, breathes from this poem. But still more rapidly than the earliest bloom of youth and beauty dies away, does it hasten on from the first timidly bold wooing and modest acknowledgment to the most boundless devotion, to an irrevocable union; then amidst alternating storms of rapture and despaire to the death of both the lovers, which still appears enviable, because their love outlives them, and because they by their death have gained a triumph over all the powers that separated them. What is the sweetest and what is most bitter, love and hatred, festivals of joy and gloomy forebodings, tender embraces and the graves of the dead, fulness of life and self-destruction, stand here close beside one another; and all these opposites are so melted together into the unity of the total impression in this harmonious and wonderful work, that the after-sound which the whole leaves behind it in the mind resembles one only but one endless sigh.

“The excellent dramatic arrangement, the significance of each character in its place, the wise choice of all, down to the minutest subordinate circumstance, I have developed at length in a work already referred to, and will not repeat myself. I will only call attention to one feature there overlooked, which may serve as an example, how Shakspeare laid his train long beforehand. The most striking and perhaps most incredible circumstance in the |3| whole story is the potion which the monk gives to Juliet, in consequence of which she during many hours not only sleeps, but appears as though altogether dead, without its injuring her. Now how does the poet make us disposed to believe that Friar Laurence possesses such a secret? He shows him to us at his first appearance in a garden, where he is collecting herbs, and makes reflections upon their wonderful virtues. The speech of the pious old man is full of deep meaning; he behold in nature every where symbols of the moral world; the same wisdom wherewith he sees through her has taught him to know the human heart. In this manner an opposing, of at least apparently thankless circumstance, has become the source of great beauty.”

The detailed criticism upon Romeo and Juliet to which Schlegel here alludes appeared first in the Horen, a journal conducted by Schiller during the years 1794 and 1795 [correct: 1795–1797]; to which, and to Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre, and to Goethe’s romance of Wilhelm Meister, published about the same time, German critics are wont to refer, as to the works which gave the first impulse to the new school of their national literature. It was afterwards reprinted in 1801, and forms one of the many excellent critical essays collected in the Charakteristiken und Kritiken; in which collection, and in their journal, the Athenaeum, published in 1798, 1799, and 1800, the illustrious brothers Augustus-William and Frederic Schlegel exerted themselves with an energy rarely parallelled to diffuse thought amongst their countrymen, and to awaken their thinking powers. For such a purpose these works were admirably adapted, and it is still impossible to find better touchstones and whetstones of intellect, writings better fitted to strengthen the faculties, and to prepare and equip them for the |4| consideration of those mighty questions, which are now agitating the European mind. In these works also the brothers laid the foundations of that art of criticism, which they may almost claim to themselves the honour of having raised from a collection of dogmatical or empirical maxims unto the dignity of a scientific art. It is from this corrected reprint that the following translation has been made.

To estimate properly the merits of this criticism, the reader should recall to his mind what was the state of public opinion, and what that of writing critics, concerning Shakspeare twenty-five years ago. For it is the nature of genius to assimilate unto itself the elements by which it is surrounded, and it is the characteristic by which true discoveries are distinguished from spurious fictions, that the gloss of novelty is ever more and more wearing away from them. But if we compare the following observations with such as were at that time in vogue, we shall soon perceive how great is the interval between them, and shall acknowledge that to A. W. Schlegel belongs the honour of having first duly asserted the claims of Shakspeare to that entire supremacy in art, which is his unquestionable right. Much no doubt had been effected by Lessing towards weeding out the senseless critical dogmas with which the garden of poetry was at that time choked up; but Lessing’s mind, subtle and powerful as it was, owing to the perpetual hostilities in which it was engaged with the shallow intellects that came in contact with it, and to the universality of its researches, which prevented it from developing any one of its faculties to perfection, continued to be during the greater part of his life chiefly, if not merely, negative; and it may even be doubted, whether he naturally possessed a sufficiently receptive imagination for the full understanding of poetry. Even |5| the restless activity of his intellect may be said to have incapacitated Lessing for becoming a critic of the highest class; for in the perception and equally so in the composition of poetry there is an ever-recurring mysterious alternation of activity and passiveness; a patient watching for and catching at the inspiration poured into us either by our own genius or by the genius of others, as well as a shaping and moulding of that inspiration in the forms of our own minds: and of the passive constituent of the imagination Lessing was either entirely destitute, or had been led by the circumstances of his life to give such a preponderance to the active, as crushed and overwhelmed the other. Hence we find in his critical works, which besides, it is to be remembered, do not belong to the latest and most highly developed period of his life, that though Lessing was one of the most strenuous of idoloclasts, and unlike most idoloclasts retained no lurking partialities for idols of his own, yet from the nature of his mind and the character of his age he was compelled to substitute other idols for those he had overthrown. He completely exposed the fallacy and shallowness of the arbitrary dogmas of the French school of criticism; but he could not refrain from establishing other dogmas equally arbitrary in their room. Instead of deducing the laws of poetry, according to the process of true philosophical criticism and of all sound philosophy, out of poetry itself, by which procedure alone it is possible to understand and to arrange into one harmonious universe the different forms under which poetry has in various nations and ages manifested itself; the want of passiveness for the reception of these forms, and the superabundant activity of his mind made him attempt to reduce them all under an arbitrary principle of so-termed naturalness, the necessary consequence of which was, (and Lessing was too sincere a reasoner to evade |6| the consequences of his principles) the exclusion of metre, and of every thing that distinguishes what is called poetical from what is called real life, from the drama. Herein Lessing’s principles coincided upon the whole with those by which Diderot was about the same time attempting to revolutionize the French stage; and herein Lessing must be regarded as the involuntary precursor of Kotzebue and Iffland. Had he however lived longer, or had not the latter years of his life been so entirely occupied by philosophy and theology, as to allow him little time for the consideration of the fine arts, it is more than probable that his active intellect would have achieved its mightiest task, that of overcoming itself, and of submitting itself to the sovereignty of nature.

Herder’s mind was in this respect the very antithesis to Lessing’s, and what he said concerning Shakspeare proceeded from one who, a poet himself, delighted in the contemplation of poetry under every form. Goethe’s scattered observations in Wilhelm Meister are also worthy of the greatest master of art whom Europe has seen since the days of him who is their subject. Wieland translated some plays, but the German Voltaire was incapable of conceiving his original; and the same incapacity was there in Eschenburg, as is sufficiently evinced by his having attempted to render all the acknowledged plays into prose. In both departments, as translator and as critic, A. W. Schlegel has shewn himself to be the worthy herald of the mighty monarch, and it is chiefly owing to the light which he has diffused, that his countrymen are now accustomed to assert, that Shakspeare is understood only in Germany. Nor can it be denied that the Lectures upon Dramatic Art comprehend incomparably the truest, ablest, and fullest delineation of England’s chief glory, which has hitherto issued from the press. Many other works |7| contain admirable scattered observations, to which we intend hereafter to call the attention of our readers, as the explanation of Shakspeare will ever be regarded as one of our principal duties; and the long and anxiously expected work of Tieck [2] would promise to exhaust the subject, were Shakspeare no inexhaustible.

