Charles Lamb.

Tales of Shakespeare online

. (page 4 of 23)
Online LibraryCharles LambTales of Shakespeare → online text (page 4 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

were Don Pedro, the prince of Arragon; and his friend Claudio, who was
a lord of Florence; and with them came the wild and witty Benedick, and
he was a lord of Padua.

These strangers had been at Messina before, and the hospitable governor
introduced them to his daughter and his niece as their old friends and

Benedick, the moment he entered the room, began a lively conversation
with Leonato and the prince. Beatrice, who liked not to be left out of
any discourse, interrupted Benedick with saying: 'I wonder that you
will still be talking, signior Benedick: nobody marks you.' Benedick
was just such another rattle-brain as Beatrice, yet he was not pleased
at this free salutation; he thought it did not become a well-bred lady
to be so flippant with her tongue; and he remembered, when he was last
at Messina, that Beatrice used to select him to make her merry jests
upon. And as there is no one who so little likes to be made a jest of
as those who are apt to take the same liberty themselves, so it was
with Benedick and Beatrice; these two sharp wits never met in former
times but a perfect war of raillery was kept up between them, and they
always parted mutually displeased with each other. Therefore when
Beatrice stopped him in the middle of his discourse with telling him
nobody marked what he was saying, Benedick, affecting not to have
observed before that she was present, said: 'What, my dear lady
Disdain, are you yet living?' And now war broke out afresh between
them, and a long jangling argument ensued, during which Beatrice,
although she knew he had so well approved his velour in the late war,
said that she would eat all he had killed there: and observing the
prince take delight in Benedick's conversation, she called trim 'the
prince's jester.' This sarcasm sunk deeper into the mind of Benedick
than all Beatrice had said before. The hint she gave him that he was a
coward, by saying she would eat all he had killed, he did not regard,
knowing himself to be a brave man; but there is nothing that great wits
so much dread as the imputation of buffoonery, because the charge comes
sometimes a little too near the truth: therefore Benedick perfectly
hated Beatrice when she called him 'the prince's jester.'

The modest lady Hero was silent before the noble guests; and while
Claudio was attentively observing the improvement which time had made
in her beauty, and was contemplating the exquisite graces of her fine
figure (for she was an admirable young lady), the prince was highly
amused with listening to the humorous dialogue between Benedick and
Beatrice; and he said in a whisper to Leonato: 'This is a
pleasant-spirited young lady. She were an excellent wife for Benedick.'
Leonato replied to this suggestion: 'O, my lord, my lord, if they were
but a week married, they would talk themselves mad.' But though Leonato
thought they would make a discordant pair, the prince did not give up
the idea of matching these two keen wits together.

When the prince returned with Claudio from the palace, he found that
the marriage he had devised between Benedick and Beatrice was not the
only one projected in that good company, for Claudio spoke in such
terms of Hero, as made the prince guess at what was passing in his
heart; and he liked it well, and he said to Claudio: 'Do you affect
Hero?' To this question Claudio replied: 'O my lord, when I was last at
Messina, I looked upon her with a soldier's eye, that liked, but had no
leisure for loving; but now, in this happy time of peace, thoughts of
war have left their places vacant in my mind, and in their room come
thronging soft and delicate thoughts, all prompting me how fair young
Hero is, reminding me that I liked her before I went to the wars.'
Claudio's confession of his love for Hero so wrought upon the prince,
that he lost no time in soliciting the consent of Leonato to accept of
Claudio for a son-in-law. Leonato agreed to this proposal, and the
prince found no great difficulty in persuading the gentle Hero herself
to listen to the suit of the noble Claudio, who was a lord of rare
endowments, and highly accomplished, and Claudio, assisted by his kind
prince, soon prevailed upon Leonato to fix an early day for the
celebration of his marriage with Hero.

Claudio was to wait but a few days before he was to be married to his
fair lady; yet he complained of the interval being tedious, as indeed
most young men are impatient when they are waiting for the
accomplishment of any event they have set their hearts upon: the
prince, therefore, to make the time seem short to him, proposed as a
kind of merry pastime that they should invent some artful scheme to
make Benedick and Beatrice fall in love with each other. Claudio
entered with great satisfaction into this whim of the prince, and
Leonato promised them his assistance, and even Hero said she would do
any modest office to help her cousin to a good husband.

