Part 8 out of 13
It is, indeed, the doctrine of the 'true need' that is lurking here,
and all that puts man into his true place and relations in the
creative order, whether of submission or control is included in it. It
is the doctrine of the natural human need, and the natural ground and
limits of the arts, for which nature has endowed man beforehand, with
a faculty and a sentiment corresponding in grandeur to his
need,--large as he is little, noble as he is mean, powerful as he is
helpless, felicitous as he is wretched; the faculty and the sentiment
whereby the _want_ of man becomes the measure of his wealth and
grandeur,--whereby his conscious _lowness_ becomes the means of his
ascent to his ideal type in nature, and to the scientific perfection
of his form.
And this whole social picture,--rude, savage as it is,--savage as it
shews when its sharp outline falls on that fair ideal ground of
criticism which the doctrine of a scientific civilization creates,--is
but the Poet's report of the progress of human development as it stood
in his time, and of the gain that it had made on savage instinct then.
It is his report of the social institutions of his time, as he found
them on his map of human advancement. It is his report of the wild
social misery that was crying underneath them, with its burthen of new
advancements. It is the Poet's Apology for his new doctrine of human
living, which he is going to publish, and leave on the earth, for 'the
times that are far off.' It is the negative, which is the first step
towards that affirmation, which he is going to establish on the earth
for ever, or so long as the species, whose law he has found, endures
on it. Down to its most revolting, most atrocious detail, it is still
the Elizabethan civility that is painted here. Even Goneril's
unscrupulous mode of disposing of her rival sister, though _that_ was
the kind of murder which was then regarded with the profoundest
disgust and horror--(the queen in Cymbeline expresses that vivid
sentiment, when she says: 'If Pisanio have given his mistress that
confection which I gave him for a cordial, she is served as I would
serve a rat')--even as to that we all know what a king's favourite
felt himself competent to undertake then; and, if the clearest
intimations of such men as Bacon, and Coke, and Raleigh, on such a
question, are of any worth, the household of James the First was not
without a parallel even for that performance, if not when this play
was written, when it was published.
It is all one picture of social ignorance, and misery, and _frantic_
misrule. It is a faithful exhibition of the degree of personal
security which a man of honourable sentiments, and humane and noble
intentions, could promise himself in such a time. It shows what chance
there was of any man being permitted to sustain an honourable and
intelligent part in the world, in an age in which all the radical
social arts were yet wanting, in which the rude institutions of an
ignorant past spontaneously built up, without any science of the
natural laws, were vainly seeking to curb and quench the Incarnate
soul of new ages,--the spirit of a scientific human advancement; and,
when all the common welfare was still openly intrusted to the
unchecked caprice and passion of one selfish, pitiful, narrow,
To appreciate fully the incidental and immediate political application
of the piece, however, it is necessary to observe that notwithstanding
that studious exhibition of lawless and outrageous power, which it
involves, it is, after all, we are given to understand, by a quiet
intimation here and there, _a limited monarchy_ which is put upon the
stage here. It is a constitutional government, very much in the
Elizabethan stage of development, as it would seem, which these
arbitrary rulers affect to be administering. It is a government which
professes to be one of law, under which the atrocities of this piece
And one may even note, in passing, that that high Judicial Court, in
which poor Lear undertakes to get his cause tried, appears to have,
somehow, an extremely modern air, considering what age of the British
history it was, in which it was supposed to be constituted, and
considering that one of the wigs appointed to that Bench had to leave
his speech behind him for Merlin to make, in consequence of living
before his time: at all events it is already tinctured with some of
the more notorious Elizabethan vices--vices which our Poet, not
content with this exposition, contrived to get exposed in another
manner, and to some purpose, ere all was done.
_Lear_. It shall be done, I will arraign them straight!
Come, sit thou here, _most learned Justice_.
[_To the_ BEDLAMITE_.]
Thou, _sapient_ Sir, sit here. [_To the_ FOOL.]
I'll see _their trial_ first. _Bring in the evidence_.
Thou _robed_ MAN of JUSTICE take _thy_ place.
[_To_ TOM O'BEDLAM.]
And _thou_, his _yoke fellow_ of EQUITY _bench by his side_.
[_To the_ FOOL.]
You are of '_the Commission_'--sit _you too_.
Truly it was a bold wit that could undertake to constitute that bench
on the stage, and fill it with those speaking forms,--speaking to the
eye the unmistakeable significance, for these judges, two of them,
happened to be on the spot in full costume,--and as to the third, he
was of '_the commission_.' 'Sit you, too.' Truly it was a bold
instructor that could undertake 'to facilitate' the demonstration of
'the more chosen subjects,' with the aid of diagrams of this kind.
Arms! Arms! Sword, fire! CORRUPTION IN THE PLACE! _False justicer, why
hast thou let her scape_?
The tongues of these ancient sovereigns of Britain, 'tang' throughout
with Elizabethan 'arguments of state,' and even Goneril, in her
somewhat severe proceedings against her _father_, justifies her course
in a very grave and excellent speech, enriched with the choicest
phrases of that particular order of state eloquence, in which majesty
stoops graciously to a recognition of the subject nation;--a speech
from which we gather that the '_tender of a wholesome weal_' is, on
the whole, the thing which she has at heart most deeply, and though
the proceeding in question is a painful one to her feelings, a state
necessity appears to prescribe it, or at least, render it
Even in Gloster's case, though the process to which he is subjected,
is, confessedly, an extemporaneous one, it appears from the Duke of
Cornwall's statement, that it was only the _form_ which was wanting to
make it legal. Thus he apologizes for it.--
Though well we may not pass upon his life
Without the form of justice, yet our _power_
Shall do a _courtesy_ to _our wrath_, which men
May blame, _but not control_.
Goneril, however, grows bolder at the last, and says outright, 'Say if
I do, the _laws_ are _mine_ NOT THINE.' But it is the law which is
_thine_ and _mine_, it is the law which is for Tom o' Bedlam and for
thee, that great nature speaking at last through her interpreter, and
explaining all this wild scene, will have vindicated.
_Most_ MONSTROUS, exclaims her illustrious consort; but at the close
of the play, where so much of the meaning sometimes comes out in a
word, he himself concedes that the government which has just devolved
upon him is an _absolute_ monarchy.
'For us,' he says, 'WE WILL RESIGN, during the life of this old
Majesty, OUR ABSOLUTE POWER.'
So that there seems to have been, in fact,--in the minds, too, of
persons who ought, one would say, to have been best informed on this
subject,--just that vague, uncertain, contradictory view of this
important question, which appears to have obtained in the English
state, during the period in which the material of this poetic
criticism was getting slowly accumulated. But of course this play, so
full of the consequences of arbitrary power, so full of Elizabethan
politics, with its 'ear-kissing arguments,' could not well end, till
that word, too, had been spoken outright; and, in the Duke of Albany's
resignation, it slips in at last so quietly, so properly, that no one
perceives that it is not there by accident.
This, then, is what the play contains; but those that follow the
_story_ and the superficial plot only, must, of course, lose track of
the interior identities. It does not occur to these that the Poet is
occupied with principles, and that the change of _persons_ does not,
in the least, confound his pursuit of them.
The fact that tyranny is in one act, or in one scene, represented by
Lear, and in the next by his daughters;--the fact that the king and
the father is in one act the tyrant, and in another, the victim of
tyranny, is quite enough to confound the criticism to which a work of
mere amusement is subjected; for it serves to disguise the philosophic
purport, by dividing it on the surface: and the dangerous passages are
all opposed and neutralised, for those who look at it only as a piece
of dramatized, poetic history.
For this is a philosopher who prefers to handle his principles in
their natural, historical combinations, in those modified unions of
opposites, those complex wholes, which nature so stedfastly inclines
to, instead of exhibiting them scientifically bottled up and labelled,
in a state of fierce chemical abstraction.
His characters are not like the characters in the old 'Moralities,'
which he found on the stage when he first began to turn his attention
to it, mere impersonations of certain vague, loose, popular notions.
Those sickly, meagre forms would not answer his purpose. It was
necessary that the actors in the New Moralities he was getting up so
quietly, should have some speculation in their eyes, some blood in
their veins, a kind of blood that had never got manufactured in the
Poet's laboratory till then. His characters, no matter how strong the
predominating trait, though '_the conspicuous instance_' of it be
selected, have all the rich quality, the tempered and subtle power of
nature's own compositions. The expectation, the interest, the surprise
of life and history, waits, with its charm on all their speech and
The whole play tells, indeed, its own story, and scarcely needs
interpreting, when once the spectator has gained the true dramatic
stand-point; when once he understands that there is a teacher here,--a
new one,--one who will not undertake to work with the
instrumentalities that his time offered to him, who begins by
rejecting the abstractions which lie at the foundation of all the
learning of his time, which are not scientific, but vague, loose,
popular notions, that have been collected without art, or scientific
rule of rejection, and are, therefore, inefficacious in nature, and
unavailable for 'the art and practic part of life;' a teacher who will
build up his philosophy anew, from the beginning, a teacher who will
begin with history and particulars, who will abstract his definitions
from nature, and have _powers_ of them, and not _words_ only, and make
_them_ the basis of his science and the material and instrument of his
reform. 'I will teach you _differences_,' says Kent to the steward,
alluding on the part of his author, for he does not profess to be
metaphysical himself to another kind of distinction, than that which
obtained in the schools; and accompanying the remark, on his own part,
with some practical demonstrations, which did not appear to be taken
in good part at all by the person he was at such pains to instruct in
his doctrine of distinctions.
The reader who has once gained this clue, the clue which the question
of design and authorship involves, will find this play, as he will
find, indeed, all this author's plays, overflowing every where with
the scientific statement,--the finest abstract statement of that which
the action, with its moving, storming, laughing, weeping, praying
diagrams, sets forth in the concrete.
But he who has not yet gained this point,--the critic who looks at it
from the point of observation which the traditionary theory of its
origin and intent creates, is not in a position to notice the
philosophic expositions of its purport, with which the action is all
inwoven. No,--though the whole structure of the piece should
manifestly hang on them, though the whole flow of the dialogue should
make one tissue of them, though every interstice of the play should be
filled with them, though the fool's jest, and the Bedlamite's
gibberish, should point and flash with them at every turn;--though the
wildest incoherence of madness, real or assumed, to its most dubious
hummings,--its snatches of old ballads, and inarticulate mockings of
the blast, should be strung and woven with them; though the storm
itself, with its wild accompaniment, and demoniacal frenzies, should
articulate its response to them;--keeping open tune without, to that
human uproar; and howling symphonies, to the unconquered demoniacal
forces of human life,--for it is the Poet who writes in 'the storm
continues,'--'the storm continues,'--'the storm continues;'--though
even Edmund's diabolical '_fa, sol, lah, mi_,' should dissolve into
harmony with them, while Tom's five fiends echo it from afar, and 'mop
and mow' their responses, down to the one that '_since possesses
chambermaids_;' nobody that takes the play theory, and makes a matter
of faith of it merely; nobody that is willing to shut his eyes and
open his mouth, and swallow the whole upon trust, as a miracle simply,
is going to see anything in all this, or take any exceptions at it.