As to the assertion we have frequently seen, that Shakspeare is not understood in England, it must, we fear, be allowed that the knowledge and just appreciation of Shakspeare, as a poet, are not so general and influential in English as they are in German literature; but yet single voices have been heard, though we fear their number would scarcely have been sufficient to have saved Sodom from condemnation. The conversion of our two principal reviews into mere engines of party, and the ignorance of all sound principles of criticism which they usually display, when they accidentally deviate into the regions of poetry, have done much injury to the character of our literature among foreign nations; and it is concluded that the country, which can set up no better chiefs, can scarcely possess any better citizens. This is not however altogether the case. Mr. Hazlitt’s Characters of Shakspeare’s Plays [1817], like all his critical works, amidst heaps of extravagance, contain much that is good; and especially since the appearance of the translation from |8| Schlegel’s lectures, there is a better spirit gone abroad, manifesting itself in some of our magazines, journals, and even newspapers, which, unless the higher reviews prudently vivify their effete limbs by quaffing a little youthful blood, must ere long lay them in their graves. But all that we can adduce in answer to this charge against our country, with any thing like entire satisfaction, are the scattered critical observations in the second volume of Mr. Lamb’s works. Would that Coleridge would collect all his energies for a short time, and would thoroughly wipe off this blot from our country by the publication of his lectures! It is however time now to notice him to whom England is ever bound to listen with something of grateful attention.

Nor in truth is there much cause to fear, that even now, after an interval of five and twenty years, want of novelty will be laid to the charge of the following observations, at least in this country; though, were it so, there is no glory which can result from his labours, that would be regarded by their author as a more welcome proof of their triumphant success. True indeed it is, that the principles which are here applied to the development of the organization of a single play are the very same, according to which the author in his lectures has so successfully classified the dramatic systems of various countries; and more especially in this age of conflicting opinions, when all the elements of thought seem to be jostling in almost chaotic confusion; and when nearly every individual mind, reflecting the character of its age, is a similar chaotic mixture of contradictory notions, that rush against and overthrow one another by turns; so that the only hope of peace seems to lie either in the absolute rejection of all thought, or in the concentration of our intellects upon one definite object, to the determined exclusion of all that |9| would allure us from it; that is, in Lord Bacon’s phraseology, in the quiet worship of the idols either of the forum or in the theatre, — in such an age, it is a most comfortable sight to discover a mind which, notwithstanding the liberality and universality of its researches, is still enabled to preserve its consistency. Still however, though the germs of the present criticism be contained in the dramatic lectures, its minute and detailed analysis of particulars forms a useful supplement to the more general outlines, which from the limits within which the author was confined, on account of the extensiveness of his subject, are all that he is there able to convey. And it is most instructive, at a time when the prevalent notion of a poem is that of a multitude, the greater the better, of pretty expressions, and pretty images, and pretty speeches, and pretty descriptions, and pretty — characters, that come together, how and wherefore neither the poet nor the critic know, — to behold unfolded to us, in the manner in which it is here done, how the multiform springs out of the uniform; how the seminal principle of every true poem is One, out of which the characters and incidents and images and expressions grow, in the same manner in which the branches and leaves and flowers of a tree grow from its seed. But so little is this fitness, yea this necessity of each part of a poem recognized at present, that the sole object is to crowd effect upon effect, burst of passion upon burst of passion, the compatibility of incompatibility of which with each other is never even for a moment thought of; and were Shakspeare to rise from his grave, and to witness some of the representations of what are called his plays, (but that his invincible good humour would convert his bitterness into mirth) he would turn away in disgust from the nosegays of strong-scented |10| flowers, so mingled of the blooming and fading, that usurp the spot where his living plants used to blow.

There is furthermore something extremely fortunate in the choice of the play to be illustrated. It would at first sight appear incomprehensible, did not history withhold us from marvelling at any aberrations of human nature from itself, however unnatural, that the exquisite beauty of Romeo and Juliet should not be universally acknowledged. It would seem to be the play that above all others possesses the qualities, which most irresistibly awaken sympathy. Yet to such an extent has society bewildered itself in the labyrinths of its own construction, such a stranger is it become to the beauties of natural truth, so entirely has it forgotten the riches of nature’s landscapes, which it determines within itself can be only barren and rugged and frightful deserts, that it is not uncommon to hear persons, in other respects simple-minded as the world goes, say that Romeo and Juliet is “all about love and such nonsense.” Truly selfishness and its first-begotten hatred must have fearfully taken possession of human nature, when love is thus quietly sneered away. Even when tardy justice is at length done to some of Shakspeare’s other female characters, to Juliet, whose innocence and purity Schlegel in true chivalrous spirit avouches, it is refused, and she is called a wanton. The theory of those mystics, who have asserted the sexual passion to have been the original sin, is carried to such an extent, that every thing connected therewith is decreed to be sinful, and they, who have no conception of love but as lust, can find nothing but lust in love. But God has so framed our nature, that the blessed passion, which the petulance of the human understanding perverted by sin now censures as vicious, now scoffs at as absurd, still doth |11| reign, and will ever continue to reign supreme. We some time since saw a labouring countryman, who being accidentally brought up to London was sent by his mistress to the theatre. A night with a showy afterpiece was selected, but the first play happened to be Romeo and Juliet. The afterpiece he said was “very find indeed,” but it was the deep tragedy, “so very deep,” before it, about which he poured forth the fulness of his heart, and it will be that very deep tragedy, we feel assured, of which he will tell his children in after days. This, as Wordsworth said on seeing a torn copy of the Seasons lying on the floor of a cottage, is fame.

We cannot conclude without a few words on some of the qualities of style, by which the critical works of Augustus Schlegel, as well as of his brother Frederic, are characterized, and by which they are completely distinguished from almost all, even the best, critics of other countries. The first and most important, and that which is the source of all the others, is what has been already alluded to,—their different procedure in the analysis of the productions of literature and art, the different organ of perception with which they regard them. It is from their having contributed above all others to the development and cultivation of this organ, that their names will be most gratefully remembered by posterity. It is chiefly to them that posterity will be indebted for the power which it will possess of considering a work of art no longer as an accumulation of fragments put together according to mechanical rules, but as a living organical individual, containing the conditions of its existence in its own seminal idea, and constituting on account of its very living individuality a member of a living universe. Criticism will no longer be, as it is most frequently at present, a collection of disjointed observations, various in their |12| merit, upon any topic whatsoever that can possibly be suggested by the work upon which it is employed; no longer a gathering together of certain dull or certain beautiful passages, as the grounds of censure or praise, which beautiful passages are not seldom, on account of the very prominence which induces the critic to select them, rather deformities and excrescences in the work regarded as a whole; but its business, when it is employed upon a single work, will be to effect, what is effected in the present criticism on Romeo and Juliet, — to discover the seminal principle, the detection of which along can make the whole poem intelligible, and then watchfully to follow the process of the creative power lodged in that principle, as it gradually expands itself, until in the fullness of its blossoming it “dedicates its beauty to the sun.” We recur thus for ever to the same illustration, because the adoption of others, such as the key-stone of an arch, &c., might be misunderstood as sanctioning the false and mischievous notion of the mechanical construction of works of art; and because the aid, which has thus been contributed towards the diffusion of that false and mischievous notion, is not the least evil that has arisen out of the necessities of language to make use of imperfect and inadequate metaphors.

