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´╗┐Title: A Study of Shakespeare
Author: Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 1837-1909
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Study of Shakespeare" ***



Begun in the winter of 1874, a first instalment of "A Study of
Shakespeare" appeared in the _Fortnightly Review_ for May 1875, and a
second in the number for June 1876, but the completed work was not issued
in book form until June 1880.  In a letter to me (January 31, 1875),
Swinburne said:

   "I am now at work on my long-designed essay or study on the metrical
   progress or development of Shakespeare, as traceable by ear and _not_
   by finger, and the general changes of tone and stages of mind
   expressed or involved in this change or progress of style."

The book was produced at the moment when controversy with regard to the
internal evidence of composition in the writings attributed to
Shakespeare was raging high, and the amusing appendices were added at the
last moment that they might infuriate the pedants of the New Shakespeare
Society.  They amply fulfilled that amiable purpose.

                                         EDMUND GOSSE

September 1918

                  A STUDY OF SHAKESPEARE



The greatest poet of our age has drawn a parallel of elaborate eloquence
between Shakespeare and the sea; and the likeness holds good in many
points of less significance than those which have been set down by the
master-hand.  For two hundred years at least have students of every kind
put forth in every sort of boat on a longer or a shorter voyage of
research across the waters of that unsounded sea.  From the paltriest
fishing-craft to such majestic galleys as were steered by Coleridge and
by Goethe, each division of the fleet has done or has essayed its turn of
work; some busied in dredging alongshore, some taking surveys of this or
that gulf or headland, some putting forth through shine and shadow into
the darkness of the great deep.  Nor does it seem as if there would
sooner be an end to men's labour on this than on the other sea.  But here
a difference is perceptible.  The material ocean has been so far mastered
by the wisdom and the heroism of man that we may look for a time to come
when the mystery shall be manifest of its furthest north and south, and
men resolve the secret of the uttermost parts of the sea: the poles also
may find their Columbus.  But the limits of that other ocean, the laws of
its tides, the motive of its forces, the mystery of its unity and the
secret of its change, no seafarer of us all may ever think thoroughly to
know.  No wind-gauge will help us to the science of its storms, no lead-
line sound for us the depth of its divine and terrible serenity.

As, however, each generation for some two centuries now or more has
witnessed fresh attempts at pilotage and fresh expeditions of discovery
undertaken in the seas of Shakespeare, it may be well to study a little
the laws of navigation in such waters as these, and look well to compass
and rudder before we accept the guidance of a strange helmsman or make
proffer for trial of our own.  There are shoals and quicksands on which
many a seafarer has run his craft aground in time past, and others of
more special peril to adventurers of the present day.  The chances of
shipwreck vary in a certain degree with each new change of vessel and
each fresh muster of hands.  At one time a main rock of offence on which
the stoutest ships of discovery were wont to split was the narrow and
slippery reef of verbal emendation; and upon this our native pilots were
too many of them prone to steer.  Others fell becalmed offshore in a
German fog of philosophic theories, and would not be persuaded that the
house of words they had built in honour of Shakespeare was "dark as
hell," seeing "it had bay-windows transparent as barricadoes, and the
clear-stories towards the south-north were as lustrous as ebony."  These
are not the most besetting dangers of more modern steersmen: what we have
to guard against now is neither a repetition of the pedantries of
Steevens nor a recrudescence of the moralities of Ulrici.  Fresh follies
spring up in new paths of criticism, and fresh labourers in a fruitless
field are at hand to gather them and to garner.  A discovery of some
importance has recently been proclaimed as with blare of vociferous
trumpets and flutter of triumphal flags; no less a discovery than
this--that a singer must be tested by his song.  Well, it is something
that criticism should at length be awake to that wholly indisputable
fact; that learned and laborious men who can hear only with their fingers
should open their eyes to admit such a novelty, their minds to accept
such a paradox, as that a painter should be studied in his pictures and a
poet in his verse.  To the common herd of students and lovers of either
art this may perhaps appear no great discovery; but that it should at
length have dawned even upon the race of commentators is a sign which in
itself might be taken as a presage of new light to come in an epoch of
miracle yet to be.  Unhappily it is as yet but a partial revelation that
has been vouchsafed to them.  To the recognition of the apocalyptic fact
that a workman can only be known by his work, and that without
examination of his method and material that work can hardly be studied to
much purpose, they have yet to add the knowledge of a further truth no
less recondite and abstruse than this; that as the technical work of a
painter appeals to the eye, so the technical work of a poet appeals to
the ear.  It follows that men who have none are as likely to arrive at
any profitable end by the application of metrical tests to the work of
Shakespeare as a blind man by the application of his theory of colours to
the work of Titian.

It is certainly no news to other than professional critics that no means
of study can be more precious or more necessary to a student of
Shakespeare than this of tracing the course of his work by the growth and
development, through various modes and changes, of his metre.  But the
faculty of using such means of study is not to be had for the asking; it
is not to be earned by the most assiduous toil, it is not to be secured
by the learning of years, it is not to be attained by the devotion of a
life.  No proficiency in grammar and arithmetic, no science of numeration
and no scheme of prosody, will be here of the least avail.  Though the
pedagogue were Briareus himself who would thus bring Shakespeare under
the rule of his rod or Shelley within the limit of his line, he would
lack fingers on which to count the syllables that make up their music,
the infinite varieties of measure that complete the changes and the
chimes of perfect verse.  It is but lost labour that they rise up so
early, and so late take rest; not a Scaliger or Salmasius of them all
will sooner solve the riddle of the simplest than of the subtlest melody.
Least of all will the method of a scholiast be likely to serve him as a
clue to the hidden things of Shakespeare.  For all the counting up of
numbers and casting up of figures that a whole university--nay, a whole
universe of pedants could accomplish, no teacher and no learner will ever
be a whit the nearer to the haven where they would be.  In spite of all
tabulated statements and regulated summaries of research, the music which
will not be dissected or defined, the "spirit of sense" which is one and
indivisible from the body or the raiment of speech that clothes it, keeps
safe the secret of its sound.  Yet it is no less a task than this that
the scholiasts have girt themselves to achieve: they will pluck out the
heart not of Hamlet's but of Shakespeare's mystery by the means of a
metrical test; and this test is to be applied by a purely arithmetical
process.  It is useless to pretend or to protest that they work by any
rule but the rule of thumb and finger: that they have no ear to work by,
whatever outward show they may make of unmistakable ears, the very nature
of their project gives full and damning proof.  Properly understood, this
that they call the metrical test is doubtless, as they say, the surest or
the sole sure key to one side of the secret of Shakespeare; but they will
never understand it properly who propose to secure it by the ingenious
device of numbering the syllables and tabulating the results of a
computation which shall attest in exact sequence the quantity, order, and
proportion of single and double endings, of rhyme and blank verse, of
regular lines and irregular, to be traced in each play by the horny eye
and the callous finger of a pedant.  "I am ill at these numbers"; those
in which I have sought to become an expert are numbers of another sort;
but having, from wellnigh the first years I can remember, made of the
study of Shakespeare the chief intellectual business and found in it the
chief spiritual delight of my whole life, I can hardly think myself less
qualified than another to offer an opinion on the metrical points at

The progress and expansion of style and harmony in the successive works
of Shakespeare must in some indefinite degree be perceptible to the
youngest as to the oldest, to the dullest as to the keenest of
Shakespearean students.  But to trace and verify the various shades and
gradations of this progress, the ebb and flow of alternate influences,
the delicate and infinite subtleties of change and growth discernible in
the spirit and the speech of the greatest among poets, is a task not less
beyond the reach of a scholiast than beyond the faculties of a child.  He
who would attempt it with any chance of profit must above all things
remember at starting that the inner and the outer qualities of a poet's
work are of their very nature indivisible; that any criticism is of
necessity worthless which looks to one side only, whether it be to the
outer or to the inner quality of the work; that the fatuity of pedantic
ignorance never devised a grosser absurdity than the attempt to separate
aesthetic from scientific criticism by a strict line of demarcation, and
to bring all critical work under one or the other head of this exhaustive
division.  Criticism without accurate science of the thing criticised can
indeed have no other value than may belong to the genuine record of a
spontaneous impression; but it is not less certain that criticism which
busies itself only with the outer husk or technical shell of a great
artist's work, taking no account of the spirit or the thought which
informs it, cannot have even so much value as this.  Without study of his
forms of metre or his scheme of colours we shall certainly fail to
appreciate or even to apprehend the gist or the worth of a painter's or a
poet's design; but to note down the number of special words and cast up
the sum of superfluous syllables used once or twice or twenty times in
the structure of a single poem will help us exactly as much as a naked
catalogue of the colours employed in a particular picture.  A tabulated
statement or summary of the precise number of blue or green, red or white
draperies to be found in a precise number of paintings by the same hand
will not of itself afford much enlightenment to any but the youngest of
possible students; nor will a mere list of double or single, masculine or
feminine terminations discoverable in a given amount of verse from the
same quarter prove of much use or benefit to an adult reader of common
intelligence.  What such an one requires is the guidance which can be
given by no metremonger or colour-grinder: the suggestion which may help
him to discern at once the cause and the effect of every choice or change
of metre and of colour; which may show him at one glance the reason and
the result of every shade and of every tone which tends to compose and to
complete the gradual scale of their final harmonies.  This method of
study is generally accepted as the only one applicable to the work of a
great painter by any criticism worthy of the name: it should also be
recognised as the sole method by which the work of a great poet can be
studied to any serious purpose.  For the student it can be no less
useful, for the expert it should be no less easy, to trace through its
several stages of expansion and transfiguration the genius of Chaucer or
of Shakespeare, of Milton or of Shelley, than the genius of Titian or of
Raffaelle, of Turner or of Rossetti.  Some great artists there are of
either kind in whom no such process of growth or transformation is
perceptible: of these are Coleridge and Blake; from the sunrise to the
sunset of their working day we can trace no demonstrable increase and no
visible diminution of the divine capacities or the inborn defects of
either man's genius; but not of such, as a rule, are the greatest among
artists of any sort.

Another rock on which modern steersmen of a more skilful hand than these
are yet liable to run through too much confidence is the love of their
own conjectures as to the actual date or the secret history of a
particular play or passage.  To err on this side requires more thought,
more learning, and more ingenuity than we need think to find in a whole
tribe of finger-counters and figure-casters; but the outcome of these
good gifts, if strained or perverted to capricious use, may prove no less
barren of profit than the labours of a pedant on the letter of the text.
It is a tempting exercise of intelligence for a dexterous and keen-witted
scholar to apply his solid learning and his vivid fancy to the detection
or the interpretation of some new or obscure point in a great man's life
or work; but none the less is it a perilous pastime to give the reins to
a learned fancy, and let loose conjecture on the trail of any dubious
crotchet or the scent of any supposed allusion that may spring up in the
way of its confident and eager quest.  To start a new solution of some
crucial problem, to track some new undercurrent of concealed significance
in a passage hitherto neglected or misconstrued, is to a critic of this
higher class a delight as keen as that of scientific discovery to
students of another sort: the pity is that he can bring no such certain
or immediate test to verify the value of his discovery as lies ready to
the hand of the man of science.  Whether he have lit upon a windfall or a
mare's nest can be decided by no direct proof, but only by time and the
general acceptance of competent judges; and this cannot often be
reasonably expected for theories which can appeal for support or
confirmation to no positive evidence, but at best to a cloudy and
shifting probability.  What personal or political allusions may lurk
under the text of Shakespeare we can never know, and should consequently
forbear to hang upon a hypothesis of this floating and nebulous kind any
serious opinion which might gravely affect our estimate of his work or
his position in regard to other men, with whom some public or private
interest may possibly have brought him into contact or collision.

* * * * *

The aim of the present study is simply to set down what the writer
believes to be certain demonstrable truths as to the progress and
development of style, the outer and the inner changes of manner as of
matter, of method as of design, which may be discerned in the work of
Shakespeare.  The principle here adopted and the views here put forward
have not been suddenly discovered or lightly taken up out of any desire
to make a show of theoretical ingenuity.  For years past I have held and
maintained, in private discussion with friends and fellow-students, the
opinions which I now submit to more public judgment.  How far they may
coincide with those advanced by others I cannot say, and have not been
careful to inquire.  The mere fact of coincidence or of dissent on such a
question is of less importance than the principle accepted by either
student as the groundwork of his theory, the mainstay of his opinion.  It
is no part of my project or my hope to establish the actual date of any
among the various plays, or to determine point by point the lineal order
of their succession.  I have examined no table or catalogue of recent or
of earlier date, from the time of Malone onwards, with a view to confute
by my reasoning the conclusions of another, or by the assistance of his
theories to corroborate my own.  It is impossible to fix or decide by
inner or outer evidence the precise order of production, much less of
composition, which critics of the present or the past may have set their
wits to verify in vain; but it is quite possible to show that the work of
Shakespeare is naturally divisible into classes which may serve us to
distinguish and determine as by landmarks the several stages or periods
of his mind and art.

Of these the three chief periods or stages are so unmistakably indicated
by the mere text itself, and so easily recognisable by the veriest tiro
in the school of Shakespeare, that even were I as certain of being the
first to point them out as I am conscious of having long since discovered
and verified them without assistance or suggestion from any but
Shakespeare himself, I should be disposed to claim but little credit for
a discovery which must in all likelihood have been forestalled by the
common insight of some hundred or more students in time past.  The
difficulty begins with the really debatable question of subdivisions.
There are certain plays which may be said to hang on the borderland
between one period and the next, with one foot lingering and one
advanced; and these must be classed according to the dominant note of
their style, the greater or lesser proportion of qualities proper to the
earlier or the later stage of thought and writing.  At one time I was
inclined to think the whole catalogue more accurately divisible into four
classes; but the line of demarcation between the third and fourth would
have been so much fainter than those which mark off the first period from
the second, and the second from the third, that it seemed on the whole a
more correct and adequate arrangement to assume that the last period
might be subdivided if necessary into a first and second stage.  This
somewhat precise and pedantic scheme of study I have adopted from no love
of rigid or formal system, but simply to make the method of my critical
process as clear as the design.  That design is to examine by internal
evidence alone the growth and the expression of spirit and of speech, the
ebb and flow of thought and style, discernible in the successive periods
of Shakespeare's work; to study the phases of mind, the changes of tone,
the passage or progress from an old manner to a new, the reversion or
relapse from a later to an earlier habit, which may assuredly be traced
in the modulations of his varying verse, but can only be traced by ear
and not by finger.  I have busied myself with no baseless speculations as
to the possible or probable date of the first appearance of this play or
of that on the stage; and it is not unlikely that the order of succession
here adopted or suggested may not always coincide with the chronological
order of production; nor will the principle or theory by which I have
undertaken to class the successive plays of each period be affected or
impaired though it should chance that a play ranked by me as belonging to
a later stage of work should actually have been produced earlier than
others which in my lists are assigned to a subsequent date.  It is not,
so to speak, the literal but the spiritual order which I have studied to
observe and to indicate: the periods which I seek to define belong not to
chronology but to art.  No student need be reminded how common a thing it
is to recognise in the later work of a great artist some partial
reappearance of his early tone or manner, some passing return to his
early lines of work and to habits of style since modified or abandoned.
Such work, in part at least, may properly be said to belong rather to the
earlier stage whose manner it resumes than to the later stage at which it
was actually produced, and in which it stands out as a marked exception
among the works of the same period.  A famous and a most singularly
beautiful example of this reflorescence as in a Saint Martin's summer of
undecaying genius is the exquisite and crowning love-scene in the opera
or "ballet-tragedy" of _Psyche_, written in his sixty-fifth year by the
august Roman hand of Pierre Corneille; a lyric symphony of spirit and of
song fulfilled with all the colour and all the music that autumn could
steal from spring if October had leave to go a Maying in some Olympian
masquerade of melody and sunlight.  And it is not easier, easy as it is,
to discern and to define the three main stages of Shakespeare's work and
progress, than to classify under their several heads the representative
plays belonging to each period by the law of their nature, if not by the
accident of their date.  There are certain dominant qualities which do on
the whole distinguish not only the later from the earlier plays, but the
second period from the first, the third period from the second; and it is
with these qualities alone that the higher criticism, be it aesthetic or
scientific, has properly anything to do.

A new method of solution has been applied to various difficulties which
have been discovered or invented in the text by the care or the
perversity of recent commentators, whose principle of explanation is
easier to abuse than to use with any likelihood of profit.  It is at
least simple enough for the simplest of critics to apply or misapply:
whenever they see or suspect an inequality or an incongruity which may be
wholly imperceptible to eyes uninured to the use of their spectacles,
they assume at once the presence of another workman, the intrusion of a
stranger's hand.  This supposition of a double authorship is naturally as
impossible to refute as to establish by other than internal evidence and
appeal to the private judgment or perception of the reader.  But it is no
better than the last resource of an empiric, the last refuge of a
sciolist; a refuge which the soundest of scholars will be slowest to
seek, a resource which the most competent of critics will be least ready
to adopt.  Once admitted as a principle of general application, there are
no lengths to which it may not carry, there are none to which it has not
carried, the audacious fatuity and the arrogant incompetence of tamperers
with the authentic text.  Recent editors who have taken on themselves the
high office of guiding English youth in its first study of Shakespeare
have proposed to excise or to obelise whole passages which the delight
and wonder of youth and age alike, of the rawest as of the ripest among
students, have agreed to consecrate as examples of his genius at its
highest.  In the last trumpet-notes of Macbeth's defiance and despair, in
the last rallying cry of the hero reawakened in the tyrant at his utmost
hour of need, there have been men and scholars, Englishmen and editors,
who have detected the alien voice of a pretender, the false ring of a
foreign blast that was not blown by Shakespeare; words that for centuries
past have touched with fire the hearts of thousands in each age since
they were first inspired--words with the whole sound in them of battle or
a breaking sea, with the whole soul of pity and terror mingled and melted
into each other in the fierce last speech of a spirit grown "aweary of
the sun," have been calmly transferred from the account of Shakespeare to
the score of Middleton.  And this, forsooth, the student of the future is
to accept on the authority of men who bring to the support of their
decision the unanswerable plea of years spent in the collation and
examination of texts never hitherto explored and compared with such
energy of learned labour.  If this be the issue of learning and of
industry, the most indolent and ignorant of readers who retains his
natural capacity to be moved and mastered by the natural delight of
contact with heavenly things is better off by far than the most studious
and strenuous of all scholiasts who ever claimed acquiescence or
challenged dissent on the strength of his lifelong labours and
hard-earned knowledge of the letter of the text.  Such an one is indeed
"in a parlous state"; and any boy whose heart first begins to burn within
him, who feels his blood kindle and his spirit dilate, his pulse leap and
his eyes lighten, over a first study of Shakespeare, may say to such a
teacher with better reason than Touchstone said to Corin, "Truly, thou
art damned; like an ill-roasted egg, all on one side."  Nor could charity
itself hope much profit for him from the moving appeal and the pious
prayer which temper that severity of sentence--"Wilt thou rest damned?
God help thee, shallow man!  God make incision in thee!  Thou art raw."
And raw he is like to remain for all his learning, and for all incisions
that can be made in the horny hide of a self-conceit to be pierced by the
puncture of no man's pen.  It was bad enough while theorists of this
breed confined themselves to the suggestion of a possible partnership
with Fletcher, a possible interpolation by Jonson; but in the descent
from these to the alleged adulteration of the text by Middleton and
Rowley we have surely sounded the very lowest depth of folly attainable
by the utmost alacrity in sinking which may yet be possible to the
bastard brood of Scriblerus.  For my part, I shall not be surprised
though the next discoverer should assure us that half at least of
_Hamlet_ is evidently due to the collaboration of Heywood, while the
greater part of _Othello_ is as clearly assignable to the hand of

Akin to this form of folly, but less pernicious though not more
profitable, is the fancy of inventing some share for Shakespeare in the
composition of plays which the veriest insanity of conjecture or caprice
could not venture to lay wholly to his charge.  This fancy, comparatively
harmless as it is, requires no ground of proof to go upon, no prop of
likelihood to support it; without so much help as may be borrowed from
the faintest and most fitful of traditions, it spins its own evidence
spider-like out of its own inner conscience or conceit, and proffers it
with confident complacency for men's acceptance.  Here again I cannot but
see a mere waste of fruitless learning and bootless ingenuity.  That
Shakespeare began by retouching and recasting the work of elder and
lesser men we all know; that he may afterwards have set his hand to the
task of adding or altering a line or a passage here and there in some few
of the plays brought out under his direction as manager or proprietor of
a theatre is of course possible, but can neither be affirmed nor denied
with any profit in default of the least fragment of historic or
traditional evidence.  Any attempt to verify the imaginary touch of his
hand in plays of whose history we know no more than that they were acted
on the boards of his theatre can be but a diversion for the restless
leisure of ingenious and ambitious scholars; it will give no clue by
which the student who simply seeks to know what can be known with
certainty of the poet and his work may hope to be guided towards any safe
issue or trustworthy result.  Less pardonable and more presumptuous than
this is the pretension of minor critics to dissect an authentic play of
Shakespeare scene by scene, and assign different parts of the same poem
to different dates by the same pedagogic rules of numeration and
mensuration which they would apply to the general question of the order
and succession of his collective works.  This vivisection of a single
poem is not defensible as a freak of scholarship, an excursion beyond the
bounds of bare proof, from which the wanderer may chance to bring back,
if not such treasure as he went out to seek, yet some stray godsend or
rare literary windfall which may serve to excuse his indulgence in the
seemingly profitless pastime of a truant disposition.  It is a pure
impertinence to affirm with oracular assurance what might perhaps be
admissible as a suggestion offered with the due diffidence of modest and
genuine scholarship; to assert on the strength of a private pedant's
personal intuition that such must be the history or such the composition
of a great work whose history he alone could tell, whose composition he
alone could explain, who gave it to us as his genius had given it to him.

From these several rocks and quicksands I trust at least to keep my
humbler course at a safe distance, and steer clear of all sandy shallows
of theory or sunken shoals of hypothesis on which no pilot can be certain
of safe anchorage; avoiding all assumption, though never so plausible,
for which no ground but that of fancy can be shown, all suggestion though
never so ingenious for which no proof but that of conjecture can be
advanced.  For instance, I shall neither assume nor accept the theory of
a double authorship or of a double date by which the supposed
inequalities may be accounted for, the supposed difficulties may be swept
away, which for certain readers disturb the study of certain plays of
Shakespeare.  Only where universal tradition and the general concurrence
of all reasonable critics past and present combine to indicate an
unmistakable difference of touch or an unmistakable diversity of date
between this and that portion of the same play, or where the internal
evidence of interpolation perceptible to the most careless and undeniable
by the most perverse of readers is supported by the public judgment of
men qualified to express and competent to defend an opinion, have I
thought it allowable to adopt this facile method of explanation.  No
scholar, for example, believes in the single authorship of _Pericles_ or
_Andronicus_; none, I suppose, would now question the part taken by some
hireling or journeyman in the arrangement or completion for the stage of
_Timon of Athens_; and few probably would refuse to admit a doubt of the
total authenticity or uniform workmanship of the _Taming of the Shrew_.
As few, I hope, are prepared to follow the fantastic and confident
suggestions of every unquiet and arrogant innovator who may seek to
append his name to the long scroll of Shakespearean parasites by the
display of a brand-new hypothesis as to the uncertain date or authorship
of some passage or some play which has never before been subjected to the
scientific scrutiny of such a pertinacious analyst.  The more modest
design of the present study has in part been already indicated, and will
explain as it proceeds if there be anything in it worth explanation.  It
is no part of my ambition to loose the Gordian knots which others who
found them indissoluble have sought in vain to cut in sunder with blunter
swords than the Macedonian; but after so many adventures and attempts
there may perhaps yet be room for an attempt yet unessayed; for a study
by the ear alone of Shakespeare's metrical progress, and a study by light
of the knowledge thus obtained of the corresponsive progress within,
which found expression and embodiment in these outward and visible
changes.  The one study will be then seen to be the natural complement
and the inevitable consequence of the other; and the patient pursuit of
the simpler and more apprehensible object of research will appear as the
only sure method by which a reasonable and faithful student may think to
attain so much as the porch or entrance to that higher knowledge which no
faithful and reasonable study of Shakespeare can ever for a moment fail
to keep in sight as the haven of its final hope, the goal of its ultimate

When Christopher Marlowe came up to London from Cambridge, a boy in
years, a man in genius, and a god in ambition, he found the stage which
he was born to transfigure and re-create by the might and masterdom of
his genius encumbered with a litter of rude rhyming farces and tragedies
which the first wave of his imperial hand swept so utterly out of sight
and hearing that hardly by piecing together such fragments of that buried
rubbish as it is now possible to unearth can we rebuild in imagination so
much of the rough and crumbling walls that fell before the trumpet-blast
of _Tamburlaine_ as may give us some conception of the rabble dynasty of
rhymers whom he overthrew--of the citadel of dramatic barbarism which was
stormed and sacked at the first charge of the young conqueror who came to
lead English audiences and to deliver English poetry

   From jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits,
   And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay.

When we speak of the drama that existed before the coming of Marlowe, and
that vanished at his advent, we think usually of the rhyming plays
written wholly or mainly in ballad verse of fourteen syllables--of the
_Kings Darius_ and _Cambyses_, the _Promos and Cassandra_ of Whetstone,
or the _Sir Clyomon and Sir Clamydes_ of George Peele.  If we turn from
these abortions of tragedy to the metrical farces which may fairly be
said to contain the germ or embryo of English comedy (a form of dramatic
art which certainly owes nothing to the father of our tragic stage), we
find far more of hope and promise in the broad free stretches of the
flagellant head-master of Eton and the bibulous Bishop of Bath and Wells;
and must admit that hands used to wield the crosier or the birch proved
themselves more skilful at the lighter labours of the stage, more
successful even in the secular and bloodless business of a field neither
clerical nor scholastic, than any tragic rival of the opposite party to
that so jovially headed by Orbilius Udall and Silenus Still.  These twin
pillars of church and school and stage were strong enough to support on
the shoulders of their authority the first crude fabric or formless model
of our comic theatre, while the tragic boards were still creaking and
cracking under the jingling canter of _Cambyses_ or the tuneless tramp of
_Gorboduc_.  This one play which the charity of Sidney excepts from his
general anathema on the nascent stage of England has hitherto been
erroneously described as written in blank verse; an error which I can
only attribute to the prevalence of a groundless assumption that whatever
is neither prose nor rhyme must of necessity be definable as blank verse.
But the measure, I must repeat, which was adopted by the authors of
_Gorboduc_ is by no means so definable.  Blank it certainly is; but verse
it assuredly is not.  There can be no verse where there is no modulation,
no rhythm where there is no music.  Blank verse came into life in England
at the birth of the shoemaker's son who had but to open his yet beardless
lips, and the high-born poem which had Sackville to father and Sidney to
sponsor was silenced and eclipsed for ever among the poor plebeian crowd
of rhyming shadows that waited in death on the noble nothingness of its
patrician shade.

These, I suppose, are the first or the only plays whose names recur to
the memory of the general reader when he thinks of the English stage
before Marlowe; but there was, I suspect, a whole class of plays then
current, and more or less supported by popular favour, of which hardly a
sample is now extant, and which cannot be classed with such as these.  The
poets or rhymesters who supplied them had already seen good to clip the
cumbrous and bedraggled skirts of those dreary verses, run all to seed
and weed, which jingled their thin bells at the tedious end of fourteen
weary syllables; and for this curtailment of the shambling and sprawling
lines which had hitherto done duty as tragic metre some credit may be due
to these obscure purveyors of forgotten ware for the second epoch of our
stage: if indeed, as I presume, we may suppose that this reform, such as
it was, had begun before the time of Marlowe; otherwise, no doubt, little
credit would be due to men who with so high an example before them were
content simply to snip away the tags and fringes, to patch the seams and
tatters, of the ragged coat of rhyme which they might have exchanged for
that royal robe of heroic verse wherewith he had clothed the ungrown
limbs of limping and lisping tragedy.  But if these also may be reckoned
among his precursors, the dismissal from stage service of the dolorous
and drudging metre employed by the earliest school of theatrical
rhymesters must be taken to mark a real step in advance; and in that case
we possess at least a single example of the rhyming tragedies which had
their hour between the last plays written wholly or partially in ballad
metre and the first plays written in blank verse.  The tragedy of
_Selimus, Emperor of the Turks_, published in 1594, {30} may then serve
to indicate this brief and obscure period of transition.  Whole scenes of
this singular play are written in rhyming iambics, some in the measure of
_Don Juan_, some in the measure of _Venus and Adonis_.  The couplets and
quatrains so much affected and so reluctantly abandoned by Shakespeare
after the first stage of his dramatic progress are in no other play that
I know of diversified by this alternate variation of _sesta_ with _ottava
rima_.  This may have been an exceptional experiment due merely to the
caprice of one eccentric rhymester; but in any case we may assume it to
mark the extreme limit, the ultimate development of rhyming tragedy after
the ballad metre had been happily exploded.  The play is on other grounds
worth attention as a sign of the times, though on poetical grounds it is
assuredly worth none.  Part of it is written in blank verse, or at least
in rhymeless lines; so that after all it probably followed in the wake of
_Tamburlaine_, half adopting and half rejecting the innovations of that
fiery reformer, who wrought on the old English stage no less a miracle
than _Hernani_ on the French stage in the days of our fathers.  That
_Selimus_ was published four years later than _Tamburlaine_, in the year
following the death of Marlowe, proves of course nothing as to the date
of its production; and even if it was written and acted in the year of
its publication, it undoubtedly in the main represents the work of a
prior era to the reformation of the stage by Marlowe.  The level
regularity of its unrhymed scenes is just like that of the weaker
portions of _Titus Andronicus_ and the _First Part of King Henry the
Sixth_--the opening scene, for example, of either play.  With
_Andronicus_ it has also in common the quality of exceptional
monstrosity, a delight in the parade of mutilation as well as of
massacre.  It seems to me possible that the same hand may have been at
work on all three plays; for that Marlowe's is traceable in those parts
of the two retouched by Shakespeare which bear no traces of his touch is
a theory to the full as absurd as that which would impute to Shakespeare
the charge of their entire composition.

The revolution effected by Marlowe naturally raised the same cry against
its author as the revolution effected by Hugo.  That Shakespeare should
not at once have enlisted under his banner is less inexplicable than it
may seem.  He was naturally addicted to rhyme, though if we put aside the
Sonnets we must admit that in rhyme he never did anything worth Marlowe's
_Hero and Leander_: he did not, like Marlowe, see at once that it must be
reserved for less active forms of poetry than the tragic drama; and he
was personally, it seems, in opposition to Marlowe and his school of
academic playwrights--the band of bards in which Oxford and Cambridge
were respectively and so respectably represented by Peele and Greene.  But
in his very first plays, comic or tragic or historic, we can see the
collision and conflict of the two influences; his evil angel, rhyme,
yielding step by step and note by note to the strong advance of that
better genius who came to lead him into the loftier path of Marlowe.
There is not a single passage in _Titus Andronicus_ more Shakespearean
than the magnificent quatrain of Tamora upon the eagle and the little
birds; but the rest of the scene in which we come upon it, and the whole
scene preceding, are in blank verse of more variety and vigour than we
find in the baser parts of the play; and these if any scenes we may
surely attribute to Shakespeare.  Again, the last battle of Talbot seems
to me as undeniably the master's work as the scene in the Temple Gardens
or the courtship of Margaret by Suffolk; this latter indeed, full as it
is of natural and vivid grace, may perhaps not be beyond the highest
reach of one or two among the rivals of his earliest years of work; while
as we are certain that he cannot have written the opening scene, that he
was at any stage of his career incapable of it, so may we believe as well
as hope that he is guiltless of any complicity in that detestable part of
the play which attempts to defile the memory of the virgin saviour of her
country. {33}  In style it is not, I think, above the range of George
Peele at his best: and to have written even the last of those scenes can
add but little discredit to the memory of a man already disgraced as the
defamer of Eleanor of Castile; while it would be a relief to feel assured
that there was but one English poet of any genius who could be capable of
either villainy.

In this play, then, more decisively than in _Titus Andronicus_, we find
Shakespeare at work (so to speak) with both hands--with his left hand of
rhyme, and his right hand of blank verse.  The left is loth to forego the
practice of its peculiar music; yet, as the action of the right grows
freer and its touch grows stronger, it becomes more and more certain that
the other must cease playing, under pain of producing mere discord and
disturbance in the scheme of tragic harmony.  We imagine that the writer
must himself have felt the scene of the roses to be pitched in a truer
key than the noble scene of parting between the old hero and his son on
the verge of desperate battle and certain death.  This is the last and
loftiest farewell note of rhyming tragedy; still, in _King Richard II_,
and in _Romeo and Juliet_, it struggles for awhile to keep its footing,
but now more visibly in vain.  The rhymed scenes in these plays are too
plainly the survivals of a ruder and feebler stage of work; they cannot
hold their own in the new order with even such discordant effect of
incongruous excellence and inharmonious beauty as belongs to the death-
scene of the Talbots when matched against the quarrelling scene of
Somerset and York.  Yet the briefest glance over the plays of the first
epoch in the work of Shakespeare will suffice to show how protracted was
the struggle and how gradual the defeat of rhyme.  Setting aside the
retouched plays, we find on the list one tragedy, two histories, and four
if not five comedies, which the least critical reader would attribute to
this first epoch of work.  In three of these comedies rhyme can hardly be
said to be beaten; that is, the rhyming scenes are on the whole equal to
the unrhymed in power and beauty.  In the single tragedy, and in one of
the two histories, we may say that rhyme fights hard for life, but is
undeniably worsted; that is, they contain as to quantity a large
proportion of rhymed verse, but as to quality the rhymed part bears no
proportion whatever to the unrhymed.  In two scenes we may say that the
whole heart or spirit of _Romeo and Juliet_ is summed up and distilled
into perfect and pure expression; and these two are written in blank
verse of equable and blameless melody.  Outside the garden scene in the
second act and the balcony scene in the third, there is much that is
fanciful and graceful, much of elegiac pathos and fervid if fantastic
passion; much also of superfluous rhetoric and (as it were) of wordy
melody, which flows and foams hither and thither into something of
extravagance and excess; but in these two there is no flaw, no outbreak,
no superflux, and no failure.  Throughout certain scenes of the third and
fourth acts I think it may be reasonably and reverently allowed that the
river of verse has broken its banks, not as yet through the force and
weight of its gathering stream, but merely through the weakness of the
barriers or boundaries found insufficient to confine it.  And here we may
with deference venture on a guess why Shakespeare was so long so loth to
forego the restraint of rhyme.  When he wrote, and even when he rewrote
or at least retouched, his youngest tragedy he had not yet strength to
walk straight in the steps of the mighty master, but two months older
than himself by birth, whose foot never from the first faltered in the
arduous path of severer tragic verse.  The loveliest of love-plays is
after all a child of "his salad days, when he was green in judgment,"
though assuredly not "cold in blood"--a physical condition as difficult
to conceive of Shakespeare at any age as of Cleopatra.  It is in the
scenes of vehement passion, of ardour and of agony, that we feel the
comparative weakness of a yet ungrown hand, the tentative uncertain grasp
of a stripling giant.  The two utterly beautiful scenes are not of this
kind; they deal with simple joy and with simple sorrow, with the gladness
of meeting and the sadness of parting love; but between and behind them
come scenes of more fierce emotion, full of surprise, of violence, of
unrest; and with these the poet is not yet (if I dare say so) quite
strong enough to deal.  Apollo has not yet put on the sinews of Hercules.
At a later date we may fancy or may find that when the Herculean muscle
is full-grown the voice in him which was as the voice of Apollo is for a
passing moment impaired.  In _Measure for Measure_, where the adult and
gigantic god has grappled with the greatest and most terrible of energies
and of passions, we miss the music of a younger note that rang through
_Romeo and Juliet_; but before the end this too revives, as pure, as
sweet, as fresh, but richer now and deeper than its first clear notes of
the morning, in the heavenly harmony of _Cymbeline_ and _The Tempest_.

The same effusion or effervescence of words is perceptible in _King
Richard II_. as in the greater (and the less good) part of _Romeo and
Juliet_; and not less perceptible is the perpetual inclination of the
poet to revert for help to rhyme, to hark back in search of support
towards the half-forsaken habits of his poetic nonage.  Feeling his
foothold insecure on the hard and high ascent of the steeps of rhymeless
verse, he stops and slips back ever and anon towards the smooth and
marshy meadow whence he has hardly begun to climb.  Any student who
should wish to examine the conditions of the struggle at its height may
be content to analyse the first act of this the first historical play of
Shakespeare.  As the tragedy moves onward, and the style gathers strength
while the action gathers speed,--as (to borrow the phrase so admirably
applied by Coleridge to Dryden) the poet's chariot-wheels get hot by
driving fast,--the temptation of rhyme grows weaker, and the hand grows
firmer which before lacked strength to wave it off.  The one thing wholly
or greatly admirable in this play is the exposition of the somewhat
pitiful but not unpitiable character of King Richard.  Among the scenes
devoted to this exposition I of course include the whole of the death-
scene of Gaunt, as well the part which precedes as the part which follows
the actual appearance of his nephew on the stage; and into these scenes
the intrusion of rhyme is rare and brief.  They are written almost wholly
in pure and fluent rather than vigorous or various blank verse; though I
cannot discern in any of them an equality in power and passion to the
magnificent scene of abdication in Marlowe's _Edward II_.  This play, I
think, must undoubtedly be regarded as the immediate model of
Shakespeare's; and the comparison is one of inexhaustible interest to all
students of dramatic poetry.  To the highest height of the earlier master
I do not think that the mightier poet who was as yet in great measure his
pupil has ever risen in this the first (as I take it) of his historic
plays.  Of composition and proportion he has perhaps already a somewhat
better idea.  But in grasp of character, always excepting the one central
figure of the piece, we find his hand as yet the unsteadier of the two.
Even after a lifelong study of this as of all other plays of Shakespeare,
it is for me at least impossible to determine what I doubt if the poet
could himself have clearly defined--the main principle, the motive and
the meaning of such characters as York, Norfolk, and Aumerle.  The
Gaveston and the Mortimer of Marlowe are far more solid and definite
figures than these; yet none after that of Richard is more important to
the scheme of Shakespeare.  They are fitful, shifting, vaporous: their
outlines change, withdraw, dissolve, and "leave not a rack behind."  They,
not Antony, are like the clouds of evening described in the most glorious
of so many glorious passages put long afterwards by Shakespeare into the
mouth of his latest Roman hero.  They "cannot hold this visible shape" in
which the poet at first presents them even long enough to leave a
distinct image, a decisive impression for better or for worse, upon the
mind's eye of the most simple and open-hearted reader.  They are ghosts,
not men; _simulacra modis pallentia miris_.  You cannot descry so much as
the original intention of the artist's hand which began to draw and
relaxed its hold of the brush before the first lines were fairly traced.
And in the last, the worst and weakest scene of all, in which York pleads
with Bolingbroke for the death of the son whose mother pleads against her
husband for his life, there is a final relapse into rhyme and rhyming
epigram, into the "jigging vein" dried up (we might have hoped) long
since by the very glance of Marlowe's Apollonian scorn.  It would be
easy, agreeable, and irrational to ascribe without further evidence than
its badness this misconceived and misshapen scene to some other hand than
Shakespeare's.  It is below the weakest, the rudest, the hastiest scene
attributable to Marlowe; it is false, wrong, artificial beyond the worst
of his bad and boyish work; but it has a certain likeness for the worse
to the crudest work of Shakespeare.  It is difficult to say to what
depths of bad taste the writer of certain passages in _Venus and Adonis_
could not fall before his genius or his judgment was full-grown.  To
invent an earlier play on the subject and imagine this scene a surviving
fragment, a floating waif of that imaginary wreck, would in my opinion be
an uncritical mode of evading the question at issue.  It must be regarded
as the last hysterical struggle of rhyme to maintain its place in
tragedy; and the explanation, I would fain say the excuse, of its
reappearance may perhaps be simply this; that the poet was not yet
dramatist enough to feel for each of his characters an equal or
proportionate regard; to divide and disperse his interest among the
various crowd of figures which claim each in its place, and each after
its kind, fair and adequate share of their creator's attention and
sympathy.  His present interest was here wholly concentrated on the
single figure of Richard; and when that for the time was absent, the
subordinate figures became to him but heavy and vexatious encumbrances,
to be shifted on and off the stage with as much of haste and as little of
labour as might be possible to an impatient and uncertain hand.  Now all
tragic poets, I presume, from AEschylus the godlike father of them all to
the last aspirant who may struggle after the traces of his steps, have
been poets before they were tragedians; their lips have had power to sing
before their feet had strength to tread the stage, before their hands had
skill to paint or carve figures from the life.  With Shakespeare it was
so as certainly as with Shelley, as evidently as with Hugo.  It is in the
great comic poets, in Moliere and in Congreve, {42} our own lesser
Moliere, so far inferior in breadth and depth, in tenderness and
strength, to the greatest writer of the "great age," yet so near him in
science and in skill, so like him in brilliance and in force;--it is in
these that we find theatrical instinct twin-born with imaginative
impulse, dramatic power with inventive perception.

