LECTURES on Shakespeare's women have become, as the wits of our time remind us, something of a provincial pastime, a standing dish for the suburbs: and, no doubt, the thing has been overdone. But I have no choice in the matter. Of all the angles of approach to Shakespearian Comedy, the master angle is, and must be, the angle of femininity.
A certain clear-headedness, a frankness in facing facts, a power of deciding what is to be done, are the peculiar and distinguishing marks of Shakespeare's happy women. When they are by themselves, these young ladies, or with a friend, softness will steal in. A kind of languor descends upon them, like the weariness of a hostess when all her guests are gone. They remember that they are women; that women's hearts are waxen; that 'such as they are made of, such they be. Sometimes, for a moment, they break down altogether. But in public, their courage never fails them. With every pang of affection and anxiety they only grow more witty. They even exult in their peculiar power of being cool and decisive in exact proportion to the strength of their passion and the sentimentality of their men. There have been men--critics --who objected to these heroines of Shakespeare on this very ground. It used to be an opinion of men--and there are some survivors from the masculine shipwreck of our times who believe it still--that most women are by nature sentimental, and designed by Providence to be clingers upon men. All women, probably, agree with Shakespeare. He does them more honour. He pays them the high compliment of supposing that they may have knowledge, shrewdness, wit, and courage without ceasing to be wholly feminine and the objects