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

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

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

Title: William Shakespeare - A Critical Study
Author: Brandes, Georg
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "William Shakespeare - A Critical Study" ***

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

http://www.freeliterature.org. (Images generously made









    This Work is published in Copenhagen in Three
    Volumes, represented by the Three Books of this translation.
    The First Book and half of the Second are translated by Mr.
    WILLIAM ARCHER; the last half of the Second Book by Mr.
    ARCHER, assisted by Miss MARY MORISON; the Third Book by
    Miss DIANA WHITE, also with the assistance of Miss MORISON.
    The proofs of the whole Work have been revised by Dr.
    BRANDES himself.




























          FAIRY SCENES












           --THE TECHNIQUE















             STATE OF THE TEXT






















           AND CORNEILLE







           TO ART









The same year which saw the death of Michael Angelo in Rome, saw the
birth of William Shakespeare at Stratford-on-Avon. The great artist of
the Italian Renaissance, the man who painted the ceiling of the Sistine
Chapel, was replaced, as it were, by the great artist of the English
Renaissance, the man who wrote _King Lear._

Death overtook Shakespeare in his native place on the same date on
which Cervantes died in Madrid. The two great creative artists of the
Spanish and the English Renaissance, the men to whom we owe Don Quixote
and Hamlet, Sancho Panza and Falstaff, were simultaneously snatched

Michael Angelo has depicted mighty and suffering demigods in solitary
grandeur. No Italian has rivalled him in sombre lyrism or tragic

The finest creations of Cervantes stand as monuments of a humour so
exalted that it marks an epoch in the literature of the world. No
Spaniard has rivalled him in type-creating comic force.

Shakespeare stands co-equal with Michael Angelo in pathos and with
Cervantes in humour. This of itself gives us a certain standard for
measuring the height and range of his powers.

It is three hundred years since his genius attained its full
development, yet Europe is still busied with him as though with a
contemporary. His dramas are acted and read wherever civilisation
extends. Perhaps, however, he exercises the strongest fascination upon
the reader whose natural bent of mind leads him to delight in searching
out the human spirit concealed and revealed in a great artist's work.
"I will not let you go until you have confessed to me the secret of
your being"--these are the words that rise to the lips of such a
reader of Shakespeare. Ranging the plays in their probable order of
production, and reviewing the poet's life-work as a whole, he feels
constrained to form for himself some image of the spiritual experience
of which it is the expression.



When we pass from the notabilities of the nineteenth century to
Shakespeare, all our ordinary critical methods leave us in the lurch.
We have, as a rule, no lack of trustworthy information as to the
productive spirits of our own day and of the past two centuries. We
know the lives of authors and poets from their own accounts or those
of their contemporaries; in many cases we have their letters; and
we possess not only works attributed to them, but works which they
themselves gave to the press. We not only know with certainty their
authentic writings, but are assured that we possess them in authentic
form. If disconcerting errors occur in their works, they are only
misprints, which they themselves or others happen to have overlooked.
Insidious though they may be, there is no particular difficulty in
correcting them. Bernays, for example, has weeded out not a few from
the text of Goethe.

It is otherwise with Shakespeare and his fellow-dramatists of
Elizabethan England. He died in 1616, and the first biography of him,
a few pages in length, dates from 1709. This is as though the first
sketch of Goethe's life were not to be written till the year 1925. We
possess no letters of Shakespeare's, and only one (a business letter)
addressed to him. Of the manuscripts of his works not a single line
is extant. Our sole specimens of his handwriting consist of five or
six signatures, three appended to his will, two to contracts, and one,
of very doubtful authenticity, on the copy of Florio's translation of
Montaigne, which is shown at the British Museum. We do not know exactly
how far several of the works attributed to Shakespeare are really his.
In the case of such plays as _Titus Andronicus_, the trilogy of _Henry
VI, Pericles_, and _Henry VIII_, the question of authorship presents
great and manifold difficulties. In his youth Shakespeare had to adapt
or retouch the plays of others; in later life he sometimes collaborated
with younger men. And worse than this, with the exception of two short
narrative poems, which Shakespeare himself gave to the press, not one
of his works is known to have been published under his own supervision.
He seems never to have sanctioned any publication, or to have read a
single proof-sheet. The 1623 folio of his plays, issued after his death
by two of his actor-friends, purports to be printed "according to the
True Originall Copies;" but this assertion is demonstrably false in
numerous instances in which we can test it--where the folio, that is
to say, presents a simple reprint, often with additional blunders,
of the old pirated quartos, which must have been based either on the
surreptitious notes of stenographers or on "prompt copies" dishonestly

It has become the fashion to say, not without some show of justice,
that we know next to nothing of Shakespeare's life. We do not know for
certain either when he left Stratford or when he returned to Stratford
from London. We do not know for certain whether he ever went abroad,
ever visited Italy. We do not know the name of a single woman whom he
loved during all his years in London. We do not know for certain to
whom his Sonnets are addressed. We can see that as he advanced in life
his prevailing mood became gloomier, but we do not know the reason.
Later on, his temper seems to grow more serene, but we cannot tell
why. We can form but tentative conjectures as to the order in which
his works were produced, and can only with the greatest difficulty
determine their approximate dates. We do not know what made him so
careless of his fame as he seems to have been. We only know that he
himself did not publish his dramatic works, and that he does not even
mention them in his will.

On the other hand, enthusiastic and indefatigable research has
gradually brought to light a great number of indubitable facts, which
furnish us with points of departure and of guidance for an outline of
the poet's life. We possess documents, contracts, legal records; we can
cite utterances of contemporaries, allusions to works of Shakespeare's
and to passages in them, quotations, fierce attacks, outbursts of
spite and hatred, touching testimonies to his worth as a man and to
the lovableness of his nature, evidence of the early recognition of
his talent as an actor, of his repute as a narrative poet, and of
his popularity as a dramatist. We have, moreover, one or two diaries
kept by contemporaries, and among others the account-book of an old
theatrical manager and pawnbroker, who supplied the players with money
and dresses, and who has carefully dated the production of many plays.

To these contemporary evidences we must add that of tradition. In
1662 a clergyman named John Ward, Vicar of Stratford, took some notes
of information gathered from the inhabitants of the district; and in
1693 a Mr. Dowdall recorded some details which he had learnt from the
octogenarian sexton and verger of Stratford Church. But tradition is
mainly represented by Rowe, Shakespeare's first tardy biographer. He
refers in particular to three sources of information. The earliest is
Sir William Davenant, Poet Laureate, who did nothing to discountenance
the rumour which gave him out to be an illegitimate son of Shakespeare.
His contributions, however, can have reached Rowe only at second hand,
since he died before Rowe was born. Naturally enough, then, the greater
part of what is related on his authority proves to be questionable.
Rowe's second source of information was Aubrey, an antiquary after the
fashion of his day, who, half a century after Shakespeare's death,
visited Stratford on one of his riding-tours. He wrote numerous short
biographies, all of which contain gross and demonstrable errors, so
that we can scarcely put implicit faith in the insignificant anecdotes
about Shakespeare preserved in his manuscript of 1680. Rowe's most
important source of information, however, is Betterton the actor, who,
about 1690, made a journey to Warwickshire for the express purpose of
collecting whatever oral traditions with regard to Shakespeare might
linger in the district. His gleanings form the most valuable part of
Rowe's biography; contemporary documents subsequently discovered have
in several instances lent them curious confirmation.

We owe it, then, to a little group of worthy but by no means brilliant
men that we are able to sketch the outline of Shakespeare's career.
They have preserved for us anecdotes of little worth, even if they are
true, while leaving us entirely in the dark as to important points in
his outward history, and throwing little or no light upon the course of
his inner life.

It is true that we possess in Shakespeare's Sonnets a group of poems
which bring us more directly into touch with his personality than
any of his other works. But to determine the value of the Sonnets as
autobiographical documents requires not only historical knowledge but,
critical instinct and tact, since it is by no means self-evident that
the poet is, in a literal sense, speaking in his own name.



William Shakespeare was a child of the country. He was born in
Stratford-on-Avon, a little town of fourteen or fifteen hundred
inhabitants, lying in a pleasant and undulating tract of country, rich
in green meadows and trees and leafy hedges, the natural features of
which Shakespeare seems to have had in his mind's eye when he wrote
the descriptions of scenery in _A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You
Like It_, and _A Winter's Tale._ His first and deepest impressions of
nature he received from this scenery; and he associated with it his
earliest poetical impressions, gathered from the folk-songs of the
peasantry, so often alluded to and reproduced in his plays. The town of
Stratford lies upon the ancient high-road from London to Ireland, which
here crosses the river Avon. To this circumstance it owes its name
(Street-ford). A handsome bridge spanned the river. The picturesque
houses, with their gable-roofs, were either wooden or frame-built.
There were two handsome public buildings, which still remain: the fine
old church close to the river, and the Guildhall, with its chapel and
Grammar School. In the chapel, which possessed a pleasant peal of
bells, there was a set of frescoes--probably the first and for long the
only paintings known to Shakespeare.

For the rest, Stratford-on-Avon was an insanitary place of residence.
There was no sort of underground drainage, and street-sweepers and
scavengers were unknown. The waste water from the houses flowed out
into badly kept gutters; the streets were full of evil-smelling pools,
in which pigs and geese freely disported themselves; and dunghills
skirted the highway. The first thing we learn about Shakespeare's
father is that, in April 1552, he was fined twelvepence for having
formed a great midden outside his house in Henley Street--a
circumstance which on the one hand proves that he kept sheep and
cattle, and on the other indicates his scant care for cleanliness,
since the common dunghill lay only a stone's-throw from his house. At
the time of his highest prosperity, in 1558, he, along with some other
citizens, is again fined fourpence for the same misdemeanour.

The matter is not without interest, since it is in all probability to
these defects of sanitation that Shakespeare's early death is to be

Both on his father's and his mother's side, the poet was descended from
yeoman families of Warwickshire. His grandfather, Richard Shakespeare,
lived at Snitterfield, where he rented a small property. Richard's
second son, John Shakespeare, removed to Stratford about 1551, and went
into business in Henley Street as a tanner and glover. In the year
1557 his circumstances were considerably improved by his marriage with
Mary Arden, the youngest daughter of Robert Arden, a well-to-do yeoman
in the neighbourhood, who had died a few months before. On his death
she had inherited his property of Asbies at Wilmecote; and she had,
besides, a reversionary interest in a larger property at Snitterfield.
Asbies was valued at £224, and brought in a rental of £28, or about
£140 of our modern money. The inventory appended to her father's will
gives us a good insight into the domestic economy of a rich yeoman's
family of those days: a single bed with two mattresses, five sheets,
three towels, &c. Garments of linen they do not seem to have
possessed. The eating utensils were of no value: wooden spoons and
wooden platters. Yet the home of Shakespeare's mother was, according to
the standard of that day, distinctly well-to-do.

His marriage enabled John Shakespeare to extend his business. He had
large transactions in wool, and also dealt, as occasion offered, in
corn and other commodities. Aubrey's statement that he was a butcher
seems to mean no more than that he himself fattened and killed the
animals whose skins he used in his trade. But in those days the
different occupations in a small English country town were not at all
strictly discriminated; the man who produced the raw material would
generally work it up as well.

John Shakespeare gradually rose to an influential position the little
town in which he had settled. He first (in 1557) became one of the
ale-tasters, sworn to look to the quality of bread and beer; in the
following year he was one of the four "petty constables" of the town.
In 1561 he was Chamberlain, in 1565 Alderman, and finally, in 1568,
High Bailiff.

William Shakespeare was his parents' third child. Two sisters, who died
in infancy, preceded him. He was baptized on the 26th of April 1564; we
do not know his birthday precisely. Tradition gives it as the 23rd of
April; more probably it was the 22nd (in the new style the 4th of May),
since, if Shakespeare had died upon his birthday, his epitaph would
doubtless have mentioned the circumstance, and would not have stated
that he died in his fifty-third year [_Ætatis_ 53].

Neither of Shakespeare's parents possessed any school education;
neither of them seems to have been able to write his or her own name.
They desired, however, that their eldest son should not lack the
education they themselves had been denied, and therefore sent the boy
to the Free School or Grammar School of Stratford, where children
from the age of seven upwards were grounded in Latin grammar, learned
to construe out of a schoolbook called _Sententice Pueriles_, and
afterwards read Ovid, Virgil, and Cicero. The school-hours, both in
summer and winter, occupied the whole day, with the necessary intervals
for meals and recreation. An obvious reminiscence of Shakespeare's
schooldays is preserved for us in _The Merry Wives of Windsor_ (iv. I),
where the schoolmaster, Sir Hugh Evans, hears little William his _Hic,
Hæc, Hoc_, and assures himself of his knowledge that _pulcher_ means
fair, and _lapis_ a stone. It even appears that his teacher was in fact
a Welshman.

The district in which the child grew up was rich in historical memories
and monuments. Warwick, with its castle, renowned since the Wars of the
Roses, was in the immediate neighbourhood. It had been the residence,
in his day, of the Earl of Warwick who distinguished himself at the
battle of Shrewsbury and negotiated the marriage of Henry V. The
district was, however, divided during the Wars of the Roses. Warwick
for some time sided with York, Coventry with Lancaster. With Coventry,
too, a town rich in memories of the period which he was afterwards to
summon to life on the stage Shakespeare must have been acquainted in
his boyhood. It was in Coventry that the two adversaries who appear in
his _Richard II.,_ Henry Bolingbroke and the Duke of Norfolk, had their
famous encounter. But in another respect as well Coventry must have had
great attractions for the boy. It was the scene of regular theatrical
representations, which, at first organised by the Church, afterwards
passed into the hands of the guilds. Shakespeare must doubtless have
seen the half-mediæval religious dramas sometimes alluded to in his
works--plays which placed before the eyes of the audience Herod and the
Massacre of the Innocents, souls burning in hell, and other startling
scenes of a like nature[1] (_Henry V_., ii. 3 and iii. 3).

Of royal and princely splendour Shakespeare had probably certain
glimpses even in his childhood. When he was eight years old Elizabeth
paid a visit to Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, in the immediate
neighbourhood of Stratford--the Sir Thomas Lucy who was to have such
a determining influence upon Shakespeare's career. In any case, he
must doubtless have visited the neighbouring castle of Kenilworth,
and seen something of the great festivities organised by Leicester in
Elizabeth's honour, during her visit to the castle in 1575. We know
that the Shakespeare family possessed a near and influential kinsman
in Leicester's trusted attendant, Edward Arden, who soon afterwards,
apparently on account of the strained relations which arose between
the Queen and Leicester after the fêtes, incurred the suspicion or
displeasure of his master, and was ultimately executed.

Nor was it only mediæval mysteries that the future poet, during his
boyhood, had opportunities of seeing. The town of Stratford showed a
marked taste for secular theatricals. The first travelling company
of players came to Stratford in the year when Shakespeare's father
was High Bailiff, and between 1569 and 1587 no fewer than twenty-four
strolling troupes visited the town. The companies who came most
frequently were the Queen's Men and the servants of Lord Worcester,
Lord Leicester, and Lord Warwick. Custom directed that they should
first wait upon the High Bailiff to inform him in what nobleman's
service they were enrolled; and their first performance took place
before the Town Council alone. A writer named Willis, born in the
same year as Shakespeare, has described how he was present at such a
representation in the neighbouring town of Gloucester, standing between
his father's knees; and we can thus picture to ourselves the way in
which the glories of the theatre were for the first time revealed to
the future poet.

As a boy and youth, then, he no doubt had opportunities of making
himself familiar with the bulk of the old English repertory, partly
composed of such pieces as he afterwards ridicules--for instance,
the _Cambyses_, whose rant Falstaff parodies--partly of pieces
which subsequently became the foundation of his own plays, such as
_The Supposes_, which he used in _The Taming of the Shrew_, or _The
Troublesome Raigne of King John_, or the _Famous Victories of Henry the
Fifth_, which supplied some of the material for his _Henry IV._

Probably Shakespeare, as a boy and youth, was not content with seeing
the performances, but sought out the players in the different taverns
where they took up their quarters, the "Swan," the "Crown," or the

The school course was generally over when a boy reached his fourteenth
year. It appears that when Shakespeare was at this age his father
removed him from the school, having need of him in his business. His
father's prosperity was by this time on the wane.

In the year 1578 John Shakespeare mortgaged his wife's property,
Asbies, for a sum of £40, which he seems to have engaged to repay
within two years, though this he himself denied. In the same year the
Town Council agrees that he shall be required to pay only one-half of
a tax (6s. 8d. in all) for the equipment of soldiers, and absolves him
altogether from payment of a poor-rate levied on the other Aldermen.
In the following year he cannot pay even his half of the pikemen-tax.
In 1579 he sold the reversion of a piece of land falling to him on
his mother-in-law's death. In the following year he wanted to pay off
the mortgage on Asbies; but the mortgagee, a certain Edmund Lambert,
declined to receive the money, for the reason, or under the pretext,
that it had not been tendered within the stipulated time, and that
Shakespeare had, moreover, borrowed other sums of him. In the course of
the consequent lawsuit, John Shakespeare described himself as a person
of "small wealthe, and verey fewe frends and alyance in the countie."
The result of this lawsuit is unknown, but it seems as though the
father, and the son after him, took it much to heart, and felt that a
great injustice had been done them. In the Induction to _The Taming
of the Shrew_, Christopher Sly calls himself "Old Sly's son of Burton
Heath." But Barton-on-the-Heath was precisely the place where lived
Edmund Lambert and his son John, who, after his death in 1587, carried
on the litigation. And this utterance of the chief character in the
Induction is, significantly enough, one of the few which Shakespeare
added to the Induction to the old play he was here adapting.

From this time forward John Shakespeare's position goes from bad to
worse. In the year 1586, when his son was probably already in London,
his goods are distrained upon, and no fewer than three warrants are
issued for his arrest; he seems for a time to have been imprisoned
for debt. He is removed from his position as Alderman because he
has not for a long time attended the meetings at the Guildhall. He
probably dared not put in an appearance for fear of being arrested
by his creditors. He seems to have lost a considerable sum of money
by standing surety for his brother Henry. There was, moreover, a
commercial crisis in Stratford. The cloth and yarn trade, in which most
of the citizens were engaged, had become much less remunerative than

We find evidence of the painful position in which John Shakespeare
remained so late as the year 1592, in Sir Thomas Lucy's report with
reference to the inhabitants of Stratford who did not obey her
Majesty's order that they should attend church once a month. He is
mentioned as one of those who "coom not to Churche for fear of processe
for debtte."

It is probable that the young William when his father removed him from
the Grammar School, assisted him in his trade; and it is not impossible
that, as a somewhat dubious allusion in a contemporary seems to imply,
he was for some time a clerk in an attorney's office. His great powers,
at any rate, doubtless revealed themselves very early; he must have
taken early to writing verses, and, like most men of genius, must have
ripened early in every respect.

[1] We find reminiscences of these scenes in Hamlet's expression, "He
out-herods Herod," and in the comparison of a flea on Bardolph's nose
to a black soul burning in hell-fire.



In December 1582, being then only eighteen, William Shakespeare married
Anne Hathaway, daughter of a well-to-do yeoman, recently deceased, in
a neighbouring hamlet of the same parish. The marriage of a boy not
yet out of his teens, whose father was in embarrassed circumstances,
while he himself had probably nothing to live on but such scanty
wages as he could earn in his father's service, seems on the face of
it somewhat precipitate; and the arrangements for it, moreover, were
unusually hurried. In a document dated November 28, 1582, two friends
of the Hathaway family give a bond to the Bishop of Worcester's Court,
declaring, under relatively heavy penalties, that there is no legal
impediment to the solemnisation of the marriage after one publication
of the banns, instead of the statutory three. So far as we can gather,
it was the bride's family that hurried on the marriage, while the
bridegroom's held back, and perhaps even opposed it. This haste is the
less surprising when we find that the first child, a daughter named
Susanna, was born in May 1583, only five months and three weeks after
the wedding. It is probable, however, that a formal betrothal, which
at that time was regarded as the essential part of the contract, had
preceded the marriage.

In 1585 twins were born, a girl, Judith, and a boy, Hamnet (the name
is also written Hamlet), no doubt called after a friend of the family,
Hamnet Sadler, a baker in Stratford, who is mentioned in Shakespeare's
will. This son died at the age of eleven.

It was probably soon after the birth of the twins that Shakespeare
was forced to quit Stratford. According to Rowe he had "fallen into
ill company," and taken part in more than one deer-stealing raid upon
Sir Thomas Lucy's park at Charlecote. "For this he was prosecuted by
that gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely, and in order to
revenge that ill-usage he made a ballad upon him.... It is said to
have been so very bitter that it redoubled the prosecution against him
to that degree that he was obliged to leave his business and family
in Warwickshire for some time and shelter himself in London." Rowe
believed this ballad to be lost, but what purports to be the first
verse of it has been preserved by Oldys, on the authority of a very old
man who lived in the neighbourhood of Stratford. It may possibly be
genuine. The coincidence between it and an unquestionable gibe at Sir
Thomas Lucy in _The Merry Wives of Windsor_ renders it probable that
it has been more or less correctly remembered.[1] Although poaching
was at that time regarded as a comparatively innocent and pardonable
misdemeanour of youth, to which the Oxford students, for example,
were for many generations greatly addicted, yet Sir Thomas Lucy, who
seems to have newly and not over-plentifully stocked his park, deeply
resented the depredations of young Stratford. He was, it would appear,
no favourite in the town. He never, like the other landowners of the
district, requited with a present of game the offerings of salt and
sugar which, as we learn from the town accounts, the burgesses were
in the habit of sending him. Shakespeare's misdeeds were not at that
time punishable by law; but, as a great landowner and justice of the
peace, Sir Thomas had the young fellow in his power, and there is every
probability in favour of the tradition, preserved by the Rev. Richard
Davies, who died in 1708, that he "had him oft whipt and sometimes
imprisoned." It is confirmed by the substantial correctness of Davies'
further statement: "His revenge was so great, that he is his Justice
Clodpate [Shallow],... that in allusion to his name bore three louses
rampant for his arms." We find, in fact, that in the opening scene of
_The Merry Wives,_ Justice Shallow, who accuses Falstaff of having shot
his deer, has, according to Slender's account, a dozen white luces
(pikes) in his coat-of-arms, which, in the mouth of the Welshman, Sir
Hugh Evans, become a dozen white louses--the word-play being exactly
the same as that in the ballad. Three luces argent were the cognisance
of the Lucy family.

The attempt to cast doubt upon this old tradition of Shakespeare's
poaching exploits becomes doubly unreasonable in face of the fact that
precisely in 1585 Sir Thomas Lucy spoke in Parliament in favour of more
stringent game-laws.

The essential point, however, is simply this, that at about the age of
twenty-one Shakespeare leaves his native, town, not to return to it
permanently until his life's course is nearly run. Even if he had not
been forced to bid it farewell, the impulse to develop his talents and
energies must ere long have driven him  forth. Young and inexperienced
as he was, at all events, he had now to betake himself to the capital
to seek his fortune.

Whether he left any great happiness behind him we cannot tell; but it
is scarcely probable. There is nothing to show that in the peasant
girl, almost eight years older than himself, whom he married at the
age of eighteen, Shakespeare found the woman who, even for a few
years, could fill his life. Everything, indeed, points in the opposite
direction. She and the children remained behind in Stratford, and he
saw her only when he revisited his native place, as he did at long
intervals, probably, at first, but afterwards annually. Tradition and
the internal evidence of his writings prove that he lived, in London,
the free Bohemian life of an actor and playwright. We know, too, that
he was soon plunged in the business cares of a theatrical manager and
part-proprietor. The woman's part in this life was not played by Anne
Hathaway. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that Shakespeare
never for a moment lost sight of Stratford, and that he had no sooner
made a footing for himself in London than he set to work with the
definite aim of acquiring land and property in the town from which he
had gone forth penniless and humiliated. His father should hold up his
head again, and the family honour be re-established.

[1] It runs:--

"A parliament member, a justice of peace,
 At home a poor scare-crow, at London an asse;
 If lowsie is Lucy, as some volke miscalle it,
 Then Lucy is lowsie, whatever befall it;
      He thinkes himself greate
      Yet an asse in his state
 We allowe by his eares but with asses to mate.
 If Lucy is lowsie, as some volke miscalle it,
 Sing lowsie Lucy, whatever befalle it."



So the young man rode from Stratford to London. He probably, according
to the custom of the poorer travellers of that time, sold his horse
on his arrival at Smithfield; and, as Halliwell-Phillips ingeniously
suggests, he may have sold it to James Burbage, who kept a livery
stable in the neighbourhood. It may have been this man, the father of
Richard Burbage, afterwards Shakespeare's most famous fellow-actor, who
employed Shakespeare to take charge of the horses which his customers
of the Smithfield district hired to ride to the play. James Burbage had
built, and now owned, the first playhouse erected in London (1576),
known as _The Theatre_; and a well-known tradition, which can be
traced to Sir William Davenant, relates that Shakespeare was driven
by dire necessity to hang about the doors of the theatre and hold the
horses of those who had ridden to the play. The district was a remote
and disreputable one, and swarmed with horse-thieves. Shakespeare
won such favour as a horse-holder, and was in such general demand,
that he had to engage boys as assistants, who announced themselves
as "Shakespeare's boys," a style and title, it is said, which long
clung to them. A fact which speaks in favour of this much-ridiculed
legend is that, at the time to which it can be traced back, well on in
the seventeenth century, the practice of riding to the theatres had
entirely fallen into disuse. People then went to the play by water.

A Stratford tradition represents that Shakespeare first entered the
theatre in the character of "servitor" to the actors, and Malone
reports "a stage tradition that his first office in the theatre was
that of prompter's attendant," whose business was to give the players
notice of the time for their entrance. It is evident, however, that he
soon rose above these menial stations.

The London to which Shakespeare came was a town of about 300,000
inhabitants. Its main streets had quite recently been paved, but were
not yet lighted; it was surrounded with trenches, walls, and gates; it
had high-gabled, red-roofed, two-story wooden houses, distinguished by
means of projecting signs, from which they took their names--houses in
which benches did duty for chairs, and the floors were carpeted with
rushes. The streets were usually thronged, not with wheel-traffic, for
the first carriage was imported into England in this very reign, but
with people on foot, on horseback, or in litters; while the Thames,
still blue and clear, in spite of the already large consumption of
coal, was alive with thousands of boats threading their way, amid the
watermen's shrill cries of "Eastward hoe!" or "Westward hoe!" through
bevies of swans which put forth from, and returned to, the green
meadows and beautiful gardens bordering the stream.

There was as yet only one bridge over the Thames, the mighty London
Bridge, situated not far from that which now bears the name. It was
broad, and lined with buildings; while on the tall gate-towers heads
which had fallen on the block were almost always displayed. In its
neighbourhood lay Eastcheap, the street in which stood Falstaffs tavern.

The central points of London were at that time the newly erected
Exchange and St. Paul's Church, which was regarded not only as the
Cathedral of the city, but as a meeting-place and promenade for
idlers, a sort of club where the news of the day was to be heard, a
hiring-fair for servants, and a sanctuary for debtors, who were there
secure from arrest. The streets, still full of the many-coloured life
of the Renaissance, rang with the cries of 'prentices inviting custom
and hawkers proclaiming their wares; while through them passed many
a procession, civil, ecclesiastical, or military, bridal companies,
pageants, and troops of crossbow-men and men-at-arms.

Elizabeth might be met in the streets, driving in her huge State
carriage, when she did not prefer to sail on the Thames in her
magnificent gondola, followed by a crowd of gaily decorated boats.

In the City itself no theatres were tolerated. The civic authorities
regarded them with an unfriendly eye, and had banished them to the
outskirts and across the Thames, together with the rough amusements
with which they had to compete: cock-fighting and bear-baiting with

The handsome, parti-coloured, extravagant costumes of the period are
well known. The puffed sleeves of the men, the women's stiff ruffs,
and the fantastic shapes of their hooped skirts, are still to be seen
in stage presentations of plays of the time. The Queen and her Court
set the example of great and unreasonable luxury with respect to the
number and material of costumes. The ladies rouged their faces, and
often dyed their hair. Auburn, as the Queen's colour, was the most
fashionable. The conveniences of daily life were very meagre. Only of
late had fireplaces begun to be substituted for the open hearths. Only
of late had proper bedsteads come into general use; when Shakespeare's
well-to-do grandfather, Richard Arden, made his will, in the year 1556,
there was only one bedstead in the house where he lived with his seven
daughters. People slept on straw mattresses, with a billet of wood
under their heads and a fur rug over them. The only decoration of the
rooms of the wealthier classes was the tapestry on the walls, behind
which people so often conceal themselves in Shakespeare's plays.

The dinner-hour was at that time eleven in the morning, and it was
reckoned fashionable to dine early. Those who could afford it ate rich
and heavy dishes; the repasts would often last an inordinate time, and
no regard whatever was paid to the minor decencies of life. Domestic
utensils were very mean. So late as 1592, wooden trenchers, wooden
platters, and wooden spoons were in common use. It was just about this
time that tin and silver began to supplant wood. Table-knives had
been in general use since about 1563; but forks were still unknown in
Shakespeare's time--fingers supplied their place. In a description of
five months' travels on the Continent, published by Coryat in 1611, he
tells how surprised he was to find the use of forks quite common in

    "I obserued a custome in all those Italian Cities and
    Townes through which I passed, that is not vsed in any
    other country that I saw in my trauels, neither doe I
    thinke that any other nation of Christendome doth vse it,
    but only Italy. The Italian and also most strangers that
    are commorant in Italy doe alwaies at their meales vse a
    little forke when they cut their meate. For while with their
    knife which they hold in one hand they cut the meate out of
    the dish, they fasten their forke which they hold in their
    other hand vpon the same dish, so that whatsoeuer he be
    that sitting in the company of any others at meale, should
    vnaduisedly touch the dish of meate with his fingers from
    which all at the table doe cut, he will giue occasion of
    offence vnto the company, as hauing transgressed the lawes
    of good manners, in so much that for his error he shall be
    at the least brow-beaten, if not reprehended in wordes....
    The reason of this their curiosity is, because the Italian
    cannot by any means indure to haue his dish touched with
    fingers, seing all men's fingers are not alike cleane."[1]

We see, too, that Coryat was the first to introduce the new appliance
into his native land. He tells us that he thought it best to imitate
the Italian fashion not only in Italy and Germany, but "often in
England" after his return; and he relates how a learned and jocular
gentleman of his acquaintance rallied him on that account and called
him "Furcifer." In one of Ben Jonson's plays, _The Devil is an Ass_,
dating from 1614, the use of forks is mentioned as lately imported
from Italy, in order to save napkins. We must conceive, then, that
Shakespeare was as unfamiliar with the use of the fork as a Bedouin
Arab of to-day.

He does not seem to have smoked. Tobacco is never mentioned in his
works, although the people of his day gathered in tobacco-shops where
instruction was given in the new art of smoking, and although the
gallants actually smoked as they sat on the stage of the theatre.

[1] _Coryat's Crudities_, ed. 1776, vol. i. p. 106.



The period of Shakespeare's arrival in London was momentous both in
politics and religion. It is the period of England's development into
a great Protestant power. Under Bloody Mary, the wife of Philip II.
of Spain, the government had been Spanish-Catholic; the persecutions
directed against heresy brought many victims, and among them some of
the most distinguished men in England, to the scaffold, and even to the
stake. Spain made a cat's-paw of England in her contest with France,
and reaped all the benefit of the alliance, while England paid the
penalty. Calais, her last foothold on the Continent, was lost.

With Elizabeth, Protestantism ascended the throne and became a power
in the world. She rejected Philip's courtship; she knew how unpopular
the Spanish marriage had made her sister. In the struggle with the
Papal power she had the Parliament on her side. Parliament had at once
recognised her as Queen by the law of God and the country, whilst
the Pope, on her accession, denied her right to the throne. The
Catholic world took his part against her; first France, then Spain.
England supported Protestant Scotland against its Catholic Queen and
her Scottish-French army, and the Reformation triumphed in Scotland.
Afterwards, when Mary Stuart had ceased to rule over Scotland and taken
refuge in England, in the hope of there finding help, it was no longer
France but Philip of Spain who stood by her. He saw his despotism in
the Netherlands threatened by the victory of Protestantism in England.

Political interest led Elizabeth's Government to throw Mary into
prison. The Pope excommunicated Elizabeth, absolved her subjects
from their oath of allegiance, and declared her a usurper in her own
kingdom. Whoever should obey her commands was excommunicated along
with her, and for twenty years on end one Catholic conspiracy against
Elizabeth treads on another's heels, Mary Stuart being involved in
almost all of them.

In 1585 Elizabeth opened the war with Spain by sending her fleet to the
Netherlands, with her favourite, Leicester, in command of the troops.
In the beginning of the following year, Francis Drake, who in 1577-80
had for the first time circumnavigated the world, surprised and took
San Domingo and Carthagena. The ship in which he had achieved his great
voyage lay at anchor in the Thames as a memorial of the feat; it was
often visited by Londoners, and no doubt by Shakespeare among them.

In the years immediately following, the springtide of the national
spirit burst into full bloom. Let us try to picture to ourselves the
impression it must have made upon Shakespeare in the year 1587. On
the 8th of February 1587 Mary Stuart was executed at Fotheringay,
and the breach between England and the Catholic world was thus made
irreparable. On the 16th of February, England's noblest knight and
the flower of her chivalry, Sir Philip Sidney, the hero of Zutphen,
and the chief of the Anglo-Italian school of poets, was buried in St.
Paul's Cathedral, with a pomp which gave to the event the character
of a national solemnity. Sidney was an ideal representative of the
aristocracy of the day. He possessed the widest humanistic culture, had
studied Aristotle and Plato no less than geometry and astronomy, had
travelled and seen the world, had read and thought and written, and was
not only a scholar but a soldier to boot. As a cavalry officer he had
saved the English army at Gravelines, and he had been the friend and
patron of Giordano Bruno, the freest thinker of his time. The Queen
herself was present at his funeral, and so, no doubt, was Shakespeare.

In the following year Spain fitted out her great Armada and despatched
it against England. As regards the size of the ships and the number
of the troops they carried, it was the largest fleet that had ever
been seen in European waters. And in the Netherlands, at Antwerp and
Dunkerque, transports were in readiness for the conveyance of a second
vast army to complete the destruction of England. But England was equal
to the occasion. Elizabeth's Government demanded fifteen ships of the
city of London; it fitted out thirty, besides raising a land force of
30,000 men and lending the Government £52,000 in ready money.

The Spanish fleet numbered one hundred and thirty huge galleons, the
English only sixty sail, of lighter and less cumbrous build. The young
English noblemen competed for the privilege of serving in it. The great
Armada was ill designed for defying wind and weather in the English
Channel. It manœuvred awkwardly, and, in the first encounters, proved
itself powerless against the lighter ships of the English. A couple
of fire-ships were sufficient to throw it into disorder; a season of
storms set in, and the greater number of its galleons were swept to

The greatest Power in the world of that day had broken down in its
attempt to crush the growing might of England, and the whole nation
revelled in the exultant sense of victory.



Between 1586 and 1592 we lose all trace of Shakespeare. We know only
that he must have been an active member of a company of players. It is
not proved that he ever belonged to any other company than the Earl of
Leicester's, which owned the Blackfriars, and afterwards the Globe,
theatre. It is proved by several passages in contemporary writings
that, partly as actor, partly as adapter of older plays for the use of
the theatre, he had, at the age of twenty-eight, made a certain name
for himself, and had therefore become the object of envy and hatred.

A passage in Spenser's _Colin Clouts Come Home Again_, referring to a
poet whose Muse "doth like himself heroically sound," may with some
probability, though not with certainty, be applied to Shakespeare. The
theory is supported by the fact that the word "gentle" is here, as so
often in after-life, attached to his personality. Against it we must
place the circumstance that the poem, although not published till 1594,
seems to have been composed as early as 1591, when Shakespeare's muse
was as yet scarcely heroic, and that Drayton, who had written under the
pseudonym of Rowland, may have been the poet alluded to.

The first indubitable allusion to Shakespeare is of a quite different
nature. It occurs in a pamphlet written on his deathbed by the
dramatist Robert Greene, entitled _A Groat's Worth of Wit bought with
a Million of Repentance_ (August 1592). In it the utterly degraded
and penniless poet calls upon his friends, Marlowe, Lodge or Nash,
and Peele (without mentioning their names), to give up their vicious
life, their blasphemy, and their "getting many enemies by bitter
words," holding himself up as a deterrent example; for he died, after
a reckless life, of an illness said to have been induced by immoderate
eating, and in such misery that he had to borrow money of his landlord,
a poor shoemaker, while his landlord's wife was the sole attendant of
his dying hours. He was so poor that his clothes had to be sold to
procure him food. He sent his wife these lines:--

    "Doll, I charge thee, by the loue of our youth and by my
    soules rest, that thou wilte see this man paide; for if
    hee and his wife had not succoured me, I had died in the

                                             "ROBERT GREENE."

The passage in which he warns his friends and fellow-poets against the
ingratitude of the players runs as follows:--

    "Yes, trust them not: for there is an upstart crow,
    beautified with our feathers, that with his _Tygers heart
    wrapt in a Players hide_, supposes he is as well able to
    bumbast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an
    absolute _Johannes fac totum_, is in his owne conceit the
    only Shake-scene in a countrie."

The allusion to Shakespeare's name is unequivocal, and the words about
the tiger's heart point to the outburst, "Oh Tyger's hart wrapt in a
serpents hide!" which is found in two places: first in the play called
_The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke, and the Death of the
good King Henrie the Sixt_, and then (with "womans" substituted for
"serpents"), in the third part of _King Henry VI_., founded on the
_True Tragedie_, and attributed to Shakespeare. It is preposterous to
interpret this passage as an attack upon Shakespeare in his quality as
an actor; Greene's words, beyond all doubt, convey an accusation of
literary dishonesty. Everything points to the belief that Greene and
Marlowe had collaborated in the older play, and that the former saw
with disgust the success achieved by Shakespeare's adaptation of their

But that Shakespeare was already highly respected, and that the attack
aroused general indignation, is proved by the apology put forth in
December 1592 by Henry Chettle, who had published Greene's pamphlet.
In the preface to his _Kind-harts Dreame_ he expressly deplores his
indiscretion with regard to Shakespeare:--

    "I am as sory as if the originall fault had beene my fault,
    because my selfe haue seene his demeanor no lesse ciuill
    than he exelent in the qualitie he professes. Besides,
    diuers of worship haue reported his vprightnes of dealing,
    which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in
    writing, that aprooues his Art."

We see, then, that the company to which Shakespeare had attached
himself, and in which he had already attracted notice as a promising
poet, employed him to revise and furbish up the older pieces of their
repertory. The theatrical announcements of the period would show us,
even if we had no other evidence, that it was a constant practice to
recast old plays, in order to heighten their powers of attraction. It
is announced, for instance, that such-and-such a play will be acted
as it was last presented before her Majesty, or before this or that
nobleman. Poets sold their works outright to the theatre for such sums
as five or ten pounds, or for a share in the receipts. As the interests
of the theatre demanded that plays should not be printed, in order that
rival companies might not obtain possession of them, they remained in
manuscript (unless pirated), and the players could accordingly do what
they pleased with the text.

None the less, of course, was the older poet apt to resent the
re-touches made by the younger, as we see from this outburst of
Greene's, and probably, too, from Ben Jonson's epigram, _On Poet-Ape_,
even though this cannot, with any show of reason, be applied to

In the view of the time, theatrical productions as a whole were not
classed as literature. It was regarded as dishonourable for a man to
sell his work first to a theatre and then to a book-seller, and Thomas
Hey wood declares, as late as 1630 (in the preface to his _Lucretia_),
that he has never been guilty of this misdemeanour. We know, too, how
much ridicule Ben Jonson incurred when, first among English poets, he
in 1616 published his plays in a folio volume.

On the other hand, we see that not only Shakespeare's genius, but his
personal amiability, the loftiness and charm of his nature, disarmed
even those who, for one reason or another, had spoken disparagingly
of his activity. As Chettle, after printing Greene's attack, hastened
to make public apology, so also Ben Jonson, to whose ill-will and
cutting allusions Shakespeare made no retort,[1] became, in spite of
an unconquerable jealousy, his true friend and admirer, and after his
death spoke of him warmly in prose, and with enthusiasm in verse, in
the noble eulogy prefixed to the First Folio. His prose remarks upon
Shakespeare's character are introduced by a critical observation:--

    "I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour
    to Shakespeare, that in his writing (whatsoever he penned)
    he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, Would he
    had blotted a thousand. Which they thought a malevolent
    speech. I had not told posterity this but for their
    ignorance, who chose that circumstance to commend their
    friend by, wherein he most faulted; and to justify mine own
    candour: for I loved the man, and do honour his memory, on
    this side idolatry, as much as any. He was (indeed) honest,
    and of an open and full nature; had an excellent phantasy,
    brave notions, and gentle expressions; wherein he flowed
    with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary he
    should be stopped: _Sufflaminandus erat,_ as Augustus said
    of Haterius."

[1] He is said to have procured the production of Jonson's
first play.



One might expect that it would be with the early plays in which
Shakespeare only collaborated as with those Italian pictures of the
best period of the Renaissance, in which the connoisseur identifies
(for example) an angel's head by Leonardo in a Crucifixion of Andrea
del Verrocchio's. The work of the pupil stands out sharp and clear,
with pure contours, a picture within the picture, quite at odds with
its style and spirit, but impressing us as a promise for the future. As
a matter of fact, however, there is no analogy between the two cases.

A mystery hangs over the _Henry VI_. trilogy which neither Greene's
venomous attack nor Chettle's apology enables us to clear up.

Of all the works attributed to Shakespeare, this is certainly the one
whose origin affords most food for speculation. The inclusion of the
three plays in the First Folio shows clearly that his comrades, who had
full knowledge of the facts, regarded them as his literary property.
That the two earlier plays which are preserved, the _First Part of
the Contention_ and the _True Tragedie_ (answering to the second
and third parts of _Henry VI_.), cannot be entirely Shakespeare's
work is evidenced both by the imprint of the anonymous quartos and
by the company which is stated to have produced them; for none of
Shakespeare's genuine plays was published by this publisher or played
by this company. It is proved quite clearly, too, by internal evidence,
by the free and unrhymed versification of these plays. At the period
from which they date, Shakespeare was still extremely addicted to the
use of rhyme in his dramatic writing.

Nevertheless, the great majority of German Shakespeare students,
and some English as well, are of opinion that the older plays are
entirely Shakespeare's, either his first drafts or, as is more commonly
maintained, stolen texts carelessly noted down.

Some English scholars, such as Malone and Dyce, go to the opposite
extreme, and regard the second and third parts of _Henry VI_. as the
work of another poet. The majority of English students look upon these
plays as the result of Shakespeare's retouching of another man's, or
rather other men's, work.

The affair is so complicated that none of these hypotheses is quite

Though there are doubtless in the older plays portions unworthy of
Shakespeare, and more like the handiwork of Greene, while others
strongly suggest Marlowe, both in matter, style, and versification,
there are also passages in them which cannot be by any one else than
Shakespeare. And while most of the alterations and additions which are
found in the second and third parts of _Henry VI_. bear the mark of
unmistakable superiority, and are Shakespearian in spirit no less than
in style and versification, there are at the same time others which
are decidedly un-Shakespearian and can almost certainly be attributed
to Marlowe. He must, then, have collaborated with Shakespeare in the
adaptation, unless we suppose that his original text was carelessly
printed in the earlier quartos, and that it here reappears, in the
Shakespearian _Henry VI_, corrected and completed in accordance with
his manuscript.

I agree with Miss Lee, the writer of the leading treatise[1] on these
plays, and with the commentator in the Irving Edition, in holding
that Shakespeare was not responsible for all the alterations in the
definitive text. There are several which I cannot possibly believe to
be his.

In the old quartos there appears not a line in any foreign language.
But in the Shakespearian plays we find lines and exclamations in
Latin scattered here and there, along with one in French.[2] If the
early quartos are founded on a text taken down by ear, we can readily
understand that the foreign expressions, not being understood, should
be omitted. Such foreign sentences are extremely frequent in Marlowe,
as in Kyd and the other older dramatists; they appear in season and out
of season, but always in irreconcilable conflict with the sounder taste
of our time. Marlowe would even suffer a dying man to break out in a
French or Latin phrase as he gave up the ghost, and this occurs here in
two places (at Clifford's death and Rutland's). Shakespeare, who never
bedizens his work with un-English phrases, would certainly not place
them in the mouths of dying men, and least of all foist them upon an
earlier purely English text.

Other additions also seem only to have restored the older form of the
plays--those, to wit, which really add nothing new, but only elaborate,
sometimes more copiously than is necessary or tasteful, a thought
already clearly indicated. The original omission in such instances
appears almost certainly to have been dictated by considerations of
convenience in acting. One example is Queen Margaret's long speech in
Part II., Act iii. 2, which is new with the exception of the first
fourteen lines.

But there is another class of additions and alterations which surprises
us by being unmistakably in Marlowe's style. If these additions are
really by Shakespeare, he must have been under the influence of Marlowe
to a quite extraordinary degree. Swinburne has pointed out how entirely
the verses which open the fourth act of the Second Part are Marlowesque
in rhythm, imagination, and choice of words; but characteristic as are
these lines--

    "And now loud howling wolves arouse the jades
     That drag the tragic melancholy night,"

they are by no means the only additions which seem to point to Marlowe.
We feel his presence particularly in the additions to Iden's speeches
at the end of the fourth act, in such lines as--

    "Set limb to limb, and thou art far the lesser;
     Thy hand is but a finger to my fist;
     Thy leg a stick, compared with this truncheon;"

and especially in the concluding speech:--

    "Die, damned wretch, the curse of her that bare thee!
     And as I thrust thy body in with my sword,
     So wish I, I might thrust thy soul to hell.
     Hence will I drag thee headlong by the heels
     Unto a dunghill, which shall be thy grave,
     And there cut off thy most ungracious head."

There is Marlowesque emphasis in this wildness and ferocity, which
reappears, in conjunction with Marlowesque learning, in Young
Clifford's lines in the last act:--

    "Meet I an infant of the house of York,.
    Into as many gobbets will I cut it,
    As wild Medea young Absyrtus did:
    In cruelty will I seek out my fame"--

and in those which, in Part III., Act iv. 2, are placed in the mouth of

    "Our scouts have found the adventure very easy:
     That as Ulysses, and stout Diomede,
     With sleight and manhood stole to Rhesus' tents,
     And brought from thence the Thracian fatal steeds;
     So we, well cover'd with the night's black mantle,
     At unawares may beat down Edward's guard,
     And seize himself."

And as in the additions there are passages the whole style of which
belongs to Marlowe, or bears the strongest traces of his influence,
so also there are passages in the earlier text which in every respect
recall the manner of Shakespeare. For example, in Part II., Act iii. 2,
Warwick's speech:--

    "Who finds the heifer dead, and bleeding fresh,
     And sees fast by a butcher with an axe,
     But will suspect 'twas he that made the slaughter?"

or Suffolk's to Margaret:--

    "If I depart from thee, I cannot live;
     And in thy sight to die, what were it else,
     But like a pleasant slumber in thy lap?
     Here could I breathe my soul into the air,
     As mild and gentle as the cradle-babe,
     Dying with mother's dug between its lips."

Most Shakespearian, too, is the manner in which, in Part III., Act ii.
I, York's two sons are made to draw their characters, each in a single
line, when they receive the tidings of their father's death:--

      "_Edward_. O, speak no more! for I have heard too much.
       _Richard_. Say, how he died, for I will hear it all."

Again, we seem to hear the voice of Shakespeare when Margaret, after
they have murdered her son before her eyes, bursts forth (Part III.,
Act v. 5):--

    "You have no children, butchers! if you had
     The thought of them would have stirred up remorse."

This passage anticipates, as it were, a celebrated speech in _Macbeth_.
Most remarkable of all, however, are the Cade scenes in the Second
Part. I cannot persuade myself that these were not from the very
first the work of Shakespeare. It is evident that they cannot proceed
from the pen of Marlowe. An attempt has been made to attribute them
to Greene, on the ground that there are other folk-scenes in his
works which display a similar strain of humour. But the difference
is enormous. It is true that the text here follows the chronicle
with extraordinary fidelity; but it was precisely in this ingenious
adaptation of material that Shakespeare always showed his strength.
And these scenes answer so completely to all the other folk-scenes in
Shakespeare, and are so obviously the outcome of the habit of political
thought which runs through his whole life, becoming ever more and more
pronounced, that we cannot possibly accept them as showing only the
trivial alterations and retouches which elsewhere distinguish his text
from the older version.

These admissions made, however, there is on the whole no difficulty in
distinguishing the work of other hands in the old texts. We can enjoy,
point by point, not only Shakespeare's superiority, but his peculiar
style, as we here find it in the very process of development; and we
can study his whole method of work in the text which he ultimately

We have here an almost unique opportunity of observing him in the
character of a critical artist. We see what improvements he makes
by a trivial retouch, or a mere rearrangement of words. Thus, when
Gloucester says of his wife (Part. II., Act ii. 4)--

    "Uneath may she endure the flinty streets,
     To tread them with her tender-feeling feet,"

all his sympathy speaks in these words. In the old text it is she
who says this of herself. In York's great soliloquy in the first
act, beginning "Anjou and Maine are given to the French," the first
twenty-four lines are Shakespeare's; the rest belong to the old text.
From the second "Anjou and Maine" onwards, the verse is conventional
and monotonous; the meaning ends with the end of each line, and a
pause, as it were, ensues; whereas the verse of the opening passage is
full of dramatic movement, life, and fire.

Again, if we turn to York's soliloquy in the third act (sc. I)--

    "Now, York, or never, steel thy fearful thoughts,"

and compare it in the two texts, we find their metrical differences
so marked that, as Miss Lee has happily put it, the critic can no
more doubt that the first version belongs to an earlier stage in the
development of dramatic poetry, than the geologist can doubt that a
stratum which contains simpler organisms indicates an earlier stage of
the earth's development than one containing higher forms of organic
life. There are portions of the Second Part which no one can believe
that Shakespeare wrote, such as the old-fashioned fooling with Simpcox,
which is quite in the manner of Greene. There are others which, without
being unworthy of Shakespeare, not only indicate Marlowe in their
general style, but are now and then mere variations of verses known to
be his. Such, for example, is Margaret's line in Part III., Act i.:--

    "Stern Faulconbridge commands the narrow seas,"

which clearly echoes the line in Marlowe's _Edward II._:--

    "The haughty Dane commands the narrow street."

What interests us most, perhaps, is the relation between Shakespeare
and his predecessor with respect to the character of Gloucester. It
cannot be denied or doubted that this character, the Richard III. of
after-days, is completely outlined in the earlier text; so that in
reality Shakespeare's own tragedy of _Richard III.,_ written so much
later, is still quite Marlowesque in the fundamental conception of its
protagonist. Gloucester's two great soliloquies in the third part of
_Henry VI_. are especially instructive to study. In the first (iii. 2)
the keynote of the passion is indeed struck by Marlowe, but all the
finest passages are Shakespeare's. Take, for example, the following:--

    "Why then, I do but dream on sovereignty;
     Like one that stands upon a promontory,
     And spies a far-off shore where he would tread,
     Wishing his foot were equal with his eye;
     And chides the sea that sunders him from thence,
     Saying--he'll lade it dry to have his way:
     So do I wish the crown, being so far off,
     And so I chide the means that keep me from it;
     And so I say--I'll cut the causes off,
     Flattering me with impossibilities."

The last soliloquy (v. 6), on the other hand, belongs entirely to the
old play. A thoroughly Marlowesque turn of phrase meets us at the very

    "See, how my sword weeps for the poor king's death."

Shakespeare has here left the powerful and admirable text untouched,
except for the deletion of a single superfluous and weakening verse,
"I had no father, I am like no father," which is followed by the
profoundest and most remarkable lines in the play:--

    "I have no brother, I am like no brother;
     And this word love, which greybeards call divine,
     Be resident in men like one another,
     And not in me: I am myself alone."

[1] _New Shakspere Society's Transactions_, 1875-76, pp. 219-303.

[2] "Tantæne animis cœlestibus iræ!--Medice, te ipsum!--Gelidus
timor occupat artus--La fin couronne les œuvres--Di faciant! laudis
summa sit ista tuæ."



The man who was to be Shakespeare's first master in the drama--a master
whose genius he did not at the outset fully understand--was born two
months before him. Christopher (Kit) Marlowe, the son of a shoemaker
at Canterbury, was a foundation scholar at the King's School of his
native town; matriculated at Cambridge in 1580; took the degree of
B.A. in 1583, and of M.A. at the age of twenty-three, after he had
left the University; appeared in London (so we gather from an old
ballad) as an actor at the Curtain Theatre; had the misfortune to
break his leg upon the stage; was no doubt on that account compelled
to give up acting; and seems to have written his first dramatic work,
_Tamburlaine the Great_, at latest in 1587. His development was much
quicker than Shakespeare's, he attained to comparative maturity much
earlier, and his culture was more systematic. Not for nothing had he
gone through the classical curriculum; the influence of Seneca, the
poet and rhetorician through whom English tragedy comes into relation
with the antique, is clearly recognisable in him, no less than in his
predecessors, the authors of _Gorboduc_ and _Tancred and Gismunda_ (the
former composed by two, the latter by five poets in collaboration);
only that the construction of these plays, with their monologues
and their chorus, is directly imitated from Seneca, while the more
independent Marlowe is influenced only in his diction and choice of

In him the two streams begin to unite which have their sources in
the Biblical dramas of the Middle Ages and the later allegorical
folk-plays on the one hand, and, on the other hand, in the Latin plays
of antiquity. But he entirely lacks the comic vein which we find in
the first English imitations of Plautus and Terence--in _Ralph Roister
Doister_ and in _Gammer Gurtoris Needle_, acted, respectively, in
the middle of the century and in the middle of the sixties, by Eton
schoolboys and Cambridge students.

Kit Marlowe is the creator of English tragedy. He it was who
established on the public stage the use of the unrhymed iambic
pentameter as the medium of English drama. He did not invent English
blank verse--the Earl of Surrey (who died in 1547) had used it in his
translation of the _Æneid_, and it had been employed in the old play of
_Gorboduc_ and others which had been performed at court. But Marlowe
was the first to address the great public in this measure, and he did
so, as appears from the prologue to _Tamburlaine_, in express contempt
for "the jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits" and "such conceits as
clownage keeps in pay," seeking deliberately for tragic emphasis and
"high astounding terms" in which to express the rage of Tamburlaine.

Before his day, rhymed couplets of long-drawn fourteen-syllable verse
had been common in drama, and the monotony of these rhymes naturally
hampered the dramatic life of the plays. Shakespeare does not seem at
first to have appreciated Marlowe's reform, or quite to have understood
the importance of this rejection of rhyme in dramatic writing. Little
by little he came fully to realise it. In one of his first plays,
_Love's Labour's Lost,_ there are nearly twice as many rhymed as
unrhymed verses, more than a thousand in all; in his latest works rhyme
has disappeared. There are only two rhymes in _The Tempest_, and in _A
Winters Tale_ none at all.

Similarly, in his first plays (like Victor Hugo in his first Odes),
Shakespeare feels himself bound to make the sense end with the end of
the verse; as time goes on, he gradually learns an ever freer movement.
In _Love's Labour's Lost_ there are eighteen end-stopped verses (in
which the meaning ends with the line) for every one in which the sense
runs on; in _Cymbeline_ and _A Winter's Tale_ they are only about two
to one. This gradual development affords one method of determining the
date of production of otherwise undated plays.

Marlowe seems to have led a wild life in London, and to have been
entirely lacking in the commonplace virtues. He is said to have
indulged in a perpetual round of dissipations, to have been dressed
to-day in silk, to-morrow in rags, and to have lived in audacious
defiance of society and the Church. Certain it is that he was killed
in a brawl when only twenty-nine years old. He is said to have found
a rival in company with his mistress, and to have drawn his dagger to
stab him; but the other, a certain Francis Archer, wrested the dagger
from his grasp, and thrust it through his eye into his brain. It is
further related of him that he was an ardent and aggressive atheist,
who called Moses a juggler and said that Christ deserved death more
than Barabbas. These reports are probable enough. On the other hand,
the assertion that he wrote books against the Trinity and uttered
blasphemies with his latest breath, is evidently inspired by Puritan
hatred for the theatre and everything concerned with it. The sole
authority for these fables is Beard's _Theatre of God's Judgments_
(1597), the work of a clergyman, a fanatical Puritan, which appeared
six years after Marlowe's death.

There is no doubt that Marlowe led an extremely irregular life, but
the legend of his debaucheries must be much exaggerated, if only from
the fact that, though he was cut off before his thirtieth year, he has
yet left behind him so large and puissant a body of work. The legend
that he passed his last hours in blaspheming God is rendered doubly
improbable by Chapman's express statement that it was in compliance
with Marlowe's dying request that he continued his friend's paraphrase
of _Hero and Leander_. The passionate, defiant youth, surcharged with
genius, was fair game for the bigots and Pharisees, who found it only
too easy to besmirch his memory.

It is evident that Marlowe's gorgeous and violent style, especially as
it bursts forth in his earlier plays, made a profound impression upon
the youthful Shakespeare. After Marlowe's death, Shakespeare made a
kindly and mournful allusion to him in _As You Like It_ (iii. 5), where
Phebe quotes a line from his _Hero and Leander_:--

    "Dead shepherd! now I find thy saw of might:
     'Who ever lov'd, that lov'd not at first sight?'"

Marlowe's influence is unmistakable not only in the style and
versification but in the sanguinary action of _Titus Andronicus;_
clearly the oldest of the tragedies attributed to Shakespeare.

The evidence for the Shakespearian authorship of this drama of horrors,
though mainly external, is weighty and, it would seem, decisive. Meres,
in 1598, names it among the poet's works, and his friends included it
in the First Folio. We know from a gibe in Ben Jonson's Induction to
his _Bartholomew Fair_ that it was exceedingly popular. It is one of
the plays most frequently alluded to in contemporary writings, being
mentioned twice as often as _Twelfth Night_, and four or five times as
often as _Measure for Measure_ or _Timon_. It depicts savage deeds,
executed with the suddenness with which people of the sixteenth century
were wont to obey their impulses, cruelties as heartless and systematic
as those which characterised the age of Machiavelli. In short, it
abounds in such callous atrocities as could not fail to make a deep
impression on iron nerves and hardened natures.

These horrors are not, for the most part, of Shakespeare's invention.

An entry in Henslowe's diary of April 11, 1592, mentions for the first
time a play named _Titus and Vespasian_ ("tittus and vespacia"), which
was played very frequently between that date and January 1593, and was
evidently a prime favourite. In its English form this play is lost;
no Vespasian appears in our _Titus Andronicus_. But about 1600 a play
was performed in Germany, by English actors, which has been preserved
under the title, _Eine sehr klägliche Tragœdia von Tito Andronico und
der hoffertigen Kayserin, darinnen denckwürdige actiones zubefinden_,
and in this play a Vespasian duly appears, as well as the Moor Aaron,
under the name of Morian; so that, clearly enough, we have here a
translation, or rather a free adaptation, of the old play which formed
the basis of Shakespeare's.

We see, then, that Shakespeare himself invented only a few of the
horrors which form the substance of the play. The action, as he
presents it, is briefly this:--

Titus Andronicus, returning to Rome after a victory over the Goths, is
hailed as Emperor by the populace, but magnanimously hands over the
crown to the rightful heir, Saturninus. Titus even wants to give him
his daughter Lavinia in marriage, although she is already betrothed to
the Emperor's younger brother Bassianus, whom she loves. When one of
Titus's sons opposes this scheme, his father kills him on the spot.

In the meantime, Tamora, the captive Queen of the Goths, is brought
before the young Emperor. In spite of her prayers, Titus has ordered
the execution of her eldest son, as a sacrifice to the manes of his
own sons who have fallen in the war; but as Tamora is more attractive
to the Emperor than his destined bride, the young Lavinia, Titus makes
no attempt to enforce the promise he has just made, and actually
imagines that Tamora is sincere when she pretends to have forgotten all
the injuries he has done her. Tamora, moreover, has been and is the
mistress of the cruel and crafty monster Aaron, the Moor.

At the Moor's instigation, she induces her two sons to take advantage
of a hunting party to murder Bassianus; whereupon they ravish Lavinia,
and tear out her tongue and cut off her hands, so that she cannot
denounce them either in speech or writing. They remain undetected,
until at last Lavinia unmasks them by writing in the sand with a stick
which she holds in her mouth. Two of Titus's sons are thrown into
prison, falsely accused of the murder of their brother-in-law; and
Aaron gives Titus to understand that their death is certain unless he
ransoms them by cutting off his own right hand and sending it to the
Emperor. Titus cuts off his hand, only to be informed by Aaron, with
mocking laughter, that his sons are already beheaded--he can have their
heads, but not themselves.

He now devotes himself entirely to revenge. Pretending madness, after
the manner of Brutus, he lures Tamora's sons to his house, ties their
hands behind their backs, and stabs them like pigs, while Lavinia, with
the stumps of her arms, holds a basin to catch their blood. He bakes
their heads in a pie, and serves it up to Tamora at a feast given in
her honour, at which he appears disguised as a cook.

In the slaughter which now sets in, Tamora, Titus, and the Emperor are
killed. Ultimately Aaron, who has tried to save the bastard Tamora has
secretly borne him, is condemned to be buried alive up to the waist,
and thus to starve to death. Titus's son Lucius is proclaimed Emperor.

It will be seen that not only are we here wading ankle-deep in blood,
but that we are quite outside all historical reality. Among the many
changes which Shakespeare has made in the old play is the dissociation
of this motley tissue of horrors from the name of the Emperor
Vespasian. The part which he plays in the older drama is here shared
between Titus's brother Marcus and his son Lucius, who succeeds to the
throne. The woman who answers to Tamora is of similar character in the
old play, but is Queen of Ethiopia. Among the horrors which Shakespeare
found ready made are the rape and mutilation of Lavinia and the way in
which the criminals are discovered, the hewing off of Titus's hand,
and the scenes in which he takes his revenge in the dual character of
butcher and cook.

The old English poet evidently knew his Ovid and his Seneca. The
mutilation of Lavinia comes from the _Metamorphoses_ (the story of
Procne), and the cannibal banquet from the same source, as well as from
Seneca's _Thyestis_. The German version of the tragedy, however, is
written in a wretchedly flat and antiquated prose, while Shakespeare's
is couched in Marlowesque pentameters.

The example set by Marlowe in _Tamburlaine_ was no doubt in some
measure to blame for the lavish effusion of blood in the play adapted
by Shakespeare, which may in this respect be bracketed with two other
contemporary dramas conceived under the influence of _Tamburlaine_,
Robert Greene's _Alphonsus King of Arragon_ and George Peele's _Battle
of Alcazar_. Peele's tragedy has also its barbarous Moor, Muley Hamet,
who, like Aaron, is probably the offspring of Marlowe's malignant Jew
of Malta and his henchman, the sensual Ithamore.

Among the horrors added by Shakespeare, there are two which deserve a
moment's notice. The first is Titus's sudden and unpremeditated murder
of his son, who ventures to oppose his will. Shocking as it seems to
us to-day, such an incident did not surprise the sixteenth century
public, but rather appealed to them as a touch of nature. Such lives
as Benvenuto Cellini's show that even in highly cultivated natures,
anger, passion, and revenge were apt to take instantaneous effect in
sanguinary deeds. Men of action were in those days as ungovernable as
they were barbarously cruel when a sudden fury possessed them.

The other added trait is the murder of Tamora's son. We are reminded of
the scene in _Henry VI_, in which the young Prince Edward is murdered
in the presence of Queen Margaret; and Tamora's entreaties for her son
are among those verses in the play which possess the true Shakespearian

Certain peculiar turns of phrase in _Titus Andronicus_ remind us of
Peele and Marlowe.[1] But whole lines occur which Shakespeare repeats
almost word for word. Thus the verses--

    "She is a woman, therefore may be woo'd;
     She is a woman, therefore may be won,"

reappear very slightly altered in _Henry VI_., Part I.:--

    "She's beautiful, and therefore to be woo'd;
     She is a woman, and therefore to be won;"

while a similar turn of phrase is found in Sonnet XLI.:--

    "Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won;
     Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assailed;"

and, finally, a closely related distich occurs in Richard the Third's
famous soliloquy:

    "Was ever woman in this humour woo'd?
     Was ever woman in this humour won?"

It is true that the phrase "She is a woman, therefore may be won,"
occurs several times in Greene's romances, of earlier date than _Titus
Andronicus_, and this seems to have been a sort of catchword of the

Although, on the whole, one may certainly say that this rough-hewn
drama, with its piling-up of external effects, has very little in
common with the tone or spirit of Shakespeare's mature tragedies, yet
we find scattered through it lines in which the most diverse critics
have professed to recognise Shakespeare's revising touch, and to catch
the ring of his voice.

Few will question that such a line as this, in the first scene of the

    "Romans--friends, followers, favourers of my right!"

comes from the pen which afterwards wrote _Julius Cæsar_. I may
mention, for my own part, that lines which, as I read the play through
before acquainting myself in detail with English criticism, had struck
me as patently Shakespearian, proved to be precisely the lines which
the best English critics attribute to Shakespeare. To one's own mind
such coincidences of feeling naturally carry conviction. I may cite as
an example Tamora's speech (iv. 4):--

    "King, be thy thoughts imperious, like thy name.
     Is the sun dimm'd, that gnats do fly in it?
     The eagle suffers little birds to sing,
     And is not careful what they mean thereby;
     Knowing that with the shadow of his wings
     He can at pleasure stint their melody.
     Even so may'st thou the giddy men of Rome."

Unmistakably Shakespearian, too, are Titus's moving lament (iii.
I) when he learns of Lavinia's mutilation, and his half-distraught
outbursts in the following scene foreshadow even in detail a situation
belonging to the poet's culminating period, the scene between Lear
and Cordelia when they are both prisoners. Titus says to his hapless

    "Lavinia, go with me:
     I'll to thy closet; and go read with thee
     Sad stories chanced in the times of old."

In just the same spirit Lear exclaims:

    "Come, let's away to prison ...
     .   .   .   .   .   so we'll live,
     And pray, and sing, and tell old tales."

It is quite unnecessary for any opponent of blind or exaggerated
Shakespeare-worship to demonstrate to us the impossibility of bringing
_Titus Andronicus_ into harmony with any other than a barbarous
conception of tragic poetry. But although the play is simply omitted
without apology from the Danish translation of Shakespeare's works, it
must by no means be overlooked by the student, whose chief interest
lies in observing the genesis and development of the poet's genius. The
lower its point of departure, the more marvellous its soaring flight.

[1] "Gallops the zodiac" (ii. I, line 7) occurs twice in
Peele. The phrase "A thousand deaths" (same scene, line 79) appears in
Marlowe's _Tamburlaine_.



During these early years in London, Shakespeare must have been
conscious of spiritual growth with every day that passed. With his
inordinate appetite for learning, he must every day have gathered new
impressions in his many-sided activity as a hard-working actor, a
furbisher-up of old plays in accordance with the taste of the day for
scenic effects, and finally as a budding poet, in whose heart every
mood thrilled into melody, and every conception clothed itself in
dramatic form. He must have felt his spirit light and free, not least,
perhaps, because he had escaped from his home in Stratford.

Ordinary knowledge of the world is sufficient to suggest that his
association with a village girl eight years older than himself could
not satisfy him or fill his life. The study of his works confirms
this conjecture. It would, of course, be unreasonable to attribute
conscious and deliberate autobiographical import to speeches torn from
their context in different plays; but there are none the less several
passages in his dramas which may fairly be taken as indicating that
he regarded his marriage in the light of a youthful folly. Take, for
example, this passage in _Twelfth Night_ (ii. 4):--

      "_Duke_. What kind of woman is't?
                            Of your complexion.
       _Duke_. She is not worth thee then. What years, i' faith?
       _Vio_. About your years, my lord.
       _Duke_. Too old, by Heaven. Let still the woman take
     An elder than herself; so wears she to him,
     So sways she level in her husband's heart:
     For, boy, however we do praise ourselves,
     Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,
     More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,
     Than women's are.
                  think it well, my lord.
       _Duke_. Then, let thy love be younger than thyself,
     Or thy affection cannot hold the bent;
     For women are as roses, whose fair flower,
     Being once display'd, doth fall that very hour."

And this is in the introduction to the Fool's exquisite song about the
power of love, that song which "The spinsters and the knitters in the
sun And the free maids, that weave their thread with bones, Do use to
chant"--Shakespeare's loveliest lyric.

There are passages in other plays which seem to show traces of personal
regret at the memory of this early marriage and the circumstances under
which it came about. In the _Tempest_, for instance, we have Prospero's
warning to Ferdinand (iv. I):--

    "If thou dost break her virgin-knot before
     All sanctimonious ceremonies may,
     With full and holy rite, be minister'd,
     No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall
     To make this contract grow, but barren hate,
     Sour-ey'd disdain, and discord, shall bestrew
     The union of your bed with weeds so loathly,
     That you shall hate it both."

Two of the comedies of Shakespeare's first period are, as we might
expect, imitations, and even in part adaptations, of older plays. By
comparing them, where it is possible, with these earlier works, we
can discover, among other things, the thoughts to which Shakespeare,
in these first years in London, was most intent on giving utterance.
It thus appears that he held strong views as to the necessary
subordination of the female to the male, and as to the trouble caused
by headstrong, foolish, or jealous women.

His _Comedy of Errors_ is modelled upon the _Menœchmi_ of Plautus, or
rather on an English play of the same title dating from 1580, which
was not itself taken direct from Plautus, but from Italian adaptations
of the old Latin farce. Following the example of Plautus in the
_Amphitruo_, Shakespeare has supplemented the confusion between the
two Antipholuses by a parallel and wildly improbable confusion between
their serving-men, who both go by the same name and are likewise twins.
But it is in the contrast between the two female figures, the married
sister Adriana and the unmarried Luciana, that we catch the personal
note in the play. On account of the confusion of persons, Adriana rages
against her husband, and is at last on the point of plunging him into
lifelong misery. To her complaint that he has not come home at the
appointed time, Luciana answers:--

                 "A man is master of his liberty:
    Time is their master; and, when they see time,
    They'll go, or come: if so, be patient, sister.
      _Adriana_. Why should their liberty than ours be more?
      _Luciana_. Because their business still lies out o' door.
      _Adr_. Look, when I serve him so, he takes it ill.
      _Luc_. O! know he is the bridle of your will.
      _Adr_. There's none but asses will be bridled so.
      _Luc_. Why, headstrong liberty is lash'd with woe.
      There's nothing situate under heaven's eye
    But hath his bound, in earth, in sea, in sky:
    The beasts, the fishes, and the winged fowls.
    Are their males' subjects, and at their controls.
    Men, more divine, the masters of all these,
    Lords of the wide world, and wild wat'ry seas,
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
    Are masters to their females, and their lords:
    Then, let your will attend on their accords."

In the last act of the comedy, Adriana, speaking to the Abbess accuses
her husband of running after other women:--

      "_Abbess_. You should for that have reprehended him.
       _Adriana_. Why, so I did.
       _Abb_.                             Ay, but not rough enough.
       _Adr_. As roughly as my modesty would let me.
       _Abb_. Haply, in private.
       _Adr_.                                And in assemblies too.
       _Abb_. Ay, but not enough.
       _Adr_. It was the copy of our conference.
       In bed, he slept not for my urging it:
    At board, he fed not for my urging it;
    Alone, it was the subject of my theme;
    In company, I often glanced it:
    Still did I tell him it was vile and bad.
      _Abb_. And therefore came it that the man was mad:
    The venom clamours of a jealous woman
    Poison more deadly than a mad dog's tooth.
    It seems, his sleeps were hinder'd by thy railing,
    And thereof comes it that his head is light.
    Thou say'st, his meat was sauc'd with thy upbraidings:
    Unquiet meals make ill digestions;
    Thereof the raging fire of fever bred:
    And what's a fever but a fit of madness?"

At least as striking is the culminating point of Shakespeare's
adaptation of the old play called _The Taming of a Shrew_. He took very
lightly this piece of task-work, executed, it would seem, to the order
of his fellow-players. In point of diction and metre it is much less
highly finished than others of his youthful comedies; but if we compare
the Shakespearian play (in whose title the Shrew receives the definite
instead of the indefinite article) point by point with the original, we
obtain an invaluable glimpse into Shakespeare's comic, as formerly into
his tragic, workshop. Few examples are so instructive as this.

Many readers have no doubt wondered what was Shakespeare's design in
presenting this piece, of all others, in the framework which we Danes
know in Holberg's[1] _Jeppe paa Bjerget._ The answer is, that he had
no particular design in the matter. He took the framework ready-made
from the earlier play, which, however, he throughout remodelled and
improved, not to say recreated. It is not only far ruder and coarser
than Shakespeare's, but does not redeem its crude puerility by any
raciness or power.

Nowhere does the difference appear more decisively than in the great
speech in which Katharine, cured of her own shrewishness, closes the
play by bringing the other rebellious women to reason. In the old play
she begins with a whole cosmogony: "The first world was a form without
a form," until God, the King of kings, "in six days did frame his
heavenly work":--

    "Then to his image he did make a man,
     Olde Adam, and from his side asleepe
     A rib was taken, of which the Lord did make
     The woe of man, so termd by Adam then,
     Woman for that by her came sinne to vs,
     And for her sin was Adam doomd to die.
     As Sara to her husband, so should we
     Obey them, loue them, keepe and nourish them
     If they by any meanes doo want our helpes,
     Laying our handes vnder theire feete to tread,
     If that by that we might procure there ease."

And she herself sets the example by placing her hand under her
husband's foot.

Shakespeare omits all this theology and skips the Scriptural
authorities, but only to arrive at the self-same result:--

    "Fie, fie! unknit that threatening unkind brow,
     And dart not scornful glances from those eyes,
     To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
     A woman mov'd is like a fountain troubled,
     Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty;
     And, while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
     Will deign to sip, or touch one drop of it.
     Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
     Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
     And for thy maintenance; commits his body
     To painful labour, both by sea and land,
     To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
     Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;

     And craves no other tribute at thy hands,
     But love, fair looks, and true obedience,
     Too little payment for so great a debt.
     Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
     Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
     And when she's froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
     And not obedient to his honest will,
     What is she but a foul contending rebel,
     And graceless traitor to her loving lord?"

In these adapted plays, then, partly from the nature of their subjects
and partly because his thoughts ran in that direction, we find
Shakespeare chiefly occupied with the relation between man and woman,
and specially between husband and wife. They are not, however, his
first works. At the age of five-and-twenty or thereabouts Shakespeare
began his independent dramatic production, and, following the natural
bent of youth and youthful vivacity, he began it with a light and
joyous comedy.

We have several reasons, partly metrical (the frequency of rhymes),
partly technical (the dramatic weakness of the play), for supposing
_Love's Labour's Lost_ to be his earliest comedy. Many allusions point
to 1589 as the date of this play in its original form. For instance,
the dancing horse mentioned in i. 2 was first exhibited in 1589; the
names of the characters, Biron, Longaville, Dumain (Duc du Maine),
suggest those of men who were prominent in French politics between 1581
and 1590; and, finally, when we remember that the King of Navarre, as
the Princess's betrothed, becomes heir to the throne of France, we
cannot but conjecture a reference to Henry of Navarre, who mounted
that throne precisely in 1589. The play has not, however, reached us
in its earliest form; for the title-page of the quarto edition shows
that it was revised and enlarged on the occasion of its performance
before Elizabeth at Christmas 1597. There are not a few places in which
we can trace the revision, the original form having been inadvertently
retained along with the revised text. This is apparent in Biron's long
speech in the fourth act, sc. 3:--

    "For when would you, my lord, or you, or you,
     Have found the ground of study's excellence,
     Without the beauty of a woman's face?
     From women's eyes this doctrine I derive:
     They are the ground, the books, the academes,
     From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire."

This belongs to the older text. Farther on in the speech, where we find
the same ideas repeated in another and better form, we have evidently
the revised version before us:--

    "For when would you, my liege, or you, or you,
     In leaden contemplation have found out

     Such fiery numbers, as the prompting eyes
     Of beauty's tutors have enrich'd you with?
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
     From women's eyes this doctrine I derive:
     They sparkle still the right Promethean fire,
     They are the books, the arts, the academes,
     That show, contain, and nourish all the world;
     Else none at all in aught proves excellent."

The last two acts, which far surpass the earlier ones, have evidently
been revised with special care, and some details, especially in
the parts assigned to the Princess and Biron, now and then reveal
Shakespeare's maturer style and tone of feeling.

No original source has been found for this first attempt of the young
Stratfordian in the direction of comedy. For the first, and perhaps
for the last time, he seems to have sought for no external stimulus,
but set himself to evolve everything from within. The result is that,
dramatically, the play is the slightest he ever wrote. It has scarcely
ever been performed even in England, and may, indeed, be described as

It is a play of two motives. The first, of course, is love--what else
should be the theme of a youthful poet's first comedy?--but love
without a trace of passion, almost without deep personal feeling, a
love which is half make-believe, tricked out in word-plays. For the
second theme of the comedy is language itself, poetic expression--for
its own sake--a subject round which all the meditations of the young
poet must necessarily have centred, as, in the midst of a cross-fire of
new impressions, he set about the formation of a vocabulary and a style.

The moment the reader opens this first play of Shakespeare's, he
cannot fail to observe that in several of his characters the poet is
ridiculing absurdities and artificialities in the manner of speech
of the day, and, moreover, that his personages, as a whole, display
a certain half-sportive luxuriance in their rhetoric as well as in
their wit and banter. They seem to be speaking, not in order to
inform, persuade, or convince, but simply to relieve the pressure of
their imagination, to play with words, to worry at them, split them
up and recombine them, arrange them in alliterative sequences, or
group them in almost identical antithetic clauses; at the same time
making sport no less fantastical with the ideas the words represent,
and illustrating them by new and far-fetched comparisons; until the
dialogue appears not so much a part of the action or an introduction
to it, as a tournament of words, clashing and swaying to and fro,
while the rhythmic music of the verse and prose in turns expresses
exhilaration, tenderness, affectation, the joy of life, gaiety or
scorn. Although there is a certain superficiality about it all, we
can recognise in it that exuberance of all the vital spirits which
characterises the Renaissance. To the appeal--

    "White-handed mistress, one sweet word with thee,"

comes the answer--

    "Honey, and milk, and sugar: there are three."

And well may Boyet say (v. 2):--

    "The tongues of mocking wenches are as keen
     As is the razor's edge invisible,
     Cutting a smaller hair than may be seen;
     Above the sense of sense, so sensible
     Seemeth their conference; their conceits have wings
     Fleeter than arrows, bullets, wind, thought, swifter things."

Boyet's words, however, refer merely to the youthful gaiety and
quickness of wit which may be found in all periods. We have here
something more than that: the diction of the leading characters, and
the various extravagances of expression cultivated by the subordinate
personages, bring us face to face with a linguistic phenomenon which
can be understood only in the light of history.

The word Euphuism is employed as a common designation for these
eccentricities of style--a word which owes its origin to John Lyly's
romance, _Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit_, published in 1578. Lyly was
also the author of nine plays, all written before 1589, and there is no
doubt that he exercised a very important influence upon Shakespeare's
dramatic style.

But it is a very narrow view of the matter which finds in him the sole
originator of the wave of mannerism which swept over the English poetry
of the Renaissance.

The movement was general throughout Europe. It took its rise in the
new-born enthusiasm for the antique literatures, in comparison with
whose dignity of utterance the vernacular seemed low and vulgar. In
order to approximate to the Latin models, men devised an exaggerated
and dilated phraseology, heavy with images, and even sought to attain
amplitude of style by placing side by side the vernacular word and the
more exquisite foreign expression for the same object. Thus arose the
_alto estilo_, the _estilo culto_. In Italy, the disciples of Petrarch,
with their _concetti_, were dominant in poetry; in Shakespeare's own
time, Marini came to the front with his antitheses and word-plays. In
France, Ronsard and his school obeyed the general tendency. In Spain,
the new style was represented by Guevara, who directly influenced Lyly.

John Lyly was about ten years older than Shakespeare. He was born in
Kent in 1553 or 1554, of humble parentage. Nevertheless he obtained
a full share of the literary culture of his time, studied at Oxford,
probably by the assistance of Lord Burleigh, took his Master's degree
in 1575, afterwards went to Cambridge, and eventually, no doubt on
account of the success of his _Euphues_, found a position at the
court of Elizabeth. For a period of ten years he was Court Poet, what
in our days would be called Poet Laureate. But his position was without
emolument. He was always hoping in vain for the post of Master of the
Revels, and two touching letters to Elizabeth, the one dated 1590,
the other 1593, in which he petitions for this appointment, show that
after ten years' labour at court he felt himself a ship-wrecked man,
and after thirteen years gave himself up to despair. All the duties and
responsibilities of the office he coveted were heaped upon him, but he
was denied the appointment itself. Like Greene and Marlowe, he lived a
miserable life, and died in 1606, poor and indebted, leaving his family
in destitution.

His book, _Euphues_, is written for the court of Elizabeth. The
Queen herself studied and translated the ancient authors, and it
was the fashion of her court to deal incessantly in mythological
comparisons and allusions to antiquity. Lyly shows this tendency in
all his writings. He quotes Cicero, imitates Plautus, cites numberless
verses from Virgil and Ovid, reproduces almost word for word in his
_Euphues_ Plutarch's _Treatise on Education,_ and borrows from Ovid's
_Metamorphoses_ the themes of several of his plays. In _A Midsummer
Night's Dream_, when Bottom appears with an ass's head and exclaims,
"I have a reasonable good ear for music; let's have the tongs and the
bones," we may doubtless trace the incident back to the metamorphosis
of Midas in Ovid, but through the medium of Lyly's _Mydas_.

It was not merely the relation of the age to antiquity that produced
the fashionable style. The new intercourse between country and country
had quite as much to do with it. Before the invention of printing, each
country had been spiritually isolated; but the international exchange
of ideas had by this time become very much easier. Every European
nation begins in the sixteenth century to provide itself with a library
of translations. Foreign manners and fashions, in language as well as
in costume, came into vogue, and helped to produce a heterogeneous and
motley style.

In England, moreover, we have to note the very important fact that,
precisely at the time when the Renaissance began to bear literary
fruit, the throne was occupied by a woman, and one who, without
possessing any delicate literary sense or refined artistic taste, was
interested in the intellectual movement. Vain, and inclined to secret
gallantries, she demanded, and received, incessant homage, for the
most part in extravagant mythological terms, from the ablest of her
subjects--from Sidney, from Spenser, from Raleigh--and was determined,
in short, that the whole literature of the time should turn towards her
as its central point. Shakespeare was the only great poet of the period
who absolutely declined to comply with this demand.

It followed from the relation in which literature stood to Elizabeth
that it addressed itself as a whole to women, and especially to
ladies of position. _Euphues_ is a ladies' book. The new style may be
described, not inaptly, as the development of a more refined method of
address to the fair sex.

Sir Philip Sidney, in a masque, had done homage to Elizabeth, then
forty-five years old, as "the Lady of the May." A letter which Sir
Walter Raleigh, after his disgrace, addressed from his prison to Sir
Robert Cecil on the subject of Elizabeth, affords a particularly
striking example of the Euphuistic style; admirably fitted as it
certainly was to express the passion affected by a soldier of forty for
the maiden of sixty who held his fate in her hands:--

    "While she was yet nigher at hand, that I might hear of her
    once in two or three days, my sorrows were the less; but
    even now my heart is cast into the depth of all misery. I
    that was wont to behold her riding like Alexander, hunting
    like Diana, walking like Venus, the gentle wind blowing
    her fair hair about her pure cheeks like a nymph; sometime
    sitting in the shade like a goddess; sometime singing like
    an angel; sometime playing like Orpheus. Behold the sorrow
    of this world! Once amiss, hath bereaved me of all."[2]

The German scholar Landmann, who has devoted special study to
Euphuism,[3] has justly pointed out that the greatest extravagances of
style, and the worst sins against taste, of that period are always to
be found in books written for ladies, celebrating the charms of the
fair sex, and seeking to please by means of highly elaborated wit.

This may have been the point of departure of the new style; but it soon
ceased to address itself specially to feminine readers, and became a
means of gratifying the propensity of the men of the Renaissance to
mirror their whole nature in their speech, making it peculiar to the
point of affectation, and affected to the point of the most daring
mannerism. Euphuism ministered to their passion for throwing all they
said into high and highly coloured relief, for polishing it till it
shone and sparkled like real or paste diamonds in the sunshine, for
making it ring, and sing, and chime, and rhyme, without caring whether
reason took any share in the sport.

As a slight but characteristic illustration of this tendency, note the
reply of the page, Moth, to Armado (iii. I):--

    "_Moth_. Master, will you win your love with a French brawl?

    "_Arm_. How meanest thou? brawling in French?

    "_Moth_. No, my complete master; but to jig off a tune at
    the tongue's end, canary to it with your feet, humour it
    with turning up your eyelids, sigh a note, and sing a note;
    sometime through the throat, as if you swallowed love with
    singing love; sometime through the nose, as if you snuffed
    up love by smelling love; with your hat, penthouse-like,
    o'er the shop of your eyes; with your arms crossed on your
    thin belly-doublet, like a rabbit on a spit; or your hands
    in your pocket, like a man after the old painting; and keep
    not too long in one tune, but a snip and away. These are
    complements, these are humours, these betray nice wenches,
    that would be betrayed without these, and make them men of
    note (do you note me?), that most are affected to these."

Landmann has conclusively proved that John Lyly's _Euphues_ is only an
imitation, and at many points a very close imitation, of the Spaniard
Guevara's book, an imaginary biography of Marcus Aurelius, which, in
the fifty years since its publication, had been six times translated
into English. It was so popular that one of these translations passed
through no fewer than twelve editions. Both in style and matter
_Euphues_ follows Guevara's book, which, in Sir Thomas North's
adaptation, bears the title of _The Dial of Princes_.

The chief characteristics of Euphuism were parallel and assonant
antitheses, long strings of comparisons with real or imaginary natural
phenomena (borrowed for the most part from Pliny's _Natural History_),
a partiality for images from antique history and mythology, and a love
of alliteration.

Not till a later date did Shakespeare ridicule Euphuism properly so
called--to wit, in that well-known passage in _Henry IV.,_ Part I.,
where Falstaff plays the king. In his speech beginning "Peace, good
pint-pot! peace, good tickle-brain!" Shakespeare deliberately parodies
Lyly's similes from natural history. Falstaff says:--

    "Harry, I do not only marvel where thou spendest thy time,
    but also how thou art accompanied: for though the camomile,
    the more it is trodden on, the faster it grows, yet youth,
    the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears."

Compare with this the following passage from Lyly (cited by Landmann):--

    "Too much studie doth intoxicate their braines, for (say
    they) although yron, the more it is used, the brighter it
    is, yet silver with much wearing doth wast to nothing ...
    though the Camomill, the more it is troden and pressed
    downe, the more it spreadeth, yet the Violet, the oftner
    it is handeled and touched, the sooner it withereth and

Falstaff continues in the same exquisite strain:--

    "There is a thing, Harry, which thou hast often heard of,
    and it is known to many in our land by the name of pitch:
    this pitch, as ancient writers do report, doth defile; so
    doth the company thou keepest."

This citation of "ancient writers" in proof of so recondite a
phenomenon as the stickiness of pitch is again pure Lyly. Yet again,
the adjuration, "Now I do not speak to thee in drink, but in tears; not
in pleasure, but in passion; not in words only, but in woes also," is
an obvious travesty of the Euphuistic style.

Strictly speaking, it is not against Euphuism itself that Shakespeare's
youthful satire is directed in _Love's Labour's Lost_. It is certain
collateral forms of artificiality in style and utterance that are
aimed at. In the first place, bombast, represented by the ridiculous
Spaniard, Armado (the suggestion of the Invincible Armada in the name
cannot be unintentional); in the next place, pedantry, embodied in the
schoolmaster Holofernes, for whom tradition states that Florio, the
teacher of languages and translator of Montaigne, served as a model--a
supposition, however, which seems scarcely probable when we remember
Florio's close connection with Shakespeare's patron, Southampton.
Further, we find throughout the play the over-luxuriant and far-fetched
method of expression, universally characteristic of the age, which
Shakespeare himself had as yet by no means succeeded in shaking off.
Only towards the close does he rise above it and satirise it. That is
the intent of Biron's famous speech (v. 2):--

        "Taffata phrases, silken terms precise,
         Three-pil'd hyperboles, spruce affectation,
         Figures pedantical: these summer-flies
         Have blown me full of maggot ostentation.
         I do forswear them; and I here protest,
         By this white glove, (how white the hand, God knows)
         Henceforth my wooing mind shall be express'd
         In russet yeas, and honest kersey noes."

In the very first scene of the play, the King describes Armado, in too
indulgent terms, as--

           "A refined traveller of Spain;
    A man in all the world's new fashion planted,
    That hath a mint of phrases in his brain;
    One, whom the music of his own vain tongue
    Doth ravish like enchanting harmony."

Holofernes the pedant, nearly a century and a half before Holberg's
Else Skolemesters,[4] expresses himself very much as she does:--

    "_Holofernes_. The posterior of the day, most generous sir,
    is liable, congruent, and measurable for the afternoon: the
    word is well cull'd, chose; sweet and apt, I do assure you,
    sir; I do assure."

Armado's bombast may probably be accepted as a not too extravagant
caricature of the bombast of the period. Certain it is that the
schoolmaster Rombus, in Sir Philip Sidney's _Lady of the May_,
addresses the Queen in a strain no whit less ridiculous than that of
Holofernes. But what avails the justice of a parody if, in spite of the
art and care lavished upon it, it remains as tedious as the mannerism
it ridicules! And this is unfortunately the case in the present
instance. Shakespeare had not yet attained the maturity and detachment
of mind which could enable him to rise high above the follies he
attacks, and to sweep them aside with full authority. He buries himself
in them, circumstantially demonstrates their absurdities, and is
still too inexperienced to realise how he thereby inflicts upon the
spectator and the reader the full burden of their tediousness. It is
very characteristic of Elizabeth's taste that, even in 1598, she could
still take pleasure in the play. All this fencing with words appealed
to her quick intelligence; while, with the unabashed sensuousness
characteristic of the daughter of Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn, she
found entertainment in the playwright's freedom of speech, even, no
doubt, in the equivocal badinage between Boyet and Maria (iv. I).

As was to be expected, Shakespeare is here more dependent on models
than in his later works. From Lyly, the most popular comedy-writer
of the day, he probably borrowed the idea of his Armado, who answers
pretty closely to Sir Tophas in Lyly's _Endymion_, copied, in his turn,
from Pyrgopolinices, the boastful soldier of the old Latin comedy.
It is to be noted, also, that the braggart and pedant, the two comic
figures of this play, are permanent types on the Italian stage, which
in so many ways influenced the development of English comedy.

The personal element in this first sportive production is, however,
not difficult to recognise: it is the young poet's mirthful protest
against a life immured within the hard-and-fast rules of an artificial
asceticism, such as the King of Navarre wishes to impose upon his
little court, with its perpetual study, its vigils, its fasts, and its
exclusion of womankind. Against this life of unnatural constraint the
comedy pleads with the voice of Nature, especially through the mouth of
Biron, in whose speeches, as Dowden has rightly remarked, we can not
infrequently catch the accent of Shakespeare himself. In Biron and his
Rosaline we have the first hesitating sketch of the masterly Benedick
and Beatrice of _Much Ado About Nothing_. The best of Biron's speeches,
those which are in unrhymed verse, we evidently owe to the revision of
1598; but they are conceived in the spirit of the original play, and
merely express Shakespeare's design in stronger and clearer terms than
he was at first able to compass. Even at the end of the third act Biron
is still combating as well as he can the power of love:--

    "What! I love! I sue! I seek a wife!
     A woman, that is like a German clock,
     Still a repairing, ever out of frame,
     And never going aright, being a watch,
     But being watch'd that it may still go right!"

But his great and splendid speech in the fourth act is like a hymn to
that God of Battles who is named in the title of the play, and whose
outpost skirmishes form its matter:--

    "Other slow arts entirely keep the brain,
     And therefore, finding barren practisers,
     Scarce show a harvest of their heavy toil;
     But love, first learned in a lady's eyes,
     Lives not alone immured in the brain,
     But, with the motion of all elements,
     Courses as swift as thought in every power,
     And gives to every power a double power,
     Above their functions and their offices.
     It adds a precious seeing to the eye;
     A lover's eyes will gaze an eagle blind;
     A lover's ear will hear the lowest sound,
     When the suspicious head of theft is stopp'd:
     Love's feeling is more soft, and sensible,
     Than are the tender horns of cockled snails.
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
     Never durst poet touch a pen to write,
     Until his ink were temper'd with Love's sighs;
     O! then his lines would ravish savage ears,
     And plant in tyrants mild humility."

We must take Biron-Shakespeare at his word, and believe that in these
vivid and tender emotions he found, during his early years in London,
the stimulus which taught him to open his lips in song.

[1] Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754), the great comedy-writer of
Denmark, and founder of the Danish stage.--(TRANS.)

[2] _Raleigh_, by Edmund Gosse (English Worthies Series), p. 57.

[3] _New Shakspere Society's Transactions_,1880-86, Pt. ii. p. 241.

[4] The schoolmaster's wife in Ludvig Holberg's inimitable
comedy, _Barselstuen._--(TRANS.)



As a counterpart to the comedy of _Love's Labour's Lost_, Shakespeare
soon after composed another, entitled _Love's Labour's Won_. This we
learn from the celebrated passage in Francis Meres' _Palladis Tamia_,
where he enumerates the plays which Shakespeare had written up to that
date, 1598. We know, however, that no play of that name is now included
among the poet's works. Since it is scarcely conceivable that a play
of Shakespeare's, once acted, should have been entirely lost, the only
question is, which of the extant comedies originally bore that title.
But in reality there is no question at all: the play is _All's Well
that Ends Well_--not, of course, as we now possess it, in a form and
style belonging to a quite mature period of the poet's life, but as it
stood before the searching revision, of which it shows evident traces.

We cannot, indeed, restore the play as it originally issued from
Shakespeare's youthful imagination. But there are passages in it which
evidently belong to the older version, rhymed conversations, or at any
rate fragments of dialogue, rhymed letters in sonnet form, and numerous
details which entirely correspond with the style of _Love's Labour's

The piece is a dramatisation of Boccaccio's story of Gillette of
Narbonne. Only the comic parts are of Shakespeare's invention; he has
added the characters of Parolles, Lafeu, the Clown, and the Countess.
Even in the original sketch he no doubt gave new depth and vitality
to the leading characters, who are mere outlines in the story. The
comedy, as we know, has for its heroine a young woman who loves the
haughty Bertram with an unrequited and despised passion, cures the
King of France of a dangerous sickness, claims as her reward the right
to choose a husband from among the courtiers, chooses Bertram, is
repudiated by him, and, after a nocturnal meeting at which she takes
the place of another woman whom he believes himself to have seduced, at
last overcomes his resistance and is acknowledged as his wife.

Shakespeare has here not only shown the unquestioning acceptance
of his original, which was usual even in his riper years, but has
transferred to his play all its peculiarities and improbabilities. Even
the psychological crudities he has swallowed as they stand--such, for
instance, as the fact of a delicate woman forcing herself under cover
of night upon the man who has left his home and country for the express
purpose of escaping from her.

Shakespeare has drawn in Helena a patient Griselda, that type of loving
and cruelly maltreated womanhood which reappears in German poetry in
Kleist's _Käthchen von Heilbronn_--the woman who suffers everything in
inexhaustible tenderness and humility, and never falters in her love
until in the end she wins the rebellious heart.

The pity is that the unaccommodating theme compelled Shakespeare to
make this pearl among women in the end enforce her rights, after the
man she adores has not only treated her with contemptuous brutality,
but has, moreover, shown himself a liar and hound in his attempt to
blacken the character of the Italian girl whose lover he believes
himself to have been.

It is very characteristic of the English renaissance, and of the public
which Shakespeare had in view in his early plays, that he should make
this noble heroine take part with Parolles in the long and jocular
conversation (i. I) on the nature of virginity, which is one of the
most indecorous passages in his works. This dialogue must certainly
belong to the original version of the play.

We must remember that Helena, in that version, was in all probability
very different from the high-souled woman she became in the process
of revision. She no doubt expressed herself freely, according to
Shakespeare's youthful manner, in rhyming reveries on love and fate,
such as the following (i. I):--

    "Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie
     Which we ascribe to Heaven: the fated sky
     Gives us free scope; only, doth backward pull
     Our slow designs, when we ourselves are dull.
     What power is it which mounts my love so high;
     That makes me see, and cannot feed mine eye?
     The mightiest space in fortune Nature brings
     To join like likes, and kiss like native things.
     Impossible be strange attempts to those
     That weigh their pains in sense, and do suppose,
     What hath been cannot be. Who ever strove
     To show her merit, that did miss her love?"

Or else he made her pour forth multitudinous swarms of images, each
treading on the other's heels, like those in which she forecasts
Bertram's love-adventures at the court of France (i. I):--

    "There shall your master have a thousand loves,
     A mother, and a mistress, and a friend,
     A phœnix, captain, and an enemy,
     A guide, a goddess, and a sovereign,
     A counsellor, a traitress, and a dear;
     His humble ambition, proud humility,
     His jarring concord, and his discord dulcet,
     His faith, his sweet disaster; with a world
     Of pretty, fond, adoptious Christendoms,
     That blinking Cupid gossips."

_Loves's Labour's Won_ was probably conceived throughout in this
lighter tone.

There can be little doubt that the figure of Parolles was also sketched
in the earlier play. It forms an excellent counterpart to Armado in
_Love's Labour's Lost_. And in it we have undoubtedly the first faint
outline of the figure which, seven or eight years later, becomes
the immortal Falstaff. Parolles is a humorous liar, braggart, and
"misleader of youth," like Prince Henry's fat friend. He is put to
shame, just like Falstaff, in an ambuscade devised by his own comrades;
and being, as he thinks, taken prisoner, he deserts and betrays his
master. Falstaff hacks the edge of his sword in order to appear
valiant; and Parolles says (iv. I), "I would the cutting of my garments
would serve the turn, or the breaking of my Spanish sword."

In comparison with Falstaff the character is, of course, meagre and
faint. But if we compare it with such a figure as Armado in _Love's
Labour's Lost_, we find it sparkling with gaiety. It was, in all
probability, touched up and endowed with new wit during the revision.

On the other hand, there is a good deal of quite youthful whimsicality
in the speeches of the Clown, especially in the first act, which there
is no difficulty in attributing to Shakespeare's twenty-fifth year. The
song which the Fool sings at this point (i. 3) seems to belong to the
earlier form, and with it the speeches to which it gives rise:--

    "_Countess_. What! one good in ten? you corrupt the song,

    "_Clown_. One good woman in ten, madam, which is a purifying
    o' the song. Would God would serve the world so all the
    year! we'd find no fault with the tithe-woman, if I were the
    parson. One in ten, quoth 'a! an we might have a good woman
    born but for every blazing star, or at an earthquake, 't
    would mend the lottery well."

In treating of _Love's Labour's Won_, we must necessarily fall back
upon more or less plausible conjecture. But we possess other comedies
dating from this early period of Shakespeare's career in which the
improvement of his technique and his steady advance towards artistic
maturity can be clearly traced.

First and foremost we have his _Comedy of Errors_, which must belong
to this earliest period, even if it comes after the two Love's Labour
comedies. It is written in a highly polished, poetical style; it
contains fewer lines of prose than any other of Shakespeare's
 comedies; but its
diction is full of dramatic movement, the rhymes do not impede the
lively flow of the dialogue, and it has three times as many unrhymed as
rhymed verses.

Yet it must follow pretty close upon the plays we have just reviewed.
Certain phrases in the burlesque portrait of the fat cook drawn by
Dromio of Syracuse (iii. 2) help to put us on the track of its date.
His remark, that Spain sent whole "armadoes of caracks" to ballast
themselves with the rubies and carbuncles on her nose, indicates a time
not far remote from the Armada troubles. A more exact indication may be
found in the answer which the servant gives to his master's question
as to where France is situated upon the globe suggested by the cook's
spherical figure. "Where France?" asks Antipholus; and Dromio replies,
"In her forehead; arm'd and reverted, making war against her heir."
Now, in 1589, Henry of Navarre really ceased to be the heir to the
French throne, although his struggle for the possession of it lasted
until his acceptance of Catholicism in 1593. Thus we may place the date
of the play somewhere between the years 1589 and 1591.

This comedy on the frontier-line of farce shows with what giant strides
Shakespeare progresses in the technique of his art. It has the blood of
the theatre in its veins; we can already discern the experienced actor
in the dexterity with which the threads of the intrigue are involved,
and woven into an ever more intricate tangle, until the simple solution
is arrived at. While _Love's Labour's Lost_ still dragged itself
laboriously over the boards, here we have an impetus and a _brio_ in
all the dramatic passages which reveal an artist and foretell a master.
Only the rough outlines of the play are taken from Plautus; and the
motive, the possibility of incessant confusion between two masters and
two servants, is manipulated with a skill and certainty which astound
us in a beginner, and sometimes with quite irresistible whimsicality.
No doubt the merry play is founded upon an extreme improbability. So
exact is the mutual resemblance of each pair of twins, no less in
clothing than in feature, that not a single person for a moment doubts
their identity. Astonishing resemblances between twins do, however,
occur in real life; and when once we have accepted the premises, the
consequences develop naturally, or at any rate plausibly. We may even
say that in the art of intrigue-spinning, which was afterwards somewhat
foreign and unattractive to him, the poet here shows himself scarcely
inferior to the Spaniards of his own or of a later day, remarkable as
was their dexterity.

Now and then the movement is suspended for the sake of an exchange of
word-plays between master and servant; but it is generally short and
entertaining. Now and then the action pauses to let Dromio of Syracuse
work off one of his extravagant witticisms, as for example (iii. 2):--

    "_Dromio S_. And yet she is a wondrous fat marriage.

    "_Antipholus S_. How dost thou mean a fat marriage?

    "_Dro. S_. Marry, sir, she's the kitchen-wench, and all
    grease; and I know not what use to put her to, but to make a
    lamp of her, and run from her by her own light. I warrant,
    her rags, and the tallow in them, will burn a Poland winter:
    if she lives till doomsday, she'll burn a week longer than
    the whole world."

As a rule, however, the interest is so evenly sustained that the
spectator is held in constant curiosity and suspense as to the upshot
of the adventure.

At one single point the style rises to a beauty and intensity which
show that, though Shakespeare here abandons himself to the light play
of intrigue, it is a diversion to which he only condescends for the
moment. The passage is that between Luciana and Antipholus of Syracuse
(iii. 2), with its tender erotic cadences. Listen to such verses as

      "_Ant. S_. Sweet mistress (what your name is else, I know not,
    Nor by what wonder you do hit of mine),
    Less in your knowledge, and your grace, you show not,
    Than our earth's wonder; more than earth divine.
    Teach me, dear creature, how to think and speak:
    Lay open to my earthy-gross conceit,
    Smother'd in errors, feeble, shallow, weak,
    The folded meaning of your words' deceit.
    Against my soul's pure truth, why labour you
    To make it wander in an unknown field?
    Are you a god? would you create me new?
    Transform me then, and to your power I'll yield."

