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Title: Shakespeare and the Modern Stage - with Other Essays
Author: Lee, Sidney, Sir, 1859-1926
Language: English
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With Other Essays



Author of "A Life of William Shakespeare"

Archibald Constable and Company Limited


The eleven papers which are collected here were written between 1899
and 1905. With the exception of one, entitled "Aspects of
Shakespeare's Philosophy," which is now printed for the first time,
they were published in periodicals in the course of those six years.
The articles treat of varied aspects of Shakespearean drama, its
influences and traditions, but I think that all may be credited with
sufficient unity of intention to warrant their combination in a single
volume. Their main endeavour is to survey Shakespearean drama in
relation to modern life, and to illustrate its living force in current
affairs. Even in the papers which embody researches in sixteenth- or
seventeenth-century dramatic history, I have sought to keep in view
the bearings of the past on the present. A large portion of the book
discusses, as its title indicates, methods of representing Shakespeare
on the modern stage. The attempt is there made to define, in the light
of experience, the conditions which are best calculated to conserve or
increase Shakespeare's genuine vitality in the theatre of our own day.

In revising the work for the press, I have deemed it advisable to
submit the papers to a somewhat rigorous verbal revision. Errors have
been corrected, chronological ambiguities due to lapse of time have
been removed, passages have been excised in order to avoid repetition,
and reference to ephemeral events which deserve no permanent chronicle
have been omitted. But, substantially, the articles retain the shape
in which they were originally penned. The point of view has undergone
no modification. In the essays dealing with the theatres of our own
time, I have purposely refrained from expanding or altering argument
or illustration by citing Shakespearean performances or other
theatrical enterprises which have come to birth since the papers were
first written. In the last year or two there have been several
Shakespearean revivals of notable interest, and some new histrionic
triumphs have been won. Within the same period, too, at least half a
dozen new plays of serious literary aim have gained the approval of
contemporary critics. These features of current dramatic history are
welcome to playgoers of literary tastes; but I have attempted no
survey of them, because signs are lacking that any essential change
has been wrought by them in the general theatrical situation. My aim
is to deal with dominant principles which underlie the past and
present situation, rather than with particular episodes or
personalities, the real value of which the future has yet to

My best thanks are due to my friend Sir James Knowles, the proprietor
and editor of _The Nineteenth Century and After_, for permission to
reproduce the four articles, entitled respectively, "Shakespeare and
the Modern Stage," "Shakespeare in Oral Tradition," "Shakespeare in
France," and "The Commemoration of Shakespeare in London." To Messrs
Smith, Elder, & Co., I am indebted for permission to print here the
articles on "Mr Benson and Shakespearean Drama," and "Shakespeare and
Patriotism," both of which originally appeared in _The Cornhill
Magazine_. The paper on "Pepys and Shakespeare" was first printed in
the _Fortnightly Review_; that on "Shakespeare and the Elizabethan
Playgoer" in "An English Miscellany, presented to Dr Furnivall in
honour of his seventy-fifth birthday" (1901); that on "The Municipal
Theatre" in the _New Liberal Review_; and that on "A Peril of
Shakespearean Research" in _The Author_. The proprietors of these
publications have courteously given me permission to include the
articles in this volume. The essay on "Aspects of Shakespeare's
Philosophy" was prepared for the purposes of a popular lecture, and
has not been in type before.

In a note at the foot of the opening page of each essay, I mention the
date when it was originally published. An analytical list of contents
and an index will, I hope, increase any utility which may attach to
the volume.


_1st October 1906._



PREFACE                                                           vii



      I. The Perils of the Spectacular Method of Production         1

     II. The Need for Simplifying Scenic Appliances                 4

    III. Consequences of Simplification. The Attitude of the
         Shakespearean Student                                      7

     IV. The Pecuniary Experiences of Charles Kean and Sir
         Henry Irving                                               9

      V. The Experiment of Samuel Phelps                           11

     VI. The Rightful Supremacy of the Actor                       12

    VII. The Example of the French and German Stage                16

   VIII. Shakespeare's Reliance on the "Imaginary Forces"
         of the Audience                                           18

     IX. The Patriotic Argument for the Production of
         Shakespeare's Plays constantly and in their
         variety on the English Stage                              23



      I. An Imaginary Discovery of Shakespeare's Journal           25

     II. Shakespeare in the rôle of the Ghost on the First
         Production of _Hamlet_ in 1602                            27

    III. Shakespeare's Popularity in the Elizabethan Theatre       29

     IV. At Court in 1594                                          31

      V. The Theatre an Innovation in Elizabethan England          36

     VI. Elizabethan Methods of Production                         38

    VII. The Contrast between the Elizabethan and the
         Modern Methods                                            43

   VIII. The Fitness of the Audience an Essential Element
         in the Success of Shakespeare on the Stage                46



      I. The Reception of the News of Shakespeare's Death          49

     II. The Evolution in England of Formal Biography              51

    III. Oral Tradition concerning Shakespeare in Theatrical
         Circles                                                   57

     IV. The Testimonies of Seventeenth-century Actors             61

      V. Sir William D'Avenant's Devotion to Shakespeare's
         Memory                                                    69

     VI. Early Oral Tradition at Stratford-on-Avon                 73

    VII. Shakespeare's Fame among Seventeenth-century
         Scholars and Statesmen                                    78

   VIII. Nicholas Rowe's Place among Shakespeare's
         Biographers. The Present State of Knowledge
         respecting Shakespeare's Life                             79



      I. Pepys the Microcosm of the Average Playgoer               82

     II. The London Theatres of Pepys's _Diary_                    85

    III. Pepys's Enthusiasm for the Later Elizabethan Drama        90

     IV. Pepys's Criticism of Shakespeare. His Admiration
         of Betterton in Shakespearean rôles                       93

      V. The Garbled Versions of Shakespeare on the Stage
         of the Restoration                                       102

     VI. The Saving Grace of the Restoration Theatre.
         Betterton's Masterly Interpretation of Shakespeare       109



      I. A Return to the Ancient Ways                             111

     II. The Advantages of a Constant Change of
         Programme. The Opportunities offered Actors by
         Shakespeare's Minor Characters. John of Gaunt            113

    III. The Benefit of Performing the Play of _Hamlet_
         without Abbreviation                                     116

     IV. Mr Benson as a Trainer of Actors. The Succession
         to Phelps                                                119



      I. The True Aim of the Municipal Theatre                    122

     II. Private Theatrical Enterprise and Literary Drama.
         The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Actor-Manager
         System. The Control of the Capitalist                    123

    III. Possibilities of the Artistic Improvement of
         Theatrical Organisation in England                       127

     IV. Indications of a Demand for a Municipal Theatre          129

      V. The Teaching of Foreign Experience. The
         Example of Vienna                                        134

     VI. The Conditions of Success in England                     138



      I. The Conflicting Attitudes of Bacon and Shakespeare
         to Formal Philosophy                                     142

     II. Shakespeare's "Natural" Philosophy. Concealment
         of his Personality in his Plays                          148

    III. His Lofty Conception of Public Virtue. Frequency
         of his Denunciation of Royal "Ceremony"                  152

     IV. The Duty of Obedience to Authority                       161

      V. The Moral Atmosphere of Shakespearean Drama              164

     VI. Shakespeare's Insistence on the Freedom of the
         Will                                                     166

    VII. His Humour and Optimism                                  169



      I. The Natural Instinct of Patriotism. Dangers of
         Excess and Defect                                        170

     II. An Attempt to Co-ordinate Shakespeare's Detached
         Illustrations of the Working of Patriotic
         Sentiment. His Ridicule of Bellicose Ecstasy.
         Coriolanus illustrates the Danger of Disavowing
         Patriotism                                               172

    III. Criticism of One's Fellow-countrymen Consistent
         with Patriotism. Shakespeare on the Political
         History of England. The Country's Dependence
         on the Command of the Sea. The Respect Due
         to a Nation's Traditions and Experience                  179

     IV. Shakespeare's Exposure of Social Foibles and Errors      184

      V. Relevance of Shakespeare's Doctrine of Patriotism
         to Current Affairs                                       187



      I. An Alleged Meeting of Peele, Ben Jonson,
         Alleyn, and Shakespeare at "The Globe" in
         1600                                                     188

     II. The Fabrication by George Steevens in 1763 of a
         Letter signed "G. Peel"                                  190

    III. Popular Acceptance of the Forgery. Its
         Unchallenged Circulation through the Eighteenth,
         Nineteenth, and Twentieth Centuries                      194



      I. Amicable Literary Relations between France and
         England from the Fourteenth to the Present Century       198

     II. M. Jusserand on Shakespeare in France. French
         Knowledge of English Literature in Shakespeare's
         day. Shakespeare in Eighteenth-century France.
         Eulogies of Victor Hugo and Dumas _père_                 201

    III. French Misapprehensions of Shakespeare's Tragic
         Conceptions. Causes of the Misunderstanding              206

     IV. Charles Nodier's Sympathetic Tribute. The Rarity
         of his _Pensées de Shakespeare_, 1801                    211



      I. Early Proposals for a National Memorial of
         Shakespeare in London                                    214

     II. The Cenotaph in Westminster Abbey                        215

    III. The Failure of the Nineteenth-century Schemes            217

     IV. The National Memorial at Stratford-on-Avon               219

      V. Shakespeare's Association with London                    226

     VI. The Value of a London Memorial as a Symbol of his
         Universal Influence                                      228

    VII. The Real Significance of Milton's Warning against
         a Monumental Commemoration of Shakespeare                230

   VIII. The Undesirability of making the Memorial serve
         Utilitarian Purposes                                     235

     IX. The Present State of the Plastic Art. The
         Imperative Need of securing a Supreme Work of
         Sculpture                                                236

INDEX                                                             245




[Footnote 1: This paper was first printed in _The Nineteenth Century_,
January 1900.]


Without "the living comment and interpretation of the theatre,"
Shakespeare's work is, for the rank and file of mankind, "a deep well
without a wheel or a windlass." It is true that the whole of the
spiritual treasures which Shakespeare's dramas hoard will never be
disclosed to the mere playgoer, but "a large, a very large, proportion
of that indefinite all" may be revealed to him on the stage, and, if
he be no patient reader, will be revealed to him nowhere else.

There are earnest students of Shakespeare who scorn the theatre and
arrogate to themselves in the library, often with some justification,
a greater capacity for apprehending and appreciating Shakespeare than
is at the command of the ordinary playgoer or actor. But let Sir
Oracle of the study, however full and deep be his knowledge, "use all
gently." Let him bear in mind that his vision also has its
limitations, and that student, actor, and spectator of Shakespeare's
plays are all alike exploring a measureless region of philosophy and
poetry, "round which no comprehension has yet drawn the line of
circumspection, so as to say to itself 'I have seen the whole.'" Actor
and student may look at Shakespeare's text from different points of
view: but there is always as reasonable a chance that the efficient
actor may disclose the full significance of some speech or scene which
escapes the efficient student, as that the student may supply the
actor's lack of insight.

It is, indeed, comparatively easy for a student of literature to
support the proposition that Shakespeare can be, and ought to be,
represented on the stage. But it is difficult to define the ways and
means of securing practical observance of the precept. For some years
there has been a widening divergence of view respecting methods of
Shakespearean production. Those who defend in theory the adaptability
of Shakespeare to the stage are at variance with the leading managers,
who alone possess the power of conferring on the Shakespearean drama
theatrical interpretation. In the most influential circles of the
theatrical profession it has become a commonplace to assert that
Shakespearean drama cannot be successfully produced, cannot be
rendered tolerable to any substantial section of the playgoing public,
without a plethora of scenic spectacle and gorgeous costume, much of
which the student regards as superfluous and inappropriate. An
accepted tradition of the modern stage ordains that every revival of a
Shakespearean play at a leading theatre shall base some part of its
claim to public favour on its spectacular magnificence.

The dramatic interest of Shakespearean drama is, in fact, deemed by
the manager to be inadequate to satisfy the necessary commercial
purposes of the theatre. The average purveyor of public entertainment
reckons Shakespeare's plays among tasteless and colourless
commodities, which only become marketable when they are reinforced by
the independent arts of music and painting. Shakespeare's words must
be spoken to musical accompaniments specially prepared for the
occasion. Pictorial tableaux, even though they suggest topics without
relevance to the development of the plot, have at times to be
interpolated in order to keep the attention of the audience
sufficiently alive.

One deduction to be drawn from this position of affairs is
irrefutable. Spectacular embellishments are so costly that, according
to the system now in vogue, the performance of a play of Shakespeare
involves heavy financial risks. It is equally plain that, unless the
views of theatrical managers undergo revolution, these risks are
likely to become greater rather than smaller. The natural result is
that in London, the city which sets the example to most
English-speaking communities, Shakespearean revivals are comparatively
rare; they take place at uncertain intervals, and only those plays are
viewed with favour by the London manager which lend themselves in his
opinion to more or less ostentatious spectacle, and to the
interpolation of music and dancing.

It is ungrateful to criticise adversely any work the production of
which entails the expenditure of much thought and money. More
especially is it distasteful when the immediate outcome is, as in the
case of many Shakespearean revivals at the great West-end theatres of
London, the giving of pleasure to large sections of the community.
That is in itself a worthy object. But it is open to doubt whether,
from the sensible literary point of view, the managerial activity be
well conceived or to the public advantage. It is hard to ignore a
fundamental flaw in the manager's central position. The pleasure which
recent Shakespearean revivals offer the spectator reaches him mainly
through the eye. That is the manager's avowed intention. Yet no one
would seriously deny that the Shakespearean drama appeals, both
primarily and ultimately, to the head and to the heart. Whoever seeks,
therefore, by the production of Shakespearean drama chiefly to please
the spectator's eye shows scant respect both for the dramatist and for
the spectator. However unwittingly, he tends to misrepresent the one,
and to mislead the other, in a particular of first-rate importance.
Indeed, excess in scenic display does worse than restrict
opportunities of witnessing Shakespeare's plays on the stage in London
and other large cities of England and America. It is to be feared that
such excess either weakens or distorts the just and proper influence
of Shakespeare's work. If these imputations can be sustained, then it
follows that the increased and increasing expense which is involved in
the production of Shakespeare's plays ought on grounds of public
policy to be diminished.


Every stage representation of a play requires sufficient scenery and
costume to produce in the audience that illusion of environment which
the text invites. Without so much scenery or costume the words fail to
get home to the audience. In comedies dealing with concrete conditions
of modern society, the stage presentation necessarily relies to a very
large extent for its success on the realism of the scenic appliances.
In plays which, dealing with the universal and less familiar
conditions of life, appeal to the highest faculties of thought and
imagination, the pursuit of realism in the scenery tends to destroy
the full significance of the illusion which it ought to enforce. In
the case of plays straightforwardly treating of contemporary affairs,
the environment which it is sought to reproduce is familiar and easy
of imitation. In the case of drama, which involves larger spheres of
fancy and feeling, the environment is unfamiliar and admits of no
realistic imitation. The wall-paper and furniture of Mrs So-and-so's
drawing-room in Belgravia or Derbyshire can be transferred bodily to
the stage. Prospero's deserted island does not admit of the like

Effective suggestion of the scene of _The Tempest_ is all that can be
reasonably attempted or desired. Plays which are wrought of purest
imaginative texture call solely for a scenic setting which should
convey effective suggestion. The machinery to be employed for the
purpose of effective suggestion should be simple and unobtrusive. If
it be complex and obtrusive, it defeats "the purpose of playing" by
exaggerating for the spectator the inevitable interval between the
visionary and indeterminate limits of the scene which the poet
imagines, and the cramped and narrow bounds, which the stage renders
practicable. That perilous interval can only be effectually bridged
by scenic art, which is applied with an apt judgment and a light hand.
Anything that aims at doing more than satisfy the condition essential
to the effective suggestion of the scenic environment of Shakespearean
drama is, from the literary and logical points of view, "wasteful and
ridiculous excess."[2]

[Footnote 2: A minor practical objection, from the dramatic point of
view, to realistic scenery is the long pause its setting on the stage
often renders inevitable between the scenes. Intervals of the kind,
which always tends to blunt the dramatic point of the play, especially
in the case of tragic masterpieces, should obviously be as brief as

But it is not only a simplification of scenic appliances that is
needed. Other external incidents of production require revision.
Spectacular methods of production entail the employment of armies of
silent supernumeraries to whom are allotted functions wholly
ornamental and mostly impertinent. Here, too, reduction is desirable
in the interest of the true significance of drama. No valid reason can
be adduced why persons should appear on the stage who are not
precisely indicated by the text of the play or by the authentic stage
directions. When Cæsar is buried, it is essential to produce in the
audience the illusion that a crowd of Roman citizens is taking part in
the ceremony. But quality comes here before quantity. The fewer the
number of supernumeraries by whom the needful illusion is effected,
the greater the merit of the performance, the more convincing the
testimony borne to the skill of the stage-manager. Again, no
processions of psalm-singing priests and monks contribute to the
essential illusion in the historical plays. Nor does the text of _The
Merchant of Venice_ demand any assembly of Venetian townsfolk,
however picturesquely attired, sporting or chaffering with one another
on the Rialto, when Shylock enters to ponder Antonio's request for a
loan. An interpolated tableau is indefensible, and "though it make the
unskilful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve." In _Antony and
Cleopatra_ the pageant of Cleopatra's voyage up the river Cydnus to
meet her lover Antony should have no existence outside the gorgeous
description given of it by Enobarbus.


What would be the practical effects of a stern resolve on the part of
theatrical managers to simplify the scenic appliances and to reduce
the supernumerary staff when they are producing Shakespearean drama?
The replies will be in various keys. One result of simplification is
obvious. There would be so much more money in the manager's pocket
after he had paid the expenses of production. If his outlay were
smaller, the sum that he expended in the production of one play of
Shakespeare on the current over-elaborate scale would cover the
production of two or three pieces mounted with simplicity and with a
strict adherence to the requirements of the text. In such an event,
the manager would be satisfied with a shorter run for each play.

On the other hand, supporters of the existing system allege that no
public, which is worth the counting, would interest itself in
Shakespeare's plays, if they were robbed of scenic upholstery and
spectacular display. This estimate rests on insecure foundations. That
section of the London public which is genuinely interested in
Shakespearean drama for its own sake, is prone to distrust the modern
theatrical manager, and as things are, for the most part avoids the
theatre altogether. The student stays at home to read Shakespeare at
his fireside.

It may be admitted that the public to which Shakespeare in his purity
makes appeal is not very large. It is clearly not large enough to
command continuous runs of plays for months, or even weeks. But
therein lies no cause for depression. Long runs of a single play of
Shakespeare bring more evil than good in their train. They develop in
even the most efficient acting a soulless mechanism. The literary
beauty of the text is obliterated by repetition from the actors'
minds. Unostentatious mounting of the Shakespearean plays, however
efficient be the acting with which it is associated, may always fail
to "please the million"; it may be "caviare to the general."
Nevertheless, the sagacious manager, who, by virtue of comparatively
inexpensive settings and in alliance with a well-chosen company of
efficient actors and actresses, is able at short intervals to produce
a succession of Shakespeare's plays, may reasonably expect to attract
a small but steady and sufficient support from the intelligent section
of London playgoers, and from the home-reading students of
Shakespeare, who are not at present playgoers at all.


The practical manager, who naturally seeks pecuniary profit from his
ventures, insists that these suggestions are counsels of perfection
and these anticipations wild and fantastic dreams. His last word is
that by spectacular method Shakespeare can alone be made to "pay" in
the theatre. But are we here on perfectly secure ground? Has the
commercial success attending the spectacular production of Shakespeare
been invariably so conspicuous as to put summarily out of court, on
the purely commercial ground, the method of simplicity? The pecuniary
results are public knowledge in the case of the two most strenuous and
prolonged endeavours to give Shakespeare the splendours of spectacle
which have yet been completed on the London stage. What is the message
of these two efforts in mere pecuniary terms?

Charles Kean may be regarded as the founder of the modern spectacular
system, though it had some precedents, and has been developed since
his day. Charles Kean, between 1851 and 1859, persistently endeavoured
by prodigal and brilliant display to make the production of
Shakespeare an enterprise of profit at the Princess's Theatre, London.
The scheme proved pecuniarily disastrous.

Subsequently Kean's mantle was assumed by the late Sir Henry Irving,
the greatest of recent actors and stage-managers, who in many regards
conferred incalculable benefits on the theatre-going public and on the
theatrical profession. Throughout the last quarter of the last
century, Irving gave the spectacular and scenic system in the
production of Shakespeare every advantage that it could derive from
munificent expenditure and the co-operation of highly endowed artists.
He could justly claim a finer artistic sentiment and a higher
histrionic capacity than Charles Kean possessed. Yet Irving announced,
not long before his death, that he lost on his Shakespearean
productions a hundred thousand pounds. Sir Henry added:

     The enormous cost of a Shakespearean production on the
     liberal and elaborate scale which the public is now
     accustomed to expect makes it almost impossible for any
     manager--I don't care who it is--to pursue a continuous
     policy of Shakespeare for many years with any hope of profit
     in the long run.

In face of this authoritative pronouncement, it must be conceded that
the spectacular system has been given, within recent memory, every
chance of succeeding, and, as far as recorded testimony is available,
has been, from the commercial point of view, a failure.

Meanwhile, during and since the period when Sir Henry Irving filled
the supreme place among producers of Shakespeare on the stage, the
simple method of Shakespearean production has been given no serious
chance. The anticipation of its pecuniary failure has not been put in
satisfactory conditions to any practical test. The last time that it
was put to a sound practical test it did not fail. While Irving was a
boy, Phelps at Sadler's Wells Theatre gave, in well-considered
conditions, the simple method a trial. Phelps's playhouse was situated
in the unfashionable neighbourhood of Islington. But the prophets of
evil, who were no greater strangers to Phelps's generation than they
are to our own, were themselves confuted by his experience.


On the 27th of May 1844 Phelps, a most intelligent actor and a serious
student of Shakespeare, opened the long-disused Sadler's Wells Theatre
in partnership with Mrs Warner, a capable actress, whose rendering of
Imogen went near perfection. Their design was inspired by "the hope,"
they wrote in an unassuming address, "of eventually rendering Sadler's
Wells what a theatre ought to be--a place for justly representing the
works of our great dramatic poets." This hope they went far to
realise. The first play that they produced was _Macbeth_.

Phelps continued to control Sadler's Wells Theatre for more than
eighteen years. During that period he produced, together with many
other English plays of classical repute, no fewer than thirty-one of
the thirty-seven great dramas which came from Shakespeare's pen. In
his first season, besides _Macbeth_ he set forth _Hamlet_, _King
John_, _Henry VIII._, _The Merchant of Venice_, _Othello_, and
_Richard III._ To these he added in the course of his second season,
_Julius Cæsar_, _King Lear_, and _The Winter's Tale_. _Henry IV._,
part I., _Measure for Measure_, _Romeo and Juliet_, and _The Tempest_
followed in his third season; _As You Like It_, _Cymbeline_, _The
Merry Wives of Windsor_, and _Twelfth Night_, in his fourth. Each
succeeding season saw further additions to the Shakespearean
repertory, until only six Shakespearean dramas were left
unrepresented, viz.--_Richard II._, the three parts of _Henry VI._,
_Troilus and Cressida_, and _Titus Andronicus_. Of these, one alone,
_Richard II._, is really actable.

The leading principles, to which Phelps strictly adhered throughout
his career of management, call for most careful consideration. He
gathered round him a company of actors and actresses, whom he
zealously trained to interpret Shakespeare's language. He accustomed
his colleagues to act harmoniously together, and to sacrifice to the
welfare of the whole enterprise individual pretensions to prominence.
No long continuous run of any one piece was permitted by the rules of
the playhouse. The programme was constantly changed. The scenic
appliances were simple, adequate, and inexpensive. The supernumerary
staff was restricted to the smallest practicable number. The general
expenses were consequently kept within narrow limits. For every
thousand pounds that Charles Kean laid out at the Princess's Theatre
on scenery and other expenses of production, Phelps in his most ornate
revivals spent less than a fourth of that sum. For the pounds spent by
managers on more recent revivals, Phelps would have spent only as many
shillings. In the result, Phelps reaped from the profits of his
a handsome unencumbered income. During the same period Charles
Kean grew more and more deeply involved in oppressive debt, and at a
later date Sir Henry Irving made over to the public a hundred thousand
pounds above his receipts.


Why, then, should not Phelps's encouraging experiment be made

[Footnote 3: It is just to notice, among endeavours of the late years
of the past century, to which I confine my remarks here, the efforts
to produce Shakespearean drama worthily which were made by Charles
Alexander Calvert at the Prince's Theatre, Manchester, between 1864
and 1874. Calvert, who was a warm admirer of Phelps, attempted to
blend Phelps's method with Charles Kean's, and bestowed great scenic
elaboration on the production of at least eight plays of Shakespeare.
Financially the speculation saw every vicissitude, and Calvert's
experience may be quoted in support of the view that a return to
Phelps's method is financially safer than a return to Charles Kean's.
More recently the Elizabethan Stage Society endeavoured to produce,
with a simplicity which erred on the side of severity, many plays of
Shakespeare and other literary dramas. No scenery was employed, and
the performers were dressed in Elizabethan costume. The Society's work
was done privately, and did not invite any genuine test of publicity.
The representation by the Society on November 11, 1899, in the Lecture
Theatre at Burlington House, of _Richard II._, in which Mr Granville
Barker played the King with great charm and judgment, showed the
fascination that a competent rendering of Shakespeare's text exerts,
even in the total absence of scenery, over a large audience of
suitable temper.]

Before anyone may commit himself to an affirmative reply, it is
needful for him to realise fully the precise demands which a system
like that of Phelps makes, when rightly interpreted, on the character,
ability, and energy of the actors and actresses. If scenery in
Shakespearean productions be relegated to its proper place in the
background of the stage, it is necessary that the acting, from top to
bottom of the cast, shall be more efficient and better harmonised than
that which is commonly associated with spectacular representations.
The simple method of producing Shakespeare focusses the interest of
the audience on the actor and actress; it gives them a dignity and
importance which are unknown to the complex method. Under the latter
system, the attention of the spectator is largely absorbed by the
triumphs of the scene-painter and machinist, of the costumier and the
musicians. The actor and actress often elude notice altogether.

Macready, whose theatrical career was anterior to the modern
spectacular period of Shakespearean representation, has left on record
a deliberate opinion of Charles Kean's elaborate methods at the
Princess's Theatre in their relation to drama and the histrionic art.
Macready's verdict has an universal application. "The production of
the Shakespearean plays at the Princess's Theatre," the great actor
wrote to Lady Pollock on the 1st of May 1859, rendered the spoken text
"more like a running commentary on the spectacles exhibited than the
scenic arrangements an illustration of the text." No criticism could
define more convincingly the humiliation to which the author's words
are exposed by spectacle, or, what is more pertinent to the immediate
argument, the evil which is worked by spectacle on the actor.

Acting can be, and commonly tends to be, the most mechanical of
physical exercises. The actor is often a mere automaton who repeats
night after night the same unimpressive trick of voice, eye, and
gesture. His defects of understanding may be comparatively unobtrusive
in a spectacular display, where he is liable to escape censure by
escaping observation, or at best to be regarded as a showman.
Furthermore, the long runs which scenic excess brings in its train
accentuate the mechanical actor's imperfections and diminish his
opportunities of remedying them. On the other hand, acting can rise in
opposite conditions into the noblest of the arts. The great actor
relies for genuine success on no mere gesticulatory mechanism.
Imaginative insight, passion, the gift of oratory, grace and dignity
of movement and bearing, perfect command of the voice in the whole
gamut of its inflections are the constituent qualities of true
histrionic capacity.

In no drama are these qualities more necessary, or are ampler
opportunities offered for their use, than in the plays of Shakespeare.
Not only in the leading rôles of his masterpieces, but in the
subordinate parts throughout the range of his work, the highest
abilities of the actor or actress can find some scope for employment.
It is therefore indispensable that the standard of Shakespearean
acting should always be maintained at the highest level, if
Shakespearean drama is to be fitly rendered in the theatre. The worst
of the evils, which are inherent in scenic excess, with its
accompaniment of long runs, is its tendency to sanction the
maintenance of the level of acting at something below the highest.
Phelps was keenly alive to this peril, and his best energies were
devoted to training his actors and actresses for all the rôles in the
cast, great and small. Actors and actresses of the first rank on
occasion filled minor parts, in order to heighten the efficiency of
the presentation. Actors and actresses who have the dignity of their
profession at heart might be expected to welcome the revival of a
system which alone guarantees their talent and the work of the
dramatist due recognition, even if it leave histrionic incompetence no
hope of escape from the scorn that befits it. It is on the aspiration
and sentiment of the acting profession that must largely depend the
final answer to the question whether Phelps's experiment can be made
again with likelihood of success.


Foreign experience tells in favour of the contention that, if
Shakespeare's plays are to be honoured on the modern stage as they
deserve, they must be freed of the existing incubus of scenic
machinery. French acting has always won and deserved admiration. There
is no doubt that one cause of its permanently high repute is the
absolute divorce in the French theatre of drama from spectacle.

Molière stands to French literature in much the same relation as
Shakespeare stands to English literature. Molière's plays are
constantly acted in French theatres with a scenic austerity which is
unknown to the humblest of our theatres. A French audience would
regard it as sacrilege to convert a comedy of Molière into a
spectacle. The French people are commonly credited with a love of
ornament and display to which the English people are assumed to be
strangers, but their treatment of Molière is convincing proof that
their artistic sense is ultimately truer than our own.

The mode of producing Shakespeare on the stage in Germany supplies an
argument to the same effect. In Berlin and Vienna, and in all the
chief towns of German-speaking Europe, Shakespeare's plays are
produced constantly and in all their variety, for the most part, in
conditions which are directly antithetical to those prevailing in the
West-end theatres of London. Twenty-eight of Shakespeare's
thirty-seven plays figure in the répertoires of the leading companies
of German-speaking actors.

The currently accepted method of presentation can be judged from the
following personal experience. A few years ago I was in the
Burg-Theater in Vienna on a Sunday night--the night on which the great
working population of Vienna chiefly take their recreation, as in this
country it is chiefly taken by the great working population on
Saturday night. The Burg-Theater in Vienna is one of the largest
theatres in the world. It is of similar dimensions to Drury Lane
Theatre or Covent Garden Opera-house. On the occasion of my visit the
play produced was Shakespeare's _Antony and Cleopatra_. The house was
crowded in every part. The scenic arrangements were simple and
unobtrusive, but were well calculated to suggest the Oriental
atmosphere of the plot. There was no music before the performance, or
during the intervals between the acts, or as an accompaniment to great
speeches in the progress of the play. There was no making love, nor
any dying to slow music, although the stage directions were followed
scrupulously; the song "Come, thou Monarch of the Vine," was sung to
music in the drinking scene on board Pompey's galley, and there were
the appointed flourishes of trumpets and drums. The acting was
competent, though not of the highest calibre, but a satisfactory level
was evenly maintained throughout the cast. There were no conspicuous
deflections from the adequate standard. The character of whom I have
the most distinct recollection was Enobarbus, the level-headed and
straight-hitting critic of the action--a comparatively subordinate
part, which was filled by one of the most distinguished actors of the
Viennese stage. He fitted his part with telling accuracy.

The whole piece was listened to with breathless interest. It was acted
practically without curtailment, and, although the performance lasted
nearly five hours, no sign of impatience manifested itself at any
point. This was no exceptional experience at the Burg-Theater. Plays
of Shakespeare are acted there repeatedly--on an average twice a
week--and, I am credibly informed, with identical results to those of
which I was an eye-witness.


It cannot be flattering to our self-esteem that the Austrian people
should show a greater and a wiser appreciation of the theatrical
capacities of Shakespeare's masterpieces than we who are Shakespeare's
countrymen and the most direct and rightful heirs of his glorious
achievements. How is the disturbing fact to be accounted for? Is it
possible that it is attributable to some decay in us of the
imagination--to a growing slowness on our part to appreciate works of
imagination? When one reflects on the simple mechanical contrivances
which satisfied the theatrical audiences, not only of Shakespeare's
own day, but of the eighteenth century, during which Shakespeare was
repeatedly performed; when one compares the simplicity of scenic
mechanism in the past with its complexity in our own time, one can
hardly resist the conclusion that the imagination of the theatre-going
public is no longer what it was of old. The play alone was then "the
thing." Now "the thing," it seems, is something outside the
play--namely, the painted scene or the costume, the music or the

Garrick played Macbeth in an ordinary Court suit of his own era. The
habiliments proper to Celtic monarchs of the eleventh century were
left to be supplied by the imagination of the spectators or not at
all. No realistic "effects" helped the play forward in Garrick's time,
yet the attention of his audience, the critics tell us, was never
known to stray when he produced a great play by Shakespeare. In
Shakespeare's day boys or men took the part of women, and how
characters like Lady Macbeth and Desdemona were adequately rendered by
youths beggars belief. But renderings in such conditions proved
popular and satisfactory. Such a fact seems convincing testimony, not
to the ability of Elizabethan or Jacobean boys--the nature of boys is
a pretty permanent factor in human society--but to the superior
imaginative faculty of adult Elizabethan or Jacobean playgoers, in
whom, as in Garrick's time, the needful dramatic illusion was far more
easily evoked than it is nowadays.

This is no exhilarating conclusion. But less exhilarating is the
endeavour that is sometimes made by advocates of the system of
spectacle to prove that Shakespeare himself would have appreciated the
modern developments of the scenic art--nay, more, that he himself has
justified them. This line of argument serves to confirm the suggested
defect of imagination in the present generation. The well-known chorus
before the first act of _Henry V._ is the evidence which is relied
upon to show that Shakespeare wished his plays to be, in journalistic
dialect, "magnificently staged," and that he deplored the inability of
his uncouth age to realise that wish. The lines are familiar; but it
is necessary to quote them at length, in fairness to those who judge
them to be a defence of the spectacular principle in the presentation
of Shakespearean drama. They run:--

    O for a muse of fire, that would ascend
    The brightest heaven of invention,
    A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
    And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
    Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
    Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
    Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
    Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all,
    The flat unraised spirits that have dar'd
    On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
    So great an object: can this cockpit hold
    The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
    Within this wooden O the very casques
    That did affright the air at Agincourt?
    O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
    Attest in little place a million;
    And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
    On your imaginary forces work.
    Suppose within the girdle of these walls
    Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
    Whose high upreared and abutting fronts,
    The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder;
    Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
    Into a thousand parts divide one man,
    And make imaginary puissance:
    Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
    Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth.
    For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
    Carry them here and there, jumping o'er times,
    Turning the accomplishment of many years
    Into an hour glass.

There is, in my opinion, no strict relevance in these lines to the
enquiry whether Shakespeare's work should be treated on the stage as
drama or spectacle. Nay, I go further, and assert that, as far as the
speech touches the question at issue at all, it tells against the
pretensions of spectacle.

Shortly stated, Shakespeare's splendid prelude to his play of _Henry
V._, is a spirited appeal to his audience not to waste regrets on
defects of stage machinery, but to bring to the observation of his
piece their highest powers of imagination, whereby alone can full
justice be done to a majestic theme. The central topic of the choric
speech is the essential limitations of all scenic appliances. The
dramatist reminds us that the literal presentation of life itself, in
all its movement and action, lies outside the range of the stage,
especially the movement and action of life in its most glorious
manifestations. Obvious conditions of space do not allow "two mighty
monarchies" literally to be confined within the walls of a theatre.
Obvious conditions of time cannot turn "the accomplishments of many
years into an hour glass." Shakespeare is airing no private grievance.
He is not complaining that his plays were in his own day inadequately
upholstered in the theatre, or that the "scaffold" on which they were
produced was "unworthy" of them. The words have no concern with the
contention that modern upholstery and spectacular machinery render
Shakespeare's play a justice which was denied them in his lifetime. As
reasonably one might affirm that the modern theatre has now conquered
the ordinary conditions of time and space; that a modern playhouse
can, if the manager so will it, actually hold within its walls the
"vasty fields of France," or confine "two mighty monarchies."

A wider and quite impersonal trend of thought is offered for
consideration by Shakespeare's majestic eloquence. The dramatist bids
us bear in mind that his lines do no more than suggest the things he
would have the audience see and understand; the actors aid the
suggestion according to their ability. But the crucial point of the
utterance is the warning that the illusion of the drama can only be
rendered complete in the theatre by the working of the "imaginary
forces" of the spectators. It is needful for them to "make imaginary
puissance," if the play is to triumph. It is their "thoughts" that
"must deck" the kings of the stage, if the dramatist's meaning is to
get home. The poet modestly underestimated the supreme force of his
own imaginative genius when giving these admonitions to his hearers.
But they are warnings of universal application, and can never be
safely ignored.

Such an exordium as the chorus before _Henry V._ would indeed be
pertinent to every stage performance of great drama in any age or
country. It matters not whether the spectacular machinery be of royal
magnificence or of poverty-stricken squalor. Let us make the
extravagant assumption that all the artistic genius in the world and
all the treasure in the Bank of England were placed at the command of
a theatrical manager in order to enable him to produce a great play on
his stage supremely well from his own scenic point of view. Even then
it would be neither superfluous nor impertinent for the manager to
adjure the audience to piece out the "imperfections" of the scenery
with their "thoughts" or imagination. The spectator's "imaginary
puissance" is, practically in every circumstance, the key-stone of the
dramatic illusion.

The only conditions in which Shakespeare's adjuration would be
superfluous or impertinent would accompany the presentment in the
theatre of some circumscribed incident of life which is capable of so
literal a rendering as to leave no room for any make-believe or
illusion at all. The unintellectual playgoer, to whom Shakespeare will
never really prove attractive in any guise, has little or no
imagination to exercise, and he only tolerates a performance in the
theatre when little or no demand is made on the exercise of the
imaginative faculty. "The groundlings," said Shakespeare for all time,
"are capable of [appreciating] nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and
noise." They would be hugely delighted nowadays with a scene in which
two real motor cars, with genuine chauffeurs and passengers, raced
uproariously across the stage. That is realism in its nakedness. That
is realism reduced to its first principles. Realistic "effects,"
however speciously beautiful they may be, invariably tend to realism
of that primal type, which satisfies the predilections of the
groundling, and reduces drama to the level of the cinematograph.


The deliberate pursuit of scenic realism is antagonistic to the
ultimate law of dramatic art. In the case of great plays, the dramatic
representation is most successful from the genuinely artistic point of
view--which is the only point of view worthy of discussion--when the
just dramatic illusion is produced by simple and unpretending scenic
appliances, in which the inevitable "imperfections" are frankly left
to be supplied by the "thoughts" or imagination of the spectators.

Lovers of Shakespeare should lose no opportunity of urging the cause
of simplicity in the production of the plays of Shakespeare. Practical
common-sense, practical considerations of a pecuniary kind, teach us
that it is only by the adoption of simple methods of production that
we can hope to have Shakespeare represented in our theatres constantly
and in all his variety. Until Shakespeare is represented thus, the
spiritual and intellectual enlightenment, which his achievement offers
English-speaking people, will remain wholly inaccessible to the
majority who do not read him, and will be only in part at the command
of the few who do. Nay, more: until Shakespeare is represented on the
stage constantly and in his variety, English-speaking men and women
are liable to the imputation, not merely of failing in the homage due
to the greatest of their countrymen, but of falling short of their
neighbours in Germany and Austria in the capacity of appreciating
supremely great imaginative literature.



[Footnote 4: This paper, which was first printed in "An English
Miscellany, presented to Dr Furnivall in honour of his seventy-fifth
birthday" (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1901), was written as a
lecture for delivery on Tuesday afternoon, March 20, 1900, at Queen's
College (for women) in Harley Street, London, in aid of the Fund for
securing a picture commemorating Queen Victoria's visit to the College
in 1898.]


In a freak of fancy, Robert Louis Stevenson sent to a congenial spirit
the imaginary intelligence that a well-known firm of London publishers
had, after their wont, "declined with thanks" six undiscovered
tragedies, one romantic comedy, a fragment of a journal extending over
six years, and an unfinished autobiography reaching up to the first
performance of _King John_ by "that venerable but still respected
writer, William Shakespeare." Stevenson was writing in a frivolous
mood; but such words stir the imagination. The ordinary person, if he
had to choose among the enumerated items of Shakespeare's
newly-discovered manuscripts, would cheerfully go without the six new
tragedies and the one romantic comedy if he had at his disposal, by
way of consolation, the journal extending over six years and the
autobiography reaching up to the first performance of _King John_. We
should deem ourselves fortunate if we had the journal alone. It would
hardly matter which six years of Shakespeare's life the journal
covered. As a boy, as a young actor, as an industrious reviser of
other men's plays, as the humorous creator of Falstaff, Benedick, and
Mercutio, as the profound "natural" philosopher of the great
tragedies, he could never have been quite an ordinary diarist. Great
men have been known to keep diaries in which the level of interest
does not rise above a visit to the barber or the dentist. The common
routine of life interested Shakespeare, but something beyond it must
have found place in his journal. Reference to his glorious achievement
must have gained entry there.

Some notice, we may be sure, figured in Shakespeare's diary of the
first performances of his great plays on the stage. However eminent a
man is through native genius or from place of power, he can never,
whatever his casual professions to the contrary, be indifferent to the
reception accorded by his fellow-men to the work of his hand and head.
I picture Shakespeare as the soul of modesty and gentleness in the
social relations of life, avoiding unbecoming self-advertisement, and
rating at its just value empty flattery, the mere adulation of the
lips. Gushing laudation is as little to the taste of wise men as
treacle. They cannot escape condiments of the kind, but the smaller
and less frequent the doses the more they are content. Shakespeare no
doubt had the great man's self-confidence which renders him to a large
extent independent of the opinion of his fellows. At the same time,
the knowledge that he had succeeded in stirring the reader or hearer
of his plays, the knowledge that his words had gripped their hearts
and intellects, cannot have been ungrateful to him. To desire
recognition for his work is for the artist an inevitable and a
laudable ambition. A working dramatist by the circumstance of his
calling appeals as soon as the play is written to the playgoer for a
sympathetic appreciation. Nature impelled Shakespeare to note on the
pages of his journal his impression of the sentiment with which the
fruits of his pen were welcomed in the playhouse.

But Shakespeare's journal does not exist, and we can only speculate as
to its contents.


