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Title: Ariosto, Shakespeare, Corneille
Author: Croce, Benedetto
Language: English
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Evviva L'Italia! Italy, Britain's ancient friend and loyal ally, has
been an important factor both in winning the war and in bringing it to
an earlier conclusion. The War! That greatest practical effort that
the world has ever made is now over and we must all work to make it a
better place for all to live in.

Now at the hands of her philosopher-critic, Italy offers us a first
effort at reconstruction of our world-view with this masterly treatise
on the greatest poet of the English-speaking world, so original and so
profound that it will serve as guide to generations yet unborn. And it
will not be only the critics of Shakespeare who should benefit by this
treatise, but all critics and lovers of poetry--including prose--who
go beyond the passive stage of mere admiration. The essays on Ariosto
and Corneille are also unique and the three together should inaugurate
everywhere a new era in literary criticism.

These are the first of Benedetto Croce's literary criticisms to see the
light in English.

They are profound and suggestive, because based upon theory, the
_Theory of Aesthetic,_ with which some readers will be acquainted in
the original, others in the version by the present translator. These
will not need to be told that Croce's theory of the independence and
autonomy of the aesthetic fact, which is intuition-expression, and of
the essentially lyrical character of all art, is the only one that
completely and satisfactorily explains the problem of poetry and the
fine arts.

But this is not the place for philosophical discussion, although
it is important to stress the point, that all criticism is based
upon philosophy, and that therefore if the philosophy upon which it
is based is unsound, the criticism suffers accordingly. Croce has
elsewhere shown that the shortcomings of such critics as Sainte-Beuve,
Taine, Lemaître and Brunetière are due to incorrect or insufficient
philosophical knowledge and a similar criterion can be applied at home
with equal truth.

The translator will be satisfied if the present version receives equal
praise from the author with that accorded to the four translations of
the Philosophy into English, which Croce has often declared to come
more near to his spirit than those in any other language--and he has
been translated into all the great European languages--the _Aesthetic_
even into Japanese. The object adhered to in this translation has been
as close a cleaving as possible to the original, while preserving a
completely idiomatic style and remaining free from all pedantry.

A translation should not in any case be taken as a pouring from the
golden into the silver vessel, as used to be erroneously supposed, for
Croce has proved that in so far as the translator rethinks the original
he is himself a creator. This explains why so many writers have been
addicted to translation--in English we have Pope, Fitzgerald, Rossetti,
to name but three of many--and the author of the Philosophy of the
Spirit, Croce himself, has published a splendid Italian version of
Hegel's _Encyclopaedia of the Philosophic Sciences._


    The Athenaeum,
    Pall Mall, London,
    October, 1920.
















The fortune of the _Orlando Furioso_ may be compared to that of a
graceful, smiling woman, whom all look upon with pleasure, without
experiencing any intellectual embarrassment or perplexity, since it
suffices to have eyes and to direct them to the pleasing object, in
order to admire. Crystal clear as is the poem, polished in every
particular, easily to be understood by whomsoever possesses general
culture, it has never presented serious difficulties of interpretation,
and for that reason has not needed the industry of the commentators,
and has not been injured by their quarrelsome subtleties; nor has it
been subject, more than to a very slight extent, to the intermittences
from which other notable poetical works have suffered, owing to the
varying conditions of culture at different times. Great men and
ordinary readers have been in as complete agreement about it, as, for
instance, about the beauty, let us say, of a Madame Récamier; and
the list of great men, who have experienced its fascination, goes
from Machiavelli and the Galilei, to Voltaire and to Goethe, without
mentioning names more near to our own time.

Yet, however unanimous, simple and unrestrainable be the aesthetic
approbation accorded to the poem of Ariosto, the critical judgments
delivered upon it are just as discordant, complicated and laboured;
and indeed this is one of those cases where the difference of the two
spiritual moments, intuitive or aesthetic, the apprehension or tasting
of the work of art, and intellective, the critical and historical
judgment,--a difference wrongly disputed from one point of view by
sensationalists and from another by intellectualists,--stands out so
clearly as to seem to be almost spatially divided, so that one can
touch it with one's hand. Anyone can easily read and live again the
octaves of Ariosto, caressing them with voice and imagination, as
though passionately in love; but to say whence comes that particular
form of enchantment, to determine that is to say, the character of
the inspiration that moved Ariosto, his dominant poetical motive,
the peculiar effect which became poetry in him, is a very different
undertaking and one of no small difficulty.

The question has tormented the critics from the time when literary
and historical criticism acquired individual prominence and energy,
that is to say at the origin of romantic aestheticism, when works of
art were no longer examined in parts separated from the whole, or in
their external outline, but in the spirit that animated them. Yet we
must not think that earlier times were without all suspicion of this,
for an uncertain suggestion of it is to be found even in the eccentric
enquiries, as to whether the _Furioso_ be a moral poem or not, or
whether it should be looked upon as serious or playful. But intellects
such as Schiller and Goethe, Humboldt and Schelling, Hegel, Ranke,
Gioberti, Quinet and De Sanctis, treated or touched upon it in the last
century, and very many others during and after their times, and the
theme has again been taken up with renewed keenness, in dissertations,
memoirs and articles, some of them foreign, but mostly Italian.

Many of the problems or formulas of problems, which one at one time
critically discussed have been allowed to disappear, like cast-off
clothes as the results of the new conception of art: that is to say,
not only those we have mentioned, as to whether the _Furioso_ were or
were not an epic, whether it were serious or comic, but also a throng
of other problems, such as whether it possessed unity of action, a
protagonist or hero, whether its episodes were linked to the action,
whether it maintained the dignity of history, whether it afforded
an allegory, and if so, of what sort, whether it obeyed the laws of
modesty and morality, or followed good examples, whether it could be
credited with invention, and if so in what measure, whether it were
finer than the _Gerusalemme_ or less fine, and as to what it was finer
or less fine; and so on. All these problems have become obsolete,
because they have been solved in the only suitable way, that is to
say, they have been shown to be fallacious in their theoretical terms;
and to say that they are obsolete does not mean that there have not
been some, both in the nineteenth century and at the present time,
who have set to work to solve them, and have arrived at unfortunate
conclusions in different ways. The unity of action of the _Furioso_
has also been investigated and determined (by Panizzi, for example,
and by Carducci); its immorality has also been blamed (by Cantù, for
instance); the book of the debts of Ariosto to his predecessors has
been re-opened and charged with so very many figures on the debit side
that the final balance-sheet of credit and debit presents an enormous
deficit (Rajna); the comparison with examples from prototypes under
the name of _"Evolutionary History of Romantic Chivalry,"_ in which
the _Furioso,_ according to some, does not represent the summit, but
rather a deviation and decadence from the ideal prototype (Rajna
again); according to others, the _Furioso_ gave final and perfect form
to "The French Epic of Germanic Heroes" (Morf); allegory, contained in
a moral judgment as to Italian life at the time of the Renaissance,
lost in its pursuit of love, like the Christian and Saracen knights in
their pursuit of Angelica (Canello). But whether in their primitive or
in their more modern forms these problems are obsolete, for us who
are aware of the mistakes and errors in aesthetic, from which they
arise; and others of more recent date must also be held obsolete with
these, such theories as these for instance (to quote one of them) which
undertake to study the _Furioso_ in its "formation," understanding by
formation the literary presuppositions of its various parts, beginning
with the title. Decorated with the name of _Scientific Study,_ this is
mere inconclusive or ill-conclusive philology.

The work of modern criticism does not restrict itself to the clearing
away of these idle and unnecessary enquiries, but also includes a
varied and thorough investigation into the poetry of Ariosto, whose
every aspect we may claim to have illuminated in turn, and to have
given all the solutions as to the true character of the problem that
can be suggested. And it almost seems now that anyone who wishes
to form an idea upon the subject needs but select from the various
existing solutions, that one which shows itself to be clearly superior
to all others, owing to its being supported by the most valid
arguments, after he has possessed himself of the critical literature
relating to Ariosto. It seems impossible to suggest a new solution,
and as though the argument were one of those of which it may be said
that "there is no hope of finding anything new in connection with it."

And this is very nearly true, but only very nearly, for a
non-superficial examination of those various solutions leads to
the result that none of them is valid in the way it is presented,
that is to say, with the arguments that support it. It is therefore
advisable to indicate some of these arguments, which have already been
given, and to deduce from them other consequences, though we may not
succeed in framing others which shall shine with amazing novelty. But
upon consideration, this will be nothing less than providing a new
solution, just because the problem has been differently presented and
differently argued: a novelty of that serious sort which is a step
forward upon what has already been observed and acquired, not that sort
of extravagant novelty agreeable to false originality and to sterile

There are two fundamental types of reply to the question as to the
character of Ariosto's poetry; of these the more important is the
first, either because, as will be seen, really here near to the truth,
or because supported with the supreme authority of De Sanctis. Prior
to De Sanctis, it is only to be vaguely discerned as suggested by the
eighteenth century writer, Sulzer, and more clearly in the German
aesthetic writer, Vischer; it was afterwards repeated, prevailed and
was accepted, among others by Carducci. According to De Sanctis and
to his precursors and followers, in the _Furioso_ Ariosto has no
subjective content to express, no sentimental or passionate motive,
no idea become sentiment or passion, but pursues the sole end of art,
singing for singing's sake, representing for representation's sake,
elaborating pure form, and satisfying the one end of realising his own

This affirmation is not to be taken in a general sense, the words in
which it is formulated must not be construed literally, for in that
case it would be easy to raise the reasonable objection, that not only
Ariosto, but every artist, just because he is an artist, never has any
end but that of art, of singing for singing's sake, representing for
representation's sake, of elaborating pure form, and of satisfying
the need that he feels to realise his own dreams: woe to the artist,
who has an eye to any other ends, and tries to teach, to persuade,
to shock, to move, to make a hit or an effect, or anything else
extraneous to art. The theory of art for art, opposed by many, is
incontestable from this point of view, it is indeed indubitable and
altogether obvious. The critics who attribute that end as a character
of Ariosto's poetry, mean rather to affirm, that the author of the
_Furioso_ proceeded in his own individual proper manner with respect
to other poets; and they then proceed to determine their thoughts upon
the subject in two ways, differing somewhat from one another. Both of
these are to be found mingled and confused in the pages of De Sanctis.
Ariosto is held to have allowed to pass in defile within him the chain
of romantic figures of knights and ladies and the stories of their arms
and audacious undertakings, of their loves and their love-making, with
the one object of _delighting the imagination._ Ariosto is held to have
depicted that various human world without interposing anything between
himself and things, without reflecting himself in things, without
sinking them in himself or in his own feelings. He is held to have
been solely an _objective observer._ Now, taking the first case, that
is to say, if the work of Ariosto be really resolved into a plaything
of the imagination, although he might have pleased himself by doing
something agreeable to himself and to others, yet he would not have
been a poet, "the divine Ariosto," because the pleasure of the fancy
belongs to the order of practical acts, to what are called games or
diversion. And in the second case, when he has been praised for being
perfectly objective, this is not only at variance with the actual
creation of the poet, but is also in contradiction to it--and indeed
in contradiction to every form of spiritual production. As though
things existed outside the spirit and it were possible to take them up
in their supposed objectivity and to externalise them by putting them
on paper or canvas. The theory of art for art, when taken as a theory
of merely fanciful pleasure or of indifferent objective reproduction
of things, should be firmly rejected, because it is at variance with
and contradicts the nature of art and of the universal spirit. At the
most, these two paradigms,--art as mere fancy and art as extrinsic
objectivity,--might be of avail as designating two artistic forms of
deficiency and ugliness, _futile_ art and _material_ art, that is to
say, in both cases, non-art; and in like manner the theory of art for
art's sake would in those cases be the definition of one or more forms
of artistic perversion.

Owing to the impossibility of denying to Ariosto any content, and
at the same time of enjoying him and of acclaiming him a poet,--an
impossibility more or less obscurely felt by some, although without
discovering and demonstrating it as has been done above,--it has
come about that not only other critics, but those very critics who,
like De Sanctis, had described him as a poet of pure fancy or pure
objectivity, have been led to recognise in him a content, and sometimes
several contents, one upon the top of the other, in a heap. One of
such contents, perhaps that most generally admitted, is without doubt
the _dissolution of the world of chivalry,_ brought about by Ariosto
through irony: a historical position conferred upon him by Hegel, and
amply illustrated by De Sanctis. But what do they mean by saying that
Ariosto expresses the dissolution of the world of chivalry? Certainly
not simply that in his poem are to be found documents concerning
the passing of the ideals of chivalry, because whether this be true
or not, it does not concern the concrete artistic form, but its
abstract material, considered and treated as a source of historical
documentation. Nor can it mean that he was inspired with aversion to
the ideals of chivalry and in favour of new ideals, because polemic
and criticism, negation and affirmation, are not art. So what was
really meant was (although those who maintain this interpretation often
understand it in one or other of those meanings, which are external to
art), that Ariosto was animated with a true and real feeling toward
the ideals of the life of chivalry, and that this feeling supplied
the lyrical motive for his poem. This motive has been disputed in
its details in various ways, some holding it to have been aversion,
others a mixture of aversion and of love, others of admiration and of
pleasure; but before we engage in further investigation, we must first
ascertain if there exist, that is to say, if Ariosto really endowed
with his own feeling--whatever it be, prevailing aversion or prevailing
inclination or a prevalent alternation of the two,--the material of
chivalry, rendering it serious and emotional, through the seriousness
and emotion of his own feeling. And this does not exist at all, for
what all feel and see as chivalry in Ariosto's mode of treatment, is
on the contrary a sort of aloofness and superiority, owing to which
he never engages himself up to the hilt in admiration or in scorn or
in passionate disagreement with one or the other; and this impression
which his narratives of sieges and combats, of duels and feats of
arms produce upon us, has afforded the ground for the above-mentioned
opposed theories as to his objective attitude and as to his cultivation
of a mere pastime of the imagination. Had Ariosto really aimed, as is
said, at an exaltation or a semi-exaltation or at an ironisation of
chivalry, he would clearly have missed the mark, and this failure would
have been the failure of his art.

What has been remarked concerning the content of chivalry is to be
repeated for all the other contents which have been proposed in turn,
each one or all of them together as the true and proper leading
motive; and of these (leaving out the least likely, because we are
not here concerned with collecting curious trifles of Ariostesque
criticism, but are resuming the essential lines of this criticism
with the intention of cutting into it more deeply and with greater
certainty), the next thing to mention, immediately after chivalrous
ideality or anti-ideality, is the philosophy of life, the _wisdom,_
which Ariosto is supposed to have administered and counselled. This
wisdom is supposed to have embraced love, friendship, politics,
religion, public and private life, and to have been directed with
great moderation and good sense, noble without fanaticism, courageous
and patient, dignified and modest. We admit that these things are to
be found in the _Furioso,_ just as chivalrous things are to be found
there also; but they are there in almost the same way, that is to
say, with the not doubtful accent of aloofness and remoteness, which
at once places a great chasm between Ariosto and the true poets of
wisdom, such as were for instance, Manzoni and Goethe. The latter of
these, in the fine verses (of the _Tasso)_ in praise of Ariosto,--who
is held to have there draped in the garb of fable all that can render
man dear and honoured, to have exhibited experience, intelligence,
good taste, the pure sense of good, as living persons, crowned with
roses and surrounded with a magic winged presence of Amorini,--somewhat
transfigured the subject of his eulogy, by approaching him to himself:
although, as we perceive from the images that he employed, it did not
escape him that in the case of the lovable singer of the _Furioso,_
the wisdom was covered, and as it were smothered beneath a cloud
of many coloured flowers. Thus the two principal solutions hitherto
given of the critical problem presented by Ariosto, the only two which
appear thinkable,--that the _Furioso_ has no content; that it has this
or that content,--each finds countenance in the other and arguments
in its favour. This means that they confute one another in turn. And
since it is impossible that there should be no content in Ariosto,
and on the other hand, since all those to which attention was first
directed (admiration or contempt of chivalry, wisdom of life) turn out
to be without existence, it is clear that there is no way out of the
difficulty, save that of seeking another content, and such an one as
shall show how the truth has been improperly symbolised in the formulas
of "mere imagination," of "indifferent objectivity" and of "art for
art's sake."

[Footnote 1: In the preparation of this essay, I believe that I have
examined all, or almost all, the literature of erudition and criticism,
old and new, in connection with Ariosto; this will not escape the
expert reader, although particular discussions and quotation of
titles and pages of books have seemed to me to be superfluous on this
occasion. But in judging this work, the reader should have present
in his mind above all the chapter of De Sanctis on the _Furioso_
(illustrated with fragments from his lectures at Zurich upon the poetry
of chivalry), which forms the point of departure for these later
investigations and conclusions.]




Ariosto had ordinary emotional experiences in life, and this has
been shown to be true, not so much through the biographies of his
contemporaries and documents which have later come to light, as
through his own words, because he took great pleasure, if not exactly
in confessing himself, at any rate in giving vent to his feelings.
It is well known that he was without profound intellectual passions,
religious or political, free from longing for riches and honours,
simple and frugal in his mode of life, seeking above all things peace
and tranquillity and freedom to follow his own imagination, to give
himself over to the studies that he loved. Rarely or only for brief
spaces of time was it given to him to live in his own way, owing to
the necessity, always on his shoulders, for providing for his younger
brothers and sisters and for his mother, and also the necessity
of obtaining bread for himself. All these circumstances together
constrained him to undertake the hard work and the annoyances of a
court life. He was admirable in the fulfilment of family duties,
perfectly honest and reliable on every occasion, full of good, just and
generous sentiments, and therefore the recipient of universal esteem
and confidence. Owing to reasons connected with his office, he was
obliged to associate with greedy, violent, unscrupulous men, but he
did not allow himself to be stained by their contact, preserving the
attitude of an honest employee towards his patrons, attentive to the
formal duties with which he was charged. He is discreet, but pure and
dignified, refraining from taking part whatever in the secret plots and
machinations of those whose orders he obeys. He was thus enabled to
carry out the instructions of his superiors, whom he regarded solely
as filling a certain lofty rank, idealising them in conformity with
their rank, praising them, that is to say, for their attainments,
their ability and their noble undertakings, either because they really
possessed them and really accomplished the things for which he praised
them, or because they should have possessed them and accomplished the
feats in question, as attributes inherent to their social station.

Among these duties and labours one single passion ran like an ever warm
stream through his brain: love, or rather the need of woman's society,
to have with him a beloved woman, to enjoy her beauty, her laughter,
her speech: and although he frequently alludes to this passion, it
is as one ashamed of a weakness, but aware that he can by no means
dispense with the sweetness that it procures for him and which is a
vital element of his being. But even his love for woman, however strong
it may have been, found its correct framework in his idyllic ideal and
in his reflective and temperate spirit: it contained nothing of the
fantastic, the adventurous, the Donjuanesque; and after the customary
evil and evanescent adventures of youth, he took refuge in her "for
whom he trembled with amorous zeal" and (as his friend Hercules
Bentivoglio tells us in verse): in that Alexandra, who was his friend
for twenty years, and finally his more or less legal wife. United to
his desire for quietude, there was thus a potent stimulus not to remove
himself at all, or if at all, then as little as possible, from her
who was warmth and comfort for him, and to whom he clung like a child
to the bosom of its mother. His latter years, in which, recalled from
his severe sojourn at Garfagnana, he occupied himself with correcting
his poems at Ferrara, with the woman he loved at his side, were perhaps
the happiest he knew; and he passed away in that peace for which he had
sighed, ere attaining to old age.

Such tendencies of soul and the life which resulted from them, have
sometimes been admired and envied, as for instance by the sixteenth
century English translator of the _Furioso,_ Harrington. After having
described them, and having disclaimed certain sins, indeed as he said,
the single _pecadillo of love,_ he concludes with a sigh: "_Sic me
contingat vivere, Sicque mori._" Sometimes too they have been looked
upon from above and almost with compassion, as by De Sanctis and
others, who have insisted upon the negative aspects of the character
of Ariosto. These negative aspects are however nothing but the
limits, which are found in everyone, for we are not all capable of
everything; and really Italian critics, especially in the period of the
Risorgimento, were often wrong in laying down as a single measure for
everyone, civil, political, patriotic, religious, excellence, forgetful
that judgment of an individual's character should depend upon his
natural disposition, his temperament. Certainly, the life of Ariosto
was not rich and intense, nor does it present important problems in
respect of social and moral history; and the industry of the learned,
although it has been able to increase its collections and conjectures
as to his economic and family conditions, as to his official duties
as courtier, as ambassador and administrator for the Duke of Ferrara,
as to his loves and as to the names and persons of the women whom he
loved, as to the house which he built and inhabited, and other similar
particulars, anecdotes and curiosities concerning him (the collection
of which shows with how much religion or superstition a great man is
surrounded, and also sometimes the futility of the searcher), has not
added anything substantial to what the poet tells us himself, far less
has been able to furnish materials for a really new biography, which
should be at once profound and dramatic.

Nevertheless, such as it was, the life of a good and of a poor man,
of one tenaciously devoted to love and poetry, it found literary
expression in the minor works of the author: in the Latin songs, in the
Italian verses, and in the satires.

In saying this, we shall set aside the comedies, which seem to be the
most important of those minor works and are notwithstanding the least
significant, so that they might be almost excluded from the history
of his poetical development, connected rather with his doings as a
courtier, as an arranger of spectacles and plays, for which purpose he
decided to imitate the Latin comedy, for he did not believe there was
anything new to be done in that field, since the Latins had already
imitated the Greeks. No doubt Ariosto's comedies stand for an important
date in the history of the Italian theatre and of the Latin imitation
which prevailed there, that is to say, the history of culture, but not
in that of poetry. There they are mute. They are works of adaptation
and combination, and therefore executed with effort; there is nothing
new, even about their form, and a proof of this is that Ariosto, after
he had made a first attempt to write them in prose, finally put them
into monotonous and tiresome ante-penultimate hendecasyllabics, which
have never pleased anyone's ear, because they were not born, but
constructed according to design, with evident artifice and with a view
to giving to Italy the metre of comedy, analogous to the Roman iambic.
Whoever (to cite an instance from the same period and "style") calls
to memory the _Mandragola_ of Machiavelli, instinct with the energetic
spirit, the bitter disdain of the great thinker, or even the sketches
thrown upon paper anyhow by the ne'er-do-well Pietro Aretino, is at
once sensible of the difference between dead ability and living force,
or at any rate careless vigour. Nor does the dead material come alive,
as some easily contented critics maintain, from the fact that Ariosto
introduced, especially into the later of those comedies, allusions to
persons, places and customs of Ferrara, or satirical gibes at the vices
of the time; all these things are light as straws and quite indifferent
when original inspiration lacks, as in the present case.

On the other hand, there are many pure and spontaneous parts in the
minor works: even the imitations of Horace, of Catullus, of Tibullus
in the Latin poems, do not produce a sense of coldness, because we
feel that they are inspired with devotion of the humanists for the
Latins, for "my Latins," as he affectionately called them; and the
heart of the poet often beats with theirs, whether he be lamenting
the death of a friend and companion, or drawing the portrait of some
fair lady, or describing the delights of the country, or inveighing
against some treacherous and venal woman. In like manner, we observe
some fine traits of lofty emotion among the Italian poems, such as the
two songs for Philiberta of Savoy; and the true accents of his love
find their way to utterance among the Petrarchan, the madrigalesque and
the courtly qualities of others. Such is the song celebrating their
first meeting, in which he records the Florentine _festa,_ where he
saw her who was to become his mistress, and who immediately occupied a
place above all other women in his eyes, her whose fair, dense hair,
as it shaded her cheeks and neck and fell upon her shoulders, whose
rich silken robe adorned with scarlet and gold, became part of his
soul; and the elegy which is an outburst of joy upon having attained
the desired felicity; and that other which records the lovers' meeting
at night; then too the chapter upon the visit to Florence, where all
the attractions of the sweet city failed to secure fer him a moment's
respite, eager as he was to return to the longed-for presence of
the loved one, whom he describes poetically in her absence as a fair

    "Oltra acque, monti, a ripa l'onda vaga
    Del re de' fiumi, in bianca e pura stola,
    Cantando ferma il sol la bella maga,
    Che con sua vista può sanarmi sola."

and in the sonnet which ends:

    "Ma benigne accoglienze, ma complessi
    Licenziosi, ma parole sciolte
    D'ogni freno, ma risi, vezzi e giuochi."

They are often echoes of the erotic Latin poets, refreshed by the true
condition of his own spirit which, in the passion of love, never went
beyond a tender and somewhat slight degree of sensuality. It would be
vain to seek in him what he does not possess--that suave imagining,
those cosmical analogies, those moral finesses and lofty thoughts,
which are to be found in other poets of love.

For this reason, reflections upon himself and upon the society in
which it was his fate to live, confidences about his own various ways
of feeling and the recital of his adventures, follow and accompany
the brief lyrical effusions of this eroticism. When Ariosto limits
himself to the thoughts and happenings of his daily life, it is
rather a question of narrating than creating, and the culmination
of the minor works are known as the _Satires,_ which must not be
limited to the seven which bear this title in the printed editions,
but should be extended to include other compositions of like tone and
content, to be found among the elegies and the capitals, and even
among the odes, such as the elegy _De diversis amoribus._ In all of
these, Ariosto is writing his autobiography in fragments, or rather
as a series of confidential letters to his friends, such as he did
not write in prose, at least none are to be found among those of his
that remain. These are all connected with business, dry, summary,
and written in haste, only here and there revealing the personality
of the writer; whereas, when he expressed himself in verse, he made
his own soul the subject, paying attention to the vivacity of the
representation and the precise accuracy of what he said. This is a
most pleasing versified correspondence, where we hear him lamenting,
losing patience, telling us what he wants, forming projects, refusing,
begging a favour, candidly laying bare for us his true disposition, his
lack of docility, his volubility and his caprices, discussing life
and the world, smiling at others and at himself; we converse with an
Ariosto in his dressing-gown, who experiences great pleasure and has
no compunction about showing us himself as he is, and we know how he
abhorred any sort of restraint. But these letters in verse, although
perfect in quality, vivacious and eloquent as only the writings of a
man who speaks of things that concern himself can be, yet are letters,
confessions, autobiography: they are not pure poetry; their metrical
form is to them something of a delicate pleasing whim, in harmony
with such a definition of the soul. In saying this, we do not wish
to detract in any way from their value, which is great, but only to
prevent their true character from escaping us.

It is no marvel then if a connection, such as prevails between hills
and valleys, seems to run between these lesser works, the odes, the
verses of the satires, and the _Furioso._ It is sufficient to read
an octave or two of the poem to discover at once the difference in
altitude separating it from the most delicious of the love-songs, from
the most nimble and picturesque of the satires, which express the
feelings of the author far more directly than does the _Furioso._
It is further to be noted that Ariosto never wished to publish, and
certainly never would have had published a great number of them, with
the exception of the comedies, even after his death, except perhaps the
satires; but since the minor works are nevertheless the expression of
his feelings in real and ordinary life, it follows that if we wish to
discover the inspiration of the _Furioso,_ the passion which informed
and gave to it its proper content, we must seek for this beyond his
ordinary life, not in the heart which we know as that of a son, a
brother, a poor man, a lover: it is something hidden yet more deeply
within him, the heart of his heart.

That there really was a hidden affection; that Ariosto really had a
heart of his heart shut up within himself; that beyond and above the
beloved woman he worshipped another woman or goddess, with whom he
daily held religious converse, is apparent from his whole habit of
life. Why had he so lofty a disdain for practical ambitions, why was
life at court and business so wearisome to him, why did he renounce so
much, sigh so often and so often pray for leisure and rest and freedom,
save to celebrate that cult, to give himself over to that converse,
to work upon the _Furioso,_ which was its altar, or the statue which
he had sculptured for it and was perfecting with his chisel? What was
the origin of his well-known "distraction," that mind of his so aloof
from his surroundings, ever dwelling upon something else, which his
contemporaries observe and about which curious anecdotes are preserved?
His need of love and of feminine caresses did not present itself to him
as a supreme end, as with people desirous of ease and pleasure, but
seemed to him to be rather a means to an end: as though it were the
surrounding of serene joy, of tumult appeased, which he prepared for
himself and for that other more lofty love. Carducci has successfully
defined this psychological situation in his sonnet on the portrait of
Ariosto, where he says that the only longed for and accepted "prize
for his poems" was for the great dreamer "a lovely mouth--which should
appease the burning of his Apollonian brow--with kisses ..."

The proof of the scrupulous attention which he devoted to the
_Furioso,_ is to be found in the twelve years, during which he worked
upon it in the flower of his age, "with long vigils and labours," as he
wrote to the Doge of Venice, when requesting the privilege of printing
the first edition of 1516; and in his having always returned to it,
to chisel smooth and to soften it in innumerable delicate details,
or to amplify it, or in the throwing away of five cantos, which he
had written by way of amplification, but which did not go well with
the general design, and finally failed to content him. For these he
substituted as many more, and personally superintended the edition of
1532, which also failed to content him altogether, so that he began
to work upon it again during the few months which separated him from
death. His son Virginio attests that he "was never satisfied with
his verses, that he kept changing them again and again, and for this
reason never remembered any of them ..."; and contemporaries never
cease marvelling at his diligence as a corrector and a maker of perfect
things: Giraldi Cinzio, to mention but one witness, says that after
the first edition, "not a single day passed," during sixteen years,
"that he was not occupied upon it with pen and with thought," and that
he was also desirous of obtaining the opinions and impressions of the
greatest men of letters and humanists in Italy as to every part of it,
men such as Bembo, Molza, Navagero; and as Apelles with his paintings,
Ariosto kept his work for two years "in the hall of his house, leaving
it there that it might be criticised by everyone"; and he particularly
said that he wished his critics merely to mark with a stroke of the pen
those parts which did not please them, without giving any reason for so
doing, that he might find it out for himself, and then discuss it with
them, and so arrive at a decision and a solution in his own way. He
pushed his minute delicacy of taste so far as to be preoccupied about
the choice of modes of spelling, refusing, for instance, to remove the
"h" from those words which possessed it by tradition, thus opposing the
suggestion of Tolomei and the new fashion of the illiterate crowd, by
jocosely replying that "He who removes the _h_ from _Huomo,_ does not
know _Huomo_ (man), and he who removes it from _Honore,_ is not worthy
of honour."

What then was the passion which he thus expressed, who was the goddess,
for whom, since he could not raise a temple and a marble statue in the
little house which he longed for and built in the Via Mirasole, he
constructed the architecture, the forms and the poetical adornments of
the _Furioso? _ He never uttered her name, because none of the other
great Italian poets was so little a theorist or critic as Ariosto. He
never discussed his art or art in general, limiting himself to saying
very simply, and indeed very inadequately, that what he meant by art
was "A work containing pleasing and delightful things"; nor, as we have
seen, have the critics told us who she was, since they have at the most
indicated vaguely and indirectly in their illogical formula that "his
Goddess was Art."



But we on the other hand shall name her, and we shall call her Harmony,
and we shall prove that those who assign a simple aim to Ariosto in the
_Furioso,_ Art or Pure Form, were gazing at her and seeing her as it
were through a veil of clouds. In doing this, we shall at the same time
define the concept of Harmony. We cannot avoid entering upon certain
theoretical explanations in relation to this matter; but it would be
wrong to look upon them as digressions, since it is only by their means
that the way can be cleared to the understanding of the spirit which
animates the _Furioso._ There is something comic or at least ironic in
this necessity in which we find ourselves, of weighting with philosophy
a discourse relating to so transparent a poet as Ariosto; but we have
already warned the reader at the beginning that it is one thing to read
and let sing to him the verses of a poet, and another to understand
him, and that what is easy to learn may sometimes be very difficult to

It is therefore without doubt contradictory to state that an artist has
for his special and particular end or content, art itself, art which
is the general end of every artist: as contradictory as to say that an
individual has for his concrete and proper end, not this or that work
and profession, but life. And there is also no doubt that since every
error contains in it an element of truth, those erroneous theories
aimed at something effectively existing: a particular content, which
they were not able to define, and which could never be in any case art
for art. Two sorts of judgments of that formula have nevertheless been
expressed in relation to two different groups of works of art: those
relating to works which seemed to be inspired by a particular form of
art, and those which seem to be inspired by the idea of Art itself, by
Art in universal; and for this reason our rapid investigation must be
divided and directed first to the one and then to the other case.

The first case includes the poetry which may be called "humanistic"
or "classicistic": not the classicism and humanism of pedants without
talent or taste, but that lively humanism and classicism which we
are wont to admire and enjoy in several poets of our Renaissance in
the Latin language, such as Sannazaro, Politian and Pontano, and also
in later times those extremely lettered writers in Italian, of whom
Monti, in his best work, may be said to be the greatest representative
and we might add to him Canova, although he has not poetised in verse.
What is there that pleases us in them, in their imitations, their
re-writing, their cantos of classical phrases and measures? And what
was it that warmed and carried them away, so that they were able to
transmit their emotion to us and obtain our delighted sympathy? It
has been answered that this was due to their remaining faithful to
the already sacred traditions of beautiful form, handed down by the
school; but this answer is not satisfactory, because pedants also can
be mechanically faithful in repeating; we have alluded to these and
shown that on the contrary they weary and annoy us. The truth is that
the former hold to those forms of art, because they are the suitable
symbol, the satisfactory expression of their feeling, which is one
of affection for the _past,_ as being venerable, glorious, decorous,
national or super-national and cultural; and their content is not
literary form by itself, but love for that past, love for some one or
other _historical_ age of art. And if this be true, we must place those
romantic archaisers in the same class of art with the humanists or
classicists, when considering the substantial nature of things. For the
former nourish the same feeling and employ the same procedure, not in
relation to the Greek and Roman past, but in relation to the Christian
and medieval past, particularly in Germany, where they let us hear
again the rude accent of the medieval epic, and represent the ingenuous
forms of pious legends and sacred dramatic representations, and make
themselves the echo of ancient popular songs: this re-writing has often
something in it of the pastiche (as the humanists and classicists also
have something of the pastiche, which with them is pedantry), yet
sometimes produce passages of delicate art, which if not profound, were
certainly agreeable to the heart that remembers, to the eternal heart
of childhood which is in us.

Ariosto was also a more or less successful humanist in certain of his
minor works, as we have said, but in the _Furioso,_ although he took
many schemes and details from Latin poets, he stands essentially
outside their line of inspiration, for instead of directing his spirit
towards the past, he always draws the past towards his spirit, and
there is no observable trace in it of Latin-Augustan archaism, or of
the archaism of medieval chivalry. For this reason, the view that he
had Art itself as his content must be taken as applicable without doubt
in the other sense to him and to certain other artists: as devotion to
Art as universal, to Art in its Idea, a devotion which is bodied forth
in his narratives, his figures and his verse.

Now it must be remembered that Art in its Idea is nothing but
expression or--representation of the real,--of the real which is
conflict and strife, but a conflict and a strife that are always being
settled; that it is multiplicity and diversity, but at the same time
unity, dialectic and development, and also and through that, cosmos and
Harmony. And since Art cannot be the content of Art, that is to say,
it is impossible to represent representation (as it is impossible to
think thought, so that if thought is made the object of thought, it is
always itself and the other, that is to say, the whole), by eliding
the term which is superfluous and has been unduly retained, we obtain
the result that when it is stated of Ariosto or of other artists
that they have for content pure Art or pure Form, it is really to be
understood that they have for content devotion to the pure rhythm of
the universe, for the dialectic which is unity, for the development
which is _Harmony._ Thus, if humanistic or otherwise archaistic artists
do not as is generally believed love beautiful forms, but rather the
past and history, it may be said of those others that they do not love
pure Art, but the _pure and universal content_ of Art, not this or that
particular strife and Harmony (erotic, political, moral, religious, and
so on), but strife and _Harmony_ in idea and eternal.

The concept of cosmic Harmony, which has also been called pure
Beauty or absolute Beauty, and indeed God, has been much employed in
old philosophy, and notably in the old aesthetic (old always being
understood in its logical-historical sense, which is still tenacious of
life and reappears in our own day, where it might be least expected),
and has made an elaboration of the new theory, which conceives of art
as lyrical intuition or expression, very laborious. For many reasons
that it would occupy too much time and be out of place to detail
here, Harmony or Beauty came to be considered as the true essence of
Art; hence the impossibility of accounting, not only for many works
of art, but for art in general, and the artificial attempts made by
the upholders of this doctrine and by criticism to pervert facts in
support of a partial and incorrect principle. For the reasons given
above, it is easy for us to discern the origin of the error, which
lay in transferring one of the classes of particular contents which
Art is able to elaborate, to serve as the end and essence of Art. And
the one selected was precisely that which owing to its religious and
philosophical dignity, appeared to have the power to absorb Art into
itself together with everything else and to dissolve the whole in a
sort of mysticism. This is confirmed by the historical course of the
doctrine, the first conspicuous form of which was Neoplatonism, which
reappeared on several occasions in the Middle Ages, at the time of the
Renaissance and during the Romantic period. De Sanctis himself, owing
to the romantic origins of his thought, was never altogether free from
it; and his judgment upon Ariosto bears traces of the transcendental
conception of Art as an actualisation of pure Beauty.

Similar traces are to be found in another& doctrine to which De
Sanctis held and formulated as the distinction and opposition between
the _poet_ and the _artist:_ a doctrine which it is desirable to make
clear, not only with a view of strengthening the concept to which
we have had recourse, but also because Ariosto himself is numbered
among the poets to whom the distinction has been chiefly applied, as
he has been held to be distinct and opposed, along with Politian and
Petrarch, and perhaps others, as artists, to Dante or to Shakespeare,
as poets. The doctrine appears to be endorsed by facts, and therefore
looks plausible and is readily accepted and continually reproduced,
as on several occasions in the history of aesthetic ideas. It was
not altogether unknown in the days of Ariosto himself, if Giraldo
Cinzio can be held to have suggested it, when in his description of an
allegorical picture, in which were to be seen the two great Tuscans
"in a green and flowery meadow upon a hill of Helicon," Dante, with
his robe fastened at the knees, "manipulated the circular scythe,
cutting all the grass that his scythe met with," while Petrarch,
"robed in senatorial robe, lay there selecting among the noble
herbs and the delicate flowers." In spite of this, it is altogether
unsustainable as an exact theory, because it introduces an unjustified
and unjustifiable dualism, which it is altogether impossible to
mediate, since each of the two distinct terms contains in itself the
other and nothing else, thus demonstrating their identity: the poet
is poet because he is an artist, that is to say, he gives artistic
form to feeling, and the artist would not be an artist, if he were
not a poet, that is to say, if he had not a feeling to elaborate. The
apparent confirmation of this theory by facts arises from this, that
there are as we know, artists who have a devotion for cosmic Harmony
as their chief content, and others who have other devotions: and this
proves that it is advisable to make a very moderate and restrained
use of the distinction between poets and artists, between those who
represent the beautiful and those who represent the real, as is the
case with all empirical distinctions. Sometimes the same distinction,
taken from the bosom of poetry or of some other special art, has been
thrown into the midst of the series of the so-called arts, severing
those arts which have cosmic Harmony, absolute Beauty, ideal Beauty,
the rhythm of the Universe for their object, from others which have
for their object individual feelings and life. Among the former were
numbered (as in the school of Winckelmann) the art of sculpture and
certain sorts of painting at least, and among the latter, poetry; or
(according to Schelling and Schopenhauer) bestowing upon music alone
the whole of the first field. Music would thus be opposed to the other
arts and would possess the value of an unconscious Metaphysic, in so
far as it directly portrayed the rhythm of the Universe itself. A
clumsy doctrine, which we only mention here, because Ariosto would
furnish the best example of all among the poets, against the exclusion
of poetry from among the arts which alone were able to portray the
rhythm of the Universe or Harmony: Ariosto, who, if he had seemed to
an Italian philologist to be nothing less than "a poet who was an
excellent observer and reasoner," has yet appeared to Humboldt, whose
ear was more sensitive to the especially "musical" _musikalisch,_ and
to Vischer more especially as one who developed his fables of chivalry
41 in a melodious labyrinth of images, which produced in its sensual
serenity the same enjoyment as the rocking and dying of the Italian
"canzone," thus giving the reader "the pure pleasure of moving without
matter." When empirical classifications are not handled with caution
and with a consciousness of their limits, not only do they deprive the
principles of science of their rigour and vigour, but also carry with
them the unfortunate result of making it seem possible to distinguish
concretely what has been roughly divided for the purpose of aiding
the creation of images. The double class of poets and of artists, the
one moved by particular affections, the other by universal Harmony,
does not hold as a logical duality, because the love of Harmony is
itself one of many particular affections, and forms part of the
series comprising the comic, tragic, humorous, melancholy, jocose,
pessimistic, passionate, realistic, classicistic poets, and so on. But
even when it has been reduced to the level of the others, there is no
necessity, either in its case or in that of the others, to fall into
the illusion that there really exist poets who are only tragic or only
comic, only realistic or only classicistic, singers only of Harmony,
without the other passions, or solely passionate without the passion
for Harmony. The love of traditional forms, for example, which we have
seen to be the base of classicism, exists in a certain measure in every
poet, for the reason that every poet employs, re-lives and renews the
words of a given language, which has been historically formed, and is
therefore charged with a literary tradition and full of historical
meaning. And the love of Harmony exists also in every poet worthy of
the name, since he cannot represent his drama of the affections, save
as a particular mode of drama and of the dramatic or dialectic cosmic
Harmony, which is therefore contained and dwells in it as the universal
in the particular.

Are we ourselves overthrowing our own distinctions, immediately after
asserting them? We are not overthrowing the principles which we had
established in connection with the nature of Art, and with the nature
of Harmony and Beauty in the super-aesthetic and cosmical sense; but
it was necessary clearly to state and to overthrow the definition of
Ariosto as poet of Harmony, because in doing so, we cease to preserve
it in its abstractness, but make use of it as a living principle. In
other words, by thus defining him, we have attained the first object
of our quest, which was no longer to leave him hidden beneath the
nebulous description of a poet of art for art's sake, nor beneath
that other equally fallacious description of him as a satirical and
ironical poet, or as a poet of prudence and wisdom, and so on; and
we have pointed out _where the principal accent of his art falls._
Passing now to other determinations, in order to show in what matter
and in what way or tone that accent is realised, maintained and
developed, even when it happens that we can do this in the best
possible manner, we shall not allow ourselves to be ensnared by the
fatuous belief, in vogue with certain critics of the day, that we
have supplied an equivalent to Ariosto's poetry with our aesthetic
formulas: such an equivalent would not only be an arrogance, but it
would also be useless, because Ariosto's poetry is there, and anyone
can see it for himself. The new determinations must however also be
asserted and refuted, only the new results being preserved, analogous
to those already obtained, by means of which we shall dispose of other
false ideas circulated by the critics concerning Ariosto and point
out the salient characteristics of the material which he selected for
treatment, together with the mode and the tone of his poem. The poetry
of the _Furioso,_ as for that matter all poetry, is an _individuum
ineffabile,_ and Ariosto, the poet of Harmony, limited in this
direction and that, never at any time exactly coincides with Ariosto,
the Ariostesque poet, the poet of Harmony, and not only of Harmony as
denned in the way we have defined it, but also in other ways understood
or indefinable. We do not propose to exhaust or to take the place of
the concrete living Ariosto; he is indeed present to the imagination
of our readers as to our own and forms the perpetual criterion of
our critical explanations, which without this criterion would be



Had Ariosto been a philosopher or a poet-philosopher, he would have
given us a hymn to Harmony, similar to a good many others which are to
be found in the history of literature, celebrating that lofty Idea,
which enabled him to understand the discordant concord of things and
while satisfying his intellect, filled his soul with peace and joy. But
Ariosto was the opposite of a philosopher, and certainly, were he able
to read what we are now investigating and discovering in him, first he
would be astonished, then he would smile and finally he would comment
upon our work with some good-natured jest.