Since the play was first published in the Folio of 1623, it is of
course, not impossible that Shakespeare may have worked over this
lovely passage at a later period. But the whole structure of the
verses, with their interwoven rhymes, points in the opposite direction.
We here catch the first notes of that music which is soon to fill
_Romeo and Juliet_ with its harmonies.

The play which in all probability stands next on the chronological list
of Shakespeare's works, _The Two Gentlemen of Verona,_ is also one in
which we catch several anticipatory glimpses of later productions,
and is in itself a promising piece of work. It surpasses the earlier
comedies in two respects: first, in the beauty and clearness with which
the two young women are outlined, and then in the careless gaiety which
makes its first triumphant appearance in the parts of the servants.
Only now and then, in one or two detached scenes, do Speed and Launce
bore us with euphuistic word-torturings; as a rule they are quite
entertaining fellows, who seem to announce, as with a flourish of
trumpets, that, unlike either Lyly or Marlowe, Shakespeare possesses
the inborn gaiety, the keen sense of humour, the sparkling playfulness,
which are to enable him, without any strain on his invention, to
kindle the laughter of his audiences, and send it flashing round the
theatre from the groundlings to the gods. He does not as yet display
any particular talent for individualising his clowns. Nevertheless
we notice that, while Speed impresses us chiefly by his astonishing
volubility, the true English humour makes its entrance upon the
Shakespearian stage when Launce appears, dragging his dog by a string.

Note the torrent of eloquence in this speech of Speed's, enumerating
the symptoms from which he concludes that his master is in love:--

    "First, you have learn'd, like Sir Proteus, to wreath
    your arms, like a malcontent; to relish a love-song,
    like a robin-redbreast; to walk alone, like one that had
    the pestilence; to sigh, like a school-boy that had lost
    his ABC; to weep, like a young wench that had buried her
    grandam; to fast, like one that takes diet; to watch, like
    one that fears robbing; to speak puling, like a beggar at
    Hallowmas. You were wont, when you laugh'd, to crow like
    a cock; when you walk'd, to walk like one of the lions;
    when you fasted, it was presently after dinner; when you
    look'd sadly, it was for want of money; and now you are
    metamorphosed with a mistress, that, when I look on you, I
    can hardly think you my master."

All these similes of Speed's are apt and accurate; it is only the way
in which he piles them up that makes us laugh. But when Launce opens
his mouth, unbridled whimsicality at once takes the upper hand. He
comes upon the scene with his dog:--

    "Nay, 'twill be this hour ere I have done weeping; all the
    kind of the Launces have this very fault.... I think Crab,
    my dog, be the sourest-natured dog that lives: my mother
    weeping, my father wailing, my sister crying, our maid
    howling, our cat wringing her hands, and all our house in a
    great perplexity, yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed
    one tear. He is a stone, a very pebble-stone, and has no
    more pity in him than a dog; a Jew would have wept to have
    seen our parting: why, my grandam, having no eyes, look you,
    wept herself blind at my parting. Nay, I'll show you the
    manner of it. This shoe is my father:--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 shoe, with the hole in it, is my
    mother, and this my father. A vengeance on't! there't is:
    now, sir, this staff is my sister; for, look you, she is as
    white as a lily, and as small as a wand: this hat is Nan,
    our maid: I am the dog;--no, the dog is himself, and I am
    the dog,--O! the dog is me, and I am myself: ay, so, so."

Here we have nothing but joyous nonsense, and yet nonsense of a
highly dramatic nature. That is to say, here reigns that youthful
exuberance of spirit which laughs with a childlike grace, even where
it condescends to the petty and low; exuberance as of one who glories
in the very fact of existence, and rejoices to feel life pulsing and
seething in his veins; exuberance such as belongs of right, in some
degree, to every well-constituted man in the light-hearted days of his
youth--how much more, then, to one who possesses the double youth of
years and genius among a people which is itself young, and more than
young: liberated, emancipated, enfranchised, like a colt which has
broken its tether and scampers at large through the luxuriant pastures.

_The Two Gentlemen of Verona_--which, by the way, is Shakespeare's
first declaration of love to Italy--is a graceful, entertaining, weakly
constructed comedy, dealing with faithful and faithless love, with
the treachery of man and the devotion of woman. Its hero, a noble and
wrongfully-banished youth, comes to live the life of a robber captain,
like Schiller's Karl von Moor two centuries later, but without a spark
of his spirit of rebellion. The solution of the imbroglio, by means of
the instant and unconditional forgiveness of the villain, is so naïve,
so senselessly conciliatory, that we feel it to be the outcome of a
joyous, untried, and unwounded spirit.

Shakespeare has borrowed part of his matter from a novel entitled
_Diana_, by the Portuguese Montemayor (1520-1562). The translation, by
Bartholomew Yong, was not printed until 1598, but the preface states
that it had then been completed for fully sixteen years, and manuscript
copies of it had no doubt passed from hand to hand, according to
the fashion of the time. On comparing the essential portion of the
romance[1] with _The Two Gentlemen of Verona_, we find that Proteus's
infidelity and Julia's idea of following her lover in male attire, with
all that comes of it, belong to Montemayor. Moreover, in the novel,
Julia, disguised as a page, is present when Proteus serenades Sylvia
(Celia in the original). She also goes to Sylvia at Proteus's orders
to plead his cause with her; but in the novel the fair lady falls in
love with the messenger in male attire--an incident which Shakespeare
reserved for _Twelfth Night_. We even find in _Diana_ a sketch of the
second scene of the first act, between Julia and Lucetta, in which the
mistress, for appearance' sake, repudiates the letter which she is
burning to read.

One or two points in the play remind us of _Lovers Labour's Won_, which
Shakespeare had just completed in its original form; for example,
the journey in male attire in pursuit of the scornful loved one.
Many things, on the other hand, point forward to Shakespeare's later
work. The inconstancy of the two men in _A Midsummer Night's Dream_
is a variation and parody of Proteus's fickleness in this play. The
beginning of the second scene of the first act, where Julia makes
Lucetta pass judgment on her different suitors, is the first faint
outline of the masterly scene to the same effect between Portia and
Nerissa in _The Merchant of Venice_. The conversation between Sylvia
and Julia, which brings the fourth act to a close, answers exactly to
that between Olivia and Viola in the first act of _Twelfth Night._
Finally, the fact that Valentine, after learning the full extent of
his false friend's treachery, offers to resign to him his beautiful
betrothed, Sylvia, in order to prove by this sacrifice the strength of
his friendship, however foolish and meaningless it may appear in the
play, is yet an anticipation of the humble renunciation of the beloved
for the sake of the friend and of friendship, which impresses us so
painfully in Shakespeare's Sonnets.

In almost every utterance of the young women in this comedy we see
nobility of soul, and in the lyric passages a certain pre-Raphaelite
grace. Take, for example, what Julia says of her love in the last scene
of the second act:--

    "The current, that with gentle murmur glides,
     Thou know'st, being stopp'd, impatiently doth rage;
     But, when his fair course is not hindered,
     He makes sweet music with the enamell'd stones,
     Giving a gentle kiss to every sedge
     He overtaketh in his pilgrimage.
       .    .    .   .    .    .    .    .
     I'll be as patient as a gentle stream,
     And make a pastime of each weary step,
     Till the last step have brought me to my love;
     And there I'll rest, as, after much turmoil,
     A blessed soul doth in Elysium."

And although the men are here of inferior interest to the women, we yet
find in the mouth of Valentine outbursts of great lyric beauty. For
example (iii. I):--

    "Except I be by Silvia in the night,
     There is no music in the nightingale;
     Unless I look on Silvia in the day,
     There is no day for me to look upon.
     She is my essence; and I leave to be,
     If I be not by her fair influence
     Foster'd, illumin'd, cherish'd, kept alive."

Besides the strains of passion and of gaiety in this light acting play,
a third note is clearly struck, the note of nature. There is fresh air
in it, a first breath of those fragrant midland memories which prove
that this child of the country must many a time have said to himself
with Valentine (v. 4):--

    "How use doth breed a habit in a man!
     This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods,
     I better brook than nourishing peopled towns."

In many passages of this play we are conscious for the first time of
that keen love of nature which never afterwards deserts Shakespeare,
and which gives to some of the most mannered of his early efforts, as,
for example, to his short narrative poems, their chief interest and

[1] _The Shepherdess Felismena_ in Hazlitt's _Shakespeare's
Library_, Pt. I. vol. i. ed. 1875.



Although Shakespeare did not publish _Venus and Adonis_ until the
spring of 1593, when he was twenty-nine years old, the poem must
certainly have been conceived, and probably written, several years
earlier. In dedicating it to the Earl of Southampton, then a youth
of twenty, he calls it "the first heire of my invention;" but it by
no means follows that it is literally the first thing he ever wrote.
The expression may merely imply that his work for the theatre was
not regarded as an independent exercise of his poetic talent. But
the over-luxuriant style betrays the youthful hand, and we place it,
therefore, among Shakespeare's writings of about 1590-91.

He had at this period, as we have seen, won a firm footing as an actor,
and had made himself not only useful but popular as an adapter of old
plays and an independent dramatist. But the drama of that time was
not reckoned as literature. There was all the difference in the world
between a "playwright" and a real poet. When Sir Thomas Bodley, about
the year 1600, extended and remodelled the old University Library, and
gave it his name, he decreed that no such "riffe-raffes" as playbooks
should ever find admittance to it.

Without being actually ambitious, Shakespeare felt the highly natural
wish to make a name for himself in literature. He wanted to take his
place among the poets, and to win the approval of the young noblemen
whose acquaintance he had made in the theatre. He also wanted to show
that he was familiar with the spirit of antiquity.

Spenser (born 1553) had just attracted general attention by publishing
the first books of his great narrative poem. What more natural than
that Shakespeare should be tempted to measure his strength against
Spenser, as he already had against Marlowe, his first master in the

The little poem of _Venus and Adonis_, and its companionpiece, _The
Rape of Lucrece_, which appeared in the following year, have this great
value for us, that here, and here only, are we certain of possessing a
text exactly as Shakespeare wrote it, since he himself superintended
its publication.

Italy was at this time the centre of all culture. The lyric and minor
epic poetry of England were entirely under the influence of the Italian
style and taste. Shakespeare, in _Venus and Adonis_, aims at the
insinuating sensuousness of the Italians. He tries to strike the tender
and languorous notes of his Southern forerunners. Among the poets of
antiquity, Ovid is naturally his model. He takes two lines from Ovid's
_Amores_ as the motto of his poem, which is indeed, nothing but an
expanded version of a scene in the _Metamorphoses_.

The name of Shakespeare, like the names of Æschylus, Michael Angelo,
and Beethoven, is apt to ring tragically in our ears. We have almost
forgotten that he had a Mozartean vein in his nature, and that his
contemporaries not only praised his personal gentleness and "honesty,"
but also the "sweetness" of his singing.

In _Venus and Adonis_ glows the whole fresh sensuousness of the
Renaissance and of Shakespeare's youth. It is an entirely erotic poem,
and contemporaries aver that it lay on the table of every light woman
in London.

The conduct of the poem presents a series of opportunities and
pretexts for voluptuous situations and descriptions. The ineffectual
blandishments lavished by Venus on the chaste and frigid youth, who,
in his sheer boyishness, is as irresponsive as a bashful woman--her
kisses, caresses, and embraces, are depicted in detail. It is as
though a Titian or Rubens had painted a model in a whole series of
tender situations, now in one attitude, now in another. Then comes the
suggestive scene in which Adonis's horse breaks away in order to meet
the challenge of a mare which happens to wander by, together with the
goddess's comments thereupon. Then new advances and solicitations,
almost inadmissibly daring, according to the taste of our day.

An element of feeling is introduced in the portrayal of Venus's anguish
when Adonis expresses his intention of hunting the boar. But it is to
sheer description that the poet chiefly devotes himself--description of
the charging boar, description of the fair young body bathed in blood,
and so forth. There is a fire and rapture of colour in it all, as in a
picture by some Italian master of a hundred years before.

Quite unmistakable is the insinuating, luscious, almost saccharine
quality of the writing, which accounts for the fact that, when his
immediate contemporaries speak of Shakespeare's diction, honey is the
similitude that first suggests itself to them. John Weever, in 1595,
calls him "honey-tongued," and in 1598 Francis Meres uses the same
term, with the addition of "mellifluous."

There is, indeed, an extraordinary sweetness in these strophes.
Tenderness, every
here and there, finds really entrancing utterance. When Adonis has for
the first time harshly repulsed Venus, in a speech of some length:--

    "'What! canst thou talk?' quoth she, 'hast thou a tongue?
     O, would thou hadst not, or I had no hearing!
     Thy mermaid's voice hath done me double wrong;
     I had my load before, now press'd with bearing:
     Melodious discord, heavenly tune harsh-sounding,
     Ear's deep-sweet music, and heart's deep-sore wounding,'"

But the style also exhibits numberless instances of tasteless Italian
artificiality. Breathing the "heavenly moisture" of Adonis's breath, she

    "Wishes her cheeks were gardens full of flowers,
     So they were dew'd with such distilling showers."

Of Adonis's dimples it is said:--

    "These lovely caves, these round enchanting pits,
     Open'd their mouths to swallow Venus' liking."

"My love to love," says Adonis, "is love but to disgrace it." Venus
enumerates the delights he would afford to each of her senses
separately, supposing her deprived of all the rest, and concludes

    "'But, O, what banquet wert thou to the taste,
     Being nurse and feeder of the other four
     Would they not wish the feast might ever last,
     And bid Suspicion double-lock the door,
        Lest Jealousy, that sour unwelcome guest,
        Should, by his stealing in, disturb the feast?'"

Such lapses of taste are not infrequent in Shakespeare's early comedies
as well. They answer, in their way, to the riot of horrors in _Titus
Andronicus_--analogous mannerisms of an as yet undeveloped art.

At the same time, the puissant sensuousness of this poem is as a
prelude to the large utterance of passion in _Romeo and Juliet_, and
towards its close Shakespeare soars, so to speak, symbolically, from a
delineation of the mere fever of the senses to a forecast of that love
in which it is only one element, when he makes Adonis say:--

    "I Love comforteth like sunshine after rain,
     But Lust's effect is tempest after sun;
     Love's gentle spring doth always fresh remain,
     Lust's winter comes ere summer half be done:
       Love surfeits not, Lust like a glutton dies;
       Love is all truth, Lust full of forged lies.'"

It would, of course, be absurd to lay too much stress on these edifying
antitheses in this unedifying poem. It is more important to note that
the descriptions of animal life--for example, that of the hare's
flight--are unrivalled for truth and delicacy of observation, and to
mark how, even in this early work, Shakespeare's style now and then
rises to positive greatness.

This is especially the case in the descriptions of the boar and of the
horse. The boar--his back "set with a battle of bristly pikes," his
eyes like glow-worms, his snout "digging sepulchres where'er he goes,"
his neck short and thick, and his onset so fierce that

    "The thorny brambles and embracing bushes,
     As fearful of him, part; through which he rushes"

--this boar seems to have been painted by Snyders in a huntingpiece, in
which the human figures came from the brush of Rubens.

Shakespeare himself seems to have realised with what mastery he had
depicted the stallion; for he says:--

    "Look, when a painter would surpass the life,?
    In limning out a well-proportion'd steed,
    His art with nature's workmanship at strife,
    As if the dead the living should exceed;
       So did this horse excel a common one,
       In shape, in courage, colour, pace, and bone."

We can feel Shakespeare's love of nature in such a stanza as this:--

    "Round-hoof'd, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long,
     Broad breast, full eye, small head, and nostril wide,
     High crest, short ears, straight legs, and passing strong,
     Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide:
        Look, what a horse should have, he did not lack,
        Save a proud rider on so proud a back."

How consummate, too, is the description of all his movements:--

    "Sometime he scuds far off, and there he stares;
     Anon he starts at stirring of a feather."

We hear "the high wind singing through his mane and tail." We are
almost reminded of the magnificent picture of the horse at the end of
the Book of Job: "He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage....
He smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and
the shouting." So great is the compass of style in this little poem
of Shakespeare's youth: from Ovid to the Old Testament, from modish
artificiality to grandiose simplicity.

_Lucrece_, which appeared in the following year, was, like _Venus and
Adonis_; dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, in distinctly more
familiar, though still deferential terms. The poem is designed as a
counterpart to its predecessor. The one treats of male, the other of
female, chastity. The one portrays ungovernable passion in a woman;
the other, criminal passion in a man. But in _Lucrece_ the theme is
seriously and morally handled. It is almost a didactic poem, dealing
with the havoc wrought by unbridled and brutish desire.

It was not so popular in its own day as its predecessor, and it does
not afford the modern reader any very lively satisfaction. It shows an
advance in metrical accomplishment. To the six-line stanza of _Venus
and Adonis_ a seventh line is added, which heightens its beauty and its
dignity. The strength of _Lucrece_ lies in its graphic and gorgeous
descriptions, and in its sometimes microscopic psychological analysis.
For the rest, its pathos consists of elaborate and far-fetched rhetoric.

The lament of the heroine after the crime has been committed is pure
declamation, extremely eloquent no doubt, but copious and artificial
as an oration of Cicero's, rich in apostrophes and antitheses. The
sorrow of "Collatine and his consorted lords" is portrayed in laboured
and quibbling speeches. Shakespeare's knowledge and mastery are most
clearly seen in the reflections scattered through the narrative--such,
for instance, as the following profound and exquisitely written stanza
on the softness of the feminine nature:--

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

In point of mere technique the most remarkable passage in the poem is
the long series of stanzas (lines 1366 to 1568) describing a painting
of the destruction of Troy, which Lucrece contemplates in her despair.
The description is marked by such force, freshness, and naïvete as
might suggest that the writer had never seen a picture before:--

    "Here one man's hand leaned on another's head,
     His nose being shadowed by his neighbour's ear."

So dense is the throng of figures in the picture, so deceptive the

    "That for Achilles' image stood his spear,
     Grip'd in an armed hand: himself behind
     Was left unseen, save to the eye of mind,
       A hand, a foot, a face, a leg, a head,
       Stood for the whole to be imagined."

Here, as in all other places in which Shakespeare mentions pictorial
or plastic art, it is realism carried to the point of illusion that he
admires and praises. The paintings in the Guild Chapel at Stratford
were, doubtless, as before mentioned, the first he ever saw. He may
also, during his Stratford period, have seen works of art at Kenilworth
Castle or at St. Mary's Church in Coventry. In London, in the Hall
belonging to the Merchants of the Steel-Yard, he had no doubt seen
two greatly admired pictures by Holbein which hung there. Moreover,
there were in London at that time not only numerous portraits by Dutch
masters, but also a few Italian pictures. It appears, for example,
from a list of "Pictures and other Works of Art" drawn up in 1613
by John Ernest, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, that there hung at Whitehall a
painting of Julius Cæsar, and another of Lucretia, said to have been
"very artistically executed." This picture may possibly have suggested
to Shakespeare the theme of his poem. Larger compositions were no
doubt familiar to him in the tapestries of the period (the hangings at
Theobald's presented scenes from Roman history); and he may very likely
have seen the excellent Dutch and Italian pictures at Nonsuch Palace,
then in the height of its glory.

His reflections upon art led him, as aforesaid, to the conclusion that
it was the artist's business to keep a close watch upon nature, to
master or transcend her. Again and again he ranks truth to nature as
the highest quality in art. He evidently cared nothing for allegorical
or religious painting; he never so much as mentions it. Nor, with all
his love for "the concord of sweet sounds," does he ever allude to
church music.

The description of the great painting of the fall of Troy is no mere
irrelevant decoration to the poem; for the fall of Troy symbolises
the fall of the royal house of Tarquin as a consequence of Sextus's
crime. Shakespeare did not look at the event from the point of view
of individual morality alone; he makes us feel that the honour of a
royal family, and even its dynastic existence, are hazarded by criminal
aggression upon a noble house. All the conceptions of honour belonging
to mediæval chivalry are transferred to ancient Rome. "Knights, by
their oaths, should right poor ladies' harms," says Lucrece, in calling
upon her kinsmen to avenge her.

In his picture of the sack of Troy, Shakespeare has followed the second
book of Virgil's _Æneid_; for the groundwork of his poem as a whole he
has gone to the short but graceful and sympathetic rendering of the
story of Lucretia in Ovid's _Fasti_ (ii. 685-852).

A comparison between Ovid's style and that of Shakespeare certainly
does not redound to the advantage of the modern poet. In opposition
to this semi-barbarian, Ovid seems the embodiment of classic
severity. Shakespeare's antithetical conceits and other lapses of
taste are painfully obtrusive. Every here and there we come upon such
stumbling-blocks as these:--

    "Some of her blood still pure and red remain'd,
     And some look'd black, and that false Tarquin stain'd;"


    "If children pre-decease progenitors,
     We are their offspring, and they none of ours."

This lack of nature and of taste is not only characteristic of the
age in general, but is bound up with the great excellences and rare
capacities which Shakespeare was now developing with such amazing
rapidity. His momentary leaning towards this style was due, in part at
least, to the influence of his fellow-poets, his friends, his rivals in
public favour--the influence, in short, of that artistic microcosm in
whose atmosphere his genius shot up to sudden maturity.

We talk of "schools" in literature, and it is no exaggeration to say
that every period of rich productivity presupposes a school or schools.
But the word "school," beautiful in its original Greek signification,
has been narrowed and specialised by modern usage. We ought to say
"forcing-house" instead of "school"--to talk of the classic and the
romantic forcing-house, the Renaissance forcing-house,[1] and so forth.
In very small communities, where there is none of that emulation which
alone can call forth all an artist's energies, absolute mastery is as
a rule unattainable. Under such conditions, a man will often make a
certain mark early in life, and find his success his ruin. Others seek
a forcing-house outside their native land--Holberg in Holland, England,
and France; Thorvaldsen in Rome; Heine in Paris. The moment he set foot
in London, Shakespeare was in such a forcing-house. Hence the luxuriant
burgeoning of his genius.

He lived in constant intercourse and rivalry with vivid and daringly
productive spirits. The diamond was polished in diamond dust.

The competitive instinct (as Rümelin has rightly pointed out) was
strong in the English poets of that period. Shakespeare could not but
strive from the first to outdo his fellows in strength and skill. At
last he comes to think, like Hamlet: however deep they dig--

              "it shall go hard
    But I will delve one yard below their mines"

--one of the most characteristic utterances of Hamlet and of

This sense of rivalry contributed to the formation of Shakespeare's
early manner, both in his narrative poems and in his plays. Hence
arose that straining after subtleties, that absorption in quibbles,
that wantoning in word-plays, that bandying to and fro of shuttlecocks
of speech. Hence, too, that state of over-heated passion and
over-stimulated fancy, in which image begets image with a headlong
 like that of the low organisms which pullulate by mere

This man of all the talents had the talent for word-plays and
thought-quibbles among the rest; he was too richly endowed to be
behind-hand even here. But there was in all this something, foreign
to his true self. When he reaches the point at which his inmost
personality begins to reveal itself in his writings, we are at once
conscious of a far deeper and more emotional nature than that which
finds expression in the teeming conceits of the narrative poems and the
incessant scintillations of the early comedies.

[1] The author's idea is, I think, best rendered by this literal
translation; but the Danish word _Drivhus_ is much less cumbrous than
its English equivalent.--TRANS.



In spite of the fame and popularity which _Venus and Adonis_ and
_Lucrece_ won for Shakespeare, he quickly understood, with his
instinctive self-knowledge, that it was not narrative but dramatic
poetry which offered the fullest scope for his powers.

And now it is that we find him for the first time rising to the full
height of his genius. This he does in a work of dramatic form; but,
significantly enough, it is not as yet in its dramatic elements that
we recognise the master-hand, but rather in the rich and incomparable
lyric poetry with which he embroiders a thin dramatic canvas.

His first masterpiece is a masterpiece of grace, both lyrical
and comic. _A Midsummer Night's Dream_ was no doubt written as a
festival-play or masque, before the masque became an established
art-form, to celebrate the marriage of a noble patron; probably for the
May festival after the private marriage of Essex with the widow of Sir
Philip Sidney in the year 1590. In Oberon's great speech to Puck (ii.
2) there is a significant passage about a throned vestal, invulnerable
to Cupid's darts, which is obviously a flattering reference to
Elizabeth in relation to Leicester; while the lines about a little
flower wounded by the fiery shaft of love mournfully allude, in the
like allegorical fashion, to Essex's mother and her marriage with
Leicester, after his courtship had been rejected by the Queen. Other
details also point to Essex as the bridegroom typified in the person of

How is one to speak adequately of _A Midsummer Night's Dream_? It is
idle to dwell upon the slightness of the character-drawing, for the
poet's effort is not after characterisation; and, whatever its weak
points, the poem as a whole is one of the tenderest, most original, and
most perfect Shakespeare ever produced.

It is Spenser's fairy-poetry developed and condensed; it is Shelley's
spirit-poetry anticipated by more than two centuries. And the airy
dream is shot with whimsical parody. The frontiers of Elf-land and
Clown-land meet and mingle.

We have here an element of aristocratic distinction in the princely
couple, Theseus and Hippolyta, and their court. We have here an element
of sprightly burlesque in the artisans' performance of Pyramus and
Thisbe, treated with genial irony and divinely felicitous humour.
And here, finally, we have the element of supernatural poetry, which
soon after flashes forth again in _Romeo and Juliet_, where Mercutio
describes the doings of Queen Mab. Puck and Pease-blossom, Cobweb and
Mustardseed--pigmies who hunt the worms in a rosebud, tease bats, chase
spiders, and lord it over nightingales--are the leading actors in an
elfin play, a fairy carnival of inimitable mirth and melody, steeped
in a midsummer atmosphere of mist-wreaths and flower-scents, under the
afterglow that lingers through the sultry night. This miracle of happy
inspiration contains the germs of innumerable romantic achievements in
England, Germany, and Denmark, more than two centuries later.

There is in French literature a graceful mythological play of somewhat
later date--Molière's _Psyché_--in which the exquisite love-verses
which stream from the heroine's lips were written by the sexagenarian
Corneille. It is, in its way, an admirable piece of work. But read it
and compare it with the nature-poetry of _A Midsummer Night's Dream_,
and you will feel how far the great Englishman surpasses the greatest
Frenchmen in pure unrhetorical lyrism and irrepressibly playful,
absolutely poetical poetry, with its scent of clover, its taste of wild
honey, and its airy and shifting dream-pageantry.

We have here no pathos. The hurricane of passion does not as yet
sweep through Shakespeare's work. No; it is only the romantic and
imaginative side of love that is here displayed, the magic whereby
longing transmutes and idealises its object, the element of folly,
infatuation, and illusion in desire, with its consequent variability
and transitoriness. Man is by nature a being with no inward compass,
led astray by his instincts and dreams, and for ever deceived either
by himself or by others. This Shakespeare realises, but does not, as
yet, take the matter very tragically. Thus the characters whom he here
presents, even, or rather especially, in their love-affairs, appear as
anything but reasonable beings. The lovers seek and avoid each other
by turns, they love and are not loved again; the couples attract each
other at cross-purposes; the youth runs after the maiden who shrinks
from him, the maiden flees from the man who adores her; and the poet's
delicate irony makes the confusion reach its height and find its
symbolic expression when the Queen of the Fairies, in the intoxication
of a love-dream, recognises her ideal in a journeyman weaver with an
ass's head.

It is the love begotten of imagination that here bears sway. Hence
these words of Theseus (v. I):--

    "Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
     Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
     More than cool reason ever comprehends.
     The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,
     Are of imagination all compact."

And then follows Shakespeare's first deliberate utterance as to the
nature and art of the poet. He is not, as a rule, greatly concerned
with the dignity of the poet as such. Quite foreign to him is the
self-idolatry of the later romantic poets, posing as the spiritual
pastors and masters of the world. Where he introduces poets in his
plays (as in _Julius Cæsar_ and _Timon_), it is generally to assign
them a pitiful part. But here he places in the mouth of Theseus the
famous and exquisite words:--

    "The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
     Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
     And, as imagination bodies forth
     The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
     Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
     A local habitation and a name.
     Such tricks hath strong imagination."

When he wrote this he felt that his wings had grown.

As _A Midsummer Night's Dream_ was not published until 1600, it is
impossible to assign an exact date to the text we possess. In all
probability the piece was altered and amplified before it was printed.

Attention was long ago drawn to the following lines in Theseus's speech
at the beginning of the fifth act:--

    "_The thrice three Muses mourning for the death_
     _Of Learning, late deceas'd in beggary._
     This is some satire, keen and critical."

Several commentators have seen in these lines an allusion to the death
of Spenser, which, however, did not occur until 1599, so late that
it can scarcely be the event alluded to. Others have conjectured a
reference to the death of Robert Greene in 1592. The probability is
that the words refer to Spenser's poem, _The Tears of the Muses_,
published in 1591, which was a complaint of the indifference of the
nobility towards the fine arts. If the play, as we have so many reasons
for supposing, was written for the marriage of Essex, these lines
must have been inserted later, as they might easily be in a passage
like this, where a whole series of different subjects for masques is

The important passage (ii. 2) where Oberon recounts his vision has
already been mentioned. It follows Oberon's description of the mermaid
seated on a dolphin's back--

    "Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
     That certain stars shot madly from their spheres,"

--an allusion, not, as some have supposed, to Mary Stuart, who was
married to the Dauphin of France, but to the festivities and fire-work
displays which celebrated Elizabeth's visit to Kenilworth in 1575.
The passage is interesting, among other reasons, because we have here
one of the few allegories to be found in Shakespeare--an allegory
which has taken that form because the matters to which it alludes
could not be directly handled. Shakespeare is here referring back,
as English criticism has long ago pointed out,[1] to the allegory
in Lyly's mythological play, _Endymion_. There can be no doubt
that Cynthia (the moon-goddess) in Lyly's play stands for Queen
Elizabeth, while Leicester figures as Endymion, who is represented
as hopelessly enamoured of Cynthia. Tellus and Floscula, of whom the
one loves Endymion's "person," the other his "virtues," represent the
Countesses of Sheffield and Essex, who stood in amatory relations to
Leicester. The play is one tissue of adulation for Elizabeth, but is
so constructed as at the same time to flatter and defend Leicester.
In defiance of the actual fact, it exhibits the Queen as entirely
inaccessible to her adorer's homage, and Leicester's intrigue with the
Countess of Sheffield as a mere mask for his passion for the Queen;
in other words, it represents these relations as the Queen would wish
to have them understood by the people, and Leicester by the Queen.
The Countess of Essex, who was afterwards to play so large a part in
Leicester's life, plays a very small part in the drama. Her love finds
expression only in one or two unobtrusive phrases, such as her cry of
joy on seeing Endymion, after the forty years' sleep in which he has
grown an old man, rejuvenated by a single kiss from Cynthia's lips.

The relation between Leicester and Lettice, Countess of Essex, must
certainly have made a deep impression upon Shakespeare. By Leicester's
contrivance, her husband had been for a long time banished to
Ireland, first as commander of the troops in Ulster, and afterwards
as Earl-Marshal; and when he died, in 1576--commonly thought, though
without proof, to have been poisoned--his widow, after a lapse of only
a few days, went through a secret marriage with his supposed murderer.
When Leicester, twelve years later, met with a sudden death, also,
according to popular belief, by poison, the event was regarded as a
judgment on a great criminal. In all probability, Shakespeare found in
these events one of the motives of his _Hamlet_. Whether the Countess
Lettice was actually Leicester's mistress during her husband's lifetime
is, of course, uncertain; in any case, the Countess's relation to
Robert, Earl of Essex, her son by her first marriage, was always of the
best. She was, however, punished by the Queen's displeasure, which was
so vehement that she was forbidden to show herself at court.

Shakespeare has retained Lyly's names, merely translating them into
English. Cynthia has become the moon, Tellus the earth, Floscula the
little flower; and with this commentary, we are in a position to admire
the delicate and poetical way in which he has touched upon the family
circumstances of the supposed bridegroom, the Earl of Essex:--

      "_Oberon_. That very time I saw (but thou couldst not),
    Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
    Cupid all arm'd: a certain aim he took
    At a fair vestal throned by the west,
    And loos'd his love-shaft smartly from his bow,
    As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts.
    But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft
    Quench'd in the chaste beams of the wat'ry moon,
    And the imperial votaress passed on,
    In maiden meditation, fancy-free.
    Yet mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
    It fell upon a little western flower,
    Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound,
    And maidens call it Love-in-idleness."

It is with the juice of this flower that Oberon makes every one upon
whose eyes it falls dote upon the first living creature they happen to

The poet's design in the flattery addressed to Elizabeth--one of the
very few instances of the kind in his works--was no doubt to dispose
her favourably towards his patron's marriage, or, in other words, to
deprecate the anger with which she was in the habit of regarding any
attempt on the part of her favourites, or even of ordinary courtiers,
to marry according to their own inclinations. Essex in particular had
stood very close to her, since, in 1587, he had supplanted Sir Walter
Raleigh in her favour; and although the Queen, now in her fifty-seventh
year, was fully thirty-four years older than her late adorer,
Shakespeare did not succeed in averting her anger from the young
couple. The bride was commanded "to live very retired in her mother's

_Midsummer Night's Dream_ is the first consummate and immortal
masterpiece which Shakespeare produced.

The fact that the pairs of lovers are very slightly individualised, and
do not in themselves awaken any particular sympathy, is a fault that we
easily overlook, amid the countless beauties of the play. The fact that
the changes in the lovers' feelings are entirely unmotived is no fault
at all, for Oberon's magic is simply a great symbol, typifying the
sorcery of the erotic imagination. There is deep significance as well
as drollery in the presentation of Titania as desperately enamoured of
Bottom with his ass's head. Nay, more; in the lovers' ever-changing
attractions and repulsions we may find a whole sportive love-philosophy.

The rustic and popular element in Shakespeare's genius here appears
more prominently than ever before. The country-bred youth's whole
feeling for and knowledge of nature comes to the surface, permeated
with the spirit of poetry. The play swarms with allusions to plants
and insects, and all that is said of them is closely observed and
intimately felt. In none of Shakespeare's plays are so many species
of flowers, fruits, and trees mentioned and characterised. H. N.
Ellacombe, in his essay on _The Seasons of Shakspere's Plays_,[2]
reckons no fewer than forty-two species. Images borrowed from nature
meet us on every hand. For example, in Helena's beautiful description
of her school friendship with Hermia (iii. 2), she says:--

                   "So we grew together,
    Like to a double cherry, seeming parted,
    But yet an union in partition;
    Two lovely berries moulded on one stem."

When Titania exhorts her elves to minister to every desire of her
asinine idol, she says (iii. I):--

    "Be kind and courteous to this gentleman:
     Hop in his walks, and gambol in his eyes;
     Feed him with apricocks, and dewberries,
     With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries.
     The honey-bags steal from the humble-bees,
     And for night-tapers crop their waxen thighs,
     And light them at the fiery glow-worm's eyes,
     To have my love to bed, and to arise;
     And pluck the wings from painted butterflies,
     To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes.
     Nod to him, elves, and do him courtesies."

The popular element in Shakespeare is closely interwoven with his love
of nature. He has here plunged deep into folk-lore, seized upon the
figments of peasant superstition as they survive in the old ballads,
and mingled brownies and pixies with the delicate creations of
artificial poetry, with Oberon, who is of French descent ("Auberon,"
from _l'aube du Jour_), and Titania, a name which Ovid gives in his
_Metamorphoses_ (iii. 173) to Diana as the sister of the Titan Sol.
_The Maydes Metamorphosis,_ a play attributed to Lyly, although not
printed till 1600, may be older than _A Midsummer Night's Dream_. In
that case Shakespeare may have found the germ of some of his fairy
dialogue in the pretty fairy song which occurs in it. There is a marked
similarity even in details of dialogue. For example, this conversation
between Bottom and the fairies (iii. I) reminds us of Lyly[3]:--

    "_Bot_. I cry your worship's mercy, heartily.--I beseech
    your worship's name.

    "_Cob_. Cobweb.

    "_Bot_. I shall desire you of more acquaintance, good Master
    Cobweb. If I cut my finger, I shall make bold with you. Your
    name, honest gentleman?

    "_Peas_. Pease-blossom.

    "_Bot_. I pray you, commend me to Mistress Squash, your
    mother, and to Master Peascod, your father. Good Master
    Pease-blossom, I shall desire you of more acquaintance
    too.--Your name, I beseech you, sir.

    "_Mus_. Mustard-seed.

    "_Bot_. Good Master Mustard-seed, I know your patience
    well: that same cowardly, giant-like oxbeef hath devoured
    many a gentleman of your house. I promise you, your kindred
    hath made my eyes water ere now. I desire you of more
    acquaintance, good Master Mustard-seed."

The contrast between the rude artisans' prose and the poetry of the
fairy world is exquisitely humorous, and has been frequently imitated
in the nineteenth century: in Germany by Tieck; in Denmark by J. L.
Heiberg, who has written no fewer than three imitations of _A Midsummer
Night's Dream--The Elves, The Day of the Seven Sleepers_, and _The

The fairy element introduced into the comedy brings in its train
not only the many love-illusions, but other and external forms of
thaumaturgy as well. People are beguiled by wandering voices, led
astray in the midnight wood, and victimised in many innocent ways. The
fairies retain from first to last their grace and sportiveness, but the
individual physiognomies, in this stage of Shakespeare's development,
are as yet somewhat lacking in expression. Puck, for instance, is a
mere shadow in comparison with a creation of twenty years later, the
immortal Ariel of _The Tempest_.

Brilliant as is the picture of the fairy world in _A Midsummer Night's
Dream_, the mastery to which Shakespeare had attained is most clearly
displayed in the burlesque scenes, dealing with the little band of
worthy artisans who are moved to represent the history of Pyramus and
Thisbe at the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta. Never before has
Shakespeare risen to the sparkling and genial humour with which these
excellent simpletons are portrayed. He doubtless drew upon childish
memories of the plays he had seen performed in the market-place at
Coventry and elsewhere. He also introduced some whimsical strokes of
satire upon the older English drama. For instance, when Quince says (i.
2), "Marry, our play is--The most lamentable comedy, and most cruel
death of Pyramus and Thisby," there is an obvious reference to the long
and quaint title of the old play of _Cambyses_: "A lamentable tragedy
mixed full of pleasant mirth,"[4] &c.

Shakespeare's elevation of mind, however, is most clearly apparent in
the playful irony with which he treats his own art, the art of acting,
and the theatre of the day, with its scanty and imperfect appliances
for the production of illusion. The artisan who plays Wall, his fellow
who enacts Moonshine, and the excellent amateur who represents the Lion
are deliciously whimsical types.

It was at all times a favourite device with Shakespeare, as with his
imitators, the German romanticists of two centuries later, to introduce
a play within a play. The device is not of his own invention. We find
it already in Kyd's _Spanish Tragedie_ (perhaps as early as 1584),
a play whose fustian Shakespeare often ridicules, but in which he
nevertheless found the germ of his own _Hamlet_. But from the very
first the idea of giving an air of greater solidity to the principal
play by introducing into it a company of actors had a great attraction
for him. We may compare with the Pyramus and Thisbe scenes in this
play the appearance of Costard and his comrades as Pompey, Hector,
Alexander, Hercules, and Judas Maccabæus in the fifth act of _Love's
Labour's Lost_. Even there the Princess speaks with a kindly tolerance
of the poor amateur actors:--

    "That sport best pleases, that doth least know how:
     Where zeal strives to content, and the contents
     Die in the zeal of them which it presents,
     Their form confounded makes most form in mirth;
     When great things labouring perish in their birth."

Nevertheless, there is here a certain youthful cruelty in the
courtiers' ridicule of the actors, whereas in _A Midsummer Night's
Dream_ everything passes off in the purest, airiest humour. What can be
more perfect, for example, than the Lion's reassuring address to the

    "'You, ladies, you, whose gentle hearts do fear
     The smallest monstrous mouse that creeps on floor

     May now, perchance, both quake and tremble here,
     When lion rough in wildest rage doth roar.
     Then know, that I, one Snug the joiner, am
     No lion fell, nor else no lion's dam;
     For, if I should as lion come in strife
     Into this place, 't were pity on my life.'"

And how pleasant, when he at last comes in with his roar, is Demetrius'
comment, of proverbial fame, "Well roared, lion!"

It is true that _A Midsummer Night's Dream_ is rather to be described
as a dramatic lyric than a drama in the strict sense of the word. It
is a lightly-flowing, sportive, lyrical fantasy, dealing with love
as a dream, a fever, an illusion, an infatuation, and making merry,
in especial, with the irrational nature of the instinct. That is why
Lysander, turning, under the influence of the magic flower, from
Hermia, whom he loves, to Helena, who is nothing to him, but whom he
now imagines that he adores, is made to exclaim (ii. 3):--

    "The will of man is by his reason sway'd,
     And reason says you are the worthier maid."

Here, more than anywhere else, he is the mouthpiece of the poet's
irony. Shakespeare is far from regarding love as an expression of human
reason; throughout his works, indeed, it is only by way of exception
that he makes reason the determining factor in human conduct. He early
felt and divined how much wider is the domain of the unconscious than
of the conscious life, and saw that our moods and passions have their
root in the unconscious. The germs of a whole philosophy of life are
latent in the wayward love-scenes of _A Midsummer Night's Dream_.

And it is now that Shakespeare, on the farther limit of early youth,
and immediately after writing _A Midsummer Night's Dream_, for the
second time takes the most potent of youthful emotions as his theme,
and treats it no longer as a thing of fantasy, but as a matter of the
deadliest moment, as a glowing, entrancing, and annihilating passion,
the source of bliss and agony, of life and death. It is now that he
writes his first independent tragedy, _Romeo and Juliet_, that unique,
imperishable love-poem, which remains to this day one of the loftiest
summits of the world's literature. As _A Midsummer Night's Dream_ is
the triumph of grace, so _Romeo and Juliet_ is the apotheosis of pure

[1] N. J. Halpin: _Oberon's Vision in the Midsummer Night's Dream,
illustrated by a Comparison with Lylie's Endymion_, 1842.

[2] _New Shakspere Society's Transactions_, 1880-86, p. 67.

[3] The passage in _The Maydes Metamorphosis_ runs as follows:--

    "_Mopso_. I pray you, what might I call you?
     _1st Fairy_. My name is Penny.
     _Mopso_. I am sorry I cannot purse you.
     _Frisco_. I pray you, sir, what might I call you?
     _2nd Fairy_. My name is Cricket.
     _Frisco_. I would I were a chimney for your sake."

[4] The passion for alliteration in his contemporaries is satirised in
these lines of the prologue to _Pyramus and Thisbe_:--

    "Whereat with blade, with bloody blameful blade,
     He bravely broach'd his boiling bloody breast."



_Romeo and Juliet_, in its original form, must be presumed to date from
1591, or, in other words, from Shakespeare's twenty-seventh year.

The matter was old; it is to be found in a novel by Masuccio of
Salerno, published in 1476, which was probably made use of by Luigi
da Porta when, in 1530, he wrote his _Hystoria novellamente ritrovata
di dui nobili Amanti_. After him came Bandello, with his tale, _La
sfortunata morte di due infelicissimi amanti;_ and upon it an English
writer founded a play of _Romeo and Juliet_, which seems to have been
popular in its day (before 1562), but is now lost.

An English poet, Arthur Brooke, found in Bandello's _Novella_ the
matter for a poem: _The tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet,
written first in Italian by Bandell and now in Englishe by Ar. Br_.
This poem is composed in rhymed iambic verses of twelve and fourteen
syllables alternately, whose rhythm indeed jogs somewhat heavily along,
but is not unpleasant and not too monotonous. The method of narration
is very artless, loquacious, and diffuse; it resembles the narrative
style of a clever child, who describes with minute exactitude and
circumstantiality, going into every detail, and placing them all upon
the same plane.[1].

Shakespeare founded his play upon this poem, in which the two leading
characters, Friar Laurence, Mercutio, Tybalt, the Nurse, and the
Apothecary, were ready to his hand, in faint outlines. Romeo's fancy
for another woman immediately before he meets Juliet is also here, set
forth at length; and the action as a whole follows the same course as
in the tragedy.

The First Quarto of _Romeo and Juliet_ was published in 1597,
 with the following
title: _An excellent conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet. As it
hath been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely, by the right
Honourable the L. of Hunsdon his Seruants._ Lord Hunsdon died in July
1596, during his tenure of office as Lord Chamberlain; his successor in
the title was appointed to the office in April 1597; in the interim his
company of actors was not called the Lord Chamberlain's, but only Lord
Hunsdon's servants, and it must, therefore, have been at this time that
the play was first acted.

Many things, however, suggest a much earlier origin for it, and the
Nurse's allusion to the earthquake (i. 3) is of especial importance in
determining its date. She says--

    "'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years;"

and a little later--

    "And since that time it is eleven years."

There had been an earthquake in England in the year 1580. But we must
not, of course, take too literally the babble of a garrulous old

But even if Shakespeare began to work upon the theme in 1591, there is
no doubt that, according to his frequent practice, he went through the
play again, revised and remoulded it, somewhere between that date and
1599, when it appeared in the Second Quarto almost in the form in which
we now possess it. This Second Quarto has on its title-page the words,
"newly corrected, augmented and amended." Not until the fourth edition
does the author's name appear.

No one can doubt that Tycho Mommsen and that excellent Shakespeare
scholar Halliwell-Phillips are right in declaring the 1597 Quarto to be
a pirated edition. But it by no means follows that the complete text of
1599 already existed in 1597, and was merely carelessly abridged. In
view of those passages (such as the seventh scene of the second act)
where a whole long sequence of dialogue is omitted as superfluous, and
where the old text is replaced by one totally new and very much better,
this impression will not hold ground.

We have here, then, as elsewhere--but seldom so indubitably and
obviously as here--a play of Shakespeare's at two different stages of
its development.

In the first place, all that is merely sketched in the earlier edition
is elaborated in the later. Descriptive scenes and speeches, which
afford a background and foil to the action, are added. The street
skirmish in the beginning is much developed; the scene between the
servants and the scene with the musicians are added. The Nurse, too,
has become more loquacious and much more comic; Mercutio's wit has been
enriched by some of its most characteristic touches; old Capulet has
acquired a more lifelike physiognomy; the part of Friar Laurence, in
particular, has grown to almost twice its original dimensions; and we
feel in these amplifications that care on Shakespeare's part, which
appears in other places as well, to prepare, in the course of revision,
for what is to come, to lay its foundations and foreshadow it. The
Friar's reply, for example, to Romeo's vehement outburst of joy (ii. 6)
is an added touch:--

    "These violent delights have violent ends,
     And in their triumphs die: like fire and powder,
     Which, as they kiss, consume."

New, too, is his reflection on Juliet's lightness of foot:--

    "A lover may bestride the gossamer
     That idles in the wanton summer air,
     And yet not fall; so light is vanity."

With the exception of the first dozen lines, the Friar's splendidly
eloquent speech to Romeo (iii. 3) when, in his despair, he has drawn
his sword to kill himself, is almost entirely new. The added passage
begins thus:--

    "Why rail'st thou on thy birth, the heaven, and earth?
     Since birth, and heaven, and earth, all three do meet
     In thee at once, which thou at once wouldst lose.
     Fie, fie! thou sham'st thy shape, thy love, thy wit;
     Which, like an usurer, abound'st in all,
     And usest none in that true use indeed
     Which should bedeck thy shape, thy love, thy wit."

New, too, is the Friar's minute description to Juliet (iv. I) of the
action of the sleeping-draught, and his account of how she will be
borne to the tomb, which paves the way for the masterly passage (iv.
3), also added, where Juliet, with the potion in her hand, conquers her
terror of awakening in the grisly underground vault.

But the essential change lies in the additional earnestness, and
consequent beauty, with which the characters of the two lovers have
been endowed in the course of the revision. For example, Juliet's
speech to Romeo (ii. 2) is inserted:--

    "And yet I wish but for the thing I have.
     My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
     My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
     The more I have, for both are infinite."

In the passage (ii. 5) where Juliet is awaiting the return of the
Nurse with a message from Romeo, almost the whole expression of her
impatience is new; for example, the lines:--

    "Had she affections, and warm youthful blood,
     She'd be as swift in motion as a ball;
     My words would bandy her to my sweet love,
     And his to me:
     But old folks, many feign as they were dead;
     Unwieldy, slow, heavy and pale as lead."

In Juliet's celebrated soliloquy (iii. 2), where, with that mixture of
innocence and passion which forms the groundwork of her character, she
awaits Romeo's first evening visit, only the four opening lines, with
their mythological imagery, are found in the earlier text:--

      "_Jul_. Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
     Towards Phœbus' lodging: such a waggoner
     As Phæthon would whip you to the west,
     And bring in cloudy night immediately."

Not till he put his final touches to the work did Shakespeare find for
the young girl's love-longing that marvellous utterance which we all

    "Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night!
     That runaways' eyes may wink, and Romeo
     Leap to these arms, untalk'd-of, and unseen!
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
     Hood my unmann'd blood, bating in my cheeks,
     With thy black mantle; till strange love, grown bold,
     Think true love acted simple modesty.
     Come, night! come, Romeo! come, thou day in night!"

Almost the whole of the following scene between the Nurse and Juliet,
in which she learns of Tybalt's death and Romeo's banishment, is
likewise new. Here occur some of the most daring and passionate
expressions which Shakespeare has placed in Juliet's mouth:--

    "Some word there was, worser than Tybalt's death,
     That murder'd me. I would forget it fain.
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
     That 'banished,' that one word 'banished,'
     Hath slain ten thousand Tybalts. Tybalt's death
     Was woe enough, if it had ended there:
     Or,--if sour woe delights in fellowship,
     And needly will be rank'd with other griefs,--Why
     follow'd not, when she said--Tybalt's dead,
     Thy father, or thy mother, nay, or both,
     Which modern lamentation might have mov'd?
     But, with a rearward following Tybalt's death,
     'Romeo is banished!'--to speak that word,
     Is father, mother, Tybalt, Romeo, Juliet,
     All slain, all dead."

To the original version, on the other hand, belong not only the highly
indecorous witticisms and allusions with which Mercutio garnishes the
first scene of the second act, but also the majority of the speeches in
which the conceit-virus rages. The uncertainty of Shakespeare's taste,
even at the date of the revision, is apparent in the fact that he has
not only let all these speeches stand, but has interpolated not a few
of equal extravagance.

So little did it jar upon him that Romeo, in the original text, should
thus apostrophise love (i. I)--

    "O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
     Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
     Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
     Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!"

that in the course of revision he must needs place in Juliet's mouth
these quite analogous ejaculations (iii. 2):--

    "Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!
     Dove-feather'd raven! wolvish-ravening lamb!
     Despised substance of divinest show!"

Romeo in the old text indulges in this deplorably affected outburst (i.

    "When the devout religion of mine eye
     Maintains such falsehood, then turn tears to fires;
     And these, who, often drown'd, could never die,
     Transparent heretics, be burnt for liars."

In the old text, too, we find the barbarously tasteless speech in which
Romeo, in his despair, envies the fly which is free to kiss Juliet's
hand (iii. 2):--

                        "More validity,
     More honourable state, more courtship lives
     In carrion flies, than Romeo: they may seize
     On the white wonder of dear Juliet's hand,
     And steal immortal blessing from her lips;
     Who, even in pure and vestal modesty,
     Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin;
     But Romeo may not; he is banished.
     Flies may do this, but I from this must fly:
     They are free men, but I am banished."

It is astonishing to come upon these lapses of taste, which are not
surpassed by any of the absurdities in which the French _Précieuses
Ridicules_ of the next century delighted, side by side with outbursts
of the most exquisite lyric poetry, the most brilliant wit, and the
purest pathos to be found in the literature of any country or of any

_Romeo and Juliet_ is perhaps not such a flawless work of art as _A
Midsummer Night's Dream_. It is not so delicately, so absolutely
harmonious. But it is an achievement of much greater significance and
moment; it is the great and typical love-tragedy of the world.

It soars immeasurably above all later attempts to approach it. The
Danish critic who should mention such a tragedy as _Axel and Valborg_
in the same breath with this play would show more patriotism than
artistic sense. Beautiful as Oehlenschläger's drama is, the very nature
of its theme forbids us to compare it with Shakespeare's. It celebrates
constancy rather than love; it is a poem of tender emotions, of womanly
magnanimity and chivalrous virtue, at war with passion and malignity.
It is not, like _Romeo and Juliet_, at once the pæan and the dirge of

_Romeo and Juliet_ is the drama of youthful and impulsive
love-at-first-sight, so passionate that it bursts every barrier in its
path, so determined that it knows no middle way between happiness and
death, so strong that it throws the lovers into each other's arms with
scarcely a moment's pause, and, lastly, so ill-fated that death follows
straightway upon the ecstasy of union.

Here, more than anywhere else, has Shakespeare shown in all its
intensity the dual action of an absorbing love in filling the soul with
gladness to the point of intoxication, and, at the same time, with
despair at the very idea of parting.

While in _A Midsummer Night's Dream_ he dealt with the imaginative side
of love, its fantastic and illusive phases, he here regards it in its
more passionate aspect, as the source of rapture and of doom.

His material enabled Shakespeare to place his love-story in the setting
best fitted to throw into relief the beauty of the emotion, using as
his background a vendetta between two noble families, which has grown
from generation to generation through one sanguinary reprisal after
another, until it has gradually infected the whole town around them.
According to the traditions of their race, the lovers ought to hate
each other. The fact that, on the contrary, they are so passionately
drawn together in mutual ecstasy, bears witness from the outset to
the strength of an emotion which not only neutralises prejudice in
their own minds, but continues to assert itself in opposition to the
prejudices of their surroundings. This is no peaceful tenderness. It
flashes forth like lightning at their first meeting, and its violence,
under the hapless circumstances, hurries these young souls straight to
their tragic end.

Between the lovers and the haters Shakespeare has placed Friar
Laurence, one of his most delightful embodiments of reason. Such
figures are rare in his plays, as they are in life, but ought not to be
overlooked, as they have been, for example, by Taine in his somewhat
one-sided estimate of Shakespeare's greatness. Shakespeare knows and
understands passionlessness; but he always places it on the second
plane. It comes in very naturally here, in the person of one who is
obliged by his age and his calling to act as an onlooker in the drama
of life. Friar Laurence is full of goodness and natural piety, a monk
such as Spinoza or Goethe would have loved, an undogmatic sage, with
the astuteness and benevolent Jesuitism of an old confessor--brought
up on the milk and bread of philosophy, not on the fiery liquors of
religious fanaticism.

It is very characteristic of the freedom of spirit which Shakespeare
early acquired, in the sphere in which freedom was then hardest of
attainment, that this monk is drawn with so delicate a touch, without
the smallest ill-will towards conquered Catholicism, yet without the
smallest leaning towards Catholic doctrine--the emancipated creation
of an emancipated poet. The poet here rises immeasurably above his
original, Arthur Brooke, who, in his naïvely moralising "Address to
the Reader," makes the Catholic religion mainly responsible for the
impatient passion of Romeo and Juliet and the disasters which result
from it.[2]

It would be to misunderstand the whole spirit of the play if we were
to reproach Friar Laurence with the not only romantic but preposterous
nature of the means he adopts to help the lovers--the sleeping-potion
administered to Juliet. This Shakespeare simply accepted from his
original, with his usual indifference to external detail.

The poet has placed in the mouth of Friar Laurence a tranquil
life-philosophy, which he first expresses in general terms, and then
applies to the case of the lovers. He enters his cell with a basket
full of herbs from the garden. Some of them have curative properties,
others contain death-dealing juices; a plant which has a sweet and
salutary smell may be poisonous to the taste; for good and evil are but
two sides to the same thing (ii. 3):--

    "Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,
    And vice sometimes's by action dignified.
    Within the infant rind of this sweet flower
    Poison hath residence, and medicine power:
    For this, being smelt, with that part cheers each part;
    Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart.
    Two such opposed kings encamp them still
    In man as well as herbs,--grace, and rude will;
    And where the worser is predominant,
    Full soon the canker death eats up that plant."

When Romeo, immediately before the marriage, defies sorrow and death in
the speech beginning (ii. 6)--

    "Amen, Amen! but come what sorrow can,
     It cannot countervail the exchange of joy
     That one short minute gives me in her sight,"

Laurence seizes the opportunity to apply his view of life. He fears
this overflowing flood-tide of happiness, and expounds his philosophy
of the golden mean--that wisdom of old age which is summed up in the
cautious maxim, "Love me little, love me long." Here it is that he
utters the above-quoted words as to the violent ends ensuing on violent
delights, like the mutual destruction wrought by the kiss of fire and
gunpowder. It is remarkable how the idea of gunpowder and of explosions
seems to have haunted Shakespeare's mind while he was busied with the
fate of Romeo and Juliet. In the original sketch of Juliet's soliloquy
in the fifth scene of the second act we read:--

         "Loue's heralds should be thoughts,
     And runne more swift, than hastie powder fierd,
     Doth hurrie from the fearfull cannons mouth."

When Romeo draws his sword to kill himself, the Friar says (iii. 3):

    "Thy wit, that ornament to shape and love,
     Misshapen in the conduct of them both,
     Like powder in a skilless soldier's flask,
     Is set a-fire by thine own ignorance,
     And thou dismember'd with thine own defence."

Romeo himself, finally, in his despair over the false news of Juliet's
death, demands of the apothecary a poison so strong that

        "the trunk may be discharg'd of breath
     As violently, as the hasty powder fir'd,
     Doth hurry from the fatal cannon's womb."

In other words, these young creatures have gunpowder in their veins,
undamped as yet by the mists of life, and love is the fire which
kindles it. Their catastrophe is inevitable, and it was Shakespeare's
deliberate purpose so to represent it; but it is not deserved, in the
moral sense of the word: it is not a punishment for guilt. The tragedy
does not afford the smallest warranty for the pedantically moralising
interpretation devised for it by Gervinus and others.

_Romeo and Juliet_, as a drama, still represents in many ways the
Italianising tendency in Shakespeare's art. Not only the rhymed
couplets and stanzas and the abounding _concetti_ betray Italian
influence: the whole structure of the tragedy is very Romanesque. All
Romanesque, like all Greek art, produces its effect by dint of order,
which sometimes goes the length of actual symmetry. Purely English art
has more of the freedom of life itself; it breaks up symmetry in order
to attain a more delicate and unobtrusive harmony, much as an excellent
prose style shuns the symmetrical regularity of verse, and aims at a
subtler music of its own.

The Romanesque type is apparent in all Shakespeare's earlier plays. He
sometimes even goes beyond his Romanesque models. In _Love's Labour's
Lost_ the King with his three courtiers is opposed to the Princess
and her three ladies. In _The Two Gentlemen of Verona_ the faithful
Valentine has his counterpart in the faithless Proteus, and each of
them has his comic servant. In the _Menachmi_ of Plautus there is
only one slave; in _The Comedy of Errors_ the twin masters have twin
servants. In _A Midsummer Night's Dream_ the heroic couple (Theseus and
Hippolyta) have as a counterpart the fairy couple (Oberon and Titania);
and, further, there is a complex symmetry in the fortunes of the
Athenian lovers, Hermia being at first wooed by two men, while Helena
stands alone and deserted, whereas afterwards it is Hermia who is left
without a lover, while the two men centre their suit upon Helena.
Finally, there is a fifth couple in Pyramus and Thisbe, represented
by the artisans, who in burlesque and sportive fashion complete the
symmetrical design.

The French critics who have seen in Shakespeare the antithesis to the
Romanesque principle in art have overlooked these his beginnings.
Voltaire, after more careful study, need not have expressed himself
horrified; and if Taine, in his able essay, had gone somewhat less
summarily to work, he would not have found everywhere in Shakespeare
a fantasy and a technique entirely foreign to the genius of the Latin

The composition of _Romeo and Juliet_ is quite as symmetrical as that
of the comedies, indeed almost architectural in its equipoise. First,
two of Capulet's servants enter, then two of Montague's; then Benvolio,
of the Montague party; then Tybalt, of the Capulets; then citizens of
both parties; then old Capulet and his wife; then old Montague and his;
and finally, as the "keystone of the arch," the Prince, the central
figure around whom all the characters range themselves, and by whom the
fate of the lovers is to be determined.[3]

But it is not as a drama that _Romeo and Juliet_ has won all hearts.
Although, from a dramatic point of view, it stands high above _A
Midsummer Night's Dream_, yet it is in virtue of its exquisite lyrism
that this erotic masterpiece of Shakespeare's youth, like its fantastic
predecessor, has bewitched the world. It is from the lyrical portions
of the tragedy that the magic of romance proceeds, which sheds its
glamour and its glory over the whole.

The finest lyrical passages are these: Romeo's declaration of love
at the ball, Juliet's soliloquy before their bridal night, and their
parting at the dawn.

Gervinus, a conscientious and learned student, in spite of his
tendency to see in Shakespeare the moralist specially demanded by
the Germany of his own day, has followed Halpin in pointing out that
in all these three passages Shakespeare has adopted age-old lyric
forms. In the first he almost reproduces the Italian sonnet; in the
second he approaches, both in matter and form, to the bridal song,
the Epithalamium; in the third he takes as his model the mediæval
Dawn-Song, the _Tagelied_. But we may be sure that Shakespeare did not,
as the commentators think, deliberately choose these forms in order to
give perspective to the situation, but instinctively gave it a deep
and distant background in his effort to find the truest and largest
utterance for the emotion he was portraying.

The first colloquy between Romeo and Juliet (i. 5), being merely the
artistic idealisation of an ordinary passage of ballroom gallantry,
turns upon the prayer for a kiss, which the English fashion of the
day authorised each cavalier to demand of his lady, and is cast in a
sonnet form more or less directly derived from Petrarch. But whereas
Petrarch's style is simple and pure, here we have far-fetched turns
of speech, quibbling appeals, and expressions of admiration suggested
by the intellect rather than the feelings. The passage opens with a
quatrain of unspeakable tenderness:--

      "_Romeo_. If I profane with my unworthiest hand
    This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this;
    My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
    To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss."

And though the scene proceeds in the somewhat artificial style of the
later Italians--

      "_Romeo_. Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purg'd.
                                        _[Kissing her_.]
       _Juliet_. Then have my lips the sin that they have took.
       _Rom_. Sin from my lips? O trespass sweetly urg'd!
    Give me my sin again.
       _Jul_.                          You kiss by the book"

--yet so much soul is breathed into the Italian love-fencing that under
its somewhat affected grace we can distinguish the pulse-throbs of
awakening desire.

Juliet's soliloquy before the bridal night (iii. 2) lacks only rhyme to
be, in good set form, an epithalamium of the period. These compositions
spoke of Hymen and Cupid, and told how Hymen at first appears alone,
while Cupid lurks concealed, until, at the door of the bridal chamber,
the elder brother gives place to the younger.

It is noteworthy that the mythological opening lines, which belong to
the earlier form of the play, contain a clear reminiscence of a passage
in Marlowe's _King Edward II_. Marlowe's

   "Gallop apace, bright Phœbus, through the sky!"

reappears in Shakespeare in the form of

    "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
     Towards Phœbus' lodging!"

The rest of the soliloquy, as we have seen above, ranks among the
loveliest things Shakespeare ever wrote. One of its most delicately
daring expressions is imitated in Milton's _Comus_; and the difference
between the original and the imitation is curiously typical of the
difference between the poet of the Renaissance and the poet of
Puritanism. Juliet implores love-performing night to spread its close
curtain, that Romeo may leap unseen to her arms; for--

    "Lovers can see to do their amorous rites
     By their own beauties; or, if love be blind,
     It best agrees with night."

Milton annexes the thought and the turn of phrase; but the part played
by beauty in Shakespeare, Milton assigns to virtue:--

    "Virtue could see to do what virtue would
     By her own radiant light."

There is in Juliet's utterance of passion a healthful delicacy that
ennobles it; and it need not be said that the presence of this very
passion in Juliet's monologue renders it infinitely more chaste than
the old epithalamiums.

The exquisite dialogue in Juliet's chamber at daybreak (iii. 5) is a
variation on the motive of all the old Dawn-Songs. They always turn
upon the struggle in the breasts of two lovers who have secretly passed
the night together, between their reluctance to part and their dread of
discovery--a struggle which sets them debating whether the light they
see comes from the sun or the moon, and whether it is the nightingale
or the lark whose song they hear.

How gracefully is this motive here employed, and what added depth is
given to the situation by our knowledge that the banished Romeo's life
is forfeit if he lingers until day!--

       "_Juliet_. Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
    It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
    That pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear;
    Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree:
    Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.

       _Romeo_. It was the lark, the herald of the morn,
    No nightingale: look, love, what envious streaks
    Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east."

Romeo is a well-born youth, richly endowed by nature, enthusiastic and
reserved. At the beginning of the play we find him indifferent as to
the family feud, and absorbed in his hopeless fancy for a lady of the
hostile house, Capulet's fair niece, Rosaline, whom Mercutio describes
as a pale wench with black eyes. The Rosaline of _Love's Labour's Lost_
is also described by Biron, at the end of the third act, as

    "A whitely wanton with a velvet brow,
     With two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes,"

so that the two namesakes may not improbably have had a common model.

Shakespeare has retained this first passing fancy of Romeo's, which
he found in his sources, because he knew that the heart is never more
disposed to yield to a new love than when it is bleeding from an old
wound, and because this early feeling already shows Romeo as inclined
to idolatry and self-absorption. The young Italian, even before he
has seen the woman who is to be his fate, is reticent and melancholy,
full of tender longings and forebodings of evil. Then he is seized as
though with an overwhelming ecstasy at the first glimpse of Rosaline's

Romeo's character is less resolute than Juliet's; passion ravages it
more fiercely; he, as a youth, has less control over himself than
she as a maiden. But none the less is his whole nature elevated and
beautified by his relation to her. He finds expressions for his
love for Juliet quite different from those he had used in the case
of Rosaline. There occur, indeed, in the balcony scene, one or two
outbursts of the extravagance so natural to the rhetoric of young love.
The envious moon is sick and pale with grief because Juliet is so much
more fair than she; two of the fairest stars, having some business, do
entreat her eyes to twinkle in their spheres till they return. But side
by side with these conceits we find immortal lines, the most exquisite
words of love that ever were penned:--

    "With love's light wings did I o'erperch these walls;
     For stony limits cannot hold love out ..."


    "It is my soul that calls upon my name:
     How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night,
     Like softest music to attending ears!"

His every word is steeped in a sensuous-spiritual ecstasy.

Juliet has grown up in an unquiet and not too agreeable home. Her
testy, unreasonable father, though not devoid of kindliness, is yet
so brutal that he threatens to beat her and turn her out of doors if
she does not comply with his wishes; and her mother is a cold-hearted
woman, whose first thought, in her rage against Romeo, is to have him
put out of the way by means of poison. She has thus been left for the
most part to the care of the humorous and plain-spoken Nurse, one of
Shakespeare's most masterly figures (foretelling the Falstaff of a few
years later), whose babble has tended to prepare her mind for love in
its frankest manifestations.

Although a child in years, Juliet has the young Italian's mastery in
dissimulation. When her mother proposes to have Romeo poisoned, she
agrees without moving a muscle, and thus secures the promise that no
one but she shall be allowed to mix the potion. Her beauty must be
conceived as dazzling. I saw her one day in the streets of Rome, in all
the freshness of her fourteen years. My companion and I looked at each
other, and exclaimed with one consent, "Juliet!" Romeo's exclamation on
first beholding her--

    "Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear,"

conveys an instant impression of nobility, high mental gifts, and
unsullied purity, combined with the utmost ardour of temperament. In a
few days the child ripens into a heroine.

We make acquaintance with her at the ball in the palace of the
Capulets, and in the moonlit garden where the nightingale sings in
the pomegranate-tree--surroundings which harmonise as completely with
the whole spirit and tone of the play as the biting wintry air on
the terrace at Kronborg, filled with echoes of the King's carouse,
harmonises with the spirit and tone of _Hamlet._ But Juliet is no
mere creature of moonshine. She is practical. While Romeo wanders off
into high-strung raptures of vague enthusiasm, she, on the contrary,
promptly suggests a secret marriage, and promises on the instant to
send the Nurse to him to make a more definite arrangement. After the
killing of her kinsman, it is Romeo who despairs and she who takes up
the battle, daring all to escape the marriage with Paris. With a firm
hand and a steadfast heart she drains the sleeping-potion, and arms
herself with her dagger, so that, if all else fails, she may still be
mistress of her own person.

How shall we describe the love that indues her with all this strength?

Modern critics in Germany and Sweden are agreed in regarding it as
a purely sensual passion, by no means admirable--nay, essentially
reprehensible. They insist that there is a total absence of maidenly
modesty in Juliet's manner of feeling, thinking, speaking, and acting.
She does not really know Romeo, they say; is there anything more, then,
in this unbashful love than the attraction of mere bodily beauty?[4]

As if it were possible thus to analyse and discriminate! As if, in
such a case, body and soul were twain! As if a love which, from the
first moment, both lovers feel to be, for them, the arbiter of life and
death, were to be decried in favour of an affection founded on mutual
esteem--the variety which, it appears, "our age demands."

Ah no! these virtuous philosophers and worthy professors have no
feeling for the spirit of the Renaissance: they are altogether too
remote from it. The Renaissance means, among many other things, a new
birth of warm-blooded humanity and pagan innocence of imagination.

It is no love of the head that Juliet feels for Romeo, no admiring
affection that she reasons herself into; nor is it a sentimental
love, a riot of idealism apart from nature. But still less is it a
mere ferment of the senses. It is based upon instinct, the infallible
instinct of the child of nature, and it is in her, as in him, a
vibration of the whole being in longing and desire, a quivering of all
its chords, from the highest to the lowest, so intense that neither he
nor she can tell where body ends and soul begins.

Romeo and Juliet dominate the whole tragedy; but the two minor
creations of Mercutio and the Nurse are in no way inferior to them
in artistic value. In this play Shakespeare manifests for the first
time not only the full majesty but the many-sidedness of his genius,
the suppleness of style which is equal at once to the wit of Mercutio
and to the racy garrulity of the Nurse. _Titus Andronicus_ was as
monotonously sombre as a tragedy of Marlowe's. _Romeo and Juliet_ is
a perfect orb, embracing the twin hemispheres of the tragic and the
comic. It is a symphony so rich that the strain from fairyland in the
Queen Mab speech harmonises with the note of high comedy in Mercutio's
sparkling, cynical, and audacious sallies, with the wanton flutings
of farce in the Nurse's anecdotes, with the most rapturous descants
of passion in the antiphonies of Romeo and Juliet, and with the deep
organ-tones in the soliloquies and speeches of Friar Laurence.

How intense is the life of Romeo and Juliet in their environment! Hark
to the gay and yet warlike hubbub around them, the sport and merriment,
the high words and the ring of steel in the streets of Verona! Hark
to the Nurse's strident laughter, old Capulet's jesting and chiding,
the low tones of the Friar, and the irrepressible rattle of Mercutio's
wit! Feel the magic of the whole atmosphere in which they are plunged,
these embodiments of tumultuous youth, living and dying in love, in
magnanimity, in passion, in despair, under a glowing Southern sky,
softening into moonlight nights of sultry fragrance--and realise
that Shakespeare had at this point completed the first stage of his
triumphal progress!

[1] Here is a specimen. Romeo says to Juliet--

    "Since, lady, that you like to honor me so much
     As to accept me for your spouse, I yeld my selfe for such.
     In true witness whereof, because I must depart,
     Till that my deed do prove my woord, I leave in pawne my hart.
     Tomorrow eke bestimes, before the sunne arise,
     To Fryer Lawrence will I wende, to learne his sage advise."

[2] "A coople of vnfortunate louers, thralling themselves to
vnhonest desire, neglecting the anthoritie and aduise of parents and
frendes, conferring their principall counsels with dronken gossyppes
and superstitious friers (the naturally fitte instrumentes of
unchastitie), attemptyng all aduentures of peryll for thattaynyng of
their wished lust, vsyng auriculer confession (the key of whoredom and

[3] See Dowden: _Shakspere: His Mind and Art_, p. 60.

[4] Edward von Hartmann, from the lofty standpoint of German
morality, has launched a diatribe against Juliet. He asserts her
immeasurable moral inferiority to the typical German maiden, both of
poetry and of real life. Schiller's Thekla has undeniably less warm
blood in her veins.

A Swedish professor, Henrik Schück, in an able work on Shakespeare,
says of Juliet: "On examining into the nature of the love to which she
owes all this strength, the unprejudiced reader cannot but recognise
in it a purely sensual passion.... A few words from the lips of this
well-favoured youth are sufficient to awaken in its fullest strength
the slumbering desire in her breast. But this love possesses no
psychical basis; it is not founded on any harmony of souls. They
scarcely know each other.... Can their love, then, be anything more
than the merely sensual passion aroused by the contemplation of a
beautiful body? ... So much I say with confidence, that the woman who,
inaccessible to the spiritual element in love, lets herself be carried
away on this first meeting by the joy of the senses ... that woman is
ignorant of the love which our age demands."



In one of his sonnets Robert Browning says that Shakespeare's name,
like the Hebrew name of God, ought never to be taken in vain. A timely
monition to an age which has seen this great name besmirched by
American and European imbecility!

It is well known that in recent days a troop of less than halfeducated
people have put forth the doctrine that Shakespeare lent his name to a
body of poetry with which he had really nothing to do--which he could
not have understood, much less have written. Literary criticism is an
instrument which, like all delicate tools, must be handled carefully,
and only by those who have a vocation for it. Here it has fallen into
the hands of raw Americans and fanatical women. Feminine criticism on
the one hand, with its lack of artistic nerve, and Americanism on the
other hand, with its lack of spiritual delicacy, have declared war
to the knife against Shakespeare's personality, and have within the
last few years found a considerable number of adherents. We have here
another proof, if any were needed, that the judgment of the multitude,
in questions of art, is a negligible quantity.[1]

Before the middle of this century, it had occurred to no human being
to doubt that--trifling exceptions apart--the works attributed to
Shakespeare were actually written by him. It has been reserved for
the last forty years to see an ever-increasing stream of obloquy and
contempt directed against what had hitherto been the most honoured name
in modern literature.

At first the attack upon Shakespeare's memory was not so dogmatic as
it has since become. In 1848 an American, Hart by name, gave utterance
to some general doubts as to the origin of the plays. Then, in August
1852, there appeared in _Chambers's Edinburgh Journal_ an anonymous
article, the author of which declared his conviction that William
Shakespeare, uneducated as he was, must have hired a poet, some
penniless famished Chatterton, who was willing to sell him his genius,
and let him take to himself the credit for its creations. We see, he
says, that his plays steadily improve as the series proceeds, until
suddenly Shakespeare leaves London with a fortune, and the series comes
to an abrupt end. In the case of so strenuously progressive a genius,
can we account for this otherwise than by supposing that the poet had
died, while his employer survived him?

This is the first definite expression of the fancy that Shakespeare
was only a man of straw who had arrogated to himself the renown of an
unknown immortal.

In 1856 a Mr. William Smith issued a privately-printed letter to Lord
Ellesmere, in which he puts forth the opinion that William Shakespeare
was, by reason of his birth, his upbringing, and his lack of culture,
incapable of writing the plays attributed to him. They must have been
the work of a man educated to the highest point by study, travel,
knowledge of books and men--a man like Francis Bacon, the greatest
Englishman of his time. Bacon had kept his authorship secret, because
to have avowed it would have been to sacrifice his position both in
his profession and in Parliament; but he saw in these plays a means of
strengthening his economic position, and he used the actor Shakespeare
as a man of straw. Smith maintains that it was Bacon who, after having
fallen into disgrace in 1621, published the First Folio edition of the
plays in 1623.

If there were no other objection to this far-fetched theory, we cannot
but remark that Bacon was scrupulously careful as to the form in which
his works appeared, rewrote them over and over again, and corrected
them so carefully that scarcely a single error of the press is to be
found in his books. Can he have been responsible for the publication of
these thirty-six plays, which swarm with misreadings and contain about
twenty thousand errors of the press!

The delusion did not take serious shape until, in the same year, a Miss
Delia Bacon put forward the same theory in American magazines: her
namesake Bacon, and not Shakespeare, was the author of the renowned
dramas. In the following year she published a quite unreadable book on
the subject, of nearly 600 pages. And close upon her heels followed
her disciple, Judge Nathaniel Holmes, also an American, with a book
of no fewer than 696 pages, full of denunciations of the ignorant
vagabond William Shakespeare, who, though he could scarcely write his
own name and knew no other ambition than that of money-grubbing, had
appropriated half the renown of the great Bacon.

The assumption is always the same: Shakespeare, born in a provincial
town, of illiterate parents, his father being, among other things, a
butcher, was an ignorant boor, a low fellow, a "butcher-boy," as his
assailants currently call him. In Holmes, as in later writers, the
main method of proving Bacon's authorship of the Shakespearian plays
is to bring together passages of somewhat similar import in Bacon and
Shakespeare, in total disregard of context, form, or spirit.

Miss Delia Bacon literally dedicated her life to her attack
upon Shakespeare. She saw in his works, not poetry, but a great
philosophico-political system, and maintained that the proof of her
doctrine would be found deposited in Shakespeare's grave. She had
discovered in Bacon's letters the key to a cipher which would clear up
everything; but unfortunately she became insane before she had imparted
this key to the world.[2] She went to Stratford, obtained permission to
have the grave opened, hovered about it day and night, but at last left
it undisturbed, as it did not appear to her large enough to contain the
posthumous papers of the Elizabeth Club. She did not, however, expect
to find in the grave the original manuscripts of Shakespeare's plays.
No! she exclaims in her article on "William Shakespeare and his Plays"
_(Putnam's Magazine_, January 1856), Lord Leicester's groom, of course,
cared nothing for them, but only for the profit to be made out of them.
What was to prevent him from lighting the fire with them? "He had those
manuscripts!... He had the original _Hamlet_ with its last finish; he
had the original _Lear_ with his own final readings; he had them all,
as they came from the gods.... And he left us to wear out our youth and
squander our lifetime in poring over and setting right the old garbled
copies of the playhouse!... Traitor and miscreant! what did you do with
them? You have skulked this question long enough. You will have to
account for them.... The awakening ages will put you on the stand, and
you will not leave it until you answer the question, 'What did you do
with them?'"

It is hard to be the greatest dramatic genius in the world's history,
and then, two centuries and a half after your death, to be called to
account in such a tone as this for the fact that your manuscripts
have disappeared. As regards purely external evidence, it is worth
mentioning that the greatest student of Bacon's works, his editor and
biographer, James Spedding, being challenged by Holmes to give his
opinion, made a statement which begins thus:--"I have read your book
on the authorship of Shakespeare faithfully to the end, and ... I
must declare myself not only unconvinced but undisturbed. To ask me
to believe that 'Bacon was the author of these dramas' is like asking
me to believe that Lord Brougham was the author not only of Dickens'
novels, but of Thackeray's also, and of Tennyson's poems besides.
I deny," he concludes, "that a _primâ facie_ case is made out for
questioning Shakespeare's title. But if there were any reason for
supposing that somebody else was the real author, I think I am in a
condition to say that, whoever it was, it was not Bacon" (_Reviews and
Discussions_, 1879, pp. 369-374).

What most amazes a critical reader of the Baconian impertinences
is the fact that all the different arguments for the impossibility
of attributing these plays to Shakespeare are founded upon the
universality of knowledge and insight displayed in them, which must
have been unattainable, it is urged, to a man of Shakespeare's
imperfect scholastic training. Thus all that these detractors bring
forward to Shakespeare's dishonour serves, rightly considered, to show
in a clearer light the wealth of his genius.

On the other hand, the arguments adduced in support of Bacon's
authorship are so ridiculous as almost to elude criticism. Opponents
of the doctrine have dwelt upon such details as the philistinism of
Bacon's essays "Of Love," "Of Marriage and Single Life," contrasted
with the depth and the wit of Shakesperian utterances on these
subjects; or they have cited certain lines from the miserable
translations of seven Hebrew psalms which Bacon produced in the last
years of his life, contrasting them with passages from _Rickard III_.
and _Hamlet_, in which Shakespeare has dealt with exactly similar
ideas--the harvest that follows from a seed-time of tears, and the
leaping to light of secret crimes. But it is a waste of time to go into
details. Any one who has read even a few of Bacon's essays or a stanza
or two of his verse translations, and who can discover in them any
trace of Shakespeare's style in prose or verse, is no more fitted to
have a voice on such questions than an inland bumpkin is fitted to lay
down the law upon navigation.

Even putting aside the conjecture with regard to Bacon, and looking
merely at the theory that Shakespeare did not write the plays, we
cannot but find it unrivalled in its ineptitude. How can we conceive
that not only contemporaries in general, but those with whom
Shakespeare was in daily intercourse--the players to whom he gave these
dramas for production, who received his instructions about them, who
saw his manuscripts and have described them to us (in the foreword to
the First Folio); the dramatists who were constantly with him, his
rivals and afterwards his comrades, like Drayton and Ben Jonson; the
people who discussed his works with him in the theatre, or, over the
evening glass, debated with him concerning his art; and, finally, the
young noblemen whom his genius attracted and who became his patrons
and afterwards his friends--how can we conceive that none of these,
no single one, should ever have observed that he was not the man he
pretended to be, and that he did not even understand the works he
fraudulently declared to be his! How can we conceive that none of all
this intelligent and critical circle should ever have discovered the
yawning gulf which separated his ordinary thought and speech from the
thought and style of his alleged works!

In sum, then, the only evidence against Shakespeare lies in the fact
that his works give proof of a too many-sided knowledge and insight!

The knowledge of English law which Shakespeare displays is so
surprising as to have led to the belief that he must for some time in
his youth have been a clerk in an attorney's office--a theory which was
thought to be supported by the belief, now discredited, that an attack
by the satirist Thomas Nash upon lawyers who had deserted the law for
poetry was directed against him.[3]

Shakespeare shows a quite unusual fondness for the use of legal
expressions. He knows to a nicety the technicalities of the bar, the
formulas of the bench. While most English writers of his period are
guilty of frequent blunders as to the laws of marriage and inheritance,
lawyers of a later date have not succeeded in finding in Shakespeare's
references to the law a single error or deficiency. Lord Campbell,
an eminent lawyer, has written a book on _Shakespeare's Legal
Acquirements_. And it was not through the lawsuits of Shakespeare's
riper years that he attained this knowledge. It is to be found even in
his earliest works. It appears, quaintly enough, in the mouth of the
goddess in _Venus and Adonis_ (verse 86, etc.), and it obtrudes itself
in Sonnet xlvi., with its somewhat tasteless and wire-drawn description
of a formal lawsuit between the eye and the heart. It is characteristic
that his knowledge does not extend to the laws of foreign countries;
otherwise we should scarcely find _Measure for Measure_ founded upon
such an impossible state of the law as that which is described as
obtaining in Vienna. Shakespeare's accurate knowledge begins and ends
with what comes within the sphere of his personal observation.

He seems equally at home in all departments of human life. If we might
conclude from his knowledge of law that he had been a lawyer, we might
no less confidently infer from his knowledge of typography that he had
been a printer's devil. An English printer named Blades has written
an instructive book, _Shakespeare and Typography_, to show that if
the poet had passed his whole life in a printing-office he could not
have been more familiar with the many peculiarities of nomenclature
belonging to the handicraft. Bishop Charles Wordsworth has written a
highly esteemed, very pious, but, I regret to say, quite unreadable
work, _Shakespeare's Knowledge and Use of the Bible_, in which he
makes out that the poet was impregnated with the Biblical spirit, and
possessed a unique acquaintance with Biblical forms of expression.

Shakespeare's knowledge of nature is not simply such as can be
acquired by any one who passes his childhood and youth in the open
air and in the country. But even of this sort of knowledge he has an
astonishing store. Whole books have been written as to his familiarity
with insect life alone (R. Patterson: _The Natural History of the
Insects mentioned by Shakespeare_; London, 1841), and his knowledge
of the characteristics of the larger animals and birds seems to be
inexhaustible. Appleton Morgan, one of the commentators of the Baconian
theory, adduces in _The Shakespearean Myth_ a whole series of examples.

In _Much Ado_ (v. 2) Benedick says to Margaret--

    "Thy wit is as quick as the greyhound's mouth; it catches."

The greyhound alone among dogs can seize its prey while in full career.

In _As You Like It_ (i. 2) Celia says--

    "Here comes Monsieur Le Beau.
      _Rosalind_. With his mouth full of news.
      _Celia_. Which he will put on us as pigeons feed their young."

Pigeons have a way, peculiar to themselves, of passing food down the
throats of their young.

In _Twelfth Night_ (iii. I) the Clown says to Viola--

    "Fools are as like husbands, as pilchards are to
    herrings,--the husband's the bigger."

The pilchard is a fish of the herring family, which is caught in the
Channel; it is longer and has larger scales.

In the same play (ii. 5) Maria says of Malvolio--

    "Here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling."

When a trout is tickled on the sides or the belly it becomes so
stupefied that it lets itself be caught in the hand.

In _Much Ado_ (iii. I) Hero says--

    "For look where Beatrice, like a lapwing, runs
     Close by the ground, to hear our conference."

The lapwing, which runs very swiftly, bends its neck towards the ground
in running, in order to escape observation.

In _King Lear_ (i. 4) the Fool says--

    "The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long.
     That it had its head bit off by its young."

In England, it is in the hedge-sparrow's nest that the cuckoo lays its

In _All's Well that Ends Well_ (ii. 5) Lafeu says--

    "I took this lark for a bunting."

The English bunting is a bird of the same colour and appearance as the
lark, but it does not sing so well.

It would be easy to show that Shakespeare was as familiar with the
characteristics of plants as with those of animals. Strangely enough,
people have thought this knowledge of nature so improbable in a great
poet, that in order to explain it they have jumped at the conclusion
that the author must have been a man of science as well.

More comprehensible is the astonishment which has been awakened by
Shakespeare's insight in other domains of nature not lying so open to
immediate observation. His medical knowledge early attracted attention.
In 1860 a Doctor Bucknill devoted a whole book to the subject, in which
he goes so far as to attribute to the poet the most advanced knowledge
of our own time, or, at any rate, of the 'sixties, in this department.
Shakespeare's representations of madness surpass all those of other
poets. Alienists are full of admiration for the accuracy of the
symptoms in Lear and Ophelia. Nay, more, Shakespeare appears to have
divined the more intelligent modern treatment of the insane, as opposed
to the cruelty prevalent in his own time and long after. He even had
some notions of what we in our days call medical jurisprudence; he was
familiar with the symptoms of violent death in contradistinction to
death from natural causes. Warwick says in the second part of _Henry
VI_. (iii. 2):--

    "See, how the blood is settled in his face.
     Oft have I seen a timely-parted ghost,
     Of ashy semblance, meagre, pale, and bloodless,
     Being all descended to the labouring heart."

These lines occur in the oldest text. In the later text, undoubtedly
the result of Shakespeare's revision, we read:--

    "But see, his face is black, and full of blood;
     His eye-balls further out than when he liv'd,
     Staring full ghastly like a strangled man:
     His hair uprear'd, his nostrils stretch'd with struggling;
     His hands abroad display'd, as one that grasp'd
     And tugg'd for life, and was by strength subdued.
     Look, on the sheets, his hair, you see, is sticking;
     His well-proportion'd beard made rough and rugged,
     Like to the summer's corn by tempest lodg'd.
     It cannot be but he was murder'd here;
     The least of all these signs were probable."

Shakespeare seems, in certain instances, to be not only abreast of the
natural science of his time, but in advance of it. People have had
recourse to the Baconian theory in order to explain the surprising fact
that although Harvey, who is commonly represented as the discoverer
of the circulation of the blood, did not announce his discovery until
1619, and published his book upon it so late as 1628, yet Shakespeare,
who, as we know, died in 1616, in many passages of his plays alludes
to the blood as circulating through the body. Thus, for example, in
_Julius Cæsar_ (ii. I), Brutus says to Portia--

    "You are my true and honourable wife;
     As dear to me as are the ruddy drops
     That visit my sad heart."

Again, in _Coriolanus_ (i. I) Menenius makes the belly say of its food--

    "I send it through the rivers of your blood,
     Even to the court, the heart, to the seat o' the brain;
     And, through the cranks and offices of man,
     The strongest nerves, and small inferior veins,
     From me receive that natural competency
     Whereby they live."

But apart from the fact that the highly gifted and unhappy Servetus,
whom Calvin burned, had, between 1530 and 1540, made the discovery and
lectured upon it, all men of culture in England knew very well before
Harvey's time that the blood flowed, even that it circulated, and,
more particularly, that it was driven from the heart to the different
limbs and organs; only, it was generally conceived that the blood
passed from the heart through the veins, and not, as is actually the
case, through the arteries. And there is nothing in the seventy-odd
places in Shakespeare where the circulation of the blood is mentioned
to show that he possessed this ultimate insight, although his general
understanding of these questions bears witness to his high culture.

Another point which some people have held inexplicable, except by the
Baconian theory, may be stated thus: Although the law of gravitation
was first discovered by Newton, who was born in 1642, or fully
twenty-six years after Shakespeare's death, and although the general
conception of gravitation towards the centre of the earth had been
unknown before Kepler, who discovered his third law of the mechanism of
the heavenly bodies two years after Shakespeare's death, nevertheless
in _Troilus and Cressida_ (iv. 2) the heroine thus expresses herself:--

                   "Time, force, and death,
     Do to this body what extremes you can,
     But the strong base and building of my love
     Is as the very centre of the earth,
     Drawing all things to it."

So carelessly does Shakespeare throw out such an extraordinary
divination. His achievement in thus, as it were, rivalling Newton
may seem in a certain sense even more extraordinary than Goethe's
botanical and osteological discoveries; for Goethe had enjoyed a very
different education from his, and had, moreover, all desirable leisure
for scientific research. But Newton cannot rightly be said to have
discovered the law of gravitation; he only applied it to the movements
of the heavenly bodies. Even Aristotle had defined weight as "the
striving of heavy bodies towards the centre of the earth." Among men
of classical culture in England in Shakespeare's time, the knowledge
that the centre point of the earth attracts everything to it was
quite common. The passage cited only affords an additional proof that
several of the men whose society Shakespeare frequented were among the
most highly-developed intellects of the period. That his astronomical
knowledge was not, on the whole, in advance of his time is proved by
the expression, "the glorious planet Sol" in _Troilus and Cressida_ (i.
3). He never got beyond the Ptolemaic system.

Another confirmation of the theory that Bacon must have written
Shakespeare's plays has been found in the fact that the poet clearly
had some conception of geology; whereas geology, as a science, owes its
origin to Niels Steno, who was born in 1638, twenty-two years after
Shakespeare's death. In the second part of _Henry IV_. (iii. I), King
Henry says:--

    "O God! that one might read the book of fate,
     And see the revolution of the times
     Make mountains level, and the continent,
     Weary of solid firmness, melt itself
     Into the sea! and, other times, to see
     The beachy girdle of the ocean
     Too wide for Neptune's hips; how chances mock,
     And changes fill the cup of alteration
     With divers liquors!"

The purport of this passage is simply to show that in nature, as in
human life, the law of transformation reigns; but no doubt it is
implied that the history of the earth can be read in the earth itself,
and that changes occur through upheavals and depressions. It looks like
a forecast of the doctrine of Neptunism.

Here, again, people have gone to extremities in order artificially to
enhance the impression made by the poet's brilliant divination. It
was Steno who first systematised geological conceptions; but he was
by no means the first to hold that the earth had been formed little
by little, and that it was therefore possible to trace in the record
of the rocks the course of the earth's development. His chief service
lay in directing attention to stratification, as affording the best
evidence of the processes which have fashioned the crust of the globe.

It is, no doubt, a sign of Shakespeare's many-sided genius that here,
too, he anticipates the scientific vision of later times; but there
is nothing in these lines that presupposes any special or technical
knowledge. Here is an analogous case: In Michael Angelo's picture
of the creation of Adam, where God wakens the first man to life by
touching the figure's outstretched finger-tip with his own, we seem
to see a clear divination of the electric spark. Yet the induction of
electricity was not known until the eighteenth century, and Michael
Angelo could not possibly have any scientific understanding of its

Shakespeare's knowledge was not of a scientific cast. He learned from
men and from books with the rapidity of genius. Not, we may be sure,
without energetic effort, for nothing can be had for nothing; but the
effort of acquisition must have come easy to him, and must have escaped
the observation of all around him. There was no time in his life for
patient research; he had to devote the best part of his days to the
theatre, to uneducated and unconsidered players, to entertainments, to
the tavern. We may fancy that he must have had himself in mind when,
in the introductory scene to _Henry V_., he makes the Archbishop of
Canterbury thus describe his hero, the young king:--

    "Hear him but reason in divinity,
     And, all-admiring, with an inward wish
     You would desire the king were made a prelate:
     Hear him debate of commonwealth affairs,

     You would say, it hath been all-in-all his study:
     List his discourse of war, and you shall hear
     A fearful battle render'd you in music:
     Turn him to any cause of policy,
     The Gordian knot of it he will unloose,
     Familiar as his garter; that, when he speaks,
     The air, a charter'd libertine, is still,
     And the mute wonder lurketh in men's ears,
     To steal his sweet and honey'd sentences;
     So that the art and practic part of life
     Must be the mistress to this theoric:
     Which is a wonder, how his grace should glean it,
     Since his addiction was to courses vain;
     His companies unletter'd, rude, and shallow;
     His hours fill'd up with riots, banquets, sports;
     And never noted in him any study,
     Any retirement, any sequestration
     From open haunts and popularity."

To this the Bishop of Ely answers very sagely, "The strawberry grows
underneath the nettle." We cannot but conceive, however, that, by a
beneficent provision of destiny, Shakespeare's genius found in the
highest culture of his day precisely the nourishment it required.

[1] According to W. H. Wyman's _Bibliography of the
Bacon-Shakespeare Controversy_ (Cincinnati, 1884), there had been
published up to that date 255 books, pamphlets, and essays as to
the authorship of Shakespeare's plays. In America 161 treatises of
considerable bulk had been devoted to the question, and in England 69.
Of these, 73 were decidedly opposed to Shakespeare's authorship, while
65 left the question undetermined. In other words, out of 161 books,
only 23 were in favour of Shakespeare. And since then the proportion
has no doubt remained much the same.

[2] One of her many followers, an American lawyer, Ignatius
Donelly formerly Member of Congress and Senator from Minnesota, claims
to have found the key. His crazy book is called _The Great Cryptogram:
Francis Bacon's Cipher in the so-called Shakespeare Plays_. Donelly
claims that among Bacon's papers he has discovered a cipher which
enables him to extract here and there from the First Folio letters
which form words and phrases distinctly stating that Bacon is the
author of the dramas, and how Bacon embodied in the First Folio a
cipher-confession of his authorship. It sets forth how Bacon embodied
in the First Folio a cipher-confession of his authorship. Apart from
the general madness of such a proceeding, Bacon must thus have made
the editors, Heminge and Condell, his accomplices in his meaningless
deception, and must even have induced Ben Jonson to confirm it by his
enthusiastic introductory poem.

[3] The passage runs thus: "It is a common practice now a
days among a sort of shifting companions that run through every art
and thrive by none, to leave the trade of _noverint_, whereto they
were born, and busy themselves with the endeavours of art, that could
scarcely latinize their neck-verse if they should have need; yet
English Seneca, read by candlelight, yields many good sentences, as
_Blood is a beggar_, and so forth; and if you entreat him fair in
a frosty morning, he will afford you whole _Hamlets_, I should say
handfuls, of tragical speeches." Although this passage seems at first
sight an evident gibe at Shakespeare, it has in reality no reference to
him, since _An Epistle to the Gentlemen Students of both Universities_,
by Thomas Nash, although not printed till 1589, can be proved to have
been written as early as 1587, many years before Shakespeare so much as
thought of _Hamlet_.



On swampy ground beside the Thames lay the theatres, of which the
largest were wooden sheds, only half thatched with rushes, with a
trench around them and a flagstaff on the roof. After the middle of
the fifteen-seventies, when the first was built, they shot up rapidly,
and in the early years of the new century theatre-building took such
a start that, as we learn from Prynne's _Histriomastix_, there were
in 1633 no fewer than nineteen permanent theatres in London, a number
which no modern town of 300,000 inhabitants can equal. These figures
show how keen and how widespread was the interest in the drama.

More than a hundred years before the first theatre was built there
had been professional actors in England. Their calling had developed
from that of the travelling jugglers, who varied their acrobatic
performances with "plays." The earliest scenic representations had
been given by the Church, and the Guilds had inherited the tradition.
Priests and choir-boys were the first actors of the Middle Ages, and
after them came the mummers of the Guilds. But none of these performers
acted except at periodical festivals; none of them were professional
actors. From the days of Henry the Sixth onwards, however, members of
the nobility began to entertain companies of actors, and Henry VII. and
Henry VIII. had their own private comedians. A "Master of the Revels"
was appointed to superintend the musical and dramatic entertainments at
court. About the middle of the sixteenth century, Parliament begins to
keep an eye upon theatrical representations. It forbids the performance
of anything conflicting with the doctrines of the Church, and prohibits
miracle-plays, but does not object to songs or plays designed to
attack vice and represent virtue. In other words, dramatic art escapes
condemnation when it is emphatically moral, and thrives best when it
keeps to purely secular matters.

Under Mary, religious plays once more came into honour. Elizabeth began
by strictly prohibiting all dramatic representations, but sanctioned
them again in 1560, subjecting them, however, to a censorship. This
measure was dictated at least as much by political as by religious
motives. The censorship must, however, have been exercised somewhat
loosely, since a statute of 1572 declared that all actors who were not
attached to the service of a nobleman should be treated as "rogues
and vagabonds," or, in other words, might be whipped out of any
town in which they appeared. This decree, of course, compelled all
actors to enter the service of one or other great man, and we see
that the aristocracy felt bound to protect their art. A large number
of the first men in the kingdom, during Elizabeth's reign, had each
his company of actors. The player received from the nobleman whose
"servant" he was a cloak bearing the arms of the family. On the other
hand, he received no salary, but was simply paid for each performance
given before his patron. We must thus conceive Shakespeare as bearing
on his cloak the arms of Leicester, and afterwards of the Lord
Chamberlain, until about his fortieth year. From 1604 onwards, when the
company was promoted by James I. to be "His Majesty's Servants," it was
the Royal arms that he wore. One is tempted to say that he exchanged a
livery for a uniform.

In 1574 Elizabeth had given permission to Lord Leicester's Servants
to give scenic representations of all sorts for the delectation of
herself and her lieges, both in London and anywhere else in England.
But neither in London nor in other towns did the local authorities
recognise this patent, and the hostile attitude of the Corporation
of London forced the players to erect their theatres outside its
jurisdiction. For if they played in the City itself, as had been
the custom, either in the great halls of the Guilds or in the open
inn-yards, they had to obtain the Lord Mayor's sanction for each
individual performance, and to hand over half their receipts to the
City treasury.

It was with anything but satisfaction that the peaceable burgesses of
London saw a playhouse rise in the neighbourhood of their homes. The
theatre brought in its train a loose, frivolous, and rowdy population.
Around the playhouses, at the hours of performance, the narrow streets
of that period became so crowded that business suffered in the shops,
processions and funerals were obstructed, and perpetual causes of
complaint arose. Houses of ill-fame, moreover, always clustered round
a theatre; and, although the performances took place by day, there was
always the danger of fire inseparable from theatres, and especially
from wooden erections with thatched roofs.

But the chief opposition to the theatres did not come from the mere
Philistinism of the industrious middle-class, but from the fanatical
Puritanism which was now rearing its head. It is the Puritans who
have killed the old Merry England, abolishing its May-games, its
popular dances, its numerous rustic sports. They could not look on
with equanimity, and see the drama, which had once been a spiritual
institution, become a platform for mere worldliness.

Their chief accusation against the dramatic poets was that they lied.
For intelligences of this order, there was no difference between a
fiction and a falsehood. The players they attacked on the ground that
when they played female parts they appeared in women's attire, which
was expressly forbidden in the Bible (Deut. xxii. 5) as an abomination
to the Lord. They saw in this masquerading in the guise of the other
sex a symptom of unnatural and degrading vices. They not only despised
the actors as jugglers and loathed them as persons living beyond the
pale of respectability, but they further accused them of cultivating in
private all the vices which they were in the habit of portraying on the

There can be no doubt that from a very early period the influence of
Puritanism made itself felt in the attitude of the City authorities.

It can easily be understood, then, that the leaders of the new
theatrical industry tried to escape from their jurisdiction; and
this they did by choosing sites outside the City, and yet as near
its boundaries as possible. To the south of the Thames lay a stretch
of land not belonging to the City but to the Bishop of Winchester, a
spiritual magnate who tried to make his territory as profitable as he
could without inquiring too closely as to the uses to which it was put.
Here lay the Bear Garden; here were numerous houses of ill-fame; and
here arose the different theatres, the "Hope," the "Swan," the "Rose,"
&c. When James Burbage's successors, in the year 1598, found themselves
compelled, after a lawsuit, to pull down the building known as the
Theatre (in Bishopsgate Street), they employed the material to erect
on this artistic no-man's-land the celebrated Globe Theatre, which was
opened in 1599.

The theatres were of two classes, one known as private, the other as
public, a distinction which was at one time rather obscure, since the
difference was clearly not that admission to the private theatres took
place by invitation, and to the public ones by payment. A nobleman
could hire any theatre, whether private or public, and engage the
company to give a performance for him and his invited guests. The real
distinction was, that the private theatres were designed on the model
of the Guildhalls or Town Halls, in which, before the period of special
buildings, representations had been given; while the public theatres
were constructed on the lines of the inn-yard. The private theatres,
then, were fully roofed, and, being the more fashionable, had seats
in every part of the house, including the parterre, here known as the
pit. Being roofed, they could be used not only in the daytime, but by
artificial light. In the public theatres, on the other hand, as in
ancient Greece and to this day in the Tyrol, only the stage was roofed,
the auditorium being open to the sky, so that performances could be
given only by daylight. But in Greece the air is pure, the climate
mild; in the Tyrol performances take place only on a few summer days.
Here plays were acted while rain and snow fell upon the spectators,
fogs enwrapped them, and the wind plucked at their garments. As the
prototype of these theatres was the old inn-yard, in which some of
the spectators stood, while others were seated in the open galleries
running all round it, the parterre, which retained the name of _yard_,
was here devoted to the poorest and roughest of the public, who stood
throughout the performance, while the galleries (_scaffolds_), running
along the walls in two or three tiers, offered seats to wealthier
playgoers of both sexes.

The days of performance at these theatres were announced by the
hoisting of a flag on the roof. The time of beginning was three o'clock
punctually, and the performance went straight on, uninterrupted by
entr'actes. It lasted, as a rule, for only two hours or two hours and a

Close to the Globe Theatre lay the Bear Garden, the rank smell from
which greeted the nostrils, even before it came in sight. The famous
bear Sackerson, who is mentioned in _The Merry Wives of Windsor_, now
and then broke his chain and put female theatre-goers shrieking to

Tickets there were none. A penny was the price of admission to
standing-room in the yard; and those who wanted better places put their
money in a box held out to them for that purpose, the amount varying
from a penny to half-a-crown, in accordance with the places required.
When we remember that one shilling of Queen Elizabeth's was equivalent
to five of Queen Victoria's, the price of the dearer places seems very
considerable in comparison with those current to-day. The wealthiest
spectators gave more than twelve shillings (in modern money) for their
places in the proscenium-boxes on each side of the stage. At the Globe
Theatre the orchestra was placed in the upper proscenium-box on the
right; it was the largest in London, consisting of ten performers, all
distinguished in their several lines, playing lutes, oboes, trumpets,
and drums.