We would give much to know how Shakespeare recorded in his diary the
first performance of _Hamlet_, the most fascinating of all his works.
He himself, we are credibly told, played the Ghost. We would give much
for a record of the feelings which lay on the first production of the
play beneath the breast of the silent apparition in the first scene
which twice crossed the stage and affrighted Marcellus, Horatio, and
the guards on the platform before the castle of Elsinore. No piece of
literature that ever came from human pen or brain is more closely
packed with fruit of the imaginative study of human life than is
Shakespeare's tragedy of _Hamlet_; and while the author acted the part
of the Ghost in the play's initial representation in the theatre, he
was watching the revelation of his pregnant message for the first time
to the external world. When the author in his weird rôle of Hamlet's
murdered father opened his lips for the first time, we might almost
imagine that in the words "pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing
to what I shall unfold," he was reflecting the author's personal
interest in the proceedings of that memorable afternoon.[5] We can
imagine Shakespeare, as he saw the audience responding to his grave
appeal, giving with a growing confidence, the subsequent words, which
he repeated while he moved to the centre of the platform-stage, and
turned to face the whole house:--

                           I find thee apt;
    And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed
    That rots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,
    Wouldst thou not stir in this.

[Footnote 5: Performances of plays in Shakespeare's time always took
place in the afternoon.]

As the Ghost vanished and the air rang mysteriously with his piercing
words "Remember me," we would like to imagine the whole intelligence
of Elizabethan England responding to that cry as it sprang on its
first utterance in the theatre from the great dramatist's own lips.
Since that memorable day, at any rate, the whole intelligence of the
world has responded to that cry with all Hamlet's ecstasy, and with
but a single modification of the phraseology:--

                              Remember thee!
    Ay, thou _great soul_, while memory holds a seat
    In this distracted globe.


There is a certain justification, in fact, for the fancy that the
_plaudites_ were loud and long, when Shakespeare created the rôle of
the "poor ghost" in the first production of his play of _Hamlet_ in
1602. There is no doubt at all that Shakespeare conspicuously caught
the ear of the Elizabethan playgoer at a very early date in his
career, and that he held it firmly for life. "These plays," wrote two
of his professional associates of the reception of the whole series in
the playhouse in his lifetime--"These plays have had their trial
already, and stood out all appeals." Matthew Arnold, apparently quite
unconsciously, echoed the precise phrase when seeking to express
poetically the universality of Shakespeare's reputation in our own

    Others abide our judgment, thou art free,

is the first line of Arnold's well-known sonnet, which attests the
rank allotted to Shakespeare in the literary hierarchy by the
professional critic, nearly two and a half centuries after the
dramatist's death. There was no narrower qualification in the
apostrophe of Shakespeare by Ben Jonson, a very critical

                            Soul of _the age_,
    The applause, delight, and wonder of _our stage_.

This play of _Hamlet_, this play of his "which most kindled English
hearts," received a specially enthusiastic welcome from Elizabethan
playgoers. It was acted within its first year of production repeatedly
("divers times"), not merely in London "and elsewhere," but also--an
unusual distinction--at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. It
was reprinted four times within eight years of its birth.

Thus the charge sometimes brought against the Elizabethan playgoer of
failing to recognise Shakespeare's sovereign genius should be reckoned
among popular errors. It was not merely the recognition of the
critical and highly educated that Shakespeare received in person. It
was by the voice of the half-educated populace, whose heart and
intellect were for once in the right, that he was acclaimed the
greatest interpreter of human nature that literature had known, and,
as subsequent experience has proved, was likely to know. There is
evidence that throughout his lifetime and for a generation afterwards
his plays drew crowds to pit, boxes, and gallery alike. It is true
that he was one of a number of popular dramatists, many of whom had
rare gifts, and all of whom glowed with a spark of the genuine
literary fire. But Shakespeare was the sun in the firmament: when his
light shone, the fires of all contemporaries paled in the contemporary
playgoer's eye. There is forcible and humorous portrayal of human
frailty and eccentricity in plays of Shakespeare's contemporary, Ben
Jonson. Ben Jonson was a classical scholar, which Shakespeare was not.
Jonson was as well versed in Roman history as a college tutor. But
when Shakespeare and Ben Jonson both tried their hands at dramatising
episodes in Roman history, the Elizabethan public of all degrees of
intelligence welcomed Shakespeare's efforts with an enthusiasm which
they rigidly withheld from Ben Jonson's. This is how an ordinary
playgoer contrasted the reception of Jonson's Roman play of
_Catiline's Conspiracy_ with that of Shakespeare's Roman play of
_Julius Cæsar_:--

    So have I seen when Cæsar would appear,
    And on the stage at half-sword parley were
    Brutus and Cassius--oh! how the audience
    Were ravished, with what wonder they went thence;
    When some new day they would not brook a line
    Of tedious though well-laboured Catiline.

Shakespeare was the popular favourite. It is rare that the artist who
is a hero with the multitude is also a hero with the cultivated few.
But Shakespeare's universality of appeal was such as to include among
his worshippers from the first the trained and the untrained playgoer
of his time.


Very early in his career did Shakespeare attract the notice of the
cultivated section of Elizabeth's Court, and hardly sufficient notice
has been taken by students of the poet's biography of the earliest
recognition accorded him by the great queen, herself an inveterate
lover of the drama, and an embodiment of the taste of the people in
literature. The story is worth retelling. In the middle of December
1594, Queen Elizabeth removed from Whitehall to Greenwich to spend
Christmas at that palace of Greenwich in which she was born sixty-one
years earlier. And she made the celebration of Christmas of 1594 more
memorable than any other in the annals of her reign or in the literary
history of the country by summoning Shakespeare to Court. It was less
than eight years since the poet had first set foot in the metropolis.
His career was little more than opened. But by 1594 Shakespeare had
given his countrymen unmistakable indications of the stuff of which he
was made. His progress had been more sure than rapid. A young man of
two-and-twenty, burdened with a wife and three children, he had left
his home in the little country town of Stratford-on-Avon in 1586 to
seek his fortune in London. Without friends, without money, he had,
like any other stage-struck youth, set his heart on becoming an actor
in the metropolis. Fortune favoured him. He sought and won the humble
office of call-boy in a London playhouse; but no sooner had his foot
touched the lowest rung of the theatrical ladder than his genius
taught him that the topmost rung was within his reach. He tried his
hand on the revision of an old play, and the manager was not slow to
recognise an unmatched gift for dramatic writing.

It was not probably till 1591, when Shakespeare was twenty-seven, that
his earliest original play, _Love's Labour's Lost_, was performed. It
showed the hand of a beginner; it abounded in trivial witticisms. But
above all, there shone out clearly and unmistakably the dramatic and
poetic fire, the humorous outlook on life, the insight into human
feeling, which were to inspire Titanic achievements in the future.

Soon after, Shakespeare scaled the tragic heights of _Romeo and
Juliet_, and he was hailed as the prophet of a new world of art.
Fashionable London society then, as now, befriended the theatre.
Cultivated noblemen offered their patronage to promising writers for
the stage, and Shakespeare soon gained the ear of the young Earl of
Southampton, one of the most accomplished and handsome of the queen's
noble courtiers, who was said to spend nearly all his time in going
to the playhouse every day. It was at Southampton's suggestion, that,
in the week preceding the Christmas of 1594, the Lord Chamberlain sent
word to The Theatre in Shoreditch, where Shakespeare was at work as
playwright and actor, that the poet was expected at Court on two days
following Christmas, in order to give his sovereign on the two
evenings a taste of his quality. He was to act before her in his own

It cannot have been Shakespeare's promise as an actor that led to the
royal summons. His histrionic fame had not progressed at the same rate
as his literary repute. He was never to win the laurels of a great
actor. His most conspicuous triumph on the stage was achieved in
middle life as the Ghost in his own _Hamlet_, and he ordinarily
confined his efforts to old men of secondary rank. Ample compensation
was provided by his companions for his personal deficiencies as an
actor on his first visit to Court; he was to come supported by actors
of the highest eminence in their generation. Directions were given
that the greatest of the tragic actors of the day, Richard Burbage,
and the greatest of the comic actors, William Kemp, were to bear the
young actor-dramatist company. With neither of these was Shakespeare's
histrionic position then or at any time comparable. For years they
were leaders of the acting profession.

Shakespeare's relations with Burbage and Kemp were close, both
privately and professionally. Almost all Shakespeare's great tragic
characters were created on the stage by Burbage, who had lately roused
London to enthusiasm by his stirring presentation of Shakespeare's
_Richard III._ for the first time. As long as Kemp lived, he conferred
a like service on many of Shakespeare's comic characters; and he had
recently proved his worth as a Shakespearean comedian by his original
rendering of the part of Peter, the Nurse's graceless attendant, in
_Romeo and Juliet_. Thus stoutly backed, Shakespeare appeared for the
first time in the royal presence-chamber of Greenwich Palace on the
evening of St Stephen's Day (the Boxing Day of subsequent generations)
in 1594.

Extant documentary evidence attests that Shakespeare and his two
associates performed one "comedy or interlude" on that night of Boxing
Day in 1594, and gave another "comedy or interlude" on the next night
but one; that the Lord Chamberlain paid the three men for their
services the sum of £13, 6s. 8d., and that the queen added to the
honorarium, as a personal proof of her satisfaction, the further sum
of £6, 13s. 4d. These were substantial sums in those days, when the
purchasing power of money was eight times as much as it is to-day, and
the three actors' reward would now be equivalent to £160.

Unhappily the record does not go beyond the payment of the money. What
words of commendation or encouragement Shakespeare received from his
royal auditor are not handed down, nor do we know for certain what
plays were performed on the great occasion. All the scenes came from
Shakespeare's repertory, and it is reasonable to infer that they were
drawn from _Love's Labour's Lost_, which was always popular in later
years at Elizabeth's Court, and from _The Comedy of Errors_, where the
farcical confusions and horse-play were after the queen's own heart
and robust taste. But nothing can be stated with absolute certainty
except that on December 29 Shakespeare travelled up the river from
Greenwich to London with a heavier purse and a lighter heart than on
his setting out. That the visit had in all ways been crowned with
success there is ample indirect evidence. He and his work had
fascinated his sovereign, and many a time during her remaining nine
years of life was she to seek delight again in the renderings of plays
by himself and his fellow-actors at her palaces on the banks of the
Thames. When Shakespeare was penning his new play of _A Midsummer
Night's Dream_ next year, he could not forbear to make a passing
obeisance of gallantry (in that vein for which the old spinster queen
was always thirsting) to "a fair vestal throned by the West," who
passed her life "in maiden meditation, fancy free."

Although literature and art can flourish without royal favour and
royal patronage, still it is rare that royal patronage has any other
effect than that of raising those who are its objects in the
estimation of contemporaries. The interest that Shakespeare's work
excited at Court was continuous throughout his life. When James I.
ascended the throne, no author was more frequently honoured by
"command" performances of his plays in the presence of the sovereign.
And then, as now, the playgoer's appreciation was quickened by his
knowledge that the play they were witnessing had been produced before
the Court at Whitehall a few days earlier. Shakespeare's publishers
were not above advertising facts like these, as may be seen by a
survey of the title-pages of editions published in his lifetime. "The
pleasant conceited comedy called _Love's Labour's Lost_" was
advertised with the appended words, "as it was presented before her
highness this last Christmas." "A most pleasant and excellent
conceited comedy of _Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of
Windsor_" was stated to have been "divers times acted both before her
majesty and elsewhere." The great play of _Lear_ was advertised, "as
it was played before the king's majesty at Whitehall on St Stephen's
night in the Christmas holidays."


Although Shakespeare's illimitable command of expression, his
universality of knowledge and insight, cannot easily be overlooked by
any man or woman of ordinary human faculty, still, from some points of
view, there is ground for surprise that the Elizabethan playgoer's
enthusiasm for Shakespeare's work was so marked and unequivocal as we
know that it was.

Let us consider for a moment the physical conditions of the theatre,
the methods of stage representation, in Shakespeare's day. Theatres
were in their infancy. The theatre was a new institution in social
life for Shakespeare's public, and the whole system of the theatrical
world came into being after Shakespeare came into the world. In
estimating Shakespeare's genius one ought to bear in mind that he was
a pioneer--almost the creator or first designer--of English drama, as
well as the practised workman in unmatched perfection. There were
before his day some efforts made at dramatic representation. The
Middle Ages had their miracle plays and moralities and interludes. But
of poetic, literary, romantic drama, England knew nothing until
Shakespeare was of age. Marlowe, who in his early years inaugurated
English tragedy, was Shakespeare's senior by only two months. It was
not till 1576, when Shakespeare was twelve, that London for the first
time possessed a theatre--a building definitely built for the purpose
of presenting plays. Before that year, inn-yards or platforms, which
were improvised in market-places or fields, served for the performance
of interludes or moralities.

Nor was it precisely in London proper that this primal theatre, which
is known in history simply as The Theatre, was set up. London in
Shakespeare's day was a small town, barely a mile square, with a
population little exceeding 60,000 persons. Within the circuit of the
city-walls vacant spaces were sparse, and public opinion deprecated
the erection of buildings upon them. Moreover, the puritan clergy and
their pious flocks, who constituted an active section of the citizens,
were inclined to resist the conversion of any existing building into
such a Satanic trap for unwary souls as they believed a playhouse of
necessity to be.

It was, accordingly, in the fields near London, not in London itself,
that the first theatre was set up. Adjoining the city lay pleasant
meadows, which were bright in spring-time with daisies and violets.
Green lanes conducted the wayfarer to the rural retreat of Islington,
and citizens went for change of air to the rustic seclusion of
Mary-le-bone. A site for the first-born of London playhouses was
chosen in the spacious fields of Finsbury and Shoreditch, which the
Great Eastern Railway now occupies. The innovation of a theatre, even
though it were placed outside the walls of the city, excited serious
misgiving among the godly minority. But, after much controversy, the
battle was finally won by the supporters of the play, and The Theatre
was launched on a prosperous career. Two or three other theatres
quickly sprang up in neighbouring parts of London's environment. When
Shakespeare was reaching the zenith of his career, the centre of
theatrical life was transferred from Shoreditch to the Southwark bank
of the river Thames, at the south side of London Bridge, which lay
outside the city's boundaries, but was easy of access to residents
within them. It was at the Globe Theatre on Bankside, which was
reached by bridge or by boat from the city-side of the river, that
Shakespearean drama won its most glorious triumphs.


Despite the gloomy warnings of the preachers, the new London theatres
had for the average Elizabethan all the fascination that a new toy has
for a child. The average Elizabethan repudiated the jeremiads of the
ultra-pious, and instantaneously became an enthusiastic playgoer.
During the last year of the sixteenth century, an intelligent visitor
to London, Thomas Platter, a native of Basle, whose journal has
recently been discovered,[6] described with ingenuous sympathy the
delight which the populace displayed in the new playhouses.

[Footnote 6: Professor Binz of Basle printed in September 1899 some
extracts from Thomas Platter's unpublished diary of travels under the
title: _Londoner Theater und Schauspiele im Jahre 1599_. Platter spent
a month in London--September 18 to October 20, 1599. Platter's
manuscript is in the Library of Basle University.]

Some attractions which the theatres offered had little concern with
the drama. Their advantages included the privileges of eating and
drinking while the play was in progress. After the play there was
invariably a dance on the stage, often a brisk and boisterous Irish

Other features of the entertainment seem to have been less
exhilarating. The mass of the spectators filled the pit, where there
was standing room only; there were no seats. The admission rarely cost
more than a penny; but there was no roof. The rain beat at pleasure on
the heads of the "penny" auditors; while pickpockets commonly plied
their trade among them without much hindrance when the piece absorbed
the attention of the "house." Seats or benches were only to be found
in the two galleries, the larger portions of which were separated into
"rooms" or boxes; prices there ranged from twopence to half-a-crown.
If the playgoer had plenty of money at his command he could, according
to the German visitor, hire not only a seat but a cushion to elevate
his stature; "so that," says our author, "he might not only see the
play, but"--what is also often more important for rich people--"be
seen" by the audience to be occupying a specially distinguished place.
Fashionable playgoers of the male sex might, if they opened their
purses wide enough, occupy stools on the wide platform-stage. Such a
practice proved embarrassing, not only to the performers, but to those
who had to content themselves with the penny pit. Standing in front
and by the sides of the projecting stage, they could often only catch
glimpses of the actors through chinks in serried ranks of stools.

The histrionic and scenic conditions, in which Shakespeare's plays
were originally produced, present a further series of disadvantages
which, from our modern point of view, render the more amazing the
unqualified enthusiasm of the Elizabethan playgoer.

There was no scenery, although there were crude endeavours to create
scenic illusion by means of "properties" like rocks, tombs, caves,
trees, tables, chairs, and pasteboard dishes of food. There was at the
outset no music, save flourishes on trumpets at the opening of the
play and between the acts. The scenes within each act were played
continuously without pause. The bare boards of the platform-stage,
which no proscenium nor curtain darkened, projected so far into the
auditorium, that the actors spoke in the very centre of the house.
Trap-doors were in use for the entrance of "ghosts" and other
mysterious personages. At the back of the stage was a raised platform
or balcony, from which often hung loose curtains; through them the
actors passed to the forepart of the stage. The balcony was pressed
into the service when the text of the play indicated that the speakers
were not actually standing on the same level. From the raised platform
Juliet addressed Romeo in the balcony scene, and the citizens of
Angers in _King John_ held colloquy with the English besiegers. This
was, indeed, almost the furthest limit of the Elizabethan
stage-manager's notion of scenic realism. The boards, which were bare
save for the occasional presence of rough properties, were held to
present adequate semblance, as the play demanded, of a king's
throne-room, a chapel, a forest, a ship at sea, a mountainous pass, a
market-place, a battle-field, or a churchyard.

The costumes had no pretensions to fit the period or place of the
action. They were the ordinary dresses of various classes of the day,
but were often of rich material, and in the height of the current
fashion. False hair and beards, crowns and sceptres, mitres and
croziers, armour, helmets, shields, vizors, and weapons of war, hoods,
bands, and cassocks, were mainly relied on to indicate among the
characters differences of rank or profession.

The foreign observer, Thomas Platter of Basle, was impressed by the
splendour of the actors' costumes. He accounted for it in a manner
that negatives any suggestion of dramatic propriety:--

     "The players wear the most costly and beautiful dresses, for
     it is the custom in England, that when noblemen or knights
     die, they leave their finest clothes to their servants, who,
     since it would not be fitting for them to wear such splendid
     garments, sell them soon afterwards to the players for a
     small sum."

The most striking defect in the practice of the Elizabethan playhouse,
according to accepted notions, lies in the allotment of the female
rôles. It was thought unseemly for women to act at all. Female parts
were played by boys or men--a substitution lacking, from the modern
point of view, in grace and seemliness. But the standard of propriety
in such matters varies from age to age. Shakespeare alludes quite
complacently to the appearance of boys and men in women's parts. He
makes Rosalind say, laughingly and saucily, to the men of the
audience in the epilogue to _As You Like It_: "If I were a woman I
would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me." "_If I were_
a woman," she says. The jest lies in the fact that the speaker was not
a woman but a boy. Similarly, Cleopatra on her downfall in _Antony and
Cleopatra_, (V. ii. 220), laments

                          the quick comedians
    Extemporally will stage us ... and I shall see
    Some squeaking Cleopatra _boy_ my greatness.

The experiment of entrusting a boy with the part of Ophelia was lately
tried in London not unsuccessfully; but it is difficult to realise how
a boy or young man could adequately interpret most of Shakespeare's
female characters. It seems almost sacrilegious to conceive the part
of Cleopatra, the most highly sensitised in its minutest details of
all dramatic portrayals of female character,--it seems almost
sacrilegious to submit Cleopatra's sublimity of passion to
interpretation by an unfledged representative of the other sex. Yet
such solecisms were imperative under the theatrical system of the late
sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Men taking women's parts
seem to have worn masks, but that can hardly have improved matters.
Flute, when he complains that it would hardly befit him to play a
woman's part because he had a beard coming, is bidden by his
resourceful manager, Quince, play Thisbe in a "mask." At times actors
who had long lost the roses of youth masqueraded in women's rôles.
Thereby the ungainliness, which marked the distribution of the cast in
Elizabethan and Jacobean playhouses, was often forced into stronger

It was not till the seventeenth century was well advanced that women
were permitted to act in public theatres. Then the gracelessness of
the masculine method was acknowledged and deplored. It was the
character of Desdemona which was first undertaken by a woman, and the
absurdity of the old practice was noticed in the prologue written for
this revival of _Othello_, which was made memorable by the innovation.
Some lines in the prologue describe the earlier system thus:--

    For to speak truth, men act, that are between
    Forty or fifty, wenches of fifteen,
    With bone so large and nerve so uncompliant,
    When you call Desdemona, enter Giant.

Profound commiseration seems due to the Elizabethan playgoer, who was
liable to have his faith in the tenderness and gentleness of Desdemona
rudely shaken by the irruption on the stage of a brawny,
broad-shouldered athlete, masquerading in her sweet name. Boys or men
of all shapes and sizes squeaking or bawling out the tender and
pathetic lines of Shakespeare's heroines, and no joys of scenery to
distract the playgoer from the uncouth inconsistency! At first sight
it would seem that the Elizabethan playgoer's lot was anything but


The Elizabethan's hard fate strangely contrasts with the situation of
the playgoer of the nineteenth or twentieth century. To the latter
Shakespeare is presented in a dazzling plenitude of colour. Music
punctuates not merely intervals between scenes and acts, but critical
pauses in the speeches of the actors. Pictorial tableaux enthral the
most callous onlooker. Very striking is the contrast offered by the
methods of representation accepted with enthusiasm by the Elizabethan
playgoer and those deemed essential by the fashionable modern manager.
There seems a relish of barbarism in the ancient system when it is
compared with the one now in vogue.

I fear the final conclusion to be drawn from the contrast is, contrary
to expectation, more creditable to our ancestors than to ourselves.
The needful dramatic illusion was obviously evoked in the playgoer of
the past with an ease that is unknown to the present patrons of the
stage. The absence of scenery, the substitution of boys and men for
women, could only have passed muster with the Elizabethan spectator
because he was able to realise the dramatic potency of the poet's work
without any, or any but the slightest, adventitious aid outside the
words of the play.

The Elizabethan playgoer needs no pity. It is ourselves who are
deserving objects of compassion, because we lack those qualities, the
possession of which enabled the Elizabethan to acknowledge in
Shakespeare's work, despite its manner of production, "the delight and
wonder of his stage." The imaginative faculty was far from universal
among the Elizabethan playgoers. The playgoing mob always includes
groundlings who delight exclusively in dumb shows and noise. Many of
Shakespeare's contemporaries complained that there were playgoers who
approved nothing "but puppetry and loved ridiculous antics," and that
there were men who, going to the playhouse only "to laugh and feed
fool-fat," "checked at all goodness there."[7] No public of any age or
country is altogether free from such infirmities. But the reception
accorded to Shakespeare's plays in the theatre of his day, in
contemporary theatrical conditions, is proof-positive of a signal
imaginative faculty in an exceptionally large proportion of the

[Footnote 7: Chapman's _Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois_, Act I., Sc. i.]

To the Elizabethan actor a warm tribute is due. Shakespeare has
declared with emphasis that no amount of scenery can secure genuine
success on the stage for a great work of the imagination. He is no
less emphatic in the value he sets on competent acting. In _Hamlet_,
as every reader will remember, the dramatist points out the perennial
defects of the actor, and shows how they may and must be corrected. He
did all he could for the Elizabethan playgoer in the way of insisting
that the art of acting must be studied seriously, and that the
dramatist's words must reach the ears of the audience, clearly and
intelligibly enunciated.

"Speak the speech, I pray you," he tells the actor, "as I pronounce it
to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it, as many of your
players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not
saw the air too much with your hand, thus; but use all gently: for in
the very torrent, tempest, and--as I may say--whirlwind of passion,
you must acquire and beget a temperance, that may give it smoothness.

"Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor:
suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special
observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature. O! there be
players that I have seen play, and heard others praise, and that
highly, not to speak it profanely, that, neither having the accent of
Christians nor the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so strutted
and bellowed that I have thought some of nature's journeymen had made
men and not made them well, they imitated humanity so abominably."

The player amiably responds: "I hope we have reformed that
indifferently with us." Shakespeare in the person of Hamlet retorts in
a tone of some impatience: "O! reform it altogether. And let those
that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them." The
applause which welcomed Shakespeare's masterpieces on their first
representation is adequate evidence that the leading Elizabethan
actors in the main obeyed these instructions.


Nevertheless the final success of a great imaginative play on the
stage does not depend entirely on the competence of the actor.
Encircling and determining all conditions is the fitness of the
audience. A great imaginative play well acted will not achieve genuine
success unless the audience has at command sufficient imaginative
power to induce in them an active sympathy with the efforts, not only
of the actor, but of the dramatist.

It is not merely in the first chorus to _Henry V._ that Shakespeare
has declared his conviction that the creation of the needful dramatic
illusion is finally due to exercise of the imagination on the part of
the audience.[8] Theseus, in _A Midsummer Night's Dream_, in the
capacity of a spectator of a play which is rendered by indifferent
actors, makes a somewhat depreciatory reflection on the character of
acting, whatever its degree or capacity. But the value of Theseus's
deliverance lies in its clear definition of the part which the
audience has to play, if it do its duty by great drama.

[Footnote 8: See pp. 20-1, _supra_.]

"The best in this kind," says Theseus of actors, "are but shadows, and
the worst are no worse, _if imagination amend them_." To which
Hippolyta, less tolerant than Theseus of the incapacity of the players
to whom she is listening, tartly retorts: "It must be your imagination
(_i.e._, the spectator's), then, and not theirs (_i.e._, the

These sentences mean that at its very best acting is but a shadow or
simulation of life, and that acting at its very worst is likewise a
shadow or simulation. But the imagination of the audience is supreme
controller of the theatre, and can, if it be of adequate intensity,
even cause inferior acting to yield effects hardly distinguishable
from those of the best.

It would be unwise to press Theseus's words to extreme limits. All
that it behoves us to deduce from them is the unimpeachable principle
that the success of the romantic drama on the stage depends not merely
on the actor's gift of imagination, but to an even larger extent on
the possession by the audience of a similar faculty. Good acting is
needful. Scenery in moderation will aid the dramatic illusion,
although excess of scenery or scenic machinery may destroy it
altogether. Dramatic illusion must ultimately spring from the active
and unrestricted exercise of the imaginative faculty by author,
actor, and audience in joint-partnership.

What is the moral to be deduced from any examination of the
Elizabethan playgoer's attitude to Shakespeare's plays? It is
something of this kind. We must emulate our ancestors' command of the
imagination. We must seek to enlarge our imaginative sympathy with
Shakespeare's poetry. The imaginative faculty will not come to us at
our call; it will not come to us by the mechanism of study; it may not
come to us at all. It is easier to point out the things that will
hinder than the things that will hasten its approach. Absorption in
the material needs of life, the concentration of energy on the
increase of worldly goods, leave little room for the entrance into the
brain of the imaginative faculty, or for its free play when it is
there. The best way of seeking it is by reading the greatest of great
imaginative literature, by freely yielding the mind to its influence,
and by exercising the mind under its sway. And the greatest
imaginative literature that was ever penned was penned by Shakespeare.
No counsel is wiser than that of those two personal friends of his,
who were the first editors of his work, and penned words to this
effect: "Read him therefore, and again and again, and then if you do
not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger" of losing a
saving grace of life.



[Footnote 9: This paper was first printed in _The Nineteenth Century
and After_, February 1902.]


Biographers did not lie in wait for men of eminence on their
death-beds in Shakespeare's epoch. To the advantage of literature, and
to the less than might be anticipated disadvantage of history (for
your death-bed biographer, writing under kinsfolk's tear-laden eyes,
must needs be smoother-tongued than truthful), the place of the modern
memoir-writer was filled in Shakespeare's day by friendly poets, who
were usually alert to pay fit homage in elegiac verse to a dead hero's
achievements. In that regard, Shakespeare's poetic friends showed at
his death exceptional energy. During his lifetime men of letters had
bestowed on his "reigning wit," on his kingly supremacy of genius,
most generous stores of eulogy. Within two years of the end a
sonneteer had justly deplored that something of Shakespeare's own
power, to which he deprecated pretension, was needful to those who
should praise him aright. But when Shakespeare lay dead in the spring
of 1616, when, as one of his admirers technically phrased it, he had
withdrawn from the stage of the world to the "tiring-house" or
dressing-room of the grave, the flood of panegyrical lamentation was
not checked by the sense of literary inferiority which in all
sincerity oppressed the spirits of surviving companions.

One of the earliest of the elegies was a sonnet by William Basse, who
gave picturesque expression to the conviction that Shakespeare would
enjoy for all time an unique reverence on the part of his countrymen.
In the opening lines of his poem Basse apostrophised Chaucer, Spenser,
and the dramatist Francis Beaumont, three poets who had already
received the recognition of burial in Westminster Abbey--Beaumont, the
youngest of them, only five weeks before Shakespeare died. To this
honoured trio Basse made appeal to "lie a thought more nigh" one
another, so as to make room for the newly-dead Shakespeare within
their "sacred sepulchre." Then, in the second half of his sonnet, the
poet, developing a new thought, argued that Shakespeare, in right of
his pre-eminence, merited a burial-place apart from all his fellows.
With a glance at Shakespeare's distant grave in the chancel of
Stratford-on-Avon Church, the writer exclaimed:--

    Under this carved marble of thine own
    Sleep, brave tragedian, Shakespeare, sleep _alone_.

The fine sentiment found many a splendid echo. It resounded in Ben
Jonson's lines of 1623:--

    My Shakespeare, rise! I will not lodge thee by
    Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie
    A little further to make thee a room.
    Thou art a monument without a tomb,
    And art alive still, while thy book doth live
    And we have wits to read and praise to give.

Milton wrote a few years later, in 1630, how Shakespeare, "sepulchred"
in "the monument" of his writings,

                   in such pomp doth lie,
    That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.

Never was a glorious immortality foretold for any man with more solemn
confidence than it was foretold for Shakespeare at his death by his
circle of adorers. When Time, one elegist said, should dissolve his
"Stratford monument," the laurel about Shakespeare's brow would wear
its greenest hue. Shakespeare's critical friend, Ben Jonson, was but
one of a numerous band who imagined the "sweet swan of Avon," "the
star of poets," shining for ever as a constellation in the firmament.
Such was the invariable temper in which literary men gave vent to
their grief on learning the death of the "beloved author," "the famous
scenicke poet," "the admirable dramaticke poet," "that famous writer
and actor," "worthy master William Shakespeare" of Stratford-on-Avon.


Unqualified and sincere was the eulogy awarded to Shakespeare, alike
in his lifetime and immediately after his death. But the spirit and
custom of the age confided to future generations the duty of first
offering him the more formal honour of prosaic and critical biography.
The biographic memoir, which consists of precise and duly
authenticated dates and records of domestic and professional
experiences and achievements, was in England a comparatively late
growth. It had no existence when Shakespeare died. It began to blossom
in the eighteenth century, and did not flourish luxuriantly till a far
more recent period. Meagre seeds of the modern art of biography were,
indeed, sown within a few years of Shakespeare's death; but outside
the unique little field of Izaak Walton's tillage, the first
sproutings were plants so different from the fully developed tree,
that they can with difficulty be identified with the genus. Apart from
Izaak Walton's exceptional efforts, the biographical spirit first
betrayed itself in England in slender, occasional pamphlets of
rhapsodical froth, after the model of the funeral sermon. There
quickly followed more substantial volumes of collective biography,
which mainly supplied arbitrarily compiled, if extended, catalogues of
names. To each name were attached brief annotations, which
occasionally offered a fact or a date, but commonly consisted of a few
sentences of grotesque, uncritical eulogy.

Fuller's _Worthies of England_, which was begun about 1643 and was
published posthumously in 1662, was the first English compendium of
biography of this aboriginal pattern. Shakespeare naturally found
place in Fuller's merry pages, for the author loved in his eccentric
fashion his country's literature, and he had sought the society of
those who had come to close quarters with literary heroes of the past
generation. Of that generation his own life just touched the fringe,
he being eight years old when Shakespeare died. Fuller described the
dramatist as a native of Stratford-on-Avon, who "was in some sort a
compound of three eminent poets"--Martial, "in the warlike sound of
his name"; Ovid, for the naturalness and wit of his poetry; and
Plautus, alike for the extent of his comic power and his lack of
scholarly training. He was, Fuller continued, an eminent instance of
the rule that a poet is born not made. "Though his genius," he warns
us, "generally was jocular and inclining him to festivity, yet he
could, when so disposed, be solemn and serious." His comedies, Fuller
adds, would rouse laughter even in the weeping philosopher Heraclitus,
while his tragedies would bring tears even to the eyes of the laughing
philosopher Democritus.

Of positive statements respecting Shakespeare's career Fuller is
economical. He commits himself to nothing more than may be gleaned
from the following sentences:--

     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. He died _Anno Domini_ 1616, and was
     buried at Stratford-upon-Avon, the town of his nativity.

Fuller's successors did their work better in some regards, because
they laboured in narrower fields. Many of them showed a welcome
appreciation of a main source of their country's permanent reputation
by confining their energies to the production of biographical
catalogues, not of all manners of heroes, but solely of those who had
distinguished themselves in poetry and the drama.[10] In 1675 a
biographical catalogue of poets was issued for the first time in
England, and the example once set was quickly followed. No less than
three more efforts of the like kind came to fruition before the end of
the century.

[Footnote 10: Such a compilation had been contemplated in 1614, two
years before the dramatist died, by one of Shakespeare's own
associates, Thomas Heywood. Twenty-one years later, in 1635, Heywood
spoke of "committing to the public view" his summary _Lives of the
Poets_, but nothing more was heard of that project.]

In all four biographical manuals Shakespeare was accorded more or less
imposing space. Although Fuller's eccentric compliments were usually
repeated, they were mingled with far more extended and discriminating
tributes. Two of the compilers designated Shakespeare "the glory of
the English stage"; a third wrote, "I esteem his plays beyond any that
have ever been published in our language"; while the fourth quoted
with approval Dryden's fine phrase: "Shakespeare was the Man who of
all Modern and perhaps Ancient Poets had the largest and most
comprehensive Soul." But the avowed principles of these tantalising
volumes justify no expectation of finding in them solid information.
The biographical cataloguers of the seventeenth century did little
more than proclaim Shakespeare and the other great poets of the
country to be fit subjects for formal biography as soon as the type
should be matured. That was the message of greatest virtue which these
halting chroniclers delivered.

In Shakespeare's case their message was not long neglected. In 1709
Nicholas Rowe, afterwards George the First's poet laureate, published
the first professed biography of the poet. The eminence of the
subject justified such alacrity, and it had no precise parallel. More
or less definite lives of a few of Shakespeare's great literary
contemporaries followed his biography at long intervals. But the whole
field has never been occupied by the professed biographer. In some
cases the delay has meant loss of opportunity for ever. Very many
distinguished Elizabethan and Jacobean authors have shared the fate of
John Webster, next to Shakespeare the most eminent tragic dramatist of
the era, of whom no biography was ever attempted, and no positive
biographic fact survives.

But this is an imperfect statement of the advantages which
Shakespeare's career enjoyed above that of his fellows from the
commemorative point of view. Although formal biography did not lay
hand on his name for nearly a century after his death, the authentic
tradition of his life and work began steadily to crystallise in the
minds and mouths of men almost as soon as he drew his last breath.
Fuller's characteristically shadowy hint of "wit-combats betwixt
Shakespeare and Ben Jonson" and of the contrasted characters of the
two combatants, suggests pretty convincingly that Shakespeare's name
presented to the seventeenth-century imagination and tongue a better
defined personality and experience than the embryonic biographer knew
how to disclose. The commemorative instinct never seeks satisfaction
in biographic effort exclusively, even when the art of biography has
ripened into satisfying fulness. A great man's reputation and the
moving incidents of his career never live solely in the printed book
or the literary word. In a great man's lifetime, and for many years
after, his fame and his fortunes live most effectually on living lips.
The talk of surviving kinsmen, fellow-craftsmen, admiring
acquaintances, and sympathetic friends is the treasure-house which
best preserves the personality of the dead hero for those who come
soon after him. When biography is unpractised, no other treasure-house
is available.

The report of such converse moves quickly from mouth to mouth. In its
progress the narration naturally grows fainter, and, when no
biographer lies in wait for it, ultimately perishes altogether. But
oral tradition respecting a great man whose work has fascinated the
imagination of his countrymen comes into circulation early, persists
long, even in the absence of biography, and safeguards substantial
elements of truth through many generations. Although no biographer put
in an appearance, it is seldom that some fragment of oral tradition
respecting a departed hero is not committed to paper by one or other
amateur gossip who comes within earshot of it early in its career. The
casual unsifted record of floating anecdote is not always above
suspicion. As a rule it is embodied in familiar correspondence, or in
diaries, or in commonplace books, where clear and definite language is
rarely met with; but, however disappointingly imperfect and trivial,
however disjointed, however deficient in literary form the registered
jottings of oral tradition may be, it is in them, if they exist at all
with any title to credit, that future ages best realise the fact that
the great man was in plain truth a living entity, and no mere shadow
of a name.


When Shakespeare died, on the 23rd of April, 1616, many men and women
were alive who had come into personal association with him, and there
were many more who had heard of him from those who had spoken with
him. Apart from his numerous kinsfolk and neighbours at
Stratford-on-Avon, there was in London a large society of
fellow-authors and fellow-actors with whom he lived in close
communion. Very little correspondence or other intimate memorials,
whether of Shakespeare's professional friends or of his kinsfolk or
country neighbours, survive. Nevertheless some scraps of the talk
about Shakespeare that circulated among his acquaintances or was
handed on by them to the next generation has been tracked to written
paper of the seventeenth century and to printed books. A portion of
these scattered memorabilia of the earliest known oral traditions
respecting Shakespeare has come to light very recently; other portions
have been long accessible. As a connected whole they have never been
narrowly scrutinised, and I believe it may serve a useful purpose to
consider with some minuteness how the mass of them came into being,
and what is the sum of information they conserve.

The more closely Shakespeare's career is studied the plainer it
becomes that his experiences and fortunes were identical with those of
all who followed in his day his profession of dramatist, and that his
conscious aims and ambitions and practices were those of every
contemporary man of letters. The difference between the results of his
endeavours and those of his fellows was due to the magical and
involuntary working of genius, which, since the birth of poetry, has
exercised "as large a charter as the wind, to blow on whom it
pleases." Speculation or debate as to why genius bestowed its fullest
inspiration on Shakespeare is no less futile than speculation or
debate as to why he was born into the world with a head on his
shoulders instead of a block of stone. It is enough for wise men to
know the obvious fact that genius endowed Shakespeare with its richest
gifts, and a very small acquaintance with the literary history of the
world and with the manner in which genius habitually plays its part
there, will show the folly of cherishing astonishment that
Shakespeare, rather than one more nobly born or more academically
trained, should have been chosen for the glorious dignity. Nowhere is
this lesson more convincingly taught than by a systematic survey of
the oral tradition. Shakespeare figures there as a supremely favoured
heir of genius, whose humility of birth and education merely serves to
intensify the respect due to his achievement.

In London, where Shakespeare's work was mainly done and his fortune
and reputation achieved, he lived with none in more intimate social
relations than with the leading members of his own prosperous company
of actors, which, under the patronage of the king, produced his
greatest plays. Like himself, most of his colleagues were men of
substance, sharers with him in the two most fashionable theatres of
the metropolis, occupiers of residences in both town and country,
owners of houses and lands, and bearers of coat-armour of that
questionable validity which commonly attaches to the heraldry of the
_nouveaux riches_. Two of these affluent associates predeceased
Shakespeare; and one of them, Augustine Phillips, attested his
friendship in a small legacy. Three of Shakespeare's fellow-actors
were affectionately remembered by him in his will, and a fourth, one
of the youngest members of the company, proved his regard for
Shakespeare's memory by taking, a generation after the dramatist's
death, Charles Hart, Shakespeare's grand-nephew, into his employ as a
"boy" or apprentice. Grand-nephew Charles went forth on a prosperous
career, in which at its height he was seriously likened to his
grand-uncle's most distinguished actor-ally, Richard Burbage. Above
all is it to be borne in mind that to the disinterested admiration for
his genius of two fellow-members of Shakespeare's company we owe the
preservation and publication of the greater part of his literary work.
The personal fascination of "so worthy a friend and fellow as was our
Shakespeare" bred in all his fellow-workers an affectionate pride in
their intimacy.

Such men were the parents of the greater part of the surviving oral
tradition of Shakespeare, and no better parentage could be wished for.
To the first accessible traditions of proved oral currency after
Shakespeare's death, the two fellow-actors who called the great First
Folio into existence pledged their credit in writing only seven years
after his death. They printed in the preliminary pages of that volume
these three statements of common fame, viz., that to Shakespeare and
his plays in his lifetime was invariably extended the fullest favour
of the court and its leading officers; that death deprived him of the
opportunity he had long contemplated of preparing his literary work
for the press; and that he wrote with so rapidly flowing a pen that
his manuscript was never defaced by alteration or erasure.
Shakespeare's extraordinary rapidity of composition was an especially
frequent topic of contemporary debate. Ben Jonson, the most intimate
personal friend of Shakespeare outside the circle of working actors,
wrote how "the players" would "often mention" to him the poet's
fluency, and how he was in the habit of arguing that Shakespeare's
work would have been the better had he devoted more time to its
correction. The players, Ben Jonson adds, were wont to grumble that
such a remark was "malevolent," and he delighted in seeking to
vindicate it to them on what seemed to him to be just critical

The copious deliverances of Jonson in the tavern-parliaments of the
London wits, which were in almost continuous session during the first
four decades of the seventeenth century, set flowing much other oral
tradition of Shakespeare, whom Jonson said he loved and whose memory
he honoured "on this side idolatry as much as any." One of Jonson's
remarks which seems to have lived longest on the lips of
contemporaries was that Shakespeare "was indeed honest and [like his
own Othello] of an open and free nature,[11] had an excellent
phantasy, brave notions and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with
that facility that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped."

[Footnote 11: Iago says of Othello, in _Othello_ I., iii. 405: "The
Moor is _of a free and open nature_."]

To the same category of oral tradition belongs the further piece which
Fuller enshrined in his slender biography with regard to Shakespeare's
alert skirmishes with Ben Jonson in dialectical battle. Jonson's
dialectical skill was for a long period undisputed, and for gossip to
credit Shakespeare with victory in such conflict was to pay his
memory even more enviable honour than Jonson paid it in his own
_obiter dicta_.

