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

Part 7 out of 9

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"Can string you names of districts, cities, towns,
The whole world over, tight as beads of dew
Upon a gossamer thread: he sifts, he weighs;
All things are put to question; he must live
Knowing that he grows wiser every day,
Or else not live at all, and seeing too
Each little drop of wisdom as it falls
Into the dimpling cistern of his heart,
O, give us once again the wishing-cap
Of Fortunatus, and the invisible coat
Of Jack the Giant-killer, Robin Hood,
And Sabra in the forest with Saint George!
The child, whose love is here, at least doth reap
One precious gain, that he forgets himself."

As far as I can determine the matter, _As You Like It_ is, upon the
whole, my favourite of Shakespeare's comedies. Yet I should be puzzled
to tell why; for my preference springs not so much from any
particular points or features, wherein it is surpassed by several
others, as from the general toning and effect. The whole is replete
with a beauty so delicate yet so intense, that we feel it everywhere,
but can never tell especially where it is, or in what it consists. For
instance, the descriptions of forest scenery come along so unsought,
and in such easy, quiet, natural touches, that we take in the
impression without once noticing what it is that impresses us. Thus
there is a certain woodland freshness, a glad, free naturalness, that
creeps and steals into the heart before we know it. And the spirit of
the place is upon its inhabitants, its genius within them: we almost
breathe with them the fragrance of the Forest, and listen to "the
melodies of woods and winds and waters," and feel

"The Power, the Beauty, and the Majesty,
That have their haunts in dale, or piny mountain,
Or forest by slow stream, or pebbly spring."

Even the Court Fool, notwithstanding all the crystallizing process
that has passed upon him, undergoes, as we have seen, a sort of
rejuvenescence of his inner man, so that his wit catches at every turn
the fresh hues and odours of his new whereabout. I am persuaded indeed
that Milton had a special eye to this play in the lines,--

"And sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child,
Warbles his native wood-notes wild."

To all which add, that the kindlier sentiments here seem playing out
in a sort of jubilee. Untied from set purposes and definite aims, the
persons come forth with their hearts already tuned, and so have but to
let off their redundant music. Envy, jealousy, avarice, revenge, all
the passions that afflict and degrade society, they have left in the
city behind them. And they have brought the intelligence and
refinement of the Court without its vanities and vexations; so that
the graces of art and the simplicities of nature meet together in
joyous, loving sisterhood. A serene and mellow atmosphere of thought
encircles and pervades the actors in this drama; as if on purpose to
illustrate how

"One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil, and of good,
Than all the sages can."

Nature throws her protecting arms around them; Beauty pitches her
tents before them; Heaven rains its riches upon them: with "no enemy
but Winter and rough weather," Peace hath taken up her abode with
them; and they have nothing to do but to "fleet the time carelessly,
as they did in the golden world."

But no words of mine, I fear, will justify to others my own sense of
this delectable workmanship. I can hardly think of any thing else in
the whole domain of Poetry so inspiring of the faith that "every
flower enjoys the air it breathes." The play, indeed, abounds in wild,
frolicsome graces which cannot be described; which can only be seen
and felt; and which the hoarse voice of Criticism seems to scare away,
as the crowing of the cocks is said to have scared away the fairy
spirits from their nocturnal pastimes. I know not how I can better
dismiss the theme than with some lines from Wordsworth, which these
scenes have often recalled to my thoughts:

"Nature never did betray
The heart that lov'd her; 'tis her privilege
Through all the years of this our life to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings."


The comedy of Twelfth Night; or, What You Will, was never printed,
that we know of, during the author's life. It first appeared in the
folio of 1623: consequently that edition, and the reprint of it in
1632, are our only authorities for the text. Fortunately, in this
instance, the original printing was very good for that time; the few
errors have proved, for the most part, easy of correction; so that the
text offers little matter of difficulty or disagreement among editors.

In default of positive information, this play was for a long time set
down as among the last-written of the Poet's dramas. This opinion was
based upon such slight indications, gathered from the work itself, as
could have no weight but in the absence of other proofs. No
contemporary notice of the play was discovered till the year 1828,
when Mr. Collier, delving among the "musty records of antiquity"
stored away in the Museum, lighted upon a manuscript _Diary_, written,
as was afterwards ascertained, by one John Manningham, a barrister who
was entered at the Middle Temple in 1597. Under date of February 2d,
1602, the author notes, "At our feast we had a play called _Twelfth
Night, or What You Will_, much like _The Comedy of Errors_, or
_Menechmi_ in Plautus, but most like and near to that in the Italian
called _Inganni_." The writer then goes on to state such particulars
of the action, as fully identify the play which he saw with the one
now under consideration. It seems that the benchers and members of the
several Inns-of-Court were wont to enrich their convivialities with a
course of wit and poetry. And the forecited notice ascertains that
Shakespeare's _Twelfth Night_ was performed before the members of the
Middle Temple on the old Church festival of the Purification, formerly
called Candlemas;--an important link in the course of festivities that
used to continue from Christmas to Shrovetide. We thus learn that one
of the Poet's sweetest plays was enjoyed by a gathering of his learned
and studious contemporaries, at a time when this annual jubilee had
rendered their minds congenial and apt, and when Christians have so
much cause to be happy and gentle and kind, and therefore to cherish
the convivial delectations whence kindness and happiness naturally

As to the date of the composition, we have little difficulty in fixing
this somewhere between the time when the play was acted at the Temple,
and the year 1598. In Act iii., scene 2, when Malvolio is at the
height of his ludicrous beatitude, Maria says of him, "He does smile
his face into more lines than are in the new map, with the
augmentation of the Indies." In 1598 was published an English version
of _Linschoten's Discourse of Voyages_, with a map exactly answering
to Maria's description. Nor is any such multilineal map known to have
appeared in England before that time. Besides, that was the first map
of the world, in which the _Eastern Islands_ were included. So that
the allusion can hardly be to any thing else; and the words _new map_
would seem to infer that the passage was written not long after the
appearance of the map in question.

Again: In Act iii., scene 1, the Clown says to Viola, "But, indeed,
words are very rascals, since bonds disgraced them." This may be
fairly understood as referring to an order issued by the Privy Council
in June, 1600, and laying very severe restrictions upon stage
performances. This order prescribes that "there shall be about the
city two houses and no more, allowed to serve for the use of common
stage plays"; that "the two several companies of players, assigned
unto the two houses allowed, may play each of them in their several
houses twice a-week, and no oftener"; and that "they shall forbear
altogether in the time of Lent, and likewise at such time and times as
any extraordinary sickness or infection of disease shall appear to be
in or about the city." The order was directed to the principal
magistrates of the city and suburbs, "strictly charging them to see
to the execution of the same"; and it is plain, that if rigidly
enforced it would have amounted almost to a total suppression of
play-houses, as the expenses of such establishments could hardly have
been met, in the face of so great drawbacks.

Therewithal it is to be noted that the Puritans were specially forward
and zealous in urging the complaints which put the Privy Council upon
issuing this stringent process; and it will hardly be questioned that
the character of Malvolio was partly meant as a satire on that
remarkable people. That the Poet should be somewhat provoked at their
action in bringing about such tight restraints upon the freedom of his
art, was certainly natural enough. Nor is it a small addition to their
many claims on our gratitude, that their aptness to "think, because
they were virtuous, there should be no more cakes and ale," had the
effect of calling forth so rich and withal so good-natured a piece of
retaliation. Perhaps it should be remarked further, that the order in
question, though solicited by the authorities of the city, was not
enforced; for even at that early date those magistrates had hit upon
the method of stimulating the complaints of discontented citizens till
orders were taken for removing the alleged grievances, and then of
letting such orders sleep, lest the enforcing of them should hush
those complaints, and thus take away all pretext for keeping up the

* * * * *

The story upon which the more serious parts of _Twelfth Night_ were
founded appears to have been a general favourite before and during
Shakespeare's time. It is met with in various forms and under various
names in the Italian, French, and English literature of that period.
The earliest form of it known to us is in Bandello's collection of
novels. From the Italian of Bandello it was transferred, with certain
changes and abridgments, into the French of Belleforest, and makes one
in his collection of _Tragical Histories_. From one or the other of
these sources the tale was borrowed again by Barnabe Rich, and set
forth as _The History of Apolonius and Silla_, making the second in
his collection of tales entitled _Farewell to the Military
Profession_, which was first printed in 1581.

Until the discovery of Manningham's _Diary_, Shakespeare was not
supposed to have gone beyond these sources, and it was thought
something uncertain to which of these he was most indebted for the raw
material of his play. It is now held doubtful whether he drew from
either of them. The passage I have quoted from that _Diary_ notes a
close resemblance of _Twelfth Night_ to an Italian play "called
_Inganni_." This has had the effect of directing attention to the
Italian theatre in quest of his originals. Two comedies bearing the
title of _Gl' Inganni_ have been found, both of them framed upon the
novel of Bandello, and both in print before the date of _Twelfth
Night_. These, as also the three forms of the tale mentioned above,
all agree in having a brother and sister, the latter in male attire,
and the two bearing so close a resemblance in person and dress as to
be indistinguishable; upon which circumstance some of the leading
incidents are made to turn. In one of the Italian plays, the sister is
represented as assuming the name of _Cesare_; which is so like
_Cesario_, the name adopted by Viola in her disguise, that the one may
well be thought to have suggested the other. Beyond this point,
_Twelfth Night_ shows no clear connection with either of those plays.

But there is a third Italian comedy, also lately brought to light,
entitled _Gl' Ingannati_, which is said to have been first printed in
1537. Here the traces of indebtedness are much clearer and more
numerous. I must content myself with abridging the Rev. Joseph
Hunter's statement of the matter. In the Italian play, a brother and
sister, named Fabritio and Lelia, are separated at the sacking of Rome
in 1527. Lelia is carried to Modena, where a gentleman resides, named
Flamineo, to whom she was formerly attached. She disguises herself as
a boy, and enters his service. Flamineo, having forgotten his Lelia,
is making suit to Isabella, a lady of Modena. The disguised Lelia is
employed by him in his love-suit to Isabella, who remains utterly deaf
to his passion, but falls desperately in love with the messenger. In
the third Act the brother Fabritio arrives at Modena, and his close
resemblance to Lelia in her male attire gives rise to some ludicrous
mistakes. At one time, a servant of Isabella's meets him in the
street, and takes him to her house, supposing him to be the messenger;
just as Sebastian is taken for Viola, and led to the house of Olivia.
In due time, the needful recognitions take place, whereupon Isabella
easily transfers her affection to Fabritio, and Flamineo's heart no
less easily ties up with the loving and faithful Lelia. In her
disguise, Lelia takes the name of _Fabio_; hence, most likely, the
name of Fabian, who figures as one of Olivia's servants. The Italian
play has also a subordinate character called Pasquella, to whom Maria
corresponds; and another named _Malevolti_, of which _Malvolio_ is a
happy adaptation. All which fully establishes the connection between
the Italian comedy and the English. But it does not follow necessarily
that the foreign original was used by Shakespeare; so much of the
lighter literature of his time having perished, that we cannot affirm
with any certainty what importations from Italy may or may not have
been accessible to him in his native tongue.

