By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Shakespeare: His Life, Art, And Characters, Volume I. - With An Historical Sketch Of The Origin And Growth Of The Drama In - England
Author: Hudson, H. N.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Shakespeare: His Life, Art, And Characters, Volume I. - With An Historical Sketch Of The Origin And Growth Of The Drama In - England" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.











Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1872, by


In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.




The Memories of a Friendship running, I believe, without interruption
through a period of more than five-and-twenty years, prompt the
inscribing of these volumes to you.


BOSTON, January 1, 1872.







[Illustration: Etched by Leopold Fluming after the Chandos painting.]


       *       *       *       *       *

Shakespeare,[1] by general suffrage, is the greatest name in
literature. There can be no extravagance in saying, that to all who
speak the English language his genius has made the world better worth
living in, and life a nobler and diviner thing. And even among those
who do not "speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake," large numbers
are studying the English language mainly for the purpose of being at
home with him. How he came to be what he was, and to do what he did,
are questions that can never cease to be interesting, wherever his
works are known, and men's powers of thought in any fair measure
developed. But Providence has left a veil, or rather a cloud, about
his history, so that these questions are not likely to be
satisfactorily answered.

    [1] Much discussion has been had in our time as to the right way
    of spelling the Poet's name. The few autographs of his that are
    extant do not enable us to decide positively how he wrote his
    name; or rather they show that he had no one constant way of
    writing it. But the _Venus and Adonis_ and the _Lucrece_ were
    unquestionably published by his authority, and in the
    dedications of both these poems the name is printed
    "Shakespeare." The same holds in all the quarto issues of his
    plays where the author's name is given, with the one exception
    of _Love's Labour's Lost_, which has it "Shakespere"; as it also
    holds in the folio. And in very many of these cases the name is
    printed with a hyphen, "Shake-speare," as if on purpose that
    there might be no mistake about it. All which, surely, is or
    ought to be decisive as to how the Poet willed his name to be
    spelt in print. Inconstancy in the spelling of names was very
    common in his time.

The first formal attempt at an account of Shakespeare's life was made
by Nicholas Rowe, and the result thereof published in 1709,
ninety-three years after the Poet's death. Rowe's account was avowedly
made up, for the most part, from traditionary materials collected by
Betterton the actor, who made a visit to Stratford expressly for that
purpose. Betterton was born in 1635, nineteen years after the death of
Shakespeare; became an actor before 1660, retired from the stage about
1700, and died in 1710. At what time he visited Stratford is not
known. It is to be regretted that Rowe did not give Betterton's
authorities for the particulars gathered by him. It is certain,
however, that very good sources of information were accessible in his
time: Judith Quiney, the Poet's second daughter, lived till 1662; Lady
Barnard, his granddaughter, till 1670; and Sir William Davenant, who
in his youth had known Shakespeare, was manager of the theatre in
which Betterton acted.

After Rowe's account, scarce any thing was added till the time of
Malone, who by a learned and most industrious searching of public and
private records brought to light a considerable number of facts, some
of them very important, touching the Poet and his family. And in our
own day Mr. Collier has followed up the inquiry with very great
diligence, and with no inconsiderable success; though, unfortunately,
much of the matter supplied by him has been discredited as
unauthentic, by those from whom there is in such cases no appeal.
Lastly, Mr. Halliwell has given his intelligent and indefatigable
labours to the same task, and made some valuable additions to our

The lineage of WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, on the paternal side, has not been
traced further back than his grandfather. The name, which in its
composition smacks of brave old knighthood and chivalry, was frequent
in Warwickshire from an early period.

The father of our Poet was JOHN SHAKESPEARE, who is found living at
Stratford-on-Avon in 1552. He was most likely a native of
Snitterfield, a village three miles from Stratford; as we find a
Richard Shakespeare living there in 1550, and occupying a house and
land owned by Robert Arden, the maternal grandfather of our Poet. This
appears from a deed executed July 17, 1550, in which Robert Arden
conveyed certain lands and tenements in Snitterfield, described as
being "now in the tenure of one Richard Shakespeare," to be held in
trust for three daughters "after the death of Robert and Agnes Arden."

An entry in a Court Roll, dated April, 1552, ascertains that John
Shakespeare was living in Stratford at that time. And an entry in the
Bailiff's Court, dated June, 1556, describes him as "John Shakespeare,
of Stratford in the county of Warwick, _glover_." In 1558, the same
John Shakespeare, and four others, one of whom was Francis Burbadge,
then at the head of the corporation, were fined four pence each "for
not keeping their gutters clean."

There is ample proof that at this period his affairs were in a
thriving condition. In October, 1556, he became the owner of two
copyhold estates, one of them consisting of a house with a garden and
a croft attached to it, the other of a house and garden. As these were
estates of inheritance, the tenure was nearly equal to freehold; so
that he must have been pretty well-to-do in the world at the time. For
several years after, his circumstances continued to improve. Before
1558, he became the owner, by marriage, of a farm at Wilmecote,
consisting of fifty-six acres, besides two houses and two gardens;
moreover, he held, in right of his wife, a considerable share in a
property at Snitterfield. Another addition to his property was made in
1575,--a freehold estate, bought for the sum of £40, and described as
consisting of "two houses, two gardens, and two orchards, with their

Several other particulars have been discovered, which go to ascertain
his wealth as compared with that of other Stratford citizens. In 1564,
the year of the Poet's birth, a malignant fever, called the plague,
invaded Stratford. Its hungriest period was from the last of June to
the last of December, during which time it swept off two hundred and
thirty-eight persons out of a population of about fourteen hundred.
None of the Shakespeare family are found among its victims. Large
draughts were made upon the charities of the town on account of this
frightful visitation. In August, the citizens held a meeting in the
open air, from fear of infection, and various sums were contributed
for the relief of the poor. The High-Bailiff gave 3s. 4d., the
head-alderman 2s. 8d.; John Shakespeare, being then only a burgess,
gave 12d.; and in the list of burgesses there were but two who gave
more. Other donations were made for the same cause, he bearing a
proportionable share in them.

We have seen that in June, 1556, John Shakespeare was termed a glover.
In November of the same year he is found bringing an action against
one of his neighbours for unjustly detaining a quantity of barley;
which naturally infers him to have been more or less engaged in
agricultural pursuits. It appears that at a later period agriculture
was his main pursuit, if not his only one; for the town records show
that in 1564 he was paid three shillings for a piece of timber; and we
find him described in 1575 as a "yeoman." Rowe gives a tradition of
his having been "a considerable dealer in wool." It is nowise unlikely
that such may have been the case. The modern divisions of labour and
trade were then little known and less regarded; several kinds of
business being often carried on together, which are now kept distinct;
and we have special proof that gloves and wool were apt to be united
as articles of trade.

I must next trace, briefly, the career of John Shakespeare as a public
officer in the Stratford corporation. After holding several minor
offices, he was in 1558, and again in 1559, chosen one of the four
constables. In 1561, he was a second time made one of the four
affeerors, whose duty it was to determine the fines for such offences
as had no penalties prescribed by statute. The same year, 1561, he was
chosen one of the chamberlains of the borough, a very responsible
office, which he held two years. Advancing steadily in the public
confidence, he became an alderman in 1565; and in 1568 was elected
Bailiff, the highest honour the corporation could bestow. He held this
office a year. The series of local honours conferred upon him ended
with his being chosen head-alderman in 1571; which office also he held
a year. The rule being "once an alderman always an alderman," unless
positive action were taken to the contrary, he retained that office
till 1586, when, for persevering non-attendance at the meetings, he
was deprived of his gown.

After all these marks of public consequence, the reader may be
surprised to learn that John Shakespeare, the father of the world's
greatest thinker and greatest poet, could not write his name! Such was
undoubtedly the fact; and I take pleasure in noting it, as showing,
what is too apt to be forgotten in these bookish days, that men may
know several things, and may have witty children, without being
initiated in the mysteries of pen and ink. In the borough records for
1565 is an order signed by nineteen aldermen and burgesses, calling
upon John Wheler to undertake the office of Bailiff. Of these signers
thirteen are markmen, and among them are the names of George Whately,
then Bailiff, Roger Sadler, head-alderman, and John Shakespeare. So
that there was nothing remarkable in his not being able to wield a
pen. As Bailiff of Stratford, he was _ex officio_ a justice of the
peace; and two warrants are extant, granted by him in December, 1568,
for the arrest of John Ball and Richard Walcar on account of debts;
both of them bearing witness that "he had a mark to himself, like an
honest, plain-dealing man." Several other cases in point are met with
at later periods; some of which show that his wife stood on the same
footing with him in this respect. In October, 1579, John and Mary
Shakespeare executed a deed and bond for the transfer of their
interest in certain property; both of which are subscribed with their
several marks, and sealed with their respective seals.

John Shakespeare's good fortune seems to have reached its height about
the year 1575, after which time we meet with many clear tokens of his
decline. It is not improbable that his affairs may have got
embarrassed from his having too many irons in the fire. The registry
of the Court of Record, from 1555 to 1595, has a large number of
entries respecting him, which show him to have been engaged in a great
variety of transactions, and to have had more litigation on his hands
than would now be thought either creditable or safe. But,
notwithstanding his decline of fortune, we have proofs as late as 1592
that he still retained the confidence and esteem of his
fellow-citizens. From that time forward, his affairs were doubtless
taken care of by one who, as we shall see hereafter, was much
interested not to let them suffer, and also well able to keep them in
good trim. He was buried September 8, 1601; so that, supposing him to
have reached his majority when first heard of in 1552, he must have
passed the age of threescore and ten.

On the maternal side, our Poet's lineage was of a higher rank, and may
be traced further back. His mother was MARY ARDEN, a name redolent of
old poetry and romance. The family of Arden was among the most ancient
in Warwickshire. Their history, as given by Dugdale, spreads over six
centuries. Sir John Arden was squire of the body to Henry the Seventh;
and he had a nephew, the son of a younger brother, who was page of the
bedchamber to the same monarch. These were at that time places of
considerable service and responsibility; and both the uncle and the
nephew were liberally rewarded by their royal master. By conveyances
dated in December, 1519, it appears that Robert Arden then became the
owner of houses and land in Snitterfield. Other purchases by him of
lands and houses are recorded from time to time. The Poet's maternal
grandfather, also named Robert, died in 1556. In his will, dated
November 24th, and proved December 17th, of that year, he makes
special bequests to his "youngest daughter Mary," and also appoints
her and another daughter, named Alice, "full executors of this my last
will and testament." On the whole, it is evident enough that he was a
man of good landed estate. Both he and Richard Shakespeare appear to
have been of that honest and substantial old English yeomanry, from
whose better-than-royal stock and lineage the great Poet of Nature
might most fitly fetch his life and being. Of the Poet's grandmother
on either side we know nothing whatever.

Mary Arden was the youngest of seven children, all of them daughters.
The exact time of her marriage is uncertain, no registry of it having
been found. She was not married at the date of her father's will,
November, 1556. Joan, the first-born of John and Mary Shakespeare, was
baptized in the parish church of Stratford-on-Avon, September 15,
1558. We have seen that at this time John Shakespeare was well
established and thriving in business, and was making good headway in
the confidence of the Stratfordians, being one of the constables of
the borough. On the 2d of December, 1562, while he was chamberlain,
his second child was christened Margaret. On the 26th of April, 1564,
was baptized "WILLIAM, son of John Shakespeare." The birth is commonly
thought to have taken place on the 23d, it being then the usual custom
to present infants at the Font the third day after their birth; but we
have no certain information whether it was observed on this august
occasion. We have seen that throughout the following Summer the
destroyer was busy in Stratford, making fearful spoil of her sons and
daughters; but it spared the babe on whose life hung the fate of
English literature. Other children were added to the family, to the
number of eight, several of them dying in the mean time. On the 28th
of September, 1571, soon after the father became head-alderman, a
fourth daughter was baptized Anne. Hitherto the parish register has
known him only as John Shakespeare: in this case it designates him
"_Master_ Shakespeare." Whether _Master_ was a token of honour not
extended to any thing under an ex-bailiff, does not appear; but in all
cases after this the name is written with that significant prefix.

Nothing further is heard of Mrs. Mary Shakespeare till her death in
1608. On the 9th of September, that year, the parish register notes
the burial of "Mary Shakespeare, widow," her husband having died seven
years before. That she had in a special degree the confidence and
affection of her father, is apparent from the treatment she received
in his will. It would be very gratifying, no doubt, perhaps very
instructive also, to be let into the domestic life and character of
the Poet's mother. That both her nature and her discipline entered
largely into his composition, and had much to do in making him what he
was, can hardly be questioned. Whatsoever of woman's beauty and
sweetness and wisdom was expressed in her life and manners could not
but be caught and repeated in his susceptive and fertile mind. He must
have grown familiar with the noblest parts of womanhood somewhere; and
I can scarce conceive how he should have learned them so well, but
that the light and glory of them beamed upon him from his mother. At
the time of her death, the Poet was in his forty-fifth year, and had
already produced those mighty works which were to fill the world with
his fame. For some years she must in all likelihood have been more or
less under his care and protection; as her age, at the time of her
death, could not well have been less than seventy.

And here I am minded to notice a point which, it seems to me, has been
somewhat overworked within the last few years. Gervinus, the German
critic, thinks--and our Mr. White agrees with him--that Shakespeare
acquired all his best ideas of womanhood after he went to London, and
conversed with the ladies of the city. And in support of this notion
they cite the fact--for such it is--that the women of his later plays
are much superior to those of his earlier ones. But are not the _men_
of his later plays quite as much superior to the men of his first? Are
not his later plays as much better _every way_, as in respect of the
female characters? The truth seems to be, that Shakespeare saw more of
great and good in both man and woman, as he became older and knew
them better; for he was full of intellectual righteousness in this as
in other things. And in this matter it may with something of special
fitness be said that a man finds what he brings with him the faculty
for finding. Shakespeare's mind did not stay on the surface of things.
Probably there never was a man more alive to the presence of humble,
modest worth. And to his keen yet kindly eye the plain-thoughted women
of his native Stratford may well have been as pure, as sweet, as
lovely, as rich in all the inward graces which he delighted to unfold
in his female characters, as any thing he afterwards found among the
fine ladies of the metropolis; albeit I mean no disparagement to these
latter; for the Poet was by the best of all rights a gentleman, and
the ladies who pleased him in London doubtless had sense and womanhood
enough to recognize him as such. At all events, it is reasonable to
suppose that the foundations of his mind were laid before he left
Stratford, and that the gatherings of the boy's eye and heart were the
germs of the man's thoughts.

We have seen our Poet springing from what may be justly termed the
best vein of old English life. At the time of his birth, his parents,
considering the purchases previously made by the father, and the
portion inherited by the mother, must have been tolerably well off.
Malone, reckoning only the bequests specified in her father's will,
estimated Mary Shakespeare's fortune to be not less than £110. Later
researches have brought to light considerable items of property that
were unknown to Malone. Supposing her fortune to have been as good as
£150 then, it would go nearly if not quite, as far as $5000 in our
time. So that the Poet passed his boyhood in just about that medium
state between poverty and riches which is accounted most favourable to
health of body and mind.

At the time when his father became High-Bailiff the Poet was in his
fifth year; old enough to understand something of what would be said
and done in the home of an English magistrate, and to take more or
less interest in the duties, the hospitalities, and perhaps the
gayeties incident to the headship of the borough. It would seem that
the Poet came honestly by his inclination to the Drama. During his
term of office, John Shakespeare is found acting in his public
capacity as a patron of the stage. The chamberlain's accounts show
that twice in the course of that year money was paid to different
companies of players; and these are the earliest notices we have of
theatrical performances in that ancient town. The Bailiff and his son
William were most likely present at those performances. From that time
forward, all through the Poet's youth, probably no year passed without
similar exhibitions at Stratford. In 1572, however, an act was passed
for restraining itinerant players, whereby, unless they could show a
patent under the great seal, they became liable to be proceeded
against as vagabonds, for performing without a license from the local
authorities. Nevertheless, the chamberlain's accounts show that
between 1569 and 1587 no less than ten distinct companies performed at
Stratford under the patronage of the corporation. In 1587, five of
those companies are found performing there; and within the period just
mentioned the Earl of Leicester's men are noted on three several
occasions as receiving money from the town treasury. In May, 1574, the
Earl of Leicester obtained a patent under the great seal, enabling his
players, James Burbadge and four others, to exercise their art in any
part of the kingdom except London. In 1587, this company became "The
Lord Chamberlain's servants"; and we shall in due time find
Shakespeare belonging to it. James Burbadge was the father of Richard
Burbadge, the greatest actor of that age. The family was most likely
from Warwickshire, and perhaps from Stratford, as we have already met
with the name in that town. Such were the opportunities our embryo
Poet had for catching the first rudiments of the art in which he
afterwards displayed such learned mastery.

The forecited accounts have an entry, in 1564, of two shillings "paid
for defacing image in the chapel." Even then the excesses generated
out of the Reformation were invading such towns as Stratford, and
waging a "crusade against the harmless monuments of the ancient
belief; no exercise of taste being suffered to interfere with what was
considered a religious duty." In these exhibitions of strolling
players this spirit found matter, no doubt, more deserving of its
hostility. While the Poet was yet a boy, a bitter war of books and
pamphlets had begun against plays and players; and the Stratford
records inform us of divers attempts to suppress them in that town;
but the issue proves that the Stratfordians were not easily beaten
from that sort of entertainment, in which they evidently took great

We have seen that both John and Mary Shakespeare, instead of writing
their name, were so far disciples of Jack Cade as to use the more
primitive way of making their mark. It nowise follows from this that
they could not read; neither have we any certain evidence that they
could. Be this as it may, there was no good reason why their children
should not be able to say, "I thank God, I have been so well brought
up, that I can write my name." A Free-School had been founded at
Stratford by Thomas Jolyffe in the reign of Edward the Fourth. In
1553, King Edward the Sixth granted a charter, giving it a legal
being, with legal rights and duties, under the name of "The King's New
School of Stratford-upon-Avon." What particular course or method of
instruction was used there, we have no certain knowledge; but it was
probably much the same as that used in other like schools of that
period; which included the elementary branches of English, and also
the rudiments of classical learning.

Here it was, no doubt, that Shakespeare acquired the "small Latin and
less Greek" which Ben Jonson accords to him. What was "small" learning
in the eyes of such a scholar as Jonson, may yet have been something
handsome in itself; and his remark may fairly imply that the Poet had
at least the regular free-school education of the time. Honourably
ambitious, as his father seems to have been, of being somebody, it is
not unlikely that he may have prized learning the more for being
himself without it. William was his oldest son; when his tide of
fortune began to ebb, the Poet was in his fourteenth year, and, from
his native qualities of mind, we cannot doubt that, up to that time at
least, "all the learnings that his _town_ could make him the receiver
of he took, as we do air, fast as 'twas ministered, and in his Spring
became a harvest."

The honest but credulous gossip Aubrey, who died about 1700, states,
on the authority of one Beeston, that "Shakespeare understood Latin
pretty well, for he had been in his younger years a schoolmaster in
the country." The statement may fairly challenge some respect,
inasmuch as persons of the name of Beeston were connected with the
stage before Shakespeare's death and long afterwards. And it is not
unlikely that the Poet may, at some time, have been an assistant
teacher in the free-school at Stratford. Nor does this conflict with
Rowe's account, which states that John Shakespeare kept William at the
free-school for some time; but that straitness of circumstances and
need of help forced him to withdraw his son from the school. Though
writing from tradition, Rowe was evidently careful, and what he says
agrees perfectly with what later researches have established
respecting John Shakespeare's course of fortune. He also tells us that
the Poet's father "could give him no better education than his own
employment." John Shakespeare, as we have seen, was so far occupied
with agriculture as to be legally styled a "yeoman." Nor am I sure but
the ancient functions of an English yeoman's oldest son might be a
better education for what the Poet afterwards accomplished than was to
be had at any free-school or university in England. His large and apt
use of legal terms and phrases has induced many good Shakespearians
learned in the law to believe that he must have been for some time a
student of that noble science. It is indeed difficult to understand
how he could have spoken as he often does, without some study in the
law; but, as he seems thoroughly at home in the specialties of many
callings, it is possible his knowledge in the law may have grown from
the large part his father had, either as magistrate or as litigant, in
legal transactions. I am sure he either studied divinity or else had a
strange gift of knowing it without studying it; and his ripeness in
the knowledge of disease and of the healing art is a standing marvel
to the medical faculty.

Knight has speculated rather copiously and romantically upon the idea
of Shakespeare's having been a spectator of the more-than-royal pomp
and pageantry with which the Queen was entertained by Leicester at
Kenilworth in 1575. Stratford was fourteen miles from Kenilworth, and
the Poet was then eleven years old. That his ears were assailed and
his imagination excited by the fame of that magnificent display cannot
be doubted, for all that part of the kingdom was laid under
contribution to supply it, and was resounding with the noise of it;
but his father was not of a rank to be summoned or invited thither,
nor was he of an age to go thither without his father. Positive
evidence either way on the point there is none; nor can I discover any
thing in his plays that would fairly infer him to have drunk in the
splendour of that occasion, however the fierce attractions thereof may
have kindled a mind so brimful of poetry and life. The whole matter is
an apt theme for speculation, and for nothing else.

The gleanings of tradition apart, the first knowledge that has reached
us of the Poet, after his baptism, has reference to his marriage. Rowe
tells us that "he thought fit to marry while he was very young," and
that "his wife was the daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a
substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford." These
statements are borne out by later disclosures. The marriage took place
in the Fall of 1582, when the Poet was in his nineteenth year. On the
28th of November, that year Fulk Sandels and John Richardson
subscribed a bond whereby they became liable in the sum of £40, to be
forfeited to the Bishop of Worcester in case there should be found any
lawful impediment to the marriage of William Shakespeare and Anne
Hathaway, of Stratford; the object being to procure such a
dispensation from the Bishop as would authorize the ceremony after
once publishing the banns. The original bond is preserved at
Worcester, with the marks and seals of the two bondsmen affixed, and
also bearing a seal with the initials R.H., as if to show that some
legal representative of the bride's father, Richard Hathaway, was
present and consenting to the act. There was nothing peculiar in the
transaction; the bond is just the same as was usually given in such
cases, and several others like it are to be seen at the office of the
Worcester registry.

The parish books all about Stratford and Worcester have been
ransacked, but no record of the marriage has been discovered. The
probability is, that the ceremony took place in some one of the
neighbouring parishes where the registers of that period have not been

Anne Hathaway was of Shottery, a pleasant village situate within an
easy walk of Stratford, and belonging to the same parish. No record of
her baptism has come to light, but the baptismal register of Stratford
did not begin till 1558. She died on the 6th of August, 1623, and the
inscription on her monument gives her age as sixty-seven years. Her
birth, therefore, must have been in 1556, eight years before that of
her husband.

From certain precepts, dated in 1566, and lately found among the
papers of the Stratford Court of Record, it appears that the relations
between John Shakespeare and Richard Hathaway were of a very friendly
sort. Hathaway's will was made September 1, 1581, and proved July 19,
1582, which shows him to have died a few months before the marriage of
his daughter Anne. The will makes good what Rowe says of his being "a
substantial yeoman." He appoints Fulk Sandels one of the supervisors
of his will; and among the witnesses to it is the name of William
Gilbert, then curate of Stratford. One item of the will is: "I owe
unto Thomas Whittington, my shepherd, £4 6s. 8d." Whittington died in
1601; and in his will he gives and bequeaths "unto the poor people of
Stratford 40s. that is in the hand of Anne Shakespeare, wife unto Mr.
William Shakespeare." The careful old shepherd had doubtless placed
the money in Anne Shakespeare's hand for safe keeping, she being a
person in whom he had confidence.

The Poet's match was evidently a love-match: whether the love was of
that kind which forms the best pledge of wedded happiness, is another
question. It is not unlikely that the marriage may have been preceded
by the ancient ceremony of troth-plight, or _handfast_, as it was
sometimes called; like that which almost takes place between Florizel
and Perdita in _The Winter's Tale_, and quite takes place between
Olivia and Sebastian in _Twelfth Night_. The custom of troth-plight
was much used in that age, and for a long time after. In some places
it had the force and effect of an actual marriage. Serious evils,
however, sometimes grew out of it; and the Church of England did
wisely, no doubt, in uniting the troth-plight and the marriage in one
and the same ceremony. Whether such solemn betrothment had or had not
taken place between William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, it is
certain from the parish register that they had a daughter, Susanna,
baptized on the 26th of May, 1583.

Some of the Poet's later biographers and critics have supposed he was
not happy in his marriage. Certain passages of his plays, especially
the charming dialogue between the Duke and the disguised Viola in Act
ii., scene 4, of _Twelfth Night_, have been cited as involving some
reference to the Poet's own case, or as having been suggested by what
himself had experienced of the evils resulting from the wedlock of
persons "misgraffed in respect of years." There was never any thing
but sheer conjecture for this notion. Rowe mentions nothing of the
kind; and we may be sure that his candour would not have spared the
Poet, had tradition offered him any such matter. As for the passages
in question, I know no reason for excepting them from the acknowledged
purity and disinterestedness of the Poet's representations; where
nothing is more remarkable, or more generally commended, than his
singular aloofness of self; his perfect freedom from every thing
bordering upon egotism.

Our Mr. White is especially hard upon the Poet's wife, worrying up the
matter against her, and fairly tormenting the poor woman's memory. Now
the facts about the marriage are just precisely as I have stated them.
I confess they are not altogether such as I should wish them to have
been; but I can see no good cause why prurient inference or
speculation should busy itself in going behind them. If, however,
conjecture must be at work on those facts, surely it had better run in
the direction of charity, especially as regards the weaker vessel. I
say weaker vessel, because in this case the man must in common
fairness be supposed to have had the advantage at least as much in
natural strength of understanding as the woman had in years. And as
Shakespeare was, by all accounts, a very attractive person, it is not
quite clear why she had not as good a right to lose her heart in his
company as he had to lose his in hers. Probably she was as much
smitten as he was; and we may well remember in her behalf, that love's
"favourite seat is feeble woman's breast"; especially as there is not
a particle of evidence that her life after marriage was ever otherwise
than clear and honourable. And indeed it will do no hurt to remember
in reference to them both, how

                           "'Tis affirmed
    By poets skilled in Nature's secret ways,
    That Love will not submit to be controlled
    By mastery."

In support of his view, Mr. White urges, among other things, that most
foul and wicked fling which Leontes, in his mad rapture of jealousy,
makes against his wife, in Act i. scene 2, of _The Winter's Tale_. He
thinks the Poet could not have written that and other strains of like
import, but that he was stung into doing so by his own bitter
experience of "sorrow and shame"; and the argument is that, supposing
him to have had such a root of bitterness in his life, he must have
been thinking of that while writing those passages. The obvious answer
is, To be sure, he must have been thinking of that; but then he must
have known that others would think of it too; and a reasonable
delicacy on his part would have counselled the withholding of any
thing that he was conscious might be applied to his own domestic
affairs. Sensible men do not write in their public pages such things
as would be almost sure to breed or foster scandal about their own
names or their own homes. The man that has a secret cancer on his
person will naturally be the last to speak of cancers in reference to
others. I can hardly think Shakespeare was so wanting in a sense of
propriety as to have written the passages in question, but that he
knew no man could say he was exposing the foulness of his own nest. So
that my inferences in the matter are just the reverse of Mr. White's.
As for the alleged need of personal experience in order to the writing
of such things, why should not this hold just as well in regard, for
instance, to Lady Macbeth's pangs of guilt? Shakespeare's prime
characteristic was, that he knew the truth of Nature in all such
things without the help of personal experience.

Mr. White presumes, moreover, that Anne Shakespeare was a coarse, low,
vulgar creature, such as, the fascination of the honeymoon once worn
off, the Poet could not choose but loath and detest; and that his
betaking himself to London was partly to escape from her hated
society. This, too, is all sheer conjecture, and rather lame at that.
That Shakespeare was more or less separated from his wife for a number
of years, cannot indeed be questioned; but that he ever found or ever
sought relief or comfort in such separation, is what we have no
warrant for believing. It was simply forced upon him by the
necessities of his condition. The darling object of his London life
evidently was, that he might return to his native town, with a
handsome competence, and dwell in the bosom of his family; and the
yearly visits, which tradition reports him to have made to Stratford,
look like any thing but a wish to forget them or be forgotten by them.
From what is known of his subsequent life, it is certain that he had,
in large measure, that honourable ambition, so natural to an English
gentleman, of being the founder of a family; and as soon as he had
reached the hope of doing so, he retired to his old home, and there
set up his rest, as if his best sunshine of life still waited on the
presence of her from whose society he is alleged to have fled away in
disappointment and disgust.

To Anne Hathaway, I have little doubt, were addressed, in his early
morn of love, three sonnets playing on the author's name, which are
hardly good enough to have been his work at any time; certainly none
too good to have been the work of his boyhood. And I have met with no
conjecture on the point that bears greater likelihoods of truth, than
that another three, far different in merit, were addressed, much later
in life, to the same object. The prevailing tone and imagery of them
are such as he would hardly have used but with a woman in his
thoughts; they are full-fraught with deep personal feeling, as
distinguished from exercises of fancy; and they speak, with
unsurpassable tenderness, of frequent absences, such as, before the
Sonnets were printed, the Poet had experienced from his wife. I feel
morally certain that she was the inspirer of them. I can quote but a
part of them:

    "How like a Winter hath my absence been
    From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
    What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen,
    What old December's bareness everywhere!
    For Summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
    And, thou away, the very birds are mute.

    "From you I have been absent in the Spring,
    When proud-pied April, dress'd in all his trim,
    Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
    That heavy Saturn laugh'd and leap'd with him:
    Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
    Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
    Could make me any Summer's story tell,
    Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
    Nor did I wonder at the lily's white,
    Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
    They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
    Drawn after you; you pattern of all those.
    Yet seem'd it Winter still, and, you away,
    As with your shadow I with these did play."

And I am scarcely less persuaded that a third cluster, of nine, had
the same source. These, too, are clearly concerned with the deeper
interests and regards of private life; they carry a homefelt energy
and pathos, such as argue them to have had a far other origin than in
trials of art; they speak of compelled absences from the object that
inspired them, and are charged with regrets and confessions, such as
could only have sprung from the Poet's own breast:

    "Alas! 'tis true I have gone here and there,
    And made myself a motley to the view;
    Gor'd mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
    Made old offences of affections new:
    Most true it is, that I have look'd on truth
    Askance and strangely.

    "O, for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
    The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
    That did not better for my life provide,
    Than public means, which public manners breeds.
    Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
    And almost thence my nature is subdu'd
    To what it works in, like the dyer's hand.

    "Accuse me thus: That I have scanted all
    Wherein I should your great deserts repay;
    Forgot upon your dearest love to call,
    Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day;
    That I have frequent been with unknown minds,
    And given to time your own dear-purchas'd right."

It will take more than has yet appeared, to convince me, that when the
Poet wrote these and other similar lines his thoughts were travelling
anywhere but home to the bride of his youth and mother of his

I have run ahead of my theme; but it may as well be added, here, that
Francis Meres, writing in 1598, speaks of the Poet's "sugared Sonnets
among his private friends"; which indicates the purpose for which they
were written. None of them had been printed when this was said of
them. They were first collected and published in 1609; the collection
being arranged, I think, in "most admirable disorder," so that it is
scarce possible to make head or tail to them.

On the 2d of February, 1585, two more children, twins, were christened
in the parish church as "Hamnet and Judith, son and daughter to
William Shakespeare." We hear of no more children being added to the
family. I must again so far anticipate as to observe, that the son
Hamnet was buried in August, 1596, being then in his twelfth year.
This is the first severe home-stroke known to have lighted on the

Tradition has been busy with the probable causes of Shakespeare's
going upon the stage. Several causes have been assigned; such as,
first, a natural inclination to poetry and acting; second, a
deer-stealing frolic, which resulted in making Stratford too hot for
him; third, the pecuniary embarrassments of his father. It is not
unlikely that all these causes, and perhaps others, may have concurred
in prompting the step.

For the first, we have the testimony of Aubrey, who was at Stratford
probably about the year 1680. He was an arrant and inveterate hunter
after anecdotes, and seems to have caught up, without sifting,
whatever quaint or curious matter came in his way. So that no great
reliance can attach to what he says, unless it is sustained by other
authority. But in this case his words sound like truth, and are
supported by all the likelihoods that can grow from what we should
presume to have been the Poet's natural turn of mind. "This William,"
says he, "being inclined naturally to poetry and acting, came to
London, I guess, about eighteen, and was an actor in one of the
playhouses, and did act exceedingly well. He began early to make
essays in dramatic poetry, which at that time was very low, and his
plays took well. He was a handsome, well-shaped man, very good
company, and of a very ready and pleasant smooth wit. Ben Jonson and
he did gather humours of men daily wherever they came."

This natural inclination, fed by the frequent theatrical performances
at Stratford, would go far, if not suffice of itself to account for
the Poet's subsequent course of life. Before 1586, no doubt, he was
well acquainted with some of the players, with whom we shall hereafter
find him associated. In their exhibitions, rude as these were, he
could not but have been a greedy spectator and an apt scholar. Thomas
Greene, a fellow-townsman of his, was already one of their number. All
this might not indeed be enough to draw him away from Stratford; but
when other reasons came, if others there were, for leaving, these
circumstances would hold out to him an easy and natural access and
invitation to the stage. Nor is there any extravagance in supposing
that, by 1586, he may have taken some part as actor or writer, perhaps
both, in the performances of the company which he afterwards joined.

The deer-stealing matter as given by Rowe is as follows: That
Shakespeare fell into the company of some wild fellows who were in the
habit of stealing deer, and who drew him into robbing a park owned by
Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote, near Stratford. That, being prosecuted
for this, he lampooned Sir Thomas in some bitter verses; which made
the Knight so sharp after him, that he had to steal himself off and
take shelter in London.

Several have attempted to refute this story; but the main substance of
it stands approved by too much strength of credible tradition to be
easily overthrown. And it is certain from public records that the
Lucys had great power at Stratford, and were not seldom engaged in
disputes with the corporation. Mr. Halliwell met with an old record
entitled "the names of them that made the riot upon Master Thomas
Lucy, Esquire." Thirty-five inhabitants of Stratford, chiefly
tradespeople, are named in the list, but no Shakespeares among them.

Knight, over-zealous in the Poet's behalf, will not allow any thing to
be true that infers the least moral blemish in his life: he therefore
utterly discredits the story in question, and hunts it down with
arguments more ingenious than sound. In writing biography,
special-pleading is not good; and I would fain avoid trying to make
the Poet out any better than he was. Little as we know about him, it
is evident enough that he had his frailties, and ran into divers
faults, both as a poet and as a man. And when we hear him confessing,
as in a passage already quoted, "Most true it is, that I have looked
on truth askance and strangely"; we may be sure he was but too
conscious of things that needed to be forgiven; and that he was as far
as any one from wishing his faults to pass for virtues. Deer-stealing,
however, was then a kind of fashionable sport, and whatever might be
its legal character, it was not morally regarded as involving any
criminality or disgrace. So that the whole thing may be justly treated
as a mere youthful frolic, wherein there might indeed be some
indiscretion, and a deal of vexation to the person robbed, but no
stain on the party engaged in it.

The precise time of the Poet's leaving Stratford is not known; but we
cannot well set it down as later than 1586. His children, Hamnet and
Judith, were born, as I have said, in the early part of 1585; and for
several years before that time his father's affairs were drooping. The
prosecutions of Sir Thomas Lucy, added to his father's straitness of
means, may well have made him desirous of quitting Stratford; while
the meeting of inclination and opportunity in his acquaintance with
the players may have determined him where to go, and what to do. The
company were already in a course of thrift; the demand for their
labours was growing; and he might well see, in their fellowship, a
chance of retrieving, as he did retrieve, his father's fortune.

Of course there need be no question that Shakespeare held at first a
subordinate rank in the theatre. Dowdal, writing in 1693, tells us "he
was received into the playhouse as a servitor"; which probably means
that he started as an apprentice to some actor of standing,--a thing
not unusual at the time. It will readily be believed that he could not
be in such a place long without recommending himself to a higher one.
As for the well-known story of his being reduced to the extremity of
"picking up a little money by taking care of the gentlemen's horses
that came to the play," I cannot perceive the slightest likelihood of
truth in it. The first we hear of it is in _The Lives of the Poets_,
written by a Scotchman named Shiels, and published under the name of
Cibber, in 1753. The story is there said to have passed through Rowe
in coming to the writer. If so, then Rowe must have discredited it,
else, surely, he would not have omitted so remarkable a passage. Be
that as it may, the station which the Poet's family had long held at
Stratford, and the fact of his having influential friends at hand from
Warwickshire, are enough to stamp it as an arrant fiction.

We have seen that the company of Burbadge and his fellows held a
patent under the great seal, and in 1587 took the title of "The Lord
Chamberlain's Servants." Eleven years before this time, in 1576, they
had started the Blackfriars theatre, so named from a monastery that
had formerly stood on or near the same ground. Hitherto the several
bands of players had made use of halls, or temporary erections in the
streets or the inn-yards, stages being set up, and the spectators
standing below, or occupying galleries about the open space. In 1577,
two other playhouses were in operation; and still others sprang up
from time to time. The Blackfriars and some others were without the
limits of the corporation, in what were called "the Liberties." The
Mayor and Aldermen of London were from the first decidedly hostile to
all such establishments, and did their best to exclude them the City
and Liberties; but the Court, many of the chief nobility, and, which
was still more, the common people favoured them. The whole mind indeed
of Puritanism was utterly down on stage-plays of all sorts and in
every shape. But it did not go to work the right way: it should have
stopped off the demand for them. This, however, it could not do; for
the Drama was at that time, as it long had been, an intense national
passion: the people would have plays, and could not be converted from
the love of them.

From what we shall presently see, it would be unreasonable not to
suppose, that by the year 1590 the Poet was well started in his
dramatic career; and that the effect of his cunning labours was
beginning even then to be felt by his senior fellows in that line.
Allowing him to have entered the theatre in 1586, when he was
twenty-two years of age, he must have made good use of his time, and
worked onwards with surprising speed, during those four years; though
whether he got ahead more by his acting or his writing, we have no
certain knowledge. In tragic parts, none of the company could shine
beside the younger Burbadge; while Greene, and still more Kempe,
another of the band, left small chance of distinction in comic parts.
Aubrey, as before quoted, tells us that Shakespeare "was a handsome,
well-shaped man," which is no slight matter on the stage; and adds,
"He did act exceedingly well." Rowe "could never meet with any further
account of him this way, than that the top of his performance was the
Ghost in his own _Hamlet_." But this part, to be fairly dealt with,
requires an actor of no mean powers; and as Burbadge is known to have
played the Prince, we may presume that "the Majesty of buried Denmark"
would not be cast upon very inferior hands. That the Poet was master
of the theory of acting, and could tell, none better, how the thing
ought to be done, is evident enough from Hamlet's instructions to the
players. But it nowise follows that he could perform his own

Let us see now how matters stood some two years later. One of the most
popular and most profligate playwriters of that time was Robert
Greene, who, having been reduced to beggary, and forsaken by his
companions, died miserably at the house of a poor shoemaker, in
September, 1592. Shortly after he died, his _Gratsworth of Wit_ was
given to the public by Henry Chettle. Near the close of this tract,
Greene makes an address "to those gentlemen his _quondam_
acquaintance, who spend their wits in making plays," exhorting them to
desist from such pursuits. One of those "gentlemen" was Christopher
Marlowe, distinguished alike for poetry, profligacy, and profanity;
the others were Thomas Lodge and George Peele. Greene here vents a
deal of fury against the players, alleging that they have all been
beholden to him, yet have now forsaken him; and from thence inferring
that the three worthies whom he is exhorting will fare no better at
their hands. After which he goes on thus: "Yes, trust them not; for
there is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers, that, with his
'tiger's heart wrapt in a player's hide,' supposes he is as well able
to bombast out a blank-verse as the best of you; and, being an
absolute _Johannes Fac-totum_, is in his own conceit the only
Shake-scene in a country."

Here the spiteful fling at Shakespeare is unmistakable, and nobody
questions that he is the "Shake-scene" of the passage. The terms of
the allusion yield conclusive evidence as to how the Poet stood in
1592. Though sneered at as a player, it is plain that he was already
throwing the other playwriters into the shade, and making their
labours cheap. Blank-verse was Marlowe's special forte, and some of
his dramas show no little skill in the use of it, though the best part
of that skill was doubtless caught from Shakespeare; but here was "an
upstart" from the country who was able to rival him in his own line.
Moreover, this Shake-scene was a Do-all, a _Johannes Fac-totum_, who
could turn his hand to any thing; and his readiness to undertake what
none others could do so well naturally drew upon him the imputation of
conceit from those who envied his rising, and whose lustre was growing
dim in his light.

It appears that both Shakespeare and Marlowe were offended at the
liberties thus taken with them. For, before the end of that same year,
Chettle published a tract entitled _Kind Heart's Dream_, wherein we
have the following: "With neither of them that take offence was I
acquainted; and with one of them [Marlowe] I care not if I never be:
the other I did not so much spare as since I wish I had; because
myself have seen his demeanour no less civil than he excellent in the
quality he professes: besides, divers of worship have reported his
uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious
grace in writing, that approves his art."

On the whole, we can readily pardon the malice of Greene's assault for
the sake of this tribute, which it was the means of drawing forth, to
Shakespeare's character as a man and his cunning as a poet. The words
"excellent in the quality he professes," refer most likely to the
Poet's acting; while the term _facetious_ is used, apparently, not in
the sense it now bears, but in that of _felicitous_ or _happy_, as was
common at that time. So it seems that Shakespeare already had friends
in London, some of them "worshipful," too, who were strongly
commending him as a poet, and who were prompt to remonstrate with
Chettle against the mean slur cast upon him.

This naturally starts the inquiry, what dramas the Poet had then
written, to earn such praise. Greene speaks of him as "beautified with
our feathers." Probably there was at least some plausible colour of
truth in this charge. The charge, I have no doubt, refers mainly to
the Second and Third Parts of _King Henry the Sixth_. The two plays on
which these were founded were published, respectively, in 1594 and
1595, their titles being, _The First Part of the Contention betwixt
the two famous Houses of York and Lancaster_, and _The True Tragedy
of Richard, Duke of York_. In the form there given, the plays have, as
Mr. White has clearly shown, along with much of Shakespeare's work,
many unquestionable marks of Greene's hand. All those marks, however,
were disciplined out of them, as they have come down to us in
Shakespeare's works. There can be no doubt, then, that Greene, and
perhaps Marlowe also, had a part in them as they were printed in 1594
and 1595, though no author's name was then given. Now it was much the
custom at that time for several playwrights to work together. Of this
we have many well-authenticated instances. The most likely conclusion,
therefore, is, that these two plays in their original form were the
joint workmanship of Shakespeare, Greene, and Marlowe. Perhaps,
however, there was a still older form of the plays, written entirely
by Marlowe and Greene; which older form Shakespeare, some time before
Greene's death, may have taken in hand, and recast, retaining more or
less of their matter, and working it in with his own nobler stuff; for
this was often done also. Or, again, it may be that, before the time
in question, Shakespeare, not satisfied to be joint author with them,
had rewritten the plays, and purged them of nearly all matter but what
he might justly claim as his own; thus making them as we now have

As regards the occasion of Greene's assault, it matters little which
of these views we take, as in either case his charge would have some
apparent ground of truth. It is further probable that the same course
of remark would apply more or less to _The Taming of the Shrew_, and
perhaps also to _Titus Andronicus_, and the original form of
_Pericles_. At all events, I have no doubt that these five plays,
together with the First Part of _King Henry the Sixth, The Comedy of
Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Love's Labour's Lost_, in its
first form, were all written before the time of Greene's death.
Perhaps the first shape, also, of _Romeo and Juliet_ should be added
to this list.

My reasons for this opinion are too long to be stated here: I can but
observe that in these plays, as might be expected from one who was
modest and wished to learn, we have much of imitation as distinguished
from character, though of imitation surpassing its models. And it
seems to me that no fair view can be had of the Poet's mind, no
justice done to his art, but by carefully discriminating in his work
what grew from imitation, and what from character. For he evidently
wrote very much like others of his time, before he learned to write
like himself; that is, it was some time before he found, by practice
and experience, his own strength; and meanwhile he relied more or less
on the strength of custom and example. Nor was it till he had
surpassed others in _their_ way, that he hit upon that more excellent
way in which none could walk but he.

It has been quite too common to speak of Shakespeare as a miracle of
spontaneous genius, who did his best things by force of instinct, not
of art; and that, consequently, he was nowise indebted to time and
experience for the reach and power which his dramas display. This is
an "old fond paradox" which seems to have originated with those who
could not conceive how any man could acquire intellectual skill
without scholastic advantages; forgetting, apparently, that several
things, if not more, may be learned in the school of Nature, provided
one have an eye to read her "open secrets" without "the spectacles of
books." This notion has vitiated a good deal of Shakespearian
criticism. Rowe had something of it. "Art," says he, "had so little,
and Nature so large a share in what Shakespeare did, that, for aught I
know, the performances of his youth were the best." I think decidedly
otherwise; and have grounds for doing so which Rowe had not, in what
has since been done towards ascertaining the chronology of the Poet's

It would seem from Chettle's apology, that Shakespeare was already
beginning to attract liberal notice from that circle of brave and
accomplished gentlemen which adorned the state of Queen Elisabeth.
Among the "divers of worship," first and foremost stood, no doubt, the
high-souled, the generous Southampton, then in his twentieth year.
Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton, was but eight years
old when his father died: the Southampton estates were large; during
the young Earl's minority his interests were in good hands, and the
revenues accumulated; so that on coming of age he had means answerable
to his dispositions. Moreover, he was a young man of good parts, of
studious habits, of cultivated tastes, and withal of a highly
chivalrous and romantic spirit: to all which he added the honour of
being the early and munificent patron of Shakespeare. In 1593, the
Poet published his _Venus and Adonis_, with a modest and manly
dedication to this nobleman, very different from the usual high-flown
style of literary adulation then in vogue; telling him, "If your
Honour seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to
take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some
graver labour." In the dedication, he calls the poem "the first heir
of my invention." Whether he dated its birth from the writing or the
publishing, does not appear: probably it had been written some time;
possibly before he left Stratford. This was followed, the next year,
by his _Lucrece_, dedicated to the same nobleman in a strain of more
open and assured friendship: "The warrant I have of your honourable
disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of
acceptance. What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours."

It was probably about this time that the event took place which Rowe
heard of through Sir William Davenant, that Southampton at one time
gave the Poet a thousand pounds, to enable him to go through with a
purchase which he knew him to be desirous of making. Rowe might well
scruple, as he did, the story of so large a gift,--equal to nearly
$30,000 in our time; but the fact of his scruples being overruled
shows that he had strong grounds for the statement. The sum may indeed
have been exaggerated; but all we know of the Earl assures us that he
could not but wish to make a handsome return for the _Venus and
Adonis_; and that whatever of the kind he did was bound to be
something rich and rare; while it was but of a piece with his approved
nobleness of character, to feel more the honour he was receiving than
that he was conferring by such an act of generosity. Might not this be
what Shakespeare meant by "the _warrant_ I have of your honourable
disposition"? That the Earl was both able and disposed to the amount
alleged, need not be scrupled: the only doubt has reference to the
Poet's occasions. Let us see, then, what these may have been.

In December, 1593, Richard Burbadge, who, his father having died or
retired, was then the leader of the Blackfriars company, signed a
contract for the building of the Globe theatre, in which Shakespeare
is known to have been a large owner. The Blackfriars was not
accommodation enough for the company's uses, but was entirely
covered-in, and furnished suitably for the Winter. The Globe, made
larger, and designed for Summer use, was a round wooden building, open
to the sky, with the stage protected by an overhanging roof. All
things considered, then, it is not incredible that the munificent Earl
may have bestowed even as large a sum as a thousand pounds, to enable
the Poet to do what he wished towards the new enterprise.

The next authentic notice we have of Shakespeare is a public tribute
of admiration from the highest source that could have yielded any
thing of the sort at that time. In 1594, Edmund Spenser published his
_Colin Clout's Come Home again_, which has these lines:

    "And there, though last not least, is Ætion:
    A gentler Shepherd may nowhere be found;
    Whose Muse, full of high thought's invention,
    Doth, like himself, heroically sound."

This was Spenser's delicate way of suggesting the Poet's name. Ben
Jonson has a like allusion in his lines,--"To the Memory of my beloved
Mr. William Shakespeare":

    "In each of which he seems to _shake a lance_
    As brandish'd at the eyes of ignorance."

There can be little doubt, though we have no certain knowledge on the
point, that by this time the Poet's genius had sweetened itself into
the good graces of Queen Elisabeth; as the irresistible compliment
paid her in a _A Midsummer-Night's Dream_ could hardly have been of a
later date. It would be gratifying to know by what play he made his
first conquest of the Queen. That he did captivate her, is told us in
Ben Jonson's poem just quoted:

    "Sweet swan of Avon, what a sight it were
    To see thee in our waters yet appear;
    And make those flights upon the banks of Thames
    That so did take Eliza and our James!"

_King John, King Richard the Second, King Richard the Third, A
Midsummer-Night's Dream_, and the original form of _All's Well that
Ends Well_, were, no doubt, all written before the Spring of 1596. So
that these five plays, and perhaps one or two others, in addition to
the ten mentioned before, may by that time have been performed in her
Majesty's hearing, "as well for the recreation of our loving subjects
as for our solace and pleasure."

Aubrey tells us that Shakespeare "was wont to go to his native country
once a year." We now have better authority than Aubrey for believing
that the Poet's heart was in "his native country" all the while. No
sooner is he well established at London, and in receipt of funds to
spare from the demands of business, than we find him making liberal
investments amidst the scenes of his youth. Some years ago, Mr.
Halliwell discovered in the Chapter-House, Westminster, a document
which ascertains that in the Spring of 1597 Shakespeare bought of
William Underbill, for the sum of £60, the establishment called "New
Place," described as consisting of "one messuage, two barns, and two
gardens, with their appurtenances." This was one of the best
dwelling-houses in Stratford, and was situate in one of the best parts
of the town. Early in the sixteenth century it was owned by the
Cloptons, and called "the great house." It was in one of the gardens
belonging to this house that the Poet was believed to have planted a
mulberry-tree. New Place remained in the hands of Shakespeare and his
heirs till the Restoration, when it was repurchased by the Clopton
family. In the Spring of 1742, Garrick, Macklin, and Delane were
entertained there by Sir Hugh Clopton, under the Poet's mulberry-tree.
About 1752, the place was sold to the Rev. Francis Gastrell, who,
falling out with the Stratford authorities in some matter of rates,
demolished the house, and cut down the tree; for which his memory has
been visited with exemplary retribution.

We have other tokens of the Poet's thrift about this time. One of
these is a curious letter, dated January 24, 1598, and written by
Abraham Sturley, an alderman of Stratford, to his brother-in-law,
Richard Quiney, who was then in London on business for himself and
others. Sturley, it seems, had learned that "our countryman, Mr.
Shakespeare," had money to invest, and so was for having him urged to
buy up certain tithes at Stratford, on the ground that such a purchase
"would advance him indeed, and would do us much good"; the meaning of
which is, that the Stratford people were in want of money, and were
looking to Shakespeare for a supply.

Another token of like import is a letter written by the same Richard
Quiney, whose son Thomas afterwards married the Poet's youngest
daughter. The letter was dated, "From the Bell, in Carter-lane, the
25th October, 1598," and addressed, "To my loving good friend and
countryman, Mr. Wm. Shakespeare.'" The purpose of the letter was to
solicit a loan of £30 from the Poet on good security. No private
letter written by Shakespeare has been found; and this is the only one
written _to_ him that has come to light. How the writer's request was
answered we have no certain information; but we may fairly conclude
the answer to have been satisfactory, because on the same day Quiney
wrote to Sturley, and in Sturley's reply, dated November 4, 1598,
which is also extant, the writer expresses himself much comforted at
learning that "our countryman, Mr. Wm. Shak., would procure us money."

The earliest printed copies of Shakespeare's plays, known in our
time, are _Romeo and Juliet, King Richard the Second_, and _King
Richard the Third_, which were published separately in 1597. Three
years later there was another edition of _Romeo and Juliet_, "newly
corrected, augmented, and amended." In 1598, two more, the First Part
of _King Henry the Fourth_ and _Love's Labour's Lost_, came from the
press. The author's name was not given in any of these issues except
_Love's Labour's Lost_, which was said to be "newly corrected and
augmented." _King Richard the Second_ and _King Richard the Third_
were issued again in 1598, and the First Part of _King Henry the
Fourth_ in 1599; and in all these cases the author's name was printed
in the title-page. The Second Part of _King Henry the Fourth_ was most
likely written before 1598, but we hear of no edition of it till 1600.

Francis Meres has the honour of being the first critic of Shakespeare
that appeared in print. In 1598, he put forth a book entitled
_Palladis Tamia, Wit's Treasury_, which has the following: "As Plautus
and Seneca are accounted the best for comedy and tragedy among the
Latins; so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both
kinds for the stage." The writer then instances twelve of the Poet's
dramas by title, in proof of his point. His list, however, contains
none but what I have already mentioned, except _The Merchant of
Venice_. Taking all our sources of information together, we find at
least eighteen of the plays written before 1598, when the Poet was
thirty-four years of age, and had probably been in the theatre about
twelve years.

Shakespeare was now decidedly at the head of the English Drama;
moreover, he had found it a low, foul, disreputable thing, chiefly in
the hands of profligate adventurers, and he had lifted it out of the
mire, breathed strength and sweetness into it, and made it clean,
fair, and honourable, a structure all alive with beauty and honest
delectation. Such being the case, his standing was naturally firm and
secure; he had little cause to fear rivalry, he could well afford to
be generous; and any play that had his approval would be likely to
pass. Ben Jonson, whose name has a peculiar right to be coupled with
his, was ten years younger than he, and was working with that learned
and sinewy diligence which marked his character. We have it on the
sound authority of Rowe, that Shakespeare lent a helping hand to
honest Ben, and on an occasion that does credit to them both. "Mr.
Jonson," says he, "who was at that time altogether unknown to the
world, had offered one of his plays to the players, in order to have
it acted; and the persons into whose hands it was put, after having
turned it carelessly and superciliously over, were just upon returning
it to him, with an ill-natured answer that it would be of no service
to their company, when Shakespeare luckily cast his eye upon it, and
found something in it so well, as to engage him first to read it
through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to
the public."

Some attempts have been made to impugn this account, but the result of
them all has been rather to confirm it. How nobly the Poet's gentle
and judicious act of kindness was remembered, is shown by Jonson's
superb verses, some of which I have quoted, prefixed to the folio of
1623; enough of themselves to confer an immortality both on the writer
and on the subject of them.

In 1599, we find a coat of arms granted to John Shakespeare, by the
Herald's College, in London. The grant was made, no doubt, at the
instance of his son William. The matter is involved in a good deal of
perplexity; the claims of the son being confounded with those of the
father, in order, apparently, that out of the two together might be
made a good, or at least a plausible, case. Our Poet, the son of a
glover, or a yeoman, had evidently set his heart on being heralded
into a gentleman; and, as his profession of actor stood in the way,
the application was made in his father's name. The thing was started
as early as 1596, but so much question was had, so many difficulties
raised, concerning it, that the Poet was three years in working it
through. To be sure, such heraldic gentry was of little worth in
itself, and the Poet knew this well enough; but then it assured a
certain very desirable social standing, and therefore, as an aspiring
member of society, he was right in seeking it.

In the year 1600, five more of his plays were published in as many
quarto pamphlets. These were, _A Midsummer-Night's Dream, The Merchant
of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing_, the Second Part of _King Henry the
Fourth_, and _King Henry the Fifth_. It appears, also, that _As You
Like It_ was then written; for it was entered at the Stationers' for
publication, but was locked up from the press under a "stay." _The
Merry Wives of Windsor_ was probably then in being also, though not
printed till 1602. And a recent discovery ascertains that _Twelfth
Night_ was played in February, 1602. The original form of _Hamlet_,
too, is known to have been written before 1603. Adding, then, the six
plays now heard of for the first time, to the eighteen mentioned
before, we have twenty-four plays written before the Poet had finished
his thirty-eighth year.

The great Queen died on the 24th of March, 1603. We have abundant
proof that she was, both by her presence and her purse, a frequent and
steady patron of the Drama, especially as its interests were
represented by "the Lord Chamberlain's servants." Everybody, no doubt,
has heard the tradition of her having been so taken with Falstaff in
_King Henry the Fourth_, that she requested the Poet to continue the
character through another play, and to represent him in love;
whereupon he wrote _The Merry Wives of Windsor_. Whatever
embellishments may have been added, there is nothing incredible in the
substance of the tradition; while the approved taste and judgment of
this female king, in matters of literature and art, give it strong
likelihoods of truth.

Elizabeth knew how to unbend in such noble delectations without
abating her dignity as a queen, or forgetting her duty as the mother
of her people. If the patronage of King James fell below hers in
wisdom, it was certainly not lacking in warmth. One of his first acts,
after reaching London, was to order out a warrant from the Privy Seal
for the issuing, of a patent under the Great Seal, whereby the Lord
Chamberlain's players were taken into his immediate patronage under
the title of "The King's Servants." The instrument names nine players,
and Shakespeare stands second in the list. Nor did the King's patent
prove a mere barren honour: many instances of the company's playing at
the Court, and being well paid for it, are on record.

The Poet evidently was, as indeed from the nature of his position he
could not but be, very desirous of withdrawing from the stage; and had
long cherished, apparently, a design of doing so. In several passages
of his Sonnets, two of which I have already quoted, he expresses, in
very strong and even pathetic language, his intense dislike of the
business, and his grief at being compelled to pursue it. At what time
he carried into effect his purpose of retirement is not precisely
known; nor can I stay to trace out the argument on that point. The
probability is, that he ceased to be an actor in the Summer of 1604.
The preceding year, 1603, Ben Jonson's _Sejanus_ was brought out at
the Blackfriars, and one of the parts was sustained by Shakespeare.
After this we have no note of his appearance on the stage; and there
are certain traditions inferring the contrary.

In 1603, an edition of _Hamlet_ was published, though very different
from the present form of the play. The next year, 1604, the finished
_Hamlet_ was published; the title-page containing the words, "enlarged
to almost as much again as it was." Of _Measure for Measure_ we have
no well-authenticated notice during the Poet's life; though there is a
record, which has been received as authentic, of its having been acted
at Court on the 26th of December, 1604. That record, however, has
lately been discredited. Of _Timon of Athens_ and _Julius Cæsar_ we
have no express contemporary notice at all, authentic or otherwise.
Nor have we any of _Troilus and Cressida_ till 1609, in which year a
stolen edition of it was published. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that
these plays were all written, though perhaps not all in their present
shape, before the close of 1604. Reckoning, then, the four last named,
we have twenty-eight of the plays written when the Poet was forty
years of age, and had probably been at the work about eighteen years.
Time has indeed left few traces of the process; but what a magnificent
treasure of results! If Shakespeare had done no more, he would have
stood the greatest intellect of the world. How all alive must those
eighteen years have been with intense and varied exertion! His quick
discernment, his masterly tact, his grace of manners, his practical
judgment, and his fertility of expedients, would needs make him the
soul of the establishment; doubtless the light of his eye and the life
of his hand were in all its movements and plans. Besides, the compass
and accuracy of information displayed in his writings prove him to
have been, for that age, a careful and voluminous student of books.
Portions of classical and of continental literature were accessible to
him in translations. Nor are we without strong reasons for believing
that, in addition to his "small Latin and less Greek," he found or
made time to form a tolerable reading acquaintance with Italian and
French. Chaucer, too, "the day-star," and Spenser, "the sunrise," of
English poetry, were pouring their beauty round his walks. From all
these, and from the growing richness and abundance of contemporary
literature, his all-gifted and all-grasping mind no doubt greedily
took in and quickly digested whatever was adapted to please his taste,
or enrich his intellect, or assist his art.

I have mentioned the Poet's purchase of New Place at Stratford in
1597. Thenceforward he kept making other investments from time to
time, some of them pretty large, the records of which have lately come
to light. It appears by a subsidy roll of 1598, that he was assessed
on property valued at £5 13s. 4d, in the parish of St. Helen's,
Bishopsgate, London. In May, 1602, was executed a deed of conveyance
whereby he became the owner of a hundred and seven acres of arable
land in the town of Old Stratford, bought of William and John Combe
for the sum of £320. In September following, a copyhold house in
Walker-street, near New Place, was surrendered to him by Walter
Getley. This property was held under the manor of Rowington: the
transfer took place at the court-baron of the manor; and it appears
that the Poet was not present at the time; there being a proviso, that
the property should remain in the hands of the Lady of the manor till
the purchaser had done suit and service in the court. One Philip
Rogers, it seems, had several times bought malt of Shakespeare to the
amount of £1 15s. 10d.; and in 1604 the Poet, not being able to get
payment, filed in the Stratford Court of Record a declaration of suit
against him; which probably had the desired effect, as nothing more is
heard of it. This item is interesting, as it shows the Poet engaged in
other pursuits than those relating to the stage. We have seen how, in
1598, Alderman Sturly was for "moving him to deal in the matter of our
tithes." This was a matter wherein much depended on good management;
and, as the town had a yearly rent from the tithes, it was for the
public interest to have them managed well; and the moving of
Shakespeare to deal in the matter sprang most likely from confidence
in his practical judgment and skill. The tithes of "corn, grain,
blade, and hay," and also those of "wool, lamb, hemp, flax, and other
small and privy tithes," in Stratford, Old Stratford, Welcombe, and
Bishopton, had been leased in 1544 for the term of ninety-two years.
In July, 1605, the unexpired term of the lease, thirty-one years, was
bought in by Shakespeare for the sum of £440. In the indenture of
conveyance, he is styled "William Shakespeare, of Stratford-upon-Avon,

These notices enable us to form some tolerable conjecture as to how
the Poet was getting on at the age of forty. Such details of business
may not seem very appropriate in a _Life_ of the greatest of poets;
but we have clear evidence that he took a lively interest in them, and
was a good hand at managing them. He had learned by experience, no
doubt, that "money is a good soldier, and will on"; and that "if
money go before, all ways do lie open." And the thing carries this
benefit, if no other, that it tells us a man may be something of a
poet without being either above or below the common affairs of life.

A pretty careful investigation of the matter has brought good judges
to the conclusion, that in 1608 the Poet's income could not have been
less than £400 a year. This, for all practical purposes, would be
equivalent to some $12,000 in our time. The Rev. John Ward, who became
vicar of Stratford in 1662, noted in his _Diary_, that Shakespeare,
after his retirement, "had an allowance so large that he spent at the
rate of £1,000 a year, as I have heard." The honest and cautious man
did well to add, "as I have heard." That the Poet kept up a liberal
establishment, and was fond of entertaining his neighbours, and still
more his old associates, we can well believe; but that he had £1,000 a
year to spend, or would have spent it if he had, is not credible.

Some question has been made whether Shakespeare was a member of the
celebrated convivial club established by Sir Walter Raleigh, and which
held its meetings at the Mermaid tavern. We have nothing that directly
certifies his membership of that choice institution; but there are
several things inferring it so strongly as to leave no reasonable
doubt on the subject. His conversations certainly ran in that circle
of wits some of whom are directly known to have belonged to it; and
among them all there is not one whose then acknowledged merits gave
him a better title to its privileges. It does not indeed necessarily
follow from his facility and plenipotence of wit in writing, that he
could shine at those extempore "flashes of merriment that were wont to
set the table on a roar." But, besides the natural inference that way,
we have the statement of honest old Aubrey, that "he was very good
company, and of a very ready and pleasant smooth wit." Francis
Beaumont, who was a prominent member of that jovial senate, and to
whom Shirley applies the fine hyperbolism that "he talked a comedy,"
was born in 1586, and died in 1615. I cannot doubt that he had our
Poet, among others, in his eye, when he wrote those celebrated lines
to Ben Jonson:

    "Methinks the little wit I had is lost
    Since I saw you; for wit is like a rest
    Held up at tennis, which men do the best
    With the best gamesters. What things have we seen
    Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been
    So nimble, and so full of subtile flame,
    As if that every one from whence they came
    Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
    And had resolv'd to live a fool the rest
    Of his dull life."

In further token of Shakespeare's having belonged to this merry
parliament of genius, I must quote from Dr. Thomas Fuller, who, though
not born till 1608, was acquainted with some of the old Mermaid wits.
In his _Worthies of Warwickshire_, he winds up his account of the Poet
thus: "Many were the wit-combats betwixt him and Ben Jonson; which two
I behold like a Spanish great galleon and an English man-of-war.
Master Jonson, like the former, was built far higher in learning;
solid, but slow, in his performances: Shakespeare, with the English
man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with
all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds, by the
quickness of his wit and invention."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Poet kept up his interest in the affairs of the company, and spent
more or less of his time in London, after ceasing to be an actor. We
have several subsequent notices of his being in the metropolis on
business, one of which is a deed of conveyance, executed in March,
1613, and transferring to him and three others a house with a small
piece of land for £140; £80 being paid down, and the rest left on
bond and mortgage. The deed bears the Poet's signature, which shows
him to have been in London at the time. The vicar, from whose _Diary_
I have already quoted, notes further that Shakespeare "frequented the
plays all his younger time, but in his elder days he lived at
Stratford, and supplied the stage with two plays every year." That the
writer's information was in all points literally correct, is not
likely; but there is no doubt that the Poet continued to write for the
stage after his retirement from it.

Of the nine plays still to be accounted for, _Macbeth_ was played at
the Globe in 1610, though probably written some time before; _King
Lear_ was acted at Whitehall in December, 1606, and three editions of
it were issued in 1608; _Antony and Cleopatra_ was entered at the
Stationers' in 1608; _Cymbeline_ was performed some time in the Spring
of 1611, and _The Winter's Tale_ in May the same year; _King Henry the
Eighth_ is not heard of till the burning of the Globe theatre in 1613,
when it is described as "a new play." Of _Coriolanus_ we have no
notice whatever till after the Poet's death; while of _Othello_ and
_The Tempest_ we have no well-authenticated notices during his life;
though there is a record, which has generally passed for authentic,
noting them to have been acted at Court, the former on the 1st of
November, 1604, and the latter on the 1st of November, 1611: but that
record, as in the case of _Measure for Measure_, has lately been
pronounced spurious by the highest authority.

It would seem that after the year 1609, or thereabouts, the Poet's
reputation did not mount any higher during his life. A new generation
of dramatists was then rising into favour, who, with some excellences
derived from him, united gross vices of their own, which however were
well adapted to captivate the popular mind. Moreover, King James
himself, notwithstanding his liberality of patronage, was essentially
a man of loose morals and low tastes; and his taking to Shakespeare at
first probably grew more from the public voice, or perhaps from
Southampton's influence, than from his own preference. Before the
Poet's death, we may trace the beginnings of that corruption which,
rather stimulated than discouraged by Puritan bigotry and fanaticism,
reached its height some seventy years later; though its course was for
a while retarded by King Charles the First, who, whatever else may be
said of him, was unquestionably a man of as high and elegant tastes in
literature and art as England could boast of in his time.

Shakespeare, however, was by no means so little appreciated in his
time as later generations have mainly supposed. No man of that age was
held in higher regard for his intellectual gifts; none drew forth more
or stronger tributes of applause. Kings, princes, lords, gentlemen,
and, what is probably still better, common people, all united in
paying homage to his transcendent genius. The noble lines, already
referred to, of Ben Jonson,--than whom few men, perhaps none, ever
knew better how to judge and how to write on such a theme,--indicate
how he struck the scholarship of the age. And from the scattered
notices of his contemporaries we get, withal, a very complete and very
exalted idea of his personal character as a man; although, to be sure,
they yield us few facts in regard to his personal history or his
actual course of life. How dearly he was held by those who knew him
best, is well shown by a passage of Ben Jonson, written long after the
Poet's death, and not published till 1640. Honest Ben had been charged
with malevolence towards him, and he repelled the charge thus: "I
lov'd the man, and do honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as
much as any. He was indeed honest, and of an open and free nature; had
an excellent phantasy, brave notions, and gentle expressions."

I cannot dwell much on the particulars of the Poet's latter years; a
few, however, must be added touching his family.

On the 5th of June, 1607, his eldest daughter, Susanna, then in her
twenty-fifth year, was married to Mr. John Hall, of Stratford, styled
"gentleman" in the parish register, and afterwards a practising
physician of good standing. The February following, Shakespeare became
a grandfather; Elizabeth, the first and only child of John and Susanna
Hall being baptized the 17th of that month. It is supposed, and
apparently with good reason, that Dr. Hall and his wife lived in the
same house with the Poet; she was evidently deep in her father's
heart; she is said to have had something of his mind and temper; the
house was large enough for them all; nor are there wanting signs of
entire affection between Mrs. Hall and her mother. Add to all this the
Poet's manifest fondness for children, and his gentle and affable
disposition, and we have the elements of a happy family and a cheerful
home, such as might well render a good-natured man impatient of the
stage. Of the moral and religious tenour of domestic life at New Place
we are not permitted to know: at a later period the Shakespeares seem
to have been not a little distinguished for works of piety and

On the 10th of February, 1616, the Poet saw his youngest daughter,
Judith, married to Thomas Quiney, of Stratford, vintner and
wine-merchant, whose father had been High-Bailiff of the town. From
the way Shakespeare mentions this daughter's marriage portion in his
will, which was made the 25th of March following, it is evident that
he gave his sanction to the match. Which may be cited as argument that
he had not himself experienced any such evils, as some have alleged,
from the woman being older than the man; for his daughter had four
years the start of her husband; she being at the time of her marriage
thirty-one, and he twenty-seven.

Shakespeare was still in the meridian of life. There was no special
cause, that we know of, why he might not live many years longer. It
were vain to conjecture what he would have done, had more years been
given him; possibly, instead of augmenting his legacy to us, he would
have recalled and suppressed more or less of what he had written as
our inheritance. For the last two or three years, at least he seems to
have left his pen unused; as if, his own ends once achieved, he set no
value on that mighty sceptre with which he since sways so large a
portion of mankind. That the motives and ambitions of authorship had
little to do in the generation of his works, is evident from the
serene carelessness with which he left them to shift for themselves;
tossing these wonderful treasures from him as if he thought them good
for nothing but to serve the hour. Still, to us, in our ignorance, his
life cannot but seem too short. For aught we know, Providence, in its
wisdom, may have ruled not to allow the example of a man so gifted
living to himself.

Be that as it may, WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE departed this life on the 23d
of April, 1616. Two days after, his remains were buried beneath the
chancel of Trinity Church, in Stratford. The burial took place on the
day before the anniversary of his baptism; and it has been commonly
believed that his death fell on the anniversary of his birth. If so,
he had just entered his fifty-third year.

The Poet's will bears date March 25, 1616. I must notice one item of
it: "I give unto my wife the second-best bed, with the furniture." As
this is the only mention made of her, the circumstance was for a long
time regarded as betraying a strange indifference, or something worse,
on the testator's part, towards his wife. And on this has hung the
main argument that the union was not a happy one. We owe to Mr. Knight
an explanation of the matter; which is so simple and decisive, that we
can but wonder it was not hit upon before. Shakespeare's property was
mostly freehold; and in all this the widow had what is called the
right of dower fully secured to her by the ordinary operation of
English law. The Poet was lawyer enough to know this. As for "the
second-best bed," this was doubtless the very thing which a loving and
beloved wife would naturally prize above any other article of
furniture in the establishment.

From the foregoing sketch it appears that the materials for a
biography of Shakespeare are scanty indeed, and, withal, rather dry.
Nevertheless, there is enough, I think, to show, that in all the
common dealings of life he was eminently gentle, candid, upright, and
judicious; open-hearted, genial, and sweet, in his social
intercourses; among his companions and friends, full of playful wit
and sprightly grace; kind to the faults of others, severe to his own;
quick to discern and acknowledge merit in another, modest and slow of
finding it in himself: while, in the smooth and happy marriage, which
he seems to have realized, of the highest poetry and art with
systematic and successful prudence in business affairs, we have an
example of compact and well-rounded practical manhood, such as may
justly engage our admiration and respect.

I have spoken somewhat as to the motive and purpose of his
intellectual labour. It was in and for the theatre that his
multitudinous genius was developed, and his works produced; there
Fortune, or rather Providence, had cast his lot. Doubtless it was his
nature, in whatever he undertook, to do his best. As an honest and
true man, he would, if possible, make the temple of the Drama a noble,
a beautiful, and glorious place; and it was while working quietly and
unobtrusively in furtherance of this end,--building better than he
knew,--that he approved himself the greatest, wisest, sweetest of men.


       *       *       *       *       *

The English Drama, as we have it in Shakespeare, was the slow growth
of several centuries. Nor is it clearly traceable to any foreign
source: it was an original and independent growth, the native and free
product of the soil. This position is very material in reference to
the subject of structure and form; as inferring that the Drama in
question is not amenable to any ancient or foreign jurisdiction; that
it has a life and spirit of its own, is to be viewed as a thing by
itself, and judged according to the peculiar laws under which it grew
and took its shape; in brief, that it had just as good a right to
differ from any other Drama as any other had from it.

The ancient Drama, that which grew to perfection, and, so far as is
known, had its origin, in Greece, is universally styled the Classic
Drama. By what term to distinguish the modern Drama of Europe, writers
are not fully agreed. Within a somewhat recent period, it has received
from high authorities the title of the Romantic Drama. A more
appropriate title, as it seems to me, suggested by its Gothic
original, and used by earlier authorities, is that of the Gothic
Drama. Such, accordingly, is the term by which it will he
distinguished in these pages. The fitness of the name, I think, will
readily be seen from the fact that the thing was an indigenous and
self-determined outgrowth from the Gothic mind under Christian
culture. And the term naturally carries the idea, that the Drama in
question stands on much the same ground relatively to the Classic
Drama as is commonly recognized in the case of Gothic and Classic
architecture; which may help us to realize how each Drama forms a
distinct species, and lives free of the other so that any argument or
criticism from the ancient against the modern is wholly irrelevant.

The Gothic Drama, as it fashioned itself in different nations of
modern Europe, especially in England and Spain, where it grew up
independently, has certain diversities. Upon the nature and reason of
these I cannot enlarge. Suffice it to say that they do not reach
beyond points of detail; their effect thus being to approve the
strength of the common principles that underlie and support them.
These principles cover the whole ground of difference from the Classic
Drama. The several varieties, therefore, of the Gothic Drama may be
justly regarded as bearing concurrent testimony to a common right of
freedom from the jurisdiction of ancient rules.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of the rise and progress of the Drama in England, my limits will
permit only a brief sketch, not more than enough to give a general
idea on the subject.

In England, as in the other Christian nations where it had any thing
of originality, the Drama was of ecclesiastical origin, and for a long
time was used only as a means of diffusing a knowledge of the leading
facts and doctrines of Christianity as then understood and received.
Of course, therefore, it was in substance and character religious, or
was meant to be so, and had the Clergy for its authors and founders.
But I cannot admit the justice of Coleridge's remark on the subject.
"The Drama," says he, "recommenced in England, as it first began in
Greece, in religion. The people were unable to read; the Priesthood
were unwilling that they should read; and yet their own interest
compelled them not to leave the people wholly ignorant of the great
events of sacred history."

Surely, it is of consequence to bear in mind that at that time "the
people" had never been able to read; printing had not been heard of
in Europe; books were multiplied with great difficulty, and could not
be had but at great expense: so that it was impossible the people
should be able to read; and while there was an impossibility in the
way, it is not necessary to impute an unwillingness. Nor is there any
good reason for supposing that the Priesthood, in their simplicity of
faith, were then at all apprehensive or aware of any danger in the
people being able to read. Probably they worked as honest men with the
best means they could devise; endeavouring to clothe the most needful
of all instruction in such forms, and mould it up with such arts of
recreation and pleasure, as might render it interesting and attractive
to the popular mind. In all which they seem to have merited any thing
but an impeachment of their motives. However, the point best worth
noting here is the large share those early dramatic representations
had in shaping the culture of Old England, and in giving to the
national mind its character and form. And perhaps later ages, and
ourselves as the children of a later age, are more indebted to those
rude labours of the Clergy in the cause of religion than we are aware,
or might be willing to acknowledge.


In its course through several ages the Drama took different forms from
time to time, as culture advanced. The earliest form was in what are
called Plays of Miracles, or Miracle-Plays. These were mostly founded
on events of Scripture, though the apocryphal gospels and legends of
saints and martyrs were sometimes drawn upon for subjects or for
embellishments. In these performances no regard was paid to the rules
of natural probability; for, as the operation of supernatural power
was assumed, this was held a sufficient ground or principle of
credibility in itself. Hence, indeed, the name Marvels, Miracles, or
Miracle-Plays, by which they were commonly known.

Our earliest instance of a Miracle-Play in England was near the
beginning of the twelfth century. Matthew Paris, in his _Lives of the
Abbots_, written as early as 1240, informs us that Geoffrey, Abbot of
St. Albans, while yet a secular person brought out the Miracle-Play of
_St. Catharine_ at Dunstaple; and that for the needed decorations he
obtained certain articles "from the Sacristy of St. Albans." Geoffrey,
who was from the University of Paris, was then teaching a school at
Dunstaple, and the play was performed by his scholars. Warton thinks
this was about 1110: but we learn from Bulæus that Geoffrey became
Abbot of St. Albans in 1119; and all that can with certainty be
affirmed is, that the performance was before he assumed a religious
habit. Bulæus also informs us that the thing was not then a novelty,
but that it was customary for teachers and scholars to get up such

Our next information on the subject is from Fitzstephen's _Life of
Thomas à Becket_, as quoted by Stowe. Becket died in 1170, and the
_Life_ was probably written about twelve years later. After referring
to the public amusements of ancient Rome, Fitzstephen says: "In lieu
of such theatrical shows and performances, London has plays of a more
sacred kind, representing the miracles which saints have wrought, or
the sufferings and constancy of martyrs."

It appears that about the middle of the next century itinerant actors
were well known; for one of the regulations found in the _Burton
Annals_ has the following, under date 1258: "Actors may be
entertained, not because they are actors, but because of their
poverty; and let not their plays be seen nor heard, nor the
performance of them allowed in the presence of the Abbot or the
monks." The Clergy differed in opinion as to the lawfulness of such
exhibitions; and in an Anglo-French poem written about this time they
are sharply censured, and the using of them is restricted to certain
places and persons. An English paraphrase of this poem was made by
Robert Brunne in 1303; who specifies what pastimes are allowed to "a
clerk of order," declaring it lawful for him to perform Miracle-Plays
of the birth and resurrection of Christ in churches, but a sin to
witness them "on the highways or greens." He also reproves the
practice, then not uncommon, of aiding in such performances by lending
horses or harness from the monasteries, and especially declares it
sacrilege if a priest or clerk lend the hallowed vestments for that

The dogma of transubstantiation was particularly fruitful of such
exhibitions. The festival of _Corpus Christi_, designed for the
furthering of this dogma, was instituted by Pope Urban IV. in 1264.
Within a few years from that date Miracle-Plays were annually
performed at Chester during Whitsuntide: they were also introduced at
Coventry, York, Durham, Lancaster, Bristol, Cambridge, and other
towns; so that the thing became a sort of established usage throughout
the kingdom. A considerable variety of subjects, especially such as
relate to the Incarnation, the Passion, and the Resurrection, was
embraced in the plan of these exhibitions; the purpose being to extend
an orthodox belief in those fundamentals of the faith.

A very curious specimen of the plays that grew out of the
_Corpus-Christi_ festival was lately discovered in the library of
Trinity College, Dublin, the manuscript being, it is said, as old as
the reign of Edward IV., who died in 1483. It is called _The Play of
the Blessed Sacrament_, and is founded on a miracle alleged to have
been wrought in the forest of Arragon, in 1461. In form it closely
resembles the Miracle-Plays founded on Scripture, the Saviour being
one of the characters, the others being five Jews, a bishop, a priest,
a merchant, and a physician and his servant. The merchant, having the
key of the church, steals the Host, and sells it to the Jews, who
promise to turn Christians in case they find its miraculous powers
verified. They put the Host to various tests. Being stabbed with their
daggers, it bleeds, and one of the Jews goes mad at the sight. They
next attempt nailing it to a post, when one of them has his hand torn
off; whereupon the physician and his man come in to dress the wound,
but after a long comic scene are driven out as quacks. The Jews then
proceed to boil the Host, but the water forthwith turns blood-red.
Finally, they cast it into a heated oven, which presently bursts
asunder, and an image of the Saviour rises and addresses the Jews, who
make good their promise on the spot. The merchant confesses his theft,
declares his penitence, and is forgiven, under a strict charge never
again to buy or sell. The whole winds up with an epilogue from the
bishop, enforcing the moral of the play, which turns on the dogma of

There are three sets of Miracle-Plays extant, severally known as the
Towneley, Coventry, and Chester Collections; the first including
thirty plays, the second forty-two, and the third twenty-four. Some of
the manuscripts are thought to be as old as the time of Henry VI., who
died in 1471. The three sets have all been recently printed by the
Shakespeare Society. The Towneley set most likely belonged to Widkirk
Abbey: at what time they grew into use there and at Coventry is not
certainly known. At Chester the plays were probably first acted in
1268; after which time they were repeated yearly, with some
interruptions, till 1577. And we have conclusive evidence that such
exhibitions formed a regular part of English life in the reign of
Edward III., which began in 1327. For Chaucer alludes to "plays of
miracles" as things of common occurrence; and in _The Miller's Tale_
he makes it a prominent feature of the parish clerk, "that jolly was
and gay," that he performed in them. And in 1378, which was the first
year of Richard II., the choristers of St. Paul's, London, petitioned
the King to prohibit some ignorant persons from acting plays founded
on Scripture, as conflicting with the interest of the Clergy, who had
incurred expense in getting up a set of plays on similar subjects.
Stowe informs us, also, that in 1409 there was a great play in London,
"which lasted eight days, and was of matter from the creation of the

As to the general character of the plays, this will best appear by
brief analyses of some of them. The Towneley set being the most
ancient, my first specimens will be from that.

The first play of the series includes the creation, the revolt of
Lucifer and his adherents, and their expulsion from Heaven. It opens
with a short address from the Deity, who then begins the creation,
and, after a song by the cherubim, descends from the throne, and
retires; Lucifer usurps it, and asks his fellows how he appears. The
good and bad angels have different opinions about that; but the Deity
soon returns, and ends the dispute by casting the rebels with their
leader out of Heaven. Adam and Eve are then created, and Satan winds
up the piece with a speech venting his envy of their happiness in

The second play relates to the killing of Abel, and is opened by
Cain's ploughboy with a sort of prologue in which he warns the
spectators to be silent. Cain then enters with a plough and team, and
quarrels with the boy for refusing to drive the team. Presently Abel
comes in, and wishes Cain good-speed, who meets his kind word with an
unmentionable request. The murder then proceeds, and is followed by
the cursing of Cain; after which he calls the boy, and gives him a
beating. Cain owns the murder, and the boy counsels flight, lest the
bailiffs catch him. Next we have a course of buffoonery: Cain makes a
mock proclamation in the King's name, the boy repeats it blunderingly
after him, and is then sent off with the team; and the piece closes
with a speech by Cain to the spectators, bidding them farewell.