The other characteristic of the style of these two illustrious brothers, that seems to require notice, is the almost entire absence of all the tawdry ornaments and all the excursive declamation, to indulge in which the critic finds himself so often tempted. This, as has been already observed, proceeds from the former. The same principles of fitness and necessity, which form their rule of judgment upon the works of others, are active in their own; and in the following pages for instance there are very few sentences that could be erased, without detracting from the |13| entireness of the representation of Shakspeare’s beautiful tragedy, which it is their main object to give. But of what piece of English criticism can any thing like this be said? The introductory observations are usually such as seem to have no conceivable ground for their existence of collocation, except that it was necessary for the writer to say something and to begin somehow: the succeeding page seems to follow for the same reason, and so on, till the critic bethinks himself that it is now time to turn to the book he is reviewing. Some of these observations may be ingenious, some dull; but they are almost all impertinent. The account of the book which is then given is the only part of the review which has any business where it is, and even that is executed in a most skillesss manner. If for instance the subject be a narrative poem, a detail of the facts is given, but it is a mere invoice of those facts from which their poetical spirit has evaporated; and the whole is summed up with a few scattered observations, which most fully deserve their name, and resemble nothing more than the stragglers in the rear of an army. Another trick among the cleverer workmen in the craft is the dispensing with all excepting the aforesaid scattered observations, which are thrown about on every side, with the cunning profusion of one who, on the verge of bankruptcy, endeavours in this manner to conceal his distress; and all possible topics of discussion are mobbed together, not for any purpose of explaining or illustrating the author or subject, but in order to make the simple reader stare with wonder at the extent and variety of the reviewer’s acquirements. Nor can even he, who of all our countrymen is most deeply initiated in the mysteries of art, be wholly freed from this censure. Whoever has been an auditor of Mr. Coleridge’s Critical Lectures will, unless at least he was unworthy to hear them, |14| acknowledge himself to have been often delighted and enlightened by the bright ideas which are ever and anon running over from his seething mind. But that powerful and teeming intellect seems so destitute of self-controul, so incapable of that highest exercise of self-controul, self-denial, so unable to restrain its own faculties in due subordination, that it can never, except momentarily and by fits and starts, forget itself in and identify itself with its object, can never wed itself unto it with that fidelity and devotion which are essential to perfect love, upon which constant and holy marriage alone the spirit of nature pronounces its blessing, and accords the promise of an offspring that shall endure from generation to generation.

The train of causes, out of which this national incapacity for either the production or the perception of that which is pure and simple and perfect in art has arisen, the present is not the time for investigating, nor for inquiring into what course of medicinal discipline a sound philosophy would prescribe in order to eradicate the disease. But there will be many opportunities of recurring to this discussion hereafter. For this disorder and derangement of the imagination and understanding is only one of the manifestations of the universal malady by which the whole of human nature in its present stage is more or less afflicted, only one of the phases of the evil principle in man, one of the apostasies from nature and truth, which the selfishness of the heart and the self-sufficiency of the head have combined to produce. This may appear to be a lofty tone in which to speak of such a failing; and it would be so, did not the canker in the blossom owe its origin to the rottenness at the core. But the sources of so general a corruption must lie deep. To root it out of their own hearts, and out of the hearts of their fellow men, is one of the most important and arduous duties which now weighs upon them, unto |15| whom heaven has uttered the command to go forth and instruct their brethren. For even they, even the best of them, connot [sic] claim an exemption from the contagious sin of the age. And very far indeed are we from making any pretensions unto it for ourselves; so very far, that we have often felt tempted, while translating the following pages, to intersperse them with proofs how easy it would have been for Schlegel to have written ill, that is, according to the vulgar notion, finely; and it required no small exercise of self-denial to refrain from exhibiting to our readers the number of good things we could have said, which have nothing to do with Romeo and Juliet. But lest we should appear to have merely transferred out booths into another region of Vanity Fair, we will here pause; and we should perhaps even summon up courage to erase the preceding paragraphs, but for the conviction that it is chiefly owing to the severity and compression of his style, and to his omission of the usual accompaniments of notes of admiration to point out to his readers the many wonderful things he is communicating to them, that the lectures of Frederic Schlegel have failed of producing that effect in this country, which their deep philosophy, of which we stand so much in need, would otherwise render so beneficial. — We hope that the following guide through the beauties of Romeo and Juliet may not also stand in need of a guide unto itself!

[Beginning of Wilhelm and Caroline Schlegel’s review]

Great importance has been attached to the circumstance, that Shakspeare has taken the story which forms the ground-work of this play just as he found it, even in minute particulars, without any invention of his own. And in truth this does appear to me to be remarkable, but in another point of view. The poet, who, without making even distant pretensions to the subject matter, employed the whole force of his genius in reducing it into form, |16| must without doubt have regarded this as alone constituting the essence of his business, or he must have feared that together with all property in the subject matter he must have resigned every claim to merit. He had consequently more refined, more spiritual conceptions of the dramatic art, than are commonly wont to be ascribed to him. And moreover the degree of cultivation attained by the spectators, for whom Shakspeare wrought up so generally known and popular a tale (for such it then was) into a drama, will be very favourably estimated by us, when we thus see that they did not require to be excited by novelty of incident, but looked rather to the manner than to the matter. Perhaps it might be shewn with sufficient probability from many indications, that the English of that age, in spite of their ignorance and a certain roughness of manners, had more poetical feeling and a greater freedom of imagination, than ever after.