The device the prince invented was, that the gentlemen should make
Benedick believe that Beatrice was in love with him, and that Hero
should make Beatrice believe that Benedick was in love with her.

The prince, Leonato, and Claudio began their operations first: and
watching upon an opportunity when Benedick was quietly seated reading
in an arbour, the prince and his assistants took their station among
the trees behind the arbour, so near that Benedick could not choose but
hear all they said; and after some careless talk the prince said: 'Come
hither, Leonato. What was it you told me the other day that your niece
Beatrice was in love with signior Benedick? I did never think that lady
would have loved any man.' 'No, nor I neither, my lord.' answered
Leonato. 'It is most wonderful that she should so dote on Benedick,
whom she in all outward behaviour seemed ever to dislike.' Claudio
confirmed all this with saying that Hero had told him Beatrice was so
in love with Benedick, that she would certainly die of grief, if he
could not be brought to love her; which Leonato and Claudio seemed to
agree was impossible, he having always been such a railer against all
fair ladies, and in particular against Beatrice.

The prince affected to hearken to all this with great compassion for
Beatrice, and he said: 'It were good that Benedick were told of this.'
'To what end?' said Claudio; 'he would but make sport of it, and
torment the poor lady worse.' 'And if he should,' said the prince, 'it
were a good deed to hang him; for Beatrice is an excellent sweet lady,
and exceeding wise in everything but in loving Benedick.' Then the
prince motioned to his companions that they should walk on, and leave
Benedick to meditate upon what he had overheard.

Benedick had been listening with great eagerness to this conversation;
and he said to himself when he heard Beatrice loved him: 'Is it
possible? Sits the wind in that corner?' And when they were gone, he
began to reason in this manner with himself: 'This can be no trick!
they were very serious, and they have the truth from Hero, and seem to
pity the lady. Love me! Why it must be requited! I did never think to
marry. But when I said I should die a bachelor, I did not think I
should live to be married. They say the lady is virtuous and fair. She
is so. And wise in everything but loving me. Why, that is no great
argument of her folly. But here comes Beatrice. By this day, she is a
fair lady. I do spy some marks of love in her.' Beatrice now approached
him, and said with her usual tartness: 'Against my will I am sent to
bid you come in to dinner.' Benedick, who never felt himself disposed
to speak so politely to her before, replied: 'Fair Beatrice, I thank
you for your pains': and when Beatrice, after two or three more rude
speeches, left him, Benedick thought he observed a concealed meaning of
kindness under the uncivil words she uttered, and he said aloud: 'If I
do not take pity on her, I am a villain. If I do not love her, I am a
Jew. I will go get her picture.'

The gentleman being thus caught in the net they had spread for him, it
was now Hero's turn to play her part with Beatrice; and for this
purpose she sent for Ursula and Margaret, two gentlewomen who attended
upon her, and she said to Margaret: 'Good Margaret, run to the parlour;
there you will kind my cousin Beatrice talking with the prince and
Claudio. Whisper in her ear, that I and Ursula are walking in the
orchard, and that our discourse is all of her. Bid her steal into that
pleasant arbour, where honeysuckles, ripened by the sun, like
ungrateful minions, forbid the sun to enter.' This arbour, into which
Hero desired Margaret to entice Beatrice, was the very same pleasant
arbour where Benedick had so lately been an attentive listener.

'I will make her come, I warrant, presently,' said Margaret.

Hero, then taking Ursula with her into the orchard, said to her: 'Now,
Ursula, when Beatrice comes, we will walk up and down this alley, and
our talk must be only of Benedick, and when I name him, let it be your
part to praise him more than ever man did merit. My talk to you must be
how Benedick is in love with Beatrice. Now begin; for look where
Beatrice like a lapwing runs close by the ground, to hear our
conference.' They then began; Hero saying, as if in answer to something
which Ursula had said: 'No, truly, Ursula. She is too disdainful; her
spirits are as coy as wild birds of the rock.' 'But are you sure,' said
Ursula, 'that Benedick loves Beatrice so entirely?' Hero replied: 'So
says the prince, and my lord Claudio, and they entreated me to acquaint
her with it; but I persuaded them, if they loved Benedick, never to let
Beatrice know of it.' 'Certainly,' replied Ursula, 'it were not good
she knew his love, lest she made sport of it.' 'Why, to say truth,'
said Hero, 'I never yet saw a man, how wise soever, or noble, young, or
rarely featured, but she would dispraise him.' 'Sure, sure, such
carping is not commendable,' said Ursula. 'No,' replied Hero, 'but who
dare tell her so? If I should speak, she would mock me into air.' 'O!
you wrong your cousin,' said Ursula: 'she cannot be so much without
true judgment, as to refuse so rare a gentleman as signior Benedick.'
'He hath an excellent good name,' said Hero: 'indeed, he is the first
man in Italy, always excepting my dear Claudio.' And now, Hero giving
her attendant a hint that it was time to change the discourse, Ursula
said: 'And when are you to be married, madam?' Hero then told her, that
she was to be married to Claudio the next day, and desired she would go
in with her, and look at some new attire, as she wished to consult with
her on what she would wear on the morrow. Beatrice, who had been
listening with breathless eagerness to this dialogue, when they went
away, exclaimed: 'What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?
Farewell, contempt and scorn, and maiden pride, adieu! Benedick, love
on! I will requite you, taming my wild heart to your loving hand.'

