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Shakespeare: His Life, Art, And Characters, Volume I. by H. N. Hudson

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experience; the aberrations of power, unguided or ill-guided,
are ever in proportion to its intensity, and life is not long
enough to recover from inevitable mistakes. Noble conceptions
already existing, and a noble school of execution, which will
launch mind and hand at once upon their true courses, are
indispensable to transcendent excellence; and Shakespeare's
plays were as much the offspring of the long generations who had
pioneered his road for him as the discoveries of Newton were the
offspring of those of Copernicus."

Dryden, in one of his occasional pieces, represents the Poet's ghost
as saying,

"Untaught, unpractis'd, in a barbarous age,
I found not, but created first, the stage";

and such has been the common belief. But the saying is far from true;
and Shakespeare's ghost must have sipped large draughts of Lethe, to
be capable of speaking thus. For, though the least that he did is
worth more than all that was done before him, and though his poorest
performances surpass the best of his models; it is nevertheless
certain that his task was but to continue and perfect what was already
begun. Not only were the three forms of comedy, history, and tragedy
in use on the English stage, but the elements of these were to some
extent blended in the freedom and variety of the Gothic Drama. The
usage also of dramatic blank-verse stood up inviting his adoption;
though no one before or since has come near him in the mastery of its
capabilities; his genius being an inexhaustible spring of both mental
and verbal modulation. Nor can all this be justly regarded as any
alleviation of his task, or any abatement of his fame. For, to work
thus with materials and upon models already prepared, without being
drawn down to their level and subdued to their quality, requires, if
possible, a higher order and exercise of power than to strike out in
a way and with a stock entirely new. And so the absorbing, quickening,
creative efficacy of Shakespeare's genius is best seen in this, that,
taking the Drama as it came to his hand, a thing of unsouled forms and
lack-lustre eyes, all brainless and meaningless, he at once put a
spirit into it, tempered its elements in the proportions of truth,
informed its shapes with grace and virtue, and made it all alive, a
breathing, speaking, operative power. Thus his work naturally linked
in with the whole past; and in his hands the collective thought and
wisdom of ages were smelted out of the earth and dross wherein they
lay imbedded, and wrought into figures of undecaying beauty.

It is indeed true that the Drama shot ahead with amazing rapidity as
soon as it came to feel the virtue of Shakespeare's hand. We have
nothing more dreary, dismal, and hopeless than the course of the
English Drama down to his time. The people would have dramatic
entertainments, and hundreds of minds, apparently, were ever busy
furnishing them wooden things in dramatic form. And so, century after
century, through change after change, the work of preparation went on,
still scarce any progress, and no apparent result, nothing that could
live, or was worth keeping alive. It seemed as if no rain would ever
fall, no sun ever shine, to take away the sterility of the land. Yet
all of a sudden the Drama blazed up with a splendor that was to
illuminate and sweeten the ages, and be at once the delight and the
despair of other nations and future times. All this, too, came to pass
in Shakespeare! and, which is more, the process ended with him! It is
indeed a singular phenomenon, and altogether the most astonishing that
the human mind has produced.

Yet even here we should be careful of attributing too much to the
genius of the individual man. It was rather the genius of the age and
nation springing into flowerage through him,--a flowerage all the
larger and more eloquent for the long delay, and the vast accumulation
of force. For it is remarkable that when the Warwickshire peasant
entered upon his work, with the single exception of Chaucer, not one
good English book had been written. Yet he was far from being alone in
thus beginning and perfecting the great workmanship which he took in
hand. Before _Hamlet_, _Othello_, and _The Tempest_ were written,
Romantic Poetry had done its best in Spenser, Philosophical Divinity
in Hooker, Civil and Moral Discourse in Bacon. All these alike are
unapproached and unapproachable in their several kinds. We have
nothing more tuneable and melodious than Spenser's verse; no higher
and nobler eloquence than Hooker's prose; no practical wisdom of
deeper reach or more attractive garb than Bacon's _Essays_. Yet they
did not learn their cunning from Shakespeare, nor did Shakespeare
learn his cunning from them. The language was then just ripe for the
uses of such minds; it had the wealth of much learning incorporated
with it, yet had not been cast into rigidity nor dressed into primness
by a technical and bookish legislation; it had gone on for centuries
gathering in and assimilating stores from Nature and from Religion; it
was rich with the life of a nation of brave, free, honest,
full-souled, and frank-hearted men; it was at once copious, limber,
and sinewy, capable alike of expressing the largest and the subtlest
thought, the deepest and strongest passion, the most tender and
delicate feeling; wit could sport itself for ever, humour could trim
its raciest issues, imagination could body forth its sweetest and
awfullest visions, in the furnishings of the English tongue. And so
these four great thinkers found it equal, apparently, to all their
thoughts and powers. They were all, though each in a different sort,
its masters, not its slaves. They used it, but they did not make it.
And the thought which they found it capable of expressing must have
pre-existed in some form, else the language could not have stood
ready, as it did, for their use. The truth seems to be that, for
reasons which we cannot fathom, and in ways past our finding out, the
time had now come, the mental life of the nation was fully grown to a
head, so as to express itself in several forms at the same time; and
Shakespeare, wise, true, and mighty beyond his thought, became its
organ of dramatic utterance; which utterance remains, and will remain,
a treasury of everlasting sweetness and refreshment to mankind.


* * * * *


"Tranquillity! the sovereign aim wert thou
In heathen schools of philosophic lore;
Heart-stricken by stern destiny of yore,
The Tragic Muse thee serv'd with thoughtful vow;
And what of hope Elysium could allow
Was fondly seiz'd by Sculpture, to restore
Peace to the Mourner. But when He who wore
The crown of thorns around His bleeding brow
Warm'd our sad being with celestial light,
_Then_ Arts which still had drawn a softening grace
From shadowy fountains of the Infinite,
Commun'd with that Idea face to face;
And move around it now as planets run,
Each in its orbit round the central Sun."--WORDSWORTH.

Art is in its proper character the solidest and sincerest expression
of human thought and feeling. To be much within and little without, to
do all for truth, nothing for show, and to express the largest
possible meaning with the least possible stress of expression,--this
is its first law.

Thus artistic virtue runs down into one and the same root with moral
righteousness. Both must first of all be genuine and sincere, richer
and better at the heart than on the surface; as always having it for
their leading aim to recommend themselves to the perfect Judge; that
is, they must seek the praise of God rather than of men: for, indeed,
whatsoever studies chiefly to please men will not please them long,
but will soon be openly or secretly repudiated by them; whereas, "when
a man's ways are pleasing unto the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to
be at peace with him."

Such is the right form, such the normal process, of what may be
called intellectual and artistic righteousness. A soul of perfect
veracity lies at the bottom of the thing, and is the source and the
life of all that is good and beautiful in it. And the work, like
Nature herself, does not strike excitingly, but "melts into the
heart"; it therefore wears well, and don't wear out. Every thing is
done "in simple and pure soul," and without any thought, on the doer's
part, of the figure he is making; and when he turns from the beauty he
should express to his own beauty of expression, his work becomes
false. And it may be justly affirmed that perfection of workmanship in
Art is where the senses are touched just enough, and in just the right
way, to kindle the mind; and this too without making the mind
distinctly conscious of being kindled; for when the soul is moved
perfectly both in kind and degree, self-consciousness is lost in the
interest of that which moves it.

Hence it is that all deep and earnest feeling, all high and noble
thought so naturally puts on a style of modesty and reserve. It
communicates itself, not by verbal emphasis or volume, but by a sort
of blessed infection too subtile and too potent for words to convey.
Volubility strangles it; and it is felt to be insincere when it grows
loquacious. A wordy grief is merely a grief from the throat outwards;
"the grief that does not speak," this it is that "whispers the
o'erfraught heart, and bids it break." And the truly eloquent speaker
or writer is not he who says a multitude of fine things in finely
turned language and figures, which is very easily done, but he who
says just the right things, and says them in the fewest, simplest, and
aptest words. As for the speaker who lives, not in the inspiration of
his theme, but in the display of his eloquence, we may rest assured
that he will never say any thing worth hearing: his work will
naturally turn all to mere elocution; which may be described as the
art of pronouncing nothing in such a way as to make it pass for
something grand.

Thus there appears to be a profound natural sympathy or affinity
between the forces of religion and the forms of Art. Therefore it is
that the higher efficacies of Christian culture and the deeper
workings of religious thought and emotion have instinctively sought to
organize and enshrine themselves in artistic creations; no other mode
or power of expression being strong enough to hold them, or inclusive
enough to contain them. It is in such works as the ancient marvels of
ecclesiastical building that the Christian mind has found its most
fitting and most operative eloquence.

What was the motive-principle, what the inspiring power, of those
architectural wonders that transport the impress of mediaeval piety
across the ocean of so many centuries? Wordsworth, referring to some
of the English cathedrals, says,--

"They dreamt not of a perishable home,
Who thus could build."

And, sure enough, we may well deem that nothing less than the most
intense and burning conceptions of eternity could have inspired the
souls of men and made them strong enough to project and accomplish
those stupendous structures which, in their silent majesty and
awe-inspiring suggestiveness, are the most persuasive and the most
unanswerable preachers of Christianity that the Church of two thousand
years has produced. "They builded better than they knew." And what are
all the sermons and theologies of that time in comparison with those
great old monuments of Christian Art? "The immortal mind craves
objects that endure." And immortality itself, the spirit of celestial
order, a beauty that awes while it charms, and chastens while it
kindles, are imaged in the aspect and countenance of those structures.
And it is remarkable that nothing has come down to us touching the
persons of those grand old builders, not even their names. It seems
indeed as if their great souls had been so possessed by the genius
that stirred within them, so entranced in the contemplation of their
religious ideals, as to leave no room, for any self-regarding
thoughts; so that we know them only as a band of anonymous immortals.

"They were pedants who could speak:
Grander souls have passed unheard;
Such as found all language weak;
Choosing rather to record
Secrets before Heaven, than break
Faith with Angels by a word."

Now it is the nature of Christian meaning thus embodied to penetrate
and pervade the depths of the mind without agitating its surface; and
when the effect is greatest, then it is that the mind is least
conscious of it: it is a silent efficacy that "sweetly creeps into the
study of imagination," and charms its way into "the eye and prospect
of the soul" by delicacy of touch and smoothness of operation. Such
art is of course in no sort an intellectual gymnastic. It is as
complex and many-sided as our nature itself; and the frame of mind
from which it proceeds, and which it aims to inspire, is that calmness
wherein is involved a free and harmonious exercise of the whole man;
sense, intellect, and heart moving together in sympathy and unison: in
a word, it is the fitting expression of

"That monumental grace
Of Faith, which doth all passions tame
That reason _should_ control;
And shows in the untrembling frame
A statue of the soul."

From such workmanship, every thing specially stimulant of any one part
of the mind, every thing that ministers to the process of
self-excitation, every thing that fosters an unhealthy consciousness
by untuning the inward harmonies of our being, every thing that
appeals to the springs of vanity and self-applause, or invites us to
any sort of glass-gazing pleasure,--every such thing is, by an innate
law of the work, excluded. So that here we have the right school of
moral healthiness, a moral digestion so perfect as to be a secret unto
itself. The intelligence, the virtue, the piety, that grows by such
methods, is never seen putting on airs, or feeding on the reflection
of its own beauty; but evermore breathes freely and naturally, as in
communion with the proper sources of its life.

Works of Art, then, above all other productions of the mind, must have
solidity and inwardness, that essential retiring grace which seems to
shrink from the attention it wins, that style of power held in reserve
which grows upon acquaintance, that suggestive beauty, "part seen,
imagined part," which does not permit the beholder to leave without a
silent invitation to return. And in proportion as the interest of such
works depends on novelty, or stress of manner, or any strikingness of
effect, as if they were ambitious to make themselves felt, and
apprehensive of not being prized at their worth; in the same
proportion their tenure of interest is naturally short, because they
leave the real springs of thought untouched.

