"What shall we do now, Caroline?"
asked Mr. Moore, returning to his seat beside his cousin.
"An old English book?"
"Yes, an old English book—one that you like; and I will choose a part of it that is toned quite in harmony with something in you. It shall waken your nature, fill your mind with music; it shall pass like a skilful hand over your heart, and make its strings sound. Your heart is a lyre, Robert; but the lot of your life has not been a minstrel to sweep it, and it is often silent. Let glorious William come near and touch it. You will see how he will draw the English power and melody out of its chords." [emphasis mine]
"I must read Shakespeare?"
"You must have his spirit before you; you must hear his voice with your mind's ear; you must take some of his soul into yours."
"With a view to making me better? Is it to operate like a sermon?"
"It is to stir you, to give you new sensations. It is to make you feel your life strongly—not only your virtues, but your vicious, perverse points."
"Now, read, and discover by the feelings the reading will give you at once how low and how high you are."
He placed it between them, reposed his arm on the back of Caroline's chair, and thus began to read.
The very first scene in "Coriolanus" came with smart relish to his intellectual palate, and still as he read he warmed. He delivered the haughty speech of Caius Marcius to the starving citizens with unction; he did not say he thought his irrational pride right, but he seemed to feel it so. Caroline looked up at him with a singular smile.
"There's a vicious point hit already," she said. "You sympathize with that proud patrician who does not sympathize with his famished fellow-men, and insults them. There, go on." He proceeded. The warlike portions did not rouse him much; he said all that was out of date, or should be; the spirit displayed was barbarous; yet the encounter single-handed between Marcius and Tullus Aufidius he delighted in. As he advanced, he forgot to criticise; it was evident he appreciated the power, the truth of each portion; and, stepping out of the narrow line of private prejudices, began to revel in the large picture of human nature, to feel the reality stamped upon the characters who were speaking from that page before him.
He did not read the comic scenes well; and Caroline, taking the book out of his hand, read these parts for him. From her he seemed to enjoy them, and indeed she gave them with a spirit no one could have expected of her, with a pithy expression with which she seemed gifted on the spot, and for that brief moment only. It may be remarked, in passing, that the general character of her conversation that evening, whether serious or sprightly, grave or gay, was as of something untaught, unstudied, intuitive, fitful—when once gone, no more to be reproduced as it had been than the glancing ray of the meteor, than the tints of the dew-gem, than the colour or form of the sunset cloud, than the fleeting and glittering ripple varying the flow of a rivulet.
Coriolanus in glory, Coriolanus in disaster, Coriolanus banished, followed like giant shades one after the other. Before the vision of the banished man Moore's spirit seemed to pause. He stood on the hearth of Aufidius's hall, facing the image of greatness fallen, but greater than ever in that low estate. He saw "the grim appearance," the dark face "bearing command in it," "the noble vessel with its tackle torn." With the revenge of Caius Marcius, Moore perfectly sympathized; he was not scandalized by it; and again Caroline whispered, "There I see another glimpse of brotherhood in error."
The march on Rome, the mother's supplication, the long resistance, the final yielding of bad passions to good, which ever must be the case in a nature worthy the epithet of noble, the rage of Aufidius at what he considered his ally's weakness, the death of Coriolanus, the final sorrow of his great enemy—all scenes made of condensed truth and strength—came on in succession and carried with them in their deep, fast flow the heart and mind of reader and listener.
"Now, have you felt Shakespeare?" asked Caroline, some ten minutes after her cousin had closed the book.
"I think so."
"And have you felt anything in Coriolanus like you?"
"Perhaps I have."
"Was he not faulty as well as great?"
"And what was his fault? What made him hated by the citizens? What caused him to be banished by his countrymen?"
"What do you think it was?"
"I ask again--
Which out of daily fortune ever taints
The happy man? whether defect of judgment,
To fail in the disposing of those chances
Which he was lord of? or whether nature,
Not to be other than one thing, not moving
From the casque to the cushion, but commanding peace
Even with the same austerity and garb
As he controlled the war?'
"It was a spice of all; and you must not be proud to your workpeople; you must not neglect chances of soothing them; and you must not be of an inflexible nature, uttering a request as austerely as if it were a command."
I hope you’ve enjoyed eavesdropping with me on two of Brontë’s characters and, as a dividend, reaped a few thoughts on the appeal and benefit of Shakespeare.