The third of the series is occupied with the Deluge. After a
lamentation by Noah on the sinfulness of the world, God is introduced
repenting that he made man, telling Noah how to build the Ark, and
blessing him and his. Noah's wife is an arrant shrew, and they fall at
odds in the outset, both of them swearing by the Virgin Mary. Noah
begins and finishes the Ark on the spot; then tells his spouse what is
coming, and invites her on board: she stoutly refuses to embark,
which brings on another flare-up; he persuades her with a whip; she
wishes herself a widow, and the same to all the wives in the audience;
he exhorts all the husbands to break in their wives betimes: at length
harmony is restored by the intervention of the sons; all go aboard,
and pass three hundred and fifty days talking about the weather; a
raven is sent out, then a dove, and they debark.

Two plays of the set are taken up with the adoration of the shepherds;
and the twelfth is worthy of special notice as being a piece of broad
comedy approaching to downright farce, with dashes of rude wit and
humour. The three shepherds, after talking awhile about their shrewish
wives, are on the point of striking up a song, when an old
acquaintance of theirs named Mak, whose character is none of the best,
comes among them. They suspect him of meditating some sly trick; so,
on going to bed, they take care to have him lie between them, lest he
play the wolf among their woolly subjects. While they are snoring, he
steals out, helps himself to a fat sheep, and makes off. His wife,
fearing he may be snatched up and hanged, suggests a scheme, which is
presently agreed upon, that she shall make as if she had just been
adding a member to the family, and that the sheep shall be snugly
wrapped up in the cradle. This done, Mak hastens back, and resumes his
sleeping-place. In the morning the shepherds wake much refreshed, but
Mak feigns a crick in the neck; and, while they are walking to the
fold, he whips away home. They soon miss the sheep, suspect Mak, and
go to his cottage: he lets them in, tells them what his wife has been
doing, and begs them not to disturb her; and, as the least noise seems
to pain her, they are at first deceived. They ask to see the child; he
tells them the child is asleep, and will cry badly if waked; still
they insist; pull up the covering of the cradle, and know their sheep
by the ear-mark; but the wife assures them it is a child, and that
evil spirits have transformed it into what they see. They are not to
be duped again; beat Mak till they are tired, then lie down to rest;
the star in the East appears, and the angel sings the _Gloria in
Excelsis_; whereupon they proceed to Bethlehem, find the infant
Saviour, and give him, the first "a bob of cherries," the second a
bird, the third a tennis-ball.

The Chester and Coventry plays, for the most part, closely resemble
the Towneley series, both in the subjects and the manner of treating
them. A portion, however, of the Coventry set, from the eighth to the
fifteenth, inclusive, deserve special notice, as they show the first
beginnings or buddings of a higher dramatic growth, which afterwards
resulted in what are called Moral-Plays. For instance, Contemplation,
who serves as speaker of prologues, and moralizes the events, is
evidently an allegorical personage, that is, an abstract idea
personified, such as afterwards grew into general use, and gave
character to stage performances. And we have other like personages,
Verity, Justice, Mercy, and Peace.

The eighth play represents Joachim grieving that he has no child, and
praying that the cause of his grief may be removed: Anna, his wife,
heartily joins with him, taking all the blame of their childlessness
to herself. In answer to their prayers, an angel announces to them the
birth of a daughter who shall be called Mary. Then follows the
presentation of Mary, and, after an interview between her and the
bishop, Contemplation informs the audience that fourteen years will
elapse before her next appearance, and promises that they shall soon
see "the Parliament of Heaven." Next we have Mary's betrothment. The
bishop summons the males of David's House to appear in the temple,
each bringing a white rod; he being divinely assured that the man
whose rod should bud and bloom was to be the husband of Mary. Joseph,
after a deal of urging, offers up his rod, and the miracle is at once
apparent. When asked if he will be married to the maiden, he
deprecates such an event with all his might, and pleads his old age in
bar of it; nevertheless the marriage proceeds. Some while after,
Joseph informs the Virgin that he has hired "a pretty little house"
for her to live in, and that he will "go labouring in far country" to
maintain her. Then comes the Parliament of Heaven. The Virtues plead
for pity and grace to man; Verity objects, urging that there can be no
peace made between sin and the law; this calls forth an earnest prayer
from Mercy in man's behalf; Justice takes up the argument on the other
side; Peace answers in a strain that brings them all to accord. The
Son then raises the question how the thing shall be done. Verity,
Justice, Mercy, and Peace having tried their wit, and found it unequal
to the cause, a council of the Trinity is held, when the Son offers to
undertake the work by assuming the form of a man; the Father consents,
and the Holy Ghost agrees to co-operate. Gabriel is then sent to
salute Mary and make known to her the decree of the Incarnation.

Joseph is absent some months. On his return he is in great affliction,
and reproaches Mary, but, an angel explaining the matter to him, he
makes amends. The bishop holds a court, and his officer summons to it
a large number of people, all having English names, and tells the
audience to "ring well in their purse"; which shows that money was
collected for the performance. Mary is brought before the court, to be
tried for naughtiness, and Joseph also for tamely bearing it. His
innocence is proved by his drinking without harm, a liquid which, were
he guilty, would cause spots on his face. Mary also drinking of the
same, unhurt, one of the accusers affirms that the bishop has changed
the draught, but is cured of his unbelief by being forced to drink
what is left. The fifteenth play relates to the nativity. Joseph, it
seems, is not yet satisfied of Mary's innocence, and his doubts are
all removed in this manner: Mary, seeing a tall tree full of ripe
cherries, asks him to gather some for her; he replies that the father
of her child may help her to them; and the tree forthwith bows down
its top to her hand. This is soon followed by the Saviour's birth.

Besides the three sets of Miracle-Plays in question, there are other
specimens, some of which seem to require notice. Among these are
three, known as the Digby Miracle-Plays, on the Conversion of St.
Paul. One of the persons is Belial, whose appearance and behaviour are
indicated by the stage-direction, "Enter a Devil with thunder and
fire." He makes a soliloquy in self-glorification, and then complains
of the dearth of news: after which we have the stage-direction, "Enter
another Devil called Mercury, coming in haste, crying and roaring." He
tells Belial of St. Paul's conversion, and declares his belief that
the Devil's reign is about to end; whereat Belial is in stark dismay.
They then plot to stir up the "Jewish Bishops" in the cause, and soon
after "vanish away with a fiery flame and a tempest."

A Miracle-Play relating to Mary Magdalen is remarkable as having
required four scaffolds for the exhibition; Tiberius, Herod, Pilate,
and the Devil having each their several stations; and one of the
directions being, "Enter the Prince of Devils on a stage, and Hell
underneath the stage." Mary lives in a castle inherited from her
father, who figures in the opening of the play as King Cyrus. A ship
owned by St. Peter is brought into the space between the scaffolds,
and Mary and some others make a long voyage in it. Of course St.
Peter's ship represents the Catholic Church. The heroine's castle is
besieged by the Devil with the Seven Deadly Sins, and carried; Luxury
takes her to a tavern where a gallant named Curiosity treats her to
"sops and wine." The process of Mary's repentance and amendment is
carried through in due order. Tiberius makes a long speech glorifying
himself; a parasite named Serybil flatters him on his good looks, and
he in return blesses Serybil's face, which was probably carbuncled as
richly as Corporal Bardolph's. Herod makes his boast in similar style,
and afterwards goes to bed. The devils, headed by Satan, perform a
mock pagan mass to Mahound, which is the old name for Mohammed. The
three Kings of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil figure in the
play, but not prominently. A Priest winds up the performance,
requesting the spectators not to charge its faults on the poet.

Here, again, we have allegorical personages, as Lechery, Luxury, and
Curiosity, introduced along with concrete particular characters of
Scripture. This is carried still further in another play of a later
date, called the _Life and Repentance of Mary Magdalen_, where we have
divers personifications of abstract ideas, such as Law, Faith, Pride,
Cupidity, and Infidelity; the latter being much the same as the Vice
or Iniquity who figured so largely in Moral-Plays. Infidelity acts as
the heroine's paramour, and assumes many disguises, to seduce her into
all sorts of vice, wherein he is aided by Pride, Cupidity, and
Carnal-concupiscence. When she has reached the climax of sin, he
advises her "not to make two hells instead of one," but to live
merrily in this world, since she is sure of perdition in the next; and
his advice succeeds for a while. On the other hand, Law, Faith,
Repentance, Justification, and Love strive to recover her, and the
latter half of the play is taken up with this work of benevolence. At
last, Christ expels the seven devils, who "roar terribly"; whereupon
Infidelity and his companions give her up. The piece closes with a
dialogue between Mary, Justification, and Love, the latter two
rejoicing over the salvation of a sinner.

This play was printed in 1567, and is described in the title-page, as
"not only godly, learned, and fruitful, but also well furnished with
pleasant mirth and pastime, very delectable for those which shall hear
or read the same: Made by the learned clerk, Lewis Wager." It bears
clear internal evidence of having been written after the Reformation;
and the prologue shows that it was acted by itinerant players, and had
been performed "at the university."

Four Miracle-Plays have come down to us, which were written by Bishop
Bale, and printed on the Continent in 1538. The most notable point
concerning them is their being the first known attempt to use the
stage in furtherance of the Reformation. One of them is entitled
_Christ's Temptation_. It opens with Christ in the wilderness, faint
through hunger; and His first speech is meant to refute the Romish
doctrine of the efficacy of fasting. Satan joins Him in the disguise
of a hermit, and the whole temptation proceeds according to Scripture.
In one of his arguments, Satan vents his spite against "false priests
and bishops," but plumes himself that "the Vicar of Rome" will worship
and serve him. Bale wrote several plays in a different line, of one of
which I have given some account in another place.[2]

    [2] See the chapter on _King John_, vol. ii., pages 10 and 11.

The Miracle-Play of _King Darius_ is scarce worth notice, save that
Iniquity with his wooden dagger has a leading part in the action. He,
together with Importunity and Partiality, has several contests with
Equity, Charity, and Constancy: for a while he has the better of them;
but at last they catch him alone, each in turn threatens him with sore
visitings, and then follows the direction, "Here somebody must cast
fire to Iniquity"; who probably had some fireworks about his person,
to explode for the amusement of the audience, as he went out.

Hitherto we have met with nothing that can be regarded as portraiture
of individual character, unless somewhat of the sort be alleged in the
case of Mak the sheep-stealing rogue. The truth is, character and
action, in the proper sense of the terms, were hardly thought of in
the making of Miracle-Plays; the work aiming at nothing higher than a
literal or mechanical reflection of facts and events; sometimes
relieved indeed with certain generalities of popular humour and
satire, but without any contexture of individual traits. The piece
next to be noticed deserves remark, as indicating how, under the
pressure of general dramatic improvement, Miracle-Plays tried to rise
above their proper sphere, and still retain their proper form.

_The History of Jacob and Esau_, probably written as early as 1557,
and printed in 1568, is of very regular construction, having five
Acts, which are duly subdivided into scenes. Besides the Scripture
characters, are Ragau, Esau's servant; Mido, a boy who leads blind
Isaac; Hanan and Zethar, two of his neighbours; Abra, a girl who
assists Rebecca; and Debora, an old nurse. Esau and his servant Ragau
set forth together on a hunt. While they are gone, Rebecca urges Jacob
to secure his brother's birthright. Esau returns with a raging
appetite, and Jacob demands his birthright as the condition of
relieving him with a mess of rice pottage; he consents, and Ragau
laughs at his stupidity, while Jacob, Rebecca, and Abra sing a psalm
of thanksgiving. These things occupy the first two Acts; in the third,
Esau and his man take another hunt. The blessing of Jacob takes place
in the fourth Act; Rebecca tasking her cookery to the utmost in
dressing a kid, and succeeding in her scheme. In the last Act, Esau
comes back, and learns from his father what has occurred in his
absence. The plot and incidents are managed with considerable
propriety; the characters are discriminated with some art; the comic
portions show some neatness of wit and humour.

In the Interlude of _Godly Queen Esther_, printed in 1561, we have a
Miracle-Play going still further out of itself. One of the characters
is named Hardy-dardy, who, with some qualities of the Vice,
foreshadows the Jester, or professional Fool, of the later Drama;
wearing motley, and feigning weakness or disorder of intellect, to the
end that his wit may run more at large, and strike with the better
effect. Hardy-dardy offers himself as a servant to Haman; and after
Haman has urged him with sundry remarks in dispraise of fools, he
sagely replies, that "some wise man must be fain sometime to do on a
fool's coat." Besides the Scripture characters, the play has several
allegorical personages, as Pride, Ambition, and Adulation, who make
their wills, bequeathing all their bad qualities to Haman, and thereby
ruin him.

Of all the persons who figured in the Miracle-Plays, Herod, the slayer
of the Innocents, appears to have been the greatest popular
favourite. We hear of him as early as the time of Chaucer, who says of
the parish clerk, Absolon,

    "Sometime, to show his lightness and maistrie,
    He plaieth Herode on a scaffold hie."

From that time onwards, and we know not how long before, he was a sort
of staple character, no set of Miracle-Plays being regarded as
complete without him. And he was always represented as an immense
swearer and braggart and swaggerer, evermore ranting and raving up and
down the stage, and cudgelling the spectators' ears with the most
furious bombast and profanity. Thus, in one of the Chester series:

    "For I am king of all mankind;
    I bid, I beat, I loose, I bind:
    I master the Moon: Take this in mind,
      That I am most of might.
    I am the greatest above degree,
    That is, that was, or ever shall be:
    The Sun it dare not shine on me,
      An I bid him go down."

Thus, too, in one of the Coventry series:

    "Of beauty and of boldness I bear evermore the bell;
    Of main and of might I master every man;
    I ding with my doughtiness the Devil down to Hell;
    For both of Heaven and of Earth I am king certain."

Termagant, the supposed god of the Saracens, was another staple
character in the Miracle-Plays; who is described by John Florio as "a
great boaster, quarreller, killer, tamer or ruler of the universe, the
child of the earthquake and of the thunder, the brother of death."
That Shakespeare himself had suffered under the monstrous din of these
"strutting and bellowing" stage-thumpers is shown by Hamlet's
remonstrance with the players: "O, it offends me to the soul, to hear
a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to rags, to very
tatters, to split the ears of the groundlings: I would have such a
fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant; it out-herods Herod: pray you,
avoid it."

Thus much must suffice by way of indicating, in a general sort, the
character of those primitive sprouts and upshoots of the Gothic Drama
in England. Their rudeness of construction, their ingrained coarseness
of style, their puerility, their obscenity, and indecency, according
to our standard, are indescribable. Their quality in these respects
could only be shown by specimens, and these I have not room to
produce, nor would it be right or decent to do so, if I had.

But what strikes us, perhaps, still more offensively in those old
religious plays, is the irreverent and shocking familiarity everywhere
used with the sacredest persons and things of the Christian Faith. The
awfullest and most moving scenes and incidents of the Gospel history,
such as the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, were treated with what
cannot but seem to us the most shameless and most disgusting
profanity: the poor invention of the time was racked to the uttermost,
to harrow the audience with dramatic violence and stress; and it seems
to us impossible but that all the solemnity of the matter must have
been defeated by such coarseness of handling.

But, indeed, we can hardly do justice either to the authors or the
audiences of those religious comedies; there being an almost
impassable gulf fixed between their modes of thought and ours. The
people were then just emerging from the thick darkness of Gothic
barbarism into what may be termed the border-land of civilization. As
such, their minds were so dominated by the senses, that they could
scarce conceive of any beings much more than one grade above
themselves. A sort of infantile unconsciousness, indeed, had
possession of them; so that they were really quite innocent of the
evils which we see and feel in what was so entertaining to them.
Hence, as Michelet remarks, "the ancient Church did not scruple to
connect whimsical dramatic rites with the most sacred doctrines and

So that the state of mind from which and for which those old plays
were produced goes far to explain and justify we are apt to regard as
a shocking contradiction between the subject-matter and the treatment.
The truth is, such religious farces, with all their coarse trumperies
and comicalities and sensuous extravagances, were in perfect keeping
with the genius of an age when, for instance, a transfer of land was
not held binding without the delivery of a clod. And so, what Mr. John
Stuart Mill describes as "the childlike character of the religious
sentiment of a rude people, who know terror, but not awe, and are
often on the most intimate terms of familiarity with the objects of
their adoration," makes it conceivable how that which seems to us the
most irreverent handling of sacred things, may notwithstanding have
been, to the authors and audiences in question, but the natural issue
of such religious thoughts and feelings as they had or were capable of
having. At all events, those exhibitions, so revolting to modern taste
and decorum, were no doubt in most cases full of religion and honest
delectation to the simple minds who witnessed them. Moreover, rude and
ignorant as the Miracle-Plays were in form, coarse and foul as they
were in language and incident, they nevertheless contained the germ of
that splendid dramatic growth with which the literature and life of
England were afterwards enriched and adorned.

Before leaving this branch of the subject, perhaps I ought to add
something further as to the part which was taken by the Clergy in
those old stage exhibitions. The register of the Guild of _Corpus
Christi_ at York, which was a religious fraternity, mentions, in 1408,
books of plays, various banners and flags, beards, vizards, crowns,
diadems, and scaffolds, belonging to the society; which shows that its
members were at that time concerned in the representation of
Miracle-Plays. It appears that a few years afterwards these
performances, because of certain abuses attending them, were
discontinued: but in 1426 William Melton, a friar who is called "a
professor of holy pageantry," preached several sermons in favour of
them; and the result was, that they were then made annual, suitable
measures being taken for preventing the former disorders. But the
best evidence as to the share the Clergy had in the representations is
furnished by the account-book of Thetford Priory from 1461 to 1540;
which contains numerous entries of payments to players; and in divers
cases expressly states that members of the convent assisted in the
performances. These were commonly held twice or three times a year; in
1531 there were five repetitions of them; after which time there are
but three entries of plays wherein the members participated with the
common actors; the old custom being broken up most likely by the
progress of the Reformation.

The practice in question, however, was by no means universal. We learn
from Stowe that in 1391 and 1409, plays were acted in London by the
parish clerks. In cities and large towns, these performances were
generally in the hands of the trade fraternities or guilds. Our
information touching the _Corpus Christi_ plays at Coventry extends
from 1416 to 1590; during which period there is no sign of the Clergy
having any part in them. The records of Chester also show that the
whole business was there managed by laymen. And in 1487 a Miracle-Play
on the descent of Christ into Hell was acted before Henry the Seventh
by the charity boys of Hyde Abbey and St. Swithin's Priory. Long
before this date, acting was taken up as a distinct profession, and
regular companies of actors were formed.

That churches and chapels of monasteries were at first, and for a long
time after, used as theatres, is very certain. The Anglo-French poem
already referred to informs us that Miracle-Plays were sometimes
performed in churches and cemeteries, the Clergy getting them up and
acting in them. And Burnet tells us that Bishop Bonner as late as 1542
issued an order to his clergy, forbidding "all manner of common plays,
games, or interludes to be played, set forth, or declared within their
churches and chapels." Nor was the custom wholly discontinued till
some time after that; for in 1572 was printed a tract which has a
passage inferring that churches were still sometimes used for such

When plays were performed in the open air, temporary scaffolds or
stages were commonly erected for the purpose; though in some cases the
scaffold was set on wheels, so as to be easily moved from one part of
the town to another. It appears that the structure used at Chester had
two stages, one above the other; the lower being closed in, to serve
as a dressing-room for the actors, while the performance was on the
upper stage where it could be seen by all the spectators. Sometimes
the lower stage seems to have been used for Hell, the devils rising
out of it, or sinking into it, as occasion required. In some plays,
however, as we have seen in that of _Mary Magdalen_, more than one
scaffold was used; and certain stage-directions in the Towneley and
Coventry plays infer that two, three, and even four scaffolds were
erected round a centre, the actors going from one to another across
the intervening space, as the scene changed, or their several parts


The purpose of the Miracle-Plays was to inculcate, in a popular way,
what may be termed the theological verities; at first they took their
substance and form solely with a view to this end, the securing of an
orthodox faith being then looked upon as the all-important concern. In
course of time, the thirst for novelty and variety drew them beyond
their original sphere of revealed religion into that of natural
ethics. By degrees, allegorical personages came, as we have seen, to
be more or less mixed up with Scripture characters and events; the aim
being to illustrate and enforce the virtues that refer directly to the
practical conduct of life. The new-comers kept encroaching more and
more: invited in as auxiliaries, they remained as principals; and at
last quite superseded and replaced the original tenants. Hence there
grew into use a different style or order of workmanship, a distinct
class of symbolical or allegorical dramas; that is, dramas made up
entirely of abstract ideas personified. These, from their structure
and purpose, are properly termed MORAL-PLAYS. We shall see hereafter
that much the same process of transition was repeated in the gradual
rising of genuine Comedy and Tragedy out of the allegorical dramas.

In Miracle-Plays the Devil of course made a legitimate part of the
representation. He was endowed in large measure with a biting, caustic
humour, and with a coarse, scoffing, profane wit; therewithal he had
an exaggerated grotesqueness of look and manner, such as to awaken
mixed emotions of fear, mirth, and disgust. In these qualities of mind
and person, together with the essential malignity of which they are
the proper surface and outside, we have the germs of both Comedy and
Tragedy. For the horrible and the ridiculous easily pass into each
other, they being indeed different phases of the same thing.
Accordingly, the Devil, under one name or another, continued to
propagate himself on the stage long after his original co-actors, had

On the other hand, a personage called Iniquity, Vice, or some such
name, was among the first characters to take stand in Moral-Plays, as
a personification of the evil tendencies in man. And the Vice thus
originating from the moral view of things was a sort of natural
counterpart to that more ancient impersonation of evil which took its
origin from the theological sphere. The Devil, being the stronger
principle, naturally had use for the Vice as his agent or factor.
Hence we may discover in these two personages points of mutual
sympathy and attraction; and, in fact, it was in and through them that
the two species of drama met and coalesced.

In Moral-Plays the Devil and the Vice, or at least one of them, almost
always bore a leading part, though not always under those names. Most
commonly the two were retained together; there are cases however of
each figuring apart from the other. And no pains were spared to give
the Devil as hideous an aspect as possible: he was made an out-and-out
monster in appearance, all hairy and shaggy, with a "bottle nose" and
an "evil face," having horns, hoofs, and a long tail; so that the
sight had been at once loathsome and ludicrous, but for the great
strength and quickness of wit, and the fiendish, yet merry and waggish
malignity, which usually marked his conversation. Sometimes, however,
he was endowed with a most protean versatility of mind and person, so
that he could walk abroad as "plain devil," scaring all he met, or
steal into society as a prudent counsellor, a dashing gallant, or
whatever else would best work out his ends.

As for the Vice, he commonly acted the part of a broad, rampant jester
and buffoon, full of mad pranks and mischief-making, liberally dashed
with a sort of tumultuous, swaggering fun. He was arrayed in fantastic
garb, with something of drollery in its appearance, so as to aid the
comic effect of his action, and armed with a dagger of lath, perhaps
as symbolical that his use of weapons was but to the end of provoking
his own defeat. Therewithal he was vastly given to cracking ribald and
saucy jokes with and upon the Devil, and treating him in a style of
coarse familiarity and mockery; and a part of his ordinary business
was to bestride the Devil, and beat him till he roared, and the
audience roared with him; the scene ending with his being carried off
to Hell on the Devil's back. Much of the old custom in these two
personages is amusingly set forth in Ben Jonson's _Staple of News_,
where, at the end of each Act, we have some imaginary spectators
commenting on the performance. At the end of the first Act, one of
them expressing a fear that the play has no Fool in it, as the Vice
was often called, Gossip Tattle delivers herself thus: "My husband,
Timothy Tattle, God rest his poor soul! was wont to say there was no
play without a Fool and a Devil in't; he was for the Devil still, God
bless him! The Devil for his money, he would say; I would fain see the
Devil." It being asked, "But was the Devil a proper man?" Gossip
Mirth replies, "As fine a gentleman of his inches as ever I saw
trusted to the stage or anywhere else; and loved the commonwealth as
well as ever a patriot of them all: he would carry away the Vice on
his back, quick, to Hell, wherever he came, and reform abuses." Again,
at the end of the second Act, the question being put, "How like you
the Vice in the play?" Widow Tattle complains, "But here is never a
fiend to carry him away. Besides, he has never a wooden dagger! I
would not give a rush for a Vice that has not a wooden dagger, to snap
at everybody he meets." Whereupon Mirth observes, "That was the old
way, gossip, when Iniquity came in, like Hocus-Pocus, in a juggler's
jerkin, with false skirts, like the knave of clubs."[3]

    [3] Shakespeare has several allusions to this old stage custom.
    See the author's Harvard Edition of Shakespeare, vol. v. page
    222, note 17; also, vol ix. pages 202, 203, notes 8 and 9.

The most ancient specimen of a Moral-Play known to have survived dates
as far back as the reign of Henry VI., which closed in 1461. It is
entitled _The Castle of Perseverance_, and is opened by Mundus,
Belial, and Caro descanting on their several gifts: Humanum Genus, who
represents mankind, then announces himself, just born, and naked;
while he is speaking Good Angel and Bad Angel appear on his right and
left, each claiming him as a follower. He prefers Bad Angel, who leads
him straight to Mundus; the latter orders his friends Voluptas and
Stultitia to take him in hand. Detractio, who calls himself Backbiter,
is also made one of his train, and procures him the acquaintance of
Avaritia, by whom he is introduced to the other Deadly Sins: not long
after, he meets with Luxuria, and falls in love with her. At all this
Bad Angel exults, but Good Angel mourns, and sends Confessio to
Humanum Genus, who repels him at first, as having come too soon.
However, Confessio at last reclaims him; he asks where he can live in
safety, and is told, in the Castle of Perseverance: so, thither he
goes, being at that time "forty Winters old." The Seven Cardinal
Virtues there wait upon him with their respective counsels. Belial,
after having beaten the Seven Deadly Sins for letting him escape,
heads them in laying siege to the Castle; but he appeals to "the Duke
that died on rood" to defend him, and the assailants retire
discomfited, being beaten "black and blue" by the roses which Charity
and Patience hurl against them. As he is now grown "hoary and cold,"
Avaritia worms in under the walls, and induces him to quit the Castle.
No sooner has he got well skilled in the lore of Avaritia, than
Garcio, who stands for the rising generation, demands all his wealth,
alleging that Mundus has given it to him. Presently Mors comes in for
_his_ turn, and makes a speech extolling his own power; Anima also
hastens to the spot, and invokes the aid of Misericordia:
notwithstanding, Bad Angel shoulders the hero, and sets off with him
for the infernal regions. Then follows a discussion in Heaven, Mercy
and Peace pleading for the hero, Verity and Justice against him: God
sends for his soul; Peace takes it from Bad Angel, who is driven off
to Hell; Mercy presents it to Heaven; and "the Father sitting in
judgment" pronounces sentence, which unfolds the moral of the

This analysis shows that the piece partakes somewhat the character of
a Miracle-Play. A list of the persons is given at the end; also a rude
sketch of the scene, showing a castle in the centre, with five
scaffolds for Deus, Belial, Mundus, Caro, and Avaritia. Bad Angel is
the Devil of the performance: there is no personage answering to the

The next piece to be noticed bears the title of _Mind, Will, and
Understanding_. It is opened by Wisdom, who represents the Second
Person of the Trinity; Anima soon joins him, and they converse upon
heavenly love, the seven sacraments, the five senses, and reason.
Mind, Will, and Understanding then describe their several qualities;
the Five Wits, attired as virgins, go out singing; Lucifer enters "in
a Devil's array without, and within as proud as a gallant," that is,
with a gallant's dress under his proper garb; relates the creation of
Man, describing Mind, Will, and Understanding as the three properties
of the soul, which he means to assail and corrupt. He then goes out,
and presently returns, succeeds in the attempt, and makes an exulting
speech, at the close of which "he taketh a shrewd boy with him, and
goeth his way crying"; probably snatching up a boy from the
audience,--an incident designed to "bring down the house." Lucifer
having gone out, his three victims appear in gay apparel; they dismiss
Conscience; Will dedicates himself to lust; all join in a song, and
then proceed to have a dance. First, Mind calls in his followers,
Indignation, Sturdiness, Malice, Hastiness, Wreck, and Discord. Next,
Understanding summons his adherents, Wrong, Slight, Doubleness,
Falseness, Ravin, and Deceit. Then come the servants of Will, named
Recklessness, Idleness, Surfeit, Greediness, Spouse-breach, and
Fornication. The minstrels striking up a hornpipe, they all dance
together till a quarrel breaks out among them, when the eighteen
servants are driven off, their masters remaining alone on the stage.
Just as these are about to withdraw for a carouse, Wisdom enters:
Anima also reappears, "in most horrible wise, fouler than a fiend,"
and presently gives birth to six of the Deadly Sins; whereupon she
perceives what a transformation has befallen her, and Mind, Will, and
Understanding learn that they are the cause of it. They having
retired, Wisdom opens his mouth in a long speech; after which the
three dupes of Lucifer return, renounce their evil ways, and Anima is
made happy in their reformation.

These two pieces have come down to us only in manuscript. _A Goodly
Interlude of Nature_ is a Moral-Play written by Henry Medwall,
chaplain to Archbishop Morton, which has descended to us in print. It
is in two parts, and at the end of the first part we learn that it was
played before Morton himself, who became Primate in 1486, and died in
1500. Like the two foregoing specimens, it was meant to illustrate the
strife of good and evil in man.

There are several other pieces in print dating from about the same
period. One of them, printed in 1522, and entitled _The World and the
Child_, represents man in the five stages of infancy,--boyhood, youth,
maturity, and infirmity. Another of them, called _Hick Scorner_,
deserves mention chiefly as being perhaps the earliest specimen of a
Moral-Play in-which some attempt is made at individual character. The
piece is somewhat remarkable, also, in having been such a popular
favourite, that the phrase "Hick Scorner's jests" grew into use as a
proverb, to signify the profane scurrility with which certain persons
treated the Scriptures in the reign of Elizabeth.

"_The Necromancer_, written by Master Skelton, Laureate," came from
the press in 1504, having been played before the King at Woodstock on
Palm Sunday. The piece is now lost; but a copy was seen by Warton, who
gave an account of it. As the matter is very curious, I must add a few
of its points. The persons are a Conjurer, the Devil, a Notary Public,
Simony, and Avarice. The plot is the trial of Simony and Avarice, the
Devil being the judge, and the Notary serving as assessor. The
Conjurer has little to do but open the subject, evoke the Devil, and
summon the court. The prisoners are found guilty, and ordered off
straight to Hell: the Devil kicks the Conjurer for waking him too
early in the morning; and Simony tries to bribe the Devil, who rejects
her offer with indignation. The last scene presents a view of Hell,
and a dance between the Devil and the Conjurer; at the close of which
the former trips up his partner's heels, and disappears in fire and

Another piece of Skelton's entitled _Magnificence_, and designed to
expose the vanity of worldly grandeur, has survived in print.
Magnificence, the hero, being eaten out of substance by his friends
and retainers, falls into the hands of Poverty and Adversity: in this
state he meets with Despair and Mischief, who furnish him with a knife
and halter; he is about killing himself, when Good-hope steps in and
stays his arm; Redress, Circumspection, and Perseverance then take him
in hand, and wean him from his former passion. The most note-worthy
feature of the thing is, that comic incident and dialogue are somewhat
made use of, to diversify and enliven the serious parts; which shows
the early disposition to weave tragedy and comedy together to one
dramatic web.

The play of _Every-man_, printed some time before 1531 opens with a
soliloquy by the Deity, lamenting that the people forsake Him for the
Seven Deadly Sins. He then summons Death, and sends him after
Every-man, who stands for the human race. Death finds him, delivers
the message, and tells him to bring his account-book; but allows him
to prove his friends. First, he tries Fellowship who, though ready to
murder any one for his sake, declines going with him on his long
journey. Next, he tries Kindred who excuses himself as having "the
cramp in his toe." Then he applies to Riches, who also gives him the
cold shoulder. At last he resorts to Good-deeds, whom he finds too
weak to stand; but she points him to the blank in his book of works.
However, she introduces him to Knowledge who takes him to Confession:
there he meets with Strength, Discretion, Beauty, and Five Wits, who
undertake to go with him. Arriving at the brink of the grave, he calls
on his friends to enter it with him. First, Beauty refuses, then
Strength, then Discretion, then Five Wits; even Knowledge deserts him;
Good-deeds alone having the virtue to stick by him.

Considering the ecclesiastical origin of the English Drama, it had
been something wonderful if, when controversies arose, different sides
had not used it in furtherance of their views. In the reign of Henry
the Eighth, Bishop Bale, as we have seen, wrote Miracle-Plays for the
avowed purpose of advancing the Reformation; and his plays were
printed on the Continent in 1538. This, no doubt, was because a royal
proclamation had been set forth some years before, forbidding any
plays to be performed, or any books printed, in the English tongue,
touching matters then in controversy, unless the same had been first
allowed by public authority. The King, however, was not at all averse
to the stage being used against the Reformers; the purpose of that
measure being, so far as regarded plays, to prevent any using of them
on the other side.

This is most aptly shown in a notable event that happened in November,
1527. Catholic Europe had just been scandalized beyond measure by the
course of Charles the Fifth, who had made war on the Pope, and had
actually captured the city of Rome; and who, moreover, was then
holding the children of Francis the First as prisoners in Spain. King
Henry was mightily stirred up against the Emperor on this account, and
was for going into a mortal buffeting with him in behalf of the Holy
See. The arrival of a French Embassy at the English Court was the
occasion of the event referred to. The Ambassadors were entertained
with great splendour by the King at Greenwich; a part of the
entertainment being a Moral-Play in Latin, performed by the boys of
St. Paul's School. The principal characters were as follows: Religio,
Ecclesia, and Veritas, like three widows, in garments of silk, and
suits of lawn and cypress; Heresy and False Interpretation, like
sisters of Bohemia, apparelled in silk of divers colours; the heretic
Luther, like a party friar, in russet damask and black taffety;
Luther's wife, like a frau of Spiers, in red silk; Peter, Paul, and
James, in habits of white sarcenet, and three red mantles; a Cardinal
in his apparel; the Dauphin and his brother, in coats of velvet
embroidered with gold; three Germans, in apparel all cut and holed in
silk; Lady Peace, in apparel white and rich; Lady Quietness and Dame
Tranquillity. The subject of the play was the captivity of the Pope
and the oppression of the Church. St. Peter put Cardinal Wolsey in
authority to free the Pope and restore the Church; and by his
intercession the Kings of England and France took part together, and
got the Pope delivered. Then the French King's children complained to
the Cardinal that the Emperor kept them as hostages, and desired him
to work for their deliverance, and he effected this also.

This matter is so very curious in several respects, that I give it
with more than usual fulness. Only three years later, King Henry
himself was quarrelling with the same Pope, and the Emperor was acting
as the Pope's champion.

In 1543, an Act of Parliament was passed for the restraining of
dramatic performances. The preamble states that divers persons,
intending to subvert the true and perfect doctrine of Scripture, have
presumed to use in that behalf not only sermons and arguments, but
printed books, plays, and songs; and the body of the statute enacts
that no person shall play in interludes, sing, or rhyme any matter
contrary to the Church of Rome; the penalty being a fine of £10 and
three months' imprisonment for the first offence; for the second,
forfeiture of all goods, and perpetual imprisonment.

When Edward the Sixth came to the throne, in 1547, legislation took a
new turn, and the Act of 1543 was repealed. There arose, however, so
great an excess on the part of printers and players, that in 1552 a
strong proclamation was issued, forbidding them to print or play any
thing without a special license under the sign manual, or under the
hands of six of the Privy Council, the penalty being imprisonment
without bail, and fine at the King's pleasure.

Soon after the accession of Mary, in 1553, was set forth a
proclamation against "busy meddlers in matter of religion, and for
redress of preachers, printers, and players"; the intent of which was
to prevent the printing or playing of any thing adapted to further the
Reformation. The thing seems to have been effectual for more than two
years, after which further measures were found necessary. But all
would not do; the restraints kept giving way. In 1557, "certain
naughty plays" broke loose even in London; and the Lord Mayor was
called upon by the Court to discover and arrest the players, and "to
take order that no play be made henceforth within the city, except the
same be first seen, and the players authorized." Nevertheless Mary
was far from discouraging plays and players: on the contrary, she kept
up the theatrical establishment of her father to the full. The old
Miracle-Plays, being generally of the right Roman Catholic stamp, were
revived under the patronage of the Court. In 1556, the play of
_Christ's Passion_ was presented at the Greyfriars in London, before
the Lord Mayor, the Privy Council, and many of the nobility. The next
year it was repeated at the same place; and also, on the feast of St.
Olave, the miraculous life of that Saint was performed as a stage-play
in the church dedicated to him.

Elizabeth succeeded to the crown, November 17, 1558; and in May
following she issued a proclamation forbidding any plays or interludes
to be performed in the kingdom without special license from the local
magistrates; and also ordering that none should be so licensed,
wherein either matters of religion or of State were handled. This was
probably deemed necessary in consequence of the strong measures which
had lately been used for putting down all plays that smacked of the

The Moral-Play of _Lusty Juventus_, printed some time after 1551, is
full of shots against what are called the superstitions of Rome. Its
arguments and positions are exceedingly scriptural, chapter and verse
being quoted or referred to with all the exactness of a theological
treatise. And the tenets of the new "gospellers" are as openly
maintained as those of Rome are impugned. Juventus, the hero, who is
bent on going it while he is young, starts out in quest of his
companions, to have a merry dance: Good Counsel meets him, warns him
of the evil of his ways, and engages him on the spot in a prayer for
grace to aid him in his purpose of amendment. Just at this moment
Knowledge comes up, and prevails on him to spend his time chiefly in
hearing sermons and reading the Scriptures. This puts the Devil in
great alarm; he has a soliloquy on the subject, then calls in
Hypocrisy, and sets him to work in the cause. While Juventus is on
his way to "hear a preaching," Hypocrisy encounters him, argues with
him against forsaking the traditions of his fathers, and diverts him
from his purpose. Some while after, Good Counsel finds him in the
lowest state of debauchery, and reclaims him; and God's Merciful
Promises undertakes to procure his pardon.

_The Longer Thou Livest the More Fool Thou Art_ is the title of a
piece probably written early in Elizabeth's reign. Moros, the hero, is
represented as an ignorant and vicious fool, thinking of nothing but
ballads and songs, and constantly singing scraps of them. Discipline
finds him venting this humour, and reproves him; Piety and Exercise
add their efforts to reform him, but discover him to be as much knave
as fool. The two latter hold him while Discipline lays on the whip,
till he affects contrition; but he is soon wheedled into a relapse by
Idleness, Incontinence, and Wrath, who, however, profess to hold him
in contempt. Wrath gives him the Vice's sword and dagger, and they all
promise him the society of Nell, Nan, Meg, and Bess. Fortune then
endows him with wealth; he takes Impiety, Cruelty, and Ignorance into
his service; Impiety stirs him up against "these new fellows," that
is, the Protestants, and he vows to "hang, burn, and kill" them
without remorse. When they are gone, People enters, complaining of the
hero's cruelty and oppression, but runs off in a fright as soon as he
returns. God's Judgment then comes and strikes him down; Confusion
follows; they strip off his "goodly gear," and put on him a fool's
coat. Being required by Confusion to go with him he replies,--

    "If it please the Devil me to have,
    Let him carry me away on his back."

We are left to infer that Confusion, who is the Devil of the piece,
takes him at his word.

_The Marriage of Wit and Science_ is the earliest known instance of a
Moral-Play regularly distributed into five Acts, and these again into
scenes. The allegory is quite elaborate and wire-drawn; and the piece
has something of humour in the matter, and of melody in the
versification. _Like Will to Like, Quoth the Devil to the Collier_,
printed in 1568, has some rude approaches to individual character;
which is my reason for noticing it. Nichol Newfangle, though in fact
the hero, enacts the Vice, and is armed with the wooden dagger; among
his friends are Ralph Royster, Tom Tosspot, Philip Fleming, Pierce
Pickpurse, and Cuthbert Cutpurse, who have some lines of individual
peculiarity. To these are added several allegorical personages, as
Good Fame, Severity, Virtuous Life, and Honour. Lucifer also figures
in the piece; Newfangle claims him as godfather, and is at last
carried off by him. _The Conflict of Conscience_ is worthy of notice
as being one of the earliest germinations of the Historical Drama. The
hero, though called Philologus, is avowedly meant for Francis Speira,
an Italian lawyer, who, it is said, "forsook the truth of God's
Gospel, for fear of the loss of life and worldly goods." The
characters of the piece are partly historical, partly allegorical.

If _The Conflict of Conscience_ deserves mention as an approach to
Tragedy, _Tom Tiler and his Wife_ equally deserves it as an early
sprout of Comedy. It contains a mixture of allegorical and individual
persons, the latter, however, taking the chief part of the action. Tom
Tiler has a spouse named Strife, who is not only a great scold, but
hugely given to drinking with Sturdy and Tipple. Tiler meets his
friend Tom Tailor, an artificer of shreds and patches, and relates his
sufferings. Tailor changes clothes with him; in this disguise goes to
Strife as her husband, and gives her such a drubbing that she submits.
Tiler then resumes his own clothes, goes home, and pities his wife,
who, ignorant of the trick, vows she will never love him again: to
appease her, he unwarily owns up; whereupon she snatches a stick, and
belabours him till he cries out for life; and she declares that Tailor
had better eaten her than beaten her. Tiler flies to his friend
Tailor, and tells him what has happened; Tailor then falls to beating
him; and the lady, coming up just at the time, goes to playing her
batteries on them both, until Patience arrives and restores harmony
all round, charming the discontent out of Tiler, and the fury out of

_Jack Juggler_, "a new interlude for children to play," is somewhat
remarkable, not only in that it carries still higher the effort at
individual character, but as being one of the oldest pieces founded on
a classic original; the author claiming, in his prologue, to have
taken "Plautus' first comedy" as his model. Master Bongrace sends his
lacquey Jenkin to Dame Coy, his lady-love; but Jenkin loiters to play
at dice and steal apples. Jack Juggler, who enacts the Vice, watches
him, gets on some clothes just like his, and undertakes to persuade
him "that he is not himself, but another man." The task proves too
much, till he brings fist-arguments to bear; when Jenkin gives up the
point, and makes a comical address to the audience, alleging certain
reasons for believing that he is not himself. The humour of the piece
turns mainly on this doubt of his identity.

We have many other specimens in the class of Moral-Plays; but, as they
are all cast in much the same mould, any further dwelling upon them
would accomplish little towards illustrating the progress of the


We have seen how the old Miracle-Plays gradually gave way to
Moral-Plays, first borrowing some of their materials, then thrown into
the background, and finally quite displaced by them. Yet both these
forms of the Drama were radically different from Comedy and Tragedy in
the proper sense of these terms: there was very little of character or
of human blood in them; and even that little was rather forced in by
external causes than a free outgrowth from the genius of the thing.
The first, in their proper idea and original plan, were but a
mechanical collocation of the events of Scripture and old legend,
carried on by a sort of personal representatives; the second, a mere
procession of abstract ideas rudely and inartificially personified,
with something of fantastical drapery thrown around them. So that both
alike stood apart from the vitalities of nature and the abiding
interests of thought, being indeed quite innocent of the knowledge of

Of course it was impossible that such things, themselves the offspring
of darkness, should stand the light. None but children in mind could
mistake them for truth, or keep up any real sympathy with such unvital
motions. Precluded from the endless variety of individual nature and
character, they could not but run into great monotony: in fact, the
whole thing was at best little more than a repetition of one
fundamental air under certain arbitrary variations. As the matter
shown was always much the same, the interest had to depend chiefly on
the manner of showing it; and this naturally generated a cumbrous and
clumsy excess of manner; unless indeed the thing drew beyond itself;
while in doing this it could scarce fail to create a taste that would
sooner or later force it to withdraw from the scene.

Accordingly, Moral-Plays, as we have seen, began, early in their
course, to deviate into veins foreign to their original design: points
of native humour and wit, and lines of personal interest were taken in
to diversify and relieve the allegorical sameness; and these grew more
and more into the main texture of the workmanship. As the new elements
gained strength, much of the old treasure proved to be mere refuge and
dross; as such it was discarded; while so much of sterling wealth as
had been accumulated was sucked in, retained, and carried up into the
supervening growth.

The beginnings, then, of English Comedy and Tragedy were made long
before these appeared in distinct formation. And the first known hand
that drew off the elements of Comedy, and moulded them up by
themselves, was John Heywood, who belonged to the theatrical and
musical establishment of Henry the Eighth. His pieces, however, have
not the form of regular comedies. He called them Interludes, a name in
use many years before, and probably adopted by him as indicating the
purpose to which he designed them, of filling the gaps or intervals of
banquets and other entertainments. They are short, not taking much
more time than a single act in an ordinary comedy. Yet they have the
substance of comedy, in that they give pictures of real life and
manners, containing much sprightliness of dialogue, and not a little
of humour and character, and varied with amusing incident and allusion
drawn fresh from the writer's observation, with the dews of nature
upon them.

Heywood's earliest piece, printed in 1533, is entitled _A merry Play
between the Pardoner and the Friar, the Curate and Neighbour Pratt_. A
Pardoner and a Friar have each got leave of the Curate to use his
church, the one to exhibit his relics, the other to preach a sermon.
The Friar comes first, and is about to begin his preachment, when the
other enters and disturbs him: each wants to be heard first; and,
after a long trial which has the stronger lungs, they fall into a
regular performance of mutual kicking and cuffing. The Curate, aroused
to the spot by the noise, endeavours to part them; failing of this, he
calls in Neighbour Pratt, and then seizes the Friar, leaving Pratt to
manage the other, the purpose being to put them both in the stocks.
But they get the worst of it altogether; so that they gladly come to
terms, allowing the Pardoner and Friar quietly to depart. As a sample
of the incidents, I may add that the Friar, while his whole sermon is
against covetousness, harps much on the voluntary poverty of his
order, and then gives notice of his intention to take up a collection.
In a like satirical humour, the Pardoner is made to exhibit some
laughable relics, such as "the great toe of the Holy Trinity," and the
"blessed jaw-bone" of all the saints in the Calendar. Of course his
purpose also is to bless money into his purse.

Another of Heywood's pieces, also printed in 1533, is called _A merry
Play between John the Husband, Tib the Wife, and Sir John the Priest_.
Here the comic vein runs out even more freely than in the former
piece, and has quite as much relish of home-made observation. Still
another of Heywood's pieces, also full of broad fun, and equally
smacking of real life, is called _The Four Ps_; while a fourth, called
_The Play of the Weather_, has something the character of a
Moral-Play, the Vice figuring in it under the name of Merry
Report.--Thus much must suffice for indicating the steps taken by
Heywood in the direction of genuine Comedy.

An anonymous interlude called _Thersites_, and written in 1537,
deserves mention as the oldest dramatic piece in English, with
characters purporting to be borrowed from secular history. The piece,
however, has nothing of historical matter but the names: it is merely
a piece of broad comedy in the vein of English life and manners.

The oldest known specimen of a regular English comedy is _Ralph
Roister Doister_, written as early as 1551. It was the work of
Nicholas Udall, a name distinguished in the early literature of the
Reformation; who, in 1534, was appointed Head-Master of Eton, then
famous for teaching the classics, became Prebendary of Windsor in
1551, was afterwards made Head-Master of Westminster School, and died
in 1556.

In his prologue the author refers to Plautus and Terence as his
models. The play is in five Acts, which are subdivided into scenes;
the scene is in London, the persons and manners all English. The hero
and heroine are Ralph Roister Doister and Dame Custance, a widow; in
the train of the former are Matthew Merrygreek and Harpax; of the
latter, Truepenny her man, Madge Mumblecrust her nurse, Tibet
Talkapace, and Annot Alyface. The play is opened by Matthew, who
enters singing, and expounds his mind in a soliloquy, dilating on his
patron's qualities and his own. Presently Ralph comes in talking to
himself, and calls on Matthew for counsel and help, as he is dying for
love of a lady whose name he does not at first remember, and who, he
hears, is engaged to a merchant named Goodluck. Matthew stuffs him
with the assurance that his figure is such as no woman can resist, and
that the people go into raptures over him as he passes in the streets;
all which he greedily swallows. Next, we have a scene of Madge, Tibet,
and Annot at their work, praising their good fare, rallying each
other, and singing snatches of song: Ralph overhears them, and takes
joy to think how happy he shall live with a wife who keeps such
servants; strikes up an acquaintance with them, and, after divers
comic passages, leaves with Madge a letter for her mistress. The next
day Dobinet Doughty comes from Goodluck with a ring and token, which
Madge refuses to deliver, she having been scolded for taking Ralph's
letter. He tells the servants he is a messenger from their lady's
intended husband, but does not mention his name: they are delighted at
the prospect of such a change in the family, and almost fall at strife
for the honour of carrying the presents to their mistress, who,
however, sharply reproves them for taking such things without knowing
whence they come.

In the third Act Matthew is sent to reconnoitre, when he learns that
the lady's hand is already engaged, and that she has not even read
Ralph's letter. Returning, he tells Ralph she will have nothing to do
with him, and how she abuses him with opprobrious terms; which puts
him to dying for love right on the spot; and Matthew, to help on the
joke, calls in the parish clerk and others to sing a mock requiem. As
Ralph does not succeed in dying, Matthew counsels him to put on a bold
face, and claim the lady's hand in person, after treating her to a
serenade. He agrees to this, and while the serenade is in progress the
lady enters; he declares his passion; she rejects him with scorn, and
returns his letter unread; whereupon Matthew reads it in her hearing,
but so varies the pointing as to turn the sense all upside down; and
Ralph denies it to be his. As soon as she has left them, Matthew goes
to refreshing him again with extravagant praise of his person,
wishing himself a woman for his sake, and advising him to hold off
awhile, as this will soon bring her to terms. Ralph consents to try
this course, and swears vengeance against the scrivener who copied his
letter; but in the scrivener's reading it is found all right, and
Matthew is seen to be the true culprit.

In the fourth Act Sim Suresby comes from Goodluck to salute the lady
on his master's return from a voyage; while they are talking, Ralph
arrives with Matthew, and addresses her as his spouse; whereupon Sim,
thinking them married, goes to inform his master what seems to have
happened in his absence. The lady, full of grief and anger at this
staining of her good name, calls on her man and maids to drive out
Ralph and Matthew, who quickly retreat, but threaten to return.
Matthew now contrives to let the lady know that he has joined with
Ralph only to make fun of him. In due time, Ralph comes back armed
with kitchen utensils and a popgun, and attended by Matthew and
Harpax. The issue of the scrape is, that the lady and her maids beat
off the assailants with mop and broom; Matthew managing to have all
his blows light on Ralph.

The fifth Act opens with the arrival of Goodluck and his man Sim, both
persuaded of the lady's infidelity. She proceeds to welcome him with
much affection, but he draws back, and calls for an explanation: she
protests her innocence, and refers him to her friend Tristram Trusty.
This brings about the conclusion, the wedding of Goodluck and Custance
being appointed, and Ralph and Matthew being invited to it.

The piece, its date considered, is certainly one of no little merit:
it has considerable wit and humour, in which there is nothing coarse
or vulgar; the dialogue abounds in variety and spirit, and the
characters are well discriminated and life-like. The idea of
Merrygreek was evidently caught from the old Vice; but his love of
sport and mischief is without malignity, and the interest of his part
is in the character, not in the trimmings. The play is written in
lines of unequal length, and with nothing to mark them as verse but
the rhymes.

_Misogonus_, a piece which has lately come to light, appears from
internal evidence to have been written about 1560. The scene is laid
in Italy, but the manners and allusions are English, while the persons
have Greek and Roman names significant of their tempers or positions.
Here, again, the characterization is diversified and sustained with no
little skill, while many of the incidents and situations are highly
diverting. Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the play is
Cacurgus, a specimen of the professional domestic Fool that succeeded
the old Vice. And he is one of the most remarkable instances of his
class that have survived; there being no other play of so early a date
wherein the part is used with so much skill. Before his master, who is
the hero, Cacurgus commonly affects the simpleton, but at other times
is full of versatile shrewdness and waggish mischief. He is usually
called, both by himself and others, Will Summer; as though he were
understood to model his action after the celebrated court Fool of
Henry the Eighth.

An analysis of the plot would occupy too much space; besides, the
piece, with all its merit, does not really offer much towards
illustrating the matter of dramatic progress: it only shows that the
spirit of improvement was alive in more minds than one. Perhaps I
ought to add, that the events of the play extend over a considerable
period of time; yet the unity of action is so well maintained, that
the diversities of time do not press upon the thoughts. On the whole,
it is clear that even at that date the principles of the Gothic Drama
were vigorously at work, preparing that magnificent fruitage of art
which came to full harvest, ere she who then sat on the English throne
was taken to her rest.

Hitherto we have met with no instance of regular tragedy, which was in
England of later growth than comedy; though we have seen that some
beginnings of tragedy were made in the older species of drama. _The
Tragedy of Gorboduc_, or, as it is sometimes called, _Of Ferrex and
Porrex_, is on several accounts deserving of special attention. It was
acted before the Queen at Whitehall, by gentlemen of the Inner Temple,
in January, 1562; and was printed in 1565, the title-page informing us
that three Acts were written by Thomas Norton, and the last two by
Thomas Sackville. Norton made and published a translation of Calvin's
_Institutes_, which went through five editions during his lifetime.
Sackville, afterwards Earl of Dorset, succeeded Burghley as Lord
Treasurer in 1599, which office he held till his death, in 1608; and
was eulogized by divers pens, Lord Bacon's being one, for his
eloquence, his learning, his charity, and integrity.

Warton's statement of the plot is brief and accurate, as follows:
"Gorboduc, a king of Britain about six hundred years before Christ,
made in his lifetime a division of his kingdom to his two sons Ferrex
and Porrex. The two young princes within five years quarrelled for
universal sovereignty. A civil war ensued, and Porrex slew his elder
brother Ferrex. Their mother, Videna, who loved Ferrex best, revenged
his death by entering Porrex's chamber in the night, and murdering him
in his sleep. The people, exasperated at the cruelty and treachery of
this murder, rose in rebellion, and killed both Gorboduc and Videna.
The nobility then assembled, collected an army, and destroyed the
rebels. An intestine war commenced between the chief lords; the
succession of the crown became uncertain and arbitrary, for want of a
lineal royal issue; and the country, destitute of a king, and wasted
by domestic slaughter, was reduced to a state of the most miserable

Each Act of the tragedy is preceded by a dumb-show significant of what
is forthcoming, and the first four are followed by choruses,
moralizing the events. But the most notable fact about it is, that all
except the choruses is in blank-verse; in which respect it was a
great and noble innovation. And the versification runs abundantly
smooth; beyond which little can be said in its favour; though that was
a good deal for the time. With considerable force of thought and
language, the speeches are excessively formal, stately, and didactic;
every thing is told, nothing represented; the dialogue is but a series
of studied declamation, without any pulses of life, or any relish of
individual traits; in brief, all is mere State rhetoric speaking in
the same vein, now from one mouth, now from another. From the
subject-matter, the unities of time and place are necessarily
disregarded, while there is no continuity of action or character to
lift it above the circumscriptions of sense. The Acts and scenes
follow one another without any innate principle of succession: there
is nothing like an organic composition of the parts, no weaving of
them together by any law of dramatic sequence and development. Still,
the piece marks an era in the English Drama. In the single article of
blank-verse, though having all the monotony of the most regular
rhyming versifier, it did more for dramatic improvement than, perhaps,
could have been done in a century without that step being taken.

_The Supposes_, translated from the Italian of Ariosto by George
Gascoigne, and acted at Gray's Inn in 1566, is chiefly remarkable as
being the oldest extant play in English prose. _Jocasta_, also acted
at Gray's Inn the same year, is the second known play in blank-verse.
It was avowedly taken from Euripides, but can hardly be called a
translation, since it makes "many omissions, retrenchments, and
transpositions"; though the main substance of the original is

The example of making English plays out of Italian novels appears to
have been first set, unless the lost play of _Romeo and Juliet_ should
be excepted, in 1568, when the tragedy of _Tancred and Gismunda_ was
performed before Elizabeth at the Inner Temple. It was the work of
five persons, each contributing an Act, and one of them being
Christopher Hatton, afterwards known as Elizabeth's "dancing
Chancellor." Except in the article of blank-verse, the writers seem to
have taken _Gorboduc_ as their model; each Act beginning with a
dumb-show, and ending with a chorus. The play was founded on one of
Boccaccio's tales, an English version of which had recently appeared
in _The Palace of Pleasure_.

The accounts of the revels from 1568 to 1580 furnish the titles of
fifty-two dramas performed at Court, none of which have survived. Of
these fifty-two pieces, judging by the titles, eighteen were on
classical subjects; twenty-one on subjects from modern history,
romance, and other tales; while seven may be classed as comedies, and
six as Moral-Plays. It is to be noted, also, that at this time the
Master of the Revels was wont to have different sets of players
rehearse their pieces before him, and then to choose such of them as
he judged fit for royal ears; which infers that the Court rather
followed than led the popular taste.

This may probably be taken as a fair indication how far the older
species of drama still kept its place on the stage. Moral-Plays
lingered in occasional use till long after this period; and we even
hear of Miracle-Plays performed now and then till after the death of
Elizabeth. And this was much more the case, no doubt, in the country
towns and villages than in the metropolis, as the growing life of
thought could not but beat lustiest at the heart; and of course all
the rest of the nation could not bridle Innovation, spurred as she was
by the fierce competition of wit in London.

Certain parts, however, of the Moral-Plays had vigour enough, it
appears, to propagate themselves into the drama of comedy and tragedy
after the main body of them had been withdrawn. An apt instance of
this is furnished in _A Knack to know a Knave_, entered at the
Stationers' in 1593, but written several years before. It was printed
in 1594, the title-page stating that it had been "acted sundry times
by Edward Alleyn and his company," and that it contained "Kempe's applauded
merriments of the men of Gotham."[4]

    [4] Alleyn, the founder of Dulwich College, was the leading
    actor of the Lord Admiral's company; and, after the death of
    Tarlton in 1588, Kempe, who at a later period was of the same
    company with Shakespeare, bore the palm as an actor of comic

The play is made up partly of allegorical personages, partly of
historical; the chief of the latter being King Edgar, St. Dunstan,
Ethenwald, Osrick, and his daughter Alfrida. From reports of Alfrida's
beauty, Edgar gets so enamoured of her, that he sends Ethenwald, Earl
of Cornwall, to court her for him. The Earl, being already in love
with the lady, wants to court her for himself. Introduced by her
father, his passion gets the better of his commission; he woos and
wins her, and has her father's consent. On his return, he tells Edgar
she will do very well for an earl, but not for a king: Edgar distrusts
his report, and goes to see for himself, when Ethenwald tries to pass
off the kitchen-maid as Alfrida: the trick is detected, Dunstan
counsels forgiveness, and Edgar generously renounces his claim. There
is but one scene of "Kempe's applauded merriments," and this consists
merely of a blundering dispute, whether a mock petition touching the
consumption of ale shall be presented to the King by a cobbler or a

As to the allegorical persons, it is worth noting that several of
these have individual designations, as if the author had some vague
ideas of representative character,--that is, persons standing for
classes, yet clothed with individuality,--but lacked the skill to work
them out. Such is the Bailiff of Hexham, who represents the iniquities
of local magistrates. He has four sons,--Walter, representing the
frauds of farmers; Priest, the sins of the clergy; Coney-catcher, the
tricks of cheats; and Perin, the vices of courtiers. Besides these, we
have Honesty, whose business it is to expose crimes and vices. The
Devil makes his appearance several times, and, when the old Bailiff
dies, carries him off. At last, Honesty exposes the crimes of all
classes to the King, who has justice done on their representatives.--The
piece is in blank-verse, and in respect of versification shows considerable
improvement on the specimens hitherto noticed.


       *       *       *       *       *

Touching the general state of the Drama a few years before Shakespeare
took hold of it, our information is full and clear, not only in the
specimens that have survived, but in the criticisms of contemporary
writers. A good deal of the criticism, however, is so mixed up with
personal and polemical invective, as to be unworthy of much credit.
George Whetstone, in the dedication of his _Promos and Cassandra_,
published in 1578, tells us: "The Englishman in this quality is most
vain, indiscreet, and out of order. He first grounds his work on
impossibilities; then in three hours he runs through the world,
marries, makes children men, men to conquer kingdoms, murder monsters,
and bringeth gods from Heaven, and fetcheth devils from Hell. And,
that which is worst, many times, to make mirth, they make a clown
companion with a king; in their grave counsels they allow the advice
of Fools; yea, they use one order of speech for all persons,--a gross
indecorum."--In 1581, Stephen Gosson published a tract in which he
says: "Sometimes you shall see nothing but the adventures of an
amorous knight, passing from country to country for the love of his
lady, encountering many a terrible monster made of brown paper; and at
his return so wonderfully changed, that he cannot be known but by some
posy in his tablet, or by a broken ring, or a handkerchief, or a piece
of cockle-shell." And in another part of the same tract he tells us
that "_The Palace of Pleasure, The Ethiopian History, Amadis of
France_, and _The Round Table_, comedies in Latin, French, Italian,
and Spanish, have been thoroughly ransacked, to furnish the
play-houses in London." Which shows very clearly what direction the
public taste was then taking. The matter and method of the old dramas,
and all "such musty fopperies of antiquity," would no longer do: there
was an eager though ignorant demand for something wherein the people
might find or fancy themselves touched by the real currents of nature.
And, as prescription was thus set aside, and art still ungrown, the
materials of history and romance, foreign tales and plays, any thing
that could furnish incidents and a plot, were blindly pressed into the

Whatever discredit may attach to the foregoing extracts on the score
of prejudice or passion, nothing of the sort can hold in the case of
Sir Philip Sidney, whose _Defence of Poesy_, though not printed till
1595, must have been written before 1586, in which year the author
died. "Our tragedies and comedies," says he, "are not without cause
cried out against, observing rules neither of honest civility nor
skilful poetry. You shall have Asia of the one side, and Afric of the
other, and so many other under-kingdoms, that the player, when he
comes in, must ever begin with telling where he is, or else the tale
will not be conceived. Now you shall have three ladies walk to gather
flowers, and then we must-believe the stage to be a garden: by-and-by
we hear news of a shipwreck in the same place; then we are to blame if
we accept it not for a rock. Upon the back of that, comes out a
hideous monster with fire and smoke, and then the miserable beholders
are bound to take it for a cave; while in the mean time two armies fly
in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and then what hard
heart will not receive it for a pitched field? Now, of time they are
much more liberal; for ordinary it is, that two young princes fall in
love; after many traverses she is delivered of a fair boy; he is lost,
groweth a man, falleth in love, and all this in two hours' space:
which how absurd it is in sense, even sense may imagine, and art hath
taught, and all ancient examples justified. But, besides these gross
absurdities, all their plays be neither right tragedies nor right
comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so
carrieth it, but thrust in the clown by head and shoulders, to play a
part in majestical matters with neither decency nor discretion."

From all which it is evident enough that very little if any heed was
then paid to dramatic propriety and decorum. It was not _merely_ that
the unities of place and time were set at nought, but that events and
persons were thrown together without _any_ order or law; unconnected
with each other save to the senses, while at the same time according
to sense they were far asunder. It is also manifest that the
principles of the Gothic Drama in respect of general structure and
composition, in disregard of the minor unities, and in the free
blending and interchange of the comic and tragic elements, were
thoroughly established; though not yet moulded up with sufficient art
to shield them from the just censure and ridicule of sober judgment
and good taste. Here was a great work to be done; greater than any art
then known was sufficient for. Without this, any thing like an
original or national drama was impossible. Sir Philip saw the chaos
about him; but he did not see, and none could foresee, the creation
that was to issue from it. He would have spoken very differently, no
doubt, had he lived to see the intrinsic relations of character and
passion, the vital sequence of mental and moral development, set forth
in such clearness and strength, the whole fabric resting on such solid
grounds, of philosophy, and charged with such cunning efficacies of
poetry, that breaches of local and chronological succession either
pass without notice, or are noticed only for the gain of truth and
nature that is made through them. For the laws of sense hold only as
the thoughts are absorbed in what is sensuous and definite; and the
very point was, to lift the mind above this by working on its
imaginative forces, and penetrating it with the light of relations
more inward and essential.

At all events, it was by going ahead, and not by retreating, that
modern thought was to find its proper dramatic expression. The
foundation of principles was settled, and stood ready to be built upon
whenever the right workman should come. Moreover public taste was
sharp for something warm with life, so much so indeed as to keep
running hither and thither after the shabbiest semblances of it, but
still unable to rest with them. The national mind, in discarding, or
rather outgrowing the older species of drama, had worked itself into
contact with Nature. And it was the uncritical, popular, living,
practical mind that was to give the law in this business: nothing was
to be achieved either by the word or the work of those learned folk
who would not be pleased unless they could parse their pleasure by the
rules of ancient grammar. But to reproduce nature in mental forms
requires great power of art, much greater, perhaps, than minds
educated amidst works of art can well conceive.

Which brings me to the matter of Shakespeare's SENIOR CONTEMPORARIES.
For here, again, the process was gradual. Neither may we affirm that
nothing had yet been done towards organizing the collected materials.
But the methods and faculties of art were scattered here and there;
different parts of the thing had been worked out severally; and it yet
remained to draw and knit them all up together. It is difficult,
perhaps impossible, to determine exactly by whom the first steps were
taken in this work. But all that was done of much consequence,
Shakespeare apart, may be found in connection with the three names of
George Peele, Robert Greene, and Christopher Marlowe.

       *       *       *       *       *

PEELE took his first degree at Oxford in 1577, and became Master of
Arts in 1579. Soon after this, he is supposed to have gone to London
as a literary adventurer. Dissipation and debauchery were especially
rife at that time among the authors by profession, who hung in large
numbers upon the metropolis, haunting its taverns and ordinaries; and
it is but too certain that Peele plunged deeply into the vices of his

His first dramatic work, _The Arraignment of Paris_, was printed in
1584, the title-page stating that it had been played before the Queen
by the children of her chapel. The piece is vastly superior to any
thing known to have preceded it. It is avowedly a pastoral drama, and
sets forth a whole troop of gods and goddesses; with nothing that can
properly be called delineation of character. The plot is simply this:
Juno, Pallas, and Venus get at strife who shall have the apple of
discord which Até has thrown among them, with directions that it be
given to the fairest. As each thinks herself the fairest, they agree
to refer the question to Paris, the Trojan shepherd, who, after mature
deliberation, awards the golden ball to Venus. An appeal is taken: he
is arraigned before Jupiter in a synod of the gods for having rendered
a partial and unjust sentence; but defends himself so well, that their
godships are at a loss what to do. At last, by Apollo's advice, the
matter is referred to Diana, who, as she wants no lovers, cares little
for beauty. Diana sets aside all their claims, and awards the apple to
Queen Elizabeth; which verdict gives perfect satisfaction all round.

The piece displays fair gifts of poetry; it abounds in natural and
well-proportioned sentiment; thoughts and images seem to rise up fresh
from the writer's observation, and not merely gathered at second hand;
a considerable portion is in blank-verse, but the author uses various
measures, in all which his versification is graceful and flowing.

_The Battle of Alcazar_, written as early as 1589, but not printed
till 1594, is a strange performance, and nearly as worthless as
strange; full of tearing rant and fustian; while the action, if such
it may be called, goes it with prodigious license, jumping to and fro
between Portugal and Africa without remorse. I have some difficulty in
believing the piece to be Peele's: certainly it is not in his vein,
nor, as to that matter, in anybody's else; for it betrays at every
step an ambitions imitation of Marlowe, wherein, as usually happens,
the faults of the model are exaggerated, and the virtues not reached.
Peele could hardly have been cast into such an ecstasy of disorder,
but from a wild attempt to rival the author of _Tamburlaine_, which is
several times referred to in the piece.

_King Edward the First_, printed in 1593, and probably written later
than the preceding, is much better every way. But its chief claim to
notice is as an early attempt in the Historical Drama, which
Shakespeare brought to such perfection. The character of Edward is
portrayed with considerable spirit and truth to history, and is
perhaps Peele's best effort in that line. On the other hand, Queen
Elinor of Castile is shockingly disfigured, and this, not only in
contempt of history, which might be borne with if it really enriched
the scene, but to the total disorganizing of the part itself; the
purpose being, no doubt, to gratify the bitter national antipathy to
the Spaniards. Peele seems to have been incapable of the proper grace
and delectation of comedy: nevertheless the part of Prince Lluellen,
of Wales, and his adherents, who figure pretty largely, and sometimes
in the disguise of Robin Hood and his merry men, shows something of
comic talent, and adds to the entertainment of the piece. The other
comic portions have nothing to recommend them.

_The Old Wives' Tale_, printed in 1595, is little worth mention save
as having probably contributed somewhat to one of the noblest and
sweetest poems ever written.--Two brothers are wandering in quest of
their sister, whom Sacrapant, an enchanter, has imprisoned: they call
her name, and Echo replies; whereupon Sacrapant gives her a potion
that induces self-oblivion. His magical powers depend on a wreath
which encircles his head, and on a light enclosed in glass which he
keeps hidden under the turf. The brothers afterwards meet with an old
man, also skilled in magic, who enables them to recover their sister.
A Spirit in the likeness of a young page comes to Sacrapant, tears off
his wreath, and kills him. Still the sister remains enchanted, and
cannot be released till the glass is broken and the light
extinguished; which can only be done by a Lady who is neither maid,
wife, nor widow. The Spirit blows a magical horn, and the Lady
appears, breaks the glass, and puts out the light. A curtain being
then withdrawn discovers the sister asleep; she is disenchanted, joins
her brothers, and the Spirit vanishes.--The resemblance to Milton's
_Comus_ need not be pointed out. The difference of the two pieces in
all points of execution is literally immense; Peele's work in this
case being all steeped in meanness and vulgarity, without a touch of
truth, poetry, or wit.

_The Love of King David and Fair Bethseba_ is commonly regarded as
Peele's masterpiece. And here, again, we breathe the genuine air of
nature and simplicity. The piece is all in blank-verse, which, though
wanting in variety, is replete with melody; and it has passages of
tenderness and pathos such as to invest it with an almost sacred
charm. There is perhaps a somewhat too literal adherence to the
Scripture narrative, and very little art used in the ordering and
disposing of the materials, for Peele was neither strong nor happy in
the gift of invention; but the characters generally are seized in
their most peculiar traits, and presented with a good degree of vigour
and discrimination; while at the same time their more prominent
features are not worked into disproportion with the other parts.

Peele's contributions to the Drama were mainly in the single article
of poetry: here his example was so marked, that it was bound to be
respected and emulated by all who undertook to work in the same field.
In the development of character, and in the high art of dramatic
composition and organization, he added very little; his genius being
far unequal to this high task, and his judgment still more so. And his
efforts were probably rendered fitful and unsteady by vicious habits;
which may explain why it was that he who could do so well sometimes
did so meanly. Often, no doubt, when reduced to extreme shifts, he
patched up his matter loosely and trundled it off in haste, to
replenish his wasted means, and start him on a fresh course of riot
and debauchery.

       *       *       *       *       *

GREENE, inferior to Peele as a whole, surpassed him however in
fertility and aptness of invention, in quickness and luxuriousness of
fancy, and in the right seizing and placing of character, especially
for comic effect. In his day he was vastly notorious both as a writer
and a man;--a cheap counterfeit of fame which he achieved with
remarkable ease, and seems not to have coveted any thing better. He
took his first degree at Cambridge in 1578, proceeded Master of Arts
in 1583, and was incorporated at Oxford in 1588; after which he was
rather fond of styling himself "Master of Arts in both Universities."
Soon after 1585, if not before, he betook himself to London, where he
speedily sank into the worst type of a literary adventurer.
Thenceforth his life seems to have been one continual spasm, plunging
hither and thither in transports of wild profligacy and repentance. He
died in 1592, eaten up with diseases purchased by sin.

Much of Greene's notoriety during his lifetime grew from his prose
writings, which, in the form of tracts, were rapidly thrown off, and
were well adapted both in matter and style to catch a loud but
transient popularity. One of them had the honour of being laid under
contribution for _The Winter's Tale_. In these pieces, generally, the
most striking features are a constant affecting of the euphuistic
style which John Lily had rendered popular, and a certain incontinence
of metaphors and classical allusions, the issue of a full and ready
memory unrestrained by taste or judgment; the writer galloping on from
page to page with unflagging volubility, himself evidently captivated
with the rolling sound of his own sentences. Still, his descriptions
often have a warmth and height of colouring that could not fail to
take prodigiously in an age when severity or delicacy of taste was
none of the commonest. Several of his prose pieces are liberally
interspersed with passages of poetry, in which he uses a variety of
measures, and most of them with an easy, natural skill, while his cast
of thought and imagery shows him by no means a stranger to the
springs of poetic sweetness and grace, though he never rises to any
thing like grandeur.

_The History of Orlando Furioso_ was acted as early as 1591, and
probably written some time before. The plot was partly founded on
Ariosto's romance, partly invented by Greene himself. The action, or
what stands for such, is conducted with the wildest license, and shows
no sense or idea of dramatic truth, but only a prodigious straining
after stage effect; the writer trying, apparently, how many men of
different nations, European, African, and Asiatic, he could huddle in
together, and how much love, rivalry, and fighting he could put them
through in the compass of five Acts. As for the fury of Orlando, it is
as far from the method of madness as from the logic of reason; being
none other than the incoherent jargon of one endeavouring to talk
stark nonsense.

_Alphonsus, King of Arragon_, belongs, by internal marks, to about the
same period as the preceding, but is not known to have been printed
till 1597. Each Act opens with a chorus by Venus. Medea, also, is
employed to work enchantments, and raises Homer's Calchas, who comes
forth "clad in a white surplice and a cardinal's mitre." This play,
too, is crammed from first to last brimful of tumult and battle; the
scene changing between Italy and Turkey with admirable lawlessness;
and Christians of divers nations, Turks, and a band of Amazonian
warriors, bestriding the stage with their monstrous din.

Both of these pieces are mainly in blank-verse, with a frequent
interspersing of couplets. In the latter piece, allusion is made to
"the mighty Tamburlaine," thus indicating the height which Greene was
striving to reach, if not surpass. In fact, both pieces have plenty of
Marlowe's thunder, but none of his lightning. Even the blank-verse
reads like that of one accustomed to rhyme, and unable to get out of
his wonted rut. And the versification runs, throughout, in a stilted
monotony, the style being made thick and turgid with high-sounding
epithets; while we have a perfect flux of learned impertinence. As
for truth, nature, character, poetry, we look for them in vain; though
there is much, in the stage noise and parade, that might keep the
multitude from perceiving the want of them.

In _The Scottish History of James the Fourth_, probably written some
time after the two preceding, the author seems to have got convinced
that imitation of Marlowe was not his line, and that he could do best
by working his own native vein: accordingly, considerable portions of
it are in prose and rhyme; while the style throughout is disciplined
into a tolerable degree of sobriety and simplicity. Though purporting
to be a history, it has scarce any thing of historical matter. It
opens with a comic scene betwixt Oberon, King of Fairies, and Bohan,
an old Scottish lord, who, disgusted with the vices of Court, city,
and country, has withdrawn from the world with his two sons, Slipper
and Nano, turned Stoic, lives in a tomb, and talks broad Scotch. King
Oberon has nothing in common with the fairy king of _A Midsummer
Night's Dream_, except the name. The main plot of the drama is as

King James marries Dorothea, the daughter of Arius, King of England.
Before the wedding is fairly over, he falls in love with Ida, the
Countess of Arran's daughter, makes suit to her, and is rejected with
horror. He then sets himself to work to get rid of his Queen, turns
away from his old counsellors, and gives his ear to an unscrupulous
parasite named Ateukin. Through his influence, the King forms a scheme
for assassinating the Queen; who gets information of the plot,
disguises herself in male attire, and escapes, with Nano in her
company. The parasite's agent overtakes her, finds out who she is,
fights with her, and leaves her for dead. During the fight, Nano runs
for help, and soon returns with Sir Cuthbert Anderson, who takes her
to his house, where her wounds are healed, both Sir Cuthbert and his
wife supposing her all the while to be a man. Meanwhile Ida gives
herself in marriage to Lord Eustace, with whom she has suddenly fallen
in love upon his asking her hand. The King now begins to be devoured
by compunctions on account of the Queen, believing her to be dead. The
King of England also gets intelligence how his daughter has been
treated, and makes war on her husband. When they are on the eve of a
decisive battle, Dorothea makes her appearance, to the astonishment of
all the parties: she pleads tenderly for her repentant husband, and a
general reconciliation takes place; Ateukin and his abettors being
delivered over to their deserts.

This play has something of what may not unworthily be called
character. The parts of Ida and the Queen are not without delicacy and
pathos, showing that the author was not far from some right ideas of
what womanhood is. Ateukin's part, too, is very well conceived and
sustained, though the qualities of a parasite are made rather too
naked and bald, as would naturally result from the writer's ambition
being stronger than his love of nature and truth. The comic portions
are much beyond any thing we have met with in that line, since _Ralph
Roister Doister_ and _Misogonus_. The versification is endurably free
from gas, and the style in many parts may be pronounced rather tight
and sinewy.

_Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay_ was printed in 1594, but acted as early
as 1591. The hero is Edward, Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward
the First; the heroine, Margaret, a keeper's daughter, known as "the
fair maid of Fressingfield." The Prince, who is out on a hunting
excursion with Lacy and several other friends, and Ralph Simnel, the
Court Fool, meets with Margaret, and his fancy is at once smitten with
her, while she has no suspicion who he is. At Ralph's suggestion, he
sends Lacy, in the disguise of a farmer's son, to court Margaret for
him, and sets out on a visit to Friar Bacon at Oxford, to learn from
the conjurer how his suit is going to speed. Lacy thinks the Prince's
aim is not to wed the girl, but to entrap and beguile her; besides,
his own heart is already interested; so he goes to courting her in
good earnest for himself. Meanwhile the Prince with his company, all
disguised, arrives at Friar Bacon's; and, through the conjurer's art,
learns what Lacy is doing. Soon after, he comes upon Lacy, poniard in
hand, meaning to kill him on the spot. Margaret, being present,
intercedes for her lover, and takes all the blame of his course to
herself. The Prince then lays siege to her in person, but she vows she
will rather die with Lacy than divorce her heart from his, and finally
reminds him of his own princely honour; whereupon he frankly resigns
her to his rival's hand.

Among other entertainments of the scene, we have a trial of national
skill between Bacon and Bungay on one side, and Vandermast, a noted
conjurer from Germany, on the other. First, Bungay tries his art, and
is thoroughly baffled by the German; then Bacon takes Vandermast in
hand, and outconjures him all to nothing. Bacon has a servant named
Miles, who, for his ignorant blundering in a weighty matter, is at
last carried off by one of his master's devils. The last scene is
concerned with the marriage of Prince Edward and Elinor of Castile,
and is closed by Bacon with a grand prophecy touching Elizabeth.

Here, again, we have some fair lines of characterization, especially
in the Prince, Lacy, Margaret, and Ralph. The heroine is altogether
Greene's masterpiece in female character; she exhibits much strength,
spirit, and sweetness of composition; in fact, she is not equalled by
any woman of the English stage till we come to Shakespeare, whom no
one has ever approached in that line. It scarce need be said that the
play is quite guiltless of any thing worthy to be named _dramatic
composition_. But it has a good deal of dramatic poetry, that would be
almost charming, had not Shakespeare spoilt every thing of the kind
that was done before he taught men how to do it.

The comedy of _George a Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield_, printed in
1599, is ascribed to Greene, but, it seems to me, not on very strong
grounds. I can hardly believe it his; certainly the style and
versification are much better than in any other of his plays; nor
does it show any thing of that incontinence of learning which he seems
to have been unable to restrain. The blank-verse, too, is far unlike
Greene's anywhere else.

The story of the piece is quite entertaining in itself, and is set
forth with a good deal of vivacity and spirit. Among the characters
are King Edward of England, King James of Scotland, the Earl of
Kendall, with other lords, and Robin Hood. George a Greene is the
hero; who, what with his wit, and what with his strength, gets the
better of all the other persons in turn. Withal he is full of high and
solid manhood, and his character is drawn with more vigour and life
than any hitherto noticed. The piece opens with the Earl of Kendall
and his adherents in rebellion against the State. The Earl sends Sir
Nicholas Mannering to Wakefield, to demand provision for his camp. Sir
Nicholas enters the town, and shows his commission: the magistrates
are at a loss what to do, till the hero comes amongst them, outfaces
the messenger, tears up his commission, makes him eat the seals, and
sends him back with an answer of defiance.

Greene was concerned, along with Thomas Lodge, in writing another
extant play, entitled _A Looking-Glass for London and England_. This
is little better than a piece of stage trash, being a mixture of
comedy, tragedy, and Miracle-Play; an Angel, a Devil, and the Prophet
Hosea taking part in the action. The verse parts are in Greene's
puffiest style, the prose parts in his filthiest.

Greene probably wrote divers other plays, but none others have
survived that are known to be his.

       *       *       *       *       *

MARLOWE, the greatest of Shakespeare's senior contemporaries, was
baptized in St. George's church, Canterbury, on the 26th of February,
1564, just two months before the baptism of Shakespeare. He took his
first degree at Cambridge in 1583, became Master of Arts in 1587, and
was soon after embarked among the worst literary adventurers in
London, living by his wits, and rioting on the quick profits of his
pen. His career was brief, but fruitful,--fruitful in more senses than
one. He was slain by one Francis Archer in a brawl, on the 1st of
June, 1593.

His first dramatic work was _Tamburlaine the Great_, in two parts;
printed in 1590, but written before 1588. In this work, what Ben
Jonson describes as "Marlowe's mighty line" is out in all its
mightiness. The lines, to be sure, have a vast amount of strut and
swell in them, but then they also have a good deal of real energy and
force. Marlowe has had much praise, perhaps more than his due, as the
introducer of blank-verse on the public stage; it being alleged that
the previous use of it was only in what may be called private
theatricals. Be that as it may, he undoubtedly did much towards
_fixing_ it as the habit of English dramatic poetry. _Tamburlaine_ had
a sudden, a great, and long-continued popularity. And its success may
have been partly owing to its faults, inasmuch as the public ear, long
used to rhyme, needed some compensation in the way of grandiloquent
stuffing, which was here supplied in abundance.

The scene of these two plays, which are substantially one, takes in
the whole period of time from the hero's first conquest till his
death; so that the action ranges at large over divers kingdoms and
empires. Except the hero, there is little really deserving the name of
characterization, this being a point of art which Marlowe had not yet
reached, and which he never attained but in a moderate degree, taking
Shakespeare as the standard. But the hero is drawn with grand and
striking proportions, and perhaps seems the larger, that the bones of
his individuality stand out in undue prominence; the author lacking
that balance of powers which is requisite, to produce the symmetry and
roundness met with in the higher forms of Nature. And he knew not,
apparently, how to express the hero's greatness _in word_, but by
making him bethump the stage with tempestuous verbiage; which, to be
sure, is not the style of greatness at all, but only of one trying to
be great, and _trying_ to be so, because he is not so. For to talk big
is the instinct of ambitious littleness. But Tamburlaine is also
represented _in act_ as a most magnanimous prodigy: amidst his
haughtiest strides of conquest, we have strains of gentleness mingling
with his iron sternness; and he everywhere appears lifted high with
generous passions and impulses: if he regards not others, he is
equally ready to sacrifice himself, his ease, pleasure, and even life,
in his prodigious lust of glory.