This, to be sure, holds more or less true of all the forms of mental
production; but its truth is more evident and more self-approving in
the sphere of Art than in the others. Hence the common saying, that
poetry, for instance, must be very good indeed, else it is good for
nothing. And men of culture and judgment in that line naturally feel,
in general, that a work of art which is not worth seeing many times is
not worth seeing at all; and if they are at first taken with such a
work, they are apt to be ashamed of it afterwards, and to resent the
transient pleasure they found in it, as a sort of fraud upon them. In
other words, Art aspires to interest _permanently_, and even to be
more interesting the more it is seen; and when it does not proceed in
the order of this "modest charm of not too much," this remoteness of
meaning where far more is inferred than is directly shown, there we
may be sure the vital principle of the thing is wanting.

Allston, the distinguished painter-artist, is said to have had an
intense aversion to all "eccentricity in Art." He might well do so;
and, being a philosopher of Art as well as an artist, he had no
difficulty in knowing that his aversion was founded in truth, and was
fully justified by the reason of the thing. For the prime law of Art,
as is implied in what I have been saying, is to produce the utmost
possible of _silent_ effect; and to secure this end _truth_ must be
the all-in-all of the artist's purpose,--a purpose too inward and
vital, perhaps, for the subject to be distinctly conscious of it;
which is the right meaning of _artistic inspiration_. But eccentricity
in Art aims, first and last, at _sensible_ effect; to appease an
eager, prurient curiosity is its proper motive-spring; and it is
radically touched with some disease, perhaps an itch of moral or
intellectual or emotional demonstrativeness; and so it naturally
issues in a certain _plurisy_ of style, or some self-pleasing crotchet
or specialty of expression,--something which is striking and emphatic,
and which is therefore essentially disproportionate and false. In a
word, there is a fatal root of insincerity in the thing. For instance,
if one were to paint a tree in the brilliancy of full-bloom, or a
human face in the liveliest play of soul, I suppose the painting might
be set down as a work of eccentricity; for, though such things are
natural in themselves, they are but transient or evanescent moods of
Nature; and a painting of them has not that calmness and purity of
truth and art on which the mind can repose:

"Soft is the music that would charm for ever."

Moreover a work of art, as such, is not a thing to be learnt or
acquired, as formal knowledge is acquired: it is rather a presence for
the mind to commune with, and drink in the efficacy of, with an "eye
made quiet by the power of Beauty." Nor is such communion by any means
unfruitful of mental good: on the contrary, it is the right force and
food of the soundest and healthiest inward growth; and to be silent
and secret is the character of every process that is truly vital and
creative. It is on this principle that Nature, when conversed with in
the spirit of her works, acts "as a teacher of truth through joy and
through gladness, and as a creatress of the faculties by a process of
smoothness and delight"; and we gather in the richer intellectual
harvest from such converse when the mind is too intent on Nature's
forms to take any thought of its gatherings. We cannot truly live with
her without being built up in the best virtues of her life. It is a
mighty poor way of growing wise, when one loves to see

"Each little drop of wisdom as it falls
Into the dimpling cistern of his heart."

And so the conversing rightly with works of art may not indeed be very
available for showing off in recitation: it is all the better for
that, inasmuch as its best effect must needs be too deep for the
intellectual consciousness to grasp: because the right virtue of Art
lies in a certain self-withdrawing power which catches the mind as
from a distance, and cheats the forces of self-applause into
abdication through intentness of soul. All which infers, moreover,
that a full appreciation of any true work of art cannot be
extemporized; for such a work has a thousand meanings, which open out
upon the eye gradually, as the eye feeds and grows and kindles up to
them: its virtue has to _soak_ into the mind insensibly; and to this
end there needs a long, smooth, quiet fellowship.


The several forms of Art, as Painting, Sculpture, Music, Architecture,
the Poem, the Drama, all have a common root, and proceed upon certain
common principles. The faculties which produce them, the laws that
govern them, and the end they are meant to serve, in short their
source, method, and motive, are at bottom one and the same. Art,
therefore, is properly and essentially _one_: accordingly I take care
to use the phrase _several forms of Art_, and not _several arts_. This
identity of life and law is perhaps most apparent in the well-known
fact that the several forms of Art, wherever they have existed at all,
and in any character of originality, have all had a religious origin;
have sprung up and taken their growth in and for the service of
religion. The earliest poems everywhere were sacred hymns and songs,
conceived and executed in recognition and honour of the Deity. Grecian
sculpture, in all its primitive and progressive stages, was for the
sole purpose of making statues of the gods; and when it forsook this
purpose, and sophisticated itself into a preference of other ends, it
went into a decline. The Greek architecture, also, had its force,
motive, and law in the work of building religious temples and shrines.
That the Greek Drama took its origin from the same cause, is familiar
to all students in dramatic history. And I have already shown that the
Gothic Drama in England, in its upspring and through its earlier
stages, was entirely the work of the Christian Church, and was purely
religious in its purpose, matter, and use. That the same holds in
regard to our modern music, is too evident to need insisting on: it
all sprang and grew in the service of religion; religious thought and
emotion were the shaping and informing spirit of it. I have often
thought that the right use of music, and perhaps that which drew it
into being, could not be better illustrated than in "the sweet Singer
of Israel," who, when the evil spirit got into King Saul, took harp
and voice, and with his minstrelsy charmed it out. Probably, if David
had undertaken to argue the evil spirit out, he would have just
strengthened the possession; for the Devil was then, as now, an expert
logician, but could not stand a divine song.

Thus the several forms of Art have had their source and principle deep
in man's religious nature: all have come into being as so many
projections or outgrowths of man's religious life. And it may well be
questioned whether, without the motives and inspirations of religion,
the human soul ever was, or ever can be, strong and free enough to
produce any shape of art. In, other words, it is only as the mind
stands dressed in and for religion that the Creative Faculty of Art
gets warmed and quickened into operation. So that religion is most
truly the vivifying power of Art in all its forms; and all works of
art that do not proceed from a religious life in the mind are but
imitations, and can never be any thing more. Moreover the forms of Art
have varied in mode, style, and character, according to the particular
genius and spirit of the religion under which they grew. There is a
most intimate correspondence between the two. This is manifestly true
of the old Egyptian and Grecian art. And it is equally true of
Christian art, save as this has been more or less modified by
imitation of those earlier works, and in so far as this imitative
process has got the better of original inspiration, the result has
always been a falling from the right virtue of Art. For the Christian
mind can never overtake the Greek mind in that style of Art which was
original and proper to the latter. Nothing but the peculiar genius of
the Greek mythology could ever freely and spontaneously organize or
incarnate itself in a body of that shape. The genius of Christianity
requires and naturally prompts a different body. Nor can the soul of
the latter ever be made to take on the body of the former, but under
the pressure of other than the innate and organic law of the thing.
For every true original artist is much more possessed by the genius of
his work than possessing it. Unless, indeed, a man be inspired by a
power stronger than his individual understanding or any conscious
purpose, his hand can never reach the cunning of any process truly
creative. And so in all cases the temper and idiom of a people's
religious culture will give soul and expression to their art; or, they
have no religious culture, then there will not be soul-power enough in
them to produce any art at all.[6]

[6] On this subject Schlegel has some of the wisest and happiest
sayings that I have met with. For example: "All truly creative
poetry must proceed from the inward life of a people, and from
religion, the root of that life." And again: "Were it possible
for man to renounce all religion, including that which is
unconscious, or independent of the will, he would become a mere
surface without any internal substance. When this centre is
disturbed, the whole system of the mental faculties and feelings
takes a new shape." Once more, speaking of the Greeks: "Their
religion was the deification of the powers of Nature and of
earthly life; but this worship, which, among other nations,
clouded the imagination with hideous shapes, and hardened the
heart to cruelty, assumed among the Greeks a mild, a grand, and
a dignified form. Superstition, too often the tyrant of the
human faculties, here seems to have contributed to their freest
development. It cherished the arts by which itself was adorned,
and its idols became the models of beauty. But, however highly
the Greeks may have succeeded in the Beautiful and even in the
Moral, we cannot concede any higher character to their
civilization than that of a refined and ennobling sensuality. Of
course this must be understood generally. The conjectures of a
few philosophers, and the irradiations of poetical inspiration,
constitute an occasional exception. Man can never altogether
turn aside his thoughts from infinity, and some obscure
recollections will always remind him of the home he has lost."

As I am on the subject of Art considered as the offspring of Religion
or the religious Imagination, I am moved to add a brief episode in
that direction. And I the rather do so, forasmuch as Artistic Beauty
is commonly recognized as among the greatest educational forces now in
operation in the Christian world. On this point a decided reaction has
taken place within my remembrance. The agonistic or argumentative
modes, which were for a long time in the ascendant, and which
proceeded by a logical and theological presentation of Christian
thought, seem to have spent themselves, insomuch as to be giving way
to what may be called the poetical and imaginative forms of
expression. It is not my purpose to discuss whether the change be
right or for the better, but merely to note it as a fact; for such I
think it clearly is. I presume it will be granted, also, that as a
general thing we need to have our places of worship and our religious
services made far more beautiful than they are; and that indeed we
cannot have too much of beauty in them, so that beauty be duly steeped
in the grace and truth of Christian inspiration. But Art has its
dangers here as well as its uses: especially it is apt to degenerate
from a discipline of religious virtue into a mere relaxation, losing
the severity that elevates and purifies, in what is merely pretty or
voluptuous or pleasing. It is therefore of the utmost consequence what
style of beauty we cultivate, and how the tastes of people are set in
this matter.

Now Christianity is indeed a great "beauty-making power"; but the
Beauty which it makes and owns is a presence to worship in, not a
bauble to play with, or a show for unbaptized entertainment and
pastime. It cannot be too austerely discriminated from mere ornament,
and from every thing approaching a striking and sensational character.
Its right power is a power to chasten and subdue. And it is never good
for us, especially in our religious hours, to be charmed without being
at the same time chastened. Accordingly the highest Art always has
something of the terrible in it, so that it awes you while it
attracts. The sweetness that wins is tempered with the severity that
humbles; the smile of love, with the sternness of reproof. And it is
all the more beautiful in proportion as it knows how to bow the mind
by the austere and hushing eloquence of its forms. And when I speak of
Art, or the creation of the Beautiful, as the highest and strongest
expression of man's intellectual soul, I must be understood to mean
this order of the Beautiful: for indeed the beauty (if it be not a sin
to call it such) that sacrifices or postpones truth to pleasure is not

"And that which is not good is not delicious
To a well-govern'd and wise appetite."

In all our use of Art, therefore, it stands us much in hand to know
that true Beauty is indeed an awful as well as a pleasant thing; and
that men are not in a good way when they have ceased to feel that it
is so. Nor can I deem our case a very hopeful one when we surrender
ourselves to that style of beauty which pleases without chastening the
soul. For it is but too certain that when Art takes to gratifying such
an unreligious taste, and so works its forces for the pleasing of men
without touching them with awe, it becomes no better than a discipline
of moral enervation. Perhaps this same law would silence much of the
voluble rhetoric with which a certain school of writers are wont to
discourse of the great Miracle of Beauty which has been given to men
in the life and character of the blessed Saviour. For I must needs
think that, if they duly felt the awfulness of that Beauty, their
fluency would be somewhat repressed; and that their eloquence would be
better if they feared more and flourished less.