His love for Harmony never took the form of a concept, it was not
love of the concept and of the intelligence, that is to say of things
answering to a need which he did not experience: it was love for
Harmony directly and ingenuously perceived, for sensible Harmony: a
harmony, therefore, which did not arise from a loss of his humanity and
an abandonment of all particular sentiments, a religious mounting up
to the world of the ideas, but existed for him rather as a sentiment
among sentiments, a dominant sentiment, surrounding all the others and
assigning to each its place. In this respect, he really belonged to one
of the chief spiritual currents of the period of the Renaissance, or
more accurately, of the early Cinquecento: to the period, that is to
say, when Leonardo, Raphael, Fra Bartolommeo, Andrea del Sarto, with
their beautiful, harmonious decorum and majestic forms, had succeeded
to Ghirlandaio, to Botticelli, to Lippi, when it seemed (in the words
of Wölfflin, a historian of art) "as though new bodies had suddenly
grown up in Italy," a new and magnificent population, resplendent
in painting and sculpture, which was indeed the reflection of a new
psychical attitude, of a different direction and of a new centre of

Now if we undertake to consider the sentiments which form part of the
_Furioso,_ if we disassociate them from the connection established
among them by the harmonising sentiment of Harmony, and therefore in
their particularity, disaggregation and materiality, we shall have
before us the _material_ of the _Furioso._ For the "material" of Art
is nothing but this, when ideally distinguished from the _content,_ in
which the sentiments themselves are fused in the dominant sentiment,
whether it be called the leading motive or the lyrical motive: a
content which in its turn can be only ideally distinguished from the
_form,_ in which it expresses itself or is possessed and present
in the spirit. Philological criticism, deprived of philosophical
enlightenment, philology in its bad sense or philologism, means rather
by "material" or "sources," as they are also called, external things,
such as the books which the poet had read or the stories that he had
heard told, and on the pretext of supplying in this way the genesis of
a work of art _ab ovo,_ it penetrates to the sources of the sources,
let us say to the origins of warrior women, of the ogress and the
hippogryph of Ariosto. Their procedure suggests that of one who when
asked what language a poet found in circulation in his time, should
open for that purpose an etymological dictionary of the Italian
language, or of the romance languages, or of Indo-European languages,
which expound formative ideological processes, either forgotten or
thrown into the background of the speaker's consciousness when engaged
in speaking. But even if we do not lose our way in such learned and
interminable dissertations, if we escape the error referred to above,
of forming judgments as to merit upon them, philologistic search
for sources and for material becomes capricious and ends by being
impossible; because it takes as sources only certain literary lumber
scattered here and there, and were we to unite this with the whole
of the rest of literature, with the figurative and musical arts, and
with other external things which actually surround the poet, public
and private events, scientific teachings and disputes, beliefs,
customs, and so on, we should find ourselves involved in all endless
and infinite enumeration, convincing proof of the illogical nature
of such an inquiry. Nor do we make any progress in the determination
of the material by limiting it to more modest terms, that is to say,
only to certain things which the poet had before him (even if they be
documents and information, not without use for certain ends), because
the true _material_ of art, as has been said, is not _things_ but
the _sentiments_ of the poet, which determine and explain one another,
why and for what reason he turns to certain things and not to others, to
these things rather than to those. Since we have already described
Ariosto's character and shown its reflection in his minor works, now
that we are examining the material of the _Furioso,_ we shall find the
same character, that is to say, the same complex of sentiments which
it will be desirable to illustrate and to distinguish in a somewhat
different manner, with an eye no longer directed to the psychology of
the man or to the minor works, but just to the _Furioso._

And we shall find above all _an amorous_ Ariosto, Ariosto perpetually
in love, whom we already know: an Ariosto for whom love and woman are
an important affair, a great pleasure which he is not able to renounce,
a great torment from which he cannot set himself free. That love is
always altogether sensual, love for a beautiful bodily form, shining
forth in the luminous eyes, seductive, charming; virtuous too, but
relatively virtuous, just as much as avails to prevent too much poison
entering into the delicate linked tenderness of love; and for this
reason, all ethical or speculative idealisation, in the new or Platonic
style, is excluded "Not love of a lady of theology ...": here too,
Carducci saw clearly and spoke well. Absent too or extraneous are the
consecration and purification of love in "matrimony"; the choice of a
wife, the treatment of a wife, are for Ariosto, things differing but
slightly from the choice and the breaking in of a horse, and matrimony
in its noble ethical sense belongs at the most to his intellect, and
to his intellect in so far as it is passive: in the _Furioso_ are
to be found the politics and not the poetry of matrimony, and among
innumerable ties of free love, the chaste sighing of Bradamante alone
aims at "the conjugal tie" with Ruggiero. But the love of Ariosto is
healthy and natural in its warm sensuality; it is not sophisticated
with luxurious images, it is conscious of its own limits; nor does it
suffer from mad or inextinguishable desires, but only from that which
was known in the language of the time as the "cruelty" of woman, her
refusal or her coldness; but it tortures itself yet more with jealousy
and the anxious working of the imagination. The Ferrarese Garofalo,
a contemporary biographer, bears witness to the very lively jealousy
of Ariosto, saying that since he loved "with a great vehemence," he
was "above measure jealous," and "always carried on his love affairs
in secret and with great solicitude, accompanied with much modesty";
but this is evident in the matter of the poem itself, being exhibited
in many of his personages, descriptions and situations, and finding
complete expression in the verse which closes on so pathetic a note:
"believe one who has had experience of it." Cruelty on the one side and
jealousy on the other, although they torture, do not make him sad or
cause him to give vent to desperate utterances, because, since he had
not too lofty nor too madly an intransigent idea of love, although it
greatly delighted him, he is not apt to expect too much from it, and
knowing the infidelity and the fragility of man, a sort of sense of
justice forbids him from bringing his hand down too heavily upon the
infidelity and the fragility of woman. Hence comes, not forgiveness,
but resignation and indulgence. "My lady is a lady, and every lady
is weak"; remarks Rinaldo wisely. Ariosto's is an indulgence without
moral elevation, but also without cynicism and inspired with a certain
element of goodness and humanity. Reciprocal deception and illusion
are inherent to love affairs; but how can they be done away with,
without also doing away at the same time with the charm of that bitter
but amiable sport? The lover takes care to preserve the illusion by
his very passion, which blinds him to what is visible and makes the
invisible visible, leading him to believe what he desires, to believe
the person who fascinates him, as does Brandimarte with his Fiordiligi,
wandering about the world and returning to him uncontaminated: "To
fair Fiordiligi, of whom I had believed greater things." Thus the
imagination of Ariosto, as these various equal and conflicting
sentiments wove their own images, became quite filled with marvellous
seductive beauties, perfect of limb, and with voluptuous forms and
scenes (Alcina and her arts, Angelica in the arms of Ruggiero who had
set her free, Fiordispina); of others which oscillate between the
passionate and the comic (Gicondo and Fiametta, the knight who tests
the wife he loves too much, the judge Anselmo and his Argia): of others
whose love was unworthy or criminal (Origille, whom Griffone strives
to save from the punishment that she deserves, notwithstanding her
wickedness proved on several occasions and her known treachery; the
sons of King Marganorre; Gabrina, who did receive punishment, perhaps
because her depraved old age was so repulsive); and above all of the
woman who symbolises Woman, for whom the bravest knights sustain every
sort of labour and danger, and because of whom a big strong man loses
control of himself, and who, herself slave of a love which owns no
law outside itself, ends by bestowing her hand upon a "poor servant"
(Angelica, Orlando and Medoro). These are but a few instances of the
many places in the _Furioso,_ bearing upon love in its various modes
of presentation, in addition to the introductions to the cantos and
the digressions into which Ariosto pours his whole store of feeling
or sets forth his reflections. And the love matter is of so great a
volume as to dominate all the rest, possibly in extent, certainly in
relief and intensity; so much so, that it is a marvel that among the
many attempts to establish the true motive and argument of the poem, by
abstracting it from its subject matter, and to determine its design and
unity in the same way, no one has yet insisted upon considering it, or
has been able to consider it as "the poem of love," of the casuistry
of love, to which knightly and warlike life should but provide the
decorative background. This theory would certainly seem to be less
unlikely than the other, which assigns to it as its end and unity the
war between Carlo and Agramante. In any case, this motive is placed
second in the protasis to the _Furioso,_ where the first word is not by
chance "women," and the first verse ends with "loves" (and in the first
edition we even read: "The ancient loves of ladies and of knights");
and the scene with which the poem opens is the flight of Angelica, who
is immediately met by Sacripante and Rinaldo who are in love with her,
and that with which it concludes is the marriage feast of Ruggiero and
Bradamante, disturbed yet heightened in its solemnity of celebration by
the incident of the duel with Rodomonte.

Love matter dominates in the _Furioso,_ because it dominated in the
heart of Ariosto, where it easily passed over into more noble feelings,
into piety that goes beyond the tomb, into justice rendered to
calumniated innocence, into kindness ill-recompensed, into admiration
for the sacred tie of friendship. Hence, in marked contrast to the
beautiful Doralice, so crudely sensual, that when her lover's body is
still warm, she is capable of looking with desire upon his slayer, the
valiant Ruggiero, Isabella deliberately decides upon putting herself
to death that she may keep faith with her dead lover; and Fiordiligi,
whose pretty little face, upon which still flitters something of the
impudence attributed to her by Boiardo, becomes furrowed with anguish
and sublime with sorrow, when she apprehends the loss of Brandimarte.
And Olympia stands by the side of Ginevra, trapped and drawn to the
brink of ruin by a wicked man, and is rescued by Rinaldo, the righter
of wrongs, Olympia whom Orlando twice saves, the second time not only
from death, but from desperation at the desertion of her most thankless
husband. Zerbino, brother of Ginevra and lover of Isabella, is a flower
of nobility among the knights. He alone understands and pities the
affectionate deed of Medoro, careless of his own life and absorbed in
the anxiety to obtain burial for the body of his lord. When his former
friend who has shown himself to be a most infamous traitor, is dragged
before him in chains, he cannot find it in him to inflict upon him the
death he deserves, for he remembers their long and close friendship.
Devoted to the greatness of Orlando and in gratitude for what he had
done in saving and taking care of Isabella, he collects the arms of
the Paladin, scattered at the outbreak of his madness, and sustains a
combat with Mandricardo for these arms, dying rather for sorrow at
not having been able to defend them than from his wound. Cloridano
and Medoro, Orlando and Brandimarte, are other idealisations of a
friendship which lasts beyond the tomb; and anyone searching the poem
for motives of commiseration and indignation for oppressed virtue,
for unhappy peoples trodden beneath the heel of the tyrant, robbed,
tortured and allowed to perish like cattle and goats, would find other
instances of the goodness and generosity which burned in the mild

Goodness and generosity were also the substance of his political
sentiment, which was that of the honest man of all times, who laments
the misfortunes of his country, loathes the domination of foreigners,
judges the oppression of the nobles with severity, is scandalised by
the corruption and hypocrisy of the priests and of the Church, regrets
that the united arms of Europe cannot prevail against the Turks, that
barbarian "of ill omen"; but it does not go beyond this superficial
impressionability, and ends by accepting his own times and respecting
the powerful personages who have finally prevailed. For this reason
there is but slight interest in noting (and it can be noted in the
_Furioso_ itself) the variety of the political ideas of Ariosto,
first hostile to the Spaniards, as we see from several references to
them, and from certain attributes given to the Spaniard Ferraù, and
finally to the French, who had lost the game in Italy, and we find him
extolling the Spanish-Imperial Carlo V., and those who maintain his
cause in Italy, whether they were Andrea Doria or the Avalos. But on
the other hand, as Ave have already said, it is unjust to reprove him
for not having been a champion of italianity and of rebellion against
tyrants and foreigners,--such existed in those days, although they were
rare--or a passionate political thinker and prophet, like Machiavelli.
The famous invective against firearms suffices to indicate the quality
of Ariosto's politics: for him politics were morality, private
morality, a morality but little combative and very idyllic, although
not vulgar, disdainful indeed of the vulgar of all sorts, however
fortunate and highly placed. Thus it was not such as to create figures
and scenes in the poem, like love and human piety; suffice that if it
insinuated itself here and there among the reflective, exclamatory and
hortatory octaves.

His feeling towards his own sovereign lords, the Estes, has not, as
we have suggested, either in his soul or in the _Furioso,_ anything
in it of the specifically political, although he admired them for the
splendour of art and letters, which they and their predecessors had
conferred upon the country, and for the strength of their rule. And
he praised them with words and comparisons, which he introduced into
his poem on a large scale, and into the general scheme itself. These
have at times been held to be base adulation or a subtle form of irony
almost amounting to sarcasm; they were however neither, being serious
celebrations of glorious military enterprises and of magnanimous acts
(it does not matter whether they really were so or seemed so and were
bound to seem so to him); and for the rest, and especially as far as
concerned Cardinal Hippolyto, they resemble the madrigals addressed
to ladies or their attendants, which always contain a vein of mockery
mingled with the hyperbole of their compliments. In fact he treated
this material as an imaginative theme, now decorous and grave, now
elegant and polished as by a courtier; and he would have been still
more inclined to treat the Estes in this way, had they in return for
his words and "works of ink" dispensed him from the duties of his
post, and particularly from those which obliged him to run hither and
thither, to behave like a "teamster." Like many peaceful individuals,
who have no taste for finding themselves in the midst of battles, or
for changing the place of their abode, or for travelling to see foreign
races, or for voyages, or for rapid ups and downs and adventures, or
for anything of an upsetting and extraordinary nature that happens
unexpectedly, he was quite ready to accept all these things in his
imagination, where he preserved, caressed and made idols of them. His
inclination imaginatively to decorate the Estes, the nobles of Italy,
great ladies, artists, good or bad men of letters of any sort, to make
radiant statues of them, had the same root as his inclination for
stories of knightly romance.

These stories were the favourite reading, the "pleasant literature" of
good society, especially in Ferrara, where the Estes possessed a fine
collection in their library, whence had come the majority of Italian
poets, who had versified them during the previous century, setting them
free from plebeian prose and verse. Ariosto must have read very many
of these in his youth, and must have delighted in them, and we know
that he himself translated some from French and Spanish. Here were to
be found terrible and tremendous battles, duels of hard knocks and of
masterly blows, combats with giants and monsters, tragical situations,
magnanimous deeds, proofs of steadfast faith, a vying together of
loyalty and courtesy, persecutions and favours and aid afforded by
prodigious beings, by fairies and magicians, travels in distant lands,
by sea or by flight, enchanted gardens and palaces, knights of immense
strength, Christian and Saracen, warlike women and women who were
women, royally: all this gave him the desirable and agreeable pleasure
of one who looks on at a variously coloured exhibition of fireworks,
and owing to this pleasure they gave, he incorporated a great number
of them in the _Furioso._ It is superfluous to inquire whether the
material of chivalry appeared to him to be serious or burlesque, when
we have understood the feeling which led him in that direction: it
was beyond all judgment of that sort, because we do not judge rockets
or fireworks morally or economically, with approval or reproof. It
can of course be remarked that knightly tales had henceforth been
reduced to such an extent in Italy and in the spirit of Ariosto that
they were not only without the religious and national feeling of the
ancient epic, but even without what is still to be found in certain
popular Italian compilations, such as the _Monarchs of France;_ but
this observation, though correct and important enough in the history of
culture, has no meaning whatever as regards Ariosto's poetry. The fact
that Ariosto was sometimes entranced and carried away as it were by the
spectacles which his fancy presented to him, and sometimes kept aloof
from them, with a smile for commentary, or turned away towards the real
world that surrounded him, goes without saying, and does not appear to
demand the discussions and the intellectual efforts which have been
devoted to it.

His was on the other hand a distinctly jesting outlook upon religious
beliefs, God, Christ, Paradise, angels and saints; and Charlemagne's
prayer to God, the vision of the angel Michael upon earth and the
voyage of Astolfo to the world of the Moon, his conversations with John
the Evangelist, the deeds and words of the hermit with whom Angelica
and Isabella find themselves, and finally those of the saintly hermit
who baptises Ruggiero, accord with this laughing and almost mocking
spirit. Here we do not find even the seriousness of the game and in
the game, with which he treats of knightly doings; nor could there be,
because relation towards religion admits only of complete reverence
or complete irreverence. And Ariosto was irreverent, or what comes
to the same thing, indifferent; his spirit was as areligious as it
was aphilosophical, untormented with doubts, not concerned with human
destiny, incurious as to the meaning and value of this world, which he
saw and touched, and in which he loved and suffered. He was altogether
outside the philosophy of the Renaissance, whether Ficino's or
Pomponazzi's, as he was outside every sort of philosophy. This limits
and as it were deprives of importance his mockeries and to salute him
as some have done "the Voltaire of the Renaissance" or as a precursor
of Voltaire, and Voltaire himself who so much enjoyed Ariosto's
profanations of sacred things, maliciously underlining the witticism
that escapes from the lips of St. John about "my much-praised Christ"
(after having said that writers turn the true into the false, and
the false into the true, and that he also had been a "writer" in the
world), has given Ariosto a place which does not belong to him at all.
Voltaire was not areligious or indifferent, and was only irreligious in
so far as he attacked all historical religions with a religion of his
own, which was deism or the religion of the reason; and for this reason
his satires and his lampoons possess a polemical value, which is not to
be found in the jests of Ariosto.

Presented in its outstanding features, and to the extent which suits
our purpose, such is the complex of sentiments which flowed together
to form the _Furioso_ and to produce the images of which it consists.
They produced them all the same, where he seems to have taken them from
other poems or books, from Virgil or from Ovid, from French or Spanish
romances, because in the taking and with the taking of them, he made
them images of his own sentiment, that is to say, he breathed into
them a new life and poetically created them in so doing. But although
this material of the poem may seem to us who have considered it to be
anterior and external to the poem itself and owing to our analysis,
disaggregated, it must not be supposed that those sentiments ever
existed in the spirit of Ariosto as mere matter or in an amorphous
condition, because there is nothing in the spirit without some form
and without its own form. Indeed, we have seen a great part of it
take form in the minor works, while some dwelt in his mind, expressed
and realised in their own way, even if unfulfilled or if we lack
written record of their existence. But they possessed a different
aspect in this anterior form, differing therefore from that which
they assumed in the poem. In the lyrics and satires, words of love
and nostalgia, of friendship and complaint, of anger and indignation
against princes who take little interest in poets, of impatience and
contempt for the ambitious throng, and the like, are more lively and
direct; and it would be easy to find parallels for identical thoughts
appearing with different intonations in the two different places. Had
Ariosto always accorded artistic treatment to those sentiments at the
moment of experiencing them, he would have continued to write songs,
sonnets, epistles and satires, and would not have set to work upon
the _Furioso._ An examination of the poem upon Obizzo D'Este as to
the material of chivalry, or if we like the sound of it better, as to
feats of arms and of daring, will at least yield us a glimpse of what
it would have become, had it received immediate treatment, whether this
poem belongs to the early years of Ariosto, prior to the composition
of the _Furioso,_ or whether (as is more probable), it be later than
the composition of the poem and the appearance of the first edition.
The fragment is notable for its great limpidity and narrative fluency,
but one sees that if the poet had continued in this direction, the poem
would have been nothing but an elegant book of songs; Ariosto did not
wish to be a song-writer, so he ceased the work which had been begun.
Had he versified his mockeries of sacred things, he would have become a
wit, a collector of burlesque surprises, capable of arousing laughter
about friars and saints; but Ariosto disdained such a trade, Ariosto
whose many grandiose distractions are on record, but no witticisms
or smart sayings: he was too much of a dreamer, too fine an artist
to take pleasure in such things. His sentiment for Harmony aided him
to turn the pleasant stories of chivalry and capricious jesting into
poetry, and lesser erotic or narrative and argumentative poetry into
more complex poetry, to accomplish the passage and ascent from the
minor works to that which is truly great, to mediate the immediate, by
transforming his various sentiments in the manner that we are about to



The first change to manifest itself in them so soon as they were
touched by the Harmony which sang at the bottom of the poet's heart,
was their loss of autonomy, their submission to a single lord, their
descent from being the whole to becoming a part, their becoming
occasions rather than motives, instruments rather than ends, their
common death for the benefit of the new life.

The magical power which accomplished this prodigy was the _tone_ of the
expression, that self-possessed, lightness of tone, capable of adopting
a thousand forms and remaining ever graceful, known to the old school
of critics as "the confidential air," and remembered among the other
"properties" of the "style" of Ariosto. But not only does his whole
style consist of this, but since style is nothing but the expression
of the poet and of his soul, this was all Ariosto himself and his
harmonious singing.

This work of disvaluation and destruction is to be detected in the
expressive tone in the proems to the separate cantos, in the digressive
argumentations, in the observations interjected, in the repetitions, in
the use of vocables, in the phrasing and the arrangement of periods,
and above all in the frequent comparisons that form pictures which
rather than intensifying the emotion, cause it to take a different
path, in the interruptions to the narrative, sometimes occurring at
their most dramatic point, in the nimble passage to other narratives of
a different and often opposite nature. Yet the palpable part of this
whole, what it is possible to segregate and to analyse as elements of
style, forms but a small part of the impalpable whole, which flows
along like a tenuous fluid, and since it is soul, we feel it with our
soul, though we cannot touch it with our hands, even though they be
armed with scholastic pincers.

And this tone is the often noted and named, but never clearly defined
_irony_ of Ariosto; it has not been well-defined, because described as
a kind of jesting or mockery, similar or coincident with what Ariosto
sometimes employed in his descriptions of knightly personages and their
adventures. It has thus been both restricted and materialised, but
what we must not lose sight of is that the irony is not restricted
to one order of sentiments, as for instance those of knighthood or
religion, and so spares the rest, but encompasses them all, and thus is
no futile jesting, but something far more lofty, more purely artistic
and poetical, the victory of the dominant sentiment over all the others.

All the sentiments, sublime and mirthful, tender and strong, the
effusions of the heart and the workings of the intellect, from the
pleadings of love to the laudatory lists of names, from representations
of battles to witticisms, are alike levelled by the irony and find
themselves uplifted in it. The marvellous Ariostesque octave rises
above them all as they fall before it, the octave which has a life of
its own. To describe the octave as smiling, would be an insufficient
qualification unless the smile be understood in the ideal sense, as
a manifestation of free and harmonious life, poised and energetic,
throbbing in veins rich with good blood and satisfied in this incessant
throbbing. The octaves sometimes have the quality of radiant maidens,
sometimes of shapely youths, with limbs lithe from exercise of the
muscles, careless of exhibiting their prowess, because it is revealed
in their every gesture and attitude.--Olympia comes ashore with her
lover on a desolate and deserted island, after many misfortunes, and a
long, tempestuous sea voyage:

    Il travaglio del mare e la paura,
    che tenuta alcun di l'aveano desta;
    Il ritrovarsi al lito ora sicura,
    lontana da rumor, nella foresta:
    e che nessun pensier, nessuna cura,
    poi che'l suo amante ha seco, la molesta;
    fûr cagion ch'ebbe Olimpia si gran sonno
    che gli orsi e i ghiri aver maggior nol ponno.[1]

Here we have the complete analysis of the reasons why Olympia fell
into the deep sleep, expressed with precision; but all this is clearly
secondary to the intimate sentiment expressed by the octave, which
seems to enjoy itself, and certainly does so in describing a motion,
a becoming, which attain completion.--Bradamante and Marfisa vainly
pursue King Agramante, to put him to death:

    Come due belle e generose parde
    che fuor del lascio sien di pari uscite,
    poscia ch' i cervi o le capre gagliarde
    indarno aver si veggano seguite,
    vergognandosi quasi che fûr tarde,
    sdegnose se ne tornano e pentite;
    così tornâr le due donzelle, quando
    videro il Pagan salvo, sospirando.[2]

Here we find a like process and a like result, but we observe a like
process and result where there appears to be nothing whatever of
intrinsic interest in the subject, that is to say, where the thought
is merely conventional, a complimentary expression of courtly homage
or an expression of friendship and esteem. To say of a fair lady: "She
seemed in every act of hers to be a Goddess descended from heaven," is
not a subtle figure, but it is so turned and so inspired with rhythm by
Ariosto that we assist at the manifestation of the Goddess as she moves
majestically along, witnessing the astonishment of those present and
seeing them kneel devoutly down, as the little drama unrolls itself:

    Julia Gonzaga, che dovunque il piede
    volge e dovunque i sereni occhi gira,
    non pur ogn' altra di beltà le cede,
    ma, come scesa dal ciel Dea, l'ammira.[3] ...

To rattle off a list of mere names with a view to affording honourable
mention, and without varying any of them beyond the addition of
some slight word-play, is an exercise even less subtle; but Ariosto
arranges the names of contemporary painters as though upon a Parnassus,
according to the greatest among them the most lofty place, in such a
manner that those bare names each of them resound (owing to the mastery
of the many stresses in the verse), so as to seem alive and endowed
with sensation:

    E quei che fùro a' nostri di, o sono ora,
    Leonardo, Andrea Mantegna, Gian Bellino,
    duo Dossi, e quel ch' a par sculpe e colora,
    Michel, più che mortale, Angel divino ...[4]

The "reflections" of Ariosto, which were held to be "commonplaces" by
De Sanctis, "not profound and original observations," have by others
been described as "banal" and "contradictory." But they are reflections
of Ariosto, which should not be meditated upon but sung:

    Oh gran contrasto in giovanil pensiero,
    desir di laude, ed impeto d' Amore!
    Nè, chi più vaglia, ancor si trova il vero,
    che resta or questo or quello superiore....[5]

It could be said of the irony of Ariosto, that it is like the eye of
God, who looks upon the movement of creation, of all creation, loving
all things equally, good and evil, the very great and the very small
in man and in the grain of sand, because he has made it all, and finds
in it nought but motion itself, eternal dialectic, rhythm and harmony.
From the ordinary meaning of the word "irony" has been accomplished the
passage to the metaphysical meaning assumed by it among Fichtians and
Romantics. We should be ready to apply their theory to the inspiration
of Ariosto, save that these critics and thinkers confused with irony
what is called humour, strangeness and extravagance, that is to say,
extra-aesthetic facts, which contaminate and dissolve art. Our theory
on the contrary is less pretentious and exaggerated, confining itself
rigorously within the bounds of art, as Ariosto confined himself within
the bounds of art, never diverging into the clumsy or humouristic,
which is a sign of weakness: his irony was the irony of an artist, sure
of his own strength. This perhaps is the reason or one of the reasons
why Ariosto did not suit the taste of the dishevelled Romantics, who
were inclined to prefer Rabelais to him and even Carlo Gozzi.

To weaken all orders of sentiment, to render them all equal in their
abasement, to deprive beings of their autonomy, to remove from them
their own particular soul, amounts to converting the world of spirit
into the world of _nature:_ an unreal world, which has no existence
save when we perform upon it this act of conversion, and in certain
respects, the whole world becomes nature for Ariosto, a surface
drawn and coloured, shining, but without substance. Hence his seeing
of objects in their every detail, as a naturalist making minute
observations, his description that is not satisfied with a single
trait which suffices as inspiration for other artists, hence his lack
of passionate impatience with its inherent objections to certain
material. It may seem that the figure of St. John is drawn in the way
it is, as a jest:

    Nel lucente vestibulo di quella
    felice casa un Vecchio al Duca occorre,
    Che'l manto ha rosso e bianca la gonnella,
    che l'un più al latte, l'altro al minio opporre;
    i crini ha bianchi e bianca la mascella
    di folta barba ch'al petto discorre ...[6]

But the beauty of Olympia is portrayed in a like manner, forgetful of
the chastity of the lady, which might have seemed to ask a different
sort of description or rather veiling:

    Le bellezze d' Olimpia eran di quelle
    che son più rare; e non la fronte sola,
    gli occhi e le guancie, e le chiome avea belle,
    la bocca, il naso, gli omeri e la gola....[7]

Finally, Medoro is described in the same way, Medoro whose brave and
devoted heart and youthful heroism might seem to ask in its turn a
less attentive observation of its fresh youthfulness:

    Medoro avea la guancia colorita,
    e bianca e grata ne la età novella.[8] ...

The very numerous similes between the personages and the situations in
which they find themselves and the spectacles afforded by the life of
animals or the phenomena of nature, also form an almost prehensible
and palpable part of this conversion of the human world into the world
of nature. We shall not give details of it, for this has already been
done in an irritatingly patient manner by a German philologist, whose
cumbrous compilation effectually precludes one from desiring to dwell
even for a moment upon Ariosto's similes, comparisons and metaphors.

This apparent naturalism, this objectivism, of which we have
demonstrated the profoundly subjective character, has led to the
erroneous statement, already met with, as to Ariosto's form consisting
of indifference and chilly observation, directed to the external
world. He has been coupled with his contemporary Machiavelli in this
respect. Machiavelli examined history and politics with a sagacious
eye, describing--as they say--their mode of procedure and formulating
their laws, to which he gave expression in his prose with analogously
inexorable objectivity and scientific coldness. It is true that both
did in a certain but in a very remote sense, destroy a prior spiritual
content and naturalised in different fields and with different ends
(Machiavelli destroyed the mediaeval religious conception of history
and politics). But this judgment of Machiavelli amounts to nothing more
than a brilliant or principal remark, for Machiavelli, as a thinker,
developed and explained facts with his new vigorous thought, and as a
writer gave an apparently cold form to his severe passion. Ariosto's
naturalistic and objective tendency is also to be regarded as nothing
more than a metaphor, because Ariosto reduced his material to nature,
in order to spiritualise it in a new way, by creating spiritual forms
of Harmony.

From the opposite point of view and arising out of what we have just
said, we must refrain from praising Ariosto for his "epicity," for
the epic nobility and decorum which Galilei praised so much in him,
or for the force and coherence of his personages, so much admired by
the old as well as by new and even recent critics. How could there be
epicity in the _Furioso,_ when the author not only lacked the ethical
sentiments of the epos and when even that small amount, which he might
be said to have inherited, was dissolved with all the rest in harmony
and irony? And how could there be true and proper characters in the
poem, if characters and personages in art are nothing but the notes of
the soul of the poet themselves, in their diversity and opposition?
These become embodied in beings who certainly seem to live their own
proper and particular lives, but really live, all of them, the same
life variously distributed and are sparks of the same central power.
One of the worst of critical prejudices is to suppose that characters
live on their own account and can almost continue living outside the
works of art of which they form a part and in which they in no wise
differ nor can be disassociated from the strophes, the verses and the
words. Since there is no free energy of passionate sentiments in the
_Furioso,_ we do not find there characters, but figures, drawn and
painted certainly, but without relief or density, portrayed rather as
general or typical than individual beings. The knights resemble and
mingle with one another, though differentiated by their goodness or
wickedness, their greater polish or greater rudeness, or by means of
external and accidental attributes, often by their names alone; in
like manner the women are either amorous or perfidious, virtuous and
content with one love, or dissolute and perverse, often distinguished
merely by their different adventures or the names that adorn them. The
same is to be said of the narratives and descriptions (typical and
non-individual, or but little individual, is the madness of Orlando,
to compare which with Lear's is a rhetorician's fancy), and of natural
objects, landscapes, palaces, gardens, and all else. Reserves have been
and can with justice even be made as to the coherence of the characters
taken as a whole and forming part of a general scheme, for Ariosto's
personages take many liberties with themselves, according to the course
of the events with which they find themselves connected, or rather
according to the services which the author asks of them.

Such warnings as these are indispensable, because, if some readers
realise their expectation of finding objectively described and
coherent characters in Ariosto and consequently praise him for creating
them, others with like expectations equally unfounded are disappointed
and consequently blame him. Thus for De Sanctis Ariosto's feminine
characters have seemed to be inferior to those of Dante, of Shakespeare
and of Goethe: but this is an impossible comparison, because Angelica,
Olympia, and Isabella, although they certainly lack the passionate
intensity of Francesca, Desdemona and Margaret, yet the latter for
their part lack the harmonious octaves in which the first trio lives
and has its being, consisting of just these octaves. And what is more,
neither trio suffers from the imperfections, which are imperfections
only in the light of imperfect critical knowledge and consequent
prejudice, but not real imperfections and poetical contradictions in
themselves. De Sanctis also blamed Ariosto for his lack of sentiment
for nature, as though it were a defect; but what is called sentiment
for nature (as for that matter the great master De Sanctis himself
taught) does not depend upon nature, but rather upon the attitude of
the human spirit, upon the feelings of comfort, of melancholy or of
religious terror, with which man invests nature and finds them where
he has placed them; but this attitude was foreign to the fundamental
attitude of Ariosto, and were there to be by chance some reference to
it in the poem, were some note of sentiment to sound there, we should
immediately be sensible of the discord and impropriety. To Lessing,
another objective critic, the portrayal of the beauties of Alcina
seemed to be a mistake and to exceed the limit of poetry, to which
De Sanctis replied that this materiality which Lessing blamed was
the secret of the poetry, because the beauty of the magician Alcina
required a material description, since it was fictitious in its nature.
This blame was unjust, and although the answer to it was ingenious,
yet it was perhaps not perfectly correct, for we have already seen
that Ariosto always described thus both true and imaginary beauties,
Olympias and Alcinas. The true answer seems to be the one already
given, that it would be useless to seek for features of energy in
Ariosto, lively portraits dashed off in a couple of brush strokes, for
these things presuppose a mode of feeling that he lacked altogether or,
at any rate suppressed. Those "laughing fleeting" eyes, which are all
Sylvia, "le doux sourire amoureux et souffrant," which are the whole
of the spiritual sister-soul of the _Maison du Berger,_ do not belong
to Ariosto, but to Leopardi and to De Vigny.

There are two ways in which the _Furioso_ should not be read: the
first is the way in which one reads a work of rhythmic and lofty
moral inspiration, like the _Promessi Sposi,_ tracing, that is to
say, the development of a serious human affection, which circulates
in and determines every part alike, even to the smallest detail; the
second is that suitable for such works as _Faust,_ where the general
composition, which is more or less guided by mental concepts, does not
at all coincide with the poetical inspiration of the separate parts.
Here the poetical should be separated from the unpoetical parts,
and the poetically endowed reader will neglect the one to enjoy the
other. In the _Furioso,_ this inequality of work is absent or only
present to a very slight extent (that is to say, to the extent that
imperfection must ever be present in the most perfect work of man)
and it is as equally harmonious as the _Promessi Sposi;_ but it lacks
that particular form of passionate seriousness, to be found throughout
Manzoni's work and in stray passages of Goethe's. The _Furioso_
should therefore be read in a third manner, namely by following a
content which is ever the same, yet ever expressed in new forms,
whose attraction consists in the magic of this ever-identical yet
inexhaustible variety of appearances, without paying attention to the
material element of the narratives and descriptions.

As we see, this too amounts to accepting with a rectification a common
judgment on the _Furioso,_ which may be said to have accompanied the
poem from the moment of its first appearance: namely, that it is a
work devoid of seriousness, being of a light, burlesque, pleasing
and frivolous sort. It was described as "_ludicro more_" by Cardinal
Sadoleto, when according the license for printing the edition of 1516
in the name of Leo X, although he added to this, perhaps translating
the declaration of the poet himself, "_longo tamen studio et
cogitatione, multisque vigiliis confectum."_ Bernardo Tasso, Trissino
and Speroni, and other suchlike grave pedantic personages, did not
fail to blame Ariosto for having dedicated his poem to the sole end
of pleasing. Boileau looked upon it simply as a collection of _fables
comiques,_ and Sulzer called it a "poem with the sole end of pleasing,
not directed by the reason"; and even to-day are to be found its merits
and defects noted down to credit and debit account in many a scholastic
manual; on the credit side stand the perfection of the octave, the
vivacity of the narrative, the graceful style, to the debit account
lack of profound sentiment, light which shines but does not warm and
failure to touch the heart. We accept and rectify this judgment with
the simple observation that those who regard the poem thus see clearly
enough everything that is on a level with their own eyes, but do not
raise them to regard what is above their heads and is the principal
quality of the _Furioso,_ owing to which the frivolity of Ariosto
reveals itself as profound seriousness of rare quality, profound
emotion of the heart, but of a noble and exquisite heart, equally
remote from the emotions of what is generally looked upon as life and

Apart, but not separated from, nor alien to, nor indifferent: and in
respect to this we must resume and develop the analysis already begun
by setting readers on their guard against the easy misunderstanding
of the "destruction," which we have already spoken of as brought
about by the tone and the irony of Ariosto. This must not be looked
upon as total destruction and annihilation, but as destruction in
the philosophic sense of the word, which is also conservation. Were
this otherwise, what could be the function of the varied material or
emotional content, which we have examined in the poem? Are the stars
stuck into the sky like pin-heads in a pin-cushion (Don Ferrante would
sarcastically enquire)? The eloquence of other's but not Ariosto's
poetry, arises from a total indifference of sentiment and an absence
of content: theirs is the rouge on the corpse, not the rosy cloud
that enfolds and adorns the living. Such eloquence produces soft and
superficially musical versification of the _Adone,_ not the octave of
the _Furioso;_ and to quote Giraldi Cinzio once more, the lover of
Ariosto (who gave the advice to readers not to confuse the "facility"
of the _Furioso_ with verses "of sweet sound but no feeling"), the
eight hundred "stanzas," by one of the composers of that time, which
Giraldi once had to read, "which seemed to be collections made among
the flowery gardens of poetry, so full were they of beauty from stanza
to stanza, but put together, were vain things, seeming, so far as sense
is concerned, to have been born of the soil of childishness," because
their author was "intent only upon the pleasure that comes from the
splendour and choice of words, and had altogether neglected the dignity
and assistance afforded by sensibility."

Had Ariosto while in the act of composition not been keenly stirred
in the various ways described, by the varied material employed in his
poem, he would have lacked the impetus, the vivacity, the thought,
the intonation, which were afterwards reduced and tempered by the
harmonious disposition of his soul. He would have been a cold writer of
poetry, and no one ever succeeded in writing poetry coldly. This was
the case, as it seems to me, with the _Cinque Canti,_ which he excluded
from the _Furioso_ and for which he substituted others. In them the
cunning of Ariosto's hand is everywhere to be found in the descriptive
passages and transitions, as are also all the elements of the every-day
world, stories of war, knightly adventures, tales of love (the love
of Penticone for the wife of Otto and that of Astolfo for the wife of
Gismondo), satirical tales (the foundation of the city of Medea, with
the sexual law which she imposed upon it), astonishing fancies (such
as the knights imprisoned in the body of the whale, where they have
their beds, their kitchen and their tub), copious moral and political
reflections (on jealousy, ambition, wicked men, mercenary soldiers);
yet we feel nevertheless that Ariosto wrote them in an unhappy moment,
when Minerva was reluctant or averse: the poet did not take sufficient
interest and lacked the necessary heat. And is there no part of
the _Furioso_ itself that languishes? It would seem so, not indeed
in the forty cantos of the first edition, which originated in his
twelve-year-old poetical springtime, but in the parts which were added
later, all of them (as could be shown) more or less intellectualiste
of origin, and therefore (save the episode of Olympia) not among the
most read and most popular. The most intellectualistic of all is the
long delay introduced toward the end of the poem, the double betrothal
of Bradamante and the contest in courtesy between Leone and Ruggiero,
where the tone becomes here and there altogether pedestrian. It is true
that philologists who have given themselves to art have discovered
progress in Ariosto in just these languid parts, and above all in the
_Cinque Canti,_ where he has lost his bearings and is out of tune. Here
they suppose him to have become "serious," to join hands with no less
a personage than Torquato Tasso.

The process of "destruction" effected upon the material may possibly be
rendered clear to those who do not appreciate philosophical formulas
or find them too difficult, by means of the comparison with what in
the technique of painting is called "concealing a colour," which does
not mean its cancellation, but its toning down. In such an equally
distributed toning down, all the sentiments which go to form the web of
the poem, not only preserve their own physiognomy, but their reciprocal
proportions and connections; so that although they certainly appear in
the "transparent polished glasses" and in the "smooth shining waters"
of the octaves, pale as "pearls on a white forehead" to the sight, yet
they retain their distinctness and are more or less strong according
to the greater or less strength which they possessed in the soul of
the poet. The comic, at once lowered and raised, nevertheless remains
comical, the sublime remains sublime, the voluptuous voluptuous, the
reflective reflective, and so on. And sometimes it happens that Ariosto
reaches the boundary, which if he were to pass, he would abandon his
own tone, but he never does abandon it, because he always refrains
from passing the boundary. Everyone remembers the most emotional
words and passages of the _Furioso_: Medoro, who, when surrounded and
surprised by his enemies, makes a sort of tower of himself, using the
trees as a shield, and never abandoning the body of his lord, Zerbino,
who feels penetrated with pity and stays his hand as he looks on his
beautiful countenance, when on the point of slaying him; Zerbino, who
when about to die, is desperate at leaving his Isabella alone, the prey
of unknown men, while she bursts into tears and speaks sweet words
of eternal faithfulness; Fiordiligi, who hears the news, or rather
divines the death of her husband ... We always catch our breath, and
something--I know not what--comes into our eyes, as we repeat these
and similar verses. Here is Fiordiligi, who shudders as she feels the

    E questa novità d' aver timore
    le fa tremar di doppia tema il core.[9]

The fatal news comes to hand: Astolfo and Sansonetto, the two friends
who happen to be where she has remained, hide it from her for an
hour or so, and then decide to betake themselves to her that they may
prepare her for the misfortune that has befallen:

    Tosto ch'entrano, e ch'ella loro il viso
    Vide di gaudio in tal vittoria privo,
    Senz' altro annunzio sa, senz' altro avviso,
    Che Brandimarte suo non è più vivo....[10]

Another moment of the same narrative, where suffering appears to resume
its strength and to grow upon itself, is that in which Orlando, who is
awaited, enters the temple where the funeral of Brandimarte is being
celebrated: Orlando, the friend, the companion, the witness of his

    Levossi, al ritornar del Paladino,
    Maggiore il grido e raddoppiossi il pianto.[11]

Before such words and images as these, De Sanctis used to say to his
pupils, when explaining to them the _Furioso_: "See how much heart
Ariosto had!" But he always kept telling them this truth also:
that "Ariosto never pushes situations to the point of painfulness,"
forbidden to him by the tone of his poetry; and he used to show them
how Ariosto used sometimes to make use of interruptions, sometimes of
graceful similitudes, or reflections, or devices of style, in order to
restrain the painfulness ready to break through. Those critics who for
instance are shocked by the octaves on the name of "Isabella" are too
exigent, or ask too much, and what they ought not to ask (this name
of Isabella was destined by God to adorn beautiful, noble, courteous,
chaste and wise women from this time forth, and was originally intended
as homage from Ariosto to the Marchesana of Mantua, Isabella of Este).
With these octaves he concludes the narrative of the sacrifice of
her life made by Isabella to keep faith with Zerbino; they do not
understand that those octaves and the _Proficiscere_ which precedes
them ("Go thou in peace, thou blessed soul") and the very account of
the drunken bestiality of Rodomonte, and prior to that, the semi-comic
scene of the saintly hermit who presides over the virtue of Isabella,
"like a practised mariner and is quite prepared to offer her speedily
a sumptuous meal of spiritual food," the hermit whom Rodomonte seizes
by the neck and throws three miles into the sea, are all words and
representations so accentuated as to produce the effect of allowing
Isabella to die without plunging the _Furioso_ into tragedy with its
correspondingly tragical catharsis; for the _Furioso_ has its own
general and perpetually harmonious catharsis, which we have now made
sufficiently clear.