As for the more comic portions of _Twelfth Night_,--those in which Sir
Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and the Clown figure so
delectably,--we have no reason for believing that any part of them was
borrowed; there being no hints or traces of any thing like them in the
previous versions of the story, or in any other book or writing known
to us. And it is to be observed, moreover, that the Poet's borrowings,
in this instance as in others, relate only to the plot of the work,
the poetry and character being all his own; and that, here as
elsewhere, he used what he took merely as the canvas whereon to pencil
out and express the breathing creatures of his mind. So that the
whole workmanship is just as original, in the only right sense of that
term, as if the story and incidents had been altogether the children
of his own invention; and he but followed his usual custom of so
ordering his work as to secure whatever benefit might accrue from a
sort of pre-established harmony between his subject and the popular

* * * * *

I am quite at a loss to conceive why _Twelfth Night_ should ever have
been referred to the Poet's latest period of authorship. The play
naturally falls, by the internal notes of style, temper, and poetic
grain, into the middle period of his productive years. It has no such
marks of vast but immature powers as are often met with in his earlier
plays; nor, on the other hand, any of "that intense idiosyncrasy of
thought and expression,--that unparalleled fusion of the intellectual
with the passionate,"--which distinguishes his later ones. Every thing
is calm and quiet, with an air of unruffled serenity and composure
about it, as if the Poet had purposely taken to such matter as he
could easily mould into graceful and entertaining forms; thus
exhibiting none of that crushing muscularity of mind to which the
hardest materials afterwards or elsewhere became as limber and pliant
as clay in the hands of a potter. Yet the play has a marked severity
of taste; the style, though by no means so great as in some others, is
singularly faultless; the graces of wit and poetry are distilled into
it with indescribable delicacy, as if they came from a hand at once
the most plentiful and the most sparing: in short, the work is
everywhere replete with "the modest charm of not too much"; its
beauty, like that of the heroine, being of the still, deep, retiring
sort, which it takes one long to find, forever to exhaust, and which
can be fully caught only by the reflective imagination in "the quiet
and still air of delightful studies." Thus all things are disposed in
most happy keeping with each other, and tempered in the blandest
proportion of Art; so as to illustrate how

"Grace, laughter, and discourse may meet,
And yet the beauty not go less;
For what is noble should be sweet."

If the characters of this play are generally less interesting in
themselves than some we meet with elsewhere in the Poet's works, the
defect is pretty well made up by the felicitous grouping of them.
Their very diversities of temper and purpose are made to act as so
many mutual affinities; and this too in a manner so spontaneous that
we see not how they could possibly act otherwise. For broad comic
effect, the cluster of which Sir Toby is the centre--all of them drawn
in clear yet delicate colours--is inferior only to the unparalleled
assemblage that makes rich the air of Eastcheap. Of Sir Toby
himself--that most whimsical, madcap, frolicsome old toper, so full of
antics and fond of sprees, with a plentiful stock of wit, which is
kept in motion by an equally plentiful lack of money--it is enough to
say, with our Mr. Verplanck, that "he certainly comes out of the same
associations where the Poet saw Falstaff hold his revels"; and that,
though "not Sir John, nor a fainter sketch of him, yet he has an odd
sort of a family likeness to him." Sir Toby has a decided _penchant_
for practical jokes; though rather because he takes a sort of
disinterested pleasure in them, than because he loves to see himself
in the process of engineering them through: for he has not a particle
of ill-nature in him. Though by no means a coward himself, he
nevertheless enjoys the exposure of cowardice in others; yet this
again is not so much because such exposure feeds his self-esteem, as
because he delights in the game for its own sake, and for the nimble
pastime it yields to his faculties: that is, his impulses seem to rest
in it as an ultimate object, or a part of what is to him the _summum
bonum_ of life. And it is much the same with his addiction to vinous
revelry, and to the moister kind of minstrelsy; an addiction that
proceeds in part from his keen gust of fun, and the happiness he
finds in making sport for others as well as for himself: he will drink
till the world turns round, but not unless others are at hand to enjoy
the turning along with him.

* * * * *

Sir Andrew Aguecheek, the aspiring, lackadaisical, self-satisfied echo
and sequel of Sir Toby, fitly serves the double purpose of a butt and
a foil to the latter, at once drawing him out and setting him off.
Ludicrously proud of the most petty, childish irregularities, which,
however, his natural fatuity keeps him from acting, and barely suffers
him to affect, on this point he reminds us of that impressive
imbecility, Abraham Slender; yet not in such sort as to encroach at
all on Slender's province. There can scarcely be found a richer piece
of diversion than Sir Toby's practice in dandling Sir Andrew out of
his money, and paying him off with the odd hope of gaining Olivia's
hand. And the funniest of it is, that while Sir Toby understands him
thoroughly he has not himself the slightest suspicion or inkling of
what he is; he being as confident of his own wit as others are of his
want of it. Nor are we here touched with any revulsions of moral
feeling, such as might disturb our enjoyment of their fellowship; on
the contrary, we sympathize with Sir Toby's sport, without any
reluctances of virtue or conscience. To our sense of the matter, he
neither has nor ought to have any scruples or compunctions about the
game he is hunting. For, in truth, his dealing with Sir Andrew is all
in the way of fair exchange. He gives as much pleasure as he gets. If
he is cheating Sir Andrew out of his money, he is also cheating him
into the proper felicity of his nature, and thus paying him with the
equivalent best suited to his capacity. It suffices that, in being
stuffed with the preposterous delusion about Olivia, Sir Andrew is
rendered supremely happy at the time; while he manifestly has not
force enough to remember it with any twinges of shame or
self-reproach. And we feel that, while clawing his fatuous crotchets
and playing out his absurdities, Sir Toby is really doing Sir Andrew
no wrong, since the latter is then most himself, is in his happiest
mood, and in the most natural freedom of his indigenous gifts and
graces. All which quite precludes any division of our sympathies, and
just makes our comic enjoyment of their intercourse simply perfect.

* * * * *

Malvolio, the self-love-sick Steward, has hardly had justice done him,
his bad qualities being indeed of just the kind to defeat the
recognition of his good ones. He represents a perpetual class of
people, whose leading characteristic is moral demonstrativeness, and
who are never satisfied with a law that leaves them free to do right,
unless it also give them the power to keep others from doing wrong. To
quote again from Mr. Verplanck, Malvolio embodies "a conception as
true as it is original and droll; and its truth may still be
frequently attested by comparison with real Malvolios, to be found
everywhere from humble domestic life up to the high places of
learning, of the State, and even of the Church." From the central idea
of the character it follows in course that the man has too much
conscience to mind his own business, and is too pure to tolerate mirth
in others, because too much swollen and stiffened with self-love to be
merry himself. His highest exhilaration is when he contemplates the
image of his self-imputed virtues: he lives so entranced with the
beauty of his own inward parts, that he would fain hold himself the
wrong side out, to the end that all the world may duly appreciate and
admire him. Naturally, too, the more he hangs over his own moral
beauty, the more pharisaical and sanctimonious he becomes in his
opinion and treatment of others. For the glass which magnifies to his
view whatever of good there may be in himself, also serves him as an
inverted telescope to _minify_ the good of those about him; and, which
is more, the self-same spirit that prompts him to invert the
instrument upon other men's virtues, naturally moves him to turn the
big end upon their faults and the small end upon his own. Of course,
therefore, he is never without food for censure and reproof save when
he is alone with himself, where, to be sure, his intense consciousness
of virtue just breathes around him "the air of Paradise." Thus his
continual frothing over with righteous indignation all proceeds from
the yeast of pride and self-importance working mightily within him.
Maria, whose keen eye and sure tongue seldom fail to hit the white of
the mark, describes him as not being "any thing constantly, but a
time-pleaser." And it is remarkable that the emphasized moral rigidity
of such men is commonly but the outside of a mind secretly intent on
the service of the time, and caring little for any thing but to trim
its sails to the winds of self-interest and self-advancement. Yet
Malvolio is really a man of no little talent and accomplishment, as he
is also one of marked skill, fidelity, and rectitude in his calling;
so that he would be a right worthy person all round, but for his
inordinate craving

"to be dress'd in an opinion
Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit;
As who should say, _I am Sir Oracle,
And when I ope my lips, let no dog bark_."

This overweening moral coxcombry is not indeed to be reckoned among
the worst of crimes; but perhaps there is no other one fault so
generally or so justly offensive, and therefore none so apt to provoke
the merciless retaliations of mockery and practical wit.

* * * * *

Maria, the little structure packed so close with mental spicery, has
read Malvolio through and through; she knows him without and within;
and she never speaks of him, but that her speech touches the very pith
of the theme; as when she describes him to be one "that cons State
without book, and utters it by great swaths; the best-persuaded of
himself, so crammed, as he thinks, with excellences, that it is his
ground of faith that all who look on him love him." Her quaint
stratagem of the letter has and is meant to have the effect of
disclosing to others what her keener insight has long since
discovered; and its working lifts her into a model of arch, roguish
mischievousness, with wit to plan and art to execute whatsoever falls
within the scope of such a character. Her native sagacity has taught
her how to touch him in just the right spots to bring out the reserved
or latent notes of his character. Her diagnosis of his inward state is
indeed perfect; and when she makes the letter instruct him,--"Be
opposite with a kinsman, surly with servants; let thy tongue tang
arguments of State; put thyself into the trick of singularity,"--her
arrows are so aimed as to cleave the pin of his most characteristic

The scenes where the waggish troop, headed by this "noble
gull-catcher" and "most excellent devil of wit," bewitch Malvolio into
"a contemplative idiot," practising upon his vanity and conceit till
he seems ready to burst with an ecstasy of self-consequence, and they
"laugh themselves into stitches" over him, are almost painfully
diverting. It is indeed sport to see him "jet under his advanced
plumes"; and during this part of the operation our hearts freely keep
time with theirs who are tickling out his buds into full-blown
thoughts: at length, however, when he is under treatment as a madman,
our delight in his exposure passes over into commiseration of his
distress, and we feel a degree of resentment towards his ingenious
persecutors. The Poet, no doubt, meant to push the joke upon him so
far as to throw our sympathies over on his side, and make us take his
part. For his character is such that perhaps nothing but excessive
reprisals on his vanity and conceit could make us do justice to his
real worth.

* * * * *

The shrewd, mirth-loving Fabian, who in greedy silence devours up fun,
tasting it too far down towards his knees to give any audible sign of
the satisfaction it yields him, is an apt and willing agent in
putting the stratagem through. If he does nothing towards inventing or
cooking up the repast, he is at least a happy and genial partaker of
the banquet that others have prepared.--Feste, the jester, completes
this illustrious group of laughing and laughter-moving personages.
Though not, perhaps, quite so wise a fellow as Touchstone, of
_As-You-Like-It_ memory, nor endowed with so fluent and racy a fund of
humour, he nevertheless has enough of both to meet all the demands of
his situation. If, on the one hand, he never launches the ball of fun,
neither, on the other, does he ever fail to do his part towards
keeping it rolling. On the whole, he has a sufficiently facile and
apposite gift at jesting out philosophy, and moralizing the scenes
where he moves; and whatever he has in that line is perfectly original
with him. It strikes me, withal, as a rather note-worthy circumstance
that both the comedy and the romance of the play meet together in him,
as in their natural home. He is indeed a right jolly fellow; no note
of mirth springs up but he has answering susceptibilities for it to
light upon; but he also has at the same time a delicate vein of tender
pathos in him; as appears by the touchingly-plaintive song he sings,
which, by the way, is one of

"The very sweetest Fancy culls or frames,
Where _tenderness_ of heart is strong and deep."

I am not supposing this to be the measure of his lyrical invention,
for the song probably is not of his making; but the selection marks at
least the setting of his taste, or rather the tuning of his soul, and
thus discovers a choice reserve of feeling laid up in his breast.

* * * * *

Such are the scenes, such the characters that enliven Olivia's mansion
during the play: Olivia herself, calm, cheerful, of "smooth, discreet,
and stable bearing," hovering about them; sometimes unbending, never
losing her dignity among them; often checking, oftener enjoying their
merry-makings, and occasionally emerging from her seclusion to be
plagued by the Duke's message and bewitched by his messenger: and
Viola, always perfect in her part, yet always shrinking from it,
appearing among them from time to time on her embassies of love;
sometimes a partaker, sometimes a provoker, sometimes the victim of
their mischievous sport.

All this array of comicalities, exhilarating as it is in itself, is
rendered doubly so by the frequent changes and playings-in of poetry
breathed from the sweetest spots of romance, and which "gives a very
echo to the seat where Love is thron'd"; ideas and images of beauty
creeping and stealing over the mind with footsteps so soft and
delicate that we scarce know what touches us,--the motions of one that
had learned to tread

"As if the wind, not he, did walk,
Nor press'd a flower, nor bow'd a stalk."