But the point which these remarks are chiefly meant to enforce is,
that there is no true beauty of Art but what takes its life from the
inspirations of religious awe; and that even in our highest
intellectual culture the intellect itself will needs be demoralized,
unless it be toned to order by a supreme reference to the Divine will.
There is no true school of mental health and vigour and beauty, but
what works under the presidency of the same chastening and subduing
power. Our faculties of thought and knowledge must be held
firmly together with a strong girdle of modesty, else they cannot
possibly thrive; and to have the intellect "undevoutly free," loosened
from the bands of reverence, is a sure pledge and forecast of
intellectual shallowness and deformity.[7]

[7] Since this was written, I have met with some capital
remarks, closely bordering upon the topic, in Mr. J.C. Shairp's
_Studies in Poetry and Philosophy_, a book which I cannot but
regard as one of the choicest contributions to the literature of
our time. The passage is in his essay on _The Moral Dynamic_,
near the end:

"There are things which, because they are ultimate ends in
themselves, refuse to be employed as means, and, if attempted to
be so employed, lose their essential character. Religion is one,
and the foremost of these things. Obedience, conformity of the
finite and the imperfect will of man to the infinite and perfect
will of God, this, which is the essence of religion, is an end
in itself, the highest end which we can conceive. It cannot be
sought as a means to an ulterior end without being at once
destroyed. This is an end, or rather the end in itself, which
culture and all other ends by right subserve. And here in
culture, as in pleasure, the great ethic law will be found to
hold, that the abandoning of it as an end, in obedience to a
higher, more supreme aim, is the very condition of securing it.
Stretch the idea of culture, and of the perfection it aims at,
wide as you will, you cannot, while you make it your last end,
rise clear of the original self-reference that lies at its root;
this you cannot get rid of, unless you go out of culture, and
beyond it, abandoning it as an end, and sinking it into what it
really is,--a means, though perhaps the highest means, towards
full and perfect duty. _No one ever really became beautiful by
aiming at beauty. Beauty comes, we scarce know how, as an
emanation from sources deeper than itself_. If culture, or
rather the ends of culture, are to be healthy and natural
growths, they must come unconsciously, as results of conformity
to the will of God, sought not for any end but itself."--"It
cannot indeed be denied that these two, culture or the love of
beauty, religion or the love of godliness, appear in
individuals, in races, in ages, as rival, often as conflicting,
forces. The votary of beauty shrinks from religion as something
stern and ungenial, the devout Puritan discards beauty as a
snare; and even those who have hearts susceptible of both find
that a practical crisis will come when a choice must be made
whether of the two they will serve. The consciousness of this
disunion has of late years been felt deeply, and by the most
gifted minds. Painful often has the conflict been, when the
natural love of beauty was leading one way, loyalty to that
which is higher than beauty called another, and no practical
escape was possible, except by the sacrifice of feelings which
in themselves were innocent and beautiful. Only in recent times
have we begun to feel strongly that both are good, that each
without the other is so far imperfect, and that some
reconciliation, if it were possible, is a thing to be desired.
Violent has been the reaction which this new consciousness has
created. In the recoil from what they call Puritanism, or
religion without culture, many have given themselves up to
culture without religion, or, at best, with a very diluted form
of religion. They have set up for worship the golden calf of
art, and danced round it to the pipe which the great Goethe
played. They have promulgated what they call the gospel of
art,--as Carlyle says, the windiest gospel ever yet preached,
which never has saved and never will save any man from moral

It were something beside my purpose to unfold and illustrate in detail
the common principles of Art: I shall but endeavour to do this so far
as may be needful for a due understanding of those principles as we
have them embodied in the Shakespearian Drama.

The first of those principles, as I am to view them, is what I know
not better how to designate than by the term _Solidarity_. By which I
mean that the several parts of a given work must all stand in mutual
sympathy and intelligence; or that the details must not only have each
a force and meaning of their own, but must also be helpful, directly
or remotely, to the force and meaning of the others; all being drawn
together and made to coalesce in unity of effect by some one governing
thought or paramount idea. This gives us what the philosophers of Art
generally agree in calling an _organic structure_; that is, a
structure in which an inward vital law shapes and determines the
outward form; all the parts being, moreover, assimilated and bound
each to each by the life that builds the organization, and so
rendered mutually aidant, and at the same time conducive to the
well-being of the whole. In a word, they must all have a purpose and a
truth in common as well as each a truth and purpose of its own.

To illustrate this in a small instance, and perhaps the more
intelligible for being small.--Critics had been wont to speak lightly,
not to say sneeringly, of the Sonnet, as being but an elaborate trifle
that cost more than it came to. Wordsworth undertook to vindicate the
thing from this unjust reproach, as he considered it; and to that end
he wrote the following:

"Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frown'd,
Mindless of its just honours: with this key
Shakespeare unlock'd his heart; the melody
Of this small lute gave ease to Petrarch's wound;
A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound;
With it Camoeens sooth'd an exile's grief;
The Sonnet glitter'd a gay myrtle leaf
Amid the cypress with which Dante crown'd
His visionary brow; a glow-worm lamp,
It cheer'd mild Spenser, call'd from Faery-land
To struggle through dark ways; and, when a damp
Fell round the path of Milton, in his hand
The Thing became a trumpet; whence he blew
Soul-animating strains,--alas, too few!"

Now, here we have a place for every thing, and every thing in its
place. There is nothing irrelevant, nothing ajar. The parts are not
only each true and good and beautiful in themselves, but each is
helpful to the others, and all to the author's purpose: every
allusion, every image, every word, tells in furtherance of his aim.
There need nothing be added, there must nothing be taken away. The
argument at every step is clear and strong. The thing begins,
proceeds, and ends, just as it ought; you cannot change a word in it
without injuring it: the understanding, the imagination, the ear, are
all satisfied with the result. And the specimen is itself a full
triumph of the Sonnet, from the intellectual truth and beauty and
sweetness which are here put into it. So that, what with the
argument, and what with the example, the vindication of the Sonnet is
perfect. Accordingly, I believe no one has spoken lightly of the thing
since that specimen was given to the public.

Many have written poetry, and good poetry too, who, notwithstanding,
have not written, and could not write, a Poem. But this sonnet is, in
its measure, a genuine poem; and as such I am willing to bear the
responsibility of pronouncing it faultless. Wordsworth could do the
Sonnet completely, and did it so in many instances: and he could do
more than this; in several of his longer pieces the workmanship is
perhaps equally faultless; as, for instance, in _Laodamia_, and the
_Ode to Duty_, which, to my sense, are perfect poems in their kind.
But to do thus through so complex and multitudinous a work as our
higher specimens of the Gothic Drama, is a very different matter,--a
thing far beyond the power of a Wordsworth. To combine and carry on
together various distinct lines of thought, and various individual
members of character, so that each shall constantly remember and
respect the others, and this through a manifold, diversified, and
intricate course of action; to keep all the parts true to the terms
and relations of organic unity, each coming in and stopping just where
it ought, each doing its share, and no more than its share, in the
common plan, so as not to hinder the life or interfere with the rights
of the others; to knit them all together in a consistent and
harmonious whole, with nothing of redundancy or of deficiency, nothing
"overdone or come tardy off,"--the members, moreover, all mutually
interacting, all modifying and tempering one another;--this is a task
which it is given to few to achieve. For the difficulty of the work
increases in a sort of geometrical ratio with the number and greatness
of the parts; and when we come to such a work as _Hamlet_ or
_Cymbeline_ or _King Lear_, few of us have heads long enough and
strong enough to measure the difficulty of it.

Such, then, in my reckoning, is the first principle, I will not say
of artistic perfection, but of all true excellence in Art. And the
same law, which thus requires that in a given work each earlier part
shall prepare for what comes after, and each later part shall finish
what went before, holds with equal force in all the forms of Art; for
whether the parts be rendered or delivered in space, as in Painting
and Architecture, or in time, as in Music, a Poem, or a Drama, makes
no difference in this respect.

The second principle of Art which I am to consider is _Originality_.
And by this I do not mean novelty or singularity, either in the
general structure or in the particular materials, but something that
has reference to the method and process of the work. The construction
must proceed from the heart outwards, not the other way, and proceed
in virtue of the inward life, not by any surface aggregation of parts,
or by any outward pressure or rule. In organic nature, every plant,
and every animal, however cast in the mould of the species, and so
kept from novelty or singularity, has an individual life of its own,
which life is and must be original. It is a development from a germ;
and the process of development is vital, and works by selection and
assimilation of matter in accordance with the inward nature of the
thing. And so in Art, a work, to be original, must grow from what the
workman has inside of him, and what he sees of Nature and natural fact
around him, and not by imitation of what others have done before him.
So growing, the work will, to be sure, take the specific form and
character; nevertheless it will have the essence of originality in the
right sense of the term, because it will have originated from the
author's mind, just as the offspring originates from the parent. And
the result will be, not a showy, emphatic, superficial virtue, which
is indeed a vice, but a solid, genuine, substantive virtue; that is,
the thing will be just what it seems, and will mean just what it says.
Moreover the greatness of the work, if it have any, will be more or
less hidden in the order and temperance and harmony of the parts; so
that the work will keep growing larger and richer to you as you
become familiar with it: whereas in case of a thing made in the
unoriginal way, at a distance it will seem larger than it is, and will
keep shrinking and dwarfing as you draw nearer to it; and perhaps, when
you get fairly into it, it will prove to be no substance at all, but
only a mass of shining vapour; or, if you undertake to grasp it, your
hand will just close through it, as it would through a shadow.[8]

[8] This law of originality I have never seen better stated than
by Coleridge, in a passage justifying the form of Shakespeare's
dramas against a mode of criticism which has now, happily, gone
out of use. "The true ground," says he, "of the mistake lies in
the confounding mechanical regularity with organic form. The
form is mechanic, when on any given material we impress a
predetermined form, not necessarily arising out of the
properties of the material; as when to a mass of wet clay we
give whatever shape we wish it to retain when hardened. The
organic form, on the other hand, is innate; it shapes, as it
develops, itself from within, and the fulness of its development
is one and the same with the perfection of its outward form.
Such as the life is, such is the form. Nature, the prime genial
artist, inexhaustible in diverse powers, is equally
inexhaustible in forms: each exterior is the physiognomy of the
being within,--its true image reflected and thrown out from the
concave mirror."--With this may well be coupled Schlegel's
remarks on the same point: "Form is mechanical when it is
impressed upon any piece of matter by an outward operation, as
an accidental addition without regard to the nature of the
thing; as, for example, when we give any form at pleasure to a
soft mass, to be retained after induration. Organic form on the
contrary, is innate; it unfolds, itself from within, and attains
its determinate character along with the full development of the
germ. Such forms are found in Nature universally, wherever
living powers are in action. And in Art, as well as in Nature,
the supreme artist, all genuine forms are organic, that is, are
determined by the quality of the work. In short, the form is no
other than a significant exterior, the physiognomy of a
thing,--when not defaced by disturbing accidents, the _speaking_
physiognomy,--which bears true witness of its hidden essence."

All this, however, is nowise to be understood as inferring that a
great original artist must be an independent or isolated growth,
without parents and brethren, and the natural aids and inspirations of
society. This never was and never can be. Art-life must be had in
common, or not at all. In this, as in other things, many minds must
grow up together, else none can grow up. And no form of Art ever grew
to perfection, or any thing near it, but that it was and long had been
matter of strong national passion, or of a free and vigorous public
spirit. Men are not kindled to such a height without many convergent
rays of fellowship. In other words, before excellence of Art in any
kind can come, there has to be a large and long preparation, and this
not only in the spiritual culture and development of the people, but
also in the formal order and method of the thing. Accordingly great
artists, so far as the history of the matter is known, have always
lived and worked in successions and clusters, each adding something,
till at length a master mind arose, and gathered the finer efficacies
of them all into one result. This is notoriously true of Greek,
Venetian, Florentine, and Gothic Art: Phidias, Sophocles, Titian, and
Raphael had each many precursors and companions. The fact indeed is
apt to be lost sight of, because the earlier and inferior essays
perish, and only the finished specimens survive; so that we see them
more or less isolated; whereas in truth their origin and growth were
social, the fruit of a large intellectual partnership and
co-operation.--It is on the same principle that nothing truly
excellent either in the minds or the characters of men is reached
without much of "ennobling impulse from the Past"; and that they who
live too much in the present miss the right food of human elevation,
contented to be, perhaps proud of being the vulgar things they are,
because ignorant of what has been before them. It is not that the
present age is worse than former ages; it may even be better as a
whole: but what is bad or worthless in an age dies with the age; so
that only the great and good of the Past touches us; while of the
present we are most touched by that which is little and mean.