It is precisely owing to the action of this sentimental and passionate
material, in spite of and through its effectual surpassing, that the
varied colouring arising from it enters the poem and confers upon it
that character of humanity, which led us to declare at the outset of
our analysis that when we define Ariosto as the _Poet of Harmony,_ we
proposed only to indicate where the _accent_ of his work falls, but
that he is the poet of Harmony and also of something else, of harmony
developed in a particular world of sentiments, and in fact that the
harmony to which Ariosto attains, is not harmony in general, but an
_altogether Ariostesque Harmony._

[Footnote 1: Tempestuous seas and haunting fear which had kept her
waking for days now gave place to a feeling of security: deep in the
forest and removed from care and noise, Olympia clasped her lover to
her breast and fell into sleep as deep as that of bears and dormice.]

[Footnote 2: As two fair generous leopards issuing simultaneouly from
the slips return full of shame and repentance as though weighed down by
the disgrace of having vainly pursued the lusty goats or stags which
had tempted them to the chase: So returned the two damsels sighing when
they saw the Pagan was saved.]

[Footnote 3: Wherever Julia Gonzaga sets her foot or turns her serene
gaze, not only does she excel all in beauty but compels adoration like
a Goddess.]

[Footnote 4: And the painters who lived in former days as well as those
still with us:--Leonardo, A. Mantegna, Gian Bellino, the two Dossi and
Michael who sculptures and portrays with more than mortal skill.]

[Footnote 5: Oh powerful contrast in the breast of youth aflame with
desire for valorous renown and the passion of love; nor can one say
which is the more delectable, since each lays claim alternately to

[Footnote 6: An aged man goes to encounter the Duke along the bright
vestibule of that fortunate house: the sage is clad in red cloak and
white robe, the former white as milk, the latter vermilion, vivid as a
rose. His hair is white and his chin snowy with the thick beard flowing
over his chest.]

[Footnote 7: Olympia's loveliness was of rarest excellence: not only
was she fair of face with forehead, eyes, cheeks glowing amidst the
hair which waved over her shoulders: all else was perfection.]

[Footnote 8: Medoro's cheek showed white and red in the fresh flourish
of youth.]

[Footnote 9: The novel feeling of fear caused her heart to tremble,
doubly terrified.]

[Footnote 10: As she saw them enter without joyous exultation over so
great a victory, with no announcement or any direct word of it, she was
aware her Brandimarte had been slain.]

[Footnote 11: On the return of the Paladin, the cry arose more loudly
and the wail redoubled.]



From these last words, there can be no difficulty in seeing what must
be our opinion as to the confrontations and comparative judgments
instituted between Ariosto and Pulci or Boiardo, and even Cieco da
Ferrara, and all the other Italian poets of chivalry. These have
sometimes been extended so as to include poetical humourists, such
as Folengo and Rabelais, or burlesque writers like Berni, Tassoni,
Forteguerri, or neo-epical poets, like Tasso and Camoens, and finally
to Cervantes, that direct and fully conscious ironist of chivalry. This
is as perfectly admissible as it is natural that classes of "poems of
chivalry" or "narrative poems" or "romances," should be formed, when
once rhetoricians and writers of treatises have invented the genus and
that these should be disposed in a series under such headings, thus
forming a sort of artificial history, with no real foundation beyond
the accidents of certain abstract literary forms, which are really
representative of certain social tendencies and institutions. And it
is equally, indeed more admissible, because relating to more nearly
connected problems, that these documents afforded by poems of chivalry
should be made use of among other documents in the investigation
of the gradual dissolution of the ideal of chivalry in the first
period of modern society. Salvemini has not neglected to do this in a
temperate manner, in his monograph relating to "knightly dignity" in
the commune of Florence. But the aesthetic judgment, which they strive
to deduce from these comparisons, is inadmissible and illegitimate:
when for instance they bestow the palm on this or that poet for having
better observed than others the "genus" or a particular "species" and
"variety" of the genus; or because chivalry or anti-chivalry has been
better represented by one than by another. We can explain the fact that
De Sanctis was sometimes entangled in this sociological net, in spite
of his exquisite sense of individuality and poetry, when we consider
the condition of studies in his time and his philosophical origins;
but it is none the less true that the judgments which he pronounced
upon this matter, deviate from true and proper aesthetic criticism, and
carry with them the bad effects of every deviation.

Having ourselves refused to be among those whose feet are caught in
the insidious net of Caligorante, we shall have nothing further to say
as to comparisons with Ariosto, because the poet of the _Furioso_ has
always come out of those maladroit confrontations and the arbitrary
judgments of merit which result from them, crowned above all others
with the sign of victory, or at least unconquered by any other, and
admitting but a very few as his equals. The preference accorded by
romantic German men of letters to Boiardo (recently revived to some
extent in Italy, by Panzini) belongs rather to the domain of anecdote
than to the history of criticism: Boiardo is looked upon by them as
the poet of grand heroic dreams, while Ariosto is a mere citizen
poet; or Boiardo again is lauded for having better represented the
logical form of the Italian poem of chivalry, prescribed according
to a chemical combination drawn up in the philological laboratory of
the anti-Ariostesque Professor Rajna, who is in other respects a most
worthy and well-deserving person. But there is no denying that the
peculiar beauty of Ariosto has often injured Boiardo, Pulci, Tasso
and other poets, who have been illegitimately compared with him; and
therefore, without talking of Tasso--who has now won his case, although
he numbered a Galilei among the ranks of those who under-estimated
him when making the above-mentioned confrontation,--it will not be
inopportune to cast a rapid glance upon Pulci and Boiardo.

Looking at Pulci in Pulci and not at Ariosto, since to place one
physiognomy on the top of another is not a good way of seeing, what
do we find? What is the _Morgante?_ It is above all a whimsicality,
one of those works, born of a caprice or a bet, to which the author
neither devotes himself after the necessary previous meditations, nor
works at with the scrupulosity of the artist, who expends his powers
and employs his utmost endeavour to do the best he can everywhere. But
the occasion or the inspiration is never the substance of a work, which
on the contrary always consists of what the author really brings to it
in the course of his labour; and the mention of the occasional origin
of the _Morgante_ only avails here to account for its ill-digested
and undoubtedly chaotic nature. Nor is it to the purpose to recall
what certainly seems to have been Pulci's intention, namely, to
satisfy in his own way a wish of the pious Lucrezia Tornabuoni, by
composing or re-writing a Christian poem of chivalry, for this in its
turn only explains certain superficialities and extrinsicalities,
such as the general plan of the poem and the parts of it possessing
religious tone, which are successful to the extent that they could
be successful with such a brain as Pulci's. A commencement will have
been made towards a proper understanding of the substance of the
_Morgante,_ its proper and intrinsic inspiration, by referring it first
to the curiosity with which educated Florentine citizens observed and
reproduced the customs and the psychology of the people of the city and
the surrounding districts, productive of the poetry of Politian, of
Lorenzo and of Pulci himself, author of the _Beca di Dicomano,_ each
with its various popular appeal. That inspiration contains something
both of the sympathetic and of the ironical, as we observe in all
poetry based upon popular themes and use of dialect, in the German
romantic _Lieder_ and _Balladen_ and in the dialect literature of the
Italy of to-day (one feels inclined to call the _Morgante_ "dialect"
and not "Italian"): and in Pulci there vibrated a sympathetic-ironic
chord, peculiar to himself and therefore naturally not exactly the
same as in Lorenzo, or still less in Politian. But it did not vibrate
pure and clear, being prevented from doing so, not so much owing to
initial eccentricity and to the intention above-mentioned, as to the
accumulation of other inspirations, arising in the fertile spirit of
Pulci. For Pulci had in mind, in addition to the reconstruction of a
sympathetic-ironic popular poem of the popular story-tellers, something
that might be called a "Picaresque romance," understanding thereby
not only tales of the sort to be found in Spanish literature, but
also certain other tales of Boccaccio and a great part of Folengo's
_Baldus._ Picaresque romance asked in its turn sympathy and irony, but
of a different sort to the preceding, no longer sympathy for popular
ingenuity, but for cleverness, trickiness, for an irony, which should
no longer be simply that of superior culture, but also of superior
morality; and this too was in some measure and in his own way in Pulci;
but he often spoilt this disposition of mind by inadvertently passing,
like a person lacking refinement of education, from Picaresque romance
to Picaresque intonation, from the representation of a blackguard
to the blackguard himself. And there is something else also in the
_Morgante_: the imaginings and caprices of Pulci himself, his own
personal moral opinions, religious or philosophical; things that are
sometimes thought about even by those who do not think much about them,
and which, owing to this casual hasty thinking, become nevertheless
opinions or semi-opinions. Finally the _Morgante_ is a skein formed
of strands of different colour and make, some of them thicker or
thinner than others: it is a poem that is not in tune with a single
dominant inspiration, and if we take one of those elements that we
have described and transport it to the principal place, we immediately
have the feeling that we are depriving the complex nature of the work
of its vigour. Nevertheless the _Morgante_ must be looked upon as one
of the most richly endowed works of our literature, where we meet at
every step with delightful figures and traits of expression: Morgante,
Margutte, Fiorinetta, Astarotte, Farfarello, Archbishop Turpin, certain
touches of character in Orlando, and especially in Rinaldo, and also in
Antea, together with certain descriptions, anecdotes and acute remarks.
Margutte, plunged deep in vice, but quite shameless and aware that he
cannot be other than what nature made him, is also human, incapable
of treachery, capable of affection for Morgante and of enduring his
all-consuming voracity; so that when his companion dies, he never
ceases recalling him to mind, and talking about him even with Orlando:

    E conta d'ogni sua piacevolezza,
    E lacrimava ancor di tenerezza.[1]

Rinaldo, ardent and furious for revenge, seeks to slay Carlo Magno, who
has been hidden from him; but after a few days Orlando leads him to
believe that the Emperor has died of desperation, and tells him that he
has appeared to him in vision, whereupon Rinaldo changes countenance
and begins to wish him alive again, to feel pity for him, to repent him
of his fury, so that in this way peace and reconciliation are effected.
After a great battle, the conquered as they leave the field, recognise
their dead ones where they lie, and we hear them lamenting a father, a
brother or a friend:

    Eravi alcun che cavava l'elmetto
    al suo figliolo, al suo cognato, o padre;
    poi lo baciava con pietoso affetto,
    E dicea: "Lasso, fra le nostre squadre
    non tornerai in Soria più, poveretto;
    che dirén noî alla tua afflitta madre,
    o chi sarà più quel che la conforti?
    Tu ti riman cogli altri al campo morti."[2]

And this is an apology, by means of which Orlando explains to Rinaldo
that he has remarked his new affection, and that it is of no use that
he should try to deceive him with words:

    Rispose Orlando:--Noi sarem que' frati
    che mangiando il migliaccio, l'un si cosse;
    l'altro gli vede gli occhi imbambolati,
    e domando quel che la cagion fosse.
    Colui rispose: "Noi sián due restati
    a mensa, e gli altri sono or per le fosse,
    ché trentatré fummo e tu lo sia:
    Quand' io vi penso, io piango sempre mai."
    Quell' altro, che vedea che lo 'ngannava,
    finse di pianger, mostrando dolore;
    e disse a quel che di ciò domandava:
    "E anco io piango, anzi mi scoppia il core,
    che noi sián due restati"; e sospirava,
    "Ed è già l'uno all' altro traditore."
    Cosi mi par che faccian noi, Rinaldo:
    "che nol di tu che'l migliaccio era caldo?"[3]

And here is an octave in which Pulci makes it psychologically clear why
King Carlo allowed himself to be led astray and deceived by Gano:

    Molte volte, anzi spesso, c'interviene
    che tu t'arrecchi un amico e fratello,
    e ciò che fa ti par che facci bene,
    dipinto e colorito col pennallo.
    Questo primo legame tanto tiene,
    che, s' altra volta ti dispiace quello,
    e qualcha cosa ti parà molesta,
    sempre la prima impression pur resta.[4]

"These are not the octaves of Ariosto ": we have said as much.
Certainly they are not, just as the octaves of Ariosto are not those of
Pulci, and Ariosto, whatever trouble he might have taken, could never
have attained to the inventions, the emotions, the clevernesses and
the accents of the _Morgante,_ which are just as inimitable in their
way as are the graces of the _Furioso._ And it is really unjust and
almost odious that the reader, face to face with the treasures of fresh
and original poetry, which Pulci throws without counting into his lap,
should pull a wry face and ungratefully remark that Pulci's poetry
is not that other poetry which he is now thinking about, and that it
should be abolished, or made perfect by the other poetry!

Almost the same thing is to be repeated about the author of the
_Innamorato,_ who has also been tormented, condemned and executed by
means of a comparison with the author of the _Furioso,_ sometimes
conducted with such a refinement of cruelty that the strophes of the
one are printed facing the strophes of the other, and selected as
bearing upon similar situations, so that every word and syllable may
be weighed; as though the strophes of a poet are not to be considered
solely in themselves and in the poem of which they form part, and to
be condemned, if occasion arise for condemnation, within that circle
to which are confined the real conditions of judgment. Boiardo, to one
who reads him without any sort of preconception and abandons himself
to the simple impressions of reading, immediately shows himself to be
altogether different from what some critics maintain, the pedantic
singer of chivalry taken seriously, who gives way now and then to
involuntary laughter and to a harsh intonation which should be toned
down and softened by the skill of an Ariosto. He is quite other also
than the epic bard, which some people have imagined him to be; he could
not be epic, because he had no national sentiment, no feeling for
class or religion, and the marvellous in him is all fancy, a marvel
of the fairies; nor was he a pedant, for he obviously follows his own
spontaneous inclinations, without any secondary purpose. No, Boiardo
was on the contrary a soul passionately devoted to the primitive and
the energetic, his was the energy of the lance-thrust, of the brand
wielded, but also the energy of a proud will, of ferocious courage,
of intransigent honour, of marvellous devices. And it is owing just
to this energy, which has a value of its own, that he lives to unite
poetically the cycles of Charlemagne and of Arthur, the Carlovingian
and the Breton traditions, arms and adventures and love, both of them
primitive cycles, the second being remarkable for the extraordinary
nature of its adventures and the violence of its loves; whereas, if
that heroism had continued to be full and substantial, it would have
been difficult to make it a theme for erotic treatment, representing a
different and opposed sentiment. To ask of him delicacy of treatment
in the representation of his knights, or delicacy of thoughts and
words in his treatment of women and love, and in general, beauty
of sentiment, is to ask of him what is external to his fundamental
motive. To be astonished that he sometimes laughs or smiles, is to
be astonished at what happens every day among the people (and there
are traces of it in the ingenuous epic) when they are listening to
the recital of great deeds, which do not forbid an occasional comic
remark. To lament his supposed neglect of art, his lack of polish of
language and versification, is to censure him as a grammarian who
employs pre-established models or dwells upon minute details to which
he attributes sovereign importance. How on the other hand can it be
forgotten, when praise of his rich fancy and robust frankness of style
and composition is opposed to censures or interlarded among them, that
we must explain whence came to him these merits, for they are not to
be snatched, but are born only of the soul. Whence came they, if not
from true poetical inspiration and from his already mentioned passion
for the energetic and the primitive? Hence the admiration aroused by
his vast canvases, his vivid narratives:--Angelica, who by merely
appearing at Carlo's banquet, makes everyone fall in love with her,
and whom even the Emperor himself cannot refrain from admiring, though
with discretion, lest he should compromise his gravity, Angelica,
whom the greatest champions of Christianity and Paganism follow with
admiration, refusing herself to all and loving only him who alone
abhors her;--the solemn council of war, held by Agramante previous
to entering France, with the speeches of the kings who surround him,
courageous or prudent, the sudden appearance of the youthful Rodomonte,
who dominates all with his tremendous energy;--the joyful courage of
Astolfo, never disconcerted by headlong mishaps, whom fortune succours
by furnishing him with a lance, by means of which, to the astonishment
of all, he accomplishes prodigies, while he himself remains
unastonished;--Brunello, as to whose doings one would like to apply
Vico's phrase about "heroic thieving," Brunello, who wanders about the
earth, stealing the most carefully guarded objects, with an audacious
dexterity and so comic an imagination, Brunello, revelling in his
joyous virtuosity and vainly-pursued over the whole world by Marfisa of
the viper's eye, which spirts venom, Marfisa who wishes to put him to
death; but he flies from her, turning from time to time in his flight
to laugh in her face and make gestures of mockery;--Then again there
are the colloquies of Orlando and Agricane, during the pauses in their
bitter duel, which must end in the death of one of them; Rinaldo's
caustic reply to Orlando, who has reproved him for wishing to carry
away the golden couch from the fairy's garden; and that other no less
caustic repartee of the courageous highway robber to Brandimarte; and
many and many another most beautiful passage?--Yet the _Innamorato,_
notwithstanding its poetical abundance, has never been numbered among
really classical works, so that after the vogue which for ephemeral
reasons it enjoyed in its own day, it has not received and does not
receive the affection and homage of any but those who love what is
little loved and prize what is pure, spontaneous and rude. The poem
does not conclude in itself; it is not satisfied with itself: there is
a break somewhere in the circle: the representation of the energetic
and primitive, which is a sort of formal epicity, has something in
it of the monotonous and arid, and the pleasure derived from it has
something of the solitary and sterile. Like the charger that sniffs the
battle, so says Boiardo:

    Ad ogni atto degno e signorile,
    Quai se raconti di cavalleria,
    sempre se allegra l'animo gentile,
    come nel fatto fusse tuttavia,
    manifestando fuore il cor virile....[5]

That is well, but the manly heart is not slow to express a certain
feeling of delusion, when it recognises that the images in question
are all body, without depth of soul, and without the guidance and
inspiration of a superior spirit. He says somewhere else:

    Già molto tempo m'han tenuto a bada
    Morgana, Alcina e le incantazioni,
    Nè ve ho mostrato un bel colpo di spada,
    E pieno il cel de lancie e de tronconi....[6]

But there are too many lances that meet and clash, too many limbs
flying about without our ever seeing the cause, the meaning or the
justification of all that fighting--even Boiardo himself becomes
melancholy, when he thinks of those blows exchanged in a spiritual
void, exclaiming in one of those frequent purely spontaneous epigrams,
which invest his noble person with sympathy:

    Fama, seguace degli imperatori,
    Ninfa, che e' gesti a' dolci versi canti,
    che dopo morte ancor gli uomini onori,
    e fai coloro eterni, che tu vanti,
    ove sei giunta? a dir gli antichi amori,
    e a narrar battaglie de' giganti;
    mercè del mondo, che al tuo tempo è tale,
    che più di fama o di virtù non cale.
    Lascia a Parnaso quella verde pianta,
    che da salvivi ormai perso è il cammino,
    e meco al basso questa istoria canta
    del re Agramante, il forte Saracino....[7]

Pulci and Boiardo then, not to mention others, are to be placed neither
above nor below Ariosto, for they are not even related to him. Proof of
this is to be found in the fact that thought has gone to other artists,
to Ovid for example, in the search for his parallel in literature
among the Latins, to Petrarch and to Politian among Italians, or to
architects like Bramante and Leon Baptista Alberti, and yet more to
painters, like Raphael, Correggio and Titian, comparisons having been
instituted with all of these and with others whom it is unnecessary to
mention. Now as regards quality of artistic inspiration, affinity is
certainly more intrinsic than are relations established from the use
of similar abstract material; yet it is itself abstract and extrinsic,
because it always accepts one or certain aspects of inspiration, not
the full inspiration. Thus, for example, when a comparison is drawn
between Ariosto and Ovid, who was a story-teller, lacking altogether
in religious feeling for mythological fables and attracted to them
solely by their beauty and variety, we must immediately hasten to add
that with the exception of this side, which they share in common,
Ariosto is different and superior to the Latin poet in every other,
for Ovid had not a delicate taste in art, being merged altogether in
his pleasing and delightful themes. He improvised and overflowed,
owing to his incapacity for firm design and lack of control: he would
be better described as the model of the luxurious Italian versifiers
of the seventeenth century than as the model of Ariosto, whose art
was most chaste. If again he be superficially compared with Politian,
the comparison breaks up immediately, because the _Stanze_ are
inspired by the voluptuousness of the sensible world, contemplated
in all its fugitive brilliance and with that trembling accompaniment
of anxiety and suffering, inseparable from it, while Ariosto soars
above the pathos of voluptuousness. To note affinities is of avail in
a work introductory to the general study of literature, and to draw
comparisons and point out contrasts and successive approximations may
also serve as a useful aid to the accurate description of an artist's
special character. But we do not propose to supply here such a
didactic introduction, for the use of such a method is superfluous,
as we have already described Ariosto's characteristics in the manner
proposed. We shall not therefore form a group of artists, as related to
him in this or that respect, for such cannot be expected of us, nor has
it for us any special attraction.

Observations as to affinities have another use also, as providing a
basis for sparkling and resonant metaphors, as when it is observed of
an artist that he is the "Raphael of poetry," of another that he is
"the Dante of sculpture," or of a third that he is "the Michael Angelo
of sound," or as was said (by Torquato Tasso, perhaps as a witticism,
and certainly with little truth), that Ariosto is "the Ferrarese
Homer." We already possess many pages of magnificent metaphors to the
honour and glory of the author of the _Furioso,_ nor do we intend to
depreciate their merit; but the present writer begs to be excused from
the labour of increasing their number, since he is in general little
disposed to oratory and has allowed what slight gift of the sort he
might have possessed to flow away and lose itself, while conversing
with so unrhetorical and so conversational a poet as was Ludovico

[Footnote 1: Saying how delightful he was and still weeping for tender

[Footnote 2: Sometimes one would remove the helmet from his son, his
cousin, or his father, kissing him with pious affection, and saying
"alas, poor fellow, never again will he return to our ranks in Soria;
what shall we say to his afflicted mother, who among us can comfort
her? But thou remainest with the others who lie dead on the field."]

[Footnote 3: Orlando answered:--We shall be like the friars one of
whom burnt himself in eating his gruel; the other seeing his eyes
watering asked the reason. His neighbour replied: "Here we are, two of
us remained sitting at table, while the others are in the tomb; well
thou knowest that we were thirty-three; it always makes me weep to
think of it." The other, who saw the deception, in his turn made belief
to lament and grieve and when asked the reason: "Yea, I also weep; my
heart indeed is bursting to think that we two remain"; then sighing he
continued, "And that one of us two is betraying the other. We seem to
be doing much the same thing, Rinaldo: why won't you confess that the
gruel was hot?"]

[Footnote 4: It often happens that a friend becomes like a brother to
you, and whatever he does seems to be so well done as to deserve being
made a picture. This first bond holds so firmly that when he finally
does something you do not like--injures you in some way--nevertheless
the first impression remains the same.]

[Footnote 5: The gentle soul rejoices at every worthy, noble deed
recounted of knighthood, as it does when the deed was accomplished,
which revealed the manly heart.]

[Footnote 6: Morgana, Alcina and their incantations have long held me
in their chains, so that I have been unable to show you aught of fine
sword play, the sky full of lances and limbs....]

[Footnote 7: Where art thou gone, O fame that followest emperors and
singest their brave deeds in gentle verse, thou that honorest men after
death and conferrest eternity upon those thou vauntest? This is the
fault of the world. Thou art gone to sing of ancient loves and to tell
of the battles of the giants, thanks to this world of ours that cares
no longer for courage or for fame. Leave upon Parnassus that growth
of green, since none knows now the upward path that leadeth thither,
and sing here below with me this history of King Agramante, the mighty





To state at the outset, that the practical personality of Shakespeare
is not the object of study for the critic and historian of art, but his
poetical personality; not the character and development of his life,
but the character and development of his art, will perhaps seem to be
superfluous, but as a matter of fact it will aid us in proceeding more

We do not aim at forbidding the natural curiosity, which leads to the
enquiry as to what sort of men in practical life were those whom we
admire as poets, thinkers and scientists. This curiosity often leads
to delusion, because there is nothing to be found behind the poet,
the philosopher, or the man of science, which can arouse interest,
though it is sometimes fruitful. It would certainly be agreeable to
raise that sort of mysterious veil that surrounds Shakespeare. We
should like to know what sort of passions, what ethical, philosophical
and mental experiences were his, and above all what he thought about
himself--whether, as appeared to those who rediscovered him a century
or so later, he were really without feeling the greatness of his genius
and of his own work. For what reason, too, if there were a special
reason, did he not take the trouble to have his plays printed, but
exposed them to the risk of being lost to posterity? Was it due to the
ingenuousness and innocence of the poet, or to proud indifference on
the part of a man, who disdains the world's applause and the mirage of
glory, because he is completely satisfied with the greatness of his
work? Or was it due to simple indolence, or to a settled plan, or to
the web of events? Did he suppose, as has been suggested, that those
plays, written for the theatre, would have continued ever to live in
the theatre, under the care of his companions in art, in accordance
with his intentions and in a manner suitable to their merit? But it
is clear that these and such like questions concern the biography,
rather than the artistic history of Shakespeare, which gives rise to an
altogether different series of researches.

We do not however wish to assert that these two series of different
questions are without relation: even different things have some
relation to one another, which resides in their diversity itself
and is connected above them. The critic and historian of art would
certainly find it advantageous for the studies that he was about to
undertake, to know the chronology, the circumstances, the details, the
compositions, the recompositions, the recastings and the collaborations
of the Shakespearean drama. He would thus avoid the obligation of
vexing his mind as to certain interpretations, and of remaining more or
less perplexed for a greater or lesser space of time, before certain
peculiarities, discordances and inequalities, doubtful, that is to
say, as to whether they be errors in art, or art forms of which it is
difficult to seize the hidden connection. But he would gain nothing
more from this advantage (with the conjoined admonition, to beware of
the prejudices that such information is apt to cause). His judgment
would of necessity be founded, in final analysis, upon intrinsic
reasons of an artistic nature, arising from an examination of the works
before him. The chronology that he will succeed in fixing, will not be
a real or material chronology, but an ideal and an aesthetic one, for
these are two forms of chronology which only coincide approximately and
sometimes altogether diverge from one another. Were the authenticity
of the works all clearly settled, the critic would be preserved from
proclaiming that certain works or parts of works are Shakespeare's,
when they are really, say, Greene's or Marlowe's, which is an
inexactitude of nomenclature, as also is the treating of Shakespeare's
work as being by someone else or anonymous. But this onomastic
inexactitude is already corrected by the presumption that the critic
has his eye fixed, not on the biographical and practical personage
of Shakespeare, but on the poetical personage. He is thus able to
face with calmness the danger, which is not a danger and is extremely
improbable, of allowing to pass under the colours of Shakespeare a work
drawn from the same or a similar source of inspiration, which stands at
an equal altitude with others, or of adding another work to those of
inferior quality and declining value assigned to the same name, because
he is differentiating aesthetic values and not title-deeds to legal

As we have said, it has not seemed superfluous to repeat these
statements, because in the first place, the silent and tenacious,
though erroneous conviction, as to the unity and identity of the two
histories, the practical and the poetical, or at least the obscurity as
to their true relation, is the hidden source of the vast and to a large
extent useless labours, which form the great body of Shakespearean
philology. This in common with the philology of the nineteenth century
in general, is unconsciously dominated by romantic ideas of mystical
and naturalistic unity, whence it is not by accident that Emerson
is found among the precursors of hybrid biographical aesthetic, and
the romanticizing Brandes among its most conspicuous supporters.
These labours are animated with the hope of obtaining knowledge
of the poetry of Shakespeare in its full reality, by means of the
discovery of the complete chronology, of biographical incidents, of
allusions, and of the origin of his themes. The ranks of the seekers
are also swollen by those who are animated with like hopes and wish
to exhibit their cleverness in the solution of enigmas, or are urged
by the professional necessity of producing dissertations and theses.
Unfortunately, the documents and traditions relating to the life of
Shakespeare are very few. All or nearly all, relate to external and
insignificant details. We are without letters, confessions or memoirs
by the author, and also without authentic and abundant collections of
facts relating to him. Although almost every year there appears some
new _Life of Shakespeare,_ it is now time to recognise with resignation
and clearly to declare that it is not possible to write a biography of
Shakespeare. At the most, an arid and faulty biographical chronicle
can be composed, rather as proof of the devotion of posterity,
longing to possess even a shadow of that biography, than as genuinely
satisfying a desire for knowledge. Owing to this lack of documents, the
above-mentioned philological literature consists, almost altogether,
of an enormous and ever increasing number of conjectures, of which
the one contests, impugns, or varies the other, and all are equally
incapable of nourishing the mind. It suffices to glance through a
few pages of a Shakespearean annual or handbook, to hear of the
"Southampton theory," the "Pembroke theory," and of other theories, in
relation to the _Sonnets;_ that is to say, whether the person concealed
beneath the initials W. H. in the printer's dedication, is the Earl
of Southampton, or the Earl of Pembroke, or a musician of the name
of Hughes, or even William Harvey, the third husband of Southampton's
mother, or the retail bookseller, William Hell, or an invention of
the printer, or a joke of the poet, who should thus indicate himself
(William Himself); and so on, with the "Fitton theory," the "Davenant
theory," and the like, that is to say, whether the "dark lady,"
celebrated in some of the sonnets, be a court lady of the name of Mary
Fitton, or the hostess by whom Shakespeare is said to have become
the father of the poet Davenant (and one of the critics has dared
admit that he spent fifteen years in research and meditation on this
point alone), or the French wife of the printer Field, or finally a
conventional and imaginary personage of Elizabethan sonneteering, which
was based upon the manner of Petrarch. And in the same way as with the
_Sonnets,_ there have been conjectures of the most varied sorts as to
Shakespeare's marriage, his relations with his wife, the incidents
of his family and of his profession. Passing to the plays, there are
and have been discussions without apparent end, as to whether _Titus
Andronicus_ be an original work, or has been patched up by him; as to
whether _Henry VI_ be all of it his, or only a part, or revised and
enlarged by him; as to which portions of _Henry VIII_ and of _Pericles_
are his and which Fletcher's, or whether by other hands; as to whether
_Timon_ be a sketch finished by others or a sketch by others finished
by Shakespeare; whether and to what extent there persists in _Hamlet_ a
previous _Hamlet_ by Kyd or by another author; whether certain of the
so-called "apocryphas," such as _Arden of Feversham_ and _Edward III,_
are on the contrary to be held to be authentic. In like manner, the
difficulties connected with the chronology are great and conjectures
numerous. The _Dream,_ for instance, is by some placed in the year
1590, by others in 1595, _Julius Caesar_ now in 1606, now in 1599,
_Cymbeline_ in 1605 and 1611, _Troilus and Cressida,_ by some in 1599,
by others in 1603, by others still in 1609, by yet others resolved into
three parts or strata, form 1592 to 1606, and 1607, with additions by
other hands. For the majority, the _Tempest_ belongs to the year 1611,
but is by others dated earlier, and as regards _Hamlet_ again, in
its first form, there are some who believe that it was composed, not
by any means in 1602, but between 1592 and 1594. And so on, without
advantage being taken of the few sure aids offered by stylistic or
metrical measurements, as one may prefer to call them. Now conjectures
are of use as heuristic instruments, only in so far as it is hoped
to convert them into certainties, by means of the documents of which
they aid in the search and the interpretation. But when this is not
possible, they are altogether vain and vacuous, and consequently, were
they convertible into certainties, would not give the solution or the
criterion of solution of the critical problems relating to the poetry
of Shakespeare. When they are not to be so converted and remain mere
vague imagining, they do not even supply the practical and biographical
history, which others delude themselves with the belief that they
can construct piecemeal by means of them. Hence it has happened that
careful writers, who have wished to give the character and life of
Shakespeare, as far as possible without hypotheses and fancies, have
been obliged to retail a series of general assertions, in which all
individualisation is lost, even if Shakespeare be pronounced good,
honest, gentle, serviceable, prudent, laborious, frank, gay, and the

But the majority convert the less probable conjectures into
certainties, and proceed from conjecture to conjecture and from
assertion to assertion, finally producing, under the title, _Life of
Shakespeare,_ nothing but a romance, which, however, always turns
out to be too colourless to be called artistic. A rapacious hand is
stretched out to seize the poetical works themselves, with the view
of writing this sort of fiction since (to quote the author of one of
these unamusing fictions, Brandes) it cannot be admitted that it is
impossible to know by deducing them from his writings, the life, the
adventures, and the person of a man who has left about forty plays
and poems. And it is certainly possible to deduce all these things
from the poetical writings, but the life, and the poetical adventures
and personages, not the practical and biographical; save in the case
(which is not that of Shakespeare,) where definitely informative,
autobiographical statements and excursions are to be found among the
poems, that is to say, passages that are not poetical, but prosaic.
In every other instance, the poetical emotion does not lead to the
practical, because the relation between the two is not _deterministic,_
from effect to cause, but _creative,_ from material to form, and
therefore incommensurable. The moment it is raised to the sphere of
poetry, a sentiment that has really been experienced is plucked from
its practical and realistic soil, and made the motive of composition
for a world of dreams, one of the infinite possible worlds, in which it
is as useless to seek any longer the reality of that sentiment, as it
is vain to seek a drop of water poured into the ocean, and transformed
from what it was previously by ocean's vast embrace. One feels almost
inclined to repeat as warning that strophe from the _Sonnets,_ where
the poet said of his mistress to his friend:

    "Nay, if you read this line, remember not
    The hand that writ it; for I love you so,
    That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
    If thinking on me then should make you woe."

For this reason, when we read in Brandes's book (which we select for
quotation here, because it has been widely circulated), such statements
as that Richard III, the deformed dwarf, whom we feel to be superior
in intellect, adumbrates Shakespeare himself, obliged to adopt the
despised profession of the actor, but full of the pride of genius,
it is not a case of rejecting or accepting his statements, but of
simply looking upon them as so many conjectures founded upon air and
as such, devoid of interest. This criterion can also be applied in the
following cases: that the pitiful death of the youthful Prince Arthur,
in _King John,_ shows traces of the loss of one of his sons, sustained
by the author at the moment when he was composing that drama; that
the riotous youth of Henry V is a symbol of the youth of Shakespeare
during his first years in London; that Brutus, in _Julius Caesar,_ has
reference to the persons of Essex and Southampton, protectors of the
poet and unsuccessful conspirators against the queen; that Coriolanus,
disdainful of praise, is Shakespeare in the attitude that it suited
him to take up towards the public and the critics; that the feeling of
King Lear, appalled with ingratitude, is that of the poet, appalled at
the ingratitude he experienced at the hands of his colleagues, of the
impresarii and of his pupils; and finally that Shakespeare must have
written those terrible dramas in the nocturnal hours, although he most
probably worked as a rule in the early morning; together with many
other fancies of a similar sort; it is not a case of accepting or of
confuting them, but of just taking them for what they are, conjectures
based upon air, and as such of no interest.

The like may be said of another volume, which has also been much
discussed, that of Harris. Here, in a view based upon the inspection of
his lyrics and dramas, he is represented as sensual and neuropathic,
almost affected with erotic mania, weak of will, attracted and
tyrannised over during almost the whole of his life, by a fascinating
and faithless dark lady, named Mary Fitton. Hence the origin of his
most poignant tragedies, and the mystery that conceals his last years,
when he withdrew to Stratford, by no means with the intention of
there enjoying the peace of the country as a _foenerator Appuis,_ but
because, ruined in body and soul, he wished there to nurse his ills, or
rather to die there, as soon afterwards he did.

The period of the great tragedies, especially, has been connected
with circumstances in the private life of the author and with events
in English public life. This too may or may not be true: Shakespeare
may or may not have been extremely excitable, both in personal and
practical matters; he may on the other hand have remained perfectly
calm and watched the tossing sea from the shore, with that tone
of feeling proper to artists, described by psychologists as
_Scheingefühle,_ a feeling of appearance and dream. No value also is
to be attributed to conjectures as to the models that Shakespeare
sometimes had before him: for Shylock in the shape of some adventurer
of his time, or for Prospero in the person of the Emperor Rudolph II,
who was interested in science and magic, and the like, because the
relation between art and its model is incommensurable. In reading the
works of Shakespeare, one is sometimes inclined to think (as for that
matter in the case of other poets), that some affection or incident
of the life of the author is to be found in the words of this or that
character, as for example in _Cymbeline,_ where Posthumus says,

                       "Could I find out
    The woman's part in me! But there's no motion
    That tends to vice in man, but I affirm
    It is the woman's part!"

or in those others of _Troilus and Cressida_:

    "Lechery, lechery; still, wars and lechery; nothing
    else holds fashions: a burning devil take them!"

in the same way as some have suspected a personal memory in the case
of Dante, in the Francesca episode of the reading and inebriation.
But there is nothing to be done with this suspicion and the thought
that suggested it. Nor is there anything to be built upon in those rare
passages, where it may seem that the poet breaks the coherence and
aesthetic level of his work, in order to lay stress upon some real or
practical feeling of his own, by over-accentuation; because, even if we
admit that there are such passages in Shakespeare, it always remains
doubtful whether for him, as for other poets, the true motive for
this inopportune emphasis, is to be found in the eruption of his own
powerful feelings, or rather in some other accidental motive.

We may also save ourselves from wonder and invective of the "Baconian
hypothesis," by means of this indifference of the poetical work towards
biography. This hypothesis maintains that the real author of the plays,
which pass under the name of Shakespeare, was Francis Bacon. We are
likewise preserved from those others of more recent date and vogue,
which maintain that the author was Roger, fifth Earl of Rutland, or
that Rutland collaborated with Southampton, or that there really
existed a society of dramatic authors, (Chettle, Heywood, Webster,
etc.) with the final revision entrusted to Bacon, or finally (the
latest discovery of the sort) that he was William Stanley, sixth Earl
>of Derby. A thousand or more volumes, opuscules and articles have been
printed to deal with these conjectures, and although--to the severe eye
of the trained philologist--they may justly seem to be extravagant,
yet they retain the merit of being a sort of involuntarily _ironic
treatment_ of the purely philological method and of its abuse of

But even if we grant the unlikely contention that in the not very
great brain of the philosopher Bacon, there lodged the brain of a very
great poet, from which proceeded the Shakespearean drama, nothing
would thereby have been discovered or proved, save a singular marvel,
a joke, a monstrosity of nature. The artistic problem would remain
untouched, because that drama remains always the same; Lear laments
and imprecates in the same manner, Othello struggles furiously, Hamlet
meditates and wavers before the problem of humanity and the action that
he is called upon to take, and in the same manner, all are enwrapped in
the veil of Eternity, It is a good thing to shake off this weight of
erroneous philology (another philology exists alongside of it, which
is not erroneous, since it preserves the probably genuine text, and
interprets the vocabulary and the historical references with a genuine
feeling for art), not only because, whether or no it attain the end
of biography, it distracts attention from the right and proper object
of artistic criticism, but also because it employs the biography,
true or false, for the purpose of clouding and changing the artistic
vision. Confounding art and document, it transports into art whatever
it has discovered or believes itself to have discovered by means of
research, turning the serene compositions of the poet into a series
of shudders, cries, restless motions, convulsions, ferocious springs,
manifestations, now of sentimental rapture, now of furious desire.

We know that it is necessary to make an effort of abstraction, to
forget biographical details concerning the poets, in those cases where
they abound, if we wish to enjoy their art, in what it possesses of
ideality, which is truth. We know, too, that poets and artists have
always experienced dislike and contempt for those gossip-mongers, who
investigate and record the private occurrences of their lives, in
order to extract from them the elements of artistic judgment. This is
the reason why a poet's contemporaries and his fellow-countrymen and
fellow-townsmen are said not to be good judges and that no one is a
poet or prophet among his familiars and in the place of his birth.

The advantage of the lack of a bar to artistic contemplation, one of
the good consequences of this lack of biographical detail relating to
Shakespeare, is thrown away by these conjecturers, who, like the mule
of Galeazzo Florimonte, bring stones to birth that they may stumble
upon them.

We can observe the re-immersion of Shakespearean poetry in
psychological materiality in the already mentioned book of Brandes (and
also to some extent in the more subtle and ingenious work of Frank
Harris) and in the case of Brandes, the readjustment of values that is
its consequence, as with _King Lear_ and _Timon,_ both documents of
misanthropy induced by ingratitude; and even the sinking of values into
non-values, when he fails to effect his psychological reduction, even
by means of those extravagant methods, as in the case of _Macbeth,_
where he declares that this play, which is one of the dramatic
masterpieces, appears to him to possess but "slight interest," because
he does not feel "the heart of Shakespeare beating there," that is to
say, of the Shakespeare endowed with certain practical objects and
interests by his imagination.