As to the rest, this drama consists rather of a long series of
speeches than any genuine dialogue. And the persons all speak from one
brain, the hero talking just like the others, only more so; as if the
author had no way to discriminate character but by different degrees
of the same thing: in which respect the work has often reminded me of
divers more civilized stage preparations, such as Addison's _Cato_,
Young's _Revenge, et id genus omne_. For the proper constituent of
dramatic dialogue is, that the persons strike fire out of each other
by their sharp collisions of thought, so that their words relish at
once of the individual speaking and the individual spoken to. Moreover
the several parts of this work are not moulded together in any thing
like vital unity; the materials seem bundled up arbitrarily, and for
stage effect, instead of being assorted on any principle of organic
coherence; every thing thus going by the author's will, not by any law
of reason or art. But this is a high region, from which there was in
that age but one man big enough to be seen; so it's no use speaking of
the rest. Therewithal the work affects us, throughout, as a dead-level
of superlatives; everywhere we have nearly the same boisterous wind of
tragical storm-and-stress: so that the effect is much like that of a
picture all foreground, with no perspective, no proportionateness of
light and shade, to give us distinct impressions.

_The Jew of Malta_ shows very considerable advance towards a chaste
and sober diction, but not much either in development of character or
composition of parts. Barabas the Jew is a horrible monster of
wickedness and cunning, yet not without strong lines of individuality.
The author evidently sought to compass the effect of tragedy by
accumulation of murders and other hellish deeds; which shows that he
had no steady ideas as to wherein the true secret of tragic terror
lies: he here strives to reach it by overfilling the senses; whereas
its proper method stands in the joint working of the moral and
imaginative powers, which are rather stifled than kindled by causing
the senses to "sup full of horrors." The piece, however, abounds in
quick and caustic wit; in some parts there is a good share of dialogue
as distinguished from speech-making; and the versification is far more
varied and compact than in _Tamburlaine_. Still the work, as a whole,
shows little that can properly be called dramatic power as
distinguished from the general powers of rhetoric and wit.

_The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus_, probably written before
1590, exhibits Marlowe in a higher vein of workmanship. I think it
must be acknowledged that he here wields the right elements and
processes of tragic effect with no ordinary subtlety and power.
Faustus, the hero, is a mighty necromancer, who has studied himself
into direct communion with preternatural beings, and beside whom Friar
Bacon sinks into a tame forger of bugbears. A Good Angel and a Bad
Angel figure in the piece, each trying to win Faustus to his several
way. Lucifer is ambitious to possess "his glorious soul," and the hero
craves Lucifer's aid, that he may work wonders on the Earth. At his
summons, Mephistophilis, who acts as Lucifer's prime minister, visits
him to negotiate an arrangement. I must quote a brief passage from
their interview:

    "_Faust_. Tell me, what is that Lucifer thy lord?

    _Meph_. Arch-regent and commander of all spirits.

    _Faust_. Was not that Lucifer an angel once?

    _Meph_. Yes, Faustus, and most dearly lov'd of God.

    _Faust_. How comes it, then, that he is Prince of Devils?

    _Meph_. O, by aspiring pride and insolence!
    For which God threw him from the face of Heaven.

    _Faust_. And what are you that live with Lucifer?

    _Meph_. Unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer,
    And are for ever damn'd with Lucifer.

    _Faust_. Where are you damn'd?

    _Meph_. In Hell.

    _Faust_. How comes it, then, that thou art out of Hell?

    _Meph. Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it_:
    Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
    And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven,
    Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
    In being depriv'd of everlasting bliss?
    _O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands,
    Which strike a terror to my fainting soul.

    Faust_. What! is great Mephistophilis so passionate
    For being deprivéd of the joys of Heaven?
    Learn thou of Faustus manly fortitude,
    And scorn those joys thou never shalt possess.
    Go, bear these tidings to great Lucifer:
    Seeing Faustus hath incurr'd eternal death,
    Say, he surrenders up to him his soul,
    So he will spare him four-and-twenty years,
    Letting him live in all voluptuousness;
    Having thee ever to attend on me,
    To give me whatsoever I shall ask,
    To tell me whatsoever I demand,
    To slay mine enemies, and aid my friends,
    And always be obedient to my will."

This passage, especially the hero's cool indifference in questioning
about things which the fiend shudders to consider, has often struck me
as not altogether unworthy to be thought of in connection with Milton.

The result of the interview is, that Faustus makes a compact with
Lucifer, draws blood from his own arm, and with it writes out a deed
of gift, assuring his soul and body to the fiend at the end of
twenty-four years. Thenceforth he spends his time in exercising the
mighty spells and incantations thus purchased: he has the power of
making himself invisible, and entering whatsoever houses he lists; he
passes from kingdom to kingdom with the speed of thought; wields the
elements at will, and has the energies of Nature at his command;
summons the Grecian Helen to his side for a companion; and holds the
world in wonder at his acts. Meanwhile the knowledge which Hell has
given him of Heaven haunts him; he cannot shake off the thought of
what the awful compact binds him to; repentance carries on a desperate
struggle in him with the necromantic fascination, and at one time
fairly outwrestles it; but he soon recovers his purpose, renews his
pledge to Lucifer, and finally performs it.

This feature of the representation suggests a great thought, perhaps I
should say, principle of man's moral being, which Shakespeare has more
than once worked upon with surpassing effect. For it is remarkable
that, in _Macbeth_, the thinking of the Weird Sisters (and he cannot
choose but think of them) fires the hero's moral and imaginative
forces into convulsive action, and thus causes him to shrink back from
the very deed to which the prophetic greetings stimulate him. So,
again, in _Hamlet_, the intimations of the Ghost touching "the secrets
of its prison-house" kindle the hero full of "thoughts beyond the
reaches of his soul," which entrance him in meditation, unstring his
resolution, and render him morally incapable of the office to which
that same Ghost has called him.

_The Jew of Malta_, has divers passages in a far higher and richer
style of versification than any part of _Tamburlaine_. The author's
diction has grown more pliant and facile to his thought; consequently
it is highly varied in pause and movement; showing that in his hand
the noble instrument of dramatic blank-verse was fast growing into
tune for a far mightier hand to discourse its harmonies upon. I must
add that considerable portions both of this play and the preceding are
meant to be comical. But the result only proves that Marlowe was
incapable of comedy. No sooner does he attempt the comic vein than his
whole style collapses into mere balderdash. In fact, though
plentifully gifted with wit, there was not a particle of real humour
in him; none of that subtle and perfusive essence out of which the
true comic is spun; for these choice powers can hardly live but in the
society of certain moral elements that seem to have been left out of
his composition.

_Edward the Second_, probably the latest, certainly much the best, of
Marlowe's dramas, was printed in 1598. Here, for the first time, we
meet with a genuine specimen of the English Historical Drama. The
scene covers a period of twenty years; the incidents pass with great
rapidity, and, though sometimes crushed into indistinctness, are for
the most part well used both for historic truth and dramatic effect;
and the dialogue, generally, is nervous, animated, and clear. In the
great article of character, too, this play has very considerable
merit. The King's insane dotage of his favourites, the upstart vanity
and insolence of Gaveston, the artful practice and doubtful virtue of
Queen Isabella, the factious turbulence of the nobles, irascible,
arrogant, regardless of others' liberty, jealous of their own, sudden
of quarrel, eager in revenge, are all depicted with a goodly mixture
of energy and temperance. Therewithal the versification moves,
throughout, with a freedom and variety, such as may almost stand a
comparison with Shakespeare in what may be called his earlier period;
as when, for instance, _King Richard the Second_ was written. It is
probable, however, that by this time, if not before, Marlowe had begun
to feel the power of that music which was to charm him, and all others
of the time, out of audience and regard. For we have very good
evidence, that before Marlowe's death Shakespeare had far surpassed
all of that age who had ever been competent to teach him in any point
of dramatic workmanship.

Marlowe is of consequence, _mainly_, as one of the first and greatest
improvers of dramatic poetry in so far as relates to diction and
metrical style; which is my reason for emphasizing his work so much in
that regard. But, as this is a virtue much easier felt than described,
I can best show what it is, by giving a taste of it; which however
must be brief:

    "_Edw_. What, Lord Arundel, dost thou come alone?

    _Arun_. Yea, my good lord, for Gaveston is dead.

    _Edw_. Ah, traitors! have they put my friend to death?
    Tell me, Arundel, died he ere thou cam'st,
    Or didst thou see my friend to take his death?

    _Arun_. Neither, my lord; for, as he was surpris'd,
    Begirt with weapons and with enemies round,
    I did your Highness' message to them all,
    Demanding him of them, entreating rather,
    And said, upon the honour of my name,
    That I would undertake to carry him
    Unto your Highness, and to bring him back.

    _Edw_. And, tell me, would the rebels deny me that?

    _Spen_. Proud recreants!

    _Edw_.                    Yea, Spenser, traitors all!

    _Arun_. I found them at the first inexorable:
    The Earl of Warwick would not bide the hearing;
    Mortimer hardly; Pembroke and Lancaster
    Spake least; and when they flatly had denied,
    Refusing to receive me pledge for him,
    The Earl of Pembroke mildly thus bespake:
    'My lords, because our sovereign sends for him,
    And promiseth he shall be safe return'd,
    I will this undertake, to have him hence,
    And see him redeliver'd to your hands.'

    _Edw_. Well, and how fortunes it that he came not?

    _Spen_. Some treason or some villainy was cause.

    _Arun_. The Earl of Warwick seiz'd him on the way;
    For, being deliver'd unto Pembroke's men,
    Their lord rode home, thinking the prisoner safe;
    But, ere he came, Warwick in ambush lay,
    And bare him to his death, and in a trench
    Strake off his head, and march'd unto the camp.

    _Spen_. A bloody part, flatly 'gainst law of arms!

    _Edw_. O, shall I speak, or shall I sigh, and die?

    _Spen_. My lord, refer your vengeance to the sword
    Upon these barons; hearten up your men;
    Let them not unreveng'd murder your friends;
    Advance your standard, Edward, in the field,
    And march to fire them from their starting-holes.

    _Edw_. I will have heads and lives for him as many
    As I have manors, castles, towns, and towers!--
    Treacherous Warwick! traitorous Mortimer!
    If I be England's king, in lakes of gore
    Your headless trunks, your bodies will I trail,
    That you may drink your fill, and quaff in blood,
    And stain my royal standard with the same;
    You villains that have slain my Gaveston!--
    And, in this place of honour and of trust,
    Spenser, sweet Spenser, I adopt thee here;
    And merely of our love we do create thee
    Earl of Gloucester and Lord Chamberlain.

    _Spen_. My lord, here is a messenger from the barons,
    Desires access unto your Majesty.

    _Edw_. Admit him.

    _Herald_. Long live King Edward, England's lawful lord!

    _Edw_. So wish not they, I wis, that sent thee hither."

This, to be sure, does not read much like, for instance, Hotspur's
speech, beginning,

    "O, then the earth shook to see the heavens on fire,"

nor is there any thing in Marlowe that does. In the passage quoted,
however, (and there are many more like it,) we have the rhymeless
ten-syllable iambic verse as the basis; but this is continually
diversified, so as to relieve the ear and keep it awake, by occasional
spondees, dibrachs, anapests, and amphibrachs, and by the frequent use
of trochees in all parts of the verse, but especially at the
beginning, and by a skilful shifting of the pause to any part of the
line. It thus combines the natural ease and variety of prose with the
general effect of metrical harmony, so that the hearing does not
surfeit nor tire. As to the general _poetic_ style of the performance,
the kindling energy of thought and language that often beats and
flashes along the sentences, there is much both in this and in
_Faustus_ to justify the fine enthusiasm of Drayton:

    "Next, Marlowe, bathéd in the Thespian springs,
    Had in him those brave translunary things
    That the first poets had: his raptures were
    All air and fire, which made his verses clear;
    For that fine madness still he did retain
    Which rightly should possess a poet's brain."

Before leaving the subject, I must notice a remark by Charles
Lamb,--the dear, delightful Charley. "The reluctant pangs," says he,
"of abdicating royalty in Edward furnished hints which Shakespeare
scarce improved in his _Richard the Second_; and the death-scene of
Marlowe's king moves pity and terror beyond any scene, ancient or
modern, with which I am acquainted." Both the scenes in question have
indeed great merit, but this praise seems to me far beyond the mark.
Surely, there is more of genuine, pity-moving pathos in the single
speech of York,--"As in a theatre the eyes of men," etc.,--than in all
Marlowe's writings put together. And as to the moving of terror, there
is, to my mind, nothing in _Edward the Second_ that comes up to
_Faustus_; and there are a dozen scenes in _Macbeth_, any one of which
has more of the terrific than the whole body of _Faustus_. And in the
death-scene of Edward, it can hardly be denied that the senses are
somewhat overcrammed with images of physical suffering, so as to give
the effect rather of the horrible than the terrible.

Others, again, have thought that Marlowe, if he had lived, would have
made some good approach to Shakespeare in tragic power. A few years
more would no doubt have lifted him to very noble things, that is,
provided his powers could have been kept from the eatings and
cripplings of debauchery; still, any approach to that great Divinity
of the Drama was out of the question for him. For, judging from his
life and works, the moral part of genius was constitutionally
defective in him; and, with this so defective, the intellectual part
cannot be truly itself; and his work must needs be comparatively weak
in those points of our being which it touches, because it does not
touch them all: for the whole must be moved at once, else there can be
no great moving of any part. No, no! there was not, there could not
have been in Marlowe, great as he was, a tithe of Shakespeare, for
tragedy, nor any thing else. To go no further, he was, as we have
seen, destitute of humour; the powers of comedy evidently had no place
in him; and these powers are indispensable to the production of high
tragedy: a position affirmed as long ago as the days of Plato; sound
in the reason of the thing; and, above all, made good in the instance
of Shakespeare; who was _Shakespeare_, mainly because he had _all_ the
powers of the human mind in harmonious order and action, and _used_
them all, explicitly or implicitly, in every play he wrote.

       *       *       *       *       *

Shakespeare had one or two other senior contemporaries of whom I must
say a few words, though it is not likely that they contributed much,
if any thing, towards preparing him. John Lily, born in 1554, and
Master of Arts in 1576, has considerable wit, some poetry; withal a
certain crisp, clever, conceited mannerism of style, which caused him
to be spoken of as "eloquent and witty"; but nothing that can be
properly termed dramatic talent. His persons all speak in precisely
the same vein, being indeed but so many empty figures or puppets,
reflecting or propagating the motions of the author himself. His
dramatic pieces, of which we have nine, seven in prose, one in rhyme,
and one in blank-verse, seem to have been designed for Court
entertainments, but were used more or less on the public stage,
chiefly by the juvenile companies. They are all replete with that
laboured affectation of fine writing which was distinguished at the
time as Euphuism. One of his main peculiarities stands in using, for
images and illustrations, certain imaginary products of a sort of
artificial nature, which he got up especially for that purpose; as if
he could invent better materials for poetic imagery than ancient
Nature had furnished! Still, it is not unlikely that we owe to him
somewhat of the polish and flexibility of the Shakespearian dramatic
diction: that he could have helped the Poet in any thing beyond mere
diction it were absurd to suppose.

I have already spoken of Thomas Lodge as joint author with Greene of a
good-for-nothing play. We have one Other play by him, entitled _The
Wounds of Civil War_, and having for its subject "the true tragedies
of Harms and Sylla," written before 1590, but not printed till 1594.
It is in blank-verse; which however differs from the most regular
rhyming ten-syllable verse in nothing but the lack of consonous
endings.--Lodge is chiefly memorable in that one of his prose pieces
was drawn upon for Shakespeare's _As You Like It_.

       *       *       *       *       *

We have now reached the time when Shakespeare's hand had learnt its
cunning, so far at least as any previous examples could teach it.
Perhaps I ought to add, as showing the prodigious rush of life and
thought towards the drama in that age, that, besides the authors I
have mentioned, Henslowe's _Diary_ supplies the names of thirty other
dramatists, most of whom have propagated some part of their
workmanship down to our time. In the same document, during the twelve
years beginning in February, 1591, we have the titles recorded of no
less than two hundred and seventy pieces, either as original
compositions, or as revivals of older plays. As all these entries have
reference only to Henslowe's management; and as, during that period,
except for some short intervals, he was concerned with the affairs of
but a single company; we may thence conceive how vastly fertile the
age was in dramatic production.

After all, it is hardly possible for us to understand how important a
part dramatic exhibitions played in the life of "merry England in the
olden time." From a very early period, the interest in them was deep,
general, and constant; it grew with the growth of civilization; it
became complicated with all the mental, moral, and social habitudes of
the people; and, in fact, whatever "seed-points of light" got planted
in the popular mind had no way but to organize themselves into that
shape. Those old plays, such as they were, with their rude, bold
attempts to combine religion and mirth, instruction and sport, may
almost be described as having been the nerves upon which the whole
mental character of the nation formed itself. The spirit which began
so early to work in them kept on asserting itself more and more
strongly from age to age, till the Drama became emphatically a popular
passion; as indeed must always be the case before any thing deserving
the name of a National Drama can possibly arise. And it is quite
surprising how long this spirit, so universal and so intense, was
restrained from putting on so much of institutional form and
expression as is implied in having buildings erected or adapted for
its special use and service. For we have thus far heard of nothing in
the character of temples provided for the liturgies of the Dramatic

The spirit in question, however, did at last reach such a measure of
strength, that it could no longer be restrained from issuing in a
provision of that sort. The play-house known as the _Blackfriars_ was
established in 1576, and was owned and run by the company to which
Shakespeare afterwards belonged. Two others, called _The Theatre_ and
_The Curtain_, were probably started about the same time, as we find
them in operation in 1577. Before the end of the century, the city and
suburbs of London had at least eight more in full blast. And there
were, besides, ever so many strolling companies of players carrying
the mysteries of their craft into nearly all parts of the kingdom. So
that the Drama may well be judged to have been, in the Poet's time,
decidedly a great institution. In fact, it was a sort of fourth estate
of the realm; nearly as much so, indeed, as the Newspaper Press is in
our time. Practically, the Government was vested in King, Lords,
Commons, and Dramatists, including in the latter both writers and
actors; the Poet thus having far more reason than now exists for
making Hamlet say to the old statesman, "After your death you were
better have a bad epitaph, than their ill report while you live."

       *       *       *       *       *

The foregoing review, brief and inadequate as it is, may answer the
purpose of imparting some just notion of the growth and progress of
the English Drama till it reached the eve of its maturity. The
allegorical drama had great influence, no doubt, in determining the
scope and quality of the proper drama of comedy and tragedy; since, by
its long discipline of the popular mind in abstract ideas, or in the
generalized forms of ethical thought, it did much towards forming that
public taste which required and prompted the drama to rise above a
mere geography of facts into the empyrean of truth; and under the
instructions of which Shakespeare learned to make his persons
embodiments of general nature as well as of individual character. For
the excellences of the Shakespearian Drama were probably owing as much
to the mental preparation of the time as to the powers of the
individual man. He was in demand before he came; and it was that
pre-existing demand that taught and enabled him to do what he did. If
it was the strength of his genius that lifted him to the top of the
heap, it was also the greatness of the heap that enabled him to reach
and maintain that elevation. For it is a great mistake to regard
Shakespeare as standing alone, and working only in the powers of his
individual mind. In fact, there never was any growth of literature or
art that stood upon a wider basis of collective experience, or that drew
its form and substance from a larger or more varied stock of
historical preparation.[5]

    [5] Since the passage in the text was written, I have met with
    some well-drawn remarks of a like drift in Froude's _History of
    England_, Chapter I.: "The chroniclers have given us many
    accounts of the masques and plays which were acted in the Court,
    or in the castles of the noblemen. Such pageants were but the
    most splendid expression of a taste which was national and
    universal. As in ancient Greece, generations before the rise of
    the great dramas of Athens, itinerant companies wandered from
    village to village, carrying their stage furniture in their
    little carts, and acted in their booths and tents the grand
    stories of the mythology; so in England the mystery-players
    haunted the wakes and fairs, and in barns or taverns, tap-rooms,
    or in the farm-house kitchen, played at saints and angels, and
    transacted on their petty stage the entire drama of the
    Christian Faith. We allow ourselves to think of Shakespeare or
    of Raphael or of Phidias as having accomplished their work by
    the power of their own individual genius; but greatness like
    theirs is never more than the highest degree of an excellence
    which prevails widely round it, and forms the environment in
    which it grows. No single mind in single contact with the facts
    of nature could have created out of itself a Pallas, a Madonna,
    or a Lear: such vast conceptions are the growth of ages, the
    creations of a nation's spirit; and artist and poet, filled full
    with the power of that spirit, have but given them form, and
    nothing more than form. Nor would the form itself have been
    attainable by any isolated talent. No genius can dispense with
    experience; the aberrations of power, unguided or ill-guided,
    are ever in proportion to its intensity, and life is not long
    enough to recover from inevitable mistakes. Noble conceptions
    already existing, and a noble school of execution, which will
    launch mind and hand at once upon their true courses, are
    indispensable to transcendent excellence; and Shakespeare's
    plays were as much the offspring of the long generations who had
    pioneered his road for him as the discoveries of Newton were the
    offspring of those of Copernicus."

Dryden, in one of his occasional pieces, represents the Poet's ghost
as saying,

    "Untaught, unpractis'd, in a barbarous age,
    I found not, but created first, the stage";

and such has been the common belief. But the saying is far from true;
and Shakespeare's ghost must have sipped large draughts of Lethe, to
be capable of speaking thus. For, though the least that he did is
worth more than all that was done before him, and though his poorest
performances surpass the best of his models; it is nevertheless
certain that his task was but to continue and perfect what was already
begun. Not only were the three forms of comedy, history, and tragedy
in use on the English stage, but the elements of these were to some
extent blended in the freedom and variety of the Gothic Drama. The
usage also of dramatic blank-verse stood up inviting his adoption;
though no one before or since has come near him in the mastery of its
capabilities; his genius being an inexhaustible spring of both mental
and verbal modulation. Nor can all this be justly regarded as any
alleviation of his task, or any abatement of his fame. For, to work
thus with materials and upon models already prepared, without being
drawn down to their level and subdued to their quality, requires, if
possible, a higher order and exercise of power than to strike out in
a way and with a stock entirely new. And so the absorbing, quickening,
creative efficacy of Shakespeare's genius is best seen in this, that,
taking the Drama as it came to his hand, a thing of unsouled forms and
lack-lustre eyes, all brainless and meaningless, he at once put a
spirit into it, tempered its elements in the proportions of truth,
informed its shapes with grace and virtue, and made it all alive, a
breathing, speaking, operative power. Thus his work naturally linked
in with the whole past; and in his hands the collective thought and
wisdom of ages were smelted out of the earth and dross wherein they
lay imbedded, and wrought into figures of undecaying beauty.

It is indeed true that the Drama shot ahead with amazing rapidity as
soon as it came to feel the virtue of Shakespeare's hand. We have
nothing more dreary, dismal, and hopeless than the course of the
English Drama down to his time. The people would have dramatic
entertainments, and hundreds of minds, apparently, were ever busy
furnishing them wooden things in dramatic form. And so, century after
century, through change after change, the work of preparation went on,
still scarce any progress, and no apparent result, nothing that could
live, or was worth keeping alive. It seemed as if no rain would ever
fall, no sun ever shine, to take away the sterility of the land. Yet
all of a sudden the Drama blazed up with a splendor that was to
illuminate and sweeten the ages, and be at once the delight and the
despair of other nations and future times. All this, too, came to pass
in Shakespeare! and, which is more, the process ended with him! It is
indeed a singular phenomenon, and altogether the most astonishing that
the human mind has produced.

Yet even here we should be careful of attributing too much to the
genius of the individual man. It was rather the genius of the age and
nation springing into flowerage through him,--a flowerage all the
larger and more eloquent for the long delay, and the vast accumulation
of force. For it is remarkable that when the Warwickshire peasant
entered upon his work, with the single exception of Chaucer, not one
good English book had been written. Yet he was far from being alone in
thus beginning and perfecting the great workmanship which he took in
hand. Before _Hamlet_, _Othello_, and _The Tempest_ were written,
Romantic Poetry had done its best in Spenser, Philosophical Divinity
in Hooker, Civil and Moral Discourse in Bacon. All these alike are
unapproached and unapproachable in their several kinds. We have
nothing more tuneable and melodious than Spenser's verse; no higher
and nobler eloquence than Hooker's prose; no practical wisdom of
deeper reach or more attractive garb than Bacon's _Essays_. Yet they
did not learn their cunning from Shakespeare, nor did Shakespeare
learn his cunning from them. The language was then just ripe for the
uses of such minds; it had the wealth of much learning incorporated
with it, yet had not been cast into rigidity nor dressed into primness
by a technical and bookish legislation; it had gone on for centuries
gathering in and assimilating stores from Nature and from Religion; it
was rich with the life of a nation of brave, free, honest,
full-souled, and frank-hearted men; it was at once copious, limber,
and sinewy, capable alike of expressing the largest and the subtlest
thought, the deepest and strongest passion, the most tender and
delicate feeling; wit could sport itself for ever, humour could trim
its raciest issues, imagination could body forth its sweetest and
awfullest visions, in the furnishings of the English tongue. And so
these four great thinkers found it equal, apparently, to all their
thoughts and powers. They were all, though each in a different sort,
its masters, not its slaves. They used it, but they did not make it.
And the thought which they found it capable of expressing must have
pre-existed in some form, else the language could not have stood
ready, as it did, for their use. The truth seems to be that, for
reasons which we cannot fathom, and in ways past our finding out, the
time had now come, the mental life of the nation was fully grown to a
head, so as to express itself in several forms at the same time; and
Shakespeare, wise, true, and mighty beyond his thought, became its
organ of dramatic utterance; which utterance remains, and will remain,
a treasury of everlasting sweetness and refreshment to mankind.


       *       *       *       *       *


    "Tranquillity! the sovereign aim wert thou
    In heathen schools of philosophic lore;
    Heart-stricken by stern destiny of yore,
    The Tragic Muse thee serv'd with thoughtful vow;
    And what of hope Elysium could allow
    Was fondly seiz'd by Sculpture, to restore
    Peace to the Mourner. But when He who wore
    The crown of thorns around His bleeding brow
    Warm'd our sad being with celestial light,
    _Then_ Arts which still had drawn a softening grace
    From shadowy fountains of the Infinite,
    Commun'd with that Idea face to face;
    And move around it now as planets run,
    Each in its orbit round the central Sun."--WORDSWORTH.

Art is in its proper character the solidest and sincerest expression
of human thought and feeling. To be much within and little without, to
do all for truth, nothing for show, and to express the largest
possible meaning with the least possible stress of expression,--this
is its first law.

Thus artistic virtue runs down into one and the same root with moral
righteousness. Both must first of all be genuine and sincere, richer
and better at the heart than on the surface; as always having it for
their leading aim to recommend themselves to the perfect Judge; that
is, they must seek the praise of God rather than of men: for, indeed,
whatsoever studies chiefly to please men will not please them long,
but will soon be openly or secretly repudiated by them; whereas, "when
a man's ways are pleasing unto the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to
be at peace with him."

Such is the right form, such the normal process, of what may be
called intellectual and artistic righteousness. A soul of perfect
veracity lies at the bottom of the thing, and is the source and the
life of all that is good and beautiful in it. And the work, like
Nature herself, does not strike excitingly, but "melts into the
heart"; it therefore wears well, and don't wear out. Every thing is
done "in simple and pure soul," and without any thought, on the doer's
part, of the figure he is making; and when he turns from the beauty he
should express to his own beauty of expression, his work becomes
false. And it may be justly affirmed that perfection of workmanship in
Art is where the senses are touched just enough, and in just the right
way, to kindle the mind; and this too without making the mind
distinctly conscious of being kindled; for when the soul is moved
perfectly both in kind and degree, self-consciousness is lost in the
interest of that which moves it.

Hence it is that all deep and earnest feeling, all high and noble
thought so naturally puts on a style of modesty and reserve. It
communicates itself, not by verbal emphasis or volume, but by a sort
of blessed infection too subtile and too potent for words to convey.
Volubility strangles it; and it is felt to be insincere when it grows
loquacious. A wordy grief is merely a grief from the throat outwards;
"the grief that does not speak," this it is that "whispers the
o'erfraught heart, and bids it break." And the truly eloquent speaker
or writer is not he who says a multitude of fine things in finely
turned language and figures, which is very easily done, but he who
says just the right things, and says them in the fewest, simplest, and
aptest words. As for the speaker who lives, not in the inspiration of
his theme, but in the display of his eloquence, we may rest assured
that he will never say any thing worth hearing: his work will
naturally turn all to mere elocution; which may be described as the
art of pronouncing nothing in such a way as to make it pass for
something grand.

Thus there appears to be a profound natural sympathy or affinity
between the forces of religion and the forms of Art. Therefore it is
that the higher efficacies of Christian culture and the deeper
workings of religious thought and emotion have instinctively sought to
organize and enshrine themselves in artistic creations; no other mode
or power of expression being strong enough to hold them, or inclusive
enough to contain them. It is in such works as the ancient marvels of
ecclesiastical building that the Christian mind has found its most
fitting and most operative eloquence.

What was the motive-principle, what the inspiring power, of those
architectural wonders that transport the impress of mediaeval piety
across the ocean of so many centuries? Wordsworth, referring to some
of the English cathedrals, says,--

    "They dreamt not of a perishable home,
    Who thus could build."

And, sure enough, we may well deem that nothing less than the most
intense and burning conceptions of eternity could have inspired the
souls of men and made them strong enough to project and accomplish
those stupendous structures which, in their silent majesty and
awe-inspiring suggestiveness, are the most persuasive and the most
unanswerable preachers of Christianity that the Church of two thousand
years has produced. "They builded better than they knew." And what are
all the sermons and theologies of that time in comparison with those
great old monuments of Christian Art? "The immortal mind craves
objects that endure." And immortality itself, the spirit of celestial
order, a beauty that awes while it charms, and chastens while it
kindles, are imaged in the aspect and countenance of those structures.
And it is remarkable that nothing has come down to us touching the
persons of those grand old builders, not even their names. It seems
indeed as if their great souls had been so possessed by the genius
that stirred within them, so entranced in the contemplation of their
religious ideals, as to leave no room, for any self-regarding
thoughts; so that we know them only as a band of anonymous immortals.

    "They were pedants who could speak:
    Grander souls have passed unheard;
    Such as found all language weak;
    Choosing rather to record
    Secrets before Heaven, than break
    Faith with Angels by a word."

Now it is the nature of Christian meaning thus embodied to penetrate
and pervade the depths of the mind without agitating its surface; and
when the effect is greatest, then it is that the mind is least
conscious of it: it is a silent efficacy that "sweetly creeps into the
study of imagination," and charms its way into "the eye and prospect
of the soul" by delicacy of touch and smoothness of operation. Such
art is of course in no sort an intellectual gymnastic. It is as
complex and many-sided as our nature itself; and the frame of mind
from which it proceeds, and which it aims to inspire, is that calmness
wherein is involved a free and harmonious exercise of the whole man;
sense, intellect, and heart moving together in sympathy and unison: in
a word, it is the fitting expression of

      "That monumental grace
    Of Faith, which doth all passions tame
      That reason _should_ control;
    And shows in the untrembling frame
      A statue of the soul."

From such workmanship, every thing specially stimulant of any one part
of the mind, every thing that ministers to the process of
self-excitation, every thing that fosters an unhealthy consciousness
by untuning the inward harmonies of our being, every thing that
appeals to the springs of vanity and self-applause, or invites us to
any sort of glass-gazing pleasure,--every such thing is, by an innate
law of the work, excluded. So that here we have the right school of
moral healthiness, a moral digestion so perfect as to be a secret unto
itself. The intelligence, the virtue, the piety, that grows by such
methods, is never seen putting on airs, or feeding on the reflection
of its own beauty; but evermore breathes freely and naturally, as in
communion with the proper sources of its life.

Works of Art, then, above all other productions of the mind, must have
solidity and inwardness, that essential retiring grace which seems to
shrink from the attention it wins, that style of power held in reserve
which grows upon acquaintance, that suggestive beauty, "part seen,
imagined part," which does not permit the beholder to leave without a
silent invitation to return. And in proportion as the interest of such
works depends on novelty, or stress of manner, or any strikingness of
effect, as if they were ambitious to make themselves felt, and
apprehensive of not being prized at their worth; in the same
proportion their tenure of interest is naturally short, because they
leave the real springs of thought untouched.

This, to be sure, holds more or less true of all the forms of mental
production; but its truth is more evident and more self-approving in
the sphere of Art than in the others. Hence the common saying, that
poetry, for instance, must be very good indeed, else it is good for
nothing. And men of culture and judgment in that line naturally feel,
in general, that a work of art which is not worth seeing many times is
not worth seeing at all; and if they are at first taken with such a
work, they are apt to be ashamed of it afterwards, and to resent the
transient pleasure they found in it, as a sort of fraud upon them. In
other words, Art aspires to interest _permanently_, and even to be
more interesting the more it is seen; and when it does not proceed in
the order of this "modest charm of not too much," this remoteness of
meaning where far more is inferred than is directly shown, there we
may be sure the vital principle of the thing is wanting.

Allston, the distinguished painter-artist, is said to have had an
intense aversion to all "eccentricity in Art." He might well do so;
and, being a philosopher of Art as well as an artist, he had no
difficulty in knowing that his aversion was founded in truth, and was
fully justified by the reason of the thing. For the prime law of Art,
as is implied in what I have been saying, is to produce the utmost
possible of _silent_ effect; and to secure this end _truth_ must be
the all-in-all of the artist's purpose,--a purpose too inward and
vital, perhaps, for the subject to be distinctly conscious of it;
which is the right meaning of _artistic inspiration_. But eccentricity
in Art aims, first and last, at _sensible_ effect; to appease an
eager, prurient curiosity is its proper motive-spring; and it is
radically touched with some disease, perhaps an itch of moral or
intellectual or emotional demonstrativeness; and so it naturally
issues in a certain _plurisy_ of style, or some self-pleasing crotchet
or specialty of expression,--something which is striking and emphatic,
and which is therefore essentially disproportionate and false. In a
word, there is a fatal root of insincerity in the thing. For instance,
if one were to paint a tree in the brilliancy of full-bloom, or a
human face in the liveliest play of soul, I suppose the painting might
be set down as a work of eccentricity; for, though such things are
natural in themselves, they are but transient or evanescent moods of
Nature; and a painting of them has not that calmness and purity of
truth and art on which the mind can repose:

    "Soft is the music that would charm for ever."

Moreover a work of art, as such, is not a thing to be learnt or
acquired, as formal knowledge is acquired: it is rather a presence for
the mind to commune with, and drink in the efficacy of, with an "eye
made quiet by the power of Beauty." Nor is such communion by any means
unfruitful of mental good: on the contrary, it is the right force and
food of the soundest and healthiest inward growth; and to be silent
and secret is the character of every process that is truly vital and
creative. It is on this principle that Nature, when conversed with in
the spirit of her works, acts "as a teacher of truth through joy and
through gladness, and as a creatress of the faculties by a process of
smoothness and delight"; and we gather in the richer intellectual
harvest from such converse when the mind is too intent on Nature's
forms to take any thought of its gatherings. We cannot truly live with
her without being built up in the best virtues of her life. It is a
mighty poor way of growing wise, when one loves to see

    "Each little drop of wisdom as it falls
    Into the dimpling cistern of his heart."

And so the conversing rightly with works of art may not indeed be very
available for showing off in recitation: it is all the better for
that, inasmuch as its best effect must needs be too deep for the
intellectual consciousness to grasp: because the right virtue of Art
lies in a certain self-withdrawing power which catches the mind as
from a distance, and cheats the forces of self-applause into
abdication through intentness of soul. All which infers, moreover,
that a full appreciation of any true work of art cannot be
extemporized; for such a work has a thousand meanings, which open out
upon the eye gradually, as the eye feeds and grows and kindles up to
them: its virtue has to _soak_ into the mind insensibly; and to this
end there needs a long, smooth, quiet fellowship.


The several forms of Art, as Painting, Sculpture, Music, Architecture,
the Poem, the Drama, all have a common root, and proceed upon certain
common principles. The faculties which produce them, the laws that
govern them, and the end they are meant to serve, in short their
source, method, and motive, are at bottom one and the same. Art,
therefore, is properly and essentially _one_: accordingly I take care
to use the phrase _several forms of Art_, and not _several arts_. This
identity of life and law is perhaps most apparent in the well-known
fact that the several forms of Art, wherever they have existed at all,
and in any character of originality, have all had a religious origin;
have sprung up and taken their growth in and for the service of
religion. The earliest poems everywhere were sacred hymns and songs,
conceived and executed in recognition and honour of the Deity. Grecian
sculpture, in all its primitive and progressive stages, was for the
sole purpose of making statues of the gods; and when it forsook this
purpose, and sophisticated itself into a preference of other ends, it
went into a decline. The Greek architecture, also, had its force,
motive, and law in the work of building religious temples and shrines.
That the Greek Drama took its origin from the same cause, is familiar
to all students in dramatic history. And I have already shown that the
Gothic Drama in England, in its upspring and through its earlier
stages, was entirely the work of the Christian Church, and was purely
religious in its purpose, matter, and use. That the same holds in
regard to our modern music, is too evident to need insisting on: it
all sprang and grew in the service of religion; religious thought and
emotion were the shaping and informing spirit of it. I have often
thought that the right use of music, and perhaps that which drew it
into being, could not be better illustrated than in "the sweet Singer
of Israel," who, when the evil spirit got into King Saul, took harp
and voice, and with his minstrelsy charmed it out. Probably, if David
had undertaken to argue the evil spirit out, he would have just
strengthened the possession; for the Devil was then, as now, an expert
logician, but could not stand a divine song.

Thus the several forms of Art have had their source and principle deep
in man's religious nature: all have come into being as so many
projections or outgrowths of man's religious life. And it may well be
questioned whether, without the motives and inspirations of religion,
the human soul ever was, or ever can be, strong and free enough to
produce any shape of art. In, other words, it is only as the mind
stands dressed in and for religion that the Creative Faculty of Art
gets warmed and quickened into operation. So that religion is most
truly the vivifying power of Art in all its forms; and all works of
art that do not proceed from a religious life in the mind are but
imitations, and can never be any thing more. Moreover the forms of Art
have varied in mode, style, and character, according to the particular
genius and spirit of the religion under which they grew. There is a
most intimate correspondence between the two. This is manifestly true
of the old Egyptian and Grecian art. And it is equally true of
Christian art, save as this has been more or less modified by
imitation of those earlier works, and in so far as this imitative
process has got the better of original inspiration, the result has
always been a falling from the right virtue of Art. For the Christian
mind can never overtake the Greek mind in that style of Art which was
original and proper to the latter. Nothing but the peculiar genius of
the Greek mythology could ever freely and spontaneously organize or
incarnate itself in a body of that shape. The genius of Christianity
requires and naturally prompts a different body. Nor can the soul of
the latter ever be made to take on the body of the former, but under
the pressure of other than the innate and organic law of the thing.
For every true original artist is much more possessed by the genius of
his work than possessing it. Unless, indeed, a man be inspired by a
power stronger than his individual understanding or any conscious
purpose, his hand can never reach the cunning of any process truly
creative. And so in all cases the temper and idiom of a people's
religious culture will give soul and expression to their art; or, they
have no religious culture, then there will not be soul-power enough in
them to produce any art at all.[6]

    [6] On this subject Schlegel has some of the wisest and happiest
    sayings that I have met with. For example: "All truly creative
    poetry must proceed from the inward life of a people, and from
    religion, the root of that life." And again: "Were it possible
    for man to renounce all religion, including that which is
    unconscious, or independent of the will, he would become a mere
    surface without any internal substance. When this centre is
    disturbed, the whole system of the mental faculties and feelings
    takes a new shape." Once more, speaking of the Greeks: "Their
    religion was the deification of the powers of Nature and of
    earthly life; but this worship, which, among other nations,
    clouded the imagination with hideous shapes, and hardened the
    heart to cruelty, assumed among the Greeks a mild, a grand, and
    a dignified form. Superstition, too often the tyrant of the
    human faculties, here seems to have contributed to their freest
    development. It cherished the arts by which itself was adorned,
    and its idols became the models of beauty. But, however highly
    the Greeks may have succeeded in the Beautiful and even in the
    Moral, we cannot concede any higher character to their
    civilization than that of a refined and ennobling sensuality. Of
    course this must be understood generally. The conjectures of a
    few philosophers, and the irradiations of poetical inspiration,
    constitute an occasional exception. Man can never altogether
    turn aside his thoughts from infinity, and some obscure
    recollections will always remind him of the home he has lost."

As I am on the subject of Art considered as the offspring of Religion
or the religious Imagination, I am moved to add a brief episode in
that direction. And I the rather do so, forasmuch as Artistic Beauty
is commonly recognized as among the greatest educational forces now in
operation in the Christian world. On this point a decided reaction has
taken place within my remembrance. The agonistic or argumentative
modes, which were for a long time in the ascendant, and which
proceeded by a logical and theological presentation of Christian
thought, seem to have spent themselves, insomuch as to be giving way
to what may be called the poetical and imaginative forms of
expression. It is not my purpose to discuss whether the change be
right or for the better, but merely to note it as a fact; for such I
think it clearly is. I presume it will be granted, also, that as a
general thing we need to have our places of worship and our religious
services made far more beautiful than they are; and that indeed we
cannot have too much of beauty in them, so that beauty be duly steeped
in the grace and truth of Christian inspiration. But Art has its
dangers here as well as its uses: especially it is apt to degenerate
from a discipline of religious virtue into a mere relaxation, losing
the severity that elevates and purifies, in what is merely pretty or
voluptuous or pleasing. It is therefore of the utmost consequence what
style of beauty we cultivate, and how the tastes of people are set in
this matter.

Now Christianity is indeed a great "beauty-making power"; but the
Beauty which it makes and owns is a presence to worship in, not a
bauble to play with, or a show for unbaptized entertainment and
pastime. It cannot be too austerely discriminated from mere ornament,
and from every thing approaching a striking and sensational character.
Its right power is a power to chasten and subdue. And it is never good
for us, especially in our religious hours, to be charmed without being
at the same time chastened. Accordingly the highest Art always has
something of the terrible in it, so that it awes you while it
attracts. The sweetness that wins is tempered with the severity that
humbles; the smile of love, with the sternness of reproof. And it is
all the more beautiful in proportion as it knows how to bow the mind
by the austere and hushing eloquence of its forms. And when I speak of
Art, or the creation of the Beautiful, as the highest and strongest
expression of man's intellectual soul, I must be understood to mean
this order of the Beautiful: for indeed the beauty (if it be not a sin
to call it such) that sacrifices or postpones truth to pleasure is not

    "And that which is not good is not delicious
    To a well-govern'd and wise appetite."

In all our use of Art, therefore, it stands us much in hand to know
that true Beauty is indeed an awful as well as a pleasant thing; and
that men are not in a good way when they have ceased to feel that it
is so. Nor can I deem our case a very hopeful one when we surrender
ourselves to that style of beauty which pleases without chastening the
soul. For it is but too certain that when Art takes to gratifying such
an unreligious taste, and so works its forces for the pleasing of men
without touching them with awe, it becomes no better than a discipline
of moral enervation. Perhaps this same law would silence much of the
voluble rhetoric with which a certain school of writers are wont to
discourse of the great Miracle of Beauty which has been given to men
in the life and character of the blessed Saviour. For I must needs
think that, if they duly felt the awfulness of that Beauty, their
fluency would be somewhat repressed; and that their eloquence would be
better if they feared more and flourished less.

But the point which these remarks are chiefly meant to enforce is,
that there is no true beauty of Art but what takes its life from the
inspirations of religious awe; and that even in our highest
intellectual culture the intellect itself will needs be demoralized,
unless it be toned to order by a supreme reference to the Divine will.
There is no true school of mental health and vigour and beauty, but
what works under the presidency of the same chastening and subduing
power. Our faculties of thought and knowledge must be held
firmly together with a strong girdle of modesty, else they cannot
possibly thrive; and to have the intellect "undevoutly free," loosened
from the bands of reverence, is a sure pledge and forecast of
intellectual shallowness and deformity.[7]

    [7] Since this was written, I have met with some capital
    remarks, closely bordering upon the topic, in Mr. J.C. Shairp's
    _Studies in Poetry and Philosophy_, a book which I cannot but
    regard as one of the choicest contributions to the literature of
    our time. The passage is in his essay on _The Moral Dynamic_,
    near the end:

    "There are things which, because they are ultimate ends in
    themselves, refuse to be employed as means, and, if attempted to
    be so employed, lose their essential character. Religion is one,
    and the foremost of these things. Obedience, conformity of the
    finite and the imperfect will of man to the infinite and perfect
    will of God, this, which is the essence of religion, is an end
    in itself, the highest end which we can conceive. It cannot be
    sought as a means to an ulterior end without being at once
    destroyed. This is an end, or rather the end in itself, which
    culture and all other ends by right subserve. And here in
    culture, as in pleasure, the great ethic law will be found to
    hold, that the abandoning of it as an end, in obedience to a
    higher, more supreme aim, is the very condition of securing it.
    Stretch the idea of culture, and of the perfection it aims at,
    wide as you will, you cannot, while you make it your last end,
    rise clear of the original self-reference that lies at its root;
    this you cannot get rid of, unless you go out of culture, and
    beyond it, abandoning it as an end, and sinking it into what it
    really is,--a means, though perhaps the highest means, towards
    full and perfect duty. _No one ever really became beautiful by
    aiming at beauty. Beauty comes, we scarce know how, as an
    emanation from sources deeper than itself_. If culture, or
    rather the ends of culture, are to be healthy and natural
    growths, they must come unconsciously, as results of conformity
    to the will of God, sought not for any end but itself."--"It
    cannot indeed be denied that these two, culture or the love of
    beauty, religion or the love of godliness, appear in
    individuals, in races, in ages, as rival, often as conflicting,
    forces. The votary of beauty shrinks from religion as something
    stern and ungenial, the devout Puritan discards beauty as a
    snare; and even those who have hearts susceptible of both find
    that a practical crisis will come when a choice must be made
    whether of the two they will serve. The consciousness of this
    disunion has of late years been felt deeply, and by the most
    gifted minds. Painful often has the conflict been, when the
    natural love of beauty was leading one way, loyalty to that
    which is higher than beauty called another, and no practical
    escape was possible, except by the sacrifice of feelings which
    in themselves were innocent and beautiful. Only in recent times
    have we begun to feel strongly that both are good, that each
    without the other is so far imperfect, and that some
    reconciliation, if it were possible, is a thing to be desired.
    Violent has been the reaction which this new consciousness has
    created. In the recoil from what they call Puritanism, or
    religion without culture, many have given themselves up to
    culture without religion, or, at best, with a very diluted form
    of religion. They have set up for worship the golden calf of
    art, and danced round it to the pipe which the great Goethe
    played. They have promulgated what they call the gospel of
    art,--as Carlyle says, the windiest gospel ever yet preached,
    which never has saved and never will save any man from moral

It were something beside my purpose to unfold and illustrate in detail
the common principles of Art: I shall but endeavour to do this so far
as may be needful for a due understanding of those principles as we
have them embodied in the Shakespearian Drama.

The first of those principles, as I am to view them, is what I know
not better how to designate than by the term _Solidarity_. By which I
mean that the several parts of a given work must all stand in mutual
sympathy and intelligence; or that the details must not only have each
a force and meaning of their own, but must also be helpful, directly
or remotely, to the force and meaning of the others; all being drawn
together and made to coalesce in unity of effect by some one governing
thought or paramount idea. This gives us what the philosophers of Art
generally agree in calling an _organic structure_; that is, a
structure in which an inward vital law shapes and determines the
outward form; all the parts being, moreover, assimilated and bound
each to each by the life that builds the organization, and so
rendered mutually aidant, and at the same time conducive to the
well-being of the whole. In a word, they must all have a purpose and a
truth in common as well as each a truth and purpose of its own.

To illustrate this in a small instance, and perhaps the more
intelligible for being small.--Critics had been wont to speak lightly,
not to say sneeringly, of the Sonnet, as being but an elaborate trifle
that cost more than it came to. Wordsworth undertook to vindicate the
thing from this unjust reproach, as he considered it; and to that end
he wrote the following:

    "Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frown'd,
    Mindless of its just honours: with this key
    Shakespeare unlock'd his heart; the melody
    Of this small lute gave ease to Petrarch's wound;
    A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound;
    With it Camöens sooth'd an exile's grief;
    The Sonnet glitter'd a gay myrtle leaf
    Amid the cypress with which Dante crown'd
    His visionary brow; a glow-worm lamp,
    It cheer'd mild Spenser, call'd from Faery-land
    To struggle through dark ways; and, when a damp
    Fell round the path of Milton, in his hand
    The Thing became a trumpet; whence he blew
    Soul-animating strains,--alas, too few!"

Now, here we have a place for every thing, and every thing in its
place. There is nothing irrelevant, nothing ajar. The parts are not
only each true and good and beautiful in themselves, but each is
helpful to the others, and all to the author's purpose: every
allusion, every image, every word, tells in furtherance of his aim.
There need nothing be added, there must nothing be taken away. The
argument at every step is clear and strong. The thing begins,
proceeds, and ends, just as it ought; you cannot change a word in it
without injuring it: the understanding, the imagination, the ear, are
all satisfied with the result. And the specimen is itself a full
triumph of the Sonnet, from the intellectual truth and beauty and
sweetness which are here put into it. So that, what with the
argument, and what with the example, the vindication of the Sonnet is
perfect. Accordingly, I believe no one has spoken lightly of the thing
since that specimen was given to the public.

Many have written poetry, and good poetry too, who, notwithstanding,
have not written, and could not write, a Poem. But this sonnet is, in
its measure, a genuine poem; and as such I am willing to bear the
responsibility of pronouncing it faultless. Wordsworth could do the
Sonnet completely, and did it so in many instances: and he could do
more than this; in several of his longer pieces the workmanship is
perhaps equally faultless; as, for instance, in _Laodamia_, and the
_Ode to Duty_, which, to my sense, are perfect poems in their kind.
But to do thus through so complex and multitudinous a work as our
higher specimens of the Gothic Drama, is a very different matter,--a
thing far beyond the power of a Wordsworth. To combine and carry on
together various distinct lines of thought, and various individual
members of character, so that each shall constantly remember and
respect the others, and this through a manifold, diversified, and
intricate course of action; to keep all the parts true to the terms
and relations of organic unity, each coming in and stopping just where
it ought, each doing its share, and no more than its share, in the
common plan, so as not to hinder the life or interfere with the rights
of the others; to knit them all together in a consistent and
harmonious whole, with nothing of redundancy or of deficiency, nothing
"overdone or come tardy off,"--the members, moreover, all mutually
interacting, all modifying and tempering one another;--this is a task
which it is given to few to achieve. For the difficulty of the work
increases in a sort of geometrical ratio with the number and greatness
of the parts; and when we come to such a work as _Hamlet_ or
_Cymbeline_ or _King Lear_, few of us have heads long enough and
strong enough to measure the difficulty of it.

Such, then, in my reckoning, is the first principle, I will not say
of artistic perfection, but of all true excellence in Art. And the
same law, which thus requires that in a given work each earlier part
shall prepare for what comes after, and each later part shall finish
what went before, holds with equal force in all the forms of Art; for
whether the parts be rendered or delivered in space, as in Painting
and Architecture, or in time, as in Music, a Poem, or a Drama, makes
no difference in this respect.

The second principle of Art which I am to consider is _Originality_.
And by this I do not mean novelty or singularity, either in the
general structure or in the particular materials, but something that
has reference to the method and process of the work. The construction
must proceed from the heart outwards, not the other way, and proceed
in virtue of the inward life, not by any surface aggregation of parts,
or by any outward pressure or rule. In organic nature, every plant,
and every animal, however cast in the mould of the species, and so
kept from novelty or singularity, has an individual life of its own,
which life is and must be original. It is a development from a germ;
and the process of development is vital, and works by selection and
assimilation of matter in accordance with the inward nature of the
thing. And so in Art, a work, to be original, must grow from what the
workman has inside of him, and what he sees of Nature and natural fact
around him, and not by imitation of what others have done before him.
So growing, the work will, to be sure, take the specific form and
character; nevertheless it will have the essence of originality in the
right sense of the term, because it will have originated from the
author's mind, just as the offspring originates from the parent. And
the result will be, not a showy, emphatic, superficial virtue, which
is indeed a vice, but a solid, genuine, substantive virtue; that is,
the thing will be just what it seems, and will mean just what it says.
Moreover the greatness of the work, if it have any, will be more or
less hidden in the order and temperance and harmony of the parts; so
that the work will keep growing larger and richer to you as you
become familiar with it: whereas in case of a thing made in the
unoriginal way, at a distance it will seem larger than it is, and will
keep shrinking and dwarfing as you draw nearer to it; and perhaps, when
you get fairly into it, it will prove to be no substance at all, but
only a mass of shining vapour; or, if you undertake to grasp it, your
hand will just close through it, as it would through a shadow.[8]

    [8] This law of originality I have never seen better stated than
    by Coleridge, in a passage justifying the form of Shakespeare's
    dramas against a mode of criticism which has now, happily, gone
    out of use. "The true ground," says he, "of the mistake lies in
    the confounding mechanical regularity with organic form. The
    form is mechanic, when on any given material we impress a
    predetermined form, not necessarily arising out of the
    properties of the material; as when to a mass of wet clay we
    give whatever shape we wish it to retain when hardened. The
    organic form, on the other hand, is innate; it shapes, as it
    develops, itself from within, and the fulness of its development
    is one and the same with the perfection of its outward form.
    Such as the life is, such is the form. Nature, the prime genial
    artist, inexhaustible in diverse powers, is equally
    inexhaustible in forms: each exterior is the physiognomy of the
    being within,--its true image reflected and thrown out from the
    concave mirror."--With this may well be coupled Schlegel's
    remarks on the same point: "Form is mechanical when it is
    impressed upon any piece of matter by an outward operation, as
    an accidental addition without regard to the nature of the
    thing; as, for example, when we give any form at pleasure to a
    soft mass, to be retained after induration. Organic form on the
    contrary, is innate; it unfolds, itself from within, and attains
    its determinate character along with the full development of the
    germ. Such forms are found in Nature universally, wherever
    living powers are in action. And in Art, as well as in Nature,
    the supreme artist, all genuine forms are organic, that is, are
    determined by the quality of the work. In short, the form is no
    other than a significant exterior, the physiognomy of a
    thing,--when not defaced by disturbing accidents, the _speaking_
    physiognomy,--which bears true witness of its hidden essence."

All this, however, is nowise to be understood as inferring that a
great original artist must be an independent or isolated growth,
without parents and brethren, and the natural aids and inspirations of
society. This never was and never can be. Art-life must be had in
common, or not at all. In this, as in other things, many minds must
grow up together, else none can grow up. And no form of Art ever grew
to perfection, or any thing near it, but that it was and long had been
matter of strong national passion, or of a free and vigorous public
spirit. Men are not kindled to such a height without many convergent
rays of fellowship. In other words, before excellence of Art in any
kind can come, there has to be a large and long preparation, and this
not only in the spiritual culture and development of the people, but
also in the formal order and method of the thing. Accordingly great
artists, so far as the history of the matter is known, have always
lived and worked in successions and clusters, each adding something,
till at length a master mind arose, and gathered the finer efficacies
of them all into one result. This is notoriously true of Greek,
Venetian, Florentine, and Gothic Art: Phidias, Sophocles, Titian, and
Raphael had each many precursors and companions. The fact indeed is
apt to be lost sight of, because the earlier and inferior essays
perish, and only the finished specimens survive; so that we see them
more or less isolated; whereas in truth their origin and growth were
social, the fruit of a large intellectual partnership and
co-operation.--It is on the same principle that nothing truly
excellent either in the minds or the characters of men is reached
without much of "ennobling impulse from the Past"; and that they who
live too much in the present miss the right food of human elevation,
contented to be, perhaps proud of being the vulgar things they are,
because ignorant of what has been before them. It is not that the
present age is worse than former ages; it may even be better as a
whole: but what is bad or worthless in an age dies with the age; so
that only the great and good of the Past touches us; while of the
present we are most touched by that which is little and mean.

The third principle of Art, as I am taking them, is _Completeness_. A
work of art must have within itself all that is needful for the due
understanding of it, as _Art_; so that the beholder will not have to
go outside or beyond the work itself to learn what it means; that is,
provided he have the corresponding faculties alive within him, so as
to be capable of its proper force. For, if the work speaks through
form and colour, there must be, in answering measure, a natural or an
instructed eye; if sound is its organ, there must be a natural or an
instructed ear; if its speech is verbal, there must be, besides a
natural or an instructed taste, a sufficient knowledge also of the
language in which it is written. All this of course. But, apart from
this, the work must be complete in and of itself, so as to be
intelligible without a commentary. And any work which requires a sign
or a showman to tell the beholder what it is, or to enable him to take
the sense and virtue of it, is most certainly a failure.

In all this, however, I am speaking of the work simply as art, and not
as it is or may be something else. For works of art, in many cases,
are or have a good deal besides that. And in connection with such a
work there may arise various questions,--of antiquity, philology,
local custom and allusion; in what place and at what time it was done;
whence, how, and why it came to be as it is; where the author got any
hints or materials for it, and what of antecedent or contemporary
history may be gathered from it. All this is legitimate and right in
its place, but has nothing to do with the character and meaning of the
thing as a work of art, in which respect it must know its cue without
a prompter, and be able to tell its own tale. That which holds the
mirror up to nature must not need another mirror to discover or
interpret its reflection to us. For instance, a building, as a
building, looks to certain practical ends and uses; and, before we can
rightly understand the order and reason of it, we must know from other
sources the ends and uses for which it was designed: but in so far as
it is architecture, in so far as it is truly imaginative, and embodies
the author's intellectual soul, it must be able to express its own
meaning, so that we can understand and feel it without any thing but
what comes directly from the work itself. But perhaps the point may be
better illustrated in the case of an historical drama, which may be
viewed either as history or as art: and, to determine its merit as
history, we must go to other sources; but, for ascertaining its merit
as art, the work must itself give us all the knowledge we need: so
that the question of its historic truth is distinct and separate from
the question of its artistic truth: it may be true as history, yet
false as art; or it may be historically wrong, yet artistically right;
true to nature, though not true to past fact; and, however we may have
to travel abroad in the historical inquiry, the virtue of the work as
art must be ascertainable directly from the thing itself. This, then,
is what I mean by artistic completeness; that quality in virtue of
which a work justifies itself, without foreign help, by its own
fulness and clearness of expression.

The fourth and last principle that I am to consider is
_Disinterestedness_. This is partly an intellectual, but more a moral
quality. Now one great reason why men fail so much in their mental
work is because they are not willing to see and to show things as they
are, but must still be making them as they would have them to be. Thus
from self-love or wilfulness or vanity they work their own humours and
crotchets and fancies into the matter, or overlay it with some
self-pleasing quirks of peculiarity. Instead of this, the artist must
lose himself, his personal aims, interests, passions, and preferences,
in the enthusiasm and inspiration of his work, in the strength,
vividness, and beauty of his ideas and perceptions, and must give his
whole mind and soul to the task of working these out into expression.
To this end, his mind must live in constant loving sympathy and
intercourse with Nature; he must work close to her life and order;
must study to seize and reproduce the truth of Nature just precisely
as it is, and must not think to improve her or get ahead of her;
though, to be sure, out of the materials she offers, the selection and
arrangement must be his own; and all the strength he can put forth
this way will never enable him to come up to her stern, honest, solid
facts. So, for instance, the highest virtue of good writing stands in
saying a plain thing in a plain way. And in all art-work the first
requisite is, that a man have, in the collective sense and reason of
mankind, a firm foothold for withstanding the shifting currents and
fashions and popularities of the day. The artist is indeed to work in
free concert with the imaginative soul of his age: but the trouble is,
that men are ever mistaking some transient specialty of mode for the
abiding soul; thus tickling the folly of the time, but leaving its
wisdom untouched.

If, therefore, a man goes to admiring his own skill, or airing his own
powers, or imitating the choice touches of others, or heeding the
breath of conventional applause; if he yields to any strain of
self-complacency, or turns to practising smiles, or to taking pleasure
in his self-begotten graces and beauties and fancies;--in this giddy
and vertiginous state he will be sure to fall into intellectual and
artistic sin. The man, in such a case, is no more smitten with a
genuine love of Art than Malvolio was with a genuine love of Virtue:
like that hero of conceit, he is merely "sick of self-love, and tastes
with a distempered appetite." And his giddiness of self-love will take
from him the power of seeing things as they are; and because he sees
them as they are not, therefore he will think he sees them better than
they are. A man cannot find Nature by gazing in a looking-glass; and
it is vanity or some undisinterested force, and not any inspiration of
truth or genius, that puts a man upon doing so. And, in the condition
supposed, the mind becomes a prism to sophisticate and falsify the
light of truth into striking and brilliant colours, instead of being a
clear and perfect lens to concentrate that light in its natural
whiteness and purity. For, assuredly, the proper worth, health,
strength, virtue, joy, and life of Art is to be the interpreter and
discoverer of Truth, to "feel the soul of Nature, and see things as
they are"; and when, instead of this, it turns to glorifying its own
powers and achievements, or sets up any end apart from such discovery
and interpretation, it becomes sickly, feeble, foolish, frivolous,
vicious, joyless, and moribund; and meanness, cruelty, sensuality,
impiety, and irreligion are the companions of it.

It is indeed true that an artist may find one of the main spurs to
his art-work in the needs, duties, and affections of his earthly
being. The support of himself, of his wife, or her whom he wishes to
be his wife, of his children, his parents, or remoter kin; the desire
of being independent, of having the respect of society, or of doing
the charities of a Christian; an honest, manly yearning after fame, an
ambition to achieve something that "the world will not willingly let
die,"--all these, and yet others, may justly be among the determining
motives of his pursuit, and the thought of them may add fresh life and
vigour to his efforts: nevertheless he will not succeed, nor deserve
to succeed, in his art, except he have such an earnest and
disinterested love for it, and such a passion for artistic truth, as
will find the work its own exceeding great reward. In a word, his
heart and soul must be in it _as an end_, and not merely or chiefly as
a means. However prudence may suggest and shape his plans, love must
preside over the execution; and here, as elsewhere,

                         "Love's not love
    When it is mingled with respects that stand
    Aloof from the entire point."

These four, then, are, in my account, essential principles of Art, and
the only ones which it lies within my purpose to consider; namely,
Solidarity, Originality, Completeness, and Disinterestedness. And to
the attaining of these there needs, especially, three things in the
way of faculty,--high intellectual power, great force of will, and a
very tender heart;--a strong head to perceive and grasp the truth of
things, a strong will to select and order the materials for expressing
it, and a strong heart, which is tenderness, to give the work a soul
of beauty and sweetness and amiability. As a man combines all these
strengths, and as, moreover, through the unifying power of
imagination, he pours the united life and virtue of them all into his
work; so will his worth and honour stand as an artist. For whence
should the noblest fruitage of human thought and culture grow, but
from the noblest parts and attributes of manhood, moving together in
perfect concert and reciprocity?


Shakespeare's dramas--not all of them indeed, but those which were
written after he reached what may be called his mastership--are in the
highest sense of term Works of Art, and as such embody to the full the
principles set forth in the preceding section. In this general survey
of his workmanship, I propose to consider, first, his Dramatic
Architecture or Composition.

I have remarked in a previous chapter,[9] that in Shakespeare's time,
and for several ages before, the Drama was a national passion in England,
nearly all classes of people being pervaded by it. And yet, strange to
say, this passion, notwithstanding the great frequency and variety of
dramatic exhibitions, never came to any sound fruitage of Art, till
the work fell into Shakespeare's hands. Moreover the tide of patriotic
feeling, or the passion of nationality, which had for centuries been
growing in strength, intelligence, and manliness, was then at its
height, the people of all sorts being possessed with a hearty, honest
English enthusiasm and national pride. And this passion was
inextricably bound up with traditions of the past and with the ancient
currents of the national life. Therewithal this deep, settled
reverence for what was then "Old England," while it naturally drew
into the mind the treasured riches of many foregoing ages, was at the
same time strangely combined with a very bold and daring spirit of
progress and improvement. Men seem indeed to have been all the more
open to healthy innovation for being thus firmly rooted in the ground
of prescription. The public mind received what was new the more freely
because it loved the old. So that hope and anticipation walked with
the bolder pace, inasmuch as memory and retrospection were still their
cherished companions. In a word, men's tenacity of the past gave them
the larger and brighter vision of the future. Because they had no
mind to forsake the law of their fathers, or to follow the leading of
"sages undevoutly free," therefore they were able to legislate the
better for their children, and felt the less of danger in true freedom
of thought.

    [9] Page 120 of this volume.

It was natural, perhaps inevitable, that those two passions thus
coexisting should somehow work together, and at least endeavour to
produce a joint result. And so it was in fact. Historical plays, or
things purporting to be such, were highly popular: the public taste
evidently favoured, not to say demanded them; and some of
Shakespeare's earliest essays were undoubtedly in that line. There are
many clear evidences to this point. For instance, Thomas Nash, in his
_Pierce Penniless_, 1592, speaks of certain plays "wherein our
forefathers' valiant acts, that have been long buried in rusty brass
and worm-eaten books, are revived, and they themselves raised from the
grave of oblivion, and brought to plead their aged honours in open
presence." And again: "How would it have joyed brave Talbot, the
terror of the French, to think that, after he had lain two hundred
years in the tomb, he should triumph again on the stage; and have his
bones new-embalmed with the tears of ten thousand spectators at
least,--at several times,--who, in the tragedian that represents his
person, behold him fresh-bleeding!" From these passages it is clear
that historical plays on English subjects were strong in the public
interest and patronage. And I have no doubt that the second passage
quoted refers to Shakespeare's First Part of _King Henry the Sixth_.
And it might well be that the popular mind should take special delight
in entertainments where, to the common interest of dramatic
exhibitions was added the further charm of national feeling and
recollection, and where a large patriotism, "looking before and
after," would find itself at home.

The Historical Drama, then, grew up simultaneously with Comedy and
Tragedy, and established itself as a coördinate branch of the Gothic
Drama in England. Now this circumstance could not be without great
influence in determining the whole scope and character of the English
Drama in all its varieties. The natural effect was to make them all
more or less historical in method and grain. For the process
generated, and could not fail to generate, corresponding modes and
habits of thought in dramatic composition; and these would needs go
with the writers into whatever branch of the Drama they might take in
hand. Because modes and habits of thought are not things that men can
put off and on for different subjects and occasions. What they learn
to practise in one field of labour transfers itself with them, whether
they will or no, to other fields. Their way of viewing things, nay,
their very faculties of vision, catch the temper and drift of what
they work in; which drift and temper cleave to them in spite of
themselves, and unconsciously shape all their movements of thought; so
that, change their matter as they may, their mind still keeps the
same. Accordingly, even when Shakespeare does not deal specifically
with the persons and events of history; when he fetches his incidents
and characters from the realms of imagination; still his workmanship
is historical in its spirit and method; proceeding according to the
_laws_, even while departing from the _matter_, of history; so that we
have pure creations formed upon the principles, and in the order and
manner, of historical dramas.

The practical consequences of all this were both manifold and strongly
marked. The Drama thus cut itself loose and swung clean away from the
narrow circle of myths and legends, where the ancients had fixed it,
and ranged at large in all the freedom and variety of historical
representation. It took on all the compass, amplitude, and
expansiveness of the Homeric Epos. The stereotyped sameness and
confinement of the Greek stage were necessarily discarded, and the
utmost breadth of matter and scope, compatible with clearness of
survey, became the recognized freehold of Dramatic Art.[10]

    [10] At this time the Drama was recognized throughout Europe as
    the poetic form most suitable to modern times and races. As it
    occupied the _place_ of the epic poem, and did not merely, like
    the ancient drama, stand _side by side_ with it, so, along with
    the office of replacing it, it inherited also the task of
    showing itself capable of managing, like the epopee, any matter
    however extended. The materials presented to it were not common
    property, like the many well-known myths of antiquity, handed
    down in a ready-made poetical form; but they were those
    rudiments formed in the religious dramas, those Mysteries
    founded on vast actions, and those historical subjects, which
    required a whole cycle of pieces for the mastering of the huge
    matter. The things of the world had become complicated and
    manifold: the variety of men, their nature, their passions,
    their situations, their mutually-contending powers, would not
    submit, in dramatic representation, to be limited to a simple
    catastrophe: a wider horizon must be drawn; the actions must be
    represented throughout their course; the springs of action must
    be more deeply searched. Thus Art was put to the work of setting
    forth the utmost fulness of matter in a corresponding form,
    which, however, according to Aristotle's law, must not be
    extended so far as to preclude an easy survey.--GERVINUS.

So that, as I have before observed, the English Drama was, in the
largest sense, a national growth, and not the work of any individual.
Neither was it a sudden growth, as indeed nothing truly national ever
can be: like the English State, it was the slow, gradual, silent
production of centuries,--the result of the thoughts of many minds in
many ages. The whole platform, and all that relates to the formal
construction of the work, were fixed before Shakespeare put his hand
to it: what remained for him to do, and what he was supremely gifted
for doing, was to rear a grand and beautiful fabric on the basis and
out of the materials already prepared. And where I like best to
contemplate the Poet is, not in the isolation of those powers which
lift him so far above all others, but as having the mind of the
nation, with its great past and greater present, to back him up. And
it seems to me, his greatness consisted very much in that, as he had
the gift, so he surrendered himself to the high task, of reproducing
in artistic immortality the beatings of old England's mighty heart. He
therefore did not go, nor needed he, to books to learn what others had
done: he just sucked in without stint, and to the full measure of his
angelic capacity, the wisdom and the poetry that lived on the lips,
and in the thoughts, feelings, sentiments, and manners of the people.
What he thus sucked in, he purged from its drossy mixtures,
replenished with fresh vitality, and gave it back clothed in the grace and
strength of his own clear spirit. He told the nation better--O how
much better!--than any other could, just what it wanted to hear,--the
very things which its heart was swelling with; only it found not
elsewhere a tongue to voice them, nor an imagination to body them

    [11] The times, far from being a hindrance to a great poet,
    were, indeed, from fortunate local and national conditions, the
    most propitious that modern times could offer. In a few points
    they might be prejudicial to Shakespeare's poetry, but on the
    whole he had cause to bless his happy star. The conflict with
    scholastic philosophy and religious fanaticism was not indeed
    over; yet Shakespeare came at a precious moment of mental
    freedom, _after_ the struggle with Popery, and _before_ that
    with the Puritans. He could thus in his poetry give to the age
    the basis of a natural mode of feeling, thought, and life, upon
    which Art prospers in its purest form. In many respects the age
    itself was in this favourable to the Poet. It maintained a happy
    medium between crudeness and a vitiated taste: life was not
    insipid and colourless, as it is nowadays: men still ventured to
    appear what they were; there was still poetry in reality. Our
    German poets, in an age of rouge and powder, of hoops and wigs,
    of stiff manners, rigid proprieties, narrow society, and cold
    impulses, had indescribable trouble in struggling out of this
    dulness and deformity, which they had first to conquer in
    themselves before they could discern and approve what was
    better. In Shakespeare's time, nature was still alive: the age
    was just halting on the threshold of these distorted views of
    false civilization; and if our Poet had to combat against the
    first approaches of the disease, he was yet sound and free from
    it himself. He had the immense advantage of being at one with
    his age, and not at odds with it. When he sought materials for
    his poetry, he did not need, like our painters, to dive into
    past worlds, restore lost creeds, worship fallen gods, and
    imitate foreign works of art: from his national soil he drew the
    power which makes his poetry unrivalled. The age favoured him
    from another side also. He appeared at that auspicious period
    when the Drama had in England already obtained acceptance and,
    love; when the sympathy of the people was most alive; and when,
    on the other hand, the public were not yet corrupted with
    oversensibility. He took that in hand which most actively
    engaged the spirit of the people; and he carried it through
    progressive steps to a consummation beyond which there was
    nothing possible but retrogression.--GERVINUS.

Thus the time and the man were just suited to each other; and it was
in his direct, fearless, whole-hearted sympathy with the soul of the
time that the man both lost himself and found his power: which is
doubtless one reason why we see so little of him in what he wrote. So
that the work could not possibly have been done anywhere but in
England,--the England of Spenser and Raleigh and Bacon; nor could it
have been done there and then by any man but Shakespeare. In his hand
what had long been a national passion became emphatically a National
Institution: how full of life, is shown in that it has ever since
refused to die. And it seems well worth the while to bring this
clearly into view, inasmuch as it serves to remove the subject upon
deeper and broader principles of criticism than have commonly stood
uppermost in the minds of the Poet's critics.

Properly speaking, then, it was the mind and soul of old England that
made the English Drama as we have it in Shakespeare: her life, genius,
culture, spirit, character, built up the work, and built themselves
into the work, at once infusing the soul and determining the form. Of
course, therefore, they ordered and shaped the thing to suit their own
purpose, or so as to express freely and fitly their proper force and
virtue; and they did this in wise ignorance, or in noble disregard, of
antecedent examples, and of all formal and conventional rules. In
other words, they were the _life_ of the thing; and that life
organized its body, as it needs must do, according to its innate and
essential laws.[12]


      A Poet!--He hath put his heart to school,
      Nor dares to move unpropp'd upon the staff
      Which Art hath lodg'd within his hand,--must laugh
      By precept only, and shed tears by rule.
      Thy Art be Nature! the live current quaff,
      And let the groveller sip his stagnant pool,
      In fear that else, when Critics grave and cool
      Have kill'd him, Scorn should write his epitaph.
      How doth the Meadow-flower its bloom unfold?
      Because the lovely little flower is free
      Down to its root, and in that freedom bold;
      And so the grandeur of the Forest-tree
      Comes not by casting in a formal mould,
      But from its _own_ divine vitality.


Which naturally starts the question, how or why the Shakespearian
Drama came to take on a form so very different from that of the
Classic Drama. This question has been partly disposed of already, in
speaking of the freedom and variety which the historical branch
imported into the sphere of dramatic production. Still it may be asked
how, if the Classic form is right, as all admit it to be, can we avoid
concluding the Shakespearian form to be wrong? The answer of course
is, that the form differs, and ought to differ, just as much as the
life does; so that both forms may be right, or at least equally so.
Formerly it was the custom to censure the Poet greatly, if not to
condemn him utterly, because, in his dramatic workmanship, he did not
observe what are called the Minor Unities, that is, the Unities of
Time and Place. The controversy indeed is now all out of date, and
there need not a word be said by way of answering or refuting that old
objection: no interest attaches to the question, nor is it worth
considering at all, save as it may yield light and illustration in the
philosophy of Art, and in the general matter of art criticism. On this
account, it may be worth the while to look a little further into the
reason of the difference in question.

I have already said that religion or religious culture has always been
the originating and shaping spirit of Art. There is no workmanship of
Art in which this holds more true than in the English Drama. Now the
religious culture of Christian England was essentially different from
that of Classic Greece; the two being of quite diverse and
incommunicable natures; so that the spirit of the one could not
possibly live in the dramatic form of the other. In other words, the
body of the Classic Drama was not big enough nor strong enough to
contain the soul of Christian England. The thing could no more be,
except in a purely mechanical and arbitrary way, than an acorn could
develop itself into a violet, or the life of an eagle build itself
into the body of a trout, or the soul of a horse put on the organism
of a dove. Moreover the Greek religion was mythical or fabulous, and
could nowise stand the historic method: the Christian religion is
historical both in origin and form; as such it has a natural sympathy
and affinity with the historic method, the hardest facts being more in
keeping with its spirit than the most beautiful and ingenious fables
and myths. Not indeed but that Christianity has its own ideal, or
rather its sphere of ideality, and this in a much higher and purer
kind than any mythology ever had; but its nature is to idealize from
fact; its ideality is that of the waking reason and the ruling
conscience, not that of the dreaming fancy and the dominating senses;
and even in poetry its genius is to "build a princely throne on humble
truth": it opens to man's imaginative soul the largest possible
scope,--"Beauty, a living Presence, surpassing the most fair ideal
forms which craft of delicate spirits hath composed from earth's
materials"; a world where imagination gathers fresh life and vigour
from breathing the air of reason's serenest sky, and where it builds
the higher and nobler, that it rests on a deep and solid basis of
humility, instead of "revolving restlessly" around its own airy and
flitting centre. The Shakespearian Drama works in the order and spirit
of this principle; so that what the Poet creates is in effect
historical, has the solidity and verisimilitude of Fact, and what he
borrows has all the freedom and freshness of original creation.
Therewithal he often combines the two, or interchanges them freely, in
the same work; where indeed they seem just as much at home together as
if they were twins; or rather each is so attempered to the other, that
the two are vitally continuous.

But let us note somewhat further the difference of structure. Now the
Classic Drama, as we have it in Sophocles, though exquisitely clear
and simple in form, and austerely beautiful withal, is comparatively
limited in its scope, with few characters, little change of scene, no
blending or interchanging of the humourous and the grave, the tragic
and the comic, and hardly exceeding in length a single Act of the
Shakespearian Drama. The interest all, or nearly all, centres in the
catastrophe, there being only so much of detail and range as is
needful to the evolving of this. Thus the thing neither has nor admits
any thing like the complexity and variety, the breadth, freedom, and
massiveness, of Shakespeare's workmanship. There is timber enough and
life enough in one of his dramas to make four or five Sophoclean
tragedies; and one of these might almost be cut out of _Hamlet_
without being missed. Take, for instance, the _Oedipus at Colonos_ of
Sophocles and _King Lear_, each perhaps the most complex and varied
work of the author. The Greek tragedy, though the longest of the
author's pieces, is hardly more than a third the length of _King
Lear_. The former has no change of scene at all; the first Act of the
other has five changes of scene. The Sophoclean drama has eight
characters in all, besides the Chorus; _King Lear_ has twenty
characters, besides the anonymous persons. To be sure, quantity in
such things is no measure of strength or worth; but when we come to
wealth, range, and amplitude of thought, the difference is perhaps
still greater.

And so, generally, the Classic Drama, like the Classic Architecture,
is all light, graceful, airy, in its form; whereas the Gothic is in
nature and design profound, solemn, majestic. The genius of the one
runs to a simple expressiveness; of the other to a manifold
suggestiveness. That is mainly statuesque, and hardly admits any
effect of background and perspective; this is mainly picturesque, and
requires an ample background and perspective for its characteristic
effect. There the mind is drawn more to objects; here, more to
relations. The former, therefore, naturally detaches things as much as
possible, and sets each out by itself in the utmost clearness and
definiteness of view; while the latter associates and combines them in
the largest possible variety consistent with unity of interest and
impression, so as to produce the effect of indefiniteness and mystery.
Thus a Shakespearian drama is like a Gothic cathedral, which, by its
complexity of structure, while catching the eye would fain lift the
thoughts to something greater and better than the world, making the
beholder feel his littleness, and even its own littleness, comparison of
what it suggests. For, in this broad and manifold diversity struggling
up into unity, we may recognize the awe-inspiring grandeur and
vastness of the Gothic Architecture, as distinguished from the
cheerful, smiling beauty of the Classic. Such is the difference
between the spirit of Classic Art and the spirit of Gothic Art.[13]

    [13] Schlegel has a passage that hits the core of the matter:
    "Rousseau recognized the contrast in Music, and showed that
    rhythm and melody was the ruling principle of ancient as harmony
    is of modern music. On the imaging arts, Hemsterhuys made this
    ingenious remark, that the ancient painters were perhaps too
    much of sculptors, modern sculptors too much of painters. This
    touches the very point of difference; for the spirit of
    collective ancient art and poetry is plastic, as that of the
    modern is picturesque." And again: "The Pantheon is not more
    different from Westminster Abbey or the Church of St. Stephen at
    Vienna than the structure of a tragedy of Sophocles from a drama
    of Shakespeare. The comparison between these two wonderful
    productions of poetry and architecture might be carried still
    further." Coleridge also has some very choice remarks on the
    subject: "I will note down the fundamental characteristics which
    contradistinguish the ancient literature from the modern
    generally, but which more especially appear in prominence in the
    tragic drama. The ancient was allied to statuary, the modern
    refers to painting. In the first there is a predominance of
    rhythm and melody; in the second, of harmony and counterpoint.
    The Greeks idolized the finite, and therefore were masters of
    all grace, elegance, proportion, fancy, dignity, majesty,--of
    whatever, in short, is capable of being definitely conveyed by
    defined forms and thoughts; the moderns revere the infinite, and
    affect the indefinite as a vehicle of the infinite; hence their
    passions, their obscure hopes and fears, their wandering through
    the unknown, their grander moral feelings, their more august
    conception of man as man, their future rather than their
    past,--in a word, their sublimity."

Now, taking these two things together, namely, the historic spirit and
method, and also the breadth and amplitude of matter and design, both
of which belong to the Gothic Drama, and are indeed of its
nature;--taking these together, it cannot but be seen, I think, that
the work must have a much larger scope, a far more varied and
expansive scene, than is consistent with the Minor Unities. If, for
example, a man would _represent_ any impressive course or body of
historical events, the historic order and process of the thing plainly
necessitate a form very different from that of the Classic Drama: the
work must needs use considerable diversity of time and place, else
narrative and description will have to be substituted, in a great
measure, for representation; that is, the right dramatic form must be
sacrificed to what, after all, has no proper coherence or
consanguinity with the nature and genius of the work. As to which of
the two is better in itself, whether the austere and simple beauty of
the Sophoclean tragedy, or the colossal grandeur and massiveness of such a
drama as _King Lear_, this is not for me to say: for myself, however,
I cannot choose but prefer the latter; for this too has a beauty of
its own; but it is indeed an _awful_ beauty, and to my sense all the
better for being so. Be this as it may, it is certain that the human
mind had quite outgrown the formal limitations of the Classic

    [14] Two thousand years lie between Shakespeare and the
    flourishing period of the ancient tragedy. In this interval
    Christianity laid open unknown depths of mind: the Teutonic
    race, in their dispersion, filled wide spaces of the Earth; the
    Crusaders opened the way to the East, voyages of discovery
    revealed the West and the form of the whole globe; new spheres
    of knowledge presented themselves; whole nations and periods of
    time arose and passed away; a thousand forms of life, public and
    private, religious and political, had come and gone; the circle
    of views, ideas, experiences, and interests was immensely
    enlarged, the mind thereby made deeper and broader, wants
    increased, passions more various and refined, the conflict of
    human endeavours more diversified and intricate, the resources
    of the mind immeasurable; all in a way quite foreign to the
    childish times of antiquity. This abundance of external and
    internal material streamed into the sphere of Art on all sides:
    poetry could not resist it without injury, and even

But what are the conditions of building, in right artistic order, a
work of such vastness and complexity? As the mind is taken away from
the laws of time and place, it must be delivered over to the higher
laws of reason. So that the work lies under the necessity of
proceeding in such a way as to make the spectator live in his
imagination, not in his senses, and even his senses must, for the time
being, be made imaginative, or be ensouled. That is, instead of the
formal or numerical unities of time and place, we must have the
unities of intellectual time and intellectual space: the further the
artist departs from the local and chronological succession of things,
the more strict and manifest must be their logical and productive
succession. Incidents and characters are to be represented, not in the
order of sensible juxtaposition or procession, but in that of cause
and effect, of principle and consequence. Whether, therefore, they
stand ten minutes or ten months, ten feet or ten miles, asunder,
matters not, provided they are really and evidently united in this
way; that is, provided the unities of action and interest are made
strong enough and clear enough to overcome the diversities of time and
place. For, here, it is not _where_ and _when_ a given thing happened,
but how it was produced, and why, whence it came and whither it
tended, what caused it to be as it was, and to do as it did, that we
are mainly concerned with.

The same principle is further illustrated in the well-known nakedness
of the Elizabethan stage in respect of furniture and scenic
accompaniment. The weakness, if such it were, appears to have been the
source of vast strength. It is to this poverty of the old stage that
we owe, in part, the immense riches of the Shakespearian Drama, since
it was thereby put to the necessity of making up for the defect of
sensuous impression by working on the rational, moral, and imaginative
forces of the audience. And, undoubtedly, the modern way of glutting
the senses with a profusion of showy and varied dress and scenery has
struck, as it must always strike, a dead palsy on the legitimate
processes of Gothic Art. The decline of the Drama began with its
beginning, and has kept pace with its progress. So that here we have a
forcible illustration of what is often found true, that men cannot get
along because there is nothing to hinder them. For, in respect of the
moral and imaginative powers, it may be justly affirmed that we are
often assisted most when _not_ assisted, and that the right way of
helping us on is by leaving us unhelped. That the soul may find and
use her wings, nothing is so good as the being left where there is
little for the feet to get hold of and rest upon.

To answer fully the conditions of the work, to bring the Drama fairly
through the difficulties involved therein, is, it seems to me, just
the greatest thing the human intellect has ever done in the province
of Art. Accordingly I place Shakespeare's highest and most peculiar
excellence in the article of Dramatic Composition. He it was, and he
alone, that accomplished the task of _organizing_ the English Drama.
Among his predecessors and senior contemporaries there was, properly
speaking, no dramatic artist. What had been done was not truly Art,
but only a preparation of materials and a settlement of preliminaries.
Up to his time, there was little more than the elements of the work
lying scattered here and there, some in greater, some in less
perfection, and still requiring to be gathered up and combined in
right proportions, and under the proper laws of dramatic life. Take
any English drama written before his, and you will find that the
several parts do not stand or draw together in any thing like organic
consistency: the work is not truly a _concrescence_ of persons and
events, but only, at the best, a mere succession or aggregation of
them; so that, for the most part, each would both be and appear just
as it does, if detached from the others, and viewed by itself.
Instead, therefore, of a vital unity, like that of a tree, the work
has but a sort of aggregative unity, like a heap of sand.

Which may in some fair measure explain what I mean by dramatic
composition. For a drama, regarded as a work of art, should be in the
strictest sense of the term a _society_; that is, not merely a
numerical collection or juxtaposition, but a living contexture, of
persons and events. For men's natures do not, neither can they, unfold
themselves severally and individually; their development proceeds
from, through, and by each other. And, besides their individual
circulations, they have a common circulation; their characters
interpenetrating, more or less, one with another, and standing all
together in mutual dependence and support. Nor does this vital
coherence and reciprocity hold between the several characters merely,
but also between these, taken collectively, and the various
conditions, objects, circumstances, and influences, amidst which they
have grown. So that the whole is like a large, full-grown tree, which
is in truth made up of a multitude of little trees, all growing from a
common root, nourished by a common sap, and bound together in a common

Now in Shakespeare's dramas--I do not say all of them, for some were
but his apprentice-work, but in most of them--the several parts, both
characters and incidents, are knit together in this organic way, so as
to be all truly members one of another. Each needs all the others,
each helps all the others, each is made what it is by the presence of
all the others. Nothing stands alone, nothing exists merely for
itself. The persons not only have each their several development, but
also, besides this, and running into this, a development in common. In
short, their whole transpiration proceeds by the laws and from the
blood of mutual membership. And as each lives and moves and has his
being, so each is to be understood and interpreted, with reference,
explicit or implicit, to all the others. And there is not only this
coherence of the characters represented, one with another, but also of
them all with the events and circumstances of the representation. It
is this coefficient action of all the parts to a common end, this
mutual participation of each in all, and of all in each, that
constitutes the thing truly and properly a work of art.

So then a drama may be fitly spoken of as an _organic_ structure. And
such it must be, to answer the conditions of Art. Here we have a thing
made up of divers parts or elements, with a course or circulation of
mutual reference and affinity pervading them all, and binding them
together, so as to give to the whole the character of a multitudinous
unit; just as in the illustration, before used, of a large tree made
up of innumerable little trees. And it seems plain enough that, the
larger the number and variety of parts embraced in the work, or the
more diversified it is in matter and movement, the greater the
strength of faculty required for keeping every thing within the terms
of Art; while, provided this be done, the grander is the impression
produced, and the higher is the standing of the work as an
intellectual achievement of man.

This, then, as before observed, is just the highest and hardest part
of dramatic creation: in the whole domain of literary workmanship
there is no one thing so rarely attained, none that so few have been
found capable of attaining, as this. And yet in this Shakespeare was
absolutely--I speak advisedly--without any teacher whatever; not to
say, what probably might be said without any hazard, that it is a
thing which no man or number of men could impart. The Classic Drama,
had he been ever so well acquainted with it, could not have helped him
here at all, and would most likely have been a stumbling-block to him.
And, in my view of the matter, the most distinguishing feature of the
Poet's genius lies in this power of broad and varied combination; in
the deep intuitive perception which thus enabled him to put a
multitude of things together, so that they should exactly fit and
finish one another. In some of his works, as _Titus Andronicus, The
Comedy of Errors_, and the three Parts of _King Henry the Sixth_,
though we have, especially in the latter, considerable skill in
individual character,--far more than in any English plays preceding
them,--there is certainly very little, perhaps nothing, that can be
rightly termed dramatic composition. In several, again, as _The Two
Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost_, and _King John_, we have
but the beginnings and first stages of it. But in various others, as
_The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, King Henry the
Fourth, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear_, and _Othello_, it is found, if
not in entire perfection, at least so nearly perfect, that there has
yet been no criticism competent to point out the defect.

All which makes a full and conclusive answer to the charge of
irregularity which has been so often brought against the Poet. To be
regular, in the right sense of the term, he did not need to follow the
rules which others had followed before him: he was just as right in
differing from them as they were in differing from him: in other
words, he stands as an original, independent, authoritative legislator
in the province of Art; or, as Gervinus puts it, "he holds the place
of the revealing genius of the laws of Art in the Modern Drama"; so
that it is sheer ignorance, or something worse, to insist on trying
him by the laws of the ancient Tragedy. It is on this ground that
Coleridge makes the pregnant remark,--"No work of true genius dares
want its appropriate form, neither indeed is there any danger of this.
As it must not, so genius cannot, be lawless; for it is even this that
constitutes it genius,--the power of acting creatively under laws of
its own origination." So that I may fitly close this branch of the
subject by applying to Shakespeare a very noteworthy saying of
Burke's, the argument of which holds no less true of the law-making
prerogative in Art than in the State: "Legislators have no other rules to
bind them but the great principles of reason and equity, and the general
sense of mankind. These they are bound to obey and follow; and rather
to enlarge and enlighten law by the liberality of legislative reason,
than to fetter and bind their higher capacity by the narrow
constructions of subordinate, artificial justice."[15]

    [15] Aristotle himself was very far from setting up the form and
    extent of the drama of his day as a rule for all time. He
    declared that, "as regards the natural limit of the action, the
    more extended will always be the more beautiful, so long as it
    is easily surveyed." Shakespeare's practice is strictly
    correspondent to this rule. But with this rule in mind, he went
    to the very verge of these limits. He chose his matter as rich
    and full as possible; he extended its form according to its
    requirements, but no further: it will not be found, in any of
    his dramas, that the thought is exhausted before the end; that
    there is any superfluous extension of the form, or any needless
    abundance of the matter. To arrange the most ample materials in
    the amplest form without overstepping its fair proportions, is a
    task which no one has accomplished as he has done. Therein lies
    a large part of his artistic greatness. No poet has represented
    so much in so little space; none has so widely enlarged the
    space without exceeding the poetical limitations. In this he did
    not suffer himself to be perplexed by the example of the ancient
    tragedy. He felt that the peculiar poetic material of the new
    world would perish in those old forms, and that it was therefore
    better to mould them afresh. He knew right well that the poet's
    task was to represent the very substance of his times, to
    reflect the age in his poetry, and to give it form and stamp: he
    therefore created, for the enlarged sphere of life, an enlarged
    sphere of Art: to this end he sought, not a ready-made rule, but
    the inward law of the given matter,--a spirit in the things,
    which in the work of art shaped the form for itself. For there
    is no higher worth in a poetical work than the agreement of the
    form with the nature of the matter represented, and this
    according to its own indwelling laws, not according to external
    rule. If we judge Shakespeare or Homer by any such conventional
    rule, we may equally deny them taste and law: measured, however,
    by that higher standard, Shakespeare's conformity to the inner
    law outstrips all those regular dramatists who learned from
    Aristotle, not the spirit of regularity, but mechanical


I am next to consider Shakespeare's peculiar mode of conceiving and
working out character; as this stands next in order and importance to
the article of Dramatic Composition.

Now, in several English writers before him, we find characters
discriminated and sustained with considerable judgment and skill.
Still we feel a want of reality about them: they are not men and women
themselves, but only the outsides and appearances of men and women;
often having indeed a good measure of coherence and distinctness, but
yet mere appearances, with nothing behind or beneath, to give them
real substance and solidity. Of course, therefore, the parts actually
represented are all that they have; they stand for no more than simply
what is shown; there is nothing in them or of them but what meets the
beholder's sense: so that, however good they may be to look at, they
will not bear looking into; because the outside, that which is
directly seen or heard, really exhausts their whole force and meaning.

Instead, then, of beginning at the heart of a character, and working
outwards, these authors began at the surface, and worked the other
way; and so were precluded from getting beyond the surface, by their
mode of procedure. It is as if the shell of an egg should be fully
formed and finished before the contents were prepared; in which case
the contents of course could not be got into it. It would have to
remain a shell, and nothing more: as such, it might do well enough for
a show, just as well indeed as if it were full of meat; but it would
not stand the weighing.

With Shakespeare all this is just reversed. His egg is a real egg,
brimful of meat, and not an empty shell; and this, because the
formation began at the centre, and the shell was formed last. He gives
us, not the mere imitations or appearances of things, but the very
things themselves. His characters _have_ more or less of surface, but
they _are_ solids: what is actually and directly shown, is often the
least part of them, never the whole: the rest is left to be inferred;
and the showing is so managed withal as to start and propagate the
inferring process in the beholder's mind.

All which clearly implies that Shakespeare conceived his persons, not
from their outside, but in their rudiments and first principles. He
begins at the heart of a character, and unfolds it outwards, forming
and compacting all the internal parts and organs as he unfolds it; and
the development, even because it is a real and true development,
proceeds at every step, not by mere addition or aggregation of
particulars, but by digestion and vital assimilation of all the matter
that enters into the structure; there being, in virtue of the life
that pervades the thing, just such elements, and just so much of them,
sent to each organ, as is necessary to its formation. The result of
this wonderful process is, that the characters are all that they
appear to be, and a vast deal more besides: there is food for endless
thought and reflection in them: beneath and behind the surface, there
is all the substance that the surface promises or has room for,--an
inexhaustible stock of wealth and significance beyond what is directly
seen; so that the more they are looked into the more they are found to

Thus there is a sort of realistic verisimilitude in Shakespeare's
characters. It is as if they had been veritable living men and women,
and he had seen and comprehended and delivered the whole and pure
truth respecting them. Of course, therefore, they are as far as
possible from being mere names set before pieces of starched and
painted rhetoric, or mere got-up figures of modes and manners: they
are no shadows or images of fancy, no heroes of romance, no
theatrical personages at all; they have nothing surreptitious or
make-believe or ungenuine about them: they do not in any sort belong
to the family of poetical beings; they are not designs from works of
art; nay, they are not even _designs_ from nature; they are nature
itself. Nor are they compilations from any one-sided or sectional view
of mankind, but are cut out round and full from the whole of humanity;
so that they touch us at all points, and, as it were, surround us.
From all this it follows that there is no repetition among them:
though there are some striking family resemblances, yet no two of them
are individually alike: for, as the process of forming them was a real
growth, an evolution from a germ, the spontaneous result of creative
Nature working within them, so there could be no copying of one from
another. Accordingly, as in the men and women of Nature's own making,
different minds conceive different ideas of them, and have different
feelings towards them, and even the same mind at different times: in
fact, hardly any two men view them alike, or any one man for two years
together; the actual changes in us being reflected and measured by
correspondent _seeming_ changes in them: so that a further
acquaintance with them always brings advancing knowledge, and what is
added still modifies what was held before. Hence even so restrained,
not to say grudging, a critic as Pope was constrained to pronounce
Shakespeare's characters "so much Nature herself, that it is a sort of
injury to call them by so distant a name as copies of her."

    "Of Nature's inner shrine thou art the Priest,
    Where most she works when we perceive her least."

I have placed Shakespeare's power of dramatic architecture or
organization at the head of his gifts and prerogatives _as an artist_.
And so I suppose a just Philosophy of Art is bound to reckon it. But
comparatively few men are or can be, in the fair sense of the term,
philosophers of Art, as this requires a course of special training and
study. But Shakespeare is a great teacher in the School of Life as
well as a great master in the School of Art. And indeed the right use
of Art is nowise to serve as the raw material of philosophy, but to
furnish instruction and inspiration in the truth of things; and unless
it can work home to the business and bosoms of plain practical men, it
might as well be struck from the roll of legitimate interests. Now, in
the circle of uninspired forces, Shakespeare's art may be justly
regarded as our broadest and noblest "discipline of humanity." And his
characterization, not his dramatic composition, is his point of
contact with us as a practical teacher. In other words, it is by his
thorough _at-homeness_ with human nature in the transpirations of
individual character that he touches the general mind and heart. Here
he speaks a language which all men of developed intelligence can
understand and feel. Accordingly it is in his characters that most men
place, and rightly place, his supreme excellence: here it is that his
wisdom finds and grasps men _directly_ as men; nor, at this point of
meeting, does he leave any part of our many-sided being without its fitting
portion of meat in due season; while our receptiveness is the only
limit to our acquisitions.[16]

    [16] Here is no stage language or manners, no standing parts,
    nothing that can be called ideal or favourite stage characters,
    no heroes of the theatre or of romance: in this active world
    there is nothing fantastic, nothing unsound, nothing exaggerated
    nor empty: neither the poet nor the actor speaks in them, but
    creative nature alone, which seems to dwell in and to animate
    these images. The forms vary, as they do in life, from the
    deepest to the shallowest, from the most noble to the most
    deformed: a prodigal dispenses these riches; but the impression
    is, that he is as inexhaustible as Nature herself. And not one
    of these figures is like another in features: there are groups
    which have a family likeness, but no two individuals resembling
    each other: they become known to us progressively, as we find it
    with living acquaintance: they make different impressions on
    different people, and are interpreted by each according to his
    own feelings. Hence, in the explanation of Shakespeare's
    characters, it would be an idle undertaking to balance the
    different opinions of men, or to insist arbitrarily on our own:
    each can only express his own view, and must then learn whose
    opinion best stands the test of time. For, on returning to these
    characters at another time, our greater ripeness and experience
    will ever lay open to us new features in them. Whoever has not
    been wrecked, with his ideals and principles, on the shore of
    life, whoever has not bled inwardly with sorrow, has not
    suppressed holy feelings, and stumbled over the enigmas of the
    world, will but half understand Hamlet. And whoever has borne
    the sharpest pains of consciousness will understand
    Shakespeare's characters like one of the initiated; and to him
    they will be ever new, ever more admirable, ever richer in
    significance: he will make out of them a school of life, free
    from the danger of almost all modern poetry, which is apt to
    lead us astray, and to give us heroes of romance, instead of
    true men.--GERVINUS.

                        "That which he hath writ
    Is with such judgment labour'd and distill'd
    Through all the needful uses of our lives,
    That, could a man remember but his lines,
    He should not touch at any serious point,
    But he might breathe his spirit out of him."

Shakespeare, it is true, idealizes his characters, all of them more or
less, some of them very much. But this, too, is so done from the heart
outwards, done with such inward firmness and such natural temperance,
that there is seldom any thing of hollowness or insolidity in the
result. Except in some of his earlier plays, written before he had
found his proper strength, and before his genius had got fairly
disciplined into power, there is nothing ambitious or obtrusive in his
idealizing; no root of falsehood in the work, as indeed there never is
in any work of art that is truly worthy the name. Works of artifice
are a very different sort of thing. And one, perhaps the main, secret
of Shakespeare's mode in this respect is, that the ideal is so equally
diffused, and so perfectly interfused with the real, as not to disturb
the natural balance and harmony of things. In other words, his poetry
takes and keeps an elevation at all points alike above the plane of
fact. Therewithal his mass of real matter is so great, that it keeps
the ideal mainly out of sight. It is only by a special act of
reflection that one discovers there is any thing but the real in his
workmanship; and the appreciative student, unless his attention is
specially drawn to that point, may dwell with him for years without
once suspecting the presence of the ideal, because in truth his mind
is kindled secretly to an answering state. It is said that even
Schiller at first saw nothing but realism in Shakespeare, and was
repelled by his harsh truth; but afterwards became more and more
impressed with his ideality, which seemed to bring him near the old

Thus even when Shakespeare idealizes most the effect is to make the
characters truer to themselves and truer to nature than they otherwise
would be. This may sound paradoxical, nevertheless I think a little
illustration will make it good. For the proper idealizing of Art is a
concentration of truth, and not, as is often supposed, a substitution
of something else in the place of it. Now no man, that has any
character to speak of, does or can show his whole character at any one
moment or in any one turn of expression: it takes the gathered force
and virtue of many expressions to make up any thing rightly
characteristic of him. In painting, for instance, the portrait of an
actual person, if the artist undertakes to represent him merely as he
is at a given instant of time, he will of course be sure to
misrepresent him. In such cases literal truth is essential untruth.
Because the person cannot fairly deliver himself in any one instant of
expression; and the business of Art is to distil the sense and
efficacy of many transient expressions into one permanent one; that
is, out of many passing lines and shades of transpiration the artist
should so select and arrange and condense as to deliver the right
characteristic truth about him. This is at least one of the ways, I
think it is the commonest way, in which Shakespeare idealizes his
characters; and he surpasses all other poets in the ease, sureness,
and directness with which his idealizing works in furtherance of
truth. It is in this sense that he idealizes from nature. And here, as
elsewhere, it is "as if Nature had entrusted to him the secret of her
working power"; for we cannot but feel that, if she should carry her
human handiwork up to a higher stage of perfection, the result would
be substantially as he gives it. Accordingly our first impression of
his persons is that they are simply natural: had they been literal
transcripts from fact, they would not have seemed more intensely real
than they do: yet a close comparison of them with the reality of
human nature discloses an ideal heightening in them of the finest and
rarest quality. Even so realistic a delineation as Hostess Quickly, or
the Nurse in _Romeo and Juliet_, is not an exception to this rule.

The Poet's idealizing of his characters proceeds, in part, by putting
his own intellectuality into them. And the wonder is, how he could do
this in so large a measure as he often does, without marring or
displacing or anywise obstructing their proper individuality. For they
are never any the less themselves for having so much of his
intelligence in them. Nay, more; whatever may be their peculiarity,
whether wit, dulness, egotism, or absurdity, the effect of that
infusion is to quicken their idiom, and set it free, so that they
become all the more rightly and truly themselves. Thus what he gives
them operates to extricate and enfranchise their propriety, and bring
it out in greater clearness and purity. His intellectuality discovers
them to us just as they are, and translates their mind, or want of
mind, into fitting language, yet remains so transparently clear as to
be itself unseen. He tells more truth of them, or rather makes them
tell more truth of themselves, in a single sentence, than, without his
help, they could tell in a month. The secret of this appears to lie in
sifting out what is most idiomatic or characteristic of a man, purging
and depurating this of all that is uncharacteristic, and then
presenting the former unmixed and free, the man of the man.

We have a very striking instance of this in _King Henry the Fifth_,
where the Boy, who figures as servant to Bardolph, Pistol, and Nym,
soliloquizes his judgment of those worthies: "As young as I am, I have
observed these three swashers. I am boy to them all three; but they
all three, though they would serve me, could not be man to me; for
indeed three such antics do not amount to a man. For Bardolph,--he is
white-liver'd and red-fac'd; by the means whereof 'a faces it out, but
fights not. For Pistol,--he hath a killing tongue and a quiet sword;
by the means whereof 'a breaks words, and keeps whole weapons. For
Nym,--he hath heard that men of few words are the best men; and
therefore he scorns to say his prayers, lest 'a should be thought a
coward: but his few bad words are match'd with as few good deeds; for
'a never broke any man's head but his own, and that was against a post
when he was drunk. They will steal any thing, and call it purchase.
Bardolph stole a lute-case, bore it twelve leagues, and sold it for
three half-pence. Nym and Bardolph are sworn brothers in filching; and
in Calais they stole a fire-shovel: I knew by that piece of service
the men would carry coals. They would have me as familiar with men's
pockets as their gloves or their handkerchers: which makes much
against my manhood, if I should take from another's pocket to put into
mine; for it is plain pocketing-up of wrongs. I must leave them, and
seek some better service: their villainy goes against my weak stomach,
and therefore I must cast it up."

Here one might think the Poet must have lapsed a little from the
character in making the Boy talk such a high and solid strain of
intelligence: but it is not so; the Boy talks strictly in character.
The intellect he shows is all truly his own too, but not his own in
that space of time. He has indeed a shrewd, quick eye, and knows a
thing or two; still he could not, unaided and alone, deliver so much
intellect in a whole month as he here lets off in this brief speech.
Shakespeare just inspires the youngster, and the effect of that
inspiration is to make him so much the more himself.

But the process of the thing involves, moreover, a sort of double
consciousness, which probably cannot be altogether explained. The Poet
had a strange faculty, or at least had it in a strange degree, of
being truly himself and truly another at one and the same time. For he
does not mould a character from the outside, but is truly inside of
it, nay, _is_ the character for the time being, and yet all the while
he continues just as much Shakespeare as if he were nothing else. His
own proper consciousness, and the consciousness of the person he is
representing, both of these are everywhere apparent in his
characterization; both of them working together too, though in a
manner which no psychology has been able to solve. In other words,
Shakespeare is perfectly in his persons and perfectly out of them at
the same time; has his consciousness and theirs thoroughly identified,
yet altogether distinct; so that they get all the benefit of his
intellect without catching the least tinge of his personality. There
is the mystery of it. And the wonder on this point is greatly enhanced
in his delineations of mental disease. For his consciousness takes on,
so to speak, or passes into, the most abnormal states without any
displacement or suspension of its normal propriety. Accordingly he
explores and delivers the morbid and insane consciousness with no less
truth to the life than the healthy and sound; as if in both cases
alike he were inside and outside the persons at the same time. With
what unexceptional mastery in Nature's hidden processes he does this,
must be left till I come to the analysis of particular instances.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is to be noted further that Shakespeare's characters, generally,
are not exhibited in any one fixed state or cast of formation. There
is a certain vital limberness and ductility in them, so that upon
their essential identity more or less of mutation is ever supervening.
They grow on and unfold themselves under our eye: we see them in
course of development, in the act and process of becoming; undergoing
marked changes, passing through divers stages, animated by mixed and
various motives and impulses, passion alternating with passion,
purpose with purpose, train of thought with train of thought; so that
they often end greatly modified from what they were at the beginning;
the same, and yet another. Thus they have to our minds a past and a
future as well as a present; and even in what we see of them at any
given moment there is involved something both of history and of

Here we have another pregnant point of divergence from the Classic
form. For, as it is unnatural that a man should continue altogether
the same character, or subject to the same passion, or absorbed in the
same purpose, through a period of ten years; so it is equally against
nature that a man should undergo much change of character, or be
occupied by many passions, or get engrossed in many purposes, the same
day. If, therefore, a character is to be represented under various
phases and fluctuations, the nature of the work evidently requires
much length of time, a great variety of objects and influences, and,
consequently, a wide range of place. Thus, in the Gothic Drama, the
complexity of matter, with the implied vicissitudes of character, was
plainly incompatible with the Minor Unities. On the other hand, the
clearness and simplicity of design, which belong to the Classic Drama,
necessarily preclude any great diversity of time and place; since, as
the genius of the thing requires character to be represented mainly
under a single aspect, the time and place of the representation must
needs be limited correspondingly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Again: It is admitted on all hands that in Shakespeare's works, far
more than in almost any others, every thing appears to come, not from
him, but from the characters; and from these too speaking, not as
authors, but simply as men. The reason of which must be, that the word
is just suited to the character, the character to the word; every
thing exactly fitting into and filling the place. Doubtless there are
many things which, considered by themselves, might be bettered; but it
is not for themselves that the Poet uses them, but as being
characteristic of the persons from whom they proceed; and the fact of
their seeming to proceed from the persons, not from him, is clear
proof of their strict dramatic propriety. Hence it is that in reading
his works we think not of him, but only of what he is describing: we
can hardly realize his existence, his individuality is so lost in the
objects and characters he brings before us. In this respect, he is a
sort of impersonal intelligence, with the power to make every thing
visible but itself. Had he been merely an omniloquent voice, there
could hardly have been less of subjective idiom in his deliverances.
That he should have known so perfectly how to avoid giving too much or
too little; that he should have let out and drawn in the reins
precisely as the matter required;--this, as it evinces an almost
inconceivable delicacy of mind, is also one of the points wherein his
originality is most conspicuous.

       *       *       *       *       *

Equally remarkable is the Poet's intellectual plenipotence in so
ordering and moving the several characters of a play as that they may
best draw out each other by mutual influences, and set off each other
by mutual contrasts. The persons are thus assorted and attempered with
perfect insight both of their respective natures and of their common
fitness to his purpose. And not the least wonderful thing in his works
is the exquisite congruity of what comes from the persons with all the
circumstances and influences under which they are represented as
acting; their transpirations of character being withal so disposed
that the principle of them shines out freely and clearly on the mind.
We have a good instance of this in Romeo's speech just before he
swallows the poison; every word of which is perfectly idiomatic of the
speaker, and at the same time thoroughly steeped in the idiom of his
present surroundings. It is true, Shakespeare's persons, like those in
real life, act so, chiefly because they are so; but so perfectly does
he seize and impart the germ of a character, along with the proper
conditions of its development, that the results seem to follow all of
their own accord. Thus in his delineations every thing is fitted to
every other thing; so that each requires and infers the others, and
all hang together in most natural coherence and congruity.

To illustrate this point a little more in detail, let us take his
treatment of passion. How many forms, degrees, varieties of passion
he has portrayed! Yet I am not aware that any instance of
disproportion or unfitness has ever been successfully pointed out in
his works. With but two or three exceptions at the most, so perfect is
the correspondence between the passion and the character, and so
freely and fitly does the former grow out of the circumstances in
which the latter is placed, that we have no difficulty in justifying
and accounting for the passion. The passion is thoroughly
characteristic, and pervaded with the individuality of its subject.
And this holds true not only of different passions, but of different
modifications of the same passion; the forms of love, for instance,
being just as various and distinct as the characters in which it is
shown. Then too he unfolds a passion in its rise and progress, its
turns and vicissitudes, its ebbings and flowings, so that we go along
with it freely and naturally from first to last. Even when, as in case
of Ferdinand and Miranda, or of Romeo and Juliet, he ushers in a
passion at its full height, he so contrives to throw the mind back or
around upon various predisposing causes and circumstances, as to carry
our sympathies through without any revulsion. We are so prepared for
the thing by the time it comes as to feel no abruptness in its coming.
The exceptions to this, save in some of the Poet's earlier plays, are
very rare indeed: the only one I have ever _seemed_ to find is the
jealousy of Leontes in _The Winter's Tale_, and I am by no means sure
of it even there. This intuitive perception of the exact kind and
degree of passion and character that are suited to each other; this
quick and sure insight of the internal workings of a given mind, and
of the why, the when, and the how far it should be moved; and this
accurate letting-out and curbing-in of a passion precisely as the law
of its individuality requires; in a word, this thorough mastery of the
inmost springs and principles of human transpiration;--all this is so
extraordinary, that I am not surprised to find even grave and
temperate thinkers applying to the Poet such bold expressions as the
instrument, the rival, the co-worker, the completer of Nature.

Nor is this the only direction in which he maintains the fitness of
things: he keeps the matter right towards us as well as towards his
characters. It is true, he often lays on us burdens of passion that
would not be borne in any other writer. But, whether he wrings the
heart with pity, or freezes the blood with terror, or fires the soul
with indignation, the genial reader still rises from his pages
refreshed. The reason of which is, instruction keeps pace with
excitement: he strengthens the mind in proportion as he loads it.
Shakespeare has been called the great master of passion: doubtless he
is so; yet he is not more that than he is every thing else: for he
makes us think as intensely as he requires us to feel; while opening
the deepest fountains of the heart, he at the same time kindles the
highest energies of the head. Nay, with such consummate art does he
manage the fiercest tempests of our being, that in a healthy mind the
witnessing of them is always attended by an overbalance of pleasure.
With the very whirlwinds of passion he so blends the softening and
assuaging influences of poetry, that they relish of nothing but
sweetness and health; as in case of "the gentle Desdemona," where
pathos is indeed carried to the extreme limit of endurance, so that
"all for pity I could die," yet there is no breach of the rule in
question. For while, as a philosopher, he surpassed all other
philosophers in power to discern the passions of men; as an artist, he
also surpassed all other artists in skill

         "so to temper passion, that our ears
    Take pleasure in their pain, and eyes in tears
    Both weep and smile."

Another point well worth the noting is the perfect evenhandedness of
Shakespeare's representations. For, among all his characters, with the
single exception, perhaps, of "Prince Hal," we cannot discover from
the delineation itself that he preferred any one to another; though of
course we cannot conceive it possible for any man to regard, for
example, Edmund and Edgar, or Iago and Desdemona, with the same
feelings. It is as if the scenes of his dramas were forced on his
observation against his will, himself being under a solemn oath to
report the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He thus
leaves the characters to make their own impression upon us. He is
their mouth-piece, not they his: what they say is never Shakespeare
ventriloquizing, but is to all intents and purposes their own. With
the right or wrong, the honour or shame, of their actions, he has
nothing to do: that they are so, and act so, is their concern, not
his; and his business is, not to reform nor deprave, not to censure
nor approve them, but simply to tell the truth about them. And so,
because he would not serve as the advocate of any, therefore he was
able to stand as the representative of all; which is indeed his
characteristic office.

Most of the many faultings of Shakespeare's workmanship on the score
of taste are easily disposed of from this point. As a general thing,
the blame laid upon him in this behalf belongs only to his persons,
and as regards him the matter of it should rather be a theme of
praise. Take, for example, the gross images and foul language used by
Leontes when the rage of jealousy is on him: the matter is offensive
enough certainly in itself, but it is the proper outcome of the man's
character in that state of mind; that is, it is a part, and an
essential part, of the truth concerning him: as the passion turns him
into a brute, so he is rightly made, or rather allowed to speak a
brutal dialect; and the bad taste is his, not the Poet's. That
jealousy, such as that of Leontes, naturally subverts a man's
understanding and manners, turns his sense, his taste, his decency all
out of doors, and causes him to gloat over loathsome thoughts and
fancies,--this is among the things of human nature which it would be a
sin to omit in a delineation of that passion.

And so of the many absurdities and follies and obscenities which
Shakespeare puts into the mouths of certain persons: for the most
part, they have an ample justification in that they are characteristic
of the speakers; if not beauties of art, they often have a higher
beauty than art, as truths of nature; and the Poet is no more to be
blamed for them than an honest reporter is for the bad taste of a
speaker reported. In like sort, we have Milton's Satan satanizing

    "The mind is its own place, and of itself
    Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."

I have often heard people quote this approvingly, as if they thought
the better of Satan for thus declaring himself independent of God. But
those words coming from Satan are a high stroke of dramatic fitness;
and when people quote them with approval, this may be an argument of
intellectual impiety in them, but not of Milton's agreement with them
in opinion.

But do you say that Shakespeare should not have undertaken to
represent any but persons of refined taste and decorous speech? That
were to cut the Drama off from its proper freehold in the truth of
human character, and also from some of its fruitfullest sources of
instruction and wisdom: so, its office were quite another thing than
"holding the mirror up to Nature." Not indeed but that Shakespeare is
fairly chargeable with some breaches of good taste: these however are
so few and of such a kind, that they still leave him just our highest
authority in the School of Taste. Here, as elsewhere, he is our "canon
of Polycletus." So Raphael made a painting of Apollo play the fiddle
on Parnassus,--a grosser breach of good taste than any thing
Shakespeare ever did. And yet Raphael is the painter of the finest
taste in the world!--All which just approves the old proverb, that "no
man is wise at all hours": so that we may still affirm without
abatement the fine saying of Schlegel, that "genius is the almost
unconscious choice of the highest excellence, and, consequently, it is
taste in the greatest perfection."[17]

    [17] All beauty depends upon symmetry and proportion. An
    overgrowth that sucks out the strength of a flowering plant, and
    destroys its shape, may be in the oak a harmless sport of
    exuberance, and even an ornament to its form: bushes which would
    be a wilderness in a garden may enhance the beauty of the
    grander scenes of Nature. Irregularity, when isolated or taken
    out of its place, will always be ugly; while in its proper
    connection it may add to the charm by variety. The good men of
    Polonius's school, who cannot see beyond their beards, who never
    get further than such particulars as, "that is a foolish
    figure,"--"that's an ill phrase, a vile phrase,"--"that's
    good,"--"this is too long,"--these Hamlet sends "to the barber's
    with their beards" and their art criticisms; they are out of
    place with such a poet as Shakespeare. All the experience we
    have gained warns us against following their steps. The whole
    history of Shakespearian criticism for the last century is but a
    discovery of the mistakes of those who, for a century before,
    were thought to have discovered faults in the Poet. For numbers
    of the errors of taste in Shakespeare have turned out to be
    striking touches of character; the æsthetic deformities imputed
    to his poetry have proved the moral deformities of certain of
    his persons; and what had been denounced as a fault was found to
    be an excellence.--GERVINUS.

It is to be observed, also, that Shakespeare never brings in any
characters as the mere shadows or instruments or appendages of others.
All the persons, high and low, contain within themselves the reason
why they are there and not elsewhere, why they are so and not
otherwise. None are forced in upon the scene merely to supply the
place of others, and so to be trifled with till the others are ready
to return; but each is treated in his turn as if he were the main
character of the piece. So true is this, that even if one character
comes in as the satellite of another, he does so by a right and an
impulse of his own: he is all the while obeying, or rather executing
the law of his individuality, and has just as much claim on the other
for a primary as the other has on him for a satellite; which may be
aptly instanced in Justice Shallow and Justice Silence, or in Sir Toby
Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. The consequence is, that all the
characters are developed, not indeed at equal length, but with equal
perfectness as far as they go; for, to make the dwarf fill the same
space as the giant were to dilute, not develop, the dwarf.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus much as to Shakespeare's mode of conceiving and working out
character. Here, again, as in the matter of dramatic composition, we
have the proper solidarity, originality, completeness, and
disinterestedness of Art, all duly and rightly maintained: that is,
what was before found true in reference to all the parts of a drama
viewed as a whole; the same holds, also, in regard to all the parts of
an individual character considered by itself. In both these respects,
and in both alike, the Poet discovers a spirit of the utmost candour
and calmness, such as could neither be misled by any inward bias or
self-impulse from seeing things as they are, nor swayed from
reflecting them according to the just forms and measures of objective
truth; while his creative forces worked with such smoothness and
equanimity, that it is hardly an extravagance to describe him as
another Nature. All this, however, must not be taken as applying, at
least not in the full length and breadth, to what I have before spoken
of as the Poet's apprentice-work. For, I repeat, Shakespeare's genius
was not born full-grown, as a good many have been used to suppose. Ben
Jonson knew him right well personally, and was, besides, no stranger
to his method of working; and, in his noble lines prefixed to the
folio of 1623, he puts this point just as, we may be sure, he had
himself seen it to be true:

    "Yet must I not give Nature all; thy art,
    My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part:
    For a good poet's made, as well as born;
    And such wert thou."

As to the question how far his genius went by a certain instinctive
harmony and happiness of nature, how far by a process of conscious
judgment and reflection, this is probably beyond the reach of any
psychology to determine. From the way he often speaks of poets and
poetry, of art and nature, it is evident that he was well at home in
speculative and philosophical considerations of the subject. Then too
the vast improvement made in some of his plays, as in _Hamlet_, upon
rewriting them, shows that his greatest successes were by no means
owing to mere lucky hits of instinct. On the whole, I suspect he
understood the what, the how, and the why of his working as well as
any first-class artist ever did. But genius, in its highest and
purest instances, is a sort of unfallen intellect; so that from its
pre-established harmony with the laws of mental being it goes right
spontaneously. Sophocles comprehended the whole of what is meant by
powerful genius working unconsciously, when he said of his great
teacher, "Æschylus does what is right without knowing why." And the
true secret of Shakespeare's excellence mainly lies, I take it, in a
perfect co-operative union of instinct and understanding, of purpose
and impulse; nature and art, inspiration and study, so working together
and interpenetrating, that it is impossible to distinguish their
respective shares in the joint result. And the wonder of it is, how the
fruits of creative impulse could so pass through the medium of
conscious reflection, as they seem to have done, and still retain all
the dewy freshness of pure creative nature; insomuch that his art
carries such an air of unstudied ease as gives it the appearance of
perfect artlessness.[18]

    [18] The working together of instinct and mind in Shakespeare is
    not exactly wonderful in itself, but only so from the power and
    strength of it: in a less degree it takes place in all continued
    occupation among men of a healthy nature; and the brightest
    moments of success in any work are when the thinking mind is in
    unison with the instinctive feeling of the working man. It is in
    this unison that genius really displays itself, and not in the
    sole rule of an irregular instinct or in a state of pretended
    inspiration. For genius does not manifest itself in the
    predominance of any single power, nor is it in itself a definite
    faculty; but it is the harmonious combination, the united
    totality of all the human faculties. And if in Shakespeare's
    works we admire his imaginative power not without his
    understanding, nor both these without his sense of beauty, nor
    all of them without his moral sense; if we attribute all
    together to his genius, we must comprehend in this the union of
    all those faculties, and not regard it as an isolated power,
    which excludes judgment and reflection, and whose works do not
    submit to plan and rule. Much rather is the idea of rule
    essentially inherent to that of genius; and the whole conception
    of genius acting without law is the invention of pedants, which
    has had the sad effect of begetting that mass of false geniuses
    who are morally without law, and æsthetically without law, as if
    to entitle themselves to the name according to this convenient

       *       *       *       *       *

As to the time when Shakespeare passed from the apprentice into the
master, I place this in the year 1597, or thereabouts, when he was
thirty-two or thirty-three years old; and I take _The Merchant of
Venice_ and _King Henry the Fourth_ as marking the clear and complete
advent of the master's hand. And what I have been saying holds
_altogether_ true only of the plays written during his mastership. In
all his earlier plays, even in _A Midsummer Night's Dream, King
Richard the Second_, and _King Richard the Third_, probably neither
the composition nor the characterization can fairly stand the test of
any of the principles of Art, as I have noted them. But especially in
the workmanship of that period, along with much that is rightly
original, we have not a little, also, of palpable imitation. The
unoriginality, however, is rather in the style than in the matter, and
so will be more fitly remarked under the head of Style. Still worse,
because it goes deeper, we have in those plays a want of clear
artistic disinterestedness. The arts and motives of authorship are but
too apparent in them; thus showing that the Poet did not thoroughly
lose himself in the enthusiasm and truth of his work. In some cases,
he betrays not a little sense of his own skill; at least there are
plain marks of a conscious and self-observing exercise of skill. And
perhaps his greatest weakness, if that word may be used of him at all,
lies in a certain vanity and artifice of stage-effect, or in a sort of
theatrical and dialogical intemperance, as if he were trying to shine,
and pleased with the reflection of his own brilliancy. But as this too
was the result of imitation, not of character, so in the earnestness
of his work he soon outgrew it, working purely in the interest and
from the inspiration of Nature and Truth.

Before passing on from this branch of the subject, perhaps I ought to
add that Shakespeare drew largely from the current popular literature
of his time. The sources from which he gathered his plots and
materials will be noted pretty fully when I come to speak of
particular plays. It may suffice to remark here, that there seems the
more cause for dwelling on what the Poet took from other writers, in
that it exhibits him, where a right-minded study should specially
delight to contemplate him, as holding his unrivalled inventive powers
subordinate to the higher principles of Art. He cared little for the
interest of novelty, which is but a short-lived thing at the best;
much for the interest of truth and beauty, which is indeed immortal,
and always grows upon acquaintance. And the novel-writing of our time
shows that hardly any thing is easier than to get up new incidents or
new combinations of incidents for a story; and as the interest of such
things turns mainly on their novelty, so of course they become less
interesting the more one knows them: which order--for "a thing of
beauty is a joy for ever"--is just reversed in genuine works of art.
Besides, if Shakespeare is the most original of poets, he is also one
of the greatest of borrowers; and as few authors have appropriated so
freely from others, so none can better afford to have his obligations
in this kind well known.


Shakespeare's _Humour_ is so large and so operative an element of his
genius, that a general review of his works would be very incomplete
without some special consideration of it. And perhaps, except his
marvellous duality of mind, there is nothing in his poetry of which it
is more difficult to give a satisfactory account. For humour is nowise
a distinct or separable thing with him, but a perfusive and permeating
ingredient of his make-up: it acts as a sort of common solvent, in
which different and even opposite lines of thought, states of mind,
and forms of life are melted into happy reconcilement and
co-operation. Through this, as a kind of pervading and essential sap,
is carried on a free intercourse and circulation between the moral and
intellectual parts of his being; and hence, perhaps, in part, the
wonderful catholicity of mind which generally marks his

It follows naturally from this that the Poet's humour is widely
diversified in its exhibitions. There is indeed no part of him that
acts with greater versatility. It imparts a certain wholesome
earnestness to his most sportive moods, making them like the honest
and whole-hearted play of childhood, than which human life has nothing
that proceeds more in earnest. For who has not found it a property of
childhood to be serious in its fun, innocent in its mischief, and
ingenuous in its guile? Moreover it is easy to remark that, in
Shakespeare's greatest dunces and simpletons and potentates of
nonsense, there is something that prevents contempt. A fellow-feeling
springs up between us and them; it is through our sympathetic, not our
selfish emotions, that they interest us: we are far more inclined to
laugh with them than at them; and even when we laugh at them we love
them the more for that which is laughable in them. So that our
intercourse with them proceeds under the great law of kindness and
charity. Try this with any of the Poet's illustrious groups of comic
personages, and it will be found, I apprehend, thoroughly true. What
distinguishes us from them, or sets us above them in our own esteem,
is never appealed to as a source or element of delectation. And so the
pleasure we have of them is altogether social in its nature, and
humanizing in its effect, ever knitting more widely the bands of

Here we have what may be called a foreground of comedy, but the Poet's
humour keeps up a living circulation between this and the serious
elements of our being that stand behind it. It is true, we are not
always, nor perhaps often, conscious of any stirring in these latter:
what is laughable occupies the surface, and therefore is all that we
directly see. But still there are deep undercurrents of earnest
sentiment moving not the less really that their movement is noiseless.
In the disguise of sport and mirth, there is a secret discipline of
humanity going on; and the effect is all the better that it steals
into us unseen and unsuspected: we know that we laugh, but we do
something better than laughing without knowing it, and so are made
the better by our laughter; for in that which betters us without our
knowledge we are doubly benefited.

Not indeed but that Shakespeare has characters, as, for example, the
Steward in _King Lear_, which are thoroughly contemptible, and which
we follow with contempt. But it is to be observed that there is
nothing laughable in Oswald; nothing that we can either laugh with or
laugh at: he is a sort of human reptile, such as life sometimes
produces, whom we regard with moral loathing and disgust, but in whose
company neither mirth nor pity can find any foothold. On the other
hand, the feelings moved by a Bottom, a Dogberry, an Aguecheek, or a
Slender, are indeed very different from those which wait upon a
Cordelia, an Ophelia, or an Imogen, but there is no essential
oppugnance between them: in both cases the heart moves by the laws of
sympathy; which is exactly reversed in the case of such an object as
Oswald: the former all touch us through what we have in common with
them; the latter touches us only through our antipathies. There is,
therefore, nothing either of comic or of tragic in the part of Oswald
viewed by itself: on the contrary, it runs in entire oppugnance to the
proper currents of them both.

Much of what I have said touching Shakespeare's comic scenes holds
true, conversely, of his tragic scenes. For it is a great mistake to
suppose that his humour has its sole exercise in comic representations.
It carries the power of tears as well as of smiles: in his deepest
strains of tragedy there is often a subtile infusion of it, and this
too in such a way as to heighten the tragic effect; we may feel it
playing delicately beneath his most pathetic scenes, and deepening
their pathos. For in his hands tragedy and comedy are not made up of
different elements, but of the same elements standing in different
places and relations: what is background in the one becomes foreground
in the other; what is an undercurrent in the one becomes an uppercurrent
in the other; the effect of the whole depending almost, perhaps altogether,
as much on what is not directly seen as on what is. So that with him the
pitiful and the ludicrous, the sublime and the droll, are like the
greatness and littleness of human life: for these qualities not only
coexist in our being, but, which is more, they coexist under a mysterious
law of interdependence and reciprocity; insomuch that our life may in some
sense be said to be great because little, and little because great.

And as Shakespeare's transports of humour draw down more or less into
the depths of serious thought, and make our laughter the more
refreshing and exhilarating because of what is moving silently
beneath; so his tragic ecstasies take a richness of colour and flavour
from the humour held in secret reserve, and forced up to the surface
now and then by the super incumbent weight of tragic matter. This it
is, in part, that truly makes them "awful mirth." For who does not
know that the most winning smiles are those which play round a
moistening eye, and tell of serious thoughts beneath; and that the
saddest face is that which wears in its expression an air of
remembered joy, and speaks darkly of sunshine in the inner courts of
the soul? For we are so made, that no one part of our being moves to
perfection unless all the other parts move with it: when we are at
work, whatever there is of the playful within us ought to play; when
we are at play, our working mind ought to be actively present in the
exercise. It is this harmonious moving together of all the parts of
our being that makes the true music of life. And to minister in
restoring this "concord of a well-tuned mind," which has been broken
by "discords most unjust," is the right office of Culture, and the
right scope of Art as the highest organ of Culture. And in reference
to this harmonious interplay of all the human faculties and
sensibilities, I may not unfitly apply to Shakespeare's workmanship
these choice lines from Wordsworth:

    "Brisk Youth appeared, the Morn of youth,
      With freaks of graceful folly,--
    Life's temperate Noon, her sober Eve,
      Her Night not melancholy;
    Past, present, future, all appeared,
      In harmony united,
    Like guests that meet, and some from far,
      By cordial love invited."

I cannot, nor need I, stay to illustrate the point in hand, at any
length, by detailed reference to the Poet's dramas. This belongs to
the office of particular criticism, and therefore would be something
out of keeping here. The Fool's part in _King Lear_ will readily occur
to any one familiar with that tragedy. And perhaps there is no one
part of _Hamlet_ that does more to heighten the tragic effect than the
droll scene of the Gravediggers. But, besides this, there is a vein of
humour running through the part of Hamlet himself, underlying his
darkest moods, and giving depth and mellowness to his strains of
impassioned thought. And every reflecting reader must have observed
how much is added to the impression of terror in the trial-scene of
_The Merchant of Venice_, by the fierce jets of mirth with which
Gratiano assails old Shylock; and also how, at the close of the scene,
our very joy at Antonio's deliverance quickens and deepens our pity
for the broken-hearted Jew who lately stood before us dressed in such
fulness of terror. But indeed the Poet's skill at heightening any
feeling by awakening its opposite; how he manages to give strength to
our most earnest sentiments by touching some spring of playfulness;
and to further our liveliest moods by springing upon us some delicate
surprises of seriousness;--all this is matter of common observation.

But the Poet's humour has yet other ways of manifesting itself. And
among these not the least remarkable is the subtile and delicate irony
which often pervades his scenes, and sometimes gives character to
whole plays, as in the case of _Troilus and Cressida_, and _Antony and
Cleopatra_. By methods that can hardly be described, he contrives to
establish a sort of secret understanding with the reader, so as to
arrest the impression just as it is on the point of becoming tragic.
While dealing most seriously with his characters, he uses a certain
guile: through them we catch, as it were, a roguish twinkle of his
eye, which makes us aware that his mind is secretly sporting itself
with their earnestness; so that we have a double sympathy,--a sympathy
with their passion and with his play. Thus his humour often acts in
such a way as to possess us with mixed emotions: the persons, while
moving us with their thoughts, at the same time start us upon other
thoughts which have no place in them; and we share in all that they
feel, but still are withheld from committing ourselves to them, or so
taking part with them as to foreclose a due regard to other claims.


The word _style_ is often used in a sense equally appropriate to all
the forms of Art,--a sense having reference to some peculiar mode of
conception or execution; as the Saxon, the Norman, the Romanesque
style of architecture, or the style of Titian, of Raphael, of
Rembrandt, of Turner, in painting. In this sense, it includes the
whole general character or distinctive impression of any given
workmanship in Art, and so is applicable to the Drama; as when we
speak of a writer's tragic or comic style, or of such and such dramas
as being in too operatic a style. The peculiarities of Shakespeare's
style in this sense have been involved in the foregoing sections; so
that I shall have no occasion to speak further of them in this general
survey of the Poet's Art. The more restrained and ordinary meaning of
the word looks merely to an author's use of language; that is, his
choice and arrangement of words, the structure of his sentences, and
the cast and texture of his imagery; all, in short, that enters into
his diction, or his manner of conveying his particular thoughts. This
is the matter now to be considered. The subject, however, is a very
wide one, and naturally draws into a multitude of details; so that I
can hardly do more than touch upon a few leading points, lest the
discussion should quite overgrow the limits I have prescribed myself.

On a careful inspection of Shakespeare's poetry, it becomes evident
that none of the epithets commonly used in regard to style, such as
_plain, simple, neat, ornate, elegant, florid, figurative, severe,
copious, sententious_, can be rightly applied to him, at least not as
characteristic of him. His style is all of them by turns, and much
more besides; but no one of the traits signified by those terms is so
continuous or prominent as to render the term in any sort fairly
discriminative or descriptive of his diction.

Under this head, then, I am to remark, first, that Shakespeare's
language is as far as possible from being of a constant and uniform
grain. His style seems to have been always in a sort of fluid and
formative state. Except in two or three of his earliest plays, there
is indeed a certain common basis, for which we have no word but
_Shakespearian_, running through his several periods of writing; but
upon this basis more or less of change is continually supervening. So
that he has various distinct styles, corresponding to his different
stages of ripeness in his work. These variations, to be sure, are
nowise abrupt: the transition from one to another is gradual and
insensible, proceeding by growth, not by leaps: but still, after an
interval of six or seven years, the difference becomes clearly marked.
It will suffice for my purpose to speak of them all under the
threefold distinction of earlier, middle, and later styles. And I
probably cannot do better than to take _King Richard the Second, As
You Like It_, and _Coriolanus_, as representing, severally, those
three divisions.

Shakespeare began by imitating the prevailing theatrical style of the
time. He wrote in much the same way as those before and about him did,
till by experience and practice he found out a better way of his own.
It is even doubtful whether his first imitations surpassed his models.
In _Titus Andronicus_, the First Part of _King Henry the Sixth_, and
_The Comedy of Errors_, if there be any thing of the right
Shakespearian idiom, it is so overlaid by what he had caught from
others as to be hardly discoverable. Accordingly those pieces seem to
me little better than worthless, save as specimens of his
apprentice-work. In _The Two Gentlemen of Verona_, also, _Loves
Labour's Lost_, and _The Taming of the Shrew_, imitation has decidedly
the upper hand; though in these plays, especially the latter, we have
clear prognostics of the forthcoming dramatic divinity. From thence
onward his style kept growing less imitative and more idiomatic till
not the least taste or relish of the former remained. So that in this
respect his course was in fact just what might be expected from a
thoroughly modest, teachable, receptive, and at the same time most
living, active, and aspiring mind,--a mind full indeed of native
boldness, but yet restrained by judgment and good sense from the
crudeness and temerity of self-will and eccentric impulse, and not
trusting to its own strength till it had better reasons for doing so
than the promptings of vanity and egotism.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is to this process of imitation that the Poet's faults of style are
to be mainly ascribed; though in the end it was no doubt in a great
measure the source of his excellences also. For, taking his works in
the order of their production, we can perceive very clearly that his
faults of style kept disappearing as he became more and more himself.
He advanced in the path of improvement by slow tentative methods, and
was evidently careful not to deviate from what was before him till he
saw unmistakably how he could do better. As he was thus "most severe
in fashion and collection of himself"; so he worked in just the true
way for disciplining and regulating his genius into power; and so in
due time he had a good right to be "as clear and confident as Jove."

Shakespeare's faults of style, especially in his earlier plays, are
neither few nor small. Among these are to be reckoned, of course, his
frequent quibbles and plays upon words, his verbal conceits and
affectations, his equivoques and clinches. Many of these are palpable
sins against manliness; not a few of them are decidedly puerile; the
results of an epidemic of trifling and of fanciful prettiness. Some
critics, it is true, have strained a point, if not several points, in
defence of them; but it seems to me that a fair-minded criticism has
no way but to set them down as plain blemishes and disfigurements. And
our right, nay, our duty to call them such is fully approved in that
the Poet himself seasonably outgrew and forsook them; a comparison of
his earlier and later plays thus showing that his manlier taste
discarded them. They were however nowise characteristic of him: they
were the fashion of the day, and were common to all the dramatic
writers of the time. Nor were they by any means confined to the walks
of the Drama: many men of the highest character and position both in
Church and State were more or less infected with them.

It is not likely indeed that Shakespeare at first regarded these
things as faults, or that he adopted them reluctantly in compliance
with the popular bent, and as needful to success. In his youth he
doubtless used them in good faith, and even sought for them as traits
of excellence; for he himself shared to the fullest extent in the
redundancy of mental life which distinguished the age, and which
naturally loves to sport itself in such quirks of thought and speech.
But it is manifest that he was not long in growing to distaste them,
notwithstanding that he still continued occasionally to practise them.
For, even in _The Merchant of Venice_, which I reckon among the last
in his earlier or the first in his middle style, we find him censuring
the thing while indulging it:

    "O, dear discretion, how his words are suited!
    The fool hath planted in his memory
    An army of good words; and I do know
    A many fools, that stand in better place,
    Garnish'd like him, that for a tricksy word
    Defy the matter."

In the case here censured, however, the thing, though a vice in
itself, is no offence to good taste, and may even be justly noted as a
stroke of dramatic virtue, because it is rightly characteristic of the
person using it: which only makes the reproof the more pointed as
aimed at the habit, then but too common in the high places of
learning, of so twisting language into puns and conceits, that one
could hardly come at the sense. But I can admit no such plea, when, in
_King Richard the Second_, the dying Gaunt goes to punning on his

    "Old Gaunt indeed; and gaunt in being old:
    Within me grief hath kept a tedious fast;
    And who abstains from meat, that is not gaunt?
    For sleeping England long time have I watch'd;
    Watching breeds leanness, leanness is all gaunt:
    The pleasure that some fathers feed upon
    Is my strict fast,--I mean my children's looks;
    And therein fasting, hast thou made me gaunt:
    Gaunt am I for the grave, gaunt as a grave,
    Whose hollow womb inherits nought but bones."

This, notwithstanding it is defended by so sound a critic as Schlegel,
seems to me a decided blot; I cannot accept it as right either in
itself or on the score of dramatic fitness. Many like instances occur
in _Romeo and Juliet, King John_, and other plays of that period;
instances which I cannot help regarding not only as breaches of good
taste in the speakers, but as plain faults of style in the Poet
himself: the blame of them indeed properly rests with him, not with
the persons; for they are out of keeping with the sentiments of the
occasion, and jar on the feelings which the surrounding matter
inspires; that is, they are sins against dramatic propriety, as well
as against honest manliness of style: so that, however the pressure of
the age may account for them, it must not be taken as excusing them;
and the best we can say on this point is, that in his faults of style
the Poet went with the custom and fashion of his time, while in his
virtues he went quite above and beyond the time.

Near akin to these are other faults of still graver import. In his
earlier plays, the Poet's style is often, not to say generally, at
least in the more serious parts, rather rhetorical than rightly
dramatic. The persons often lay themselves out in what may not
unfairly be called speech-making. Their use of language is highly
self-conscious, and abounds in marks of elaborateness, as if their
mind were more intent on the figure they are making than on what they
are talking about: so that the right colloquial tone is lost in a
certain ambitious, oratorical, got-up manner of speech; and we feel a
want of that plain, native, spontaneous talk wherein heart and tongue
keep touch and time together: in short, they speak rather as authors
having an audience in view than as men and women moved by the real
passions and interests of life.

The reason of all this I take to be, that the Poet himself was at that
time highly self-conscious in his use of language. His art was then
too young to lose itself in the enthusiasm of Truth and Nature; and,
as remarked before, he seems to have felt no little pleasure in the
tokens of his own skill. Thus, in his earlier plays, written before he
had fully found himself, the arts and motives of authorship are but
too apparent: he was then, I should say, somewhat in the humour of
flirting with the Muses and Graces; which, because it lacks the
modesty and delicacy of genuine passion, therefore naturally runs into
that excess of manner and style which is commonly called "fine
writing." And it is a very note-worthy point, that when he studies
most for effect, then it is that we find him least effective. But here
too, as in the matter mentioned before, his fault was clearly the
result of imitation, not of character. Accordingly, in the earnestness
of his work, he gradually outgrew it. In the plays of his later
period, the fault disappears entirely; there is not a vestige of it
left: in fact, this fault is mainly revealed to us by the higher
standard of judgment which his later plays supply. Here all is
straightforward, genuine, natural, with no rhetorical trickeries or
fineries whatever; and among all modern writers his style stands quite
alone in the solid purity, directness, and inward virtue of that
perfect art which not only conceals itself from others, but is even a
secret unto itself; or at least is too intent on something else to be
listening to the music of its own voice. For so his highest style was
when, in the maturity of his power, he left the style to take care of
itself, and therefore had it perfectly subordinated to his matter and
thought: in other words, he always writes best when most unconscious
of it, being so possessed with his theme as to take no thought of

We have somewhat the same order and course of things in Burke, who may
be not unfitly described as the Shakespeare of political philosophy.
His treatise _On the Sublime and Beautiful_ was, though in a good
sense, mainly the fruit of literary ambition. There he rather sought
for something to say because he wanted to speak, than spoke because he
had something he wanted to say. And so he is not properly himself in
that work, but only a studious, correct, and tasteful writer. When
thoroughly roused and kindled in the work of defending, intrenching,
and illustrating the Constitution of his country as the sacred
guardian of liberty and order, he became quite another man; then it
was that all the powers of his great mind were taught and inspired to
act in concert and unity. As Wordsworth says of him,--

    "This is no trifler, no short-flighted wit,
    No stammerer of a minute, painfully
    Deliver'd. No! the Orator hath yok'd
    The Hours, like young Aurora, to his car:
    Thrice-welcome Presence! how can patience e'er
    Grow weary of attending on a track
    That kindles with such glory!"

The mere ambitions of authorship are not enough to make good authors;
and what Burke needed was something to lift him far above them. And
when he came to grapple with the high practical questions and living
interests of mankind, here he was too full of his matter, and too
earnest in his cause, to observe how finely he was working; and
because he was captivated by his theme, not by the figure he made in
handling it, therefore he earned a prerogative place among the sons of

The distinction I have been remarking between Shakespeare's rhetorical
and dramatic use of language, or, as I before termed it, his imitative
and idiomatic style, may be better understood on comparing some brief
specimens of his earlier and later workmanship. As an instance of the
former, take a part of York's speech to the King, in _King Richard the
Second_, ii. 1:

    "I am the last of noble Edward's sons,
    Of whom thy father, Prince of Wales, was first:
    In war was never lion rag'd more fierce,
    In peace was never gentle lamb more mild,
    Than was that young and princely gentleman.
    His face thou hast, for even so look'd he,
    Accomplish'd with the number of thy hours;
    But when he frown'd, it was against the French,
    And not against his friends: his noble hand
    Did win what he did spend, and not spend that
    Which his triumphant father's hand had won:
    His hands were guilty of no kindred's blood,
    But bloody with the enemies of his kin."

No one, I think, can help feeling that this is the style of a man
rather aiming at finely-turned phrases than deeply in earnest with the
matter in hand; more the language of brilliant rhetoric than of
impassioned thought. At all events, there is to my taste an air of
falsetto about it; it seems more like the image of a painted than of a
living passion. Be this as it may, the Poet's own riper style quite
discredits it; though I have to confess that, but for his teachings,
we might not so well have known of any thing better. Now contrast with
the foregoing one of the hero's speeches in _Coriolanus_, iii. 2,
where his mother urges him to play the demagogue, and practise smiles
for the gaining of votes:

    "Away, my disposition, and possess me
    Some harlot's spirit! my throat of war be turn'd--
    Which quirèd with my drum--into a pipe
    Small as an eunuch's, or the virgin voice
    That babies lulls asleep! the smiles of knaves
    Tent in my cheeks; and school-boys' tears take up
    The glasses of my sight! a beggar's tongue
    Make motion through my lips; and my arm'd knees,
    Who bow'd but in my stirrup, bend like his
    That hath receiv'd an alms!--I will not do't;
    Lest I surcease to honour mine own truth,
    And by my body's action teach my mind
    A most inherent baseness."

Perhaps the Poet's different styles might be still better exemplified
in passages of pathos; but here I must rest with merely referring, for
instance, to York's speech in _King Richard the Second_, beginning,
"As in a theatre the eyes of men," and the passage in _Macbeth_ where
Macduff first learns of the slaughter of his wife and children. Both
are indeed very noble in their way; but I think no reader of
disciplined taste can fail to see the vast superiority of the latter,
and that this is owing not so much to any difference of character in
the speakers as to a far higher stage of art in the Poet. I must add
that the rhetorical or speech-making style appears more or less in all
the plays of his first period: we find something of it even in such
high specimens as _The Merchant of Venice_ and _King Henry the

I have spoken of the fault in question as specially marking the _more
serious_ parts of the Poet's earlier plays. The more comic portions of
the same plays are much less open to any such reproof. The Poet's
style in comedy from the first ran closer to nature, and had much more
of freedom, simplicity, and heartiness in its goings. The reason of
this difference seems to be, that the lessons of nature in sport are
more quickly learnt than those of nature in her graver moods. The
child plays, the man works. And there needs a ripe soul of manhood,
with much discipline besides, before a man warms into his work with
the free gust and spirit of play.

In what more I have to say under this head, I shall spare further
reference to the Poet's faults of imitation, and speak only of his
characteristic or idiomatic traits of style.

       *       *       *       *       *

In regard to Shakespeare's choice of words there probably need not
much be said. Here the point I shall first consider is the relative
proportion of Saxon and Latin words in his writing.--Students somewhat
curious in this behalf have found his words of Latin derivation to
average about forty per cent. This, I believe, does not greatly differ
from the average used by the most select and accomplished writers of
that age. I suspect that Hooker has a somewhat larger proportion of
Latin words, but am not sure of it.--The English had already grown to
be a learned tongue; and, which is far better, the learned portion of
it had got thoroughly diffused and domesticated in the popular mind:
for centuries the Saxon and Latin elements had been in process of
blending and fusing together, so as to work smoothly and even lovingly
side by side in the same thought; common people using both with the
same easy and unstudied naturalness. Therewithal the language was then
in just its freshest state of maturity; flexible to all the turns of
philosophical and poetical discourse; full of vital sap and flavour;
its cheeks plump and rosy, its step light and graceful, with health:
pedants and grammarians had not starched and ironed it into
self-conscious dignity and primness: it had not learnt the vice of
putting on literary airs, and of practising before a looking-glass.
Our translation of the Bible is enough of itself to prove all this,
even if we had no other monuments of the fact. And the Elizabethan
English was a right joyous and jolly tongue also, as became the heart
of brave, honest, merry old England; yet it was earnest and candid
withal, and had in no sort caught the French disease of vanity and
persiflage: it was all alive, too, with virgin sensibility and
imaginative delicacy; to say nothing of how Spenser found or made it
as melodious and musical as Apollo's lute.

Shakespeare has many passages, some of them running to considerable
length, made up almost wholly of Saxon words. Again, he has not a few
wherein the Latin largely shares. Yet I can hardly see that in either
case any thing of vigour and spirit is lost. On the other hand, I can
often see a decided increase of strength and grasp resulting in part
from a judicious mixing and placing of the two elements. I cite a few
passages in illustration; the first two being from _King Lear_, the
third from _Antony and Cleopatra_:

                                  "Mine enemy's dog,
    Though he had bit me, should have stood that night
    Against my fire; and wast thou fain, poor father,
    To hovel thee with swine, and rogues forlorn,
    In short and musty straw?"

    "We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage:
    When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down,
    And ask of thee forgivness: so we'll live,
    And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
    At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
    Talk of Court news; and we'll talk with them too,--
    Who loses and who wins, who's in, who's out;--
    And take upon 's the mystery of things,
    As if we were God's spies: and we'll wear out,
    In a wall'd prison, packs and sects of great ones,
    That ebb and flow by th' Moon."

    The white hand of a lady fever thee,
    Shake thou to look on't. Get thee back to Cæsar,
    Tell him thy entertainment: look thou say
    He makes me angry with him; for he seems
    Proud and disdainful, harping on what I am,
    Not what he knew I was: he makes me angry;
    And at this time most easy 'tis to do't,
    When my good stars, that were my former guides,
    Have empty left their orbs, and shot their fires
    Into th' abysm of Hell."

With these collate the following from _Troilus and Cressida_ and _King
Lear_, where, for aught I can see, the interweaving of Saxon and Latin
words proceeds with just as much ease and happiness as the almost pure
Saxon of the foregoing:

                       "How could communities,
    Degrees in schools, and brotherhoods in cities,
    Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
    The primogenity and due of birth,
    Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
    But by degree, stand in authentic place?
    Take but degree away, untune that string,
    And, hark, what discord follows! each thing meets
    In mere oppugnancy: the bounded waters
    Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores,
    And make a sop of all this solid globe:
    Strength should be lord of imbecility,
    And the rude son should strike his father dead:
    Force should be right; or rather, right and wrong--
    Between whose endless jar justice resides--
    Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
    Then every thing includes itself in power
    Power into will, will into appetite;
    And appetite, an universal wolf,
    So doubly seconded with will and power,
    Must make perforce an universal prey,
    And last eat up himself."

                            "Tremble, thou wretch,
    That hast within thee undivulgèd crimes,
    Unwhipp'd of justice: hide thee, thou bloody hand;
    Thou perjur'd, and thou simular of virtue,
    That art incestuous: caitiff, to pieces shake,
    That under covert and convenient seeming
    Hast practis'd on man's life: close pent-up guilts,
    Rive your concealing continents, and cry
    These dreadful summoners grace."

Observe what a sense of muscularity this usage carries, not only in
the foregoing, but also in various shorter instances:

    "Stop up th' access and passage to remorse,
    That no compunctious visitings of nature
    Shake my fell purpose."

                   "This my hand will rather
    The multitudinous sea incarnardine."

    "What is it then to me, if impious War--
    Array'd in flames, like to the Prince of Fiends--
    Do, with his smirch'd complexion, all fell feats
    Enlink'd to waste and desolation?"

    "And other devils, that suggest by treasons,
    Do botch and bungle up damnation."

It should be noted, further, that Shakespeare has many palpable
Latinisms, some of them very choice too; that is, words of Latin
origin used quite out of their popular English sense; such as,--"Th'
_extravagant_ and _erring_ spirit hies to his confine,"--"Upon my
_secure_ hour thy uncle stole,"--"Rank corruption, mining all within,
_infects_ unseen,"--and, "To _expostulate_ what majesty should be,
what duty is." And sometimes, not having the fear of poetical, or
rather of unpoetical precisians and martinets before his eyes, he did
not even scruple to naturalize words for his own use from foreign
springs, such as _exsufflicate_ and _deracinate_; or to coin a word,
whenever the concurring reasons of sense and verse invited it; as in
_fedary, intrinse, intrinsicate, insisture_, and various others.

As to the sources from which Shakespeare drew his choice and use of
words, the most material point seems to be, that he certainly did not
go to books or scholars, or to those who made language a special
object of study. Yet he knew right well that this was often done; for
he ridicules it deliriously in _Love's Labour's Lost_, when Sir
Nathaniel the Curate says of Constable Dull, "He hath never fed of the
dainties that are bred in a book; he hath not eat paper, as it were;
he hath not drunk ink; his intellect is not replenished"; and again,
still better, when it is said of the learned Curate and Holofernes the
School-master, "They have been at a great feast of languages, and
stolen the scraps";--"They have lived long in the alms-basket of
words." Shakespeare did not learn his language in this way: he went
right into familiar, everyday speech for his words; caught them fresh,
and beating with life, from the lips of common people and intelligent
men of the world, farmers, mechanics, tradesmen, and housekeepers, who
used language purely as a medium, not as an object, of thought; and of
professional men, as they spoke when conversing with practical things,
and stirred by the motives and feelings of actual life; that is, when,
however they might think as wise men do, they spoke as common people

Hence we find him using the special terms of the street, the farm, the
garden, the shop, the kitchen, the pantry, the wine-vault, the
forecastle, the counting-room, the exchange, the bower, of hunting,
falconry, angling, war, and even the technical terms of the Law, of
Medicine, and Divinity, all as they actually lived on the tongues of
men, and just as life had steeped its sense and spirit into them. This
it is, in great part, that has made him so high and so wide an
authority in verbal definition: as he took the meaning of words at
first hand, and so preserved them with all their native sap and juice
still in them; so lexicography uses him as its best guide. Hence, too,
the prodigious compass, variety, limberness, and ever-refreshing
raciness of his diction: no familiarity can suck the verdure out of
it: the perennial dews of nature are incorporated in its texture: so
that no words but his own can fitly describe it; as when he says of
Cleopatra, "Other women cloy the appetites they feed; but she makes
hungry where most she satisfies." Yet there is very seldom any smack
of vulgarity in his language, save when the right delineation of
character orders it so: words, that are nothing but vulgar as used by
vulgar minds, are somehow in his use washed clean of their vulgarity;
for there was a cunning alchemy in his touch that could instantly
transmute the basest materials into "something rich and strange." In
this respect, Mr. White justly applies to him what Laertes says of his

    "Thought and affliction, passion, Hell itself,
    She turns to favour and to prettiness."

The Poet's arrangement of words is often very peculiar, and sometimes
such as to render his meaning rather obscure; not obscure, perhaps, to
his contemporaries, whose apprehension was less fettered by
grammatical rules; but so to us, because our wits are more tied up
from nimbleness with notions of literal correctness, and with habits
of mind contracted from long intercourse with parsing writers. I mean
that Shakespeare often sorts and places his words in what seems to us
an arbitrary manner, throwing them out, so to speak, almost at random.
Here is a small instance: "At our more consider'd time, we'll read,
answer, and think upon this business." Of course, _our more consider'd
time_ means, when we have taken time for further consideration. So too
when the King suddenly resolves on sending Hamlet to England, and on
having him there put to death; fearing a popular tumult, because
Hamlet is loved by the multitude, he says, "To bear all smooth and
even, this sudden sending him away must seem deliberate pause"; that
is, a thing that we have paused and deliberated upon. Here it would
seem that the Poet, so he got the several elements of thought and the
corresponding parts of expression drawn in together, cared little for
the precise form and order of the latter, trusting that the hearer or
reader would mentally shape and place them so as to fit the sense. But
the meaning is not always so easy to come at as in these two cases. In
_Macbeth_, v. 4, when others are surmising and forecasting the issue
of the war, Macduff says, "Let our just censures attend the true
event, and put we on industrious soldiership." He wants to have the
present time all spent in doing the work, not in speculating of the
issue; and his meaning is, Let us not try to judge how things are
going, till the actual result enables us to judge rightly; or, Let
our judgments wait till the issue is known, _that so they may be_
just. In this case, the ideas signified by _judgment, waiting, result,
known_, and _just_ were all to be expressed together, and the
answering parts of language are disposed in the handiest order for
metre and brevity; while the relations which those parts bear to each
other in the speaker's thought are to be gathered from the subject and
drift of the foregoing dialogue.

As this is at times a rather troublesome feature in the Poet's style,
I will add a few more instances. Thus in the same play: "This castle
hath a pleasant seat: the air nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
unto our gentle senses"; that is, the air _sweetens_ our senses _into
gentleness_, or _makes_ them gentle, by its purity and pleasantness.
Again: "Ere humane statute purg'd the gentle weal"; which means, ere
humane laws _made_ the commonwealth gentle by cleansing it from the
wrongs and pollutions of barbarism. So too in _King Henry the Fifth_,
when the conspiring lords find their plot detected, and hear the doom
of death pronounced upon them by the King, one of them says, "And God
be thankèd for prevention; which I in sufferance heartily will
rejoice;" meaning, that he is thankful their murderous purpose is
defeated, though it be by their death; and that he will heartily
rejoice for such defeat, even while suffering the pains it involves.
Again, in _King Henry the Fourth_, when Hotspur is burning to cross
swords with Prince Henry in the forthcoming battle:

             "And, fellows, soldiers, friends,
    Better consider what you have to do,
    Than I, that have not well the gift of tongue,
    Can lift your blood up with persuasion."

That is, you can better kindle your spirits to the work by thinking
with yourselves what is to be done, than my small power of speech can
heat your courage up for the fight by any attempts at persuasion. The
well-known words of Juliet--"That runaway's eyes may wink"--come
under the same class of cases; and how hard such forms of language
sometimes are to understand, may be judged from the interminable
discussion occasioned by that famous passage. And it must be
confessed, I think, that in several cases of this kind perspicuity is
not a little sacrificed to metrical convenience and verbal dispatch.
But Shakespeare wrote with the stage in view, not the closet; and he
doubtless calculated a good deal on the help of the actor's looks,
tones, and gestures, in rendering his meaning intelligible.

As regards the other points in Shakespeare's arrangement of words, I
have little more to say than that here again his practice has nothing
bookish or formal about it, but draws right into life and the living
speech of men. He has no settled rules, no favourite order. In this
respect, as in others, language was in his hands as limber as water at
the fountain. He found it full of vital flexibility, and he left it
so; nay, rather made it more so. As he did not learn his craft in the
little narrow world of school rhetoricians, where all goes by the
cut-and-dry method, and men are taught to "laugh by precept only, and
shed tears by rule," but from the spontaneous rhetoric of the great
and common world; so we find him varying the order of his words with
the unconscious ease of perfect freedom, and moulding his language
into an endless diversity of shapes. Perhaps I cannot better express
his style in this behalf than by saying that he pitches right into the
matter, instead of walking or wording round it; not looking at all to
the gracefulness of his attitudes or the regularity of his motions,
but driving straight ahead at directness, compactness, perspicuity,
and force; caring little for the grammar of his speech, so it convey
his sense; and taking no thought about the facility or even
possibility of parsing, but only to get the soul of his purpose into a
right working body. Thus in _Cymbeline_, iii. 2, where the hard-beset
Imogen is first beguiled into the hope of meeting her husband at
Milford Haven:

                                   "Then, true Pisanio,--
    Who long'st, like me, to see thy lord; who long'st,--
    O, let me bate,--but not like me;--yet long'st,--
    But in a fainter kind;--O, not like me,
    For mine's beyond beyond;--say, and speak thick,--
    Love's counsellor should fill the bores of hearing
    To th' smothering of the sense,--how far it is
    To this same blessèd Milford: and, by th' way,
    Tell me how Wales was made so happy as
    T' inherit such a haven: but, first of all,
    How we may steal from hence; and for the gap
    That we shall make in time, from our hence-going,
    And our return, t' excuse:--but, first, how get hence:
    Why should excuse be born or e'er begot?
    We'll talk of that hereafter."

What a chaos of verbal confusion have we here, until we penetrate to
the soul of the heroine! and then what a pavilion of life and beauty
this soul organizes that chaos into! How ignorant the glorious
creature is of grammar; yet how subtile and sinewy of discourse! How
incorrect her placing of words, yet how transfigured with grace of
feeling and intelligence! Just think into what a nice trim garden of
elocution a priest of the correct and classical church, like Pope,
would have dressed this free outpouring of the speaker's heart. No
doubt the language would be faultlessly regular; you might analyze and
parse it _currente lingua_; but how lifeless and odourless the whole
thing! how all the soul of nature, which now throbs so eloquently in
it, would have been dried and crimped out of it! The workmanship, in
short, to borrow an illustration from Schlegel, would have been like
the mimic gardens of children; who, eager to see the work of their
hands, break off twigs and flowers, and stick them in the ground;
which done, the childish gardener struts proudly up and down his showy

Perhaps the Poet's autocratic overshooting of grammar and rhetoric is
still better instanced in the same play, v. 3, where Posthumus relates
the doings of old Belarius and the Princes in a certain lane. On being
asked, "Where was this lane?" he replies:

    "Close by the battle, ditch'd, and wall'd with turf;
    Which gave advantage to an ancient soldier,--
    An honest one, I warrant; who deserv'd
    So long a breeding as his white beard came to,
    In doing this for 's country: athwart the lane,
    He, with two striplings,--lads more like to run
    The country base than to commit such slaughter;
    With faces fit for masks, or rather fairer
    Than those for preservation cas'd or shame,--
    Made good the passage; cried to those that fled,
    _Our Britain's harts die flying, not our men_."

And so on to the end of the speech; which is all, from first to last,
as glorious in conception and imagery as it is reckless of rhetorical

       *       *       *       *       *

I am next to say somewhat touching the Poet's sentence-building, this
being a matter that rhetoricians make much of; though in this, also, I
must in the outset acquit him of any practical respect for the rulings
of courts rhetorical. For here, again, he has no set fashion, no
preferred pattern, no oft-recurring form; nothing at all stereotyped
or modish; but just ranges at large in all the unchartered freedom and
versatility of the English colloquial idiom. You may find in him
sentences of every possible construction; but, except in his early
plays, you can hardly say that he took to any one mould of structure
more than another. So that his most peculiar feature here is absence
of peculiarity. Thought dominates absolutely the whole material of
expression, working it, shaping it, out-and-out, as clay in the
potter's hands; which has no character but what it receives from the
occasion and purpose of the user. As the Poet cares for nothing but to
"suit the action to the word, the word to the action," so his word
takes on forms as various as the action of his persons; nay, more; is
pliant to all their moods and tenses of thought, passion, feeling, and
volition. Thus, in the structure of his sentences, as in other things,
his language is strictly physiognomic of his matter, the speaking
exterior of the inward life; which life is indeed the one sole
organizing principle of it. Accordingly he has specimens of the most
pithy, piercing, sententious brevity; specimens with all the ample and
rich magnificence of ordered pomp; specimens of terse, restrained, yet
rhythmical, and finely-modulated vigour; specimens of the most copious
and varied choral harmony; specimens of the most quiet, simple, and
pure-flowing melody; now a full burst of the many-voiced lordly organ,
now the softest and mellowest notes of the flute. Not only these, but
all the intermediate, and ever so many surrounding varieties of
structure are met with in his omniformity of sentence-building. In
short, the leaves of a forest are hardly more varied in figure and
make than Shakespeare's sentences; so that if these were all sorted
into rhetorical classes, and named, it would "dizzy the arithmetic of
memory" to run through their names.

The only divisions on this score that I shall attempt to speak of are
those called the Period and the Loose Sentence. Everybody knows, I
presume, that in a periodic sentence, when rightly fashioned, the
sense is not completed till you reach the close; so that the whole has
to be formed in thought before any part is set down. The beginning
forecasts the end, the end remembers the beginning, and all the
intermediate parts are framed with an eye to both beginning and end.
And the nearer it comes to a regular circle, the better it is held to
be. This style of writing, then, may be not unfitly said to go on
wheels. It is naturally rolling and high-sounding, or at least may
easily be made so, and therefore is apt to be in favour with geniuses
of a swelling, oratorical, and elocutionary order. Besides, it is a
style easily imitated, and so is not unfavourable to autorial
equality. On the other hand, the Loose Sentence begins without any
apparent thought of how it is to end, and proceeds with as little
apparent thought of how it began: the sense may stand complete many
times before it gets through: it runs on seemingly at random, winding
at its "own sweet will," though the path it holds is much nearer a
straight line than a circle; and it stops, not where the starting
foresaw, but where the matter so carries it. Thus it is a sort of
lingual straggler, if you please, and may be said to wander with
little or no conscience of the rhetorical toilet.

Shakespeare has many periodic sentences: at first he seems to have
rather affected that structure: in the more serious parts of the plays
written in his earlier style it is so common as to be almost
characteristic of them. But, on the whole, he evidently much preferred
writing in straight lines to writing in circles; and this preference
grew stronger as he ripened in his art; so that in his later
workmanship the periodic construction becomes decidedly rare: and the
reason of his so preferring the linear to the circular structure seems
to have been, not only because the former is the more natural and
spontaneous way of speaking, but also because it offers far more scope
for the proper freedom and variety of English colloquial speech. He
has numberless sentences of exquisite beauty of structure; many indeed
of the circular kind, but far more of the linear; and the beauty of
the latter is purer and higher than that of the former, because it is
much more unconscious and unsought, and comes along of its own accord
in the undivided quest of something else: for, say what you will, the
true law in this matter is just that so well stated by Professor
Shairp in the passage before quoted in a note on page 138: "No one
ever became really beautiful by aiming at beauty. Beauty comes, we
scarce know how, as an emanation from sources deeper than itself." And
so it was with Shakespeare in all respects,--I mean Shakespeare the
master, not Shakespeare the apprentice,--and in none more so than in
the matter of style.

Before quitting this branch of the theme, I will add a few
illustrations. And I will begin with two specimens of the circular
structure; the first being from the night-scene in _The Merchant of
Venice_, v. I:

    "For do but note a wild and wanton herd,
    Or race of youthful and unhandled colts,
    Fetching mad bounds, bellowing, and neighing loud,
    Which is the hot condition of their blood;
    If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
    Or any air of music touch their ears,
    You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
    Their savage eyes turn'd to a modest gaze,
    By the sweet power of music."

The next is from one of Westmoreland's speeches in the Second Part of
_King Henry the Fourth_, iv. 1:

                      "You, Lord Archbishop,--
    Whose See is by a civil peace maintain'd;
    Whose beard the silver hand of peace hath touch'd;
    Whose learning and good letters peace hath tutor'd;
    Whose white investments figure innocence,
    The dove and very blessèd spirit of peace,--
    Wherefore do you so ill translate yourself
    Out of the speech of peace, that bears such grace,
    Into the harsh and boisterous tongue of war?"

Now for some specimens in the linear style. The first is from the
courtship of Ferdinand and Miranda, _The Tempest_, iii. 1:

                             "I do not know
    One of my sex; no woman's face remember,
    Save, from my glass, mine own; nor have I seen
    More that I may call men, than you, good friend,
    And my dear father: how features are abroad,
    I'm skilless of; but, by my modesty,--
    The jewel in my dower,--I would not wish
    Any companion in the world but you;
    Nor can imagination form a shape,
    Besides yourself, to like of."

The next is from the speech of Cominius to the people on proposing the
hero for Consul, in _Coriolanus_, ii. 2:

                                 "At sixteen years,
    When Tarquin made a head for Rome, he fought
    Beyond the mark of others: our then Dictator,
    Whom with all praise I point at, saw him fight,
    When with his Amazonian chin he drove
    The bristled lips before him: he bestrid
    An o'erpress'd Roman, and i' the Consul's view
    Slew three opposers: Tarquin's self he met,
    And struck him on his knee: in that day's feats,
    When he might act the woman in the scene,
    He prov'd best man i' the field, and for his meed
    Was brow-bound with the oak."

The following is from the history of Posthumus given by one of the
Gentlemen in _Cymbeline_, i. 1:

                  "The King he takes the babe
    To his protection; calls him Posthumus Leonatus;
    Breeds him, and makes him of his bed-chamber;
    Puts to him all the learnings that his time
    Could make him the receiver of; which he took,
    As we do air, fast as 't was minister'd,
    And in his spring became a harvest; liv'd in Court--
    Which rare it is to do--most prais'd, most lov'd;
    A sample to the youngest; to the more mature
    A glass that feated them; and to the graver
    A child that guided dotards: to his mistress,
    For whom he now is banish'd,--her own price
    Proclaims how she esteem'd him and his virtue;
    By her election may be truly read
    What kind of man he is."

In all these three passages, the structure shapes itself from step to
step as it goes on, one idea starting another, and each clause being
born of the momentary impulse of the under-working vital current;
which is indeed the natural way of unpremeditated, self-forgetting
discourse. There is no care about verbal felicities; none for rounded
adjustment of parts, or nice balancing of members, or for exactness of
pauses and cadences, so as to make the language run smooth on the ear;
or, if there be any care about these things, it is rather a care to
avoid them. This it is that gives to Shakespeare's style such a truly
organic character, in contradistinction to mere pieces of
nicely-adjusted verbal joinery or cabinet-work; so that, as we
proceed, the lingual form seems budding and sprouting at the moving of
the inner mental life; the thought unfolding and branching as the
expression grows, and the expression growing with the growth of the
thought. In short, language with him is not the dress, but the
incarnation of ideas: he does not robe his thoughts with garments
externally cut and fitted to them, but his thoughts robe themselves in
a living texture of flesh and blood.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hence the wonderful correspondence, so often remarked, between the
Poet's style and the peculiar moods, tempers, motives, and habits of
his characters, as if the language had caught the very grain and
tincture of their minds. So, for instance, we find him rightly making
the most glib-tongued rhetoric proceed from utter falseness of heart;
for men never speak so well, in the elocutionary sense, as when they
are lying; while, on the other hand, "there are no tricks in plain and
simple faith." Thus, in _Macbeth_, when the murder of Duncan is first
announced, we have the hero speaking of it to the Princes, when one of
them asks, "What is amiss?"

                      "You are, and do not know't:
    The spring, the head, the fountain of your blood
    Is stopp'd; the very source of it is stopp'd."

Of course he words the matter so finely all because he is playing the
hypocrite. Compare with this the quick honest way in which Macduff
dashes out the truth: "Your royal father's murder'd." We have a still
more emphatic instance of the same kind in Goneril and Regan's
hollow-hearted, and therefore highly rhetorical professions of love,
when the doting old King invites his three daughters to an auction of
falsehood, by proposing,

    "That we our largest bounty may extend
    Where nature doth with merit challenge."

So, again in _Hamlet_, i. 2, the King opens with an elaborate strain
of phrase-making, full of studied and ingenious antitheses; and he
keeps up that style so long as he is using language to conceal his
thoughts; but afterwards, in the same speech, on coming to matters of
business, he falls at once into the direct, simple style of plain
truth and intellectual manhood.

But we have a more curious illustration, though in quite another kind,
in _Macbeth_, iv. 3, where Ross, fresh from Scotland, comes to Macduff
in England:

    "_Macd_. Stands Scotland where it did?

    _Ross_.                        Alas, poor country,
    Almost afraid to know itself! it cannot
    Be call'd our mother, but our grave: where nothing,
    But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile;
    Where sighs, and groans, and shrieks that rend the air,
    Are made, not mark'd; where violent sorrow seems
    A modern ecstasy: the dead man's knell
    Is there scarce ask'd for whom; and good men's lives
    Expire before the flowers in their caps,
    Dying or e'er they sicken.

    _Macd_.                 O, relation
    Too nice, and yet too true!"

Here Ross's picked and precise wording of the matter shows his speech
to be the result of meditated preparation; for he has come with his
mind so full of what he was to say, that he could think of nothing
else; and Macduff, with characteristic plainness of ear and tongue,
finds it "too nice." His comment, at once so spontaneous and so apt,
is a delightful touch of the Poet's art; and tells us that
Shakespeare's judgment as well as his genius was at home in the secret
of a perfect style; and that he understood, no man better, the
essential poverty of "fine writing."

Equally apt and characteristic is another speech of Macduff's later in
the same scene, after learning how "all his pretty chickens and their
dam" have been put to death by the tyrant:

                              "Gentle Heaven,
    Cut short all intermission; front to front
    Bring thou this fiend of Scotland and myself;
    Within my sword's length set him; if he 'scape,
    Heaven forgive him too."

Macduff is a man of great simplicity, energy, and determination of
character; and here we have all these qualities boiled down to the
highest intensity, as would naturally be the effect of such news on
such a man. And observe how much is implied in that little word
_too_,--"Heaven forgive him too." As much as to say, "Let me once but
have a chance at him, if I don't kill him, then I'm as great a sinner
as he, and so God forgive us both!" I hardly know of another instance
of so great a volume of meaning compressed into so few words. And how
like it is to noble Macduff!

I could fill many pages with examples of this perfect suiting of the
style to the mental states of the dramatic speakers, but must rest
with citing a few more.

Hotspur is proverbially a man of impatient, irascible, headstrong
temper. See now how all this is reflected in the very step of his
language, when he has just been chafed into a rage by what the King
has said to him about the Scottish prisoners:

    "Why, look you, I am whipp'd and scourg'd with rods,
    Nettled, and stung with pismires, when I hear
    Of this vile politician, Bolingbroke.
    In Richard's time,--what do you call the place?--
    A plague upon 't!--it is in Glostershire;--
    'Twas where the madcap duke his uncle kept,
    His uncle York;--where I first bow'd my knee
    Unto this king of smiles, this Bolingbroke;--
    When you and he came back from Ravenspurg.--
    Why, what a candy deal of courtesy
    This fawning greyhound then did proffer me!
    Look, _When his infant fortune came to age_,
    And, _Gentle Harry Percy_, and, _Kind cousin_,--
    O, the Devil take such cozeners!"

Hotspur's spirit is so all-for-war, that he can think of nothing else;
hence he naturally scorns poetry, though his soul is full of it. But
poetry is so purely an impulse with him, that he is quite unconscious
of it. With Glendower, on the contrary, poetry is a purpose, and he
pursues it consciously. Note, then, in iii. 1, how this poetical mood
shapes and tunes his style, when he interprets his daughter's Welsh
to her English husband:

    "She bids you on the wanton rushes lay you down,
    And rest your gentle head upon her lap,
    And she will sing the song that pleaseth you,
    And on your eyelids crown the god of sleep,
    Charming your blood with pleasing heaviness;
    Making such difference betwixt wake and sleep,
    As is the difference betwixt day and night,
    The hour before the heavenly-harness'd team
    Begins his golden progress in the East."

Here the whole expression seems born of melody, and the melody to
pervade it as an essence. So, too, in the same scene, Mortimer being
deep in the lyrical mood of honeymoon, see how that mood lives in the
style of what he says about his wife's speaking of Welsh, which is all
Greek to him; her tongue

    "Makes Welsh as sweet as ditties highly penn'd,
    Sung by a fair queen in a Summer's bower,
    With ravishing division, to her lute."

For another instance, take a part of the exiled Duke's speech in _As
You Like It_, ii. 1:

    "Sweet are the uses of adversity,
    Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
    Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
    And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
    Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
    Sermons in stones, and good in every thing."

The Duke is a thoughtful, pensive, kind-hearted man, feeling keenly
the wrong that has been done him, but not at all given to cherishing a
resentful temper; and here, if I mistake not, his language relishes of
the benevolent, meditative, and somewhat sentimental melancholy that
marks his disposition.

Still more to the point, perhaps, is the passage in _Hamlet_, iv. 5,
where Ophelia so touchingly scatters out the secrets of her virgin
heart: "They say the owl was a baker's daughter.--Lord, we know what
we are, but we know not what we may be.--God be at your table!" And
again: "I hope all will be well. We must be patient; but I cannot
choose but weep, to think they should lay him i' the cold ground. My
brother shall know of it; and so I thank you for your good
counsel.--Come, my coach!--Good night, ladies; good night, sweet
ladies; good night, good night." A poor, crazed, but still gentle,
sweet-tempered, and delicate-souled girl, quite unconscious of her own
distress, yet still having a dim remembrance of the great sorrows that
have crazed her,--such is Ophelia here; and her very manner of speech
takes the exact colour and tone of her mind.

Probably, however, the best example of all is one that I can but refer
to, it being too long for quotation. It is in the second scene of _The
Tempest_, where Prospero relates to his daughter the story of his past
life, at the same time letting her into the fact and the reasons of
what he has just been doing, and still has in hand to do. The dear
wise old gentleman is here absent-minded, his thoughts being busy and
very intent upon the tempest he has lately got up, and upon the
incoming and forthcoming consequences of it; and he thinks Miranda is
not attentive to what he is saying, because he is but half-attending
to it himself. This subdued mental agitation, and wandering of his
thoughts from the matter his tongue is handling, silently registers
itself in a broken, disjointed, and somewhat rambling course of
narrative; that is, his style runs so in sympathy with his state of
mind as to be unconsciously physiognomic of it. Certainly it is among
the Poet's finest instances of "suiting the word to the action"; while
at the same time it perfectly remembers the "special observance" of
"o'erstepping not the modesty of nature."

       *       *       *       *       *

Since Homer, no poet has come near Shakespeare in originality,
freshness, opulence, and boldness of imagery. It is this that forms,
in a large part, the surpassing beauty of his poetry; it is in this
that much of his finest idealizing centres. And he abounds in all the
figures of speech known in formal rhetoric, except the Allegory and
the Apologue. The Allegory, I take it, is hardly admissible in
dramatic writing; nor is the Apologue very well suited to the place:
the former, I believe, Shakespeare never uses; and his most
conspicuous instance of the latter, in fact the only one that occurs
to me, is that of the Belly and the Members, so quaintly delivered to
the insurgent people by the juicy old Menenius in the first scene of
_Coriolanus_. But, though Shakespeare largely uses all the other
figures of speech, I shall draw most of what I have to say of his
style in this respect, under the two heads of Simile and Metaphor,
since all that can properly be called imagery is resolvable into
these. Shakespeare uses both a great deal, but the Simile in a way
somewhat peculiar: in fact, as it is commonly used by other poets, he
does not seem to have been very fond of it; and when he admits it, he
generally uses it in the most informal way possible. But, first, at
the risk of seeming pedantic, I will try to make some analysis of the
two figures in question.

Every student knows that the Simile may be regarded as an expanded
Metaphor, or the Metaphor as a condensed Simile. Which implies that
the Metaphor admits of greater brevity. What, then, is the difference?

Now a simile, as the name imports, is a comparison of two or more
things, more or less unlike in themselves, for the purpose of
illustration. The thing illustrated and the thing that illustrates
are, so to speak, laid alongside each other, that the less known may
be made more intelligible by the light of that which is known better.
Here the two parts are kept quite distinct, and a sort of parallel run
between them. And the actions or the qualities of the two things stand
apart, each on their own side of the parallel, those of neither being
ascribed to the other. In a metaphor, on the other hand, the two
parts, instead of lying side by side, are drawn together and
incorporated into one. The idea and the image, the thought and the
illustration, are not kept distinct, but the idea is incarnated in the
image, so that the image bears the same relation to the idea as the
body does to the soul. In other words, the two parts are completely
identified, their qualities interfused and interpenetrating, so that
they become one. Thus a metaphor proceeds by ascribing to a given
object certain actions or qualities which are not literally true of
that object, and which have in reference to it only the truth of

To illustrate this. When, in his sonnet composed on Westminster
Bridge, Wordsworth says, "This City now doth, like a garment, wear the
beauty of the morning," the language is a simile in form. If he had
said, This City hath now robed herself in the beauty of the morning,
it would have been in form a metaphor. On the other hand, when in the
same sonnet he says, "The river glideth at his own sweet will," the
language is a metaphor. If in this case he had said, The river floweth
smoothly along, like a man led on by the free promptings of his own
will, it would have been a simile. And so, when Romeo says of

    "O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
    Her beauty hangs upon the cheek of night,
    Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear";

here we have two metaphors, and also one simile. Juliet cannot be said
literally to teach the torches any thing; but her brightness may be
said to make them, or rather the owner of them ashamed of their
dimness; or she may be said to be so radiant, that the torches, or the
owner of them may learn from her how torches ought to shine. Neither
can it be said literally that her beauty hangs upon the cheek of
night, for the night has no cheek; but it may be said to bear the same
relation to the night as a diamond pendant does to the dark cheek that
sets it off. Then the last metaphor is made one of the parts in a
simile; what is therein expressed being likened to a rich jewel
hanging in an Ethiop's ear. So, too, when Wordsworth apostrophizes

    "Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;
    Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea";--

here we have two similes. But when he says,--

    "Unruffled doth the blue lake lie,
    The mountains looking on";

and when he says of the birds singing,--

    "Clear, loud, and lively is the din,
    From social warblers gathering in
    Their harvest of sweet lays";

and when he says of his Lucy,--

    "The stars of midnight shall be dear
    To her; and she shall lean her ear
    In many a secret place
    Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
    And beauty born of murmuring sound
    Shall pass into her face";--

in these lines we have four pure and perfect metaphors.

Again: In _Cymbeline_, old Belarius says of the "two princely boys"
that are with him,--

                        "They are as gentle
    As zephyrs, blowing below the violet,
    Not wagging his sweet head; and yet as rough,
    Their royal blood enchaf'd, as the rud'st wind,
    That by the top doth take the mountain pine,
    And make him stoop to th' vale."

Here are two similes, of the right Shakespeare mintage. As metaphors
from the same hand, take this from Iachimo's temptation of Imogen,
"This object, which takes prisoner the wild motion of mine eye"; and
this from Viola, urging Orsino's suit to the Countess,--

    "Holla your name to the reverberate hills,
    And make the babbling gossip of the air
    Cry out, _Olivia_!"

and this of Cleopatra's with the asp at her bosom,--

    "Dost thou not see my baby at my breast,
    That sucks the nurse asleep?"

Or, as an instance of both figures together, take the following from
_King Lear_, iv. 3, where the Gentleman describes to Kent the
behaviour of Cordelia on hearing of her father's condition:

                               "You have seen
    Sunshine and rain at once; her smiles and tears
    Were like: a better way,--those happy smilets
    That play'd on her ripe lip seem'd not to know
    What guests were in her eyes; which parted thence
    As pearls from diamonds dropp'd."

Here we have two similes, in the first two and last clauses; and also
two metaphors, severally conveyed in,--"That play'd on her ripe lip,"
and, "What guests were in her eyes." Perhaps I ought to add that a
simile is sometimes merely suggested or implied; as in these lines
from Wordsworth:

    "What is glory?--in the socket
    See how dying tapers fare!
    What is pride?--a whizzing rocket
    That would emulate a star.

    What is friendship?--do not trust her,
    Nor the vows which she has made;
    Diamonds dart their brightest lustre
    From a palsy-shaken head."

Thus much by way of analyzing the two figures, and illustrating the
difference between them. In all these instances may be seen, I think,
how in a metaphor the intensity and fire of imagination, instead of
placing the two parts side by side, melts them down into one
homogeneous mass; which mass is both of them and neither of them at
the same time; their respective properties being so interwoven and
fused together, that those of each may be affirmed of the other.

I have said that Shakespeare uses the Simile in a way somewhat
peculiar. This may require some explication.--Homer, Virgil, Dante,
Spenser, Milton, and the great Italian poets of the sixteenth century,
all deal largely in what may be styled full-drawn similes; that is,
similes carefully elaborated through all their parts, these being knit
together in a balanced and rounded whole. Here is an instance of what
I mean, from _Paradise Lost_, i.:

                   "As when the potent rod
    Of Amram's son, in Egypt's evil day,
    Wav'd round the coast, up call'd a pitchy cloud
    Of locusts, warping on the eastern wind,
    That o'er the realm of impious Pharaoh hung
    Like night, and darken'd all the land of Nile;
    So numberless where those bad angels seen
    Hovering on wing under the cope of Hell,
    'Twixt upper, nether, and surrounding fires."

This may be fitly taken as a model specimen of the thing; it is
severely classical in style, and is well worthy of the great hand that
made it. Here is another, somewhat different in structure, and not
easy to beat, from Wordsworth's _Miscellaneous Sonnets_, Part ii.:

    "Desponding Father! mark this alter'd bough,
    So beautiful of late, with sunshine warm'd,
    Or moist with dews; what more unsightly now,
    Its blossoms shrivell'd, and its fruit, if form'd,
    Invisible? yet Spring her genial brow
    Knits not o'er that discolouring and decay
    As false to expectation. Nor fret thou
    At like unlovely process in the May
    Of human life: a Stripling's graces blow,
    Fade, and are shed, that from their timely fall
    (Misdeem it not a cankerous change) may grow
    Rich mellow bearings, that for thanks shall call."

It may be worth noting, that the first member of this no less
beautiful than instructive passage contains one metaphor,--"Spring her
genial brow knits not"; and the second two,--"in the May of human
life," and, "a Stripling's graces blow, fade, and are shed." Herein it
differs from the preceding instance; but I take it to be none the
worse for that.

Shakespeare occasionally builds a simile on the same plan; as in the
following from _Measure for Measure_, i. 3:

                    "Now, as fond fathers,
    Having bound up the threatening twigs of birch,
    Only to stick it in their children's sight
    For terror, not to use, in time the rod
    Becomes more mock'd than fear'd; so our decrees,
    Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead;
    And liberty plucks justice by the nose;
    The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart
    Goes all decorum."

But the Poet does not much affect this formal mode of the thing: he
has comparatively few instances of it; while his pages abound in
similes of the informal mode, like those quoted before. And his
peculiarity in the use of the figure consists partly in what seems not
a little curious, namely, that he sometimes begins with building a
simile, and then runs it into a metaphor before he gets through; so
that we have what may be termed a mixture of the two; that is, he sets
out as if to form the two parts distinct, and ends by identifying
them. Here is an instance from the Second Part of _King Henry the
Fourth_, iv. 1:

    "His foes are so enrooted with his friends,
    That, plucking to unfix an enemy,
    He doth unfasten so and shake a friend.
    So that this land, like an offensive wife
    That hath enrag'd him on to offer strokes,
    As he is striking, holds his infant up,
    And hangs resolv'd correction in the arm
    That was uprear'd to execution."

And so in _King Henry the Fifth_, ii. 4:

    "In cases of defence 'tis best to weigh
    The enemy more mighty than he seems:
    So the proportions of defence are fill'd;
    Which of a weak and niggardly projection,
    Doth, like a miser, spoil his coat with scanting
    A little cloth."

Also in _Hamlet_, iv. 1:

                  "So much was our love,
    We would not understand what was most fit;
    But, like the owner of a foul disease,
    To keep it from divulging, let it feed
    Even on the pith of life."

And somewhat the same again in iii. 4:

    "No, in despite of sense and secrecy,
    Unpeg the basket on the house's top,
    Let the birds fly, and, like the famous ape,
    To try conclusions, in the basket creep,
    And break your own neck down."

Something very like this mixing of figures occurs, also, in _Timon of
Athens_, iv. 3:

                             "But myself,
    Who had the world as my confectionary;
    The mouths, the tongues, the eyes, and hearts of men
    At duty, more than I could frame employment;
    That numberless upon me stuck, as leaves
    Do on an oak, have with one Winter's brush
    Fell from their boughs, and left me open, bare
    For every storm that blows."

And I suspect that certain passages, often faulted for confusion of
metaphors, are but instances of the same thing, as this:

                            "Blest are those
    Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled,
    That they are not a pipe for Fortune's finger
    To sound what stop she please."

This feature mainly results, no doubt, from the Poet's aptness or
endeavour to make his style of as highly symbolical a character as
possible without smothering the sense. And by _symbolical_ I here mean
the taking a representative part of a thing, and using it in such a
way as to convey the sense and virtue of the whole. Metaphors are the
strongest and surest mode of doing this; and so keen was the Poet's
quest of this, that his similes, in the very act of forming, often
become half-metaphors, as from a sort of instinct. Thus, instead of
fully forming a simile, he merely _suggests_ it; throwing in just
enough of it to start the thoughts on that track, and then condensing
the whole into a semi-metaphorical shape. Which seems to explain why
it is that these suggestions of similes, notwithstanding the
stereotyped censures of a too formal criticism, seldom trouble any
reader who is so unsophisticated as to care little for the form, so he
be sure of the substance.

       *       *       *       *       *

The thoughtful student can hardly choose but feel that there is
something peculiar in Shakespeare's metaphors. And so indeed there is.
But the peculiarity is rather in degree than kind. Now the Metaphor,
as before remarked, proceeds upon a likeness in the relations of
things; whereas the Simile proceeds upon a likeness in the things
themselves, which is a very different matter. And so surpassing was
Shakespeare's quickness and acuteness of eye to discern the most
hidden resemblances in the former kind, that he outdoes all other
writers in the exceeding fineness of the threads upon which his
metaphors are often built. In other words, he beats all other poets,
ancient and modern, in constructing metaphors upon the most subtile,
delicate, and unobvious analogies.

Among the English poets, Wordsworth probably stands next to
Shakespeare in the frequency, felicity, originality, and strength of
his metaphorical language. I will therefore quote a few of his most
characteristic specimens, as this seems the fairest way for bringing
out the unequalled virtue of Shakespeare's poetry in this kind.

    "With heart as calm as lakes that sleep,
    In frosty moonlight glistening;
    Or mountain rivers, where they creep
    Along a channel smooth and deep,
    To their own far-off murmurs listening."

    "Leave to the nightingale her shady wood;
    A privacy of glorious light is thine;
    Whence thou dost pour upon the world a flood
    Of harmony, with instinct more divine."
                                          _To a Skylark_.

    "And this huge Castle, standing here sublime,
    I love to see the look with which it braves--
    Cas'd in th' unfeeling armour of old time--
    The lightning, the fierce wind, and trampling waves."
                                                    _Peele Castle_.

    "Bright gem instinct with music, vocal spark;
    The happiest bird that sprang out of the Ark!"
                                             _A Morning Exercise_.

    "One who was suffering tumult in his soul,
    Yet fail'd to seek the sure relief of prayer,
    Went forth,--his course surrendering to the care
    Of the fierce wind, while midday lightnings prowl
    Insidiously, untimely thunders growl;
    While trees, dim-seen, in frenzied numbers tear
    The lingering remnants of their yellow hair."
                                            _Mis. Son., Pt. ii_. 15.

    "So deem'd the man who fashion'd for the sense
    These lofty pillars, spread that branching roof
    Self-pois'd, and scoop'd into ten thousand cells,
    Where light and shade repose, where music dwells
    Lingering,--and wandering on as loth to die."

    "But, from the arms of silence,--list, O list!--
    The music bursteth into second life;
    The notes luxuriate, every stone is kiss'd
    By sound, or ghost of sound, in mazy strife."
                                     _Eccle. Son., Pt. iii_. 43, 44.

    "The towering headlands, crown'd with mist,
    Their feet among the billows, know
    That Ocean is a mighty harmonist."
                                    _Power of Sound_.

    I saw, or heard, or felt, was but a stream
    That flow'd into a kindred stream; a gale
    Confederate with the current of the soul,
    To speed my voyage."

              "Past and Future are the wings
    On whose support harmoniously conjoin'd
    Moves the great spirit of human knowledge."
                                             _Prelude, Book vi_.

    "Child of loud-throated War! the mountain Stream
    Roars in thy hearing; but thy hour of rest
    Is come, and thou art silent in thy age."

                   "What art thou, from care
    Cast off,--abandon'd by thy rugged Sire,
    Nor by soft Peace adopted?"

                 "Shade of departed Power,
    Skeleton of unflesh'd humanity,
    The chronicle were welcome that should call
    Into the compass of distinct regard
    The toils and struggles of thy infant years!"
                                                _Kilchurn Castle_.

    "Advance,--come forth from thy Tyrolean ground,
    Dear Liberty! stern Nymph of soul untam'd;
    Sweet Nymph, O rightly of the mountains nam'd!
    Through the long chain of Alps from mound to mound,
    And o'er th' eternal snows, like Echo, bound;
    Like Echo, when the hunter-train at dawn
    Have rous'd her from her sleep; and forest-lawn,
    Cliffs, woods, and caves her viewless steps resound,
    And babble of her pastime!"

    "Ye Storms, resound the praises of your King!
    And ye mild Seasons--in a sunny clime,
    Midway on some high hill, while father Time
    Looks on delighted--meet in festal ring,
    And long and loud of Winter's triumph sing!
    Sing ye, with blossoms crown'd, and fruits, and flowers,
    Of Winter's breath surcharg'd with sleety showers,
    And the dire flapping of his hoary wing!
    Knit the blithe dance upon the soft green grass;
    With feet, hands, eyes, looks, lips, report your gain;
    Whisper it to the billows of the main,
    And to th' aerial Zephyrs as they pass,
    That old decrepit Winter--_He_ hath slain
    That Host which render'd all your bounties vain."
                                    _Son. to Lib., Pt. ii_. 10, 35.

In the foregoing passages, the imagery of course loses more or less
of its force and beauty from being cut out of its proper surroundings;
for Wordsworth's poetry, too, is far from being mere gatherings of
finely-carved chips: as a general thing, the several parts of a poem
all rightly know each other as co-members of an organic whole. Far
more must this needs be the case in the passages that follow, inasmuch
as these are from the most dramatic of all writing; so that the virtue
of the imagery is inextricably bound up with the characters and
occasions of the speakers:

                "Look, love, what envious streaks
    Do lace the severing clouds in yonder East:
    Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
    Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops."
                                         _Rom. and Jul., iii_. 5.

    "Death, that hath suck'd the honey of thy breath,
    Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty:
    Thou art not conquer'd; beauty's ensign yet
    Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks,
    And death's pale flag is not advancèd there."

    "Why art thou yet so fair? shall I believe
    That unsubstantial Death is amorous;
    And that the lean abhorrèd monster keeps
    Thee here in dark to be his paramour?"
                                       _Ibid., v_. 3.

    "My gentle Puck, come hither. Thou remember'st
    Since once I sat upon a promontory,
    And heard a mermaid, on a dolphin's back,
    Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath,
    That the rude sea grew civil at her song;
    And certain stars shot madly from their spheres,
    To hear the sea-maid's music."
                                    _Midsum. Night's D., ii_. 1.

    "Rush on his host, as doth the melted snow
    Upon the valleys, whose low vassal seat
    The Alps doth spit and void his rheum upon."
                                   _King Henry V., iii_. 5.

    "His face is all bubukles, and whelks, and knobs, and flames of
    fire; and his lips plows at his nose, and it is like a coal of
    fire, sometimes plue, and sometimes red; but his nose is
    executed, and his fire is out." _Ibid., iii_. 6.

    "O, then th' Earth shook to see the heavens on fire,
    And not in fear of your nativity.
    Diseasèd Nature oftentimes breaks forth
    In strange eruptions; oft the teeming Earth
    Is with a kind of cholic pinch'd and vex'd
    By the imprisoning of unruly wind
    Within her womb; which, for enlargement striving,
    Shakes the old beldame Earth, and topples down
    Steeples and moss-grown towers. At your birth,
    Our grandam Earth, having this distemperature,
    In passion shook."
                              1 _King Henry IV., iii_. 1.

    "Let heaven kiss earth! now let not Nature's hand
    Keep the wild flood-confin'd! let order die!
    And let this world no longer be a stage
    To feed contention in a lingering act;
    But let one spirit of the first-born Cain
    Reign in all bosoms, that, each heart being set
    On bloody courses, the rude scene may end,
    And darkness be the burier of the dead!"
                                2 _King Henry IV., i_. 1.

    "An habitation giddy and unsure
    Hath he that buildeth on the vulgar heart.
    O thou fond many! with what loud applause
    Didst thou beat heaven with blessing Bolingbroke,
    Before he was what thou would'st have him be!
    And being now trimm'd in thine own desires,
    Thou, beastly feeder, art so full of him,
    That thou provok'st thyself to cast him up.
    So, so, thou common dog, did'st thou disgorge
    Thy glutton bosom of the royal Richard;
    And now thou would'st eat thy dead vomit up,
    And howl'st to find it."
                                             _Ibid., i_. 3.

    "But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
    Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastern hill."
                                            _Hamlet, i_. 1.

                      "So, haply slander--
    Whose whisper o'er the world's diameter,
    As level as the cannon to his blank,
    Transports his poison'd shot--may miss our name,
    And hit the woundless air."
                                            _Ibid., iv_. 1.

                      "Thou sure and firm-set earth,
    Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
    The very stones prate of my whereabout,
    And take the present horror from the time,
    Which now suits with it."
                                           _Macbeth, ii_. 1.

                     "O thou day o' the world,
    Chain mine arm'd neck; leap thou, attire and all,
    Through proof of harness to my heart, and there
    Ride on the pants triúmphing!"
                                 _Ant. and Cleo., iv_. 8.

                            "For his bounty,
    There was no Winter in't; an Autumn 'twas
    That grew the more by reaping: his delights
    Were dolphin-like; they show'd his back above
    The element they liv'd in: in his livery
    Walk'd crowns and crownets."
                                             _Ibid., v_. 2.

    "The ample proposition that hope makes
    In all designs begun on earth below
    Fails in the promis'd largeness: checks and disasters
    Grow in the veins of actions highest rear'd."

    "Distinction, with a broad and powerful fan,
    Puffing at all, winnows the light away."
                                    _Troil. and Cres., i_. 3.

    "Be as a planetary plague, when Jove
    Will o'er some high-vie'd city hang his poison
    In the sick air."

    "Put armour on thine ears and on thine eyes;
    Whose proof, nor yells of mothers, maids, nor babes,
    Nor sight of priests in holy vestments bleeding,
    Shall pierce a jot."

                    "Common mother, thou,
    Whose womb unmeasurable, and infinite breast,
    Teems, and feeds all; whose self-same mettle,
    Whereof thy proud child, arrogant man, is puff'd.
    Engenders the black toad and adder blue,
    The gilded newt and eyeless venom'd worm;
    Yield him, who all thy human sons doth hate,
    From forth thy plenteous bosom, one poor root!"

                                "What, think'st
    That the bleak air, thy boisterous chamberlain,
    Will put thy shirt on warm? will these moss'd trees,
    That have outliv'd the eagle, page thy heels,
    And skip where thou point'st out? will the cold brook.
    Candied with ice, caudle thy morning taste,
    To cure thy o'er-night's surfeit?"

    "O thou sweet king-killer, and dear divorce
    'Twixt natural son and sire! thou bright defiler
    Of Hymen's purest bed! thou valiant Mars!
    Thou ever young, fresh, lov'd, and delicate wooer,
    Whose blush doth thaw the consecrated snow
    That lies on Dian's lap! thou visible god,
    That solder'st close impossibilities,
    And mak'st them kiss! that speak'st with every tongue,
    To every purpose! O thou touch of hearts!
    Think, thy slave man rebels; and by thy virtue
    Set them into confounding odds, that beasts
    May have the world in empire!"
                                 _Timon of Athens, iv_. 3.

Shakespeare's boldness in metaphors is pretty strongly exemplified in
some of the forecited passages; but he has instances of still greater
boldness. Among these may be named Lady Macbeth's--

                           "Come, thick night,
    And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of Hell,
    That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
    Nor Heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
    To cry _Hold, hold_!"

Here "blanket of the dark" runs to so high a pitch, that divers
critics, Coleridge among them, have been staggered by it, and have
been fain to set it down as a corruption of the text. In this they are
no doubt mistaken: the metaphor is in the right style of Shakespeare,
and, with all its daring, runs in too fair keeping to be ruled out of
the family. Hardly less bold is this of Macbeth's--

                       "Heaven's cherubin, hors'd
    Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
    Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
    That tears shall drown the wind."

With these I suspect may be fitly classed, notwithstanding its
delicacy, the following from Iachimo's description of Imogen, when he
comes out of the trunk in her chamber:

                       "The flame o' the taper
    Bows toward her; and would under-peep her lids,
    To see th' enclosèd lights, now canopied
    Under these windows, white and azure, lac'd
    With blue of heaven's own tinct."

Also this, from the soliloquy of Posthumus in repentance for the
supposed death of Imogen by his order:

                   "My conscience, thou art fetter'd
    More than my shanks and wrists: you good gods give me
    The penitent instrument to pick that bolt,
    Then free for ever!"

I add still another example; from one of old Nestor's speeches on the
selection of a champion to fight with the Trojan hero:

                             "It is suppos'd,
    He that meets Hector issues from our choice:
    And choice, being mutual act of all our souls,
    Makes merit her election; and doth boil,
    As 'twere from forth us all, a man distill'd
    Out of our virtues."

All these--and I could quote a hundred such--are, to my thinking,
instances of happy and, I will add, even wise audacity: at least, if
there be any overstraining of imagery, I can easily shrive the fault,
for the subtile felicity involved in them. They are certainly quite at
home in the millennium of poetry which Shakespeare created for us;
albeit I can well remember the time when such transcendent raptures
were to me as

                           "Some joy too fine,
    Too subtle-potent, tun'd too sharp in sweetness,
    For the capacity of my ruder powers."

It would be strange indeed if a man so exceedingly daring did not now
and then overdare. And so I think the Poet's boldness in metaphor
sometimes makes him overbold, or at least betrays him into
infelicities of boldness. Here are two instances, from _The Tempest_,
v. 1:

               "The charm dissolves apace;
    And as the morning steals upon the night,
    Melting the darkness, so their rising senses
    Begin to chase the ignorant fumes that mantle
    Their clearer reason."

                    "Their understanding
    Begins to swell; and the approaching tide
    Will shortly fill the reasonable shore
    That now lies foul and muddy."

And here is another, of perhaps still more questionable character,
from _Macbeth_, i. 7:

                          "His two chamberlains
    Will I with wine and wassail so convince,
    That memory, the warder of the brain,
    Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason
    A limbeck only."

What, again, shall be said of the two following, where Coriolanus
snaps off his fierce scorn of the multitude?--

         "What's the matter, you dissentious rogues,
    That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,
    Make yourselves scabs?"

                              "So shall my lungs
    Coin words till their decay against those measles,
    Which we disdain should tetter us, yet sought
    The very way to catch them."

Either from overboldness in the metaphors, or from some unaptness in
the material of them, I have to confess that my mind rather rebels
against these stretches of poetical prerogative. Still more so,
perhaps, in the well-known passage of _King Henry the Fifth_, iv. 3;
though I am not sure but, in this case, the thing rightly belongs to
the speaker's character:

    "And those that leave their valiant bones in France,
    Dying like men, though buried in your dunghills,
    They shall be fam'd; for there the Sun shall greet them,
    And draw their honours reeking up to heaven;
    Leaving their earthly parts to choke your clime,
    The smell whereof shall breed a plague in France.
    Mark, then, abounding valour in our English;
    That, being dead, like to the bullet's grazing,
    Break out into a second course of mischief,
    Killing in rélapse of mortality."

But, whatever be the right mark to set upon these and some other
instances, I find but few occasions of such revolt; and my only wonder
is, how any mere human genius could be so gloriously audacious, and
yet be so seldom chargeable with passing the just bounds of poetical

Metaphors are themselves the aptest and clearest mode of expressing
much in little. No other form of speech will convey so much thought in
so few words. They often compress into a few words what would else
require as many sentences. But even such condensations of meaning did
not--so it appears--always answer Shakespeare's purpose: he sometimes
does hardly more than _suggest_ metaphors, throwing off several of
them in quick succession. We have an odd instance of this in one of
Falstaff's speeches, Second Part of _King Henry the Fourth_, i. 2:
"Well, he may sleep in security; for he hath the horn of abundance,
and the lightness of his wife shines through it: and yet cannot he
see, though he have his own lantern to light him." Here we have a
thick-coming series of punning metaphors, all merely suggested. So
Brutus, when hunting after reasons for killing Cæsar: "It is the
bright day that brings forth the adder." Here the metaphor suggested
is, that the sunshine of kingly power will develop a venomous serpent
in the hitherto noble Julius. So, again, Cleopatra, when Antony dies:
"O, see, my women, the crown o' the earth doth melt";--"O, wither'd is
the garland of the war, the soldier's pole is fall'n";--"Look, our
lamp is spent, it's out." And so in Macbeth's,--"The wine of life is
drawn, and the mere lees is left this vault to brag of";--"Better be
with the dead than on the torture of the mind to lie in restless
ecstasy";--"Come, seeling night, scarf up the tender eye of pitiful
day." Also one of the Thanes, when they are about to make their
ultimate set-to against Macbeth:

    "Meet we the medicine of the sickly weal;
    And with him pour we in our country's purge
    Each drop of us."

_Macbeth_ indeed has more of this character than any other of the
Poet's dramas; he having judged, apparently, that such a style of
suggested images was the best way of _symbolizing_ such a wild-rushing
torrent of crimes, remorses, and retributions as that tragedy consists

Near akin to these is a number of passages like the following from one
of Antony's speeches:

                                "The hearts
    That spaniel'd me at heels, to whom I gave
    Their wishes, do discandy, melt their sweets
    On blossoming Cæsar; and this pine is bark'd,
    That overtopp'd them all."

Here we have several distinct images merely suggested, and coming so
thick withal, that our powers might be swamped but for the prodigious
momentum or gale of thought that carries us through. I am aware that
several such passages have often been censured as mere jumbles of
incongruous metaphors; but they do not so strike any reader who is so
unconscientious of rhetorical formalities as to care only for the
meaning of what he reads; though I admit that perhaps no mental
current less deep and mighty than Shakespeare's would waft us clean
over such thought-foundering passages.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is one other trait of the Poet's style which I must briefly
notice. It is the effect of some one leading thought or predominant
feeling in silently modifying the language, and drawing in sympathetic
words and phrases by unmarked threads of association. Thus in the
hero's description of Valeria, in _Coriolanus_, v. 3:

          "The noble sister of Publicola,
    The moon of Rome; chaste as the icicle,
    That's curded by the frost from purest snow,
    And hangs on Dian's temple."

Here, of course, the leading thought is chastity; and observe how, as
by a kind of silent sympathy, all the words and images are selected
and toned in perfect unison with that thought, so that the whole may
be said literally to relish of nothing else. Something of the same,
though in a manner perhaps still better, because less pronounced,
occurs in _As You Like It_, ii. 1, where, the exiled Duke having
expressed his pain that the deer, "poor dappled fools, being native
burghers of this desert city," should on their own grounds "have their
round haunches gor'd," one of the attendant lords responds:

                         "Indeed, my lord,
    The melancholy Jaques grieves at that.
    To-day, my Lord of Amiens and myself
    Did steal behind him, as he lay along
    Under an oak whose antique root peeps out
    Upon the brook that brawls along this wood;
    To the which place a poor sequester'd stag,
    That from the hunter's aim had ta'en a hurt,
    Did come to languish: and indeed, my lord,
    The wretched animal heav'd forth such groans,
    That their discharge did stretch his leathern coat
    Almost to bursting; and the big round tears
    Cours'd one another down his innocent nose
    In piteous chase; and thus the hairy fool,
    Much marked of the melancholy Jaques,
    Stood on th' extremest verge of the swift brook,
    Augmenting it with tears."

Here the predominant feeling of the speaker is that of kindred or
half-brotherhood with the deer; and such words as _languish, groans,
coat, tears, innocent_, and _hairy fool_, dropping along so quietly,
impart a sort of semi-humanizing tinge to the language, so that the
very pulse of his feeling seems beating in its veins.

The Poet has a great many passages from which this feature might be
illustrated. And it often imparts a very peculiar charm to his
poetry;--a charm the more winning, and the more wholesome too, for
being, I will not say unobtrusive, but hardly perceptible; acting like
a soft undertone accompaniment of music, which we are kept from
noticing by the delicate concert of thought and feeling it insensibly
kindles and feeds within us. Thus the Poet touches and rallies all our
most hidden springs of delight to his purpose, and makes them
unconsciously tributary to the refreshment of the hour; stealing fine
inspirations into us, which work their effect upon the soul without
prating of their presence, and not unlike the virtue that lets not the
left hand know what the right hand doeth. And all this, let me tell
you, is a very different thing from merely making "the sound an echo
to the sense,"--as much better too as it is different.

       *       *       *       *       *

Everybody conversant with the subject knows that an author's style, if
genuine, (and it is not properly a style, but a mannerism, if
ungenuine,) is a just measure of his mind, and an authentic
registration of all his faculties and forces. It has indeed passed
into a proverb, that "the style is the man." And there is no other
English writing, probably no uninspired writing in the world, of which
this is so unreservedly true as of Shakespeare's; and this, because
his is the most profoundly genuine: here the style--I mean in his
characteristic pieces--is all his own,--rooted perfectly in and
growing entirely from the man himself,--and has no borrowed sap or
flavour whatever. And as he surpasses all others alike in breadth and
delicacy of perception, in sweep and subtilty of thought, in vastness
of grasp and minuteness of touch, in fineness of fibre and length and
strength of line; so all these are faithfully reflected in his use of
language. There is none other so overwhelming in its power, none so
irresistible in its sweetness. If his intellect could crush the
biggest and toughest problems into food, his tongue was no less able
to voice in all fitting accents the results of that tremendous
digestion. Coleridge, the profoundest of critics, calls him "an
oceanic mind," and this language, as expressing the idea of
multitudinous unity, is none too big for him; Hallam, the severest of
critics, describes him as "thousand-souled," and this has grown into
common use as no more than just; another writer makes his peculiarity
to consist in "an infinite delicacy of mind"; and whatsoever of truth
and fitness there may be in any or all of these expression's has a
just exponent in his style.

All which may suffice to explain why it is that Shakespeare's style
has no imitators. He were indeed a very hardy or else a very imbecile
man, who should undertake to imitate it. All the other great English
poets, however, have been imitated in this respect, and some of them
with no little success. Thomson's _Castle of Indolence_, for example,
is an avowed imitation of Spenser; and that, I think, is Thomson's
best poem. Beattie's _Minstrel_, too, is another happy imitation of
the same great original. I cannot say so much for any of Milton's or
Wordsworth's imitators, though both have had many of them. But no one,
apparently, ever thinks of trying to tilt in Shakespeare's Titanic


Much of what may need to be said on this topic will come in more fitly
in speaking of particular plays and characters. A few observations of
a very inclusive scope will be sufficient here.

And I will begin by saying that soundness in this respect is the
corner-stone of all artistic excellence. Virtue, or the loving of
worthy objects, and in a worthy manner, is most assuredly the highest
interest of mankind;--an interest so vital and fundamental, that
nothing which really conflicts with it, or even postpones it to any
other regards, can possibly stand the test of any criticism rooted in
the principles of human nature. To offend in this point is indeed to
be guilty of all: things must be substantially right here, else there
can be nothing right about them. So that, if an author's moral
teaching or moral influence be essentially bad; or even if it be
materially loose and unsound, so as to unstring the mind from thinking
and doing that which is right; nay, even if it be otherwise than
positively wholesome and elevating as a whole; then I more than admit
that no amount of seeming intellectual or poetical merit ought to
shield his workmanship from reprobation, and this too on the score of
art. But then, on the other hand, I must insist that our grounds of
judgment in this matter be very large and liberal; and that to require
or to expect a poet to teach better morals than are taught by Nature
and Providence argues either a disqualifying narrowness of mind in us,
or else a certain moral valetudinarianism which poetry is not bound to
respect. For a poet has a right to the benefit of being tried by the
moral sense and reason of mankind: it is indeed to that seat of
judgment that every great poet virtually appeals; and the verdict of
that tribunal must be an ultimate ruling to us as well as to him.

But one of the first things to be considered here is the natural
relation of Morality to Art. Now I believe Art cannot be better
defined than as the creation or the expression of the Beautiful. And
truth is the first principle of all Beauty. But when I say this, I of
course imply that truth which the human mind is essentially
constituted to receive as such. And in that truth the moral element
holds, constitutionally, the foremost place. I mean, that the human
mind draws and cannot but draw to that point, in so far as it is true
to itself: for the moral consciousness is the rightful sovereign in
the soul of man, or it is nothing; it cannot accept a lower seat
without forfeiting all its rights, and disorganizing the whole
intellectual house. So that a thing cannot be morally false and
artistically true at the same time. And in so far as any workmanship
sins in the former kind, just so far, whatever other elements of the
Beautiful it may have, it still lacks the very bond of order which is
necessary, to retain them in power; nay, the effect of those other
elements is to cultivate a taste which the whole thing fails to
satisfy; what of true beauty is present tends to awaken a craving for
that part which is wanting.

Nor need we have any fear but that in the long run things will come
right in this matter. In this, however, as in most things, truth is
the daughter of time. The moral sense and reason is so strong a force
in the calm and disinterested judgments of mankind, that it must and
will prevail: its verdict may be some time in coming, but come it
will, sooner or later, and will ultimately have things all its own
way. For the æsthetic conscience is probably the most impartial and
inexorable of the human powers; and this, because it acts most apart
from any regards of self-interest or any apprehension of consequences.
The elections of taste are in a special sort exempt both from hope of
profit and from fear of punishment. And man's sense of the Beautiful
is so much in the keeping of his moral reason,--secret keeping indeed,
and all the surer for being secret,--that it cannot be bribed or
seduced to a _constant_ admiration of any beauty where the moral
element is wanting, or even where it is excluded from its rightful
place. In other words, the law of goodness or of moral rectitude is
so closely interwoven with the nature and truth of things, that the
human mind will not set up its rest with any workmanship in Art where
that law is either set at nought or discrowned. Its natural and just
prerogatives will assert themselves in spite of us; and their triumph
is assured the moment we go to resisting them. That which appeals
merely to our sense of the Beautiful, and which has nothing to
recommend it but as it touches that sense, must first of all have the
moral element of beauty, and this too in the foremost place, else it
stands no chance of a permanent hold upon us.

It is indeed true that works of art, or things claiming to be such, in
which this law of natural proportion is not respected or not observed,
may have a transient popularity and success: nay, their success may be
the greater, or at least the louder and more emphatic, for that very
disproportion: the multitude may, and in fact generally do, go after
such in preference to that which is better. And even men not exactly
of the multitude, but still without the preparation either of a
natural or a truly educated taste,--men in whom the sense of beauty is
outvoiced by cravings for what is sensational, and who are ever
mistaking the gratification of their lower passions for the
satisfaction of their æsthetic conscience;--such men may be and often
are won to a passing admiration of works in which the moral law of Art
is plainly disregarded: but they seldom tie up with them; indeed their
judgment never stays long enough in one place to acquire any weight;
and no man of true judgment in such things ever thinks of referring to
their preference but as a thing to be avoided. With this spirit of
ignorant or lawless admiration the novelty of yesterday is eclipsed by
the novelty of to-day; other things being equal, the later instance of
disproportion always outbids the earlier. For so this spirit is ever
taking to things which are impotent to reward the attention they
catch. And thus men of such taste, or rather such want of taste,
naturally fall in with the genius of sensationalism; which, whatever
form it takes on, soon wears that form out, and has no way to sustain
itself in life but by continual transmigration. Wherever it fixes, it
has to keep straining higher and higher: under its rule, what was
exciting yesterday is dull and insipid to-day; while the excess of
to-day necessitates a further excess to-morrow; and the inordinate
craving which it fosters must still be met with stronger and stronger
emphasis, till at last exhaustion brings on disgust, or the poor thing
dies from blowing so hard as to split its cheeks.

It is for these reasons, no doubt, that no artist or poet who aims at
present popularity, or whose mind is possessed with the spirit of such
popularity, ever achieves lasting success. For the great majority of
men at any one time have always preferred, and probably always will
prefer, that which is disproportioned, and especially that which
violates the law of moral proportion. This, however, is not because
the multitude have no true sense of the Beautiful, but because that
sense is too slow in their minds to prevent their being caught and
carried away by that which touches them at lower points. Yet that
sense is generally strong enough to keep them from standing to the
objects of their present election; so that it is ever drawing them
back one by one to the old truth from which the new falsehood withdrew
them. Thus, however the popular current of the day may set, the
judgment of the wise and good will ultimately give the law in this
matter; and in that judgment the æsthetic and the moral conscience
will ever be found to coincide. So that he who truly works upon the
principle, "Fit audience let me find, though few," will in the long
run have the multitude too: he will not indeed be their first choice,
but he will be their last: their first will be ever shifting its
objects, but their last will stand firm. For here we may justly apply
the aphoristic saying of Burke: "Man is a most unwise and most wise
being: the individual is foolish; the multitude is foolish for the
moment, when they act without deliberation; but the species is wise."

I have said that in the legislation of Art the moral sense and reason
must not only have a voice, but a prerogative voice: I have also said
that a poet must not be required to teach better morals than those of
Nature and Providence. Now the law of moral proportion in Art may be
defeated as well by overworking the moral element as by leaving it out
or by making too little of it. In other words, redundancy of
conscience is quite as bad here as deficiency; in some respects it is
even worse, because its natural effect is to set us on our guard
against the subtle invasions of pious fraud: besides, the deficiency
we can make up for ourselves, but the evil of such suspicions is not
so easily cured. For of all the things that enter into human thought,
I suppose morality is the one wherein we are naturally least tolerant
of special-pleading; and any thing savouring of this is apt to awaken
our jealousy at once; probably from a sort of instinct, that, the
better the cause, the less need there is, and the more danger there is
too, of acting as its attorney or advocate. And the temptation to "lie
for God" is one to which professed moral teachers are so exposed, that
their lessons seldom have much effect: I even suspect that, in many
cases, if not in most, their moralizing is of so obtrusive a kind,
that it rather repels than wins the confidence of the pupils.

Then too moral demonstrativeness is never the habit either of the best
poets or of the best men. True virtue indeed is a very modest and
retiring quality; and we naturally feel that they who have most of it
have "none to speak of." Or, to take the same thing on another side,
virtue is a law of action, and not a distinct object of pursuit: those
about us may know what object we are pursuing, but the mind with which
we pursue it is a secret to them; they are not obliged to know it; and
when we undertake to force that knowledge upon them, then it is that
they just will not receive it. They will sometimes learn it from our
life, never from our lips. Thus a man's moral rectitude has its proper
seat inside of him, and is then most conspicuous when it stays out of
sight, and when, whatever he does and wherever he goes, he carries it
with him as a thing of course, and without saying or even thinking any
thing about it. It may be that our moral instincts are made to work in
this way, because any ambition of conscience, any pride or ostentation
of virtue, any air of moral vanity or conceit, any wearing of
rectitude on the outside, as if put on for effect, or "to be seen of
men," if it be not essentially fictitious and false, is certainly in
the most direct course of becoming so. And how much need there still
is of those eloquently silent lessons in virtue which are fitted to
inspire the thing without any boasting of the name,--all this may well
be judged when we consider how apt men are to build their hopes on
that which, as Burke says, "takes the man from his house, and sets him
on a stage,--which makes him up an artificial creature, with painted,
theatric sentiments, fit to be seen by the glare of candlelight."

These positions indicate, I believe, pretty clearly the right course
for poetry to pursue in order to keep the just law of moral proportion
in Art. Ethical didacticism is quite out of place in workmanship of
this kind. To go about moralizing as of set purpose, or to be
specially dealing in formal precepts of duty, is not the poet's
business. I repeat, that moral demonstrativeness and poetry do not go
well together. A poet's conscience of virtue is better kept to
himself, save as the sense and spirit thereof silently insinuate
themselves into the shapings of his hand, and so live as an
undercurrent in the natural course of truth and beauty. If he has the
genius and the heart to see and to represent things just as they
really are, his moral teaching cannot but be good; and the less it
stands out as a special aim, the more effective it will be: but if,
for any purpose, however moral, he goes to representing things
otherwise than as they are, then just so far his moral teaching will
miss its mark: and if he takes, as divers well-meaning persons have
done, to flourishing his ethical robes in our faces, then he must be
content to pass with us for something less or something more than a
poet: we may still read him indeed from a mistaken sense of duty; but
we shall never be drawn to him by an unsophisticated love of the
Beautiful and the True.

       *       *       *       *       *

So much for what I hold to be the natural relation of Morality to Art.
And I have put the matter thus, on the well-known principle, that the
moral sensibilities are the most delicate part of our constitution;
that as such they require to be touched with the utmost care, or
rather not to be touched directly at all; and that the thrusting of
instruction upon them tends to dull and deaden, not to quicken and
strengthen them. For the true virtue-making power is an inspiration,
not a catechism; and the truly cunning moral teacher is he who, in the
honest and free enthusiasm of moral beauty, steals that inspiration
into us without our knowing it, or before we know it. The author of
_Ecce Homo_ tells us, and truly too, that "no heart is pure that is
not passionate; no virtue is safe that is not enthusiastic." And there
is probably no vainer labour than the going about to make men good by
dint of moral arguments and reasoned convictions of the understanding.
One noble impulse will do more towards ennobling men than a volume of
ethical precepts; and there is no sure way to put down a bad passion
but by planting a good one. Set the soul on fire with moral beauty,
that's the way to burn the devils out of it. So that, for making men
virtuous, there is, as Gervinus says, "no more fruitless branch of
literature than ethical science; except, perhaps, those dramatic
moralities into whose frigid impotence poetry will always sink when it
aims at direct moral teaching."

Now, I do not at all scruple to affirm that Shakespeare's poetry will
stand the test of these principles better than any other writing we
have outside the Bible, His rank in the School of Morals is indeed no
less high than in the School of Art. He is every way as worthy to be
our teacher and guide in what is morally just and noble and right as
in what is artistically beautiful and true. In his workmanship the law
of moral proportion is observed with a fidelity that can never be too
much admired; in other words, the moral element of the beautiful not
only has a place, but is in the right place,--the right place, I mean,
to act the most surely and the most effectively on the springs of
life, or as an inspiration of good thoughts and desires. And in the
further explication or amplification of the matter I shall take for
granted that the old sophism of holding Shakespeare responsible for
all that is said and done by his characters is thoroughly exploded;
though it is not many years since a grave writer set him down as a
denier of immortality; because, forsooth, in _The Winter's Tale_ he
makes the rogue Autolycus say, "For the life to come, I sleep out the
thought of it." This mode of judging is indeed so perverse or so
ignorant, that to spend any words in refuting or reproving it would be
a mere waste of breath; or, if there be any so innocent as to need
help on that point, it is not to them that I write.

As to the exact features of Shakespeare's own moral character as a
man; whether or how far he was himself a model of virtuous living; in
what measure the moral beauty of his poetical conceptions lived in the
substance of his practical conversations; the little that is known
touching the facts of his life does not enable us to judge. The most
we can say on this score is, that we have a few authentic notes of
strong commendation, and nothing authentic whatever to set against
them. Thus Chettle, in his apology, tells us that "divers of worship
have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty";
and his editors, Heminge and Condell, in their dedication claim to
have no other purpose than "to keep the memory of so worthy a friend
and fellow alive as was our Shakespeare." Ben Jonson, too, a pure and
estimable man, who knew him well, and who was not apt to be
over-indulgent in his judgments of men, speaks of him as "my beloved
Shakespeare" and "my gentle Shakespeare"; and describes him as

            "Look, how the father's face
    Lives in his issue, even so the race
    Of Shakespeare's mind _and manners_ brightly shines
    In his well-turnèd and true-filèd lines."

These things were said some seven years after the Poet's death; and
many years later the same stanch and truthful man speaks of him as
"being indeed honest, and of an open and free nature." I do not now
recall any other authentic testimonials to his moral character; and,
considering how little is known of his life, it is rather surprising
that we should have so much in evidence of his virtues as a man. But
it is with what he taught; not what he practised, that we are here
mainly concerned: with the latter indeed we have properly nothing to
do, save as it may have influenced the former: it is enough for our
purpose that he saw and spoke the right, whether he acted it or not.
For, whatever his faults and infirmities and shortcomings as a man, it
is certain that they did not infect his genius or taint his mind, so
as to work it into any deflection from the straight and high path of
moral and intellectual righteousness.

I have said that Shakespeare does not put his personal views,
sentiments, and preferences, in a word, his individuality, into his
characters. These stand, morally, on their own bottom; he is but the
describer of them, and so is not answerable for what they do: he holds
the mirror up to them, or rather to nature in them; they do not hold
it up to him: we see them in what he says, but not him in what they
say. And, of course, as we may not impute to him, morally, their
vices, so neither have we any right to credit him, morally, with their
virtues. All this, speaking generally, is true; and it implies just
the highest praise that can possibly be accorded to any man as a
dramatic poet. But, true as it is generally, there is nevertheless
enough of exception to build a strong argument upon as to his moral
principles, or as to his theory of what is morally good and noble in
human character.

I have already mentioned Henry the Fifth as the one of his characters
into whom the Poet throws something of his own moral soul. He delivers
him both as Prince Hal and as King in such a way, that we cannot but
feel he has a most warm and hearty personal admiration of the man;
nay, he even discovers an intense moral enthusiasm about him: in the
Choruses, where he ungirds his individual loves from the strict law of
dramatic self-aloofness, and lets in a stream from his own full heart,
he calls him "the mirror of all Christian kings," and ascribes to him
such qualities, and in such a way, as show unequivocally his own
cherished ideal of manhood, and in what course the current of his
personal approval ran. Here, then, we have a trustworthy exhibit of
the Poet's moral principles; here we are left in no doubt as to what
moral traits of character he in heart approved, whether his own moral
character exemplified them or not. What sort of a man he represents
this his favorite hero to be; how modest in his greatness, how great
in his modesty; how dutiful and how devout; how brave, how gentle, how
generous, how affable, how humane; how full of religious fervor, yet
how bland and liberal in his piety; with "a tear for pity, and a hand
open as day for melting charity"; how genuine and unaffected withal
these virtues grow in him; in short, how all alive he is with the
highest and purest Christian _ethos_ which the old "ages of faith"
could breathe into a man;--all this must stand over till I come to the
plays wherein he is delineated.

Something further to the same point may be gathered, not so much from
the Poet's treatment of particular good characters, as from the
general style of character which he evidently prefers to draw in that
class, and from the peculiar complexion and grain of goodness which he
ascribes to them. Antonio the Merchant, Orlando, the Sebastian of
_Twelfth Night_, Horatio, Kent, Edgar, Ferdinand, Florizel,
Posthumus, Pisanio, are instances of what I mean. All these indeed
differ very widely from each other as individuals; but they all have
this in common, that their virtues sit easy and natural upon them, as
native outgrowths, not as things put on: there is no ambition, no
pretension, nothing at all boastful or fictitious or pharisaical or
squeamish or _egoish_ in their virtues; we never see the men hanging
over them, or nursing and cosseting them, as if they were specially
thoughtful and tender of them, and fearful lest they might catch cold.
Then too, with all these men, the good they do, in doing it, pays
itself: if they do you a kindness, they are not at all solicitous to
have you know and remember it: if sufferings and hardships overtake
them, if wounds and bruises be their portion, they never grumble or
repine at it, as feeling that Providence has a grudge against them, or
that the world is slighting them: whether they live or die, the mere
conscience of rectitude suffices them, without further recompense. So
that the simple happiness they find in doing what is right is to us a
sufficient pledge of their perseverance in so doing. Now all this is,
in its degree, just the ideal of virtue which Christian morality
teaches and exemplifies. For so the right way of Christian virtue is
when a man's good deeds are so much a matter of course with him, that
he thinks not of himself for having done them. As bees when they have
made their honey; as birds when they have carolled their hymn; as the
vine when it has produced its clusters; so it is with the truly good
man when he has done a good act: it suffices him that he has borne his
proper fruit; and, instead of calling on others or even himself to
note what he has done, he goes right on and does other good acts, just
as if nothing had happened.

But if all this be true of the Poet's men, it is true in a still
higher degree of his women. Here it is that the moral element of the
Beautiful has its fullest and fairest expression. And I am bold to say
that, next to the Christian religion, humanity has no other so
precious inheritance as Shakespeare's divine gallery of Womanhood.
Helena, Portia of Belmont, Rosalind, Viola, Portia of Rome, Isabella,
Ophelia, Cordelia, Miranda, Hermione, Perdita, Desdemona, Imogen,
Catharine of Arragon,--what a wealth and assemblage of moral beauty
have we here! All the other poetry and art of the world put together
cannot show such a varied and surpassing treasure of womanly
excellence. And how perfectly free their goodness is from any thing
like stress! How true it is in respect of their virtues, that "love is
an unerring light, and joy its own security!" They are wise, witty,
playful, humorous, grave, earnest, impassioned, practical,
imaginative; the most profound and beautiful thoughts drop from them
as things too common and familiar to be spoken with the least
emphasis: they are strong, tender, and sweet, yet never without a
sufficient infusion of brisk natural acid and piquancy to keep their
sweetness from palling on the taste: they are full of fresh, healthy
sentiment, but never at all touched with sentimentality: the soul of
romance works mightily within them, yet never betrays them into any
lapses from good sense, or any substitutions of feeling for duty.

Then too how nobly and serenely indifferent the glorious creatures are
to the fashions and opinions and criticisms of the world! How
composedly some of them walk amidst the sharpest perils and
adversities, as "having the spirit to do any thing that is not foul in
the truth of their spirit." Full of bitterness their cup sometimes is
indeed; yet they do not mind it,--not they!--save as the welfare and
happiness of others are involved in what pinches them. Several of them
are represented passing through the most ticklish and trying
situations in which it is possible for female modesty to be
placed,--disguised in male attire and sharing as men in the
conversations of men; yet so unassailable is their modesty, that they
give themselves, apparently, no trouble about it. And, framed as they
are, all this may well be so: for indeed such is their fear of God,
or, which comes to the same thing, their fear of doing wrong, that it
casts out all other fears; and so their "virtue gives herself light
through darkness for to wade." Nor do we wonder that, timid maidens as
they are, they should "put such boldness on"; for we see that with

        "Mighty are the soul's commandments
        To support, restrain, or raise:
    Foes may hang upon their path, snakes rustle near,
    But nothing from their inward selves have they to fear."

It is very noteworthy, withal, how some of them are so secure in the
spirit and substance of the moral law, that they do not scruple, in
certain circumstances, to overrule its letter and form. Thus Isabella
feigns to practise sin; and she does so as a simple act of
self-sacrifice, and because she sees that in this way a good and pious
deed may be done in aid of others: she shrinks not from the social
imputation of wrong in that case, so her conscience be clear; and she
can better brave the external finger of shame than the inward sense of
leaving a substantial good undone. Helena, also, puts herself through
a course of literal dishonours, and this too, with a perfect
understanding of what she is about; yet she yields to no misgivings;
not indeed on the ground that the end justifies the means, but because
she knows that the soul of a just and honorable purpose, such as hers,
will have power to redeem and even to sanctify the formal dishonours
of its body. Much the same principle holds, again, in the case of
Desdemona's falsehood, when, Emilia rushing into the room, and finding
her dying, and asking, "Who has done this?" she sighs out, "Nobody--I
myself: commend me to my kind lord." I believe no natural heart can
help thinking the better of Desdemona for this brave and tender
untruth, for it is plainly the unaffected utterance of a deeper truth;
and one must be blind indeed not to see that the dying woman's purpose
is to shield her husband, so far as she can, from the retribution
which she apprehends will befall him, and the thought of which wrings
her pure breast more sharply than the pangs of death.

These are plain cases of virtue tried and purified in the straits of
self-humiliation, virtue strained, as it were, through a close-knit
fabric of difficulties and hardships, and triumphing over the wrongs
that threaten its total defacement, and even turning its obstructions
into a substance glorious as its own; that is, they are exceptional
instances of a conscious departure from the letter and form of moral
beauty for the fuller and clearer manifestation of its spirit and

Nor are the virtues of Shakespeare's men and women the mere result of
a certain felicity and harmony of nature, or the spontaneous movements
of a happy instinct so strong in them that they do what is right
without knowing or meaning it. No; his Henry the Fifth, and Horatio,
and Kent, and Edgar, and Posthumus, his Helena, and Isabella, and
Cordelia, and Hermione, and Imogen, and Catharine, are most truly
"beings breathing thoughtful breath." Virtue is with them a discipline
as well as a joy; a strong upright will is the backbone of it, and a
healthy conscience is its keeper. They all have conscious reasons for
what they do, and can state them with piercing eloquence, if occasion
bids. For so the Poet, much as he delights in that fineness of nature
or that innate grace which goes right of its own accord, evidently
prefers, even in women, the goodness that has passed through struggles
and temptations, and has its chief seat, not in impulse, but in
principle, a virtue tested, and not merely instinctive: rather say, he
delights most in the virtue that proceeds by a happy consent and
marriage of the two. He therefore does not place his highest
characters, whether men or women, in an atmosphere so pure that
average mortals cannot breathe in it: he depicts their moral nature in
conflict, with the powers of good and evil striving in them for the
mastery; and when the former prevail, it is because they have "a
strong siding champion, Conscience," to support them. Thus through
their weakness they come near enough to get hold of us, while at the
same time in their strength they are enough higher than we to lift us

But Shakespeare's main peculiarity as a teacher of goodness lies in
this, that he keeps our moral sympathies in the right place without
discovering his own. With the one exception of Henry the Fifth, we
cannot perceive, from the delineation itself, whether he takes part
with the good character or the bad; nevertheless he somehow so puts
the matter that we cannot help taking part with the good. For I run no
risk in saying there is not a single instance in his plays where the
feelings of any natural-hearted reader fail to go along with those who
are, at least relatively, the best. And as he does not make nor even
let us see which side he is on, so of course we are led to take the
right side, not because he does, but simply because it is the right
side. Thus his moral lessons and inspirations affect us as coming, not
from him, but from Nature herself; and so the authority they carry is
not his, good as that may be, but hers, which is infinitely better.
Thus he is ever appealing directly to the tribunal of our own inward
moral forces, and at the same time speaking health and light into that
tribunal. There need be, there can be, no higher proof of the perfect
moral sanity of his genius than this. And for right moral effect it is
just the best thing we can have, and is worth a thousand times more
than all the ethical arguing and voting in the world. If it be a
marvel how the Poet can keep his own hand so utterly unmoved by the
passion he is representing, it is surely not less admirable that he
should thus, without showing any compassion himself, move our
compassion in just the degree, and draw it to just the place, which
the laws of moral beauty and proportion require.

Herein even Milton, great and good as he unquestionably is, falls far
below Shakespeare as a moral poet. Take the delineation of Satan in
_Paradise Lost_. Now Milton does not leave us at all in doubt as to
where his own moral sympathies go in that delineation: they are
altogether on the side of God and the good Angels. And he tells us
again and again, or as good as tells us, that ours ought to be there;
so that there is no possibility of mistake in the matter.
Notwithstanding I suspect he does not quite succeed in keeping the
reader's moral sympathies there. He does indeed with me: my own
feelings have somehow been so steeped in the foolish old doctrine or
faith which holds obedience to be a cardinal virtue, that they have
never sided with Satan in that controversy. But I believe a majority
of readers do find their moral feelings rather drawing to the rebel
side; this too, notwithstanding their moral judgment may speak the
other way: and when the feelings and the judgment are thus put at
odds, the former are pretty sure, in effect, to carry the day.

Now Milton's Satan, I think, may be not unfitly described as a highly
magnified realistic freethinker. Iago and Edmund are also realistic
freethinkers, the former slightly magnified, the latter unmagnified,
though both may be somewhat idealized. And both of them speak and act
strictly in that character. Accordingly all religion is in their
account mere superstition; and they take pride in never acknowledging
their Maker but to brave Him. Both exult above all things in their
intellectuality; and what they have the intellect to do, that is with
them the only limit to intellectual action; that is, their own will is
to them the highest law: hence to ruin another by outwitting and
circumventing him is their characteristic pastime; and if they can do
this through his virtues, all the better. Iago's moral creed may be
summed up in two of his aphoristic sayings,--"Virtue! a fig! 'tis in
ourselves that we are thus or thus"; and, "Put money in thy purse";
while Edmund wants no other reason for his exploiting than that his
brother is one

    "Whose nature is so far from doing harms,
    That he suspects none; on whose foolish honesty
    My practices ride easy."

The characters of the two freethinking heroes are delineated
consistently throughout, in keeping with these ideas, no one can say,
no one has ever said, that the Poet discovers any the least prejudice
against them, or any leanings of moral or personal sympathy towards
their victims. Nothing comes from him that can be fairly construed as
a hint to us against warming up to them. Nor has any one a right to
say that he overdoes or overstresses their wickedness a jot: he merely
shows it, or rather lets them show it, just as it is. He lends them
the whole benefit of his genius for the best possible airing of their
intellectual gifts and graces; all this too without swerving a hair
from the line of cold, calm, even-handed justice: yet how do our
feelings, how do our moral sympathies, run in these cases? I need not
say they run wholly and unreservedly with the chivalrous but infirm
Cassio, the honest and honour-loving Othello, the innocent though not
faultless Desdemona; with the pious and unsuspecting Edgar, the erring
indeed but still upright and sound-hearted Gloster. Nay, more; we
would rather be in the place of the victims than of the victors:
virtue wronged, betrayed, crushed, seems to us a more eligible lot
than crime triumphant, prosperous, happy.--Such is the moral spirit of
these great delineations.

I could easily go through all the Poet's instances of virtue and
innocence in conflict or in contrast with villainy and guilt, and show
that he never fails thus to keep our moral sympathies in the right
place without discovering his own; that he is just as far from
overdoing or overstressing the villainy of the bad as the virtue of
the good; both of which fall alike under the censure of moral
demonstrativeness, while, as in the two cases specified, his moral
teachings, even because they thus come from Nature, not from him,
therefore bring in their right hand sanctions which we cannot appeal
from if we would, and would not if we could.

There is one more point on which it may be needful to say a few
words.--Johnson and others have complained that Shakespeare seems to
write without any moral purpose; and that he does not make a just
distribution of good and evil. Both charges are strictly true; at
least, so I hope, and so I believe. As regards his seeming to write
without any moral purpose, on the same principle he seems to write
without any art. But who does not know that the very triumph of art
lies in concealing art; that is, in seeming to write without it? And
so, if the Poet writes without discovering any moral purpose, that
very fact is just the highest triumph of art in the moral direction.
For no one has alleged that he seems to write with an immoral purpose.
Here, then, I have but to say that, with so consummate an artist as
Shakespeare, if the charge is not true, it ought to be. Redundancy of
conscience is indeed fatal to art; but then it is also, if not fatal,
at least highly damaging to morality; "for goodness, growing to a
plurisy, dies in its own too much." Verily, a moral teacher's first
business is to clear his mind of cant. And so much the wise and good
Dr. Johnson himself will tell us.

If, again, Shakespeare fails to make a just distribution of good and
evil, so also does Providence. If, in his representations, virtue is
not always crowned with visible success, nor crime with apparent
defeat; if the good are often cast down, the evil often lifted up, and
sometimes both cast down together; the workings of Providence in the
actual treatment of men are equally at fault in that matter. Or if he
makes the sun of his genius to rise on the evil and on the good, and
sends the rain of his genius on the just and on the unjust, why should
this be thought wrong in him, when Providence manifestly does the

For, explain the fact as we may, it is certain that the consummations
of justice are not always experienced here. The world is full of
beginnings that are to be finished elsewhere, if finished at all.
Virtue often meets with very rough usage in the present order of
things: poverty and want, hardship, suffering, and reproach, are often
the lot of the good; while men of the opposite character have their
portion carved to them out of the best that the world has to bestow.
Nay, it sometimes happens that the truest, the kindest, and most
upright souls are the most exposed to injuries and wrongs; their
virtues being to them a kind of "sanctified and holy traitors," and
the heaven within them serving to disable them from winning the prizes
of earth: whereas the very unscrupulousness of the bad, their hardness
of heart and unbashfulness of front build or open for them the palaces
of wealth and splendour and greatness; their want of principle seems
to strengthen their hands; they rise the higher, that they care not
whose ruins they rise upon, and command the larger success for being
reckless how they succeed.

And is a poet, who professedly aims at nothing better than a just
reflection of human life and character as he finds them, is he to be
blamed for faithfully holding the mirror up to facts as they are in
this respect? That our Shakespeare, the mighty and the lovely,
sometimes permits the good to suffer while their wrongers prosper, I
thence infer, not indeed that he regarded them indifferently, but that
he had a right Christian faith in a further stage of being where the
present disorder of things in this point is to be rectified, and the
moral discriminations of Providence consummated. His judgment clearly
was, that suffering and death are not the worst things that can happen
to a man here. He reverences virtue, he does not patronize it. And the
virtue he has in reverence is not a hanger-on at the counters of
worldly thrift. He knew right well that "the fineness of such metal is
not found in Fortune's love," but rather "in the wind and tempest of
her frown"; and so he paints it as a thing "that Fortune's buffets and
rewards doth take with equal thanks." And, surely, what we need here
is a deeper faith, a firmer trust in the government of a Being "in
whose pure sight all virtue doth succeed"; yea, and perhaps succeeds
most highly in those very cases where the course of things in this
world fails to recognize its claims.

For so in fact it seems pretty clear that the forces of Nature have
little sense or discernment of right and wrong: the sunshine and the
rain are rather blindly given to favouring the good and the evil
indiscriminately; the plague and the thunderbolt are strangely
indifferent to moral distinctions where they strike. What of that?
these things are but the under-agents of Providence in the government
of the world: whereas the inward conscience of truth and right is the
immediate smile of God himself; and that is the Paradise of the truly
good man's soul, the very life of his life; he can live without
happiness, but he cannot live without that. Shakespeare's delineations
reflect, none so well, none so well as his, this great, this most
refreshing article of truth; and I heartily thank him for it; yes,

So then, what though the divine Cordelia and the noble Kent die, and
this too in the very sweetness and fragrance of their beauty? Is it
not, do we not feel that it is, better to die with them than to live
with those who have caused their death? Their goodness was not acted
for the sake of life, but purely for its own sake: virtue such as
theirs does not make suit to Fortune's favours, nor build her trust in
them; pays not her vows to time, nor is time's thrall; no! her
thoughts are higher-reared; she were not herself, could she not "look
on tempests, and be never shaken." And such characters as these,
befall them what may, have their "exceeding great reward" in the very
virtue that draws suffering and death upon them: they need nothing
more, and it is their glory and immortality not to ask any thing more.
And shall we pity them, or shall we blame the Poet, that their virtue
is not crowned with Fortune's smiles? Nay, rather let us both pity and
blame ourselves for being of so mean and miserable a spirit.

As for those poets, and those critics of poetry, who insist that in
the Drama, which ought to be a just image of life as it is, there
shall always be an exact fitting of rewards and punishments to moral
desert; or that the innocent and the guilty, the just and the unjust,
shall be perfectly discriminated in what befalls them; as for such
poets and critics, I simply do not believe in them at all: their
workmanship is radically both unchristian and immoral; and its moral
effect, if it have any, can hardly be other than to "pamper the coward
heart with feelings all too delicate for use."

Wherefore, if any students of Shakespeare are still troubled with such
criticisms as the one in question, I recommend them to make a thorough
study of the _Book of Job_, and not to leave it till they shall have
mastered the argument of that wonderful and divine poem. They will
there find that, when the good man was prosperous, the Accuser brought
against him the charge, that his serving God so well was from his
being sure of good pay; and that therefore he would presently give
over or slack his service, if the pay should be withheld: they will
also find that, when he was in affliction, his comforters sought to
comfort him with the cruel reproach of having been all the while
secretly a bad man, and with arguments no less cruel, that his
afflictions were sent upon him as a judgment for his secret sins: and,
further, they will find that, when his wife urged him to "curse God
and die," her counsel proceeded upon the principle, that the evils
which fall upon the upright prove the government of the world to be in
the hands of a being who has no respect for the moral character of his
subjects; or, in other words, the sufferings of good men are taken by
her as evidence that goodness is not the law of the Divine

Now, it was from such teachers as Nature and Job, and not from such as
Job's Accuser and comforters and wife, that Shakespeare learnt his


       *       *       *       *       *


A Midsummer-Night's Dream was registered at the Stationers' October 8,
1600, and two quarto editions of it were published in the course of
that year. The play is not known to have been printed again till it
reappeared in the folio of 1623, where the repetition of certain
misprints shows it to have been printed from one of the quarto copies.
In all three of these copies, however, the printing is remarkably
clear and correct for the time, insomuch that modern editors have
little difficulty about the text. Probably none of the Poet's dramas
has reached us in a more satisfactory state.

The play is first heard of in the list given by Francis Meres in his
_Palladis Tamia_, 1598. But it was undoubtedly written several years
before that time; and I am not aware that any editor places the
writing at a later date than 1594. This brings it into the same period
with _King John, King Richard the Second_, and the finished _Romeo and
Juliet_; and the internal marks of style naturally sort it into that
company. Our Mr. Verplanck, however, thinks there are some passages
which relish strongly of an earlier time; while again there are others
that with the prevailing sweetness of the whole have such an
intertwisting of nerve and vigour, and such an energetic compactness
of thought and imagery, mingled occasionally with the deeper tonings
of "years that bring the philosophic mind," as to argue that they were
wrought into the structure of the play not long before it came from
the press. The part of the Athenian lovers certainly has a good deal
that, viewed by itself, would scarce do credit even to such a boyhood
as Shakespeare's must have been. On the other hand, there is a large
philosophy in Theseus' discourse of "the lunatic, the lover, and the
poet," a manly judgment in his reasons for preferring the "tedious
brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisbe," and a bracing
freshness in the short dialogue of the chase, all in the best style of
the author's second period. Perhaps, however, what seem the defects of
the former, the fanciful quirks and far-fetched conceits, were wisely
designed, in order to invest the part with such an air of dreaminess
and unreality as would better sort with the scope and spirit of the
piece, and preclude a disproportionate resentment of some naughty acts
into which those love-bewildered frailties are betrayed.

There is at least a rather curious coincidence, which used to be
regarded as proving that the play was not written till after the
Summer of 1594. I refer to Titania's superb description, in ii. 1, of
the strange misbehaviour of the weather, which she ascribes to the
fairy bickerings. I can quote but a part of it:

    "The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
    Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose;
    And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
    An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
    Is, as in mockery, set: the Spring, the Summer,
    The childing Autumn, angry Winter, change
    Their wonted liveries; and the mazèd world,
    By their increase, now knows not which is which:
    And this same progeny of evils comes
    From our debate, from our dissension."

For the other part of the coincidence, Strype in his _Annals_ gives
the following passage from a discourse by the Rev. Dr. King: "And see
whether the Lord doth not threaten us much more, by sending such
unseasonable weather and storms of rain among us; which if we will
observe, and compare it with what is past, we may say that the course
of nature is very much inverted. Our years are turned upside down: our
Summers are no Summers; our harvests are no harvests; our seed-times
are no seed-times. For a great space of time scant any day hath been
seen that it hath not rained." Dyce indeed scouts the supposal that
Shakespeare had any allusion to this eccentric conduct of the elements
in the Summer of 1594, pronouncing it "ridiculous"; but I do not quite
see it so; albeit I am apt enough to believe that most of the play was
written before that date. And surely, the truth of the allusion being
granted, all must admit that passing events have seldom been turned to
better account in the service of poetry.

       *       *       *       *       *

I can hardly imagine this play ever to have been very successful on
the stage; and I am sure it could not be made to succeed there now.
Still we are not without contemporary evidence that it had at least a
fair amount of fame. And we have authentic information that it was
performed at the house of Dr. John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, on
Sunday, the 27th of September, 1631. The actor of Bottom's part was on
that occasion sentenced by a Puritan tribunal to sit twelve hours in
the porter's room of the Bishop's palace, wearing the ass's head. This
Dr. Williams was the very able but far from faultless man who was
treated so harshly by Laud, and gave the King such crooked counsel in
the case of Strafford, and spent his last years in mute sorrow at the
death of his royal master, and had his life written by the wise,
witty, good Bishop Hacket.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some hints towards the part of Theseus and Hippolyta appear to have
been taken from _The Knight's Tale_ of Chaucer. The same poet's
_Legend of Thisbe of Babylon_, and Golding's translation of the same
story from Ovid, probably furnished the matter of the Interlude. So
much as relates to Bottom and his fellows evidently came fresh from
Nature as she had passed under the Poet's eye. The linking of these
clowns with the ancient tragic tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, so as to
draw the latter within the region of modern farce, is not less
original than droll. How far it may have expressed the Poet's judgment
touching the theatrical doings of the time, were perhaps a question
more curious than profitable. The names of Oberon, Titania, and Robin
Goodfellow were made familiar by the surviving relics of Gothic and
Druidical mythology; as were also many particulars in their habits,
mode of life, and influence in human affairs. Hints and allusions
scattered through many preceding writers might be produced, showing
that the old superstition had been grafted into the body of
Christianity, where it had shaped itself into a regular system, so as
to mingle in the lore of the nursery, and hold an influential place in
the popular belief. Some reports of this ancient Fairydom are choicely
translated into poetry by Chaucer in _The Wife of Bath's Tale_.

But, though Chaucer and others had spoken about the fairy nation, it
was for Shakespeare to let them speak for themselves: until he clothed
their life in apt forms, their thoughts in fitting words, they but
floated unseen and unheard in the mental atmosphere of his fatherland.
So that on this point there need be no scruple about receiving
Hallam's statement of the matter: "_A Midsummer-Night's Dream_ is, I
believe, altogether original in one of the most beautiful conceptions
that ever visited the mind of a poet,--the fairy machinery. A few
before him had dealt in a vulgar and clumsy manner with popular
superstitions; but the sportive, beneficent, invisible population of
the air and earth, long since established in the creed of childhood,
and of those simple as children, had never for a moment been blended
with 'human mortals' among the personages of the drama." How much
Shakespeare did as the friend and saviour of those sweet airy
frolickers of the past from the relentless mowings of Time, has been
charmingly set forth in our day in Hood's _Plea of the Midsummer

What, then, are the leading qualities which the Poet ascribes to
these ideal or fanciful beings? Coleridge says he is "convinced that
Shakespeare availed himself of the title of this play in his own mind,
and worked upon it as a dream throughout." This remark no doubt
rightly hits the true genius of the piece; and on no other ground can
its merits be duly estimated. The whole play is indeed a sort of ideal
dream; and it is from the fairy personages that its character as such
mainly proceeds. All the materials of the piece are ordered and
assimilated to that central and governing idea. This it is that
explains and justifies the distinctive features of the work, such as
the constant preponderance of the lyrical over the dramatic, and the
free playing of the action unchecked by the conditions of outward fact
and reality. Accordingly a sort of lawlessness is, as it ought to be,
the very law of the performance. King Oberon is the sovereign who
presides over the world of dreams; Puck is his prime minister; and all
the other denizens of Fairydom are his subjects and the agents of his
will in this capacity. Titania's nature and functions are precisely
the same which Mercutio assigns to Queen Mab, whom he aptly describes
as having for her office to deliver sleeping men's fancies of their
dreams, those "children of an idle brain." In keeping with this
central dream-idea, the actual order of things everywhere gives place
to the spontaneous issues and capricious turnings of the dreaming
mind; the lofty and the low, the beautiful and the grotesque, the
world of fancy and of fact, all the strange diversities that enter
into "such stuff as dreams are made of," running and frisking
together, and interchanging their functions and properties; so that
the whole seems confused, flitting, shadowy, and indistinct, as fading
away in the remoteness and fascination of moonlight. The very scene is
laid in a veritable dream-land, called Athens indeed, but only because
Athens was the greatest beehive of beautiful visions then known; or
rather it is laid in an ideal forest near an ideal Athens,--a forest
peopled with sportive elves and sprites and fairies feeding on
moonlight and music and fragrance; a place where Nature herself is
preternatural; where everything is idealized, even to the sunbeams and
the soil; where the vegetation proceeds by enchantment, and there is
magic in the germination of the seed and secretion of the sap.

The characteristic attributes of the fairy people are, perhaps, most
availably represented in Puck; who is apt to remind one of Ariel,
though the two have little in common, save that both are
preternatural, and therefore live no longer in the faith of reason.
Puck is no such sweet-mannered, tender-hearted, music-breathing
spirit, as Prospero's delicate prime-minister; there are no such fine
interweavings of a sensitive moral soul in his nature, he has no such
soft touches of compassion and pious awe of goodness, as link the
dainty Ariel in so smoothly with our best sympathies. Though
Goodfellow by name, his powers and aptitudes for mischief are quite
unchecked by any gentle relentings of fellow-feeling: in whatever
distresses he finds or occasions he sees much to laugh at, nothing to
pity: to tease and vex poor human sufferers, and then to think "what
fools these mortals be," is pure fun to him. Yet, notwithstanding his
mad pranks, we cannot choose but love the little sinner, and let our
fancy frolic with him, his sense of the ludicrous is so exquisite, he
is so fond of sport, and so quaint and merry in his mischief; while at
the same time such is the strange web of his nature as to keep him
morally innocent. In all which I think he answers perfectly to the
best idea we can frame of what a little dream-god should be.

In further explication of this peculiar people, it is to be noted that
there is nothing of reflection or conscience or even of a
spiritualized intelligence in their proper life: they have all the
attributes of the merely natural and sensitive soul, but no attributes
of the properly rational and moral soul. They worship the clean, the
neat, the pretty, and the pleasant, whatever goes to make up the idea
of purely sensuous beauty: this is a sort of religion with them;
whatever of conscience they have adheres to this: so that herein they
not unfitly represent the wholesome old notion which places
cleanliness next to godliness. Every thing that is trim, dainty,
elegant, graceful, agreeable, and sweet to the senses, they delight
in: flowers, fragrances, dewdrops, and moonbeams, honey-bees,
butterflies, and nightingales, dancing, play, and song,--these are
their joy; out of these they weave their highest delectation; amid
these they "fleet the time carelessly," without memory or forecast,
and with no thought or aim beyond the passing pleasure of the moment.
On the other hand, they have an instinctive repugnance to whatever is
foul, ugly, sluttish, awkward, ungainly, or misshapen: they wage
unrelenting war against bats, spiders, hedgehogs, spotted snakes,
blindworms, long-legg'd spinners, beetles, and all such disagreeable
creatures: to "kill cankers in the musk-rosebuds," and to "keep back
the clamorous owl," are regular parts of their business. Their intense
dislike of what is ugly and misshapen is the reason why they so much
practise "the legerdemain of changelings," stealing away finished,
handsome babies, and leaving blemished and defective ones in their
stead. For the same cause they love to pester and persecute and play
shrewd tricks upon decrepit old age, wise aunts, and toothless,
chattering gossips, and especially such awkward "hempen home-spuns" as
Bottom and his fellow-actors in the Interlude.

Thus these beings embody the ideal of the mere natural soul, or rather
the purely sensuous fancy which shapes and governs the pleasing or the
vexing delusions of sleep. They lead a merry, luxurious life, given up
entirely to the pleasures of happy sensation,--a happiness that has no
moral element, nothing of reason or conscience in it. They are indeed
a sort of personified dreams; and so the Poet places them in a kindly
or at least harmless relation to mortals as the bringers of dreams.
Their very kingdom is located in the aromatic, flower-scented Indies,
a land where mortals are supposed to live in a half-dreamy state. From
thence they come, "following darkness," just as dreams naturally do;
or, as Oberon words it, "tripping after the night's shade, swifter
than the wandering Moon." It is their nature to shun the daylight,
though they do not fear it, and to prefer the dark, as this is their
appropriate work-time; but most of all they love the dusk and the
twilight, because this is the best dreaming-time, whether the dreamer
be asleep or awake. And all the shifting phantom-jugglery of dreams,
all the sweet soothing witcheries, and all the teasing and tantalizing
imagery of dream-land, rightly belong to their province.

It is a very noteworthy point that all their power or influence over
the hearts and actions of mortals works through the medium of dreams,
or of such fancies as are most allied to dreams. So that their whole
inner character is fashioned in harmony with their external function.
Nor is it without rare felicity that the Poet assigns to them the
dominion over the workings of sensuous and superficial love, this
being but as one of the courts of the dream-land kingdom; a region
ordered, as it were, quite apart from the proper regards of duty and
law, and where the natural soul of man moves free of moral thought and
responsibility. Accordingly we have the King of this Fairydom endowed
with the rights and powers both of the classical god of love and the
classical goddess of chastity. Oberon commands alike the secret
virtues of "Dian's bud" and of "Cupid's flower"; and he seems to use
them both unchecked by any other law than his innate love of what is
handsome and fair, and his native aversion to what is ugly and foul;
that is, he owns no restraint but as he is inwardly held to apply
either or both of them in such a way as to avoid all distortion or
perversion from what is naturally graceful and pleasant. For
everybody, I take it, knows that in the intoxications of a life of
sensuous love reason and conscience have as little force as they have
in a life of dreams. And so the Poet fitly ascribes to Oberon and his
ministers both Cupid's delight in frivolous breaches of faith and
Jove's laughter at lovers' perjuries; and this on the ground,
apparently, that the doings of those in Cupid's power are as harmless
and unaccountable as the freaks of a dream.

In pursuance of this idea he depicts the fairies as beings without any
proper moral sense in what they do, but as having a very keen sense of
what is ludicrous and absurd in the doings of men. They are careless
and unscrupulous in their dealings in this behalf. The wayward follies
and the teasing perplexities of the fancy-smitten persons are pure
sport to them. If by their wanton mistakes they can bewilder and
provoke the lovers into larger outcomes of the laughable, so much the
higher runs their mirth. And as they have no fellow-feeling with the
pains of those who thus feed their love of fun, so the effect of their
roguish tricks makes no impression upon them: they have a feeling of
simple delight and wonder at the harmless frettings and fumings which
their merry mischief has a hand in bringing to pass: but then it is to
be observed also, that they find just as much sport in tricking the
poor lover out of his vexations as in tricking him into them; in fact,
they never rest satisfied with the fun of the former so long as there
is any chance of enjoying that of the latter also.

       *       *       *       *       *

All readers of Shakespeare are of course familiar with the splendid
passage in ii. 1, where Oberon describes to Puck how, on a certain

    "I heard a mermaid, on a dolphin's back,
    Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath,
    That the rude sea grew civil at her song."

And all are no doubt aware that the subsequent lines, referring to "a
fair vestal throned by the west," are commonly understood to have been
meant as a piece of delicate flattery to Queen Elizabeth. Mr. Halpin
has recently given to this famous passage a new interpretation or
application, which is at least curious enough to justify a brief
statement of it. In his view, "Cupid all arm'd" refers to Leicester's
wooing of Elizabeth, and his grand entertainment of her at Kenilworth
in 1575. From authentic descriptions of that entertainment we learn,
that among the spectacles and fireworks witnessed on the occasion was
one of a singing mermaid on a dolphin's back gliding over smooth water
amid shooting stars. The "love-shaft" which was aimed at the "fair
vestal," that is, the Priestess of Diana, whose bud has such
prevailing might over "Cupid's flower," glanced off; so that "the
imperial votaress passèd on, in maiden meditation, fancy-free."

Thus far, all is clear enough. But Halpin further interprets that the
"little western flower" upon whom "the bolt of Cupid fell" refers to
Lettice Countess of Essex, with whom Leicester carried on a secret
intrigue while her husband was absent in Ireland. The Earl of Essex,
on being apprised of the intrigue, set out to return the next year,
but died of poison, as was thought, before he reached home. So Halpin
understands the "western flower, before milk-white," that is,
innocent, but "now purple with love's wound," as referring to the
lady's fall, or to the deeper blush of her husband's murder. And the
flower is called "love-in-idleness," to signify her listlessness of
heart during the Earl's absence; as the Poet elsewhere uses similar
terms of the pansy, as denoting the love that renders men pensive,
dreamy, indolent, instead of toning up the soul with healthy and noble
aspirations. The words of Oberon to Puck, "that very time I saw--but
thou could'st not," are construed as referring to the strict mystery
in which the affair was wrapped, and to the Poet's own knowledge of
it, because a few years later the execution of Edward Arden, his
maternal relative, was closely connected with it, and because the
unfortunate Earl of Essex, so well known as for some time the Queen's
favourite, and then the victim of her resentment, was the son of that
Lettice, and was also the Poet's early friend and patron.

Such is, in substance, Halpin's view of the matter; which I give for
what it may be worth; and freely acknowledge it to be ingenious and
plausible enough. Gervinus regards it as "an interpretation full of
spirit," and as "giving the most definite relation to the innermost
sense of the whole piece." And I am very willing to believe that
Shakespeare often took hints, perhaps something more than hints, for
his poetry from the facts and doings of the time: nevertheless I
rather fail to see how any real good is to be gained towards
understanding the Poet from such interpretations of his scenes, or
from tracing out such "definite relations" between his workmanship and
the persons and particulars that may have come to his knowledge. For
my own part, I doubt whether "the innermost sense" of the play is any
the clearer to me for this ingenious piece of explanation.

Besides, I have yet to learn what proofs there are that the ill-fated
Essex was an early patron and friend of Shakespeare. That great honour
belongs to the Earls of Southampton and Pembroke. It was Lord Bacon,
not Shakespeare, who enjoyed so richly the friendship and patronage of
the generous Essex; and how he requited the same is known much too
well for his credit. I am not unmindful that this may yield some
comfort to those who would persuade us that Shakespeare's plays were
written by Lord Bacon. Upon this point I have just four things to say:
First, Bacon's requital of the Earl's bounty was such a piece of
ingratitude as I can hardly conceive the author of _King Lear_ to have
been guilty of: Second, the author of Shakespeare's plays, whoever he
may have been, certainly was not a scholar; he had indeed something
vastly better than learning, but he had not that: Third, Shakespeare
never philosophizes, Bacon never does anything else: Fourth, Bacon's
mind, great as it was, might have been cut out of Shakespeare's
without being missed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Any very firm or strong delineation of character, any deep passion,
earnest purpose, or working of powerful motives, would clearly go at
odds with the spirit of such a performance as I have described this
play to be. It has room but for love and beauty and delight, for
whatever is most poetical in nature and fancy, and for such tranquil
stirrings of thought and feeling as may flow out in musical
expression. Any such tuggings of mind or heart as would ruffle and
discompose the smoothness of lyrical division would be quite out of
keeping in a course of dream-life. The characters here, accordingly,
are drawn with light, delicate, vanishing touches; some of them being
dreamy and sentimental, some gay and frolicsome, and others replete
with amusing absurdities, while all are alike dipped in fancy or
sprinkled with humour. And for the same reason the tender distresses
of unrequited or forsaken love here touch not our moral sense at all,
but only at the most our human sympathies; love itself being
represented as but the effect of some visual enchantment, which the
King of Fairydom can inspire, suspend, or reverse at pleasure. Even
the heroic personages are fitly shown in an unheroic aspect: we see
them but in their unbendings, when they have daffed their martial
robes aside, to lead the train of day-dreamers, and have a nuptial
jubilee. In their case, great care and art were required, to make the
play what it has been blamed for being; that is, to keep the dramatic
sufficiently under, and lest the law of a part should override the law
of the whole.

So, likewise, in the transformation of Bottom and the dotage of
Titania, all the resources of fancy were needed, to prevent the
unpoetical from getting the upper hand, and thus swamping the genius
of the piece. As it is, what words can fitly express the effect with
which the extremes of the grotesque and the beautiful are here brought
together? What an inward quiet laughter springs up and lubricates the
fancy at Bottom's droll confusion of his two natures, when he talks,
now as an ass, now as a man, and anon as a mixture of both; his
thoughts running at the same time on honey-bags and thistles, the
charms of music and of good dry oats! Who but Shakespeare or Nature
could have so interfused the lyrical spirit, not only with, but into
and through a series or cluster of the most irregular and fantastic
drolleries? But indeed this embracing and kissing of the most
ludicrous and the most poetical, the enchantment under which they
meet, and the airy, dream-like grace that hovers over their union, are
altogether inimitable and indescribable. In this singular wedlock, the
very diversity of the elements seems to link them the closer, while
this linking in turn heightens that diversity; Titania being thereby
drawn on to finer issues of soul, and Bottom to larger expressions of
stomach. The union is so very improbable as to seem quite natural: we
cannot conceive how any thing but a dream could possibly have married
things so contrary; and that they could not have come together save in
a dream, is a sort of proof that they _were_ dreamed together.

And so, throughout, the execution is in strict accordance with the
plan. The play, from beginning to end, is a perfect festival of
whatever dainties and delicacies poetry may command,--a continued
revelry and jollification of soul, where the understanding is lulled
asleep, that the fancy may run riot in unrestrained enjoyment. The
bringing together of four parts so dissimilar as those of the Duke and
his warrior Bride, of the Athenian ladies and their lovers, of the
amateur players and their woodland rehearsal, and of the fairy
bickerings and overreaching; and the carrying of them severally to a
point where they all meet and blend in lyrical respondence; all this
is done in the same freedom from the laws that govern the drama of
character and life. Each group of persons is made to parody itself
into concert with the others; while the frequent intershootings of
fairy influence lift the whole into the softest regions of fancy. At
last the Interlude comes in as an amusing burlesque on all that has
gone before; as in our troubled dreams we sometimes end with a dream
that we have been dreaming, and our perturbations sink to rest in the
sweet assurance that they were but the phantoms and unrealities of a
busy sleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

Though, as I have already implied, the characterization is here quite
secondary and subordinate, yet the play probably has as much of
character as were compatible with so much of poetry. Theseus has been
well described as a classic personage with romantic features and
expression. The name is Greek, but the nature and spirit are
essentially Gothic. Nor does the abundance of classical allusion and
imagery in the story call for any qualification here; because
whatsoever is taken is thoroughly steeped in the efficacy of the
taker. This sort of anachronism, common to all modern writers before
and during the age of Shakespeare, seems to have arisen in part from a
comparative dearth of classical learning, which left men to
contemplate the heroes of antiquity under the forms into which their
own mind and manners had been cast. Thus their delineations became
informed with the genius of romance; the condensed grace of ancient
character giving way to the enlargement of chivalrous magnanimity and
honour, with its "high-erected thoughts seated in the heart of
courtesy." Such in Shakespeare's case appears to have been the no less
beautiful than natural result of the small learning, so often smiled
and sometimes barked at, by those more skilled in the ancient
languages than in the mother-tongue of nature.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the two pairs of lovers there are hardly any lines deep and firm
enough to be rightly called characteristic. Their doings, even more
than those of the other human persons, are marked by the dream-like
freakishness and whimsicality which distinguish the piece. Perhaps the
two ladies are slightly discriminated as individuals, in that Hermia,
besides her brevity of person, is the more tart in temper, and the
more pert and shrewish of speech, while Helena is of a rather milder
and softer disposition, with less of confidence in herself. So too in
the case of Demetrius and Lysander the lines of individuality are
exceedingly faint; the former being perhaps a shade the more caustic
and spiteful, and the latter somewhat the more open and candid. But
there is really nothing of heart or soul in what any of them do: as we
see them, they are not actuated by principle at all, or even by any
thing striking so deep as motive: their conduct issues from the more
superficial springs of capricious impulse and fancy, the "jugglery of
the senses during the sleep of reason"; the higher forces of a mental
and moral bearing having no hand in shaping their action. For the
fairy influences do not reach so far as to the proper seat of motive
and principle: they have but the skin-depth of amorous caprice; all
the elements of character and all the vital springs of faith and
loyalty and honour lying quite beyond their sphere. Even here the
judgment or the genius of the Poet is very perceptible; the lovers
being represented from the start as acting from no forces or
inspirations too deep or strong for the powers of Fairydom to
overcome. Thus the pre-condition of the two pairs in their
whim-bewilderment is duly attempered to the purposed dream-play of the
general action. Nor is the seeming stanchness of Hermia and Demetrius
in the outset any exception to this view; for nothing is more wilful
and obstinate than amorous caprice or skin-deep love during its brief
tenure of the fancy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of all the characters in this play, Bottom descends by far the most
into the realities of common experience, and is therefore much the
most accessible to the grasp of prosaic and critical fingers. It has
been thought that the Poet meant him as a satire on the envies and
jealousies of the greenroom, as they had fallen under his keen yet
kindly eye. But, surely, the qualities uppermost in Bottom the Weaver
had forced themselves on his notice long before he entered the
greenroom. It is indeed curious to observe the solicitude of this
protean actor and critic, that all the parts of the forthcoming play
may have the benefit of his execution; how great is his concern lest,
if he be tied to one, the others may be "overdone or come tardy off";
and how he would fain engross them all to himself, to the end of
course that all may succeed, to the honour of the stage and the
pleasure of the spectators. But Bottom's metamorphosis is the most
potent drawer-out of his genius. The sense of his new head-dress stirs
up all the manhood within him, and lifts his character into ludicrous
greatness at once. Hitherto the seeming to be a man has made him
content to be little better than an ass; but no sooner is he conscious
of seeming an ass than he tries his best to be a man; while all his
efforts that way only go to approve the fitness of his present seeming
to his former being.

Schlegel happily remarks, that "the droll wonder of Bottom's
metamorphosis is merely the translation of a metaphor in its literal
sense." The turning of a figure of speech thus into visible form is a
thing only to be thought of or imagined; so that probably no attempt
to paint or represent it to the senses can ever succeed. We can
bear--at least we often have to bear--that a man should seem an ass to
the mind's eye; but that he should seem such to the eye of the body is
rather too much, save as it is done in those fable-pictures which have
long been among the playthings of the nursery. So a child, for
instance, takes great pleasure in fancying the stick he is riding to
be a horse, when he would be frightened out of his wits, were the
stick to quicken and expand into an actual horse. In like manner we
often delight in indulging fancies and giving names, when we should be
shocked were our fancies to harden into facts: we enjoy visions in our
sleep, that would only disgust or terrify us, should we awake and find
them solidified into things. The effect of Bottom's transformation can
hardly be much otherwise, if set forth in visible, animated shape.
Delightful to think of, it is scarce tolerable to look upon:
exquisitely true in idea, it has no truth, or even verisimilitude,
when reduced to fact; so that, however gladly imagination receives it,
sense and understanding revolt at it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Partly for reasons already stated, and partly for others that I scarce
know how to state, _A Midsummer-Night's Dream_ is a most effectual
poser to criticism. Besides that its very essence is irregularity, so
that it cannot be fairly brought to the test of rules, the play forms
properly a class by itself: literature has nothing else really like
it; nothing therefore with which it may be compared, and its merits
adjusted. For so the Poet has here exercised powers apparently
differing even in kind, not only from those of any other writer, but
from those displayed in any other of his own writings. Elsewhere, if
his characters are penetrated with the ideal, their whereabout lies in
the actual, and the work may in some measure be judged by that life
which it claims to represent: here the whereabout is as ideal as the
characters; all is in the land of dreams,--a place for dreamers, not
for critics. For who can tell what a dream ought or ought not to be,
or when the natural conditions of dream-life are or are not rightly
observed? How can the laws of time and space, as involved in the
transpiration of human character,--how can these be applied in a place
where the mind is thus absolved from their proper jurisdiction?
Besides, the whole thing swarms with enchantment: all the sweet
witchery of Shakespeare's sweet genius is concentrated in it, yet
disposed with so subtle and cunning a hand, that we can as little
grasp it as get away from it: its charms, like those of a summer
evening, are such as we may see and feel, but cannot locate or define;
cannot say they are here, or they are there: the moment we yield
ourselves up to them, they seem to be everywhere; the moment we go to
master them, they seem to be nowhere.


The Merchant Of Venice was registered at the Stationers' in July,
1598, but with a special proviso, "that it be not printed without
license first had from the Right Honourable the Lord Chamberlain." The
theatrical company to which Shakespeare belonged were then known as
"The Lord Chamberlain's Servants"; and the purpose of the proviso was
to keep the play out of print till the company's permission were given
through their patron. The play was entered again at the same place in
October, 1600, his lordship's license having probably been obtained by
that time. Accordingly two distinct editions of it were published in
the course of that year. The play was never issued again, that we know
of, till in the folio of 1623, where the repetition of various
misprints shows it to have been reprinted from one of the quarto

_The Merchant of Venice_ also makes one in the list of Shakespeare's
plays given by Francis Meres in 1598. How long before that time it was
written we have no means of knowing; but, judging from the style, we
cannot well assign the writing to a much earlier date; though there is
some reason for thinking it may have been on the stage four years
earlier; as Henslowe's _Diary_ records _The Venetian Comedy_ as having
been originally acted in August, 1594. It is by no means certain,
however, that this refers to Shakespeare's play; while the workmanship
here shows such maturity and variety of power as argue against that
supposal. It evinces, in a considerable degree, the easy, unlabouring
freedom of conscious mastery; the persons being so entirely under the
author's control, and subdued to his hand, that he seems to let them
talk and act just as they have a mind to. Therewithal the style,
throughout, is so even and sustained; the word and the character are
so fitted to each other; the laws of dramatic proportion are so well
observed; and the work is so free from any jarring or falling-out from
the due course and order of art; as to justify the belief that the
whole was written in the same stage of intellectual growth and

In the composition of this play the Poet drew largely from preceding
writers. Novelty of plot or story there is almost none. Nevertheless,
in conception and development of character, in poetical texture and
grain, in sap and flavour of wit and humour, and in all that touches
the real life and virtue of the work, it is one of the most original
productions that ever came from the human mind. Of the materials here
used, some were so much the common stock of European literature before
the Poet's time, and had been run into so many variations, that it is
not easy to say what sources he was most indebted to for them. The
incidents of the bond and the caskets are found separately in the
_Gesta Romanorum_, an ancient and curious collection of tales. There
was also an Italian novel, by Giovanni Fiorentino, written as early as
1378, but not printed till 1550, to which the Poet is clearly
traceable. As nothing is known of any English translation of the novel
dating as far back as his time, it seems not unlikely that he may have
been acquainted with it in the original.

Such are the principal tributaries to the fund of this play. I cannot,
nor need I, stay to specify the other sources to which some parts of
the workmanship have been traced.

       *       *       *       *       *

The praise of this drama is in the mouth of nearly all the critics.
That the praise is well deserved appears in that, from the reopening
of the theatres at the Restoration till the present day, the play has
kept its place on the stage; while it is also among the first of the
Poet's works to be read, and the last to be forgotten, its interest
being as durable in the closet as on the boards. Well do I remember it
as the very beginning of my acquaintance with Shakespeare; one of the
dearest acquaintances I have ever made, and which has been to me a
source of more pleasure and profit than I should dare undertake to

Critics have too often entertained themselves with speculations as to
the Poet's specific moral purpose in this play or that. Wherein their
great mistake is the not duly bearing in mind, that the special
proposing of this or that moral lesson is quite from or beside the
purpose of Art. Nevertheless, a work of art, to be really deserving
the name, must needs be moral, because it must be proportionable and
true to Nature; thus attuning our inward forces to the voice of
external order and law: otherwise it is at strife with the compact of
things; a piece of dissonance; a jarring, unbalanced, crazy thing,
that will die of its own internal disorder. If, then, a work be
morally bad, this proves the author more a bungler than anything else.
And if any one admire it or take pleasure in it, he does so, not from
reason, but from something within him which his reason, in so far as
he has any, necessarily disapproves: so that he is rather to be
laughed at as a dunce than preached to as a sinner; though perhaps
this latter should be done also.

As to the moral temper of _The Merchant of Venice_, critics have
differed widely, some regarding the play as teaching the most
comprehensive humanity, others as caressing the narrowest bigotries of
the age. This difference may be fairly taken as an argument of the
Poet's candour and evenhandedness. A special-pleader is not apt to
leave the hearers in doubt on which side of the question he stands. In
this play, as in others, the Poet, I think, ordered things mainly with
a view to dramatic effect; though to such effect in the largest and
noblest sense. And the highest praise compatible with the nature of
the work is justly his, inasmuch as he did not allow himself to be
swayed either way from the right measures and proportions of art. For
Art is, from its very nature, obliged to be "without respect of
persons." Impartiality is its essential law, the constituent of its
being. And of Shakespeare it could least of all be said,

                      "he narrow'd his mind,
    And to party gave up what was meant for mankind."

He represented men as he had seen them. And he could neither repeal
nor ignore the old law of human nature, in virtue of which the wisest
and kindest men are more or less warped by social customs and
prejudices, so that they come to do, and even to make a merit of
doing, some things that are very unwise and unkind; while the wrongs
and insults which they are thus led to practise have the effect of
goading the sufferers into savage malignity and revenge. Had he so
clothed the latter with gentle and amiable qualities as to enlist the
feelings all in their behalf, he would have given a false view of
human nature, and his work would have lost much of its instructiveness
on the score of practical morality. For good morals can never be
reached by departures from truth. A rule that may be profitably
remembered by all who are moved to act as advocates and
special-pleaders in what they think a good cause.

The leading incidents of the play are soon told. Antonio, the
Merchant, has a strange mood of sadness upon him, and a parcel of his
friends are bending their wits to play it off. Among them, and dearer
to him than any of the rest, is one Bassanio, a gentleman who, young
and generous, has lavished his fortune. Bassanio's heart is turning
towards a wealthy heiress who, highly famed for gifts and virtues,
resides not many miles off; and from whose eyes he has received "fair
speechless messages." But he wants "the means to hold a rival place"
among her princely suitors. Antonio's wealth and credit are freely
pledged to his service. His funds, however, being all embarked in
ventures at sea, he tries his credit with a rich Jew, whose person he
has often insulted, and whose greed his Christian liberality has often
thwarted. The Jew, feigning a merry humour, consents to lend the sum,
provided Antonio sign a bond authorizing him, in case of forfeiture,
to cut a pound of flesh from whatever part of his body he may choose.
Antonio readily agrees to this, and so furnishes his friend for the
loving enterprise. Bassanio prosecutes his suit to the lady with
success. But, while yet in his first transports of joy, he learns that
Antonio's ventures at sea have all miscarried, and that the Jew, with
malignant earnestness, claims the forfeiture. Leaving his bride the
moment he has sworn the sweet oath, he hastens away, resolved to save
his friend's life at the expense, if need be, of his own.

Thereupon his virgin wife forthwith gets instructions from the most
learned lawyer in those parts, and, habiting herself as a doctor of
laws, repairs to the trial. To divert the Jew from his purpose, she
taxes her wisdom and persuasion to the utmost, but in vain: scorning
the spirit of Justice, and deaf to the voice of Mercy, both of which
speak with heavenly eloquence from Portia's lips; rejecting thrice the
amount of the bond, and standing immoveable on the letter of the law;
he pushes his revenge to the very point of making the fatal incision,
when she turns the letter of the law against him, strips him of
penalty, principal, and all, and subjects even his life to the mercy
of the Duke. As the condition of his life, he is required to sign a
deed securing all his wealth to his daughter who, loaded with his
ducats and jewels, has lately eloped with another of Antonio's
friends, and is staying at Portia's mansion during her absence. The
play winds up with the hastening of all the parties, except the Jew,
to Portia's home. When all have met, Portia announces to Antonio the
safe return of his ships supposed to be lost, and surprises the
fugitive lovers with the news of their good fortune.

       *       *       *       *       *

In respect of characterization this play is exceedingly rich, and this
too both in quantity and quality. The persons naturally fall into
three several groups, with each its several plot and action; yet the
three are skilfully complotted, each standing out clear and distinct
in its place, yet so drawing in with the others, that every thing
helps on every thing else; there being neither any confusion nor any
appearance of care to avoid it. Of these three groups, Antonio,
Shylock, and Portia are respectively the centres; while the part of
Lorenzo and Jessica, though strictly an episode, seems nevertheless to
grow forth as an element of the original germ; a sort of inherent
superfluity, and as such essential to the well-being of the piece. But
perhaps it may be better described as a fine romantic undertone
accompaniment to the other parts; itself in perfect harmony with
them, and therefore perfecting their harmony with each other.

In the first entry at the Stationers', the play is described as "_The
Merchant of Venice_, or otherwise called _The Jew of Venice_." This
would seem to infer that the author was then in some doubt whether to
name it from Antonio or Shylock. As an individual, Shylock is
altogether _the_ character of the play, and exhibits more of
mastership than all the others; so that, viewing the persons
severally, we should say the piece ought to be named from him. But we
have not far to seek for good reasons why it should rather be named as
it is. For if the Jew is the more important individually, the Merchant
is so dramatically. Antonio is the centre and main-spring of the
action: without him, Shylock, however great in himself, had no
business there. And the laws of dramatic combination, not any accident
of individual prominence, are clearly what ought to govern in the
naming of the play.

       *       *       *       *       *

Not indeed that the Merchant is a small matter in himself; far from
it: he is a highly interesting and attractive personage; nor am I sure
but there may be timber enough in him for a good dramatic hero, apart
from the Jew. Something of a peculiar charm attaches to him, from the
state of mind in which we first see him. A dim, mysterious presage of
evil weighs down his spirits, as though he felt afar off the coming-on
of some great calamity. Yet this unwonted dejection, sweetened as it
is with his habitual kindness and good-nature, has the effect of
showing how dearly he is held by such whose friendship is the fairest
earthly purchase of virtue. And it is considerable that upon tempers
like his even the smiles of Fortune often have a strangely saddening
effect. For such a man, even because he is good, is apt to be haunted
with a sense of having more than he deserves; and this may not
unnaturally inspire him with an indefinable dread of some reverse
which shall square up the account of his present blessings. Thus his
very happiness works, by subtle methods, to charge his heart with
certain dark forebodings. So that such presentiments, whatever the
disciples of positivism may say, are in the right line of nature:

         "Oft startled and made wise
    By their low-breathed interpretings,
    The simply-meek foretaste the springs
          Of bitter contraries."

But the sorrow can hardly be ungrateful to us, that has such noble
comforters as Antonio's. Our nature is honoured in the feelings that
spring up on both sides.

Wealth indeed seldom dispenses such warnings save to its most virtuous
possessors. And such is Antonio. A kind-hearted and sweet-mannered
man; of a large and liberal spirit; affable, generous, and magnificent
in his dispositions; patient of trial, indulgent to weakness, free
where he loves, and frank where he hates; in prosperity modest, in
adversity cheerful; craving wealth for the uses of virtue, and as the
sinews of friendship;--his character is one which we never weary of
contemplating. The only blemish we perceive in him is his treatment of
Shylock: in this, though evidently much more the fault of the times
than of the man, we cannot help siding against him; than which we need
not ask a clearer instance of poetical justice. Yet even this we blame
rather as a wrong done to himself than to Shylock; inasmuch as the
latter, notwithstanding he has had such provocations, avowedly grounds
his hate mainly on those very things which make the strongest title to
a good man's love. For the Jew's revenge fastens not so much on the
man's abuse of him as on his kindness to others.

       *       *       *       *       *

The friendship between the Merchant and his companions is such a
picture as Shakespeare evidently delighted to draw. And so fair a
sentiment is not apt to inhabit ignoble breasts. Bassanio, Gratiano,
and Salarino are each admirable in their way, and give a pleasing
variety to the scenes where they move. Bassanio, though something too
lavish of purse, is a model of a gentleman; in whose character and
behaviour all is order and propriety; with whom good manners are the
proper outside and visibility of a fair mind,--the natural foliage and
drapery of inward refinement and delicacy and rectitude. Well-bred, he
has that in him which, even had his breeding been ill, would have
raised him above it and made him a gentleman.

Gratiano and Salarino are two as clever, sprightly, and voluble
persons as any one need desire to be with; the chief difference
between them being, that the former _lets_ his tongue run on from good
impulses, while the latter _makes_ it do so for good ends. If not so
wise as Bassanio, they are more witty; and as much surpass him in
strength, as they fall short of him in beauty, of character. It is
observable that of the two Gratiano, while much the more prone to
flood us with his talk, also shows less subjection of the individual
to the common forms of social decorum; so that, if he behaves not
quite so well as the others, he gives livelier proof that what good
behaviour he has is his own; a growth from within, not a piece of
imitation. And we are rather agreeably surprised, that one so
talkative and rattle-tongued should therewithal carry so much weight
of meaning; and he sometimes appears less sensible than he is, because
of his galloping volubility. But he has no wish to be "reputed wise
for saying nothing"; and he makes a merit of talking nonsense when, as
is sometimes the case, nonsense is the best sort of sense: for, like a
prime good fellow, as he is, he would rather incur the charge of folly
than not, provided he can thereby add to the health and entertainment
of his friends.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lorenzo and Jessica, the runaway lovers, are in such a lyrical state
of mind as rather hinders a clear view of their characters. Both are
indeed overflowing with sweetness and beauty, but more, perhaps, as
the result of nuptial inspiration than of inherent qualities. For I
suppose the worst tempers are apt to run sweet while the honeymoon is
upon them. However, as regards the present couple, it may be justly
said that the instrument should be well-tuned and delicately strung to
give forth such tones, be it touched ever so finely. Even Love, potent
little god as he is, can move none but choice spirits to such
delectable issues. Jessica's elopement, in itself and its
circumstances, puts us to the alternative that either she is a bad
child, or Shylock a bad father. And there is enough to persuade us of
the latter; though not in such sort but that some share of the
reproach falls to her. For if a young woman have so bad a home as to
justify her in thus deserting and robbing it, the atmosphere of the
place can hardly fail to leave _some_ traces in her temper and

Lorenzo stands fair in our regard, negatively, because he does nothing
unhandsome, positively, because he has such good men for his friends.
And it is rather curious that what is thus done for him, should be
done for Jessica by such a person as Launcelot Gobbo. For she and the
clown are made to reflect each other's choicer parts: we think the
better of her for having kindled something of poetry in such a clod,
and of him for being raised above himself by such an object. And her
conduct is further justified to our feelings by the odd testimony he
furnishes of her father's badness; which testimony, though not of much
weight in itself, goes far to confirm that of others. We see that the
Jew is much the same at home as in the Rialto; that, let him be where
he will, it is his nature to snarl and bite.

Such, in one view of the matter, is the dramatic propriety of this
Launcelot. His part, though often faulted by those who can see but one
thing at a time, materially aids the completeness of the work, in
giving us a fuller view both of Jessica and of her father. But he has
also a value in himself irrespective of that use: his own personal
rights enter into the purpose of his introduction; and he carries in
himself a part of the reason why he is so, and not otherwise: for
Shakespeare seldom if ever brings in a person _merely_ for the sake
of others. A mixture of conceit and drollery, and hugely wrapped up in
self, he is by no means a commonplace buffoon, but stands firm in his
sufficiency of original stock. His elaborate nonsense, his grasping at
a pun without catching it, yet feeling just as grand as if he did, is
both ludicrous and natural. His jokes to be sure are mostly failures;
nevertheless they are laughable, because he dreams not but they
succeed. The poverty of his wit is thus enriched by his complacency in
dealing it out. His part indeed amply pays its way, in showing how
much of mirth may be caused by feebleness in a great attempt at a
small matter. Besides, in him the mother element of the whole piece
runs out into broad humour and travesty; his reasons for breaking with
his master the Jew being, as it were, a variation in drollery upon the
fundamental air of the play. Thus he exhibits under a comic form the
general aspect of surrounding humanity; while at the same time his
character is an integral part of that varied structure of human life
which it belongs to the Gothic Drama to represent. On several accounts
indeed he might not be spared.

       *       *       *       *       *

In Portia Shakespeare seems to have aimed at a perfect scheme of an
amiable, intelligent, and accomplished woman. And the result is a fine
specimen of beautiful nature enhanced by beautiful art. Eminently
practical in her tastes and turn of mind, full of native, homebred
sense and virtue, Portia unites therewith something of the ripeness
and dignity of a sage, a mellow eloquence, and a large, noble
discourse; the whole being tempered with the best grace and
sensibility of womanhood. As intelligent as the strongest, she is at
the same time as feminine as the weakest of her sex: she talks like a
poet and a philosopher, yet, strange to say, she talks, for all the
world, just like a woman. She is as full of pleasantry, too, and as
merry "within the limit of becoming mirth," as she is womanly and
wise; and, which is more, her arch sportiveness always relishes as
the free outcome of perfect moral health. Nothing indeed can be more
fitting and well-placed than her demeanour, now bracing her speech
with grave maxims of practical wisdom, now unbending her mind in
sallies of wit, or of innocent, roguish banter. The sportive element
of her composition has its happiest showing in her dialogue with
Nerissa about the "parcel of wooers," and in her humorous description
of the part she imagines herself playing in her purposed disguise. The
latter is especially delightful from its harmonious contrast with the
solid thoughtfulness which, after all, forms the staple and frame-work
of her character. How charmingly it sets off the divine rapture of
eloquence with which she discourses to the Jew of mercy!

                   "I'll hold thee any wager,
    When we are both accoutred like young men,
    I'll prove the prettier fellow of the two,
    And wear my dagger with the braver grace;
    And speak between the change of man and boy
    With a reed voice; and turn two mincing steps
    Into a manly stride; and speak of frays,
    Like a fine-bragging youth; and tell quaint lies,
    How honourable ladies sought my love,
    Which I denying, they fell sick and died,--
    I could not do withal;--then I'll repent,
    And wish, for all that, that I had not kill'd them:
    And twenty of these puny lies I'll tell;
    That men shall swear I've discontinu'd school
    Above a twelvemonth. I've within my mind
    A thousand raw tricks of these bragging Jacks,
    Which I will practise."

Partly from condition, partly from culture, Portia has grown to live
more in the understanding than in the affections; for which cause she
is a little more self-conscious than I exactly like: yet her character
is hardly the less lovely on that account: she talks considerably of
herself indeed, but always so becomingly, that we hardly wish her to
choose any other subject; for we are pleasantly surprised that one so
well aware of her gifts should still bear them so meekly. Mrs.
Jameson, with Portia in her eye, intimates Shakespeare to have been
about the only artist, except Nature, who could make women wise
without turning them into men. And it is well worth the noting that,
honourable as the issue of her course at the trial would be to a man,
Portia shows no unwomanly craving to be in the scene of her triumph:
as she goes there prompted by the feelings and duties of a wife, and
for the saving of her husband's honour and peace of mind,--being
resolved that "never shall he lie by Portia's side with an unquiet
soul"; so she gladly leaves when these causes no longer bear in that
direction. Then too, exquisitely cultivated as she is, humanity has
not been so refined out of her, but that in such a service she can
stoop from her elevation, and hazard a brief departure from the
sanctuary of her sex.

Being to act for once the part of a man, it would seem hardly possible
for her to go through the undertaking without more of self-confidence
than were becoming in a woman: and the student may find plenty of
matter for thought in the Poet's so managing as to prevent such an
impression. For there is nothing like ostentation or conceit of
intellect in Portia. Though knowing enough for any station, still it
never once enters her head that she is too wise for the station which
Providence or the settled order of society has assigned her. She would
therefore neither hide her light under a bushel, that others may not
see by it, nor perch it aloft in public, that others may see it; but
would simply set it on a candlestick, that it may give light to all in
her house. With her noble intellect she has gathered in the sweets of
poetry and the solidities of philosophy, all for use, nothing for
show; she has fairly domesticated them, has naturalized them in her
sphere, and tamed them to her fireside, so that they seem as much at
home there as if they had been made for no other place. And to all
this mental enrichment she adds the skill

                         "So well to know
    Her own, that what she wills to do or say
    Seems wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best."

Portia's consciousness of power does indeed render her cool,
collected, and firm, but never a whit unfeminine: her smooth command
both of herself and of the matter she goes about rather heightens our
sense of her modesty than otherwise: so that the impression we take
from her is, that these high mental prerogatives are of no sex; that
they properly belong to the common freehold of woman and man; and that
the ladies of creation have just as good a right to them as the lords.
Some of her speeches, especially at the trial, are evidently
premeditated; for, as any good lawyer would do, she of course prepares
herself in the case beforehand; but I should like to see the masculine
lawyer that could premeditate any thing equal to them. It is to be
noted withal that she goes about her work without the least misgiving
as to the result; having so thoroughly booked herself both in the
facts and the law of the case as to feel perfectly sure on that point.
Hence the charming ease and serenity with which she moves amid the
excitements of the trial. No trepidations of anxiety come in to
disturb the preconcerted order and method of her course. And her
solemn appeals to the Jew are made in the earnest hope of inducing him
to accept a full and liberal discharge of the debt. When she says to
him, "there's thrice thy money offer'd thee," it is because she really
feels that both the justice of the cause and the honour of her husband
would be better served by such a payment than by the more brilliant
triumph which awaits her in case the Jew should spurn her offer.

Thus her management of the trial, throughout, is a piece of consummate
art; though of art in such a sense as presupposes perfect integrity of
soul. Hence, notwithstanding her methodical forecast and preparation,
she is as eloquent as an angel, and her eloquence, as by an
instinctive tact, knows its time perfectly. One of her strains in this
kind, her appeal to the Jew on the score of mercy, has been so often
quoted, that it would long since have grown stale, if it were possible
by any means to crush the freshness of unwithering youth out of it.
And I hope it will not be taken as any abatement of the speaker's
claim as a wise jurist, that she there carries both the head and the
heart of a ripe Christian divine into the management of her cause. Yet
her style in that speech is in perfect keeping with her habitual modes
of thought and discourse: even in her most spontaneous expressions we
have a reflex of the same intellectual physiognomy. For the mental
aptitude which she displays in the trial seems to have been the
germinal idea out of which her whole part was consistently evolved; as
the Poet's method often was, apparently, first to settle what his
persons were to do, and then to conceive and work out their characters

It has been said that Shakespeare's female characters are inferior to
his characters of men. Doubtless in some respects they are so; they
would not be female characters if they were not; but then in other
respects they are superior. Some people apparently hold it impossible
for man and woman to be equal and different at the same time. Hence
the false equality of the sexes which has been of late so often and so
excruciatingly advocated. On this ground, the Poet could not have made
his women equal to his men without unsexing and unsphering them; which
he was just as far from doing as Nature is. The alleged inferiority,
then, of his women simply means, I suppose, that they are women, as
they ought to be, and not men, as he meant they should not be, and as
we have cause to rejoice that they are not. He knew very well that in
this matter equality and diversity are nowise incompatible, and that
the sexes might therefore stand or sit on the same level without
standing in the same shoes or sitting in the same seats. If, indeed,
he had not known this, he could not have given _characters_ of either
sex, but only wretched and disgusting medlies and caricatures of both.

How nicely, on the one hand, Shakespeare discriminates things that
really differ, so as to present in all cases the soul of womanhood,
without a particle of effeminacy; and how perfectly, on the other
hand, he reconciles things that seem most diverse, pouring into his
women all the intellectual forces of the other sex, without in the
least impairing or obscuring their womanliness;--all this is not more
rare in poetry than it is characteristic of his workmanship. Thus
Portia is as much superior to her husband in intellect, in learning,
and accomplishment, as she is in wealth; but she is none the less
womanly for all that. Nor, which is more, does she ever on that
account take the least thought of inverting the relation between them.
In short, her mental superiority breeds no kind of social
displacement, nor any desire of it. Very few indeed of the Poet's men
are more highly charged with intellectual power. While she is acting
the lawyer in disguise, her speech and bearing seem to those about her
in the noblest style of manliness. In her judge-like gravity and
dignity of deportment; in the extent and accuracy of her legal
knowledge; in the depth and appropriateness of her moral reflections;
in the luminous order, the logical coherence, and the beautiful
transparency of her thoughts, she almost rivals our Chief Justice
Marshall. Yet to us, who are in the secret of her sex, all the
proprieties, all the inward harmonies, of her character are
exquisitely preserved; and the essential grace of womanhood seems to
irradiate and consecrate the dress in which she is disguised.

Nor is it any drawback on her strength and substantial dignity of
character, that her nature is all overflowing with romance: rather,
this it is that glorifies her, and breathes enchantment about her; it
adds that precious seeing to the eye which conducts her to such
winning beauty and sweetness of deportment, and makes her the
"rich-souled creature" that Schlegel describes her to be. Therewithal
she may be aptly quoted as a mark-worthy instance how the Poet makes
the several parts and persons of a drama cohere not only with one
another but with the general circumstances wherein they occur. For so
in Portia's character the splendour of Italian skies and scenery and
art is reproduced; their spirit lives in her imagination, and is
complicated with all she does and says.

       *       *       *       *       *

If Portia is the beauty of this play, Shylock is its strength. He is a
standing marvel of power and scope in the dramatic art; at the same
time appearing so much a man of Nature's making, that we can hardly
think of him as a creation of art. In the delineation Shakespeare had
no less a task than to fill with individual life and peculiarity the
broad, strong outlines of national character in its most revolting
form. Accordingly Shylock is a true representative of his nation;
wherein we have a pride which for ages never ceased to provoke
hostility, but which no hostility could ever subdue; a thrift which
still invited rapacity, but which no rapacity could ever exhaust; and
a weakness which, while it exposed the subjects to wrong, only
deepened their hate, because it kept them without the means or the
hope of redress. Thus Shylock is a type of national sufferings,
national sympathies, national antipathies. Himself an object of bitter
insult and scorn to those about him; surrounded by enemies whom he is
at once too proud to conciliate and too weak to oppose; he can have no
life among them but money; no hold on them but interest; no feeling
towards them but hate; no indemnity out of them but revenge. Such
being the case, what wonder that the elements of national greatness
became congealed and petrified into malignity? As avarice was the
passion in which he mainly lived, the Christian virtues that thwarted
this naturally seemed to him the greatest of wrongs.

With these strong national traits are interwoven personal traits
equally strong. Thoroughly and intensely Jewish, he is not more a Jew
than he is Shylock. In his hard, icy intellectuality, and his dry,
mummy-like tenacity of purpose, with a dash now and then of biting
sarcastic humour, we see the remains of a great and noble nature, out
of which all the genial sap of humanity has been pressed by
accumulated injuries. With as much elasticity of mind as stiffness of
neck, every step he takes but the last is as firm as the earth he
treads upon. Nothing can daunt, nothing disconcert him; remonstrance
cannot move, ridicule cannot touch, obloquy cannot exasperate him:
when he has not provoked them, he has been forced to bear them; and
now that he does provoke them, he is hardened against them. In a word,
he may be broken; he cannot be bent.

Shylock is great in every scene where he appears, yet each later scene
exhibits him in a new element or aspect of greatness. For as soon as
the Poet has set forth one side or phase of his character, he
forthwith dismisses that, and proceeds to another. For example, the
Jew's cold and penetrating sagacity, as also his malignant and
remorseless guile, are finely delivered in the scene with Antonio and
Bassanio, where he is first solicited for the loan. And the strength
and vehemence of passion, which underlies these qualities, is still
better displayed, if possible, in the scene with Antonio's two
friends, Solanio and Salarino, where he first avows his purpose of
exacting the forfeiture. One passage of this scene has always seemed
to me a peculiarly idiomatic strain of eloquence, steeped in a mixture
of gall and pathos; and I the rather notice it, because of the
wholesome lesson which Christians may gather from it. Of course the
Jew is referring to Antonio:

"He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my
losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains,
cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason? I am a
Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions,
senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the
same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same Winter and Summer, as a Christian is? If
you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if
you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
revenge? if we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? revenge: if a
Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian
example? why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute; and
it shall go hard but I will better the instruction."

I have spoken of the mixture of national and individual traits in
Shylock. It should be observed further, that these several elements of
character are so attempered and fused together, that we cannot
distinguish their respective influence. Even his avarice has a smack
of patriotism. Money is the only defence of his brethren as well as of
himself, and he craves it for their sake as well as his own; feels
indeed that wrongs are offered to them in him, and to him in them.
Antonio has scorned his religion, balked him of usurious gains,
insulted his person: therefore he hates him as a Christian, himself a
Jew; hates him as a lender of money gratis, himself a griping usurer;
hates him as Antonio, himself Shylock. Moreover, who but a Christian,
one of Antonio's faith and fellowship, has stolen away his daughter's
heart, and drawn her into revolt, loaded with his ducats and his
precious, precious jewels? Thus his religion, his patriotism, his
avarice, his affection, all concur to stimulate his enmity; and his
personal hate thus reinforced overcomes for once his greed, and he
grows generous in the prosecution of his aim. The only reason he will
vouchsafe for taking the pound of flesh is, "if it will feed nothing
else, it will feed my revenge"; a reason all the more satisfactory to
him, forasmuch as those to whom he gives it can neither allow it nor
refute it: and until they can rail the seal from off his bond, all
their railings are but a foretaste of the revenge he seeks. In his
eagerness to taste that morsel sweeter to him than all the luxuries of
Italy, his recent afflictions, the loss of his daughter, his ducats,
his jewels, and even the precious ring given him by his departed wife,
all fade from his mind. In his inexorable and imperturbable hardness
at the trial there is something that makes the blood to tingle. It is
the sublimity of malice. We feel that the yearnings of revenge have
silenced all other cares and all other thoughts. In his rapture of
hate the man has grown superhuman, and his eyes seem all aglow with
preternatural malignity. Fearful, however, as is his passion, he comes
not off without moving our pity. In the very act whereby he thinks to
avenge his own and his brethren's wrongs, the national curse overtakes
him. In standing up for the letter of the law against all the
pleadings of mercy, he has strengthened his enemies' hands, and
sharpened their weapons, against himself; and the terrible Jew sinks
at last into the poor, pitiable, heart-broken Shylock.

The inward strain and wrenching of his nature, caused by the revulsion
which comes so suddenly upon him, is all told in one brief sentence,
which may well be quoted as an apt instance how Shakespeare reaches
the heart by a few plain words, when another writer would most likely
pummel the ears with a high-strung oration. When it turns out that the
Jew's only chance of life stands in the very mercy which he has but a
moment before abjured; and when, as the condition of that mercy, he is
required to become a Christian, and also to sign a deed conveying to
his daughter and her husband all his remaining wealth; we have the
following from him:

    "I pray you, give me leave to go from hence;
    I am not well: send the deed after me,
    And I will sign it."

Early in the play, when Shylock is bid forth to Bassanio's supper, and
Launcelot urges him to go, because "my young master doth expect your
reproach," Shylock replies, "So do I his." Of course he expects that
reproach through the bankruptcy of Antonio. This would seem to infer
that Shylock has some hand in getting up the reports of Antonio's
"losses at sea"; which reports, at least some of them, turn out false
in the end. Further than this, the Poet leaves us in the dark as to
how those reports grew into being and gained belief. Did he mean to
have it understood that the Jew exercised his cunning and malice in
plotting and preparing them? It appears, at all events, that Shylock
knew they were coming, before they came. Yet I suppose the natural
impression from the play is, that he lent the ducats and took the
bond, on a mere chance of coming at his wish. But he would hardly
grasp so eagerly at a bare possibility of revenge, without using means
to turn it into something more. This would mark him with much deeper
lines of guilt. Why, then, did not Shakespeare bring the matter
forward more prominently? Perhaps it was because the doing so would
have made Shylock appear too steep a criminal for the degree of
interest which his part was meant to carry in the play. In other
words, the health of the drama as a work of _comic_ art required his
criminality to be kept in the background. He comes very near
overshadowing the other characters too much, as it is. And Shylock's
character is _essentially tragic_; there is none of the proper timber
of comedy in him.

       *       *       *       *       *

_The Merchant of Venice_ is justly distinguished among Shakespeare's
dramas, not only for the general felicity of the language, but also
for the beauty of particular scenes and passages. For descriptive
power, the opening scene of Antonio and his friends is not easily
rivalled, and can hardly fail to live in the memory of any one having
an eye for such things. Equally fine in its way is the scene of Tubal
and Shylock, where the latter is so torn with the struggle of
conflicting passions; his heart now sinking with grief at the account
of his fugitive daughter's expenses, now leaping with malignant joy at
the report of Antonio's losses. The trial-scene, with its tugging
vicissitudes of passion, and its hush of terrible expectation,--now
ringing with the Jew's sharp, spiteful snaps of malice, now made
musical with Portia's strains of eloquence, now holy with Antonio's
tender breathings of friendship, and dashed, from time to time, with
Gratiano's fierce jets of wrath, and fiercer jets of mirth,--is hardly
surpassed in tragic power anywhere; and as it forms the catastrophe
proper, so it concentrates the interest of the whole play. Scarcely
inferior in its kind is the night-scene of Lorenzo and Jessica, bathed
as it is in love, moonlight, "touches of sweet harmony," and
soul-lifting discourse, followed by the grave moral reflections of
Portia, as she approaches her home, and sees its lights, and hears its
music. The bringing in of this passage of ravishing lyrical sweetness,
so replete with the most soothing and tranquillizing effect, close
upon the intense dramatic excitement of the trial-scene, is such a
transition as we shall hardly meet with but in Shakespeare, and aptly
shows his unequalled mastery of the mind's capacities of delight. The
affair of the rings, with the harmless perplexities growing out of it,
is a well-managed device for letting the mind down from the tragic
height whereon it lately stood, to the merry conclusion which the play
requires. Critics, indeed, may easily quarrel with this sportive
after-piece; but it stands approved by the tribunal to which Criticism
itself must bow,--the spontaneous feelings of such as are willing to
be made cheerful and healthy, without beating their brains about the
_how_ and _wherefore_. It is in vain that critics tell us we ought to
"laugh by precept only, and shed tears by rule."

I ought not to close without remarking what a wide diversity of
materials this play reconciles and combines. One can hardly realize
how many things are here brought together, they are ordered in such
perfect concert and harmony. The greatness of the work is thus hidden
in its fine proportions. In many of the Poet's dramas we are surprised
at the great variety of character: here, besides this, we have a
remarkable variety of plot. And, admirable as may be the skill
displayed in the characters individually considered, the interweaving
of so many several plots, without the least confusion or
embarrassment, evinces a still higher mastership. For, many and
various as are the forms and aspects of life here shown, they all
emphatically live together, as if they all had but one vital


The Merry Wives of Windsor, as we have it, was first printed in the
folio of 1623. The play, however, was registered at the Stationers',
January 18, 1602, as "an excellent and pleasant-conceited comedy of
Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor." In pursuance of
this entry, an imperfect and probably fraudulent edition was published
in the course of the same year, and was reprinted in 1619. In this
quarto edition, the play is but about half as long as in the authentic
copy of 1623, and some of the prose parts are printed so as to look
like verse. It is in doubt whether the issue of 1602 was a fair
reproduction of the play as originally written, or whether it was
printed from a defective and mutilated transcript stealthily taken
down by unskilful reporters at the theatre. On the former supposal, of
course the play must have been rewritten and greatly improved,--a
thing known to have been repeatedly done by the Poet; so that it is
nowise unlikely in this case. But, as the question hardly has interest
enough to pay the time and labour of discussing it, I shall dismiss it
without further remark.

It is to be presumed that every reader of Shakespeare is familiar with
the tradition which makes this comedy to have been written at the
instance of Queen Elizabeth; who, upon witnessing the performance of
_King Henry the Fourth_, was so taken with Falstaff, that she
requested the Poet to continue the character through another play, and
to represent him in love. This tradition is first heard of in 1702,
eighty-six years after the Poet's death; but it was accepted by the
candid and careful Rowe; Pope, also, Theobald, and others, made no
scruple of receiving it,--men who would not be very apt to let such a
matter pass unsifted, or help to give it currency, unless they thought
there was good ground for it. Besides, the thing is not at all
incredible in itself, either from the alleged circumstances of the
case, or from the character of the Queen; and there are some points in
the play that speak not a little in its support. One item of the story
is, that the author, hastening to comply with her Majesty's request,
wrote the play in the brief space of fourteen days. This has been
taken by some as quite discrediting the whole story; but, taking the
play as it stands in the copy of 1602, it does not seem to me that
fourteen days is too brief a time for Shakespeare to have done the
work in, especially with such a motive to quicken him.

This matter has a direct bearing in reference to the date of the
writing. _King Henry the Fourth_, the First Part certainly, and
probably the Second Part also, was on the stage before 1598. And in
the title-page to the first quarto copy of _The Merry Wives_, we have
the words, "As it hath been divers times acted by the Right Honourable
my Lord Chamberlain's Servants, both before her Majesty and
elsewhere." This would naturally infer the play to have been on the
stage a considerable time before the date of that issue. And all the
_clear_ internal evidences of the play itself draw in support of the
belief, that the Falstaff of Windsor memory was a continuation from
the Falstaff of Eastcheap celebrity. And the whole course of
blundering and exposure which Sir John here goes through is such, that
I can hardly conceive how the Poet should have framed it, but that he
was prompted to do so by some motive external to his own mind. That
the free impulse of his genius, without suggestion or inducement from
any other source, could have led him to put Falstaff through such a
series of uncharacteristic delusions and collapses, is to me wellnigh
incredible. So that I can only account for the thing by supposing the
man as here exhibited to have been an after-thought sprung in some way
from the manner in which an earlier and fairer exhibition of the man
had been received.

All which brings the original composition of the play to a point of
time somewhere between 1598 and 1601. On the other hand, the play, as
we have it, contains at least one passage, inferring, apparently, that
the work of revisal must have been done some time after the accession
of King James, which was in March, 1603. That passage is the odd
reason Mrs. Page gives Mrs. Ford for declining to share the honour of
knighthood with Sir John: "These knights will _hack_; and so thou
shouldst not alter the article of thy gentry"; which can scarce bear
any other sense than as referring to the prodigality with which the
King dispensed those honours in the first year of his English reign;
knighthood being thereby in a way to grow so _hackneyed_, that it
would rather be an honour not to have been dubbed. As for the reasons
urged by Knight and Halliwell for dating the first writing as far back
as 1593, they seem to me quite too far-fetched and fanciful to be
worthy of notice; certainly not worth the cost of sifting, nor even of

       *       *       *       *       *

Much question has been made as to the particular period of his life in
which Sir John prosecuted his adventures at Windsor, whether before or
after the incidents of _King Henry the Fourth_, or at some
intermediate time. And some perplexity appears to have arisen from
confounding the order in which the several plays were written with the
order of the events described in them. Now, at the close of the
History, Falstaff and his companions are banished the neighborhood of
the Court, and put under strong bonds of good behaviour. So that the
action of the Comedy cannot well be referred to any point of time
after that proceeding. Moreover we have Page speaking of Fenton as
having "kept company with the wild Prince and Pointz." Then too, after
Falstaff's experiences in the buck-basket and while disguised as "the
wise woman of Brentford," we have him speaking of the matter as
follows: "If it should come to the ear of the Court, how I have been
transformed, and how my transformation hath been washed and cudgelled,
they would melt me out of my fat drop by drop, and liquor fishermen's
boots with me: I warrant they would whip me with their fine wits till
I were as crestfallen as a dried pear." From which it would seem that
he still enjoys at Court the odour of his putative heroism in killing
Hotspur at the battle of Shrewsbury, with which the First Part of the
History closes. The Second Part of the History covers a period of
nearly ten years, from July, 1403, to March, 1413; in which time
Falstaff may be supposed to have found leisure for the exploits at

So that the action of the Comedy might well enough have taken place in
one of Sir John's intervals of rest from the toils of war during the
time occupied by the Second Part of the History. And this placing of
the action is further sustained by the presence of Pistol in the
Comedy; who is not heard of at all in the First Part of the History,
but spreads himself with characteristic splendour in the Second.
Falstaff's boy, Robin, also, is the same, apparently, who figures as
his Page in the Second Part of the History. As for the Mrs. Quickly of
Windsor, we can hardly identify her in any way with the Hostess of
Eastcheap. For, as Gervinus acutely remarks, "not only are her outward
circumstances different, but her character also is essentially
diverse; similar in natural simplicity indeed, but at the same time
docile and skilful, as the credulous wife and widow of Eastcheap never
appears." To go no further, the Windsor Quickly is described as a
_maid_; which should suffice of itself to mark her off as distinct
from the Quickly of Boar's-head Tavern.

In truth, however, I suspect the Poet was not very attentive to the
point of making the events of the several plays fadge together. The
task of representing Sir John in love was so very different from that
of representing him in wit and war, that he might well fall into some
discrepancies in the process. And if he had been asked whereabouts in
the order of Falstaff's varied exploits he meant those at Windsor to
be placed, most likely he would have been himself somewhat puzzled to
answer the question.

For the plot and matter of the Comedy, Shakespeare was apparently
little indebted to any thing but his own invention. _The Two Lovers of
Pisa_, a tale borrowed from the novels of Straparola, and published in
Tarlton's _News out of Purgatory_, 1590, is thought to have suggested
some of the incidents; and the notion seems probable. In that tale a
young gallant falls in love with a jealous old doctor's wife, who is
also young, and really encourages the illicit passion. The gallant,
not knowing the doctor, takes him for confidant and adviser in the
prosecution of his suit, and is thus thwarted in all his plans. The
naughty wife conceals her lover, first in a basket of feathers, then
between some partitions of the house, and again in a box of deeds and
valuable papers. If the Poet had any other obligations, they have not
been traced clearly enough to be worth noting.

       *       *       *       *       *

As a specimen of pure comedy, _The Merry Wives of Windsor_ by general
concession stands unrivalled. I say _pure_ comedy, for it has no such
interminglings of high poetry and serious passion as mark the Poet's
best comedies, and give them a semi-tragic cast. This play is not only
full of ludicrous situations and predicaments, but is also rich and
varied in comic characterization. Even Falstaff apart, who is an
inexhaustible storehouse of laughter-moving preparations, there is
comic matter enough in the characters and doings of the other persons
to make the play a perpetual diversion. Though historically connected
with the reign of Henry the Fourth, the manners and humours of the
scene are those of the Poet's own time; and in this respect we need
but compare it with Ben Jonson's _Every Man in his Humour_, to see
"how much easier it was to vanquish the rest of Europe than to contend
with Shakespeare."

The action of the piece proceeds throughout by intrigue; that is, a
complication of cross-purposes wherein the several persons strive to
outwit and circumvent one another. And the stratagems all have the
appropriate merit of causing a pleasant surprise, and a perplexity
that is grateful, because it stops short of confusion; while the
awkward and grotesque predicaments, into which the persons are thrown
by their mutual crossing and tripping, hold attention on the alert,
and keep the spirits in a frolic. Yet the laughable proceedings of the
scene are all easy and free; that is, the comic situations are
ingenious without being at all forced; the ingenuity being hidden in
the naturalness with which every thing comes to pass. The play well
illustrates, too, though in its own peculiar sort, the general order
and method of Shakespeare's art; the surrounding parts falling in with
the central one, and the subordinate plots drawing, as by a secret
impulse, into harmony with the leading plot. For instance, while
Falstaff undergoes repeated collapses from a hero into a butt, that
others may laugh at his expense; the Welsh Parson and the French
Doctor are also baulked of their revenge, just as they are getting
over the preliminary pains and vexations; and, while pluming
themselves with anticipated honours, are suddenly deplumed into
"vlouting-stogs": Page, too, and his wife no sooner begin to exult in
their success than they are taken down by the thrift of a counter
stratagem, and left to the double shame of ignobly failing in an
ignoble undertaking: and Ford's jealousy, again, is made to scourge
himself with the very whip he has twisted for the scourging of its
object. Thus all the more prominent persons have to chew the ashes of
disappointment in turn; their plans being thwarted, and themselves
made ridiculous, just as they are on the point of grasping their
several fruitions. Falstaff, indeed, is the only one of them that
rises by falling, and extracts grace out of his disgraces. For in him
the grotesque and ludicrous is evermore laughing and chuckling over
itself: he makes comedies extempore out of his own shames and
infirmities; and is himself the most delighted spectator of the scenes
in which he figures as chief actor.

This observation and enjoyment of the comical as displayed in
himself, which forms one of Sir John's leading traits, and explains
much in him that were else inexplicable, is here seen however
labouring under something of an eclipse. The truth is, he is plainly
out of his sphere; and he shows a strange lapse from his wanted
sagacity in getting where he is: the good sense so conspicuous in his
behaviour on other occasions ought to have kept him from supposing for
a moment that he could inspire the passion of love in such a place;
nor, as before observed, does it seem likely that the Poet would have
shown him thus, but that he were moved thereto by something outside of
his own mind. For of love in any right or even decent sense Sir John
is essentially incapable. And Shakespeare evidently so regarded him:
he therefore had no alternative but either to commit a gross breach of
decorum or else to make the hero unsuccessful,--an alternative in
which the moral sanity of his genius left him no choice. So that in
undertaking the part of a lover the man must needs be a mark of
interest chiefly for what is practised upon him. For, if we may
believe Hazlitt, "wits and philosophers seldom shine in that
character"; and, whether this be true or not, it is certain that "Sir
John by no means comes off with flying colours." In fact, he is here
the dupe and victim of his own heroism, and provokes laughter much
more by what he suffers than by what he does.

But Falstaff, notwithstanding all these drawbacks, is still so far
himself, that "nought but himself can be his conqueror." If he be
overmatched, it is not so much by the strength or skill of his
antagonists as from his being persuaded, seemingly against his
judgment and for the pleasure of others, into a line of adventure
where he is not qualified to shine, and where genius, wit, and
understanding are commonly distanced by a full purse and a handsome
person. His incomparable art in turning adversities into commodities;
the good-humoured strategy whereby he manages to divert off all
unpleasant feeling of his vices and frailties; the marvellous agility
and aptness of wit which, with a vesture of odd and whimsical
constructions, at once hides the offensive and discovers the comical
features of his conduct; the same towering impudence and effrontery
which so lift him aloft in his more congenial exploits; and the
overpowering eloquence of exaggeration with which he delights to set
off and heighten whatever is most ludicrous in his own person or
situation;--all these qualities, though not in their full bloom and
vigour, are here seen in triumphant exercise.

On the whole, this bringing-forth of Sir John rather for exposure than
for exhibition is not altogether grateful to those whom he has so
often made to "laugh and grow fat." Though he still gives us wholesome
shakings, we feel that it costs him too much: the rare exhilaration he
affords us elsewhere, and even here, invests him with a sort of
humorous reverence; insomuch that we can scarce help pitying even
while we approve his merited, yet hardly merited, shames and failures.
Especially it touches us something hard that one so wit-proud as Sir
John should be thus dejected, and put to the mortification of owning
that "ignorance itself is a plummet o'er me"; of having to "stand at
the taunt of one that makes fritters of English"; and of asking, "Have
I laid my brain in the sun, and dried it, that it wants matter to
prevent so gross o'er-reaching as this?" and we would fain make out
some excuse for him on the score of these slips having occurred at a
time in his life when experience had not yet disciplined away the
natural vanity which may sometimes lead a man of genius to fancy
himself an object of the tender passion. And we are the more disposed
to judge leniently of Falstaff, inasmuch as his merry persecutors are
but a sort of decorous, respectable, commonplace people, who borrow
their chief importance from the victim of their mischievous sport; and
if they are not so bad as to make us wish him success, neither are
they so good that we like to see them thrive at his expense. On this
point Mr. Verplanck, it seems to me, has spoken just about the right
thing: "Our choler would rise, despite of us, against Cleopatra
herself, should she presume to make a dupe and tool of regal old Jack,
the natural lord and master of all about him; and, though not so
atrociously immoral as to wish he had succeeded with the Windsor
gypsies, we plead guilty to the minor turpitude of sympathy, when he
tells his persecutors, with brightening visage and exultant twinkle of
eye, 'I am glad, though you have ta'en a special stand to strike at
me, that your arrow hath glanced.'"

There is, however, another and perhaps a more instructive view to be
taken of Sir John as here represented. I shall have occasion hereafter
to note how, all through the period of _King Henry the Fourth_, he
keeps growing worse and worse, while the Prince is daily growing
better. Out of their sport-seeking intercourse he picks whatever is
bad, whereas the other gathers nothing but the good. As represented in
the Comedy he seems to be in the swiftest part of this worsening
process. At the close of the First Part of the History, the Prince
freely yields up to him the honour of Hotspur's fall; thus carrying
home to him such an example of self-renouncing generosity as it would
seem impossible for the most hardened sinner to resist. And the Prince
appears to have done this partly in the hope that it might prove a
seed of truth and grace in Falstaff, and start him in a better course
of life. But the effect upon him is quite the reverse. Honour is
nothing to him but as it may help him in the matter of sensual and
heart-steeling self-indulgence. And the surreptitious fame thus
acquired, instead of working in him for good, merely serves to procure
him larger means and larger license for pampering his gross animal
selfishness. His thoughts dwell not at all on the Prince's act of
magnanimity, which would shame his egotism and soften his heart, but
only on his own ingenuity and success in the stratagem that led to
that act. So that the effect is just to puff him up more than ever
with vanity and conceit of wit, and thus to give a looser rein and a
sharper stimulus to his greed and lust; for there is probably nothing
that will send a man faster to the Devil than that sort of conceit.
The result is, that Falstaff soon proceeds to throw off whatever of
restraint may have hitherto held his vices in check, and to wanton in
the arrogance of utter impunity. As he then unscrupulously
appropriated the credit of another's heroism; so he now makes no
scruple of sacrificing the virtue, the honour, the happiness of others
to his own mean and selfish pleasure.

But this total subjection of the mental to the animal nature cannot
long proceed without betraying the succours of reason. When the bands
of morality are thus spurned, a man rapidly sins his understanding
into lameness; as its better forces must needs be quickly rotted in
such a vapour-bath of sensuality. In this way an overweening pride of
wit often results in causing a man to be deserted by his wits; this
too in matters where he feels surest of them and has most need of
them. In refusing to see what is right, he loses the power of seeing
what is prudent and safe. He who persists in such a course will
inevitably be drawn into signal lapses of judgment, however richly
nature may have endowed him with that faculty: he will stumble over
his own self-love; his very assurance will be tripping him when he
least expects it. And so Falstaff's conceit and egotism, working
together, as they do, with his greed and lust, have the effect of
stuffing him with the most childish gullibility, at once laying him
open to the arts of bamboozling, and inviting others to practise them
upon him. He has grown to look with contempt upon honesty as a cheap
and vulgar thing, and is well punished in that honest simplicity
easily outwits him: nay, more; his fancied skill in sensual intrigue
brings him to a pass where ignorance itself is a clean overmatch for
him, and fairly earns the privilege of flouting at him.

Falstaff is fair-spoken when he chooses to be, can talk with judgment
and good sense, and has at command the arts of a gentlemanly and
dignified bearing. The two Windsor wives, meeting him at a social
dinner, and seeing him in his best suit of language and manners, think
him honourable as well as pleasant, and are won to some notes of
respect and affability towards him: "he would not swear; praised
women's modesty; and gave such orderly and well-behaved reproof of all
uncomeliness," that they would have sworn his disposition was at one
with the truth of his words. And because they meet his fair deportment
with some gentle returns of politeness, therefore he, in his conceit
of wit, of rank, and of fame, thinks they are smitten with a passion
for him. Fancying that they are hotly in love with him, he resolves on
making love to them; not that he is at all touched with the passion,
but with the cool intent of feigning a responsive flame for other and
more selfish ends. Their husbands are known to be rich, and they are
said to have the free use of their husbands' wealth. So his conclusion
is, that they are "a region in Guiana, all gold and bounty: they shall
be my East and West Indies, and I will trade to them both." In his
spendthrift self-indulgence, notwithstanding all the supplies which
his purse-taking habits and his late imputed service bring in, he has
come to be hard-up for cash, insomuch that his rascal followers are
for deserting him and turning to other resources. By driving a
love-intrigue with the women, he expects to work the keys to the full
coffers which they have at such command, and thus to replenish his
low-ebbing means.

Thus we here have Sir John in the process of complacently feeding his
glutton fancies with matter raked from the foulest gutters of
baseness. The women, burning with anger and shame, knock their wits
together for revenge; and the answer which they, in their
shrewdly-concerted plan, return to his advances is to him a pledge of
entire success: he is so transported, that he leaps clean out of his
senses forthwith, and the giddiness of his newly-fired conceit fairly
puts out the eyes of his understanding. His vanity is now quite
omnivorous: once possessed with the monstrous idea of having become
an object of love in such a place, nothing is too gross for him to
swallow. The raw and unspiced stuffings of Master Brook convey to him
no hint of mistrust: he drinks them in with unfaltering confidence;
and opens his breast to this total stranger as freely as if he were
his sworn and long-tried counsellor; the offered bribe of the man's
money so falling in with the other baits of greed as to swamp his
discretion utterly. After being cheated through the adventures of the
buck-basket, where he was "stopped in with stinking clothes that
fretted in their own grease," he appears indeed to have some smell of
the gross trickery played upon him; and vows to himself that, if he be
served such another trick, he will have his brains taken out, and
buttered, and given to a dog for a new-year's gift. But still his
vanity and thirst of money are too much for his startled prudence:
upon the offer of a second device, that too of a very flimsy texture,
and very thinly disguised, his paralysis of wit returns, and his
suspicions sink afresh into their dreamless nap. In the hard blows and
buffets there experienced, he has stronger arguments than before of
the game practised on him; still the deep spell on his judgment
continues unbroken: and now the very shame and grief of his past
failures and punishments seem to co-operate with his palsy of reason
in preparing him for a third hoax even more gross and palpable than
the former two.

When at length the untrussed hero is made to see how matters have been
carried with him, and to feel the chagrin of being so egregiously
fooled, he is indeed cast down to the lowest notes of self-contempt;
and though he so far rallies at last as to cover his retreat with
marked skill, yet he leaves the path behind him strewn thick with the
sweat-drops of his mortification. In his pride of wit and cleverness,
he had looked with scorn upon plain common people as no better than
blockheads; and had only thought to use them, and even his own powers
of mind, for compassing the means of animal gratification. But he now
stands thoroughly degraded in his own sight, and this too in the very
points where he had built his conceit of superiority. He finds that
all his wit and craft were not enough to prevent even Sir Hugh, the
simple-minded Welsh parson, from making him a laughing-stock. We too,
whose moral judgment may have been seduced from the right by the
fascinations of his intellectual playing, are brought to estimate more
justly the natural honours and safeguards of downright integrity and
innocence; and to see that the deepest shrewdness stands in not
thinking to be shrewd at all. Thus our judgment of the man is set
right in the very point where it was most liable to be drawn astray.
Gervinus regards this idea as being the soul of the piece. He thinks
the Poet's leading purpose here was to teach that plain-thoughted,
guileless honesty is a natural overmatch for studied cunning; and to
show how self-seeking craft and intricacy are apt to be caught in the
snares they have laid for others, while unselfish truth and simplicity
are protected against them by those instinctive moral warnings of
nature which crafty men despise. And he rightly observes that the play
illustrates the point in repeated instances. Thus the policy and sharp
practice of the Host to catch gain, of Ford to detect and expose the
imagined sins of his wife, and of Mr. and Mrs. Page to mismatch their
daughter, only bring to confusion the parties themselves; their crafty
devices, like Falstaff's, being outwitted and cheated by the "_honest_
knaveries" of their intended victims. Thus the several cases concur to
enforce the moral, that "an egotist like Falstaff can suffer no
severer defeat than from the honesty which he believes not, and from
the simplicity which he esteems not."

I refrain from attempting a full analysis of Sir John's character,
till I encounter him at the noontide of his glory, stealing, drinking,
lying, recruiting, warring, and discoursing of wine, wit, valour, and
honour, with Prince Hal at hand to wrestle forth the prodigies of his
big-teeming brain.

Sir John's followers are here under a cloud along with him, being
little more than the shadows of what they appear when their master is
fully himself and in his proper element. Bardolph and Pistol are
indeed the same men, or rather things, as in the History; but the
redundant fatness of their several peculiarities is here not a little
curtailed: the fire in Bardolph's nose waxes dim for lack of fuel; the
strut is much dried out of Pistol's tongue from want of drink to
generate loftiness: the low state of their master's purse, and the
discords thence growing between him and them, have rather soured their
tempers, and that sourness rusts and clogs the wheels of their inner
man. Corporal Nym is not visibly met with in _King Henry the Fourth_,
though the atmosphere smells at times as if he had been there; but we
have him again in _King Henry the Fifth_, where he carries to a
somewhat higher pitch the character of "a fellow that frights humour
out of its wits."

       *       *       *       *       *

I have before observed that the Mrs. Quickly of this play is plainly
another individual than the Hostess of Eastcheap: the latter has known
Sir John "these twenty-nine years, come peascod time," whereas to the
former his person is quite unknown till she goes to him with a message
from the Windsor wives. But she seems no very remote kin of the
Hostess aforesaid: though clearly discriminated in character, yet they
have a strong family likeness. Her chief action is in the capacity of
a matchmaker and go-between; and her perfect impartiality towards all
of Anne Page's suitors, both in the service she renders and the return
she accepts, well exemplifies the indefatigable benevolence of that
class of worthies towards themselves, and is so true to the life of a
certain perpetual sort of people as almost to make one believe in the
transmigration of souls.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Mine Host of the Garter" is indeed a model of a host; up to any
thing, and brimful of fun, so that it runs out at the ends of his
fingers; and nothing delights him more than to uncork the wit-holders
of his guests, unless, peradventure, it be to uncork his wine-holders
for them. His exhilarating conceit of practical shrewdness, serving as
oil to make the wheels of his mind run smooth and glib, is choicely
characteristic both of himself individually and of the class he
represents.--Sir Hugh Evans is an odd marriage of the ludicrous and
the honourable. In his officious simplicity he moralizes the play much
better, no doubt, than a wiser man would. The scene where, in
expectation of the fight with Doctor Caius, he is full of "cholers,"
and "trempling of mind," and "melancholies," and has "a great
dispositions to cry," and strikes up a lullaby to the palpitations of
his heart without seeming to know it, while those palpitations in turn
scatter his memory, and discompose his singing, is replete with a
quiet delicacy of humour hardly to be surpassed. It is thought by some
that both he and Caius may be delineations, slightly caricatured, of
what the Poet had seen and conversed with; there being a certain
portrait-like reality and effect about them, with just enough of the
ideal to lift them into the region of art.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hazlitt boldly pronounces Shakespeare "the only writer who was as
great in describing weakness as strength." However this may be, I am
pretty sure that, after Falstaff, there is not a greater piece of work
in the play than Master Abraham Slender, cousin to Robert Shallow,
Esquire,--a dainty sprout, or rather sapling, of provincial gentry,
who, once seen, is never to be forgotten. In his consequential
verdancy, his aristocratic boobyism, and his lack-brain originality,
this pithless hereditary squireling is quite inimitable and
irresistible;--a tall though slender specimen of most effective
imbecility, whose manners and character must needs all be from within,
because he lacks force of nature to shape or dress himself by any
model. Mr. Hallam, whose judgment in such things is not often at
fault, thinks Slender was intended as "a satire on the brilliant
youth of the provinces," such as they were "before the introduction
of newspapers and turnpike roads; awkward and boobyish among civil
people, but at home in rude sports, and proud of exploits at which the
town would laugh, yet perhaps with more courage and good-nature than
the laughers."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ford's jealousy is managed with great skill so as to help on the plot,
bringing on a series of the richest incidents, and drawing the most
savoury issues from the mellow, juicy old sinner upon whom he is
practising. The means whereby he labours to justify his passion,
spreading temptations and then concerting surprises, are quite as
wicked as any thing Falstaff does, and have, besides, the further
crime of exceeding meanness; but both their meanness and their
wickedness are of the kind that rarely fail to be their own
punishment. The way in which his passion is made to sting and lash him
into reason, and the happy mischievousness of his wife in glutting his
disease, and thereby making an opportunity to show him what sort of
stuff it lives on, are admirable instances of the wisdom with which
the Poet underpins his most fantastic creations.

The counter-plottings, also, of Page and his wife, to sell their
daughter against her better sense, are about as far from virtue as the
worst purposes of Sir John; though, to be sure, their sins are of a
more respectable kind than to expose them to ridicule. But we are the
more willing to forget their unhandsome practices therein, because of
their good-natured efforts at last to make Falstaff forget his sad
miscarriages, and to compose, in a well-crowned cup of social
merriment, whatever vexations and disquietudes still remain.--Anne
Page is but an average specimen of discreet, placid, innocent
mediocrity, yet with a mind of her own, in whom we can feel no such
interest as a rich father causes to be felt by those about her. In her
and Fenton a slight dash of romance is given to the play; their love
forming a barely audible undertone of poetry in the chorus of
comicalities, as if on purpose that while the sides are shaken the
heart may not be left altogether untouched.


Much Ado about Nothing, together with _As You Like It, King Henry the
Fifth_, and Ben Jonson's _Every Man in his Humour_, was registered in
the Stationers' books August 4, 1600; all with a caveat "to be
stayed." Why the plays were thus locked up from the press by an
injunction, does not appear; perhaps to keep the right of publishing
them in the hands of those who made the entry. _Much Ado about
Nothing_ was entered again on the 23d of the same month, and was
issued in quarto in the course of that year, with "as it hath been
sundry times publicly acted" in the title-page; which would naturally
infer the play to have been written in 1599, or in the early part of
1600. All the internal marks of style and temper bear in favour of the
same date; as in these respects it is hardly distinguishable from _As
You Like It_. It has also been ascertained from Vertue's manuscripts,
that in May, 1613, John Heminge the actor, and the Poet's friend,
received £40, besides a gratuity of £20 from the King, for presenting
six plays at Hampton Court, _Much Ado about Nothing_ being one of

After the one quarto of 1600, the play is not met with again till it
reappeared in the folio of 1623. Some question has been made whether
the folio was a reprint of the quarto, or from another manuscript.
Considerable might be urged on either side; but the arguments would
hardly pay the stating; the differences of the two copies being so few
and slight as to make the question a thing of little consequence. The
best editors generally agree in thinking the quarto the better
authority of the two. Remains but to add that, with the two original
copies, the text of the play is so clear and well-settled as almost
to foreclose controversy.

       *       *       *       *       *

As with many of the author's plays, a part of the plot and story of
_Much Ado about Nothing_ was borrowed. But the same matter had been so
often borrowed before, and run into so many variations, that we cannot
affirm with certainty to what source Shakespeare was immediately
indebted. Mrs. Lenox, an uncommonly deep person, instructs us that the
Poet here "borrowed just enough to show his poverty of invention, and
added enough to prove his want of judgment"; a piece of criticism so
choice and happy, that it ought by all means to be kept alive; though
it is indeed just possible that the Poet can better afford to have
such things said of him than the sayer can to have them repeated.

So much of the story as relates to Hero, Claudio, and John, bears a
strong resemblance to the tale of Ariodante and Ginevra in Ariosto's
_Orlando Furioso_. The Princess Ginevra, the heroine of the tale,
rejects the love-suit of Duke Polinesso, and pledges her hand to
Ariodante. Thereupon Polinesso engages her attendant Dalinda to
personate the Princess on a balcony by moonlight, while he ascends to
her chamber by a ladder of ropes; Ariodante being by previous
arrangement stationed near the spot, so as to witness the supposed
infidelity of his betrothed. This brings on a false charge against
Ginevra, who is doomed to die unless within a month a true knight
comes to do battle for her honour. Ariodante betakes himself to
flight, and is reported to have perished. Polinesso now appears secure
in his treachery. But Dalinda, seized with remorse for her part in the
affair, and flying from her guilty paramour, meets with Rinaldo, and
declares to him the truth. Then comes on the fight, in which Polinesso
is slain by the champion of innocence; which done, the lover
reappears, to be made happy with his Princess.

Here, of course, the wicked Duke answers to the John of the play. But
there is this important difference, that the motive of the former in
vilifying the lady is to drive away her lover, that he may have her to
himself; whereas the latter acts from a spontaneous malignity of
temper, that takes a sort of disinterested pleasure in blasting the
happiness of others.

A translation, by Peter Beverly, of that part of Ariosto's poem which
contains this tale, was licensed for the press in 1565; and Warton
says it was reprinted in 1600. And an English version of the whole
poem, by Sir John Harrington, came out in 1591; but the play discovers
no special marks of borrowing from this source. And indeed the fixing
of any obligations in this quarter is the more difficult, inasmuch as
the matter seems to have been borrowed by Ariosto himself. For the
story of a lady betrayed to peril and disgrace by the personation of
her waiting-woman was an old European tradition; it has been traced to
Spain; and Ariosto interwove it with the adventures of Rinaldo, as
yielding an apt occasion for his chivalrous heroism. Neither does the
play show any traces of obligation to Spenser, who wrought the same
tale into the variegated structure of his great poem. The story of
Phedon, relating the treachery of his false friend Philemon, is in
Book ii. canto 4 of _The Faerie Queene_; which Book was first
published in 1590.

The connection between the play and one of Bandello's novels is much
more evident, from the close similarity both of incidents and of
names. Fenicia, the daughter of Lionato, a gentleman of Messina, is
betrothed to Timbreo de Cardona, a friend of Piero d'Aragona. Girondo,
a disappointed lover of the lady, goes to work to prevent the
marriage. He insinuates to Timbreo that she is disloyal, and then to
make good the charge arranges to have his own hired servant in the
dress of a gentleman ascend a ladder and enter the house of Lionato at
night, Timbreo being placed so as to witness the proceeding. The next
morning Timbreo accuses the lady to her father, and rejects the
alliance. Fenicia sinks down in a swoon; a dangerous illness follows;
and, to prevent the shame of her alleged trespass, Lionato has it
given out that she is dead, and a public funeral is held in
confirmation of that report. Thereupon Girondo becomes so harrowed
with remorse, that he confesses his villainy to Timbreo, and they both
throw themselves on the mercy of the lady's family. Timbreo is easily
forgiven, and the reconciliation is soon followed by the discovery
that the lady is still alive, and by the marriage of the parties. Here
the only particular wherein the play differs from the novel, and
agrees with Ariosto's plan of the story, is, that the lady's
waiting-woman personates her mistress when the villain scales her

It does not well appear how the Poet could have come to a knowledge of
Bandello's novel, unless through the original; no translation of that
time having been preserved. But the Italian was then the most
generally-studied language in Europe; educated Englishmen were
probably quite as apt to be familiar with it as they are with the
French in our day; Shakespeare, at the time of writing this play, was
thirty-five years old; and we have many indications that he knew
enough of Italian to be able to read such a story as Bandello's in
that language.

The foregoing account may serve to show, what is equally plain in many
other cases, that Shakespeare preferred, for the material of his
plots, such stories as were most commonly known, that he might have
some tie of popular association and interest to work in aid of his
purpose. It is to be observed, further, that the parts of Benedick and
Beatrice, of Dogberry and Verges, and of several other persons, are
altogether original with him; so that he stands responsible for all
the wit and humour, and for nearly all the character, of the play.
Then too, as is usual with him, the added portions are so made to knit
in with the borrowed matter by mutual participation and interaction as
to give a new life and meaning to the whole.

So that in this case, as in others, we have the soul of originality
consisting in something far deeper and more essential than any mere
sorting or linking of incidents so as to form an attractive story. The
vital workings of nature in the development of individual
character,--it is on these, and not on any thing so superficial or
mechanical as a mere frame-work of incident, that, the real life of
the piece depends. On this point I probably cannot do better than by
quoting the following remarks from Coleridge:

"The interest in the plot is on account of the characters, not _vice
versa_, as in almost all other writers: the plot is a mere canvas, and
no more. Take away from _Much Ado about Nothing_ all that is not
indispensable to the plot, either as having little to do with it, or,
like Dogberry and his comrades, forced into the service, when any
other less ingeniously-absurd watchmen and night-constables would have
answered the mere necessities of the action; take away Benedick,
Beatrice, Dogberry, and the reaction of the former on the character of
Hero,--and what will remain? In other writers the main agent of the
plot is always the prominent character: John is the main-spring of the
plot in this play; but he is merely shown, and then withdrawn."

       *       *       *       *       *

The style and diction of this play has little that calls for special
remark. In this respect the workmanship, as before noted, is of about
the same cast and grain with that of _As You Like It_; sustained and
equal; easy, natural, and modest in dress and bearing; everywhere
alive indeed with the exhilarations of wit or humour or poetry, but
without the laboured smoothness of the Poet's earlier plays, or the
penetrating energy and quick, sinewy movement of his later ones.
Compared with some of its predecessors, the play shows a decided
growth in what may be termed virility of mind: a wider scope, a higher
reach, a firmer grasp, have been attained: the Poet has come to read
Nature less through "the spectacles of books," and does not hesitate
to meet her face to face, and to trust and try himself alone with her.
The result of all which appears in a greater freshness and reality of
delineation. Here the persons have nothing of a dim, equivocal hearsay
air about them, such as marks in some measure his earlier efforts in
comedy. The characters indeed are not pitched in so high a key, nor
conceived in so much breadth and vigour, as in several of the plays
written at earlier dates: the plan of the work did not require this,
or even admit of it; nevertheless the workmanship on the whole
discovers more ripeness of art and faculty than even in _The Merchant
of Venice_.

       *       *       *       *       *

One of the Poet's methods was, apparently, first to mark out or else
to adopt a given course of action, and then to conceive and work out
his characters accordingly, making them such as would naturally cohere
with and sustain the action, so that we feel an inward, vital, and
essential relation between what they are and what they do. Thus there
is nothing arbitrary or mechanical in the sorting together of persons
and actions: the two stand together under a living law of human
transpiration, instead of being gathered into a mere formal and
outward juxtaposition. That is, in short, the persons act so because
they _are_ so, and not because the author _willed_ to put them through
such a course of action: what comes from them is truly rooted in them,
and is _generated_ vitally out of the nature within them; so that
their deeds are the veritable pulsations of their hearts. And so it is
in this play. The course of action, as we have seen, was partly
borrowed. But there was no borrowing in the characteristic matter. The
personal figures in the old tale are in themselves unmeaning and
characterless. The actions ascribed to them have no ground or reason
in any thing that they are: what they do, or rather _seem_ to do,--for
there is no real doing in the case,--proceeds not at all from their
own natures or wills, but purely because the author chose to have it
so. So that the persons and incidents are to all intents and purposes
put together arbitrarily, and not under any vital law of human nature.
Any other set of actions might just as well be tacked on to the same
persons; any other persons might just as well be put through the same
course of action. This merely outward and formal connection between
the incidents and characters holds generally in the old tales from
which Shakespeare borrowed his plots; while in his workmanship the
connection becomes inherent and essential; there being indeed no
difference in this respect, whether he first conceives the characters,
and then draws out their actions, or whether he first plans a course
of action, and then shapes the character from which it is to proceed.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Much Ado about Nothing_ has a large variety of interest, now running
into grotesque drollery, now bordering upon the sphere of tragic
elevation, now revelling in the most sparkling brilliancy. The play
indeed is rightly named: we have several nothings, each in its turn
occasioning a deal of stir and perturbation: yet there is so much of
real flavour and spirit stirred out into effect, that the littleness
of the occasions is scarcely felt or observed; the thoughts being far
more drawn to the persons who make the much ado than to the nothing
about which the much ado is made. The excellences, however, both of
plot and character, are rather of the striking sort, involving little
of the hidden or retiring beauty which shows just enough on the
surface to invite a diligent search, and then enriches the seeker with
generous returns. Accordingly the play has always been very effective
on the stage; the points and situations being so shaped and ordered
that, with fair acting, they tell at once upon an average audience;
while at the same time there is enough of solid substance beneath to
justify and support the first impression; so that the stage-effect is
withal legitimate and sound as well as quick and taking.

The characters of Hero and Claudio, though reasonably engaging in
their simplicity and uprightness, offer no very salient points, and
are indeed nowise extraordinary. It cannot quite be said that one
"sees no more in them than in the ordinary of Nature's sale-work";
nevertheless they derive their interest mainly from the events that
befall them; the reverse of which is generally true in Shakespeare's
delineations. Perhaps we may justly say that, had the course of love
run smooth with them, its voice, even if audible, had been hardly
worth the hearing.

Hero is indeed kind, amiable, and discreet in her behaviour and
temper: she has just that air, nay, rather just that soul of bland and
modest quietness which makes the unobtrusive but enduring charm of
home, such as I have seen in many a priestess of the domestic shrine;
and this fitly marks her out as the centre of silent or unemphatic
interest in her father's household. She is always thoughtful, never
voluble; and when she speaks, there is no sting or sharpness in her
tongue: she is even proud of her brilliant cousin, yet not at all
emulous of her brilliancy; keenly relishes her popping and sometimes
caustic wit, but covets no such gift for herself, and even shrinks
from the laughing attention it wins. As Hero is altogether gentle and
womanly in her ways, so she offers a sweet and inviting nestling-place
for the fireside affections. The soft down of her disposition makes an
admirable contrast to the bristling and emphatic yet genuine plumage
of Beatrice; and there is something very pathetic and touching in her
situation when she is stricken down in mute agony by the tongue of
slander; while the "blushing apparitions" in her face, and the
lightning in her eyes, tell us that her stillness of tongue proceeds
from any thing but weakness of nature, or want of spirit. Her
well-governed intelligence is aptly displayed in the part she bears in
the stratagem for taming Beatrice to the gentler pace of love, and in
the considerate forbearance which abstains from teasing words after
the stratagem has done its work.

Claudio is both a lighter-timbered and a looser-built vessel than
Hero; rather credulous, unstable, inconstant, and very much the sport
of slight and trivial occasions. A very small matter suffices to upset
him, though, to be sure, he is apt enough to be set right again. All
this, no doubt, is partly owing to his youth and inexperience; but in
truth his character is mainly that of a brave and clever upstart,
somewhat intoxicated with sudden success, and not a little puffed with
vanity of the Prince's favour. Notwithstanding John's ingrained,
habitual, and well-known malice, he is ready to go it blind whenever
John sees fit to try his art upon him; and even after he has been
duped into one strain of petulant folly by his trick, and has found
out the falsehood of it, he is still just as open to a second and
worse duping. All this may indeed pass as indicating no more in his
case than the levity of a rather pampered and over-sensitive
self-love. In his unreflective and headlong techiness, he fires up at
the least hint that but seems to touch his honour, without pausing, or
deigning to observe the plainest conditions of a fair and prudent

But, after all the allowance that can be made on this score, it is
still no little impeachment of his temper, or his understanding, that
he should lend his ear to the poisonous breathings of one whose
spirits are so well known to "toil in frame of villainies." As to his
rash and overwrought scheme of revenge for Hero's imputed sin, his
best excuse therein is, that the light-minded Prince, who is indeed
such another, goes along with him; while it is somewhat doubtful
whether the patron or the favourite is more at fault in thus suffering
artful malice to "pull the wool over his eyes." Claudio's finical and
foppish attention to dress, so amusingly ridiculed by Benedick, is a
well-conceived trait of his character; as it naturally hints that his
quest of the lady grows more from his seeing the advantage of the
match than from any deep heart-interest in her person. And his being
sprung into such an unreasonable fit of jealousy towards the Prince at
the masquerade is another good instance of the Poet's skill and care
in small matters. It makes an apt preparation for the far more serious
blunder upon which the main part of the action turns. A piece of
conduct which the circumstances do not explain is at once explained by
thus disclosing a certain irritable levity in the subject. On much
the same ground we can also account very well for his sudden running
into a match which at the best looks more like a freak of fancy than a
resolution of love, while the same suddenness on the side of the more
calm, discreet, and patient Hero is accounted for by the strong
solicitation of the Prince and the prompt concurrence of her father.
But even if Claudio's faults and blunders were greater than they are,
still his behaviour at the last were enough to prove a real and sound
basis of manhood in him. The clean taking-down of his vanity and
self-love, by the exposure of the poor cheats which had so easily
caught him, brings out the true staple of his character. When he is
made to feel that on himself alone falls the blame and the guilt which
he had been so eager to revenge on others, then his sense of honour
acts in a right noble style, prompting him to avenge sternly on
himself the wrong and the injury he has done to the gentle Hero and
her kindred.

       *       *       *       *       *

Critics have unnecessarily found fault with the Poet for the character
of John, as if it lay without the proper circumference of truth and
nature. They would prefer, apparently, the more commonplace character
of a disappointed rival in love, whose guilt might be explained away
into a pressure of violent motives. But Shakespeare saw deeper into
human nature. And perhaps his wisest departure from the old story is
in making John a morose, sullen, ill-conditioned rascal, whose innate
malice renders the joy of others a pain, and the pain of others a joy,
to him. The wanton and unprovoked doing of mischief is the natural
luxury and pastime of such envious spirits as he is. To be sure, he
assigns as his reason for plotting to blast Claudio's happiness, that
the "young start-up hath all the glory of my overthrow"; but then he
also adds, "If I can cross him any way, I bless myself every way";
which shows his true motive-spring to be a kind of envy-sickness. For
this cause, any thing that will serve as a platform "to build
mischief on" is grateful to him. He thus exemplifies in a small
figure the same spontaneous malice which towers to such a stupendous
height of wickedness in Iago. We may well reluct to believe in the
reality of such characters; but, unhappily, human life discovers too
many plots and doings that cannot be otherwise accounted for; nor need
we go far to learn that men may "spin motives out of their own
bowels." In pursuance of this idea, the Poet takes care to let us know
that, in John's account, the having his sour and spiteful temper tied
up under a pledge of fair and kindly behaviour is to be "trusted with
a muzzle, and enfranchised with a clog"; that is, he thinks himself
robbed of freedom when he is not allowed to bite.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ulrici, regarding the play as setting forth the contrast between life
as it is in itself and as it seems to those engaged in its struggles,
looks upon Dogberry as embodying the whole idea of the piece. And,
sure enough, the impressive insignificance of this man's action to the
lookers-on is only equalled by its stuffed importance to himself: when
he is really most absurd and ridiculous, then it is precisely that he
feels most confident and grand; the irony that is rarefied into wit
and poetry in others being thus condensed into broad humour and
drollery in him. The German critic is not quite right however in
thinking that his blundering garrulity brings to light the infernal
plot; as it rather operates to keep that plot in the dark: he is too
fond of hearing himself talk to make known what he has to say, in time
to prevent the evil; and amidst his tumblings of conceit the truth
leaks out at last rather in spite of him than in consequence of any
thing he does. Dogberry and his "neighbour Verges" are caricatures;
but such caricatures as Shakespeare alone of English writers has had a
heart to conceive and a hand to delineate; though perhaps Sir Walter
comes near enough to him in that line to be named in the same
sentence. And how bland, how benignant, now genial, how human-hearted,
these caricatures are! as if the Poet felt the persons, with all
their grotesque oddities, to be his own veritable flesh-and-blood
kindred. There is no contempt, no mockery here; nothing that ministers
an atom of food to any unbenevolent emotion: the subjects are made
delicious as well as laughable; and delicious withal through the best
and kindliest feelings of our nature. The Poet's sporting with them is
the free, loving, whole-hearted play of a truly great, generous,
simple, child-like soul. Compared to these genuine offspring of
undeflowered genius, the ill-natured and cynical caricatures in which
Dickens, for example, so often and so tediously indulges, seem the
workmanship of quite another species of being. The part of Dogberry
was often attempted to be imitated by other dramatists of
Shakespeare's time; which shows it to have been a decided hit on the
stage. And indeed there is no resisting the delectable humour of it:
but then the thing is utterly inimitable; Shakespeare being no less
unapproachable in this vein than in such delineations as Shylock and
Lear and Cleopatra.

       *       *       *       *       *

Benedick and Beatrice are much the most telling feature of the play.
They have been justly ranked among the stronger and deeper of
Shakespeare's minor characters. They are just about the right staple
for the higher order of comic delineation; whereas several of the
leading persons in what are called the Poet's comedies draw decidedly
into the region of the Tragic. The delineation, however, of Benedick
and Beatrice stays at all points within the proper sphere of Comedy.
Both are gifted with a very piercing, pungent, and voluble wit; and
pride of wit is with both a specially-prominent trait; in fact, it
appears to be on all ordinary occasions their main actuating
principle. The rare entertainment which others have from their
displays in this kind has naturally made them quite conscious of their
gift; and this consciousness has not less naturally led them to make
it a matter of some pride. They study it and rely on it a good deal as
their title or passport to approval and favour. Hence a _habit_ of
flouting and raillery has somewhat usurped the outside of their
characters, insomuch as to keep their better qualities rather in the
background, and even to obstruct seriously the outcome of what is best
in them.

Whether for force of understanding or for solid worth of character,
Benedick is vastly superior both to Claudio and to the Prince. He is
really a very wise and noble fellow; of a healthy and penetrating
intelligence, and with a sound underpinning of earnest and true
feeling; as appears when the course of the action surprises or
inspires him out of his pride of brilliancy. When a grave occasion
comes, his superficial habit of jesting is at once postponed, and the
choicer parts of manhood promptly assert themselves in clear and
handsome action. We are thus given to know that, however the witty and
waggish companion or make-sport may have got the ascendency in him,
still he is of an inward composition to forget it as soon as the cause
of wronged and suffering virtue or innocence gives him a manly and
generous part to perform. And when the blameless and gentle Hero is
smitten down with cruel falsehood, and even her father is convinced of
her guilt, he is the first to suspect that "the practice of it lies in
John the bastard." With his just faith in the honour of the Prince and
of Claudio, his quick judgment and native sagacity forthwith hit upon
the right clew to the mystery. Much the same, all through, is to be
said of Beatrice; who approves herself a thoroughly brave and generous
character. The swiftness and brilliancy of wit upon which she so much
prides herself are at once forgotten in resentment and vindication of
her injured kinswoman. She becomes somewhat furious indeed, but it is
a noble and righteous fury,--the fury of kindled strength too, and not
of mere irritability, or of a passionate temper.

As pride of wit bears a main part in shaping the ordinary conduct of
these persons; so the Poet aptly represents them as being specially
piqued at what pinches or touches them in that point. Thus, in their
wit-skirmish at the masquerade, what sticks most in Benedick is the
being described as "the Prince's jester," and the hearing it said
that, if his jests are "not marked, or not laughed at," it "strikes
him into melancholy"; while, on the other side, Beatrice is equally
stung at being told that "she had her good wit out of _The Hundred
Merry Tales_." Their keen sensitiveness to whatever implies any
depreciation or contempt of their faculty in this kind is exceedingly
well conceived. Withal it shows, I think, that jesting, after all, is
more a matter of art with them than of character.

As might be expected, the good repute of Benedick and Beatrice has
been not a little perilled, not to say damaged, by their redundancy of
wit. But it is the ordinary lot of persons so witty as they to suffer
under the misconstructions of prejudice or partial acquaintance. Their
very sparkling seems to augment the difficulty of coming to a true
knowledge of them. How dangerous it is to be so gifted that way, may
be seen by the impression these persons have had the ill luck to make
on one whose good opinion is so desirable as Campbell's. "During one
half of the play," says he, "we have a disagreeable female character
in Beatrice. Her portrait, I may be told, is deeply drawn and minutely
finished. It is; and so is that of Benedick, who is entirely her
counterpart, except that he is less disagreeable." And again he speaks
of Beatrice as an "odious woman." I am right sorry that so tasteful
and genial a critic should have such hard thoughts of the lady. In
support of his opinion he quotes Hero's speech, "Disdain and scorn
ride sparkling in her eyes," &c.; but he seems to forget that these
words are spoken with the intent that Beatrice shall hear them, and at
the same time think she overhears them; that is, not as being true,
but as being suited to a certain end, and as having just enough of
truth to be effective for that end. And the effect which the speech
has on Beatrice proves that it is not true as regards her character,
however good it may be for the speaker's purpose. To the same end,
the Prince, Claudio, and Leonato speak as much the other way, when
they know Benedick is overhearing them; and what is there said in her
favour is just a fair offset to what was before said against her. But
indeed it is plain enough that any thing thus spoken really for the
ear of the subject, yet seemingly in confidence to another person,
ought not to be received in evidence against her.

But the critic's disparaging thoughts in this case are well accounted
for in what himself had unhappily witnessed. "I once knew such a
pair," says he; "the lady was a perfect Beatrice: she railed
hypocritically at wedlock before her marriage, and with bitter
sincerity after it. She and her Benedick now live apart, but with
entire reciprocity of sentiments; each devoutly wishing that the other
may soon pass into a better world." So that the writer's strong
dislike of Beatrice is a most pregnant testimony to the Poet's truth
of delineation; inasmuch as it shows how our views of his characters,
as of those in real life, depend less perhaps on what they are in
themselves than on our own peculiar associations. Nature's and
Shakespeare's men and women seem very differently to different
persons, and even to the same persons at different times. Regarded,
therefore, in this light, the censure of the lady infers such a
tribute to the Poet, that I half suspect the author meant it as such.
In reference to the subject, however, my judgment goes much rather
with that of other critics: That in the unamiable passages of their
deportment Benedick and Beatrice are playing a part; that their
playing is rather to conceal than to disclose their real feelings;
that it is the very strength of their feelings which puts them upon
this mode of disguise; and that the pointing of their raillery so much
against each other is itself proof of a deep and growing mutual
interest: though it must be confessed that the ability to play so
well, and in that kind, is a great temptation to carry it to excess,
or to use it where it may cause something else than mirth. This it is
that justifies the repetition of the stratagem for drawing on a match
between them; the same process being needed in both cases in order
"to get rid of their reciprocal disguises, and make them
straightforward and in earnest." And so the effect of the stratagem is
to begin the unmasking which is so thoroughly completed by the wrongs
and sufferings of Hero: they are thus disciplined out of their
playing, and made to show themselves as they are: before we saw their
art; now we see their virtue,--the real backbone of their characters;
and it becomes manifest enough that, with all their superficial levity
and caustic sportiveness, they yet have hearts rightly framed for the
serious duties and interests of life.

It is very considerable, also, how their peculiar cast of self-love
and their pride of wit are adroitly worked upon in the execution of
the scheme for bringing them together. Both are deeply mortified at
overhearing how they are blamed for their addiction to flouting, and
at the same time both are highly flattered in being made each to
believe that the other is secretly dying of love, and that the other
is kept from showing the truth by dread of mocks and gibes. As they
are both professed heretics on the score of love and marriage, so both
are tamed out of their heresy in the glad persuasion that they have
each proved too much for the other's pride of wit, and have each
converted the other to the true faith. But indeed that heresy was all
along feigned as a refuge from merry persecutions; and the virtue of
the thing is, that in the belief that they have each conquered the
other's assumed fastidiousness, they each lay aside their own. The
case involves a highly curious interplay of various motives on either
side; and it is not easy to say whether vanity or generosity, the
self-regarding or the self-forgetting emotions, are uppermost in the

The wit of these two persons, though seeming at first view much the
same, is very nicely discriminated. Beatrice, intelligent as she is,
has little of reflection in her wit; but throws it off in rapid
flashes whenever any object ministers a spark to her fancy. Though of
the most piercing keenness and the most exquisite aptness, there is
no ill-nature about it; it stings indeed, but does not poison. The
offspring merely of the moment and the occasion, it catches the
apprehension, but quickly slides from the memory. Its agility is
infinite; wherever it may be, the instant one goes to put his hand
upon it, he is sure to find it or feel it somewhere else. The wit of
Benedick, on the other hand, springs more from reflection, and grows
with the growth of thought. With all the pungency, and nearly all the
pleasantry of hers, it has less of spontaneous volubility. Hence in
their skirmishes she always gets the better of him; hitting him so
swiftly, and in so many spots, as to bewilder his aim. But he makes
ample amends when out of her presence, trundling off jests in whole
paragraphs. In short, if his wit be slower, it is also stronger than
hers: not so agile of movement, more weighty in matter, it shines
less, but burns more; and as it springs much less out of the occasion,
so it bears repeating much better. The effect of the serious events in
bringing these persons to an armistice of wit is a happy stroke of
art; and perhaps some such thing was necessary, to prevent the
impression of their being jesters by trade. It proves at least that
Beatrice is a witty woman, and not a mere female wit. To be sure, she
is rather spicy than sweet; but then there is a kind of sweetness in
spice,--especially such spice as hers.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have already referred to the apt naming of this play. The general
view of life which it presents answers well to the title. The persons
do indeed make or have _much ado_; but all the while to us who are in
the secret, and ultimately to them also, all this much ado is plainly
_about nothing_. Which is but a common difference in the aspect of
things as they appear to the spectators and the partakers; it needs
but an average experience to discover that real life is full of just
such passages: what troubled and worried us yesterday made others
laugh then, and makes us laugh to-day: what we fret or grieve at in
the progress, we still smile and make merry over in the result.


The Comedy of As You Like It was registered at the Stationers', in
London, on the 4th of August, 1600. Two other of Shakespeare's plays,
and one of Ben Jonson's, were entered at the same time; all of them
under an injunction, "to be stayed." In regard to the other two of
Shakespeare's plays, the stay appears to have been soon removed, as
both of them were entered again in the course of the same month, and
published before the end of that year. In the case of _As You Like
It_, the stay seems to have been kept up; perhaps because its
continued success on the stage made the theatrical company unwilling
to part with their interest in it.

This is the only contemporary notice of the play that has been
discovered. As it was not mentioned in the list given by Francis Meres
in 1598, we are probably warranted in presuming it had not been heard
of at that time. The play has a line, "Who ever lov'd, that lov'd not
at first sight?" apparently quoted from Marlowe's version of _Hero and
Leander_, which was published in 1598. So that we may safely conclude
the play to have been written some time between that date and the date
of the forecited entry at the Stationers'; that is, when the Poet was
in his thirty-sixth or thirty-seventh year. The play was never
printed, that we know of, till in the folio of 1623, where it stands
the tenth in the division of Comedies. The text is there presented in
a very satisfactory state, with but few serious errors, and none that
can fairly be called impracticable.

Before passing from this branch of the subject, perhaps I ought to
cite a curious piece of tradition, clearly pointing to the play in
hand. Gilbert Shakespeare, a brother of William, lived till after the
Restoration, which occurred in 1660; and Oldys tells us of "the faint,
general, and almost lost ideas" which the old man had, of having once
seen the Poet act a part in one of his own comedies; "wherein, being
to personate a decrepit old man, he wore a long beard, and appeared so
weak and drooping, that he was forced to be carried by another person
to a table, at which he was seated among some company who were eating,
and one of them sung a song." This could have been none other than the
"goold old man" Adam, in and about whom we have so much noble thought;
and we thus learn that his character, beautiful in itself, yet more so
for this circumstance, was sustained by the Poet himself.

In regard to the originals of this play, two sources have been pointed
out,--_The Cook's Tale of Gamelyn_, sometime attributed to Chaucer,
but upon better advice excluded from his works; and a novel by Thomas
Lodge entitled _Rosalynd; Euphues' Golden Legacy_. As the _Tale of
Gamelyn_ was not printed till more than a century later, it has been
questioned whether Shakespeare ever saw it. Nor indeed can much be
alleged as indicating that he ever did: one point there is, however,
that may have some weight that way. An old knight, Sir John of
Boundis, being about to die, calls in his wise friends to advise him
touching the distribution of his property among his three sons. They
advise him to settle all his lands on the eldest, and leave the
youngest without any thing. Gamelyn, the youngest, being his favourite
son, he rejects their advice, and bestows the largest portion upon
him. The Poet goes much more according to their advice; Orlando, who
answers to Gamelyn, having no share in the bulk of his father's
estate. A few other resemblances, also, may be traced, wherein the
play differs from Lodge's novel; though none of them are so strong as
to force the inference that Shakespeare must have consulted the
_Tale_. Nor, in truth, is the matter of much consequence, save as
bearing upon the question whether the Poet was of a mind to be
unsatisfied with such printed books as lay in his way. I would not
exactly affirm him to have been "a hunter of manuscripts"; but
indications are not wanting, that he sometimes had access to them: nor
is it at all unlikely that one so greedy of intellectual food, so
eager and so apt to make the most of all the means within his reach,
should have gone beyond the printed resources of his time. Besides,
there can be no question that Lodge was very familiar with the _Tale
of Gamelyn_: he follows it so closely in a large part of his novel as
to leave scarce any doubt that he wrote with the manuscript before
him; and if he, who was also sometime a player, availed himself of
such sources, why may not Shakespeare have done the same?

The practical use of such inquiries is, that they exhibit the Poet in
the character where I like especially to view him, namely, as an
earnest and diligent seeker after knowledge, and as building himself
up in intelligence and power by much the same means as are found to
serve in the case of other men. He himself tells us that "ignorance is
the curse of God, knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to Heaven."
Assuredly he was a great student as well as a great genius; as full of
aptness to learn as of force to create. If he had great faculties to
work with, he was also a greater worker in the use of them. Nor is it
best for us to think of him as being raised by natural gifts above the
common methods and processes of high intellectual achievement.

Lodge's _Rosalynd_ was first printed in 1590; and its popularity
appears in that it was reprinted in 1592, and again in 1598. Steevens
pronounced it a "worthless original"; but this sweeping sentence is so
unjust as to breed some doubt whether he had read it. Compared with
the general run of popular literature then in vogue, the novel has no
little merit; and is very well entitled to the honour of having
contributed to one of the most delightful poems ever written. A rather
ambitious attempt indeed at fine writing; pedantic in style, not a
little blemished with the elaborate euphemism of the time, and
occasionally running into absurdity and indecorum; nevertheless, upon
the whole, it is a varied and pleasing narrative, with passages of
great force and beauty, and many touches of noble sentiment, and
sometimes informed with a pastoral sweetness and simplicity quite

To make a full sketch of the novel, in so far as the Poet borrowed
from it, would occupy too much space. Still it seems desirable to
indicate, somewhat, the extent of the Poet's obligations in this case;
which can be best done, I apprehend, by stating, as compactly as may
be, a portion of the story.

Sir John of Bordeaux, being at the point of death, called in his three
sons, Saladyne, Fernandine, and Rosader, and divided his wealth among
them, giving nearly a third to Rosader the youngest. After a short
period of hypocritical mourning for his father, Saladyne went to
studying how he might defraud his brothers, and ravish their legacies.
He put Fernandine to school at Paris, and kept Rosader as his
foot-boy. Rosader bore this patiently for three years, and then his
spirit rose against it. While he was deep in meditation on the point,
Saladyne came along and began to jerk him with rough speeches. After
some interchange of angry and insulting words, Rosader "seized a great
rake, and let drive at him," and soon brought him to terms. Saladyne,
feigning sorrow for what he had done, then drew the youth, who was of
a free and generous nature, into a reconciliation, till he might
devise how to finish him out of the way.

Now, Gerismond, the rightful King of France, had been driven into
exile, and his crown usurped, by Torismond, his younger brother. To
amuse the people, and keep them from thinking of the banished King,
the usurper appointed a day of wrestling and tournament; when a
Norman, of great strength and stature, who had wrestled down as many
as undertook with him, was to stand against all comers. Saladyne went
to the Norman secretly, and engaged him with rich rewards to despatch
Rosader, in case Rosader should come within his grasp. He then pricked
his brother on to the wrestling, telling him how much honour it would
bring him, and that he was the only one to uphold the renown of the
family. The youth, full of heroic thoughts, was glad of such an
opportunity. When the time came, Torismond went to preside over the
games, taking with him the Twelve Peers of France, his daughter
Alinda, his niece Rosalynd, and all the most famous beauties of the
Court. Rosalynd, "upon whose cheeks there seemed a battle between the
graces," was the centre of attraction, "and made the cavaliers crack
their lances with more courage." The tournament being over, the Norman
offered himself as general challenger at wrestling. While he is in the
full career of success, Rosader alights from his horse, and presents
himself for a trial. He quickly puts an end to the Norman's wrestling;
though not till his eyes and thoughts have got badly entangled with
the graces of Rosalynd. On the other side, she is equally smitten with
his handsome person and heroic bearing, insomuch that, the spectacle
being over, she takes from her neck a jewel, and sends it to him by a
page, as an assurance of her favour.

This outline, as far as it goes, almost describes, word for word, the
course and order of events in the play. And so it is, in a great
measure, through the other parts and incidents of the plot; such as
the usurper's banishment of his niece, and the escape of his daughter
along with her; their arrival in the Forest of Arden, where Rosalynd's
father has taken refuge; their encounter with the shepherds, their
purchase of the cottage, and their adventures in the pastoral life.
So, too, in the flight of Rosader to the same Forest, taking along
with him the old servant, who is called Adam Spencer, his carving of
love-verses in the bark of trees, his meeting with the disguised
Rosalynd, and the wooing and marrying that enrich the forest scenes.

Thus much may suffice to show that the Poet has here borrowed a good
deal of excellent matter. With what judgment and art the borrowed
matter was used by him can only be understood on a careful study of
his workmanship. In no one of his comedies indeed has he drawn more
freely from others; nor, I may add, is there any one wherein he has
enriched his drawings more liberally from the glory of his own genius.
To appreciate his wisdom as shown in what he left unused, one must
read the whole of Lodge's novel. In that work we find no traces of
Jaques, or Touchstone, or Audrey; nothing, indeed, that could yield
the slightest hint towards either of those characters. It scarce need
be said that these superaddings are enough of themselves to transform
the whole into another nature; pouring through all its veins a free
and lively circulation of the most original wit and humour and poetry.
And by a judicious indefiniteness as to persons and places, the Poet
has greatly idealized the work, throwing it at a romantic distance,
and weaving about it all the witchery of poetical perspective; while
the whole falls in so smoothly with the laws of the imagination, that
the breaches of geographical order are never noticed save by such as
cannot understand poetry without a map.

No one at all competent to judge in the matter will suppose that
Shakespeare could have been really indebted to Lodge, or to whomsoever
else, for any of the _characters_ in _As You Like It_. He merely
borrowed certain names and incidents for the bodying-forth of
conceptions purely his own. The resemblance is all in the drapery and
circumstances of the representation, not in the individuals. For
instance, we can easily imagine Rosalind in an hundred scenes not here
represented; for she is a substantive personal being, such as we may
detach and consider apart from the particular order wherein she
stands: but we can discover in her no likeness to Lodge's Rosalynd,
save that of name and situation: take away the similarity here, and
there is nothing to indicate any sort of relationship between the
heroines of the play and the novel. And it is considerable that,
though the Poet here borrows so freely, still there is no sign of any
borrowing in the work itself: we can detect no foreign influences, no
second-hand touches, nothing to suggest that any part of the thing had
ever been thought of before; what he took being so thoroughly
assimilated with what he gave, that the whole seems to have come
fresh from Nature and his own mind: so that, had the originals been
lost, we should never have suspected there were any.

Shakespeare generally preferred to make up his plots and stories out
of such materials as were most familiar to his audience. Of this we
have many examples; but the fact is too well known to need dwelling
upon. Though surpassingly rich in fertility and force of invention, he
was notwithstanding singularly economical and sparing in the use of
it. Which aptly shows how free he was from every thing like a
sensational spirit or habit of mind. Nature was every thing to him,
novelty nothing, or next to nothing. The true, not the new, was always
the soul of his purpose; than which nothing could better approve the
moral healthiness of his genius. Hence, in great part, his noble
superiority to the intellectual and literary fashions of his time. He
understood these perfectly; but he deliberately rejected them, or
rather struck quite above or beyond them. We rarely meet with any
thing that savours of _modishness_ in his workmanship. Probably the
best judgment ever pronounced upon him is Ben Jonson's, "He was not of
an age, but for all time." For even so it is with the permanences of
our intellectual and imaginative being that he deals, and not with any
transiencies of popular or fashionable excitement or pursuit. And as
he cared little for the new, so he was all the stronger in that which
does not grow old, and which lives on from age to age in the
perennial, unwithering freshness of Truth and Nature. For the being
carried hither and thither by the shifting mental epidemics of the
day, what is it, after all, but a tacit confession of weakness or
disease? proving, at the least, that one has not strength of mind
enough to "feel the soul of Nature," or to live at peace with the
solidities of reason. And because the attractions of mere novelty had
no force with Shakespeare; because his mind dwelt far above the
currents of intellectual fashion and convention; therefore his dramas
stand "exempt from the wrongs of time"; and the study of them is,
with but a single exception, just our best discipline in those forms
and sources of interest which underlie and outlast all the flitting
specialties of mode and custom,--

    "Truths that wake, to perish never;
    Which neither listlessness nor mad endeavour,
            Nor Man nor Boy,
    Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
    Can utterly abolish or destroy."

_As You Like It_ is exceedingly rich and varied in character. The
several persons stand out round and clear in themselves, yet their
distinctive traits in a remarkable degree sink quietly into the
feelings without reporting themselves in the understanding; for which
cause the clumsy methods of criticism are little able to give them
expression. Subtile indeed must be the analysis that should reproduce
them to the intellect without help from the Dramatic Art.

Properly speaking, the play has no hero; for, though Orlando occupies
the foreground, the characters are mainly co-ordinate; the design of
the work precluding any subordination among them. Diverted by fortune
from all their cherished plans and purposes, they pass before us in
just that moral and intellectual dishabille which best reveals their
indwelling graces of mind and heart. Schlegel remarks that "the Poet
seems to have aimed, throughout, at showing that nothing is wanting,
to call forth the poetry that has its dwelling in Nature and the human
mind, but to throw off all artificial restraint, and restore both to
their native liberty." This is well said; but it should be observed
withal that the persons have already been "purified by suffering"; and
that it was under the discipline of social restraint that they
developed the virtues which make them go right without such restraint,
as indeed they do, while we are conversing with them. Because they
have not hitherto been altogether free to do as they would, therefore
it is that they are good and beautiful in doing as they have a mind
to now. Let us beware of attributing to Nature, as we call it, that
goodness which proceeds from _habits_ generated under Gospel culture
and the laws of Christian society. After all, the ordinary conditions
of social and domestic life give us far more than they take away. It
requires a long schooling in the _prescriptions_ of order and
rectitude, to fit us for being left to ourselves. In some sense indeed
it is a great enlargement of liberty to be rid of all the loves and
duties and reverences which the Past may have woven about us; and many
there are who seem to place freedom of mind in having nothing to look
up to, nothing to respect outside of themselves. But human virtue does
not grow in this way; and the stream must soon run dry if cut off from
the spring. And I have no sympathy with those who would thus crush all
tender and precious memories out of us, and then give the name of
_freedom_ to the void thus created in our souls. The liberty that goes
by unknitting the bands of reverence and dissolving the ties that draw
and hold men together in the charities of a common life, is not the
liberty for me, nor is it the liberty that Shakespeare teaches. I am
much rather minded to say, with a lawyer-poet of our time,

                                "If we lose
    All else, we will preserve our household laws;
    Nor let the license of these fickle times
    Subvert the holy shelter which command
    Of fathers, and undoubting faith of sons,
    Rear'd for our shivering virtues."

It is true, however, that in this play the better transpirations of
character are mainly conducted in the eye of Nature, where the
passions and vanities that so much disfigure human life find little to
stir them into act. In the freedom of their woodland resort, and with
the native inspirations of the place to kindle and gladden them, the
persons have but to live out the handsome thoughts which they have
elsewhere acquired. Man's tyranny has indeed driven them into
banishment; but their virtues are much more the growth of the place
they are banished from than of the place they are banished to.

       *       *       *       *       *

Orlando is altogether such a piece of young-manhood as it does one
good to be with. He has no special occasion for heroism, yet we feel
that there is plenty of heroic stuff in him. Brave, gentle, modest,
and magnanimous; never thinking of his high birth but to avoid
dishonouring it; in his noble-heartedness, forgetting, and causing
others to forget, his nobility of rank; he is every way just such a
man as all true men would choose for their best friend. His
persecuting brother, talking to himself, describes him as "never
school'd, and yet learned; full of noble device; of all sorts
enchantingly beloved; and indeed so much in the heart of the world,
and especially of my own people, who best know him, that I am
altogether misprised"; and this description is amply justified by his
behaviour. The whole intercourse between him and his faithful old
servant Adam is replete on both sides with that full-souled generosity
in whose eye the nobilities of Nature are always sure of recognition.

Shakespeare evidently delighted in a certain natural harmony of
character wherein virtue is free and spontaneous, like the breathing
of perfect health. And such is Orlando. He is therefore good without
effort; nay, it would require some effort for him to be otherwise; his
soul gravitating towards goodness as of its own accord: "In his proper
motion he ascends; descent and fall to him is adverse." And perhaps
the nearest he comes to being aware of his virtue is when his virtue
triumphs over a mighty temptation; that is, when he sees his unnatural
brother in extreme peril;

    "But kindness, nobler ever than revenge,
    And nature, stronger than his just occasion,"

made him risk his own life to save him; and even in this case the
divine art of overcoming evil with good seems more an instinct than a
conscious purpose with him. This is one of the many instances wherein
the Poet delivers the highest results of Christian discipline as
drawing so deeply and so creatively into the heart, as to work out
with the freedom and felicity of native, original impulse.

I must dismiss Orlando with a part of his tilt of wit with Jaques, as
that very well illustrates the composition of the man:

    "_Jaq_. I thank you for your company; but, good faith, I had as
    lief have been myself alone.

    _Orlan_. And so had I; but yet, for fashion's sake, I thank you
    too for your society.

    _Jaq_. God b' wi' you: let's meet as little as we can.

    _Orlan_. I do desire we may be better strangers.

    _Jaq_. I pray you, mar no more trees with writing love-songs in
    their barks.

    _Orlan_. I pray you, mar no more of my verses with reading them

    _Jaq_. Rosalind is your love's name?

    _Orlan_. Yes, just.

    _Jaq_. I do not like her name.

    _Orlan_. There was no thought of pleasing you when she was

    _Jaq_. What stature is she of?

    _Orlan_. Just as high as my heart.

    _Jaq_. You have a nimble wit: I think it was made of Atalanta's
    heels. Will you sit down with me? and we two will rail against
    our mistress the world and all our misery.

    _Orlan_. I will chide no breather in the world but myself,
    against whom I know most faults."

The banished Duke exemplifies the best sense of nature as thoroughly
informed and built up with Christian discipline and religious
efficacy; so that the asperities of life do but make his thoughts run
the smoother. How sweet, yet how considerative and firm, is every
thing about his temper and moral frame! He sees all that is seen by
the most keen-eyed satirist, yet is never moved to be satirical,
because he looks with wiser and therefore kindlier eyes. The enmity of
Fortune is fairly disarmed by his patience; her shots are all wasted
against his breast, garrisoned as it is with the forces of charity and
peace: his soul is made storm-proof by gentleness and truth: exile,
penury, the ingratitude of men, the malice of the elements, what are
they to him? he has the grace to sweeten away their venom, and to
smile the sting out of them. He loves to stay himself upon the
compensations of life, and to feed his gentler affections by dwelling
upon the good which adversity opens to him, or the evil from which it
withdraws him; and so he rejoices in finding "these woods more free
from peril than the envious Court." In his philosophy, so bland,
benignant, and contemplative, the mind tastes the very luxury of rest,
and has an antepast of measureless content.

       *       *       *       *       *

Touchstone, though he nowhere strikes so deep a chord within us as the
poor Fool in _King Lear_, is, I think, the most entertaining of
Shakespeare's privileged characters. And he is indeed a mighty
delectable fellow! wise too, and full of the most insinuative counsel.
How choicely does his grave, acute nonsense moralize the scenes
wherein he moves! Professed clown though he be, and as such ever
hammering away with artful awkwardness at a jest, a strange kind of
humorous respect still waits upon him notwithstanding. It is curious
to observe how the Poet takes care to let us know from the first, that
beneath the affectations of his calling some precious sentiments have
been kept alive; that far within the Fool there is laid up a secret
reserve of the man, ready to leap forth and combine with better
influences as soon as the incrustations of art are thawed and broken
up. This is partly done in the scene where Rosalind and Celia arrange
for their flight from the usurper's Court. Rosalind proposes,--

    "But, cousin, what if we assay'd to steal
    The clownish Fool out of your father's Court?
    Would he not be a comfort to our travel?"

And Celia replies,--

    "He'll go along o'er the wide world with me:
    Leave me alone to woo him."

Where we learn that some remnants, at least, of a manly heart in him
have asserted their force in the shape of unselfish regards, strong as
life, for whatever is purest and loveliest in the characters about
him. He would rather starve or freeze, with Celia near him, than feed
high and lie warm where his eye cannot find her. If, with this fact in
view, our honest esteem does not go out towards him, then we, I think,
are fools in a worse sense than he is.

So much for the substantial manhood of Touchstone, and for the Poet's
human-heartedness in thus putting us in communication with it. As for
the other points of his character, I scarce know how to draw a reader
into them by any turn of analysis. Used to a life cut off from human
sympathies; stripped of the common responsibilities of the social
state; living for no end but to make aristocratic idlers laugh; one
therefore whom nobody heeds enough to resent or be angry at any thing
he says;--of course his habit is to speak all for effect, nothing for
truth: instead of reflecting the natural force and image of things,
his vocation is to wrest and transshape them from their true form and
pressure. Thus a strange wilfulness and whimsicality has wrought
itself into the substance of his mind. He takes nothing for what it is
in itself, but only for the odd quirks of thought he can twist out of
it. Yet his nature is not so "subdued to what it works in" but that,
amidst the scenes and inspirations of the Forest, the Fool quickly
slides into the man; the supervenings of the place so running into and
athwart what he brings with him, that his character comes to be as
dappled and motley as his dress. Even the new passion which there
overtakes him has a touch of his wilfulness in it: when he falls in
love, as he really does, nothing seems to inspire and draw him more
than the unloveliness of the object; thus approving that even so much
of nature as survives in him is not content to run in natural

       *       *       *       *       *

Jaques is, I believe, an universal favourite, as indeed he well may
be, for he is certainly one of the Poet's happiest conceptions.
Without being at all unnatural, he has an amazing fund of peculiarity.
Enraptured out of his senses at the voice of a song; thrown into a
paroxysm of laughter at sight of the motley-clad and motley-witted
Fool; and shedding the twilight of his merry-sad spirit over all the
darker spots of human life and character; he represents the abstract
and sum-total of an utterly useless yet perfectly harmless man,
seeking wisdom by abjuring its first principle. An odd choice mixture
of reality and affectation, he does nothing but think, yet avowedly
thinks to no purpose; or rather thinking is with him its own end. On
the whole, if in Touchstone there is much of the philosopher in the
Fool, in Jaques there is not less of the fool in the philosopher; so
that the German critic, Ulrici, is not so wide of the mark in calling
them "two fools."

Jaques is equally wilful, too, with Touchstone, in his turn of thought
and speech, though not so conscious of it; and as he plays his part
more to please himself so he is proportionably less open to the
healing and renovating influences of Nature. We cannot justly affirm,
indeed, that "the soft blue sky did never melt into his heart," as
Wordsworth says of his Peter Bell; but he shows more of resistance
than all the other persons to the poetries and eloquences of the
place. Tears are a great luxury to him: he sips the cup of woe with
all the gust of an epicure. Still his temper is by no means sour: fond
of solitude, he is nevertheless far from being unsocial. The society
of good men, provided they be in adversity, has great charms for him.
He likes to be with those who, though deserving the best, still have
the worst: virtue wronged, buffeted, oppressed, is his special
delight; because such moral discrepancies offer the most salient
points to his cherished meditations. He himself enumerates nearly all
the forms of melancholy except his own, which I take to be the
melancholy of self-love. And its effect in his case is not unlike that
of Touchstone's art; inasmuch as he greatly delights to see things
otherwise than as they really are, and to make them speak out some
meaning that is not in them; that is, their plain and obvious sense is
not to his taste. Nevertheless his melancholy is grateful, because
free from any dash of malignity. His morbid habit of mind seems to
spring from an excess of generative virtue. And how racy and original
is everything that comes from him! as if it bubbled up from the centre
of his being; while his perennial fulness of matter makes his company
always delightful. The Duke loves especially to meet him in his
"sullen fits," because he then overflows with his most idiomatic
humour. After all, the worst that can be said of Jaques is, that the
presence of men who are at once fortunate and deserving corks him up;
which may be only another way of saying that he cannot open out and
run over, save where things are going wrong.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is something uncertain whether Jaques or Rosalind be the greater
attraction: there is enough in either to make the play a continual
feast; though her charms are less liable to be staled by use, because
they result from health of mind and symmetry of character; so that in
her presence the head and the heart draw together perfectly. I mean
that she never starts any moral or emotional reluctances in our
converse with her: all our sympathies go along with her freely,
because she never jars upon them, or touches them against the grain.

For wit, this strange, queer, lovely being is fully equal to Beatrice,
yet nowise resembling her. A soft, subtile, nimble essence, consisting
in one knows not what, and springing up one can hardly tell how, her
wit neither stings nor burns, but plays briskly and airily over all
things within its reach, enriching and adorning them; insomuch that
one could ask no greater pleasure than to be the continual theme of
it. In its irrepressible vivacity it waits not for occasion, but runs
on for ever, and we wish it to run on for ever: we have a sort of
faith that her dreams are made up of cunning, quirkish, graceful
fancies; her wits being in a frolic even when she is asleep. And her
heart seems a perennial spring of affectionate cheerfulness: no trial
can break, no sorrow chill, her flow of spirits; even her sighs are
breathed forth in a wrappage of innocent mirth; an arch, roguish smile
irradiates her saddest tears. No sort of unhappiness can live in her
company: it is a joy even to stand her chiding; for, "faster than her
tongue doth make offence, her eye doth heal it up."

So much for her choice idiom of wit. But I must not pass from this
part of the theme without noting also how aptly she illustrates the
Poet's peculiar use of humour. For I suppose the difference of wit and
humour is too well understood to need any special exposition. But the
two often go together; though there is a form of wit, much more
common, that burns and dries the juices all out of the mind, and turns
it into a kind of sharp, stinging wire. Now Rosalind's sweet
establishment is thoroughly saturated with humour, and this too of the
freshest and wholesomest quality. And the effect of her humour is, as
it were, to _lubricate_ all her faculties, and make her thoughts run
brisk and glib even when grief has possession of her heart. Through
this interfusive power, her organs of play are held in perfect concert
with her springs of serious thought. Hence she is outwardly merry and
inwardly sad at the same time. We may justly say that she laughs out
her sadness, or plays out her seriousness: the sorrow that is swelling
her breast puts her wits and spirits into a frolic; and in the mirth
that overflows through her tongue we have a relish of the grief with
which her heart is charged. And our sympathy with her inward state is
the more divinely moved, forasmuch as she thus, with indescribable
delicacy, touches it through a masquerade of playfulness. Yet, beneath
all her frolicsomeness, we feel that there is a firm basis of thought
and womanly dignity; so that she never laughs away our respect.

It is quite remarkable how, in respect of her disguise, Rosalind just
reverses the conduct of Viola, yet with much the same effect. For,
though she seems as much at home in her male attire as if she had
always worn it, this never strikes us otherwise than as an exercise of
skill for the perfecting of her masquerade. And on the same principle
her occasional freedoms of speech serve to deepen our sense of her
innate delicacy; they being manifestly intended as a part of her
disguise, and springing from the feeling that it is far less
indelicate to go a little out of her character, in order to prevent
any suspicion of her sex, than it would be to hazard such a suspicion
by keeping strictly within her character. In other words, her free
talk bears much the same relation to her character as her dress does
to her person, and is therefore becoming to her even on the score of
feminine modesty.--Celia appears well worthy of a place beside her
whose love she shares and repays. Instinct with the soul of moral
beauty and female tenderness, the friendship of these more-than-sisters
"mounts to the seat of grace within the mind."

                  "We still have slept together;
    Rose at an instant, learn'd, play'd, eat together;
    And wheresoe'er we went, like Juno's swans,
    Still we went coupled and inseparable."

The general drift and temper, or, as some of the German critics would
say, the ground-idea of this play, is aptly hinted by the title. As
for the beginnings of what is here represented, these do not greatly
concern us; most of them lie back out of our view, and the rest are
soon lost sight of in what grows out of them; but the issues, of which
there are many, are all exactly to our mind; we feel them to be just
about right, and would not have them otherwise. For example, touching
Frederick and Oliver, our wish is that they should repent, and repair
the wrong they have done, in brief, that they should become good;
which is precisely what takes place; and as soon as they do this, they
naturally love those who were good before. Jaques, too, is so fitted
to moralize the discrepancies of human life, so happy and at home, and
withal so agreeable, in that exercise, that we would not he should
follow the good Duke when in his case those discrepancies are
composed. The same might easily be shown in respect of the other
issues. Indeed I dare ask any genial, considerate reader, Does not
every thing turn out just _as you like it_? Moreover there is an
indefinable something about the play that puts us in a receptive frame
of mind; that opens the heart, soothes away all querulousness and
fault-finding, and makes us easy and apt to be pleased. Thus the Poet
here disposes us to like things as they come, and at the same time
takes care that they shall come as we like. The whole play indeed is
_as you like it_.

Much has been said by one critic and another about the improbabilities
in this play. I confess they have never troubled me; and, as I have
had no trouble here to get out of, I do not well know how to help
others out. Wherefore, if any one be still annoyed by these things, I
will turn him over to the elegant criticism of the poet Campbell:
"Before I say more of this dramatic treasure, I must absolve myself by
a confession as to some of its improbabilities. Rosalind asks her
cousin Celia, 'Whither shall we go?' and Celia answers, 'To seek my
uncle in the Forest of Arden.' But, arrived there, and having
purchased a cottage and sheep-farm, neither the daughter nor niece of
the banished Duke seem to trouble themselves much to inquire about
either father or uncle. The lively and natural-hearted Rosalind
discovers no impatience to embrace her sire, until she has finished
her masked courtship with Orlando. But Rosalind was in love, as I have
been with the comedy these forty years; and love is blind; for until a
late period my eyes were never couched so as to see this objection.
The truth however is, that love is _wilfully_ blind; and now that my
eyes are opened, I shut them against the fault. Away with your
best-proved improbabilities, when the heart has been touched and the
fancy fascinated."

As a fitting pendent to this, I may further observe that the bringing
of lions, serpents, palm-trees, rustic shepherds, and banished
noblemen together in the Forest of Arden, is a strange piece of
geographical license, which certain critics have not failed to make
merry withal. Perhaps they did not see that the very grossness of the
thing proves it to have been designed. The Poet keeps his geography
true enough whenever he has cause to do so. He knew, at all events,
that lions did not roam at large in France. By this irregular
combination of actual things, he informs the whole with ideal effect,
giving to this charming issue of his brain "a local habitation and a
name," that it may link-in with our flesh-and-blood sympathies, and at
the same time turning it into a wild, wonderful, remote, fairy-land
region, where all sorts of poetical things may take place without the
slightest difficulty. Of course Shakespeare would not have done thus,
but that he saw quite through the grand critical humbug which makes
the proper effect of a work of art depend upon our belief in the
actual occurrence of the thing represented. But your "critic grave and
cool," I suppose, is one who, like Wordsworth's "model of a child,"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and this,--

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

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

    "They sin who tell us love can die."

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

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [20] Page 190 of this volume.

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

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

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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


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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

That such darker hours, however occasioned, were more frequent at one
period of the Poet's life than at others, is indeed probable. And it
was equally natural that their coming should sometimes engage him in
heart-tugging and brain-sweating efforts to scrutinize the inscrutable
workings of human guilt, and thus stamp itself strongly upon the
offspring of his mind. Thus, without any other than the ordinary
progress of thoughtful spirits, we should naturally have a middle
period, when the early enthusiasm of hope had passed away, and before
the deeper, calmer, but not less cheerful tranquillity of resignation
had set in. For so it is apt to be in this life of ours: the angry
barkings of fortune, or what seem such, have their turn with us; "the
fretful fever and the stir unprofitable" work our souls full of
discord and perturbation; but after a while these things pass away,
and are followed by a more placid and genial time; the experienced
insufficiency of man for himself having charmed our wrestlings of
thought into repose, and our spirits having undergone the chastening
and subduing power of life's sterner discipline.

In some such passage, then, I should rather presume the unique
conception of _Measure for Measure_ to have been formed in the Poet's
mind. I say unique, because this is his only instance of comedy where
the wit seems to foam and sparkle up from a fountain of bitterness;
where even the humour is made pungent with sarcasm; and where the
poetry is marked with tragic austerity. In none of his plays does he
discover less of leaning upon pre-existing models, or a more manly
negligence, perhaps sometimes carried to excess, of those lighter
graces of manner which none but the greatest minds may safely
despise. His genius is here out in all its colossal individuality, and
he seems to have meant it should be so; as if he felt quite sure of
having now reached his mastership; so that henceforth, instead of
leaning on those who had gone before, he was to be himself a
leaning-place for those who should follow.

Accordingly the play abounds in fearless grapplings and strugglings of
mind with matters too hard to consist with much facility and
gracefulness of tongue. The thought is strong, and in its strength
careless of appearances, and seems rather wishing than fearing to have
its roughnesses seen: the style is rugged, irregular, abrupt,
sometimes running into an almost forbidding sternness, but everywhere
throbbing with life: often a whole page of meaning is condensed and
rammed into a clause or an image, so that the force thereof beats and
reverberates through the entire scene: with little of elaborate grace
or finish, we have bold, deep strokes, where the want of finer
softenings and shadings is more than made up by increased energy and
expressiveness; the words going right to the spot, and leaving none of
their work undone. Thus the workmanship is in a very uncommon degree
what I sometimes designate as _steep_, meaning thereby _hard to get to
the top of_. Hence it is perhaps, in part, that so many axioms and
"brief sententious precepts" of moral and practical wisdom from this
play have wrought themselves into the currency and familiarity of
household words, and live for instruction or comfort in the memory of
many who know nothing of their original source. As a strong instance
in point, take Isabella's meaty apothegm,--

                            "Man, proud man,
    Drest in a little brief authority,--
    Most ignorant of what he's most assur'd,--
    Plays such fantastic tricks before high Heaven
    As make the angels weep; who, _with our spleens,
    Would all themselves laugh mortal_."

Which means that, if the angels had our disposition to splenetic or
satirical mirth, the sight of our human arrogance strutting through
its absurd antics would cast them into such an ecstasy of ridicule,
that they would laugh themselves clean out of their immortality; this
celestial prerogative being quite incompatible with such ebullitions
of spleen.

       *       *       *       *       *

Whether from the nature of the subject, or the mode of treating it, or
both, _Measure for Measure_ is generally regarded as one of the least
attractive, though most instructive, of Shakespeare's plays.
Coleridge, in those fragments of his critical lectures which now form
our best text-book of English criticism, says, "This play, which is
Shakespeare's throughout, is to me the most painful--rather say the
only painful--part of his genuine works." From this language,
sustained as it is by other high authorities, I probably should not
dissent; but when, in his _Table Talk_, he says that "Isabella herself
contrives to be unamiable, and Claudio is detestable," I can by no
means go along with him.

It would seem indeed as if undue fault had sometimes been found, not
so much with the play itself as with some of the persons, from trying
them by a moral standard which cannot be fairly applied to them, or
from not duly weighing all the circumstances, feelings, and motives
under which they are represented as acting. Thus Ulrici speaks of
Claudio as being guilty of seduction. Which is surely wide of the
mark; it being clear enough that, according to the usages then and
there established, he was, as he considered himself to be, virtually
married, though not admissible to all the rights of the married life.
Hence we have the Duke assuring Mariana that there would be no crime
in her meeting with Angelo, because he was her "husband on a
pre-contract." And it is well known that in ancient times the ceremony
of betrothment conferred the marriage tie, though not the nuptials, so
that the union of the parties was thenceforth firm in the eye of the
law itself. So again Hallam, speaking of Isabella: "One is disposed
to ask whether, if Claudio had been really executed, the spectator
would not have gone away with no great affection for her; and at least
we now feel that her reproaches against her miserable brother, when he
clings to life like a frail and guilty being, are too harsh." As to
the first branch of this indictment, I might have ventured to ask the
writer how his affection would have stood towards the heroine, if she
had yielded to Angelo's proposal. As to the second branch, though I do
indeed feel that Claudio were rather to be pitied than blamed,
whatever course he had taken in so terrible an alternative, yet the
conduct of his sister strikes me as every way creditable to her. Her
reproaches were indeed too harsh, if they sprang from want of love;
but such is evidently not the case. The truth is, she is in a very
hard struggle between affection and principle: she needs, and she
hopes, to have the strain upon her womanly fortitude lightened by the
manly fortitude of her brother; and her harshness of reproof discovers
the natural workings of a tender and deep affection, in an agony of
disappointment at being urged, by one for whom she would die, to an
act which she shrinks from with noble horror, and justly considers
worse than death. So that we here have the keen anguish of conflicting
feelings venting itself in a severity which, though unmerited, serves
to disclose the more impressively her nobleness of character.

       *       *       *       *       *

Again, the same critic, referring to the part of Mariana as
indispensable to "a satisfactory termination" of the story, objects,
that "it is never explained how the Duke had become acquainted with
this secret, and, being acquainted with it, how he had preserved his
esteem and confidence in Angelo." But, surely, we are given to
understand at the outset that the Duke has not preserved the esteem
and confidence in question. In his first scene with Friar Thomas,
among his reasons for the action he has on foot, he makes special
mention of this one:

                    "Lord Angelo is precise;
    _Stands at a guard with envy_; scarce confesses
    That his blood flows, or that his appetite
    Is more to bread than stone: _hence shall we see,
    If power change purpose, what our_ SEEMERS _be_."

Which clearly infers that his main purpose in assuming the disguise of
a monk is to unmask the deputy, and demonstrate to others what has
long been known to himself. And he throws out other hints of a belief
or suspicion that Angelo is angling for emolument or popularity, and
baiting his hook with great apparent strictness and sanctity of life;
thus putting on sheep's clothing, in order to play the wolf with more
safety and success. As to the secret concerning Mariana, it seems
enough that the Duke knows it, that the knowledge justifies his
distrust, and that when the time comes he uses it for a good purpose;
the earlier part of the play thus preparing quietly for what is to
follow, and the later explaining what went before. In truth, the Duke
is better able to understand the deputy's character than to persuade
others of it: this is one of his motives for the stratagem. And a man
of his wisdom, even if he have no available facts in the case, might
well suspect an austerity so theatrical as Angelo's to be rather an
art than a virtue: he could not well be ignorant that, when men are so
forward to air their graces and _make_ their light shine, they can
hardly be aiming at any glory but their own.

It is to be supposed, withal, that Angelo has been wont to set himself
up as an example of ghostly rectitude, and to reflect somewhat on the
laxity of the Duke's administration. These reproofs the Duke cannot
answer without laying himself open to the retort of being touched with
jealousy. Then too Angelo is nervously apprehensive of reproach; is
ever on the watch, and "making broad his phylacteries," lest malice
should spy some holes in his conduct; for such is the meaning of
"standing at a guard with envy": whereas "virtue is bold, and goodness
never fearful" in that kind. The Duke knows that such an ostentatious
strictness, however it may take with the multitude, is among the
proper symptoms of a bad conscience; that such high professions of
righteousness are seldom used but as a mask to cover some secret
delinquencies from the public eye. Angelo had entered into a solemn
engagement of marriage, his motive being the lady's wealth; her wealth
being lost, so that she could no longer hold him through his secret
sin of covetousness, he had cruelly deserted her; this great wrong he
had still more cruelly made use of to purchase a brighter semblance of
virtue, blasting her good name with alleged discoveries of crime, and
thus fattening his own reputation with the life-blood of his innocent
and helpless victim. Here was an act of extreme heartlessness and
turpitude, too bad to be believed of one so ensconced in solemn
plausibilities. The matter had come privately to the Duke's knowledge;
but his tongue was tied by the official delicacies of his position.

A certain class of offences had caused a law to be passed of such
overstrained severity that it broke down in the trial; so it fell into
disuse, and became a dead letter,--a perch to birds of prey, and not
their terror. From its extreme rigour, this law was extremely odious;
and, as is always the case with laws so hated, the attempt to enforce
it drew on a commensurate reaction of licentiousness; the law thus
stimulating the evil it was meant to repress,--a mistaken plaster
inflaming the sore. Angelo had been secretly guilty of a far worse sin
than the one this law was aimed against, but had managed to fence
himself about with practical impunity; nay, his crafty, sanctimonious
selfishness had even turned that sin to an increase of honour, and so
made it a basis of pride. As the slumbering law does not touch his
case, he is earnest to have it revived and put to work: so the Duke,
being somewhat divided between the pleadings of justice and mercy,
concludes to let him try his hand. In the discharge of his new office,
which he conceives his great moral strictness to have gained for him,
Angelo thinks to build his reputation still higher by striking at a
conspicuous object. In the prosecution of his scheme, he soon goes to
attempting a vastly deeper breach of the very law he is enforcing than
that of the man whom he has found obnoxious to its penalties.
Claudio's offence was done when the law was sleeping. Angelo has just
awakened it, yet he proceeds against Claudio as if the latter had
transgressed while the law was vigilant. Angelo's transgression has no
such excuse, since he has himself already given new life and force to
the law. Nevertheless he persists in his design, and hardens himself
to the point of resolving to "give his sensual race the rein." The
hitherto unsuspected evil within he is now fully aware of, but looks
it squarely in the face, and rushes headlong into the double crime of
committing in its worst form the sin and at the same time punishing
the lighter form of it with death in another. Thus it turns out that

                     "This outward-sainted deputy--
    Whose settled visage and deliberate word
    Nips youth i' the head, and follies doth emmew
    As falcon doth the fowl--is yet a devil;
    His filth within being cast, he would appear
    A pond as deep as Hell."

Yet Angelo is at first not so properly a hypocrite as a self-deceiver.
For it is very considerable that he wishes to be and sincerely thinks
he is, what he affects and appears to be; as is plain from his
consternation at the wickedness which opportunity awakens into
conscious action within him. He thus typifies that sort of men of whom
Bishop Butler says, "they try appearances upon themselves as well as
upon the world, and with at least as much success; and choose to
manage so as to make their own minds easy with their faults, which can
scarce be done without management, rather than to mend them." Even so
Angelo for self-ends imitates sanctity, and then gets taken in by his
own imitation. This "mystery of iniquity" locks him from all true
knowledge of himself. He must be worse before he will be better. The
refined hypocrisies which so elude his eye, and thus nurse his
self-righteous pride, must put on a grosser form, till he cannot
choose but see himself as he is. The secret devil within must blaze
out in a shape too palpable to be ignored. And so, as often happens
where the subtleties of self-deceit are thus cherished, he at length
proceeds a downright conscious hypocrite, this too of the deepest dye.

Angelo's original fault lay in forgetting or ignoring his own frailty.
As a natural consequence, his "darling sin is pride that apes
humility." And his conceit of virtue,--"my gravity, wherein (let no
man hear me) I take pride,"--while it keeps him from certain vices, is
itself a far greater vice than any it keeps him from; insomuch that
his interviews with Isabella may almost be said to _elevate_ him into
lust. They at least bring him to a just vision of his inward self. The
serpent charms of self-deceit which he has so hugged are now broken.
For even so--and how awful is the fact!--men often wound themselves so
deeply with medicines, that Providence has no way for them,
apparently, but to make wounds medicinal, or, as Hooker says, "to cure
by vice where virtue hath stricken." So indeed it must be where men
turn their virtues into food of spiritual pride; which is the hardest
of all sores to be cured, "inasmuch as that which rooteth out other
vices causeth this." And perhaps the array of low and loathsome vices,
which the Poet has clustered about Angelo in the persons of Lucio,
Pompey, and Mrs. Overdone, was necessary, to make us feel how
unspeakably worse than any or all of these is Angelo's pride of
virtue. It can hardly be needful to add, that in Angelo these fearful
traits of character are depicted with a truth and sternness of pencil,
such as could scarce have been achieved but in an age fruitful in
living examples of them.

       *       *       *       *       *

The placing of Isabella, "a thing ensky'd and sainted," and who truly
_is_ all that Angelo seems, side by side with such a breathing,
shining mass of pitch, is one of those dramatic audacities wherein
none perhaps but a Shakespeare could safely indulge. Of her character
the most prolific hint that is given is what she says to the
disguised Duke, when he is urging her to fasten her ear on his
advisings touching the part of Mariana: "I have spirit to do any thing
that appears not foul in the truth of my spirit." That is, she cares
not what face her action may wear to the world, nor how much reproach
it may bring on her from others, if it will only leave her the
society, which she has never parted from, of a clean breast and a pure

Called from the cloister, where she is on the point of taking the veil
of earthly renouncement, to plead for her brother's life, she comes
forth a saintly anchoress, clad in the austerest sweetness of
womanhood, to throw the light of her virgin soul upon the dark,
loathsome scenes and characters around her. With great strength of
intellect and depth of feeling she unites an equal power of
imagination, the whole being pervaded, quickened, and guided by a
still, intense religious enthusiasm. And because her virtue is
securely rooted and grounded in religion, therefore she never thinks
of it as her own, but only as a gift from the Being whom she adores,
and who is her only hope for the keeping of what she has. Which
suggests the fundamental point of contrast between her and Angelo,
whose virtue, if such it may be called, is nothing, nay, worse than
nothing, because it is a virtue of his own making, is without any
inspiration from the one Source of all true good, and so has no basis
but pride, which is itself a bubble. Accordingly her character appears
to me among the finest, in some respects the very finest, in
Shakespeare's matchless cabinet of female excellence.

The power and pathos with which she pleads for her brother are well
known. At first she is timid, distrustful of her powers, shrinking
with modest awe of the law's appointed organ; and she seems drawn
unawares into the heights of moral argument and the most
sweetly-breathing strains of Gospel wisdom. Much of what she says has
become domesticated wherever the English language is spoken, and would
long since have grown stale, if it were possible to crush the
freshness of immortal youth out of it. The dialogues between her and
Angelo are extremely subtile and suggestive on both sides, fraught
with meanings to reward the most searching ethical study, but which I
cannot stay to trace out, and which the closest criticism would fail
to exhaust. At the opening of their interview, she is in a struggle
between wishing and not wishing, and therefore not in a mood to "play
with reason and discourse." With her settled awe of purity, she cannot
but admit the law to be right, yet she sees not how, in the
circumstances, mercy can be wrong. At this thought her heart presently
kindles, her eloquence springs to work, and its tones grow deeper,
clearer, more penetrating, as point after point catches her mental
eye. Thenceforth it is a keen encounter of mind with mind; but on his
side it is the conscious logic of an adroit and practised lawyer, who
has full mastery of his case, and is prompt in all the turns of legal
ingenuity; while on her side it is the logic of nature's finest moral
instincts spontaneously using the forces of a quick, powerful, and
well-balanced intellect as their organ of expression. She perceives at
once how subtile and acute of apprehension he is; so, lest her speech
should have too much edge, she veils the matter in figures of a
somewhat enigmatical cast, because she knows that he will instantly
take the sense. Her instinctive knowledge of the human heart guides
her directly to his secret springs of action. With a tact that seems
like inspiration, she feels out his assailable points, and still
surprises and holds him with new and startling appeals to his
innermost feelings. At length, when, his wicked purpose being formed,
he goes to talking to her in riddles, she quickly understands him, but
thinks he is only testing her: her replies leave him in doubt whether
craft or innocence speaks in her: so she draws him on to speaking
plainer and plainer, till at last he makes a full and explicit avowal
of his inhuman baseness. He is especially caught, be it observed, "in
the strong toil" of her moral grace; at least he is pleased to think
so: and as he has been wont to pride himself on being a saint, so he
now takes refuge in the thought, "O cunning enemy, that to catch a
saint, with saints dost bait thy hook!"

It is not to be denied, indeed, that Isabella's chastity is rather too
demonstrative and self-pronounced; but this is because of the
unblushing and emphatic licentiousness of her social environment.
Goodness cannot remain undemonstrative amidst such a rank
demonstrativeness of its opposite: the necessity it is under of
fighting against so much and such aggressive evil forces it into
stress, and so into taking a full measure of itself. Isabella,
accordingly, is deeply conscious and mindful of her virtue, which
somewhat mars the beauty of it, I admit; but in the circumstances it
could not be otherwise: with such a strong stew of corruption boiling
and bubbling all about her, it was not possible that purity in her
case should retain that bland, unconscious repose which is indeed its
greatest charm. From the prevailing rampancy of vice, a certain air of
over-sternness and rigidity has wrought itself into her character,
displacing somewhat of its proper sweetness and amiability: but, in
the right view of things, this loss is well made up in that she is the
more an object of reverence; albeit I have to confess that she would
touch me rather more potently, if she had a little more of loveliness
and a little less of awfulness. And it is remarkable that even Lucio,
light-minded libertine as he is, whose familiar sin it is to jest with
maids, "tongue far from heart," cannot approach her, but that his
levity is at once awed into soberness, and he regards her as one "to
be talk'd with in sincerity, as with a saint."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Duke has been rather hardly dealt with by critics.
Shakespeare--than whom it would not be easy to find a better judge of
what belongs to wisdom and goodness--seems to have meant him for a
wise and good man: yet he represents him as having rather more skill
and pleasure in strategical arts and roundabout ways than is
altogether in keeping with such a character. Some of his alleged
reasons for the action he goes about reflect no honour on him; but it
is observable that the sequel does not approve them to have been his
real ones: his conduct, as the action proceeds, infers better motives
than his speech offered at the beginning; which naturally suggests
that there may have been more of purpose than of truth in his
speaking. His first dialogue with Angelo is, no doubt, partly
ironical. A liberal, thoughtful, and merciful prince, but with more of
whim and caprice than exactly suits the dignity of his place, humanity
speaks richly from his lips; yet in his actions the philosopher and
the divine are better shown than the statesman and ruler. Therewithal
he seems to take a very questionable delight in moving about as an
unseen providence, by secret counsels leading the wicked designs of
others to safe and just results. It is indeed true, as Heraud observes
regarding him, that so "Divine Providence, while it deputes its
authority to the office-bearers of the world, is still present both
with them and it, and ever ready to punish the evil-doer": still I
doubt of its being just the thing for the world's office-bearers to
undertake the functions of Providence in that particular. Probably the
Duke should not be charged with a fanaticism of intrigue; but he comes
something nearer to it than befits a mind of the first order. Schlegel
thinks "he has more pleasure in overhearing his subjects than in
governing them in the usual way of princes"; and sets him down as an
exception to the proverb, "A cowl does not make a monk": and perhaps
his princely virtues are somewhat obscured by the disguise which so
completely transforms him into a monk. Whether he acts upon the wicked
principle with which that fraternity is so often reproached, or not,
it is pretty certain that some of his means can be justified by
nothing but the end. But perhaps, in the vast complexity of human
motives and affairs, a due exercise of fairness and candour will find
cause enough for ascribing to him the merit of honestly pursuing the
good and true according to the best lights he has. Hereabouts
Schlegel makes the following just remark: "Shakespeare, amidst the
rancour of religious parties, delights in painting monks, and always
represents their influence as beneficial; there being in his plays
none of the black and knavish specimens which an enthusiasm for
Protestantism, rather than poetical inspiration, has put some modern
poets upon delineating. He merely gives his monks an inclination to be
busy in the affairs of others, after renouncing the world for
themselves; though in respect of pious frauds he does not make them
very scrupulous."

As to the Duke's pardoning of Angelo, though Justice seems to cry out
against the act, yet in the premises it were still more unjust in him
to do otherwise; the deception he has practised on Angelo in
substituting Mariana having plainly bound him to the course he finally
takes in that matter. For the same power whereby he works through this
deception might easily have prevented Angelo's crime; and to punish
the offence after thus withholding the means of prevention were
clearly wrong: not to mention how his proceedings here involve an
innocent person; so that he ought to spare Angelo for her sake, if not
for his own. Coleridge indeed strongly reprehends this act, on the
ground that "cruelty, with lust and damnable baseness, cannot be
forgiven, because we cannot conceive them as being morally repented
of." But it seems to me hardly prudent, or becoming thus to set bounds
to the grace of repentance, or to say what amount of sin must
necessarily render a man incapable of being reformed. All which may in
some measure explain the Duke's severity to the smaller crime of
Lucio, after his clemency to the greater one of Angelo.

I must not leave the gentle Duke without remarking how, especially in
the earlier portions of the play, his tongue drops the very manna of
moral and meditative wisdom. His discourse in reconciling Claudio to
the quick approach of death condenses the marrow of all that
philosophy and divinity can urge, to wean us mortals from the "many
deceiving promises of life."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lucio is one of those mixed characters, such as are often generated
amidst the refinements and pollutions of urban society, in whom low
and disgusting vices, and a frivolity still more offensive, are
blended with engaging manners and some manly sentiments. Thus he
appears a gentleman and a blackguard by turns; and, which is more, he
does really unite something of these seemingly-incompatible qualities.
With a true eye and a just respect for virtue in others, yet, so far
as we can see, he cares not a jot to have it in himself. And while his
wanton, waggish levity seems too much for any generous sentiment to
consist with, still he shows a strong and steady friendship for
Claudio, and a heart-felt reverence for Isabella; as if on purpose to
teach us that "the web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill
together." And perhaps the seeming "snow-broth blood" of Angelo puts
him upon affecting a more frisky circulation than he really has. For
an overacted austerity is not the right way to win others out of a too
rollicking levity.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Johnson rather oddly remarks that "the comic scenes are natural
and pleasing": not that the remark is not true enough, but that it
appears something out of character in him. And if these scenes please,
it is not so much from any fund of mirthful exhilaration, or any
genial gushings of wit and humour, as for the remorseless, unsparing
freedom, not unmingled with touches of scorn, with which the
deformities of mankind are anatomized. The contrast between the
right-hearted, well-meaning Claudio, a generous spirit walled in with
overmuch infirmity, and Barnardine, a frightful petrification of
humanity, "careless, reckless and fearless of what is past, present,
or to come," is in the Poet's boldest manner.

Nevertheless the general current of things is far from musical, and
the issues greatly disappointing. The drowsy Justice which we expect
and wish to see awakened, and set in living harmony with Mercy,
apparently relapses at last into a deeper sleep than ever. Our loyalty
to Womanhood is not a little wounded by the humiliations to which poor
Mariana stoops, at the ghostly counsels of her spiritual guide, that
she may twine her life with that of the execrable hypocrite who has
wronged her sex so deeply. That, amid the general impunity, the mere
telling of some ridiculous lies to the disguised Duke about himself,
should draw down a disproportionate severity upon Lucio, the lively,
unprincipled, fantastic jester and wag, who might well be let pass as
a privileged character, makes the whole look more as if done in
mockery of justice than in honour of mercy. Except, indeed, the noble
unfolding of Isabella, scarce any thing turns out to our wish; nor are
we much pleased at seeing her diverted from the quiet tasks and holy
contemplations where her heart is so much at home; although, as
Gervinus observes, "she has that two-sided nature, the capacity to
enjoy the world, according to circumstances, or to dispense with it."

The title of this play is apt to give a wrong impression of its scope
and purpose. _Measure for Measure_ is itself equivocal; but the
subject-matter here fixes it to be taken in the sense, not of the old
Jewish proverb, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," but of
the divine precept, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do
ye even so to them." Thus the title falls in with one of Portia's
appeals to Shylock, "We do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth
teach us all to render the deeds of mercy." The moral centre of the
play properly stands in avoidance of extremes,--

           "the golden mean and quiet flow
    Of truths that soften hatred, temper strife."


The Tempest is on all hands regarded as one of Shakespeare's
perfectest works. Some of his plays, I should say, have beams in their
eyes; but this has hardly so much as a mote; or, if it have any, my
own eyes are not clear enough to discern it. I dare not pronounce the
work faultless, for this is too much to affirm of any human
workmanship; but I venture to think that whatever faults it may have
are such as criticism is hardly competent to specify. In the
characters of Ariel, Miranda, and Caliban, we have three of the most
unique and original conceptions that ever sprang from the wit of man.
We can scarce imagine how the Ideal could be pushed further beyond
Nature; yet we here find it clothed with all the truth and life of
Nature. And the whole texture of incident and circumstance is framed
in keeping with that Ideal; so that all the parts and particulars
cohere together, mutually supporting and supported.

The leading sentiment naturally inspired by the scenes of this drama
is, I believe, that of delighted wonder. And such, as appears from the
heroine's name, Miranda, who is _the_ potency of the drama, is
probably the sentiment which the play was meant to inspire. But the
grace and efficacy in which the workmanship is steeped are so ethereal
and so fine, that they can hardly be discoursed in any but the poetic
form: it may well be doubted whether Criticism has any fingers
delicate enough to grasp them. So much is this the case, that it
seemed to me quite doubtful whether I should do well to undertake the
theme at all. For Criticism is necessarily obliged to substitute, more
or less, the forms of logic for those of art; and art, it scarce need
be said, can do many things that are altogether beyond the reach of
logic. On the other hand, the charm and verdure of these scenes are so
unwithering and inexhaustible, that I could not quite make up my mind
to leave the subject untried. Nor do I know how I can better serve my
countrymen than by engaging and helping them in the study of this
great inheritance of natural wisdom and unreproved delight. For,
assuredly, if they early learn to be at home and to take pleasure in
these productions, their whole after-life will be the better and the
happier for it.

       *       *       *       *       *

_The Tempest_ is one of the plays that were never printed till in the
folio of 1623; where, for reasons unknown to us, it stands the first
in the volume; though, as we shall presently see, it was among the
last of the Poet's writing.

It has been ascertained clearly enough that the play was written
somewhere between 1608 and 1613. On the one hand, the leading features
of Gonzalo's Commonwealth, as described in the play, were evidently
taken from Florio's translation of Montaigne. As the passage is
curious in itself, and as it aptly illustrates the Poet's method of
appropriating from others, I will quote it:

    "_Gon_. Had I plantation of this isle, my lord,
    And were the King on 't, what would I do?
    I' the Commonwealth I would by contraries
    Execute all things: for no kind of traffic
    Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
    Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
    And use of service, none; contract, succession,
    Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
    No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
    No occupation; all men idle, all;
    And women too,--but innocent and pure;
    No sovereignty;--

    _Seb_.        Yet he would be King on't.