In many other plays Shakspeare, as to what concerns the course of events, has followed some old chronicle or a bad translation of Plutarch or a novel with the same scrupulous fidelity as in Romeo. Where he only makes use of hints, or appears to have exerted his own independent invention, it is probable that we have not yet traced him to the right sources, and perhaps in the course of time they may have been lost. In this respect the last editors (Stevens and Malone) especially have made so many discoveries which had previously been overlooked, that much may still be expected, if the search be continued with their inquisitive accuracy. The history of Romeo and Juliet was taken by Bandello, Boisteau and Belleforest into their collections of novels, from the original narrative of Luigi da Porta. [3] There were also before |17| Shakspear’s time several versions of the same into English. That which, as is now made out, he had, if not exclusively, yet especially before his eyes, is called, The Tragicall Hystory of Romeus and Juliet: contayning in it |18| a rare Example of True Constancie, &c. and is in verse. On account of its rarity Malone has had it reprinted at the end of the tragedy, so that every body now may institute a comparison between them. Shakespeare has no reason to fear it. There can be nothing more diffuse, more wearisome than this rhyming history, which his genius, “like richest alchymy, has changed to beauty and to worthiness.” Nothing but the delight of more clearly seeing into this wonderful metamorphosis can compensate for the laborious task of reading through more than three thousand six and seven-footed iambics, which, in respect of every thing that amuses, affects and enraptures us in the play, are a mere blank leaf. However dry the brevity with which they are narrated, the unhappy fates of the two lovers will still always tough the heart and the imagination; but here all interest is entirely smothered under the coarse, heavy pretensions of an elaborate exposition. How much was to be cleared away, before life and a soul could be breathed into the shapeless mass! In many parts what is here given bears the same relation to what Shakspeare has made out of it, which any common description of a thing bears to the thing itself. Thus out of the following hint:

A courtier, that eche where was highly had in pryce,
For he was courteous of his speche and pleasant of devise:
Even as a lyon would emong the lambes be bolde,
Such was emong the bashfull maydes Mercutio to beholde: —

and the addition that the said Mercutio had from his swathing-bands constantly had cold hands, has arisen a splendid character decked out with the utmost profusion of wit. One must insist very strongly upon the notion of a creation out of nothing, if one allow not this to pass for a true creation. Not to mention a number of nicer deviations, we find also some important incidents from the |19| invention of the poet, for instance, the meeting and the combat between Paris and Romeo at Juliet’s grave. Even however granting that every circumstance, down to the logs that Capulet’s servants drag in for the preparation of the wedding-feast, had been placed ready arranged before him, and its retention had been prescribed, it would be only the more wonderful, that with his hands thus tied he knew how to transform by enchantment letters into spirit, a workman’s daub into a poetical masterpiece.

Shakspeare’s wonted attachment to something pre-existing cannot be altogether accounted for from the notion which he might perhaps have entertained, that this was his duty, still less from a mere necessity; for at times he has freely enough remodelled, whatever appeared to him to be unsuitable in the original disposition of the events, and has given splendid proofs of his invention, especially in comic situations. What wealth and what ease he had, we know: might not his very exuberance render selection and arrangement difficult, were he to roam through the illimitable region of poetry with no restraint but his own will? Did he not perhaps want some outward limitation, to be beneficently conscious of the freedom of his genius? Within his borrowed fable he always erects a higher, more spiritual structure, wherein his individuality reveals itself. May not even the strangeness of the raw material have furnished occasion for many beauties, while its various parts, only connected together by coarser bands, acquire an internal unity through the mode of their treatment? And this unity, where it is found together with apparent contradictions, is the very source of that wonderful spirit, from which we are ever eliciting new secrets, and which we never grow weary in attempting to fathom.

The last observation has more reference to some other |20| plays than to Romeo. Romeo, though full of deep meaning, is highly simple; there are no riddles in it to be decyphered. That Shakespeare, as well by his definite limitation of the action so that it is easily comprehended at a glance, as by an involution of incidents that excites not only interest but even curiosity, has satisfied the mere technical requisitions as to the mechanism of the drama, more than he is mostly accustomed to do, is a foreign and an accidental merit; for it lay in the novel, and yet it certainly was not this characteristic that recommended it to him as fit for dramatic developement. The compression of the time in which the incidents take place belongs less to the external accidents; it arises from the impetuous stream of the passions. The play ends with the morning of the sixth day, while in the narrative every thing trails along at distant intervals. Yet we must not calculate these details too accurately in Shakspeare, who manages them with an heroic negligence, and among other things makes Lady Capulet, who in the first act is a young woman not yet thirty, suddenly talk in the last of her old age.

The enmity between the two families is the hinge upon which the whole turns; with it therefore the exposition very properly begins. The spectator must have seen its breakings out, to know what an insuperable hindrance it is to the union of the lovers. The animosity of the masters has somewhat coarse but strong representatives in the servants; it shews to what extent the feud reaches, when these silly fellows cannot meet in the streets, without immediately falling into a quarrel. Romeo’s love for Rosalind forms the other half of the exposition. This has been a stumbling-block to many, and Garrick has cleared it away in his alteration. I cannot consent to have it taken from me: it is as it were the overture to the musical |21| series of moments, which all develope themselves out of that first one, in which Romeo sees Juliet. The piece would, not considered with reference to the action, but lyrically (and its whole charm resides in the tender inspiration which it breathes) be imperfect, if it did not comprehend the origin of his passion for her. Are we however to see him at the beginning in an indifferent mood? How is his first appearance elevated by his being already separated from the cold realities that surround him, by his being a wanderer upon the holy ground of the imagination. The tender anxiety of his parents, his restless pining, his moody sorrow, his enthusiastic attachment to solitude, every thing about him announces the favourite and the victim of love. His youth is like a stormy day in spring, where a heavy atmosphere overhangs the most beautiful, most luxuriant blossoms. Will his sudden fickleness avert our interest from him? Do we not rather deduce from the instantaneous conquest of his first attachment, which had previously appeared so powerful, the omnipotence of the new impression? Romeo at least belongs not to the triflers, whose passion is only heated by their hopes, and yet on its gratification grows cold. Devoted without the prospect of a return, he flies the opportunity of turning his heart upon other objects, which Benvolio advises him to seek; and without a destiny, which leads him with opposing forebodings to the ball in Capulet’s house, he might still have long sighed for Rosalind. He sees Juliet, his lot in life is decided. The first was only a purposely cherished deceit, a vision of futurity, the dream of a yearning heart. The more tender entireness, the holier sincerity of his second passion, which yet is in truth his first, is described so that it cannot be mistaken. There he wonders at the contradictions of love, that like a strange garment sits not naturally upon him; here love is become |22| too much one with his being, for him to be any longer able to distinguish himself from it. There he paints his hopeless sufferings in ingenious antitheses; here the dread of the separation reduces him to the wildest despair, yea, almost to madness. His love for Juliet vents not itself in idle enthusiasm; it acts in him with the most resolute earnestness. That he ventures his life, to speak to her in the garden on the night after the ball, is little; the difficulties which oppose their union are not thought of; if she be but his, he bids defiance to every suffering.

Juliet must not have thought of love, before she sees Romeo; it is the first unfolding of the maidenly bud. Her choice is likewise instantaneous —

“Amor’ ul cor gentil ratto s’apprende:” –

but it holds for everlasting. It would be impossible to regard her as nothing further than a thoughtless maiden, who in the throng of indefinite excitements, of which she becomes for the first time conscious, stumbles it matters not upon what object. We believe with the two lovers that here no illusion can have place, that their good spirit leads them to one another. In Juliet’s resignment of herself there is yet a godlike freedom visible. Be not angry with her that she is so easily won; she is so young and artless, she knows of no other innocence, than without dissimulation to obey the call of her inmost heart. In Romeo there is nothing that can scare back her tenderness, or injure the delicate requisitions of a soul truly penetrated with love. She speaks openly to him and to herself; she speaks not under the controul of her senses, but only utters, what the most modest being may think. Without restraint she confesses to herself the impatient expectation wherewith she on the next evening looks for her lover; for she feels that graceful womanliness will be at her side |23| even in the moments of rapture, and will consecrate every gratification. Amidst the throng of timid yearnings and the pictures of her inflamed imagination, she pours forth a hymn to the night, and supplicates her to grant her veil as well to these as to the stolen marriage.