This error is also to be found in the so-called "pictures of the
society of the time," by means of which another group has striven to
interpret the art of Shakespeare. These are not less extrinsic and
disturbing than the others, assuming that they are composed with like
historical ignorance. Taine, for instance, having got it into his head
that the English of the time of Elizabeth were "_des bêtes sauvages_,"
describes the drama of the time as a reproduction "_sans choix_" of
all "_les laideurs, les bassesses, les horreurs, les détails crus,
les mœurs déréglées et féroces_" of that time, and the style of
Shakespeare as "_un composé d'expressions forcenées,_" in such wise
that when one reads the famous _Histoire de la littérature anglaise,_
it is difficult to say whether poets or assassins are passing across
the stage, whether these be artistic and harmonious contests, or
dagger-thrust struggles. The opinion of Goethe is opposed to all these
deformations, to the Shakespeare who moans and shrieks on the wind of
the wild passions of his time, to that other Shakespeare who reveals
the wounds of his own sickly soul with bitter sarcasm and disgust. In
the conversations with Eckermann, he gives as his impression that the
plays of Shakespeare were the work "of a man in perfect health and
strength, both in body and spirit"; he must indeed have been healthy
and strong and free, when he created something so free, so healthy and
so strong as his poetry.

In a calmer sphere of considerations, those who make the personages and
the action of the plays depend upon the political and social events
of the time commit a similar deterministic error--upon the victory
over the Armada, the conspiracy of Essex, the death of Elizabeth, the
accession of James, the geographical discoveries and colonisation of
the day, the contests with the Puritans, and the like.

Others err in tracing the different forms of the poetry to the course
of his reading, to the Chronicle of Holinshed, to Italian novels, to
the Lives of Plutarch, and especially to the _Essais_ of Montaigne
(where Chasles and others of more recent date have placed the origin
of the new great period of his poetical work); others again have found
it in the circumstances of the English stage of the time, and in the
various tastes of the "reserved" and "pit" seats, as in the so-called
"realistic" criticism of Rümelin.

The poetry, then, should certainly be interpreted historically, but in
the proper sense, disconnected, that is to say from a history that is
foreign to it and with which its only connection is that prevailing
between a man and what he disregards, puts away from him and rejects,
because it either injures him or is of no use, or, which comes to the
same thing, because he has already made sufficient use of it.



Everyone possesses at the bottom of his heart, as it were, a synthetic
or compendious image of a poet like Shakespeare, who belongs to the
common patrimony of culture, and in his memory the definitions of him
that have been given and have become current formulae. It is well
to fix the mind upon that image, to remember these formulae, and to
extract from them their principal meanings, with the view of obtaining,
at least in a preliminary and provisory manner, the characteristic
spiritual attitude of Shakespeare, his poetical sentiment.

The first observation leaps to the eye and is generally admitted:
namely, that no particular feeling or order of feelings prevails
in him; it cannot be said of him that he is an amorous poet, like
Petrarch, a desperately sad poet like Leopardi, or heroic, as Homer.
His name is adorned rather with such epithets as _universal_ poet,
as perfectly _objective,_ entirely _impersonal,_ extraordinarily
_impartial._ Sometimes even his _coldness_ has been remarked--a
coldness certainly sublime, "that of a sovran spirit, which has
described the complete curve of human existence and has survived all
sentiment" (Schlegel).

Nor is he a poet of _ideals,_ as they are called, whether they be
religious, ethical, political, or social. This explains the antipathy
frequently manifested towards him by apostles of various sorts, of
whom the last was Tolstoi, and the unsatisfied desires that take fire
in the minds of the right thinking, urging them always to ask of any
very great man for something more, for a supplement. They conclude
their admiration with a sigh that there should really be something
missing in him--he is not to be numbered along those who strive for
more liberal political forms and for a more equable social balance,
nor has he had bowels of compassion for the humble and the plebeian. A
certain school of German critics (Ulrici, Gervinus, Kreyssig, Vischer,
etc.), perhaps as an act of opposition to such apparent accusations
(I would not recommend the reading of these authors, whom I have felt
obliged to peruse owing to the nature of my task) began to represent
Shakespeare as a lofty master of morality, a casuist most acute and
reliable, who never fails to solve an ethical problem in the correct
way, a prudent and austere counsellor in politics, and above all, an
infallible judge of actions, a distributor of rewards and punishments,
graduated according to merit and demerit, paying special attention that
not even the slightest fault should go unpunished. Now setting aside
the fact that the ends attributed to him were not in accordance with
his character as a poet and bore evidence only to the lack of taste of
those critics; setting aside that the design of distributing rewards
and punishments according to a moral scale, which they imagine to exist
and praise in him, was altogether impossible of accomplishment by any
man or even by any God, since rewards and punishments are thoughts
altogether foreign to the moral consciousness and of a purely practical
and judicial nature; setting aside these facts, which are generally
considered unworthy of discussion and jeered at in the most recent
criticism, as the ridiculous survivals of a bygone age, even if we make
the attempt to translate these statements into a less illogical form,
and assume that there really existed in Shakespeare an inclination for
problems of that sort, they shew themselves to be at variance with
simple reality. Shakespeare caressed no ideals of any sort and least
of all political ideals; and although he magnificently represents
political struggles also, he always went beyond their specific
character and object, attaining through them to the only thing that
really attracted him; life.

This _sense of life_ is also extolled in his work, which for that
reason is held to be eminently _dramatic,_ that is to say, animated
with a sense of life considered in itself, in its eternal discord, its
eternal harshness, its bitter-sweet, in all its complexity.

To feel life potently, without the determination of a passion or an
ideal, implies feeling it unilluminated by faith, undisciplined by
any law of goodness, not to be corrected by the human will, not to be
reduced to the enjoyment of idyllic calm, or to the inebriation of
joy; and Shakespeare has indeed been judged in turn not religious, not
moral, no assertor of the freedom of the will, and no optimist. But no
one has yet dared to judge him to be irreligious, immoral, a fatalist,
or a pessimist, for these adjectives are seen not to suit him, as soon
as they are pronounced.

And here too were required the strange aberration of fancy of a Taine,
his singular incapacity for receiving clear impressions of the truth,
in order to portray the feeling of Shakespeare towards man and life as
being fundamentally irrational, based on blind deception, a sequence of
hasty impulses and swarming images, without an autonomous centre, where
truth and wisdom are accidental and unstable effects, or appearances
without substance. These are simply exercises in style, repeated with
variants from other writers; they do not even present a caricature
of the art of Shakespeare, since even for this, some connection with
fact is necessary. Shakespeare, who has so strong a feeling for the
bounds set to the human will, in relation to the Whole, which stands
above it, possesses the feeling for the power of human liberty in equal
degree. As Hazlitt says, he, who in some respects is "the least moral
of poets," is in others "the greatest of moralists." He who beholds the
unremovable presence of evil and sorrow, has his eye open and intent
in an equal degree upon the shining forth of the good, the smile of
joy, and is healthy and virile as no pessimist ever was. He who nowhere
in his works refers directly to a God, has ever present within him the
obscure consciousness of a divinity, of an unknown divinity, and the
spectacle of the world, taken by itself, seems to him to be without
significance, men and their passions a dream, a dream that has for
intrinsic and correlative end a reality which, though hidden, is more
solid and perhaps more lofty.

But we must be careful not to insist too much upon these positive
definitions and represent his sentiment as though it were one in which
negative elements were altogether overcome. The good, virtue, is
without doubt stronger in Shakespeare than evil and vice, not because
it overcomes and resolves the other term in itself, but simply because
it is light opposed to darkness, because it is the good, because it is
virtue. This is because of its special quality, which the poet discerns
and seizes in its original purity and truth, without sophisticating
or weakening it. Positive and negative elements do really become
interlaced or run into one another, in his mode of feeling, without
becoming reconciled in a superior harmony. Their natural logic can be
expressed in terms of rectitude, justice and sincerity; but their logic
and natural character also finds its expression in terms of ambition,
cupidity, egoism and satanic wickedness. The will is accurately aimed
at the target, but also, it is sometimes diverted from it by a power,
which it does not recognise, although it obeys it, as though under
a spell. The sky becomes serene after the devastating hurricane,
honourable men occupy the thrones from which the wicked have fallen,
the conquerors pity and praise the conquered. But the desolation of
faith betrayed, of goodness trampled upon, of innocent creatures
destroyed, of noble hearts broken, remains. The God that should pacify
hearts is invoked, his presence may even be felt, but he never appears.

The poet does not stand beyond these struggling passions, attraction
and repugnance, love and hate, hope and despair, joy and sorrow; but
he is beyond being on the side of one or the other. He receives them
all in himself, not that he may feel them all, and pour tears of
blood around them, but that he may make of them his unique world, the
Shakespearean world, which is the world of those undecided conflicts.

What poets appear at first sight more different than Shakespeare and
Ariosto? Yet they have this in common, that both look upon something
that is beyond particular emotions, and for this reason it has been
said of both of them, more than once, that "they speak but little to
the heart." They are certainly sentimental and agitated by the passions
to a very slight degree; the "humour" of both has been referred to, a
word that we avoid here, because it is so uncertain of meaning and of
such little use in determining profound emotions of the spirit. Ariosto
veils and shades all the particular feelings that he represents, by
means of his divine irony; and Shakespeare, in a different way, by
endowing all with equal vigour and relief, succeeds in creating a sort
of equilibrium, by means of reciprocal tension, which, owing to its
mode of genesis, differs in every other respect from the harmony in
which the singer of the _Furioso_ delights. Ariosto surpasses good
and evil, retaining interest in them only on account of the rhythm of
life, so constant and yet so various, which arises, expands, becomes
extinguished and is reborn, to grow and again to become extinguished.
Shakespeare surpasses all individual emotions, but he does not
surpass, on the contrary, he strengthens our interest in good and
evil, in sorrow and joy, in destiny and necessity, in appearance and
reality, and the vision of this strife is his poetry. Thus the one has
been metaphorically called "imaginative"; the other "realistic," and
the one has been opposed to the other. They are opposed to one another,
yet they meet at one point, not at the general one of both being poets,
but at the specific point of being cosmic poets, not only in the sense
in which every poet is cosmical, but in the particular sense above
explained. Let us hope that it is not necessary to recommend that this
should be understood with the necessary reservations, that is to say,
as the trait that dominates the two poets in a different way and does
not exclude the other individual traits of feature, above all not
that which belongs to all poetry whatsoever. The limits set to every
critical study, which should henceforth be known to all, are laid
down by the impossibility of ever rendering in logical terms the full
effect of any poetry or of other artistic work, since it is clear that
if such a translation were possible, art would be impossible, that is
to say, superfluous, because admitting of a substitute. Criticism,
nevertheless, within those limits, performs its own office, which is to
discern and to point out exactly where lies the poetical motive and to
formulate the divisions which aid in distinguishing what is proper to
every work.

For the rest, if Ariosto has often been compared to contemporary
painters, with the object of drawing attention to his harmonic
inspiration, Ludwig has been unable to abstain from making similar
comparisons for Shakespeare. He found the most adequate image for
his dramas in the portraits and landscapes of Titian, of Giorgione,
of Paul Veronese, as contrasting with the amiability of Correggio,
the insipidity of the Caracci, the affected manner of Guido and of
Carlo Dolce, the crudity of the naturalists Caravaggio and Ribera.
In Shakespeare, as in those great Venetians, there is everywhere
"existence," life upon earth, transfigured perhaps, but devoid of
restlessness, of aureoles and of sentimentalisms, serene even where

This sense of strife in vital unity, this profound sense of life,
prevents the vision from becoming simplified and superficialised in the
antitheses of good and evil, of elect and reprobate beings, and causes
the introduction of conflict, in varying measure and degree, in every
being. Thus the battle is fought at the very heart of things. Hence the
aspect of mystery that surrounds the actions and events portrayed by
Shakespeare, which is not to be understood in the general sense that
every vision of art is a mystery, but rather in the special sense of a
course of events of which the poet not only does not possess (and could
not possess) the philosophical explanation, but never discovers the
reposeful term, peace after war, the acceptance of war as a means to a
more lofty peace. For this reason is everywhere diffused the terror of
the Unknown, which surrounds on every side and conceals a countenance
that may be more terrible than terrible life itself, in the development
of which human beings are involved--a countenance terrible for what
it will reveal, and perhaps sublime and ecstatic, giving in its very
terribleness, terror and rapture together. The mystery lies not only in
the occasional appearance of spectres, demons, witches, in the poetry,
but in the whole atmosphere of which they form only a part, assisting
by their presence in a more direct determination. This mystery was well
expressed by the first great critics who penetrated into the world of
Shakespearean poetry, Herder and Goethe, to the second of whom belongs
the simile of the Shakespearean drama as "open books of Destiny, in
which blows the wind of emotional life here and there stripping their
leaves in its violence." In Shakespeare's musicality we are everywhere
sensible of a voluptuous palpitation before the mystery which at times
reflects upon itself and supplies the link between music and love,
music and sadness, music and unknown Godhead.

We must insist upon the word "sentiment," which we have adopted for
the description of this spiritual condition, in order that it may not
be mistaken for a concept or mode of thought Or philosopheme, which
occurs when the word "conception" or "mode of conceiving life" is taken
in a literal and material manner as applied to Shakespeare and in
general to the poets--when, for instance, it is asked by what special
quality does Shakespeare's "conception of tragedy" differ from Greek
and French tragedy, and the like, as though in such a case, it were a
question of concepts and systems. Shakespeare is not a philosopher:
his spiritual tendency is altogether opposed to the philosophic, which
dominates both sentiment and the spectacle of life with thought that
understands and explains it, reconciling conflicts under a single
principle of dialectic. Shakespeare, on the contrary, takes both and
renders them in their vital mobility--they know nothing of criticism
or theory--and he does not offer any solution other than the evidence
of visible representation. For this reason, when he is characterised
and receives praises for his "objectivity," his "impersonality," his
"universality," and those who do this are not satisfied even with
their incorrect description of the real psychological differences
noted above, but proceed to claim a philosophical character for his
spiritual attitude, it is advisable to reject them all, confronting his
objectivity with his poetic subjectivity, his impersonality with his
personality, his universality with his individual mode of feeling. The
cosmic oppositions, in imagining which he symbolises reality and life,
not only are not philosophical solutions for him in his plays, but they
are not even problems of thought; only rarely do they tend to take the
form of bitter interrogations, which remain without answer. Equally
fantastic and arbitrary are the attempts to compose a philosophical
theory from the work of Shakespeare who is alternately, theistic,
pantheistic, dualistic, deterministic, pessimistic and optimistic,
by extracting it from his plays in the same manner as that employed
in the case of the philosophy implied in a historical or political
treatise; because there is certainly a philosophy implied in these
latter cases, embodied in the historical and political judgments which
they contain. In the case of Shakespeare, however, which is that of
poets in general, to extract it means to place it there, that is, to
think and to draw conclusions ourselves under the imaginative stimulus
of the poet, and to place in his mouth, through a psychological
illusion, our own questions and answers. It would only be possible to
discuss a philosophy of Shakespeare if, like Dante, he had developed
one in certain philosophical sections of his poems; but this is not so,
because the thoughts that he utters fulfil no other function than that
of poetical expressions, and when they are taken from their contexts,
where they sound so powerful and so profound, they lose their virtue
and appear to be indeterminate, contradictory or fallacious.

It is quite another question as to whether his sentiment was based upon
what are called mental or philosophical _presumptions_ and as to what
these, properly speaking, were; because, as regards the first point,
it must be at once admitted that a sentiment does not appear without a
basis of certain mental presumptions or concepts, that is to say, of
certain convictions, affirmations, negations and doubts. As regards the
second point, the legitimacy of the enquiry will be admitted, and it
will also be noted that this forms one of several historical enquiries,
relating to Shakespeare in his poetry, to which belongs the place
unduly usurped by ineptitudes and superficialities on the theme of his
private affairs; his domestic relations, his business transactions, and
his pretended love intrigues with Mary Fitton and the hostess Madam

It is also true that the researches into the mental presumptions of
Shakespeare have often strayed into the external and the anecdotic, as
is the case with such problems as the religion that he followed and
his political opinions. Stated in this way, they likewise sink to the
level of biographical problems, indifferent to art. That Shakespeare
belonged to the Anglican and not to the Catholic confession (as some
still maintain, and in 1864 Rio wrote a whole book on the subject),
and opposed Puritanism in one quality or the other; that he supported
Essex in his conspiracy, or on the contrary was on the side of Queen
Elizabeth, has nothing to do with the mental presuppositions immanent
in his poetry. He may have been impious and profane in active practical
life as a Greene or a Marlowe, or a devout papist, worshipping with
secret superstition, like an adept of Mary Stuart, and nevertheless he
may have composed poetry with different presuppositions, upon thoughts
that had entered his mind and had there become formed and dominated in
his spirit, without for that reason having changed the faith previously
selected and observed. The research of which we speak does not concern
the superficial, but the profound character of the man; it is not
concerned with the congealed and solidified stratum, but with the tide
that flows beneath it, which others would call the unconscious in
relation to the conscious, whereas, it would be more exact to invert
the two qualifications. Presuppositions are the philosophemes that
everyone carries with him, gathering them from the times and from
tradition, or forming them anew by means of his own observations and
rapid reflections. In poetical works, they form the condition remote
from the psychological attitude, which generates poetical visions.

In this depth of consciousness, Shakespeare shows himself clearly to
be outside, not only Catholicism, but also Protestantism, not only
Christianity, but every religious, or rather every transcendental and
theological conception. Here he also resembles the Italian poet of
the Renaissance, Ariosto, though reaching the position by different
ways and with different results. His sentiment would have appeared
in an altogether different guise, if a theological conception, such
as the belief in an eternal life, in a judging God, in rewards and
punishments beyond this world, in the view that earthly life is a trial
and a pilgrimage, had been lively and active in him. He knows no other
than the vigorous passionate life upon earth, divided between joy and
sorrow, with around and above it, the shadow of a mystery.

It is with natural wonder, then, that we read of Shakespeare,
especially among German authors, as a spirit altogether dominated by
the Christian ideas proper to the Reformation, whereas, with regard
to Christianity, he was altogether lacking, both in the theology
of Judaic-Hellenic origin and in the tendency to asceticism and
mysticism. On the other hand we cannot admit the opposite statement
that he was a pagan, in the somewhat popular sense of self-satisfied
hedonism, because it is not less evident that his moral discernment,
his sense of what is sinful, his delicacy of conscience, his humanity,
bear a strong imprint of Christian ethics. Indeed, it is precisely
owing to this lofty and exquisite ethical judgment, united to the
vision of a world, which moves by its own power or anyhow by some
mysterious power, frequently opposing or overthrowing or perverting the
forces directed to the good, that this tragic conflict arises in him.
To this double presupposition must be added, as inference, a third,
the negation, the scepticism, or the ignorance of the conception of
a rational course of events and of a Providence that governs it. Not
even does he accept inexorable Fate as sole master of men and Gods;
nor the determinism of individual character as another kind of Fate,
a naturalistic Fate, as some of his interpreters have believed; he
remains unaffected by the hard Asiatic or African dualistic idea of
predestination; on the contrary, he recognizes human spontaneity and
liberty, as forces that prove their own reality in the fact itself,
though he nevertheless permits liberty and necessity to clash and the
one sometimes to overpower the other, without establishing a relation
between the two, without suspecting their identity in opposition,
without discovering that the two elements at strife form the single
river of the real, and therefore failing to rise to the level of the
modern theodicy, which is History. Our wonderment bursts forth anew,
in observing the emphatic and insistent statements of such writers as
for instance Ulrici as to the historicity of the thought and of the
tragedies of Shakespeare, where just what is altogether absent is the
historical conception of life, which was possessed by Dante, though in
the form of the mediaeval philosophy of history. And since historicity
is both political and social ideality, Shakespeare must have been and
is wanting, as has been said, in true political faith and passion.
He has however been credited with this by publicists and political
polemists like Gervinus, who have desired to count so great a name
among their number, have imagined him possessed with the passion for it
and even believed that it was crowned in him with doctrinal wisdom.

It is difficult to decide by what ways and means these presuppositions
were formed in his inmost soul, for with this question we reenter the
biographical problem as to his education, the company he kept, his
reading, his experiences; and upon all these subjects little or no
exact information is available. Did he observe the fervour of life
which prevailed in the England of his day with sympathetic soul and
vigilant eye? Did he lend an ear to discussions upon theological and
metaphysical questions and carry away from them a sense of their
emptiness? Did he frequent the youth of the universities, which just at
that time gave several university wits to literature and to the drama?
Did he read the _Laus Stultitiae_ of Erasmus, moral and religious
dialogues and treatises, the English humanists, the Platonicians,
the ancient and modern historians, as he certainly read Montaigne
at a later date? Did he read Machiavelli and the other political
writers of Italy, and those who had begun to sketch the doctrine of
the temperament and the passions, such as Huarte and Charron, did he
know Bruno, or had he heard of him and of his doctrines? Or did the
influence of these men and books reach him by various indirect paths,
at second or third hand, through conversation, or as by a figure of
speech we say, from his environment? And what part of those doubts,
negations and beliefs of his, was due to his vivacity and certainty of
intuition, or to his own continuous and steady rumination in himself,
rather than to the course of his studies? But even if we possessed
abundant notes on this subject, we should still remain without much
information, because the processes of the formation of the individual
escape for the most part the observation of others and frequently even
the memory of him in whom they have actually occurred, and the facility
with which they are forgotten proves that what is really important to
preserve, is not these, but their result.

And what is here of importance is the relation of these mental
presuppositions with the life of the time, with the general culture
of the period, with the historical phase through which the human
spirit was then passing. In these respects, Shakespeare was truly, as
he has appeared to those who have best understood him, a man of the
Renaissance, of that age, which, with its navigation, its commerce, its
philosophies, its religious strifes, its natural science, its poems,
its pictures, its statues, its graceful architecture, had set earthly
life in full relief, and no longer permitted it to lose its colours,
become pallid and dissolve in the rays of another world external to
it, as had happened through the long period of the Middle Ages. But
Shakespeare did not belong to the pleasure-seeking, joyous and pagan
Renaissance, which is but a small aspect of the great movement, but
rather to that side of it which was animated with new wants, with new
religious tendencies, with the spirit of new philosophical research,
full of doubts, permeated with flashes from the future. These flashes,
which appeared only in the great thinkers, who were not yet able to
arrest them and make of them distributors of a calm and equable light,
were also irreducible to a radiant centre in its greatest poet, in whom
philosophy served as a presupposition and did not form the essence
of his mental life. It is therefore vain to seek in Shakespeare for
what neither Bruno nor Campanella attained, nor even Descartes and
Spinoza at a later date, namely the historical concept, of which we
have already spoken, and it is also vain to talk of his Spinozistic or
Shellingian pantheism.

Shakespeare nevertheless has assumed in the past and sometimes assumes
even in our eyes, the appearance of a philosopher and of a master, or
a precursor of the loftiest truths, which have since come to light.
It is a fact that modern idealistic and historical philosophy has not
experienced equal attraction towards any other poet, recognising in
him the soul of a brother. How can this be? The answer is contained
in what we have been noting and establishing. Shakespeare's mental
presuppositions, which rejected the Middle Ages and were on a level
with the new times, seeking and failing to find unity and harmony
and above all that vigorous feeling of his for the cosmic strifes,
breaking out from them and rising to the sphere of poetry, seems to
offer material already prepared and to some extent also shaped to the
dialectician, for he sometimes almost suggests the right word to the
moralist, the politician, the philosopher of art. He might also be
called a "pre-philosopher," owing to this power of stimulation that
he possesses, and this appellation would have the further advantage
of making it well understood that there is no use attempting to make
of him a philosopher. And precisely because it is impossible to
extract a definite and particular doctrine from his pre-philosophy
and poetry, can many of different kinds be extracted, according to
diversity of minds and the progress of the times. Hence, if some
have maintained that the logical complement of that poetical vision
is speculative idealism, dialectic, anti-ascetic morality, romantic
aesthetic, realistic politics, the historical conception of the real,
and have maintained this with reason, basing their views upon doctrines
which they believed to be true, and have justly thought that the
logical complement of beauty is truth; others have possibly arrived at
pessimistic conclusions from that vision and assertion of conflicts;
and others have striven and are striving to effect the restauration of
some of the presumptions that are negated or are absent, such as faith
in another world and in divine and transcendental justice. This latter
position has been maintained as well as it possibly could have been,
with the aid of much research, by an Italian mind of the first order,
Manzoni, who was both a severe Catholic and a fervent Shakespearean. He
found in the profundity of Shakespeare the profoundest morality, and
remarked that "the representation of profound sorrows and indeterminate
terrors," as given by Shakespeare, "comes near to virtue," because
"when man comes inquisitively forth from the beaten path of things
known and from the accidents that he is accustomed to combat, and
finds himself in the infinite region of possible evils, he feels his
weakness, the cheerful ideas of defence and of vigour abandon him. Then
he thinks that virtue only, a clear conscience, and the help of God
alone can be of some succour to his mind in that condition." And thus
he concluded with characteristic certainty: "Let everyone look into
himself after reading a tragedy of Shakespeare, and observe whether he
does not experience a similar emotion in his own soul."





What we have hitherto described as the sentiment of Shakespeare
corresponds to the Shakespeare carven in the general consciousness,
that which is Shakespeare in an eminent degree, almost, we might say, a
symbol of his greater self, the poet of the great tragedies _(Othello,
Macbeth, King Lear, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet)_ and
of the tragic portions of those that are less intense and less perfect.
But the work that bears his name is far more varied in tones and
personalities and in order to prepare the way for the passage of more
particular characteristics, we must distinguish (and here the students
of Shakespeare have always been industrious) the various configurations
and degrees, or sources of inspiration of the poet, and make of them
groups, which may then be arranged in a series of relations, an ideal

On casting the eye over the rich extent of his works, the attention
is at once drawn to certain of them, whose fresh, smiling colours
indicate that their principal and proper theme is love. Not the love
that becomes joined to other graver passions and unified with them,
forms a complex, as in the _Othello,_ or in _Antony and Cleopatra,_
thus acquiring a profoundly tragic quality, but love and love alone,
love considered in itself. These passions then are to be found rather
in the _comedy of love_ than in the tragedies or dramas: in love,
regarded certainly with affectionate sympathy, but also with curiosity,
instinct with softness and tenderness, indeed, one might almost say,
with the superiority of an expert mind and thus with delicate irony.
The mind that accompanies this amorous heart, observes the caprices and
illusions, recognising their inevitability and their necessity, but yet
knowing them for what they are, imaginings, however irresistible and
delicious they be, caprices, though noble and beautiful, weaknesses,
deserving of indulgence and of gentle treatment, because human, and
belonging to man as he passes through the happy and stormy season of
youth. This mode of experiencing love is something that manifests
itself only episodically in the Greek, Latin and medieval poets. With
them we find love represented, sometimes as a pleasant, a sensual
strife, or as a furious blind passion, fearless of death, or as a
spiritual cult of lofty and superhuman beauty. Sometimes indeed, as in
the comedy of Menander and its long suite of descendants and posterity
among the Latins and the Italians, it gives rise to a general and
rather cold psychological simplification, in which love is not found to
differ much from any other passion or desire, such as avarice, courage
or greed. In the form we have described, it belongs entirely to the
mode of feeling of the Renaissance, to one of those attitudes which
the anti-ascetic and realistic view of human affairs developed and
bequeathed in a perfected form to modern times. Here we must again note
the similarity between Shakespeare and Ariosto, for both painted the
eternal comedy of love in the same manner.

That love is sincere, yet deceives and is deceived; it imagines itself
to be firm and constant, and turns out to be fragile and fleeting;
it claims to be founded upon a dispassionate judgment of the mind and
upon luminous moral choice, whereas, on the contrary, it is guided in
an altogether irrational manner by impressions and fancies, fluctuating
with these. Sometimes, too, it is represented as repugnance and
aversion, whereas it is really irresistible attraction; it is content
to suppress itself with deliberate humbleness before works and thoughts
that are more austere, but reappears on the first occasion, more
vehement, tenacious and indomitable than ever.

"In his men, as in his women," says Heine, with his accustomed grace,
when talking of the Shakespearean comedy, "passion is altogether
without that fearful seriousness, that fatalistic necessity, which it
manifests in the tragedies. Love does in truth wear there, as ever, a
bandage over his eyes and bears a quiver full of darts. But these darts
are rather winged than sharpened to a deadly point, and the little god
sometimes stealthily and maliciously peeps out, removing the bandage.
Their flames too rather shine than burn; but they are always flames,
and in the comedies of Shakespeare, love always preserves the character
of truth." Of truth, and for this reason, none of these comedies
descends altogether to the level of farce, not even those that most
nearly approach it, such as _Love's Labour Lost, The Taming of the
Shrew,_ nor even _The Comedy of Errors,_ where some element of human
truth always leads us back to the seriousness of art. Still less is
there satire there, intellectual and angular satire, constructor of
types, exaggerates in the interest of polemic; always we find there
suavity of outline, the soft veil of poetry. Even in the most feeble,
as _The Two Gentlemen of Verona,_ we enjoy the fresh love scenes,
mingled with the saltatory course of the narrative, the abundant
dialogues, the misunderstandings and the verbal witticisms. Even in
those that are developed in a somewhat mechanical and superficial
manner, which we should now describe as being _à thèse,_ there is
vivacity, joking, festivity, and an eloquence so flowery (for instance
in the scene where Biron defends the rights of youth and of love) that
it has almost lyrical quality.

In this last comedy there is a king and his three gentlemen, who,
in order to devote themselves to study and to attain to fame and
immortality, have sworn to one another that they will not see a woman
for three years. All three of them fail of this and fall in love almost
as soon as the Princess of France arrives with her three ladies. These
ladies, when they have received the most solemn declarations of love
from the four of them, each one faithless to himself, punish them in
their turn for their levity by condemning them to wait for a certain
period, before receiving a reply to their offers. Thus it was that
Angelica, in the Italian poems of chivalry, succeeded in setting the
hearts of the most obdurate cavaliers aflame with love, even of those
who held severest discourse. She made them all follow the queen of
love, whom no mortal could resist.

In the _Taming of the Shrew,_ Petruchio the male, who knows what he
wants and wants his own ease and comfort, hits immediately upon the
right line of conduct, a line that is, however, altogether spiritual,
because based upon psychological knowledge and volitional resolve. He
espouses the terrible Catherine and reduces her to lamblike obedience,
afraid of her husband, no longer able not only to say, but even to
think, anything save what he has forced her to think. Yet who can tell
that she does not love him who maltreats and tyrannises over her?

In _Twelfth Night,_ we behold the Duke vainly sighing for the beautiful
widow Olivia, and the love that suddenly blossoms in her for the
intermediary sent by the Duke, a woman dressed as a man; while the
steward Malvolio, the Puritan, the pedantic Malvolio, is urged on to
the most ridiculous acts, by hope and the illusion of being loved.
Finally, fortune in this case making the single beloved into two, a
man and a woman (in a more modest but identical manner to that in the
adventure of Fiordispina with Bradamante and Ricciardetto) brings about
a happy ending for all.

In _All's Welly_ the Countess of Roussillon, receives the discovery
that poor Helena, the orphan child of the family doctor, is in love
with her son, rather with benevolence than with hostility and reflects:

    "Even so it was with me when I was young:
    If we are nature's, these are ours;...
    By our remembrance of days foregone,
    Such were our faults though then we thought them none."

The amorous couples of princesses, exiles or fugitives, and of exile
and fugitive gentlemen, wander about the forest of Arden, in _As You
Like It,_ alternating and mingling with the couples of rustic lovers.

Perhaps the best example of this "comedy of love" is the fencing of
the two unconscious lovers, Beatrice and Benedick, in _Much Ado About
Nothing._ This young couple seek one another only to measure weapons,
to sneer and to fence, with the fine-pointed swords of biting jest and
disdain, they believe themselves to be antipathetic, disbelieve one
another; yet the simplest little intrigue of their friends suffices
to reveal each to each as whole-heartedly loving and desiring the
adversary. The union of the two is sealed, when they find themselves
united in the same sentiment to defend their friend, who has been
calumniated and rejected, thus discovering that their perpetual
following of one another to engage in strife, had not concealed the
struggle, which implies affinity of sex, but the spiritual affinity of
two generous hearts.

    _Benedick._ And, I pray thee now, tell me for which of my bad faults
    didst thou first fall in love with me?...

And the other, speaking with tenderness and ceasing to carry on the

    "Suffer love,--a good epithet!
    I do suffer love indeed, for I love thee against my will."

A light touch permeates the treatment of these characters and suffices
to animate them and make them act. The dramatic or indeed tragic
situations, which at times arise, are treated as it were with the
implied consciousness of their slight gravity and danger, which shall
soon be evident and dispel all the apprehensions of those who doubt.
They sometimes consist of nothing but an external action or occurrence,
suited to the theatre, and more frequently a decorative background.
Parallelism of personages and symmetry of events also abound in these
plays, suitable to the merry teaching that pervades them.

The quintessence of all these comedies (as we may say of _Hamlet_ in
respect of the great tragedies) is the _Midsummer Night's Dream._ Here
the quick ardours, the inconstancies, the caprices, the illusions, the
delusions, every sort of love folly, become embodied and weave a world
of their own, as living and as real as that of those who are visited by
these affections, tormented or rendered ecstatic, raised on high or
hurled downward by them, in such a way that everything is equally real
or equally fantastic, as you may please to call it. The sense of dream,
of a dream-reality, persists and prevents our feeling the chilly sense
of allegory or of apology. The little drama seems born of a smile, so
delicate, refined and ethereal it is. Graceful and delicate to a degree
is also the setting of the dream, the celebration of the wedding of
Theseus and Hippolyta and the theatrical performance of the artisans,
for these are not merely ridiculous in their clumsiness; they are
also childlike and ingenuous, arousing a sort of gay pity: we do not
laugh at them: we smile. Oberon and Titania are at variance owing to
reciprocal wrongs, and trouble has arisen in the world. Puck obeys the
command of Oberon and sets to work, teasing, punishing and correcting.
But in performing this duty of punishing and correcting, he too makes
mistakes, and the love intrigue becomes more complicated and active.
Here we find a resemblance to the rapid passage into opposite states
and the strange complications that arose in Italian knightly romances,
as the result of drinking the water from one of two opposite fountains
whereof one filled the heart with amorous desires, the other turned
first ardours to ice. In Titania, who embraces the Ass's head and raves
about him, caressing and looking upon him as a graceful and gracious
creature, the comedy creates a symbol so ample and so efficacious as
rightly to have become proverbial. Puck meanwhile, astonished at the
effect upon men of the subtle intoxication that he has been himself
distributing, exclaims in his surprise "Lord, what fools these mortals
be!"; and Lysander, one of the madmen who are constantly passing from
one love to another, from one thing to its opposite, is nevertheless
perfectly convinced that

    "The will of man is by his _reason_ sway'd;
    And _reason says_ you are the _worthier_ maid."

Yet the individual reality of the figures appears through this
exquisite version of the eternal comedy, as though to remind us that
they really belong to life. Helena follows the man she loves, but who
does not love her, like a lapdog, which, the more it is beaten, the
more it runs round and round its master; she trembles at the outbreak
of furious jealousy in her little friend Hermia, who threatens to put
out her eyes, believing her to be capable of it, when she remembers
the time when they were at school together:

    "O, when she's angry, she is keen and shrewd!
    She was a vixen when she went to school:
    And though she be but little she is fierce."

When we read _Romeo and Juliet,_ after the _Dream,_ we seem not to have
left that poetical environment, to which Mercutio expressly recalls
us, with his fantastic embroidery around Queen Mab, above all, when
we consider the style, the rhyming and the general physiognomy of
the little story. All have inclined to suave and gentle speech and
metaphor, when speaking of _Romeo and Juliet._ For Schlegel it was
scented with "the perfumes of springtide, the song of the nightingales,
the freshness of a newly budded rose." Hegel too found himself face
to face with that rose: "sweet rose in the valley of the world, torn
asunder by the rude tempest and the hurricane." Coleridge too speaks
of that sense of spring: "The spring with its odours, its flowers and
its fleetingness." All have looked upon it as the poem of youthful
love and have remarked that the play reaches its acme in the two love
scenes in the garden at night, and in the departure after the nuptial
night, in which some have seen the renovation of the traditional forms
of love poetry, "the epithalamium," "the dawn." This play is not only
closely connected with the _Dream,_ but also with the other comedies of
love; Romeo passes there with like rapidity, indeed suddenness to the
personages of those comedies from love of Rosalind to love of Juliet.
At the first sight of Juliet he is conquered and believes that he then
loves for the first time:

    "Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!
    For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night."

Saintly Friar Laurence, a mixture of astonishment, of being scandalised
and of good nature, sometimes almost plays there the part of Puck. When
he learns that Romeo no longer loves Rosalind, about whom he had been
so crazy; he says:

    "So soon forsaken! Young men's love there lies
    Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.
                                      Jesu Maria!"

When Juliet enters her cell, the friar remarks with admiration her
lightsome tread, which will never wear out the pavement, and reflects
that a lover "may bestride the gossamer that idles in the wanton
summer air, and yet not fall; so light is vanity." Is it tragedy or
comedy? It is another situation of the eternal comedy: the love of two
young people, almost children, which surmounts all social obstacles,
including the hardest of all, family hatred and party feud, and goes
on its way, careless of these obstacles and as though they had no
importance for their hearts, no existence in reality. And in truth
those obstacles seem to yield before their advance, or rather their
winged flight, like soft clouds. Certainly, those obstacles reappear
solidly enough later on, asserting their value and taking their
revenge, so much so, that the young lovers are obliged to separate
and Romeo goes into exile. But it will be only for a little while,
for Friar Laurence has promised to interest himself in their affairs,
to obtain the pardon of the Prince, to reconcile the parents and the
other relations, and to obtain sanction for their secret marriage.
And if nothing of all this happens, if the subtle previsions and the
acuteness of Friar Laurence turn out to be fallacious, if a sequence of
misunderstandings makes them lose their way and take a wrong turning,
if the two young lovers perish, it is the result of chance, and the
sentiment that arises from it is one of compassion, of compassion not
divorced from envy, a sorrow, which, as Hegel said, is "a dolorous
reconciliation and an unhappy beatitude in unhappiness." This too then
is tragedy, but tragedy in a minor key, what one might call the tragedy
of a comedy.

    "A greater power than we can contradict
    Hath thwarted our intents."

But that power is not the mysterious power, something between destiny
and providence and moral necessity, which weighs upon the great
tragedies; rather is it Chance, which Friar Laurence hardly succeeds in
dignifying with the words of religion:

    "So hath willed it God."

There is a metaphor which is repeated in the terrible accents of _King
Lear,_ and which is itself able to reveal the difference between the
two tragedies. Romeo, whose life has been spared and who has been sent
into exile, thinks that what has been done for him, is torture rather
than pardon, because Paradise is only where Juliet lives:

                   "And every cat, and dog,
    And little mouse, every unworthy thing,
    Live here in heaven, and may look on her;
    But Romeo may not!"

Juliet, who is preparing to drink the medicine that may be poisonous,
is the shy and timid young girl of Leopardi's _Amore e Morte,_ who
"feels her hair stand on end at the very name of death," but when she
has fallen in love "dares meditate at length on steel and on poison."
The very sepulchral cave shines, and Romeo after having stabbed Paris
at the feet of Juliet, whom he believes to be dead, feels that he is a
companion in misfortune and wishes to bury him there "In a triumphant

    "A grave, O no, a lantern, slaughtered youth,
    For here lies Juliet, and her beauty makes
    This vault a feasting presence full of light."

Such words of admiration for love and for the youthful lovers are found
in other poets, for instance in Dante's words for Beatrice: "Death, I
hold thee very sweet: Thou must ever after be a noble thing, since thou
hast been in my lady."

If we find love in rather piteous guise in _Romeo and Juliet,_ comedy
reappears in the wise Portia, bound to the promise of allowing, her
fate to be decided by means of a guess, because although she submits
to selection by chance, she has already chosen in her heart, not among
the dukes and princes of the various nationalities, indeed of various
continents, who are competing for her hand, but a youthful Venetian,
something between a student and a soldier, half an adventurer, but
courteous and pleasing in address, who has contrived to please, not
only mistress, but maid, which shows, in this agreement of feminine
choice, where feminine taste really lies. "By my troth, Nerissa, my
little body is a-weary of this great world" (she sighs, with gentle
coquettishness toward herself), perhaps with that languor, which is
the desire of loving and of being loved, the budding of love; weary,
as those amorous souls feel, weary, who vibrate with an exquisite
sensibility. And indeed she is most sensible to music and to the
spectacles of nature; and the music that she hears in the night causes
her to stay and listen to it, and it seems to her far sweeter than when
heard in the daytime. Nocturnal moonlight gives her the impression of a
day that is ailing, of a rather pallid day when the sun is hidden.

In the _Merchant of Venice,_ there is also the couple of Jessica
and Lorenzo, those two lovers who do not feel the want of moral
idealisation, nor, one would be inclined to say, any solicitude for the
esteem of others. The man steals without scruple from the old Jew his
daughter and his jewels, and the girl has not even a slight feeling of
pity for the father, both alike plunged in the happy egotism of their
pleasure. Jessica is unperturbed, sustaining and exchanging epigrams
with her husband and the salacious jesting and somewhat insolent
familiarity of the servant Lancellotto, though abandoning herself all
the time to ecstasy, a sensual ecstasy, for she too is sensible to
music and attains by means of it to a melancholy of the only sort that
she is capable of experiencing, namely, the sensual.

There is malice, almost mockery, though tempered with other elements,
in the portrayal of these loves of the daughter of Shylock. But in
those of Troilus and Cressida, we meet at once with sarcasm, a bitter
sarcasm. The same background, the doings of the Trojan war, which in
other comedies has the superficial charm of a decoration, is here also
a decoration, but treated with sarcasm and bitterness. Thersites
fills the part of the cynic among the Greek warriors, in the relations
between Troilus and Cressida, as does Pandarus in Troy. The hastening
of the last scenes should be noted, the large amount of fighting, the
tumult: the world is dancing as in a puppet show, while the story of
Troilus and Cressida is drawing to its close, amid the imprecations of
the nauseated Troilus and the grotesquely burlesque lamentations of
Pandarus. Another great artist of the Renaissance comes to mind, in
relation to this play: not Ariosto, but Rabelais. The theme is still,
however, the comedy of love, but a comedy bordering on the faunesque,
the immoral, the baser instinct, upon lust and feminine faithlessness.
Pandarus is ever the go-between; he laughs and enjoys himself, for he
is an expert at this sort of business, a battle-stained warrior, as
it were, bearing traces of that long amorous warfare, if not in his
soul, in his old bones; he is the living destruction of love, of the
credulous, sensual cupidity of man and of the non-credulous, frivolous
vanity of woman. His too is the obsession of love-making: he is unable
to extricate himself from it, taking an almost devilish delight in
involving those who have recourse to him. Troilus does not displease
Cressida, on the contrary, he pleases her greatly, yet she fences with
him, because she is already in full possession of feminine wisdom and
philosophy. She knows that women are admired, sighed after and desired
as angels, while being courted, but once they have said yes, all is
over. She knows that the true pleasure lies _in the doing,_ in the act
and not in the fact, in the becoming, not in the become. She knows that
in yielding, she is committing a folly, by breaking the law, which is
known to her, but she puts everything she now undertakes upon Pandarus:
"Well, uncle, what folly I commit, I dedicate to you." How different
is her union with her lover, to that of Romeo and Juliet! There is an
ironic-comic solemnity in the rite performed by the pander uncle and in
the oaths of constancy and loyalty, which all three of them exchange,
while the uncle intones: "Say amen," and the two reply, "Amen," and
are then pushed into the nuptial chamber by the profane priest. How
different too is "the dawn," their separation in the morning!