Upon this portion of the play Hazlitt has some spirited remarks: "We
have a friendship for Sir Toby; we patronize Sir Andrew; we have an
understanding with the Clown, a sneaking kindness for Maria and her
rogueries; we feel a regard for Malvolio, and sympathize with his
gravity, his smiles, his cross-garters, his yellow stockings, and
imprisonment: but there is something that excites in us a stronger
feeling than all this."

* * * * *

Olivia is a considerable instance how much a fair and candid
setting-forth may do to render an ordinary person attractive, and
shows that for the homebred comforts and fireside tenour of life such
persons after all are apt to be the best. Nor, though something
commonplace in her make-up, such as the average of cultivated
womanhood is always found to be, is she without bright and penetrative
thoughts, whenever the occasion calls for them. Her reply to the
Steward, when, by way of scorching the Clown, he "marvels that her
ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal," gives the true
texture of her mind and moral frame: "O, you are sick of self-love,
Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite. To be generous,
guiltless, and of free disposition, is to take those things for
bird-bolts that you deem cannon-bullets. There is no slander in an
allowed Fool, though he do nothing but rail; nor no railing in a known
discreet man, though he do nothing but reprove." Practical wisdom
enough to make the course of any household run smooth! The instincts
of a happy, placid temper have taught Olivia that there is as little
of Christian virtue as of natural benignity in stinging away the
spirit of kindness with a tongue of acid and acrimonious pietism. Her
firm and healthy pulse beats in sympathy with the sportiveness in
which the proper decorum of her station may not permit her to bear an
active part. And she is too considerate, withal, not to look with
indulgence on the pleasantries that are partly meant to divert her
thoughts, and air off a too vivid remembrance of her recent sorrows.
Besides, she has gathered, even under the discipline of her own
afflictions, that as, on the one hand, "what Nature makes us mourn she
bids us heal," so, on the other, the free hilarities of wit and
humour, even though there be something of nonsense mixed up with them,
are a part of that "bland philosophy of life" which helps to knit us
up in the unions of charity and peace; that they promote cheerfulness
of temper, smooth down the lines of care, sweeten away the asperities
of the mind, make the eye sparkling and lustrous; and, in short, do
much of the very best stitching in the embroidered web of friendship
and fair society. So that she finds abundant motive in reason, with no
impediment in religion, to refrain from spoiling the merry passages of
her friends and servants by looking black or sour upon them.

Olivia is manifestly somewhat inclined to have her own way. But then
it must also be acknowledged that her way is pretty apt to be right.
This wilfulness, or something that borders upon it, is shown alike in
her impracticability to the Duke's solicitations, and in her
pertinacity in soliciting his messenger. And it were well worth the
while to know, if we could, how one so perverse in certain spots can
manage notwithstanding to be so agreeable as a whole. Then too, if it
seems rather naughty in her that she does not give the Duke a better
chance to try his power upon her, she gets pretty well paid in falling
a victim to the eloquence which her obstinacy stirs up. Nor is it
altogether certain whether her conduct springs from a pride that will
not listen where her fancy is not taken, or from an unambitious
modesty that prefers not to "match above her degree." Her "beauty
truly blent, whose red and white Nature's own sweet and cunning hand
laid on," saves the credit of the fancy-smitten Duke in such an
urgency of suit as might else breed some question of his manliness;
while her winning infirmity, as expressed in the tender violence with
which she hastens on "a contract and eternal bond of love" with the
astonished and bewildered Sebastian, "that her most jealous and too
doubtful soul may live at peace," shows how well the sternness of the
brain may be tempered into amiability by the meekness of womanhood.

Manifold indeed are the attractions which the Poet has shed upon his
heroes and heroines; yet perhaps the learned spirit of the man is more
wisely apparent in the home-keeping virtues and unobtrusive beauty of
his average characters. And surely the contemplation of Olivia may
well suggest the question, whether the former be not sometimes too
admirable to be so instructive as those whose graces walk more in the
light of common day. At all events, the latter may best admonish us,

"How Verse may build a princely throne
On humble truth."

Similar thoughts might aptly enough be suggested by the Duke, who,
without any very splendid or striking qualities, manages somehow to be
a highly agreeable and interesting person. His character is merely
that of an accomplished gentleman, enraptured at the touch of music,
and the sport of thick-thronging fancies. It is plain that Olivia has
only enchanted his imagination, not won his heart; though he is not
himself aware that such is the case. This fancy-sickness--for it
appears to be nothing else--naturally renders him somewhat capricious
and fantastical, "unstaid and skittish in his motions"; and, but for
the exquisite poetry which it inspires him to utter, would rather
excite our mirth than enlist our sympathy. To use an illustration from
another play, Olivia is not so much his Juliet as his Rosalind; and
perhaps a secret persuasion to that effect is the real cause of her
rejecting his suit. Accordingly, when he sees her placed beyond his
hope, he has no more trouble about her; but turns, and builds a true
affection where, during the preoccupancy of his imagination, so many
sweet and tender appeals have been made to his heart.

In Shakespeare's delineations as in nature, we may commonly note that
love, in proportion as it is deep and genuine, is also inward and
reserved. To be voluble, to be fond of spreading itself in discourse,
or of airing itself in the fineries of speech, seems indeed quite
against the instinct of that passion; and its best eloquence is when
it ties up the tongue, and _steals_ out in other modes of expression,
the flushing of the cheeks and the mute devotion of the eyes. In its
purest forms, it is apt to be a secret even unto itself, the subjects
of it knowing indeed that something ails them, but not knowing exactly
what. So that the most effective love-making is involuntary and
unconscious. And I suspect that, as a general thing, if the true
lover's passion be not returned before it is spoken, it stands little
chance of being returned at all.

Now, in Orsino's case, the passion, or whatever else it may be, is too
much without to be thoroughly sound within. Like Malvolio's virtue, it
is too glass-gazing, too much enamoured of its own image, and renders
him too apprehensive that it will be the death of him, if disappointed
of its object. Accordingly he talks too much about it, and his
talking about it is too ingenious withal; it makes his tongue run
glib and fine with the most charming divisions of poetic imagery and
sentiment; all which shrewdly infers that he lacks the genuine thing,
and has mistaken something else for it. Yet, when we hear him dropping
such riches as this,--

"O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Methought she purg'd the air of pestilence!"

and this,--

"She that hath a heart of that fine frame
To pay this debt of love but to a brother,
How will she love when the rich golden shaft
Hath kill'd the flock of all affections else
That live in her!"--

we can hardly help wishing that such were indeed the true vernacular
of that passion. But it is not so, and on the whole it is much better
than so: for love, that which is rightly so called, uses a diviner
language even than that; and this it does when, taking the form of
religion, it sweetly and silently embodies itself in deeds. And this
is the love that Southey had in mind when he wrote,--

"They sin who tell us love can die."

In Viola, divers things that were else not a little scattered are
thoroughly composed; her character being the unifying power that draws
all the parts into true dramatic consistency. Love-taught herself, it
was for her to teach both Orsino and Olivia how to love: indeed she
plays into all the other parts, causing them to embrace and cohere
within the compass of her circulation. And yet, like some subtile
agency, working most where we perceive it least, she does all this
without rendering herself a special prominence in the play.

It is observable that the Poet has left it uncertain whether Viola was
in love with the Duke before assuming her disguise, or whether her
heart was won afterwards by reading "the book even of his secret soul"
while wooing another. Nor does it much matter whether her passion
were the motive or the consequence of her disguise, since in either
case such a man as Olivia describes him to be might well find his way
to tougher hearts than Viola's. But her love has none of the
skittishness and unrest which mark the Duke's passion for Olivia:
complicated out of all the elements of her being, it is strong without
violence; never mars the innate modesty of her character; is deep as
life, tender as infancy, pure, peaceful, and unchangeable as truth.

Mrs. Jameson--who, with the best right to know what belongs to woman,
unites a rare talent for taking others along with her, and letting
them see the choice things which her apprehensive eye discerns, and
who, in respect of Shakespeare's heroines, has left little for others
to do but quote her words--remarks that "in Viola a sweet
consciousness of her feminine nature is for ever breaking through her
masquerade: she plays her part well, but never forgets, nor allows us
to forget, that she is playing a part." And, sure enough, every thing
about her save her dress "is semblative a woman's part": she has none
of the assumption of a pert, saucy, waggish manhood, which so delights
us in Rosalind in _As You Like It_; but she has that which, if not
better in itself, is more becoming in her,--"the inward and spiritual
grace of modesty" pervading all she does and says. Even in her
railleries with the comic characters there is all the while an
instinctive drawing-back of female delicacy, touching our sympathies,
and causing us to feel most deeply what she is, when those with whom
she is playing least suspect her to be other than she seems. And the
same is true concerning her passion, of which she never so speaks as
to compromise in the least the delicacies and proprieties of her sex;
yet she lets fall many things from which the Duke easily gathers the
drift and quality of her feelings directly he learns what she is. But
the great charm of her character lies in a moral rectitude so perfect
and so pure as to be a secret unto itself; a clear, serene composure
of truth, mingling so freely and smoothly with the issues of life,
that while, and perhaps even because she is herself unconscious of it,
she is never once tempted to abuse or to shirk her trust, though it be
to play the attorney in a cause that makes so much against herself. In
this respect she presents an instructive contrast to Malvolio, who has
much virtue indeed, yet not so much but that the counter-pullings have
rendered him intensely conscious of it, and so drawn him into the
vice, at once hateful and ridiculous, of moral pride. The virtue that
fosters conceit and censoriousness is like a dyspeptic stomach, the
owner of which is made all too sensible of it by the conversion of his
food to wind,--a wind that puffs him up. On the other hand, a virtue
that breathes so freely as not to be aware of its breathing is the
right moral analogue of a thoroughly eupeptic state; as "the healthy
know not of their health, but only the sick."

Sundry critics have censured, some of them pretty sharply, the
improbability involved in the circumstance of Viola and Sebastian
resembling each other so closely as to be mistaken the one for the
other. Even so just and liberal a critic as Hallam has stumbled at
this circumstance, so much so as quite to disconcert his judgment of
the play. The improbability is indeed palpable enough; yet I have to
confess that it has never troubled me, any more than certain things
not less improbable in _As You Like It_. But even if it had, still I
should not hold it any just ground for faulting the Poet, inasmuch as
the circumstance was an accepted article in the literary faith of his
time. But indeed this censure proceeds from that old heresy which
supposes the proper effect of a work of art to depend on the imagined
reality of the matter presented; that is, which substitutes the
delusions of insanity for the half-voluntary illusions of a rational
and refining pleasure.

* * * * *

Of Sebastian himself the less need be said, forasmuch as the leading
traits of his character, in my conception of it, have been
substantially evolved in what I have said of his sister. For the two
are really as much alike in the inward texture of their souls as in
their visible persons; at least their mutual resemblance in the former
respect is as close as were compatible with proper manliness in the
one, and proper womanliness in the other. Personal bravery, for
example, is as characteristic of him as modesty is of her. In
simplicity, in gentleness, in rectitude, in delicacy of mind, and in
all the particulars of what may be termed complexional harmony and
healthiness of nature,--in these they are as much twins as in birth
and feature. Therewithal they are both alike free from any notes of a
pampered self-consciousness. Yet in all these points a nice
discrimination of the masculine and feminine proprieties is everywhere
maintained. In a word, there is no confusion of sex in the delineation
of them: as like as they are, without and within, the man and the
woman are nevertheless perfectly differentiated in all the essential
attributes of each.