The third principle of Art, as I am taking them, is _Completeness_. A
work of art must have within itself all that is needful for the due
understanding of it, as _Art_; so that the beholder will not have to
go outside or beyond the work itself to learn what it means; that is,
provided he have the corresponding faculties alive within him, so as
to be capable of its proper force. For, if the work speaks through
form and colour, there must be, in answering measure, a natural or an
instructed eye; if sound is its organ, there must be a natural or an
instructed ear; if its speech is verbal, there must be, besides a
natural or an instructed taste, a sufficient knowledge also of the
language in which it is written. All this of course. But, apart from
this, the work must be complete in and of itself, so as to be
intelligible without a commentary. And any work which requires a sign
or a showman to tell the beholder what it is, or to enable him to take
the sense and virtue of it, is most certainly a failure.

In all this, however, I am speaking of the work simply as art, and not
as it is or may be something else. For works of art, in many cases,
are or have a good deal besides that. And in connection with such a
work there may arise various questions,--of antiquity, philology,
local custom and allusion; in what place and at what time it was done;
whence, how, and why it came to be as it is; where the author got any
hints or materials for it, and what of antecedent or contemporary
history may be gathered from it. All this is legitimate and right in
its place, but has nothing to do with the character and meaning of the
thing as a work of art, in which respect it must know its cue without
a prompter, and be able to tell its own tale. That which holds the
mirror up to nature must not need another mirror to discover or
interpret its reflection to us. For instance, a building, as a
building, looks to certain practical ends and uses; and, before we can
rightly understand the order and reason of it, we must know from other
sources the ends and uses for which it was designed: but in so far as
it is architecture, in so far as it is truly imaginative, and embodies
the author's intellectual soul, it must be able to express its own
meaning, so that we can understand and feel it without any thing but
what comes directly from the work itself. But perhaps the point may be
better illustrated in the case of an historical drama, which may be
viewed either as history or as art: and, to determine its merit as
history, we must go to other sources; but, for ascertaining its merit
as art, the work must itself give us all the knowledge we need: so
that the question of its historic truth is distinct and separate from
the question of its artistic truth: it may be true as history, yet
false as art; or it may be historically wrong, yet artistically right;
true to nature, though not true to past fact; and, however we may have
to travel abroad in the historical inquiry, the virtue of the work as
art must be ascertainable directly from the thing itself. This, then,
is what I mean by artistic completeness; that quality in virtue of
which a work justifies itself, without foreign help, by its own
fulness and clearness of expression.

The fourth and last principle that I am to consider is
_Disinterestedness_. This is partly an intellectual, but more a moral
quality. Now one great reason why men fail so much in their mental
work is because they are not willing to see and to show things as they
are, but must still be making them as they would have them to be. Thus
from self-love or wilfulness or vanity they work their own humours and
crotchets and fancies into the matter, or overlay it with some
self-pleasing quirks of peculiarity. Instead of this, the artist must
lose himself, his personal aims, interests, passions, and preferences,
in the enthusiasm and inspiration of his work, in the strength,
vividness, and beauty of his ideas and perceptions, and must give his
whole mind and soul to the task of working these out into expression.
To this end, his mind must live in constant loving sympathy and
intercourse with Nature; he must work close to her life and order;
must study to seize and reproduce the truth of Nature just precisely
as it is, and must not think to improve her or get ahead of her;
though, to be sure, out of the materials she offers, the selection and
arrangement must be his own; and all the strength he can put forth
this way will never enable him to come up to her stern, honest, solid
facts. So, for instance, the highest virtue of good writing stands in
saying a plain thing in a plain way. And in all art-work the first
requisite is, that a man have, in the collective sense and reason of
mankind, a firm foothold for withstanding the shifting currents and
fashions and popularities of the day. The artist is indeed to work in
free concert with the imaginative soul of his age: but the trouble is,
that men are ever mistaking some transient specialty of mode for the
abiding soul; thus tickling the folly of the time, but leaving its
wisdom untouched.

If, therefore, a man goes to admiring his own skill, or airing his own
powers, or imitating the choice touches of others, or heeding the
breath of conventional applause; if he yields to any strain of
self-complacency, or turns to practising smiles, or to taking pleasure
in his self-begotten graces and beauties and fancies;--in this giddy
and vertiginous state he will be sure to fall into intellectual and
artistic sin. The man, in such a case, is no more smitten with a
genuine love of Art than Malvolio was with a genuine love of Virtue:
like that hero of conceit, he is merely "sick of self-love, and tastes
with a distempered appetite." And his giddiness of self-love will take
from him the power of seeing things as they are; and because he sees
them as they are not, therefore he will think he sees them better than
they are. A man cannot find Nature by gazing in a looking-glass; and
it is vanity or some undisinterested force, and not any inspiration of
truth or genius, that puts a man upon doing so. And, in the condition
supposed, the mind becomes a prism to sophisticate and falsify the
light of truth into striking and brilliant colours, instead of being a
clear and perfect lens to concentrate that light in its natural
whiteness and purity. For, assuredly, the proper worth, health,
strength, virtue, joy, and life of Art is to be the interpreter and
discoverer of Truth, to "feel the soul of Nature, and see things as
they are"; and when, instead of this, it turns to glorifying its own
powers and achievements, or sets up any end apart from such discovery
and interpretation, it becomes sickly, feeble, foolish, frivolous,
vicious, joyless, and moribund; and meanness, cruelty, sensuality,
impiety, and irreligion are the companions of it.

It is indeed true that an artist may find one of the main spurs to
his art-work in the needs, duties, and affections of his earthly
being. The support of himself, of his wife, or her whom he wishes to
be his wife, of his children, his parents, or remoter kin; the desire
of being independent, of having the respect of society, or of doing
the charities of a Christian; an honest, manly yearning after fame, an
ambition to achieve something that "the world will not willingly let
die,"--all these, and yet others, may justly be among the determining
motives of his pursuit, and the thought of them may add fresh life and
vigour to his efforts: nevertheless he will not succeed, nor deserve
to succeed, in his art, except he have such an earnest and
disinterested love for it, and such a passion for artistic truth, as
will find the work its own exceeding great reward. In a word, his
heart and soul must be in it _as an end_, and not merely or chiefly as
a means. However prudence may suggest and shape his plans, love must
preside over the execution; and here, as elsewhere,

"Love's not love
When it is mingled with respects that stand
Aloof from the entire point."

These four, then, are, in my account, essential principles of Art, and
the only ones which it lies within my purpose to consider; namely,
Solidarity, Originality, Completeness, and Disinterestedness. And to
the attaining of these there needs, especially, three things in the
way of faculty,--high intellectual power, great force of will, and a
very tender heart;--a strong head to perceive and grasp the truth of
things, a strong will to select and order the materials for expressing
it, and a strong heart, which is tenderness, to give the work a soul
of beauty and sweetness and amiability. As a man combines all these
strengths, and as, moreover, through the unifying power of
imagination, he pours the united life and virtue of them all into his
work; so will his worth and honour stand as an artist. For whence
should the noblest fruitage of human thought and culture grow, but
from the noblest parts and attributes of manhood, moving together in
perfect concert and reciprocity?


Shakespeare's dramas--not all of them indeed, but those which were
written after he reached what may be called his mastership--are in the
highest sense of term Works of Art, and as such embody to the full the
principles set forth in the preceding section. In this general survey
of his workmanship, I propose to consider, first, his Dramatic
Architecture or Composition.

I have remarked in a previous chapter,[9] that in Shakespeare's time,
and for several ages before, the Drama was a national passion in England,
nearly all classes of people being pervaded by it. And yet, strange to
say, this passion, notwithstanding the great frequency and variety of
dramatic exhibitions, never came to any sound fruitage of Art, till
the work fell into Shakespeare's hands. Moreover the tide of patriotic
feeling, or the passion of nationality, which had for centuries been
growing in strength, intelligence, and manliness, was then at its
height, the people of all sorts being possessed with a hearty, honest
English enthusiasm and national pride. And this passion was
inextricably bound up with traditions of the past and with the ancient
currents of the national life. Therewithal this deep, settled
reverence for what was then "Old England," while it naturally drew
into the mind the treasured riches of many foregoing ages, was at the
same time strangely combined with a very bold and daring spirit of
progress and improvement. Men seem indeed to have been all the more
open to healthy innovation for being thus firmly rooted in the ground
of prescription. The public mind received what was new the more freely
because it loved the old. So that hope and anticipation walked with
the bolder pace, inasmuch as memory and retrospection were still their
cherished companions. In a word, men's tenacity of the past gave them
the larger and brighter vision of the future. Because they had no
mind to forsake the law of their fathers, or to follow the leading of
"sages undevoutly free," therefore they were able to legislate the
better for their children, and felt the less of danger in true freedom
of thought.

[9] Page 120 of this volume.

It was natural, perhaps inevitable, that those two passions thus
coexisting should somehow work together, and at least endeavour to
produce a joint result. And so it was in fact. Historical plays, or
things purporting to be such, were highly popular: the public taste
evidently favoured, not to say demanded them; and some of
Shakespeare's earliest essays were undoubtedly in that line. There are
many clear evidences to this point. For instance, Thomas Nash, in his
_Pierce Penniless_, 1592, speaks of certain plays "wherein our
forefathers' valiant acts, that have been long buried in rusty brass
and worm-eaten books, are revived, and they themselves raised from the
grave of oblivion, and brought to plead their aged honours in open
presence." And again: "How would it have joyed brave Talbot, the
terror of the French, to think that, after he had lain two hundred
years in the tomb, he should triumph again on the stage; and have his
bones new-embalmed with the tears of ten thousand spectators at
least,--at several times,--who, in the tragedian that represents his
person, behold him fresh-bleeding!" From these passages it is clear
that historical plays on English subjects were strong in the public
interest and patronage. And I have no doubt that the second passage
quoted refers to Shakespeare's First Part of _King Henry the Sixth_.
And it might well be that the popular mind should take special delight
in entertainments where, to the common interest of dramatic
exhibitions was added the further charm of national feeling and
recollection, and where a large patriotism, "looking before and
after," would find itself at home.

The Historical Drama, then, grew up simultaneously with Comedy and
Tragedy, and established itself as a cooerdinate branch of the Gothic
Drama in England. Now this circumstance could not be without great
influence in determining the whole scope and character of the English
Drama in all its varieties. The natural effect was to make them all
more or less historical in method and grain. For the process
generated, and could not fail to generate, corresponding modes and
habits of thought in dramatic composition; and these would needs go
with the writers into whatever branch of the Drama they might take in
hand. Because modes and habits of thought are not things that men can
put off and on for different subjects and occasions. What they learn
to practise in one field of labour transfers itself with them, whether
they will or no, to other fields. Their way of viewing things, nay,
their very faculties of vision, catch the temper and drift of what
they work in; which drift and temper cleave to them in spite of
themselves, and unconsciously shape all their movements of thought; so
that, change their matter as they may, their mind still keeps the
same. Accordingly, even when Shakespeare does not deal specifically
with the persons and events of history; when he fetches his incidents
and characters from the realms of imagination; still his workmanship
is historical in its spirit and method; proceeding according to the
_laws_, even while departing from the _matter_, of history; so that we
have pure creations formed upon the principles, and in the order and
manner, of historical dramas.