    "But that the busy day,
    Waked by the lark, hath raised the ribald crows
    And dreaming night will hide our joys no longer,
    I would not from thee."

Whereupon the uncle begins to utter improper epigrams and plays upon
words, which the impatient Cressida repays, by sending him to the
devil. Cressida begins the new intrigue with Diomede, as soon as she is
face to face with him alone, in spite of this scene and the numerous
oaths that preceded and followed it. She is perfectly aware that she is
betraying her love for Troilus and that she has no excuse for doing so.
She gives to Diomede the gift of Troilus and when he asks her to whom
it belongs, she replies:

    "'Twas one that lov'd me better than you will,
    But now you have it, take it."

Here we find consciousness of her own feminine levity, looked upon
not merely as a natural force dragging her after it, but almost as a
right, as the exercise of a mission or vocation. Cressida can even be
sentimental, as she abandons herself to another!

    "Troilus farewell, one eye yet looks on thee;
    But with my heart the other eye doth see.
    Ah! poor our sex!"

Troilus is meanwhile indignant, not from a sense of injured morality,
for that sort of love does not admit of such a thing: he is mad with
masculine jealousy. "Was Cressida here?" ... and further on: "Nothing
at all, unless that they were she ..."

The figures of Ferdinand and Miranda bring us back to love, youthful
and pure, all the more pure, because it reveals itself, not in the
midst of a great court or city, but in a desert island. The young man
comes there ship-wrecked, cut off from the world that once was his,
born as it were anew; the maiden has been brought up in solitude.
Yet her love is awakened at first sight, in the beautiful phrase of
Marlowe, which Shakespeare was so fond of quoting: "Who ever loved that
loved not at first sight?" It is love, law of beings as of things,
which returns eternally new and fresh as the dawn, making his Goddess
appear to the youth, her God to the maiden, each to each as beings
without their equal upon earth:

                                      "I might call him
    A thing divine, for nothing natural
    I ever saw so noble." "Most sure, the goddess,
    On whom these airs attend," says Ferdinand.

The choice is soon made, firm, resolute and determined. When Prospero
tells her that there are men in the world, compared with whom, the
youth she admires would seem a monster, Miranda replies:

                 "My affections
    Are then most humble; I have no ambition
        To see a goodlier man."

All noble things that can be imagined surround and elevate their loves:
misfortune, compassion, chaste desire, virginal respect. These things,
though infinitely repeated in the world's history seem new, as the two
live through them, "surprised withal," surprised and ravished at the
mystery, which in them is celebrated once more.



Another motive, related to the preceding, may be described as the
longing for romance, but this expression must be taken with all due

Amorous damsels don the travesty of masculine attire, in order to
follow their faithless or cruel lovers, to escape persecution, or to
perform wondrous deeds; brothers, or brothers and sisters, who resemble
one another, are taken for one another, and thus form a centre for the
most curious adventures; with like objects in view, princes travesty
themselves as shepherds; gentlemen are discovered in forests with
bandits and are themselves bandits; children of royal blood, ignorant
of their origin, live like peasants, yet are moved by inclinations,
which make them impatient of their quiet, humble lives, urging them
on to great adventures; sovereigns move, disguised and unknown, among
their subjects, listening to the free speech around them and observant
of everything; rustic or city maidens become queens and countesses, or
are discovered to be of royal stock; brothers, who are enemies, become
reconciled; those who are innocent and having been wrongfully accused
and condemned, are believed to have died or been put to death, survive,
to reappear at the right moment, thus gratifying the long-cherished
hopes of those who had once believed them guilty and had mourned their

Strange rules and compacts are imposed, strange understandings come to,
such as the winning of husband or wife upon the solution of an enigma,
or upon the discovery of some object; then there is the bet as to the
virtue of a woman, won with a trick by the punster or by the perfidious
accuser; the betrothed or unwilling husband, finally obtained by the
substitution of another person; there are miraculous events, dreams,
magical arts, work of spirits of earth and sky ... Men and women are
tossed from land to sea, from city to forest and desert, from court to
country, from a civil and cultured, to a rustic and simple life. These
latter situations are peculiar to romance in the form of the idyll,
which is really the most romantic of romanticisms, though it may seem
to be the opposite. This is so true that even Don Quixote, when he saw
the way closed for the time being to the performance of chivalrous
feats of knight errantry, thought of retiring to the country, there
to pasture herds and to pipe songs to the beloved, in the company of
Sancho Panza.

Several of Shakespeare's plays derive both plot and material from
suchlike things and persons, as for instance, _As You Like It, Twelfth
Night, All's Well That Ends Well, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale,
Pericles, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Much Ado About Nothing, The
Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure._ These plays may be said
to be altogether or in part, of literary origin, or suggested by
books, in a sense different from that in which Shakespeare treated
the other plays, where, although not bookish, he gathered his raw
materials from the English chroniclers, from ancient historians, or
Italian novelists, breathing upon it a new spirit and thus making of
it something altogether new to the world. Here on the other hand, he
found the spirit itself, the general sentiment, in the literature of
his time. Italy had worked upon the ancient poetry of Greece and Rome,
upon Hellenistic and Byzantine romances, upon mediaeval romances,
upon poems and plays, novels and comedies, and with Italy was also
Spain, whose _Amadigi_ and _Diane_ were known throughout Europe. The
genesis of these themes and of his attraction towards them, is to be
sought, therefore, rather in the times than in Shakespeare himself,
and for this reason we shall not delay our progress, to show how
the play of sentiment within made dear to him that wandering away
in imagination to the idyllic life of the country, far from pomp
and artifice, the deceits and the delusions of courts; though this
idyllic life itself became in its turn refined and artificial at his
hand, a pastoral theme. It is important to note, too, that all the
above-mentioned material of situations and adventures had already been
fashioned and arranged for the theatre, in the course of the second
half of the century. This was especially due to the Italian theatre of
improvisation or of "art," as it was called. This literature, so often
of a most romantic and imaginative kind, has had but little attention
at the hand of investigators into Shakespeare's sources of inspiration.

Both material derived from books and literary inspiration combine to
throw light upon certain of Shakespeare's works, which have given
great trouble to the historians of his art. It is quite natural that
writers should draw upon what they have done before and should execute
variations upon it, particularly in their earlier years, but also later
in the course of their lives, when they have afforded far greater
proofs of their capacity. Shakespeare was no exception to this, any
more than the great contemporary poet of _Don Quixote,_ who was also
the author of the _Galatea_ and of _Persiles y Sigismunda. The Comedy
of Errors,_ as we know, consists of a motive from Plautus, repeated
and rearranged innumerable times by the dramatists of the Renaissance.
In treating this theme, Shakespeare rendered it on the one hand yet
more artificial, while on the other, he endowed it with a more marked
tendency towards the romantic, and notwithstanding the frivolity and
frigidity of misunderstandings arising from identity of appearance,
he yet revived them here and there according to his wont with a touch
of the reality of life. The intrigue of the Menecmi, or of very close
resemblance, pleased him so much that he introduced it in _Twelfth
Night,_ where the pair are of different sex. This variation was first
employed by Cardinal Bibbiena in his _Calandria,_ but the Cardinal made
use of it to increase the lubricity of the intrigue, while Shakespeare
drew from it a theme for most graceful poetic inspiration.

One would think that the tragic theme of _Titus Andronicus_ (which
many critics would like to say was not by Shakespeare, but dare not,
because here the proofs of authenticity are very strong), was also
born of a love for literary models, for the tragedy of horrors, so
common in Italy in those days of the _Canaci_ and the _Orbecchi,_
which were rather imitations of Seneca than of Sophocles and Euripides,
and had already inspired plays to the predecessors of Shakespeare,
with slaughter for their theme. What more natural then, than that
Shakespeare as a young man should strike this note? The splendid
eloquence with which he adorned the horrible tale is Shakespearean.

His two poems, _Venus and Adonis_ and _The Rape of Lucrèce,_ are to
be attributed to this same literary taste for favorite models. These
poems received much praise from contemporaries, but are so far from the
"greater Shakespeare," that they might almost appear not to be his,
always, that is to say, if the greater Shakespeare be turned into a
rigidly historical and conventional personage. Their literary origin
is evident, not only to those who know well the English literature of
the period of the Renaissance (when Marlowe was composing _Hero and
Leander)_, but yet more to those versed in the Italian literature of
the same period, where the themes of the two little poems were in great
favour. As regards the first of these, Giambattista Marino, who was
destined to expand it into a long and celebrated poem, was already born
at Naples. Shakespeare here flaunts his virtuosity like our Italian
composers of melodious and voluptuous octaves, revelling in a wealth
of flowery image phrase, in his abundant, rhetorical capacity and in a
formal beauty which contains something of aesthetic voluptuousness.

The _Sonnets_ are also based upon Italian models, where we find
exhortations addressed to admired youth set upon a pinnacle, similar to
those that passed between Venus and Adonis. The beautiful youth, posing
as Adonis, and treated like him, became very common in our lyric poetry
of the time of Marino, in the seventeenth century, as were also love
sonnets addressed to ladies, possessing some peculiar characteristic,
such as red hair or a dark complexion, or even something different
or unfamiliar in their beauty, such as too lofty or too diminutive a

Notwithstanding this literary tendency in his inspiration, Shakespeare
does not cease to be a poet, because he is never altogether able to
separate himself from himself, everywhere he infuses his own thoughts
and modes of feeling, those harmonies, peculiar to himself, those
movements of the soul, so delicate and so profound. This has endowed
the _Sonnets_ with the aspect of a biographical mystery, of a poem
containing some hidden moral and philosophical sense. When we read
verses such as these:

    The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye
    As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
    Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly
    When summer's breath their masked buds discloses.
    But, for their virtue only is their show,
    They live unwoo'd and unrespected fade;
    Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
    Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made....

we feel the commonplace of literature, revived with lyric emotion. Note
too in the _Sonnets_ their pensiveness, their exquisite moral tone,
their wealth of psychological allusions, in which we often recognise
the poet of the great plays. Sometimes there echoes in them that
malediction of the chains of pleasure, which will afterwards become
_Anthony and Cleopatra_[1]; at others we hear Hamlet, tormented and
perplexed; yet more often we catch glimpses of reality as appearance
and appearance as reality, as in the _Dream_ or the _Tempest._ The
truth is that the soul of Shakespeare, poured into a fixed and
therefore inadequate mould, his lyrical impulse confined to the
epigrammatic, cause the poetry to flow together there, but deny to
it complete expansion and unfolding. To note but one example, the
celebrated sonnet LXVI ("Tired with all these for restful death I
cry"), is in the manner of Hamlet, but developed analytically, by
means of enumerations and parallelisms, and in obedience to literary
usage, and is obliged to terminate on the cadence of a madrigal,
in the last rhymed couplet. The soft, flexible verse of the early
_Venus and Adonis_ is also free of Marino's cold ingenuity, of his
external sonority and melody, and is inspired rather with a sense of
voluptuousness, a grace, an elegance, which recall at times the stanzas
of Politian:

    The night of sorrow now is turned to day;
    Her two blue windows faintly she upheaveth,
    Like the fair sun, when in his fresh array
    He cheers the morn, and all the earth relieveth:
          And as the bright sun glorifies the sky,
          So is her face illumined with her eye.

In Shakespeare is nothing of the cold literary exercise; he takes a
vivid interest even in the play of fancy, in the bringing about of
marvellous coincidences, of unexpected meetings, in the romantic and
the idyllic. He loves all these things, composing them for his own
enjoyment and fondling them with the magic of his style. He cannot of
course make them what they are not, he cannot change their intimate
qualities into something different from what they are; he cannot
destroy their externality, since they came to him from without. What
he can and does put into them is above all their attractiveness as
images. For this reason, the poetry that we find here is of necessity
rather superficial and tenuous, far more so than the poetry of the
love dramas, where his powers have a wider scope for observation, for
reflexion and for meditation upon human affections.

What has been said above as to the inventions and fables, which serve
as a decorative background to certain of the comedies of love, is also
applicable to these romantic and idyllic plays, in which the decorative
background takes the first place and becomes the principal theme. For
the rest, it goes without saying that the plots or decorations referred
to are also to be included (as has been done) in the present argument,
because it turns upon the different motives of Shakespeare's poetry,
not upon the works that are materially distinct, where several motives
usually meet and are sometimes so very loosely connected, as to form no
more intimate a unity than the rather capricious one, of general tone.

A sense of _unreality_ is therefore diffused upon the romantic plays,
not of falsity, but just of unreality, such as we experience in the
play of fancy, when we recount a fairy tale, well aware that it is
a fairy tale, yet greatly enjoying the passage to and fro before us
of the prince, the beauty, the ogre and the fairy. A proof of this
is to be found in the summary treatment of the characters and the
turning-points or crises of the action, the easy pardoning and making
of peace, and the bizarre expedients adopted to bring the intrigue to
an end. Instances of the second sort are the adventure of the lion in
the Forest of Arden the reconciliation of the two enemy brothers in
_As You Like It,_ the dream of Posthumus in _Cymbeline,_ the advent
of the bear and the ship-wreck in the _Winter's Tale,_ and the like.
And as regards summary treatment, where could we find a more off-hand
Iago than the Hyacinth of _Cymbeline,_ guilty of the most audacious
and perverse betrayals, as though by chance, yet later on, when he,
confesses his sins, he is forgiven and starts again, so far as we can
see, a gentleman and perfect knight. We do not speak of Posthumus,
of Cloten, of King Cymbeline and of so many personages in this and
others of the romantic plays. The wicked turn out to be all the more
harmless, the greater their wickedness; the good are good _nunc et
semper,_ without intermission, exactly as introduced at the beginning
of the play; the most desperate situations, the most terrible passes,
are speedily and completely overcome, or one foresees that they will be
overcome. Here romance has no intention whatever of ending unhappily
or in pensive sadness; it wishes to stimulate the imagination, but at
the same time to keep it agile and happy and to leave it contented.
Indeed, in those rare cases when we do meet with painful or terrible
motives, which are not easily overcome in the course of the imaginative
development of the work, we are sensible of being slightly jarred,
and this is perhaps the reason for that "displeasure," which such
fine judges as Coleridge note in _Measure for Measure,_ so rich,
nevertheless, in splendid passages, worthy of Shakespeare. Not only
does this comedy verge upon tragedy, but here and there it becomes
immersed in it, vainly attempting to return to the light romantic vein
and end like a fairy story, with everyone happy.

Another element which adds to the imaginative unreality and the gay
lightsomeness of the romantic dramas, is to be found in the clown,
the burlesque incidents, which abound in all of them: Malvolio and
Uncle Toby in _Twelfth Night,_ Parolles in _All's Well,_ the watch
in _Much Ado_ and so on. Certain personages also, who might seem to
be characters, such as the melancholy Jacques in _As You Like It_ or
Autolycus in the _Winter's Tale,_ are treated rather as character

These comedies excel in the weaving of intricate incidents, they are
replete with grace and winsomeness, melodious with songs inspired by
idyllic themes. They are far superior in emotional quality, as is the
rustic, woodland, pastoral poetry of Shakespeare, to that of Italy and
of Spain, not only to the _Pastor Fido,_ but also to the _Aminta,_
because Shakespeare succeeds in grafting his gay and gentle heart
upon his artificial and conventional models. Take for instance in _As
You Like It_ the scenes in the third act, between Rosalind and Celia,
Rosalind and Orlando, Corin and Touchstone, and in general, the whole
life led by the young men and maidens, the shepherds and gentlemen, in
that idyllic Forest of Arden; or the open air banquet, in the _Winter's
Tale,_ at which the king surprises his son on the point of marrying
Perdita; or in _Cymbeline,_ Hyacinth's contemplation of the chaste and
tender beauty of the sleeping Imogen; and in the same play, all the
scenes among the mountains between Bellario and the two refugee sons of
the king, Guiderio and Arviragus.

They correspond to that most beautiful utterance in exquisite verse of
Tasso's Hermione Among the Shepherds. His thoughts come back in such
lines as the following:

                                     "O, this life
    Is nobler than attending for a check,
    Richer than doing nothing for a bribe,
    Prouder than rustling in unpaid for silk:
    Such gain the cap of him that makes 'em fine...."


               "Come, our stomachs
    Will make what's homely savoury: weariness
    Can snore upon the flint, when rusty sloth
    Finds the down pillow hard. Now, peace be here,
    Poor house that keepest thyself!"

But Shakespeare can rise yet higher, to that most tender of songs by
the two brothers over Imogene, whom they believe to be dead.

[Footnote 1: See Sonnet CXXIX: "The expense of spirit in a waste of



The third conspicuous aspect of Shakespeare's genius corresponds to
what are known as the "historical plays." Only here and there do we
find a critic who takes them to be the loftiest form of Shakespearean
poetry, while the majority on the other hand hold them to be merely a
preparatory form for other poetry, and the general view (always worthy
consideration) is that they are less happy or less intense than the
"great tragedies."

It is also said of them that they represent the period of the
"historical education," which Shakespeare undertook, with a view to
acquiring a full sense of real life and the capacity for drawing
personages and situations with firmness of outline. One critic
has defined them as a series of "studies," studies of "heads," of
"physiognomies," of "movements," taken from historical life or reality,
in order to form the eye and the hand, something like the sketch-books
and collections of designs of a future great painter.

The defect of such critical explanations lies in continuing to conceive
of the artistic process as something mechanical, and the unrecognised
but understood presumption of some sort of "imitation of nature." Had
Shakespeare intended to educate himself "historically," by writing the
historical plays, (assuming, but not admitting, that to run through the
English chronicles, and even Plutarch's lives, can be called historical
education), he would have developed and formed his historical thought
and become a thinker and a critic, he would not have conceived and
realised the scenes and personages of the plays. Neither Shakespeare
nor any other artist can ever attempt to reproduce external nature or
history turned into external reality (since they do not exist in a
concrete form) even in the period of first attempts and studies; all he
can do is to try to produce and recognise his own sentiment and to give
it form. We are thus always brought back and confined to the study of
sentiment, or, as in the present case, to the sentiment which inspired
what are known as the historical plays.

Among these are to be numbered all those that deal with English
history, _The Life and Death of King John, Richard II, Henry IV, V,
VI,_ and _Richard III,_ setting aside for certain reasons _Henry VIII,_
but including among the plays from Roman history (or from Plutarch as
they are also called), _Coriolanus,_ while _Julius Caesar_ and _Anthony
and Cleopatra_ are connected with the great tragedies. The historical
quality of the material, in like manner, with every other material
determination, is not conclusive as to the quality of the poetic works,
and is therefore not independently valid in the estimation of the
critic, as a criterion for separation or conjunction. A reconsideration
of the plays mentioned above and their prominent characteristics, does
not lead to accepting them as a kind of "dramatised epic," or as "works
which stand half way between epic and drama" (Schlegel, Coleridge), not
that there is any difficulty in the appearance of epic quality in the
form of theatrical dialogue, but just because epic quality is absent in
those dramas. It would indeed be strange to see epic quality appearing
in an episodic manner in an author, during the period of youth alone.
Epicity, in fact, means feeling for human struggles, but for human
struggles lit with the light of an aspiration and an ideal, such as
one's own people, one's own religious faith and the like, and therefore
containing the antitheses of friends and foes, of heroes on both
sides, some on the side finally victorious, because protected by God
or justice, others upon that which is to be discomfited, subjected, or
destroyed. Now Shakespeare, as has already been said and is universally
recognized, is not a partisan; he marches under no political or
religious banner, he is not the poet of particular practical ideals,
_non est de hoc mundo,_ because he always goes beyond, to the universal
man, to the cosmic problem.

Commentators have, it is true, laboured to extract from these and
others of his plays, the ideals which they suppose him to have
cultivated, concerning the perfect king, the independence and greatness
of England, the aristocracy, which in their judgment was the main-stay
and glory of his country. They have discovered his Achilles (in the
double form of "Achilles in Sciro" and of "Achilles at Troy") in Prince
Henry, and his _pius Aeneas,_ in the same prince become Henry V, who,
grown conscious of his new duties, resolutely and definitely severs
himself, not from a Dido, but from a Falstaff. They have discovered
his paladins in the great representatives of the English aristocracy,
and as reflected in the Roman aristocracy, by a Coriolanus, and on
the other hand the class which he suspected and despised, in the
populace and plebeians of all time, whether of those that surrounded
Menenius Agrippa or who created tumult for and against Julius Caesar
in the Forum, or those others who bestowed upon Jack Cade a fortune
as evanescent as it was sudden. Finally, his Trojans or Rutulians,
enemies of his people, are supposed by them to be the French. But if
the epic ideal had possessed real force and consistency in the mind
of Shakespeare, we should not have needed industrious interpreters
to track it down and demonstrate it. On the other hand, it is clear
that the author of _Henry VI,_ in treating as he did Talbot and the
Maid of Orleans, and the author of _Henry V,_ in his illustration of
the struggles between the English and the French and the victory of
Agincourt, restricted himself to adopting the popular and traditional
English view, without identifying that with his spiritual self, or
taxing it as his guide to the conception of the English and Roman

Nor is there any value in another view, to the effect that Shakespeare
in these plays set the example and paved the way for what was
afterwards called historical and romantic drama. Had he sought this
end, he would not only have required some sort of political, social
and religious ideal, but also historical reflection, the sense of what
distinguishes and gives character to past times in respect to present,
and also that nostalgia for the past, which both Shakespeare and the
Italian and English Renaissance were altogether without. About two
centuries had to elapse before an imitator of Shakespeare, or rather
of some of his external forms and methods, arose, in the composer
of _Goetz von Berlichingen._ He had assimilated the new historical
curiosity and affection for the rude and powerful past, and there
provided the first model of what was soon afterwards developed as
historical romance and drama, especially by Walter Scott.

Whoever tries to discover the internal stimulus, the constructive idea,
the lyrical motive, which led Shakespeare to convert the Chronicles
of Holinshed and the Lives of Plutarch into dramatic form, when his
possession of the epic ideal and nostalgia for the past have been
excluded, finds nothing save an interest in and an affection for
practical achievement, for action attentively followed, in its cunning
and audacity, in the obstacles that it meets, in the discomfitures,
the triumphs, the various attitudes of the different temperaments and
characters of men. This interest, finding its most suitable material
in political and warlike conflicts, was naturally attracted to history
and to that especial form of it, which was nearest to the soul and to
the culture of the poet of his people and of his time, English and
Roman history. This material had already been brought to the theatre
by other writers and was in this way introduced to the attention and
used by the new poet. A psychological origin of this sort explains the
vigour of the representations, which Shakespeare derived from history,
incomprehensible, if as philologists maintain, he had simply set
himself to cultivate, a "style" that was demanded in the theatre and
known as _chronicle plays,_ or had there set himself a merely technical
task, with a view to attaining dexterity.

That psychological interest, too, in so far as separated from a
supreme end or ideal, towards which actions tend, or rather in so far
as it remains uncertain and vague in this respect, limiting itself to
questions of loss or gain, of success or failure, of living or dying,
is not a qualitative, but a _formal_ interest. It can also be called
political, if you will, but political in the sense of Machiavelli and
the Renaissance, in so far as politics are considered for themselves,
and therefore only formally. Hence the impression caused by the
historical plays of Shakespeare, of being now "a gallery of portraits,"
now "a series of personal experiences," which the poet is supposed to
have achieved in imagination.

It is certain that their richness, their brilliancy, their attraction,
lie in the emotional representation of practical activity. Bolingbroke
ascends the throne, by the adoption of violent and tortuous means,
knowing when to withdraw himself and when to dare. Later he recounts
to his son how artfully he composed and maintained the attitude,
which caused him to be looked upon with sympathy and reverence by the
people, affecting humility and humanity, but preserving at the same
time the element of the marvellous, so that his presence, _like a robe
pontifical,_ was _ne'er seen but wondered at._ He causes the blood of
the deposed king to be shed, while protesting after the deed his great
grief _that blood should sprinkle me to make me grow,_ and promising
to undertake a voyage of expiation to the Holy Land. Facing him is the
falling monarch, Richard II, in whose breast consciousness of his own
sacred character as legitimate sovereign and of the inviolable dignity
attached to it, the sense of being to blame, of pride humiliated, of
resignation to destiny or divine decree, of bitterness, of sarcasm
towards himself and towards others, succeed, alternate and combat
one another, a swarm of writhing sentiments, an agony of suffocated

                             "O, that I were as great
    As is my grief, or lesser than my name!
    Or that I could forget what I have been!
    Or not remember what I must be now!
    Swell'st thou, proud heart? I'll give thee scope to

Elsewhere we find the same inexorable conqueror, Bolingbroke, as Henry
IV, triumphant on several occasions against different enemies, now
infirm and approaching death, raving from lack of sleep, and envying
the meanest of his subjects, blindly groping in the vain shadows
of human effort, as once his conquered predecessor, and filled with
terror, as he views the whole extent of the universe and the

                          "Revolution of the times
    Make mountains level, and the continent,
    Weary of solid firmness, melt itself
    Into the sea!...
    And changes fill the cup of alteration
    With divers liquors! O, if this were seen,
    The happiest youth,--viewing his progress through
    What perils past, what crosses to ensue,--
    Would shut the book and sit him down and die."

And hearing of some friends becoming estranged and of others changing
into enemies, he is no longer indignant nor astonished:

    "Are these things then necessities?
    Then let us meet them as necessities."

Henry V meditates upon the singular condition of kings, upon their
majesty, which separates them from all other men and by thus elevating,
loads them with a weight equal to that which all men together have to
carry, while taking from them the joys given to others, and depriving
them of hearing the truth or of obtaining justice.

He feels himself to be more than a king in those moments when he tears
off his own kingly mask and mirrors himself in his naked reality as
man. Facing the enemies who are drawn up on the field of battle and
ready to attack him, he murmurs to himself the profound words:

    "Besides they are our _natural consciences._
    And preachers to us all; admonishing
    That we should dress us fairly for our end."

Death reigns above all else in these dramas, death, which brings every
great effort to an end, all torment of burning passion and ambition,
all rage of barbarous crimes, and is therefore received as a lofty and
severe matron; in her presence, countenances are composed, however
ardently she has been withstood, however loudly the brave show of life
has been affirmed. Death is received thus by all or nearly all the men
in Shakespeare, by the tortured and elegiac Richard II, by the great
sinner Suffolk, by the diabolic Richard III, down to the other lesser
victims of fate. The vileness of the vile, the rascality of rascals,
the brutal stupidity of acclaiming or imprecating crowds, are felt and
represented with equal intensity, without once permitting anything of
the struggle of life to escape, so vast in its variety.

The personages of these plays arise like three-dimensional statues,
that is to say they are treated with full reality, and thus form a
perfect antithesis to the figures of the romantic plays. These are
superficial portraits, vivid, but light and vanishing into air; they
are rather types than individuals. This does not imply a judgment of
greater or lesser value or a difference in the art of portraying the
true; it only expresses in other words and formulas the different
sentiment that animates the two different groups of artistic creations,
that which springs from delight in the romantic and that due to
interest in human action. A Hotspur, introduced upon the scene of the
romantic dramas, would break through them like a statue of bronze
placed upon a fragile flooring of boards and painted canvas. He is
the true "formal" hero, volitional, inrushing, disdainful, impatient,
exuberant; we walk round him, admiring his lofty stature, his muscular
strength, his potent gestures. He is like a splendid bow, with its
mighty string drawn tight to hurl the missile, but wherefore or whither
it will strike, we cannot tell. He is all rebellion and battle, yet
his wit and satire is worthy of an artist; he loves, too, with a pure
tenderness. But wit and satire and the words of love, alike, bear even
the imprint and are hastened by impetuosity, as of a man engaged in
conversation between one combat and another, still joyful and hot from
the battle that is over, already hot and joyful for that which is to
begin. "Away, away, you trifler," he says to his wife, "you that are
thinking of love. Love! I love thee not,

    I care not for thee, Kate: this is no world
    To play with memmets and to tilt with lips:
    We must have bloody noses and cracked crowns,
    And pass them current too. Gods me, my horse!
    What say'st thou, Kate? What would'st thou have
        with me?"

His parallel (perhaps slightly inferior artistically), is the Roman
Coriolanus, as brave, as violent and as disdainful as he, a despiser
of the people and of the people's praise; he too rushes over the
precipice to death and is also a "formal" hero, because his bravery is
not founded upon love of country, or upon a faith or ideal of any kind,
one might almost say that it was without object or that its object was
itself. Nor, on the other hand, is Coriolanus a superman, in the sense
suggested by the works of some of the predecessors and contemporaries
of Shakespeare. He is not less tenderly demonstrative towards his
mother or his silent wife (_"my gracious silence"_), than is Hotspur
to Kate, or when, yielding to a woman's prayers, he stays the course
of his triumphant vengeance. It would be tedious to record all the
personages of indomitable power that we meet with in these historical
dramas, such as the bastard Faulconbridge, in _King John,_ and most
popular of all, though not the most artistically executed, Richard
III, replete with iniquity, who clears the way by dealing death around
himself without pity, and dies in the midst of combat with that last
cry of desperate courage, "A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!"
At their side stand, not less powerfully delineated, and set in relief,
those queens Constance and Margaret: deprived of their power and full
of maledictions, terrible in their fury, they are either ferocious or
shut themselves up in their majestic sorrow. Queen Constance, when she
sees herself abandoned by her protectors in the face of her enemies,
who have become their allies, says, as she lets herself fall to the

    "Let kings assemble; for my grief's so great
    That no supporter but the huge firm earth
    Can hold it up: here I and sorrows sit;
    Here is my throne: bid kings come bow to it."

This gallery of historical figures is most varied; we find here not
only the vigorous and proud, the sorrowful and troubled, but also the
noble and severe, like Gaunt, the touching, like the little princes
destined to the dagger of the assassins, Prince Arthur and the sons of
Edward IV, down to the laughing and the credulous, to those who defy
prejudice to wallow in debauch.

Sir John Falstaff is the first of these latter, and it is important
not to misunderstand him, as certain critics have done, especially
among the French. They have looked upon him as a jovial, comic type,
a theatrical buffoon, and have compared him with the comic theatrical
types of other stages, arriving at the conclusion that he is a less
happy and less successful conception than they, because his comicality
is exclusively English, and is not to be well understood outside
England and America. But we must on the other hand be careful not to
interpret the character moralistically, as an image of baseness, darkly
coloured with the poet's contempt, as one towards whom he experienced
a feeling of disgust. Falstaff could call himself a "formal" hero in
his own way: magnificent in ignoring morality and honour, logical,
coherent, acute and dexterous. He is a being in whom the sense of
honour has never appeared, or has been obliterated, but the intellect
has developed and become what alone it could become, namely, _esprit,_
or sharpness of wit. He is without malice, because malice is the
antithesis of moral conscientiousness, and he lacks both thesis and
antithesis. There is in him, on the contrary, a sort of innocence, the
result of the complete liberty of his relation toward all restraint
and towards ethical law. His great body, his old sinner's flesh, his
complete experience of taverns and lupanars, of rogues male and female,
complicates without destroying the soul of the boy that is in him, a
very vicious boy, but yet a boy. For this reason, he is sympathetic,
that is to say, he is sympathetically felt and lovingly depicted by the
poet. The image of a child, that is to say of childish innocence, comes
spontaneously to the lips of the hostess, as she tells of how he died:
"Nay, sure, he's not in hell: he's in Arthur's bosom, if ever man went
to Arthur's bosom. 'A made a fine end, and went away, an it had been
any Christom child...."

Shylock the Jew also finds a place in the historical gallery, for
the very reason that he is a Jew, "the Jew," indeed, a historical
formation, and Shakespeare conceives and describes him with the
characteristics proper to his race and religion, one might almost say,
sociologically. It has been asserted that for Shakespeare and for
his public Shylock was a comic personage, intended to be flouted and
laughed at by the pit; but we do not know what were the intentions of
Shakespeare and as usual they matter little, because Shylock lives
and speaks, himself explaining what he means, without the aid of
commentaries, even such as the author might possibly have supplied.
Shylock crying out in his desperation: "My daughter! O my ducats!..."
may have made laugh the spectators in the theatre, but that cry of the
wounded and tortured animal does not make the poetical reader laugh;
he forms anything but a comic conception of that being, trampled down,
poisoned at heart and unshakeable in his desire for vengeance. On the
other hand the pathetic and biassed interpretations of Shylock that
have been given during the nineteenth century, are foreign to the
ingenuousness of a creation, without a shadow of humanitarianism or of
polemic. What Shakespeare has created, fusing his own impressions and
experiences in the crucible of his attentive and thoughtful humanity,
is the Jew, with his firm cleaving to the law and to the written word,
with his hatred for Christian feeling, with his biblical language,
now sententious now sublime, the Jew with his peculiar attitude of
intellect, will and morality.

Yet we are inclined to ask why Shylock, seen in the relations in
which he is placed in the _Merchant of Venice,_ arouses some doubt
in our minds; he would seem to require a background which is lacking
to him there. This background cannot be the romantic story of Portia
and the three caskets, or of the tired and melancholy Antonio. The
reader is not convinced by the rapid fall of so great an adversary,
who accepts the conversion to Christianity finally imposed upon him.
But apart also from the particular mixture of real and imaginary, of
serious and light, which we find in the _Merchant of Venice,_ it does
not appear that the characters of the strictly historical plays find
the ideal complement which they should find in the plays where they
appear. The reason for this is not to be found in the looseness and
reliance upon chronicles for which they have so often been blamed,
since this is rather a consequence or general effect of Shakespeare's
attitude towards the practical life, described above. This attitude,
as we have seen, lacks a definite ideal, is indeed, without passion
for any sort of particular ideals, but is animated with sympathy for
the varying lots of striving humanity. For this reason, it is entirely
concentrated, on the one hand upon character drawing, and on the other
is inclined to accept somewhat passively the material furnished by
the chronicles and histories. On the one hand it is all force and
impetus, while on the other it lacks idealisation and condensation. The
marvelous Hotspur appears in the play, in order that he may confirm
the glory of youthful Prince Hal, that is to say, that he may provide
a curious anecdote of what was or appeared to be the scapegrace youth
of a future sage sovereign; that is, he is not fully represented.
Coriolanus runs himself into a blind alley; and even if the poet
portrays with historical penetration, the patricians and plebeians of
Rome, it would be vain to seek in the play for the centre of gravity
of his feelings, of his predilictions, or of his aspirations, because
both Coriolanus, the tribunes and his adversaries are looked upon
solely as characters, not as parts and expressions of a sentiment
that should justify one or other or both groups. Finally, Falstaff is
sacrificed, because, like Hotspur, he has been used for the purpose
of enhancing the greatness of the future Henry V; for this reason, he
declines in prestige from the first to the last scenes of the first
part of Henry IV, not to speak of the _Merry Wives of Windsor,_ where
we find him reduced to being a merely farcical character, flouted and
thrashed. And when his former boon companion, Prince Hal, now on the
throne, answers his advances, familiar and confidential as in the
past, with hard, cold words, we do not admire the new king for his
seriousness, because we are sensible of a lack of aesthetic harmony.
Aesthetically speaking, Falstaff did not deserve such treatment, or at
least Henry V, who inflicts it upon him, should not be given the credit
of possessing an admirable moral character, which he does not possess,
for it cannot be maintained that he is a great man, lofty in heart and
mind, when he shows us that he has failed to understand Falstaff, and
to grant him that indulgence to which he is entitled, after so lengthy
a companionship. Falstaff's friends know that poor Sir John, although
he has tried to put a good face on his cruel reception by his young
friend, is unconsolable in the face of this inhuman estrangement, this
chill repulse:

    "The king hath run bad humours in the knight,
    His heart is fracted and corroborate."

And Mistress Quickly, although a woman of bad character and a
procuress, shows that she possesses a better heart and a better
intellect than the great king, when she attends the dying Sir John with
feminine solicitude. The narrative, of which we had occasion to quote
the first phrase above, continues in the following pitiful strain:

"'A parted even just between twelve and one, even at the turning of the
tide: for after I saw him fumble with the sheets, and play with flowers
and smile upon his fingers ends, I knew there was but one way; for his
nose was as sharp as a pen, and 'a babbled of green fields. 'How now,
Sir John,' quoth I, 'what, man! be o' good cheer.' So 'a cried out
'God, God, God,' three or four times. Now I, to comfort him, bid him 'a
should not think of God; I hoped there was no need to trouble himself
with any such thoughts yet. So 'a bade me lay more clothes on his feet:
I put my hand into the bed and felt them, and they were as cold as any
stone; then I felt to his knees, and so upward and upward, and all was
as cold as any stone." And since the friends of the tavern have heard
that he raved of sack, of his favourite sweet sack, Mistress Quickly
confirms that it was so; and when they add that he raved of women, she
denies it, thus defending in her own way the chastity of the poor dead



The three aspects, with which we have hitherto dealt, compose what
may be called the _lesser_ Shakespeare, in contradistinction to the
_greater_ Shakespeare, of whom we are about to speak. By "lesser,"
we do not wish to suggest that the works thus designated are
artistically weak and imperfect, because there are among them some true
masterpieces, nor that they are less perfect by comparison with others,
because every true work of art is incomparable and contains in itself
its proper perfection. What is intended to be conveyed is that they
are "less complex," in the same way as the sentiment of a mature or an
old man is distinguished by complexity of experiences from that of a
young man, which is not for that reason less genuine. There are major
and minor works in this sense in the production of poets and of all
artists; and in this sense the greater works themselves of the various
historical epochs stand to one another in the relation of greater or
less richness, although each one is an entire world and each is most
beautiful and incomparable in itself. In the case of Shakespeare, the
distinction has already been approximately made by the common accord of
readers and critics. It is among things accepted and we have acted upon
this assumption.

Whoever, for example, passes from the most excellent "historical plays"
to _Macbeth,_ is immediately sensible, not only of the diversity, but
also of the greater complexity, proper to the new work which he has
begun to study. In the former, we find a vision that might be described
in general terms, as psychological or practical; in the latter, the
vision is wider, it seems to be almost philosophical, yet it does
not exclude the particular psychological or practical vision of the
former, but includes it within itself. In the historical plays, we find
individuals, powerful yet limited, as we find them when we consider the
social competition and the political struggles of the day; in the great
plays, the characters are more than individuals; they represent eternal
positions of the human spirit. In the former, the plot hinges upon
the acquisition or loss of a throne, or of some other worldly object;
in the latter, there is also this external gain or loss, but over and
above it the winning or losing of the soul itself, the strife of good
and evil at the heart of things.

Evil: but if this evil were so altogether and openly, if it were
altogether base and repugnant, the tragedy would be finished before it
had begun. But evil was called _greatness_ for Macbeth: that greatness,
which the fatal sisters had prophesied to him and the destined course
of events immediately begins to bestow, pointing out to him that all
the rest is both near and certain, provided that he does not remain
passive, but extends his hand to grasp it. It shines before Macbeth,
as a beautiful and luminous idea shines before an artist, assuming for
this warlike and masterful man, the form of power, supreme, sovereign
power. Shall he miss the mark? Shall he fail of the mission of his
being? Shall he not harken to the call of Destiny? The idea fascinates
him: _nothing_ now _is but what is not_ in his eyes; it also fascinates
and draws along with it his wife, his second self, who has instantly
and with yet more irresistible violence, thrown herself into the
non-existing, which creates itself and already exists.

    "Thy letters," (she says), "have transported me beyond
    This ignorant present, and I feel now
    The future in the instant."

The idea, for her, is visible to the eye, it is "the golden circle,"
which "fate and metaphysical aid," appear already to have placed upon
her brow. The two tremble together, as at the springs of being, in the
abode of the mysterious Mothers. They are both doers and sufferers in a
process of things, in the appearance of a new greatness: they tremble
in that experience, at that creative moment of daring, which demands
resolute dedication of the whole man.

But the obstacle towards the realisation of their daring plan, is not
a material obstacle, nor is it the cowardice that sometimes attacks
the bravest; it is a good of a different sort, not less vigorous, but
of a more lofty quality, gentle and serene, planted in the heart of
Macbeth and called by the name of loyalty, duty, justice, respect for
the being of others, human piety. Thus he feels himself thrown at once
into confusion by the idea that has flashed before him, so great is the
savage desire, which it has set alight in his breast, and such on the
other hand the reverence which the other idea inspires into his deeper
being, and against which he prepares for a desperate struggle. The
supernatural challenge keeps undulating in his mind, now divine, now
diabolical: _cannot be ill, cannot be good._ But his wife, in whom the
power of desire displays itself as absolute and whose determination of
will is rectilinear, knowing not struggle or only struggles speedily
and completely suppressed, his wife, is ready to take his place,
when he shows his weak side, or at the moments of his vacillation.
In the logical clarity of vision that comes to her as the result of
the clearness of view with which she contemplates the achievement of
her end, she has discovered an element of danger. It is concealed in
the "milk of human kindness," circulating in the blood of Macbeth,
whereby he would attain to greatness, without staining himself with
crime. Having discovered the cause of the weakness, she applies the
remedy. This does not consist in making a frontal attack upon his moral
consciousness, or by negating it, but in exciting or strengthening the
will for action, the will pure and simple, taking pleasure in itself
alone, by making it feel the necessity of expressing in action what
seems to it to be beautiful and delightful, and by making it ashamed
of not knowing how to remain at the level of the desire which it
has encouraged, of the plan that it has formed. Macbeth holds back
troubled, because, though he is as bold as man can be in facing danger,
he yet feels that the deed now required of him would take away from
him the very character of man; but for his wife, that deed would make
of him more than a man. The sophistry of the will, to the aid of which
comes the conquering seduction of desire, exercises its irresistible
action and the deed is accomplished.

It is accomplished, but with it, as Macbeth says to himself, nothing is
accomplished or concluded: the same atrocious discord, which appeared
with the first thought of the crime, and which has accompanied its
preparation and execution, continues to act, and Macbeth is never
able to get the better of it, being incapable both of achieving
insensibility to the pricks of conscience and at the same time of
repentance. He persists in his attitude of the first moment, drunk with
greatness, devoured with remorse. He neither can nor will go back, and
does go forward; but he goes forward, increasing both the terms of the
discord, the sum of his crimes, and the torment of his conscience.
No way of salvation opens itself before him: neither the complete
redemption of the good, nor the opposite redemption of the completeness
of evil; neither the tears that relieve the ferocious soul, nor
absolute hardening of the heart. If he had to blame anything for his
course of crimes and torments, he would blame life itself, that _fitful
fever,_ that stupidity of life, which is

                           "a tale
    told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    signifying nothing."