In the second historic play which can be wholly ascribed to Shakespeare
we still find the poetic or rhetorical duality for the most part in
excess of the dramatic; but in _King Richard III_. the bonds of rhyme at
least are fairly broken.  This only of all Shakespeare's plays belongs
absolutely to the school of Marlowe.  The influence of the elder master,
and that influence alone, is perceptible from end to end.  Here at last
we can see that Shakespeare has decidedly chosen his side.  It is as
fiery in passion, as single in purpose, as rhetorical often though never
so inflated in expression, as _Tamburlaine_ itself.  It is doubtless a
better piece of work than Marlowe ever did; I dare not say, than Marlowe
ever could have done.  It is not for any man to measure, above all is it
not for any workman in the field of tragic poetry lightly to take on
himself the responsibility or the authority to pronounce, what it is that
Christopher Marlowe could not have done; but, dying as he did and when he
did, it is certain that he has not left us a work so generally and so
variously admirable as _King Richard III_.  As certain is it that but for
him this play could never have been written.  At a later date the subject
would have been handled otherwise, had the poet chosen to handle it at
all; and in his youth he could not have treated it as he has without the
guidance and example of Marlowe.  Not only are its highest qualities of
energy, of exuberance, of pure and lofty style, of sonorous and
successive harmonies, the very qualities that never fail to distinguish
those first dramatic models which were fashioned by his ardent hand; the
strenuous and single-handed grasp of character, the motion and action of
combining and contending powers, which here for the first time we find
sustained with equal and unfaltering vigour throughout the length of a
whole play, we perceive, though imperfectly, in the work of Marlowe
before we can trace them even as latent or infant forces in the work of

In the exquisite and delightful comedies of his earliest period we can
hardly discern any sign, any promise of them at all.  One only of these,
the _Comedy of Errors_, has in it anything of dramatic composition and
movement; and what it has of these, I need hardly remind the most cursory
of students, is due by no means to Shakespeare.  What is due to him, and
to him alone, is the honour of having embroidered on the naked old canvas
of comic action those flowers of elegiac beauty which vivify and
diversify the scene of Plautus as reproduced by the art of Shakespeare.
In the next generation so noble a poet as Rotrou, whom perhaps it might
not be inaccurate to call the French Marlowe, and who had (what Marlowe
had not) the gift of comic as well as of tragic excellence, found nothing
of this kind and little of any kind to add to the old poet's admirable
but arid sketch of farcical incident or accident.  But in this light and
lovely work of the youth of Shakespeare we find for the first time that
strange and sweet admixture of farce with fancy, of lyric charm with
comic effect, which recurs so often in his later work, from the date of
_As You Like It_ to the date of the _Winter's Tale_, and which no later
poet had ventured to recombine in the same play till our own time had
given us, in the author of _Tragaldabas_, one who could alternate without
confusing the woodland courtship of Eliseo and Caprina with the tavern
braggardism of Grif and Minotoro.  The sweetness and simplicity of lyric
or elegiac loveliness which fill and inform the scenes where Adriana, her
sister, and the Syracusan Antipholus exchange the expression of their
errors and their loves, belong to Shakespeare alone; and may help us to
understand how the young poet who at the outset of his divine career had
struck into this fresh untrodden path of poetic comedy should have been,
as we have seen that he was, loth to learn from another and an alien
teacher the hard and necessary lesson that this flowery path would never
lead him towards the loftier land of tragic poetry.  For as yet, even in
the nominally or intentionally tragic and historic work of the first
period, we descry always and everywhere and still preponderant the lyric
element, the fantastic element, or even the elegiac element.  All these
queens and heroines of history and tragedy have rather an Ovidian than a
Sophoclean grace of bearing and of speech.

The example afforded by the _Comedy of Errors_ would suffice to show that
rhyme, however inadequate for tragic use, is by no means a bad instrument
for romantic comedy.  In another of Shakespeare's earliest works, which
might almost be described as a lyrical farce, rhyme plays also a great
part; but the finest passage, the real crown and flower of _Love's
Labour's Lost_, is the praise or apology of love spoken by Biron in blank
verse.  This is worthy of Marlowe for dignity and sweetness, but has also
the grace of a light and radiant fancy enamoured of itself, begotten
between thought and mirth, a child-god with grave lips and laughing eyes,
whose inspiration is nothing akin to Marlowe's.  In this as in the
overture of the play and in its closing scene, but especially in the
noble passage which winds up for a year the courtship of Biron and
Rosaline, the spirit which informs the speech of the poet is finer of
touch and deeper of tone than in the sweetest of the serious interludes
of the _Comedy of Errors_.  The play is in the main a yet lighter thing,
and more wayward and capricious in build, more formless and fantastic in
plot, more incomposite altogether than that first heir of Shakespeare's
comic invention, which on its own ground is perfect in its consistency,
blameless in composition and coherence; while in _Love's Labour's Lost_
the fancy for the most part runs wild as the wind, and the structure of
the story is as that of a house of clouds which the wind builds and
unbuilds at pleasure.  Here we find a very riot of rhymes, wild and
wanton in their half-grown grace as a troop of "young satyrs,
tender-hoofed and ruddy-horned"; during certain scenes we seem almost to
stand again by the cradle of new-born comedy, and hear the first lisping
and laughing accents run over from her baby lips in bubbling rhyme; but
when the note changes we recognise the speech of gods.  For the first
time in our literature the higher key of poetic or romantic comedy is
finely touched to a fine issue.  The divine instrument fashioned by
Marlowe for tragic purposes alone has found at once its new sweet use in
the hands of Shakespeare.  The way is prepared for _As You Like It_ and
the _Tempest_; the language is discovered which will befit the lips of
Rosalind and Miranda.

What was highest as poetry in the _Comedy of Errors_ was mainly in rhyme;
all indeed, we might say, between the prelude spoken by AEgeon and the
appearance in the last scene of his wife: in _Love's Labour's Lost_ what
was highest was couched wholly in blank verse; in the _Two Gentlemen of
Verona_ rhyme has fallen seemingly into abeyance, and there are no
passages of such elegiac beauty as in the former, of such exalted
eloquence as in the latter of these plays; there is an even sweetness, a
simple equality of grace in thought and language which keeps the whole
poem in tune, written as it is in a subdued key of unambitious harmony.
In perfect unity and keeping the composition of this beautiful sketch may
perhaps be said to mark a stage of advance, a new point of work attained,
a faint but sensible change of manner, signalised by increased firmness
of hand and clearness of outline.  Slight and swift in execution as it
is, few and simple as are the chords here struck of character and
emotion, every shade of drawing and every note of sound is at one with
the whole scheme of form and music.  Here too is the first dawn of that
higher and more tender humour which was never given in such perfection to
any man as ultimately to Shakespeare; one touch of the by-play of Launce
and his immortal dog is worth all the bright fantastic interludes of
Boyet and Adriano, Costard and Holofernes; worth even half the sallies of
Mercutio, and half the dancing doggrel or broad-witted prose of either
Dromio.  But in the final poem which concludes and crowns the first epoch
of Shakespeare's work, the special graces and peculiar glories of each
that went before are gathered together as in one garland "of every hue
and every scent."  The young genius of the master of all our poets finds
its consummation in the _Midsummer Night's Dream_.  The blank verse is as
full, sweet, and strong as the best of Biron's or Romeo's; the rhymed
verse as clear, pure, and true as the simplest and truest melody of
_Venus and Adonis_ or the _Comedy of Errors_.  But here each kind of
excellence is equal throughout; there are here no purple patches on a
gown of serge, but one seamless and imperial robe of a single dye.  Of
the lyric or the prosaic part, the counterchange of loves and laughters,
of fancy fine as air and imagination high as heaven, what need can there
be for any one to shame himself by the helpless attempt to say some word
not utterly unworthy?  Let it suffice us to accept this poem as the
landmark of our first stage, and pause to look back from it on what lies
behind us of partial or of perfect work.

The highest point attained in this first period lies in the domain of
comedy or romance, and belongs as much to lyric as to dramatic poetry;
its sovereign quality is that of sweetness and springtide of fairy fancy
crossed with light laughter and light trouble that end in perfect music.
In history as in tragedy the master's hand has not yet come to its full
strength and skill; its touch is not yet wholly assured, its work not yet
wholly blameless.  Besides the plays undoubtedly and entirely due to the
still growing genius of Shakespeare, we have taken note but of two among
those which bear the partial imprint of his hand.  The long-vexed
question as to the authorship of the latter parts of _King Henry VI_., in
their earlier or later form, has not been touched upon; nor do I design
to reopen that perpetual source of debate unstanchable and inexhaustible
dispute by any length of scrutiny or inquisition of detail.  Two points
must of course be taken for granted: that Marlowe was more or less
concerned in the production, and Shakespeare in the revision of these
plays; whether before or after his additions to the original _First Part
of King Henry VI_. we cannot determine, though the absence of rhyme might
seem to indicate a later date for the recast of the _Contention_.  But it
is noticeable that the style of Marlowe appears more vividly and
distinctly in passages of the reformed than of the unreformed plays.
Those famous lines, for example, which open the fourth act of the _Second
Part of King Henry VI_. are not to be found in the corresponding scene of
the first part of the _Contention_; yet, whether they belong to the
original sketch of the play, or were inserted as an afterthought into the
revised and expanded copy, the authorship of these verses is surely

   The gaudy, blabbing, and remorseful day
   Is crept into the bosom of the sea;
   And now loud howling wolves arouse the jades
   That drag the tragic melancholy night--

_Aut Christophorus Marlowe, aut diabolus_; it is inconceivable that any
imitator but one should have had the power so to catch the very trick of
his hand, the very note of his voice, and incredible that the one who
might would have set himself to do so: for if this be not indeed the
voice and this the hand of Marlowe, then what we find in these verses is
not the fidelity of a follower, but the servility of a copyist.  No
parasitic rhymester of past or present days who feeds his starveling
talent on the shreds and orts, "the fragments, scraps, the bits and
greasy relics" of another man's board, ever uttered a more parrot-like
note of plagiary.  The very exactitude of the repetition is a strong
argument against the theory which attributes it to Shakespeare.  That he
had much at starting to learn of Marlowe, and that he did learn much--that
in his earliest plays, and above all in his earliest historic plays, the
influence of the elder poet, the echo of his style, the iteration of his
manner, may perpetually be traced--I have already shown that I should be
the last to question; but so exact an echo, so servile an iteration as
this, I believe we shall nowhere find in them.  The sonorous accumulation
of emphatic epithets--as in the magnificent first verse of this
passage--is indeed at least as much a note of the young Shakespeare's
style as of his master's; but even were this one verse less in the manner
of the elder than the younger poet--and this we can hardly say that it
is--no single verse detached from its context can weigh a feather against
the full and flawless evidence of the whole speech.  And of all this
there is nothing in the _Contention_; the scene there opens in bald and
flat nakedness of prose, striking at once into the immediate matter of
stage business without the decoration of a passing epithet or a single

From this sample it might seem that the main difficulty must be to detect
anywhere the sign-manual of Shakespeare, even in the best passages of the
revised play.  On the other hand, it has not unreasonably been maintained
that even in the next scene of this same act in its original form, and in
all those following which treat of Cade's insurrection, there is evidence
of such qualities as can hardly be ascribed to any hand then known but
Shakespeare's.  The forcible realism, the simple vigour and lifelike
humour of these scenes, cannot, it is urged, be due to any other so early
at work in the field of comedy.  A critic desirous to press this point
might further insist on the likeness or identity of tone between these
and all later scenes in which Shakespeare has taken on him to paint the
action and passion of an insurgent populace.  With him, it might too
plausibly be argued, the people once risen in revolt for any just or
unjust cause is always the mob, the unwashed rabble, the swinish
multitude; full as he is of wise and gracious tenderness for individual
character, of swift and ardent pity for personal suffering, he has no
deeper or finer feeling than scorn for "the beast with many heads" that
fawn and butt at bidding as they are swayed by the vain and violent
breath of any worthless herdsman.  For the drovers who guide and misguide
at will the turbulent flocks of their mutinous cattle his store of bitter
words is inexhaustible; it is a treasure-house of obloquy which can never
be drained dry.  All this, or nearly all this, we must admit; but it
brings us no nearer to any but a floating and conjectural kind of
solution.  In the earliest form known to us of this play it should seem
that we have traces of Shakespeare's handiwork, in the latest that we
find evidence of Marlowe's.  But it would be something too extravagant
for the veriest wind-sucker among commentators to start a theory that a
revision was made of his original work by Marlowe after additions had
been made to it by Shakespeare; yet we have seen that the most
unmistakable signs of Marlowe's handiwork, the passages which show most
plainly the personal and present seal of his genius, belong to the play
only in its revised form; while there is no part of the whole composition
which can so confidently be assigned to Shakespeare as to the one man
then capable of such work, as can an entire and important episode of the
play in its unrevised state.  Now the proposition that Shakespeare was
the sole author of both plays in their earliest extant shape is refuted
at once and equally from without and from within, by evidence of
tradition and by evidence of style.  There is therefore proof
irresistible and unmistakable of at least a double authorship; and the
one reasonable conclusion left to us would seem to be this; that the
first edition we possess of these plays is a partial transcript of the
text as it stood after the first additions had been made by Shakespeare
to the original work of Marlowe and others; for that this original was
the work of more hands than one, and hands of notably unequal power, we
have again the united witness of traditional and internal evidence to
warrant our belief: and that among the omissions of this imperfect text
were certain passages of the original work, which were ultimately
restored in the final revision of the entire poem as it now stands among
the collected works of Shakespeare.

No competent critic who has given due study to the genius of Marlowe will
admit that there is a single passage of tragic or poetic interest in
either form of the text, which is beyond the reach of the father of
English tragedy: or, if there be one seeming exception in the expanded
and transfigured version of Clifford's monologue over his father's
corpse, which is certainly more in Shakespeare's tragic manner than in
Marlowe's, and in the style of a later period than that in which he was
on the whole apparently content to reproduce or to emulate the tragic
manner of Marlowe, there is at least but this one exception to the
general and absolute truth of the rule; and even this great tragic
passage is rather out of the range of Marlowe's style than beyond the
scope of his genius.  In the later as in the earlier version of these
plays, the one manifest excellence of which we have no reason to suppose
him capable is manifest in the comic or prosaic scenes alone.  The first
great rapid sketch of the dying cardinal, afterwards so nobly enlarged
and perfected on revision by the same or by a second artist, is as
clearly within the capacity of Marlowe as of Shakespeare; and in either
edition of the latter play, successively known as _The True Tragedy of
Richard Duke of York_, as the _Second Part of the Contention_, and as the
_Third Part of King Henry VI_., the dominant figure which darkens all the
close of the poem with presage of a direr day is drawn by the same strong
hand in the same tragic outline.  From the first to the last stage of the
work there is no mark of change or progress here; the whole play indeed
has undergone less revision, as it certainly needed less, than the
preceding part of the _Contention_.  Those great verses which resume the
whole spirit of Shakespeare's Richard--finer perhaps in themselves than
any passage of the play which bears his name--are wellnigh identical in
either form of the poem; but the reviser, with admirable judgment, has
struck out, whether from his own text or that of another, the line which
precedes them in the original sketch, where the passage runs thus:--

   I had no father, I am like no father;
   I have no brothers, I am like no brother;

(this reiteration is exactly in the first manner of our tragic drama;)

   And this word love, which greybeards term divine, etc.

It would be an impertinence to transcribe the rest of a passage which
rings in the ear of every reader's memory; but it may be noted that the
erasure by which its effect is so singularly heightened with the inborn
skill of so divine an instinct is just such an alteration as would be
equally likely to occur to the original writer on glancing over his
printed text or to a poet of kindred power, who, while busied in
retouching and filling out the sketch of his predecessor, might be struck
by the opening for so great an improvement at so small a cost of
suppression.  My own conjecture would incline to the belief that we have
here a perfect example of the manner in which Shakespeare may be
presumed, when such a task was set before him, to have dealt with the
text of Marlowe.  That at the outset of his career he was so employed, as
well as on the texts of lesser poets, we have on all hands as good
evidence of every kind as can be desired; proof on one side from the text
of the revised plays, which are as certainly in part the work of his hand
as they are in part the work of another; and proof on the opposite side
from the open and clamorous charge of his rivals, whose imputations can
be made to bear no reasonable meaning but this by the most violent
ingenuity of perversion, and who presumably were not persons of such
frank imbecility, such innocent and infantine malevolence, as to forge
against their most dangerous enemy the pointless and edgeless weapon of a
charge which, if ungrounded, must have been easier to refute than to
devise.  Assuming then that in common with other young poets of his day
he was thus engaged during the first years of his connection with the
stage, we should naturally have expected to find him handling the text of
Marlowe with more of reverence and less of freedom than that of meaner
men: ready, as in the _Contention_, to clear away with no timid hand
their weaker and more inefficient work, to cancel and supplant it by
worthier matter of his own; but when occupied in recasting the verse of
Marlowe, not less ready to confine his labour to such slight and skilful
strokes of art as that which has led us into this byway of speculation;
to the correction of a false note, the addition of a finer touch, the
perfection of a meaning half expressed or a tone of half-uttered music;
to the invigoration of sense and metre by substitution of the right word
for the wrong, of a fuller phrase for one feebler; to the excision of
such archaic and superfluous repetitions as are signs of a cruder stage
of workmanship, relics of a ruder period of style, survivals of the
earliest form or habit of dramatic poetry.  Such work as this, however
humble in our present eyes, which look before and after, would assuredly
have been worthy of the workman and his task; an office no less fruitful
of profit, and no more unbeseeming the pupil hand of the future master,
than the subordinate handiwork of the young Raffaelle or Leonardo on the
canvas of Verrocchio or Perugino.

Of the doubtful or spurious plays which have been with more or less show
of reason ascribed to this first period of Shakespeare's art, I have here
no more to say than that I purpose in the proper place to take account of
the only two among them which bear the slightest trace of any possible
touch of his hand.  For these two there is not, as it happens, the least
witness of tradition or outward likelihood which might warrant us in
assigning them a place apart from the rest, and nearer the chance of
reception into the rank that has been claimed for them; while those plays
in whose favour there is some apparent evidence from without, such as the
fact of early or even original attribution to the master's hand, are,
with one possible exception, utterly beyond the pale of human
consideration as at any stage whatever the conceivable work of

Considering that his two attempts at narrative or rather semi-narrative
and semi-reflective poetry belong obviously to an early stage of his
earliest period, we may rather here than elsewhere take notice that there
are some curious points of coincidence for evil as for good between the
fortunes of Shakespeare's plays and the fortunes of his poems.  In either
case we find that some part at least of his earlier and inferior work has
fared better at the blind hands of chance and the brutish hands of
printers than some part at least of his riper and more precious products.
His two early poems would seem to have had the good hap of his personal
supervision in their passage through the press.  Upon them, at least
since the time of Coleridge, who as usual has said on this subject the
first and the last word that need be said, it seems to me that fully
sufficient notice and fully adequate examination have been expended; and
that nothing at once new and true can now be profitably said in praise or
in dispraise of them.  Of _A Lover's Complaint_, marked as it is
throughout with every possible sign suggestive of a far later date and a
far different inspiration, I have only space or need to remark that it
contains two of the most exquisitely Shakespearean verses ever vouchsafed
to us by Shakespeare, and two of the most execrably euphuistic or
dysphuistic lines ever inflicted on us by man.  Upon the Sonnets such a
preposterous pyramid of presumptuous commentary has long since been
reared by the Cimmerian speculation and Boeotian "brain-sweat" of
sciolists and scholiasts, that no modest man will hope and no wise man
will desire to add to the structure or subtract from it one single brick
of proof or disproof, theorem or theory.  As yet the one contemporary
book which has ever been supposed to throw any direct or indirect light
on the mystic matter remains as inaccessible and unhelpful to students as
though it had never been published fifteen years earlier than the date of
their publication and four years before the book in which Meres notices
the circulation of Shakespeare's "sugared sonnets among his private
friends."  It would be a most noble and thankworthy addition to a list of
labours beyond praise and benefits beyond price, if my honoured friend
Dr. Grosart could find the means to put a crown upon the achievements of
his learning and a seal upon the obligations of our gratitude by the one
inestimable boon long hoped for against hoping, and as yet but "a vision
in a dream" to the most learned and most loving of true Shakespearean
students; by the issue or reissue in its full and perfect likeness,
collated at last and complete, of _Willobie his Avisa_. {63}

It was long since more than time that the worthless and impudent
imposture called _The Passionate Pilgrim_ should be exposed and expelled
from its station at the far end of Shakespeare's poems.  What Coleridge
said of Ben Jonson's epithet for "turtle-footed peace," we may say of the
label affixed to this rag-picker's bag of stolen goods: _The Passionate
Pilgrim_ is a pretty title, a very pretty title; pray what may it mean?
In all the larcenous little bundle of verse there is neither a poem which
bears that name nor a poem by which that name would be bearable.  The
publisher of the booklet was like "one Ragozine, a most notorious
pirate"; and the method no less than the motive of his rascality in the
present instance is palpable and simple enough.  Fired by the immediate
and instantly proverbial popularity of Shakespeare's _Venus and Adonis_,
he hired, we may suppose, some ready hack of unclean hand to supply him
with three doggrel sonnets on the same subject, noticeable only for their
porcine quality of prurience: he procured by some means a rough copy or
an incorrect transcript of two genuine and unpublished sonnets by
Shakespeare, which with the acute instinct of a felonious tradesman he
laid atop of his worthless wares by way of gilding to their base metal:
he stole from the two years published text of _Love's Labour's Lost_, and
reproduced with more or less mutilation or corruption, the sonnet of
Longavile, the "canzonet" of Biron, and the far lovelier love-song of
Dumaine.  The rest of the ragman's gatherings, with three most notable
exceptions, is little better for the most part than dry rubbish or
disgusting refuse; unless a plea may haply be put in for the pretty
commonplaces of the lines on a "sweet rose, fair flower," and so forth;
for the couple of thin and pallid if tender and tolerable copies of verse
on "Beauty" and "Good Night," or the passably light and lively stray of
song on "crabbed age and youth."  I need not say that those three
exceptions are the stolen and garbled work of Marlowe and of Barnfield,
our elder Shelley and our first-born Keats; the singer of Cynthia in
verse well worthy of Endymion, who would seem to have died as a poet in
the same fatal year of his age that Keats died as a man; the first
adequate English laureate of the nightingale, to be supplanted or
equalled by none until the advent of his mightier brother.


The second period is that of perfection in comic and historic style.  The
final heights and depths of tragedy, with all its reach of thought and
all its pulse of passion, are yet to be scaled and sounded; but to this
stage belongs the special quality of faultless, joyous, facile command
upon each faculty required of the presiding genius for service or for
sport.  It is in the middle period of his work that the language of
Shakespeare is most limpid in its fullness, the style most pure, the
thought most transparent through the close and luminous raiment of
perfect expression.  The conceits and crudities of the first stage are
outgrown and cast aside; the harshness and obscurity which at times may
strike us as among the notes of his third manner have as yet no place in
the flawless work of this second stage.  That which has to be said is not
yet too great for perfection of utterance; passion has not yet grappled
with thought in so close and fierce an embrace as to strain and rend the
garment of words, though stronger and subtler than ever was woven of
human speech.  Neither in his first nor in his last stage would the style
of Shakespeare, even were it possible by study to reproduce it, be of
itself a perfect and blameless model; but his middle style, that in which
the typical plays of his second period are written, would be, if it were
possible to imitate, the most absolute pattern that could be set before
man.  I do not speak of mere copyist's work, the parasitic knack of
retailing cast phrases, tricks and turns of accent, cadences and
catchwords proper only to the natural manner of the man who first came by
instinct upon them, and by instinct put them to use; I speak of that
faithful and fruitful discipleship of love with which the highest among
poets and the most original among workmen have naturally been always the
first to study and the most earnest to follow the footsteps of their
greatest precursors in that kind.  And this only high and profitable form
of study and discipleship can set before itself, even in the work of
Shakespeare, no pattern so perfect, no model so absolute, as is afforded
by the style or manner of his second period.

To this stage belong by spiritual right if not by material, by rule of
poetic order if not by date of actual succession, the greatest of his
English histories and four of his greatest and most perfect comedies; the
four greatest we might properly call them, reserving for another class
the last divine triad of romantic plays which it is alike inaccurate to
number among tragedies or comedies proper: the _Winter's Tale_,
_Cymbeline_, and the _Tempest_, which belong of course wholly to his last
manner, or, if accuracy must be strained even to pedantry, to the second
manner of his third or final stage.  A single masterpiece which may be
classed either among histories or tragedies belongs to the middle period;
and to this also we must refer, if not the ultimate form, yet assuredly
the first sketch at least of that which is commonly regarded as the
typical and supreme work of Shakespeare.  Three lesser comedies, one of
them in great part the recast or rather the transfiguration of an earlier
poet's work, complete the list of plays assignable to the second epoch of
his genius.

The ripest fruit of historic or national drama, the consummation and the
crown of Shakespeare's labours in that line, must of course be recognised
and saluted by all students in the supreme and sovereign trilogy of King
Henry IV. and King Henry V.  On a lower degree only than this final and
imperial work we find the two chronicle histories which remain to be
classed.  In style as in structure they bear witness of a power less
perfect, a less impeccable hand.  They have less of perceptible instinct,
less of vivid and vigorous utterance; the breath of their inspiration is
less continuous and less direct, the fashion of their eloquence is more
deliberate and more prepense; there is more of study and structure
apparent in their speech, and less in their general scheme of action.  Of
all Shakespeare's plays they are the most rhetorical; there is more talk
than song in them, less poetry than oratory; more finish than form, less
movement than incident.  Scene is laid upon scene, and event succeeds
event, as stone might be laid on stone and story might succeed story in a
building reared by mere might of human handiwork; not as in a city or
temple whose walls had risen of themselves to the lyric breath and stroke
of a greater than Amphion; moulded out of music by no rule or line of
mortal measure, with no sound of axe or anvil, but only of smitten
strings: built by harp and not by hand.

The lordly structure of these poems is the work of a royal workman, full
of masterdom and might, sublime in the state and strength of its many
mansions, but less perfect in proportion and less aerial in build than
the very highest fabrics fashioned after their own great will by the
supreme architects of song.  Of these plays, and of these alone among the
maturer works of Shakespeare, it may be said that the best parts are
discernible from the rest, divisible by analysis and separable by memory
from the scenes which precede them or follow and the characters which
surround them or succeed.  Constance and Katherine rise up into
remembrance apart from their environment and above it, stand clear in our
minds of the crowded company with which the poet has begirt their central
figures.  In all other of his great tragic works,--even in _Hamlet_, if
we have grace and sense to read it aright and not awry,--it is not of any
single person or separate passage that we think when we speak of it; it
is to the whole masterpiece that the mind turns at mention of its name.
The one entire and perfect chrysolite of _Othello_ is neither Othello nor
Desdemona nor Iago, but each and all; the play of _Hamlet_ is more than
Hamlet himself, the poem even here is too great to be resumed in the
person.  But Constance is the jewel of _King John_, and Katherine is the
crowning blossom of _King Henry VIII_.--a funeral flower as of "marigolds
on death-beds blowing," an opal of as pure water as "tears of perfect
moan," with fitful fire at its heart, ominous of evil and sorrow, set in
a mourning band of jet on the forefront of the poem, that the brow so
circled may, "like to a title-leaf, foretell the nature of a tragic
volume."  Not indeed that without these the ground would in either case
be barren; but that in either field our eye rests rather on these and
other separate ears of wheat that overtop the ranks, than on the waving
width of the whole harvest at once.  In the one play our memory turns
next to the figures of Arthur and the Bastard, in the other to those of
Wolsey and his king: the residue in either case is made up of outlines
more lightly and slightly drawn.  In two scenes the figure of King John
rises indeed to the highest height even of Shakespearean tragedy; for the
rest of the play the lines of his character are cut no deeper, the
features of his personality stand out in no sharper relief, than those of
Eleanor or the French king; but the scene in which he tempts Hubert to
the edge of the pit of hell sounds a deeper note and touches a subtler
string in the tragic nature of man than had been struck by any poet save
Dante alone, since the reign of the Greek tragedians.  The cunning and
profound simplicity of the few last weighty words which drop like flakes
of poison that blister where they fall from the deadly lips of the king
is a new quality in our tragic verse; there was no foretaste of such a
thing in the passionate imagination which clothed itself in the mighty
music of Marlowe's burning song.  The elder master might indeed have
written the magnificent speech which ushers in with gradual rhetoric and
splendid reticence the black suggestion of a deed without a name; his
hand might have woven with no less imperial skill the elaborate raiment
of words and images which wraps up in fold upon fold, as with swaddling-
bands of purple and golden embroidery, the shapeless and miscreated birth
of a murderous purpose that labours into light even while it loathes the
light and itself; but only Shakespeare could give us the first sample of
that more secret and terrible knowledge which reveals itself in the brief
heavy whispers that seal the commission and sign the warrant of the king.
Webster alone of all our tragic poets has had strength to emulate in this
darkest line of art the handiwork of his master.  We find nowhere such an
echo or reflection of the spirit of this scene as in the last tremendous
dialogue of Bosola with Ferdinand in the house of murder and madness,
while their spotted souls yet flutter between conscience and distraction,
hovering for an hour as with broken wings on the confines of either
province of hell.  One pupil at least could put to this awful profit the
study of so great a model; but with the single and sublime exception of
that other design from the same great hand, which bares before us the
mortal anguish of Bracciano, no copy or imitation of the scene in which
John dies by poison has ever come near enough to evade the sentence it
provokes.  The shrill tremulous agony of Fletcher's Valentinian is to the
sullen and slow death-pangs of Shakespeare's tyrant as the babble of a
suckling to the accents of a man.  As far beyond the reach of any but his
maker's hand is the pattern of a perfect English warrior, set once for
all before the eyes of all ages in the figure of the noble Bastard.  The
national side of Shakespeare's genius, the heroic vein of patriotism that
runs like a thread of living fire through the world-wide range of his
omnipresent spirit, has never, to my thinking, found vent or expression
to such glorious purpose as here.  Not even in Hotspur or Prince Hal has
he mixed with more godlike sleight of hand all the lighter and graver
good qualities of the national character, or compounded of them all so
lovable a nature as this.  In those others we admire and enjoy the same
bright fiery temper of soul, the same buoyant and fearless mastery of
fate or fortune, the same gladness and glory of life made lovely with all
the labour and laughter of its full fresh days; but no quality of theirs
binds our hearts to them as they are bound to Philip--not by his loyal
valour, his keen young wit, his kindliness, constancy, readiness of
service as swift and sure in the day of his master's bitterest shame and
shamefullest trouble as in the blithest hour of battle and that first
good fight which won back his father's spoils from his father's slayer;
but more than all these, for that lightning of divine rage and pity, of
tenderness that speaks in thunder and indignation that makes fire of its
tears, in the horror of great compassion which falls on him, the tempest
and storm of a beautiful and godlike anger which shakes his strength of
spirit and bows his high heart down at sight of Arthur dead.  Being thus,
as he is, the English masterwork of Shakespeare's hand, we may well
accept him as the best man known to us that England ever made; the hero
that Nelson must have been had he never come too near Naples.

I am not minded to say much of Shakespeare's Arthur; there are one or two
figures in the world of his work of which there are no words that would
be fit or good to say.  Another of these is Cordelia.  The place they
have in our lives and thoughts is not one for talk; the niche set apart
for them to inhabit in our secret hearts is not penetrable by the lights
and noises of common day.  There are chapels in the cathedral of man's
highest art as in that of his inmost life, not made to be set open to the
eyes and feet of the world.  Love and death and memory keep charge for us
in silence of some beloved names.  It is the crowning glory of genius,
the final miracle and transcendent gift of poetry, that it can add to the
number of these, and engrave on the very heart of our remembrance fresh
names and memories of its own creation.

There is one younger child in this heavenly family of Shakespeare's who
sits side by side with Arthur in the secret places of our thought; there
are but two or three that I remember among the children of other poets
who may be named in the same year with them: as Fletcher's Hengo,
Webster's Giovanni, and Landor's Caesarion.  Of this princely trinity of
boys the "bud of Britain" is as yet the most famous flower; yet even in
the broken words of childish heroism that falter on his dying lips there
is nothing of more poignant pathos, more "dearly sweet and bitter," than
Giovanni's talk of his dead mother and all her sleepless nights now ended
for ever in a sleep beyond tears or dreams.  Perhaps the most nearly
faultless in finish and proportion of perfect nature among all the noble
three is Landor's portrait of the imperial and right Roman child of Caesar
and Cleopatra.  I know not but this may be found in the judgment of men
to come wellnigh the most pathetic and heroic figure bequeathed us after
more than eighty years of a glorious life by the indomitable genius of
our own last Roman and republican poet.

We have come now to that point at the opening of the second stage in his
work where the supreme genius of all time begins first to meddle with the
mysteries and varieties of human character, to handle its finer and more
subtle qualities, to harmonise its more untuned and jarring discords;
giving here and thus the first proof of a power never shared in like
measure by the mightiest among the sons of men, a sovereign and serene
capacity to fathom the else unfathomable depths of spiritual nature, to
solve its else insoluble riddles, to reconcile its else irreconcilable
discrepancies.  In his first stage Shakespeare had dropped his plummet no
deeper into the sea of the spirit of man than Marlowe had sounded before
him; and in the channel of simple emotion no poet could cast surer line
with steadier hand than he.  Further down in the dark and fiery depths of
human pain and mortal passion no soul could search than his who first
rendered into speech the aspirations and the agonies of a ruined and
revolted spirit.  And until Shakespeare found in himself the strength of
eyesight to read and the cunning of handiwork to render those wider
diversities of emotion and those further complexities of character which
lay outside the range of Marlowe, he certainly cannot be said to have
outrun the winged feet, outstripped the fiery flight of his forerunner.
In the heaven of our tragic song the first-born star on the forehead of
its herald god was not outshone till the full midsummer meridian of that
greater godhead before whom he was sent to prepare a pathway for the sun.
Through all the forenoon of our triumphant day, till the utter
consummation and ultimate ascension of dramatic poetry incarnate and
transfigured in the master-singer of the world, the quality of his
tragedy was as that of Marlowe's, broad, single, and intense; large of
hand, voluble of tongue, direct of purpose.  With the dawn of its latter
epoch a new power comes upon it, to find clothing and expression in new
forms of speech and after a new style.  The language has put off its
foreign decorations of lyric and elegiac ornament; it has found already
its infinite gain in the loss of those sweet superfluous graces which
encumbered the march and enchained the utterance of its childhood.  The
figures which it invests are now no more the types of a single passion,
the incarnations of a single thought.  They now demand a scrutiny which
tests the power of a mind and tries the value of a judgment; they appeal
to something more than the instant apprehension which sufficed to respond
to the immediate claim of those that went before them.  Romeo and Juliet
were simply lovers, and their names bring back to us no further thought
than of their love and the lovely sorrow of its end; Antony and Cleopatra
shall be before all things lovers, but the thought of their love and its
triumphant tragedy shall recall other things beyond number--all the
forces and all the fortunes of mankind, all the chance and all the
consequence that waited on their imperial passion, all the infinite
variety of qualities and powers wrought together and welded into the
frame and composition of that love which shook from end to end all
nations and kingdoms of the earth.

The same truth holds good in lighter matters; Biron and Rosaline in
comedy are as simply lovers and no more as were their counterparts and
coevals in tragedy: there is more in Benedick and Beatrice than this
simple quality of love that clothes itself in the strife of wits; the
injury done her cousin, which by the repercussion of its shock and
refraction of its effect serves to transfigure with such adorable
indignation and ardour of furious love and pity the whole bright light
nature of Beatrice, serves likewise by a fresh reflection and
counterchange of its consequence to exalt and enlarge the stature of her
lover's spirit after a fashion beyond the reach of Shakespeare in his
first stage.  Mercutio again, like Philip, is a good friend and gallant
swordsman, quick-witted and hot-blooded, of a fiery and faithful temper,
loyal and light and swift alike of speech and swordstroke; and this is
all.  But the character of the Bastard, clear and simple as broad
sunlight though it be, has in it other features than this single and
beautiful likeness of frank young manhood; his love of country and
loathing of the Church that would bring it into subjection are two sides
of the same national quality that has made and will always make every
Englishman of his type such another as he was in belief and in unbelief,
patriot and priest-hater; and no part of the design bears such witness to
the full-grown perfection of his creator's power and skill as the touch
that combines and fuses into absolute unity of concord the high and
various elements of faith in England, loyalty to the wretched lord who
has made him knight and acknowledged him kinsman, contempt for his
abjection at the foul feet of the Church, abhorrence of his crime and
constancy to his cause for something better worth the proof of war than
his miserable sake who hardly can be roused, even by such exhortation as
might put life and spirit into the dust of dead men's bones, to bid his
betters stand and strike in defence of the country dishonoured by his

It is this new element of variety in unity, this study of the complex and
diverse shades in a single nature, which requires from any criticism
worth attention some inquisition of character as complement to the
investigation of style.  Analysis of any sort would be inapplicable to
the actors who bear their parts in the comic, the tragic or historic
plays of the first period.  There is nothing in them to analyse; they
are, as we have seen, like all the characters represented by Marlowe, the
embodiments or the exponents of single qualities and simple forces.  The
question of style also is therefore so far a simple question; but with
the change and advance in thought and all matter of spiritual study and
speculation this question also becomes complex, and inseparable, if we
would pursue it to any good end, from the analysis of character and
subject.  In the debate on which we are now to enter, the question of
style and the question of character, or as we might say the questions of
matter and of spirit, are more than ever indivisible from each other,
more inextricably inwoven than elsewhere into the one most difficult
question of authorship which has ever been disputed in the dense and
noisy school or fought out in the wide and windy field of Shakespearean

There can be few serious students of Shakespeare who have not sometimes
felt that possibly the hardest problem involved in their study is that
which requires for its solution some reasonable and acceptable theory as
to the play of _King Henry VIII_.  None such has ever yet been offered;
and I certainly cannot pretend to supply one.  Perhaps however it may be
possible to do some service by an attempt to disprove what is untenable,
even though it should not be possible to produce in its stead any
positive proof of what we may receive as matter of absolute faith.

The veriest tiro in criticism who knows anything of the subject in hand
must perceive, what is certainly not beyond a schoolboy's range of
vision, that the metre and the language of this play are in great part so
like the language and the metre of Fletcher that the first and easiest
inference would be to assume the partnership of that poet in the work.  In
former days it was Jonson whom the critics and commentators of their time
saw good to select as the colleague or the editor of Shakespeare; but a
later school of criticism has resigned the notion that the fifth act was
retouched and adjusted by the author of _Volpone_ to the taste of his
patron James.  The later theory is more plausible than this; the primary
objection to it is that it is too facile and superficial.  It is waste of
time to point out with any intelligent and imaginative child with a
tolerable ear for metre who had read a little of the one and the other
poet could see for himself--that much of the play is externally as like
the usual style of Fletcher as it is unlike the usual style of
Shakespeare.  The question is whether we can find one scene, one speech,
one passage, which in spirit, in scope, in purpose, bears the same or any
comparable resemblance to the work of Fletcher.  I doubt if any man more
warmly admires a poet whom few can have studied more thoroughly than I;
and to whom, in spite of all sins of omission and commission,--and many
and grievous they are, beyond the plenary absolution of even the most
indulgent among critical confessors--I constantly return with a fresh
sense of attraction, which is constantly rewarded by a fresh sense of
gratitude and delight.  It is assuredly from no wish to pluck a leaf from
his laurel, which has no need of foreign grafts or stolen garlands from
the loftier growth of Shakespeare's, that I venture to question his
capacity for the work assigned to him by recent criticism.  The speech of
Buckingham, for example, on his way to execution, is of course at first
sight very like the finest speeches of the kind in Fletcher; here is the
same smooth and fluent declamation, the same prolonged and persistent
melody, which if not monotonous is certainly not various; the same pure,
lucid, perspicuous flow of simple rather than strong and elegant rather
than exquisite English; and yet, if we set it against the best examples
of the kind which may be selected from such tragedies as _Bonduca_ or
_The False One_, against the rebuke addressed by Caratach to his cousin
or by Caesar to the murderers of Pompey--and no finer instances of tragic
declamation can be chosen from the work of this great master of
rhetorical dignity and pathos--I cannot but think we shall perceive in it
a comparative severity and elevation which will be missed when we turn
back from it to the text of Fletcher.  There is an aptness of phrase, an
abstinence from excess, a "plentiful lack" of mere flowery and
superfluous beauties, which we may rather wish than hope to find in the
most famous of Shakespeare's successors.  But if not his work, we may be
sure it was his model; a model which he often approached, which he often
studied, but which he never attained.  It is never for absolute truth and
fitness of expression, it is always for eloquence and sweetness, for
fluency and fancy, that we find the tragic scenes of Fletcher most
praiseworthy; and the motive or mainspring of interest is usually
anything but natural or simple.  Now the motive here is as simple, the
emotion as natural as possible; the author is content to dispense with
all the violent or far-fetched or fantastic excitement from which
Fletcher could hardly ever bring himself completely to abstain.  I am not
speaking here of those tragedies in which the hand of Beaumont is
traceable; to these, I need hardly say, the charge is comparatively
inapplicable which may fairly be brought against the unassisted works of
his elder colleague; but in any of the typical tragedies of Fletcher, in
_Thierry and Theodoret_, in _Valentinian_, in _The Double Marriage_, the
scenes which for power and beauty of style may reasonably be compared
with this of the execution of Buckingham will be found more forced in
situation, more fanciful in language than this.  Many will be found more
beautiful, many more exciting; the famous interview of Thierry with the
veiled Ordella, and the scene answering to this in the fifth act where
Brunhalt is confronted with her dying son, will be at once remembered by
all dramatic students; and the parts of Lucina and Juliana may each be
described as a continuous arrangement of passionate and pathetic effects.
But in which of these parts and in which of these plays shall we find a
scene so simple, an effect so modest, a situation so unforced as here?
where may we look for the same temperance of tone, the same control of
excitement, the same steadiness of purpose?  If indeed Fletcher could
have written this scene, or the farewell of Wolsey to his greatness, or
his parting scene with Cromwell, he was perhaps not a greater poet, but
he certainly was a tragic writer capable of loftier self-control and
severer self-command, than he has ever shown himself elsewhere.