There is yet an additional scrap of oral tradition which, reduced to
writing about the time that Fuller was at work, confirms Shakespeare's
reputation for quickness of wit in everyday life, especially in
intercourse with the critical giant Jonson. Dr Donne, the Jacobean
poet and dean of St Paul's, told, apparently on Jonson's authority,
the story that Shakespeare, having consented to act as godfather to
one of Jonson's sons, solemnly promised to give the child a dozen good
"_Latin_ spoons" for the father to "translate." _Latin_ was a play
upon the word "latten," which was the name of a metal resembling
brass. The simple quip was a good-humoured hit at Jonson's pride in
his classical learning. Dr Donne related the anecdote to Sir Nicholas
L'Estrange, a country gentleman of literary tastes, who had no
interest in Shakespeare except from the literary point of view. He
entered it in his commonplace book within thirty years of
Shakespeare's death.


Of the twenty-five actors who are enumerated in a preliminary page of
the great First Folio, as filling in Shakespeare's lifetime chief
rôles in his plays, few survived him long. All of them came in
personal contact with him; several of them constantly appeared with
him on the stage from early days.

The two who were longest lived, John Lowin and Joseph Taylor, came at
length to bear a great weight of years. They were both Shakespeare's
juniors, Lowin by twelve years, and Taylor by twenty; but both
established their reputation before middle age. Lowin at twenty-seven
took part with Shakespeare in the first representation of Ben Jonson's
_Sejanus_ in 1603. He was an early, if not the first, interpreter of
the character of Falstaff. Taylor as understudy to the great actor
Burbage, a very close ally of Shakespeare, seems to have achieved some
success in the part of Hamlet, and to have been applauded in the rôle
of Iago, while the dramatist yet lived. When the dramatist died, Lowin
was forty, and Taylor over thirty.

Subsequently, as their senior colleagues one by one passed from the
world, these two actors assumed first rank in their company, and
before the ruin in which the Civil War involved all theatrical
enterprise, they were acknowledged to stand at the head of their
profession.[12] Taylor lived through the Commonwealth, and Lowin far
into the reign of Charles the Second, ultimately reaching his
ninety-third year. Their last days were passed in indigence, and Lowin
when an octogenarian was reduced to keeping the inn of the "Three
Pigeons," at Brentford.

[Footnote 12: Like almost all their colleagues, they had much literary
taste. When public events compulsorily retired them from the stage,
they, with the aid of the dramatist Shirley and eight other actors,
two of whom were members with them of Shakespeare's old company, did
an important service to English literature. In 1647 they collected for
first publication in folio Beaumont and Fletcher's plays; only one,
_The Wild Goose Chase_, was omitted, and that piece Taylor and Lowin
brought out by their unaided efforts five years later.]

Both these men kept alive from personal knowledge some oral
Shakespearean tradition during the fifty years and more that followed
his death. Little of their gossip is extant. But some of it was put
on record, before the end of the century, by John Downes, the old
prompter and librarian of a chief London theatre. According to
Downes's testimony, Taylor repeated instructions which he had received
from Shakespeare's own lips for the playing of the part of Hamlet,
while Lowin narrated how Shakespeare taught him the theatrical
interpretation of the character of Henry the Eighth, in that play of
the name which came from the joint pens of Shakespeare and Fletcher.

Both Taylor's and Lowin's reminiscences were passed on to Thomas
Betterton, the greatest actor of the Restoration, and the most
influential figure in the theatrical life of his day. Through him they
were permanently incorporated in the verbal stage-lore of the country.
No doubt is possible of the validity of this piece of oral tradition,
which reveals Shakespeare in the act of personally supervising the
production of his own plays, and springs from the mouths of those who
personally benefited by the dramatist's activity.

Taylor and Lowin were probably the last actors to speak of Shakespeare
from personal knowledge. But hardly less deserving of attention are
scraps of gossip about Shakespeare which survive in writing on the
authority of some of Taylor's and Lowin's actor-contemporaries. These
men were never themselves in personal relations with Shakespeare, but
knew many formerly in direct relation with him. Probably the
seventeenth century actor with the most richly stored memory of the
oral Shakespearean tradition was William Beeston, to whose house in
Hog Lane, Shoreditch, the curious often resorted in Charles the
Second's time to listen to his reminiscences of Shakespeare and of
the poets of Shakespeare's epoch.

Beeston died after a busy theatrical life, at eighty or upwards, in
1682. He belonged to a family of distinguished actors or
actor-managers. His father, brothers, and son were all, like himself,
prominent in the profession, and some of them were almost as
long-lived as himself. His own career combined with that of his father
covered more than a century, and both sedulously and with pride
cultivated intimacy with contemporary dramatic authors.

It was probably William Beeston's grandfather, also William Beeston,
to whom the satirical Elizabethan, Thomas Nash, dedicated in 1593,
with good-humoured irony, one of his insolent libels on Gabriel
Harvey, a scholar who had defamed the memory of a dead friend. Nash
laughed at his patron's struggles with syntax in his efforts to write
poetry, and at his indulgence in drink, which betrayed itself in his
red nose. But, in spite of Nash's characteristic frankness, he greeted
the first William Beeston as a boon companion who was generous in his
entertainment of threadbare scholars. Christopher Beeston, this man's
son, the father of the Shakespearean gossip, had in abundance the
hereditary taste for letters. He was at one time Shakespeare's
associate on the stage. Both took part together in the first
representation of Ben Jonson's _Every Man in His Humour_, in 1598. His
name was again linked with Shakespeare's in the will of their
fellow-actor, Augustine Phillips, who left each of them a legacy as a
token of friendship at his death in 1605. Christopher Beeston left
Shakespeare's company of actors for another theatre early in his
career, and his closest friend among the actor-authors of his day in
later life was not Shakespeare himself but Thomas Heywood, the popular
dramatist and pamphleteer, who lived on to 1650. This was a friendship
which kept Beeston's respect for Shakespeare at a fitting pitch.
Heywood, who wrote the affectionate lines:

    Mellifluous Shakespeare, whose inchanting Quill
    Commanded Mirth or Passion, was but _Will_,

enjoys the distinction of having published in Shakespeare's lifetime
the only expression of resentment that is known to have come from the
dramatist's proverbially "gentle lips." Shakespeare (Heywood wrote)
"was much offended" with an unprincipled publisher who "presumed to
make so bold with his name" as to put it to a book of which he was not
the author. And Beeston had direct concern with the volume called _An
Apology for Actors_, to which Heywood appended his report of these
words of Shakespeare. To the book the actor, Beeston, contributed
preliminary verses addressed to the author, his "good friend and
fellow, Thomas Heywood." There Beeston briefly vindicated the
recreation which the playhouse offered the public. Much else in
Christopher Beeston's professional career is known, but it is
sufficient to mention here that he died in 1637, while he was filling
the post that he had long held, of manager to the King and Queen's
Company of Players at the Cockpit Theatre in Drury Lane. It was the
chief playhouse of the time, and his wife was lessee of it.

Christopher's son, William Beeston the second, was his father's
coadjutor at Drury Lane, and succeeded him in his high managerial
office there. The son encountered difficulties with the Government
through an alleged insult to the King in one of the pieces that he
produced, and he had to retire from the Cockpit to a smaller theatre
in Salisbury Court. Until his death he retained the respect of the
play-going and the literature-loving public, and his son George, whom
he brought up to the stage, carried on the family repute to a later

William Beeston had no liking for dissolute society, and the open vice
of Charles the Second's Court pained him. He lived in old age much in
seclusion, but by a congenial circle he was always warmly welcomed for
the freshness and enthusiasm of his talk about the poets who
flourished in his youth. "Divers times (in my hearing)," one of his
auditors, Francis Kirkman, an ardent collector, reader, and publisher
of old plays, wrote to him in 1652--"Divers times (in my hearing), to
the admiration of the whole company you have most judiciously
discoursed of Poesie." In the judgment of Kirkman, his friend, the old
actor, was "the happiest interpreter and judg of our English
stage-Playes this Nation ever produced; which the Poets and Actors
these times cannot (without ingratitude) deny; for I have heard the
chief, and most ingenious of them, acknowledg their Fames and Profits
essentially sprung from your instructions, judgment, and fancy." Few
who heard Beeston talk failed, Kirkman continues, to subscribe "to his
opinion that no Nation could glory in such Playes" as those that came
from the pens of the great Elizabethans, Shakespeare, Fletcher, and
Ben Jonson. "Glorious John Dryden" shared in the general enthusiasm
for the veteran Beeston, and bestowed on him the title of "the
chronicle of the stage"; while John Aubrey, the honest antiquary and
gossip, who had in his disorderly brain the makings of a Boswell,
sought Beeston's personal acquaintance about 1660, in order to "take
from him the lives of the old English Poets."

It is Aubrey who has recorded most of such sparse fragments of
Beeston's talk as survive--how Edmund "Spenser was a little man, wore
short hair, little bands, and short cuffs," and how Sir John Suckling
came to invent the game of cribbage. Naturally, of Shakespeare Beeston
has much to relate. In the shrewd old gossip's language, he "did act
exceedingly well," far better than Jonson; "he understood Latin pretty
well, for he had been in his younger years a schoolmaster in the
country;" "he was a handsome, well-shaped man, very good company, and
of a very ready and pleasant smooth wit;" he and Ben Jonson gathered
"humours of men daily wherever they came." The ample testimony to the
excellent influence which Beeston exercised over "the poets and actors
of these times" leaves little doubt that Sir William D'Avenant,
Beeston's successor as manager at Drury Lane, and Thomas Shadwell, the
fashionable writer of comedies, largely echoed their old mentor's
words when, in conversation with Aubrey, they credited Shakespeare
with "a most prodigious wit," and declared that they "did admire his
natural parts beyond all other dramatical writers."[13]

[Footnote 13: Aubrey's _Lives_, being reports of his miscellaneous
gossip, were first fully printed from his manuscripts in the Bodleian
Library by the Clarendon Press in 1898. They were most carefully
edited by the Rev. Andrew Clark.]

John Lacy, another actor of Beeston's generation, who made an immense
reputation on the stage and was also a successful writer of farces,
was one of Beeston's closest friends, and, having been personally
acquainted with Ben Jonson, could lend to many of Beeston's stories
useful corroborative testimony. With Lacy, too, the gossip Aubrey
conversed of Shakespeare's career.

At the same time, the popularity of Shakespeare's grand-nephew,
Charles Hart, who was called the Burbage of his day, whetted among
actors the appetite for Shakespearean tradition, especially of the
theatrical kind. Hart had no direct acquaintance with his great
kinsman, who died fully ten years before he was born, while his
father, who was sixteen at Shakespeare's death, died in his son's
boyhood. But Hart's grandmother, the poet's sister, lived till he was
twenty-one, and Richard Robinson, the fellow-member of Shakespeare's
company who first taught Hart to act, survived his pupil's
adolescence. That Hart did what he could to satisfy the curiosity of
his companions there is a precise oral tradition to confirm. According
to the story, first put on record in the eighteenth century by the
painstaking antiquary, William Oldys, it was through Hart that some
actors made, near the date of the Restoration, the exciting discovery
that Gilbert, one of Shakespeare's brothers, who was the dramatist's
junior by only two years, was still living at a patriarchal age. Oldys
describes the concern with which Hart's professional acquaintances
questioned the old man about his brother, and their disappointment
when his failing memory only enabled him to recall William's
performance of the part of Adam in his comedy of _As You Like It_.

It should be added that Oldys obtained his information of the episode,
which deserves more attention than it has received, from an actor of
a comparatively recent generation, John Bowman, who died over eighty
in 1739, after spending "more than half an age on the London


Valuable as these actors' testimonies are, it is in another rank of
the profession that we find the most important link in the chain of
witnesses alike to the persistence and authenticity of the oral
tradition of Shakespeare which was current in the middle of the
seventeenth century. Sir William D'Avenant, the chief playwright and
promoter of theatrical enterprise of his day, enjoyed among persons of
influence and quality infinite credit and confidence. As a boy he and
his brothers had come into personal relations with the dramatist under
their father's roof, and the experience remained the proudest boast of
their lives. D'Avenant was little more than ten when Shakespeare died,
and his direct intercourse with him was consequently slender; but
D'Avenant was a child of the Muses, and his slight acquaintance with
the living Shakespeare spurred him to treasure all that he could learn
of his hero from any who had enjoyed fuller opportunities of intimacy.

To learn the manner in which the child D'Avenant and his brothers came
to know Shakespeare is to approach the dramatist through oral tradition
at very close quarters. D'Avenant's father, a melancholy person who
was never known to laugh, long kept at Oxford the Crown Inn in Carfax.
Gossip which was current in Oxford throughout the seventeenth century,
and was put on record before the end of it by more than one scholar of
the university, establishes the fact that Shakespeare on his annual
journeys between London and Stratford-on-Avon was in the habit of
staying at the elder D'Avenant's Oxford hostelry. The report ran that
"he was exceedingly respected" in the house, and was freely admitted
to the inn-keeper's domestic circle. The inn-keeper's wife was
credited with a mercurial disposition which contrasted strangely with
her husband's sardonic temperament; it was often said in Oxford that
Shakespeare not merely found his chief attraction at the Crown Inn in
the wife's witty conversation, but formed a closer intimacy with her
than moralists would approve. Oral tradition speaks in clearer tones
of his delight in the children of the family--four boys and three
girls. We have at command statements on that subject from the lips of
two of the sons. The eldest son, Robert, who was afterwards a parson
in Wiltshire, and was on familiar terms with many men of culture,
often recalled with pride for their benefit that "Mr William
Shakespeare" had given him as a child "a hundred kisses" in his
father's tavern-parlour.

The third son, William, was more expansive in his reminiscences. It
was generally understood at Oxford in the early years of the
seventeenth century that he was the poet's godson, as his Christian
name would allow, but some gossips had it that the poet's paternity
was of a less spiritual character. According to a genuine anecdote of
contemporary origin, when the boy, William D'Avenant, in Shakespeare's
lifetime, informed a doctor of the university that he was on his way
to ask a blessing of his godfather who had just arrived in the town,
the child was warned by his interlocutor against taking the name of
God in vain. It is proof of the estimation in which D'Avenant held
Shakespeare that when he came to man's estate he was "content enough
to have" the insinuation "thought to be true." He would talk freely
with his friends over a glass of wine of Shakespeare's visits to his
father's house, and would say "that it seemed to him that he wrote
with Shakespeare's very spirit." Of his reverence for Shakespeare he
gave less questionable proof in a youthful elegy in which he
represented the flowers and trees on the banks of the Avon mourning
for Shakespeare's death and the river weeping itself away. He was
credited, too, with having adopted the new spelling of his name
D'_Aven_ant (for Davenant), so as to read into it a reference to the
river Avon.

In maturer age D'Avenant sought out the old actors Taylor and Lowin,
and mastered their information respecting Shakespeare, their early
colleague on the stage. With a curious perversity he mainly devoted
his undoubted genius in his later years to rewriting in accordance
with the debased taste of Charles the Second's reign the chief works
of his idol; but until D'Avenant's death in 1668 the unique character
of Shakespeare's greatness had no stouter champion than he, and in the
circle of men of wit and fashion, of which he was the centre, none
kept the cult alive with greater enthusiasm. His early friend Sir John
Suckling, the Cavalier poet, who was only seven years old when
Shakespeare died, he infected so thoroughly with his own affectionate
admiration that Suckling wrote of the dramatist in familiar letters as
"my friend Mr William Shakespeare," and had his portrait painted by
Vandyck with an open volume of Shakespeare's works in his hand. Even
more important is Dryden's testimony that he was himself "first
taught" by D'Avenant "to admire" Shakespeare.

One of the most precise and valuable pieces of oral tradition which
directly owed currency to D'Avenant was the detailed story of the
generous gift of £1000, which Shakespeare's patron, the Earl of
Southampton, made the poet, "to enable him to go through with a
purchase which he heard he had a mind to." Rowe, Shakespeare's first
biographer, recorded this particular on the specific authority of
D'Avenant, who, he pointed out, "was probably very well acquainted
with the dramatist's affairs." At the same time it was often repeated
that D'Avenant was owner of a complimentary letter which James the
First had written to Shakespeare with his own hand. A literary
politician, John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave and Duke of
Buckinghamshire, who survived D'Avenant nearly half a century, said
that he had examined the epistle while it was in D'Avenant's keeping.
The publisher Lintot first printed the Duke's statement in the preface
to a new edition of Shakespeare's Poems in 1709.

D'Avenant's devotion did much for Shakespeare's memory; but it
stimulated others to do even more for the after-generations who wished
to know the whole truth about Shakespeare's life. The great actor of
the Restoration, Thomas Betterton, was D'Avenant's close associate in
his last years. D'Avenant coached him in the parts both of Hamlet and
of Henry the Eighth, in the light of the instruction which he had
derived through the medium of Taylor and Lowin from Shakespeare's own
lips. But more to the immediate purpose is it to note that D'Avenant's
ardour as a seeker after knowledge of Shakespeare fired Betterton
into making a pilgrimage to Stratford-on-Avon to glean oral traditions
of the dramatist's life there. Many other of Shakespeare's admirers
had previously made Stratford Church, where stood his tomb, a place of
pilgrimage, and Aubrey had acknowledged in hap-hazard fashion the
value of Stratford gossip. But it was Betterton's visit that laid the
train for the systematic union of the oral traditions of London and
Stratford respectively.

It was not until the London and Warwickshire streams of tradition
mingled in equal strength that a regular biography of Shakespeare was
possible. Betterton was the efficient cause of this conjunction. All
that Stratford-on-Avon revealed to him he put at the disposal of
Nicholas Rowe, who was the first to attempt a formal memoir. Of
Betterton's assistance Rowe made generous acknowledgment in these

     I must own a particular Obligation to him [_i.e._,
     Betterton] for the most considerable part of the Passages
     relating to his [_i.e._, Shakespeare's] Life, which I have
     here transmitted to the Publick; his veneration for the
     Memory of Shakespear having engag'd him to make a Journey
     into Warwickshire, on purpose to gather up what Remains he
     could of a Name for which he had so great a Value.


The contemporary epitaph on Shakespeare's tomb in Stratford-on-Avon
Church, which acclaimed Shakespeare a writer of supreme genius, gave
the inhabitants of the little town no opportunity of ignoring at any
period the fact that the greatest poet of his era had been their
fellow-townsman. Stratford was indeed openly identified with
Shakespeare's career from the earliest possible day, and Sir William
Dugdale, the first topographer of Warwickshire, writing about 1650,
noted that the place was memorable for having given "birth and
sepulture to our late famous poet Will Shakespeare." But the obscure
little town produced in the years that followed Shakespeare's death
none who left behind records of their experience, and such fragments
of oral tradition of Shakespeare at Stratford as are extant survive
accidentally, with one notable exception, in the manuscript notes of
visitors, who, like Betterton, were drawn thither by a veneration
acquired elsewhere.

The one notable exception is John Ward, a seventeenth-century vicar of
Stratford, who settled there in 1662, at the age of thirty-three,
forty-six years after Shakespeare's death. Ward remained at Stratford
till his death in 1681. He is the only resident of the century who
wrote down any of the local story. Ward was a man of good sentiment.
He judged that it became a vicar of Stratford to know his Shakespeare
well, and one of his private reminders for his own conduct
runs--"Remember to peruse Shakespeare's plays, and bee much versed in
them, that I may not bee ignorant in that matter."

Ward was a voluminous diarist and a faithful chronicler as far as he
cared to go. Shakespeare's last surviving daughter, Judith Quiney, was
dying when he arrived in Stratford; but sons of Shakespeare's sister,
Mistress Joan Hart, were still living in the poet's birthplace in
Henley Street. Ward seems, too, to have known Lady Barnard,
Shakespeare's only grandchild and last surviving descendant, who,
although she only occasionally visited Stratford after her second
marriage in 1649 and her removal to her husband's residence at
Abington, near the town of Northampton, retained much property in her
native place till her death in 1670. Ward reported from local
conversation six important details, viz., that Shakespeare retired to
Stratford in his elder days; that he wrote at the most active period
of his life two plays a year; that he made so large an income from his
dramas that "he spent at the rate of £1000 a year"; that he
entertained his literary friends Drayton and Jonson at "a merry
meeting" shortly before his death, and that he died of its effects.

Oxford, which was only thirty-six miles distant, supplied the majority
of Stratford tourists, who, before Betterton, gathered oral tradition
there. Aubrey, the Oxford gossip, roughly noted six local items other
than those which are embodied in Ward's diary, or are to be gleaned
from Beeston's reminiscences, viz., that Shakespeare had as a lad
helped his father in his trade of butcher; that one of the poet's
companions in boyhood, who died young, had almost as extraordinary a
"natural wit"; that Shakespeare betrayed very early signs of poetic
genius; that he paid annual visits to his native place when his career
was at its height; that he loved at tavern meetings in the town to
chaff John Combe, the richest of his fellow-townsmen, who was accused
of usurious practices; and finally, that he died possessed of a
substantial fortune.

Until the end of the century, visitors were shown round the church by
an aged parish clerk, some of whose gossip about Shakespeare was
recorded by one of them in 1693. The old man came thus to supply two
further items of information: how Shakespeare ran away in youth, and
how he sought service at a playhouse, "and by this meanes had an
opportunity to be what he afterwards proved." A different visitor to
Stratford next year recorded in an extant letter to a friend yet more
scraps of oral tradition. These were to the effect that "the great
Shakespear" dreaded the removal of his bones to the charnel-house
attached to the church; that he caused his grave to be dug seventeen
feet deep; and that he wrote the rude warning against disturbing his
bones, which was inscribed on his gravestone, in order to meet the
capacity of the "very ignorant sort of people" whose business it was
to look after burials.

Betterton gained more precise particulars--the date of baptism and the
like--from an examination of the parochial records; but the most
valuable piece of oral tradition with which the great actor's research
must be credited was the account of Shakespeare's deer-stealing
escapade at Charlecote. Another tourist from Oxford privately and
independently put that anecdote into writing at the same date, but
Rowe, who first gave it to the world in his biography, relied
exclusively on Betterton's authority. At a little later period
inquiries made at Stratford by a second actor, Bowman, yielded a
trifle more. Bowman came to know a very reputable resident at
Bridgtown, a hamlet adjoining Stratford, Sir William Bishop, whose
family was of old standing there. Sir William was born ten years after
Shakespeare died, and lived close to Stratford till 1700. He told
Bowman that a part of Falstaff's character was drawn from a
fellow-townsman at Stratford against whom Shakespeare cherished a
grudge owing to his obduracy in some business transaction. Bowman
repeated the story to Oldys, who put it on record.

Although one could wish the early oral tradition of Stratford to have
been more thoroughly reported, such as is extant in writing is
sufficient to prove that Shakespeare's literary eminence was well
known in his native place during the century that followed his death.
In many villages in the neighbourhood of Stratford--at Bidford, at
Wilmcote, at Greet, at Dursley--there long persisted like oral
tradition of Shakespeare's occasional visits, but these were not
written down before the middle of the eighteenth century; and although
they are of service as proof of the local dissemination of his fame,
they are somewhat less definite than the traditions that suffered
earlier record, and need not be particularised here. One light piece
of gossip, which was associated with a country parish at some distance
from Stratford, can alone be traced back to remote date, and was
quickly committed to writing. A trustworthy Oxford don, Josias Howe,
fellow and tutor of Trinity, was born early in the seventeenth century
at Grendon in Buckinghamshire, where his father was long rector, and
he maintained close relations with his birthplace during his life of
more than ninety years. Grendon was on the road between Oxford and
London. Howe stated that Shakespeare often visited the place in his
journey from Stratford, and that he found the original of his
character of Dogberry in the person of a parish constable who lived on
there till 1642. Howe was on familiar terms with the man, and he
confided his reminiscence to his friend Aubrey, who duly recorded it,
although in a somewhat confused shape.


It is with early oral tradition of Shakespeare's personal experience
that I am dealing here. It is not my purpose to notice early literary
criticism, of which there is abundant supply. It was obviously the
free circulation of the fame of Shakespeare's work which stimulated
the activity of interest in his private fortunes and led to the
chronicling of the oral tradition regarding them. It could easily be
shown that, outside the circle of professional poets, dramatists,
actors, and fellow-townsmen, Shakespeare's name was, from his first
coming into public notice, constantly on the lips of scholars,
statesmen, and men of fashion who had any glimmer of literary taste.
The Muse of History indeed drops plain hints of the views expressed at
the social meetings of the great in the seventeenth century when
Shakespeare was under discussion. Before 1643, "all persons of quality
that had wit and learning" engaged in a set debate at Eton in the
rooms of "the ever-memorable" John Hales, Fellow of the College, on
the question of Shakespeare's merits compared with those of classical
poets. The judges who presided over "this ingenious assembly"
unanimously and without qualification decided in favour of
Shakespeare's superiority.

A very eminent representative of the culture and political
intelligence of the next generation was in full sympathy with the
verdict of the Eton College tribunal. Lord Clarendon held Shakespeare
to be one of the "most illustrious of our nation." Among the many
heroes of his admiration, Shakespeare was of the elect few who were
"most agreeable to his lordship's general humour." Lord Clarendon was
at the pains of securing a portrait of Shakespeare to hang in his
house in St James's. Similarly, the proudest and probably the richest
nobleman in political circles at the end of the seventeenth century,
the Duke of Somerset, was often heard to speak of his "pleasure in
that Greatness of Thought, those natural Images, those Passions finely
touch'd, and that beautiful Expression which is everywhere to be met
with in Shakespear."


It was to this Duke of Somerset that Rowe appropriately dedicated the
first full and formal biography of the poet. That work was designed as
a preface to the first critical edition of Shakespeare's plays, which
Rowe published in 1709. "Though the works of Mr Shakespear may seem to
many not to want a comment," Rowe wrote modestly enough, "yet I fancy
some little account of the man himself may not be thought improper to
go along with them." Rowe did his work quite as well as the
rudimentary state of the biographic art of his day allowed. He was
under the complacent impression that his supply of information
satisfied all reasonable curiosity. He had placed himself in the hands
of Betterton, an investigator at first hand. But the fact remains that
Rowe made no sustained nor scholarly effort to collect exhaustively
even the oral tradition; still less did he consult with thoroughness
official records or references to Shakespeare's literary achievements
in the books of his contemporaries. Such labour as that was to be
undertaken later, when the practice of biography had assimilated more
scientific method. Rowe preferred the straw of vague rhapsody to the
brick of solid fact.

Nevertheless Rowe's memoir laid the foundations on which his
successors built. It set ringing the bell which called together that
mass of information drawn from every source--manuscript archives,
printed books, oral tradition--which now far exceeds what is
accessible in the case of any poet contemporary with Shakespeare. Some
links in the chain of Shakespeare's career are still missing, and we
must wait for the future to disclose them. But, though the clues at
present are in some places faint, the trail never altogether eludes
the patient investigator. The ascertained facts are already numerous
enough to define beyond risk of intelligent doubt the direction that
Shakespeare's career followed. Its general outline is, as we have
seen, fully established by one source of knowledge alone--one out of
many--by the oral tradition which survives from the seventeenth

It may be justifiable to cherish regret for the loss of Shakespeare's
autograph papers and of his familiar correspondence. But the absence
of such documentary material can excite scepticism of the received
tradition only in those who are ignorant of the fate that invariably
befell the original manuscripts and correspondence of Elizabethan and
Jacobean poets and dramatists. Save for a few fragments of small
literary moment, no play of the era in its writer's autograph escaped
early destruction by fire or dustbin. No machinery then ensured, no
custom then encouraged, the due preservation of the autographs of men
distinguished for poetic genius. Provision was made in the public
record offices or in private muniment-rooms for the protection of the
official papers and correspondence of men in public life, and of
manuscript memorials affecting the property and domestic history of
great county families. But even in the case of men of the sixteenth or
seventeenth century in official life who, as often happened, devoted
their leisure to literature, the autographs of their literary
compositions have for the most part perished, and there usually only
remain in the official depositories remnants of their writings about
matters of official routine.

Not all those depositories, it is to be admitted, have yet been fully
explored, and in some of them a more thorough search than has yet been
undertaken may be expected to throw new light on Shakespeare's
biography. Meanwhile, instead of mourning helplessly over the lack of
material for a knowledge of Shakespeare's life, it becomes us to
estimate aright what we have at our command, to study it closely in
the light of the literary history of the epoch, and, while neglecting
no opportunity of bettering our information, to recognise frankly the
activity of the destroying agencies which have been at work from the
outset. Then we shall wonder, not why we know so little, but why we
know so much.



[Footnote 14: A paper read at the sixth meeting of the Samuel Pepys
Club, on Thursday, November 30, 1905, and printed in the _Fortnightly
Review_ for January, 1906.]


In his capacity of playgoer, as indeed in almost every other capacity,
Pepys presents himself to readers of his naïve diary as the
incarnation, or the microcosm, of the average man. No other writer has
pictured with the same lifelike precision and simplicity the average
playgoer's sensations of pleasure or pain. Of the play and its
performers Pepys records exactly what he thinks or feels. He usually
takes a more lively interest in the acting and in the scenic and
musical accessories than in the drama's literary quality. Subtlety is
at any rate absent from his criticism. He is either bored or amused.
The piece is either the best or the worst that he ever witnessed. His
epithets are of the bluntest and are without modulation. Wiser than
more professional dramatic critics, he avoids labouring at reasons for
his emphatic judgments.

Always true to his rôle of the average man, Pepys suffers his mind to
be swayed by barely relevant accidents. His thought is rarely free
from official or domestic business, and the heaviness or lightness of
his personal cares commonly colours his playhouse impressions. His
praises and his censures of a piece often reflect, too, the physical
comforts or discomforts which attach to his seat in the theatre. He is
peculiarly sensitive to petty annoyances--to the agony of sitting in a
draught, or to the irritation caused by frivolous talk in his near
neighbourhood while a serious play is in progress. On one occasion,
when he sought to practise a praiseworthy economy by taking a back
seat in the shilling gallery, his evening's enjoyment was well-nigh
spoiled by finding the gaze of four clerks in his office steadily
directed upon him from more expensive seats down below. On another
occasion, when in the pit with his wife and her waiting-woman, he was
overcome by a sense of shame as he realised how shabbily his
companions were dressed, in comparison with the smartly-attired ladies
round about them.

Everyone knows how susceptible Pepys was in all situations of life to
female charms. It was inevitable that his wits should often wander
from the dramatic theme and its scenic presentation to the features of
some woman on the stage or in the auditory. An actress's pretty face
or graceful figure many times diverted his attention from her
professional incompetence. It is doubtful if there were any affront
which Pepys would not pardon in a pretty woman. Once when he was in
the pit, this curious experience befell him. "I sitting behind in a
dark place," he writes, "a lady spit backward upon me by mistake, not
seeing me; but after seeing her to be a very pretty lady, I was not
troubled at it at all." The volatile diarist studied much besides the
drama when he spent his afternoon or evening at the play.

Never was there a more indefatigable playgoer than Pepys. Yet his
enthusiasm for the theatre was, to his mind, a failing which required
most careful watching. He feared that the passion might do injury to
his purse, might distract him from serious business, might lead him
into temptation of the flesh. He had a little of the Puritan's dread
of the playhouse. He was constantly taking vows to curb his love of
plays, which "mightily troubled his mind." He was frequently resolving
to abstain from the theatre for four or five months at a stretch, and
then to go only in the company of his wife. During these periods of
abstinence he was in the habit of reading over his vows every Sunday.
But, in spite of all his well-meaning efforts, his resolution was
constantly breaking down. On one occasion he perjured himself so
thoroughly as to witness two plays in one day, once in the afternoon
and again in the evening. On this riotous outbreak he makes the
characteristic comment: "Sad to think of the spending so much money,
and of venturing the breach of my vow." But he goes on to thank God
that he had the grace to feel sorry for the misdeed, at the same time
as he lamented that "his nature was so content to follow the pleasure
still." Pepys compounded with his conscience for such breaches of his
oath by all manner of casuistry. He excused himself for going,
contrary to his vow, to the new theatre in Drury Lane, because it was
not built when his vow was framed. Finally, he stipulated with himself
that he would only go to the theatre once a fortnight; but if he went
oftener he would give £10 to the poor. "This," he added, "I hope in
God will bind me." The last reference that he makes to his vows is
when, in contravention of them, he went with his wife to the Duke of
York's House, and found the place full, and himself unable to obtain
seats. He makes a final record of "the saving of his vow, to his great


All self-imposed restrictions notwithstanding, Pepys contrived to
visit the theatre no less than three hundred and fifty-one times
during the nine years and five months that he kept his diary. It has
to be borne in mind that, for more than twelve months of that period,
the London playhouses were for the most part closed, owing to the
Great Plague and the Fire. Had Pepys gone at regular intervals, when
the theatres were open, he would have been a playgoer at least once a
week. But, owing to his vows, his visits fell at most irregular
intervals. Sometimes he went three or four times a week, or even twice
in one day. Then there would follow eight or nine weeks of abstinence.
If a piece especially took his fancy, he would see it six or seven
times in fairly quick succession. Long runs were unknown to the
theatre of Pepys's day, but a successful piece was frequently revived.
Occasionally, Pepys would put himself to the trouble of attending a
first night. But this was an indulgence that he practised sparingly.
He resented the manager's habit of doubling the price of the seats,
and he was irritated by the frequent want of adequate rehearsal.

Pepys's theatrical experience began with the reopening of theatres
after the severe penalty of suppression, which the Civil Wars and the
Commonwealth imposed on them for nearly eighteen years. His playgoing
diary thus became an invaluable record of a new birth of theatrical
life in London. When, in the summer of 1660, General Monk occupied
London for the restored King, Charles II., three of the old theatres
were still standing empty. These were soon put into repair, and
applied anew to theatrical uses, although only two of them seem to
have been open at any one time. The three houses were the Red Bull,
dating from Elizabeth's reign, in St John's Street, Clerkenwell, where
Pepys saw Marlowe's _Faustus_; Salisbury Court, Whitefriars, off Fleet
Street; and the Old Cockpit in Drury Lane, both of which were of more
recent origin. To all these theatres Pepys paid early visits. But the
Cockpit in Drury Lane, was the scene of some of his most stirring
experiences. There he saw his first play, Beaumont and Fletcher's
_Loyal Subject_; and there, too, he saw his first play by Shakespeare,

But these three theatres were in decay, and new and sumptuous
buildings soon took their places. One of the new playhouses was in
Portugal Row, Lincoln's Inn Fields; the other, on the site of the
present Drury Lane Theatre, was the first of the many playhouses that
sprang up there. It is to these two theatres--Lincoln's Inn Fields and
Drury Lane--that Pepys in his diary most often refers. He calls each
of them by many different names, and the unwary reader might infer
that London was very richly supplied with playhouses in Pepys's day.
But public theatres in active work at this period of our history were
not permitted by the authorities to exceed two. "The Opera" and "the
Duke's House" are merely Pepys's alternative designations of the
Lincoln's Inn Field's Theatre; while "the Theatre," "Theatre Royal,"
and "the King's House," are the varying titles which he bestows on the
Drury Lane Theatre.[15]

[Footnote 15: At the restoration of King Charles II., no more than two
companies of actors received licenses to perform in public. One of
these companies was directed by Sir William D'Avenant, Shakespeare's
reputed godson, and was under the patronage of the King's brother, the
Duke of York. The other was directed by Tom Killigrew, one of Charles
II.'s boon companions, and was under the patronage of the King
himself. In due time the Duke's, or D'Avenant's, company occupied the
theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and the King's, or Killigrew's,
company occupied the new building in Drury Lane.]

Besides these two public theatres there was, in the final constitution
of the theatrical world in Pepys's London, a third, which stood on a
different footing. A theatre was attached to the King's Court at
Whitehall, and there performances were given at the King's command by
actors from the two public houses.[16] The private Whitehall theatre
was open to the public on payment, and Pepys was frequently there.

[Footnote 16: Charles II. formed this private theatre out of a
detached building in St James's Park, known as the "Cockpit," and to
be carefully distinguished from the Cockpit of Drury Lane. Part of the
edifice was occupied by courtiers by favour of the King. General Monk
had lodgings there. At a much later date, cabinet councils were often
held there.]

At one period of his life Pepys held that his vows did not apply to
the Court theatre, which was mainly distinguished from the other
houses by the circumstances that the performances were given at night.
At Lincoln's Inn Fields or Drury Lane it was only permitted to perform
in the afternoon. Half-past three was the usual hour for opening the
proceedings. At Whitehall the play began about eight, and often lasted
till near midnight.

The general organisation of Pepys's auditorium was much as it is
to-day. It had improved in many particulars since Shakespeare died.
The pit was the most popular part of the house; it covered the floor
of the building, and was provided with seats; the price of admission
was 2s. 6d. The company there seems to have been extremely mixed; men
and women of fashion often rubbed elbows with City shopkeepers, their
wives, and apprentices. The first gallery was wholly occupied by
boxes, in which seats could be hired separately at 4s. apiece. Above
the boxes was the middle gallery, the central part of which was filled
with benches, where the seats cost 1s. 6d. each, while boxes lined the
sides. The highest tier was the 1s. gallery, where footmen soon held
sway. As Pepys's fortune improved, he spent more on his place in the
theatre. From the 1s. gallery he descended to the 1s. 6d., and thence
came down to the pit, occasionally ascending to the boxes on the first

In the methods of representation, Pepys's period of playgoing was
coeval with many most important innovations, which seriously affected
the presentation of Shakespeare on the stage. The chief was the
desirable substitution of women for boys in the female rôles. During
the first few months of Pepys's theatrical experience, boys were still
taking the women's parts. That the practice survived in the first days
of Charles II.'s reign we know from the well-worn anecdote that when
the King sent behind the scenes to inquire why the play of _Hamlet_,
which he had come to see, was so late in commencing, he was answered
that the Queen was not yet shaved. But in the opening month of 1661,
within five months of Pepys's first visit to a theatre, the reign of
the boys ended. On January 3rd of that year, Pepys writes that he
"first saw women come upon the stage." Next night he makes entry of a
boy's performance of a woman's part, and that is the final record of
boys masquerading as women in the English theatre. I believe the
practice now survives nowhere except in Japan. This mode of
representation has always been a great puzzle to students of
Elizabethan drama.[17] Before, however, Pepys saw Shakespeare's work
on the stage, the usurpation of the boys was over.

[Footnote 17: For a fuller description of this theatrical practice,
see pages 41-3 _supra_.]

It was after the Restoration, too, that scenery, rich costume, and
scenic machinery became, to Pepys's delight, regular features of the
theatre. When the diarist saw _Hamlet_ "done with scenes" for the
first time, he was most favourably impressed. Musical accompaniment
was known to pre-Restoration days; but the orchestra was now for the
first time placed on the floor of the house in front of the stage,
instead of in a side gallery, or on the stage itself. The musical
accompaniment of plays developed very rapidly, and the methods of
opera were soon applied to many of Shakespeare's pieces, notably to
_The Tempest_ and _Macbeth_.

Yet at the side of these innovations, one very important feature of
the old playhouses, which gravely concerned both actors and auditors,
survived throughout Pepys's lifetime. The stage still projected far
into the pit in front of the curtain. The actors and actresses spoke
in the centre of the house, so that, as Colley Cibber put it, "the
most distant ear had scarce the least doubt or difficulty in hearing
what fell from the weakest utterance ... nor was the minutest motion
of a feature, properly changing with the passion or humour it suited,
ever lost, as they frequently must be, in the obscurity of too great a
distance." The platform-stage, with which Shakespeare was familiar,
suffered no curtailment in the English theatres till the eighteenth
century, when the fore-edge of the boards was for the first time made
to run level with the proscenium.


One of the obvious results of the long suppression of the theatres
during the Civil Wars and Commonwealth was the temporary extinction of
play-writing in England. On the sudden reopening of the playhouses at
the Restoration, the managers had mainly to rely for sustenance on the
drama of a long-past age. Of the one hundred and forty-five separate
plays which Pepys witnessed, fully half belonged to the great period
of dramatic activity in England, which covered the reigns of
Elizabeth, James I., and Charles I. John Evelyn's well-known remark in
his _Diary_ (November 26, 1661): "I saw _Hamlet, Prince of Denmark_,
played; but now the old plays begin to disgust this refined age,"
requires much qualification before it can be made to apply to Pepys's
records of playgoing. It was in "the old plays" that he and all
average playgoers mainly delighted.

Not that the new demand failed quickly to create a supply of
new plays for the stage. Dryden and D'Avenant, the chief dramatists
of Pepys's day, were rapid writers. To a large extent they carried
on, with exaggeration of its defects and diminution of its merits,
the old Elizabethan tradition of heroic romance, tragedy, and
farce. The more matter-of-fact and lower-principled comedy of
manners, which is commonly reckoned the chief characteristic
of the new era in theatrical history, was only just beginning
when Pepys was reaching the end of his diary. The virtual leaders
of the new movement--Wycherley, Vanbrugh, Farquhar, and Congreve--were
not at work till long after Pepys ceased to write. He records only the
first runnings of that sparkling stream. He witnessed some impudent
comedies of Dryden, Etherege, and Sedley. But it is important to note
that he formed a low opinion of all of them. Their intellectual glitter
did not appeal to him. Their cynical licentiousness seemed to him to be
merely "silly." One might have anticipated from him a different
verdict on the frank obscenity of Restoration drama. But there are the
facts. Neither did Mr Pepys, nor (he is careful to remind us) did Mrs
Pepys, take "any manner of pleasure in" the bold indelicacy of Dryden,
Etherege, or Sedley.

When we ask what sort of pieces Pepys appreciated, we seem to be faced
by further perplexities. His highest enthusiasm was evoked by certain
plays of Ben Jonson, of Beaumont and Fletcher, and of Massinger. Near
the zenith of his scale of dramatic excellence he set the comedies of
Ben Jonson, which are remarkable for their portrayal of eccentricity
of character. These pieces, which incline to farce, give great
opportunity to what is commonly called character-acting, and
character-acting always appeals most directly to average humanity.
Pepys called Jonson's _Alchemist_ "a most incomparable play," and he
found in _Every Man in his Humour_ "the greatest propriety of speech
that ever I read in my life." Similarly, both the heroic tragedies and
the comedies of Beaumont and Fletcher, of which he saw no less than
nineteen, roused in him, as a rule, an ecstatic admiration. But of all
dramatic entertainments which the theatre offered him, Pepys was most
"taken" by the romantic comedy from the pen of Massinger, which is
called _The Bondman_. "There is nothing more taking in the world with
me than that play," he writes.

Massinger's _Bondman_ is a well-written piece, in which an heroic
interest is fused with a genuine spirit of low comedy. Yet Pepys's
unqualified commendation of it presents a problem. Massinger's play,
like the cognate work of Fletcher, offers much episode which is hardly
less indecent than those early specimens of Restoration comedy of
which Pepys disapproved. A leading character is a frowsy wife who
faces all manner of humiliation, in order to enjoy, behind her elderly
husband's back, the embraces of a good-looking youth.

Pepys is scarcely less tolerant of Fletcher's more flagrant
infringements of propriety. In the whole of the Elizabethan drama
there was no piece which presented so liberal a mass of indelicacy as
Fletcher's _Custom of the Country_. Dryden, who was innocent of
prudery, declared that there was "more indecency" in that drama "than
in all our plays together." This was one of the pieces which Pepys
twice saw performed after carefully reading it in his study, and he
expressed admiration for the rendering of the widow's part by his
pretty friend, Mistress Knipp. One has to admit that Pepys condemned
the play from a literary point of view as "a very poor one, methinks,"
as "fully the worst play that I saw or believe shall see." But the
pleasure which Mistress Knipp's share in the performance gave him
suggests, in the absence of any explicit disclaimer, that the
improprieties of both plot and characters escaped his notice, or, at
any rate, excited in him no disgust. Massinger's _Bondman_, Pepys's
ideal of merit in drama, has little of the excessive grossness of the
_Custom of the Country_. But to some extent it is tarred with the same

Pepys's easy principles never lend themselves to very strict
definition. Yet he may be credited with a certain measure of
discernment in pardoning the indelicacy of Fletcher and Massinger,
while he condemns that of Dryden, Etherege, or Sedley. Indelicacy in
the older dramatists does not ignore worthier interests. Other topics
attracted the earlier writers besides conjugal infidelity and the
frailty of virgins, which were the sole themes of Restoration comedy.
Massinger's heroes are not always gay seducers. His husbands are not
always fools. Pepys might quite consistently scorn the ribaldry of
Etherege and condone the obscenity of Fletcher. It was a question of
degree. Pepys was clear in his own mind that a line must be drawn
somewhere, though it would probably have taxed his logical power to
make the delimitation precise.


There is, apparently, a crowning difficulty of far greater moment when
finally estimating Pepys's taste in dramatic literature. Despite his
admiration for the ancient drama, he acknowledged a very tempered
regard for the greatest of all the old dramatists--Shakespeare. He
lived and died in complacent unconsciousness of Shakespeare's supreme
excellence. Such innocence is attested by his conduct outside, as well
as inside, the theatre. He prided himself on his taste as a reader and
a book collector, and bought for his library many plays in quarto
which he diligently perused. Numerous separately issued pieces by
Shakespeare lay at his disposal in the bookshops. But he only records
the purchase of one--the first part of _Henry IV._, though he mentions
that he read in addition _Othello_ and _Hamlet_. When his bookseller
first offered him the great First Folio edition of Shakespeare's
works, he rejected it for Fuller's _Worthies_ and the newly-published
Butler's _Hudibras_, in which, by the way, he failed to discover the
wit. Ultimately he bought the newly-issued second impression of the
Third Folio Shakespeare, along with copies of Spelman's _Glossary_ and
Scapula's _Lexicon_. To these soporific works of reference he
apparently regarded the dramatist's volume as a fitting pendant. He
seemed subsequently to have exchanged the Third Folio for a Fourth, by
which volume alone is Shakespeare represented in the extant library
that Pepys bequeathed to Magdalene College, Cambridge.

As a regular playgoer at a time when the stage mainly depended on the
drama of Elizabethan days, Pepys was bound to witness numerous
performances of Shakespeare's plays. On the occasion of forty-one of
his three hundred and fifty-one visits to the theatre, Pepys listened
to plays by Shakespeare, or to pieces based upon them. Once in every
eight performances Shakespeare was presented to his view. Fourteen
was the number of different plays by Shakespeare which Pepys saw
during these forty-one visits. Very few caused him genuine pleasure.
At least three he condemns, without any qualification, as "tedious,"
or "silly." In the case of others, while he ignored the literary
merit, he enjoyed the scenery and music with which, in accordance with
current fashion, the dramatic poetry was overlaid. In only two cases,
in the case of two tragedies--_Othello_ and _Hamlet_--does he show at
any time a true appreciation of the dramatic quality, and in the case
of _Othello_ he came in course of years to abandon his good opinion.

Pepys's moderate praise and immoderate blame of Shakespeare are only
superficially puzzling. The ultimate solution is not difficult.
Despite his love of music and his zeal as a collector, Pepys was the
most matter-of-fact of men; he was essentially a man of business. Not
that he had any distaste for timely recreation; he was, indeed,
readily susceptible to every manner of commonplace pleasures--to all
the delights of both mind and sense which appeal to the practical and
hard-headed type of Englishman. Things of the imagination, on the
other hand, stood with him on a different footing. They were out of
his range or sphere. Poetry and romance, unless liberally compounded
with prosaic ingredients, bored him on the stage and elsewhere.

In the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, of Massinger and Ben Jonson,
poetry and romance were for the most part kept in the background. Such
elements lay there behind a substantial barrier of conventional stage
machinery and elocutionary scaffolding. In Shakespeare, poetry and
romance usually eluded the mechanical restrictions of the theatre.
The gold had a tendency to separate itself from the alloy, and Pepys
only found poetry and romance endurable when they were pretty thickly
veiled behind the commonplaces of rhetoric or broad fun or the
realistic ingenuity of the stage carpenter and upholsterer.

There is, consequently, no cause for surprise that Pepys should write
thus of Shakespeare's ethereal comedy of _A Midsummer Night's Dream_:
"Then to the King's Theatre, where we saw _A Midsummer Night's Dream_,
which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the
most insipid, ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life. I saw, I
confess, some good dancing and some handsome women, which was all my
pleasure." This is Pepys's ordinary attitude of mind to undiluted
poetry on the stage.

Pepys only saw _A Midsummer Night's Dream_ once. _Twelfth Night_, of
which he wrote in very similar strains, he saw thrice. On the first
occasion his impatience of this romantic play was due to external
causes. He went to the theatre "against his own mind and resolution."
He was over-persuaded to go in by a friend, with whom he was casually
walking past the house in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Moreover, he had just
sworn to his wife that he would never go to a play without her: all
which considerations "made the piece seem a burden" to him. He
witnessed _Twelfth Night_ twice again in a less perturbed spirit, and
then he called it a "silly" play, or "one of the weakest plays that
ever I saw on the stage."

Again, of _Romeo and Juliet_, Pepys wrote: "It is a play of itself the
worst I ever heard in my life." This verdict, it is right to add, was
attributable, in part at least, to Pepys's irritation at the badness
of the acting, and at the actors' ignorance of their words. It was a
first night.

The literary critic knows well enough that the merit of these three
pieces--_A Midsummer Night's Dream_, _Twelfth Night_, and _Romeo and
Juliet_--mainly lies in their varied wealth of poetic imagery and
passion. One thing alone could render the words, in which poetic
genius finds voice, tolerable in the playhouse to a spectator of
Pepys's prosaic temperament. The one thing needful is inspired acting,
and in the case of these three plays, when Pepys saw them performed,
inspired acting was wanting.

It is at first sight disconcerting to find Pepys no less impatient of
_The Merry Wives of Windsor_. He expresses a mild interest in the
humours of "the country gentleman and the French doctor." But he
condemns the play as a whole. It is in his favour that his bitterest
reproaches are aimed at the actors and actresses. One can hardly
conceive that Falstaff, fitly interpreted, would have failed to
satisfy Pepys's taste in humour, commonplace though it was. He is not
quite explicit on the point; but there are signs that the histrionic
interpretation of Shakespeare's colossal humorist, rather than the
dramatist's portrayal of the character, caused the diarist's

Just before Pepys saw the first part of _Henry IV._, wherein Falstaff
figures to supreme advantage, he had bought and read the play in
quarto. "But my expectation being too great" (he avers), "it did not
please me as otherwise I believe it would." Here it seems clear that
his hopes of the actor were unfulfilled. However, he saw _Henry IV._
again a few months later, and had the grace to describe it as "a good
play." On a third occasion he wrote that, "contrary to expectation,"
he was pleased by the delivery of Falstaff's ironical speech about
honour. For whatever reason, Pepys's affection for Shakespeare's fat
knight, as he figured on the stage of his day, never touched the note
of exaltation.

Of Shakespeare's great tragedies Pepys saw three--_Othello_, _Hamlet_,
and _Macbeth_. But in considering his several impressions of these
pieces, we have to make an important proviso. Only the first two of
them did he witness in the authentic version. _Macbeth_ underwent in
his day a most liberal transformation, which carried it far from its
primordial purity. The impressions he finally formed of _Othello_ and
_Hamlet_ are not consistent one with the other, but are eminently
characteristic of the variable moods of the average playgoer.

_Othello_ he saw twice, and he tells us more of the acting than of the
play itself. On his first visit he notes that the lady next him
shrieked on seeing Desdemona smothered: a proof of the strength of the
histrionic illusion. Up to the year 1666 Pepys adhered to the
praiseworthy opinion that _Othello_ was a "mighty good" play. But in
that year his judgment took a turn for the worse, and that for a
reason which finally convicts him of incapacity to pass just sentence
on the poetic or literary drama. On August 20, 1666, he writes: "Read
_Othello, Moor of Venice_, which I have ever heretofore esteemed a
mighty good play; but having so lately read the _Adventures of Five
Hours_, it seems a mean thing."

Most lovers of Shakespeare will agree that the great dramatist rarely
showed his mature powers to more magnificent advantage than in his
treatment of plot and character in _Othello_. What, then, is this
_Adventures of Five Hours_, compared with which _Othello_ became in
Pepys's eyes "a mean thing"? It is a trivial comedy of intrigue,
adapted from the Spanish by one Sir Samuel Tuke. A choleric guardian
arranges for his ward, who also happens to be his sister, to marry
against her will a man whom she has never seen. Without her guardian's
knowledge she, before the design goes further, escapes with a lover of
her own choosing. In her place she leaves a close friend, who is wooed
in mistake for herself by the suitor destined for her own hand. This
is the main dramatic point; the thread is very slender, and is drawn
out to its utmost limits through five acts of blank verse. The
language and metre are scrupulously correct. But one cannot credit the
play with any touch of poetry or imagination. It presents a trite
theme tamely and prosaically. Congenital inability of the most
inveterate toughness to appreciate dramatic poetry could alone account
for a mention of the _Adventures of Five Hours_ in the same breath
with _Othello_.

Pepys did not again fall so low as this. The only other tragedy of
Shakespeare which he saw in its authentic purity moved him,
contradictorily, to transports of unqualified delight. One is glad to
recall that _Hamlet_, one of the greatest of Shakespeare's plays,
received from Pepys ungrudging commendation. Pepys's favourable
opinion of _Hamlet_ is to be assigned to two causes. One is the
literary and psychological attractions of the piece; the other, and
perhaps the more important, is the manner in which the play was
interpreted on the stage of Pepys's time.

Pepys is not the only owner of a prosaic mind who has found
satisfaction in Shakespeare's portrait of the Prince of Denmark. Over
minds of almost every calibre, that hero of the stage has always
exerted a pathetic fascination, which natural antipathy to poetry
seems unable to extinguish. Pepys's testimony to his respect for the
piece is abundant. The whole of one Sunday afternoon (November 13,
1664), he spent at home with his wife, "getting a speech out of
_Hamlet_, 'To be or not to be,' without book." He proved, indeed, his
singular admiration for those familiar lines in a manner which I
believe to be unique. He set them to music, and the notes are extant
in a book of manuscript music in his library at Magdalene College,
Cambridge. The piece is a finely-elaborated recitative fully equal to
the requirements of grand opera. The composer gives intelligent and
dignified expression to every word of the soliloquy. Very impressive
is the modulation of the musical accompaniment to the lines--

                                To die, to sleep!
    To sleep, perchance to dream! ay, there's the rub.

It is possible that the cadences of this musical rendering of Hamlet's
speech preserve some echo of the intonation of the great actor,
Betterton, whose performance evoked in Pepys lasting adoration.[18]

[Footnote 18: Sir Frederick Bridge, by permission of the Master and
Fellows of Magdalene College, Cambridge, caused this setting of "To be
or not to be" (which bears no composer's signature) to be transcribed
from the manuscript, and he arranged the piece to be sung at the
meeting of the Pepys Club on November 30, 1905. Sir Frederick Bridge
believes Pepys to be the composer.]

It goes without saying that, for the full enjoyment of a performance
of _Hamlet_ by both cultured and uncultured spectators, acting of
supreme quality is needful. Luckily for Pepys, Hamlet in his day was
rendered by an actor who, according to ample extant testimony,
interpreted the part to perfection. Pepys records four performances of
_Hamlet_, with Betterton in the title-rôle on each occasion. With
every performance Pepys's enthusiasm rose. The first time he writes
(August 24, 1661): "Saw the play done with scenes very well at the
Opera, but above all Betterton did the Prince's part beyond
imagination." On the third occasion (May 28, 1663) the rendering gave
him "fresh reason never to think enough of Betterton." On the last
occasion (August 31, 1668) he was "mightily pleased," but above all
with Betterton, "the best part, I believe, that ever man acted."

_Hamlet_ was one of the most popular plays of Pepys's day, mainly
owing to Betterton's extraordinary faculty. The history of the
impersonation presents numerous points of the deepest interest. The
actor was originally coached in the part by D'Avenant. The latter is
said to have derived hints for the rendering from an old actor, Joseph
Taylor, who had played the rôle in Shakespeare's own day, and had been
instructed in it by the dramatist himself. This tradition gives
additional value to Pepys's musical setting in recitative of the "To
be or not to be" soliloquy. If we accept the reasonable theory that
that piece of music preserves something of the cadences of Betterton's
enunciation, it is no extravagance to suggest that a note here or
there enshrines the modulation of the voice of Shakespeare himself.
For there is the likelihood that the dramatist was Betterton's
instructor at no more than two removes. Only the lips of D'Avenant,
Shakespeare's godson, and of Taylor, Shakespeare's acting colleague,
intervened between the dramatist and the Hamlet of Pepys's diary.
Those alone, who have heard the musical setting of "To be or not to
be" adequately rendered, are in a position to reject this hypothesis

Among seventeenth century critics there was unanimous agreement--a
rare thing among dramatic critics of any period--as to the merits of
Betterton's performance. In regard to his supreme excellence, men of
the different mental calibre of Sir Richard Steele, Colley Cibber, and
Nicholas Rowe, knew no difference of opinion. According to Cibber,
Betterton invariably preserved the happy "medium between mouthing and
meaning too little"; he held the attention of the audience by "a
tempered spirit," not by mere vehemence of voice. His solemn,
trembling voice made the Ghost equally terrible to the spectator and
to himself. Another critic relates that when Betterton's Hamlet saw
the Ghost in his mother's chamber, the actor turned as pale as his
neckcloth; every joint of his body seemed to be affected with a tremor
inexpressible, and the audience shared his astonishment and horror.
Nicholas Rowe declared that "Betterton performed the part as if it had
been written on purpose for him, as if the author had conceived it as
he played it." It is difficult to imagine any loftier commendation of
a Shakespearean player.


There is little reason to doubt that the plays of Shakespeare which I
have enumerated were all seen by Pepys in authentic shapes. Betterton
acted Lear, we are positively informed, "exactly as Shakespeare wrote
it"; and at the dates when Pepys saw _Hamlet_, _Twelfth Night_, and
the rest, there is no evidence that the old texts had been tampered
with. The rage for adapting Shakespeare to current theatrical
requirements reached its full tide after the period of Pepys's diary.
Pepys witnessed only the first-fruits of that fantastic movement. It
acquired its greatest luxuriance later. The pioneer of the great
scheme of adaptation was Sir William D'Avenant, and he was aided in
Pepys's playgoing days by no less a personage than Dryden. It was
during the succeeding decade that the scandal, fanned by the energies
of lesser men, was at its unseemly height.

No disrespect seems to have been intended to Shakespeare's memory by
those who devoted themselves to these acts of vandalism. However
difficult it may be to realise the fact, true admiration for
Shakespeare's genius seems to have flourished in the breasts of all
the adapters, great and small. D'Avenant, whose earliest poetic
production was a pathetic elegy on the mighty dramatist, never ceased
to write or speak of him with the most affectionate respect. Dryden,
who was first taught by D'Avenant "to admire" Shakespeare's work,
attests in his critical writings a reverence for its unique
excellence, which must satisfy the most enthusiastic worshipper. The
same temper characterises references to Shakespeare on the part of
dramatists of the Restoration, who brought to the adaptation of
Shakespeare abilities of an order far inferior to those of Dryden or
of D'Avenant. Nahum Tate, one of the least respected names in English
literature, was one of the freest adapters of Shakespearean drama to
the depraved taste of the day. Yet even he assigned to the master
playwright unrivalled insight into the darkest mysteries of human
nature, and an absolute mastery of the faculty of accurate
characterisation. For once, Tate's literary judgment must go

It was no feeling of disrespect or of dislike for Shakespeare's
work--it was the change that was taking place in the methods of
theatrical representation, which mainly incited the Shakespearean
adapters of the Restoration to their benighted labours. Shakespeare
had been acted without scenery or musical accompaniment. As soon as
scenic machinery and music had become ordinary accessories of the
stage, it seemed to theatrical managers almost a point of honour to
fit Shakespearean drama to the new conditions. To abandon him
altogether was sacrilege. Yet the mutation of public taste offered, as
the only alternative to his abandonment, the obligation of bestowing
on his work every mechanical advantage, every tawdry ornament in the
latest mode.

Pepys fully approved the innovations, and two of the earliest of
Shakespearean adaptations won his unqualified eulogy. These were
D'Avenant's reconstructions of _The Tempest_ and _Macbeth._ D'Avenant
had convinced himself that both plays readily lent themselves to
spectacle; they would repay the embellishments of ballets, new songs,
new music, coloured lights, and flying machines. Reinforced by these
charms of novelty, the old pieces might enjoy an everlasting youth. No
spectator more ardently applauded such bastard sentiment than the
playgoing Pepys.

Of the two pieces, the text of _Macbeth_ was abbreviated, but
otherwise the alterations in the blank-verse speeches were
comparatively slight. Additional songs were provided for the Witches,
together with much capering in the air. Music was specially written by
Matthew Locke. The liberal introduction of song and dance rendered the
piece, in Pepys's strange phrase, "a most excellent play for variety."
He saw D'Avenant's version of it no less than eight times, with
ever-increasing enjoyment. He generously praised the clever
combination of "a deep tragedy with a divertissement." He detected no
incongruity in the amalgamation. "Though I have seen it often," he
wrote later, "yet is it one of the best plays for a stage, and for
variety of dancing and music, that ever I saw."

_The Tempest_, the other adapted play, which is prominent in Pepys's
diary, underwent more drastic revision. Here D'Avenant had the
co-operation of Dryden; and no intelligent reader can hesitate to
affirm that the ingenuity of these worthies ruined this splendid
manifestation of poetic fancy and insight. It is only fair to Dryden
to add that he disclaimed any satisfaction in his share in the
outrage. The first edition of the barbarous revision was first
published in 1670, after D'Avenant's death, and Dryden wrote a
preface, in which he prudently remarked: "I do not set a value on
anything I have written in this play but [_i.e._, except] out of
gratitude to the memory of Sir William Davenant, who did me the honour
to join me with him in the alteration of it."

The numerous additions, for which the distinguished coadjutors are
responsible, reek with mawkish sentimentality, inane vapidity, or
vulgar buffoonery. Most of the leading characters are duplicated or
triplicated. Miranda has a sister, Dorinda, who is repellently
coquettish. This new creation finds a lover in another new character,
a brainless youth, Hippolito, who has never before seen a woman.
Caliban becomes the most sordid of clowns, and is allotted a sister,
Milcha, who apes his coarse buffoonery. Ariel, too, is given a female
associate, Sycorax, together with many attendants. The sailors are
increased in number, and a phalanx of dancing devils join in their

But the chief feature of the revived _Tempest_ was the music,
the elaborate scenery, and the scenic mechanism.[19] There was
an orchestra of twenty-four violins in front of the stage, with
harpsichords and "theorbos" to accompany the voices; new songs
were dispersed about the piece with unsparing hand. The curious
new "Echo" song in Act III.--a duet between Ferdinand and Ariel--was
deemed by Pepys to be so "mighty pretty" that he requested the
composer--Bannister--to "prick him down the notes." Many times did the
audience shout with joy as Ariel, with a _corps de ballet_ in
attendance, winged his flight to the roof of the stage.

[Footnote 19: The Dryden-D'Avenant perversion of _The Tempest_ which
Pepys witnessed underwent a further deterioration in 1673, when Thomas
Shadwell, poet laureate, to the immense delight of the playgoing
public, rendered the piece's metamorphosis into an opera more
complete. In 1674 the Dryden-D'Avenant edition was reissued, with
Shadwell's textual and scenic amplification, although no indication
was given on the title-page or elsewhere of his share in the venture.
Contemporary histories of the stage make frequent reference to
Shadwell's "Opera" of _The Tempest_; but no copy was known to be
extant until Sir Ernest Clarke proved, in _The Athenæum_ for August
25, 1906, that the second and later editions of the Dryden-D'Avenant
version embodied Shadwell's operatic embellishments, and are copies of
what was known in theatrical circles of the day as Shadwell's "Opera."
Shadwell's stage-directions are more elaborate than those of Dryden
and D'Avenant, and there are other minor innovations; but there is
little difference in the general design of the two versions. Shadwell
merely bettered Dryden's and D'Avenant's instructions.]

The scenic devices which distinguished the Restoration production of
_The Tempest_ have, indeed, hardly been excelled for ingenuity in our
own day. The arrangements for the sinking of the ship in the first
scene would do no discredit to the spectacular magnificence of the
London stage of our own day. The scene represented "a thick cloudy
sky, a very rocky coast, and a tempestuous sea in perpetual
agitation." "This tempest," according to the stage-directions, "has
many dreadful objects in it; several spirits in horrid shapes flying
down among the sailors, then rising and crossing in the air; and when
the ship is sinking, the whole house is darkened and a shower of fire
falls upon the vessel. This is accompanied by lightning and several
claps of thunder till the end of the storm." The stage-manager's notes
proceed:--"In the midst of the shower of fire, the scene changes. The
cloudy sky, rocks, and sea vanish, and when the lights return,
discover that beautiful part of the island, which was the habitation
of Prospero: 'tis composed of three walks of cypress trees; each
side-walk leads to a cave, in one of which Prospero keeps his
daughter, in the other Hippolito (the interpolated character of the
man who has never seen a woman). The middle walk is of great depth,
and leads to an open part of the island." Every scene of the play was
framed with equal elaborateness.

Pepys's comment on _The Tempest_, when he first witnessed its
production in such magnificent conditions, runs thus:--"The play has
no great wit but yet good above ordinary plays." Pepys subsequently,
however, saw the piece no less than five times, and the effect of the
music, dancing, and scenery, steadily grew upon him. On his second
visit he wrote:--"Saw _The Tempest_ again, which is very pleasant, and
full of so good variety, that I cannot be more pleased almost in a
comedy. Only the seamen's part a little too tedious." Finally, Pepys
praised the richly-embellished _Tempest_ without any sort of reserve,
and took "pleasure to learn the tune of the seamen's dance."

Other adaptations of Shakespeare, which followed somewhat less
spectacular methods of barbarism, roused in Pepys smaller enthusiasm.
_The Rivals_, a version by D'Avenant of _The Two Noble Kinsmen_ (the
joint production of Fletcher and Shakespeare), was judged by Pepys to
be "no excellent piece," though he appreciated the new songs, which
included the familiar "My lodging is on the cold ground," with music
by Matthew Locke. Pepys formed a higher opinion of D'Avenant's
liberally-altered version of _Measure for Measure_, which the adapter
called _The Law against Lovers_, and into which he introduced, with
grotesque effect, the characters of Beatrice and Benedick from _Much
Ado about Nothing_. But it is more to Pepys's credit that he bestowed
a very qualified approval on an execrable adaptation by the actor Lacy
of _The Taming of the Shrew_. Here the hero, Petruchio, is
overshadowed by a new character, Sawney, his Scottish servant, who
speaks an unintelligible _patois_. "It hath some very good pieces in
it," writes Pepys, "but generally is but a mean play, and the best
part, Sawny, done by Lacy, hath not half its life by reason of the
words, I suppose, not being understood, at least by me."


It might be profitable to compare Pepys's experiences as a spectator
of Shakespeare's plays on the stage with the opportunities open to
playgoers at the present moment. Modern managers have been producing
Shakespearean drama of late with great liberality, and usually in much
splendour. Neither the points of resemblance between the modern and
the Pepysian methods, nor the points of difference, are flattering to
the esteem of ourselves as a literature-loving people. It is true that
we no longer garble our acting versions of Shakespeare. We are content
with abbreviations of the text, some of which are essential, but many
of which injure the dramatic perspective, and with inversion of scenes
which may or may not be justifiable. But, to my mind, it is in our
large dependence on scenery that we are following too closely that
tradition of the Restoration which won the wholehearted approval of
Pepys. The musico-scenic method of producing Shakespeare can always
count on the applause of the average multitude of playgoers, of which
Pepys is the ever-living spokesman. It is Shakespeare with scenic
machinery, Shakespeare with new songs, Shakespeare with incidental
music, Shakespeare with interpolated ballets, that reaches the heart
of the British public. If the average British playgoer were gifted
with Pepys's frankness, I have little doubt that he would echo the
diarist's condemnation of Shakespeare in his poetic purity, of
Shakespeare as the mere interpreter of human nature, of Shakespeare
without flying machines, of Shakespeare without song and dance; he
would characterise undiluted Shakespearean drama as "a mean thing," or
the most tedious entertainment that ever he was at in his life.

But the situation in Pepys's day had, despite all the perils that
menaced it, a saving grace. Great acting, inspired acting, is an
essential condition to any general appreciation in the theatre of
Shakespeare's dramatic genius. However seductive may be the
musico-scenic ornamentation, Shakespeare will never justly affect the
mind of the average playgoer unless great or inspired actors are at
hand to interpret him. Luckily for Pepys, he was the contemporary of
at least one inspired Shakespearean actor. The exaltation of spirit to
which he confesses, when he witnessed Betterton in the rôle of Hamlet,
is proof that the prosaic multitude for whom he speaks will always
respond to Shakespeare's magic touch when genius wields the actor's
wand. One could wish nothing better for the playgoing public of to-day
than that the spirit of Betterton, Shakespeare's guardian angel in the
theatre of the Restoration, might renew its earthly career in our own
time in the person of some contemporary actor.



[Footnote 20: This paper was first printed in the _Cornhill Magazine_,
May 1900.]


Dramatic criticism in the daily press of London often resembles that
method of conversation of which Bacon wrote that it seeks "rather
commendation of wit, in being able to hold argument, than of judgment,
in discerning what is true." For four-and-twenty years Mr F.R. Benson
has directed an acting company which has achieved a reputation in
English provincial cities, in Ireland, and in Scotland, by its
exclusive devotion to Shakespearean and classical drama. Mr Benson's
visits to London have been rare. There he has too often made sport for
the journalistic censors who aim at "commendation of wit."

Even the best-intentioned of Mr Benson's critics in London have fallen
into the habit of concentrating attention on unquestionable defects in
Mr Benson's practice, to the neglect of the vital principles which are
the justification of his policy. Mr Benson's principles have been
largely ignored by the newspapers; but they are not wisely
disregarded. They are matters of urgent public interest. They point
the right road to the salvation of Shakespearean drama on the modern
stage. They cannot be too often pressed on public notice.

These, in my view, are the five points of the charter which Mr Benson
is and has long been championing with a persistency which claims
national recognition.

Firstly, it is to the benefit of the nation that Shakespeare's plays
should be acted constantly and in their variety.

Secondly, a theatrical manager who undertakes to produce Shakespearean
drama should change his programme at frequent intervals, and should
permit no long continuous run of any single play.

Thirdly, all the parts, whatever their significance, should be
entrusted to exponents who have been trained in the delivery of blank
verse, and have gained some knowledge and experience of the range of
Shakespearean drama.

Fourthly, no play should be adapted by the manager so as to give
greater prominence than the text invites to any single rôle.

Fifthly, the scenic embellishment should be simple and inexpensive,
and should be subordinated to the dramatic interest.

There is no novelty in these principles. The majority of them were
accepted unhesitatingly in the past by Betterton, Garrick, Edmund
Kean, the Kembles, and notably by Phelps. They are recognised
principles to-day in the leading theatres of France and Germany. But
by some vagary of fate or public taste they have been reckoned in
London, for a generation at any rate, to be out of date.

In the interest of the manager, the actor, and the student, a return
to the discarded methods has become, in the opinion of an influential
section of the educated public, imperative. Mr Benson is the only
manager of recent date to inscribe boldly and continuously on his
banner the old watchwords: "Shakespeare and the National Drama,"
"Short Runs," "No Stars," "All-round Competence," and "Unostentatious
Setting." What better title could be offered to the support and
encouragement of the intelligent playgoer?


A constant change of programme, such as the old methods of the stage
require, causes the present generation of London playgoers, to whom it
is unfamiliar, a good deal of perplexity. Londoners have grown
accustomed to estimate the merits of a play by the number of
performances which are given of it in uninterrupted succession. They
have forgotten how mechanical an exercise of the lungs and limbs
acting easily becomes; how frequent repetition of poetic speeches,
even in the most competent mouths, robs the lines of their poetic

Numbness of intellect, rigidity of tone, artificiality of expression,
are fatal alike to the enunciation of Shakespearean language and to
the interpretation of Shakespearean character. The system of short
runs, of the nightly alterations of the play, such as Mr Benson has
revived, is the only sure preservative against maladies so fatal.

Hardly less important is Mr Benson's new-old principle of "casting" a
play of Shakespeare. Not only in the leading rôles of Shakespeare's
masterpieces, but in subordinate parts throughout the range of his
work, the highest abilities of the actor can find some scope for
employment. A competent knowledge of the poet's complete work is
needed to bring this saving truth home to those who are engaged in
presenting Shakespearean drama on the stage. An actor hardly realises
the real force of the doctrine until he has had experience of the
potentialities of a series of the smaller characters by making
practical endeavours to interpret them. Adequate opportunities of the
kind are only accessible to members of a permanent company, whose
energies are absorbed in the production of the Shakespearean drama
constantly and in its variety, and whose programme is untrammelled by
the poisonous system of "long runs." Shakespearean actors should drink
deep of the Pierian spring. They should be graduates in Shakespeare's
university; and, unlike graduates of other universities, they should
master not merely formal knowledge, but a flexible power of using it.

Mr Benson's company is, I believe, the only one at present in
existence in England which confines almost all its efforts to the
acting of Shakespeare. In the course of its twenty-four years'
existence its members have interpreted in the theatre no less than
thirty of Shakespeare's plays.[21] The natural result is that Mr
Benson and his colleagues have learned in practice the varied calls
that Shakespearean drama makes upon actors' capacities.

[Footnote 21: Mr Benson, writing to me on 13th January 1906, gives the
following list of plays by Shakespeare which he has produced:--_Antony
and Cleopatra_, _As You Like It_, _The Comedy of Errors_,
_Coriolanus_, _Hamlet_, _Henry IV. (Parts 1 and 2)_, _Henry V._,
_Henry VI. (Parts 1, 2, and 3)_, _Henry VIII._, _Julius Cæsar_, _King
John_, _King Lear_, _Macbeth_, _The Merchant of Venice_, _The Merry
Wives of Windsor_, _A Midsummer Night's Dream_, _Much Ado About
Nothing_, _Othello_, _Pericles_, _Richard II._, _Richard III._, _Romeo
and Juliet_, _The Taming of the Shrew_, _The Tempest_, _Timon of
Athens_, _Twelfth Night_, and _A Winter's Tale_. Phelps's record only
exceeded Mr Benson's by one. He produced thirty-one of Shakespeare's
plays in all, but he omitted _Richard II._, and the three parts of
_Henry VI._, which Mr Benson has acted, while he included _Love's
Labour's Lost_, _The Two Gentlemen of Verona_, _All's Well that Ends
Well_, _Cymbeline_, and _Measure for Measure_, which Mr Benson, so
far, has eschewed. Mr Phelps and Mr Benson are at one in avoiding
_Titus Andronicus_ and _Troilus and Cressida_.]

Members of Mr Benson's company have made excellent use of their
opportunities. An actor, like the late Frank Rodney, who could on one
night competently portray Bolingbroke in _Richard II._ and on the
following night the clown Feste in _Twelfth Night_ with equal effect,
clearly realised something of the virtue of Shakespearean versatility.
Mr Benson's leading comedian, Mr Weir, whose power of presenting
Shakespeare's humorists shows, besides native gifts, the advantages
that come of experienced study of the dramatist, not only interprets,
in the genuine spirit, great rôles like Falstaff and Touchstone, but
gives the truest possible significance to the comparatively
unimportant rôles of the First Gardener in _Richard II._ and Grumio in
_The Taming of the Shrew_.

Nothing could be more grateful to a student of Shakespeare than the
manner in which the small part of John of Gaunt was played by Mr
Warburton in Mr Benson's production of _Richard II._ The part includes
the glorious panegyric of England which comes from the lips of the
dying man, and must challenge the best efforts of every actor of
ambition and self-respect. But in the mouth of an actor who lacks
knowledge of the true temper of Shakespearean drama, this speech is
certain to be mistaken for a detached declamation of patriotism--an
error which ruins its dramatic significance. As Mr Warburton delivered
it, one listened to the despairing cry of a feeble old man roused for
a moment from the lethargy of sickness by despair at the thought that
the great country he loved was in peril of decay through the selfish
and frivolous temper of its ruler. Instead of a Chauvinist manifesto
defiantly declaimed under the limelight, there was offered us the
quiet pathos of a dying patriot's lament over his beloved country's
misfortunes--an oracular warning from a death-stricken tongue,
foreshadowing with rare solemnity and dramatic irony the violent doom
of the reckless worker of the mischief. Any other conception of the
passage, any conscious endeavour to win a round of applause by
elocutionary display, would disable the actor from doing justice to
the great and sadly stirring utterance. The right note could only be
sounded by one who was acclimatised to Shakespearean drama, and had
recognised the wealth of significance to be discovered and to be
disclosed (with due artistic restraint) in Shakespeare's minor


The benefits to be derived from the control of a trained school of
Shakespearean actors were displayed very conspicuously when Mr Benson
undertook six years ago the heroic task of performing the play of
_Hamlet_, as Shakespeare wrote it, without any abbreviation. _Hamlet_
is the longest of Shakespeare's plays; it reaches a total of over 3900
lines. It is thus some 900 lines longer than _Antony and Cleopatra_,
which of all Shakespeare's plays most nearly approaches its length.
Consequently it is a tradition of the stage to cut the play of
_Hamlet_ by the omission of more than a third. Hamlet's part is
usually retained almost in its entirety, but the speeches of every
other character are seriously curtailed. Mr Benson ventured on the
bold innovation of giving the play in full.[22]

[Footnote 22: The performance occupied nearly six hours. One half was
given in the afternoon, and the other half in the evening of the same
day, with an interval of an hour and a half between the two sections.
Should the performance be repeated, I would recommend, in the
interests of busy men and women, that the whole play be rendered at a
single sitting, which might be timed to open at a somewhat earlier
hour in the evening than is now customary, and might, if need be,
close a little later. There should be no difficulty in restricting the
hours occupied by the performance to four and a half.]

Only he who has witnessed the whole play on the stage can fully
appreciate its dramatic capabilities. It is obvious that, in whatever
shape the play of _Hamlet_ is produced in the theatre, its success
must always be primarily due to the overpowering fascination exerted
on the audience by the character of the hero. In every conceivable
circumstance the young prince must be the centre of attraction.
Nevertheless, no graver injury can be done the play as an acting drama
than by treating it as a one-part piece. The accepted method of
shortening the tragedy by reducing every part, except that of Hamlet,
is to distort Shakespeare's whole scheme, to dislocate or obscure the
whole action. The predominance of Hamlet is exaggerated at the expense
of the dramatist's artistic purpose.

To realise completely the motives of Hamlet's conduct, and the process
of his fortunes, not a single utterance from the lips of the King,
Polonius, or Laertes can be spared. In ordinary acting versions these
three parts sink into insignificance. It is only in the full text that
they assume their just and illuminating rank as Hamlet's foils.

The King rises into a character almost of the first class. He is a
villain of unfathomable infamy, but his cowardly fear of the discovery
of his crimes, his desperate pursuit of the consolations of religion,
the quick ingenuity with which he plots escape from the inevitable
retribution that dogs his misdeeds, excite--in the full text of the
play--an interest hardly less intense than those wistful musings of
the storm-tossed soul which stay his nephew's avenging hand.

Similarly, Hamlet's incisive wit and honesty are brought into the
highest possible relief by the restoration to the feebly guileful
Polonius of the speeches of which he has long been deprived. Among the
reinstated scenes is that in which the meddlesome dotard teaches his
servant Reynaldo modes of espionage that shall detect the moral lapses
of his son Laertes in Paris. The recovered episode is not only
admirable comedy, but it gives new vividness to Polonius's maudlin
egotism which is responsible for many windings of the tragic plot.

The story is simplified at all points by such amplifications of the
contracted version which holds the stage. The events are evolved with
unsuspected naturalness. The hero's character gains by the expansion
of its setting. One downright error which infects the standard
abridgement is wholly avoided. Ophelia is dethroned. It is recognised
that she is not entitled to share with Hamlet the triumphal honours of
the action. Weak, insipid, destitute of all force of character, she
deserves an insignificant place in Shakespeare's gallery of heroines.
Hamlet's mother merits as much or more attention. At any rate, there
is no justification for reducing the Queen's part in order to increase
Ophelia's prominence. Such distortions are impossible in the
production of the piece in its entirety. Throughout _Hamlet_, in the
full authorised text, the artistic balance hangs true. Mr Benson
recognised that dominant fact, and contrived to illustrate it on the
stage. No higher commendation could be allowed a theatrical manager or


Much else could be said of Mr Benson's principles, and of his
praiseworthy energy in seeking to familiarise the playgoer with
Shakespearean drama in all its fulness and variety, but only one other
specific feature of his method needs mention here. Perhaps the most
convincing proof that he has given of the value of his principles to
the country's dramatic art is his success in the training of actors
and actresses. Of late it is his company that has supplied the great
London actor-managers with their ablest recruits. Nearly all the best
performers of secondary rôles and a few of the best performers of
primary rôles in the leading London theatres are Mr Benson's pupils.
Their admission to the great London companies is raising the standard
of acting in the metropolis. The marked efficiency of these newcomers
is due to a system which is inconsistent with any of the accepted
principles of current theatrical enterprise in London. Mr Benson's
disciples mainly owe their efficiency to long association with a
permanent company controlled by a manager who seeks, single-mindedly,
what he holds to be the interests of dramatic art. The many-headed
public learns its lessons very slowly, and sometimes neglects them
altogether. It has been reluctant to recognise the true significance
of Mr Benson's work. But the intelligent onlooker knows that he is
marching along the right road, in intelligent conformity with the best
teaching of the past.

Thirty years ago a meeting took place at the Mansion House to discuss
the feasibility of founding a State theatre in London, a project which
was not realised. The most memorable incident which was associated
with the Mansion House meeting was a speech of the theatrical manager
Phelps, who argued, amid the enthusiastic plaudits of his hearers,
that it was in the highest interests of the nation that the
Shakespearean drama should continuously occupy the stage. "I
maintain," Phelps said, "from the experience of eighteen years, that
the perpetual iteration of Shakespeare's words, if nothing more, going
on daily for so many months of the year, must and would produce a
great effect upon the public mind." No man or woman of sense will
to-day gainsay the wisdom of this utterance; but it is needful for the
public to make greater exertion than they have made of late if "the
perpetual iteration of Shakespeare's words" in the theatre is to be
permanently secured.

Mr Benson's efforts constitute the best organised endeavour to realise
Phelps's ambition since Phelps withdrew from management. Mr Benson's
scheme is imperfect in some of its details; in other particulars it
may need revision. But he and his associates have planted their feet
firmly on sure ground in their endeavours to interpret Shakespearean
drama constantly and in its variety, after a wise and well-considered
system and with a disinterested zeal. When every allowance has been
made for the Benson Company's shortcomings, its achievement cannot be
denied "a relish of salvation." Mr Benson deserves well of those who
have faith in the power of Shakespeare's words to widen the horizon of
men's intellects and emotions. The seed he has sown should not be
suffered to decay.



[Footnote 23: This paper was first printed in the _New Liberal
Review_, May 1902.]


Many actors, dramatic critics, and men in public life advocate the
municipal manner of theatrical enterprise. Their aim, as I understand
it, is to procure the erection, and the due working, of a playhouse
that shall serve in permanence the best interests of the literary or
artistic drama. The municipal theatre is not worth fighting for,
unless there is a reasonable probability that its establishment will
benefit dramatic art, promote the knowledge of dramatic literature,
and draw from the literary drama and confer on the public the largest
beneficial influence which the literary drama is capable of

None of Shakespeare's countrymen or countrywomen can deny with a good
grace the importance of the drama as a branch of art. None will
seriously dispute that our dramatic literature, at any rate in its
loftiest manifestation, has contributed as much as our armies or our
navies or our mechanical inventions to our reputation through the

There is substantial agreement among enlightened leaders of public
opinion in all civilised countries that great drama, when fitly
represented in the theatre, offers the rank and file of a nation
recreation which brings with it moral, intellectual, and spiritual


The first question to consider is whether in England the existing
theatrical agencies promote for the general good the genuine interests
of dramatic art. Do existing theatrical agencies secure for the nation
all the beneficial influence that is derivable from the truly
competent form of drama? If they do this sufficiently, it is otiose
and impertinent to entertain the notion of creating any new theatrical

Theatrical agencies of the existing type have never ignored the
literary drama altogether. Among actor-managers of the past
generation, Sir Henry Irving devoted his high ability to the
interpretation of many species of literary drama--from that by
Shakespeare to that by Tennyson. At leading theatres in London there
have been produced in the last few years poetic dramas written in
blank verse on themes drawn from such supreme examples of the world's
literature as Homer's _Odyssey_ and Dante's _Inferno_. Signs have not
been wanting of public anxiety to acknowledge with generosity these
and other serious endeavours in poetic drama, whatever their precise
degree of excellence. But such premisses warrant no very large
conclusion. Two or three swallows do not make a summer. The literary
drama is only welcomed to the London stage at uncertain intervals;
most of its life is passed in the wilderness.

The recognition that is given in England to literary or poetic drama,
alike of the past and present, is chiefly notable for its
irregularity. The circumstance may be accounted for in various ways.
It is best explained by the fact that England is the only country in
Europe in which theatrical enterprise is wholly and exclusively
organised on a capitalist basis. No theatre in England is worked
to-day on any but the capitalist principle. Artistic aspiration may be
well alive in the theatrical profession, but the custom and
circumstance of capital, the calls of the counting-house, hamper the
theatrical artist's freedom of action. The methods imposed are
dictated too exclusively by the mercantile spirit.

Many illustrations could be given of the unceasing conflict which
capitalist methods wage with artistic methods. One is sufficient. The
commercially capitalised theatre is bound hand and foot to the system
of long runs. In no theatres of the first class outside London and New
York is the system known, and even here and in New York it is of
comparatively recent origin. But Londoners have grown so accustomed to
the system that they overlook the havoc which it works on the theatre
as a home of art. Both actor and playgoer suffer signal injury from
its effects. It limits the range of drama which is available at our
great theatres to the rank and file of mankind. Especially serious is
the danger to which the unchangeable programme exposes histrionic
capacity and histrionic intelligence. The actor is not encouraged to
widen his knowledge of the drama. His faculties are blunted by the
narrow monotony of his experience. Yet the capitalised conditions of
theatrical enterprise, which are in vogue in London and New York,
seem to render long runs imperative. The system of long runs is
peculiar to English-speaking countries, where alone theatrical
enterprise is altogether under the sway of capital. It is specifically
prohibited in the national or municipal theatre of every great foreign
city, where the interests of dramatic art enjoy foremost

The artistic aspiration of the actor-manager may be set on the
opposite side of the account. Although the actor-manager belongs to
the ranks of the capitalists (whether he be one himself or be
dependent on one), yet when he exercises supreme control of his
playhouse, and is moved by artistic feeling, he may check many of the
evils that spring from capitalist domination. He can partially
neutralise the hampering effect on dramatic art of the merely
commercial application of capital to theatrical enterprise.

The actor-manager system is liable to impede the progress of dramatic
art through defects of its own, but its most characteristic defects
are not tarred with the capitalist brush. The actor-manager is prone
to over-estimate the range of his histrionic power. He tends to claim
of right the first place in the cast of every piece which he produces.
He will consequently at times fill a rôle for which his powers unsuit
him. If he be wise enough to avoid that error, he may imperil the
interests of dramatic art in another fashion; he may neglect pieces,
despite their artistic value, in which he knows the foremost part to
be outside his scope. The actor-manager has sometimes undertaken a
secondary rôle. But then it often happens, not necessarily by his
deliberate endeavour, but by the mere force and popularity of his name
among the frequenters of his playhouse, that there is focussed on his
secondary part an attention that it does not intrinsically merit, with
the result that the artistic perspective of the play is injured. A
primary law of dramatic art deprecates the constant preponderance of
one actor in a company. The highest attainable level of excellence in
all the members is the true artistic aim.

The dangers inherent in the "star" principle of the actor-manager
system may be frankly admitted, but at the same time one should
recognise the system's possible advantages. An actor-manager does not
usually arrive at his position until his career is well advanced and
he has proved his histrionic capacity. Versatility commonly
distinguishes him, and he is able to fill a long series of leading
rôles without violating artistic propriety. At any rate, the
actor-manager who resolutely cherishes respect for art can do much to
temper the corrupting influences of commercial capitalism in the
theatrical world.

It is probably the less needful to scrutinise closely the theoretic
merits or demerits of the actor-manager system, because the dominant
principle of current theatrical enterprise in London and America
renders most precarious the future existence of that system. The
actor-manager seems, at any rate, threatened in London by a new and
irresistible tide of capitalist energy. Six or seven leading theatres
in London have recently been brought under the control of an American
capitalist who does not pretend to any but mercantile inspiration. The
American capitalist's first and last aim is naturally to secure the
highest possible remuneration for his invested capital. He is
catholic-minded, and has no objection to artistic drama, provided he
can draw substantial profit from it. Material interests alone have any
real meaning for him. If he serve the interests of art by producing an
artistic play, he serves art by accident and unconsciously: his object
is to benefit his exchequer. His philosophy is unmitigated
utilitarianism. "The greatest pleasure for the greatest number" is his
motto. The pleasure that carries farthest and brings round him the
largest paying audiences is his ideal stock-in-trade. Obviously
pleasure either of the frivolous or of the spectacular kind attracts
the greatest number of customers to his emporium. It is consequently
pleasure of this spectacular or frivolous kind which he habitually
endeavours to provide. It is Quixotic to anticipate much diminution in
the supply and demand of either frivolity or spectacle, both of which
may furnish quite innocuous pleasure. But each is the antithesis of
dramatic art; and whatever view one holds of the methods of the
American capitalist, it is irrational to look to him for the
intelligent promotion of dramatic art.


From the artistic point of view the modern system of theatrical
enterprise thus seems capable of improvement. If it be incapable of
general improvement, it is at least capable of having a better example
set it than current modes can be reckoned on to offer. The latter are
not likely to be displaced. All that can be attempted is to create a
new model at their side. What is sought by the advocates of a
municipal theatre is an institution which shall maintain in
permanence a high artistic ideal of drama, and shall give the public
the opportunity of permanently honouring that ideal. Existing theatres
whose programmes ignore art would be unaffected by such a new
neighbour. But existing enterprises, which, as far as present
conditions permit, reflect artistic aspiration, would derive from such
an institution new and steady encouragement.

The interests of dramatic art can only be served whole-heartedly in a
theatre organised on two principles which have hitherto been
unrecognised in England. In the first place, the management should
acknowledge some sort of public obligation to make the interests of
dramatic art its first motive of action. In the second place, the
management should be relieved of the need of seeking unrestricted
commercial profits for the capital that is invested in the venture.
Both principles have been adopted with successful results in
Continental cities; but their successful practice implies the
acceptance by the State, or by a permanent local authority, of a
certain amount of responsibility in both the artistic and the
financial directions.

It is foolish to blind oneself to commercial considerations
altogether. When the municipal theatre is freed of the unimaginative
control of private capital seeking unlimited profit, it is still wise
to require a moderate return on the expended outlay. The municipal
theatre can only live healthily in the presence of a public desire or
demand for it, and that public desire or demand can only be measured
by the playhouse receipts. A municipal theatre would not be
satisfactorily conducted if money were merely lost in it, or spent on
it without any thought of the likelihood of the expenditure proving
remunerative. Profits need never be refused; but all above a fixed
minimum rate of interest on the invested capital should be applied to
the promotion of those purposes which the municipal theatre primarily
exists to serve--to cheapen, for example, prices of admission, or to
improve the general mechanism behind and before the scenes. No surplus
profits should reach the pocket of any individual manager or


There is in England a demand and desire on the part of a substantial
section of the public for this new form of theatrical enterprise,
although its precise dimensions may not be absolutely determinate. The
question is thereby adapted for practical discussion. The demand and
desire have as yet received inadequate recognition, because they have
not been satisfactorily organised or concentrated. The trend of an
appreciable section of public opinion in the direction of a limited
municipalisation of the theatre is visible in many places. Firstly,
one must take into account the number of small societies which have
been formed of late by enthusiasts for the exclusive promotion of one
or other specific branch of the literary drama--the Elizabethan drama,
the Norwegian drama, the German drama. Conspicuous success has been
denied these societies because their leaders tend to assert narrow
sectional views of the bases of dramatic art, or they lack the
preliminary training and the influence which are essential to the
efficient conduct of any public enterprise. Many of their experiences
offer useful object-lessons as to the defects inherent in all narrow
sectional effort, however enthusiastically inspired. But at the same
time they testify to a desire to introduce into the current theatrical
system more literary and artistic principles than are at present
habitual to it. They point to the presence of a zeal--often, it may
be, misdirected--for change or reform.

The experiment of Mr Benson points more effectively in the same
direction. A public-spirited champion of Shakespeare and the classical
drama, he has maintained his hold in the chief cities of Ireland,
Scotland, and the English provinces for a generation. Although for
reasons that are not hard to seek, he has failed to establish his
position in London, Mr Benson's methods of work have enabled him to
render conspicuous service to the London stage in a manner which is
likely to facilitate reform. For many years he has supplied the
leading London theatres with a succession of trained actors and
actresses. Graduates in Mr Benson's school can hardly fail to
co-operate willingly in any reform of theatrical enterprise, which is
calculated to develop the artistic capacities of the stage.

Other circumstances are no less promising. The justice of the cry for
the due safeguarding of the country's dramatic art by means of
publicly-organised effort has been repeatedly acknowledged of late by
men of experience alike in dramatic and public affairs. In 1898 a
petition was presented to the London County Council requesting that
body to found and endow a permanent opera-house "in order to promote
the musical interest and refinement of the public and the advancement
of the art of music." The petition bore the signatures of two hundred
leaders of public opinion, including the chief members of the dramatic
profession. In this important document, particulars were given of the
manner in which the State or the municipality aided theatres in
France, Germany, Austria, and other countries of Europe. It was shown,
that in France twelve typically efficient theatres received from
public bodies an annual subsidy amounting in the aggregate to
£130,000. The wording of the petition and the arguments employed by
the petitioners were applicable to drama as well as to opera. In fact,
the case was put in a way which was more favourable to the pretensions
of drama than to those of opera. One argument which always tells
against the establishment of a publicly-subsidised opera-house in
London does not affect the establishment of a publicly-subsidised
theatre. Opera is an exotic in England; drama is a native product, and
has exerted in the past a wider influence and has attracted a wider
sympathy than Italian or German music.

The London County Council, after careful inquiry, gave the scheme of
1898 benevolent encouragement. Hope was held out that a site for
either a theatre or an opera-house might be reserved "in connection
with one of the contemplated central improvements of London." Nothing
in the recent history of the London County Council gives ground for
doubting that it will be prepared to give practical effect to a
thoroughly matured scheme.

Within the Council the principle of the municipal theatre has found
powerful advocacy. Mr John Burns, who is not merely the spokesman of
the working classes, but is a representative of earnest-minded
students of literature, has supported the principle with generous
enthusiasm. The intelligent artisans of London applaud his attitude.
The London Trades Council passed resolutions in the autumn of 1901
recommending the erection of a theatre by the London County Council,
"so that a higher standard of dramatic art might be encouraged and
made more accessible to the wage-earning classes, as is the case in
the State and municipal theatres in the principal cities on the
Continent." The gist of the argument could hardly be put more
pintally. [Transcriber's Note: so in original.]

Of those who have written recently in favour of the scheme of a
municipal theatre many speak with the authority of exceptional
experience. The actor Mr John Coleman, one of the last survivors of
Phelps's company at Sadler's Wells Theatre, argued with cogency,
shortly before his death in 1903, that the national credit owed it to
itself to renew Phelps's experiment of the middle of last century;
public intervention was imperative, seeing that no other means were
forthcoming. The late Sir Henry Irving in his closing years announced
his conviction that a municipal theatre could alone keep the classical
and the poetic drama fully alive in the theatres. The dramatic critic
Mr William Archer, has brought his expert knowledge of dramatic
organisation at home and abroad to the aid of the agitation. Various
proposals--unhappily of too vague and unauthoritative a kind to
guarantee a satisfactory reception--have been made from time to time
to raise a fund to build a national theatre, and to run it for five
years on a public subsidy of £10,000 a year.

The advocates of the municipalising principle have worked for the most
part in isolation. Such independence tends to dissipate rather than
to conserve energy. A consolidating impulse has been sorely needed.
But the variety of the points of views from which the subject has been
independently approached renders the less disputable the genuine width
of public interest in the question.

The argument that it is contrary to public policy, or that it is
opposed to the duty of the State or municipality, to provide for the
people's enlightened amusement, is not formidable. The State and the
municipality have long treated such work as part of their daily
functions, whatever the arguments that have been urged against it. The
State, in partnership with local authorities, educates the people,
whether they like it or no. The municipalities of London and other
great towns provide the people, outside the theatre, with almost every
opportunity of enlightenment and enlightened amusement. In London
there are 150 free libraries, which are mainly occupied in providing
the ratepayers with the opportunities of reading fiction--recreation
which is not always very enlightened. The County Council of London
furnishes bands of music to play in the parks, at an expenditure of
some £6000 a year. Most of our great cities supply, in addition,
municipal picture galleries, in which the citizens take pride, and to
which in their corporate capacity they contribute large sums of money.
The municipal theatre is the natural complement of the municipal
library, the municipal musical entertainment, and the municipal art


Of the practicability of a municipal theatre ample evidence is at
hand. Foreign experience convincingly justifies the municipal mode of
theatrical enterprise. Every great town in France, Germany, Austria,
and Switzerland has its municipal theatre. In Paris there are three,
in addition to four theatres which are subsidised by the State. It is
estimated that there are seventy municipal theatres in the
German-speaking countries of Europe, apart from twenty-seven State
theatres. At the same time, it should be noted that in the French and
German capitals there are, at the side of the State and municipal
playhouses, numerous theatres which are run on ordinary commercial
lines. The prosperity of these houses is in no way checked by the
contiguity of theatrical enterprise of State or municipality.

All municipal theatres on the continent of Europe pursue the same
aims. They strive to supply the citizens with true artistic drama
continuously, and to reduce the cost of admission to the playhouse to
the lowest possible terms. But the working details of the foreign
municipal theatres differ widely in individual cases, and a
municipality which contemplates a first theatrical experiment is
offered a large choice of method. In some places the municipality acts
with regal munificence, and directly assumes the largest possible
responsibilities. It provides the site, erects the theatre, and allots
a substantial subsidy to its maintenance. The manager is a municipal
officer, and the municipal theatre fills in the social life of the
town as imposing a place as the town-hall, cathedral, or university.

Elsewhere the municipality sets narrower limits to its sphere of
operations. It merely provides the site and the building, and then
lets the playhouse out at a moderate rental to directors of proved
efficiency and public spirit, on assured conditions that they honestly
serve the true interests of art, uphold a high standard of production,
avoid the frivolity and spectacle of the market, and fix the price of
seats on a very low scale. Here no public funds are seriously
involved. The municipality pays no subsidy. The rent of the theatre
supplies the municipality with normal interest on the capital that is
invested in site and building. It is public credit of a moral rather
than of a material kind which is pledged to the cause of dramatic art.

In a third class of municipal theatre the public body confines its
material aid to the gratuitous provision of a site. Upon that site
private enterprise is invited to erect a theatre under adequate
guarantee that it shall exclusively respect the purposes of art, and
spare to the utmost the pockets of the playgoer. To render dramatic
art accessible to the rank and file of mankind, with the smallest
possible pressure on the individual citizen's private resources, is of
the essence of every form of municipal theatrical enterprise.

The net result of the municipal theatre, especially in German-speaking
countries, is that the literary drama, both of the past and present,
maintains a grip on the playgoing public which is outside English
experience. There is in Germany a very flourishing modern German drama
of literary merit. Sudermann and Hauptmann hold the ears of men of
letters throughout Europe. Dramas by these authors are constantly
presented in municipal theatres. At the same time, plays by the
classical dramatists of all European countries are performed as
constantly, and are no less popular. Almost every play of Shakespeare
is in the repertory of the chief acting companies on the German
municipal stage. At the side of Shakespeare stand Schiller and Goethe
and Lessing, the classical dramatists of Germany; Molière, the
classical dramatist of France; and Calderon, the classical dramatist
of Spain. Public interest is liberally distributed over the whole
range of artistic dramatic effort. Indeed, during recent years
Shakespeare's plays have been performed in Germany more often than
plays of the modern German school. Schiller, the classical national
dramatist of Germany, lives more conspicuously on the modern German
stage than any one modern German contemporary writer, eminent and
popular as more than one contemporary German dramatist deservedly is.
Thus signally has the national or municipal system of theatrical
enterprise in Germany served the cause of classical drama. All the
beneficial influence and gratification, which are inherent in artistic
and literary drama, are, under the national or municipal system,
enjoyed in permanence and security by the German people.

Vienna probably offers London the most instructive example of the
national or municipal theatre. The three leading Viennese
playhouses--the Burg-Theater, the Stadt-Theater, and the
Volks-Theater--illustrate the three modes in which public credit may
be pledged to theatrical enterprise. The palatial Burg-Theater is
wholly an institution of the State. The site of the Stadt-Theater, and
to a large extent the building, were provided by the municipality,
which thereupon leased them out to a private syndicate, under a
manager of the syndicate's choosing. The municipality assumes no more
direct responsibility for the due devotion of the Stadt-Theater to
dramatic art than is implied in its retention of reversionary rights
of ownership. The third theatre, the Volks-Theater, illustrates the
minimum share that a municipality may take in promoting theatrical
enterprise, while guaranteeing the welfare of artistic drama.

The success of the Volks-Theater is due to the co-operation of a
public body with a voluntary society of private citizens who regard
the maintenance of the literary drama as a civic duty. The site of the
Volks-Theater, which was formerly public property and estimated to be
worth £80,000, is in the best part of the city of Vienna. It was a
free gift from the government to a limited liability company, formed
of some four hundred shareholders of moderate means, who formally
pledged themselves to erect on the land a theatre with the sole object
of serving the purposes of dramatic art. The interest payable to
shareholders is strictly limited by the conditions of association. An
officially sanctioned constitution renders it obligatory on them and
on their officers to produce in the playhouse classical and modern
drama of a literary character, though not necessarily of the severest
type. Merely frivolous or spectacular pieces are prohibited, and at
least twice a week purely classical plays must be presented. No piece
may be played more than two nights in immediate succession. The
actors, whose engagements are permanent, are substantially paid, and
an admirably devised system of pensions is enforced without making
deductions from salaries. The price of seats is fixed at a low rate,
the highest price being 4s., the cheapest and most numerous seats
costing 10d. each. Both financially and artistically the result has
been all that one could wish. There is no public subsidy, but the
Emperor pays £500 a year for a box. The house holds 1800 persons,
yielding gross receipts of £200 for a nightly expenditure of £125.
There are no advertising expenses, no posters. The newspapers give
notice of the daily programme as an attractive item of news.


There is some disinclination among Englishmen deliberately to adopt
foreign methods, to follow foreign examples, in any walk of life. But
no person of common sense will reject a method merely because it is
foreign, if it can be proved to be of utility. It is spurious
patriotism to reject wise counsel because it is no native product. On
the other hand, it is seriously to asperse the culture and
intelligence of the British nation to assume that no appreciable
section of it cherishes that taste for the literary drama which keeps
the national or municipal theatre alive in France and Germany. At any
rate, judgment should be held in suspense until the British playgoers'
mettle has been more thoroughly tested than hitherto.

No less humiliating is the argument that the art of acting in this
country is at too low an ebb to justify the assumption by a public
body of responsibility for theatrical enterprise. One or two critics
assert that to involve public credit in a theatre, until there exist
an efficient school of acting, is to put the cart before the horse.
This objection seems insubstantial. Competent actors are not
altogether absent from the English stage, and the municipal system of
theatrical enterprise is calculated to increase their number rapidly.

Abroad, the subsidised theatres, with their just schemes of salary,
their permanent engagements, their well-devised pension systems,
attract the best class of the profession. A competent company of
actors, which enjoys a permanent home and is governed by high
standards of art, forms the best possible school of acting, not merely
by force of example, but by the private tuition which it could readily
provide. In Vienna the companies at the subsidised theatres are
recruited from the pupils of a State-endowed conservatoire of actors.
It is improbable that the British Government will found a like
institution. But it would be easy to attach a college of acting to the
municipal theatre, and to make the college pay its way.

Much depends on the choice of manager of the enterprise. The manager
of a municipal theatre must combine with business aptitude a genuine
devotion to dramatic art and dramatic literature. Without a fit
manager, who can collect and control a competent company of actors,
the scheme of the municipal theatre is doomed to failure. Managers of
the requisite temper, knowledge, and ability are not lacking in France
or Germany. There is no reason to anticipate that, when the call is
sounded, the right response will not be given here.

Cannot an experiment be made in London on the lines of the Vienna
Volks-Theater? In the first place, it is needful to bring together a
body of citizens who, under leadership which commands public
confidence, will undertake to build and control for a certain term of
years a theatre of suitable design in the interests of dramatic art,
on conditions similar to those that have worked with success in
Berlin, Paris, and notably Vienna. Then the London County Council,
after the professions it has made, might be reasonably expected to
undertake so much responsibility for the proper conduct of the new
playhouse as would be implied by its provision of a site. If the
experiment failed, no one would be much the worse; if it succeeded, as
it ought to succeed, the nation would gain in repute for intelligence,
culture, and enlightened patriotism; it would rid itself of the
reproach that it pays smaller and less intelligent regard to
Shakespeare and the literary drama than France, Germany, Austria, or

Phelps's single-handed effort brought the people of London for
eighteen years face to face with the great English drama at his
playhouse at Sadler's Wells. "I made that enterprise pay," he said,
after he retired; "not making a fortune certainly, but bringing up a
large family and paying my way." Private troubles and illness
compelled him suddenly to abandon the enterprise at the end of
eighteen years, when there happened to be none at hand to take his
place of leader. All that was wanting to make his enterprise
permanent, he declared, was some public control, some public
acknowledgment of responsibility which, without impeding the efficient
manager's freedom of action, would cause his post to be filled
properly in case of an accidental vacancy. Phelps thought that if he
could do so much during eighteen years by his personal, isolated, and
independent endeavour, much more could be done in permanence under
some public method of safeguard and guarantee. Phelps's services to
the literary drama can hardly be over-estimated. His mature judgment
is not to be lightly gainsaid. It is just to his memory to put his
faith to a practical test.



[Footnote 24: This paper, which was originally prepared in 1899 for
the purposes of a popular lecture, is here printed for the first


A French critic once remarked that a whole system of philosophy could
be deduced from Shakespeare's pages, though from all the works of the
philosophers one could not draw a page of Shakespeare. The second
statement--the denial of the presence of a page of Shakespeare in the
works of all the philosophers--is more accurate than the assertion
that a system of philosophy could be deduced from the plays of
Shakespeare. It is hopeless to deduce any precise system of philosophy
from Shakespeare's plays. Literally, philosophy means nothing more
recondite than love of wisdom. Technically, it means scientifically
restrained speculation about the causes of human thought and conduct;
it embraces the sciences of logic, of ethics, of politics, of
psychology, of metaphysics. Shakespeare's training and temper unfitted
him to make any professed contribution to any of these topics.

Ignorant persons argue on hazy grounds that the great avowed
philosopher of Shakespeare's day, Francis Bacon, wrote Shakespeare's
plays. There is no need to confute the theory, which confutes itself.
But, if a confutation were needed, it lies on the surface in the
conflicting attitudes which Shakespeare and Bacon assume towards
philosophy. There is no mistaking Bacon's attitude. The supreme aim of
his writings was to establish the practical value, the majestic
importance, of philosophy in its strict sense of speculative science.
He sought to widen its scope, and to multiply the ranks of its

Bacon's method is formally philosophic in texture. He carefully
scrutinises, illustrates, seeks to justify each statement before
proceeding to a conclusion. Every essay, every treatise of Bacon,
conveys the impression not merely of weighty, pregnant eloquence, but
of the argumentative and philosophic temper. Bacon's process of
thinking is conscious: it is visible behind the words. The argument
progresses with a cumulative force. It draws sustenance from the
recorded opinions of others. The points usually owe consistency and
firmness to quotations from old authors--Greek and Latin authors,
especially Plato and Plutarch, Lucretius and Seneca. To Bacon, as to
all professed students of the subject, philosophy first revealed
itself in the pages of the Greek writers, Plato and Aristotle, the
founders for modern Europe of the speculative sciences of human
thought and conduct. Greatly as Bacon modified the Greek system of
philosophy, he began his philosophic career under the influence of
Aristotle, and, despite his destructive criticism of his master, he
never wholly divested himself of the methods of exposition to which
the Greek philosopher's teaching introduced him.

In their attitudes to philosophy, Shakespeare and Bacon are as the
poles asunder. Shakespeare practically ignores the existence of
philosophy as a formal science. He betrays no knowledge of its Greek
origin and developments.

There are two short, slight, conventional mentions of Aristotle's name
in Shakespeare's works. One is a very slight allusion to Aristotle's
"checks" or "moral discipline" in _The Taming of the Shrew_. That
passage is probably from a coadjutor's pen. In any case, it is merely
a playful questioning of the title of "sweet philosophy" to monopolize
a young man's education.[25]

[Footnote 25: Tranio, the attendant on the young Pisan, Lucentio, who
has come to Padua to study at the university, counsels his master to
widen the field of his studies:--

    Only, good master, while we do admire
    This virtue and this moral discipline,
    Let's be no Stoics, nor no stocks, I pray,
    Or so devote to _Aristotle's checks_,
    As Ovid be an outcast quite adjured.

    (_The Taming of the Shrew_, I., ii., 29-33.)]

The other mention of Aristotle is in _Troilus and Cressida_, and
raises points of greater interest. Hector scornfully likens his
brothers Troilus and Paris, when they urge persistence in the strife
with Greece, to "young men whom Aristotle thought unfit to hear
_moral_ philosophy" (II., ii., 166). The words present the meaning,
but not the language, of a sentence in Aristotle's "Nicomachean
Ethics" (i. 8). Aristotle there declares passionate youth to be
unfitted to study _political_ philosophy; he makes no mention of
_moral_ philosophy. The change of epithet does, however, no injustice
to Aristotle's argument. His context makes it plain, that by
_political_ philosophy he means the ethics of civil society, which
are hardly distinguishable from what is commonly called "morals." The
maxim, in the slightly irregular shape which Shakespeare adopted,
enjoyed proverbial currency before the dramatist was born. Erasmus
introduced it in this form into his far-famed _Colloquies_. In France
and Italy the warning against instructing youth in _moral_ philosophy
was popularly accepted as an Aristotelian injunction. Sceptics about
the obvious Shakespearean tradition have made much of the circumstance
that Bacon, who cited the aphorism from Aristotle in his _Advancement
of Learning_, substituted, like Shakespeare in _Troilus and Cressida_,
the epithet "moral" for "political." The proverbial currency of the
emendation deprives the coincidence of point.

The repetition of a proverbial phrase, indirectly drawn from
Aristotle, combined with the absence of other references to the Greek
philosopher, renders improbable Shakespeare's personal acquaintance
with his work. In any case, the bare mention of the name of Aristotle
implies nothing in this connection. It was a popular synonym for
ancient learning. It was as often on the lips of Elizabethans as
Bacon's name is on the lips of men and women of to-day, and it would
be rash to infer that those who carelessly and casually mentioned
Bacon's name to-day knew his writings or philosophic theories at first

No evidence is forthcoming that Shakespeare knew in any solid sense
aught of philosophy of the formal scientific kind. On scientific
philosophy, and on natural science, Shakespeare probably looked with
suspicion. He expressed no high opinion of astronomers, who pursue
the most imposing of all branches of scientific speculation.

    Small have continual plodders ever won,
    Save base authority from others' books.
    These earthly godfathers of heaven's light,
    That give a name to every fixed star,
    Have no more profit of their shining nights
    Than those that walk, and wot not what they are.

    (_Love's Labour's Lost_, I., i., 86-91.)

This is a characteristically poetic attitude; it is the antithesis of
the scientific attitude. Formal logic excited Shakespeare's disdain
even more conspicuously. In the mouths of his professional fools he
places many reductions to absurdity of what he calls the "simple
syllogism." He invests the term "chop-logic" with the significance of
foolery _in excelsis_.[26] Again, metaphysics, in any formal sense,
were clearly not of Shakespeare's world. On one occasion he wrote of
the topic round which most metaphysical speculation revolves:--

                     We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on, and our little life
    Is rounded by a sleep.

    (_Tempest_, IV., i., 156-8.)

[Footnote 26: The speeches of the clown in _Twelfth Night_ are
particularly worthy of study for the satiric adroitness with which
they expose the quibbling futility of syllogistic logic. _Cf._ Act I.,
Scene v., ll. 43-57.

_Olivia._ Go to, you're a dry fool; I'll no more of you: besides you
grow dishonest.

_Clown._ Two faults, Madonna, that drink and good counsel will amend:
for give the dry fool drink, then is the fool not dry: bid the
dishonest man mend himself; if he mend, he is no longer dishonest; if
he cannot, let the botcher mend him. Anything that's mended is but
patched: virtue that transgresses is but patched with sin; and sin
that amends is but patched with virtue. If that _this simple
syllogism_ will serve, so; if it will not, what remedy?]

Such a theory of human life is first-rate poetry; it is an
illuminating figure of poetic speech. But the simplicity with which
the theme is presented, to the exclusion of many material issues, puts
the statement out of the plane of metaphysical disquisition, which
involves subtle conflict of argument and measured resolution of doubt,
rather than imaginative certainty or unconditional assertion. Nor is
Hamlet's famous soliloquy on the merits and demerits of suicide
conceived in the spirit of the metaphysician. It is a dramatic
description of a familiar phase of emotional depression; it explains
nothing; it propounds no theory. It reflects a state of feeling; it
breathes that torturing spirit of despondency which kills all hope of
mitigating either the known ills of life or the imagined terrors of

The faint, shadowy glimpses which Shakespeare had of scientific
philosophy gave him small respect for it. Like the typical hard-headed
Englishman, he doubted its practical efficacy. Shakespeare viewed all
formal philosophy much as Dr Johnson's Rasselas, whose faith in it
dwindled, when he perceived that the professional philosopher, who
preached superiority to all human frailties and weaknesses, succumbed
to them at the first provocation.

    There are more things in heaven and earth
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.[27]

    For there was never yet philosopher
    That could endure the toothache patiently.[28]

[Footnote 27: _Hamlet_, I., v., 166-7.]

[Footnote 28: _Much Ado About Nothing_, V., i., 35-6.]

Such phrases sum up Shakespeare's habitual bearing to formal
philosophy. The consideration of causes, first principles, abstract
truths, never, in the dramatist's opinion, cured a human ill. The
futility of formal philosophy stands, from this point of view, in no
further need of demonstration.


But it is permissible to use the words philosopher and philosophy,
without scientific precision or significance, in the popular
inaccurate senses of shrewd observer and observation of life. By
philosophy we may understand common-sense wisdom about one's
fellow-men, their aspirations, their failures and successes. As soon
as we employ the word in that significance, we must allow that few men
were better philosophers than Shakespeare.

Shakespeare is what Touchstone calls the shepherd in _As You Like
It_--"a natural philosopher"--an observer by light of nature, an acute
expositor of phases of human life and feeling. Character, thought,
passion, emotion, form the raw material of which ethical or
metaphysical systems are made. The poet's contempt for formal ethical
or metaphysical theory co-existed with a searching knowledge of the
ultimate foundations of all systematised philosophic structures. The
range of fact or knowledge within which the formal theorist speculates
in the fields of ethics, logic, metaphysics, or psychology, is,
indeed, very circumscribed when it is compared with the region of
observation and experience over which Shakespeare exerted complete

Almost every aspect of life Shakespeare portrays with singular
evenness of insight. He saw life whole. The web of life always
presented itself to him as a mingled yarn, good and ill together. He
did not stay to reconcile its contradictions. He adduces a wealth of
evidence touching ethical experience. It may be that the patient
scrutiny of formal philosophers can alone reveal the full significance
of his harvest. But the dramatist's exposition of the workings of
virtue or vice has no recondite intention. Shakespeare was no patient
scholar, who deliberately sought to extend the limits of human
knowledge. With unrivalled ease and celerity he digested, in the
recesses of his consciousness, the fruit of personal observation and
reading. His only conscious aim was to depict human conduct and human
thought. He interpreted them unconsciously by virtue of an involuntary

Shakespeare's intuition pierces life at the lowest as well as at the
highest level of experience. It is coloured by delicate imaginative
genius as well as by robust and practical worldliness. Not his
writings only, but the facts of his private life--his mode of managing
his private property, for example--attest his alert knowledge of the
material and practical affairs of human existence. Idealism and
realism in perfect development were interwoven with the texture of his

Shakespeare was qualified by mental endowment for success in any
career. He was by election a dramatist, and, necessarily, one of
unmatched versatility. His intuitive faculty enabled him, after
regarding life from any point of view that he willed, to depict
through the mouths of his characters the chosen phase of experience in
convincing, harmonious accord with his characters' individual
circumstances and fortunes. No obvious trace of his own personal
circumstance or experience was suffered to emerge in the utterances of
his characters, who lived for the moment in his brain. It is a
commonplace to credit Shakespeare with supreme dramatic instinct. It
is difficult fully to realise the significance of that attribute. It
means that he could contract or expand at will and momentarily, his
own personality, so that it coincided exactly, now with a
self-indulgent humorist like Falstaff, now with an introspective
student like Hamlet, now with a cynical criminal like Iago, now with a
high-spirited girl like Rosalind, now with an ambitious woman like
Lady Macbeth, and then with a hundred more characters hardly less
distinctive than these. It means that he could contrive the
coincidence so absolutely as to leave no loophole for the
introduction, into the several dramatic utterances, of any sentiment
that should not be on the face of it adapted by right of nature to the
speakers' idiosyncracies. That was Shakespeare's power. It is a power
of which the effects are far easier to recognise than the causes or
secret of operation.

In the present connection it is happily only necessary to dwell on
Shakespeare's dramatic instinct in order to guard against the peril of
dogmatising from his works about his private opinions. So various and
conflicting are Shakespeare's dramatic pronouncements on phases of
experience that it is difficult and dangerous to affirm which
pronouncements, if any, present most closely his personal sentiment.
He fitted the lips of his _dramatis personæ_ with speeches and
sentiments so peculiarly adapted to them as to show no one quite
undisputed sign of their creator's personality.

Yet there are occasions, when, without detracting from the omnipotence
of Shakespeare's dramatic instinct, one may tentatively infer that
Shakespeare gave voice through his created personages to sentiments
which were his own. The Shakespearean drama must incorporate somewhere
within its vast limits the personal thoughts and passions of its
creator, even although they are for the most part absorbed past
recognition in the mighty mass, and no critical chemistry can with
confidence disentangle them. At any rate, there are in the plays many
utterances--ethical utterances, or observations conceived in the
spirit of "a natural philosopher"--which are repeated to much the same
effect at different periods of the poet's career. These reiterated
opinions frequently touch the conditions of well-being or calamity in
civilised society; they often deal with man in civic or social
relation with his neighbour; they define the capabilities of his will.
It is unlikely that observations of this nature would be repeated if
the sentiments they embody were out of harmony with the author's
private conviction. Often we shall not strain a point or do our
critical sense much violence if we assume that these recurring
thoughts are Shakespeare's own. I purpose to call attention to a few
of those which bear on large questions of government and citizenship
and human volition. Involuntarily, they form the framework of a
political and moral philosophy which for clear-eyed sanity is without


Shakespeare's political philosophy is instinct with the loftiest moral
sense. Directly or indirectly, he defines many times the essential
virtues and the inevitable temptations which attach to persons
exercising legalised authority over their fellow-men. The topic always
seems to stir in Shakespeare his most serious tone of thought and
word. No one, in fact, has conceived a higher standard of public
virtue and public duty than Shakespeare. His intuition rendered him
tolerant of human imperfection. He is always in kindly sympathy with
failure, with suffering, with the oppressed. Consequently he brings at
the outset into clearer relief than professed political philosophers,
the saving quality of mercy in rulers of men. Twice Shakespeare pleads
in almost identical terms, through the mouths of created characters,
for generosity on the part of governors of states towards those who
sin against law. In both cases he places his argument, with
significant delicacy, on the lips of women. At a comparatively early
period in his career as dramatist, in _The Merchant of Venice_, Portia
first gave voice to the political virtue of compassion. At a much
later period Shakespeare set the same plea in the mouth of Isabella in
_Measure for Measure_. The passages are too familiar to justify
quotation. Very brief extracts will bring out clearly the identity of
sentiment which finds definition in the two passages.

These are Portia's views of mercy on the throne (_Merchant of Venice_,
IV., i., 189 _seq._):--

    'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
    The throned monarch better than his crown;

           *       *       *       *       *

              Mercy is above this sceptred sway;
    It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
    It is an attribute to God himself;
    And earthly power doth then show likest God's
    When mercy seasons justice.

                          Consider this,
    That in the course of justice none of us
    Should see salvation.[29]

[Footnote 29: In a paper on "Latin as an Intellectual Force," read
before the International Congress of Arts and Sciences at St Louis in
September 1904, Professor E.A. Sonnenschein sought to show that
Portia's speech on mercy is based on Seneca's tract, _De Clementia_.
The most striking parallel passages are the following:--

                              It becomes
    The throned monarch better than his crown.

    (_M. of V._, IV., i. 189-90.)

Nullum clementia ex omnibus magis quam regem aut principem decet.
(Seneca, _De Clementia_, I., iii., 3):--

    'Tis mightiest in the mightiest.

Eo scilicet formosius id esse magnificentiusque fatebimur quo in
maiore praestabitur potestate (I., xix., 1):--

    But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
    It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
    It is an attribute to God himself.

    (_M. of V._, IV., i., 193-5.)

Quod si di placabiles et aequi delicta potentium non statim fulminibus
persequuntur, quanto aequius est hominem hominibus praepositum miti
animo exercere imperium? (I., vii., 2):--

    And earthly power doth then show likest God's
    When mercy seasons justice.

    (_M. of V._, IV., i., 196-7.)

Quid autem? Non proximum eis (dîs) locum tenet is qui se ex deorum
natura gerit beneficus et largus et in melius potens? (I., xix., 9):--

                            Consider this,
    That in the course of justice none of us
    Should see salvation.

    (_M. of V._, IV., i., 198-200.)

Cogitato ... quanta solitudo et vastitas futura sit si nihil
relinquitur nisi quod iudex severus absolverit (I., vi., 1).

This remarkable series of parallelisms does not affect the argument in
the text that Shakespeare, who reiterated Portia's pleas and
phraseology in Isabella's speeches, had a personal faith in the
declared sentiment. Whether the parallelism is to be explained as
conscious borrowing or accidental coincidence is an open question.]

Here are Isabella's words in _Measure for Measure_ (II., ii., 59

    No ceremony that to great ones 'longs,
    Not the king's crown, nor the deputed sword,
    The marshal's truncheon, nor the judge's robe,
    Become them with one half so good a grace
    As mercy does.

                    How would you be
    If He, which is the top of judgment, should
    But judge you as you are?

                              O, it is excellent
    To have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous
    To use it like a giant.

Mercy is the predominating or crowning virtue that Shakespeare demands
in rulers. But the Shakespearean code is innocent of any taint of
sentimentality, and mercifulness is far from being the sovereign's
sole qualification or primal test of fitness. More especially are
kings and judges bound by their responsibilities and their duties to
eschew self-glorification or self-indulgence. It is the _virtues_ of
the holders of office, not their office itself, which alone in the end
entitles them to consideration. Adventitious circumstances give no man
claim to respect. A man is alone worthy of regard by reason of his
personal character. Honour comes from his own acts, neither from his
"foregoers," _i.e._, ancestors, nor from his rank in society. "Good
alone is good without a name." This is not the view of the world,
which values lying trophies, rank, or wealth. The world is thereby the

[Footnote 30:

    From lowest place, when virtuous things proceed,
    The place is dignified by the doer's deed:
    Where great additions swell's, and virtue none,
    It is a dropsied honour: good alone
    Is good without a name; vileness is so:
    The property by what it is should go,
    Not by the title; ... that is honour's scorn,
    Which challenges itself as honour's born,
    And is not like the sire: honours thrive
    When rather from our acts we them derive
    Than our foregoers: the mere word's a slave,
    Debauch'd on every tomb; on every grave
    A lying trophy; and as oft is dumb
    Where dust and damn'd oblivion is the tomb
    Of honour'd bones indeed.

    (_All's Well_, II., iii., 130 _seq._)]

The world honours a judge; but if the judge be indebted to his office
and not to his character for the respect that is paid him, he may
deserve no more honour than the criminal in the dock, whom he
sentences to punishment. "A man may see how this world goes with no
eyes," says King Lear to the blind Gloucester. "Look with thine ears;
see how yond justice rails upon yond simple thief. Hark, in thine ear;
change places, and, handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the
thief? Thou hast seen a farmer's dog bark at a beggar? And the
creature run from the cur? There thou mightst behold the great image
of authority; a dog's obeyed in office." "The great image of
authority" is often a brazen idol.

Hereditary rulers form no inconsiderable section of Shakespeare's
_dramatis personæ_. In _Macbeth_ (IV., iii., 92-4) he specifically
defined "the king-becoming graces":--

    As justice, verity, temperance, stableness,
    Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness,
    Devotion, patience, courage, fortitude.

But the dramatist's main energies are devoted to exposure of the
hollowness of this counsel of perfection. Temptations to vice beset
rulers of men to a degree that is unknown to their subjects. To
avarice rulers are especially prone. Stanchless avarice constantly
converts kings of ordinary clay into monsters. How often they forge

    Quarrels unjust against the good and loyal,
    Destroying them for wealth.

    (_Macbeth_, IV., iii., 83-4.)

Intemperance in all things--in business and pleasure--is a standing
menace of monarchs.

             Boundless intemperance
    In Nature is a tyranny: it hath been
    Th' untimely emptying of the happy throne
    And fail of many kings.

    (_Macbeth_, IV., iii., 66-9.)

A leader of men, if he be capable of salvation, must "delight no less
in truth than life." Yet "truth," for the most part, is banished from
the conventional environment of royalty.

Repeatedly does Shakespeare bring into dazzling relief the irony which
governs the being of kings. Want of logic and defiance of ethical
principle underlie their pride in magnificent ceremonial and
pageantry. The ironic contrast between the pretensions of a king and
the actual limits of human destiny is a text which Shakespeare
repeatedly clothes in golden language.

It is to be admitted that nearly all the kings in Shakespeare's
gallery frankly acknowledge the make-believe and unreality which dogs
regal pomp and ceremony. In self-communion they acknowledge the
ruler's difficulty in finding truth in their traditional scope of
life. In a great outburst on the night before Agincourt, Henry V.--the
only king whom Shakespeare seems thoroughly to admire--openly
describes the inevitable confusion between fact and fiction which
infects the conditions of royalty. Anxiety and unhappiness are so
entwined with ceremonial display as to deprive the king of the reliefs
and recreations which freely lie at the disposal of ordinary men.

                   What infinite heart's-ease
    Must kings neglect that private men enjoy!
    And what have kings that privates have not too,
    Save ceremony, save general ceremony?
    And what art thou, thou idol ceremony?
    What kind of god art thou, that suffer'st more
    Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?
    What are thy rents? what are thy comings-in?
    O ceremony, show me but thy worth!
    What is thy soul of adoration?
    Art thou aught else but place, degree, and form,
    Creating awe and fear in other men?
    Wherein thou art less happy being fear'd
    Than they in fearing.
    What drink'st thou oft, instead of homage sweet,
    But poison'd flattery? O, be sick, great greatness,
    And bid thy ceremony give thee cure!
    Think'st thou the fiery fever will go out
    With titles blown from adulation?
    Will it give place to flexure and low bending?
    Canst thou, when thou command'st the beggar's knee,
    Command the health of it? No, thou proud dream
    That play'st so subtly with a king's repose:
    I am a king that find thee; and I know
    'Tis not the balm, the sceptre, and the ball,
    The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
    The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
    The farced title running 'fore the king,
    The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
    That beats upon the high shore of this world,--
    No, not all these, thrice gorgeous ceremony,
    Not all these, laid in bed majestical,
    Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave
    Who, with a body fill'd and vacant mind
    Gets him to rest, cramm'd with distressful bread.

    (_Henry V._, IV., i., 253-287.)

Barely distinguishable is the sentiment which finds expression in the
pathetic speech of Henry V.'s father when he vainly seeks that sleep
which thousands of his poorest subjects enjoy. The sleepless king
points to the irony of reclining on the kingly couch beneath canopies
of costly state when sleep refuses to weigh his eyelids down or steep
his senses in forgetfulness. The king is credited with control of
every comfort; but he is denied by nature comforts which she places
freely at command of the humblest. So again does Richard II.
soliloquize on the vain pride which imbues the king, while death all
the time grins at his pomp and keeps his own court within the hollow
crown that rounds the prince's mortal temples. Yet again, to identical
effect is Henry VI.'s sorrowful question:--

    Gives not the hawthorn-bush a sweeter shade,
    To shepherds looking on their silly sheep,
    Than doth a rich-embroidered canopy
    To kings that fear their subjects' treachery?

    (III. _Henry VI._, II., v., 42-5.)

To this text Shakespeare constantly recurs, and he bestows on it all
his fertile resources of illustration. The reiterated exposition by
Shakespeare of the hollowness of kingly ceremony is a notable feature
of his political sentiment The dramatist's independent analysis of the
quiddity of kingship is, indeed, alike in manner and matter, a
startling contribution to sixteenth century speculation. In manner it
is worthy of Shakespeare's genius at its highest. In matter it is for
its day revolutionary rationalism. It defies a popular doctrine, held
almost universally by Shakespeare's contemporary fellow-countrymen,
that royalty is divine and under God's special protection, that the
gorgeous ceremony of the throne reflects a heavenly attribute, and
that the king is the pampered favourite of heaven.

Bacon defined a king with slender qualifications, as "a mortal god on
earth unto whom the living God has lent his own name." Shakespeare was
well acquainted with this accepted doctrine. He often gives dramatic
definition of it. He declines to admit its soundness. Wherever he
quotes it, he adds an ironical comment, which was calculated to
perturb the orthodox royalist. Having argued that the day-labourer or
the shepherd is far happier than a king, he logically refuses to admit
that the monarch is protected by God from any of the ills of
mortality. Richard II. may assert that "the hand of God alone, and no
hand of blood or bone" can rob him of the sacred handle of his
sceptre. But the catastrophe of the play demonstrates that that theft
is entirely within human scope. The king is barbarously murdered. In
_Hamlet_ the graceless usurping uncle declares that "such divinity
doth hedge a king," that treason cannot endanger his life. But the
speaker is run through the body very soon after the brag escapes his

Shakespeare is no comfortable theorist, no respecter of orthodox
doctrine, no smooth-tongued approver of fashionable dogma. His acute
intellect cuts away all the cobwebs, all the illusions, all the
delusions, of formulæ. His untutored insight goes down to the root of
things; his king is not Philosopher Bacon's "mortal god on earth"; his
king is "but a man as I am," doomed to drag out a large part of his
existence in the galling chains of "tradition, form and ceremonious
duty," of unreality and self-deception.

Shakespeare's intuitive power of seeing things as they are, affects
his attitude to all social conventions. Not merely royal rulers of men
are in a false position, ethically and logically. "Beware of
appearances," is Shakespeare's repeated warning to men and women of
all ranks in the political or social hierarchy. "Put not your trust in
ornament, be it of gold or of silver." In the spheres of law and
religion, the dramatist warns against pretence, against shows of
virtue, honesty, or courage which have no solid backing.

    The world is still deceiv'd with ornament.
    In law what plea so tainted and corrupt
    But, being season'd with a gracious voice,
    Obscures the show of evil? In religion
    What damned error, but some sober brow
    Will bless it and approve it with a text,
    Hiding the grossness with fair ornament?
    There is no vice so simple but assumes
    Some mark of virtue on his outward parts:
    How many cowards, whose hearts are all as false
    As stairs of sand, wear yet upon their chins
    The beards of Hercules and frowning Mars,
    Who, inward searched, have livers white as milk.

    (_Merchant of Venice_, III., ii., 74-86.)

Shakespeare was no cynic. He was not unduly distrustful of his
fellow-men. He was not always suspecting them of something
indistinguishable from fraud. When he wrote, "The world is still
deceived with ornament" which "obscures the show of evil," he was
expressing downright hatred--not suspicion--of sham, of quackery, of
cant. His is the message of all commanding intellects which see
through the hearts of men. Shakespeare's message is Carlyle's message
or Ruskin's message anticipated by nearly three centuries, and more
potently and wisely phrased.


At the same time as Shakespeare insists on the highest and truest
standard of public duty, he, with characteristically practical
insight, acknowledges no less emphatically the necessity or duty of
obedience to duly regulated governments. There may appear
inconsistency in first conveying the impression that governments, or
their officers, are usually unworthy of trust, and then in bidding
mankind obey them implicitly. But, although logical connection between
the two propositions be wanting, they are each convincing in their
place. Both are the outcome of a robust common-sense. Order is
essential to a nation's well-being. There must be discipline in
civilised communities. Officers in authority must be obeyed. These are
the axiomatic bases of every social contract, and no question of the
personal fitness of officers of state impugns their stability.

Twice does Shakespeare define in the same terms what he understands by
the principle of all-compelling order, which is inherent in
government. Twice does he elaborate the argument that precise orderly
division of offices, each enjoying full and unquestioned authority, is
essential to the maintenance of a state's equilibrium.

The topic was first treated in the speeches of Henry V.'s

_Exeter._  For government, though high and low and lower,
           Put into parts, doth keep in one consent,
           Congreeing in a full and natural close,
           Like music.

_Cant._                Therefore doth heaven divide
           The state of man in divers functions,
           Setting endeavour in continual motion;
           To which is fixèd, as an aim or butt,
           Obedience: for so work the honey-bees,
           Creatures that by a rule in nature teach
           The act of order to a peopled kingdom.

(_Henry V._, I., ii., 180-9.)

There follows a very suggestive comparison between the commonwealth of
bees and the economy of human society. The well-worn comparison has
been fashioned anew by a writer of genius of our own day, M.

In _Troilus and Cressida_ (I., iii., 85 _seq._) Shakespeare returns to
the discussion, and defines with greater precision "the specialty of
rule." There he approaches nearer than anywhere else in his writings
the sphere of strict philosophic exposition. He argues that:--

    The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre,
    Observe degree, priority, and place,
    Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
    Office, and custom in all line of order.

Human society is bound to follow this celestial example. At all
hazards, one must protect "the unity and married calm of states."
Degree, order, discipline, are the only sure safeguards against brute
force and chaos which civilised institutions exist to hold in check:--

                       How could communities,
    Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities,
    Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
    The primogeniture 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.

Deprived of degree, rank, order, society dissolves itself in "chaos."

Near the end of his career, Shakespeare impressively re-stated his
faith in the imperative need of the due recognition of social rank and
grade in civilised communities. In _Cymbeline_ (IV., ii., 246-9) "a
queen's son" meets his death in fight with an inferior, and the
conqueror is inclined to spurn the lifeless corpse. But a wise veteran
solemnly uplifts his voice to forbid the insult. Appeal is made to the
sacred principle of social order, which must be respected even in

                 Though mean and mighty, rotting
    Together, make one dust; yet reverence,--
    That angel of the world,--doth make distinction
    Of place 'twixt high and low.

"Reverence, that angel of the world," is the ultimate bond of civil
society, and can never be defied with impunity, it is the saving
sanction of social order.


I have quoted some of Shakespeare's avowedly ethical utterances which
bear on conditions of civil society--on morals in their social aspect.
There is no obscurity about their drift. Apart from direct ethical
declaration, it may be that ethical lessons touching political virtue
as well as other specific aspects of morality are deducible from a
study of Shakespeare's plots and characters. Very generous food for
reflection seems to be offered the political philosopher by the plots
and characters of _Julius Cæsar_ and _Coriolanus_. The personality of
Hamlet is instinct with ethical suggestion. The story and personages
of _Measure for Measure_ present the most persistent of moral
problems. But discussion of the ethical import of Shakespeare's
several dramatic portraits or stories is of doubtful utility. There is
a genuine danger of reading into Shakespeare's plots and characters
more direct ethical significance than is really there. Dramatic art
never consciously nor systematically serves obvious purposes of
morality, save to its own detriment.

Nevertheless there is not likely to be much disagreement with the
general assertion that Shakespeare's plots and characters
involuntarily develop under his hand in conformity with the
straightforward requirements of moral law. He upholds the broad canons
of moral truth with consistency, even with severity. There is no
mistaking in his works on which side lies the right. He never renders
vice amiable. His want of delicacy, his challenges of modesty, need
no palliation. It was characteristic of his age to speak more plainly
of many topics about which polite lips are nowadays silent. But
Shakespeare's coarsenesses do no injury to the healthy-minded. They do
not encourage evil propensities. Wickedness is always wickedness in
Shakespeare, and never deludes the spectator by masquerading as
something else. His plays never present problems as to whether vice is
not after all in certain conditions the sister of virtue. Shakespeare
never shows vice in the twilight, nor leaves the spectator or reader
in doubt as to what its features precisely are. Vice injures him who
practises it in the Shakespearean world, and ultimately proves his
ruin. One cannot play with vice with impunity.

    The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
    Make instruments to plague us.

It is not because Shakespeare is a conscious moralist, that the wheel
comes full circle in his dramatic world. It is because his sense of
art is involuntarily coloured by a profound conviction of the ultimate
justice which governs the operations of human nature and society.

Shakespeare argues, in effect, that a man reaps as he sows. It may be
contended that Nature does not always work in strict accord with this
Shakespearean canon, and that Shakespeare thereby shows himself more
of a deliberate moralist than Nature herself. But the dramatist
idealises or generalises human experience; he does not reproduce it
literally. There is nothing in the Shakespearean canon that runs
directly counter to the idealised or generalised experience of the
outer world. The wicked and the foolish, the intemperate and the
over-passionate, reach in Shakespeare's world that disastrous goal,
which nature at large keeps in reserve for them and only by rare
accident suffers them to evade. The father who brings up his children
badly and yet expects every dutiful consideration from them is only in
rare conditions spared the rude awakening which overwhelms King Lear.
The jealous husband who wrongly suspects his wife of infidelity
commonly suffers the fate either of Othello or of Leontes.


Shakespeare regards it as the noblest ambition in man to master his
own destiny. There are numerous passages in which the dramatist
figures as an absolute and uncompromising champion of the freedom of
the will. "'Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus," says one of
his characters, Iago; "Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our
wills are gardeners." Edmond says much the same in _King Lear_ when he
condemns as "the excellent foppery of the world" the ascription to
external influences of all our faults and misfortunes, whereas they
proceed from our wilful, deliberate choice of the worser way.
Repeatedly does Shakespeare assert that we are useful or useless
members of society according as we will it ourselves.

    Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie
    Which we ascribe to heaven; the fated sky
    Gives us free scope,

says Helena in _All's Well_ (I., i., 231-3).

    Men at some time are masters of their fates,

says Cassius in _Julius Cæsar_ (I., ii., 139-41);

    The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
    But in ourselves that we are underlings.

Hereditary predispositions, the accidents of environment, are not
insuperable; they can be neutralised by force of will, by character.
Character is omnipotent.

The self-sufficing, imperturbable will is the ideal possession, beside
which all else in the world is valueless. But the quest of it is
difficult, and success in the pursuit is rare. Mastery of the will is
the result of a rare conjunction--a perfect commingling of blood and
judgment. Without such harmonious union man is "a pipe"--a musical
instrument--"for Fortune's finger to sound what stop she pleases." Man
can only work out his own salvation when he can control his passions
and can take with equal thanks Fortune's buffets or rewards.

The best of men is--

                                Spare in diet
    Free from gross passion or of mirth or anger,
    Constant in spirit, not swerving with the blood.

    (_Henry V._, II., ii., 131-3.)

His is

                                   the nature
    Whom passion could not shake--whose solid virtue
    The shot of accident nor dart of chance
    Could neither graze nor pierce.

    (_Othello_, IV., i., 176-9.)

Stability of temperament is the finest fruit of the free exercise of
the will; it is the noblest of masculine excellences.

                            Give me that man
    That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
    In my heart's core--ay, in my heart of hearts.

    (_Hamlet_, III., ii., 76-8.)

In spite of his many beautiful portrayals of the charms and tenderness
and innocence of womanhood, Shakespeare had less hope in the ultimate
capacity of women to control their destiny than in the ultimate
capacity of men. The greatest of his female creations, Lady Macbeth
and Cleopatra, stand in a category of their own. They do not lack high
power of will, even if they are unable so to commingle blood and
judgment as to master fate.

Elsewhere, the dramatist seems to betray private suspicion of the
normal woman's volitional capacity by applying to her heart and mind
the specific epithet "waxen." The feminine temperament takes the
impress of its environment as easily as wax takes the impress of a
seal. In two passages where this simile is employed,[31] the deduction
from it is pressed to the furthest limit, and free-will is denied
women altogether. Feminine susceptibility is pronounced to be
incurable; wavering, impressionable emotion is a main constituent of
woman's being; women are not responsible for the sins they commit nor
the wrongs they endure.

[Footnote 31:

    For men have marble, _women waxen minds_,
    And therefore are they formed as marble will;
    The weak oppressed, the impression of strange kinds
    Is form'd in them by force, by fraud, or skill.
    Then call them not the authors of their ill,
    No more than wax shall be accounted evil,
    Wherein is stamp'd the semblance of a devil.

    (_Lucrece_, 1240-6.)

    How easy it is for the proper-false
    In _women's waxen hearts_, to set their forms!
    Alas! our frailty is the cause, not we;
    For, such as we are made of, such we be.

    (_Twelfth Night_, II., ii., 31.)]

This is reactionary doctrine, and one of the few points in
Shakespeare's "natural" philosophy which invites dissent. But he makes
generous amends by ascribing to women a plentiful supply of humour. No
writer has proclaimed more effectively his faith in woman's brilliance
of wit nor in her quickness of apprehension.


Despite the solemnity which attaches to Shakespeare's philosophic
reflections, he is at heart an optimist and a humorist. He combines
with his serious thought a thorough joy in life, an irremovable
preference for the bright over the dismal side of things. The creator
of Falstaff and Mercutio, of Beatrice and the Princess in _Love's
Labour's Lost_, could hardly fail to set store by that gaiety of
spirit which is the antidote to unreasoning discontent, and keeps
society in good savour.

    Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous,
    There shall be no more cakes and ale?

is the voice of Shakespeare as well as of Sir Toby Belch. The
dramatist was at one with Rosalind, his offspring, when she told

    I had rather have a fool to make me merry,
    Than experience to make me sad.

The same sanguine optimistic temper constantly strikes a more
impressive note.

    There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
    Would men observingly distil it out,

is a comprehensive maxim, which sounds as if it came straight from
Shakespeare's lips. This battle-cry of invincible optimism is uttered
in the play by Shakespeare's favourite hero, Henry V. It is hard to
quarrel with the inference that these words convey the ultimate
verdict of the dramatist on human affairs.



[Footnote 32: This paper was first printed in the _Cornhill Magazine_,
May 1901.]

    His noble negligences teach
    What others' toils despair to reach.


Patriotism is a natural instinct closely allied to the domestic
affections. Its normal activity is as essential as theirs to the
health of society. But, in a greater degree than other instincts, the
patriotic impulse works with perilous irregularity unless it be
controlled by the moral sense and the intellect.

Every student of history and politics is aware how readily the
patriotic instinct, if uncontrolled by morality and reason, comes into
conflict with both. Freed of moral restraint it is prone to engender a
peculiarly noxious brand of spurious sentiment--the patriotism of
false pretence. Bombastic masquerade of the genuine impulse is not
uncommon among place-hunters in Parliament and popularity-hunters in
constituencies, and the honest instinct is thereby brought into
disrepute. Dr Johnson was thinking solely of the frauds and moral
degradation which have been sheltered by self-seekers under the name
of patriotism when he none too pleasantly remarked: "Patriotism is the
last refuge of a scoundrel."

The Doctor's epigram hardly deserves its fame. It embodies a
very meagre fraction of the truth. While it ignores the beneficent
effects of the patriotic instinct, it does not exhaust its evil
propensities. It is not only the moral obliquity of place-hunters or
popularity-hunters that can fix on patriotism the stigma of offence.
Its healthy development depends on intellectual as well as on moral
guidance. When the patriotic instinct, however honestly it be
cherished, is freed of intellectual restraint, it works even more
mischief than when it is deliberately counterfeited. Among the
empty-headed it very easily degenerates into an over-assertive, a
swollen selfishness, which ignores or defies the just rights and
feelings of those who do not chance to be their fellow-countrymen. No
one needs to be reminded how much wrong-doing and cruelty have been
encouraged by perfectly honest patriots who lack "intellectual
armour." Dr Johnson knew that the blockhead seeks the shelter of
patriotism with almost worse result to the body politic than the

On the other hand, morality and reason alike resent the defect of
patriotism as stoutly as its immoral or unintellectual extravagance. A
total lack of the instinct implies an abnormal development of moral
sentiment or intellect which must be left to the tender mercies of the
mental pathologist. The man who is the friend of every country but his
own can only be accounted for scientifically as the victim of an
aberration of mind or heart. Ostentatious disclaimers of the patriotic
sentiment deserve as little sympathy as the false pretenders to an
exaggerated share of it. A great statesman is responsible for an
apophthegm on that aspect of the topic which always deserves to be
quoted in the same breath as Dr Johnson's familiar half-truth. When
Sir Francis Burdett, the Radical leader in the early days of the last
century, avowed scorn for the normal instinct of patriotism, Lord John
Russell, the leader of the Liberal party in the House of Commons,
sagely retorted: "The honourable member talks of the _cant_ of
patriotism; but there is something worse than the _cant_ of
patriotism, and that is the _recant_ of patriotism."[33] Mr Gladstone
declared Lord John's repartee to be the best that he ever heard.

[Footnote 33: The pun on "cant" and "recant" was not original, though
Lord John's application of it was. Its inventor seems to have been
Lady Townshend, the brilliant mother of Charles Townshend, the elder
Pitt's Chancellor of the Exchequer. When she was asked if George
Whitefield, the evangelical preacher, had yet recanted, she replied:
"No, he has only been canting."]

It may be profitable to consider how patriotism, which is singularly
liable to distortion and perversion, presented itself to the mind of
Shakespeare, the clearest-headed student of human thought and


In Shakespeare's universal survey of human nature it was impossible
that he should leave patriotism and the patriotic instinct out of
account. It was inevitable that prevalent phases of both should
frequently occupy his attention. In his rôle of dramatist he
naturally dealt with the topic incidentally or disconnectedly rather
than in the way of definite exposition; but in the result, his
treatment will probably be found to be more exhaustive than that of
any other English writer. The Shakespearean drama is peculiarly
fertile in illustration of the virtuous or beneficent working of the
patriotic instinct; but it does not neglect the malevolent or morbid
symptoms incident either to its exorbitant or to its defective growth;
nor is it wanting in suggestions as to how its healthy development may
be best ensured. Part of Shakespeare's message on the subject is so
well known that readers may need an apology for reference to it; but
Shakespeare's declarations have not, as far as I know, been

[Footnote 34: In passing cursorily over the whole field I must ask
pardon for dwelling occasionally on ground that is in detached detail
sufficiently well trodden, as well as for neglecting some points which
require more thorough exploration than is practicable within my
present limits.]

Broadly speaking, the Shakespearean drama enforces the principle that
an active instinct of patriotism promotes righteous conduct. This
principle lies at the root of Shakespeare's treatment of history and
political action, both English and Roman. Normal manifestations of the
instinct in Shakespeare's world shed a gracious light on life. But it
is seen to work in many ways. The patriotic instinct gives birth to
various moods. It operates with some appearance of inconsistency. Now
it acts as a spiritual sedative, now as a spiritual stimulant.

Of all Shakespeare's characters, it is Bolingbroke in _Richard II._
who betrays most effectively the tranquillising influence of
patriotism. In him the patriotic instinct inclines to identity with
the simple spirit of domesticity. It is a magnified love for his own
hearthstone--a glorified home-sickness. The very soil of England,
England's ground, excites in Bolingbroke an overmastering sentiment of
devotion. His main happiness in life resides in the thought that
England is his mother and his nurse. The patriotic instinct thus
exerts on a character which is naturally cold and unsympathetic a
softening, soothing, and purifying sway. Despite his forbidding
self-absorption and personal ambition he touches hearts, and rarely
fails to draw tears when he sighs forth the bald lines:--

    Where'er I wander, boast of this I can,
    Though banished, yet a true-born Englishman.

In such a shape the patriotic instinct may tend in natures weaker than
Bolingbroke's to mawkishness or sentimentality. But it is incapable of
active offence. It makes for the peace and goodwill not merely of
nations among themselves, but of the constituent elements of each
nation within itself. It unifies human aspiration and breeds social

Very different is the phase of the patriotic instinct which is
portrayed in the more joyous, more frank, and more impulsive
characters of Faulconbridge the Bastard in the play of _King John_,
and of the King in _Henry V._ It is in them an inexhaustible stimulus
to action. It is never quiescent, but its operations are regulated by
morality and reason, and it finally induces a serene exaltation of
temper. It was a pardonable foible of Elizabethan writers distinctly
to identify with the English character this healthily energetic sort
of patriotism--the sort of patriotism to which an atmosphere of
knavery or folly proves fatal.

Faulconbridge is an admirable embodiment of the patriotic sentiment in
its most attractive guise. He is a manly soldier, blunt in speech,
contemning subterfuge, chafing against the dictates of political
expediency, and believing that quarrels between nations which cannot
be accommodated without loss of self-respect on the one side or the
other, had better be fought out in resolute and honourable war. He is
the sworn foe of the bully or the braggart. Cruelty is hateful to him.
The patriotic instinct nurtures in him a warm and generous humanity.
His faith in the future of his nation depends on the confident hope
that she will be true to herself, to her traditions, to her
responsibilities, to the great virtues; that she will be at once
courageous and magnanimous:--

    Come the three corners of the world in arms,
    And we shall shock them. Nought shall make us rue,
    If England to itself do rest but true.

Faulconbridge's patriotism is a vivacious spur to good endeavour in
every relation of life.

Henry V. is drawn by Shakespeare at fuller length than Faulconbridge.
His character is cast in a larger mould. But his patriotism is of the
same spirited, wholesome type. Though Henry is a born soldier, he
discourages insolent aggression or reckless displays of prowess in
fight. With greater emphasis than his archbishops and bishops he
insists that his country's sword should not be unsheathed except at
the bidding of right and conscience. At the same time, he is terrible
in resolution when the time comes for striking blows. War, when it is
once invoked, must be pursued with all possible force and fury:--

    In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
    As modest stillness and humility.
    But when the blast of war blows in his ears,
    Then imitate the action of the tiger.[35]

[Footnote 35: On this point the Shakespearean oracle always speaks
with a decisive and practical note:--

    Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in
    Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.

    (_Hamlet_, I., iii., 65-7.)]

But although Henry's patriotic instinct can drive him into battle, it
keeps him faithful there to the paths of humanity. Always alive to the
horrors of war, he sternly forbids looting or even the use of
insulting language to the enemy. It is only when a defeated enemy
declines to acknowledge the obvious ruin of his fortunes that a sane
and practical patriotism defends resort on the part of the conqueror
to the grimmest measure of severity. The healthy instinct stiffens the
grip on the justly won fruits of victory. As soon as Henry V. sees
that the French wilfully deny the plain fact of their overthrow, he is
moved, quite consistently, to exclaim:--

    What is it then to me if impious war,
    Arrayed in flames like to the prince of fiends,
    Do with his smirched complexion all fell feats,
    Enlinked to waste and desolation?

The context makes it clear that there is no confusion here between the
patriotic instinct and mere bellicose ecstasy.

The confusion of patriotism with militant aggressiveness is as
familiar to the Shakespearean drama as to the external world; but it
is always exhibited by Shakespeare in its proper colours. The
Shakespearean "mob," unwashed in mind and body, habitually yields to
it, and justifies itself by a speciousness of argument, against which
a clean vision rebels. The so-called patriotism which seeks expression
in war for its own sake is alone intelligible to Shakespeare's
pavement orators. "Let me have war, say I," exclaims the professedly
patriotic spokesman of the ill-conditioned proletariat in
_Coriolanus_; "it exceeds peace as far as day does night; it's
spritely, waking, audible, and full of vent. Peace is a very apoplexy,
lethargy; mulled, deaf, sleepy, insensible.... Ay, and it makes men
hate one another." For this distressing result of peace, the reason is
given that in times of peace men have less need of one another than in
seasons of war, and the crude argument closes with the cry: "The wars
for my money." There is irony in this suggestion of the mercantile
value of war on the lips of a spokesman of paupers. It is solely the
impulsive mindless patriot who strains after mere military glory.

    Glory is like a circle in the water,
    Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself,
    Till by broad spreading it disperse to nought.

    (I. _Henry VI._, I., ii., 133-5.)

No wise man vaunts in the name of patriotism his own nation's
superiority over another. The typical patriot, Henry V., once makes
the common boast that one Englishman is equal to three Frenchmen, but
he apologises for the brag as soon as it is out of his mouth. (He
fears the air of France has demoralised him.)

Elsewhere Shakespeare utters a vivacious warning against the patriot's
exclusive claim for his country of natural advantages, which all the
world shares substantially alike.

    Hath Britain all the sun that shines? Day, night,
    Are they not but in Britain? I' the world's volume
    Our Britain seems as of it, but not in 't;
    In a great pool, a swan's nest: prithee, think
    There's livers out of Britain.[36]

[Footnote 36: _Cymbeline_, III., iv., 139-43.]

It is not the wild hunger for war, but the stable interests of peace
that are finally subserved in the Shakespearean world by true and
well-regulated patriotism. _Henry V._, the play of Shakespeare which
shows the genuine patriotic instinct in its most energetic guise, ends
with a powerful appeal to France and England, traditional foes, to
cherish "neighbourhood and Christianlike accord," so that never again
should "war advance his bleeding sword 'twixt England and fair

However whole-heartedly Shakespeare rebukes the excesses and illogical
pretensions to which the lack of moral or intellectual discipline
exposes patriotism, he reserves his austerest censure for the
disavowal of the patriotic instinct altogether. One of the greatest of
his plays is practically a diagnosis of the perils which follow in the
train of a wilful abnegation of the normal instinct. In _Coriolanus_
Shakespeare depicts the career of a man who thinks that he can, by
virtue of inordinate self-confidence and belief in his personal
superiority over the rest of his countrymen, safely abjure and defy
the common patriotic instinct, which, after all, keeps the State in
being. "I'll never," says Coriolanus,

    "Be such a gosling to obey instinct, but stand
    As if a man were author of himself,
    And knew no other kin."[37]

[Footnote 37: _Coriolanus_, V., iii., 34-7.]

Coriolanus deliberately suppresses the patriotic instinct, and, with
greater consistency than others who have at times followed his
example, joins the fighting ranks of his country's enemies by way of
illustrating his sincerity. His action proves to be in conflict with
the elementary condition of social equilibrium. The subversion of the
natural instinct is brought to the logical issues of sin and death.
Domestic ties are rudely severed. The crime of treason is risked with
an insolence that is fatal to the transgressor. With relentless logic
does the Shakespearean drama condemn defiance of the natural instinct
of patriotism.


It does not, however, follow that the patriotic instinct of the
Shakespearean gospel encourages blind adoration of state or country.
Intelligent citizens of the Shakespearean world are never prohibited
from honestly criticising the acts or aspirations of their fellows,
and from seeking to change them when they honestly think they can be
changed for the better. It is not the business of a discerning patriot
to sing pæans in his nation's honour. His final aim is to help his
country to realise the highest ideals of social and political conduct
which are known to him, and to ensure for her the best possible
"reputation through the world." Criticism conceived in a patriotic
spirit should be constant and unflagging. The true patriot speaks out
as boldly when he thinks the nation errs as when, in his opinion, she
adds new laurels to her crown. The Shakespearean patriot applies a
rigorous judgment to all conditions of his environment--both social
and political.

Throughout the English history plays Shakespeare bears convincing
testimony to the right, and even to the duty, of the patriot to
exercise in all seriousness his best powers of criticism on the
political conduct of his fellow-citizens and of those who rule over

Shakespeare's studies of English history are animated by a patriotism
which boldly seeks and faces the truth. His dramatic presentations of
English history have been often described as fragments of a national
epic, as detached books of an English _Iliad_. But they embody no epic
or heroic glorification of the nation. Taking the great series which
begins chronologically with _King John_ and ends with _Richard III._
(_Henry VIII._ stands apart), we find that Shakespeare makes the
central features of the national history the persons of the kings.
Only in the case of _Henry V._ does he clothe an English king with any
genuine heroism. Shakespeare's kings are as a rule but men as we are.
The violet smells to them as it does to us; all their senses have but
human conditions; and though their affections be higher mounted than
ours, yet when they stoop they stoop with like wing. Excepting _Henry
V._, the history plays are tragedies. They "tell sad stories of the
death of kings." But they do not merely illustrate the crushing
burdens of kingship or point the moral of the hollowness of kingly
pageantry; they explain why kingly glory is in its essence brittle
rather than brilliant. And since Shakespeare's rulers reflect rather
than inspire the character of the nation, we are brought to a study of
the causes of the brittleness of national glory.

The glory of a nation, as of a king, is only stable, we learn, when
the nation, as the king, lives soberly, virtuously, and wisely, and
is courageous, magnanimous, and zealous after knowledge. Cowardice,
meanness, ignorance, and cruelty ruin nations as surely as they ruin
kings. This is the lesson specifically taught in the most eloquent of
all the direct avowals of patriotism which are to be found in
Shakespeare's plays--in the dying speech of John of Gaunt.

That speech is no ebullition of the undisciplined patriotic instinct.
It is a solemn announcement of the truth that the greatness and glory,
with which nature and history have endowed a nation, may be dissipated
when, on the one hand, the rulers prove selfish, frivolous, and
unequal to the responsibilities which a great past places on their
shoulders, and when, on the other hand, the nation acquiesces in the
depravity of its governors. In his opening lines the speaker lays
emphasis on the possibilities of greatness with which the natural
physical conditions of the country and its political and military
traditions have invested his countrymen. Thereby he brings into lurid
relief the sin and the shame of paltering with, of putting to ignoble
uses, the national character and influence. The dying patriot
apostrophises England in the familiar phrases, as:--

    This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle....
    This fortress, built by nature for herself,
    Against infection and the hand of war;
    This happy breed of men, this little world;
    This precious stone set in the silver sea,
    Which serves it in the office of a wall,
    Or as a moat defensive to a house,
    Against the envy of less happier lands:
    This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
    This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
    Dear for her reputation through the world.

    (_Richard II._, II., i., 40-58.)

The last line identifies with the patriotic instinct the aspiration of
a people to deserve well of foreign opinion. Subsequently the speaker
turns from his survey of the ideal which he would have his country
seek. He exposes with ruthless frankness the ugly realities of her
present degradation.

    England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
    Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
    Of wat'ry Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
    With inky blots, and rotten parchment bonds,--
    That England, that was wont to conquer others,
    Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.

    (_Richard II._, II., i., 61-6.)

At the moment the speaker's warning is scorned, but ultimately it
takes effect. At the end of the play of _Richard II._, England casts
off the ruler and his allies, who by their self-indulgence and moral
weakness play false with the traditions of the country.

In _Henry V._, the only one of Shakespeare's historical plays in which
an English king quits the stage in the full enjoyment of prosperity,
his good fortune is more than once explained as the reward of his
endeavour to abide by the highest ideals of his race, and of his
resolve to exhibit in his own conduct its noblest mettle. His
strongest appeals to his fellow-countrymen are:--

    Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
    That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you;

           *       *       *       *       *

                                       Let us swear
    That you are worth your breeding.

The kernel of sound patriotism is respect for a nation's traditional
repute, for the attested worth of the race. That is the large lesson
which Shakespeare taught continuously throughout his career as a
dramatist. The teaching is not solely enshrined in the poetic
eloquence either of plays of his early years like _Richard II._ or of
plays of his middle life like _Henry V._ It is the last as well as the
first word in Shakespeare's collective declaration on the true
character of patriotism. _Cymbeline_ belongs to the close of his
working life, and there we meet once more the assurance that a due
regard to the past and an active resolve to keep alive ancestral
virtue are the surest signs of health in the patriotic instinct.

The accents of John of Gaunt were repeated by Shakespeare with little
modulation at that time of his life when his reflective power was at
its ripest. The Queen of Britain, Cymbeline's wife, is the personage
in whose mouth Shakespeare sets, not perhaps quite appropriately, the
latest message in regard to patriotism that he is known to have
delivered. Emissaries from the Emperor Augustus have come from Rome to
demand from the King of Britain payment of the tribute that Julius
Cæsar had long since imposed on the island, by virtue of a _force
majeure_, which is temporarily extinguished. The pusillanimous King
Cymbeline is indisposed to put himself to the pains of contesting the
claim, but the resolute queen awakens in him a sense of patriotism and
of patriotic obligation by recalling the more nobly inspired attitude
of his ancestors, and by convincing him of the baseness of ignoring
the physical features which had been bestowed by nature on his domains
as a guarantee of their independence.

                   Remember, sir my liege,
    The kings your ancestors, together with
    The natural bravery of your isle, which stands
    As Neptune's park, ribbed and paled in
    With rocks unscaleable and roaring waters,
    With sands, that will not bear your enemies' boats,
    But suck them up to the topmast.

    (_Cymbeline_, III., i., 16-22.)

The appeal prevails, and the tribute is refused. Although the
evolution of the plot which is based on an historical chronicle
compels the renewed acquiescence of the British king in the Roman tax
at the close of the play, the Queen of Britain's spirited insistence
on the maritime strength of her country loses little of its


Frank criticism of the social life of the nation is as characteristic
of Shakespearean drama as outspoken exposition of its political
failings. There is hardly any of Shakespeare's plays which does not
offer shrewd comment on the foibles and errors of contemporary English

To society, Shakespeare's attitude is that of a humorist who invites
to reformation half-jestingly. His bantering tone, when he turns to
social censure, strikingly contrasts with the tragic earnestness that
colours his criticism of political vice or weakness. Some of the
national failings on the social side which Shakespeare rebukes may
seem trivial at a first glance. But it is the voice of prudent
patriotism which prompts each count in the indictment. The keenness of
Shakespeare's insight is attested by the circumstance that every
charge has a modern application. None is yet quite out of date.

Shakespeare rarely missed an opportunity of betraying contempt for the
extravagances of his countrymen and countrywomen in regard to dress.
Portia says of her English suitor Faulconbridge, the young baron of
England: "How oddly he is suited! I think he bought his doublet in
Italy, his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany, and his
behaviour everywhere." Another failing in Englishmen, which Portia
detects in her English suitor, is a total ignorance of any language
but his own. She, an Italian lady, remarks: "You know I say nothing to
him, for he understands not me nor I him. He hath neither Latin,
French, nor Italian. He is a proper man's picture, but, alas! who can
converse with a dumb show." This moving plaint draws attention to a
defect which is not yet supplied. There are few Englishmen nowadays
who, on being challenged to court Portia in Italian, would not cut a
sorry figure in dumb show--sorrier figures than Frenchmen or Germans.
No true patriot ought to ignore the fact or to direct attention to it
with complacency.

Again, Shakespeare was never unmindful of the drunken habits of
his compatriots. When Iago sings a verse of the song beginning,
"And let me the cannikin clink," and ending, "Why then let a
soldier drink," Cassio commends the excellence of the ditty.
Thereupon Iago explains: "I learned it in England, where indeed
they are most potent in potting; Your Dane, your German, and
your swag-bellied Hollander--drink, ho!--are nothing to your
English." Cassio asks: "Is your Englishman so expert in his drinking?"
Iago retorts: "Why, he drinks you, with facility, your Dane dead
drunk," and gains, the speaker explains, easy mastery over the German
and the Hollander.

A further stroke of Shakespeare's social criticism hits the
thoughtless pursuit of novelty, which infected the nation and found
vent in Shakespeare's day in the patronage of undignified shows and
sports. When Trinculo, perplexed by the outward aspect of the hideous
Caliban, mistakes him for a fish, he remarks: "Were I in England now,
as once I was, and had but this fish painted, not a holiday fool there
but would give a piece of silver: there would this monster make a man;
any strange beast there makes a man: when they will not give a doit to
relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian."

Shakespeare seems slyly to confess a personal conviction of defective
balance in the popular judgment when he makes the first grave-digger
remark that Hamlet was sent into England because he was mad.

"He shall recover his wits there," the old clown suggests, "or if he
do not, 'tis no great matter there."

"Why?" asks Hamlet.

"'Twill not be seen in him there; there the men are as mad as he."

So, too, in the emphatically patriotic play of _Henry V._, Shakespeare
implies that he sees some purpose in the Frenchman's jibes at the
foggy, raw, and dull climate of England, which engenders in its
inhabitants, the Frenchman argues, a frosty temperament, an ungenial
coldness of blood. Nor does the dramatist imply dissent from the
French marshal's suggestion that Englishmen's great meals of beef
impair the efficiency of their intellectual armour. The point of the
reproof is not blunted by the subsequent admission of a French critic
in the same scene to the effect that, however robustious and rough in
manner Englishmen may be, they have the unmatchable courage of the
English breed of mastiffs. To credit men with the highest virtues of
which dogs are capable is a grudging compliment.


To sum up. The Shakespearean drama enjoins those who love their
country wisely to neglect no advantage that nature offers in the way
of resisting unjust demands upon it; to remember that her prosperity
depends on her command of the sea,--of "the silver sea, which serves
it in the office of a wall, or as a moat defensive to a house, against
the envy of less happier lands"; to hold firm in the memory "the dear
souls" who have made "her reputation through the world"; to subject at
need her faults and frailties to criticism and rebuke; and finally to
treat with disdain those in places of power, who make of no account
their responsibilities to the past as well as to the present and the
future. The political, social, and physical conditions of his country
have altered since Shakespeare lived. England has ceased to be an
island-power. The people rule instead of the king. Social
responsibilities are more widely acknowledged. But the dramatist's
doctrine of patriotism has lost little of its pristine vitality, and
is relevant to current affairs.



[Footnote 38: This paper was first printed in _The Author_, October


For some years past scarcely a month passes without my receipt of a
communication from a confiding stranger, to the effect that he has
discovered some piece of information concerning Shakespeare which has
hitherto eluded research. Very often has a correspondent put himself
to the trouble of forwarding a photograph of the title-page of a late
sixteenth or early seventeenth century book, on which has been
scrawled in old-fashioned script the familiar name of William
Shakespeare. At intervals, which seem to recur with mathematical
regularity, I receive intelligence that a portrait of the poet, of
which nothing is hitherto known, has come to light in some recondite
corner of England or America, and it is usually added that a
contemporary inscription settles all doubt of authenticity.

I wish to speak with respect and gratitude of these confidences. I
welcome them, and have no wish to repress them. But truth does not
permit me to affirm that such as have yet reached me have done more
than enlarge my conception of the scope of human credulity. I look
forward to the day when the postman shall, through the generosity of
some appreciative reader of my biography of Shakespeare, deliver at my
door an autograph of the dramatist of which nothing has been heard
before, or a genuine portrait of contemporary date, the existence of
which has never been suspected. But up to the moment of writing,
despite the good intentions of my correspondents, no experience of the
kind has befallen me.

There is something pathetic in the frequency with which
correspondents, obviously of unblemished character and most generous
instinct, send me almost tearful expressions of regret that I should
have hitherto ignored one particular document, which throws (in their
eyes) a curious gleam on the dramatist's private life. At least six
times a year am I reminded how it is recorded in more than one obscure
eighteenth-century periodical that the dramatist, George Peele, wrote
to his friend Marle or Marlowe, in an extant letter, of a merry
meeting which was held at a place called the "Globe." Whether the
rendezvous were tavern or playhouse is left undetermined. The
assembled company, I am assured, included not merely Edward Alleyn the
actor, and Ben Jonson, but Shakespeare himself. Together these
celebrated men are said to have discussed a passage in the new play of
_Hamlet_. The reported talk is at the best tame prattle. Yet, if
Shakespeare be anywhere revealed in unconstrained intercourse with
professional associates, no biographer deserves pardon for overlooking
the revelation, however disappointing be its purport.

Unfortunately for this neglected intelligence, the letter in question
is an eighteenth century fabrication. It is a forgery of no intrinsic
brilliance or wit. It bears on its dull face marks of guilt which
could only escape the notice of the uninformed. It is not likely to
mislead the critical. Nevertheless it has deceived many an uncritical
reader, and has constantly found its way into print without meeting
serious confutation. It may therefore be worth while setting its true
origin and subsequent history on record. No endeavour is likely in all
the circumstances of the case to prevent an occasional resurrection of
the meagre spectre; but at present it appears to walk in various
quarters quite unimpeded, and an endeavour to lay it may not be
without its uses.


Through the first half of 1763 there was published in London a monthly
magazine called the _Theatrical Review, or Annals of the Drama_, an
anonymous miscellany of dramatic biography and criticism. It was a
colourless contribution to the journalism of the day, and lacked
powers of endurance. It ceased at the end of six months. The six
instalments were re-issued as "Volume I." at the end of June 1763; but
that volume had no successor.[39]

[Footnote 39: Other independent publications of similar character
appeared under the identical title of _The Theatrical Review_ both in
1758 and 1772. The latter collected the ephemeral dramatic criticisms
of John Potter, a well-known writer for the stage.]

All that is worth noting of the _Theatrical Review_ of 1763 now is
that among its contributors was an extremely interesting personality.
He was a young man of good education and independent means, who had
chambers in the Temple, and was enthusiastically applying himself to a
study of Shakespeare and Elizabethan dramatic literature. His name,
George Steevens, acquired in later years world-wide fame as that of
the most learned of Shakespearean commentators. Of the real value of
Steevens's scholarship no question is admissible, and his reputation
justly grew with his years. Yet Steevens's temper was singularly
perverse and mischievous. His confidence in his own powers led him to
contemn the powers of other people. He enjoyed nothing so much as
mystifying those who were engaged in the same pursuits as himself, and
his favourite method of mystification was to announce anonymously the
discovery of documents which owed all their existence to his own
ingenuity. This, he admitted, was his notion of "fun." Whenever the
whim seized him, he would in gravest manner reveal to the Press, or
even contrive to bring to the notice of a learned society, some
alleged relic in manuscript or in stone which he had deliberately
manufactured. His sole aim was to recreate himself with laughter at
the perplexity that such unholy pranks aroused. It is one of these
Puck-like tricks on Steevens's part that has spread confusion among
those of my correspondents, who allege that Peele has handed down to
us a personal reminiscence of the great dramatist.

The _Theatrical Review_, in its second number, offered an anonymous
biography of the great actor and theatrical manager of Shakespeare's
day, Edward Alleyn. This biography was clearly one of Steevens's
earliest efforts. It is for the most part an innocent compilation. But
it contains one passage in its author's characteristic vein of
mischief. Midway in the essay the reader is solemnly assured that a
brand-new contemporary reference to Alleyn's eminent associate
Shakespeare was at his disposal. The new story "carries with it"
(asserts the writer) "all the air of probability and truth, and has
never been in print before." "A gentleman of honour and veracity," run
the next sentences, which were designed to put the unwary student off
his guard, "in the commission of the peace for Middlesex, has shown us
a letter dated in the year 1600, which he assures us has been in the
possession of his family, by the mother's side, for a long series of
years, and which bears all the marks of antiquity." The superscription
was interpreted to run: "For Master Henrie Marle, livynge at the sygne
of the rose by the palace."

There follows at length the paper of which the family of the
honourable and veracious gentleman "in the commission of the peace for
Middlesex" had become possessed "by the mother's side." The words were


     "I must desyre that my syster hyr watche, and the cookerie
     booke you promysed, may be sent by the man. I never longed
     for thy company more than last night; we were all very
     merrye at the Globe, when Ned Alleyn did not scruple to
     affyrme pleasantely to thy friend Will, that he had stolen
     his speech about the qualityes of an actor's excellencye, in
     _Hamlet_ hys tragedye, from conversations manyfold which had
     passed between them, and opinyons given by Allen touchinge
     the subject. Shakespeare did not take this talke in good
     sorte; but Jonson put an end to the stryfe with wittielie
     saying: 'This affaire needeth no contentione; you stole it
     from Ned, no doubt; do not marvel; have you not seen him act
     tymes out of number?'

     "Believe me most syncerelie,



     "G. PEEL."

The text of this strangely-spelt, strangely-worded epistle, with its
puny efforts at a jest, was succeeded by a suggestion that "G. Peel,"
the alleged signatory, could be none other than George Peele, the
dramatist, who achieved reputation in Shakespeare's early days, and
was an industrious collector of anecdotes.

Thus the impish Steevens baited his hook. The sport which followed
must have exceeded his expectations. Any one familiar with the bare
outline of Elizabethan literary history should have perceived that a
trap had been set. The letter was assigned to the year 1600.
Shakespeare's play of _Hamlet_, to the performance of which it
unconcernedly refers, was not produced before 1602; at that date
George Peele had lain full four years in his grave. Peele could never
have passed the portals of the theatre called the "Globe"; for it was
not built until 1599. No historic tavern of the name is known. The
surname of the person, to whom the letter was pretended to have been
addressed, is suspicious. "Marle" was one way of spelling "Marlowe" at
a period when forms of surnames varied with the caprice of the writer.
The great dramatist, _Christopher_ Marle, or Marloe, or Marlowe, had
died in 1593. "Henrie Marle" is counterfeit coinage of no doubtful

The language and the style of the letter are undeserving of serious
examination. They are of a far later period than the Elizabethan age.
They cannot be dated earlier than 1763. Safely might the heaviest odds
be laid that in no year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth "did friende
Marle promyse G. Peel his syster that he would send hyr watche and the
cookerie book by the man," or that "Ned Alleyn made pleasante
affirmation to G. Peel of friend Will's theft of the speech in
_Hamlet_ concerning an actor's excellencye."

From top to toe the imposture is obvious. But the general reader of
the eighteenth century was confiding, unsuspicious, greedy of novel
information. The description of the source of the document seemed to
him precise enough to silence doubt.


The _Theatrical Review_ of 1763 succeeded in launching the fraud on a
quite triumphal progress. Again and again, as the century advanced,
was G. Peel's declaration to "friende Marle" paraded, without hint of
its falsity, before snappers-up of Shakespearean trifles. Seven years
after its first publication, the epistle found admission in a slightly
altered setting to so reputable a periodical as the _Annual Register_.
Burke was still directing that useful publication, and whatever
information the _Register_ shielded, was reckoned to be of veracity.
"G. Peel" and "friende Marle" were there, in the year 1770, suffered
to exchange their confidences in the most honourable environment.

Another seven years passed, and in 1777 there appeared an ambitious
work of reference, entitled _Biographia Literaria, or a Biographical
History of Literature_, which gave its author, John Berkenhout, a
free-thinking physician, his chief claim to remembrance. Steevens was
a friend of Berkenhout, and helped him in the preparation of the book.
Into his account of Shakespeare, the credulous physician introduced
quite honestly the fourteen-year-old forgery. The reputed date of
1600, which the supposititious justice of the peace had given it in
the _Theatrical Review_, was now suppressed. Berkenhout confined his
comment to the halting reminiscence: "Whence I copied this letter I do
not recollect; but I remember that at the time of transcribing it, I
had no doubt of its authenticity."

Thrice had the trick been worked effectively in conspicuous places
before Steevens died in 1800. But the evil that he did lived after
him, and within a year of his death the imposture renewed its youth. A
correspondent, who concealed his identity under the signature of
"Grenovicus" (_i.e._, of Greenwich), sent Peel's letter in 1801 to the
_Gentleman's Magazine_, a massive repertory of useful knowledge. There
it was duly reprinted in the number for June. "Grenovicus" had the
assurance to claim the letter as his own discovery. "To my knowledge,"
he wrote, "it has never yet appeared in print." He refrained from
indicating how he had gained access to it, but congratulated himself
and the readers of the _Gentleman's Magazine_ on the valiant feast
that he provided for them. His action was apparently taken by the
readers of the _Gentleman's Magazine_ at his own valuation.

Meanwhile the discerning critic was not altogether passive. Isaac
D'Israeli denounced the fraud in his _Curiosities of Literature_; but
he and others did their protesting gently. The fraud looked to the
expert too shamefaced to merit a vigorous onslaught. He imagined the
spurious epistle must die of its own inanity. In this he miscalculated
the credulity of the general reader. "Grenovicus" of the _Gentleman's
Magazine_ had numerous disciples.

Many a time during the past century has that worthy's exploit been
repeated. Even so acute a scholar as Alexander Dyce thought it worth
while to reprint the letter in 1829 in the first edition of his
collected works of George Peele (Vol. I., page 111), although he
declined to pledge himself to its authenticity. The latest historian
of Dulwich College[40] has admitted it to his text with too mildly
worded a caveat. Often, too, has "G. Peel" emerged more recently from
a long-forgotten book or periodical to darken the page of a modern
popular magazine. I have met him unabashed during the present century
in two literary periodicals of repute--in the _Academy_ (of London),
in the issue of 18th January 1902, and in the _Poet Lore_ (of Boston)
in the following April number. Future disinterments may safely be
prophesied. In the jungle of the _Annual Register_ or the _Gentleman's
Magazine_ the forgery lurks unchallenged, and there will always be
inexperienced explorers, who from time to time will run the unhallowed
thing to earth there, and bring it forth as a new and unsuspected

[Footnote 40: William Young's _History of Dulwich College_, 1889, II.,

Perhaps forgery is too big a word to apply to Steevens's concoction.
Others worked at later periods on lines of mystification similar to
his; but, unlike his disciples, he did not seek from his misdirected
ingenuity pecuniary gain or even notoriety. He never set his name to
this invention of "Peel" and "Marle," and their insipid chatter about
_Hamlet_ at the "Globe." Steevens's sole aim was to delude the unwary.
It is difficult to detect humour in the endeavour. But the perversity
of the human intellect has no limits. This ungainly example of it is
only worth attention because it has sailed under its false colours
without very serious molestation for one hundred and forty-three



[Footnote 41: This paper was first printed in _The Nineteenth
Century_, June 1899.]


Nothing but good can come of a comparative study of English and French
literature. The political intercourse of the two countries has
involved them in an endless series of broils. But between the
literatures of the two countries friendly relations have subsisted for
over five centuries. In the literary sphere the interchange of
neighbourly civilities has known no interruption. The same literary
forms have not appealed to the tastes of the two nations; but
differences of æsthetic temperament have not prevented the literature
of the one from levying substantial loans on the literature of the
other, and that with a freedom and a frequency which were calculated
to breed discontent between any but the most cordial of allies. While
the literary geniuses of the two nations have pursued independent
ideals, they have viewed as welcome courtesies the willingness and
readiness of the one to borrow sustenance of the other on the road. It
is unlikely that any full or formal balance-sheet of such lendings and
borrowings will ever be forthcoming, for it is felt instinctively by
literary accountants and their clients on both shores of the English
Channel that the debts on the one side keep a steady pace with the
debts on the other, and there is no balance to be collected.

No recondite research is needed to establish this general view
of the situation. It is well known how the poetic career of Chaucer,
the earliest of great English poets, was begun under French masters.
The greatest poem of mediæval France, the _Roman de la Rose_,
was turned into English by his youthful pen, and the chief French
poet of the day, Eustace Deschamps, held out to him the hand of
fellowship in the enthusiastic _balade_, in which he apostrophised
"le grand translateur, noble Geoffroi Chaucer." Following Chaucer's
example, the great poets of Elizabeth's reign and of James the
First's reign most liberally and most literally assimilated the
verse of their French contemporaries, Ronsard, Du Bellay, and
Desportes.[42] Early in the seventeenth century, Frenchmen returned
the compliment by naturalising in French translations the prose
romances of Sir Philip Sidney and Robert Greene, the philosophical
essays of Bacon, and the ethical and theological writings of Bishop
Joseph Hall. From the accession of Charles the Second until that
of George the Third, the English drama framed itself on French
models, and Pope, who long filled the throne of a literary dictator
in England, acknowledged discipleship to Boileau. A little later the
literary philosophers of France--Rousseau and the Encyclopédistes--drew
their nutrition from the writings of Hobbes and Locke. French
novel-readers of the eighteenth century found their chief joy in the
tearful emotions excited by the sentimentalities of Richardson and
Sterne. French novel-writers one hundred and thirty years ago had
small chance of recognition if they disdained to traffic in the
lachrymose wares which the English novelists had brought into fashion.

[Footnote 42: In the Introduction to a collection of Elizabethan
Sonnets, published in Messrs Constable's re-issue of Arber's _English
Garner_ (1904), the present writer has shown that numerous sonnets,
which Elizabethan writers issued as original poems, were literal
translations from the French of Ronsard, Du Bellay, and Desportes.
Numerous loans of like character were levied silently on Italian

At the present moment the cultured Englishman finds his most palatable
fiction in the publications of Paris. Within recent memory the English
playgoer viewed with impatience any theatrical programme which lacked
a Parisian flavour. The late Sir Henry Irving, who, during the past
generation, sought to sustain the best traditions of the English
drama, produced in his last years two original plays, _Robespierre_
and _Dante_, by the _doyen_ of living French dramatists, M. Sardou.
Complementary tendencies are visible across the Channel. The French
stage often offers as cordial a reception to plays of English
manufacture as is offered in London to the plays derived from France.
No histrionic event attracts higher interest in Paris than the
assumption by a great actor or actress of a Shakespearean rôle for the
first time; and French dramatic critics have been known to generate
such heat in debates over the right conception of a Shakespearean
character that their differences have required adjustment at the
sword's point.

Of greater interest is it to note that in all the cultivated centres
of France a new and unparalleled energy is devoted to-day to the study
of English literature of both the present and the past. The research
recently expended on the topic by French scholars has not been
excelled in Germany, and has rarely been equalled in England. Critical
biographies of James Thomson (of _The Seasons_), of Burns, of Young,
and of Wordsworth have come of late from the pens of French professors
of English literature, and their volumes breathe a minute accuracy and
a fulness of sympathetic knowledge which are certainly not habitual to
English professors of English literature. This scholarly movement in
France shows signs of rapid extension. Each summer vacation sees an
increase in the number of French visitors to the British Museum
reading-room, who are making recondite researches into English
literary history. The new zeal of Frenchmen for English studies claims
the most cordial acknowledgment of English scholars, and it is
appropriate that the most coveted lectureship on English literature in
an English University--the Clark lectureship at Trinity College,
Cambridge--should have been bestowed last year on the learned
professor of English at the Sorbonne, M. Beljame, author of _Le Public
et les Hommes de Lettres en Angleterre au XVIIIe Siècle_. M.
Beljame's unexpected death (on September 17, 1906), shortly after his
work at Cambridge was completed, is a loss alike to English and French


In view of the growth of the French interest in English literary
history, it was to be expected that serious efforts should be made in
France to determine the character and dimensions of the influence
exerted on French literature by the greatest of all English men of
letters--by Shakespeare. That work has been undertaken by M.
Jusserand. In 1898 he gave to the world the results of his
investigation in his native language. Subsequently, with a welcome
consideration for the linguistic incapacities of Shakespeare's
countrymen, he repeated his conclusions in their tongue.[43] The
English translation is embellished with many pictorial illustrations
of historic interest and value.

[Footnote 43: _Shakespeare in France under the Ancien Régime_, by J.J.
Jusserand. London: T. Fisher Unwin. 1899.]

Among French writers on English literature, M. Jusserand is the most
voluminous and the most widely informed. His career differs in an
important particular from that of his countrymen who pursue the same
field of study. He is not by profession a teacher or writer: he is a
diplomatist, and now holds the high office of French ambassador to the
United States of America. M. Jusserand has treated in his books of
almost all periods of English literary history, and he has been long
engaged on an exhaustive _Literary History of the English People_, of
which the two volumes already published bring the narrative as far as
the close of the Civil Wars.

M. Jusserand enjoys the rare, although among modern Frenchmen by no
means unexampled, faculty of writing with almost equal ease and
felicity in both French and English. His walk in life gives him a
singularly catholic outlook. His learning is profound, but he is not
overburdened by it, and he preserves his native gaiety of style even
when solving crabbed problems of bibliography. He is at times
discursive, but he is never tedious; and he shows no trace of that
philological pedantry and narrowness or obliquity of critical vision
which the detailed study of literary history has been known to breed
in English and German investigators. While M. Jusserand betrays all
the critical independence of his compatriot M. Taine, his habit of
careful and laborious research illustrates with peculiar vividness the
progress which English scholarship has made in France since M. Taine
completed his sparkling survey of English literature in 1864.

M. Jusserand handles the theme of _Shakespeare in France under the
Ancien Régime_ with all the lightness of touch and wealth of minute
detail to which he has accustomed his readers. Nowhere have so many
facts been brought together in order to illustrate the literary
intercourse of Frenchmen and Englishmen between the sixteenth and the
nineteenth centuries. It is true that his opening chapters have little
concern with Shakespeare, but their intrinsic interest and novelty
atone for their irrelevance. They shed a flood of welcome light on
that interchange of literary information and ideas which is a constant
feature in the literary history of the two countries.

Many will read here for the first time of the great poet Ronsard's
visits to this country; of the distinguished company of English actors
which delighted the court of Henry IV. of France; and of Ben Jonson's
discreditable drunken exploits in the French capital when he went
thither as tutor to Sir Walter Ralegh's son. To these episodes might
well be added the pleasant personal intercourse of Francis Bacon's
brother, Anthony, with the great French essayist Montaigne, when the
Englishman was sojourning at Bordeaux in 1583. Montaigne's Essays
achieved hardly less fame in Elizabethan England than in France. Both
Shakespeare and Bacon gave proof of indebtedness to them.

By some freak of fortune Shakespeare's fame was slow in crossing the
English Channel. The French dramatists of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries lived and died in the paradoxical faith that the
British drama reached its apogee in the achievement of the Scottish
Latinist, George Buchanan, who was reckoned in France "prince of the
poets of our day." In Buchanan's classical tragedies Montaigne played
a part, while he was a student at Bordeaux. His tragedy of _Jephtha_
achieved exceptional fame in sixteenth century France; three Frenchmen
of literary repute rendered it independently into their own language,
and each rendering went through several editions. Another delusion
which French men of letters cherished, not only during Shakespeare's
lifetime, but through three or four generations after his death, was
that Sir Thomas More, Sir Philip Sidney, and the father of Lord
Chancellor Bacon were the greatest authors which England had begotten
or was likely to beget. French enthusiasm for the suggestive irony of
More's Latin romance of _Utopia_ outran that of his fellow-countrymen.
A French translation anticipated the earliest rendering of the work in
the author's native tongue. No less than two independent French
versions of Sir Philip Sidney's voluminous fiction of _Arcadia_ were
circulating in France one hundred and twenty years before the like
honour was paid to any work of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare's work first arrived in France towards the close of the
seventeenth century. Frenchmen were staggered by its originality. They
perceived the dramatist's colossal breaches of classical law. They
were shocked by his freedom of speech. When Louis the Fourteenth's
librarian placed on the shelves of the Royal Library in Paris a copy
of the Second Folio of his works which had been published in London in
1632, he noted in his catalogue that Shakespeare "has a rather fine
imagination; he thinks naturally; but these fine qualities are
obscured by the filth he introduces into his comedies." An increasing
mass of pedestrian literature was imported into France from England
through the middle and late years of the seventeenth century. Yet
Shakespeare had to wait for a fair hearing there till the eighteenth

Then it was very gradually that Shakespeare's pre-eminence was
realised by French critics. It is to Voltaire that Frenchmen owe a
full knowledge of Shakespeare. Voltaire's method of teaching
Shakespeare to his countrymen was characteristically cynical. He
studied him closely when he visited England as a young man. At that
period of his career he not merely praised him with discerning
caution, but he paid him the flattery of imitation. Voltaire's tragedy
of _Brutus_ betrays an intimate acquaintance with Shakespeare's
_Julius Cæsar_. His _Eryphile_ was the product of many perusals of
_Hamlet_. His _Zaïre_ is a pale reflection of _Othello_. But when
Voltaire's countrymen showed a tendency to better Voltaire's
instruction, and one Frenchman conferred on Shakespeare the title of
"the god of the theatre," Voltaire resented the situation that he had
himself created. He was at the height of his own fame, and he felt
that his reputation as the first of French writers for the stage was
in jeopardy.

The last years of Voltaire's life were therefore consecrated to an
endeavour to dethrone the idol which his own hands had set up.
Voltaire traded on the patriotic prejudices of his hearers, but his
efforts to depreciate Shakespeare were very partially successful. Few
writers of power were ready to second the soured critic, and after
Voltaire's death the Shakespeare cult in France, of which he was the
unwilling inaugurator, spread far and wide.

In the nineteenth century Shakespeare was admitted without demur into
the French "pantheon of literary gods." Classicists and romanticists
vied in doing him honour. The classical painter Ingres introduced his
portrait into his famous picture of "Homer's Cortège" (now in the
Louvre). The romanticist Victor Hugo recognised only three men as
memorable in the history of humanity, and Shakespeare was one of the
three; Moses and Homer were the other two. Alfred de Musset became a
dramatist under Shakespeare's spell. To George Sand everything in
literature seemed tame by the side of Shakespeare's poetry. The prince
of romancers, the elder Dumas, set the English dramatist next to God
in the cosmic system; "after God," wrote Dumas, "Shakespeare has
created most."


It would be easy to multiply eulogies of Shakespeare from French lips
in the vein of Victor Hugo and Dumas--eulogies besides which the
enthusiasm of many English critics appears cold and constrained. So
unfaltering a note of admiration sounds gratefully in the ears of
Shakespeare's countrymen. Yet on closer investigation there seems a
rift within the lute. When one turns to the French versions of
Shakespeare, for which the chief of Shakespeare's French encomiasts
have made themselves responsible, an Englishman is inclined to
moderate his exultation in the French panegyrics.

No one did more as an admiring critic and translator of Shakespeare
than Jean François Ducis, who prepared six of Shakespeare's greatest
plays for the French stage at the end of the eighteenth century. Not
only did Ducis introduce Shakespeare's masterpieces to thousands of
his countrymen who might otherwise never have heard of them, but his
renderings of Shakespeare were turned into Italian and many languages
of Eastern Europe. They spread the knowledge of Shakespeare's
achievement to the extreme boundaries of the European Continent.
Apparently Ducis did his work under favourable auspices. He
corresponded regularly with Garrick, and he was never happier than
when studying Shakespeare's text with a portrait of Shakespeare at his
side. Yet, in spite of Ducis's unquestioned reverence and his
honourable intentions, all his translations of Shakespeare are gross
perversions of their originals. It is not merely that he is verbally
unfaithful. He revises the development of the plots; he gives the
_dramatis personæ_ new names.

Ducis's _Othello_ was accounted his greatest triumph. The play shows
Shakespeare's mastery of the art of tragedy at its highest stage of
development, and rewards the closest study. But the French translator
ignored the great tragic conception which gives the drama its pith and
moment. He converted the piece into a romance. Towards the end of his
rendering Iago's villanies are discovered by Othello; Othello and
Desdemona are reconciled; and the Moor, exulting in his newly
recovered happiness, pardons Iago. The curtain falls on a dazzling
scene of domestic bliss.

Ducis frankly acknowledged that he was guilty of a somewhat strained
interpretation of Shakespeare's tragic scheme, but he defended himself
on the ground that French refinement and French sensitiveness could
not endure the agonising violence of the true catastrophe. It is,
indeed, the fact that the patrons of the Comédie Française strictly
warned the adapter against revolting their feelings by reproducing the
"barbarities" that characterised the close of Shakespeare's tragic

If so fastidious a flinching from tragic episode breathe the true
French sentiment, what, we are moved to ask, is the significance of
the unqualified regard which Ducis and his countrymen profess for
Shakespearean drama? There seems a strange paradox in the situation.
The history of France proves that Frenchmen can face without quailing
the direst tragedies which can be wrought in earnest off the stage.
There is a startling inconsistency in the outcry of Ducis's French
clients against the terror of Desdemona's murder. For the protests
which Ducis reports on the part of the Parisians bear the date 1792.
In that year the tragedy of the French Revolution--a tragedy of real
life, grimmer than any that Shakespeare imagined--was being enacted in
literal truth by the Parisian playgoers themselves. It would seem that
Ducis and his countrymen deemed the purpose of art to be alone
fulfilled when the artistic fabric was divorced from the ugly facts of

A like problem is presented by Dumas's efforts in more pacific
conditions to adapt Shakespeare for the Parisian stage. With his
friend Paul Meurice Dumas prepared the version of _Hamlet_ which long
enjoyed a standard repute at the Comédie Française. Dumas's ecstatic
adoration for Shakespeare's genius did not deter him, any more than
Ducis was deterred by his more subdued veneration, from working havoc
on the English text. Shakespeare's blank verse was necessarily turned
into Alexandrines. That was comparatively immaterial. Of greater
moment is it to note that the _dénouement_ of the tragedy was
completely revolutionised by Dumas. The tragic climax is undermined.
Hamlet's life is spared by Dumas. The hero's dying exclamation, "The
rest is silence," disappears from Dumas's version. At the close of the
play the French translator makes the ghost rejoin his son and
good-naturedly promise him indefinite prolongation of his earthly
career. According to the gospel of Dumas, the tragedy of Hamlet ends,
as soon as his and his father's wrongs have been avenged, in this

_Hamlet._      Et moi, vais-je rester, triste orphelin sur terre,
               À respirer cet air imprégné de misère?...
               Est-ce que Dieu sur moi fera peser son bras,
               Père? Et quel châtiment m'attend donc?

_Le Fantôme._                                         Tu vivras.

Such defiant transgressions of the true Shakespearean canon as those
of which Ducis and Dumas stand convicted may well rouse the suspicion
that the critical incense they burn at Shakespeare's shrine is
offered with the tongue in the cheek. But that suspicion is not
justified. Ducis and Dumas worship Shakespeare with a whole heart.
Their misapprehensions of his tragic conceptions are due,
involuntarily, to native temperament. In point of fact, Ducis and
Dumas see Shakespeare through a distorting medium. The two Frenchmen
were fully conscious of Shakespeare's towering greatness. They
perceived intuitively that Shakespeare's tragedies transcended all
other dramatic achievement. But their æsthetic sense, which, as far as
the drama was concerned, was steeped in the classical spirit, set many
of the essential features of Shakespeare's genius outside the focus of
their vision.

To a Frenchman a tragedy of classical rank connotes "correctness," an
absence of tumult, some observance of the classical law of unity of
time, place, and action. The perpetration of crime in face of the
audience outraged all classical conventions. Ducis and Dumas
recognised involuntarily that certain characteristics of the
Shakespearean drama could not live in the classical atmosphere of
their own theatre. Excision, expansion, reduction was inevitable
before Shakespeare could breathe the air of the French stage. The
grotesque perversions of Ducis and Dumas were thus not the fruit of
mere waywardness, or carelessness, or dishonesty; they admit of
philosophical explanation.

By Englishmen they may be viewed with equanimity, if not with
satisfaction. They offer strong proof of the irrepressible strength or
catholicity of the appeal that Shakespeare's genius makes to the mind
and heart of humanity. His spirit survived the French efforts at
mutilation. The Gallicised or classicised contortions of his mighty
work did not destroy its saving virtue. There is ground for
congratulation that Ducis's and Dumas's perversions of Shakespeare
excited among Frenchmen almost as devoted an homage as the dramatist's
work in its native purity and perfection claims of men whose souls are
free of the fetters of classical tradition.


If any still doubt the sincerity of the worship which is offered
Shakespeare in France, I would direct the sceptic's attention to a
pathetically simple tribute which was paid to the dramatist by a
French student in the first year of the last century, when England and
France were in the grip of the Napoleonic War. It was then that a
young Frenchman proved beyond cavil by an ingenuous confession that
the English poet, in spite of the racial differences of æsthetic
sentiment, could touch a French heart more deeply than any French or
classical author. In 1801 there was published at Besançon, "de
l'imprimerie de Métoyer," a very thin volume in small octavo, under
fifty pages in length, entitled, _Pensées de Shakespeare, Extraites de
ses Ouvrages_. No compiler's name is mentioned, but there is no doubt
that the book was from the pen of a precocious native of Besançon,
Charles Nodier, who was in later life to gain distinction as a
bibliographer and writer of romance.

This forgotten volume, of which no more than twenty-five copies were
printed, and only two or three of these seem to survive, has escaped
the notice of M. Jusserand. No copy of it is in the British Museum,
or in La Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, with which the author, Nodier, was
long honourably associated as librarian. I purchased it a few years
ago by accident in a small collection of imperfectly catalogued
Shakespeareana. Lurking in the rear of a very ragged regiment on the
shelves of the auctioneer stood Charles Nodier's _Pensées de
Shakespeare_. None competed with me for the prize. A very slight
effort delivered into my hands the little chaplet of French laurel.

The major part of the volume consists of 190 numbered sentences--each
a French rendering of an apophthegm or reflection drawn from
Shakespeare's plays. The translator is not faithful to his English
text, but his style is clear and often rises to eloquence. The book
does not, however, owe its interest to Nodier's version of
Shakespearean maxims. Nor can one grow enthusiastic over the
dedication "A elle"--an unidentified fair-one to whom the youthful
writer proffers his homage with respectful propriety. The salt of the
little volume lies in the "Observations Préliminaires," which cover
less than five widely-printed pages. These observations breathe a
genuine affection for Shakespeare's personality and a sense of
gratitude for his achievement in terms which no English admirer has
excelled for tenderness and simplicity.

"Shakespeare," writes this French worshipper, "is a friend whom Heaven
has given to the unhappy of every age and every country." The writer
warns us that he offers no eulogy of Shakespeare; that is to be found
in the poet's works, which the Frenchman for his own part prefers to
read and read again rather than waste time in praising them. "The
features of Alexander ought only to be preserved by Apelles." Nodier
merely collects some of Shakespeare's thoughts on great moral truths
which he thinks to be useful to the conduct of life. But such
extracts, he admonishes his reader, supply no true knowledge of
Shakespeare. "From Shakespeare's works one can draw forth a
philosophy, but from no systems of philosophy could one construct one
page of Shakespeare." Nodier concludes his "Observations" thus:--

     "I advise those who do not know Shakespeare to study him in
     himself. I advise those who know him already to read him
     again.... I know him, but I must needs declare my admiration
     for him. I have reviewed my powers, and am content to cast a
     flower on his grave since I am not able to raise a monument
     to his memory."

Language like this admits no questioning of its sincerity. Nodier's
modest tribute handsomely atones for his countrymen's misapprehensions
of Shakespeare's tragic conceptions. None has phrased more delicately
or more simply the sense of personal devotion, which is roused by
close study of his work.



[Footnote 44: This paper was first printed in _The Nineteenth Century
and After_, April 1905.]


The public memory is short. At the instant the suggestion that
Shakespeare should receive the tribute of a great national monument in
London is attracting general attention. In the ears of the vast
majority of those who are taking part in the discussion the proposal
appears to strike a new note. Few seem aware that a national memorial
of Shakespeare has been urged on Londoners many times before. Thrice,
at least, during the past eighty-five years has it exercised the
public mind.

At the extreme end of the year 1820, the well-known actor Charles
Mathews set on foot a movement for the erection of "a national
monument to the immortal memory of Shakespeare." He pledged himself to
enlist the support of the new King, George the Fourth, of members of
the royal family, of "every man of rank and talent, every poet,
artist, and sculptor." Mathews's endeavour achieved only a specious
success. George the Fourth, readily gave his "high sanction" to a
London memorial. Sir Walter Scott, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Tom Moore,
and Washington Irving were among the men of letters; Sir Thomas
Lawrence, [Sir] Francis Chantrey, and John Nash, the architect, were
among the artists, who approved the general conception. For three or
four years ink was spilt and breath was spent in the advocacy of the
scheme. But nothing came of all the letters and speeches.

In 1847 the topic was again broached. A committee, which was hardly
less influential than that of 1821, revived the proposal. Again no
result followed.

Seventeen years passed away, and then, in 1864, the arrival of the
tercentenary of Shakespeare's birth seemed to many men of eminence in
public life, in letters or in art, an appropriate moment at which to
carry the design into effect. A third failure has to be recorded.

The notion, indeed, was no child of the nineteenth century which
fathered it so ineffectually. It was familiar to the eighteenth. One
eighteenth century effort was fortunate enough to yield a little
permanent fruit. To an eighteenth-century endeavour to offer
Shakespeare a national memorial in London was due the cenotaph in
Westminster Abbey.


The suggestion of commemorating Shakespeare by means of a monument in
London has thus something more than a "smack of age" about it,
something more than a "relish of the saltness of time"; there are
points of view from which it might appear to be already "blasted with
antiquity." On only one of the previous occasions that the question
was raised was the stage of discussion passed, and that was in the
eighteenth century when the monument was placed in the Poets' Corner
of Westminster Abbey. The issue was not felicitous. The memorial in
the Abbey failed to satisfy the commemorative aspirations of the
nation; it left it open to succeeding generations to reconsider the
question, if it did not impose on them the obligation. Most of the
poets, actors, scholars, and patrons of polite learning, who in 1741
subscribed their guineas to the fund for placing a monument in
Westminster Abbey, resented the sculpturesque caricature to which
their subscriptions were applied. Pope, an original leader of the
movement, declined to write an inscription for this national memorial,
but scribbled some ironical verses beginning:--

    Thus Britons love me and preserve my fame.

A later critic imagined Shakespeare's wraith pausing in horror by the
familiar monument in the Abbey, and lightly misquoting Shelley's
familiar lines:--

    I silently laugh at my own cenotaph, ...
    And long to unbuild it again.

One of the most regrettable effects of the Abbey memorial, with its
mawkish and irrelevant sentimentality, has been to set a bad pattern
for statues of Shakespeare. Posterity came to invest the design with
some measure of sanctity.

The nineteenth century efforts were mere abortions. In 1821, in spite
of George the Fourth's benevolent patronage, which included an
unfulfilled promise to pay the sum of 100 guineas, the total amount
which was collected after six years' agitation was so small that it
was returned to the subscribers. The accounts are extant in the
Library of Shakespeare's Birthplace at Stratford-on-Avon. In 1847 the
subscriptions were more abundant, but all was then absorbed in the
purchase of Shakespeare's Birthplace at Stratford; no money was
available for a London memorial. In 1864 the expenses of organising
the tercentenary celebration in London by way of banquets, concerts,
and theatrical performances, seem to have left no surplus for the
purpose which the movement set out to fulfil.


The causes of the sweeping failure of the proposal when it came before
the public during the nineteenth century are worthy of study. There
was no lack of enthusiasm among the promoters. Nor were their high
hopes wrecked solely by public apathy. The public interest was never
altogether dormant. More efficient causes of ruin were, firstly, the
active hostility of some prominent writers and actors who declaimed
against all outward and visible commemoration of Shakespeare; and
secondly, divisions in the ranks of supporters in regard to the
precise form that the memorial ought to take. The censorious refusal
of one section of the literary public to countenance any memorial at
all, and the inability of another section, while promoting the
endeavour, to concentrate its energies on a single acceptable form of
commemoration had, as might be expected, a paralysing effect.

"England," it was somewhat casuistically argued in 1864, "has never
been ungrateful to her poet; but the very depth and fervour of the
reverence in which he is held have hitherto made it difficult for his
scholars to agree upon any common proceeding in his name." Neither in
1864 nor at earlier and later epochs have Shakespearean scholars
always formed among themselves a very happy family. That amiable
sentiment which would treat the realisation of the commemorative aim
as a patriotic obligation--as an obligation which no good citizen
could honourably repudiate--has often produced discord rather than
harmony among the Shakespearean scholars who cherish it. One school of
these has argued in the past for a work of sculpture, and has been
opposed by a cry for a college for actors, or a Shakespearean theatre.
"We do not like the idea of a monument at all," wrote _The Times_ on
the 20th of January 1864. "Shakespeare," wrote _Punch_ on the 6th of
February following, "needs no statue." In old days it was frequently
insisted that, even if the erection of a London monument were
desirable, active effort ought to be postponed until an adequate
memorial had been placed in Stratford-on-Avon where the poet's memory
had been hitherto inadequately honoured. At the same time a band of
students was always prepared to urge the chilling plea that the
payment of any outward honour to Shakespeare was laboursome futility,
was "wasteful and ridiculous excess." Milton's query: "What needs my
Shakespeare for his honoured bones?" has always been quoted to satiety
by a vociferous section of the critics whenever the commemoration of
Shakespeare has come under discussion.


Once again the question of a national memorial of Shakespeare in
London has been revived in conditions not wholly unlike those that
have gone before. Mr Richard Badger, a veteran enthusiast for
Shakespeare, who was educated in the poet's native place, has offered
the people of London the sum of £3500 as the nucleus of a great
Shakespeare Memorial Fund. The Lord Mayor of London has presided over
a public meeting at the Mansion House, which has empowered an
influential committee to proceed with the work. The London County
Council has promised to provide a site. With regard to the form that
the memorial ought to take, a variety of irresponsible suggestions has
been made. It has now been authoritatively determined to erect a
sculptured monument on the banks of the Thames.[45]

[Footnote 45: The proceedings of the committee which was formed in the
spring of 1905 have been dilatory. Mr Badger informs me that he paid
the organisers, nearly two years ago, the sum of £500 for preliminary
expenses, and deposited bonds to the value of £3000 with Lord Avebury,
the treasurer of the committee. The delay is assigned to the
circumstance that the London County Council, which is supporting the
proposal, is desirous of associating it with the great Council Hall
which it is preparing to erect on the south side of the Thames, and
that it has not yet been found practicable to invite designs for that
work. (Oct. 1, 1906.)]

The propriety of visibly and outwardly commemorating Shakespeare in
the capital city of the Empire has consequently become once more an
urgent public question. The public is invited anew to form an opinion
on the various points at issue. No expression of opinion should carry
weight which omits to take into account past experience as well as
present conditions and possibilities. If regard for the public
interest justify a national memorial in London, it is most desirable
to define the principles whereby its precise form should be

In one important particular the consideration of the subject to-day is
simpler than when it was debated on former occasions. Differences
existed, then as now, in regard to the propriety of erecting a
national memorial of Shakespeare in London; but almost all who
interested themselves in the matter in the nineteenth century agreed
that the public interest justified, if it did not require, the
preservation from decay or demolition of the buildings at
Stratford-on-Avon with which Shakespeare's life was associated. So
long as those buildings were in private hands, every proposal to
commemorate Shakespeare in London had to meet a formidable objection
which was raised on their behalf. If the nation undertook to
commemorate Shakespeare at all, it should make its first aim (it was
argued) the conversion into public property of the surviving memorials
of Shakespeare's career at Stratford. The scheme of the London
memorial could not be thoroughly discussed on its merits while the
claims of Stratford remained unsatisfied. It was deemed premature,
whether or no it were justifiable, to entertain any scheme of
commemoration which left the Stratford buildings out of account.

A natural sentiment connected Shakespeare more closely with
Stratford-on-Avon than with any other place. Whatever part London
played in his career, the public mind was dominated by the fact that
he was born at Stratford, died, and was buried there. If he left
Stratford in youth in order to work out his destiny in London, he
returned to it in middle life in order to end his days there "in ease,
retirement, and the conversation of his friends."

In spite of this widespread feeling, it proved no easy task, nor one
capable of rapid fulfilment, to consecrate in permanence to public
uses the extant memorials of Shakespeare at Stratford-on-Avon.
Stratford was a place of pilgrimage for admirers of Shakespeare from
early days in the seventeenth century--soon, in fact, after
Shakespeare's death in 1616. But local veneration did not prevent the
demolition in 1759, by a private owner, of New Place, Shakespeare's
last residence. That act of vandalism was long in provoking any
effective resentment. Garrick, by means of his Jubilee Festival of
1769, effectively, if somewhat theatrically, called the attention of
the English public to the claims of the town to the affectionate
regard of lovers of the great dramatist. Nevertheless, it was left to
the nineteenth century to dedicate in perpetuity to the public service
the places which were the scenes of Shakespeare's private life in his
native town.

Charles Mathews's effort of 1821 took its rise in an endeavour to
purchase in behalf of the nation the vacant site of Shakespeare's
demolished residence of New Place, with the great garden attached to
it. But that scheme was overweighted by the incorporation with it of
the plan for a London monument, and both collapsed ignominiously. In
1835 a strong committee was formed at Stratford to commemorate the
poet's connection with the town. It was called "the Monumental
Committee," and had for its object, firstly, the repair of
Shakespeare's tomb in the Parish Church; and secondly, the
preservation and restoration of all the Shakespearean buildings in
the town. Subscriptions were limited to £1, and all the members of the
royal family, including the Princess Victoria, who two years later
came to the throne, figured, with other leading personages in the
nation's life, in the list of subscribers. But the subscriptions only
produced a sum sufficient to carry out the first purpose of the
Monumental Committee--the repair of the tomb.

In 1847 the sale by public auction was announced of the house in which
Shakespeare was born. It had long been a show-place in private hands.
A general feeling declared itself in favour of the purchase of the
house for the nation. Public sentiment was in accord with the
ungrammatical grandiloquence of the auctioneer, the famous Robins,
whose advertisement of the sale included the sentence: "It is trusted
the feeling of the country will be so evinced that the structure may
be secured, hallowed, and cherished as a national monument almost as
imperishable as the poet's fame." A subscription list was headed by
Prince Albert with £250. A distinguished committee was formed under
the presidency of Lord Morpeth (afterwards the seventh Earl of
Carlisle), then Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests, who offered
to make his department perpetual conservators of the property. (That
proposal was not accepted.) Dickens, Macaulay, Lord Lytton, and the
historian Grote were all active in promoting the movement, and it
proved successful. The property was duly secured by a private trust in
behalf of the nation. The most important house identified with
Shakespeare's career in Stratford was thus effectively protected from
the risks that are always inherent in private ownership. The step was
not taken with undue haste; two hundred and thirty-one years had
elapsed since Shakespeare's death.

Fourteen years later, in very similar circumstances, the still vacant
site of Shakespeare's demolished residence, New Place, with the great
garden behind it, and the adjoining house, was acquired by the public.
A new Shakespeare Fund, to which the Prince Consort subscribed £100,
and Miss Burdett-Coutts (afterwards Baroness Burdett-Coutts) £600, was
formed not only to satisfy this purpose, but to provide the means of
equipping a library and museum which were contemplated at the
Birthplace, as well as a second museum which was to be provided on the
New Place property. It was appropriate to make these buildings
depositories of authentic relics and books which should illustrate the
poet's life and work. This national Shakespeare Fund was actively
promoted, chiefly by the late Mr Halliwell-Phillipps, for more than
ten years; a large sum of money was collected, and the aims with which
the Fund was set on foot were to a large extent fulfilled. It only
remained to organise on a permanent legal basis the completed
Stratford Memorial of Shakespeare. By an Act of Parliament passed in
1891 the two properties of New Place and the Birthplace were
definitely formed into a single public trust "for and in behalf of the
nation." The trustees were able in 1892, out of their surplus income,
which is derived from the fees of visitors, to add to their estates
Anne Hathaway's Cottage at Shottery, a third building of high interest
to students of Shakespeare's history.