And if there is any image that attracts him from time to time,
filling him with the suavity of desire, it is that of sleep, and
beyond that, the great final, dissolving sleep, which Duncan, whom
he has slaughtered, already enjoys. Thus Macbeth consumes himself,
and his other self, his wife, consumes herself also, in a different
way, because what was in him an implacable call, to which he could
do violence, but could not suppress, presents itself to his wife as
the fascinating idea had presented itself to her, in sensible images,
and therefore as an obscure rebellion of nature. For this reason,
the woman from whose hand the dagger had fallen, when she faced the
sleeping Duncan, who seemed to her to be her father, wanders in the
night, vainly seeking to remove from her small hands the nauseating
odour of blood, which, it seems to her, still clings to them. Both are
already dead, before they die, owing to these bitter, long, continuous,
internal shocks and corrosions. Macbeth receives the news of the death
of her who was his wife, of her whom he had loved and who loved him,
with the desolate coldness of one who has renounced all particular
affections, and the life of the affections themselves. Yet he will not
die like a "Roman fool," he will not slay himself, but will provoke
death in battle, still seeking, not death, but victory. For even in his
last moments, the internal conflict in him has not ceased, even in
those instants, the impulse for greatness rules him and urges him on.
To kill himself would be to admit that he was wrong, and he does not
admit to himself that he was wrong or right: his tragedy lies in this
incapacity to hold himself right or wrong; it is the tragedy of reality
contemplated at the moment of conflict and before the solution has been
obtained. Therefore he dies austerely, representing a sacred mystery,
covered with religious horror.

In _Macbeth,_ the good appears only as revenge taken by the good, as
remorse, punishment. It is not personified. The amiable king Duncan
glides along on the outside of things, unsuspectful of betrayals,
without an inkling of what is passing in the mind of Macbeth, whom he
has rewarded and exalted. The honest Macduff, reestablisher of peace
and justice, is a warrior pitted against a warrior. Lady Macduff and
her son are innocent victims, who flee the knife of the murderers in
vain. The boy with his childish logic expresses his wonderment that the
good in the world does not choke the evil and replies to his mother,
who says that the honest man must do justice upon wicked men and
traitors: "Then the liars and swearers are fools; for there are liars
and swearers enow to beat the honest men and hang up them...."

In _King Lear,_ that tempestuous drama, which is nothing but a sequence
of betrayals and horrible torments, goodness is impersonated and takes
the name of Cordelia, shining in the midst of the tempest, as when the
sky is dark and we look, not upon the darkness, but upon the single
star that is scintillating there.

An infinite hatred for deceitful wickedness has inspired this work:
egoism pure and simple, cruelty, perversity, arouse repugnance and
horror, but do not directly lead to that tremendous doubt as to
the non-existence of goodness, or still less as to its not being
recognisable and separable from its contrary, since that moral deceit,
which takes the appearance of rectitude, generosity, loyalty, and when
it has realised its purpose, discovers itself as impure cupidity,
aridity, hardness of heart, which alone were present throughout. Poor
humanity, which has thus allowed itself to be deceived, enters into
such a fury, when it has discovered its illusion, both against itself
and against the world that has permitted so atrocious an illusion or
delusion, as to reach the point of madness. And humanity goes by the
name of King Lear, proud, imperious, full of confidence in himself and
in his own power and strength of judgment, quite sure that others will
agree with his wishes, all the more so, since he is their benefactor
and they owe him, not only obedience, but duty and gratitude. King
Lear is a creation of pity and of sarcasm: pitiful in his cries of
injured pride, of old age deserted, in the shadow of the madness that
is falling upon him. He has been sarcastically, though sorrowfully,
realised by his creator, because he was mad before he became mad, and
the clown who keeps him company, has been and is more serious and
clear-sighted than he. But the creative impulse of Shakespeare goes
so deeply into the heart of reality, or rather it creates so great a
reality, that he neglects everything suggestive of the obvious, vulgar
side of things, as seen from an average and mediocre point of view.
King Lear assumes gigantic proportions in his sorrow, in his madness,
in his piteousness, in his sarcasm, because the passion that shakes him
is gigantic. The figures of the two deceitful daughters who are opposed
to him, are also gigantic, especially Goneril, to whom Regan, who is
somewhat the younger, gives relief. Goneril's are the guiding mind
and the initiating will; she it is, who first counsels and instructs
her sister, who first faces and dominates her father, and who first
recognises her own equal in the iron will of the evil Edmund, loving
him and despising her own husband, so weak in his goodness, strives
with her sister for the loved one, finally slaying her sister and
immediately afterwards, herself. Regan has here and there a fugitive
moment, not of piety, but of hesitation and almost of suggestion, and
shows herself to be the less strong, just because she always allows
herself to be led by the other. Each of them, although both are thus
powerfully individuated, express the same force of egoism without
scruples, untamed and extreme in its boundlessness. Their personalities
are concentrated, felt and expressed, with the whole-hearted hatred of
an expert.

Yet we come to think that in this tragedy the inspiration of love--of
immense love--is equal to or greater than the inspiration of hate.
Perhaps intensity of hatred, making more intense the attraction of
goodness, helped to create the figure of Cordelia, which is not
a symbol or allegory of abstract goodness, but is all compact of
goodness, of a need for purity, for tenderness, for adoration, which
has here thrown its real and unreal appearance, an appearance which
has poetical reality. Cordelia is goodness itself in its original
well-spring, limpid and shining as it gushes forth: she represents
moral beauty and is therefore both courageous and hesitating, modest
and dignified, ready to disdain contests, where they are of no avail,
but also ready to fight bravely, when to do so is of service. Hers
is a true and complete goodness, not simply softness, mildness and
indulgence. Words have been so misused for purposes of deceit that she
has almost abandoned that inadequate means of communication: she is
silent, when speech would be vain or would set her truthfulness on the
same level as the lies of others. But since she has clear knowledge
and a fine sense of her own self and its contrary, she does not allow
herself to be confused or enticed by false splendours. _"I know you
what you are,"_ she says, looking her sisters in the eyes, as she takes
leave of them. And since goodness is also sympathetic intelligence, she
understands, pardons and lovingly assists her old father, so unjust
and so wanting in understanding toward herself. And since goodness
cannot adopt the form of blind passion, even in the act of defence and
offence, and even when it refuses to tolerate evil, is forced to bow
to the law of severe resignation, which governs the world, and thus
entrusts her with its best duty, so Cordelia does not burst into a rage
against the wickedness of her sisters, when she hears how King Lear has
been driven out and despised, but at once resigns herself to patience
in the affliction, "like," as says one who has seen her at that moment,

    "Sunshine and rain at once: her smiles and tears
    Were like a better day."

There are other personages in the play, who affirm the reality of good
against the false assertion of it: the pure and faithful Kent, the
loyal though unintelligent Gloucester, the brave Edgar, the weak but
honest Duke of Albany, the husband of Goneril, who says:

    "Where I could not be honest,
    I never yet was valiant."

Finally the perfidious Edmund, when he sees himself near death, hastens
to accomplish a good action and to pay homage to virtue. But all these
belong to the earth: Cordelia is on the earth, earthly herself and
mortal, but she is made of celestial substance, of purest humanity,
which is therefore divine. It has occurred to me to compare her with
the Soul, whom Friar Jacob likened to the only daughter and heiress
of the King of France, and whom her father, for that he loved her
infinitely, had adorned "with a white stole," and her fame flew "to
every land."

No greater spiritual triumph can be conceived than that of Cordelia,
throughout the drama, from the first scene to the last, although she
first appears as denied and rejected by her father, and later, when she
comes with arms to the aid of the unfortunate Lear against the infernal
sisters and the treacherous Edmund, is conquered, thrown into prison
and there strangled by the hangman. Why? Why does not goodness triumph
in the material world? And, why, thus conquered, does she increase
in beauty, evoke ever more disconsolate desire, until she is finally
adored as something sacred? The tragedy of King Lear is penetrated
throughout with this unexpressed yet anguished interrogation, so
full of the sense of the misery of life. The king, acquiring new
sensibility in his madness, as though a veil had been withdrawn from
before his eyes, sees and receives for the first time in himself,
suffering humanity, weeping and trembling, like a child, defenceless,
ill-treated. The fool, who accompanies him, sings, along with much
else, his prophecy to the effect that when calumnies cease, when kings
are punished, and usurers and thieves give up their trade, then all the
kingdom of Albion will be in great confusion. But the sorrow of sorrows
is that of Lear, when, having found Cordelia, he dreams of being ever
after at her side, adoring, and sees the prison transformed into a
paradise: they will sing, he will kneel before her, they will pray,
and tell one another ancient tales. But she is brutally slain before
his eyes and her dead body lies in his arms, as he vainly strives to
reanimate it, and he too dies, uttering the last cry of desperation:

    "Thou'lt come no more,
    Never, never, never, never!--"

In the tragedy of _Othello,_ evil takes on another face, and here the
sentiment that answers to it, is not condemnation mixed with pity,
not horror for hypocrisy and cruelty, but astonishment. Iago does not
represent evil done through a dream of greatness, or evil for the
egoistic satisfaction of his own desires, but evil for evil's sake,
done almost as though through an artistic need, in order to realise his
own being and feel it strong, dominating and destructive, even in the
subordinate social condition in which he is placed. Certainly, Iago, in
what he says, wishes it to be believed or makes himself believe that
he is aiming only at his "own advantage," as Guicciardini would have
said, and that he despises those who have different rule of conduct and
manage to live honestly, the _honest knaves._ But the truth is that he
does not obtain any material advantage for himself, and that the path
he has selected was not necessary for that object and does not lead to
it. Feelings of vengeance for injustices and affronts suffered lead to
it still less, though at times he says they do, and wishes it to be
believed or tries to believe it himself. What results from his acts is
evil as an end in itself, arising from a turbid desire to prove himself
superior to the rest of the world, to delude and to make it dance to
the tune of his own mind, and in proof of this to bring it to ruin.
The fact that he gives various reasons, with the object of justifying
and of explaining his acts, demonstrates that he himself failed to
understand that peculiar form of evil which possessed his spirit.
None of those about him suspect him: not Othello, a simple, impetuous
soldier, who understands open strife and plotting, but both in war and
between one enemy and another. He is quite unable to conceive this
refined and intellectual degradation. Desdemona, too, a young woman
newly married, rejoicing in the happiness of realized affection and
disposed to find everyone about her good and to make everyone happy,
is unsuspicious, as also is Cassio, who trusts Iago, as a brave and
loyal comrade, and his wife, the experienced Emilia, who knows him from
long habit. The epithets of "good Iago," of "honest Iago" ring through
the whole play and are a bitter and ironical comment underlining the
illusion that possesses them all. He is weaving, without reason, and
as it were for amusement, a horrible web of calumnies, of moral and
physical tortures and of death: a good and generous man, rendered
blind and mad with jealousy and injured honour, is thus led to murder
his innocent and beloved wife. Pity and terror arise together in the
soul, as we see Othello poisoned drop by drop, excited, changed Into a
wild beast: one feels that in Desdemona the warrior possessed all the
sweetness and all the force of life, the happiness on which reposed
all the rest, and that in her person he had found all that one can
conceive as most noble, most gentle and most pure in the world. When he
suspects that she has betrayed him, not only is he pierced with sensual
jealousy, (this too there is, certainly), but injured in what he holds
sacred, and therefore the death that he deals to Desdemona is not
simply vengeance for the shame done him, but above all expiation and
purification, as though he wished to purify the world of such impurity,
and to cleanse her from a stain, which irremediably defiled her. "O,
the pity of all this, Iago! O, Iago, the pity of all this!" He kisses
her before he kills her, kissing his own ideal, which he lays at that
moment in the sepulchre. But he still trembles with love, and perhaps
hopes somehow to get her back and to be united with her forever, by
means of that bloody sacrifice. Desdemona is not aware of the fury
raging around her, sure as she is of her love and of Othello's. Owing
to her very innocence, she affords involuntary incentives to the
jealousy of Othello and easy occasion to the artifice of Iago. Her very
unconsciousness makes her fate the more moving. Such is the infamy
of the crime thus accomplished against her, that the prosaic, shifty
wife of Iago becomes sublime with indignation and courage, when she
sees her dying, rising to poetic nobility and defying every menace.
Transpierced by her husband, she falls at the side of her mistress and
dying sings the willow song, which she had caught from the lips of
Desdemona. Othello also dies, when the deceit has been revealed to him.
The leader whom Venice had held in great honour and in whom she had
reposed complete faith, charging him with commands and governments, is
now nothing but a wretch deserving punishment. But in slaying himself,
he returns in memory to what he was, substituting that image of himself
for his present misery, and using the memory of the warrior that he
was, to drive the sword deeper into his throat.

On the other hand, the rallying-point or centre of the whole play is
not the ruin of the valiant Othello, not the cruel fate of the gentle
Desdemona, but the work, of Iago, of that demidevil, of whom one might
ask in vain, why, as Othello asked, why he had thus noosed the bodies
and souls of those men, who had never nourished any suspicion of him?

    "Demand me nothing; what you know, you know
    From this time forth I never will speak word."

This was the answer to the poet from that most mysterious form of evil,
when he met with it, as he was contemplating the universe: perversity,
which is an end and a joy to itself.



The tragedy of the good and evil will, is sometimes followed, sometimes
preceded by another tragedy, that of the will itself. Here the will,
instead of holding the passions in control--making its footstool of
them--allows itself to be dominated by them in their onrush; or it
seeks the good, but remains uncertain, dissatisfied as to the path
chosen; or finally, when it fails to find its own way, a way of some
sort, and does not know what to think of itself or of the world, it
preys upon itself in this empty tension.

A typical form of this first condition of the will is voluptuousness,
which overspreads a soul and makes itself mistress there, inebriating,
sending to sleep, destroying and liquefying the will. When we think
of that enchanting sweetness and perdition, the image of death arises
at the same instant, because it truly is death, if not physical, yet
always internal and moral death, death of the spirit, without which
man is already a corpse in process of decomposition. The tragedy of
_Anthony and Cleopatra_ is composed of the violent sense of pleasure,
in its power to bind and to dominate, coupled with a shudder at its
abject effects of dissolution and of death.

He moves in a world all kisses and caresses, languors, sounds,
perfumes, shimmer of gold and splendid garments, flashing of lights or
silence of deep shadows, enjoyment, now ecstatic, now spasmodic and
furious. Cleopatra is queen of this world, avid for pleasure, which she
herself bestows, diffusing around her its quivering sense, instilling
a frantic desire for it into all, offering herself as an example and
an incitement, but while conferring it on others, remaining herself a
regal and almost a mystical personage. A Roman who has plunged into
that world, spoke then of her, astonished at her power, demoniac or

    "Age cannot wither nor custom stale
    Her infinite variety."

Cleopatra asks for songs and music, that she may melt into that sea of
melody, which heightens pleasure:

    "Give me some music; music, moody food
    Of us that trade in love!"

She knows how to toy with men, keeping their interest alive by her

                           "If you find him sad,
        Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report
        That I am sudden sick."

Her words express sensual fascination in its most terrible form:

                       "There is gold, and here
    My bluest veins to kiss; a hand that kings
    Have lipped, and trembled kissing."

All around her dance to the same tune and imitate the rhythmic folly of
her life. Note the scene of the two waiting women, who are joking about
their loves, their future marriages, and the manner of their deaths,
with the soothsayer. Listen to the first words of Carminia, so mirthful
and caressing in her playful coquetry: "Lord Alexas, sweet Alexas, most
anything Alexas, almost most absolute Alexas, where's the soothsayer
that you praised so to the queen? O, that I knew this husband, which,
you say, must charge his horns with garlands!" ...

Anthony is seized and dragged into this vertiginous course of pungent
pleasures, as soon as he appears. In his inebriation the rest of the
world, all the active, real world, seems heavy, prosaic, contemptible
and displeasing. The very name of Rome has no longer any power over him.

    "Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
    Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space.
    Kingdoms are clay: one dungy earth alike
      Feeds beast as man."

As he folds Cleopatra in his arms, he feels that they form a pair
who make life more noble, and that in them alone it assumes real

This feeling is not love: we have already called it by its proper name:
voluptuousness. Cleopatra loves pleasure and caprice, and the dominion,
which both of them afford her; she also loves Anthony, because he is,
and in so far as he is, part of her pleasures and caprices, and serves
her as an instrument of dominion. She busies herself with keeping him
bound to her, struggles to retain him when he removes himself from her,
but she always has an eye to other things, which are equally necessary
for her, even more so than he, and in order to retain them, she would
be ready if necessary to give Anthony in exchange. Anthony too, does
not love her; he clearly sees her for what she is, imprecates against
her, and enfolds her in his embrace without forgiveness.

    "Shed not a tear; give me a kiss:
    Even this repays me."

Love demands union of some sort between two beings for an objective
end, with the moral consent of both; but here we are outside morality,
and even outside the will. We are caught in the whirlwind and carried

Anthony it is, who weakens and is conquered. He has lived an active
life, which, in the present moment of folly, he holds of no account.
He has known war, political strife, the government of States; he has
even been brushed with the wing of glory and of victory. He tries
several times to grasp his own past and to direct his future. He has
not lost his ethical judgment, for he recognizes Cleopatra as she
really is, bows reverently before the memory of Fulvia, and treats his
new wife Octavia, whom also he will abandon, with respect. For a brief
moment, he returns to the world he once knew, takes part in political
business, comes to terms with his colleagues and rivals. It would seem
that he had disentangled himself from the chain that bound him. But
the effort is not lasting, the chain encircles him again; vainly and
with ever declining power of resistance, he yields to that destiny,
which is on the side of Octavius, the man without loves, so cold and
so firm of will. Bad fortune dogs every step of the voluptuary: those
that surround him remark a change in his appearance from what he was
formerly. They see him betray this change by uttering thoughts that are
almost ridiculously feeble, and making inane remarks. They are led to
reflect that the mind of man is nothing but a part of his fortune and
that external things conform to things internal. He himself feels that
he is inwardly dissolving, and compares himself to the changing forms
of the clouds, dissolved with a breath of wind, like water turning to
water. Yet the man, who is thus in process of disaggregation, was once
great, and still affords flashes of greatness, bursting forth in feats
of warlike prowess, accompanied with lofty speech and generous actions.
His generosity confounds Enobarbus, who had deserted him and now takes
his own life for very shame. Around him are yet those ready to die
for sake of the affection that he inspires. Cleopatra stands lower or
higher: she has never known nor has ever desired to know any life but
that of caprice and pleasure. There is logic, will, consistency, in her
vertiginous abandonment. She is consistent also in taking her own life,
when she sees that she would die in a Roman prison, thus escaping shame
and the mockeries of the triumphant foe, and selecting a death of regal
voluptuousness. And with her die her faithful handmaids, by a similar
death; they have known her as their queen and goddess of pleasure, and
now as despising _this vile world_ and a life no longer worthy of being
lived, because no longer beautiful and brilliant. Carminia, before she
slays herself takes a last farewell of her mistress:

           "Downy windows close;
    And golden Phoebus never be beheld
    Of eyes again so royal! Your crown's awry;
    I'll mend it, and then play."

The tragedy of the will, which is most poetically lofty in _Anthony and
Cleopatra,_ is nevertheless morally a low form, that is to say, it is
simple and elementary in its roughness, such as would manifest itself
in a soldier like Anthony, the bloody, quarrelsome, pleasure-seeking,
crapulous Anthony.

It shows itself in an atmosphere far more subtle with Hamlet. Hamlet,
the hero so refined intellectually, so delicate in taste, so conscious
of moral values, comes to the action, not from the Roman forum or
from the battlefields of Gaul or Pharsalia, but from the University
of Wittenberg. In _Hamlet,_ the seductions of the will are altogether
overcome; duty is no longer a condition, or a vain effort, but a
spontaneous and regular attitude. The obstacle against which it
strives is not external to it, it is no inebriation of the senses; it
is internal, the will itself in the dialectic of its becoming, in its
passage from meditation to purpose and from purpose to action, in its
becoming will, true, concrete, factual will.

Hamlet has with reason often been recognised as a companion and
precursor of Brutus in _Julius Caesar,_ a play which differs from the
"historical tragedies," more substantially even than _Anthony and
Cleopatra,_ which is restricted to the practical activity. _Hamlet_
attains to a more lofty significance. Here too we find a tragedy of
the will in a man whose ethical conscientiousness is not internally
troubled, for he lives upon a sublime plane; and here too the
obstacle arises from the very bosom of the will. Brutus differs from
Hamlet, in that he comes to a decision and acts; but his action is
accompanied with disgust and repugnance for the impurity with which
its accomplishment must be stained. He reproves, condemns and abhors
the political end towards which Caesar is tending, but he does not
hate Caesar; he would like to destroy that end, to strike at the soul
of Caesar, but not to destroy his body and with it his life. He bows
reluctantly to necessity and with the others decides upon his death,
but requests that honours should be payed to Caesar dead, and spares
Anthony contrary to the advice of Cassius, because, as he says, he
is a priest bound to sacrifice the necessary victim; but he is not a
butcher. Melancholy dogs every step toward the achievement of his end.
He differs here from Cassius, who does not experience like scruples
and delicacy of feeling, but desires the end, by whatever means. He
differs too from Anthony, who discovers at once the path to tread
and enters it; cautious and resolute, he will triumph over him. He
finds everywhere impurity: Cassius, his friend, his brother, behaves
in such a way as to make him doubt his right to shed the blood of
the mighty Julius, because, instead of that justice, which he has
thought to promote and to restore by his act, he now sees only rapine
and injustice. But if the spiritual greatness of Brutus shrouds him
in sadness, it does not deprive him of the capacity for feeling and
understanding human nature. His difference with Cassius comes to an
end with his friend's sorrow, that friend who loves and admires him
sincerely, and yet cannot be other than he is, hoping that his friend
will not condemn too severely his faults and vices, but pass them
over in indulgent silence. The reconciliation of the two is sealed
when Brutus reveals his wounded heart, as he briefly tells his friend
of Portia's death. He enfolds himself in his grief. Brutus is among
those who have always meditated upon death and fortified themselves
with the thought of it. His suffering is not limited to virtue forced
into contamination; for he is haunted by doubt unexpressed. He feels
that man is surrounded with mystery, the mystery of Fate, or, as we
should say, with the mystery surrounding the future history of the
world; he seems to be anxiously asking of himself if the way that he
has chosen and followed is the best and wisest way, or whether some
evil genius has not introduced itself into his life, in order to drive
him to perdition? He hears at night the voice of the evil genius amid
the sounds and songs that should give rest and repose to his agitated
spirit. He prepares himself to face the coming battle, with the same
invincible sadness. It is the day that will bring to an end the work
begun on the Ides of March. He takes leave of Cassius, doubtful if he
will ever see him again, saying farewell to him for ever:

    "If we do meet again, why, we shall smile;
    If not, why then, this parting was well made."

O, if man could know the event of that day before it befell! But it
must suffice to know that day will have an end, and that the end will
be known. Mighty powers govern the world, Brutus resigns himself to
them: they may have already judged him guilty or be about to do so.

_Hamlet_ has generally been considered the tragedy of Shakespearean
tragedies, where the poet has put most of himself, given us his
philosophy, and with it the key to the other tragedies. But strictly
speaking, Shakespeare has not put himself, that is to say his poetry,
into _Hamlet,_ either more or less than into any of the others; there
is not more philosophy, as judge of reality and of life here than
in the others; there is perhaps less, because it is more perplexed
and vague than the others, and even the celebrated monologue (_To
be or not to be,_) though supremely poetical, is irreducible to a
philosopheme or to a philosophic problem. Finally, it is not the key
or compendium of the other plays, but the expression of a particular
state of the soul, which differs from those expressed in the others.
Those who read it in the ingenuous spirit in which it was written and
conceived, find no difficulty about taking it for what it is, namely
the expression of disaffection and distaste for life; they experience
and assimilate that state of the soul. Life is thought and will, but a
will which creates thought and a thought which creates will, and when
we feel that certain painful impressions have injured and upset us, it
sometimes happens that the will does not obey the stimulus of thought
and becomes weak as will; then thought, feeling in its turn that it
is not stimulated and upheld by the will, begins to wander and fails
to make progress: it tries now this and now that, but grasps nothing
firmly; it is thought not sure of itself, it is not true and effective
thought. There is, as it were, a suspension of the rapid course of the
spirit, a void, a losing of the way, which resembles death, and is
in fact a sort of death. This is the state of soul that Shakespeare
infused into the ancient legend of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, on whom
he conferred many noble aptitudes and gifts, and the promise or the
beginning of a fervent life. He then interrupted and suspended Hamlet's
beginning of life, and let it wander, as though seeking in vain, not
only its proper task, but even the strength necessary to propose it
to himself, with that firmness which becomes and is, indeed, itself
action. Hamlet is a generous and gentle youth, with a disposition
towards meditation and scientific enquiry, a lover of the beautiful,
devoted to knightly sports, prone to friendship, not averse to love,
with faith in the human goodness and in those around him, especially
in his father and mother, and in all his relations and friends. He
was perhaps too refined and sensitive, too delicate in soul; but
his life proceeded, according to its own law, towards certain ends,
caressing certain hopes. In the course of this facile and amiable
existence, he experienced, first the death of his father, followed
soon after by the second marriage of his mother, who seems to have
very speedily forgotten her first husband in the allurement of a new
love. He feels himself in every way injured by this marriage, and with
the disappearance of his esteem for his mother, a horrible suspicion
insinuates itself, which is soon confirmed by the apparition of his
father's restless ghost, which demands vengeance. And Hamlet will, nay
must and will carry it out; he would find a means to do so warily and
effectually, if he had not meanwhile begun to die from that shock to
his sentiments. That is to say, he began to die without knowing it, to
die internally: the pleasures of the world become in his eyes insipid
and rancid, the earth and the sky itself lose their colours. Everything
that is contrary to the ideal and to the joy of life, injustice,
betrayal, lies, hypocrisy, bestial sensuality, greed of power and
riches, cowardice, perversity and with them the nullity of worldly
things, death and the fearful unknown, gather themselves together in
his spirit, round that horrible thing that he has discovered, the
assassination of his father, the adultery of his mother; they tyrannise
over his spirit and form a barrier to his further progress, to his
living with that former warmth and joyous vigour, as indispensable to
thought as it is to action. Hamlet can no longer love, for love is
above all love of life; for this reason he breaks off the love-idyll
that he had begun with Ophelia, whom he loved and whom in a certain
way, he still loves infinitely, but as we love one dead, knowing her to
be no longer for us. Hamlet can laugh no more: sarcasm and irony take
the place of frank laughter on his lips. He fails to coordinate his
acts, himself becoming the victim of circumstances, though constantly
maintaining his attitude of contempt, or breaking out into unexpected
resolves, followed by hasty execution.

Sometimes he still rises to the level of moral indignation, as in the
colloquy with his mother, but this too is a paroxysm, not a coordinated
action. Joy is needed, not only for love, but also for vengeance;
there must be passion for the activity that is being exercised; but
Hamlet is in such a condition that he should give himself the same
advice as he gives to the miserable Ophelia--to get her to a nunnery
and there practice renunciation and restraint. But he is not conscious
of the nature of his malady, and it is precisely for this reason that
he is ill; instead of combating it by applying the right remedy, he
cultivates, nourishes and increases it. At the most, what is taking
place within him excites his astonishment and moves him to vain
self-rebuke and equally vain self-stimulation, as we observe after his
dialogue with the players, and after he has heard the passion, fury and
weeping they put into their part, and when he meets the army led by
Fortinbras against Poland.

                                        "I do not know
    Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do';
    Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means
    To do't. Examples, gross as earth exhort me:
    Witness this army, of such mass and charge,
    Led by a delicate and tender prince;
    Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'd,
    Makes mouths at the invisible event,
    Exposing what is miserable and unsure
    To all that fortune death and danger dare
    Even for an egg-shell.... O, from this time forth,
    My thought be bloody or be nothing worth!"

Finally, he accomplishes the great vengeance, but alas, in how small a
way, as though jestingly, as though it were by chance, and he himself
dies as though by chance. He had abandoned his life to chance, so his
death must be due to chance.

We too have termed the condition of spirit that ruins Hamlet, an
illness; but the word is better applied to a doctor or a moralist,
whereas the tragedy is the work of a poet, who does not describe an
illness, but sings a song of desperate and desolate anguish, and so
lofty a song is it, to so great a height does it attain, that it
would seem as though a newer and more lofty conception of reality and
of human action must be born of it. What was perdition for Hamlet,
is a crisis of the human soul, which assumed so great an extension
and complexity after the time of Shakespeare as to give its name to
a whole historical period. Yet it has more than historical value,
because, light or serious, little or great, it returns to live again



It would be vain to seek among the songs of Shakespeare for the song of
reconciliation, of quarrels, composed of inner peace, of tranquillity
achieved, but the song of justice echoes everywhere in his works.
He knows neither perfect saints, nor perfect sinners, for he feels
the struggle at the heart of reality as necessity, not as accident,
artifice, or caprice. Even the good, the brave and the pure have evil,
impurity and weakness in them: "fragility" is the word he utters most
often, not only with regard to women; and on the other hand, even
the wicked, the guilty, the criminal, have glimpses of goodness,
aspirations after redemption, and when everything else is wanting, they
have energy of will and thus possess a sort of spiritual greatness. One
hears that song as a refrain in several of the tragedies, uttered by
foes over the foes whom they have conquered. Anthony pronounces this
elegy over the fallen Brutus:

    "This was the noblest Roman of them all:
    All the conspirators, save only he,
    Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
    He only in a general honest thought
    And common good to all, made one of them.
    His life was gentle and the elements
    So mix'd in him that nature might stand up
    And say to all the world 'This was a man.'"

Octavian, when he hears of the death of Anthony, exclaims:

                                      "O Anthony!
    ... We could not stall together; but yet let me lament,
    With tears as sovereign as the blood of hearts,
    That thou, my brother, my competitor
    In top of all design, my mate in empire,
    Friend and companion in the front of war,
    Unreconciliable should divide
    Where mine his thoughts did kindle, that our stars
    Unreconciliable should divide
    Our equalness to this."

It is above all in _Henry VIII_ that this feeling for justice widens
into a feeling towards oneself and others. We find a particularly good
instance of it in the dialogues between Queen Catherine and her great
enemy Wolsey. When the queen has mentioned all the grave misdeeds of
the dead man in her severe speech, Griffith craves permission to record
in his turn all the good there was in him; and with so persuasive an
eloquence does he record this good, that the queen, when she has heard
him, concludes with a sad smile:

    "After my death I wish no other herald,
    No other speaker of my living actions,
    But such an honest chronicler as Griffith.
    Whom I most hated living thou hast made me,
    With thy religious truth and modesty,
    Now in his ashes honour: peace be with him!"

One who feels justice in this way, is inclined to be indulgent, and in
Shakespeare we find the song of indulgence, in the _Tempest:_ a lofty
indulgence, for his discernment of good and evil was acute, his sense
alike for what is noble and for what is base, exquisite. He could never
be of those who slip into some form of false indulgence, which lowers
the standard of the ideal, in order to approach the real, cancelling
or rendering uncertain, in greater or lesser measure, the boundaries
between virtue and vice. Prospero it is, who is indulgent in the
_Tempest,_ the sage, the wise, the injured, the beneficent Prospero.

The _Tempest_ is an exercise of the imagination, a delicate pattern,
woven perhaps as a spectacle for some special occasion, such as a
marriage ceremony, for it adopts the procedure of some fanciful,
jesting scenario from the popular Italian comedy. Here we find islands
unknown, aerial spirits, earthly beings and monsters; it is full of
magic and of prodigies, of shipwrecks, rescues and incantations;
and the smiles of innocent love, the quips of comical creatures,
variegate pleasantly its surface. We have already noted the traces
of Shakespeare's tendency toward the romantic, and those echoes of
the comedy of love, of Romeo and Juliet, who are not unfortunate but
fortunate, when they are called Ferdinand and Miranda, with their
irresistible impulse towards love and joy. But although the work has
a bland tone, there are yet to be found in it characters belonging to
tragedy, wicked brothers, who usurp the throne, brothers who meditate
and attempt fratricide. In Caliban we find the malicious, violent
brute, abounding in strength and rich in possibilities. He listens
ecstatically to the soft music, with which the isle often resounds, he
knows its natural secrets and is ready to place himself at the service
of him who shall aid him in his desire for vengeance and shall redeem
him from captivity. Henceforth Prospero has all his enemies in his
power; he can do with them what he likes. But he is not on the same
plane with them, a combatant among combatants: meditation, experience
and science have refined him: he is penetrated with the consciousness
of humanity, of its instability, its illusions, its temptations, its
miseries. Where others think they see firm foothold, he is aware of
change and insecurity; where others find everything clear as day, he
feels the presence of mystery, of the unsolved enigma:

    "We are such things
    As dreams are made of and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep."

Will he punish? Finally, even his sprite Ariel, his minister of air,
feels compassion for those downcast prisoners, and when asked by
Prospero, does not withhold from him, that in his place he would be

                      "And mine shall.
    Hast thou, which are but air, a touch, a feeling
    Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
    One of their kind, which relish all as sharply,
    Passion as they, be kindlier moved than thou art?"

The guilty are pardoned, and finally Caliban, the monstrous Caliban,
is pardoned also, promising to behave himself better from that moment
onward. Prospero divests himself of his magic wand, which gave him so
absolute a power over his like, and while yet in his possession, caused
him to incur the risk of behaving towards them in a more than human,
perhaps an inhuman way.

Shakespeare can and does attain to indulgence towards men; but since in
him the contest between good and evil, positive and negative, remains
undecided, he is unable to rise to a feeling of cheerful hope and
faith, nor, on the other hand, to submerge himself in gloomy pessimism.
In his characters, the love of life is extraordinarily vigorous and
tenacious; all of them are agitated by strong passions; they meditate
great designs and pursue them with indomitable vigour; all of them
love infinitely and hate infinitely. But all of them, almost without
exception, also renounce life and face death with fortitude, serenity,
and as though it were a sort of liberation. The motto of all is uttered
by Edgar, in _King Lear,_ in reply to his old father, Gloucester, who
loses courage and wishes to die, when he hears of the defeat of the
king and of Cordelia. Edgar reminds his father that men must face
"their coming here even as their going hence," and that _"ripeness
is all." _ They die magnificently, either in battle, or offering
their throats to the assassin or the executioner, or they transpierce
themselves with their own hands, when nothing is left but death or
dishonour. They know how to die; it seems as though they had all
_"studied death,"_ as says a character in _Macbeth,_ when describing
one of them.

And nevertheless the ardour of life never becomes lessened or
extinguished. Romeo indeed admired the tenacity of life and the fear
of death in him who sold him the poison; miserable, hungry, despised,
suspected by men and by the law, as he was. In _Measure for Measure,_
in the scene where Claudio is in prison and condemned, the usual order
is inverted; first we have the prompt persuasion and decision to
accept death with serenity, and a few moments later the will to live
returns with furious force. The make-believe friar, who assists the
condemned man, sets the nullity of life before him in language full
of warm and rich imagery: it is troublous and such as "none but fools
would keep," a constant heart-ache for the fear of losing it, a craving
after happiness never attained, a falsity of affections, a crepuscular
condition, without joy or repose; and Claudio drinks in these words and
images, feeling that to live is indeed to die, and wishes for death.
But his sister enters, and when she tells him how she has been offered
his life as the price of her dishonour, he instantly clutches hold
again of life at that glimmer of hope, of hope stained with opprobrium,
and dispels with a shudder of horror the image of death:

                "To die and go we know not where;
    To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
    This sensible and warm motion to become
    A kneaded clod; 'tis too horrible!
    The weariest and most loathed worldly life
    That age, ache, penury and imprisonment
    Can lay on nature is a paradise
    To what we fear of death...."

And in the same play the singular personage of Barnadine is placed
before us, perfect in a few strokes, Barnadine, the criminal and almost
animal, indifferent to life and death, but who yet lives, gets drunk
and then stretches himself out and sleeps soundly, and when he is
awakened and called to the place of execution, declares firmly, that
he is not disposed to go there that day, so they had better leave him
alone and not trouble him; he turns his shoulders on them and goes back
to his cell, where they can come and find him, if they have anything
to say. Here too the feeling of astonishment at an eagerness for life,
which does not exclude the tranquil acceptance of death, is accentuated
almost to the point of becoming comic and grotesque.



It is clear that in considering the principal motives of Shakespeare's
poetry and arranging them in series of increasing complexity, we
have not availed ourselves of any quantitative criterion or rule of
measurement, but have considered only the philosophical concept of the
spirit, which is perpetual growth upon itself, and of which every new
act, since it includes its predecessors, is in this sense more rich
than they. We declare in the same way, that prose is more complex than
poetry, because it follows poetry, assumes and dominates, while making
use of it, and that certain concepts and problems imply and presuppose
certain others; we further declare that a particular equality in poetry
presupposes other poetry of a more elementary quality, and that a
pessimistic song of love or sorrow, presupposes a simple love-song.

Thus, in the succession of his works as we have considered them, which
might be more closely defined and particularised, we have nothing less
than the ideal development of Shakespeare's spirit, deduced from the
very quality of the poetical works themselves, from the physiognomy
of each and from their reciprocal relations, which cannot but appear
in relations which are serial and evolutionary. The comedies of love
and the romantic comedies have the vagueness of a dream, followed by
the hard reality of the historical plays, and from these we pass to
the great tragedies, which are dream and reality and more than dream
and reality. The general line followed by the poet even offered the
temptation to construct his development by means of the dialectic triad
of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. But we do not recommend this
course, or if followed, it should only be with the view of reaching and
adopting a compendious and brilliant formula, without suppressing in
any way the consciousness of complexity and variety of many effective
passages, much less the positive value of individual expressions.

This development does not in any case coincide with the chronological
order, because the chronological order takes the works in the order in
which they are apprehensible from without, that is to say, in the order
in which they have been written, acted or printed, and arranges them in
a series that is qualitatively irregular, or in other words, chronicles
them. Now this arrangement must not be opposed to or placed on a
level with the other, as though it were the real opposed to the ideal
development, for the ideal is the only truly real development, while
the chronological is fictitious or arbitrary, and thus unreal; that is
to say, in clear terms, it does not represent development, but simply
a series or succession. To make this point yet more clear, by means of
an example taken from common experience, we have all known men, who in
their youth have practised or tried to practise some form of activity
(music, versification, painting, philosophy, etc.) which they have
afterwards abandoned for other activities, more suitable, because in
them susceptible of richer development. These men, later on, in their
maturity, or when old age is approaching, revert to those earlier
occupations, and take delight in composing verses or music, in painting
or in philosophising, returning, as they say, to their old loves.
Such returns are certainly never pure and simple returns: they are
always coloured to some extent by what has occurred in the interval.
But they really and substantially belong to the anterior moment; the
differences that we observe in them some part of that particular
consideration which we have disregarded in considering the development
of Shakespeare, while recommending it as a theme for special study.
As we find in works which represent a return to the period of youth,
echoes of the mature period, so in youthful works we sometimes find
anticipations and suggestions of the mature period. This is the case
with Shakespeare, not only in certain situations and characters of
the historical plays, but also in certain effects of the _Dream,_ the
_Merchant of Venice_ and _Romeo and Juliet._

As the result of our argument, we cannot pass from the ideal to the
extrinsic or chronological order, and therefore it could only indicate
caprice, were we to conclude from the fact that _Titus Andronicus_
represents a literary Shakespeare or a theatrical imitator, that it
must chronologically precede _Romeo and Juliet,_ or even _Love's
Labour's Lost._ The same applies to the argument that because
_Cymbeline,_ the _Winter's Tale_ and _Pericles_ are composed of
romantic material similar to that of _All's Well,_ of _Much Ado_ and
of _Twelfth Night_ (where we find innocent maidens falsely accused and
afterwards triumphant, dead women, who turn out to be alive, women
dressed as men, and the like), that they must all have been written at
the same time. The same holds good of the historical plays: we cannot
argue from the fact that these plays represent a more complex condition
of the soul than the love comedies and the romantic plays, that the
historical plays are all of them to be dated later than the two groups
above-mentioned; or that for the same reasons, _Hamlet,_ the first
_Hamlet,_ could not by any means have been composed by Shakespeare in
his very earliest period, about 1592, as Swinburne asserts, swears and
takes his solemn oath is the case: and who knows but he is right?

In like manner, we cannot pass from the chronological to the ideal
order, and since the chronology, documentary or conjectural, places
_Coriolanus_ after _Hamlet,_ and also after _Othello, Macbeth, Lear_
and _Anthony and Cleopatra,_ must not, therefore, insist upon finding
in it profound thoughts, which it does not contain, or deny that it
belongs to the period of the "historical plays" with which it has the
closest connection. Again, although the chronology places _Cymbeline_
and the _Winter's Tale,_ as has been said, in the last years of
Shakespeare's life, we must not insist upon finding profound meanings
in those works, or talk, as some have done, of a superior ethic, a
"theological ethic," to which Shakespeare is supposed at last to
have attained, or dwell upon the gracious idyllic scenes to be found
in them, weighing them down with non-existent mysteries, making out
that the Imogens and Hermiones are beings of equal or greater poetic
intensity than Cordelia, or Desdemona, or take Leontes for Othello,
Jacques for Iago, whereas, in the eyes of those possessed of poetic
sentiment, the former stand to the latter in the relation of little
decorative studies compared to works by Raphael or Giorgione. Proof of
this is to be found in the fact that the latter have become popular and
live in the hearts and minds of all, while the former please us, we
admire them, and pass on.

All that can be admitted, because comformable to logic and experience,
is that the two orders in general--but quite in general, and therefore
with several exceptions and disagreements--big and little--correspond
to one another. Indeed, if we take the usual chronological order, as
fixed by philologists and to be found in all Shakespearean manuals
and at the head of the plays, with little variation, we see that the
first comedies of love and the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, including
the romantic element, which is common to all of them, belong to the
first period, between 1591 and 1592. We next find the historical plays,
the comedies of love and the romantic dramas, closely associated;
then begins the period of the great tragedies, _Julius Caesar_ and
_Anthony and Cleopatra;_ then again,--after a return to anterior
forms with _Coriolanus, Cymbeline_ and the _Winter's Tale,_--we reach
the _Tempest,_ which seems to be the last, or among the last of
Shakespeare's works.

Biographers have tried to explain the last period of Shakespeare's
poetry in various ways, sometimes as the period of his _"becoming
serene,"_ sometimes as that of his _"poetical exhaustion"_ sometimes
as _"an attempt after new forms of art"_; but with such utterances as
these, we find ourselves among those conjectural constructions, which
we have purposely avoided, if for no other reason than that so many
people, who are good for nothing else, make them every day, and we do
not wish to deprive them of their occupation.