It must have been a pleasant sight to see these old enemies converted
into new and loving friends, and to behold their first meeting after
being cheated into mutual liking by the merry artifice of the
good-humoured prince. But a sad reverse in the fortunes of Hero must
now be thought of. The morrow, which was to have been her wedding-day,
brought sorrow on the heart of Hero and her good father Leonato.

The prince had a half-brother, who came from the wars along with him to
Messina. This brother (his name was Don John) was a melancholy,
discontented man, whose spirits seemed to labour in the contriving of
villanies. He hated the prince his brother, and he hated Claudio,
because he was the prince's friend, and determined to prevent Claudio's
marriage with Hero, only for the malicious pleasure of making Claudio
and the prince unhappy; for he knew the prince had set his heart upon
this marriage, almost as much as Claudio himself; and to effect this
wicked purpose, he employed one Borachio, a man as bad as himself, whom
he encouraged with the offer of a great reward. This Borachio paid his
court to Margaret, Hero's attendant; and Don John, knowing this,
prevailed upon him to make Margaret promise to talk with him from her
lady's chamber window that night, after Hero was asleep, and also to
dress herself in Hero's clothes, the better to deceive Claudio into the
belief that it was Hero; for that was the end he meant to compass by
this wicked plot.

Don John then went to the prince and Claudio, and told them that Hero
was an imprudent lady, and that she talked with men from her chamber
window at midnight. Now this was the evening before the wedding, and he
offered to take them that night, where they should themselves hear Hero
discoursing with a man from her window; and they consented to go along
with him, and Claudio said: 'If I see anything to-night why I should
not marry her, to-morrow in the congregation, where I intended to wed
her, there will I shame her.' The prince also said: 'And as I assisted
you to obtain her, I will join with you to disgrace her.'

When Don John brought them near Hero's chamber that night, they saw
Borachio standing under the window, and they saw Margaret looking out
of Hero's window, and heard her talking with Borachio: and Margaret
being dressed in the same clothes they had seen Hero wear, the prince
and Claudio believed it was the lady Hero herself.

Nothing could equal the anger of Claudio, when he had made (as he
thought) this discovery. All his love for the innocent Hero was at once
converted into hatred, and he resolved to expose her in the church, as
he had said he would, the next day; and the prince agreed to this,
thinking no punishment could be too severe for the naughty lady, who
talked with a man from her window the very night before she was going
to be married to the noble Claudio.

The next day, when they were all met to celebrate the marriage, and
Claudio and Hero were standing before the priest, and the priest, or
friar, as he was called, was proceeding to pronounce the marriage
ceremony, Claudio, in the most passionate language, proclaimed the
guilt of the blameless Hero, who, amazed at the strange words he
uttered, said meekly: 'Is my lord well, that he does speak so wide?'

Leonato, in the utmost horror, said to the prince: 'My lord, why speak
not you?' 'What should I speak?' said the prince; 'I stand dishonoured,
that have gone about to link my dear friend to an unworthy woman.
Leonato, upon my honour, myself, my brother, and this grieved Claudio,
did see and hear her last night at midnight talk with a man at her
chamber window.'

Benedick, in astonishment at what he heard, said: 'This looks not like
a nuptial.'

'True, O God!' replied the heart-struck Hero; and then this hapless
lady sunk down in a fainting fit, to all appearance dead. The prince
and Claudio left the church, without staying to see if Hero would
recover, or at all regarding the distress into which they had thrown
Leonato. So hard-hearted had their anger made them.