The practical consequences of all this were both manifold and strongly
marked. The Drama thus cut itself loose and swung clean away from the
narrow circle of myths and legends, where the ancients had fixed it,
and ranged at large in all the freedom and variety of historical
representation. It took on all the compass, amplitude, and
expansiveness of the Homeric Epos. The stereotyped sameness and
confinement of the Greek stage were necessarily discarded, and the
utmost breadth of matter and scope, compatible with clearness of
survey, became the recognized freehold of Dramatic Art.[10]

[10] At this time the Drama was recognized throughout Europe as
the poetic form most suitable to modern times and races. As it
occupied the _place_ of the epic poem, and did not merely, like
the ancient drama, stand _side by side_ with it, so, along with
the office of replacing it, it inherited also the task of
showing itself capable of managing, like the epopee, any matter
however extended. The materials presented to it were not common
property, like the many well-known myths of antiquity, handed
down in a ready-made poetical form; but they were those
rudiments formed in the religious dramas, those Mysteries
founded on vast actions, and those historical subjects, which
required a whole cycle of pieces for the mastering of the huge
matter. The things of the world had become complicated and
manifold: the variety of men, their nature, their passions,
their situations, their mutually-contending powers, would not
submit, in dramatic representation, to be limited to a simple
catastrophe: a wider horizon must be drawn; the actions must be
represented throughout their course; the springs of action must
be more deeply searched. Thus Art was put to the work of setting
forth the utmost fulness of matter in a corresponding form,
which, however, according to Aristotle's law, must not be
extended so far as to preclude an easy survey.--GERVINUS.

So that, as I have before observed, the English Drama was, in the
largest sense, a national growth, and not the work of any individual.
Neither was it a sudden growth, as indeed nothing truly national ever
can be: like the English State, it was the slow, gradual, silent
production of centuries,--the result of the thoughts of many minds in
many ages. The whole platform, and all that relates to the formal
construction of the work, were fixed before Shakespeare put his hand
to it: what remained for him to do, and what he was supremely gifted
for doing, was to rear a grand and beautiful fabric on the basis and
out of the materials already prepared. And where I like best to
contemplate the Poet is, not in the isolation of those powers which
lift him so far above all others, but as having the mind of the
nation, with its great past and greater present, to back him up. And
it seems to me, his greatness consisted very much in that, as he had
the gift, so he surrendered himself to the high task, of reproducing
in artistic immortality the beatings of old England's mighty heart. He
therefore did not go, nor needed he, to books to learn what others had
done: he just sucked in without stint, and to the full measure of his
angelic capacity, the wisdom and the poetry that lived on the lips,
and in the thoughts, feelings, sentiments, and manners of the people.
What he thus sucked in, he purged from its drossy mixtures,
replenished with fresh vitality, and gave it back clothed in the grace and
strength of his own clear spirit. He told the nation better--O how
much better!--than any other could, just what it wanted to hear,--the
very things which its heart was swelling with; only it found not
elsewhere a tongue to voice them, nor an imagination to body them

[11] The times, far from being a hindrance to a great poet,
were, indeed, from fortunate local and national conditions, the
most propitious that modern times could offer. In a few points
they might be prejudicial to Shakespeare's poetry, but on the
whole he had cause to bless his happy star. The conflict with
scholastic philosophy and religious fanaticism was not indeed
over; yet Shakespeare came at a precious moment of mental
freedom, _after_ the struggle with Popery, and _before_ that
with the Puritans. He could thus in his poetry give to the age
the basis of a natural mode of feeling, thought, and life, upon
which Art prospers in its purest form. In many respects the age
itself was in this favourable to the Poet. It maintained a happy
medium between crudeness and a vitiated taste: life was not
insipid and colourless, as it is nowadays: men still ventured to
appear what they were; there was still poetry in reality. Our
German poets, in an age of rouge and powder, of hoops and wigs,
of stiff manners, rigid proprieties, narrow society, and cold
impulses, had indescribable trouble in struggling out of this
dulness and deformity, which they had first to conquer in
themselves before they could discern and approve what was
better. In Shakespeare's time, nature was still alive: the age
was just halting on the threshold of these distorted views of
false civilization; and if our Poet had to combat against the
first approaches of the disease, he was yet sound and free from
it himself. He had the immense advantage of being at one with
his age, and not at odds with it. When he sought materials for
his poetry, he did not need, like our painters, to dive into
past worlds, restore lost creeds, worship fallen gods, and
imitate foreign works of art: from his national soil he drew the
power which makes his poetry unrivalled. The age favoured him
from another side also. He appeared at that auspicious period
when the Drama had in England already obtained acceptance and,
love; when the sympathy of the people was most alive; and when,
on the other hand, the public were not yet corrupted with
oversensibility. He took that in hand which most actively
engaged the spirit of the people; and he carried it through
progressive steps to a consummation beyond which there was
nothing possible but retrogression.--GERVINUS.

Thus the time and the man were just suited to each other; and it was
in his direct, fearless, whole-hearted sympathy with the soul of the
time that the man both lost himself and found his power: which is
doubtless one reason why we see so little of him in what he wrote. So
that the work could not possibly have been done anywhere but in
England,--the England of Spenser and Raleigh and Bacon; nor could it
have been done there and then by any man but Shakespeare. In his hand
what had long been a national passion became emphatically a National
Institution: how full of life, is shown in that it has ever since
refused to die. And it seems well worth the while to bring this
clearly into view, inasmuch as it serves to remove the subject upon
deeper and broader principles of criticism than have commonly stood
uppermost in the minds of the Poet's critics.

Properly speaking, then, it was the mind and soul of old England that
made the English Drama as we have it in Shakespeare: her life, genius,
culture, spirit, character, built up the work, and built themselves
into the work, at once infusing the soul and determining the form. Of
course, therefore, they ordered and shaped the thing to suit their own
purpose, or so as to express freely and fitly their proper force and
virtue; and they did this in wise ignorance, or in noble disregard, of
antecedent examples, and of all formal and conventional rules. In
other words, they were the _life_ of the thing; and that life
organized its body, as it needs must do, according to its innate and
essential laws.[12]


A Poet!--He hath put his heart to school,
Nor dares to move unpropp'd upon the staff
Which Art hath lodg'd within his hand,--must laugh
By precept only, and shed tears by rule.
Thy Art be Nature! the live current quaff,
And let the groveller sip his stagnant pool,
In fear that else, when Critics grave and cool
Have kill'd him, Scorn should write his epitaph.
How doth the Meadow-flower its bloom unfold?
Because the lovely little flower is free
Down to its root, and in that freedom bold;
And so the grandeur of the Forest-tree
Comes not by casting in a formal mould,
But from its _own_ divine vitality.


Which naturally starts the question, how or why the Shakespearian
Drama came to take on a form so very different from that of the
Classic Drama. This question has been partly disposed of already, in
speaking of the freedom and variety which the historical branch
imported into the sphere of dramatic production. Still it may be asked
how, if the Classic form is right, as all admit it to be, can we avoid
concluding the Shakespearian form to be wrong? The answer of course
is, that the form differs, and ought to differ, just as much as the
life does; so that both forms may be right, or at least equally so.
Formerly it was the custom to censure the Poet greatly, if not to
condemn him utterly, because, in his dramatic workmanship, he did not
observe what are called the Minor Unities, that is, the Unities of
Time and Place. The controversy indeed is now all out of date, and
there need not a word be said by way of answering or refuting that old
objection: no interest attaches to the question, nor is it worth
considering at all, save as it may yield light and illustration in the
philosophy of Art, and in the general matter of art criticism. On this
account, it may be worth the while to look a little further into the
reason of the difference in question.

I have already said that religion or religious culture has always been
the originating and shaping spirit of Art. There is no workmanship of
Art in which this holds more true than in the English Drama. Now the
religious culture of Christian England was essentially different from
that of Classic Greece; the two being of quite diverse and
incommunicable natures; so that the spirit of the one could not
possibly live in the dramatic form of the other. In other words, the
body of the Classic Drama was not big enough nor strong enough to
contain the soul of Christian England. The thing could no more be,
except in a purely mechanical and arbitrary way, than an acorn could
develop itself into a violet, or the life of an eagle build itself
into the body of a trout, or the soul of a horse put on the organism
of a dove. Moreover the Greek religion was mythical or fabulous, and
could nowise stand the historic method: the Christian religion is
historical both in origin and form; as such it has a natural sympathy
and affinity with the historic method, the hardest facts being more in
keeping with its spirit than the most beautiful and ingenious fables
and myths. Not indeed but that Christianity has its own ideal, or
rather its sphere of ideality, and this in a much higher and purer
kind than any mythology ever had; but its nature is to idealize from
fact; its ideality is that of the waking reason and the ruling
conscience, not that of the dreaming fancy and the dominating senses;
and even in poetry its genius is to "build a princely throne on humble
truth": it opens to man's imaginative soul the largest possible
scope,--"Beauty, a living Presence, surpassing the most fair ideal
forms which craft of delicate spirits hath composed from earth's
materials"; a world where imagination gathers fresh life and vigour
from breathing the air of reason's serenest sky, and where it builds
the higher and nobler, that it rests on a deep and solid basis of
humility, instead of "revolving restlessly" around its own airy and
flitting centre. The Shakespearian Drama works in the order and spirit
of this principle; so that what the Poet creates is in effect
historical, has the solidity and verisimilitude of Fact, and what he
borrows has all the freedom and freshness of original creation.
Therewithal he often combines the two, or interchanges them freely, in
the same work; where indeed they seem just as much at home together as
if they were twins; or rather each is so attempered to the other, that
the two are vitally continuous.

But let us note somewhat further the difference of structure. Now the
Classic Drama, as we have it in Sophocles, though exquisitely clear
and simple in form, and austerely beautiful withal, is comparatively
limited in its scope, with few characters, little change of scene, no
blending or interchanging of the humourous and the grave, the tragic
and the comic, and hardly exceeding in length a single Act of the
Shakespearian Drama. The interest all, or nearly all, centres in the
catastrophe, there being only so much of detail and range as is
needful to the evolving of this. Thus the thing neither has nor admits
any thing like the complexity and variety, the breadth, freedom, and
massiveness, of Shakespeare's workmanship. There is timber enough and
life enough in one of his dramas to make four or five Sophoclean
tragedies; and one of these might almost be cut out of _Hamlet_
without being missed. Take, for instance, the _Oedipus at Colonos_ of
Sophocles and _King Lear_, each perhaps the most complex and varied
work of the author. The Greek tragedy, though the longest of the
author's pieces, is hardly more than a third the length of _King
Lear_. The former has no change of scene at all; the first Act of the
other has five changes of scene. The Sophoclean drama has eight
characters in all, besides the Chorus; _King Lear_ has twenty
characters, besides the anonymous persons. To be sure, quantity in
such things is no measure of strength or worth; but when we come to
wealth, range, and amplitude of thought, the difference is perhaps
still greater.