The _biographical_ character of that period can be interpreted, as we
please, as one of repose, of gay facility, of weariness, of expectation
and training for new works, and so on: but the _poetical_ character
of the works in question, is such as we have described, and such as
all see and feel that it is. It is too but a biographical conjecture,
however plausible,--but certainly most graceful and pleasing--, which
maintains that the magician Prospero, who breaks his wand, buries his
book of enchantments, and dismisses his aerial spirit Ariel, ready
to obey his every nod, symbolizes William Shakespeare himself, who
henceforth renounces his art and takes leave of the imaginary world,
which he had created for his own delight and in obedience to the law of
his own development and where till then he had lived as sovereign.



The motives of Shakespeare's poetry having been described, there is
no occasion for the further question as to the way in which he has
made of them concrete poetry, in other words, as to the _form_ he
gave to that affective content. Form and content cannot be separated
from one another and considered apart. For this reason, everything
remarked of Shakespeare's poetry, provided that it is something real
and well observed, must be either a repetition applied to Shakespeare
of the statement as to the characteristics, that is to say, the
unique character of all poetry, or a description in language more
or less precise, beneath the title of "formal characteristics," of
what constituted the physiognomy of the sentiment or sentiments of
Shakespeare, thus returning to that determination of motives, of which
we have treated above. Still less can we engage in an enquiry as to the
_technique_ of Shakespeare, because the concept of technique is to be
altogether banished from the sphere of aesthetic criticism, technique
being concerned solely with the practical purposes of extrinsication,
such as for poetry would be the training of a reciter's voice, or the
making of the paper and the type, with which it is printed. There is
no trade secret in Shakespeare, which can be communicated, no "part"
that "can be taught and learned" (as has been maintained); in the best
sense "technique" has value as a synonym of artistic form and in that
way returns to become part of the dilemma above indicated.

Easy confirmation of this fact is to be found in any one of the many
books that have been written on the "form" or on the "technique" of
Shakespeare. Take for example the most intelligent of all, that by
Otto Ludwig, written with much penetration of art in general and of
Shakespearean art in particular, which contains the words that have
been censured above. There we read, that in Shakespeare "everything is
individualised, and at the same time idealised, by means of loftiness
and power: every speech accords with the sentiment that has called
it forth, every action with the character and situation, every
character and situation depends upon every other one, and both upon
the individuality of the time; every speech and every situation is
yet more individualised by means of time and place, even by means of
natural phenomena; in such a way that each one of his plays has its own
atmosphere, now clearer, now more dark."

But of what poetry that is poetry cannot this individuated idealisation
be affirmed or demanded? We read in the same volume that Shakespeare
"is never speculative, but always holds to experience, as Shylock to
the signature on the bond." But what poetry that is poetry ever does
abandon the form of the sensible for the concept or for reasoning?
The "supreme truth" of every particular of the representation is
praised, but this does not exclude the use of the "symbolical," that
is, of particulars which are not found in nature, but mean what they
are intended to mean, and "give the impression of the most persuasive
reality, although, indeed precisely because, not one word of them can
be said to be true to nature." With such a statement as this, the
utmost attained is a confutation of the pertinacious artistic heresy as
to imitation of nature. We find "Shakespearean totality" exalted, by
means of which "a passion is like a common denominator of the capital
sum, and the capital sum becomes in its turn the general denominator
of the play." This "totality" is clearly synonymous with the lyrical
character, which constitutes the poetry of every poem, including those
that are called epic and dramatic, or narrative, and those in the form
of dialogue. We find here too that nearly all the tragedies assume
in a sense the "form of a sonata," which contains in close relation
and contrast the theme, the idea of the hero and the counter-theme,
and in the passages aforesaid develops the motives of the theme with
"harmonious and contrapuntal characteristics" and "in the third part
resumes the whole theme in a more tranquil manner, and in tragedy in a
parallel minor key." But this imaginary technical excellence is nothing
but the "musical character" of all art, which, like the "lyrical
character," is certainly worth insisting upon as against the materially
figurative and realistic interpretation of artistic representations.
Analogous observations avail as to the "ideality" of "time" and
"place," which Ludwig discovers in Shakespeare, and which are to be
found in every poem, where rhythm and form obey rules, which are by no
means arithmetical or geometrical, but solely internal and poetic. They
also avail against all the other statements of Ludwig and other critics
as to typicity, impersonality, constancy of characteristics, which is
also variability, and the like. These are all similes or metaphors
for poetry, which is unique. It is true that some of these things are
noted, just with a view to differentiate Shakespeare from other poets,
and therefore assume a proper individual meaning, when we take truth as
being the particular Shakespearean truth, his vision of things, and the
sense which he reveals for the indivisible tie between good and evil
existing in every man; for "impersonality," his attitude of irresolute
but energetic dialectic, and so on; but in certain other cases, it is
not a question of the form of Shakespeare, but, as has been said, of
his own sentiment and of his motives of inspiration.

In one case only is it possible to separate form from content and to
consider it in itself; that is to say, when the rhetorical method
is applied to Shakespeare or to any other artist. This consists in
separating form from content and making of it a garment, which becomes
just nothing at all without the body with which it grew up, or gives
rise to pure caprice and to the illusion that anyone can appropriate
and adopt it to his own purposes. In romantic parlance (for there
existed a romantic manner of speech) what was known as a mixture of
comic and tragic, of prose and verse, what was called the "humorous,
the grotesque, the fanciful," such as apparitions of mysterious and
supernatural beings, and again the method that Shakespeare employed
in production of his plays, his manner of treating the conflict and
determining the catastrophe, the way in which he makes his personages
speak, the quality and richness of his vocabulary, were enumerated
as "characteristics of his art," things that others could employ if
they wished to do so, and indeed they were so employed, with the poor
results that one can imagine. This is the source of the anticritical
terminology employed for Shakespeare and other poets, which discovers
and magnifies his "ability," his "expedients," his "conveying of the
necessary information without having the air of doing so," as though he
were a calculator or constructor of instruments with certain practical
ends, not a divine imagination. But enough of this.

Certainly, it would be possible to take one of the plays of
Shakespeare, or all of them, one after the other, and having exposed
their fundamental motive (this has been done), to illustrate their
aesthetic coherence and to point out the delicacy of treatment, bit by
bit, scene by scene, accent by accent, word by word. In _Macbeth,_ for
instance, might be shown the robust and potent unity of the affective
tragical representation, which bursts out and runs like a lyric, all
of a piece, everywhere maintaining complete harmony of parts, and each
scene seeming to be a strophe of the poem, from its opening, with the
sudden news of Macbeth's victories, and the joy and gratitude of the
old king, immediately followed by the fateful meeting with the witches
and by the kindling of the voracious desire, against which Macbeth
struggles; down to the coming of the king to the castle, where ambush
and death await his unsuspecting confidence; then the scene darkens,
the murder takes place on that dread night, and Macbeth becomes
gradually involved in a crescendo of crimes, up to the moment when the
terrible tension ends in furious combat and the slaying of the hero.
King Duncan, when he arrives at the gate of the castle, serene and
happy as he is, in the event which has given peace to his kingdom,
lingers to enjoy the delicate air and to admire the amenity of the
spot. Banquo echoes him, and abandons himself to innocent pleasure, in
whole-hearted confidence, repeating that delicious little poem about
the martlet, which has suspended everywhere on the walls of the castle
its nest and fruitful cradle,

    "This guest of summer,
    The temple-haunting martlet,"

whose presence he has always observed, implies that the "air is
delicate." In the whole of that quiet little conversation, we feel
sympathy for the good old man, we shudder for what is coming and are
sensible of the piteous wrong in things. When Macbeth crosses swords
with Macduff, he remembers the last words of the witches' prophecy,
which he believes to be favourable to himself; but when it becomes
suddenly evident that Macduff it is, who shall slay him, he shudders
and bursts out as before, with: "I will not fight with thee." This
ejaculation reveals the violence of the shock and an instinctive
movement of the will to live, which would elude its destiny. And we
can pause at any part of _Othello,_ for instance, at the moment when
Desdemona intercedes for Cassio, with the gentleness and coquetry of
a woman in love, who knows that she is loved, and talks like a child,
who knows it has the right to be a little spoilt; or at the moment when
Desdemona is in the act of being slain, when she does not break into
the complaints of innocence calumniated, nor assumes the attitude of a
victim unjustly sacrificed, but like a poor creature of flesh and blood
that loves life, loves love, and with childish egoism has abandoned her
father for love, and now breaks out into childish supplications, trying
to postpone and to retard death, at least for a few moments.

    "O, banish me, my lord, but kill me not!...
    Kill me to-morrow; let me live to-night!...
    But half an hour!...
    But while I say one prayer!"

We could in like manner enable anyone to understand the fabulous-human
character of _King Lear,_ who did not at once understand it for
himself, by analysing the great initial scene between Lear and his
three daughters, where, at the poet's touch, the story and the fabulous
personages assume at one stroke a reality that is the very strength of
our abhorrence of dry egoism cloaking itself in affectionate words and
also the very strength of our tender admiration for the true goodness,
which conceals itself and does not speak ("What shall Cordelia do? Love
and be silent").

This insistence upon analysis and eulogy will be of special value to
those who do not immediately understand of themselves, owing either
to preconceptions, to habitual lack of attention, to their slight
knowledge of art or to their lack of penetration. It will be of use in
schools, to promote good reading, and outside them, it may assist in
softening those hard heads which belong sometimes to men of letters.
But it does not form part of our object in writing this treatise, nor
does it appear to form part of the duty of Shakespearean criticism, for
Shakespeare is one of the clearest and most evident of poets, capable
of being perfectly understood by men of slight or elementary culture.
We run with impatience through the many prolix, aesthetic commentaries
which we already possess on his plays, as we should certainly listen
with impatience to anyone who should draw our attention to the fact
that the sun is shining brightly in the sky at midday, that it is
gilding the country with its light, making sparkle the dew, and playing
with its rays upon the leaves.

On the other hand, it is not inopportune to record that excellence
in his art was long denied or contested to Shakespeare. This was the
general view of his contemporaries themselves, because we now know
what we are to think of the words of praise, which we find relating to
him in the literature of his time. These had been diligently traced
and collected by scholars, but had been more or less deliberately
misunderstood, and interpreted in a sense opposed to their correct
meaning, which was that of benevolent sympathy and condescending praise
for a poet of popular appeal, approximately what we should employ
now for a lively and pleasing writer of romantic adventures. Similar
judgments reappeared in a different style and at a different time in
the famous utterances of Voltaire, which vary in their intonation
according to his humour: such are _barbare aimable, fou séduisant,
sauvage ivre,_ and the like. They do not appear to have lost their
weight especially in France, where a certain Monsieur Pellissier has
filled a large volume with them, coming to the conclusion that the
work of Shakespeare, "malgré tant de beautés admirables est un immense
fouillis," and that it generally seems to be, "celle d'un écolier,
d'un écolier génial, qui n'ayant ni expérience, ni mesure, ni tact,
gaspille prématuré son génie abortif." Finally (and this has greater
weight), Jusserand, a learned historian of English literature, treating
of Shakespeare with great display of erudition, presents him as "un
fidèle serviteur" of his theatrical public, and speaks of his "défauts
énormes." Chateaubriand, in his essay of 1801, playing the Voltaire in
his turn, attributed to him "le génie," while he denied to him "l'art,"
the observance of the "règles" and "genres," which are "nés de la
nature même"; but later he recognises that he was wrong to "mesurer
Shakespeare avec la lunette classique." Here he put his finger on the
fundamental mistake of that sort of criticism, which judges art, not
by its intrinsic qualities, but by comparison with other works of art,
which are taken as models. The same mistake was renewed, when French
tragedy was not the model, but the art of realistic modern drama
and fiction. The principal document in support of this is Tolstoi's
book, where at every word or gesture of Shakespeare's characters, he
exclaims that men do not speak thus, that is to say, the men who are
not man in universal, but the men of Tolstoi's romances, though these
latter happen to be far nearer to the characters of Shakespeare than
their great, but unreasonable and quite uncritical author suspected.
Tolstoi arrives at the point of preferring the popular and unpoetical
play _King Lear,_ to the _King Lear_ of Shakespeare, because there is
more logic in the conduct of the plot in the former, thus showing that
he prefers minute prosaic details to sublime poetry.

An attenuated form of these views as to the lack of art in Shakespeare
is the theory maintained better by Rümelin than by others, to the
effect that the characters in Shakespeare are worth a great deal
more than the action or plots, which are disconnected, intermittent,
contradictory and without any feeling for verisimilitude. He also
holds that Shakespeare works on each scene, without having the power
of visualising the preceding scene, or the one that is to follow,
and also that the characters themselves do not respect the truth of
dialogue and of the drama, in their manner of speech, which is always
fiery, imaginative and splendid. Finally, it might be said of him that
he composes beautiful music for libretti, which are more or less ill
constructed. Now if this theory had for its object to assert, though
with emphasis and exaggeration, that in a poetical work the material
part of the story, the web of events, does not count, and that the only
thing of importance is the soul that circulates within it, just as in
a picture, it is not the material side of the things painted (which is
called by critics of painting "the literary element," or that which
taken in itself is external and without importance), but the rhythm of
the lines and of the colours, what he maintained would be correct, if
only as a reaction. Coleridge has already noted the independence of the
dramatic interest from the intrigue and quality of the story, which in
the Shakespearean drama, was obtained from the best known and commonest
sources. But the object with which this theory was conceived by
Rümelin and with which it is generally maintained, has for its object
to establish a dualism or contradiction in the art of Shakespeare, by
proving him to be "strong" in one domain of the spirit and "weak" in
another, where strength in both is "necessary," in order to produce a
perfect work.

We are bound to deny with firmness this assumption: we refuse to
admit the existence of any such dualism and contradiction, because
the distinction between characters and actions, between style and
dialogue and style and work, is arbitrary, scholastic and rhetorical.
There is in Shakespeare one poetical stream, and it is impossible
to set its waters against one another--characters against actions,
and the like. So true is this, that save in cold blood, one does not
notice his so-called contradictions, omissions and improbabilities,
that is to say, when we leave the poetical condition of the spirit
and begin to examine what we have read, as though it were the report
of an occurrence. Nor is the imputation cast upon the speech of
Shakespeare's characters, which is perfectly consonant with the nature
of the poems, admissible. Hence from the lips of Macbeth and of Lady
Macbeth, of Othello and of Lear, came true and proper lyrics. These
are not interruptions and dissonances in the play, but motions and
upliftings of the play itself; they are not the superposition of one
life upon another, but the outpouring of that life, which is continued
in the central motive. These witticisms, conceits and misunderstandings
in _Romeo and Juliet,_ which have so often been blamed, are to
be explained, at least in great measure, in a natural way, as the
character of the play, as the comedy, which precedes and imparts its
colour to the tragedy, and is brilliant with the fashionable and
gallant speech of the day.

In making the foregoing statement, we do not wish to deny that in the
drama of Shakespeare are to be found (besides historical, geographical,
and chronological errors, which are indifferent to poetry but not
necessary and for that reason avoidable or to be avoided) words and
phrases, and sometimes entire scenes, which are not justifiable, save
for theatrical reasons. We do not know to what extent they had his
assent and to what extent they are due to the very confused tradition,
under the influence of which the text of his works has descended to us.
We also do not wish to deny that he was guilty of little over-sights
and contradictions, and that he was perhaps generally negligent.
But it is important in any case to understand and bear in mind the
psychological reasons for this negligence, inspired with that sort of
indifference and contempt for the easy perfecting of certain details,
of those engaged upon works of great magnitude and importance.
Giambattista Vico, a mighty spirit who resembles Shakespeare, both in
his full, keen sense of life and in the adventures of his work and
of his fame, was also apt frequently to overlook details and to make
slight mistakes, and was convinced "that diligence must lose itself in
arguments, which have anything of greatness in them, because it is a
minute, and because minute a tardy virtue." Thus he openly vindicated
the right of rising to the level of heroic fury, which will not brook
delay from small and secondary matters.

As Vico was nevertheless most accurate in essentials, never sparing
himself the most lengthy meditations to sound the bottom of his
thoughts, so it is impossible to think that Shakespeare did not give
the best and greatest part of himself to his plays, that he was not
continually intent upon observing, reflecting comparing, examining his
own feelings, seeking out and weighing his expressions, collecting and
valuing the impressions of the public and of his colleagues in art,
in fact, upon the study of his art. The precision, the delicacy, the
gradations, the shading of his representations, are an irrefragable
proof of this. The sense of classic form is often denied to him, even
by his admirers, that is to say, of a partial and old-fashioned
ideal of classical form, consisting of certain external regularities.
But he was a classic, because he possessed the strength that is sure
of itself, which does not exert itself, nor proceed in a series
of paroxysmal leaps, but carries in itself its own moderation and
serenity. He had that taste which is proper to genius and commensurate
with it, because genius without taste is an abstraction to be found
only in the pages of treatises. The various passages, where he chances
to find an opportunity for theorizing on art, show that he had
profoundly meditated the art he practised. In one of the celebrated
passages of the _Dream,_ he makes Theseus say,

    "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 shape, and gives to airy nothing
    A local habitation and a name."

And that a powerful imagination, if it is affected by some joy,
imagines someone as the bringer of that joy, and if it imagine some
nocturnal terror, it changes a bush into a wild beast with great
facility. That is to say, he shows himself conscious of the creative
virtue of poetry and of its origin in the feelings, which it changes
into persons, endowed with ethereal sentiment. But in the equally
celebrated passage of _Hamlet,_ he dwells upon the other aspect of
artistic creation, upon its universality, and therefore upon its calm
and harmony. What Hamlet chiefly insists upon in his colloquy with
the players, is "moderation," "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." To declare Shakespeare to be
a representative of the frenzied and convulsed style in poetry, as has
been done several times, is to utter just the reverse of the truth.
In this respect, it is well to read the contemporary dramatists, with
a view to measuring the difference, indeed the abyss between them. In
the famous _Spanish Tragedy_ of Kyd, there is a scene (perhaps due to
another hand) in which Hieronymus asks a painter to paint for him the
assassin of his own son, and cries out:

    "There you may show a passion, there you may show a passion....
    Make me rave, make me cry, make me mad,
    Make me well again, make me curse hell,
    Invocate, and in the end leave me
    In a trance, and so forth."

The same character is attacked by doubt and asks with anxiety: "Can
this be done?" and the painter replies: "Yes, Sir."

Such was not the method of Shakespeare, who would have made the painter
reply, not with a yes, but with a yes and a no together.

His art, then, was neither defective nor vitiated in any part of its
own constitutive character, although certain works are obviously
weak and certain parts of other works, in the vast mass that goes
under his name. Such youthful plays as _Love's Labour's Lost, The
Two Gentlemen,_ the _Comedy of Errors,_ are not notable, save for a
certain ease and grace, only manifesting in certain places the trace
of his profound spirit. The "historical plays," are as we have already
shown, fragmentary and do not form complete poems animated with a
single breath of passion. Some of them, and especially the first
part of _Henry VI,_ have about them an arid quality and are loosely
anecdotal; in others, such as _Henry IV_ and _Henry V,_ is evident the
desire to stimulate patriotic feelings, and they are further burdened
with scenes of a purely informative nature. _Coriolanus_ too, which
was apparently composed later and is derived from a different source,
also lacks complete internal justification, for it consists of a
study of characters. _Timon_ (assuming that it was his) is developed
in a mechanical manner, although it is full of social and ethical
observations and possesses rhetorical fervour. _Cymbeline_ and the
_Winter's Tale_ contain lovely scenes, but are not as a whole works
of the first order; the idyllic and romantic Shakespeare appears
in them to have rather declined in comparison to the author of the
earlier plays of the same sort, inspired with a very different vigour.
_Measure for Measure_ contains sentiments and personages that are
profoundly Shakespearean, as the protagonist Angelo, the meter out of
inexorable justice, so sure of his own virtue, who yields to the first
sensual temptation that occurs, in Claudius, who wishes and does not
wish to die, and in the Barnadine already mentioned. This play, which
oscillates between the tragic and the comic, and has a happy ending,
instead of forming a drama of the sarcastic-sorrowful-horrible sort,
fails to persuade us that it should have been thus developed and thus
ended. There is something of the composite in the structure of the
wonderful _Merchant of Venice,_ and certain of the scenes of _Troilus
and Cressida,_ such as those of the speeches of Ulysses and those
on the other side of Hector and Troilus, seem to be echoes or even
entire pieces taken from historical plays and transported with ironic
intention into comedy. Points of this sort are to be found even in the
great tragedies. In _Lear,_ for instance, the adventures of Gloucester
and his son are not completely satisfactory, grafted as they are upon
those of the king and his daughters, either because they introduce too
realistic an element into a play with an imaginary theme, or because
they create a heavy parallelism, much praised by an Italian critic,
who has attempted to express _King Lear_ in a geometrical form; but
the origin for this parallelism may perhaps be really due to the need
for theatrical variety, complication and suspense, rather than to any
moral purpose of emphasising horror at ingratitude. The clown, who
accompanies the king, abounds in phrases, which are not all of them
in place and significant. But if to set about picking holes in the
beauties of Shakespeare's plays has seemed to us a superfluous and
tiresome occupation, such too, from another point of view and in
addition pedantic and irreverent, seems to be the investigation of
defects that we observe in them; they are opaque points, which the eye
does not observe in the splendour of such a sun.

Another judgment which also has vogue refers to a constitutive or
general defect in Shakespeare's poetry, a certain limit or barrier
in it, a narrowness, albeit an ample and a rich narrowness. We must
distinguish two forms of this judgment, the first of which might
be represented by the epigrams of Platen, who, while recognising
Shakespeare's power to move the heart and the strength of his
characterisation, declared that "so much truth is a fatal gift," and
that Shakespeare draws so incisively, only because he cannot veil
his personages in grace and beauty. He greatly admired even what is
painful in Shakespeare, looking upon it as beautiful, and was full
of admiration for his comical figures, such as Falstaff and Shylock,
"an incomparable couple"; but he denied to Shakespeare true tragic
power, which "must open the deepest of wounds and then heal them."
The second of these forms is the commonest, and Mazzini may stand as
its representative. He maintained that Shakespeare was a poet of the
real, not of the ideal, of the isolated individual, not of society;
that he was not dominated by the thought of duty and responsibility
towards mankind, as expressed in politics and history, that his was a
voice rather of the Middle Ages than of modern times, which found their
origin in Schiller, the poet of humanity and Providence.

Even Harris's book concludes with a series of reservations: he says
that Shakespeare was neither a philosopher nor a sage; that he never
conceived a personage as contesting and combating his own time;
that he had only a vague idea of the spirit by which man is led to
new and lofty ideals in every historical period; that he was unable
to understand a Christ or a Mahomet; that instead of studying, he
ridiculed Puritanism and so remained shut up in the Renaissance, and
that for these reasons, in spite of _Hamlet;_ he does not belong
to the modern world, that the best of a Wordsworth or of a Tolstoi
is outside him, and so on. We may perfectly admit all this and it
may even be of use in putting a curb upon such hyperbole and such
superlatives as those of Coleridge, to the effect that Shakespeare
was _anér myriónous,_ the myriad-minded man (although even this
myriad-mindedness may seem to be but a very ample narrowness, if
myriads be taken as a finite number).

Shakespeare could never have desired to possess the ideal of beauty,
which visited the soul of the hirsute and unfortunate Platen, the
social or humanitarian ideals of the Schillers and Tourgueneffs. But
he had no need whatever of these things to attain the infinite, which
every poet attains, reaching the centre of the circle from any point
of the periphery. For this reason, no poet, whatever the historical
period at which he was born and by which he is limited, is the poet
of only one historical epoch. Shakespeare formed himself during the
period of the Renaissance, which he surpasses, not with his practical
personality, but with his poetry. There is nothing, then, for these
limiters to do, save to manifest their dissatisfaction with poetry
itself, which is always limited-unlimited. This, I think, was also the
case with Emerson, who lamented that Shakespeare (whom he nevertheless
placed in the good company of Homer and of Dante) "rested in the beauty
of things and never took the step of investigating the virtue that
resides in symbols," which seemed to be inevitable for such a genius,
and that "he converted the elements awaiting his commands," into a
diversion, and gave "half truths to half men": whereas, according
to Emerson, the entire truth for entire men could only be given by
a personage whom the world still awaits. To Emerson, this personage
seemed most attractive, but to others he may possibly perhaps seem as
little amiable as Antichrist: he called him "the poet-priest."



Criticism of Shakespeare, like every criticism, has followed and
expressed the progress and alternations of the philosophy of art,
or aesthetic; it has been strong or weak, profound or superficial,
well-balanced or one-sided, according to the doctrines that have
there been realised. Their history would form an excellent History
of Aesthetic, because the fame of Shakespeare became widespread,
concurrently with the spread of aesthetic theory, with its liberation
from external norms and concepts, and its penetration to the heart of
its subject. Shakespeare's poetry in its turn stimulated this deepening
of the theory of aesthetic, by its revelation of a poetic world, for
emotion and admiration, in appearance at least, very different from
what had previously passed as its sole and perfect example. But since
we are occupied at the present moment with Shakespeare and not with
aesthetic theory, we shall touch only upon certain points of this
criticism, in order the more firmly to establish by indirect proof the
judgment expressed above, and to indicate certain obstacles, which the
student of Shakespeare will meet with in critical literature relating
to that poet. Our description and definition of them may render
avoidable certain of the most common errors.

Among these must be included (not in the seat of criticism, but in
the entrance-hall and at the gates) what may be called _exclamatory_
criticism, which instead of understanding a poet in his particularity,
his finite-infinity, drowns him beneath a flood of superlatives. This
is the method employed by English writers towards Shakespeare (I am
bound to admit that the Italians do the same as regards Dante). An
example of this habit, selected from innumerable others, is Swinburne's
book, from which we learn that "it would be better that the world
should lose all the books it contains rather than the plays of
Shakespeare"; that Shakespeare is "the supreme creator of men"; that
he "stands alone," and at the most might admit "Homer on his right and
Dante on his left hand"; then, as to individual plays, we learn that
the trilogy of _Henry IV-V_ suffices to reveal him as "the greatest
playwright of the world," that the _Dream_ stands "without and above
any possible or imaginable criticism." Thus he continues, puffing out
his cheeks to find hyperboles, which themselves finally turn out to be
inferior to hyperbolic requirements. Sometimes such exclamations not
only border on the ridiculous, but fall right into it, as is the case
with Carlyle, who stood in perplexity before the hypothetical dilemma,
as to whether England could better afford to lose "the empire of India
or Shakespeare." Victor Hugo, more generous, and an admirer of the
ocean, constituted a series of _hommes océans,_ where the tragic poet
of Albion found a place alongside of Aeschylus, Dante, Michael-Angelo,
Isaiah and Juvenal.

Another style of criticism, _by images_ to be found in works that
are estimable in other respects, is somewhat akin to this criticism
without criticism, besides being far more justifiable, because, if it
does not explain, it tries at least to give, as though in a poetical
translation, a synthetic impression of Shakespeare's art and of the
physiognomy of his various works. It describes the works of Shakespeare
by means of landscapes and other pictures, as Herder and other writers
of the _Sturm and Drang_ period delighted in doing. Coleridge too did
likewise and Hazlitt even more often, as may be shown by an extract
from the letter of a certain Miss Florence O'Brien, on _King Lear,_
to be found in well-nigh all books that deal with this tragedy. She
begins: "This play is like a tempestuous night: the first scene is like
a wild sunset, grandiose and terrible, with gusts of wind and rumblings
of thunder, which announce the imminence of the hurricane: then comes a
furious tempest of madness and folly, through which we see darkly the
monstrous and unnatural figures of Goneril and Regan"; et cetera. The
danger of such poetical variations is that of superimposing one art on
another, and of leading astray or of distracting the attention from the
genuine features of the original to be enjoyed and understood, in the
attempt to render its effect.

Let us pass over _biographical-aesthetic_ criticism: its fundamental
error and the arbitrary judgments with which it disturbs both biography
and the criticism of art have already been sufficiently illustrated;
and let us also pass over the _aesthetic_ criticism of _philologists,_
who imagine themselves to be interpreting and judging poetry, when
they are talking mere philology and uttering ineptitudes prepared with
infinite pains. Being confined to citing but one example of their
method, I would select for that purpose Furnivall's introduction to
the _Leopold Shakespeare._ I fail to understand why this introduction
is so highly esteemed and reverenced. Furnivall too, when he contrives
not to lose himself in exclamations and attempts poetry, ("who could
praise Falstaff sufficiently?" "who could fail to love Percy?" "the
countess mother in _All's Well_ resembles one of Titian's old ladies;"
etc.), amuses himself by establishing links between the plays. These he
discovers in the situations, in the action and elsewhere, regarding the
works externally and from a general point of view. Thus he discovers
a connection between _Julius Caesar_ and _Hamlet,_ in the repetition
of the name of "Caesar," which is found thrice in the latter play, in
the mouth of Horatio, of Polonius and of Hamlet, on the occasion of
both seeing a ghost, in Hamlet's feeling that he must avenge his father
like Antonius Caesar, and in the likeness of character between Brutus
and Hamlet's father. Thus he attains to the ridiculous, as Carlyle and
Swinburne by another route, when, for instance, he affirms that "in a
certain sense Hotspur (the fiery Hotspur of _Henry IV_) is Kate (that
is to say, the shrew in the _Taming of the Shrew,_) become a man and
bearing armour!"

We shall also not dwell upon _rhetorical_ criticism, which employs the
method of "styles." This method, after having rejected Shakespeare,
because he does not pay attention to the different styles of writing
(French criticism), and having then proceeded to reconcile him with
styles as explained by Aristotle in his _Poetics,_ when these are well
understood (Lessing), having sung his praises as the "genius of the
drama," the "Homer of dramatic style" (Gervinus), is still seeking for
what is "his alone and individually" in "the treatment" of the "drama."
This it will never find, because such a thing as a "dramatic style"
does not exist in the world of poetry: what does exist is simply and
solely "poetry." These questions of literary style are now rather out
of date: they survive rather in the lazy repetition of words and forms
than in actual substance. It is certainly surprising to know that there
still exist persons who examine what are called the "historical plays,"
and because they are "historical," compare them with history books,
blaming the poet for not having given to Caesar the part that should
have been his in _Julius Caesar,_ and quoting in support of their
argument (like Brandes) the histories of Mommsen and of Boissier. And
there are also fossils who discuss in the language of the sixteenth
century, verisimilitude, incongruity or multiplicity of plot, congruity
or reverse of characters, crudeness of expression, and observation or
failure to observe by Shakespeare the rules of dramatic composition. To
German criticism of the speculative period and to the vast monographs
that it produced upon Shakespeare must be given the credit of having
tried to discover and determine the _soul_ of Shakespeare's poetry.
We must also admit, as a general quality of scientific German books
on literature, even when these are of the heaviest and most full of
mistakes, that they do make us feel the presence of problems not
yet solved, whereas other books, more easy to read, better written
and perhaps less full of mistakes, are less fruitful of thoughts
that arise by repercussion or reaction. Unfortunately, these German
writers imagined that soul to reside in a sort of _philosophical,
moral, political and historical teaching,_ upon which Shakespeare
was supposed to have woven his plays. This was a flagrant offence
against all sense of poetry, for not only did they forget the poetical
in favour of the non-poetical; and attributed equal value to all of
Shakespeare's widely differing works, whatever their real value, but
also, since this non-poetical teaching had no existence, they set
about creating it on their own account by means of various subtleties,
and of a sort of allegorical exegesis. Thus in Ulrici, Gervinus,
Kreyssig, Vischer and others like them, we read with astonishment,
that in _Richard III_ (to take a historical play) Shakespeare wished
to impart "an immortal doctrine upon the divine right of kings and
their intangibility," and at the same time to give warning that it does
not suffice a king to be conscious of his right divine, unless he be
prepared to maintain it with force against force. These writers have an
almost prophetic vision that Germany will need this lesson in the case
of its romantic king, Frederick William IV of Prussia! In the _Tempest_
again (to take an imaginative play) Shakespeare is supposed by them to
have desired to give his opinion upon the great question, common to
our time and his, as to the right of Europeans to colonise and the
need of subjecting the native savage by means of whip and sword, free
of any scruple dictated by false sentiment. Finally (to take a last
example from the great tragedies), they held that the ideal teaching
of _Othello_ is that punishment awaits unequal marriages, marriage
between persons of different race, or different social condition, or
of different age; and that Desdemona deserved her cruel fate, for she
was weighed down with sin, having disobeyed her old father, imprudently
and over-warmly supported the cause of Cassio, and shown negligence and
lack of care in handling the famous handkerchief, which she let fall at
her feet! We can only reply to all this in the witty words of Riimelin,
_à propos_ of such incredible interpretations of Shakespeare's
catastrophes, to the effect that this "dramatic justice," so dear to
German aestheticians, is "like Draco's sanguinary code, which decreed a
single penalty for all misdeeds: death."

Numberless are the shocks that the artistic consciousness receives
from such a method as this. Gervinus, who professed "an even firmer
belief in Shakespeare's infallibility in matters of morality than in
his lack of aesthetic defects," is indignant with readers disposed to
find hard and cruel Prince Henry's repulse on coming to the throne,
of his old friend Falstaff, the companion of his merry adventures. He
gravely declares that this proves modern readers to be "far inferior
both to Prince Henry and to Shakespeare in nobility and ethical
fervour"; whereas it is evident that the poor readers are right,
because we have to deal here with poetical images, not with practical
and moral acts, and readers justly feel that Shakespeare was on this
occasion obeying certain ends outside the province of art. Falstaff is
sympathetic to every reader: even Gervinus does not dare to declare
him antipathetic, but sets about finding plausible explanations for
this illicit attractiveness. He produces three: the artistic perfection
of the representation, the logical perfection of the type, and the
struggle between the will for pleasure that always stimulates Falstaff,
and his old age and his paunch, which hinder or make him impotent,
and according to Gervinus, are bestowed upon him, in order to appease
or mitigate our shocked sense of ethical severity. But the only and
obvious explanation of Falstaff's sympathetic attractiveness is the
sympathy which the poet himself felt in his genial way for him as
a human force. In like manner, what we have held to be an error of
composition, such as the story of Gloucester and his sons forming a
parallel with that of Lear, is held to be a miracle by the professors
aforesaid, because, as says Ulrici, the poet wished to teach us that
"moral corruption is not isolated, but diffused among the most noble
families, representative of all the others." Vischer holds a similar
view, to the effect that Shakespeare "intended to show that, if impiety
is widely diffused, society becomes impossible, and the world rocks to
its foundation; but one instance of this did not suffice, so he had to
accumulate the most terrifying confirmation of the fact."

These professors are also unanimous in rejecting the interpretation of
the words: "He has no sons!" uttered by Macduff, when he learns that
Macbeth has caused his wife and little son to be murdered, as they are
understood by the ingenuous reader, namely, that Macduff thus expresses
his rage at not being able to take an equal vengeance upon Macbeth,
by slaying his sons. Their reason for this is that such a thing would
be unworthy of so upright and honourable a man as Macduff. As though
such honourable men as Macduff are not subject to the impulse of anger
and capable of at least momentary blindness; as though the eyes, even
of Manzoni's Father Christopher did not sometimes blaze "with a sudden
vivacity," though he kept them as a rule fixed on the ground, as if
(in the word of the author), they were two queer-tempered horses,
driven by a coachman, whom they know to be their master, yet they
will nevertheless indulge in an occasional frolic, for which they
immediately atone with a good pull on the bit.

That is what happens to Macduff, who assumes possession of himself when
he hears Malcolm's words that immediately follow. "Dispute it like a
man,"--and says: "I shall do so; but I must also feel it like a man."

Quitting psychology and returning to poetry, nothing short of Malcolm's
savage outburst can express his torment, in the climax of the dialogue.
Were Shakespeare himself to come forward and declare that he meant what
those insipid, moralising professors declare that he meant, Shakespeare
would be wrong, and whoever said that he was wrong, would be in better
accordance with his genius than he himself, for he was a genius; only
upon condition of remaining true to the logic of poetry.

We could fill a large volume with the misinterpretations of moralising
and philosophising Shakespearean critics, but it is hoped that having
here demonstrated the absurdity of the principle, readers should be
able to recognise it for themselves, in its sources and methods of

But it would need a series of volumes to catalogue all the absurdities
of another form of Shakespearean criticism, which differs from the
preceding, in being in full flower and vigour to-day: we refer to
_objectivistic_ criticism. The reason for this is that few are yet
fully aware that every kind and example of art is only successful to
the extent that it is irradiated with a sentiment, which determines
and controls it in all its parts. This used to be denied of certain
forms of poetry, particularly of the dramatic; hence the false, but
extremely logical deduction, of Leopardi, that the dramatic was the
lowest and least noble kind of poetry, because it was the most remote
and alien from pure form, which is the lyric. Shakespeare's objectivity
of "representation" and the perfect "reality" of his characters, which
live their own lives independently are often praised. This can be
said in a certain sense, but must not be taken literally, for it is
metaphorical; because, when we would reach and handle those images of
the poet's sentiment, there may not be an "explosion" (as happened when
Faust threw himself upon the phantom of Helen), but in any case they
will lose their shape, fall into shreds and vanish before our eyes.
In their place will appear an infinite number of insoluble questions
as to the manner of understanding or reestablishing their solidity
and coherence. What is known as the _Hamlet-Litteratur_ is the most
appalling of all these manifestations and it is daily on the increase.
Historians, psychologists, lovers of amorous adventures, gossips,
police-spies, criminologists investigate the character, the intentions,
the thoughts, the affections, the temperament, the previous life, the
tricks they played, the secrets they hid, their family and social
relations, and so on, and crowd, without any real claim to do so, round
the "characters of Shakespeare," detaching them from the creative
centre of the play and transferring them into a pretended objective
field, as though they were made of flesh and blood.

Among those inclined to such realistic and antipoetical investigation,
some there are, who see in Hamlet a pleasure-seeker, called to the
achievement of an undertaking beyond his powers; others find in him
a scrupulous person, who struggles between the call to vengeance and
his better moral conscience, or one who studies vengeance, but without
staining his conscience. For others again, he is an artistic genius,
inclined to contemplation, but ill-adapted to action, or a partial
genius not adapted to artistic creation, or a pure soul, or an impure
and diseased soul, or a decadent, or a sexual psychopath, obsessed with
lust and incest. We find others able to discover that he inherited
the characteristics of a father, who was tyrannical, vicious and a
bad husband, and of an uncle possessed of a lofty soul and capacity
for governing a kingdom. Finally, some have even suspected him of not
being a man, but a woman, daughter of the king, disguised as a man,
and for that reason and for no other, rejecting the beautiful Ophelia
and seeking Horatio, with whom she (Hamlet) was secretly in love. And
what kind of maiden was Ophelia? Was she naïve and innocent, or was
she not rather a malicious little court lady? Perhaps she too had
her secret, which would explain her strange relations with Hamlet. An
English enquirer has arrived at the conclusion that Ophelia was not
chaste, that she had given birth to a baby, and what is more, to a baby
whose father was not Hamlet, and that this was the reason why Hamlet
advised her to get her to a nunnery, and the priest refused to give
her body Christian burial. Her brother, Laertes, had lived in Paris,
and having there learned French customs, was for this reason so ready
to accept the advice of the king to use a poisoned sword. According
to some, Macbeth was so powerfully restrained by his own conscience,
that, save for his wife, he would never have satisfied his ambition
and slain King Duncan. But according to others, he had meditated
regicide for some time and had deferred his design, because he hoped
to succeed in a legitimate manner, were the king to die without an
heir. But he broke truce, when the king contemplated bestowing upon
his son the title of Duke of Cumberland, that is to say, Crown Prince.
For many, Lady Macbeth is a cold, pitiless woman, but for others she
is tender and sweet by nature; for some, she is madly in love with her
husband, for others, madly incensed with him, because, judging by his
undoubted military prowess, she had at first believed him to possess
the great soul of a conqueror, and then, when she found him vile with
human mildness, sensible of scruples and remorse perturbed at the
results of his own deeds, to the extent of experiencing hallucinations
and behaving rashly, she is consumed with scorn and dies of a broken
heart, on the fall of that idol and which she had aspired, the perfect

Othello has been by some identified with a Moor, a Berber, a
Mauritanian, for others he is without doubt a bestial negro, boiling
with African blood. Iago is generally characterised as amoral and
Machiavellian, a true Italian; but others deem him worthy the name
of "honest Iago," because he was good, amiable, serviceable in all
things--when his personal ambition was not at stake.

By some, Desdemona has been held to be desirable as a wife (others, on
the other hand, would be ready to marry Cordelia or Ophelia, others
Imogen or Hermione, others the nun Isabel, and finally there are some
who would prefer Portia, as "an ideal woman," and a "perfect wife");
but as regards this, there are some who have divined the secret
tendencies of Desdemona and have had no hesitation in defining her as
"a virtual courtesan."

Then again: what was the difference of age between Othello and
Desdemona? Had Othello seen the wonderful things existing in other
countries of which he speaks, or had he imagined them, or had he been
told of them? Perhaps he had enjoyed the wife of Iago, which would
explain the regard he has for the husband?

Brutus, until lately, passed for an idealist tormented with ideals;
but more accurate investigations have revealed him to be a hypocrite
in the Puritan manner, who, by means of repeated lies, ends by himself
believing the noble motives to be found on his lips; however, things
turn out badly and he finally receives the punishment he deserves.

Falstaff's religious origin has been discovered: he was a Lollard,
and thus a declared eudemonist, convinced of the nullity of the world
and of the inutility of life, living from minute to minute. He is not
really a liar and a boaster, but an imaginative person; nor is he vile,
save in appearance; he should be regarded rather as an opportunist.

We read these and an infinity of other not less astonishing statements
in the volumes, opuscules and articles which are published every year
upon the characters of Shakespeare. The effect of such discussions,
even where most sensibly written, is never to clear up or decide
anything, but on the contrary, to darken what appeared perfectly
certain, and gave no reason for any difficulty, to render uncertain
what was clearly determined. Such works give rise further to the doubt
that Shakespeare was perhaps so inexpert a writer as not to be able to
represent his own conceptions, nor express his own thoughts.