The formation of the Birthplace Trust has every title to be regarded
as an outward and visible tribute to Shakespeare's memory on the part
of the British nation at large.[46] The purchase for the public of
the Birthplace, the New Place property, and Anne Hathaway's Cottage
was not primarily due to local effort. Justly enough, a very small
portion of the necessary funds came from Stratford itself. The British
nation may therefore take credit for having set up at least one
fitting monument to Shakespeare by consecrating to public uses the
property identified with his career in Stratford. Larger funds than
the trustees at present possess are required to enable them to carry
on the work which their predecessors began, and to compete with any
chance of success for books and relics of Shakespearean interest--such
as they are empowered by Act of Parliament to acquire--when these
memorials chance to come into the market. But a number of small annual
subscriptions from men of letters has lately facilitated the
performance of this part of the trustees' work, and that source of
income may, it is hoped, increase.

[Footnote 46: Nor is this all that has been accomplished at Stratford
in the nineteenth century in the way of the national commemoration of
Shakespeare. While the surviving property of Shakespearean interest
was in course of acquisition for the nation, an early ambition to
erect in Stratford a theatre in Shakespeare's memory was realised--in
part by subscriptions from the general public, but mainly by the
munificence of members of the Flower family, three generations of
which have resided at Stratford. The Memorial Theatre was opened in
1879, and the Picture Gallery and Library which were attached to it
were completed two years later. The Memorial Buildings at Stratford
stand on a different footing from the properties of the Birthplace
Trust. The Memorial institution has an independent government, and is
to a larger extent under local control. But the extended series of
performances of Shakespearean drama, which takes place each year in
April at the Memorial Theatre, has something of the character of an
annual commemoration of Shakespeare by the nation at large.]

At any rate, the ancient objection to the erection of a national
monument in London, which was based on the absence of any memorial in
Stratford, is no longer of avail. In 1821, in 1847, and in 1864, when
the acquisition of the Stratford property was unattempted or
uncompleted, it was perfectly just to argue that Stratford was
entitled to have precedence of London when the question of
commemorating Shakespeare was debated. It is no just argument in 1906,
now that the claims of Stratford are practically satisfied.

Byron, when writing of the memorial to Petrarch at Arquà, expressed
with admirable feeling the sentiment that would confine outward
memorials of a poet in his native town to the places where he was
born, lived, died, and was buried. With very little verbal change
Byron's stanza on the visible memorials of Petrarch's association with
Arquà is applicable to those of Shakespeare's connexion with

    They keep his dust in Stratford, where he died;
    The midland village where his later days
    Went down the vale of years; and 'tis their pride--
    An honest pride--and let it be their praise,
    To offer to the passing stranger's gaze
    His birthplace and his sepulchre; both plain
    And venerably simple, such as raise
    A feeling more accordant with his strain
    Than if a pyramid form'd his monumental fane.[47]

[Footnote 47: Cf. _Childe Harold_, Canto IV., St. xxxi.]

Venerable simplicity is hardly the characteristic note of
Shakespeare's "strain" any more than it is of Petrarch's "strain." But
there can be no just quarrel with the general contention that at
Stratford, where Shakespeare gave ample proof of his characteristic
modesty, a pyramidal fane would be out of harmony with the
environment. There his birthplace, his garden, and tomb are the
fittest memorials of his great career.


It may justly be asked: Is there any principle which justifies another
sort of memorial elsewhere? On grounds of history and sentiment, but
in conditions which demand most careful definition, the right answer
will, I think, be in the affirmative. For one thing, Shakespeare's
life was not confined to Stratford. His professional career was spent
in London, and those, who strictly insist that memorials to great men
should be erected only in places with which they were personally
associated, can hardly deny that London shares with Stratford a title
to a memorial from a biographical or historical point of view. Of
Shakespeare's life of fifty-two years, twenty-four years were in all
probability spent in London. During those years the work that makes
him memorable was done. It was in London that the fame which is
universally acknowledged was won.

Some valuable details regarding Shakespeare's life in London are
accessible. The districts where he resided and where he passed his
days are known. There is evidence that during the early part of his
London career he lived in the parish of St Helen's, Bishopsgate, and
during the later part near the Bankside, Southwark. With the south
side of the Thames he was long connected, together with his youngest
brother, Edmund, who was also an actor, and who was buried in the
church of St Saviour's, Southwark.

In his early London days Shakespeare's professional work, alike as
actor and dramatist, brought him daily from St Helen's, Bishopsgate,
to The Theatre in Shoreditch. Shoreditch was then the chief
theatrical quarter in London. Later, the centre of London theatrical
life shifted to Southwark, where the far-famed Globe Theatre was
erected, in 1599, mainly out of the materials of the dismantled
Shoreditch Theatre. Ultimately Shakespeare's company of actors
performed in a theatre at Blackfriars, which was created out of a
private residence on a part of the site on which _The Times_ office
stands now. At a few hundred yards' distance from the Blackfriars
Theatre, in the direction of Cannon Street, Shakespeare, too, shortly
before his death, purchased a house.

Thus Shakespeare's life in London is well identified with four
districts--with Bishopsgate, with Shoreditch, with Southwark, and with
Blackfriars. Unhappily for students of Shakespeare's life, London has
been more than once remodelled since the dramatist sojourned in the
city. The buildings and lodgings, with which he was associated in
Shoreditch, Southwark, Bishopsgate, or Blackfriars, have long since

It is not practicable to follow in London the same historical scheme
of commemoration which has been adopted at Stratford-on-Avon. It is
impossible to recall to existence the edifices in which Shakespeare
pursued his London career. Archæology could do little in this
direction that was satisfactory. There would be an awkward incongruity
in introducing into the serried ranks of Shoreditch warehouses and
Southwark wharves an archæological restoration of Elizabethan
playhouse or private residence. Pictorial representations of the Globe
Theatre survive, and it might be possible to construct something that
should materialise the extant drawings. But the _genius loci_ has
fled from Southwark and from Shoreditch. It might be practicable to
set up a new model of an Elizabethan theatre elsewhere in London, but
such a memorial would have about it an air of unreality,
artificiality, and affectation which would not be in accord with the
scholarly spirit of an historic or biographic commemoration. The
device might prove of archæological interest, but the commemorative
purpose, from a biographical or historical point of view, would be ill
served. Wherever a copy of an Elizabethan playhouse were brought to
birth in twentieth-century London, the historic sense in the onlooker
would be for the most part irresponsive; it would hardly be quickened.


Apart from the practical difficulties of realising materially
Shakespeare's local associations with London, it is doubtful if the
mere commemoration in London of Shakespeare's personal connection with
the great city ought to be the precise aim of those who urge the
propriety of erecting a national monument in the metropolis.
Shakespeare's personal relations with London can in all the
circumstances of the case be treated as a justification in only the
second degree. The primary justification involves a somewhat different
train of thought. A national memorial of Shakespeare in London must be
reckoned of small account if it merely aim at keeping alive in public
memory episodes of Shakespeare's London career. The true aim of a
national London memorial must be symbolical of a larger fact. It must
typify Shakespeare's place, not in the past, but in the present life
of the nation and of the world. It ought to constitute a perpetual
reminder of the position that he fills in the present economy, and is
likely to fill in the future economy of human thought, for those whose
growing absorption in the narrowing business of life tends to make
them forget it.

The day is long since past when vague eulogy of Shakespeare is
permissible. Shakespeare's literary supremacy is as fully recognised
by those who justly appreciate literature as any law of nature. To the
man and woman of culture in all civilised countries he symbolises the
potency of the human intellect. But those who are content to read and
admire him in the cloister at times overlook the full significance of
his achievement in the outer world. Critics of all nationalities are
in substantial agreement with the romance-writer Dumas, who pointed
out that Shakespeare is more than the greatest of dramatists; he is
the greatest of thinking men.

The exalted foreign estimate illustrates the fact that Shakespeare
contributes to the prestige of his nation a good deal beyond repute
for literary power. He is not merely a literary ornament of our
British household. It is largely on his account that foreign nations
honour his country as an intellectual and spiritual force. Shakespeare
and Newton together give England an intellectual sovereignty which
adds more to her "reputation through the world" than any exploit in
battle or statesmanship. If, again, Shakespeare's pre-eminence has
added dignity to the name of Englishman abroad, it has also quickened
the sense of unity among the intelligent sections of the
English-speaking peoples. Admiration, affection for his work has come
to be one of the strongest links in the chain which binds the
English-speaking peoples together. He quickens the fraternal sense
among all who speak his language.

London is no nominal capital of the kingdom and the Empire. It is the
headquarters of British influence. Within its boundaries are assembled
the official insignia of British prestige. It is the mother-city of
the English-speaking world. To ask of the citizens of London some
outward sign that Shakespeare is a living source of British prestige,
an unifying factor in the consolidation of the British Empire, and a
powerful element in the maintenance of fraternal relations with the
United States, seems therefore no unreasonable demand. Neither
cloistered study of his plays, nor the occasional representation of
them in the theatres, brings home to either the English-speaking or
the English-reading world the full extent of the debt that England
owes to Shakespeare. A monumental memorial, which should symbolise
Shakespeare's influence in the universe, could only find an
appropriate and effective home in the capital city of the British
Empire. It is this conviction, and no narrower point of view, which
gives endeavour to commemorate Shakespeare in London its title to


The admitted fact that Shakespeare's fame is established beyond risk
of decay does not place him outside the range of conventional methods
of commemoration. The greater a man's recognised service to his
fellows, the more active grows in normally constituted minds that
natural commemorative instinct, which seeks outward and tangible
expression. A strange fallacy underlies the objection that has been
taken to any commemoration of Shakespeare on the alleged ground that
Milton warned the English people of all time against erecting a
monument to Shakespeare.

In 1630 Milton asked the question that is familiar to thousands of

    What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones?

By way of answer he deprecated any such "weak witness of his name" as
"pilèd stones" or "star-y-pointing pyramid." The poet-laureate of
England echoed Milton's sentiment in 1905. He roundly asserted that
"perishable stuff" is the fit crown of monumental pedestals. "Gods for
themselves," he concluded, "have monument enough." There are ample
signs that the sentiment to which Milton and the laureate give voice
has a good deal of public support.

None the less the poet-laureate's conclusion is clearly refuted by
experience and cannot terminate the argument. At any rate, in the
classical and Renaissance eras monumental sculpture was in habitual
request among those who would honour both immortal gods and mortal
heroes--especially mortal heroes who had distinguished themselves in
literature or art.

A little reflection will show, likewise, that Milton's fervid couplets
have small bearing on the question at issue in its present conditions.
Milton's poem is an elegy on Shakespeare. It was penned when the
dramatist had lain in his grave less that fourteen years, and when the
writer was in his twenty-second year. The exuberant enthusiasm of
youth was couched in poetic imagery which has from time immemorial
been employed in panegyrics of great poets. The beautiful figure which
presents a great man's work as his only lasting monument is as old as
poetry itself. The conceit courses through the classical poetry of
Greece from the time of Pindar, and through that of Italy from the
time of Ennius. No great Renaissance writer of modern Italy, of
sixteenth-century France, or of Elizabethan England, tired of arguing
that the poet's deathless memorial is that carved by his own pen.
Shakespeare himself clothed the conceit in glowing harmonies in his
sonnets. Ben Jonson, in his elegy on the dramatist, adapted the
time-honoured figure when he hailed his dead friend's achievement as
"a monument without a tomb."

"The truest poetry is the most feigning," and, when one recalls the
true significance and influence of great sculptured monuments through
the history of the civilised world, Milton's poetic argument can only
be accepted in what Sir Thomas Browne called "a soft and flexible
sense"; it cannot "be called unto the rigid test of reason." To treat
Milton's eulogy as the final word in the discussion of the subject
whether or no Shakespeare should have a national monument, is to come
into conflict with Sir Walter Scott, Tennyson, Ruskin, Dickens, and
all the greatest men of letters of the nineteenth century, who
answered the question in the affirmative. It is to discredit crowds of
admirers of great writers in classical and modern ages, who have
commemorated the labours of poets and dramatists in outward and
visible monuments.

The genius of the great Greek dramatists was not underrated by their
countrymen. Their literary efforts were adjudged to be true memorials
of their fame, and no doubt of their immortality was entertained. None
the less, the city of Athens, on the proposition of the Attic orator,
Lycurgus, erected in honour of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides
statues which ranked with the most beautiful adornments of the Greek
capital. Calderon and Goethe, Camoens and Schiller, Sir Walter Scott
and Burns enjoy reputations which are smaller, it is true, than
Shakespeare's, but are, at the same time, like his, of both national
and universal significance. In memory of them all, monuments have been
erected as tokens of their fellow-countrymen's veneration and
gratitude for the influence which their poetry wields.

The fame of these men's writings never stood in any "need" of
monumental corroboration. The sculptured memorial testified to the
sense of gratitude which their writings generated in the hearts and
minds of their readers.

Again, the great musicians and the great painters live in their work
in a singularly vivid sense. Music and painting are more direct in
popular appeal than great poetry. Yet none can ridicule the sentiment
which is embodied in the statue of Beethoven at Bonn, or in that of
Paolo Veronese at Verona. To accept literally the youthful judgment of
Milton and his imitators is to condemn sentiments and practices which
are in universal vogue among civilised peoples. It is to deny to the
Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey a rational title to existence.

To commemorate a great man by a statue in a public place in the
central sphere of his influence is, indeed, a custom inseparable from
civilised life. The theoretic moralist's reminder that monuments of
human greatness sooner or later come to dust is a doctrine too
discouraging of all human effort to exert much practical effect.
Monuments are, in the eyes of the intelligent, tributes for services
rendered to posterity by great men. But incidentally they have an
educational value. They help to fix the attention of the thoughtless
on facts which may, in the absence of outward symbols, escape notice.
They may act as incentives to thought. They may convert the
thoughtless into the thoughtful. Wide as are the ranks of
Shakespeare's readers, they are not, in England at any rate, incapable
of extension; and, whatever is likely to call the attention of those
who are as yet outside the pale of knowledge of Shakespeare to what
lies within it, deserves respectful consideration.

It is never inconsistent with a nation's dignity for it to give
conspicuous expression of gratitude to its benefactors, among whom
great writers take first rank. Monuments of fitting character give
that conspicuous expression. Bacon, the most enlightened of English
thinkers, argued, within a few years of Shakespeare's death, that no
self-respecting people could safely omit to erect statues of those who
had contributed to the genuine advance of their knowledge or prestige.
The visitors to Bacon's imaginary island of New Atlantis saw statues
erected at the public expense in memory of all who had won great
distinction in the arts or sciences. The richness of the memorial
varied according to the value of the achievement. "These statues," the
observer noted, "are some of brass, some of marble and touchstone,
some of cedar and other special woods, gilt and adorned, some of iron,
some of silver, some of gold." No other external recognition of great
intellectual service was deemed, in Bacon's Utopia, of equal
appropriateness. Bacon's mature judgment deserves greater regard than
the splendid imagery of Milton's budding muse.


In order to satisfy the commemorative instinct in a people, it is
necessary, as Bacon pointed out, strictly to adapt the means to the
end. The essential object of a national monument to a great man is to
pay tribute to his greatness, to express his fellow-men's sense of his
service. No blunder could be graver than to confuse the issue by
seeking to make the commemoration serve any secondary or collateral
purpose. It may be very useful to erect hospitals or schools. It may
help in the dissemination of knowledge and appreciation of
Shakespearean drama for the public to endow a theatre, which should be
devoted to the performance of Shakespeare's plays. The public interest
calls loudly for a playhouse that shall be under public control.
Promoters of such a commendable endeavour might find their labours
facilitated by associating their project with Shakespeare's name--with
the proposed commemoration of Shakespeare. But the true aim of the
commemoration will be frustrated if it be linked with any purpose of
utility, however commendable, with anything beyond a symbolisation of
Shakespeare's mighty genius and influence. To attempt aught else is
"wrenching the true cause the false way." A worthy memorial to
Shakespeare will not satisfy the just working of the commemorative
instinct, unless it take the sculpturesque and monumental shape which
the great tradition of antiquity has sanctioned. A monument to
Shakespeare should be a monument and nothing besides.

Bacon's doctrine that the greater the achievement that is commemorated
the richer must be the outward symbol, implies that a memorial to
Shakespeare must be a work of art of the loftiest merit conceivable.
Unless those who promote the movement concentrate their energies on an
object of beauty, unless they free the movement of all suspicion that
the satisfaction of the commemorative instinct is to be a secondary
and not the primary aim, unless they resolve that the Shakespeare
memorial in London is to be a monument pure and simple, and one as
perfect as art can make it, then the effort is undeserving of national


This conclusion suggests the inevitable objection that sculpture in
England is not in a condition favourable to the execution of a great
piece of monumental art. Past experience in London does not make one
very sanguine that it is possible to realise in statuary a worthy
conception of a Shakespearean memorial. The various stages through
which recent efforts to promote sculptured memorials in London have
passed suggest the mock turtle's definition in _Alice in Wonderland_
of the four branches of arithmetic--Ambition, Distraction,
Uglification, and Derision. Save the old statue of James the Second,
at Whitehall, and the new statue of Oliver Cromwell, which stands at
a disadvantage on its present site beneath Westminster Hall, there is
scarcely a sculptured portrait in the public places of London which is

    A fixèd figure for the time of scorn
    To point his slow unmoving finger at.

London does not lack statues of men of letters. There are statues of
Burns and John Stuart Mill on the Thames Embankment, of Byron in
Hamilton Place, and of Carlyle on Chelsea Embankment. But all convey
an impression of insignificance, and thereby fail to satisfy the
nation's commemorative instinct.

The taste of the British nation needs rigorous control when it seeks
to pay tribute to benefactors by means of sculptured monuments. During
the last forty years a vast addition has been made throughout Great
Britain--with most depressing effect--to the number of sculptured
memorials in the open air. The people has certainly shown far too
enthusiastic and too inconsiderate a liberality in commemorating by
means of sculptured monuments the virtues of Prince Albert and the
noble character and career of the late Queen Victoria. The deduction
to be drawn from the numberless statues of Queen Victoria and her
consort is not exhilarating. British taste never showed itself to
worse effect. The general impression produced by the most ambitious of
all these memorials, the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens, is
especially deplorable. The gilt figure of the Prince seems to defy
every principle that fine art should respect. The endeavour to produce
imposing effect by dint of hugeness is, in all but inspired hands,
certain to issue in ugliness.

It would, however, be a mistake to take too gloomy a view of the
situation. The prospect may easily be painted in too dismal colours.
It is a commonplace with foreign historians of art to assert that
English sculpture ceased to flourish when the building of the old
Gothic cathedrals came to an end. But Stevens's monument of the Duke
of Wellington in St Paul's Cathedral, despite the imperfect execution
of the sculptor's design, shows that the monumental art of England has
proved itself, at a recent date, capable of realising a great
commemorative conception. There are signs, too, that at least three
living sculptors might in favourable conditions prove worthy
competitors of Stevens. At least one literary memorial in the British
Isles, the Scott monument in Edinburgh, which cost no more than
£16,000, satisfies a nation's commemorative aspiration. There the
natural environment and an architectural setting of impressive design
reinforce the effect of sculpture. The whole typifies with fitting
dignity the admiring affection which gathers about Scott's name. This
successful realisation of a commemorative aim--not wholly dissimilar
from that which should inspire a Shakespeare memorial--must check
forebodings of despair.

There are obviously greater difficulties in erecting a monument to
Shakespeare in London than in erecting a monument to Scott in
Edinburgh. There is no site in London that will compare with the
gardens of Princes Street in Edinburgh. It is essential that a
Shakespeare memorial should occupy the best site that London can
offer. Ideally the best site for any great monument is the summit of a
gently rising eminence, with a roadway directly approaching it and
circling round it. In 1864, when the question of a fit site for a
Shakespeare memorial in London was warmly debated, a too ambitious
scheme recommended the formation of an avenue on the model of the
Champs-Elysées from the top of Portland Place across Primrose Hill;
and at the end of the avenue, on the summit of Primrose Hill, at an
elevation of 207 feet above the river Thames, the Shakespeare monument
was to stand. This was and is an impracticable proposal. The site
which in 1864 received the largest measure of approbation was a spot
in the Green Park, near Piccadilly. A third suggestion of the same
date was the bank of the river Thames, which was then called
Thames-way, but was on the point of conversion into the Thames
Embankment. Recent reconstruction of Central London--of the district
north of the Strand--by the London County Council now widens the field
of choice. There is much to be said for a site within the centre of
London life. But an elevated monumental structure on the banks of the
Thames seems to meet at the moment with the widest approval. In any
case, no site that is mean or cramped would be permissible if the
essential needs of the situation are to be met.

A monument that should be sufficiently imposing would need an
architectural framework. But the figure of the poet must occupy the
foremost place in the design. Herein lies another embarrassment. It is
difficult to determine which of the extant portraits the sculptor
ought to follow. The bust in Stratford Church, the print in the First
Folio, and possibly the Chandos painting in the National Portrait
Gallery, are honest efforts to present a faithful likeness. But they
are crudely executed, and are posthumous sketches largely depending on
the artist's memory. The sculptor would be compelled to work in the
spirit of the historian, who recreates a past event from the
indication given him by an illiterate or fragmentary chronicle or
inscription. He would be bound to endow with artistic life those
features in which the authentic portraits agree, but the highest
effort of the imagination would be needed to create an impression of
artistic truth.

The success of a Shakespeare memorial will ultimately depend on the
pecuniary support that the public accord it. But in the initial stage
of the movement all rests on the discovery of a sculptor capable of
realising the significance of a national commemoration of the greatest
of the nation's, or indeed of the worlds, heroes. It would be well to
settle satisfactorily the question of such an artist's existence
before anything else. The first step that any organising committee of
a Shakespeare memorial should therefore take, in my view, would be to
invite sculptors of every country to propose a design. The monument
should be the best that artistic genius could contrive--the artistic
genius of the world. There may be better sculptors abroad than at
home. The universality of the appeal which Shakespeare's achievement
makes, justifies a competition among artists of every race or

The crucial decision as to whether the capacity to execute the
monument is available, should be entrusted to a committee of taste, to
a committee of liberal-minded connoisseurs who command general
confidence. If this jury decide by their verdict that the present
conditions of art permit the production of a great memorial of
Shakespeare on just principles, then a strenuous appeal for funds may
be inaugurated with likelihood of success. It is hopeless to reverse
these methods of procedure. If funds are first invited before rational
doubts as to the possibility of a proper application of them are
dispelled, it is improbable that the response will be satisfactory or
that the issue of the movement of 1905 will differ from that of 1821
or 1864.

In 1864 Victor Hugo expressed the opinion that the expenses of a
Shakespeare memorial in London ought to be defrayed by the British
Government. There is small likelihood of assistance from that source.
Individual effort can alone be relied upon; and it is doubtful if it
be desirable to seek official aid. A great national memorial of
Shakespeare in London, if it come into being at all on the lines which
would alone justify its existence, ought to embody individual
enthusiasm, ought to express with fitting dignity the personal sense
of indebtedness and admiration which fills the hearts of his


Acting, importance of, in Shakespearean drama, 13;
  evil effects of long runs, 14;
  Shakespeare on, 45, 47

Actor-manager, his merits and defects, 125, 126

Actors, training of, 139;
  English, in France, 203.
  (See also Benson, Mr F.R., and Boys.)

Æschylus, statue of, 233

Albert, Prince (Consort), and Shakespeare's birthplace, 222;
  statues of, 237

Alleyn, Edward, 191, 194

_Annual Register_ of 1770, 194

Aristotle, Shakespeare's mention of, 144, 145;
  Bacon's study of, 145

Arnold, Matthew, on Shakespeare, 29

Astronomy, Shakespeare on, 146

Athens, statuary at, 233

Aubrey, John, his gossip about Shakespeare, 67, 68

Austria, subsidised theatres in, 131, 134

Bacon, Anthony, in France, 203

Bacon, Francis, philosophical method of, 143;
  on memorial monuments in _New Atlantis_, 234, 235

Bacon, Sir Nicholas, his fame in France, 204

Badger, Mr Richard, proposal for a Shakespeare monument, 219

Bannister, John, his music for _The Tempest_, 107

Barker, Mr Granville, as Richard II., 13 _n._

Basse, William, his tribute to Shakespeare, 50

Beeston, Christopher, Elizabethan actor, 64

Beeston, William the first, patron of Nash, 64

Beeston, William the second, his theatrical career, 65, 66;
  his gossip about Shakespeare, 65;
  his conversation, 66;
  Aubrey's account of, 67

Beethoven, statue of, 233

Beljame, Alexandre, on English literature, 201;
  death of, 201

Benson, Mr F.R., his company of actors, 111;
  his principles, 112 _seq._;
  list of Shakespeare plays produced by, 114 _n._;
  his production of _Hamlet_ unabridged, 116-118;
  his training of actors, 119;
  his services to Shakespeare, 121;
  his pupils on the London stage, 130

Berkenhout, John, 195

Betterton, Thomas, at Stratford-on-Avon, 73;
  contributes to Rowe's biography, 73, 76;
  his rendering of Hamlet, 101, 102

Biography, art of, in England, 51

Bishop, Sir William, 76

Bishopsgate (London), Shakespeare at, 226, 227

Blackfriars, Shakespeare's house at, 227

Boileau, and English literature, 199

Bolingbroke, in _Richard II._, patriotism of, 173

Bowman, John, actor, 69;
  at Stratford-on-Avon, 76

Boys in women's parts in Elizabethan theatres, 19, 41;
  abandonment of the practice, 43;
  superseded by women, 88, 89

Buchanan, George, his plays, 204

Burbage, Richard, Shakespeare's friend and fellow-actor, 33

Burns, Mr John, 131

Burns, Robert, French study of, 201;
  monument to, 233, 237

Byron, Lord, on Petrarch at Arquà, 225;
  statue of, 237

Calderon, 136;
  monument to, 233

Calvert, Charles A., his Shakespearean productions at Manchester,
12 _n._

Camoens, monument to, 233

Capital and the literary drama, 124, 126, 127, 128

Carlyle, Thomas, statue of, 237

_Cataline's Conspiracy_, by Ben Jonson, 30, 31

Ceremony, Shakespeare on, 157, 158

Chantrey, Sir Francis, and commemoration of Shakespeare, 216

Charlecote, Shakespeare's escapade at, 76

Chaucer, Geoffrey, French influence on, 199

Clarendon, Lord, on Shakespeare, 78

Cockpit theatre, Drury Lane, 65, 86

Cockpit theatre, Whitehall, 87 and _n._

Coleman, John, on the subsidised theatre, 132

Coleridge S.T., and commemoration of Shakespeare, 216

Congreve, William, 91

Coriolanus and the patriotic instinct, 178, 179

Cromwell, Oliver, statue of, 237

Davenant, Robert, Sir William's brother, 70

D'Avenant, Sir William: theatrical manager, 67;
  his youth at Oxford, 69;
  relations in boyhood with Shakespeare, 70;
  elegy on Shakespeare, 71;
  champion of Shakespeare's fame, 71;
  his story of Shakespeare and Southampton, 72;
  his influence on Betterton, 72;
  manager of the Duke's Company, 87 _n._;
  as dramatist, 91;
  his adaptations of Shakespeare, 103-105, 106 _n._, 108

Deschamps, Eustace, on Chaucer, 199

Desportes, Philippe, and Elizabethan poetry, 199

D'Israeli, Isaac, on Steevens's forgery, 195

Downs, John, prompter and stage annalist, 63

Dramatic societies in England, 129

Dress, Shakespeare on extravagant, 185

Drunkenness, Shakespeare on, 185

Dryden, John, on William Beeston, 66;
  as dramatist, 91;
  his share in the adaptation of _The Tempest_, 105

Du Bellay, Joachim, and Elizabethan poetry, 199

Ducis, Jean François, his translation of Shakespeare, 207, 208

Dugdale, Sir William, 74

Dumas _père_, on Shakespeare, 206;
 his translation of _Hamlet_, 209-211

Dyce, Alexander, on Steevens's forgery, 196

Elizabeth, Queen, summons Shakespeare to Greenwich, 31

Elizabethan Stage Society, 13 _n._

England, Shakespeare on history of, 180

Ennius on poetic fame, 232

Etherege, Sir George, 91

Eton College, debate about Shakespeare at, 78

Euripides, statue of, 233

Evelyn, John, on _Hamlet_, 90

Farquhar, George, 91

Faulconbridge (in _King John_), patriotism of, 174

Fletcher, John, his _Custom of the Country_, 92, 93;
  its obscenity, 93

Folio, the First [of Shakespeare's plays], actors' co-operation in, 59;
  list of actors in, 61;
  rejected by Pepys, 94

Folio, the Second [of Shakespeare's plays], in France, 205

Folio, the Third [of Shakespeare's plays], purchased by Pepys, 94

Folio, the Fourth [of Shakespeare's plays], in Pepysian library, 94

France, subsidised theatres in, 131, 134;
  Shakespeare in, 198 _seq._;
  English actors in, 203

Freedom of the will, Shakespeare on, 166

Fuller, Thomas, his _Worthies of England_, 52;
  notice of Shakespeare, 52

Garrick, David, his stage costume, 18

_Gentleman's Magazine_ of 1801, 195

George IV. and commemoration of Shakespeare, 215

German drama, 129, 135, 136

Germany, subsidised theatres in, 131, 134

Goethe, 136;
  monument to, 233

Greene, Robert, French translation of romance by, 199

Grendon, tradition of Shakespeare at, 77

"Grenovicus" contributes to _Gentleman's Magazine_, 195

Hales, John, of Eton, 78

Hall, Bishop Joseph, French translation of works by, 199

Hart, Charles, Shakespeare's grand-nephew, actor, 59, 68

Hauptmann, Gerhart, 135

Henry V., on kingly ceremony, 157;
  patriotism of, 175, 182

Heywood, Thomas, projected _Lives of the Poets_, 54 _n._;
  affection for Shakespeare, 65;
  his _Apology for Actors_, 65

History plays of Shakespeare, character of, 180

Hobbes, Thomas, in France, 200

Howe, Josias, on a Shakespeare tradition, 77

Hugo, Victor, on Shakespeare, 206;
  on Shakespeare memorial, 241

Imagination in the audience, 22, 47, 48

Ingres, Jean, his painting of Shakespeare, 206

Irving, Sir Henry, experience of Shakespearean spectacle, 10;
  and the literary drama, 123;
  and the municipal theatre, 132;
  and French drama, 200

Irving, Washington, and commemoration of Shakespeare, 216

James I., his alleged letter to Shakespeare, 72

James II., statue of, 236

John of Gaunt in _Richard II._, dying speech of, 115-116, 181

Johnson, Dr, on false patriots, 171

Jonson, Ben, testimony to Shakespeare's popularity, 29;
  his classical tragedies compared with Shakespeare's, 30;
  his elegy on Shakespeare, 50, 232;
  his dialectical powers contrasted with Shakespeare's, 53;
  on the players' praise of Shakespeare, 60;
  his son, Shakespeare's godson, 61;
  Beeston's talk of, 67;
  popularity of his plays at Restoration, 91, 92

Jusserand, Jules, on English literature, 202;
  his _Shakespeare in France_, 203

Kean, Charles, experience of Shakespearean spectacle, 9;
  Macready's criticism of, 14

Kemp, William, Elizabethan comedian, 33

Killigrew, Tom, manager of the King's Company, 87 _n._

Kingship, Shakespeare on, 155-160, 180-182

Kirkman, Francis, his account of William Beeston the second, 66

Lacy, John, actor, 67;
  acquaintance with Ben Jonson, 68;
  adaptation of _The Taming of the Shrew_, 108

Lawrence, Sir Thomas, and commemoration of Shakespeare, 216

Lessing, 136

Lincoln's Inn Fields (Portugal Row), Theatre at, 86, 87 and _n._

Literary drama, on the modern stage, 123;
  antagonism of capital to, 126-128

_Lives of the Poets_ of the seventeenth century, 54

Locke, John, in France, 200

Locke, Matthew, Shakespearean music of, 105, 108

Logic, Shakespeare on, 146

London, Shakespeare's association with, 226 _seq._;
  statues in, 236, 237;
  proposed sites for Shakespeare monument in, 239

London County Council, and the theatre, 130, 131;
  and subsidised enlightenment, 133;
  and Shakespeare monument, 219

London Trades Council and the theatre, 132

Lowin, John, original actor in Shakespeare's plays, 61;
  coached by Shakespeare in part of _Hamlet_, 63, 71, 72

Lycurgus, Attic orator, 233

Macready, W.C., his criticism of spectacle, 14

Marlowe, Christopher, Shakespeare's senior by two months, 37, 193

Massinger, Philip, his _Bondman_, 92, 93

Mathews, Charles, on a monument of Shakespeare, 214

Mercy, Shakespeare on, 152, 153

Metaphysics, Shakespeare on, 146-148

Mill, John Stuart, statue of, 237

Milton, his elegy on Shakespeare, 51, 231

Molière, accepted methods of producing his plays, 16, 18, 136

Montaigne, Michel de, and Anthony Bacon, 203;
  his essays in English, 204

Moore, Thomas, and commemoration of Shakespeare, 216

More, Sir Thomas, his _Utopia_ in France, 204

Municipal theatre, its justification, 122;
  in Europe, 134

Musset, Alfred de, on Shakespeare, 206

Nash, John, and commemoration of Shakespeare, 216

Nash, Thomas, 64

Nodier, Charles, his _Pensées de Shakespeare_, 211-213

Norwegian drama, 129

Obedience, the duty of, 161

Oldys, William, antiquary, 68, 69

Opera in England, 131

Oxford, the Crown Inn at, 69;
  Shakespeare at, 70;
  visitors from, to Stratford, 75-77

Patriotism, Shakespeare on, 170 _seq._

Peele, George, alleged letter of, 189 _seq._

Pepys, Samuel, his play-going experience, 81-86;
  on Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, 91-93;
  on Shakespeare, 94 _seq._;
  his attitude to poetic drama, 95, 96;
  his musical setting of "To be or not to be," 100

Petrarch, his tomb at Arquà, 225

Phelps, Samuel, at Sadler's Wells, 11;
  list of plays produced by, 11, 114 _n._;
  his mode of producing Shakespeare, 12;
  on a State theatre in London, 120;
  on public control of theatres, 140, 141

Philosophy, Shakespeare's attitude to, 143 _seq._

Pindar on poetic fame, 232

Platter, Thomas, journal of his London visit (1599), 38

Playhouses in London, Blackfriars, 227;
  Drury Lane, 86, 87 and _n._;
  "The Globe," 38, 227;
  "The Red Bull," 86;
  Sadler's Wells, 11;
  Salisbury Court, Whitefriars, 66, 86;
  "The Theatre" at Shoreditch, 37, 227

Pope, Alexander, and French literature, 199;
  on the Shakespeare cenotaph, 216

Richardson, Samuel, in France, 200

Robinson, Richard, actor, 68

Ronsard, Pierre de, and Elizabethan poetry, 199;
  in England, 203

Rousseau, J.J., and English literature, 200

Rowe, Nicholas, Shakespeare's first formal biographer, 54;
  his acknowledgment to Betterton, 73;
  his biography of Shakespeare, 79, 80

Royal ceremony, irony of, 158

Russell, Lord John, on patriotism, 172

Sadler's Wells Theatre, 11

Sand, George, on Shakespeare, 206

Sardou, Victorien, work of, 200

Scenery, its purpose, 5;
  uselessness of realism, 23

Schiller, on the German stage, 136;
  monument to, 233

Scott, Sir Walter, and commemoration of Shakespeare, 216, 232;
  Edinburgh monument of, 238

Sedley, Sir Charles, 91

Seneca on mercy, 153 _n._

Shadwell, Thomas, 67,
  adaptation of _The Tempest_, 106 _n._

Shakespeare, Edmund, actor, 227

Shakespeare, Gilbert, actor, 68

Shakespeare, William, his creation of the Ghost in _Hamlet_, 27;
  contemporary popularity of, 29;
  at Court, 31;
  early London career, 32;
  advice to the actor, 45;
  his modest estimate of the actor's powers, 47;
  elegies on death of, 49;
  Fuller's notice of, 52;
  early biographies of, 54;
  oral tradition of, in seventeenth century, 55;
  similarity of experience with that of contemporary dramatists and
    actors, 57;
  Elizabethan players' commendation of, 60;
  resentment with a publisher, 65;
  William Beeston's reminiscences of, 67;
  Stratford gossip about, 74-76;
  present state of biographical knowledge, 81;
  his attitude to philosophy, 143 _seq._;
  his intuition, 149-150;
  concealment of his personality, 150;
  his private sentiments, 151;
  on mercy, 152-153;
  on rulers of states, 154;
  on divine right of kings, 159;
  on obedience, 161;
  on social order, 162-163;
  on freedom of the will, 166;
  on women's will, 168;
  his humour and optimism, 169;
  on patriotism, 170 _seq._;
  on English history, 180;
  on social foibles, 184-186;
  commemoration of, in London, 214 _seq._;
  portraits of, 239

Shakespearean drama, attitude of students and actors to, 1;
  costliness of modern production, 2;
  the simple method and the public, 8;
  Charles Kean's spectacular method, 9;
  Irving's method, 10;
  plays produced by Phelps, 11;
  reliance on the actor, 13;
  in Vienna, 17;
  advantage of its performance constantly and in variety, 23;
  importance of minor rôles of, 115;
  its ethical significance, 164, 165;
  in France, 198 _seq._;
  and British prestige, 229

----, (separate plays):--
  _Antony and Cleopatra_ in Vienna, 17
  _Coriolanus_, political significance of, 164;
    and patriotism, 178
  _Cymbeline_ (III. i., 16-22), on patriotism, 183
  _Hamlet_, Shakespeare's performance of the Ghost, 27;
    early popularity of the play, 29;
    Pepys's criticism of, 95, 99-101;
    the stage abridgment contrasted with the full text, 117-119
  _Henry IV._ (Part I.), Pepys's criticism of, 97, 98
  _Henry V._, meaning of first chorus, 19, 46;
    quoted, 157, 158, 162
  _Julius Cæsar_, preferred by contemporary playgoers to Jonson's
    _Cataline_, 31;
    political significance of, 164
  _Lear, King_, performed at Elizabeth's Court, 36;
    quarto of, 36
  _Love's Labour's Lost_, performed at Court, 34;
    title-page of the quarto, 35
  _Macbeth_, Pepys's criticism of, 104-105;
    quoted, 156
  _Measure for Measure_, ethics of, 164
  _Merry Wives of Windsor, The_, title-page of the quarto, 36;
    Pepys's criticism of, 97
  _Midsummer Night's Dream, A_, Pepys's criticism of, 96
  _Othello_, Pepys's criticism of, 95, 98, 99
  _Richard II._, purport of John of Gaunt's dying speech, 115-116,
  _Romeo and Juliet_, Pepys's criticism of, 96
  _Tempest, The_, Pepys's criticism of, 105-108;
    spectacular production of, at Restoration, 107
  _Troilus and Cressida_ (II. ii., 166), on Aristotle, 144, 145;
    (I. iii., 101-124), on social equilibrium, 163
  _Twelfth Night_, Pepys's criticism of, 96

Sheffield, John, Earl of Mulgrave and Duke of Buckinghamshire, 72

Shoreditch, the theatre in, 227

Sidney, Sir Philip, French translations of _Arcadia_, 199, 204

Somerset, the "proud" Duke of, on Shakespeare, 79

Sophocles, statue of, 233

Southampton, Earl of, and Shakespeare, 72

Southwark, the Globe Theatre at, 227

Spenser, Edmund, Beeston's gossip about, 67

Steevens, George, character of, 191;
    a forged letter by, 192, 193

Sterne, Laurence, in France, 200

Stevenson, R.L., his imaginary discovery of lost works by Shakespeare,

Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare's tomb at, 50;
  Betterton at, 73;
  visitors from Oxford to, 75, 76, 77;
  Shakespeare tradition at, 75, 76;
  Shakespeare memorials at, 218;
  destruction of New Place, 221;
  the monumental committee of, 221;
  sale of Shakespeare's birthplace, 222;
  purchase of New Place site, 223;
  the Birthplace Trust, 223, 224

Suckling, Sir John, his love for Shakespeare, 71

Sudermann, Hermann, 135

Tate, Nahum, his adaptations of Shakespeare, 103, 104

Theatres in Elizabethan London, 36;
  seating arrangements, 39;
  prices of admission, 39;
  the scenery, 40;
  the costumes, 41;
  contrast between their methods of production and those of later
    date, 44

Theatres, at Restoration, 86;
  characteristics of, 87-90.
  (See also Playhouses.)

_Theatrical Review_ of 1763, 190

Theatrical spectacle in Shakespearean drama, effect of excess, 3;
  its want of logic, 4;
  its costliness, 7;
  at the Restoration, 89, 109;
  at the present day, 110

Thomson, James, French study of, 201

Tuke, Sir Samuel, his _Adventures of Five Hours_, 98-99

Taylor, Joseph, original actor in Shakespeare's plays, 61;
  coached by Shakespeare in part of Henry VIII., 63, 71, 72

Vanbrugh, Sir John, 91

Veronese, Paolo, statue of, 233

Victoria, Queen, and Stratford-on-Avon, 222;
  statues of, 237

Vienna, production of _Antony and Cleopatra_ at the Burg-Theater,
  types of subsidised theatres at, 136, 138;
  conservatoire of actors at, 139

Voltaire on Shakespeare, 205, 206

War, popular view of, 177

Ward, John, vicar of Stratford-on-Avon, 74;
  his _Diary_, 74

Warner, Mrs, at Sadler's Wells, 11

Wellington, Duke of, monument to, 238

Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare's exclusion from, 50;
  his cenotaph in, 215-216

Will, freedom of, 166

Women, Shakespeare's views on, 168

Wordsworth, William, French study of, 201

Wycherley, William, 91

Young, Edward, French study of, 201

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Shakespeare and the Modern Stage - with Other Essays" ***

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