The earliest wish of love is to please; it animates also the first approach of Romeo and Juliet in the dance. An infinite grace is breathed over their speeches, such as can only proceed from the purest moral dignity and natural beauty of soul. With what gentle delicacy does Romeo veil the boldness of his desires behind images of timid adoration! A kiss stolen in the neighbourhood of so many witnesses must not surprise us: examples are adduced, which shew that this in Shakspeare’s time was not held to be a significant mark of intimacy. Perhaps however he also thought of the freer manner of life in southern countries, which has here often hovered before him, so that an Italian air seems to breathe through the whole. I think, according to the intention of the poet, this conversation should be represented, so that Romeo, when Juliet is resting after the dance, sits down beside her. It is surely impossible to misunderstand any thing more grossly than the painter has done, who in a picture in the Shakspeare Gallery makes Romeo approach Juliet disguised as a pilgrim, because she calls him a pilgrim, thus carrying on the pretty playfulness of his address.

The dialogue in the garden has a romantic elevation, and yet even here what is most figurative and rich in fancy is ever united with simplicity, wherein the immediate promptings of the heart are recognized. What sweet secrets does the omniscience of the poet betray to us! Silent Night alone may be a witness of these touching complaints, of these high assurances, of these confessions, of this leave-taking and returning. The poor little one! How she |24| hastens to tie the indissoluble knot! The scene also is nothing less than indifferent. Beneath the clear sky, when looking on which Romeo may well compare Juliet’s eyes to the stars, surrounded by trees whose tops the moon fringes with silver, the lovers stand under the more immediate influence of nature, and are as it were set at liberty from the artificial relations of society. In like manner in the leave-taking scene by means of the nightingale, that sings during the night on a pomegranate tree, a southern spring is conjured before us; and it is not any stroke of a clock, but the voice of the lark, that admonishes them of the hostile approach of day.

A situation like that, wherein Juliet is placed by the tidings of the unfortunate duel and of Romeo’s banishment, could scarcely be represented without any harshness and dissonances; yet I will not deny, that Shakspeare has spared them less than was unavoidably necessary. Johnson’s censure, that “the persons, however distressed, have a conceit left them in their misery, a miserable conceit,” has perhaps for the first time some plausibility with reference to the first burstings forth of Juliet’s despair. Yet I believe that except a few lines, [4] which I was fortunately compelled to leave out in my translation, because they consist entirely of plays upon words, with just notions of truth in the expression of feelings all may be saved. I reserve to myself a general remark upon this subject.

Romeo’s agony is still more torturing, because he unjustly, but yet naturally, must accuse himself as guilty. It is no dishonour to him that he has no longer any |25| controul over himself. Who would require this of the youth? What becomes the man the monk well knows, but also that he is talking to the air, and shall only edify the nurse. Some minutes however thus pass away, during which the despairing lover may collect himself, and then listen to the more effective consolation, that a Juliet is promised to him, which philosophy could not do. Romeo’s gentle manliness shews itself on other occasions. Even without the mediation of love he seems to be beyond and above hatred, and to take no part in the enmity of the two families. United to Capulet’s daughter, he allows himself to be provoked in the most insolent manner by Tybalt, without avenging it. He possesses courage enough to resolve to appear a coward on this occasion, and only the death of his noble friend draws forth his sword.

If the poet has left out nothing of the stormy griefs of the lovers, it is on the other hand heavenly to behold how on the following morning their violence has been calmed amid the transports of love, how love speaks in them at their melancholy farewell at the same time full of confidence and boding evil. Henceforward Romeo, though in banishment, is no more cast down; hope, blooming, youthful hope has taken possession of him; he awaits tidings almost joyfully. Alas! it is only a last lightning before death, as he himself afterwards calls such ebullitions. What he now hears from his servant transforms his heart also like lightning; but two words, and he is resolved to descend to his death into the earth, over which he but now hovered so lightly.

After this unshakeable determination a return to himself is not in the wrong place. The deliberation how he shall procure himself poison, and his bitterness against the world in his discourse with the apothecary have something of the tone of Hamlet. That Romeo must meet |26| Paris at Juliet’s grave, is one of the many juxtapositions of common life with the altogether peculiar, self-created existence of the lovers, whereby Shakspeare renders the infinite interval that separates them apparent, and at the same time makes the wonderful in the story credible, by surrounding it with the well-known course of events. The well-meaning bridegroom, who believes he has loved Juliet right tenderly, resolves to do something extraordinary; his feeling ventures itself out of its every-day circle, though fearfully, even to the limits of the romantic. And yet how different is his funeral celebration from that of the beloved lover! How calmly he strews his flowers! I cannot therefore ask: was it necessary, that this honest soul should be made an additional sacrifice? that Romeo for the second time against his will should shed blood? Paris belongs to the persons whom one praises in life, but laments not immoderately in death; in the moment of dying he interests us for the first time by the request to be laid in Juliet’s grave. Romeo’s nobleness breaks forth here also like a sunbeam from dark clouds, as he speaks the last words of blessing over him who is made his brother by misfortune.

As Juliet’s whole being is love, so is truth her virtue. From the moment that she becomes Romeo’s wife, her destiny is chained to his; she has the deepest horror for every thing that would seduce her from her husband, and dreads in an equal degree the danger of being dishonoured and of being torn from him. The tyrannical violence of her father, the vulgarity in the behaviour of both parents is very offensive; but it saves Juliet from the struggle between love and daughterly feeling, which here would not have been at all in its place; for love is not here to be deduced from moral relations, nor to be represented as at war with duties, but in its original purity as the first |27| command of nature. After such treatment Juliet could no longer very much esteem her parents; when she is compelled to dissemble, she does it therefore with firmness and without scruples of conscience.

That for her fearful self-discourse, before she drinks the potion, the groundwork was already existing in the tale, adds again to Shakspear’s fame. This superficial resemblance of the commonest to the highest is the triumph of art. With what superiority has he achieved this hazardous adventure in representation! First Juliet’s shuddering to feel herself alone, almost already as in the grave; her taking courage, her so natural suspicion, and how she with a soul elevated above every thing mean discards it, greater than that hero, who not without manifesting his confidence swallowed the medicine which was asserted to be poisoned; how then her imagination becomes in an uproar, so many terrors confuse the tender brain of the maiden, and in the tumult she throws down the cup, to have quietly emptied which would have shown too manly a resoluteness.

Her awaking in the grave and the few following moments connect themselves, by the very contrast, most beautifully with these. The slumber, which held her vital spirits so long chained, has stilled the tumult of her blood. She opens her eyes like a child, to whom its mother promised something and who has dreamt of it, with full self-possession setting herself right as to the horrors around her. She allows not herself to be torn away from the spot, where she sees her beloved dead, she asks not, therewith she knows enough.