Certainly, at the time when it was written, it was not the kind of
learning and the kind of philosophy that the world was used to. Nobody
had ever heard of such a thing. The memory of man could not go far
enough to produce any parallel to it in letters. It was manifest that
this was _nature_, the living nature, the thing itself. None could
perceive the tint of the school on its robust creations; no eye could
detect in its sturdy compositions the stuff that books were made of;
and it required no effort of faith, therefore, to believe that it was
not that. It was easy enough to believe, and men were glad, on the
whole, to believe that it was not that--that it was not learning or
philosophy--but something just as far from that, as completely its
opposite, as could well be conceived of.
How could men suspect, as yet, that this was the new scholasticism,
the New Philosophy? Was it strange that they should mistake it for
rude nature herself, in her unschooled, spontaneous strength, when it
had not yet publicly transpired that something had come at last upon
the stage of human development, which was stooping to nature and
learning of her, and stealing her secret, and unwinding the clue to
the heart of her mystery? How could men know that this was the
subtlest philosophy, the ripest scholasticism, the last proof of all
human learning, when it was still a secret that the school of nature
and her laws, that the school of natural history and natural
philosophy, too, through all its lengths and breadths and depths, was
open; and that '_the schools_'--the schools of old chimeras and
notions--the schools where the jangle of the monkish abstractions and
the 'fifes and the trumpets of the Greeks' were sounding--were going
to get shut up with it.
How should they know that the teacher of the New Philosophy was Poet
also--must be, by that same anointing, a singer, mighty as the sons of
song who brought their harmonies of old into the savage earth--a
singer able to sing down antiquities with his new gift, able to sing
in new eras?
But these have no clue as yet to track him with: they cannot collect
or thread his thick-showered meanings. He does not care through how
many mouths he draws the lines of his philosophic purpose. He does not
care from what long distances his meanings look towards each other.
But these interpreters are not aware of that. They have not been
informed of that particular. On the contrary, they have been put
wholly off their guard. Their heads have been turned, deliberately, in
just the opposite direction. They have no faintest hint beforehand of
the depths in which the philosophic unities of the piece are hidden:
it is not strange, therefore, that these unities should escape their
notice, and that they should take it for granted that there are none
in it. It is not the mere play-reader who is ever going to see them.
It will take the philosophic student, with all his clues, to master
them. It will take the student of the New School and the New Ages,
with the torch of Natural Science in his hand, to track them to their
Here, too, as elsewhere, it is the king himself on whom the bolder
political expositions are thrust. But it is not his royalty only that
has need to be put in requisition here, to bring out successfully all
that was working then in this Poet's mind and heart, and which had to
come out in some way. It was something more than royalty that was
required to protect this philosopher in those astounding freedoms of
speech in which he indulges himself here, without any apparent scruple
or misgiving. The combination of distresses, indeed, which the old
ballad accumulates on the poor king's head, offers from the first a
large poetic license, of which the man of art--or '_prudence_,' as he
calls it--avails himself somewhat liberally.
With those _daughters_ in the foreground always, and the parental
grief so wild and loud--with that deeper, deadlier, infinitely more
cruel _private_ social wrong interwoven with all the political
representation, and overpowering it everywhere, as if that inner
social evil were, after all, foremost in the Poet's thought--as if
that were the thing which seemed crying to him for redress more than
all the rest--if, indeed, any thought of 'giving losses their
remedies' could cross a Player's dream, when, in the way of his
profession, 'the _enormous state_' came in to fill his scene, and open
its subterranean depths, and let out its secrets, and drown the stage
with its elemental horror;--with his daughters in the foreground, and
all that magnificent accompaniment of the elemental war without--with
all nature in that terrific uproar, and the Fool and the Madman to
create a diversion, and his friends all about him to hush up and make
the best of everything--with that great storm of pathos that the
Magician is bringing down for him--with the stage all in tears, by
their own confession, and the audience sobbing their responses--what
the poor king might say between his chattering teeth was not going to
be very critically treated; and the Poet knew it. It was the king, in
such circumstances, who could undertake the philosophical expositions
of the action; and in his wildest bursts of grief he has to manage
them, in his wildest bursts of grief he has to keep to them.
But it is not until long afterwards, when the storm, and all the
misery of that night, has had its ultimate effect--its chronic
effect--upon him, that the Poet ventures to produce, under cover of
the sensation which the presence of a mad king on the stage creates,
precisely that exposition of the scene which has been, here, insisted
'They flattered me like a dog; they told me I had _white_ hairs in my
beard, ere the _black_ ones were there. To say _Ay_ and _No_ to
everything _I_ said!--Ay and No too was no good DIVINITY. _When the
rain came to wet me once_, and _the wind made me chatter; when the
thunder would not peace at my bidding,--there_ I found them, _there I
smelt them out_. Go to, they are not men of their words. _They told me
I was everything: 'tis a lie. I am not ague-proof_.'
_Gloster_. The trick of that voice I do well remember:
Is't not THE KING?
_Lear_. _Ay_, every inch _a King_:
When _I_ do stare, _see, how the subject quakes_.
But it is a subject he has conjured up from his brain that is quaking
under his regal stare. And it is the impersonation of God's authority,
it is the divine right to rule men at its pleasure, _with or without
laws, as it sees fit_, that stands there, tricked out like Tom
o'Bedlam, with A CROWN of noisome _weeds_ on its head, arguing the
question of the day, taking up for the divine right, defining its own
_Is't not the king_?
Ay every inch a king:
_When I do stare, see how the subject quakes_.
_See_; yes, _see_. For that is what he stands there for, or that you
may see _what it is_ at whose stare _the subject_ quakes. He is there
to 'represent to the eye,' because impressions on the senses are more
effective than abstract statements, the divine right and sovereignty,
the majesty of the COMMON-weal, the rule that protects each helpless
individual member of it with the strength of all, the rule awful with
great nature's sanction, enforced with her dire pains and penalties.
He is there that you may see whether _that_ is it, or not; that one
poor wretch, that thing of pity, which has no power to protect itself,
in whom _the law_ itself, the sovereignty of reason, is dethroned.
That was, what all men thought it was, when this play was written; for
the madness of arbitrary power, the impersonated will and passion, was
the _state_ then. That is the spontaneous affirmation of rude ages, on
this noblest subject,--this chosen subject of the new
philosophy,--which stands there now to facilitate the demonstration,
'as globes and machines do the more subtle demonstrations in
mathematics.' It is the 'affirmation' which the Poet finds
pre-occupying this question; but this is the table of _review_ that he
stands on, and this 'Instance' has been subjected to the philosophical
tests, and that is the reason that all those dazzling externals of
majesty, which make that 'IDOL CEREMONY' are wanting here; that is the
reason that his crown has turned to weeds. This is the popular
affirmative the Poet is dealing with; but it stands on the scientific
'Table of _Review_,' and the result of this inquiry is, that it goes
to 'the table of NEGATIONS.' And the negative table of science in
these questions is Tragedy, the World's Tragedy. 'Is't not the king?'
'Ay, every inch--_a King_. When I do stare, see how the subject
quakes.' But the voice within overpowers him, and the axioms that are
the vintage of science, the inductions which are the result of that
experiment, are forced from his lips. 'To say ay and no to everything
that _I_--that _I_--said! To say _ay_ and _no_ too, was no GOOD
DIVINITY. They told me that I was everything. 'T IS A LIE. I am not
_ague proof_.' 'T is A LIE'--that is, what is called in other places a
In this systematic exposure of 'the particular and private nature' in
the human kind, and those SPECIAL susceptibilities and liabilities
which qualify its relationships; in this scientific exhibition of its
_special_ liability to suffering from the violation of the higher law
of those relationships--its _special_ liability to injury, moral,
mental, and physical--a liability from which the very one who usurps
the place of that law has himself no exemption in this exhibition,--
which requires that the king himself should represent that liability
in chief--it was not to be expected that this particular ill, this
ill in which the human wrong in its extreme capes is so wont to
exhibit its consummations, should be omitted. In this exhibition,
which was designed to be scientifically inclusive, it would have
been a fault to omit it. But that the Poet should have dared to
think of exhibiting it dramatically in this instance, and that,
too, in its most hopeless form--that he should have dared to think
of exhibiting the personality which was then 'the state' to the
eye of 'the subject' labouring under that personal disability, in the
very act, too, of boasting of its kingly terrors--this only goes to
show what large prerogatives, what boundless freedoms and immunities,
the resources of this particular department of art could be made to
yield, when it fell into the hands of the new Masters of Arts, when it
came to be selected by the Art-king himself as his instrument.
But we are prepared for this spectacle, and with the Poet's wonted
skill; for it is _Cordelia_, her heart bursting with its stormy
passion of filial love and grief, that, REBEL-LIKE, seeks to be QUEEN
o'er her, though she queens it still, and 'the smiles on her ripe lips
seem not to know what tears are in her eyes,' for she has had her hour
with her subject grief, and 'dealt with it alone,'--it is this child
of truth and duty, this true Queen, this impersonated sovereignty,
whom her Poet crowns with his choicest graces, on whom he devolves the
task of prefacing this so critical, and, one might think, perhaps,
perilous exhibition. But her description does not disguise the matter,
or palliate its extremity.
'Why, he was met even now,
Mad as the _vexed sea_, singing aloud;'
'Crowned with _rank fumiter_, and _furrow weeds_,
With hardocks, _hemlock_, _nettles_, cuckow flowers,
_Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow
In our sustaining corn_.'
That is the crown; and a very extraordinary symbol of sovereignty it
is, one cannot help thinking, for the divine right to get on its head
by any accident just then. Surely that symbol of power is getting
somewhat rudely handled here, in the course of the movements which the
'necessary questions of this Play' involve, as the critical mind might
begin to think. In the botanical analysis of that then so dazzling,
and potent, and compelling instrument in human affairs, a very careful
observer might perhaps take notice that the decidedly hurtful and
noxious influences in nature appear to have a prominent place; and,
for the rest, that the qualities of _wildness_ and idleness, and
encroaching good-for-nothingness, appear to be the common and
predominating elements. It is when the Tragedy reaches its height that
this _crown_ comes out.
A hundred men are sent out to pursue this majesty; not now to wait on
him in idle ceremony, and to give him the 'addition of a king';
but--to catch him--to search every acre in the high-grown field, and
bring him in. He has evaded his pursuers: he comes on to the stage
full of self-congratulation and royal glee, chuckling over his
'No; they cannot touch _me_ for COINING. _I am the king himself_.'
'O thou side-piercing sight!' [Collateral meaning.]
'_Nature's above Art_ in that respect.' ['So _o'er_ that art which you
say adds to nature, is an art that Nature makes.'] 'There's your press
money. That fellow handles his bow like a crow-keeper: draw me a
clothier's yard.--Look, look, a mouse! _Peace, peace_; this piece of
toasted cheese will do't.--There's my gauntlet; I'll prove it on a
But the messengers, who were sent out for him, are on his track.
_Enter a Gentleman, with Attendants_.