The most fashionable seats were on the stage itself, approached, not
by the ordinary entrances, but through the players' tiring-room.
There sat the amateurs, the noble patrons of the theatre, Essex,
Southampton, Pembroke, Rutland; there snobs, upstarts, and fops took
their places on chairs or stools; if there were not seats enough, they
spread their cloaks upon the pine-sprigs that strewed the boards, and
(like Bracchiano in Webster's _Vittoria Corombona)_ lay upon them.
There, too, sat the author's rivals, the dramatic poets, who had free
admissions; and there, lastly, sat the shorthand writers, commissioned
by piratical booksellers, who, under pretence of making critical notes,
secretly took down the dialogue--men who were a nuisance to the
players and, as a rule, a thorn in the side to the poets, but to whom
posterity no doubt owes the preservation of many plays which would
otherwise have been lost.

All these notabilities on the stage carry on half-audible
conversations, and make the servitors of the theatre bring them drinks
and light their pipes, while the actors can with difficulty thread
their way among them--arrangements which cannot have heightened the
illusion, but perhaps did less to mar it than we might imagine.

For the audience is not easily disturbed, and does not demand any of
the illusion which is supplied by modern mechanism. Movable scenery
was unknown before 1660. The walls of the stage were either hung with
loose tapestries or quite uncovered, so that the wooden doors which
led to the players' tiring-rooms at the back were clearly visible. In
battle-scenes, whole armies entered triumphant, or were driven off in
confusion and defeat, through a single door. When a tragedy was acted
the stage was usually hung with black; for a comedy the hangings were

As in the theatre of antiquity, rude machines were employed to raise or
lower actors through the stage; trap-doors were certainly in use, and
probably "bridges," or small platforms, which could be elevated into
the upper regions. In somewhat earlier times still ruder appliances
had been in vogue. For example, in the religious and allegorical
plays, Hell-mouth was represented by a huge face of painted canvas
with shining eyes, a large red nose, and movable jaws set with tusks.
When the jaws opened, they seemed to shoot out flames, torches being
no doubt waved behind them. The theatrical property-room of that time
was incomplete without a "rybbe colleryd red" for the mystery of the
Creation. But in Shakespeare's day scarcely anything of this sort was
required. It was Inigo Jones who first introduced movable scenery and
decorations at the court entertainments. They were certainly not in use
at the popular playhouses at any time during Shakespeare's connection
with the stage.

Audiences felt no need for such aids to illusion; their imagination
instantly supplied the want. They saw whatever the poet required them
to see--as a child sees whatever is suggested to its fancy, as little
girls see real-life dramas in their games with their dolls. For the
spectators were children alike in the freshness and in the force of
their imagination. If only a placard were hung on one of the doors of
the stage bearing in large letters the name of Paris or of Venice, the
spectators were at once transported to France or Italy. Sometimes the
Prologue informed them where the scene was placed. Men of classical
culture, who insisted on unity of place in the drama, were offended by
the continual changes of scene and the pitiful appliances by which they
were indicated. Sir Philip Sidney, in his _Defense of Poesy,_ published
in 1583, ridicules the plays in which "You shall have Asia of the one
side, and Afric of the other, and so many other under-kingdoms, that
the player, when he cometh in, must ever begin with telling where he
is, or else the tale will not be conceived."

This alacrity of imagination on the part of popular audiences was
unquestionably an advantage to the English stage in its youth. If an
actor made a movement as though he were plucking a flower, the scene
was at once understood to be a garden; as in _Henry VI_., where the
adoption of the red rose and white rose as party badges is represented.
If an actor spoke as though he were standing on a ship's deck in a
heavy sea, the convention was at once accepted; as in the famous scene
in _Pericles_ (iii. 2). Shakespeare, though he did not hesitate to take
advantage of this accommodating humour on the part of his public, and
made no attempt at illusive decoration, nevertheless ridiculed, as we
have seen, in _A Midsummer Night's Dream_, the meagre scenic apparatus
of his time (especially, we may suppose, on the provincial stage);
while in the Prologue to his _Henry V_. he deplores and apologises for
the narrowness of his stage and the poverty of his resources:--

                "Pardon, gentles all,
    The flat unraised spirits that have dar'd
    On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
    So great an object: can this cockpit hold
    The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
    Within this wooden O the very casques,
    That did affright the air at Agincourt?
    O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
    Attest in little place a million;
    And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
    On your imaginary forces work.
    Suppose, within the girdle of these walls
    Are now confin'd two mighty monarchies."

These monarchies, then, were mounted in a frame formed of young
noblemen, critics and stage-struck gallants, who bantered the
boy-heroines, fingered the embroideries on the costumes, smoked their
clay pipes, and otherwise made themselves entirely at their ease.

A curtain, which did not rise, but parted in the middle, separated the
stage from the auditorium.

The only extant drawing of the interior of an Elizabethan theatre was
recently discovered by Karl Gaedertz in the University Library at
Utrecht. It is a sketch of the Swan Theatre, executed in 1596 by the
Dutch scholar, Jan de Witt. The stage, resting upon strong posts, has
no other furniture than a single bench, on which one of the performers
is seated. The background is formed by the tiring-house, into which two
doors lead. Over it is a roofed balcony, which could be used, no doubt,
both by the players and by the audience. Above the roof of the tiring-house
rises a second story, crowned by a sort of hutch, over which waves
a flag bearing the image of a swan. At an open door of the hutch is
seen a trumpeter giving a signal of some sort. The theatre is oval in
shape, and has three tiers of seats, while the pit is left open for the
standing "groundlings."

The balcony over the tiring-house answers in this case to the inner
stage of other and better-equipped theatres.

This smaller raised platform at the back of the principal stage was
exceedingly useful, and, in a certain measure, supplied the place of
the scenic apparatus of later times. Tieck, who probably went further
than any other critic in his dislike for modern mechanism and his
enthusiasm for the primitive arrangements of Shakespeare's day, has
elaborately reconstructed it in his novel, _Der junge Tischlermeister_.

In the middle of the deep stage, according to him, rose two wooden
pillars, eight or ten feet high, which supported a sort of balcony.
Three broad steps led from the front stage to the inner alcove
under the balcony, which was sometimes open, sometimes curtained
off. It represented, according to circumstances, a cave, a room, a
summer-house, a family vault, and so forth. It was here that, in
_Macbeth_, the ghost of Banquo appeared seated at the table. Here stood
the bed on which Desdemona was smothered. Here, in _Hamlet_, the play
within a play was acted. Here Gloucester's eyes were put out. On the
balcony above, Juliet waited for her Romeo, and Sly took his place
to see _The Taming of the Shrew_. When the siege of a town had to be
represented, the defenders of the walls stood and parleyed on this
balcony, while the assailants were grouped in the foreground.

It is probable that at each side a pretty broad flight of steps led
up to this balcony. Here sat senates, councils, and princes with
their courts. It needed but few figures to fill the inner stage, so
narrow were its dimensions. Macbeth mounted these stairs, and so did
Falstaff in the _Merry Wives_. Melancholy or contemplative personages
leaned against the pillars. The structure offered a certain facility
for effective groupings, somewhat like that in Raffaelle's "School of
Athens." Figures in front did not obstruct the view of those behind,
and groups gathered to the right and left of the main stage could,
without an overstrain of make-believe, be supposed not to see each

The only department of decoration which involved any considerable
expense was the costumes of the actors. On these such large sums were
lavished that the Puritans made this extravagance one of their chief
points of attack upon theatres. In Henslowe's Diary we find such
entries as £4, 14s. for a pair of breeches, and £16 for a velvet cloak.
It is even on record that a famous actor once gave £20, 10s. for a
mantle. In an inventory of the property belonging to the Lord Admiral's
Company in the year 1598, we find many splendid dresses enumerated: for
example, "I payr of carnatyon satten Venesyons [breeches] layd with
gold lace," and "I orenge taney [tawny] satten dublet, layd thycke with
gowld lace."[1] The sums paid for these costumes are glaringly out of
keeping with the paltry fees allotted to the author. Up to the year
1600 the ordinary price of a play was from five to six pounds--scarcely
more than the cost of a pair of breeches to be worn by the actor who
played the Prince or King.

In the boxes ("rooms") sat the better sort of spectators, officers,
City merchants, sometimes with their wives; but ladies always wore a
mask of silk or velvet, partly for protection against sun and air,
partly in order to blush (or not to blush) unseen, at the frivolous
and often licentious things that were said upon the stage. The mask
was then as common an article of female attire as is the veil in
our days. But the front rows of what we should now call the first
tier were occupied by beauties who had no desire whatever to conceal
their countenances, though they might use the mask (as in later times
the fan) for purposes of coquetry. These were the kept mistresses
of men of quality, and other gorgeously decked ladies, who resorted
to the playhouse in order to make acquaintances. Behind them sat
the respectable citizens. But in the gallery above a rougher public
assembled--sailors, artisans, soldiers, and loose women of the lowest

No women ever appeared upon the stage.

The frequenters of the pit, with their coarse boisterousness, were
the terror of the actors. They all had to stand--coal-heavers
and bricklayers, dock-labourers, serving-men, and idlers.
Refreshment-sellers moved about among them, supplying them with
sausages and ale, with apples and nuts. They ate and drank, drew corks,
smoked tobacco, fought with each other, and often, when they were out
of humour, threw fragments of food, and even stones, at the actors.
Now and then they would come to loggerheads with the fine gentlemen
on the stage, so that the performance had to be interrupted and the
theatre closed. The sanitary arrangements were of the most primitive
description, and the groundlings resisted all attempts at reform on
the part of the management. When the evil smells became intolerable,
juniper-berries were burnt by way of freshening the atmosphere.

The theatrical public made and executed its own laws. There was no
police in the theatre. Now and then a pickpocket would be caught in the
act, and tied to a post at the corner of the stage beside the railing
which divided it from the auditorium.

The beginning of the performance was announced by three trumpet-blasts.
The actor who spoke the Prologue appeared in a long cloak, with a
laurel-wreath on his head, probably because this duty was originally
performed by the poet himself. After the play, the Clown danced a jig,
at the same time singing some comic jingle and accompanying himself
on a small drum and flute. The Epilogue consisted of, or ended in, a
prayer for the Queen, in which all the actors took part, kneeling.

Elizabeth herself and her court did not visit these theatres. There
was no Royal box, and the public was too mixed. On the other hand, the
Queen could, without derogating from her state, summon the players
to court, and the Lord Chamberlain's Company, to which Shakespeare
belonged, was very often commanded to perform before her, especially
upon festivals such as Christmas Day, Twelfth Night, and so forth. Thus
Shakespeare is known to have acted before the Queen in two comedies
presented at Greenwich Palace at Christmas 1594. He is mentioned along
with the leading actors, Burbage and Kemp.

Elizabeth paid for such performances a fee of twenty nobles, and a
further gratuity of ten nobles--in all, £10.

As the Queen, however, was not content with thus witnessing plays
at rare intervals, she formed companies of her own, the so-called
Children's Companies, recruited from the choir-boys of the
Chapels-Royal, whose music-schools thus developed, as it were, into
nurseries for the stage. These half-grown boys, who were, of course,
specially fitted to represent female characters, won no small favour,
both at court and with the public; and we see that one such troupe,
consisting of the choir-boys of St. Paul's, for some time competed,
at the Blackfriars Theatre, with Shakespeare's company. We may gather
from the bitter complaint in _Hamlet_ (ii. 2) how serious was this

    "_Hamlet_. Do they [the players] hold the same estimation
    they did when I was in the city? Are they so followed?

    "_Rosencrantz_. No, indeed, they are not.

    "_Ham_. How comes it? Do they grow rusty?

    "_Ros_. Nay, their endeavour keeps in the wonted pace: but
    there is, sir, an aery of children, little eyases, that
    cry out on the top of question, and are most tyrannically
    clapped for't: these are now the fashion; and so berattle
    the common stages (so they call them), that many wearing
    rapiers are afraid of goose-quills, and dare scarce come
     .     .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
    "_Ham_. Do the boys carry it away?

    "_Ros_. Ay, that they do, my lord; Hercules and his load

The number of players in a company was not great--not more, as a rule,
than eight or ten; never, probably, above twelve. The players were of
different grades. The lowest were the so-called hirelings, who received
wages from the others and were in some sense their servants. They
appeared as supernumeraries or in small speaking parts, and had nothing
to do with the management of the theatre. The actors, properly so called,
differed in standing according as they shared in the receipts only as
actors, or were entitled to a further share as part-proprietors of the
theatre. There was no manager. The actors themselves decided what plays
should be performed, distributed the parts, and divided the receipts
according to an established scale. The most advantageous position, of
course, was that of a shareholder in the theatre; for half of the gross
receipts went to the shareholders, who provided the costumes and paid
the wages of the hirelings.

Shakespeare's comparatively early rise to affluence can be accounted
for only by assuming that, in his dual capacity as poet and player, he
must quickly have become a shareholder in the theatre.

As an actor he does not seem to have attained the highest
eminence--fortunately, for if he had, he would probably have found
very little time for writing. The parts he played appear to have been
dignified characters of the second order; for there is no evidence
that he was anything of a comedian. We know that he played the Ghost
in _Hamlet_--a part of no great length, it is true, but of the first
importance. It is probable, too, that he played old Adam in _As You
Like It_, and pretty certain that he played old Knowell in Ben Jonson's
_Every Man in His Humour_. It may possibly be in the costume of Knowell
that he is represented in the well-known Droeshout portrait at the
beginning of the First Folio. Tradition relates that he once played his
own Henry IV. at court, and that the Queen, in passing over the stage,
dropped her glove as a token of her favour, whereupon Shakespeare
handed it back to her with the words:--

    "And though now bent on this high embassy,
     Yet stoop we to take up our cousin's glove."

In all lists of the players belonging to his company he is named among
the first and most important.

Not least among the marvels connected with his genius is the fact
that, with all his other occupations, he found time to write so much.
His mornings would be given to rehearsals, his afternoons to the
performances; he would have to read, revise, accept or reject a great
number of plays; and he often passed his evenings either at the Mermaid
Club or at some tavern; yet for eighteen years on end he managed to
write, on an average, two plays a year--and such plays!

In order to understand this we have to recollect that although
between 1557 and 1616 there were forty noteworthy and two hundred
and thirty-three inferior English poets, who issued works in epic or
lyric form, yet the characteristic of the period was the immense rush
of productivity in the direction of dramatic art. Every Englishman of
talent in Elizabeth's time could write a tolerable play, just as every
second Greek in the age of Pericles could model a tolerable statue, or
as every European of to-day can write a passable newspaper article.
The Englishmen of that time were born dramatists, as the Greeks were
born sculptors, and as we hapless moderns are born journalists. The
Greek, with an inborn sense of form, had constant opportunities for
observing the nude human body and admiring its beauty. If he saw a man
ploughing a field, he received a hundred impressions and ideas as to
the play of the muscles in the naked leg. The modern European possesses
a certain command of language, is practised in argument, has a knack of
putting thoughts and events into words, and is, finally, a confirmed
newspaper-reader--all characteristics which make for the multiplication
of newspaper articles. The Englishman of that day was keenly observant
of human destinies, and of the passions which, after the fall of
Catholicism and before the triumph of Puritanism, revelled in the brief
freedom of the Renaissance. He was accustomed to see men following
their instincts to the last extremity--which was not infrequently
the block. The high culture of the age did not exclude violence, and
this violence led to dramatic vicissitudes of fortune. It was but a
short way from the palace to the scaffold--witness the fate of Henry
VIII.'s wives, of Mary Stuart, of Elizabeth's great lovers, Essex and
Raleigh. The Englishman of that age had always before his eyes pictures
of extreme prosperity followed by sudden ruin and violent death. Life
itself was dramatic, as in Greece it was plastic, as in our days it is
journalistic, photographic--that is to say, striving in vain to give
permanence to formless and everyday events and thoughts.

A dramatic poet in those days, no less than a journalist in ours, had
to study his public closely. All the intellectual conflicts of the
period were for sixty years fought out in the theatre, as they are
nowadays in the press. Passionate controversies between one poet and
another were cast in dramatic form. Rosencrantz says to Hamlet, "There
was, for a while, no money bid for argument, unless the poet and the
player went to cuffs in the question." The efflorescence of the drama
on British soil was of short duration--as short as that of painting in
Holland. But while it lasted the drama was the dominant art-form and
medium of intellectual expression, and it was consequently supported by
a large public.

Shakespeare never wrote a play "for the study," nor could he have
imagined himself doing anything of the sort. As playwright and player
in one, he had the stage always in his eye, and what he wrote had
never long to wait for performance, but took scenic shape forthwith.
Although, like all productive spirits, he thought first of satisfying
himself in what he wrote, yet he must necessarily have borne in mind
the public to whom the play appealed. He could by no means avoid
considering the tastes of the average playgoer. The average playgoer,
indeed, made no bad audience, but an audience which had to be amused,
and which could not, for too long a stretch, endure unrelieved
seriousness or lofty flights of thought. For the sake of the common
people, then, scenes of grandeur and refinement were interspersed
with passages of burlesque. To please the many-headed, the Clown was
brought on at every pause in the action, much as he is in the circus
of to-day. The points of rest which are now marked by the fall of the
curtain between the acts were then indicated by conversations such as
that between Peter and the musicians in _Romeo and Juliet_ (iv. 5); it
merely implies that the act is over.

For the rest, Shakespeare did not write for the average spectator. He
did not value his judgment. Hamlet says to the First Player (ii. 2):--

    "I heard thee speak me a speech once,--but it was never
    acted; or, if it was, not above once; for the play, I
    remember, pleased not the million; 'twas caviare to the
    general: but it was (as I received it, and others, whose
    judgments in such matters cried in the top of mine) an
    excellent play."

All Shakespeare lies in the words, "It pleased not the million."

The English drama as it took shape under Shakespeare's hand addressed
itself primarily to the best elements in the public. But "the best"
were the noble young patrons of the theatre, to whom he personally owed
a great deal of his culture, almost all his repute, and, moreover, the
insight he had attained into the aristocratic habit of mind.

A young English nobleman of that period must have been one of the
finest products of humanity, a combination of the Belvedere Apollo with
a prize racehorse; he must have felt himself at once a man of action
and an artist.

We have seen how early Shakespeare must have made the acquaintance
of Essex, before his fall the mightiest of the mighty. He wrote
_A Midsummer Night's Dream_ for his marriage, and he introduced a
compliment to him into the Prologue to the fifth act of _Henry V_.
England received her victorious King, he says--

    "As, by a lower but loving likelihood.
     Were now the general of our gracious empress
     (As, in good time, he may) from Ireland coming,
     Bringing rebellion broached on his sword,
     How many would the peaceful city quit,
     To welcome him!"

We have seen, moreover, how early and how intimate was his connection
with the young Earl of Southampton, to whom he dedicated the only two
books which he himself gave to the press.

It must have been from young aristocrats such as these that Shakespeare
acquired his aristocratic method of regarding the course of history.
How else could he regard it? A large part of the middle class was
hostile to him, despised his calling, and treated him as one outside
the pale; the clergy condemned and persecuted him; the common people
were in his eyes devoid of judgment. The ordinary life of his day did
not, on the whole, appeal to him. We find him totally opposed to the
realistic dramatisation of everyday scenes and characters, to which
many contemporary poets devoted themselves. This sort of truth to
nature was foreign to him, so foreign that he suffered for lack of
it. Towards the close of his artistic career he was outstripped in
popularity by the realists of the day.

His heroes are princes and noblemen, the kings and barons of England.
It is always they, in his eyes, who make history, of which he shows
throughout a naïvely heroic conception. In the wars which he presents,
it is always an individual leader and hero on whom everything depends.
It is Henry V. who wins the day at Agincourt, just as in Homer it is
Achilles who conquers before Troy. Yet the whole issue of these wars
depended upon the foot-soldiers. It was the English archers, 14,000 in
number, who at Agincourt defeated the French army of 50,000 men, with
a loss of only 1600, as against 10,000 on the other side. Shakespeare
certainly did not divine that it was the rise of the middle classes and
their spirit of enterprise that constituted the strength of England
under Elizabeth. He regarded his age from the point of view of the man
who was accustomed to see in richly endowed and princely young noblemen
the very crown of humanity, the patrons of all lofty effort, and the
originators of all great achievements. And, with his necessarily scanty
historic culture, he saw bygone periods, of Roman as well as of English
history, in the same light as his own times.

This tendency appears already in the second part of _Henry VI._ Note
the picture of Jack Cade's rebellion (iv. 2), which contains some
inimitable touches:--

    "_Cade_. Be brave then; for your captain is brave, and vows
    reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny
    loaves sold for a penny; the three-hooped pot shall have
    ten hoops; and I will make it felony to drink small beer.
    All the realm shall be in common, and in Cheapside shall my
    palfrey go to grass. And, when I am king (as king I will

    "_All_. God save your majesty!

    "_Cade_. I thank you, good people:--there shall be no money;
    all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them
    all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and
    worship me their lord.

    "_Dick_. The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

    "_Cade_. Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable
    thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made
    parchment? that parchment, being scribbled o'er, should undo
    a man?
       .    .    .    .    .    .     .    .    .    .    .    .

    "_Enter some, bringing in the Clerk of Chatham_.

    "_Smith_. The clerk of Chatham: he can write and read, and
    cast accompt.

    "_Cade_. O monstrous!

    "_Smith_. We took him setting of boys' copies.

    "_Cade_. Here's a villain!

    "_Smith_. Has a book in his pocket, with red letters in't.
       .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .

    "_Cade_. Let me alone.--Dost thou use to write thy name, or
    hast thou a mark to thyself, like an honest plain-dealing

    "_Clerk_. Sir, I thank God, I have been so well brought up,
    that I can write my name.

    "_All_. He hath confessed: away with him! he's a villain and
    a traitor.

    "_Cade_. Away with him, I say: hang him with his pen and
    ink-horn about his neck."

What is so remarkable and instructive in these brilliant scenes is that
Shakespeare here, quite against his custom, departs from his authority.
In Holinshed, Jack Cade and his followers do not appear at all as the
crazy Calibans whom Shakespeare depicts. The chief of their grievances,
in fact, was that the King alienated the crown revenues and lived on
the taxes; and, moreover, they complained of abuses of all sorts in the
execution of the laws and the raising of revenue. The third article
of their memorial stands in striking contrast to their action in the
play; for it points out that nobles of royal blood (probably meaning
York) are excluded from the King's "dailie presence," while he gives
advancement to "other meane persons of lower nature," who close the
King's ears to the complaints of the country, and distribute favours,
not according to law, but for gifts and bribes. Moreover, they complain
of interferences with freedom of election, and, in short, express
themselves quite temperately and constitutionally. Finally, in more
than one passage of the complaint, they give utterance to a thoroughly
English and patriotic resentment of the loss of Normandy, Gascony,
Aquitaine, Anjou, and Maine.

But it did not at all suit Shakespeare to show a Jack Cade at the head
of a popular movement of this sort. He took no interest in anything
constitutional or parliamentary. In order to find the colours he wanted
for the rebellion, he hunts up in Stow's _Summarie of the Chronicles
of England_ the picture of Wat Tyler's and Jack Straw's risings under
Richard II., two outbursts of wild communistic enthusiasm, reinforced
by religious fanaticism. From this source he borrows, almost word for
word, some of the rebels' speeches. In these risings, as a matter of
fact, all "men of law, justices, and jurors" who fell into the hands of
the leaders were beheaded, and all records and muniments burnt, so that
owners of property might not in future have the means of establishing
their rights.

This contempt for the judgment of the masses, this anti-democratic
conviction, having early taken possession of Shakespeare's mind, he
keeps on instinctively seeking out new evidences an its favour, new
testimonies to its truth; and therefore he transforms facts, where they
do not suit his view, on the model of other facts which do.

[1] See Appendix to _Diary of Philip Henslowe_ (Shakspere
Society's Publications).

[2] A figure of Hercules with the globe on his shoulders served
as sign to the Globe Theatre.



From the autumn of 1592 until the summer of 1593 all the London
theatres were closed. That frightful scourge, the plague, from which
England had so long been free, was raging in the capital. Even the
sittings of the Law Courts had to be suspended. At Christmas 1592 the
Queen refrained from ordering any plays at court, and the Privy Council
had at an earlier date issued a proclamation forbidding all public
theatrical performances, on the reasonable ground that convalescents,
weary of their long confinement, made haste to resort to such
entertainments before they were properly out of quarantine, and thus
spread the contagion.

The matter has a particular bearing upon the biography of Shakespeare,
since, if he ever travelled on the continent of Europe, it was probably
at this period, while the theatres were closed.

That it must have been now, if ever, there can be no great doubt. But
it remains exceedingly difficult to determine whether Shakespeare ever
crossed the Channel.

We have noticed what an attraction Italy possessed for him, even from
the beginning of his career. To this _The Two Gentlemen of Verona_ and
_Romeo and Juliet_ bear witness. But in these plays we as yet find
nothing which points definitely to the conclusion that the poet had
seen with his own eyes the country in which his action is placed. It is
different with the dramas of Italian scene which Shakespeare produces
about the year 1596--the adaptation of the old _Taming of a Shrew_
and _The Merchant of Venice_; it is different, too, with _Othello_,
which comes much later. Here we find definite local colour, with such
an abundance of details pointing to actual vision that it is hard to
account for them otherwise than by assuming a visit on the poet's part
to such cities as Verona, Venice, and Pisa.

It is on the face of it highly probable that Shakespeare should wish to
see Italy as soon as he could find an opportunity. To the Englishman
of that day Italy was the goal of every longing. It was the great home
of culture. Men studied its literature and imitated its poetry. It was
the beautiful land where dwelt the joy of life. Venice in especial
exercised a fascination stronger than that of Paris. It needed no great
wealth to make a pilgrimage to Italy. One could travel inexpensively,
perhaps on foot, like that Coryat who discovered the use of the fork;
one could pass the night at cheap hostelries. Many of the distinguished
men of the time are known to have visited Italy--men of science, like
Bacon, and afterwards Harvey; authors and poets like Lyly, Munday,
Nash, Greene, and Daniel, the form of whose sonnets determined that
of Shakespeare's. Among the artists of Shakespeare's time, the
widely-travelled Inigo Jones had made a stay in Italy. Most of these
men have themselves given us some account of their travels; but as
Shakespeare has left us no biographical records whatever, the absence
of any direct mention of such a journey on his part is of little
moment, if other significant facts can be adduced in its favour.

And such facts are not wanting.

There were in Shakespeare's time no guide-books for the use of
travellers. What he knows, then, of foreign lands and their customs he
cannot have gathered from such sources. Of Venice, which Shakespeare
has so livingly depicted, no description was published in England until
after he had written his _Merchant of Venice_. Lewkenor's description
of the city (itself a mere compilation at second hand) dates from 1598,
Coryat's from 1611, Moryson's from 1617.

In Shakespeare's _Taming of the Shrew_, we notice with surprise not
only the correctness of the Italian names, but the remarkable way
in which, at the very beginning of the play, several Italian cities
and districts are characterised in a single phrase. Lombardy is "the
pleasant garden of great Italy;" Pisa is "renowned for grave citizens;"
and here the epithet "grave" is especially noteworthy, since many
testimonies concur to show that it was particularly characteristic
of the inhabitants of Pisa. C. A. Brown, in _Shakespeare's
Autobiographical Poems,_ has pointed out the remarkable form of the
betrothal of Petruchio and Katherine (namely, that her father joins
their hands in the presence of two witnesses), and observes that this
form was not English, but peculiarly Italian. It is not to be found in
the older play, the scene of which, however, is laid in Athens.

Special attention was long ago directed to the following speech at the
end of the second act, where Gremio reckons up all the goods and gear
with which his house is stocked:--

    "First, as you know, my house within the city
     Is richly furnished with plate and gold:
     Basins, and ewers, to lave her dainty hands;
     My hangings all of Tyrian tapestry;
     In ivory coffers I have stuff'd my crowns;
     In cypress chests my arras, counterpoints,
     Costly apparel, tents, and canopies,
     Fine linen, Turkey cushions boss'd with pearl,
     Valance of Venice gold in needlework,
     Pewter and Iprass, and all things that belong
     To house, or housekeeping."

Lady Morgan long ago remarked that she had seen literally all of these
articles of luxury in the palaces of Venice, Genoa, and Florence. Miss
Martineau, in ignorance alike of Brown's theory and Lady Morgan's
observation, expressed to Shakespeare's biographer, Charles Knight, her
feeling that the local colour of _The Taming of the Shrew_ and _The
Merchant of Venice_ displays such an intimate acquaintance, not only
with the manners and customs of Italy, but with the minutest details
of domestic life, that it cannot possibly have been gleaned from books
or from mere conversations with this man or that who happened to have
floated in a gondola.

On such a question as this, the decided impressions of feminine readers
are not without a certain weight.

Brown has pointed out as specifically Italian such small traits as
Iago's scoffing at the Florentine Cassio as "a great arithmetician," "a
counter-caster," the Florentines being noted as masters of arithmetic
and bookkeeping. Another such trait is the present of a dish of pigeons
which Gobbo, in _The Merchant of Venice,_ brings to his son's master.

Karl Elze, who has strongly insisted upon the probability of
Shakespeare's having travelled Italy in the year 1593, dwells
particularly upon his apparent familiarity with Venice. The name of
Gobbo is a genuine Venetian name, and suggests, moreover, the kneeling
stone figure, "Il Gobbo di Rialto," that forms the base of the
granite pillar to which, in former days, the decrees of the Republic
were affixed. Shakespeare knew that the Exchange was held on the
Rialto island. An especially weighty argument lies in the fact that
the study of the Jewish nature, to which his Shylock bears witness,
would have been impossible in England, where no Jews were permitted
by law to reside since their expulsion, begun in the time of Richard
Cœur-de-Lion, and completed in 1290. Not until Cromwell's time was the
embargo removed in a few cases. On the other hand, there were in Venice
more than eleven hundred Jews (according to Coryat, as many as from
five to six thousand).[1]

One of the most striking details as regards _The Merchant of Venice_
is this: Portia sends her servant Balthasar with an important message
to Padua, and orders him to ride quickly and meet her at "the common
ferry which trades to Venice." Now Portia's palace at Belmont may be
conceived as one of the summer residences, rich in art treasures, which the
merchant princes of Venice at that time possessed on the banks of the
Brenta. From Dolo, on the Brenta, it is twenty miles to Venice--just
the distance which Portia says that she must "measure" in order to
reach the city. If we conceive Belmont as situated at Dolo, it would be
just possible for the servant to ride rapidly to Padua, and on the way
back to overtake Portia, who would travel more slowly, at the ferry,
which was then at Fusina, at the mouth of the Brenta. How exactly
Shakespeare knew this, and how uncommon the knowledge was in his day,
is shown in the expressions he uses, and in the misunderstanding of
these expressions on the part of his printers and editors. The lines in
the fourth scene of the third act, as they appear in all the Quartos
and Folios, are these:--

    "Bring them, I pray thee, with imagined speed
     Unto the tranect, to the common ferry,
     Which trades to Venice."

"Tranect," which means nothing, is, of course, a misprint for
"traject," an uncommon expression which the printers clearly did not
understand. This, as Elze has pointed out, is simply the Venetian word
_traghetto_ (Italian _tragitto_). How should Shakespeare have known
either of the word or the thing if he had not been on the spot?

Other details in the second of these plays, written immediately after
his conjectured return, strengthen this impression. In the Induction to
_The Taming of the Shrew_, where the nobleman proposes to show Sly his
pictures, there occur the lines:--

    "We'll show thee Io as she was a maid,
     And how she was beguiled and surpris'd,
     As lively painted as the deed was done."

These lines, as Elze has justly urged, convey the impression that
Shakespeare had seen Correggio's famous picture of Jupiter and Io. This
is quite possible if he travelled in North Italy at the time suggested,
for from 1585 to 1600 the picture was in the palace of the sculptor
Leoni at Milan, and was constantly visited by travellers. If we add
that Shakespeare's numerous references to sea-voyages, storms at sea,
the agonies of sea-sickness, &c., together with his illustrations and
metaphors borrowed from provisions and dress at sea,[2] point to his
having made a sea-passage of some length,[3] we cannot but regard it
as highly probable that he possessed a closer knowledge of Italy than
could be gained from oral descriptions and from books.

It is impossible, however, to arrive at any certainty on the point.
His pictures of Italy are sometimes notably lacking in traits which
could scarcely have been overlooked by one who knew the places. And
the reader cannot but feel a certain scepticism when he observes
how scholars have converted every seeming piece of ignorance on
Shakespeare's part into a proof of his miraculous knowledge.

In virtue of this determination to make every apparent blot in
Shakespeare redound to his advantage, it could be shown that he had
been in Italy before he began to write plays at all. In _The Two
Gentlemen of Verona_ it is said that Valentine takes ship at Verona to
go to Milan. This seems to betray a gross ignorance of the geography
of Italy. Karl Elze, however, has discovered that in the sixteenth
century Verona and Milan were actually connected by a canal. In _Romeo
and Juliet_ the heroine says to Friar Laurence, "Shall I come again
at evening mass?" This sounds strange, as the Catholic Church knows
nothing of evening masses; but R. Simpson has discovered that they were
actually in use at that time, and especially in Verona. Shakespeare
probably knew no more of these details than he did of the fact that,
about 1270, Bohemia possessed provinces on the Adriatic, so that he
could with an easy conscience accept from Greene the voyage to the
coast of Bohemia in _The Winter's Tale_.

On the whole, scholars have been far too eager to find confirmation
of every trivial detail in Shakespeare's allusions to Italian
localities. Knight, for instance, declared that "the Sagittary,"
mentioned in _Othello_," was the residence at the arsenal of the
commanding officers of the navy and army of the Republic," and that
Shakespeare had "probably looked upon" the figure of an archer over
the gates; whereas it now appears that the commanding officer never
had any residence in the arsenal, and that no figure of an archer ever
existed there. Elze, again, has gone into most uncritical raptures over
Shakespeare's marvellously exact characterisation of Giulio Romano
_The Winter's Tale_, (v. 2) as that "rare Italian master who, had he
himself eternity, and could put breath into his works, would beguile
Nature of her custom, so perfectly he is her ape." As a matter of
fact, Shakespeare has simply attributed to an artist whose fame had
reached his ears that characteristic which, as we have seen above,
he regarded as the highest in pictorial art. Giulio Romano, with his
crude superficiality, could not possibly have aroused his admiration
had he known his work. That he did not know it is sufficiently evident
from the fact that he has made him a sculptor, and praised him in that
capacity, and not as a painter.

Elze, confronted with this fact, takes refuge in a Latin epitaph on
Romano, quoted by Vasari, which speaks of "Corpora sculpta pictaque"
by him, and here again finds a testimony to Shakespeare's omniscience,
since he knew of works of sculpture by Romano which no one else has
seen or heard of. We can only see in this a new proof of the fact that
critical idolatry of departed greatness can now and then lead the
student as far astray as uncritical prejudice.

[1] A very few Jews were, indeed, tolerated in England in
spite of the prohibition, but it is not probable that Shakespeare knew
any of them.

[2] See _Pericles, The Tempest, Cymbeline_ (i. 7), _As You
Like It_ (ii. 7), _Hamlet_ (v. 2).

[3] It must be remembered that the sea route to Italy was
practically closed by Spanish cruisers.



About the age of thirty, even men of an introspective disposition
are apt to turn their gaze outwards. When Shakespeare approaches his
thirtieth year, he begins to occupy himself in earnest with history,
to read the chronicles, to project and work out a whole series of
historical plays. Several years had now passed since he had revised
and furbished up the old dramas on the subject of Henry VI. This task
had whetted his appetite, and had cultivated his sense for historic
character and historic nemesis. Having now given expression to the high
spirits, the lyrism, and the passion of youth, in lyrical and dramatic
productions of scintillant diversity, he once more turned his attention
to the history of England. In so doing he obeyed a dual vocation, both
as a poet and as a patriot.

Shakespeare's plays founded on English history number ten in all, four
dealing with the House of Lancaster (_Richard II._, the two parts of
_Henry IV._ and _Henry V._) four devoted to the House of York (the
three parts of _Henry VI._ and _Richard III._), and two which stand
apart from the main series, _King John,_ of an earlier historic period,
and _Henry VIII._, of a later.

The order of production of these plays is, however, totally unconnected
with their historical order, which does not, therefore, concern us. At
the same time it is worthy of remark that all these plays (with the
single exception of _Henry VIII._) were produced in the course of one
decade, the decade in which England's national sentiment burst into
flower and her pride was at its highest. These English "histories"
are, however, of very unequal value, and can by no means be treated as
standing on one plane.

_Henry VI._ was a first attempt and a mere adaptation. Now, in the year
1594, Shakespeare attacks the theme of _Richard II.;_ and in this,
his first independent historical drama, we see his originality still
struggling with the tendency to imitation.

There were older plays on the subject of _Richard II._, but Shakespeare
does not seem to have made any use of them. The model he had in his
mind's eye was Marlowe's finest tragedy, his _Edward II._ Shakespeare's
play is, however, much more than a clever imitation of Marlowe's; it is
not only better composed, with a more concentrated action, but has also
a great advantage in the full-blooded vitality of its style. Marlowe's
style is here monotonously dry and sombre. Swinburne, moreover, has
done Shakespeare an injustice in preferring Marlowe's character-drawing
to that of _Richard II_.

The first half of Marlowe's drama is entirely taken up with the King's
morbid and unnatural passion for his favourite Gaveston; Edward's
every speech either expresses his grief at Gaveston's banishment and
his longing for his return, or consists of glowing outbursts of joy
on seeing him again. This passion makes Edward dislike his Queen and
loathe the Barons, who, in their aristocratic pride, contemn the
low-born favourite. He will risk everything rather than part from one
who is so dear to himself and so obnoxious to his surroundings. The
half-erotic fervour of his partiality renders the King's character
distasteful, and deprives him of the sympathy which the poet demands
for him at the end of the play.

For in the fourth and fifth acts, weak and unstable though he be,
Edward has all Marlowe's sympathies. There is, indeed, something moving
in his loneliness, his grief, and his brooding self-reproach. "The
griefs," he says,

          "of private men are soon allay'd;
    But not of kings. The forest deer, being struck,
    Runs to an herb that closeth up the wounds:
    But when the imperial lion's flesh is gor'd,
    He rends and tears it with his wrathful paw."

The simile is not true to nature, like Shakespeare's, but it forcibly
expresses the meaning of Marlowe's personage. Now and then he
reminds us of Henry VI. The Queen's relation to Mortimer recalls
that of Margaret to Suffolk. The abdication-scene, in which the King
first vehemently refuses to lay down the crown, and is then forced
to consent, gave Shakespeare the model for Richard the Second's
abdication. In the murder-scene, on the other hand, Marlowe displays
a reckless naturalism in the description and representation of the
torture inflicted on the King, an unabasheéd effect-hunting in the
contrast between the King's magnanimity, dread, and gratitude on the
one side, and the murderers' hypocritical cruelty on the other, which
Shakespeare, with his gentler nature and his almost modern tact, has
rejected. It is true that we find in Shakespeare several cases in
which the severed head of a person whom we have seen alive a moment
before is brought upon the stage. But he would never place before the
eyes of the public such a murder-scene as this, in which the King is
thrown down upon a feather-bed, a table is overturned upon him, and the
murderers trample upon it until he is crushed.

Marlowe's more callous nature betrays itself in such details, while
something of his own wild and passionate temperament has passed into
the minor characters of the play--the violent Barons, with the younger
Mortimer at their head--who are drawn with a firm hand. The time had
scarcely passed when a murder was reckoned an absolute necessity in a
drama. In 1581, Wilson, one of Lord Leicester's men, received an order
for a play which should not only be original and entertaining, but
should also include "all sorts of murders, immorality, and robberies."

_Richard II._ is one of those plays of Shakespeare's which have never
taken firm hold of the stage. Its exclusively political action and
its lack of female characters are mainly to blame for this. But it is
exceedingly interesting as his first attempt at independent treatment
of a historical theme, and it rises far above the play which served as
its model.

The action follows pretty faithfully the course of history as the poet
found it in Holinshed's Chronicle. The character of the Queen, however,
is quite unhistorical, being evidently invented by Shakespeare for the
sake of having a woman in his play. He wanted to gain sympathy for
Richard through his wife's devotion to him, and saw an opportunity for
pathos in her parting from him when he is thrown into prison. In 1398,
when the play opens, Isabella of France was not yet ten years old,
though she had nominally been married to Richard in 1396. Finally, the
King's end, fighting bravely, sword in hand, is not historical: he was
starved to death in prison, in order that his body might be exhibited
without any wound.

Shakespeare has vouchsafed no indication to facilitate the spectators'
understanding of the characters in this play. Their action often takes
us by surprise. But Swinburne has done Shakespeare a great wrong in
making this a reason for praising Marlowe at his expense, and exalting
the subordinate characters in _Edward II._ as consistent pieces of
character-drawing, while he represents as inconsistent and obscure such
a personage as Shakespeare's York. We may admit that in the opening
scene Norfolk's figure is not quite clear, but here all obscurity ends.
York is self-contradictory, unprincipled, vacillating, composite, and
incoherent, but in no sense obscure. He in the first place upbraids
the King with his faults, then accepts at his hands an office of the
highest confidence, then betrays the King's trust, while he at the same
time overwhelms the rebel Bolingbroke with reproaches, then admires
the King's greatness in his fall, then hastens his dethronement, and
finally, in virtuous indignation over Aumerle's plots against the new
King, rushes to him to assure him of his fidelity and to clamour for
the blood of his own son. There lies at the root of this conception
a profound political bitterness and an early-acquired experience.
Shakespeare must have studied attentively that portion of English
history which lay nearest to him, the shufflings and vacillations that
went on under Mary and Elizabeth, in order to have received so deep an
impression of the pitifulness of political instability.

The character of old John of Gaunt, loyal to his King, but still
more to his country, gives Shakespeare his first opportunity for
expressing his exultation over England's greatness and his pride in
being an Englishman. He places in the mouth of the dying Gaunt a
superbly lyrical outburst of patriotism, deploring Richard's reckless
and tyrannical policy. All comparison with Marlowe is here at an end.
Shakespeare's own voice makes itself clearly heard in the rhetoric of
this speech, which, with its self-controlled vehemence, its equipoise
in unrest, soars high above Marlowe's wild magniloquence. In the
thunderous tones of old Gaunt's invective against the King who has
mortgaged his English realm, we can hear all the patriotic enthusiasm
of young England in the days of Elizabeth:--

    "This royal throne of kings, this sceptr'd isle,
     This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
     This other Eden, demi-paradise,
     This fortress, built by Nature for herself,
     Against infection, and the hand of war;
     This happy breed of men, this little world,
     This precious stone set in the silver sea,
     Which serves it in the office of a wall,
     Or as a moat defensive to a house,
     Against the envy of less happier lands;
     This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
     This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
     Fear'd by their breed, and famous by their birth,
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
     This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
     Dear for her reputation through the world,
     Is now leas'd out, I die pronouncing it,
     Like to a tenement, or pelting farm.
     England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
     Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
     Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
     With inky blots, and rotten parchment bonds:
     That England, that was wont to conquer others,
     Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
     Ah! would the scandal vanish with my life,
     How happy then were my ensuing death!" (ii. I).

Here we have indeed the roar of the young lion, the vibration of
Shakespeare's own voice.

But it is upon the leading character of the play that the poet has
centred all his strength; and he has succeeded in giving a vivid and
many-sided picture of the Black Prince's degenerate but interesting
son. As the protagonist of a tragedy, however, Richard has exactly
the same defects as Marlowe's Edward. In the first half of the play
he so repels the spectator' that nothing he can do in the second
half suffices to obliterate the unfavourable impression. Not only
has he, before the opening of the piece, committed such thoughtless
and politically indefensible acts as have proved him unworthy of the
great position he holds, but he behaves with such insolence to the
dying Gaunt, and, after his uncle's death, displays such a low and
despicable rapacity, that he can no longer appeal, as he does, to his
personal right. It is true that the right of which he holds himself
an embodiment is very different from the common earthly rights which
he has overridden. He is religiously, dogmatically convinced of his
inviolability as a king by the grace of God. But since this conviction,
in his days of prosperity, has brought with it no sense of correlative
duties to the crown he wears, it cannot touch the reader's sympathies
as it ought to for the sake of the general effect.

We see the hand of the beginner in the way in which the poet here
leaves characters and events to speak for themselves without any
attempt to range them in a general scheme of perspective. He conceals
himself too entirely behind his work. As there is no gleam of humour in
the play, so, too, there is no guiding and harmonising sense of style.

It is from the moment that the tide begins to turn against Richard
that he becomes interesting as a psychological study. After the manner
of weak characters, he is alternately downcast and overweening. Very
characteristically, he at one place answers Bolingbroke's question
whether he is content to resign the crown: "Ay, no;--no, ay." In
these syllables we see the whole man. But his temperament was highly
poetical, and misfortune reveals in him a vein of reverie. He is
sometimes profound to the point of paradox, sometimes fantastically
overwrought to the verge of superstitious insanity (see, for instance,
Act iii. 3). His brooding melancholy sometimes reminds us of Hamlet's--

                  "Of comfort no man speak:
     Let's talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
     Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes
     Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth.
     Let's choose executors, and talk of wills:
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
     For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground,
     And tell sad stories of the death of kings:--How
     some have been depos'd, some slain in war,
     Some haunted by the ghosts they have depos'd.
     Some poison'd by their wives, some sleeping kill'd,
     All murder'd:--for within the hollow crown,
     That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
     Keeps Death his court, and there the antick sits,
     Scoffing his state, and grinning at his pomp;
     Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
     To monarchise, be fear'd, and kill with looks" (iii. 2).

In these moods of depression, in which Richard gives his wit and
intellect free play, he knows very well that a king is only a human
being like any one else:--

    "For you have but mistook me all this while:
     I live with bread like you, feel want, taste grief,
     Need friends. Subjected thus,
     How can you say to me, I am a king?" (iii. 2).

But at other times, when his sense of majesty and his monarchical
fanaticism master him, he speaks in a quite different tone:--

    "Not all the water in the rough rude sea
     Can wash the balm from an anointed king;
     The breath of worldly men cannot depose
     The deputy elected by the Lord.
     For every man that Bolingbroke hath press'd,
     To lift shrewd steel against our golden crown,
     God for his Richard hath in heavenly pay
     A glorious angel" (iii. 2).

Thus, too, at their first meeting (iii. 3) he addresses the victorious
Henry of Hereford, to whom he immediately after "debases himself":--

                 "My master, God omnipotent.
     Is mustering in his clouds on our behalf
     Armies of pestilence; and they shall strike
     Your children yet unborn, and unbegot,
     That lift your vassal hands against my head,
     And threat the glory of my precious crown."

Many centuries after Richard, King Frederick William IV. of Prussia
displayed just the same mingling of intellectuality, superstition,
despondency, monarchical arrogance, and fondness for declamation.

In the fourth and fifth acts, the character of Richard and the poet's
art rise to their highest point. The scene in which the groom, who
alone has remained faithful to the fallen King, visits him in his
dungeon, is one of penetrating beauty. What can be more touching than
his description of how the "roan Barbary," which had been Richard's
favourite horse, carried Henry of Lancaster on his entry into London,
"so proudly as if he had disdained the ground." The Arab steed here
symbolises with fine simplicity the attitude of all those who had
sunned themselves in the prosperity of the now fallen King.

The scene of the abdication (iv. I) is admirable by reason of the
delicacy of feeling and imagination which Richard displays. His speech
when he and Henry have each one hand upon the crown is one of the most
beautiful Shakespeare has ever written:--

    "Now is this golden crown like a deep well,
     That owes two buckets filling one another;
     The emptier ever dancing in the air,
     The other down, unseen, and full of water:
     That bucket down, and full of tears, am I,
     Drinking my griefs, whilst you mount up on high."

This scene is, however, a downright imitation of the abdication-scene
in Marlowe. When Northumberland in Shakespeare addresses the dethroned
King with the word "lord," the King answers, "No lord of thine." In
Marlowe the speech is almost identical: "Call me not lord!"

The Shakespearian scene, it should be mentioned, has its history. The
censorship under Elizabeth would not suffer it to be printed, and it
first appears in the Fourth Quarto, of 1608.[1] The reason of this
veto was that Elizabeth, strange as it may appear, was often compared
with Richard II. The action of the censorship renders it probable that
it was Shakespeare's _Richard II._ (and not one of the earlier plays
on the same theme) which, as appears in the trial of Essex, was acted
by the Lord Chamberlain's Company before the conspirators, at their
leaders' command, on the evening before the outbreak of the rebellion
(February 7, 1601). There is nothing inconsistent with this theory in
the fact that the players then called it an old play, which was already
"out of use;" for the interval between 1593-94 and 1601 was sufficient,
according to the ideas of that time, to render a play antiquated. Nor
does it conflict with this view that in the last scenes of the play
the King is sympathetically treated. On the very points on which he
was comparable with Elizabeth there could be no doubt that he was in
the wrong; while Henry of Hereford figures in the end as the bearer of
England's future, and, for the not over-sensitive nerves of the period,
that was sufficient. He, who was soon to play a leading part in two
other Shakespearian dramas, is here endowed with all the qualities
of the successful usurper and ruler: cunning and insight, power of
dissimulation, ingratiating manners, and promptitude in action.

In a single speech (v. 3) the new-made Henry IV. sketches the character
of his "unthrifty son," Shakespeare's hero: he passes his time in
the taverns of London with riotous boon-companions, who now and then
even rob travellers on the highway; but, being no less daring than
dissolute, he gives certain "sparks of hope" for a nobler future.

[1] Its title runs, "The Tragedie of King Richard the Second:
with new additions of the Parliament Sceane, and the deposing of
King Richard, As it hath been lately acted by the Kinges Maiesties
Seruantes, at the Globe. By William Shake-speare. At London. Printed
by W. W. For Mathew Law, and are to be sold at his shop in Paules
Church-yard, at the Signe of the Foxe. 1608."



In the year 1594-95 Shakespeare returns to the material which passed
through his hands during his revision of the Second and Third Parts of
_Henry VI_. He once more takes up the character of Richard of York,
there so firmly outlined; and, as in _Richard II._ he had followed in
Marlowe's footsteps, so he now sets to work with all his might upon
a Marlowesque figure, but only to execute it with his own vigour,
and around it to construct his first historic tragedy with well-knit
dramatic action. The earlier "histories" were still half epical; this
is a true drama. It quickly became one of the most effective and
popular pieces on the stage, and has imprinted itself on the memory of
all the world in virtue of the monumental character of its protagonist.

The immediate occasion of Shakespeare's taking up this theme was
probably the fact that in the year 1594 an old and worthless play on
the subject was published under the title of _The True Tragedy of
Richard III_. The publication of this play may have been clue to the
renewed interest in its hero awakened by the performances of _Henry VI._

It is impossible to assign a precise date to Shakespeare's play. The
first Quarto of _Richard II._ was entered in the Stationers' Register
oh the 29th August 1597, and the first edition of _Richard III_. was
entered on the 20th October of the same year. But there is no doubt
that its earliest form is of much older date. The diversities in its
style indicate that Shakespeare worked over the text even before it was
first printed; and the difference between the text of the first Quarto
and that of the first Folio bears witness to a radical revision having
taken place in the interval between the two editions. It is certainly
to this play that John Weever alludes when, in his poem, _Ad Gulielmum
Shakespeare,_ written as early as 1595, he mentions Richard among the
poet's creations.

From the old play of _Richard III_. Shakespeare took nothing at all,
or, to be precise, possibly one or two lines in the first scene of the
second act. He throughout followed Holinshed, whose Chronicle is here
copied word for word from Hall, who, in his turn, merely translated Sir
Thomas More's history of Richard III. We can even tell what edition
of Holinshed Shakespeare used, for he has copied a slip of the pen or
error of the press which appears in that edition alone. In Act v. scene
3, line 324, he writes:--

    "Long kept in Bretagne at our _mother's_ cost,"

instead of _brother's_.

The text of _Richard III_. presents no slight difficulties to the
editors of Shakespeare. Neither the first Quarto nor the greatly
amended Folio is free from gross and baffling errors. The editors
of the Cambridge Edition have attempted to show that both the texts
are taken from bad copies of the original manuscripts. It would not
surprise us, indeed, that the poet's own manuscript, being perpetually
handled by the prompter and stage-manager, should quickly become so
ragged that now one page and now another would have to be replaced
by a copy. But the Cambridge editors have certainly undervalued the
augmented and amended text of the First Folio. James Spedding has shown
in an excellent essay _(The New Shakspere Society's Transactions_,
1875-76, pp. 1-119) that the changes which some have thought accidental
and arbitrary, and therefore not the work of the poet himself, are due
to his desire, sometimes to improve the form of the verse, sometimes
to avoid the repetition of a word, sometimes to get rid of antiquated
words and turns of phrase.

Every one who has been nurtured upon Shakespeare has from his youth
dwelt wonderingly upon the figure of Richard, that fiend in human
shape, striding, with savage impetuosity, from murder to murder, wading
through falsehood and hypocrisy to ever-new atrocities, becoming in
turn regicide, fratricide, tyrant, murderer of his wife and of his
comrades, until, besmirched with treachery and slaughter, he faces his
foes with invincible greatness.

When J. L. Heiberg refused to produce _Richard III_. at the Royal
Theatre in Copenhagen, he expressed a doubt whether "we could ever
accustom ourselves to seeing Melpomene's dagger converted into a
butcher's knife." Like many other critics before and after him,
he took exception to the line in Richard's opening soliloquy, "I
am determined to prove a villain." He doubted, justly enough, the
psychological possibility of this phrase; but the monologue, as a
whole, is a non-realistic unfolding of secret thoughts in words, and,
with a very slight change in the form of expression, the idea is by no
means indefensible. Richard does not mean that he is determined to be
what he himself regards as criminal, but merely declares with bitter
irony that, since he cannot "prove a lover To entertain these fair
well-spoken days," he will play the part of a villain, and give the
rein to his hatred for the "idle pleasures" of the time.

There is in the whole utterance a straightforwardness, as of a
programme, that takes us aback. Richard comes forward naïvely in the
character of Prologue, and foreshadows the matter of the tragedy. It
seems almost as though Shakespeare had determined to guard himself at
the outset against the accusation of obscurity which had possibly been
brought against his _Richard II_. But we must remember that ambitious
men in his day were less composite than in our times, and, moreover,
that he was not here depicting even one of his own contemporaries,
but a character which appeared to his imagination in the light of a
historical monster, from whom his own age was separated by more than a
century. His Richard is like an old portrait, dating from the time when
the physiognomy of dangerous, no less than of noble, characters was
simpler, and when even intellectual eminence was still accompanied by a
bull-necked vigour of physique such as in later times we find only in
the savage chieftains of distant corners of the world.

It is against such figures as this of Richard that the critics who
contest Shakespeare's rank as a psychologist are fondest of directing
their attacks. But Shakespeare was no miniature-painter. Minutely
detailed psychological painting, such as in our days Dostoyevsky has
given us, was not his affair; though, as he proved in _Hamlet_, he
could on occasion grapple with complex characters. Even here, however,
he gets his effect of complexity, not by unravelling a tangle of
motives, but by producing the impression of an inward infinity in the
character. It is clear that, in his age, he had not often the chance of
observing how circumstances, experience, and changing conditions cut
and polish a personality into shimmering facets. With the exception of
Hamlet, who in some respects stands alone, his characters have sides
indeed, but not facets.

Take, for instance, this Richard. Shakespeare builds him up from a
few simple characteristics: deformity, the potent consciousness of
intellectual superiority, and the lust for power. His whole personality
can be traced back to these simple elements.

He is courageous out of self-esteem; he plays the lover out of
ambition; he is cunning and false, a comedian and a blood-hound,
as cruel as he is hypocritical--and all in order to attain to that
despotism on which he has set his heart.

Shakespeare found in Holinshed's Chronicle certain fundamental traits:
Richard was born with teeth, and could bite before he could smile; he
was ugly; he had one shoulder higher than another; he was malicious and
witty; he was a daring and open-handed general; he loved secrecy; he
was false and hypocritical out of ambition, cruel out of policy.

All this Shakespeare simplifies and exaggerates, as every artist must.
Delacroix has finely said, "_L'art, c'est l'exagération à propos."_

The Richard of the tragedy is deformed; he is undersized and crooked,
has a hump on his back and a withered arm.

He is not, like so many other hunchbacks, under any illusion as to his
appearance. He does not think himself handsome, nor is he loved by the
daughters of Eve, in whom deformity is so apt to awaken that instinct
of pity which is akin to love.

No, Richard feels himself maltreated by Nature; from his birth upwards
he has suffered wrong at her hands, and in spite of his high and
strenuous spirit, he has grown up an outcast. He has from the first
had to do without his mother's love, and to listen to the gibes of
his enemies. Men have pointed at his shadow and laughed. The dogs
have barked at him as he halted by. But in this luckless frame dwells
an ambitious soul. Other people's paths to happiness and enjoyment
are closed to him. But he will rule; for that he was born. Power is
everything to him, his fixed idea. Power alone can give him his revenge
upon the people around him, whom he hates, or despises, or both. The
glory of the diadem shall rest upon the head that crowns this misshapen
body. He sees its golden splendour afar off. Many lives stand between
him and his goal; but he will shrink from no falsehood, no treachery,
no bloodshed, if only he can reach it.

Into this character Shakespeare transforms himself in imagination. It
is the mark of the dramatic poet to be always able to get out of his
own skin and into another's. But in later times some of the greatest
dramatists have shrunk shuddering from the out-and-out criminal, as
being too remote from them. For example, Goethe. His wrong-doers are
only weaklings, like Weislingen or Clavigo; even his Mephistopheles
is not really evil. Shakespeare, on the other hand, made the effort
to feel like Richard. How did he set about it? Exactly as we do when
we strive to understand another personality; for example, Shakespeare
himself. He imagines himself into him; that is to say, he projects his
mind into the other's body and lives in it for the time being. The
question the poet has to answer is always this: How should I feel and
act if I were a prince, a woman, a conqueror, an outcast, and so forth?

Shakespeare takes, as his point of departure, the ignominy inflicted by
Nature; Richard is one of Nature's victims. How can Shakespeare feel
with him here--Shakespeare, to whom deformity of body was unknown,
and who had been immoderately favoured by Nature? But he, too, had
long endured humiliation, and had lived under mean conditions which
afforded no scope either to his will or to his talents. Poverty is
itself a deformity; and the condition of an actor was a blemish like a
hump on his back. Thus he is in a position to enter with ease into the
feelings of one of Nature's victims. He has simply to give free course
to all the moods in his own mind which have been evoked by personal
humiliation, and to let them ferment and run riot.

Next comes the consciousness of superiority in Richard, and the lust
of power which springs from it. Shakespeare cannot have lacked the
consciousness of his personal superiority, and, like every man of
genius, he must have had the lust of power in his soul, at least as
a rudimentary organ. Ambitious he must assuredly have been, though
not after the fashion of the actors and dramatists of our day. Their
mere jugglery passes for art, while his art was regarded by the great
majority as mere jugglery. His artistic self-esteem received a check in
its growth; but none the less there was ambition behind the tenacity
of purpose which in a few years raised him from a servitor in the
theatre to a shareholder and director, and which led him to develop
the greatest productive talent of his country, till he outshone all
rivals in his calling, and won the appreciation of the leaders of
fashion and taste. He now transposed into another sphere of life, that
of temporal rule, a habit of mind which was his own. The instinct
of his soul, which never suffered him to stop or pause, but forced
him from one great intellectual achievement to another, restlessly
onward from masterpiece to masterpiece--the fierce instinct, with its
inevitable egoism, which led him in his youth to desert his family, in
his maturity to amass property without any tenderness for his debtors,
and _(per fas et nefas_) to attain his modest patent of gentility--this
instinct enables him to understand and feel that passion for power
which defies and tramples upon every scruple. And all the other
characteristics (for example, the hypocrisy, which in the Chronicle
holds the foremost place) he uses as mere instruments in the service of

Note how he has succeeded in individualising this passion. It is
hereditary. In the Second Part of _Henry VI_. (iii. I) Richard's
father, the Duke of York, says--

    "Let pale-fac'd fear keep with the mean-born man,
     And find no harbour in a royal heart.
     Faster than spring-time showers comes thought on thought,
     And not a thought but thinks on dignity.
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
     Well, nobles, well; 't is politicly done,
     To send me packing with an host of men:
     I fear me, you but warm the starved snake,
     Who, cherish'd in your breasts, will sting your hearts."

In the Third Part of _Henry VI_., Richard shows himself the true son of
his father. His brother runs after the smiles of women; he dreams only
of might and sovereignty. If there was no crown to be attained, the
world would have no joy to offer him. He says himself (iii. 2)--

    "Why, love forswore me in my mother's womb:
     And, for I should not deal in her soft laws,
     She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe,
     To shrink mine arm up like a wither'd shrub;
     To make an envious mountain on my back.
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
     To disproportion me in every part;
     Like to a chaos, or an unlick'd bear-whelp,
     That carries no impression like the dam.
     And am I then a man to be belov'd?
     O monstrous fault, to harbour such a thought!
     Then, since this earth affords no joy to me
     But to command, to check, to o'erbear such
     As are of better person than myself,
     I'll make my heaven to dream upon the crown."

The lust of power is an inward agony to him. He compares himself to a
man "lost in a thorny wood, That rends the thorns and is rent by the
thorns;" and he sees no way of deliverance except to "hew his way out
with a bloody axe." Thus is he tormented by his desire for the crown of
England; and to achieve it he will "drown more sailors than the mermaid
shall;... Deceive more slyly than Ulysses could;... add colours to
the chameleon;... And send the murd'rous Machiavel to school." (The
last touch is an anachronism, for Richard died fifty years before _The
Prince_ was published.)

If this is to be a villain, then a villain he is. And for the sake
of the artistic effect, Shakespeare has piled upon Richard's head
far more crimes than the real Richard can be historically proved to
have committed. This he did, because he had no doubt of the existence
of such characters as rose before his imagination while he read in
Holinshed of Richard's misdeeds. He believed in the existence of
villains--a belief largely undermined in our days by a scepticism
which greatly facilitates the villains' operations. He has drawn
more villains than one: Edmund in _Lear_, who is influenced by his
illegitimacy as Richard is by his deformity, and the grand master of
all evil, Iago in _Othello_.

But let us get rid of the empty by-word villain, which Richard applies
to himself. Shakespeare no doubt believed theoretically in the
free-will which can choose any course it pleases, and villainy among
the rest; but none the less does he in practice assign a cause to every

On three scenes in this play Shakespeare evidently expended particular
care--the three which imprint themselves on the memory after even a
single attentive reading.

The first of these scenes is that in which Richard wins over the Lady
Anne, widow of one of his victims, Prince Edward, and daughter-in-law
of another, Henry VI. Shakespeare has here carried the situation to its
utmost extremity. It is while Anne is accompanying the bier of the
murdered Henry VI. that the murderer confronts her, stops the funeral
procession with drawn sword, calmly endures all the outbursts of
hatred, loathing, and contempt with which Anne overwhelms him, and,
having shaken off her invectives like water from a duck's back,
advances his suit, plays his comedy of love, and there and then so
turns the current of her will that she allows him to hope, and even
accepts his ring.

The scene is historically impossible, since Queen Margaret took Anne
with her in her flight after the battle of Tewkesbury, and Clarence
kept her in concealment until two years after the death of Henry VI.,
when Richard discovered her in London. It has, moreover, something
astonishing, or rather bewildering, about it at the first reading,
appearing as though written for a wager or to outdo some predecessor.
Nevertheless it is by no means unnatural. What may with justice be
objected to it is that it is unprepared. The mistake is, that we are
first introduced to Anne in the scene itself, and can consequently
form no judgment as to whether her action does or does not accord with
her character. The art of dramatic writing consists almost entirely in
preparing for what is to come, and then, in spite of, nay, in virtue
of the preparation, taking the audience by surprise. Surprise without
preparation loses half its effect.

But this is only a technical flaw which so great a master would in
riper years have remedied with ease. The essential feature of the
scene is its tremendous daring and strength, or, psychologically
speaking, the depth of early-developed contempt for womankind into
which it affords us a glimpse. For the very reason that the poet has
not given any individual characteristics to this woman, it seems as
though he would say: Such is feminine human nature. It is quite evident
that in his younger years he, was not so much alive to the beauties
of the womanly character as he became at a later period of his life.
He is fond of drawing unamiable women like Adriana in _The Comedy of
Errors,_ violent and corrupt women like Tamora in _Titus Andronicus_,
and Margaret in _Henry VI_., or scolding women like Katherine in _The
Taming of the Shrew_. Here he gives us a picture of peculiarly feminine
weakness, and personifies in Richard his own contempt for it.

Exasperate a woman against you (he seems to say), do her all the
evil you can think of, kill her husband, deprive her thereby of
the succession to a crown, fill her to overflowing with hatred and
execration--then if you can only cajole her into believing that in all
you have done, crimes and everything, you have been actuated simply
and solely by burning passion for her, by the hope of approaching her
and winning her hand--why, then the game is yours, and sooner or later
she will give in. Her vanity cannot hold out. If it is proof against
ten measures of flattery, it will succumb to a hundred; and if even
that is not enough, then pile on more. Every woman has a price at
which her vanity is for sale; you have only to dare greatly and bid
high enough. So Shakespeare makes this crook-backed assassin accept
Anne's insults without winking and retort upon them his declaration of
love--he at once seems less hideous in her eyes from the fact that his
crimes were committed for her sake. Shakespeare makes him hand her his
drawn sword, to pierce him to the heart if she will; he is sure enough
that she will do nothing of the sort. She cannot withstand the intense
volition in his glance; he hypnotises her hatred; the exaltation with
which his lust of power inspires him bewilders and overpowers her, and
he becomes almost beautiful in her eyes when he bares his breast to
her revenge. She yields to him under the influence of an attraction in
which are mingled dizziness, terror, and perverted sensuality. His very
hideousness becomes a stimulus the more. There is a sort of fearful
billing-and-cooing in the stichomythy in the style of the antique
tragedy, which begins:--

    "_Anne_. I would I knew thy heart.
     _Gloucester_. 'Tis figured in my tongue.
     _Anne_. I fear me both are false.
     _Gloucester_. Then never man was true."

But triumph seethes in his veins--

    "Was ever woman in this humour wooed?
     Was ever woman in this humour won?"

--triumph that he, the hunchback, the monster, has needed but to
show himself and use his polished tongue in order to stay the curses
on her lips, dry the tears in her eyes, and awaken desire in her
soul. This courtship has procured him the intoxicating sensation of

The fact of the marriage Shakespeare found in the Chronicle; and he led
up to it in this brilliant fashion because his poetic instinct told
him to make Richard great, and thereby possible as a tragic hero. In
reality, he was by no means so dæmonic. His motive for paying court to
Anne was sheer cupidity. Both Clarence and Gloucester had schemed to
possess themselves of the vast fortune left by the Earl of Warwick,
although the Countess was still alive and legally entitled to the
greater part of it. Clarence, who had married the elder daughter, was
certain of his part in the inheritance, but Richard thought that by
marrying the younger daughter, Prince Edward's widow, he would secure
the right to go halves. By aid of an Act of Parliament, the matter
was arranged so that each of the brothers received his share in the
booty. For this low rapacity in Richard, Shakespeare has substituted the
hunchback's personal exultation on finding himself a successful wooer.

Nevertheless, it was not his intention to represent Richard as superior
to all feminine wiles. This opening scene has its counterpart in the
passage (iv. 4) where the King, after having rid himself by poison of
the wife he has thus won, proposes to Elizabeth, the widow of Edward
IV., for the hand of her daughter.

The scene has the air of a repetition. Richard has made away with
Edward's two sons in order to clear his path to the throne. Here again,
then, the murderer woos the nearest kinswoman of his victims, and, in
this case, through the intermediary of their mother. Shakespeare has
lavished his whole art on this passage. Elizabeth, too, expresses the
deepest loathing for him. Richard answers that, if he has deprived her
sons of the throne, he will now make amends by raising her daughter
to it. Here also the dialogue takes the form of a stichomythy, which
clearly enough indicates that these passages belong to the earliest
form of the play:--

    "_King Richard_. Infer fair England's peace by this alliance.

    _Queen Elizabeth_. Which she shall purchase with still
    lasting war.

    _K. Rich_. Tell her, the king, that may command, entreats.

    _Q. Eliz_. That at her hands, which the kings' King forbids."

Richard not only asserts the purity and strength of his feelings, but
insists that by this marriage alone can he be prevented from bringing
misery and destruction upon thousands in the kingdom. Elizabeth
pretends to yield, and Richard bursts forth, just as in the first act--

    "Relenting fool, and shallow changing woman!"

But it is he himself who is overreached. Elizabeth has only made a show
of acquiescence in order immediately after to offer her daughter to his
mortal foe.

The second unforgetable passage is the Baynard's Castle scene in the
third act. Richard has cleared away all obstacles on his path to the
throne. His elder brother Clarence is murdered--drowned in a butt of
wine. Edward's young sons are presently to be strangled in prison.
Hastings has just been hurried to the scaffold without trial or form of
law. The thing is now to avoid all appearance of complicity in these
crimes, and to seem austerely disinterested with regard to the crown.
To this end he makes his rascally henchman, Buckingham, persuade the
simple-minded and panic-stricken Lord Mayor of London, with other
citizens of repute, to implore him, in spite of his seeming reluctance,
to mount the throne. Buckingham prepares Richard for their approach
(iii. 7):--

                      "Intend some fear;
    Be not you spoke with but by mighty suit:
    And look you get a prayer-book in your hand,
    And stand between two churchmen, good my lord:
    For on that ground I'll make a holy descant:
    And be not easily won to our requests;
    Play the maid's part, still answer nay, and take it."

Then come the citizens. Catesby bids them return another time. His
grace is closeted with two right reverend fathers; he is "divinely
bent to meditation," and must not be disturbed in his devotions by any
"worldly suits." They renew their entreaties to his messenger, and
implore the favour of an audience with his grace "in matter of great

Not till then does Gloucester show himself upon the balcony between two

When, at the election of 1868, which turned upon the Irish Church
question, Disraeli, a very different man from Richard, was relying on
the co-operation of both English and Irish prelates, _Punch_ depicted
him in fifteenth-century attire, standing on a balcony, prayer-book
in hand, with an indescribable expression of sly humility, while two
bishops, representing the English and the Irish Church, supported him
on either hand. The legend ran, in the words of the Lord Mayor: "See
where his grace stands 'tween two clergymen!"--whereupon Buckingham

    "Two props of virtue for a Christian prince,
     To stay him from the fall of vanity;
     And, see, a book of prayer in his hand,
     True ornament to know a holy man."

The deputation is sternly repulsed, until Richard at last lets mercy
stand for justice, and recalling the envoys of the City, yields to
their insistence.

The third master-scene is that in Richard's tent on Bosworth Field (v.
3). It seems as though his hitherto immovable self-confidence had been
shaken; he feels himself weak; he will not sup. "Is my beaver easier
than it was? ... Fill me a bowl of wine.... Look that my staves be
sound and not too heavy." Again: "Give me a bowl of wine."

    "I have not that alacrity of spirit,
     Nor cheer of mind, that I was wont to have."

Then, in a vision, as he lies sleeping on his couch, with his armour
on and his sword-hilt grasped in his hand, he sees, one by one, the
spectres of all those he has done to death. He wakens in terror. His
conscience has a thousand tongues, and every tongue condemns him as a
perjurer and assassin:--

    "I shall despair.--There is no creature loves me;
     And if I die no soul shall pity me."

These are such pangs of conscience as would sometimes beset even the
strongest and most resolute in those days when faith and superstition
were still powerful, and when even one who scoffed at religion and
made a tool of it had no assurance in his heart of hearts. There is in
these words, too, a purely human sense of loneliness and of craving for
affection, which is valid for all time.

Most admirable is the way in which Richard summons up his manhood and
restores the courage of those around him. These are the accents of one
who will give despair no footing in his soul:--

    "Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
     Devis'd at first to keep the strong in awe;"

and there is in his harangue to the soldiers an irresistible roll
of fierce and spirit-stirring martial music; it is constructed like
strophes of the _Marseillaise_:--

       "Remember whom you are to cope withal;--
        A sort of vagabonds, rascals, runaways.
    _(Que veut cette horde d'esclaves?)_
       You having lands, and bless'd with beauteous wives,
       They would restrain the one, distain the other.
    _(Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes.)_
       Let's whip these stragglers o'er the seas again."

But there is a ferocity, a scorn, a popular eloquence in Richard's
words, in comparison with which the rhetoric of the _Marseillaise_
seems declamatory, even academic. His last speeches are nothing less
than superb:--

    "Shall these enjoy our lands? lie with our wives?
     Ravish our daughters?--_[Drum afar off_.] Hark; I hear their
     Fight, gentlemen of England! fight, bold yeomen!
     Draw, archers, draw your arrows to the head!
     Spur your proud horses hard, and ride in blood:
     Amaze the welkin with your broken staves!
                      _Enter a Messenger_.
    What says Lord Stanley? will he bring his power?
      _Mess_. My lord, he doth deny to come.
      _K. Rich_. Off with his son George's head!
      _Norfolk_. My lord, the enemy is pass'd the marsh:
    After the battle let George Stanley die.
      _K. Rich_. A thousand hearts are great within my bosom.
    Advance our standards! set upon our foes!
    Our ancient word of courage, fair Saint George,
    Inspire us with the spleen of fiery dragons!
    Upon them! Victory sits on our helms.
      .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
      _K. Rich_. A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!
      _Catesby_. Withdraw, my lord; I'll help you to a horse.
      _K. Rich_. Slave! I have set my life upon a cast,
    And I will stand the hazard of the die.
    I think there be six Richmonds in the field;
    Five have I slain to-day, instead of him.--
    A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!"

In no other play of Shakespeare's, we may surely say, is the leading
character so absolutely predominant as here. He absorbs almost the
whole of the interest, and it is a triumph of Shakespeare's art that
he makes us, in spite of everything, follow him with sympathy. This
is partly because several of his victims are so worthless that their
fate seems well deserved. Anne's weakness deprives her of our sympathy,
and Richard's crime loses something of its horror when we see how
lightly it is forgiven by the one who ought to take it most to heart.
In spite of all his iniquities, he has wit and courage on his side--a
wit which sometimes rises to Mephistophelean humour, a courage which
does not fail him even in the moment of disaster, but sheds a glory
over his fall which is lacking to the triumph of his coldly correct
opponent. However false and hypocritical he may be towards others, he
is no hypocrite to himself. He is chemically free from self-delusion,
even applying to himself the most derogatory terms; and this candour
in the depths of his nature appeals to us. It must be said for him,
too, that threats and curses recoil from him innocuous, that neither
hatred nor violence nor superior force can dash his courage. Strength
of character is such a rare quality that it arouses sympathy even in a
criminal. If Richard's reign had lasted longer, he would perhaps have
figured in history as a ruler of the type of Louis XI.: crafty, always
wearing his religion on his sleeve, but far-seeing and resolute. As a
matter of fact, in history as in the drama, his whole time was occupied
in defending himself in the position to which he had fought his way,
like a bloodthirsty beast of prey. His figure stands before us as his
contemporaries have drawn it: small and wiry, the right shoulder higher
than the left, wearing his rich brown hair long in order to conceal
this malformation, biting his under-lip, always restless, always with
his hand on his dagger-hilt, sliding it up and down in its sheath,
without entirely drawing it. Shakespeare has succeeded in throwing a
halo of poetry around this tiger in human shape.

The figures of the two boy princes, Edward's sons, stand in the
strongest contrast to Richard. The eldest child already shows greatness
of soul, a kingly spirit, with a deep feeling for the import of
historic achievement. The fact that Julius Cæsar built the Tower, he
says, even were it not registered, ought to live from age to age. He
is full of the thought that while Cæsar's "valour did enrich his wit,"
yet it was his wit "that made his valour live," and he exclaims with
enthusiasm, "Death makes no conquest of this conqueror." The younger
brother is childishly witty, imaginative, full of boyish mockery for
his uncle's grimness, and eager to play with his dagger and sword. In
a very few touches Shakespeare has endowed these young brothers with
the most exquisite grace. The murderers "weep like to children in their
death's sad story":--

    "Their lips were four red roses on a stalk,
     And, in their summer beauty, kiss'd each other."

Finally, the whole tragedy of Richard's life and death is enveloped, as
it were, in the mourning of women, permeated with their lamentations.
In its internal structure, it bears no slight resemblance to a Greek
tragedy, being indeed the concluding portion of a tetralogy.

Nowhere else does Shakespeare approach so nearly to the classicism on
the model of Seneca which had found some adherents in England.

The whole tragedy springs from the curse which York, in the Third Part
of _Henry VI_. (i. 4), hurls at Margaret of Anjou. She has insulted her
captive enemy, and given him in mockery a napkin soaked in the blood of
his son, the young Rutland, stabbed to the heart by Clifford.

Therefore she loses her crown and her son, the Prince of Wales. Her
lover, Suffolk, she has already lost. Nothing remains to attach her to

But now it is her turn to be revenged.

The poet has sought to incarnate in her the antique Nemesis, has given
her supernatural proportions and set her free from the conditions of
real life. Though exiled, she has returned unquestioned to England,
haunts the palace of Edward IV., and gives free vent to her rage and
hatred in his presence and that of his kinsfolk and his courtiers.
So, too, she wanders around under Richard's rule, simply and solely
to curse her enemies--and even Richard himself is seized with a
superstitious shudder at these anathemas.

Never again did Shakespeare so depart from the possible in order to
attain a scenic effect. And yet it is doubtful whether the effect is
really attained. In reading, it is true, these curses strike us with
extraordinary force; but on the stage, where she only disturbs and
retards the action, and takes no effective part in it, Margaret cannot
but prove wearisome.

Yet, though she herself remains inactive, her curses are effectual
enough. Death overtakes all those on whom they fall--the King and his
children, Rivers and Dorset, Lord Hastings and the rest.

She encounters the Duchess of York, the mother of Edward IV., Queen
Elizabeth, his widow, and finally Anne, Richard's daringly-won and
quickly-repudiated wife. And all these women, like a Greek chorus, give
utterance in rhymed verse to imprecations and lamentations of high
lyric fervour. In two passages in particular (ii. 2 and iv. I) they
chant positive choral odes in dialogue form. Take as an example of the
lyric tone of the diction these lines (iv. I):--.

    "_Duchess of York [To Dorset_.] Go thou to Richmond, and
    good fortune guide thee!--

    [_To Anne_.] Go thou to Richard, and good angels tend thee!

    [_To Q. Elizabeth_.] Go thou to sanctuary, and good thoughts
    possess thee!--

    I to my grave, where peace and rest lie with me!
    Eighty odd years of sorrow have I seen,
    And each hour's joy wrack'd with a week of teen."

Such is this work of Shakespeare's youth, firm, massive, and masterful
throughout, even though of very unequal merit. Everything is here
worked out upon the surface; the characters themselves tell us what
sort of people they are, and proclaim themselves evil or good, as the
case may be. They are all transparent, all self-conscious to excess.
They expound themselves in soliloquies, and each of them is judged in a
sort of choral ode. The time is yet to come when Shakespeare no longer
dreams of making his characters formally hand over to the spectators
the key to their mystery--when, on the contrary, with his sense of the
secrets and inward contradictions of the spiritual life, he sedulously
hides that key in the depths of personality.



In the Parish Register of Stratford-on-Avon for 1596, under the heading
of burials, we find this entry, in a clear and elegant handwriting:--

    "_August_ 11, _Hamnet filius William Shakespeare._"

Shakespeare's only son was born on the 2nd of February 1585; he was
thus only eleven and a half when he died.

We cannot doubt that this loss was a grievous one to a man of
Shakespeare's deep feeling; doubly grievous, it would seem, because it
was his constant ambition to restore the fallen fortunes of his family,
and he was now left without an heir to his name.

Traces of what his heart must have suffered appear in the work he now
undertakes, _King John_, which seems to date from 1596-97.

One of the main themes of this play is the relation between John
Lackland, who has usurped the English crown, and the rightful heir,
Arthur, son of John's elder brother, in reality a boy of about fourteen
at the date of the action, but whom Shakespeare, for the sake of poetic
effect, and influenced, perhaps, by his private preoccupations of the
moment, has made considerably younger, and consequently more childlike
and touching.

The King has got Arthur into his power. The most famous scene in the
play is that (iv. I) in which Hubert de Burgh, the King's chamberlain,
who has received orders to sear out the eyes of the little captive,
enters Arthur's prison with the irons, and accompanied by the two
servants who are to bind the child to a chair and hold him fast while
the atrocity is being committed. The little prince, who has no mistrust
of Hubert, but only a general dread of his uncle's malice, as yet
divines no danger, and is full of sympathy and childlike tenderness.
The passage is one of extraordinary grace:--

      "_Arthur_                                 You are sad.
       _Hubert_. Indeed, I have been merrier.
       _Arth_. Mercy on me
    Methinks, nobody should be sad but I:
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
                          I would to Heaven,
     I were your son, so you would love me, Hubert.
       _Hub. [Aside_.] If I talk to him, with his innocent prate
    He will awake my mercy, which lies dead:
    Therefore I will be sudden, and despatch.
       _Arth_. Are you sick, Hubert? you look pale to-day.
    In sooth, I would you were a little sick,
    That I might sit all night, and watch with you:
    I warrant, I love you more than you do me."

Hubert gives him the royal mandate to read:--

      "_Hubert_. Can you not read it? is it not fair writ?
       _Arthur_. Too fairly, Hubert, for so foul effect.
    Must you with hot irons burn out both mine eyes?
       _Hub_. Young boy, I must.
       _Arth_           .         And will you?
       _Hub_                       .             And I will.
       _Arth_. Have you the heart? When your head did but ache,
    I knit my handkerchief about your brows,
    (The best I had, a princess wrought it me,)
    And I did never ask it you again;
    And with my hand at midnight held your head."

Hubert summons the executioners, and the child promises to sit still
and offer no resistance if only he will send these "bloody men" away.
One of the servants as he goes out speaks a word of pity, and Arthur is
in despair at having "chid away his friend." In heart-breaking accents
he begs mercy of Hubert until the iron has grown cold, and Hubert has
not the heart to heat it afresh.

Arthur's entreaties to the rugged Hubert to spare his eyes, must have
represented in Shakespeare's thought the prayers of his little Hamnet
to be suffered still to see the light of day, or rather Shakespeare's
own appeal to Death to spare the child--prayers and appeals which were
all in vain.

It is, however, in the lamentations of Arthur's mother, Constance, when
the child is carried away to prison (iii. 4), that we most clearly
recognise the accents of Shakespeare's sorrow:--

      "_Pandulph_. Lady, you utter madness, and not sorrow.
       _Constance_. I am not mad: this hair I tear is mine.
    If I were mad, I should forget my son,
    Or madly think, a babe of clouts were he.
    I am not mad: too well, too well I feel
    The different plague of each calamity."

She pours forth her anguish at the thought of his sufferings in

      "Now will canker sorrow eat my bud,
    And chase the native beauty from his cheek,
    And he will look as hollow as a ghost,
    As dim and meagre as an ague's fit,
    And so he'll die.
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
      _Pandulph_. You hold too heinous a respect of grief.
      _Constance_. He talks to me, that never had a son.
      _K. Philip_. You are as fond of grief as of your child."
      _Const_. Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
    Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
    Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
    Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
    Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form."

It seems as though Shakespeare's great heart had found an outlet for
its own sorrows in transfusing them into the heart of Constance.

Shakespeare used as the basis of his _King John_ an old play on the
same subject published in 1591.[1] This play is quite artless and
spiritless, but contains the whole action, outlines all the characters,
and suggests almost all the principal scenes. The poet did not
require to trouble himself with the invention of external traits. He
could concentrate his whole effort upon vitalising, spiritualising,
and deepening everything. Thus it happens that this play, though
never one of his most popular (it seems to have been but seldom
performed during his lifetime, and remained in manuscript until the
appearance of the First Folio), nevertheless contains some of his
finest character-studies and a multitude of pregnant, imaginative, and
exquisitely worded speeches.

The old play was a mere Protestant tendency-drama directed against
Catholic aggression, and full of the crude hatred and coarse
ridicule of monks and nuns characteristic of the Reformation period.
Shakespeare, with his usual tact, has suppressed the religious
element, and retained only the national and political attack upon
Roman Catholicism, so that the play had no slight actuality for the
Elizabethan public. But he has also displaced the centre of gravity of
the old play. Everything in Shakespeare turns upon John's defective
right to the throne: therein lies the motive for the atrocity he plans,
which leads (although it is not carried out as he intended) to the
barons' desertion of his cause.

Despite its great dramatic advantages over _Richard II_., the play
surfers from the same radical weakness, and in an even greater
degree: the figure of the King is too unsympathetic to serve as the
centre-point of a drama. His despicable infirmity of purpose, which
makes him kneel to receive his crown at the hands of the same Papal
legate whom he has shortly before defied in blusterous terms; his
infamous scheme to assassinate an innocent child, and his repentance
when he sees that its supposed execution has alienated the chief
supporters of his throne--all this hideous baseness, unredeemed by
any higher characteristics, leads the spectator rather to attach
his interest to the subordinate characters, and thus the action is
frittered away before his eyes. It lacks unity, because the King is
powerless to hold it together.

He himself is depicted for all time in the masterly scene (iii. 3)
where he seeks, without putting his thought into plain words, to make
Hubert understand that he would fain have Arthur murdered:--

    "Or if that thou couldst see me without eyes,
     Hear me without thine ears, and make reply
     Without a tongue, using conceit alone,
     Without eyes, ears, and harmful sound of words:
     Then, in despite of brooded-watchful day,--
     I would into thy bosom pour my thoughts.
     But, ah! I will not:--yet I love thee well."

Hubert protests his fidelity and devotion. Even if he were to die for
the deed, he would execute it for the King's sake. Then John's manner
becomes hearty, almost affectionate. "Good Hubert, Hubert!" he says
caressingly. He points to Arthur, bidding Hubert "throw his eye on yon
young boy;" and then follows this masterly dialogue:--

                "I'll tell thee what, my friend,
    He is a very serpent in my way;
    And wheresoe'er this foot of mine doth tread,
    He lies before me. Dost thou understand me?
    Thou art his keeper.
      _Hub_.                    And I'll keep him so,
    That he shall not offend your majesty.
      _K. John_. Death.
      _Hub_. My Lord.
      _K. John_.             A grave.
      _Hub_.                          He shall not live.
      _K. John_.                                         Enough
      _I could be merry now_. Hubert, I love thee;
    Well, I'll not say what I intend for thee:
    Remember.--Madam, fare you well:
    I'll send those powers o'er to your majesty.
      _Elinor_. My blessing go with thee!"

The character that bears the weight of the piece, as an acting play, is
the illegitimate son of Richard Cœur-de-Lion, Philip Faulconbridge. He
is John Bull himself in the guise of a mediæval knight, equipped with
great strength and a racy English humour, not the wit of a Mercutio, a
gay Italianising cavalier, but the irrepressible ebullitions of rude
health and blunt gaiety befitting an English Hercules. The scene in
the first act, in which he appears along with his brother, who seeks
to deprive him of his inheritance as a Faulconbridge on the ground of
his alleged illegitimacy, and the subsequent scene with his mother,
from whom he tries to wring the secret of his paternity, both appear
in the old play; but in it everything that the Bastard says is in grim
earnest--the embroidery of wit belongs to Shakespeare alone. It is he
who has placed in Faulconbridge's mouth such sayings as this:--

    "Madam, I was not old Sir Robert's son:
     Sir Robert might have eat his part in me
     Upon Good Friday, and ne'er broke his fast."

And it is quite in Shakespeare's spirit when the son, after her
confession, thus consoles his mother:--

    "Madam, I would not wish a better father.
     Some sins do bear their privilege on earth,
     And so doth yours."

In later years, at a time when his outlook upon life was darkened,
Shakespeare accounted for the villainy of Edmund, in _King Lear_ and
for his aloofness from anything like normal humanity, on the ground
of his irregular birth; in the Bastard of this play, on the contrary,
his aim was to present a picture of all that health, vigour, and
full-blooded vitality which popular belief attributes to a "Love-child."

The antithesis to this national hero is Limoges, Archduke of Austria,
in whom Shakespeare, following the old play, has mixed up two entirely
distinct personalities: Vidomar, Viscount of Limoges, at the siege of
one of whose castles Richard Cœur-de-Lion was killed, in 1199, and
Leopold V., Archduke of Austria, who had kept Cœur-de-Lion in prison.
Though the latter, in fact, died five years before Richard, we here
find him figuring as the dastardly murderer of the heroic monarch.
In memory of this deed he wears a lion's skin on his shoulders, and
thus brings down upon himself the indignant scorn of Constance and
Faulconbridge's taunting insults:--

      "_Constance_. Thou wear a lion's hide! doff it for shame,
    And hang a calf's-skin on those recreant limbs.
       _Austria_. O, that a man should speak those words to me!
       _Bastard_. And hang a calf's-skin on those recreant limbs.
       _Aust_. Thou dar'st not say so, villain, for thy life.
       _Bast_. And hang a calf's-skin on those recreant limbs."

Every time the Archduke tries to get in a word of warning or counsel,
Faulconbridge silences him with this coarse sarcasm.

Faulconbridge is at first full of youthful insolence, the true mediæval
nobleman, who despises the burgess class simply as such. When the
inhabitants of Angiers refuse to open their gates either to King John
or to King Philip of France, who has espoused the cause of Arthur, the
Bastard is so indignant at this peace-loving circumspection that he
urges the kings to join their forces against the unlucky town, and cry
truce to their feud until the ramparts are levelled to the earth. But
in the course of the action he ripens more and more, and displays ever
greater and more estimable qualities--humanity, right-mindedness, and a
fidelity to the King which does not interfere with generous freedom of
speech towards him.

His method of expression is always highly imaginative, more so than
that of the other male characters in the play. Even the most abstract
ideas he personifies. Thus he talks (iii. I) of--

    "Old Time, the clock-setter, that bald sexton Time."

In the old play whole scenes are devoted to his execution of the
task here allotted him of visiting the monasteries of England and
lightening the abbots' bursting money-bags. Shakespeare has suppressed
these ebullitions of an anti-Catholic fervour, which he did not share.
On the other hand, he has endowed Faulconbridge with genuine moral
superiority. At first he is only a cheery, fresh-natured, robust
personality, who tramples upon all social conventions, phrases, and
affectations; and indeed he preserves to the last something of that
contempt for "cockered silken wantons" which Shakespeare afterwards
elaborates so magnificently in Henry Percy. But there is real greatness
in his attitude when, at the close of the play, he addresses the
vacillating John in this manly strain (v. I):--

    "Let not the world see fear, and sad distrust,
     Govern the motion of a kingly eye:
     Be stirring as the time; be fire with fire;
     Threaten the threatener, and outface the brow
     Of bragging horror: so shall inferior eyes,
     That borrow their behaviours from the great,
     Grow great by your example, and put on
     The dauntless spirit of resolution."

Faulconbridge is in this play the spokesman of the patriotic spirit.
But we realise how strong was Shakespeare's determination to make this
string sound at all hazards, when we find that the first eulogy of
England is placed in the mouth of England's enemy, Limoges, the slayer
of Cœur-de-Lion, who speaks (ii. I) of--

               "that pale, that white'-fac'd shore,
     Whose foot spurns back the ocean's roaring tides,
     And coops from other lands her islanders,
      ... that England, hedg'd in with the main,
     That water-walled bulwark, still secure
     And confident from foreign purposes."

How slight is the difference between the eulogistic style of the two
mortal enemies, when Faulconbridge, who has in the meantime killed
Limoges, ends the play with a speech, which is, however, only slightly
adapted from the older text:--

    "This England never did, nor never shall,
     Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror.
         .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
     Come the three corners of the world in arms,
     And we shall shock them. Naught shall make us rue,
     If England to itself do rest but true."

Next to Faulconbridge, Constance is the character who bears the weight
of the play; and its weakness arises in great part from the fact that
Shakespeare has killed her at the end of the third act. So lightly is
her death treated, that it is merely announced in passing by the mouth
of a messenger. She does not appear at all after her son Arthur is put
out of the way, possibly because Shakespeare feared to lengthen the
list of sorrowing and vengeful mothers already presented in his earlier

He has treated this figure with a marked predilection, such as he
usually manifests for those characters which, in one way or another,
forcibly oppose every compromise with lax worldliness and euphemistic
conventionality. He has not only endowed her with the most passionate
and enthusiastic motherly love, but with a wealth of feeling and of
imagination which gives her words a certain poetic magnificence. She
wishes that "her tongue were in the thunder's mouth, Then with a
passion would she shake the world" (iii. 4). She is sublime in her
grief for the loss of her son:--

    "I will instruct my sorrows to be proud,
     For grief is proud, and makes his owner stoop.
     To me, and to the state of my great grief,
     Let kings assemble;
        .    .    .    .    .    .
             Here I and sorrows sit;
     Here is my throne, bid kings come bow to it.
              _Seats herself on the ground."_

Yet Shakespeare is already preparing us, in the overstrained violence
of these expressions, for her madness and death.

The third figure which fascinates the reader of _King John_ is that of
Arthur. All the scenes in which the child appears are contained in the
old play of the same name, and, among the rest, the first scene of the
second act, which seems to dispose of Fleay's conjecture that the first
two hundred lines of the act were hastily inserted after Shakespeare
had lost his son. Nevertheless almost all that is gracious and touching
in the figure is due to the great reviser. The old text is at its best
in the scene where Arthur meets his death by jumping from the walls of
the castle. Shakespeare has here confined himself for the most part
to free curtailment; in the old _King John_, his fatal fall does not
prevent Arthur from pouring forth copious lamentations to his absent
mother and prayers to "sweete Iesu." Shakespeare gives him only two
lines to speak after his fall.

In this play, as in almost all the works of Shakespeare's younger
years, the reader is perpetually amazed to find the finest poetical and
rhetorical passages side by side with the most intolerable euphuistic
affectations. And we cannot allege the excuse that these are legacies
from the older play. On the contrary, there is nothing of the kind
to be found in it; they are added by Shakespeare, evidently with the
express purpose of displaying delicacy and profundity of thought. In
the scenes before the walls of Angiers, he has on the whole kept close
to the old drama, and has even followed faithfully the sense of all the
more important speeches. For example, it is a citizen on the ramparts,
who, in the old play, suggests the marriage between Blanch and the
Dauphin; Shakespeare merely re-writes his speech, introducing into it
these beautiful lines (ii. 2):--

    "If lusty love should go in quest of beauty,
     Where should he find it fairer than in Blanch?
     If zealous love should go in search of virtue,
     Where should he find it purer than in Blanch?
     If love ambitious sought a match of birth,
     Whose veins bound richer blood than Lady Blanch?"

The surprising thing is that the same hand which has just written
these verses should forthwith lose itself in a tasteless tangle of
affectations like this:--

    "Such as she is, in beauty, virtue, birth,
     Is the young Dauphin every way complete:
     If not complete of, say, he is not she;
     And she again wants nothing, to name want,
     If want it be not, that she is not he:"

and this profound thought is further spun out with a profusion of
images. Can we wonder that Voltaire and the French critics of the
eighteenth century were offended by a style like this, even to the
point of letting it blind them to the wealth of genius elsewhere

Even the touching scene between Arthur and Hubert is disfigured by
false cleverness of this sort. The little boy, kneeling to the man who
threatens to sear out his eyes, introduces, in the midst of the most
moving appeals, such far-fetched and contorted phrases as this (iv.

    "The iron of itself, though heat red-hot,
     Approaching near these eyes, would drink my tears,
     And quench this fiery indignation
     Even in the matter of mine innocence;
     Nay, after that, consume away in rust,
     But for containing fire to harm mine eye."

And again, when Hubert proposes to reheat the iron:--

    "An if you do, you will but make it blush,
     And glow with shame of your proceedings, Hubert."

The taste of the age must indeed have pressed strongly upon
Shakespeare's spirit to prevent him from feeling the impossibility of
these quibbles upon the lips of a child imploring in deadly fear that
his eyes may be spared to him.

As regards their ethical point of view, there is no essential
difference between the old play and Shakespeare's. The King's defeat
and painful death is in both a punishment for his wrongdoing. There has
only been, as already mentioned, a certain displacement of the centre
of gravity. In the old play, the dying John stammers out an explicit
confession that from the moment he surrendered to the Roman priest he
has had no more happiness on earth; for the Pope's curse is a blessing,
and his blessing a curse. In Shakespeare the emphasis is laid, not upon
the King's weakness in the religio-political struggle, but upon the
wrong to Arthur. Faulconbridge gives utterance to the fundamental idea
of the play when he says (iv. 3):--

    "From forth this morsel of dead royalty,
     The life, the right, and truth of all this realm
     Is fled to heaven."

Shakespeare's political standpoint is precisely that of the earlier
writer, and indeed, we may add, of his whole age.

The most important contrasts and events of the period he seeks to
represent do not exist for him. He naïvely accepts the first kings of
the House of Plantagenet, and the Norman princes in general, as English
national heroes, and has evidently no suspicion of the deep gulf that
separated the Normans from the Anglo-Saxons down to this very reign,
when the two hostile races, equally oppressed by the King's tyranny,
began to fuse into one people. What would Shakespeare have thought had
he known that Richard Cœur-de-Lion's favourite formula of denial was
"Do you take me for an Englishman?" while his pet oath, and that of his
Norman followers, was "May I become an Englishman if--," &c.?

Nor does a single phrase, a single syllable, in the whole play, refer
to the event which, for all after-times, is inseparably associated with
the memory of King John--the signing of the Magna Charta. The reason of
this is evidently, in the first place, that Shakespeare kept close to
the earlier drama, and, in the second place, that he did not attribute
to the event the importance it really possessed, did not understand
that the Magna Charta laid the foundation of popular liberty, by
calling into existence a middle class which supported even the House
of Tudor in its struggle with an overweening oligarchy. But the chief
reason why the Magna Charta is not mentioned was, no doubt, that
Elizabeth did not care to be reminded of it. She was not fond of any
limitations of her royal prerogative, and did not care to recall the
defeats suffered by her predecessors in their struggles with warlike
and independent vassals. And the nation was willing enough to humour
her in this respect. People felt that they had to thank her government
for a great national revival, and therefore showed no eagerness either
to vindicate popular rights against her, or to see them vindicated
in stage-history. It was not until long after, under the Stuarts,
that the English people began to cultivate its constitution. The
chronicle-writers of the period touch very lightly upon the barons'
victory over King John in the struggle for the Great Charter; and
Shakespeare thus followed at once his own personal bias with regard to
history, and the current of his age.

[1] The full title runs thus: "The Troublesome Raigne of
_John_, King of _England,_ with the discouerie of King Richard
Cordelions Base sonne (vulgarly named The Bastard Fawconbridge): also
the death of King John at Swinstead Abbey. As it was (sundry times)
publikely acted by the Queenes Maiesties Players, in the honorable
Citie of London."



The first plays in which we seem to find traces of Italian travel are
_The Taming of the Shrew_ and _The Merchant of Venice_, the former
written at latest in 1596, the latter almost certainly in that or the
following year.

Enough has already been said of _The Taming of the Shrew._ It is
only a free and spirited reconstruction of an old piece of scenic
architecture, which Shakespeare demolished in order to erect from its
materials a spacious and airy hall. The old play itself had been highly
popular on the stage; it took new life under Shakespeare's hands. His
play is not much more than a farce, but it possesses movement and
fire, and the leading male character, the somewhat coarsely masculine
Petruchio, stands in amusing and typical contrast to the spoilt,
headstrong, and passionate little woman whom he masters.

_The Merchant of Venice_, Shakespeare's first important comedy, is a
piece of work of a very different order, and is elaborated to a very
different degree. There is far more of his own inmost nature in it than
in the light and facile farce.

No doubt he found in Marlowe's _Jew of Malta_ the first, purely
literary, impulse towards _The Merchant of Venice_. In Marlowe's play
the curtain rises upon the chief character, Barabas, sitting in his
counting-house, with piles of gold before him, and revelling in the
thought of the treasures which it takes a soliloquy of nearly fifty
lines to enumerate--pearls like pebble-stones, opals, sapphires,
amethysts, jacinths, topazes, grass-green emeralds, beauteous rubies
and sparkling diamonds. At the beginning of the play, he is possessed
of all the riches wherewith the Genie of the Lamp endowed Aladdin,
which have at one time or another sparkled in the dreams of all poor

Barabas is a Jew and usurer, like Shylock. Like Shylock, he has a
daughter who is in love with a poor Christian; and, like him, he
thirsts for revenge. But he is a monster, not a man. When he has been
misused by the Christians, and robbed of his whole fortune, he becomes
a criminal fit only for a fairy-tale or for a madhouse: he uses his own
daughter as an instrument for his revenge, and then poisons her along
with all the nuns in whose cloister she has taken refuge. Shakespeare
was attracted by the idea of making a real man and a real Jew out of
this intolerable demon in a Jew's skin.

But this slight impulse would scarcely have set Shakespeare's genius
in motion had it found him engrossed in thoughts and images of an
incongruous nature. It took effect upon his mind because it was at
that moment preoccupied with the ideas of acquisition, property,
money-making, wealth. He did not, like the Jew, who was in all
countries legally incapable of acquiring real estate, dream of gold and
jewels; but, like the genuine country-born Englishman he was, he longed
for land and houses, meadows and gardens, money that yielded sound
yearly interest, and, finally, a corresponding advancement in rank and

We have seen with what indifference he treated his plays, how little he
thought of winning fame by their publication. All the editions of them
which appeared in his lifetime were issued without his co-operation,
and no doubt against his will, since the sale of the books did not
bring him in a farthing, but, on the contrary, diminished his profits
by diminishing the attendance at the theatre on which his livelihood
depended. Furthermore, when we see in his Sonnets how discontented he
was with his position as an actor, and how humiliated he felt at the
contempt in which the stage was held, we cannot doubt that the calling
into which he had drifted in his needy youth was in his eyes simply and
solely a means of making money. It is true that actors like himself
and Burbage were, in certain circles, welcomed and respected as men
who rose above their calling; but they were admitted on sufferance,
they had not full rights of citizenship, they were not "gentlemen."
There is extant a copy of verses by John Davies of Hereford, beginning,
"_Players_, I love yee, and your _Qualitie_" with a marginal note
citing as examples "W. S., R. B." [William Shakespeare, Richard
Burbage]; but they are clearly looked upon as exceptions:--

    "And though the _stage_ doth staine pure gentle _bloud,_
     Yet generous yee are in _minde_ and _moode"._

The calling of an actor, however, was a lucrative one. Most of the
leading players became well-to-do, and it seems clear that this was
one of the reasons why they were evilly regarded. In _The Return from
Parnassus_ (1606), Kemp assures two Cambridge students who apply to him
and Burbage for instruction in acting, that there is no better calling
in the world, from a financial point of view, than that of the player.
In a pamphlet of the same year, _Ratsey's Ghost_, the executed thief,
with a satirical allusion to Shakespeare, advises a strolling player
to buy property in the country when he is tired of play-acting, and by
that means attain honour and dignity. In an epigram entitled _Theatrum
Licentia_ (in _Laquei Ridiculosi_, 1616), we read of the actor's

    "For here's the spring (saith he) whence pleasures flow
     And brings them damnable excessive gains."

The primary object of Shakespeare's aspirations was neither renown
as a poet nor popularity as an actor, but worldly prosperity, and
prosperity regarded specially as a means of social advancement. He
had taken greatly to heart his father's decline in property and civic
esteem; from youth upwards he had been passionately bent on restoring
the sunken name and fame of his family. He had now, at the age of only
thirty-two, amassed a small capital, which he began to invest in the
most advantageous way for the end he had in view--that of elevating
himself above his calling.