The conditions of the plot did not require nor even permit Sebastian
to be often or much in sight. We have indeed but little from him, but
that little is intensely charged with significance; in fact, I hardly
know of another instance in Shakespeare where so much of character is
accomplished in so few words. The scene where he is first met with
consists merely of a brief dialogue between him and Antonio, the man
who a little before has recovered him from the perils of shipwreck. He
there has neither time nor heart for any thing but gratitude to his
deliverer, and sorrow at the supposed death of his sister: yet his
expression of these is so ordered as to infer all the parts of a
thorough gentleman; the efficacies of a generous nature, of good
breeding, of liberal culture, and of high principle, all concurring in
one result, and thus filling up the right idea of politeness as
"benevolence guided by intelligence."

The society delineated in this play is singularly varied and
composite; the names of the persons being a mixture Of Spanish,
Italian, and English. Though the scene is laid in Illyria, the period
of the action is undefined, and the manners and costumes are left in
the freedom of whatever time we may choose antecedent to that of the
composition, provided we do not exceed the proper limits of
imaginative reason.

This variety in the grouping of the persons, whether so intended or
not, very well accords with the spirit in which, or the occasion for
which, the title indicates the play to have been written. Twelfth Day,
anciently so called as being the twelfth after Christmas, is the day
whereon the Church has always kept the feast of "The Epiphany, or the
Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles." So that, in preparing a
Twelfth-Night entertainment, the idea of fitness might aptly suggest,
that national lines and distinctions should be lost in the paramount
ties of a common Religion; and that people the most diverse in kindred
and tongue should draw together in the sentiment of "one Lord, one
Faith, one Baptism"; their social mirth thus relishing of universal

The general scope and plan of _Twelfth Night, as a work of art_, is
hinted in its second title; all the comic elements being, as it were,
thrown out simultaneously, and held in a sort of equipoise; so that
the readers are left to fix the preponderance where it best suits
their several bent or state of mind, and each, within certain limits
and conditions, may take the work in _what sense he will_. For, where
no special prominence is given to any one thing, there is the wider
scope for individual aptitude or preference, and the greater freedom
for each to select for virtual prominence such parts as will best knit
in with what is uppermost in his thoughts.

The significance of the title is further traceable in a peculiar
spontaneousness running through the play. Replete as it is with
humours and oddities, they all seem to spring up of their own accord;
the comic characters being free alike from disguises and pretensions,
and seeking merely to let off their inward redundancy; caring nothing
at all whether everybody or nobody sees them, so they may have their
whim out, and giving utterance to folly and nonsense simply because
they cannot help it. Thus their very deformities have a certain grace,
since they are genuine and of Nature's planting: absurdity and
whimsicality are indigenous to the soil, and shoot up in free, happy
luxuriance, from the life that is in them. And by thus setting the
characters out in their happiest aspects, the Poet contrives to make
them simply ludicrous and diverting, instead of putting upon them the
constructions of wit or spleen, and thereby making them ridiculous or
contemptible. Hence it is that we so readily enter into a sort of
fellowship with them; their foibles and follies being shown up in such
a spirit of good-humour, that the subjects themselves would rather
join with us in laughing than be angered or hurt at the exhibition.
Moreover the high and the low are here seen moving in free and
familiar intercourse, without any apparent consciousness of their
respective ranks: the humours and comicalities of the play keep
running and frisking in among the serious parts, to their mutual
advantage; the connection between them being of a kind to be felt, not

Thus the piece overflows with the genial, free-and-easy spirit of a
merry Twelfth Night. Chance, caprice, and intrigue, it is true, are
brought together in about equal portions; and their meeting and
crossing and mutual tripping cause a deal of perplexity and confusion,
defeating the hopes of some, suspending those of others: yet here, as
is often the case in actual life, from this conflict of opposites
order and happiness spring up as the final result: if what we call
accident thwart one cherished purpose, it draws on something better,
blighting a full-blown expectation now, to help the blossoming of a
nobler one hereafter: and it so happens in the end that all the
persons but two either have _what they will_, or else grow willing to
have what comes to their hands.

Such, I believe, as nearly as I know how to deliver it, is the
impression I hold of this charming play; an impression that has
survived, rather say, has kept growing deeper and deeper through many
years of study, and after many, many an hour spent in quiet communion
with its scenes and characters. In no one of his dramas, to my sense,
does the Poet appear to have been in a healthier or happier frame of
mind, more free from the fascination of the darker problems of
humanity, more at peace with himself and all the world, or with Nature
playing more kindly and genially at his heart, and from thence
diffusing her benedictions through his whole establishment. So that,
judging from this transpiration of his inner poetic life, I should
conclude him to have had abundant cause for saying,--

"Eternal blessings on the Muse,
And her divine employment;--
The blameless Muse who trains her sons
For hope and calm enjoyment."


All's Well that End's Well was first published in the folio of 1623,
and is among the worst-printed plays in that volume. In many places
the text, as there given, is in a most unsatisfactory state; and in
not a few I fear it must be pronounced incurably at fault. A vast deal
of study and labour has been spent in trying to rectify the numerous
errors; nearly all the editors and commentators, from Rowe downwards,
have strained their faculties upon the work: many instances of
corruption have indeed yielded to critical ingenuity and perseverance,
and it is to be hoped that still others may; but yet there are several
passages which give little hope of success, and seem indeed too hard
for any efforts of corrective sagacity and skill. This is not the
place for citing examples of textual difficulty: so I must be content
with referring to Dyce's elaborate annotation on the play.

Why the original printing of this play should thus have been
exceptionally bad, is a matter about which we can only speculate; and
as in such cases speculation can hardly lead to any firm result,
probably our best way is to note the textual corruption as a fact, and
there let it rest. Still it may be worth the while to observe on this
head, that in respect of plot and action the piece is of a somewhat
forbidding, not to say repulsive nature; and though it abounds in
wisdom, and is not wanting in poetry, and has withal much choice
delineation of character, and contains scenes which stream down with
the Poet's raciest English, yet it is not among the plays which
readers are often drawn to by mere recollections of delight: one does
not take to it heartily, and can hardly admire it without something of
effort: even when it wins our approval, it seems to do so rather
through our sense of right than through our sense of pleasure: in
short, I have to confess that the perusal is more apt to inspire an
apologetic than an enthusiastic tone of mind. It may be a mere fancy
of mine; but I have often thought that the extreme badness of the
printing may have been partly owing to this cause; that the Poet may
have left the manuscript in a more unfinished and illegible state,
from a sense of something ungenial and unattractive in the
subject-matter and action of the play.

* * * * *

No direct and certain contemporary notice of _All's Well that Ends
Well_ has come down to us. But the often-quoted list of Shakespeare's
plays set forth by Francis Meres in his _Palladis Tamia_, 1598,
includes a play called _Love's Labour's Won_,--a title nowhere else
given to any of the Poet's pieces. Dr. Farmer, in his _Essay on the
Learning of Shakespeare_, 1767, first gave out the conjecture, that
the two titles belonged to one and the same play; and this opinion has
since been concurred or acquiesced in by so many competent critics,
that it might well be allowed to pass without further argument. There
is no other of the Poet's dramas to which that title applies so well,
while, on the other hand, it certainly fits this play quite as well as
the one it now bears. The whole play is emphatically _love's labour_:
its main interest throughout turns on the unwearied and
finally-successful struggles of affection against the most stubborn
and disheartening obstacles. It may indeed be urged that the play
entitled _Love's Labour's Won_ has been lost; but this, considering
what esteem the Poet's works were held in, both in his time and ever
since, is so very improbable as to be hardly worth dwelling upon.
There was far more likelihood that other men's dross would be fathered
upon him than that any of his gold would be lost. And, in fact,
contemporary publishers were so eager to make profit of his
reputation, that they forged his name to various plays which most
certainly had no touch of his hand.

The Rev. Joseph Hunter has spent a deal of learning and ingenuity in
trying to make out that the play referred to by Meres as _Lovers
Labour's Won_ was _The Tempest_. Among Shakespeare's dramas he could
hardly have pitched upon a more unfit subject for such a title. There
is no _love's labour_ in _The Tempest_. For, though a lover does
indeed there labour awhile in piling logs, this is nowise from love,
but simply because he cannot help himself. Nor does he thereby _win_
the lady, for she was won before,--"at the first sight they have
chang'd eyes";--and the labour was imposed for the testing of his
love, not for the gaining of its object; and was all the while
refreshed with the "sweet thoughts" that in heart she was already his;
while in truth the father was overjoyed at the "fair encounter of two
most rare affections," and was quite as intent on the match as the
lovers were themselves. In short, there is no external evidence
whatever in favour of Mr. Hunter's notion, while the internal evidence
makes utterly against it.

There is, then, no reasonable doubt that _All's Well that Ends Well_
was originally written before 1598. For myself, I have no doubt that
the first writing was several years before that date; as early at
least as 1592 or 1593. Coleridge, in his _Literary Remains_, holds the
play to have been "originally intended as the counterpart of _Love's
Labour's Lost_"; and a comparison of the two naturally leads to that
conclusion without any help from the title. This inward relation of
the plays strongly infers them both to have been written about the
same time, or in pretty near succession. Now _Love's Labour's Lost_
was published in 1598, and in the title-page is said to have been
"newly corrected and augmented," which fairly supposes the first
writing of that play also to have been several years before, since
some considerable time would naturally pass before the Poet saw cause
for revising his workmanship. And the diversities of style in that
play fully concur herewith in arguing a considerable interval between
the original writing and the revisal.

It is abundantly certain, from internal evidence, that the play now in
hand also underwent revisal, and this too after a much longer interval
than in the case of _Love's Labour's Lost_. Here the diversities of
style are much more strongly marked than in that play. Accordingly it
was Coleridge's decided opinion, first given out in his lectures in
1813, and again in 1818, though not found in his _Literary Remains_,
that "_All's Well that Ends Well_ was written at two different and
rather distant periods of the Poet's life." This we learn from Mr.
Collier, who heard those lectures, and who adds that Coleridge
"pointed out very clearly two distinct styles, not only of thought,
but of expression." The same judgment has since been enforced by Tieck
and other able critics; and the grounds of it are so manifest in the
play itself, that no observant reader will be apt to question it.
Verplanck tells us he had formed the same opinion before he learned
through Mr. Collier what Coleridge thought on the subject; and his
judgment of the matter is given with characteristic felicity as follows:
"The contrast of two different modes of thought and manners of
expression, here mixed in the same piece, must be evident to all who
have made the shades and gradations of Shakespeare's varying and
progressive taste and mind at all a subject of study."[19]

[19] The point is further amplified and illustrated by the same
critic in a passage equally happy, as follows: "Much of the
graver dialogue, especially in the first two Acts, reminds the
reader, in taste of composition, in rhythm, and in a certain
quaintness of expression, of _The Two Gentlemen of Verona_. The
comic part is spirited and laugh-provoking, yet it consists
wholly in the exposure of a braggart coxcomb,--one of the most
familiar comic personages of the stage, and quite within the
scope of a boyish artist's knowledge of life and power of
satirical delineation. On the other hand, there breaks forth
everywhere, and in many scenes entirely predominates, a grave
moral thoughtfulness, expressed in a solemn, reflective, and
sometimes in a sententious brevity of phrase and harshness of
rhythm, which seem to me to stamp many passages as belonging to
the epoch of _Measure for Measure_, or of _King Lear_. We miss,
too, the gay and fanciful imagery which shows itself
continually, alike amidst the passion and the moralizing of the
previous comedies."

I have elsewhere observed at some length[20] on the Poet's diversities
of style, marking them off into three periods, severally distinguished
as earlier, middle, and later styles. Outside of the play itself, we
have in this case no help towards determining at what time the revisal
was made, or how long a period intervened between this and the
original writing. To my taste, the better parts of the workmanship
relish strongly of the Poet's later style,--perhaps I should say quite
as strongly as the poorer parts do of his earlier. This would bring
the revisal down to as late a time as 1603 or 1604: which date
accords, not only with my own sense of the matter, but with the much
better judgment of the critics I have quoted. I place the finished
_Hamlet_ at or near the close of the Poet's middle period; and I am
tolerably clear that in this play he discovers a mind somewhat more
advanced in concentrated fulness, and a hand somewhat more practised
in sinewy sternness, than in the finished _Hamlet_. I will quote two
passages by way of illustrating the Poet's different styles as seen in
this play. The first is from the dialogue of Helena and the King, in
Act ii., scene 1, where she persuades him to make trial of her remedy:

[20] Page 190 of this volume.