Like a mild careful providence, which however is not powerful enough to avert the hostility of fortune, does friar Lawrence — amante antico e saggio — stand from the beginning between the two lovers. No saint, but a sage |28| beneath the monk’s hood, a venerable, gentle-thoughted old man, almost sublime from his confidential intercourse with lifeless nature, and extremely attractive from his equally accurate knowledge of the human heart, which is tinged with a merry, yea a witty humour. Amiable as he appears to be, yet even his most naïve expressions make us feel a venerable power in his being. He has a quick head for adapting himself to the moment and using it; bold in proposals and resolutions, he feels their importance with a philanthropic seriousness, and exposes himself unhesitatingly to dangers, in order to work good. If he does what his young friends require of him, yet he yields not passively to their impetuosity, but to his own conviction, to his reverence for a passion like this, which his heart guesses, even though he has never felt its dominion over himself, or at least the purified atmosphere of his existence has long been no more disturbed by storms. He addresses his demand to Juliet as to a heroine, exhorts her to constancy in love as to a virtue, and seems to foreknow that he will not be deceived in her. Of his order he has nothing about him, but a little art of dissembling and physical timidity.

The latter however should perhaps be also placed to the account of his age. It overpowers and confuses him so, that he on the unfortunate night in the churchyard leaves Juliet alone in the tomb, which had he been in tranquil self-possession would be nowise excusable. Yet is he immediately after in a danger, which he can no more escape, free-spirited and master of himself. It is singular that on all occasions religious modes of thought seem to lie just as far out of this monk’s way, as moral reflections are at his finger’s ends. When he seeks to console the despairing Romeo, he offers to him

“Adversity’s sweet milk, philosophy,” —

|29| and in fact the excellent speech, which he shortly afterwards makes to him, is a sermon of the mere reason. Once only does he point to heaven, namely when he addresses the comfortless parents upon Juliet’s supposed death; consequently on an occasion when he is not in earnest in so doing. One sees hence with what dull senses Johnson must have read the poet, when he says Shakspeare meant to give in Juliet an example of hypocrisy punished, because she plays most of her pranks under the appearance of religion. [5] What name can one give to such thick-skinned want of feeling?

Mercutio is according to the outward construction of the fable a great secondary personage. The only incident, whereby he mingles in the action in a significant manner, is, that he by his duel with Tybalt brings on that of Romeo (a circumstance which Shakspeare did not even find in the tale) and for this purpose there was no need of any so prominent and richly endowed character. But since it lies in the spirit of the whole, that the warring elements of our being, mingling with one another in their highest power, impetuously boil up,

"Like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume;" —

as the piece, one might say, is throughout a great antithesis, where love and hatred, what is sweetest and what is most bitter, festivals of joy and gloomy forebodings, caressing embraces and graves of the dead, blooming youth and self-destruction stand immediately side by side; so also is Mercutio’s jovial levity in a deep sense |30| associated an contrasted with Romeo’s melancholy enthusiasm. Mercutio’s wit is not the cold birth of the efforts of the understanding, but proceeds involuntarily from the restless buoyancy of his disposition. The same rich measure of fancy, which wedded in Romeo to deep feeling begets a romantic tendency, takes in Mercutio under the influence of a clear head a genial direction. In both is a consummation of the vital power visible; in both also appears the flightiness of all that is most precious rustling by us, the perishable nature of all blossoms, on which the whole play is such a tender song of complaint. Equally with Romeo is Mercutio destined to an early-timed death. It fares with his life, as with a sparkling wine, which one hastens to drink up, before the buoyant spirit evaporates. Ever awake, ever a laugher, a great friend of the beautiful, as it seems, although a hardened heretic in love, as courageous as he is wanton, equally ready to fight with his sword as with his tongue, he is not deprived of his humour by a mortal wound, and leaves with a joke the world in which he had made merry of every thing.

The part of the nurse was unquestionably executed by Shakspeare with pleasure and satisfaction; every thing about her has a speaking truth. As in her head the ideas cross one another according to arbitrary connections, so is there in her behaviour only the hanging together of inconsequence, and yet she thinks equally highly of her sly understanding and of her honesty. She belongs to the souls in whom nothing cleaves fast but prejudices, and whose morality always depends upon the change of the moment. She stands jealously upon her reputation, but has therewith a disinterested pleasure in sins of a certain kind, and betrays no contemptible requisites for an honourable go-between. It gives her really infinite delight |31| to carry on a marriage, the most entertaining thing she knows in life, like a forbidden love-affair. Therefore also does she make so much of the difficulties of her message-carrying to Juliet. Were she not so very silly, she would be altogether good for nothing. But as it is, it is only a sinful good-nature that suggests to her the advice, that Juliet should, to escape from her difficulty, deny Romeo, and unite herself to Paris. That her fidelity to the lovers should not stand the trial of need, is essential, in order more perfectly to develope Juliet’s strength of soul, as she now among those who immediately surround her no where any more finds a holding-place, and in the execution of the resolve suggested to her by Lawrence remains entirely left to herself. If on the other side this desertion arose from a really corrupt heart, it would not be intelligible how Juliet could ever make her her confidante. The mongrel mixture of good and evil in the disposition of the nurse is therefore fully suited to her destination, and one cannot say that Shakspeare has thrown away the treasure of knowledge of human nature expended upon her. He might indeed certainly have gained his object with less, but liberality is every where his custom, liberality in every thing, except in what is only effective when sparingly used. The relation of his art to nature requires not that strict separation of the accidental from the necessary, which forms a distinguishing characteristic of the tragic poetry of the Greeks.

The above remark holds good also with respect to old Capulet (in whom the addition of ridiculousness relieves us from part of the more serious displeasure, which his behaviour to Juliet otherwise deserves) and to the other comic under-characters, Peter, the servants, and the musicians. The friendly, well-meaning, honest Benvolio, the rough Tybalt, the refined, polite Count Paris, are |32| merely sketched according to the laws of fitness with few but distinct features. The Prince is, just as one would wish him to be, honourably firm and stately. That the moment of need always summons him so punctually, is a theatrical licence, which must not be estimated according to common probabilities, and confers the advantage, that his unexpected intervention amidst the most violent storms of hostile passions acts like that of a being out of a higher order of things. The last appearance of the Prince becomes great and solemn, less from his personal qualities, than from his situation, over against the recently completed tragical event and the persons thereby affected. Not merely with the dignity of an earthly judge, but as spokesman of wisdom and humanity, does he collect around himself the suffering, the guilt and the interest, and he speaks in a manner worthy of this important calling. The reflecting stillness, which his enquiries cause to follow upon the storm of results, regulates and strengthens the confused grief, and his last words engrave it, to be as it were an everlasting inscription on the tomb of the two lovers, with an iron pen upon the tablets of the memory.

