Part 2 out of 7
man and a great wit, and yet so as to give a vivid representation of a
veritable fool,--'hic labor, hoc opus est'. A drunken constable is not
uncommon, nor hard to draw; but see and examine what goes to make up a
3. Keeping at all times in the high road of life. Shakspeare has no
innocent adulteries, no interesting incests, no virtuous vice;--he never
renders that amiable which religion and reason alike teach us to detest,
or clothes impurity in the garb of virtue, like Beaumont and Fletcher,
the Kotzebues of the day. Shakspeare's fathers are roused by
ingratitude, his husbands stung by unfaithfulness; in him, in short, the
affections are wounded in those points in which all may, nay, must,
feel. Let the morality of Shakspeare be contrasted with that of the
writers of his own, or the succeeding, age, or of those of the present
day, who boast their superiority in this respect. No one can dispute
that the result of such a comparison is altogether in favour of
Shakspeare;--even the letters of women of high rank in his age were
often coarser than his writings. If he occasionally disgusts a keen
sense of delicacy, he never injures the mind; he neither excites, nor
flatters, passion, in order to degrade the subject of it; he does not
use the faulty thing for a faulty purpose, nor carries on warfare
against virtue, by causing wickedness to appear as no wickedness,
through the medium of a morbid sympathy with the unfortunate. In
Shakspeare vice never walks as in twilight; nothing is purposely out of
its place;--he inverts not the order of nature and propriety,--does not
make every magistrate a drunkard or glutton, nor every poor man meek,
humane, and temperate; he has no benevolent butchers, nor any
4. Independence of the dramatic interest on the plot. The interest in
the plot is always in fact on account of the characters, not 'vice
versa', as in almost all other writers; the plot is a mere canvass and
no more. Hence arises the true justification of the same stratagem being
used in regard to Benedict and Beatrice,--the vanity in each being
alike. Take away from the Much Ado About Nothing all that which is not
indispensable to the plot, either as having little to do with it, or, at
best, like Dogberry and his comrades, forced into the service, when any
other less ingeniously absurd watchmen and night-constables would have
answered the mere necessities of the action;--take away Benedict,
Beatrice, Dogberry, and the reaction of the former on the character of
Hero,--and what will remain? In other writers the main agent of the plot
is always the prominent character; in Shakspeare it is so, or is not so,
as the character is in itself calculated, or not calculated, to form the
plot. Don John is the main-spring of the plot of this play; but he is
merely shown and then withdrawn.
5. Independence of the interest on the story as the ground-work of the
plot. Hence Shakspeare never took the trouble of inventing stories. It
was enough for him to select from those that had been already invented
or recorded such as had one or other, or both, of two recommendations,
namely, suitableness to his particular purpose, and their being parts of
popular tradition,--names of which we had often heard, and of their
fortunes, and as to which all we wanted was, to see the man himself. So
it is just the man himself, the Lear, the Shylock, the Richard, that
Shakspeare makes us for the first time acquainted with. Omit the first
scene in Lear, and yet every thing will remain; so the first and second
scenes in the Merchant of Venice. Indeed it is universally true.
6. Interfusion of the lyrical--that which in its very essence is
poetical--not only with the dramatic, as in the plays of Metastasio,
where at the end of the scene comes the 'aria' as the 'exit' speech of
the character, but also in and through the dramatic. Songs in Shakspeare
are introduced as songs only, just as songs are in real life,
beautifully as some of them are characteristic of the person who has
sung or called for them, as Desdemona's 'Willow,' and Ophelia's wild
snatches, and the sweet carollings in As You Like It. But the whole of
the Midsummer Night's Dream is one continued specimen of the dramatized
lyrical. And observe how exquisitely the dramatic of Hotspur;--
Marry, and I'm glad on't with all my heart;
I had rather be a kitten and cry--mew, &c.
melts away into the lyric of Mortimer;--
I understand thy looks: that pretty Welsh
Which thou pourest down from these swelling heavens,
I am too perfect in, &c.
Henry IV. part i. act iii. sc. i.
7. The characters of the 'dramatis personae', like those in real life,
are to be inferred by the reader;--they are not told to him. And it is
well worth remarking that Shakspeare's characters, like those in real
life, are very commonly misunderstood, and almost always understood by
different persons in different ways. The causes are the same in either
case. If you take only what the friends of the character say, you may be
deceived, and still more so, if that which his enemies say; nay, even
the character himself sees himself through the medium of his character,
and not exactly as he is. Take all together, not omitting a shrewd hint
from the clown or the fool, and perhaps your impression will be right;
and you may know whether you have in fact discovered the poet's own
idea, by all the speeches receiving light from it, and attesting its
reality by reflecting it.
Lastly, in Shakspeare the heterogeneous is united, as it is in nature.
You must not suppose a pressure or passion always acting on or in the
character;--passion in Shakspeare is that by which the individual is
distinguished from others, not that which makes a different kind of him.
Shakspeare followed the main march of the human affections. He entered
into no analysis of the passions or faiths of men, but assured himself
that such and such passions and faiths were grounded in our common
nature, and not in the mere accidents of ignorance or disease. This is
an important consideration, and constitutes our Shakspeare the morning
star, the guide and the pioneer, of true philosophy.
[Footnote 1: For the most part communicated by Mr. Justice Coleridge.
[Footnote 2: AEsch. Eumen. v. 230-239. 'Notandum est, scenam jam Athenas
translatam sic institui, ut primo Orestes solus conspiciatur in templo
Minerva: supplex ejus simulacrum venerans; paulo post autem eum
consequantur Eumenides, &c.' Schiitz's note. The recessions of the
chorus were termed 'peravaoraneu'. There is another instance in the
Ajax, v. 814. Ed.]
ORDER OF SHAKSPEARE'S PLAYS.
Various attempts have been made to arrange the plays of Shakspeare, each
according to its priority in time, by proofs derived from external
documents. How unsuccessful these attempts have been might easily be
shown, not only from the widely different results arrived at by men, all
deeply versed in the black-letter books, old plays, pamphlets,
manuscript records and catalogues of that age, but also from the
fallacious and unsatisfactory nature of the facts and assumptions on
which the evidence rests. In that age, when the press was chiefly
occupied with controversial or practical divinity,--when the law, the
church and the state engrossed all honour and respectability,--when a
degree of disgrace, 'levior quaedam infamiae macula', was attached to the
publication of poetry, and even to have sported with the Muse, as a
private relaxation, was supposed to be--a venial fault, indeed,
yet--something beneath the gravity of a wise man,--when the professed
poets were so poor, that the very expenses of the press demanded the
liberality of some wealthy individual, so that two thirds of Spenser's
poetic works, and those most highly praised by his learned admirers and
friends, remained for many years in manuscript, and in manuscript
perished,--when the amateurs of the stage were comparatively few, and
therefore for the greater part more or less known to each other,--when
we know that the plays of Shakspeare, both during and after his life,
were the property of the stage, and published by the players, doubtless
according to their notions of acceptability with the visitants of the
theatre,--in such an age, and under such circumstances, can an allusion
or reference to any drama or poem in the publication of a contemporary
be received as conclusive evidence, that such drama or poem had at that
time been published? Or, further, can the priority of publication itself
prove any thing in favour of actually prior composition.
We are tolerably certain, indeed, that the Venus and Adonis, and the
Rape of Lucrece, were his two earliest poems, and though not printed
until 1593, in the twenty ninth year of his age, yet there can be little
doubt that they had remained by him in manuscript many years. For Mr.
Malone has made it highly probable, that he had commenced a writer for
the stage in 1591, when he was twenty seven years old, and Shakspeare
himself assures us that the Venus and Adonis was the first heir of his
Baffled, then, in the attempt to derive any satisfaction from outward
documents, we may easily stand excused if we turn our researches towards
the internal evidences furnished by the writings themselves, with no
other positive 'data' than the known facts, that the Venus and Adonis
was printed in 1593, the Rape of Lucrece in 1594, and that the Romeo and
Juliet had appeared in 1595,--and with no other presumptions than that
the poems, his very first productions, were written many years
earlier,--(for who can believe that Shakspeare could have remained to
his twenty-ninth or thirtieth year without attempting poetic composition
of any kind?)--and that between these and Romeo and Juliet there had
intervened one or two other dramas, or the chief materials, at least, of
them, although they may very possibly have appeared after the success of
the Romeo and Juliet and some other circumstances had given the poet an
authority with the proprietors, and created a prepossession in his
favour with the theatrical audiences.
[Footnote 1: But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I
shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, &c.
Dedication of the V. and A. to Lord Southampton.]
CLASSIFICATION ATTEMPTED, 1802.
The London Prodigal.
Henry VI., three parts, first edition.
The old King John.
The old Taming of the Shrew.
All these are transition-works, 'Uebergangs-werke'; not his, yet of him.
All's Well That Ends Well;--but afterwards worked up afresh,
(umgearbeitet) especially Parolles.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona; a sketch.
Romeo and Juliet; first draft of it.
rises into the full, although youthful, Shakspeare; it was the negative
period of his perfection.
Love's Labour's Lost.
As You Like It.
Midsummer Night's Dream.
Henry IV. and V.
Henry VIII.; 'Gelegenheitsgedicht'.
Romeo and Juliet, as at present.
Merchant of Venice.
Much Ado About Nothing.
Merry Wives of Windsor; first edition.
Henry VI.; 'rifacimento'.
The period of beauty was now past; and that of [GREEK (transliterated):
deinotaes] and grandeur succeeds.
Timon of Athens; an after vibration of Hamlet.
Troilus and Cressida; 'Uebergang in die Ironie'.
The Roman Plays.
King John, as at present.
Merry Wives of Windsor. }'umgearbeitet'
Taming of the Shrew. }
Measure for Measure.
CLASSIFICATION ATTEMPTED, 1810.
Shakspeare's earliest dramas I take to be,
Love's Labour's Lost.
All's Well That Ends Well.
Comedy of Errors.
Romeo and Juliet.
In the second class I reckon
Midsummer Night's Dream.
As You Like It.
In the third, as indicating a greater energy--not merely of poetry,
but--of all the world of thought, yet still with some of the growing
pains, and the awkwardness of growth, I place
Troilus and Cressida.
Merchant of Venice.
Much Ado About Nothing.
Taming of the Shrew.
In the fourth, I place the plays containing the greatest characters;
And lastly, the historic dramas, in order to be able to show my reasons
for rejecting some whole plays, and very many scenes in others.
CLASSIFICATION ATTEMPTED, 1819.
I think Shakspeare's earliest dramatic attempt--perhaps even prior in
conception to the Venus and Adonis, and planned before he left
Stratford--was Love's Labour's Lost. Shortly afterwards I suppose
Pericles and certain scenes in Jeronymo to have been produced; and in
the same epoch, I place the Winter's Tale and Cymbeline, differing from
the Pericles by the entire 'rifacimento' of it, when Shakspeare's
celebrity as poet, and his interest, no less than his influence as
manager, enabled him to bring forward the laid-by labours of his youth.
The example of Titus Andronicus, which, as well as Jeronymo, was most
popular in Shakspeare's first epoch, had led the young dramatist to the
lawless mixture of dates and manners. In this same epoch I should place
the Comedy of Errors, remarkable as being the only specimen of poetical
farce in our language, that is, intentionally such; so that all the
distinct kinds of drama, which might be educed 'a priori', have their
representatives in Shakspeare's works. I say intentionally such; for
many of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays, and the greater part of Ben
Jonson's comedies are farce-plots. I add All's Well that Ends Well,
originally intended as the counterpart of Love's Labour's Lost, Taming
of the Shrew, Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and Romeo
Henry VI.,--'rifacimento' only.
Merry Wives of Windsor.
Henry VIII.,--a sort of historical masque, or show play.
gives all the graces and facilities of a genius in full possession and
habitual exercise of power, and peculiarly of the feminine, the _lady's_
As You Like It.
Merchant of Venice.
and, finally, at its very point of culmination,--
when the energies of intellect in the cycle of genius were, though in a
rich and more potentiated form, becoming predominant over passion and
Measure for Measure.
Timon of Athens.
Antony and Cleopatra.
Troilus and Cressida.
Merciful, wonder-making Heaven! what a man was this Shakspeare!
Myriad-minded, indeed, he was.
NOTES ON THE TEMPEST.
There is a sort of improbability with which we are shocked in dramatic
representation, not less than in a narrative of real life. Consequently,
there must be rules respecting it; and as rules are nothing but means to
an end previously ascertained--(inattention to which simple truth has
been the occasion of all the pedantry of the French school),--we must
first determine what the immediate end or object of the drama is. And
here, as I have previously remarked, I find two extremes of critical
decision;--the French, which evidently presupposes that a perfect
delusion is to be aimed at,--an opinion which needs no fresh
confutation; and the exact opposite to it, brought forward by Dr.
Johnson, who supposes the auditors throughout in the full reflective
knowledge of the contrary. In evincing the impossibility of delusion, he
makes no sufficient allowance for an intermediate state, which I have
before distinguished by the term, illusion, and have attempted to
illustrate its quality and character by reference to our mental state,
when dreaming. In both cases we simply do not judge the imagery to be
unreal; there is a negative reality, and no more. Whatever, therefore,
tends to prevent the mind from placing itself, or being placed,
gradually in that state in which the images have such negative reality
for the auditor, destroys this illusion, and is dramatically improbable.
Now the production of this effect--a sense of improbability--will depend
on the degree of excitement in which the mind is supposed to be. Many
things would be intolerable in the first scene of a play, that would not
at all interrupt our enjoyment in the height of the interest, when the
narrow cockpit may be made to hold
The vasty field of France, or we may cram
Within its wooden O, the very casques,
That did affright the air at Agincourt.
Again, on the other hand, many obvious improbabilities will be endured,
as belonging to the ground-work of the story rather than to the drama
itself, in the first scenes, which would disturb or disentrance us from
all illusion in the acme of our excitement; as for instance, Lear's
division of his kingdom, and the banishment of Cordelia.
But, although the other excellencies of the drama besides this dramatic
probability, as unity of interest, with distinctness and subordination
of the characters, and appropriateness of style, are all, so far as they
tend to increase the inward excitement, means towards accomplishing the
chief end, that of producing and supporting this willing illusion,--yet
they do not on that account cease to be ends themselves; and we must
remember that, as such, they carry their own justification with them, as
long as they do not contravene or interrupt the total illusion. It is
not even always, or of necessity, an objection to them, that they
prevent the illusion from rising to as great a height as it might
otherwise have attained;--it is enough that they are simply compatible
with as high a degree of it as is requisite for the purpose. Nay, upon
particular occasions, a palpable improbability may be hazarded by a
great genius for the express purpose of keeping down the interest of a
merely instrumental scene, which would otherwise make too great an
impression for the harmony of the entire illusion. Had the panorama been
invented in the time of Pope Leo X., Raffael would still, I doubt not,
have smiled in contempt at the regret, that the broom-twigs and scrubby
bushes at the back of some of his grand pictures were not as probable
trees as those in the exhibition.
The Tempest is a specimen of the purely romantic drama, in which the
interest is not historical, or dependent upon fidelity of portraiture,
or the natural connexion of events,--but is a birth of the imagination,
and rests only on the coaptation and union of the elements granted to,
or assumed by, the poet. It is a species of drama which owes no
allegiance to time or space, and in which, therefore, errors of
chronology and geography--no mortal sins in any species--are venial
faults, and count for nothing. It addresses itself entirely to the
imaginative faculty; and although the illusion may be assisted by the
effect on the senses of the complicated scenery and decorations of
modern times, yet this sort of assistance is dangerous. For the
principal and only genuine excitement ought to come from within,--from
the moved and sympathetic imagination; whereas, where so much is
addressed to the mere external senses of seeing and hearing, the
spiritual vision is apt to languish, and the attraction from without
will withdraw the mind from the proper and only legitimate interest
which is intended to spring from within.
The romance opens with a busy scene admirably appropriate to the kind of
drama, and giving, as it were, the key-note to the whole harmony. It
prepares and initiates the excitement required for the entire piece, and
yet does not demand any thing from the spectators, which their previous
habits had not fitted them to understand. It is the bustle of a tempest,
from which the real horrors are abstracted;--therefore it is poetical,
though not in strictness natural--(the distinction to which I have so
often alluded)--and is purposely restrained from concentering the
interest on itself, but used merely as an induction or tuning for what
is to follow.
In the second scene, Prospero's speeches, till the entrance of Ariel,
contain the finest example, I remember, of retrospective narration for
the purpose of exciting immediate interest, and putting the audience in
possession of all the information necessary for the understanding of the
plot. Observe, too, the perfect probability of the moment chosen by
Prospero (the very Shakspeare himself, as it were, of the tempest) to
open out the truth to his daughter, his own romantic bearing, and how
completely any thing that might have been disagreeable to us in the
magician, is reconciled and shaded in the humanity and natural feelings
of the father. In the very first speech of Miranda the simplicity and
tenderness of her character are at once laid open;--it would have been
lost in direct contact with the agitation of the first scene. The
opinion once prevailed, but, happily, is now abandoned, that Fletcher
alone wrote for women;--the truth is, that with very few, and those
partial, exceptions, the female characters in the plays of Beaumont and
Fletcher are, when of the light kind, not decent; when heroic, complete
viragos. But in Shakspeare all the elements of womanhood are holy, and
there is the sweet, yet dignified feeling of all that 'continuates'
society, as sense of ancestry and of sex, with a purity unassailable by
sophistry, because it rests not in the analytic processes, but in that
sane equipoise of the faculties, during which the feelings are
representative of all past experience,--not of the individual only, but
of all those by whom she has been educated, and their predecessors even
up to the first mother that lived. Shakspeare saw that the want of
prominence, which Pope notices for sarcasm, was the blessed beauty of
the woman's character, and knew that it arose not from any deficiency,
but from the more exquisite harmony of all the parts of the moral being
constituting one living total of head and heart. He has drawn it,
indeed, in all its distinctive energies of faith, patience, constancy,
fortitude,--shown in all of them as following the heart, which gives its
results by a nice tact and happy intuition, without the intervention of
the discursive faculty,--sees all things in and by the light of the
affections, and errs, if it ever err, in the exaggerations of love
alone. In all the Shakspearian women there is essentially the same
foundation and principle; the distinct individuality and variety are
merely the result of the modification of circumstances, whether in
Miranda the maiden, in Imogen the wife, or in Katharine the queen.
But to return. The appearance and characters of the super- or
ultra-natural servants are finely contrasted. Ariel has in every thing
the airy tint which gives the name; and it is worthy of remark that
Miranda is never directly brought into comparison with Ariel, lest the
natural and human of the one and the supernatural of the other should
tend to neutralize each other; Caliban, on the other hand, is all earth,
all condensed and gross in feelings and images; he has the dawnings of
understanding without reason or the moral sense, and in him, as in some
brute animals, this advance to the intellectual faculties, without the
moral sense, is marked by the appearance of vice. For it is in the
primacy of the moral being only that man is truly human; in his
intellectual powers he is certainly approached by the brutes, and, man's
whole system duly considered, those powers cannot be considered other
than means to an end, that is, to morality.
In this scene, as it proceeds, is displayed the impression made by
Ferdinand and Miranda on each other; it is love at first sight;--
at the first sight They have chang'd eyes:--
and it appears to me, that in all cases of real love, it is at one
moment that it takes place. That moment may have been prepared by
previous esteem, admiration, or even affection,--yet love seems to
require a momentary act of volition, by which a tacit bond of devotion
is imposed,--a bond not to be thereafter broken without violating what
should be sacred in our nature. How finely is the true Shakspearian
scene contrasted with Dryden's vulgar alteration of it, in which a mere
ludicrous psychological experiment, as it were, is tried--displaying
nothing but indelicacy without passion. Prospero's interruption of the
courtship has often seemed to me to have no sufficient motive; still his
lest too light winning Make the prize light--
is enough for the ethereal connexions of the romantic imagination,
although it would not be so for the historical.  The whole courting
scene, indeed, in the beginning of the third act, between the lovers is
a masterpiece; and the first dawn of disobedience in the mind of Miranda
to the command of her father is very finely drawn, so as to seem the
working of the Scriptural command, 'Thou shall leave father and mother',
&c. O! with what exquisite purity this scene is conceived and executed!
Shakspeare may sometimes be gross, but I boldly say that he is always
moral and modest. Alas! in this our day decency of manners is preserved
at the expense of morality of heart, and delicacies for vice are
allowed, whilst grossness against it is hypocritically, or at least
In this play are admirably sketched the vices generally accompanying a
low degree of civilization; and in the first scene of the second act
Shakspeare has, as in many other places, shown the tendency in bad men
to indulge in scorn and contemptuous expressions, as a mode of getting
rid of their own uneasy feelings of inferiority to the good, and also,
by making the good ridiculous, of rendering the transition of others to
wickedness easy. Shakspeare never puts habitual scorn into the mouths of
other than bad men, as here in the instances of Antonio and Sebastian.
The scene of the intended assassination of Alonzo and Gonzalo is an
exact counterpart of the scene between Macbeth and his lady, only
pitched in a lower key throughout, as designed to be frustrated and
concealed, and exhibiting the same profound management in the manner of
familiarizing a mind, not immediately recipient, to the suggestion of
guilt, by associating the proposed crime with something ludicrous or out
of place,--something not habitually matter of reverence. By this kind of
sophistry the imagination and fancy are first bribed to contemplate the
suggested act, and at length to become acquainted with it. Observe how
the effect of this scene is heightened by contrast with another
counterpart of it in low life,--that between the conspirators Stephano,
Caliban, and Trinculo in the second scene of the third act, in which
there are the same essential characteristics.
In this play and in this scene of it are also shown the springs of the
vulgar in politics,--of that kind of politics which is inwoven with
human nature. In his treatment of this subject, wherever it occurs,
Shakspeare is quite peculiar. In other writers we find the particular
opinions of the individual; in Massinger it is rank republicanism; in
Beaumont and Fletcher even 'jure divino' principles are carried to
excess;--but Shakspeare never promulgates any party tenets. He is always
the philosopher and the moralist, but at the same time with a profound
veneration for all the established institutions of society, and for
those classes which form the permanent elements of the state--especially
never introducing a professional character, as such, otherwise than as
respectable. If he must have any name, he should be styled a
philosophical aristocrat, delighting in those hereditary institutions
which have a tendency to bind one age to another, and in that
distinction of ranks, of which, although few may be in possession, all
enjoy the advantages. Hence, again, you will observe the good nature
with which he seems always to make sport with the passions and follies
of a mob, as with an irrational animal. He is never angry with it, but
hugely content with holding up its absurdities to its face; and
sometimes you may trace a tone of almost affectionate superiority,
something like that in which a father speaks of the rogueries of a
child. See the good-humoured way in which he describes Stephano passing
from the most licentious freedom to absolute despotism over Trinculo and
Caliban. The truth is, Shakspeare's characters are all 'genera'
intensely individualized; the results of meditation, of which
observation supplied the drapery and the colors necessary to combine
them with each other. He had virtually surveyed all the great component
powers and impulses of human nature,--had seen that their different
combinations and subordinations were in fact the individualizers of men,
and showed how their harmony was produced by reciprocal disproportions
of excess or deficiency. The language in which these truths are
expressed was not drawn from any set fashion, but from the profoundest
depths of his moral being, and is therefore for all ages.
'Pro'. Mark his condition, and th' event; then tell me, If this might
be a brother.
'Mira'. I should sin, To think but nobly of my grandmother; Good wombs
have bore bad sons.
'Pro'. Now the condition, &c.
Theobald has a note upon this passage, and suggests that Shakspeare
placed it thus:--
'Pro'. Good wombs have bore bad sons,--Now the condition.
Mr. Coleridge writes in the margin: 'I cannot but believe that Theobald
is quite right.'--Ed.]
'Fer'. Yes, faith, and all his Lords, the duke of Milan, And his brave
son, being twain.
Theobald remarks that no body was lost in the wreck; and yet that no
such character is introduced in the fable, as the Duke of Milan's son.
Mr. C. notes: 'Must not Ferdinand have believed he was lost in the fleet
that the tempest scattered?--Ed.]
LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST.
The characters in this play are either impersonated out of Shakspeare's
own multiformity by imaginative self-position, or out of such as a
country town and a schoolboy's observation might supply,--the curate,
the schoolmaster, the Armado, (who even in my time was not extinct in
the cheaper inns of North Wales) and so on. The satire is chiefly on
follies of words. Biron and Rosaline are evidently the pre-existent
state of Benedict and Beatrice, and so, perhaps, is Boyet of Lafeu, and
Costard of the Tapster in Measure for Measure; and the frequency of the
rhymes, the sweetness as well as the smoothness of the metre, and the
number of acute and fancifully illustrated aphorisms, are all as they
ought to be in a poet's youth. True genius begins by generalizing and
condensing; it ends in realizing and expanding. It first collects the
Yet if this juvenile drama had been the only one extant of our
Shakspeare, and we possessed the tradition only of his riper works, or
accounts of them in writers who had not even mentioned this play,--how
many of Shakspeare's characteristic features might we not still have
discovered in Love's Labour's Lost, though as in a portrait taken of him
in his boyhood.
I can never sufficiently admire the wonderful activity of thought
throughout the whole of the first scene of the play, rendered natural,
as it is, by the choice of the characters, and the whimsical
determination on which the drama is founded. A whimsical determination
certainly;--yet not altogether so very improbable to those who are
conversant in the history of the middle ages, with their Courts of Love,
and all that lighter drapery of chivalry, which engaged even mighty
kings with a sort of serio-comic interest, and may well be supposed to
have occupied more completely the smaller princes, at a time when the
noble's or prince's court contained the only theatre of the domain or
principality. This sort of story, too, was admirably suited to
Shakspeare's times, when the English court was still the foster-mother
of the state and the muses; and when, in consequence, the courtiers, and
men of rank and fashion, affected a display of wit, point, and
sententious observation, that would be deemed intolerable at
present,--but in which a hundred years of controversy, involving every
great political, and every dear domestic, interest, had trained all but
the lowest classes to participate. Add to this the very style of the
sermons of the time, and the eagerness of the Protestants to distinguish
themselves by long and frequent preaching, and it will be found that,
from the reign of Henry VIII. to the abdication of James II. no country
ever received such a national education as England.
Hence the comic matter chosen in the first instance is a ridiculous
imitation or apery of this constant striving after logical precision,
and subtle opposition of thoughts, together with a making the most of
every conception or image, by expressing it under the least expected
property belonging to it, and this, again, rendered specially absurd by
being applied to the most current subjects and occurrences. The phrases
and modes of combination in argument were caught by the most ignorant
from the custom of the age, and their ridiculous misapplication of them
is most amusingly exhibited in Costard; whilst examples suited only to
the gravest propositions and impersonations, or apostrophes to abstract
thoughts impersonated, which are in fact the natural language only of
the most vehement agitations of the mind, are adopted by the coxcombry
of Armado as mere artifices of ornament.
The same kind of intellectual action is exhibited in a more serious and
elevated strain in many other parts of this play. Biron's speech at the
end of the fourth act is an excellent specimen of it. It is logic
clothed in rhetoric;--but observe how Shakspeare, in his two-fold being
of poet and philosopher, avails himself of it to convey profound truths
in the most lively images,--the whole remaining faithful to the
character supposed to utter the lines, and the expressions themselves
constituting a further developement of that character:--
Other slow arts entirely keep the brain: And therefore finding barren
practisers, Scarce shew a harvest of their heavy toil: But love, first
learned in a lady's eyes, Lives not alone immured in the brain; But,
with the motion of all elements, Courses as swift as thought in every
power; And gives to every power a double power, Above their functions
and their offices. It adds a precious seeing to the eye, A lover's eyes
will gaze an eagle blind; A lover's ear will hear the lowest sound, When
the suspicious tread of theft is stopp'd: Love's feeling is more soft
and sensible, Than are the tender horns of cockled snails; Love's tongue
proves dainty Bacchus gross in taste; For valour, is not love a
Hercules, Still climbing trees in the Hesperides? Subtle as Sphinx; as
sweet and musical, As bright Apollo's lute, strung with his hair; And
when love speaks, the voice of all the gods Makes heaven drowsy with the
harmony. Never durst poet touch a pen to write, Until his ink were
temper'd with love's sighs; O, then his lines would ravish savage ears,
And plant in tyrants mild humility. From women's eyes this doctrine I
derive: They sparkle still the right Promethean fire; They are the
books, the arts, the academes, That shew, contain, and nourish all the
world; Else, none at all in aught proves excellent; Then fools you were
these women to forswear; Or, keeping what is sworn, you will prove
fools. For wisdom's sake, a word that all men love; Or for love's sake,
a word that loves all men; Or for men's sake, the authors of these
women; Or women's sake, by whom we men are men; Let us once lose our
oaths, to find ourselves, Or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths:
It is religion, to be thus forsworn: For charity itself fulfills the
law: And who can sever love from charity?--
This is quite a study;--sometimes you see this youthful god of poetry
connecting disparate thoughts purely by means of resemblances in the
words expressing them,--a thing in character in lighter comedy,
especially of that kind in which Shakspeare delights, namely, the
purposed display of wit, though sometimes, too, disfiguring his graver
scenes;--but more often you may see him doubling the natural connection
or order of logical consequence in the thoughts by the introduction of
an artificial and sought for resemblance in the words, as, for instance,
in the third line of the play,--
And then grace us in the disgrace of death;--
this being a figure often having its force and propriety, as justified
by the law of passion, which, inducing in the mind an unusual activity,
seeks for means to waste its superfluity,--when in the highest
degree--in lyric repetitions and sublime tautology--'(at her feet he
bowed, he fell, he lay down; at her feet he bowed, he fell; where he
bowed, there he fell down dead)',--and, in lower degrees, in making the
words themselves the subjects and materials of that surplus action, and
for the same cause that agitates our limbs, and forces our very gestures
into a tempest in states of high excitement.
The mere style of narration in Love's Labour's Lost, like that of AEgeon
in the first scene of the Comedy of Errors, and of the Captain in the
second scene of Macbeth, seems imitated with its defects and its
beauties from Sir Philip Sidney; whose Arcadia, though not then
published, was already well known in manuscript copies, and could hardly
have escaped the notice and admiration of Shakspeare as the friend and
client of the Earl of Southampton. The chief defect consists in the
parentheses and parenthetic thoughts and descriptions, suited neither to
the passion of the speaker, nor the purpose of the person to whom the
information is to be given, but manifestly betraying the author
himself,--not by way of continuous undersong, but--palpably, and so as
to show themselves addressed to the general reader. However, it is not
unimportant to notice how strong a presumption the diction and allusions
of this play afford, that, though Shakspeare's acquirements in the dead
languages might not be such as we suppose in a learned education, his
habits had, nevertheless, been scholastic, and those of a student. For a
young author's first work almost always bespeaks his recent pursuits,
and his first observations of life are either drawn from the immediate
employments of his youth, and from the characters and images most deeply
impressed on his mind in the situations in which those employments had
placed him;--or else they are fixed on such objects and occurrences in
the world, as are easily connected with, and seem to bear upon, his
studies and the hitherto exclusive subjects of his meditation. Just as
Ben Jonson, who applied himself to the drama after having served in
Flanders, fills his earliest plays with true or pretended soldiers, the
wrongs and neglects of the former, and the absurd boasts and knavery of
their counterfeits. So Lessing's first comedies are placed in the
universities, and consist of events and characters conceivable in an
I will only further remark the sweet and tempered gravity, with which
Shakspeare in the end draws the only fitting moral which such a drama
afforded. Here Rosaline rises up to the full height of Beatrice:--
'Ros'. Oft have I heard of you, my lord Biron, Before I saw you, and the
world's large tongue Proclaims you for a man replete with mocks; Full of
comparisons, and wounding flouts, Which you on all estates will execute
That lie within the mercy of your wit: To weed this wormwood from your
fruitful brain, And therewithal, to win me, if you please, (Without the
which I am not to be won,) You shall this twelvemonth term from day to
day Visit the speechless sick, and still converse With groaning
wretches; and your talk shall be, With all the fierce endeavour of your
wit, To enforce the pained impotent to smile.
'Biron'. To move wild laughter in the throat of death?
It cannot be; it is impossible;
Mirth cannot move a soul in agony.
'Ros'. Why, that's the way to choke a gibing spirit,
Whose influence is begot of that loose grace,
Which shallow laughing hearers give to fools:
A jest's prosperity lies in the ear
Of him that hears it, never in the tongue
Of him that makes it: then, if sickly ears,
Deaf'd with the clamors of their own dear groans,
Will hear your idle scorns, continue then,
And I will have you, and that fault withal;
But, if they will not, throw away that spirit,
And I shall find you empty of that fault,
Right joyful of your reformation.
Act v. sc. 2. In Biron's speech to the Princess:
--and, therefore, like the eye,
Full of _straying_ shapes, of habits, and of forms.
Either read _stray_, which I prefer; or throw _full_ back to the
like the eye, full
Of straying shapes, &c.
In the same scene:
'Biron'. And what to me, my love? and what to me?
'Ros'. You must be purged too, your sins are rank;
You are attaint with fault and perjury:
Therefore, if you my favour mean to get,
A twelvemonth shall you spend, and never rest,
But seek the weary beds of people sick.
There can be no doubt, indeed, about the propriety of expunging this
speech of Rosaline's; it soils the very page that retains it. But I do
not agree with Warburton and others in striking out the preceding line
also. It is quite in Biron's character; and Rosaline not answering it
immediately, Dumain takes up the question for him, and, after he and
Longaville are answered, Biron, with evident propriety, says;--
_Studies_ my mistress? &c.
MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.
Act i. sc. 1.
'Her'. O cross! too high to be enthrall'd to low--
'Lys'. Or else misgraffed, in respect of years;
'Her'. O spite! too old to be engag'd to young--
'Lys'. Or else it stood upon the choice of friends;
'Her'. O hell! to chuse love by another's eye!
There is no authority for any alteration;--but I never can help feeling
how great an improvement it would be, if the two former of Hermia's
exclamations were omitted;--the third and only appropriate one would
then become a beauty, and most natural.
'Ib.' Helena's speech:--
I wilt go tell him of fair Hermia's flight, &c.
I am convinced that Shakspeare availed himself of the title of this play
in his own mind, and worked upon it as a dream throughout, but
especially, and, perhaps, unpleasingly, in this broad determination of
ungrateful treachery in Helena, so undisguisedly avowed to herself, and
this, too, after the witty cool philosophizing that precedes. The act
itself is natural, and the resolve so to act is, I fear, likewise too
true a picture of the lax hold which principles have on a woman's heart,
when opposed to, or even separated from, passion and inclination. For
women are less hypocrites to their own minds than men are, because in
general they feel less proportionate abhorrence of moral evil in and for
itself, and more of its outward consequences, as detection, and loss of
character than men,--their natures being almost wholly extroitive.
Still, however just in itself, the representation of this is not
poetical; we shrink from it, and cannot harmonize it with the ideal.
Act ii. sc. 1. Theobald's edition.
_Through_ bush, _through_ briar--... _Through_ flood, _through_ fire--
What a noble pair of ears this worthy Theobald must have had! The eight
amphimacers or cretics,--
Over hill, over dale,
Thoroe' bush, thoroe' briar,
Over park, over pale,
Thoroe' flood, thoroe' fire--
have a delightful effect on the ear in their sweet transition to the
I do wander ev'ry where
Swifter than the moones sphere, &c.--
The last words as sustaining the rhyme, must be considered, as in fact
they are, trochees in time.
It may be worth while to give some correct examples in English of the
principal metrical feet:--
Pyrrhic or Dibrach, u u =_body, spirit_.
Tribrach, u u u =_nobody_, (hastily pronounced).
Iambus u ' =_deli'ght_.
Trochee, ' u =_li'ghtly_.
Spondee, ' ' =_Go'd spa'ke_.
The paucity of spondees in single words in English and, indeed, in the
modern languages in general, makes, perhaps, the greatest distinction,
metrically considered, between them and the Greek and Latin.
Dactyl, ' u u = _me'rrily._
Anapaest, u u ' = _a propo's,_ or the first three syllables
Amphibrachys, u ' u = _deli'ghtful_.
Amphimacer, ' u ' = _o'ver hi'll_.
Antibacchius, u ' ' = _the Lo'rd Go'd_.
Bacchius, ' ' u = _He'lve'llyn_.
Molossus, ' ' ' = _Jo'hn Ja'mes Jo'nes._
These simple feet may suffice for understanding the metres of
Shakspeare, for the greater part at least;--but Milton cannot be made
harmoniously intelligible without the composite feet, the Ionics, Paeons,
'Ib.' sc. 2. Titania's speech:--(Theobald adopting Warburton's reading.)
Which she, with pretty and with swimming gate
_Follying_ (her womb then rich with my young squire)
Would imitate, &c.
Oh! oh! Heaven have mercy on poor Shakspeare, and also on Mr.
Warburton's mind's eye!
Act v. sc. 1. Theseus' speech:--(Theobald.)
And what poor [_willing_] duty cannot do,
Noble respect takes it in might, not merit.
To my ears it would read far more Shakspearian thus:--
And what poor duty cannot do, _yet would_, Noble respect, &c.
'Ib.' sc. 2.
'Puck.' Now the hungry lion roars,
And the wolf behowls the moon;
Whilst the heavy ploughman snores
All with weary task foredone, &c.
Very Anacreon in perfectness, proportion, grace, and spontaneity! So far
it is Greek;--but then add, O! what wealth, what wild ranging, and yet
what compression and condensation of, English fancy! In truth, there is
nothing in Anacreon more perfect than these thirty lines, or half so
rich and imaginative. They form a speckless diamond.
COMEDY OF ERRORS.
The myriad-minded man, our, and all men's, Shakspeare, has in this piece
presented us with a legitimate farce in exactest consonance with the
philosophical principles and character of farce, as distinguished from
comedy and from entertainments. A proper farce is mainly distinguished
from comedy by the license allowed, and even required, in the fable, in
order to produce strange and laughable situations. The story need not be
probable, it is enough that it is possible. A comedy would scarcely
allow even the two Antipholises; because, although there have been
instances of almost indistinguishable likeness in two persons, yet these
are mere individual accidents, 'casus ludentis naturae', and the 'verum'
will not excuse the 'inverisimile'. But farce dares add the two Dromios,
and is justified in so doing by the laws of its end and constitution. In
a word, farces commence in a postulate, which must be granted.
AS YOU LIKE IT.
Act I. sc. 1.
'Oli'. What, boy!
'Orla'. Come, come, elder brother, you are too young in this.
'Oli'. Wilt thou lay hands on me, villain?
There is a beauty here. The word 'boy' naturally provokes and awakens in
Orlando the sense of his manly powers; and with the retort of 'elder
brother,' he grasps him with firm hands, and makes him feel he is no
'Oli'. Farewell, good Charles.--Now will I stir this gamester: I
hope, I shall see an end of him; for my soul, yet I know not why,
hates nothing more than him. Yet he's gentle; never school'd, and yet
learn'd; full of noble device; of all sorts enchantingly beloved! and,
indeed, so much in the heart of the world, and especially of my own
people, who best know him, that I am altogether misprized: but it
shall not he so long; this wrestler shall clear all.
This has always appeared to me one of the most un-Shakspearian speeches
in all the genuine works of our poet; yet I should be nothing surprized,
and greatly pleased, to find it hereafter a fresh beauty, as has so
often happened to me with other supposed defects of great men. (1810).
It is too venturous to charge a passage in Shakspeare with want of truth
to nature; and yet at first sight this speech of Oliver's expresses
truths, which it seems almost impossible that any mind should so
distinctly, so livelily, and so voluntarily, have presented to itself,
in connection with feelings and intentions so malignant, and so contrary
to those which the qualities expressed would naturally have called
forth. But I dare not say that this seeming unnaturalness is not in the
nature of an abused wilfulness, when united with a strong intellect. In
such characters there is sometimes a gloomy self-gratification in making
the absoluteness of the will ('sit pro ratione voluntas!') evident to
themselves by setting the reason and the conscience in full array
against it. (1818).
Ib. sc. 2.
'Celia'. If you saw yourself with _your_ eyes, or knew yourself with
_your_ judgment, the fear of your adventure would counsel you to a
more equal enterprise.
Surely it should be '_our_ eyes' and '_our_ judgment.'
'Ib.' sc. 3.
'Cel'. But is all this for your father?
'Ros'. No, some of it is for _my child's father_.
Theobald restores this as the reading of the older editions. It may be
so; but who can doubt that it is a mistake for 'my father's child,'
meaning herself? According to Theobald's note, a most indelicate
anticipation is put into the mouth of Rosalind without reason;--and
besides, what a strange thought, and how out of place, and
Act iv. sc. 2.
Take thou no scorn
To wear the horn, the lusty horn;
It was a crest ere thou wast born.
I question whether there exists a parallel instance of a phrase, that
like this of 'horns' is universal in all languages, and yet for which no
one has discovered even a plausible origin.
Act I. sc. 1. Duke's speech:--
--so full of shapes _is_ fancy, That it alone is high fantastical.
Warburton's alteration of _is_ into _in_ is needless. 'Fancy' may very
well be interpreted 'exclusive affection,' or 'passionate preference.'
Thus, bird-fanciers, gentlemen of the fancy, that is, amateurs of
boxing, &c. The play of assimilation,--the meaning one sense chiefly,
and yet keeping both senses in view, is perfectly Shakspearian.
Act ii. sc. 3. Sir Andrew's speech:--
An explanatory note on _Pigrogromilus_ would have been more acceptable
than Theobald's grand discovery that 'lemon' ought to be 'leman.'
Ib. Sir Toby's speech: (Warburton's note on the Peripatetic philosophy.)
Shall we rouse the night-owl in a catch, that will draw three souls
out of one weaver?
O genuine, and inimitable (at least I hope so) Warburton! This note of
thine, if but one in five millions, would be half a one too much.
'Ib.' sc. 4.
'Duke'. My life upon't, young though thou art, thine eye
Hath stay'd upon some favour that it loves;
Hath it not, boy?
'Vio'. A little, by your favour.
'Duke'. What kind of woman is't?
And yet Viola was to have been presented to Orsino as a eunuch!--Act i.
sc. 2. Viola's speech. Either she forgot this, or else she had altered
'Vio'. A blank, my lord: she never told her love!--
But let concealment, &c.
After the first line, (of which the last five words should be spoken
with, and drop down in, a deep sigh) the actress ought to make a pause;
and then start afresh, from the activity of thought, born of suppressed
feelings, and which thought had accumulated during the brief interval,
as vital heat under the skin during a dip in cold water.
Ib. sc. 5.
'Fabian'. Though our silence be drawn from us by _cars_, yet peace.
Act iii. sc. 1.
'Clown'. A sentence is but a _cheveril_ glove to a good wit.
Theobald's etymology of 'cheveril' is, of course quite right;--but he is
mistaken in supposing that there were no such things as gloves of
chicken-skin. They were at one time a main article in chirocosmetics.
Act v. sc. 1. Clown's speech:--
So that, _conclusions to be as kisses_, if your four negatives make
your two affirmatives, why, then, the worse for my friends, and the
better for my foes.
(Warburton reads 'conclusion to be asked, is.')
Surely Warburton could never have wooed by kisses and won, or he would
not have flounder-flatted so just and humorous, nor less pleasing than
humorous, an image into so profound a nihility. In the name of love and
wonder, do not four kisses make a double affirmative? The humour lies in
the whispered 'No!' and the inviting 'Don't!' with which the maiden's
kisses are accompanied, and thence compared to negatives, which by
repetition constitute an affirmative.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
Act I. sc. 1.
'Count'. If the living be enemy to the grief, the excess makes it soon
'Bert'. Madam, I desire your holy wishes--.
'Laf'. How understand we that--?
Bertram and Lafeu, I imagine, both speak together,--Lafeu referring to
the Countess's rather obscure remark.
Act. ii. sc. 1. (Warburton's note.)
'King'. --let _higher_ Italy
(Those _'bated_, that inherit but the fall
Of the last monarchy) see, that you come
Not to woo honor, but to wed it.
It would be, I own, an audacious and unjustifiable change of the text;
but yet, as a mere conjecture, I venture to suggest 'bastards,' for
''bated.' As it stands, in spite of Warburton's note I can make little
or nothing of it. Why should the king except the then most illustrious
states, which, as being republics, were the more truly inheritors of the
Roman grandeur?--With my conjecture, the sense would be;--'let higher,
or the more northern part of Italy--(unless 'higher' be a corruption
for 'hir'd,'--the metre seeming to demand a monosyllable) (those
bastards that inherit the infamy only of their fathers) see, &c.' The
following 'woo' and 'wed' are so far confirmative as they indicate
Shakspeare's manner of connexion by unmarked influences of association
from some preceding metaphor. This it is which makes his style so
peculiarly vital and organic. Likewise 'those girls of Italy' strengthen
the guess. The absurdity of Warburton's gloss, which represents the king
calling Italy superior, and then excepting the only part the lords were
going to visit, must strike every one.
Ib. sc. 3.
'Laf'. They say, miracles are past; and we have our philosophical
persons to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and
Shakspeare, inspired, as it might seem, with all knowledge, here uses
the word 'causeless' in its strict philosophical sense;--cause being
truly predicable only of 'phenomena', that is, things natural, and not
of 'noumena', or things supernatural.
Act iii. sc. 5.
'Dia'. The Count Rousillon:--know you such a one?
'Hel'. But by the ear that hears most nobly of him;
His face I know not.
Shall we say here, that Shakspeare has unnecessarily made his loveliest
character utter a lie?--Or shall we dare think that, where to deceive
was necessary, he thought a pretended verbal verity a double crime,
equally with the other a lie to the hearer, and at the same time an
attempt to lie to one's own conscience?
MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.
Act I. sc. 1.
'Shal'. The luce is the fresh fish, the salt fish is an old coat.
I cannot understand this. Perhaps there is a corruption both of words
and speakers. Shallow no sooner corrects one mistake of Sir Hugh's,
namely, 'louse' for 'luce,' a pike, but the honest Welchman falls into
another, namely, 'cod' ('baccala') 'Cambrice' 'cot' for coat.
'Shal'. The luce is the fresh fish--
'Evans'. The salt fish is an old cot.
'Luce is a fresh fish, and not a louse;' says Shallow. 'Aye, aye,' quoth
Sir Hugh; 'the _fresh_ fish is the luce; it is an old cod that is the
salt fish.' At all events, as the text stands, there is no sense at all
in the words.
'Ib.' sc. 3.
'Fal'. Now, the report goes, she has all the rule of her husband's
purse; she hath a legion of angels.
'Pist'. As many devils entertain; and 'To her, boy', say I.
Perhaps it is--
As many devils enter (or enter'd) swine; and _to her, boy_, say I:--
a somewhat profane, but not un-Shakspearian, allusion to the 'legion' in
St. Luke's 'gospel.'
MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
This play, which is Shakspeare's throughout, is to me the most
painful--say rather, the only painful--part of his genuine works. The
comic and tragic parts equally border on the [Greek (transliterated):
misaeteon],--the one being disgusting, the other horrible; and the
pardon and marriage of Angelo not merely baffles the strong indignant
claim of justice--(for cruelty, with lust and damnable baseness, cannot
be forgiven, because we cannot conceive them as being morally repented
of;) but it is likewise degrading to the character of woman. Beaumont
and Fletcher, who can follow Shakspeare in his errors only, have
presented a still worse, because more loathsome and contradictory,
instance of the same kind in the Night-Walker, in the marriage of Alathe
to Algripe. Of the counterbalancing beauties of Measure for Measure, I
need say nothing; for I have already remarked that the play is
Act iii. sc. 1.
Ay, but to die, and go we know not where, &c.
This natural fear of Claudio, from the antipathy we have to death, seems
very little varied from that infamous wish of Maecenas, recorded in the
101st epistle of Seneca:
_Debilem facito manu, Debilem pede, coxa, &c._
I cannot but think this rather an heroic resolve, than an infamous wish.
It appears to me to be the grandest symptom of an immortal spirit, when
even that bedimmed and overwhelmed spirit recked not of its own
immortality, still to seek to be,--to be a mind, a will.
As fame is to reputation, so heaven is to an estate, or immediate
advantage. The difference is, that the self-love of the former cannot
exist but by a complete suppression and habitual supplantation of
immediate selfishness. In one point of view, the miser is more estimable
than the spendthrift;--only that the miser's present feelings are as
much of the present as the spendthrift's. But 'caeteris paribus', that
is, upon the supposition that whatever is good or lovely in the one
coexists equally in the other, then, doubtless, the master of the
present is less a selfish being, an animal, than he who lives for the
moment with no inheritance in the future. Whatever can degrade man, is
supposed in the latter case, whatever can elevate him, in the former.
And as to self;--strange and generous self! that can only be such a self
by a complete divestment of all that men call self,--of all that can
make it either practically to others, or consciously to the individual
himself, different from the human race in its ideal. Such self is but a
perpetual religion, an inalienable acknowledgment of God, the sole basis
and ground of being. In this sense, how can I love God, and not love
myself, as far as it is of God?
'Ib.' sc. 2.
Pattern in himself to know, Grace to stand, and virtue go.
Worse metre, indeed, but better English would be,--
Grace to stand, virtue to go.
Act I. sc. 1.
You do not meet a man, but frowns: our bloods
No more obey the heavens, than our courtiers'
Still seem, as does the king's.
There can be little doubt of Mr. Tyrwhitt's emendations of 'courtiers'
and 'king,' as to the sense;--only it is not impossible that
Shakspeare's dramatic language may allow of the word, 'brows' or 'faces'
being understood after the word 'courtiers',' which might then remain in
the genitive case plural. But the nominative plural makes excellent
sense, and is sufficiently elegant, and sounds to my ear Shakspearian.
What, however, is meant by 'our bloods no more obey the heavens?'--Dr.
Johnson's assertion that 'bloods' signify 'countenances,' is, I think,
mistaken both in the thought conveyed--(for it was never a popular
belief that the stars governed men's countenances,) and in the usage,
which requires an antithesis of the blood,--or the temperament of the
four humours, choler, melancholy, phlegm, and the red globules, or the
sanguine portion, which was supposed not to be in our own power, but, to
be dependent on the influences of the heavenly bodies,--and the
countenances which are in our power really, though from flattery we
bring them into a no less apparent dependence on the sovereign, than the
former are in actual dependence on the constellations.
I have sometimes thought that the word 'courtiers' was a misprint for
'countenances,' arising from an anticipation, by foreglance of the
compositor's eye, of the word 'courtier' a few lines below. The written
'r' is easily and often confounded with the written 'n'. The compositor
read the first syllable 'court', and--his eye at the same time catching
the word 'courtier' lower down--he completed the word without
reconsulting the copy. It is not unlikely that Shakspeare intended first
to express, generally the same thought, which a little afterwards he
repeats with a particular application to the persons meant;--a common
usage of the pronominal 'our,' where the speaker does not really mean to
include himself; and the word 'you' is an additional confirmation of the
'our' being used in this place, for men generally and indefinitely, just
as 'you do not meet,' is the same as, 'one does not meet.'
Act i. sc. 2. Imogen's speech:--
--My dearest husband,
I something fear my father's wrath; but nothing
(Always reserv'd my holy duty) what
His rage can do on me.
Place the emphasis on 'me;' for 'rage' is a mere repetition of 'wrath.'
'Cym'. O disloyal thing,
That should'st repair my youth, thou heapest
A year's age on me.
How is it that the commentators take no notice of the un-Shakspearian
defect in the metre of the second line, and what in Shakspeare is the
same, in the harmony with the sense and feeling? Some word or words must
have slipped out after 'youth,'--possibly 'and see':--
That should'st repair my youth!--and see, thou heap'st, &c.
'Ib.' sc. 4. Pisanio's speech:--
--For so long
As he could make me with _this_ eye or ear
Distinguish him from others, &c.
But '_this_ eye,' in spite of the supposition of its being used [Greek
(transliterated): deiktik_os], is very awkward. I should think that
either 'or'--or 'the' was Shakspeare's word;--
As he could make me or with eye or ear.
'Ib.' sc. 7. Iachimo's speech:--
Hath nature given them eyes
To see this vaulted arch, and the rich crop
Of sea and land, which can distinguish 'twixt
The fiery orbs above, and the twinn'd stones
Upon the number'd beach.
I would suggest 'cope' for 'crop.' As to 'twinn'd stones'--may it not be
a bold _catachresis_ for muscles, cockles, and other empty shells with
hinges, which are truly twinned? I would take Dr. Farmer's 'umber'd,'
which I had proposed before I ever heard of its having been already
offered by him: but I do not adopt his interpretation of the word, which
I think is not derived from _umbra_, a shade, but from _umber_, a dingy
yellow-brown soil, which most commonly forms the mass of the sludge on
the sea shore, and on the banks of tide-rivers at low water. One other
possible interpretation of this sentence has occurred to me, just barely
worth mentioning;--that the 'twinn'd stones' are the _augrim_ stones
upon the number'd beech, that is, the astronomical tables of beech-wood.
Act v. sc. 5.
'Sooth'. When as a lion's whelp, &c.
It is not easy to conjecture why Shakspeare should have introduced this
ludicrous scroll, which answers no one purpose, either propulsive, or
explicatory, unless as a joke on etymology.
Act I. sc. 1. Theobald's note:
I never heard it so much as intimated, that he (Shakspeare) had turned
his genius to stage-writing, before he associated with the players, and
became one of their body.
That Shakspeare never 'turned his genius to stage writing,' as Theobald
most 'Theobaldice' phrases it, before he became an actor, is an
assertion of about as much authority, as the precious story that he left
Stratford for deerstealing, and that he lived by holding gentlemen's
horses at the doors of the theatre, and other trash of that arch-gossip,
old Aubrey. The metre is an argument against Titus Andronicus being
Shakspeare's, worth a score such chronological surmises. Yet I incline
to think that both in this play and in Jeronymo, Shakspeare wrote some
passages, and that they are the earliest of his compositions.
Act v. sc. 2.
I think it not improbable that the lines from--
I am not mad; I know thee well enough;--
So thou destroy Rapine, and
were written by Shakspeare in his earliest period. But instead of the
Revenge, _which makes the foul offender quake.
'Tit.' Art thou_ Revenge? and art thou sent to me?--
the words in italics [between underscores] ought to be omitted.
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA.
Mr. Pope (after Dryden) informs us, that the story of Troilus and
Cressida was originally the work of one Lollius, a Lombard: but Dryden
goes yet further; he declares it to have been written in Latin verse,
and that Chaucer translated it.--_Lollius was a historiographer of
Urbino in Italy_. (Note in Stockdale's edition, 1807.)
'Lollius was a historiographer of Urbino in Italy.' So affirms the
notary, to whom the Sieur Stockdale committed the _disfacimento_ of
Ayscough's excellent edition of Shakspeare. Pity that the researchful
notary has not either told us in what century, and of what history, he
was a writer, or been simply content to depose, that Lollius, if a
writer of that name existed at all, was a somewhat somewhere. The notary
speaks of the _Troy Boke_ or Lydgate, printed in 1513. I have never seen
it; but I deeply regret that Chalmers did not substitute the whole of
Lydgate's works from the MSS. extant, for the almost worthless Gower.
The Troilus and Cressida of Shakspeare can scarcely be classed with his
dramas of Greek and Roman history; but it forms an intermediate link
between the fictitious Greek and Roman histories, which we may call
legendary dramas, and the proper ancient histories; that is, between the
Pericles or Titus Andronicus, and the Coriolanus, or Julius Caesar.
Cymbeline is a _congener_ with Pericles, and distinguished from Lear by
not having any declared prominent object. But where shall we class the
Timon of Athens? Perhaps immediately below Lear. It is a Lear of the
satirical drama; a Lear of domestic or ordinary life;--a local eddy of
passion on the high road of society, while all around is the week-day
goings on of wind and weather; a Lear, therefore, without its
soul-searching flashes, its ear-cleaving thunderclaps, its meteoric
splendors,--without the contagion and the fearful sympathies of nature,
the fates, the furies, the frenzied elements, dancing in and out, now
breaking through, and scattering,--now hand in hand with,--the fierce or
fantastic group of human passions, crimes, and anguishes, reeling on the
unsteady ground, in a wild harmony to the shock and the swell of an
earthquake. But my present subject was Troilus and Cressida; and I
suppose that, scarcely knowing what to say of it, I by a cunning of
instinct ran off to subjects on which I should find it difficult not to
say too much, though certain after all that I should still leave the
better part unsaid, and the gleaning for others richer than my own
Indeed, there is no one of Shakspeare's plays harder to characterize.
The name and the remembrances connected with it, prepare us for the
representation of attachment no less faithful than fervent on the side
of the youth, and of sudden and shameless inconstancy on the part of the
lady. And this is, indeed, as the gold thread on which the scenes are
strung, though often kept out of sight and out of mind by gems of
greater value than itself. But as Shakspeare calls forth nothing from
the mausoleum of history, or the catacombs of tradition, without giving,
or eliciting, some permanent and general interest, and brings forward no
subject which he does not moralize or intellectualize,--so here he has
drawn in Cressida the portrait of a vehement passion, that, having its
true origin and proper cause in warmth of temperament, fastens on,
rather than fixes to, some one object by liking and temporary
There's language in her eye, her cheek, her lip,
Nay, her foot speaks; her wanton spirits look out
At every joint and motive of her body.
This Shakspeare has contrasted with the profound affection represented
in Troilus, and alone worthy the name of love;--affection, passionate
indeed,--swoln with the confluence of youthful instincts and youthful
fancy, and growing in the radiance of hope newly risen, in short
enlarged by the collective sympathies of nature;--but still having a
depth of calmer element in a will stronger than desire, more entire than
choice, and which gives permanence to its own act by converting it into
faith and duty. Hence with excellent judgment, and with an excellence
higher than mere judgment can give, at the close of the play, when
Cressida has sunk into infamy below retrieval and beneath hope, the same
will, which had been the substance and the basis of his love, while the
restless pleasures and passionate longings, like sea-waves, had tossed
but on its surface,--this same moral energy is represented as snatching
him aloof from all neighbourhood with her dishonour, from all lingering
fondness and languishing regrets, whilst it rushes with him into other
and nobler duties, and deepens the channel, which his heroic brother's
death had left empty for its collected flood. Yet another secondary and
subordinate purpose Shakspeare has inwoven with his delineation of these
two characters,--that of opposing the inferior civilization, but purer
morals, of the Trojans to the refinements, deep policy, but duplicity
and sensual corruptions, of the Greeks.
To all this, however, so little comparative projection is given,--nay,
the masterly group of Agamemnon, Nestor, and Ulysses, and, still more in
advance, that of Achilles, Ajax, and Thersites, so manifestly occupy the
foreground, that the subservience and vassalage of strength and animal
courage to intellect and policy seems to be the lesson most often in our
poet's view, and which he has taken little pains to connect with the
former more interesting moral impersonated in the titular hero and
heroine of the drama. But I am half inclined to believe, that
Shakspeare's main object, or shall I rather say, his ruling impulse, was
to translate the poetic heroes of paganism into the not less rude, but
more intellectually vigorous, and more _featurely_, warriors of
Christian chivalry,--and to substantiate the distinct and graceful
profiles or outlines of the Homeric epic into the flesh and blood of the
romantic drama,--in short, to give a grand history-piece in the robust
style of Albert Durer.
The character of Thersites, in particular, well deserves a more careful
examination, as the Caliban of demagogic life;--the admirable portrait
of intellectual power deserted by all grace, all moral principle, all
not momentary impulse;--just wise enough to detect the weak head, and
fool enough to provoke the armed fist of his betters;--one whom
malcontent Achilles can inveigle from malcontent Ajax, under the one
condition, that he shall be called on to do nothing but abuse and
slander, and that he shall be allowed to abuse as much and as purulently
as he likes, that is, as he can;--in short, a mule,--quarrelsome by the
original discord of his nature,--a slave by tenure of his own
baseness,--made to bray and be brayed at, to despise and be despicable.
'Aye, Sir, but say what you will, he is a very clever fellow, though the
best friends will fall out. There was a time when Ajax thought he
deserved to have a statue of gold erected to him, and handsome Achilles,
at the head of the Myrmidons, gave no little credit to his _friend
Act iv. sc. 5. Speech of Ulysses:--
O, these encounterers, so glib of tongue,
That give a _coasting_ welcome ere it comes--
Should it be 'accosting?' 'Accost her, knight, accost!' in the Twelfth
Night. Yet there sounds a something so Shakspearian in the phrase--'give
a coasting welcome,' ('coasting' being taken as the epithet and
adjective of 'welcome,') that had the following words been, 'ere _they
land_,' instead of 'ere it comes,' I should have preferred the
interpretation. The sense now is, 'that give welcome to a salute ere it
This play illustrates the wonderfully philosophic impartiality of
Shakspeare's politics. His own country's history furnished him with no
matter, but what was too recent to be devoted to patriotism. Besides, he
knew that the instruction of ancient history would seem more
dispassionate. In Coriolanus and Julius Caesar, you see Shakspeare's
good-natured laugh at mobs. Compare this with Sir Thomas Brown's
aristocracy of spirit.
Act i. sc. 1. Coriolanus' speech:--
He that depends Upon your favours, swims with fins of lead,
And hews down oaks with rushes. Hang ye! Trust ye?
I suspect that Shakspeare wrote it transposed;
Trust ye? Hang ye!
Ib. sc. 10. Speech of Aufidius:--
Hath not that honor in't, it had; for where
I thought to crush him in an equal force,
True sword to sword; I'll potch at him some way,
Or wrath, or craft may get him.--My valor (poison'd
With only suffering stain by him) for him
Shall fly out of itself: not sleep, nor sanctuary,
Being naked, sick, nor fane, nor capitol,
The prayers of priests, nor times of sacrifices,
Embankments all of fury, shall lift up
Their rotten privilege and custom 'gainst
My hate to Marcius.
I have such deep faith in Shakspeare's heart-lore, that I take for
granted that this is in nature, and not as a mere anomaly; although I
cannot in myself discover any germ of possible feeling, which could wax
and unfold itself into such sentiment as this. However, I perceive that
in this speech is meant to be contained a prevention of shock at the
after-change in Aufidius' character.
Act ii. sc, 1. Speech of Menenius:--
The most sovereign prescription in _Galen_, &c.
Was it without, or in contempt of, historical information that
Shakspeare made the contemporaries of Coriolanus quote Cato and Galen? I
cannot decide to my own satisfaction.
Ib. sc. 3. Speech of Coriolanus:--
Why in this wolvish gown should I stand here--
That the gown of the candidate was of whitened wool, we know. Does
'wolvish' or 'woolvish' mean 'made of wool?' If it means 'wolfish,' what
is the sense?
Act iv. sc. 7. Speech of Aufidius:--
All places yield to him ere he sits down, &c.
I have always thought this in itself so beautiful speech, the least
explicable from the mood and full intention of the speaker, of any in
the whole works of Shakspeare. I cherish the hope that I am mistaken,
and that, becoming wiser, I shall discover some profound excellence in
that, in which I now appear to detect an imperfection.
Act I. sc. 1.
'Mar.' What meanest _thou_ by that? Mend me, thou saucy fellow!
The speeches of Flavius and Marullus are in blank verse. Wherever
regular metre can be rendered truly imitative of character, passion, or
personal rank, Shakspeare seldom, if ever, neglects it. Hence this line
should be read:--
What mean'st by that? mend me, thou saucy fellow!
I say regular metre: for even the prose has in the highest and lowest
dramatic personage, a Cobbler or a Hamlet, a rhythm so felicitous and so
severally appropriate, as to be a virtual metre.
Ib. sc. 2.
'Bru.' A soothsayer bids you beware the Ides of March.
If my ear does not deceive me, the metre of this line was meant to
express that sort of mild philosophic contempt, characterizing Brutus
even in his first casual speech. The line is a trimeter,--each _dipodia_
containing two accented and two unaccented syllables, but variously
arranged, as thus;-
^ -- -- ^ | -- ^ ^ -- | ^ -- ^ --
A soothsayer | bids you beware | the Ides of March.
Ib. Speech of Brutus:
Set honor in one eye, and death i' the other,
And I will look on _both_ indifferently.
Warburton would read 'death' for 'both;' but I prefer the old text.
There are here three things, the public good, the individual Brutus'
honor, and his death. The latter two so balanced each other, that he
could decide for the first by equipoise; nay--the thought growing--that
honor had more weight than death. That Cassius understood it as
Warburton, is the beauty of Cassius as contrasted with Brutus.
Ib. Caesar's speech:--
He loves no plays,
As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music, &c.
This is not a trivial observation, nor does our poet mean barely by it,
that Cassius was not a merry, sprightly man; but that he had not a due
temperament of harmony in his disposition. (Theobald's Note).
O Theobald! what a commentator wast thou, when thou would'st affect to
understand Shakspeare, instead of contenting thyself with collating the
text! The meaning here is too deep for a line ten-fold the length of
thine to fathom.
Ib. sc. 3. Caesar's speech:--
Be _factious_ for redress of all these griefs;
And I will set this foot of mine as far,
As who goes farthest.
I understand it thus: 'You have spoken as a conspirator; be so in
_fact_, and I will join you. Act on your principles, and realize them in
Act ii. sc. 1. Speech of Brutus:--
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.
--And, to speak truth of Caesar,
I have not known when his affections sway'd
More than his reason.--So Caesar may;
Then, lest he may, prevent.
This speech is singular;--at least, I do not at present see into
Shakspeare's motive, his _rationale_, or in what point of view he meant
Brutus' character to appear. For surely--(this I mean is what I say to
myself, with my present _quantum_ of insight, only modified by my
experience in how many instances I have ripened into a perception of
beauties, where I had before descried faults;) surely, nothing can seem
more discordant with our historical preconceptions of Brutus, or more
lowering to the intellect of the Stoico-Platonic tyrannicide, than the
tenets here attributed to him--to him, the stern Roman republican;
namely,--that he would have no objection to a king, or to Caesar, a
monarch in Rome, would Caesar but be as good a monarch as he now seems
disposed to be! How, too, could Brutus say that he found no personal
cause--none in Caesar's past conduct as a man? Had he not passed the
Rubicon? Had he not entered Rome as a conqueror? Had he not placed his
Gauls in the Senate?--Shakspeare, it may be said, has not brought these
things forwards.--True;--and this is just the ground of my perplexity.
What character did Shakspeare mean his Brutus to be?
Ib. Speech of Brutus:--
For if thou _path_, thy native semblance on--
Surely, there need be no scruple in treating this 'path' as a mere
misprint or mis-script for 'put.' In what place does Shakspeare,--where
does any other writer of the same age--use 'path' as a verb for 'walk?'
Ib. sc. 2. Caesar's speech:--
She dreamt last night, she saw my _statue_--
No doubt, it should be _statua_, as in the same age, they more often
pronounced 'heroes' as a trisyllable than dissyllable. A modern tragic
poet would have written,--
Last night she dreamt, that she my statue saw--
But Shakspeare never avails himself of the supposed license of
transposition, merely for the metre. There is always some logic either
of thought or passion to justify it.
Act iii. sc. 1. Antony's speech:--
Pardon me, Julius--here wast thou bay'd, brave hart;
Here didst thou fall, and here thy hunters stand
Sign'd in thy spoil, and crimson'd in thy death.
_O world! thou wast the forest to this hart,
And this, indeed, O world! the heart of thee._
I doubt the genuineness of the last two lines;--not because they are
vile; but first, on account of the rhythm, which is not Shakspearian,
but just the very tune of some old play, from which the actor might have
interpolated them;--and secondly, because they interrupt, not only the
sense and connection, but likewise the flow both of the passion, and,
(what is with me still more decisive) of the Shakspearian link of
association. As with many another parenthesis or gloss slipt into the
text, we have only to read the passage without it, to see that it never
was in it. I venture to say there is no instance in Shakspeare fairly
like this. Conceits he has; but they not only rise out of some word in
the lines before, but also lead to the thought in the lines following.
Here the conceit is a mere alien: Antony forgets an image, when he is
even touching it, and then recollects it, when the thought last in his
mind must have led him away from it.
Act iv. sc. 3. Speech of Brutus:--
----What, shall one of us,
That struck the foremost man of all this world,
But for _supporting robbers_.
This seemingly strange assertion of Brutus is unhappily verified in the
present day. What is an immense army, in which the lust of plunder has
quenched all the duties of the citizen, other than a horde of robbers,
or differenced only as fiends are from ordinarily reprobate men? Caesar
supported, and was supported by, such as these;--and even so Buonaparte
in our days.
I know no part of Shakspeare that more impresses on me the belief of his
genius being superhuman, than this scene between Brutus and Cassius. In
the Gnostic heresy, it might have been credited with less absurdity than
most of their dogmas, that the Supreme had employed him to create,
previously to his function of representing, characters.
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.
Shakspeare can be complimented only by comparison with himself: all
other eulogies are either heterogeneous, as when they are in reference
to Spenser or Milton; or they are flat truisms, as when he is gravely
preferred to Corneille, Racine, or even his own immediate successors,
Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger and the rest. The highest praise, or
rather form of praise, of this play, which I can offer in my own mind,
is the doubt which the perusal always occasions in me, whether the
Antony and Cleopatra is not, in all exhibitions of a giant power in its
strength and vigour of maturity, a formidable rival of Macbeth, Lear,
Hamlet, and Othello. 'Feliciter audax' is the motto for its style
comparatively with that of Shakspeare's other works, even as it is the
general motto of all his works compared with those of other poets. Be it
remembered, too, that this happy valiancy of style is but the
representative and result of all the material excellencies so expressed.
This play should be perused in mental contrast with Romeo and
Juliet;--as the love of passion and appetite opposed to the love of
affection and instinct. But the art displayed in the character of
Cleopatra is profound; in this, especially, that the sense of
criminality in her passion is lessened by our insight into its depth and
energy, at the very moment that we cannot but perceive that the passion
itself springs out of the habitual craving of a licentious nature, and
that it is supported and reinforced by voluntary stimulus and sought-for
associations, instead of blossoming out of spontaneous emotion.
Of all Shakspeare's historical plays, Antony and Cleopatra is by far the
most wonderful. There is not one in which he has followed history so
minutely, and yet there are few in which he impresses the notion of
angelic strength so much;--perhaps none in which he impresses it more
strongly. This is greatly owing to the manner in which the fiery force
is sustained throughout, and to the numerous momentary flashes of nature
counteracting the historic abstraction. As a wonderful specimen of the
way in which Shakspeare lives up to the very end of this play, read the
last part of the concluding scene. And if you would feel the judgment as
well as the genius of Shakspeare in your heart's core, compare this
astonishing drama with Dryden's All For Love.
Act i. sc. 1. Philo's speech:--
His captain's heart,
Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst
The buckles on his breast, _reneges_ all temper--
It should be 'reneagues,' or 'reniegues,' as 'fatigues,' &c.
Take but good note, and you shall see in him
The triple pillar of the world transform'd
Into a strumpet's _fool_.
Warburton's conjecture of 'stool' is ingenious, and would be a probable
reading, if the scene opening had discovered Antony with Cleopatra on
his lap. But, represented as he is walking and jesting with her, 'fool'
must be the word. Warburton's objection is shallow, and implies that he