"The great'st Grace lending grace,
Ere twice the horses of the Sun shall bring
Their fiery torcher his diurnal ring;
Ere twice in murk and occidental damp
Moist Hesperus hath quench'd his sleepy lamp;
Or four-and-twenty times the pilot's glass
Hath told the thievish minutes how they pass;
What is infirm from your sound parts shall fly,
Health shall live free, and sickness freely die."

Here we have the special traits of Shakespeare's youthful style,--an
air of artifice and studied finery, a certain self-conscious
elaborateness and imitative rivalry,--which totally disappear in, for
instance, the blessing the Countess gives her son as he is leaving for
the Court:

"Be thou blest, Bertram! and succeed thy father
In manners, as in shape! thy blood and virtue
Contend for empire in thee, and thy goodness
Share with thy birthright! Love all, trust a few,
Do wrong to none; be able for thine enemy
Rather in power than use, and keep thy friend
Under thy own life's key; be check'd for silence,
But never tax'd for speech. What Heaven more will,
That thee may furnish, and my prayers pluck down,
Fall on thy head!"

I the rather quote this latter, because of its marked resemblance to
the advice Polonius gives his son in _Hamlet_. Mr. White justly
observes that "either the latter is an expansion of the former, or the
former a reminiscence of the latter"; and I fully concur with him that
the second part of the alternative is the more probable. It is hardly
needful to add that the passage here quoted breathes a higher and
purer moral tone than the resembling one in _Hamlet_; but this I take
to be merely because the venerable Countess is a higher and purer
source than the old politician. For a broader and bulkier illustration
of the point in hand, the student probably cannot do better than by
comparing in full the dialogue from which the first of the forecited
passages is taken with the whole of the second scene in Act i. These
seem to me at least as apt and telling examples as any, of the Poet's
rawest and ripest styles so strangely mixed in this play; and the
difference is here so clearly pronounced, that one must be dull indeed
not to perceive it.

As regards the notion of Mr. Hunter before referred to, it is indeed
true, as he argues, that the play twice bespeaks its present title;
but both instances occur in just those parts which relish most of the
Poet's later style. And the line in the epilogue,--"_All is well
ended_, if this suit _be won_,"--may be fairly understood as
intimating some connection between the two titles which the play is
supposed to have borne.

* * * * *

The only known source from which the Poet could have borrowed any part
of this play is a story in Boccaccio, entitled _Giletta di Nerbona_.
In 1566 William Paynter published an English version of this tale in
his _Palace of Pleasure_. Here it was, no doubt, that Shakespeare got
his borrowed matter; and the following outline will show the nature
and extent of his obligations.

Isnardo, Count of Rousillon, being sickly, kept in his house a
physician named Gerardo of Nerbona. The Count had a son named
Beltramo, and the physician a daughter named Giletta, who were brought
up together. The Count dying, his son was left in the care of the King
and sent to Paris. The physician also dying some while after, his
daughter, who had loved the young Count so long that she knew not when
her love began, sought occasion of going to Paris, that she might see
him; but, being diligently looked to by her kinsfolk, because she was
rich and had many suitors, she could not see her way clear. Now the
King had a swelling on his breast, which through ill treatment was
grown to a fistula; and, having tried all the best physicians and
being only rendered worse by their efforts, he resolved to take no
further counsel or help. Giletta, hearing of this, was very glad, as
it suggested an apt reason for visiting Paris, and offered a chance of
compassing her secret and cherished wish. Arming herself with such
knowledge in the healing art as she had gathered from her father, she
rode to Paris and repaired to the King, praying him to show her his
disease. He consenting, as soon as she saw it she told him that, if he
pleased, she would within eight days make him whole. He asked how it
was possible for her, being a young woman, to do that which the best
physicians in the world could not; and, thanking her for her
good-will, said he was resolved to try no more remedies. She begged
him not to despise her knowledge because she was a young woman,
assuring him that she ministered physic by the help of God, and with
the cunning of Master Gerardo of Nerbona, who was her father. The
King, hearing this, and thinking that peradventure she was sent of
God, asked what might follow, if she caused him to break his
resolution, and did not heal him. She said, "Let me be kept in what
guard you list, and if I do not heal you let me be burnt; but, if I
do, what recompense shall I have?" He answered that, since she was a
maiden, he would bestow her in marriage upon a gentleman of right good
worship and estimation. To this she agreed, on condition that she
might have such a husband as herself should ask, without presumption
to any member of his family; which he readily granted. This done, she
set about her task, and before the eight days were passed he was
entirely well; whereupon he told her she deserved such a husband as
herself should choose, and she declared her choice of Beltramo, saying
she had loved him from her childhood. The King was very loth to grant
him to her; but, because he would not break his promise, he had him
called forth, and told him what had been done. The Count, thinking her
stock unsuitable to his nobility, disdainfully said, "Will you, then,
sir, give me a physician to wife?" The King pressing him to comply, he
answered, "Sire, you may take from me all that I have, and give my
person to whom you please, because I am your subject; but I assure
you I shall never be contented with that marriage." To which he
replied, "Well, you shall have her, for the maiden is fair and wise,
and loveth you entirely; and verily you shall lead a more joyful life
with her than with a lady of a greater House"; whereupon the Count
held his peace. The marriage over, the Count asked leave to go home,
having settled beforehand what he would do. Knowing that the
Florentines and the Senois were at war, he was no sooner on horseback
than he stole off to Tuscany, meaning to side with the Florentines; by
whom being honorably received and made a captain, he continued a long
time in their service.

His wife, hoping by her well-doing to win his heart, returned home,
where, finding all things spoiled and disordered by reason of his
absence, she like a sage lady carefully put them in order, making all
his people very glad of her presence and loving to her person. Having
done this, she sent word thereof to the Count by two knights, adding
that, if she were the cause of his forsaking home, he had but to let
her know it, and she, to do him pleasure, would depart thence. Now he
had a ring which he greatly loved, and kept very carefully, and never
took off his finger, for a certain virtue which he knew it had. When
the knights came, he said to them churlishly, "Let her do what she
list; for I purpose to dwell with her when she shall have this ring on
her finger, and a son of mine in her arms." The knights, after trying
in vain to change his purpose, returned to the lady, and told his
answer; at which she was very sorrowful, and bethought herself a good
while how she might accomplish those two things. She then called
together the noblest of the country, and told them what she had done
to win her husband's love; that she was loth he should dwell in
perpetual exile on her account; and therefore would spend the rest of
her life in pilgrimages and devotion; praying them to let him know she
had left, with a purpose never to return. Then, taking with her a maid
and one of her kinsmen, she set out in the habit of a pilgrim, well
furnished with silver and jewels, told no one whither she was going,
and rested not till she came to Florence. She put up at the house of a
poor widow; and the next day, seeing her husband pass by on horseback,
she asked who he was. The widow told her this, and also that he was
marvellously in love with a neighbour of hers, a gentlewoman who was
poor, but of right honest life and report, and dwelt with her mother,
a wise and honest lady. After hearing this, she was not long in
deciding what to do. Going secretly to the house, and getting a
private interview with the mother, she told her whole story, and how
she hoped to thrive in her undertaking, if the mother and daughter
would lend their aid. In recompense she proposed to give the daughter
a handsome marriage portion; and the mother replied, "Madam, tell me
wherein I may do you service; if it be honest, I will gladly perform
it; and, that being done, do as it shall please you." So an
arrangement was made, that the daughter should encourage the Count,
and signify her readiness to grant his wish, provided he would first
send her the ring he prized so highly, as a token of his love.
Proceeding with great subtlety as she was instructed, the daughter
soon got the ring; and at the time fixed for the meeting the Countess
supplied her place; the result of which was, that she became the
mother of two fine boys, and so was prepared to claim her dues as a
wife upon the seemingly-impossible terms which the Count himself had

Meanwhile her husband, hearing of her departure, had returned to his
country. In due time the Countess also took her journey homeward, and
arrived at Montpellier, where, hearing that the Count was about to
have a great party at his house, she determined to go thither in her
pilgrim's weeds. Just as they were on the point of sitting down to the
table, she came to the place where her husband was, and fell at his
feet weeping, and said, "My lord, I am thy poor unfortunate wife, who,
that thou mightest return and dwell in thy house, have been a great
while begging about the world. Therefore I now beseech thee to
observe the conditions which the two knights that I sent to thee did
command me to do; for behold, here in my arms, not only one son of
thine, but twain, and likewise the ring: it is now time, if thou keep
promise, that I should be received as thy wife." The Count knew the
ring, and the children also, they were so like him, and desired her to
rehearse in order how all these things came about. When she had told
her story, he knew it to be true; and, perceiving her constant mind
and good wit, and the two fair young boys, to keep his promise, and to
please his people, and the ladies that made suit to him, he caused her
to rise up, and embraced and kissed her, and from that day forth loved
and honoured her as his wife.

* * * * *

From this sketch it will be seen that the Poet anglicized Beltramo
into Bertram, changed Giletta to Helena, and closely followed
Boccaccio in the main features of the plot so far as regards these
persons and the widow and her daughter. Beyond this, the novel yields
no hints towards the play, while the latter has several judicious
departures from the matter of the former. Giletta is rich, and has a
fine establishment of her own; which so far reduces the social
inequality between her and the Count: Helena is poor and dependent, so
that she has nothing to stand upon but her nobility of nature and
merit. Beltramo, again, has no thought of going to Florence till after
his compelled marriage; so that his going to the war is not from any
free stirring of virtue in him, but purely to escape the presence of a
wife that has been forced upon him. With Bertram, the unwelcome
marriage comes in only as an additional spur to the execution of a
purpose already formed. Before Helena makes her appearance at the
Court, his spirit is in revolt against the command which would make him

"stay here the forehorse to a smock,
Creaking his shoes on the plain masonry,
Till honour is bought up, and no sword worn
But one to dance with."

He therefore resolves to "steal away" to the war along with other
brave and enterprising spirits; and we have some lords of the Court
ministering fuel to this noble fire burning within him. These
stirrings of native gallantry, this brave thirst of honourable
distinction, go far to redeem him from the rank dishonours of his
conduct, as showing that he is not without some strong and noble
elements of manhood. Here we have indeed no little just ground of
respect; and that his purpose is but quickened into act by the thought
of finding a refuge in such manly work from the thraldom of a hated
marriage, operates as further argument in the same behalf. And this
purpose, springing as it does from the free promptings of his nature,
has the further merit, that it involves a deliberate braving of the
King's anger; thus showing that he will even peril his head rather
than leave what is best in him to "fust unused." All which plainly
infers that he has at least the right virtues of a soldier. And the
promise thus held out from the start is made good in the
after-performance. He proves a gallant, a capable, a successful
warrior, and returns with well-won laurels. In all these points, the
play is a manifest improvement on the tale. And I suspect the Poet
took care to endow his hero with this streak of nobility, because he
felt that there was some danger lest Helena's pursuit of Bertram
should rather have the effect of lowering her than of elevating him in
our thoughts.

