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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Shakespeare’s Portraiture of Women
By Edward Dowden (1843–1913)
 
From ‘Transcripts and Studies’

OF all the daughters of his imagination, which did Shakespeare love the best? Perhaps we shall not err if we say one of the latest born of them all,—our English Imogen. And what most clearly shows us how Shakespeare loved Imogen is this—he has given her faults, and has made them exquisite, so that we love her better for their sake. No one has so quick and keen a sensibility to whatever pains and to whatever gladdens as she. To her a word is a blow; and as she is quick in her sensibility, so she is quick in her perceptions, piercing at once through the Queen’s false show of friendship; quick in her contempt for what is unworthy, as for all professions of love from the clown-prince, Cloten; quick in her resentment, as when she discovers the unjust suspicions of Posthumus. Wronged she is indeed by her husband, but in her haste she too grows unjust; yet she is dearer to us for the sake of this injustice, proceeding as it does from the sensitiveness of her love. It is she, to whom a word is a blow, who actually receives a buffet from her husband’s hand; but for Imogen it is a blessed stroke, since it is the evidence of his loyalty and zeal on her behalf. In a moment he is forgiven, and her arms are round his neck.  1
  Shakespeare made so many perfect women unhappy that he owed us some amende. And he has made that amende by letting us see one perfect woman supremely happy. Shall our last glance at Shakespeare’s plays show us Florizel at the rustic merry-making, receiving blossoms from the hands of Perdita? or Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess in Prospero’s cave, and winning one a king and one a queen, while the happy fathers gaze in from the entrance of the cave? We can see a more delightful sight than these—Imogen with her arms around the neck of Posthumus, while she puts an edge upon her joy by the playful challenge and mock reproach—
  Why did you throw your wedded lady from you?
Think that you are upon a rock, and now
Throw me again;”
and he responds—
              “Hang there like a fruit, my soul,
Till the tree die.”
  2
  We shall find in all Shakespeare no more blissful creatures than these two.  3
 
 
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