And so, generally, the Classic Drama, like the Classic Architecture,
is all light, graceful, airy, in its form; whereas the Gothic is in
nature and design profound, solemn, majestic. The genius of the one
runs to a simple expressiveness; of the other to a manifold
suggestiveness. That is mainly statuesque, and hardly admits any
effect of background and perspective; this is mainly picturesque, and
requires an ample background and perspective for its characteristic
effect. There the mind is drawn more to objects; here, more to
relations. The former, therefore, naturally detaches things as much as
possible, and sets each out by itself in the utmost clearness and
definiteness of view; while the latter associates and combines them in
the largest possible variety consistent with unity of interest and
impression, so as to produce the effect of indefiniteness and mystery.
Thus a Shakespearian drama is like a Gothic cathedral, which, by its
complexity of structure, while catching the eye would fain lift the
thoughts to something greater and better than the world, making the
beholder feel his littleness, and even its own littleness, comparison of
what it suggests. For, in this broad and manifold diversity struggling
up into unity, we may recognize the awe-inspiring grandeur and
vastness of the Gothic Architecture, as distinguished from the
cheerful, smiling beauty of the Classic. Such is the difference
between the spirit of Classic Art and the spirit of Gothic Art.[13]

[13] Schlegel has a passage that hits the core of the matter:
"Rousseau recognized the contrast in Music, and showed that
rhythm and melody was the ruling principle of ancient as harmony
is of modern music. On the imaging arts, Hemsterhuys made this
ingenious remark, that the ancient painters were perhaps too
much of sculptors, modern sculptors too much of painters. This
touches the very point of difference; for the spirit of
collective ancient art and poetry is plastic, as that of the
modern is picturesque." And again: "The Pantheon is not more
different from Westminster Abbey or the Church of St. Stephen at
Vienna than the structure of a tragedy of Sophocles from a drama
of Shakespeare. The comparison between these two wonderful
productions of poetry and architecture might be carried still
further." Coleridge also has some very choice remarks on the
subject: "I will note down the fundamental characteristics which
contradistinguish the ancient literature from the modern
generally, but which more especially appear in prominence in the
tragic drama. The ancient was allied to statuary, the modern
refers to painting. In the first there is a predominance of
rhythm and melody; in the second, of harmony and counterpoint.
The Greeks idolized the finite, and therefore were masters of
all grace, elegance, proportion, fancy, dignity, majesty,--of
whatever, in short, is capable of being definitely conveyed by
defined forms and thoughts; the moderns revere the infinite, and
affect the indefinite as a vehicle of the infinite; hence their
passions, their obscure hopes and fears, their wandering through
the unknown, their grander moral feelings, their more august
conception of man as man, their future rather than their
past,--in a word, their sublimity."

Now, taking these two things together, namely, the historic spirit and
method, and also the breadth and amplitude of matter and design, both
of which belong to the Gothic Drama, and are indeed of its
nature;--taking these together, it cannot but be seen, I think, that
the work must have a much larger scope, a far more varied and
expansive scene, than is consistent with the Minor Unities. If, for
example, a man would _represent_ any impressive course or body of
historical events, the historic order and process of the thing plainly
necessitate a form very different from that of the Classic Drama: the
work must needs use considerable diversity of time and place, else
narrative and description will have to be substituted, in a great
measure, for representation; that is, the right dramatic form must be
sacrificed to what, after all, has no proper coherence or
consanguinity with the nature and genius of the work. As to which of
the two is better in itself, whether the austere and simple beauty of
the Sophoclean tragedy, or the colossal grandeur and massiveness of such a
drama as _King Lear_, this is not for me to say: for myself, however,
I cannot choose but prefer the latter; for this too has a beauty of
its own; but it is indeed an _awful_ beauty, and to my sense all the
better for being so. Be this as it may, it is certain that the human
mind had quite outgrown the formal limitations of the Classic

[14] Two thousand years lie between Shakespeare and the
flourishing period of the ancient tragedy. In this interval
Christianity laid open unknown depths of mind: the Teutonic
race, in their dispersion, filled wide spaces of the Earth; the
Crusaders opened the way to the East, voyages of discovery
revealed the West and the form of the whole globe; new spheres
of knowledge presented themselves; whole nations and periods of
time arose and passed away; a thousand forms of life, public and
private, religious and political, had come and gone; the circle
of views, ideas, experiences, and interests was immensely
enlarged, the mind thereby made deeper and broader, wants
increased, passions more various and refined, the conflict of
human endeavours more diversified and intricate, the resources
of the mind immeasurable; all in a way quite foreign to the
childish times of antiquity. This abundance of external and
internal material streamed into the sphere of Art on all sides:
poetry could not resist it without injury, and even

But what are the conditions of building, in right artistic order, a
work of such vastness and complexity? As the mind is taken away from
the laws of time and place, it must be delivered over to the higher
laws of reason. So that the work lies under the necessity of
proceeding in such a way as to make the spectator live in his
imagination, not in his senses, and even his senses must, for the time
being, be made imaginative, or be ensouled. That is, instead of the
formal or numerical unities of time and place, we must have the
unities of intellectual time and intellectual space: the further the
artist departs from the local and chronological succession of things,
the more strict and manifest must be their logical and productive
succession. Incidents and characters are to be represented, not in the
order of sensible juxtaposition or procession, but in that of cause
and effect, of principle and consequence. Whether, therefore, they
stand ten minutes or ten months, ten feet or ten miles, asunder,
matters not, provided they are really and evidently united in this
way; that is, provided the unities of action and interest are made
strong enough and clear enough to overcome the diversities of time and
place. For, here, it is not _where_ and _when_ a given thing happened,
but how it was produced, and why, whence it came and whither it
tended, what caused it to be as it was, and to do as it did, that we
are mainly concerned with.

The same principle is further illustrated in the well-known nakedness
of the Elizabethan stage in respect of furniture and scenic
accompaniment. The weakness, if such it were, appears to have been the
source of vast strength. It is to this poverty of the old stage that
we owe, in part, the immense riches of the Shakespearian Drama, since
it was thereby put to the necessity of making up for the defect of
sensuous impression by working on the rational, moral, and imaginative
forces of the audience. And, undoubtedly, the modern way of glutting
the senses with a profusion of showy and varied dress and scenery has
struck, as it must always strike, a dead palsy on the legitimate
processes of Gothic Art. The decline of the Drama began with its
beginning, and has kept pace with its progress. So that here we have a
forcible illustration of what is often found true, that men cannot get
along because there is nothing to hinder them. For, in respect of the
moral and imaginative powers, it may be justly affirmed that we are
often assisted most when _not_ assisted, and that the right way of
helping us on is by leaving us unhelped. That the soul may find and
use her wings, nothing is so good as the being left where there is
little for the feet to get hold of and rest upon.

To answer fully the conditions of the work, to bring the Drama fairly
through the difficulties involved therein, is, it seems to me, just
the greatest thing the human intellect has ever done in the province
of Art. Accordingly I place Shakespeare's highest and most peculiar
excellence in the article of Dramatic Composition. He it was, and he
alone, that accomplished the task of _organizing_ the English Drama.
Among his predecessors and senior contemporaries there was, properly
speaking, no dramatic artist. What had been done was not truly Art,
but only a preparation of materials and a settlement of preliminaries.
Up to his time, there was little more than the elements of the work
lying scattered here and there, some in greater, some in less
perfection, and still requiring to be gathered up and combined in
right proportions, and under the proper laws of dramatic life. Take
any English drama written before his, and you will find that the
several parts do not stand or draw together in any thing like organic
consistency: the work is not truly a _concrescence_ of persons and
events, but only, at the best, a mere succession or aggregation of
them; so that, for the most part, each would both be and appear just
as it does, if detached from the others, and viewed by itself.
Instead, therefore, of a vital unity, like that of a tree, the work
has but a sort of aggregative unity, like a heap of sand.

Which may in some fair measure explain what I mean by dramatic
composition. For a drama, regarded as a work of art, should be in the
strictest sense of the term a _society_; that is, not merely a
numerical collection or juxtaposition, but a living contexture, of
persons and events. For men's natures do not, neither can they, unfold
themselves severally and individually; their development proceeds
from, through, and by each other. And, besides their individual
circulations, they have a common circulation; their characters
interpenetrating, more or less, one with another, and standing all
together in mutual dependence and support. Nor does this vital
coherence and reciprocity hold between the several characters merely,
but also between these, taken collectively, and the various
conditions, objects, circumstances, and influences, amidst which they
have grown. So that the whole is like a large, full-grown tree, which
is in truth made up of a multitude of little trees, all growing from a
common root, nourished by a common sap, and bound together in a common

Now in Shakespeare's dramas--I do not say all of them, for some were
but his apprentice-work, but in most of them--the several parts, both
characters and incidents, are knit together in this organic way, so as
to be all truly members one of another. Each needs all the others,
each helps all the others, each is made what it is by the presence of
all the others. Nothing stands alone, nothing exists merely for
itself. The persons not only have each their several development, but
also, besides this, and running into this, a development in common. In
short, their whole transpiration proceeds by the laws and from the
blood of mutual membership. And as each lives and moves and has his
being, so each is to be understood and interpreted, with reference,
explicit or implicit, to all the others. And there is not only this
coherence of the characters represented, one with another, but also of
them all with the events and circumstances of the representation. It
is this coefficient action of all the parts to a common end, this
mutual participation of each in all, and of all in each, that
constitutes the thing truly and properly a work of art.

So then a drama may be fitly spoken of as an _organic_ structure. And
such it must be, to answer the conditions of Art. Here we have a thing
made up of divers parts or elements, with a course or circulation of
mutual reference and affinity pervading them all, and binding them
together, so as to give to the whole the character of a multitudinous
unit; just as in the illustration, before used, of a large tree made
up of innumerable little trees. And it seems plain enough that, the
larger the number and variety of parts embraced in the work, or the
more diversified it is in matter and movement, the greater the
strength of faculty required for keeping every thing within the terms
of Art; while, provided this be done, the grander is the impression
produced, and the higher is the standing of the work as an
intellectual achievement of man.

This, then, as before observed, is just the highest and hardest part
of dramatic creation: in the whole domain of literary workmanship
there is no one thing so rarely attained, none that so few have been
found capable of attaining, as this. And yet in this Shakespeare was
absolutely--I speak advisedly--without any teacher whatever; not to
say, what probably might be said without any hazard, that it is a
thing which no man or number of men could impart. The Classic Drama,
had he been ever so well acquainted with it, could not have helped him
here at all, and would most likely have been a stumbling-block to him.
And, in my view of the matter, the most distinguishing feature of the
Poet's genius lies in this power of broad and varied combination; in
the deep intuitive perception which thus enabled him to put a
multitude of things together, so that they should exactly fit and
finish one another. In some of his works, as _Titus Andronicus, The
Comedy of Errors_, and the three Parts of _King Henry the Sixth_,
though we have, especially in the latter, considerable skill in
individual character,--far more than in any English plays preceding
them,--there is certainly very little, perhaps nothing, that can be
rightly termed dramatic composition. In several, again, as _The Two
Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost_, and _King John_, we have
but the beginnings and first stages of it. But in various others, as
_The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, King Henry the
Fourth, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear_, and _Othello_, it is found, if
not in entire perfection, at least so nearly perfect, that there has
yet been no criticism competent to point out the defect.

All which makes a full and conclusive answer to the charge of
irregularity which has been so often brought against the Poet. To be
regular, in the right sense of the term, he did not need to follow the
rules which others had followed before him: he was just as right in
differing from them as they were in differing from him: in other
words, he stands as an original, independent, authoritative legislator
in the province of Art; or, as Gervinus puts it, "he holds the place
of the revealing genius of the laws of Art in the Modern Drama"; so
that it is sheer ignorance, or something worse, to insist on trying
him by the laws of the ancient Tragedy. It is on this ground that
Coleridge makes the pregnant remark,--"No work of true genius dares
want its appropriate form, neither indeed is there any danger of this.
As it must not, so genius cannot, be lawless; for it is even this that
constitutes it genius,--the power of acting creatively under laws of
its own origination." So that I may fitly close this branch of the
subject by applying to Shakespeare a very noteworthy saying of
Burke's, the argument of which holds no less true of the law-making
prerogative in Art than in the State: "Legislators have no other rules to
bind them but the great principles of reason and equity, and the general
sense of mankind. These they are bound to obey and follow; and rather
to enlarge and enlighten law by the liberality of legislative reason,
than to fetter and bind their higher capacity by the narrow
constructions of subordinate, artificial justice."[15]

[15] Aristotle himself was very far from setting up the form and
extent of the drama of his day as a rule for all time. He
declared that, "as regards the natural limit of the action, the
more extended will always be the more beautiful, so long as it
is easily surveyed." Shakespeare's practice is strictly
correspondent to this rule. But with this rule in mind, he went
to the very verge of these limits. He chose his matter as rich
and full as possible; he extended its form according to its
requirements, but no further: it will not be found, in any of
his dramas, that the thought is exhausted before the end; that
there is any superfluous extension of the form, or any needless
abundance of the matter. To arrange the most ample materials in
the amplest form without overstepping its fair proportions, is a
task which no one has accomplished as he has done. Therein lies
a large part of his artistic greatness. No poet has represented
so much in so little space; none has so widely enlarged the
space without exceeding the poetical limitations. In this he did
not suffer himself to be perplexed by the example of the ancient
tragedy. He felt that the peculiar poetic material of the new
world would perish in those old forms, and that it was therefore
better to mould them afresh. He knew right well that the poet's
task was to represent the very substance of his times, to
reflect the age in his poetry, and to give it form and stamp: he
therefore created, for the enlarged sphere of life, an enlarged
sphere of Art: to this end he sought, not a ready-made rule, but
the inward law of the given matter,--a spirit in the things,
which in the work of art shaped the form for itself. For there
is no higher worth in a poetical work than the agreement of the
form with the nature of the matter represented, and this
according to its own indwelling laws, not according to external
rule. If we judge Shakespeare or Homer by any such conventional
rule, we may equally deny them taste and law: measured, however,
by that higher standard, Shakespeare's conformity to the inner
law outstrips all those regular dramatists who learned from
Aristotle, not the spirit of regularity, but mechanical


I am next to consider Shakespeare's peculiar mode of conceiving and
working out character; as this stands next in order and importance to
the article of Dramatic Composition.