His father had been afraid to cross the street lest he should be
arrested for debt. He himself, as a youth, had been whipped and
consigned to the lock-up at the command of the lord of the manor. The
little town which had witnessed this disgrace should also witness
the rehabilitation. The townspeople, who had heard of his equivocal
fame as an actor and playwright, should see him in the character of
a respected householder and landowner. At Stratford and elsewhere,
those who had classed him with the proletariat should recognise in
him a _gentleman._ According to a tradition which Rowe reports on the
authority of Sir William Davenant, Lord Southampton is said to have
laid the foundation of Shakespeare's prosperity by a gift of £1.000.
Though Bacon received more than this from Essex, the magnitude of the
sum discredits the tradition--it is equivalent to something like £5000
in modern money. No doubt the young Earl gave the poet a present in
acknowledgment of the dedication of his two poems; for the poets of
that time did not live on royalties, but on their dedications. But as
the ordinary acknowledgment of a dedication was only £5, a gift of even
£50 would have been reckoned princely. What is practically certain is,
that Shakespeare was early in a position to become a shareholder in the
theatre; and he evidently had a special talent for putting the money
he earned to profitable use. His firm determination to work his way up
in the world, combined with the Englishman's inborn practicality, made
him an excellent man of business; and he soon develops such a decided
talent for finance as only two other great national writers, probably,
have ever possessed--to wit, Holberg and Voltaire.

It is from the year 1596 onwards that we find evidences of his
growing prosperity. In this year his father, no doubt prompted and
supplied with means by Shakespeare himself, makes application to the
Heralds' College for a coat-of-arms, the sketch of which is preserved,
dated October 1596. The conferring of a coat-of-arms implied formal
admittance into the ranks of "the gentry." It was necessary before
either father or son could append the word "gentleman" _(armiger_) to
his name, as we find Shakespeare doing in legal documents after this
date, and in his will. But Shakespeare himself was not in a position to
apply for a coat-of-arms. That was out of the question--a player was
far too mean a person to come within the cognisance of heraldry. He
therefore adopted the shrewd device of furnishing his father with means
for making the application on his own behalf.

According to the ideas and regulations of the time, indeed, not even
Shakespeare senior had any real right to a coat-of-arms. But the
Garter-King-at-Arms for the time being, Sir William Dethick, was an
exceedingly compliant personage, probably not inaccessible to pecuniary
arguments. He was sharply criticised in his own day, and indeed at
last superseded, on account of the facility with which he provided
applicants with armorial bearings, and we possess his defence in
this very matter of the Shakespeare coat-of-arms. All sorts of small
falsehoods were alleged; for instance, that John Shakespeare had,
twenty years before, had "his auncient cote of arms assigned to him,"
and that he was then "Her Majestie's officer and baylefe," whereas his
office had in fact been merely municipal. Nevertheless, there must
have been some hitch in the negotiations, for in 1597 John Shakespeare
is still described as _yeoman_, and not until 1599 did the definite
assignment of the coat-of-arms take place, along with the permission
(of which the son, however, did not avail himself) to impale the
Shakespeare arms with those of the Arden family. The coat-of-arms
is thus described:--"Gould on a bend sable a speare of the first,
the poynt steeled, proper, and for creast or cognizance, a faulcon,
his wings displayed, argent, standing on a wreathe of his coullors,
supporting a speare gould steled as aforesaid." The motto runs (with a
suspicion of irony), _Non sans droict_. Yet to what insignia had not
_he_ the right!

In the spring of 1597, William Shakespeare bought the mansion of New
Place, the largest, and at one time the handsomest, house in Stratford,
which had now fallen somewhat out of repair, and was therefore sold
at the comparatively low price of £60. He thoroughly restored the
house, attached two gardens to it, and soon extended his domain by
new purchases of land, some of it arable; for we see that during the
corn-famine of 1598 (February), he appears on the register as owner of
ten quarters of corn and malt--that is to say, the third largest stock
in the town. The house stood opposite the Guild Chapel, the sound of
whose bells must have been among his earliest memories.

At the same time he gives his father money to revive the lawsuit
against John Lambert concerning the property of Asbies, mortgaged
nineteen years before--that lawsuit whose unfavourable issue young
Shakespeare had taken so much to heart, as we have seen, that he
introduced a gibe at the Lambert family into the Induction to _The
Taming of the Shrew_, now just completed.

A letter of January 24, 1597-8, written by a certain Abraham Sturley in
Stratford to his brother-in-law, Richard Quiney, whose son afterwards
married Shakespeare's youngest daughter, shows that the poet already
passed for a man of substance, since one of his fellow-townsmen sends
him a message recommending him, instead of buying land at Shottery, to
lease part of the Stratford tithes. This would be advantageous both to
him and to the town, for the purchase of tithes was generally a good
investment, and the character of the purchaser was of importance to
the town, since a portion of the sum raised went into the municipal

It appears, however, that the purchase-money required was still beyond
Shakespeare's means, for not until seven years later, in 1605, does he
buy, for the considerable sum of £440, a moiety of the lease of the
tithes of Stratford, Old Stratford, Bishopton, and Welcombe. These
tithes originally belonged to the Church, but passed to the town in
1554, and from 1580 onwards were farmed by private persons. As might
have been expected, the purchase of them involved Shakespeare in
several lawsuits.

In a letter of 1598 or 1599, Adrian Quiney, of Stratford, writes to
his son Richard, who looked after the interests of his fellow-townsmen
in the capital: "Yff yow bargen with Wm. Sha. or receve money therfor,
brynge youre money homme that yow maye." This Richard Quiney is the
writer of the only extant letter addressed to Shakespeare (probably
never despatched), in which he begs his "loveinge contreyman," in
moving and pious terms, for a loan of £30, promising security and
interest. Another letter from Sturley, dated November 4, 1598, mentions
the news "that our countriman Mr. Wm. Shak. would procure us monei,
which I will like of as I shall heare when, and wheare, and howe."

All these documents render it sufficiently apparent that Shakespeare
did not share the loathing of interest which it was the fashion of
his day to affect, and which Antonio, in _The Merchant of Venice_,
flaunts in the face of Shylock. The taking of interest was at that time
regarded as forbidden to a Christian, but was usual nevertheless; and
Shakespeare seems to have charged the current rate, namely, ten per

During the following, years he continued to acquire still more land.
In 1602 he buys, at Stratford, arable land of the value of no less
than £320, and pays £60 for a house and a piece of ground. In 1610 he
adds twenty acres to his property. In 1612, in partnership with three
others, he buys a house and garden in London for £140.

And Shakespeare was a strict man of business. We find him proceeding
by attorney against a poor devil named Philip Rogers of Stratford,
who in the years 1603-4 had bought small quantities of malt from him
to the total value of £1, 19s. 10d., and who had besides borrowed two
shillings of him. Six shillings he had repaid; and Shakespeare now sets
the law in motion to recover the balance of £1, 15s. 10d. In 1608-9 he
again brings an action against a Stratford debtor. This time he gets a
verdict for £6, with £1, 4s. of costs; and as the debtor has absconded,
Shakespeare proceeds against his security.

All these details show, in the first place, how closely Shakespeare
kept up his connection with Stratford during his residence in London.
By the year 1599 he has succeeded in restoring the credit of his
family. He has made his poor, debt-burdened father a gentleman with a
coat-of-arms, and has himself become one of the largest and richest
landowners in his native place. He continues steadily to increase his
capital and his property at Stratford; and it is obviously a mere
corollary to this whole course of action that he should, while still in
the full vigour of manhood, leave London, the theatre, and literature
behind him, to return to Stratford and pass his last years as a
prosperous landowner.

We next observe Shakespeare's eagerness to rise above his calling
as a player. From 1599 onwards, he had the satisfaction of being
able to write himself down: _Wm. Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon
in the County of Warwick, gentleman_. But it must not, of course,
be understood that he was now in a position of equality with men
of genuinely noble birth. So little was this the case, that even
in the "Epistle Dedicatorie" to the Folio of 1623, the two actors,
his comrades, who issue the book, describe him as the "servant" of
the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, whose "dignity" they know to
be "greater than to descend to the reading of these trifles." They
nevertheless inscribe the "trifles" to the "incomparable paire of
brethren" out of gratitude for the great "indulgence" and "favour"
which they had "used" to the deceased poet.

The chief interest, however, of these old contracts and business
letters lies in the insight they give us into a region of Shakespeare's
soul, the existence of which, in their absence, we should never have
divined. We see that he may very well have been thinking of himself
when he makes Hamlet (v. I) say beside Ophelia's open grave: "This
fellow might be in's time a great buyer of land, with his statutes, his
recognizances, his fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries: is this
the fine of his fines, and the recovery of his recoveries, to have his
fine pate full of fine dirt?"

And--to return to our point of departure--we see that when Shakespeare,
in _The Merchant of Venice_, makes the whole play turn upon the
different relations of different men to property, position, and
wealth, the problem was one with which he was at the moment personally

[1] Sturley writes:--"This is one speciall remembrance from ur
fathers motion. Itt semeth bi him that our countriman, Mr. Shaksper,
is willinge to disburse some monei upon some od yarde land or other
att Shotterie or neare about us; he thinketh it a veri fitt patterne
to move him to deale in the matter of our tithes. Bi the instruccions
u can geve him theareof, and bi the frendes he can make therefore, we
thinke it a faire marke for him to shoote att, and not unpossible to
hitt. It obtained would advance him in deede, and would do us muche



We learn from Ben Jonson's _Volpone_ (iv. I) that the traveller who
arrived in Venice first rented apartments, and then applied to a Jew
dealer for the furniture. If the traveller happened to be a poet, he
would thus have an opportunity, which he lacked in England, of studying
the Jewish character and manner of expression. Shakespeare seems to
have availed himself of it. The names of the Jews and Jewesses who
appear in _The Merchant of Venice_ he has taken from the Old Testament.
We find in Genesis (x. 24) the name Salah (Hebrew Schelach; at that
time appearing as the name of a Maronite from Lebanon: Scialac) out
of which Shakespeare has made Shylock; and in Genesis (xi. 29) there
occurs the name Iscah (she who looks out, who spies), spelt "Jeska" in
the English translations of 1549 and 1551, out of which he made his
Jessica, the girl whom Shylock accuses of a fondness for "clambering up
to casements" and "thrusting her head into the public street" to see
the masquers pass.

Shakespeare's audiences were familiar with several versions of the
story of the Jew who relentlessly demanded the pound of flesh pledged
to him by his Christian debtor, and was at last sent empty and baffled
away, and even forced to become a Christian. The story has been found
in Buddhist legends (along with the adventure of the Three Caskets,
here interwoven with it), and many believe that it came to Europe from
India. It may, however, have migrated in just the opposite direction.
Certain it is, as one of Shakespeare's authorities points out, that the
right to take payment in the flesh of the insolvent debtor was admitted
in the Twelve Tables of ancient Rome. As a matter of fact, this antique
trait was quite international, and Shakespeare has only transferred it
from old and semi-barbarous times to the Venice of his own day.

The story illustrates the transition from the unconditional enforcement
of strict law to the more modern principle of equity. Thus it afforded
an opening for Portia's eloquent contrast between justice and mercy,
which the public understood as an assertion of the superiority of
Christian ethics to the Jewish insistence on the letter of the law.

One of the sources on which Shakespeare drew for the figure of Shylock,
and especially for his speeches in the trial scene, is _The Orator_
of Alexander Silvayn. The 95th Declamation of this work bears the
title: "Of a Jew who would for his debt have a pound of the flesh of a
Christian." Since an English translation of Silvayn's book by Anthony
Munday appeared in 1596, and _The Merchant of Venice_ is mentioned by
Meres in 1598 as one of Shakespeare's works, there can scarcely be any
doubt that the play was produced between these dates.

In _The Orator_ both the Merchant and the Jew make speeches, and the
invective against the Jew is interesting in so far as it gives a
lively impression of the current accusations of the period against the
Israelitish race:--

    "But it is no marvaile if this race be so obstinat and
    cruell against us, for they doe it of set purpose to offend
    our God whom they have crucified: and wherefore? Because he
    was holie, as he is yet so reputed of this worthy Turkish
    nation: but what shall I say? Their own bible is full of
    their rebellion against God, against their Priests, Judges,
    and leaders. What did not the verie Patriarks themselves,
    from, whom they have their beginning? They sold their
    brother...." &c.

Shakespeare's chief authority, however, for the whole play was
obviously the story of Gianetto, which occurs in the collection
entitled _Il Pecorone_, by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, published in Milan
in 1558.

A young merchant named Gianetto comes with a richly laden ship to a
harbour near the castle of Belmonte, where dwells a lovely young widow.
She has many suitors, and is, indeed, prepared to surrender her hand
and her fortune, but only on one condition, which no one has hitherto
succeeded in fulfilling, and which is stated with mediæval simplicity
and directness. She challenges the aspirant, at nightfall, to share
her bed and make her his own; but at the same time she gives him a
sleeping-draught which plunges him in profound unconsciousness from
the moment his head touches the pillow, so that at daybreak he has
forfeited his ship and its cargo to the fair lady, and is sent on his
way, despoiled and put to shame.

This misfortune happens to Gianetto; but he is so deeply in love that
he returns to Venice and induces his kind foster-father, Ansaldo, to
fit out another ship for him. But his second visit to Belmonte ends
no less disastrously, and in order to enable him to make a third
attempt his foster-father is forced to borrow 10,000 ducats from a
Jew, upon the conditions which we know. By following the advice of
a kindly-disposed waiting-woman, the young man this time escapes
the danger, becomes a happy bridegroom, and in his rapture forgets
Ansaldo's obligation to the Jew. He is not reminded of it until the
very day when it falls due, and then his wife insists that he shall
instantly start for Venice, taking with him a sum of 100,000 ducats.
She herself presently follows, dressed as an advocate, and appears in
Venice as a young lawyer of great reputation, from Bologna. The Jew
rejects every proposition for the deliverance of Ansaldo, even the
100,000 ducats. Then the trial-scene proceeds, just as in Shakespeare;
Gianetto's young wife delivers judgment, like Portia; the Jew receives
not a stiver, and dares not shed a drop of Ansaldo's blood. When
Gianetto, in his gratitude, offers the young advocate the whole 100,000
ducats, she, as in the play, demands nothing but the ring which
Gianetto has received from his wife; and the tale ends with the same
gay unravelling of the sportive complication, which gives Shakespeare
the matter for his fifth act.

Being unable to make use of the condition imposed by the fair lady of
Belmonte in _Il Pecorone_, Shakespeare cast about for another, and
found it in the _Gesta Romanorum_, in the tale of the three caskets, of
gold, silver, and lead. Here it is a young girl who makes the choice
in order to win the Emperor's son. The inscription on the golden
casket promises that whoever chooses that shall find what he deserves.
The girl rejects this out of humility, and rightly, since it proves
to contain dead men's bones. The inscription on the silver casket
promises to whoever chooses it what his nature craves. The girl rejects
that also; for, as she says naïvely, "My nature craves for fleshly
delights." Finally, the leaden casket promises that whoever chooses it
shall find what God has decreed for him; and it proves to be full of

In Shakespeare, Portia, in accordance with her father's will, makes her
suitors choose between the three caskets (here furnished with other
legends), of which the humblest contains her portrait.

It is not probable that Shakespeare made any use of an older play, now
lost, of which Stephen Gosson, in his _School of Abuse_ (1579), says
that it represented "the greedinesse of worldly chusers, and the bloody
mindes of usurers."

The great value of _The Merchant of Venice_ lies in the depth and
seriousness which Shakespeare has imparted to the vague outlines of
character presented by the old stories, and in the ravishing moonlight
melodies which bring the drama to a close.

In Antonio, the royal merchant, who, amid all his fortune and
splendour, is a victim to melancholy and spleen induced by forebodings
of coming disaster, Shakespeare has certainly expressed something of
his own nature. Antonio's melancholy is closely related to that which,
in the years immediately following, we shall find in Jaques in _As You
Like It_, in the Duke in _Twelfth Night_, and in Hamlet. It forms a
sort of mournful undercurrent to the joy of life which at this period
is still dominant in Shakespeare's soul.--It leads, after a certain
time, to the substitution of dreaming and brooding heroes for those
men of action and resolution who, in the poet's brighter youth, had
played the leading parts in his dramas. For the rest, despite the
princely elevation of his nature, Antonio is by no means faultless. He
has insulted and baited Shylock in the most brutal fashion on account
of his faith and his blood. We realise the ferocity and violence
of the mediæval prejudice against the Jews when we find a man of
Antonio's magnanimity so entirely a slave to it. And when, with a
little more show of justice, he parades his loathing and contempt for
Shylock's money-dealings, he strangely (as it seems to us) overlooks
the fact that the Jews have been carefully excluded from all other
means of livelihood, and have been systematically allowed to scrape
together gold in order that their hoards may always be at hand when
circumstances render it convenient to plunder them. Antonio's attitude
towards Shylock cannot possibly be Shakespeare's own. Shylock cannot
understand Antonio, and characterises him (iii. 3) in the words--

    "This is the fool that lent out money gratis."

But Shakespeare himself did not belong to this class of fools. He has
endowed Antonio with an ideality which he had neither the resolution
nor the desire to emulate. Such a man's conduct towards Shylock
explains the outcast's hatred and thirst for revenge.

Shakespeare has lavished peculiar and loving care upon the figure of
Portia. Both in the circumstances in which she is placed at the outset,
and in the conjuncture to which Shylock's bond gives rise, there is
a touch of the fairy tale. In so far, the two sides of the action
harmonise well with each other. Now-a-days, indeed, we are apt to
find rather too much of the nursery story in the preposterous will by
which Portia is bound to marry whoever divines the very simple answer
to a riddle--to the effect that a showy outside is not always to be
trusted. The fable of the three caskets pleased Shakespeare so much as
a means of expressing and enforcing his hatred of all empty show that
he ignored the grotesque improbability of the method of selecting a

His thought seems to have been: Portia is not only nobly born; she
is thoroughly genuine, and can therefore be won only by a suitor who
rejects the show for the substance. This is suggested in Bassanio's
long speech before making his choice (iii. 2). If there is anything
that Shakespeare hated with a hatred somewhat disproportionate to the
triviality of the matter, a hatred which finds expression in every
stage of his career, it is the use of rouge and false hair. Therefore
he insists upon the fact that Portia's beauty owes nothing to art; with
others the case is different:--

                        "Look on beauty,
    And you shall see 'tis purchas'd by the weight;
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
    So are those crisped snaky golden locks,
    Which make such wanton gambols with the wind,
    Upon supposed fairness, often known
    To be the dowry of a second head,
    The skull that bred them, in the sepulchre."

And he deduces the moral:--

    "Thus ornament is but the guiled shore
     To a most dangerous sea."

Before the choice, Portia dares not openly avow her feelings towards
Bassanio, but does so nevertheless by means of a graceful and sportive
slip of the tongue:--

                   "Beshrew your eyes,
    They have o'erlook'd me, and divided me:
    One half of me is yours, the other half yours,--
    Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours,
    And so all yours!"

Bassanio answers by begging permission to make instant choice between
the caskets, since he lives upon the rack until his fate is sealed;
whereupon Portia makes some remarks as to confessions on the rack,
which seem to allude to an occurrence of a few years earlier, the
barbarous execution of Elizabeth's Spanish doctor, Don Roderigo Lopez,
in 1594, after two ruffians had been racked into making confessions
which, no doubt falsely, incriminated him. Portia says jestingly--

    "Ay, but I fear, you speak upon the rack,
     Where men, enforced, do speak anything;"

and Bassanio answers--

    "Promise me life, and I'll confess the truth."

When the choice has been made and has fallen as she hoped and desired,
her attitude clearly expresses Shakespeare's ideal of womanhood at this
period of his life. It is not Juliet's passionate self-abandonment, but
the perfect surrender in tenderness of the wise and delicate woman. For
her own sake she does not wish herself better than she is, but for him
"she would be trebled twenty times herself." She knows that she--

"Is an unlesson'd girl, unschool'd, unpractis'd:
Happy in this, she is not yet so old
But she may learn; happier than this,
She is not bred so dull but she can learn;
Happiest of all is, that her gentle spirit
Commits itself to yours to be directed,
As from her lord, her governor, her king."

In such humility does she love this weak spendthrift; whose sole motive
in seeking her out was originally that of clearing off the debts in
which his frivolity had involved him. It thus happens, quaintly enough,
that what her father thought to prevent by his strange device, namely,
that Portia should be won by a mercenary suitor, is the very thing that
happens--though it is true that her personal charms throw his original
motive into the background.

In spite of Portia's womanly self-surrender in love, there is something
independent, almost masculine, in her character. She has the orphan
heiress's habit and power of looking after herself, directing others,
and acting on her own responsibility without seeking advice or taking
account of convention. The poet has borrowed traits from the Italian
novel in order to make her as prompt in counsel as she is magnanimous.
How much money does Antonio owe? she asks. Three thousand ducats? Give
the Jew six thousand, and tear up the bond.

Shakespeare has equipped her with the bright and victorious temperament
with which he henceforth, for a certain time, endows nearly all the
heroines of his comedies. To another of these ladies it is said,
"Without question, you were born in a merry hour." She answers, "No,
sure, my lord, my mother cried; but then there was a star danced, and
under that I was born." All these young women were born under a star
that danced. Even the most subdued of them overflows with the rapture
of existence.

Portia's nature is health, its utterance joy. Radiant happiness is
her element. She is descended from happiness, she has grown up in
happiness, she is surrounded with all the means and conditions of
happiness, and she distributes happiness with both hands. She is noble
to the heart's core. She is no swan born in the duck-yard, but is in
complete harmony with her surroundings and with herself.

Shylock's riches consist of gold and jewels, easy to conceal or to
transport at a moment's notice, but also inviting to robbery and
rapine. Antonio's riches consist in cargoes tossed on many seas, and
exposed to danger from storms and from pirates. What Portia owns she
owns in security: estates and palaces inherited from her fathers. There
has needed, perhaps, as much as a century of direct preparation for
the birth of such a creature. Her noble forefathers for generations
back must have led free and stainless lives, favoured by destiny,
prosperous and happy, in order to amass the riches which are her
pedestal, to gain the respect which is her throne, to gather the
household which forms her retinue, to decorate the palace in which she
rules as a princess, and to endow her mind with the high faculty and
culture befitting a reigning sovereign. She is healthy, though she is
delicate; she is gay, although she is mentally a head taller than any
of those around her; and she is young, although she is wise. She is of
a fresher stock than the nervous women of to-day. She is borne aloft
by an unfailing serenity of nature, which has never suffered any rude
disturbance. It manifests itself in her gaiety under circumstances of
painful uncertainty, in her self-control in overwhelming joy, and in
her promptitude of action in an unforeseen and threatening conjuncture.
She has inexhaustible resources in her soul, a profusion of ideas
and inspirations, as great a super-abundance of wit as of wealth. In
contradistinction to her lover, she never makes a display of what is
not her own to command. Hence her equilibrium and queenly repose. If
we do not realise this radiant joy of life in the inmost chambers of
her soul, we are apt, even from her first scene with Nerissa, to think
her jesting forced and her wit far-fetched, and are almost ready to
make the criticism that only a poor intelligence plays tricks with
speech and fantasticates in words. But when we have looked into the
depths of this well-spring of health, we understand how her thoughts
gush forth, flashing and plashing, as freely and inevitably as the jets
of a fountain rise into the air. She evokes and discards image after
image, as one plucks and throws away flowers in a luxuriant garden. She
delights to wreath and plait her words, as she wreaths and plaits her

It harmonises with her whole nature when she says (i. 2): "The brain
may devise laws for the blood; but a hot temper leaps o'er a cold
decree: such a hare is madness, the youth, to skip o'er the meshes of
good counsel, the cripple." Such phrases must be conceived as springing
from a delight in laughter and sport for the sport's sake; otherwise
they would be stiff and cumbrous. In the same way, such a sally as this
(iv. I)--

    "Your wife would give you little thanks for that,
     If she were by to hear you make the offer,"

must be taken as springing from a gleeful assurance of victory, else
it might seem to show callous indifference to Antonio's apparently
hopeless plight. There is an innate harmony in Portia's soul; but it is
full-toned, complex, and woven of strongly contrasted elements, so that
it requires some imagination to represent it to ourselves. There is
something in the harmonious subtlety of her physiognomy which reminds
us of Leonardo's female heads. Dignity and tenderness, the power to
command and to obey, acuteness such as thrives in courts, and simple
womanliness, an almost inflexible seriousness and an almost mischievous
gaiety, are here cunningly commingled and combined.

How Shakespeare himself would have us regard her may be gathered from
the enthusiasm with which he makes Jessica describe her to her lover
(iii. 5). When one young woman so warmly eulogises another, we may
safely assume that her merits are unimpeachable. "It is very meet," she

    "The Lord Bassanio live an upright life,
     For, having such a blessing in his lady,
     He finds the joys of heaven here on earth;
     And, if on earth he do not mean it, then
     In reason he should never come to heaven.
     Why, if two gods should play some heavenly match,
     And on the wager lay two earthly women,
     And Portia one, there must be something else
     Pawn'd with the other, for the poor rude world
     Hath not her fellow."

The central figure of the play, however, in the eyes of modern readers
and spectators, is of course Shylock, though there can be no doubt
that he appeared to Shakespeare's contemporaries a comic personage,
and, since he makes his final exit before the last act, by no means
the protagonist. In the humaner view of a later age, Shylock appears
as a half-pathetic creation, a scapegoat, a victim; to the Elizabethan
public, with his rapacity and his miserliness, his usury and his
eagerness to dig for another the pit into which he himself falls,
he seemed, not terrible, but ludicrous. They did not even take him
seriously enough to feel any real uneasiness as to Antonio's fate,
since they all knew beforehand the issue of the adventure. They
laughed when he went to Bassanio's feast "in hate, to feed upon the
prodigal Christian;" they laughed when, in the scene with Tubal, he
suffered himself to be bandied about between exultation over Antonio's
misfortunes and rage over the prodigality of his runaway daughter; and
they found him odious when he exclaimed, "I would my daughter were
dead at my foot and the jewels in her ear!" He was, simply as a Jew,
a despised creature; he belonged to the race which had crucified God
himself; and he was doubly despised as an extortionate usurer. For the
rest, the English public--like the Norwegian public so lately as the
first half of this century--had no acquaintance with Jews except in
books and on the stage. From 1290 until the middle of the seventeenth
century the Jews were entirely excluded from England. Every prejudice
against them was free to flourish unchecked.

Did Shakespeare in a certain measure share these religious prejudices,
as he seems to have shared the patriotic prejudices against the Maid
of Orleans, if, indeed, he is responsible for the part she plays in
_Henry VI._? We may be sure that he was very slightly affected by them,
if at all. Had he made a more undisguised effort to place himself at
Shylock's standpoint, the censorship, on the one hand, would have
intervened, while, on the other hand, the public would have been
bewildered and alienated. It is quite in the spirit of the age that
Shylock should suffer the punishment which befalls him. To pay him out
for his stiff-necked vengefulness, he is mulcted not only of the sum he
lent Antonio, but of half his fortune, and is finally, like Marlowe's
_Jew of Malta_, compelled to change his religion. The latter detail
gives something of a shock to the modern reader. But the respect for
personal conviction, when it conflicted with orthodoxy, did not exist
in Shakespeare's time. It was not very long since Jews had been forced
to choose between kissing the crucifix and mounting the faggots; and
in Strasburg, in 1349, nine hundred of them had in one day chosen the
latter alternative. It is strange to reflect, too, that just at the
time when, on the English stage, one Mediterranean Jew was poisoning
his daughter, and another whetting his knife to cut his debtor's
flesh, thousands of heroic and enthusiastic Hebrews in Spain and
Portugal, who, after the expulsion of the 300,000 at the beginning of
the century, had secretly remained faithful to Judaism, were suffering
themselves to be tortured, flayed, and burnt alive by the Inquisition,
rather than forswear the religion of their race.

It is the high-minded Antonio himself who proposes that Shylock shall
be forced to become a Christian. This is done for his good; for
baptism opens to him the possibility of salvation after death; and his
Christian antagonists, who, by dint of the most childish sophisms,
have despoiled him of his goods and forced him to forswear his God,
can still pose as representing the Christian principle of mercy, in
opposition to one who has taken his stand upon the Jewish basis of
formal law.

That Shakespeare himself, however, in nowise shared the fanatical
belief that a Jew was of necessity damned, or could be saved by
compulsory conversion, is rendered clear enough for the modern reader
in the scene between Launcelot and Jessica (iii. 5), where Launcelot
jestingly avers that Jessica is damned. There is only one hope for her,
and that is, that her father may not be her father:--

    "_Jessica_. That were a kind of bastard hope, indeed: so the
    sins of my mother should be visited upon me.

    "_Launcelot_. Truly then I fear you are damned both by
    father and mother: thus when I shun Scylla, your father, I
    fall into Charybdis, your mother. Well, you are gone both

    "_Jes_. I shall be saved by my husband; he hath made me a

    "_Laun_. Truly, the more to blame he: we were Christians
    enow before; e'en as many as could well live one by another.
    This making of Christians will raise the price of hogs: if
    we grow all to be pork-eaters, we shall not shortly have a
    rasher on the coals for money."

And Jessica repeats Launcelot's saying to Lorenzo:--

    "He tells me flatly, there is no mercy for me in heaven,
    because I am a Jew's daughter: and he says, you are no good
    member of the commonwealth, for, in converting Jews to
    Christians, you raise the price of pork."

No believer would ever speak in this jesting tone of matters that must
seem to him so momentous.

It is none the less astounding how much right in wrong, how much
humanity in inhumanity, Shakespeare has succeeded in imparting to
Shylock. The spectator sees clearly that, with the treatment he has
suffered, he could not but become what he is. Shakespeare has rejected
the notion of the atheistically-minded Marlowe, that the Jew hates
Christianity and despises Christians as fiercer money-grubbers than
himself. With his calm humanity, Shakespeare makes Shylock's hardness
and cruelty result at once from his passionate nature and his abnormal
position; so that, in spite of everything, he has come to appear in the
eyes of later times as a sort of tragic symbol of the degradation and
vengefulness of an oppressed race.

There is not in all Shakespeare a greater example of trenchant and
incontrovertible eloquence than Shylock's famous speech (iii. I):--

    "I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands,
    organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
    the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the
    same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled
    by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you
    prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not
    laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us,
    shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we
    will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what
    is his humility? revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what
    should his sufferance be by Christian example? why, revenge.
    The villany you teach me, I will execute; and it shall go
    hard but I will better the instruction."

But what is most surprising, doubtless, is the instinct of genius
with which Shakespeare has seized upon and reproduced racial
characteristics, and emphasised what is peculiarly Jewish in Shylock's
culture. While Marlowe, according to his custom, made his Barabas
revel in mythological similes, Shakespeare indicates that Shylock's
culture is founded entirely upon the Old Testament, and makes commerce
his only point of contact with the civilisation of later times. All
his parallels are drawn from the Patriarchs and the Prophets. With
what unction he speaks when he justifies himself by the example of
Jacob! His own race is always "our sacred nation," and he feels that
"the curse has never fallen upon it" until his daughter fled with
his treasures. Jewish, too, is Shylock's respect for, and obstinate
insistence on, the letter of the law, his reliance upon statutory
rights, which are, indeed, the only rights society allows him, and the
partly instinctive, partly defiant restriction of his moral ideas to
the principle of retribution. He is no wild animal; he is no heathen
who simply gives the rein to his natural instincts; his hatred is not
ungoverned; he restrains it within its legal rights, like a tiger in
its cage. He is entirely lacking, indeed, in the freedom and serenity,
the easy-going, light-hearted carelessness which characterises a
ruling caste in its virtues and its vices, in its charities as in its
prodigalities; but he has not a single twinge of conscience about
anything that he does; his actions are in perfect harmony with his

Sundered from the regions, the social forms, the language, in which his
spirit is at home, he has yet retained his Oriental character. Passion
is the kernel of his nature. It is his passion that has enriched him;
he is passionate in action, in calculation, in sensation, in hatred,
in revenge, in everything. His vengefulness is many times greater
than his rapacity. Avaricious though he be, money is nothing to him
in comparison with revenge. It is not until he is exasperated by his
daughter's robbery and flight that he takes such hard measures against
Antonio, and refuses to accept three times the amount of the loan. His
conception of honour may be unchivalrous enough, but, such as it is,
his honour is not to be bought for money. His hatred of Antonio is far
more intense than his love for his jewels; and it is this passionate
hatred, not avarice, that makes him the monster he becomes.

From this Hebrew passionateness, which can be traced even in details
of diction, arises, among other things, his loathing of sloth and
idleness. To realise how essentially Jewish is this trait we need
only refer to the so-called Proverbs of Solomon. Shylock dismisses
Launcelot with the words, "Drones hive not with me." Oriental, rather
than specially Jewish, are the images in which he gives his passion
utterance, approaching, as they so often do, to the parable form.
(See, for example, his appeal to Jacob's cunning, or the speech in
vindication of his claim, which begins, "You have among you many a
purchased slave.") Specially Jewish, on the other hand, is the way in
which this ardent passion throughout employs its images and parables
in the service of a curiously sober rationalism, so that a sharp and
biting logic, which retorts every accusation with interest, is always
the controlling force. This sober logic, moreover, never lacks dramatic
impetus. Shylock's course of thought perpetually takes the form of
question and answer, a subordinate but characteristic trait which
appears in the style of the Old Testament, and reappears to this day in
representations of primitive Jews. One can feel through his words that
there is a chanting quality in his voice; his movements are rapid, his
gestures large. Externally and internally, to the inmost fibre of his
being, he is a type of his race in its degradation.

Shylock disappears with the end of the fourth act in order that no
discord may mar the harmony of the concluding scenes. By means of his
fifth act, Shakespeare dissipates any preponderance of pain and gloom
in the general impression of the play.

This act is a moonlit landscape thrilled with music. It is altogether
given over to music and moonshine. It is an image of Shakespeare's
soul at that point of time. Everything is here reconciled, assuaged,
silvered over, and borne aloft upon the wings of music.

The speeches melt into each other like voices in part-singing:--

      "_Lorenzo_. The moon shines bright.--In such a night as this,
    When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees,
    And they did make no noise, in such a night,
    Troilus, methinks, mounted the Trojan walls,
    And sigh'd his soul toward the Grecian tents,
    Where Cressid lay that night.
      _Jessica_.                             In such a night
    Did Thisbe fearfully o'ertrip the dew;
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
                         In such a night
    Stood Dido with a willow in her hand;"

and so on for four more speeches--the very poetry of moonlight arranged
in antiphonies.

The conclusion of _The Merchant of Venice_ brings us to the threshold
of a term in Shakespeare's life instinct with high-pitched gaiety
and gladness. In this, his brightest period, he fervently celebrates
strength and wisdom in man, intellect and wit in woman; and these most
brilliant years of his life are also the most musical. His poetry, his
whole existence, seem now to be given over to music, to harmony.

He had been early familiar with the art of music, and must have heard
much music in his youth.[1] Even in his earliest plays, such as _The
Two Gentlemen of Verona_, we find a considerable insight into musical
technique, as in the conversation between Julia and Lucetta (i. 2). He
must often have heard the Queen's choir, and the choirs maintained by
noble lords and ladies, like that which Portia has in her palace. And
he no doubt heard much music performed in private. The English were
in his day, what they have never been since, a musical people. It was
the Puritans who cast out music from the daily life of England. The
spinet was the favourite instrument of the time. Spinets stood in the
barbers' shops, for the use of customers waiting their turn. Elizabeth
herself played on the spinet and the lute. In his Sonnet cxxviii.,
addressed to the lady whom he caressingly calls "my music," Shakespeare
has described himself as standing beside his mistress's spinet and
envying the keys which could kiss her fingers. In all probability
he was personally acquainted with John Dowland, the chief English
musician of the time, although the poem in which he is named, published
as Shakespeare's in _The Passionate Pilgrim_, is not by him, but by
Richard Barnfield.

In _The Taming of the Shrew_ (iii. I); written just before _The
Merchant of Venice_, he had utilised his knowledge of singing and
lute-playing in a scene of gay comedy. "The cause why music was
ordained," says Lucentio--

    "Was it not to refresh the mind of man,
     After his studies, or his usual pain?"

Its influence upon mental disease was also known to Shakespeare, and
noted both in _King Lear_ and in _The Tempest_. But here, in _The
Merchant of Venice_, where music is wedded to moonlight, his praise of
it takes a higher flight:--

    "How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
     Here we will sit, and let the sounds of music
     Creep in our ears: soft stillness, and the night,
     Become the touches of sweet harmony."

And Shakespeare, who never mentions church music, which seems to have
had no message for his soul, here makes the usually unimpassioned
Lorenzo launch out into genuine Renaissance rhapsodies upon the music
of the spheres:--

    "Sit, Jessica: look, how the floor of heaven
     Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold.
     There's not the smallest orb, which thou behold'st,
     But in his motion like an angel sings,
     Still quiring to the young-ey'd cherubins;
     Such harmony is in immortal souls;
     But, whilst this muddy vesture of decay
     Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it."

Sphere-harmony and soul-harmony, not bell-ringing or psalm-singing, are
for him the highest music.

Shakespeare's love of music, so incomparably expressed in the last
scenes of _The Merchant of Venice_, appears at other points in the
play. Thus Portia says, when Bassanio is about to make his choice
between the caskets (iii. 2):--

    "Let music sound, while he doth make his choice;
     Then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end,
     Fading in music.
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .

                    He may win;
     And what is music then? then music is
     Even as the flourish when true subjects bow
     To a new-crowned monarch."

It seems as though Shakespeare, in this play, had set himself to reveal
for the first time how deeply his whole nature was penetrated with
musical feeling. He places in the mouth of the frivolous Jessica these
profound words, "I am never merry when I hear sweet music." And he
makes Lorenzo answer, "The reason is, your spirits are attentive." The
note of the trumpet, he says, will calm a wanton herd of "unhandled
colts;" and Orpheus, as poets feign, drew trees and stones and floods
to follow him:--

    "Since nought so stockish, hard, and full of rage,
     But music for the time doth change his nature.
     The man that hath no music in himself,
     Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds,
     Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
     The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
     And his affections dark as Erebus.
     Let no such man be trusted.--Mark the music."

This must not, of course, be taken too literally. But note the
characters whom Shakespeare makes specially unmusical: in this play,
Shylock, who loathes "the vile squeaking of the wry-necked fife;"
then Hotspur, the hero-barbarian; Benedick, the would-be woman-hater;
Cassius, the fanatic politician; Othello, the half-civilised African;
and finally creatures like Caliban, who are nevertheless enthralled by
music as though by a wizard's spell.

On the other hand, all his more delicate creations are musical. In the
First Part of _Henry IV_. (iii. I) we have Mortimer and his Welsh wife,
who do not understand each other's speech:--

    "But I will never be a truant, love,
     Till I have learn'd thy language; for thy tongue
     Makes Welsh as sweet as ditties highly penn'd,
     Sung by a fair queen in a summer's bower,
     With ravishing division, to her lute."

Musical, too, are the pathetic heroines, such as Ophelia and Desdemona,
and characters like Jaques in _As You Like It_, and the Duke and
Viola in _Twelfth Night_. The last-named comedy, indeed, is entirely
interpenetrated with music. The keynote of musical passion is struck in
the opening speech:--

    "If music be the food of love, play on;
     Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
     The appetite may sicken, and so die.--
     That strain again! it had a dying fall:
     O! it came o'er my ear like the sweet south
     That breathes upon a bank of violets,
     Stealing and giving odour."

Here, too, Shakespeare's love of the folk-song finds expression, when
he makes the Duke say (ii. 4):--

    "Now, good Cesario, but that piece of song,
     That old and antique song, we heard last night;
     Methought, it did relieve my passion much,
     More than light airs, and recollected terms,
     Of these most brisk and giddy-paced times:
     Come; but one verse."

No less sensitive and devoted to music than the Duke in _Twelfth Night_
or Lorenzo in _The Merchant of Venice_ must their creator himself have
been in the short and happy interval in which, as yet unmastered by the
melancholy latent in his as in all deep natures, he felt his talents
strengthening and unfolding, his life every day growing fuller and
more significant, his inmost soul quickening with creative impulse and
instinct with harmony. The rich concords which bring _The Merchant of
Venice_ to a close symbolise, as it were, the feeling of inward wealth
and equipoise to which he had now attained.

[1] Förster: _Shakespeare und die Tonkunst, Shakespeare-Jahrbuch_, ii.
155; Karl Elze: _William Shakespeare_, p. 474; Henrik Schück: _William
Shakespere_ p. 313.



There is extant a historical play, dating from 1596, entitled _The
Raigne of King Edward third. As it hath bin sundrie times plaied about
the Citie of London_, which several English students and critics,
among them Halliwell-Phillips, have attributed in part to Shakespeare,
arguing that the better scenes, at least, must have been carefully
retouched by him. Although the drama, as a whole, is not much more
Shakespearean in style than many other Elizabethan plays, and although
Swinburne, the highest of all English authorities, has declared the
piece to be the work of an imitator of Marlowe, yet there is a good
deal to be said in favour of the hypothesis that Shakespeare had some
hand in _Edward III_. His touch may be recognised in several passages;
and especially noteworthy are the following lines from a speech of

    "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."

The italicised verse reappears as the last line of Shakespeare's Sonnet
xciv.; and as this Sonnet seems to refer (as we shall afterwards see)
to circumstances in Shakespeare's life which did not arise until 1600,
we cannot suppose that it was one of those written at an earlier date
and circulated in manuscript. The probability is that Shakespeare
simply reclaimed this line from a speech contributed by him to another
man's play.

It is natural that a foreign student should shrink from opposing his
judgment to that of English critics, where English diction and style
are in question. Nevertheless he is sometimes driven into dissent with
regard to the many Elizabethan plays which now one critic, and now
another, has attributed wholly or in part to Shakespeare. Take, for
instance, _Arden of Feversham,_ certainly one of the most admirable
plays of that rich period, whose merit impresses one even when one
reads it for the first time in uncritical youth. Swinburne writes of it
(_Study of Shakespeare_, p. 141):--

    "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."

However small my authority in comparison with Swinburne's upon such a
question as this, I find it impossible to share his view. Highly as I
esteem _Arden of Feversham_, I cannot believe that Shakespeare wrote
a single line of it. It was not like him to choose such a subject,
and still less to treat it in such a fashion. The play is a domestic
tragedy, in which a wife, after repeated attempts, murders her kind
and forbearing husband, in order freely to indulge her passion for
a worthless paramour. It is a dramatisation of an actual case, the
facts of which are closely followed, but at the same time animated
with great psychological insight. That Shakespeare had a distaste for
such subjects is proved by his consistent avoidance of them, except in
this problematical instance; whereas if he had once succeeded so well
with such a theme, he would surely have repeated the experiment. The
chief point is, however, that only in a few places, in the soliloquies,
do we find the peculiar note of Shakespeare's style--that wealth of
imagination, that luxuriant lyrism, which plays like sunlight over his
speeches. In _Arden of Feversham_ the style is a uniform drab.

Shakespeare's great characteristic is precisely the resilience which
he gives to every word and to every speech. We take one step on earth,
and at the next we are soaring in air. His verse always tends towards a
rich and stately melody, is never flat or commonplace. In the English
historical plays, his diction sometimes verges upon the style of the
ballad or romance. There is a continual undercurrent of emotion, of
enthusiasm, or of pure fantasy, which carries us away with it. We are
always far remote from the humdrum monotony of everyday speech. For
everyday speech is devoid of fantasy, and all Shakespeare's characters,
with the exception of those whose humour lies in their stupidity, have
a highly-coloured imagination.

We could find no better proof of this than the diction of the
great work which he undertakes immediately after _The Merchant of
Venice_--the First Part of _Henry IV._

Harry Percy in this play is placed in opposition to the magniloquent,
visionary, thaumaturgic Glendower, as the man of sober intelligence,
who keeps to the common earth, and believes only in what his senses
aver and his reason accepts. But there is nevertheless a spring within
him which need only be touched in order to send him soaring into almost
dithyrambic poetry. The King (i. 3) has called Mortimer a traitor;
whereupon Percy protests that it was no sham warfare that Mortimer
waged against Glendower:--

                          "To prove that true,
    Needs no more but one tongue for all those wounds,
    Those mouthed wounds, which valiantly he took,
    When on the gentle Severn's sedgy bank,
    In single opposition, hand to hand,
    He did confound the best part of an hour
    In changing hardiment with great Glendower.
    Three times they breath'd, and three times did they drink,
    Upon agreement, of swift Severn's flood,
    Who then, affrighted with their bloody looks,
    Ran fearfully among the trembling reeds,
    And hid his crisp head in the hollow bank
    Blood-stained with these valiant combatants."

Thus Homer sings of the Scamander.

Worcester broaches to Percy an enterprise

    "As full of peril and adventurous spirit,
     As to o'er-walk a current, roaring loud,
     On the unsteadfast footing of a spear;"

whereon Percy bursts forth:--

    "Send danger from the east unto the west,
     So honour cross it from the north to south,
     And let them grapple:--O! the blood more stirs
     To rouse a lion than to start a hare."

Northumberland then says of him that "Imagination of some great exploit
Drives him beyond the bounds of patience," and Percy answers:--

    "By Heaven, methinks, it were an easy leap
     To pluck bright honour from the pale-fac'd moon,
     Or dive into the bottom of the deep,
     Where fathom-line could never touch the ground,
     And pluck up drowned honour by the locks."

What a profusion of imagery is placed in the mouth of this despiser
of rhetoric and music! From the comparatively weak metaphor of the
speaking wounds up to actual myth-making! The river, affrighted by the
bloody looks of the combatants, hides its crisp head in the reeds--a
naiad fantasy in classic style. Danger, rushing from east to west,
hurtles against Honour, crossing it from north to south--two northern
Valkyries in full career. The wreath of honour is hung on the crescent
moon--a metaphor from the tilting-yard, expressed in terms of fairy
romance. Drowned Honour is to be plucked up by the locks from the
bottom of the deep--having now become, by a daring personification, a
damsel who has fallen into the sea and must be rescued. And all this in
three short speeches!

Where this irrepressible vivacity of fancy is lacking, as in _Arden of
Feversham_, Shakespeare's sign-manual is lacking along with it. Even
when his style appears sober and measured, it is saturated with what
may be called latent fantasy (as we speak of latent electricity), which
at the smallest opportunity bursts its bounds, explodes, flashes forth
before our eyes like the figures in a pyrotechnic set-piece, and fills
our ears as with the music of a rushing, leaping waterfall.[1]

In 1598 appeared a Quarto with the following title: _The History of
Henrie the Fovrth; With the battell at Shrewsburie, betweene the King
and Lord Henry Percy, surnamed Henrie Hotspur of the North. With the
humorous conceits of Sir John Falstaffe. At London. Printed by P. S.
for Andrew Wise, dwelling in Paules Churchyard, at the signe of the
Angell_. 1598. This was the First Part of Shakespeare's _Henry IV_.,
which must have been written in 1597--the play in which Shakespeare
first attains his great and overwhelming individuality. At the age
of thirty-three, he stands for the first time at the summit of his
artistic greatness. In wealth of character, of wit, of genius, this
play has never been surpassed. Its dramatic structure is somewhat
loose, though closer knit and technically stronger than that of the
Second Part. But, as a poetical creation, it is one of the great
masterpieces of the world's literature, at once heroic and burlesque,
thrilling and side-splitting. And these contrasted elements are not,
as in Victor Hugo's dramas, brought into hard-and-fast rhetorical
antithesis, but move and mingle with all the freedom of life.

When it was written, the sixteenth century, that great period in the
history of the human spirit, was drawing to its close; but no one had
then conceived the cowardly idea of making the end of a century a sort
of symbol of decadence in energy and vitality. Never had the waves of
healthy self-confidence and productive power run higher in the English
people or in Shakespeare's own mind. _Henry IV._, and its sequel _Henry
V._, are written throughout in a major key which we have not hitherto
heard in Shakespeare, and which we shall not hear again.

Shakespeare finds the matter for these plays in Holinshed's Chronicle,
and in an old, quite puerile play, _The Famous Victories of Henry the
fifth, conteining the Honorable Battell of Agin-court,_ in which the
young Prince is represented as frequenting the company of roisterers
and highway robbers. It was this, no doubt, that suggested to him
the novel and daring idea of transferring direct to the stage, in
historical guise, a series of scenes from the everyday life of the
streets and taverns around him, and blending them with the dramatised
chronicle of the Prince whom he regarded as the national hero of
England. To this blending we owe the matchless freshness of the whole

For the rest, Shakespeare found scarcely anything in the foolish old
play, acted between 1580 and 1588, which could in any way serve his
purpose. He took from it only the anecdote of the box on the ear given
by the Prince of Wales to the Lord Chief-Justice, and a few names--the
tavern in Eastcheap, Gadshill, Ned, and the name, not the character, of
Sir John Oldcastle, as Falstaff was originally called.

Shakespeare felt himself attracted to the hero, the young Prince, by
some of the most deep-rooted sympathies of his nature. We have seen
how vividly and persistently the contrast between appearance and
reality preoccupied him; we saw it last in _The Merchant of Venice_.
In proportion as he was irritated and repelled by people who try to
pass for more than they are, by creatures of affectation and show,
even by women who resort to artificial colours and false hair in quest
of a beauty not their own, so his heart beat warmly for any one who
had appearances against him, and concealed great qualities behind an
unassuming and misinterpreted exterior. His whole life, indeed, was
just such a paradox--his soul was replete with the greatest treasures,
with rich humanity and inexhaustible genius, while externally he was
little better than a light-minded mountebank, touting, with quips and
quiddities, for the ha'pence of the mob. Now and then, as his Sonnets
show, the pressure of this outward prejudice so weighed upon him that
he came near to being ashamed of his position in life, and of the
tinsel world in which his days were passed; and then he felt with
double force the inward need to assure himself how great may be the
gulf between the apparent and the real worth of human character.

Moreover, this view of his material gave him an occasion, before
tuning the heroic string of his lyre, to put in a word for the right
of high-spirited youth to have its fling, and indirectly to protest
against the hasty judgments of narrow-minded moralists and Puritans.
He would here show that great ambitions and heroic energy could
pass unscathed through the dangers even of exceedingly questionable
diversions. This Prince of Wales was "merry England" and "martial
England" in one and the same person.

For the young noblemen among the audience, again, nothing could be more
attractive than to see this great King, in his youth, haunting such
resorts as they themselves frequented, and yet, as the best of them
also tried to do, preserving the consciousness of his high dignity, the
hope of a great future, and the determination to achieve renown, even
while associating with Falstaff and Bardolph, Dame Quickly and Doll

These young English aristocrats, who in Shakespeare appear under the
names of Mercutio and Benedick, Gratiano and Lorenzo, made pleasure
their pursuit through the whole of the London day. Dressed in silk or
ash-coloured velvet, and with gold lace on his cloak, the young man
of fashion began by riding to St. Paul's and promenading half-a-dozen
times up and down its middle aisle. He then "repaired to the Exchange,
and talked pretty Euphuisms to the citizens' daughters," or looked in
at the bookseller's to inspect the latest play-book or pamphlet against
tobacco. Next he rode to the ordinary where he had appointed to meet
his friends and dine. At dinner he discussed Drake's expedition to
Portugal, or Essex's exploits at Cadiz, or told how he had yesterday
broken a lance with Raleigh himself at the Tilt-yard. He would mingle
snatches of Italian and Spanish with his talk, and let himself be
persuaded after dinner, to recite a sonnet of his own composition. At
three he betook himself to the theatre, saw Burbage as Richard III.,
and applauded Kemp in his new jig; after which he would spend an hour
at the bear-garden. Then to the barber's, to have his hair and beard
trimmed, in preparation for the carouse of the evening at whichever
tavern he and his friends had selected--the "Mitre," the "Falcon," the
"Apollo," the "Boar's Head," the "Devil," or (most famous of all) the
"Mermaid," where the literary club, the Syren, founded by none other
than Sir Walter Raleigh himself, held its meetings.[2] In these places
the young aristocrat rubbed shoulders with the leading players, such as
Burbage and Kemp, and with the best-known men of letters, such as John
Lyly, George Chapman, John Florio, Michael Drayton, Samuel Daniel, John
Marston, Thomas Nash, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare.

Thornbury has aptly remarked that the characteristic of the Elizabethan
age was its sociability. People were always meeting at St. Paul's,
the theatre, or the tavern. Family intercourse, on the other hand,
was almost unknown; women, as in ancient Greece, played no prominent
part in society. The men gathered at the tavern club to drink, talk,
and enjoy themselves. The festive bowl circulated freely, even more so
than in Denmark, which nevertheless passed for the toper's paradise.
(Compare the utterances on this subject in _Hamlet_, i. 4, and
_Othello_, ii. 3.) The taverns were, moreover, favourite places for the
rendezvous of court gallants with citizens' wives; fast young men would
bring their mistresses with them, and here, after supper, gambling went
on merrily.

At the taverns, writers and poets met in good fellowship, and carried
on wordy wars, battles of wit, sparkling with mirth and fantasy. They
were like tennis-rallies of words, in which the great thing was to tire
out your adversary; they were skirmishes in which the combatants poured
into each other whole volleys of conceits. Beaumont has celebrated them
in some verses to Ben Jonson, who, both as a great drinker and as an
entertaining _magister bibendi_, was much admired and fêted:--

               "What things have we seen
    Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been
    So nimble, and so full of subtile flame,
    As if that every one from whence they came
    Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest
    And had resolv'd to live a fool the rest
    Of his dull life."

In his comedy _Every Man out of His Humour_ (v. 4), Ben Jonson has
introduced either himself or Marston, under the name of Carlo Buffone,
waiting alone for his friends at the "Mitre," and has placed these
words in Carlo's mouth when the waiter, George, has brought him the
wine he had ordered:--

    "_Carlo (drinks)_. Ay, marry, sir, here's purity; O
    George--I could bite off his nose for this now, sweet rogue,
    he has drawn nectar, the very soul of the grape! I'll
    wash my temples with some on't presently, and drink some
    half a score draughts; 'twill heat the brain, kindle my
    imagination, I shall talk nothing but crackers and fireworks
    to-night. So, sir! please you to be here, sir, and I here:
    so. (_Sets the two cups asunder, drinks with the one, and
    pledges with the other, speaking for each of the cups, and
    drinking alternately._)"

Well known and often quoted is the passage in Fuller's _Worthies_ as to
the many wit-combats between Shakespeare and the learned Ben:--

    "Which two I behold like a _Spanish great Gallion_ and an
    _English man of War_: Master _Johnson_ (like the former) was
    built far higher in Learning; _Solid_, but _Slow_ in his
    performances. _Shake-spear_, with the _English man of War_,
    lesser in _bulk_, but lighter in _sailing_, could turn with
    all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds, by
    the quickness of his Wit and Invention."

Although Fuller was not himself present at these symposia, yet his
account of them bears the stamp of complete authenticity.

Among the members of the circle which Shakespeare in his youth
frequented, there must, of course, have been types of every kind, from
the genius down to the grotesque; and there were some, no doubt, in
whom the genius and the grotesque, the wit and the butt, must have
quaintly intermingled. As every great household had at that time its
_jester_, so every convivial circle had its clown or buffoon. The
jester was the terror of the kitchen--for he would steal a pudding the
moment the cook's back was turned--and the delight of the dinner-table,
where he would mimic voices, crack jokes, play pranks, and dissipate
the spleen of the noble company. The comic man of the tavern circle
was both witty himself and the cause of wit in others. He was always
the butt of the others' merriment, yet he always held his own in the
contest, and ended by getting the best of his tormentors.

To Shakespeare's circle Chettle must doubtless have belonged, that
Chettle who in bygone days had published Greene's _Groats-worth of
Wit_, and afterwards made amends to Shakespeare for Greene's coarse
attack upon him. In Dekker's tract, _A Knights Conjuring_, dating from
1607, he figures among the poets in Elysium, where he is introduced in
the following terms:--"In comes Chettle sweating and blowing, by reason
of his fatnes; to welcome whom, because hee was of olde acquaintance,
all rose vp, and fell presentlie on their knees, to drinck a health
to all the louers of Hellicon." Elze has conjectured, possibly with
justice, that in this puffing and sweating old tun of flesh, who is
so whimsically greeted with mock reverence by the whole gay company,
we have the very model from whom Shakespeare drew his demigod, the
immortal Sir John Falstaff, beyond comparison the gayest, most
concrete, and most entertaining figure in European comedy.

In his close-woven and unflagging mirthfulness, in the inexhaustible
wealth of drollery concentrated in his person, Falstaff surpasses all
that antiquity and the Middle Ages have produced in the way of comic
character, and all that the stage of later times can show.

There is in him something of the old Greek Silenus, swag-bellied and
infinitely jovial, and something of the _Vidushakas_ of the old Indian
drama, half court-fool, half friend and comrade to the hero. He unites
in himself the two comic types of the old Roman comedy, Artotrogus and
Pyrgopolinices, the parasite and the boastful soldier. Like the Roman
_scurra_, he leaves his patron to pay the reckoning, and in return
entertains him with his jests, and, like the _Miles Gloriosus_, he is
a braggart above all braggarts, a liar above all liars. Yet he is in
his single person richer and more entertaining than all the ancient
Silenuses and court-fools and braggarts and parasites put together.

In the century after he came into existence, Spain and France each
developed its own theatre. In France there is only one quaint and
amusing person, Moron in Molière's _La Princesse d'Élide_, who bears
some faint resemblance to Falstaff. In Spain, where the great and
delightful character of Sancho Panza affords the starting-point for the
whole series of comic figures in the works of Calderon, the _Gracioso_
stands in perpetual contrast to the hero, and here and there reminds
us for a moment of Falstaff, but always only as an abstraction of one
side or another of his nature, or because of some external similarity
of situation. In _La Dama Duende_ he is a drunkard and coward; in _La
Gran Cenobia_ he boasts fantastically, and, like Falstaff, becomes
entangled in his lies. In _La Puente de Mantible_ he actually becomes
(as it appears from the scenes with the Chief Justice and Colevile that
Falstaff also was) renowned and dreaded for his military valour; yet
he is, like Falstaff, extremely ill at ease when there is any fighting
to be done, often creeping into cover, hiding himself behind a bush,
or climbing a tree. In _La Hija del Ayre_ and _El Principe Constante_
he uses precisely the device adopted by Falstaff and certain lower
animals, of lying down and shamming death. Hernando in _Los Empeῆos de
un Acaso_ (like Molière's Moron) expresses sentiments very similar to
those of Falstaff in his celebrated discourse upon honour. Falstaff's
airs of protection, his bland fatherliness, we find in Fabio in _El
Secreto a Voces._ Thus single characteristics, detached sides of
Falstaff's character, have to do duty as complete personages. Calderon
as a rule looks with fatherly benevolence upon his Gracioso. Yet he
sometimes loses patience, as it were, with his buffoon's epicurean,
unchristian, and unchivalrous view of life. In _La Vida es Sueño_, for
instance, a cannon-ball kills poor Clarin, who has crept behind a bush
during the battle; the moral being that the coward does not escape
danger any more than the brave man. Calderon bestows on him a very
solemn funeral speech, almost as moral as King Henry's parting words to

It is certain, of course, that neither Calderon nor Molière knew
anything of Shakespeare or of Falstaff; and Shakespeare, for his part,
was equally uninfluenced by any of his predecessors on the comic stage,
when he conceived his fat knight.

Nevertheless there is among Shakespeare's predecessors a great writer,
one of the greatest, with whom we cannot but compare him; to wit,
Rabelais, the masterspirit of the early Renaissance in France. He is,
moreover, one of the few great writers with whom Shakespeare is known
to have been acquainted. He alludes to him in _As You Like It_ (iii.
2), where Celia says, when Rosalind asks her a dozen questions and bids
her answer in one word: "You must borrow me Gargantua's mouth first:
'tis a word too great for any mouth of this age's size."

If we compare Falstaff with Panurge, we see that Rabelais stands to
Shakespeare in the relation of a Titan to an Olympian god. Rabelais is
gigantic, disproportioned, potent, but formless. Shakespeare is smaller
and less excessive, poorer in ideas, though richer in fancies, and
moulded with the utmost firmness of outline.

Rabelais died at the age of seventy, ten years before Shakespeare was
born; there is between them all the difference between the morning and
the noon of the Renaissance. Rabelais is a poet, philosopher, polemist,
reformer, "even to the very fire exclusively," but always threatened
with the stake. Shakespeare's coarseness compared with Rabelais's is as
a manure-bed compared with the _Cloaca Maxima_. Burlesque uncleanness
pours in floods from the Frenchman's pen.

His Panurge is larger than Falstaff, as Utgard-Loki is larger than
Asa-Loki. Panurge, like Falstaff, is loquacious, witty, crafty, and
utterly unscrupulous, a humorist who stops the mouths of all around him
by unblushing effrontery. In war, Panurge is no more of a hero than
Falstaff, but, like Falstaff, he stabs the foemen who have already
fallen. He is superstitious, yet his buffoonery holds nothing sacred,
and he steals from the church-plate. He is thoroughly selfish, sensual,
and slothful, shameless, revengeful, and light-fingered, and as time
goes on becomes ever a greater poltroon and braggart.

Pantagruel is the noble knight, a king's son, like Prince Henry. Like
the Prince, he has one foible: he cannot resist the attractions of low
company. When Panurge is witty, Pantagruel cannot deny himself the
pleasure of laughing at his side-splitting drolleries.

But Panurge, unlike Falstaff, is a satire on the largest scale. In
representing him as a notable economist or master of finance, who
calls borrowing credit-creating, and has 63 methods of raising money
and 214 methods of spending it, Rabelais made him an abstract and
brief chronicle of the French court of his day. In giving him a
yearly revenue from his barony of "6,789,106,789 royaulx en deniers
certain," to say nothing of the fluctuating revenue of the locusts and
periwinkles, "montant bon an mal an de 2,435,768 a 2,435,769 moutons
à la grande laine," Rabelais was aiming his satire direct at the
unblushing extortion which was at that time the glory and delight of
the French feudal nobility.

Shakespeare does not venture so far in the direction of satire. He is
only a poet, and as a poet stands simply on the defensive. The only
power he can be said to attack is Puritanism (_Twelfth Night, Measure
for Measure_, etc.), and that only in self-defence. His attacks, too, are
exceedingly mild in comparison with those of the cavalier poets before
the victory of Puritanism and after the reopening of the theatres. But
Shakespeare was what Rabelais was not, an artist; and as an artist he
was a very Prometheus in his power of creating human beings.

As an artist he has also the exuberant fertility which we find in
Rabelais, even surpassing him in some respects. Max Müller has long
ago remarked upon the wealth of his vocabulary. In this he seems to
surpass all other writers. An Italian opera-libretto seldom contains
more than 600 or 700 words. A well-educated modern Englishman, in
social intercourse, will rarely use more than 3000 or 4000. It has been
calculated that acute thinkers and great orators in England are masters
of as many as 10,000 words. The Old Testament contains only 5642 words.
Shakespeare has employed more than 15,000 words in his poems and
plays; and in few of the latter do we find such overflowing fulness of
expression as in _Henry IV._

In the original form of the play, Falstaff's name, as already
mentioned, was Sir John Oldcastle. A trace of this remains in the
second scene of the first act (Part I.), where the Prince calls the fat
knight "my old lad of the castle." In the second scene of the second
act the line, "Away, good Ned, Falstaff sweats to death," is short of a
syllable, because the dissyllable Falstaff has been substituted for the
trisyllable Oldcastle. In the earliest Quarto of the Second Part, the
contraction _Old_. has been left before one of Falstaff's speeches; and
in Act ii. Sc. 2 of the same play, it is said of Falstaff that he was
page to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, a position which the historic
Oldcastle actually held. Oldcastle, however, was so far from being the
boon companion depicted by Shakespeare that he was, at the instance
of Henry V. himself, handed over to the Ecclesiastical Courts as an
adherent of Wicklif's heresies, and roasted over a slow fire outside
the walls of London on Christmas morning 1417. His descendants having
protested against the degradation to which the name of their ancestor
was subjected in the play, the fat knight was rechristened. Therefore,
too, it is stated in the Epilogue to the Second Part that the author
intends to produce a further continuation of the story, "where, for
anything I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat ... _for Oldcastle died
a martyr, and this is not the man_."

Under the name of Falstaff he became, after the lapse of half a
century, the most popular of Shakespeare's creations. Between 1642 and
1694 he is more frequently mentioned than any other of Shakespeare's
characters. But it is noteworthy that in his own time, although
popular enough, he was not alluded to nearly so often as Hamlet, who,
up to 1642, is mentioned forty-five times to Falstaff's twenty; even
_Venus and Adonis_ and _Romeo and Juliet_ are mentioned oftener than
he, and _Lucrece_ quite as often.[3] The element of low comedy in his
figure made it, according to the notions of the day, obviously less
distinguished, and people stood too near to Falstaff to appreciate him

He was, as it were, the wine-god of merry England at the meeting of the
centuries. Never before or since has England enjoyed so many sorts of
beverages. There was ale, and all other kinds of strong and small beer,
and apple-drink, and honey-drink, and strawberry-drink, and three sorts
of mead (meath, metheglin, hydromel), and every drink was fragrant of
flowers and spiced with herbs. In white meath alone there was infused
rosemary and thyme, sweet-briar, pennyroyal, bays, water-cresses,
agrimony, marsh-mallow, liverwort, maiden-hair, betony, eye-bright,
scabious, ash-leaves, eringo roots, wild angelica, rib-wort, sennicle,
Roman wormwood, tamarisk, mother thyme, saxifrage, philipendula; and
strawberries and violet-leaves were often added. Cherry-wine and sack
were mixed with gillyflower syrup.[4]

There were fifty-six varieties of French wine in use, and thirty-six
of Spanish and Italian, to say nothing of the many home-made kinds.
But among the foreign wines none was so famous as Falstaff's favourite
sherris-sack. It took its name from Xeres in Spain, but differed from
the modern sherry in being a sweet wine. It was the best of its kind,
possessing a much finer bouquet than sack from Malaga or the Canary
Islands (Jeppe paa Bjerget's, "Canari-Sæk")[5] although these were
stronger and sweeter. Sweet as it was too, people were in the habit of
putting sugar into it. The English taste has never been very delicate.
Falstaff always put sugar into his wine. Hence his words when he is
playing the Prince while the Prince impersonates the king (Pt. First,
ii. 4):--"If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked." He puts
not only sugar but toast in his wine: "Go fetch me a quart of sack, put
a toast in it" _(Merry Wives_, iii. 5). On the other hand, he does not
like (as others did) to have it mulled with eggs: "Brew me a pottle of
sack ... simple of itself; I'll no pullet-sperm in my brewage" _(Merry
Wives_, iii. 5). And no less did he resent its sophistication with
lime, an ingredient which the vintners used to increase its strength
and make it keep: "You rogue, here's lime in this sack, too.... A
coward is worse than a cup of sack with lime in it" (I. _Henry IV_.,
ii. 4). Falstaff is as great a wine-knower and wine-lover as Silenus
himself. But he is infinitely more than that.

He is one of the brightest and wittiest spirits England has ever
produced. He is one of the most glorious creations that ever sprang
from a poet's brain. There is much rascality and much genius in him,
but there is no trace of mediocrity. He is always superior to his
surroundings, always resourceful, always witty, always at his ease,
often put to shame, but, thanks to his inventive effrontery, never put
out of countenance. He has fallen below his social position; he lives
in the worst (though also in the best) society; he has neither soul,
nor honour, nor moral sense; but he sins, robs, lies, and boasts, with
such splendid exuberance, and is so far above any serious attempt at
hypocrisy, that he seems unfailingly amiable whatever he may choose to
do. Therefore he charms every one, although he is a butt for the wit
of all. He perpetually surprises us by the wealth of his nature. He is
old and youthful, corrupt and harmless, cowardly and daring, "a knave
without malice, a liar without deceit; and a knight, a gentleman, and
a soldier, without either dignity, decency, or honour."[6] The young
Prince shows good taste in always and in spite of everything seeking
out his company.

How witty he is in the brilliant scene where Shakespeare is daring
enough to let him parody in advance the meeting between Prince Henry
and his offended father! And with what sly humour does Shakespeare,
through his mouth, poke fun at Lyly and Greene and the old play of King
Cambyses! How delightful is Falstaff's unabashed self-mockery when he
thus apostrophises the hapless merchants whom he is plundering:--

"Ah! whoreson caterpillars! bacon-fed knaves! they hate us youth: down
with them; fleece them.... Hang ye, gorbellied knaves. Are ye undone?
No, ye fat chuffs; I would your store were here! On, bacons, on! What!
ye knaves, young men must live."

And what humour there is in his habit of self-pitying regret that his
youth and inexperience should have been led astray:--

"I'll be damned for never a king's son in Christendom.... I have
forsworn his company hourly any time this two-and-twenty years, and
yet I am bewitched with the rogue's company.... Company, villainous
company, hath been the spoil of me."

But if he has not been led astray, neither is he the "abominable
misleader of youth" whom Prince Henry, impersonating the King, makes
him out to be. For to this character there belongs malicious intent, of
which Falstaff is innocent enough. It is unmistakable, however, that
while in the First Part of _Henry IV._ Shakespeare keeps Falstaff a
purely comic figure, and dissipates in the ether of laughter whatever
is base and unclean in his nature, the longer he works upon the
character, and the more he feels the necessity of contrasting the moral
strength of the Prince's nature with the worthlessness of his early
surroundings, the more is he tempted to let Falstaff deteriorate. In
the Second Part his wit becomes coarser, his conduct more indefensible,
his cynicism less genial; while his relation to the hostess, whom he
cozens and plunders, is wholly base. In the First Part of the play he
takes a whole-hearted delight in himself, in his jollifications, his
drolleries, his exploits on the highway, and his almost purposeless
mendacity; in the Second Part he falls more and more under the
suspicion of making capital out of the Prince, while he is found in
ever worse and worse company. The scheme of the whole, indeed, demands
that there shall come a moment when the Prince, who has succeeded to
the throne and its attendant responsibilities, shall put on a serious
countenance and brandish the thunderbolts of retribution.

But here, in the First Part, Falstaff is still a demi-god, supreme
alike in intellect and in wit. With this figure the popular drama which
Shakespeare represented won its first decisive battle over the literary
drama which followed in the footsteps of Seneca. We can actually hear
the laughter of the "yard" and the gallery surging around his speeches
like waves around a boat at sea. It was the old sketch of Parolles
in _Love's Labour's Won_ (see above, p. 49), which had here taken on
a new amplitude of flesh and blood. There was much to delight the
groundlings--Falstaff is so fat and yet so mercurial, so old and yet so
youthful in all his tastes and vices. But there was far more to delight
the spectators of higher culture, in his marvellous quickness of fence,
which can parry every thrust, and in the readiness which never leaves
him tongue-tied, or allows him to confess himself beaten. Yes, there
was something for every class of spectators in this mountain of flesh,
exuding wit at every pore, in this hero without shame or conscience,
in this robber, poltroon, and liar, whose mendacity is quite poetic,
Münchausenesque, in this cynic with the brazen forehead and a tongue as
supple as a Toledo blade. His talk is like Bellman's[7] after him:--

    "A dance of all the gods upon Olympus,
     With fauns and graces and the muses twined."

The men of the Renaissance revelled in his wit, much as the men of the
Middle Ages had enjoyed the popular legends of Reinecke Fuchs and his

Falstaff reaches his highest point of wit and drollery in that
typical soliloquy on honour, in which he indulges on the battlefield
of Shrewsbury (I. _Henry IV_., v. I), a soliloquy which almost
categorically sums him up, in contradistinction to the other leading
personages. For all the characters here stand in a certain relation to
the idea of honour--the King, to whom honour means dignity; Hotspur,
to whom it means the halo of renown; the Prince, who loves it as the
opposite of outward show; and Falstaff, who, in his passionate appetite
for the material good things of life, rises entirely superior to it and
shows its nothingness:--

"Honour pricks me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I come
on? how then? Can honour set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take
away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery then?
No. What is honour? A word. What is that word honour? Air. A trim
reckoning!--Who hath it? He that died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it?
No. Doth he hear it? No. Is it insensible then? Yea, to the dead. But
will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer
it.--Therefore, I'll none of it: honour is a mere scutcheon; and so
ends my catechism."

Falstaff will be no slave to honour; he will rather do without it
altogether. He demonstrates in practice how a man can live without it,
and we do not miss it in him, so perfect is he in his way.

[1] It was this characteristic of Shakespeare's style, at the
period we are now considering, that so deeply influenced Goethe and the
contemporaries of his youth, Lenz and Klinger (and, in Denmark, Hauch
and Bredahl), determining the diction of their tragic dramas. Björnson
shows traces of the same influence in his _Maria Stuart_ and _Sigurd

[2] Thornbury: _Shakspere's England_, i. 104, _et seq_.

[3] _Fresh Allusions to Shakespeare_, p. 372.

[4] Thornbury: _Shakspere's England_, i. 227; Nathan Drake,
_Shakespeare and His Times_, ii. 131.

[5] Jeppe paa Bjerget, a Danish Abou Hassan or Christopher
Sly, is the hero of one of Holberg's most admirable comedies.

[6] Maurice Morgann: _An Essay on the Dramatic Character of
Sir John Falstaff,_ p. 150.

[7] From a poem by Tegnér on Bellman, the Swedish convivial



In contrast to Falstaff, Shakespeare has placed the man whom his ally
Douglas expressly calls "the king of honour"--a figure as firmly
moulded and as great as the Achilles of the Greeks or Donatello's
Italian St. George--"the Hotspur of the North," an English national
hero quite as much as the young Prince.

The chronicle and the ballad of Douglas and Percy gave Shakespeare no
more than the name and the dates of a couple of battles. He seized upon
the name Harry Percy, and although its bearer was not historically of
the same age as Prince Henry, but as old as his father, the King, he
docked him of a score of years, with the poetical design of opposing
to the hero of the play a rival who should be his peer, and should at
first seem to outshine him.

Percy is above everything and every one avid of honour. It is he who
would have found it easy to pluck down honour from the moon or drag it
up from the depths of the sea. But he is of an open, confiding, simple
nature, with nothing of the diplomatist about him. He is hasty and
impetuous; his spur is never cold until he is dead. Under the mistaken
impression that women cannot keep their counsel, he is reticent towards
his wife, in whom he might quite well confide, since she adores him,
and calls him "the miracle of men." On the other hand, he suffers
himself to be driven by the King's sour suspiciousness into foolhardy
rebellion, and he is so simple-minded as to trust to his father and his
uncle Worcester, one of whom deserts him in the hour of need, while the
other plays a double game with him.

Shakespeare has thrown himself so passionately into the creation of
this character that he has actually painted for us Hotspur's exterior,
giving him a peculiar walk and manner of speech. The warmth of the
poet's sympathy has rendered his hero irresistibly attractive, and made
him, in his manliness, a pattern for the youth of the whole country.

Henry Percy enters (ii. 3) with a letter in his hand, and reads:--

    "--'But, for mine own part, my lord, I could be well
    contented to be there, in respect of the love I bear your
    house.'--He could be contented,--why is he not then?
    In respect of the love he bears our house:--he shows in
    this, he loves his own barn better than he loves our
    house. Let me see some more. 'The purpose you undertake is
    dangerous;'--why, that's certain: 'tis dangerous to take
    a cold, to sleep, to drink; but I tell you, my lord fool,
    out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.
    'The purpose you undertake, is dangerous; the friends you
    have named, uncertain; the time itself unsorted, and your
    whole plot too light for the counterpoise of so great an
    opposition.'--Say you so, say you so? _I say unto you again,
    you are a shallow, cowardly hind, and you lie_. What a
    lack-brain is this! By the Lord, our plot is as good a plot
    as ever was laid; our friends true and constant: a good
    plot, good friends, and full of expectation; an excellent
    plot, very good friends....O! I could divide myself and go
    to buffets, for moving such a dish of skimmed milk with so
    honourable an action. Hang him! let him tell the King; we
    are prepared. I will set forward to-night."

We can see him before our eyes, and hear his voice. He strides up and
down the room as he reads, and we can hear in the rhythm of his speech
that he has a peculiar gait of his own. Not for nothing is Henry Percy
called Hotspur; whether on foot or on horseback, his movements are
equally impetuous. Therefore his wife says of him after his death (II.
_Henry IV_., ii. 3):--

                     "He was, indeed, the glass
     Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves.
     _He had no legs, that practised not his gait."_

Everything is here consistent, the bodily movements and the tone of
speech. We can hear in Hotspur's soliloquy how his sentences stumble
over each other; how, without giving himself time to articulate his
words, he stammers from sheer impatience, and utters no phrase that
does not bear the stamp of his choleric temperament:--

    "And speaking thick, which nature made his blemish,
     Became the accents of the valiant;
     For those that could speak low, and tardily,
     Would turn their own perfection to abuse,
     To seem like him: so that, in speech, in gait,
     In diet, in affections of delight,
     In military rules, humours of blood,
     He was the mark and glass, copy and book,
     That fashion'd others."

Shakespeare found no hint of these external traits in the chronicle. He
bodied forth Hotspur's idiosyncrasy with such ardour that everything,
down to his outward habit, shaped itself accordantly. Hotspur speaks
in impatient ejaculations; he is absent and forgetful out of sheer
passionateness. His characteristic impetuousness shows itself in such
little traits as his inability to remember the names he wants to cite.
When the rebels are portioning out the country between them, he starts
up with an oath because he has forgotten his map. When he has something
to relate, he is so absorbed in the gist of his matter, and so
impatient to get at it, that the intermediate steps escape his memory
(i. 3):--

    "Why, look you, I am whipp'd and scourg'd with rods,
     Nettled, and stung with pismires, when I hear
     Of this vile politician, Bolingbroke.
     _In Richard's time,--what do ye call the place?--_
     _A plague upon--it is in Glostershire:--_
     _'T was where the madcap Duke his uncle kept,_
     _His uncle York_,--where I first bow'd my knee
     Unto this king of smiles, this Bolingbroke."

When another person speaks to him, he listens for a moment, but
presently his thoughts are away on their own affairs; he forgets where
he is and what is said to him; and when Lady Percy has finished her
long and moving appeal (ii. 3) with the words--

    "Some heavy business hath my lord in hand,
     And I must know it, else he loves me not,"

all the reply vouchsafed her is:--

    "_Hotspur_. What, ho!
                      _Enter Servant._
                          Is Gilliams with the packet gone?
    _Serv_. He is, my lord, an hour ago.
    _Hot_. Hath Butler brought those horses from the sheriff?" &c.

Perpetually baulked of an answer, she at last cannot help coming out
with this caressing menace, which gives us in one touch the whole
relation between the pair of married lovers:--

    "In faith, I'll break thy little finger, Harry,
     An if thou wilt not tell me all things true."

And this absence of mind of Percy's is so far from being accidental or
momentary that it is the very trait which Prince Henry seizes upon to
characterise him (ii. 4):--

    "I am not yet of Percy's mind, the Hotspur of the North;
    he that kills me some six or seven dozen of Scots at a
    breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife,--'Fie
    upon this quiet life! I want work.' 'O my sweet Harry,' says
    she, 'how many hast thou killed to-day?' 'Give my roan horse
    a drench,' says he, and answers, 'Some fourteen,' an hour
    after; 'a trifle, a trifle.'"

Shakespeare has put forth all his poetic strength in giving to
Percy's speeches, and especially to his descriptions, the most
graphic definiteness of detail, and a naturalness which raises into
a higher sphere the racy audacity of Faulconbridge. Hotspur sets
about explaining (i. 3) how it happened that he refused to hand over
his prisoners to the King, and begins his defence by describing the
courtier who demanded them of him:--

    "When I was dry with rage and extreme toil,
     Breathless and faint, leaning upon my sword,
     Came there a certain lord, neat, trimly dress'd,
     Fresh as a bridegroom; and his chin, new reap'd,
     Show'd like a stubble-land at harvest-home.
     He was perfumed like a milliner."

But he is not content with a general outline, or with relating what
this personage said with regard to the prisoners; he gives an example
even of his talk:--

                            "He made me mad,
    To see him shine so brisk, and smell so sweet,
    And talk so like a waiting-gentlewoman
    Of guns, and drums, and wounds, God save the mark!
    And telling me, the sovereign'st thing on earth
    Was parmacity for an inward bruise;
    And that it was great pity, so it was,
    That villainous saltpetre should be digg'd
    Out of the bowels of the harmless earth."

Why this spermaceti? Why this dwelling upon so trivial and ludicrous a
detail? Because it is a touch of reality and begets illusion. Precisely
because we cannot at first see the reason why Percy should recall so
trilling a circumstance, it seems impossible that the thing should be
a mere invention. And from this insignificant word all the rest of the
speech hangs as by a chain. If this be real, then all the rest is real,
and Henry Percy stands before our eyes, covered with dust and blood, as
on the field of Holmedon. We see the courtier at his side holding his
nose as the bodies are carried past, and we hear him giving the young
commander his medical advice and irritating him to the verge of frenzy.

With such solicitude, with such minute attention to tricks, flaws,
whims, humours, and habits, all deduced from his temperament, from the
rapid flow of his blood, from his build of body, and from his life
on horseback and in the field, has Shakespeare executed this heroic
character. Restless gait, stammering speech, forgetfulness, absence
of mind, he overlooks nothing as being too trivial. Hotspur portrays
himself in every phrase he utters, without ever saying a word directly
about himself; and behind his outward, superficial peculiarities, we
see into the deeper and more significant characteristics from which they
spring. These, too, are closely interwoven; these, too, reveal
themselves in his lightest words. We hear this same hero whom pride,
sense of honour, spirit of independence, and intrepidity inspire with
the sublimest utterances, at other times chatting, jesting, and even
talking nonsense. The jests and nonsense are an integral part of the
real human being; in them, too, one side of his nature reveals itself
(iii. I):--

    "_Hotspur_. Come, Kate, I'll have your song too.

    _Lady Percy_. Not mine, in good sooth.

    _Hot_. Not yours, in good sooth! 'Heart! you swear like a
    comfit-maker's wife. 'Not you, in good sooth;' and, 'As true
    as I live;' and, 'As God shall mend me;' and, 'As sure as
     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

    Swear me, Kate, like a lady as thou art,
    A good mouth-filling oath; and leave 'in sooth,'
    And such protest of pepper-gingerbread,
    To velvet-guards, and Sunday-citizens."

In a classical tragedy, French, German, or Danish, the hero is too
solemn to talk nonsense and too lifeless to jest.

In spite of his soaring energy and ambition, Hotspur is sober,
rationalistic, sceptical. He scoffs at Glendower's belief in spirits
and pretended power of conjuring them up (iii. I). His is to the inmost
fibre a truth-loving nature:--

    "_Glend_. I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
     _Hot_. Why, so can I, or so can any man;
    But will they come, when you do call for them?
     _Glend_. Why, I can teach you, cousin, to command the devil.
     _Hot_. And I can teach thee, coz, to shame the devil,
    By telling truth: tell truth, and shame the devil."

There is a militant rationalism in these words which was rare, very
rare, in Shakespeare's time, to say nothing of Hotspur's own.

He has also, no doubt, the defects of his qualities. He is contentious,
quarrels the moment he is thwarted over the division of booty that has
yet to be won, and then, having gained his point, gives up his share
in the spoils. He is jealous in his ambition, cannot bear to hear any
one else praised, and would like to see Harry of Monmouth poisoned
with a pot of ale, so tired is he of hearing him spoken of. He judges
hastily, according to appearances; he has the profoundest contempt for
the Prince of Wales on account of the levity of his life, and does not
divine what lies behind it. He of course lacks all æsthetic faculty.
He is a bad speaker, and sentiment is as foreign to him as eloquence.
He prefers his dog's howling to music, and declares that the turning
of brass candlesticks does not set his teeth on edge so much as the
rhyming of balladmongers.

Yet, with all his faults, he is the greatest figure of his time. Even
the King, his enemy, becomes a poet when he speaks of him (iii. 2):--

    "Thrice hath this Hotspur, Mars in swathing-clothes,
     This infant warrior, in his enterprises
     Discomfited great Douglas: ta'en him once,
     Enlarged him, and made a friend of him."

The King longs daily that he could exchange his son for
Northumberland's; Hotspur is worthier than Prince Henry to be heir to
the throne of England.

From first to last, from top to toe, Hotspur is the hero of the
feudal ages, indifferent to culture and polish, faithful to his
brother-in-arms to the point of risking everything for his sake, caring
neither for state, king, nor commons; a rebel, not for the sake of any
political idea, but because independence is all in all to him; a proud,
self-reliant, unscrupulous vassal, who, himself a sort of sub-king,
has deposed one king, and wants to depose the usurper he has exalted,
because he has not kept his promises. Clothed in renown, and ever more
insatiate of military honour, he is proud from independence of spirit
and truthful out of pride. He is a marvellous figure as Shakespeare has
projected him, stammering, absent, turbulent, witty, now simple, now
magniloquent. His hauberk clatters on his breast, his spurs jingle at
his heel, wit flashes from his lips, while he moves and has his being
in a golden nimbus of renown.

Individual as he is, Shakespeare has embodied in him the national type.
From the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, Hotspur is an
Englishman. He unites the national impetuosity and bravery with sound
understanding; he is English in his ungallant but cordial relation
to his wife; in the form, of his chivalry, which is Northern, not
Romanesque; in his Viking-like love of battle for battle's and honour's
sake, apart from any sentimental desire for a fair lady's applause.

But Shakespeare's especial design was to present in him a master-type
of manliness. He is so profoundly, so thoroughly a man that he forms
the one counterpart in modern poetry to the Achilles of the Greeks.
Achilles is the hero of antiquity, Henry Percy of the Middle Ages. The
ambition of both is entirely personal and regardless of the common
weal. For the rest, they are equally noble and high-spirited. The one
point on which Hotspur is inferior to the Greek demigod is that of free
naturalness. His soul has been cramped and hardened by being strapped
into the harness of the feudal ages. Hero as he is, he is at the same
time a soldier, obliged and accustomed to be over-bold, forced to
restrict his whole activity to feuds and fights. He cannot weep like
Achilles, and he would be ashamed of himself if he could. He cannot
play the lyre like Achilles, and he would think himself bewitched if
he could be brought to admit that music sounded sweeter in his ears
than the baying of a dog or the mewing of a cat.[1] He compensates for
these deficiencies by the unyielding, restless, untiring energy of his
character, by the spirit of enterprise in his manly soul, and by his
healthy and amply justified pride. It is in virtue of these qualities
that he can, without shrinking, sustain comparison with a demigod.

So deep are the roots of Hotspur's character. Eccentric in externals,
he is at bottom typical. The untamed and violent spirit of feudal
nobility, the reckless and adventurous activity of the English race,
the masculine nature itself in its uncompromising genuineness, all
those vast and infinite forces which lie deep under the surface and
determine the life of a whole period, a whole people, and one half of
humanity, are at work in this character. Elaborated to infinitesimal
detail, it yet includes the immensities into which thought must plunge
if it would seek for the conditions and ideals of a historic epoch.

But in spite of all this, Henry Percy is by no means the hero of the
play. He is only the foil to the hero, throwing into relief the young
Prince's unpretentious nature, his careless sporting with rank and
dignity, his light-hearted contempt for all conventional honour, all
show and appearance. Every garland with which Hotspur wreathes his
helm is destined in the end to deck the brows of Henry of Wales. The
answer to Hotspur's question as to what has become of the madcap Prince
of Wales and his comrades, shows what colours Shakespeare has held in
reserve for the portraiture of his true hero. Even Vernon, an enemy of
the Prince, thus depicts his setting forth on the campaign (iv. I):--

                "All furnished, all in arms,
    All plum'd like estridges that wing the wind;
    Bated like eagles having lately bath'd;
    Glittering in golden coats, like images;
    As full of spirit as the month of May,
    And gorgeous as the sun at midsummer;
    Wanton as youthful goats, wild as young bulls.
    I saw young Harry, with his beaver on,
    His cuisses on his thighs, gallantly arm'd,
    Rise from the ground like feather'd Mercury,
    And vaulted with such ease into his seat,
    As if an angel dropp'd down from the clouds,
    To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus,
    And witch the world with noble horsemanship."


    "And Achilles at last _Brake suddenly forth into weeping_,
    and turned from his comrades aside, And sat by the cold grey
    sea, looking forth o'er the harvestless tide." _Iliad_, i.

    "So when to the tents and the ships of the Myrmidon host they had won,
    They found him delighting his soul as rang to the sweep of his hand
    His beautiful rich-wrought lyre with a silver cross-bar spanned,
    Which he chose from the spoils of the war when he smote Eëtion's town.
    Sweetly it rang as he sang old deeds of hero-renown."
    _Iliad_, ix. 185.

So Greek and so musical is he who can yet give this answer to the dying
Hector's appeal:--

    "'Knee me no knees, thou dog, neither prate of my parents to
    me! Would God my spirit within me would leave my fury free
    To carve the flesh of thee raw, and devour, for the deeds
    thou hast done.'" _Iliad_, xxii. 345.

(Translated by Arthur S. Way.)



Henry V. was, in the popular conception, the national hero of England.
He was the man whose glorious victories had brought France under
English rule. His name had a ring like that of Valdemar in Denmark,
bringing with it memories of a time of widespread dominion, which
the weakness of his successors had suffered to shrink again. As a
matter of history, Henry had been a soldier almost from his boyhood,
had been stationed on the Welsh borders from his sixteenth to his
one-and-twentieth year, and had afterwards, in London, enjoyed the full
confidence of his father and of the Parliament. But there was some
hint in the old chronicles of his having, in his youth, frequented
bad company and led a wild life which gave no foretaste of his coming
greatness. This hint had been elaborated in the old and worthless play,
_The Famous Victories_; and no more was needed to set Shakespeare's
imagination to work, and render it productive. He revelled in the idea
of representing the young Prince of Wales roistering among drunkards
and demireps, only to rise all the more brilliantly and superbly into
the irreproachable sovereign, the greatest soldier among England's
kings, the humiliator of France, the victor of Agincourt.

No doubt Shakespeare's imagination here started from a basis of
personal experience. As a young player and poet, he in all probability
lived a Bohemian life in London, not, indeed, of debauchery, but full
of such passions and dissipations as his vigorous temperament, his
overflowing vitality, and his position beyond the pale of staid and
respectable citizenship, would tend to throw in his way. The Sonnets,
which speak so plainly of vehement and fateful emotions on his part,
also hint at temptations which he did not resist. We read, for
instance, in Sonnet cxix.:--

    "What potions have I drunk of Siren tears,
     Distill'd from limbecks foul as hell within,
     Applying fears to hopes, and hopes to fears,
     Still losing when I saw myself to win!
     What wretched errors hath my heart committed,
     Whilst it hath thought itself so blessed never!
     How have mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted,
     In the distraction of this madding fever!"

And again in Sonnet cxxix.:--

    "The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
     Is lust in action; and till action, lust
     Is perjur'd, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
     Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
     Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight;
     Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
     Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait,
     On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
        .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
     All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
     To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell."

This is the philosophy of the morrow, of the reaction. But Shakespeare
had also, no doubt, his hours of light-hearted enjoyment, when such
moralising reflections were far enough from his mind. We have evidence
of this in more than one anecdote. In the diary of John Manningham, of
the Middle Temple, the following entry occurs, under the date March 13,

    "Upon a tyme when Burbidge played Rich. 3, there was a
    Citizen grone soe farr in liking with him, that before shee
    went from the play shee appointed him to come that night
    vnto hir by the name of Ri: the 3. Shakespeare ouerhearing
    their conclusion went before, [and] was intertained .. ere
    Burbidge came. Then message being brought that Rich, the 3d
    was at the dore, Shakespeare caused returne to be made that
    William the Conquerour was before Rich. the 3. Shakespere's
    name was William."

Aubrey, who, however, did not write until 1680, is the authority,
supported by several others (Pope, Oldys, etc.), for the legend that
Shakespeare, on his yearly journeys from London to Stratford-on-Avon
and back, by way of Oxford and Woodstock, used to alight at the "Crown"
tavern, kept by one Davenant in Oxford, and there won the heart of his
hostess, the buxom and merry Mrs. Davenant, who "used much to delight
in his pleasant company." According to this tradition, the young
William Davenant, afterwards a poet of note, commonly passed in Oxford
for Shakespeare's son, and was said to bear some resemblance to him.
Sir William himself was not unwilling to have it believed that he was
"more than a poetic child only" of Shakespeare's.[1]

Be this as it may, Shakespeare had certainly sufficient personal
experience to enable him to sympathise with this princely youth, who,
despite the consciousness of his high aims, revels in his freedom,
shuns the court life and ceremonial which await him, throws his dignity
to the winds, riots in reckless high spirits, boxes the ears of the
Lord Chief-Justice, and has yet self-command enough to suffer arrest
without resistance, takes part in a tourney with a common wench's glove
in his helm--in short, does everything that most conflicts with his
people's sense of propriety and his father's doctrines of prudence, but
does it without coarseness, with a certain innocence, and without ever
having to reproach himself with any actual self-degradation. Henry IV.
misunderstands his son as completely as Frederick William of Prussia
misunderstood the young Frederick the Great.

We see him, indeed, plunging into the most boyish and thoughtless
diversions, in company with topers, tavern-wenches, and pot-boys; but
we see, also, that he is magnanimous, and full of profound admiration
for Harry Percy, that admiration for a rival of which Percy himself was
incapable. And he rises, ere long, above this world of triviality and
make-believe to the true height of his nature. His alert self-esteem,
his immovable self-confidence, can early be traced in minor touches.
When Falstaff asks him if "his blood does not thrill" to think of the
alliance between three such formidable foes as Percy, Douglas, and
Glendower, he dismisses with a smile all idea of fear. A little later,
he plays upon his truncheon of command as upon a fife. He has the great
carelessness of the great natures; he does not even lose it when he
feels himself unjustly suspected. At bottom he is a good brother, a
good son, a great patriot; and he has the makings of a great ruler.
He lacks Hotspur's optimism (which sees some advantage even in his
father's desertion), nor has he his impetuous pugnacity; yet we see
outlined in him the daring, typically English conqueror, adventurer,
and politician, unscrupulous, and, on occasion, cruel, undismayed
though the enemy outnumber him tenfold--the prototype of the men who, a
century and a half after Shakespeare's death, achieved the conquest of

It is a pity that Shakespeare could find no other way of displaying
his military superiority to Percy than simply to make him a better
swordsman and let him kill his rival in single combat. This is a return
to the Homeric conception of martial prowess. It was by such traits as
this that Shakespeare repelled Napoleon. These things appeared to him
childish. He found more "politics" in Corneille.

With complete magnanimity, Prince Henry leaves to Falstaff the
honour of having slain Hotspur, that honour whose true nature forms
the central theme of the whole play, although the idea is nowhere
formulated in any individual speech. But after Henry Percy's death,
Shakespeare, strangely enough, sometimes actually transfers to Henry
Plantagenet his fallen rival's characteristics. He says, for example
(_Henry V_., iv. 3), "If it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most
offending soul alive." He declares that he understands neither rhyme
nor metre. He woos his bride as ungallantly as Hotspur talks to his
Kate, and he answers the challenges of the French with a boastfulness
that throws Hotspur's into the shade. In _Henry V_. Shakespeare strikes
the key of pure panegyric. The play is a National Anthem in five acts.

We must remember that Shakespeare from the first could not treat this
character with perfect freedom. There is a touch of reverence, of
patriotic religion in his tone, even where he shows the Prince given
over to wild and wanton frolics. At the close of the Second Part of
_Henry IV_. he is already transformed by his sense of responsibility;
and he develops, as Henry V., a sincerely religious frame of mind,
based on personal humility and on the consciousness of his father's
defective right to the throne, which no one could ever have divined in
the light-hearted Prince Hal.

These later plays, however, are not to be compared with this First Part
of _Henry IV_., which in its day made so great and well-deserved a
success. It presented life itself in all its fulness and variety, great
typical creations and figures of racy reality, which, without standing
in symmetrical antithesis or parallelism to each other, moved freely
over the boards where a never-to-be-forgotten history was enacted. Here
no fundamental idea held tyrannical, sway, forcing every word that was
spoken into formal relation to the whole; here nothing was abstract.
No sooner has the rebellion been hatched in the royal palace than the
second act opens with a scene in an inn-yard on the Dover road. It is
just daybreak; some carriers cross the yard with their lanterns, going
to the stable to saddle their horses; they hail each other, gossip, and
tell each other how they have passed the night. Not a word do they say
about Prince Henry or Falstaff; they talk of the price of oats, and of
how "this house is turned upside down since Robin ostler died." Their
speeches have nothing to do with the action; they merely sketch its
locality and put the audience in tune for it; but seldom in poetry has
so much been effected in so few words. The night sky, with Charles's
Wain "over the new chimney," the flickering gleam of the lanterns in
the dirty yard, the fresh air of the early dawn, the misty atmosphere,
the mingled odour of damp peas and beans, of bacon and ginger, all
comes straight home to our senses. The situation takes hold of us with
all the irresistible force of reality.

Shakespeare must have written this drama with a feeling of almost
infallible inspiration and triumphant ease. We understand in reading
it what his contemporaries say of his manuscripts: he did not blot a
single line.

The political developments arising from Henry IV.'s wrongful seizure of
the throne of Richard II. afford the groundwork of the play.

The King, situated partly like Louis Philippe, partly like Napoleon
III., does all he can to obliterate the memory of his usurpation. But
he does not succeed. Why not? Shakespeare gives a twofold answer. First
there is the natural, human reason: the relation of characters and
circumstances. The King has risen by the "fell working" of his friends;
he is afraid of falling again before their power. His position forces
him to be mistrustful, and his mistrust repels every one from him,
first Mortimer, then Percy, then, as nearly as possible, his own son.
Secondly, we have the prescribed religious reason: that wrong avenges
itself, that punishment follows upon the heels of guilt--in a word,
the so-called principle of "poetic justice." If only to propitiate
the censorship and the police, Shakespeare could not but do homage to
this principle. It was bad enough that the theatres should be suffered
to exist at all; if they so far forgot themselves as to show vice
unpunished and virtue unrewarded, the playwright would have to be
sternly brought to his senses.

The character of the King is a masterpiece. He is the shrewd,
mistrustful, circumspect ruler, who has made his way to the throne by
dint of smiles and pressures of the hand, has employed every artifice
for making an impression, has first ingratiated himself with the
populace by his affability and has then been sparing of his personal
presence. Hence those words of his which so deeply impressed Sören
Kierkegaard,[2] who despised and acted in direct opposition to the
principle they formulated (Pt. i. iii. 2):--

    "Had I so lavish of my presence been,
     So common-hackney'd in the eyes of men,
     So stale and cheap to vulgar company,
     Opinion, that did help me to the crown,
     Had still kept loyal to possession,
     And left me in reputeless banishment,
     A fellow of no mark, nor likelihood.
     By being seldom seen, I could not stir,
     But like a comet I was wonder'd at."

He thus illustrates, from the point of view of an old diplomatist, the
injury his son does himself by flaunting it among his disreputable

Yet the son is not so unlike the father as the father believes.
Shakespeare has made him, in his own way, adopt a scarcely less
diplomatic policy: that of establishing a false opinion about himself,
letting himself pass for a frivolous debauchee, in order to make
all the deeper impression by his firmness and energy as soon as an
opportunity offers of showing what is in him. Even in his first
soliloquy (i. 2) he lays down this line of policy with a definiteness
which is psychologically feeble:--

    "I know you all, and will awhile uphold
     The unyok'd humour of your idleness.
     Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
     Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
     To smother up his beauty from the world,
     That when he please again to be himself,
     Being wanted, he may be more wondered at."

This self-consciousness on Henry's part was to some extent imposed
upon Shakespeare. Without it, he could scarcely have brought upon the
stage, in such questionable company, a prince who had become a national
hero. Yet if the Prince had acted with the cut-and-dried deliberation
of purpose which he here attributes to himself, we should have to write
him down an unmitigated charlatan.

Here, as in a former instance of psychological crudity--Richard III.'s
description of himself as a villain--we must allow for Shakespeare's
use of the soliloquy. He frequently regards it as an indispensable
stage-convention, which does not really reveal the inmost thoughts of
the speaker, but only serves to place the hearer at a certain point
of view, and to give him information which he needs. Furthermore,
such a soliloquy as this ought to be spoken with a good deal of
sophistical self-justification on the Prince's part, or else, as the
German actor, Josef Kainz, treats it, in a tone of gay raillery.
Finally, it is to be regarded as a first hint--rather a broad one,
it must be admitted--which Shakespeare gives us thus early in order
to get rid of the improbability he found in the Chronicle, where the
Prince is instantaneously and miraculously transformed through a
single resolve. The soliloquy is introduced at this point to ensure
the coherence of his character, lest the spectator should feel that
the Prince's conversion to a totally different manner of life was
mechanically tacked on and had no root in his inner nature. And it must
have been one of the chief attractions of the theme for Shakespeare
to show precisely this conversion. No doubt he enjoyed depicting his
hero's gay and thoughtless life, at war with all the morality which
is founded on mere social convention; but at least as great must have
been the pleasure he took, as a man of ripe experience, in vindicating
that morality which he now felt to be the determining factor in human
life--the morality of voluntary self-reform and self-control, without
which there can be no concentration of purpose or systematic activity.
When the new-crowned king will no longer recognise Falstaff, when he
repulses him with the words:--

    "How ill white hairs become a fool and jester....
     Reply not to me with a fool-born jest;
     Presume not that I am the thing I was,"

he speaks out of Shakespeare's own soul. Behind the words there glows
a new-born warmth of feeling. The calm sense of justice of the island
king makes haste to express itself, and to refuse all further dallying
with evil. He grants Falstaff a maintenance and banishes him from his
presence. Shakespeare's hero is at this point a living embodiment of
that earnestness and sense of responsibility which the poet, whom one
of his greatest and ablest admirers (Taine) has represented as being
devoid of moral feeling, held to be the indispensable condition of all
high endeavour.

[1] This tradition seems in no way improbable, and its
probability is not diminished by the fact that an anecdote connected
with it has been shown by Halliwell-Phillips to be an old Joe Miller,
merely adapted to the case in point. "One day an old townsman,
observing the boy running homeward almost out of breath, asked him
whither he was posting in that heat and hurry. He answered to see his
_god_father Shakespeare. 'There is a good boy,' said the other; 'but
have a care that you don't take _God's_ name in vain'" (_Oldys_).

[2] A Danish ethical and theological thinker, a Northern
Pascal, said to have in some measure suggested to Ibsen the character
of Brand.



The Second Part of _Henry IV_., which must have been written in 1598,
since Justice Silence is mentioned in Ben Jonson's _Every Man out of
his Humour_, acted in 1599, abounds, no less than the First Part, in
poetic power, but is only a dramatised chronicle, not a drama. In its
serious scenes, the play is more faithful to history than the First
Part, and it is not Shakespeare's fault that the historical characters
are here of less interest. In the comic scenes, which are very amply
developed, Shakespeare has achieved the feat of bringing Falstaff
a second time upon the stage without giving us the least sense of
anticlimax. He is incomparable as ever in his scenes with the Lord
Chief-Justice and with the women of the tavern; and when he goes down
into Gloucestershire in his character of recruiting-officer, he is
still at the height of his genius. As new comrades and foils to him,
Shakespeare has here created the two contemptible country Justices,
Shallow and Silence. Shallow is a masterpiece, a compact of mere
stupidity, foolishness, boastfulness, rascality, and senility; yet he
appears a genius in comparison with the ineffable Silence. Here, as
in the First Part, the poet evidently drew his comic types from the
life of his own day. Another very amusing new personage, who, like
Falstaff, was much imitated by the minor dramatists of the time, is
Falstaff's Ancient, the braggart Pistol, whose talk is an anthology of
playhouse bombast. This inept affectation not only makes him a highly
comic personage, but gives Shakespeare an opportunity of girding at
the robustious style of the earlier tragic poets, which had become
repulsive to him. He parodies Marlowe's _Tamburlaine_ in Pistol's
outburst (ii. 4):--

                 "Shall packhorses,
    And hollow pamper'd jades of Asia,
    Which cannot go but thirty miles a-day,
    Compare with Cæsars and with Cannibals,
    And Trojan Greeks?"

The passage in _Tamburlaine_ (Second Part, ii. 4) runs thus:--

    "Holla, ye pamper'd jades of Asia,
     What? can ye draw but twenty miles a day?"

He makes fun of Peele's _Turkish Mahomet and Hyren the fair Greek_,
when Pistol, alluding to his sword, exclaims, "Have we not Hiren here?"
And again it is George Peele who is aimed at when Pistol says to the

    "Then feed and be fat, my fair Calipolis;
     Come, give's some sack."

In _The Battle of Alcazar_ (see above, p. 31), Muley Mahomet brings his
wife some flesh on the point of his sword and says--

    "Hold thee, Calipolis, feed and faint no more!"

But Falstaff himself is, and must ever remain, the chief attraction of
the comic scenes. Never was the Fat Knight wittier than when he answers
the Lord Chief-Justice, who has told him that his figure bears "all the
characters of age" (i. 2):--

    "My Lord, I was born about three of the clock in the
    afternoon, with a white head, and something a round belly.
    For my voice, I have lost it with hollaing and singing of
    anthems. To approve my youth further, I will not: the truth
    is, I am only old in judgment and understanding; and he that
    will caper with me for a thousand marks, let him lend me the
    money, and have at him."

The play is a mere bundle of individual passages, but each of these
passages is admirable. A great example is King Henry's soliloquy which
opens the third act, the profoundly imaginative apostrophe to sleep:--

    "O thou dull god! why liest thou with the vile,
     In loathsome beds, and leav'st the kingly couch,
     A watch-case, or a common 'larum bell?
     Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
     Seal up the ship-boy's eyes, and rock his brains
     In cradle of the rude imperious surge,
     And in the visitation of the winds,
     Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
     Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them
     With deaf'ning clamours in the slippery clouds,
     That with the hurly death itself awakes?
     Canst thou, O partial sleep! give thy repose
     To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude;
     And in the calmest and most stillest night,
     With all appliances and means to boot,
     Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down!
     Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

Throughout this Second Part, the King, besieged by cares and living in
the shadow of death, is richer in thought and wisdom than ever before.
What he says, and what is said to him, seems drawn by the poet from the
very depths of his own experience, and addressed to men of the like
experience and thought. Every word of that first scene of the third act
is in the highest degree significant and admirable. It is here that
the King turns to what we now call geology (see above, p. 95) for an
image of the historical mutability of all things. When he mournfully
reminds his attendants that Richard II., whom he displaced, prophesied
a Nemesis to come from those who had helped him to the throne, and that
this Nemesis has now over-taken him, Warwick answers with the profound
and astonishingly modern reflection that history is apparently governed
by laws, and that each man's life--

    "Figures the nature of the times deceas'd;
     The which observ'd, a man may prophesy,
     With a near aim, of the main chance of things
     As yet not come to life."

To this the King returns the no less philosophical answer:--

           "Are these things, then, necessities?
    Then let us meet them like necessities."

But it is at the close of the fourth act, where news of the total
defeat of the rebels is brought to the dying King, that he utters what
is perhaps his most profoundly pessimistic speech, complaining that
Fortune never comes with both hands full, but "writes her fair words
still in foulest letters," so that life is like a feast at which either
the food or the appetite [or the guests] are always lacking.

From the moment of King Henry's death, Shakespeare concentrates all
his poetical strength upon the task of presenting in his great son the
pattern and ideal of English kingship. In all the earlier Histories the
King had grave defects; Shakespeare now applies himself, with warm and
undisguised enthusiasm, to the portrayal of a king without a flaw.

His _Henry V_. is a glorification of this national ideal. The five
choruses which introduce the acts are patriotic pæans, Shakespeare's
finest heroic lyrics; and the play itself is an epic in dialogue,
without any sort of dramatic structure, development, or conflict. It
is an English _ἐγκώμιον_, a dramatic monument, as was the _Persæ_ of
Æschylus for ancient Athens. As a work of creative art, it cannot
be compared with the two preceding Histories, to which it forms a
supplement. Its theme is English patriotism, and its appeal is to
England rather than to the world.

The allusion to Essex's command in Ireland in the prologue to the fifth act
gives us beyond a doubt the date of its first performance. Essex was
in Ireland from the 15th of April 1599 to the 28th of September in the
following year. As we find the play alluded to by other poets in 1600,
it must in all probability have been produced in 1599.

How strongly Shakespeare was impressed by the greatness of his theme
appears in his reiterated expressions of humility in approaching it.
He begins, like the epic poets of antiquity, with an invocation of
the Muse; he implores forgiveness, not only for the imperfection of
his scenic apparatus, but for the "flat unraised spirits" in which he
treats so mighty a theme. And in the prologue to the fourth act he
returns to the subject of his unworthiness and the pitiful limitations
of the stage. Throughout the choruses, he has done his utmost, by
dint of vivid imagery and lyric impetus and splendour, to make up for
the sacrifice of unity and cohesion involved in his faithfulness to
history. Shakespeare was evidently unconscious of the naïveté of the
lecture on the Salic law, establishing Henry's claim to the crown of
France, with which the Archbishop opens the play; no doubt he thought
it absolutely imposed upon him.

For he here strives to make Henry an epitome of all the virtues he
himself most highly values. Even in the last act of the Second Part
of _Henry IV._ he had endowed him with traits of irreproachable
kingly magnanimity. Henry confirms in his office the Chief-Justice,
who, in the execution of his duty, had arrested the Prince of Wales,
addresses him with the deepest respect, and even calls him "father."
In reality this Chief-Justice was dismissed at the King's accession.
_Henry V._ completes the evolution of the royal butterfly from
the larva and chrysalis stages of the earlier plays. Henry is at
once the monarch who always thinks royally, and never forgets his
pride as the representative of the English people; the man with no
pose or arrogance, who bears himself simply, talks modestly, acts
energetically, and thinks piously; the soldier who endures privations
like the meanest of his followers, is downright in his jesting and
his wooing, and enforces discipline with uncompromising strictness,
even as against his own old comrades; and finally, the citizen who
is accessible alike to small and great, and in whom the youthful
frolicsomeness of earlier days has become the humourist's relish for
a practical joke, like that which he plays off upon Williams and
Fluellen. Shakespeare shows him, like a military Haroun Al Raschid,
seeking personally to insinuate himself into the thoughts and feelings
of his followers; and--what is very unlike him--he manifests no
disapproval where the King sinks far below the ideal, as when he orders
the frightful massacre of all the French prisoners taken at Agincourt.
Shakespeare tries to pass the deed off as a measure of necessity.

The reason of this is that the spirit which here prevails is not pure
patriotism, but in many points a narrow Chauvinism. King Henry's two
speeches before Harfleur (iii. I and iii. 3) are bombastic, savage,
and threatening to the point of frothy bluster; and wherever Frenchmen
and Englishmen are brought into contrast, the French, even if they
at that time showed themselves inferior soldiers, are treated with
obvious injustice. With his sharp eye for national, as for personal
peculiarities, Shakespeare has of course seized upon certain weaknesses
of the French character; but for the most part his Frenchmen are mere
caricatures for the diversion of the gallery. Quite childish is the
way in which he makes the Frenchmen mix fragments of French in their
speeches. But it is consistent enough with the national and popular
design of the play that not a little of it should seem to be addressed
to the common, uneducated public--for instance, the scene in which the
miserable blusterer Pistol makes prisoner a French nobleman whom he has
succeeded in overawing, and that in which the young Princess Katherine
of France takes lessons in English from one of her ladies-in-waiting.
This passage (iii. 4) and the wooing scene between King Henry and the
Princess (v. 2) are incidentally interesting as giving us a good idea
of Shakespeare's acquaintance with French. No doubt he could read
French, but he must have spoken it very imperfectly. He is perhaps not
to blame for such blunders as _le possession_ and _à les anges._ On the
other hand, it was doubtless he who placed in the mouth of the Princess
such comically impossible expressions as these when Henry has kissed
her hand:--

    _"Je ne veux point que vous abbaissez vostre grandeur, en
    baisant le main d'une vostre indigne serviteur"._

And this:--

    _"Les dames, et damoiselles, pour estre baisées devant leur
    nopces, il n'est pas le costume de France."_

According to his custom, and in order to preserve continuity of style
with the foregoing plays, Shakespeare has interspersed _Henry V_.
with comic figures and scenes. Falstaff himself does not appear, his
death being announced at the beginning of the play; but the members
of his gang wander around, as living and ludicrous mementos of him,
until they disappear one by one by way of the gallows, so that nothing
may survive to recall the great king's frivolous youth. To console
us for their loss, we are here introduced to a new circle of comic
figures--soldiers from the different English-speaking countries which
make up what we now call the United Kingdom. Each of them speaks his
own dialect, in which resides much of the comic effect for English
ears. We have a Welshman, a Scot, and an Irishman. The Welshman is
intrepid, phlegmatic, somewhat pedantic, but all fire and flame for
discipline and righteousness; the Scot is immovable in his equilibrium,
even-tempered, sturdy, and trustworthy; the Irishman is a true Celt,
fiery, passionate, quarrelsome and apt at misunderstanding. Fluellen,
the Welshman, with his comic phlegm and manly severity, is the most
elaborate of these figures.

But in placing on the stage these representatives of the different
English-speaking peoples, Shakespeare had another and deeper purpose
than that of merely amusing his public with a medley of dialects. At
that time the Scots were still the hereditary enemies of England, who
always attacked her in the rear whenever she went to war, and the Irish
were actually in open rebellion. Shakespeare evidently dreamed of a
Greater England, as we nowadays speak of a Greater Britain. When he
wrote this play, King James of Scotland was busily courting the favour
of the English, and the question of the succession to the throne, when
the old Queen should die, was not definitely settled. Shakespeare
clearly desired that, with the coming of James, the old national hatred
between the Scotch and the English should cease. Essex, in Ireland,
was at this very time carrying out the policy which was to lead to
his destruction--that, namely, of smoothing away hatred by means of
leniency, and trying to come to an arrangement with the leader of the
Catholic rebellion. Southampton was with him in Ireland as his Master
of the Horse, and we cannot doubt that Shakespeare's heart was in the
campaign. Bates in this play (iv. I) probably expresses Shakespeare's
own political ideas when he says--

    "Be friends, you English fools, be friends: we have French
    [Spanish] quarrels enow, if you could tell how to reckon."

_Henry V_. is not one of Shakespeare's best plays, but it is one of
his most amiable. He here shows himself not as the almost superhuman
genius, but as the English patriot, whose enthusiasm is as beautiful
as it is simple, and whose prejudices, even, are not unbecoming. The
play not only points backward to the greatest period of England's past,
but forward to King James, who, as the Protestant son of the Catholic
Mary Stuart, was to put an end to religious persecutions, and who, as
a Scotchman and a supporter of the Irish policy of Essex, was for the
first time to show the world not only a sturdy England, but a powerful
Great Britain.



Shakespeare must have written _The Merry Wives of Windsor_ immediately
after _Henry V_., probably about Christmas 1599; for Sir Thomas Lucy,
on whom the poet here takes his revenge, died in 1600, and it is
improbable that Shakespeare would have cared to gird at him after his
death. He almost certainly did not write the piece of his own motive,
but at the suggestion of one whose wish was a command. There is the
strongest internal evidence for the truth of the tradition which states
that the play was written at the request of Queen Elizabeth. The first
Quarto of 1602 has on its title-page the words, "As it hath been divers
times acted by the right honourable my Lord Chamberlain's servants.
Both before Her Majesty, and elsewhere." A century later (1702), John
Dennis, who published an adaptation of the play, writes, "I know very
well that it had pleased one of the greatest queens that ever was
in the world.... This comedy was written at her command and by her
direction, and she was so eager to see it acted, that she commanded it
to be finished in fourteen days." A few years later (1709) Rowe writes,
"She was so well pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff in
the two parts of _Henry IV_., that she commanded him to continue it for
one play more and show him in love. This is said to be the occasion of
his writing _The Merry Wives_. How well she was obeyed, the play itself
is an admirable proof."

Old Queen Bess can scarcely have been a great judge of art, or she
would not have conceived the extravagant notion of wanting to see
Falstaff in love; she would have understood that if there was anything
impossible to him it was this. She would also have realised that
his figure was already a rounded whole and could not be reproduced.
It is true that in the Epilogue to _Henry IV_. (which, however,
is probably not by Shakespeare) a continuation of the history is
promised, in which, "for anything I know, Falstaff shall die of a
sweat, unless already he be killed with your hard opinions;" (but no
such continuation is to be found in _Henry V_.) evidently because
Shakespeare felt that Falstaff had played out his part. Neither is _The
Merry Wives_ the promised continuation, for Falstaff does not die, and
the action is conceived as an earlier episode in his life, though it is
entirely removed from its historical setting and brought forward into
the poet's own time, so unequivocally that there is even in the fifth
act a direct mention of "our radiant queen" in Windsor Castle.

The poet must have set himself unwillingly to the fulfilment of the
"radiant queen's" barbarous wish, and tried to make the best of
a bad business. He was compelled entirely to ruin his inimitable
Falstaff, and degrade the fat knight into an ordinary avaricious,
wine-bibbing, amatory old fool. Along with him, he resuscitated the
whole merry company from _Henry V_., who had all come to an unpleasant
end--Bardolph, Pistol, Nym, and Dame Quickly--making the men repeat
themselves with a difference, endowing Pistol with the splendid phrase,
"The world's mine oyster, which I with sword will open," and giving to
Dame Quickly softened and more commonplace lineaments. From the Second
Part of _Henry IV._ too, he introduces Justice Shallow, placing him in
a less friendly relation to Falstaff, and giving him a highly comic
nephew, Slender, who, in his vanity and pitifulness, is like a first
sketch for Sir Andrew Aguecheek in _Twelft Night_.

His task was now to entertain a queen and a court "with their hatred of
ideas, their insensibility to beauty, their hard, efficient manners,
and their demand for impropriety."[1] As it amused the London populace
to see kings and princes upon the stage, so it entertained the Queen
and her court to have a glimpse into the daily life of the middle
classes, so remote from their own, to look into their rooms, and hear
their chat with the doctor and the parson, to see a picture of the
prosperity and contentment which flourished at Windsor right under the
windows of the Queen's summer residence, and to witness the downright
virtue and merry humour of the red-cheeked, buxom townswomen. Thus
was the keynote of the piece determined. Thus it became more prosaic
and bourgeois than any other play of Shakespeare's. _The Merry Wives_
is indeed the only one of his works which is almost entirely written
in prose, and the only one of his comedies in which, the scene being
laid in England, he has taken as his subject the contemporary life of
the English middle classes. It is not quite unlike the more farcical
of Molière's comedies, which also were often written with an eye to
royal and courtly audiences. All the more significant is the fact
that Shakespeare has found it impossible to content himself with
thus dwelling on the common earth, and has introduced at the close
a fairy-dance and fairy-song, as though from the _Midsummer Night's
Dream_ itself, executed, it is true, by children and young girls
dressed up as elves, but preserving throughout the air and style of
genuine fairy scenes.

Shakespeare had just been trying his hand in _Henry V._ at writing the
broken English spoken by a Welshman and by a Frenchman. He knew that
at court, where people prided themselves on the purest pronunciation
of their mother-tongue, he would find an audience exceedingly alive
to the comic effects thus obtained, and he therefore, while he was in
the vein, introduced into this hasty and occasional production two
not unkindly caricatures--the Welsh priest, Sir Hugh Evans, in whom
he perhaps immortalised one of his Stratford schoolmasters, and the
French Doctor Caius, a thoroughly farcical eccentric, who pronounces
everything awry.

The hurry with which Shakespeare wrote this comedy has led him into
some confusion as to the process of time. In Act iii. 4, when Dame
Quickly is sent to Falstaff to make a second appointment with him, it
is the afternoon of the second day; in the following scene, when she
comes to him, it is the morning of the third day. But this haste has
also given the play an unusually dramatic swing and impetus; it is
quite free from the episodes in which the poet is at other times apt to

Nevertheless Shakespeare has here woven together no fewer than three
different actions--Falstaff's advances to the two Merry Wives,
Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page, and all the consequences of his ill-timed
rendezvous; the rivalry between the foolish doctor, the imbecile
Slender, and young Fenton for the hand of fair Anne Page; and finally,
the burlesque duel between the Welsh priest and the French doctor,
which is devised and set afoot by the jovial Windsor innkeeper.

Shakespeare has himself invented much more than usual of the
complicated intrigue. But Falstaff's concealment in the buck-basket was
suggested by a similar incident in Fiorentino's _Il Pecorone_, from
which Shakespeare had already borrowed in the _Merchant of Venice_; and
the idea of making Falstaff incessantly confide his designs and his
rendezvous to the husband of the lady in question came from another
Italian story by Straparola, which had been published some ten years
earlier, under the title of _Two Lovers of Pisa_, in Tarlton's _News of

The invention is not always very happy. For instance, it is a highly
unpleasing and improbable touch that Ford, as Master Brook, should
bribe Falstaff to procure him possession of the woman (his own wife)
whom he affects to desire, and whom Falstaff also is pursuing.
Ford's jealousy, moreover, is altogether too stupid and crude in its
manifestations. But we have especially to deplore that the nature of
the intrigue and the moral tendency to be impressed on the play should
have made Falstaff, who used to be quickness and ingenuity personified,
so preternaturally dense that his incessant defeats afford his
opponents a very poor triumph.

He is ignorant of everything it would have been his interest to
know, and he is perpetually committing afresh the same inconceivable
blunders. It is foolish enough, in the first place, to write two
identical love-letters to two women in the same little town, who, as
he ought to know, are bosom friends. It is incredibly stupid of him
to walk three times in succession straight into the coarse trap which
they set for him; in doing so he betrays such a monstrous vanity that
we find it impossible to recognise in him the ironical Falstaff of the
Histories. It is inexpressibly guileless of him never to conceive the
slightest suspicion of "Master Brook," who, being his only confidant,
is therefore the only man who can have betrayed him to the husband.
And finally, it is not only childish, but utterly inconsistent with
the keen understanding of the earlier Falstaff, that he should believe
in the supernatural nature of the beings who pinch him and burn him by
night in the park.

On the other hand, the old high spirits and the old wit now and again
flame forth in him, and a few of his speeches to Shallow, to Pistol, to
Bardolph and others are exceedingly amusing. He shows a touch of his
old self when, after having been soused in the water along with the
foul linen, he protests that drowning is "a death that I abhor, for the
water swells a man, and what a thing should I have been when I had been
swelled!" And he has a highly humorous outburst in the last act (v. 5)
when he declares, "I think the devil will not have me damned, lest the
oil that is in me should set hell on fire." But what are these little
flashes in comparison with the inexhaustible whimsicality of the true

The play is more consistently farcical than any earlier comedy of
Shakespeare's, _The Taming of the Shrew_ not excepted. The graceful
and poetical passages are few. We have in Mr. and Mrs. Page a pleasant
English middle-class couple; and though the young lovers, Fenton and
Anne Page, have only one short scene together, they display in it
some attractive qualities. Anne Page is an amiable middle-class girl
of Shakespeare's day, one of the healthy and natural young women whom
Wordsworth has celebrated in the nineteenth century. Fenton, who is
said (though, we cannot believe it) to have been at one time a comrade
of Prince Hal and Poins, is certainly attached to her; but it is very
characteristic that Shakespeare, with his keen sense for the value of
money, sees nothing to object to in the fact that Fenton, as he frankly
confesses, was first attracted to Anne by her wealth. This is the same
trait which we found in another wooer, Bassanio, of a few years earlier.

Finally, there is real poetry in the short fairy scene of the last act.
The poet here takes his revenge for the prose to which he has so long
been condemned. It is full of the aromatic wood-scents of Windsor Park
by night. What is altogether most valuable in _The Merry Wives_ is its
strong smack of the English soil. The play appeals to us, in spite of
the drawbacks inseparable from a work hastily written to order, because
the poet has here for once remained faithful to his own age and his own
country, and has given us a picture of the contemporary middle-class;
in its sturdy and honest worth, which even the atmosphere of farce
cannot quite obscure.

[1] Dowden: _Shakspere--his Mind and Art_, p. 370.



Shakespeare now enters upon the stage in his career in which his wit
and brilliancy of spirit reach a perfection hitherto unattained. It
seems as though these years of his life had been bathed in sunshine.
They certainly cannot have been years of struggle, and still less
of sorrow; there must have been a sort of lull in his existence--a
tranquil zone, as it were, in the troubled waters of life. He seems for
a short time to have revelled in his own genius with a sort of pensive
happiness, to have drunk exhilarating draughts of his own inspiration.
He heard the nightingales warbling in the sacred grove of his spirit.
His whole nature burst into flower.

In the Republican Calendar one of the months was named Floreal.
There is such a flower-month in almost every human life; and this is

He was doubtless in love at this time--as he had probably been all
his life through--but his love was not an overmastering passion like
Romeo's, nor did it depress him with that half-despairing feeling of
the unworthiness of its object which he betrays in his Sonnets; nor,
again, was it the airy ecstasy of youthful imagination that ran riot
in _A Midsummer Night's Dream_. No, it was a happy love, which filled
his head as well as his heart, accompanied with joyous admiration for
the wit and vivacity of the beloved one, for her graciousness and
distinction. Her coquetry is gay, her heart is excellent, and her
intelligence so quick that she seems to be wit incarnate in the form of
a woman.

In his early years he had presented not a few unamiable, mannish
women in his comedies, and not a few ambitious, bloodthirsty, or
corrupt women in his serious plays--figures such as Adriana and the
shrewish Katharine on the one hand, Tamora and Margaret of Anjou on the
other hand, who have all a stiff-necked will, and a certain violence
of manners. In the later years of his ripe manhood he displays a
preference for young women who are nothing but soul and tenderness,
silent natures without wit or sparkle, figures such as Ophelia,
Desdemona, and Cordelia.

Between these two strongly-marked groups we come upon a bevy of
beautiful young women, who all have their heart in the right place, but
whose chief attraction lies in their sparkling quickness of wit. They
are often as lovable as the most faithful friend can be, and witty as
Heinrich Heine himself, though with another sort of wit. We feel that
Shakespeare must have admired with all his heart the models from whom
he drew these women, and must have rejoiced in them as one brilliant
mind rejoices in another. These types of delicate and aristocratic
womanhood cannot possibly have had plebeian models.

In his first years in London, Shakespeare, as an underling in a company
of players, can have had no opportunity of associating with other
women than, firstly, those who sat for his Mistress Quickly and Doll
Tearsheet; secondly, those passionate and daring women who make the
first advances to actors and poets; and, thirdly, those who served as
models for his "Merry Wives," with their sound bourgeois sense and not
over delicate gaiety. But the ordinary citizen's wife or daughter of
that day offered the poet no sort of spiritual sustenance. They were,
as a rule, quite illiterate. Shakespeare's younger daughter could not
even write her own name.

But he was presently discovered by men like Southampton and Pembroke,
cordially received into their refined and thoroughly cultivated
circle, and in all probability presented to the ladies of these noble
families. Can we doubt that the tone of conversation among these
aristocratic ladies must have enchanted him, that he must have rejoiced
in the nobility and elegance of their manners, and that their playful
freedom of speech must have afforded him an object for imitation and

The great ladies of that date were exceedingly accomplished. They had
been educated as highly as the men, spoke Italian, French, and Spanish
fluently, and were not infrequently acquainted with Latin and Greek.
Lady Pembroke, Sidney's sister, the mother of Shakespeare's patron, was
regarded as the most intellectual woman of her time, and was equally
celebrated as an author and as a patroness of authors. And these ladies
were not oppressed by their knowledge or affected in their speech,
but natural, rich in ideas as in acquirements, free in their wit, and
sometimes in their morals; so that we can easily understand how a
daring, high-bred, womanly intelligence should have been, for a series
of years, the object which it most delighted Shakespeare to portray. He
supplements this intellectual superiority, in varying measures, with
independence, goodness of heart, pride, humility, tenderness, the joy
of life; so that from the central conception there radiates a fan-like
semicircle of different personalities. It was of such women that he had
dreamt when he sketched his Rosaline in _Loves Labour's Lost_. Now he
knew them, as he had already shown in Portia, the first of the group.

In spite of his latent melancholy, he is now highly-favoured and happy,
this young man of thirty-five; the sun of his career is in the sign
of the Lion,; he feels himself strong enough to sport with the powers
of life, and he now writes nothing but comedies. He does not take the
trouble to invent them; he employs his old method of carving a play
out of this or that mediocre romantic novel, or he revises inferior
old pieces. As a rule, he goes thus to work: he retains without a
qualm those traits in his fable which are fantastic, improbable,
even repulsive to a more delicate taste--such points are always
astonishingly unimportant in his eyes; he sometimes transfers to his
play undigested masses of the material before him, with no care for
psychological plausibility; but he seizes upon some leading situation
in the novel, or upon some single character in the earlier play, and
he animates this situation or this character, or (it may be) added
characters of his own invention, with the whole fervour of his soul,
until the speeches shine forth as in letters of fire, and sparkle with
wit or glow with passion.

Thus, in _Much Ado about Nothing_, he retains a fable which offers
almost insuperable difficulties to satisfactory poetical treatment, and
nevertheless produces, partly outside of its framework, poetical values
of the first order.

The play was entered in the Stationers' Register on the 4th of August
1600, and appeared in the same year under the title: _Much Adoe about
Nothing. As it hath been sundrie times publikely acted by the Right
Honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his Servants. Written by William
Shakespeare_. It must thus have been written in 1599 or 1600; and we
find, too, in its opening scene, certain allusions that accord with
this date. Thus Leonato's speech, "A victory is twice itself when the
achiever brings home full numbers," and Beatrice's "You had musty
victual," are both thought to point to Essex's campaign in Ireland.

Shakespeare has taken the details of his plot from several Italian
sources. From the first book of Ariosto's _Orlando Furioso_ (the story
of Ariodante and Genevra), which was translated in 1591, and had
already provided the material for a play performed before the Queen
in 1582, he borrowed the idea of a malevolent nobleman persuading
a youthful lover that his lady is untrue to him, and suborning a
waiting-woman to dress like her mistress, and receive a nocturnal
visit by means of a ladder placed against her lady's window, so that
the bridegroom, watching the scene from a distance, may accept it as
proof of the calumny, and so break off the match. All the other details
he took from a novel of Bandello's, the story of Timbreo of Cardona.
Timbreo is represented by Claudio; through the medium of a friend, he
woos the daughter of Leonato, a nobleman of Messina. The intrigue which
separates the young pair is woven by Girondo (in Shakespeare, Don John)
just as in the play, but with a more adequate motive, since Girondo
himself is in love with the lady. She faints when she is accused, is
given out to be dead, and there is a sham funeral, as in the play. But
in the story it is represented that the whole of Messina espouses her
cause and believes in her innocence, while in the play Beatrice alone
remains true to her young kinswoman. The truth is discovered and the
engagement renewed, just as in Shakespeare.

Only for a much cruder habit of mind than that which prevails among
people of culture in our days can this story provide the motive for a
comedy. The very title indicates a point of view quite foreign to us.
The implication is that since Hero was innocent, and the accusation a
mere slander; since she was not really dead, and the sorrow for her
loss was therefore groundless; and since she and Claudio are at last
married, as they might have been at first--therefore the whole thing
has been much ado about nothing, and resolves itself in a harmony which
leaves no discord behind.

The ear of the modern reader is otherwise attuned. He recognises,
indeed, that Shakespeare has taken no small pains to make this fable
dramatically acceptable. He appreciates the fact that here again, in
the person of Don John, the poet has depicted mere unmixed evil, and
has disdained to supply a motive for his vile action in any single
injury received, or desire unsatisfied. Don John is one of the sour,
envious natures which suck poison from all sources, because they suffer
from the perpetual sense of being unvalued and despised. He is, for
the moment, constrained by the forbearance with which his victorious
brother has treated him, but "if he had his mouth he would bite." And
he does bite, like the cur and coward he is, and makes himself scarce
when his villainy is about to be discovered. He is an ill-conditioned,
base, and tiresome scoundrel; and, although he conscientiously does
evil for evil's sake, we miss in him all the defiant and brilliantly
sinister qualities which appear later on in Iago and in Edmund. There
is little to object to in Don John's repulsive scoundrelism; at most we
may say that it is a strange motive-power for a comedy. But to Claudio
we cannot reconcile ourselves. He allows himself to be convinced, by
the clumsiest stratagem, that his young bride, in reality as pure
and tender as a flower, is a faithless creature, who deceives him
the very day before her marriage. Instead of withdrawing in silence,
he prefers, like the blockhead he is, to confront her in the church,
before the altar, and in the hearing of every one overwhelm her with
coarse speeches and low accusations; and he induces his patron, the
Prince Don Pedro, and, even the lady's own father, Leonato, to join
him in heaping upon the unhappy bride their idiotic accusations.
When, by the advice of the priest, her relatives have given her out
as dead, and the worthy old Leonato has lied up hill and down dale
about her hapless end, Claudio, who now learns too late that he has
been duped, is at once taken into favour again. Leonato only demands
of him--in, accordance with the mediæval fable--that he shall declare
himself willing to marry whatever woman he (Leonato) shall assign to
him. This he promises, without a word or thought about Hero; whereupon
she is placed in his arms. The original spectators, no doubt, found
this solution satisfactory; a modern audience is exasperated by it,
very much as Nora, in _A Doll's House_, is exasperated on finding that
Helmer, after the danger has passed away, regards all that has happened
in their souls as though it had never been, merely because the sky
is clear again. If ever man was unworthy a woman's love, that man is
Claudio. If ever marriage was odious and ill-omened, this is it. The
old taleteller's invention has been too much even for Shakespeare's art.

When we moderns, however, think of _Much Ado about Nothing,_ it is not
this distasteful story that rises before our mind's eye. It is Benedick
and Beatrice, and the intrigue in which they are involved. The light
from these figures, and especially from that of Beatrice, irradiates
the play, and we understand that Shakespeare was forced to make Claudio
so contemptible, because by that means alone could the enchanting
personality of Beatrice shine forth in its fullest splendour.

Beatrice is a great lady of the Renaissance in her early youth,
overflowing with spirits and energy, brightly, defiantly virginal,
inclined, in the wealth of her daring wit, to a somewhat aggressive
raillery, and capable of unabashed freedom of speech, astounding to our
modern taste, but permitted by their education to the foremost women of
that age. Her behaviour to Benedick, whom she cannot help perpetually
twitting and teasing, is as headstrong and refractory as Katharine's
treatment of Petruchio.

Her diction is marvellous, glittering with unrestrained fantasy. For
instance, after she has assured her uncle (ii. I) that she "is on
her knees every morning and evening" to be spared the infliction of
a husband, since a man with a beard and a man without one would be
equally intolerable to her, she proceeds--

    "_Beatrice_. ... Therefore I will even take sixpence in
    earnest of the bear-ward, and lead his apes into hell.

    "_Leonato_. Well, then, go you into hell?

    "_Beat_. No; but to the gate; and there will the devil meet
    me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and say,
    'Get you to heaven, Beatrice, get you to heaven; here's no
    place for you maids:' so deliver I up my apes, and away to
    Saint Peter for the heavens; he shows me where the bachelors
    sit, and there live we as merry as the day is long."

She holds that--

    "Wooing, wedding, and repenting, is as a Scotch jig, a
    measure, and a cinque-pace: the first suit is hot and hasty,
    like a Scotch jig, and full as fantastical; the wedding,
    mannerly modest, as a measure, full of state and ancientry;
    and then comes repentance, and with his bad legs falls into
    the cinque-pace faster and faster, till he sink into his

Therefore she exclaims with roguish irony--

    "Good Lord, for alliance!--Thus goes every one to the world
    but I, and I am sun-burnt. I may sit in a corner, and cry
    heigh-ho for a husband!"

In her battles with Benedick she outdoes him in fantasy, both congruous
and incongruous, or burlesque. Here, again, Shakespeare has evidently
taken Lyly as his model, and has tried to reproduce the polished facets
of his dialogue, while at the same time correcting its unnaturalness,
and giving it fresh life. And Beatrice follows up her victory over
Benedick, even when he is no longer her interlocutor, with a freedom
which is now-a-days unthinkable in a young girl:--

    "_D. Pedro_. You have put him down, lady; you have put him

    "_Beat_. So I would not he should do me, my lord, lest I
    should prove the mother of fools."

But this unbridled whimsicality conceals the energetic virtues of a
firm and noble character. When her poor cousin is falsely accused and
cruelly put to shame; when those who should have been her natural
protectors fall away from her, and even outside spectators like
Benedick waver and lean to the accuser's side; then it is Beatrice
alone who, unaffected even for an instant by the slander, indignantly
and passionately takes up her cause, and shows herself faithful,
high-minded, right-thinking, far-seeing, superior to them all--a pearl
of a woman.

By her side Shakespeare has placed Benedick, a Mercutio redivivus; a
youth who is the reverse of amatory, opposed to a maiden who is the
reverse of tender. He abhors betrothal and marriage quite as vehemently
as she, and is, from the man's point of view, no less scornful of all
sentimentality than she, from the woman's; so that he and she, from
the first, stand on a warlike footing with each other. In virtue of a
profound and masterly psychological observation, Shakespeare presently
makes these two fall suddenly in love with each other, over head and
ears, for no better reason than that their friends persuade Benedick
that Beatrice is secretly pining for love of him, and Beatrice that
Benedick is mortally enamoured of her, accompanying this information
with high-flown eulogies of both. Their thoughts were already occupied
with each other; and now the amatory fancy flames forth in both of
them all the more strongly, because it has so long been banked down.
And here, where everything was of his own invention and he could move
quite freely, Shakespeare has with delicate ingenuity brought the
pair together, not by means of empty words, but in a common cause,
Beatrice's first advance to Benedick taking place in the form of an
appeal to him for chivalrous intervention in behalf of her innocent

The reversal in the mutual relations of Benedick and Beatrice is,
moreover, highly interesting in so far as it is probably the first
instance of anything like careful character-development which we
have as yet encountered in any single play of Shakespeare's. In the
earlier comedies there was nothing of the kind, and the chronicle-plays
afforded no opportunity for it. The characters had simply to be
brought into harmony with the given historical events, and in every
case Shakespeare held firmly to the character-scheme once laid down.
Neither _Richard III_. nor _Henry V_. presents any spiritual history;
both kings, in the plays which take their names from them, are one and
the same from first to last. Enough has already been said of Henry's
change of front with respect to Falstaff in _Henry IV_.; we need only
remark further that here the old play of _The Famous Victories_[1]
unmistakably pointed the way to Shakespeare. But this melting of all
that is hard and frozen in the natures of Benedick and Beatrice is
without a parallel in any earlier work, and is quite plainly executed
_con amore_. And the real substance of the play lies not in the plot
from which it takes its name, but in the relation between these two
characters, freely invented by Shakespeare,

Some other characters Shakespeare has added, and they are among the
most admirable of his comic creations: the peace-officer Dogberry,
and his subordinate Verges. Dogberry is a country constable, simple
as a child, and vain as a peacock--a well-meaning, timid, honest,
good-natured blockhead. To show that, in those days, such functionaries
were almost as helpless in real life as they are here represented,
Henrik Schück has cited a letter from Elizabeth's Prime Minister, Lord
Burghley, in which he relates how, in 1586, on a journey from London
into the county, he found at the gate of every town ten or twelve
persons armed with long poles. On inquiring, he learned that they
were stationed there to seize three young men, unknown. Asked what
description they had received of the malefactors, they replied that one
of them was said to have a crooked nose. "And have you no other mark to
recognise them by?" "No," was the answer. Moreover, they always stood
so openly in a body, that no criminal could fail to give them a wide

Dogberry is still less formidable than this detective force. Here are
the wise and wary instructions which he gives to his watchmen:--

    "_Dogberry_. If you meet a thief, you may suspect him, by
    virtue of your office, to be no true man; and, for such kind
    of men, the less you meddle or make with them, why, the more
    is for your honesty.

    "2 _Watch_. If we know him to be a thief, shall we not lay
    hands on him?

    "_Dogb_. Truly, by your office you may; but, I think, they
    that touch pitch will be defiled. The most peaceable way for
    you, if you do take a thief, is, to let him show himself
    what he is, and steal out of your company."

[1] In this play the king says:--

    "Ah, Tom, your former life greeves me,
     And makes me to abandon and abolish your company for ever,
     And therefore not upon pain of death to approach my presence
     By ten miles' space, then if I heare well of you,
     It may be I will do somewhat for you."

In Shakespeare:--

    "Till then I banish thee on pain of death
     As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
     Not to come near our person by ten mile.
     For competence of life I will allow you."



Never had Shakespeare produced with such rapidity and ease as in this
bright and happy interval of two or three years. It is positively
astounding to note all that he accomplished in the year 1600, when
he stood, not exactly at the height of his poetical power, for that
steadily increased, but at the height of his poetical serenity. Among
the exquisite comedies he now writes, _As You Like It_ is one of the
most exquisite.

The play was entered in the Stationers' Register, along with _Much Ado
About Nothing_, on the 4th of August 1600, and must in all probability
have been written in that year. Meres does not mention it, in 1598, in
his list of Shakespeare's plays; it contains (as already noted, page
36) a quotation from Marlowe's _Hero and Leander_, published in 1598--

    "Who ever lov'd, that lov'd not at first sight?"

a quotation, by the way, which sums up the matter of the comedy; and we
find in Celia's words (i. 2), "Since the little wit that fools have was
silenced," an allusion to the public and judicial burning of satirical
publications which took place on the 1st of June 1599. As there does
not seem to be room in the year 1599 for more works than we have
already assigned to it, _As You Like It_ must be taken as dating from
the first half of the following year.

As usual, Shakespeare took from another poet the whole material of this
enchanting comedy. His contemporary, Thomas Lodge (who, after leaving
Oxford, became first a player and playwright in London, then a lawyer,
then a doctor and writer on medical subjects, until he died of the
plague in the year 1625), had in 1590 published a pastoral romance,
with many poems interspersed, entitled _Euphues golden Legacie, found
after his death in his Cell at Silexedra_,[1] which he had written,
as he sets forth in his Dedication to Lord Hunsdon, "to beguile the
time" on a voyage to the Canary Islands. The style is laboured and
exceedingly diffuse, a true pastoral style; but Lodge had that gift of mere
external invention in which Shakespeare, with all his powers, was so
deficient. All the different stories which the play contains or touches
upon are found in Lodge, and likewise all the characters, with the
exception of Jaques, Touchstone, and Audrey. Very remarkable to the
attentive reader is Shakespeare's uniform passivity with regard to
what he found in his sources, and his unwillingness to reject or alter
anything, combined as it is with the most intense intellectual activity
at the points upon which he concentrates his strength.

We find in _As You Like It_, as in Lodge, a wicked Duke who has
expelled his virtuous brother, the lawful ruler, from his domains.
The banished Duke, with his adherents, has taken refuge in the Forest
of Arden, where they live as free a life as Robin Hood and his merry
men, and where they are presently sought out by the Duke's daughter
Rosalind and her cousin Celia, the daughter of the usurper, who will
not let her banished friend wander forth alone. In the circle of
nobility subordinate to the princes, there is also a wicked brother,
Oliver, who seeks the life of his virtuous younger brother, Orlando,
a hero as modest and amiable as he is brave. He and Rosalind fall in
love with each other the moment they meet, and she makes sport with him
throughout the play, disguised as a boy. These scenes should probably
be acted as though he half recognised her. At last all ends happily.
The wicked Duke most conveniently repents; the wicked brother is all
of a sudden converted (quite without rhyme or reason) when Orlando,
whom he has persecuted, kills a lioness--a lioness in the Forest of
Arden!--which is about to spring upon him as he lies asleep. And the
caitiff is rewarded (no less unreasonably), either for his villainy or
for his conversion, with the hand of the lovely Celia.

This whole story is perfectly unimportant; Shakespeare, that is to
say, evidently cared very little about it. We have here no attempt at
a reproduction of reality, but one long festival of gaiety and wit, a
soulful wit that vibrates into feeling.

First and foremost, the play typifies Shakespeare's longing, the
longing of this great spirit, to get away from the unnatural city
life, away from the false and ungrateful city folk, intent on business
and on gain, away from flattery and falsehood and deceit, out into
the country, where simple manners still endure, where it is easier to
realise the dream of full freedom, and where the scent of the woods
is so sweet. There the babble of the brooks has a subtler eloquence
than any that is heard in cities; there the trees and even the stones
say more to the wanderer's heart than the houses and streets of the
capital; there he finds "good in everything."

The roving spirit has reawakened in his breast--the spirit which in
bygone days sent him wandering with his gun through Charlcote Park--and
out yonder in the lap of Nature, but in a remoter, richer Nature than that
which he has known, he dreams of a communion between the best and
ablest men, the fairest and most delicate women, in ideal fantastic
surroundings, far from the ugly clamours of a public career, and the
oppression of everyday cares. A life of hunting and song, and simple
repasts in the open air, accompanied with witty talk; and at the same
time a life full to the brim with the dreamy happiness of love. And
with this life, the creation of his roving spirit, his gaiety and his
longing for Nature, he animates a fantastic Forest of Arden.

But with this he is not content. He dreams out the dream, and feels
that even such an ideal and untrammelled life could not satisfy that
strange and unaccountable spirit lurking in the inmost depths of his
nature, which turns everything into food for melancholy and satire.
From this rib, then, taken from his own side, he creates the figure
of Jaques, unknown to the romance, and sets him wandering through his
pastoral comedy, lonely, retiring, self-absorbed, a misanthrope from
excess of tenderness, sensitiveness, and imagination.

Jaques is like the first light and brilliant pencil-sketch for Hamlet.
Taine, and others after him, have tried to draw a parallel between
Jaques and Alceste--of all Molière's creations, no doubt, the one who
contains most of his own nature. But there is no real analogy between
them. In Jaques everything wears the shimmering hues of wit and
fantasy, in Alceste everything is bitter earnest. Indignation is the
mainspring of Alceste's misanthropy. He is disgusted at the falsehood
around him, and outraged to see that the scoundrel with whom he is
at law, although despised by every one, is nevertheless everywhere
received with open arms. He declines to remain in bad company, even in
the hearts of his friends; therefore he withdraws from them. He loathes
two classes of people:

    "Les uns parcequ'ils sont méchants et malfaisants,
     Et les autres pour être aux méchants complaisants."

These are the accents of Timon of Athens, who hated the wicked for
their wickedness, and other men for not hating the wicked.

It is, then, in Shakespeare's Timon, of many years later, that we can
alone find an instructive parallel to Alceste. Alceste's nature is
keenly logical, classically French; it consists of sheer uncompromising
sincerity and pride, without sensibility and without melancholy.

The melancholy of Jaques is a poetic dreaminess. He is described to us
(ii. I) before we see him. The banished Duke has just been blessing
the adversity which drove him out into the forest, where he is exempt
from the dangers of the envious court. He is on the point of setting
forth to hunt, when he learns that the melancholy Jaques repines at the
cruelty of the chase, and calls him in that respect as great a usurper
as the brother who drove him from his dukedom. The courtiers have found
him stretched beneath an oak, and dissolved in pity for a poor wounded
stag which stood beside the brook, and "heaved forth such groans That
their discharge did stretch his leathern coat Almost to bursting."
Jaques, they continue, "moralised this spectacle into a thousand

                "Then, being there alone,
    Left and abandon'd of his velvet friends;
    "'Tis right,' quoth he; 'thus misery doth part
    The flux of company.' Anon, a careless herd,
    Full of the pasture, jumps along by him,
    And never stays to greet him. 'Ay,' quoth Jaques,
    'Sweep on, you fat and greasy citizens;
    'Tis just the fashion: wherefore do you look
    Upon that poor and broken bankrupt there?"

His bitterness springs from a too tender sensibility, a sensibility
like that of Sakya Mouni before him, who made tenderness to animals
part of his religion, and like that of Shelley after him, who, in his
pantheism, realised the kinship between his own soul and that of the
brute creation.

Thus we are prepared for his entrance. He introduces himself into the
Duke's circle (ii. 7) with a glorification of the fool's motley. He has
encountered Touchstone in the forest, and is enraptured with him. The
motley fool lay basking in the sun, and when Jaques said to him, "Good
morrow, fool!" he answered, "Call me not fool till heaven have sent me
fortune." Then this sapient fool drew a dial from his pocket, and said
very wisely--

                "'It is ten o'clock:
    Thus may we see,' quoth he, I how the world wags:
    'Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
    And after one hour more 'twill be eleven;
    And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe,
    And then from hour to hour we rot and rot,
    And thereby hangs a tale.'"

"O noble fool!" Jaques exclaims with enthusiasm. "A worthy fool!
Motley's the only wear."

In moods of humorous melancholy, it must have seemed to Shakespeare as
though he himself were one of these jesters, who had the privilege of
uttering truths to great people and on the stage, if only they did not
blurt them out directly, but disguised them under a mask of folly. It
was in a similar mood that Heinrich Heine, centuries later, addressed
to the German people these words: "Ich bin dein Kunz von der Rosen,
dein Narr."

Therefore it is that Shakespeare makes Jaques exclaim--

              "O, that I were a fool!
    I am ambitious for a motley coat."

When the Duke answers, "Thou shalt have one," he declares that it is
the one thing he wants, and that the others must "weed their judgments"
of the opinion that he is wise:--

                        "I must have liberty
    Withal, as large a charter as the wind,
    To blow on whom I please; for so fools have:
    And they that are most galled with my folly,
    They most must laugh.
       .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
    Invest me in my motley: give me leave
    To speak my mind, and I will through and through
    Cleanse the foul body of the infected world,
    If they will patiently receive my medicine."

It is Shakespeare's own mood that we hear in these words. The voice is
his. The utterance is far too large for Jaques: he is only a mouthpiece
for the poet. Or let us say that his figure dilates in such passages as
this, and we see in him a Hamlet _avant la lettre_.

When the Duke, in answer to this outburst, denies Jaques' right to
chide and satirise others, since he has himself been "a libertine,
As sensual as the brutish sting itself," the poet evidently defends
himself in the reply which he places in the mouth of the melancholy

              "Why, who cries out on pride,
        That can therein tax any private party?
        Doth it not flow as hugely as the sea,
        Till that the weary very means do ebb?
        What woman in the city do I name,
        When that I say, the city-woman bears
        The cost of princes on unworthy shoulders?
        Who can come in, and say that I mean her,
        When such a one as she, such is her neighbour?"

This exactly anticipates Holberg's self-defence in the character of
Philemon in _The Fortunate Shipwreck_. The poet is evidently rebutting
a common prejudice against his art. And as he makes Jaques an advocate
for the freedom which poetry must claim, so also, he employs him as a
champion of the actor's misjudged calling, in placing in his mouth the
magnificent speech on the Seven Ages of Man. Alluding, no doubt, to the
motto of _Totus Mundus Agit Histrionem_, inscribed under the Hercules
as Atlas, which was the sign of the Globe Theatre, this speech opens
with the words:--

                  "All the world's a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players;
    They have their exits and their entrances;
    And one man in his time plays many parts."

Ben Jonson is said to have inquired, in an epigram against the motto of
the Globe Theatre, where the spectators were to be found if all the men
and women were players? And an epigram attributed to Shakespeare gives
the simple answer that all are players and audience at one and the
same time. Jaques' survey of the life of man is admirably concise and
impressive. The last line--

    "Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything "--

with its half French equivalent for "without," is imitated from the
_Henriade_ of the French poet Gamier, which was not translated, and
which Shakespeare must consequently have read in the original.

This same Jaques, who gives evidence of so wide an outlook over human
life, is in daily intercourse, as we have said, nervously misanthropic
and formidably witty. He is sick of polite society, pines for solitude,
takes leave of a pleasant companion with the words: "I thank you for
your company; but, good faith, I had as lief have been myself alone."
Yet we must not take his melancholy and his misanthropy too seriously.
His melancholy is a comedy-melancholy, his misanthropy is only the
humourist's craving to give free vent to his satirical inspirations.

And there is, as aforesaid, only a certain part of Shakespeare's inmost
nature in this Jaques, a Shakespeare of the future, a Hamlet in germ,
but not that Shakespeare who now bathes in the sunlight and lives in
uninterrupted prosperity, in growing favour with the many, and borne
aloft by the admiration and goodwill of the few. We must seek for this
Shakespeare in the interspersed songs, in the drollery of the fool, in
the lovers' rhapsodies, in the enchanting babble of the ladies. He is,
like Providence, everywhere and nowhere.

When Celia says (i. 2), "Let us sit and mock the good house-wife,
Fortune, from her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed
equally," she strikes, as though with a tuning-fork, the keynote of the
comedy. The sluice is opened for that torrent of jocund wit, shimmering
with all the rainbows of fancy, which is now to rush seething and
swirling along.

The Fool is essential to the scheme: for the Fool's stupidity is the
grindstone of wit, and the Fool's wit is the touchstone of character.
Hence his name.

The ways of the real world, however, are not forgotten. The good make
enemies by their very goodness, and the words of the old servant Adam
(Shakespeare's own part) to his young master Orlando (ii. 3), sound
sadly enough:--

    "Your praise is come too swiftly home before you.
     Know you not, master, to some kind of men
     Their graces serve them but as enemies?
     No more do yours: your virtues, gentle master,
     Are sanctified, and holy traitors to you.
     O, what a world is this, when what is comely
     Envenoms him that bears it!"

But soon the poet's eye is opened to a more consolatory
life-philosophy, combined with an unequivocal contempt for
school-philosophy. There seems to be a scoffing allusion to a book of
the time, which was full of the platitudes of celebrated philosophers,
in Touchstone's speech to William (v. I), "The heathen philosopher,
when he had desire to eat a grape, would open his lips when he put
it into his mouth, meaning thereby that grapes were made to eat and
lips to open;" but no doubt there also lurks in this speech a certain
lack of respect for even the much-belauded wisdom of tradition. The
relativity of all things, at that time a new idea, is expounded with
lofty humour by the Fool in his answer to the question what he thinks
of this pastoral life (iii. 2):--

    "Truly, shepherd, in respect of itself it is a good life,
    but in respect that it is a shepherd's life, it is naught.
    In respect that it is solitary, I like it very well; but in
    respect that it is private, it is a very vile life. Now, in
    respect it is in the fields, it pleaseth me well; but in
    respect it is not in the court, it is tedious. As it is a
    spare life, look you, it fits my humour well; but as there
    is no more plenty in it, it goes much against my stomach.
    Hast any philosophy in thee, shepherd?"

The shepherd's answer makes direct sport of philosophy, in the style of
Molière's gibe, when he accounts for the narcotic effect of opium by
explaining that the drug possesses a certain _facultas dormitativa:--_

    "_Corin_. No more, but that I know, the more one sickens,
    the worse at ease he is; and that he that wants money,
    means, and content, is without three good friends; that the
    property of rain is to wet, and fire to burn; that good
    pasture makes fat sheep, and that a great cause of the night
    is lack of the sun....

    "_Touchstone_. Such a one is a natural philosopher."

This sort of philosophy leads up, as it were, to Rosalind's sweet
gaiety and heavenly kindness.

The two cousins, Rosalind and Celia, seem at first glance like
variations of the two cousins, Beatrice and Hero, in the play
Shakespeare has just finished. Rosalind and Beatrice in particular
are akin in their victorious wit. Yet the difference between them is
very great; Shakespeare never repeats himself. The wit of Beatrice is
aggressive and challenging; we see, as it were, the gleam of a rapier
in it. Rosalind's wit is gaiety without a sting; the gleam in it is of
"that sweet radiance" which Oehlenschläger attributed to Freia; her
sportive nature masks the depth of her love. Beatrice can be brought
to love because she is a woman, and stands in no respect apart from
her sex; but she is not of an amatory nature. Rosalind is seized with
a passion for Orlando the instant she sets eyes on him. From the
moment of Beatrice's first appearance she is defiant and combative, in
the highest of spirits. We are introduced to Rosalind as a poor bird
with a drooping wing; her father is banished, she is bereft of her
birth-right, and is living on sufferance as companion to the usurper's
daughter, being, indeed, half a prisoner in the palace, where till
lately she reigned as princess. It is not until she has donned the
doublet and hose, appears in the likeness of a page, and wanders at her
own sweet will in the open air and the greenwood, that she recovers
her radiant humour, and roguish merriment flows from her lips like the
trilling of a bird.

Nor is the man she loves, like Benedick, an overweening gallant with
a sharp tongue and an unabashed bearing. This youth, though brave as
a hero and strong as an athlete, is a child in inexperience, and so
bashful in the presence of the woman who instantly captivates him, that
it is she who is the first to betray her sympathy for him, and has
even to take the chain from her own neck and hang it around his before
he can so much as muster up courage to hope for her love. So, too, we
find him passing his time in hanging poems to her upon the trees, and
carving the name of Rosalind in their bark. She amuses herself, in her
page's attire, by making herself his confidant, and pretending, as it
were in jest, to be his Rosalind. She cannot bring herself to confess
her passion, although she can think and talk (to Celia) of no one but
him, and although his delay of a few minutes in keeping tryst with
her sets her beside herself with impatience. She is as sensitive as
she is intelligent, in this differing from Portia, to whom, in other
respects, she bears some resemblance, though she lacks her persuasive
eloquence, and is, on the whole, more tender, more virginal. She faints
when Oliver, to excuse Orlando's delay, brings her a handkerchief
stained with his blood; yet has sufficient self-mastery to say with a
smile the moment she recovers, "I pray you tell your brother how well I
counterfeited." She is quite at her ease in her male attire, like Viola
and Imogen after her. The fact that female parts were played by youths
had, of course, something to do with the frequency of these disguises.

Here is a specimen of her wit (iii. 2). Orlando has evaded the page's
question what o'clock it is, alleging that there are no clocks in the

    "_Rosalind_. Then, there is no true lover in the forest;
    else sighing every minute, and groaning every hour, would
    detect the lazy foot of Time as well as a clock.

    "_Orlando_. And why not the swift foot of
    Time? had not that been as proper?

    "_Ros_. By no means, sir. Time travels in divers paces with
    divers persons. I'll tell you, who Time ambles withal, who
    Time trots withal, who Time gallops withal, and who he
    stands still withal.

    "_Orl_. I pr'ythee, who doth he trot withal?

    "_Ros_. Marry, he trots hard with a young maid, between the
    contract of her marriage, and the day it is solemnised: if
    the interim be but a se'nnight, Time's pace is so hard that
    it seems the length of seven years.

    "_Orl_. Who ambles Time withal?

    "_Ros_. With a priest that lacks Latin, and a rich man that
    hath not the gout; for the one sleeps easily, because he
    cannot study; and the other lives merrily, because he feels
    no pain....

    "_Orl_. Who doth he gallop withal?

    "_Ros_. With a thief to the gallows; for though he go as
    softly as foot can fall, he thinks himself too soon there.

    "_Orl_. Who stays it still withal?

    "_Ros_. With lawyers in the vacation; for they sleep between
    term and term, and then they perceive not how Time moves."

She is unrivalled in vivacity and inventiveness. In every answer she
discovers gunpowder anew, and she knows how to use it to boot. She
explains that she had an old uncle who warned her against love and
women, and, from the vantage-ground of her doublet and hose, she

    "I thank God, I am not a woman, to be touched with so many
    giddy offences, as he hath generally taxed their whole sex

    "_Orl_. Can you remember any of the principal evils that he
    laid to the charge of women?

    "_Ros_. There were none principal: they were all like
    one another, as half-pence are; every one fault seeming
    monstrous, till its fellow fault came to match it.

    "_Orl_. I pr'ythee, recount some of them.

    "_Ros_. No; I will not cast away my physic but on those that
    are sick. There is a man haunts the forest, that abuses
    our young plants with carving Rosalind on their barks;
    hangs odes upon hawthorns, and elegies on brambles; all,
    forsooth, deifying the name of Rosalind: if I could meet
    that fancy-monger, I would give him some good counsel, for
    he seems to have the quotidian of love upon him."

Orlando admits that he is the culprit, and they are to meet daily that
she may exorcise his passion. She bids him woo her in jest, as though
she were indeed Rosalind, and answers (iv. I):

    "_Ros_. Well, in her person, I say--I will not have you.

    "_Orl_. Then, in mine own person, I die.

    "_Ros_. No, 'faith, die by attorney. The poor world is
    almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there
    was not any man died in his own person, _videlicet_, in a
    love-cause. Troilus had his brains dashed out with a Grecian
    club; yet he did what he could to die before, and he is one
    of the patterns of love. Leander, he would have lived many
    a fair year, though Hero had turned nun, if it had not been
    for a hot midsummer night; for, good youth, he went but
    forth to wash him in the Hellespont, and, being taken with
    the cramp, was drowned, and the foolish chroniclers of that
    age found it was--Hero of Sestos. But these are all lies:
    men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them,
    but not for love."

What Rosalind says of women in general applies to herself in
particular: you will never find her without an answer until you find
her without a tongue. And there is always a bright and merry fantasy in
her answers. She is literally radiant with youth, imagination, and the
joy of loving so passionately and being so passionately beloved. And it
is marvellous how thoroughly feminine is her wit. Too many of the witty
women in books written by men have a man's intelligence. Rosalind's wit
is tempered by feeling.

She has no monopoly of wit in this Arcadia of Arden. Every one in the
play is witty, even the so-called simpletons. It is a festival of wit.
At some points Shakespeare seems to have followed no stricter principle
than the simple one of making each interlocutor outbid the other in wit
(see, for example, the conversation between Touchstone and the country
wench whom he befools). The result is that the piece is bathed in a
sunshiny humour. And amid all the gay and airy wit-skirmishes, amid
the cooing love-duets of all the happy youths and maidens, the poet
intersperses the melancholy solos of his Jaques:--

"I have neither the scholar's melancholy, which is emulation; nor the
musician's, which is fantastical; nor the courtier's, which is proud;
nor the soldier's, which is ambitious; nor the lawyer's, which is
politic; nor the lady's, which is nice; nor the lover's, which is all
these; but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples,
extracted from many objects."

This is the melancholy which haunts the thinker and the great creative
artist; but in Shakespeare it as yet modulated with ease into the most
engaging and delightful merriment.

[1] Reprinted in Hazlitt's Shakespeare's Library, ed. 1875, part i.
vol. ii.



If the reader would picture to himself Shakespeare's mood during this
short space of time at the end of the old century and beginning of
the new, let him recall some morning when he has awakened with the
sensation of complete physical well-being, not only feeling no definite
or indefinite pain or uneasiness, but with a positive consciousness
of happy activity in all his organs: when he drew his breath lightly,
his head was clear and free, his heart beat peacefully: when the mere
act of living was a delight: when the soul dwelt on happy moments
in the past and dreamed of joys to come. Recall such a moment, and
then conceive it intensified an hundredfold--conceive your memory,
imagination, observation, acuteness, and power of expression a hundred
times multiplied--and you may divine Shakespeare's prevailing mood in
those days, when the brighter and happier sides of his nature were
turned to the sun.

There are days when the sun seems to have put on a new and festal
splendour, when the air is like a caress to the cheek, and when the
glamour of the moonlight seems doubly sweet; days when men appear
manlier and wittier, women fairer and more delicate than usual, and
when those who are disagreeable and even odious to us appear, not
formidable, but ludicrous--so that we feel ourselves exalted above the
level of our daily life, emancipated and happy. Such days Shakespeare
was now passing through.

It is at this period, too, that he makes sport of his adversaries the
Puritans without bitterness, with exquisite humour. Even in _As You
Like It_ (iii. 2), we find a little allusion to them, where Rosalind
says, "O most gentle Jupiter!--what tedious homily of love have you
wearied your parishioners withal, and never cried, 'Have patience, good
people!'" In his next play, the typical, solemn, and self-righteous
Puritan is held up to ridicule in the Don Quixote-like personage of the
moralising and pompous Malvolio, who is launched upon a billowy sea of
burlesque situations. Of course the poet goes to work with the greatest
circumspection. Sir Toby has made some inquiry about Malvolio, to which
Maria answers (ii. 3):--

    "_Maria_. Marry, sir, sometimes he is a kind of Puritan.

    "_Sir Andrew_. O! if I thought that, I'd beat him like a dog.

    "_Sir Toby_. What, for being a Puritan? thy exquisite
    reason, dear knight?

    "_Sir And_. I have no exquisite reason for't, but I have
    reason good enough.

    "_Mar_. The devil a Puritan that he is, or anything
    constantly but a time-pleaser; an affectioned ass, that cons
    state without book, and utters it by great swarths."

Not otherwise does Molière expressly insist that Tartuffe is not a
clergyman, and Holberg that Jacob von Tyboe is not an officer.

A forged letter, purporting to be written by his noble mistress, is
made to fall into Malvolio's hands, in which she begs for his love, and
instructs him, as a sign of his affection towards her, always to smile,
and to wear cross-gartered yellow stockings. He "smiles his face into
more lines than are in the new map [of 1598] with the augmentation of
the Indies;" he wears his preposterous garters in the most preposterous
fashion. The conspirators pretend to think him mad, and treat him
accordingly. The Clown comes to visit him disguised in the cassock
of Sir Topas the curate. "Well," says the mock priest (not without
intention on the poet's part), when Maria gives him the gown, "I'll put
it on, and I will dissemble myself in't; and I would I were the first
that ever dissembled in such a gown."

It is to Malvolio, too, that the merry and mellow Sir Toby, amid the
applause of the Clown, addresses the taunt:--

    "_Sir Toby_. Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous,
    there shall be no more cakes and ale?

    "_Clown_. Yes, by Saint Anne; and ginger shall be hot i' the
    mouth too."

In these words, which were one day to serve as a motto to Byron's _Don
Juan_, there lies a gay and daring declaration of rights.

_Twelfth Night, or What you Will_, must have been written in 1601,
for in the above-mentioned diary kept by John Manningham, of the
Middle Temple, we find this entry, under the date February 2, 1602:
"At our feast wee had a play called Twelve Night, or what you will,
much like the commedy of errores, or Menechmi in Plautus, but most
like and neere to that in Italian called _Inganni_. A good practise
in it to make the steward beleeve his lady widdowe was in love with
him," &c. That the play cannot have been written much earlier is
proved by the fact that the song, "Farewell, dear heart, since I must
needs be gone," which is sung by Sir Toby and the Clown (ii. 3), first
appeared in a song-book (_The Booke of Ayres_) published by Robert
Jones, London, 1601. Shakespeare has altered its wording very slightly.
In all probability _Twelfth Night_ was one of the four plays which
were performed before the court at Whitehall by the Lord Chamberlain's
company at Christmastide, 1601-2, and no doubt it was acted for the
first time on the evening from which it takes its name.

Among several Italian plays which bore the name of _Gl'Inganni_ there
is one by Curzio Gonzaga, published in Venice in 1592, in which a
sister dresses herself as her brother and takes the name of Cesare--in
Shakespeare, Cesario--and another, published in Venice in 1537, the
action of which bears a general resemblance to that of _Twelfth Night_.
In this play, too, passing mention is made of one "Malevolti," who may
have suggested to Shakespeare the name Malvolio.

The matter of the play is found in a novel of Bandello's, translated
in Belleforest's _Histoires Tragiques_; and also in Barnabe Rich's
translation of Cinthio's _Hecatomithi_, published in 1581, which
Shakespeare appears to have used. The whole comic part of the action,
and the characters of Malvolio, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and the
Clown, are of Shakespeare's own invention.

There occurs in Ben Jonson's _Every Man out of his Humour_ a speech
which seems very like an allusion to _Twelfth Night;_ but as Jonson's
play is of earlier date, the speech, if the allusion be not fanciful,
must have been inserted later.[1]

As was to be expected, _Twelfth Night_ became exceedingly popular. The
learned Leonard Digges, the translator of Claudian, enumerating in
his verses, "Upon Master William Shakespeare" (1640), the poet's most
popular characters, mentions only three from the comedies, and these
from _Much Ado_ and _Twelfth Night_. He says:--

                        "Let but _Beatrice_
    And _Benedicke_ be seene, loe in a trice
    The Cockpit, Galleries, Boxes, all are full
    To hear _Malvoglio_, that crosse garter'd Gull."

_Twelfth Night_ is perhaps the most graceful and harmonious comedy
Shakespeare ever wrote. It is certainly that in which all the notes the
poet strikes, the note of seriousness and of raillery, of passion, of
tenderness, and of laughter, blend in the richest and fullest concord.
It is like a symphony in which no strain can be dispensed with, or like
a picture veiled in a golden haze, into which all the colours resolve
themselves. The play does not overflow with wit and gaiety like its
predecessor; we feel that Shakespeare's joy of life has culminated and
is about to pass over into melancholy; but there is far more unity in
it than in _As You Like It_, and it is a great deal more dramatic.

A. W. Schlegel long ago made the penetrating observation that, in the
opening speech of the comedy, Shakespeare reminds us how the same word,
"fancy," was applied in his day both to love and to fancy in the modern
sense of the term; whence the critic argued, not without ingenuity,
that love, regarded as an affair of the imagination rather than of the
heart, is the fundamental theme running through all the variations of
the play. Others have since sought to prove that capricious fantasy is
the fundamental trait in the physiognomy of all the characters. Tieck
has compared the play to a great iridescent butterfly, fluttering
through pure blue air, and soaring in its golden glory from the
many-coloured flowers into the sunshine.

Twelfth Night, in Shakespeare's time, brought the Christmas festivities
of the upper classes to an end; among the common people they usually
lasted until Candlemas. On Twelfth Night all sorts of sports took
place. The one who chanced to find a bean baked into a cake was hailed
as the Bean King, chose himself a Bean Queen, introduced a reign of
unbridled frivolity, and issued whimsical commands, which had to be
punctually obeyed. Ulrici has sought to discover in this an indication
that the play represents a sort of lottery, in which Sebastian, the
Duke, and Maria chance to win the great prize. The bibulous Sir Toby,
however, can scarcely be regarded as a particularly desirable prize for
Maria; and the second title of the play, _What you Will_, indicates
that Shakespeare did not lay any stress upon the _Twelfth Night_.

This comedy is connected by certain filaments with its predecessor,
_As You Like It_. The passion which Viola, in her male attire, awakens
in Olivia, reminds us of that with which Rosalind inspires Phebe.
But the motive is quite differently handled. While Rosalind gaily
and unfeelingly repudiates Phebe's burning love, Viola is full of
tender compassion for the lady whom her disguise has led astray. In
the admirably worked-up confusion between Viola and her twin brother
Sebastian, an effect from the _Comedy of Errors_ is repeated; but the
different circumstances and method of treatment make this motive also
practically new.

With a careful and even affectionate hand, Shakespeare has elaborated
each one of the many characters in the play.

The amiable and gentle Duke languishes, sentimental and fancy-sick,
in hopeless enamourment. He is devoted to the fair Countess Olivia,
who will have nothing to say to him, and whom he none the less
besieges with his suit. An ardent lover of music, he turns to it for
consolation; and among the songs sung to him by the Clown and others,
there occurs the delicate little poem, of wonderful rhythmic beauty,
"Come away, come away, death." It exactly expresses the soft and
melting mood in which his days pass, lapped in a nerveless melancholy.
To the melody abiding in it we may apply the lovely words spoken by
Viola of the melody which preludes it:--

    "It gives a very echo to the seat
     Where love is throned."

In his fruitless passion, the Duke has become nervous and excitable,
inclined to violent self-contradictions. In one and the same scene (ii.
4) he first says that man's love is

    "More giddy and unfirm,
     More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn"

than woman's; and then, a little further on, he says of his own love--

                "There is no woman's sides
    Can bide the beating of so strong a passion
    As love doth give my heart; no woman's heart
    So big to hold so much: they lack retention."

The Countess Olivia forms a pendant to the Duke; she, like him, is
full of yearning melancholy. With an ostentatious exaggeration of
sisterly love, she has vowed to pass seven whole years veiled like a
nun, consecrating her whole life to sorrow for her dead brother. Yet we
find in her speeches no trace of this devouring sorrow; she jests with
her household, and rules it ably and well, until, at the first sight of
the disguised Viola, she flames out into passion, and, careless of the
traditional reserve of her sex, takes the most daring steps to win the
supposed youth. She is conceived as an unbalanced character, who passes
at a bound from exaggerated hatred for all worldly things to total
forgetfulness of her never-to-be-forgotten sorrow. Yet she is not comic
like Phebe; for Shakespeare has indicated that it is the Sebastian
type, foreshadowed in the disguised Viola, which is irresistible to
her; and Sebastian, we see, at once requites the love which his sister
had to reject. Her utterance of her passion, moreover, is always
poetically beautiful.

Yet while she is sighing in vain for Viola, she necessarily appears as
though seized with a mild erotic madness, similar to that of the Duke:
and the folly of each is parodied in a witty and delightful fashion
by Malvolio's entirely ludicrous love for his mistress, and vain
confidence that she returns it. Olivia feels and says this herself,
where she exclaims (iii. 4)--

    "Go call him hither.--I am as mad as he
     If sad and merry madness equal be."

Malvolio's figure is drawn in very few strokes, but with incomparable
certainty of touch. He is unforgetable in his turkey-like pomposity,
and the heartless practical joke which is played off upon him is
developed with the richest comic effect. The inimitable love-letter,
which Maria indites to him in a handwriting like that of the Countess,
brings to light all the lurking vanity in his nature, and makes
his self-esteem, which was patent enough before, assume the most
extravagant forms. The scene in which he approaches Olivia, and
triumphantly quotes the expressions in the letter, "yellow stockings,"
and "cross-gartered," while every word confirms her in the belief that
he is mad, is one of the most effective on the comic stage. Still more
irresistible is the scene (iv. 2) in which Malvolio is imprisoned as a
madman in a dark room, while the Clown outside now assumes the voice
of the Curate, and seeks to exorcise the devil in him, and again, in
his own voice, converses with the supposed Curate, sings songs, and
promises Malvolio to carry messages for him. We have here a comic _jeu
de théâtre_ of the first order.

In harmony with the general tone of the play, the Clown is less witty
and more musical than Touchstone in _As You Like It._ He is keenly
alive to the dignity of his calling: "Foolery, sir, does walk about
the orb like the sun: it shines everywhere." He has many delightful
sayings, as for example, "Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage,"
or the following demonstration (v. I) that one is the better for one's
foes, and the worse for one's friends:--

"Marry, sir, my friends praise me, and make an ass of me; now, my
foes tell me plainly I am an ass: so that by my foes, sir, I profit
in the knowledge of myself, and by my friends I am abused: so that,
conclusions to be as kisses, if your four negatives make your two
affirmatives, why then, the worse for my friends, and the better for my

Shakespeare even departs from his usual practice, and, as though to
guard against any misunderstanding on the part of his public, makes
Viola expound quite dogmatically that it "craves a kind of wit" to play
the fool (iii. I):--

    "He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
     The quality of persons, and the time,
     And, like the haggard, check at every feather
     That comes before his eye. This is a practice
     As full of labour as a wise man's art."

The Clown forms a sort of connecting-link between the serious
characters and the exclusively comic figures of the play--the pair of
knights, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who are entirely
of Shakespeare's own invention. They are sharply contrasted. Sir
Toby, sanguine, red-nosed, burly, a practical joker, always ready
for "a hair of the dog that bit him," a figure after the style of
Bellman;[2] Sir Andrew, pale as though with the ague, with thin, smooth,
straw-coloured hair, a wretched little nincompoop, who values himself
on his dancing and fencing, quarrelsome and chicken-hearted, boastful
and timid in the same breath, and grotesque in his every movement. He
is a mere echo and shadow of the heroes of his admiration, born to be
the sport of his associates, their puppet, and their butt; and while
he is so brainless as to think it possible he may win the love of the
beautiful Olivia, he has at the same time an inward suspicion of his
own stupidity which now and then comes in refreshingly: "Methinks
sometimes I have no more wit than a Christian or an ordinary man has;
but I am a great eater of beef, and, I believe, that does harm to my
wit" (i. 3). He does not understand the simplest phrase he hears, and
is such a mere reflex and parrot that "I too" is, as it were, the
watchword of his existence. Shakespeare has immortalised him once for
all in his reply when Sir Toby boasts that Maria adores him (ii. 3), "I
was adored once too." Sir Toby sums him up in the phrase:

"For Andrew, if he were opened, and you find so much blood in his liver
as will clog the foot of a flea, I'll eat the rest of the anatomy."

The central character in _Twelfth Night_ is Viola, of whom her brother
does not say a word too much when, thinking that she has been drowned,
he exclaims, "She bore a mind that envy could not but call fair."

Shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria, her first wish is to enter
the service of the young Countess; but learning that Olivia is
inaccessible, she determines to dress as a page (a eunuch) and approach
the young unmarried Duke, of whom she has heard her father speak with
warmth. He at once makes the deepest impression upon her heart, but
being ignorant of her sex, does not dream of what is passing within
her; so that she is perpetually placed in the painful position of being
employed as a messenger from the man she loves to another woman. She
gives utterance to her love in carefully disguised and touching words
(ii. 4):--

    "My father had a daughter lov'd a man,
     As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman,
     I should your lordship.
       _Duke_.               And what's her history?
       _Vio_. A blank, my lord. She never told her love,--
     But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,
     Feed on her damask cheek: she pin'd in thought:
     And, with a green and yellow melancholy,
     She sat like Patience on a monument,
     Smiling at grief."

But the passion which possesses her makes her a more eloquent messenger
of love than she designs to be. To Olivia's question as to what she
would do if she loved her as her master does, she answers (i. 5):--

    "Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
     And call upon my soul within the house;
     Write loyal cantons of contemned love,
     And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
     Holla your name to the reverberate hills,
     And make the babbling gossip of the air
     Cry out, Olivia! O! you should not rest
     Between the elements of air and earth,
     But you should pity me."

In short, if she were a man, she would display all the energy which the
Duke lacks. No wonder that, against her own will, she awakens Olivia's
love. She herself, as a woman, is condemned to passivity; her love
is wordless, deep, and patient. In spite of her sound understanding,
she is a creature of emotion. It is a very characteristic touch
when, in the scene (iii. 5) where Antonio, taking her for Sebastian,
recalls the services he has rendered, and begs for assistance in his
need, she exclaims that there is nothing, not even "lying vainness,
babbling drunkenness, or any taint of vice," that she hates so much
as ingratitude. However bright her intelligence, her soul from first
to last outshines it. Her incognito, which does not bring her joy as
it does to Rosalind, but only trouble and sorrow, conceals the most
delicate womanliness. She never, like Rosalind or Beatrice, utters an
audacious or wanton word. Her heart-winning charm more than makes up
for the high spirits and sparkling humour of the earlier heroines. She
is healthful and beautiful, like these her somewhat elder sisters;
and she has also their humorous eloquence, as she proves in her first
scene with Olivia. Yet there rests upon her lovely figure a tinge of
melancholy. She is an impersonation of that "farewell to mirth" which
an able English critic discerns in this last comedy of Shakespeare's
brightest years.[3]

[1] There is some (ironic) discussion of a possible criticism
that might be brought against a playwright: "That the argument of his
comedy might have been of some other nature, as of a duke to be in love
with a countess, and that countess to be in love with the duke's son,
and the son to love the lady's waiting-maid; some such cross wooing,
with a clown to their serving-man...."

[2] See the footnote 7 in chapter XXII:

    "A dance of all the gods upon Olympus,
     With fauns and graces and the muses twined."

From a poem by Tegnér on Bellman, the Swedish convivial lyrist.

[3] "It is in some sort a farewell to mirth, and the mirth
is of the finest quality, an incomparable ending. Shakespeare
has done greater things, but he has never done anything more
delightful."--_Arthur Symons._



For the time is now approaching when mirth, and even the joy of life,
are extinguished in his soul. Heavy clouds have massed themselves
on his mental horizon--their nature we can only divine--and gnawing
sorrows and disappointments have beset him. We see his melancholy
growing and extending; we observe its changing expressions, without
knowing its causes. This only we know, that the stage which he
contemplates with his mind's eye, like the material stage on which he
works, is now hung with black. A veil of melancholy descends over both.

He no longer writes comedies, but sends a train of gloomy tragedies
across the boards which so lately echoed to the laughter of Beatrice
and Rosalind.

From this point, for a certain period, all his impressions of life and
humanity become ever more and more painful. We can see in his Sonnets
how even in earlier and happier years a restless passionateness had
been constantly at war with the serenity of his soul, and we can note
how, at this time also, he was subject to accesses of stormy and
vehement unrest. As time goes on, we can discern in the series of his
dramas how not only what he saw in public and political life, but also
his private experience, began to inspire him, partly with a burning
compassion for humanity, partly with a horror of mankind as a breed of
noxious wild animals, partly, too, with loathing for the stupidity,
falsity, and baseness of his fellow-creatures. These feelings gradually
crystallise into a large and lofty contempt for humanity, until, after
a space of eight years, another revolution occurs in his prevailing
mood. The extinguished sun glows forth afresh, the black heaven
has become blue again, and the kindly interest in everything human
has returned. He attains peace at last in a sublime and melancholy
clearness of vision. Bright moods, sunny dreams from the days of
his youth, return upon him, bringing with them, if not laughter, at
least smiles. High-spirited gaiety has for ever vanished; but his
imagination, feeling itself less constrained than of old by the laws
of reality, moves lightly and at ease, though a deep earnestness now
underlies it, and much experience of life.

But this inward emancipation from the burthen of earthly life does not
occur, as we have said, until about eight years after the point which
we have now reached.

For a little time longer the strong and genial joy of life is still
dominant in his mind. Then it begins to darken, and, after a short
tropical twilight, there is night in his soul and in all his works.

In the tragedy of _Julius Cæsar_ there still reigns only a manly
seriousness. The theme seems to have attracted him on account
of the analogy between the conspiracy against Cæsar and the
conspiracy against Elizabeth. Despite the foolish precipitancy of
their action, the leaders of this conspiracy, men like Essex and
his comrade Southampton, had Shakespeare's full personal sympathy;
and he transferred some of that sympathy to Brutus and Cassius. He
created Brutus under the deeply-imprinted conviction that unpractical
magnanimity, like that of his noble friends, is unfitted to play an
effective part in the drama of history, and that errors of policy
revenge themselves at least as sternly as moral delinquencies.

In _Hamlet_ Shakespeare's growing melancholy and bitterness take the
upper hand. For the hero, as for the poet, youth's bright outlook upon
life has been overclouded. Hamlet's belief and trust in mankind have
gone to wreck. Under the disguise of apparent madness, the melancholy
life-lore which Shakespeare, at his fortieth year, had stored up within
him, here finds expression in words of spiritual profundity such as had
not yet been thought or uttered in Northern Europe.

We catch a glimpse at this point of one of the subsidiary causes of
Shakespeare's melancholy. As actor and playwright he stands in a more
and more strained relation to the continually growing Free Church
movement of the age, to Puritanism, which he comes to regard as
nothing but narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy. It was the deadly enemy
of his calling; it secured, even in his lifetime, the prohibition of
theatrical performances in the provinces, a prohibition which after his
death was extended to the capital. From _Twelfth Night_ onwards, an
unremitting war against Puritanism, conceived as hypocrisy, is carried
on through _Hamlet,_ through the revised version of _All's Well that
Ends Well_, and through _Measure for Measure_, in which his wrath
rises to a tempestuous pitch, and creates a figure to which Molière's
Tartuffe can alone supply a parallel.

What struck him so forcibly in these years was the pitifulness of
earthly life, exposed as it is to disasters, not allotted by destiny,
but brought about by a conjunction of stupidity with malevolence.

It is especially the power of malevolence that now looms large before
his eyes. We see this in Hamlet's astonishment that it is possible for a
man "to smile and smile and be a villain." Still more strongly is it
apparent in _Measure for Measure_ (v. I):--

                          "Make not impossible
    That which but seems unlike. 'Tis not impossible,
    But one, the wicked'st caitiff on the ground,
    May seem as shy, as grave, as just, as absolute,
    As Angelo; even so may Angelo,
    In all his dressings, characts, titles, forms,
    Be an arch-villain."

It is this line of thought that leads to the conception of Iago,
Goneril, and Regan, and to the wild outbursts of Timon of Athens.

_Macbeth_ is Shakespeare's first attempt, after _Hamlet_, to explain
the tragedy of life as a product of brutality and wickedness in
conjunction--that is, of brutality multiplied and raised to the
highest power by wickedness. Lady Macbeth poisons her husband's mind.
Wickedness instils drops of venom into brutality, which, in its inward
essence, may be either weakness, or brave savagery, or stupidity
of manifold kinds. Whereupon brutality falls a-raving, and becomes
terrible to itself and others.

The same formula expresses the relation between Othello and Iago.

_Othello_ was a monograph. _Lear_ is a world-picture. Shakespeare turns
from _Othello_ to _Lear_ in virtue of the artist's need to supplement
himself, to follow up every creation with its counterpart or foil.

_Lear_ is the greatest problem Shakespeare had yet proposed to himself,
all the agonies and horrors of the world compressed into five short
acts. The impression of _Lear_ may be summed up in the words: a
world-catastrophe. Shakespeare is no longer minded to depict anything
else. What is echoing in his ears, what is filling his mind, is the
crash of a ruining world.

This becomes even clearer in his next play, _Antony and Cleopatra._
This subject enabled him to set new words to the music within him.
In the history of Mark Antony he saw the deep downfall of the old
world-republic--the might of Rome, austere and rigorous, collapsing at
the touch of Eastern luxury.

By the time Shakespeare had written _Antony and Cleopatra,_ his
melancholy had deepened into pessimism. Contempt becomes his abiding
mood, an all-embracing scorn for mankind, which impregnates every drop
of blood in his veins, but a potent and creative scorn, which hurls
forth thunderbolt after thunderbolt. _Troilus and Cressida_ strikes at
the relation of the sexes, _Coriolanus_ at political life; until all
that, in these years, Shakespeare has endured and experienced, thought
and suffered, is concentrated into the one great despairing figure of
Timon of Athens, "misanthropos," whose savage rhetoric is like a dark
secretion of clotted blood and gall, drawn off to assuage pain.




Everything had flourished in the England of Elizabeth while Shakespeare
was young. The sense of belonging to a people which, with great
memories and achievements behind it, was now making a decisive and
irresistible new departure--the consciousness of living in an age when
the glorious culture of antiquity was being resuscitated, and when
great personalities were vindicating for England a lofty and assured
position, alike in the practical and in the intellectual departments
of life--these feelings mingled in his breast with the vernal glow of
youth itself. He saw the star of his fatherland ascending, with his own
star in its train.

It seemed to him as though men and women had in that day richer
abilities, a more daring spirit, and fuller powers of enjoyment than
they had possessed in former times. They had more fire in their blood,
more insatiable longings, a keener appetite for adventure, than the
men and women of the past. They knew how to rule with courage and
wisdom, like the Queen and Lord Burghley; how to live nobly and fight
gloriously, to love with passion and sing with enthusiasm, like the
beautiful hero of the younger generation, Sir Philip Sidney, who found
an early Achilles-death. They were bent on enjoying existence with all
their senses, comprehending it with all their powers, revelling in
wealth and splendour, in beauty and wit; or they set forth to voyage
round the world, to see its marvels, conquer its treasures, give their
names to new countries, and display the flag of England on unknown seas.

Statesmanship and generalship were represented among them by the men
who, in these years, had humbled Spain, rescued Holland, held Scotland
in awe. They were sound and vigorous natures. Although they all had the
literary proclivities of the Renaissance, they were before everything
practical men, keen observers of the signs of the times, firm and wary
in adversity, in prosperity prudent and temperate.

Shakespeare had seen Spenser's faithful friend, Sir Walter Raleigh,
next to himself and Francis Bacon the most brilliant and interesting
Englishman of his day, after covering himself with renown as a soldier,
a viking, and a discoverer, win the favour of Elizabeth as a courtier,
and the admiration of the people as a hero and poet. Shakespeare no
doubt laid to heart these lines in his elegy on Sidney:--

    "England doth hold thy limbs, that bred the same;
       Flanders thy valour, where it last was tried;
       The camp thy sorrow, where thy body died:
     Thy friends thy want; the world thy virtues' fame."

For Raleigh, too, was a poet, as well as an orator and historian.
"We picture him to ourselves," says Macaulay, "sometimes reviewing
the Queen's guard, sometimes giving chase to a Spanish galleon, then
answering the chiefs of the country party in the House of Commons, then
again murmuring one of his sweet lovesongs too near the ears of her
Highness's maids of honour, and soon after poring over the Talmud, or
collating Polybius with Livy."[1]

And Shakespeare had seen the young Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, who
in 1577, when only ten years old, had made a sensation at court by
wearing his hat in the Queen's presence and denying her request for
a kiss; at the age of eighteen win renown for himself as a cavalry
general under Leicester in the Netherlands, and at the age of twenty
depose Raleigh from the highest place in Elizabeth's favour. He
played "cards or one game or another with her ... till birds' sing
in the morning." She shut herself up with him in the daytime, while
the Venetian and French ambassadors, who had already learnt to wait
at locked doors in the time of his step-father, Leicester, jested
with each other in the anteroom as to whether mounting guard in this
fashion ought to be called _tener la mula_ or _tenir la chandelle_.
And Essex demanded that Raleigh should be sacrificed to his youthful
devotion. As captain of the guard, Raleigh had to stand at the door
with a drawn sword, in his brown and orange uniform, while the handsome
youth whispered to the spinster Queen of fifty-four things which set
her heart beating. He made all the mischief he could between her and
Raleigh. She assured him that he had no reason to "disdain" a man like
that. But Essex asked her--so he himself writes--"Whether he could have
comfort to give himself over to the service of a mistress that was in
awe of such a man;" "and," he continues, "I think he, standing at the
door, might very well hear the worst I spoke of him."

This impetuosity characterised Essex throughout his career; but he
soon developed great qualities, of which his first appearances gave no
promise; and when Shakespeare made his acquaintance, probably in the
year 1590, his personality must have been extremely winning. Himself a
poet, he no doubt knew how to value _A Midsummer Night's Dream_, and
its author. In all probability, Shakespeare even at this time found
a protector in the young nobleman, and afterwards made acquaintance
through him with his kinsman Southampton, six years younger than
himself. Essex had already distinguished himself as a soldier. In May
1589 he had been the first Englishman to wade ashore upon the coast
of Portugal, and in the lines before Lisbon he had challenged any
of the Spanish garrison to single combat in honour of his queen and
mistress. In July 1591 he joined the standard of Henry of Navarre with
an auxiliary force of 4000 men; he shared all the hardships of the
common soldiers; during the siege of Rouen he challenged the leader
of the enemy's forces to single combat; and then by his incapacity he
dissipated all the results of the campaign. His army melted away to
almost nothing.

He was at home during the following years, when Shakespeare probably
came to know him well, and to appreciate his chivalrous nature, his
courage and talent, his love of poetry and science, and his helpfulness
towards men of ability, such as Francis Bacon and others. He therefore,
no doubt, followed with more than the ordinary patriotic interest the
expedition of the English fleet to Cadiz in 1596, in which the two old
antagonists, Raleigh and Essex, were to fight side by side. Raleigh
here won a brilliant victory over the great galleons of the Spanish
fleet, burning them all except two, which he captured; while on the
following day, when a severe wound in the leg prevented Raleigh from
taking part in the action, Essex, at the head of his troops, stormed
and sacked the town of Cadiz. In his despatches to Elizabeth, Raleigh
praised Essex for this exploit. He became the hero of the day; his name
was in every mouth, and he was even eulogised from the pulpit of St.

It was indeed a great age. England's world-wide power was founded at
the expense of defeated and humiliated Spain; England's world-wide
commerce and industry came into existence. Before Elizabeth came to
the throne, Antwerp had been the metropolis of commerce; during her
reign, London took that position. The London Exchange was opened in
1571; and twenty years later, English merchants all the world over had
appropriated to themselves the commerce which had formerly been almost
entirely in the hands of the Hanseatic Towns. London urchins hung about
the wharves of the Thames, listening to the marvels related by seamen
who had made the voyage round the Cape of Good Hope to Hindostan.
Sunburnt, scarred, and bearded men haunted the taverns; they had
crossed the ocean, lived in the Bermuda Islands, and brought negroes
and Red Indians and great monkeys home with them. They told tales
of the golden Eldorado, and of real and imaginary perils in distant
quarters of the globe.

This peaceful development of commerce and industry had taken place
simultaneously with the development of naval and military power. And
the scientific and poetical culture of England advanced with equal
strides. While mariners had brought home tidings of many an unknown
shore, scholars also had made voyages of discovery in Greek and Roman
letters; and while they praised and translated authors unheard of
before, dilettanti brought forward and interpreted Italian and Spanish
poets who served as models of invention and delicacy. The world, which
had hitherto been a little place, had suddenly grown vast; the horizon,
which had been narrow, widened out all of a sudden, and every mind was
filled with hopes for the days to come.

It had been a vernal season, and it was a vernal mood that had uttered
itself in the songs of the many poets. In our days, when the English
language is read by hundreds of millions, the poets of England may be
quickly counted. In those days the country possessed something like
three hundred lyric and dramatic poets, who, with potent productivity,
wrote for a reading public no larger than that of Denmark to-day;
for of the six millions of the population, four millions could not
read. But the talent for writing verses was as widespread among the
Englishmen of that time as the talent for playing the piano among
German ladies of to-day. The power of action and the gift of song did
not exclude each other.

But the blossoming springtide had been short, as springtide always is.

[1] Macaulay, _Essays_--"Burleigh and his Times."



At the dawn of the new century the national mood had already altered.

Elizabeth herself was no longer the same. There had always been a dark
side to her nature, but it had passed almost unnoticed in the splendour
which national prosperity, distinguished men, great achievements and
fortunate events had shed around her person. Now things were changed.

She had always been excessively vain; but her coquettish pretences to
youth and beauty reached their height after her sixtieth year. We have
seen how, when she was sixty, Raleigh, from his prison, addressed a
letter to Sir Robert Cecil, intended for her eyes, in which he sought
to regain her favour by comparing her to Venus and Diana. When she was
sixty-seven, Essex's sister, in a supplication for her brother's life,
wrote of that brother's devotion to "her beauties," which did not merit
so hard a punishment, and of her "excellent beauties and perfections,"
which "ought to feel more compassion." In the same year the Queen took
part, masked, in a dance at Lord Herbert's marriage; and she always
looked for expressions of flattering astonishment at the youthfulness
of her appearance.

When she was sixty-eight, Lord Mountjoy wrote to her of her "faire
eyes," and begged permission to "fill his eyes with their onely deere
and desired object." This was the style which every one had to adopt
who should have the least prospect of gaining, preserving, or regaining
her favour.

In 1601 Lord Pembroke, then twenty-one years old, writes to Cecil (or,
in other words, to Elizabeth, in her sixty-eighth year) imploring
permission once more to approach the Queen, "whose incomparable beauty
was the onely sonne of my little world."

When Sir Roger Aston, about this time, was despatched with letters
from James of Scotland to the Queen, he was not allowed to deliver
them in person, but was introduced into an ante-chamber from which,
through open door-curtains, he could see Elizabeth dancing alone to
the music of a little violin,--the object being that he should tell
his master how youthful she still was, and how small the likelihood
of his succeeding to her crown for many a long day.[1] One can readily
understand, then, how she stormed with wrath when Bishop Rudd, so early
as 1596, quoted in a sermon Kohélet's verses as to the pains of age,
with unmistakable reference to her.

She was bent on being flattered without ceasing and obeyed without
demur. In her lust of rule, she knew no greater pleasure than when one
of her favourites made a suggestion opposed to one of hers, and then
abandoned it. Leicester had employed this means of confirming himself
in her favour, and had bequeathed it to his successors. So strong was
her craving to enjoy incessantly the sensation of her autocracy, that
she would intrigue to set her courtiers up in arms against each other,
and would favour first one group and then the other, taking pleasure
in their feuds and cabals. In her later years her court was one of the
most corrupt in the world. The only means of prospering in it were
those set forth in Roger Ascham's distich:

    "Cog, lie, flatter and face
     Four ways in court, to win men grace."

The two main parties were those of Cecil and Essex. Whoever gained the
favour of one of these great lords, be his merits what they might, was
opposed by the other party with every weapon in their power.

In some respects, however, Elizabeth in her later years had made
progress in the art of government. So weak had been her faith in the
warlike capabilities of her country, and so potent, on the other hand,
her avarice, that she had neglected to make preparation for the war
with Spain, and had left her gallant seamen inadequately equipped; but
after the victory over the Spanish Armada she ungrudgingly devoted
all the resources of her treasury to the war, which survived her and
extended well into the following century. This war had forced Elizabeth
to take a side in the internal religious dissensions of the country.
She was the head of the Church, regarded ecclesiastical affairs as
subject to her personal control, and, so far as she was able, would
suffer no discussion of religious questions in the House of Commons.
Like her contemporary Henri Quatre of France, she was in her heart
entirely indifferent to religion, had a certain general belief in God,
but thought all dogmas mere cobwebs of the brain, and held one rite
neither better nor worse than another. They both regarded religious
differences exclusively from the political point of view. Henry ended
by becoming a Catholic and assuring his former co-religionists freedom
of conscience. Elizabeth was of necessity a Protestant, but tolerance
was an unknown doctrine in England. It was an established principle that
every subject must accept the religion of the State.

Authoritarian to her inmost fibre, Elizabeth had a strong bent
towards Catholicism. The circumstances of her life had placed her in
opposition to the Papal power, but she was fond of describing herself
to foreign ambassadors as a Catholic in all points except subjection
to the Pope. She did not even make any secret of her contempt for
Protestantism, whose head she was, and whose support she could not for
a moment dispense with. She felt it a humiliation to be regarded as a
co-religionist of the French, Scotch, or Dutch heretics. She looked
down upon the Anglican Bishops whom she had herself appointed, and
they, in their worldliness, deserved her scorn. But still deeper was
her detestation of all sectarianism within the limits of her Church,
and especially of Puritanism in all its forms. If she did not in the
first years of her reign indulge in open persecution of the Puritans,
it was only because she was as yet dependent on their support; but as
soon as she felt herself firmly seated on her throne, she established,
in spite of the stiff-necked opposition of Parliament, the jurisdiction
of the Bishops on all matters of ecclesiastical politics, and suffered
Puritan writers to be condemned to death or lifelong imprisonment for
free but quite innocent expressions of opinion regarding the relation
of the State to religion.

Her greatness had mainly reposed upon the insight she had shown in the
choice of her counsellors and commanders. But the most distinguished
of those who had shed glory on her throne died one after the other in
the last decade of the century. The first to die was Walsingham, one
of her most disinterested servants, whom she had repaid with black
ingratitude. He had done her great and loyal services, and had saved
her life at the time of the last conspiracy, which led to the execution
of Mary Stuart. Then she lost such notable members of her Council as
Lord Hunsdon and Sir Francis Knowles; then Lord Burghley himself, the
true ruler of England during her reign; and finally, Sir Francis Drake,
the great naval hero of the war with Spain. She felt herself lonely and
deserted. She no longer took any pleasure in the position of power to
which England had attained under her rule. In spite of all she could
do to conceal it, she began to feel the oppression of age, and to
see how little real affection those men felt for her who were always
posing in the light of adorers. She was the last of her line, and the
thought of her successor was so intolerable to her, that she deferred
his final nomination until she lay on her death-bed. But it availed her
nothing; she knew very well that her ministers and courtiers, during
the last years of her life, were in constant and secret communication
with James of Scotland. They would kneel in the dust as she passed
with exclamations of enchantment at her youthful appearance, and then
rise, brush the dust from their knees, and write to James that the
Queen looked ghastly and could not possibly last long. They did all
they possibly could to conceal from her their Scotch intrigues; but she
divined what went on behind her back, even if she did not realise the
extent to which it was carried, or know definitely which of her most
trusted servants were shrinking from nothing that could assure them the
favour of James. For example, she did not suspect Robert Cecil of the
double game he was carrying on, at the very time when he was doing his
best to drive Essex to desperation and secure his punishment for an
act of disobedience scarcely more heinous in the Queen's eyes than his
own underhand dealings. But she felt herself isolated in the midst of
a crowd of courtiers impatiently awaiting the new era that was to dawn
after her death. She realised that the men who still flattered her had
never been attached to her for her own sake, and she specially resented
the fact that they no longer seemed even to fear her.

One result of this deep dejection was that she gave her tyrannical
tendencies a freer course than before, and became less and less
inclined to forbearance or mercy towards those who had once been dear
to her but had fallen into disgrace.

She had always taken it very ill when one of her favourites showed
any inclination towards matrimony, and they had therefore always been
forced to marry secretly, though that did not in the end save them from
her displeasure. Now her despotism rose to such a pitch that she wanted
to control the marriages even of those courtiers who had never enjoyed
her favour.

One of the things which Shakespeare doubtless took most to heart at the
end of the old century and beginning of the new was the hard fate which
overtook his distinguished and highly valued patron Southampton. This
nobleman had fallen in love with Essex's cousin, the Lady Elizabeth
Vernon. The Queen forbade him to marry her, but he would not relinquish
his bride. He was hot-headed and high-spirited. Young as he was, he had
boarded and taken a Spanish ship of war in the course of the expedition
commanded by his friend Essex. Once, in the palace itself, when
Southampton, Raleigh, and another courtier had been laughing and making
a noise over a game of primero, the captain of the guard, Ambrose
Willoughby, called them to order because the Queen had gone early to
bed; whereupon Southampton struck this high official in the face and
actually had a bout of fisticuffs with him. Such being his character,
we cannot wonder that he contracted a private marriage in spite of the
prohibition (August 1598). Elizabeth sent him to pass his honeymoon in
the Tower, and thenceforth viewed him with high disfavour.

His close relationship to Essex led to a new outburst of the Queen's
displeasure. When Essex took command of the army in Ireland in
1599, he appointed Southampton his General of Horse; but simply out
of resentment for Southampton's disobedience in the matter of his
marriage, the Queen forced Essex to rescind the appointment.

One must bear in mind, among other things, this attitude of the Queen
towards Shakespeare's first patron in order to understand the evident
coolness of his feeling towards Elizabeth. He did not, for example,
join in the threnodies of the other English poets on her death, and
even after Chettle had expressly urged him,[2] refrained from writing
a single line in her praise. He probably read her character much as
Froude did in our own day.

Froude admits that she was "supremely brave," and was turned aside from
her purposes by no care for her own life, though she was "perpetually a
mark for assassination." He admits, too, that she lived simply, worked
hard, and ruled her household with economy. "But her vanity was as
insatiable as it was commonplace.... Her entire nature was saturated
with artifice. Except when speaking some round untruths, Elizabeth
never could be simple. Her letters and her speeches were as fantastic
as her dress, and her meaning as involved as her policy. She was
unnatural even in her prayers, and she carried her affectations into
the presence of the Almighty.... Obligations of honour were not only
occasionally forgotten by her, but she did not seem to understand what
honour meant."[3]

At the point we have now reached in Shakespeare's life, the event
occurred which, of all external circumstances of his time, seems
to have made the deepest impression upon his mind: the ill-starred
rebellion of Essex and Southampton, the execution of the former, and
the latter's condemnation to imprisonment for life.

[1] Arthur Weldon: _The Court and Character of King James_,
1650; quoted by Drake, ii. 149.


    "Nor doth the silver-tongued _Melicert_
     Drop from his honied muse one sable teare
     To mourne her death that graced his desert,
     And to his laies opend her Royall eare.
       Shepheard, remember our _Elizabeth_,
       And sing her Rape, done by that _Tarquin_, Death."

[3] Froude: _History of England_, vol. xii. Conclusion.



In order rightly to understand these events a short retrospect is

We have seen how Essex in 1587 ousted Raleigh from the Queen's favour.
From the very first he united with the insinuating tone of the adorer
the domineering attitude of the established favourite. This was new
to her, and for a considerable time obviously impressed more than it
irritated her.

Here is an instance, from the early days of their relationship. Essex's
sister, Penelope, had, against her will, been married to Lord Rich.
She was adored by Sir Philip Sidney, who sang of her as his Stella,
and their mutual passion was an open secret. The Maiden Queen, who was
always very strict as to the moral purity of those around her, during
a visit which she paid with Essex to the Earl of Warwick at North Hall
in 1587, took offence at the presence of Lady Rich, and insisted that
she should leave the house. Essex declared that the Queen subjected him
and his sister to this insult "only to please that knave Raleigh," and
left the house at midnight along with Lady Rich. He wanted to join the
army in the Netherlands, but the Queen, finding that she could not do
without him, had him brought back again.

At the time of the Armada, therefore, the Queen kept him at court,
much against his own will. Nor would he have been allowed to take
part in the war of 1589 if he had not secretly made his escape from
England, leaving behind him a letter to the Queen and Council to the
effect that "he would return alive at no one's bidding." An angry
letter from Elizabeth forced him, however, to come back after he had
distinguished himself before Lisbon. They were then reconciled, but the
practical-minded Queen immediately demanded of him the repayment of a
sum of £3000 which she had lent him, so that he was forced to sell his
mansion of Keyston. He received in return "the farm of sweet wines," a
very lucrative monopoly, the withdrawal of which many years afterwards
led to the boiling over of his discontent.

We have seen how his secret marriage in 1590 enraged the Queen, who
at once vented her wrath upon his bride. Presently, however, he was
once more in favour, and in the middle of the French campaign of 1591,
Elizabeth recalled him to England for a week, which was passed in all
sorts of festivities. She wept when he returned to the army, and laid
upon him an injunction, to which he paid very little heed, that he must
on no account incur any personal danger.

During the subsequent four years which Essex passed in England,
occupied with his plans of ambition, it became clear to him that
Burghley's son, Sir Robert Cecil, was the chief obstacle to his
advancement. All of those, therefore, who for one reason or another
hated the house of Cecil, cast in their lot with Essex. Thus it
happened that Cecil's cousin, Francis Bacon, who had in vain besought
first the father and then the son for some profitable office, became
a close personal adherent of Essex. It was necessary to make choice
of one party or the other if you were to hope for any preferment. In
the years 1593 and 1594, accordingly, we find Essex again and again
importuning Elizabeth for offices for Bacon. She had no very great
confidence in Bacon, and bore him a grudge, moreover, because he had
incautiously spoken in Parliament against a Government measure; so
that Essex, to his great annoyance and disgust, met with a refusal to
all his applications. As a consolation to his client, he made him a
present of land to the value of not less than £1800. That was the price
for which Bacon sold the property; Essex had believed it to be worth
more.[1] This gift, we see, was nearly twice as large as that which
Southampton is reported to have made to Shakespeare (see above, p. 152).