But when we do not allow ourselves to be caught in the meshes of these
fictitious problems, of which we indicated the _proton pseudos,_
when we resolutely banish them from the mind, and read and reread
Shakespeare's plays without more ado, everything remains or becomes
clear again, everything, that is to say, which should (as is natural)
be clear for the ends of poetry, in a poetical work. As Grillparzer
remarked in his time, that very Hamlet, whom Goethe took such trouble
to explain psychologically, and over whom so many hundreds of
interpreters have so diligently toiled, "is understood with perfect
ease by the tailor or the bootmaker sitting in the gallery, who
understands the whole of the play by raising his own feelings to its

From this derives another consequence: Shakespeare has been loudly
praised for his portentous fidelity to nature and reality, but at
the same time the critics, as quoted above, have placed obstacles of
various sorts in the way of those who would understand him so it has
been freely stated that Shakespeare is certainly a great poet, but that
his method is not that of "fidelity," to nature, on the contrary, he
violates "reality" at every turn, creating characters and situation,
"which are not found in nature." It would be better to say simply
that Shakespeare, like every poet, is neither in accordance nor in
disaccordance with external reality (which for that matter is what each
one of us likes to make and to imagine in his own way), for the reason
that he has nothing to do with it, being intent upon the creation of
his own spiritual reality.

The third great misadventure that has befallen Shakespeare, after those
of the moralising and psychological-objectivistic critics, is his
transference, we will not call it his promotion, to the position of a
_German,_ opposed to that of a _Latin_ or neo-Latin poet. It is not
difficult to trace the origin of this transference, when we remember
that Shakespeare was looked upon, both by his contemporaries and yet
more so when rediscovered in the eighteenth century, as a spontaneous,
rough, natural, popular poet, just the opposite of the cultured,
mannered school, in which, however, he had shown evidence of prowess
with the lesser poems and the sonnets.

This conception of his as a natural poet is found in the first school
of the new German literature, known as the _Sturm und Drang,_ which
cultivated the idea of "genius"; and from this arose the idea of
Shakespeare as the expression of "pure virgin genius, ignorant of rules
and limits, a force as irresistible as those of nature" (Gerstenberg).
And since the new German poets and men of letters greatly admired him,
and as has been said, the new Aesthetic understood him much better
than the old Poetic had done or been able to do, instead of this
better sympathy and intelligence being attributed to the spiritual
dispositions of the Germans of that period and to the progress that
they were effecting in the life of thought, it was attributed to
affinity and relationship, which was supposed to connect the German
spirit with that of Shakespeare. It is true that this theory was soon
found to lack foundation, because the best German critics, among whom
were August William Schlegel, proved that there was as much art and
regularity in Shakespeare as in any other poet, although they were
not the same in him as in others, and he did not obey contingent and
arbitrary rules.

It is also true that to a Frenchman was due the first revelation
of Shakespeare outside his own country: Voltaire, with his _odi et
amo,_ has always been blamed and held up to ridicule for the negative
side of his criticism, but the positive side of it, the mental
courage, the freshness of mental impressions, which his interest in
Shakespeare, his admiration for his sublimity, deserved, have not
been sufficiently remarked. But it is likewise true that France has
never understood Shakespeare well, owing to her classical tradition
in literature and her intellectualist tradition in philosophy, though
we do not forget her fugitive enthusiasms for the poet. Even to-day,
Maeterlinck notes "la profonde ignorance" that still reigns "de
l'œuvre shakespearienne," even among "les plus lettrés." This afforded
an opportunity for underlining the antithesis between "German" and
"French" taste, which was soon, but without any justification, expanded
into "Latin" taste.

The English of that period, both in speech and literature, were almost
as indifferent to Shakespeare as were the French. This was observed
and commented upon in a lively manner, among others by Schlegel,
Tieck, Platen and Heine. However, the new methods of German criticism
soon made their influence felt in England (Coleridge, Hazlitt), and
it seemed to the Germans that these writers had preserved the true
tradition of the race and had reillumined the fire that was languishing
or had been altogether extinguished among their brethren of the same
race, and that they had dissipated the heavy cloud of classical,
French and Latin taste, which was hanging over England. To their real
merit in recognising the fame of Shakespeare and their profound study
of the poet, and to the false interpretation that they gave of these
merits by attributing them to the virtue of their race, were added,
for well known political reasons, German pride and self-conceit, which
did the rest. All the moralising critics, to whom we have referred,
were also critics imbued with the German spirit. They united the
austere morality, which they discovered in Shakespeare and his heroes,
to celebration of the German nature of these qualities and of the
poet. They set in opposition the genuine, rude, realistic quality of
Shakespeare's poetry, to the artificial, cold, schematic poetry of the
Latins. They celebrated the Germanism of a Henry IV (his wild youth is
just that of a German youth, says Gervinus; it is the genius of the
German race, with its incorruptible health, its strength of marrow, its
infinite depths of feeling, beneath a hard and angular exterior, its
childlike humility, its wealth of humour, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera,
says Kreyssig), of a Hamlet (naturally, because he is represented
as a student of Wittenberg) and so on, through the Ophelias and the
Cordelias, and even the characters of the comedies, such as Benedick
and Biron (this last "possessing a character entirely German," "with
the harshness of a Saxon," humorous, remote from sentimentality and
affectation, and therefore "out of place among the gallantries of Latin
society"--all the above is taken from Gervinus).

Shakespeare's place "is in the Pantheon of the Germanic people, in the
sanctuary richly adorned with all the gods and demons of this race,
the most vigorous in life, the best capable of development, the most
widely diffused of all races." He stands, either beside Durer and
Rembrandt, or on a spur of Parnassus, facing Homer and Aeschylus on
another spur, sometimes permitting Dante to stand at his side--Dante
was of German origin--, while the impotent crowd of the poets of Latin
race seethes at his feet. For Carrière, he is the mouthpiece of the
German spirit in England, while for another, he is England's permanent
ambassador to Germany, accredited to the whole German people.

Both French and Italian critics also gave credence to this boasting,
sometimes echoing the theory of difference between the two different
arts, that of the north and that of the south, romantic and classic,
realistic and idealistic or abstract, passionate or rhetorical,
while others bowed reverently before the superiority of the former.
In the recent war took place a rapid change of style, but not of
mental assumptions. Both French and Italians mocked and expressed
their contempt for the rough and violent poetry of Germany, and even
Shakespeare did not have _une bonne presse_ on the occasion of his
centenary, which took place during the second year.

But return to serious matters, it seems undeniable that the historical
origin of Shakespeare is to be found in the Renaissance, which
is generally admitted to have been chiefly an Italian movement.
Shakespeare got from Italy, not only a great part, both of his form
and of his material, but what is of greater moment, many thoughts that
went to form his vision of reality. In addition to this, he obtained
from Italy that literary education, to which all English writers of
his time submitted. One may think, however, what one likes as to the
historical derivation of Shakespeare's poetical material and of his
literary education: the essential point to remember is that the poetry
had its origin solely in himself; he did not receive it from without,
either from his nation, his race, or from any other source. For this
reason, divisions and counter-divisions of it, into Germanic and Latin
poetry, and similar dyads, based upon material criteria, are without
any foundation whatever. Shakespeare cannot be a Germanic poet, for
the simple reason that in so far as he is a poet, he is nothing but a
poet and does not obey the law of his race, whether it be _lex salica,
wisigothica, langobardica, anglica_ or any other _barbarorum,_ nor
does he obey the _romana--_he obeys only the universally human _lex

That a more profound and a better understanding of Shakespeare should
have been formed and be steadily increasing, in the midst of and
because of these and other errors, is a thing that we are so ready to
admit as indubitable and obvious that we take it as understood, because
it always happens thus, in every circle of thought and in literary
history and criticism in general, and so in the particular history and
criticism of Shakespeare.

Our object has not been, however, to give the history of that
criticism, but rather to select those points in it, which it was
advisable to clear up, in order to confirm the judgment that we
propose and defend. If erroneous positions of criticism serve by their
opposition to arouse correct thoughts relating to the poet, others,
which are not erroneous, lead directly to them. In addition to the
pages of older writers, always worthy of perusal (though devoted
to problems of different times), such as those of Herder, Goethe,
Schlegel, Coleridge and Manzoni, the student will find among those
with whom he will like to think among the Dowdens, the Bradleys, the
Raleighs of to-day. These will inspire in him the wish to continue
thinking on his own account about the nature of the great poetry of



Shakespeare (and this applies to every individual work) had a history,
but has one no longer. He had a history, which was that of his poetical
sentiment, of its various changing notes, of the various forms in
which it found expression. He had also (we must insist), an individual
history which it is difficult to identify united with that of the
Elizabethan drama, to which he belongs solely as an actor and provider
of theatrical works. The general traits, which, among many differences,
he shares with his contemporaries, predecessors and imitators (even
when these are more substantial than theatrical imitations, conventions
and habits) form part of the history of the Renaissance in general and
of the English Renaissance in particular, but do not of themselves
constitute the history that was properly speaking his own.

But he no longer has this, because what happened afterwards and what
happens in the present, is the history of others, is our history,
no longer his. Indeed, the histories of Shakespeare, which have
been composed, considered in the light of later times--and they are
still being written--have been and are understood, in a first sense,
as the history of the criticism of his works; and it is clear that
in this case, it is the history of us, his critics, the history of
criticism and of philosophy, no longer that of Shakespeare. Or they
are understood as the history of the spiritual needs and movements of
different periods, which now approach and now recede from Shakespeare,
causing either almost complete forgetfulness of his poetry, or causing
it to be felt and loved. In this case too, it is the history, not of
Shakespeare, but of the culture and the mode of feeling of other times
than his. Or they are understood in a third sense, as the history of
the literary and artistic works, in which the so-called influence of
Shakespeare is more or less discernible; and since this influence would
be without interest, if it produced nothing but mere mechanical copies,
and on the contrary has interest only because we see it transformed in
an original manner by new poets and artists, it is the history of the
new poets and artists and no longer that of Shakespeare.

As regards the last statement, it will not be out of place to remark
that the accounts which have been given of the representations of
his plays are altogether foreign to Shakespeare; because theatrical
representations are not, as is believed, "interpretations," but
variations, that is to say "creations of new works of art," by means
of the actors, who always bring to them their own particular manner of
feeling. There is never a _tertium comparationis,_ in the sense of a
presumably authentic and objective interpretation, and here the same
criterion applies as to music and painting suggested by plays, which
are music and painting, and not those plays. Giuseppe Verdi, who for
his part composed an _Othello,_ wrote to the painter Morelli, who had
conceived a painting of Iago (in a letter of 1881, recently published):
"You want a slight figure, with little muscular development, and if I
have understood you rightly, one of the cunning, malignant sort ...
But if were I an actor and wished to represent Iago, I should prefer a
lean, meagre figure, with thin lips, and small eyes close to the nose,
like a monkey's, a high retreating forehead, with a deal of development
at the back of the head; absent and _nonchalant_ in manner, indifferent
to everything, incredulous, sneering, speaking good and evil lightly,
with an air of thinking about something quite different from what he
says ..." They might have entered into a long discussion as to the two
different interpretations, had not Verdi, with his accustomed good
sense, hastened to conclude: "But whether Iago be small or big, whether
Othello be Venetian or Turk, _execute them as you conceive them_: the
result will always be good. But remember _not to think too much about

The insurmountable difference that exists between the most studiously
poetic theatrical representation and the original poetry of
Shakespeare, is the true reason why, contrary to the general belief in
Shakespeare's eminent "theatricality," Goethe considered that "he was
not a poet of the theatre and did not think of the stage, which is too
narrow for so vast a soul, that the visible world is too narrow for
it." Coleridge too held that the plays were not intended for acting,
but to be read and contemplated as poems, and added sometimes to say
laughingly, that an act of Parliament should be passed to prohibit the
representation of Shakespeare on the stage.

Certainly, Lear and Othello, Macbeth and Hamlet, Cordelia and
Desdemona are part of our souls, and so they will be in the future,
more or less active, like every part of our souls, of our experiences,
of our memories. Sometimes they seem inert and almost obliterated, yet
they live and affect us; at others they revive and reawaken, linking
themselves to our greatest and nearest spiritual interests. This latter
was notably the case in the epoch that extends from the "period of
genius" at the end of romanticism, from the criticism of Kant to the
exhaustion of the Hegelian school. At that time, poets created Werther
and Faust, as though they were the brothers of Hamlet, Charlotte and
Margaret and Hermengarde, as though sisters of the Shakespearean
heroines, and philosophers constructed systems, which seemed to frame
the scattered thoughts of Shakespeare, reducing his differences to
logical terms, and crowning them with the conclusion that he either did
not seek or did not find. At that time persisted even the illusion that
the spirit of Shakespeare had transferred itself from the Elizabethan
world to the new world of Europe, was poetising and philosophising with
the mouths of the new men and directing their sentiments and actions.

Perhaps after that period, love of Shakespeare, if not altogether
extinguished, greatly declined. The colossal mass of work of every sort
devoted to Shakespeare, cannot be brought up against this judgment,
for this mass, in great part due to German, English and American
philologists, proves rather the sedulity of modern philology, than a
profound spiritual impulse. This was more lively, when Shakespeare
was far less investigated, rummaged and hashed up, and was read in
editions far less critically correct. How could he be truly loved and
really felt in an age which buried dialectic and idealism beneath
naturalism and positivism, for the former of which he stood and which
he represented in his own way? In this age, the consciousness of the
distinction between liberty and passion, good and evil, nobility and
vileness, fineness and sensuality, between the lofty and the base
in man, became obscured; everything was conceived as differing in
quantity, but identical in substance, and was placed in a deterministic
relation with the external world. In such an atmosphere artistic
work became blind, diseased, gloomy, instinctive; struggling for
expression amid the torment of sick senses, no longer amid passionate,
moral struggles of the soul; confused writers, half pedantic, half
neurasthenic, were taken for and believed themselves to be, the heirs
of Shakespeare. Even when one reads some of the most highly praised
pages of the critics of the day upon Shakespeare, so abounding in
exquisite refinements, a sort of repugnance comes over one, as though a
warning that this is not the genuine Shakespeare. He was less subtle,
but more profound, less involved, but more complex and more great than

This is not a lamentation directed against the age, which is perhaps
now drawing to a close and perhaps has no desire to do so, and will
continue to develop its own character for a greater or lesser period.
It is simply an observation of fact, which belongs to that history,
which is not the history of William Shakespeare. He continues to live
his own history, in those spirits alone, who are perpetually making
anew that history which was truly his, as they read him with an
ingenuous mind and a heart that shares in his poetry.





There is no longer any necessity for a criticism of Corneille's
tragedies in a negative sense, for it is already to be found in
several works. Further, if there exists a poet, who stands outside
the taste and the preoccupations of our day (at least in France), it
is Corneille. The greater number of lovers of poetry and art confess
without reserve that they cannot endure his tragedies, which "have
nothing to say to them." The fortune of Corneille has declined more
and more with the growth of the fame of Shakespeare, which has been
correlative to the formation and the growth of modern aesthetic
and criticism; and if the fame of Shakespeare seemed strange and
repugnant to classicistic elegance, the same fate has befallen the
French dramatist, as the result of Shakespeareanism in relation to the
appreciation of art which has now penetrated everywhere. Corneille
once represented "_la profondeur du jugement_" as opposed to "_les
irrégularités sauvages et capricieuses_" of the Englishman, decorum
against the lack of it, calm diffused light against shadows pierced
at rare intervals with an occasional flash. Lessing had selected for
examination and theme the _Rodogune,_ which he held to be a work, not
of poetical genius, but of an ingenious intellect, because genius loves
simplicity, and Corneille, after the manner of the ingenious, loved
complications. Schiller, when he had read the most highly praised works
of Corneille, expressed his astonishment at the fame which had accrued
to an author of so poor an inventive faculty, so meagre and so dry in
his treatment of character, so lacking in passion, so weak and rigid in
the development of action, and almost altogether deprived of interest.
William Schlegel noted in him, in place of poetry, "tragic epigrams"
and "airs of parade," pomp without grandeur--he found him cold in the
love scenes--his love was not as a rule love, but, in the words of the
hero Sertorius, a well calculated _aimer par politique--_intricate
and Machiavellian and at the same time ingenuous and puerile in
the representation of politics. He defined the greater part of the
tragedies as nothing but treatises on the reason of State in the
form of discussions, conducted rather in the manner of a chess-player
than of a poet. Even the most temperate De Sanctis could not succeed
in enjoying this writer, as is to be gathered from his lectures upon
dramatic literature delivered in 1847. He found that he does not render
the fullness of life, but only the extreme points of the passions
in collision, and that he prefers eloquence to the development of
tragedy, so that he often unconsciously turns tragedy into comedy. The
confrontation of Corneille's _Cid_ with its Spanish original, _Las
mocedades_ of Guillén de Castro, has however prevailed above all others
as the text upon which to base arguments against the French dramaturge.
Shack declared that the work of Corneille was altogether negative, that
he reduced and reëlaborated his original, losing the poetical soul
of the Spanish poet in the process and destroying the alternate and
spontaneous expression of tenderness and of violent passion. He found
that he substituted oratorical adornments and a swollen phraseology
for the pure language of sentiment, coquetry for the struggle of the
affections, to which it is directly opposed, and a boastful charlatan
for the heroic figure of Rodrigo. Klein, passing from severe
criticism into open satire, described the _Cid_ to be a "commentary in
Alexandrines" upon the poem of the _Mocedades,_ comparing the Spanish
Jimena to a fresh drop of dew upon "a flower that has hardly bloomed,"
and the French Chimène on the contrary to a "muddy drop, which presents
a tumultuous battle of infusorians to the light of the sun": the
"infusorians" would represent the antithesis to the "Alexandrine tears"
(_Alexandrinerthränen_), which she pours forth.

But these negative judgments were not restricted altogether and
at first to foreigners and romantics. In the eighteenth century,
Voltaire (who for that matter sometimes lifts his eyes to the
dangerous criterion of Shakespeare in his notes upon Corneille) did
not refrain from criticising his illustrious predecessor for the
frequent _froideur_ observable in his dramatic work, as well as for his
constant habit of speaking himself as the author and not allowing his
personages to speak, for his substitution of reflections for immediate
expressions, and for the artifices, the conventions and the padding, in
which he abounds. Vauvenargues showed himself irreconcilable (Racine
was his ideal). He too blamed the heroes of Corneille for uttering
great things and not inspiring them, for talking, and always talking
too much, with the object of making themselves known--whereas great
men are rather characterised by the things they do not say than those
they do say--and in general for ostentation, which takes the place
of loftiness, and for declamation, which he substitutes for true
eloquence. Gaillard allowed the influence of the generally unfavorable
verdict or the verdict full of retractations and cautions in respect
of its theme, to colour the eulogy which he composed in 1768. It used
to be said of Corneille that he aimed rather at "admiration" than at
"emotion," and that he was in fact "not tragic." This insult (declared
Gaillard) was spoken, but not written down, "because the pen is always
wiser than the tongue." But the accusation of "coldness" had made
itself heard on the lips of Corneille's contemporaries in the second
half of the seventeenth century, particularly when the tragedies of
Racine, with their very different message to the heart, had appeared to
afford a contrast.

The defenders of Corneille have often yielded to the temptation of
accepting Shakespeare's dramas or at least the tragedies of Racine as
a standard of comparison and a reply to criticism. They have attempted
to prove that Corneille should be read, judged and interpreted in the
spirit of those poets. They have claimed to discover in Corneille just
that which their adversaries failed to discover and of which they
denied the existence: this they call truth, reality and life, meaning
thereby, passion and imagination. Thus we find Sainte-Beuve lamenting
that not only foreigners, but France herself, had not remarked and
had not gloried in the possession of Pauline (in _Polyeucte_), one
of the divine poetical figures, which are to be placed in the brief
list containing the Antigones, the Didos, the Francescas da Rimini,
the Desdemonas, the Ophelias. More recently others have elevated the
Cleopatra (of _Rodogune_) to the level of Lady Macbeth, and the Cid, on
account of the youthful freshness of his love-making, to the rank of
_Romeo and Juliet,_ while they have discovered in _Andromède_ nothing
less than that kind of _féerie poétique_ "to which the English owe a
_Midsummer Night's Dream_ and the _Tempest._" They also declare that
the _Horace_ is a tragedy in which reigns a sort of "savage Roman
sanctity," culminating in the youthful Horace, "intransigent and
fanatical, ferociously religious"; while his sister Camilla is "a
creature of nerves and flesh, who has strayed into a family of heroes"
and rises up in revolt against that hard world. For them Camilla is
an "invalid of love," "one possessed by passion," a "neurotic," of
an altogether modern complexion. _Polyeucte_ represents "a drama of
nascent Christianity," and its protagonist, a "mystical rebel," recalls
at once "Saint Paul, Huss, Calvin and Prince Krapotkine," arousing
the same curiosity as a Russian nihilist, such as one used to see
some years ago in the beershops, with bright eyes, pale and fair, the
forehead narrow about the temples and of whom it was whispered that he
had killed some general or prefect of police at Petersburg. Severus
seems to them to be similar in some respects to "a modern exegete,"
who is writing the history of the origin of Christianity. There exists
no play "which penetrates more profoundly into the human soul or opens
a wider perspective of untrodden paths." _Cinna_ represents in the
tragedy of Augustus another neurotic after the modern manner. Augustus,
ambitious and without scruples, has attained to the summit of his
desires and is weary and tired of power. He negates the man who ordered
the proscriptions that is in himself and his generosity is due almost
to satiety for too easy triumphs and vengeances. Attila, in the tragedy
of that name, springs out before us as "a monster of pride, cruel,
emphatic and subtle, conscious of being the instrument of a mysterious
power, an ogre with a mission": this "stupendous" conception is worthy
to stand side by side with the gigantic figures of the _Légende des

These are all fantastic embroideries, metaphors, easel pictures, which
sometimes do honour to the artistic capacity of the eulogists, but
have no connexion whatever with the direct impression of Corneille's
tragedies. Spinoza would have said that they have as much connexion
with them as the dog of zoology with the dog-star. An obvious instance
of this is the strange comparison of the character Polyeucte with
the "Russian nihilist"--but it is little less evident in the other
instances, because it is altogether arbitrary to interpret the Augustus
of the _Cinna_ as though he were a Shakespearean Richard II or Henry IV
and to attribute to him the psychology of what Nietzsche describes as
the "generous man."

Fancy for fancy, as well admit Napoleon's comment. He declared himself
persuaded that Augustus was certainly not changed in a moment into a
_"prince débonnaire,"_ into a poor prince exercising "_une si pauvre
petite vertu_" as clemency, and that if he holds out to Cinna the right
hand of friendship, he only does this to deceive him and in order to
revenge himself more completely and more usefully at the propitious
moment. It is an amusement like another to take up the personages of
a play or of a story and refashion them in our own way by the free
use of the fancy, or to weave a new mode of feeling out of the facts
concerning certain cases and characters. Camilla can thus be quite
well transformed even into a nymphomaniac; but unfortunately criticism
insinuates itself into the folds of fancy and causes the fancier
himself (Lemaître) to note that Camilla sacrifices her love to her duty
_"délibérément,"_ that she certainly resembles a character of Racine,
but "_non certes par la langue,_" and that she would show us what she
really is "_si elle parlait un langage moins rude at moins compact._"
As though the speech and the inflection were an accident and not the
whole of a poetic creation, the beating of its heart! The demoniacal,
the neurotic Camilla, it is true, speaks in this way:

    "Il vient, préparons-nous a montrer constamment
    Ce que doit une amante à la mort d'un amant."

Here Voltaire's unconquerable good sense could not refrain from
remarking: "'_Préparons-nous_' adds to the defect. We see a woman who
is thinking how she can demonstrate her affliction and may be said to
be rehearsing her lesson of grief."

The same fantastic and anticritical method of comparison has been
adopted with De Castro's play, with the object of obtaining a contrary
result: this comparison, whenever it is conducted with the criterion
of realistic art, or of art full of passion, cannot but result in
a condemnation of Corneille's reëlaboration of the theme. This has
been frankly admitted by more than one French critic (Fauriel for
example), who contrived to loosen somewhat the chains of national
preconceptions and traditional admirations. Indeed it was already
implied in the celebrated judgment of the Academy, which is not the
less just and acute for having been delivered by an academy and written
by a Chapelain. Guillen de Castro's play, which is epical and popular
in tone, celebrates the youthful hero Rodrigo, the future Cid, strong,
faithful and pious, admired by all, and looked upon with love by
princesses. An anecdote is recounted, with the object of celebrating
him, describing how he was obliged to challenge and to slay the father
of the maiden he loved. Bound to the same degree as himself by the laws
of chivalry, she is held to be obliged to provide for the vendetta
required by the death of her father. She performs her duty without
hatred and solely as a legal enemy, an _"ennemie légitime"_ (to employ
a phrase of the same Corneille in the _Horace)._ She does not cease
to love, nor does she feel any shame in loving. Finally, his prowess
and the favour of heaven, which he deserves and which ever accompanies
him, obtain for Rodrigo the legal conquest of his loving beloved,
who is also his enemy for honour's sake. De Castro's play is limpid,
lively, full of happenings. Corneille both simplifies and complicates
it, reducing it to series of casuistical discussions, vivified here and
there with echoes of the passionate original, softened with moments
of abandonment, as in the vigorous scene of the challenge, which is
an echo of the Spanish play, or in the tender sigh of the duet,
"_Rodrigue, qui Veut cru?... Chimène, qui l'eût dit?..._" which is also
in De Castro. After this, it can be asserted that Corneille "has made a
human drama, a drama of universal human appeal, out of an exclusively
Spanish drama"; it will also be declared that "the most beautiful
words of the French language find themselves always at the point of
the pen, when one is writing about the _Cid;_ duty, love, honour, the
family, one's native land," because "everything there is generous,
affectionate, ingenuous, and there never has been breathed a livelier
or a purer air upon the stage, the air of lofty altitudes of the soul."
But this is verbiage. It is also possible to revel in the description
of "the fair cavalier, protected of God and adored by the ladies, who
carries his country about with him wherever he goes, and along with it
everybody's heart; in the beautiful maiden with the long black veil, so
strong and yet so weak, so courageous and so tender; in the grand old
man, so majestic and yet so familiar, the signor so rude and so hoary,
yet with a soul as straight and as pure as a lily, in whom dwells the
ancient code of honour and all the glory of times past; in the king,
so good-natured and ingenuous, yet so clever, like the good king one
finds in fairy stories; in the gentle little infanta, with her precious
soliloquies, so full of gongorism and knightly romances ..."; but as we
have previously observed, this will be merely drawing fancy pictures.
It suffices to read the _Cid,_ to see that it contains nothing of this
and nothing of this is to be found among the tragedies of Corneille.

The vanity of such criticisms, which attempt to alter Corneille by
presenting him as that which he is not and does not wish to be, a
poet of immediate passions, would at once be apparent, were it to be
realised that no such attempts are made in the case of Racine, whose
passionate soul makes its presence at once felt through literary and
theatrical conventions, in the affection which he experiences for the
sweet, for what is tremendous and mysterious with religious emotion,
which palpitates in Andromache, in Phaedra, in Iphigenia and Eriphylis
in Joad and in Attila. But it confutes itself by becoming modified,
sometimes among the very critics whom we have been citing, into the
thesis that Corneille is the poet of the "reason," or of "the rational
will." And we say modified, because the reason or the rational will
is in poetry itself a passion, and he would be correctly described
as a poet of that kind of inspiration, who should accentuate the
rational-volitional moment in the representation of the passions, by
creating types of wise and active men, such as are to be found in the
epic, in many dramatic masterpieces, in high romance and elsewhere. But
not even this exists in Corneille, so much so that the very persons who
maintain the thesis, remark that he isolates a principle and a force,
the reason and the will, and seeks out how the one makes the other
triumph. To this, they declare, we must attribute the "character of
stiffness" proper to the heroes of Corneille, who are necessarily bound
to lack "the seductive flexibility, the languors, the perturbations,
which are to be observed in those moved by sentiment." Now this is not
permissible in art, because art, in portraying a passion, even if it
be that of inflexible rationality and inflexible will and duty, never
"isolates" it, in the fashion of an analyst in a laboratory, or a
physicist, but seizes it in its becoming, and so together with all the
other passions, and together with the "languors" and "disturbances."
Thus Corneille, described as they describe him by isolating the reason
and the will, would be a slayer of life, and so of the will and the
reason themselves. And when he is blamed for having given so small and
so unhappy a place to love, "to the act by which the race perpetuates
itself, to the relations of the sexes and to all the sentiments that
arise from them, and which, by the nature of things form an essential
part of the life of the human race," it is not observed that beneath
this reproof, which is somewhat physiological and lubricious and lacks
seriousness of statement, there is concealed the yet more serious
and more general reproof that Corneille suffocates and suppresses
the quiver of life. La Bruyère was probably among the first to give
currency to the saying, which has been repeated, that Corneille depicts
men not "as they are," but "as they ought to be," and leads to a like
conclusion, though expressed in an euphemistic form; because poetry in
truth knows nothing of being or of having to be, and its existence is a
having to be, its having to be a being.

This critical position, which desires to explain and to justify
Corneille as poet of the reason and of the rational will (although, as
we shall see further on, it contains some truth), is indeed equivocal,
because it seems to assert on the one hand that he possesses a
particular form of passion, and on the other takes it away from him
with its "isolation," its "having to be," and with its assertion that
his personages "surpass nature," with its boasting of his "Romans
being more Roman than Romans," his "Greeks more Greek than Greeks"
and the like, that is to say, by making of him an exaggerator of
types and of abstractions, the opposite of a poet. The passage, then,
is easy from this position to its last thesis or modification, by
means of which Corneille is exalted as an eminent representative of
a special sort of poetry, "rationalistic poetry," which is held to
coincide with poetry that is especially "French." The theory here
implied is to be found both among the French and those who are not
French, among classicists and romantics, sometimes being looked upon
among both as a merit, that is to say, it is recognised by them that
this sort of poetry is legitimate. In the course of his proof that
French rationalistic tragedy excludes the lyrical element and demands
the intrigue of action and the eloquence of the passions, Frederick
Schlegel indicated "the splendid side of French tragedy, where it
evinces lofty and incomparable power, fully responding to the spirit
and character of a nation, in which eloquence occupies a dominant
position, even in private life." A contemporary writer on art,
Gundolf, blames his German conationals for the prejudices in which
they are enmeshed, and for their lack of understanding of the great
rationalistic poetry of France, so logical, so uniform, so ordered and
subordinated, so regular and so easily to be understood. It is the
natural and spontaneous expression of the French character, in the same
way as is the monarchy of Louis XIV, differing thereby from the narrow
convention or imitation, which it became in the hands of Gottsched and
others of Gallic tendencies, in other countries. Sainte-Beuve, alluding
in particular to Corneille, argued that in French tragedy "things are
not seen too realistically or over-coloured, since attention is chiefly
bestowed upon the saying of Descartes:--I think, therefore I am: I
think, therefore I feel;--and everything there happens in or is led
back to the bosom of the interior substance," in the "state of pure
sentiment, of reasoned and dialogued analysis," in a sphere "no longer
of sentiment, but of understanding, clear, extended, without mists and
without clouds." Another student of Corneille opposes the different and
equally admissible system of the French tragedian, "a constructor and
as it were an engineer of action," to that of Shakespeare, portrayer
of the soul and of life. Thus, while all the most famous plays of
Shakespeare are drama, but lyrical drama, "hardly one of the most
beautiful and popular plays of Corneille is essentially lyrical." What
are we to think of "rationalistic" or "intellectualistic," or "logical"
or "non-lyrical" poetry? Nothing but this: that it does not exist. And
of French poetry? The same: that it does not exist; because what is
poetry in France is naturally neither intellectualiste nor essentially
French, but purely and simply poetry, like all other poetry that has
grown in this earthly flower-bed. And if the old-fashioned romanticism,
which sanctifies and gives substance to nationality and demands of art,
of thought and of everything else, that it should first be national, is
reappearing among French writers in the disguise of anti-romanticism
and neo-classicism, this is but a proof the more of the spiritual
dulness and mental confusion of those nationalists, who embrace their
presumed adversary.

The only reality that could be concealed in "rationalistic poetry,"
for which Corneille is praised, as shown above, would be one of the
categories in old-fashioned books of literary instruction, known as
"didactic poetry," which was not too well spoken of, even there.
Corneille is admired from this point of view, among other things,
for his famous political dissertations in the _China_ and in the
_Sertorius,_ where Voltaire considers that he is deserving of great
praise for "having expressed very beautiful thoughts in correct and
harmonious verse." In this connexion are quoted the remarks of the
Maréchal de Grammont about the _Othon,_ that "it should have been the
breviary of kings," or of Louvois, "an audience of ministers of state
would be desirable for the judgment of such a work." It is indeed only
in "didactic poetry," which is versified prose, that we find "thoughts"
that are afterwards "versified." The method employed by another man of
letters would also make of the tragedies of Corneille masked didactic
poetry. He is an unconscious manipulator of thesis, antithesis and
synthesis, in the manner of Hegel, and describes it as "the alliance of
the individual with the species, of the particular with the general,"
which were separate in the medieval "farces" and "moralities," the
former being all compact of individuals and actions, the latter of
ideas, which Corneille was able to unite, being one of those great
masters who proceed from the general to the particular and vivify the
abstractions of thought with the power of the imagination.

The justification of the tragedies of Corneille, as based upon the
foundations of French society and history in the time of Corneille,
is certainly more solid than that which explains them as based upon a
mystical French "character," or "race," or "nation." Do conventions and
etiquette govern and embarrass the development of dialogue and action
in every part of those tragedies? But such was life at court, or life
modelled upon life at court, in those days. Do the characters rather
reason about their sentiments than express them? But such was the
custom of well-bred men of that day. And do they always discuss matters
according to all the rules of rhetoric and with perfect diction? But
to speak well was the boast of men in society and diplomatists at that
time. Do the women mingle love and politics, and rather make love
for political reasons than politics for love? But the ladies of the
Fronde did just this; indeed Cardinal Mazarin, in conversation with the
Spanish ambassador, gave vent to the opinion that in France "an honest
woman would not sleep with her husband, nor a mistress with her lover,
unless they had discussed affairs of State with them during the day."
And so discussions continue and are to be found continuing in Taine
and many others, without explaining anything, because they pass over
the poetry and the problem of the poetry, which is not, as Taine held,
"the expression of the genius of an age" or "the reflection of a given
society" (society reflects and expresses itself in its own actions
and customs), but "poetry, that is to say, one of the free forces of
every people, society and time, which must be interpreted with reasons
contained in itself."[1] It is superfluous to add that the poetry is
lost sight of in the delight of finding the personages and social types
of the French seventeenth century, beyond the verses and the ideal
conceptions of character; for example, we find them declaring their
own affectionate sympathy for "Christian Theodora," for this martyr,
of the dress with the starched collar and the equally proudly starched
sentiments, "for this proud martyr, in the grand style of Louis XIII,"
altogether forgetting the reality of the art of Corneille and the
critical problems suggested by the _Théodora._ This is certainly very
prettily and gracefully said, but it misses the point.

There remains to mention but one last form of defence, which however is
not a justification of the art of Corneille, but a eulogy of him as an
ingenious man, who deserved well of culture and possessed refinement
of manners, particularly as regards theatrical representations. To him
belongs the "great merit" (said Voltaire in concluding his commentary)
of "having found France rustic, gross and ignorant, about the time of
the _Cid,_ and of having changed it 'by teaching it not only tragedy
and comedy, but even the art of thinking." And his rival Racine, in
his praise of Corneille before the Academy at the time of his death,
had recorded "the debt that French poetry and the French stage owed
to him." He had found it disordered, irregular and chaotic, and after
having sought the right road for some time and striven against the
bad taste of his age, "he inspired it with an extraordinary genius
aided by study of the ancients, and exhibited reason (_la raison_)
on the stage, accompanied with all the pomp and all the ornaments, of
which the French language is capable." All the historians of French
literature repeat this, beginning by bowing down before Corneille, the
"founder," or "creator" of the French theatre. Such praise as this
means little or nothing in art, because non-poets, or poets of very
slender talents, even pedants, are capable of exercising this function
of being founders and directors of the culture and the literature of
a people. An instance of this in Italy was Pietro Bembo, "who removed
this pure, sweet speech of ours from its vulgar obscurity, and has
shown us by his example what it ought to be."

He was not a poet, yet was surrounded with the gratitude, and with the
most sincere reverence on the part of poets of genius, among whom was
Ariosto, to whom belong the verses cited above.

That other merit accorded to Corneille, of having accomplished a
revolution, cleared the ground and "raised the French tragic system
upon it," the "classical system," is without poetical value. We shall
leave it to others to define as they please, precisely of what this
work consisted, the introduction of the unities and of the rules of
verisimilitude, the conception and realisation of tragic psychological
tragedy, or the tragedy of character, of which actions and catastrophes
should form, the consequences, the fusing and harmonising in a single
type of sixteenth century tragedy, which starts from "the tragic
incident," with that of the seventeenth century, which ends with it,
and so on. We prefer to remark, with reference to this and to so many
other disputes that have taken place since the time of Calepio and
Lessing onward, and especially during the romantic period, with regard
to the merits and the defects of the "French system," as compared with
the "Greek system" and with the "romantic" or "Shakespearean," that
"systems" either have nothing to do with poetry, or are the abstract
schemes of single poems, and therefore that such disputes are and
always have been, sterile and vain. Here too it should be mentioned
that a "system" may be the work of non-poets or of mediocre poets, as
was the case in Italy with the system of "melodrama," of which (to
employ the figure of De Sanctis), Apostolo Zeno was the "architect"
and Pietro Metastasio the "poet." In England too, the system of the
drama was not fixed by Shakespeare, but by his predecessors, small fry
indeed as compared with him. We would also observe that death or life
may exist in one and the same system, for indeed a system is a prison,
with bolts and bars. Note in this respect, that although the romantics
had boasted the salvation that lay in the Shakespearean system, a new
dramatic genius springing therefrom was vainly awaited. There appeared
only semigeniuses and a crowd of strepitous works, not less cold and
empty than those that had been condemned in the opposing "French

We may therefore conclude that the arguments of the admirers and
apologists of Corneille, which have been passed in review, do not
embrace the problem, but leave the judgments of negative criticism free
to exercise their perilous potency. They find in Corneille intellectual
combinations in place of poetical formations, abstractions in place of
what is concrete, oratory in place of lyrical inspiration and shadow in
place of substance.

[Footnote 1: "Est-ce que la critique moderne n'a pas abandonné l'art
pour l'histoire? La valeur intrinsèque d'un livre n'est rien dans
l'école Sainte-Beuve-Taine. On y prend tout en considération, sauf le
talent." (Flaubert, _Correspondence,_ IV, 81.)]



Nevertheless, when all this has been said and the conclusion drawn,
there remains the general impression of the work, which has in it
something of the grandiose, and brings back to the lips the homage
that the next generations rendered to the author, when they called
him "the great Corneille." It is to be hoped that no one has been
deceived as to the intention of our discourse up to this point, which
has been directed not against Corneille, but against his critics,
nor among them against those who have written many other things both
true and beautiful on the subject; we have but to refer to the acute
Lemaître among the most recent, to the diligent and loving Dorchain,
and to the most solid of all, Lanson. We shall avail ourselves of
them in what follows, but shall oppose their particular theories
and presuppositions, which are misrepresentations of the subject of
their judgments itself. For the negative criticism, which we have
recapitulated, does not win our confidence, but rather shows itself
to be erroneous or (which amounts to the same thing) incomplete,
exaggerated and one-sided, for the very reason that it does not account
for that impression of the grandiose. Conducted as it has been, it
would very well suit a writer who was a rhetorician with an appearance
of warmth, a writer able to make a good show before the public and in
the theatre, while remaining internally unmoved himself, superficial
and frivolous. But Corneille looks upon us and upon those critics with
so serious and severe a countenance, that we lose the courage to treat
him in so unceremonious and so expeditious a manner.

Whence comes that air of severity, which we find not only in his
portraits but in every page of his tragedies, even in those and in
those parts of them, in which he fails to hit the mark, or appears to
be tired, to have lost his way, and to be making efforts?

From this fact alone: that Corneille had an ideal, an ideal in which
he believed, and to which he clung with all the strength of his soul,
of which he never lost sight and which he always tended to realise in
situations, rhythms, and words, seeking and finding his own intimate
satisfaction, the incarnation of his ideal, in those brave and solemn
scenes and sounds.

His contemporaries felt this, and it was for this reason that Racine
wrote that above all, "what was peculiar to Corneille consisted of a
certain force, a certain elevation, which astonishes and carries us
away, and renders even his defects, if there be found some to reprove
him for them, more estimable than the virtues of others"; and La
Bruyère also summed it up in the phrase that "what Corneille possessed
of most eminent was his soul, which was sublime."

The most recent interpreters have found Corneille's ideal to reside
in will for its own sake, the "pure will," superior or anterior to
good and evil, in the energy of the will as such, which does not pay
attention to particular ends. Thus the false conception of him as
animated with the ideal of moral duty or with that of the triumph of
duty over the passions has been eliminated, and agreement has been
reached, not only with the reality of the tragedies, but also with
what Corneille himself laid down in his _Discours_ as to the dramatic
personage. Such a personage may indeed be plunged in all sorts of
crimes, like Cleopatra in the _Rodogune,_ but in the words of the
author, "all his actions are accompanied with so lofty a greatness of
soul that we admire the source whence his actions flow, while we detest
those actions themselves."

On the other hand, the concept of the pure will runs some risk of
being perverted at the hands of those who proceed to interpret it by
identification with that other "will for power" of Nietzsche, who
understood the French poet in this hyperbolical manner and referred
to him with fervent admiration on account of this fancy of his. The
ideal of the will for power has an altogether modern origin, in the
protoromantic and romantic superman, in over-excited and abstract
individualism. It did not exist at the time of Corneille, or in the
heart of the poet, who was very healthy and simple. The figures of
Corneille's tragedies must be looked at through coloured and deforming
glasses, as supplied by fashionable literature, in order to see in them
such attitudes and gestures.

The further definition, which, while it renders the first conception
more exact and more appropriate, at the same time shuts the door on
these new fancies, is this: that Corneille's ideal does not express
the pure will at the moment of violent onrush and actuation, but of
ponderation and reflection, that is to say, as _deliberative will._
This was what Corneille truly loved: the spirit which deliberates
calmly and serenely and having formed its resolution, adheres to it
with unshakeable firmness, as to a position that has been won with
difficulty and with difficulty strengthened. This represented for
him the most lofty form of strength, the highest dignity of man.
_"Laissez-moi mieux consulter mon âme,"_ says one of Corneille's
personages, and all of them think and act in the same way. "_Voyons,_"
says the king of the Gepidi to the king of the Goths in the _Attila,
"--voyons qui se doit vaincre, et s' il faut que mon âme. A votre
ambition immole cette flamme. Ou s'il n'est point plus beau que votre
ambition. Elle-même s'immole a cette passion."_

Augustus hesitates a long while, and gives vent to anguished
lamentations, when he has discovered that Cinna is plotting against
his life, as though to clear his soul and to make it better capable of
the deliberation, which begins at once under the influence of passion,
in the midst of anguish and with anguish. Has he the right to lament
and to become wrathful? Has he not also made rivers of blood to flow?
Does he then resign himself in his turn? Does he forsake himself as
the victim of his own past? