Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

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

Part 4 out of 9

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.0 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

jealousy, such as that of Leontes, naturally subverts a man's
understanding and manners, turns his sense, his taste, his decency all
out of doors, and causes him to gloat over loathsome thoughts and
fancies,--this is among the things of human nature which it would be a
sin to omit in a delineation of that passion.

And so of the many absurdities and follies and obscenities which
Shakespeare puts into the mouths of certain persons: for the most
part, they have an ample justification in that they are characteristic
of the speakers; if not beauties of art, they often have a higher
beauty than art, as truths of nature; and the Poet is no more to be
blamed for them than an honest reporter is for the bad taste of a
speaker reported. In like sort, we have Milton's Satan satanizing

"The mind is its own place, and of itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."

I have often heard people quote this approvingly, as if they thought
the better of Satan for thus declaring himself independent of God. But
those words coming from Satan are a high stroke of dramatic fitness;
and when people quote them with approval, this may be an argument of
intellectual impiety in them, but not of Milton's agreement with them
in opinion.

But do you say that Shakespeare should not have undertaken to
represent any but persons of refined taste and decorous speech? That
were to cut the Drama off from its proper freehold in the truth of
human character, and also from some of its fruitfullest sources of
instruction and wisdom: so, its office were quite another thing than
"holding the mirror up to Nature." Not indeed but that Shakespeare is
fairly chargeable with some breaches of good taste: these however are
so few and of such a kind, that they still leave him just our highest
authority in the School of Taste. Here, as elsewhere, he is our "canon
of Polycletus." So Raphael made a painting of Apollo play the fiddle
on Parnassus,--a grosser breach of good taste than any thing
Shakespeare ever did. And yet Raphael is the painter of the finest
taste in the world!--All which just approves the old proverb, that "no
man is wise at all hours": so that we may still affirm without
abatement the fine saying of Schlegel, that "genius is the almost
unconscious choice of the highest excellence, and, consequently, it is
taste in the greatest perfection."[17]

[17] All beauty depends upon symmetry and proportion. An
overgrowth that sucks out the strength of a flowering plant, and
destroys its shape, may be in the oak a harmless sport of
exuberance, and even an ornament to its form: bushes which would
be a wilderness in a garden may enhance the beauty of the
grander scenes of Nature. Irregularity, when isolated or taken
out of its place, will always be ugly; while in its proper
connection it may add to the charm by variety. The good men of
Polonius's school, who cannot see beyond their beards, who never
get further than such particulars as, "that is a foolish
figure,"--"that's an ill phrase, a vile phrase,"--"that's
good,"--"this is too long,"--these Hamlet sends "to the barber's
with their beards" and their art criticisms; they are out of
place with such a poet as Shakespeare. All the experience we
have gained warns us against following their steps. The whole
history of Shakespearian criticism for the last century is but a
discovery of the mistakes of those who, for a century before,
were thought to have discovered faults in the Poet. For numbers
of the errors of taste in Shakespeare have turned out to be
striking touches of character; the aesthetic deformities imputed
to his poetry have proved the moral deformities of certain of
his persons; and what had been denounced as a fault was found to
be an excellence.--GERVINUS.

It is to be observed, also, that Shakespeare never brings in any
characters as the mere shadows or instruments or appendages of others.
All the persons, high and low, contain within themselves the reason
why they are there and not elsewhere, why they are so and not
otherwise. None are forced in upon the scene merely to supply the
place of others, and so to be trifled with till the others are ready
to return; but each is treated in his turn as if he were the main
character of the piece. So true is this, that even if one character
comes in as the satellite of another, he does so by a right and an
impulse of his own: he is all the while obeying, or rather executing
the law of his individuality, and has just as much claim on the other
for a primary as the other has on him for a satellite; which may be
aptly instanced in Justice Shallow and Justice Silence, or in Sir Toby
Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. The consequence is, that all the
characters are developed, not indeed at equal length, but with equal
perfectness as far as they go; for, to make the dwarf fill the same
space as the giant were to dilute, not develop, the dwarf.

* * * * *

Thus much as to Shakespeare's mode of conceiving and working out
character. Here, again, as in the matter of dramatic composition, we
have the proper solidarity, originality, completeness, and
disinterestedness of Art, all duly and rightly maintained: that is,
what was before found true in reference to all the parts of a drama
viewed as a whole; the same holds, also, in regard to all the parts of
an individual character considered by itself. In both these respects,
and in both alike, the Poet discovers a spirit of the utmost candour
and calmness, such as could neither be misled by any inward bias or
self-impulse from seeing things as they are, nor swayed from
reflecting them according to the just forms and measures of objective
truth; while his creative forces worked with such smoothness and
equanimity, that it is hardly an extravagance to describe him as
another Nature. All this, however, must not be taken as applying, at
least not in the full length and breadth, to what I have before spoken
of as the Poet's apprentice-work. For, I repeat, Shakespeare's genius
was not born full-grown, as a good many have been used to suppose. Ben
Jonson knew him right well personally, and was, besides, no stranger
to his method of working; and, in his noble lines prefixed to the
folio of 1623, he puts this point just as, we may be sure, he had
himself seen it to be true:

"Yet must I not give Nature all; thy art,
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part:
For a good poet's made, as well as born;
And such wert thou."

As to the question how far his genius went by a certain instinctive
harmony and happiness of nature, how far by a process of conscious
judgment and reflection, this is probably beyond the reach of any
psychology to determine. From the way he often speaks of poets and
poetry, of art and nature, it is evident that he was well at home in
speculative and philosophical considerations of the subject. Then too
the vast improvement made in some of his plays, as in _Hamlet_, upon
rewriting them, shows that his greatest successes were by no means
owing to mere lucky hits of instinct. On the whole, I suspect he
understood the what, the how, and the why of his working as well as
any first-class artist ever did. But genius, in its highest and
purest instances, is a sort of unfallen intellect; so that from its
pre-established harmony with the laws of mental being it goes right
spontaneously. Sophocles comprehended the whole of what is meant by
powerful genius working unconsciously, when he said of his great
teacher, "AEschylus does what is right without knowing why." And the
true secret of Shakespeare's excellence mainly lies, I take it, in a
perfect co-operative union of instinct and understanding, of purpose
and impulse; nature and art, inspiration and study, so working together
and interpenetrating, that it is impossible to distinguish their
respective shares in the joint result. And the wonder of it is, how the
fruits of creative impulse could so pass through the medium of
conscious reflection, as they seem to have done, and still retain all
the dewy freshness of pure creative nature; insomuch that his art
carries such an air of unstudied ease as gives it the appearance of
perfect artlessness.[18]

[18] The working together of instinct and mind in Shakespeare is
not exactly wonderful in itself, but only so from the power and
strength of it: in a less degree it takes place in all continued
occupation among men of a healthy nature; and the brightest
moments of success in any work are when the thinking mind is in
unison with the instinctive feeling of the working man. It is in
this unison that genius really displays itself, and not in the
sole rule of an irregular instinct or in a state of pretended
inspiration. For genius does not manifest itself in the
predominance of any single power, nor is it in itself a definite
faculty; but it is the harmonious combination, the united
totality of all the human faculties. And if in Shakespeare's
works we admire his imaginative power not without his
understanding, nor both these without his sense of beauty, nor
all of them without his moral sense; if we attribute all
together to his genius, we must comprehend in this the union of
all those faculties, and not regard it as an isolated power,
which excludes judgment and reflection, and whose works do not
submit to plan and rule. Much rather is the idea of rule
essentially inherent to that of genius; and the whole conception
of genius acting without law is the invention of pedants, which
has had the sad effect of begetting that mass of false geniuses
who are morally without law, and aesthetically without law, as if
to entitle themselves to the name according to this convenient

* * * * *

As to the time when Shakespeare passed from the apprentice into the
master, I place this in the year 1597, or thereabouts, when he was
thirty-two or thirty-three years old; and I take _The Merchant of
Venice_ and _King Henry the Fourth_ as marking the clear and complete
advent of the master's hand. And what I have been saying holds
_altogether_ true only of the plays written during his mastership. In
all his earlier plays, even in _A Midsummer Night's Dream, King
Richard the Second_, and _King Richard the Third_, probably neither
the composition nor the characterization can fairly stand the test of
any of the principles of Art, as I have noted them. But especially in
the workmanship of that period, along with much that is rightly
original, we have not a little, also, of palpable imitation. The
unoriginality, however, is rather in the style than in the matter, and
so will be more fitly remarked under the head of Style. Still worse,
because it goes deeper, we have in those plays a want of clear
artistic disinterestedness. The arts and motives of authorship are but
too apparent in them; thus showing that the Poet did not thoroughly
lose himself in the enthusiasm and truth of his work. In some cases,
he betrays not a little sense of his own skill; at least there are
plain marks of a conscious and self-observing exercise of skill. And
perhaps his greatest weakness, if that word may be used of him at all,
lies in a certain vanity and artifice of stage-effect, or in a sort of
theatrical and dialogical intemperance, as if he were trying to shine,
and pleased with the reflection of his own brilliancy. But as this too
was the result of imitation, not of character, so in the earnestness
of his work he soon outgrew it, working purely in the interest and
from the inspiration of Nature and Truth.

Before passing on from this branch of the subject, perhaps I ought to
add that Shakespeare drew largely from the current popular literature
of his time. The sources from which he gathered his plots and
materials will be noted pretty fully when I come to speak of
particular plays. It may suffice to remark here, that there seems the
more cause for dwelling on what the Poet took from other writers, in
that it exhibits him, where a right-minded study should specially
delight to contemplate him, as holding his unrivalled inventive powers
subordinate to the higher principles of Art. He cared little for the
interest of novelty, which is but a short-lived thing at the best;
much for the interest of truth and beauty, which is indeed immortal,
and always grows upon acquaintance. And the novel-writing of our time
shows that hardly any thing is easier than to get up new incidents or
new combinations of incidents for a story; and as the interest of such
things turns mainly on their novelty, so of course they become less
interesting the more one knows them: which order--for "a thing of
beauty is a joy for ever"--is just reversed in genuine works of art.
Besides, if Shakespeare is the most original of poets, he is also one
of the greatest of borrowers; and as few authors have appropriated so
freely from others, so none can better afford to have his obligations
in this kind well known.


Shakespeare's _Humour_ is so large and so operative an element of his
genius, that a general review of his works would be very incomplete
without some special consideration of it. And perhaps, except his
marvellous duality of mind, there is nothing in his poetry of which it
is more difficult to give a satisfactory account. For humour is nowise
a distinct or separable thing with him, but a perfusive and permeating
ingredient of his make-up: it acts as a sort of common solvent, in
which different and even opposite lines of thought, states of mind,
and forms of life are melted into happy reconcilement and
co-operation. Through this, as a kind of pervading and essential sap,
is carried on a free intercourse and circulation between the moral and
intellectual parts of his being; and hence, perhaps, in part, the
wonderful catholicity of mind which generally marks his

It follows naturally from this that the Poet's humour is widely
diversified in its exhibitions. There is indeed no part of him that
acts with greater versatility. It imparts a certain wholesome
earnestness to his most sportive moods, making them like the honest
and whole-hearted play of childhood, than which human life has nothing
that proceeds more in earnest. For who has not found it a property of
childhood to be serious in its fun, innocent in its mischief, and
ingenuous in its guile? Moreover it is easy to remark that, in
Shakespeare's greatest dunces and simpletons and potentates of
nonsense, there is something that prevents contempt. A fellow-feeling
springs up between us and them; it is through our sympathetic, not our
selfish emotions, that they interest us: we are far more inclined to
laugh with them than at them; and even when we laugh at them we love
them the more for that which is laughable in them. So that our
intercourse with them proceeds under the great law of kindness and
charity. Try this with any of the Poet's illustrious groups of comic
personages, and it will be found, I apprehend, thoroughly true. What
distinguishes us from them, or sets us above them in our own esteem,
is never appealed to as a source or element of delectation. And so the
pleasure we have of them is altogether social in its nature, and
humanizing in its effect, ever knitting more widely the bands of

Here we have what may be called a foreground of comedy, but the Poet's
humour keeps up a living circulation between this and the serious
elements of our being that stand behind it. It is true, we are not
always, nor perhaps often, conscious of any stirring in these latter:
what is laughable occupies the surface, and therefore is all that we
directly see. But still there are deep undercurrents of earnest
sentiment moving not the less really that their movement is noiseless.
In the disguise of sport and mirth, there is a secret discipline of
humanity going on; and the effect is all the better that it steals
into us unseen and unsuspected: we know that we laugh, but we do
something better than laughing without knowing it, and so are made
the better by our laughter; for in that which betters us without our
knowledge we are doubly benefited.

Not indeed but that Shakespeare has characters, as, for example, the
Steward in _King Lear_, which are thoroughly contemptible, and which
we follow with contempt. But it is to be observed that there is
nothing laughable in Oswald; nothing that we can either laugh with or
laugh at: he is a sort of human reptile, such as life sometimes
produces, whom we regard with moral loathing and disgust, but in whose
company neither mirth nor pity can find any foothold. On the other
hand, the feelings moved by a Bottom, a Dogberry, an Aguecheek, or a
Slender, are indeed very different from those which wait upon a
Cordelia, an Ophelia, or an Imogen, but there is no essential
oppugnance between them: in both cases the heart moves by the laws of
sympathy; which is exactly reversed in the case of such an object as
Oswald: the former all touch us through what we have in common with
them; the latter touches us only through our antipathies. There is,
therefore, nothing either of comic or of tragic in the part of Oswald
viewed by itself: on the contrary, it runs in entire oppugnance to the
proper currents of them both.

Much of what I have said touching Shakespeare's comic scenes holds
true, conversely, of his tragic scenes. For it is a great mistake to
suppose that his humour has its sole exercise in comic representations.
It carries the power of tears as well as of smiles: in his deepest
strains of tragedy there is often a subtile infusion of it, and this
too in such a way as to heighten the tragic effect; we may feel it
playing delicately beneath his most pathetic scenes, and deepening
their pathos. For in his hands tragedy and comedy are not made up of
different elements, but of the same elements standing in different
places and relations: what is background in the one becomes foreground
in the other; what is an undercurrent in the one becomes an uppercurrent
in the other; the effect of the whole depending almost, perhaps altogether,
as much on what is not directly seen as on what is. So that with him the
pitiful and the ludicrous, the sublime and the droll, are like the
greatness and littleness of human life: for these qualities not only
coexist in our being, but, which is more, they coexist under a mysterious
law of interdependence and reciprocity; insomuch that our life may in some
sense be said to be great because little, and little because great.

And as Shakespeare's transports of humour draw down more or less into
the depths of serious thought, and make our laughter the more
refreshing and exhilarating because of what is moving silently
beneath; so his tragic ecstasies take a richness of colour and flavour
from the humour held in secret reserve, and forced up to the surface
now and then by the super incumbent weight of tragic matter. This it
is, in part, that truly makes them "awful mirth." For who does not
know that the most winning smiles are those which play round a
moistening eye, and tell of serious thoughts beneath; and that the
saddest face is that which wears in its expression an air of
remembered joy, and speaks darkly of sunshine in the inner courts of
the soul? For we are so made, that no one part of our being moves to
perfection unless all the other parts move with it: when we are at
work, whatever there is of the playful within us ought to play; when
we are at play, our working mind ought to be actively present in the
exercise. It is this harmonious moving together of all the parts of
our being that makes the true music of life. And to minister in
restoring this "concord of a well-tuned mind," which has been broken
by "discords most unjust," is the right office of Culture, and the
right scope of Art as the highest organ of Culture. And in reference
to this harmonious interplay of all the human faculties and
sensibilities, I may not unfitly apply to Shakespeare's workmanship
these choice lines from Wordsworth:

"Brisk Youth appeared, the Morn of youth,
With freaks of graceful folly,--
Life's temperate Noon, her sober Eve,
Her Night not melancholy;
Past, present, future, all appeared,
In harmony united,
Like guests that meet, and some from far,
By cordial love invited."

I cannot, nor need I, stay to illustrate the point in hand, at any
length, by detailed reference to the Poet's dramas. This belongs to
the office of particular criticism, and therefore would be something
out of keeping here. The Fool's part in _King Lear_ will readily occur
to any one familiar with that tragedy. And perhaps there is no one
part of _Hamlet_ that does more to heighten the tragic effect than the
droll scene of the Gravediggers. But, besides this, there is a vein of
humour running through the part of Hamlet himself, underlying his
darkest moods, and giving depth and mellowness to his strains of
impassioned thought. And every reflecting reader must have observed
how much is added to the impression of terror in the trial-scene of
_The Merchant of Venice_, by the fierce jets of mirth with which
Gratiano assails old Shylock; and also how, at the close of the scene,
our very joy at Antonio's deliverance quickens and deepens our pity
for the broken-hearted Jew who lately stood before us dressed in such
fulness of terror. But indeed the Poet's skill at heightening any
feeling by awakening its opposite; how he manages to give strength to
our most earnest sentiments by touching some spring of playfulness;
and to further our liveliest moods by springing upon us some delicate
surprises of seriousness;--all this is matter of common observation.

But the Poet's humour has yet other ways of manifesting itself. And
among these not the least remarkable is the subtile and delicate irony
which often pervades his scenes, and sometimes gives character to
whole plays, as in the case of _Troilus and Cressida_, and _Antony and
Cleopatra_. By methods that can hardly be described, he contrives to
establish a sort of secret understanding with the reader, so as to
arrest the impression just as it is on the point of becoming tragic.
While dealing most seriously with his characters, he uses a certain
guile: through them we catch, as it were, a roguish twinkle of his
eye, which makes us aware that his mind is secretly sporting itself
with their earnestness; so that we have a double sympathy,--a sympathy
with their passion and with his play. Thus his humour often acts in
such a way as to possess us with mixed emotions: the persons, while
moving us with their thoughts, at the same time start us upon other
thoughts which have no place in them; and we share in all that they
feel, but still are withheld from committing ourselves to them, or so
taking part with them as to foreclose a due regard to other claims.


The word _style_ is often used in a sense equally appropriate to all
the forms of Art,--a sense having reference to some peculiar mode of
conception or execution; as the Saxon, the Norman, the Romanesque
style of architecture, or the style of Titian, of Raphael, of
Rembrandt, of Turner, in painting. In this sense, it includes the
whole general character or distinctive impression of any given
workmanship in Art, and so is applicable to the Drama; as when we
speak of a writer's tragic or comic style, or of such and such dramas
as being in too operatic a style. The peculiarities of Shakespeare's
style in this sense have been involved in the foregoing sections; so
that I shall have no occasion to speak further of them in this general
survey of the Poet's Art. The more restrained and ordinary meaning of
the word looks merely to an author's use of language; that is, his
choice and arrangement of words, the structure of his sentences, and
the cast and texture of his imagery; all, in short, that enters into
his diction, or his manner of conveying his particular thoughts. This
is the matter now to be considered. The subject, however, is a very
wide one, and naturally draws into a multitude of details; so that I
can hardly do more than touch upon a few leading points, lest the
discussion should quite overgrow the limits I have prescribed myself.

On a careful inspection of Shakespeare's poetry, it becomes evident
that none of the epithets commonly used in regard to style, such as
_plain, simple, neat, ornate, elegant, florid, figurative, severe,
copious, sententious_, can be rightly applied to him, at least not as
characteristic of him. His style is all of them by turns, and much
more besides; but no one of the traits signified by those terms is so
continuous or prominent as to render the term in any sort fairly
discriminative or descriptive of his diction.

Under this head, then, I am to remark, first, that Shakespeare's
language is as far as possible from being of a constant and uniform
grain. His style seems to have been always in a sort of fluid and
formative state. Except in two or three of his earliest plays, there
is indeed a certain common basis, for which we have no word but
_Shakespearian_, running through his several periods of writing; but
upon this basis more or less of change is continually supervening. So
that he has various distinct styles, corresponding to his different
stages of ripeness in his work. These variations, to be sure, are
nowise abrupt: the transition from one to another is gradual and
insensible, proceeding by growth, not by leaps: but still, after an
interval of six or seven years, the difference becomes clearly marked.
It will suffice for my purpose to speak of them all under the
threefold distinction of earlier, middle, and later styles. And I
probably cannot do better than to take _King Richard the Second, As
You Like It_, and _Coriolanus_, as representing, severally, those
three divisions.

Shakespeare began by imitating the prevailing theatrical style of the
time. He wrote in much the same way as those before and about him did,
till by experience and practice he found out a better way of his own.
It is even doubtful whether his first imitations surpassed his models.
In _Titus Andronicus_, the First Part of _King Henry the Sixth_, and
_The Comedy of Errors_, if there be any thing of the right
Shakespearian idiom, it is so overlaid by what he had caught from
others as to be hardly discoverable. Accordingly those pieces seem to
me little better than worthless, save as specimens of his
apprentice-work. In _The Two Gentlemen of Verona_, also, _Loves
Labour's Lost_, and _The Taming of the Shrew_, imitation has decidedly
the upper hand; though in these plays, especially the latter, we have
clear prognostics of the forthcoming dramatic divinity. From thence
onward his style kept growing less imitative and more idiomatic till
not the least taste or relish of the former remained. So that in this
respect his course was in fact just what might be expected from a
thoroughly modest, teachable, receptive, and at the same time most
living, active, and aspiring mind,--a mind full indeed of native
boldness, but yet restrained by judgment and good sense from the
crudeness and temerity of self-will and eccentric impulse, and not
trusting to its own strength till it had better reasons for doing so
than the promptings of vanity and egotism.

* * * * *

It is to this process of imitation that the Poet's faults of style are
to be mainly ascribed; though in the end it was no doubt in a great
measure the source of his excellences also. For, taking his works in
the order of their production, we can perceive very clearly that his
faults of style kept disappearing as he became more and more himself.
He advanced in the path of improvement by slow tentative methods, and
was evidently careful not to deviate from what was before him till he
saw unmistakably how he could do better. As he was thus "most severe
in fashion and collection of himself"; so he worked in just the true
way for disciplining and regulating his genius into power; and so in
due time he had a good right to be "as clear and confident as Jove."

Shakespeare's faults of style, especially in his earlier plays, are
neither few nor small. Among these are to be reckoned, of course, his
frequent quibbles and plays upon words, his verbal conceits and
affectations, his equivoques and clinches. Many of these are palpable
sins against manliness; not a few of them are decidedly puerile; the
results of an epidemic of trifling and of fanciful prettiness. Some
critics, it is true, have strained a point, if not several points, in
defence of them; but it seems to me that a fair-minded criticism has
no way but to set them down as plain blemishes and disfigurements. And
our right, nay, our duty to call them such is fully approved in that
the Poet himself seasonably outgrew and forsook them; a comparison of
his earlier and later plays thus showing that his manlier taste
discarded them. They were however nowise characteristic of him: they
were the fashion of the day, and were common to all the dramatic
writers of the time. Nor were they by any means confined to the walks
of the Drama: many men of the highest character and position both in
Church and State were more or less infected with them.

It is not likely indeed that Shakespeare at first regarded these
things as faults, or that he adopted them reluctantly in compliance
with the popular bent, and as needful to success. In his youth he
doubtless used them in good faith, and even sought for them as traits
of excellence; for he himself shared to the fullest extent in the
redundancy of mental life which distinguished the age, and which
naturally loves to sport itself in such quirks of thought and speech.
But it is manifest that he was not long in growing to distaste them,
notwithstanding that he still continued occasionally to practise them.
For, even in _The Merchant of Venice_, which I reckon among the last
in his earlier or the first in his middle style, we find him censuring
the thing while indulging it:

"O, dear discretion, how his words are suited!
The fool hath planted in his memory
An army of good words; and I do know
A many fools, that stand in better place,
Garnish'd like him, that for a tricksy word
Defy the matter."

In the case here censured, however, the thing, though a vice in
itself, is no offence to good taste, and may even be justly noted as a
stroke of dramatic virtue, because it is rightly characteristic of the
person using it: which only makes the reproof the more pointed as
aimed at the habit, then but too common in the high places of
learning, of so twisting language into puns and conceits, that one
could hardly come at the sense. But I can admit no such plea, when, in
_King Richard the Second_, the dying Gaunt goes to punning on his

"Old Gaunt indeed; and gaunt in being old:
Within me grief hath kept a tedious fast;
And who abstains from meat, that is not gaunt?
For sleeping England long time have I watch'd;
Watching breeds leanness, leanness is all gaunt:
The pleasure that some fathers feed upon
Is my strict fast,--I mean my children's looks;
And therein fasting, hast thou made me gaunt:
Gaunt am I for the grave, gaunt as a grave,
Whose hollow womb inherits nought but bones."

This, notwithstanding it is defended by so sound a critic as Schlegel,
seems to me a decided blot; I cannot accept it as right either in
itself or on the score of dramatic fitness. Many like instances occur
in _Romeo and Juliet, King John_, and other plays of that period;
instances which I cannot help regarding not only as breaches of good
taste in the speakers, but as plain faults of style in the Poet
himself: the blame of them indeed properly rests with him, not with
the persons; for they are out of keeping with the sentiments of the
occasion, and jar on the feelings which the surrounding matter
inspires; that is, they are sins against dramatic propriety, as well
as against honest manliness of style: so that, however the pressure of
the age may account for them, it must not be taken as excusing them;
and the best we can say on this point is, that in his faults of style
the Poet went with the custom and fashion of his time, while in his
virtues he went quite above and beyond the time.

Near akin to these are other faults of still graver import. In his
earlier plays, the Poet's style is often, not to say generally, at
least in the more serious parts, rather rhetorical than rightly
dramatic. The persons often lay themselves out in what may not
unfairly be called speech-making. Their use of language is highly
self-conscious, and abounds in marks of elaborateness, as if their
mind were more intent on the figure they are making than on what they
are talking about: so that the right colloquial tone is lost in a
certain ambitious, oratorical, got-up manner of speech; and we feel a
want of that plain, native, spontaneous talk wherein heart and tongue
keep touch and time together: in short, they speak rather as authors
having an audience in view than as men and women moved by the real
passions and interests of life.

The reason of all this I take to be, that the Poet himself was at that
time highly self-conscious in his use of language. His art was then
too young to lose itself in the enthusiasm of Truth and Nature; and,
as remarked before, he seems to have felt no little pleasure in the
tokens of his own skill. Thus, in his earlier plays, written before he
had fully found himself, the arts and motives of authorship are but
too apparent: he was then, I should say, somewhat in the humour of
flirting with the Muses and Graces; which, because it lacks the
modesty and delicacy of genuine passion, therefore naturally runs into
that excess of manner and style which is commonly called "fine
writing." And it is a very note-worthy point, that when he studies
most for effect, then it is that we find him least effective. But here
too, as in the matter mentioned before, his fault was clearly the
result of imitation, not of character. Accordingly, in the earnestness
of his work, he gradually outgrew it. In the plays of his later
period, the fault disappears entirely; there is not a vestige of it
left: in fact, this fault is mainly revealed to us by the higher
standard of judgment which his later plays supply. Here all is
straightforward, genuine, natural, with no rhetorical trickeries or
fineries whatever; and among all modern writers his style stands quite
alone in the solid purity, directness, and inward virtue of that
perfect art which not only conceals itself from others, but is even a
secret unto itself; or at least is too intent on something else to be
listening to the music of its own voice. For so his highest style was
when, in the maturity of his power, he left the style to take care of
itself, and therefore had it perfectly subordinated to his matter and
thought: in other words, he always writes best when most unconscious
of it, being so possessed with his theme as to take no thought of

We have somewhat the same order and course of things in Burke, who may
be not unfitly described as the Shakespeare of political philosophy.
His treatise _On the Sublime and Beautiful_ was, though in a good
sense, mainly the fruit of literary ambition. There he rather sought
for something to say because he wanted to speak, than spoke because he
had something he wanted to say. And so he is not properly himself in
that work, but only a studious, correct, and tasteful writer. When
thoroughly roused and kindled in the work of defending, intrenching,
and illustrating the Constitution of his country as the sacred
guardian of liberty and order, he became quite another man; then it
was that all the powers of his great mind were taught and inspired to
act in concert and unity. As Wordsworth says of him,--

"This is no trifler, no short-flighted wit,
No stammerer of a minute, painfully
Deliver'd. No! the Orator hath yok'd
The Hours, like young Aurora, to his car:
Thrice-welcome Presence! how can patience e'er
Grow weary of attending on a track
That kindles with such glory!"

The mere ambitions of authorship are not enough to make good authors;
and what Burke needed was something to lift him far above them. And
when he came to grapple with the high practical questions and living
interests of mankind, here he was too full of his matter, and too
earnest in his cause, to observe how finely he was working; and
because he was captivated by his theme, not by the figure he made in
handling it, therefore he earned a prerogative place among the sons of

The distinction I have been remarking between Shakespeare's rhetorical
and dramatic use of language, or, as I before termed it, his imitative
and idiomatic style, may be better understood on comparing some brief
specimens of his earlier and later workmanship. As an instance of the
former, take a part of York's speech to the King, in _King Richard the
Second_, ii. 1:

"I am the last of noble Edward's sons,
Of whom thy father, Prince of Wales, was first:
In war was never lion rag'd more fierce,
In peace was never gentle lamb more mild,
Than was that young and princely gentleman.
His face thou hast, for even so look'd he,
Accomplish'd with the number of thy hours;
But when he frown'd, it was against the French,
And not against his friends: his noble hand
Did win what he did spend, and not spend that
Which his triumphant father's hand had won:
His hands were guilty of no kindred's blood,
But bloody with the enemies of his kin."

No one, I think, can help feeling that this is the style of a man
rather aiming at finely-turned phrases than deeply in earnest with the
matter in hand; more the language of brilliant rhetoric than of
impassioned thought. At all events, there is to my taste an air of
falsetto about it; it seems more like the image of a painted than of a
living passion. Be this as it may, the Poet's own riper style quite
discredits it; though I have to confess that, but for his teachings,
we might not so well have known of any thing better. Now contrast with
the foregoing one of the hero's speeches in _Coriolanus_, iii. 2,
where his mother urges him to play the demagogue, and practise smiles
for the gaining of votes:

"Away, my disposition, and possess me
Some harlot's spirit! my throat of war be turn'd--
Which quired with my drum--into a pipe
Small as an eunuch's, or the virgin voice
That babies lulls asleep! the smiles of knaves
Tent in my cheeks; and school-boys' tears take up
The glasses of my sight! a beggar's tongue
Make motion through my lips; and my arm'd knees,
Who bow'd but in my stirrup, bend like his
That hath receiv'd an alms!--I will not do't;
Lest I surcease to honour mine own truth,
And by my body's action teach my mind
A most inherent baseness."

Perhaps the Poet's different styles might be still better exemplified
in passages of pathos; but here I must rest with merely referring, for
instance, to York's speech in _King Richard the Second_, beginning,
"As in a theatre the eyes of men," and the passage in _Macbeth_ where
Macduff first learns of the slaughter of his wife and children. Both
are indeed very noble in their way; but I think no reader of
disciplined taste can fail to see the vast superiority of the latter,
and that this is owing not so much to any difference of character in
the speakers as to a far higher stage of art in the Poet. I must add
that the rhetorical or speech-making style appears more or less in all
the plays of his first period: we find something of it even in such
high specimens as _The Merchant of Venice_ and _King Henry the

I have spoken of the fault in question as specially marking the _more
serious_ parts of the Poet's earlier plays. The more comic portions of
the same plays are much less open to any such reproof. The Poet's
style in comedy from the first ran closer to nature, and had much more
of freedom, simplicity, and heartiness in its goings. The reason of
this difference seems to be, that the lessons of nature in sport are
more quickly learnt than those of nature in her graver moods. The
child plays, the man works. And there needs a ripe soul of manhood,
with much discipline besides, before a man warms into his work with
the free gust and spirit of play.

In what more I have to say under this head, I shall spare further
reference to the Poet's faults of imitation, and speak only of his
characteristic or idiomatic traits of style.

* * * * *

In regard to Shakespeare's choice of words there probably need not
much be said. Here the point I shall first consider is the relative
proportion of Saxon and Latin words in his writing.--Students somewhat
curious in this behalf have found his words of Latin derivation to
average about forty per cent. This, I believe, does not greatly differ
from the average used by the most select and accomplished writers of
that age. I suspect that Hooker has a somewhat larger proportion of
Latin words, but am not sure of it.--The English had already grown to
be a learned tongue; and, which is far better, the learned portion of
it had got thoroughly diffused and domesticated in the popular mind:
for centuries the Saxon and Latin elements had been in process of
blending and fusing together, so as to work smoothly and even lovingly
side by side in the same thought; common people using both with the
same easy and unstudied naturalness. Therewithal the language was then
in just its freshest state of maturity; flexible to all the turns of
philosophical and poetical discourse; full of vital sap and flavour;
its cheeks plump and rosy, its step light and graceful, with health:
pedants and grammarians had not starched and ironed it into
self-conscious dignity and primness: it had not learnt the vice of
putting on literary airs, and of practising before a looking-glass.
Our translation of the Bible is enough of itself to prove all this,
even if we had no other monuments of the fact. And the Elizabethan
English was a right joyous and jolly tongue also, as became the heart
of brave, honest, merry old England; yet it was earnest and candid
withal, and had in no sort caught the French disease of vanity and
persiflage: it was all alive, too, with virgin sensibility and
imaginative delicacy; to say nothing of how Spenser found or made it
as melodious and musical as Apollo's lute.

Shakespeare has many passages, some of them running to considerable
length, made up almost wholly of Saxon words. Again, he has not a few
wherein the Latin largely shares. Yet I can hardly see that in either
case any thing of vigour and spirit is lost. On the other hand, I can
often see a decided increase of strength and grasp resulting in part
from a judicious mixing and placing of the two elements. I cite a few
passages in illustration; the first two being from _King Lear_, the
third from _Antony and Cleopatra_:

"Mine enemy's dog,
Though he had bit me, should have stood that night
Against my fire; and wast thou fain, poor father,
To hovel thee with swine, and rogues forlorn,
In short and musty straw?"

"We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgivness: so we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of Court news; and we'll talk with them too,--
Who loses and who wins, who's in, who's out;--
And take upon 's the mystery of things,
As if we were God's spies: and we'll wear out,
In a wall'd prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by th' Moon."

The white hand of a lady fever thee,
Shake thou to look on't. Get thee back to Caesar,
Tell him thy entertainment: look thou say
He makes me angry with him; for he seems
Proud and disdainful, harping on what I am,
Not what he knew I was: he makes me angry;
And at this time most easy 'tis to do't,
When my good stars, that were my former guides,
Have empty left their orbs, and shot their fires
Into th' abysm of Hell."

With these collate the following from _Troilus and Cressida_ and _King
Lear_, where, for aught I can see, the interweaving of Saxon and Latin
words proceeds with just as much ease and happiness as the almost pure
Saxon of the foregoing:

"How could communities,
Degrees in schools, and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenity and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And, hark, what discord follows! each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy: the bounded waters
Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores,
And make a sop of all this solid globe:
Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike his father dead:
Force should be right; or rather, right and wrong--
Between whose endless jar justice resides--
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then every thing includes itself in power
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself."

"Tremble, thou wretch,
That hast within thee undivulged crimes,
Unwhipp'd of justice: hide thee, thou bloody hand;
Thou perjur'd, and thou simular of virtue,
That art incestuous: caitiff, to pieces shake,
That under covert and convenient seeming
Hast practis'd on man's life: close pent-up guilts,
Rive your concealing continents, and cry
These dreadful summoners grace."

Observe what a sense of muscularity this usage carries, not only in
the foregoing, but also in various shorter instances:

"Stop up th' access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose."

"This my hand will rather
The multitudinous sea incarnardine."

"What is it then to me, if impious War--
Array'd in flames, like to the Prince of Fiends--
Do, with his smirch'd complexion, all fell feats
Enlink'd to waste and desolation?"

"And other devils, that suggest by treasons,
Do botch and bungle up damnation."

It should be noted, further, that Shakespeare has many palpable
Latinisms, some of them very choice too; that is, words of Latin
origin used quite out of their popular English sense; such as,--"Th'
_extravagant_ and _erring_ spirit hies to his confine,"--"Upon my
_secure_ hour thy uncle stole,"--"Rank corruption, mining all within,
_infects_ unseen,"--and, "To _expostulate_ what majesty should be,
what duty is." And sometimes, not having the fear of poetical, or
rather of unpoetical precisians and martinets before his eyes, he did
not even scruple to naturalize words for his own use from foreign
springs, such as _exsufflicate_ and _deracinate_; or to coin a word,
whenever the concurring reasons of sense and verse invited it; as in
_fedary, intrinse, intrinsicate, insisture_, and various others.

As to the sources from which Shakespeare drew his choice and use of
words, the most material point seems to be, that he certainly did not
go to books or scholars, or to those who made language a special
object of study. Yet he knew right well that this was often done; for
he ridicules it deliriously in _Love's Labour's Lost_, when Sir
Nathaniel the Curate says of Constable Dull, "He hath never fed of the
dainties that are bred in a book; he hath not eat paper, as it were;
he hath not drunk ink; his intellect is not replenished"; and again,
still better, when it is said of the learned Curate and Holofernes the
School-master, "They have been at a great feast of languages, and
stolen the scraps";--"They have lived long in the alms-basket of
words." Shakespeare did not learn his language in this way: he went
right into familiar, everyday speech for his words; caught them fresh,
and beating with life, from the lips of common people and intelligent
men of the world, farmers, mechanics, tradesmen, and housekeepers, who
used language purely as a medium, not as an object, of thought; and of
professional men, as they spoke when conversing with practical things,
and stirred by the motives and feelings of actual life; that is, when,
however they might think as wise men do, they spoke as common people

Hence we find him using the special terms of the street, the farm, the
garden, the shop, the kitchen, the pantry, the wine-vault, the
forecastle, the counting-room, the exchange, the bower, of hunting,
falconry, angling, war, and even the technical terms of the Law, of
Medicine, and Divinity, all as they actually lived on the tongues of
men, and just as life had steeped its sense and spirit into them. This
it is, in great part, that has made him so high and so wide an
authority in verbal definition: as he took the meaning of words at
first hand, and so preserved them with all their native sap and juice
still in them; so lexicography uses him as its best guide. Hence, too,
the prodigious compass, variety, limberness, and ever-refreshing
raciness of his diction: no familiarity can suck the verdure out of
it: the perennial dews of nature are incorporated in its texture: so
that no words but his own can fitly describe it; as when he says of
Cleopatra, "Other women cloy the appetites they feed; but she makes
hungry where most she satisfies." Yet there is very seldom any smack
of vulgarity in his language, save when the right delineation of
character orders it so: words, that are nothing but vulgar as used by
vulgar minds, are somehow in his use washed clean of their vulgarity;
for there was a cunning alchemy in his touch that could instantly
transmute the basest materials into "something rich and strange." In
this respect, Mr. White justly applies to him what Laertes says of his

"Thought and affliction, passion, Hell itself,
She turns to favour and to prettiness."

The Poet's arrangement of words is often very peculiar, and sometimes
such as to render his meaning rather obscure; not obscure, perhaps, to
his contemporaries, whose apprehension was less fettered by
grammatical rules; but so to us, because our wits are more tied up
from nimbleness with notions of literal correctness, and with habits
of mind contracted from long intercourse with parsing writers. I mean
that Shakespeare often sorts and places his words in what seems to us
an arbitrary manner, throwing them out, so to speak, almost at random.
Here is a small instance: "At our more consider'd time, we'll read,
answer, and think upon this business." Of course, _our more consider'd
time_ means, when we have taken time for further consideration. So too
when the King suddenly resolves on sending Hamlet to England, and on
having him there put to death; fearing a popular tumult, because
Hamlet is loved by the multitude, he says, "To bear all smooth and
even, this sudden sending him away must seem deliberate pause"; that
is, a thing that we have paused and deliberated upon. Here it would
seem that the Poet, so he got the several elements of thought and the
corresponding parts of expression drawn in together, cared little for
the precise form and order of the latter, trusting that the hearer or
reader would mentally shape and place them so as to fit the sense. But
the meaning is not always so easy to come at as in these two cases. In
_Macbeth_, v. 4, when others are surmising and forecasting the issue
of the war, Macduff says, "Let our just censures attend the true
event, and put we on industrious soldiership." He wants to have the
present time all spent in doing the work, not in speculating of the
issue; and his meaning is, Let us not try to judge how things are
going, till the actual result enables us to judge rightly; or, Let
our judgments wait till the issue is known, _that so they may be_
just. In this case, the ideas signified by _judgment, waiting, result,
known_, and _just_ were all to be expressed together, and the
answering parts of language are disposed in the handiest order for
metre and brevity; while the relations which those parts bear to each
other in the speaker's thought are to be gathered from the subject and
drift of the foregoing dialogue.