Henceforward Bacon is to be regarded as an attentive and officious
adherent of Essex, while Essex makes it a point of honour to obtain for
him every recognition, preferment, and advantage. Again and again Bacon
places his pen at the disposal of Essex. There are extant three long
letters from Essex to his young cousin Lord Rutland, dated 1596, giving
him excellent advice as to how to reap most profit from his first
Continental tour, on which he was then setting out. In many passages
of these letters we recognise Bacon's ideas, and in some his style,
his acknowledged writings containing almost identical parallels. The
probability is that in these, as in many subsequent instances, Bacon
supplied Essex with the ideas and the first draft of the letters. Well
knowing that the Queen's dissatisfaction with Essex arose chiefly from
his desire for military glory and the popularity which follows in its
train--well knowing, too, that Essex's enemies at court were always
representing this ambition to the Queen as a hindrance to the peace
with Spain, which nevertheless must one day be concluded--Bacon thought
it a good move for his protector to display unequivocally his care for
the occupations of peace, the acquisition of useful knowledge, and
other unmilitary advantages, in letters which, although private, were
likely enough to come into her Majesty's hands.

Francis Bacon's brother, Anthony, about the same time attached
himself closely (and more faithfully) to Essex. Through him the Earl
established communications with all the foreign courts, so that for a
time his knowledge of European affairs rivalled that of the Foreign
Ministry itself.

The zeal which Essex had displayed in unravelling Doctor Roderigo
Lopez's suspected plot against Elizabeth (see above, p. 191) had placed
him very high in her renewed favour. His heroic exploits at Cadiz ought
to have strengthened his position; but his adversary, Robert Cecil,
had during his absence acquired new power, and the rapacious Elizabeth
complained of the smallness of the booty (it amounted to £13,000). As
a matter of fact, Essex alone had wanted to follow up the advantage
gained, and to seize the Indian fleet, which was allowed to escape: he
had been out-voted in the council of war.

In order to overcome this new resentment on the Queen's part, Bacon,
who regarded his fate as bound up in that of the Earl, wrote a letter
to Essex (dated October 4, 1596), full of good advice with respect
to the attitude he ought to adopt towards Elizabeth, especially
in order to disabuse her mind of the idea that his disposition
was ungovernable--advice which Bacon himself, with his courtier
temperament, might easily enough have followed, but which was too hard
for the downright Essex, who had no sooner made humble submission than
his pride again brought arrogant expressions to his lips.

At the close of the year 1596 Bacon's protector was accused by his
client's mother, Lady Bacon, of misconduct with one of the ladies of
the court. He denied the charge, but confessed to "similar errors."

In 1597 Essex, who had been longing for a new command, undertook an
expedition to the Azores with twenty ships and 6000 men--an enterprise
which, largely owing to his inexperience and unfortunate leadership,
was entirely unsuccessful. On his return he was very coldly received
by the Queen, especially on the ground that towards the end of the
expedition he had behaved ill to Raleigh, his colleague in command.
In order to make his peace with Elizabeth, he sent her insinuating
letters; but he was mortally offended when the eminent services of the
old Lord Howard were rewarded by the appointment of Lord High Admiral.
As the victor of Cadiz, he regarded himself as the one possible man
for this distinction, which gave Howard precedence over him. He
bemoaned his fate, however, to such purpose that he soon after secured
the appointment of Earl Marshal of England, which in turn gave him
precedence over Howard. He received a very valuable present--worth
£7000--and for the first and last time induced the Queen to grant an
audience to his mother, Lady Lettice, whose marriage with Leicester,
twenty-three years before, was not yet forgiven, although in 1589, at
the age of forty-nine, she had married a third husband, Sir Christopher

But Essex was not long at peace with the Queen and Court. In 1598 he
was accused of illicit relations with no fewer than four ladies of the
court (Elizabeth Southwell, Elizabeth Brydges, Mrs. Russell, and Lady
Mary Howard), and the charge seems to have been well founded. At the
same time violent dissensions broke out as to whether an attempt should
or should not be made to bring the war with Spain to a close. Essex
carried the day, and it was continued. It was at this time that he
wrote a pamphlet defending himself warmly from the charge of desiring
war at any price. It was not published until 1602, under the title:
_An apology of the Earle of Essex against those which jealously and
maliciously tax him to be the hinderer of the peace and quiet of his

To the Queen's birthday of this year (November 17, 1598) belongs an
anecdote which shows what ingenuity Essex displayed in annoying his
rival. As was the custom of the day, the leading courtiers tilted at
the ring in honour of her Majesty, and each knight was required to
appear in some disguise. It was known, however, that Sir Walter Raleigh
would ride in his own uniform of orange-tawny medley, trimmed with
black budge of lamb's wool. Essex, to vex him, came to the lists with
a body-guard of two thousand retainers all dressed in orange-tawny,
so that Raleigh and his men seemed only an insignificant division of
Essex's splendid retinue.[2]

No later than June or July 1598 there occurred a new scene between
Essex and the Queen in the Council, the most unpleasant and grotesque
passage which had yet taken place between them. The occasion was
trifling, being nothing more than the choice of an official to be
despatched to Ireland. Essex was in the habit of permitting himself
every liberty towards Elizabeth; and it was now, or soon after, that,
as Raleigh relates, he told her "that her conditions were as crooked as
her carcase." Certain it is that, on this occasion, he turned his back
to her with an expression of contempt. She retorted by giving him a box
on the ear and bidding him "Go and be hanged." He laid his hand upon
his sword-hilt, declared that he would not have suffered such an insult
from Henry the Eighth himself, and held aloof from the court for months.

Not till October was Essex forgiven, and even then with no heartiness
or sincerity. The Irish rebellion, however, had to be put down, so
a truce was called to all trivial quarrels. O'Neil, Earl of Tyrone,
had got together an army, as he had often done before, and the whole
island was in revolt. Public opinion, for no sufficient reason, pointed
to Essex as the only man who could deal with the rebels. He, on his
part, was by no means eager to accept the mission. It was of the
utmost importance for every courtier, and especially for the head of a
party, not to be out of the Queen's sight more than was imperatively
necessary. There was every reason to fear that his enemies of the
opposite party would avail themselves of his absence in order so to
blacken him in the eyes of his omnipotent mistress that he would
never regain her favour. Elizabeth, at this juncture, like Louis XIV.
in the following century, was monarch and constitution in one. Her
displeasure meant ruin, her favour was the only source of prosperity.
Therefore Essex did all he could to secure permission to return from
the front whenever he pleased, in order to report personally to the
Queen; and it was therefore that, in the following year, when he was
forbidden to leave his post, he threw caution to the winds, and defied
the prohibition. He knew that he was lost unless he could speak to
Elizabeth face to face.

In March 1599 Essex took the command of the English troops; he was to
suppress the rebellion and grant Tyrone his life only on condition
of his complete surrender. But instead of carrying out his orders,
which were to attack the rebels in their stronghold, Ulster, Essex
remained for long inactive, and at last marched into Munster. One of
his subordinate officers, Sir Henry Harington, suffered a disgraceful
defeat, partly through his own incompetence, partly through the
cowardice of his officers and men. He was tried by court-martial in
Dublin, and he himself, and every tenth man of his command, were shot.
The summer slipped away, and in its course the 16,000 men with whom
Essex had come to Ireland were reduced by sickness and desertion to
a quarter of their original number. Under these circumstances, Essex
again deferred his march upon Ulster, so that the Queen, who was
excessively displeased, expressly forbade him to return from Ireland
without her permission.

When at last, in the beginning of September 1599, he confronted with
his shrunken forces Tyrone's unbreathed army, which had taken up a
strong position to await the coming of the English, he abandoned
his plan of attack, invited Tyrone to a parley, had half an hour's
conversation with him on the 6th of September, and concluded a fourteen
weeks' armistice, to be renewed every six weeks until the 1st of May.
According to his own account, he promised Tyrone that this treaty
should not be placed in writing, lest it should fall into the hands of
the Spaniards and be used against him.

This was certainly not what Elizabeth had expected of the Irish
campaign, which had opened with such a flourish of trumpets, and we
cannot wonder that her anger was fierce and deep-seated. No sooner had
she received the intelligence, than she forbade the conclusion of any
treaty whatsoever.

Convinced that his enemies now had the entire ear of the Queen, Essex
sought safety in once more disobeying Elizabeth's express command. With
a train of only six followers, which in the indictment against him
afterwards grew into a body of 200 picked men, he crossed to England
to attempt his own justification, rode direct to Nonsuch Palace, where
Elizabeth then was, forced all the doors, and, travel-stained as he
was, threw himself on his knees before the Queen, whom he surprised in
her bed-chamber, with her hair undressed, at ten o'clock in the morning
of the 28th of September.

It is a strong proof of the power which his personality still retained
over Elizabeth, that at the first moment she felt nothing but pleasure
in seeing him. As soon as he had changed his clothes, he was admitted
to an audience, which lasted an hour and a half. As yet all seemed
well. He dined at the Queen's table and told her about Ireland and its
people. But in the evening he was "commanded to keep his chamber" until
the lords of the Council should have spoken with him; and a few days
later he was confined to York House, with his friend the Lord Keeper,
however, for his gaoler.

He presently fell ill, when it appeared that the Queen had by no means
forgotten her former tenderness for him. In the middle of December she
sent eight physicians to consult as to his case. They despaired of his
life, but he recovered.

While matters thus looked very black for Essex, his nearest friends
also were, of course, in disgrace. In a letter from Rowland Whyte to
Sir Robert Sidney (dated October 11, 1599), we find the following
significant statement: "My Lord _Southhampton_, and Lord _Rutland_ come
not to the court; the one doth but very seldome; they pass away the
Tyme in _London_ merely in going to Plaies euery day."[3] Southampton
had married a cousin of Essex, and Rutland a daughter of Lady Essex by
her first marriage with Sir Philip Sidney; so that both were in the
same boat with their more distinguished kinsman.

On the 5th of June 1600, Essex was brought to trial--not before the
Star Chamber, but, by particular favour, before a special court,
consisting of four earls, two barons, and four judges, which assembled
at the Lord Keeper's residence, York House, the general public being
excluded. The procedure was mainly dictated by the Queen's wish to
justify the arrest of Essex in the face of public opinion, which
idolised him and regarded him as a martyr.

[1] James Spedding: _Letters and Life of Francis Bacon_, i. 371.

[2] Gosse: _Raleigh_, p. 113.

[3] A. Collins: _Letters and Memorials of State_, ii. 132.



The indictment did not press too severely upon Essex, did not as yet
seek to discover treasonable motives for his inactivity in Ireland, but
simply dwelt upon his disobedience to the Queen's commands, and the
dangerous and dishonourable agreement with Tyrone. Francis Bacon had
not been allotted any part in the proceedings; but on his writing to
the Queen and expressing his desire to serve her in this conjuncture,
he was assigned the quite subordinate task of calling Essex to account
for his indiscretion in accepting the dedication, in unbefitting
terms, of a political pamphlet written by a certain Dr. Hayward. Bacon
exceeded his instructions by dwelling at length on certain passionate
expressions in a letter from Essex to the Lord Keeper, in which he had
spoken of the hardness of the Queen's heart and compared her princely
wrath to a tempest. A man who was less nervously anxious to retain the
Queen's favour would have declined this commission on the ground of his
close relations with Essex; Bacon begged for it, went farther than it
required him to go, and is scarcely to be believed when he afterwards,
in his _Apology_, represents himself as actuated by the wish ultimately
to be of service to Essex with the Queen. Still, he evidently had not
ceased to regard a reconciliation between Elizabeth and Essex as the
most probable result, and he may perhaps have done his best in private
conversations to soften the Queen's resentment.

The sentence passed by the Lord Keeper was the not very severe one that
Essex should, in the meantime, be deprived of all his offices, and
remain a prisoner in Essex House "till it shall please her Majesty to
release both this and all the rest."

Bacon, who still did not think Essex irretrievably lost, now tried,
in a carefully worded letter to him, to explain his attitude, and at
once received from his magnanimous friend a forgiveness which was
scarcely deserved. Bacon declared that, next to the interests of the
Queen and the country, those of Essex always lay nearest his heart;
and he now composed two documents: first, a very judicious letter,
which Essex was partly to re-write and then to send to the Queen,
and next a fictitious letter, a masterpiece of diplomacy, purporting
to have been written by his brother, Anthony Bacon, Essex's faithful
adherent, to Essex himself. This letter, and Essex's reply to it, which
prove to admiration Bacon's talent for reproducing the styles of two
such different men, were to be copied by them respectively, and to be
brought to the knowledge of the Queen, on whom they would no doubt
produce the desired impression. With Machiavellian subtlety, these
letters are carefully framed so as to place Francis Bacon himself in
the light which should most appeal to the Queen: Essex is represented
as regarding him as entirely won over to her side, and Anthony
expresses the hope that she will show him the favour he has deserved
"for that he hath done and suffered."

Bacon did not succeed in inducing Elizabeth to restore Essex to his
former position in her favour. In August, a couple of months after the
date of the sentence, he was placed at full liberty; but access to
Elizabeth's person was denied him, and he was bidden to regard himself
as still in disgrace. The consequence was that few now came about him
except the members of his own family. Add to this, that he was over
head and ears in debt, and that his monopoly of sweet wines, which
had been his chief source of income, and on the renewal of which his
financial rescue depended, ran out in the following month.

He wavered between fear and hope, and was forever "shifting from sorrow
and repentance to rage and rebellion so suddenly, as well proveth him
devoid of good reason as of right mind." At one moment he is appealing
to the Queen with the deepest humility in flattering letters, and
at the next he is speaking of her--so his friend Sir John Harington
reports--as "became no man who had _mens sana in corpore sano_."

Then came the catastrophe. His sources of income were cut off, and his
hope of the Queen's relenting was broken. He was convinced--without
reason, as it appears--that his enemies at court, who had deprived him
of his wealth, had now laid a plot to deprive him of his life as well.
He imagined, too, that Sir Robert Cecil was weaving intrigues to bring
about the nomination of the Infanta of Spain as Elizabeth's successor;
and in his desperation he began to nurse the illusion that it was as
necessary for the welfare of the state as for his own that he should
gain forcible access to the Queen and secure the banishment from court
of her present advisers. In his dread of being once more placed under
arrest, and this time sent to the Tower, he determined, in February
1601, to carry out a plan he had been hatching, for taking the court by

Southampton had at this time allowed the malcontents to make his
residence, Drury House, their meeting-place for discussing the
situation. Here the general plan was laid that they should seize
upon Whitehall and that Essex should force his way into the Queen's
presence; the time was to depend upon the arrival of the Scotch envoy.
On the 5th of February, four or five of the Earl's friends presented
themselves at the Globe Theatre, and promised the players eleven
shillings more than they usually received if, on the 7th, they would
perform the play of the deposition and death of King Richard II.
(see above, p. 148). In the meantime, Essex had, in the beginning of
February, assembled his adherents in his own residence, Essex House,
and this induced the Government, which had heard with uneasiness of so
large a concourse of people, to summon Essex before the Council. He
received the summons on the 7th of February 1601, excused himself on
the ground of indisposition, and at once called his friends together.
On the same evening three hundred men were gathered at his house,
although no real plan had as yet been determined upon. He informed them
that his life was threatened by Cobham and Raleigh. On the morning
of the 8th of February, the Lord Keeper with three other noblemen,
commissioned by the Queen to inquire into what was going on, appeared
at Essex House, and demanded to see the Earl. They told him that any
complaints he might have to make to the Queen should receive attention,
but that in the first place he must order his adherents to disperse.

Essex made only confused replies: his life was threatened, he was to
be murdered in his bed, he had been treacherously dealt with, and so
forth. In the meantime shouts arose from the crowd of his retainers,
"Away, my lord; they abuse you, they betray you, they undo you; you
lose time!" Essex led the noblemen into his house amid cries from
his armed friends of "Kill them, kill them!" and "Shut them up! Keep
them as pledges, cast the great seal out at the window!" He had them
locked up in his library as prisoners or hostages. Then he came out
again, and, amid cries of "To Court! to Court!" his party rushed
through the gates. At the last moment, Essex learned that the Court
was prepared, the watch was doubled, and every access to Whitehall was
barred. They were therefore forced to attempt, in the first place, to
stir up an insurrection in the city. But in order to pass through the
streets horses were needed; they were sent for, but there was delay in
procuring them. So impatient was every one by this time, that instead
of awaiting their arrival, several hundred men, headed by Essex,
Southampton, Rutland, Blount, and other gentlemen, but without any
real leader or effective plan of action, set off for the city. Essex
nowhere made any speech to the populace, but merely shouted, as though
beside himself, that an attempt had been made to murder him. A good
many people, indeed, appeared to join him, but none of them were armed,
and they were in reality no more than onlookers. In the meantime,
the Government despatched high officials on horseback to different
quarters of the town to proclaim Essex a traitor; whereupon many of
his following deserted him. Troops, too, were despatched against him,
so that he, with the remainder of his band, with difficulty made their
way by water back to Essex House, which was immediately besieged and
fired upon. In the evening Essex and Southampton opened negotiations,
and about ten o'clock surrendered with their little force, on the
understanding that they should be courteously treated and accorded an
honourable trial. The prisoners were taken to the Tower.

Francis Bacon now again plays a part, and this time a decisive one,
in Essex's history. There was no need for him to take any share in
the trial; and even if his office had imposed it upon him, he ought
in common decency to have refrained. He was neither Attorney-General
nor Solicitor, but only one of the "Learned Counsel." The very fact of
his close friendship with Essex, however, made the Government anxious
that he should appear in the case. He was at once advocate and witness,
and was not summoned as one of the learned counsel, but expressly as
"friend to the accused."

On the 19th February, Essex and Southampton were brought before a court
consisting of twenty-five peers and nine judges. Already, on the 17th,
Thomas Leigh, a captain in Essex's Irish army, for trying to gain
access to the palace on the 8th February, had been beheaded in the
Tower. Now that Essex's cause was irreparably lost, Bacon had no other
thought than to make himself useful to the party in power and prove his
devotion to the Queen. The purport of his first speech against Essex
was to prove that the plan of exciting an insurrection in the city,
which was in reality an inspiration of the moment, had been the result
of three months' deliberation. He represented as false and hypocritical
Essex's assurance that he was driven to action by dread of the
machinations of powerful enemies. He compared Essex to Cain, the first
murderer, who also sought excuses for his deed, and to Pisistratus,
who wounded himself and ran through the streets of Athens, crying that
an attempt had been made upon his life. The Earl of Essex, he said, in
reality had no enemies.

Essex rejoined that he could "call forth Mr. Bacon against Mr. Bacon."
Bacon, "being a daily courtier," had promised to plead his cause with
the Queen. He had with great address composed a letter to her, to be
signed by Essex. He had also written another letter in his brother
Anthony's name, and an answer to it from Essex, both of which he was
to show to the Queen; and in these "he laid down the grounds of my
discontent, and the reasons I pretend against mine enemies, pleading as
orderly for me as I could do myself."

This rejoinder told sensibly against Bacon, and drove him in his reply
to launch against his benefactor a new and much more malignant and
dangerous comparison. He likened him to a renowned contemporary, also
a nobleman and a rebel, the Duke of Guise: "It was not the company you
carried with you, but the assistance you hoped for in the City which
you trusted unto. The Duke of Guise thrust himself into the streets of
Paris on the day of the Barricados in his doublet and hose, attended
only with eight gentlemen, and found that help in the city which
(thanks be to God) you failed of here. And what followed? The King was
forced to put himself into a pilgrim's weeds, and in that disguise to
steal away to scape their fury."

In view of Essex's persistent denial that he had aspired to the throne
or sought to do the Queen any injury, this parallel was a terrible one
for him.

Both he and Southampton were found guilty and condemned to death.

The trial of Shakespeare's protector, Southampton, and his signed
confession, have a special interest for us. In a private letter
from John Chamberlain, dated the 24th February, we read: "The Earl
of Southampton spake very well (but methought somewhat too much, as
well, as the other), and as a man that would fain live, pleaded hard
to acquit himself; but all in vain, for it could not be: whereupon he
descended to entreaty and moved great commiseration, and though he
were generally well liked, yet methought he was somewhat too low and
submiss, and seemed too loath to die before a proud enemy."

Southampton, in his own confession, admits that immediately after his
arrival in Ireland, he became aware of Essex's letter to King James of
Scotland, urging that, for his own sake, he ought not to permit the
government of England to remain in the hands of his and Essex's common
enemies, proposing that he should, at a fitting opportunity, assemble
an army, and promising that Essex, in so far as his duty to her Majesty
permitted, should support the King with his Irish troops. James replied
evasively, and nothing came of the plan, in which Southampton soon
regretted that he had taken share. After losing his post in Ireland,
he went to the Netherlands, and had no other desire than to regain
the favour of the Queen, when Essex, his kinsman and friend, summoned
him to London and requested his support in the plan he had formed for
seeking access to her Majesty. With a heavy heart, he had consented,
and engaged in the enterprise, not from any treachery or disrespect
towards her Majesty, but solely on account of his affection for
Essex. He repents and abhors his action, and promises on his knees to
consecrate to the Queen's service every day that remains to him, if she
will but spare his life.

Southampton impresses us as a man of fiery but yielding character,
entirely under the influence of a stronger personality; but he is never
betrayed into a single unworthy word with respect to his kinsman and
friend, whose cause he of course knew to be hopeless. His sentence was
commuted to imprisonment for life.

Essex himself, at the end, endured with less resolution the cruel
ordeal to which he was subjected. Finding himself condemned to death,
and knowing that many of his closest friends had confessed to the Drury
House discussions and designs, he lost all balance during the last
days of his life, entirely forgot his dignity, and overwhelmed those
around him, his sister, his friends, his secretary, and himself, with a
torrent of reproaches.

In the meantime his enemies were not idle. Even Raleigh, on whose proud
nature one is sorry, to find such a stain, impelled, of course, not
only by their old enmity, but by Essex's recent assertions that he was
plotting against his life, wrote to Cecil, in his uneasiness lest Essex
should be pardoned, and urged him "not to relent," but to see that the
sentence was carried out.

Elizabeth had first signed the death-warrant, and then recalled it. On
the 24th February she signed it a second time, and on the 25th February
1601, Essex's head was severed by three blows of the axe.

The populace could not be persuaded of their favourite's guilt. They
loathed his executioner, and detested those men who, like Bacon and
Raleigh, had, by their malice, contributed to his downfall.

In order to justify itself, the Government issued an official
_Declaration touching the Treasons of the late Earl of Essex and his
complices_, in the composition of which Bacon bore a large part. It
is very untrustworthy. James Spedding, indeed, one of Bacon's best
biographers, has tried to reconcile it with the facts; but he has
not succeeded in explaining away the damnatory circumstance that
everything is omitted which tended at the trial to establish Essex's
intention to use no violence, and to prove how entirely unpremeditated
was the attempt to raise an insurrection in the city. Where passages
of this nature occur in the records, all of which are preserved, we
find the letters _om_, (meaning, of course, "to be omitted") written
in the margin, sometimes in Bacon's hand, sometimes in that of the
Attorney-General, Coke.[1].

Bacon, with his brilliant intellectual equipment and his consciousness
of his great powers, is not to be set down as simply a bad man. But his
heart was cold, and he had no greatness of soul. He was absorbed, to
a quite unworthy degree, in the pursuit of worldly prosperity. Always
deeply in debt, he coveted above everything fine houses and gardens,
massive plate, great revenues, and, as essential preliminaries, high
offices and employments, titles and distinctions, which he might well
have left to men of meaner worth. He passed half his life in the
character of an office-seeker, met with one humiliating refusal after
another, and returned humble thanks for the gracious denial. Once
and once only, in his early days in Parliament, did he display some
independence and rectitude; but when he saw that it gave offence in the
highest places, he repented as bitterly as though he had been guilty
of a sin against all political morality, and besought her Majesty's
forgiveness in terms that might have befitted a detected thief. With
the like baseness and pusillanimity he now turned against Essex. He
had often cited the maxim, which even Cicero criticised in the _De
Amicitia_: "Love as if you should hereafter hate, and hate as if you
should hereafter love." He had never loved Essex otherwise. His excuse,
if there can be any, for seeking advancement at all costs, must be
found in the fact that he had the highest conception of his own value
to science, and thought that it would be to the honour and advantage of
learning that he, its high-priest, should be highly placed.

If we examine Essex's portrait, with its regular beauty, its air of
distinction and gentleness, the high forehead, the curly hair, and
the carefully combed long light beard, we can readily understand that
such a man, surrounded by a halo of adventurous renown, must become
the idol of the populace, and that the military incompetence which he
had twice displayed should not greatly affect the high esteem in which
the people held him. He was in reality as little of a statesman as of
a general; he was simply a free-speaking, passionate man, innocent of
diplomacy, a brave soldier without an idea of tactics. He misunderstood
his influence over Elizabeth, and did not realise that the Queen,
while she felt the charm of his personality, contemned his political
counsels. There was a good deal of the poet in his composition; he
wrote pretty sonnets, was a patron of writers no less than of fighters,
showed himself generous to profusion towards his friends and clients,
and found, perhaps, his sincerest and most convinced admirers among
the authors and poets of the day. Innumerable are the books which are
dedicated to him.

There is no doubt that after his melancholy death, a marked decline was
apparent in the Queen's courage and spirits. The legend, however, that
it was the fact of his execution which she took so much to heart, is
scarcely to be believed, and the story about Essex's ring, which was
conveyed to her too late, is unquestionably a fable. It is certain,
on the other hand--for the Duc de Biron, the envoy of Henri IV., had
no motive for telling a falsehood--that on the 12th September 1601,
after a conversation about Essex in which she jested over her departed
favourite, Elizabeth opened a box and took out of it Essex's skull,
which she showed to Biron. Ten months later, this favourite of the
French king--whose name Shakespeare had borrowed for the hero of his
first comedy--met with the very fate of Essex, and for a similar crime.

Bacon, no doubt, mourned Essex's disappearance even less than did the
Queen. After Elizabeth's death, however, when the friends of Essex
stood in the highest favour with the new King, he was shameless enough
to send a letter to Southampton (who, though not yet released from the
Tower, was already regarded as a power in the land), in which, after
having expressed his fear of being met with distrust, he concludes
thus: "It is as true as a thing that God knoweth, that this great
change hath wrought in me no other change towards your Lordship than
this, that I may safely be now that which I was truly before."

The circumstances of Essex's condemnation were of course not known in
the London of those days so minutely as we now know them. But we see,
as already indicated, that public opinion turned vehemently against
Bacon, regarding and despising him as the traitor to his lord who,
more than any one else, had brought about his unhappy end. We see
that Raleigh, in spite of his greatness, now became one of the most
unpopular men in England; and we observe that, notwithstanding all
that was done to disparage him in the general regard, Essex's memory
continued to be idolised by the great mass of the people.

If we now inquire in what relation Shakespeare stood to these events
which so absorbed the English people, it seems more than probable that
he, who had so recently been so intimately associated with Southampton,
and cannot therefore have been very far from Essex, followed the
accused with his sympathy, felt a lively resentment towards their
enemies, and took their fate much to heart. And when we observe that
just at this juncture a revolution occurs in Shakespeare's hitherto
cheerful habit of mind, and that he begins to take ever gloomier views
of human nature and of life, we cannot but recognise the probability
that grief for the fate which had overtaken Essex, Southampton, and
their fellows, was one of the sources of his growing melancholy.

[1] Compare _Dictionary of National Biography_, Robert Devereux;
Spedding, _Letters and Life of Francis Bacon_, ii. 190-374; Edwin
Abbott, _Francis Bacon, an Account of his Life and Works_, pp. 53-82;
Macaulay, _Lord Bacon_; Gosse, _Raleigh_.



We naturally looked for one source of his henceforth deepening
melancholy in outward events, in the political drama which reached its
crisis and catastrophe in 1601; but it is still more imperative that we
should look into his private and personal experiences for the ultimate
cause of the revolution in his soul. We must inquire what light his
works throw upon his private circumstances and state of mind at this

Now, we find among Shakespeare's works one which, more than any other,
enables us to look into his inmost soul--I mean his Sonnets. It is
to these remarkable poems that we must mainly address ourselves for
the information we require. Public events may, indeed, cast a certain
measure of light or shadow over a man's inward world of thought and
feeling; but they are never the efficient factors in determining the
happiness or melancholy of his fundamental mood. If he has personal
reasons for feeling that fate is against him, the utmost serenity in
the political atmosphere will not dissipate his gloom; and, conversely,
if a deep joy abides within him, and he has personal reasons for
feeling himself favoured by fortune, then public discontent will be
powerless to disturb the harmony in his soul. But his depression will,
of course, be doubly severe if public events and private experiences
combine to cast a gloom over his mind.

Shakespeare's "sugred Sonnets" are first mentioned in the well-known
passage in Meres's _Palladis Tamia_ (1598), where they are spoken of as
passing from hand to hand "among his private friends." In the following
year the two important Sonnets now numbered cxxxviii. and cxliv. were
printed (with readings subsequently revised) in a collection of poems
named _The Passionate Pilgrim_, dishonestly published, and falsely
attributed to Shakespeare, by a bookseller named Jaggard. For the next
ten years we find no mention of Sonnets by Shakespeare, until, in
1609, a bookseller named Thomas Thorpe issued a quarto book entitled
_Shakespeares Sonnets. Neuer before Imprinted_--an edition which the
poet himself certainly cannot have revised for the press, but which may
possibly have been printed from an authentic manuscript.

To this first edition is prefixed a dedication, written by the
bookseller in the most contorted style, which has given rise to
theories and conjectures without number. It runs as follows:--

               TO   .  THE  .  ONLIE  .  BEGETTER  .  OF
                   THESE  .  INSVING  .  SONNETS  .
               MR  .  W  .  H  .  ALL  .  HAPPINESSE  .
                     AND  .  THAT  .  ETERNITIE  .
                              PROMISED  .
                                 BY  .
                    OVR  .  EVER-LIVING  .  POET  .
                              WISHETH  .
                        THE  .  WELL-WISHING  .
                         ADVENTVRER  .  IN  .
                              SETTING  .
                               FORTH  .
                                          T  .  T  .

The meaning of the signature is clear enough, since "A booke called
Shakespeare's Sonnets" was entered in the Stationers' Register on
May 20, 1609, under the name of Thomas Thorpe. On the other hand,
throughout this century and the last, there has been no end to the
discussion as to what is meant by "onlie begetter" (only producer,
or only procurer, or only inspirer?); and numberless have been the
attempts to identify the "Mr. W. H." who is so designated. While
the far-fetched expression "begetter" has been subjected to equally
far-fetched interpretations, the most impossible guesses have been
hazarded as to the initials W. H., and the most incredible conjectures
put forward as to the person to whom the Sonnets are addressed.

Strange as it may seem, it is nevertheless the fact, that during
the first eighty years of the eighteenth century the Sonnets were
taken as being all addressed to one woman, all written in honour of
Shakespeare's mistress. It was not till 1780 that Malone and his
friends declared that more than one hundred of the poems were addressed
to a man. This view of the matter, however, did not even then command
general assent, and so late as 1797 Chalmers seriously maintained
that all the Sonnets were addressed to Queen Elizabeth, who was also,
he believed, the inspirer of Spenser's famous _Amoretti_, in reality
addressed to the lady who afterwards became his wife. Not until the
beginning of this century did people in general understand, what
Shakespeare's contemporaries can certainly never have doubted, that the
first hundred and twenty-six Sonnets are directed to a young man.

It now followed almost of necessity that this young man should be
identified with the "Mr. W. H." who is described as the "onlie
begetter" of the poems. The second group, indeed, is addressed to a
woman; but the first group is much the larger, and follows immediately
upon the dedication.

Some have taken the word "begetter" to signify the man who procured the
manuscript for the bookseller, and have conjectured that the initials
are those of William Hathaway, a brother-in-law of Shakespeare's
(Neil, Elze). Dr. Farmer last century advanced the claims of William
Hart, the poet's nephew, who, as was afterwards discovered, was not
born until 1600. The mere fact that, by a whim or oversight of which
there are many other examples in the first edition, the word "hues,"
in Sonnet xx., is printed in italics with a capital and spelt _Hews_,
led Tyrwhitt to assume the existence of an otherwise unknown Mr.
William Hughes, to whom he supposed the Sonnets to have been addressed.
People have even been found to maintain that "Mr. W. H." referred to
Shakespeare himself, some taking the "H." to be a mere misprint for
"S.," others holding that the initials meant "Mr. William Himself"

Serious and competent critics for a long time inclined to the opinion
that the "W. H." was a transposition of "H. W.," and represented none
other than Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, whose close relation
to the poet had long been known, and to whom his two narrative poems
had been dedicated. This theory was held by Drake and Gervinus. But so
early as 1832, Boaden advanced some objections to this view. He urged
that Southampton never possessed the personal beauty incessantly dwelt
upon in these poems. Finally, the Sonnets fit neither his age, nor his
character, nor his history, full of movement, activity, and adverse
fortune, to which no smallest allusion appears.

There is not the slightest doubt that these poems are addressed to a
patron of rank; but our knowledge of the history of Shakespeare is so
inconsiderable, that with regard to his patrons at the court, we have
nothing to judge from but the dedications of Venus and of Lucrece to
Southampton, and the dedication of the First Folio to Lords Pembroke
and Montgomery, in which reference is made to the favour they had
always shown these plays and their author, while he was alive. Bright
and Boaden had already, in 1819 and 1832 respectively, advanced the
opinion that Pembroke was the hero of the Sonnets. This view was shared
by almost every one (Charles Armitage, Brown Hallan, Massey, Henry
Brown, Minto, W. M. Rossetti), and towards the end of the nineteenth
century this opinion could be considered as having established itself,
since it was concurred in by the chief Shakespeare students (Dowden),
and seemed to have obtained its final confirmation in the penetrating
criticisms of Thomas Tyler (1890). All the above-mentioned authors
agree about the fact, that there is only one person whose age, history,
appearance, virtues, and vices accord in every respect with those of
the young man to whom the Sonnets are addressed, just as his initials
agree with those of the "Mr. W. H." to whom they are dedicated,
and that is the young William Herbert, who in 1601 became Earl of
Pembroke. Born on April 8, 1580, he came to London in the autumn of
1597 or spring of 1598, and very soon, in all probability, made the
acquaintance of Shakespeare, whose patron, as the first folio edition
of the dramas prove, he remained until the poet's death.

The way by which we arrive at William Herbert is this: The Sonnets
cxxxv. and cxxxvi. as well as cxliii. contain plays on the word _will_,
and the name _Will_, obscure as they are, they show that the friend
whom the Sonnets glorify had the same Christian name as Shakespeare.
This was true of Pembroke, but not of Southampton, whose Christian name
was Henry. Shakespeare's Sonnets are not isolated poems. Though we are
not certain whether the order of the Sonnets in the original edition
is the sequence chosen by the poet himself, still it is evident that
they stand in an intimate relation to each other, a thought or motive
suggested in one being developed more at length in the next or one of
the subsequent Sonnets. The grouping does not seem to be arbitrary;
at any rate, it is so far careful that all attempts to alter it have
only rendered the poems more obscure. The first seventeen Sonnets, for
example, form a closely interwoven group; in all of them, the friend
is exhorted not to die unmarried, but to leave the world an heir to
his beauty, which must otherwise fade and perish with him. Sonnets
c.-cxxvi., which are inseparably connected, turn on the reunion of two
friends after a coldness or misunderstanding has for a time severed
them. Finally, Sonnets cxxvii.-clii. are all addressed, not to a
friend, but to a mistress, the Dark Lady whose relation to the two
friends has already formed the subject of earlier Sonnets.

Sonnet cxliv.--one of the most interesting, inasmuch it depicts
in straightforward terms the poet's situation between friend and
mistress--had already appeared, as above mentioned, in _The Passionate
Pilgrim_ (1599). It characterises the friend as the poet's "better
angel," the mistress as his "worser spirit," and expresses the painful
suspicion that the friend is entangled in the Dark Lady's toils--

    "I guess one angel in another's hell;"

so that both at once are lost to him, he through her and she through

But precisely the same theme is treated in Sonnet xl., which turns on
the fact that the friend has robbed Shakespeare of his "love." These
two Sonnets must thus be of the same date; and from Sonnet xxxiii.,
which relates to the same circumstances, we see that the friendship had
existed only a very short time when it was overshadowed by the intrigue
between the friend and the mistress:--

    "But out, alack! he was but one hour mine."

At what time, then, did the friendship begin? The date may be
determined with some confidence, even apart from the question as to
who the friend was. We know that Shakespeare must have written sonnets
before 1598, since Meres published in that year his often-quoted words
about the "sugred Sonnets"; but we cannot possibly determine which
Sonnets these were, or whether we possess them at all, since those
which passed from hand to hand "among his private friends" may very
possibly have disappeared. If they are included in our collection, we
may take them to be those in which we find frequent parallels to lines
in _Venus and Adonis_ and the early plays, though these coincidences
are by no means sufficient, as some of the German critics[1] would
have us believe, finally to establish the date of the Sonnets in which
they occur. However, they vary greatly in quality, and may have been
written at different periods. The first group, with its reiterated
appeal (seventeen times repeated) to the friend, to leave the world a
living copy of his beauty, is unquestionably the least valuable. The
personal feelings of the poet do not come much into play here, and
though these poems may have been addressed to William Herbert in 1598,
it is not impossible, taking into account the many analogies in thought
and mode of expression to be found in them and in _Venus and Adonis_
and _Romeo and Juliet_, that they were produced several years before,
and in this case, addressed to Southampton. Thomas Tyler believed he
had satisfactorily established the date of one important group by
showing that a passage in Meres's book had influenced the conception
and expression of one of Shakespeare's Sonnets. It cannot reasonably be
doubted that Shakespeare saw _Palladis Tamia_; the author perhaps sent
him a copy; and in any case he could not but have read with interest
the warm and sincere commendation there bestowed upon himself. Now
there occurs in Meres's book a passage in which, after quoting Ovid's

    "Jamque opus exegi, quod nec Jovis ira, nec ignis,
     Nec poterit ferrum, nec edax abolere vetustas,"

and Horace's

    "Exegi momentum aere perennius,"

the critic goes on to apply these words to his contemporaries Sir
Philip Sidney, Spenser, Daniel, Drayton, Shakespeare, and Warner,
and then winds up with a Latin eulogy of the same writers, composed
by himself, partly in prose and partly in verse. But on reading
attentively Shakespeare's Sonnet lv., whose resemblance to the
well-known lines of Horace must have struck every reader, we find
several expressions from this passage in _Palladis Tamia_, and even
from the lines written by Meres himself, reappearing in it. The Sonnet
must thus have been written at earliest in the end of 1598--Meres's
book was entered in the Stationers' Register in September--and
possibly not till the beginning of 1599. Since, then, the following
Sonnet (lvi.), which must date from about the same time, speaks of the
friendship as newly formed--

    "Let this sad interim like the ocean be
     Which parts the shores, where _two contracted new_
     Come daily to the banks"--

we may confidently assign to the year 1598 the first contract of amity
between the poet and his friend. However, all this is by no means
conclusive. Shakespeare may have known Horace from other sources than
Meres, and the quotation from Ovid, together with the expressions used
by Meres, he certainly had encountered in Golding's translation of the
_Metamorphoses_, with which he was familiar.

The historical allusions in Sonnets c.-cxxvi., which form a continuous
poem, are not, indeed, by any means clear or easy to interpret; but
Sonnet civ. dates the whole group definitely enough, in the statement
that three years have elapsed since the first meeting of the friends:--

                              "Three winters cold
    Have from the forests shook three summers' pride;
    Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn'd
    In process of the seasons have I seen;
    Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn'd,
    Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green."

Thus we must assign this important group to the year 1601; and this
being so, it must also appear probable that the line--

    "The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured "--

alludes to the fact that Elizabeth (for whom, in the mode of the day,
the moon was the accepted symbol) had come unharmed through the dangers
of Essex's rebellion--the more so as the beautiful lines--

    "Now with the drops of this most balmy time
     My love looks fresh "--

show that the poem was written in the spring. It would be unreasonable
to infer from this allusion any ill-will on the poet's part towards
Essex and his comrades. Still less can we follow Tyler, when, by
the aid of a complex scaffolding of hypotheses built up, in German
rather than in English fashion, around Sonnets cxxiv. and cxxv., he
laboriously works up to the air-drawn conjecture that Shakespeare
is here expressing himself offensively towards his former patron
Southampton, now a prisoner in the Tower, and even that Southampton is
aimed at in the line about those "who have lived for crime." Equally
baseless, of course, is the corollary which would find in Sonnet cxxv.
Shakespeare's defence against an accusation of faithlessness towards
the man to whom he had written, seven years earlier, in the dedication
of _Lucrece_, "The love I dedicate Your Lordship is without end." Nor
It is absurd to construct a whole repulsive and fantastic romance on
the basis of a single obscure phrase.

Turning now from the poems to the person to whom they are believed to
have been addressed, this is what we learn of him:--

William Herbert, son of Henry Herbert and his third wife, the
celebrated Mary Sidney, had for his tutor as a boy the poet Samuel
Daniel; entered at Oxford in 1593, where he remained for two years;
received permission in April 1597, when he was seventeen years old, to
live in London, but, as we gather from letters of the period, does not
seem to have come up to town until the spring of 1598.

In August 1597, negotiations were conducted by letter between his
parents and Lord Burghley with a view to his marriage with Burghley's
grand-daughter Bridget Vere, a daughter of the Earl of Oxford. It
is true that she was only thirteen, but William Herbert was quite
prepared to enter upon the engagement. He was to travel abroad before
the marriage. Although his mother, the Countess of Pembroke, perhaps
divining her son's too in flammable nature, and therefore wanting
to see him married betimes, was much in favour of this project, and
although the Earl of Oxford was pleased with the young man and praised
his "many good partes," difficulties arose of which we have no record,
and the plan came to nothing.

In London, young Herbert lived at Baynard's Castle, close to the
Blackfriars Theatre, and may thus have been brought in contact with the
players. It is more probable, however, that so brilliant a woman as
"Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother," should have aroused his interest
in Shakespeare; and in that case the poet, in all probability, made the
acquaintance of this distinguished and discerning patroness of art and
artists as early as 1598. Herbert's father, who died soon afterwards,
was already an invalid.

It appears that in August 1599 Herbert "followed the camp" at the
annual musters, attending her Majesty with two hundred horse, and
"swaggering it among the men of war."

He is from the first described as a bad courtier. Rowland Whyte writes
of him at this time: "He was much blamed for his cold and weeke Maner
of pursuing her Majesties favour, having had soe good steps to lead
him unto it. There is want of Spirit and Courage laid to his charge,
and that he is a melancholy young man." We may gather from this what
fiery devotion every handsome and well-born young man was expected
to pay to the elderly Queen. Soon after, however, it appears from
a letter from his father to Elizabeth that she must have expressed
herself highly satisfied with the young man, and we also learn that he
was "exceedingly beloued at Court of all Men." He appears to have been
very handsome, and to have possessed all the fascination which so often
belongs to an amiable _mauvais sujet_. Clarendon says of him, in the
first book of his _History of the Rebellion_, that "he was immoderately
given up to women," and that "he indulged himself in pleasures of all
kind, almost in all excesses." Clarendon remarks, however, what is of
particular interest for us, that the young Pembroke possessed a good
deal of self-control: "He retained such a power and jurisdiction over
his very appetite, that he was not so much transported with beauty and
outward allurements as with those advantages of the mind as manifested
an extraordinary wit, and spirit, and knowledge, and administered great
pleasure in the conversation. To these he sacrificed himself, his
precious time, and much of his fortune."

In November 1599, Herbert had an hour's private audience with
Elizabeth. Whyte, who relates this, remarks that he now stands high in
the Queen's favour, "but he greatly wants advise." He passed the rest
of the winter in the country, suffering from an illness which seems to
have taken the form of ague, with incessant headaches.

Tyler is inclined, not without reason, to assign Sonnets xc.-xcvi.
to this period. Shakespeare's complaints of his friend's "desertion"
may refer to his life at Court; the expressions in Sonnet xci. as to
horses, hawks, and hounds, perhaps point to the young man's absorption
in sport. The following Sonnets dwell unequivocally upon discreditable
rumours as to the friend's life and conduct. Here appears the
above-quoted (p. 172) line:--

    "Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds."

Here occurs the couplet:--

    "How like Eve's apple doth thy beauty grow,
     If thy sweet virtue answer not thy show!"

And, in spite of all the loving forbearance which the poet manifests
towards his friend, he seems to imply that the ugly rumours were not

    "How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame,
     Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose,
     Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name!
     O, in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose!
     That tongue that tells the story of thy days,
     (Making lascivious comments on thy sport,)
     Cannot dispraise but in a kind of praise;
     Naming thy name blesses an ill report.

There was an improvement in the health of Herbert's father during
the year 1600, yet Lord and Lady Pembroke were absent from London
all summer, remaining at their country seat, Wilton. In the month of
May, Herbert, accompanied by Sir Charles Danvers, went to Gravesend
to pay his respects to Lady Rich and Lady Southampton. This visit
proves clearly that there was not, as Tyler's above-mentioned
interpretation of certain Sonnets would lead us to assume, any
coolness between Herbert and the houses of Essex and Southampton.
It is also worth noting that his companion on this excursion was so
intimately associated with the chiefs of the malcontent party, that in
the following year he had to pay with his life for his share in the

In the accounts of a splendid and very much talked-of wedding, between
a Lord Herbert and one of the Queen's ladies, which took place at
Blackfriars in June 1600, we for the first time come upon William
Herbert's name in company with that of the lady who seems to be the
heroine of Shakespeare's Sonnets. The bride, Mrs. Ann Russell, was
conducted to church by William Herbert and Lord Cobham. After supper
there was a masque, in which eight splendidly dressed ladies executed a
new and unusual dance. Among these are mentioned Mrs. Fitton, and two
of the ladies-in-waiting whose names had shortly before been coupled
with that of Essex (Mrs. Southwell and Mrs. Bess Russell). Each had "a
skirt of Cloth of Siluer, a Mantell of Carnacion Taffete cast vnder the
Arme, and their Haire loose about their Shoulders, curiously knotted
and interlaced." The leader of this double quadrille was Mrs. Fitton.
She approached the Queen and "woed her to dawnce; her Majestie asked
what she was; '_Affection_,' she said. '_Affection!_' said the Queen,
'_affection_ is false.' Yet her Majestie rose and dawnced."

Later in the year Whyte remarks in his letters that Herbert shows no
"disposition to marry"; and we find him in September and October 1600
vigorously training at Greenwich for a Court tournament.

On January 19, 1601, his father's death made William Herbert Earl
of Pembroke. Very soon afterwards (the matter is mentioned in a
letter from Robert Cecil so early as February 5) he got into deep
disgrace over a love affair--evidently that which forms the subject
of Shakespeare's Sonnets. He had for some time carried on a secret
intrigue with the aforesaid Mary Fitton, a maid-of-honour who stood
high in the Queen's good graces; and the secret now came to light.
"Mistress Fitton," writes Cecil, "is proved with child, and the Earl
of Pembroke, being examined, confesseth a fact, but utterly renounceth
all marriage. I fear they will both dwell in the Tower awhile, for the
Queen hath vowed to send them thither." In another contemporary letter
it is stated that "in that tyme when that Mres Fytton was in great
fauor ... and duringe the time yt the Earle of Pembrooke fauord her,
she would put off her head tire and tucke vp her clothes and take a
large white cloake, and march as though she had bene a man to meete the
said Earle out of the Courte."

Mary Fitton gave birth to a still-born son; Pembroke lay for a month in
the Fleet Prison, and was banished from Court. He shortly afterwards
applied through Cecil for leave to travel abroad. The Queen's
displeasure, he says, is "a hell" to him; he hopes the Queen will not
carry her resentment so far as to bind him to the country which has
now become "hateful to him of all others." The permission to travel
seems to have been given and then revoked. In the middle of June he
writes that imploring letter to Cecil in which the reference to "her
whose Incomparable beauty was the onely sonne of my little world," was
designed to touch Elizabeth's hard heart; for Pembroke, it is plain,
had now realised that what had offended her Majesty was not so much his
intrigue with Mary Fitton as the fact of his having overlooked her own
much higher perfections. But the compliments came too late. Elizabeth,
as we have already seen in the case of Essex, knew how to make the
objects of her resentment suffer in that most sensitive point--the
pocket. The "patent of the Forest of Dean," which had been held by the
late Lord Pembroke, expired with him, and the son expected, according
to use and wont, to have it renewed in his favour; but it was assigned
to Pembroke's rival, Sir Edward Winter, and not until seven years
later, under James, did Pembroke recover it.

Pembroke continued in disgrace, his renewed applications for permission
to travel were persistently refused, and he was ordered to regard
himself as banished from Court, and to "keep house in the country." It
is this overshadowing of Pembroke's fortunes in 1601 which explains the
temporary breaking-off of his relations with Shakespeare in London,
indicated by the "Envoy" with which Sonnet cxxvi. ends the series
addressed to the Friend.

The close and affectionate relation between them was no doubt revived
under James. This appears clearly enough from the Dedication of the
First Folio. Let us now cast a rapid glance over the remainder of
Pembroke's career.

His father's death placed him in possession of a large fortune,
but the irregularity of his life left him seldom free from money
embarrassments. In 1604 he married Lady Mary, the seventh daughter of
Lord Talbot, and the marriage was celebrated with a tournament. His
wife brought him a large property, but it was thought at the time that
he paid very dear for it in having to take her into the bargain. The
marriage was far from happy.

Pembroke shared the love of literature which had distinguished his
mother and his uncle, Sir Philip Sidney. According to Aubrey, he
was "the greatest Mæcenas to learned men of any peer of his time or
since." Among his "learned" friends were the poets Donne, and Daniel,
and Massinger, who was the son of his father's steward. Ben Jonson
composed a eulogistic epigram in his honour, as well he might, for
every New Year Pembroke sent Ben £20 to buy books with. Inigo Jones is
said to have visited Italy at his expense, and was frequently employed
by him. Davison's _Poetical Rhapsody_ and numerous other books are
dedicated to him. Chapman, who was among his intimates, inscribed a
sonnet to him at the close of his translation of the _Iliad_. This fact
is of particular interest to us, because Chapman (as Professor Minto
succeeded in establishing) is clearly the rival poet who paid court to
Pembroke, won his goodwill and admiration, and thereby aroused jealousy
and melancholy self-criticism in Shakespeare's breast, as we read in
Sonnets lxxviii.-lxxxvi.[2].

It is especially on Sonnet lxxxvi. that Minto bases his identification
of the rival poet with Chapman. The very opening line, referring
to the "proud full sail of his great verse," suggests at once the
fourteen-syllable measure in which Chapman translated the _Iliad_.
Chapman was full of a passionate enthusiasm for the art of poetry,
which he lost no opportunity of glorifying; and he laid claim to
supernatural inspiration. In the Dedication to his poem _The Shadow of
the Night_ (1594), he speaks with severe contempt of the presumption of
those who "think Skill so mightily pierced with their loves that she
should prostitutely show them her secrets, when she will scarcely be
looked upon by others but with invocation, fasting, watching--yea, not
without having drops of their souls, _like a heavenly familiar. _Hence
Shakespeare's lines--

    "Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to writ
     Above a mortal pitch that struck me dead?"

and the expression--

    "He, nor that affable familiar ghost
     Which nightly gulls him with intelligence."

After the accession of James, Pembroke immediately took a high position
at the new Court. Before the year 1603 was out, he was a Knight of
the Garter, and had entertained the King at Wilton. He rose from one
high post to another, until in 1615 he became Lord Chamberlain; but
he continued to the last the dissipated life of his youth. He devoted
large sums of money to the exploration and colonisation of America.
Places were named after him in the Bermudas and Virginia. In 1614,
morever, he became a member of the East India Company.

He opposed the Spanish Alliance, and was no friend to the King's
foreign policy. He is thought to have instigated in some measure the
attack on the Mexico fleet for which Raleigh paid so dear. He was an
opponent of Bacon as Lord Chancellor, and in 1621 advocated an inquiry
into the charges of corruption which were brought against him; but
afterwards, like Southampton, displayed great moderation, and spoke
strongly against the proposal to deprive Bacon of his peerage.

He stood by the King's deathbed in March 1625, had a serious illness in
1626, and died in April 1630 "of an apoplexy after a full and cheerful
supper." Donne in 1660 published some poems.

[1] Hermann Conrad in _Preussische Jahrbücher_, February 1895.
Under the pseudonym of Hermann Isaac in _Jahrbuch der Deutschen
Shakespeare-Gesellschaft_, vol. xix. p. 176.

[2] I do not find that Mr. G. A. Leigh has succeeded in identifying the
rival poet with Tasso (_Westminster Review_, February 1897).



In speaking of _Love's Labours Lost_, I remarked that it was not
difficult to distinguish the original text of the comedy from the
portions added and altered during the revision of 1598; and I cited
(p. 38) several instances in which the distinction was clear. Especial
emphasis was laid on the fact that Biron's (or, as the context shows,
Biron-Shakespeare's) rapturous panegyrics of love in the fourth act
belong to the later date.

At another place (p. 83) it was pointed out that the two Rosalines of
_Love's Labour's Lost_ (end of the third act) and of _Romeo and Juliet_
(ii. 4) were in all probability drawn from the same model, since she is
in both places described as a blonde with black eyes. In the original
text of _Love's Labour's Lost_ (Act iii.) she is expressly called--

    "A whitely wanton with a velvet brow,
     With two pitch balls stuck in her face for eyes."

All the more surprising must it seem that during the revision the poet
quite obviously had before his eyes another model, repeatedly described
as "black," whose dark complexion indeed, so uncommon and un-English
that it was apt to be thought ugly, is insisted upon as strongly as
that of the "Dark Lady" in the Sonnets. Immediately before Biron bursts
forth into his great hymn to Eros, in which Shakespeare so clearly
makes him his mouthpiece, the King banters him as to the murky hue of
the object of his adoration:--

     "_King_. By heaven, thy love is black as ebony.
      _Biron_. Is ebony like her? O wood divine!
    A wife of such wood were felicity.
    O! who can give an oath? where is a book?
    That I may swear beauty doth beauty lack,
    If that she learn not of her eye to look:
    No face is fair, that is not full so black.
      _King_. O paradox! Black is the badge of hell,
    The hue of dungeons, and the scowl of night;
    And beauty's crest becomes the heavens well."

Biron's answer to this is highly remarkable; for it is exactly what
Shakespeare himself says, in Sonnet cxxvii., to the advantage of his
dark beauty:--

      "_Biron_. Devils soonest tempt, resembling spirits of light.
    O! if in black my lady's brows be deck'd,
    It mourns, that painting, and usurping hair,
    Should ravish doters with a false aspect;
    And therefore is she born to make black fair.
    Her favour turns the fashion of the days;
    For native blood is counted painting now,
    And therefore red, that would avoid dispraise,
    Paints itself black, to imitate her brow."

The Sonnet runs thus:--

    "In the old age black was not counted fair,
     Or if it were, it bore not beauty's name;
     But now is black beauty's successive heir,
     And beauty slander'd with a bastard shame;
     For since each hand hath put on nature's power,
     Fairing the foul with art's false borrow'd face,
     Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
     But is profan'd, if not lives in disgrace.
     Therefore my mistress' eyes are raven black,
     Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
     At such, who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
     Slandering creation with a false esteem:
        Yet so they mourn, becoming of their woe,
        That every tongue says, beauty should look so."

It appears, then, that the dark beauty in _Love's Labour's Lost_ must
also have had a living model; and when we observe that the revision, as
the title-page tells us, took place when the comedy was to be presented
before her Highness at Christmas 1597, and further, that the dark
Rosaline in the play is maid-of-honour to a princess who is called,
in words strongly suggesting a passing compliment to the Queen, "a
gracious moon"--we can scarcely avoid the conclusion that the beautiful
brunette must have been one of the Queen's ladies, and that the whole
end of the fourth act was addressed to her over the heads of the
uninitiated spectators. Who she was, moreover, we can now conjecture
with tolerable security. We know quite well which of the Queen's
ladies brought Pembroke into disgrace, and we are no less certain that
the lady who enthralled Pembroke was the black-eyed brunette whom
Shakespeare, in his own words, loved to "distraction" and to "madding

On the monument of Mary Fitton's mother in Gawsworth Church, in
Cheshire, a highly coloured bust of Mary Fitton herself[1] led Tyler to
assert that she must have been a marked brunette. It is true that the
bust cannot give us a very accurate idea of her appearance in the year
1600, since it was executed in 1626, when she was forty-eight; but the
complexion is dark, the high-piled hair and the large eyes black. That
it does not suggest a beautiful original is a point in favour of its
identity with the Dark Lady as described in Sonnet cxli.:--

    "In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
     For they in thee a thousand errors note;
     But 'tis my heart that loves what they despise,
     Who in despite of view is pleas'd to dote.
     Nor are mine ears with thy tongue's tune delighted;
     Nor tender feeling to base touches prone,
     Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
     To any sensual feast with thee alone:
     But my five wits nor my five senses can
     Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
     Who leaves unsway'd the likeness of a man,
     Thy proud heart's slave and vassal wretch to be:
        Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
        That she that makes me sin awards me pain."

The Rev. W. A. Harrison has discovered a family tree from which it
appears that Mary Fitton, born June 24, 1578, became a maid-of-honour
to Elizabeth in 1595, at the age of seventeen. Thus she was nineteen
years old when, at the Court festivities of 1597, Shakespeare's company
acted _Love's Labour's Lost_, with the panegyric of the dark beauty,
Rosaline. She must have made the acquaintance of the poet and player,
then thirty-three years old, at earlier Court entertainments. Who can
doubt that it was she, with her high position and daring spirit, who
made the first advances?

That the Dark Lady did not live with Shakespeare appears clearly
enough in the Sonnets--for instance, in Sonnet cxliv. ("but being both
from me"). It may be gathered from Sonnet cli., with the expressions
"triumphant prize," "proud of this pride," that she was greatly his
superior in rank and station, so that her conquest for some time filled
him with a sense of triumph. Tyler even believes that there is an
actual allusion to her name in Sonnet cli., which, as a whole, abounds
in such daring equivoques as would be impossible in modern poetry.

It was thought surprising that in Sonnet clii., in which Shakespeare
calls himself forsworn because he loves his lady although married to
another, he also states expressly that she too is married, calling her
"twice forsworn," since she has not only broken her "bed-vow," but
broken her "new faith" to Shakespeare himself. It seemed difficult to
reconcile this with the fact that Mrs. Fitton ("Mistress" in those days
being applicable to unmarried no less than to married women) was always
called by her father's name. She was married in 1607 to a certain
William Polwheele, with whom she appears to have had a love-intrigue
before the wedding. After the death of her husband she was married a
second time to John Lougher.

However, it must now be pointed out that a work, published in 1897,
which for the first time gave a trustworthy account of Mary Fitton's
life, has rendered it excessively improbable that she should be
identical with the Dark Lady of the Sonnets. The title of the work is:
_Gossip from a Muniment-Room, being Passages in the lives of Anne and
Mary Fitton_, 1574-1618; it is published by Lady Newdigate-Newdegate,
who is married to a descendant of the elder sister, Anne Fitton,
and it contains many interesting letters to this lady, with other
communications from the family-archives. Here it is proved--in spite of
Tyler's attempted contradiction--that the two well-preserved portraits
of Mary Fitton at Arbury show that she was not dark at all, but had a
light complexion, brown hair, and grey eyes.

From Mary Fitton herself there is only a brief note contained in the
collection, but her name is often mentioned in the letters. They prove,
that at the beginning of her career as maid-of-honour to the Queen, she
had an admirer in the elderly court-functionary, Sir William Knollys,
inspector of the household, who later, under King James, became a very
potent personality as Lord Knollys; and it was evidently arranged
between them that they would marry as soon as Sir William should become
a widower. Their relations were not severed until the Pembroke scandal
came out. Sir William married another lady after the death of his
wife. This relation appeared to support the belief that Mary Fitton
was Shakespeare's lady, as far as it gave a clue to the expression
_thy bed vow broke_, and in so far as Knollys' Christian name William
seemed to explain the two first lines in Sonnet cxxxv.: You have your
will (or William) and William (or will) a second time and William (or
will) into the bargain. It had long been admitted that the two last
of these _Wills_ referred to Pembroke and Shakespeare. And it was
suggested that a third Will was hidden in the first. In 1881 Dowden
wrote: "As we know that the lady had a husband, it may be possible
that he too bore the name of William." As against the unmistakable
evidence of the portraits, however, it is impossible to attribute any
weight to this circumstance. Moreover, the name of Shakespeare is never
mentioned in the recently-published papers of the Fitton family. Of
course the silence in itself is not conclusive. Mary Fitton may have
known Shakespeare intimately without her relatives being aware of the
fact. Besides, we know, from the dedication, which the clown of the
Shakespearian troupe, the well known William Kemp, in 1600, addressed
to her in his little book "Nine Daies Wonder," that she had certain
relations with the company. This dedication runs as follows: _Mistress
Anne (supposed to be Mary) Fitton, Mayde of Honour of the most sacred
Mayde Royal Queene Elisabeth._ But I confess, that Mary's grey eyes
decide the matter for me.

However, even if it be unreasonable to identify Mary Fitton with the
Dark Lady of the Sonnets, after the publication of the Fitton family
papers, this does not exclude the possibility that Pembroke may have
been Shakespeare's rival. If Essex, as above mentioned, was obliged to
acknowledge that he had had intrigues with four of the ladies of the
court at the same time, Pembroke may well have had intimate relations
with two of them at Once.

The Dark Lady must have been a woman in the extremest sense of the
word, a daughter of Eve, alluring, ensnaring, greedy of conquest,
mendacious and faithless, born to deal out rapture and torment with
both hands, the very woman to set in vibration every chord in a poet's

There can be no reasonable doubt that in the early days of his
relation with the well-born mistress, Shakespeare felt himself a
favourite of fortune, intoxicated with love and happiness, exalted
above his station, honoured and enriched. She must at first have been
to him what Maria Fiammetta, the natural daughter of a king, was to
Boccaccio. She must have brought a breath from a higher world, an
aroma of aristocratic womanhood, into his life. He must have admired
her wit, her presence of mind and her daring, her capricious fancy and
her quickness of retort. He must have studied, enjoyed, and adored in
her--and that in the closest intimacy--the well-bred ease, the sportive
coquetry, the security, elegance, and gaiety of the emancipated lady.
Who can tell how much of her personality has been transferred to his
brilliant young Beatrices and Rosalinds?

First and foremost he must have owed to her the rapture of feeling
his vitality intensified--a main element in the happiness which, in
the first years of their communion, finds expression in the sparkling
love-comedies we have just reviewed. Let it not be objected that the
Sonnets do not dwell upon this happiness. The Sonnets date from the
period of storm and stress, when he had ascertained what at first, no
doubt, he had but vaguely suspected, that his mistress had ensnared
his friend; and in composing them he no doubt antedated many of the
passionate and distracted unoods which overwhelmed him at the crisis,
when he not only realised the fact of their intrigue, but saw it
dragged to the light of day. He then felt as though, doubly betrayed,
he had irrevocably lost them both. Thus the picture of his mistress
drawn in the Sonnets shows her, not as she appeared to him in earlier
years, but as he saw her during this later period.

Yet he also depicts moments, and even hours, when his whole nature must
have been lapped in tenderness and harmony. The scene, for instance, so
melodiously portrayed in Sonnet cxxviii. is steeped in an atmosphere
of happy love--the scene in which, seated at the virginals, the lady,
whom the poet addresses as "my music," lets her delicate aristocratic
fingers wander over the keys, enchanting with their concord the
listener who longs to press her fingers and her lips to his. He envies
the keys that "kiss the tender inward of her hand," and concludes:--

    "Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
     Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss."

It is only natural, however, that the morbidly passionate, complaining,
and accusing Sonnets should be in the majority.

Again and again he reverts to her faithlessness and laxity of conduct.
In Sonnet cxxxvii. he speaks of his love as "anchored in the bay where
all men ride." Sonnet cxxxviii. begins:--

    "When my love swears that she is made of truth,
     I do believe her, though I know she lies."

And in Sonnet clii. he reproaches himself with having sworn a host of
false oaths in swearing to her good qualities:--

    "But why of two oaths' breach do I accuse thee,
     When I break twenty? I am perjur'd most;
     For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee,
     And all my honest faith in thee is lost:
     For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,
     Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy;
     And, to enlighten thee, gave eyes to blindness,
     Or made them swear against the thing they see."

In Sonnet cxxxix. he depicts her as carrying her thirst for admiration
to such a pitch of wantonness that even in his presence she could not
refrain from coquetting on every hand:--

    "Tell me thou lov'st elsewhere; but in my sight,
     Dear heart, forbear to glance thine eye aside:
     What need'st thou wound with cunning, when thy might
     Is more than my o'erpress'd defence can 'bide?"

She cruelly abuses her witchery over him. She is as tyrannical, he says
in Sonnet cxxxi., "as those whose beauties proudly make them cruel,"
well-knowing that to his "dear-doting heart" she is "the finest and
most precious jewel." There is actual magic in the power she exerts
over him. He does not understand it himself, and exclaims in Sonnet

    "Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
     That in the very refuse of thy deeds
     There is such strength and warrantise of skill,
     That in my mind thy worst all best exceeds?"

No French poet of the eighteen-thirties, not even Musset himself self,
has given more passionate utterance than Shakespeare to the fever and
agony and distraction of love. See, for instance, Sonnet cxlvii.:--

    "My love is as a fever, longing still
     For that which longer nurseth the disease:
     Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
     The uncertain-sickly appetite to please.
     My reason, the physician to my love,
     Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
     Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
     Desire is death, which physic did except.
     Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
     And frantic-mad with evermore unrest:
     My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,
     At random from the truth vainly express'd;
        For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
        Who art as black as hell, as dark as night."

He depicts himself as a lover frenzied with passion. His eyes are
dimmed with vigils and with tears. He no longer understands either
himself or the world: "If that is fair whereon his false eyes dote,
What means the world to say it is not so?" If it is not fair, then his
love proves that a lover's eye is less trustworthy than that of the
indifferent world (Sonnet cxlviii.).

And yet he well knows the seat of the witchery by which she holds him
in thrall. It lies in the glow and expression of her exquisite "raven
black" eyes (Sonnets cxxvii. and cxxxix.). He loves her soulful eyes,
which, knowing the torments her disdain inflicts upon him--

    "Have put on black, and loving mourners be,
     Looking with pretty ruth upon my pain."
    --Sonnet cxxxii.

Young as she is, her nature is all compounded of passion and will;
she is ungovernable in her caprices, born for conquest and for

While we can guess that towards Shakespeare she made the first
advances, we know that she did so in the case of his friend. In more
than one sonnet she is expressly spoken of as "wooing him."[2] In
Sonnet cxliii. Shakespeare uses an image which, in all its homeliness,
is exceedingly graphic:--

    "Lo! as a careful housewife runs to catch
     One of her feather'd creatures broke away,
     Sets down her babe, and makes all swift dispatch
     In pursuit of the thing she would have stay;
     Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,
     Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent
     To follow that which flies before her face,
     Not prizing her poor infant's discontent:
     So runn'st thou after that which flies from thee,
     Whilst I, thy babe, chase thee afar behind;
     But if thou catch thy hope, turn back to me,
     And play the mother's part, kiss me, be kind:
        So will I pray that thou may'st have thy _Will_,
        If thou turn back, and my loud crying still."

The tenderness of feeling here apparent is characteristic of the poet's
whole attitude of mind in this dual relation. Even when he cannot
acquit his friend of all guilt, even when he mournfully upbraids him
with having robbed the poor man of his one lamb, his chief concern
is always lest any estrangement should arise between his friend and
himself. See, for instance, the exquisitely melodious Sonnet xl.:--

    "Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all:
     What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
     No love, my love, that thou may'st true love call:
     All mine was thine before thou had'st this more.
      .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
     I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,
     Although thou steal thee all my poverty."

The same tone of sentiment runs through the moving Sonnet xlii., which

    "That thou hast her, it is not all my grief,
     And yet it may be said, I loved her dearly;
     That she hath thee, is of my wailing chief,
     A loss in love that touches me more nearly."

It closes with this somewhat vapid conceit:--

    "But here's the joy: my friend and I are one;
     Sweet flattery! then she loves but me alone."

All these expressions, taken together, point not only to the enormous
value which Shakespeare attached to the young Pembroke's friendship,
but also to the sensual and spiritual attraction which, in spite of
everything, his fickle mistress continued to possess for him.

It is not impossible that a passage in Ben Jonson's _Bartholomew Fair_
(1614) may contain a satirical allusion to the relation portrayed in
the Sonnets (published in 1609). In act v. sc. 3 there is presented
a puppet-show setting forth "The ancient modern history of Hero and
Leander, otherwise called the Touchstone of true Love, with as true a
trial of Friendship between Damon and Pythias, two faithful friends o'
the Bankside." Hero is "a wench o' the Bankside," and Leander swims
across the Thames to her. Damon and Pythias meet at her lodging, and
abuse each other most violently when they find that they have but one
love, only to finish up as the best friends in the world.[2]

[1] Reproduced in Tyler's _Shakespeare's Sonnets._


       _"Damon_. Whore-master in thy face;
    Thou hast lain with her thyself, I'll prove it in this place.
       _"Leatherhead_. They are whore-masters both, sir, that's a plain
       _"Pythias_. Thou lie like a rogue.
       _"Leatherhead_. Do I lie like a rogue?
       _"Pythias_. A pimp and a scab.
       _"Leatherhead_. A pimp and a scab!
    I say, between you _you have both but one drab_.
       _"Pythias and Damon_. Come, now we'll go together to breakfast
             to Hero.
       _"Leatherhead._ Thus, gentles, you perceive without any denial
    'Twixt Damon and Pythias here friendship's true trial."



The fact that the person to whom Shakespeare's Sonnets are dedicated
is simply entitled "Mr. W. H." long served to divert attention
from William Herbert, as it was thought that it would have been an
impossible impertinence thus to address, without his title, a nobleman
like the Earl of Pembroke. To us it is clear that this form of address
was adopted precisely in order that Pembroke might not be exhibited
to the great public as the hero of the conflict darkly adumbrated
in the Sonnets. They were not, indeed, written quite without an eye
to publication, as is proved by the poet's promises that they are
to immortalise the memory of his friend's beauty. But it was not
Shakespeare himself who gave them to the press, and bookseller Thorpe
must have known very well that Lord Pembroke would not care to see
himself unequivocally designated as the lover of the Dark Lady and the
poet's favoured rival, especially as that dramatic episode of his youth
ended in a manner which it can scarcely have been pleasant to recall.

A weighty work, _A Life of Shakespeare_, published in the year 1898, by
Mr. Sidney Lee, has, however, thoroughly shaken the theories of those
who held Pembroke to be the person to whom the Sonnets were dedicated,
and the youth who inspired so many of them. Mr. Lee, who--rather
arbitrarily--declines to attach any importance to the mention of
Pembroke's name, and the appeal to his relations with Shakespeare
in the folio edition, takes it for granted that Southampton was the
one literary patron to whom Shakespeare expressed his gratitude, and
he concludes that he alone is the hero of the Sonnets. As Mr. Lee
supposes that most of them were written between the spring of 1593 and
the autumn of 1594, Southampton would have been young enough to be
mentioned as in the poems. As to the dedication of the Sonnets, Sidney
Lee declares that it would have been an impossible breach of decorum
to designate a man of such high rank and importance as Pembroke was in
the year 1609 as "Mr. W. H." In his youthful days, even before he had a
right to the title, he was always called Lord Herbert. In 1616 Thorpe
dedicated a book to him in these respectful, nay servile terms: To the
right honourable William, Earle of Pembroke, Lord Chamberlaine to his
Majestie, one of his most honorable Privie Counsell, and Knight of the
Garter, etc.

Sidney Lee interprets the word _begetter_ as procurer merely, and
thinks that Thorpe, in the dedication, simply meant to express his
gratitude to a man who had procured one of the manuscripts of the
Sonnets, then circulating, and had given it to him. And as a dedication
of the poems of the Jesuit Robert Southwell (of 1606), was signed with
the letters W. H., indicating another pirate-editor, William Hall,
Sidney Lee concludes that it was the latter, who three years later had
laid hold of the manuscript of the Sonnets for Thorpe, and that Thorpe
had accordingly placed his enterprise under his patronage. In a domain
where all is obscure it is difficult to uphold a definite opinion in
the face of an opponent so much more learned than myself. Yet I cannot
but feel that there is in the wording of the dedication something quite
incompatible with the idea that Thorpe addresses himself to a friend
and colleague, and Sidney Lee meets this objection only with the remark
that Thorpe was notably careless in the use of language. Besides, it
is suggestive, that in the three existing dedications by Thorpe, other
than that to W. H., the first is addressed to Florio, the two others to
the Earl of Pembroke, consequently to real protectors of rank, while
the one, which he nine years before addressed to the editor, Edward
Blount, who published the manuscript of Marlowe's translation of Lucan
for him, is drawn up in a very different and much more intimate way.
It is addressed to his "kind and true friend," and gives the friend in
question a few hints "as to how to fit himself" for this unaccustomed
part of patron. The distance from this to the dedication of the Sonnets
is great.

What Sidney Lee attempts to prove by his researches and conjectures
is, that the man, who figures in the Sonnets as the protector of the
poet, was Southampton, and not Pembroke. The name of the youth is not
of the first importance, nor does it signify greatly whether the woman
celebrated and attacked in the Sonnets bore the name of Mary Fitton
or another. However, the main point is, that in common with a number
of previous authors, who have thoroughly studied the contemporaneous
literature of Europe, and more especially the sonnet-poetry of Italy,
France and England, such as Delius and Elze in Germany, and Henrik
Schück in Sweden, Lee, relying on the numerous traits that these poems
share with other sonnet-cycles of their period, stamps the whole
argument of the text as fiction, and denies their autobiographical
character. Scarcely any writer before him has so boldly endeavoured to
limit Shakespeare's originality in the domain of sonnet-poetry.

In the first place Lee points out, that the whole body of sixteenth-century
sonnets was so dependent firstly on Petrarch, then on such French
writers as Ronsard, du Bellay and Desportes, that even the finest of
them, the sonnets of Spenser, Sidney, Watson, Lodge, Drayton and Daniel
may be characterised as imitative studies, if not simply as a mosaic
of plagiarisms. Hereupon he tries to show Shakespeare's dependence on
his predecessors. Shakespeare picked up, without scruple, ideas and
expressions from the sonnets published by Daniel, Drayton, Watson,
Barnabe Barnes, Constable and Sidney; he did this as deliberately and
imperturbably as in his comedies he manipulated dramas and novels by
contemporary and older poets. To Drayton especially is Shakespeare
indebted. As all the Englishmen imitated the Frenchmen, Shakespeare has
a false air of having been directly influenced by Ronsard, de Baif and
Desportes, though he scarcely knew these poets in their own language.

The Danish translator of the Sonnets, Adolf Hansen, had already pointed
out numerous impersonal traits. Some of the poorer Sonnets with their
forced and complicated metaphors so obviously bear the impress of
the spirit of the age, that it is quite impossible to regard them as
characteristic of Shakespeare, and some few Sonnets are such complete
imitations, that they cannot be accepted as confessions. Sonnets xviii.
and xix. work out the same idea as Daniel's Delia, and Sonnets lv.
and lxxxi. treat the very same subject as the sixty-ninth Sonnet in
Spenser's _Amoretti_. Finally the story of the friends, one of whom
deprives the other of his mistress, is to be found in Lyly's _Euphues_.

Sidney Lee maintains that when in Sonnets xxiv. and cxxii. Shakespeare
propounds that the image of his friend is engraved in the depths of his
heart, or that his brain is a better memorandum-book, as to the friend,
than the book with which the latter has presented him, he is merely
struggling with conceits of Ronsard's. When in Sonnets xliv, and xlv.
he speaks about man as compounded of the elements, earth, air, fire and
water, he appropriates motives from Spenser and Barnes. Sonnets xlvi.
and xlvii., on the debate of the eye and the heart, are written in
terms borrowed from the twentieth Sonnet in Watson's _Tears of Fancy_.
Where he proclaims his assurance of the immortality of his verse, and
the consequent eternity of his friend's fame, he does not speak from
conviction, he only treats a motive, which, following the example of
Pindar, Horace and Ovid, the Frenchmen Desportes and Ronsard, and after
them such English sonneteers as Spenser, Drayton and Daniel had played
upon. Not even when he writes that his lady is beautiful, though dark,
and consequently unlovely, is he original; for Sidney had already used
a similar phrase. And when he changes his mind, and in the dark eyes
and dark complexion of his lady professes to read the blackness of
her soul, he is even less original, for at that period the sonnet of
invective was the standard variant of the sonnet of amorous eulogy.
Nothing is more common than to find the sonneteer grossly abusing his
mistress. Ronsard called his a tigress, a murderess, a Medusa; Barnabe
Barnes describes his as a tyrant, a Gorgon, a rock; the transition from
tenderness to reproach was so frequent, that it was even parodied by
Gabriel Harvey. Following many other critics Sidney Lee finally points
out that no weight can be attached to the fact, that in Sonnets xxii.,
lxii., lxxiii., and cxxxviii., Shakespeare speaks of himself as old,
for this, too, was a standing conceit of the sonnet-poets of that time.
Daniel in _Delia_ (23) when he was only twenty-nine speaks as if his
life were finished. Richard Barnfield, only twenty years old, invites
the boy Ganymedes to contemplate his silver hair, his wrinkled skin,
the deep furrows of his face, all this in imitation of Petrarch.

Lee admits, however, that the group of Sonnets, most interesting to the
reader, the most mature as to ideas and style, cannot be considered to
date from the poet's thirtieth year; he even thinks that Shakespeare
continued to write Sonnets until 1603, and propounds--regardless of the
wording of the poem--that Sonnet cvii. was written in that year, on the
occasion of the death of Queen Elizabeth. That the word "moon" here
means Elizabeth is obvious. But that the expression

    "The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured"

can mean the final eclipse of the moon is incredible. That the moon
has passed through her eclipse, means, I take it, that she is shining
brightly again, and thus the interpretation put forth above, of a hint
at the frustrated conspiracy of Essex, is far more reasonable. But then
this Sonnet, as well as those kindred to it in spirit and tone, point,
not to the year 1603, but to 1601.

Yet here details are of minor importance. We take our stand on a
fundamental conception of poetic production. All art, even that of the
greater artists, begins with imitation; no poet avoids influences,
and up to the present time no poet has hesitated to appropriate from
predecessors all that might be of use to him. Even nowadays, when the
appreciation of the duty of originality is so infinitely stronger than
in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, it is easy
to point out appropriations of foreign thoughts and turns of phrase
among excellent poets, and it would be possible to enumerate a great
variety of common traits among the lyrical poets of Europe. The range
of subjects fit for lyrical poetry is not so very great, to be sure.
As men, lyrists have after all many emotions and conditions in common.
In the mode of expression alone--especially when ideas have to be
expressed in an identical form of fourteen lines--is it possible for
the poet to manifest his true originality.

No intelligent critic would think of looking to lyrical poems as to
biographical sources, in the rough meaning of the term. The poetical
is rarely identical with the personal ego. But on the other hand it
cannot be too strongly insisted upon that books (I mean great, inspired
books, such as are read for hundreds of years) are never engendered
by other books, but by life. Nobody, who has a drop of artist's blood
in his veins, can imagine that a poet of the rank of Shakespeare
can have written sonnets by the score only as exercises or metrical
experiments, without any bearing on his life, its passions and its
crises. The formula for good epic poetry is surely this: that it must
always be founded on real life, even if rarely or never an exact copy
of it. Lyrical poetry, in which the poet speaks in his own name, and
especially of himself, must necessarily, if first-rate, be rooted in
what the poet has felt so strongly that it has made him break into song.

The learned critics of Shakespeare's Sonnets regard them merely as
metrical _tours de force_, penned in cold blood on subjects prescribed
by fashion and convention. They look upon fancy as upon a spider, which
spins chimera in all sorts of typical and artificial figures out of
itself. It seems more natural to look upon it as a plant, extracting
nourishment from the only soil in which it could thrive, namely, the
observations and experiences of the poet.

The great modern poets, whose lives lie open before us, have betrayed
to us how fancy springs out of impressions of real life, transforming
them and making them unrecognisable by its mysterious workings. In
several cases we are able to discern the dispersed elements, which in
due time crystallise in the poem. Discerning criticism has opened our
eyes to the intermixture of these elements in the magic caldron of
fancy, while inferior criticism goes astray in a trivial search after
possible models. In spite of German scholars and their exertions,
we know nothing about whom Goethe had in his mind when he painted
Clärchen, nor is this fact of any importance; but this is certain, that
the whole poetical life-work of Goethe is founded upon experience. When
Max Klinger one evening returned home from having seen a performance of
Goethe's _Faust_, he said: What most impressed me was that it was the
life of Goethe.

As, knowing the life and experiences of the great modern poet, we are
now generally able to trace how these are worked upon and transformed
in his works, it is reasonable to suppose that in olden times poets
were moved by the same causes, and acted in the same way, at least
those of them who have been efficient. When we know of the adventures
and emotions of the modern poet, and are able to trace them in the
production of his free fancy; when it is possible, where they are
unknown to us, to evolve the hidden personality of the poet, and--as
every capable critic has experienced--to have our conjectures finally
borne out by facts revealed by the contemporary author, then we cannot
feel it to be impossible, that in the case of an older poet, we might
also be successful in determining when he speaks earnestly from his
heart, and in tracing his feelings and experiences through his works,
especially when these are lyrical, and their mode of expression
passionate and emotional.

Any one who holds fast to the by no means fantastic theory, that there
is a certain connection between the life and the works of Shakespeare,
will be but little moved by successive attempts to deny the Sonnets any
autobiographical value, because of the conventional traits and frequent
imitations to be pointed out in them.

The modern reader who takes up the Sonnets with no special knowledge of
the Renaissance, its tone of feeling, its relation to Greek antiquity,
its conventions and its poetic style, finds nothing in them more
surprising than the language of love in which the poet addresses his
young friend, the positively erotic passion for a masculine personality
which here finds utterance. The friend is currently addressed as "my
love." Sometimes it is stated in so many words that in the eyes of his
admirer the friend combines the charms of man and woman; for instance,
in Sonnet xx.:--

    "A woman's face, with Nature's own hand painted,
    Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion."

This Sonnet ends with a playful lament that the friend had not been
born of the opposite sex; yet such is the warmth of expression in other
Sonnets that one very well understands how the critics of last century
supposed them to be addressed to a woman.[1]

This tone, however, is a characteristic fashion of the age. And here,
again, it has been insisted that love for a beautiful youth, which the
study of Plato had presented to the men of the Renaissance in its most
attractive light, was a standing theme among English poets of that
age, who, moreover, as in Shakespeare's case, were wont to praise the
beauty of their friend above that of their mistress. The woman, as in
this case, often enters as a disturbing element into the relation. It
was an accepted part of the convention that the poet as above noted
should represent himself as withered and wrinkled, whatever his real
age might be; Shakespeare does so again and again, though he was at
most thirty-seven. Finally, it was quite in accordance with use and
wont that the fair youth should be exhorted to marry, so that his
beauty might not die with him. Shakespeare had already placed such
exhortations in the mouth of the Goddess of Love in _Venus and Adonis_.

All this is true, and yet there is no reasonable ground for doubting
that the Sonnets stand in pretty close relation to actual facts.

The age, indeed, determines the tone, the colouring, of the expressions
in which friendship clothes itself. In Germany and Denmark, at the end
of the eighteenth century, friendship was a sentimental enthusiasm,
just as in England and Italy during the sixteenth century it took
the form of platonic love. We can clearly discern, however, that the
different methods of expression answered to corresponding shades of
difference in the emotion itself. The men of the Renaissance gave
themselves up to an adoration of friendship and of their friend which
is now unknown, except in circles where a perverted sexuality prevails.
Montaigne's friendship for Estienne de la Boétie, and Languet's
passionate tenderness for the youthful Philip Sidney, are cases in
point. The observations concerning friendship in Sir Thomas Browne's
_Religio Medici_, 1642 (pp. 98, 99), accord entirely with that of
Shakespeare: "I love my friend more than myself, and yet I think that
I do not love him enough. In a few months my manifold doubled passion
will make me believe that I have not at all loved him before. When I am
away from him, I am dead, until I meet him again. When I am together
with him, I am not content, but always long for a closer connection
with him. United souls are not contented, but wish for being truly
identical with each other; and this being impossible, their yearnings
are endless and must increase without any possibility of being
gratified." But the most remarkable example of a frenzied friendship in
Renaissance culture and poetry is undoubtedly to be found in Michael
Angelo's letters and sonnets.

Michael Angelo's relation to Messer Tommaso de' Cavalieri presents the
most interesting parallel to the attitude which Shakespeare adopted
towards William Herbert. We find the same expressions of passionate
love from the older to the younger man; but here it is still more
unquestionably certain that we have not to do with mere poetical
figures of speech, since the letters are not a whit less ardent and
enthusiastic than the sonnets. The expressions in the sonnets are
sometimes so warm that Michael Angelo's nephew, in his edition of them,
altered the word _Signiore_ into _Signora_, and these poems, like
Shakespeare's, were for some time supposed to have been addressed to a

On January 1, 1533, Michael Angelo, then fifty-seven years old, writes
from Florence to Tommaso de' Cavalieri, a youth of noble Roman family,
who afterwards became his favourite pupil: "If I do not possess the
art of navigating the sea of your potent genius, that genius will
nevertheless excuse me, and neither despise my inequality, nor demand
of me that which I have it not in me to give; since that which stands
alone in everything can in nothing find its counterpart. Wherefore your
lordship, _the only light in our age vouchsafed to this worlds_ having
no equal or peer, cannot find satisfaction in the work of any other
hand. If, therefore, this or that in the works which I hope and promise
to execute should happen to please you, I should call that work, not
good, but fortunate. And if I should ever feel assured that--as has
been reported to me--I have given your lordship satisfaction in one
thing or another, I will make a gift to you of my present and of all
that the future may bring me; and it will be a great pain to me to be
unable to recall the past, in order to serve you so much the longer,
instead of having only the future, which cannot be long, since I am all
too old. There is nothing more left for me to say. Read my heart and
not my letter, for my pen cannot approach the expression of my good

Cavalieri writes to Michael Angelo that he regards himself as born
anew since he has come to know the Master; who replies, "I for my part
should regard myself as not born, born dead, or deserted by heaven and
earth, if your letters had not brought me the persuasion that your
lordship accepts with favour certain of my works." And in a letter of
the following summer to Sebastian del Piombo, he sends a greeting to
Messer Tommaso, with the words: "I believe _I should instantly fall
down dead_ if he were no longer in my thoughts."[4]

Michael Angelo plays upon his friend's surname as Shakespeare plays
upon his friend's Christian name. These are the last lines of the
thirty-first sonnet:--

   "Se vint' e pres' i' debb' esser beato,
    Meraviglia non è se, nud' e solo,
    Resto prigion d'un _Cavalier_ armato."

    "If only chains and bands can make me blest,
     No marvel if alone and bare I go
     An armed knight's captive and slave confessed."
    (_J. A. Symonds_.)

In other sonnets the tone is no less passionate than Shakespeare's
--take, for example, the twenty-second:--

    "More tenderly perchance than is my due,
     Your spirit sees into my heart, where rise
     The flames of holy worship, nor denies
     The grace reserved for those who humbly sue.
     Oh blessed day when you at last are mine!
     Let time stand still, and let noon's chariot stay;
     Fixed be that moment on the dial of heaven!
     That I may clasp and keep, by grace divine--
     Clasp in these yearning arms and keep for aye
     My heart's loved lord to me desertless given."[5]
                                    (_J. A. Symonds_.)

In comparison with Cavalieri, Michael Angelo could with justice call
himself old. Some critics, on the other hand, have seen in the fact
that Shakespeare was not really old at the time when the Sonnets were
written, a proof of their conventional and unreal character. But this
is to overlook the relativity of the term. As compared with a youth of
eighteen, Shakespeare was in effect old, with his sixteen additional
years and all his experience of life. And if we are right in assigning
Sonnets lxiii. and lxxiii. to the year 1600 or 1601, Shakespeare had
then reached the age of thirty-seven, an age at which (among his
contemporaries) Drayton in his _Idea_ dwells quite in the same spirit
upon the wrinkles of age in his face, and at which, as Tyler has very
aptly pointed out, Byron in his swan-song uses expressions about
himself which might have been copied from Shakespeare's seventy-third
Sonnet. Shakespeare says:--

    "That time of year thou mayst in me behold
     When _yellow leaves_, or none, or few, do hang
     Upon those boughs which shake against the cold
     Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang."

Byron thus expresses himself:--

    "My days are in _the yellow leaf_,[6]
       The flowers and fruits of love are gone,
     The worm, the canker and the grief
       Are mine alone."

In Shakespeare we read:--

    "In me thou seest _the glowing of such fire_
     That on the ashes of his youth doth lie
     As the _death-bed_ whereon it must expire,
     Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by."

Byron's words are:--

    "_The fire that on my bosom preys_
          Is lone as some volcanic isle;
     No torch is kindled at its blaze--
       _A funeral pile_"

Thus both poets liken themselves, at this comparatively early age, to
the wintry woods with their yellowing leaves, and without blossom,
fruit, or the song of birds; and both compare the fire which still
glows in their soul to a solitary flame which finds no nourishment from
without. The ashes of my youth become its death-bed, says Shakespeare.
They are a funeral pile, says Byron.

Nor is it possible to conclude, as Schück does, from the conventional
style of the first seventeen Sonnets--for instance, from their almost
verbal identity with a passage in Sidney's _Arcadia_--that they are
quite devoid of relation to the poet's own life.

In short, the elements of temporary fashion and convention which appear
in the Sonnets in no way prove that they were not genuine expressions
of the poet's actual feelings.

They lay bare to us a side of his character which does not appear in
the plays. We see in him an emotional nature with a passionate bent
towards self-surrender in love and idolatry, and with a corresponding,
though less excessive, yearning to be loved.

We learn from the Sonnets to what a degree Shakespeare was oppressed
and tormented by his sense of the contempt in which the actor's calling
was held. The scorn of ancient Rome for the mountebank, the horror of
ancient Judea for whoever disguised himself in the garments of the
other sex, and finally the age-old hatred of Christianity for theatres
and all the temptations that follow in their train--all these habits
of thought had been handed down from generation to generation, and, as
Puritanism grew in strength and gained the upper hand, had begotten a
contemptuous tone of public opinion under which so sensitive a nature
as Shakespeare's could not but suffer keenly. He was not regarded as
a poet who now and then acted, but as an actor who now and then wrote
plays. It was a pain to him to feel that he belonged to a caste which
had no civic status. Hence his complaint, in Sonnet xxix., of being "in
disgrace with fortune and men's eyes." Hence, in Sonnet xxxvi., his
assurance to his friend that he will not obtrude on others the fact of
their friendship:--

    "I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
     Lest my bewailèd guilt should do thee shame:
     Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
     Unless thou take that honour from thy name:
     But do not so; I love thee in such sort,
     As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report."

The bitter complaint in Sonnet lxxii. seems rather to refer to the
writer's situation as a dramatist:--

    "For I am shamed by that which I bring forth,
     And so should you, to love things nothing worth."

The melancholy which fills Sonnet cx. is occasioned by the writer's
profession and his nature as a poet and artist:--

    "Alas! 'tis true, I have gone here and there,
     And made myself a motley to the view;
     Gor'd mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
     Made old offences of affections new:
     Most true it is, that I have look'd on truth
     Askance and strangely; but, by all above,
     These blenches gave my heart another youth,
     And worse essays prov'd thee my best of love."

Hence, finally, his reproach to Fortune, in Sonnet cxi., that she did
not "better for his life provide Than public means which public manners

    "Thence comes it that my name receives a brand;
     And almost thence my nature is subdu'd
     To what it works in, like the dyer's hand."

We must bear in mind this continual writhing under the prejudice
against his calling and his art, and this indignation at the injustice
of the attitude adopted towards them by a great part of the middle
classes, if we would understand the high pressure of Shakespeare's
feelings towards the noble youth who had approached him full of the
art-loving traditions of the aristocracy, and the burning enthusiasm
of the young for intellectual superiority. William Herbert, with his
beauty and his personal charm, must have come to him like a very angel
of light, a messenger from a higher world than that in which his lot
was cast. He was a living witness to the fact that Shakespeare was not
condemned to seek the applause of the multitude alone, but could win
the favour of the noblest in the land, and was not excluded from a deep
and almost passionate friendship which placed him on an equal footing
with the bearer of an ancient name. Pembroke's great beauty no doubt
made a deep impression upon the beauty-lover in Shakespeare's soul.
It is very probable, too, that the young aristocrat, according to the
fashion of the times, made the poet his debtor for solider benefactions
than mere friendship; and Shakespeare must thus have felt doubly
painful the situation in which he was placed by the intrigue between
his mistress and his friend.[7].

In any case, the affection with which Pembroke inspired
Shakespeare--the passionate attachment, leading even to jealousy of
other poets admired by the young nobleman--had not only a vividness,
but an erotic fervour such as we never find in our century manifested
between man and man. Note such an expression as this in Sonnet cx.:--

    "Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,
     Even to thy pure and most most loving breast."

This exactly corresponds to Michael Angelo's recently-quoted desire to
"clasp in his yearning arms his heart's loved lord." Or observe such a
line as this in Sonnet lxxv.:--

    "So are you to my thoughts as food to life."

We have here an exact counterpart to the following expressions in a
letter from Michael Angelo to Cavalieri, dated July 1533: "I would far
rather forget the food on which I live, which wretchedly sustains the
body alone, than your name, which sustains both body and soul, filling
both with such happiness that I can feel neither care nor fear of death
while I have it in my memory."[8]

The passionate fervour of this friendship on the Platonic model is
accompanied in Shakespeare, as in Michael Angelo, by a submissiveness
on the part of the elder friend towards the younger, which, in these
two supreme geniuses, affects the modern reader painfully. Each had put
off every shred of pride in relation to his idolised young friend. How
strange it seems to find Shakespeare calling himself young Herbert's
"slave," and assuring him that his time, more precious than that of
any other man then living, is of no value, so that his friend may let
him wait or summon him to his side as his caprice and fancy dictate.
In Sonnet lviii. he speaks of "that God who made me first your slave."
Sonnet lvii. runs thus:--

    "Being _your slave_, what should I do but tend
     Upon the hours and times of your desire?
     I have no precious time at all to spend,
     Nor services to do, till you require.
     Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour,
     Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
     Nor think the bitterness of absence sour,
     When you have bid your servant once adieu;
     Nor dare I question with my jealous thought,
     Where you may be, or your affairs suppose;
     But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought,
     Save, where you are how happy you make those."

Just as Michael Angelo spoke to Cavalieri of his works as though
they were scarcely worth his friend's notice, so does Shakespeare
sometimes speak of his verses. In Sonnet xxxii. he begs his friends to
"re-survey" them when he is dead:--

    "And though they be outstripp'd by every pen,
     Reserve them for my love, not for their rhyme,
     Exceeded by the height of happier men."

This humility becomes quite despicable when a breach is threatened
between the friends. Shakespeare then repeatedly promises so to blacken
himself that his friend shall reap, not shame, but honour, from his
faithlessness. In Sonnet lxxxviii.:--

    "With mine own weakness being best acquainted,
     Upon thy part I can set down a story
     Of faults concealed wherein I am attainted,
     That thou, in losing me, shalt win much glory."

Sonnet lxxxix. is still more strongly worded:--

    "Thou canst not, love, disgrace me half so ill,
     To set a form upon desirèd change,
     As I'll myself disgrace: knowing thy will,
     I will acquaintance strangle, and look strange;
     Be absent from thy walks; and in my tongue
     Thy sweet-belovèd name no more shall dwell,
     Lest I (too much profane) should do it wrong,
     And haply of our old acquaintance tell.
        For thee, against myself I'll vow debate,
        For I must ne'er love him whom thou dost hate."

We are positively surprised when, in a single passage, in Sonnet lxii.,
we come upon a forcible expression of self-love; but it does not extend
beyond the first half of the Sonnet; in the second half this self-love
is already regarded as a sin, and Shakespeare humbly effaces himself
before his friend. All the more gladly does the reader welcome the few
Sonnets (lv. and lxxxi.) in which the poet confidently predicts the
immortality of these his utterances. It is true that Shakespeare is
here greatly influenced by antiquity and by the fashion of his age;
and it is simply as records of his friend's beauty and amiability that
his verses are to be preserved through all ages to come. But no poet
without a sound and vigorous self-confidence could have written either
these lines in Sonnet lv.:--

    "Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
     Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme"--

or these others in Sonnet lxxxi.:--

    "Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
     Which eyes not yet created shall o'erread;
     And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
     When all the breathers of this world are dead."

Yet, as we see, the first and last thought is always that of the
friend, his beauty, worth, and fame. And as he will live in the
future, so he has lived in the past. Shakespeare cannot conceive
existence without him. In Sonnets which have no direct connection with
each other (lix., cvi., cxxiii.) he returns again and again to that
strange thought of a perpetual cycle or recurrence of events, which
runs through the whole of the world's history, from the Pythagoreans
and Kohélet to Friedrich Nietzsche. In view of such high-pitched
idolatry, we can well understand that the friend's faithlessness, or,
if you will, the mistress's conquest of the friend, and the sudden
severance of the bond in 1601, must have made a deep impression upon
Shakespeare's sensitive soul. The catastrophe left its mark upon him
for many a long day.

And at the same time another and purely personal mortification was
added to his troubles. Shakespeare's name was just then involved in
a degrading scandal of one sort or another. He says so expressly in
Sonnet cxii.:--

    "Your love and pity doth the impression fill
     Which vulgar scandal stamped upon my brow."

He here avers that he cares very little "to know his shames or praises"
from the tongues of others, and that his friend's judgment is all in
all to him; but in Sonnet cxxi., where he goes more closely into the
matter, he confesses that some "frailty" in him has given rise to these
malignant rumours, and we see that for this frailty his "sportive
blood" was to blame. He does not deny the accusation, but asks--

    "Why should others' false adulterate eyes
     Give salutation to my sportive blood?
     Or on my frailties why are frailer spies,
     Which in their wills count bad what I think good?"

The details of this scandal are unknown to us. We can only conclude
that it referred to Shakespeare's alleged relation to some woman, or
implication in some amorous adventure. In discussing this point, Tyler
has aptly cited two passages in contemporary writings, though of course
without absolutely proving that they have any bearing on the matter.
The first is the above-quoted anecdote in John Manningham's Diary for
March 13, 1601 (New Style, 1602), as to Shakespeare's forestalling
Burbadge in the graces of a citizen's wife, and announcing himself as
"William the Conqueror "--an anecdote which seems to have been widely
current at the time, and no doubt arose from more or less recent
events. The second passage occurs in _The Returne from Pernassus_,
dating from December 1601, in which (iv. 3) Burbadge and Kemp are
introduced, and these words are placed in the mouth of Kemp: "O that
_Ben Ionson_ is a pestilent fellow, he brought vp _Horace_ giuing the
Poets a pill, but our fellow _Shakespeare_ hath giuen him a purge
that made him beray his credit." The allusion is evidently to the
feud between Ben Jonson on the one hand and Marston and Dekker on the
other, which culminated in 1601 with the appearance of Ben Jonson's
_Poetaster_, in which Horace serves as the poet's mouthpiece. Dekker
and Marston retorted in the same year with _Satiromastix, or the
Untrussing of the Humorous Poet_. As Shakespeare took no direct part
in this quarrel, we can only conjecture what is meant by the above
allusion. Mr. Richard Simpson has suggested that King William Rufus, in
whose reign the action of _Satiromastix_ takes place, and who "presides
over the untrussing of the humorous poet," may be intended for William
Shakespeare. Rufus, in the play, is by no means a model of chastity,
and carries off Walter Terrill's bride very much as "William the
Conqueror" in Manningham's anecdote carries off "Richard the Third's"
mistress. Simpson thinks it probable that the spectators would have
little difficulty in recognising the William the Conqueror of the
anecdote in the William Rufus of the play, whose nickname, indeed,
might be taken as referring to Shakespeare's complexion. If we accept
this interpretation, we find in _Satiromastix_ a further proof of the
notoriety of the anecdote. Whether it be this scandal or another of the
same kind to which the Sonnets refer, Shakespeare seems to have taken
greatly to heart the besmirching of his name.

It remains that we should glance at the form of the Sonnets and say a
word as to their poetic value.

As regards the form, the first and most obvious remark is that, in
spite of their name, these poems are not in reality sonnets at all, and
have, indeed, nothing in common with the sonnet except their fourteen
lines. In the structure of his so-called Sonnets Shakespeare simply
followed the tradition and convention of his country.

Sir Thomas Wyatt, the leading figure in the earlier English school of
lyrists, travelled in Italy in the year 1527, familiarised himself with
the forms and style of Italian poetry, and introduced the sonnet into
English literature. A somewhat younger poet, Henry, Earl of Surrey,
soon followed in his footsteps; he, too, travelled in Italy, and
cultivated the same poetic models. Not until after the death of both
poets were their sonnets published in the collection known as _Tottel's
Miscellany_ (1557). Neither of the poets succeeded in keeping to the
Petrarchan model--an octave and a sestett. Wyatt, it is true, usually
preserves the octave, but breaks up the sestett and finishes with a
couplet. Surrey departs still more widely from his model's strict and
difficult form: his "Sonnet" consists, like Shakespeare's after him,
of three quatrains and a couplet, the rhymes of which are in nowise
interwoven. Sidney, again, preserved the octave, but broke up the
sestett. Spenser attempted a new rhyme-scheme, interweaving the second
and third quatrain, but keeping to the final couplet. Daniel, who is
Shakespeare's immediate predecessor and master, returns to Surrey's
really formless form. The chief defect in Shakespeare's Sonnets as a
metrical whole consists in the appended couplet, which hardly ever
keeps up to the level of the beginning, hardly ever presents any
picture to the eye, but is, as a rule, merely reflective, and often
brings the burst of feeling which animates the poem to a feeble, or at
any rate more rhetorical than poetic, issue.

In actual poetic value the Sonnets are extremely uneven. The first
group as we have already pointed out (p. 270) stands lowest in the
scale, necessarily expressing but little of the poet's personal feeling.

The last two Sonnets in the collection (cliii. and cliv.), dealing
with a conventional theme borrowed from the antique, are likewise
entirely impersonal. W. Hertzberg, having been put on the track by
Herr von Friesen, in 1878 discovered the Greek original of these two
Sonnets in the ninth book of the Palatine Anthology.[9]. The poem
which Shakespeare has adapted, and in Sonnet cliv. almost translated,
was written by the Byzantine scholar Marianus, probably in the fifth
century after Christ; it was published in Latin, among other epigrams,
at Basle in 1529, was retranslated several times before the end of the
sixteenth century, and must have become known to Shakespeare in one or
other of these different forms.

Next in order stand the Sonnets of merely conventional inspiration,
those in which the eye and heart go to law with each other, or in
which the poet plays upon his own name and his friend's. These cannot
possibly claim any high poetic value.

But the poems thus set apart form but a small minority of the
collection. In all the others the waves of feeling run high, and it
may be said in general that the deeper the sentiment and the stronger
the emotion they express, the more admirable is their force of diction
and their marvellous melody. There are Sonnets whose musical quality
is unsurpassed by any of the songs introduced into the plays, or even
by the most famous and beautiful speeches in the plays themselves.
The free and lax form he had adopted was of evident advantage to
Shakespeare. The triple and quadruple rhymes, which in Italian involve
scarcely any difficulty or constraint, would have proved very hampering
in English. As a matter of fact, Shakespeare has been able to follow
out every inspiration unimpeded by the shackles of an elaborate
rhyme-scheme, and has achieved a rare combination of terseness
and harmony in the expression of sorrow, melancholy, anguish, and
resignation. Nothing can be more melodious than the opening of Sonnet
xl., quoted above, or these lines from Sonnet lxxxvi.:--

    "Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,
     Bound for the prize of all-too-precious you,
     That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,
     Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew?"

And how moving is the earnestness of Sonnet cxvi., on faith in love:--

    "Let me not to the marriage of true minds
     Admit impediments. Love is not love
     Which alters when it alteration finds,
     Or bends with the remover to remove:
     O, no! it is an ever-fixèd mark,
     That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
     It is the star to every wandering bark,
     Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken."

Shakespeare's Sonnets are for the general reader the most inaccessible
of his works, but they are also the most difficult to tear oneself away
from. "With this key Shakespeare unlocked his heart," says Wordsworth;
and some people are repelled from them by the _Menschliches_, or, as
they think, _Allzumenschliches_, which is there revealed. They at
any rate hold Shakespeare diminished by his openness. Browning, for
example, thus retorts upon Wordsworth:--

                    "'With this same key
     Shakespeare unlocked his heart' once more!
     Did Shakespeare? If so, the less Shakespeare he."

The reader who can reconcile himself to the fact that great geniuses
are not necessarily models of correctness will pass a very different
judgment. He will follow with eager interest the experiences which
rent and harrowed Shakespeare's soul. He will rejoice in the insight
afforded by these poems, which the crowd ignores, into the tempestuous
emotional life of one of the greatest of men. Here, and here alone,
we see Shakespeare himself, as distinct from his poetical creations,
loving, admiring, longing, yearning, adoring, disappointed, humiliated,
tortured. Here alone does he enter the confessional. Here more than
anywhere else can we, who at a distance of three centuries do homage to
the poet's art, feel ourselves in intimate communion, not only with the
poet, but with the man.

[1] For instance, in Sonnet xxiii.:--

    "O let my books be then the eloquence
     And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
     Who plead for love, and look for recompense."

And in Sonnet xxvi.:--

    "Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
     Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit.

[2] Ludwig von Scheffler: _Michel Angelo. Eine
Renaissancestudie_, 1892.

[3] "E se io non àrò l'arte del navicare per l'onde del mare
del vostro valoroso ingegno, quello mi scuserà, nè si sdegnierà del
mio disaguagliarsigli, nè desiderrà da me quello che in me non è:
perchè chi è solo in ogni cosa, in cosa alcuna non può aver compagni.
Però la vostra Signoria, luce del secol nostro unica al mondo, non puo
sodisfarsi di opera d'alcuno altro, non avendo pari nè simile à sè,"

[4] "E io non nato, o vero nato morto mi reputerei, e direi in
disgrazia del cielo e della terra, se per la vostra non avessi visto e
creduto vostra Signoria accettare volentieri alcune delle opere mie."
"Avete data la copia de' sopradetti Madrigali a messer Tomaso ... che
se m'uscissi della mente, credo che súbito cascherei morto."


    "Accio ch'i' abbi, e non già per mie merto,
     desiato mio dolce signiore
     Per sempre nell' indegnie e pronte braccia."

[6] This line, however, is obviously suggested by the famous passage in
_Macbeth_ (Act v.)--

    "My way of life
     Is fall'n into the sere, the yellow leaf."

[7] Several passages in the Sonnets suggest that Pembroke must have
conferred substantial gifts upon Shakespeare--for example, that
expression "wealth" in Sonnet xxxvii., "your bounty" in Sonnet liii.,
and "your own dear-purchased right" in Sonnet cxvii.

[8] "Anzi posso prima dimenticare il cibo di ch'io vivo, che nutrisce
solo il corpo infelicemente, che il nome vostro, che nutrisce il corpo
e l'anima, riempiendo l'uno e l'altro di tanta dolcezza, che nè noia nè
timor di morte, mentre la memoria mi vi serba, posso sentire."

[9] _Jahrbuch der deutschen Shakespeare-Gesellschaft_, Band xiii. S.



It is afternoon, a little before three o'clock. Whole fleets of
wherries are crossing the Thames, picking their way among the swans
and the other boats, to land their passengers on the south bank of
the river. Skiff after skiff puts forth from the Blackfriars stair,
full of theatre-goers who have delayed a little too long over their
dinner and are afraid of being too late; for the flag waving over the
Globe Theatre announces that there is a play to-day. The bills upon
the street-posts have informed the public that Shakespeare's _Julius
Cæsar_ is to be presented, and the play draws a full house. People
pay their sixpences and enter; the balconies and the pit are filled.
Distinguished and specially favoured spectators take their seats on the
stage behind the curtain. Then sound the first, the second, and the
third trumpet-blasts, the curtain parts in the middle, and reveals a
stage entirely hung with black.

Enter the tribunes Flavius and Marullus; they scold the rabble and
drive them home because they are loafing about on a week-day without
their working-clothes and tools--in contravention of a London police
regulation which the public finds so natural that they (and the poet)
can conceive it as in force in ancient Rome. At first the audience is
somewhat restless. The groundlings talk in undertones as they light
their pipes. But the Second Citizen speaks the name of Cæsar. There are
cries of "Hush! hush!" and the progress of the play is followed with
eager attention.

It was received with applause, and soon became very popular. Of this
we have contemporary evidence. Leonard Digges, in the poem quoted
above (p. 233), vaunts its scenic attractiveness at the expense of Ben
Jonson's Roman plays:--

    "So have I seene, when Cesar would appeare,
     And on the Stage at halfe-sword parley were
     _Brutus and Cassius_: oh how the Audience
     Were ravish'd, with what new wonder they went thence,
     When some new day they would not brooke a line
     Of tedious (though well laboured) _Catiline_."

The learned rejoiced in the breath of air from ancient Rome which met
them in these scenes, and the populace was entertained and fascinated
by the striking events and heroic characters of the drama. A quatrain
in John Weever's _Mirror of Martyrs, or The Life and Death of Sir Iohn
Oldcastle Knight, Lord Cobham,_ tells how

    "The many-headed multitude were drawne
     By _Brutus_ speech, that _Cæsar_ was ambitious,
     When eloquent _Mark Antonie_ had showne
     His vertues, who but _Brutus_ then was vicious?"

There were, indeed, numerous plays on the subject of Julius Cæsar--they
are mentioned in Gosson's _Schoole of Abuse_, 1579, in _The Third Blast
of Retraite from Plaies_, 1580, in Henslowe's Diary, 1594 and 1602, in
_The Mirrour of Policie_, 1598, &c.--but Weever's words do not apply
to any of those which have come down to us. It can therefore scarcely
be doubted that they refer to Shakespeare's drama; and as the poem
appeared in 1601, it affords us almost decisive evidence as to the date
of _Julius Cæsar_. In all probability, it was in the same year that the
play was written and produced. Weever, indeed, says in his dedication
that his poem was "some two yeares agoe made fit for print;" but even
if this be true, the lines above quoted may quite well have been
inserted later. There are several reasons for believing that _Julius
Cæsar_ can scarcely have been produced earlier than 1601. The years
1599 and 1600 are already so full of work that we can scarcely assign
to them this great tragedy as well; and internal evidence indicates
that the play must have been written about the same time as _Hamlet,_
to which its style offers so many striking resemblances.

The immediate success of the play is proved by this fact, among
others, that it at once called forth a rival production on the same
theme. Henslow notes in his diary that in May 1602, on behalf of Lord
Nottingham's company, he paid five pounds for a drama called _Cæsar's
Fall_ to the poets Munday, Drayton, Webster, Middleton, and another.
It was evidently written to order. And as _Julius Cæsar_, in its
novelty, was unusually successful, so, too, we find it still reckoned
one of Shakespeare's greatest and profoundest plays, unlike the English
"Histories" in standing alone and self-sufficient, characteristically
composed, forming a rounded whole in spite of its apparent scission
at the death of Cæsar, and exhibiting a remarkable insight into Roman
character and the life of antiquity.

What attracted Shakespeare to this theme? And, first and foremost, what
_is_ the theme? The play is called _Julius Cæsar_, but it was obviously
not Cæsar himself that attracted Shakespeare. The true hero of the
piece is Brutus; he it is who has aroused the poet's fullest interest.
We must explain to ourselves the why and wherefore.

The answer is to be found in the point of time at which the play
was written. It was that eventful year when Shakespeare's earliest
friends among the great, Essex and Southampton, had set on foot their
foolhardy conspiracy against Elizabeth, and when their attempted
insurrection had ended in the death of the one, the imprisonment of
the other. He had seen how proud and nobly-disposed characters might
easily be seduced into political error, and tempted to rebellion, on
the plea of independence. It is true that there was little enough
resemblance of detail between the mere palace-revolution designed
by Essex, which should free him from his subjection to the Queen's
incalculable caprices, and the attempt of the Roman patricians to
liberate an aristocratic republic, by assassination, from the yoke of
a newly-founded despotism. The point of resemblance lay in the mere
fact of the imprudent and ill-starred attempt to effect a subversion of
public order.

Add to this the fact that Shakespeare, in the present stage of his
career, displays a certain preference for characters who, in spite of
noble qualities, have fortune against them and are unable to bring
their projects to a successful issue. While he himself was still
fighting for his position, Henry V., the man of practical genius,
the born victor and conqueror, had been his ideal; now that he stood
on firm ground, and was soon to reach the height of his reputation,
he seems to have turned with a sort of melancholy predilection to
characters like Brutus and Hamlet, who, in spite of the highest
endowments, proved unequal to the tasks proposed to them.[1]. They
appealed to him as profound dreamers and high-minded idealists. He
found something of their nature, too, in his own.

A good score of years earlier, in 1579, North's version of Plutarch's
parallel biographies had been published, not translated from the
original, but from the French translation of Amyot. In this book
Shakespeare found his material.

His method of using this material differs considerably from his
treatment of his other authorities. From a chronicler like Holinshed
he, as a rule, takes nothing but the course of events, the outline
of the leading personages and such anecdotes as suit his purpose.
From novelists like Bandello or Cinthio he takes the main lines of
the action, but relies almost entirely on his own invention for the
characters and the dialogue. From the earlier plays, which he adapts
or re-casts, such as _The Taming of a Shrew, King John, The Famous
Victories_ of Henry V., and _King Leir_ (the original _Hamlet_ is
unfortunately not preserved), he transfers into his own work every
scene and speech that is worth anything; but in the cases in which
we can make the comparison, there is little enough that he finds
available. Here, on the other hand, we find a curious and instructive
example of his method of work when he most faithfully followed his
original. We realise that the more developed the art and the more
competent the psychology of the writer before him, the more closely did
Shakespeare tread in his footsteps.

Here for the first time he found himself in touch with a wholly
civilised spirit--not seldom childlike in his antique simplicity, but
still no mean artist. Jean Paul, with some exaggeration, yet not quite
extravagantly, has called Plutarch the biographical Shakespeare of

The whole drama of _Julius Cæsar_ may be read in Plutarch. Shakespeare
had before him three Lives--those of Cæsar, Brutus, and Mark Antony.
Read them consecutively, and you find in them every detail of _Julius

Let us take some examples from the first act of the play. It begins
with the tribunes' jealousy of the favour in which Cæsar stands with
the common people; and everything down to the minutest trait is taken
from Plutarch. The same with what follows: Mark Antony's repeated offer
of the crown to Cæsar at the feast of the Lupercal, and his unwilling
refusal of it. So too with Cæsar's suspicions of Cassius; Cæsar's
speech on his second entrance--

    "Let me have men about me that are fat,
     Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o' nights:
     Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
     He thinks too much; such men are dangerous,"--

occurs word for word in Plutarch; the anecdote, indeed, made such an
impression on him that he has repeated it three times in different
Lives. We find, furthermore, in the Greek historian, how Cassius
gradually involves Brutus in the conspiracy; how papers exhorting
Brutus to action are thrown into his house; the deliberations as to
whether Antony is to die along with Cæsar, and Brutus's mistaken
judgment of Antony's character; Portia's complaint at being excluded
from her husband's confidence; the proof of courage which she gives
by plunging a knife into her thigh; all the omens and prodigies that
precede the murder; the sacrificial ox without a heart; the fiery
warriors fighting in the clouds; Calphurnia's warning dream; Cæsar's
determination not to go to the Senate on the Ides of March; Decius
[Decimus] Brutus's endeavour to change his purpose; the fruitless
efforts of Artemidorus to restrain him from facing the danger, etc.,
etc. It is all in Plutarch, point for point.

Here and there we find small and subtle divergences from the original,
which may be traced now to Shakespeare's temperament, now to his
view of life, and again to his design in the play. Plutarch, for
example, has not Shakespeare's contempt for the populace, and does not
make them so senselessly fickle. Then, again, he gives no hint for
Brutus's soliloquy before taking the final resolution (II. I). For
the rest, wherever it is possible, Shakespeare employs the very words
of North's translation. Nay, more, he accepts the characters, such as
Brutus, Portia, Cassius, just as they stand in Plutarch. His Brutus is
absolutely the same as Plutarch's; his Cassius is a man of somewhat
deeper character.

In dealing with the great figure of Cæsar, which gives the play
its name, Shakespeare follows faithfully the detached, anecdotic
indications of Plutarch; but he, strangely enough, seems altogether
to miss the remarkable impression we receive from Plutarch of Cæsar's
character, which, for the rest, the Greek historian himself was not
in a position fully to understand. We must not forget the fact, of
which Shakespeare of course knew nothing, that Plutarch, who was born
a century after Cæsar's death, at a time when the independence of
Greece was only a memory, and the once glorious Hellas was part of a
Roman province, wrote his comparative biographies to remind haughty
Rome that Greece had a great man to oppose to each of her greatest
sons. Plutarch was saturated with the thought that conquered Greece was
Rome's lord and master in every department of the intellectual life.
He delivered Greek lectures in Rome and could not speak Latin, while
every Roman spoke Greek to him and understood it as well as his native
tongue. Significantly enough, Roman literature and poetry do not exist
for Plutarch, though he incessantly cites Greek authors and poets. He
never mentions Virgil or Ovid. He wrote about his great Romans as an
enlightened and unprejudiced Pole might in our days write about great
Russians. He, in whose eyes the old republics shone transfigured, was
not specially fitted to appreciate Cæsar's greatness.

Shakespeare, having so arranged his drama that Brutus should be
its tragic hero, had to concentrate his art on placing him in the
foreground, and making him fill the scene. The difficulty was not
to let his lack of political insight (in the case of Antony), or
of practical sense (in his quarrel with Cassius), detract from the
impression of his superiority. He had to be the centre and pivot
of everything, and therefore Cæsar was diminished and belittled to
such a degree, unfortunately, that this matchless genius in war and
statesmanship has become a miserable caricature.

We find in other places clear indications that Shakespeare knew very
well what this man was and was worth. Edward's young son, in _Richard
III_., speaks with enthusiasm of Cæsar as that conqueror whom death has
not conquered; Horatio, in the almost contemporary _Hamlet_, speaks
of "mightiest Julius" and his death; and Cleopatra, in _Antony and
Cleopatra_, is proud of having been the mistress of Cæsar. It is true
that in _As You Like It_ the playful Rosalind uses the expression,
"Cæsar's thrasonical brag," with reference to the famous _Veni, vidi,
vici,_ but in an entirely jocose context and acceptation.

But here! here Cæsar has become in effect no little of a braggart,
and is compounded, on the whole, of anything but attractive
characteristics. He produces the impression of an invalid. His
liability to the "falling sickness," is emphasised. He is deaf of one
ear. He has no longer his old strength. He faints when the crown is
offered to him. He envies Cassius because he is a stronger swimmer.
He is as superstitious as an old woman. He rejoices in flattery,
talks pompously and arrogantly, boasts of his firmness and is for
ever wavering. He acts incautiously and unintelligently, and does not
realise what threatens him, while every one else sees it clearly.

Shakespeare dared not, says Gervinus, arouse too great interest in
Cæsar; he had to throw into relief everything about him that could
account for the conspiracy; and, moreover, he had Plutarch's distinct
statement that Cæsar's character had greatly deteriorated shortly
before his death. Hudson practically agrees with this, holding that
Shakespeare wished to present Cæsar as he appeared in the eyes of the
conspirators, so that "they too might have fair and equal judgment at
our hands;" admitting, for the rest, that "Cæsar was literally too
great to be seen by them," and that "Cæsar is far from being himself
in these scenes; hardly one of the speeches put in his mouth can be
regarded as historically characteristic." Thus Hudson arrives at the
astonishing result that "there is an undertone of irony at work in the
ordering and tempering of this composition," explaining that, "when
such a shallow idealist as Brutus is made to overtop and outshine the
greatest practical genius the world ever saw," we are bound to assume
that the intention is ironical.

This is the emptiest cobweb-spinning. There is no trace of irony in
the representation of Brutus. Nor can we fall back upon the argument
that Cæsar, after his death, becomes the chief personage of the drama,
and as a corpse, as a memory, as a spirit, strikes down his murderers.
How can so small a man cast so great a shadow! Shakespeare, of course,
intended to show Cæsar as triumphing after his death. He has changed
Brutus's evil genius, which appears to him in the camp and at Philippi,
into Cæsar's ghost; but this ghost is not sufficient to rehabilitate
Cæsar in our estimation.

Nor is it true that Cæsar's greatness would have impaired the unity
of the piece. Its poetic value, on the contrary, suffers from his
pettiness. The play might have been immeasurably richer and deeper than
it is, had Shakespeare been inspired by a feeling of Cæsar's greatness.

Elsewhere in Shakespeare one marvels at what he has made out of poor
and meagre material. Here, history was so enormously rich, that his
poetry has become poor and meagre in comparison with it.

Just as Shakespeare (if the portions of the first part of _Henry VI_.
which deal with La Pucelle are by him) represented Jeanne d'Arc with
no sense for the lofty and simple poetry that breathed around her
figure--national prejudice and old superstition blinding him--so he
approached the characterisation of Cæsar with far too light a heart,
and with imperfect knowledge and care. As he had made Jeanne d'Arc a
witch, so he makes Cæsar a braggart. Cæsar!

If, like the schoolboys of later generations, he had been given Cæsar's
_Gallic War_ to read in his childhood, this would not have been
possible to him. Is it conceivable that, in what he had heard about
the Commentaries, he had naïvely seized upon and misinterpreted the
fact that Cæsar always speaks of himself in the third person, and calls
himself by his name?

Let us compare for a moment this posing self-worshipper of
Shakespeare's with the picture of Cæsar which the poet might easily
have formed from his Plutarch alone, thus explaining Cæsar's rise to
the height of autocracy on which he stands at the beginning of the
play, and at the same time the gradual piling up of the hatred to which
he succumbed. On the very second page of the life of Cæsar he must have
read the anecdote of how Cæsar, when quite a young man, on his way back
from Bithynia, was taken prisoner by Cilician pirates. They demanded a
ransom of twenty talents (about £4000). He answered that they clearly
did not know who their prisoner was, promised them fifty talents, sent
his attendants to different towns to raise this sum, and remained with
only a friend and two servants among these notoriously bloodthirsty
bandits. He displayed the greatest contempt for them, and freely
ordered them about; he made them keep perfectly quiet when he wanted
to sleep; for the thirty-eight days he remained among them he treated
them as a prince might his bodyguard. He went through his gymnastic
exercises, and wrote poems and orations in the fullest security. He
often assured them that he would certainly have them hanged, or rather
crucified. When the ransom arrived from Miletus, the first use he made
of his liberty was to fit out some ships, attack the pirates, take them
all prisoners, and seize upon their booty. Then he carried them before
the Prætor of Asia, Junius, whose business it was to punish them.
Junius, out of avarice, replied that he would take time to reflect
what should be done with the prisoners; whereupon Cæsar returned to
Pergamos, where he had left them in prison, and kept his word by having
them all crucified.

What has become of this masterfulness, this grace, and this iron will,
in Shakespeare's Cæsar?

                   "I fear him not:
     Yet if my name were liable to fear,
     I do not know the man I should avoid
     So soon as that spare Cassius.
      .    .    .    .    .    .
     I rather tell thee what is to be fear'd
     Than what I fear, for always I am Cæsar."

It is well that he himself makes haste to say so, otherwise one would
scarcely believe it. And does one believe it, after all?

As Shakespeare conceives the situation, the Republic which Cæsar
overthrew might have continued to exist but for him, and it was a
criminal act on his part to destroy it.

But the old aristocratic Republic had already fallen to pieces when
Cæsar welded its fragments into a new monarchy. Sheer lawlessness
reigned in Rome. The populace was such as even the rabble of our
own great cities can give no conception of: not the brainless mob,
for the most part tame, only now and then going wild through mere
stupidity, which in Shakespeare listens to the orations over Cæsar's
body and tears Cinna to pieces; but a populace whose innumerable hordes
consisted mainly of slaves, together with the thousands of foreigners
from all the three continents, Phrygians from Asia, Negroes from
Africa, Iberians and Celts from Spain and France, who flocked together
in the capital of the world. To the immense bands of house-slaves
and field-slaves, there were added thousands of runaway slaves who
had committed theft or murder at home, lived by robbery on the way,
and now lay hid in the purlieus of the city. But besides foreigners
with no means of support and slaves without bread, there were swarms
of freedmen, entirely corrupted by their servile condition, for whom
freedom, whether combined with helpless poverty or with new-made
riches, meant only the freedom to do harm. Then there were troops of
gladiators, as indifferent to the lives of others as to their own,
and entirely at the beck and call of whoever would pay them. It was
from ruffians of this class that a man like Clodius had recruited
the armed gangs who surrounded him, divided like regular soldiers
into decuries and centuries under duly appointed commanders. These
bands fought battles in the Forum with other bands of gladiators or
of herdsmen from the wild regions of Picenum or Lombardy, whom the
Senate imported for its own protection. There was practically no
street police or fire-brigade. When public disasters happened, such
as floods or conflagrations, people regarded them as portents and
consulted the augurs. The magistrates were no longer obeyed; consuls
and tribunes were attacked, and sometimes even killed. In the Senate
the orators covered each other with abuse, in the Forum they spat in
each other's faces. Regular battles took place on the Campus Martius
at every election, and no man of position ever appeared in the streets
without a bodyguard of gladiators and slaves. "If we try to conceive
to ourselves," wrote Mommsen in 1857, "a London with the slave
population of New Orleans, with the police of Constantinople, with the
non-industrial character of the modern Rome, and agitated by politics
after the fashion of the Paris of 1848, we shall acquire an approximate
idea of the republican glory, the departure of which Cicero and his
associates in their sulky letters deplore."[2]

Compare with this picture Shakespeare's conception of an ambitious
Cæsar striving to introduce monarchy into a well-ordered republican

What enchanted every one, even his enemies, who came in contact
with Cæsar, was his good-breeding, his politeness, the charm of his
personality. These characteristics made a doubly strong impression upon
those who, like Cicero, were accustomed to the arrogance and coarseness
of Pompey, so-called the Great. However busy he might be, Cæsar had
always time to think of his friends and to jest with them. His letters
are gay and amiable. In Shakespeare, when he is not familiar, he is

For the space of twenty-five years, Cæsar, as a politician, had by
every means in his power opposed the aristocratic party in Rome. He had
early resolved to make himself, without the employment of force, the
master of the then known world, assured as he was that the Republic
would fall to pieces of its own accord. Not until his prætorship in
Spain had he displayed ability as a soldier and administrator outside
the every-day round of political life. Then suddenly, when everything
seems to be prospering with him, he breaks away from it all, leaves
Rome, and passes into Gaul. At the age of forty-four, he enters upon
his military career, and becomes perhaps the greatest commander known
to history, an unrivalled conqueror and organiser, revealing, in middle
life, a whole host of unsuspected and admirable qualities. Shakespeare
conveys no idea of the wealth and many-sidedness of his gifts. He makes
him belaud himself with unceasing solemnity (II. 2):--

    "Cæsar shall forth: the things that threaten'd me
     Ne'er look'd but on my back; when they shall see
     The face of Cæsar, they are vanishèd."

Cæsar had nothing of the stolid pomposity and severity which
Shakespeare attributes to him. He united the rapid decision of the
general with the man of the world's elegance and lofty indifference to
trifles. He liked his soldiers to wear glittering weapons and to adorn
themselves. "What does it matter," he said, "though they use perfumes?
They fight none the worse for that." And soldiers who under other
leaders did not surpass the average became invincible under him.

He, who in Rome had been the glass of fashion, was so careless of his
comfort in the field that he often slept under the open sky, and ate
rancid oil without so much as a grimace; but richly-decked tables
always stood in his tents, and all the golden youth, for whom Gaul was
at that time what America became in the days of the first discoverers,
made their way from Rome to his camp. It was the most wonderful camp
ever seen, crowded with men of elegance and learning, young writers and
poets, wits and thinkers, who, in the midst of the greatest and most
imminent dangers, busied themselves with literature, and sent regular
reports of their meetings and conversations to Cicero, the acknowledged
arbiter of the literary world of Rome. During the brief space of
Cæsar's expedition into Britain, he writes two letters to Cicero.
Their relation, in its different phases, in some ways reminds us of
the relation between Frederick the Great and Voltaire. What a paltry
picture does Shakespeare draw of Cicero as a mere pedant!--

    "_Cassius_. Did Cicero say anything?

    "_Casca_. Ay, he spoke Greek.

    "_Cassius_. To what effect?

    "_Casca_. Nay, an I tell you that, I'll ne'er look you in
    the face again: but those that understood him smiled at one
    another, and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it
    was Greek to me."

Amid labours of every sort, his life always in danger, incessantly
fighting with warlike enemies, whom he beats in battle after battle,
Cæsar writes his grammatical works and his Commentaries. His dedication
to Cicero of his work _De Analogia_ is a homage to literature no less
than to him: "You have discovered all the treasures of eloquence and
been the first to employ them.... You have achieved the crown of all
honours, a triumph the greatest generals may envy; for it is a nobler
thing to remove the barriers of the intellectual life than to extend
the boundaries of the Empire." These are the words of the man who has
just beaten the Helvetii, conquered France and Belgium, made the first
expedition into Britain, and so effectually repelled the German hordes
that they were for long innocuous to the Rome which they had threatened
with destruction.

How little does this Cæsar resemble the pompous and highflown puppet of

                "Danger knows full well
     That Cæsar is more dangerous than he.
     We are two lions litter'd in one day,
     And I the elder and more terrible."

Cæsar could be cruel at times. In his wars, he never shrank from taking
such revenges as should strike terror into his enemies. He had the
whole senate of the Veneti beheaded. He cut the right hand off every
one who had borne arms against him at Uxellodunum. He kept the gallant
Vercingetorix five years in prison, only to exhibit him in chains at
his triumph and then to have him executed.

Yet, where severity was unnecessary, he was tolerance and mildness
itself. Cicero, during the civil war, went over to the camp of Pompey,
and after the defeat of that party sought and received forgiveness.
When he afterwards wrote a book in honour of Cæsar's mortal enemy Cato,
who killed himself so as not to have to obey the dictator, and thereby
became the hero of all the republicans, Cæsar wrote to Cicero: "In
reading your book, I feel as though I myself had become more eloquent."
And yet in his eyes Cato was only an uncultured personage and a fanatic
for an obsolete order of things. When a slave, out of tenderness for
his master, refused to hand Cato his sword wherewith to kill himself,
Cato gave him such a furious blow in the face that his hand was dyed
with blood. Such a trait must have spoiled for Cæsar the impressiveness
of this suicide.

Cæsar was not content with forgiving almost all who had borne arms
against him at Pharsalia; he gave many of them, and among the rest
Brutus and Cassius, an ample share of his power. He tried to protect
Brutus before the battle and heaped honours upon him after it. Again
and again Brutus came forward in opposition to Cæsar, and even, in
his conscientious quixotism, took part against him with Pompey,
although Pompey had had his father assassinated. Cæsar forgave him
this and everything else; he was never tired of forgiving him. He
had, it appears, transferred to Brutus the love of his youth for
Brutus's mother Servilia, Cato's sister, who had been passionately and
faithfully devoted to Cæsar. Voltaire, in his _Mort de César_, makes
Cæsar hand to Brutus a letter just received from the dying Servilia,
in which she begs Cæsar to watch well over their son. Plutarch relates
that on one occasion, at the time of Catiline's conspiracy, a letter
was brought to Cæsar in the Senate. Cato, seeing him rise and go
apart to read it, gave open utterance to the suspicion that it was a
missive from the conspirators. Cæsar laughingly handed him the letter,
which contained declarations of love from his sister; whereupon Cato,
enraged, burst out with the epithet "Drunkard!"--the direst term of
abuse a Roman could employ. (Ben Jonson has introduced this anecdote in
his _Catiline_, v. 6.)

Brutus inherited his uncle Cato's hatred for Cæsar. A certain brutality
was united with a noble stoicism in these two last Roman republicans
of the time of the Republic's downfall. The rawness of antique Rome
survived in Cato's nature, and Brutus, in his conduct towards the
towns of the Asiatic provinces, was nothing but a bloodthirsty usurer,
who, in the name of a man of straw (Scaptius) extorted from them his
exorbitant interests with threats of fire and sword. He had lent to
the inhabitants of the town of Salamis a sum of money at 48 per cent.
On their failure to pay, he kept their Senate so closely besieged by a
squadron of cavalry that five senators died of starvation. Shakespeare,
in his ignorance, attributes no such vices to Brutus, but makes him
simple and great, at Cæsar's expense.

Cæsar as opposed to Cato--and afterwards as opposed to Brutus--is
the many-sided genius who loves life and action and power, in
contradistinction to the narrow Puritan who hates such emancipated
spirits, partly on principle, partly from instinct.

What a strange misunderstanding that Shakespeare--himself a lover
of beauty, intent on a life of activity, enjoyment, and satisfied
ambition, who always stood to Puritanism in the same hostile relation
in which Cæsar stood--should out of ignorance take the side of
Puritanism in this case, and so disqualify himself from extracting from
the rich mine of Cæsar's character all the gold contained in it. In
Shakespeare's Cæsar we find nothing of the magnanimity and sincerity
of the real man. He never assumed a hypocritical reverence towards the
past, not even on questions of grammar. He grasped at power and seized
it, but did not, as in Shakespeare, pretend to reject it. Shakespeare
has let him keep the pride which he in fact displayed, but has made it
unbeautiful, and eked it out with hypocrisy.

This further trait, too, in Cæsar's character Shakespeare has failed
to understand. When at last, after having conquered on every side,
in Africa as in Asia, in Spain as in Egypt, he held in his hands
the sovereign power which had been the object of his twenty years'
struggle, it had lost its attraction for him. Knowing that he was
misunderstood and hated by those whose respect he prized the most,
he found himself compelled to make use of men whom he despised, and
contempt for humanity took possession of his mind. He saw nothing
around him but greed and treachery. Power had lost all its sweetness
for him, life itself was no longer worth living, worth preserving.
Hence his answer when he was besought to take measures against his
would-be assassins: "Rather die once than tremble always!" and he went
to the Senate on the 15th of March without arms and without a guard. In
the tragedy, the motives which ultimately lure him thither are the hope
of a title and a crown, and the fear of being esteemed a coward.

Those foolish persons who attribute Shakespeare's works to Francis
Bacon argue, amongst other things, that such an insight into Roman
antiquity as is manifested in _Julius Cæsar_ could be attained by no
one who did not possess Bacon's learning. On the contrary, this play
is obviously written by a man whose learning was in no sense on a
level with his genius, so that its faults, no less than its merits,
afford a proof, however superfluous, that Shakespeare himself was the
author of Shakespeare's works. Bunglers in criticism never realise to
what an extent genius can supply the place of book-learning, and how
vastly greater is its importance. But, on the other hand, one is bound
to declare unequivocally that there are certain domains in which no
amount of genius can compensate for reconstructive insight and study
of recorded fact, and where even the greatest genius falls short when
it tries to create out of its own head, or upon a scanty basis of

Such a domain is that of historical drama, when it deals with periods
and personalities in regard to which recorded fact surpasses all
possible imagination. Where history is stranger and more poetic than
any poetry, more tragic than any antique tragedy, there the poet
requires many-sided insight in order to rise to the occasion. It was
because of Shakespeare's lack of historical and classical culture that
the incomparable grandeur of the figure of Cæsar left him unmoved. He
depressed and debased that figure to make room for the development
of the central character in his drama--to wit, Marcus Brutus, whom,
following Plutarch's idealising example, he depicted as a stoic of
almost flawless nobility.

[1] Compare Dowden, _Shakspere_, p. 280.

[2] Mommsen, _History of Rome_, translated by W. P. Dickson, ed. 1894,
vol. v. p. 371. Gaston Boissier, _Cicéron et ses Amis_, p. 224



None but a naïve republican like Swinburne can believe that it was by
reason of any republican enthusiasm in Shakespeare's soul that Brutus
became the leading character. He had assuredly no systematic political
conviction, and manifests at other times the most loyal and monarchical
habit of mind.

Brutus was already in Plutarch the protagonist of the Cæsar tragedy,
and Shakespeare followed the course of history as represented by
Plutarch, under the deep impression that an impolitic revolt, like
that of Essex and his companions, can by no means stem the current
of the time, and that practical errors revenge themselves quite as
severely as moral sins--nay, much more so. The psychologist was now
awakened in him, and he found it a fascinating task to analyse and
present a man who finds a mission imposed upon him for which he is by
nature unfitted. It is no longer outward conflicts like that in _Romeo
and Juliet_ between the lovers and their surroundings, or in _Richard
III._, between Richard and the world at large, that fascinate him in
this new stage of his development, but the inner processes and crises
of the spiritual life.

Brutus has lived among his books and fed his mind upon Platonic
philosophy; therefore he is more occupied with the abstract political
idea of republican freedom, and the abstract moral conception of the
shame of enduring a despotism, than with the actual political facts
before his eyes, or the meaning of the changes which are going on
around him. This man is vehemently urged by Cassius to place himself at
the head of a conspiracy against his fatherly benefactor and friend.
The demand throws his whole nature into a ferment, disturbs its
harmony, and brings it for ever out of equilibrium.

On Hamlet also, who is at the same time springing to life in
Shakespeare's mind, the spirit of his murdered father imposes the duty
of becoming an assassin, and the claim acts as a stimulus, a spur to
his intellectual faculties, but as a solvent to his character; so
close is the resemblance between the situation of Brutus, with his
conflicting duties, and the inward strife which we are soon to find in

Brutus is at war with himself, and therefore forgets to show others
attention and the outward signs of friendship. His comrades summon him
to action, but he hears no answering summons from within. As Hamlet
breaks out into the well known words:--

    "The time is out of joint:--O, cursed spite
     That ever I was born to set it right!"

so also Brutus shrinks with horror from his task. He says (I. 2):--

    "Brutus had rather be a villager
     Than to repute himself a son of Rome
     Under these hard conditions as this time
     Is like to lay upon us."

His noble nature is racked by these doubts and uncertainties.

From the moment Cassius has spoken to him, he is sleepless. The rugged
Macbeth becomes sleepless after he has killed the King--"Macbeth has
murdered sleep." Brutus, with his delicate, reflective nature, bent
on obeying only the dictates of duty, is calm after the murder, but
sleepless before it. His preoccupation with the idea has altered
his whole manner of being; his wife does not know him again. She
tells how he can neither converse nor sleep, but strides up and down
with his arms folded, sighing and lost in thought, does not answer
her questions, and, when she repeats them, waves her off with rough

It is not only his gratitude to Cæsar that keeps Brutus in torment;
it is especially his uncertainty as to what Cæsar's intentions really
are. Brutus sees him, indeed, idolised by the people and endowed
with supreme power; but as yet Cæsar has never abused it. He concurs
with Cassius's view that when Cæsar declined the crown he in reality
hankered after it; but, after all, they have nothing to go upon but his
supposed desire:--

                    "To speak truth of Cæsar,
    I have not known when his affections sway'd
    More than his reason. But 'tis a common proof
    That lowliness is young ambition's ladder."

If Cæsar is to be slain, then, it is not for what he has done, but for
what he may do in the future. Is it permissible to commit a murder upon
such grounds?

In Hamlet we find this variant of the difficulty: Is it certain that
the king murdered Hamlet's father? May not the ghost have been a
hallucination, or the devil himself?

Brutus feels the weakness of his basis of action the more clearly
the more he leans towards the murder as a political duty. And
Shakespeare has not hesitated to attribute to him, high-minded as he
is, that doctrine of expediency, so questionable in the eyes of many,
which declares that a necessary end sanctifies impure means. Two
separate times, once when he is by himself, and once in addressing the
conspirators, he recommends political hypocrisy as judicious and
serviceable. In the soliloquy he says (II. I):--

                 "And, since the quarrel
     Will bear no colour for the thing he is,
     Fashion it thus: that what he is, augmented,
     Would run to these and these extremities."

To the conspirators his words are:--

    "And let our hearts, as subtle masters do,
     Stir up their servants to an act of rage,
     And after seem to chide 'em."

That is to say, the murder is to be carried out with as much decency as
possible, and the murderers are afterwards to pretend that they deplore

As soon as the murder is resolved upon, however, Brutus, assured of
the purity of his motives, stands proud and almost unconcerned in the
midst of the conspirators. Far too unconcerned, indeed; for though he
has not shrunk in principle from the doctrine that one cannot will the
end without willing the means, he yet shrinks, upright and unpractical
as he is, from employing means which seem to him either too base or too
unscrupulous. He will not even suffer the conspirators to be bound by
oath: "Swear priests and cowards and men cautelous." They are to trust
each other without the assurance of an oath, and to keep their secret
unsworn. And when it is proposed that Antony shall be killed along with
Cæsar, a necessary step, to which, as a politician, he was bound to
consent, he rejects it, in Shakespeare as in Plutarch, out of humanity:
"Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius." He feels that his
will is as clear as day, and suffers at the thought of employing the
methods of night and darkness:

                        "O Conspiracy!
    Sham'st thou to show thy dangerous brow by night,
    When evils are most free? O, then, by day
    Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough
    To mask thy monstrous visage?"

Brutus is anxious that a cause which is to be furthered by
assassination should achieve success without secrecy and without
violence. Goethe has said: "Only the man of reflection has a
conscience." The man of action cannot have one while he is acting. To
plunge into action is to place oneself at the mercy of one's nature
and of external powers. One acts rightly or wrongly, but always upon
instinct--often stupidly, sometimes, it may be, brilliantly, never with
full consciousness. Action implies the in considerateness of instinct,
or egoism, or genius; Brutus, on the other hand, is bent on acting with
every consideration.

Kreyssig, and after him Dowden, have called Brutus a Girondin, in
opposition to his brother-in-law, Cassius, a sort of Jacobin in antique
dress. The comparison is just only in regard to the lesser or greater
inclination to the employment of violent means; it halts when we
reflect that Brutus lives in the rarefied air of abstractions, face to
face with ideas and principles, while Cassius lives in the world of
facts; for the Jacobins were quite as stiff-necked theorists as any
Girondin. Brutus, in Shakespeare, is a strict moralist, excessively
cautious lest any stain should mar the purity of his character, while
Cassius does not in the least aspire to moral flawlessness. He is
frankly envious of Cæsar, and openly avows that he hates him; yet
he is not base; for envy and hatred are in his case swallowed up by
political passion, strenuous and consistent. And, unlike Brutus, he
is a good observer, looking right through men's words and actions
into their souls. But as Brutus is the man whose name, birth, and
position as Cæsar's intimate friend, point him out to be the head
of the conspiracy, he is always able to enforce his impolitic and
short-sighted will.

When we find that Hamlet, who is so full of doubts, never for a moment
doubts his right to kill the king, we must remember that Shakespeare
had just exhausted this theme in his characterisation of Brutus.

Brutus is the ideal whom Shakespeare, like all men of the better sort,
cherished in his soul--the man whose pride it is before everything to
keep his hands clean and his mind high and free, even at the cost of
failure in his undertakings and the wreck of his tranquillity and of
his fortunes.

He does not care to impose an oath upon the others; he is too proud.
If they want to betray him, let them! These others, it is true, may
be moved by their hatred of the great man, and eager to quench their
malice in his blood; he, for his part, admires him, and will sacrifice,
not butcher him. The others fear the consequences of suffering Antony
to address the people; but Brutus has explained to the people his
reasons for the murder, so Antony may now eulogise Cæsar as much as
he pleases. Did not Cæsar deserve eulogy? Does not he himself desire
that Cæsar shall lie honoured, though punished, in his grave? He is too
proud to keep a watch upon Antony, who has approached him in friendly
fashion, though at the same time in the character of Cæsar's friend;
therefore he leaves the Forum before Antony begins his speech. Such
moods are familiar to many. Many another has acted in this apparently
unwise way, proudly reckless of consequences, moved by the dislike
of the magnanimous man for all that savours of base cautiousness.
Many a one, for example, has told the truth where it was stupid to
do so, or has let slip an opportunity of revenge because he despised
his enemy too much to seek compensation for his injuries, though he
thereby neglected to render him innocuous for the future. An intense
realisation of the necessity for confidence, or, on the other hand, of
the untrustworthiness of friends and the contemptibleness of enemies,
may easily lead one to despise every measure of prudence.

It was upon the basis of an intense feeling of this nature that
Shakespeare created Brutus. With the addition of humour and a touch of
genius he would be Hamlet, and he becomes Hamlet. With the addition of
despairing bitterness and misanthropy he would be Timon, and he becomes
Timon. Here he is the man of uncompromising character and principle,
who is too proud to be prudent and too bad an observer to be practical;
and this man is so situated that not only the life and death of another
and of himself, but the welfare of the State, and even, as it appears,
that of the whole civilised world, depend upon the resolution at which
he arrives.

At Brutus's side Shakespeare places the figure which forms his female
counterpart, the kindred spirit who has become one with him, his cousin
and wife, Cato's daughter married to Cato's disciple. He has here, and
here alone, given us a picture of the ideal marriage as he conceived it.

In the scene between Brutus and Portia the poet takes up afresh a
motive which he has handled once before--the anxious wife beseeching
her husband to initiate her into his great designs. It first appears
in _Henry IV_., Part I., where Lady Percy implores her Harry to let
her share his counsels. (See above, p. 189) The description which she
gives of Hotspur's manner and conduct exactly corresponds to Portia's
description of the transformation which has taken place in Brutus. Both
husbands, indeed, are nursing a similar project. But Lady Percy learns
nothing. Her Harry no doubt loves her, loves her now and then, between
two skirmishes, briskly and gaily; but there is no sentiment in his
love for her, and he never dreams of any spiritual communion between

When Portia, in this case, begs her husband to tell her what is
weighing on his mind, he at first, indeed, replies with evasions about
his health; but on her vehemently declaring that she feels herself
degraded by this lack of confidence (Shakespeare has but slightly
softened the antique frankness of the words which Plutarch places
in her mouth), Brutus answers her with warmth and beauty. And when
(again as in Plutarch) she tells of the proof she has given of her
steadfastness by thrusting a knife into her thigh and never complaining
of the "voluntary wound," he bursts forth with the words which Plutarch
places in his mouth:--

    "O ye gods,
    Render me worthy of this noble wife,"

and promises to tell her everything.

Neither Shakespeare nor Plutarch, however, regards his facile
communicativeness as a mark of prudence. For it is not Portia's fault
that it does not betray everything. When it comes to the point, she can
neither hold her tongue nor control herself. She betrays her anxiety
and uneasiness to the boy Lucius, and herself exclaims:--

    "I have a man's mind, but a woman's might.
     How hard it is for women to keep counsel!"

This reflection is obviously not Portia's, but an utterance of
Shakespeare's own philosophy of life, which he has not cared to keep to
himself. In Plutarch she even falls down as though dead, and the news
of her death surprises Brutus just before the time appointed for the
murder of Cæsar, so that he needs all his self-control to save himself
from breaking down.

From the character with which Shakespeare has thus endowed Brutus
spring the two great scenes which carry the play.

The first is the marvellously-constructed scene, the turning-point of
the tragedy, in which Antony, speaking with Brutus's consent over the
body of Cæsar, stirs up the Romans against the murderers of the great

Even Brutus's own speech Shakespeare has moulded with the rarest
art. Plutarch relates that when Brutus wrote Greek he cultivated a
"compendious" and laconic style, of which the historian adduces a
string of examples. He wrote to the Samians: "Your councels be long,
your doings be slow; consider the end." And in another epistle: "The
Xanthians, despising my good wil, haue made a graue of dispaire; and
the Patareians, that put themselves into my protection, have lost no
iot of their liberty: and therefore whilst you haue libertie, either
chuse the iudgement of the Patareians or the fortune of the Xanthians."
See now, what Shakespeare has made out of these indications:--

    "Romans, countrymen, and lovers! hear me for my cause, and
    be silent, that you may hear: believe me for mine honour,
    and have respect to mine honour, that you may believe.
    ... If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of
    Cæsar's, to him I say, that Brutus' love to Cæsar was no
    less than his. If, then, that friend demand, why Brutus rose
    against Cæsar, this is my answer:--Not that I loved Cæsar
    less, but that I loved Rome more."

And so on, in this style of laconic antithesis. Shakespeare has made a
deliberate effort to assign to Brutus the diction he had cultivated,
and, with his inspired faculty of divination, has, as it were,
reanimated it:--

    "As Cæsar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I
    rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him: but, as he
    was ambitious, I slew him."

With ingenious and yet noble art the speech culminates in the question,
"Who is here so vile that will not love his country! If any, speak; for
him have I offended." And when the crowd answers, "None, Brutus, none,"
he chimes in with the serene assurance, "Then none have I offended."

The still more admirable oration of Antony is in the first place
remarkable for the calculated difference of style which it displays.
Here we have no antitheses, no literary eloquence; but a vernacular
eloquence of the most powerful demagogic type. Antony takes up the
thread just where Brutus has dropped it, expressly assures his hearers
at the outset that this is to be a speech over Cæsar's bier, but
not to his glory, and emphasises to the point of monotony the fact
that Brutus and the other conspirators are all, all honourable men.
Then the eloquence gradually works up, subtle and potent, in its
adroit crescendo, and yet in truth exalted by something which is not
subtlety: glowing enthusiasm for Cæsar, scathing indignation against
his assassins. The contempt and anger are at first masked, out of
consideration for the mood of the populace, which has for the moment
been won over by Brutus; then the mask is raised a little, then a
little more and a little more, until, with a wild gesture, it is torn
off and thrown aside.

Here again Shakespeare has utilised in a masterly fashion the hints he
found in Plutarch, scanty as they were:--

    "Afterwards, when Cæsar's body was brought into the
    market-place, Antonius, making his funeral oration in praise
    of the dead, according to the auncient custome of Rome,
    and perceiuing that his words moued the common people to
    compassion: he framed his eloquence to make their harts
    yerne the more."

Mark what Shakespeare has made of this::--

    "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears:
     I come to bury Cæsar, not to praise him.
     The evil that men do lives after them,
     The good is oft interred with their bones;
     So let it be with Cæsar. The noble Brutus
     Hath told you, Cæsar was ambitious:
     If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
     And grievously hath Cæsar answered it.
     Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest,
     (For Brutus is an honourable man,
     So are they all, all honourable men),
     Come I to speak in Cæsar's funeral.
     He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
     But Brutus says he was ambitious;
     And Brutus is an honourable man."

Then Antony goes on to insinuate doubts as to Cæsar's ambition, and
tells how he rejected the kingly diadem, rejected it three times. Was
this ambition? Thereupon he suggests that Cæsar, after all, was once
beloved, and that there is no reason why he should not be mourned. Then
with a sudden outburst:--

    "O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
     And men have lost their reason!--Bear with me;
     My heart is in the coffin there with Cæsar,
     And I must pause till it come back to me."

Next comes an appeal to their pity for this greatest of men, whose
word but yesterday might have stood against the world, and who now
lies so low that the poorest will not do him reverence. It would be
wrong to make his speech inflammatory, a wrong towards Brutus and
Cassius "who--as you know--are honourable men" (mark the jibe in the
parenthetic phrase); no, he will rather do wrong to the dead and to
himself. But here he holds a parchment--he assuredly will not read
it--but if the people came to know its contents they would kiss dead
Cæsar's wounds, and dip their handkerchiefs in his sacred blood. And
then, when cries for the reading of the will mingle with curses upon
the murderers, he stubbornly refuses to read it. Instead of doing so,
he displays to them Cæsar's cloak with all the rents in it.

What Plutarch says here is:--

    "To conclude his Oration, he unfolded before the whole
    assembly the bloudy garments of the dead, thrust through in
    many places with their swords, and called the malefactors
    cruell and cursed murtherers."

Out of these few words Shakespeare has made this miracle of invective:--

    "You all do know this mantle! I remember
     The first time ever Cæsar put it on:
     'Twas on a summer's evening, in his tent,
     That day he overcame the Nervii.
     Look! in this place ran Cassius' dagger through:
     See, what a rent the envious Casca made:
     Through this, the well-beloved Brutus stabb'd;
     And, as he pluck'd his cursed steel away,
     Mark how the blood of Cæsar followed it,
     As rushing out of doors, to be resolv'd
     If Brutus so unkindly knock'd, or no;
     For Brutus, as you know, was Cæsar's angel.
     Judge, O you gods, how dearly Cæsar lov'd him!
     This was the most unkindest cut of all;
     For when the noble Cæsar saw him stab,
     Ingratitude, more strong than traitors' arms,
     Quite vanquish'd him: then burst his mighty heart;
     And, in his mantle muffling up his face,
     Even at the base of Pompey's statua,
     Which all the while ran blood, great Cæsar fell.
     O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!
     Then I, and you, and all of us fell down,
     Whilst bloody treason flourish'd over us.
     O! now you weep; and, I perceive, you feel
     The dint of pity: these are gracious drops.
     Kind souls! what, weep you, when you but behold
     Our Cæsar's vesture wounded? Look you here,
     Here is himself, marr'd, as you see, with traitors."

He uncovers Cæsar's body; and not till then does he read the will,
overwhelming the populace with gifts and benefactions. This climax is
of Shakespeare's own invention.

No wonder that even Voltaire was so struck with the beauty of this
scene, that for its sake he translated the first three acts of the
play. At the end of his own _Mort de César_, too, he introduced a
feeble imitation of the scene; and he had it in his mind when, in his
_Discours sur la Tragédie_, dedicated to Bolingbroke, he expressed so
much enthusiasm and envy for the freedom of the English stage.

In the last two acts, Brutus is overtaken by the recoil of his deed.
He consented to the murder out of noble, disinterested and patriotic
motives; nevertheless he is struck down by its consequences, and pays
for it with his happiness and his life. The declining action of the
last two acts is--as is usual with Shakespeare--less effective and
fascinating than the rising action which fills the first three; but it
has one significant, profound, and brilliantly constructed and executed
scene--the quarrel and reconciliation between Brutus and Cassius in the
fourth act, which leads up to the appearance of Cæsar's ghost.

This scene is significant because it gives a many-sided picture of the
two leading characters--the sternly upright Brutus, who is shocked at
the means employed by Cassius to raise the money without which their
campaign cannot be carried on, and Cassius, a politician entirely
indifferent to moral scruples, but equally unconcerned as to his own
personal advantage. The scene is profound because it presents to us the
necessary consequences of the law-defying, rebellious act: cruelty,
unscrupulous policy, and lax tolerance of dishonourable conduct in
subordinates, when the bonds of authority and discipline have once been
burst. The scene is brilliantly constructed because, with its quick
play of passion and its rising discord, which at last passes over into
a cordial and even tender reconciliation, it is dramatic in the highest
sense of the word.

The fact that Brutus was in Shakespeare's own mind the true hero of the
tragedy appears in the clearest light when we find him ending the play
with the eulogy which Plutarch, in his life of Brutus, places in the
mouth of Antony; I mean the famous words:--

    "This was the noblest Roman of them all:
     All the conspirators, save only he,
     Did that they did in envy of great Cæsar;
     He only, in a general honest thought
     And common good to all, made one of them.
     His life was gentle; and the elements
     So mixed in him that Nature might stand up,
     And say to all the world, 'This was a man!'"

The resemblance between these words and a celebrated speech of Hamlet's
is unmistakable. Everywhere in _Julius Cæsar_ we feel the proximity of
_Hamlet_. The fact that Hamlet hesitates so long before attacking the
King, finds so many reasons to hold his hand, is torn with doubts as
to the act and its consequences, and insists on considering everything
even while he upbraids himself for considering so long--all this is
partly due, no doubt, to the circumstance that Shakespeare comes to
him directly from Brutus. His Hamlet has, so to speak, just seen what
happened to Brutus, and the example is not encouraging, either with
respect to action in general, or with respect to the murder of a
stepfather in particular.

It is not difficult to conceive that Shakespeare may at this period
have been subject to moments of scepticism, in which he could scarcely
understand how any one could make up his mind to act, to assume
responsibility, to set in motion the rolling stone which is the type
of every action. If we once begin to brood over the incalculable
consequences of an action and all that circumstance may make of it,
all action on a great scale becomes impossible. Therefore it is that
very few old men understand their youth; they dare not and could not
act again as, in their recklessness of consequences, they acted then.
Brutus forms the transition to Hamlet, and Hamlet no doubt grew up in
Shakespeare's mind during the working out of _Julius Cæsar_.

The stages of transition are perhaps these: the conspirators, in egging
Brutus on to the murder, are always reminding him of the elder Brutus,
who pretended madness and drove out the Tarquins. This may have led
Shakespeare to dwell upon his character as drawn by Livy, which had
always been exceedingly popular. But Brutus the elder is an antique
Hamlet; and the very name of Hamlet, as he found it in the older play
and in Saxo, seems always to have haunted Shakespeare. It was the name
he had given to the little boy whom he lost so early.



In precisely the same year as Shakespeare, his famous brother-poet,
Ben Jonson, made his first attempt at a dramatic presentation of Roman
antiquity. His play, _The Poetaster_, was written and acted in 1601.
Its purpose is the literary annihilation of two playwrights, Marston
and Dekker, with whom the author was at feud; but its action takes
place in the time of Augustus; and Jonson, in spite of his satire on
contemporaries, no doubt wanted to utilise his thorough knowledge
of ancient literature in giving a true picture of Roman manners. As
Shakespeare's _Julius Cæsar_ was followed by two other tragedies of
antique Rome, _Antony and Cleopatra_ and _Coriolanus_, so Ben Jonson
also wrote two other plays on Roman themes, the tragedies of _Sejanus_
and _Catiline_. It is instructive to compare his method of treatment
with Shakespeare's; but a general comparison of the two creative
spirits must precede this comparison of artistic processes in a single
limited field.

Ben Jonson was nine years younger than Shakespeare, born in 1573, a
month after the death of his father, the son of a clergyman whose
forefathers had belonged to "the gentry." He was a child of the town,
while Shakespeare was a child of the country; and the fact is not
without significance, though town and country were not then so clearly
opposed to each other as they are now. When Ben was two years old,
his mother married a worthy masterbricklayer, who did what he could
to procure his step-son a good education, so that, after passing some
years at a small private school, he was sent to Westminster. Here
the learned William Camden, his teacher, introduced him to the two
classical literatures, and seems, moreover, to have exercised a not
altogether fortunate influence upon his subsequent literary habits; for
it was Camden who taught him first to write out in prose whatever he
wanted to express in verse. Thus the foundation was laid at school, not
only of his double ambition to shine as a scholar and a poet, or rather
as a scholar-poet, but also of his heavy and rhetorically emphatic

In spite of his worship of learning, his dislike to all handicraft, and
his unfitness for practical work, he was forced by poverty to break
off his studies in order to enter the employment of his bricklayer
stepfather--a fact which, in his subsequent literary feuds, always
procured him the nickname of "the bricklayer." He could not long endure
this occupation, went as a soldier to the Netherlands, killed one of
the enemy in single combat, under the eyes of both camps, returned to
London and married--almost as early as Shakespeare--at the age of only
nineteen. Twenty-six years later, in his conversations with Drummond,
he called his wife "a shrew, yet honest." He seems to have been an
affectionate father, but had the misfortune to survive his children.

He was strong and massive in body, racy and coarse, full of self-esteem
and combative instincts, saturated with the conviction of the scholar's
high rank and the poet's exalted vocation, full of contempt for
ignorance, frivolity, and lowness, classic in his tastes, with a bent
towards careful structure and leisurely development of thought in
all that he wrote, and yet a true poet in so far as he was not only
irregular in his life and quite incapable of saving any of the money he
now and then earned, but was, moreover, subject to hallucinations: once
saw Carthaginians and Romans fighting on his great toe, and, on another
occasion, had a vision of his son with a bloody cross on his brow,
which was supposed to forbode his death.

Like Shakespeare, he sought to make his bread by entering the theatre
and appearing as an actor. To him, as to Shakespeare, old pieces of the
repertory were entrusted to be rewritten, expanded, and furbished up.
Thus as late as 1601-2 he made a number of very able additions, in the
style of the old play, to that _Spanish Tragedy_ of Kyd's, which must
in many ways have been in Shakespeare's mind during the composition of

He did this work on the commission of Henslow, for whose company, which
competed with Shakespeare's, he worked regularly from 1597 onwards. He
collaborated with Dekker in a tragedy, and had a hand in other plays;
in short, he made himself useful to the theatre as best he could, but
did not, like Shakespeare, acquire a share in the enterprise, and thus
never became a man of substance. He was to the end of his life forced
to rely for his income upon the liberality of royal and noble patrons.

The end of 1598 is doubly significant in Ben Jonson's life. In
September he killed in a duel another of Henslow's actors, a certain
Gabriel Spencer (who seems to have challenged him), and was therefore
branded on the thumb with the letter T (Tyburn). A couple of months
later, this occurrence having evidently led to a break in his
connection with Henslow's company, his first original play, _Every Man
in his Humour_, was acted by the Lord Chamberlain's men. According to a
tradition preserved by Rowe, and apparently trustworthy, the play had
already been refused, when Shakespeare happened to see it and procured
its acceptance. It met with the success it deserved, and henceforward
the author's name was famous.

Even in the first edition of this play he makes Young Knowell speak
with warm enthusiasm of poetry, of the dignity of the sacred art of
invention, and express that hatred for every profanation of the Muses
which appears so frequently in later works, finding, perhaps, its most
vehement utterance in _The Poetaster_, where the young Ovid eulogises
his art in opposition to the scorn of his father and others. From the
first, too, he made no concealment of his strong sense of being at once
a high-priest of art, and, in virtue of his learning, an Aristarchus
of taste. He not only scorned all attempts to tickle the public ear,
but, with the firm and superior attitude of a teacher, he again and
again imprinted on spectators and readers what Goethe has expressed
in the well-known words: "Ich schreibe nicht, Euch zu gefallen; Ihr
sollt was lernen." Again and again he claimed for his own person the
sanctity and inviolability of art, and attacked his inferior rivals
unsparingly, with ferocious rather than witty satire. His prologues and
epilogues are devoted to a self-acclamation which was entirely foreign
to Shakespeare's nature. Asper in _Every Man out of his Humour_ (1599),
Crites in _Cynthia's Revels_ (1600), and Horace in _The Poetaster_
(1601), are so many pieces of self-idolising self-portraiture.

All who, in his judgment, degrade art are made to pay the penalty
in scathing caricatures. In _The Poetaster_, for example, his
taskmaster, Henslow, is presented under the name of Histrio as a
depraved slave-dealer, and his colleagues Marston and Dekker are
held up to ridicule under Roman names, as intrusive and despicable
scribblers. Their attacks upon the admirable poet Horace, whose name
and personality the extremely dissimilar Ben Jonson has arrogated to
himself, spring from contemptible motives, and receive a disgraceful

This whole warfare must not be taken too seriously. The worthy
Ben could be at the same time an indignant moralist and a genial
boon-companion. We presently find him taking service afresh with the
very Henslow whom he has just treated with such withering contempt;
and though his attack of 1601 had been met by a most malicious retort
in Marston and Dekker's _Satiromastix_, he, three years afterwards,
accepts the dedication of Marston's _Malcontent_, and in 1605
collaborates with this lately-lampooned colleague and with Chapman in
the comedy of _Eastward Ho!_ One could not but think of the German
proverb, "Pack schlagt sich, Pack vertragt sich," were it not that
Jonson's action at this juncture reveals him in anything but a vulgar
light. Marston and Chapman having been thrown into prison for certain
gibes at the Scotch in this play, which had come to the notice of the
King, and being reported to be in danger of having their noses and
ears cut off, Ben Jonson, of his own free will, claimed his share
in the responsibility and joined them in prison. At a supper which,
after their liberation, he gave to all his friends, his mother clinked
glasses with him, and at the same time showed him a paper, the contents
of which she had intended to mix with his drink in prison if he had
been sentenced to mutilation. She added that she herself would not have
survived him, but would have taken her share of the poison. She must
have been a mother worthy of such a son.

While Ben lay in durance on account of his duel, he had been converted
to Catholicism by a priest who attended him--a conversion at which his
adversaries did not fail to jeer. He does not seem, however, to have
embraced the Catholic dogma with any great fervour, for twelve years
later he once more changes his religion and returns to the Protestant
Church. Equally characteristic of Ben and of the Renaissance is his own
statement, preserved for us by Drummond, that at his first communion
after his reconciliation with Protestantism, in token of his sincere
return to the doctrine which gave laymen, as well as priests access to
the chalice, he drained at one draught the whole of the consecrated

Not without humour, moreover--to use Jonson's own favourite word--is
his story of the way in which Raleigh's son, to whom he acted as
governor during a tour in France (while Raleigh himself was in
the Tower), took a malicious pleasure in making his mentor dead
drunk, having him wheeled in a wheelbarrow through the streets of
Paris, and showing him off to the mob at every street corner. Ben's
strong insistence on his spiritual dignity was not infrequently
counterbalanced by an extreme carelessness of his personal dignity.

With all his weaknesses, however, he was a sturdy, energetic, and
high-minded man, a commanding, independent, and very comprehensive
intelligence; and from 1598, when he makes his first appearance on
Shakespeare's horizon, throughout the rest of his life, he was, so
far as we can see, the man of all his contemporaries whose name was
oftenest mentioned along with Shakespeare's. In after days, especially
outside England, the name of Ben Jonson has come to sound small enough
in comparison with the name of solitary greatness with which it was
once bracketed; but at that time, although Jonson was never so popular
as Shakespeare, they were commonly regarded in literary circles as the
dramatic twin-brethren of the age. For us it is still more interesting
to remember that Ben Jonson was one of the few with whom we know that
Shakespeare was on terms of constant familiarity, and, moreover, that
he brought to this intercourse a set of definite artistic principles,
widely different from Shakespeare's own. Though his society may
have been somewhat fatiguing, it must nevertheless have been both
instructive and stimulating to Shakespeare, since Ben was greatly his
superior in historical and linguistic knowledge, while as a poet he
pursued a totally different ideal.

Ben Jonson was a great dramatic intelligence. He never, like the other
poets of his time, took this or that novel and dramatised it as it
stood, regardless of its more or less incoherent structure, its more or
less flagrant defiance of topographical, geographical, or historical
reality. With architectural solidity--was he not the step-son of a
master-builder?--he built up his dramatic plan out of his own head,
and, being a man of great learning, he did his best to avoid all
incongruities of local colour. If he is now and then negligent in this
respect--if the characters in _Volpone_ now and then talk as if they
were in London, not in Venice, and those in _The Poetaster_ as if they
were in England, not in Rome--it is because of his satiric purpose, and
not at all by reason of the indifference to such considerations which
characterises all other dramatists of the time, Shakespeare not the

The fundamental contrast between them can be most shortly expressed
in the statement that Ben Jonson accepted the view of human nature
set forth in the classic comedies and the Latin tragedies. He
does not represent it as many-sided, with inward developments and
inconsistencies, but fixes character in typical forms, with one
dominant trait thrown into high relief. He portrays, for example, the
crafty parasite, or the eccentric who cannot endure noise, or the
braggart captain, or the depraved anarchist (Catiline), or the stern
man of honour (Cato)--and all these personalities are neither more nor
less than the labels imply, and act up to their description always and
in all circumstances. The pencil with which he draws is hard, but he
wields it with such power that his best outlines subsist through the
centuries, unforgettable, despite their occasional oddity of design,
in virtue of the indignation with which wickedness and meanness
are branded, and the racy merriment with which the caricatures are
sketched, the farces worked out.

Some of Molière's farces may now and then remind us of Jonson's, but,
as regards the pitiless intensity of the satire, we shall find no
counterpart to his _Volpone_ until we come in our own times to Gogol's

The Graces stood by Shakespeare's cradle, not by Jonson's; and yet this
heavy-armed warrior has now and then attained to grace as well--has now
and then given a holiday to his sound systematic intelligence and his
solidly-constructed logic, and, like a true poet of the Renaissance,
soared into the rarer atmosphere of pure fantasy.

He shows himself very much at home in the allegorical masques which
were performed at court festivals; and in the pastoral play _The
Sad Shepherd_ which seems to have been written upon his death-bed,
he proved that even in the purely romantic style he could challenge
comparison with the best writers of his day. Yet it is not in this
sphere that he displays his true originality. It is in his keen and
faithful observation of the conditions and manners of his time, which
Shakespeare left on one side, or depicted only incidentally and
indirectly. The London of Elizabeth lives again in Jonson's plays; both
the lower and higher circles, but especially the lower: the haunters of
taverns and theatres, the men of the riverside and the markets, rogues
and vagabonds, poets and players, watermen and jugglers, bear-leaders
and hucksters, rich city dames, Puritan fanatics and country squires,
English oddities of every class and kind, each speaking his own
language, dialect, or jargon. Shakespeare never kept so close to the
life of the day.

It is especially Johnson's scholarship that must have made his
society full of instruction for Shakespeare. Ben's acquirements were
encyclopædic, and his acquaintance with the authors of antiquity was
singularly complete and accurate. It has often been remarked that he
was not content with an exhaustive knowledge of the leading writers
of Greece and Rome. He knows not only the great historians, poets,
and orators, such as Tacitus and Sallust, Horace, Virgil, Ovid, and
Cicero, but sophists, grammarians, and scholiasts, men like Athenæus,
Libanius, Philostratus, Strabo, Photius. He is familiar with fragments
of Æolic lyrists and Roman epic poets, of Greek tragedies and Roman
inscriptions; and, what is still more remarkable, he manages to make
use of all his knowledge. Whatever in the ancients he found beautiful
or profound or stimulating, that he wove into his work. Dryden says of
him in his "Essay of Dramatic Poesy":--

    "The greatest man of the last age (Ben Jonson) was willing
    to give place to the ancients in all things: he was not only
    a professed imitator of Horace, but a learned plagiary of
    all the others; you track him everywhere in their snow. If
    Horace, Lucan, Petronius Arbiter, Seneca, and Juvenal had
    their own from him, there are few serious thoughts which are
    new in him.... But he has done his robberies so openly, that
    one may see he fears not to be taxed by any law. He invades
    authors like a monarch; and what would be theft in other
    poets is only victory in him."

Certain it is that an uncommon learning and an extraordinary memory
supplied him with an immense store of small touches, poetical and
rhetorical details, which he could not refrain from incorporating in
his plays.

Yet his mass of learning was not of a merely verbal or rhetorical
nature; he knew things as well as words. Whatever subject he treats of,
be it alchemy, or witchcraft, or cosmetics in the time of Tiberius, he
handles it with competence and has its whole literature at his fingers'
ends. He thus becomes universal like Shakespeare, but in a different
way. Shakespeare knows, firstly, all that cannot be learnt from books,
and in the second place, whatever can be gleaned by genius from a
casual utterance, an intelligent hint, a conversation with a man of
high acquirements. Besides this, he knows the literature which was at
that time within the reach of a quick-witted and studious man without
special scholarship. Ben Jonson, on the other hand, is a scholar by
profession. He has learnt from books all that the books of his day--for
the most part, of course, the not too numerous survivals of the classic
literatures--could teach a man who made scholarship his glory. He not
only possesses knowledge, but he knows whence he has acquired it; he
can cite his authorities by chapter and paragraph, and he sometimes
garnishes his plays with so many learned references that they bristle
with notes like an academic thesis.

Colossal, coarse-grained, vigorous, and always ready for the fray, with
his gigantic burden of learning, he has been compared by Taine to one
of those war-elephants of antiquity which bore on their backs a whole
fortress, with garrison, armoury, and munitions, and under the weight
of this panoply could yet move as quickly as a fleet-footed horse.

It must have been intensely interesting for their comrades at the
Mermaid to listen to the discussions between Jonson and Shakespeare,
to follow two such remarkable minds, so differently organised and
equipped, when they debated, in jest or earnest, this or that historic
problem, this or that moot point in æsthetics; and no less interesting
is it for us, in our days, to compare their almost contemporaneous
dramatic treatment of Roman antiquity. We might here expect Shakespeare
to have the worst of it, since he, according to Jonson's well-known
phrase, had "small Latine and less Greek;" while Ben was as much
at home in ancient Rome as in the London of his day, and, with his
altogether masculine talent, could claim a certain kinship with the
Roman spirit.

And yet even here Shakespeare stands high above Jonson, who, with all
his learning and industry, lacks his great contemporary's sense for the
fundamental element in human nature, to which the terms good and bad do
not apply, and has, besides, very few of those unforeseen inspirations
of genius which constitute Shakespeare's strength, and make up for all
the gaps in his knowledge. Jonson, moreover, could not modulate into
the minor key, and is thus unable to depict the inmost subtleties of
feminine character.

None the less would it be unjust to make Jonson, as the Germans are
apt to do, nothing but a foil to Shakespeare. We must, in mere equity,
bring out the points at which he attains to real greatness.

Although the scene of _The Poetaster_ is laid in Rome in the days of
Augustus, the play eludes comparison with Shakespeare's Roman dramas in
so far as its costume is partly a mere travesty under which Ben Jonson
defends himself against his contemporaries Marston and Dekker, who also
figure, of course, in a Roman disguise. Even here, however, he has done
his best to give an accurate picture of antique Roman manners, and
has applied to the task all his learning, with rather too little aid,
perhaps, from his fancy. His comic figures, for instance, the intrusive
Crispinus and the foolish singer Hermogenes, are taken bodily from
Horace's Satires (Book i. Satires 3 and 9); but both these pleasant
caricatures are executed with vigour and life.

Ben Jonson has in this play woven together three different actions, one
only of which has a symbolic meaning outside the frame of the picture.
In the first place, he presents Ovid's struggle for leave to follow his
poetic vocation, his suspected love-affair with Augustus's daughter,
Julia, and his banishment from the court when Augustus discovers the
intrigue between the young poet and his child. In the second place, he
introduces us into the house of the rich bourgeois Albius, who has been
ill-advised enough to marry one of the emancipated great ladies of the
period, Chloe by name, and who, by her help, obtains admission to court
society. Chloe's house is a meeting-place for all the love-poets of the
period, Tibullus, Propertius, Ovid, Cornelius Gallus, and the ladies
who favour them; and Jonson has succeeded very fairly in suggesting
the free tone of conversation prevalent in those circles, which
was doubtless reproduced in many circles of London life during the
Renaissance. Finally, we have a representation--Jonson's chief object
in writing the play--of the conspiracy of the bad and envious poets
against Horace, which culminates in a formal impeachment. The Emperor
himself, and the famous poets of his court, form a sort of tribunal
before which the case is tried. Horace is acquitted on every count,
and the accusers are sentenced to a punishment entirely in the spirit
of the Aristophanic comedy--so foreign to Shakespeare--Crispinus being
forced to take a pill of hellebore, which makes him vomit up all the
affected or merely novel words he has used, which appear to Ben Jonson
ridiculous. Some of them--for example the first two, "retrograde" and
"reciprocal"--have nevertheless survived in modern English. In spite of
its allegorical character, the episode is not deficient in an almost
too pungent realism.

The most Roman of all these scenes are doubtless those in which the
gallantry between the young men and the ladies, and the snobbery which
forces its way into Augustus's court, are freely represented. Less
Roman, by reason of their too palpable tendency, are the scenes in
which Augustus appears in the circle of his court poets. No serious
attempt is made to portray the Emperor's character, and the speeches
placed in the mouths of the poets are very clearly designed simply for
the glorification of poetry in general, and Ben Jonson in particular.

The sins of which his enemies were always accusing him were "self-love,
arrogancy, impudence, and railing," together with "filching by
translation." As he explains in the defensive dialogue which he
appended to his play, it was his purpose--

    "To show that Virgil, Horace, and the rest
     Of those great master-spirits, did not want
     Detractors then, or practisers against them."

He makes foolish persons find injurious allusions to themselves, and
even insults to the Emperor, in entirely innocent poems of Horace's,
and shows how the Emperor orders them to be whipped as backbiters.
Horace's literary relation to the Greeks, be it noted, was not unlike
that of Ben Jonson himself to the Latin writers.

A special interest attaches for us to the passage in the fifth act,
where, immediately before Virgil's entrance, the different poets, at
the suggestion of the Emperor, express their judgment of his genius,
and where Horace, after warmly protesting against the common belief
that one poet is necessarily envious of another, joins in the general
eulogy of his great rival. There is this remarkable circumstance about
the encomiums on Virgil, here placed in the mouths of Gallus, Tibullus,
and Horace, that while some of them are appropriate enough to the real
Virgil (else all verisimilitude would have been sacrificed), others
seem unmistakably to point away from Virgil towards one or other famous
contemporary of Jonson's own. Look for a moment at these speeches (v.

    "_Tibullus_.              That which he hath writ
        Is with such judgment labour'd, and distill'd
        Through all the needful uses of our lives,
        That could a man remember but his lines,
        He should not touch at any serious point,
        But he might breathe his spirit out of him.
    _Augustus_. You mean, he might repeat part of his works
        As fit for any conference he can use?
    _Tibullus_. True, royal Cæsar.
    _Horace_. His learning savours not the school-like gloss
        That most consists in echoing words and terms,
        And soonest wins a man an empty name;
        Nor any long or far-fetch'd circumstance
        Wrapp'd in the curious generalties of arts,
        But a direct and analytic sum
        Of all the worth and first effects of arts.
        And for his poesy, 'tis so ramm'd with life,
        That it shall gather strength of life, with being,
        And live hereafter more admired than now."

Can we conceive that Ben Jonson had not Shakespeare in his eye as he
wrote these speeches, which apply better to him than to any one else?
It is true that a Shakespeare scholar of such authority as the late C.
M. Ingleby, the compiler of _Shakespeare's Centurie of Prayse_, has
declared against this theory, together with Nicholson and Furnivall.
But none of them has brought forward any conclusive argument to
prevent us from following Ben Jonson's admirer, Gifford, and his
impartial critic, John Addington Symonds, in accepting these speeches
as allusions to Shakespeare. It is useless to be for ever citing the
passage in _The Return from Parnassus_, as to the "purge" Shakespeare
has given Ben Jonson, in proof that there was an open feud between
them, when, in fact, there is no evidence whatever of any hostility
on Shakespeare's part; and the very stress laid on the assertion that
Horace, as a poet, is innocent of envy towards a famous and popular
colleague, makes it unreasonable to take the eulogies as applying
solely to the real Virgil, whom they fit so imperfectly. Of course
it by no means follows that we are to conceive every word of these
eulogies as unreservedly applied to Shakespeare; the speeches seem to
have been purposely left somewhat vague, so that they might at once
point to the ancient poet and suggest the modern. But out of the mists
of the characterisation certain definite contours stand forth; and the
physiognomy which they form, the picture of the great teacher in all
earthly affairs, rich, not in book-learning, but in the wisdom of life,
whose poetry is so vital that it will live through the ages with an
ever-intenser life--this portrait we know and recognise as that of the
genius with the great, calm eyes under the lofty brow.

Ben Jonson's _Sejanus_, which dates from 1603, only two years after
_The Poetaster_, is a historical tragedy of the time of Tiberius, in
which the poet, without any reference to contemporary personalities,
sets forth to depict the life and customs of the imperial court. It is
as an archæologist and moralist, however, that he depicts them, and his
method is thus very different from Shakespeare's. He not only displays
a close acquaintance with the life of the period, but penetrates
through the outward forms to its spirit. He is animated, indeed, by a
purely moral indignation against the turbulent and corrupt protagonist
of his tragedy, but his wrath does not prevent him from giving a
careful delineation of the figure of Sejanus in relation to its
surroundings, by means of thoughtfully-designed and even imaginative
individual scenes. Jonson does not, like Shakespeare, display from
within the character of this unscrupulous and audacious man, but he
shows the circumstances which have produced it, and its modes of action.

The difference between Jonson's and Shakespeare's method is not that
Jonson pedantically avoids the anachronisms which swarm in _Julius
Cæsar_. In both plays, for instance, watches are spoken of.[1] But Ben,
on occasion, can paint a scene of Roman life with as much accuracy
as we find in a picture by Alma Tadema or a novel by Flaubert. For
example, when he depicts an act of worship and sacrifice in the
Sacellum or private chapel of Sejanus's house (v. 4), every detail of
the ceremonial is correct. After the Herald (Præco) has uttered the
formula, "Be all profane far hence," and horn and flute players have
performed their liturgical music, the priest (Flamen) exhorts all to
appear with "pure hands, pure vestments, and pure minds;" his acolytes
intone the complementary responses; and while the trumpets are again
sounded, he takes honey from the altar with his finger, tastes it, and
gives it to the others to taste; goes through the same process with
the milk in an earthen vessel; and then sprinkles milk over the altar,
"kindleth his gums," and goes with the censer round the altar, upon
which he ultimately places it, dropping "branches of poppy" upon the
smouldering incense. In justification of these traits, Jonson gives no
fewer than thirteen footnotes, in which passages are cited from a very
wide range of Latin authors. Kalisch has counted the notes appended to
this play, and finds 291 in all. The ceremonial is here employed to
introduce a scene in which "great Mother Fortune," to whom the libation
is made, averts her face from Sejanus, and thereby portends his fall;
whereupon, in an access of fury, he overturns her statue and altar.

Another scene, constructed with quite as much learning, and far more
able and remarkable, is that which opens the second Act. Livia's
physician, Eudemus, has been suborned by Sejanus to procure him a
meeting with the princess, and, moreover, to concoct a potent poison
for her husband. In the act of assisting his mistress to rouge her
cheek, and recommending her an effective "dentrifice" and a "prepared
pomatum to smooth the skin," he answers her casual questions as to who
is to present the poisoned cup to Drusus and induce him to drink it.
Here, again, Ben Jonson's mastery of detail displays itself. Eudemus's
remark, for example, that the "ceruse" on Livia's cheeks has faded in
the sun, is supported by a reference to an epigram of Martial, from
which it appears that this cosmetic was injured by heat. But here all
these details are merged in the potent general impression produced by
the dispassionate and business-like calmness with which the impending
murder is arranged in the intervals of a disquisition upon those
devices of the toilet which are to enchain the contriver of the crime.

Ben Jonson possesses the undaunted insight and the vigorous
pessimism which render it possible to represent Roman depravity and
wild-beast-like ferocity under the first Emperors without extenuation
and without declamation. He cannot, indeed, dispense with a sort of
chorus of honourable Romans, but they express themselves, as a rule,
pithily and without prolixity; and he has enough sense of art and of
history never to let his ruffians and courtesans repent.

Now and then he even attains to a Shakespearian level. The scene in
which Sejanus approaches Eudemus first with jesting talk, and then,
with wily insinuations, worms himself into his acquaintance and makes
him his creature, while Eudemus, with crafty servility, shows that
he can take a half-spoken hint, and, without for a moment committing
himself, offers his services as pander and assassin--this passage is in
no way inferior to the scene in Shakespeare's _King John_ in which the
King suggests to Hubert the murder of Arthur.

The most remarkable scene, however, is that (v. 10) in which the Senate
is assembled in the Temple of Apollo to hear messages from Tiberius
in his retreat at Capri. The first letter confers upon Sejanus "the
tribunitial dignity and power," with expressions of esteem, and the
Senate loudly acclaims the favourite. Then the second letter is read.
It is expressed in a strangely contorted style, begins with some
general remarks on public policy, hypocritical in tone, then turns,
like the first, to Sejanus, and, to the astonishment of all, dwells
with emphasis upon his low origin and the rare honours to which he has
been preferred. Already the hearers are alarmed; but the impression is
obliterated by new sentences of flattery. Then unfavourable opinions
and judgments regarding the favourite are cited and dwelt upon with
a certain complacency; then they are refuted with some vehemence;
finally, they are brought forward again, and this time in a manner
unmistakably hostile to Sejanus. Immediately the senators who have
swarmed around him withdraw from his neighbourhood, leaving him in the
centre of an empty space; and the reading continues until Laco enters
with the guards who are to arrest the hitherto all-powerful favourite
and lead him away. We can find no parallel to this reading of the
letter and the vacillations it produces among the cringing senators,
save in Antony's speech over the body of Cæsar and the consequent
revulsion in the attitude and temper of the Roman mob. Shakespeare's
scene is more vividly projected, and shines with the poet's humour;
Jonson's scene is elaborated with grim energy, and worked out with the
moralist's bitterness. But in the dramatic movement of the moralist's
scene, no less than of the poet's, antique Rome lives again.

Jonson's _Catiline_, written some time later, appeared in 1611, and
was dedicated to Pembroke. Although executed on the same principles,
it is on the whole inferior to _Sejanus_; but it is better fitted for
comparison with _Julius Cæsar_ in so far as its action belongs to the
same period, and Cæsar himself appears in it. The second act of the
tragedy is in its way a masterpiece. As soon as Jonson enters upon
the political action proper, he transcribes endless speeches from
Cicero, and becomes intolerably tedious; but so long as he keeps to the
representation of manners, and seeks, as in his comedies, to paint a
quite unemotional picture of the period, he shows himself at his best.

This second act takes place at the house of Fulvia, the lady who,
according to Sallust, betrayed to Cicero the conspirators' secret. The
whole picture produces an entirely convincing effect. She first repels
with unfeeling coldness an intrusive friend and protector, Catiline's
fellow-conspirator, Curius; but when he at last turns away in anger,
telling her that she will repent her conduct when she finds herself
excluded from participation in an immense booty which will fall to the
share of others, she calls him back, full of curiosity and interest,
becomes suddenly friendly, and even caressing, and wrings from him
his secret, instantly recognising, however, that Cicero will pay for
it without stint, and that this money is considerably safer than the
sum which might fall to her share in a general revolution. Her visit
to Cicero, with his craftily friendly interrogatory, first of her,
and then of her lover Curius, whom he summons and converts into one
of his spies, deserves the highest praise. These scenes contain the
concentrated essence of Sallust's _Catiline_ and of Cicero's Orations
and Letters. The Cicero of this play rises high above the Cicero to
whom Shakespeare has assigned a few speeches. Cæsar, on the other
hand, comes off no better at Ben Jonson's hands than at Shakespeare's.
The poet was obviously determined to show a certain independence of
judgment in the way in which he has treated Sallust's representation
both of Cæsar and of Cicero. Sallust, whom Jonson nevertheless follows
in the main, is hostile to Cicero and defends Cæsar. The worthy Ben, on
the other hand, was, as a man of letters, a sworn admirer of Cicero,
while in Cæsar he sees only a cold, crafty personage, who sought to
make use of Catiline for his own ends, and therefore joined forces with
him, but repudiated him when things went wrong, and was so influential
that Cicero dared not attack him when he rooted out the conspiracy.
Thus the great Caius Julius did not touch Jonson's manly heart any more
than Shakespeare's. He appears throughout in an extremely unsympathetic
light, and no speech, no word of his, portends his coming greatness.

Of this greatness Jonson had probably no deep realisation. It
is surprising enough to note that the scholars and poets of the
Renaissance, in so far as they took sides in the old strife between
Cæsar and Pompey, were all on Pompey's side. Even in the seventeenth
century, in France, under a despotism more absolute than Cæsar's, the
men who were familiar with antique history, and who, for the rest, vied
with each other in loyalty and king-worship, were unanimously opposed
to Cæsar. Strange as it may seem, it is not until our century, with
its hostility to despotism and its continuous advance in the direction
of democracy, that Cæsar's genius has been fully appreciated, and the
benefits his life conferred on humanity have been thoroughly understood.

The personal relation between Ben Jonson and Shakespeare is not to this
day quite clearly ascertained. It was for long regarded as distinctly
hostile, no one doubting that Jonson, during his great rival's
lifetime, cherished an obstinate jealousy towards him. More recently,
Jonson's admirers have argued with warmth that cruel injustice has been
done him in this respect. So far as we can now judge, it appears that
Jonson honestly recognised and admired Shakespeare's great qualities,
but at the same time felt a displeasure he never could quite conquer
at seeing him so much more popular as a dramatist, and--as was only
natural--regarded his own tendencies in art as truer and better

In the preface to _Sejanus_ (edition of 1605) Jonson uses an expression
which, as the piece was acted by Shakespeare's company, and Shakespeare
himself appeared in it, was long interpreted as referring to him.
Jonson writes:--

    "Lastly, I would inform you that this book, in all numbers,
    is not the same with that which was acted on the public
    stage, wherein a second pen had good share; in place of
    which, I have rather chosen to put weaker, and, no doubt,
    less pleasing, of mine own, than to defraud so happy a
    genius of his right by my loathed usurpation."

The words "so happy a genius," in particular, together with the
other circumstances, have directed the thoughts of commentators to
Shakespeare. Mr. Brinsley Nicholson, however (in the _Academy_, Nov.
14th, 1874), has shown it to be far more probable that the person
alluded to is not Shakespeare, but a very inferior poet, Samuel
Sheppard. The marked politeness of Jonson's expressions may be due to
his having inflicted on his collaborator a considerable disappointment,
almost an insult, by omitting his portion of the work, and at the same
time excluding his name from the title-page. It seems, at any rate,
that Samuel Sheppard felt wounded by this proceeding, since, more
than forty years later, he claimed for himself the honour of having
collaborated in _Sejanus_, in a verse which is ostensibly a panegyric
on Jonson.[2] Symonds, so late as 1888, nevertheless maintains in his
_Ben Jonson_ that the preface most probably refers to Shakespeare; but
he does not refute or even mention Nicholson's carefully-marshalled

It is not, however, of great importance to decide whether a compliment
in one of Jonson's prefaces is or is not addressed to Shakespeare,
since we have ample evidence in the warm eulogy and mild criticism
in his _Discoveries_, and in the enthusiastic poem prefixed to the
First Folio, that the crusty Ben (who, moreover, is said to have been
Shakespeare's boon companion on his last convivial evening) regarded
him with the warmest feelings, at least towards the close of his life
and after his death.

This does not exclude the probability that Jonson's radically different
literary ideals may have led him to make incidental and sometimes
rather tart allusions to what appeared to him weak or mistaken in
Shakespeare's work.

There is no foundation for the theory which has sometimes been
advanced, that the passage in _The Poetaster_ ridiculing Crispinus's
coat of arms is an allusion to Shakespeare. It is beyond all doubt
that the figure of Crispinus was exclusively intended for Marston; he
himself, at any rate, did not for a moment doubt it. For the rest,
Jonson's ascertained or conjectured side-glances at Shakespeare are

In the prologue to _Every Man in his Humour_, which can scarcely have
been spoken when the play was performed by the Lord Chamberlain's
company, not only is realistic art proclaimed the true art, in
opposition to the romanticism which prevailed on the Shakespearian
stage, but a quite definite attack is made on those who

                  "With three rusty swords,
    And help of some few foot and half-foot words,
    Fight over York and Lancaster's long jars."

And this is followed by a really biting criticism of the works of other
playwrights, concluding--

                    "There's hope left then,
    You, that have so graced monsters, may like men."

The possible jibe at _Twelfth Night_ in _Every Man out of his Humour_
(iii. I) has already been mentioned (_ante_, p. 272). That, too, must
be of late insertion, and is at worst extremely innocent.

Much has been made of the passage in _Volpone_ (iii. 2) where Lady
Politick Would-be, speaking of Guarini's _Pastor Fido_, says:--

                    "All our English writers
    Will deign to steal out of this author, mainly:
    Almost as much as from Montagnié."

This has been interpreted as an accusation of plagiarism, some pointing
it at the well-known passage in _The Tempest_, where Shakespeare has
annexed some lines, from Montaigne's Essays; others at _Hamlet_, which
has throughout many points of contact with the French philosopher. But
_The Tempest_ was undoubtedly written long after _Volpone_, and the
relation of _Hamlet_ to Montaigne is such as to render it scarcely
conceivable that an accusation of plagiarism could be founded upon it.
Here again Jonson seems to have been groundlessly suspected of malice.

Jacob Feis (_Shakespeare and Montaigne_, p. 183) would fain see in
Nano's song about the hermaphrodite Androgyno a shameless attack upon
Shakespeare, simply because the names Pythagoras and Euphorbus appear
in it (_Volpone_, i. I), as they do in the well-known passage in Meres;
but this accusation is entirely fantastic. Equally unreasonable is it
of Feis to discover an obscene besmirching of the figure of Ophelia in
that passage of Jonson, Marston, and Chapman's _Eastward Ho!_ (iii. 2)
where there occur some passing allusions to _Hamlet_.

There remain, then, in reality, only one or two passages in
_Bartholomew Fair_, dating from 1614. We have already seen (_ante_, p.
337) that there may possibly be a satirical allusion to the Sonnets
in the introduced puppet-play, _The Touchstone of True Love_. The
Induction contains an unquestionable jibe, both at _The Tempest_ and
_The Winter's Tale_, whose airy poetry the downright Ben was unable to
appreciate.[3] Neither Caliban nor the element of enchantment in _The
Tempest_ appealed to him, and in _The Winters Tale_, as in _Pericles_,
it offended his classic taste and his Aristotelian theories that the
action should extend over a score of years, so that we see infants in
one act reappear in the next as grown-up young women.

But these trifling intolerances and impertinences must not tempt us to
forget that it was Ben Jonson who wrote of Shakespeare those great and
passionate lines:--

     "Triumph, my Britain! thou hast one to show
    To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.
    He was not of an age, but for all time!"

[1] "Observe him as his watch observes his clock."--_Sejanus_, i. I.

[2] He says of Jonson in _The Times Displayed in Six Sesfyads_:--

    "So His, that Divine Plautus equalled,
     Whose Commick vain Menander nere could hit,
     Whose tragic sceans shal be with wonder Read
     By after ages, for unto his wit
     My selfe gave personal ayd, _I_ dictated
     To him when as _Sejanus_ fall he writ,
     And yet on earth some foolish sots there bee
     That dare make Randolph his Rival in degree."

[3] "If there be never a servant-monster in the fair, who can help
it, he says, nor a nest of antiques? He is loth to make Nature afraid
in his plays, like those that beget tales, tempests, and such-like



Many and various emotions crowded upon Shakespeare's mind in the year
1601. In its early months Essex and Southampton were condemned. At
exactly the same time there occurs the crisis in the relations of
Pembroke and Shakespeare with the Dark Lady. Finally, in the early
autumn, Shakespeare suffered a loss which he must have felt deeply. The
Stratford register of burials for 1601 contains this line--

    _Septemb._ 8. Mr. _Johannes Shakespeare_.

He lost his father, his earliest friend and guardian, whose honour and
reputation lay so near to his heart. The father probably lived with his
son's family in the handsome New Place, which Shakespeare had bought
four years before. He had doubtless brought up the two girls Susannah
and Judith; he had doubtless sat by the death-bed of the little Hamnet.
Now he was no more. All the years of his youth, spent at his father's
side, revived in Shakespeare's mind, memories flocked in upon him, the
fundamental relation between son and father preoccupied his thoughts,
and he fell to brooding over filial love and filial reverence.

In the same year _Hamlet_ began to take shape in Shakespeare's

_Hamlet_ has given the name of Denmark a world-wide renown. Of all
Danish men, there is only one who can be called famous on the largest
scale; only one with whom the thoughts of men are for ever busied in
Europe, America, Australia, aye, even in Asia and Africa, wherever
European culture has made its way; and this one never existed, at any
rate in the form in which he has become known to the world. Denmark
has produced several men of note--Tycho Brahe, Thorvaldsen, and Hans
Christian Andersen--but none of them has attained a hundredth part of
Hamlet's fame. The _Hamlet_ literature is comparable in extent to the
literature of one of the smaller European peoples--the Slovaks, for

As it is interesting to follow with the eye the process by which a
block of marble slowly assumes human form, so it is interesting to
observe how the _Hamlet_ theme gradually acquires its Shakespearian

The legend first appears in Saxo Grammaticus. Fengo murders his
brave brother Horvendil, and marries his widow Gerutha (Gertrude).
Horvendil's son, Amleth, determines to disarm Fengo's malevolence
by feigning madness. In order to test whether he is really mad, a
beautiful girl is thrown in his way, who is to note whether, in his
passion for her, he still maintains the appearance of madness. But a
foster-brother and friend of Amleth's reveals the plot to him; the
girl, too, has an old affection for him; and nothing is discovered.
Here lie the germs of Ophelia and Horatio.

With regard to Amleth's mad talk, it is explained that, having a
conscientious objection to lying, he so contorted his sayings that,
though he always said what he meant, people could not discover
whether he meant what he said, or himself understood it--an account
of the matter which applies quite as well to the dark sayings of the
Shakespearian Hamlet as to the naïve riddling of the Jutish Amleth.

Polonius, too, is here already indicated--especially the scene in which
he plays eavesdropper to Hamlet's conversation with his mother. One of
the King's friends (_præsumtione quam solertia abundantior_) proposes
that some one shall conceal himself in the Queen's chamber. Amleth runs
his sword through him and throws the dismembered body to the pigs, as
Hamlet in the play drags the body out with him. Then ensues Amleth's
speech of reproach to his mother, of which not a little is retained
even in Shakespeare:--

    "Think'st thou, woman, that these hypocritical tears can
    cleanse thee of shame, thee, who like a wanton hast cast
    thyself into the arms of the vilest of nithings, hast
    incestuously embraced thy husband's murderer, and basely
    flatterest and fawnest upon the man who has made thy son
    fatherless! What manner of creature doest thou resemble? Not
    a woman, but a dumb beast who couples at random."

Fengo resolves to send Amleth to meet his death in England, and
despatches him thither with two attendants, to whom Shakespeare, as
we know, has given the names of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern--the
names of two Danish noblemen whose signatures have been found in close
juxtaposition (with the date 1577) in an album which probably belonged
to a Duke of Würtemberg. They were colleagues in the Council of Regency
during the minority of Christian IV. These attendants (according to
Saxo) had rune-staves with them, on which Amleth altered the runes, as
in the play he re-writes the letters.

One more little touch is, as it were, led up to in Saxo: the exchange
of the swords. Amleth, on his return, finds the King's men assembled
at his own funeral feast. He goes around with a drawn sword, and on
trying its edge against his nails he once or twice cuts himself with
it. Therefore they nail his sword fast into its sheath. When Amleth has
set fire to the hall and rushes into Fengo's chamber to murder him,
he takes the King's sword from its hook and replaces it with his own,
which the King in vain attempts to draw before he dies.

Now that Hamlet, more than any other Dane, has made the name of his
fatherland world-famous, it impresses us strangely to read this
utterance of Saxo's: "Imperishable shall be the memory of the steadfast
youth who armed himself against falsehood with folly, and with it
marvellously cloaked the splendour of heaven-radiant wisdom.... He
left history in doubt as to whether his heroism or his wisdom was the

The Hamlet of the tragedy, with reference to his mother's too hasty
marriage, says, "Frailty, thy name is woman!" Saxo remarked with
reference to Amleth's widow, who was in too great a hurry to marry
again: "Thus it is with all the promises of women: they are scattered
like chaff before the wind and pass away like waves of the sea. Who
then will trust to a woman's heart, which changes as flowers shed their
leaves, as seasons change, and as new events wipe out the traces of
those that went before?"

In Saxo's eyes, Amleth represented not only wisdom, but bodily
strength. While the Hamlet of Shakespeare expressly emphasises the
fact that he is anything but Herculean ("My father's brother, but no
more like my father than I to Hercules"), Saxo expressly compares his
hero to the Club-Bearer whose name is a synonym for strength: "And the
fame of men shall tell of him that, if it had been given him to live
his life fortunately to the end, his excellent dispositions would have
displayed themselves in deeds greater than those of Hercules, and would
have adorned his brows with the demigod's wreath." It sounds almost as
though Shakespeare's Hamlet entered a protest against these words of

In the year 1559 the legend was reproduced in French in Belleforest's
_Histoires Tragiques_, and seems in this form to have reached England,
where it furnished material for the older _Hamlet_ drama, now lost,
but to which we find frequent allusions. It cannot be proved that this
play was founded upon Pavier's English translation of Belleforest, or
even that Shakespeare had Pavier before him; for the oldest edition
of the translation which has come down to us (reprinted in Collier's
_Shakespeare's Library_, ed. 1875, pt. I. vol. ii. p. 224) dates
from 1608, and contains certain details (such as the eavesdropper's
concealment behind the arras, and Hamlet's exclamation of "A rat!
a rat!" before he kills Polonius) of which there is no trace in
Belleforest, and which may quite as well have been taken from Shakespeare's
tragedy, as borrowed by him from an unknown older edition of the novel.

The earliest known allusion to the old _Hamlet_ drama is the phrase of
Thomas Nash, dating from 1589, quoted above (p. 91). In 1594
the Lord Chamberlain's men (Shakespeare's company), acting together
with the Lord Admiral's men at the Newington Butts theatre under the
management of Henslow and others, performed a _Hamlet_ with reference
to which Henslow notes in his account-book for June 9th: "Rd. at hamlet
... viii s." This play must have been the old one, for Henslow would
otherwise have added the letters _ne_ (new), and the receipts would
have been much greater. His share, as we see, was only eight shillings,
whereas it was sometimes as much as nine pounds.

The chief interest of this older play seems to have centred in a figure
added by the dramatist--the Ghost of the murdered King, which cried
"Hamlet, revenge!" This cry is frequently quoted. It first appears
in 1596 in Thomas Lodge's _Wits Miserie_, where it is said of the
author that he "looks as pale as the visard of ye ghost, which cried
so miserably at ye theator like an oister-wife, _Hamlet, revenge_" It
next occurs in Dekker's _Satiromastix_, 1602, where Tucca says, "My
name's _Hamlet, revenge!_" In 1605 we find it in Thomas Smith's _Voiage
and Entertainement in Rushia_; and it is last found in 1620 in Samuel
Rowland's _Night Raven_, where, however, it seems to be an inaccurate
quotation from the _Hamlet_ we know.

Shakespeare's play was entered in the Stationers' Register on the
26th of July 1602, under the title "A booke called _'the Revenge of
Hamlett Prince_ [of] _Denmarke' as yt was latelie Acted by the Lord
Chamberleyne his servantes._"

That it made an instant success on the stage is almost proved by the
fact that so early as the 7th of July the opposition manager Henslow
pays Chettle twenty shillings for "The Danish Tragedy," evidently a
furbishing up of the old play.

The publication of Shakespeare's _Hamlet_, however, did not take
place till 1603. Then appeared the First Quarto, indubitably a
pirated edition, either founded entirely on shorthand notes, or on
shorthand notes eked out by aid of the actors' parts, and completed,
in certain passages, from memory. Although this edition certainly
contains a debased and corrupt text, it is impossible to attribute to
the misunderstandings or oversights of a copyist or stenographer all
its divergences from the carefully-printed quarto of the following
year, which is practically identical with the First Folio text. The
differences are so great as to exclude such a theory. We have evidently
before us Shakespeare's first sketch of the play, although in a very
defective form; and, as far as we can see, this first sketch keeps
considerably closer than the definitive text to the old _Hamlet_ drama,
on which Shakespeare based his play. Here and there, though with
considerable uncertainty, we can even trace scenes from the old play
among Shakespeare's, and touches of its style mingling with his. It is
very significant, also, that there are more rhymes in the First than in
the Second Quarto.

The most remarkable feature in the 1603 edition is a scene between
Horatio and the Queen in which he tells her of the King's frustrated
scheme for having Hamlet murdered in England. The object of this
scene is to absolve the Queen from complicity in the King's crime;
a purpose which can also be traced in other passages of this first
edition, and which seems to be a survival from the older drama. So
far as we can gather, Horatio appears to have played an altogether
more prominent part in the old play; Hamlet's madness appears to have
been wilder; and Polonius probably bore the name of Corambis, which
is prefixed to his speeches in the edition of 1603. Finally, as we
have seen, Shakespeare took the important character of the Ghost, not
indicated in either the legend or the novel, from this earlier _Hamlet_
tragedy. The theory that it is the original of the German tragedy, _Der
bestrafte Brudermord,_ published by Cohn, from a manuscript of 1710, is
unsupported by evidence.

Looking backward through the dramatic literature of England, we find
that the author of the old _Hamlet_ drama in all probability sought
inspiration in his turn in Kyd's _Spanish Tragedy_. It appears from
allusions in Jonson's _Cynthia's Revels_ and _Bartholomew Fair_ that
this play must have been written about 1584. It was one of the most
popular plays of its day with the theatre-going public. So late as
1632, Prynne in his _Histriomastix_ speaks of a woman who, on her
death-bed, instead of seeking the consolations of religion, cried out:
"Hieronimo, Hieronimo! O let me see Hieronimo acted!"

The tragedy opens, after the fashion of its models in Seneca, with the
apparition of the murdered man's ghost, and his demand for vengeance.
Thus the Ghost in Shakespeare's _Hamlet_ is lineally descended from
the spirit of Tantalus in Seneca's _Thyestes_, and from the spirit of
Thyestes in Seneca's _Agamemnon_. Hieronimo, who has been driven mad by
sorrow for the loss of his son, speaking to the villain of the piece,
gives half-ironical, half-crazy expression to the anguish that is
torturing him:--

    "_Lorenzo_. Why so, Hieronimo? use me.
     _Hieronimo_. Who? you my lord?
          I reserve your favour for a greater honour:
          This is a very toy, my lord, a toy.
     _Lor_. All's one, Hieronimo, acquaint me with it.
     _Hier_. I' faith, my lord, 'tis an idle thing ...
          The murder of a son, or so--
          A thing of nothing, my lord!"

These phrases foreshadow Hamlet's speeches to the King. But Hieronimo
is really mad, although he speaks of his madness much as Hamlet does,
or rather denies it point-blank--

    "Villain, thou liest, and thou dost naught
     But tell me I am mad: thou liest, I am not mad.
     I know thee to be Pedro, and he Jaques;
     I'll prove it to thee; and were I mad, how could I?"

Here and there, especially in Ben Jonson's additions, we come across
speeches which lie very close to passages in Hamlet. A painter, who
also has lost his son, says to Hieronimo: "Ay, sir, no man did hold a
son so dear;" whereupon he answers--

    "What, not as thine? That is a lie,
     As massy as the earth: I had a son,
     Whose least unvalued hair did weigh
     A thousand of thy sons; and he was murdered."

Thus Hamlet cries to Laertes:--

    "I lov'd Ophelia: forty thousand brothers
     Could not, with all their quantity of love,
     Make up my sum."

Hieronimo, like Hamlet, again and again postpones his vengeance:--

             "All times fit not for revenge.
     Thus, therefore, will I rest me in unrest,
     Dissembling quiet in unquietness:
     Not seeming that I know their villainies,
     That my simplicity may make them think
     That ignorantly I will let all slip."

At last he determines to have a play acted, as a means to his revenge.
The play is Kyd's own _Solyman and Perseda_, and in the course of it
the guilty personages, who play the chief parts, are slaughtered, not
in make-believe, but in reality.

Crude and naïve though everything still is in _The Spanish Tragedy_,
which resembles _Titus Andronicus_ in style rather than any other
of Shakespeare's works, it evidently, through the medium of the
earlier _Hamlet_ play, contributed a good deal to the foundations of
Shakespeare's _Hamlet_.

Before going more deeply into the contents of this great work, and
especially before trying to bring it into relation to Shakespeare's
personality, we have yet to see what suggestions or impulses the poet
may have found in contemporary history.

We have already remarked upon the impression which the Essex family
tragedy must have made upon Shakespeare in his early youth, before he
had even left Stratford. All England was talking of the scandal: how
the Earl of Leicester, who was commonly suspected of having had Lord
Essex poisoned, immediately after his death had married his widow,
Lady Lettice, whose lover no one doubted that he had been during her
husband's lifetime. There is much in the character of King Claudius to
suggest that Shakespeare has here taken Leicester as his model. The
two have in common ambition, sensuality, an ingratiating conciliatory
manner, astute dissimulation, and complete unscrupulousness. On
the other hand, it is quite unreasonable to suppose, with Hermann
Conrad,[1] that Shakespeare had Essex in his eye in drawing Hamlet

Almost as near to Shakespeare's own day as the Essex-Leicester
catastrophe had been the similar events in the Royal Family of
Scotland. Mary Stuart's second husband, Lord Darnley, who bore the
title of King of Scotland, had been murdered in 1567 by her lover, the
daring and unscrupulous Bothwell, whom the Queen almost immediately
afterwards married. Her contemporaries had no doubt whatever of
Mary's complicity in the assassination, and her son James saw in his
mother and his stepfather his father's murderers. The leaders of the
Scottish rebellion displayed before the captive Queen a banner bearing
a representation of Darnley's corpse, with her son kneeling beside it
and calling to Heaven for vengeance. Darnley, like the murdered King in
_Hamlet_, was an unusually handsome, Bothwell an unusually repulsive

James was brought up by his mother's enemies, and during her lifetime,
and after her death, was perpetually wavering between her adherents,
who had defended her legal rights, and her adversaries, who had driven
her from the country and placed James himself upon the throne. He made
one or two efforts, indeed, to soften Elizabeth's feelings towards
his mother, but refrained from all attempt to avenge her death. His
character was irresolute. He was learned and--what Hamlet is very far
from being--a superstitious pedant; but, like Hamlet, he was a lover
of the arts and sciences, and was especially interested in the art of
acting. Between 1599 and 1601 he entertained in Scotland a portion of
the company to which Shakespeare belonged; but it is uncertain whether
Shakespeare himself ever visited Scotland. There is little doubt, on
the other hand, that when, after Elizabeth's death in 1603, James made
his entrance into London, Shakespeare, richly habited in a uniform of
red cloth, walked in his train along with Burbage and a few others
of the leading players. Their company was henceforth known as "His
Majesty's Servants."

Although there is in all this no lack of parallels to Hamlet's
circumstances, it is, of course, as ridiculous to take James as to take
Essex for the actual model of Hamlet. Nothing could at that time have
been stupider or more tactless than to remind the heir-presumptive
to the throne, or the new King, of the deplorable circumstances of
his early history. This does not exclude the supposition, however,
that contemporary history supplied Shakespeare with certain outward
elements, which, in the moment of conception, contributed to the
picture bodied forth by the creative energy of his genius.

From this point of view, too, we must regard the piles of material
which well-meaning students bring to light, in the artless belief that
they have discovered the very stones of which Shakespeare constructed
his dramatic edifice. People do not distinguish between the possibility
that the poet may have unconsciously received a suggestion here and
there for details of his work, and the theory that he deliberately
intended an imaginative reproduction of definite historic events.
No work of imagination assuredly, and least of all such a work as
_Hamlet_, comes into existence in the way these theorists assume. It
springs from within, has its origin in an overmastering sensation
in the poet's soul, and then, in the process of growth, assimilates
certain impressions from without.

[1] _Preuss. Jahrbücher_, February 1895.



Along with motives from novel, drama, and history, impressions of
a philosophical and quasi-scientific order went to the making of
_Hamlet_: Of all Shakespeare's plays, this is the profoundest and most
contemplative; a philosophic atmosphere breathes around it. Naturally
enough, then, criticism has set about inquiring to what influences we
may ascribe these broodings over life and death and the mysteries of

Several students, such as Tschischwitz and König, have tried to make
out that Giordano Bruno exercised a preponderating influence upon
Shakespeare.[1] Passages suggesting a cycle in nature, such as Hamlet's
satirical outburst to the King about the dead Polonius (iv. 3), have
directed their thoughts to the Italian philosopher. In some cases they
have found or imagined a definite identity between sayings of Hamlet's
and of Bruno's--for instance, on determinism. Bruno has a passage in
which he emphasises the necessity by which everything is brought about:
"Whatever may be my pre-ordained eventide, when the change shall take
place, I await the day, I, who dwell in the night; but they await the
night who dwell in the daylight. All that is, is either here or there,
near or far off, now or after, soon or late." In the same spirit Hamlet
says (v. 2): "There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.
If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now;
if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all." Bruno says:
"Nothing is absolutely imperfect or evil; it only seems so in relation
to something else, and what is bad for one is good for another." In
_Hamlet_ (ii. 2), "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking
makes it so."

When once attention had been directed to Giordano Bruno, not only
his philosophical and more popular writings, but even his plays were
ransacked in search of passages that might have influenced Shakespeare.
Certain parallels and points of resemblance were indeed discovered,
very slight and trivial in themselves, but which theorists would not
believe to be fortuitous, since it was known that Giordano Bruno had
passed some time in England in Shakespeare's day, and had frequented
the society of the most distinguished men. As soon as the matter was
closely investigated, however, the probability of any direct influence
vanished almost to nothing.

Giordano Bruno remained on English ground from 1583 to 1585. Coming
from France, where he had instructed Henri III. in the Lullian art,
a mechanical, mnemotechnic method for the solution of all possible
scientific problems, he brought with him a letter of recommendation to
Mauvissière, the French Ambassador, in whose house he was received as
a friend of the family during the whole of his stay in London. He made
the acquaintance of many leading men of the time, such as Walsingham,
Leicester, Burghley, Sir Philip Sidney and his literary circle, but
soon went on to Oxford in order to lecture there and disseminate the
doctrines which lay nearest his heart. These were the Copernican
system in opposition to the Ptolemaic, which still held the field at
Oxford, and the theory that the same principle of life is diffused
through everything--atoms and organisms, plants, animals, human beings,
and the universe at large. He quarrelled with the Oxford scholars,
and held them up to ridicule and contempt in his dialogue _La Cena
de le Ceneri_, published soon after, in which he speaks in the most
disparaging terms of the coarseness of English manners. The dirtiness
of the London streets, for example, and the habit of letting one goblet
go round the table, from which every one drank, aroused his dislike and
scorn scarcely less than the rejection of Copernicus by the pedants of
the University.

At the very earliest, Shakespeare cannot have come to London until the
year of Bruno's departure from England, and can therefore scarcely have
met him. The philosopher exercised no influence upon the spiritual
life of the day in England. Not even Sir Philip Sidney was attracted
by his doctrine, and his name does not once occur in Greville's Life
of Sidney, although Greville had seen much of Bruno. Brunnhofer, who
has studied the question, points out, as showing how little trace Bruno
left behind him in England, that there is not in the Bodleian a single
contemporary manuscript or document of any kind which throws the least
light upon Bruno's stay in London or Oxford.[2] It has been maintained,
nevertheless, that Shakespeare must have read his philosophic writings
in Italian. It is, of course, possible; but there is nothing in
_Hamlet_ to prove it--nothing that cannot be fully accounted for
without assuming that he had the slightest acquaintance with them.

The only expression in Shakespeare which, probably by accident, has an
entirely pantheistic ring is "The prophetic soul of the wide world"
in Sonnet cvii.; the only passages containing an idea, not certainly
identical, but comparable with Bruno's doctrine of the metamorphosis of
natural forms are the cyclical Sonnets lix., cvi., cxxiii. If Giordano
Bruno really had anything to do with these passages, it must be because
Shakespeare had heard some talk about the great Italian's doctrine,
which may just at that time have been recalled to the recollection
of his English acquaintances by his death at the stake in Rome, on
February 17, 1600. If Shakespeare had studied his writings, he would,
among other things, have obtained some glimmering of the Copernican
system, of which he knows nothing. On the other hand, it is quite
conceivable that he may have picked up in conversation an approximate
and incomplete conception of Bruno's philosophy, and that this
conception may have given birth to the above-mentioned philosophical
reveries. All the passages in _Hamlet_ which have been attributed to
the influence of Bruno really stand in much closer relation to writers
under whose literary and philosophical influence we know beyond a doubt
that Shakespeare fell.

There is preserved in the British Museum a copy of Florio's translation
of Montaigne's Essays, folio, London, 1603, with Shakespeare's name
written on the fly-leaf. The signature is, I believe, a forgery; but
that Shakespeare had read Montaigne is clear beyond all doubt.

There are many evidences of the influence exerted by Montaigne's Essays
on English readers of that date. It was only natural that the book
should vividly impress the greatest men of the age; for there were not
at that time many such books as Montaigne's--none, perhaps, containing
so living a revelation, not merely of an author, but of a human being,
natural, many-sided, full of ability, rich in contradictions.

Outside of _Hamlet_, we trace Montaigne quite clearly in one passage in
Shakespeare, who must have had the Essays lying on his table while he
was writing _The Tempest_. Gonzalo says (ii. I)--

    "I' the commonwealth I would by contrarie
     Execute all things, for no kind of traffic
     Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
     Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
     And use of service, none; contract, succession,
     Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
     No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil:
     No occupation, all men idle, all;
     And women too."

We find this speech almost word for word in Montaigne (Book i. chap.
30): "It is a nation that hath no kind of traffike, no knowledge of
letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate, nor of
politike superioritie; no vse of service, of riches or of povertie; no
contracts, no successions, no partitions, no occupation but idle ... no
manuring of lands, no vse of wine, corn or metal."

Since it is thus proved beyond a doubt that Shakespeare was acquainted
with Montaigne's Essays, it is not improbable that the resemblance
between passages in that book and passages in _Hamlet_ are due to
something more than chance. When such passages occur in the First
Quarto (1603), we must assume either that Shakespeare knew the
French original, or that--as is likely enough--he may have had an
opportunity of reading Florio's translation before it was published. It
happened not infrequently in those days that a book was handed round
in manuscript among the author's private friends five or six years
before it was given to the public. Florio's close connection with the
household of Southampton renders it almost certain that Shakespeare
must have been acquainted with him; and his translation had been
entered in the Stationers' Register as ready for publication so early
as 1599.

Florio was born in 1545, of Italian parents, who, as Waldenses, had
been forced to leave their country. He had become to all intents and
purposes an Englishman, had studied and given lessons in Italian at
Oxford, had been some years in the service of the Earl of Southampton,
and was married to a sister of the poet Samuel Daniel. He dedicated
each separate book of his translation of Montaigne to two noble ladies.
Among them we find Elizabeth, Countess of Rutland, Sidney's daughter;
Lady Penelope Rich, Essex's sister; and Lady Elizabeth Grey, renowned
for her beauty and learning. Each of these ladies was celebrated in a

Every one remembers those incomparably-worded passages in _Hamlet_
where the great brooder over life and death has expressed, in terms at
once harsh and moving, his sense of the ruthlessness of the destructive
forces of Nature, or what might be called the cynicism of the order of
things. Take for instance the following (v. I):--

    "Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander,
    till he find it stopping a bung-hole?... As thus: Alexander
    died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth into dust;
    the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that
    loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a

    Imperious Cæsar, dead, and turn'd to clay,
    Might stop a hole to keep the wind away:
    O that that earth which kept the world in awe
    Should patch a wall to expel the winter's flaw!"

Hamlet's grisly jest upon the worms who are eating Polonius is a
variation on the same theme (iv. 3):--

    "_Ham._ A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
    king; and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

    "_King._ What dost thou mean by this?

    "_Ham._ Nothing, but to show you how a king may go a
    progress through the guts of a beggar."

An attempt has been made to attribute these passages to the influence
of Giordano Bruno; but, as Robert Beyersdorff has strikingly
demonstrated,[3] this theory assumes that Bruno's doctrine was an
atomistic materialism, whereas it was, in fact, pantheism, a perpetual
insistence upon the unity of God and Nature. The very atoms, in Bruno,
partake of spirit and life; it is not their mechanical conjunction
that produces life; no, they are monads. While cynicism is the keynote
of these utterances of Hamlet, enthusiasm is the keynote of Bruno's.
Three passages from Bruno's writings (_De la Causa_ and _La Cena de
le Ceneri_) have been cited as coinciding with Hamlet's words as to
the transformations of matter. But in the first Bruno is speaking
of the transformation of natural forms, and of the emanation of all
forms from the universal soul; in the second, he is insisting that
in all compound bodies there live numerous individuals who remain
immortal after the dissolution of the bodies; in the third, he treats
of the globe as a vast organism, which, just like animals and men, is
renewed by the transformation of matter. The whole resemblance, then,
between these passages and Hamlet's bitter outburst is that they treat
of transformations of form and matter in Nature. In spirit they are
radically different. Bruno maintains that even what seems to belong
entirely to the world of matter is permeated with soul; Hamlet, on
the contrary, asserts the wretchedness and transitoriness of human

But precisely in these points Hamlet comes very near to Montaigne, who
has many expressions like those above quoted, and speaks of Sulla very
much as Hamlet speaks of Alexander and Cæsar.

On a close comparison of Shakespeare's expressions with Montaigne's,
their similarity is very striking. Hamlet, for example, says that
Polonius is at supper, not where he eats but where he is eaten. "A
certain convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your worm is your
only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat
ourselves for maggots: your fat king, and your lean beggar, is but
variable service; two dishes, but to one table: that's the end."

Compare Montaigne, Book ii. chap. 12:--

    "He [man] need not a Whale, an Elephant, nor a Crocodile,
    nor any such other wilde beast, of which one alone is of
    power to defeat a great number of men: seely lice are able
    to make Sulla give over his Dictatorship: The heart and life
    of a mighty and triumphant Emperor, is but the break-fast of
    a seely little Worm."

We have seen that an attempt has been made to trace to Bruno Hamlet's
utterance as to the relativity of all concepts. In reality it may
rather be traced to Montaigne. Hamlet, having remarked (ii. 2) that
"Denmark is a prison," Rosencrantz replies, "We think not so, my lord;"
whereupon Hamlet rejoins, "Why, then 'tis none to you; for there is
nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."[5] The passage
in Montaigne is almost identical (Book i. chap. 40):--

    "If that which we call evill and torment, be neither torment
    nor evill, but that our fancie only gives it that qualitie,
    it is in us to change it."

We have seen that an attempt has been made to trace Hamlet's saying
about death, "If it be now, 'tis not to come," &c. to Bruno's words in
the dedication of his _Candelajo_: "Tutto quel ch'è o è qua o è là,
o vicino o lunghi, o adesso o poi, o presso o tardi." But the same
course of thought which leads Hamlet to the conclusion, "The readiness
is all," is found, with the same conclusion, in the nineteenth chapter
of Montaigne's first book: "That to Philosophie, is to learne how to
die"--a chapter which has inspired a great many of Hamlet's graveyard
cogitations.[6] Montaigne says of death:--

    "Let us not forget how many waies our joyes or our feastings
    be subject unto death, and by how many hold-fasts shee
    threatens us and them.... It is uncertaine where death
    looks for us; let us expect her everie where.... I am ever
    prepared about that which I may be.... A man should ever be
    ready booted to take his journey.... What matter is it when
    it commeth, since it is unavoidable?"

Furthermore, we find striking points of resemblance between the
celebrated soliloquy, "To be or not to be," and the passage in
Montaigne (Book iii. chap. 12) where he reproduces the substance of
Socrates' Apology. Socrates, as we know, suggests several different
possibilities: death is either an "amendment" of our condition or
the annihilation of our being; but even in the latter case it is an
"amendment" to enter upon a long and peaceful night; for there is
nothing better in life than a deep, calm, dreamless sleep. Shakespeare
seems to have had no belief in an actual amelioration of our condition
at death; Hamlet does not even mention it as a possible contingency;
whereas the poet makes him dwell upon the thought of an endless sleep,
and on the possibility of horrible dreams. Now and then we seem to find
traces in _Hamlet_ of Plato's monologue, in the vesture given to it
by Montaigne. In the French text there is mention of the joy of being
free in another life from having to do with unjust and corrupt judges;
Hamlet speaks of freeing himself from "The oppressor's wrong, the
proud man's contumely." Some lines added in the edition of 1604 remind
us forcibly of a passage in Florio's translation. Florio reproduces
Montaigne's "Si c'est un anéantissement de notre être" by the phrase,
"If it be a consummation of one's being." Hamlet, using a word which
occurs in only two other places in Shakespeare, says, "A consummation
devoutly to be wished."

Many other small coincidences can be pointed out in the use of names
and turns of phrase, which do not, however, actually prove anything.
Where Montaigne is describing the anarchic condition of public affairs,
his words are rendered in Florio by the curiously poetic expression,
"All is out of frame." This bears a certain resemblance to the phrase
which Hamlet, already in the 1603 edition, employs to describe the
disorganisation which has followed his father's death, "The time is
out of joint." The coincience may be fortuitous, but as one among many
other points of resemblance it supports the conjecture that Shakespeare
had read the translation before it was published.[7].

For the rest, Rushton, in _Shakespeare's Euphuism_ (1871), and after
him Beyersdorff, have pointed out not a few parallels to _Hamlet_ in
Lily's _Euphues_, precisely at the points where critics have sought
to trace the much more improbable influence of Bruno. Beyersdorff
sometimes goes too far in trying to find in _Euphues_ the origin of
ideas which it would be an insult to suppose that Shakespeare needed
to borrow from such a source. But sometimes there is a real analogy.
It has been alleged that the King must have borrowed from Bruno's
philosophy the topics of consolation whereby (i. 2) he seeks to
convince Hamlet of the unreasonableness of "obstinate condolement"
over his father's death. As a matter of fact, the letter of Euphues
to Ferardo on his daughter's death contains precisely the same
arguments:--"Knowest thou not, Ferardo, that lyfe is the gifte of God,
deathe the due of Nature, as we receive the one as a benefitte, so must
we abide the other of necessitie," &c.

It has been suggested that where Hamlet (ii. 2) speaks of "the
satirical rogue" who, in the book he is reading, makes merry over
the decrepitude of old age, Shakespeare must have been alluding to a
passage in Bruno's _Spaccio_, where old men are described as those who
have "snow on their head and furrows in their brow." But if we insist
on identifying the "satirical rogue" with any actual author (a quite
unreasonable proceeding), Lily at once presents himself as answering to
the description. Again and again in _Euphues_, where old men give good
advice to the young, they appear with "hoary haire and watry eyes." And
Euphues repulses, quite in the manner of Hamlet, an old gentleman whose
moralising he regards as nothing more than the envy of decrepit age for
lusty youth, and whose intellect seems to him as tottering as his legs.

Finally, an attempt has been made to refer Hamlet's harsh sayings
to Ophelia, and his contemptuous utterances about women in general
("Frailty, thy name is woman," &c.), to a dialogue of Bruno's (_De la
Causa IV_.) in which the pedant Pollinnio appears as a woman-hater.
But the resemblance seems trifling enough when we find that in this
case woman is attacked in sound theological fashion as the source
of original sin and the cause of all our woe. Many expressions
in _Euphues_ lie infinitely nearer to Hamlet's. "What means your
lordship?" Ophelia asks (iii. I), and Hamlet replies, "That if you
be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your
beauty." Compare in _Euphues_ Ferardo's words to Lucilla: "For
oftentimes thy mother woulde saye, that thou haddest more beautie
then was convenient for one that shoulde bee honeste," and his
exclamation, "O Lucilla, Lucilla, woulde thou wert lesse fayre!"
Again, Hamlet rails against women's weakness, crying, "Wise men know
well enough what monsters you make of them;" and we find in _Euphues_
exactly similar outbursts: "I perceive they be rather woe vnto men,
by their falsehood, gelousie, inconstancie.... I see they will be
corasiues (corrosives)."[8] Beyersdorff, moreover, is no doubt right
in suggesting that the artificial style of _Euphues_ is apparent in
such speeches as this of Hamlet's: "For the power of beauty will sooner
transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty
can translate beauty into his likeness."

In _Hamlet_ and elsewhere in Shakespeare we come across traces of
a sort of atomistic-materialistic philosophy. In the last scene of
_Julius Cæsar_, Antony actually employs with regard to Brutus the
expression, "The elements so _mixd_ in him." In _Measure for Measure_
(iii. I) the Duke says to Claudio--

                    "Thou art not thyself;
    For thou exist'st on many a thousand grains
    That issue out of dust."

Hamlet says (i. 2)--

    "O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
     Thaw, and dissolve itself into a dew;"

and to Horatio (iii. 2)--

                            "Bless'd are those
    Whose blood and judgment are so well _co-mingled._"

It has already been pointed out how far this atomism, if we can so
regard it, differs from Bruno's idealistic monadism. But in all
probability we have here only the expressions of the dominant belief of
Shakespeare's time, that all differences of temperament depended upon
the mixture of the juices or "humours." Shakespeare is on this point,
as on many others, more popular and less book-learned, more naïve and
less metaphysical, than book-learned commentators are willing to allow.

Writers like Montaigne and Lyly were no doubt constantly in
Shakespeare's hands while _Hamlet_ was taking shape within him. But
it would be absurd to suppose that he consulted them especially with
_Hamlet_ in view. He did consult authorities with regard to Hamlet, but
they were men, not books, and men, moreover, with whom he was in daily
intercourse. Hamlet being a Dane and his destiny being acted out in
distant Denmark--a name not yet so familiar in England as it was soon
to be, when, with the new King, a Danish princess came to the throne--
Shakespeare would naturally seize whatever opportunities lay in his
way of gathering intelligence as to the manners and customs of this
little-known country.

In the year 1585 a troupe of English players had appeared in the
courtyard of the Town-Hall of Elsinore. If we are justified in assuming
this troupe to have been the same which we find in the following year
established at the Danish Court, it numbered among its members three
persons who, at the time when Shakespeare was turning over in his
mind the idea of _Hamlet_, belonged to his company of actors, and
probably to his most intimate circle: namely, William Kemp, George
Bryan, and Thomas Pope. The first of these, the celebrated clown,
belonged to Shakespeare's company from 1594 till March 1602, when he
went over for six months to Henslow's company; the other two also
joined Shakespeare's company as early as 1594. It was evidently from
these comrades of his, and perhaps also from other English actors who,
under the management of Thomas Sackville, had performed at Copenhagen
in 1596 at the coronation of Christian IV., that Shakespeare gathered
information on several matters relating to Denmark.

First and foremost, he picked up some Danish names, which we find,
indeed, mutilated by the printers in the different texts of _Hamlet_,
but which are easily recognisable. The _Rossencraft_ of the First
Quarto has become _Rosencraus_ in the second, and _Rosincrane_ in
the Folio; it is clearly enough the name of the ancient Danish
family of _Rosenkrans_. Thus, too, we find in the three editions the
name _Gilderstone, Guyldensterne_, and _Guildensterne_, in which
we recognise the Danish _Gyldenstierne_; while the names given to
the ambassador, _Voltemar, Voltemand, Valtemand, Voltumand_, are so
many corruptions of the Danish _Valdemar_. The name _Gertrude_, too,
Shakespeare must have learned from his comrades as a Danish name; he
has substituted it for the _Geruth_ of the novel. In the Second Quarto
it is misprinted _Gertrad_.

It is evidently in consequence of what he had learnt from his comrades
that Shakespeare has transferred the action of _Hamlet_ from Jutland to
Elsinore, which they had visited and no doubt described to him. That is
how he comes to know of the Castle at Elsinore (finished about a score
of years earlier), though he does not mention the name of Kronborg.

The scene in which Polonius listens behind the arras, and in which
Hamlet, in reproaching the Queen, points to the portraits of the
late and of the present King, has even been regarded as proving that
Shakespeare knew something of the interior of the Castle. On the
stage, Hamlet is often made to wear a miniature portrait of his father
round his neck, and to hold it up before his mother; but the words
of the play prove incontestably that Shakespeare imagined life-sized
pictures hanging on the wall. Now we find a contemporary description
of a "great chamber" at Kronborg, written by an English traveller,
in which occurs this passage: "It is hanged with Tapistary of fresh
coloured silke without gold, wherein all the Danish kings are exprest
in antique habits, according to their severall times, with their armes
and inscriptions, containing all their conquests and victories."[9] It
is possible, then, though not very probable, that Shakespeare may have
heard of the arrangement of this room. When Polonius wanted to play the
eavesdropper, it was a matter of course that he should get behind the
arras; and it was easy to imagine that portraits of the kings would
hang on the walls of a royal castle, without the least knowledge that
this was actually the case at Kronborg.

It is probable, on the other hand, that Shakespeare made Hamlet study
at Wittenberg because he knew that many Danes went to this University,
which, being Lutheran, was not frequented by Englishmen. And it
is quite certain that when, in the first and fifth acts, he makes
trumpet-blasts and the firing of cannon accompany the healths which
are drunk, he must have known that this was a specially Danish custom,
and have tried to give his play local colour by introducing it. While
Hamlet and his friends (i. 4) are awaiting the appearance of the Ghost,
trumpets and cannon are heard "within." "What does this mean, my lord?"
Horatio asks; and Hamlet answers--

    "The king doth wake to-night, and takes his rouse,
     Keeps wassail, and the swaggering up-spring reels;
     And as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down,
     The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out
     The triumph of his pledge."

Similarly, in the last scene of the play, the King says--

                "Give me the cups;
    And let the kettle to the trumpet speak,
    The trumpet to the cannoneer without,
    The cannons to the heavens, the heavens to earth,
    'Now the king drinks to Hamlet!"

Shakespeare must even have been eager to display his knowledge of the
intemperate habits of the Danes, and the strange usages resulting
therefrom, for, as Schück has ingeniously remarked, in order to bring
in this piece of information, he has made Horatio, himself a Dane, ask
Hamlet whether it is the custom of the country to celebrate every toast
with this noise of trumpets and of ordnance. In answer to this question
Hamlet speaks of the custom as though he were addressing a foreigner,
and makes the profound remark that a single blemish will often mar
a nation's good report, no less than an individual's, and that its

    "Shall in the general censure take corruption
     From that particular fault."

It is evident that Denmark "took corruption" from its drinking usages
in the "censure" of the better sort of Englishmen. In a notebook kept
by "Maister William Segar, Garter King at Armes," we read under the
date July 14, 1603--

    "That afternoone the King [of Denmark] went aboord the
    English ship [which was lying off Elsinore], and had a
    banket prepared for him vpon the vpper decks, which were
    hung with an Awning of cloaths of Tissue; every health
    reported sixe, eight, or ten shot of great Ordinance, so
    that during the king's abode, the ship discharged 160 shot."

Of the same king's "solemne feast to the [English] embassadour," Segar

"It were superfluous to tell you of all superfluities that
were vsed; and it would make a man sick to heare of their
drunken healths: vse hath brought it into a fashion, and
fashion made it a habit, which ill beseemes our nation to

The King here spoken of is Christian IV., then twenty-six years of age.
When he, three years afterwards, visited England, it seems as though
the Court, which had previously been very sober, justified the fears of
the worthy diarist by catching the infection of Danish intemperance.
Noble ladies as well as gentlemen took to over-indulgence in wine. The
Rev. H. Harington, in his _Nugæ Antiquæ_ (edit. 1779, ii. 126), prints
a letter from Sir John Harington to Mr. Secretary Barlow, giving a
very humorous description of the festivities in which the Danish King
took part. One day after dinner, he relates, "the representation of
Solomon his temple and the coming of the Queen of Sheba was made." But
alas! the lady who played the Queen, and who was to bring "precious
gifts to both their Majesties, forgetting the steppes arising to the
canopy, overset her caskets into his Danish Majesties lap, and fell
at his feet, though I rather think it was in his face. Much was the
hurry and confusion; cloths and napkins were at hand to make all clean.
His Majesty then got up, and would dance with the Queen of Sheba;
but he fell down and humbled himself before her, and was carried to
an inner chamber, and laid on a bed of state; which was not a little
defiled with the presents of the Queen which had been bestowed upon his
garments; such as wine, cream, jelly, beverage, cakes, spices and other
good matters." The entertainment proceeded, but most of the "presenters
fell down, wine did so occupy their upper chambers." Now there entered
in gorgeous array Faith, Hope, and Charity. Hope "did assay" to speak,
but could not manage it, and withdrew, stammering excuses to the King;
Faith staggered after her; Charity alone succeeded in kneeling at the
King's feet, and when she returned to her sisters, she found them
lying very sick in the lower hall. Then Victory made her entrance in
bright armour, but did not triumph long, having to be led away a "silly
captive" and left to sleep upon the ante-chamber stairs. Last of all
came Peace, who "much contrary to her semblance, most rudely made war
with her olive branch upon" those who tried, from motives of propriety,
to get her out of the way.

Shakespeare, then, conceived intemperance in drinking, and
glorification of drunkenness as a polite and admirable accomplishment,
to be a Danish national vice. It is clear enough, however, that no
more here than elsewhere was it his main purpose to depict a foreign
people. It was not national peculiarities that interested him, but
the characteristics common to humanity; and he did not need to search
outside of England for the prototypes of his Polonius, his Horatio, his
Ophelia, and his Hamlet.

[1] Tschischwitz: _Shakespeare-Forschungen_; König:
_Shakespeare-Jahrbuch_, xi.

[2] Brunnhofer: _Giordano Bruno's Weltanschauung und

[3] _Giordano Bruno und Shakespeare_, Oldenburg, 1889, p. 26.

[4] A comic analogy to Bruno's doctrine may be found in the
following lines of Hotspur's (Henry IV., Pt. I. iii. l):

    "Diseased nature oftentimes breaks forth
     In strange eruptions: oft the teeming earth
     Is with a kind of colic pinch'd and vex'd
     By the imprisoning of unruly wind
     Within her womb; which, for enlargement striving,
     Shakes the old beldam Earth, and topples down
     Steeples and moss-grown towers."

But no one will seriously attribute this passage to the philosophical
influence of Giordano Bruno. Hotspur was quite capable of hitting upon
this image without any suggestion from Nola or Naples.

[5] This speech first occurs in the First Folio.

[6] This was first pointed out (about 1860) by Otto Ludwig.
See his _Shakespeare-Studien_, p. 373. The relation between Shakespeare
and Montaigne is dwelt upon in an ill-arranged book by G. F. Stedefeld:
_Hamlet, ein Tendenz-Drama_ (1871).

[7] Compare Jacob Feis, _Shakespeare and Montaigne_, pp.
64-130. Beyersdorff, _Giordano Bruno und Shakespeare_, p. 27 _et seq_.

[8] Beyersdorff, _op. cit._, p. 33. John Lyly, Evphves: _The
Anatomy of Wit_, ed. Landmann, pp. 72, 75.

[9] _New Shakspere Society's Transactions_, 1874, p.
513. Compare Schück, "Englische Komödianten in Skandinavien,"
_Skandinavisches Archiv_.

[10] _New Shakspere Society's Transactions_, 1874, p. 512.



In trying to bring together, as we have done, a mass of historical,
dramatic, and fictional material, fragments of philosophy, and
ethnographical details, which Shakespeare utilised during his work upon
_Hamlet_, or which may, without his knowing it, have hovered in his
memory, we do not, of course, mean to imply that the initial impulse
to the work came to him from without. The piecing together of external
impressions, as we have already remarked, has never produced a work
of immortal poetry. In approaching the theme, Shakespeare obeyed a
fundamental instinct in his nature; and as he worked it out, everything
that stood in relation to it rushed together in his mind. He might
have said with Goethe: "After long labour in piling up fuel and straw,
I have often tried in vain to warm myself ... until at last the spark
catches all of a sudden, and the whole is wrapped in flame."

It is this flame which shines forth from _Hamlet_, shooting up so high
and glowing so red that to this day it fascinates all eyes.

Hamlet assumes madness in order to lull the suspicions of the man
who has murdered his father and wrongfully usurped his throne; but
under this mask of madness he gives evidence of rare intelligence,
deep feeling, peculiar subtlety, mordant satire, exalted irony, and
penetrating knowledge of human nature.

Here lay the point of attraction for Shakespeare. The indirect form of
expression had always allured him; it was the favourite method of his
clowns and humourists. Touchstone employs it, and it enters largely
into the immortal wit of Falstaff. We have seen how Jaques, in _As You
Like It_, envied those whose privilege it was to speak the truth under
the disguise of folly; we remember his sigh of longing for "as large a
charter as the wind to blow on whom he pleased." He it was who declared
motley the only wear; and in his melancholy and longing Shakespeare
disguised his own, exclaiming through his mouth--

    "Invest me in my motley; give me leave
     To speak my mind, and I will through and through
     Cleanse the foul body of th' infected world."

In _Hamlet_ Shakespeare put this motley coat on his own shoulders;
he seized the opportunity of making Hamlet, in the guise of apparent
madness, speak sharp and bitter truths in a way that would not soon
be forgotten. The task was a grateful one; for earnestness cuts the
deeper the more it sounds like jest or triviality; and wisdom appears
doubly wise when it is thrown out lightly under the mask of folly,
instead of pedantically asserting itself as the fruit of reflection and
experience. Difficult for any one else, to Shakespeare the enterprise
was merely alluring: it was, in fact, to do what no other poet had as
yet succeeded in doing--to draw a genius. Shakespeare had not far to
go for his model, and genius would seem doubly effective when it wore
the mask of madness, now speaking through that mouthpiece, and again
unmasking itself in impassioned monologues.

It cost Shakespeare no effort to transform himself into Hamlet. On
the contrary, in giving expression to Hamlet's spiritual life he was
enabled quite naturally to pour forth all that during the recent years
had filled his heart and seethed in his brain. He could let this
creation drink his inmost heart's blood; he could transfer to it the
throbbing of his own pulses. Behind its forehead he could hide his
melancholy; on its tongue he could lay his wit; its eyes he could cause
to glow and lighten with flashes of his own spirit.

It is true that Hamlet's outward fortunes were different enough from
his. He had not lost his father by assassination; his mother had not
degraded herself. But all these details were only outward signs and
symbols. He had lived through all of Hamlet's experience--all. Hamlet's
father had been murdered and his place usurped by his brother; that
is to say, the being whom he most reverenced and to whom he owed most
had been overpowered by malice and treachery, instantly forgotten and
shamelessly supplanted. How often had not Shakespeare himself seen
worthlessness strike greatness down and usurp its place! Hamlet's
mother had married her husband's murderer; in other words, that which
he had long honoured and loved and held sacred, sacred as is a mother
to her son, that on which he could not endure to see any stain, had
all of a sudden shown itself impure, besmirched, frivolous, perhaps
criminal. What a terrible impression must it have made upon Shakespeare
himself when he first discovered the unworthiness of that which he had
held in highest reverence, and when he first saw and realised that his
ideal had fallen from its pedestal into the mire.

The experience which shook Hamlet's nature was no other than that
which every nobly-disposed youth, on first seeing the world as it is,
concentrates in the words: "Alas! life is not what I thought it was."
The father's murder, the mother's possible complicity, and her indecent
haste in entering upon a new wedlock, were only symptoms in the young
man's eyes of the worthlessness of human nature and the injustice
of life--only the individual instances from which, by instinctive
generalisation, he inferred the dire disillusions and terrible
possibilities of existence--only the chance occasion for the sudden
vanishing of that rosy light in which everything had hitherto been
steeped for him, and in the absence of which the earth seemed to him a
sterile promontory, and the heavens a pestilent congregation of vapours.

Just such a crisis, bringing with it the "loss of all his mirth,"
Shakespeare himself had recently undergone. He had lost in the previous
year the protectors of his youth. The woman he loved, and to whom he
had looked up as to a being of a rarer, loftier order, had all of a
sudden proved to be a heartless, faithless wanton. The friend he loved,
worshipped, and adored had conspired against him with this woman,
laughed at him in her arms, betrayed his confidence, and treated him
with coldness and distance. Even the prospect of winning the poet's
wreath had been overcast for him. Truly he too had seen his illusions
vanish and his vision of the world fall to ruins.

In his first consternation he had been submissive, had stood
defenceless, had spoken words without a sting, had been all mildness
and melancholy. But this was not his whole, nor his inmost, nature.
In his heart of hearts he knew himself a power--a power! He was
incomparably armed, quick and keen of fence, full of wit and
indignation, the master of them all, and infinitely greater than his
fate. Burrow as they might, "it should go hard but he would delve one
yard below their mines." He had suffered many a humiliation; but the
revenge which was denied him in real life he could now take incognito
through Hamlet's bitter and scathing invectives.

He had seen high-born gentlemen play a princely part in the society of
artists, players, men whom public opinion undervalued and contemned.
Now he himself would be the high-born gentleman, would show how the
truly princely spirit bore itself towards the poor artists, and give
utterance to his own thoughts about art, and his conception of its
value and significance.

He merged himself in Hamlet; he felt as Hamlet did; he now and then so
mingled their identities that, in placing his own weightiest thoughts
in Hamlet's mouth, as in the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy,
he made him think, not as a prince, but as a subject, with all the
passionate bitterness of one who sees brutality and stupidity lording
it in high places. Thus it was that he made Hamlet say--

    "For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
     _The oppressors wrong, the proud man's contumely_,
     The pangs of despis'd love, _the law's delay_,
     _The insolence of office, and the spurns_
     _That patient merit of the unworthy takes_,
     When he himself might his quietus make
     With a bare bodkin?"

Every one can see that this is felt and thought from below upwards,
not from above downwards, and that the words are improbable, almost
impossible, in the mouth of the Prince. But they embody feelings and
thoughts to which Shakespeare had recently given expression in his own
name in Sonnet lxvi.:--

    "Tir'd with all these, for restful death I cry;--
     As, to behold desert a beggar born,
     And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,
     And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
     And gilded honour shamefully misplac'd,
     And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
     And right perfection wrongfully disgrac'd,
     And strength by limping sway disabled,
     And art made tongue-tied by authority,
     And folly (doctor-like) controlling skill,
     And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
     And captive good attending captain ill:
     Tir'd with all these, from these would I be gone,
     Save that, to die, I leave my love alone."

The bright view of life which had prevailed in his youth was
overclouded; he saw the strength of malignity, the power of stupidity,
unworthiness exalted, true desert elbowed aside. Existence turned its
seamy side towards him. Through what experiences had he not come! How
often, in the year that had just passed, must he have exclaimed, like
Hamlet in his first soliloquy, "Frailty, thy name is woman!" and how
much cause had he had to say, "Let her not walk i' the sun: conception
is a blessing; but not as your daughter may conceive." So far had
it gone with him that, finding everything "weary, stale, flat, and
unprofitable," he thought it monstrous that such an existence should be
handed on from generation to generation, and that ever new hordes of
miserable creatures should come into existence: "Get thee to a nunnery!
Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?"

The glimpse of high life which he had seen, his relations with the
Court, and the gossip from Whitehall and Greenwich which circulated
through the town, had proved to him the truth of the couplet--

    "Cog, lie, flatter, and face
     Four ways in Court to win men grace."

Sheer criminals such as Leicester and Claudius flourished and waxed fat
at Court.

What did men do at Court but truckle to the great? What throve except
wordy morality, mutual espionage, artificial wit, double-tongued
falsity, inveterate lack of principle, perpetual hypocrisy? What
were these great ones but flatterers and lipservers, always ready to
turn their coats according to the wind? And so Polonius and Osrick,
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, took shape in his imagination. They knew
how to bow and cringe; they were masters of elegant phrases; they were
members of the great guild of time-servers. "To be honest as this world
goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand."

And the Danish Court was only a picture in little of all Denmark--that
Denmark in whose state there was something rotten, and which was to
Hamlet a prison. "Then is the world one?" says Rosencrantz; and Hamlet
does not recoil from the conclusion: "A goodly one," he replies, "in
which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons." The Court-world of
_Hamlet_ was but an image of the world at large.

But if this is how matters stand, if a pure and princely nature is thus
placed in the world and thus surrounded, we are necessarily confronted
with the great and unanswerable questions: "How comes it?" and "Why
is it?" The problem of the relation of good and evil in this world,
an unsolved riddle, involves further problems as to the government
of the world, as to a righteous Providence, as to the relation
between the world and a God. And thought--Shakespeare's no less than
Hamlet's--beats at the locked door of the mystery.



Though there are in _Hamlet_ more direct utterances of the poet's
inmost spiritual life than in any of his earlier works, he has none
the less succeeded in thoroughly disengaging his hero's figure, and
making it an independent entity. What he gave him of his own nature was
its unfathomable depth; for the rest, he retained the situation and
the circumstances much as he found them in his authorities. It cannot
be denied that he thus involved himself in difficulties which he by
no means entirely overcame. The old legend, with its harsh outlines,
its mediæval order of ideas, its heathen groundwork under a varnish of
dogmatic Catholicism, its assumption of vengeance as the unquestionable
right, or rather duty, of the individual, did not very readily
harmonise with the rich life of thoughts, dreams, and feelings which
Shakespeare imparted to his hero. There arose a certain discrepancy
between the central figure and his surroundings. A Prince who is the
intellectual peer of Shakespeare himself, who knows and declares that
"no traveller returns" from beyond the grave, yet sees and holds
converse with a ghost. A royal youth of the Renaissance, who has gone
through a foreign university, whose chief bent is towards philosophic
brooding, who writes verses, who cultivates music, elocution, and
rapier-fencing, and proves himself an expert in dramatic criticism,
is at the same time pre-occupied with thoughts of personal and bloody
vengeance. Now and then, in the course of the drama, a rift seems to
open between the shell of the action and its kernel.

But Shakespeare, with his consummate instinct, managed to find an
advantage precisely in this discrepancy, and to turn it to account.
His Hamlet believes in the ghost and--doubts. He accepts the summons
to the deed of vengeance and--delays. Much of the originality of the
figure, and of the drama as a whole, springs almost inevitably from
this discrepancy between the mediæval character of the fable and its
Renaissance hero, who is so deep and many-sided that he has almost a
modern air.

The figure of Hamlet, as it at last shaped itself in Shakespeare's
imagination and came to life in his drama, is one of the very few
immortal figures of art and poetry, which, like Cervantes' Don Quixote,
exactly its contemporary, and Goethe's Faust of two centuries later,
present to generation after generation problems to brood over and
enigmas to solve. If we compare the two great figures of Hamlet (1604)
and Don Quixote (1605), we find Hamlet undoubtedly the more enigmatic
and absorbing of the two. Don Quixote belongs to the past. He embodies
the naïve spirit of chivalry which, having outlived its age, gives
offence on all hands in a time of prosaic rationalism, and makes itself
a laughing-stock through its importunate enthusiasms. He has the firm,
easily-comprehensible contours of a caricature. Hamlet belongs to
the future, to the modern age. He embodies the lofty and reflective
spirit, standing isolated, with its severely exalted ideals, in corrupt
or worthless surroundings, forced to conceal its inmost nature,
yet everywhere arousing hostility. He has the unfathomable spirit
and ever-changing physiognomy of genius. Goethe, in his celebrated
exposition of Hamlet (_Wilhelm Meister_, Book iv. chap. 13), maintains
that in this case a great deed is imposed upon a soul which is not
strong enough for it:--

    "There is an oak-tree planted in a costly jar, which should
    have borne only pleasant flowers in its bosom; the roots
    expand, the jar is shivered. A lovely, pure, noble, and most
    moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a
    hero, sinks beneath a burden which it cannot bear and must
    not cast away."

This interpretation is brilliant and thoughtful, but not entirely just.
One can trace in it the spirit of the period of humanity, transforming
in its own image a figure belonging to the Renaissance. Hamlet cannot
really be called, without qualification, "lovely, pure, noble and most
moral"--he who says to Ophelia the penetratingly true, unforgettable
words, "I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of
such things, that it were better my mother had not borne me." The light
of such a saying as this takes the colour out of Goethe's adjectives.
It is true that Hamlet goes on to ascribe to himself evil qualities
of which he is quite innocent; but he was doubtless sincere in the
general tenor of his speech, to which all men of the better sort will
subscribe. Hamlet is no model of virtue. He is not simply pure, noble,
moral, &c., but is, or becomes, other things as well--wild, bitter,
harsh, now tender, now coarse, wrought up to the verge of madness,
callous, cruel. No doubt he is too weak for his task, or rather wholly
unsuited to it; but he is by no means devoid of physical strength or
power of action. He is no child of the period of humanity, moral and
pure, but a child of the Renaissance, with its impulsive energy, its
irrepressible fulness of life and its undaunted habit of looking death
in the eyes.

Shakespeare at first conceived Hamlet as a youth. In the First Quarto
he is quite young, probably nineteen. It accords with this age that
he should be a student at Wittenberg; young men at that time began
and ended their university course much earlier than in our days. It
accords with this age that his mother should address him as "boy" ("How
now, boy!" iii. 4--a phrase which is deleted in the next edition), and
that the word "young" should be continually prefixed to his name, not
merely to distinguish him from his father. The King, too, in the early
edition (not in that of 1604) currently addresses him as "son Hamlet;"
and finally his mother is still young enough to arouse--or at least
to enable Claudius plausibly to pretend--the passion which has such
terrible results. Hamlet's speech to his mother--

                        "At your age
    The hey-day of the blood is tame, it's humble,
    And waits upon the judgment,"

does not occur in the 1603 edition. The decisive proof, however, of
the fact that Hamlet at first appeared in Shakespeare's eyes much
younger (eleven years, to be precise) than he afterwards made him, is
to be found in the graveyard scene (v. I). In the older edition, the
First Gravedigger says that the skull of the jester Yorick has lain
a dozen years in the earth; in the edition of 1604 this is changed
to twenty-three years. Here, too, it is explicitly indicated that
Hamlet, who as a child knew Yorick, is now thirty years old; for the
Gravedigger first states that he took to his trade on the very day on
which Prince Hamlet was born, and a little later adds: "I have been
sexton here, man and boy, thirty years." It accords with this that the
Player-King now mentions thirty years as the time that has elapsed
since his marriage with the Queen, and that Ophelia (iii. I) speaks of
Hamlet as the "unmatch'd form of blown [_i.e._ mature] youth."

The process of thought in Shakespeare's mind is evident. At first it
seemed to him as if the circumstances of the case demanded that Hamlet
should be a youth; for thus the overwhelming effect produced upon him
by his mother's prompt forgetfulness of his father and hasty marriage
seemed most intelligible. He had been living far from the great world,
in quiet Wittenberg, never doubting that life was in fact as harmonious
as it is apt to appear in the eyes of a young prince. He believed in
the realisation of ideals here on earth, imagined that intellectual
nobility and fine feelings ruled the world, that justice reigned in
public, faith and honour in private, life. He admired his great father,
honoured his beautiful mother, passionately loved the charming Ophelia,
thought nobly of humankind, and especially of women. From the moment he
loses his father, and is forced to change his opinion of his mother,
this serene view of life is darkened. If his mother has been able to
forget his father and marry this man, what is woman worth? and what is
life worth? At the very outset, then, when he has not even heard of his
father's ghost, much less seen or held converse with it, sheer despair
speaks in his monologue:

    "O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
     Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew:
     Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
     His canon 'gainst self-slaughter!"

Hence, also, his naïve surprise that one may smile and smile and yet
be a villain. He regards what has happened as a typical occurrence, a
specimen of what the world really is. Hence his words to Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern: "I have of late--but wherefore I know not--lost
all my mirth." And those others: "What a piece of work is a man! how
noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! ... in action, how like an
angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world!" These
words express his first bright view of life. But that has vanished,
and the world is no longer anything to him but a "foul and pestilent
congregation of vapours." And man! What is this "quintessence of dust"
to him? He has no pleasure in man or woman.

Hence arise his thoughts of suicide. The finer a young man's character,
the stronger is his desire, on entering life, to see his ideals
consummated in persons and circumstances. Hamlet suddenly realises that
everything is entirely different from what he had imagined, and feels
as if he must die because he cannot set it right.

He finds it very difficult to believe that the world is so bad;
therefore he is always seeking for new proofs of it; therefore, for
instance, he plans the performance of the play. His joy whenever he
tears the mask from baseness is simply the joy of realisation, with
deep sorrow in the background--abstract satisfaction produced by the
feeling that at last he understands the worthlessness of the world.
His divination was just--events confirm it. There is no cold-hearted
pessimism here. Hamlet's fire is never quenched; his wound never heals.
Laertes' poisoned blade gives the quietus to a still tortured soul.[1].

All this, though we can quite well imagine it of a man of thirty, is
more natural, more what we should expect, in one of nineteen. But as
Shakespeare worked on at his drama, and came to deposit in Hamlet's
mind, as in a treasury, more and more of his own life-wisdom, of his
own experience, and of his own keen and virile wit, he saw that early
youth was too slight a framework to support this intellectual weight,
and gave Hamlet the age of ripening manhood.[2]

Hamlet's faith and trust in humankind are shattered before the Ghost
appears to him. From the moment when his father's spirit communicates
to him a far more appalling insight into the facts of the situation,
his whole inner man is in wild revolt.

This is the cause of the leave-taking, the silent leave-taking, from
Ophelia, whom in letters he had called his soul's idol. His ideal of
womanhood no longer exists. Ophelia now belongs to those "trivial fond
records" which the sense of his great mission impels him to efface from
the tablets of his memory. There is no room in his soul for his task
and for her, passive and obedient to her father as she is. Confide
in her he cannot; she has shown how unequal she is to the exigencies
of the situation by refusing to receive his letters and visits. She
actually hands over his last letter to her father, which means that it
will be shown and read at court. At last, she even consents to play the
spy upon him. He no longer believes or can believe in any woman.

He intends to proceed at once to action, but too many thoughts crowd in
upon him. He broods over that horror which the Ghost has revealed to
him, and over the world in which such a thing could happen; he doubts
whether the apparition was really his father, or perhaps a deceptive,
malignant spirit; and, lastly, he has doubts of himself, of his ability
to upraise and restore what has been overthrown, of his fitness for the
vocation of avenger and judge. His doubt as to the trustworthiness of
the Ghost leads to the performance of the play within the play, which
proves the King's guilt. His feeling of his own unfitness for his task
leads to continued procrastination.

During the course of the play it is sufficiently proved that he is
not, in the main, incapable of action. He does not hesitate to stab
the eavesdropper behind the arras; without wavering and without pity
he sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to certain death; he boards a
hostile ship; and, never having lost sight of his purpose, he takes
vengeance before he dies. But it is clear, none the less, that he has
a great inward obstacle to overcome before he proceeds to the decisive
act. Reflection hinders him; his "resolution is sicklied o'er with the
pale cast of thought," as he says in his soliloquy.

He has become to the popular mind the great type of the procrastinator
and dreamer; and far on into this century, hundreds of individuals, and
even whole races, have seen themselves reflected in him as in a mirror.

We must not forget, however, that this dramatic curiosity--a hero who
does not act--was, to a certain extent, demanded by the technique of
this particular drama. If Hamlet had killed the King directly after
receiving the Ghost's revelation, the play would have come to an end
with the first act. It was, therefore, absolutely necessary that delays
should arise.

Shakespeare is misunderstood when Hamlet is taken for that entirely
modern product--a mind diseased by morbid reflection, without capacity
for action. It is nothing less than a freak of ironic fate that _he_
should have become a sort of symbol of reflective sloth, this man who
has gunpowder in every nerve, and all the dynamite of genius in his

It was undeniably and indubitably Shakespeare's intention to give
distinctness to Hamlet's character by contrasting it with youthful
energy of action, unhesitatingly pursuing its aim.

While Hamlet is letting himself be shipped off to England, the young
Norwegian prince, Fortinbras, arrives with his soldiers, ready to risk
his life for a patch of ground that "hath in it no profit but the name.
To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it." Hamlet says to himself
(iv. 4):

    "How all occasions do inform against me,
     And spur my dull revenge!...
     ... I do not know
     Why yet I live to say, 'This thing's to do.'"

And he despairs when he contrasts himself with Fortinbras, the delicate
and tender prince, who, at the head of his brave troops, dares death
and danger "even for an egg-shell":

                    "Rightly to be great
    Is not to stir without great argument,
    But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
    When honour's at the stake."

But with Hamlet it is a question of more than "honour," a conception
belonging to a sphere far below his. It is natural that he should feel
ashamed at the sight of Fortinbras marching off to the sound of drum
and trumpet at the head of his forces--he, who has not carried out, or
even laid, any plan; who, after having by means of the play satisfied
himself of the King's guilt, and at the same time betrayed his own
state of mind, is now writhing under the consciousness of impotence.
But the sole cause of this impotence is the paralysing grasp laid on
all his faculties by his new realisation of what life is, and the
broodings born of this realisation. Even his mission of vengeance
sinks into the background of his mind. Everything is at strife within
him--his duty to his father, his duty to his mother, reverence, horror
of crime, hatred, pity, fear of action, and fear of inaction. He feels,
even if he does not expressly say so, how little is gained by getting
rid of a single noxious animal. He himself is already so much more than
what he was at first--the youth chosen to execute a vendetta. He has
become the great sufferer, who jeers and mocks, and rebukes the world
that racks him. He is the cry of humanity, horror-struck at its own

There is no "general meaning" on the surface of _Hamlet_. Lucidity was
not the ideal Shakespeare had before him while he was producing this
tragedy, as it had been when he was composing _Richard III_. Here there
are plenty of riddles and self-contradictions; but not a little of the
attraction of the play depends on this very obscurity.

We all know that kind of well-written book which is blameless in form,
obvious in intention, and in which the characters stand out sharply
defined. We read it with pleasure; but when we have read it, we are
done with it. There is nothing to be read between the lines, no gulf
between this passage and that, no mystic twilight anywhere in it,
no shadows in which we can dream. And, again, there are other books
whose fundamental idea is capable of many interpretations, and affords
matter for much dispute, but whose significance lies less in what they
say to us than in what they lead us to imagine, to divine. They have
the peculiar faculty of setting thoughts and feelings in motion; more
thoughts than they themselves contain, and perhaps of a quite different
character. _Hamlet_ is such a book. As a piece of psychological
development, it lacks the lucidity of classical art; the hero's soul
has all the untranspicuousness and complexity of a real soul; but one
generation after another has thrown its imagination into the problem,
and has deposited in Hamlet's soul the sum of its experience.

To Hamlet life is half reality, half a dream. He sometimes resembles a
somnambulist, though he is often as wakeful as a spy. He has so much
presence of mind that he is never at a loss for the aptest retort,
and, along with it, such absence of mind that he lets go his fixed
determination in order to follow up some train of thought or thread
some dream-labyrinth. He appals, amuses, captivates, perplexes,
disquiets us. Few characters in fiction have so disquieted the world.
Although he is incessantly talking, he is solitary by nature. He
typifies, indeed, that solitude of soul which cannot impart itself.

"His name," says Victor Hugo, "is as the name on a woodcut cut of
Albert Dürer's: _Melancholia_. The bat flits over Hamlet's head; at
his feet sit Knowledge, with globe and compass, and Love, with an
hour-glass; while behind him, on the horizon, rests a giant sun, which
only serves to make the sky above him darker." But from another point
of view Hamlet's nature is that of the hurricane--a thing of wrath and
fury, and tempestuous scorn, strong enough to sweep the whole world

There is in him no less indignation than melancholy; in fact, his
melancholy is a result of his indignation. Sufferers and thinkers have
found in him a brother. Hence the extraordinary popularity of the
character, in spite of its being the reverse of obvious.

Audiences and readers feel with Hamlet and understand him; for all the
better-disposed among us make the discovery, when we go forth into
life as grown-up men and women, that it is not what we had imagined it
to be, but a thousandfold more terrible. Something is rotten in the
state of Denmark. Denmark is a prison, and the world is full of such
dungeons. A spectral voice says to us: "Horrible things have happened;
horrible things are happening every day. Be it your task to repair the
evil, to rearrange the course of things is for you to set it right."
But our arms fall powerless by our sides. Evil is too strong, too
cunning for us.

In _Hamlet_, the first philosophical drama of the modern era, we meet
for the first time the typical modern character, with its intense
feeling of the strife between the ideal and the actual world, with its
keen sense of the chasm between power and aspiration, and with that
complexity of nature which shows itself in wit without mirth, cruelty
combined with sensitiveness, frenzied impatience at war with inveterate

[1] See Hermann Türck: _Das psychologische Problem in der
Hamlet-Tragödie_. 1890.

[2] See E. Sullivan: "On Hamlet's Age." _New Shakspere Society's
Transactions_. 1880-86.



Let us now look at _Hamlet_ as a drama; and, to get the full impression
of Shakespeare's greatness, let us first recall its purely theatrical,
materially visible side, that which dwells in the memory simply as

The night-watch on the platform before the Castle of Elsinore, and the
appearance of the Ghost to the soldiers and officers there. Then, in
contrast to the splendidly-attired courtiers, the blackrobed figure of
the Prince, standing apart, a living image of grief, his countenance
bespeaking both soul and intellect, but with an expression which seems
to say that henceforth joy and he are strangers. Next, his meeting with
his father's spirit; the oath upon the sword, with the constant change
of place. Then his wild behaviour when, to hide his excitement, he
feigns madness. Then the play within the play; the sword-thrust through
the arras; the beautiful Ophelia with flowers and straw in her hair;
Hamlet with Yorick's skull in his hand; the struggle with Laertes in
Ophelia's grave, that grotesque but most significant episode. According
to the custom of the time, a dumb show foretold the poisoning in the
play, and this fight in the grave is the dumb show which foretells
the mortal combat that is soon to take place: both are presently to
be swallowed up by the grave in which they stand. Then follows the
fencing-scene, during the course of which the Queen dies by the poison
which the King destined for Hamlet, and Laertes by the stroke of the
poisoned sword also prepared for the Prince, who, with a last great
effort, kills the King, and then sinks down poisoned. This wholesale
"havock" arranged by the poet, a fourfold lying-in-state, has its gloom
broken by the triumphal march of young Fortinbras, which, in its turn,
soon changes to a funeral measure. The whole is as effective to the eye
as it is great and beautiful.

And now add to this ocular picturesqueness of the play the fascination
which it owes to the sympathy Shakespeare has made us feel for its
principal character, the impression he has given us of the agonies of
a strong and sensitive spirit surrounded by corruption and depravity.
Hamlet was by nature candid, enthusiastic, trustful, loving; the guile
of others forces him to take refuge in guile; the wickedness of others
drives him to distrust and hate; and the crime committed against his
murdered father calls upon him from the underworld for vengeance.

His indignation at the infamy around him is heartrending, his contempt
for it is stimulating.

By nature he is a thinker. He thinks not only when he is contemplating
and planning a course of action, but also from a passionate longing
for comprehension in the abstract. Though he is merely making use of
the players to unmask the murderer, he gives them apt and profound
advice with regard to the practice of their art. When Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern question him as to the reason of his melancholy, he
expounds to them in words of deep significance his rooted distaste for

The feeling produced in him by any strong impression never finds
vent in straightforward, laconic words. His speeches never take the
direct, the shortest way to express his thoughts. They consist of
ingenious, far-fetched similes and witty conceits, apparently remote
from the matter in hand. Sarcastic and enigmatical phrases conceal his
emotions. This dissimulation is forced upon him by the very strength of
his feelings: in order not to betray himself, not to give way to the
pain he is suffering, he must smother it in fantastic and boisterous
ejaculations. Thus he shouts after having seen the apparition: "Hillo,
ho, ho, boy! come, bird, come!" Thus he apostrophises the Ghost: "Well
said, old mole! canst work i' the earth so fast?" And therefore, after
the play has made the King betray himself, he cries: "Ah, ha! Come,
some music! come, the recorders!" His feigned madness is only an
intentional exaggeration of this tendency.

The horrible secret that has been discovered to him has upset his
equilibrium. The show of madness enables him to find solace in
expressing indirectly what it tortures him to talk of directly, and
at the same time his seeming lunacy diverts attention from the real
reason of his deep melancholy. He does not altogether dissemble when
he talks so wildly; given his surroundings, these fantastic and daring
sarcasms are a natural enough mode of utterance for the wild agitation
produced by the horror that has entered into his life; "though this be
madness, yet there is method in't." But the almost frenzied excitement
into which he is so often thrown by the action of others subsides at
intervals, when he feels the need for mental concentration--a craving
which he satisfies in the solitary reflections forming his monologues.

When his passions are roused, he has difficulty in controlling them.
It is nervous over-excitement that finds vent when he bids Ophelia get
her to a nunnery, and it is in a fit of nervous frenzy that he stabs
Polonius. But his passion generally strikes inwards. Constrained as he
is, or thinks himself, to employ dissimulation and cunning, he is in a
fever of impatience, and is for ever reviling and scoffing at himself
for his inaction, as though it were due to indifference or cowardice.

Distrust, that new element in his character, makes him cautious;
he cannot act on impulse, nor even speak. "There's ne'er a villain
dwelling in all Denmark," he begins; "so great as the King" should be
the continuation; but fear of being betrayed by his comrades takes
possession of him, and he ends with, "but he's an arrant knave."

He is by nature open-hearted and warm, as we see him with Horatio; he
speaks to the sentinel on the platform as to a comrade; he is cordial,
at first, to old acquaintances like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; and
he is frank, amiable, kind without condescension, to the troupe of
travelling players. But reticence has been suddenly forced upon him
by the bitterest, most agonising experiences; no sooner has he put
on a mask, so as not to be instantly found out, than he feels that
he is being spied upon; even his friends and the woman he loves are
on the side of his opponents; and though he believes his life to be
threatened, he feels that he must keep silent and wait.

His mask is often enough only of gauze; if only for the sake of the
spectators, Shakespeare had to make the madness transparent, that it
might not pall.

Read the witty repartees of Hamlet to Polonius (ii. 2), beginning with,
"What do you read, my lord?" "Words, words, words." In reality there
is no trace of madness in all these keenedged sayings, till Hamlet at
last, in order to annul their effect, concludes with the words, "For
yourself, sir, should be old as I am, if, like a crab, you could go

Or take the long conversation (iii. 2) between Hamlet and Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern about the pipe he has sent for, and asks them to play
on. The whole is a parable as simple and direct as any in the New
Testament. And he points the moral with triumphant logic in poetic

    "Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you would make of
    me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops;
    you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound
    me from my lowest notes to the top of my compass: and there
    is much music, excellent music in this little organ; yet
    cannot you make it speak. 'Sblood, do you think I am easier
    to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you
    will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me."

It is in order to account for such contemptuous and witty outbursts
that Hamlet says: "I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is
southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw."

To outward difficulties are added inward hindrances, which he cannot
overcome. He reproaches himself passionately for this, as we have seen.
But these self-reproaches of Hamlet's do not represent Shakespeare's
view of his character or judgment of his action. They express the
impatience of his nature, his longing for reparation, his eagerness for
the triumph of the right; they do not imply his guilt.

The old doctrine of tragic guilt and punishment, which assumes that the
death at the end of a tragedy must always be in some way deserved, is
nothing but antiquated scholasticism, theology masking as æsthetics;
and it may be regarded as an instance of scientific progress that this
view of the matter, which was heretical only a generation since, is now
very generally accepted. Very different was the case when the author of
these lines, in his earliest published work, entered a protest against
such an intrusion of traditional morality into a sphere from which it
ought simply to be banished.[2]

Some critics have summarily disposed of the question of Hamlet's
possible guilt by the assertion that his madness was not only assumed,
but real. Brinsley Nicholson, for instance, in his essay "Was Hamlet
Mad?" (_New Shakspere Society's Transactions_, 1880-86), insists on
his morbid melancholy; his strange and incoherent talk after the
apparition of the Ghost; his lack of any sense of responsibility for
the deaths of Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, of which he was
either the direct or indirect cause; his fear of sending King Claudius
to heaven by killing him while he is praying; his brutality towards
Ophelia; his constant suspiciousness, &c., &c. But to see symptoms of
real insanity in all this is not only a crudity of interpretation,
but a misconception of Shakespeare's evident meaning. It is true that
Hamlet does not dissemble as systematically and coldly as Edgar in
the subsequent _King Lear_; but that is no reason why his state of
mental exaltation should be mistaken for derangement. He makes use of
insanity; he is not in its power.

Not that it proves really serviceable to him or facilitates his task of
vengeance; on the contrary, it impedes his action by tempting him from
the straight path into witty digressions and deviations. It is meant to
hide his secret; but after the performance of the play the King knows
it, and, though he keeps it up, the feigned madness is useless. It is
because his secret is betrayed that Hamlet now, in obedience to the
Ghost's command, endeavours to awaken his mother's sense of shame and
to detach her from the King. But having run Polonius through the body,
in the belief that he is killing his stepfather, he is put under guards
and sent away, and has still farther to postpone his revenge.

While many critics of this century, especially Germans, such as
Kreyssig, have contemned Hamlet as a "witty weakling", one German
writer has passionately denied that Shakespeare intended to represent
him as morbidly reflective. This critic, with much enthusiasm, with
fierce onslaughts upon many of his countrymen, but with a conception of
the play which debases its whole idea and belittles its significance,
has tried to prove that the hindrances Hamlet had to contend with were
purely external. I refer to the lectures on Hamlet delivered by the old
Hegelian, Karl Werder, in the University of Berlin between 1859 and
1872.[3] Their train of thought, in itself not unreasonable, may be
rendered thus:--

What is demanded of Hamlet? That he should kill the King immediately
after the Ghost has revealed his father's fate? Good. But how, after
this assassination, is he to justify his deed to the court and the
people, and ascend the throne? He can produce no proof whatever of
the truth of his accusation. A ghost has told him; that is all his
evidence. He himself is not the hereditary supreme judge of the land,
deprived of his throne by a usurper. The Queen is "jointress to this
warlike state." Denmark is an elective monarchy--and it is not till
the very end of the play that Hamlet speaks of the King as having
"popp'd in between the election and my hopes." In the eyes of all the
characters in the play, the existing state of the government is quite
normal. And is he to overturn it with a dagger-thrust? Will the Danish
people believe his tale of the apparition and the murder? And suppose
that, instead of having recourse to the dagger, he comes forward with a
public accusation, can there be any doubt that such a king and such a
court will speedily make away with him? For where in this court are the
elder Hamlet's adherents? We see none of them. It seems as though the
old hero-king had taken them all with him to the grave. What has become
of his generals and of his council? Did they die before him? Or was he
solitary in his greatness? Certain it is that Hamlet has no friend but
Horatio, and finds no supporters at the court.

As matters stand, the truth can be brought to light only by the royal
criminal's betraying himself. Hence Hamlet's perfectly logical, most
ingenious device for forcing him to do so. Hamlet's object is not to
take a purely material revenge for the crime, but to reinstate right
and justice in Denmark, to be judge and avenger in one. And this he
cannot be if he simply kills the king off-hand.

All this is acute, and in part correct; only it misstates the theme
of the play. Had Shakespeare had this outward difficulty in mind, he
would have made Hamlet expound, or at least allude to it. As a matter
of fact, Hamlet does nothing of the sort. On the contrary, he upbraids
himself for his inaction and sloth, thereby indicating clearly enough
that the great fundamental difficulty is an inward one, and that the
real scene of the tragedy lies in the hero's soul.

Hamlet himself is comparatively planless, but, as Goethe has profoundly
remarked, the play is not therefore without a plan. And where Hamlet
is most hesitating, where he tries to palliate his planlessness, there
the plan speaks loudest and clearest. Where, for example, Hamlet comes
upon the King at his prayers, and will not kill him, because he is not
to die "in the purging of his soul" but revelling in sinful debauch,
we hear Shakespeare's general idea in the words which, in the mouth of
the hero, sound like an evasion. Shakespeare, not Hamlet, reserves the
King for the death which in fact overtakes him just as he has poisoned
Laertes's blade, seasoned "a chalice" for Hamlet, out of cowardice
allowed the Queen to drain it, and been the efficient cause of both
Laertes's and Hamlet's fatal wounds. Hamlet thus actually attains his
declared object in allowing the King to live.

[1] K. Werder: _Vorlesungen über Hamlet_, p. 3 _et seq._

[2] Georg Brandes: _Æsthetiske Studier_. Essay "On the Concept: Tragic

[3] Karl Werder: _Vorlesungen über Shakespeare's Hamlet_, 1875.



There is nothing more profoundly conceived in this play than the
Prince's relation to Ophelia. Hamlet is genius in love--genius with its
great demands and its highly unconventional conduct. He does not love
like Romeo, with a love that takes entire possession of his mind. He
has felt himself drawn to Ophelia while his father was still in life,
has sent her letters and gifts, and thinks of her with an infinite
tenderness; but she has not it in her to be his friend and confidant.
"Her whole essence," we read in Goethe, "is ripe, sweet sensuousness."
This is saying too much; it is only the songs she sings in her madness,
"in the innocence of madness," as Goethe himself strikingly says, that
indicate an undercurrent of sensual desire or sensual reminiscence;
her attitude towards the Prince is decorous, almost to severity. Their
relations to each other have been close--how close the play does not

There is nothing at all conclusive in the fact that Hamlet's manner to
Ophelia is extremely free, not only in the affecting scene in which
he orders her to a nunnery, but still more in their conversation
during the play, when his jesting speeches, as he asks to be allowed
to lay his head in her lap, are more than equivocal, and in one case
unequivocally loose. We have already seen (p. 48) that this is
no evidence against Ophelia's inexperience. Helena in _All's Well that
Ends Well_ is chastity itself, yet Parolles's conversation with her is
extremely--to our way of thinking impossibly--coarse. In the year 1602,
speeches like Hamlet's could be made without offence by a young prince
to a virtuous maid of honour.

Whilst English Shakespearians have come forward as Ophelia's champions,
several German critics (among others Tieck, Von Friesen, and Flathe)
have had no doubt that her relations with Hamlet were of the most
intimate. Shakespeare has intentionally left this undecided, and it is
difficult to see why his readers should not do the same.

Hamlet draws away from Ophelia from the moment when he feels himself
the appointed minister of a sacred revenge. In deep grief he bids her
farewell without a word, grasps her wrist, holds it at arm's length
from him, "peruses" her face as if he would draw it--then shakes her
arm gently, nods his head thrice, and departs with a "piteous" sigh.

If after this he shows himself hard, almost cruel, to her, it is
because she was weak and tried to deceive him. She is a soft, yielding
creature, with no power of resistance; a loving soul, but without the
passion which gives strength. She resembles Desdemona in the unwisdom
with which she acts towards her lover, but falls far short of her
in warmth and resoluteness of affection. She does not in the least
understand Hamlet's grief over his mother's conduct. She observes his
depression without divining its cause. When, after seeing the Ghost, he
approaches her in speechless agitation, she never guesses that anything
terrible has happened to him; and, in spite of her compassion for his
morbid state, she consents without demur to decoy him into talking to
her, while her father and the King spy upon their meeting. It is then
that he breaks out into all those famous speeches: "Are you honest?
Are you fair?" &c.; the secret meaning of them being: You are like my
mother! You too could have acted as she did!

Hamlet has not a thought for Ophelia in his excitement after the
killing of Polonius; but Shakespeare gives us indirectly to understand
that grief on her account overtook him afterwards--"he weeps for what
is done." Later he seems to forget her, and therefore his anger at
her brother's lamentations as she is placed in her grave, and his own
frenzied attempt to outdo the "emphasis" of Laertes's grief, seem
strange to us. But from his words we understand that she has been the
solace of his life, though she could not be its stay. She on her side
has been very fond of him, has loved him with unobtrusive tenderness.
It is with pain she has heard him speak of his love for her as a thing
of the past ("I did love you once"); with deep grief she has seen what
she takes to be the eclipse of his bright spirit in madness ("Oh, what
a noble mind is here o'erthrown!"); and at last the death of her father
by Hamlet's hand deprives her of her own reason. At one blow she has
lost both father and lover. In her madness she does not speak Hamlet's
name, nor show any trace of sorrow that it is he who has murdered her
father. Forgetfulness of this cruellest blow mitigates her calamity;
her hard fate condemns her to solitude; and this solitude is peopled
and alleviated by madness.

In depicting the relation between Faust and Gretchen, Goethe
appropriated and reproduced many features of the relation between
Hamlet and Ophelia. In both cases we have the tragic love-tie between
genius and tender girlhood. Faust kills Gretchen's mother as Hamlet
kills Ophelia's father. In _Faust_ also there is a duel between the
hero and his mistress's brother, in which the brother is killed. And
in both cases the young girl in her misery goes mad. It is clear
that Goethe actually had Ophelia in his thoughts, for he makes his
Mephistopheles sing a song to Gretchen which is a direct imitation,
almost a translation, of Ophelia's song about Saint Valentine's Day.[1]
There is, however, a more delicate poetry in Ophelia's madness than in
Gretchen's. Gretchen's intensifies the tragic impression of the young
girl's ruin; Ophelia's alleviates both her own and the spectator's

Hamlet and Faust represent the genius of the Renaissance and the genius
of modern times; though Hamlet, in virtue of his creator's marvellous
power of rising above his time, covers the whole period between him and
us, and has a range of significance to which we, on the threshold of
the twentieth century, can foresee no limit.

Faust is probably the highest poetic expression of modern
humanity--striving, investigating, enjoying, and mastering at last
both itself and the world. He changes gradually under his creator's
hands into a great symbol; but in the second half of his life a
superabundance of allegoric traits veils his individual humanity. It
did not lie in Shakespeare's way to embody a being whose efforts, like
Faust's, were directed towards experience, knowledge, perception of
truth in general. Even when Shakespeare rises highest, he keeps nearer
the earth.

But none the less dear to us art thou, O Hamlet! and none the less
valued and understood by the men of to-day. We love thee like a
brother. Thy melancholy is ours, thy wrath is ours, thy contemptuous
wit avenges us on those who fill the earth with their empty noise
and are its masters. We know the depth of thy suffering when wrong
and hypocrisy triumph, and oh! thy still deeper suffering on feeling
that that nerve in thee is severed which should lead from thought to
victorious action. To us, too, the voices of the mighty dead have
spoken from the under-world. We, too, have seen our mother wrap the
purple robe of power round the murderer of "the majesty of buried
Denmark." We, too, have been betrayed by the friends of our youth; for
us, too, have swords been dipped in poison. How well do we know that
graveyard mood in which disgust and sorrow for all earthly things seize
upon the soul. The breath from open graves has set us, too, dreaming
with a skull in our hands!


    "To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
     All in the morning betime,
     And I a maid at your window,
     To be your Valentine.
     Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes
     And dupp'd the chamber-door;
     Let in the maid, that out a maid
     Never departed more."

    "Was machst Du mir
     Vor Liebchens Thür
     Kathrinchen, hier
     Bei frühem Tagesblicke?
     Lass, lass es sein!
     Er lässt dich ein
     Als Mädchen ein
     Als Mädchen nicht zurücke."



If we to-day can feel with Hamlet, it is certainly no wonder that the
play was immensely popular in its own day. It is easy to understand
its charm for the cultivated youth of the period; but it would be
surprising, if we did not realise the alertness of the Renaissance
and its wonderful receptivity for the highest culture, to find that
_Hamlet_ was in as great favour with the lower ranks of society as with
the higher. A remarkable proof of this tragedy's and of Shakespeare's
popularity in the years immediately following its appearance, is
afforded by some memoranda in a log-book kept by a certain Captain
Keeling, of the ship _Dragon_, which, in September 1607, lay off Sierra
Leone in company with another English vessel, the _Hector_ (Captain
Hawkins), both bound for India. They run as follows:--

    "September 5 [At "Serra Leona"]. I sent the interpreter,
    according to his desier, abord the Hector, whear he brooke
    fast, and after came abord mee, wher we gave the tragedie of

    "[Sept.] 30. Captain Hawkins dined with me, wher my
    companions acted Kinge Richard the Second.

    "31. I envited Captain Hawkins to a ffishe dinner, and had
    Hamlet acted abord me: wch I permitt to keepe my
    people from idlenes and unlawfull games, or sleepe."

Who could have imagined that _Hamlet_, three years after its
publication, would be so well-known and so dear to English sailors
that they could act it for their own amusement at a moment's notice!
Could there be a stronger proof of its universal popularity? It is
a true picture of the culture of the Renaissance, this tragedy of
the Prince of Denmark acted by common English sailors off the west
coast of Africa. It is a pity that Shakespeare himself, in all human
probability, never knew of it.

Hamlet's ever-increasing significance as time rolls on is proportionate
to his significance in his own day. A great deal in the poetry of
the nineteenth century owes its origin to him. Goethe interpreted
and remodelled him in _Wilhelm Meister_, and this remodelled Hamlet
resembles Faust. The trio, Faust, Gretchen, Valentin, in Goethe's drama
answers to the trio, Hamlet, Ophelia, Laertes. Faust transplanted into
English soil produced Byron's Manfred, a true though far-off descendant
of the Danish Prince. In Germany, again, the Byronic development
assumed a new and Hamlet-like (or rather Yorick-like) form in Heine's
bitter and fantastic wit, in his hatreds and caprices and intellectual
superiority. Borne is the first to interpret Hamlet as the German
of his day, always moving in a circle and never able to act. But he
feels the mystery of the play, and says aptly and beautifully, "Over
the picture hangs a veil of gauze. We want to lift it to examine the
painting more closely, but find that the veil itself is painted."

In France, the men of Alfred de Musset's generation, whom he has
portrayed in his _Confessions d'un Enfant du Siècle_, remind us in
many ways of Hamlet--nervous, inflammable as gunpowder, broken-winged,
with no sphere of action commensurate with their desires, and with no
power Of action in the sphere which lay open to them. And Lorenzaccio,
perhaps Musset's finest male character, is the French Hamlet--practised
in dissimulation, procrastinating, witty, gentle to women yet wounding
them with cruel words, morbidly desirous to atone for the emptiness
of his evil life by one great deed, and acting too late, uselessly,

Hamlet, who centuries before had been young England, and was to
Musset, for a time, young France, became in the 'forties, as Borne
had foretold, the accepted type of Germany. "Hamlet is Germany," sang

Kindred political conditions determined that the figure of Hamlet
should at the same period, and twenty years later to a still greater
extent, dominate Russian literature. Its influence can be traced from
Pushkin and Gogol to Gontscharoff and Tolstoi, and it actually pervades
the whole life-work of Turgueneff. But in this case Hamlet's vocation
of vengeance is overlooked; the whole stress is laid on the general
discrepancy between reflection and power of action.

In the development of Polish literature, too, during this century,
there came a time when the poets were inclined to say: "We are Hamlet;
Hamlet is Poland." We find marked traits of his character towards
the middle of the century in all the imaginative spirits of Poland:
in Mickiewicz, in Slowacki, in Krasinski. From their youth they had
stood in his position. Their world was out of joint, and was to be
set right by their weak arms. High-born and noble-minded, they feel,
like Hamlet, all the inward fire and outward impotence of their youth;
the conditions that surround them are to them one great horror; they
are disposed at one and the same time to dreaming and to action, to
over-much reflection and to recklessness.

Like Hamlet, they have seen their mother, the land that gave them
birth, profaned by passing under the power of a royal robber and
murderer. The court to which at times they are offered access strikes
them with terror, as the court of Claudius struck terror to the
Danish Prince, as the court in Krasinski's _Temptation_ (a symbolic
representation of the court of St. Petersburg) strikes terror to the
young hero of the poem. These kinsmen of Hamlet are, like him, cruel
to their Ophelia, and forsake her when she loves them best; like him,
they allow themselves to be sent far away to foreign lands; and when
they speak they dissemble like him--clothe their meaning in similes and
allegories. What Hamlet says of himself applies to them: "Yet have I
something in me dangerous." Their peculiarly Polish characteristic is
that what enervates and impedes them is not their reflective but their
poetic bias. Reflection is what ruins the German of this type; wild
dissipation the Frenchman; indolence, self-mockery, and self-despair
the Russian; but it is imagination that leads the Pole astray and
tempts him to live apart from real life.

The Hamlet character presents a multitude of different aspects.
Hamlet is the doubter; he is the man whom over-scrupulousness or
over-deliberation condemns to inactivity; he is the creature of pure
intelligence, who sometimes acts nervously, and is sometimes too
nervous to act at all; and, lastly, he is the avenger, the man who
dissembles that his revenge may be the more effectual. Each of these
aspects is developed by the poets of Poland. There is a touch of
Hamlet in several of Mickiewicz's creations--in Wallenrod, in Gustave,
in Conrad, in Robak. Gustave speaks the language of philosophic
aberration; Conrad is possessed by the spirit of philosophic brooding;
Wallenrod and Robak dissemble or disguise themselves for the sake of
revenge, and the latter, like Hamlet, kills the father of the woman he
loves. In Slowacki's work the Hamlet-type takes a much more prominent
place. His Kordjan is a Hamlet who follows his vocation of avenger,
but has not the strength for it. The Polish tendency to fantasticating
interposes between him and his projected tyrannicide. And while
Slowacki gives us the radical Hamlet type, so we find the corresponding
conservative Hamlet in Krasinski. The hero of Krasinski's _Undivine
Comedy_ has more than one trait in common with the Prince of Denmark.
He has Hamlet's sensitiveness and power of imagination. He is addicted
to monologues and cultivates the drama. He has an extremely tender
conscience, but can commit most cruel actions. He is punished for the
excessive irritability of his character by the insanity of his wife,
very much as Hamlet, by his feigned madness, leads to the real madness
of Ophelia. But this Hamlet is consumed by a more modern doubt than
that which besets his Renaissance prototype. Hamlet doubts whether the
spirit on whose behest he is acting is more than an empty phantasm.
When Count Henry shuts himself up in "the castle of the Holy Trinity,"
he is not sure that the Holy Trinity itself is more than a figment of
the brain.

In other words: nearly two centuries and a half after the figure of
Hamlet was conceived in Shakespeare's imagination, we find it living
in English and French literature, and reappearing as a dominant type
in German and two Slavonic languages. And now, three hundred years
after his creation, Hamlet is still the confidant and friend of sad
and thoughtful souls in every land. There is something unique in this.
With such piercing vision has Shakespeare searched out the depths of
his own, and at the same time of all human, nature, and so boldly and
surely has he depicted the outward semblance of what he saw, that,
centuries later, men of every country and of every race have felt their
own being moulded like wax in his hand, and have seen themselves in his
poetry as in a mirror.


    "Deutschland ist Hamlet! Ernst und stumm
     In seinen Thoren jede Nacht
     Geht die begrabne Freiheit um,
     Und winkt den Männern auf der Wacht.
     Da steht die Hohe, blank bewehrt,
     Und sagt dem Zaudrer, der noch zweifelt:
     'Sei mir ein Rächer, zieh dein Schwert!
     Man hat mir Gift in's Ohr geträufelt.'"



Along with so much else, _Hamlet_ gives us what we should scarcely have
expected--an insight into Shakespeare's own ideas of his art as poet
and actor, and into the condition and relations of his theatre in the
years 1602-3.

If we read attentively the Prince's words to the players, we see
clearly why it is always the sweetness, the mellifluousness of
Shakespeare's art that his contemporaries emphasise. To us he may
seem audacious, harrowingly pathetic, a transgressor of all bounds;
in comparison with contemporary artists--not only with the specially
violent and bombastic writers, like the youthful Marlowe, but with all
of them--he is self-controlled, temperate, delicate, beauty-loving as
Raphael himself. Hamlet says to the players--

    "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you,
    trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it, as many of
    your players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my
    lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus;
    but use all gently: for in the very torrent, tempest, and
    (as I may say) the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire
    and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O! it
    offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated
    fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the
    ears of the groundlings, who, for the most part, are capable
    of nothing but inexplicable dumb-shows, and noise: I would
    have such a fellow whipped for o'er-doing--Termagant; it
    out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.

    "I _Play_. I warrant your honour.

    "_Ham_. Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion
    be your tutor."

Here ought logically to follow a warning against the dangers of
excessive softness and sweetness. But it does not come. He continues--

    "Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with
    this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty
    of nature; _for anything so overdone is from the purpose
    of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was, and
    is, to hold, as't were, the mirror up to nature; to show
    virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very
    age and body of the time, his form and pressure._ Now, this
    overdone, or come tardy off, though it make the unskilful
    laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the censure of
    the which one must, in your allowance, o'erweigh a whole
    theatre of others. O! there be players, that I have seen
    play,--and heard others praise, and that highly,--not to
    speak it profanely, that, neither having the accent of
    Christians, nor the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have
    so strutted and bellowed, that I have thought that some of
    nature's journeymen had made men, and not made them well,
    they imitated humanity so abominably.

    "I _Play._ I hope we have reformed that indifferently with

    "_Ham_. O! reform it altogether."

Thus, although it appears to be Hamlet's wish to caution equally
against too much wildness and too much tameness, his warning against
tameness is of the briefest, and he almost immediately resumes his
homily against exaggeration, bellowing, what we should now call ranting
declamation. It is not the danger of tameness, but of violence, that is
uppermost in Shakespeare's mind.

As already pointed out, it is not merely his own general effort as a
dramatist which Shakespeare here formulates; he lays down a regular
definition of dramatic art and its aim. It is noteworthy that this
definition is identical with that which Cervantes, almost at the same
time, places into the mouth of the priest in _Don Quixote_. "Comedy,"
he says, "should be as Tullius enjoins, a mirror of human life, a
pattern of manners, a presentation of the truth."

Shakespeare and Cervantes, who shed lustre on the same age and
died within a few days of each other, never heard of each other's
existence; but, led by the spirit of their time, both borrowed from
Cicero their fundamental conception of dramatic art. Cervantes says so
openly; Shakespeare, who did not wish his Hamlet to pose as a scholar,
indicates it in the words, "Whose end, both _at the first_ and now,
_was_, and is."

And as Shakespeare here, by the mouth of Hamlet, has expressed his own
idea of his art's unalterable nature and aim, he has also for once
given vent to his passing artistic anxieties, his dissatisfaction
with the position of his theatre at the moment. We have already (p.
106) noticed the poet's complaint of the harm done to his company at
this time by the rivalry of the troupe of choir-boys from St. Paul's
Cathedral playing at the Blackfriars Theatre. It is in Hamlet's
dialogue with Rosencrantz that this complaint occurs. There is a
bitterness about the wording of it, as though the company had for
the time been totally worsted. This was no doubt largely due to the
circumstance that its most popular member, its clown, the famous
Kemp, had just left it (in 1602), and gone over to Henslow's troupe.
Kemp had from the beginning played all the chief low-comedy parts
in Shakespeare's dramas--Peter and Balthasar in _Romeo and Juliet_,
Shallow in _Henry IV.,_ Lancelot in _The Merchant of Venice_, Dogberry
in _Much Ado About Nothing_, Touchstone in _As You Like It_. Now that
he had gone over to the enemy, his loss was deeply felt.

The above-mentioned little book, dedicated to Mary Fitton, gives us a
most interesting glimpse into the English life of that age. The most
important duty of the clown was not to appear in the play itself, but
to sing and dance his jig at the end of it, even after a tragedy, in
order to soften the painful impression. The common spectator never went
home without having seen this afterpiece, which must have resembled the
comic "turns" of our variety-shows. Kemp's jig of _The Kitchen-Stuff
Woman_, for instance, was a screaming farrago of rude verses, some
spoken, others sung, of good and bad witticisms, of extravagant acting
and dancing. It is of such a performance that Hamlet is thinking when
he says of Polonius: "He's for a jig, or a tale of bawdry, or he

As the acknowledged master of his time in the art of comic dancing,
Kemp was immoderately loved and admired. He paid professional visits to
all the German and Italian courts, and was even summoned to dance his
Morrice Dance before the Emperor Rudolf himself at Augsburg. It was in
his youth that he undertook the nine days' dance from London to Norwich
which he describes in his book.

He started at seven o'clock in the morning from in front of the Lord
Mayor's house, and half London was astir to see the beginning of the
great exploit. His suite consisted of his "taberer," his servant, and
an "overseer" or umpire to see that everything was performed according
to promise. The journey was almost as trying to the "taberer" as to
Kemp, for he had his drum hanging over his left arm and held his
flageolet in his left hand while he beat the drum with his right. Kemp
himself, on this occasion, contributed nothing to the music except the
sound of the bells which were attached to his gaiters.

He reached Romford on the first day, but was so exhausted that he had
to rest for two days. The people of Stratford-Langton, between London
and Romford, had got up a bear-baiting show in his honour, knowing "how
well he loved the sport"; but the crowd which had gathered to see him
was so great that he himself only succeeded in hearing the bear roar
and the dogs howl. On the second day he strained his hip, but cured
the strain by dancing. At Burntwood such a crowd had gathered to see
him that he could scarcely make his way to the tavern. There, as he
relates, two cut-purses were caught in the act, who had followed with
the crowd from London. They declared that they had laid a wager upon
the dance, but Kemp recognised one of them as a noted thief whom he had
seen tied to a post in the theatre. Next day he reached Chelmsford, but
here the crowd which had accompanied him from London had dwindled away
to a couple of hundred people.

In Norwich the city waits received him in the open market-place with an
official concert in the presence of thousands. He was the guest of the
town and entertained at its expense, received handsome presents from
the mayor, and was admitted to the Guild of Merchant Venturers, being
thereby assured a share in their yearly income, to the amount of forty
shillings. The very buskins in which he had performed his dance were
nailed to the wall in the Norwich Guild Hall and preserved in perpetual
memory of the exploit.

So popular an artist as this must of course have felt himself at least
Shakespeare's equal. He certainly assumed the right to address one of
her Majesty's Maids-of-Honour with no slight familiarity. The tone in
which he dedicates this catchpenny performance to Mrs. Fitton offers
a remarkable contrast to the profoundly respectful tone in which
professional authors couch their dedications to their noble patrons or

    "In the waine of my little wit I am forst to desire your
    protection, else every Ballad-singer will proclaime me
    bankrupt of honesty.... To shew my duety to your honourable
    selfe, whose favours (among other bountifull friends) make
    me (dispight this sad world) iudge my hert Corke and my
    heeles feathers, so that me thinkes I could fly to Rome (at
    least hop to Rome, as the old Prouerb is) with a Morter on
    my head."

His description of the _Nine Daies Wonder_, with its arrogant
dedication, has shown us how conceited he must have been. Hamlet
lets us see that he had frequently annoyed Shakespeare by the
irrepressible freedom of his "gags" and interpolations. From the text
of the plays of an earlier period which have come down to us, we can
understand that the clowns were in those days as free to do what
they pleased with their parts as the Italian actors in the _Commedia
dell' Arte_. Shakespeare's rich and perfect art left no room for such
improvisations. Now that Kemp was gone, the poet sent the following
shaft after him from the lips of Hamlet:--

    "And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is
    set down for them: for there be of them that will themselves
    laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh
    too: though, in the meantime, some necessary question of the
    play be then to be considered: that's villainous, and shows
    a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it."

This reproof is, however, as the reader sees, couched in quite general
terms; wherefore it was allowed to stand when Kemp returned to the
company. But a far sharper and much more personal attack, which
appears in the edition of 1603, was expunged in the following editions
(and consequently from our text of the play), as being no longer in
place after the return of the wanderer. It speaks of a clown whose
witticisms are so popular that they are noted down by the gentlemen who
frequent the theatre. A whole series of extremely poor specimens of
his burlesque sallies is given--mere circus-clown drolleries--and then
Hamlet disposes of the wretched buffoon by remarking that he "cannot
make a jest unless by chance, as a blind man catcheth a hare."

It is notorious that an artist will more easily forgive an attack on
himself than warm praise of a rival in the same line. There can be
very little doubt that Shakespeare, in making Hamlet praise the dead
Yorick, had in view the lamented Tarlton, Kemp's amiable and famous
predecessor. If there had been no purpose to serve by making the
skull that of a jester, it might quite as well have belonged to some
old servant of Hamlet's. But if Shakespeare, in his first years of
theatrical life, had known Tarlton personally, and Kemp's objectionable
behaviour vividly recalled by contrast his predecessor's charming
whimsicality, it was natural enough that he should combine with the
attack on Kemp a warm eulogy of the great jester.[1]

Tarlton was buried on the 3rd of September 1588. This date accords with
the statement in the first quarto that Yorick has lain in the earth
for a dozen years. Not till we have these facts before us can we fully
understand the following strong outburst of feeling:--

    "Alas, poor Yorick!--I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of
    infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me
    on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my
    imagination it is! my gorge rises at it. Here hung those
    lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your
    gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of
    merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?"

Alas, poor Yorick! Hamlet's heartfelt lament will keep his memory alive
when his Owlglass jests recorded in print are utterly forgotten.[2]
His fooling was equally admired by the populace, the court, and the
theatrical public. He is said to have told Elizabeth more truths
than all her chaplains, and cured her melancholy better than all her

Shakespeare, in _Hamlet_, has not only spoken his mind freely on
theatrical matters; he has also eulogised the distinguished actor after
his death, and given a great example of the courteous and becoming
treatment of able actors during their lives. His Prince of Denmark
stands far above the vulgar prejudice against them. And, lastly,
Shakespeare has glorified that dramatic art which was the business
and pleasure of his life, by making the play the effective means of
bringing the truth to light and furthering the ends of justice. The
acting of the drama of Gonzago's death is the hinge on which the tragedy
turns. From the moment when the King betrays himself by stopping the
performance, Hamlet knows all that he wants to know.

When James ascended the throne, _Hamlet_ received, as it were, a new
actuality, from the fact that his queen, Anne, was a Danish princess.
At the splendid festival held on the occasion of the triumphal
procession of King James, Queen Anne, and Prince Henry Frederick,
from the Tower through the city, "the Danish March" was brilliantly
performed, out of compliment to the Queen, by a band consisting of nine
trumpeters and a kettle-drum, stationed on a scaffolding at the side
of St. Mildred's Church. How this march went we do not know; but there
can be little doubt that from that time it was played in the second
scene of the fifth act of _Hamlet_, where music of trumpets and drums
is prescribed, and where, in our days, at the Théâtre-Français, they
naïvely play, "Kong Christian stod ved höjen Mast."[3]

[1] Compare _New Shakspere Society's Transactions_, 1880-86, p. 60.

[2] _Tarlton's Jests and News out of Purgatory._ Edited by J. O.
Halliwell. London, 1844.

[3] The Danish national song of to-day, written by Ewald, and the music
composed by Hartmann, 1778.



The fortunes of the company having declined by reason of the
competition complained of in _Hamlet_, it became necessary to
intersperse a few comedies among the sombre tragedies on which alone
Shakespeare's mind was now bent.

Comedies, therefore, had to be produced. But the disposition of mind
in which Shakespeare had created _A Midsummer Night's Dream_ had long
deserted him; and infinitely remote, though so near in point of time,
was the mood in which he had produced _As You Like It_.

Still the thing had to be done. He took one of his old sketches in hand
again, the play called _Love's Labour's Won_, which has already been
noticed (p. 47). Its original form we do not exactly know; all
we can do is to pick out the rhymed and youthfully frivolous passages
as having doubtless belonged to the earlier play, to whose title there
is probably a reference in Helena's words in the concluding scene:--

                        "This is done.
    Will you be mine, now you are doubly won?"

It is clear that Shakespeare in his young days took hold of the subject
with the purpose of making a comedy out of it. But now it did not turn
out a comedy; the time was past when Shakespeare's chief strength lay
in his humour. We could quite well imagine his subsequent tragedies to
have been written by his Hamlet, if Hamlet had had life before him; and
in the same way we could imagine this and the following play, _Measure
for Measure_, to have been written by his Jaques.

We find many indications in _All's Well that Ends Well_-- most, as was
natural, in the first two acts--of Shakespeare's having come straight
from _Hamlet_. In the very first scene, the Countess chides Helena for
the immoderate grief with which she mourns her father: it is wrong to
let oneself be so overwhelmed. Just so the King speaks to Hamlet of the
"obstinate condolement" to which he gives himself up. The Countess's
advice to her son, when he is setting off for France, reminds us
strongly of the advice Polonius gives to Laertes in exactly the same
situation. She says, for instance:--

                  "Thy blood and virtue
    Contend for empire in thee; and thy goodness
    Share with thy birthright! Love all, trust a few,
    Do wrong to none: be able for thine enemy
    Rather in power than use, and keep thy friend
    Under thy own life's key: be check'd for silence,
    But never tax'd for speech."

Compare with these injunctions those of Polonius:--

            "Give thy thoughts no tongue,
    Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.
    Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
    The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
    Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
    But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
    Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd comrade. Beware
    Of entrance to a quarrel; but, being in,
    Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
    Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice."

Notice also in this comedy the numerous sallies against court life
and courtiers, which are quite in the spirit of _Hamlet_. The scene
in which Polonius changes his opinion according as Hamlet thinks the
cloud like a camel, a weasel, or a whale, and that in which Osric, who
"did comply with his dug before he sucked it," reels off his elegant
speeches, seem actually to be commented on in general terms when the
Clown (ii. 2) thus discourses about the court:--

    "Truly, madam, if God have lent a man any manners, he may
    easily put it off at court: he that cannot make a leg, put
    off's cap, kiss his hand, and say nothing, has neither leg,
    hands, lip, nor cap; and, indeed, such a fellow, to say
    precisely, were not for the court."

Now and again, too, we come upon expressions which recall well-known
speeches of Hamlet's. For instance, when Helena (ii. 3) says to the
First Lord:

    "Thanks, sir; all the rest is mute,"

we are reminded of Hamlet's ever-memorable last words:

    "The rest is silence."

Among other more external touches, which likewise point clearly to the
period 1602-1603, may be mentioned the many subtle, cautious sallies
against Puritanism which are interwoven in the play. They express the
bitter contempt for demonstrative piety which filled Shakespeare's mind
just at that time.

_Hamlet_ itself had treated of a hypocrite on the largest scale.
Notice, too, the stinging reference to existing conditions in Act iii.
Scene 2:--

    "_Hamlet_. Look you, how cheerfully my mother looks, and my
    father died within's two hours.

    "_Ophelia_. Nay, 'tis twice two months, my lord.

    "_Ham_. So long? Nay, then, let the devil wear black, for
    I'll have a suit of sables. O heavens! die two months ago,
    and not forgotten yet? Then there's hope a great man's
    memory may outlive his life half a year; _but by'r lady,
    he must build churches then_, or else shall he suffer not
    thinking on, with the hobby-horse; whose epitaph is, 'For O!
    for, O! the hobby-horse is forgot.'"

In _All's Well that Ends Well_ Shakespeare has his sanctimonious
enemies constantly in mind. He makes the Clown jeer at the fanatics in
both the Protestant and the Catholic camp. They may be of different
faiths, but they are alike in being unlucky husbands. The Clown says
(i. 3):--

    "Young Charbon the Puritan, and old Poysam the Papist, how
    soe'er their hearts are severed in religion, their heads are
    both one; they may joll horns together, like any deer i' the

A little farther on he continues:--

    "Though honesty be no Puritan, yet it will do no hurt; it
    will wear the surplice of humility over the black gown of a
    big heart."

When Lafeu (ii. 3) is talking to Parolles of the marvellous cure of the
King of France which Helena has undertaken, he has a hit at those who
will find matter in it for a pious treatise:--

    "_Lafeu_. I may truly say, it is a novelty to the world.

    "_Parolles_. It is, indeed: if you will have it in showing,
    you shall read it in--what do you call there?--

    "_Laf._ A showing of a heavenly effect in an earthly actor."

Shakespeare clearly took a mischievous pleasure in imitating the title
of a Puritanic work of edification.

This polemical tendency, which extends from _Hamlet_ through _All's
Well that Ends Well_ to _Measure for Measure_, in the form of an
increasingly marked opposition to the growing religious strictness and
sectarianism of the day, with its accompaniment of hypocrisy, proves
plainly that Shakespeare at this time shared the animosity of the
Government towards both Puritanism and Catholicism.

Though there is little true mirth to be found in _All's Well that Ends
Well_, the piece reminds us in various ways of some of Shakespeare's
real comedies. The story resembles in several details that of _The
Merchant of Venice_. Portia in disguise persuades the unwilling
Bassanio to give up his ring to her; and Helena, in the darkness of
night mistaken for another, coaxes Bertram out of the ring which he
had made up his mind she should never obtain from him. In the closing
scenes, both Bertram and Bassanio are minus their rings; both are
wretched because they have not got them; and in both cases the knot
is unravelled by their wives being found in possession of them.
There is a more essential relation--that of direct contrast--between
the story of _All's Well that Ends Well_ and that of _The Taming of
the Shrew_. The earlier comedy sets forth in playful fashion how a
man by means of the attributes of his sex--physical superiority,
boldness, and coolness--helped out by imperiousness, bluster, noise,
and violence, wins the devotion of a passionately recalcitrant young
woman. _All's Well that Ends Well_ shows us how a woman, by means of
the attributes of her sex--gentleness, goodness of heart, cunning, and
finesse--conquers a vehemently recalcitrant man. And in both cases the
pair are married before the action proper of the play begins.

Seeing that Shakespeare in _The Taming of the Shrew_ followed the older
play on the same subject, and that he took the story of _All's Well
that Ends Well_ from Boccaccio's Gilette of Narbonne, a translation
of which appeared as early as 1566 in Paynter's _Palace of Pleasure_,
this contrast cannot be said to have been devised by the poet. But it
is evident that one of the chief attractions of the latter subject
for Shakespeare was the opportunity it offered him of delineating
that rare phenomenon: a woman wooing a man and yet possessing and
retaining all the charm of her sex. Shakespeare has worked out the
figure of Helena with the tenderest partiality. Pity and admiration in
concert seem to have guided his pen. We feel in his portraiture a deep
compassion for the pangs of despised love--the compassion of one who
himself has suffered--and over the whole figure of Helena he has shed a
Raphael-like beauty. She wins all, charms all, wherever she goes--old
and young, women and men--all except Bertram, the one in whom her life
is bound up. The King and the old Lafeu are equally captivated by her,
equally impressed by her excellences. Bertram's mother prizes her as
if she were her daughter; more highly, indeed, than she prizes her own
obstinate son. The Italian widow becomes so devoted to her that she
follows her to a foreign country in order to vouch for her statement
and win her back her husband.

She ventures all that she may gain her well-beloved, and in the pursuit
of her aim shows an inventive capacity not common among women. For
the real object of her journey to cure the King is, as she frankly
confesses, to be near Bertram. As in the tale, she obtains the King's
promise that she may, if she is successful in curing him, choose
herself a husband among the lords of his court; but in Boccaccio it is
the King who, in answer to her question as to the reward, gives her
this promise of his own accord; in the play it is she who first states
her wish. So possessed is she by her passion for one who does not give
her a thought or a look. But when he rejects her (unlike Gilette in the
tale), she has no desire to attain her object by compulsion; she simply
says to the King with noble resignation--

    "That you are well restored, my lord,
     I'm glad; let the rest go."

She offers no objection when Bertram, immediately after the wedding,
announces his departure, alleging pretexts which she does not choose
to see through; she suffers without a murmur when, at the moment
of parting, he refuses her a kiss. When she has learnt the whole
truth, she can at first utter nothing but short ejaculations (iii.
2): "My lord is gone, for ever gone." "This is a dreadful sentence!"
"Tis bitter!"--and presently she leaves her home, that she may be
no hindrance to his returning to it. Predisposed though she is to
self-confidence and pride, no one could possibly love more tenderly and

All the most beautiful passages of her part show by the structure of
the verse and the absence of rhyme that they belong to the poet's riper
period. Note, for example, the lines (i. I) in which Helena tells how
the remembrance of her dead father has been effaced in her mind by the
picture of Bertram:--

                    "My imagination
    Carries no favour in't but Bertram's.
    I am undone: there is no living, none,
    If Bertram be away. It were all one
    That I should love a bright particular star,
    And think to wed it; he is so above me:
    In his bright radiance and collateral light
    Must I be comforted, not in his sphere.
    The ambition in my love thus plagues itself:
    The hind that would be mated by the lion
    Must die for love. 'Twas pretty, though a plague,
    To see him every hour: to sit and draw