The Man Shakespeare and his Tragic Life Story by Frank Harris

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  • 1909
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I. Hamlet: Romeo-Jaques
II. Hamlet-Macbeth
III. Duke Vincentio-Posthumus
IV. Shakespeare’s Men of Action: the Bastard, Arthur, and King Richard II
V. Shakespeare’s Men of Action (continued): Hotspur,
Prince Henry, and Henry V
VI. Shakespeare’s Men of Action (concluded): King
Henry VI. and Richard III
VII. Shakespeare as Lyric Poet: “Twelfth Night” VIII. Shakespeare’s Humour: “Falstaff”


I. Shakespeare’s early attempts to portray himself and his wife: Biron, Adriana, Valentine II. Shakespeare as Antonio the Merchant III. Shakespeare’s Love-story: the Sonnets: Part I IV. Shakespeare’s Love-story: the Sonnets: Part II V. Shakespeare’s Love-story: the Sonnets: Part III VI. The First-fruit of the Tree of Knowledge: Brutus VII. Dramas of Revenge and Jealousy: Hamlet VIII. Dramas of Revenge and Jealousy: Othello IX. Dramas of Lust: Part I: Troilus and Cressida X. Dramas of Lust: Part II: Antony and Cleopatra XI. The drama of Madness: Lear
XII. The Drama of Despair: Timon of Athens XIII. The Latest Works: All Copies: “Winter’s Tale”; “Cymbeline”; “The Tempest”
XIV. Shakespeare’s Life: Part I
XV. Shakespeare’s Life: Part II



This book has grown out of a series of articles contributed to “The Saturday Review” some ten or twelve years ago. As they appeared they were talked of and criticized in the usual way; a minority of readers thought “the stuff” interesting; many held that my view of Shakespeare was purely arbitrary; others said I had used a concordance to such purpose that out of the mass of words I had managed, by virtue of some unknown formula, to re-create the character of the man.

The truth is much simpler: I read Shakespeare’s plays in boyhood, chiefly for the stories; every few years later I was fain to re-read them; for as I grew I always found new beauties in them which I had formerly missed, and again and again I was lured back by tantalizing hints and suggestions of a certain unity underlying the diversity of characters. These suggestions gradually became more definite till at length, out of the myriad voices in the plays, I began to hear more and more insistent the accents of one voice, and out of the crowd of faces, began to distinguish more and more clearly the features of the writer; for all the world like some lovelorn girl, who, gazing with her soul in her eyes, finds in the witch’s cauldron the face of the beloved.

I have tried in this book to trace the way I followed, step by step; for I found it effective to rough in the chief features of the man first, and afterwards, taking the plays in succession, to show how Shakespeare painted himself at full-length not once, but twenty times, at as many different periods of his life. This is one reason why he is more interesting to us than the greatest men of the past, than Dante even, or Homer; for Dante and Homer worked only at their best in the flower of manhood. Shakespeare, on the other hand, has painted himself for us in his green youth with hardly any knowledge of life or art, and then in his eventful maturity, with growing experience and new powers, in masterpiece after masterpiece; and at length in his decline with weakened grasp and fading colours, so that in him we can study the growth and fruiting and decay of the finest spirit that has yet been born among men. This tragedy of tragedies, in which “Lear” is only one scene–this rise to intensest life and widest vision and fall through abysms of despair and madness to exhaustion and death–can be followed experience by experience, from Stratford to London and its thirty years of passionate living, and then from London to village Stratford again, and the eternal shrouding silence.

As soon as this astonishing drama discovered itself to me in its tragic completeness I jumped to the conclusion that it must have been set forth long ago in detail by Shakespeare’s commentators, and so, for the first time, I turned to their works. I do not wish to rail at my forerunners as Carlyle railed at the historians of Cromwell, or I should talk, as he talked, about “libraries of inanities…conceited dilettantism and pedantry…prurient stupidity,” and so forth. The fact is, I found all this, and worse; I waded through tons of talk to no result. Without a single exception the commentators have all missed the man and the story; they have turned the poet into a tradesman, and the unimaginable tragedy of his life into the commonplace record of a successful tradesman’s career. Even to explain this astounding misadventure of the host of critics is a little difficult. The mistake, of course, arose from the fact that his contemporaries told very little about Shakespeare; they left his appearance and even the incidents of his life rather vague. Being without a guide, and having no clear idea of Shakespeare’s character, the critics created him in their own image, and, whenever they were in doubt, idealized him according to the national type.

Still, there was at least one exception. Some Frenchman, I think it is Joubert, says that no great man is born into the world without another man being born about the same time, who understands and can interpret him, and Shakespeare was of necessity singularly fortunate in his interpreter. Ben Jonson was big enough to see him fairly, and to give excellent-true testimony concerning him. Jonson’s view of Shakespeare is astonishingly accurate and trustworthy so far as it goes; even his attitude of superiority to Shakespeare is fraught with meaning. Two hundred years later, the rising tide of international criticism produced two men, Goethe and Coleridge, who also saw Shakespeare, if only by glimpses, or rather by divination of kindred genius, recognizing certain indubitable traits. Goethe’s criticism of “Hamlet” has been vastly over-praised; but now and then he used words about Shakespeare which, in due course, we shall see were illuminating words, the words of one who guessed something of the truth. Coleridge, too, with his curious, complex endowment of philosopher and poet, resembled Shakespeare, saw him, therefore, by flashes, and might have written greatly about him; but, alas, Coleridge, a Puritan born, was brought up in epicene hypocrisies, and determined to see Shakespeare–that child of the Renascence–as a Puritan, too, and consequently mis-saw him far oftener than he saw him; misjudged him hideously, and had no inkling of his tragic history.

There is a famous passage in Coleridge’s “Essays on Shakespeare” which illustrates what I mean. It begins: “In Shakespeare all the elements of womanhood are holy”; and goes on to eulogize the instinct of chastity which all his women possess, and this in spite of Doll Tearsheet, Tamora, Cressida, Goneril, Regan, Cleopatra, the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, and many other frail and fascinating figures. Yet whatever gleam of light has fallen on Shakespeare since Coleridge’s day has come chiefly from that dark lantern which he now and then flashed upon the master.

In one solitary respect, our latter-day criticism has been successful; it has established with very considerable accuracy the chronology of the plays, and so the life-story of the poet is set forth in due order for those to read who can.

This then is what I found–a host of commentators who saw men as trees walking, and mistook plain facts, and among them one authentic witness, Jonson, and two interesting though not trustworthy witnesses, Goethe and Coleridge–and nothing more in three centuries. The mere fact may well give us pause, pointing as it does to a truth which is still insufficiently understood. It is the puzzle of criticism, at once the despair and wonder of readers, that the greatest men of letters usually pass through life without being remarked or understood by their contemporaries. The men of Elizabeth’s time were more interested in Jonson than in Shakespeare, and have told us much more about the younger than the greater master; just as Spaniards of the same age were more interested in Lope de Vega than in Cervantes, and have left a better picture of the second-rate playwright than of the world-poet. Attempting to solve this problem Emerson coolly assumed that the men of the Elizabethan age were so great that Shakespeare himself walked about among them unnoticed as a giant among giants. This reading of the riddle is purely transcendental. We know that Shakespeare’s worst plays were far oftener acted than his best; that “Titus Andronicus” by popular favour was more esteemed than “Hamlet.” The majority of contemporary poets and critics regarded Shakespeare rather as a singer of “sugred” verses than as a dramatist. The truth is that Shakespeare passed through life unnoticed because he was so much greater than his contemporaries that they could not see him at all in his true proportions. It was Jonson, the nearest to him in greatness, who alone saw him at all fairly and appreciated his astonishing genius.

Nothing illustrates more perfectly the unconscious wisdom of the English race than the old saying that “a man must be judged by his peers.” One’s peers, in fact, are the only persons capable of judging one, and the truth seems to be that three centuries have only produced three men at all capable of judging Shakespeare. The jury is still being collected. But from the quality of the first three, and of their praise, it is already plain that his place will be among the highest. From various indications, too, it looks as if the time for judging him had come: “Hamlet” is perhaps his most characteristic creation, and Hamlet, in his intellectual unrest, morbid brooding, cynical self-analysis and dislike of bloodshed, is much more typical of the nineteenth or twentieth century than of the sixteenth. Evidently the time for classifying the creator of Hamlet is at hand.

And this work of description and classification should be done as a scientist would do it: for criticism itself has at length bent to the Time-spirit and become scientific. And just as in science, analysis for the moment has yielded pride of place to synthesis, so the critical movement in literature has in our time become creative. The chemist, who resolves any substance into its elements, is not satisfied till by synthesis he can re-create the substance out of its elements: this is the final proof that his knowledge is complete. And so we care little or nothing to-day for critical analyses or appreciations which are not creative presentments of the person. “Paint him for us,” we say, “in his habit as he lived, and we will take it that you know something about him.”

One of the chief attempts at creative criticism in English literature, or, perhaps it would be fairer to say, the only memorable attempt, is Carlyle’s Cromwell. He has managed to build up the man for us quite credibly out of Cromwell’s letters and speeches, showing us the underlying sincerity and passionate resolution of the great Puritan once for all. But unfortunately Carlyle was too romantic an artist, too persuaded in his hero-worship to discover for us Cromwell’s faults and failings. In his book we find nothing of the fanatic who ordered the Irish massacres, nothing of the neuropath who lived in hourly dread of assassination. Carlyle has painted his subject all in lights, so to speak; the shadows are not even indicated, and yet he ought to have known that in proportion to the brilliancy of the light the shadows must of necessity be dark. It is not for me to point out that this romantic painting of great men, like all other make-believes and hypocrisies, has its drawbacks and shortcomings: it is enough that it has had its day and produced its pictures of giant-heroes and their worshippers for those who love such childish toys.

The wonderful age in which we live–this twentieth century with its X-rays that enable us to see through the skin and flesh of men, and to study the working of their organs and muscles and nerves–has brought a new spirit into the world, a spirit of fidelity to fact, and with it a new and higher ideal of life and of art, which must of necessity change and transform all the conditions of existence, and in time modify the almost immutable nature of man. For this new spirit, this love of the fact and of truth, this passion for reality will do away with the foolish fears and futile hopes which have fretted the childhood of our race, and will slowly but surely establish on broad foundations the Kingdom of Man upon Earth. For that is the meaning and purpose of the change which is now coming over the world. The faiths and convictions of twenty centuries are passing away and the forms and institutions of a hundred generations of men are dissolving before us like the baseless fabric of a dream. A new morality is already shaping itself in the spirit; a morality based not on guess-work and on fancies; but on ascertained laws of moral health; a scientific morality belonging not to statics, like the morality of the Jews, but to dynamics, and so fitting the nature of each individual person. Even now conscience with its prohibitions is fading out of life, evolving into a more profound consciousness of ourselves and others, with multiplied incitements to wise giving. The old religious asceticism with its hatred of the body is dead; the servile acceptance of conditions of life and even of natural laws is seen to be vicious; it is of the nobility of man to be insatiate in desire and to rebel against limiting conditions; it is the property of his intelligence to constrain even the laws of nature to the attainment of his ideal.

Already we are proud of being students, investigators, servants of truth, and we leave the great names of demi-gods and heroes a little contemptuously to the men of bygone times. As student-artists we are no longer content with the outward presentment and form of men: we want to discover the protean vanities, greeds and aspirations of men, and to lay bare, as with a scalpel, the hidden motives and springs of action. We dream of an art that shall take into account the natural daily decay and up-building of cell-life; the wars that go on in the blood; the fevers of the brain; the creeping paralysis of nerve-exhaustion; above all, we must be able even now from a few bare facts, to re-create a man and make him live and love again for the reader, just as the biologist from a few scattered bones can reconstruct some prehistoric bird or fish or mammal.

And we student-artists have no desire to paint our subject as better or nobler or smaller or meaner than he was in reality; we study his limitations as we study his gifts, his virtues with as keen an interest as his vices; for it is in some excess of desire, or in some extravagance of mentality, that we look for the secret of his achievement, just as we begin to wonder when we see hands constantly outstretched in pious supplication, whether a foot is not thrust out behind in some secret shame, for the biped, man, must keep a balance.

I intend first of all to prove from Shakespeare’s works that he has painted himself twenty times from youth till age at full length: I shall consider and compare these portraits till the outlines of his character are clear and certain; afterwards I shall show how his little vanities and shames idealized the picture, and so present him as he really was, with his imperial intellect and small snobberies; his giant vices and paltry self-deceptions; his sweet gentleness and long martyrdom. I cannot but think that his portrait will thus gain more in truth than it can lose in ideal beauty. Or let me come nearer to my purpose by means of a simile. Talking with Sir David Gill one evening on shipboard about the fixed stars, he pointed one out which is so distant that we cannot measure how far it is away from us and can form no idea of its magnitude. “But surely,” I exclaimed, “the great modern telescopes must bring the star nearer and magnify it?” “No,” he replied, “no; the best instruments make the star clearer to us, but certainly not larger.” This is what I wish to do in regard to Shakespeare; make him clearer to men, even if I do not make him larger.

And if I were asked why I do this, why I take the trouble to re-create a man now three centuries dead, it is first of all, of course, because he is worth it–the most complex and passionate personality in the world, whether of life or letters–because, too, there are certain lessons which the English will learn from Shakespeare more quickly and easily than from any living man, and a little because I want to get rid of Shakespeare by assimilating all that was fine in him, while giving all that was common and vicious in him as spoil to oblivion. He is like the Old-Man-of-the-Sea on the shoulders of our youth; he has become an obsession to the critic, a weapon to the pedant, a nuisance to the man of genius. True, he has painted great pictures in a superb, romantic fashion; he is the Titian of dramatic art: but is there to be no Rembrandt, no Balzac, no greater Tolstoi in English letters? I want to liberate Englishmen so far as I can from the tyranny of Shakespeare’s greatness. For the new time is upon us, with its new knowledge and new claims, and we English are all too willing to live in the past, and so lose our inherited place as leader of the nations.

The French have profited by their glorious Revolution: they trusted reason and have had their reward; no such leap forward has ever been made as France made in that one decade, and the effects are still potent. In the last hundred years the language of Moliere has grown fourfold; the slang of the studios and the gutter and the laboratory, of the engineering school and the dissecting table, has been ransacked for special terms to enrich and strengthen the language in order that it may deal easily with the new thoughts. French is now a superb instrument, while English is positively poorer than it was in the time of Shakespeare, thanks to the prudery of our illiterate middle class. Divorced from reality, with its activities all fettered in baby-linen, our literature has atrophied and dwindled into a babble of nursery rhymes, tragedies of Little Marys, tales of Babes in a Wood. The example of Shakespeare may yet teach us the value of free speech; he could say what he liked as he liked: he was not afraid of the naked truth and the naked word, and through his greatness a Low Dutch dialect has become the chiefest instrument of civilization, the world-speech of humanity at large.


LONDON, 1909.





“As I passed by … I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” This work of Paul–the discovery and proclaiming of an unknown god–is in every age the main function of the critic.

An unknown god this Shakespeare of ours, whom all are agreed it would be well to know, if in any way possible. As to the possibility, however, the authorities are at loggerheads. Hallam, “the judicious,” declared that it was impossible to learn anything certain about “the man, Shakespeare.” Wordsworth, on the other hand (without a nickname to show a close connection with the common), held that Shakespeare unlocked his heart with the sonnets for key. Browning jeered at this belief, to be in turn contradicted by Swinburne. Matthew Arnold gave us in a sonnet “the best opinion of his time”:

“Others abide our question. Thou art free. We ask and ask–Thou smilest and art still, Out-topping knowledge.”

But alas! the best opinion of one generation is in these matters often flat unreason to the next, and it may be that in this instance neither the opinion of Hallam nor Browning nor Arnold will be allowed to count.

As it is the object of a general to win battles so it is the life-work of the artist to show himself to us, and the completeness with which he reveals his own individuality is perhaps the best measure of his genius. One does this like Montaigne, simply, garrulously, telling us his height and make, his tastes and distastes, his loves and fears and habits, till gradually the seeming-artless talk brings the man before us, a sun-warmed fruit of humanity, with uncouth rind of stiff manners and sweet kindly juices, not perfect in any way, shrivelled on this side by early frost-bite, and on that softened to corruption through too much heat, marred here by the bitter-black cicatrice of an ancient injury and there fortune-spotted, but on the whole healthy, grateful, of a most pleasant ripeness. Another, like Shakespeare, with passionate conflicting sympathies and curious impartial intellect cannot discover himself so simply; needs, like the diamond, many facets to show all the light in him, and so proceeds to cut them one after the other as Falstaff or Hamlet, to the dazzling of the purblind.

Yet Shakespeare’s purpose is surely the same as Montaigne’s, to reveal himself to us, and it would be hasty to decide that his skill is inferior. For while Montaigne had nothing but prose at his command, and not too rich a prose, as he himself complains, Shakespeare in magic of expression has had no equal in recorded time, and he used the lyric as well as the dramatic form, poetry as well as prose, to give his soul utterance.

We are doing Shakespeare wrong by trying to believe that he hides himself behind his work; the suspicion is as unworthy as the old suspicion dissipated by Carlyle that Cromwell was an ambitious hypocrite. Sincerity is the birthmark of genius, and we can be sure that Shakespeare has depicted himself for us with singular fidelity; we can see him in his works, if we will take the trouble, “in his habit as he lived.”

We are doing ourselves wrong, too, by pretending that Shakespeare “out-tops knowledge.” He did not fill the world even in his own time: there was room beside him in the days of Elizabeth for Marlowe and Spenser, Ben Jonson and Bacon, and since then the spiritual outlook, like the material outlook, has widened to infinity. There is space in life now for a dozen ideals undreamed-of in the sixteenth century. Let us have done with this pretence of doglike humility; we, too, are men, and there is on earth no higher title, and in the universe nothing beyond our comprehending. It will be well for us to know Shakespeare and all his high qualities and do him reverence; it will be well for us, too, to see his limitations and his faults, for after all it is the human frailties in a man that call forth our sympathy and endear him to us, and without love there is no virtue in worship, no attraction in example.

The doubt as to the personality of Shakespeare, and the subsequent confusion and contradictions are in the main, I think, due to Coleridge. He was the first modern critic to have glimpses of the real Shakespeare, and the vision lent his words a singular authority. But Coleridge was a hero-worshipper by nature and carried reverence to lyric heights. He used all his powers to persuade men that Shakespeare was [Greek: myrionous anaer]–“the myriad-minded man”; a sort of demi-god who was every one and no one, a Proteus without individuality of his own. The theory has held the field for nearly a century, probably because it flatters our national vanity; for in itself it is fantastically absurd and leads to most ridiculous conclusions. For instance, when Coleridge had to deal with the fact that Shakespeare never drew a miser, instead of accepting the omission as characteristic, for it is confirmed by Ben Jonson’s testimony that he was “of an open and free nature,” Coleridge proceeded to argue that avarice is not a permanent passion in humanity, and that Shakespeare probably for that reason chose to leave it undescribed. This is an example of the ecstasy of hero-worship; it is begging the question to assume that whatever Shakespeare did was perfect; humanity cannot be penned up even in Shakespeare’s brain. Like every other man of genius Shakespeare must have shown himself in his qualities and defects, in his preferences and prejudices; “a fallible being,” as stout old Dr. Johnson knew, “will fail somewhere.”

Even had Shakespeare tried to hide himself in his work, he could not have succeeded. Now that the print of a man’s hand or foot or ear is enough to distinguish him from all other men, it is impossible to believe that the mask of his mind, the very imprint, form and pressure of his soul should be less distinctive. Just as Monsieur Bertillon’s whorl-pictures of a thumb afford overwhelming proofs of a man’s identity, so it is possible from Shakespeare’s writings to establish beyond doubt the main features of his character and the chief incidents of his life. The time for random assertion about Shakespeare and unlimited eulogy of him has passed away for ever: the object of this inquiry is to show him as he lived and loved and suffered, and the proofs of this and of that trait shall be so heaped up as to stifle doubt and reach absolute conviction. For not only is the circumstantial evidence overwhelming and conclusive, but we have also the testimony of eye-witnesses with which to confirm it, and one of these witnesses, Ben Jonson, is of rare credibility and singularly well equipped.

Let us begin, then, by treating Shakespeare as we would treat any other writer, and ask simply how a dramatic author is most apt to reveal himself. A great dramatist may not paint himself for us at any time in his career with all his faults and vices; but when he goes deepest into human nature, we may be sure that self-knowledge is his guide; as Hamlet said, “To know a man well, were to know himself” (oneself), so far justifying the paradox that dramatic writing is merely a form of autobiography. We may take then as a guide this first criterion that, in his masterpiece of psychology, the dramatist will reveal most of his own nature.

If a dozen lovers of Shakespeare were asked to name the most profound and most complex character in all his dramas it is probable that every one without hesitation would answer Hamlet. The current of cultivated opinion has long set in this direction. With the intuition of a kindred genius, Goethe was the first to put Hamlet on a pedestal: “the incomparable,” he called him, and devoted pages to an analysis of the character. Coleridge followed with the confession whose truth we shall see later: “I have a smack of Hamlet myself, if I may say so.” But even if it be admitted that Hamlet is the most complex and profound of Shakespeare’s creations, and therefore probably the character in which Shakespeare revealed most of himself, the question of degree still remains to be determined. Is it possible to show certainly that even the broad outlines of Hamlet’s character are those of the master-poet?

There are various ways in which this might be proved. For instance, if one could show that whenever Shakespeare fell out of a character he was drawing, he unconsciously dropped into the Hamlet vein, one’s suspicion as to the identity of Hamlet and the poet would be enormously strengthened. There is another piece of evidence still more convincing. Suppose that Shakespeare in painting another character did nothing but paint Hamlet over again trait by trait–virtue by virtue, fault by fault–our assurance would be almost complete; for a dramatist only makes this mistake when he is speaking unconsciously in his proper person. But if both these kinds of proof were forthcoming, and not once but a dozen times, then surely our conviction as to the essential identity of Hamlet and Shakespeare would amount to practical certitude.

Of course it would be foolish, even in this event, to pretend that Hamlet exhausts Shakespeare; art does little more than embroider the fringe of the garment of life, and the most complex character in drama or even in fiction is simple indeed when compared with even the simplest of living men or women. Shakespeare included in himself Falstaff and Cleopatra, beside the author of the sonnets, and knowledge drawn from all these must be used to fill out and perhaps to modify the outlines given in Hamlet before one can feel sure that the portrait is a re-presentment of reality. But when this study is completed, it will be seen that with many necessary limitations, Hamlet is indeed a revelation of some of the most characteristic traits of Shakespeare.

To come to the point quickly, I will take Hamlet’s character as analyzed by Coleridge and Professor Dowden.

Coleridge says: “Hamlet’s character is the prevalence of the abstracting and generalizing habit over the practical. He does not want courage, skill, will or opportunity; but every incident sets him thinking: and it is curious, and at the same time strictly natural, that Hamlet, who all the play seems reason itself, should be impelled at last by mere accident to effect his object.” Again he says: “in Hamlet we see a great, an almost enormous intellectual activity and a proportionate aversion to real action consequent upon it.”

Professor Dowden’s analysis is more careful but hardly as complete. He calls Hamlet “the meditative son” of a strong-willed father, and adds, “he has slipped on into years of full manhood still a haunter of the university, a student of philosophies, an amateur in art, a ponderer on the things of life and death who has never formed a resolution or executed a deed. This long course of thinking apart from action has destroyed Hamlet’s very capacity for belief…. In presence of the spirit he is himself ‘a spirit,’ and believes in the immortality of the soul. When left to his private thoughts he wavers uncertainly to and fro; death is a sleep; a sleep, it may be, troubled with dreams…. He is incapable of certitude…. After his fashion (that of one who relieves himself by speech rather than by deeds) he unpacks his heart in words.”

Now what other personage is there in Shakespeare who shows these traits or some of them? He should be bookish and irresolute, a lover of thought and not of action, of melancholy temper too, and prone to unpack his heart with words. Almost every one who has followed the argument thus far will be inclined to think of Romeo. Hazlitt declared that “Romeo is Hamlet in love. There is the same rich exuberance of passion and sentiment in the one, that there is of thought and sentiment in the other. Both are absent and self-involved; both live out of themselves in a world of imagination.” Much of this is true and affords a noteworthy example of Hazlitt’s occasional insight into character, yet for reasons that will appear later it is not possible to insist, as Hazlitt does, upon the identity of Romeo and Hamlet. The most that can be said is that Romeo is a younger brother of Hamlet, whose character is much less mature and less complex than that of the student-prince. Moreover, the characterization in Romeo–the mere drawing and painting–is very inferior to that put to use in Hamlet. Romeo is half hidden from us in the rose-mist of passion, and after he is banished from Juliet’s arms we only see him for a moment as he rushes madly by into never-ending night, and all the while Shakespeare is thinking more of the poetry of the theme than of his hero’s character. Romeo is crude and immature when compared with a profound psychological study like Hamlet. In “Hamlet” the action often stands still while incidents are invented for the mere purpose of displaying the peculiarities of the protagonist. “Hamlet,” too, is the longest of Shakespeare’s plays with the exception of “Antony and Cleopatra,” and “the total length of Hamlet’s speeches,” says Dryasdust, “far exceeds that of those allotted by Shakespeare to any other of his characters.” The important point, however, is that Romeo has a more than family likeness to Hamlet. Even in the heat and heyday of his passion Romeo plays thinker; Juliet says, “Good-night” and disappears, but he finds time to give us the abstract truth:

“Love goes towards love, as schoolboys from their books, But love from love, toward school with heavy looks.”

Juliet appears again unexpectedly, and again Hamlet’s generalizing habit asserts itself in Romeo:

“How silver-sweet sound lovers’ tongues by night, Like softest music to attending ears.”

We may be certain that Juliet would have preferred more pointed praise. He is indeed so lost in his ill-timed reverie that Juliet has to call him again and again by name before he attends to her.

Romeo has Hamlet’s peculiar habit of talking to himself. He falls into a soliloquy on his way to Juliet in Capulet’s orchard, when his heart must have been beating so loudly that it would have prevented him from hearing himself talk, and into another when hurrying to the apothecary. In this latter monologue, too, when all his thoughts must have been of Juliet and their star-crossed fates, and love-devouring Death, he is able to picture for us the apothecary and his shop with a wealth of detail that says more for Shakespeare’s painstaking and memory than for his insight into character. The fault, however, is not so grave as it would be if Romeo were a different kind of man; but like Hamlet he is always ready to unpack his heart with words, and if they are not the best words sometimes, sometimes even very inappropriate words, it only shows that in his first tragedy Shakespeare was not the master of his art that he afterwards became.

In the churchyard scene of the fifth act Romeo’s likeness to Hamlet comes into clearest light.

Hamlet says to Laertes:

“I pr’ythee, take thy fingers from my throat; For though I am not splenitive and rash Yet have I something in me dangerous
Which let thy wisdom fear.”

In precisely the same temper, Romeo says to Paris:

“Good, gentle youth, tempt not a desperate man; Fly hence and leave me; think upon these gone, Let them affright thee.”

This magnanimity is so rare that its existence would almost of itself be sufficient to establish a close relationship between Romeo and Hamlet. Romeo’s last speech, too, is characteristic of Hamlet: on the very threshold of death he generalizes:

“How oft when men are at the point of death, Have they been merry? which their keepers call A lightening before death.”

There is in Romeo, too, that peculiar mixture of pensive sadness and loving sympathy which is the very vesture of Hamlet’s soul; he says to “Noble County Paris”:

“O, give me thy hand,
One writ with me in sour misfortune’s book.”

And finally Shakespeare’s supreme lyrical gift is used by Romeo as unconstrainedly as by Hamlet himself. The beauty in the last soliloquy is of passion rather than of intellect, but in sheer triumphant beauty some lines of it have never been surpassed:

“Here, here will I remain
With worms that are thy chambermaids; O, here Will I set up my everlasting rest
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars From this world-wearied flesh.”

The whole soliloquy and especially the superb epithet “world-wearied” are at least as suitable to Hamlet as to Romeo. Passion, it is true, is more accentuated in Romeo, just as there is greater irresolution combined with intenser self-consciousness in Hamlet, yet all the qualities of the youthful lover are to be found in the student-prince. Hamlet is evidently the later finished picture of which Romeo was merely the charming sketch. Hamlet says he is revengeful and ambitious, although he is nothing of the kind, and in much the same way Romeo says:

“I’ll be a candle-holder and look on,”

whereas he plays the chief part and a very active part in the drama. If he were more of a “candle-holder” and onlooker, he would more resemble Hamlet. Then too, though he generalizes, he does not search the darkness with aching eyeballs as Hamlet does; the problems of life do not as yet lie heavy on his soul; he is too young to have felt their mystery and terror; he is only just within the shadow of that melancholy which to Hamlet discolours the world.

Seven or eight years after writing “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare growing conscious of these changes in his own temperament embodied them in another character, the melancholy “Jaques” in “As You Like It.” Every one knows that Jaques is Shakespeare’s creation; he is not to be found in Lodge’s “Rosalynde,” whence Shakespeare took the story and most of the characters of his play. Jaques is only sketched in with light strokes, but all his traits are peculiarly Hamlet’s traits. For Jaques is a melancholy student of life as Hamlet is, with lightning-quick intelligence and heavy heart, and these are the Hamlet qualities which were not brought into prominence in the youthful Romeo. Passages taken at haphazard will suffice to establish my contention. “Motley’s the only wear,” says Jaques, as if longing to assume the cap and bells, and Hamlet plays the fool’s part with little better reason. Jaques exclaims:

“Give me leave
To speak my mind, and I will through and through Cleanse the foul body of the infected world, If they will patiently receive my medicine.”

And Hamlet cries:

“The Time is out of joint; O cursed spite That ever I was born to set it right.”

The famous speech of Jaques, “All the world’s a stage,” might have been said by Hamlet, indeed belongs of right to the person who gave the exquisite counsel to the players. Jaques’ confession of melancholy, too, both in manner and matter is characteristic of Hamlet. How often Shakespeare must have thought it over before he was able to bring the peculiar nature of his own malady into such relief:

“I have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician’s, which is fantastical; nor the courtier’s, which is proud; nor the soldier’s, which is ambitious; nor the lawyer’s, which is politic; nor the lady’s, which is nice; nor the lover’s, which is all these; but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and, indeed, the sundry contemplation of my travels; which, by often rumination, wraps me in, a most humourous sadness.”

This “humourous sadness,” the child of contemplation, was indeed Shakespeare’s most constant mood. Jaques, too, loves solitude and the country as Hamlet loved them–and above all the last trait recorded of Jaques, his eagerness to see the reformed Duke and learn from the convert, is a perfect example of that intellectual curiosity which is one of Hamlet’s most attaching characteristics. Yet another trait is attributed to Jaques, which we must on no account forget. The Duke accuses him of lewdness though lewdness seems out of place in Jaques’s character, and is certainly not shown in the course of the action. If we combine the characters of Romeo, the poet-lover, and Jaques, the pensive-sad philosopher, we have almost the complete Hamlet.

It is conceivable that even a fair-minded reader of the plays will admit all I have urged about the likeness of Romeo and Jaques to Hamlet without concluding that these preliminary studies, so to speak, for the great portrait render it at all certain that the masterpiece of portraiture is a likeness of Shakespeare himself. The impartial critic will probably say, “You have raised a suspicion in my mind; a strong suspicion it may be, but still a suspicion that is far from certitude.” Fortunately the evidence still to be offered is a thousand times more convincing than any inferences that can properly be drawn from Romeo or from Jaques, or even from both together.



There is a later drama of Shakespeare’s, a drama which comes between “Othello” and “Lear,” and belongs, therefore, to the topmost height of the poet’s achievement, whose principal character is Hamlet, Hamlet over again, with every peculiarity and every fault; a Hamlet, too, entangled in an action which is utterly unsuited to his nature. Surely if this statement can be proved, it will be admitted by all competent judges that the identity of Hamlet and his creator has been established. For Shakespeare must have painted this second Hamlet unconsciously. Think of it. In totally new circumstances the poet speaks with Hamlet’s voice in Hamlet’s words. The only possible explanation is that he is speaking from his own heart, and for that reason is unaware of the mistake. The drama I refer to is “Macbeth.” No one, so far as I know, has yet thought of showing that there is any likeness between the character of Hamlet and that of Macbeth, much less identity; nevertheless, it seems to me easy to prove that Macbeth, “the rugged Macbeth,” as Hazlitt and Brandes call him, is merely our gentle irresolute, humanist, philosopher Hamlet masquerading in galligaskins as a Scottish thane.

Let us take the first appearance of Macbeth, and we are forced to remark at once that he acts and speaks exactly as Hamlet in like circumstances would act and speak. The honest but slow Banquo is amazed when Macbeth starts and seems to fear the fair promises of the witches; he does not see what the nimble Hamlet-intellect has seen in a flash–the dread means by which alone the promises can be brought to fulfilment. As soon as Macbeth is hailed “Thane of Cawdor” Banquo warns him, but Macbeth, in spite of the presence of others, falls at once, as Hamlet surely would have fallen, into a soliloquy: a thing, considering the circumstances, most false to general human nature, for what he says must excite Banquo’s suspicion, and is only true to the Hamlet-mind, that in and out of season loses itself in meditation. The soliloquy, too, is startlingly characteristic of Hamlet. After giving expression to the merely natural uplifting of his hope, Macbeth begins to weigh the for and against like a student-thinker:

“This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill; cannot be good; if ill, Why hath it given me earnest of success, Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor: If good, why do I yield to that suggestion Whose horrid image …
… function
Is smothered in surmise and nothing is But what is not,—-“

When Banquo draws attention to him as “rapt,” Macbeth still goes on talking to himself, for at length he has found arguments against action:

“If chance will have me King, why chance may crown me, Without my stir,”–
all in the true Hamlet vein. At the end of the act, Macbeth when excusing himself to his companions becomes the student of Wittenberg in proper person. The courteous kindliness of the words is almost as characteristic as the bookish illustration:

“Kind gentlemen, your pains
Are registered where every day I turn The leaf to read them.”

If this is not Hamlet’s very tone, manner and phrase, then individuality of nature has no peculiar voice.

I have laid such stress upon this, the first scene in which Macbeth appears, because the first appearance is by far the most important for the purpose of establishing the main outlines of a character; first impressions in a drama being exceedingly difficult to modify and almost impossible to change.

Macbeth, however, acts Hamlet from one end of the play to the other; and Lady Macbeth’s first appearance (a personage almost as important to the drama as Macbeth himself) is used by Shakespeare to confirm this view of Macbeth’s character. After reading her husband’s letter almost her first words are:

“Yet do I fear thy nature.
It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way.”

What is this but a more perfect expression of Hamlet’s nature than Hamlet himself gives? Hamlet declares bitterly that he is “pigeon livered,” and lacks “gall to make oppression bitter”; he says to Laertes, “I loved you ever,” and to his mother:

“I must be cruel only to be kind,”

and she tells the King that he wept for Polonius’ death. But the best phrase for his gentle-heartedness is what Lady Macbeth gives here: he is “too full o’ the milk of human kindness.” The words are as true of the Scottish chieftain as of the Wittenberg student; in heart they are one and the same person.

Though excited to action by his wife, Macbeth’s last words in this scene are to postpone decision. “We will speak further,” he says, whereupon the woman takes the lead, warns him to dissemble, and adds, “leave all the rest to me.” Macbeth’s doubting, irresolution, and dislike of action could hardly be more forcibly portrayed.

The seventh scene of the first act begins with another long soliloquy by Macbeth, and this soliloquy shows us not only Hamlet’s irresolution and untimely love of meditation, but also the peculiar pendulum-swing of Hamlet’s thought:

“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well It were done quickly: if the assassination Could trammel up the consequence, and catch With his surcease success: that but this blow Might be the be-all and the end-all; here, But here upon this bank and shoal of time We’d jump the life to come. . . . .”

Is not this the same soul which also in a soliloquy questions fate?–“Whether ’tis better in the mind….”

Macbeth, too, has Hamlet’s peculiar and exquisite intellectual fairness–a quality, be it remarked in passing, seldom found in a ruthless murderer. He sees even the King’s good points:

…… “this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been So clear in his great office, that his virtues Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against The deep damnation of his taking off.”

Is it not like Hamlet to be able to condemn himself in this way beforehand? Macbeth ends this soliloquy with words which come from the inmost of Hamlet’s heart:

“I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself, And falls on the other.”

Hamlet, too, has no spur to prick the sides of his intent, and Hamlet, too, would be sure to see how apt ambition is to overleap itself, and so would blunt the sting of the desire. This monologue alone should have been sufficient to reveal to all critics the essential identity of Hamlet and Macbeth. Lady Macbeth, too, tells us that Macbeth left the supper table where he was entertaining the King, in order to indulge himself in this long monologue, and when he hears that his absence has excited comment, that he has been asked for even by the King, he does not attempt to excuse his strange conduct, he merely says, “We will proceed no further in this business,” showing in true Hamlet fashion how resolution has been “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.” In fact, as his wife says to him, he lets “‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’ like the poor cat i’ the adage.” Even when whipped to action by Lady Macbeth’s preternatural eagerness, he asks:

“If we should fail?”

whereupon she tells him to screw his courage to the sticking place, and describes the deed itself. Infected by her masculine resolution, Macbeth at length consents to what he calls the “terrible feat.” The word “terrible” here is surely more characteristic of the humane poet-thinker than of the chieftain-murderer. Even at this crisis, too, of his fate Macbeth cannot cheat himself; like Hamlet he is compelled to see himself as he is:

“False face must hide what the false heart doth know.”

I have now considered nearly every word used by Macbeth in this first act: I have neither picked passages nor omitted anything that might make against my argument; yet every impartial reader must acknowledge that Hamlet is far more clearly sketched in this first act of “Macbeth” than in the first act of “Hamlet.” Macbeth appears in it as an irresolute dreamer, courteous, and gentle-hearted, of perfect intellectual fairness and bookish phrase; and in especial his love of thought and dislike of action are insisted upon again and again.

In spite of the fact that the second act is one chiefly of incident, filled indeed with the murder and its discovery, Shakespeare uses Macbeth as the mouthpiece of his marvellous lyrical faculty as freely as he uses Hamlet. A greater singer even than Romeo, Hamlet is a poet by nature, and turns every possible occasion to account, charming the ear with subtle harmonies. With a father’s murder to avenge, he postpones action and sings to himself of life and death and the undiscovered country in words of such magical spirit-beauty that they can be compared to nothing in the world’s literature save perhaps to the last chapter of Ecclesiastes. From the beginning to the end of the drama Hamlet is a great lyric poet, and this supreme personal gift is so natural to him that it is hardly mentioned by the critics. This gift, however, is possessed by Macbeth in at least equal degree and excites just as little notice. It is credible that Shakespeare used the drama sometimes as a means of reaching the highest lyrical utterance.

Without pressing this point further let us now take up the second act of the play. Banquo and Fleance enter; Macbeth has a few words with them; they depart, and after giving a servant an order, Macbeth begins another long soliloquy. He thinks he sees a dagger before him, and immediately falls to philosophizing:

“Come let me clutch thee:–
I have thee not and yet I see thee still. Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but A dagger of the mind, a false creation
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? I see thee yet in form as palpable
As that which now I draw….
* * * * *
Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the other senses. Or else worth all the rest: I see thee still; And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood Which was not so before.–There’s no such thing.”

What is all this but an illustration of Hamlet’s assertion:

“There is nothing either good or bad But thinking makes it so.”

Just too as Hamlet swings on his mental balance, so that it is still a debated question among academic critics whether his madness was feigned or real, so here Shakespeare shows us how Macbeth loses his foothold on reality and falls into the void.

The lyrical effusion that follows is not very successful, and probably on that account Macbeth breaks off abruptly:

“Whiles I threat he lives,
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives,”

which is, of course, precisely Hamlet’s complaint:

“This is most brave;
That I, the son of a dear father murdered, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words.”

After this Lady Macbeth enters, and the murder is committed, and now wrought to the highest tension Macbeth must speak from the depths of his nature with perfect sincerity. Will he exult, as the ambitious man would, at having taken successfully the longest step towards his goal? Or will he, like a prudent man, do his utmost to hide the traces of his crime, and hatch plans to cast suspicion on others? It is Lady Macbeth who plays this part; she tells Macbeth to “get some water,”

“And wash this filthy witness from your hand,”

while he, brainsick, rehearses past fears and shows himself the sensitive poet-dreamer inclined to piety: here is the incredible scene:

Lady M. There are two lodged together.
Macb. One cried, ‘God bless us!’ and ‘Amen’ the other, As they had seen me with these hangman’s hands. Listening their fear, I could not say ‘Amen,’ When they did say ‘God bless us.’
Lady M. Consider it not so deeply.
Macb. But wherefore could not I pronounce ‘Amen’? I had most need of blessing, and ‘Amen’ Stuck in my throat.”

This religious tinge colouring the weakness of self-pity is to be found again and again in “Hamlet”; Hamlet, too, is religious-minded; he begs Ophelia to remember his sins in her orisons. When he first sees his father’s ghost he cries:

“Angels and ministers of grace defend us,”

and when the ghost leaves him his word is, “I’ll go pray.” This new trait, most intimate and distinctive, is therefore the most conclusive proof of the identity of the two characters. The whole passage in the mouth of a murderer is utterly unexpected and out of place; no wonder Lady Macbeth exclaims:

“These deeds must not be thought After these ways: so, it will make us mad.”

But nothing can restrain Macbeth; he gives rein to his poetic imagination, and breaks out in an exquisite lyric, a lyric which has hardly any closer relation to the circumstances than its truth to Shakespeare’s nature:

“Methought I heard a voice cry, ‘Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep,’–the innocent sleep: Sleep, that knits up the ravelled sleave of care,”

and so forth–the poet in love with his own imaginings.

Again Lady Macbeth tries to bring him back to a sense of reality; tells him his thinking unbends his strength, and finally urges him to take the daggers back and

The sleepy grooms with the blood.”

But Macbeth’s nerve is gone; he is physically broken now as well as mentally o’erwrought; he cries:

“I’ll go no more;
I am afraid to think what I have done. Look on’t again I dare not.”

All this is exquisitely characteristic of the nervous student who has been screwed up to a feat beyond his strength, “a terrible feat,” and who has broken down over it, but the words are altogether absurd in the mouth of an ambitious, half-barbarous chieftain.

His wife chides him as fanciful, childish–“infirm of purpose,”–she’ll put the daggers back herself; but nothing can hearten Macbeth; every household noise sets his heart thumping:

“Whence is that knocking?
How is’t with me when every noise appals me?”

His mind rocks; he even imagines he is being tortured:

“What hands are here? Ha!
They pluck out my eyes.”

And then he swings into another incomparable lyric:

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.”

There is a great deal of the poet-neuropath and very little of the murderer for ambition’s sake in this lyrical hysteria. No wonder Lady Macbeth declares she would be ashamed “to wear a heart so white.” It is all Hamlet over again, Hamlet wrought up to a higher pitch of intensity. And here it should be remembered that “Macbeth” was written three years after “Hamlet” and probably just before “Lear”; one would therefore expect a greater intensity and a deeper pessimism in Macbeth than in Hamlet.

The character-drawing in the next scene is necessarily slight. The discovery of the murder impels every one save the protagonist to action, but Macbeth finds time even at the climax of excitement to coin Hamlet-words that can never be forgotten:

“There’s nothing serious in mortality;”

and the description of Duncan:

“His silver skin laced with his golden blood”

–as sugar’d sweet as any line in the sonnets, and here completely out of place.

In these first two acts the character of Macbeth is outlined so firmly that no after-touches can efface the impression.

Now comes a period in the drama in which deed follows so fast upon deed, that there is scarcely any opportunity for characterization. To the casual view Macbeth seems almost to change his nature, passing from murder to murder quickly if not easily. He not only arranges for Banquo’s assassination, but leaves Lady Macbeth innocent of the knowledge. The explanation of this seeming change of character is at hand. Shakespeare took the history of Macbeth from Holinshed’s Chronicle, and there it is recorded that Macbeth murdered Banquo and many others, as well as Macduff’s wife and children. Holinshed makes Duncan have “too much of clemencie,” and Macbeth “too much of crueltie.” Macbeth’s actions correspond with his nature in Holinshed; but Shakespeare first made Macbeth in his own image–gentle, bookish and irresolute–and then found himself fettered by the historical fact that Macbeth murdered Banquo and the rest. He was therefore forced to explain in some way or other why his Macbeth strode from crime to crime. It must be noted as most characteristic of gentle Shakespeare that even when confronted with this difficulty he did not think of lending Macbeth any tinge of cruelty, harshness, or ambition. His Macbeth commits murder for the same reason that the timorous deer fights–out of fear.

“To be thus is nothing;
But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature Reigns that which would be feared”:

And again:

“There is none but he
Whose being I do fear”:…

This proves, as nothing else could prove, the all-pervading, attaching kindness of Shakespeare’s nature. Again and again Lady Macbeth saves the situation and tries to shame her husband into stern resolve, but in vain; he’s “quite unmann’d in folly.”

Had Macbeth been made ambitious, as the commentators assume, there would have been a sufficient motive for his later actions. But ambition is foreign to the Shakespeare-Hamlet nature, so the poet does not employ it. Again and again he returns to the explanation that the timid grow dangerous when “frighted out of fear.” Macbeth says:

“But let the frame of things disjoint, both the worlds suffer Ere we will eat our meal in fear, and sleep In the affliction of these terrible dreams That shake us nightly.”

In passing I may remark that Hamlet, too, complains of “bad dreams.”

In deep Hamlet melancholy, Macbeth now begins to contrast his state with Duncan’s:

“After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well. Treason has done his worst: nor steel nor poison, Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing, Can touch him further.”

Lady Macbeth begs him to sleek o’er his rugged looks, be bright and jovial. He promises obedience; but soon falls into the dark mood again and predicts “a deed of dreadful note.” Naturally his wife questions him, and he replies:

“Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, Till thou applaud the deed. Come, seeling night, Scarf up the tender eye of pityful day, And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond Which keeps me pale.”

No other motive for murder is possible to Shakespeare-Macbeth but fear.

Banquo is murdered, but still Macbeth cries: “I am cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in To saucy doubts and fears.”
The scene with the ghost of Banquo follows, where-in Macbeth again shows the nervous imaginative Hamlet nature. His next speech is mere reflection, and again Hamlet might have framed it:

“the time has been
That when the brains were out the man would die And there an end”: …

But while fear may be an adequate motive for Banquo’s murder, it can hardly explain the murder of Macduff’s wife and children. Shakespeare feels this, too, and therefore finds other reasons natural enough; but the first of these reasons, “his own good,” is not especially characteristic of Macbeth, and the second, while perhaps characteristic, is absurdly inadequate: men don’t murder out of tediousness:

“For mine own good
All causes shall give way: I am in blood[1] Stepped in so far, that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”
[Footnote 1: It seems to me probable that Shakespeare, unable to find an adequate motive for murder, borrowed this one from “Richard III.” Richard says:

“But I am in
So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin”–

This is an explanation following the fact rather than a cause producing it–an explanation, moreover, which may be true in the case of a fiendlike Richard, but is not true of a Macbeth.]

Take it all in all, this latter reason is as poor a motive for cold-blooded murder as was ever given, and Shakespeare again feels this, for he brings in the witches once more to predict safety to Macbeth and adjure him to be “bloody, bold and resolute.” When they have thus screwed his courage to the sticking place as his wife did before, Macbeth resolves on Macduff’s murder, but he immediately recurs to the old explanation; he does not do it for his “own good” nor because “returning is tedious “; he does it

“That I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies, And sleep in spite of thunder.”

It is fair to say that Shakespeare’s Macbeth is so gentle-kind, that he can find no motive in himself for murder, save fear. The words Shakespeare puts into Hubert’s mouth in “King John” are really his own confession:

“Within this bosom never enter’d yet The dreadful motion of a murderous thought.”

The murders take place and the silly scenes in England between Malcolm and Macduff follow, and then come Lady Macbeth’s illness, and the characteristic end. The servant tells Macbeth of the approach of the English force, and he begins the wonderful monologue:

“my May of life
Is fall’n into the sear, the yellow leaf; And that which should accompany old age, As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have; but in their stead Curses, not loud, but deep, mouth-honour, breath Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.”

Truly this is a strange murderer who longs for “troops of friends,” and who at the last push of fate can find in himself kindness enough towards others to sympathize with the “poor heart.” All this is pure Hamlet; one might better say, pure Shakespeare.

We are next led into the field with Malcolm and Macduff, and immediately back to the castle again. While the women break into cries, Macbeth soliloquizes in the very spirit of bookish Hamlet:

“I have almost forgot the taste of fears. The time has been, my senses would have cooled To hear a night-shriek; and my fell of hair Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir As life were in ‘t.”

The whole passage, and especially the “dismal treatise,” recalls the Wittenberg student with a magic of representment.

The death of the Queen is announced, and wrings from Macbeth a speech full of despairing pessimism, a bitterer mood than ever Hamlet knew; a speech, moreover, that shows the student as well as the incomparable lyric poet:

“She should have died hereafter:
There would have been a time for such a word.– To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”

Macbeth’s philosophy, like Hamlet’s, ends in utter doubt, in a passion of contempt for life, deeper than anything in Dante. The word “syllable” in this lyric outburst is as characteristic as the “dismal treatise” in the previous one, and more characteristic still of Hamlet is the likening of life to “a poor player.”

The messenger tells Macbeth that Birnam Wood has begun to move, and he sees that the witches have cheated him. He can only say, as Hamlet might have said:

“I ‘gin to be aweary of the sun,
And wish the estate o’ the world were now undone.– Ring the alarum bell! Blow wind! Come, wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back.”

And later he cries:

“They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly, But bear-like I must fight the course.”

This seems to me intensely characteristic of Hamlet; the brutal side of action was never more contemptuously described, and Macbeth’s next soliloquy makes the identity apparent to every one; it is in the true thinker-sceptic vein:

“Why should I play the Roman[1] fool and die On mine own sword?”

[Footnote 1: About the year 1600 Shakespeare seems to have steeped himself in Plutarch. For the next five or six years, whenever he thinks of suicide, the Roman way of looking at it occurs to him. Having made up his mind to kill himself, Laertes cries:

“I am more an antique Roman than a Dane,”

and, in like case, Cleopatra talks of dying “after the high Roman fashion.”]

Macbeth then meets Macduff, and there follows the confession of pity and remorse, which must be compared to the gentle-kindness with which Hamlet treats Laertes and Romeo treats Paris. Macbeth says to Macduff:

“Of all men else I have avoided thee: But get thee back, my soul is too much charged With blood of thine already.”

Then comes the “something desperate” in him that Hamlet boasted of–and the end.

Here we have every characteristic of Hamlet without exception, The crying difference of situation only brings out the essential identity of the two characters. The two portraits are of the same person and finished to the finger-tips. The slight shades of difference between Macbeth and Hamlet only strengthen our contention that both are portraits of the poet; for the differences are manifestly changes in the same character, and changes due merely to age. Just as Romeo is younger than Hamlet, showing passion where Hamlet shows thought, so Macbeth is older than Hamlet; in Macbeth the melancholy has grown deeper, the tone more pessimistic, and the heart gentler. [Footnote: Immediately after the publication of these first two essays, Sir Henry Irving seized the opportunity and lectured before a distinguished audience on the character of Macbeth. He gave it as his opinion that “Shakespeare has presented Macbeth as one of the most blood-thirsty, most hypocritical villains in his long gallery of men, instinct with the virtues and vices of their kind (sic).” Sir Henry Irving also took the occasion to praise the simile of pity:
“And pity, like a naked new-born babe, Striding the blast.”

This ridiculous fustian seemed to him “very beautiful.” All this was perfectly gratuitous: no one needed to be informed that a man might have merit as an actor and yet be without any understanding of psychology or any taste in letters.] I venture, therefore, to assert that the portrait we find in Romeo and Jaques first, and then in Hamlet, and afterwards in Macbeth, is the portrait of Shakespeare himself, and we can trace his personal development through these three stages.



It may be well to add here a couple of portraits of Shakespeare in later life in order to establish beyond question the chief features of his character. With this purpose in mind I shall take a portrait that is a mere sketch of him, Duke Vincentio in “Measure for Measure,” and a portrait that is minutely finished and perfect, though consciously idealized, Posthumus, in “Cymbeline.” And the reason I take this careless, wavering sketch, and contrast it with a highly-finished portrait, is that, though the sketch is here and there hardly recognizable, the outline being all too thin and hesitating, yet now and then a characteristic trait is over-emphasized, as we should expect in careless work. And this sketch in lines now faint, now all too heavy, is curiously convincing when put side by side with a careful and elaborate portrait in which the same traits are reproduced, but harmoniously, and with a perfect sense of the relative value of each feature. No critic, so far as I am aware, not Hazlitt, not Brandes, not even Coleridge, has yet thought of identifying either Duke Vincentio or Posthumus with Hamlet, much less with Shakespeare himself. The two plays are very unlike each other in tone and temper; “Measure for Measure” being a sort of tract for the times, while “Cymbeline” is a purely romantic drama. Moreover, “Measure for Measure” was probably written a couple of years after “Hamlet,” towards the end of 1603, while “Cymbeline” belongs to the last period of the poet’s activity, and could hardly have been completed before 1610 or 1611. The dissimilarity of the plays only accentuates the likeness of the two protagonists.

“Measure for Measure” is one of the best examples of Shakespeare’s contempt for stagecraft. Not only is the mechanism of the play, as we shall see later, astonishingly slipshod, but the ostensible purpose of the play, which is to make the laws respected in Vienna, is not only not attained, but seems at the end to be rather despised than forgotten. This indifference to logical consistency is characteristic of Shakespeare; Hamlet speaks of “the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns” just after he has been talking with his dead father. The poetic dreamer cannot take the trouble to tie up the loose ends of a story: the real purpose of “Measure for Measure,” which is the confusion of the pretended ascetic Angelo, is fulfilled, and that is sufficient for the thinker, who has thus shown what “our seemers be.” It is no less characteristic of Shakespeare that Duke Vincentio, his alter ego, should order another to punish loose livers–a task which his kindly nature found too disagreeable. But, leaving these general considerations, let us come to the first scene of the first act: the second long speech of the Duke should have awakened the suspicion that Vincentio is but another mask for Shakespeare. The whole speech proclaims the poet; the Duke begins:

There is a kind of character in thy life,”

Hamlet says to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in what is supposed to be prose:

“There is a kind of confession in your looks.”

A little later the line:

“Spirits are not finely touched
But to fine issues,”

is so characteristic of Hamlet-Shakespeare that it should have put every reader on the track.

The speeches of the Duke in the fourth scene of the first act are also characteristic of Shakespeare. But the four lines,

“My holy sir, none better knows than you How I have ever loved the life removed, And held in idle price to haunt assemblies, Where youth and cost and witless bravery keep,”

are to me an intimate, personal confession; a fuller rendering indeed of Hamlet’s “Man delights not me; no, nor woman neither.” In any case it will be admitted that a dislike of assemblies and cost and witless bravery is peculiar in a reigning monarch, so peculiar indeed that it reminds me of the exiled Duke in “As You Like It,” or of Duke Prospero in “The Tempest” (two other incarnations of Shakespeare), rather than of any one in real life. A love of solitude; a keen contempt for shows and the “witless bravery” of court-life were, as we shall see, characteristics of Shakespeare from youth to old age.

In the first scene of the third act the Duke as a friar speaks to the condemned Claudio. He argues as Hamlet would argue, but with, I think, a more convinced hopelessness. The deepening scepticism would of itself force us to place “Measure for Measure” a little later than “Hamlet”:

“Reason thus with life:–
If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing That none but fools would keep; a breath thou art, * * * * *
The best of rest is sleep, And that thou oft provok’st, yet grossly fear’st Thy death, which is no more. Thou’rt not thyself; For thou exist’st on many a thousand grains That issue out of dust. Happy thou art not; For what thou hast not, still thou striv’st to get, And what thou hast, forgett’st.
* * * * *
What’s in this,
That bears the name of life? Yet in this life Lie hid more thousand deaths; yet death we fear, That makes these odds all even.”

That this scepticism of Vincentio is Shakespeare’s scepticism appears from the fact that the whole speech is worse than out of place when addressed to a person under sentence of death. Were we to take it seriously, it would show the Duke to be curiously callous to the sufferings of the condemned Claudio; but callous the Duke is not, he is merely a pensive poet-philosopher talking in order to lighten his own heart. Claudio makes unconscious fun of the Duke’s argument:

“To sue to live, I find I seek to die, And seeking death, find life: let it come on.”

This scepticism of Shakespeare which shows itself out of place in Angelo and again most naturally in Claudio’s famous speech, is one of the salient traits of his character which is altogether over-emphasized in this play. It is a trait, moreover, which finds expression in almost everything he wrote. Like nearly all the great spirits of the Renaissance, Shakespeare was perpetually occupied with the heavy problems of man’s life and man’s destiny. Was there any meaning or purpose in life, any result of the striving? was Death to be feared or a Hereafter to be desired?–incessantly he beat straining wings in the void. But even in early manhood he never sought to deceive himself. His Richard II. had sounded the shallow vanity of man’s desires, the futility of man’s hopes; he knew that man

“With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased With being nothing.”

And this sad knowledge darkened all Shakespeare’s later thinking. Naturally, when youth passed from him and disillusionment put an end to dreaming, his melancholy deepened, his sadness became despairing; we can see the shadows thickening round him into night. Brutus takes an “everlasting farewell” of his friend, and goes willingly to his rest. Hamlet dreads “the undiscovered country”; but unsentient death is to him “a consummation devoutly to be wished.” Vincentio’s mood is half-contemptuous, but the melancholy persists; death is no “more than sleep,” he says, and life a series of deceptions; while Claudio in this same play shudders away from death as from annihilation, or worse, in words which one cannot help regarding as Shakespeare’s:

Claud. Ay, but to die, and go we know not where; To lie in cold obstruction and to rot….”

A little later and Macbeth’s soul cries to us from the outer darkness: “there’s nothing serious in mortality”; life’s

“a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”

And from this despairing gloom come Lear’s shrieks of pain and pitiful ravings, and in the heavy intervals the gibberings of the fool. Even when the calmer mood of age came upon Shakespeare and took away the bitterness, he never recanted; Posthumus speaks of life and death in almost the words used by Vincentio, and Prospero has nothing to add save that “our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

It is noteworthy that Shakespeare always gives these philosophic questionings to those characters whom I regard as his impersonations,[1] and when he breaks this rule, he breaks it in favour of some Claudio who is not a character at all, but the mere mouthpiece of one of his moods.

[Footnote 1: One of my correspondents, Mr. Theodore Watts-Dunton, has been kind enough to send me an article contributed to “Colbourn’s Magazine” in 1873, in which he declares that “Shakespeare seems to have kept a sort of Hamlet notebook, full of Hamlet thoughts, of which ‘To be or not to be’ may be taken as the type. These he was burdened with. These did he cram into Hamlet as far as he could, and then he tossed the others indiscriminately into other plays, tragedies and histories, perfectly regardless of the character who uttered them.” Though Mr. Watts-Dunton sees that some of these “Hamlet thoughts” are to be found in Macbeth and Prospero and Claudio, he evidently lacks the key to Shakespeare’s personality, or he would never have said that Shakespeare tossed these reflections “indiscriminately into other plays.” Nevertheless the statement itself is interesting, and deserves more notice than has been accorded to it.]

I now come to a point in the drama which at once demands and defies explanation. In the first scene of the third act the Duke, after listening to the terrible discussion between Isabella and Claudio, first of all tells Claudio that “Angelo had never the purpose to corrupt” Isabella, and then assures Claudio that to-morrow he must die. The explanation of these two falsehoods would be far to seek, unless we take it that they were invented simply in order to prolong our interest in the drama. But this assumption, though probable, does not increase our sympathy with the protagonist–the lies seem to be too carelessly uttered to be even characteristic–nor yet our admiration of the structure of a play that needs to be supported by such flimsy buttresses. Still this very carelessness of fact, as I have said, is Shakespearean; the philosophic dreamer paid little attention to the mere incidents of the story.

The talk between the Duke and Isabella follows. The form of the Duke’s speech, with its touch of euphuistic conceit, is one which Hamlet-Shakespeare affects:

“The hand that hath made you fair hath made you good: the goodness that is cheap in beauty makes beauty brief in goodness; but grace, being the soul of your complexion, shall keep the body of it ever fair.”

This Duke plays philosopher, too, in and out of season as Hamlet did: he says to Isabella:

“Virtue is bold, and goodness never fearful,”

generalizing his praise even to a woman.

Again, when Pompey is arrested, he passes from the individual to the general, exclaiming:

“That we were all as some would seem to be, Free from our faults, as from faults seeming free.”

Then follows the interesting talk with Lucio, who awakens the slightly pompous Duke to natural life with his contempt. When Lucio tells the Duke, who is disguised as a friar, that he (the Duke) was a notorious loose-liver–“he had some feeling of the sport; he knew the service”–the Duke merely denies the soft impeachment; but when Lucio tells him that the Duke is not wise, but “a very superficial, ignorant, unweighing fellow,” the Duke bursts out, “either this is envy in you, folly, or mistaking: … Let him but be testimonied in his own bringings-forth, and he shall appear to the envious a scholar, a statesman, and a soldier,” which recalls Hamlet’s “Friends, scholars, and soldiers,” and Ophelia’s praise of Hamlet as “courtier, soldier, scholar.” Lucio goes off, and the Duke “moralizes” the incident in Hamlet’s very accent:

“No might nor greatness in mortality Can censure ‘scape; backwounding calumny The whitest virtue strikes. What king so strong Can tie the gall up in the slanderous tongue?”

Hamlet says to Ophelia:

“Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shall not escape calumny.”

And Laertes says that “virtue itself” cannot escape calumny.

The reflection is manifestly Shakespeare’s own, and here the form, too, is characteristic. It may be as well to recall now that Shakespeare himself was calumniated in his lifetime; the fact is admitted in Sonnet 36, where he fears his “guilt” will “shame” his friend.

In his talk with Escalus the Duke’s speech becomes almost obscure from excessive condensation of thought–a habit which grew upon Shakespeare.

Escalus asks:

“What news abroad in the world?”

The Duke answers:

“None, but that there is so great a fever on goodness, that the dissolution of it must cure it: novelty is only in request. … There is scarce truth enough alive to make societies secure, but security enough to make fellowships accursed.”

Escalus then tells us of the Duke’s temperament in words which would fit Hamlet perfectly; for, curiously enough, they furnish us with the best description of Shakespeare’s melancholy:

“Rather rejoicing to see another merry, than merry at anything which professed to make him rejoice.”

And, lastly, the curious rhymed soliloquy of Vincentio which closes this third act, must be compared with the epilogue to “The Tempest”:

“He who the sword of Heaven will bear Should be as holy as severe;
Pattern in himself to know,
Grace to stand and virtue go;”
* * * * *
“Shame to him whose cruel striking Kills for faults of his own liking!
Twice treble shame on Angelo,
To weed my vice and let his grow!” * * * * *

In the fifth act the Duke, freed from making plots and plans, speaks without constraint and reveals his nature ingenuously. He uses words to Angelo that recall the sonnets:

“O, your desert speaks loud; and I should wrong it, To lock it in the wards of covered bosom, When it deserves, with characters of brass, A forted residence ‘gainst the tooth of time And razure of oblivion.”[1]
[Footnote 1: Cf. Sonnet 122 with its “full character’d” and “razed oblivion.”]

Again, the Duke argues in gentle Shakespeare’s fashion for Angelo and against Isabella:

“If he had so offended,
He would have weighed thy brother by himself And not have cut him off.”

It seems impossible for Shakespeare to believe that the sinner can punish sin. It reminds one of the sacred “he that is without sin among you let him first cast a stone.” The detections and forgivings of the last act follow.

It will be admitted, I think, on all hands that Duke Vincentio speaks throughout the play with Shakespeare’s voice. From the point of view of literary art his character is very far from being as complex or as deeply realized as that of Hamlet or Macbeth, or even as that of Romeo or of Jaques, and yet one other trait besides that of sceptical brooding is so over-accentuated that it can never be forgotten. In the last scene the Duke orders Barnardine to the block and the next moment respites him; he condemns

“An Angelo for Claudio; death for death,”

then pardons Angelo, and at once begins to chat with him in kindly intimacy; he asserts that he cannot forgive Lucio, Lucio who has traduced him, shall be whipped and hanged, and in the same breath he remits the heavy penalty. Truly he is “an unhurtful opposite” [Footnote: The critics are at variance over this ending, and, indeed, over the whole play. Coleridge says that “our feelings of justice are grossly wounded in Angelo’s escape”; for “cruelty with lust and damnable baseness cannot be forgiven.” Mr. Swinburne, too, regrets the miscarriage of justice; the play to him is a tragedy, and should end tragically with the punishment of the “autotype of the huge national vice of England.” Perhaps, however, Puritan hypocrisy was not so widespread or so powerful in the time of Shakespeare as it is nowadays; perhaps, too, Shakespeare was not so good a hater as Mr. Swinburne, nor so strenuous a moralist as Coleridge was, at least in theory. In any case it is evident that Shakespeare found it harder to forgive Lucio, who had hurt his vanity, than Angelo, who pushed lust to outrage and murder, which strange, yet characteristic, fact I leave to the mercy of future commentators. Mr. Sidney Lee regards “Measure for Measure” as “one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.” Coleridge, however, thought it “a hateful work”; it is also a poor work, badly constructed, and for the most part carelessly written. In essence it is a mere tract against Puritanism, and in form a sort of Arabian Nights’ Entertainment in which the hero plays the part of Haroun-al-Raschid.] whose anger has no stead-fastness; but the gentle forgivingness of disposition that is so marked in Vincentio is a trait we found emphasized in Romeo, and again in Hamlet and again in Macbeth. It is, indeed, one of the most permanent characteristics of Shakespeare. From the beginning to the end of the play, Duke Vincentio is weakly-kind in act and swayed by fitful impulses; his assumed austerity of conduct is the thin varnish of vanity that will not take on such soft material. The Hamlet weakness is so exaggerated in him, and so unmotived, that I am inclined to think Shakespeare was even more irresolute and indisposed to action than Hamlet himself.

In the character of Posthumus, the hero of “Cymbeline,” Shakespeare has painted himself with extraordinary care; has, in fact, given us as deliberate and almost as complete a picture of himself as he did in Hamlet. Unluckily his hand had grown weaker in the ten years’ interval, and he gave such loose rein to his idealizing habit that the portrait is neither so veracious nor so lifelike. The explanation of all this will be given later; it is enough for the moment to state that as Posthumus is perhaps the completest portrait of him that we have after his mental shipwreck, we must note the traits of it carefully, and see what manner of man Shakespeare took himself to be towards the end of his career.

It is difficult to understand how the commentators have been able to read “Cymbeline” without seeing the likeness between Posthumus and Hamlet. The wager which is the theme of the play may have hindered them a little, but as they found it easy to excuse its coarseness by attributing lewdness to the time, there seems to have been no reason for not recognizing Posthumus. Posthumus is simply a staider Hamlet considerably idealized. I am not at all sure that the subject of the play was void of offence in the time of Elizabeth; all finer spirits must even then have found it puerile and coarse. What would Spenser have said about it? Shakespeare used the wager because of the opportunities it gave him of painting himself and an ideal woman. His view of it is just indicated; Iachimo says:

“I make my wager rather against your confidence than her reputation: and, to bar your offence herein too, I durst attempt it against any lady in the world.” But in spite of the fact that Iachimo makes his insult general, Posthumus warns him that:

“If she remain unseduced … for your ill opinion, and the assault you have made to her chastity, you shall answer me with your sword.”

From this it appears that the bet was distasteful to Posthumus; it is not so offenceful to him as it should have been according to our modern temper; but this shortcoming, an unconscious shortcoming, is the only fault which Shakespeare will allow in his hero. In the first scene of the first act Posthumus is praised as men never praise the absent without a personal motive; the First Gentleman says of him:

“I do not think
So fair an outward and such stuff within Endows a man but he.”

The Second Gentleman replies:

“You speak him far;”

and the First Gentleman continues:

“I do extend him, sir, within himself; Crush him together, rather than unfold
His measure duly.”

And as if this were not enough, this gentleman-eulogist goes on to tell us that Posthumus has sucked in “all the learnings” of his time “as we do air,” and further:

“He lived in court–
Which rare it is to do–most praised, most loved; A sample to the young’st, to the more mature A glass that feated them; and to the graver A child that guided dotards.”

This gross praise is ridiculously unnatural, and outrages our knowledge of life; men are much more apt to criticize than to praise the absent; but it shows a prepossession on Shakespeare’s part in favour of Posthumus which can only be explained by the fact that in Posthumus he was depicting himself. Every word is significant to us, for Shakespeare evidently tells us here what he thought about himself, or rather what he wished to think, towards the end of his life. It is impossible to believe that he was “most praised, most loved”; men do not love or praise their superiors in looks, or intellect.

The first words which Posthumus in this same scene addresses to Imogen, show the gentle Shakespeare nature:

“O lady, weep no more, lest I give cause To be suspected of more tenderness
Than doth become a man.”

And when Imogen gives him the ring and tells him to wear it till he woos another wife, he talks to her exactly as Romeo would have talked:

“How! how! another?–
You gentle gods, give me but this I have, And sear up my embracements from a next With bonds of death! [Putting on the ring.]
Remain, remain thou here While sense can keep it on.”

And he concludes as self-depreciating Hamlet would have concluded:

“And sweetest, fairest,
As I my poor self did exchange for you, To your so infinite loss, so in our trifles I still win of you; for my sake wear this: It is a manacle of love; I’ll place it
Upon this fairest prisoner.
[Putting a bracelet on her arm.]”

In his fight with Cloten he is depicted as a rare swordsman of wonderful magnanimity. Pisanio says:

“My master rather played than fought, And had no help of anger.”

I call this gentle kindness which Posthumus displays, the birthmark of Shakespeare; he had “no help of anger.” As the play goes on we find Shakespeare’s other peculiarities, or Hamlet’s. Iachimo represents Posthumus as “merry,” “gamesome,” “the Briton reveller”; but curiously enough Imogen answers as Ophelia might have answered about Hamlet:

“When he was here,
He did incline to sadness; and ofttimes Not knowing why.”

This uncaused melancholy that distinguishes Romeo, Jaques, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Vincentio is not more characteristic of the Hamlet-Shakespeare nature than the way Posthumus behaves when Iachimo tries to make him believe that he has won the wager. Posthumus is convinced almost at once; jumps to the conclusion, indeed, with the heedless rapidity of the naive, sensitive, quick-thinking man who has cultivated his emotions and thoughts by writing in solitude, and not the suspicions and distrust of others which are developed in the market-place. One is reminded of Goethe’s famous couplet:

“Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille, Sich ein Charakter in dem Strom der Welt.”

Posthumus is all in fitful extremes; not satisfied with believing the lie, he gives Iachimo Imogen’s ring as well, and bursts into a diatribe:

“Let there be no honour
Where there’s beauty; truth, where semblance; love, Where there’s another man,”

and so forth. Even Philario, who has no stake in the matter, is infinitely harder to convince:

“Have patience, sir,
And take your ring again; ’tis not yet won: It may be probable she lost it.”

Then this “unstable opposite,” Posthumus, demands his ring back again, but as soon as Iachimo swears that he had the bracelet from her arm, Posthumus swings round again to belief from sheer rapidity of thought. Again Philario will not be convinced. He says:

“Sir, be patient,
This is not strong enough to be believed Of one persuaded well of–“

But Posthumus will not await the proof for which he has asked. He is convinced upon suspicion, as Othello was, and the very nimbleness of his Hamlet-intellect, seeing that probabilities are against him, entangles him in the snare. Even his servant Pisanio will not believe in Imogen’s guilt though his master assures him of it. Shakespeare does not notice this peculiar imprudent haste of his hero, as he notices, for example, the hasty speech of Hotspur by letting Harry of England imitate it, simply because the quick-thinking was his own; while the hurried stuttering speech was foreign to him. Posthumus goes on to rave against women as Hamlet did; as all men do who do not understand them:

“For even to vice
They are not constant, but are changing still.”

And Posthumus betrays as clearly as ever Hamlet did that he is merely Shakespeare masquerading:

“I’ll write against them, Detest them, curse them–yet ’tis greater skill In a true hate, to pray they have their will: The very devils cannot plague them better.”

“Write against them” indeed! This is the same threat which Shakespeare uses against his dark mistress in Sonnet 140, and every one will admit that it is more in the character of the poet and man of letters than in that of the warrior son-in-law of a half-barbarous king. The last line here, because it is a little superfluous, a little emphatic, seems to me likely to have a personal application. When Shakespeare’s mistress had her will, did she fall to misery, I wonder?

I may be allowed to notice here how intensely characteristic all this play is of Shakespeare. In the third scene of the third act, life in the country is contrasted to its advantage with life at Court; and then gold is treated as dirt by the princely brothers–both these, the love of country life, and the contempt of gold, are, as we shall see later, abiding peculiarities of Shakespeare.

When we come to Posthumus again almost at the end of the play we find that his anger with Imogen has burned itself out. He is angry now with Pisanio for having executed his order and murdered her; he should have “saved the noble Imogen to repent.” Surely the poet Shakespeare and not the outraged lover speaks in this epithet, “noble.”

Posthumus describes the battle in which he took so gallant a part in Shakespeare’s usual manner. He falls into rhyme; he shows the cheap modesty of the conventional hero; he tells of what others did, and nothing of his own feats; Belarius and the two striplings, he says:

“With their own nobleness … gilded pale looks.”

Unfortunately one is reminded of the exquisite sonnet line:

“Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy.”

“Gild” is one of Shakespeare’s favourite words; he uses it very often, sometimes indeed as in this case, ineffectively.

But the scene which reveals the character of Posthumus beyond all doubt is the prison scene in the fifth act. His soliloquy which begins:

“Most welcome, bondage, for thou art a way, I think, to liberty “–

is all pure Shakespeare. When he determines to give up life, he says:

“O Imogen!
I’ll speak to thee in silence,”

and Hamlet at his death comes to the self-same word:

“The rest is silence.”

The scene with the gaoler is from Hamlet’s soul; Posthumus jests with his keeper as Hamlet with the gravedigger:

“So, if I prove a good repast to the spectators, the ship pays the shot;”

and the Hamlet melancholy:

“I am merrier to die than them art to live;”

and the Hamlet riddle still unsolved:

“I tell thee, fellow, there are none want eyes to direct them the way I am going; but such as wink, and will not use them.”

When the messenger comes to bring him to the king, Posthumus cries:

“Thou bringest good news, I am called to be made free,”

for there are “no bolts for the dead.”

Those who wish to see how Shakespeare’s mind worked will compare Posthumus’ speech to Iachimo, when he has learned the truth, with Othello’s words when he is convinced of his own fatal error and of Desdemona’s chastity. The two speeches are twins; though the persons uttering them should be of totally different characters. The explanation of this astounding similarity will be given when we come to “Othello.”

It is characteristic of Posthumus that he should strike Imogen in her page’s dress, not recognizing her; he is ever too quick–a mere creature of impulse. More characteristic still is the way he forgives Iachimo, just as Vincentio forgave Angelo:

“Kneel not to me:
The power that I have on you, is to spare you, The malice towards you, to forgive you. Live, And deal with others better.”

In judging his fellow-men this is Shakespeare’s harshest word. Posthumus, then, is presented to us in the beginning of the play as perfect, a model to young and old, of irreproachable virtue and of all wonderful qualities. In the course of the play, however, he shows himself very nimble-witted, credulous, and impulsive, quick to anger and quicker still to forgive; with thoughts all turned to sadness and to musing; a poet–ever in extremes; now hating his own rash errors to the point of demanding the heaviest punishment for them; now swearing that he will revenge himself on women by writing against them; a philosopher–he jests with his gaoler and consoles himself with despairing speculation in the very presence of the Arch-Fear. All these are manifestly characteristics of Hamlet, and Posthumus possesses no others.

So far, then, from finding that Shakespeare never revealed himself in his dramas, I have shown that he pictured himself as the hero [Footnote: A hypercritic might contend that Jaques was not the hero of “As You Like It”; but the objection really strengthens my argument. Shakespeare makes of Jaques, who is merely a secondary character without influence on the action, the principal person in the play simply because in Jaques he satisfied his own need of self-revealing.] of six plays written at widely different times; in fact that, like Rembrandt, he painted his own portrait in all the critical periods of life: as a sensuous youth given over to love and poetry in Romeo; a few years later as a melancholy onlooker at life’s pageant in Jaques; in middle age as the passionate, melancholy, aesthete-philosopher of kindliest nature in Hamlet and Macbeth; as the fitful Duke incapable of severity in “Measure for Measure,” and finally, when standing within the shadow, as Posthumus, an idealized yet feebler replica of Hamlet.



It is time now, I think, to test my theory by considering the converse of it. In any case, the attempt to see the other side, is pretty sure to