And yet, if this were all, we might be content to believe that the
dignity of the subject and the high example of his present associate had
for once lifted the natural genius of Fletcher above itself.  But the
fine and subtle criticism of Mr. Spedding has in the main, I think,
successfully and clearly indicated the lines of demarcation undeniably
discernible in this play between the severer style of certain scenes or
speeches and the laxer and more fluid style of others; between the
graver, solider, more condensed parts of the apparently composite work,
and those which are clearer, thinner, more diffused and diluted in
expression.  If under the latter head we had to class such passages only
as the dying speech of Buckingham and the christening speech of Cranmer,
it might after all be almost impossible to resist the internal evidence
of Fletcher's handiwork.  Certainly we hear the same soft continuous note
of easy eloquence, level and limpid as a stream of crystalline
transparence, in the plaintive adieu of the condemned statesman and the
panegyrical prophecy of the favoured prelate.  If this, I say, were all,
we might admit that there is nothing--I have already admitted it--in
either passage beyond the poetic reach of Fletcher.  But on the
hypothesis so ably maintained by the editor of Bacon there hangs no less
a consequence than this: that we must assign to the same hand the
crowning glory of the whole poem, the death-scene of Katherine.  Now if
Fletcher could have written that scene--a scene on which the only
criticism ever passed, the only commendation ever bestowed, by the
verdict of successive centuries, has been that of tears and silence--if
Fletcher could have written a scene so far beyond our applause, so far
above our acclamation, then the memory of no great poet has ever been so
grossly wronged, so shamefully defrauded of its highest claim to honour.
But, with all reverence for that memory, I must confess that I cannot
bring myself to believe it.  Any explanation appears to me more probable
than this.  Considering with what care every relic of his work was once
and again collected by his posthumous editors--even to the attribution,
not merely of plays in which he can have taken only the slightest part,
but of plays in which we know that he had no share at all--I cannot
believe that his friends would have let by far the brightest jewel in his
crown rest unreclaimed in the then less popular treasure-house of
Shakespeare.  Belief or disbelief of this kind is however but a sandy
soil for conjecture to build upon.  Whether or not his friends would have
reclaimed for him the credit of this scene, had they known it (as they
must have known it) to be his due, I must repeat that such a miraculous
example of a man's genius for once transcending itself and for ever
eclipsing all its other achievements appears to me beyond all critical,
beyond all theological credulity.  Pathos and concentration are surely
not among the dominant notes of Fletcher's style or the salient qualities
of his intellect.  Except perhaps in the beautiful and famous passage
where Hengo dies in his uncle's arms, I doubt whether in any of the
variously and highly coloured scenes played out upon the wide and
shifting stage of his fancy the genius of Fletcher has ever unlocked the
source of tears.  Bellario and Aspatia were the children of his younger
colleague; at least, after the death of Beaumont we meet no such figures
on the stage of Fletcher.  In effect, though Beaumont had a gift of grave
sardonic humour which found especial vent in burlesques of the heroic
style and in the systematic extravagance of such characters as Bessus,
{89} yet he was above all things a tragic poet; and though Fletcher had
great power of tragic eloquence and passionate effusion, yet his comic
genius was of a rarer and more precious quality; one _Spanish Curate_ is
worth many a _Valentinian_; as, on the other hand, one _Philaster_ is
worth many a _Scornful Lady_.  Now there is no question here of Beaumont;
and there is no question that the passage here debated has been taken to
the heart of the whole world and baptized in the tears of generations as
no work of Fletcher's has ever been.  That Beaumont could have written it
I do not believe; but I am wellnigh assured that Fletcher could not.  I
can scarcely imagine that the most fluid sympathy, the "hysteric passion"
most easily distilled from the eyes of reader or spectator, can ever have
watered with its tears the scene or the page which sets forth, however
eloquently and effectively, the sorrows and heroisms of Ordella, Juliana,
or Lucina.  Every success but this I can well believe them, as they
assuredly deserve, to have attained.

To this point then we have come, as to the crucial point at issue; and
looking back upon those passages of the play which first suggest the
handiwork of Fletcher, and which certainly do now and then seem almost
identical in style with his, I think we shall hardly find the difference
between these and other parts of the same play so wide and so distinct as
the difference between the undoubted work of Fletcher and the undoubted
work of Shakespeare.  What that difference is we are fortunately able to
determine with exceptional certitude, and with no supplementary help from
conjecture of probabilities.  In the play which is undoubtedly a joint
work of these poets the points of contact and the points of disunion are
unmistakable by the youngest eye.  In the very last scene of _The Two
Noble Kinsmen_, we can tell with absolute certainty what speeches were
appended or interpolated by Fletcher; we can pronounce with positive
conviction what passages were completed and what parts were left
unfinished by Shakespeare.  Even on Mr. Spedding's theory it can hardly
be possible to do as much for _King Henry VIII_.  The lines of
demarcation, however visible or plausible, are fainter by far than these.
It is certainly not much less strange to come upon such passages in the
work of Shakespeare as the speeches of Buckingham and Cranmer than it
would be to encounter in the work of Sophocles a sample of the later and
laxer style of Euripides; to meet for instance in the _Antigone_ with a
passage which might pass muster as an extract from the _Iphigenia in
Aulis_.  In metrical effects the style of the lesser English poet is an
exact counterpart of the style of the lesser Greek; there is the same
comparative tenuity and fluidity of verse, the same excess of short
unemphatic syllables, the same solution of the graver iambic into soft
overflow of lighter and longer feet which relaxes and dilutes the solid
harmony of tragic metre with notes of a more facile and feminine strain.
But in _King Henry VIII_. it should be remarked that though we not
unfrequently find the same preponderance as in Fletcher's work of verses
with a double ending--which in English verse at least are not in
themselves feminine, and need not be taken to constitute, as in
Fletcher's case they do, a note of comparative effeminacy or relaxation
in tragic style--we do not find the perpetual predominance of those
triple terminations so peculiarly and notably dear to that poet; {92} so
that even by the test of the metre-mongers who would reduce the whole
question at issue to a point which might at once be solved by the simple
process of numeration the argument in favour of Fletcher can hardly be
proved tenable; for the metre which evidently has one leading quality in
common with his is as evidently wanting in another at least as marked and
as necessary to establish--if established it can be by any such test
taken singly and, apart from all other points of evidence--the
collaboration of Fletcher with Shakespeare in this instance.  And if the
proof by mere metrical similitude is thus imperfect, there is here
assuredly no other kind of test which may help to fortify the argument by
any suggestion of weight even comparable to this.  In those passages
which would seem most plausibly to indicate the probable partnership of
Fletcher, the unity and sustained force of the style keep it generally
above the average level of his; there is less admixture or intrusion of
lyric or elegiac quality; there is more of temperance and proportion
alike in declamation and in debate.  And throughout the whole play, and
under all the diversity of composite subject and conflicting interest
which disturbs the unity of action, there is a singleness of spirit, a
general unity or concord of inner tone, in marked contrast to the utter
discord and discrepancy of the several sections of _The Two Noble
Kinsmen_.  We admit, then, that this play offers us in some not
unimportant passages the single instance of a style not elsewhere
precisely or altogether traceable in Shakespeare; that no exact parallel
to it can be found among his other plays; and that if not the partial
work it may certainly be taken as the general model of Fletcher in his
tragic poetry.  On the other hand, we contend that its exceptional
quality might perhaps be explicable as a tentative essay in a new line by
one who tried so many styles before settling into his latest; and that,
without far stronger, clearer, and completer proof than has yet been or
can ever be advanced, the question is not solved but merely evaded by the
assumption of a double authorship.

By far the ablest argument based upon a wider ground of reason or of
likelihood than this of mere metre that has yet been advanced in support
of the theory which would attribute a part of this play to some weaker
hand than Shakespeare's is due to the study of a critic whose
name--already by right of inheritance the most illustrious name of his
age and ours--is now for ever attached to that of Shakespeare himself by
right of the highest service ever done and the noblest duty ever paid to
his memory.  The untimely death which removed beyond reach of our thanks
for all he had done and our hopes for all he might do, the man who first
had given to France the first among foreign poets--son of the greatest
Frenchman and translator of the greatest Englishman--was only in this not
untimely, that it forbore him till the great and wonderful work was done
which has bound two deathless names together by a closer than the common
link that connects the names of all sovereign poets.  Among all classic
translations of the classic works of the world, I know of none that for
absolute mastery and perfect triumph over all accumulation of obstacles,
for supreme dominion over supreme difficulty, can be matched with the
translation of Shakespeare by Francois-Victor Hugo; unless a claim of
companionship may perchance be put in for Urquhart's unfinished version
of Rabelais.  For such success in the impossible as finally disproves the
right of "that fool of a word" to existence--at least in the world of
letters--the two miracles of study and of sympathy which have given
Shakespeare to the French and Rabelais to the English, and each in his
habit as he lived, may take rank together in glorious rivalry beyond
eyeshot of all past or future competition.

Among the essays appended to the version of Shakespeare which they
complete and illustrate, that which deals with the play now in question
gives as ample proof as any other of the sound and subtle insight brought
to bear by the translator upon the object of his labour and his love.  His
keen and studious intuition is here as always not less notable and
admirable than his large and solid knowledge, his full and lucid
comprehension at once of the text and of the history of Shakespeare's
plays; and if his research into the inner details of that history may
seem ever to have erred from the straight path of firm and simple
certainty into some dubious byway of theory or conjecture, we may be sure
at least that no lack of learning or devotion, of ardour or intelligence,
but more probably some noble thought that was fathered by a noble wish to
do honour to Shakespeare, has led him to attribute to his original some
quality foreign to the text, or to question the authenticity of what for
love of his author he might not wish to find in it.  Thus he would reject
the main part of the fifth act as the work of a mere court laureate, an
official hack or hireling employed to anoint the memory of an archbishop
and lubricate the steps of a throne with the common oil of dramatic
adulation; and finding it in either case a task alike unworthy of
Shakespeare to glorify the name of Cranmer or to deify the names of the
queen then dead and the king yet living, it is but natural that he should
be induced by an unconscious bias or prepossession of the will to
depreciate the worth of the verse sent on work fitter for ushers and
embalmers and the general valetry or varletry of Church and State.  That
this fifth act is unequal in point of interest to the better part of the
preceding acts with which it is connected by so light and loose a tie of
convenience is as indisputable as that the style of the last scene
savours now and then, and for some space together, more strongly than
ever of Fletcher's most especial and distinctive qualities, or that the
whole structure of the play if judged by any strict rule of pure art is
incomposite and incongruous, wanting in unity, consistency, and coherence
of interest.  The fact is that here even more than in _King John_ the
poet's hands were hampered by a difficulty inherent in the subject.  To
an English and Protestant audience, fresh from the passions and perils of
reformation and reaction, he had to present an English king at war with
the papacy, in whom the assertion of national independence was incarnate;
and to the sympathies of such an audience it was a matter of mere
necessity for him to commend the representative champion of their cause
by all means which he could compel into the service of his aim.  Yet this
object was in both instances all but incompatible with the natural and
necessary interest of the plot.  It was inevitable that this interest
should in the main be concentrated upon the victims of the personal or
national policy of either king; upon Constance and Arthur, upon Katherine
and Wolsey.  Where these are not, either apparent in person on the stage,
or felt in their influence upon the speech and action of the characters
present, the pulse of the poem beats fainter and its forces begin to
flag.  In _King John_ this difficulty was met and mastered, these double
claims of the subject of the poem and the object of the poet were
satisfied and harmonised, by the effacement of John and the substitution
of Faulconbridge as the champion of the national cause and the
protagonist of the dramatic action.  Considering this play in its double
aspect of tragedy and history, we might say that the English hero becomes
the central figure of the poem as seen from its historic side, while John
remains the central figure of the poem as seen from its tragic side; the
personal interest that depends on personal crime and retribution is
concentrated on the agony of the king; the national interest which he,
though the eponymous hero of the poem, was alike inadequate as a craven
and improper as a villain to sustain and represent in the eyes of the
spectators was happily and easily transferred to the one person of the
play who could properly express within the compass of its closing act at
once the protest against papal pretension, the defiance of foreign
invasion, and the prophetic assurance of self-dependent life and self-
sufficing strength inherent in the nation then fresh from a fiercer trial
of its quality, which an audience of the days of Queen Elizabeth would
justly expect from the poet who undertook to set before them in action
the history of the days of King John.  That history had lately been
brought upon the stage under the hottest and most glaring light that
could be thrown on it by the fire of fanatical partisanship; _The
Troublesome Reign of King John_, weakest and most wooden of all wearisome
chronicles that ever cumbered the boards, had in it for sole principle of
life its power of congenial appeal to the same blatant and vulgar spirit
of Protestantism which inspired it.  In all the flat interminable morass
of its tedious and tuneless verse I can find no blade or leaf of living
poetic growth, no touch but one of nature or of pathos, where Arthur
dying would fain send a last thought in search of his mother.  From this
play Shakespeare can have got neither hint nor help towards the execution
of his own; the crude rough sketch of the Bastard as he brawls and
swaggers through the long length of its scenes is hardly so much as the
cast husk or chrysalid of the noble creature which was to arise and take
shape for ever at the transfiguring touch of Shakespeare.  In the case of
_King Henry VIII_. he had not even such a blockish model as this to work
from.  The one preceding play known to me which deals professedly with
the same subject treats of quite other matters than are handled by
Shakespeare, and most notably with the scholastic adventures or
misadventures of Edward Prince of Wales and his whipping-boy Ned Browne.
A fresh and wellnigh a plausible argument might be raised by the critics
who deny the unity of authorship in King Henry VIII., on the ground that
if Shakespeare had completed the work himself he would surely not have
let slip the occasion to introduce one of the most famous and popular of
all court fools in the person of Will Summers, who might have given life
and relief to the action of many scenes now unvaried and unbroken in
their gravity of emotion and event.  Shakespeare, one would say, might
naturally have been expected to take up and remodel the well-known figure
of which his humble precursor could give but a rough thin outline, yet
sufficient it should seem to attract the tastes to which it appealed; for
this or some other quality of seasonable attraction served to float the
now forgotten play of Samuel Rowley through several editions.  The
central figure of the huge hot-headed king, with his gusts of stormy good
humour and peals of burly oaths which might have suited "Garagantua's
mouth" and satisfied the requirements of Hotspur, appeals in a ruder
fashion to the survival of the same sympathies on which Shakespeare with
a finer instinct as evidently relied; the popular estimate of the bluff
and brawny tyrant "who broke the bonds of Rome" was not yet that of later
historians, though doubtless neither was it that of the writer or writers
who would champion him to the utterance.  Perhaps the opposite verdicts
given by the instinct of the people on "bluff King Hal" and "Bloody Mary"
may be understood by reference to a famous verse of Juvenal.  The
wretched queen was sparing of noble blood and lavish of poor men's
lives--_cerdonibus timenda_; and the curses under which her memory was
buried were spared by the people to her father, _Lamiarum caede madenti_.
In any case, the humblest not less than the highest of the poets who
wrote under the reign of his daughter found it safe to present him in a
popular light before an audience of whose general prepossession in his
favour William Shakespeare was no slower to take advantage than Samuel

The two plays we have just discussed have one quality of style in common
which has already been noted; that in them rhetoric is in excess of
action or passion, and far in excess of poetry.  They are not as yet
perfect examples of his second manner, though far ahead of his first
stage in performance as in promise.  Compared with the full and living
figure of Katherine or of Constance, the study of Margaret of Anjou is
the mere sketch of a poet still in his pupilage: John and Henry,
Faulconbridge and Wolsey, are designs beyond reach of the hand which drew
the second and third Richard without much background or dramatic
perspective.  But the difficulties inherent in either subject are not
surmounted throughout with absolute equality of success; the very point
of appeal to the sympathy and excitement of the time may have been
something of a disturbing force in the composition of the work--a
loadstone rock indeed, of tempting attraction to the patriot as well as
to the playwright, but possibly capable of proving in some measure a rock
of offence to the poet whose ship was piloted towards it.  His perfect
triumph in the field of patriotic drama, coincident with the perfect
maturity of his comic genius and his general style, has now to show

The great national trilogy which is at once the flower of Shakespeare's
second period and the crown of his achievements in historic drama--unless
indeed we so far depart from the established order and arrangement of his
works as to include his three Roman plays in the same class with these
English histories--offers perhaps the most singular example known to us
of the variety in fortune which befell his works on their first
appearance in print.  None of these had better luck in that line at
starting than _King Henry IV_.; none had worse than _King Henry V_.  With
_Romeo and Juliet_, the _Merry Wives of Windsor_, and _Hamlet_, it shares
the remarkable and undesirable honour of having been seized and boarded
by pirates even before it had left the dockyard.  The masterbuilder's
hands had not yet put the craft into seaworthy condition when she was
overhauled by these Kidds and Blackbeards of the press.  Of those four
plays, the two tragedies at least were thoroughly recast, and rewritten
from end to end: the pirated editions giving us a transcript, more or
less perfect or imperfect, accurate or corrupt, of the text as it first
came from the poet's hand; a text to be afterwards indefinitely modified
and incalculably improved.  Not quite so much can be said of the comedy,
which certainly stood in less need of revision, and probably would not
have borne it so well; nevertheless every little passing touch of the
reviser's hand is here also a noticeable mark of invigoration and
improvement.  But _King Henry V_., we may fairly say, is hardly less than
transformed.  Not that it has been recast after the fashion of _Hamlet_,
or even rewritten after the fashion of _Romeo and Juliet_; but the
corruptions and imperfections of the pirated text are here more flagrant
than in any other instance; while the general revision of style by which
it is at once purified and fortified extends to every nook and corner of
the restored and renovated building.  Even had we, however, a perfect and
trustworthy transcript of Shakespeare's original sketch for this play,
there can be little doubt that the rough draught would still prove almost
as different from the final masterpiece as is the soiled and ragged
canvas now before us, on which we trace the outline of figures so
strangely disfigured, made subject to such rude extremities of defacement
and defeature.  There is indeed less difference between the two editions
in the comic than in the historic scenes; the pirates were probably more
careful to furnish their market with a fair sample of the lighter than of
the graver ware supplied by their plunder of the poet; Fluellen and
Pistol lose less through their misusage than the king; and the king
himself is less maltreated when he talks plain prose with his soldiers
than when he chops blank verse with his enemies or his lords.  His rough
and ready courtship of the French princess is a good deal expanded as to
length, but (if I dare say so) less improved and heightened in tone than
we might well have wished and it might well have borne; in either text
the Hero's addresses savour rather of a ploughman than a prince, and his
finest courtesies are clownish though not churlish.  We may probably see
in this rather a concession to the appetite of the groundlings than an
evasion of the difficulties inherent in the subject-matter of the scene;
too heavy as these might have been for another, we can conceive of none
too hard for the magnetic tact and intuitive delicacy of Shakespeare's
judgment and instinct.  But it must fairly and honestly be admitted that
in this scene we find as little of the charm and humour inseparable from
the prince as of the courtesy and dignity to be expected from the king.

It should on the other hand be noted that the finest touch in the comic
scenes, if not the finest in the whole portrait of Falstaff, is
apparently an afterthought, a touch added on revision of the original
design.  In the first scene of the second act Mrs. Quickly's remark that
"he'll yield the crow a pudding one of these days" is common to both
versions of the play; but the six words following are only to be found in
the revised edition; and these six words the very pirates could hardly
have passed over or struck out.  They are not such as can drop from the
text of a poet unperceived by the very dullest and horniest of human
eyes.  "The king has killed his heart."  Here is the point in Falstaff's
nature so strangely overlooked by the man of all men who we should have
said must be the first to seize and to appreciate it.  It is as grievous
as it is inexplicable that the Shakespeare of France--the most infinite
in compassion, in "conscience and tender heart," of all great poets in
all ages and all nations of the world--should have missed the deep
tenderness of this supreme and subtlest touch in the work of the greatest
among his fellows.  Again, with anything but "damnable" iteration, does
Shakespeare revert to it before the close of this very scene.  Even
Pistol and Nym can see that what now ails their old master is no such
ailment as in his prosperous days was but too liable to "play the rogue
with his great toe."  "The king hath run bad humours on the knight": "his
heart is fracted, and corroborate."  And it is not thus merely through
the eclipse of that brief mirage, that fair prospect "of Africa, and
golden joys," in view of which he was ready to "take any man's horses."
This it is that distinguishes Falstaff from Panurge; that lifts him at
least to the moral level of Sancho Panza.  I cannot but be reluctant to
set the verdict of my own judgment against that of Victor Hugo's; I need
none to remind me what and who he is whose judgment I for once oppose,
and what and who am I that I should oppose it; that he is he, and I am
but myself; yet against his classification of Falstaff, against his
definition of Shakespeare's unapproached and unapproachable masterpiece
in the school of comic art and humouristic nature, I must and do with all
my soul and strength protest.  The admirable phrase of "swine-centaur"
(_centaure du porc_) is as inapplicable to Falstaff as it is appropriate
to Panurge.  Not the third person but the first in date of that divine
and human trinity of humourists whose names make radiant for ever the
Century of their new-born glory--not Shakespeare but Rabelais is
responsible for the creation or the discovery of such a type as this.
"_Suum cuique_ is our Roman justice"; the gradation from Panurge to
Falstaff is not downward but upward; though it be Victor Hugo's very self
who asserts the contrary. {108}  Singular as may seem the collocation of
the epithet "moral" with the name "Falstaff," I venture to maintain my
thesis; that in point of feeling, and therefore of possible moral
elevation, Falstaff is as undeniably the superior of Sancho as Sancho is
unquestionably the superior of Panurge.  The natural affection of Panurge
is bounded by the self-same limits as the natural theology of Polyphemus;
the love of the one, like the faith of the other, begins and ends alike
at one point;

   And this great belly, first of deities;

(in which line, by the way, we may hear as it were a first faint prelude
of the great proclamation to come--the hymn of praise and thanksgiving
for the coronation day of King Gaster; whose laureate, we know, was as
lovingly familiar with the Polyphemus of Euripides as Shakespeare with
his own Pantagruel.)  In Sancho we come upon a creature capable of
love--but not of such love as kills or helps to kill, such love as may
end or even as may seem to end in anything like heartbreak.  "And now
abideth Rabelais, Cervantes, Shakespeare, these three; but the greatest
of these is Shakespeare."

I would fain score yet another point in the fat knight's favour; "I have
much to say in the behalf of that Falstaff."  Rabelais, evangelist and
prophet of the Resurrection of the Flesh (so long entombed, ignored,
repudiated, misconstrued, vilified, by so many generations and ages of
Galilean preachers and Pharisaic schoolmen)--Rabelais was content to
paint the flesh merely, in its honest human reality--human at least, if
also bestial; in its frank and rude reaction against the half brainless
and wholly bloodless teachers whose doctrine he himself on the one hand,
and Luther on the other, arose together to smite severally--to smite them
hip and thigh, even till the going down of the sun; the mock sun or
marshy meteor that served only to deepen the darkness encompassing on
every side the doubly dark ages--the ages of monarchy and theocracy, the
ages of death and of faith.  To Panurge, therefore, it was unnecessary
and it might have seemed inconsequent to attribute other gifts or
functions than are proper to such intelligence as may accompany the
appetites of an animal.  That most irreverend father in God, Friar John,
belongs to a higher class in the moral order of being; and he much rather
than his fellow-voyager and penitent is properly comparable with
Falstaff.  It is impossible to connect the notion of rebuke with the sins
of Panurge.  The actual lust and gluttony, the imaginary cowardice of
Falstaff, have been gravely and sharply rebuked by critical morality; we
have just noted a too recent and too eminent example of this; but what
mortal ever dreamed of casting these qualities in the teeth of his
supposed counterpart?  The difference is as vast between Falstaff on the
field of battle and Panurge on the storm-tossed deck as between Falstaff
and Hotspur, Panurge and Friar John.  No man could show cooler and
steadier nerve than is displayed in either case--by the lay as well as
the clerical namesake of the fourth evangelist.  If ever fruitless but
endless care was shown to prevent misunderstanding, it was shown in the
pains taken by Shakespeare to obviate the misconstruction which would
impute to Falstaff the quality of a Parolles or a Bobadil, a Bessus or a
Moron.  The delightful encounter between the jester and the bear in the
crowning interlude of _La Princesse d'Elide_ shows once more, I may
remark, that Moliere had sat at the feet of Rabelais as delightedly as
Shakespeare before him.  Such rapturous inebriety or Olympian
incontinence of humour only fires the blood of the graver and less
exuberant humourist when his lips are still warm and wet from the well-
spring of the _Dive Bouteille_.

It is needless to do over again the work which was done, and well done, a
hundred years since, by the writer whose able essay in vindication and
exposition of the genuine character of Falstaff elicited from Dr. Johnson
as good a jest and as bad a criticism as might have been expected.  His
argument is too thoroughly carried out at all points and fortified on all
hands to require or even to admit of corroboration; and the attempt to
appropriate any share of the lasting credit which is his due would be
nothing less than a disingenuous impertinence.  I may here however notice
that in the very first scene of this trilogy which introduces us to the
ever dear and honoured presence of Sir John, his creator has put into the
mouth of a witness no friendlier or more candid than Ned Poins the
distinction between two as true-bred cowards as ever turned back and one
who will fight no longer than he sees reason.  In this nutshell lies the
whole kernel of the matter; the sweet, sound, ripe, toothsome, wholesome
kernel of Falstaff's character and humour.  He will fight as well as his
princely patron, and, like the prince, as long as he sees reason; but
neither Hal nor Jack has ever felt any touch of desire to pluck that
"mere scutcheon" honour "from the pale-faced moon."  Harry Percy is as it
were the true Sir Bedivere, the last of all Arthurian knights; Henry V.
is the first as certainly as he is the noblest of those equally daring
and calculating statesmen-warriors whose two most terrible, most perfect,
and most famous types are Louis XI. and Caesar Borgia.  Gain,
"commodity," the principle of self-interest which never but in word and
in jest could become the principle of action with Faulconbridge,--himself
already far more "a man of this world" than a Launcelot or a Hotspur,--is
as evidently the mainspring of Henry's enterprise and life as of the
contract between King Philip and King John.  The supple and shameless
egotism of the churchmen on whose political sophistries he relies for
external support is needed rather to varnish his project than to reassure
his conscience.  Like Frederic the Great before his first Silesian war,
the future conqueror of Agincourt has practically made up his mind before
he seeks to find as good reason or as plausible excuse as were likewise
to suffice the future conqueror of Rosbach.  In a word, Henry is
doubtless not the man, as old Auchindrane expresses it in the noble and
strangely neglected tragedy which bears solitary but sufficient witness
to the actual dramatic faculty of Sir Walter Scott's genius, to do the
devil's work without his wages; but neither is he, on the like
unprofitable terms, by any manner of means the man to do God's.  No
completer incarnation could be shown us of the militant
Englishman--_Anglais pur sang_; but it is not only, as some have seemed
to think, with the highest, the purest, the noblest quality of English
character that his just and far-seeing creator has endowed him.  The
godlike equity of Shakespeare's judgment, his implacable and impeccable
righteousness of instinct and of insight, was too deeply ingrained in the
very core of his genius to be perverted by any provincial or
pseudo-patriotic prepossessions; his patriotism was too national to be
provincial.  Assuredly no poet ever had more than he: not even the king
of men and poets who fought at Marathon and sang of Salamis: much less
had any or has any one of our own, from Milton on to Campbell and from
Campbell even to Tennyson.  In the mightiest chorus of _King Henry V_. we
hear the pealing ring of the same great English trumpet that was yet to
sound over the battle of the Baltic, and again in our later day over a
sea-fight of Shakespeare's own, more splendid and heart-cheering in its
calamity than that other and all others in their triumph; a war-song and
a sea-song divine and deep as death or as the sea, making thrice more
glorious at once the glorious three names of England, of Grenville, and
of Tennyson for ever.  From the affectation of cosmopolitan indifference
not AEschylus, not Pindar, not Dante's very self was more alien or more
free than Shakespeare; but there was nothing of the dry Tyrtaean twang,
the dull mechanic resonance as of wooden echoes from a platform, in the
great historic chord of his lyre.  "He is very English, too English,
even," says the Master on whom his enemies alone--assuredly not his most
loving, most reverent, and most thankful disciples--might possibly and
plausibly retort that he was "very French, too French, even"; but he
certainly was not "too English" to see and cleave to the main fact, the
radical and central truth, of personal or national character, of typical
history or tradition, without seeking to embellish, to degrade, in either
or in any way to falsify it.  From king to king, from cardinal to
cardinal, from the earliest in date of subject to the latest of his
histories, we find the same thread running, the same link of honourable
and righteous judgment, of equitable and careful equanimity, connecting
and combining play with play in an unbroken and infrangible chain of
evidence to the singleness of the poet's eye, the identity of the
workman's hand, which could do justice and would do no more than justice,
alike to Henry and to Wolsey, to Pandulph and to John.  His typical
English hero or historic protagonist is a man of their type who founded
and built up the empire of England in India; a hero after the future
pattern of Hastings and of Clive; not less daringly sagacious and not
more delicately scrupulous, not less indomitable or more impeccable than
they.  A type by no means immaculate, a creature not at all too bright
and good for English nature's daily food in times of mercantile or
military enterprise; no whit more if no whit less excellent and radiant
than reality.  _Amica Britannia, sed magis amica veritas_.  The master
poet of England--all Englishmen may reasonably and honourably be proud of
it--has not two weights and two measures for friend and foe.  This
palpable and patent fact, as his only and worthy French translator has
well remarked, would of itself suffice to exonerate his memory from the
imputation of having perpetrated in its evil entirety _The First Part of
King Henry VI_.

There is, in my opinion, somewhat more of internal evidence than I have
ever seen adduced in support of the tradition current from an early date
as to the origin of the _Merry Wives of Windsor_; a tradition which
assigns to Queen Elizabeth the same office of midwife with regard to this
comedy as was discharged by Elwood with reference to _Paradise Regained_.
Nothing could so naturally or satisfactorily explain its existence as the
expression of a desire to see "Falstaff in love," which must have been
nothing less than the equivalent of a command to produce him under the
disguise of such a transfiguration on the boards.  The task of presenting
him so shorn of his beams, so much less than archangel (of comedy)
ruined, and the excess of (humorous) glory obscured, would hardly, we
cannot but think and feel, have spontaneously suggested itself to
Shakespeare as a natural or eligible aim for the fresh exercise of his
comic genius.  To exhibit Falstaff as throughout the whole course of five
acts a credulous and baffled dupe, one "easier to be played on than a
pipe," was not really to reproduce him at all.  The genuine Falstaff
could no more have played such a part than the genuine Petruchio could
have filled such an one as was assigned him by Fletcher in the luckless
hour when that misguided poet undertook to continue the subject and to
correct the moral of the next comedy in our catalogue of Shakespeare's.
_The Tamer Tamed_ is hardly less consistent or acceptable as a sequel to
the _Taming of the Shrew_ than the _Merry Wives of Windsor_ as a
supplement to _King Henry IV_.: and no conceivable comparison could more
forcibly convey, how broad and deep is the gulf of incongruity which
divides them.

The plea for once suggested by the author in the way of excuse or
extenuation for this incompatibility of Falstaff with Falstaff--for the
violation of character goes far beyond mere inconsistency or the natural
ebb and flow of even the brightest wits and most vigorous intellects--will
commend itself more readily to the moralist than to the humanist; in
other words, to the preacher rather than to the thinker, the sophist
rather than the artist.  Here only does Shakespeare show that he feels
the necessity of condescending to such evasion or such apology as is
implied in the explanation of Falstaff's incredible credulity by a
reference to "the guiltiness of his mind" and the admission, so
gratifying to all minds more moral than his own, that "wit may be made a
Jack-a-Lent, when 'tis upon ill employment."  It is the best excuse that
can be made; but can we imagine the genuine, the pristine Falstaff
reduced to the proffer of such an excuse in serious good earnest?

In the original version of this comedy there was not a note of poetry
from end to end; as it then appeared, it might be said to hold the same
place on the roll of Shakespeare's plays as is occupied by _Bartholomew
Fair_ on the roll of Ben Jonson's.  From this point of view it is curious
to contrast the purely farcical masterpieces of the town-bred schoolboy
and the country lad.  There is a certain faint air of the fields, the
river, and the park, even in the rough sketch of Shakespeare's
farce--wholly prosaic as it is, and in no point suggestive of any
unlikelihood in the report which represents it as the composition or
rather as the improvisation of a fortnight.  We know at once that he must
have stroked the fallow greyhound that was outrun on "Cotsall"; that he
must--and perhaps once or twice at least too often--have played truant
(some readers, boys past or present, might wish for association's sake it
could actually have been Datchet-wards) from under the shadow of good Sir
Hugh's probably not over formidable though "threatening twigs of birch,"
at all risks of being "preeches" on his return, in fulfilment of the
direful menace held out to that young namesake of his over whose
innocence Mrs. Quickly was so creditably vigilant.  On the other hand, no
student of Jonson will need to be reminded how closely and precociously
familiar the big stalwart Westminster boy, Camden's favoured and grateful
pupil, must have made himself with the rankest haunts and most unsavoury
recesses of that ribald waterside and Smithfield life which he lived to
reproduce on the stage with a sometimes insufferable fidelity to details
from which Hogarth might have shrunk.  Even his unrivalled proficiency in
classic learning can hardly have been the fruit of greater or more
willing diligence in school hours than he must have lavished on other
than scholastic studies in the streets.  The humour of his huge
photographic group of divers "humours" is undeniably and incomparably
richer, broader, fuller of invention and variety, than any that
Shakespeare's lighter work can show; all the five acts of the latter
comedy can hardly serve as counterpoise, in weight and wealth of comic
effect, to the single scene in which Zeal-of-the-Land defines the moral
and theological boundaries of action and intention which distinguish the
innocent if not laudable desire to eat pig from the venial though not
mortal sin of longing to eat pig in the thick of the profane Fair, which
may rather be termed a foul than a fair.  Taken from that point of view
which looks only to force and freedom and range of humorous effect,
Jonson's play is to his friend's as London is to Windsor; but in more
senses than one it is to Shakespeare's as the Thames at London Bridge is
to the Thames at Eton: the atmosphere of Smithfield is not more different
from the atmosphere of the playing-fields; and some, too delicate of nose
or squeamish of stomach, may prefer Cuckoo Weir to Shoreditch.  But
undoubtedly the phantoms of Shallow and Mrs. Quickly which put in (so to
speak) a nominal reappearance in the _Merry Wives of Windsor_ are
comparatively as poor and thin if set over against the full rich outlines
of Rabbi Busy and Dame Purecraft as these again are at all points alike
inferior to the real Shallow and the genuine Quickly of _King Henry IV_.
It is true that Jonson's humour has sometimes less in common with
Shakespeare's than with the humour of Swift, Smollett, and Carlyle.  For
all his admiration and even imitation of Rabelais, Shakespeare has hardly
once or twice burnt but so much as a stray pinch of fugitive incense on
the altar of Cloacina; the only Venus acknowledged and adored by those
three latter humourists.  If not always constant with the constancy of
Milton to the service of Urania, he never turns into a dirtier byway or
back alley than the beaten path trodden occasionally by most of his kind
which leads them on a passing errand of no unnatural devotion to the
shrine of Venus Pandemos.

When, however, we turn from the raw rough sketch to the enriched and
ennobled version of the present play we find it in this its better shape
more properly comparable with another and a nobler work of Jonson's--with
that magnificent comedy, the first avowed and included among his
collection by its author, which according to all tradition first owed its
appearance and success to the critical good sense and generous good
offices of Shakespeare.  Neither my duly unqualified love for the greater
poet nor my duly qualified regard for the less can alter my sense that
their mutual relations are in this one case inverted; that _Every Man in
his Humour_ is altogether a better comedy and a work of higher art than
the _Merry Wives of Windsor_.  Kitely is to Ford almost what Arnolphe is
to Sganarelle.  (As according to the learned Metaphraste "Filio non
potest praeferri nisi filius," even so can no one but Moliere be
preferred or likened to Moliere.)  Without actually touching like
Arnolphe on the hidden springs of tragedy, the jealous husband in
Jonson's play is only kept from trenching on the higher and forbidden
grounds of passion by the potent will and the consummate self-command of
the great master who called him up in perfect likeness to the life.
Another or a deeper tone, another or a stronger touch, in the last two
admirable scenes with his cashier and his wife, when his hot smouldering
suspicion at length catches fire and breaks out in agony of anger, would
have removed him altogether beyond the legitimate pale of comedy.  As it
is, the self-control of the artist is as thorough as his grasp and
mastery of his subject are triumphant and complete.

It would seem as though on revision of the _Merry Wives of Windsor_
Shakespeare had found himself unwilling or rather perhaps unable to leave
a single work of his hand without one touch or breath on it of beauty or
of poetry.  The sole fitting element of harmonious relief or variety in
such a case could of course be found only in an interlude of pure fancy;
any touch of graver or deeper emotion would simply have untuned and
deranged the whole scheme of composition.  A lesser poet might have been
powerless to resist the temptation or suggestion of sentiment that he
should give to the little loves of Anne Page and Fenton a touch of
pathetic or emotional interest; but "opulent as Shakespeare was, and of
his opulence prodigal" (to borrow a phrase from Coleridge), he knew
better than to patch with purple or embroider with seed-pearl the hem of
this homespun little piece of comic drugget.  The match between cloth of
gold and cloth of frieze could hardly have borne any good issue in this
instance.  Instead therefore of following the lead of Terence's or the
hint of Jonson's example, and exalting the accent of his comedy to the
full-mouthed pitch of a Chremes or a Kitely, he strikes out some forty
and odd lines of rather coarse and commonplace doggrel about brokers,
proctors, lousy fox-eyed serjeants, blue and red noses, and so forth, to
make room for the bright light interlude of fairyland child's-play which
might not unfittingly have found place even within the moon-charmed
circle of _A Midsummer Night's Dream_.  Even in that all heavenly poem
there are hardly to be found lines of more sweet and radiant simplicity
than here.

The refined instinct, artistic judgment, and consummate taste of
Shakespeare were perhaps never so wonderfully shown as in his recast of
another man's work--a man of real if rough genius for comedy--which we
get in the _Taming of the Shrew_.  Only the collation of scene with
scene, then of speech with speech, then of line with line, will show how
much may be borrowed from a stranger's material and how much may be added
to it by the same stroke of a single hand.  All the force and humour
alike of character and situation belong to Shakespeare's eclipsed and
forlorn precursor; he has added nothing; he has tempered and enriched
everything.  That the luckless author of the first sketch is like to
remain a man as nameless as the deed of the witches in _Macbeth_, unless
some chance or caprice of accident should suddenly flash favouring light
on his now impersonal and indiscoverable individuality, seems clear
enough when we take into account the double and final disproof of his
imaginary identity with Marlowe, which Mr. Dyce has put forward with such
unanswerable certitude.  He is a clumsy and coarse-fingered plagiarist
from that poet, and his stolen jewels of expression look so grossly out
of place in the homely setting of his usual style that they seem
transmuted from real to sham.  On the other hand, he is of all the Pre-
Shakespeareans known to us incomparably the truest, the richest, the most
powerful and original humourist; one indeed without a second on that
ground, for "the rest are nowhere."  Now Marlowe, it need scarcely be
once again reiterated, was as certainly one of the least and worst among
jesters as he was one of the best and greatest among poets.  There can
therefore be no serious question of his partnership in a play wherein the
comic achievement is excellent and the poetic attempts are execrable

The recast of it in which a greater than Berni has deigned to play the
part of that poet towards a lesser than Bojardo shows tact and delicacy
perhaps without a parallel in literature.  No chance of improvement is
missed, while nothing of value is dropped or thrown away. {125}  There is
just now and then a momentary return perceptible to the skipping metre
and fantastic manner of the first period, which may have been
unconsciously suggested by the nature of the task in hand--a task of
itself implying or suggesting some new study of old models; but the main
style of the play in all its weightier parts is as distinctly proper to
the second period, as clear an evidence of inner and spiritual affinity
(with actual tabulation of dates, were such a thing as feasible as it is
impossible, I must repeat that the argument would here be--what it is
now--in no wise concerned), as is the handling of character throughout;
but most especially the subtle force, the impeccable and careful
instinct, the masculine delicacy of touch, by which the somewhat
ruffianly temperament of the original Ferando is at once refined and
invigorated through its transmutation into the hearty and humorous
manliness of Petruchio's.

It is observable that those few and faint traces which we have noticed in
this play of a faded archaic style trying as it were to resume a mockery
of revirescence are not wholly even if mainly confined to the underplot
which a suggestion or surmise of Mr. Collier's long since assigned to
Haughton, author of _Englishmen for my Money, or A Woman will have her
Will_: a spirited, vigorous, and remarkably regular comedy of intrigue,
full of rough and ready incident, bright boisterous humour, honest lively
provinciality and gay high-handed Philistinism.  To take no account of
this attribution would be to show myself as shamelessly as shamefully
deficient in that respect and gratitude which all genuine and thankful
students will always be as ready to offer as all thankless and insolent
sciolists can ever be to disclaim, to the venerable scholar who since I
was first engaged on these notes has added yet another obligation to the
many under which he had already laid all younger and lesser labourers in
the same field of study, by the issue in a form fitly ennobled and
enriched of his great historical work on our early stage.  It might seem
something of an unintended impertinence to add that such recognition of
his theory no more implies a blind acceptance of it--whatever such
acceptance on my part might be worth--than the expression of such
gratitude and respect could reasonably be supposed to imply an equally
blind confidence in the authority or the value of that version of
Shakespeare's text which has been the means of exposing a name so long
and so justly honoured, not merely to the natural and rational
inquisition of rival students, but to the rancorous and ribald obloquy of
thankless and frontless pretenders.

Here perhaps as well as anywhere else I may find a proper place to
intercalate the little word I have to say in partial redemption of my
pledge to take in due time some notice at more or less length, of the
only two among the plays doubtfully ascribed to Shakespeare which in my
eyes seem to bear any credible or conceivable traces of his touch.  Of
these two I must give the lesser amount of space and attention to that
one which in itself is incomparably the more worthy of discussion,
admiration, and regard.  The reason of this lies in the very excellence
which has attracted to it the notice of such competent judges and the
suffrage of such eminent names as would make the task of elaborate
commentary and analytic examination something more than superfluous on my
part; whereas the other has never been and will never be assigned to
Shakespeare by any critical student whose verdict is worth a minute's
consideration or the marketable value of a straw.  Nevertheless it is on
other grounds worth notice; and such notice, to be itself of any value,
must of necessity be elaborate and minute.  The critical analysis of
_King Edward III_. I have therefore relegated to its proper place in an
appendix; while I reserve a corner of my text, at once out of admiration
for the play itself and out of reverence for the names and authority of
some who have given their verdict in its behalf, for a rough and rapid
word or two on _Arden of Feversham_.

It is with equally inexpressible surprise that I find Mr. Collier
accepting as Shakespeare's any part of _A Warning for Fair Women_, and
rejecting without compromise or hesitation the belief or theory which
would assign to the youth of Shakespeare the incomparably nobler tragic
poem in question. {129}  His first ascription to Shakespeare of _A
Warning for Fair Women_ is couched in terms far more dubious and
diffident than such as he afterwards adopts.  It "might," he says, "be
given to Shakespeare on grounds far more plausible" (on what, except
possibly those of date, I cannot imagine) "than those applicable to
_Arden of Feversham_."  He then proceeds to cite some detached lines and
passages of undeniable beauty and vigour, containing equally undeniable
coincidences of language, illustration, and expression with "passages in
Shakespeare's undisputed plays."  From these he passes on to indicate a
"resemblance" which "is not merely verbal," and to extract whole speeches
which "are Shakespearean in a much better sense"; adding in a surely too
trenchant fashion, "Here we say, _aut Shakespeare aut diabolus_."  I must
confess, with all esteem for the critic and all admiration for the brief
scene cited, that I cannot say, Shakespeare.

There are spirits of another sort from whom we naturally expect such
assumptions and inferences as start from the vantage ground of a few
separate or separable passages, and clear at a flying leap the empty
space intervening which divides them from the goal of evidence as to
authorship.  Such a spirit was that of the late Mr. Simpson, to whose
wealth of misused learning and fertility of misapplied conjecture I have
already paid all due tribute; but who must have had beyond all other sane
men--most assuredly, beyond all other fairly competent critics--the gift
bestowed on him by a malignant fairy of mistaking assumption for argument
and possibility for proof.  He was the very Columbus of mare's nests; to
the discovery of them, though they lay far beyond the pillars of
Hercules, he would apply all shifts and all resources possible to an
ultra-Baconian process of unphilosophical induction.  On the devoted head
of Shakespeare--who is also called Shakspere and Chaxpur--he would have
piled a load of rubbish, among which the crude and vigorous old tragedy
under discussion shines out like a veritable diamond of the desert.  His
"School of Shakspere," though not an academy to be often of necessity
perambulated by the most peripatetic student of Shakespeare, will remain
as a monument of critical or uncritical industry, a storehouse of curious
if not of precious relics, and a warning for other than fair women--or
fair scholars--to remember where "it is written that the shoemaker should
meddle with his yard and the tailor with his last, the fisher with his
pencil and the painter with his nets."

To me the difference appears immeasurable between the reasons for
admitting the possibility of Shakespeare's authorship in the case of
_Arden of Feversham_, and the pretexts for imagining the probability of
his partnership in _A Warning for Fair Women_.  There is a practically
infinite distinction between the evidence suggested by verbal or even
more than verbal resemblance of detached line to line or selected passage
to passage, and the proof supplied by the general harmony and spiritual
similarity of a whole poem, on comparison of it as a whole with the known
works of the hypothetical author.  This proof, at all events, we surely
do not get from consideration in this light of the plea put forward in
behalf of _A Warning for Fair Women_.  This proof, I cannot but think, we
are very much nearer getting from contemplation under the same light of
the claim producible for _Arden of Feversham_.

_A Warning for Fair Women_ is unquestionably in its way a noticeable and
valuable "piece of work," as Sly might have defined it.  It is perhaps
the best example anywhere extant of a merely realistic tragedy--of
realism pure and simple applied to the service of the highest of the
arts.  Very rarely does it rise for a very brief interval to the height
of tragic or poetic style, however simple and homely.  The epilogue
affixed to _Arden of Feversham_ asks pardon of the "gentlemen" composing
its audience for "this naked tragedy," on the plea that "simple truth is
gracious enough" without needless ornament or bedizenment of "glozing
stuff."  Far more appropriate would such an apology have been as in this
case was at least superfluous, if appended by way of epilogue to _A
Warning for Fair Women_.  That is indeed a naked tragedy; nine-tenths of
it are in no wise beyond the reach of an able, industrious, and practised
reporter, commissioned by the proprietors of the journal on whose staff
he might be engaged to throw into the force of scenic dialogue his
transcript of the evidence in a popular and exciting case of adultery and
murder.  The one figure on the stage of this author which stands out
sharply defined in our recollection against a background of
undistinguished shadows is the figure of the adulterer and murderer.  This
most discreditable of Browns has a distinct and brawny outline of his
own, a gait and accent as of a genuine and recognisable man, who might
have put to some better profit his shifty spirit of enterprise, his
genuine capacity of affection, his burly ingenuity and hardihood.  His
minor confidants and accomplices, Mrs. Drury and her Trusty Roger, are
mere commonplace profiles of malefactors: but it is in the contrast
between the portraits of their two criminal heroines that the vast gulf
of difference between the capacities of the two poets yawns patent to the
sense of all readers.  Anne Sanders and Alice Arden stand as far beyond
comparison apart as might a portrait by any average academician and a
portrait by Watts or Millais.  Once only, in the simple and noble scene
cited by the over-generous partiality of Mr. Collier, does the widow and
murderess of Sanders rise to the tragic height of the situation and the
dramatic level of the part so unfalteringly sustained from first to last
by the wife and the murderess of Arden.

There is the self-same relative difference between the two subordinate
groups of innocent or guilty characters.  That is an excellent and
effective touch of realism, where Brown comes across his victim's little
boy playing truant in the street with a small schoolfellow; but in _Arden
of Feversham_ the number of touches as telling and as striking as this
one is practically numberless.  They also show a far stronger and keener
faculty of poetic if not of dramatic imagination.  The casual encounter
of little Sanders with the yet red-handed murderer of his father is not
comparable for depth and subtlety of effect with the scene in which
Arden's friend Franklin, riding with him to Raynham Down, breaks off his
"pretty tale" of a perjured wife, overpowered by a "fighting at his
heart," at the moment when they come close upon the ambushed assassins in
Alice Arden's pay.  But the internal evidence in this case, as I have
already intimated, does not hinge upon the proof or the suggestion
offered by any single passage or by any number of single passages.  The
first and last evidence of real and demonstrable weight is the evidence
of character.  A good deal might be said on the score of style in favour
of its attribution to a poet of the first order, writing at a time when
there were but two such poets writing for the stage; but even this is
here a point of merely secondary importance.  It need only be noted in
passing that if the problem be reduced to a question between the
authorship of Shakespeare and the authorship of Marlowe there is no need
and no room for further argument.  The whole style of treatment from end
to end is about as like the method of Marlowe as the method of Balzac is
like the method of Dumas.  There could be no alternative in that case; so
that the actual alternative before us is simple enough: Either this play
is the young Shakespeare's first tragic masterpiece, or there was a
writer unknown to us then alive and at work for the stage who excelled
him as a tragic dramatist not less--to say the very least--than he was
excelled by Marlowe as a narrative and tragic poet.

If we accept, as I have been told that Goethe accepted (a point which I
regret my inability to verify), the former of these alternatives--or if
at least we assume it for argument's sake in passing--we may easily
strengthen our position by adducing as further evidence in its favour the
author's thoroughly Shakespearean fidelity to the details of the prose
narrative on which his tragedy is founded.  But, it may be objected, we
find the same fidelity to a similar text in the case of _A Warning for
Fair Women_.  And here again starts up the primal and radical difference
between the two works: it starts up and will not be overlooked.  Equal
fidelity to the narrative text we do undoubtedly find in either case; the
same fidelity we assuredly do not find.  The one is a typical example of
prosaic realism, the other of poetic reality.  Light from darkness or
truth from falsehood is not more infallibly discernible.  The fidelity in
the one case is exactly, as I have already indicated, the fidelity of a
reporter to his notes.  The fidelity in the other case is exactly the
fidelity of Shakespeare in his Roman plays to the text of Plutarch.  It
is a fidelity which admits--I had almost written, which requires--the
fullest play of the highest imagination.  No more than the most realistic
of reporters will it omit or falsify any necessary or even admissible
detail; but the indefinable quality which it adds to the lowest as to the
highest of these is (as Lamb says of passion) "the all in all in poetry."
Turning again for illustration to one of the highest names in imaginative
literature--a name sometimes most improperly and absurdly inscribed on
the register of the realistic school, {137} we may say that the
difference on this point is not the difference between Balzac and Dumas,
but the distinction between Balzac and M. Zola.  Let us take by way of
example the character next in importance to that of the heroine--the
character of her paramour.  A viler figure was never sketched by Balzac;
a viler figure was seldom drawn by Thackeray.  But as with Balzac, so
with the author of this play, the masterful will combining with the
masterly art of the creator who fashions out of the worst kind of human
clay the breathing likeness of a creature so hatefully pitiful and so
pitifully hateful overcomes, absorbs, annihilates all sense of such
abhorrence and repulsion as would prove the work which excited them no
high or even true work of art.  Even the wonderful touch of dastardly
brutality and pitiful self-pity with which Mosbie at once receives and
repels the condolence of his mistress on his wound--

   _Alice_.--Sweet Mosbie, hide thine arm, it kills my heart.

   _Mosbie_.--_Ay, Mistress Arden, this is your favour_.--

even this does not make unendurable the scenic representation of what in
actual life would be unendurable for any man to witness.  Such an
exhibition of currish cowardice and sullen bullying spite increases
rather our wondering pity for its victim than our wondering sense of her
degradation.  And this is a kind of triumph which only such an artist as
Shakespeare in poetry or as Balzac in prose can achieve.

Alice Arden, if she be indeed a daughter of Shakespeare's, is the eldest
born of that group to which Lady Macbeth and Dionyza belong by right of
weird sisterhood.  The wives of the thane of Glamis and the governor of
Tharsus, it need hardly be said, are both of them creations of a much
later date--if not of the very latest discernible or definable stage in
the art of Shakespeare.  Deeply dyed as she is in bloodguiltiness, the
wife of Arden is much less of a born criminal than these.  To her, at
once the agent and the patient of her crime, the victim and the
instrument of sacrifice and blood-offering to Venus Libitina, goddess of
love and death,--to her, even in the deepest pit of her deliberate
wickedness, remorse is natural and redemption conceivable.  Like the
Phaedra of Racine, and herein so nobly unlike the Phaedra of Euripides,
she is capable of the deepest and bitterest penitence,--incapable of
dying with a hideous and homicidal falsehood on her long polluted lips.
Her latest breath is not a lie but a prayer.

Considering, then, in conclusion, the various and marvellous gifts
displayed for the first time on our stage by the great poet, the great
dramatist, the strong and subtle searcher of hearts, the just and
merciful judge and painter of human passions, who gave this tragedy to
the new-born literature of our drama; taking into account the really
wonderful skill, the absoluteness of intuition and inspiration, with
which every stroke is put in that touches off character or tones down
effect, even in the sketching and grouping of such minor figures as the
ruffianly hireling Black Will, the passionate artist without pity or
conscience, {141} and above all the "unimitated, inimitable" study of
Michael, in whom even physical fear becomes tragic, and cowardice itself
no ludicrous infirmity but rather a terrible passion; I cannot but
finally take heart to say, even in the absence of all external or
traditional testimony, that it seems to me not pardonable merely nor
permissible, but simply logical and reasonable, to set down this poem, a
young man's work on the face of it, as the possible work of no man's
youthful hand but Shakespeare's.

No similar question is raised, no parallel problem stated, in the case of
any one other among the plays now or ever ascribed on grounds more or
less dubious to that same indubitable hand.  This hand I do not recognise
even in the _Yorkshire Tragedy_, full as it is to overflowing of fierce
animal power, and hot as with the furious breath of some caged wild
beast.  Heywood, who as the most realistic and in some sense prosaic
dramatist of his time has been credited (though but in a modestly
tentative and suggestive fashion) with its authorship, was as incapable
of writing it as Chapman of writing the Shakespearean parts of _The Two
Noble Kinsmen_ or Fletcher of writing the scenes of Wolsey's fall and
Katherine's death in _King Henry VIII_.  To the only editor of
Shakespeare responsible for the two earlier of the three suggestions here
set aside, they may be forgiven on the score of insufficient scholarship
and want of critical training; but on what ground the third suggestion
can be excused in the case of men who should have a better right than
most others to speak with some show of authority on a point of higher
criticism, I must confess myself utterly at a loss to imagine.  In the
_Yorkshire Tragedy_ the submissive devotion of its miserable heroine to
her maddened husband is merely doglike,--though not even, in the
exquisitely true and tender phrase of our sovereign poetess, "most
passionately patient."  There is no likeness in this poor trampled figure
to "one of Shakespeare's women": Griselda was no ideal of his.  To find
its parallel in the dramatic literature of the great age, we must look to
lesser great men than Shakespeare.  Ben Jonson, a too exclusively
masculine poet, will give us a couple of companion figures for her--or
one such figure at least; for the wife of Fitzdottrel, submissive as she
is even to the verge of undignified if not indecorous absurdity, is less
of a human spaniel than the wife of Corvino.  Another such is Robert
Davenport's Abstemia, so warmly admired by Washington Irving; another is
the heroine of that singularly powerful and humorous tragi-comedy,
labelled to _How to Choose a Good Wife from a Bad_, which in its central
situation anticipates that of Leigh Hunt's beautiful _Legend of
Florence_; while Decker has revived, in one of our sweetest and most
graceful examples of dramatic romance, the original incarnation of that
somewhat pitiful ideal which even in a ruder and more Russian century of
painful European progress out of night and winter could only be made
credible, acceptable, or endurable, by the yet unequalled genius of
Chaucer and Boccaccio.

For concentrated might and overwhelming weight of realism, this lurid
little play beats _A Warning for Fair Women_ fairly out of the field.  It
is and must always be (I had nearly said, thank heaven) unsurpassable for
pure potency of horror; and the breathless heat of the action, its raging
rate of speed, leaves actually no breathing-time for disgust; it consumes
our very sense of repulsion as with fire.  But such power as this, though
a rare and a great gift, is not the right quality for a dramatist; it is
not the fit property of a poet.  Ford and Webster, even Tourneur and
Marston, who have all been more or less wrongfully though more or less
plausibly attacked on the score of excess in horror, have none of them
left us anything so nakedly terrible, so terribly naked as this.  Passion
is here not merely stripped to the skin but stripped to the bones.  I
cannot tell who could and I cannot guess who would have written it.  "'Tis
a very excellent piece of work"; may we never exactly look upon its like

I thought it at one time far from impossible, if not very nearly
probable, that the author of _Arden of Feversham_ might be one with the
author of the famous additional scenes to _The Spanish Tragedy_, and that
either both of these "pieces of work" or neither must be Shakespeare's.  I
still adhere to Coleridge's verdict, which indeed must be that of all
judges capable of passing any sentence worthier of record than are

   Fancies too weak for boys, too green and idle
   For girls of nine:

to the effect that those magnificent passages, wellnigh overcharged at
every point with passion and subtlety, sincerity and instinct of pathetic
truth, are no less like Shakespeare's work than unlike Jonson's: though
hardly perhaps more unlike the typical manner of his adult and matured
style than is the general tone of _The Case is Altered_, his one
surviving comedy of that earlier period in which we know from Henslowe
that the stout-hearted and long struggling young playwright went through
so much theatrical hackwork and piecework in the same rough harness with
other now more or less notable workmen then drudging under the manager's
dull narrow sidelong eye for bare bread and bare shelter.  But this
unlikeness, great as it is and serious and singular, between his former
and his latter style in high comedy, gives no warrant for us to believe
him capable of so immeasurable a transformation in tragic style and so
indescribable a decadence in tragic power as would be implied in a
descent from the "fine madness" of "old Jeronymo" to the flat sanity and
smoke-dried sobriety of _Catiline_ and _Sejanus_.--I cannot but think,
too, that Lamb's first hypothetical ascription of these wonderful scenes
to Webster, so much the most Shakespearean in gait and port and accent of
all Shakespeare's liege men-at-arms, was due to a far happier and more
trustworthy instinct than led him in later years to liken them rather to
"the overflowing griefs and talking distraction of Titus Andronicus."

We have wandered it may be somewhat out of the right time into a far
other province of poetry than the golden land of Shakespeare's ripest
harvest-fields of humour.  And now, before we may enter the "flowery
square" made by the summer growth of his four greatest works in pure and
perfect comedy "beneath a broad and equal-blowing wind" of all happiest
and most fragrant imagination, we have but one field to cross, one brook
to ford, that hardly can be thought to keep us out of Paradise.  In the
garden-plot on whose wicket is inscribed _All's Well that Ends Well_, we
are hardly distant from Eden itself

   About a young dove's flutter from a wood.

The ninth story of the third day of the Decameron is one of the few
subjects chosen by Shakespeare--as so many were taken by Fletcher--which
are less fit, we may venture to think, for dramatic than for narrative
treatment.  He has here again shown all possible delicacy of instinct in
handling a matter which unluckily it was not possible to handle on the
stage with absolute and positive delicacy of feeling or expression.  Dr.
Johnson--in my humble opinion, with some justice; though his verdict has
been disputed on the score of undeserved austerity--"could not reconcile
his heart to Bertram"; and I, unworthy as I may be to second or support
on the score of morality the finding of so great a moralist, cannot
reconcile my instincts to Helena.  Parolles is even better than Bobadil,
as Bobadil is even better than Bessus; and Lafeu is one of the very best
old men in all the range of comic art.  But the whole charm and beauty of
the play, the quality which raises it to the rank of its fellows by
making it loveable as well as admirable, we find only in the "sweet,
serene, skylike" sanctity and attraction of adorable old age, made more
than ever near and dear to us in the incomparable figure of the old
Countess of Roussillon.  At the close of the play, Fletcher would
inevitably have married her to Lafeu--or rather possibly, to the King.

At the entrance of the heavenly quadrilateral, or under the rising dawn
of the four fixed stars which compose our Northern Cross among the
constellations of dramatic romance hung high in the highest air of
poetry, we may well pause for very dread of our own delight, lest
unawares we break into mere babble of childish rapture and infantile
thanksgiving for such light vouchsafed even to our "settentrional vedovo
sito" that even at their first dawn out of the depths

   Goder pareva il ciel di lor fiammelle.

Beyond these again we see a second group arising, the supreme starry
trinity of the _Winter's Tale_, the _Tempest_, and _Cymbeline_: and
beyond these the divine darkness of everlasting and all-maternal night.
These seven lamps of the romantic drama have in them--if I may strain the
similitude a little further yet--more of lyric light than could fitly be
lent to feed the fire or the sunshine of the worlds of pure tragedy or
comedy.  There is more play, more vibration as it were, in the splendours
of their spheres.  Only in the heaven of Shakespeare's making can we pass
and repass at pleasure from the sunny to the stormy lights, from the
glory of _Cymbeline_ to the glory of _Othello_.

In this first group of four--wholly differing on that point from the
later constellation of three--there is but very seldom, not more than
once or twice at most, a shooting or passing gleam of anything more lurid
or less lovely than "a light of laughing flowers."  There is but just
enough of evil or even of passion admitted into their sweet spheres of
life to proclaim them living: and all that does find entrance is so
tempered by the radiance of the rest that we retain but softened and
lightened recollections even of Shylock and Don John when we think of the
_Merchant of Venice_ and _Much Ado about Nothing_; we hardly feel in _As
You Like It_ the presence or the existence of Oliver and Duke Frederick;
and in _Twelfth Night_, for all its name of the midwinter, we find
nothing to remember that might jar with the loveliness of love and the
summer light of life.

No astronomer can ever tell which if any one among these four may be to
the others as a sun; for in this special tract of heaven "one star
differeth" not "from another star in glory."  From each and all of them,
even "while this muddy vesture of decay doth grossly close [us] in," we
cannot _but_ hear the harmony of a single immortal soul

   Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins.

The coincidence of the divine passage in which I have for once permitted
myself the freedom of altering for quotation's sake one little word, with
a noble excerpt given by Hallam from the Latin prose writings of
Campanella, may recall to us with a doubly appropriate sense of
harmonious fitness the subtly beautiful image of Lord Tennyson;--

   Star to star vibrates light: may soul to soul
   Strike thro' a finer element of her own?

Surely, if ever she may, such a clash might we fancy to have passed from
the spirit of the most glorious martyr and poet to the spirit of the most
glorious poet and artist upon the face of the earth together.  Even to
Shakespeare any association of his name with Campanella's, as even to
Campanella any association of his name with Shakespeare's, cannot but be
an additional ray of honour: and how high is the claim of the divine
philosopher to share with the godlike dramatist their common and crowning
name of poet, all Englishmen at least may now perceive by study of
Campanella's sonnets in the noble and exquisite version of Mr. Symonds;
to whom among other kindred debts we owe no higher obligation than is due
to him as the giver of these poems to the inmost heart of all among his
countrymen whose hearts are worthy to hold and to hoard up such treasure.

Where nothing at once new and true can be said, it is always best to say
nothing; as it is in this case to refrain from all reiteration of
rhapsody which must have been somewhat "mouldy ere" any living man's
"grandsires had nails on their toes," if not at that yet remoter date
"when King Pepin of France was a little boy" and "Queen Guinever of
Britain was a little wench."  In the _Merchant of Venice_, at all events,
there is hardly a single character from Portia to old Gobbo, a single
incident from the exaction of Shylock's bond to the computation of hairs
in Launcelot's beard and Dobbin's tail, which has not been more
plentifully beprosed than ever Rosalind was berhymed.  Much wordy wind
has also been wasted on comparison of Shakespeare's Jew with Marlowe's;
that is, of a living subject for terror and pity with a mere mouthpiece
for the utterance of poetry as magnificent as any but the best of

Nor can it well be worth any man's while to say or to hear for the
thousandth time that _As You Like It_ would be one of those works which
prove, as Landor said long since, the falsehood of the stale axiom that
no work of man's can be perfect, were it not for that one unlucky slip of
the brush which has left so ugly a little smear in one corner of the
canvas as the betrothal of Oliver to Celia; though, with all reverence
for a great name and a noble memory, I can hardly think that matters were
much mended in George Sand's adaptation of the play by the transference
of her hand to Jaques.  Once elsewhere, or twice only at the most, is any
such other sacrifice of moral beauty or spiritual harmony to the
necessities and traditions of the stage discernible in all the world-wide
work of Shakespeare.  In the one case it is unhappily undeniable; no mans
conscience, no conceivable sense of right and wrong, but must more or
less feel as did Coleridge's the double violence done it in the upshot of
_Measure for Measure_.  Even in the much more nearly spotless work which
we have next to glance at, some readers have perhaps not unreasonably
found a similar objection to the final good fortune of such a pitiful
fellow as Count Claudio.  It will be observed that in each case the
sacrifice is made to comedy.  The actual or hypothetical necessity of
pairing off all the couples after such a fashion as to secure a nominally
happy and undeniably matrimonial ending is the theatrical idol whose
tyranny exacts this holocaust of higher and better feelings than the mere
liquorish desire to leave the board of fancy with a palatable morsel of
cheap sugar on the tongue.

If it is proverbially impossible to determine by selection the greatest
work of Shakespeare, it is easy enough to decide on the date and the name
of his most perfect comic masterpiece.  For absolute power of
composition, for faultless balance and blameless rectitude of design,
there is unquestionably no creation of his hand that will bear comparison
with _Much Ado About Nothing_.  The ultimate marriage of Hero and
Claudio, on which I have already remarked as in itself a doubtfully
desirable consummation, makes no flaw in the dramatic perfection of a
piece which could not otherwise have been wound up at all.  This was its
one inevitable conclusion, if the action were not to come to a tragic
end; and a tragic end would here have been as painfully and as grossly
out of place as is any but a tragic end to the action of _Measure for
Measure_.  As for Beatrice, she is as perfect a lady, though of a far
different age and breeding, as Celimene or Millamant; and a decidedly
more perfect woman than could properly or permissibly have trod the stage
of Congreve or Moliere.  She would have disarranged all the dramatic
proprieties and harmonies of the one great school of pure comedy.  The
good fierce outbreak of her high true heart in two swift words--"Kill
Claudio" {154}--would have fluttered the dovecotes of fashionable drama
to some purpose.  But Alceste would have taken her to his own.

No quainter and apter example was ever given of many men's absolute
inability to see the plainest aims, to learn the simplest rudiments, to
appreciate the most practical requisites of art, whether applied to
theatrical action or to any other as evident as exalted aim, than the
instance afforded by that criticism of time past which sagaciously
remarked that "any less amusingly absurd" constables than Dogberry and
Verges would have filled their parts in the action of the play equally
well.  Our own day has doubtless brought forth critics and students of
else unparalleled capacity for the task of laying wind-eggs in mare's
nests, and wasting all the warmth of their brains and tongues in the
hopeful endeavour to hatch them: but so fine a specimen was never dropped
yet as this of the plumed or plumeless biped who discovered that if
Dogberry had not been Dogberry and Verges had not been Verges they would
have been equally unsuccessful in their honest attempt to warn Leonato
betimes of the plot against his daughter's honour.  The only explanation
of the mistake is this; and it is one of which the force will be
intelligible only to those who are acquainted with the very singular
physiology of that remarkably prolific animal known to critical science
as the Shakespearean scholiast: that if Dogberry had been other than
Dogberry, or if Verges had been other than Verges, the action and
catastrophe of the whole play could never have taken place at all.

All true Pantagruelians will always, or at least as long as may be
permitted by the Society for the Suppression of Vice, cherish with an
especial regard the comedy in which Shakespeare also has shown himself as
surely the loving as he would surely have been the beloved disciple of
that insuppressible divine, the immortal and most reverend vicar of
Meudon.  Two only among the mighty men who lived and wrote and died
within the century which gave birth to Shakespeare were found worthy of
so great an honour at his hands as the double homage of citation and
imitation: and these two, naturally and properly enough, were Francois
Rabelais and Christopher Marlowe.  We cannot but recognise on what far
travels in what good company "Feste the jester" had but lately been, on
that night of "very gracious fooling" when he was pleased to enlighten
the unforgetful mind of Sir Andrew as to the history of Pigrogromitus,
and of the Vapians passing the equinoctial of Queubus.  At what precise
degree of latitude and longitude between the blessed islands of Medamothy
and Papimania this equinoctial may intersect the Sporades of the outer
ocean, is a problem on the solution of which the energy of those many
modern sons of Aguecheek who have undertaken the task of writing about
and about the text and the history of Shakespeare might be expended with
an unusually reasonable hope and expectation of arriving at an
exceptionally profitable end.

Even apart from their sunny identity of spirit and bright sweet
brotherhood of style, the two comedies of _Twelfth Night_ and _As You
Like It_ would stand forth confessed as the common offspring of the same
spiritual period by force and by right of the trace or badge they proudly
and professedly bear in common, as of a recent touch from the ripe and
rich and radiant influence of Rabelais.  No better and no fuller
vindication of his happy memory could be afforded than by the evident
fact that the two comedies which bear the imprint of his sign-manual are
among all Shakespeare's works as signally remarkable for the cleanliness
as for the richness of their humour.  Here is the right royal seal of
Pantagruel, clean-cut and clearly stamped, and unincrusted with any flake
of dirt from the dubious finger of Panurge.  In the comic parts of those
plays in which the humour is rank and flagrant that exhales from the lips
of Lucio, of Boult, or of Thersites, there is no trace or glimpse of
Rabelais.  From him Shakespeare has learnt nothing and borrowed nothing
that was not wise and good and sweet and clean and pure.  All the more
honour, undoubtedly, to Shakespeare, that he would borrow nothing else:
but assuredly, also, all the more honour to Rabelais, that he had enough
of this to lend.

It is less creditable to England than honourable to France that a
Frenchman should have been the first of Shakespearean students to
discover and to prove that the great triad of his Roman plays is not a
consecutive work of the same epoch.  Until the appearance of Francois-
Victor Hugo's incomparable translation, with its elaborate and admirable
commentary, it seems to have been the universal and certainly a most
natural habit of English criticism to take the three as they usually
appear together, in the order of historical chronology, and by tacit
implication to assume that they were composed in such order.  I should
take some shame to myself but that I feel more of grateful pride than of
natural shame in the avowal that I at all events owe the first revelation
of the truth now so clear and apparent in this matter, to the son of the
common lord and master of all poets born in his age--be they liege
subjects as loyal as myself or as contumacious as I grieve to find one at
least of my elders and betters, whenever I perceive--as too often I
cannot choose but perceive--that the voice is the voice of Arnold, but
the hand is the hand of Sainte-Beuve.

To the honoured and lamented son of our beloved and glorious Master, whom
neither I nor any better man can ever praise and thank and glorify
enough, belongs all the credit of discerning for himself and discovering
for us all the truth that _Julius Caesar_ is at all points equally like
the greatest works of Shakespeare's middle period and unlike the works of
his last.  It is in the main a play belonging to the same order as _King
Henry IV_.; but it differs from our English Henriade--as remarkably
unlike Voltaire's as _Zaire_ is unlike _Othello_--not more by the absence
of Falstaff than by the presence of Brutus.  Here at least Shakespeare
has made full amends, if not to all modern democrats, yet assuredly to
all historical republicans, for any possible or apparent preference of
royal to popular traditions.  Whatever manner of man may have been the
actual Roman, our Shakespearean Brutus is undoubtedly the very noblest
figure of a typical and ideal republican in all the literature of the
world.  "A democracy such as yours in America is my abhorrence," wrote
Landor once to an impudent and foul-mouthed Yankee pseudosopher, who had
intruded himself on that great man's privacy in order to have the
privilege of afterwards informing the readers of a pitiful pamphlet on
England that Landor had "pestered him with Southey"; an impertinence, I
may add, which Mr. Landor at once rebuked with the sharpest contempt and
chastised with the haughtiest courtesy.  But, the old friend and lifelong
champion of Kossuth went on to say, his feelings were far different
towards a republic; and if on the one point, then not less certainly on
the other, we may be assured that his convictions and his prepossessions
would have been shared by the author of _Coriolanus_ and _Julius Caesar_.

Having now come perforce to the inevitable verge of _Hamlet_, I hasten to
declare that I can advance no pretension to compete with the claim of
that "literary man" who became immortal by dint of one dinner with a
bishop, and in right of that last glass poured out for him in sign of
amity by "Sylvester Blougram, styled _in partibus Episcopus_, _necnon_
the deuce knows what."  I do not propose to prove my perception of any
point in the character of Hamlet "unseized by the Germans yet."  I can
only determine, as the Church Catechism was long since wont to bid me,
"to keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue" not only
"from evil-speaking, lying, and slandering"--though this itself is a form
of abstinence not universally or even commonly practised among the
rampant rout of rival commentators--but also, now as ever throughout this
study, from all conscious repetition of what others have said before me.

In _Hamlet_, as it seems to me, we set foot as it were on the bridge
between the middle and the final period of Shakespeare.  That priceless
waif of piratical salvage which we owe to the happy rapacity of a hungry
publisher is of course more accurately definable as the first play of
_Hamlet_ than as the first edition of the play.  And this first _Hamlet_,
on the whole, belongs altogether to the middle period.  The deeper
complexities of the subject are merely indicated.  Simple and trenchant
outlines of character are yet to be supplanted by features of subtler
suggestion and infinite interfusion.  Hamlet himself is almost more of a
satirist than a philosopher: Asper and Macilente, Felice and Malevole,
the grim studies after Hamlet unconsciously or consciously taken by
Jonson and Marston, may pass as wellnigh passable imitations, with an
inevitable streak of caricature in them, of the first Hamlet; they would
have been at once puerile and ghastly travesties of the second.  The
Queen, whose finished figure is now something of a riddle, stands out
simply enough in the first sketch as confidant of Horatio if not as
accomplice of Hamlet.  There is not more difference between the sweet
quiet flow of those plain verses which open the original play within the
play and the stiff sonorous tramp of their substitutes, full-charged with
heavy classic artillery of Phoebus and Neptune and Tellus and Hymen, than
there is between the straightforward agents of their own destiny whom we
meet in the first _Hamlet_ and the obliquely moving patients who veer
sideways to their doom in the second.

This minor transformation of style in the inner play, made solely with
the evident view of marking the distinction between its duly artificial
forms of speech and the duly natural forms of speech passing between the
spectators, is but one among innumerable indications which only a
purblind perversity of prepossession can overlook of the especial store
set by Shakespeare himself on this favourite work, and the exceptional
pains taken by him to preserve it for aftertime in such fullness of
finished form as might make it worthiest of profound and perpetual study
by the light of far other lamps than illuminate the stage.  Of all vulgar
errors the most wanton, the most wilful, and the most resolutely
tenacious of life, is that belief bequeathed from the days of Pope, in
which it was pardonable, to the days of Mr. Carlyle, in which it is not
excusable, to the effect that Shakespeare threw off _Hamlet_ as an eagle
may moult a feather or a fool may break a jest; that he dropped his work
as a bird may drop an egg or a sophist a fallacy; that he wrote "for
gain, not glory," or that having written _Hamlet_ he thought it nothing
very wonderful to have written.  For himself to have written, he
possibly, nay probably, did not think it anything miraculous; but that he
was in the fullest degree conscious of its wonderful positive worth to
all men for all time, we have the best evidence possible--his own; and
that not by mere word of mouth but by actual stroke of hand.  Ben Jonson
might shout aloud over his own work on a public stage, "By God 'tis
good," and so for all its real goodness and his real greatness make sure
that both the workman and his work should be less unnaturally than
unreasonably laughed at; Shakespeare knew a better way of showing
confidence in himself, but he showed not a whit less confidence.  Scene
by scene, line for line, stroke upon stroke and touch after touch, he
went over all the old laboured ground again; and not to ensure success in
his own day and fill his pockets with contemporary pence, but merely and
wholly with a purpose to make it worthy of himself and his future
students.  Pence and praise enough it had evidently brought him in from
the first.  No more palpable proof of this can be desired than the
instantaneous attacks on it, the jeers, howls, hoots and hisses of which
a careful ear may catch some far faint echo even yet; the fearful and
furtive yelp from beneath of the masked and writhing poeticule, the
shrill reverberation all around it of plagiarism and parody.  Not one
single alteration in the whole play can possibly have been made with a
view to stage effect or to present popularity and profit; or we must
suppose that Shakespeare, however great as a man, was naturally even
greater as a fool.  There is a class of mortals to whom this inference is
always grateful--to whom the fond belief that every great man must needs
be a great fool would seem always to afford real comfort and support:
happy, in Prior's phrase, could their inverted rule prove every great
fool to be a great man.  Every change in the text of _Hamlet_ has
impaired its fitness for the stage and increased its value for the closet
in exact and perfect proportion.  Now, this is not a matter of opinion--of
Mr. Pope's opinion or Mr. Carlyle's; it is a matter of fact and evidence.
Even in Shakespeare's time the actors threw out his additions; they throw
out these very same additions in our own.  The one especial speech, if
any one such especial speech there be, in which the personal genius of
Shakespeare soars up to the very highest of its height and strikes down
to the very deepest of its depth, is passed over by modern actors; it was
cut away by Hemings and Condell.  We may almost assume it as certain that
no boards have ever echoed--at least, more than once or twice--to the
supreme soliloquy of Hamlet.  Those words which combine the noblest
pleading ever proffered for the rights of human reason with the loftiest
vindication ever uttered of those rights, no mortal ear within our
knowledge has ever heard spoken on the stage.  A convocation even of all
priests could not have been more unhesitatingly unanimous in its
rejection than seems to have been the hereditary verdict of all actors.
It could hardly have been found worthier of theological than it has been
found of theatrical condemnation.  Yet, beyond all question, magnificent
as is that monologue on suicide and doubt which has passed from a proverb
into a byword, it is actually eclipsed and distanced at once on
philosophic and on poetical grounds by the later soliloquy on reason and

That Shakespeare was in the genuine sense--that is, in the best and
highest and widest meaning of the term--a free thinker, this otherwise
practically and avowedly superfluous effusion of all inmost thought
appears to me to supply full and sufficient evidence for the conviction
of every candid and rational man.  To that loftiest and most righteous
title which any just and reasoning soul can ever deserve to claim, the
greatest save one of all poetic thinkers has thus made good his right for

I trust it will be taken as no breach of my past pledge to abstain from
all intrusion on the sacred ground of Gigadibs and the Germans, if I
venture to indicate a touch inserted by Shakespeare for no other
perceptible or conceivable purpose than to obviate by anticipation the
indomitable and ineradicable fallacy of criticism which would find the
keynote of Hamlet's character in the quality of irresolution.  I may
observe at once that the misconception involved in such a reading of the
riddle ought to have been evident even without this episodical stroke of
illustration.  In any case it should be plain to any reader that the
signal characteristic of Hamlet's inmost nature is by no means
irresolution or hesitation or any form of weakness, but rather the strong
conflux of contending forces.  That during four whole acts Hamlet cannot
or does not make up his mind to any direct and deliberate action against
his uncle is true enough; true, also, we may say, that Hamlet had
somewhat more of mind than another man to make up, and might properly
want somewhat more time than might another man to do it in; but not, I
venture to say in spite of Goethe, through innate inadequacy to his task
and unconquerable weakness of the will; not, I venture to think in spite
of Hugo, through immedicable scepticism of the spirit and irremediable
propensity to nebulous intellectual refinement.  One practical point in
the action of the play precludes us from accepting so ready a solution of
the riddle as is suggested either by the simple theory of
half-heartedness or by the simple hypothesis of doubt.  There is
absolutely no other reason, we might say there was no other excuse, for
the introduction or intrusion of an else superfluous episode into a play
which was already, and which remains even after all possible excisions,
one of the longest plays on record.  The compulsory expedition of Hamlet
to England, his discovery by the way of the plot laid against his life,
his interception of the King's letter and his forgery of a substitute for
it against the lives of the King's agents, the ensuing adventure of the
sea-fight, with Hamlet's daring act of hot-headed personal intrepidity,
his capture and subsequent release on terms giving no less patent proof
of his cool-headed and ready-witted courage and resource than the attack
had afforded of his physically impulsive and even impetuous hardihood--all
this serves no purpose whatever but that of exhibiting the instant and
almost unscrupulous resolution of Hamlet's character in time of practical
need.  But for all that he or Hamlet has got by it, Shakespeare might too
evidently have spared his pains; and for all this voice as of one crying
in a wilderness, Hamlet will too surely remain to the majority of
students, not less than to all actors and all editors and all critics,
the standing type and embodied emblem of irresolution, half-heartedness,
and doubt.

That Hamlet should seem at times to accept for himself, and even to
enforce by reiteration of argument upon his conscience and his reason,
some such conviction or suspicion as to his own character, tells much
rather in disfavour than in favour of its truth.  A man whose natural
temptation was to swerve, whose inborn inclination was to shrink and
skulk aside from duty and from action, would hardly be the first and last
person to suspect his own weakness, the one only unbiassed judge and
witness of sufficiently sharp-sighted candour and accuracy to estimate
aright his poverty of nature and the malformation of his mind.  But the
high-hearted and tender-conscienced Hamlet, with his native bias towards
introspection intensified and inflamed and directed and dilated at once
by one imperative pressure and oppression of unavoidable and unalterable
circumstance, was assuredly and exactly the one only man to be troubled
by any momentary fear that such might indeed be the solution of his
riddle, and to feel or to fancy for the moment some kind of ease and
relief in the sense of that very trouble.  A born doubter would have
doubted even of Horatio; hardly can all positive and almost palpable
evidence of underhand instigation and inspired good intentions induce
Hamlet for some time to doubt even of Ophelia.


The entrance to the third period of Shakespeare is like the entrance to
that lost and lesser Paradise of old,

   With dreadful faces thronged, and fiery arms.

Lear, Othello, Macbeth, Coriolanus, Antony, Timon, these are names indeed
of something more than tragic purport.  Only in the sunnier distance
beyond, where the sunset of Shakespeare's imagination seems to melt or
flow back into the sunrise, do we discern Prospero beside Miranda,
Florizel by Perdita, Palamon with Arcite, the same knightly and kindly
Duke Theseus as of old; and above them all, and all others of his divine
and human children, the crowning and final and ineffable figure of

Of all Shakespeare's plays, _King Lear_ is unquestionably that in which
he has come nearest to the height and to the likeness of the one tragic
poet on any side greater than himself whom the world in all its ages has
ever seen born of time.  It is by far the most AEschylean of his works;
the most elemental and primaeval, the most oceanic and Titanic in
conception.  He deals here with no subtleties as in _Hamlet_, with no
conventions as in _Othello_: there is no question of "a divided duty" or
a problem half insoluble, a matter of country and connection, of family
or of race; we look upward and downward, and in vain, into the deepest
things of nature, into the highest things of providence; to the roots of
life, and to the stars; from the roots that no God waters to the stars
which give no man light; over a world full of death and life without
resting-place or guidance.

But in one main point it differs radically from the work and the spirit
of AEschylus.  Its fatalism is of a darker and harder nature.  To
Prometheus the fetters of the lord and enemy of mankind were bitter; upon
Orestes the hand of heaven was laid too heavily to bear; yet in the not
utterly infinite or everlasting distance we see beyond them the promise
of the morning on which mystery and justice shall be made one; when
righteousness and omnipotence at last shall kiss each other.  But on the
horizon of Shakespeare's tragic fatalism we see no such twilight of
atonement, such pledge of reconciliation as this.  Requital, redemption,
amends, equity, explanation, pity and mercy, are words without a meaning

   As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
   They kill us for their sport.

Here is no need of the Eumenides, children of Night everlasting; for here
is very Night herself.

The words just cited are not casual or episodical; they strike the
keynote of the whole poem, lay the keystone of the whole arch of thought.
There is no contest of conflicting forces, no judgment so much as by
casting of lots: far less is there any light of heavenly harmony or of
heavenly wisdom, of Apollo or Athene from above.  We have heard much and
often from theologians of the light of revelation: and some such thing
indeed we find in AEschylus: but the darkness of revelation is here.

For in this the most terrible work of human genius it is with the very
springs and sources of nature that her student has set himself to deal.
The veil of the temple of our humanity is rent in twain.  Nature herself,
we might say, is revealed--and revealed as unnatural.  In face of such a
world as this a man might be forgiven who should pray that chaos might
come again.  Nowhere else in Shakespeare's work or in the universe of
jarring lives are the lines of character and event so broadly drawn or so
sharply cut.  Only the supreme self-command of this one poet could so
mould and handle such types as to restrain and prevent their passing from
the abnormal into the monstrous: yet even as much as this, at least in
all cases but one, it surely has accomplished.  In Regan alone would it
be, I think, impossible to find a touch or trace of anything less vile
than it was devilish.  Even Goneril has her one splendid hour, her fire-
flaught of hellish glory; when she treads under foot the half-hearted
goodness, the wordy and windy though sincere abhorrence, which is all
that the mild and impotent revolt of Albany can bring to bear against her
imperious and dauntless devilhood; when she flaunts before the eyes of
her "milk-livered" and "moral fool" the coming banners of France about
the "plumed helm" of his slayer.

On the other side, Kent is the exception which answers to Regan on this.
Cordelia, the brotherless Antigone of our stage, has one passing touch of
intolerance for what her sister was afterwards to brand as indiscretion
and dotage in their father, which redeems her from the charge of
perfection.  Like Imogen, she is not too inhumanly divine for the sense
of divine irritation.  Godlike though they be, their very godhead is
human and feminine; and only therefore credible, and only therefore
adorable.  Cloten and Regan, Goneril and Iachimo, have power to stir and
embitter the sweetness of their blood.  But for the contrast and even the
contact of antagonists as abominable as these, the gold of their spirit
would be too refined, the lily of their holiness too radiant, the violet
of their virtue too sweet.  As it is, Shakespeare has gone down perforce
among the blackest and the basest things of nature to find anything so
equally exceptional in evil as properly to counterbalance and make
bearable the excellence and extremity of their goodness.  No otherwise
could either angel have escaped the blame implied in the very attribute
and epithet of blameless.  But where the possible depth of human hell is
so foul and unfathomable as it appears in the spirits which serve as
foils to these, we may endure that in them the inner height of heaven
should be no less immaculate and immeasurable.

It should be a truism wellnigh as musty as Hamlet's half cited proverb,
to enlarge upon the evidence given in _King Lear_ of a sympathy with the
mass of social misery more wide and deep and direct and bitter and tender
than Shakespeare has shown elsewhere.  But as even to this day and even
in respectable quarters the murmur is not quite duly extinct which would
charge on Shakespeare a certain share of divine indifference to
suffering, of godlike satisfaction and a less than compassionate content,
it is not yet perhaps utterly superfluous to insist on the utter fallacy
and falsity of their creed who whether in praise or in blame would rank
him to his credit or discredit among such poets as on this side at least
may be classed rather with Goethe than with Shelley and with Gautier than
with Hugo.  A poet of revolution he is not, as none of his country in
that generation could have been: but as surely as the author of _Julius
Caesar_ has approved himself in the best and highest sense of the word at
least potentially a republican, so surely has the author of _King Lear_
avowed himself in the only good and rational sense of the words a
spiritual if not a political democrat and socialist.

It is only, I think, in this most tragic of tragedies that the sovereign
lord and incarnate god of pity and terror can be said to have struck with
all his strength a chord of which the resonance could excite such angry
agony and heartbreak of wrath as that of the brother kings when they
smote their staffs against the ground in fierce imperious anguish of
agonised and rebellious compassion, at the oracular cry of Calchas for
the innocent blood of Iphigenia.  The doom even of Desdemona seems as
much less morally intolerable as it is more logically inevitable than the
doom of Cordelia.  But doubtless the fatalism of _Othello_ is as much
darker and harder than that of any third among the plays of Shakespeare,
as it is less dark and hard than the fatalism of _King Lear_.  For upon
the head of the very noblest man whom even omnipotence or Shakespeare
could ever call to life he has laid a burden in one sense yet heavier
than the burden of Lear, insomuch as the sufferer can with somewhat less
confidence of universal appeal proclaim himself a man more sinned against
than sinning.

And yet, if ever man after Lear might lift up his voice in that protest,
it would assuredly be none other than Othello.  He is in all the
prosperous days of his labour and his triumph so utterly and wholly
nobler than the self-centred and wayward king, that the capture of his
soul and body in the unimaginable snare of Iago seems a yet blinder and
more unrighteous blow

   Struck by the envious wrath of man or God

than ever fell on the old white head of that child-changed father.  But
at least he is destroyed by the stroke of a mightier hand than theirs who
struck down Lear.  As surely as Othello is the noblest man of man's
making, Iago is the most perfect evildoer, the most potent demi-devil.  It
is of course the merest commonplace to say as much, and would be no less
a waste of speech to add the half comfortable reflection that it is in
any case no shame to fall by such a hand.  But this subtlest and
strangest work of Shakespeare's admits and requires some closer than
common scrutiny.  Coleridge has admirably described the first great
soliloquy which opens to us the pit of hell within as "the motive-hunting
of a motiveless malignity."  But subtle and profound and just as is this
definitive appreciation, there is more in the matter yet than even this.
It is not only that Iago, so to speak, half tries to make himself half
believe that Othello has wronged him, and that the thought of it gnaws
him inly like a poisonous mineral: though this also be true, it is not
half the truth--nor half that half again.  Malignant as he is, the very
subtlest and strongest component of his complex nature is not even
malignity.  It is the instinct of what Mr. Carlyle would call an
inarticulate poet.  In his immortal study on the affair of the diamond
necklace, the most profound and potent humourist of his country in his
century has unwittingly touched on the mainspring of Iago's
character--"the very pulse of the machine."  He describes his Circe de la
Mothe-Valois as a practical dramatic poet or playwright at least in lieu
of play-writer: while indicating how and wherefore, with all her
constructive skill and rhythmic art in action, such genius as hers so
differs from the genius of Shakespeare that she undeniably could not have
written a _Hamlet_.  Neither could Iago have written an _Othello_.  (From
this theorem, by the way, a reasoner or a casuist benighted enough to
prefer articulate poets to inarticulate, Shakespeare to Cromwell, a fair
Vittoria Colonna to a "foul Circe-Megaera," and even such a strategist as
Homer to such a strategist as Frederic-William, would not illogically
draw such conclusions or infer such corollaries as might result in
opinions hardly consonant with the Teutonic-Titanic evangel of the
preacher who supplied him with his thesis.)  "But what he can do, that he
will": and if it be better to make a tragedy than to write one, to act a
poem than to sing it, we must allow to Iago a station in the hierarchy of
poets very far in advance of his creator's.  None of the great
inarticulate may more justly claim place and precedence.  With all his
poetic gift, he has no poetic weakness.  Almost any creator but his would
have given him some grain of spite or some spark of lust after Desdemona.
To Shakespeare's Iago she is no more than is a rhyme to another and
articulate poet. {179}  His stanza must at any rate and at all costs be
polished: to borrow the metaphor used by Mr. Carlyle in apologetic
illustration of a royal hero's peculiar system of levying recruits for
his colossal brigade.  He has within him a sense or conscience of power
incomparable: and this power shall not be left, in Hamlet's phrase, "to
fust in him unused."  A genuine and thorough capacity for human lust or
hate would diminish and degrade the supremacy of his evil.  He is almost
as far above or beyond vice as he is beneath or beyond virtue.  And this
it is that makes him impregnable and invulnerable.  When once he has said
it, we know as well as he that thenceforth he never will speak word.  We
could smile almost as we can see him to have smiled at Gratiano's most
ignorant and empty threat, being well assured that torments will in no
wise ope his lips: that as surely and as truthfully as ever did the
tortured philosopher before him, he might have told his tormentors that
they did but bruise the coating, batter the crust, or break the shell of
Iago.  Could we imagine a far other lost spirit than Farinata degli
Uberti's endowed with Farinata's might of will, and transferred from the
sepulchres of fire to the dykes of Malebolge, we might conceive something
of Iago's attitude in hell--of his unalterable and indomitable posture
for all eternity.  As though it were possible and necessary that in some
one point the extremities of all conceivable good and of all imaginable
evil should meet and mix together in a new "marriage of heaven and hell,"
the action in passion of the most devilish among all the human damned
could hardly be other than that of the most godlike among all divine
saviours--the figure of Iago than a reflection by hell-fire of the figure
of Prometheus.

Between Iago and Othello the position of Desdemona is precisely that
defined with such quaint sublimity of fancy in the old English
byword--"between the devil and the deep sea."  Deep and pure and strong
and adorable always and terrible and pitiless on occasion as the sea is
the great soul of the glorious hero to whom she has given herself; and
what likeness of man's enemy from Satan down to Mephistopheles could be
matched for danger and for dread against the good bluff soldierly
trustworthy figure of honest Iago?  The rough license of his tongue at
once takes warrant from his good soldiership and again gives warrant for
his honesty: so that in a double sense it does him yeoman's service, and
that twice told.  It is pitifully ludicrous to see him staged to the show
like a member--and a very inefficient member--of the secret police.  But
it would seem impossible for actors to understand that he is not a would-
be detective, an aspirant for the honours of a Vidocq, a candidate for
the laurels of a Vautrin: that he is no less than Lepidus, or than
Antony's horse, "a tried and valiant soldier."  It is perhaps natural
that the two deepest and subtlest of all Shakespeare's intellectual
studies in good and evil should be the two most painfully misused and
misunderstood alike by his commentators and his fellows of the stage: it
is certainly undeniable that no third figure of his creation has ever
been on both sides as persistently misconceived and misrepresented with
such desperate pertinacity as Hamlet and Iago.

And it is only when Iago is justly appreciated that we can justly
appreciate either Othello or Desdemona.  This again should surely be no
more than the truism that it sounds; but practically it would seem to be
no less than an adventurous and audacious paradox.  Remove or deform or
diminish or modify the dominant features of the destroyer, and we have
but the eternal and vulgar figures of jealousy and innocence, newly
vamped and veneered and padded and patched up for the stalest purposes of
puppetry.  As it is, when Coleridge asks "which do we pity the most" at
the fall of the curtain, we can surely answer, Othello.  Noble as are the
"most blessed conditions" of "the gentle Desdemona," he is yet the nobler
of the two; and has suffered more in one single pang than she could
suffer in life or in death.

But if _Othello_ be the most pathetic, _King Lear_ the most terrible,
_Hamlet_ the subtlest and deepest work of Shakespeare, the highest in
abrupt and steep simplicity of epic tragedy is _Macbeth_.  There needs no
ghost come from the grave, any reader may too probably remark, to tell us
this.  But in the present generation such novelties have been unearthed
regarding Shakespeare that the reassertion of an old truth may seem to
have upon it some glittering reflection from the brazen brightness of a
brand-new lie.  Have not certain wise men of the east of
England--Cantabrigian Magi, led by the star of their goddess Mathesis
("mad Mathesis," as a daring poet was once ill-advised enough to dub her
doubtful deity in defiance of scansion rather than of truth)--have they
not detected in the very heart of this tragedy the "paddling palms and
pinching fingers" of Thomas Middleton?

To the simpler eyes of less learned Thebans than these--Thebes, by the
way, was Dryden's irreverent name for Cambridge, the nursing mother of
"his green unknowing youth," when that "renegade" was recreant enough to
compliment Oxford at her expense as the chosen Athens of "his riper
age"--the likelihood is only too evident that the sole text we possess of
_Macbeth_ has not been interpolated but mutilated.  In their version of
_Othello_, remarkably enough, the "player-editors," contrary to their
wont, have added to the treasure-house of their text one of the most
precious jewels that ever the prodigal afterthought of a great poet
bestowed upon the rapture of his readers.  Some of these, by way of
thanksgiving, have complained with a touch of petulance that it was out
of place and superfluous in the setting: nay, that it was incongruous
with all the circumstances--out of tone and out of harmony and out of
keeping with character and tune and time.  In other lips indeed than
Othello's, at the crowning minute of culminant agony, the rush of
imaginative reminiscence which brings back upon his eyes and ears the
lightning foam and tideless thunder of the Pontic sea might seem a thing
less natural than sublime.  But Othello has the passion of a poet closed
in as it were and shut up behind the passion of a hero.  For all his
practical readiness of martial eye and ruling hand in action, he is also
in his season "of imagination all compact."  Therefore it is that in the
face and teeth of all devils akin to Iago that hell could send forth to
hiss at her election, we feel and recognise the spotless exaltation, the
sublime and sun-bright purity, of Desdemona's inevitable and invulnerable
love.  When once we likewise have seen Othello's visage in his mind, we
see too how much more of greatness is in this mind than in another
hero's.  For such an one, even a boy may well think how thankfully and
joyfully he would lay down his life.  Other friends we have of
Shakespeare's giving whom we love deeply and well, if hardly with such
love as could weep for him all the tears of the body and all the blood of
the heart: but there is none we love like Othello.

I must part from his presence again for a season, and return to my topic
in the text of _Macbeth_.  That it is piteously rent and ragged and
clipped and garbled in some of its earlier scenes, the rough construction
and the poltfoot metre, lame sense and limping verse, each maimed and
mangled subject of players' and printers' most treasonable tyranny,
contending as it were to seem harsher than the other, combine in this
contention to bear indisputable and intolerable witness.  Only where the
witches are, and one more potent and more terrible than all witches and
all devils at their beck, can we be sure that such traitors have not
robbed us of one touch from Shakespeare's hand.  The second scene of the
play at least bears marks of such handling as the brutal Shakespearean
Hector's of the "mangled Myrmidons"; it is too visibly "noseless,
handless, hacked and chipped" as it comes to us, crying on Hemings and
Condell.  And it is in this unlucky scene that unkindly criticism has not
unsuccessfully sought for the gravest faults of language and manner to be
found in Shakespeare.  For certainly it cannot be cleared from the charge
of a style stiffened and swollen with clumsy braid and crabbed bombast.
But against the weird sisters, and her who sits above them and apart,
more awful than Hecate's very self, no mangling hand has been stretched
forth; no blight of mistranslation by perversion has fallen upon the
words which interpret and expound the hidden things of their evil will.

To one tragedy as to one comedy of Shakespeare's, the casual or the
natural union of especial popularity with especial simplicity in
selection and in treatment of character makes it as superfluous as it
would be difficult to attempt any application of analytical criticism.
There is nothing in them of a nature so compound or so complex as to call
for solution or resolution into its primal elements.  Here there is some
genuine ground for the generally baseless and delusive opinion of self-
complacent sciolism that he who runs may read Shakespeare.  These two
plays it is hardly worth while to point out by name: all probable readers
will know them at once for _Macbeth_ and _As You Like It_.  There can
hardly be a single point of incident or of character on which the
youngest reader will not find himself at one with the oldest, the dullest
with the brightest among the scholars of Shakespeare.  It would be an
equal waste of working hours or of playtime if any of these should devote
any part of either a whole-schoolday or a holiday to remark or to
rhapsody on the character of Macbeth or of Orlando, of Rosalind or of
Lady Macbeth.  He that runs, let him read: and he that has ears, let him

I cannot but think that enough at least of time has been spent if not
wasted by able and even by eminent men on examination of _Coriolanus_
with regard to its political aspect or bearing upon social questions.  It
is from first to last, for all its turmoil of battle and clamour of
contentious factions, rather a private and domestic than a public or
historical tragedy.  As in _Julius Caesar_ the family had been so wholly
subordinated to the state, and all personal interests so utterly
dominated by the preponderance of national duties, that even the sweet
and sublime figure of Portia passing in her "awful loveliness" was but as
a profile half caught in the background of an episode, so here on the
contrary the whole force of the final impression is not that of a
conflict between patrician and plebeian, but solely that of a match of
passions played out for life and death between a mother and a son.  The
partisans of oligarchic or democratic systems may wrangle at their will
over the supposed evidences of Shakespeare's prejudice against this creed
and prepossession in favour of that: a third bystander may rejoice in the
proof thus established of his impartial indifference towards either: it
is all nothing to the real point in hand.  The subject of the whole play
is not the exile's revolt, the rebel's repentance, or the traitor's
reward, but above all it is the son's tragedy.  The inscription on the
plinth of this tragic statue is simply to Volumnia Victrix.

A loftier or a more perfect piece of man's work was never done in all the
world than this tragedy of _Coriolanus_: the one fit and crowning epithet
for its companion or successor is that bestowed by Coleridge--"the most
wonderful."  It would seem a sign or birthmark of only the greatest among
poets that they should be sure to rise instantly for awhile above the
very highest of their native height at the touch of a thought of
Cleopatra.  So was it, as we all know, with William Shakespeare: so is
it, as we all see, with Victor Hugo.  As we feel in the marvellous and
matchless verses of _Zim-Zizimi_ all the splendour and fragrance and
miracle of her mere bodily presence, so from her first imperial dawn on
the stage of Shakespeare to the setting of that eastern star behind a
pall of undissolving cloud we feel the charm and the terror and the
mystery of her absolute and royal soul.  Byron wrote once to Moore, with
how much truth or sincerity those may guess who would care to know, that
his friend's first "confounded book" of thin prurient jingle ("we call it
a mellisonant tingle-tangle," as Randolph's mock Oberon says of a stolen
sheep-bell) had been the first cause of all his erratic or erotic
frailties: it is not impossible that spirits of another sort may remember
that to their own innocent infantine perceptions the first obscure
electric revelation of what Blake calls "the Eternal Female" was given
through a blind wondering thrill of childish rapture by a lightning on
the baby dawn of their senses and their soul from the sunrise of
Shakespeare's Cleopatra.

Never has he given such proof of his incomparable instinct for abstinence
from the wrong thing as well as achievement of the right.  He has utterly
rejected and disdained all occasion of setting her off by means of any
lesser foil than all the glory of the world with all its empires.  And we
need not Antony's example to show us that these are less than straws in
the balance.

   Entre elle et l'univers qui s'offraient a la fois
   Il hesita, lachant le monde dans son choix.

Even as that Roman grasp relaxed and let fall the world, so has
Shakespeare's self let go for awhile his greater world of imagination,
with all its all but infinite variety of life and thought and action, for
love of that more infinite variety which custom could not stale.  Himself
a second and a yet more fortunate Antony, he has once more laid a world,
and a world more wonderful than ever, at her feet.  He has put aside for
her sake all other forms and figures of womanhood; he, father or creator
of Rosalind, of Cordelia, of Desdemona, and of Imogen, he too, like the
sun-god and sender of all song, has anchored his eyes on her whom
"Phoebus' amorous pinches" could not leave "black," nor "wrinkled deep in
time"; on that incarnate and imperishable "spirit of sense," to whom at
the very last

   The stroke of death is as a lover's pinch,
   That hurts, and is desired.

To him, as to the dying husband of Octavia, this creature of his own hand
might have boasted herself that the loveliest and purest among all her
sisters of his begetting,

            with her modest eyes
   And still conclusion, shall acquire no honour,
   Demurring upon me.

To sum up, Shakespeare has elsewhere given us in ideal incarnation the
perfect mother, the perfect wife, the perfect daughter, the perfect
mistress, or the perfect maiden: here only once for all he has given us
the perfect and the everlasting woman.

And what a world of great men and great things, "high actions and high
passions," is this that he has spread under her for a footcloth or hung
behind her for a curtain!  The descendant of that other his ancestral
Alcides, late offshoot of the god whom he loved and who so long was loth
to leave him, is here as in history the visible one man revealed who
could grapple for a second with very Rome and seem to throw it, more
lightly than he could cope with Cleopatra.  And not the Roman Landor
himself could see or make us see more clearly than has his fellow
provincial of Warwickshire that first imperial nephew of her great first
paramour, who was to his actual uncle even such a foil and counterfeit
and perverse and prosperous parody as the son of Hortense Beauharnais of
Saint-Leu to the son of Letizia Buonaparte of Ajaccio.  For Shakespeare
too, like Landor, had watched his "sweet Octavius" smilingly and
frowningly "draw under nose the knuckle of forefinger" as he looked out
upon the trail of innocent blood after the bright receding figure of his
brave young kinsman.  The fair-faced false "present God" of his poetic
parasites, the smooth triumphant patron and preserver with the heart of
ice and iron, smiles before us to the very life.  It is of no account now
to remember that

         he at Philippi kept
   His sword even like a dancer:

for the sword of Antony that struck for him is in the renegade hand of

I have said nothing of Enobarbus or of Eros, the fugitive once ruined by
his flight and again redeemed by the death-agony of his dark and doomed
repentance, or the freedman transfigured by a death more fair than
freedom through the glory of the greatness of his faith: for who can
speak of all things or of half that are in Shakespeare?  And who can
speak worthily of any?

I am come now to that strange part of a task too high for me, where I
must needs speak not only (as may indeed well be) unworthily, but also
(as may well seem) unlovingly, of some certain portions in the mature and
authentic work of Shakespeare.  "Though it be honest, it is never good"
to do so: yet here I cannot choose but speak plainly after my own poor
conscience, and risk all chances of chastisement as fearful as any once
threatened for her too faithful messenger by the heart-stricken wrath of

In the greater part of this third period, taking a swift and general view
of it for contrast or comparison of qualities with the second, we
constantly find beauty and melody, transfigured into harmony and
sublimity; an exchange unquestionably for the better: but in certain
stages, or only perhaps in a single stage of it, we frequently find
humour and reality supplanted by realism and obscenity; an exchange
undeniably for the worse.  The note of his earliest comic style was often
a boyish or a birdlike wantonness, very capable of such liberties and
levities as those of Lesbia's sparrow with the lip or bosom of his
mistress; as notably in the parts of Boyet and Mercutio: and indeed there
is a bright vein of mere wordy wilfulness running throughout the golden
youth of the two plays which connects _Love's Labour's Lost_ with _Romeo
and Juliet_ as by a thread of floss silk not always "most excellently
ravelled," nor often unspotted or unentangled.  In the second period this
gaiety was replaced by the utmost frankness and fullness of humour, as a
boy's merry madness by the witty wisdom of a man: but now for a time it
would seem as if the good comic qualities of either period were displaced
and ousted by mere coarseness and crudity like that of a hard harsh
photograph.  This ultra-Circean transformation of spirit and
brutification of speech we do not find in the lighter interludes of great
and perfect tragedy: for the porter in _Macbeth_ makes hardly an
exception worth naming.  It is when we come upon the singular little
group of two or three plays not accurately definable at all but roughly
describable as tragi-comedies, or more properly in two cases at least as
tragedies docked of their natural end, curtailed of the due
catastrophe--it is then that we find for the swift sad bright lightnings
of laughter from the lips of the sweet and bitter fool whose timeless
disappearance from the stage of _King Lear_ seems for once a sure sign of
inexplicable weariness or forgetfulness on Shakespeare's part, so
nauseous and so sorry a substitute as the fetid fun and rancid ribaldry
of Pandarus and Thersites.  I must have leave to say that the coincidence
of these two in the scheme of a single play is a thing hardly bearable by
men who object to too strong a savour of those too truly "Eternal
Cesspools" over which the first of living humourists holds as it were for
ever an everlasting nose--or rather, in one sense, does not hold but
expand it for the fuller inhalation of their too congenial fumes with an
apparent relish which will always seem the most deplorable to those who
the most gratefully and reasonably admire that high heroic genius, for
love of which the wiser sort of men must finally forgive all the noisy
aberrations of his misanthropy and philobulgary, anti-Gallican and
Russolatrous insanities of perverse and morbid eloquence.

The three detached or misclassified plays of Shakespeare in which alone a
reverent and reasonable critic might perhaps find something rationally
and really exceptionable have also this far other quality in common, that
in them as in his topmost tragedies of the same period either the
exaltation of his eloquence touches the very highest point of expressible
poetry, or his power of speculation alternately sounds the gulfs and
scales the summits of all imaginable thought.  In all three of them the
power of passionate and imaginative eloquence is not only equal in spirit
or essence but identical in figure or in form: in those two of them which
deal almost as much with speculative intelligence as with poetic action
and passion, the tones and methods, types and objects of thought, are
also not equal only but identical.  An all but absolute brotherhood in
thought and style and tone and feeling unites the quasi-tragedy of
_Troilus and Cressida_ with what in the lamentable default of as apt a
phrase in English I must call by its proper designation in French the
_tragedie manquee_ of _Measure for Measure_.  In the simply romantic
fragment of the Shakespearean _Pericles_, where there was no call and no
place for the poetry of speculative or philosophic intelligence, there is
the same positive and unmistakable identity of imaginative and passionate

I cannot but conjecture that the habitual students of Shakespeare's
printed plays must have felt startled as by something of a shock when the
same year exposed for the expenditure of their sixpences two reasonably
correct editions of a play unknown to the boards in the likeness of
_Troilus and Cressida_, side by side or cheek by jowl with a most
unreasonably and unconscionably incorrect issue of a much older stage
favourite, now newly beautified and fortified, in _Pericles Prince of
Tyre_.  Hitherto, ever since the appearance of his first poem, and its
instant acceptance by all classes from courtiers to courtesans under a
somewhat dubious and two-headed form of popular success,--'vrai succes de
scandale s'il en fut'--even the potent influence and unequivocal example
of Rabelais had never once even in passing or in seeming affected or
infected the progressive and triumphal genius of Shakespeare with a taint
or touch of anything offensive to healthier and cleanlier organs of
perception than such as may belong to a genuine or a pretending Puritan.
But on taking in his hand that one of these two new dramatic pamphlets
which might first attract him either by its double novelty as a never
acted play or by a title of yet more poetic and romantic associations
than its fellow's, such a purchaser as I have supposed, with his mind
full of the sweet rich fresh humour which he would feel a right to expect
from Shakespeare, could hardly have undergone less than a qualm or a pang
of strong disrelish and distaste on finding one of the two leading comic
figures of the play break in upon it at his entrance not even with "a
fool-born jest," but with full-mouthed and foul-mouthed effusion of such
rank and rancorous personalities as might properly pollute the lips even
of some emulous descendant or antiquarian reincarnation of Thersites, on
application or even apprehension of a whip cracked in passing over the
assembled heads of a pseudocritical and mock-historic society.  In either
case we moderns at least might haply desire the intervention of a
beadle's hand as heavy and a sceptral cudgel as knotty as ever the son of
Laertes applied to the shoulders of the first of the type or the tribe of
Thersites.  For this brutal and brutish buffoon--I am speaking of
Shakespeare's Thersites--has no touch of humour in all his currish
composition: Shakespeare had none as nature has none to spare for such
dirty dogs as those of his kind or generation.  There is not even what
Coleridge with such exquisite happiness defined as being the
quintessential property of Swift--"_anima Rabelaesii habitans in
sicco_--the soul of Rabelais dwelling in a dry place."  It is the fallen
soul of Swift himself at its lowest, dwelling in a place yet drier: the
familiar spirit or less than Socratic daemon of the Dean informing the
genius of Shakespeare.  And thus for awhile infected and possessed, the
divine genius had not power to re-inform and re-create the daemonic
spirit by virtue of its own clear essence.  This wonderful play, one of
the most admirable among all the works of Shakespeare's immeasurable and
unfathomable intelligence, as it must always hold its natural high place
among the most admired, will always in all probability be also, and as
naturally, the least beloved of all.  It would be as easy and as
profitable a problem to solve the Rabelaisian riddle of the bombinating
chimaera with its potential or hypothetical faculty of deriving
sustenance from a course of diet on second intentions, as to read the
riddle of Shakespeare's design in the procreation of this yet more
mysterious and magnificent monster of a play.  That on its production in
print it was formally announced as "a new play never staled with the
stage, never clapper-clawed with the palms of the vulgar," we know; must
we infer or may we suppose that therefore it was not originally written
for the stage?  Not all plays were which even at that date appeared in
print: yet it would seem something more than strange that one such play,
written simply for the study, should have been the extra-professional
work of Shakespeare: and yet again it would seem stranger that he should
have designed this prodigious nondescript or portent of supreme genius
for the public stage: and strangest of all, if so, that he should have so
designed it in vain.  Perhaps after all a better than any German or
Germanising commentary on the subject would be the simple and summary
ejaculation of Celia--"O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful
wonderful, and yet again wonderful, and after that out of all whooping!"
The perplexities of the whole matter seem literally to crowd and thicken
upon us at every step.  What ailed the man or any man to write such a
manner of dramatic poem at all? and having written, to keep it beside him
or let it out of his hands into stranger and more slippery keeping,
unacted and unprinted?  A German will rush in with an answer where an
Englishman (_non angelus sed Anglus_) will naturally fear to tread.

Alike in its most palpable perplexities and in its most patent
splendours, this political and philosophic and poetic problem, this
hybrid and hundred-faced and hydra-headed prodigy, at once defies and
derides all definitive comment.  This however we may surely and
confidently say of it, that of all Shakespeare's offspring it is the one
whose best things lose least by extraction and separation from their
context.  That some cynic had lately bitten him by the brain--and
possibly a cynic himself in a nearly rabid stage of anthropophobia--we
might conclude as reasonably from consideration of the whole as from
examination of the parts more especially and virulently affected: yet how
much is here also of hyper-Platonic subtlety and sublimity, of golden and
Hyblaean eloquence above the reach and beyond the snap of any cynic's
tooth!  Shakespeare, as under the guidance at once for good and for evil
of his alternately Socratic and Swiftian familiar, has set himself as if
prepensely and on purpose to brutalise the type of Achilles and
spiritualise the type of Ulysses.  The former is an enterprise never to
be utterly forgiven by any one who ever loved from the very birth of his
boyhood the very name of the son of the sea-goddess in the glorious words
of Mr. Browning's young first-born poem,

   Who stood beside the naked Swift-footed,
   And bound [his] forehead with Proserpine's hair.

It is true, if that be any little compensation, that Hector and
Andromache fare here hardly better than he: while of the momentary
presentation of Helen on the dirtier boards of a stage more miry than the
tub of Diogenes I would not if I could and I must not though I would say
so much as one single proper word.  The hysterics of the eponymous hero
and the harlotries of the eponymous heroine remove both alike beyond the
outer pale of all rational and manly sympathy; though Shakespeare's self
may never have exceeded or equalled for subtle and accurate and bitter
fidelity the study here given of an utterly light woman, shallow and
loose and dissolute in the most literal sense, rather than perverse or
unkindly or unclean; and though Keats alone in his most perfect mood of
lyric passion and burning vision as full of fragrance as of flame could
have matched and all but overmatched those passages in which the rapture
of Troilus makes pale and humble by comparison the keenest raptures of

The relative disfavour in which the play of _Measure for Measure_ has
doubtless been at all times generally held is not in my opinion simply
explicable on the theory which of late years has been so powerfully and
plausibly advanced and advocated on the highest poetic or judicial
authority in France or in the world, that in the land of many-coloured
cant and many-coated hypocrisy the type of Angelo is something too much a
prototype or an autotype of the huge national vice of England.  This
comment is in itself as surely just and true as it is incisive and
direct: but it will not cover by any manner of means the whole question.
The strong and radical objection distinctly brought forward against this
play, and strenuously supported by the wisest and the warmest devotee
among all the worshippers of Shakespeare, is not exactly this, that the
Puritan Angelo is exposed: it is that the Puritan Angelo is unpunished.
In the very words of Coleridge, it is that by his pardon and his marriage
"the strong indignant claim of justice" is "baffled."  The expression is
absolutely correct and apt: justice is not merely evaded or ignored or
even defied: she is both in the older and the newer sense of the word
directly and deliberately baffled; buffeted, outraged, insulted, struck
in the face.  We are left hungry and thirsty after having been made to
thirst and hunger for some wholesome single grain at least of righteous
and too long retarded retribution: we are tricked out of our dole,
defeated of our due, lured and led on to look for some equitable and
satisfying upshot, defrauded and derided and sent empty away.

That this play is in its very inmost essence a tragedy, and that no
sleight of hand or force of hand could give it even a tolerable show of
coherence or consistency when clipped and docked of its proper and
rightful end, the mere tone of style prevalent throughout all its better
parts to the absolute exclusion of any other would of itself most amply
suffice to show.  Almost all that is here worthy of Shakespeare at any
time is worthy of Shakespeare at his highest: and of this every touch,
every line, every incident, every syllable, belongs to pure and simple
tragedy.  The evasion of a tragic end by the invention and intromission
of Mariana has deserved and received high praise for its ingenuity but
ingenious evasion of a natural and proper end is usually the distinctive
quality which denotes a workman of a very much lower school than the
school of Shakespeare.  In short and in fact, the whole elaborate
machinery by which the complete and completely unsatisfactory result of
the whole plot is attained is so thoroughly worthy of such a contriver as
"the old fantastical duke of dark corners" as to be in a moral sense, if
I dare say what I think, very far from thoroughly worthy of the wisest
and mightiest mind that ever was informed with the spirit or genius of
creative poetry.

I have one more note to add in passing which touches simply on a musical
point in lyric verse; and from which I would therefore give any biped who
believes that ears "should be long to measure Shakespeare" all timely
warning to avert the length of his own.  A very singular question, and
one to me unaccountable except by a supposition which on charitable
grounds I should be loth to entertain for a moment--namely, that such
ears are commoner than I would fain believe on heads externally or
ostensibly human,--has been raised with regard to the first immortal song
of Mariana in the moated grange.  This question is whether the second
verse appended by Fletcher to that divine Shakespearean fragment may not
haply have been written by the author of the first.  The visible and
audible evidence that it cannot is of a kind which must at once leap into
sight of all human eyes and conviction of all human ears.  The metre of
Shakespeare's verse, as written by Shakespeare, is not the metre of
Fletcher's.  It can only seem the same to those who hear by finger and
not by ear: a class now at all events but too evidently numerous enough
to refute Sir Hugh's antiquated objection to the once apparently
tautologous phrase of Pistol. {205}

It is of course inexplicable, but it is equally of course undeniable,
that the mention of Shakespeare's _Pericles_ would seem immediately and
invariably to recall to a virtuous critical public of nice and nasty mind
the prose portions of the fourth act, the whole of the prose portions of
the fourth act, and nothing but the prose portions of the fourth act.  To
readers and writers of books who readily admit their ineligibility as
members of a Society for the Suppression of Shakespeare or Rabelais, of
Homer or the Bible, it will seem that the third and fifth acts of this
ill-fated and ill-famed play, and with them the poetical parts of the
fourth act, are composed of metal incomparably more attractive.  But the
virtuous critic, after the alleged nature of the vulturine kind, would
appear to have eyes and ears and nose for nothing else.  It is true that
somewhat more of humour, touched once and again with subtler hints of
deeper truth, is woven into the too realistic weft of these too lifelike
scenes than into any of the corresponding parts in _Measure for Measure_
or in _Troilus and Cressida_; true also that in the hands of imitators,
in hands so much weaker than Shakespeare's as were Heywood's or
Davenport's (who transplanted this unlovely episode from _Pericles_ into
a play of his own), these very scenes or such as they reappear unredeemed
by any such relief in all the rank and rampant ugliness of their raw
repulsive realism: true, again, that Fletcher has once equalled them in
audacity, while stripping off the nakedness of his subject the last
ragged and rude pretence at a moral purpose, and investing it instead
with his very brightest robe of gay parti-coloured humour: but after all
it remains equally true that to senses less susceptible of attraction by
carrion than belong to the vultures of critical and professional virtue
they must always remain as they have always been, something very
considerably more than unattractive.  I at least for one must confess
myself insufficiently virtuous to have ever at any time for any moment
felt towards them the very slightest touch of any feeling more attractive
than repulsion.  And herewith I hasten to wash my hands of the only
unattractive matter in the only three of Shakespeare's plays which offer
any such matter to the perceptions of any healthy-minded and reasonable
human creature.

But what now shall I say that may not be too pitifully unworthy of the
glories and the beauties, the unsurpassable pathos and sublimity inwoven
with the imperial texture of this very play? the blood-red Tyrian purple
of tragic maternal jealousy which might seem to array it in a worthy
attire of its Tyrian name; the flower-soft loveliness of maiden
lamentation over the flower-strewn seaside grave of Marina's old
sea-tossed nurse, where I am unvirtuous enough (as virtue goes among
moralists) to feel more at home and better at ease than in the atmosphere
of her later lodging in Mitylene?  What, above all, shall be said of that
storm above all storms ever raised in poetry, which ushered into a world
of such wonders and strange chances the daughter of the wave-worn and
world-wandering prince of Tyre?  Nothing but this perhaps, that it
stands--or rather let me say that it blows and sounds and shines and
rings and thunders and lightens as far ahead of all others as the
burlesque sea-storm of Rabelais beyond all possible storms of comedy.  The
recent compiler of a most admirably skilful and most delicately
invaluable compendium of Pantagruel or manual by way of guidebook to
Rabelais has but too justly taken note of the irrefragable evidence there
given that the one prose humourist who is to Aristophanes as the human
twin-star Castor to Pollux the divine can never have practically
weathered an actual gale; but if I may speak from a single experience of
one which a witness long inured to Indian storm as well as Indian battle
had never seen matched out of the tropics if ever overmatched within
them, I should venture to say, were the poet in question any other mortal
man than Shakespeare, to whom all things were better known by instinct
than ever they can be to others by experience, that the painter of the
storm in _Pericles_ must have shared the adventure and relished the
rapture of such an hour.  None other most assuredly than himself alone
could have mingled with the material passion of the elements such human
passion of pathos as thrills in such tenderly sublime undertone of an
agony so nobly subdued through the lament of Pericles over Thaisa.  As in
his opening speech of this scene we heard all the clangour and resonance
of warring wind and sea, so now we hear a sound of sacred and spiritual
music as solemn as the central monochord of the inner main itself.

That the three last acts of _Pericles_, with the possible if not over
probable exception of the so-called Chorus, {210} are wholly the work of
Shakespeare in the ripest fullness of his latter genius, is a position
which needs exactly as much proof as does his single-handed authorship of
_Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth_, and _Othello_.  In the fifth act is a remarkable
instance of a thing remarkably rare with him; the recast or repetition in
an improved and reinvigorated form of a beautiful image or passage
occurring in a previous play.  The now only too famous metaphor of
"patience on a monument smiling at grief"--too famous we might call it
for its own fame--is transfigured as from human beauty to divine, in its
transformation to the comparison of Marina's look with that of "Patience
gazing on kings' graves, and smiling Extremity out of act."  A precisely
similar parallel is one to which I have referred elsewhere; that between
the two passages respectively setting forth the reciprocal love of Helena
and Hermia, of Emilia and Flavina.  The change of style and spirit in
either case of reiteration is the change from a simpler to a sublimer
form of beauty.

In the two first acts of _Pericles_ there are faint and rare but evident
and positive traces of a passing touch from the hasty hand of
Shakespeare: even here too we may say after Dido:--

   Nec tam aversus equos Tyria sol jungit ab urbe.

It has been said that those most unmistakable verses on "the blind mole"
are not such as any man could insert into another man's work, or slip in
between the lines of an inferior poet: and that they occur naturally
enough in a speech of no particular excellence.  I take leave decisively
to question the former assertion, and flatly to contradict the latter.
The pathetic and magnificent lines in dispute do not occur naturally
enough, or at all naturally, among the very poor, flat, creeping verses
between which they have been thrust with such over freehanded
recklessness.  No purple patch was ever more pitifully out of place.
There is indeed no second example of such wanton and wayward liberality;
but the generally lean and barren style of these opening acts does not
crawl throughout on exactly the same low level.

The last of the only three plays with which I venture to find any fault
on the score of moral taste is the first on my list of the only three
plays belonging to this last period on which, as they now stand, I trace
the indisputable track of another touch than Shakespeare's.  But in the
two cases remaining our general task of distinction should on the whole
be simple and easy enough for the veriest babes and sucklings in the
lower school of Shakespeare.

That the two great posthumous fragments we possess of Shakespeare's
uncompleted work are incomplete simply because the labour spent on either
was cut short by his timeless death is the first natural assumption of
any student with an eye quick enough to catch the point where the traces
of his hand break off; but I should now be inclined to guess rather that
on reconsideration of the subjects chosen he had rejected or dismissed
them for a time at least as unfit for dramatic handling.  It could have
needed no great expenditure of reasoning or reflection to convince a man
of lesser mind and less experience than Shakespeare's that no subject
could possibly be more unmanageable, more indomitably improper for such a
purpose, than he had selected in _Timon of Athens_.  How he came ever to
fall across such a subject, to hit upon such a choice, we can spend no
profitable time or pains in trying to conjecture.  It is clear, however,
that at all events there was a season when the inexplicable attraction of
it was too strong for him to resist the singular temptation to embody in
palpable form, to array in dramatic raiment, to invest with imaginative
magnificence, the godless ascetic passion of misanthropy, the martyrdom
of an atheistic Stylites.  Timon is doubtless a man of far nobler type
than any monomaniac of the tribe of Macarius: but his immeasurable
superiority in spiritual rank to the hermit fathers of the desert serves
merely to make him a thought madder and a grain more miserable than the
whole Thebaid of Christomaniacs rolled into one.  Foolish and fruitless
as it has ever been to hunt through Shakespeare's plays and sonnets on
the false scent of a fantastic trail, to put thaumaturgic trust in a dark
dream of tracking his untraceable personality through labyrinthine byways
of life and visionary crossroads of character, it is yet surely no blind
assumption to accept the plain evidence in both so patent before us, that
he too like other men had his dark seasons of outer or of inner life, and
like other poets found them or made them fruitful as well as bitter,
though it might be but of bitter fruit.  And of such there is here enough
to glut the gorge of all the monks in monkery, or strengthen for a forty
days' fast any brutallest unwashed theomaniac of the Thebaid.  The most
unconscionably unclean of all foul-minded fanatics might have been
satisfied with the application to all women from his mother upwards of
the monstrous and magnificent obloquy found by Timon as insufficient to
overwhelm as his gold was inadequate to satisfy one insatiable and
indomitable "brace of harlots."  In _Troilus and Cressida_ we found too
much that Swift might have written when half inspired by the genius of
Shakespeare; in the great and terrible fourth act of _Timon_ we find such
tragedy as Juvenal might have written when half deified by the spirit of

There is a noticeable difference between the case of _Timon_ and the two
other cases (diverse enough between themselves) of late or mature work
but partially assignable to the hand of Shakespeare.  In _Pericles_ we
may know exactly how much was added by Shakespeare to the work of we know
not whom; in _The Two Noble Kinsmen_ we can tell sometimes to a hair's
breadth in a hemistich by whom how much was added to the posthumous text
of Shakespeare; in _Timon_ we cannot assert with the same confidence in
the same accuracy that just so many scenes and no more, just so many
speeches and none other, were the work of Shakespeare's or of some other
hand.  Throughout the first act his presence lightens on us by flashes,
as his voice peals out by fits, from behind or above the too meanly
decorated altar of tragic or satiric song: in the second it is more
sensibly continuous; in the third it is all but utterly eclipsed; in the
fourth it is but very rarely intercepted for a very brief interval in the
dark divine service of a darker Commination Day: in the fifth it
predominates generally over the sullen and brooding atmosphere with the
fierce imperious glare of a "bloody sun" like that which the wasting
shipmen watched at noon "in a hot and copper sky."  There is here no more
to say of a poem inspired at once by the triune Furies of Ezekiel, of
Juvenal, and of Dante.

I can imagine no reason but that already suggested why Shakespeare should
in a double sense have taken Chaucer for his model or example in leaving
half told a story which he had borrowed from the father and master of our
narrative poetry.  Among all competent scholars and all rational students
of Shakespeare there can have been, except possibly with regard to three
of the shorter scenes, no room for doubt or perplexity on any detail of
the subject since the perfect summary and the masterly decision of Mr.
Dyce.  These three scenes, as no such reader will need to be told or
reminded, are the two first soliloquies of the Gaoler's Daughter after
the release of Palamon, and the scene of the portraits, as we may in a
double sense call it, in which Emilia, after weighing against each other
in solitude the likenesses of the cousins, receives from her own kinsfolk
a full and laboured description of their leading champions on either
side.  Even setting apart for once and for a moment the sovereign
evidence of mere style, we must recognise in this last instance a
beautiful and significant example of that loyal and loving fidelity to
the minor passing suggestions of Chaucer's text which on all possible
occasions of such comparison so markedly and vividly distinguishes the
work of Shakespeare's from the work of Fletcher's hand.  Of the pestilent
abuse and perversion to which Fletcher has put the perhaps already
superfluous hints or sketches by Shakespeare for an episodical underplot,
in his transmutation of Palamon's love-stricken and luckless deliverer
into the disgusting burlesque of a mock Ophelia, I have happily no need
as I should certainly have no patience to speak. {217}

After the always immitigable gloom of _Timon_ and the sometimes
malodorous exhalations of the three preceding plays, it is nothing less
than "very heaven" to find and feel ourselves again in the midmost
Paradise, the central Eden, of Shakespeare's divine discovery--of his
last sweet living invention.  Here again is air as pure blowing over
fields as fragrant as where Dante saw Matilda or Milton saw Proserpine
gathering each as deathless flowers.  We still have here to disentwine or
disentangle his own from the weeds of glorious and of other than glorious
feature with which Fletcher has thought fit to interweave them; even in
the close of the last scene of all we can say to a line, to a letter,
where Shakespeare ends and Fletcher begins.  That scene is opened by
Shakespeare in his most majestic vein of meditative or moral verse,
pointed and coloured as usual with him alone by direct and absolute
aptitude to the immediate sentiment and situation of the speaker and of
no man else: then either Fletcher strikes in for a moment with a touch of
somewhat more Shakespearean tone than usual, or possibly we have a
survival of some lines' length, not unretouched by Fletcher, from
Shakespeare's first sketch for a conclusion of the somewhat calamitous
and cumbrous underplot, which in any case was ultimately left for
Fletcher to expand into such a shape and bring by such means to such an
end as we may safely swear that Shakespeare would never have admitted:
then with the entrance and ensuing narrative of Pirithous we have none
but Shakespeare before us again, though it be Shakespeare undoubtedly in
the rough, and not as he might have chosen to present himself after due
revision, with rejection (we may well suppose) of this point and
readjustment of that: then upon the arrival of the dying Arcite with his
escort there follows a grievous little gap, a flaw but pitifully patched
by Fletcher, whom we recognise at wellnigh his worst and weakest in
Palamon's appeal to his kinsman for a last word, "if his heart, _his
worthy, manly heart_" (an exact and typical example of Fletcher's
tragically prosaic and prosaically tragic dash of incurable commonplace),
"be yet unbroken," and in the flaccid and futile answer which fails so
signally to supply the place of the most famous and pathetic passage in
all the masterpiece of Chaucer; a passage to which even Shakespeare could
have added but some depth and grandeur of his own giving, since neither
he nor Dante's very self nor any other among the divinest of men could
have done more or better than match it for tender and pure simplicity of
words more "dearly sweet and bitter" than the bitterest or the sweetest
of men's tears.  Then, after the duly and properly conventional
engagement on the parts of Palamon and Emilia respectively to devote the
anniversary "to tears" and "to honour," the deeper note returns for one
grand last time, grave at once and sudden and sweet as the full choral
opening of an anthem: the note which none could ever catch of
Shakespeare's very voice gives out the peculiar cadence that it alone can
give in the modulated instinct of a solemn change or shifting of the
metrical emphasis or _ictus_ from one to the other of two repeated

      That nought could buy
   Dear love; but loss of dear love!

That is a touch beyond the ear or the hand of Fletcher: a chord sounded
from Apollo's own harp after a somewhat hoarse and reedy wheeze from the
scrannel-pipe of a lesser player than Pan.  Last of all, in words worthy
to be the latest left of Shakespeare's, his great and gentle Theseus
winds up the heavenly harmonies of his last beloved great poem.

And now, coming at length within the very circle of Shakespeare's
culminant and crowning constellation, bathing my whole soul and spirit
for the last and (if I live long enough) as surely for the first of many
thousand times in the splendours of the planet whose glory is the light
of his very love itself, standing even as Dante

            in the clear
   Amorous silence of the Swooning-sphere,

what shall I say of thanksgiving before the final feast of Shakespeare?

The grace must surely be short enough if it would at all be gracious.
Even were Shakespeare's self alive again, or he now but fifteen years
since gone home to Shakespeare, {220} of whom Charles Lamb said well that
none could have written his book about Shakespeare but either himself
alone or else he of whom the book was written, yet could we not hope that
either would have any new thing to tell us of the _Tempest_, the
_Winter's Tale_, and _Cymbeline_.  And for ourselves, what else could we
do but only ring changes on the word beautiful as Celia on the word
wonderful in her laughing litany of love? or what better or what more can
we do than in the deepest and most heartfelt sense of an old conventional
phrase, thank God and Shakespeare? for how to praise either for such a
gift of gifts we know not, knowing only and surely that none will know
for ever.

True or false, and it would now seem something less than likely to be
true, the fancy which assumed the last lines spoken by Prospero to be
likewise the last words of the last completed work of Shakespeare was
equally in either case at once natural and graceful.  There is but one
figure sweeter than Miranda's and sublimer than Prospero's in all the
range of heaven on which the passion of our eyes could rest at parting.
And from one point of view there is even a more heavenly quality
perceptible in the light of this than of its two twin stars.  In no nook
or corner of the island as we leave it is any savour left or any memory
lingering of any inexpiable evil.  Alonzo is absolved; even Antonio and
Sebastian have made no such ineffaceable mark on it by the presence of
their pardoned crimes as is made by those which cost the life of
Mamillius and the labours of Imogen.  Poor Caliban is left in such
comfort as may be allowed him by divine grace in the favourable aspect of
Setebos; and his comrades go by us "reeling ripe" and "gilded" not by
"grand liquor" only but also by the summer lightning of men's laughter:
blown softly out of our sight, with a sound and a gust of music, by the
breath of the song of Ariel.

The wild wind of the _Winter's Tale_ at its opening would seem to blow us
back into a wintrier world indeed.  And to the very end I must confess
that I have in me so much of the spirit of Rachel weeping in Ramah as
will not be comforted because Mamillius is not.  It is well for those
whose hearts are light enough, to take perfect comfort even in the
substitution of his sister Perdita for the boy who died of "thoughts high
for one so tender."  Even the beautiful suggestion that Shakespeare as he
wrote had in mind his own dead little son still fresh and living at his
heart can hardly add more than a touch of additional tenderness to our
perfect and piteous delight in him.  And even in her daughter's embrace
it seems hard if his mother should have utterly forgotten the little
voice that had only time to tell her just eight words of that ghost story
which neither she nor we were ever to hear ended.  Any one but
Shakespeare would have sought to make pathetic profit out of the child by
the easy means of showing him if but once again as changed and stricken
to the death for want of his mother and fear for her and hunger and
thirst at his little high heart for the sight and touch of her:
Shakespeare only could find a better way, a subtler and a deeper chord to
strike, by giving us our last glimpse of him as he laughed and chattered
with her "past enduring," to the shameful neglect of those ladies in the
natural blueness of whose eyebrows as well as their noses he so stoutly
declined to believe.  And at the very end (as aforesaid) it may be that
we remember him all the better because the father whose jealousy killed
him and the mother for love of whom he died would seem to have forgotten
the little brave sweet spirit with all its truth of love and tender sense
of shame as perfectly and unpardonably as Shakespeare himself at the
close of _King Lear_ would seem to have forgotten one who never had
forgotten Cordelia.

But yet--and here for once the phrase abhorred by Cleopatra does not
"allay the good" but only the bad "precedence"--if ever amends could be
made for such unnatural show of seeming forgetfulness ("out on the
seeming!  I will write against it"--or would, had I not written enough
already), the poet most assuredly has made such amends here.  At the
sunrise of Perdita beside Florizel it seems as if the snows of sixteen
winters had melted all together into the splendour of one unutterable
spring.  They "smell April and May" in a sweeter sense than it could be
said of "young Master Fenton": "nay, which is more," as his friend and
champion Mistress Quickly might have added to mine host's commendatory
remark, they speak all April and May; because April is in him as
naturally as May in her, by just so many years' difference before the
Mayday of her birth as went to make up her dead brother's little lot of
living breath, which in Beaumont's most lovely and Shakespeare-worthy
phrase "was not a life; was but a piece of childhood thrown away."  Nor
can I be content to find no word of old affection for Autolycus, who
lived, as we may not doubt, though but a hint or promise be vouchsafed us
for all assurance that he lived by favour of his "good masters" once more
to serve Prince Florizel and wear three-pile for as much of his time as
it might please him to put on "robes" like theirs that were "gentlemen
born," and had "been so any time these four hours."  And yet another and
a graver word must be given with all reverence to the "grave and good
Paulina," whose glorious fire of godlike indignation was as warmth and
cordial to the innermost heart while yet bruised and wrung for the yet
fresh loss of Mamillius.

The time is wellnigh come now for me to consecrate in this book my good
will if not good work to the threefold and thrice happy memory of the
three who have written of Shakespeare as never man wrote, nor ever man
may write again; to the everlasting praise and honour and glory of
Charles Lamb, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Walter Savage Landor;
"wishing," I hardly dare to say, "what I write may be read by their
light."  The play of plays, which is _Cymbeline_, remains alone to
receive the last salute of all my love.

I think, as far as I can tell, I may say I have always loved this one
beyond all other children of Shakespeare.  The too literal egoism of this
profession will not be attributed by any candid or even commonly honest
reader to the violence of vanity so much more than comical as to make me
suppose that such a record or assurance could in itself be matter of
interest to any man: but simply to the real and simple reason, that I
wish to show cause for my choice of this work to wind up with, beyond the
mere chance of its position at the close of the chaotically inconsequent
catalogue of contents affixed to the first edition.  In this casualty--for
no good thing can reasonably be ascribed to design on the part of the
first editors--there would seem to be something more than usual of what
we may call, if it so please us, a happy providence.  It is certain that
no studious arrangement could possibly have brought the book to a happier
end.  Here is depth enough with height enough of tragic beauty and
passion, terror and love and pity, to approve the presence of the most
tragic Master's hand; subtlety enough of sweet and bitter truth to attest
the passage of the mightiest and wisest scholar or teacher in the school
of the human spirit; beauty with delight enough and glory of life and
grace of nature to proclaim the advent of the one omnipotent Maker among
all who bear that name.  Here above all is the most heavenly triad of
human figures that ever even Shakespeare brought together; a diviner
three, as it were a living god-garland of the noblest earth-born brothers
and loveworthiest heaven-born sister, than the very givers of all grace
and happiness to their Grecian worshippers of old time over long before.
The passion of Posthumus is noble, and potent the poison of Iachimo;
Cymbeline has enough for Shakespeare's present purpose of "the
king-becoming graces"; but we think first and last of her who was "truest
speaker" and those who "called her brother, when she was but their
sister; she them brothers, when they were so indeed."  The very crown and
flower of all her father's daughters,--I do not speak here of her human
father, but her divine--the woman above all Shakespeare's women is
Imogen.  As in Cleopatra we found the incarnate sex, the woman
everlasting, so in Imogen we find half glorified already the immortal
godhead of womanhood.  I would fain have some honey in my words at
parting--with Shakespeare never, but for ever with these notes on
Shakespeare; and I am therefore something more than fain to close my book
upon the name of the woman best beloved in all the world of song and all
the tide of time; upon the name of Shakespeare's Imogen.



The epitaph of German criticism on Shakespeare was long since written by
the unconscious hand which penned the following sentence; an inscription
worthy of perpetual record on the registers of Gotham or in the daybook
of the yet unstranded Ship of Fools.

"_Thomas Lord Cromwell:--Sir John Oldcastle:--A Yorkshire Tragedy_.--The
three last pieces are not only unquestionably Shakespeare's, but in my
opinion they deserve to be classed among his best and maturest works."

This memorable opinion is the verdict of the modest and judicious Herr
von Schlegel: who had likewise in his day the condescension to inform our
ignorance of the melancholy fact so strangely overlooked by the
contemporaries of Christopher Marlowe, that "his verses are flowing, but
without energy."  Strange, but true; too strange, we may reasonably
infer, not to be true.  Only to German eyes has the treasure-house of
English poetry ever disclosed a secret of this kind: to German ears alone
has such discord or default been ever perceptible in its harmonies.

Now the facts with regard to this triad of plays are briefly these.
_Thomas Lord Cromwell_ is a piece of such utterly shapeless, spiritless,
bodiless, soulless, senseless, helpless, worthless rubbish, that there is
no known writer of Shakespeare's age to whom it could be ascribed without
the infliction of an unwarrantable insult on that writer's memory.  _Sir
John Oldcastle_ is the compound piecework of four minor playwrights, one
of them afterwards and otherwise eminent as a poet--Munday, Drayton,
Wilson, and Hathaway: a thin sample of poetic patchery cobbled up and
stitched together so as to serve its hour for a season without falling to
pieces at the first touch.  The _Yorkshire Tragedy_ is a coarse, crude,
and vigorous impromptu, in which we possibly might almost think it
possible that Shakespeare had a hand (or at least a finger), if we had
any reason to suppose that during the last ten or twelve years of his
life {232} he was likely to have taken part in any such dramatic

The example and the exposure of Schlegel's misadventures in this line
have not sufficed to warn off minor blunderers from treading with emulous
confidence "through forthrights and meanders" in the very muddiest of
their precursor's traces.  We may notice, for one example, the revival--or
at least the discussion as of something worth serious notice--of a
wellnigh still-born theory, first dropped in a modest corner of the
critical world exactly a hundred and seventeen years ago.  Its parent,
notwithstanding this perhaps venial indiscretion, was apparently an
honest and modest gentleman; and the play itself, which this ingenuous
theorist was fain, with all diffidence, to try whether haply he might be
permitted to foist on the apocryphal fatherhood of Shakespeare, is not
without such minor merits as may excuse us for wasting a few minutes on
examination of the theory which seeks to confer on it the factitious and
artificial attraction of a spurious and adventitious interest.

"The Raigne of King Edward the third: As it hath bin sundrie times plaied
about the Citie of London," was published in 1596, and ran through two or
three anonymous editions before the date of the generation was out which
first produced it.  Having thus run to the end of its natural tether, it
fell as naturally into the oblivion which has devoured, and has not again
disgorged, so many a more precious production of its period.  In 1760 it
was reprinted in the "Prolusions" of Edward Capell, whose text is now
before me.  This editor was the first mortal to suggest that his newly
unearthed treasure might possibly be a windfall from the topless tree of
Shakespeare.  Being, as I have said, a duly modest and an evidently
honest man, he admits "with candour" that there is no jot or tittle of
"external evidence" whatsoever to be alleged in support of this
gratuitous attribution: but he submits, with some fair show of reason,
that there is a certain "resemblance between the style of" Shakespeare's
"earlier performances and of the work in question"; and without the
slightest show of any reason whatever he appends to this humble and
plausible plea the unspeakably unhappy assertion that at the time of its
appearance "there was no known writer equal to such a play"; whereas at a
moderate computation there were, I should say, on the authority of
Henslowe's Diary, at least a dozen--and not improbably a score.  In any
case there was one then newly dead, too long before his time, whose
memory stands even higher above the possible ascription of such a work
than that of the adolescent Shakespeare's very self.

Of one point we may be sure, even where so much is unsure as we find it
here: in the curt atheological phrase of the Persian Lucretius, "one
thing is certain, and the rest is lies."  The author of _King Edward
III_. was a devout student and a humble follower of Christopher Marlowe,
not yet wholly disengaged by that august and beneficent influence from
all attraction towards the "jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits"; and
fitter on the whole to follow this easier and earlier vein of writing,
half lyrical in manner and half elegiac, than to brace upon his punier
limbs the young giant's newly fashioned buskin of blank verse.  The signs
of this growing struggle, the traces of this incomplete emancipation, are
perceptible throughout in the alternate prevalence of two conflicting and
irreconcilable styles; which yet affords no evidence or suggestion of a
double authorship.  For the intelligence which moulds and informs the
whole work, the spirit which pervades and imbues the general design, is
of a piece, so to speak, throughout; a point imperceptible to the eye, a
touchstone intangible by the finger, alike of a scholiast and a dunce.

Another test, no less unmistakable by the student and no less
indiscernible to the sciolist, is this: that whatever may be the demerits
of this play, they are due to no voluntary or involuntary carelessness or
haste.  Here is not the swift impatient journeywork of a rough and ready
hand; here is no sign of such compulsory hurry in the discharge of a task
something less than welcome, if not of an imposition something less than
tolerable, as we may rationally believe ourselves able to trace in great
part of Marlowe's work: in the latter half of _The Jew of Malta_, in the
burlesque interludes of _Doctor Faustus_, and wellnigh throughout the
whole scheme and course of _The Massacre at Paris_.  Whatever in _King
Edward III_. is mediocre or worse is evidently such as it is through no
passionate or slovenly precipitation of handiwork, but through pure
incompetence to do better.  The blame of the failure, the shame of the
shortcoming, cannot be laid to the account of any momentary excess or
default in emotion, of passing exhaustion or excitement, of intermittent
impulse and reaction; it is an indication of lifelong and irremediable
impotence.  And it is further to be noted that by far the least
unsuccessful parts of the play are also by far the most unimportant.  The
capacity of the author seems to shrink and swell alternately, to erect
its plumes and deject them, to contract and to dilate the range and orbit
of its flight in a steadily inverse degree to the proportionate interest
of the subject or worth of the topic in hand.  There could be no surer
proof that it is neither the early nor the hasty work of a great or even
a remarkable poet.  It is the best that could be done at any time by a
conscientious and studious workman of technically insufficient culture
and of naturally limited means.

I would not, however, be supposed to undervalue the genuine and graceful
ability of execution displayed by the author at his best.  He could write
at times very much after the earliest fashion of the adolescent
Shakespeare; in other words, after the fashion of the day or hour, to
which in some degree the greatest writer of that hour or that day cannot
choose but conform at starting, and the smallest writer must needs
conform for ever.  By the rule which would attribute to Shakespeare every
line written in his first manner which appeared during the first years of
his poetic progress, it is hard to say what amount of bad verse or
better, current during the rise and the reign of their several
influences,--for this kind of echo or of copywork, consciously or
unconsciously repercussive and reflective, begins with the very first
audible sound of a man's voice in song, with the very first noticeable
stroke of his hand in painting--it is hard to say what amount of
tolerable or intolerable work might not or may not be assignable by
scholiasts of the future to Byron or to Shelley, to Mr. Tennyson or to
Mr. Browning.  A time by this rule might come--but I am fain to think
better of the Fates--when by comparison of detached words and collation
of dismembered phrases the memory of Mr. Tennyson would be weighted and
degraded by the ascription of whole volumes of pilfered and diluted verse
now current--if not yet submerged--under the name or the pseudonym of the
present {237} Viceroy--or Vice-empress is it?--of India.  But the obvious
truth is this: the voice of Shakespeare's adolescence had as usual an
echo in it of other men's notes: I can remember the name of but one poet
whose voice from the beginning had none; who started with a style of his
own, though he may have chosen to annex--"annex the wise it call";
_convey_ is obsolete--to annex whole phrases or whole verses at need, for
the use or the ease of an idle minute; and this name of course is
Marlowe's.  So starting, Shakespeare had yet (like all other and lesser
poets born) some perceptible notes in his yet half boyish voice that were
not borrowed; and these were at once caught up and re-echoed by such
fellow-pupils with Shakespeare of the young Master of them all--such
humbler and feebler disciples, or simpler sheep (shall we call them?) of
the great "dead shepherd"--as the now indistinguishable author of _King
Edward III_.

In the first scene of the first act the impotent imitation of Marlowe is
pitifully patent.  Possibly there may also be an imitation of the still
imitative style of Shakespeare, and the style may be more accurately
definable as a copy of a copy--a study after the manner of Marlowe, not
at second hand, but at third.  In any case, being obviously too flat and
feeble to show a touch of either godlike hand, this scene may be set
aside at once to make way for the second.

The second scene is more animated, but low in style till we come to the
outbreak of rhyme.  In other words, the energetic or active part is at
best passable--fluent and decent commonplace: but where the style turns
undramatic and runs into mere elegiacs, a likeness becomes perceptible to
the first elegiac style of Shakespeare.  Witness these lines spoken by
the King in contemplation of the Countess of Salisbury's beauty, while
yet struggling against the nascent motions of a base love:--

   Now in the sun alone it doth not lie
   With light to take light from a mortal eye:
   For here two day-stars that mine eyes would see
   More than the sun steal mine own light from me.
   Contemplative desire! desire to be
   In contemplation that may master thee!

_Decipit exemplar vitiis imitabile_: if Shakespeare ever saw or heard
these pretty lines, he should have felt the unconscious rebuke implied in
such close and facile imitation of his own early elegiacs.  As a serious
mimicry of his first manner, a critical parody summing up in little space
the sweet faults of his poetic nonage, with its barren overgrowth of
unprofitable flowers,--bright point, soft metaphor, and sweet elaborate
antithesis--this is as good of its kind as anything between Aristophanes
and Horace Smith.  Indeed, it may remind us of that parody on the soft,
superfluous, flowery and frothy style of Agathon, which at the opening of
the _Thesmophoriazusae_ cannot but make the youngest and most ignorant
reader laugh, though the oldest and most learned has never set eyes on a
line of the original verses which supplied the incarnate god of comic
song with matter for such exquisite burlesque.

To the speech above cited the reply of the Countess is even gracefuller,
and closer to the same general model of fanciful elegiac dialogue:--

   Let not thy presence, like the April sun,
   Flatter our earth, and suddenly be done:
   More happy do not make our outward wall
   Than thou wilt grace our inward house withal.
   Our house, my liege, is like a country swain,
   Whose habit rude, and manners blunt and plain.
   Presageth naught; yet inly beautified
   With bounty's riches, and fair hidden pride;
   For where the golden ore doth buried lie,
   The ground, undecked with nature's tapestry,
   Seems barren, sere, unfertile, fruitless, dry;
   And where the upper turf of earth doth boast
   His pride, perfumes, {239} and particoloured cost,
   Delve there, and find this issue and their pride
   To spring from ordure and corruption's side.
   But, to make up my all too long compare,
   These ragged walls no testimony are
   What is within; but, like a cloak, doth hide
   From weather's waste the under garnished pride.
   More gracious than my terms can let thee be,
   Entreat thyself to stay awhile with me.

Not only the exquisite grace of this charming last couplet, but the
smooth sound strength, the fluency and clarity of the whole passage, may
serve to show that the original suggestion of Capell, if (as I think)
untenable, was not (we must admit) unpardonable.  The very oversight
perceptible to any eye and painful to any ear not sealed up by stepdame
nature from all perception of pleasure or of pain derivable from good
verse or bad--the reckless reiteration of the same rhyme with but one
poor couplet intervening--suggests rather the oversight of an unfledged
poet than the obtuseness of a full-grown poeticule or poetaster.

But of how many among the servile or semi-servile throng of imitators in
every generation may not as much as this be said by tolerant or kindly
judges!  Among the herd of such diminutives as swarm after the heel or
fawn upon the hand of Mr. Tennyson, more than one, more than two or
three, have come as close as his poor little viceregal or vice-imperial
parasite to the very touch and action of the master's hand which feeds
them unawares from his platter as they fawn; as close as this nameless
and short-winded satellite to the gesture and the stroke of
Shakespeare's.  For this also must be noted; that the resemblance here is
but of stray words, of single lines, of separable passages.  The whole
tone of the text, the whole build of the play, the whole scheme of the
poem, is far enough from any such resemblance.  The structure, the
composition, is feeble, incongruous, inadequate, effete.  Any student
will remark at a first glance what a short-breathed runner, what a broken-
winded athlete in the lists of tragic verse, is the indiscoverable author
of this play.

There is another point which the Neo-Shakespearean synagogue will by no
man be expected to appreciate; for to apprehend it requires some
knowledge and some understanding of the poetry of the Shakespearean
age--so surely we now should call it, rather than Elizabethan or
Jacobean, for the sake of verbal convenience, if not for the sake of
literary decency; and such knowledge or understanding no sane man will
expect to find in any such quarter.  Even in the broad coarse comedy of
the period we find here and there the same sweet and simple echoes of the
very cradle-song (so to call it) of our drama: so like Shakespeare, they
might say who knew nothing of Shakespeare's fellows, that we cannot
choose but recognise his hand.  Here as always first in the field--the
genuine and golden harvest-field of Shakespearean criticism, Charles Lamb
has cited a passage from _Green's Tu Quoque_--a comedy miserably
misreprinted in Dodsley's Old Plays--on which he observes that "this is
so like Shakespeare, that we seem to remember it," being as it is a
girl's gentle lamentation over the selfish, exacting, suspicious and
trustless love of man, as contrasted with the swift simple surrender of a
woman's love at the first heartfelt appeal to her pity--"we seem to
remember it," says Lamb, as a speech of Desdemona uttered on a first
perception or suspicion of jealousy or alienation in Othello.  This
lovely passage, if I dare say so in contravention to the authority of
Lamb, is indeed as like the manner of Shakespeare as it can be--to eyes
ignorant of what his fellows can do; but it is not like the manner of the
Shakespeare who wrote _Othello_.  This, however, is beside the question.
It is very like the Shakespeare who wrote the _Comedy of Errors--Love's
Labour's Lost--Romeo and Juliet_.  It is so like that had we fallen upon
it in any of these plays it would long since have been a household word
in all men's mouths for sweetness, truth, simplicity, perfect and
instinctive accuracy of touch.  It is very much liker the first manner of
Shakespeare than any passage in _King Edward III_.  And no Sham
Shakespearean critic that I know of has yet assigned to the hapless
object of his howling homage the authorship of _Green's Tu Quoque_.

Returning to our text, we find in the short speech of the King with which
the first act is wound up yet another couplet which has the very ring in
it of Shakespeare's early notes--the catch at words rather than play on
words which his tripping tongue in youth could never resist:

   Countess, albeit my business urgeth me,
   It shall attend while I attend on thee.

And with this pretty little instance of courtly and courteous euphuism we
pass from the first to the second and most important act in the play.

Any reader well versed in the text of Shakespeare, and ill versed in the
work of his early rivals and his later pupils, might surely be forgiven
if on a first reading of the speech with which this act opens he should
cry out with Capell that here at least was the unformed hand of the
Master perceptible and verifiable indeed.  The writer, he might say, has
the very glance of his eye, the very trick of his gait, the very note of
his accent.  But on getting a little more knowledge, such a reader will
find the use of it in the perception to which he will have attained that
in his early plays, as in his two early poems, the style of Shakespeare
was not for the most part distinctively his own.  It was that of a crew,
a knot of young writers, among whom he found at once both leaders and
followers to be guided and to guide.  A mere glance into the rich lyric
literature of the period will suffice to show the dullest eye and teach
the densest ear how nearly innumerable were the Englishmen of Elizabeth's
time who could sing in the courtly or pastoral key of the season, each
man of them a few notes of his own, simple or fantastic, but all sweet,
clear, genuine of their kind:--

         Facies non omnibus una,
   Nec diversa tamen:

and yet so close is the generic likeness between flower and flower of the
same lyrical garden that the first half of the quotation seems but half
applicable here.  In Bird's, Morley's, Dowland's collections of music
with the words appended--in such jewelled volumes as _England's Helicon_
and _Davison's Poetical Rhapsody_--their name is Legion, their numbers
are numberless.  You cannot call them imitators, this man of that, or all
of any; they were all of one school, but it was a school without a master
or a head.  And even so it was with the earliest sect or gathering of
dramatic writers in England.  Marlowe alone stood apart and above them
all--the young Shakespeare among the rest; but among these we cannot
count, we cannot guess, how many were wellnigh as competent as he to
continue the fluent rhyme, to prolong the facile echo, of Greene and
Peele, their first and most famous leaders.

No more docile or capable pupil could have been desired by any master in
any art than the author of _David and Bethsabe_ has found in the writer
of this second act.  He has indeed surpassed his model, if not in grace
and sweetness, yet in taste or tact of expression, in continuity and
equality of style.  Vigour is not the principal note of his manner, but
compared with the soft effusive ebullience of his master's we may fairly
call it vigorous and condensed.  But all this merit or demerit is matter
of mere language only.  The poet--a very pretty poet in his way, and
doubtless capable of gracious work enough in the idyllic or elegiac line
of business--shows about as much capacity to grasp and handle the fine
intimacies of character and the large issues of circumstance to any
tragic or dramatic purpose, as might be expected from an idyllic or
elegiac poet who should suddenly assume the buskin of tragedy.  Let us
suppose that Moschus, for example, on the strength of having written a
sweeter elegy than ever before was chanted over the untimely grave of a
friend and fellow-singer, had said within himself, "Go to, I will be
Sophocles"; can we imagine that the tragic result would have been other
than tragical indeed for the credit of his gentle name, and comical
indeed for all who might have envied the mild and modest excellence which
fashion or hypocrisy might for years have induced them to besprinkle with
the froth and slaver of their promiscuous and pointless adulation?

As the play is not more generally known than it deserves to be,--or
perhaps we may say it is somewhat less known, though its claim to general
notice is faint indeed compared with that of many a poem of its age
familiar only to special students in our own--I will transcribe a few
passages to show how far the writer could reach at his best; leaving for
others to indicate how far short of that not inaccessible point he is too
generally content to fall and to remain.

The opening speech is spoken by one Lodowick, a parasite of the King's;
who would appear, like Francois Villon under the roof of his Fat Madge,
to have succeeded in reconciling the professional duties--may I not say,
the generally discordant and discrepant offices?--of a poet and a pimp.

   I might perceive his eye in her eye lost,
   His ear to drink her sweet tongue's utterance;
   And changing passion, like inconstant clouds,
   That, rackt upon the carriage of the winds,
   Increase, and die, in his disturbed cheeks.
   Lo, when she blushed, even then did he look pale;
   As if her cheeks by some enchanted power
   Attracted had the cherry blood from his: {245a}
   Anon, with reverent fear when she grew pale,
   His cheeks put on their scarlet ornaments;
   But no more like her oriental red
   Than brick to coral, or live things to dead. {245b}
   Why did he then thus counterfeit her looks?
   If she did blush, 'twas tender modest shame,
   Being in the sacred presence of a king;
   If he did blush, 'twas red immodest shame
   To vail his eyes amiss, being a king;
   If she looked pale, 'twas silly woman's fear
   To bear herself in presence of a king;
   If he looked pale, it was with guilty fear
   To dote amiss, being a mighty king.

This is better than the insufferable style of _Locrine_, which is in
great part made up of such rhymeless couplets, each tagged with an empty
verbal antithesis; but taken as a sample of dramatic writing, it is but
just better than what is utterly intolerable.  Dogberry has defined it
exactly; it is most tolerable--and not to be endured.

The following speech of King Edward is in that better style of which the
author's two chief models were not at their best incapable for awhile
under the influence and guidance (we may suppose) of their friend

   She is grown more fairer far since I came hither;
   Her voice more silver every word than other,
   Her wit more fluent.  What a strange discourse
   Unfolded she of David and his Scots!
   _Even thus_, quoth she, _he spake_--and then spake broad,
   With epithets and accents of the Scot;
   But somewhat better than the Scot could speak:
   _And thus_, quoth she--and answered then herself;
   For who could speak like her? but she herself
   Breathes from the wall an angel's note from heaven
   Of sweet defiance to her barbarous foes.
   When she would talk of peace, methinks her tongue
   Commanded war to prison; {246} when of war,
   It wakened Caesar from his Roman grave
   To hear war beautified by her discourse.
   Wisdom is foolishness, but in her tongue;
   Beauty a slander, but in her fair face;
   There is no summer but in her cheerful looks,
   Nor frosty winter but in her disdain.
   I cannot blame the Scots that did besiege her,
   For she is all the treasure of our land;
   But call them cowards that they ran away,
   Having so rich and fair a cause to stay.

But if for a moment we may fancy that here and there we have caught such
an echo of Marlowe as may have fallen from the lips of Shakespeare in his
salad days, in his period of poetic pupilage, we have but a very little
way to go forward before we come upon indisputable proof that the pupil
was one of feebler hand and fainter voice than Shakespeare.  Let us take
the passage on poetry, beginning--

   Now, Lodowick, invocate {247} some golden Muse
   To bring thee hither an enchanted pen;

and so forth.  No scholar in English poetry but will recognise at once
the flat and futile imitation of Marlowe; not of his great general style
alone, but of one special and transcendant passage which can never be too
often quoted.

   If all the pens that ever poets held
   Had fed the feeling of their masters' thoughts,
   And every sweetness that inspired their hearts,
   Their minds, and muses on admired themes;
   If all the heavenly quintessence they still
   From their immortal flowers of poesy,
   Wherein, as in a mirror, we perceive
   The highest reaches of a human wit;
   If these had made one poem's period,
   And all combined in beauty's worthiness,
   Yet should there hover in their restless heads
   One thought, one grace, one wonder, at the least,
   Which into words no virtue can digest. {248}

Infinite as is the distance between the long roll of these mighty lines
and the thin tinkle of their feeble imitator's, yet we cannot choose but
catch the ineffectual note of a would-be echo in the speech of the King
to his parasite--

   For so much moving hath a poet's pen, etc., etc.

It is really not worth while to transcribe the poor meagre versicles at
length: but a glance at the text will show how much fitter was their
author to continue the tradition of Peele than to emulate the innovations
of Marlowe.  In the speeches that follow there is much pretty verbiage
after the general manner of Elizabethan sonnetteers, touched here and
there with something of a higher tone; but the whole scene drags, flags,
halts onward at such a languid rate, that to pick out all the prettiest
lines by way of sample would give a favourable impression but too likely
to be reversed on further and fuller acquaintance.

   Forget not to set down, how passionate,
   How heart-sick, and how full of languishment,
   Her beauty makes me. . . . . .
   Write on, while I peruse her in my thoughts.
   Her voice to music, or the nightingale:
   To music every summer-leaping swain
   Compares his sunburnt lover when she speaks;
   And why should I speak of the nightingale?
   The nightingale sings of adulterate wrong;
   And that, compared, is too satirical:
   For sin, though sin, would not be so esteemed;
   But rather virtue sin, sin virtue deemed.
   Her hair, far softer than the silkworm's twist,
   Like as a flattering glass, doth make more fair
   The yellow amber:--_Like a flattering glass_
   Comes in too soon; for, writing of her eyes,
   I'll say that like a glass they catch the sun,
   And thence the hot reflection doth rebound
   Against my breast, and burns the heart within.
   Ah, what a world of descant makes my soul
   Upon this voluntary ground of love!

"Pretty enough, very pretty! but" exactly as like and as near the style
of Shakespeare's early plays as is the style of Constable's sonnets to
that of Shakespeare's.  Unless we are to assign to the Master every
unaccredited song, sonnet, elegy, tragedy, comedy, and farce of his
period, which bears the same marks of the same date--a date, like our
own, of too prolific and imitative production--as we find inscribed on
the greater part of his own early work; unless we are to carry even as
far as this the audacity and arrogance of our sciolism, we must somewhere
make a halt--and it must be on the near side of such an attribution as
that of _King Edward III_. to the hand of Shakespeare.

With the disappearance of the poetic pimp and the entrance of the
unsuspecting Countess, the style rises yet again--and really, this time,
much to the author's credit.  It would need a very fine touch from a very
powerful hand to improve on the delicacy and dexterity of the prelude or
overture to the King's avowal of adulterous love.  But when all is said,
though very delicate and very dexterous, it is not forcible work: I do
not mean by forcible the same as violent, spasmodic, emphatic beyond the
modesty of nature; a poet is of course only to be commended, and that
heartily, for keeping within this bound; but he is not to be commended
for coming short of it.  This whole scene is full of mild and temperate
beauty, of fanciful yet earnest simplicity; but the note of it, the
expression, the dominant key of the style, is less appropriate to the
utterance of a deep and deadly passion than--at the utmost--of what
modern tongues might call a strong and rather dangerous flirtation.
Passion, so to speak, is quite out of this writer's call; the depths and
heights of manly as of womanly emotion are alike beyond his reach.

   Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself,
   He turns to favour and to prettiness.

"To favour and to prettiness"; the definition of his utmost merit and
demerit, his final achievement and shortcoming, is here complete and
exact.  Witness the sweet quiet example of idyllic work which I extract
from a scene beginning in the regular amoebaean style of ancient

   _Edward_.  Thou hear'st me say that I do dote on thee.

   _Countess_.  If on my beauty, take it if thou canst;
   Though little, I do prize it ten times less:
   If on my virtue, take it if thou canst;
   For virtue's store by giving doth augment:
   Be it on what it will that I can give
   And thou canst take away, inherit it.

   _Edward_.  It is thy beauty that I would enjoy.

   _Countess_.  O, were it painted, I would wipe it off,
   And dispossess myself to give it thee:
   But, sovereign, it is soldered to my life;
   Take one and both; for like an humble shadow
   It haunts the sunshine of my summer's life.

   _Edward_.  But thou mayst lend it me to sport withal.

   _Countess_.  As easy may my intellectual soul
   Be lent away, and yet my body live,
   As lend my body, palace to my soul,
   Away from her, and yet retain my soul.
   My body is her bower, her court, her abbey,
   And she an angel, pure, divine, unspotted;
   If I should lend her house, my lord, to thee,
   I kill my poor soul, and my poor soul me.

Once more, this last couplet is very much in the style of Shakespeare's
sonnets; nor is it wholly unlike even the dramatic style of Shakespeare
in his youth--and some dozen other poets or poeticules of the time.  But
throughout this part of the play the recurrence of a faint and
intermittent resemblance to Shakespeare is more frequently noticeable
than elsewhere. {252}  A student of imperfect memory but not of defective
intuition might pardonably assign such couplets, on hearing them cited,
to the master-hand itself; but such a student would be likelier to refer
them to the sonnetteer than to the dramatist.  And a casual likeness to
the style of Shakespeare's sonnets is not exactly sufficient evidence to
warrant such an otherwise unwarrantable addition of appendage to the list
of Shakespeare's plays.

A little further on we come upon the first and last passage which does
actually recall by its wording a famous instance of the full and ripened
style of Shakespeare.

   He that doth clip or counterfeit your stamp
   Shall die, my lord: and will your sacred self
   Commit high treason 'gainst the King of heaven,
   To stamp his image in forbidden metal,
   Forgetting your allegiance and your oath?
   In violating marriage' sacred law
   You break a greater honour than yourself;
   To be a king is of a younger house
   Than to be married: your progenitor,
   Sole reigning Adam on the universe,
   By God was honoured for a married man,
   But not by him anointed for a king.

Every possible reader, I suppose, will at once bethink himself of the
famous passage in _Measure for Measure_ which here may seem to be faintly

            It were as good
   To pardon him that hath from nature stolen
   A man already made, as to remit
   Their saucy sweetness, that do coin heaven's image
   In stamps that are forbid:

and the very difference of style is not wider than the gulf which gapes
between the first style of Shakespeare and the last.  But men of
Shakespeare's stamp, I venture to think, do not thus repeat themselves.
The echo of the passage in _A Midsummer Night's Dream_, describing the
girlish friendship of Hermia and Helena, which we find in the first act
of _The Two Noble Kinsmen_, describing the like girlish friendship of
Emilia and Flavina, is an echo of another sort.  Both, I need hardly say,
are unquestionably Shakespeare's; but the fashion in which the matured
poet retouches and completes the sketch of his earlier years--composes an
oil painting, as it were, from the hints and suggestions of a
water-colour sketch long since designed and long since half forgotten--is
essentially different from the mere verbal and literal trick of
repetition which sciolists might think to detect in the present instance.
Again we must needs fall back on the inevitable and indefinable test of
style; a test which could be of no avail if we were foolish enough to
appeal to scholiasts and their attendant dunces, but which should be of
some avail if we appeal to experts and their attentive scholars; and by
this test we can but remark that neither the passage in _A Midsummer
Night's Dream_ nor the corresponsive passage in _The Two Noble Kinsmen_
could have been written by any hand known to us but Shakespeare's;
whereas the passage in _King Edward III_. might as certainly have been
written by any one out of a dozen poets then living as the answering
passage in _Measure for Measure_ could assuredly have been written by
Shakespeare alone.

As on a first reading of the _Hippolytus_ of Euripides we feel that, for
all the grace and freshness and lyric charm of its opening scenes, the
claim of the poem to our ultimate approval or disapproval must needs
depend on the success or failure of the first interview between Theseus
and his calumniated son; and as on finding that scene to be feeble and
futile and prosaic and verbose we feel that the poet who had a woman's
spite against women has here effectually and finally shown himself
powerless to handle the simplest elements of masculine passion, of manly
character and instinct; so in this less important case we feel that the
writer, having ventured on such a subject as the compulsory temptation of
a daughter by a father, who has been entrapped into so shameful an
undertaking through the treacherous exaction of an equivocal promise
unwarily confirmed by an inconsiderate oath, must be judged by the result
of his own enterprise; must fail or stand as a poet by its failure or
success.  And his failure is only not complete; he is but just redeemed
from utter discomfiture by the fluency and simplicity of his equable but
inadequate style.  Here as before we find plentiful examples of the
gracefully conventional tone current among the lesser writers of the

   _Warwick_.  How shall I enter on this graceless errand?
   I must not call her child; for where's the father
   That will in such a suit seduce his child?
   Then, _Wife of Salisbury_;--shall I so begin?
   No, he's my friend; and where is found the friend
   That will do friendship such endamagement?--{255}
   Neither my daughter, nor my dear friend's wife,
   I am not Warwick, as thou think'st I am,
   But an attorney from the court of hell;
   That thus have housed my spirit in his form
   To do a message to thee from the king.

This beginning is fair enough, if not specially fruitful in promise; but
the verses following are of the flattest order of commonplace.  Hay and
grass and the spear of Achilles--of which tradition

            the moral is,
   What mighty men misdo, they can amend--

these are the fresh and original types on which our little poet is
compelled to fall back for support and illustration to a scene so full of
terrible suggestion and pathetic possibility.

   The king will in his glory hide thy shame;
   And those that gaze on him to find out thee
   Will lose their eyesight, looking on the sun.
   What can one drop of poison harm the sea,
   Whose hugy vastures can digest the ill
   And make it lose its operation?

And so forth, and so forth; _ad libitum_ if not _ad nauseam_.  Let us
take but one or two more instances of the better sort.

   _Countess_.  Unnatural besiege!  Woe me unhappy,
   To have escaped the danger of my foes,
   And to be ten times worse invir'd by friends!

(Here we come upon two more words unknown to Shakespeare; {256}
_besiege_, as a noun substantive, and _invired_ for _environed_.)

   Hath he no means to stain my honest blood
   But to corrupt the author of my blood
   To be his scandalous and vile soliciter?
   No marvel though the branches be infected,
   When poison hath encompassed the roots;
   No marvel though the leprous infant die,
   When the stern dam envenometh the dug.
   Why then, give sin a passport to offend,
   And youth the dangerous rein of liberty;
   Blot out the strict forbidding of the law;
   And cancel every canon that prescribes
   A shame for shame or penance for offence.
   No, let me die, if his too boisterous will
   Will have it so, before I will consent
   To be an actor in his graceless lust.

   _Warwick_.  Why, now thou speak'st as I would have thee speak;
   And mark how I unsay my words again.
   An honourable grave is more esteemed
   Than the polluted closet of a king;
   The greater man, the greater is the thing,
   Be it good or bad, that he shall undertake;
   An unreputed mote, flying in the sun,
   Presents a greater substance than it is;
   The freshest summer's day doth soonest taint
   The loathed carrion that it seems to kiss;
   Deep are the blows made with a mighty axe;
   That sin doth ten times aggravate itself
   That is committed in a holy place;
   An evil deed, done by authority,
   Is sin, and subornation: Deck an ape
   In tissue, and the beauty of the robe
   Adds but the greater scorn unto the beast.

(Here are four passably good lines, which vaguely remind the reader of
something better read elsewhere; a common case enough with the more
tolerable work of small imitative poets.)

   A spacious field of reasons could I urge
   Between his glory, daughter, and thy shame:
   That poison shows worst in a golden cup;
   Dark night seems darker by the lightning flash;
   _Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds_;
   And every glory that inclines to sin,
   The shame is treble by the opposite.
   So leave I, with my blessing in thy bosom;
   Which then convert to a most heavy curse,
   When thou convert'st from honour's golden name
   To the black faction of bed-blotting shame!     [_Exit_.

   _Countess_.  I'll follow thee:--And when my mind turns so,
   My body sink my soul in endless woe!           [_Exit_.

So much for the central and crowning scene, the test, the climax, the
hinge on which the first part of this play turns; and seems to me, in
turning, to emit but a feeble and rusty squeak.  No probable reader will
need to be reminded that the line which I have perhaps unnecessarily
italicised appears also as the last verse in the ninety-fourth of those
"sugared sonnets" which we know were in circulation about the time of
this play's first appearance among Shakespeare's "private friends"; in
other words, which enjoyed such a kind of public privacy or private
publicity as one or two among the most eminent English poets of our own
day have occasionally chosen for some part of their work, to screen it
for awhile as under the shelter and the shade of crepuscular laurels,
till ripe for the sunshine or the storm of public judgment.  In the
present case, this debatable verse looks to me more like a loan or maybe
a theft from Shakespeare's private store of undramatic poetry than a
misapplication by its own author to dramatic purposes of a line too apt
and exquisite to endure without injury the transference from its original

The scene ensuing winds up the first part of this composite (or rather,
in one sense of the word, incomposite) poem.  It may, on the whole, be
classed as something more than passably good: it is elegant, lively, even
spirited in style; showing at all events a marked advance upon the scene
which I have already stigmatised as a failure--that which attempts to
render the interview between Warwick and the King.  It is hardly,
however, I should say, above the highest reach of Greene or Peele at the
smoothest and straightest of his flight.  At its opening, indeed, we come
upon a line which inevitably recalls one of the finest touches in a much
later and deservedly more popular historical drama.  On being informed by
Derby that

   The king is in his closet, malcontent,
   For what I know not, but he gave in charge,
   Till after dinner, none should interrupt him;
   The Countess Salisbury, and her father Warwick.
   Artois, and all, look underneath the brows;

on receiving, I say, this ominous intimation, the prompt and
statesmanlike sagacity of Audley leads him at once as by intuition to the
inference thus eloquently expressed in a strain of thrilling and exalted

   Undoubtedly, then something is amiss.

Who can read this without a reminiscence of Sir Christopher Hatton's
characteristically cautious conclusion at sight of the military
preparations arrayed against the immediate advent of the Armada?

   I cannot but surmise--forgive, my friend,
   If the conjecture's rash--I cannot but
   Surmise the state some danger apprehends!

With the entrance of the King the tone of this scene naturally rises--"in
good time," as most readers will say.  His brief interview with the two
nobles has at least the merit of ease and animation.

   _Derby_.  Befall my sovereign all my sovereign's wish!

   _Edward_.  Ah, that thou wert a witch, to make it so!

   _Derby_.  The emperor greeteth you.

   _Edward_.             Would it were the countess!

   _Derby_.  And hath accorded to your highness' suit.

   _Edward_.  Thou liest, she hath not: But I would she had!

   _Audley_.  All love and duty to my lord the king!

   Edward.  _Well, all but one is none_:--What news with you?

   _Audley_.  I have, my liege, levied those horse and foot,
   According to your charge, and brought them hither.

   _Edward_.  Then let those foot trudge hence upon those horse
   According to their discharge, and begone.--

   _Derby_. I'll look upon the countess' mind

   _Derby_.  The countess' mind, my liege?

   _Edward_.  I mean, the emperor:--Leave me alone.

   _Audley_.  What's in his mind?

   _Derby_.  Let's leave him to his humour.

   [_Exeunt_ DERBY and AUDLEY

   _Edward_.  Thus from the heart's abundance speaks the tongue
   Countess for emperor: And indeed, why not?
   She is as _imperator_ over me;
   And I to her
   Am as a kneeling vassal, that observes
   The pleasure or displeasure of her eye.

In this little scene there is perhaps on the whole more general likeness
to Shakespeare's earliest manner than we can trace in any other passage
of the play.  But how much of Shakespeare's earliest manner may be
accounted the special and exclusive property of Shakespeare?

After this dismissal of the two nobles, the pimping poeticule, Villon
manque or (whom shall we call him?) reussi, reappears with a message to
Caesar (as the King is pleased to style himself) from "the more than
Cleopatra's match" (as he designates the Countess), to intimate that "ere
night she will resolve his majesty."  Hereupon an unseasonable "drum
within" provokes Edward to the following remonstrance:

   What drum is this, that thunders forth this march,
   To start the tender Cupid in my bosom?
   Poor sheepskin, how it brawls with him that beateth it!
   Go, break the thundering parchment bottom out,
   And I will teach it to conduct sweet lines

("That's bad; _conduct sweet lines_ is bad.")

   Unto the bosom of a heavenly nymph:
   For I will use it as my writing paper;
   And so reduce him, from a scolding drum,
   To be the herald, and dear counsel-bearer,
   Betwixt a goddess and a mighty king.
   Go, bid the drummer learn to touch the lute,
   Or hang him in the braces of his drum;
   For now we think it an uncivil thing
   To trouble heaven with such harsh resounds.
   Away!                                 [_Exit_ Lodowick.
   The quarrel that I have requires no arms
   But these of mine; and these shall meet my foe
   In a deep march of penetrable groans;
   My eyes shall be my arrows; and my sighs
   Shall serve me as the vantage of the wind
   To whirl away my sweet'st {261} artillery:
   Ah, but, alas, she wins the sun of me,
   For that is she herself; and thence it comes
   That poets term the wanton warrior blind;
   But love hath eyes as judgment to his steps,
   Till too much loved glory dazzles them.

Hereupon Lodowick introduces the Black Prince (that is to be), and
"retires to the door."  The following scene opens well, with a tone of
frank and direct simplicity.

   _Edward_.  I see the boy.  O, how his mother's face,
   Moulded in his, corrects my strayed desire,
   And rates my heart, and chides my thievish eye;
   Who, being rich enough in seeing her,
   Yet seeks elsewhere: and basest theft is that
   Which cannot check itself on poverty.--
   Now, boy, what news?

   _Prince_.  I have assembled, my dear lord and father,
   The choicest buds of all our English blood,
   For our affairs in France; and here we come
   To take direction from your majesty.

   _Edward_.  Still do I see in him delineate
   His mother's visage; those his eyes are hers,
   Who, looking wistly {262a} on me, made me blush;
   For faults against themselves give evidence:
   Lust is a fire; and men, like lanterns, show
   Light lust within themselves even through themselves.
   Away, loose silks of wavering vanity!
   Shall the large limit of fair Brittany {262b}
   By me be overthrown? and shall I not
   Master this little mansion of myself?
   Give me an armour of eternal steel;
   I go to conquer kings.  And shall I then
   Subdue myself, and be my enemy's friend?
   It must not be.--Come, boy, forward, advance!
   Let's with our colours sweep the air of France.

Here Lodowick announces the approach of the Countess "with a smiling

   _Edward_.  Why, there it goes! that very smile of hers
   Hath ransomed captive France; and set the king,
   The dauphin, and the peers, at liberty.--
   Go, leave me, Ned, and revel with thy friends.  [_Exit_ PRINCE.
   Thy mother is but black; and thou, like her,
   Dost put into my mind how foul she is.
   Go, fetch the countess hither in thy hand,
   And let her chase away these winter clouds;
   For she gives beauty both to heaven and earth.  [_Exit_ LODOWICK.
   The sin is more, to hack and hew poor men,
   Than to embrace in an unlawful bed
   The register of all rarieties {263a}
   Since leathern Adam till this youngest hour.

   _Re-enter_ LODOWICK _with the_ COUNTESS.

   Go, Lodowick, put thy hand into my purse,
   Play, spend, give, riot, waste; do what thou wilt,
   So thou wilt hence awhile, and leave me here.  [_Exit_ LODOWICK.

Having already, out of a desire and determination to do no possible
injustice to the actual merits of this play in the eyes of any reader who
might never have gone over the text on which I had to comment, exceeded
in no small degree the limits I had intended to impose upon my task in
the way of citation, I shall not give so full a transcript from the next
and last scene between the Countess and the King.

   _Edward_.  Now, my soul's playfellow! art thou come
   To speak the more than heavenly word of yea
   To my objection in thy beauteous love?

(Again, this singular use of the word _objection_ in the sense of offer
or proposal has no parallel in the plays of Shakespeare.)

   _Countess_.  My father on his blessing hath commanded--

   _Edward_.  That thou shalt yield to me.

   _Countess_.  Ay, dear my liege, your due.

   _Edward_.  And that, my dearest love, can be no less
   Than right for right, and render {263b} love for love.

   _Countess_.  Than wrong for wrong, and endless hate for hate.
   But, sith I see your majesty so bent,
   That my unwillingness, my husband's love,
   Your high estate, nor no respect respected,
   Can be my help, but that your mightiness
   Will overbear and awe these dear regards,
   I bind my discontent to my content,
   And what I would not I'll compel I will;
   Provided that yourself remove those lets
   That stand between your highness' love and mine.

   _Edward_.  Name them, fair countess, and by heaven I will.

   _Countess_.  It is their lives that stand between our love
   That I would have choked up, my sovereign.

   _Edward_.  Whose lives, my lady?

   _Countess_.                      My thrice loving liege,
   Your queen, and Salisbury my wedded husband;
   Who living have that title in our love
   That we can not bestow but by their death.

   _Edward_.  Thy opposition {264a} is beyond our law.

   _Countess_.  So is your desire: If the law {264b}
   Can hinder you to execute the one,
   Let it forbid you to attempt the other:
   I cannot think you love me as you say
   Unless you do make good what you have sworn.

   _Edward_.  No more: thy husband and the queen shall die.
   Fairer thou art by far than Hero was;
   Beardless Leander not so strong as I:
   He swom an easy current for his love;
   But I will, through a helly spout of blood, {264c}
   Arrive that Sestos where my Hero lies.

   _Countess_.  Nay, you'll do more; you'll make the river too
   With their heartbloods that keep our love asunder;
   Of which my husband and your wife are twain.

   _Edward_.  Thy beauty makes them guilty of their death
   And gives in evidence that they shall die;
   Upon which verdict I their judge condemn them.

   _Countess_.  O perjured beauty! more corrupted judge!
   When, to the great star-chamber o'er our heads,
   The universal sessions calls to count
   This packing evil, we both shall tremble for it.

   _Edward_.  What says my fair love? is she resolute?

   _Countess_.  Resolute to be dissolved: {266} and, therefore, this:
   Keep but thy word, great king, and I am thine.
   Stand where thou dost; I'll part a little from thee;
   And see how I will yield me to thy hands.
   Here by my side do hang my wedding knives;
   Take thou the one, and with it kill thy queen,
   And learn by me to find her where she lies;
   And with the other I'll despatch my love,
   Which now lies fast asleep within my heart:
   When they are gone, then I'll consent to love.

Such genuinely good wine as this needs no bush.  But from this point
onwards I can find nothing especially commendable in the remainder of the
scene except its brevity.  The King of course abjures his purpose, and of
course compares the Countess with Lucretia to the disadvantage of the
Roman matron; summons his son, Warwick, and the attendant lords; appoints
each man his post by sea or land; and starts for Flanders in a duly moral
and military state of mind.

Here ends the first part of the play; and with it all possible
indication, though never so shadowy, of the possible shadowy presence of
Shakespeare.  At the opening of the third act we are thrown among a
wholly new set of characters and events, all utterly out of all harmony
and keeping with all that has gone before.  Edward alone survives as
nominal protagonist; but this survival--assuredly not of the fittest--is
merely the survival of the shadow of a name.  Anything more pitifully
crude and feeble, more helplessly inartistic and incomposite, than this
process or pretence of juncture where there is no juncture, this
infantine shifting and shuffling of the scenes and figures, it is
impossible to find among the rudest and weakest attempts of the dawning
or declining drama in its first or second childhood.

It is the less necessary to analyse at any length the three remaining
acts of this play, that the work has already been done to my hand, and
well done, by Charles Knight; who, though no professed critic or esoteric
expert in Shakespearean letters, approved himself by dint of sheer
honesty and conscience not unworthy of a considerate hearing.  To his
edition of Shakespeare I therefore refer all readers desirous of further
excerpts than I care to give.

The first scene of the third act is a storehouse of contemporary
commonplace.  Nothing fresher than such stale pot-pourri as the following
is to be gathered up in thin sprinklings from off the dry flat soil.  A
messenger informs the French king that he has descried off shore

   The proud armado (_sic_) of King Edward's ships;
   Which at the first, far off when I did ken,
   Seemed as it were a grove of withered pines;
   But, drawing on, their glorious bright aspect,
   Their streaming ensigns wrought of coloured silk,
   Like to a meadow full of sundry flowers,
   Adorns the naked bosom of the earth;

and so on after the exactest and therefore feeblest fashion of the Pre-
Marlowites; with equal regard, as may be seen, for grammar and for sense
in the construction of his periods.  The narrative of a sea-fight ensuing
on this is pitiable beyond pity and contemptibly beneath contempt.

In the next scene we have a flying view of peasants in flight, with a
description of five cities on fire not undeserving of its place in the
play, immediately after the preceding sea-piece: but relieved by such
wealth of pleasantry as marks the following jest, in which the most
purblind eye will be the quickest to discover a touch of the genuine
Shakespearean humour.

   _1st Frenchman_.  What, is it quarter-day, that you remove,
   And carry bag and baggage too?

   _2nd Frenchman_.  Quarter-day? ay, and quartering-day, I fear.

The scene of debate before Cressy is equally flat and futile, vulgar and
verbose; yet in this Sham Shakespearean scene of our present poeticule's
I have noted one genuine Shakespearean word, "solely singular for its

   So may thy temples with Bellona's hand
   Be still adorned with laurel victory!

In this notably inelegant expression of goodwill we find the same use of
the word "laurel" as an adjective and epithet of victory which thus
confronts us in the penultimate speech of the third scene in the first
act of _Antony and Cleopatra_.

            Upon your sword
   Sit laurel victory, and smooth success
   Be strewed before your feet!

There is something more (as less there could not be) of spirit and
movement in the battle-scene where Edward refuses to send relief to his
son, wishing the prince to win his spurs unaided, and earn the
first-fruits of his fame single-handed against the heaviest odds; but the
forcible feebleness of a minor poet's fancy shows itself amusingly in the
mock stoicism and braggart philosophy of the King's reassuring
reflection, "We have more sons than one."

In the first and third scenes of the fourth act we may concede some
slight merit to the picture of a chivalrous emulation in magnanimity
between the Duke of Burgundy and his former fellow-student, whose refusal
to break his parole as a prisoner extorts from his friend the concession
refused to his importunity as an envoy: but the execution is by no means
worthy of the subject.

The limp loquacity of long-winded rhetoric, so natural to men and
soldiers in an hour of emergency, which distinguishes the dialogue
between the Black Prince and Audley on the verge of battle, is relieved
by this one last touch of quasi-Shakespearean thought or style
discoverable in the play of which I must presently take a short--and a

   Death's name is much more mighty than his deeds:
   Thy parcelling this power hath made it more.
   As many sands as these my hands can hold
   Are but my handful of so many sands;
   Then all the world--and call it but a power--
   Easily ta'en up, and {269} quickly thrown away;
   But if I stand to count them sand by sand
   The number would confound my memory
   And make a thousand millions of a task
   Which briefly is no more indeed than one.
   These quartered squadrons and these regiments
   Before, behind us, and on either hand,
   Are but a power: When we name a man,
   His hand, his foot, his head, have several strengths;
   And being all but one self instant strength,
   Why, all this many, Audley, is but one,
   And we can call it all but one man's strength.
   He that hath far to go tells it by miles;
   If he should tell the steps, it kills his heart:
   The drops are infinite that make a flood,
   And yet, thou know'st, we call it but a rain.
   There is but one France, one king of France, {270}
   That France hath no more kings; and that same king
   Hath but the puissant legion of one king;
   And we have one: Then apprehend no odds;
   For one to one is fair equality.

_Bien coupe, mal cousu_; such is the most favourable verdict I can pass
on this voluminous effusion of a spirit smacking rather of the schools
than of the field.  The first six lines or so might pass muster as the
early handiwork of Shakespeare; the rest has as little of his manner as
his matter, his metre as his style.

The poet can hardly be said to rise again after this calamitous collapse.
We find in the rest of this scene nothing better worth remark than such
poor catches at a word as this;

   And let those milkwhite messengers of time
   Show thy time's learning in this dangerous time;

a villainous trick of verbiage which went nigh now and then to affect the
adolescent style of Shakespeare, and which happens to find itself as
admirably as unconsciously burlesqued in two lines of this very scene:

   I will not give a penny for a life,
   Nor half a halfpenny to shun grim death.

The verses intervening are smooth, simple, and passably well worded;
indeed the force of elegant commonplace cannot well go further than in
such lines as these.

   Thyself art bruised and bent with many broils,
   And stratagems forepast with iron pens
   Are texed {271} in thine honourable face;
   Thou art a married man in this distress,
   But danger woos me as a blushing maid;
   Teach me an answer to this perilous time.

   _Audley_.  To die is all as common as to live;
   The one in choice, the other holds in chase;
   For from the instant we begin to live
   We do pursue and hunt the time to die:
   First bud we, then we blow, and after seed;
   Then presently we fall; and as a shade
   Follows the body, so we follow death.
   If then we hunt for death, why do we fear it?
   If we fear it, why do we follow it?

(Let me intimate a doubt in passing, whether Shakespeare would ever have
put by the mouth of any but a farcical mask a query so provocative of
response from an Irish echo--"Because we can't help.")

   If we do fear, with fear we do but aid
   The thing we fear to seize on us the sooner;
   If we fear not, then no resolved proffer
   Can overthrow the limit of our fate:

and so forth.  Again the hastiest reader will have been reminded of a
passage in the transcendant central scenes of _Measure for Measure_:

            Merely, thou art death's fool;
   For him thou labour'st by thy flight to shun,
   And yet runn'st toward him still;

and hence also some may infer that this pitiful penny-whistle was blown
by the same breath which in time gained power to fill that archangelic
trumpet.  Credat Zoilus Shakespearomastix, non ego.

The next scene is something better than passable, but demands no special
analysis and affords no necessary extract.  We may just observe as
examples of style the play on words between the flight of hovering ravens
and the flight of routed soldiers, and the description of the sudden fog

   Which now hath hid the airy floor of heaven,
   And made at noon a night unnatural
   Upon the quaking and dismayed world.

The interest rises again with the reappearance and release of Salisbury,
and lifts the style for a moment to its own level.  _A tout seigneur tout
honneur_; the author deserves some dole of moderate approbation for his
tribute to the national chivalry of a Frenchman as here exemplified in
the person of Prince Charles.

Of the two next scenes, in which the battle of Poitiers is so
inadequately "staged to the show," I can only say that if any reader
believes them to be the possible work of the same hand which set before
all men's eyes for all time the field of Agincourt, he will doubtless die
in that belief, and go to his own place in the limbo of commentators.

But a yet more flagrant effect of contrast is thrust upon our notice at
the opening of the fifth act.  If in all the historical groundwork of
this play there is one point of attraction which we might have thought
certain to stimulate the utmost enterprise and evoke the utmost
capacities of an aspiring dramatist, it must surely be sought in the
crowning scene of the story; in the scene of Queen Philippa's
intercession for the burgesses of Calais.  We know how Shakespeare on the
like occasion was wont to transmute into golden verse the silver speech
supplied to him by North's version of Amyot's Plutarch. {273}  With the
text of Lord Berners before him, the author of _King Edward III_. has
given us for the gold of Froissart not even adulterated copper, but
unadulterated lead.  Incredible as it may seem to readers of the
historian, the poeticule has actually contrived so far to transfigure by
dint of disfiguring him that this most noble and pathetic scene in all
the annals of chivalry, when passed through the alembic of his
incompetence, appears in a garb of transforming verse under a guise at
once weak and wordy, coarse and unchivalrous.  The whole scene is at all
points alike in its unlikeness to the workmanship of Shakespeare.

Here then I think we may finally draw bridle: for the rest of the course
is not worth running; there is nothing in the residue of this last act
which deserves analysis or calls for commentary.  We have now examined
the whole main body of the work with somewhat more than necessary care;
and our conclusion is simply this: that if any man of common reading,
common modesty, common judgment, and common sense, can be found to
maintain the theory of Shakespeare's possible partnership in the
composition of this play, such a man will assuredly admit that the only
discernible or imaginable touches of his hand are very slight, very few,
and very early.  For myself, I am and have always been perfectly
satisfied with one single and simple piece of evidence that Shakespeare
had not a finger in the concoction of _King Edward III_.  He was the
author of _King Henry V_.


I was not surprised to hear that my essay on the historical play of King
Edward III. had on its first appearance met in various quarters with
assailants of various kinds.  There are some forms of attack to which no
answer is possible for a man of any human self-respect but the lifelong
silence of contemptuous disgust.  To such as these I will never
condescend to advert or to allude further than by the remark now as it
were forced from me, that never once in my life have I had or will I have
recourse in self-defence either to the blackguard's loaded bludgeon of
personalities or to the dastard's sheathed dagger of disguise.  I have
reviled no man's person: I have outraged no man's privacy.  When I have
found myself misled either by imperfection of knowledge or of memory, or
by too much confidence in a generally trustworthy guide, I have silently
corrected the misquotation or readily repaired the error.  To the
successive and representative heroes of the undying Dunciad I have left
and will always leave the foul use of their own foul weapons.  I have
spoken freely and fearlessly, and so shall on all occasions continue to
speak, of what I find to be worthy of praise or dispraise, contempt or
honour, in the public works and actions of men.  Here ends and here has
always ended in literary matters the proper province of a gentleman;
beyond it, though sometimes intruded on in time past by trespassers of a
nobler race, begins the proper province of a blackguard.


A paper was read by Mr. A. on the disputed authorship of _A Midsummer
Night's Dream_.  He was decidedly of opinion that this play was to be
ascribed to George Chapman.  He based this opinion principally on the
ground of style.  From its similarity of subject he had at first been
disposed to assign it to Cyril Tourneur, author of _The Revenger's
Tragedy_; and he had drawn up in support of this theory a series of
parallel passages extracted from the speeches of Vindice in that drama
and of Oberon in the present play.  He pointed out however that the
character of Puck could hardly have been the work of any English poet but
the author of _Bussy d'Ambois_.  There was here likewise that gravity and
condensation of thought conveyed through the medium of the "full and
heightened style" commended by Webster, and that preponderance of
philosophic or political discourse over poetic interest and dramatic
action for which the author in question had been justly censured.

Some of the audience appearing slightly startled by this remark (indeed
it afterwards appeared that the Chairman had been on the point of asking
the learned member whether he was not thinking rather of _Love's Labour's
Lost_?), Mr. A. cited the well-known scene in which Oberon discourses
with Puck on matters concerning Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth, instead
of despatching him at once on his immediate errand.  This was universally
accepted as proof positive, and the reading concluded amid signs of
unanimous assent, when

Mr. B. had nothing to urge against the argument they had just heard, but
he must remind them that there was a more weighty kind of evidence than
that adduced by Mr. A.; and to this he doubted not they would all defer.
He could prove by a tabulated statement that the words "to" and "from"
occurred on an average from seven to nine times in every play of Chapman;
whereas in the play under consideration the word "to" occurred exactly
twelve times and the word "from" precisely ten.  He was therefore of
opinion that the authorship should in all probability be assigned to
Anthony Munday.

As nobody present could dispute this conclusion, Mr. C. proceeded to read
the argument by which he proposed to establish the fact, hitherto
unaccountably overlooked by all preceding commentators, that the
character of Romeo was obviously designed as a satire on Lord Burghley.
The first and perhaps the strongest evidence in favour of this
proposition was the extreme difficulty, he might almost say the utter
impossibility, of discovering a single point of likeness between the two
characters.  This would naturally be the first precaution taken by a poor
player who designed to attack an all-powerful Minister.  But more direct
light was thrown upon the subject by a passage in which "that kind of
fruit that maids call medlars when they laugh alone" is mentioned in
connection with a wish of Romeo's regarding his mistress.  This must
evidently be taken to refer to some recent occasion on which the policy
of Lord Burghley (possibly in the matter of the Anjou marriage) had been
rebuked in private by the Maiden Queen, "his mistress," as meddling,
laughable, and fruitless.

This discovery seemed to produce a great impression till the Chairman
reminded the Society that the play in question was now generally ascribed
to George Peele, {278} who was notoriously the solicitor of Lord
Burghley's patronage and the recipient of his bounty.  That this poet was
the author of _Romeo and Juliet_ could no longer be a matter of doubt, as
he was confident they would all agree with him on hearing that a living
poet of note had positively assured him of the fact; adding that he had
always thought so when at school.  The plaudits excited by this
announcement had scarcely subsided, when the Chairman clenched the matter
by observing that he rather thought the same opinion had ultimately been
entertained by his own grandmother.

Mr. D. then read a paper on the authorship and the hidden meaning of two
contemporary plays which, he must regretfully remark, were too obviously
calculated to cast a most unfavourable and even sinister light on the
moral character of the new Shakespeare; whose possibly suspicious
readiness to attack the vices of others with a view to diverting
attention from his own was signally exemplified in the well-known fact
that, even while putting on a feint of respect and tenderness for his
memory, he had exposed the profligate haunts and habits of Christopher
Marlowe under the transparent pseudonym of Christopher Sly.  To the first
of these plays attention had long since been drawn by a person of whom it
was only necessary to say that he had devoted a long life to the study
and illustration of Shakespeare and his age, and had actually presumed to
publish a well-known edition of the poet at a date previous to the
establishment of the present Society.  He (Mr. D.) was confident that not
another syllable could be necessary to expose that person to the contempt
of all present.  He proceeded, however, with the kind encouragement of
the Chairman, to indulge at that editor's expense in sundry personalities
both "loose and humorous," which being totally unfit for publication here
are reserved for a private issue of "Loose and Humorous Papers" to be
edited, with a running marginal commentary or illustrative and
explanatory version of the utmost possible fullness, {279} by the Founder
and another member of the Society.  To these it might possibly be
undesirable for them to attract the notice of the outside world.
Reverting therefore to his first subject from various references to the
presumed private character, habits, gait, appearance, and bearing of the
gentleman in question, Mr. D. observed that the ascription of a share in
the _Taming of the Shrew_ to William Haughton (hitherto supposed the
author of a comedy called _Englishmen for my Money_) implied a doubly
discreditable blunder.  The real fact, as he would immediately prove, was
not that Haughton was joint author with Shakespeare of the _Taming of the
Shrew_, but that Shakespeare was joint author with Haughton of
_Englishmen for my Money_.  He would not enlarge on the obvious fact that
Shakespeare, so notorious a plunderer of others, had actually been
reduced to steal from his own poor store an image transplanted from the
last scene of the third act of _Romeo and Juliet_ into the last scene of
the third act of _Englishmen for my Money_; where the well-known and
pitiful phrase--"Night's candles are burnt out"--reappears in all its
paltry vulgarity as follows;--"Night's candles burn obscure."  Ample as
was the proof here supplied, he would prefer to rely exclusively upon
such further evidence as might be said to lie at once on the surface and
in a nutshell.

The second title of this play, by which the first title was in a few
years totally superseded, ran thus: _A Woman will have her Will_.  Now
even in an age of punning titles such as that of a well-known and
delightful treatise by Sir John Harrington, the peculiar fondness of
Shakespeare for puns was notorious; but especially for puns on names, as
in the proverbial case of Sir Thomas Lucy; and above all for puns on his
own Christian name, as in his 135th, 136th, and 143rd sonnets.  It must
now be but too evident to the meanest intelligence--to the meanest
intelligence, he repeated; for to such only did he or would he then and
there or ever or anywhere address himself--(loud applause) that the
graceless author, more utterly lost to all sense of shame than any Don
Juan or other typical libertine of fiction, had come forward to placard
by way of self-advertisement on his own stage, and before the very eyes
of a Maiden Queen, the scandalous confidence in his own powers of
fascination and seduction so cynically expressed in the too easily
intelligible vaunt--A Woman will have her Will [Shakespeare].  In the
penultimate line of the hundred and forty-third sonnet the very phrase
might be said to occur:

   So will I pray that thou mayst have thy Will.

Having thus established his case in the first instance to the
satisfaction, as he trusted, not only of the present Society, but of any
asylum for incurables in any part of the country, the learned member now
passed on to the consideration of the allusions at once to Shakespeare
and to a celebrated fellow-countryman, fellow-poet, and personal friend
of his--Michael Drayton--contained in a play which had been doubtfully
attributed to Shakespeare himself by such absurd idiots as looked rather
to the poetical and dramatic quality of a poem or a play than to such
tests as those to which alone any member of that Society would ever dream
of appealing.  What these were he need not specify; it was enough to say
in recommendation of them that they had rather less to do with any
question of dramatic or other poetry than with the differential calculus
or the squaring of the circle.  It followed that only the most perversely
ignorant and aesthetically presumptuous of readers could imagine the
possibility of Shakespeare's concern or partnership in a play which had
no more Shakespearean quality about it than mere poetry, mere passion,
mere pathos, mere beauty and vigour of thought and language, mere command
of dramatic effect, mere depth and subtlety of power to read, interpret,
and reproduce the secrets of the heart and spirit.  Could any further
evidence be required of the unfitness and unworthiness to hold or to
utter any opinion on the matter in hand which had consistently been
displayed by the poor creatures to whom he had just referred, it would be
found, as he felt sure the Founder and all worthy members of their
Society would be the first to admit, in the despicable diffidence, the
pitiful modesty, the contemptible deficiency in common assurance, with
which the suggestion of Shakespeare's partnership in this play had
generally been put forward and backed up.  The tragedy of _Arden of
Feversham_ was indeed connected with Shakespeare--and that, as he should
proceed to show, only too intimately; but Shakespeare was not connected
with it--that is, in the capacity of its author.  In what capacity would
be but too evident when he mentioned the names of the two leading
ruffians concerned in the murder of the principal character--Black Will
and Shakebag.  The single original of these two characters he need
scarcely pause to point out.  It would be observed that a double
precaution had been taken against any charge of libel or personal attack
which might be brought against the author and supported by the
all-powerful court influence of Shakespeare's two principal patrons, the
Earls of Essex and Southampton.  Two figures were substituted for one,
and the unmistakable name of Will Shakebag was cut in half and divided
between them.  Care had moreover been taken to disguise the person by
altering the complexion of the individual aimed at.  That the actual
Shakespeare was a fair man they had the evidence of the coloured bust at
Stratford.  Could any capable and fair-minded man--he would appeal to
their justly honoured Founder--require further evidence as to the
original of Black Will Shakebag?  Another important character in the play
was Black Will's accomplice and Arden's servant--Michael, after whom the
play had also at one time been called _Murderous Michael_.  The single
fact that Shakespeare and Drayton were both of them Warwickshire men
would suffice, he could not doubt, to carry conviction with it to the
mind of every member present, with regard to the original of this
personage.  It now only remained for him to produce the name of the real
author of this play.  He would do so at once--Ben Jonson.  About the time
of its production Jonson was notoriously engaged in writing those
additions to the _Spanish Tragedy_ of which a preposterous attempt had
been made to deprive him on the paltry ground that the style (forsooth)
of these additional scenes was very like the style of Shakespeare and
utterly unlike the style of Jonson.  To dispose for ever of this pitiful
argument it would be sufficient to mention the names of its two first and
principal supporters--Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (hisses
and laughter).  Now, in these "adycions to Jeronymo" a painter was
introduced complaining of the murder of his son.  In the play before them
a painter was introduced as an accomplice in the murder of Arden.  It was
unnecessary to dwell upon so trivial a point of difference as that
between the stage employment or the moral character of the one artist and
the other.  In either case they were as closely as possible connected
with a murder.  There was a painter in the _Spanish Tragedy_, and there
was also a painter in _Arden of Feversham_.  He need not--he would not
add another word in confirmation of the now established fact, that Ben
Jonson had in this play held up to perpetual infamy--whether deserved or
undeserved he would not pretend to say--the names of two poets who
afterwards became his friends, but whom he had previously gibbeted or at
least pilloried in public as Black Will Shakespeare and Murderous Michael

Mr. E. then brought forward a subject of singular interest and
importance--"The lameness of Shakespeare--was it moral or physical?"  He
would not insult their intelligence by dwelling on the absurd and
exploded hypothesis that this expression was allegorical, but would at
once assume that the infirmity in question was physical.  Then arose the
question--In which leg?  He was prepared, on the evidence of an early
play, to prove to demonstration that the injured and interesting limb was
the left.  "This shoe is my father," says Launce in the _Two Gentlemen of
Verona_; "no, this left shoe is my father; no, no, this left shoe is my
mother; nay, that cannot be so neither; yes, it is so, it is so; _it hath
the worser sole_."  This passage was not necessary either to the progress
of the play or to the development of the character; he believed he was
justified in asserting that it was not borrowed from the original novel
on which the play was founded; the inference was obvious, that without
some personal allusion it must have been as unintelligib1e to the
audience as it had hitherto been to the commentators.  His conjecture was
confirmed, and the whole subject illustrated with a new light, by the
well-known line in one of the Sonnets, in which the poet describes
himself as "made lame by Fortune's dearest spite": a line of which the
inner meaning and personal application had also by a remarkable chance
been reserved for him (Mr. E.) to discover.  There could be no doubt that
we had here a clue to the origin of the physical infirmity referred to;
an accident which must have befallen Shakespeare in early life while
acting at the Fortune theatre, and consequently before his connection
with a rival company; a fact of grave importance till now unverified.  The
epithet "dearest," like so much else in the Sonnets, was evidently
susceptible of a double interpretation.  The first and most natural
explanation of the term would at once suggest itself; the playhouse would
of necessity be dearest to the actor dependent on it for subsistence, as
the means of getting his bread; but he thought it not unreasonable to
infer from this unmistakable allusion that the entrance fee charged at
the Fortune may probably have been higher than the price of seats in any
other house.  Whether or not this fact, taken in conjunction with the
accident already mentioned, should be assumed as the immediate cause of
Shakespeare's subsequent change of service, he was not prepared to
pronounce with such positive confidence as they might naturally expect
from a member of the Society; but he would take upon himself to affirm
that his main thesis was now and for ever established on the most
irrefragable evidence, and that no assailant could by any possibility
dislodge by so much as a hair's breadth the least fragment of a single
brick in the impregnable structure of proof raised by the argument to
which they had just listened.

This demonstration being thus satisfactorily concluded, Mr. F. proceeded
to read his paper on the date of _Othello_, and on the various parts of
that play respectively assignable to Samuel Rowley, to George Wilkins,
and to Robert Daborne.  It was evident that the story of Othello and
Desdemona was originally quite distinct from that part of the play in
which Iago was a leading figure.  This he was prepared to show at some
length by means of the weak-ending test, the light-ending test, the
double-ending test, the triple-ending test, the heavy-monosyllabic-
eleventh-syllable-of-the-double-ending test, the run-on-line test, and
the central-pause test.  Of the partnership of other poets in the play
he was able to adduce a simpler but not less cogent proof.  A member
of their Committee said to an objector lately: "To me, there are the
handwritings of four different men, the thoughts and powers of four
different men, in the play.  If you can't see them now, you must
wait till, by study, you can.  I can't give you eyes."  To this argument
he (Mr. F.) felt that it would be an insult to their understandings if he
should attempt to add another word.  Still, for those who were willing to
try and learn, and educate their ears and eyes, he had prepared six
tabulated statements--

(At this important point of a most interesting paper, our reporter
unhappily became unconscious, and remained for some considerable period
in a state of deathlike stupor.  On recovering from this total and
unaccountable suspension of all his faculties, he found the speaker
drawing gradually near the end of his figures, and so far succeeded in
shaking off the sense of coma as to be able to resume his notes.)

That the first and fourth scenes of the third act were not by the same
hand as the third scene he should have no difficulty in proving to the
satisfaction of all capable and fair-minded men.  In the first and fourth
scenes the word "virtuous" was used as a dissyllable; in the third it was
used as a trisyllable.

   "Is, that she will to virtuous Desdemona." iii. 1.

   "Where virtue is, these are more virtuous." iii. 3.

   "That by your virtuous means I may again." iii. 4.

In the third scene he would also point out the great number of triple
endings which had originally led the able editor of Euclid's Elements of
Geometry to attribute the authorship of this scene to Shirley: _Cassio_
(twice), _patience_, _Cassio_ (again), _discretion_, _Cassio_ (again),
honesty, _Cassio_ (again), _jealousy, jealous_ (used as a trisyllable in
the verse of Shakespeare's time), company (two consecutive lines with the
triple ending), _Cassio_ (again), _conscience, petition, ability,
importunity, conversation, marriage, dungeon, mandragora, passion,
monstrous, conclusion, bounteous_.  He could not imagine any man in his
senses questioning the weight of this evidence.  Now, let them take the
rhymed speeches of the Duke and Brabantio in Act i. Sc. 3, and compare
them with the speech of Othello in Act iv. Sc. 2,

         Had it pleased heaven
   To try me with affliction.

He appealed to any expert whether this was not in Shakespeare's easy
fourth budding manner, with, too, various other points already touched
on.  On the other hand, take the opening of Brabantio's speech--

   So let the Turk of Cyprus us beguile;
   We lose it not so long as we can smile.

That, he said, was in Shakespeare's difficult second flowering manner--the
style of the later part of the earlier stage of Shakespeare's rhetorical
first period but one.  It was no more possible to move the one passage up
to the date of the other than to invert the order of the alphabet.  Here,
then, putting aside for the moment the part of the play supplied by
Shakespeare's assistants in the last three acts--miserably weak some of
it was--they were able to disentangle the early love-play from the latter
work in which Iago was principally concerned.  There was at least fifteen
years' growth between them, the steps of which could he traced in the
poet's intermediate plays by any one who chose to work carefully enough
at them.  Set any of the speeches addressed in the Shakespeare part of
the last act by Othello to Desdemona beside the consolatory address of
the Duke to Brabantio, and see the difference of the rhetoric and style
in the two.  If they turned to characters, Othello and Desdemona were
even more clearly the companion pair to Biron and Rosaline of _Love's
Labour's Lost_ than were Falstaff and Doll Tearsheet the match-pair
(_sic_) of Romeo and Juliet.  In _Love's Labour's Lost_ the question of
complexion was identical, though the parts were reversed.  He would cite
but a few parallel passages in evidence of this relationship between the
subjects of the two plays.

   _Love's Labour's Lost_, iv. 3.            _Othello_.
1. "By heaven, thy love is black   1.  "An old black ram." i. 1.
                 as ebony."
2. "No face is _fair_ that is not    2.  "Your son-in-law is far more
            full so black."                   _fair_ than black." i. 3.
3.  "O paradox! Black is the       3.  "How if she be black and
            badge of hell."                         witty?" ii. 1.
4.  "O, _if_ in black my lady's      4.  "_If_ she be black, and thereto
           brows be decked."                       have a wit." id.
5.  "And therefore is she born     5.  "A measure to the health of
        to make black fair."                    black Othello." ii. 3.
6.  "Paints itself black to        6.  "For I am black." iii, 3.
        imitate her brow."
7.  "To look like her are          7.  "_Begrimed_ and black." id.
      _chimney-sweepers_ black."

Now, with these parallel passages before them, what man, woman, or child
could bring himself or herself to believe that the connection of these
plays was casual or the date of the first Othello removable from the date
of the early contemporary late-first-period-but-one play _Love's Labour's
Lost_, or that anybody's opinion that they were so was worth one straw?
When therefore by the introduction of the Iago episode Shakespeare in his
later days had with the assistance of three fellow-poets completed the
unfinished work of his youth, the junction thus effected of the Brabantio
part of the play with this Iago underplot supplied them with an evidence
wholly distinct from that of the metrical test which yet confirmed in
every point the conclusion independently arrived at and supported by the
irresistible coincidence of all the tests.  He defied anybody to accept
his principle of study or adopt his method of work, and arrive at a
different conclusion from himself.

The reading of Mr. G.'s paper on the authorship of the soliloquies in
_Hamlet_ was unavoidably postponed till the next meeting, the learned
member having only time on this occasion to give a brief summary of the
points he was prepared to establish and the grounds on which he was
prepared to establish them.  A year or two since, when he first thought
of starting the present Society, he had never read a line of the play in
question, having always understood it to be admittedly spurious: but on
being assured of the contrary by one of the two foremost poets of the
English-speaking world, who was good enough to read out to him in proof
of this assertion all that part of the play which could reasonably be
assigned to Shakespeare, he had of course at once surrendered his own
former opinion, well grounded as it had hitherto seemed to be on the most
solid of all possible foundations.  At their next meeting he would show
cause for attributing to Ben Jonson not only the soliloquies usually but
inconsiderately quoted as Shakespeare's, but the entire original
conception of the character of the Prince of Denmark.  The resemblance of
this character to that of Volpone in _The Fox_ and to that of Face in
_The Alchemist_ could not possibly escape the notice of the most cursory
reader.  The principle of disguise was the same in each case, whether the
end in view were simply personal profit, or (as in the case of Hamlet)
personal profit combined with revenge; and whether the disguise assumed
was that of madness, of sickness, or of a foreign personality, the
assumption of character was in all three cases identical.  As to style,
he was only too anxious to meet (and, he doubted not, to beat) on his own
ground any antagonist whose ear had begotten {291} the crude and
untenable theory that the Hamlet soliloquies were not distinctly within
the range of the man who could produce those of Crites and of Macilente
in _Cynthia's Revels_ and _Every Man out of his Humour_.  The author of
those soliloquies could, and did, in the parallel passages of _Hamlet_,
rise near the height of the master he honoured and loved.

The further discussion of this subject was reserved for the next meeting
of the Society, as was also the reading of Mr. H.'s paper on the
subsequent quarrel between the two joint authors of Hamlet, which led to
Jonson's caricature of Shakespeare (then retired from London society to a
country life of solitude) under the name of Morose, and to Shakespeare's
retort on Jonson, who was no less evidently attacked under the
designation of Ariel.  The allusions to the subject of Shakespeare's
sonnets in the courtship and marriage of Epicoene by Morose were as
obvious as the allusions in the part of Ariel to the repeated
incarceration of Jonson, first on a criminal and secondly on a political
charge, and to his probable release in the former case (during the reign
of Elizabeth=Sycorax) at the intercession of Shakespeare, who was allowed
on all hands to have represented himself in the character of Prospero
("it was mine art that let thee out").  Mr. I. would afterwards read a
paper on the evidence for Shakespeare's whole or part authorship of a
dozen or so of the least known plays of his time, which, besides having
various words and phrases in common with his acknowledged works, were
obviously too bad to be attributed to any other known writer of the
period.  Eminent among these was the tragedy of _Andromana, or the
Merchant's Wife_, long since rejected from the list of Shirley's works as
unworthy of that poet's hand.  Unquestionably it was so; not less
unworthy than _A Larum for London_ of Marlowe's.  The consequent
inference that it must needs be the work of the new Shakespeare's was
surely no less cogent in this than in the former case.  The allusion
occurring in it to a play bearing date just twenty-six years after the
death of Shakespeare, and written by a poet then unborn, was a strong
point in favour of his theory.  (This argument was received with general
marks of adhesion.)  What, he would ask, could be more natural than that
Shirley when engaged on the revision and arrangement for the stage of
this posthumous work of the new Shakespeare's (a fact which could require
no further proof than he had already adduced), should have inserted this
reference in order to disguise the name of its real author, and protect
it from the disfavour of an audience with whom that name was notoriously
out of fashion?  This reasoning, conclusive in itself, became even more
irresistible--or would become so, if that were anything less than an
absolute impossibility--on comparison of parallel passages,

   Though kings still hug suspicion in their bosoms,
   They hate the causer.  (_Andromana_, Act i. Sc. 3.)

Compare this with the avowal put by Shakespeare into the mouth of a king.

            Though I did wish him dead
   I hate the murderer.  (_King Richard II_., Act v. Sc.  6.)

Again in the same scene:

   For then her husband comes home from the Rialto.

Compare this with various passages (too familiar to quote) in the
_Merchant of Venice_.  The transference of the Rialto to Iberia was of a
piece with the discovery of a sea-coast in Bohemia.  In the same scene
Andromana says to her lover, finding him reluctant to take his leave,
almost in the very words of Romeo to Juliet,

         Then let us stand and outface danger,
   Since you will have it so.

It was obvious that only the author of the one passage could have thought
it necessary to disguise his plagiarism in the other by an inversion of
sexes between the two speakers.  In the same scene were three other
indisputable instances of repetition.

         Mariners might with far greater ease
   Hear whole shoals of sirens singing.

Compare _Comedy of Errors_, Act iii. Scene 2.

   Sing, siren, for thyself.

In this case identity of sex was as palpable an evidence for identity of
authorship as diversity of sex had afforded in the preceding instance.


   Have oaths no _more validity_ with princes?

In _Romeo and Juliet_, Act iii. Scene 3, the very same words were coupled
in the very same order:

            _More validity_,
   More honourable state, more courtship lies
   In carrion flies than Romeo.


   It would have killed a salamander.

Compare the _First Part of King Henry IV_, Act iii. Scene 3.

   I have maintained that salamander of yours with fire any time this two
   and thirty years.

In Act ii. Scene 2 the hero, on being informed how heavy are the odds
against him in the field, answers,

   I am glad on't; the honour is the greater.

To which his confidant rejoins:

   The danger is the greater.

And in the sixth scene of the same act the messenger observes:

         I only heard the prince wish
   .     .    .     .     .     .     .
   He had fewer by a thousand men.

Could any member doubt that we had here the same hand which gave us the
like debate between King Henry and Westmoreland on the eve of Agincourt?
or could any member suppose that in the subsequent remark of the same
military confidant, "I smell a rat, sir," there was merely a fortuitous
coincidence with Hamlet's reflection as he "whips out his rapier"--in
itself a martial proceeding--under similar circumstances to the same

In the very next scene a captain observes of his own troops

   Methinks such tattered rogues should never conquer:

a touch that could only be due to the pencil which had drawn Falstaff's
ragged regiment.  In both cases, moreover, it was to be noted that the
tattered rogues proved ultimately victorious.  But he had--they might
hardly believe it, but so it was--even yet stronger and more convincing
evidence to offer.  It would be remembered that a play called _The Double
Falsehood_, formerly attributed to Shakespeare on the authority of
Theobald, was now generally supposed to have been in its original form
the work of Shirley.  What, then, he would ask, could be more natural or
more probable than that a play formerly ascribed to Shirley should prove
to be the genuine work of Shakespeare?  Common sense, common reason,
common logic, all alike and all equally combined to enforce upon every
candid judgment this inevitable conclusion.  This, however, was nothing
in comparison to the final proof which he had yet to lay before them.  He
need not remind them that in the opinion of their illustrious German
teachers, the first men to discover and reveal to his unworthy countrymen
the very existence of the new Shakespeare, the authenticity of any play
ascribed to the possibly too prolific pen of that poet was invariably to
be determined in the last resort by consideration of its demerits.  No
English critic, therefore, who felt himself worthy to have been born a
German, would venture to question the postulate on which all sound
principles of criticism with regard to this subject must infallibly be
founded: that, given any play of unknown or doubtful authorship, the
worse it was, the likelier was it to be Shakespeare's.  (This proposition
was received with every sign of unanimous assent.)  Now, on this ground
he was prepared to maintain that the claims of _Andromana_ to their most
respectful, their most cordial, their most unhesitating acceptance were
absolutely beyond all possibility of parallel.  Not _Mucedorus_ or _Fair
Em_, not _The Birth of Merlin_ or _Thomas Lord Cromwell_, could
reasonably or fairly be regarded as on the same level of worthlessness
with this incomparable production.  No mortal man who had survived its
perusal could for a moment hesitate to agree that it was the most
incredibly, ineffably, inconceivably, unmitigatedly, irredeemably,
inexpressibly damnable piece of bad work ever perpetrated by human hand.
No mortal critic of the genuine Anglo-German school could therefore
hesitate for a moment to agree that in common consistency he was bound to
accept it as the possible work of no human hand but the hand of the New

The Chairman then proceeded to recapitulate the work done and the
benefits conferred by the Society during the twelve months which had
elapsed since its foundation on that day (April 1st) last year.  They had
ample reason to congratulate themselves and him on the result.  They had
established an entirely new kind of criticism, working by entirely new
means towards an entirely new end, in honour of an entirely new kind of
Shakespeare.  They had proved to demonstration and overwhelmed with
obloquy the incompetence, the imbecility, the untrustworthiness, the
blunders, the forgeries, the inaccuracies, the obliquities, the utter
moral and literary worthlessness, of previous students and societies.
They had revealed to the world at large the generally prevalent ignorance
of Shakespeare and his works which so discreditably distinguished his
countrymen.  This they had been enabled to do by the simple process of
putting forward various theories, and still more various facts, but all
of equally incontrovertible value and relevance, of which no
Englishman--he might say, no mortal--outside the Society had ever heard
or dreamed till now.  They had discovered the one trustworthy and
indisputable method, so easy and so simple that it must now seem
wonderful it should never have been discovered before, by which to pluck
out the heart of the poet's mystery and detect the secret of his touch;
the study of Shakespeare by rule of thumb.  Every man, woman, and child
born with five fingers on each hand was henceforward better qualified as
a critic than any poet or scholar of time past.  But it was not, whatever
outsiders might pretend to think, exclusively on the verse-test, as it
had facetiously been called on account of its total incompatibility with
any conceivable scheme of metre or principle of rhythm--it was not
exclusively on this precious and unanswerable test that they relied.
Within the Society as well as without, the pretensions of those who would
acknowledge no other means of deciding on debated questions had been
refuted and repelled.  What were the other means of investigation and
verification in which not less than in the metrical test they were
accustomed to put their faith, and by which they doubted not to attain in
the future even more remarkable results than their researches had as yet
achieved, the debate just concluded, in common with every other for which
they ever had met or ever were likely to meet, would amply suffice to
show.  By such processes as had been applied on this as on all occasions
to the text of Shakespeare's works and the traditions of his life, they
trusted in a very few years to subvert all theories which had hitherto
been held and extirpate all ideas which had hitherto been cherished on
the subject: and having thus cleared the ground for his advent, to
discover for the admiration of the world, as the name of their Society
implied, a New Shakespeare.  The first step towards this end must of
course be the demolition of the old one; and he would venture to say they
had already made a good beginning in that direction.  They had disproved
or they would disprove the claim of Shakespeare to the sole authorship of
_Macbeth, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Hamlet_, and _Othello_; they had
established or they would establish the fact of his partnership in
_Locrine, Mucedorus, The Birth of Merlin, Dr. Dodipoll_, and _Sir Giles
Goosecap_.  They had with them the incomparable critics of Germany; men
whose knowledge and judgment on all questions of English literature were
as far beyond the reach of their English followers as the freedom and
enlightenment enjoyed by the subjects of a military empire were beyond
the reach of the citizens of a democratic republic.  They had established
and affiliated to their own primitive body or church various branch
societies or sects, in England and elsewhere, devoted to the pursuit of
the same end by the same means and method of study as had just been
exemplified in the transactions of the present meeting.  Still there
remained much to be done; in witness of which he proposed to lay before
them at their next meeting, by way of inauguration under a happy omen of
their new year's work, the complete body of evidence by means of which he
was prepared to demonstrate that some considerable portion, if not the
greater part, of the remaining plays hitherto assigned to Shakespeare was
due to the collaboration of a contemporary actor and playwright, well
known by name, but hitherto insufficiently appreciated; Robert Armin, the
author of _A Nest of Ninnies_.


The humble but hard-working journeyman of letters who was charged with
the honourable duty of reporting the transactions at the last meeting of
the Newest Shakespeare Society on the auspicious occasion of its first
anniversary, April 1st, has received sundry more or less voluminous
communications from various gentlemen whose papers were then read or
announced, pointing out with more or less acrimonious commentary the
matters on which it seems to them severally that they have cause to
complain of imperfection or inaccuracy in his conscientious and
painstaking report.  Anxious above all things to secure for himself such
credit as may be due to the modest merit of scrupulous fidelity, he
desires to lay before the public so much of the corrections conveyed in
their respective letters of reclamation as may be necessary to complete
or to rectify the first draught of their propositions as conveyed in his
former summary.  On the present occasion, however, he must confine
himself to forwarding the rectifications supplied by two of the members
who took a leading part in the debate of April 1st.

The necessarily condensed report of Mr. A.'s paper on _A Midsummer
Night's Dream_ may make the reasoning put forward by that gentleman
liable to the misconception of a hasty reader.  The omission of various
qualifying phrases has left his argument without such explanation, his
statements without such reservation, as he had been careful to supply.  He
did not say in so many words that he had been disposed to assign this
drama to the author of _The Revenger's Tragedy_ simply on the score of
the affinity discernible between the subjects of the two plays.  He is
not prone to self-confidence or to indulgence in paradox.  What he did
say was undeniable by any but those who trusted only to their ear, and
refused to correct the conclusions thus arrived at by the help of other
organs which God had given them--their fingers, for example, and their
toes; by means of which a critic of trained and competent scholarship
might with the utmost confidence count up as far as twenty, to the great
profit of all students who were willing to accept his guidance and be
bound by his decision on matters of art and poetry.  Only the most
purblind could fail to observe, what only the most perverse could
hesitate to admit, that there was at first sight an obvious connection
between the poison-flower--"purple from love's wound"--squeezed by Oberon
into the eyes of the sleeping Titania and the poison rubbed by Vindice
upon the skull of the murdered Gloriana.  No student of Ulrici's
invaluable work would think this a far-fetched reference.  That eminent
critic had verified the meaning and detected the allusion underlying many
a passage of Shakespeare in which the connection of moral idea was more
difficult to establish than this.  In the fifth act of either play there
was a masque or dramatic show of a sanguinary kind; in the one case the
bloodshed was turned to merry-making, in the other the merry-making was
turned to bloodshed.  Oberon's phrase, "till I torment thee for this
injury," might easily be mistaken for a quotation from the part of
Vindice.  This explanation, he trusted, would suffice to exonerate his
original view from any charge of haste or rashness; especially as he had
now completely given it up, and adopted one (if possible) more
impregnably based on internal and external evidence.

Mr. C. was not unnaturally surprised and indignant to find his position
as to Romeo and Lord Burghley barely indicated, and the notice given of
the arguments by which it was supported so docked and curtailed as to
convey a most inadequate conception of their force.  Among the chief
points of his argument were these: that the forsaken Rosaline was
evidently intended for the late Queen Mary, during whose reign Cecil had
notoriously conformed to the observances of her creed, though ready on
the accession of Elizabeth to throw it overboard at a day's notice; (it
was not to be overlooked that the friar on first hearing the announcement
of this change of faith is made earnestly to remonstrate, prefacing his
reproaches with an invocation of two sacred names--an invocation peculiar
to Catholics;) that the resemblance between old Capulet and Henry VIII.
is obvious to the most careless reader; his oath of "God's bread!"
immediately followed by the avowal "it makes me mad" is an unmistakable
allusion to the passions excited by the eucharistic controversy; his
violence towards Juliet at the end of the third act at once suggests the
alienation of her father's heart from the daughter of Anne Boleyn; the
self-congratulation on her own "stainless" condition as a virgin
expressed by Juliet in soliloquy (Act iii. Sc. 2) while in the act of
awaiting her bridegroom conveys a furtive stroke of satire at the similar
vaunt of Elizabeth when likewise meditating marriage and preparing to
receive a suitor from the hostile house of Valois.  It must be
unnecessary to point out the resemblance or rather the identity between
the character and fortune of Paris and the character and fortune of
Essex, whose fate had been foreseen and whose end prefigured by the poet
with almost prophetic sagacity.  To the far-reaching eye of Shakespeare
it must have seemed natural and inevitable that Paris (Essex) should fall
by the hand of Romeo (Burghley) immediately before the monument of the
Capulets where their common mistress was interred alive--immediately,
that is, before the termination of the Tudor dynasty in the person of
Elizabeth, who towards the close of her reign may fitly have been
regarded as one already buried with her fathers, though yet living in a
state of suspended animation under the influence of a deadly narcotic
potion administered by the friends of Romeo--by the partisans, that is,
of the Cecilian policy.  The Nurse was not less evidently designed to
represent the Established Church.  Allusions to the marriage of the
clergy are profusely scattered through her speeches.  Her deceased
husband was probably meant for Sir Thomas More--"a merry man" to the last
moment of his existence--who might well be supposed by a slight poetic
license to have foreseen in the infancy of Elizabeth her future
backsliding and fall from the straight path "when she came to age."  The
passing expression of tenderness with which the Nurse refers to his
memory--"God be with his soul!"--implies at once the respect in which the
name of the martyr Chancellor was still generally held, and the lingering
remains of Catholic tradition which still made a prayer for the dead rise
naturally to Anglican lips.  On the other hand, the strife between
Anglicans and Puritans, the struggle of episcopalian with Calvinistic
reformers, was quite as plainly typified in the quarrel between the Nurse
and Mercutio, in which the Martin Marprelate controversy was first
unmistakably represented on the stage.  The "saucy merchant, that was so
full of his ropery," with his ridicule of the "stale" practice of Lenten
fasting and abstinence, his contempt for "a Lenten pie," and his
preference for a flesh diet as "very good meat in Lent," is clearly a
disciple of Calvin; and the impotence of the Nurse, however scandalised
at the nakedness of his ribald profanity, to protect herself against it
by appeal to reason or tradition, is dwelt upon with an emphasis
sufficient to indicate the secret tendency of the poet's own sympathies
and convictions.  In Romeo's attempt at conciliation, and his poor excuse
for Mercutio (which yet the Nurse, an emblem of the temporising and
accommodating pliancy of episcopalian Protestantism, shows herself only
too ready to accept as valid) as "one that God hath made, for himself to
mar,"--the allusion here is evidently to the democratic and revolutionary
tendencies of the doctrine of Knox and Calvin, with its ultimate
developments of individualism and private judgment--we recognise the note
of Burghley's lifelong policy and its endeavour to fuse the Protestant or
Puritan party with the state Church of the Tudors as by law established.
The distaste of Elizabeth's bishops for such advances, their flutter of
apprehension at the daring and their burst of indignation at the
insolence of the Calvinists, are significantly expressed in terms which
seem to hint at a possible return for help and protection to the shelter
of the older faith and the support of its partisans.  "An 'a speak
anything against me, I'll take him down an 'a were lustier than he is,
and twenty such Jacks;" (the allusion here is again obvious, to the
baptismal name of John Calvin and John Knox, if not also to the popular
byword of Jack Presbyter;) "and if I cannot," (here the sense of
insecurity and dependence on foreign help or secular power becomes
transparent) "I'll find those that shall."  She disclaims communion with
the Protestant Churches of the continent, with Amsterdam or Geneva: "I am
none of his flirt-gills; I am none of his skains-mates."  Peter, who
carries her fan ("to hide her face: for her fan's the fairer face"; we
may take this to be a symbol of the form of episcopal consecration still
retained in the Anglican Church as a cover for its separation from
Catholicism), is undoubtedly meant for Whitgift, Archbishop of
Canterbury; the name Peter, as applied to a menial who will stand by and
suffer every knave to use the Church at his pleasure, but is ready to
draw as soon as another man if only he may be sure of having the secular
arm of the law on his side, implies a bitter sarcasm on the intruding
official of state then established by law as occupant of a see divorced
from its connection with that of the apostle.  The sense of instability
natural to an institution which is compelled to rely for support on
ministers who are themselves dependent on the state whose pay they draw
for power to strike a blow in self-defence could hardly be better
expressed than by the solemn and piteous, almost agonised asseveration;
"Now, afore God, I am so vexed, that every part about me quivers."  To
Shakespeare, it cannot be doubted, the impending dissolution or
dislocation of the Anglican system in "every part" by civil war and
religious discord must even then have been but too ominously evident.

If further confirmation could be needed of the underlying significance of
allusion traceable throughout this play, it might amply be supplied by
fresh reference to the first scene in which the Nurse makes her
appearance on the stage, and is checked by Lady Capulet in the full tide
of affectionate regret for her lost husband.  We can well imagine Anne
Boleyn cutting short the regrets of some indiscreet courtier for Sir
Thomas More in the very words of the text;

   Enough of this; I pray thee, hold thy peace.

The "parlous knock" which left so big a lump upon the brow of the infant
Juliet is evidently an allusion to the declaration of Elizabeth's
illegitimacy while yet in her cradle.  The seal of bastardy set upon the
baby brow of

Anne Boleyn's daughter may well be said to have "broken" it.

The counsel of the Nurse to Juliet in Act iii. Scene 5 to forsake Romeo
for Paris indicates the bias of the hierarchy in favour of Essex--"a
lovely gentleman"--rather than of the ultra-Protestant policy of
Burghley, who doubtless in the eyes of courtiers and churchmen was "a
dish-clout to him."

These were a few of the points, set down at random, which he had been
enabled to verify within the limits of a single play.  They would suffice
to give an idea of the process by which, when applied in detail to every
one of Shakespeare's plays, he trusted to establish the secret history
and import of each, not less than the general sequence and significance
of all.  Further instalments of this work would probably be issued in the
forthcoming or future Transactions of the Newest Shakespeare Society; and
it was confidently expected that the final monument of his research when
thoroughly completed and illustrated by copious appendices, would prove
as worthy as any work of mere English scholarship could hope to be of a
place beside the inestimable commentaries of Gervinus, Ulrici, and the
Company for the Confusion of Shakespeare and Diffusion of Verbiage



Mindful of the good old apologue regarding "the squeak of the real pig,"
I think it here worth while to certify the reader of little faith, that
the more incredibly impudent absurdities above cited are not so much or
so often the freaks of parody or the fancies of burlesque as select
excerpts and transcripts of printed and published utterances from the
"pink soft litter" of a living brood--from the reports of an actual
Society, issued in an abridged and doubtless an emasculated form through
the columns of a weekly newspaper.  One final and unapproachable
instance, one transcendant and pyramidal example of classical taste and
of critical scholarship, I did not venture to impair by transference from
those columns and transplantation into these pages among humbler
specimens of minor monstrosity.  Let it stand here once more on record as
"a good jest for ever"--or rather as the best and therefore as the worst,
as the worst and therefore as the best, of all possible bad jests ever to
be cracked between this and the crack of doom.  Sophocles, said a learned
member, was the proper parallel to Shakespeare among the ancient
tragedians: AEschylus--hear, O heaven, and give ear, O earth!--_AEschylus
was only a Marlowe_.

The hand which here transcribes this most transcendant utterance has
written before now many lines in verse and in prose to the honour and
glory of Christopher Marlowe: it has never--be the humble avowal thus
blushingly recorded--it has never set down as the writer's opinion that
he was only an AEschylus.  In other words, it has never registered as my
deliberate and judicial verdict the finding that he was only the equal of
the greatest among all tragic and all prophetic poets; of the man who
combined all the light of the Greeks with all the fire of the Hebrews;
who varied at his will the revelation of the single gift of Isaiah with
the display of the mightiest among the manifold gifts of Shakespeare.


{30}  Reprinted by Dr. Grosart in his beautiful and valuable edition of
Greene's works.

{33}  One thing is certain: that damnable last scene at which the gorge
rises even to remember it is in execution as unlike the crudest phase of
Shakespeare's style as in conception it is unlike the idlest birth of his
spirit.  Let us hope that so foul a thing could not have been done in
even tolerably good verse.

{42}  It is not the least of Lord Macaulay's offences against art that he
should have contributed the temporary weight of his influence as a critic
to the support of so ignorant and absurd a tradition of criticism as that
which classes the great writer here mentioned with the brutal if "brawny"
Wycherley--a classification almost to be paralleled with that which in
the days of our fathers saw fit to couple together the names of Balzac
and of Sue.  Any competent critic will always recognise in _The Way of
the World_ one of the glories, in _The Country Wife_ one of the
disgraces, of dramatic and of English literature.  The stains discernible
on the masterpiece of Congreve are trivial and conventional; the mere
conception of the other man's work displays a mind so prurient and
leprous, uncovers such an unfathomable and unimaginable beastliness of
imagination, that in the present age at least he would probably have
figured as a virtuous journalist and professional rebuker of poetic vice
or artistic aberration.

{63}  Since this passage first went to press, I have received from Dr.
Grosart the most happy news that he has procured a perfect copy of this
precious volume, and will shortly add it to his occasional issues of
golden waifs and strays forgotten by the ebb-tide of time.  Not even the
disinterment of Robert Chester's "glorified" poem, with its appended
jewels of verse from Shakespeare's very hand and from others only less
great than Shakespeare's, all now at last reset in their strange original
framework, was a gift of greater price than this.

{89}  Compare with Beaumont's admirable farce of Bessus the wretched
imitation of it attempted after his death in the _Nice Valour_ of
Fletcher; whose proper genius was neither for pure tragedy nor broad
farce, but for high comedy and heroic romance--a field of his own
invention; witness _Monsieur Thomas_ and _The Knight of Malta_: while
Beaumont has approved himself in tragedy all but the worthiest disciple
of Shakespeare, in farce beyond all comparison the aptest pupil of
Jonson.  He could give us no _Fox_ or _Alchemist_; but the inventor of
Bessus and Calianax was worthy of the esteem and affection returned to
him by the creator of Morose and Rabbi Busy.

{92}  A desperate attempt has been made to support the metrical argument
in favour of Fletcher's authorship by the production of a list in which
such words as _slavery, emperor, pitying, difference_, and even
_Christians_, were actually registered as trisyllabic terminations.  To
such unimaginable shifts are critics of the finger-counting or syllabic
school inevitably and fatally reduced in the effort to establish by rule
of thumb even so much as may seem verifiable by that rule in the province
of poetical criticism.  Prosody is at best no more than the skeleton of
verse, as verse is the body of poetry; while the gain of such painful
labourers in a field they know not how to till is not even a skeleton of
worthless or irrelevant fact, but the shadow of such a skeleton reflected
in water.  It would seem that critics who hear only through their fingers
have not even fingers to hear with.

{108}  "La dynastie du bon sens, inauguree dans Panurge, continuee dans
Sancho Panca, tourne a mal et avorte dans Falstaff."  (_William
Shakespeare_, deuxieme partie, livre premier, ch. ii,)

{125}  Possibly some readers may agree with my second thoughts, in
thinking that one exception may here be made and some surprise be here
expressed at Shakespeare's rejection of Sly's memorable query--"When will
the fool come again, Sim?"  It is true that he could well afford to spare
it, as what could he not well afford to spare? but I will confess that it
seems to me worthy of a place among his own Sly's most admirable and
notable sallies of humour.

{129}  _History of English Dramatic Poetry_, ed. 1879, vol. ii. pp.437-
447.  In a later part of his noble and invaluable work (vol. iii. p.188)
the author quotes a passage from "the induction to _A Warning for Fair
Women_, 1599 (to which Shakespeare most assuredly contributed)."  It will
be seen that I do not shrink from admitting the full weight of authority
which can be thrown into the scale against my own opinion.  To such an
assertion from the insolent organs of pretentious ignorance I should be
content with the simple rejoinder that Shakespeare most assuredly did
nothing whatever of the sort; but to return such an answer in the present
case would be to write myself down--and that in company to which I should
most emphatically object--as something very decidedly more--and
worse--than an ass.

{137}  Not for the first and probably not for the last time I turn, with
all confidence as with all reverence, for illustration and confirmation
of my own words, to the exquisite critical genius of a long honoured and
long lamented fellow-craftsman.  The following admirable and final
estimate of the more special element or peculiar quality in the
intellectual force of Honore de Balzac could only have been taken by the
inevitable intuition and rendered by the subtlest eloquence of Charles
Baudelaire.  Nothing could more aptly and perfectly illustrate the
distinction indicated in my text between unimaginative realism and
imaginative reality.

"I have many a time been astonished that to pass for an observer should
be Balzac's great popular title to fame.  To me it had always seemed that
it was his chief merit to be a visionary, and a passionate visionary.  All
his characters are gifted with the ardour of life which animated himself.
All his fictions are as deeply coloured as dreams.  From the highest of
the aristocracy to the lowest of the mob, all the actors in his _Human
Comedy_ are keener after living, more active and cunning in their
struggles, more staunch in endurance of misfortune, more ravenous in
enjoyment, more angelic in devotion, than the comedy of the real world
shows them to us.  In a word, every one in Balzac, down to the very
scullions, has genius.  Every mind is a weapon loaded to the muzzle with
will.  It is actually Balzac himself.  And as all the beings of the outer
world presented themselves to his mind's eye in strong relief and with a
telling expression, he has given a convulsive action to his figures; he
has blackened their shadows and intensified their lights.  Besides, his
prodigious love of detail, the outcome of an immoderate ambition to see
everything, to bring everything to sight, to guess everything, to make
others guess everything, obliged him to set down more forcibly the
principal lines, so as to preserve the perspective of the whole.  He
reminds me sometimes of those etchers who are never satisfied with the
biting-in of their outlines, and transform into very ravines the main
scratches of the plate.  From this astonishing natural disposition of
mind wonderful results have been produced.  But this disposition is
generally defined as Balzac's great fault.  More properly speaking, it is
exactly his great distinctive duality.  But who can boast of being so
happily gifted, and of being able to apply a method which may permit him
to invest--and that with a sure hand--what is purely trivial with
splendour and imperial purple?  Who can do this?  Now, he who does not,
to speak the truth, does no great thing."

Nor was any very great thing done by the author of _A Warning for Fair

{141}  I do not know or remember in the whole radiant range of
Elizabethan drama more than one parallel tribute to that paid in this
play by an English poet to the yet foreign art of painting, through the
eloquent mouth of this enthusiastic villain of genius, whom we might
regard as a more genuinely Titianic sort of Wainwright.  The parallel
passage is that most lovely and fervid of all imaginative panegyrics on
this art, extracted by Lamb from the comedy of _Doctor Dodipoll_; which
saw the light or twilight of publication just eight years later than
_Arden of Feversham_.

{154}  I remember to have somewhere at some time fallen in with some
remark by some commentator to some such effect as this: that it would be
somewhat difficult to excuse the unwomanly violence of this demand.
Doubtless it would.  And doubtless it would be somewhat more than
difficult to extenuate the unmaidenly indelicacy of Jeanne Darc.

{179}  What would at least be partly lust in another man is all but
purely hatred in Iago.

            Now I do love her too:
   Not out of absolute lust, (though, peradventure,
   I stand accountant for as great a sin)
   But partly led to diet my revenge.

For "partly" read "wholly," and for "peradventure" read "assuredly," and
the incarnate father of lies, made manifest in the flesh, here speaks all
but all the truth for once, to himself alone.

{205}  I add the proof in a footnote, so as to take up no more than a
small necessary space of my text with the establishment of a fact which
yet can seem insignificant to no mortal who has a human ear for lyric
song.  Shakespeare's verse, as all the wide world knows, ends thus:

   But my kisses bring again,
            bring again,
   Seals of love, but sealed in vain,
            sealed in vain.

The echo has been dropped by Fletcher, who has thus achieved the
remarkable musical feat of turning a nightingale's note into a sparrow's.
The mutilation of Philomela by the hands of Tereus was a jest compared to
the mutilation of Shakespeare by the hands of Fletcher: who thereby
reduced the close of the first verse into agreement if not into
accordance with the close of his own.  This appended verse, as all the
world does not and need not know, ends thus:

   But first set my poor heart free,
   Bound in those icy chains by thee.

Even an earless owner of fingers enough to count on may by their help
convince himself of the difference in metre here.  But not only does the
last line, with unsolicited and literally superfluous liberality, offer
us a syllable over measure; the words are such as absolutely to defy
antiphonal repetition or reverberation of the three last in either line.
Let us therefore, like good scriptural scholars, according equally to the
letter and the spirit of the text, render unto Fletcher the things which
be Fletcher's, and unto Shakespeare the things which be Shakespeare's.

{210}  It is worth remark that in a still older sample of an older and
ruder form of play than can have been the very earliest mould in which
the pristine or pre-Shakespearean model of _Pericles_ was cast, the part
of Chorus here assigned to Gower was filled by a representative of his
fellow-poet Lydgate.

{217}  Except perhaps one little word of due praise for the pretty
imitation or recollection of his dead friend Beaumont rather than of
Shakespeare, in the description of the crazed girl whose "careless
tresses a wreath of bullrush rounded" where she sat playing with flowers
for emblems at a game of love and sorrow--but liker in all else to
Bellario by another fountain-side than to Ophelia by the brook of death.

{220}  On the 17th of September, 1864.

{232}  The once too celebrated crime which in this play was exhibited on
the public stage with the forcible fidelity of a wellnigh brutal realism
took actual place on the private stage of fact in the year 1604.  Four
years afterwards the play was published as Shakespeare's.  Eight years
more, and Shakespeare was with AEschylus.

{237}  Written in 1879.

{239}  Capell has altered this to "proud perfumes"; marking the change in
a note, with the scrupulous honesty which would seem to have usually
distinguished him from more daring and more famous editors.

{245a}  The feeble archaic inversion in this line is one among many small
signs which all together suffice, if not to throw back the date of this
play to the years immediately preceding the advent of Marlowe or the full
influence of his genius and example, yet certainly to mark it as an
instance of survival from that period of incomposite and inadequate
workmanship in verse.

{245b}  Or than this play to a genuine work of Shakespeare's.  "Brick to
coral"--these three words describe exactly the difference in tone and
shade of literary colour.

{246}  Here for the first time we come upon a verse not unworthy of
Marlowe himself--a verse in spirit as in cadence recalling the deep
oceanic reverberations of his "mighty line," profound and just and simple
and single as a note of the music of the sea.  But it would be hard if a
devout and studious disciple were never to catch one passing tone of his
master's habitual accent.--It may be worth while to observe that we find
here the same modulation of verse--common enough since then, but new to
the patient auditors of _Gorboduc_ and _Locrine_--which we find in the
finest passage of Marlowe's imperfect play of _Dido_, completed by Nash
after the young Master's untimely death.

   Why star'st thou in my face?  If thou wilt stay,
   Leap in my arms: mine arms are open wide:
   If not--turn from me, and I'll turn from thee;
   For though thou hast the power to say farewell,
   I have not power to stay thee.

But we may look long in vain for the like of this passage, taken from the
crudest and feeblest work of Marlowe, in the wide and wordy expanse of
_King Edward III_.

{247}  A pre-Shakespearean word of single occurrence in a single play of
Shakespeare's, and proper to the academic school of playwrights.

{248}  _The First Part of Tamburlaine the Great_, Act v. Sc. ii.

{252}  It may be worth a remark that the word _power_ is constantly used
as a dissyllable; another note of archaic debility or insufficiency in

{255}  Yet another essentially non-Shakespearean word, though doubtless
once used by Shakespeare; this time a most ungraceful Gallicism.

{256}  It may obviate any chance of mistake if I observe that here as
elsewhere, when I mention the name that is above every name in English
literature, I refer to the old Shakespeare, and not to "the new
Shakspere"; a _novus homo_ with whom I have no acquaintance, and with
whom (if we may judge of a great--or a little--unknown after the
appearance and the bearing of those who select him as a social sponsor
for themselves and their literary catechumens) I can most sincerely
assert that I desire to have none.

{261}  Surely, for _sweet'st_ we should read _swift'st_.

{262a}  This word occurs but once in Shakespeare's plays--

   And speaking it, he wistly looked on me;

   (_King Richard II_. Act v. Sc. 4.)

and in such a case, as in the previous instances of the words _invocate_
and _endamagement_, a mere [Greek text] can carry no weight of evidence
with it worth any student's consideration.

{262b}  This form is used four times by Shakespeare as the equivalent of
Bretagne; once only, in one of his latest plays, as a synonym for

{263a}  Another word indiscoverable in any genuine verse of
Shakespeare's, though not (I believe) unused on occasion by some among
the poets contemporary with his earlier years.

{263b}  This word was perhaps unnecessarily altered by our good Capell to

{264a}  Yet another and a singular misuse of a word never so used or
misused by Shakespeare.

{264b}  Qu.  Why, so is your desire: If that the law, etc.?

{264c}  _Sic_.  I should once have thought it impossible that any mortal
ear could endure the shock of this unspeakable and incomparable verse,
and find in the passage which contains it an echo or a trace of the
"music, wit, and oracle" of Shakespeare.  But in those days I had yet to
learn what manner of ears are pricked up to listen "when rank Thersites
opes his mastiff jaws" in criticism of Homer or of Shakespeare.  In a
corner of the preface to an edition of "Shakspere" which bears on its
title-page the name (correctly spelt) of Queen Victoria's youngest son
prefixed to the name I have just transcribed, a small pellet of dry dirt
was flung upwards at me from behind by the "able editor" thus irritably
impatient to figure in public as the volunteer valet or literary lackey
of Prince Leopold.  Hence I gathered the edifying assurance that this
aspirant to the honours of literature in livery had been reminded of my
humbler attempts in literature without a livery by the congenial music of
certain four-footed fellow-critics and fellow-lodgers of his own in the
neighbourhood of Hampstead Heath.  Especially and most naturally had
their native woodnotes wild recalled to the listening biped (whom partial
nature had so far distinguished from the herd) the deep astonishment and
the due disgust with which he had discovered the unintelligible fact that
to men so ignorant of music or the laws of music in verse as my
presumptuous and pitiable self the test of metrical harmony lay not in an
appeal to the fingers but only in an appeal to the ear--"the ear which
he" (that is, which the present writer) "makes so much of--AND WHICH
Shakespearean secret is out at last.  Had I but known in time my lifelong
error in thinking that a capacity to estimate the refinements of word-
music was not to be gauged by length of ear, by hairiness of ear, or by
thickness of ear, but by delicacy of ear alone, I should as soon have
thought of measuring my own poor human organs against those of the
patriarch or leader of the herd as of questioning his indisputable right
to lay down the law to all who agree with his great fundamental
theorem--that the longest ear is the most competent to judge of metre.
_Habemus confitentem asinum_.

{266}  A Latin pun, or rather a punning Latinism, not altogether out of
Shakespeare's earliest line.  But see the note preceding this one.

{269}  The simple substitution of the word "is" for the word "and" would
rectify the grammar here--were that worth while.

{270}  Qu.  So there is but one France, etc.?

{271}  Non-Shakespearean.

{273}  I choose for a parallel Shakespeare's use of Plutarch in the
composition of his Roman plays rather than his use of Hall and Holinshed
in the composition of his English histories, because Froissart is a model
more properly to be set against Plutarch than against Holinshed or Hall.

{278}  This brilliant idea has since been borrowed from the Chairman--and
that without acknowledgment--by one of those worthies whose mission it is
to make manifest that no burlesque invention of mere man's device can
improve upon the inexhaustible capacities of Nature as shown in the
production and perfection of the type irreverently described by Dryden as
'God Almighty's fool.'

{279}  This word was incomprehensibly misprinted in the first issue of
the Society's Report, where it appeared as "foulness."  To prevent
misapprehension, the whole staff of printers was at once discharged.

{291}  When the learned member made use of this remarkable phrase he
probably had in his mind the suggestive query of Agnes, _si les enfants
qu'on fait se faisaient pas l'oreille_?  But the flower of rhetoric here
gathered was beyond the reach of Arnolphe's innocent ward.  The
procreation in such a case is even more difficult for fancy to realise
than the conception.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Study of Shakespeare" ***

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