Lawrence’s narrative has given offence to critics, because it only repeats that of which the spectator is already informed. “It is much to be lamented,” says Johnson, “that the Poet did not conclude the dialogue with the action.” So forsooth, as soon as the catastrophe is arrived, that means, as soon as the fitting number of persons are handed over to death, the curtain should only fall without more ado. Is it a wonder, that persons with such coarse corporeal notions of the perfection of a tragic action know nothing of the satisfaction of the feeling? Has then the monk so entirely failed of interesting us, that it could be indifferent to us whether the purity of |33| his intentions be misunderstood. Still further: the atonement of the two heads of the families over the bodies of their children, the single drop of balsam for the wounded heart, is only possible through their being made to understand the course of the occurrence. The misfortune of the lovers is now at least not entirely lost; sprung from the hatred wherewith the piece begins, it turns in the circulation of events back to its source and stops it up. But not merely as necessary means are the speeches of the monk and the two servants justified. They have in themselves a value, inasmuch as they collect together the scattered impressions of what has happened upon the melancholy place of decision into one simple narrative.

It has been discovered that Shakspeare has neglected an opportunity for a very pathetic scene, by not allowing Juliet to awaken before Romeo’s death at the moment when he has taken the poison. Great invention would not have been required for this change, just as little as for the opposite termination, that Juliet awakens before he has yet decided his death, and all ends happily. Notwithstanding Shakspeare seems to me, be it from fidelity to the tale which he had more immediately before him, or from deliberate choice, to have hit upon what was best. There is a measure of agitation, beyond which all that is superadded either becomes a torture, or glides off ineffectually from the already saturated mind. In case of the cruel reunion of the lovers for an instant, Romeo’s remorse for his over-hasty self-murder, Juliet’s despair over her deceitful hope, at first cherished, then annihilated, that she was at the goal of her wishes, must have deviated into caricatures. Nobody surely doubts that Shakspeare was able to represent these with suitable force; but here every thing soothing was welcome, in order that we may not be frightened out of the melancholy, to which |34| we willingly resign ourself, but too painful discords. Why should we heap still more upon accident that is already so guilty? Wherefore shall not the tortured Romeo quietly

"Shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From his world-wearied flesh?"

He holds his beloved in his arms, and dying cheers himself with a vision of everlasting marriage. She also seeks death in a kiss upon his lips. These last moments must belong unparticipated to tenderness, that we may hold fast to the thought, that love lives on, although the lovers perish.

Garrick in the notion, “the more grief the better” has actually re-wrought this scene; but his execution of it will make nobody unhappy; it is extremely weak. The awakening of Juliet he has also entirely spoiled. She remembers not Lorenzo’s assurances, but believes, they intend forcibly to marry her to Paris, and knows not Romeo, who thereupon exclaims: “She is not yet herself. May heaven preserve her!” — Yes truly! and keep her from unskilful transformers! Afterwards when the monk enters she scolds him violently, and even tries to stab him with her dagger. It is only fortunate that she soon after this kills herself, for as she thus intemperately deals about her, one know not how much mischief she might otherwise have effected. It is singular that a great actor could hang any thing upon the poet whom he adored, and whom he had studied through half his life, in so perverse a manner.

Garrick’s sense of what is highest in Shakspeare becomes still more suspicious, from his thinking it necessary to purify the piece from the unnatural, trifling wit, which according to his opinion was therein substituted for the expression of feeling. Johnson indeed asserts in like |35| manner, that “the pathetic strains are always polluted with some unexpected depravations;” and the reputation of these writers may have misled many persons, especially as their judgment so condescendingly comes down to meet the vulgar power of comprehension. Genuine poetry is in truth very seldom understood, and every exercise of the imagination appears unnatural to him who possesses no spark thereof. It is forgotten that, when an object is shown to us under a certain definite mode of representation, every part of the same must be coloured by this medium. The poetry in a drama is taken historically, whereas it is a mode of delineation, the untruth of which is not at all concealed, but which however serves to bring what is most essential more truly and more livingly before our eyes, than the most conscientious protocol. By these very means does the poet lead us more into the interior of characters, by his giving to his personages a more perfect organ of communication than they possess in nature; and whereas the violence of passion often chokes its expression and chains up the power of speech, however lively the desire thereafter may be, the poet may clear this hindrance out of the way. Only let him not remove the essential distinction between eloquent and dumb feelings, between those that strive outwards and those that concentrate themselves upon the inner man. Never has Shakspeare been carried along by the rich stream of his images beyond his limit. When Romeo learns the supposed death of Juliet, he says nothing further than:

“Is it even so? Then I defy you, stars!”

In like manner, Juliet after her awakening answers the monk, who has hastily announced the whole misfortune that has befallen her, and advised her to fly: —

“Go, get thee hence! For I will not away.” —

|36| On both occasions the strength of the feeling betrays itself only in the resolution wherewith the will bears up against it.

When love discloses itself to love, it is the sole anxiety of each heart to instil the conviction of its sincerity into the other, as it were to enlarge its own consciousness by communicating it. It despises when so doing the pomp of words wherein hollow demonstrations of unfelt attachment may equally well clothe themselves, and ventures not upon the unutterable; but it understands the secret of breathing a higher soul into the simplest and most modest exclamation. Can one possibly overlook this touching voice of the heart in the confessions, the asseverations, the gentle love-whisperings of Romeo and Juliet? Juliet resigns herself up with the same child-like openness as Miranda in the Tempest, and what she says

"Is silly sooth,
And dallies with the innocence of love."

But the admiration, the deification of the beloved cannot speak without images; it must soar up to the boldest comparisons. With the magical stroke, which insulates the one object that hovers before it and exalts it above all the rest of the world, it has lost the measure-rule of the real, and can fly even to the limits of things, as far as ever the wings of fancy will bear it, without being conscious of wandering astray. Love is the poetry of life: how shall it not speak poetry of its object? The more distant and dissimilar the images it calls together, the more full of meaning must its comparisons appear, and what idle wit seeks laboriously that it may shine, thereupon a passion that knows no limits involuntarily falls. Contradictions that cannot be understood lie in the essence of love; even with the most beautiful return it can never dissolve itself into perfect harmony; and is therefore, [6] |37 [Die Horen 45]| in itself, already naturally inclined to express itself antithetically. Indeed, such comes even more naturally to it as soon as external circumstances compel it. Playing upon words is a contrasting or comparison between the meaning of words and their sound; and just as in love in general the intellectual and sensual strive to unite in the most intimate fashion, just as love perceives and luxuriates in even the most delicate allusions of the one to the other, so also can it play presciently with similarities of tones. One usually rejects all playing upon words as something childish and unnatural. If the first charge is founded, the second cannot be so; and experience does in fact show that children enjoy occupying themselves with the sensuous constituent parts of words, and referring them to other meanings. Love, however, in the condition of its most unaffected devotion, transports the soul in more developed organs and amid the florescent fullness of life in a certain sense back into the state of childhood. Without intending, I have presented Petrarch’s apology, whose wondrous imagery and metaphors, ever recurring antitheses, and subtle mystical allusions have also been such stumbling blocks for so many readers and art critics. |38? [Die Horen 46]| His ideal, ethereal adoration of Laura, luxuriating in renunciation, has nothing in common with the youthful energy and ardor of the love driving Romeo and Julie to live and die for each other: but the style of his poetry bears great similarity with the colouration of the tender expression in our play.