    _Ant_. The latter end of his Commonwealth forgets the beginning.

    _Gon_. All things in common Nature should produce
    Without sweat or endeavour: treason, felony,
    Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
    Would I not have; but Nature should bring forth,
    Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
    To feed my innocent people."

In Montaigne's Essay _Of the Cannibals_, as translated by Florio, we
have the following: "It is a nation, would I answer Plato, that hath
no kind of traffic, no knowledge of letters, no intelligence of
numbers, no name of magistrate, nor of politic superiority; no use of
service, of riches, or of poverty; no contracts, no successions, no
dividences; no occupation, but idle; no respect of kindred, but
common; no apparel, but natural; no manuring of lands; no use of wine,
corn, or metal: the very words that import lying, falsehood, treason,
dissimulation, covetousness, envy, detraction, and pardon, were never
heard amongst them."

Here the borrowing is too plain to be questioned; and this fixes the
writing of _The Tempest_ after 1603. On the other hand, Malone
ascertained from some old records that the play was acted by the
King's players "before Prince Charles, the Princess Elizabeth, and the
Prince Palatine, in the beginning of 1613."

For any nearer fixing of the date we have nothing firm to go upon but
probabilities. Some of these, however, are pretty strong. I must rest
with noting one of them:

Some hints towards the play were derived, apparently, from a book
published by one Jourdan in 1610, and entitled, _A Discovery of the
Bermudas, otherwise called the Isle of Devils_. The occasion was as
follows: A fleet of nine ships, with some five hundred people, sailed
from England in May, 1609. Among the officers were Sir George Somers,
Sir Thomas Gates, and Captain Newport. The fleet was headed by the
_Sea-Venture_, called the Admiral's Ship. On the 25th of July they
were struck by a terrible tempest, which scattered the whole fleet,
and parted the _Sea-Venture_ from the rest. Most of the ships,
however, reached Virginia, left the greater part of their people
there, and sailed again for England, where Gates arrived in August or
September, 1610, having been sent home by Lord Delaware. Jourdan's
book, after relating their shipwreck, continues thus: "But our
delivery was not more strange in falling so happily upon land, than
our provision was admirable. For the Islands of the Bermudas, as every
one knoweth that hath heard or read of them, were never inhabited by
any Christian or Heathen people, but ever reputed a most prodigious
and enchanted place, affording nothing but gusts, storms, and foul
weather. Yet did we find the air so temperate, and the country so
abundantly fruitful, that, notwithstanding we were there for the space
of nine months, we were not only well refreshed, but out of the
abundance thereof provided us with some reasonable quantity of
provision to carry us for Virginia, and to maintain ourselves and the
company we found there." About the same time, the Council of Virginia
also put forth a narrative of "the disasters which had befallen the
fleet, and of their miraculous escape," wherein we have the following:
"These Islands of the Bermudas have ever been accounted an enchanted
pile of rocks, and a desert inhabitation of devils; but all the
fairies of the rocks were but flocks of birds, and all the devils that
haunted the woods were but herds of swine."

In this account and these extracts there are several points which
clearly connect with certain things in the play. To mark those points,
or to trace out that connection, seems hardly worth the while. It may
be well to add that the Poet's _still-vexed Bermoothes_ seems to link
his work in some way with Jourdan's narrative. So that 1610 is as
early a date as can well be assigned for the writing of _The Tempest_.
The supernatural in the play was no doubt the Poet's own creation; but
it would have been in accordance with his usual method to avail
himself of whatever interest might spring from the popular notions
touching the Bermudas. In his marvellous creations the people would
see nothing but the distant marvels with which their fancies were

Concurrent with all this is the internal evidence of the play itself.
The style, language, and general cast of thought, the union of
richness and severity, the grave, austere beauty of character which
pervades it, and the organic compactness of the whole structure, all
go to mark it as an issue of the Poet's ripest years. Coleridge
regarded it as "certainly one of Shakespeare's latest works, judging
from the language only." Campbell the poet considers it his very
latest. "_The Tempest_," says he, "has a sort of sacredness as the
last work of a mighty workman. Shakespeare, as if conscious that it
would be his last, and as if inspired to typify himself, has made his
hero a natural, a dignified, and benevolent magician, who could
conjure up 'spirits from the vasty deep,' and command supernatural
agency by the most seemingly-natural and simple means. Shakespeare
himself is Prospero, or rather the superior genius who commands both
Prospero and Ariel. But the time was approaching when the potent
sorcerer was to break his staff, and bury it fathoms in the ocean
'deeper than did ever plummet sound.' That staff has never been and
will never be recovered." But I suspect there is more of poetry than
of truth in this; at least I can find no warrant for it: on the
contrary, we have fair ground for believing that at least _Coriolanus,
King Henry the Eighth_, and perhaps _The Winter's Tale_ were written
after _The Tempest_. Mr. Verplanck, rather than give up the notion so
well put by Campbell, suggests that the Poet may have _revised The
Tempest_ after all his other plays were written, and inserted the
passage where Prospero abjures his "rough magic," and buries his
staff, and drowns his book. But I can hardly think that Shakespeare
had any reference to himself in that passage: for, besides that he did
not use to put his own feelings and purposes into the mouth of his
characters, the doing so in this case would infer such a degree of
self-exultation as, it seems to me, his native and habitual modesty
would scarce permit.

       *       *       *       *       *

No play or novel has been discovered to which Shakespeare could have
been at all indebted for the plot or matter of _The Tempest_. There is
indeed an old ballad called _The Inchanted Island_, which was once
thought to have contributed something towards the play: but it is now
generally held to be more modern than the play, and probably founded
upon it; the names and some of the incidents being varied, as if on
purpose to disguise its connection with a work that was popular on the

       *       *       *       *       *

There has been considerable discussion as to the scene of _The
Tempest_. A wide range of critics from Mr. Chalmers to Mrs. Jameson
have taken for granted that the Poet fixed his scene in the Bermudas.
For this they have alleged no authority but his mention of "the
still-vex'd Bermoothes." Ariel's trip from "the deep nook to fetch dew
from the still-vex'd Bermoothes" does indeed show that the Bermudas
were in the Poet's mind; but then it also shows that his scene was not
there; for it had been no feat at all worth mentioning for Ariel to
fetch dew from one part of the Bermudas to another. An aerial voyage
of some two or three thousand miles was the least that so nimble a
messenger could be expected to make any account of. Besides, in less
than an hour after the wrecking of the King's ship, the rest of the
fleet are said to be upon the Mediterranean, "bound sadly home for
Naples." On the other hand, the Rev. Mr. Hunter is very positive that,
if we read the play with a map before us, we shall bring up at the
island of Lampedusa, which "lies midway between Malta and the African
coast." He makes out a pretty fair case, nevertheless I must be
excused; not so much that I positively reject his theory as that I
simply do not care whether it be true or not. But if we must have any
supposal about it, the most reasonable as well as the most poetical
one seems to be, that the Poet, writing without a map, placed his
scene upon an island of the mind; and that it suited his purpose to
transfer to his ideal whereabout some of the wonders of trans-Atlantic
discovery. I should almost as soon think of going to history for the
characters of Ariel and Caliban, as to geography for the size,
locality, or whatsoever else, of their dwelling-place. And it is to be
noted that the old ballad just referred to seems to take for granted
that the island was but an island of the mind; representing it to
have disappeared upon Prospero's leaving it:

    "From that day forth the isle has been
    By wandering sailors never seen:
      Some say 'tis buried deep
    Beneath the sea, which breaks and roars
    Above its savage rocky shores,
      Nor e'er is known to sleep."

Coleridge says "_The Tempest_ is a specimen of the purely romantic
drama." The term _romantic_ is here used in a technical sense; that
is, to distinguish the Shakespearian from the Classic Drama. In this
sense, I cannot quite agree with the great critic that the drama is
_purely_ romantic. Highly romantic it certainly is, in its wide, free,
bold variety of character and incident, and in all the qualities that
enter into the picturesque; yet not romantic in such sort, I think,
but that it is at the same time equally classic; classic, not only in
that the unities of time and place are strictly observed, but as
having the other qualities which naturally go with those laws of the
classic form; in its severe beauty and majestic simplicity, its
interfusion of the lyrical and the ethical, and in the mellow
atmosphere of serenity and composure which envelopes it: as if on
purpose to show the Poet's mastery not only of both the Classic and
Romantic Drama, but of the common Nature out of which both of them
grew. This union of both kinds in one without hindrance to the
distinctive qualities of either,--this it is, I think, that chiefly
distinguishes _The Tempest_ from the Poet's other dramas. Some have
thought that in this play Shakespeare specially undertook to silence
the pedantic cavillers of his time by showing that he could keep to
the rules of the Greek stage, if he chose to do so, without being any
the less himself. But it seems more likely that he was here drawn into
such a course by the leadings of his own wise spirit than by the
cavils of contemporary critics; the form appearing too cognate with
the matter to have been dictated by any thing external to the work

There are some points that naturally suggest a comparison between
_The Tempest_ and _A Midsummer-Night's Dream_. In both the Poet has
with equal or nearly equal success carried Nature, as it were, beyond
herself, and peopled a purely ideal region with the attributes of life
and reality; so that the characters touch us like substantive,
personal beings, as if he had but described, not created them. But,
beyond this, the resemblance ceases: indeed no two of his plays differ
more widely in all other respects.

_The Tempest_ presents a combination of elements apparently so
incongruous that we cannot but marvel how they were brought together;
yet they blend so sweetly, and co-operate so smoothly, that we at once
feel at home with them, and see nothing to hinder their union in the
world of which we are a part. For in the mingling of the natural and
the supernatural we here find no gap, no break; nothing disjointed or
abrupt; the two being drawn into each other so harmoniously, and so
knit together by mutual participations, that they seem strictly
continuous, with no distinguishable line to mark where they meet and
join. It is as if the gulf which apparently separates the two worlds
had been abolished, leaving nothing to prevent a free circulation and
intercourse between them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Prospero, standing in the centre of the whole, acts as kind of
subordinate Providence, reconciling the diverse elements to himself
and in himself to one another. Though armed with supernatural might,
so that the winds and waves obey him, his magical and mysterious
powers are tied to truth and right: his "high charms work" to none but
just and beneficent ends; and whatever might be repulsive in the
magician is softened and made attractive by the virtues of the man and
the feelings of the father: Ariel links him with the world above us,
Caliban with the world beneath us, and Miranda--"thee, my dear one,
thee my daughter"--with the world around and within us. And the mind
acquiesces freely in the miracles ascribed to him; his thoughts and
aims being so at one with Nature's inward harmonies, that we cannot
tell whether he shapes her movements or merely falls in with them;
that is, whether his art stands in submission or command. His sorcery
indeed is the sorcery of knowledge, his magic the magic of virtue. For
what so marvellous as the inward, vital necromancy of good which
transmutes the wrongs that are done him into motives of beneficence,
and is so far from being hurt by the powers of Evil, that it turns
their assaults into new sources of strength against them? And with
what a smooth tranquillity of spirit he everywhere speaks and acts! as
if the discipline of adversity had but served

                         "to elevate the will,
    And lead him on to that transcendent rest
    Where every passion doth the sway attest
    Of Reason seated on her sovereign hill."

Shakespeare and Bacon, the Prince of poets and the Prince of
philosophers, wrought out their mighty works side by side, and nearly
at the same time, though without any express recognition of each
other. And why may we not regard Prospero as prognosticating in a
poetical form those vast triumphs of man's rational spirit which the
philosopher foresaw and prepared? For it is observable that, before
Prospero's coming to the island, the powers which cleave to his
thoughts and obey his "so potent art" were at perpetual war, the
better being in subjection to the worse, and all being turned from
their rightful ends into a mad, brawling dissonance: but he teaches
them to know their places; and, "weak masters though they be," without
such guidance, yet under his ordering they become powerful, and work
together as if endowed with a rational soul and a social purpose;
their insane gabble turning to speech, their savage howling to music;
so that

                            "the isle is full of noises,
    Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not."

Wherein is boldly figured the educating of Nature up, so to speak,
into intelligent ministries, she lending man hands because he lends
her eyes, and weaving her forces into vital union with him.

                         "You by whose aid--
    Weak masters though ye be--I have bedimm'd
    The noontide Sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds,
    And 'twixt the green sea and the azure vault
    Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder
    Have I given fire, and rifted Jove's stout oak
    With his own bolt: the strong-bas'd promontory
    Have I made shake; and by the spurs pluck'd up
    The pine and cedar."

In this bold imagery we seem to have a kind of prophecy of what human
science and skill have since achieved in taming the great forces of
Nature to man's hand, and harnessing them up into his service. Is not
all this as if the infernal powers should be appeased and soothed by
the melody and sweetness of the Orphean harp and voice? And do we not
see how the very elements themselves grow happy and merry in serving
man, when he by his wisdom and eloquence has once charmed them into
order and concert? Man has but to learn Nature's language and obey her
voice, and she clothes him with plenipotence. The mad warring of her
forces turns to rational speech and music when he holds the torch of
reason before them and makes it shine full in their faces. Let him but
set himself steadfastly to understand and observe her laws, and her
mighty energies hasten to wait upon him, as docile to his hand as the
lion to the eye and voice of Lady Una. So that we may not unfairly
apply to Prospero what Bacon so finely interprets of Orpheus, as "a
wonderful and divine person skilled in all kinds of harmony, subduing
and drawing all things after him by sweet and gentle methods and

All this, to be sure, is making the work rather an allegory than a
drama, and therein of course misrepresents its quality. For the
connecting links in this strange intercourse of man and Nature are
"beings individually determined," and affect us as persons, not as

       *       *       *       *       *

Ariel and Caliban are equally preternatural, though in opposite
directions. Ariel's very being is spun out of melody and fragrance; at
least, if a feeling soul and an intelligent will are the warp, these
are the woof of his exquisite texture. He has just enough of
human-heartedness to know how he would feel were he human, and a
proportionable sense of gratitude, which has been aptly called "the
memory of the heart": hence he needs to be often reminded of his
obligations, but is religiously true to them so long as he remembers
them. His delicacy of nature is nowhere more apparent than in his
sympathy with right and good: the instant he comes within their touch
he follows them without reserve; and he will suffer any torments
rather than "act the earthy and abhorr'd commands" that go against his
moral grain. And what a merry little personage he is withal! as if his
being were cast together in an impulse of play, and he would spend his
whole life in one perpetual frolic.

But the main ingredients of Ariel's zephyr-like constitution are shown
in his leading inclinations; as he naturally has most affinity for
that of which he is framed. Moral ties are irksome to him; they are
not his proper element: when he enters their sphere, he feels them to
be holy indeed; but, were he free, he would keep out of their reach,
and follow the circling seasons in their course, and always dwell
merrily in the fringes of Summer. Prospero quietly intimates his
instinctive dread of the cold by threatening to make him "howl away
twelve Winters." And the chief joy of his promised release from
service is, that he will then be free to live all the year through
under the soft rule of Summer, with its flowers and fragrances and
melodies. He is indeed an arrant little epicure of perfume and sweet
sounds, and gives forth several songs which "seem to sound in the air,
and as if the person playing them were invisible."

A part of Ariel's unique texture is well shown in the scene where he
relents at the sufferings of the shipwrecked lords, and remonstrates
with his master in their behalf:

    "_Ariel_.                           The King,
    His brother, and yours, abide all three distracted;
    And the remainder mourning over them,
    Brimful of sorrow and dismay; but chiefly
    He that you term'd _the good old lord, Gonzalo_:
    His tears run down his beard, like Winter's drops
    From eaves of reeds: your charm so strongly works 'em.
    That, if you now beheld them, your affections
    Would become tender.

    _Pros_.          Dost thou think so, spirit?

    _Ariel_. Mine would, sir, were I human."

Another mark-worthy feature of Ariel is, that his power does not stop
with the physical forces of Nature, but reaches also to the hearts and
consciences of men; so that by his music he can kindle or assuage the
deepest griefs of the one, and strike the keenest pangs of remorse
into the other. This comes out in the different effects of his art
upon Ferdinand and the guilty King, as related by the men themselves:

    "Where should this music be? i' the air or th' earth?
    It sounds no more:--and, sure, it waits upon
    Some god o' the island. Sitting on a bank,
    Weeping again the King my father's wreck,
    This music crept by me upon the waters,
    Allaying both their fury and my passion
    With its sweet air: thence I have follow'd it,
    Or it hath drawn me rather:--but it is gone.
    No, it begins again."

Such is the effect on Ferdinand: now mark the contrast when we come to
the King:

                 "O, it is monstrous, monstrous!
    Methought the billows spoke, and told me of it;
    The winds did sing it to me; and the thunder,
    That deep and dreadful organ-pipe, pronounc'd
    The name of Prosper: it did bass my trespass.
    Therefore my son i' the ooze is bedded; and
    I'll seek him deeper than e'er plummet sounded,
    And with him there lie mudded."

In the planting of love, too, Ariel beats old god Cupid all to
nothing. For it is through some witchcraft of his that Ferdinand and
Miranda are surprised into a mutual rapture; so that Prospero notes at
once how "at the first sight they have chang'd eyes," and "are both in
either's power." All which is indeed just what Prospero wanted; yet he
is himself fairly startled at the result: that fine issue of nature
outruns his thought; and the wise old gentleman takes care forthwith
lest it work too fast:

                   "This swift business
    I must uneasy make, lest too light winning
    Make the prize light."

I must note one more trait in Ariel. It is his fondness of mischievous
sport, wherein he reminds us somewhat of Fairy Puck in _A
Midsummer-Night's Dream_. It is shown in the evident gust with which
he relates the trick he has played on Caliban and his confederates,
when they were proceeding to execute their conspiracy against the
hero's life:

    "As I told you, sir, they were red-hot with drinking;
    So full of valour, that they smote the air
    For breathing in their faces; beat the ground
    For kissing of their feet; yet always bending
    Towards their project. Then I beat my tabor;
    At which, like unback'd colts, they prick'd their ears,
    Advanc'd their eyelids, lifted up their noses
    As they smelt music: so I charm'd their ears,
    That, calf-like, they my lowing follow'd through
    Tooth'd briers, sharp furzes, pricking goss, and thorns,
    Which enter'd their frail shins: at last I left them
    I' the filthy-mantled pool beyond your cell,
    There dancing up to th' chins."

Of Ariel's powers and functions as Prospero's prime minister, no
logical forms, nothing but the Poet's art, can give any sort of an
idea. No painter, I am sure, can do any thing with him; still less can
any sculptor. Gifted with the ubiquity and multiformity of the
substance from which he is named, before we can catch and define him
in any one shape, he has passed into another. All we can say of him
on this score is, that through his agency Prospero's thoughts
forthwith become things, his volitions events. And yet, strangely and
diversely as Ariel's nature is elemented and composed, with touches
akin to several orders of being, there is such a self-consistency
about him, he is so cut out in individual distinctness, and so
rounded-in with personal attributes, that contemplation freely and
easily rests upon him as an object. In other words, he is by no means
an abstract idea personified, or any sort of intellectual diagram, but
a veritable _person_; and we have a personal feeling towards the dear
creature, and would fain knit him into the living circle of our human
affections, making him a familiar playfellow of the heart, to be
cherished with "praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles."

       *       *       *       *       *

If Caliban strikes us as a more wonderful creation than Ariel, it is
probably because he has more in common with us, without being in any
proper sense human. Perhaps I cannot hit him off better than by saying
that he represents, both in body and soul, a sort of intermediate
nature between man and brute, with an infusion of something that
belongs to neither; as though one of the transformations imagined by
the Developmentists had stuck midway in its course, where a breath or
vapour of essential Evil had knit itself vitally into his texture.
Caliban has all the attributes of humanity from the moral downwards,
so that his nature touches and borders upon the sphere of moral life;
still the result but approves his exclusion from such life, in that it
brings him to recognize moral law only as making for self; that is, he
has intelligence of seeming wrong in what is done to him, but no
conscience of what is wrong in his own doings. It is a most singular
and significant stroke in the delineation, that sleep seems to loosen
the fetters of his soul, and lift him above himself: then indeed, and
then only, "the muddy vesture of decay" doth not so "grossly close him
in," but that some proper spirit-notices come upon him; as if in his
passive state the voice of truth and good vibrated down _to_ his
soul, and stopped there, being unable to kindle any answering tones
within: so that in his waking hours they are to him but as the memory
of a dream.

    "Sometime a thousand twangling instruments
    Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
    That, if I then had wak'd after long sleep,
    Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
    The clouds methought would open, and show riches
    Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak'd,
    I cried to dream again."

Thus Caliban is part man, part demon, part brute, each being drawn
somewhat out of itself by combination with the others, and the union
of all preventing him from being either; for which cause language has
no generic term that fits him. Yet this strange, uncouth, but
life-like confusion of natures Prospero has educated into a sort of
poet. This, however, has nowise tamed, it has rather increased, his
innate malignity and crookedness of disposition; education having of
course but _educed_ what was in him. Even his poetry is, for the most
part, made up of the fascinations of ugliness; a sort of inverted
beauty; the poetry of dissonance and deformity; the proper music of
his nature being to curse, its proper laughter to snarl. Schlegel
finely compares his mind to a dark cave, into which the light of
knowledge falling neither illuminates nor warms it, but only serves to
put in motion the poisonous vapours generated there.

Now it is by exhausting the resources of instruction on such a being
that his innate and essential deficiency is best shown. For, had he
the germs of a human soul, they must needs have been drawn forth by
the process that has made him a poet. The magical presence of spirits
has indeed cast into the caverns of his brain some faint reflection of
a better world, but without calling up any answering emotions or
aspirations; he having no susceptibilities to catch and take in the
epiphanies that throng his whereabout. So that, paradoxical as it may
seem, he exemplifies the two-fold triumph of art over nature, and of
nature over art; that is, art has triumphed in making him a poet, and
nature, in still keeping him from being a man; though he has enough of
the human in him to evince in a high degree the swelling of
intellectual pride.

But what is most remarkable of all in Caliban is the perfect
originality of his thoughts and manners. Though framed of grossness
and malignity, there is nothing vulgar or commonplace about him. His
whole character indeed is developed from within, not impressed from
without; the effect of Prospero's instructions having been to make him
all the more himself; and there being perhaps no soil in his nature
for conventional vices and knaveries to take root and grow in. Hence
the almost classic dignity of his behaviour compared with that of the
drunken sailors, who are little else than a sort of low, vulgar
conventionalities organized, and as such not less true to the life
than consistent with themselves. In his simplicity, indeed, he at
first mistakes them for gods who "bear celestial liquor," and they wax
merry enough at the "credulous monster"; but, in his vigour of thought
and purpose, he soon conceives such a scorn of their childish interest
in whatever trinkets and gewgaws meet their eye, as fairly drives off
his fit of intoxication; and the savage of the woods, half-human
though he be, seems nobility itself beside the savages of the city.

In fine, if Caliban is, so to speak, the organized sediment and dregs
of the place, from which all the finer spirit has been drawn off to
fashion the delicate Ariel, yet having some parts of a human mind
strangely interwoven with his structure; every thing about him, all
that he does and says, is suitable and correspondent to such a
constitution of nature. So that all the elements and attributes of his
being stand and work together in living coherence, thus rendering him
no less substantive and personal to our apprehension than he is
original and peculiar in himself.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such are the objects and influences amidst which the clear, placid
nature of Miranda has been developed. Of the world whence her father
was driven, its crimes and follies and sufferings, she knows nothing;
he having studiously kept all such notices from her, to the end,
apparently, that nothing might thwart or hinder the plastic efficacies
that surrounded her. And here all the simple and original elements of
her being, love, light, grace, honour, innocence, all pure feelings
and tender sympathies, whatever is sweet and gentle and holy in
womanhood, seem to have sprung up in her nature as from celestial
seed: "the contagion of the world's slow stain" has not visited her;
the chills and cankers of artificial wisdom have not touched nor come
nigh her: if there were any fog or breath of evil in the place that
might else dim or spot her soul, it has been sponged up by Caliban, as
being more congenial with his nature; while he is simply "a villain
she does not love to look on." Nor is this all. The aerial music
beneath which her soul has expanded with answering sweetness seems to
rest visibly upon her, linking her as it were with some superior order
of beings: the spirit and genius of the place, its magic and mystery,
have breathed their power into her face; and out of them she has
unconsciously woven herself a robe of supernatural grace, in which
even her mortal nature seems half hidden, so that we are in doubt
whether she belongs more to Heaven or to Earth. Thus both her native
virtues and the efficacies of the place seem to have crept and stolen
into her unperceived, by mutual attraction and assimilation twining
together in one growth, and each diffusing its life and beauty over
and through the others. It would seem indeed as if Wordsworth must
have had Miranda in his eye, (or was he but working in the spirit of
that Nature which she so rarely exemplifies?) when he wrote,

    "The floating clouds their state shall lend
    To her; for her the willow bend:
       Nor shall she fail to see
    Even in the motions of the storm
    Grace that shall mould the maiden's form
      By silent sympathy.

    The stars of midnight shall be dear
    To her; and she shall lean her ear
      In many a secret place
    Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
    And beauty born of murmuring sound
      Shall pass into her face."

Yet, for all this, Miranda not a whit the less touches us as a
creature of flesh and blood,

    "A being breathing thoughtful breath,
    A traveller between life and death."

Nay, rather she seems all the more so, inasmuch as the character thus
coheres with the circumstances, the virtues and poetries of the place
being expressed in her visibly; and she would be far less real to our
feelings, were not the wonders of her whereabout thus vitally
incorporated with her innate and original attributes.

It is observable that Miranda does not perceive the working of her
father's art upon herself. For, when he casts a spell of drowsiness
over her, so that she cannot choose but sleep, on being awaked by him
she tells him, "The strangeness of your story put heaviness in me." So
his art conceals itself in its very potency of operation; and seems
the more like nature for being preternatural. It is another noteworthy
point, that while he is telling his strange tale he thinks she is not
listening attentively to his speech, partly because he is not
attending to it himself, his thoughts being busy with the approaching
crisis of his fortune, and drawn away to the other matters which he
has in hand, and partly because in her trance of wonder at what he is
relating she seems abstracted and self-withdrawn from the matter of
his discourse. His own absent-mindedness on this occasion is aptly and
artfully indicated by his broken and disjointed manner of speech. That
his tongue and thought are not beating time together appears in that
the latter end of his sentences keeps forgetting the beginning.

These are among the fine strokes and delicate touches whereby the Poet
makes, or rather permits, the character of his persons to transpire so
quietly as not to excite special notice at the time. That Miranda
should be so rapt at her father's tale as to seem absent and
wandering, is a charming instance in point. For indeed to her the
supernatural stands in the place of Nature; and nothing is so strange
and wonderful as what actually passes in the life and heart of man:
miracles have been her daily food, her father being the greatest
miracle of all; which must needs make the common events and passions
and perturbations of the world seem to her miraculous. All which is
wrought out by the Poet with so much art and so little appearance of
art, that Franz Horn is the only critic, so far as I know, that seems
to have thought of it.

I must not dismiss Miranda without remarking the sweet union of
womanly dignity and childlike simplicity in her character, she not
knowing or not caring to disguise the innocent movements of her heart.
This, too, is a natural result of her situation. The instance to which
I refer is when Ferdinand, his manhood all alive with her, lets her
hear his soul speak; and she, weeping at what she is glad of,

            "Hence, bashful cunning!
    And prompt me, plain and holy innocence!--
    I am your wife, if you will marry me;
    If not, I'll die your maid: to be your fellow
    You may deny me; but I'll be your servant,
    Whether you will or no."

Equally fine is the circumstance that her father opens to her the
story of his life, and lets her into the secret of her noble birth and
ancestry, at a time when she is suffering with those that she saw
suffer, and when her eyes are jewelled with "drops that sacred pity
hath engender'd"; as if on purpose that the ideas of rank and dignity
may sweetly blend and coalesce in her mind with the sympathies of the

       *       *       *       *       *

In Ferdinand is portrayed one of those happy natures, such as we
sometimes meet with, who are built up all the more strongly in truth
and good by contact with the vices and meannesses of the world.
Courage, piety, and honour are his leading characteristics; and these
virtues are so much at home in his breast, and have such an easy,
natural ascendant in his conduct, that he thinks not of them, and
cares only to prevent or remove the stains which affront his inward
eye. The meeting of him and Miranda is replete with magic indeed,--a
magic higher and more potent even than Prospero's; the riches that
nestle in their bosoms at once leaping forth and running together in a
stream of poetry which no words of mine can describe. So much of
beauty in so few words, and those few so plain and simple,--"O,
wondrous skill and sweet wit of the man!"

Shakespeare's genius is specially venerable in that he makes piety and
honour go hand in hand with love. It seems to have been a fixed
principle with him, if indeed it was not rather a genial instinct,
that where the heart is rightly engaged, there the highest and
tenderest thoughts of religion do naturally cluster and converge. For
indeed the love that looks to marriage is itself a religion: its first
impulse is to invest its object with poetry and consecration: to be
"true to the kindred points of Heaven and home," is both its
inspiration and its law. It thus involves a sort of regeneration of
the inner man, and carries in its hand the baptismal fire of a nobler
and diviner life.

And so it is in this delectable instance. In Ferdinand, as in all
generous natures, "love betters what is best." Its first springing in
his breast stirs his heavenward thoughts and aspirations into
exercise: the moment that kindles his heart towards Miranda also
kindles his soul in piety to God; and he knows not how to commune in
prayer with the Source of good, unless he may couple her welfare with
his own, and breathe her name in his holiest service. Thus his love
and piety are kindred and coefficient forces, as indeed all true love
and piety essentially are. However thoughtless we may be of the
Divine help and guardianship for ourselves, we can hardly choose but
crave them for those to whom our souls are knit in the sacred dearness
of household ties. And so with this noble pair, the same power that
binds them to each other in the sacraments of love also binds them
both in devout allegiance to the Author of their being; whose presence
is most felt by them in the sacredness of their mutual truth.

So much for the illustration here so sweetly given of the old
principle, that whatsoever lies nearest a Christian's heart,
whatsoever he tenders most dearly on Earth, whatsoever draws in most
intimately with the currents of his soul, that is the spontaneous
subject-matter of his prayers; our purest loves thus sending us to
God, as if from an instinctive feeling that unless God be sanctified
in our hearts, our hearts cannot retain their proper life.

In regard to what springs up between Ferdinand and Miranda, it is to
be noted that Prospero does little but furnish occasions. He indeed
thanks the quaint and delicate Ariel for the kindling touch that so
quickly puts them "both in either's power"; for it seems to him the
result of a finer inspiration than his art can reach; and so he
naturally attributes it to the magic of his airy minister; whereas in
truth it springs from a source far deeper than the magic of either,--a
pre-established harmony which the mutual recognition now first
quickens into audible music. After seeing himself thus outdone by the
Nature he has been wont to control, and having witnessed such a "fair
encounter of two most rare affections," no wonder that Prospero longs
to be a man again, like other men, and gladly returns to

    "The homely sympathy that heeds
    The common life; our nature breeds;
    A wisdom fitted to the needs
        Of hearts at leisure."

The strength and delicacy of imagination displayed in the characters
already noticed are hardly more admirable than the truth and subtilty
of observation shown in others.

In the delineation of Antonio and Sebastian, short as it is, we have a
volume of wise science, which Coleridge remarks upon thus: "In the
first scene of the second Act, Shakespeare has shown the tendency in
bad men to indulge in scorn and contemptuous expressions, as a mode of
getting rid of their own uneasy feelings of inferiority to the good,
and also of rendering the transition of others to wickedness easy, by
making the good ridiculous. Shakespeare never puts habitual scorn into
the mouths of other than bad men, as here in the instance of Antonio
and Sebastian."

Nor is there less of judgment in the means used by Prospero for
bringing them to a better mind; provoking in them the purpose of
crime, and then taking away the performance; that so he may lead them
to a knowledge of themselves, and awe or shame down their evil by his
demonstrations of good. For such is the proper effect of bad designs
thus thwarted, showing the authors at once the wickedness of their
hearts and the weakness of their hands; whereas, if successful in
their schemes, pride of power would forestall and prevent the natural
shame and remorse of guilt. And we little know what evil it lieth and
lurketh in our hearts to will or to do, till occasion invites or
permits; and Prospero's art here stands in presenting the occasion
till the wicked purpose is formed, and then removing it as soon as the
hand is raised. In the case of Antonio and Sebastian, the workings of
magic are so mixed up with those of Nature, that we cannot distinguish
them; or rather Prospero here causes the supernatural to pursue the
methods of Nature.

And the same deep skill is shown in the case of the good old Lord
Gonzalo, whose sense of his own infelicities seems lost in his care to
minister comfort and diversion to others. Thus his virtue
spontaneously opens the springs of wit and humour in him amid the
terrors of the storm and shipwreck; and he is merry while others are
suffering, and merry even from sympathy with them; and afterwards his
thoughtful spirit plays with Utopian fancies; and if "the latter end
of his Commonwealth forgets the beginning," it is all the same to him,
his purpose being only to beguile the anguish of supposed bereavement.
It has been well said that "Gonzalo is so occupied with duty, in which
alone he finds pleasure, that he scarce notices the gnat-stings of wit
with which his opponents pursue him; or, if he observes, firmly and
easily repels them."

The comic portions and characters of this play are in Shakespeare's
raciest vein; yet they are perfectly unique and singular withal, being
quite unlike any other of his preparations in that kind, as much so as
if they were the growth of a different planet.

The presence of Trinculo and Stephano in the play has sometimes been
regarded as a blemish. I cannot think it so. Their part is not only
good in itself as comedy, but is in admirable keeping with the rest.
Their follies give a zest and relish to the high poetries amidst which
they grow. Such things go to make up the mysterious whole of human
life; and they often help on our pleasure while seeming to hinder it:
we may think they were better left out, but, were they left out, we
should somehow feel the want of them. Besides, this part of the work,
if it does not directly yield a grateful fragrance, is vitally
connected with the parts that do. For there is perhaps no one of the
Poet's dramas of which it can be more justly affirmed that all the
parts draw together in organic unity, so that every thing helps every
other thing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such are the strangely-assorted characters that make up this charming
play. This harmonious working together of diverse and opposite
elements,--this smooth concurrence of heterogeneous materials in one
varied yet coherent impression,--by what subtile process this is
brought about, is perhaps too deep a problem for Criticism to solve.

I cannot leave the theme without remarking what an atmosphere of
wonder and mystery overhangs and pervades this singular structure; and
how the whole seems steeped in glories invisible to the natural eye,
yet made visible by the Poet's art: so that the effect is to lead the
thoughts insensibly upwards to other worlds and other forms of being.
It were difficult to name any thing else of human workmanship so
thoroughly transfigured with

                               "the gleam,
    The light that never was on sea or land,
    The consecration and the poet's dream."

The celestial and the earthly are here so commingled,--commingled, but
not confounded,--that we see not where the one begins or the other
ends: so that in the reading we seem transported to a region where we
are strangers, yet old acquaintances; where all things are at once new
and familiar; the unearthly visions of the spot hardly touching us
with surprise, because, though wonderful indeed, there is nothing
about them but what readily finds or creates some answering powers and
sympathies within us. In other words, they do not surprise us, because
they at once kindle us into fellowship with them. That our thoughts
and feelings are thus at home with such things, and take pleasure in
them,--is not this because of some innate aptitudes and affinities of
our nature for a supernatural and celestial life?

    "Point not these mysteries to an art
    Lodg'd above the starry pole?"


In Shakespeare's time there lived in London one Simon Forman, M.D., to
whom we are indebted for our earliest notice of THE WINTER'S TALE. He
was rather an odd genius, I should think; being an adept in occult
science and the arts of magic, and at the same time an ardent lover
of the stage; thus symbolizing at once with the most conservative and
the most radical tendencies of the age: for, strange as it may seem,
the Drama then led the van of progress; Shakespeare being even a more
audacious innovator in poetry and art than Bacon was in philosophy. Be
this as it may, Forman evidently took great delight in the theatre,
and he kept a diary of what he witnessed there. Not many years ago,
the manuscript of this diary was discovered by Mr. Collier in the
Ashmolean Museum, and a portion of its contents published. Forman was
at the Globe theatre on Wednesday, the 15th of May, 1611, and under
that date he records "how Leontes the King of Sicilia was overcome
with jealousy of his wife with the King of Bohemia, his friend that
came to see him, and how he contrived his death, and would have had
his cup-bearer poison him, who gave the King warning thereof, and fled
with him to Bohemia. Also, how he sent to the oracle of Apollo, and
the answer of Apollo was that she was guiltless; and except the child
was found again that was lost, the King should die without issue: for
the child was carried into Bohemia, and there laid in a forest, and
brought up by a shepherd; and the King of Bohemia's son married that
wench, and they fled into Sicilia, and by the jewels found about her
she was known to be Leontes' daughter, and was then sixteen years

This clearly identifies the performance seen by Forman as _The
Winter's Tale_ of Shakespeare. It is altogether probable that the play
was then new, and was in its first course of exhibition. For Sir
George Buck became Master of the Revels in October, 1610, and was
succeeded in that office by Sir Henry Herbert in 1623, who passed _The
Winter's Tale_ without examination, on the ground of its being an "old
play formerly allowed by Sir George Buck." As the play had to be
licensed before it could be performed, this ascertains its first
performance to have been after October, 1610. So that _The Winter's
Tale_ was most likely presented for official sanction some time
between that date and the 15th of May following, when Forman saw it
at the Globe. To all this must be added the internal characteristics
of the play itself, which is in the Poet's ripest and most idiomatic
style of art. It is not often that the date of his workmanship can be
so closely remarked. _The Winter's Tale_ was never printed, so far as
we know, till it appeared in the folio of 1623.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the plot and incidents of this play, Shakespeare followed very
closely the _Pandosto_, or, as it was sometimes called, the _Dorastus
and Fawnia_, of Robert Greene. This novel appears to have been one of
the most popular books of the time; there being no less than fourteen
old editions of it known, the first of which was in 1588. Greene was a
scholar, a man of some genius, Master of Arts in both the
Universities, and had indeed much more of learning than of judgment in
the use and application of it. For it seems as if he could not write
at all without overloading his pages with classical allusion, nor hit
upon any thought so trite and commonplace, but that he must run it
through a series of aphoristic sentences twisted out of Greek and
Roman lore. In this respect, he is apt to remind one of his
fellow-dramatist, Thomas Lodge, whose _Rosalynd_ contributed so much
to the Poet's _As You Like It_: for it was then much the fashion for
authors to prank up their matter with superfluous erudition. Like all
the surviving works of Greene, _Pandosto_ is greatly charged with
learned impertinence, and in the annoyance thence resulting one is apt
to overlook the real merit of the performance. It is better than
Lodge's _Rosalynd_ for this reason, if for no other, that it is
shorter. I must condense so much of the tale as may suffice to
indicate the nature and extent of the Poet's obligations.

Pandosto, King of Bohemia, and Egistus, King of Sicilia, had passed
their boyhood together, and grown into a mutual friendship which kept
its hold on them long after coming to their crowns. Pandosto had for
his wife a very wise and beautiful lady named Bellaria, who had made
him the father of a prince called Garinter in whom both himself and
his people greatly delighted. After many years of separation, Egistus
"sailed into Bohemia to visit his old friend," who, hearing of his
arrival, went with a great train of lords and ladies to meet him,
received him very lovingly, and wished his wife to welcome him. No
pains were spared to honour the royal visitor and make him feel at
home. Bellaria, "to show how much she liked him whom her husband
loved," treated Egistus with great confidence, often going herself to
his chamber to see that nothing should be amiss. This honest
familiarity increased from day to day, insomuch that when Pandosto was
busy with State affairs they would walk into the garden and pass their
time in pleasant devices. After a while, Pandosto began to have
doubtful thoughts, considering the beauty of his wife, and the
comeliness and bravery of his friend. This humour growing upon him, he
went to watching them, and fishing for proofs to confirm his
suspicions. At length his mind got so charged with jealousy that he
felt quite certain of the thing he feared, and studied for nothing so
much as revenge. He resolved to work by poison, and called upon his
cup-bearer, Franion, to execute the scheme, and pressed him to it with
the alternative of preferment or death. The minister, after trying his
best to dissuade the King, at last gave his consent, in order to gain
time, then went to Egistus, and told him the secret, and fled with him
to Sicilia. Full of rage at being thus baffled, Pandosto then let
loose his fury against the Queen, ordering her forthwith into close
prison. He then had his suspicion proclaimed as a certain truth; and
though her character went far to discredit the charge, yet the sudden
flight of Egistus caused it to be believed. And he would fain have
made war on Egistus, but that the latter not only was of great
strength and prowess, but had many kings in his alliance, his wife
being daughter to the Emperor of Russia.

Meanwhile the Queen in prison gave birth to a daughter, which put the
King in a greater rage than ever, insomuch that he ordered both the
mother and the babe to be burnt alive. Against this cruel sentence his
nobles stoutly remonstrated; but the most they could gain was, that he
should spare the child's life; his next device being to put her in a
boat and leave her to the mercy of the winds and waves. At the hearing
of this hard doom, the Queen fell down in a trance, so that all
thought her dead; and on coming to herself she at last gave up the
babe, saying, "Let me kiss thy lips, sweet infant, and wet thy tender
cheeks with my tears, and put this chain about thy little neck, that
if fortune save thee, it may help to succour thee."

When the day of trial came, the Queen, standing as a prisoner at the
bar, and seeing that nothing but her death would satisfy the King,
"waxed bold, and desired that she might have law and justice," and
that her accusers might be brought before her face. The King replied
that their word was enough, the flight of Egistus confirming what they
had said; and that it was her part "to be impudent in forswearing the
fact, since she had passed all shame in committing the fault." At the
same time he threatened her with a cruel death; which she met by
telling him that her life had ever been such as no spot of suspicion
could stain, and that, if she had borne a friendly countenance towards
Egistus, it was only as he was her husband's friend: "therefore, if
she were condemned without further proof, it was rigour, and not law."
The judges said she spoke reason, and begged that her accusers might
be openly examined and sworn; whereupon the King went to browbeating
them, the very demon of tyranny having got possession of him. The
Queen then told him that, if his fury might stand for law, it was of
no use for the jury to give their verdict; and therefore she begged
him to send six of his noblemen to "the Isle of Delphos," to inquire
of Apollo whether she were guilty or not. This request he could not
refuse. The messengers using all haste soon came back with the sealed
answer of Apollo. The court being now assembled again, the scroll was
opened and read in their presence, its contents being much the same as
in the play. As soon as Apollo's verdict was known, the people raised
a great shout, rejoicing and clapping their hands, that the Queen was
clear. The repentant King then besought his nobles to intercede with
the Queen in his behalf, at the same time confessing how he had tried
to compass the death of Egistus; and while he was doing this word came
that the young Prince was suddenly dead; at the hearing of which the
Queen fell down, and could never be revived: the King also sank down
senseless, and lay in that state three days; and there was nothing but
mourning in Bohemia. Upon reviving, the King was so frenzied with
grief and remorse that he would have killed himself, but that his
peers being present stayed his hand, entreating him to spare his life
for the people's sake. He had the Queen and Prince very richly and
piously entombed; and from that time repaired daily to the tomb to
bewail his loss.

Up to this point, the play, so far as the mere incidents are
concerned, is little else than a dramatized version of the tale:
henceforth the former diverges more widely from the latter, though
many of the incidents are still the same in both.

The boat with its innocent freight was carried by wind and tide to the
coast of Sicilia, where it stuck in the sand. A poor shepherd, missing
one of his sheep, wandered to the seaside in search of it. As he was
about to return he heard a cry, and, there being no house near, he
thought it might be the bleating of his sheep; and going to look more
narrowly he spied a little boat from which the cry seemed to come.
Wondering what it might be, he waded to the boat, and found the babe
lying there ready to die of cold and hunger, wrapped in an embroidered
mantle, and having a chain about the neck. Touched with pity he took
the infant in his arms, and as he was fixing the mantle there fell at
his feet a very fair rich purse containing a great sum of gold. To
secure the benefit of this wealth, he carried the babe home as
secretly as he could, and gave her in charge to his wife, telling her
the process of the discovery. The shepherd's name was Porrus, his
wife's Mopsa; the precious foundling they named Fawnia. Being
themselves childless, they brought her up tenderly as their own
daughter. With the gold Porrus bought a farm and a flock of sheep,
which Fawnia at the age of ten was set to watch; and, as she was
likely to be his only heir, many rich farmers' sons came to his house
as wooers; for she was of singular beauty and excellent wit, and at
sixteen grew to such perfection of mind and person that her praises
were spoken at the Sicilian Court. Nevertheless she still went forth
every day with the sheep, veiling her face from the Sun with a garland
of flowers; which attire became her so well, that she seemed the
goddess Flora herself for beauty.

King Egistus had an only son, named Dorastus, a Prince so adorned with
gifts and virtues, that both King and people had great joy of him. He
being now of ripe age, his father sought to match him with some
princess; but the youth was little minded to wed, as he had more
pleasure in the exercises of the field and the chase. One day, as he
was pursuing this sport, he chanced to fall in with the lovely
shepherdess, and while he was rapt in wonder at the vision one of his
pages told him she was Fawnia, whose beauty was so much talked of at
the Court.

The story then goes on to relate the matter of their courtship; how
the Prince resolved to forsake his home and inheritance, and become a
shepherd, for her sake, as she could not think of matching with one
above her degree; how, forecasting the opposition and dreading the
anger of his father, he planned for escaping into Italy, in which
enterprise he was assisted by an old servant of his named Capnio, who
managed the affair so shrewdly, that the Prince made good his escape,
taking the old shepherd along with him; how, after they got to sea,
the ship was seized by a tempest and carried away to Bohemia; and how
at length the several parties met together at the Court of Pandosto,
which drew on a disclosure of the facts, and a happy marriage of the
fugitive lovers.

I must add one more item from the novel, as it aptly shows what
advantage is sometimes to be gained by tracing the Poet in his
reading. In the play, the Shepherd on finding the babe is made to
exclaim, "What have we here? Mercy on 's, a bairn; a very pretty
bairn! a boy, or a child, I wonder?" For some hundred years, editorial
ingenuity has been strained to the utmost to explain why _child_
should be thus used in opposition to _boy_; and nothing would do but
to surmise an obsolete custom of speech which made _child_ signify
_girl_. The simple explanation is, that _boy_ is a misprint for _god_.
For this felicitous restoration we are indebted to Mr. R.G. White, of
New York, who was guided to it by the corresponding passage of the
novel: "The shepherd, who before had never seen so fair a babe nor so
rich jewels, thought assuredly that it was _some little god_, and
began with great devotion to knock on his breast. The babe, who
writhed with the head to seek for the pap, began again to cry, whereby
the poor man knew _it was a child_." That we are not gods, is indeed
evident enough when we cry. Of course the man's devotion turned all to
pity as soon as he caught that little but most unequivocal note of

       *       *       *       *       *

From the foregoing sketch, it would seem that the Poet must have
written with the novel before him, and not merely from general
recollection. Here, again, as in case of _As You Like It_, to
appreciate his judgment and taste, one needs to compare his
workmanship in detail with the original, and to note what he left
unused. The free sailing between Sicily and Bohemia he retained,
inverting, however, the local order of the persons and incidents, so
that Polixenes and Florizel are Bohemian Princes, whereas their
prototypes, Egistus and his son, are Sicilians. The reason of this
inversion does not appear. Of course, the Poet could not have done it
with any view to disguise his obligations; as his purpose evidently
was, to make the popular interest of the tale tributary to his own
success and profit. The most original of men, he was also the most
free from pride and conceit of originality. In this instance, too, as
in others, the instinctive rectitude of his genius is manifest in
that, the subject once chosen, and the work begun, he thenceforth lost
himself in the inspiration of his theme; all thoughts of popularity
and pay being swallowed up in the supreme regards of Nature and Truth.
For so, in his case, however prudence might dictate the plan, poetry
was sure to have command of the execution. If he was but human in
electing what to do, he became divine as soon as he went to doing it.
And it is further considerable that, with all his borrowings in this
play, the Poet nowhere drew more richly or more directly from his own
spring. The whole life of the work is in what he gave, not in what he
took; the mechanism of the story being used but as a skeleton to
underpin and support the eloquent contexture of life and beauty. In
the novel, Paulina and the Clown are wanting altogether; while Capnio
yields but a slight hint, if indeed it be so much, towards the part of
Antolycus. And, besides the great addition of life and matter in these
persons, the play has several other judicious departures from the

In Leontes all the revolting features of Pandosto, save his jealousy,
and the headstrong insolence and tyranny thence proceeding, are purged
away; so that while the latter has neither intellect nor generosity to
redeem his character, jealousy being the least of his faults, the
other has a liberal stock of both. And in Bellaria the Poet had little
more than a bare framework of incident wherein to set the noble, lofty
womanhood of Hermione,--a conception far, far above the reach of such
a mind as Greene's. In the matter of the painted statue, Shakespeare,
so far as is known, was altogether without a model, as he is without
an imitator; the boldness of the plan being indeed such as nothing but
entire success could justify, and wherein it is hardly possible to
conceive of anybody but Shakespeare's having succeeded. And yet here
it is that we are to look for the idea and formal cause of Hermione's
character, while her character, again, is the shaping and informing
power of the whole drama. For this idea is really the living centre
and organic law in and around which all the parts of the work are
vitally knit together. But, indeed, the Poet's own most original and
inimitable mode of conceiving and working out character is everywhere

       *       *       *       *       *

So much has been said about the anachronisms of this play, that it
seems needful to add a word concerning them. We have already seen that
the making of seaports and landing of ships in Bohemia were taken from
Greene. Mr. Verplanck conjectures that by Bohemia Shakespeare meant
simply the land of the Boii, an ancient people several tribes of whom
settled in the maritime parts of France: but I hardly think he would
have used the name with so much license at a time when the boundaries
of that country were so well fixed and so widely known. For the events
of the Reformation had made Bohemia an object of special interest to
the people of England, and there was much intercourse between the
English and Bohemian Courts. I have no notion indeed that this breach
of geography was a blunder: it was meant, no doubt, for the
convenience of thought; and such is its effect, until one goes to
viewing the parts of the work with reference to ends not contemplated
in the use here made of them. And the same is to be said touching
several points of chronological confusion; such as the making Whitsun
pastorals, Christian burial, Julio Romano, the Emperor of Russia, and
Puritans singing psalms to hornpipes, all contemporary with the Oracle
of Delphi; wherein actual things are but marshalled into an ideal
order, so as to render Memory subservient to Imagination. In these and
such points, it is enough that the materials be apt to combine among
themselves, and that they agree in working out the issue proposed, the
end thus regulating the use of the means. For a work of art, as such,
should be itself an object for the mind to rest upon, not a directory
to guide it to something else. So that here we may justly say "the
mind is its own place"; and, provided the work be true to this
intellectual whereabout, breaches of geography and history are of
little consequence. And Shakespeare knew full well, that in poetical
workmanship Memory stands absolved from the laws of time, and that the
living order of art has a perfect right to overrule and supersede the
chronological order of facts. In a word, history and chronology have
no rights which a poet, as such, is bound to respect. In his sphere,
things draw together and unite in virtue of other affinities than
those of succession and coexistence. A work of art must indeed aim to
be understood and felt; and so far as historical order is necessary to
this, so far it may justly claim a prerogative voice. But still such a
work must address itself to the mind and heart of man as man, and not
to particular men as scholars or critics. That Shakespeare did this
better than anybody else is the main secret of his supremacy. And it
implies a knowledge far deeper than books could give,--the knowledge
of a mind so intuitive of Nature, and so at home with her, as not to
need the food of learning, because it fed directly on that which is
the original food of learning itself.

Hence the conviction which I suppose all true Shakespearians to have,
that no amount of scholastic advantages and acquirements could really
do any thing towards explaining the mystery of his works. To do what
he did at all, he must have had a native genius so strong and clear
and penetrative, as to become more than learned without the aid of
learning. What could the hydrants of knowledge do for a mind which
thus dwelt at its fountain? Or why should he need to converse with
Wisdom's messengers, whose home was in the very court and pavilion of
Wisdom herself? Shakespeare is always weakest when a fit of learning
takes him. But then he is stronger without learning than any one else
is with it, and, perhaps, than he would have been with it himself; as
the crutches that help the lame are but an incumbrance to the whole.

Perhaps I ought to add, touching the forecited anachronisms, that the
Poet's sense of them may be fairly regarded as apparent in the naming
of the piece. He seems to have judged that, in a dramatic _tale_
intended for the delight of the fireside during a long, quiet Winter's
evening, such things would not be out of place, and would rather help
than mar the entertainment and life of the performance. Thus much
indeed is plainly hinted more than once in the course of the play; as
in Act v. scene 2, where, one of the Gentlemen being asked, "What
became of Antigonus, that carried hence the child?" he replies, "Like
an _old tale_ still, which will have matter to rehearse, though credit
be asleep, and not an ear open."

Much the same is to be said touching the remarkable freedom which the
Poet here takes with the conditions of time; there being an interval
of sixteen years between the third and fourth Acts, which is with
rather un-Shakespearian awkwardness bridged over by the Chorus
introducing Act iv. This freedom, however, was inseparable from the
governing idea of the piece, nor can it be faulted but upon such
grounds as would exclude all dramatized fiction from the stage. It is
to be noted also that while the play thus divides itself into two
parts, these are skilfully woven together by a happy stroke of art.
The last scene of the third Act not only finishes the action of the
first three, but by an apt and unforced transition begins that of the
other two; the two parts of the drama being smoothly drawn into the
unity of a continuous whole by the introduction of the old Shepherd
and his son at the close of the one and the opening of the other. This
natural arrangement saves the imagination from being disturbed by any
yawning or obtrusive gap of time, notwithstanding the lapse of so many
years in the interval. On this point, Gervinus remarks that, "while
Shakespeare has in other dramas permitted a twofold action united by a
common idea, he could not in this instance have entirely concentrated
the two fictions; he could but unite them indistinctly by a leading
idea in both; though the manner in which he has outwardly united them
is a delicate and spirited piece of art."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the delineation of Leontes there is an abruptness of change which
strikes us, at first view, as not a little a-clash with nature: we
cannot well see how one state of mind grows out of another: his
jealousy shoots in comet-like, as something unprovided for in the
general ordering of his character. Which causes this feature to appear
as if it were suggested rather by the exigencies of the stage than by
the natural workings of human passion. And herein the Poet seems at
variance with himself; his usual method being to unfold a passion in
its rise and progress, so that we go along with it freely from its
origin to its consummation. And, certainly, there is no accounting for
Leontes' conduct, but by supposing a predisposition to jealousy in
him, which, however, has been hitherto kept latent by his wife's
clear, firm, serene discreetness, but which breaks out into sudden and
frightful activity as soon as she, under a special pressure of
motives, slightly overacts the confidence of friendship. There needed
but a spark of occasion to set this secret magazine of passion all

The Pandosto of the novel has, properly speaking, no character at all:
he is but a human figure going through a set of motions; that is, the
person and the action are put together arbitrarily, and not under any
law of vital correspondence. Almost any other figure would fit the
motions just as well. It is true, Shakespeare had a course of action
marked out for him in the tale. But then he was bound by his own
principles of art to make the character such as would rationally
support the action, and cohere with it. For such is the necessary law
of moral development and transpiration. Nor is it by any means safe to
affirm that, he has not done this. For it is to be noted that
Polixenes has made a pretty long visit, having passed, it seems, no
less than nine changes of the Moon at the home of his royal friend.
And he might well have found it not always easy to avoid preferring
the Queen's society to the King's; for she is a most irresistible
creature, and her calm, ingenuous modesty, itself the most dignified
of all womanly graces, is what, more than any thing else, makes her
so. What secret thoughts may have been gathering to a head in the mind
of Leontes during that period, is left for us to divine from the
after-results. And I believe there is a jealousy of friendship, as
well as of love. Accordingly, though Leontes invokes the Queen's
influence to induce a lengthening of the visit, yet he seems a little
disturbed on seeing that her influence has proved stronger than his

    "_Leon_. Is he won yet?

    _Herm_. He'll stay, my lord.

    _Leon_.                      At my request he would not.
    Hermione, my dear'st, thou never spok'st
    To better purpose.

    _Herm_.       Never?

    _Leon_.              Never, but once.

    _Herm_. What! have I twice said well? when was't before?
    I pr'ythee tell me.

    _Leon_.        Why, that was when
    Three crabbed months had sour'd themselves to death,
    Ere I could make thee open thy white hand,
    And clap thyself my love: then didst thou utter,
    _I'm yours forever_."

There is, I think, a relish of suppressed bitterness in this last
speech, as if her long reluctance had planted in him a germ of doubt
whether, after all, her heart was really in her words of consent. For
the Queen is a much deeper character than her husband. It is true,
these notices, and various others, drop along so quiet and
unpronounced, as hardly to arrest the reader's attention. Shakespeare,
above all other men, delights in just such subtile insinuations of
purpose; they belong indeed to his usual method of preparing for a
given issue, yet doing it so slyly as not to preclude surprise when
the issue comes.

So that in his seeming abruptness Leontes, after all, does but
exemplify the strange transformations which sometimes occur in men
upon sudden and unforeseen emergencies. And it is observable that the
very slightness of the Queen's indiscretion, the fact that she goes
but a little, a very little too far, only works against her, causing
the King to suspect her of great effort and care to avoid suspicion.
And on the same principle, because he has never suspected her before,
therefore he suspects her all the more vehemently now: that his
confidence has hitherto stood unshaken, he attributes to extreme
artfulness on her part; for even so, to an ill-disposed mind perfect
innocence is apt to give an impression of consummate art. A passion
thus groundless and self-generated might well be full-grown as soon as
born. The more greedy and craving, too, that it has nothing real to
eat; it therefore proceeds at once to "make the meat it feeds on,"
causing him to magnify whatever he sees, and to imagine many things
that are not. That jealousy, however, is not the habit of his mind,
appears in that it finds him unprepared, and takes him by surprise;
insomuch that he forthwith loses all self-control, and runs right
athwart the rules of common decency and decorum, so that he becomes an
object at once of pity, of hatred, and scorn.

I think the Poet hardly anywhere shows a keener and juster insight of
nature than in the behaviour of this man while the distemper is upon
him. He is utterly reason-proof, and indeed acts as one literally
insane. For the poison infects not only his manners, but his very
modes of thought: in fact, all his rational and imaginative forces,
even his speech and language, seem to have caught the disease. And all
the loathsome filth which had settled to the bottom of his nature is
now shaken up to the surface, so that there appears to be nothing but
meanness and malignity and essential coarseness in him. Meanwhile an
instinctive shame of his passion and a dread of vulgar ridicule put
him upon talking in dark riddles and enigmas: hence the confused,
broken, and disjointed style, an odd jumble of dialogue and soliloquy,
in which he tries to jerk out his thoughts, as if he would have them
known, and yet not have them known. I believe men generally credit
themselves with peculiar penetration when they are in the act of being
deluded, whether by themselves or by others. Hence, again, the strange
and even ludicrous conceit in which Leontes wraps himself. "Not noted,
is 't," says he, referring to the Queen's imaginary crime,--

                         "not noted, is 't,
    But of the finer natures? by some severals
    Of head-piece extraordinary? lower messes,
    Perchance, are to this business purblind."

Thus he mistakes his madness for a higher wisdom, and clothes his
delusion with the spirit of revelation; so that Camillo rightly

                  "You may as well
    Forbid the sea for to obey the Moon
    As or by oath remove or counsel shake
    The fabric of his folly, whose foundation
    Is pil'd upon his faith."

I must note one more point of the delineation. When Leontes sends his
messengers to Delphos, he avows this as his reason for doing so:

    "Though I am satisfied, and need no more
    Than what I know, yet shall the Oracle
    Give rest to th' minds of others."

Which means simply that he is not going to let the truth of the charge
stand in issue, and that he holds the Divine authority to be a capital
thing, provided he may use it, and need not obey it; that is, if he
finds the god agreeing with him in opinion, then the god's judgment is
infallible; if not, then, in plain terms, he is no god. And they who
have closely observed the workings of jealousy, know right well that
in all this Shakespeare does not one whit "overstep the modesty of

The Poet manages with great art to bring Leontes off from the
disgraces of his passion, and repeal him home to our sympathies, which
had been freely drawn to him at first by his generosity of friendship.
To this end, jealousy is represented as his only fault, and this as a
sudden freak, which passes on directly into a frenzy, and whips him
quite out of himself, temporarily overriding his characteristic
qualities, but not combining with them; the more violent for being
unwonted, and the shorter-lived for being violent. In his firm,
compact energy of thought and speech, after his passion has cleared
itself, and in his perennial flow of repentance after his bereavement,
are displayed the real tone and texture of his character. We feel
that, if his sin has been great, his suffering is also great, and that
if he were a greater sinner, his suffering would be less. Quick,
impulsive, headstrong, he admits no bounds to anger or to penitence;
condemns himself as vehemently as he does others; and will spend his
life in atoning for a wrong he has done in a moment of passion: so
that we are the more willing to forgive him, inasmuch as he never
forgives himself.

       *       *       *       *       *

The old poets seem to have contemplated a much wider range of female
excellence than it has since grown customary to allow; taking for
granted that whatsoever we feel to be most divine in man might be
equally so in woman; and so pouring into their conceptions of
womanhood a certain _manliness_ of soul, wherein we recognize an union
of what is lovely with what is honourable,--such a combination as
would naturally inspire any right-minded man at the same time with
tenderness and with awe. Their ideas of delicacy did not preclude
strength: in the female character they were rather pleased than
otherwise to have the sweetness of the violet blended with the
grandeur of the oak; probably because they saw and felt that woman
might be big-hearted and brave-minded, and yet be none the less
womanly; and that love might build all the higher and firmer for
having its foundations laid deep in respect. This largeness of heart
and liberality of thought often comes out in their writings, and that
too whether in dealing with ideal or with actual women; which suggests
that in what they chose to create they were a good deal influenced by
what they were accustomed to see. For in a thing that works so much
from the sympathies, it could hardly be but that they reflected the
mind and spirit of their age. Of this the aptest illustration that my
reading has lighted upon is in Ben Jonson's lines on the Countess of
Bedford, describing "what kind of creature I could most desire to
honour, serve, and love":

    "I meant to make her fair, and free, and wise,
    Of greatest blood, and yet more good than great;
    I meant the day-star should not brighter rise,
    Nor lend like influence from his lucent seat:
    I meant she should be courteous, facile, sweet,
    Hating that solemn vice of greatness, pride;
    I meant each softest virtue there should meet,
    Fit in that softer bosom to reside:
    Only a learned and a manly soul
    I purpos'd her; that should with even powers
    The rock, the spindle, and the shears control
    Of Destiny, and spin her own free hours."

That Shakespeare fully shared in this magnanimous bravery of
sentiment, we need no further proof than is furnished in the heroine
of this play. We can scarce call Hermione sweet or gentle, though she
is both; she is a _noble_ woman,--one whom, even in her greatest
anguish, we hardly _dare_ to pity. The whole figure is replete with
classic grace, is shaped and finished in the highest style of classic
art. As she acts the part of a statue in the play, so she has a
statue-like calmness and firmness of soul. A certain austere sweetness
pervades her whole demeanour, and seems, as it were, the essential
form of her life. It is as if some masterpiece of ancient sculpture
had warmed and quickened into life from its fulness of beauty and

Appearing at first as the cheerful hostess of her husband's friend,
and stooping from her queenly elevation to the most winning
affabilities, her behaviour rises in dignity as her sorrow deepens.
With an equal sense of what is due to the King as her husband, and to
herself as a woman, a wife, and a mother, she knows how to reconcile
all these demands; she therefore resists without violence, and submits
without weakness. And what her wise spirit sees to be fit and
becoming, that she always has strength and steadiness of character to
do: hence, notwithstanding the insults and hardships wantonly put upon
her, she still preserves the smoothnesses of peace; is never betrayed
into the least sign of anger or impatience or resentment, but
maintains, throughout, perfect order and fitness and proportion in act
and speech: the charge, so dreadful in itself, and so cruel in its
circumstances, neither rouses her passions, as it would Paulina's, nor
stuns her sensibilities, as in the case of Desdemona; but, like the
sinking of lead in the ocean's bosom, it goes to the depths without
ruffling the surface of her soul. Her situation is indeed full of
pathos,--a pathos the more deeply-moving to others, that it stirs no
tumults in her; for her nature is manifestly fitted up and furnished
with all tender and gentle and womanly feelings; only she has the
force of mind to control them, and keep them all in the right place
and degree. "They are the patient sorrows that touch nearest." And so,
under the worst that can befall, she remains within the region of
herself, calm and serenely beautiful, stands firm, yet full of grace,
in the austere strengths of reason and conscious rectitude. And when,
at her terrible wrongs and sufferings, all hearts are shaken, all eyes
wet, but her own, the impression made by her stout-hearted fortitude
is of one whose pure, tranquil, deep-working breast is the home of
sorrows too big for any eye-messengers to report:

    "Calm pleasures there abide, majestic pains."

The delineation keeps the same tone and texture through all its parts,
but the sense of it is specially concentrated in what she says when
the King winds up his transport of insane fury by ordering her off to

                          "Good my lords,
    I am not prone to weeping, as our sex
    Commonly are; the want of which vain dew
    Perchance shall dry your pities; but I have
    That honourable grief lodg'd here which burns
    Worse than tears drown. 'Beseech you all, my lords,
    With thoughts so qualified as your charities
    Shall best instruct you, measure me;--and so,
    The King's will be perform'd!--'Beseech your Highness,
    My women may be with me; for, you see,
    My plight requires it.--Do not weep, good fools;
    There is no cause: when you shall know your mistress
    Has deserv'd prison, then abound in tears,
    As I come out.--.... Adieu, my lord:
    I never wish'd to see you sorry; now
    I trust, I shall."

And her character is answerably reflected in the minds of the King's
chief counsellors, whose very swords seem stirring with life in the
scabbards, and yearning to leap forth and vindicate the honour of
their glorious Queen, but that awe of the crown restrains them.

Her last speech at the trial is, I am apt to think, the solidest piece
of eloquence in the language. It is like a piece of the finest
statuary marble, chiselled into perfect form; so compact of grain,
that you cannot crush it into smaller space; while its effect is as
wholesome and bracing as the atmosphere of an iced mountain when
tempered by the Summer sun. The King threatens her with death, and she

                  "Sir, spare your threats:
    The bug which you would fright me with I seek.
    To me can life be no commodity:
    The crown and comfort of my life, your favour,
    I do give lost; for I do feel it gone,
    But know not how it went: my second joy,
    And first-fruits of my body, from his presence
    I'm barr'd, like one infectious: my third comfort,
    Starr'd most unluckily, is from my breast,
    The innocent milk in its most innocent mouth,
    Hal'd out to murder: myself on every post
    Proclaim'd a strumpet; with immodest hatred,
    The child-bed privilege denied, which 'longs
    To women of all fashion: lastly, hurried
    Here to this place, i' the open air, before
    I have got strength of limit. Now, my liege,
    Tell me what blessings I have here alive,
    That I should fear to die. Therefore, proceed.
    But yet hear this; mistake me not: My life,
    I prize it not a straw; but for mine honour,
    Which I would free, if I shall be condemn'd
    Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else
    But what your jealousies awake, I tell you
    'Tis rigour, and not law."

Noble simplicity of the olden time, when the best and purest of women,
with the bravest men in presence, thought no shame to hear themselves
speaking such plain honest words as these!

The Queen's long concealing of herself has been censured by some as
repugnant to nature. Possibly they may think it somewhat strained and
theatrical, but it is not so: the woman is but true to herself, in
this matter, and to the solid and self-poised repose in which her
being dwells. So that the thing does not seem repugnant to nature as
individualized by her reason and will; nor is her character herein
more above or out of nature than the proper ideal of art abundantly
warrants. For to her keen sensibility of honour the King's treatment
is literally an _infinite_ wrong; nor does its cruelty more wound her
affection, than its meanness alienates her respect; and one so strong
to bear injury might well be equally strong to remember it.
Therewithal she knows full well that, in so delicate an instrument as
married life, if one string be out of tune the whole is ajar, and will
yield no music: for her, therefore, all things must be right, else
none are so. And she is both too clear of mind and too upright of
heart to put herself where she cannot be precisely what the laws of
propriety and decorum require her to seem. Accordingly, when she does
forgive, the forgiveness is simply _perfect_; the breach that has
been so long a-healing is at length _completely_ healed; for to be
whole and entire in whatever she does, is both an impulse of nature
and a law of conscience with her. When the King was wooing her, she
held him off three months, which he thought unreasonably long; but the
reason why she did so is rightly explained when, for his inexpressible
sin against her, she has locked herself from his sight sixteen years,
leaving him to mourn and repent. Moreover, with her severe chastity of
principle, the reconciliation to her husband must begin there where
the separation grew. Thus it was for Perdita to restore the parental
unity which her being represents, but of which she had occasioned the

Such is Hermione, in her "proud submission," her "dignified
obedience," with her Roman firmness and integrity of soul, heroic in
strength, heroic in gentleness, the queenliest of women, the
womanliest of queens. She is perhaps the Poet's best illustration of
the great principle, which I fear is not so commonly felt as it should
be, that the highest beauty always has an element or shade of the
terrible in it, so that it awes you while it attracts.

    "If I prove honey-mouth'd, let my tongue blister,
    And never to my red-look'd anger be
    The trumpet any more."

    "Good Queen, my lord, good Queen; I say, good Queen,
    And would by combat make her good, so were I
    A man, the worst about you."

                                  "For ever
    Unvenerable be thy hands, if thou
    Tak'st up the Princess by that forcèd baseness
    Which he has put upon 't."

Such are some of the words that boil over from the stout heart of
Paulina,--the noblest and most amiable termagant we shall anywhere
find,--when, with the new-born babe in charge, she confronts the
furious King. He threatens to have her burnt, and she replies

                        "I care not:
    It is an heretic that makes the fire,
    Not she which burns in 't."

If her faults were a thousand times greater than they are, I could
pardon them all for this one little speech; which proves that
Shakespeare was, I will not say a Protestant, but a true Christian,
intellectually at least, and far deeper in the spirit of his religion
than a large majority of the Church's official organs were in his day,
or, let me add, have been any day since. And this was written, be it
observed, at a time when the embers of the old ecclesiastical fires
were not yet wholly extinct, and when many a priestly bigot was
deploring the lay ascendency which kept them from being rekindled.

Paulina makes a superb counterpart to Hermione, heightening the effect
of her character by the most emphatic contrast, and at the same time
reflecting it by her intense and outspoken sympathy. Without any of
the Queen's dignified calmness and reserve, she is alive to all her
inward beauty and greatness: with a head to understand and a heart to
reverence such a woman, she unites a temper to fight, a generosity to
die for her. But no language but her own can fitly measure the ardour
with which she loves and admires and even adores her "dearest,
sweetest mistress," whose power has indeed gone all through her, so
that every part of her nature cannot choose but speak it, when the
occasion kindles her. Loud, voluble, violent, and viraginous, with a
tongue sharper than a sword, and an eloquence that fairly blisters
where it hits, she has, therewithal, too much honour and magnanimity
and kind feeling either to use them without good cause, or to forbear
using them at all hazards when she has such cause. Mrs. Jameson
classes her, and justly, no doubt, among those women--and she assures
us there are many such--who seem regardless of the feelings of those
for whom they would sacrifice their life.

"I thought she had some great matter there in hand; for she hath
privately, twice or thrice a day, ever since the death of Hermione,
visited that removed house." Such is the speech of one gentleman to
another, as the royal party and all the Court are going to Paulina's
house to see the mysterious workmanship of Julio Romano. Nothing could
better suggest the history of that quiet, placid intercourse, with its
long record of patient, self-rewarding service; a fellowship in which
little needed to be said, for each knew what was in the other's mind
by a better language than words. It is such an idea of friendship as
it does the heart good to rest upon. Just think of those two great
manly souls, enshrined in womanly tenderness, thus communing together
in secret for sixteen long years! And what a powerful charm of love
and loyalty must have been cast upon Paulina's impulsive tongue, that
she should keep so reticent of her dear cause through all that time!
To play the woman after that fashion would not hurt any of us.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the first three Acts the interest of this play is mainly
tragic; the scene is densely crowded with incidents; the action
hurried, abrupt, almost spasmodic; the style quick and sharp, flashing
off point after point in brief, sinewy strokes; and all is rapidity
and despatch: what with the insane fury of the King, the noble agony
of the Queen, the enthusiasm of the Court in her behalf, and the
King's violence towards both them and her, the mind is kept on the
jump: all which, if continued to the end, would generate rather a
tumult and hubbub in the thoughts, than that inward music which the
title of the play promises; not to say, that such a prolonged hurry of
movement would at length become monotonous and wearisome. Far
otherwise the latter half of the play. Here the anticipations proper
to a long, leisurely winter evening are fully met; the general effect
is soothing and composing; the tones, dipped in sweetness, fall gently
on the ear, disposing the mind to be still and listen and contemplate;
thus making the play, as Coleridge describes it, "exquisitely
respondent to the title." It would seem, indeed, that in these scenes
the Poet had specially endeavoured how much of silent effect he could
produce, without diverging from the dramatic form. To this end, he
provides resting-places for thought; suspending or retarding the
action by musical pauses and periods of lyrical movement, and
breathing in the mellowest strains of poetical harmony, till the eye
is "made quiet by the power of beauty," and all tumult of mind is
hushed in the very intensity of feeling.

In the last two Acts we have a most artful interchange and blending of
romantic beauty and comic drollery. The lost Princess and the
heir-apparent of Bohemia, two of the noblest and loveliest beings that
ever fancy conceived, occupy the centre of the picture, while around
them are clustered rustic shepherds and shepherdesses amid their
pastimes and pursuits, the whole being enlivened by the tricks and
humours of a merry pedler and pickpocket. For simple purity and
sweetness, the scene which unfolds the loves and characters of the
Prince and Princess is not surpassed by any thing in Shakespeare.
Whatsoever is enchanting in romance, lovely in innocence, elevated in
feeling, and sacred in faith, is here concentrated; forming, all
together, one of those things which we always welcome as we do the
return of Spring, and over which our feelings may renew their youth
for ever. So long as flowers bloom and hearts love, they will do it in
the spirit of this scene.

It is a pastoral frolic, where free thoughts and guileless hearts rule
the hour, all as true and as pure as the tints and fragrances with
which field and forest and garden have beautified the occasion. The
neighbouring swains and lasses have gathered in, to share and enhance
the sport. The old Shepherd is present, but only as a looker-on,
having for the nonce resigned the command to his reputed daughter.
Under their mutual inspiration, the Prince and Princess are each in
the finest rapture of fancy, while the surrounding influences of the
rustic festival are just enough to enfranchise their inward music into
modest and delicate utterance. He has tastefully decked her person
with flowers, till no traces of the shepherdess can be seen, and she
seems herself a multitudinous flower; having also attired himself
"with a swain's wearing," so that the prince is equally obscured.

    "These your unusual weeds to each part of you
    Do give a life: no shepherdess; but Flora,
    Peering in April's front. This your sheep-shearing
    Is as a meeting of the petty gods,
    And you the queen on't."

Thus he opens the play. And when she repeats her fears of the event:

                            "Thou dearest Perdita,
    With these forc'd thoughts, I pr'ythee, darken not
    The mirth o' the feast: or I'll be thine, my fair,
    Or not my father's; for I cannot be
    Mine own, nor any thing to any, if
    I be not thine: to this I am most constant,
    Though destiny say no."

The King and Camilla steal upon them in disguise, and while they are
present we have this:

    "_Perdita_.   Come, take your flowers:
    Methinks I play as I have seen them do
    In Whitsun pastorals: sure, this robe of mine
    Does change my disposition.

    _Florizel_.              What you do
    Still betters what is done. When you speak, sweet,
    I'd have you do it ever: when you sing,
    I'd have you buy and sell so; so give alms;
    Pray so; and, for the ordering your affairs,
    To sing them too: when you do dance I wish you
    A wave o' the sea, that you might ever do
    Nothing but that; move still, still so, and own
    No other function. Each your doing is
    So singular in each particular,
    Crowning what you have done i' the present deed,
    That all your acts are queens.

    _Perdita_.                 O Doricles!
    Your praises are too large: but that your youth,
    And the true blood that peeps so fairly through 't,
    Do plainly give you out an unstain'd shepherd,
    With wisdom I might fear, my Doricles,
    You woo'd me the false way.

    _Florizel_.                  I think you have
    As little skill to fear as I have purpose
    To put you to 't. But come; our dance, I pray.

    _Polix_. This is the prettiest low-born lass that ever
    Ran on the green-sward: nothing she does or seems
    But smacks of something greater than herself,--
    Too noble for this place.

    _Camil_.            He tells her something
    That makes her blood look out: Good sooth, she is
    The queen of curds and cream.

    _Polix_. 'Pray you, good shepherd, what fair swain is this
    Which dances with your daughter?

    _Shep_. They call him Doricles; and boasts himself
    To have a worthy feeding: I but have it
    Upon his own report, and I believe it;
    He looks like sooth. He says he loves my daughter:
    I think so too; for never gaz'd the Moon
    Upon the water, as he'll stand, and read,
    As 't were, my daughter's eyes: and, to be plain,
    I think there is not half a kiss to choose
    Who loves another best.

    _Polix_.            She dances featly.

    _Shep_. So she does any thing, though I report it,
    That should be silent."

Perdita, notwithstanding she occupies so little room in the play,
fills a large space in the reader's thoughts, almost disputing
precedence with the Queen. And her mother's best native qualities
reappear in her, sweetly modified by pastoral associations; her nature
being really much the same, only it has been developed and seasoned in
a different atmosphere; a nature too strong indeed to be displaced by
any power of circumstances or supervenings of art, but at the same
time too delicate and susceptive not to take a lively and lasting
impress of them. So that, while she has thoroughly assimilated, she
nevertheless clearly indicates, the food of place and climate,
insomuch that the dignities of the princely and the simplicities of
the pastoral character seem striving which shall express her
goodliest. We can hardly call her a poetical being; she is rather
poetry itself, and every thing lends and borrows beauty at her touch.
A playmate of the flowers, when we see her with them, we are at a loss
whether they take more inspiration from her or she from them; and
while she is the sweetest of poets in making nosegays, the nosegays
become in her hands the richest of crowns. If, as Schlegel somewhere
remarks, the Poet is "particularly fond of showing the superiority of
the innate over the acquired," he has surely nowhere done it with
finer effect than in this unfledged angel.

There is much to suggest a comparison of Perdita and Miranda; yet how
shall I compare them? Perfectly distinct indeed as individuals, still
their characters are strikingly similar; only Perdita has perhaps a
sweeter gracefulness, the freedom, simplicity, and playfulness of
nature being in her case less checked by external restraints; while
Miranda carries more of a magical and mysterious charm woven into her
character from the supernatural influences of her whereabout. So like,
yet so different, it is hard saying which is the better of the two, or
rather one can hardly help liking her best with whom he last
conversed. It is an interesting fact also, for such it seems to be,
that these two glorious delineations were produced very near together,
perhaps both the same year; and this too when Shakespeare was in his
highest maturity of poetry and wisdom; from which it has been not
unjustly argued that his experience both in social and domestic life
must have been favourable to exalted conceptions of womanhood. The
Poet, though in no sort a bigot, was evidently full of loyal and
patriotic sentiment; and I have sometimes thought that the government
of Elizabeth, with the grand national enthusiasm which clustered round
her throne and person, may have had a good deal to do in shaping and
inspiring this part of his workmanship. Be that as it may, with but
one great exception, I think the world now finds its best ideas of
moral beauty in Shakespeare's women.

       *       *       *       *       *

Florizel's character is in exquisite harmony with that of the
Princess. To be sure, it may be said that if he is worthy of her, it
is mainly her influence that makes him so. But then it is to be
observed, on the other hand, that as in such cases men find only what
they bring the faculties for finding, so the meeting with her would
not have elicited such music from him, had not his nature been
originally responsive to hers. For he is manifestly drawn and held to
her by a powerful instinct of congeniality. And none but a living
abstract and sum-total of all that is manly could have so felt the
perfections of such a woman. The difference between them is, that she
was herself before she saw him, and would have been the same without
him; whereas he was not and could not be himself, as we see him, till
he caught inspiration from her; so that he is but right in saying,--

                          "I bless the time
    When my good falcon made her flight across
    Thy father's ground."

Nevertheless it is a clear instance of the pre-established harmony of
souls: but that his spirit were akin to hers, he could not have
recognized his peer through such a disguise of circumstances. For any
one to be untouched and unsweetened by the heavenly purity of their
courtship, were indeed a sin almost too great to be forgiven.

Shakespeare knew,--none better,--that in order to be a lover in any
right sense of the term, one must first be a man. He therefore does
not leave the Prince without an opportunity to show that he is such.
And it is not till after the King has revealed himself, and blown up
the mirth of the feast by his explosion of wrath, that the Prince
displays his proper character in this respect. I need not stay to
remark how well the Poet orders the action for that purpose; suffice
it to say that the Prince then fully makes good his previous

      "Were I crown'd the most imperial monarch,
    Thereof most worthy; were I the fairest youth
    That ever made eye swerve; had force and knowledge
    More than was ever man's; I would not prize them,
    Without her love; for her employ them all;
    Commend them or condemn them to her service,
    Or to their own perdition."

The minor characters of this play are both well conceived and
skilfully disposed, the one giving them a fair personal, the other a
fair dramatic interest. The old Shepherd and his clown of a son are
near, if not in, the Poet's happiest comic vein. Autolycus, the
"snapper-up of unconsidered trifles," is the most amiable and
ingenious rogue we should desire to see; who cheats almost as divinely
as those about him love, and whose thieving tricks the very gods seem
to crown with thrift in reward of his wit. His self-raillery and droll
soliloquizing give us the feeling that his sins are committed not so
much for lucre as for fun.--The Poet was perhaps a little too fond of
placing his characters in situations where they have to be false in
order to be the truer; which no doubt sometimes happens; yet, surely,
in so delicate a point of morality, some care is needful, lest the
exceptions become too much for the rule. And something too much of
this there may be in the honest, upright, yet deceiving old lord,
Camillo. I speak this under correction; for I know it is not safe to
fault Shakespeare's morals; and that they who affect a better morality
than his are very apt to turn out either hypocrites or moral coxcombs.
As for the rest, this Camillo, though little more than a staff in the
drama, is nevertheless a pillar of State; his integrity and wisdom
making him a light to the counsels and a guide to the footsteps of the
greatest around him. Fit to be the stay of princes, he is one of those
venerable relics of the past which show us how beautiful age can be,
and which, linking together different generations, format once the
salt of society and the strength of government.

I have never seen this play on the stage; but I can well understand
how the scene with the painted statue, if fairly delivered, might be
surpassingly effective. The illusion is all on the understandings of
the spectators; and they seem to feel the _power_ without the _fact_
of animation, or to have a _sense_ of mobility in a _vision_
of fixedness. And such is the magic of the scene, that we almost fancy
them turning into marble, as they fancy the marble turning into flesh.


*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Shakespeare: His Life, Art, And Characters, Volume I. - With An Historical Sketch Of The Origin And Growth Of The Drama In - England" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.