_Gent_. O here he is, lay hand upon him. Sir,
Your most dear daughter--
_Lear_. No rescue? What, a _prisoner_? I am even
_The natural fool of fortune_! Use me well;
You shall have ransom. Let me have a surgeon,
I am cut to the brains.
_Gent_. You shall have anything.
_Lear_. No seconds? All myself?
_Gent_. Good Sir,--
_Lear_. I will die bravely, like a bridegroom: What?
I will be _jovial_. Come, come; _I am a king,
My masters_; know you _that_?
_Gent_. _You are_, a royal one, _and we obey you_.
_Lear_. Then _there's life in it_. Nay, an you get it, you shall
get it by running. Sa, sa, sa, sa. [_Exit, running; Attendants_
FOLLOW.] ['Transient hieroglyphic.']
_Gent_. A sight most pitiful in the meanest wretch;
_Past speaking of, in_ A KING!
[not past exhibiting, it seems, however.]
But, of course, there was nothing that a king, whose mind was in such
a state, could not be permitted to say with impunity; and it is in
this very scene that the Poet puts into his mouth the boldest of those
philosophical suggestions which the first attempt to find a theory for
the art and practical part of life, gave birth to: he skilfully
reserves for this scene some of the most startling of those social
criticisms which the action this play is everywhere throwing out.
For it is in this scene, that the outcast king encounters the victim
of tyranny, whose eyes have been plucked out, and who has been turned
out to beggary, as the penalty of having come athwart that disposition
in 'the duke,' that 'all the world well knows will not be rubbed or
stopped';--it is in this scene that Lear finds him smelling his way to
_Dover_, for that is the name in the play--the play name--for the
place towards which men's hopes appear to be turning; and that
conversation as to how the world goes, to which allusion has been
already made, comes off, without appearing to suggest to any mind,
that it is other than accidental on the part of the Poet, or that the
action of the play might possibly be connected with it! For
notwithstanding this great stress, which he lays everywhere on
_forethought_ and a deliberative _rational_ intelligent procedure, as
_the distinctive human mark_,--the characteristic feature of _a
man_,--the poor poet himself, does not appear to have gained much
credit hitherto for the possession of this human quality.--
_Lear_. Thou seest how this world goes?
_Gloster_. I see it feelingly.
_Lear_. What, art mad?--
[have you not the use of your reason, then? Can you not _see_ with
that? _That_ is the kind of sight we talk of here. It's the want of
that which makes these falls. We have eyes with which to foresee
effects,--eyes which outgo all the senses with their range of
observation, with their range of certainty and foresight.]
'What, art mad? A man may see how this world goes with no eyes. Look
with thine--_ears: see_ how yon justice rails upon yon _simple thief_.
Hark, in thine ear: Change _places_, and, handy-dandy, _which is the
justice, and which is_ THE THIEF?' [Searching social questions, as
before. 'Thou robed man of _justice_ (to the Bedlamite), take thy
place; and thou, his yoke-fellow of _equity_ (to the Fool), _bench by
his side_. Thou, _sapient_ sir, sit here.']
So that it would seem, perhaps, as if wisdom, as well as honesty,
might be wanting there--the searching subtle wisdom, that is matched
in subtlety, with nature's forces, that sees true differences, and
effects true reformations. '_Change places. Hark, in thine ear_.'
Truly this is a player who knows how to suit the word to the action,
and the action to the word; for there has been a revolution going on
in this play which has made as complete a social overturning--which
has shaken kings, and dukes, and lordlings out of their 'places,' as
completely as some later revolutions have done. 'Change places!' With
one duke in the stocks, and another wandering blind in the
streets--with a dukeling, in the form of mad Tom, to lead him, with a
king in a hovel, calling for the straw, and a queen hung by the neck
till she is dead--with mad Tom on the bench, and the Fool, with his
cap and bells, at his side--with Tom at the council-table, and
occupying the position of chief favourite and adviser to the king, and
a distinct proposal now that the thief and the justice shall change
places on the spot--with the inquiry as to which is _the justice_, and
which is the _thief_, openly started--one would almost fancy that the
subject had been exhausted here, or would be, if these indications
should be followed up. What is it in the way of social alterations
which the player's imagination could conceive of, which his scruples
have prevented him from suggesting here?
But the mad king goes on with those new and unheard-of political and
social suggestions, which his madness appears to have had the effect
of inspiring in him--
_Lear_. Thou hast seen a farmer's _dog_ bark at a _beggar_?
_Gloster_. Ay, sir.
_Lear_. And the _creature_ run from the _cur? There_ might'st thou
behold _the great image of_ AUTHORITY: _a dog's obeyed in office_.
Through tattered robes _small vices_ do appear;
_Robes_, and _furred gowns, hide all_.
[_Robes,--robes_, and _furred gowns_!]
Plate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks;
Arm it with rags, a pigmy's straw doth pierce it.
But that was before Tom got his seat on the bench--that was before Tom
got his place at the council-table.
'None does offend,--_none_--'
[unless you will begin your reform at the beginning, and hunt down the
great rogues as well as the little ones; or, rather, unless you will
go to the source of the evil, and take away the evils, of which these
crimes, that you are awarding penalties to, are the result, let it all
alone, I say. Let's have no more legislation, and no more of _this_
JUSTICE, _this_ EQUITY, that takes the vices which come through the
tattered robes, and leaves the great _thief_ in his purple untouched.
Let us have no more of this mockery. Let us be impartial in our
justice, at least.] 'None does offend. _I say none. I'll_ able 'em.'
[I'll show you the way. Soft. _Hark, in thine ear_.] 'Take that of
_me_, my friend, _who have the power_ TO SEAL THE ACCUSER'S LIPS.'
[Soft, _in thine ear_.]--
'Get thee _glass_ eyes,
And like a scurvy _politician_, seem
To see the things thou dost not.--_Now, now, now_, NOW.
* * * * *
I know thee well enough. Thy name is--Gloster.
_Thou must be patient_; we came crying hither.
Thou know'st the first time that we smell the air
We wawl and cry. I will _preach_ to thee; _mark me_.
_Gloster. Alack, alack, the day!_
_Lear_. When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of--_Fools_.
[Mark me, for I _preach_ to thee--of _Fools_.
I am even the _natural fool of fortune_.]
--'O matter and impertinency, mixed
Reason in madness.'--
--is the Poet's concluding comment on this regal boldness, a safe and
saving explanation; 'for to define true madness,' as Polonius says,
'what is it but to _be_ nothing else but mad.' If the 'all licensed
fool,' as Goneril peevishly calls him, under cover of his assumed
imbecility, could carry his traditional privilege to such dangerous
extremes, and carp and philosophize, and fling his bitter jests about
at his pleasure, surely downright madness might claim to be invested
with a privilege as large. But madness, when conjoined with royalty,
makes a _double_ privilege, one which this Poet finds, however, at
times, none too large for his purposes.
Thus, Hamlet, when his mind is once in a questionable state, can be
permitted to make, with impunity, profane suggestions as to certain
possible royal progresses, and the changes to which the dust of a
Caesar might be liable, without being reminded out of the play, that to
follow out these suggestions 'would be' indeed, 'to consider too
curiously,' and that most extraordinary humour of his enables him also
to relieve his mind of many other suggestions, 'which reason and
sanity,' in his time, could not have been 'so prosperously delivered
For what is it that men can set up as a test of _sanity_ in any age,
but their own common beliefs and sentiments. And what surer proof of
the king's madness,--what more pathetic indication of its midsummer
height could be given, than those startling propositions which the
poet here puts into his mouth, so opposed to the opinions and
sentiments, not of kings only, but of the world at large; what madder
thing could a poet think of than those political axioms which he
introduces under cover of these suggestions,--which would lay the axe
at the root of the common beliefs and sentiments on which the social
structure then rested. How could he better show that this poor king's
wits had, indeed, 'turned;' how could he better prove that he was,
indeed, past praying for, than by putting into his mouth those bitter
satires on the state, those satires on the 'one only man' power
itself,--those wild revolutionary proposals, 'hark! in thine
ear,--_change places_. Softly, in thine ear,-- _which is the_ JUSTICE,
and which is THE THIEF?' 'Take that of _me_ who have the power to
_seal the accuser's lips_. None does offend. I say none. I'll able
'em. Look when I stare, see how the subject quakes.' These laws have
failed, you see. They shelter the most frightful depths of wrong. That
Bench has failed, you see; and that Chair, with all its adjunct
divinity. Come here and look down with me from this pinnacle, into
these abysses. Look at that wretch there, in the form of man. Fetch
him up in his blanket, and set him at the Council Table with his elf
locks and begrimed visage and inhuman gibberish. Perhaps, he will be
able to make some suggestion there; and those five fiends that are
talking in him at once, would like, perhaps, to have a hearing there.
Make him 'one of your hundred.' You are of '_the commission_,' let him
bench with _you_. Nay, change places, let him try your cause, and tell
us which is the justice, which is _the thief_, which is the sapient
Sir, and which is the Bedlamite. Surely, the man who authorizes these
suggestions must be, indeed, 'far gone,' whether he be 'a king or a
yeoman.' And mad indeed he is. Writhing under the insufficiency and
incompetency of these pretentious, but, in fact, ignorant and usurping
institutions, his heart of hearts racked and crushed with their
failure, the victim of this social empiricism, cries out in his
anguish, under that safe disguise of the Robes that hide all: 'Take
these away at least,--that will be something gained. Let us have no
more of this mockery. None does offend--none--I say _none_.' Let us go
back to the innocent instinctive brutish state, and have done with
this vain disastrous struggle of nature after the human form, and
_its_ dignity, and perfection. Let us talk no more of law and justice
and humanity and DIVINITY forsooth, _divinity_ and the celestial
graces, that divinity which is the end and perfection of the _human_
form.--Is not womanhood itself, and the Angel of it
_fallen_--degenerate?--That is the humour of it.--That is the meaning
of the savage edicts, in which this _human_ victim of the _inhuman_
state, the subject of a social state which has failed in some way of
the human end, undertakes to utter through the king's lips, his sense
of the failure. For the Poet at whose command he speaks, is the true
scientific historian of nature and art, and the rude and struggling
advances of the _human_ nature towards its ideal type, though they
fall never so short, are none of them omitted in his note-book. He
knows better than any other, what gain the imperfect civilization he
searches and satirizes and lays bare here, _has made_, with all its
imperfections, on the spontaneities and aids of the individual,
unaccommodated man: he knows all the value of the accumulations of
ages; he is the very philosopher who has put forth all his wisdom to
guard the state from the shock of those convulsions, that to his
prescient eye, were threatening then to lay all flat.
'O let him _pass_!' is the Poet's word, when the loving friends seek
to detain a little longer, the soul on whom this cruel time has done
its work,--its elected sufferer.
'O let him pass! _he hates him_
That would upon the rack of this tough world,
Stretch him out longer.'
[Tired with all these, he cries in his own behalf.]
'Tired with all these, for _restful death_ I cry.
Thou seest how this world goes. I see it _feelingly_.'
_Albany_. The weight of this sad time _we must obey_,
_Speak_ WHAT WE FEEL, _not what we ought to say_,
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.
It needs but a point, a point which the Poet could not well put
in,--one of those points which he speaks of elsewhere so
significantly, to make the unmeaning line with which this great social
Tragedy concludes, a sufficiently fitting conclusion to it;
considering, at least, the pressure under which it was written; and
the author has himself called our attention to that, as we see, even
in this little jingle of rhymes, put in apparently, only for
professional purposes, and merely to get the curtain down decently. It
is a point, which it takes the key of the play--Lord Bacon's key, of
'Times,' to put in. It wants but a comma, but then it must be a comma
in the right place, to make English of it. Plain English, unvarnished
English, but poetic in its fact, as any prophecy that Merlin was to
'The oldest hath borne most, we that are _young_
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.'
There were boys 'in England then a-bed;' nay, some of them might have
been present that day, for aught we know, on which one of the Managers
of the Surrey Theatre, the owner of the wardrobe and stage-properties,
and himself an actor, brought out with appropriate decorations and
dresses, for the benefit of his audience on the Bankside, this little
ebullition of his genius;--there were boys present then, perhaps,
whose names would become immortal with the fulfilment of that
prophecy;--there was one at Whitehall, when it was brought out there,
whose name would be for ever linked with it. 'We that are young,--the
oldest hath _borne_ most. We that are young shall never _see_ so much'
[I _see_ it feelingly],
'Shall never _see_ so much, nor live so _long_.'
But there were evils included in that tragic picture, which those who
were young then, would _not_ outlive; evils which the times that were
near with their coarse, fierce remedies, would not heal; evils which
the Seer and Leader of the Times that were far off, would himself make
over to _their_ cure;--evils in whose cure the Discoverer of the
science of Nature, and the inventor of the New Magic which is the part
operative of it, expected to be called upon for an opinion, when the
time for that extension of his science, 'crushed together and infolded
within itself in these books of Nature's learning,' should fully come.
Nothing almost sees MIRACLES _but_ MISERY, says poor Kent, in the
stocks, waiting for the 'beacon' of the morning, by whose
_comfortable_ beams, he might peruse his letter. 'I know,' he says,
''Tis from Cordelia,
Who hath most fortunately been informed
Of my obscured course, and shall find _time
From this enormous state_--seeking--TO GIVE
LOSSES THEIR REMEDIES.'
There is no attempt to demonstrate that the work here proposed as a
study, worthy the attention of the philosophical student, is not,
notwithstanding a Poem, and a Poet's gift, not to his contemporaries
only, but to his kind. What is claimed is, indeed, that it is a Poem
which, with all its overpowering theatrical effects, does, in fact,
reserve its true poetic wealth, for those who will find the springs of
its inmost philosophic purport. There is no attempt to show that this
play belongs to the category of scientific works, according to our
present limitation of the term, or that there could be found any niche
for it, on those lower platforms and compartments of the new science
of nature, which our modern works of natural science occupy.
It was inevitably a Poem. There was the essence of all Tragedy in the
purely scientific exhibition, which the purpose of it required. The
intention of the Poet to exhibit the radical idea of his plot
impressively, so as to reach the popular mind through its appeal to
the sensibilities, involved, of course, the finest series of
conjunctions of artistic effects, the most exquisite characterization,
the boldest grouping, the most startling and determined contrasts,
which the whole range of his art could furnish.
But that which is only the incident of a genuine poetic inspiration,
the effect upon the senses, which its higher appeals are sure to
involve, becomes with those delighting in, and capable of
appreciating, that sensuous effect merely, its sufficient and only
end, and even a doctrine of criticism based on this inversion will not
be wanting. But the difficulty of unlocking the great Elizabethan
poems with any such theory of Art, arises from the fact that it is not
the theory of Art, which the great Elizabethan Poets adopted, and
whether we approve of theirs or not, we must take it, such as it was,
for our torch in this exploration. As to that spontaneity, that
seizure, that Platonic divination, that poetic 'fury,' which our prose
philosopher scans in so many places so curiously, which he defines so
carefully and strictly, so broadly too, as the _poetic_ condition that
thing which he appears to admire so much, as having something a little
demoniacal in it withal, that same 'fine' thing which the Poet himself
speaks of by a term not any less questionable,--as to this poetic
inspiration, it is not necessary to claim that it is a thing with
which this Poet, the Poet of a new era, the Poet, the deliverer of an
Inductive Learning, has had himself, personally, no acquaintance. He
knows what it is. But it is a Poet who is, first of all, a man, and he
takes his humanity with him into all things. The essential human
principle is that which he takes to be the law and limit of the human
constitution. He is perfectly satisfied with 'the measure of a man,'
and he gives the preference deliberately, and on principle to the
sober and rational state in the human mind. All the elements which
enter into the human composition, all the states, normal or otherwise,
to which it is liable, have passed under his review, and this is his
conclusion; and none born of woman, ever had a better chance to look
at them, for all is alike heightened in him,--heightened to the ideal
boundary of nature, in the human form; but that which seems to be
heightened, most of all, that in which he stands preeminent and
singular in the natural history of man, would seem to be the
proportion of this heightening. It is what we have all recognized it
to be, Nature's largest, most prodigal demonstration of her capacities
in the human form, but it is, at the same time, her most excellent and
exquisite balance of composition--her most subdued and tempered work.
And the reason is, that he is not a particular and private man, and
the deficiencies and personalities of those from whom he is
abstracted, are studiously, and by method, kept out of him. For this
is the 'Will' not of one man only; it is the scientific abstract of a
philosophic union. It is a will that has a rule in art as well as
Certainly he is the very coolest Poet; and the fullest of this common
earth and its affairs, of any sage that has ever showed his head upon
it, in prose or metre. The sturdiness with which he makes good his
position, as an inhabitant, for the time being, of this terrestrial
ball, and, by the ordinance of God, subject to its laws, and liable to
its pains and penalties, is a thing which appears, to the careful
reviewer of it, on the whole, the most novel and striking feature of
this demonstration. He objects, on principle, to seizures and
possessions of all kinds. He refuses to be taken off his feet by any
kind of solicitation. He is a man who is never ashamed to have a
reason,--one that he can produce, and make intelligible to common
people, for his most exquisite proceedings; that is, if he chooses:
but, 'if reasons were plentiful as blackberries,' he is not the man to
give them on 'compulsion.' His ideas of the common mind, his notion of
the common human intelligence, or capacity for intelligence, appears
to be somewhat different from that of the other philosophers. The
common sense--the common form--is that which he is always seeking and
_identifying_ under all the differences. It is _that_ which he is
bringing out and clothing with the 'inter-tissued robe' and all the
glories which he has stripped from the extant majesty. 'Robes and
furred gowns hide all' no longer.
He is not a bard who is careful at all about keeping his singing robes
about him. He can doff them and work like a 'navvy' when he sees
reason. He is very fond of coming out with good, sober, solid prose,
in the heart of his poetry. He can rave upon occasion as well as
another. Spontaneities of all kinds have scope and verge enough in his
plot; but he always keeps an eye out, and they speak no more than is
set down for them. His Pythoness foams at the mouth too, sometimes,
and appears to have it all her own way, perhaps; but he knows what she
is about, and there is never a word in the oracle that has not
undergone his revision. He knows that Plato tells us 'it is in vain
for a sober man to knock at the floor of the Muses'; but he is one who
has discovered, scientifically, the human law; and he is ready to make
it good, on all sides, against all comers. And, though the Muses
knocked at his door, as they never had at any other, they could never
carry him away with them. They found, for once, a sober man within,
one who is not afraid to tell them, to their teeth, 'Judgment holds in
me, always, a magisterial seat;'--and, with all their celestial graces
and pretensions, he fetters them, and drags them up to that tribunal.
He superintends all his inspirations.
There never was a Poet in whom the poetic spontaneities were so
absolutely under control and mastery; and there never was one in whose
nature all the spontaneous force and faculty of genius showed itself
in such tumultuous fulness, ready to issue, at a word, in such
inexhaustible varieties of creative energy.
Of all the spirits that tend on mortal thoughts there is none to match
this so delicate and gorgeous Ariel of his,--this creature that he
keeps to put his girdles round the earth for him, that comes at a
thought, and brings in such dainty banquets, such brave pageants in
the earth or in the air; there is none other that knows so well the
spells 'to make this place Paradise.' But, for all that, he is the
merest tool,--the veriest drudge and slave. The magician's collar is
always on his neck; in his airiest sweeps he takes his chain with him.
Caliban himself is not more sternly watched and tutored; and all the
gorgeous masque has its predetermined order, its severe economy of
grace; through all the slightest minutiae of its detail, runs the
inflexible purpose, the rational _human_ purpose, the common human
sense, the common human aim.
Yes, it is a Play; but it is the play of a mind sobered with all human
learning. Yes, it is spontaneous; but it is the spontaneity of a heart
laden with human sorrow, oppressed with the burthen of the common
weal. Yes, indeed, it is a Poet's work; but it is the work of one who
consciously and deliberately recognizes, in all the variety of his
gifts, in all his natural and acquired power, under all the
disabilities of his position, the one, paramount, human law, and
essential obligation. Of 'Art,' as anything whatever, but an
instrumentality, thoroughly subdued, and subordinated to _that_ end,
of Art as anything in itself, with an independent tribunal, and law
with an ethic and ritual of its own, this inventor of the one Art,
that has for its end the relief of the human estate and the Creator's
glory, knows nothing. Of any such idolatry and magnifying of the
creature, of any such worship of the gold of the temple to the
desecration of that which sanctifieth the gold, this Art-King in all
his purple, this priest and High Pontiff of its inner mysteries
Yes, it is play; but it is not child's play, nor an _idiot's_ play,
nor the play of a 'jigging' Bacchanal, who comes out on this grave,
human scene, to insult our sober, human sense, with his mad humour,
making a Belshazzar's feast or an Antonian revel of it; a creature who
shows himself to our common human sense without _any_ human aim or
purpose, ransacking all the life of man, exploring all worlds,
pursuing the human thought to its last verge, and questioning, as with
the cry of all the race, the infinities beyond, diving to the lowest
depths of human life and human nature, and bringing up and publishing,
the before unspoken depths of human wrong and sorrow, wringing from
the hearts of those that died and made no sign, their death-buried
secrets, articulating everywhere that which before had no word--and
all for an artistic effect, for an hour's entertainment, for the
luxury of a harmonized impression, or for the mere ostentation of his
frolic, to feed his gamesome humour, to make us stare at his
unconsciousness, to show what gems he can crush in his idle cup for a
draught of pleasure, or in pure caprice and wantonness, confounding
all our notions of sense, and manliness, and human duty and respect,
with the boundless wealth and waste of his gigantic fooleries.
It is play, but let us thank God it is no such play as that; let our
common human nature rejoice that it has not been thus outraged in its
chief and chosen one, that it has not been thus disgraced with the
boundless human worthlessness of the creature on whom its choicest
gifts were lavished. It is play, indeed; but it is no such Monster,
with his idiotic stare of unconsciousness, that the opening of it will
reveal to us. Let us all thank God, and take heart again, and try to
revive those notions of human dignity and common human sense which
this story sets at nought, and see if we cannot heal that great jar in
our abused natures which this chimera of the nineteenth century makes
in it--this night-mare of modern criticism which lies with its dead
weight on all our higher art and learning--this creature that came in
on us unawares, when the interpretation of the Plays had outgrown the
Play-tradition, when '_the Play_' had outgrown '_the Player_.'
It is a play in which the manliest of human voices is heard sounding
throughout the order of it; it is a play stuffed to its fool's gibe,
with the soberest, deepest, maturest human sense; and 'the tears of
it,' as we who have tested it know, 'the tears of it are wet.' It is a
play where the choicest seats, the seats in which those who see it
_all_ must sit, are 'reserved;' and there is a price to be paid for
these: 'children and fools' will continue to have theirs for nothing.
For after so many generations of players had come and gone, there had
come at last on this human stage--on 'this great stage of fools,' as
the Poet calls it--this stage filled with 'the natural fools of
fortune,' having eyes, but seeing not--there had come to it at last a
MAN, one who was--take him _for all in all_--that; one who thought
it--for a man, enough to be truly that--one who thought he was
fulfilling his part in the universal order, in _seeking to be_
modestly and truly that; one, too, who thought it was time that the
_human_ part on the stage of this Globe Theatre should begin to be
reverently studied by man himself, and scientifically and religiously
ordered and determined through all its detail.
For it is the movement of the new time that makes this Play, and all
these Plays: it is the spirit of the newly-beginning ages of human
advancement which makes the inspiration of them; the beginning ages of
a rational, instructed--and not blind, or instinctive, or
It is such play and pastime as the prophetic spirit and leadership of
those new ages could find time and heart to make and leave to them, on
that height of vision which it was given to it to occupy. For an age
in human advancement was at last reached, on whose utmost summits men
could begin to perceive that tradition, and eyes of moonshine
speculation, and a thousand noses, and horns welked and waved like the
enridged sea, when they came to be jumbled together in one 'monster,'
did not appear to answer the purpose of human combination, or the
purpose of human life on earth; appeared, indeed to be still far, 'far
wide' of the end which human society is everywhere blindly pushing and
groping for, _en masse_.
There was a point of observation from which this fortuitous social
conjunction did not appear to the critical eye or ear to be making
just that kind of play and music which human nature--singularly
enough, considering what kind of conditions it lights on--is
constitutionally inclined to expect and demand; not that, or indeed
any perceptible approximation to a paradisaical state of things. There
_was_, indeed, a point of view--one which commanded not the political
mysteries of the time only, but the household secrets of it, and the
deeper secrets of the solitary heart of man, one which commanded alike
the palace and the hovel, to their blackest recesses--there was a
point of view from which these social agencies appeared to be making
then, in fact, whether one looked with eyes or ears, a mere diabolical
jangle, and '_fa, sol, la, mi_', of it, a demoniacal storm music; and
from that height of observation all ruinous disorders could be seen
coming out, and driving men to vice and despair, urging them to
self-destruction even, and hunting them disquietly to their graves.
'Nothing almost sees miracles but misery;' and this was the Age in
which the New Magic was invented.
It was the age in which that grand discovery was made, which the Fool
undertakes to palm off here as the fruit of his own single invention;
and, indeed, it was found that the application of it to certain
departments of human affairs was more successfully managed by this
gentleman in his motley, than by some of his brother philosophers who
attempted it. It was the age in which the questions which are inserted
here so safely in the Fool's catechism, began to be started secretly
in the philosophic chamber. It was the age in which the identical
answers which the cap and bells are made responsible for here, were
written down, but with other applications, in graver authorities. It
is the philosophical discovery of the time, which the Fool is
undertaking to translate into the vernacular, when he puts the
question, 'Canst thou tell why one's nose stands in the middle of his
face?' And we have all the Novum Organum in what he calls, in another
place, 'the boorish,' when he answers it; and all the choicest gems of
'the part operative' of the new learning have been rattling from his
rattle in everybody's path, ever since he published his digests of
that doctrine: 'Canst thou tell why one's nose stands in the middle of
his face?' 'No.' 'Why, to keep his eyes on either side of it, that
what he cannot _smell out_ he may _spy into_.' And 'all that follow
their noses are led by their eyes, but--_blind men_.' And 'the reason
why the seven stars are seven, is because they are not eight;' and the
king who makes that answer 'would have made a good--_fool_,' for it's
'a very pretty reason.' And neither times nor men should be 'old
before their time'; neither times nor men should be revered, or
clothed with authority or command in human affairs, 'till they are
_wise_.' ['Thou _sapient_ sir, sit _here_.'] And it is a mistake for a
leader of men to think that he 'has _white_ hairs in his beard, before
the _black_ ones are there.' And 'ants,' and 'snails,' and 'oysters,'
are wiser than men in their arts, and practices, and pursuits of ends.
It was the age in which it was perceived that 'to say ay and no to
everything' that a madman says, 'is _no good divinity_,' and that it
is 'the time's plague when Madmen lead the Blind;' and that, instead
of good men sitting still, like 'moral fools,' and crying out on wrong
and mischief, 'Alack, why does it so?' it would be wiser, and more
pious, too, to make use of the faculty of learning, with which the
Creator has armed Man, 'against diseases of the world,' to ascend to
the cause, and _punish_ that--punish _that_, 'ere it has done its
mischief.' It was the age in which it was discovered that 'the sequent
effect, with which nature finds itself scourged,' is not in the least
touched by any kind of reasoning 'thus and thus,' except that kind
which proceeds first by negatives, that kind which proceeds by a
method so severe that it contrives to _exclude_ everything but the
'the _cause in nature_' from its affirmation, which 'in practical
philosophy becomes _the rule_'--that is, the critical method,--which
is for men, as distinguished from the spontaneous affirmation, which
is for gods.
It is the beginning of these yet beginning Modern Ages, the ages of a
practical learning, and scientific relief to the human estate, which
this Pastime marks with its blazoned, illuminated initial. It is the
opening of the era in which a common human sense is developed, and
directed to the common-weal, which this Pastime celebrates; the
opening of the ages in which, ere all is done, the politicians who
expect mankind to entrust to them their destinies, will have to find
something better than 'glass eyes' to guide them with; in which it
will be no longer competent for those to whom mankind entrusts its
dearest interests to go on in their old stupid, conceited, heady
courses, their old, blind, ignorant courses,--stumbling, and
staggering, and groping about, and smelling their way with their own
narrow and selfish instincts, when it is the common-weal they have
taken on their shoulders;--running foul of the nature of
things--quarrelling with eternal necessities, and crying out, when the
wreck is made, 'Alack! why does it so?'
This Play, and all these plays, were meant to be pastime for ages in
which state reasons must needs be something else than 'the pleasure'
of certain individuals, 'whose disposition, all the world well knows,
will not be rubbed or stopped;' or 'the quality,' 'fiery' or
otherwise, of this or that person, no matter 'how unremoveable and
fixed' he may be 'in his own course.'
It was to the 'far off times;' and not to the 'near,' it was to the
advanced ages of the Advancement of Learning, that this Play was
dedicated by its Author. For it was the spirit of the modern ages that
inspired it. It was the new Prometheus who planned it; the more
aspiring Titan, who would bring down in his New Organum a new and more
radiant gift; it was the Benefactor and Foreseer, who would advance
the rude kind to new and more enviable approximations to the celestial
summits. He knew there would come a time, in the inevitable
advancements of that new era of scientific 'prudence' and forethought
which it was given to him to initiate, when all this sober historic
exhibition, with its fearful historic earnest, would read, indeed,
like some old fable of the rude barbaric past--some Player's play,
bent on a feast of horrors--some Poet's impossibility. And _that_--was
the Play,--that was the Plot. He knew that there would come a time
when all this tragic mirth--sporting with the edged tools of
tyranny--playing around the edge of the great axe itself--would be
indeed safe play; when his Fool could open his budget, and unroll his
bitter jests--crushed together and infolded within themselves so
long--and have a world to smile with him, and not the few who could
unfold them only. And that--that was 'the humour of it.'
Yes, with all their philosophy, these plays are Plays and Poems still.
There's no spoiling the 'tragical mirth' in them. But we are told, on
the most excellent contemporaneous authority--on the authority of one
who was in the inmost heart of all this Poet's secrets--that 'as we
often judge of the greater by the less, so the very pastimes of great
men give an honourable idea to the clear-sighted of THE SOURCE FROM
WHICH THEY SPRING.'
THE EMPIRICAL TREATMENT IN DISEASES OF THE COMMON-WEAL EXPLAINED.
Good does not necessarily succeed evil; another evil may succeed, and
a worse, as it happened with Caesar's killers, who brought the
republic to such a pass that they had reason to repent their meddling
with it.... It must be examined in what condition THE ASSAILANT
is.--_Michael de Montaigne_.
_Citizen_. I fear there will a worse one come in his place.
_Cassius_. He were no lion, were not Romans hinds.
THE DEATH OF TYRANNY; OR, THE QUESTION OF THE PREROGATIVE.
_Casca_. 'Tis Caesar that you mean: Is it _not_, Cassius?
_Cassius_. Let it be WHO IT is, for Romans _now_
Have thewes and limbs like to _their_ ancestors.
We all stand up against the _spirit_ of Caesar.
Yes, when that Royal Injunction, which rested alike upon the
Play-house, the Press, the Pulpit, and _Parliament_ itself, was still
throttling everywhere the free voice of the nation--when a single
individual could still assume to himself, or to herself, the exclusive
privilege of deliberating on all those questions which men are most
concerned in--questions which involve all their welfare, for this life
and the life to come, certainly '_the Play, the Play was the thing_.'
It was a vehicle of expression which offered incalculable facilities
for evading these restrictions. It was the only one then invented
which offered then any facilities whatever for the discussion of that
question in particular--which was already for that age the question.
And to the genius of that age, with its new _historical,
experimental_, practical, determination--with its transcendant poetic
power, nothing could be easier than to get possession of this
instrument, and to exhaust its capabilities.
For instance, if a Roman Play were to be brought out at all,--and with
that mania for classical subjects which then prevailed, what could be
more natural?--how could one object to that which, by the supposition,
was involved in it? And what but the most boundless freedoms and
audacities, on this very question, could one look for here? What, by
the supposition, could it be but one mine of poetic treason? If Brutus
and Cassius were to be allowed to come upon the stage, and discuss
their views of government, deliberately and confidentially, in the
presence of an English audience, certainly no one could ask to hear
from their lips the political doctrine then predominant in England. It
would have been a flat anachronism, to request them to keep an eye
upon the Tower in their remarks, inasmuch as all the world knew that
the corner-stone of that ancient and venerable institution had only
then just been laid by the same distinguished individual whom these
patriots were about to call to an account for his military usurpation
of a constitutional government at home.
And yet, one less versed than the author in the mystery of theatrical
effects, and their combinations--one who did not know fully what kind
of criticism a mere _Play_, composed by a professional play-wright, in
the way of his profession, for the entertainment of the spectators,
and for the sake of the pecuniary result, was likely to meet with;--or
one who did not know what kind of criticism a work, addressed so
strongly to the imagination and the feelings in any form, is likely to
meet with, might have fancied beforehand that the author was venturing
upon a somewhat delicate experiment, in producing a play like this
upon the English stage at such a crisis. One would have said
beforehand, that 'there were things in this comedy of Julius Caesar
that would never please.' It is difficult, indeed, to understand how
such a Play as this could ever have been produced in the presence of
either of those two monarchs who occupied the English throne at that
crisis in its history, already secretly conscious that its foundations
were moving, and ferociously on guard over their prerogative.
And, indeed, unless a little of that same sagacity, which was employed
so successfully in reducing the play of Pyramus and Thisbe to the
tragical capacities of Duke Theseus' court, had been put in
requisition here, instead of that dead historical silence, which the
world complains of so much, we might have been treated to some very
lively historical details in this case, corresponding to other details
which the literary history of the time exhibits, in the case of
authors who came out in an evil hour in their own names, with
precisely the same doctrines, which are taught here word for word,
with impunity; and the question as to whether this Literary Shadow,
this Name, this Veiled Prophet in the World of Letters, ever had any
flesh and blood belonging to him anywhere, (and from the tenor of his
works, one might almost fancy sometimes that that might have been the
case), this question would have come down to us experimentally and
historically settled. For most unmistakeably, the claws of the young
British lion are here, under these old Roman togas; and it became the
'masters' to consider with themselves, for there is, indeed, 'no more
fearful wild fowl living' than your lion in such circumstances; and if
he should happen to forget his part in any case, and 'roar too loud,'
it would to a dead certainty 'hang them all.'
But it was only the faint-hearted tailor who proposed to 'leave out
the killing part.' Pyramus sets aside this cowardly proposition. He
has named the obstacles to be encountered only for the sake of
magnifying the fertility of his invention in overcoming them. He has a
device to make all even. 'Write me a prologue,' he says, 'and let the
prologue seem to say, we will do no harm with our _swords_; and for
the more assurance, tell them that _I, Pyramus, am not_ Pyramus, but
_Bottom, the Weaver; that will put them out of fear_.' And as to the
lion, there must not only be 'another prologue, to tell that he is not
a lion,' but 'you must name his name, and half his face must be seen
through the lion's neck, and he himself must speak through, saying
thus, or to the same _defect_, Ladies, or fair ladies, my life for
yours. If you think I come hither as a lion, it were pity of my life.'
To such devices, in good earnest, were those compelled to resort who
ventured upon the ticklish experiment of presenting heroic
entertainments for king's palaces, where 'hanging was the word' in
case of a fright; but, with a genius like this behind the scenes, so
fertile in invention, so various in gifts, who could aggravate his
voice so effectually, giving you one moment the pitch of 'the sucking
dove,' or 'roaring you like any nightingale,' and the next, 'the
Hercle's vein,'--with a genius who knew how to play, not 'the tyrant's
part only,' but 'the lover's, which is more condoling,' and whose
suggestion that the audience should look to their eyes in that case,
was by no means a superfluous one; with a genius who had all passions
at his command, who could drown, at his pleasure, the sharp critic's
eye, or blind it with showers of pity, or 'make it water with the
merriest tears, that the passion of loud laughter ever shed,' with
such resources, prince's edicts could be laughed to scorn. It was vain
to forbid such an one, to meddle with anything that was, or had been,
or could be.
But does any one say--'To what purpose,' if the end were concealed so
effectually? And does any one suppose, because no faintest suspicion
of the true purpose of this play, and of all these plays, has from
that hour to this, apparently ever crossed the English mind, at home
or abroad, though no suspicion of the existence of any purpose in them
beyond that of putting the author in easy circumstances, appears as
yet to have occurred to any one,--does any one suppose that this play,
and all these plays, have on that account, failed of their purpose;
and that they have not been all this time, steadily accomplishing it?
Who will undertake to estimate, for instance, the philosophical,
educational influence of this single Play, on every boy who has
spouted extracts from it, from the author's time to ours, from the
palaces of England, to the log school-house in the back-woods of
But suppose now, instead of being the aimless, spontaneous, miraculous
product of a stupid, 'rude mechanical' bent on producing something
which should please the eye, and flatter the prejudices of royalty,
and perfectly ignorant of the nature of that which he had
produced;--suppose that instead of appearing as the work of
Starveling, and Snout, and Nick Bottom, the Weaver, or any person of
that grade and calibre, that this play had appeared at the time, as
the work of an English scholar, as most assuredly it was, profoundly
versed in the history of states in general, as well as in the history
of the English state in particular, profoundly versed in the history
of nature in general, as well as in the history of human nature in
particular. Suppose, for instance, it had appeared as the work of an
English statesman, already suspected of liberal opinions, but
stedfastly bent for some reason or other, on advancement at court,
with his eye still intently fixed, however secretly, on those
insidious changes that were then in progress in the state, who knew
perfectly well what crisis that ship of state was steering for;
_query_, whether some of the passages here quoted would have tended to
that 'advancement' he '_lacked_.' Suppose that instead of Julius
Caesar, 'looking through the lion's neck,' and gracefully rejecting
the offered prostrations, it had been the English courtier, condemned
to these degrading personal submissions, who 'roared you out,' on his
own account, after this fashion. Imagine a good sturdy English
audience returning the sentiment, thundering their applause at this
and other passages here quoted, in the presence of a Tudor or a
One might safely conclude, even if the date had not been otherwise
settled, that anything so offensive as this never was produced in the
presence of Queen Elizabeth. King James might be flattered into
swallowing even such treasonable stuff as this; but in her time, the
poor lion was compelled to aggravate his voice after another fashion.
Nothing much above the sucking-dove pitch, could be ventured on when
her quick ears were present. He 'roared you' indeed, all through her
part of the Elizabethan time; but it was like any nightingale. The
clash and clang of these Roman Plays were for the less sensitive and
more learned Stuart.
_Metellus Cimber_. Most high, most mighty,
And most puissant Caesar;
Metellus Cimber throws before thy seat
An humble heart:--[_Kneeling_.]
_Caesar_. I must prevent thee, Cimber.
_These couchings and these lowly courtesies:
Might_ fire the blood of ordinary men;
AND TURN PRE-ORDINANCE, and FIRST DECREE,
INTO THE LAW OF CHILDREN.
Be not fond
To think that CAESAR bears _such_ REBEL _blood_,
That will be thawed from the _true quality_,
With that which melteth FOOLS. (?) I mean, _sweet words,
Low, crooked curtsies_, and _base spaniel fawning.
Thy brother_ by _decree_ is banished;
If thou dost bend, and pray, and fawn for _him,
I spurn thee like a cur_, out of my way.
Know CAESAR DOTH NOT WRONG.
To appreciate this, one must recall not merely the humiliating
personal prostrations which the ceremonial of the English Court
required then, but that base prostration of truth and duty and honour,
under the feet of vanity and will and passion, which they symbolized.
Thus far _Caesar_, but the subject's views on this point, as here set
forth, are scarcely less explicit, but then it is a _Roman_ subject
who speaks, and the Roman costume and features, look savingly through
the lion's neck.
One of the radical technicalities of that new philosophy of the human
nature which permeates all this historical exhibition, comes in here,
however; and it is one which must be mastered before any of these
plays can be really read. The radical point in the new philosophy, as
it applies to the human nature in particular, is the pivot on which
all turns here,--here as elsewhere in the writings of this
school,--the distinction of 'the double self,' the distinction between
the particular and private nature, with its unenlightened instincts of
passion, humour, will, caprice,--that self which is changeful, at war
with itself, self-inconsistent, and, therefore, truly, no SELF,--since
the true self is the principle of identity and immutability,--the
distinction between that 'private' _nature_ when it is developed
instinctively as 'selfishness,' and that rational immutable self which
is constitutionally present though latent, in all men, and one in them
all; that noble _special_ human form which embraces and reconciles in
its intention, the private good with the good of that worthier whole
whereof we are individually parts and members; 'this is the
distinction on which all turns here.' For this philosophy refuses, on
philosophical grounds, to accept this low, instinctive private nature,
in any dressing up of accidental power as the god of its idolatry, in
place of that 'divine or angelical nature, which is the perfection of
the human form,' and the true sovereignty. Obedience to that
nature,--'the approach to, or assumption of,' that makes, in this
philosophy, the end of the human endeavour, 'and the error and false
imitation of that good, is that which is the tempest of the human
But let us hear the passionate Cassius, who is full of individualities
himself, and ready to tyrannize with them, but somehow, as it would
seem, not fond of submitting to the 'single self' in others.
'Well, honour _is_ the subject of my story.--
I can not tell what you, and other men,
Think of this life; but for my _single self_,
I had as lief not BE, as live to be
In awe of such a thing _as I myself_.
I was _born_ free as Caesar; so were you.
We both have fed as well: and we can both
Endure the winter's cold as well as he.'--
And the proof of this personal equality is then given; and it is
precisely the one which Lear produces, 'When the wind made me chatter,
there I found them,--there I smelt them out.'--
'For once upon a raw and gusty day,
The troubled Tiber chafing with her shores, etc.
* * * * *
--Caesar cried, Help me, Cassius, or I sink.
--And this man
Is now become a god, and Cassius is
A wretched creature, and _must bend his body_,
If Caesar carelessly but nod on him.
He had a fever when he was in Spain,
And when the fit was on him--_I did mark
How he did shake_: 'tis true, this god did shake.'
[This was a pretty fellow to have about a king's privacy taking notes
of this sort on his tablets. Among 'those saw and forms and pressures
past, which youth and observatior copied there,' all that part
reserved for _Caesar_ and his history, appears to have escaped the
sponge in some way.
'They told me I was every thing, 'tis a lie! I am not _ague_
His coward lips did from their colour fly.
'And that same _eye whose bend doth awe the world,
Did lose his lustre!--Julius Caesar_.
'--When I do stare see how _the subject_ quakes.--'_Lear_.]
I did hear him groan:
Aye, and that tongue of his _that bade the Romans
Mark him, and write his speeches in their books_.
Alas! it cried, '_Give me some drink_, Titinius,'
As a sick girl. Ye gods, it doth amaze me,
A man of _such a feeble temper should
So get the start of the majestic world_,
And bear the palm alone.
_Brutus_. Another _general shout_!
I do believe that these applauses are
For some new honours that are heap'd on Caesar.
_Cassius_. Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world,
Like a Colossus: and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs; and peep about
To find ourselves DISHONOURABLE GRAVES.
Men, at _some time_, are _masters of their fates,
The fault, dear Brutus_, IS NOT _in our_ STARS,
But in ourselves that we are underlings.
_Brutus_ and _Caesar_: What should be in that _Caesar_?
* * * * *
Now in the names of all the gods at once,
_Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed
That he is grown so great_? AGE, thou art shamed:
_Rome, thou_ hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When went there by an age, since the great flood,
But it was famed with more than with _One man_?
When could they say, till now, that talked of Rome,
That her wide walls encompass'd but _One man_?
Now is it Home indeed, and room enough,
When there is in it but one only man.
[When there is in it (truly) but _One only_,--MAN].
O! you and I have heard our fathers say,
There _was a Brutus once_, that would have brook'd
The eternal devil to keep his state in Rome,
As easily as _a king_.
_Brutus_. What you have said,
I will consider;--what you have to say
I will with patience hear: and _find a time_
Both _meet to hear, and answer such high things_.
Till then, my noble friend, CHEW UPON THIS;--
Brutus had rather be a _villager_,
Than to _repute_ himself a SON of ROME.
Under these hard conditions, as _this_ time
Is like to lay upon us. [Chew upon this].
_Cassius_. I am glad that my weak words
Have struck but thus much show of fire from Brutus.
[Re-enter Caesar and his train.]
_Brutus_. The games are done, and Caesar is returning.
_Cassius_. As they pass by, pluck Casca by the sleeve;
And he will, after his sour fashion, tell you
What hath proceeded worthy note to-day.
_Brutus_. I will do so:--But look you, Cassius,
_The angry spot doth glow on Caesar's brow.
And all the rest look like a chidden train_:
Calphurnia's cheek is pale; and _Cicero_
Looks with such ferret and such fiery eyes,
As we have seen him in the Capitol,
Being crossed in conference by some senators.
_Cassius_. Casca will tell us what the matter is.
_Caesar_. Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o' nights:
Yond' Cassius has a lean and hungry look.
_He thinks too much: such men are dangerous_.
_Antony_. Fear him not, Caesar; he's not dangerous:
He is a noble Roman, and well given.
_Caesar_. Would he were fatter:--But I fear him not;
Yet if my name were liable to fear,
I do not know the man I should avoid
So soon as that spare Cassius. _He reads much:
He is a great observer, and he looks
Quite through the deeds of men: he loves no plays,
As thou dost Antony_; he hears no music:
Seldom he smiles; and smiles _in such a sort,
As if he mocked himself, and scorned his spirit
That could be moved to smile at any thing_.
Such men as he are never at heart's ease,
Whiles they behold a _greater than themselves_;
And therefore are they very dangerous,
I rather tell thee _what is to be feared_,
Than what _I_ fear, FOR ALWAYS I AM CAESAR.
_Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf_,
And tell me _truly_ what thou think'st of him.
[_Exeunt Caesar and his train. Casca stays behind_.]
_Casca_. You pulled me by the _cloak_: would you speak with me?
_Brutus_. Ay, Casca, tell us what hath chanced to-day,
That Caesar looks so sad.
_Casca_. Why you were with him. Were you not?
_Brutus_. I should not then ask Casca what hath chanced.
_Casca_. Why there was a crown offered him: and, being offered, he
put it by with the back of his hand, thus; and then the people fell
_Brutus_. What was the second noise for?
_Casca_. Why for that too.
_Brutus_. They shouted thrice. What was the last cry for?
_Casca_. Why for that too.
_Brutus_. Was the crown offered him thrice?
_Casca_. Ay marry was't. And he put it by thrice, every time gentler
than the other; and at every putting by, mine honest neighbours
_Cassius_. _Who offered him the crown_?
_Casca_. Why, Antony.
_Brutus_. Tell us the manner of it, gentle Casca.
_Casca_. I can as well be _hanged_ as tell the manner of it. It was
mere foolery. I did not mark it. I saw _Mark Antony_ offer him a
crown; yet 't was not a crown;--neither 't was one of these
coronets;--and, as I told you, he put it by once; but, for all
that, to my thinking, he would fain have had it. Then he offered it
to him again; then he put it by again: but, to my thinking, he was
very both to lay his fingers off it. And then he offered it the
third time; he put it the third time by; and still, as he refused
it, the rabblement hooted, and clapped their chapped hands, and
threw up their sweaty night caps, and uttered such a deal of
stinking breath, because Caesar refused the crown, that it had
almost choked Caesar; for he swooned and fell down at it: and, for
mine own part, I durst not laugh, for fear of opening my lips and
receiving the bad air.
_Cassius_. But soft, I pray you: WHAT? DID CAESAR SWOON?
_Casca_. _He fell down in the market-place, and foamed at mouth,
and was speechless_.
_Brutus_. 'Tis very like; he hath the falling sickness.
_Cassius_. No, Caesar hath it not; but you, and I,
And honest Casca, _we have the falling sickness_.
_Casca_. _I know not what you mean by that_: but I am sure, Caesar
fell down. If the _tag-rag people_ did not clap him and hiss him,
_according as he pleased and displeased them_, as they use to do
the Players in the theatre, I am no true man.
_Brutus_. What said he, when he came unto himself.
_Casca_. Marry, before he fell down, when he perceived the _common
herd_ was glad when he refused the crown, he plucked me ope his
doublet, and offered them his throat to cut.--An I had been a man
of any occupation, if I would not have taken him at a word; I would
I might go to hell among the rogues: and so he fell. When he came
to himself again, he said, if he had done or said anything amiss,
he desired their worships to think it was _his infirmity_. Three or
four wenches, where I stood, cried, 'Alas, good soul!'--and forgave
him with all their hearts: But there's no heed to be taken of
them; _if Caesar had stabbed their mothers, they would have done no
_Brutus_. And after that, he came thus sad away?
_Cassius_. Did _Cicero say anything_?
_Casca_. Ay, _he spoke Greek_.
_Cassius_. To what effect?
_Casca_. _Nay, an I tell you that, I'll ne'er look you i' the face
again. But those that understood him, smiled at one another, and
shook their heads_: but for mine own part, it was _Greek to me_. I
could tell you more news, too: Marullus and Flavius, for _pulling
scarfs off Caesar's images, are put to silence_. Fare you well.
There was more foolery yet, if I could remember it.
Brutus says of Casca, when he is gone, 'He was quick mettle _when he
went to school_'; and Cassius replies, '_So he is now_--however he
puts on this _tardy form_. This rudeness is a sauce to his good wit,
which gives men stomach _to digest_ his words with better appetite.'
'_And so it_ is,' Brutus returns;--and so it is, indeed, as any one
may perceive, who will take the pains to bestow upon these passages
the attention which the author's own criticism bespeaks for them.
To the ear of such an one, the roar of the blank verse of Cassius is
still here, subdued, indeed, but continued, through all the humour of
this comic prose.
But it is Brutus who must lend to the Poet the sanction of his name
and popularity, when he would strike home at last to the heart of his
subject. Brutus, however, is not yet fully won: and, in order to
secure him, Cassius will this night throw in at his window, '_in
several hands--as if they came from several citizens_--writings, in
which, OBSCURELY, CAESAR'S AMBITION SHALL BE GLANCED AT.' And, 'After
this,' he says,--
'Let Caesar seat him sure,
For we will shake him, or worse days endure.'
But in the interval, that night of wild tragic splendour must come,
with its thunder-bolts and showers of fire, and unnatural horror. For
these elements have a true part to perform here, as in Lear and other
plays; they come in, not merely as subsidiary to the 'artistic
effect'--not merely because their wild Titanic play forms an imposing
harmonious accompaniment to the play of the human passions and their
'wildness'--but as a grand scientific exhibition of the element which
the Poet is pursuing under all its Protean forms--as a most palpable
and effective exhibition to the sense of that identical thing against
which he has raised his eternal standard of revolt, refusing to own,
under any name, its mastery.
But one can hear, in that wild lurid night, in the streets of Rome,
amid the cross blue lightnings, what could not have been whispered in
the streets of England then, or spoken in the ear in closets.
_Cicero_. [Encountering Casca in the street, with his sword drawn.]
Good-even, Casca; brought you Caesar home?
Why are you breathless? and why stare you so?
_Casca_. Are _you_ not moved, _when all the sway of earth
Shakes like a thing unfirm_? O Cicero,
I have seen tempests, when the _scolding winds_
Have rived the _knotty oaks_; and I have seen
The _ambitious ocean swell, and rage and foam_,
To be exalted with the threatening clouds;
But never till to-night, never till now,
Did I go through a tempest dropping fire.
Either there is a _civil strife in heaven_;
Or else the world, too saucy with the gods,
Incenses them to send destruction.
But the night has had other spectacles, it seems, which, to his eye,
appeared to have some relation to the coming struggle; in answer to
Cicero's '_Why_, saw you anything more wonderful?' Thus he describes
'_A common slave,--you know him, well by sight_,
Held up his _left hand_, which did flame and burn
_Like twenty torches join'd.
Against the Capitol_ I met a lion,
Who glared upon me, and went _surly by_.'
[And he had seen, 'drawn on a head,']
'A hundred ghastly _women,
Transformed with their fears_; who swore they saw
Men, all in fire, walk up and down the streets.
And, yesterday, the _bird_ of _night_ did sit,
Even _at noon-day, upon the market-place_,
Hooting, and shrieking.'
An ominous circumstance,--that last. A portent sure as fate. When such
things begin to appear, 'men need not go to heaven to predict imminent
Cicero concedes that 'it is indeed a strange disposed time?' and
inserts the statement that 'men may construe things after _their_
fashion, clean from the purpose of the things themselves.' But this is
too disturbed a sky for _him_ to walk in, so exit Cicero, and enter
one of another kind of mettle, who thinks 'the night a very pleasant
one to honest men;' who boasts that he has been walking about the
streets 'unbraced, baring his bosom to the thunder stone,' and playing
with 'the cross blue lightning;' and when Casca reproves him for this
temerity, he replies,
'You are dull, Casca, and those _sparks of life_
That should be in a Roman, you do want,
Or else you use not.'
For as to these extraordinary phenomena in nature, he says, 'If you
would consider the true cause
Why all these things change, from their _ordinance_,
Their _natures_ and _fore-formed faculties_,
To _monstrous_ quality; why, you shall find,
That heaven hath _infused_ them with these spirits,
To make them instruments of fear, and warning,
Unto _some_ MONSTROUS STATE.
Now could _I_, Casca,
Name to _thee_ a man _most like this dreadful night_;
That thunders, lightens, opens graves, and roars
As doth the lion in the Capitol:
_A man no mightier than thyself_, or _me_,
_In personal action_; yet _prodigious grown_,
And _fearful_, as these _strange eruptions are_.
_Casca_. 'Tis _Caesar_ that you mean: Is it not, Cassius?
_Cassius_. LET IT BE WHO IT is: for Romans _now_
Have _thewes_ and _limbs_ like to their ancestors;
But, woe the while! our fathers' _minds_ are dead,
And we are govern'd with our mothers' spirits;
Our yoke and sufferance shows us womanish.
_Casca_. Indeed, they say, the senators to-morrow
Mean to establish Caesar as a king.
And he shall wear his crown by sea, and land,
In every place, save here in Italy.
_Cassius_. I know where I will wear this dagger then;
Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius:
Therein, ye gods, you make the weak most strong;
Therein, ye gods, you tyrants do defeat:
Nor STONY TOWER, nor walls of beaten brass,
Nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron,
Can be _retentive to the strength of spirit_.
If I know this, know all the world besides,
That part of tyranny, that _I_ do bear,
_I_ can shake off at pleasure.
_Casca_. So can _I_;
So every bondman _in his own hand bears_
The power to cancel his captivity.
_Cassius_. _And_ why _should Caesar be a tyrant_ then?
Poor man! I know, _he would not be a wolf,
But that he sees the Romans are but sheep
He were no lion, were not Romans hinds_.
Those that with haste will make a mighty fire,
Begin it with weak straws: _What trash is Rome,
What rubbish, and what offal, when it serves
for the base matter to illuminate
So vile a thing as Caesar_? But, O grief!
_Where_ hast thou led me? _I_ perhaps, _speak this_
BEFORE A WILLING BONDMAN: But I am arm'd
And dangers are to me indifferent.
_Casca_. You speak to Casca; and to such a man,
That is no fleering tell-tale. Hold my hand:
_Be factious for redress of all these griefs_:
And _I will set this foot of mine as far,
As who goes farthest_.
_Cassius_. There's a bargain made.
This is sufficiently explicit, an unprejudiced listener would be
inclined to say--indeed, it is difficult to conceive how any more
positively instructive exhibition of the subject, could well have been
made. Certainly no one can deny that this fact of the personal
helplessness, the physical weakness of those in whom this arbitrary
power over the liberties and lives of others is vested, seems for some
reason or other to have taken strong possession of the Poet's
imagination. For how else, otherwise should he reproduce it so often,
so elaborately under such a variety of forms?--with such a
stedfastness and pertinacity of purpose?
The fact that the power which makes these personalities so
'prodigious,' so 'monstrous,' overshadowing the world, '_shaming the
Age_' with their 'colossal' individualities, no matter what new light,
what new gifts of healing for its ills, that age has been endowed
with, levelling all to their will, contracting all to the limit of
their stinted nature, making of all its glories but 'rubbish, offal to
illuminate their vileness,'--the fact that the power which enables
creatures like these, to convulse nations with their whims, and deluge
them with blood, at their pleasure,--which puts the lives and
liberties of the noblest, always most obnoxious to them, under their
heel--the fact that this power resides after all, _not in these
persons themselves_,--that they are utterly helpless, pitiful,
contemptible, in themselves; but that it exists in the 'thewes and
limbs' of those who are content to be absorbed in their personality,
who are content to make muscles for them, in those who are content to
he mere machines for the 'only one man's' will and passion to operate
with,--the fact that this so fearful power lies all in the consent of
those who suffer from it, is the fact which this Poet wishes to be
permitted to communicate, and which he will communicate in one form or
another, to those whom it concerns to know it.
It is a fact, which he is not content merely to state, however, in so
many words, and so have done with it. He will impress it on the
imagination with all kinds of vivid representation. He will exhaust
the splendours of his Art in uttering it. He will leave a statement on
this subject, profoundly philosophical, but one that all the world
will be able to comprehend eventually, one that the world will never
be able to unlearn.
The single individual helplessness of the man whom the multitude, in
this case, were ready to arm with unlimited power over their own
welfare--that physical weakness, already so strenuously insisted on by
Cassius, at last attains its climax in the representation, when, in
the midst of his haughtiest display of will and personal authority,
stricken by the hands of the men he scorned, by the hand of one 'he
had just spurned like a cur out of his path,' he falls at the foot of
Pompey's statue--or, rather, 'when at the base of Pompey's statue he
lies along'--amid all the noise, and tumult, and rushing action of the
scene that follows--through all its protracted arrangements, its
speeches, and ceremonials--not unmarked, indeed,--the centre of all
eyes,--but, mute, motionless, a thing of pity, 'A PIECE OF BLEEDING
That helpless cry in the Tiber, 'Save me, Cassius, or I sink!'--that
feeble cry from the sick man's bed in Spain, 'Give me some drink,
Titinius!'--and all that pitiful display of weakness, moral and
physical, at the would-be coronation, which Casca's report conveys so
unsparingly--the falling down in the street speechless, which Cassius
emphasises with his scornful '_What? did_ CAESAR SWOON?'--all this
makes but a part of the exhibition, which the lamentations of Mark
'O mighty Caesar, dost thou lie so low?
Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,
Shrunk to _this little measure_?'
_This_? and 'the eye' of the spectator, more learned than 'his ear,'
follows the speaker's eye, and measures it.
'_Fare thee well_.
But yesterday the word of Caesar might
Have stood against the world: now lies he _there_.
And _none so poor, to do him reverence_.'
The Poet's tone breaks through Mark Antony's; the Poet's finger
points, '_now lies he there'--there_!
That form which 'lies there,' with its mute eloquence speaking this
Poet's word, is what he calls 'a Transient Hieroglyphic,' which makes,
he says, 'a deeper impression on minds of a certain order, than the
language of arbitrary signs;' and his 'delivery' on the most important
questions will be found, upon examination, to derive its principal
emphasis from a running text in this hand. '_For_, in such business,'
he says, '_action_ is eloquence, and the eyes of the ignorant more
_learned_ than the ears.'
Or, as he puts it in another place: 'What is sensible always strikes
the memory more strongly, and sooner _impresses_ itself, than what is
intellectual. Thus the memory of _brutes_ is excited by sensible, but
not by intellectual things. And therefore it is easier to retain the
image of a _sportsman hunting_, than of the corresponding notion of
_invention_--of an apothecary ranging his boxes, than of the
corresponding notion of _disposition_--of an orator making a speech,
than of the term Eloquence--or _a boy repeating verses_, than the term
_Memory_--_or_ of A PLAYER acting his part, than the corresponding
So, also, '_Tom o' Bedlam_' was a better word for 'houseless misery,'
than all the king's prayer, good as it was, about 'houseless heads,
and unfed sides,' in general, and 'looped, and windowed raggedness.'
'We construct,' says this author, in another place--rejecting the
ordinary history as not suitable for scientific purposes, because it
is 'varied, and diffusive, and confounds and disturbs the
understanding, unless it be fixed and exhibited in due order'--we
construct 'tables and _combinations_ of _instances_, upon such a plan
and in such order, that the understanding be enabled to act upon
_I'll_ meet thee at Phillippi.
In Julius Caesar, the most splendid and magnanimous representative of
arbitrary power is selected--'the foremost man of all the
world,'--even by the concession of those who condemn him to death; so
that here it is the mere abstract question as to the expediency and
propriety of permitting _any one man_ to impose his individual will on
the nation. Whatever personalities are involved in the question
_here_--with Brutus, at least--tend to bias the decision in his
favour. For so he tells us, as with agitated step he walks his orchard
on that wild night which succeeds his conference with Cassius,
revolving his part, and reading, by the light of the exhalations
whizzing in the air, the papers that have been found thrown in at his
'It must be by his death: and, _for my part_,
I know _no personal cause_ to spurn at him,
BUT FOR THE GENERAL. He would be crown'd:--
How _that might change his nature, there's the question.
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder_;
And that _craves wary walking_. Crown him? That;--
And then, _I grant_, we put a sting in him,
That _at his will_ he may do danger with.
The abuse of greatness is, when it disjoins
_Remorse from power_: And, to speak truth of _Caesar_,
I have not known when _his affections_ sway'd
More than his _reason_. But 't is a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber upward turns his face:
But when he once attains _the utmost round_,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend: So Caesar may;
Then, lest he may, PREVENT. And, since the quarrel,
Will bear no colour for the thing he is,
Fashion it thus; that _what he is, augmented_,
Would run to _these, and these extremities_:
And _therefore_ think him as a serpent's egg,
Which, _hatch'd_, would, AS HIS KIND, grow mischievous;
AND KILL HIM IN THE SHELL.'
Pretty sentiments these, to set before a king already engaged in so
critical a contest with his subjects; pleasant entertainment, one
would say, for the representative of a monarchy that had contrived to
wake the sleeping Brutus in its dominions,--that was preparing, even
then, for its own death-struggle on this very question, which _this_
Brutus searches to its core so untenderly.
'Have you heard the argument?' says the 'bloat king' in Hamlet. 'Is
there no offence in it?'
Now, let the reader suppose, for one instant, that this work had been
produced from the outset openly, for what any reader of common sense
will perceive it to be, with all its fire, an elaborate, scholarly
composition, the product of the profoundest philosophic invention, the
fruit of the ripest scholarship of the age;--let him suppose, for
argument's sake, that it had been produced for what it is, the work of
a scholar, and a statesman, and a courtier,--a statesman already
jealously watched, or already, perhaps, in deadly collision with this
very power he is defining here so largely, and tracking to its
ultimate scientific comprehensions;--and then let the reader imagine,
if he can, Elizabeth or James, but especially Elizabeth, listening
entranced to such passages as the one last quoted, with an audience
disposed to make points of some of the 'choice Italian' lines in it.
Does not all the world know that scholars, men of reverence, men of
world-wide renown, men of every accomplishment, were tortured, and
mutilated, and hung, and beheaded, in both these two reigns, for
writings wherein Caesar's ambition was infinitely more obscurely
hinted at--writings unspeakably less offensive to majesty than this?
But, then, a Play was a Play, and old Romans would be Romans; there
was, notoriously, no royal way of managing them; and if kings would
have tragical mirth out of them, they must take their treason in good
part, and make themselves as merry with it as they could. The poor
Poet was, of course, no more responsible for these men than Chaucer
was for his pilgrims. He but reported them.
And besides, in that broad, many-sided view of the subject which the
author's evolution of it from the root involves,--in that pursuit of
tyranny in essence through all its disguises,--other exhibitions of it
were involved, which might seem, to the careless eye, purposely
designed to counteract the effect of the views above quoted.
The fact that mere arbitrary will, that the individual humour and
bias, is incapable of furnishing a _rule_ of _action_ anywhere,--the
fact that mere will, or blind passion, whether in the _One_, or the
_Few_, or the _Many_, should have no part, above all, in the business
of the STATE,--should lend no colour or bias to its
administration,--the fact that 'the general good,' 'the common weal,'
which is justice, and reason, and humanity,--the 'ONE ONLY
MAN,'--should, in some way, under some form or other, get to the head
of that and _rule_, this is all which the Poet will contend for.
But, alas, HOW? The unspeakable difficulties in the way of the
solution of this problem,--the difficulties which the radical bias in
the individual human nature, even under its noblest forms,
creates,--the difficulties which the ignorance, and stupidity, and
passion of the multitude created then, and still create, appear here
without _any mitigation_. They are studiously brought out in their
boldest colours. There's no attempt to shade them down. They make,
indeed, the TRAGEDY.
And it is this general impartial treatment of his subjects which makes
this author's writings, with all their boldness, generally, so safe;
for it seems to leave him without any bias for any person or any
party--without any _opinion_ on any topic; for his truth embraces and
resolves all partial views, and is as broad as nature's own.
And how could he better neutralise the effect of these patriotic
speeches, and prove his loyalty in the face of them, than to show as
he does, most vigorously and effectively, that these patriots
themselves, so rebellious to tyranny, so opposed to the one-man power
in others, so determined to die, rather than submit to the imposition
of the humours of any man, instead of law and justice,--were
themselves but men, and were as full of will and humours, and as ready
to tyrannise with them, too, upon occasion, as Caesar himself; and
were no more fit to be trusted with absolute power than he was, nor,
in fact, half so fit.