But the crowning innovation upon the matter of the tale lies in the
characters of Lafeu, the Countess, the Clown, and Parolles, and in the
comic proceedings; all which, so far as is known, are entirely of the
Poet's invention. And it is quite remarkable what an original cast is
given to his development of the borrowed characters by the presence of
these; and how in the light of their mutual interaction the conduct of
all becomes, not indeed right or just, but consistent and clear.
Helena's native force and rectitude of mind are approved from the
first in her just appreciation of Parolles; and her nobility of soul
and beauty of character are reflected all along in the honest
sagacity of Lafeu and the wise motherly affection of the Countess, who
never see or think of her but to turn her advocates and wax eloquent
in her behalf. The thoughtful and benevolent King also, on becoming
acquainted with her, is even more taken with her moral and
intellectual beauty than with her service in restoring him to health.
The Countess regards her as "a maid too virtuous for the contempt of
empire"; and, on bearing Bertram's "dreadful sentence" against her,
she is prompt to declare, "He was my son, but I do wash his name out
of my blood, and thou art all my child"; and it is her very heart that

"What angel shall
Bless this unworthy husband? he cannot thrive,
Unless her prayers, which Heaven delights to hear,
And loves to grant, reprieve him from the wrath
Of greatest justice."

To the King she is "all that is virtuous"; "young, wise, fair";
"virtue and she is her own dower." Lafeu remembers her at the close as
"a sweet creature," and as one

"Whose beauty did astonish the survey
Of richest eyes; whose words all ears took captive;
Whose dear perfection hearts that scorn'd to serve
Humbly call'd mistress."

Thus she walks right into all hearts that have any doors for the
entrance of virtue and loveliness. And her modest, self-sacrificing
worth is brought home to our feelings by the impression she makes on
the good; while in turn our sense of their goodness is proportionably
heightened by their noble sensibility to hers.

Parolles, again, is puffed up into a more consequential whiffet than
ever, by being taken into the confidence of a haughty young nobleman;
while, on the other side, the stultifying effects of Bertram's pride
are seen in that it renders him the easy dupe of a most base and
bungling counterfeit of manhood. It was natural and right, that such
a shallow, paltry word-gun should ply him with impudent flatteries,
and thereby gain an ascendency over him, and finally draw him into the
crimes and the shames that were to whip down his pride; and it was
equally natural that his scorn of Helena should begin to relax, when
he was brought to see what a pitiful rascal, by playing upon that
pride, had been making a fool of him. He must first be mortified,
before he can be purified. The springs of moral health within him have
been overspread by a foul disease; and the proper medicine is such an
exposure of the latter as shall cause him to feel that he is himself a
most fit object of the scorn which he has been so forward to bestow.
Accordingly the embossing and untrussing of his favourite is the
starting of his amendment: he begins to distrust the counsels of his
cherished passion, when he can no longer hide from himself into what a
vile misplacing of trust they have betrayed him. Herein, also, we have
a full justification, both moral and dramatic, of the game so
mercilessly practised on Parolles: it is avowedly undertaken with a
view to rescue Bertram, whose friends know full well that nothing can
be done for his good, till the fascination of that crawling reptile is

Finally, Helena's just discernment of character, as shown in the case
of Parolles, pleads an arrest of judgment in behalf of Bertram. And
the fact that with all her love for him she is not blind to his
faults, is a sort of pledge that she sees through them into a worth
which they hide from others. For, indeed, she has known him in his
childhood, before his heart got pride-bound with conceit of rank and
titles; and therefore may well have a reasonable faith, that beneath
the follies and vices which have overcrusted his character, there is
still an undercurrent of sense and virtue, a wisdom of nature, not
dead but asleep, whereby he may yet be recovered. So that, in effect,
we are not unwilling to see him through her eyes, and, in the strength
of her well-approved wisdom, to take it upon trust that he has good
qualities which we are unable of ourselves to discover.

Thus the several parts are drawn into each other, and thereby made to
evolve a manifold rich significance; insomuch that the characters of
Helena and Bertram, as Shakespeare conceived them, cannot be rightly
understood apart from the others with which they are dramatically

It is indeed curious to observe how much care the Poet takes that his
heroine may come safe and sweet through the perils of her course. For
instance, at the very outset, when she first learns of the King's
disease, in the dialogue about her father, the Countess says in her
hearing, "Would, for the King's sake, he were living! I think it would
be the death of the King's disease"; and Lafeu replies, "The King very
lately spoke of him admiringly and mourningly." This serves as a
pregnant hint to her for what she afterwards undertakes. She now
remembers the special instructions of her father touching that
disease; and the hint combining with her treasured science, her
loyalty, and affection, works her into the strong confidence of being
able to help the King. Thus the main point of her action is put into
her mind incidentally by the speech of others. And she goes to Paris,
with the full approval and blessing of her foster-mother, _mainly_
with the view of securing to one whom she highly reveres the benefit
of her father's skill. It is true, a still deeper and dearer hope
underlies and supports her action; which hope however springs and
grows, not because she foresees at all how things are to turn, but
merely from a pious trust, which is in her case both natural and just,
that her father's "good receipt" will somehow, "for her legacy, be
sanctified by the luckiest stars in heaven."

The same delicate care for her honour, as if this were indeed sacred
and precious in the Poet's regard, is shown at various other points.
It is very note-worthy how, all along, she shapes her action from step
to step, not by any long-headed planning, but merely as events suggest
and invite her onward. Helena is indeed brave, wise, prudent,
sagacious, quick and clear of perception, swift and steadfast in
resolution, prompt, patient, and persevering in action; but there is
nothing of a crafty or designing mind in what she does. She displays
no special forecast, no subtle or far-sighted scheming; though quick
and apt at seizing and using opportunities, she does not make or even
seek them. So it is in the strange proceedings at Florence, whereby
she manages to fulfil the hard conditions imposed by her husband.
Here, as elsewhere, she has her fine penetrative faculties all
wide-awake, but there is no contriving or forcing of occasions: when
she sees a way open before her, she strikes into it promptly, and
pursues it with quiet yet energetic constancy; and whatever apt
occasions emerge to her view, she throws herself into them at once,
and, with a sort of divine tact, turns them to the best possible
account in furtherance of her cherished hope. In this way the Poet
manages to bring her character off clean and fragrant in our thoughts,
by making us feel that in whatever blame might else attach to her
acts, the circumstances only are responsible, while to her belongs the
credit of using those circumstances purely, wisely, and well.

It is further observable, and a very material point too, that Helena
seems to think the better of Bertram for his behaviour towards her:
she takes it as evidence at least of honesty in him, and of a certain
downrightness of character, that shrinks from a life of appearances,
and knows not how to affect what he does not feel. So far from blaming
his indifference, she rather blames herself as having brought him into
a false position. She loves him simply because she cannot help it; she
wants him to love her for the same reason; and the point she aims at
is so to act and be and appear, that he cannot help loving her. She
knows right well that the choice must be mutual, else marriage is
rather a sacrilege than a sacrament; and the great question is, how
she may win him to reciprocate her choice: nothing less than this will
suffice her; and she justly takes it as her part to _inspire_ him with
the feeling, understanding perfectly that neither talk nor force can
be of any use to that end. Even a love that springs from a sense of
duty is not what she wants: her own love did not spring from that
source. So she "would not have him till she does deserve him," yet
knows not how that desert should ever be: still she cannot put off the
faith that love will sooner or later triumph, if worthily shown by
deeds. He is much noted as a fine instance of manly beauty: all are
taken with his handsome person. It is not, probably ought not to be,
in womanhood, to be proof against such attractions. In the sweetness
of their youthful intercourse, this has silently got the mastery of
her thoughts, and penetrated her being through and through:

"Twas pretty, though a plague,
To see him every hour; to sit and draw
His arched brows, his hawking eye, his curls,
In our heart's table."

And now she must needs strive with all her might, by loving ways, by
kind acts, by self-sacrificing works, to catch his heart, as he has
caught hers. Then too a holy instinct of womanhood teaches her that a
man must be hard indeed, to resist the wedded mother of his children,
and most of all, to keep his heart untouched by the power of a wife
when burdened with a mother's precious wealth. Therewithal she rightly
apprehends the danger Bertram is in from the wordy, cozening squirt,
the bedizened, scoundrelly dandiprat, who has so beguiled his youth
and ignorance. She must bless and sweeten him out of that contagion
into the religion of home; and she feels that nothing but an
honourable love of herself can save him. This she aims at, and finally

Coleridge incidentally speaks of Helena as "Shakespeare's loveliest
character." And Mrs. Jameson, from whose judgment I shall take no
appeal, sets her down as exemplifying that union of strength and
tenderness which Foster, in one of his _Essays_, describes as being
"the utmost and rarest endowment of humanity";--a character, she
adds, "almost as hard to delineate in fiction as to find in real
life." Without either questioning or subscribing these statements, I
have to confess that, for depth, sweetness, energy, and solidity of
character, all drawn into one, Helena is not surpassed by more than
two or three of Shakespeare's heroines. Her great strength of mind is
well shown in that, absorbed as she is in the passion that shapes her
life, hardly any of the Poet's characters, after Hamlet, deals more in
propositions of general truth, as distinguished from the utterances of
individual sentiment and emotion. We should suppose that all her
thoughts, being struck out in such a glowing heat, would so cleave to
the circumstances as to have little force apart from them; yet much
that she says holds as good in a general application as in her own
particular. Which rightly infers that she sees things in their
principles; that is, her thoughts touch the pith of whatever matter
she takes in hand; while at the same time broad axiomatic notes of
discourse drop from her with an ease which shows that her mind is
thoroughly at home in them. For this cause, her feelings, strong as
they are, never so get the upper hand as to beguile her into any
self-delusion; as appears in the unbosoming of herself to the
Countess, where we have the greatest reluctance of modesty yielding to
a holy regard for truth. It is there manifest that she has taken a
full and just measure of her situation: she frankly avows the
conviction that she "loves in vain," and that she "strives against
hope"; that she "lends and gives where she is sure to lose";
nevertheless she resolves to "venture the well-lost life of hers on
his Grace's cure," and leave the result in other hands.

In her condition, both there and afterwards, there is much indeed to
move our pity; yet her behaviour and the grounds of it are such that
she never suffers any loss of our respect; one reason of which is,
because we see that her sound faculties and fine feelings are keenly
alive to the nature of what she undertakes. Thus she passes unharmed
through the most terrible outward dishonours, firmly relying on her
rectitude of purpose; and we dare not think any thing to her hurt,
because she looks her danger square in the face, and nobly feels
secure in that apparelling of strength. Here, truly, we have something
very like the sublimity of moral courage. And this precious, peerless
jewel in a setting of the most tender, delicate, sensitive womanhood!
It is a clear triumph of the inward and essential over the outward and
accidental; her character being radiant of a moral and spiritual grace
which the lowest and ugliest situation cannot obscure.

There certainly needs no scruple that the delineation is one of
extraordinary power: perhaps, indeed, it may stand as Shakespeare's
masterpiece in the conquest of inherent difficulties. And it is
observable that here, for once, he does not carry his point without
evident tokens of exertion. He does not outwrestle the resistance of
the matter without letting us see that he is wrestling. Of course the
hardness of the task was to represent the heroine as doing what were
scarce pardonable in another; yet as acting on such grounds, from such
motives, and to such issues, that the undertaking not only is, but is
felt to be, commendable in her. Lamb puts it just right: "With such
exquisite address is the dangerous subject handled, that Helena's
forwardness loses her no honour: delicacy dispenses with its laws in
her favour; and nature, in her single case, seems content to suffer a
sweet violation." And the Poet seems to have felt that something like
a mysterious, supernatural impulse, together with all the reverence
and authority of the old Countess, and also the concurring voice of
all the wise and good about her in hearty approval of her course and
eloquent admiration of her virtue,--that all these were needful to
bring her through with dignity and honour. Nor, perhaps, after all,
could any thing but success fully vindicate her undertaking; for such
a thing, to be proper, must be practicable: and who could so enter
into her mind as to see its practicability till it is done? At the
last we accept it as a sort of inspiration,--authenticated to us as
such in the result,--when she frames her intent in the meditation,--

"Impossible be strange attempts to those
That weigh their pains in sense, and do suppose
What hath not been can't be."