I would go even further and maintain not only that bold imagery and an antithetical abundance of words inheres in the joys and sweet pain of a passion of the sort portrayed here, which presupposes the most extreme combustibility of the imagination, but also that the most prostrating suffering issuing thereof, the most bitter pain at the loss or death of the beloved, does not in its manner of expression wholly deny its origins. Let one regard from this perspective, whose correctness might be confirmed through various experiences, the scenes in which the two lovers are beside themselves at the thought of Romeo’s banishment, and Romeo’s last discourse, and they are justified.

Nonetheless the dramatizing rhetorician may well use similar devices in the frosty declamations he puts in place of the outpourings of inflamed passion: anyone with even modest receptivity, or for whom prejudices do not stand in the way, will be in no danger of mistaking the former with the latter; he possesses an unerring touchstone in the effect. Distinguishing features might also be adduced, except that their application to the specific case still requires a |[Die Horen 47]| sensibility that can be given to no one. The most essential characteristic feature is the nature of the portrayed feelings themselves, their profundity, their uniqueness, their inner consistency. Further, that which is imageless and abstract is frequently but poorly disguised by all the declamatory pomp, for only a poor imagination, one not set in motion by the needs of feeling, need seek refuge in the resolution to appear adorned; but any attempt to return to life by way of the detour of the lifeless concept is futile. Moreover, the poet who strives to achieve brilliance at the cost of truth and propriety will sooner avoid than seek careless familiarity in discourse, the semblance of spontaneous origination. He will be concerned lest the unconsciousness of the persons speaking, namely, that they say something extraordinary because such is highly natural for their situation, might deceive the listener, whereby that which is sought forfeits its unique value by appearing too facilely found. In Romeo, the dialogical, free quality, the quality of flowing directly from the source, even in the most imagery-laden and to |39| the highest degree antithetical speeches is every where apparent; to point it out in detail would lead me too far.

As I have been forced to contradict the censures of such celebrated English critics, I rejoice on the other hand that I can oppose to them the saying of a German, who certainly was incorruptible by false glare, and was an antipode of every thing fantastical and exaggerated. Lessing declared Romeo and Juliet to be the only tragedy, that he knew, which love himself had assisted to compose. I know not how to end more beautifully, than with these simple words, wherein so much lies. Yea one may call this poem a harmonious miracle, whose component parts that heavenly power alone could so melt together. It is at the same time enchantingly sweet and sorrowful, pure and glowing, gentle and impetuous, full of elegiac softness and tragically overpowering.


[*] Reprinted in Wilhelm and Friedrich’s Charakteristiken und Kritiken, 1:282–317; also Wilhelm Schlegel’s Kritische Schriften, 1:387–416, and his Sämmtliche Werke, 7:71–97 (with the consistent spelling “Shakspeare”). — Concerning the composition and text of this essay and Caroline’s contribution, see the editorial note to Caroline’s two undated letters to Wilhelm Schlegel (presumably from 1797) with her remarks on the play (letter 186, 187). — See also Wilhelm’s “Dedication of the Tragedy Romeo and Juliet” and Hermann Conrad on Caroline and the translation of Shakespeare. Back.

[1] Shakespeare Survey, vol. 37, Shakespeare’s Earlier Comedies ([1984] 2002) 152. Back.

[2] [Julius Charles Hare:] Tieck’s work is called The Life and Works of W. Shakspeare, with Criticisms, &c.; and is to extend through three octavo volumes. It was already announced twenty years ago, since which time the studies of its author have been principally conversant with the drama of his own and of our country. It will be chiefly a history of Shakspeare’s mind, tracing its progress through the various plays, as far as their succession can be ascertained. The author avows himself a determined champion of the genuineness of the doubted plays; and the work will no doubt be worthy both of its subject and of its author, who is himself a very eminent dramatic poet, and whom his countrymen rank only below Goethe. Back.

[3] [Wilhelm Schlegel:] Such it is, so far as it is not founded upon any true history. Gerolamo della Corte relates it circumstantially as such in his Annals of Verona under the Government of Bartolomeo della Seala, and asserts that he had frequently seen the monument of the lovers, or what was pointed out to him as such. One naturally supposes that the novellists must have taken so wonderful an incident from the historian, because the opposite case would betray too great a want of judgment in the latter. Yet in the present instance this seems really to have happened. For Gerolamo della Corte, to whom the learned Maffei does not altogether give the highest character, carries the history of Verona down to the year 1560; the novel of Luigi della Porta on the contrary appeared early in the first half of the sixteenth century, and an older historical testimony will scarcely be found. There is a deficiency of sources for Veronese history, especially for that period of it during which the house of Scala reigned. Muratori complains (Script. Rer. Ital. Vol. viii.) that he was unable to bring to light any thing except a short chronicle of Parisius de Cerera. In an anonymous continuation of it not only is no mention made of the history of Romeo and Juliet, (which, considering the great brevity of the chronicle, would not be surprising) but not even of the disputes between the Montecchi and Cappelletti. But what renders the historical authenticity still more suspicious, is the negative testimony of Dante. Bartolomeo reigned from the year 1301 to 1304. Dante came either in the last mentioned year, or according to other accounts in 1308, to Verona, and lived there a considerable time in favour with Alboino, and still more with Cangrande, the brothers and successors of Bartolomeo. The melancholy fate of the lovers must therefore have been fresh in the recollection of every one, and would certainly, like the history of Francesca, in one way or other had been inwoven by him into his poem, had it possessed an historical foundation. Besides Dante knows both the families, but he names them together as friends, at least as both of the Ghibelline party, in his exhortation to the Emperor Albert to interfere in the affairs of Italy. Purg. vi. 100.

Vien a veder Montecchi e Cappelletti,
Monaldi e Filippeschi, uom senza cura.
Color gia tristi, e costor con sospetti.

Come see the Capulets and Montagues,
The Philippeschi and Monaldi! man
Who carest for nought! those sunk in grief, and these
With dire suspicion racked. –– Cary. Back.

[4] [Julius Charles Hare:] Viz, the four lines –

"And that bare vowel I shall poison more
Than the death-darting eye of cockatrice:
I am not I, if there be such an I;
Or those eyes shut, that makes thee answer I." Back.

[5] [Julius Charles Hare:] Johnson’s words occur in a note on Act iv, Scene iii, on Juliet’s speech –

“For I have need of many orisons,” &c.

and are a fair specifmen of the manner in which this heavy elephant tramples down the flowers in the gardens of poetry. Back.

[6] Editor’s note:] Pages 37 and 38 were apparently omitted through a printing error; what follows is my translation from Die Horen (whence the pagination). Back.

Translation © 2012 Doug Stott