Benedick remained, and assisted Beatrice to recover Hero from her
swoon, saying: 'How does the lady?' 'Dead, I think,' replied Beatrice
in great agony, for she loved her cousin; and knowing her virtuous
principles, she believed nothing of what she had heard spoken against
her. Not so the poor old father; he believed the story of his child's
shame, and it was piteous to hear him lamenting over her, as she lay
like one dead before him, wishing she might never more open her eyes.

But the ancient friar was a wise man, and full of observation on human
nature, and he had attentively marked the lady's countenance when she
heard herself accused, and noted a thousand blushing shames to start
into her face, and then he saw an angel-like whiteness bear away those
blushes, and in her eye he saw a fire that did belie the error that the
prince did speak against her maiden truth, and he said to the sorrowing
father: 'Call me a fool; trust not my reading, nor my observation;
trust not my age, my reverence, nor my calling, if this sweet lady lie
not guiltless here under some biting error.'

When Hero had recovered from the swoon into which she had fallen, the
friar said to her: 'Lady, what man is he you are accused of?' Hero
replied: 'They know that do accuse me; I know of none': then turning to
Leonato, she said: 'O my father, if you can prove that any man has ever
conversed with me at hours unmeet, or that I yesternight changed words
with any creature, refuse me, hate me, torture me to death.'

'There is,' said the friar, 'some strange misunderstanding in the
prince and Claudio'; and then he counselled Leonato, that he should
report that Hero was dead; and he said that the death-like swoon in
which they had left Hero would make this easy of belief; and he also
advised him that he should put on mourning, and erect a monument for
her, and do all rites that appertain to a burial. 'What shall become of
this?' said Leonato; 'What will this do?' The friar replied: 'This
report of her death shall change slander into pity: that is some good;
but that is not all the good I hope for. When Claudio shall hear she
died upon hearing his words, the idea of her life shall sweetly creep
into his imagination. Then shall he mourn, if ever love had interest in
his heart, and wish that he had not so accused her; yea, though he
thought his accusation true.'

Benedick now said: 'Leonato, let the friar advise you; and though you
know how well I love the prince and Claudio, yet on my honour I will
not reveal this secret to them.'

Leonato, thus persuaded, yielded; and he said sorrowfully: 'I am so
grieved, that the smallest twine may lead me.' The kind friar then led
Leonato and Hero away to comfort and console them, and Beatrice and
Benedick remained alone; and this was the meeting from which their
friends, who contrived the merry plot against them, expected so much
diversion; those friends who were now overwhelmed with affliction, and
from whose minds all thoughts of merriment seemed for ever banished.

Benedick was the first who spoke, and he said: 'Lady Beatrice, have you
wept all this while?' 'Yea, and I will weep a while longer,' said
Beatrice. 'Surely,' said Benedick, 'I do believe your fair cousin is
wronged.' 'Ah!' said Beatrice, 'how much might that man deserve of me
who would right her!' Benedick then said: 'Is there any way to show
such friendship? I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not
that strange?' 'It were as possible,' said Beatrice, 'for me to say I
loved nothing in the world so well as you; but believe me not, and yet
I lie not. I confess nothing, nor I deny nothing. I am sorry for my
cousin.' 'By my sword,' said Benedick, 'you love me, and I protest I
love you. Come, bid me do anything for you.' 'Kill Claudio,' said
Beatrice. 'Ha! not for the wide world,' said Benedick; for he loved his
friend Claudio, and he believed he had been imposed upon. 'Is not
Claudio a villain, that has slandered, scorned, and dishonoured my
cousin?' said Beatrice: 'O that I were a man!' 'Hear me, Beatrice!'
said Benedick. But Beatrice would hear nothing in Claudio's defence;
and she continued to urge on Benedick to revenge her cousin's wrongs:
and she said: 'Talk with a man out of the window; a proper saying!
Sweet Hero! she is wronged; she is slandered; she is undone. O that I
were a man for Claudio's sake! or that I had any friend, who would be a
man for my sake! but velour is melted into courtesies and compliments.
I cannot be a man with wishing, therefore I will die a woman with
grieving.' 'Tarry, good Beatrice,' said Benedick; 'by this hand I love
you.' 'Use it for my love some other way than swearing by it,' said
Beatrice. 'Think you on your soul that Claudio has wronged Hero?' asked
Benedick. 'Yea,' answered Beatrice; 'as sure as I have a thought, or a
soul.' 'Enough,' said Benedick; 'I am engaged; I will challenge him. I
will kiss your hand, and so leave you. By tints hand, Claudio shall
render me a dear account! As you hear from me, so think of me. Go,
comfort your cousin.'