Before leaving the subject, I am moved to add that, though Helena is
herself all dignity and delicacy, some of her talk with Monsieur Words
the puppy in the first scene is neither delicate nor dignified: it is
simply a foul blot, and I can but regret the Poet did not throw it out
in the revisal; sure I am that he did not retain it to please himself.

* * * * *

Almost everybody falls in love with the Countess. And, truly, one so
meek and sweet and venerable, who can help loving her? or who, if he
can resist her, will dare to own it? I can almost find it in my heart
to adore the beauty of youth; yet this blessed old creature is enough
to persuade me that age may be more beautiful still. Her generous
sensibility to native worth amply atones for her son's mean pride of
birth: all her honours of rank and place she would gladly resign, to
have been the mother of the poor orphan left in her charge. Feeling as
she does the riches of that orphan's soul,--a feeling that bespeaks
like riches in herself,--all the factitious distinctions of life sink
to nothing in her regard; and the only distinction worth having is
that which grows by building honour out of one's own virtue, and not
by inheriting it from the virtue of others. So, in her breast,
"adoption strives with nature"; and, weighing the adopted and the
native together in her motherly judgment, she finds "there's nothing
here too good for him but only she"; and "which of them both is
dearest to her, she has no skill in sense to make distinction." Withal
she is a charming instance of youth carried on into age; so that
Helena justly recognizes her as one "whose aged honour cites a
virtuous youth." Thus her Winter inherits a soft warm robe of precious
memories woven out of her Spring: when she first learns of the
heroine's state of mind, the picture of her own May revives to her
eye, the treasure of her maiden years blooms afresh; she remembers
that "this thorn doth to our rose of youth rightly belong"; and has
more than ever a mother's heart towards the silent sufferer, because
she holds fast her old faith that

"It is the show and seal of nature's truth,
Where love's strong passion is impress'd in youth."

Well might Campbell say of her, that "she redeems nobility by
reverting to nature."

* * * * *

Johnson delivers his mind touching the young Count as follows: "I
cannot reconcile my heart to Bertram;--a man noble without generosity,
and young without truth; who marries Helena as a coward, and leaves
her as a profligate: when she is dead by his unkindness, sneaks home
to a second marriage; is accused by a woman he has wronged, defends
himself by falsehood, and is dismissed to happiness." A terrible
sentence indeed! and its vigour, if not its justice, is attested by
the frequency with which it has been quoted.

Now, in the first place, the Poet did not mean we should reconcile our
hearts to Bertram, but that he should not unreconcile them to Helena;
nay, that her love should appear the nobler for the unworthiness of
its object. Then, he does not marry her as a coward, but merely
because he has no choice; nor does he yield till he has shown all the
courage that were compatible with discretion. She is forced upon him
by a stretch of prerogative which seems strange indeed to us, but
which in feudal times was generally held to be just and right, so that
resistance to it was flat rebellion. And, as before observed,
Bertram's purpose of stealing away to the war was bravely formed
without any reference to Helena, and from a manly impulse or ambition
to be doing something that might show him not unworthy of his House
and his social inheritance. The King presses him with the hard
alternative of taking Helena as his wife,

"Or I will throw thee from my care for ever
Into the staggers and the cureless lapse
Of youth and ignorance; both my revenge and hate
Loosing upon thee, in the name of justice,
Without all terms of pity."

Nor, when thus driven to make a show of mastering his aversion, is
there any thing mean or cringing in the way he does it: his language
is not only reluctant and reserved, but is even made severe with a
dash of irony:

"When I consider
What great creation and what dole of honour
Flies where you bid it, I find that she, which late
Was in my nobler thoughts most base, is now
_The praised of the King_."

Marriage, in truth, is a thing that he has not begun to think of; the
passion that rightly leads to it is yet dormant in him; to the proper
charms of woman he is insensible, his heart being all set on other
things. Then, again, he does not leave Helena as a profligate, but
rather to escape from what is to him an unholy match, as being on his
side without love; and his profligacy is not so much the cause as the
consequence of his flight and exile. In the midst of his manlier work,
he is surprised into a passion unfelt by him before; and the tie which
has been strained upon him, and which his heart still disowns, is
partly to blame for the profligate intrigue into which he plunges,
because it shuts off the conditions of an honourable love.--Finally,
he is not dismissed to happiness, but rather left where he cannot be
happy, unless he shall have dismissed his faults. And, surely, he may
have some allowance, because of the tyranny laid upon him,--this too
in a sentiment where nature pleads loudest for freedom, and which, if
free, yields the strongest motives to virtue; if not, to vice.

As for his falsehood, or rather string of falsehoods, this is indeed
a pretty dark passage. The guilty passion with which he is caught
betrays him into a course of action still more guilty: he is
entangled, almost before he knows it, in a net of vile intrigue, from
which there is no escape but by lying his way out; and the more he
struggles to get free the more he gets engaged. It seems an earnest of
"the staggers and the cureless lapse of youth" with which the King has
threatened him. But he pays a round penalty in the shame that so
quickly overtakes him; which shows how careful the Poet was to make
due provision for his amendment. His original fault, as already noted,
was an overweening pride of birth: yet in due time he unfolds in
himself better titles to honour than ancestry can bestow; and, this
done, he naturally grows more willing to recognize similar titles in
another. It is to be noted further, that Bertram is all along a man of
few words; which may be one reason why Parolles, who is all words, as
his name imports, _burrs_ upon him and works his infection into him
with such signal success. His habitual reticence springs mainly from
real, inward strength of nature; but partly also from that same
unsocial pride which lays him so broadly open to the arts of
sycophancy, and thus draws him, as if spellbound, under the tainted
breath of that strange compound of braggart, liar, and fop.

Thus Shakespeare purposely represents Bertram as a very mixed
character, in whom the evil gains for some time a most unhopeful
mastery; and he takes care to provide, withal, the canon whereby he
would have him judged: "The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good
and ill together: our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipp'd
them not; and our crimes would despair, if they were not cherished by
our virtues." A pregnant and subtile reflection indeed, which may
sound strange to many; but the truth and wisdom of it are well
approved by the grave and saintly Hooker, who was "not afraid to
affirm it boldly," that proud men sometimes "receive a benefit at the
hands of God, and are assisted with His grace, when with His grace
they are not assisted, but permitted, and that grievously, to
transgress; whereby, as they were in overgreat liking of themselves
supplanted, so the dislike of that which did supplant them may
establish them afterwards the surer."

* * * * *

Captain Parolles is verily Shakespeare's most illustrious _pronoun_ of
a man. Several critics have somehow found it in their hearts to speak
of him and Falstaff together. A foul sin against Sir John! who,
whatever else he may deserve, certainly does not deserve that.
Schlegel, however, justly remarks that the scenes where our captain
figures contain matter enough for an excellent comedy. It is indeed a
marvel that one so inexpressibly mean, and withal so fully aware of
his meanness, should not cut his own acquaintance. But the greatest
wonder about him is, how the Poet could so run his own intellectuality
into such a windbag, without marring his windbag perfection. The
character of Parolles is interpreted with unusual fulness in the
piercing comments of the other persons. He seems indeed to have been
specially "created for men to breathe themselves upon." Thus one
describes him as "a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar,
an hourly promise-breaker, the owner of no one good quality"; and
again, as having "outvillained villainy so far, that the rarity
redeems him." And he is at last felt to be worth feeding and keeping
alive for the simple reason of his being such a miracle of bespangled,
voluble, impudent good-for-nothingness, that contempt and laughter
cannot afford to let him die. But the roundest and happiest delivery
of him comes from the somewhat waggish but high-spirited and
sharpsighted Lord Lafeu, who finds him "my good window of lattice,"
and one whose "soul is in his clothes"; and who says to him, "I did
think thee, for two ordinaries, to be a pretty wise fellow; thou didst
make tolerable vent of thy travel; it might pass: yet the scarfs and
the bannerets about thee did manifoldly dissuade me from believing
thee a vessel of too great a burden." The play is choicely seasoned
throughout with the good-humoured old statesman's spicery; and our
captain is the theme that draws most of it out.

That the goddess whom Bertram worships does not whisper in his ear the
unfathomable baseness of this "lump of counterfeit ore," is a piece of
dramatic retribution at once natural and just. Far as the joke is
pushed upon Parolles, we never feel like crying out, _Hold, enough_!
for, "that he should know what he is, and be that he is," seems an
offence for which infinite shames were hardly a sufficient
indemnification. And we know right well that such a hollow, flaunting,
strutting roll of effrontery and poltroonery cannot possibly have soul
enough to be inwardly hurt by the utmost pressure of disgrace and
scorn. And yet, strange as it may seem, Parolles represents a class of
actual men; how truly, is well shown in that the delineation, in its
main features, but especially as of "one that lies three thirds, and
uses a known truth to pass a thousand nothings with," might almost be
mistaken for a portrait of a very noted character of our time,--a man
too--which is strangest of all--whose success with the voters has even
beaten that of his dramatic prototype with Bertram.

* * * * *

Verplanck thinks, as he well may, that the Poet's special purpose in
this play was to set forth the precedence of innate over
circumstantial distinctions. Gervinus also takes the same view: "The
idea that merit goes before rank is the soul of this piece and of the
relation between Bertram and Helena." And this high moral centre is
not only pronounced strongly in verbal discourse, but, which is still
better, is silently placed in the characters themselves and in the
facts of the play. Yet observe with what a catholic spirit the Poet
teaches this great lesson; frankly recognizing the noble man in the
nobleman, and telling us, in effect, that none know so well how to
prize the nobilities of nature as those who, like the King and the
Countess of this play, have experienced the nothingness of all other
claims. To be sure, their generous superiority to adventitious
distinctions is partly because of a certain regenerative efficacy
flowing from the heroine: pride of birth is sweetly rebuked in her
presence; a subtile inspiration from her seems to steal away whatever
prejudice of rank they may have, and to cheat them into full sympathy
with truth and virtue; and, with the exception of Bertram and the
bescarfed coxcomb that spaniels him, all from the King downwards are
won to the free worship of untitled merit directly they begin to
converse with this meek and modest incarnation of Nature's eloquence.


Measure for Measure, in its vein of thought and complexion of
character, is the deepest of Shakespeare's comedies,--deeper even than
some of his tragedies. The foundation principles of ethics are here
explored far as the plummet of thought can sound; the subtleties and
intricacies of the human heart are searched with an insight which the
sharpest and most inquisitive criticism may strive in vain to follow.
The mind almost loses itself in attempting to trace out through their
course the various and complicated lines of reflection here suggested.

* * * * *

We have no authentic contemporary notice of the play whatever, till it
appeared in the folio of 1623. I say _authentic_ notice; because the
item which, some years ago, Mr. Peter Cunningham claimed to have found
among some old records preserved at Somerset House, and which makes
the play to have been acted at Court in December, 1604, has been
lately set aside as a fabrication. Though printed much better than
_All's Well that Ends Well_, still the text set forth in the folio
gives us but too much cause to regret the lack of earlier copies;
there being several passages that are, to all appearance, incurably
defective or corrupt.

The strongly-marked peculiarities of the piece in language, cast of
thought, and moral temper, have invested it with great psychological
interest, and bred a strange desire among critics to connect it in
some way with the author's mental history,--with some supposed crisis
in his feelings and experience. Hence the probable date of the writing
was for a long time argued more strenuously than the subject would
otherwise seem to justify; and, as often falls out in such cases, the
more the critics argued the point, the further they were from coming
to an agreement. And, in truth, the plain matter-of-fact critics have
here succeeded much better in the work than their more philosophical
brethren; which aptly shows how little the brightest speculation can
do in questions properly falling within the domain of facts.

