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A Dish Of Orts by George MacDonald

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Of all men he is bound to hold his face like a flint in witness of this
truth who owes everything that makes for eternal good, to the belief
that at the heart of things and causing them to be, at the centre of
monad, of world, of protoplastic mass, of loving dog, and of man most
cruel, is an absolute, perfect love; and that in the man Christ Jesus
this love is with us men to take us home. To nothing else do I for one
owe any grasp upon life. In this I see the setting right of all things.
To the man who believes in the Son of God, poetry returns in a mighty
wave; history unrolls itself in harmony; science shows crowned with its
own aureole of holiness. There is no enlivener of the imagination, no
enabler of the judgment, no strengthener of the intellect, to compare
with the belief in a live Ideal, at the heart of all personality, as of
every law. If there be no such live Ideal, then a falsehood can do more
for the race than the facts of its being; then an unreality is needful
for the development of the man in all that is real, in all that is in
the highest sense true; then falsehood is greater than fact, and an idol
necessary for lack of a God. They who deny cannot, in the nature of
things, know what they deny. When one sees a chaos begin to put on the
shape of an ordered world, he will hardly be persuaded it is by the
power of a foolish notion bred in a diseased fancy.

Let the man then who would rise to the height of his being, be persuaded
to test the Truth by the deed--the highest and only test that can be
applied to the loftiest of all assertions. To every man I say, "Do the
truth you know, and you shall learn the truth you need to know."

ST. GEORGE'S DAY, 1564. [Footnote: 1864.]

All England knows that this year (1864) is the three hundredth since
Shakspere was born. The strong probability is likewise that this month
of April is that in which he first saw the earthly light. On the
twenty-sixth of April he was baptized. Whether he was born on the
twenty-third, to which effect there may once have been a tradition, we
do not know; but though there is nothing to corroborate that statement,
there are two facts which would incline us to believe it if we could:
the one that he _died_ on the twenty-third of April, thus, as it were,
completing a cycle; and the other that the twenty-third of April is St.
George's Day. If there is no harm in indulging in a little fanciful
sentiment about such a grand fact, we should say that certainly it was
_St. George for merry England_ when Shakspere was born. But had St.
George been the best saint in the calendar--which we have little enough
ground for supposing he was--it would better suit our subject to say
that the Highest was thinking of his England when he sent Shakspere into
it, to be a strength, a wonder, and a gladness to the nations of his

But if we write thus about Shakspere, influenced only by the fashion of
the day, we shall be much in the condition of those _fashionable_
architects who with their vain praises built the tombs of the prophets,
while they had no regard to the lessons they taught. We hope to be able
to show that we have good grounds for our rejoicing in the birth of that
child whom after-years placed highest on the rocky steep of Art, up
which so many of those who combine feeling and thought are always

First, however, let us look at some of the more powerful of the
influences into the midst of which he was born. For a child is born into
the womb of the time, which indeed enclosed and fed him before he was
born. Not the least subtle and potent of those influences which tend to
the education of the child (in the true sense of the word _education_)
are those which are brought to bear upon him _through_ the mind, heart,
judgement of his parents. We mean that those powers which have operated
strongly upon them, have a certain concentrated operation, both
antenatal and psychological, as well as educational and spiritual, upon
the child. Now Shakspere was born in the sixth year of Queen Elizabeth.
He was the eldest son, but the third child. His father and mother must
have been married not later than the year 1557, two years after Cranmer
was burned at the stake, one of the two hundred who thus perished in
that time of pain, resulting in the firm establishment of a reformation
which, like all other changes for the better, could not be verified and
secured without some form or other of the _trial by fire_. Events such
as then took place in every part of the country could not fail to make a
strong impression upon all thinking people, especially as it was not
those of high position only who were thus called upon to bear witness to
their beliefs. John Shakspere and Mary Arden were in all likelihood
themselves of the Protestant party; and although, as far as we know,
they were never in any especial danger of being denounced, the whole of
the circumstances must have tended to produce in them individually, what
seems to have been characteristic of the age in which they lived,
earnestness. In times such as those, people are compelled to think.

And here an interesting question occurs: Was it in part to his mother
that Shakspere was indebted for that profound knowledge of the Bible
which is so evident in his writings? A good many copies of the
Scriptures must have been by this time, in one translation or another,
scattered over the country. [Footnote: And it seems to us probable that
this diffusion of the Bible, did more to rouse the slumbering literary
power of England, than any influences of foreign literature whatever.]
No doubt the word was precious in those days, and hard to buy; but there
might have been a copy, notwithstanding, in the house of John Shakspere,
and it is possible that it was from his mother's lips that the boy first
heard the Scripture tales. We have called his acquaintance with
Scripture _profound_, and one peculiar way in which it manifests itself
will bear out the assertion; for frequently it is the very spirit and
essential aroma of the passage that he reproduces, without making any
use of the words themselves. There are passages in his writings which we
could not have understood but for some acquaintance with the New
Testament. We will produce a few specimens of the kind we mean,
confining ourselves to one play, "Macbeth."

Just mentioning the phrase, "temple-haunting martlet" (act i. scene 6),
as including in it a reference to the verse, "Yea, the sparrow hath
found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay
her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts," we pass to the following
passage, for which we do not believe there is any explanation but that
suggested to us by the passage of Scripture to be cited.

Macbeth, on his way to murder Duncan, says,--

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

What is meant by the last two lines? It seems to us to be just another
form of the words, "For there is nothing covered, that shall not be
revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye
have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye
have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the
house-tops." Of course we do not mean that Macbeth is represented as
having this passage in his mind, but that Shakspere had the feeling of
it when he wrote thus. What Macbeth means is, "Earth, do not hear me in
the dark, which is suitable to the present horror, lest the very stones
prate about it in the daylight, which is not suitable to such things;
thus taking 'the present horror _from_ the time which now suits with

Again, in the only piece of humour in the play--if that should be called
humour which, taken in its relation to the consciousness of the
principal characters, is as terrible as anything in the piece--the
porter ends off his fantastic soliloquy, in which he personates the
porter of hell-gate, with the words, "But this place is too cold for
hell: I'll devil-porter it no further. I had thought to have let in some
of all professions, that go the primrose way to the everlasting
bonfire." Now what else had the writer in his mind but the verse from
the Sermon on the Mount, "For wide is the gate, and broad is the way,
that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat"?

It may be objected that such passages as these, being of the most
commonly quoted, imply no profound acquaintance with Scripture, such as
we have said Shakspere possessed. But no amount of knowledge of the
_words_ of the Bible would be sufficient to justify the use of the word
_profound_. What is remarkable in the employment of these passages, is
not merely that they are so present to his mind that they come up for
use in the most exciting moments of composition, but that he embodies
the spirit of them in such a new form as reveals to minds saturated and
deadened with the _sound_ of the words, the very visual image and
spiritual meaning involved in them. "_The primrose way!_" And to what?

We will confine ourselves to one passage more:--

Is ripe for shaking, and the powers above
Put on their instruments."

In the end of the 14th chapter of the Revelation we have the words,
"Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap;
for the harvest of the earth is ripe." We suspect that Shakspere wrote,
ripe _to_ shaking.

The instances to which we have confined ourselves do not by any means
belong to the most evident kind of proof that might be adduced of
Shakspere's acquaintance with Scripture. The subject, in its ordinary
aspect, has been elsewhere treated with far more fulness than our design
would permit us to indulge in, even if it had not been done already. Our
object has been to bring forward a few passages which seem to us to
breathe the very spirit of individual passages in sacred writ, without
direct use of the words themselves; and, of course, in such a case we
can only appeal to the (no doubt) very various degrees of conviction
which they may rouse in the minds of our readers.

But there is one singular correspondence in another _almost_ literal
quotation from the Gospel, which is to us wonderfully interesting. We
are told that the words "eye of a needle," in the passage about a rich
man entering the kingdom of heaven, mean the small side entrance in a
city gate. Now, in "Richard II," act v. scene 5, _Richard_ quotes the
passage thus:--

"It is as hard to come as for a camel
To thread the postern of a needle's eye;"

showing that either the imagination of Shakspere suggested the real
explanation, or he had taken pains to acquaint himself with the
significance of the simile. We can hardly say that the correspondence
might be _merely_ fortuitous; because, at the least, Shakspere looked
for and found a suitable figure to associate with the words _eye of a
needle_, and so fell upon the real explanation; except, indeed, he had
no particular significance in using the word that meant a _little_ gate,
instead of a word meaning any kind of entrance, which, with him, seems

We have not by any means proven that Shakspere's acquaintance with the
Scriptures had an early date in his history; but certainly the Bible
must have had a great influence upon him who was the highest
representative mind of the time, its influence on the general
development of the nation being unquestionable. This, therefore, seeing
the Bible itself was just dawning full upon the country while Shakspere
was becoming capable of understanding it, seems the suitable sequence in
which to take notice of that influence, and of some of those passages in
his works which testify to it.

But, besides _the_ Bible, every nation has _a_ Bible, or at least _an_
Old Testament, in its own history; and that Shakspere paid especial
attention to this, is no matter of conjecture. We suspect his mode of
writing historical plays is more after the fashion of the Bible
histories than that of most writers of history. Indeed, the development
and consequences of character and conduct are clear to those that read
his histories with open eyes. Now, in his childhood Shakspere may have
had some special incentive to the study of history springing out of the
fact that his mother's grandfather had been "groom of the chamber to
Henry VII.," while there is sufficient testimony that a further removed
ancestor of his father, as well, had stood high in the favour of the
same monarch. Therefore the history of the troublous times of the
preceding century, which were brought to a close by the usurpation of
Henry VII., would naturally be a subject of talk in the quiet household,
where books and amusements such as now occupy our boys, were scarce or
wanting altogether. The proximity of such a past of strife and
commotion, crowded with eventful change, must have formed a background
full of the material of excitement to an age which lived in the midst of
a peculiarly exciting history of its own.

Perhaps the chief intellectual characteristic of the age of Elizabeth
was _activity_; this activity accounting even for much that is
objectionable in its literature. Now this activity must have been
growing in the people throughout the fifteenth century; the wars of the
Roses, although they stifled literature, so that it had, as it were, to
be born again in the beginning of the following century, being, after
all, but as the "eager strife" of the shadow-leaves above the "genuine
life" of the grass,--

"And the mute repose
Of sweetly breathing flowers."

But when peace had fallen on the land, it would seem as if the impulse
to action springing from strife still operated, as the waves will go on
raving upon the shore after the wind has ceased, and found one outlet,
amongst others, in literature, and peculiarly in dramatic literature.
Peace, rendered yet more intense by the cessation of the cries of the
tormentors, and the groans of the noble army of suffering martyrs, made,
as it were, a kind of vacuum; and into that vacuum burst up the
torrent-springs of a thousand souls--the thoughts that were no longer
repressed--in the history of the past and the Utopian speculation on the
future; in noble theology, capable statesmanship, and science at once
brilliant and profound; in the voyage of discovery, and the change of
the swan-like merchantman into a very fire-drake of war for the defence
of the threatened shores; in the first brave speech of the Puritan in
Elizabeth's Parliament, the first murmurs of the voice of liberty, soon
to thunder throughout the land; in the naturalizing of foreign genius by
translation, and the invention, or at least adoption, of a new and
transcendent rhythm; in the song, in the epic, in the drama.

So much for the general. Let us now, following the course of his life,
recall, in a few sentences, some of the chief events which must have
impressed the all-open mind of Shakspere in the earlier portion of his

Perhaps it would not be going back too far to begin with the Massacre of
Paris, which took place when he was eight years old. It caused so much
horror in England, that it is not absurd to suppose that some black rays
from the deed of darkness may have fallen on the mind of such a child as

In strong contrast with the foregoing is the next event to which we
shall refer.

When he was eleven years old, Leicester gave the Queen that magnificent
reception at Kenilworth which is so well known from its memorials in our
literature. It has been suggested as probable, with quite enough of
likelihood to justify a conjecture, that Shakspere may have been present
at the dramatic representations then so gorgeously accumulated before
her Majesty. If such was the fact, it is easy to imagine what an
influence the shows must have had on the mind of the young dramatic
genius, at a time when, happily, the critical faculty is not by any
means so fully awake as are the receptive and exultant faculties, and
when what the nature chiefly needs is excitement to growth, without
which all pruning, the most artistic, is useless, as having nothing to
operate upon.

When he was fifteen years old, Sir Thomas North's translation of
Plutarch (through the French) was first published. Any reader who has
compared one of Shakspere's Roman plays with the corresponding life in
Plutarch, will not be surprised that we should mention this as one of
those events which must have been of paramount influence upon Shakspere.
It is not likely that he became acquainted with the large folio with its
medallion portraits first placed singly, and then repeated side by side
for comparison, as soon as it made its appearance, but as we cannot tell
when he began to read it, it seems as well to place it in the order its
publication would assign to it. Besides, it evidently took such a hold
of the man, that it is most probable his acquaintance with it began at a
very early period of his history. Indeed, it seems to us to have been
one of the most powerful aids to the development of that perception and
discrimination of character with which he was gifted to such a
remarkable degree. Nor would it be any derogation from the originality
of his genius to say, that in a very pregnant sense he must have been a
disciple of Plutarch. In those plays founded on Plutarch's stories he
picked out every dramatic point, and occasionally employed the very
phrases of North's nervous, graphic, and characteristic English. He
seems to have felt that it was an honour to his work to embody in it the
words of Plutarch himself, as he knew them first. From him he seems
especially to have learned how to bring out the points of a character,
by putting one man over against another, and remarking wherein they
resembled each other and wherein they differed; after which fashion, in
other plays as well as those, he partly arranged his dramatic

Not long after he went to London, when he was twenty-two, the death of
Sir Philip Sidney at the age of thirty-two, must have had its
unavoidable influence on him, seeing all Europe was in mourning for the
death of its model, almost ideal man. In England the general mourning,
both in the court and the city, which lasted for months, is supposed by
Dr. Zouch to have been the first instance of the kind; that is, for the
death of a private person. Renowned over the civilized world for
everything for which a man could be renowned, his literary fame must
have had a considerable share in the impression his death would make on
such a man as Shakspere. For although none of his works were published
till after his death, the first within a few months of that event, his
fame as a writer was widely spread in private, and report of the same
could hardly fail to reach one who, although he had probably no friends
of rank as yet, kept such keen open ears for all that was going on
around him. But whether or not he had heard of the literary greatness of
Sir Philip before his death, the "Arcadia," which was first published
four years after his death (1590), and which in eight years had reached
the third edition--with another still in Scotland the following
year--must have been full of interest to Shakspere. This book is very
different indeed from the ordinary impression of it which most minds
have received through the confident incapacity of the critics of last
century. Few books have been published more fruitful in the results and
causes of thought, more sparkling with fancy, more evidently the outcome
of rich and noble habit, than this "Arcadia" of Philip Sidney. That
Shakspere read it, is sufficiently evident from the fact that from it he
has taken the secondary but still important plots in two of his plays.

Although we are anticipating, it is better to mention here another book,
published in the same year, namely, 1590, when Shakspere was
six-and-twenty: the first three books of Spenser's "Faery Queen." Of its
reception and character it is needless here to say anything further
than, of the latter, that nowadays the depths of its teaching, heartily
prized as that was by no less a man than Milton, are seldom explored.
But it would be a labour of months to set out the known and imagined
sources of the knowledge and spiritual pabulum of the man who laid every
mental region so under contribution, that he has been claimed by almost
every profession as having been at one time or another a student of its
peculiar science, so marvellously in him was the power of assimilation
combined with that of reproduction.

To go back a little: in 1587, when he was three-and-twenty, Mary Queen
of Scots was executed. In the following year came that mighty victory of
England, and her allies the winds and the waters, over the towering
pride of the Spanish Armada. Out from the coasts, like the birds from
their cliffs to defend their young, flew the little navy, many of the
vessels only able to carry a few guns; and fighting, fire-ships and
tempest left this island,--

"This precious stone set in the silver sea,"

still a "blessed plot," with an accumulated obligation to liberty which
can only be paid by helping others to be free; and when she utterly
forgets which, her doom is sealed, as surely as that of the old empires
which passed away in their self-indulgence and wickedness.

When Shakspere was about thirty-two, Sir Walter Raleigh published his
glowing account of Guiana, which instantly provided the English mind
with an earthly paradise or fairy-land. Raleigh himself seems to have
been too full of his own reports for us to be able to suppose that he
either invented or disbelieved them; especially when he represents the
heavenly country to which, in expectation of his execution, he is
looking forward, after the fashion of those regions of the wonderful

"Then the blessed Paths wee'l travel,
Strow'd with Rubies thick as gravel;
Sealings of Diamonds, Saphire floors,
High walls of Coral, and Pearly Bowers."

Such were some of the influences which widened the region of thought,
and excited the productive power, in the minds of the time. After this
period there were fewer of such in Shakspere's life; and if there had
been more of them they would have been of less import as to their
operation on a mind more fully formed and more capable of choosing its
own influences. Let us now give a backward glance at the history of the
art which Shakspere chose as the means of easing his own mind of that
wealth which, like the gold and the silver, has a moth and rust of its
own, except it be kept in use by being sent out for the good of our

It was a mighty gain for the language and the people when, in the middle
of the fourteenth century, by permission of the Pope, the miracle-plays,
most probably hitherto represented in Norman-French, as Mr. Collier
supposes, began to be represented in English. Most likely there had been
dramatic representations of a sort from the very earliest period of the
nation's history; for, to begin with the lowest form, at what time would
there not, for the delight of listeners, have been the imitation of
animal sounds, such as the drama of the conversation between an
attacking poodle and a fiercely repellent puss? Through innumerable
gradations of childhood would the art grow before it attained the first
formal embodiment in such plays as those, so-called, of miracles,
consisting just of Scripture stories, both canonical and apocryphal,
dramatized after the rudest fashion. Regarded from the height which the
art had reached two hundred and fifty years after, "how dwarfed a growth
of cold and night" do these miracle-plays show themselves! But at a time
when there was no printing, little preaching, and Latin prayers, we
cannot help thinking that, grotesque and ill-imagined as they are, they
must have been of unspeakable value for the instruction of a people
whose spiritual digestion was not of a sort to be injured by the
presence of a quite abnormal quantity of husk and saw-dust in their
food. And occasionally we find verses of true poetic feeling, such as
the following, in "The Fall of Man:"--

_Deus._ Adam, that with myn handys I made,
Where art thou now? What hast thou wrought?

_Adam._ A! lord, for synne oure floures do ffade,
I here thi voys, but I se the nought;

implying that the separation between God and man, although it had
destroyed the beatific vision, was not yet so complete as to make the
creature deaf to the voice of his Maker. Nor are the words of Eve, with
which she begs her husband, in her shame and remorse, to strangle her,
odd and quaint as they are, without an almost overpowering pathos:--

"Now stomble we on stalk and ston;
My wyt awey is fro me gon:
Wrythe on to my necke bon
With, hardnesse of thin honde."

To this Adam commences his reply with the verses,--

"Wyff, thi wytt is not wurthe a rosche.
Leve woman, turn thi thought."

And this portion of the general representation ends with these verses,
spoken by Eve:--

"Alas! that ever we wrought this synne.
Oure bodely sustenauns for to wynne,
Ye must delve and I xal spynne,
In care to ledyn oure lyff."

In connexion with these plays, one of the contemplations most
interesting to us is, the contrast between them and the places in which
they were occasionally represented. For though the scaffolds on which
they were shown were usually erected in market-places or churchyards,
sometimes they rose in the great churches, and the plays were
represented with the aid of ecclesiastics. Here, then, we have the rude
beginnings of the dramatic art, in which the devil is the unfortunate
buffoon, giving occasion to the most exuberant laughter of the
people--here is this rude boyhood, if we may so say, of the one art,
roofed in with the perfection of another, of architecture; a perfection
which now we can only imitate at our best: below, the clumsy contrivance
and the vulgar jest; above, the solemn heaven of uplifted arches, their
mysterious glooms ringing with the delight of the multitude: the play of
children enclosed in the heart of prayer aspiring in stone. But it was
not by any means all laughter; and so much, nearer than architecture is
the drama to the ordinary human heart, that we cannot help thinking
these grotesque representations did far more to arouse the inward life
and conscience of the people than all the glory into which the
out-working spirit of the monks had compelled the stubborn stone to
bourgeon and blossom.

But although, no doubt, there was some kind of growth going on in the
drama even during the dreary fifteenth century, we must not suppose that
it was by any regular and steady progression that it arrived at the
grandeur of the Elizabethan perfection. It was rather as if a dry,
knotty, uncouth, but vigorous plant suddenly opened out its inward life
in a flower of surpassing splendour and loveliness. When the
representation of real historical persons in the miracle-plays gave way
before the introduction of unreal allegorical personages, and the
miracle-play was almost driven from the stage by the "play of morals" as
it was called, there was certainly no great advance made in dramatic
representation. The chief advantage gained was room for more variety;
while in some important respects these plays fell off from the merits of
the preceding kind. Indeed, any attempt to teach morals allegorically
must lack that vivifying fire of faith working in the poorest
representations of a history which the people heartily believed and
loved. Nor when we come to examine the favourite amusement of later
royalty, do we find that the interludes brought forward in the pauses of
the banquets of Henry VIII. have a claim to any refinement upon those
old miracle-plays. They have gained in facility and wit; they have lost
in poetry. They have lost pathos too, and have gathered grossness. In
the comedies which soon appear, there is far more of fun than of art;
and although the historical play had existed for some time, and the
streams of learning from the inns of court had flowed in to swell that
of the drama, it is not before the appearance of Shakspere that we find
any _whole_ of artistic or poetic value. And this brings us to another
branch of the subject, of which it seems to us that the importance has
never been duly acknowledged. We refer to the use, if not invention, of
_blank verse_ in England, and its application to the purposes of the
drama. It seems to us that in any contemplation of Shakspere and his
times, the consideration of these points ought not to be omitted.

We have in the present day one grand master of blank verse, the Poet
Laureate. But where would he have been if Milton had not gone before
him; or if the verse amidst which he works like an informing spirit had
not existed at all? No doubt he might have invented it himself; but how
different would the result have been from the verse which he will now
leave behind him to lie side by side for comparison with that of the
master of the epic! All thanks then to Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey!
who, if, dying on the scaffold at the early age of thirty, he has left
no poetry in itself of much value, yet so wrote that he refined the
poetic usages of the language, and, above all, was the first who ever
made blank verse in English. He used it in translating the second and
fourth books of Virgil's "Aeneid." This translation he probably wrote
not long before his execution, which took place in 1547, seventeen years
before the birth of Shakspere. There are passages of excellence in the
work, and very rarely does a verse quite fail. But, as might be
expected, it is somewhat stiff, and, as it were, stunted in sound;
partly from the fact that the lines are too much divided, where
_distinction_ would have been sufficient. It would have been strange,
indeed, if he had at once made a free use of a rhythm which every
boy-poet now thinks he can do what he pleases with, but of which only a
few ever learn the real scope and capabilities. Besides, the difficulty
was increased by the fact that the nearest approach to it in measure was
the heroic couplet, so well known in our language, although scarce one
who has used it has come up to the variousness of its modelling in the
hands of Chaucer, with whose writings Surrey was of course familiar. But
various as is its melody in Chaucer, the fact of there being always an
anticipation of the perfecting of a rhyme at the end of the couplet
would make one accustomed to heroic verse ready to introduce a
rhythmical fall and kind of close at the end of every blank verse in
trying to write that measure for the first time. Still, as we say, there
is good verse in Surrey's translation. Take the following lines for a
specimen, in which the fault just mentioned is scarcely perceptible.
Mercury is the subject of them.

"His golden wings he knits, which him transport,
With a light wind above the earth and seas;
And then with him his wand he took, whereby
He calls from hell pale ghosts.
* * * * *
"By power whereof he drives the winds away,
And passeth eke amid the troubled clouds,
Till in his flight he 'gan descry the top
And the steep flanks of rocky Atlas' hill
That with his crown sustains the welkin up;
Whose head, forgrown with pine, circled alway
With misty clouds, is beaten with wind and storm;
His shoulders spread with snow; and from his chin
The springs descend; his beard frozen with ice.
Here Mercury with equal shining wings
First touched."

In all comparative criticism justice demands that he who began any mode
should not be compared with those who follow only on the ground of
absolute merit in the productions themselves; for while he may be
inferior in regard to quality, he stands on a height, as the inventor,
to which they, as imitators, can never ascend, although they may climb
other and loftier heights, through the example he has set them. It is
doubtful, however, whether Surrey himself invented this verse, or only
followed the lead of some poet of Italy or Spain; in both which
countries it is said that blank verse had been used before Surrey wrote
English in that measure.

Here then we have the low beginnings of blank verse. It was nearly a
hundred and twenty years before Milton took it up, and, while it served
him well, glorified it; nor are we aware of any poem of worth written in
that measure between. Here, of course, we speak of the epic form of the
verse, which, as being uttered _ore rotundo_, is necessarily of
considerable difference from the form it assumes in the drama.

Let us now glance for a moment at the forms of composition in use for
dramatic purposes before blank verse came into favour with play-writers.
The nature of the verse employed in the miracle-plays will be
sufficiently seen from the short specimens already given. These plays
were made up of carefully measured and varied lines, with correct and
superabundant rhymes, and no marked lack of melody or rhythm. But as far
as we have made acquaintance with the moral and other rhymed plays which
followed, there was a great falling off in these respects. They are in
great measure composed of long, irregular lines, with a kind of
rhythmical progress rather than rhythm in them. They are exceedingly
difficult to read musically, at least to one of our day. Here are a few
verses of the sort, from the dramatic poem, rather than drama, called
somewhat improperly "The Moral Play of God's Promises," by John Bale,
who died the year before Shakspere was born. It is the first in
Dodsley's collection. The verses have some poetic merit. The rhythm will
be allowed to be difficult at least. The verses are arranged in stanzas,
of which we give two. In most plays the verses are arranged in rhyming
couplets only.

_Pater Coelestis._

I have with fearcenesse mankynde oft tymes corrected,
And agayne, I have allured hym by swete promes.
I have sent sore plages, when he hath me neglected,
And then by and by, most comfortable swetnes.
To wynne hym to grace, bothe mercye and ryghteousnes
I have exercysed, yet wyll he not amende.
Shall I now lose hym, or shall I him defende?

In hys most myschefe, most hygh grace will I sende,
To overcome hym by favoure, if it may be.
With hys abusyons no longar wyll I contende,
But now accomplysh my first wyll and decre.
My worde beynge flesh, from hens shall set hym fre,
Hym teachynge a waye of perfyght ryhteousnesse,
That he shall not nede to perysh in hys weaknesse.

To our ears, at least, the older miracle-plays were greatly superior. It
is interesting to find, however, in this apparently popular mode of
"building the rhyme"--certainly not the _lofty_ rhyme, for no such
crumbling foundation could carry any height of superstructure--the
elements of the most popular rhythm of the present day; a rhythm
admitting of any number of syllables in the line, from four up to
twelve, or even more, and demanding only that there shall be not more
than four accented syllables in the line. A song written with any spirit
in this measure has, other things _not_ being quite equal, yet almost a
certainty of becoming more popular than one written in any other
measure. Most of Barry Cornwall's and Mrs. Heman's songs are written in
it. Scott's "Lay of the Last Minstrel," Coleridge's "Christabel,"
Byron's "Siege of Corinth," Shelley's "Sensitive Plant," are examples of
the rhythm. Spenser is the first who has made good use of it. One of the
months in the "Shepherd's Calendar" is composed in it. We quote a few
lines from this poem, to show at once the kind we mean:--

"No marvel, Thenot, if thou can bear
Cheerfully the winter's wrathful cheer;
For age and winter accord full nigh;
This chill, that cold; this crooked, that wry;
And as the lowering weather looks down,
So seemest thou like Good Friday to frown:
But my flowering youth is foe to frost;
My ship unwont in storms to be tost."

We can trace it slightly in Sir Thomas Wyatt, and we think in others who
preceded Spenser. There is no sign of it in Chaucer. But we judge it to
be the essential rhythm of Anglo-Saxon poetry, which will quite
harmonize with, if it cannot explain, the fact of its being the most
popular measure still. Shakspere makes a little use of it in one, if not
in more, of his plays, though it there partakes of the irregular
character of that of the older plays which he is imitating. But we
suspect the clowns of the authorship of some of the rhymes, "speaking
more than was set down for them," evidently no uncommon offence.

Prose was likewise in use for the drama at an early period.

But we must now regard the application of blank verse to the use of the
drama. And in this part of our subject we owe most to the investigations
of Mr. Collier, than whom no one has done more to merit our gratitude
for such aids. It is universally acknowledged that "Ferrex and Porrex"
was the first drama in blank verse. But it was never represented on the
public stage. It was the joint production of Thomas Sackville,
afterwards Lord Buckhurst and Earl of Dorset, and Thomas Norton, both
gentlemen of the Inner Temple, by the members of which it was played
before the Queen at Whitehall in 1561, three years before Shakspere was
born. As to its merits, the impression left by it upon our minds is such
that, although the verse is decent, and in some respects irreproachable,
we think the time spent in reading it must be all but lost to any but
those who must verify to themselves their literary profession; a
profession which, like all other professions, involves a good deal of
disagreeable duty. We spare our readers all quotation, there being no
occasion to show what blank verse of the commonest description is. But
we beg to be allowed to state that this drama by no means represents the
poetic powers of Thomas Sackville. For although we cannot agree with
Hallam's general criticism, either for or against Sackville, and
although we admire Spenser, we hope, as much as that writer could have
admired him, we yet venture to say that not only may some of Sackville's
personifications "fairly be compared with some of the most poetical
passages in Spenser," but that there is in this kind in Sackville a
strength and simplicity of representation which surpasses that of
Spenser in passages in which the latter probably imitated the former. We
refer to the allegorical personages in Sackville's "Induction to the
Mirrour of Magistrates," and in Spenser's description of the "House of

Mr. Collier judges that the play in blank verse first represented on the
public stage was the "Tamburlaine" of Christopher Marlowe, and that it
was acted before 1587, at which date Shakspere would be twenty-three.
This was followed by other and better plays by the same author. Although
we cannot say much for the dramatic art of Marlowe, he has far surpassed
every one that went before him in dramatic _poetry_. The passages that
might worthily be quoted from Marlowe's writings for the sake of their
poetry are innumerable, notwithstanding that there are many others which
occupy a border land between poetry and bombast, and are such that it is
to us impossible to say to which class they rather belong. Of course it
is easy for a critic to gain the credit of common-sense at the same time
that he saves himself the trouble of doing what he too frequently shows
himself incapable of doing to any good purpose--we mean _thinking_--by
classing all such passages together as bombastical nonsense; but even in
the matter of poetry and bombast, a wise reader will recognize that
extremes so entirely meet, without being in the least identical, that
they are capable of a sort of chemico-literary admixture, if not of
combination. Goethe himself need not have been ashamed to have written
one or two of the scenes in Marlowe's "Faust;" not that we mean to imply
that they in the least resemble Goethe's handiwork. His verse is, for
dramatic purposes, far inferior to Shakspere's; but it was a great
matter for Shakspere that Marlowe preceded him, and helped to prepare to
his hand the tools and fashions he needed. The provision of blank verse
for Shakspere's use seems to us worthy of being called providential,
even in a system in which we cannot believe that there is any chance.
For as the stage itself is elevated a few feet above the ordinary level,
because it is the scene of a _representation_, just so the speech of the
drama, dealing not with unreal but with ideal persons, the fool being a
worthy fool, and the villain a worthy villain, needs to be elevated some
tones above that of ordinary life, which is generally flavoured with so
much of the _commonplace_. Now the commonplace has no place at all in
the drama of Shakspere, which fact at once elevates it above the tone of
ordinary life. And so the mode of the speech must be elevated as well;
therefore from prose into blank verse. If we go beyond this, we cease to
be natural for the stage as well as life; and the result is that kind of
composition well enough known in Shakspere's time, which he ridicules in
the recitations of the player in "Hamlet," about _Priam_ and _Hecuba_.
We could show the very passages of the play-writer Nash which Shakspere
imitates in these. To use another figure, Shakspere, in the same play,
instructs the players "to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature." Now
every one must have felt that somehow there is a difference between the
appearance of any object or group of objects immediately presented to
the eye, and the appearance of the same object or objects in a mirror.
Nature herself is not the same in the mirror held up to her. Everything
changes sides in this representation; and the room which is an ordinary,
well-known, homely room, gains something of the strange and poetic when
regarded in the mirror over the fire. Now for this representation, for
this mirror-reflection on the stage, blank verse is just the suitable
glass to receive the silvering of the genius-mind behind it.

But if Shakspere had had to sit down and make his tools first, and then
quarry his stone and fell his timber for the building of his house,
instead of finding everything ready to his hand for dressing his stone
already hewn, for sawing and carving the timber already in logs and
planks beside him, no doubt his house would have been built; but can we
with any reason suppose that it would have proved such "a lordly
pleasure-house"? Not even Shakspere could do without his poor little
brothers who preceded him, and, like the goblins and gnomes of the
drama, got everything out of the bowels of the dark earth, ready for the
master, whom it would have been a shame to see working in the gloom and
the dust instead of in the open eye of the day. Nor is anything so
helpful to the true development of power as the possibility of free
action for as much of the power as is already operative. This room for
free action was provided by blank verse.

Yet when Shakspere came first upon the scene of dramatic labour, he had
to serve his private apprenticeship, to which the apprenticeship of the
age in the drama, had led up. He had to act first of all. Driven to
London and the drama by an irresistible impulse, when the choice of some
profession was necessary to make him independent of his father, seeing
he was himself, though very young, a married man, the first form in
which the impulse to the drama would naturally show itself in him would
be the desire to act; for the outside relations would first operate. As
to the degree of merit he possessed as an actor we have but scanty means
of judging; for afterwards, in his own plays, he never took the best
characters, having written them for his friend Richard Burbage. Possibly
the dramatic impulse was sufficiently appeased by the writing of the
play, and he desired no further satisfaction from personal
representation; although the amount of study spent upon the higher
department of the art might have been more than sufficient to render him
unrivalled as well in the presentation of his own conceptions. But the
dramatic spring, having once broken the upper surface, would scoop out a
deeper and deeper well for itself to play in, and the actor would soon
begin to work upon the parts he had himself to study for presentation.
It being found that he greatly bettered his own parts, those of others
would be submitted to him, and at length whole plays committed to his
revision, of which kind there may be several in the collection of his
works. If the feather-end of his pen is just traceable in "Titus
Andronicus," the point of it is much more evident, and to as good
purpose as Beaumont or Fletcher could have used his to, at the best, in
"Pericles, Prince of Tyre." Nor would it be long before he would submit
one of his own plays for approbation; and then the whole of his dramatic
career lies open before him, with every possible advantage for
perfecting the work, for the undertaking of which he was better
qualified by nature than probably any other man whosoever; for he knew
everything about acting, practically--about the play-house and its
capabilities, about stage necessities, about the personal endowments and
individual qualifications of each of the company--so that, when he was
writing a play, he could distribute the parts before they even appeared
upon paper, and write for each actor with the very living form of the
ideal person present "in his mind's eye," and often to his bodily sight;
so that the actual came in aid of the ideal, as it always does if the
ideal be genuine, and the loftiest conceptions proved the truest to
visible nature.

This close relation of Shakspere to the actual leads us to a general and
remarkable fact, which again will lead us back to Shakspere. All the
great writers of Queen Elizabeth's time were men of affairs; they were
not literary men merely, in the general acceptation of the word at
present. Hooker was a hard-working, sheep-keeping, cradle-rocking pastor
of a country parish. Bacon's legal duties were innumerable before he
became Lord Keeper and Lord Chancellor. Raleigh was soldier, sailor,
adventurer, courtier, politician, discoverer: indeed, it is to his
imprisonment that we are indebted for much the most ambitious of his
literary undertakings, "The History of the World," a work which for
simple majesty of subject and style is hardly to be surpassed in prose.
Sidney, at the age of three-and-twenty, received the highest praise for
the management of a secret embassy to the Emperor of Germany; took the
deepest and most active interest in the political affairs of his
country; would have sailed with Sir Francis Drake for South American
discovery; and might probably have been king of poor Poland, if the
queen had not been too selfish or wise to spare him. The whole of his
literary productions was the work of his spare hours. Spenser himself,
who was, except Shakspere, the most purely a literary man of them all,
was at one time Secretary to the Lord Deputy of Ireland, and, later in
life, Sheriff of Cork. Nor is the remark true only of the writers of
Elizabeth's period, or of the country of England.

It seems to us one of the greatest advantages that can befall a poet, to
be drawn out of his study, and still more out of the chamber of imagery
in his own thoughts, to behold and speculate upon the embodiment of
Divine thoughts and purposes in men and their affairs around him. Now
Shakspere had no public appointment, but he reaped all the advantage
which such could have given him, and more, from the perfection of his
dramatic position. It was not with making plays alone that he had to do;
but, himself an actor, himself in a great measure the owner of more than
one theatre, with a little realm far more difficult to rule than many a
kingdom--a company, namely, of actors--although possibly less difficult
from the fact that they were only men and boys; with the pecuniary
affairs of the management likewise under his supervision--he must have
found, in the relations and necessities of his own profession, not
merely enough of the actual to keep him real in his representations, but
almost sufficient opportunity for his one great study, that of mankind,
independently of social and friendly relations, which in his case were
of the widest and deepest.

But Shakspere had not business relations merely: he was a man of
business. There is a common blunder manifested, both in theory on the
one side, and in practice on the other, which the life of Shakspere sets
full in the light. The theory is, that genius is a sort of abnormal
development of the imagination, to the detriment and loss of the
practical powers, and that a genius is therefore a kind of incapable,
incompetent being, as far as worldly matters are concerned. The most
complete refutation of this notion lies in the fact that the greatest
genius the world has known was a successful man in common affairs. While
his genius grew in strength, fervour, and executive power, his worldly
condition rose as well; he became a man of importance in the eyes of his
townspeople, by whom he would not have been honoured if he had not made
money; and he purchased landed property in his native place with the
results of his management of his theatres.

The practical blunder lies in the notion cherished occasionally by young
people ambitious of literary distinction, that in the pursuit of such
things they must be content with the poverty to which the world dooms
its greatest men; accepting their very poverty as an additional proof of
their own genius. If this means that the poet is not to make money his
object, it means well: no man should. But if it means either that the
world is unkind, or that the poet is not to "gather up the fragments,
that nothing be lost," it means ill. Shakspere did not make haste to be
rich. He neither blamed, courted, nor neglected the world: he was
friendly with it. He _could_ not have pinched and scraped; but neither
did he waste or neglect his worldly substance, which is God's gift too.
Many immense fortunes have been made, not by absolute dishonesty, but in
ways to which a man of genius ought to be yet more ashamed than another
to condescend; but it does not therefore follow that if a man of genius
will do honest work he will not make a fair livelihood by it, which for
all good results of intellect and heart is better than a great fortune.
But then Shakspere began with doing what he could. He did not consent to
starve until the world should recognize his genius, or grumble against
the blindness of the nation in not seeing what it was impossible it
should see before it was fairly set forth. He began at once to supply
something which the world wanted; for it wants many an honest thing. He
went on the stage and acted, and so gained power to reveal the genius
which he possessed; and the world, in its possible measure, was not slow
to recognize it. Many a young fellow who has entered life with the one
ambition of being a poet, has failed because he did not perceive that it
is better to be a man than to be a poet, that it is his first duty to
get an honest living by doing some honest work that he can do, and for
which there is a demand, although it may not be the most pleasant
employment. Time would have shown whether he was meant to be a poet or
not; and if he had been no poet he would have been no beggar; and if he
had turned out a poet, it would have been partly in virtue of that
experience of life and truth, gained in his case in the struggle for
bread, without which, gained somehow, a man may be a sweet dreamer, but
can be no strong maker, no poet. In a word, here is _the_ Englishman of
genius, beginning life with nothing, and dying, not rich, but easy and
honoured; and this by doing what no one else could do, writing dramas in
which the outward grandeur or beauty is but an exponent of the inward
worth; hiding pearls for the wise even within the jewelled play of the
variegated bubbles of fancy, which he blew while he wrought, for the
innocent delight of his thoughtless brothers and sisters. Wherever the
rainbow of Shakspere's genius stands, there lies, indeed, at the foot of
its glorious arch, a golden key, which will open the secret doors of
truth, and admit the humble seeker into the presence of Wisdom, who,
having cried in the streets in vain, sits at home and waits for him who
will come to find her. And Shakspere had cakes and ale, although he was

But what do we know about the character of Shakspere? How can we tell
the inner life of a man who has uttered himself in dramas, in which of
course it is impossible that he should ever speak in his own person? No
doubt he may speak his own sentiments through the mouths of many of his
persons; but how are we to know in what cases he does so?--At least we
may assert, as a self-evident negative, that a passage treating of a
wide question put into the mouth of a person despised and rebuked by the
best characters in the play, is not likely to contain any cautiously
formed and cherished opinion of the dramatist. At first sight this may
seem almost a truism; but we have only to remind our readers that one of
the passages oftenest quoted with admiration, and indeed separately
printed and illuminated, is "The Seven Ages of Man," a passage full of
inhuman contempt for humanity and unbelief in its destiny, in which not
one of the seven ages is allowed to pass over its poor sad stage without
a sneer; and that this passage is given by Shakspere to the _blase_
sensualist _Jaques_ in "As You Like it," a man who, the good and wise
_Duke_ says, has been as vile as it is possible for man to be, so vile
that it would be an additional sin in him to rebuke sin; a man who never
was capable of seeing what is good in any man, and hates men's vices
_because_ he hates themselves, seeing in them only the reflex of his own
disgust. Shakspere knew better than to say that all the world is a
stage, and all the men and women merely players. He had been a player
himself, but only on the stage: _Jaques_ had been a player where he
ought to have been a true man. The whole of his account of human life is
contradicted and exposed at once by the entrance, the very moment when
he has finished his wicked burlesque, of _Orlando_, the young master,
carrying _Adam_, the old servant, upon his back. The song that
immediately follows, sings true: "Most friendship is feigning, most
loving mere folly." But between the _all_ of _Jaques_ and the _most_ of
the song, there is just the difference between earth and hell.--Of
course, both from a literary and dramatic point of view, "The Seven
Ages" is perfect.

Now let us make one positive statement to balance the other: that
wherever we find, in the mouth of a noble character, not stock
sentiments of stage virtue, but appreciation of a truth which it needs
deep thought and experience united with love of truth, to discover or
verify for one's self, especially if the truth be of a sort which most
men will fail not merely to recognize as a truth, but to understand at
all, because the understanding of it depends on the foregoing spiritual
perception--then we think we may receive the passage as an expression of
the inner soul of the writer. He must have seen it before he could have
said it; and to see such a truth is to love it; or rather, love of truth
in the general must have preceded and enabled to the discovery of it.
Such a passage is the speech of the _Duke_, opening the second act of
the play just referred to, "As You Like it." The lesson it contains is,
that the well-being of a man cannot be secured except he partakes of the
ills of life, "the penalty of Adam." And it seems to us strange that the
excellent editors of the Cambridge edition, now in the course of
publication--a great boon to all students of Shakspere--should not have
perceived that the original reading, that of the folios, is the right

"Here feel we _not_ the penalty of Adam?"

which, with the point of interrogation supplied, furnishes the true
meaning of the whole passage; namely, that the penalty of Adam is just
what makes the "wood more free from peril than the envious court,"
teaching each "not to think of himself more highly than he ought to

But Shakspere, although everywhere felt, is nowhere seen in his plays.
He is too true an artist to show his own face from behind the play of
life with which he fills his stage. What we can find of him there we
must find by regarding the whole, and allowing the spiritual essence of
the whole to find its way to our brain, and thence to our heart. The
student of Shakspere becomes imbued with the idea of his character. It
exhales from his writings. And when we have found the main drift of any
play--the grand rounding of the whole--then by that we may interpret
individual passages. It is alone in their relation to the whole that we
can do them full justice, and in their relation to the whole that we
discover the mind of the master.

But we have another source of more direct enlightenment as to Shakspere
himself. We only say more _direct_, not more certain or extended
enlightenment. We have one collection of poems in which he speaks in his
own person and of himself. Of course we refer to his sonnets. Though
these occupy, with their presentation of himself, such a small relative
space, they yet admirably round and complete, to our eyes, the circle of
his individuality. In them and the plays the common saying--one of the
truest--that extremes meet, is verified. No man is complete in whom
there are no extremes, or in whom those extremes do not meet. Now the
very individuality of Shakspere, judged by his dramas alone, has been
declared nonexistent; while in the sonnets he manifests some of the
deepest phases of a healthy self-consciousness. We do not intend to
enter into the still unsettled question as to whether these sonnets were
addressed to a man or a woman. We have scarcely a doubt left on the
question ourselves, as will be seen from the argument we found on our
conviction. We cannot say we feel much interest in the other question,
_If a man, what man?_ A few placed at the end, arranged as they have
come down to us, are beyond doubt addressed to a woman. But the
difference in tone between these and the others we think very
remarkable. Possibly at the time they were written--most of them early
in his life, as it appears to us, although they were not published till
the year 1609, when he was forty-five years of age, Meres referring to
them in the year 1598, eleven years before, as known "among his private
friends"--he had not known such women as he knew afterwards, and hence
the true devotion of his soul is given to a friend of his own sex.
Gervinus, whose lectures on Shakspere, profound and lofty to a degree
unattempted by any other interpreter, we are glad to find have been done
into a suitable English translation, under the superintendence of the
author himself--Gervinus says somewhere in them that, as Shakspere lived
and wrote, his ideal of womanhood grew nobler and purer. Certainly the
woman to whom the last few of these sonnets are addressed was neither
noble nor pure. We think, in this matter at least, they record one of
his early experiences.

We shall briefly indicate what we find in these sonnets about the man
himself, and shall commence with what is least pleasing and of least

We must confess, then, that, probably soon after he came first to
London, he, then a married man, had an intrigue with a married woman, of
which there are indications that he was afterwards deeply ashamed. One
little incident seems curiously traceable: that he had given her a set
of tablets which his friend had given him; and the sonnet in which he
excuses himself to his friend for having done so, seems to us the only
piece of special pleading, and therefore ungenuine expression, in the
whole. This friend, to whom the rest of the sonnets are addressed, made
the acquaintance of this woman, and both were false to Shakspere. Even
Shakspere could not keep the love of a worthless woman. So much the
better for him; but it is a sad story at best. Yet even in this
environment of evil we see the nobility of the man, and his real self.
The sonnets in which he mourns his friend's falsehood, forgives him, and
even finds excuses for him, that he may not lose his own love of him,
are, to our minds, amongst the most beautiful, as they are the most
profound. Of these are the 33rd and 34th. Nor does he stop here, but
proceeds in the following, the 35th, to comfort his friend in his grief
for his offence, even accusing himself of offence in having made more
excuse for his fault than the fault needed! But to leave this part of
his history, which, as far as we know, stands alone, and yet cannot with
truth be passed by, any more than the story of the crime of David,
though in this case there is no comparison to be made between the two
further than the primary fact, let us look at the one reality which,
from a spiritual point of view, independently of the literary beauties
of these poems, causes them to stand all but alone in literature. We
mean what has been unavoidably touched upon already, the devotion of his
friendship. We have said this makes the poems stand _all but alone_; for
we ought to be better able to understand these poems of Shakspere, from
the fact that in our day has appeared the only other poem which is like
these, and which casts back a light upon them.

"Yet turn thee to the doubtful shore,
Where thy first form was made a man:
I loved thee, spirit, and love; nor can
The soul of Shakspeare love thee more."

So sings the Poet of our day, in the loftiest of his poems--"In
Memoriam"--addressing the spirit of his vanished friend. In the midst of
his song arises the thought of _the Poet_ of all time, who loved his
friend too, and would have lost him in a way far worse than death, had
not his love been too strong even for that death, alone ghastly, which
threatened to cut the golden chain that bound them, and part them by the
gulf impassable. Tennyson's friend had never wronged him; and to the
divineness of Shakspere's love is added that of forgiveness. Such love
as this between man and man is rare, and therefore to the mind which is
in itself no way rare, incredible, because unintelligible. But though
all the commonest things are very divine, yet divine individuality is
and will be a rare thing at any given period on the earth. Faith, in its
ideal sense, will always be hard to find on the earth. But perhaps this
kind of affection between man and man may, as Coleridge indicates in his
"Table Talk," have been more common in the reigns of Elizabeth and James
than it is now. There is a certain dread of the demonstrative in the
present day, which may, perhaps, be carried into regions where it is out
of place, and hinder the development of a devotion which must be real,
and grand, and divine, if one man such as Shakspere or Tennyson has ever
felt it. If one has felt it, humanity may claim it. And surely He who is
_the_ Son of man has verified the claim. We believe there are indeed few
of us who know what _to love our neighbour as ourselves_ means; but when
we find a man here and there in the course of centuries who does, we may
take this man as the prophet of coming good for his race, his prophecy
being himself.

But next to the interest of knowing that a man could love so well, comes
the association of this fact with his art. He who could look abroad upon
men, and understand them all--who stood, as it were, in the wide-open
gates of his palace, and admitted with welcome every one who came in
sight--had in the inner places of that palace one chamber in which he
met his friend, and in which his whole soul went forth to understand the
soul of his friend. The man to whom nothing in humanity was common or
unclean; in whom the most remarkable of his artistic morals is
fair-play; who fills our hearts with a saintly love for _Cordelia_ and
an admiration of _Sir John Falstaff_ the lost gentleman, mournful even
in the height of our laughter; who could make an _Autolycus_ and a
_Macbeth_ both human, and an _Ariel_ and a _Puck_ neither human--this is
the man who loved best. And we believe that this depth of capacity for
loving lay at the root of all his knowledge of men and women, and all
his dramatic pre-eminence. The heart is more intelligent than the
intellect. Well says the poet Matthew Raydon, who has hardly left
anything behind him but the lamentation over Sir Philip Sidney in which
the lines occur,--

"He that hath love and judgment too
Sees more than any other do."

Simply, we believe that this, not this only, but this more than any
other endowment, made Shakspere the artist he was, in providing him all
the material of humanity to work upon, and keeping him to the true
spirit of its use. Love looking forth upon strife, understood it all.
Love is the true revealer of secrets, because it makes one with the
object regarded.

"But," say some impatient readers, "when shall we have done with
Shakspere? There is no end to this writing about him." It will be a bad
day for England when we have done with Shakspere; for that will imply,
along with the loss of him, that we are no longer capable of
understanding him. Should that time ever come, Heaven grant the
generation which does not understand him at least the grace to keep its
pens off him, which will by no means follow as a necessary consequence
of the non-intelligence! But the writing about Shakspere which has been
hitherto so plentiful must do good just in proportion as it directs
attention to him and gives aid to the understanding of him. And while
the utterances of to-day pass away, the children of to-morrow are born,
and require a new utterance for their fresh need from those who, having
gone before, have already tasted life and Shakspere, and can give some
little help to further progress than their own, by telling the following
generation what they have found. Suppose that this cry had been raised
last century, after good Dr. Johnson had ceased to produce to the eyes
of men the facts about his own incapacity which he presumed to be
criticisms of Shakspere, where would our aids be now to the
understanding of the dramatist? Our own conviction is, when we reflect
with how much labour we have deepened our knowledge of him, and thereby
found in him _the best_--for the best lies not on the surface for the
careless reader--our own conviction is, that not half has been done that
ought to be done to help young people at least to understand the master
mind of their country. Few among them can ever give the attention or
work to it that we have given; but much may be done with judicious aid.
And a profound knowledge of their greatest writer would do more than
almost anything else to bind together as Englishmen, in a true and
unselfish way, the hearts of the coming generations; for his works are
our country in a convex magic mirror.

When a man finds that every time he reads a book not only does some
obscurity melt away, but deeper depths, which he had not before seen,
dawn upon him, he is not likely to think that the time for ceasing to
write about the book has come. And certainly in Shakspere, as in all
true artistic work, as in nature herself, the depths are not to be
revealed utterly; while every new generation needs a new aid towards
discovering itself and its own thoughts in these forms of the past. And
of all that read about Shakspere there are few whom more than one or two
utterances have reached. The speech or the writing must go forth to find
the soil for the growth of its kernel of truth. We shall, therefore,
with the full consciousness that perhaps more has been already said and
written about Shakspere than about any other writer, yet venture to add
to the mass by a few general remarks.

And first we would remind our readers of the marvel of the combination
in Shakspere of such a high degree of two faculties, one of which is
generally altogether inferior to the other: the faculties of reception
and production. Rarely do we find that great receptive power, brought
into operation either by reading or by observation, is combined with
originality of thought. Some hungers are quite satisfied by taking in
what others have thought and felt and done. By the assimilation of this
food many minds grow and prosper; but other minds feed far more upon
what rises from their own depths; in the answers they are compelled to
provide to the questions that come unsought; in the theories they cannot
help constructing for the inclusion in one whole of the various facts
around them, which seem at first sight to strive with each other like
the atoms of a chaos; in the examination of those impulses of hidden
origin which at one time indicate a height of being far above the
thinker's present condition, at another a gulf of evil into which he may
possibly fall. But in Shakspere the two powers of beholding and
originating meet like the rejoining halves of a sphere. A man who thinks
his own thoughts much, will often walk through London streets and see
nothing. In the man who observes only, every passing object mirrors
itself in its prominent peculiarities, having a kind of harmony with all
the rest, but arouses no magician from the inner chamber to charm and
chain its image to his purpose. In Shakspere, on the contrary, every
outer form of humanity and nature spoke to that ever-moving,
self-vindicating--we had almost said, and in a sense it would be true,
self-generating--humanity within him. The sound of any action without
him, struck in him just the chord which, in motion in him, would have
produced a similar action. When anything was done, he felt as if he were
doing it--perception and origination conjoining in one consciousness.

But to this gift was united the gift of utterance, or representation.
Many a man both receives and generates who, somehow, cannot represent.
Nothing is more disappointing sometimes than our first experience of the
artistic attempts of a man who has roused our expectations by a social
display of familiarity with, and command over, the subjects of
conversation. Have we not sometimes found that when such a one sought to
give vital or artistic form to these thoughts, so that they might not be
born and die in the same moment upon his lips, but might _exist_, a
poor, weak, faded _simulacrum_ alone was the result? Now Shakspere was a
great talker, who enraptured the listeners, and was himself so rapt in
his speech that he could scarcely come to a close; but when he was alone
with his art, then and then only did he rise to the height of his great
argument, and all the talk was but as the fallen mortar and stony chips
lying about the walls of the great temple of his drama.

But, along with all this wealth of artistic speech, an artistic virtue
of an opposite nature becomes remarkable: his reticence. How often might
he not say fine things, particularly poetic things, when he does not,
because it would not suit the character or the time! How many delicate
points are there not in his plays which we only discover after many
readings, because he will not put a single tone of success into the flow
of natural utterance, to draw our attention to the triumph of the
author, and jar with the all-important reality of his production!
Wherever an author obtrudes his own self-importance, an unreality is the
consequence, of a nature similar to that which we feel in the old moral
plays, when historical and allegorical personages, such as _Julius
Caesar_ and _Charity_, for instance, are introduced at the same time on
the same stage, acting in the same story. Shakspere never points to any
stroke of his own wit or art. We may find it or not: there it is, and no
matter if no one see it!

Much has been disputed about the degree of consciousness of his own art
possessed by Shakspere: whether he did it by a grand yet blind impulse,
or whether he knew what he wanted to do, and knowingly used the means to
arrive at that end. Now we cannot here enter upon the question; but we
would recommend any of our readers who are interested in it not to
attempt to make up their minds upon it before considering a passage in
another of his poems, which may throw some light on the subject for
them. It is the description of a painting, contained in "The Rape of
Lucrece," towards the end of the poem. Its very minuteness involves the
expression of principles, and reveals that, in relation to an art not
his own, he could hold principles of execution, and indicate perfection
of finish, which, to say the least, must proceed from a general capacity
for art, and therefore might find an equally conscious operation in his
own peculiar province of it. For our own part, we think that his results
are a perfect combination of the results of consciousness and
unconsciousness; consciousness where the arrangements of the play,
outside the region of inspiration, required the care of the wakeful
intellect; unconsciousness where the subject itself bore him aloft on
the wings of its own creative delight.

There is another manifestation of his power which will astonish those
who consider it. It is this: that, while he was able to go down to the
simple and grand realities of human nature, which are all tragic; and
while, therefore, he must rejoice most in such contemplations of human
nature as find fit outlet in a "Hamlet," a "Lear," a "Timon," or an
"Othello," the tragedies of Doubt, Ingratitude, and Love, he can yet,
when he chooses, float on the very surface of human nature, as in
"Love's Labour's Lost," "The Merry Wives of Windsor," "The Comedy of
Errors," "The Taming of the Shrew;" or he can descend half way as it
were, and there remain suspended in the characters and feelings of
ordinary nice people, who, interesting enough to meet in society, have
neither received that development, nor are placed in those
circumstances, which admit of the highest and simplest poetic treatment.
In these he will bring out the ordinary noble or the ordinary vicious.
Of this nature are most of his comedies, in which he gives an ideal
representation of common social life, and steers perfectly clear of what
in such relations and surroundings would be _heroics_. Look how steadily
he keeps the noble-minded youth _Orlando_ in this middle region; and
look how the best comes out at last in the wayward and _recalcitrant_
and _bizarre_, but honest and true natures of _Beatrice_ and _Benedick_;
and this without any untruth to the nature of comedy, although the
circumstances border on the tragic. When he wants to give the deeper
affairs of the heart, he throws the whole at once out of the social
circle with its multiform restraints. As in "Hamlet" the stage on which
the whole is acted is really the heart of _Hamlet_, so he makes his
visible stage as it were, slope off into the misty infinite, with a
grey, starless heaven overhead, and Hades open beneath his feet. Hence
young people brought up in the country understand the tragedies far
sooner than they can comprehend the comedies. It needs acquaintance with
society and social ways to clear up the latter.

The remarks we have made on "Hamlet" by way of illustration, lead us to
point out how Shakspere prepares, in some of his plays, a stage suitable
for all the representation. In "A Midsummer Night's Dream" the place
which gives tone to the whole is a midnight wood in the first flush and
youthful delight of summer. In "As You Like it" it is a daylight wood in
spring, full of morning freshness, with a cold wind now and then blowing
through the half-clothed boughs. In "The Tempest" it is a solitary
island, circled by the mysterious sea-horizon, over which what may come
who can tell?--a place where the magician may work his will, and have
all nature at the beck of his superior knowledge.

The only writer who would have had a chance of rivalling Shakspere in
his own walk, if he had been born in the same period of English history,
is Chaucer. He has the same gift of individualizing the general, and
idealizing the portrait. But the best of the dramatic writers of
Shakspere's time, in their desire of dramatic individualization, forget
the modifying multiformity belonging to individual humanity. In their
anxiety to present a _character_, they take, as it were, a human mould,
label it with a certain peculiarity, and then fill in speeches and forms
according to the label. Thus the indications of character, of
peculiarity, so predominate, the whole is so much of one colour, that
the result resembles one of those allegorical personifications in which,
as much as possible, everything human is eliminated except what belongs
to the peculiarity, the personification. How different is it with
Shakspere's representations! He knows that no human being ever was like
that. He makes his most peculiar characters speak very much like other
people; and it is only over the whole that their peculiarities manifest
themselves with indubitable plainness. The one apparent exception is
_Jaques_, in "As You Like it." But there we must remember that Shakspere
is representing a man who so chooses to represent himself. He is a man
_in his humour_, or his own peculiar and chosen affectation. _Jaques_ is
the writer of his own part; for with him "all the world's a stage, and
all the men and women," himself first, "merely players." We have his
own presentation of himself, not, first of all, as he is, but as he
chooses to be taken. Of course his real self does come out in it, for no
man can seem altogether other than he is; and besides, the _Duke_, who
sees quite through him, rebukes him in the manner already referred to;
but it is his affectation that gives him the unnatural peculiarity of
his modes and speeches. He wishes them to be such.

There is, then, for every one of Shakspere's characters the firm ground
of humanity, upon which the weeds, as well as the flowers, glorious or
fantastic, as the case may be, show themselves. His more heroic persons
are the most profoundly human. Nor are his villains unhuman, although
inhuman enough. Compared with Marlowe's Jew, _Shylock_ is a terrible
_man_ beside a dreary _monster_, and, as far as logic and the _lex
talionis_ go, has the best of the argument. It is the strength of human
nature itself that makes crime strong. Wickedness could have no power of
itself: it lives by the perverted powers of good. And so great is
Shakspere's sympathy with _Shylock_ even, in the hard and unjust doom
that overtakes him, that he dismisses him with some of the spare
sympathies of the more tender-hearted of his spectators. Nowhere is the
justice of genius more plain than in Shakspere's utter freedom from
party-spirit, even with regard to his own creations. Each character
shall set itself forth from its own point of view, and only in the
choice and scope of the whole shall the judgment of the poet be beheld.
He never allows his opinion to come out to the damaging of the
individual's own self-presentation. He knows well that for the worst
something can be said, and that a feeling of justice and his own right
will be strong in the mind of a man who is yet swayed by perfect
selfishness. Therefore the false man is not discoverable in his speech,
not merely because the villain will talk as like a true man as he may,
but because seldom is the villainy clear to the villain's own mind. It
is impossible for us to determine whether, in their fierce bandying of
the lie, _Bolingbroke_ or _Norfolk_ spoke the truth. Doubtless each
believed the other to be the villain that he called him. And Shakspere
has no desire or need to act the historian in the decision of that
question. He leaves his reader in full sympathy with the perplexity of
_Richard_; as puzzled, in fact, as if he had been present at the
interrupted combat.

If every writer could write up to his own best, we should have far less
to marvel at in Shakspere. It is in great measure the wealth of
Shakspere's suggestions, giving him abundance of the best to choose
from, that lifts him so high above those who, having felt the
inspiration of a good idea, are forced to go on writing, constructing,
carpentering, with dreary handicraft, before the exhausted faculty has
recovered sufficiently to generate another. And then comes in the
unerring choice of the best of those suggestions. Yet if any one wishes
to see what variety of the same kind of thoughts he could produce, let
him examine the treatment of the same business in different plays; as,
for instance, the way in which instigation to a crime is managed in
"Macbeth," where _Macbeth_ tempts the two murderers to kill _Banquo_; in
"King John," when _the King_ tempts _Hubert_ to kill _Arthur_; in "The
Tempest," when _Antonio_ tempts _Sebastian_ to kill _Alonzo_; in "As You
Like it," when _Oliver_ instigates _Charles_ to kill _Orlando_; and in
"Hamlet," where _Claudius_ urges _Laertes_ to the murder of _Hamlet_.

He shows no anxiety about being original. When a man is full of his work
he forgets himself. In his desire to produce a good play he lays hold
upon any material that offers itself. He will even take a bad play and
make a good one of it. One of the most remarkable discoveries to the
student of Shakspere is the hide-bound poverty of some of the stories,
which, informed by his life-power; become forms of strength, richness,
and grace. He does what the _Spirit_ in "Comus" says the music he heard
might do,--

"create a soul
Under the ribs of death;"

and then death is straightway "clothed upon." And nowhere is the
refining operation of his genius more evident than in the purification
of these stories. Characters and incidents which would have been honey
and nuts to Beaumont and Fletcher are, notwithstanding their dramatic
recommendations, entirely remodelled by him. The fair _Ophelia_ is, in
the old tale, a common woman, and _Hamlet's_ mistress; while the policy
of the _Lady of Belmont_, who in the old story occupies the place for
which he invented the lovely _Portia_, upon which policy the whole story
turns, is such that it is as unfit to set forth in our pages as it was
unfit for Shakspere's purposes of art. His noble art refuses to work
upon base matter. He sees at once the capabilities of a tale, but he
will not use it except he may do with it what he pleases.

If we might here offer some assistance to the young student who wants to
help himself, we would suggest that to follow, in a measure, Plutarch's
fashion of comparison, will be the most helpful guide to the
understanding of the poet. Let the reader take any two characters, and
putting them side by side, look first for differences, and then for
resemblances between them, with the causes of each; or let him make a
wider attempt, and setting two plays one over against the other, compare
or contrast them, and see what will be the result. Let him, for
instance, take the two characters _Hamlet_ and _Brutus_, and compare
their beginnings and endings, the resemblances in their characters, the
differences in their conduct, the likeness and unlikeness of what was
required of them, the circumstances in which action was demanded of
each, the helps or hindrances each had to the working out of the problem
of his life, the way in which each encounters the supernatural, or any
other question that may suggest itself in reading either of the plays,
ending off with the main lesson taught in each; and he will be
astonished to find, if he has not already discovered it, what a rich
mine of intellectual and spiritual wealth is laid open to his delighted
eyes. Perhaps not the least valuable end to be so gained is, that the
young Englishman, who wants to be delivered from any temptation to think
himself the centre around which the universe revolves, will be aided in
his endeavours after honourable humility by looking up to the man who
towers, like Saul, head and shoulders above his brethren, and seeing
that he is humble, may learn to leave it to the pismire to be angry, to
the earwig to be conceited, and to the spider to insist on his own

But to return to the main course of our observations. The dramas of
Shakspere are so natural, that this, the greatest praise that can be
given them, is the ground of one of the difficulties felt by the young
student in estimating them. The very simplicity of Shakspere's art seems
to throw him out of any known groove of judgment. When he hears one say,
"_Look at this, and admire_," he feels inclined to rejoin, "Why, he only
says in the simplest way what the thing must have been. It is as plain
as daylight." Yes, to the reader; and because Shakspere wrote it. But
there were a thousand wrong ways of doing it: Shakspere took the one
right way. It is he who has made it plain in art, whatever it was before
in nature; and most likely the very simplicity of it in nature was
scarcely observed before he saw it and represented it. And is it not the
glory of art to attain this simplicity? for simplicity is the end of all
things--all manners, all morals, all religion. To say that the thing
could not have been done otherwise, is just to say that you forget the
art in beholding its object, that you forget the mirror because you see
nature reflected in the mirror. Any one can see the moon in Lord Rosse's
telescope; but who made the reflector? And let the student try to
express anything in prose or in verse, in painting or in modelling, just
as it is. No man knows till he has made many attempts, how hard to reach
is this simplicity of art. And the greater the success, the fewer are
the signs of the labour expended. Simplicity is art's perfection.

But so natural are all his plays, and the great tragedies to which we
would now refer in particular, amongst the rest, that it may appear to
some, at first sight, that Shakspere could not have constructed them
after any moral plan, could have had no lesson of his own to teach in
them, seeing they bear no marks of individual intent, in that they
depart nowhere from, nature, the construction of the play itself going
straight on like a history. The directness of his plays springs in part
from the fact that it is humanity and not circumstance that Shakspere
respects. Circumstance he uses only for the setting forth of humanity;
and for the plot of circumstance, so much in favour with Ben Jonson, and
others of his contemporaries, he cares nothing. As to their looking too
natural to have any design in them, we are not of those who believe that
it is unlike nature to have a design and a result. If the proof of a
high aim is to be what the critics used to call _poetic justice_, a kind
of justice that one would gladly find more of in grocers' and
linen-drapers' shops, but can as well spare from a poem, then we must
say that he has not always a high end: the wicked man is not tortured,
nor is the good man smothered in bank-notes and rose-leaves. Even when
he shows the outward ruin and death that comes upon Macbeth at last, it
is only as an unavoidable little consequence, following in the wake of
the mighty vengeance of nature, even of God, that Macbeth cannot say
_Amen_; that Macbeth can sleep no more; that Macbeth is "cabined
cribbed, confined, bound in to saucy doubts and fears;" that his very
brain is a charnel-house, whence arise the ghosts of his own murders,
till he envies the very dead the rest to which his hand has sent them.
That immediate and eternal vengeance upon crime, and that inner reward
of well-doing, never fail in nature or in Shakspere, appear as such a
matter of course that they hardly look like design either in nature or
in the mirror which he holds up to her. The secret is that, in the
ideal, habit and design are one.

Most authors seem anxious to round off and finish everything in full
sight. Most of Shakspere's tragedies compel our thoughts to follow their
_persons_ across the bourn. They need, as Jean Paul says, a piece of the
next world painted in to complete the picture, And this is surely
nature: but it need not therefore be no design. What could be done with
Hamlet, but send him into a region where he has some chance of finding
his difficulties solved; where he will know that his reverence for God,
which was the sole stay left him in the flood of human worthlessness,
has not been in vain; that the skies are not "a foul and pestilent
congregation of vapours;" that there are noble women, though his mother
was false and Ophelia weak; and that there are noble men, although his
uncle and Laertes were villains and his old companions traitors? If
Hamlet is not to die, the whole of the play must perish under the
accusation that the hero of it is left at last with only a superadded
misery, a fresh demand for action, namely, to rule a worthless people,
as they seem to him, when action has for him become impossible; that he
has to live on, forsaken even of death, which will not come though the
cup of misery is at the brim.

But a high end may be gained in this world, and the vision into the
world beyond so justified, as in King Lear. The passionate, impulsive,
unreasoning old king certainly must have given his wicked daughters
occasion enough of making the charges to which their avarice urged them.
He had learned very little by his life of kingship. He was but a boy
with grey hair. He had had no inner experiences. And so all the
development of manhood and age has to be crowded into the few remaining
weeks of his life. His own folly and blindness supply the occasion. And
before the few weeks are gone, he has passed through all the stages of a
fever of indignation and wrath, ending in a madness from which love
redeems him; he has learned that a king is nothing if the man is
nothing; that a king ought to care for those who cannot help themselves;
that love has not its origin or grounds in favours flowing from royal
resource and munificence, and yet that love is the one thing worth
living for, which gained, it is time to die. And now that he has the
experience that life can give, has become a child in simplicity of heart
and judgment, he cannot lose his daughter again; who, likewise, has
learned the one thing she needed, as far as her father was concerned, a
little more excusing tenderness. In the same play it cannot be by chance
that at its commencement Gloucester speaks with the utmost carelessness
and _off-hand_ wit about the parentage of his natural son Edmund, but
finds at last that this son is his ruin.

Edgar, the true son, says to Edmund, after having righteously dealt him
his death-wound,--

"The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
Make instruments to scourge us:
The dark and vicious place where thee he got
Cost him his eyes."

To which the dying and convicted villain replies,--

"Thou hast spoken right; 'tis true:
The wheel is come full circle; I am here."

Could anything be put more plainly than the moral lesson in this?

It would be easy to produce examples of fine design from his comedies as
well; as for instance, from "Much Ado about Nothing:" the two who are
made to fall in love with each other, by being each severally assured of
possessing the love of the other, Beatrice and Benedick, are shown
beforehand to have a strong inclination towards each other, manifested
in their continual squabbling after a good-humoured fashion; but not all
this is sufficient to make them heartily in love, until they find out
the nobility of each other's character in their behaviour about the
calumniated Hero; and the author takes care they shall not be married
without a previous acquaintance with the trick that has been played upon
them. Indeed we think the remark, that Shakspere never leaves any of his
characters the same at the end of a play as he took them up at the
beginning, will be found to be true. They are better or worse, wiser or
more irretrievably foolish. The historical plays would illustrate the
remark as well as any.

But of all the terrible plays we are inclined to think "Timon" the most
terrible, and to doubt whether justice has been done to the finish and
completeness of it. At the same time we are inclined to think that it
was printed (first in the first folio, 1623, seven years after
Shakspere's death) from a copy, corrected by the author, but not
_written fair_, and containing consequent mistakes. The same account
might belong to others of the plays, but more evidently perhaps belongs
to the "Timon." The idea of making the generous spendthrift, whose old
idolaters had forsaken him because the idol had no more to give, into
the high-priest of the Temple of Mammon, dispensing the gold which he
hated and despised, that it might be a curse to the race which he had
learned to hate and despise as well; and the way in which Shakspere
discloses the depths of Timon's wound, by bringing him into comparison
with one who hates men by profession and humour--are as powerful as
anything to be found even in Shakspere.

We are very willing to believe that "Julius Caesar" was one of his
latest plays; for certainly it is the play in which he has represented a
hero in the high and true sense. _Brutus_ is this hero, of course; a
hero because he will do what he sees to be right, independently of
personal feeling or personal advantage. Nor does his attempt fail from
any overweening or blindness, in himself. Had he known that the various
papers thrown in his way, were the concoctions of _Cassius_, he would
not have made the mistake of supposing that the Romans longed for
freedom, and therefore would be ready to defend it. As it was, he
attempted to liberate a people which did not feel its slavery. He failed
for others, but not for himself; for his truth was such that everybody
was true to him. Unlike Jaques with his seven acts of the burlesque of
human life, Brutus says at the last,--

My heart doth joy, that yet, in all my life,
I found no man but he was true to me."

Of course all this is in Plutarch. But it is easy to see with what
relish Shakspere takes it up, setting forth all the aids in himself and
in others which Brutus had to being a hero, and thus making the
representation as credible as possible.

We must heartily confess that no amount of genius alone will make a man
a good man; that genius only shows the right way--drives no man to walk
in it. But there is surely some moral scent in us to let us know whether
a man only cares for good from an artistic point of view, or whether he
admires and loves good. This admiration and love cannot be _prominently_
set forth by any dramatist true to his art; but it must come out over
the whole. His predilections must show themselves in the scope of his
artistic life, in the things and subjects he chooses, and the way in
which he represents them. Notwithstanding Uncle Toby and Maria, who will
venture to say that Sterne was noble or virtuous, when he looks over the
whole that he has written? But in Shakspere there is no suspicion of a
cloven foot. Everywhere he is on the side of virtue and of truth. Many
small arguments, with great cumulative force, might be adduced to this

For ourselves we cannot easily believe that the calmness of his art
could be so unvarying except he exercised it with a good conscience;
that he could have kept looking out upon the world around him with the
untroubled regard necessary for seeing all things as they are, except
there had been peace in his house at home; that he could have known all
men as he did, and failed to know himself. We can understand the
co-existence of any degree of partial or excited genius with evil ways,
but we cannot understand the existence of such calm and universal
genius, wrought out in his works, except in association with all that is
noblest in human nature. Nor is it other than on the side of the
argument for his rectitude that he never forces rectitude upon the
attention of others. The strong impression left upon our minds is, that
however Shakspere may have strayed in the early portion of his life in
London, he was not only an upright and noble man for the main part, but
a repentant man, and a man whose life was influenced by the truths of

Much is now said about a memorial to Shakspere. The best and only true
memorial is no doubt that described in Milton's poem on this very
subject: the living and ever-changing monument of human admiration,
expressed in the faces and forms of those absorbed in the reading of his
works. But if the external monument might be such as to foster the
constant reproduction of the inward monument of love and admiration,
then, indeed, it might be well to raise one; and with this object in
view let us venture to propose one mode which we think would favour the
attainment of it.

Let a Gothic hall of the fourteenth century be built; such a hall as
would be more in the imagination of Shakspere than any of the
architecture of his own time. Let all the copies that can be procured of
every early edition of his works, singly or collectively, be stored in
this hall. Let a copy of every other edition ever printed be procured
and deposited. Let every book or treatise that can be found, good, bad,
or indifferent, written about Shakspere or any of his works, be likewise
collected for the Shakspere library. Let a special place be allotted to
the shameless corruptions of his plays that have been produced as
improvements upon them, some of which, to the disgrace of England, still
partially occupy the stage instead of what Shakspere wrote. Let one
department contain every work of whatever sort that tends to direct
elucidation of his meaning, chiefly those of the dramatic writers who
preceded him and closely followed him. Let the windows be filled with
stained glass, representing the popular sports of his own time and the
times of his English histories. Let a small museum be attached,
containing all procurable antiquities that are referred to in his plays,
along with first editions, if possible, of the best books that came out
in his time, and were probably read by him. Let the whole thus as much
as possible represent his time. Let a marble statue in the midst do the
best that English art can accomplish for the representation of the
vanished man; and let copies, if not the originals, of the several
portraits be safely shrined for the occasional beholding of the
multitude. Let the perpetuity of care necessary for this monument be
secured by endowment; and let it be for the use of the public, by means
of a reading-room fitted for the comfort of all who choose to avail
themselves of these facilities for a true acquaintance with our greatest
artist. Let there likewise be a simple and moderately-sized theatre
attached, not for regular, but occasional use; to be employed for the
representation of Shakspere's plays _only_, and allowed free of expense
for amateur or other representations of them for charitable purposes.
But within a certain cycle of years--if, indeed, it would be too much to
expect that out of the London play-goers a sufficient number would be
found to justify the representation of all the plays of Shakspere once
in the season--let the whole of Shakspere's plays be acted in the best
manner possible to the managers for the time being.

The very existence of such a theatre would be a noble protest of the
highest kind against the sort of play, chiefly translated and adapted
from the French, which infests our boards, the low tone of which, even
where it is not decidedly immoral, does more harm than any amount of the
rough, honest plain-spokenness of Shakspere, as judged by our more
fastidious, if not always purer manners. The representation of such
plays forms the real ground of objection to theatre-going. We believe
that other objections, which may be equally urged against large
assemblies of any sort, are not really grounded upon such an amount of
objectionable fact as good people often suppose. At all events it is not
against the drama itself, but its concomitants, its avoidable
concomitants, that such objections are, or ought to be, felt and
directed. The dramatic impulse, as well as all other impulses of our
nature, are from the Maker.

A monument like this would help to change a blind enthusiasm and a
_dilettante_-talk into knowledge, reverence, and study; and surely this
would be the true way to honour the memory of the man who appeals to
posterity by no mighty deeds of worldly prowess, but has left behind him
food for heart, brain, and conscience, on which the generations will
feed till the end of time. It would be the one true and natural mode of
perpetuating his fame in kind; helping him to do more of that for which
he was born, and because of which we humbly desire to do him honour, as
the years flow farther away from the time when, at the age of fifty-two,
he left the world a richer legacy of the results of intellectual labour
than any other labourer in literature has ever done. It would be to
raise a monument to his mind more than to his person.

But to honour Shakspere in the best way we must not gaze upon some grand
memorial of his fame, we must not talk largely of his wonderful doings,
we must not even behold the representation of his works on the stage,
invaluable aid as that is to the right understanding of what he has
written; but we must, by close, silent, patient study, enter into an
understanding with the spirit of the departed poet-sage, and thus let
his own words be the necromantic spell that raises the dead, and brings
us into communion with that man who knew what was in men more than any
other mere man ever did. Well was it for Shakspere that he was humble;
else on what a desolate pinnacle of companionless solitude must he have
stood! Where was he to find his peers? To most thoughtful minds it is a
terrible fancy to suppose that there were no greater human being than
themselves. From the terror of such a _truth_ Shakspere's love for men
preserved him. He did not think about himself so much as he thought
about them. Had he been a self-student alone, or chiefly, could he ever
have written those dramas? We close with the repetition of this truth:
that the love of our kind is the one key to the knowledge of humanity
and of ourselves. And have we not sacred authority for concluding that
he who loves his brother is the more able and the more likely to love
Him who made him and his brother also, and then told them that love is
the fulfilling of the law?


Who taught you this?
I learn'd it out of women's faces.

_Winter's Tale_, Act ii. scene 1.

One occasionally hears the remark, that the commentators upon Shakspere
find far more in Shakspere than Shakspere ever intended to express.
Taking this assertion as it stands, it may be freely granted, not only
of Shakspere, but of every writer of genius. But if it be intended by
it, that nothing can _exist_ in any work of art beyond what the writer
was conscious of while in the act of producing it, so much of its scope
is false.

No artist can have such a claim to the high title of _creator_, as that
he invents for himself the forms, by means of which he produces his new
result; and all the forms of man and nature which he modifies and
combines to make a new region in his world of art, have their own
original life and meaning. The laws likewise of their various
combinations are natural laws, harmonious with each other. While,
therefore, the artist employs many or few of their original aspects for
his immediate purpose, he does not and cannot thereby deprive them of
the many more which are essential to their vitality, and the vitality
likewise of his presentation of them, although they form only the
background from which his peculiar use of them stands out. The objects
presented must therefore fall, to the eye of the observant reader, into
many different combinations and harmonies of operation and result, which
are indubitably there, whether the writer saw them or not. These latent
combinations and relations will be numerous and true, in proportion to
the scope and the truth of the representation; and the greater the
number of meanings, harmonious with each other, which any work of art
presents, the greater claim it has to be considered a work of genius. It
must, therefore, be granted, and that joyfully, that there may be
meanings in Shakspere's writings which Shakspere himself did not see,
and to which therefore his art, as art, does not point.

But the probability, notwithstanding, must surely be allowed as well,
that, in great artists, the amount of conscious art will bear some
proportion to the amount of unconscious truth: the visible volcanic
light will bear a true relation to the hidden fire of the globe; so that
it will not seem likely that, in such a writer as Shakspere, we should
find many indications of present and operative _art_, of which he was
himself unaware. Some truths may be revealed through him, which he
himself knew only potentially; but it is not likely that marks of work,
bearing upon the results of the play, should be fortuitous, or that the
work thus indicated should be unconscious work. A stroke of the mallet
may be more effective than the sculptor had hoped; but it was intended.
In the drama it is easier to discover individual marks of the chisel,
than in the marble whence all signs of such are removed: in the drama
the lines themselves fall into the general finish, without necessary
obliteration as lines: Still, the reader cannot help being fearful,
lest, not as regards truth only, but as regards art as well, he be
sometimes clothing the idol of his intellect with the weavings of his
fancy. My conviction is, that it is the very consummateness of
Shakspere's art, that exposes his work to the doubt that springs from
loving anxiety for his honour; the dramatist, like the sculptor,
avoiding every avoidable hint of the process, in order to render the
result a vital whole. But, fortunately, we are not left to argue
entirely from probabilities. He has himself given us a peep into his
studio--let me call it _workshop_, as more comprehensive.

It is not, of course, in the shape of _literary_ criticism, that we
should expect to meet such a revelation; for to use art even
consciously, and to regard it as an object of contemplation, or to
theorize about it, are two very different mental operations. The
productive and critical faculties are rarely found in equal combination;
and even where they are, they cannot operate equally in regard to the
same object. There is a perfect satisfaction in producing, which does
not demand a re-presentation to the critical faculty. In other words,
the criticism which a great writer brings to bear upon his own work, is
from within, regarding it upon the hidden side, namely, in relation to
his own idea; whereas criticism, commonly understood, has reference to
the side turned to the public gaze. Neither could we expect one so
prolific as Shakspere to find time for the criticism of the works of
other men, except in such moments of relaxation as those in which the
friends at the Mermaid Tavern sat silent beneath the flow of his wisdom
and humour, or made the street ring with the overflow of their own

But if the artist proceed to speculate upon the nature or productions of
another art than his own, we may then expect the principles upon which
he operates in his own, to take outward and visible form--a form
modified by the difference of the art to which he now applies them. In
one of Shakspere's poems, we have the description of an imagined
production of a sister-art--that of Painting--a description so brilliant
that the light reflected from the poet-picture illumines the art of the
Poet himself, revealing the principles which he held with regard to
representative art generally, and suggesting many thoughts with regard
to detail and harmony, finish, pregnancy, and scope. This description is
found in "The Rape of Lucrece." Apology will hardly be necessary for
making a long quotation, seeing that, besides the convenience it will
afford of easy reference to the ground of my argument, one of the
greatest helps which even the artist can give to us, is to isolate
peculiar beauties, and so compel us to perceive them.

Lucrece has sent a messenger to beg the immediate presence of her
husband. Awaiting his return, and worn out with weeping, she looks about
for some variation of her misery.


At last she calls to mind where hangs a piece
Of skilful painting, made for Priam's Troy;
Before the which is drawn the power of Greece,
For Helen's rape the city to destroy,
Threatening cloud-kissing Ilion with annoy;
Which the conceited painter drew so proud,
As heaven, it seemed, to kiss the turrets, bowed.


A thousand lamentable objects there,
In scorn of Nature, Art gave lifeless life:
Many a dry drop seemed a weeping tear,
Shed for the slaughtered husband by the wife;
The red blood reeked, to show the painter's strife.
And dying eyes gleamed forth their ashy lights,
Like dying coals burnt out in tedious nights.


There might you see the labouring pioneer
Begrimed with sweat, and smeared all with dust;
And, from the towers of Troy there would appear
The very eyes of men through loopholes thrust,
Gazing upon the Greeks with little lust:
Such sweet observance in this work was had,
That one might see those far-off eyes look sad.


In great commanders, grace and majesty
You might behold, triumphing in their faces;
In youth, quick bearing and dexterity;
And here and there the painter interlaces
Pale cowards, marching on with trembling paces,
Which heartless peasants did so well resemble,
That one would swear he saw them quake and tremble.


In Ajax and Ulysses, O what art
Of physiognomy might one behold!
The face of either ciphered either's heart;
Their face their manners most expressly told:
In Ajax' eyes blunt rage and rigour rolled;
But the mild glance that sly Ulysses lent
Showed deep regard, and smiling government.


There pleading might you see grave Nestor stand,
As 'twere encouraging the Greeks to fight;
Making such sober action with his hand,
That it beguiled attention, charmed the sight;
In speech, it seemed his beard, all silver-white,
Wagged up and down, and from his lips did fly
Thin winding breath, which purled up to the sky.


About him were a press of gaping faces,
Which seemed to swallow up his sound advice;
All jointly listening, but with several graces,
As if some mermaid did their ears entice;
Some high, some low, the painter was so nice.
The scalps of many, almost hid behind,
To jump up higher seemed, to mock the mind.


Here one man's hand leaned on another's head,
His nose being shadowed by his neighbour's ear;
Here one, being thronged, bears back, all bollen and red;
Another, smothered, seems to pelt and swear;
And in their rage such signs of rage they bear,
As, but for loss of Nestor's golden words,
It seemed they would debate with angry swords.


For much imaginary work was there;
Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind,
That for Achilles' image stood his spear,
Griped in an armed hand; himself behind
Was left unseen, save to the eye of mind:
A hand, a foot, a face, a leg, a head,
Stood for the whole to be imagined.


And, from the walls of strong-besieged Troy,
When their brave hope, bold Hector, marched to field,
Stood many Trojan mothers, sharing joy
To see their youthful sons bright weapons wield,
And to their hope they such odd action yield;
That through their light joy seemed to appear,
Like bright things stained, a kind of heavy fear.


And from the strond of Dardan, where they fought,
To Simois' reedy banks, the red blood ran;
Whose waves to imitate the battle sought,
With swelling ridges; and their ranks began
To break upon the galled shore, and then
Retire again, till, meeting greater ranks,
They join, and shoot their foam at Simois' banks.

The oftener I read these verses, amongst the very earliest compositions
of Shakspere, I am the more impressed with the carefulness with which he
represents the _work_ of the picture--"shows the strife of the painter."
The most natural thought to follow in sequence is: How like his own art!

The scope and variety of the whole picture, in which mass is effected by
the accumulation of individuality; in which, on the one hand, Troy
stands as the impersonation of the aim and object of the whole; and on
the other, the Simois flows in foaming rivalry of the strife of
men,--the pictorial form of that sympathy of nature with human effort
and passion, which he so often introduces in his plays,--is like nothing
else so much as one of the works of his own art. But to take a portion
as a more condensed representation of his art in combining all varieties
into one harmonious whole: his genius is like the oratory of Nestor as
described by its effects in the seventh and eighth stanzas. Every
variety of attitude and countenance and action is harmonized by the
influence which is at once the occasion of debate, and the charm which
restrains by the fear of its own loss: the eloquence and the listening
form the one bond of the unruly mass. So the dramatic genius that
harmonizes his play, is visible only in its effects; so ethereal in its
own essence that it refuses to be submitted to the analysis of the ruder
intellect, it is like the words of Nestor, for which in the picture
there stands but "thin winding breath which purled up to the sky." Take,
for an instance of this, the reconciling power by which, in the
mysterious midnight of the summer-wood, he brings together in one
harmony the graceful passions of childish elves, and the fierce passions
of men and women, with the ludicrous reflection of those passions in the
little convex mirror of the artisan's drama; while the mischievous Puck
revels in things that fall out preposterously, and the Elf-Queen is in
love with ass-headed Bottom, from the hollows of whose long hairy
ears--strange bouquet-holders--bloom and breathe the musk-roses, the
characteristic odour-founts of the play; and the philosophy of the
unbelieving Theseus, with the candour of Hippolyta, lifts the whole into
relation with the realities of human life. Or take, as another instance,
the pretended madman Edgar, the court-fool, and the rugged old king
going grandly mad, sheltered in one hut, and lapped in the roar of a

My object, then, in respect to this poem, is to produce, from many
instances, a few examples of the metamorphosis of such excellences as he
describes in the picture, into the corresponding forms of the drama; in
the hope that it will not then be necessary to urge the probability that
the presence of those artistic virtues in his own practice, upon which
he expatiates in his representation of another man's art, were
accompanied by the corresponding consciousness--that, namely, of the
artist as differing from that of the critic, its objects being regarded
from the concave side of the hammered relief. If this probability be
granted, I would, from it, advance to a higher and far more important
conclusion--how unlikely it is that if the writer was conscious of such
fitnesses, he should be unconscious of those grand embodiments of truth,
which are indubitably present in his plays, whether he knew it or not.
This portion of my argument will be strengthened by an instance to show
that Shakspere was himself quite at home in the contemplation of such

Let me adduce, then, some of those corresponding embodiments in words
instead of in forms; in which colours yield to tones, lines to phrases.
I will begin with the lowest kind, in which the art has to do with
matters so small, that it is difficult to believe that _unconscious_ art
could have any relation to them. They can hardly have proceeded directly
from the great inspiration of the whole. Their very minuteness is an
argument for their presence to the poet's consciousness; while
belonging, as they do, only to the _construction_ of the play, no such
independent existence can be accorded to them, as to _truths_, which,
being in themselves realities, _are_ there, whether Shakspere saw them
or not. If he did not intend them, the most that can be said for them
is, that such is the naturalness of Shakspere's representations, that
there is room in his plays, as in life, for those wonderful coincidences
which are reducible to no law.

Perhaps every one of the examples I adduce will be found open to
dispute. This is a kind in which direct proof can have no share; nor
should I have dared thus to combine them in argument, but for the ninth
stanza of those quoted above, to which I beg my readers to revert. Its
_imaginary work_ means--work hinted at, and then left to the imagination
of the reader. Of course, in dramatic representation, such work must
exist on a great scale; but the minute particularization of the "conceit
deceitful" in the rest of the stanza, will surely justify us in thinking
it possible that Shakspere intended many, if not all, of the _little_
fitnesses which a careful reader discovers in his plays. That such are
not oftener discovered comes from this: that, like life itself, he so
blends into vital beauty, that there are no salient points. To use a
homely simile: he is not like the barn-door fowl, that always runs out
cackling when she has laid an egg; and often when she has not. In the
tone of an ordinary drama, you may know when something is coming; and
the tone itself declares--_I have done it_. But Shakspere will not spoil
his art to show his art. It is there, and does its part: that is enough.
If you can discover it, good and well; if not, pass on, and take what
you can find. He can afford not to be fathomed for every little pearl
that lies at the bottom of his ocean. If I succeed in showing that such
art may exist where it is not readily discovered, this may give some
additional probability to its existence in places where it is harder to
isolate and define.

To produce a few instances, then:

In "Much Ado about Nothing," seeing the very nature of the play is
expressed in its name, is it not likely that Shakspere named the two
constables, Dogberry (_a poisonous berry_) and Verjuice (_the juice of
crab-apples_); those names having absolutely nothing to do with the
stupid innocuousness of their characters, and so corresponding to their
way of turning things upside down, and saying the very opposite of what
they mean?

In the same play we find Margaret objecting to her mistress's wearing a
certain rebato (_a large plaited ruff_), on the morning of her wedding:
may not this be intended to relate to the fact that Margaret had dressed
in her mistress's clothes the night before? She might have rumpled or
soiled it, and so feared discovery.

In "King Henry IV.," Part I., we find, in the last scene, that the
Prince kills Hotspur. This is not recorded in history: the conqueror of
Percy is unknown. Had it been a fact, history would certainly have
recorded it; and the silence of history in regard to a deed of such
mark, is equivalent to its contradiction. But Shakspere requires, for
his play's sake, to identify the slayer of Hotspur with his rival the

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