While Beatrice was thus powerfully pleading with Benedick, and working
his gallant temper by the spirit of her angry words, to engage in the
cause of Hero, and fight even with his dear friend Claudio, Leonato was
challenging the prince and Claudio to answer with their swords the
injury they had done his child, who, he affirmed, had died for grief.
But they respected his age and his sorrow, and they said: 'Nay, do not
quarrel with us, good old man.' And now came Benedick, and he also
challenged Claudio to answer with his sword the injury he had done to
Hero; and Claudio and the prince said to each other: 'Beatrice has set
him on to do this.' Claudio nevertheless must have accepted this
challenge of Benedick, had not the justice of Heaven at the moment
brought to pass a better proof of the innocence of Hero than the
uncertain fortune of a duel.

While the prince and Claudio were yet talking of the challenge of
Benedick, a magistrate brought Borachio as a prisoner before the
prince. Borachio had been overheard talking with one of his companions
of the mischief he had been employed by Don John to do.

Borachio made a full confession to the prince in Claudio's hearing,
that it was Margaret dressed in her lady's clothes that he had talked
with from the window, whom they had mistaken for the lady Hero herself;
and no doubt continued on the minds of Claudio and the prince of the
innocence of Hero. If a suspicion had remained it must have been
removed by the flight of Don John, who, funding his villanies were
detected, fled from Messina to avoid the just anger of his brother.

The heart of Claudio was sorely grieved when he found he had falsely
accused Hero, who, he thought, died upon hearing his cruel words; and
the memory of his beloved Hero's image came over him, in the rare
semblance that he loved it first; and the prince asking him if what he
heard did not run like iron through his soul, he answered, that he felt
as if he had taken poison while Borachio was speaking.

And the repentant Claudio implored forgiveness of the old man Leonato
for the injury he had done his child; and promised, that whatever
penance Leonato would lay upon him for his fault in believing the false
accusation against his betrothed wife, for her dear sake he would
endure it.

The penance Leonato enjoined him was, to marry the next morning a
cousin of Hero's, who, he said, was now his heir, and in person very
like Hero. Claudio, regarding the solemn promise he made to Leonato,
said, he would marry this unknown lady, even though she were an Ethiop:
but his heart was very sorrowful, and he passed that night in tears,
and in remorseful grief, at the tomb which Leonato had erected for Hero.

When the morning came, the prince accompanied Claudio to the church,
where the good friar, and Leonato and his niece, were already
assembled, to celebrate a second nuptial; and Leonato presented to
Claudio his promised bride; and she wore a mask, that Claudio might not
discover her face. And Claudio said to the lady in the mask: 'Give me
your hand, before this holy friar; I am your husband, if you will marry
me.' 'And when I lived I was your other wife,' said this unknown lady;
and, taking off her mask, she proved to be no niece (as was pretended),
but Leonato's very daughter, the lady Hero herself. We may be sure that
this proved a most agreeable surprise to Claudio, who thought her dead,
so that he could scarcely for joy believe his eyes; and the prince, who
was equally amazed at what he saw, exclaimed: 'Is not this Hero, Hero
that was dead?' Leonato replied: 'She died, my lord, but while her
slander lived.' The friar promised them an explanation of this seeming
miracle, after the ceremony was ended; and was proceeding to marry
them, when he was interrupted by Benedick, who desired to be married at
the same time to Beatrice. Beatrice making some demur to this match,
and Benedick challenging her with her love for him, which he had
learned from Hero, a pleasant explanation took place; and they found
they had both been tricked into a belief of love, which had never
existed, and had become lovers in truth by the power of a false jest:
but the affection, which a merry invention had cheated them into, was
grown too powerful to be shaken by a serious explanation; and since
Benedick proposed to marry, he was resolved to think nothing to the
purpose that the world could say against it; and he merrily kept up the
jest, and swore to Beatrice, that he took her but for pity, and because
he heard she was dying of love for him; and Beatrice protested, that

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryCharles LambTales of Shakespeare → online text (page 4 of 23)