In default of other data, the critics in question based their
arguments upon certain probable allusions to contemporary matters;
especially on those passages which express the Duke's fondness for
"the life remov'd," and his aversion to being greeted by crowds of
people. Chalmers brought forward also the very pertinent fact of a
long-sleeping statute having been revived in 1604, which punished with
death all divorced or divorcing persons who married again while their
former husbands or wives were living. This circumstance, he thinks,
might well have suggested what is said by the Duke:

"We have strict statutes and most biting laws,--
The needful bits and curbs to headstrong steeds,--
Which for this fourteen years we have let sleep;
Even like an o'ergrown lion in a cave,
That goes not out to prey."

Chalmers had the sagacity to discover also a sort of portrait-like
resemblance in the Duke to King James the First. As the King was
indeed a much better theologian than statesman or ruler, the fact of
the Duke's appearing rather more at home in the cowl and hood than in
his ducal robes certainly lends some colour to this discovery.

The King's unamiable repugnance to being gazed upon by throngs of
admiring subjects is thus spoken of by a contemporary writer: "In his
public appearance, especially in his sports, the accesses of the
people made him so impatient, that he often dispersed them with
frowns, that we may not say, with curses." And his churlish bearing
towards the crowds which, prompted by eager loyalty, flocked forth to
hail his accession, is noted by several historians. But he was a
pretty free encourager of the Drama, as well as of other liberal
preparations; and, with those who had tasted, or who sought, his
patronage, it was natural that these symptoms of weakness should pass
for tokens of a wise superiority to the dainties of popular applause.
All which renders it not unlikely that the Poet may have had an eye to
the King in the passages cited by Malone in support of his conjecture:

"I love the people,
But do not like to stage me to their eyes:
Though it do well, I do not relish well
Their loud applause and aves vehement;
Nor do I think the man of safe discretion
That does affect it."

"So play the foolish throngs with one that swoons;
Come all to help him, and so stop the air
By which he should revive: and even so
The general, subject to a well-wish'd king,
Quit their own part, and in obsequious fondness
Crowd to his presence, where their untaught love
Must needs appear offence."

The allusion here being granted, Malone's inference, that the play was
made soon after the King's accession, and before the effect of his
unlooked-for austerity on this score had spent itself, was natural
enough. Nor is the conjecture of Ulrici and others without weight,
"that Shakespeare was led to the composition of the play by the
rigoristic sentiments and arrogant virtue of the Puritans." And in
this view several points of the main action might have been aptly
suggested at the time in question: for the King had scarcely set foot
in England but he began to be worried by the importunities of that
remarkable people; who had been feeding upon the hope, that by the
sole exercise of his prerogative he would work through a radical
change in the constitution of the Church, and so bring her into
accordance with their ideas:--all this on the principle, of course,
that a minority however small, with the truth, was better than a
majority however large, without it.

The accession of King James to the English throne was in March, 1603.
So that the forecited arguments would conclude the writing of the play
to have been nearly synchronous with the revisal of _All's Well that
Ends Well_, and with the production of _King Lear_, perhaps also of
_Macbeth_; at least, within the same period of four or five years. The
characteristics of style and temper draw to the same conclusion as
regards the date of the writing.

* * * * *

There is no doubt that for some particulars in the plot and story of
_Measure for Measure_ the Poet was ultimately indebted to Cinthio, an
Italian novelist of the sixteenth century. The original story makes
the eighty-fifth in his _Hundred Tales_. A youth named Ludovico is
there overtaken in the crime of seduction: Juriste, a magistrate
highly reputed for wisdom and justice, passes sentence of death upon
him; and Ludovico's sister, a virgin of rare gifts and graces, goes to
pleading for his life. Her beauty and eloquence have the same effect
on Juriste as Isabella's on Angelo. His proposals are rejected with
scorn and horror; but the lady, overcome by the pathetic entreaties of
her brother, at last yields to them under a solemn promise of
marriage. His object being gained, the wicked man then commits a
double vow-breach, neither marrying the sister nor sparing the
brother. She appeals to the Emperor, by whom Juriste is forced to
marry her, and then sentenced to death; but is finally pardoned at the
lady's suit, who is now as earnest and eloquent for her husband as
she had been for her brother. Her conduct touches him with remorse,
and at length proves as effective in reforming his character as it was
in redeeming his life.

As early as 1578, this tale was dramatized after a sort by George
Whetstone, and was published as _The History of Promos and Cassandra_.
Whetstone was a writer of learning and talent, but not such that even
the instructions of a Shakespeare could have made him capable of
dramatic excellence; and, as he had no such benefit, his performance
is insipid and worthless enough. The drama is in Two Parts, and is
written in verse, with alternate rhymes. In his conduct of the story
Whetstone varies somewhat from the original; as the following abstract
will show:

In the city of Julio, then under the rule of Corvinus, King of
Hungary, there was a law that for incontinence the man should suffer
death, and the woman be marked out for infamy by her dress. Through
the indulgence of magistrates, this law came to be little regarded.
The government falling at length into the hands of Lord Promos, he
revived the statute, and, a youth named Andrugio being convicted of
the fault in question, resolved to visit the penalties in their utmost
rigour upon both the parties. Andrugio had a sister of great virtue
and accomplishment, named Cassandra, who undertook to sue for his
life. Her good behaviour, great beauty, and "the sweet order of her
talk" wrought so far with the governor as to induce a short reprieve.
Being inflamed soon after with a criminal passion, he set down the
spoil of her honour as the ransom. She spurned his suit with
abhorrence. Unable, however, to resist the pleadings of her brother,
she at last yielded to the man's proposal, on condition of his
pardoning her brother and then marrying her. This he vowed to do; but,
his end once gained, instead of keeping his vow, he ordered the jailer
to present Cassandra with her brother's head. As the jailer knew what
the governor had done, he took the head of a felon just executed, and
set Andrugio at liberty. Cassandra, supposing the head to be her
brother's, was at the point to kill herself for grief, but spared
that stroke, to be avenged on the traitor. She devised to make her
case known to the King; who forthwith hastened to do justice on
Promos, ordering that, to repair the lady's honour, he should marry
her, and then, for his crime against the State, lose his head. No
sooner was Cassandra a wife than all her rhetoric of eye, tongue, and
action was tasked to procure the pardon of her husband; but the King,
tendering the public good more than hers, denied her suit. At length,
Andrugio, overcome by his sister's grief, made himself known; for he
had all the while been about the place in disguise; whereupon the
King, to honour the virtues of Cassandra, pardoned both him and

In 1592, Whetstone published his _Heptameron of Civil Discourses_,
containing a prose version of the same tale. It is observable that he
deviates from Cinthio in bringing Andrugio off alive; and as
Shakespeare does the same with Claudio, we may well conclude that he
drew directly from Whetstone, not from the original author. Beyond the
mere outline of the story, it does not appear that the Poet borrowed
any thing more than a few slight hints and casual expressions. And a
comparison of the two pieces would nowise reduce his claims; it being
not less creditable to have lifted the story out of the mire into such
a region of art and poetry than to have invented it. Then too, even as
regards the story, Shakespeare varies from Whetstone much more
materially than the latter does from Cinthio: representing the illicit
meeting of Claudio and Juliet as taking place under the shield of a
solemn betrothment; which very much lessens their fault, as marriage
bonds were already upon them; and proportionably heightens Angelo's
wickedness, as it brings on him the guilt of making the law
responsible for his own arbitrary rigour. But the main _original_
feature in the plot of _Measure for Measure_ is the part of Mariana,
which puts a new life into the whole, and purifies it almost into
another nature; as it prevents the soiling of Isabella's womanhood,
supplies an apt reason for the Duke's mysterious conduct, and yields a
pregnant motive for Angelo's pardon, in that his life is thereby bound
up with that of a wronged and innocent woman, whom his crimes are made
the occasion of restoring to her rights and happiness; so that her
virtue may be justly allowed to reprieve him from death.

In the comic parts of Whetstone's drama there is all the grossness of
_Measure for Measure_, without any thing that the utmost courtesy of
language can call wit or humour. So that, if the Poet here received no
help, neither can he have any excuse, from the workmanship of his
predecessor. But he probably saw that some such matter was required by
the scheme of the play and the laws of dramatic proportion. And as in
these parts the truth and character are all his own, so he can hardly
be blamed for not anticipating the delicacy or squeamishness of later
times, there being none such in the most refined audiences of his day;
while, again, his choice of a subject so ugly in itself is amply
screened from censure by the lessons of virtue and wisdom which he
used it as an opportunity for delivering. To have trained and taught a
barbarous tale of cruelty and lust into such a fruitage of poetry and
humanity, may well offset whatever of offence there may be in the play
to modern taste.

* * * * *

I have already referred to certain characteristics of style and temper
which this play shares with several others probably written about the
same time, and which, as before observed, have been thought to mark
some crisis in the Poet's life. It cannot well be denied that the
plays in question have something of a peculiar spirit, which might
aptly suggest that some passage of bitter experience must have turned
the milk of his genius for a time into gall, and put him upon a course
of harsh and indignant thought. The point is well stated by Hallam:
"There seems to have been a period of Shakespeare's life when his heart was
ill at ease, and ill content with the world or his own conscience:
the memory of hours misspent, the pang of affection misplaced or
unrequited, the experience of man's worser nature, which intercourse
with ill-chosen associates peculiarly teaches,--these, as they sank
down into the depths of his great mind, seem not only to have inspired
into it the conception of Lear and Timon, but that of one primary
character, the censurer of mankind."[21] And Verplanck speaks in a
similar strain of "that portion of the author's life which was
memorable for the production of the additions to the original
_Hamlet_, with their melancholy wisdom; probably of _Timon_, with its
indignant and hearty scorn, and rebukes of the baseness of civilized
society; and above all of _Lear_, with its dark pictures of unmixed,
unmitigated guilt, and its terrible and prophet-like denunciations."

[21] "This type," continues the writer, "is first seen in the
philosophic melancholy of Jaques, gazing with an undiminished
serenity, and with a gayety of fancy, though not of manners, on
the follies of the world. It assumes a graver cast in the exiled
Duke of the same play, and one rather more severe in the Duke of
_Measure for Measure_. In all these, however, it is merely a
contemplative philosophy. In Hamlet this is mingled with the
impulses of a perturbed heart under the pressure of
extraordinary circumstances: it shines no longer, as in the
former characters, with a steady light, but plays in fitful
coruscations amid feigned gayety and extravagance. In Lear, it
is the flash of sudden inspiration across the incongruous
imagery of madness; in Timon, it is obscured by the
exaggerations of misanthropy."

These words certainly carry much weight, and may go far to warrant the
belief of the writers, that the Poet was smitten with some rude shock
of fortune which untuned the melody of his soul, and wrenched his mind
from its once smooth and happy course, causing it to recoil upon
itself and brood over its own thoughts. Yet there are considerable
difficulties besetting a theory of this kind. For, in some other plays
referred by these critics to the same period, there is so much of the
Poet's gayest and happiest workmanship as must greatly embarrass if
not quite upset such a theory. But, whatever may have caused the
peculiar tone and the cast of thought in the forenamed plays, it is
pretty certain that the darkness was not permanent; the clear azure,
soft sunshine, and serene sweetness of _The Tempest_ and _The Winter's
Tale_ being unquestionably of a later date. And, surely, in the life
of so earnest and thoughtful a man as Shakespeare, there might well
be, nay, there must have been, times when, without any special
woundings or bruisings of fortune, his mind got fascinated by the
appalling mystery of evil that haunts our fallen nature.

That such darker hours, however occasioned, were more frequent at one
period of the Poet's life than at others, is indeed probable. And it
was equally natural that their coming should sometimes engage him in
heart-tugging and brain-sweating efforts to scrutinize the inscrutable
workings of human guilt, and thus stamp itself strongly upon the
offspring of his mind. Thus, without any other than the ordinary
progress of thoughtful spirits, we should naturally have a middle
period, when the early enthusiasm of hope had passed away, and before
the deeper, calmer, but not less cheerful tranquillity of resignation
had set in. For so it is apt to be in this life of ours: the angry
barkings of fortune, or what seem such, have their turn with us; "the
fretful fever and the stir unprofitable" work our souls full of

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