Now, in several English writers before him, we find characters
discriminated and sustained with considerable judgment and skill.
Still we feel a want of reality about them: they are not men and women
themselves, but only the outsides and appearances of men and women;
often having indeed a good measure of coherence and distinctness, but
yet mere appearances, with nothing behind or beneath, to give them
real substance and solidity. Of course, therefore, the parts actually
represented are all that they have; they stand for no more than simply
what is shown; there is nothing in them or of them but what meets the
beholder's sense: so that, however good they may be to look at, they
will not bear looking into; because the outside, that which is
directly seen or heard, really exhausts their whole force and meaning.

Instead, then, of beginning at the heart of a character, and working
outwards, these authors began at the surface, and worked the other
way; and so were precluded from getting beyond the surface, by their
mode of procedure. It is as if the shell of an egg should be fully
formed and finished before the contents were prepared; in which case
the contents of course could not be got into it. It would have to
remain a shell, and nothing more: as such, it might do well enough for
a show, just as well indeed as if it were full of meat; but it would
not stand the weighing.

With Shakespeare all this is just reversed. His egg is a real egg,
brimful of meat, and not an empty shell; and this, because the
formation began at the centre, and the shell was formed last. He gives
us, not the mere imitations or appearances of things, but the very
things themselves. His characters _have_ more or less of surface, but
they _are_ solids: what is actually and directly shown, is often the
least part of them, never the whole: the rest is left to be inferred;
and the showing is so managed withal as to start and propagate the
inferring process in the beholder's mind.

All which clearly implies that Shakespeare conceived his persons, not
from their outside, but in their rudiments and first principles. He
begins at the heart of a character, and unfolds it outwards, forming
and compacting all the internal parts and organs as he unfolds it; and
the development, even because it is a real and true development,
proceeds at every step, not by mere addition or aggregation of
particulars, but by digestion and vital assimilation of all the matter
that enters into the structure; there being, in virtue of the life
that pervades the thing, just such elements, and just so much of them,
sent to each organ, as is necessary to its formation. The result of
this wonderful process is, that the characters are all that they
appear to be, and a vast deal more besides: there is food for endless
thought and reflection in them: beneath and behind the surface, there
is all the substance that the surface promises or has room for,--an
inexhaustible stock of wealth and significance beyond what is directly
seen; so that the more they are looked into the more they are found to

Thus there is a sort of realistic verisimilitude in Shakespeare's
characters. It is as if they had been veritable living men and women,
and he had seen and comprehended and delivered the whole and pure
truth respecting them. Of course, therefore, they are as far as
possible from being mere names set before pieces of starched and
painted rhetoric, or mere got-up figures of modes and manners: they
are no shadows or images of fancy, no heroes of romance, no
theatrical personages at all; they have nothing surreptitious or
make-believe or ungenuine about them: they do not in any sort belong
to the family of poetical beings; they are not designs from works of
art; nay, they are not even _designs_ from nature; they are nature
itself. Nor are they compilations from any one-sided or sectional view
of mankind, but are cut out round and full from the whole of humanity;
so that they touch us at all points, and, as it were, surround us.
From all this it follows that there is no repetition among them:
though there are some striking family resemblances, yet no two of them
are individually alike: for, as the process of forming them was a real
growth, an evolution from a germ, the spontaneous result of creative
Nature working within them, so there could be no copying of one from
another. Accordingly, as in the men and women of Nature's own making,
different minds conceive different ideas of them, and have different
feelings towards them, and even the same mind at different times: in
fact, hardly any two men view them alike, or any one man for two years
together; the actual changes in us being reflected and measured by
correspondent _seeming_ changes in them: so that a further
acquaintance with them always brings advancing knowledge, and what is
added still modifies what was held before. Hence even so restrained,
not to say grudging, a critic as Pope was constrained to pronounce
Shakespeare's characters "so much Nature herself, that it is a sort of
injury to call them by so distant a name as copies of her."

"Of Nature's inner shrine thou art the Priest,
Where most she works when we perceive her least."

I have placed Shakespeare's power of dramatic architecture or
organization at the head of his gifts and prerogatives _as an artist_.
And so I suppose a just Philosophy of Art is bound to reckon it. But
comparatively few men are or can be, in the fair sense of the term,
philosophers of Art, as this requires a course of special training and
study. But Shakespeare is a great teacher in the School of Life as
well as a great master in the School of Art. And indeed the right use
of Art is nowise to serve as the raw material of philosophy, but to
furnish instruction and inspiration in the truth of things; and unless
it can work home to the business and bosoms of plain practical men, it
might as well be struck from the roll of legitimate interests. Now, in
the circle of uninspired forces, Shakespeare's art may be justly
regarded as our broadest and noblest "discipline of humanity." And his
characterization, not his dramatic composition, is his point of
contact with us as a practical teacher. In other words, it is by his
thorough _at-homeness_ with human nature in the transpirations of
individual character that he touches the general mind and heart. Here
he speaks a language which all men of developed intelligence can
understand and feel. Accordingly it is in his characters that most men
place, and rightly place, his supreme excellence: here it is that his
wisdom finds and grasps men _directly_ as men; nor, at this point of
meeting, does he leave any part of our many-sided being without its fitting
portion of meat in due season; while our receptiveness is the only
limit to our acquisitions.[16]

[16] Here is no stage language or manners, no standing parts,
nothing that can be called ideal or favourite stage characters,
no heroes of the theatre or of romance: in this active world
there is nothing fantastic, nothing unsound, nothing exaggerated
nor empty: neither the poet nor the actor speaks in them, but
creative nature alone, which seems to dwell in and to animate
these images. The forms vary, as they do in life, from the
deepest to the shallowest, from the most noble to the most
deformed: a prodigal dispenses these riches; but the impression
is, that he is as inexhaustible as Nature herself. And not one
of these figures is like another in features: there are groups
which have a family likeness, but no two individuals resembling
each other: they become known to us progressively, as we find it
with living acquaintance: they make different impressions on
different people, and are interpreted by each according to his
own feelings. Hence, in the explanation of Shakespeare's
characters, it would be an idle undertaking to balance the
different opinions of men, or to insist arbitrarily on our own:
each can only express his own view, and must then learn whose
opinion best stands the test of time. For, on returning to these
characters at another time, our greater ripeness and experience
will ever lay open to us new features in them. Whoever has not
been wrecked, with his ideals and principles, on the shore of
life, whoever has not bled inwardly with sorrow, has not
suppressed holy feelings, and stumbled over the enigmas of the
world, will but half understand Hamlet. And whoever has borne
the sharpest pains of consciousness will understand
Shakespeare's characters like one of the initiated; and to him
they will be ever new, ever more admirable, ever richer in
significance: he will make out of them a school of life, free
from the danger of almost all modern poetry, which is apt to
lead us astray, and to give us heroes of romance, instead of
true men.--GERVINUS.

"That which he hath writ
Is with such judgment labour'd and distill'd
Through all the needful uses of our lives,
That, could a man remember but his lines,
He should not touch at any serious point,
But he might breathe his spirit out of him."

Shakespeare, it is true, idealizes his characters, all of them more or
less, some of them very much. But this, too, is so done from the heart
outwards, done with such inward firmness and such natural temperance,
that there is seldom any thing of hollowness or insolidity in the
result. Except in some of his earlier plays, written before he had
found his proper strength, and before his genius had got fairly
disciplined into power, there is nothing ambitious or obtrusive in his
idealizing; no root of falsehood in the work, as indeed there never is
in any work of art that is truly worthy the name. Works of artifice
are a very different sort of thing. And one, perhaps the main, secret
of Shakespeare's mode in this respect is, that the ideal is so equally
diffused, and so perfectly interfused with the real, as not to disturb
the natural balance and harmony of things. In other words, his poetry
takes and keeps an elevation at all points alike above the plane of
fact. Therewithal his mass of real matter is so great, that it keeps
the ideal mainly out of sight. It is only by a special act of
reflection that one discovers there is any thing but the real in his
workmanship; and the appreciative student, unless his attention is
specially drawn to that point, may dwell with him for years without
once suspecting the presence of the ideal, because in truth his mind
is kindled secretly to an answering state. It is said that even
Schiller at first saw nothing but realism in Shakespeare, and was
repelled by his harsh truth; but afterwards became more and more
impressed with his ideality, which seemed to bring him near the old

Thus even when Shakespeare idealizes most the effect is to make the
characters truer to themselves and truer to nature than they otherwise
would be. This may sound paradoxical, nevertheless I think a little
illustration will make it good. For the proper idealizing of Art is a
concentration of truth, and not, as is often supposed, a substitution
of something else in the place of it. Now no man, that has any
character to speak of, does or can show his whole character at any one
moment or in any one turn of expression: it takes the gathered force
and virtue of many expressions to make up any thing rightly
characteristic of him. In painting, for instance, the portrait of an
actual person, if the artist undertakes to represent him merely as he
is at a given instant of time, he will of course be sure to
misrepresent him. In such cases literal truth is essential untruth.
Because the person cannot fairly deliver himself in any one instant of
expression; and the business of Art is to distil the sense and
efficacy of many transient expressions into one permanent one; that
is, out of many passing lines and shades of transpiration the artist
should so select and arrange and condense as to deliver the right
characteristic truth about him. This is at least one of the ways, I
think it is the commonest way, in which Shakespeare idealizes his
characters; and he surpasses all other poets in the ease, sureness,
and directness with which his idealizing works in furtherance of
truth. It is in this sense that he idealizes from nature. And here, as
elsewhere, it is "as if Nature had entrusted to him the secret of her
working power"; for we cannot but feel that, if she should carry her
human handiwork up to a higher stage of perfection, the result would
be substantially as he gives it. Accordingly our first impression of
his persons is that they are simply natural: had they been literal
transcripts from fact, they would not have seemed more intensely real
than they do: yet a close comparison of them with the reality of
human nature discloses an ideal heightening in them of the finest and
rarest quality. Even so realistic a delineation as Hostess Quickly, or
the Nurse in _Romeo and Juliet_, is not an exception to this rule.

The Poet's idealizing of his characters proceeds, in part, by putting
his own intellectuality into them. And the wonder is, how he could do
this in so large a measure as he often does, without marring or
displacing or anywise obstructing their proper individuality. For they
are never any the less themselves for having so much of his
intelligence in them. Nay, more; whatever may be their peculiarity,
whether wit, dulness, egotism, or absurdity, the effect of that
infusion is to quicken their idiom, and set it free, so that they
become all the more rightly and truly themselves. Thus what he gives
them operates to extricate and enfranchise their propriety, and bring
it out in greater clearness and purity. His intellectuality discovers
them to us just as they are, and translates their mind, or want of
mind, into fitting language, yet remains so transparently clear as to
be itself unseen. He tells more truth of them, or rather makes them
tell more truth of themselves, in a single sentence, than, without his
help, they could tell in a month. The secret of this appears to lie in
sifting out what is most idiomatic or characteristic of a man, purging
and depurating this of all that is uncharacteristic, and then
presenting the former unmixed and free, the man of the man.

We have a very striking instance of this in _King Henry the Fifth_,
where the Boy, who figures as servant to Bardolph, Pistol, and Nym,
soliloquizes his judgment of those worthies: "As young as I am, I have
observed these three swashers. I am boy to them all three; but they
all three, though they would serve me, could not be man to me; for
indeed three such antics do not amount to a man. For Bardolph,--he is
white-liver'd and red-fac'd; by the means whereof 'a faces it out, but
fights not. For Pistol,--he hath a killing tongue and a quiet sword;
by the means whereof 'a breaks words, and keeps whole weapons. For
Nym,--he hath heard that men of few words are the best men; and
therefore he scorns to say his prayers, lest 'a should be thought a
coward: but his few bad words are match'd with as few good deeds; for
'a never broke any man's head but his own, and that was against a post
when he was drunk. They will steal any thing, and call it purchase.
Bardolph stole a lute-case, bore it twelve leagues, and sold it for
three half-pence. Nym and Bardolph are sworn brothers in filching; and
in Calais they stole a fire-shovel: I knew by that piece of service
the men would carry coals. They would have me as familiar with men's
pockets as their gloves or their handkerchers: which makes much
against my manhood, if I should take from another's pocket to put into
mine; for it is plain pocketing-up of wrongs. I must leave them, and
seek some better service: their villainy goes against my weak stomach,
and therefore I must cast it up."

Here one might think the Poet must have lapsed a little from the
character in making the Boy talk such a high and solid strain of
intelligence: but it is not so; the Boy talks strictly in character.
The intellect he shows is all truly his own too, but not his own in
that space of time. He has indeed a shrewd, quick eye, and knows a
thing or two; still he could not, unaided and alone, deliver so much
intellect in a whole month as he here lets off in this brief speech.
Shakespeare just inspires the youngster, and the effect of that
inspiration is to make him so much the more himself.

But the process of the thing involves, moreover, a sort of double
consciousness, which probably cannot be altogether explained. The Poet
had a strange faculty, or at least had it in a strange degree, of
being truly himself and truly another at one and the same time. For he
does not mould a character from the outside, but is truly inside of
it, nay, _is_ the character for the time being, and yet all the while
he continues just as much Shakespeare as if he were nothing else. His
own proper consciousness, and the consciousness of the person he is
representing, both of these are everywhere apparent in his
characterization; both of them working together too, though in a
manner which no psychology has been able to solve. In other words,
Shakespeare is perfectly in his persons and perfectly out of them at
the same time; has his consciousness and theirs thoroughly identified,
yet altogether distinct; so that they get all the benefit of his
intellect without catching the least tinge of his personality. There
is the mystery of it. And the wonder on this point is greatly enhanced
in his delineations of mental disease. For his consciousness takes on,
so to speak, or passes into, the most abnormal states without any
displacement or suspension of its normal propriety. Accordingly he
explores and delivers the morbid and insane consciousness with no less
truth to the life than the healthy and sound; as if in both cases
alike he were inside and outside the persons at the same time. With
what unexceptional mastery in Nature's hidden processes he does this,
must be left till I come to the analysis of particular instances.

* * * * *

It is to be noted further that Shakespeare's characters, generally,
are not exhibited in any one fixed state or cast of formation. There
is a certain vital limberness and ductility in them, so that upon
their essential identity more or less of mutation is ever supervening.
They grow on and unfold themselves under our eye: we see them in
course of development, in the act and process of becoming; undergoing
marked changes, passing through divers stages, animated by mixed and
various motives and impulses, passion alternating with passion,
purpose with purpose, train of thought with train of thought; so that
they often end greatly modified from what they were at the beginning;
the same, and yet another. Thus they have to our minds a past and a
future as well as a present; and even in what we see of them at any
given moment there is involved something both of history and of

Here we have another pregnant point of divergence from the Classic
form. For, as it is unnatural that a man should continue altogether
the same character, or subject to the same passion, or absorbed in the
same purpose, through a period of ten years; so it is equally against
nature that a man should undergo much change of character, or be
occupied by many passions, or get engrossed in many purposes, the same
day. If, therefore, a character is to be represented under various
phases and fluctuations, the nature of the work evidently requires
much length of time, a great variety of objects and influences, and,
consequently, a wide range of place. Thus, in the Gothic Drama, the
complexity of matter, with the implied vicissitudes of character, was
plainly incompatible with the Minor Unities. On the other hand, the
clearness and simplicity of design, which belong to the Classic Drama,
necessarily preclude any great diversity of time and place; since, as
the genius of the thing requires character to be represented mainly
under a single aspect, the time and place of the representation must
needs be limited correspondingly.

* * * * *

Again: It is admitted on all hands that in Shakespeare's works, far
more than in almost any others, every thing appears to come, not from
him, but from the characters; and from these too speaking, not as
authors, but simply as men. The reason of which must be, that the word
is just suited to the character, the character to the word; every
thing exactly fitting into and filling the place. Doubtless there are
many things which, considered by themselves, might be bettered; but it
is not for themselves that the Poet uses them, but as being
characteristic of the persons from whom they proceed; and the fact of
their seeming to proceed from the persons, not from him, is clear
proof of their strict dramatic propriety. Hence it is that in reading
his works we think not of him, but only of what he is describing: we
can hardly realize his existence, his individuality is so lost in the
objects and characters he brings before us. In this respect, he is a
sort of impersonal intelligence, with the power to make every thing
visible but itself. Had he been merely an omniloquent voice, there
could hardly have been less of subjective idiom in his deliverances.
That he should have known so perfectly how to avoid giving too much or
too little; that he should have let out and drawn in the reins
precisely as the matter required;--this, as it evinces an almost
inconceivable delicacy of mind, is also one of the points wherein his
originality is most conspicuous.

* * * * *

Equally remarkable is the Poet's intellectual plenipotence in so
ordering and moving the several characters of a play as that they may
best draw out each other by mutual influences, and set off each other
by mutual contrasts. The persons are thus assorted and attempered with
perfect insight both of their respective natures and of their common
fitness to his purpose. And not the least wonderful thing in his works
is the exquisite congruity of what comes from the persons with all the
circumstances and influences under which they are represented as
acting; their transpirations of character being withal so disposed
that the principle of them shines out freely and clearly on the mind.
We have a good instance of this in Romeo's speech just before he
swallows the poison; every word of which is perfectly idiomatic of the
speaker, and at the same time thoroughly steeped in the idiom of his
present surroundings. It is true, Shakespeare's persons, like those in
real life, act so, chiefly because they are so; but so perfectly does
he seize and impart the germ of a character, along with the proper
conditions of its development, that the results seem to follow all of
their own accord. Thus in his delineations every thing is fitted to
every other thing; so that each requires and infers the others, and
all hang together in most natural coherence and congruity.

To illustrate this point a little more in detail, let us take his
treatment of passion. How many forms, degrees, varieties of passion
he has portrayed! Yet I am not aware that any instance of
disproportion or unfitness has ever been successfully pointed out in
his works. With but two or three exceptions at the most, so perfect is
the correspondence between the passion and the character, and so
freely and fitly does the former grow out of the circumstances in
which the latter is placed, that we have no difficulty in justifying
and accounting for the passion. The passion is thoroughly
characteristic, and pervaded with the individuality of its subject.
And this holds true not only of different passions, but of different
modifications of the same passion; the forms of love, for instance,
being just as various and distinct as the characters in which it is
shown. Then too he unfolds a passion in its rise and progress, its
turns and vicissitudes, its ebbings and flowings, so that we go along
with it freely and naturally from first to last. Even when, as in case
of Ferdinand and Miranda, or of Romeo and Juliet, he ushers in a
passion at its full height, he so contrives to throw the mind back or
around upon various predisposing causes and circumstances, as to carry
our sympathies through without any revulsion. We are so prepared for
the thing by the time it comes as to feel no abruptness in its coming.
The exceptions to this, save in some of the Poet's earlier plays, are
very rare indeed: the only one I have ever _seemed_ to find is the
jealousy of Leontes in _The Winter's Tale_, and I am by no means sure
of it even there. This intuitive perception of the exact kind and
degree of passion and character that are suited to each other; this
quick and sure insight of the internal workings of a given mind, and
of the why, the when, and the how far it should be moved; and this
accurate letting-out and curbing-in of a passion precisely as the law
of its individuality requires; in a word, this thorough mastery of the
inmost springs and principles of human transpiration;--all this is so
extraordinary, that I am not surprised to find even grave and
temperate thinkers applying to the Poet such bold expressions as the
instrument, the rival, the co-worker, the completer of Nature.

Nor is this the only direction in which he maintains the fitness of
things: he keeps the matter right towards us as well as towards his
characters. It is true, he often lays on us burdens of passion that
would not be borne in any other writer. But, whether he wrings the
heart with pity, or freezes the blood with terror, or fires the soul
with indignation, the genial reader still rises from his pages
refreshed. The reason of which is, instruction keeps pace with
excitement: he strengthens the mind in proportion as he loads it.
Shakespeare has been called the great master of passion: doubtless he
is so; yet he is not more that than he is every thing else: for he
makes us think as intensely as he requires us to feel; while opening
the deepest fountains of the heart, he at the same time kindles the
highest energies of the head. Nay, with such consummate art does he
manage the fiercest tempests of our being, that in a healthy mind the
witnessing of them is always attended by an overbalance of pleasure.
With the very whirlwinds of passion he so blends the softening and
assuaging influences of poetry, that they relish of nothing but
sweetness and health; as in case of "the gentle Desdemona," where
pathos is indeed carried to the extreme limit of endurance, so that
"all for pity I could die," yet there is no breach of the rule in
question. For while, as a philosopher, he surpassed all other
philosophers in power to discern the passions of men; as an artist, he
also surpassed all other artists in skill

"so to temper passion, that our ears
Take pleasure in their pain, and eyes in tears
Both weep and smile."

Another point well worth the noting is the perfect evenhandedness of
Shakespeare's representations. For, among all his characters, with the
single exception, perhaps, of "Prince Hal," we cannot discover from
the delineation itself that he preferred any one to another; though of
course we cannot conceive it possible for any man to regard, for
example, Edmund and Edgar, or Iago and Desdemona, with the same
feelings. It is as if the scenes of his dramas were forced on his
observation against his will, himself being under a solemn oath to
report the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He thus
leaves the characters to make their own impression upon us. He is
their mouth-piece, not they his: what they say is never Shakespeare
ventriloquizing, but is to all intents and purposes their own. With
the right or wrong, the honour or shame, of their actions, he has
nothing to do: that they are so, and act so, is their concern, not
his; and his business is, not to reform nor deprave, not to censure
nor approve them, but simply to tell the truth about them. And so,
because he would not serve as the advocate of any, therefore he was
able to stand as the representative of all; which is indeed his
characteristic office.

Most of the many faultings of Shakespeare's workmanship on the score
of taste are easily disposed of from this point. As a general thing,
the blame laid upon him in this behalf belongs only to his persons,
and as regards him the matter of it should rather be a theme of
praise. Take, for example, the gross images and foul language used by
Leontes when the rage of jealousy is on him: the matter is offensive
enough certainly in itself, but it is the proper outcome of the man's
character in that state of mind; that is, it is a part, and an
essential part, of the truth concerning him: as the passion turns him
into a brute, so he is rightly made, or rather allowed to speak a
brutal dialect; and the bad taste is his, not the Poet's. That

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