As this is at times a rather troublesome feature in the Poet's style,
I will add a few more instances. Thus in the same play: "This castle
hath a pleasant seat: the air nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
unto our gentle senses"; that is, the air _sweetens_ our senses _into
gentleness_, or _makes_ them gentle, by its purity and pleasantness.
Again: "Ere humane statute purg'd the gentle weal"; which means, ere
humane laws _made_ the commonwealth gentle by cleansing it from the
wrongs and pollutions of barbarism. So too in _King Henry the Fifth_,
when the conspiring lords find their plot detected, and hear the doom
of death pronounced upon them by the King, one of them says, "And God
be thanked for prevention; which I in sufferance heartily will
rejoice;" meaning, that he is thankful their murderous purpose is
defeated, though it be by their death; and that he will heartily
rejoice for such defeat, even while suffering the pains it involves.
Again, in _King Henry the Fourth_, when Hotspur is burning to cross
swords with Prince Henry in the forthcoming battle:

"And, fellows, soldiers, friends,
Better consider what you have to do,
Than I, that have not well the gift of tongue,
Can lift your blood up with persuasion."

That is, you can better kindle your spirits to the work by thinking
with yourselves what is to be done, than my small power of speech can
heat your courage up for the fight by any attempts at persuasion. The
well-known words of Juliet--"That runaway's eyes may wink"--come
under the same class of cases; and how hard such forms of language
sometimes are to understand, may be judged from the interminable
discussion occasioned by that famous passage. And it must be
confessed, I think, that in several cases of this kind perspicuity is
not a little sacrificed to metrical convenience and verbal dispatch.
But Shakespeare wrote with the stage in view, not the closet; and he
doubtless calculated a good deal on the help of the actor's looks,
tones, and gestures, in rendering his meaning intelligible.

As regards the other points in Shakespeare's arrangement of words, I
have little more to say than that here again his practice has nothing
bookish or formal about it, but draws right into life and the living
speech of men. He has no settled rules, no favourite order. In this
respect, as in others, language was in his hands as limber as water at
the fountain. He found it full of vital flexibility, and he left it
so; nay, rather made it more so. As he did not learn his craft in the
little narrow world of school rhetoricians, where all goes by the
cut-and-dry method, and men are taught to "laugh by precept only, and
shed tears by rule," but from the spontaneous rhetoric of the great
and common world; so we find him varying the order of his words with
the unconscious ease of perfect freedom, and moulding his language
into an endless diversity of shapes. Perhaps I cannot better express
his style in this behalf than by saying that he pitches right into the
matter, instead of walking or wording round it; not looking at all to
the gracefulness of his attitudes or the regularity of his motions,
but driving straight ahead at directness, compactness, perspicuity,
and force; caring little for the grammar of his speech, so it convey
his sense; and taking no thought about the facility or even
possibility of parsing, but only to get the soul of his purpose into a
right working body. Thus in _Cymbeline_, iii. 2, where the hard-beset
Imogen is first beguiled into the hope of meeting her husband at
Milford Haven:

"Then, true Pisanio,--
Who long'st, like me, to see thy lord; who long'st,--
O, let me bate,--but not like me;--yet long'st,--
But in a fainter kind;--O, not like me,
For mine's beyond beyond;--say, and speak thick,--
Love's counsellor should fill the bores of hearing
To th' smothering of the sense,--how far it is
To this same blessed Milford: and, by th' way,
Tell me how Wales was made so happy as
T' inherit such a haven: but, first of all,
How we may steal from hence; and for the gap
That we shall make in time, from our hence-going,
And our return, t' excuse:--but, first, how get hence:
Why should excuse be born or e'er begot?
We'll talk of that hereafter."

What a chaos of verbal confusion have we here, until we penetrate to
the soul of the heroine! and then what a pavilion of life and beauty
this soul organizes that chaos into! How ignorant the glorious
creature is of grammar; yet how subtile and sinewy of discourse! How
incorrect her placing of words, yet how transfigured with grace of
feeling and intelligence! Just think into what a nice trim garden of
elocution a priest of the correct and classical church, like Pope,
would have dressed this free outpouring of the speaker's heart. No
doubt the language would be faultlessly regular; you might analyze and
parse it _currente lingua_; but how lifeless and odourless the whole
thing! how all the soul of nature, which now throbs so eloquently in
it, would have been dried and crimped out of it! The workmanship, in
short, to borrow an illustration from Schlegel, would have been like
the mimic gardens of children; who, eager to see the work of their
hands, break off twigs and flowers, and stick them in the ground;
which done, the childish gardener struts proudly up and down his showy

Perhaps the Poet's autocratic overshooting of grammar and rhetoric is
still better instanced in the same play, v. 3, where Posthumus relates
the doings of old Belarius and the Princes in a certain lane. On being
asked, "Where was this lane?" he replies:

"Close by the battle, ditch'd, and wall'd with turf;
Which gave advantage to an ancient soldier,--
An honest one, I warrant; who deserv'd
So long a breeding as his white beard came to,
In doing this for 's country: athwart the lane,
He, with two striplings,--lads more like to run
The country base than to commit such slaughter;
With faces fit for masks, or rather fairer
Than those for preservation cas'd or shame,--
Made good the passage; cried to those that fled,
_Our Britain's harts die flying, not our men_."

And so on to the end of the speech; which is all, from first to last,
as glorious in conception and imagery as it is reckless of rhetorical

* * * * *

I am next to say somewhat touching the Poet's sentence-building, this
being a matter that rhetoricians make much of; though in this, also, I
must in the outset acquit him of any practical respect for the rulings
of courts rhetorical. For here, again, he has no set fashion, no
preferred pattern, no oft-recurring form; nothing at all stereotyped
or modish; but just ranges at large in all the unchartered freedom and
versatility of the English colloquial idiom. You may find in him
sentences of every possible construction; but, except in his early
plays, you can hardly say that he took to any one mould of structure
more than another. So that his most peculiar feature here is absence
of peculiarity. Thought dominates absolutely the whole material of
expression, working it, shaping it, out-and-out, as clay in the
potter's hands; which has no character but what it receives from the
occasion and purpose of the user. As the Poet cares for nothing but to
"suit the action to the word, the word to the action," so his word
takes on forms as various as the action of his persons; nay, more; is
pliant to all their moods and tenses of thought, passion, feeling, and
volition. Thus, in the structure of his sentences, as in other things,
his language is strictly physiognomic of his matter, the speaking
exterior of the inward life; which life is indeed the one sole
organizing principle of it. Accordingly he has specimens of the most
pithy, piercing, sententious brevity; specimens with all the ample and
rich magnificence of ordered pomp; specimens of terse, restrained, yet
rhythmical, and finely-modulated vigour; specimens of the most copious
and varied choral harmony; specimens of the most quiet, simple, and
pure-flowing melody; now a full burst of the many-voiced lordly organ,
now the softest and mellowest notes of the flute. Not only these, but
all the intermediate, and ever so many surrounding varieties of
structure are met with in his omniformity of sentence-building. In
short, the leaves of a forest are hardly more varied in figure and
make than Shakespeare's sentences; so that if these were all sorted
into rhetorical classes, and named, it would "dizzy the arithmetic of
memory" to run through their names.

The only divisions on this score that I shall attempt to speak of are
those called the Period and the Loose Sentence. Everybody knows, I
presume, that in a periodic sentence, when rightly fashioned, the
sense is not completed till you reach the close; so that the whole has
to be formed in thought before any part is set down. The beginning
forecasts the end, the end remembers the beginning, and all the
intermediate parts are framed with an eye to both beginning and end.
And the nearer it comes to a regular circle, the better it is held to
be. This style of writing, then, may be not unfitly said to go on
wheels. It is naturally rolling and high-sounding, or at least may
easily be made so, and therefore is apt to be in favour with geniuses
of a swelling, oratorical, and elocutionary order. Besides, it is a
style easily imitated, and so is not unfavourable to autorial
equality. On the other hand, the Loose Sentence begins without any
apparent thought of how it is to end, and proceeds with as little
apparent thought of how it began: the sense may stand complete many
times before it gets through: it runs on seemingly at random, winding
at its "own sweet will," though the path it holds is much nearer a
straight line than a circle; and it stops, not where the starting
foresaw, but where the matter so carries it. Thus it is a sort of
lingual straggler, if you please, and may be said to wander with
little or no conscience of the rhetorical toilet.

Shakespeare has many periodic sentences: at first he seems to have
rather affected that structure: in the more serious parts of the plays
written in his earlier style it is so common as to be almost
characteristic of them. But, on the whole, he evidently much preferred
writing in straight lines to writing in circles; and this preference
grew stronger as he ripened in his art; so that in his later
workmanship the periodic construction becomes decidedly rare: and the
reason of his so preferring the linear to the circular structure seems
to have been, not only because the former is the more natural and
spontaneous way of speaking, but also because it offers far more scope
for the proper freedom and variety of English colloquial speech. He
has numberless sentences of exquisite beauty of structure; many indeed
of the circular kind, but far more of the linear; and the beauty of
the latter is purer and higher than that of the former, because it is
much more unconscious and unsought, and comes along of its own accord
in the undivided quest of something else: for, say what you will, the
true law in this matter is just that so well stated by Professor
Shairp in the passage before quoted in a note on page 138: "No one
ever became really beautiful by aiming at beauty. Beauty comes, we
scarce know how, as an emanation from sources deeper than itself." And
so it was with Shakespeare in all respects,--I mean Shakespeare the
master, not Shakespeare the apprentice,--and in none more so than in
the matter of style.

Before quitting this branch of the theme, I will add a few
illustrations. And I will begin with two specimens of the circular
structure; the first being from the night-scene in _The Merchant of
Venice_, v. I:

"For do but note a wild and wanton herd,
Or race of youthful and unhandled colts,
Fetching mad bounds, bellowing, and neighing loud,
Which is the hot condition of their blood;
If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
Or any air of music touch their ears,
You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
Their savage eyes turn'd to a modest gaze,
By the sweet power of music."

The next is from one of Westmoreland's speeches in the Second Part of
_King Henry the Fourth_, iv. 1:

"You, Lord Archbishop,--
Whose See is by a civil peace maintain'd;
Whose beard the silver hand of peace hath touch'd;
Whose learning and good letters peace hath tutor'd;
Whose white investments figure innocence,
The dove and very blessed spirit of peace,--
Wherefore do you so ill translate yourself
Out of the speech of peace, that bears such grace,
Into the harsh and boisterous tongue of war?"

Now for some specimens in the linear style. The first is from the
courtship of Ferdinand and Miranda, _The Tempest_, iii. 1:

"I do not know
One of my sex; no woman's face remember,
Save, from my glass, mine own; nor have I seen
More that I may call men, than you, good friend,
And my dear father: how features are abroad,
I'm skilless of; but, by my modesty,--
The jewel in my dower,--I would not wish
Any companion in the world but you;
Nor can imagination form a shape,
Besides yourself, to like of."

The next is from the speech of Cominius to the people on proposing the
hero for Consul, in _Coriolanus_, ii. 2:

"At sixteen years,
When Tarquin made a head for Rome, he fought
Beyond the mark of others: our then Dictator,
Whom with all praise I point at, saw him fight,
When with his Amazonian chin he drove
The bristled lips before him: he bestrid
An o'erpress'd Roman, and i' the Consul's view
Slew three opposers: Tarquin's self he met,
And struck him on his knee: in that day's feats,
When he might act the woman in the scene,
He prov'd best man i' the field, and for his meed
Was brow-bound with the oak."

The following is from the history of Posthumus given by one of the
Gentlemen in _Cymbeline_, i. 1:

"The King he takes the babe
To his protection; calls him Posthumus Leonatus;
Breeds him, and makes him of his bed-chamber;
Puts to him all the learnings that his time
Could make him the receiver of; which he took,
As we do air, fast as 't was minister'd,
And in his spring became a harvest; liv'd in Court--
Which rare it is to do--most prais'd, most lov'd;
A sample to the youngest; to the more mature
A glass that feated them; and to the graver
A child that guided dotards: to his mistress,
For whom he now is banish'd,--her own price
Proclaims how she esteem'd him and his virtue;
By her election may be truly read
What kind of man he is."

In all these three passages, the structure shapes itself from step to
step as it goes on, one idea starting another, and each clause being
born of the momentary impulse of the under-working vital current;
which is indeed the natural way of unpremeditated, self-forgetting
discourse. There is no care about verbal felicities; none for rounded
adjustment of parts, or nice balancing of members, or for exactness of
pauses and cadences, so as to make the language run smooth on the ear;
or, if there be any care about these things, it is rather a care to
avoid them. This it is that gives to Shakespeare's style such a truly
organic character, in contradistinction to mere pieces of
nicely-adjusted verbal joinery or cabinet-work; so that, as we
proceed, the lingual form seems budding and sprouting at the moving of
the inner mental life; the thought unfolding and branching as the
expression grows, and the expression growing with the growth of the
thought. In short, language with him is not the dress, but the
incarnation of ideas: he does not robe his thoughts with garments
externally cut and fitted to them, but his thoughts robe themselves in
a living texture of flesh and blood.

* * * * *

Hence the wonderful correspondence, so often remarked, between the
Poet's style and the peculiar moods, tempers, motives, and habits of
his characters, as if the language had caught the very grain and
tincture of their minds. So, for instance, we find him rightly making
the most glib-tongued rhetoric proceed from utter falseness of heart;
for men never speak so well, in the elocutionary sense, as when they
are lying; while, on the other hand, "there are no tricks in plain and
simple faith." Thus, in _Macbeth_, when the murder of Duncan is first
announced, we have the hero speaking of it to the Princes, when one of
them asks, "What is amiss?"

"You are, and do not know't:
The spring, the head, the fountain of your blood
Is stopp'd; the very source of it is stopp'd."

Of course he words the matter so finely all because he is playing the
hypocrite. Compare with this the quick honest way in which Macduff
dashes out the truth: "Your royal father's murder'd." We have a still
more emphatic instance of the same kind in Goneril and Regan's
hollow-hearted, and therefore highly rhetorical professions of love,
when the doting old King invites his three daughters to an auction of
falsehood, by proposing,

"That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge."

So, again in _Hamlet_, i. 2, the King opens with an elaborate strain
of phrase-making, full of studied and ingenious antitheses; and he
keeps up that style so long as he is using language to conceal his
thoughts; but afterwards, in the same speech, on coming to matters of
business, he falls at once into the direct, simple style of plain
truth and intellectual manhood.

But we have a more curious illustration, though in quite another kind,
in _Macbeth_, iv. 3, where Ross, fresh from Scotland, comes to Macduff
in England:

"_Macd_. Stands Scotland where it did?

_Ross_. Alas, poor country,
Almost afraid to know itself! it cannot
Be call'd our mother, but our grave: where nothing,
But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile;
Where sighs, and groans, and shrieks that rend the air,
Are made, not mark'd; where violent sorrow seems
A modern ecstasy: the dead man's knell
Is there scarce ask'd for whom; and good men's lives
Expire before the flowers in their caps,
Dying or e'er they sicken.

_Macd_. O, relation
Too nice, and yet too true!"

Here Ross's picked and precise wording of the matter shows his speech
to be the result of meditated preparation; for he has come with his
mind so full of what he was to say, that he could think of nothing
else; and Macduff, with characteristic plainness of ear and tongue,
finds it "too nice." His comment, at once so spontaneous and so apt,
is a delightful touch of the Poet's art; and tells us that
Shakespeare's judgment as well as his genius was at home in the secret
of a perfect style; and that he understood, no man better, the
essential poverty of "fine writing."

Equally apt and characteristic is another speech of Macduff's later in
the same scene, after learning how "all his pretty chickens and their
dam" have been put to death by the tyrant:

"Gentle Heaven,
Cut short all intermission; front to front
Bring thou this fiend of Scotland and myself;
Within my sword's length set him; if he 'scape,
Heaven forgive him too."

Macduff is a man of great simplicity, energy, and determination of
character; and here we have all these qualities boiled down to the
highest intensity, as would naturally be the effect of such news on
such a man. And observe how much is implied in that little word
_too_,--"Heaven forgive him too." As much as to say, "Let me once but
have a chance at him, if I don't kill him, then I'm as great a sinner
as he, and so God forgive us both!" I hardly know of another instance
of so great a volume of meaning compressed into so few words. And how
like it is to noble Macduff!

I could fill many pages with examples of this perfect suiting of the
style to the mental states of the dramatic speakers, but must rest
with citing a few more.

Hotspur is proverbially a man of impatient, irascible, headstrong
temper. See now how all this is reflected in the very step of his
language, when he has just been chafed into a rage by what the King
has said to him about the Scottish prisoners:

"Why, look you, I am whipp'd and scourg'd with rods,
Nettled, and stung with pismires, when I hear
Of this vile politician, Bolingbroke.
In Richard's time,--what do you call the place?--
A plague upon 't!--it is in Glostershire;--
'Twas where the madcap duke his uncle kept,
His uncle York;--where I first bow'd my knee
Unto this king of smiles, this Bolingbroke;--
When you and he came back from Ravenspurg.--
Why, what a candy deal of courtesy
This fawning greyhound then did proffer me!
Look, _When his infant fortune came to age_,
And, _Gentle Harry Percy_, and, _Kind cousin_,--
O, the Devil take such cozeners!"

Hotspur's spirit is so all-for-war, that he can think of nothing else;
hence he naturally scorns poetry, though his soul is full of it. But
poetry is so purely an impulse with him, that he is quite unconscious
of it. With Glendower, on the contrary, poetry is a purpose, and he
pursues it consciously. Note, then, in iii. 1, how this poetical mood
shapes and tunes his style, when he interprets his daughter's Welsh
to her English husband:

"She bids you on the wanton rushes lay you down,
And rest your gentle head upon her lap,
And she will sing the song that pleaseth you,
And on your eyelids crown the god of sleep,
Charming your blood with pleasing heaviness;
Making such difference betwixt wake and sleep,
As is the difference betwixt day and night,
The hour before the heavenly-harness'd team
Begins his golden progress in the East."

Here the whole expression seems born of melody, and the melody to
pervade it as an essence. So, too, in the same scene, Mortimer being
deep in the lyrical mood of honeymoon, see how that mood lives in the
style of what he says about his wife's speaking of Welsh, which is all
Greek to him; her tongue

"Makes Welsh as sweet as ditties highly penn'd,
Sung by a fair queen in a Summer's bower,
With ravishing division, to her lute."

For another instance, take a part of the exiled Duke's speech in _As
You Like It_, ii. 1:

"Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing."

The Duke is a thoughtful, pensive, kind-hearted man, feeling keenly
the wrong that has been done him, but not at all given to cherishing a
resentful temper; and here, if I mistake not, his language relishes of
the benevolent, meditative, and somewhat sentimental melancholy that
marks his disposition.

Still more to the point, perhaps, is the passage in _Hamlet_, iv. 5,
where Ophelia so touchingly scatters out the secrets of her virgin
heart: "They say the owl was a baker's daughter.--Lord, we know what
we are, but we know not what we may be.--God be at your table!" And
again: "I hope all will be well. We must be patient; but I cannot
choose but weep, to think they should lay him i' the cold ground. My
brother shall know of it; and so I thank you for your good
counsel.--Come, my coach!--Good night, ladies; good night, sweet
ladies; good night, good night." A poor, crazed, but still gentle,
sweet-tempered, and delicate-souled girl, quite unconscious of her own
distress, yet still having a dim remembrance of the great sorrows that
have crazed her,--such is Ophelia here; and her very manner of speech
takes the exact colour and tone of her mind.

Probably, however, the best example of all is one that I can but refer
to, it being too long for quotation. It is in the second scene of _The
Tempest_, where Prospero relates to his daughter the story of his past
life, at the same time letting her into the fact and the reasons of
what he has just been doing, and still has in hand to do. The dear
wise old gentleman is here absent-minded, his thoughts being busy and
very intent upon the tempest he has lately got up, and upon the
incoming and forthcoming consequences of it; and he thinks Miranda is
not attentive to what he is saying, because he is but half-attending
to it himself. This subdued mental agitation, and wandering of his
thoughts from the matter his tongue is handling, silently registers
itself in a broken, disjointed, and somewhat rambling course of
narrative; that is, his style runs so in sympathy with his state of
mind as to be unconsciously physiognomic of it. Certainly it is among
the Poet's finest instances of "suiting the word to the action"; while
at the same time it perfectly remembers the "special observance" of
"o'erstepping not the modesty of nature."

* * * * *

Since Homer, no poet has come near Shakespeare in originality,
freshness, opulence, and boldness of imagery. It is this that forms,
in a large part, the surpassing beauty of his poetry; it is in this
that much of his finest idealizing centres. And he abounds in all the
figures of speech known in formal rhetoric, except the Allegory and
the Apologue. The Allegory, I take it, is hardly admissible in
dramatic writing; nor is the Apologue very well suited to the place:
the former, I believe, Shakespeare never uses; and his most
conspicuous instance of the latter, in fact the only one that occurs
to me, is that of the Belly and the Members, so quaintly delivered to
the insurgent people by the juicy old Menenius in the first scene of
_Coriolanus_. But, though Shakespeare largely uses all the other
figures of speech, I shall draw most of what I have to say of his
style in this respect, under the two heads of Simile and Metaphor,
since all that can properly be called imagery is resolvable into
these. Shakespeare uses both a great deal, but the Simile in a way
somewhat peculiar: in fact, as it is commonly used by other poets, he
does not seem to have been very fond of it; and when he admits it, he
generally uses it in the most informal way possible. But, first, at
the risk of seeming pedantic, I will try to make some analysis of the
two figures in question.

Every student knows that the Simile may be regarded as an expanded
Metaphor, or the Metaphor as a condensed Simile. Which implies that
the Metaphor admits of greater brevity. What, then, is the difference?

Now a simile, as the name imports, is a comparison of two or more
things, more or less unlike in themselves, for the purpose of
illustration. The thing illustrated and the thing that illustrates
are, so to speak, laid alongside each other, that the less known may
be made more intelligible by the light of that which is known better.
Here the two parts are kept quite distinct, and a sort of parallel run
between them. And the actions or the qualities of the two things stand
apart, each on their own side of the parallel, those of neither being
ascribed to the other. In a metaphor, on the other hand, the two
parts, instead of lying side by side, are drawn together and
incorporated into one. The idea and the image, the thought and the
illustration, are not kept distinct, but the idea is incarnated in the
image, so that the image bears the same relation to the idea as the
body does to the soul. In other words, the two parts are completely
identified, their qualities interfused and interpenetrating, so that
they become one. Thus a metaphor proceeds by ascribing to a given
object certain actions or qualities which are not literally true of
that object, and which have in reference to it only the truth of

To illustrate this. When, in his sonnet composed on Westminster
Bridge, Wordsworth says, "This City now doth, like a garment, wear the
beauty of the morning," the language is a simile in form. If he had
said, This City hath now robed herself in the beauty of the morning,
it would have been in form a metaphor. On the other hand, when in the
same sonnet he says, "The river glideth at his own sweet will," the
language is a metaphor. If in this case he had said, The river floweth
smoothly along, like a man led on by the free promptings of his own
will, it would have been a simile. And so, when Romeo says of

"O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
Her beauty hangs upon the cheek of night,
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear";

here we have two metaphors, and also one simile. Juliet cannot be said
literally to teach the torches any thing; but her brightness may be
said to make them, or rather the owner of them ashamed of their
dimness; or she may be said to be so radiant, that the torches, or the
owner of them may learn from her how torches ought to shine. Neither
can it be said literally that her beauty hangs upon the cheek of
night, for the night has no cheek; but it may be said to bear the same
relation to the night as a diamond pendant does to the dark cheek that
sets it off. Then the last metaphor is made one of the parts in a
simile; what is therein expressed being likened to a rich jewel
hanging in an Ethiop's ear. So, too, when Wordsworth apostrophizes

"Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea";--

here we have two similes. But when he says,--

"Unruffled doth the blue lake lie,
The mountains looking on";

and when he says of the birds singing,--

"Clear, loud, and lively is the din,
From social warblers gathering in
Their harvest of sweet lays";

and when he says of his Lucy,--

"The stars of midnight shall be dear
To her; and she shall lean her ear
In many a secret place
Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
And beauty born of murmuring sound
Shall pass into her face";--

in these lines we have four pure and perfect metaphors.

Again: In _Cymbeline_, old Belarius says of the "two princely boys"
that are with him,--

"They are as gentle
As zephyrs, blowing below the violet,
Not wagging his sweet head; and yet as rough,
Their royal blood enchaf'd, as the rud'st wind,
That by the top doth take the mountain pine,
And make him stoop to th' vale."

Here are two similes, of the right Shakespeare mintage. As metaphors
from the same hand, take this from Iachimo's temptation of Imogen,
"This object, which takes prisoner the wild motion of mine eye"; and
this from Viola, urging Orsino's suit to the Countess,--

"Holla your name to the reverberate hills,
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out, _Olivia_!"

and this of Cleopatra's with the asp at her bosom,--

"Dost thou not see my baby at my breast,
That sucks the nurse asleep?"

Or, as an instance of both figures together, take the following from
_King Lear_, iv. 3, where the Gentleman describes to Kent the
behaviour of Cordelia on hearing of her father's condition:

"You have seen
Sunshine and rain at once; her smiles and tears
Were like: a better way,--those happy smilets
That play'd on her ripe lip seem'd not to know
What guests were in her eyes; which parted thence
As pearls from diamonds dropp'd."

Here we have two similes, in the first two and last clauses; and also
two metaphors, severally conveyed in,--"That play'd on her ripe lip,"
and, "What guests were in her eyes." Perhaps I ought to add that a
simile is sometimes merely suggested or implied; as in these lines
from Wordsworth:

"What is glory?--in the socket
See how dying tapers fare!
What is pride?--a whizzing rocket
That would emulate a star.

What is friendship?--do not trust her,
Nor the vows which she has made;
Diamonds dart their brightest lustre
From a palsy-shaken head."

Thus much by way of analyzing the two figures, and illustrating the
difference between them. In all these instances may be seen, I think,
how in a metaphor the intensity and fire of imagination, instead of
placing the two parts side by side, melts them down into one
homogeneous mass; which mass is both of them and neither of them at
the same time; their respective properties being so interwoven and
fused together, that those of each may be affirmed of the other.

I have said that Shakespeare uses the Simile in a way somewhat
peculiar. This may require some explication.--Homer, Virgil, Dante,
Spenser, Milton, and the great Italian poets of the sixteenth century,
all deal largely in what may be styled full-drawn similes; that is,
similes carefully elaborated through all their parts, these being knit
together in a balanced and rounded whole. Here is an instance of what
I mean, from _Paradise Lost_, i.:

"As when the potent rod
Of Amram's son, in Egypt's evil day,
Wav'd round the coast, up call'd a pitchy cloud
Of locusts, warping on the eastern wind,
That o'er the realm of impious Pharaoh hung
Like night, and darken'd all the land of Nile;
So numberless where those bad angels seen
Hovering on wing under the cope of Hell,
'Twixt upper, nether, and surrounding fires."

This may be fitly taken as a model specimen of the thing; it is
severely classical in style, and is well worthy of the great hand that
made it. Here is another, somewhat different in structure, and not
easy to beat, from Wordsworth's _Miscellaneous Sonnets_, Part ii.:

"Desponding Father! mark this alter'd bough,
So beautiful of late, with sunshine warm'd,
Or moist with dews; what more unsightly now,
Its blossoms shrivell'd, and its fruit, if form'd,
Invisible? yet Spring her genial brow
Knits not o'er that discolouring and decay
As false to expectation. Nor fret thou
At like unlovely process in the May
Of human life: a Stripling's graces blow,
Fade, and are shed, that from their timely fall
(Misdeem it not a cankerous change) may grow
Rich mellow bearings, that for thanks shall call."

It may be worth noting, that the first member of this no less
beautiful than instructive passage contains one metaphor,--"Spring her
genial brow knits not"; and the second two,--"in the May of human
life," and, "a Stripling's graces blow, fade, and are shed." Herein it
differs from the preceding instance; but I take it to be none the
worse for that.

Shakespeare occasionally builds a simile on the same plan; as in the
following from _Measure for Measure_, i. 3:

"Now, as fond fathers,
Having bound up the threatening twigs of birch,
Only to stick it in their children's sight
For terror, not to use, in time the rod
Becomes more mock'd than fear'd; so our decrees,
Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead;
And liberty plucks justice by the nose;
The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart
Goes all decorum."

But the Poet does not much affect this formal mode of the thing: he
has comparatively few instances of it; while his pages abound in
similes of the informal mode, like those quoted before. And his
peculiarity in the use of the figure consists partly in what seems not
a little curious, namely, that he sometimes begins with building a
simile, and then runs it into a metaphor before he gets through; so
that we have what may be termed a mixture of the two; that is, he sets
out as if to form the two parts distinct, and ends by identifying
them. Here is an instance from the Second Part of _King Henry the
Fourth_, iv. 1:

"His foes are so enrooted with his friends,
That, plucking to unfix an enemy,
He doth unfasten so and shake a friend.
So that this land, like an offensive wife
That hath enrag'd him on to offer strokes,
As he is striking, holds his infant up,
And hangs resolv'd correction in the arm
That was uprear'd to execution."

And so in _King Henry the Fifth_, ii. 4:

"In cases of defence 'tis best to weigh
The enemy more mighty than he seems:
So the proportions of defence are fill'd;
Which of a weak and niggardly projection,
Doth, like a miser, spoil his coat with scanting
A little cloth."

Also in _Hamlet_, iv. 1:

"So much was our love,
We would not understand what was most fit;
But, like the owner of a foul disease,
To keep it from divulging, let it feed
Even on the pith of life."

And somewhat the same again in iii. 4:

"No, in despite of sense and secrecy,
Unpeg the basket on the house's top,
Let the birds fly, and, like the famous ape,
To try conclusions, in the basket creep,
And break your own neck down."

Something very like this mixing of figures occurs, also, in _Timon of
Athens_, iv. 3:

"But myself,
Who had the world as my confectionary;
The mouths, the tongues, the eyes, and hearts of men
At duty, more than I could frame employment;
That numberless upon me stuck, as leaves
Do on an oak, have with one Winter's brush
Fell from their boughs, and left me open, bare
For every storm that blows."

And I suspect that certain passages, often faulted for confusion of
metaphors, are but instances of the same thing, as this:

"Blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled,
That they are not a pipe for Fortune's finger
To sound what stop she please."

This feature mainly results, no doubt, from the Poet's aptness or
endeavour to make his style of as highly symbolical a character as
possible without smothering the sense. And by _symbolical_ I here mean
the taking a representative part of a thing, and using it in such a
way as to convey the sense and virtue of the whole. Metaphors are the
strongest and surest mode of doing this; and so keen was the Poet's
quest of this, that his similes, in the very act of forming, often
become half-metaphors, as from a sort of instinct. Thus, instead of
fully forming a simile, he merely _suggests_ it; throwing in just
enough of it to start the thoughts on that track, and then condensing
the whole into a semi-metaphorical shape. Which seems to explain why
it is that these suggestions of similes, notwithstanding the
stereotyped censures of a too formal criticism, seldom trouble any
reader who is so unsophisticated as to care little for the form, so he
be sure of the substance.

* * * * *

The thoughtful student can hardly choose but feel that there is
something peculiar in Shakespeare's metaphors. And so indeed there is.
But the peculiarity is rather in degree than kind. Now the Metaphor,
as before remarked, proceeds upon a likeness in the relations of
things; whereas the Simile proceeds upon a likeness in the things
themselves, which is a very different matter. And so surpassing was
Shakespeare's quickness and acuteness of eye to discern the most
hidden resemblances in the former kind, that he outdoes all other
writers in the exceeding fineness of the threads upon which his
metaphors are often built. In other words, he beats all other poets,
ancient and modern, in constructing metaphors upon the most subtile,
delicate, and unobvious analogies.

Among the English poets, Wordsworth probably stands next to
Shakespeare in the frequency, felicity, originality, and strength of
his metaphorical language. I will therefore quote a few of his most
characteristic specimens, as this seems the fairest way for bringing
out the unequalled virtue of Shakespeare's poetry in this kind.

"With heart as calm as lakes that sleep,
In frosty moonlight glistening;
Or mountain rivers, where they creep
Along a channel smooth and deep,
To their own far-off murmurs listening."

"Leave to the nightingale her shady wood;
A privacy of glorious light is thine;
Whence thou dost pour upon the world a flood
Of harmony, with instinct more divine."
_To a Skylark_.

"And this huge Castle, standing here sublime,
I love to see the look with which it braves--
Cas'd in th' unfeeling armour of old time--
The lightning, the fierce wind, and trampling waves."
_Peele Castle_.

"Bright gem instinct with music, vocal spark;
The happiest bird that sprang out of the Ark!"
_A Morning Exercise_.

"One who was suffering tumult in his soul,
Yet fail'd to seek the sure relief of prayer,
Went forth,--his course surrendering to the care
Of the fierce wind, while midday lightnings prowl
Insidiously, untimely thunders growl;
While trees, dim-seen, in frenzied numbers tear
The lingering remnants of their yellow hair."
_Mis. Son., Pt. ii_. 15.

"So deem'd the man who fashion'd for the sense
These lofty pillars, spread that branching roof
Self-pois'd, and scoop'd into ten thousand cells,
Where light and shade repose, where music dwells
Lingering,--and wandering on as loth to die."

"But, from the arms of silence,--list, O list!--
The music bursteth into second life;
The notes luxuriate, every stone is kiss'd
By sound, or ghost of sound, in mazy strife."
_Eccle. Son., Pt. iii_. 43, 44.

"The towering headlands, crown'd with mist,
Their feet among the billows, know
That Ocean is a mighty harmonist."
_Power of Sound_.

I saw, or heard, or felt, was but a stream
That flow'd into a kindred stream; a gale
Confederate with the current of the soul,
To speed my voyage."

"Past and Future are the wings
On whose support harmoniously conjoin'd
Moves the great spirit of human knowledge."
_Prelude, Book vi_.

"Child of loud-throated War! the mountain Stream
Roars in thy hearing; but thy hour of rest
Is come, and thou art silent in thy age."

"What art thou, from care
Cast off,--abandon'd by thy rugged Sire,
Nor by soft Peace adopted?"

"Shade of departed Power,
Skeleton of unflesh'd humanity,
The chronicle were welcome that should call
Into the compass of distinct regard
The toils and struggles of thy infant years!"
_Kilchurn Castle_.

"Advance,--come forth from thy Tyrolean ground,
Dear Liberty! stern Nymph of soul untam'd;
Sweet Nymph, O rightly of the mountains nam'd!
Through the long chain of Alps from mound to mound,
And o'er th' eternal snows, like Echo, bound;
Like Echo, when the hunter-train at dawn
Have rous'd her from her sleep; and forest-lawn,
Cliffs, woods, and caves her viewless steps resound,
And babble of her pastime!"

"Ye Storms, resound the praises of your King!
And ye mild Seasons--in a sunny clime,
Midway on some high hill, while father Time
Looks on delighted--meet in festal ring,
And long and loud of Winter's triumph sing!
Sing ye, with blossoms crown'd, and fruits, and flowers,
Of Winter's breath surcharg'd with sleety showers,
And the dire flapping of his hoary wing!
Knit the blithe dance upon the soft green grass;
With feet, hands, eyes, looks, lips, report your gain;
Whisper it to the billows of the main,
And to th' aerial Zephyrs as they pass,
That old decrepit Winter--_He_ hath slain
That Host which render'd all your bounties vain."
_Son. to Lib., Pt. ii_. 10, 35.

In the foregoing passages, the imagery of course loses more or less
of its force and beauty from being cut out of its proper surroundings;
for Wordsworth's poetry, too, is far from being mere gatherings of
finely-carved chips: as a general thing, the several parts of a poem
all rightly know each other as co-members of an organic whole. Far
more must this needs be the case in the passages that follow, inasmuch
as these are from the most dramatic of all writing; so that the virtue
of the imagery is inextricably bound up with the characters and
occasions of the speakers:

"Look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder East:
Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops."
_Rom. and Jul., iii_. 5.

"Death, that hath suck'd the honey of thy breath,
Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty:
Thou art not conquer'd; beauty's ensign yet
Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks,
And death's pale flag is not advanced there."

"Why art thou yet so fair? shall I believe
That unsubstantial Death is amorous;
And that the lean abhorred monster keeps
Thee here in dark to be his paramour?"
_Ibid., v_. 3.

"My gentle Puck, come hither. Thou remember'st
Since once I sat upon a promontory,
And heard a mermaid, on a dolphin's back,
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath,
That the rude sea grew civil at her song;
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres,
To hear the sea-maid's music."
_Midsum. Night's D., ii_. 1.

"Rush on his host, as doth the melted snow
Upon the valleys, whose low vassal seat
The Alps doth spit and void his rheum upon."
_King Henry V., iii_. 5.

"His face is all bubukles, and whelks, and knobs, and flames of
fire; and his lips plows at his nose, and it is like a coal of
fire, sometimes plue, and sometimes red; but his nose is
executed, and his fire is out." _Ibid., iii_. 6.

"O, then th' Earth shook to see the heavens on fire,
And not in fear of your nativity.
Diseased Nature oftentimes breaks forth
In strange eruptions; oft the teeming Earth
Is with a kind of cholic pinch'd and vex'd
By the imprisoning of unruly wind
Within her womb; which, for enlargement striving,
Shakes the old beldame Earth, and topples down
Steeples and moss-grown towers. At your birth,
Our grandam Earth, having this distemperature,
In passion shook."
1 _King Henry IV., iii_. 1.

"Let heaven kiss earth! now let not Nature's hand
Keep the wild flood-confin'd! let order die!
And let this world no longer be a stage
To feed contention in a lingering act;
But let one spirit of the first-born Cain
Reign in all bosoms, that, each heart being set
On bloody courses, the rude scene may end,
And darkness be the burier of the dead!"
2 _King Henry IV., i_. 1.

"An habitation giddy and unsure
Hath he that buildeth on the vulgar heart.
O thou fond many! with what loud applause
Didst thou beat heaven with blessing Bolingbroke,
Before he was what thou would'st have him be!
And being now trimm'd in thine own desires,
Thou, beastly feeder, art so full of him,
That thou provok'st thyself to cast him up.
So, so, thou common dog, did'st thou disgorge
Thy glutton bosom of the royal Richard;
And now thou would'st eat thy dead vomit up,
And howl'st to find it."
_Ibid., i_. 3.

"But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastern hill."
_Hamlet, i_. 1.

"So, haply slander--
Whose whisper o'er the world's diameter,
As level as the cannon to his blank,
Transports his poison'd shot--may miss our name,
And hit the woundless air."
_Ibid., iv_. 1.

"Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
The very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it."
_Macbeth, ii_. 1.

"O thou day o' the world,
Chain mine arm'd neck; leap thou, attire and all,
Through proof of harness to my heart, and there
Ride on the pants triumphing!"
_Ant. and Cleo., iv_. 8.

"For his bounty,
There was no Winter in't; an Autumn 'twas
That grew the more by reaping: his delights
Were dolphin-like; they show'd his back above
The element they liv'd in: in his livery
Walk'd crowns and crownets."
_Ibid., v_. 2.

"The ample proposition that hope makes
In all designs begun on earth below
Fails in the promis'd largeness: checks and disasters
Grow in the veins of actions highest rear'd."

"Distinction, with a broad and powerful fan,
Puffing at all, winnows the light away."
_Troil. and Cres., i_. 3.

"Be as a planetary plague, when Jove
Will o'er some high-vie'd city hang his poison
In the sick air."

"Put armour on thine ears and on thine eyes;
Whose proof, nor yells of mothers, maids, nor babes,
Nor sight of priests in holy vestments bleeding,
Shall pierce a jot."

"Common mother, thou,
Whose womb unmeasurable, and infinite breast,
Teems, and feeds all; whose self-same mettle,
Whereof thy proud child, arrogant man, is puff'd.
Engenders the black toad and adder blue,
The gilded newt and eyeless venom'd worm;
Yield him, who all thy human sons doth hate,
From forth thy plenteous bosom, one poor root!"

"What, think'st
That the bleak air, thy boisterous chamberlain,
Will put thy shirt on warm? will these moss'd trees,
That have outliv'd the eagle, page thy heels,
And skip where thou point'st out? will the cold brook.
Candied with ice, caudle thy morning taste,
To cure thy o'er-night's surfeit?"

"O thou sweet king-killer, and dear divorce
'Twixt natural son and sire! thou bright defiler
Of Hymen's purest bed! thou valiant Mars!
Thou ever young, fresh, lov'd, and delicate wooer,
Whose blush doth thaw the consecrated snow
That lies on Dian's lap! thou visible god,
That solder'st close impossibilities,
And mak'st them kiss! that speak'st with every tongue,
To every purpose! O thou touch of hearts!
Think, thy slave man rebels; and by thy virtue
Set them into confounding odds, that beasts
May have the world in empire!"
_Timon of Athens, iv_. 3.

Shakespeare's boldness in metaphors is pretty strongly exemplified in
some of the forecited passages; but he has instances of still greater
boldness. Among these may be named Lady Macbeth's--

"Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of Hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor Heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry _Hold, hold_!"

Here "blanket of the dark" runs to so high a pitch, that divers
critics, Coleridge among them, have been staggered by it, and have
been fain to set it down as a corruption of the text. In this they are
no doubt mistaken: the metaphor is in the right style of Shakespeare,
and, with all its daring, runs in too fair keeping to be ruled out of
the family. Hardly less bold is this of Macbeth's--

"Heaven's cherubin, hors'd
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest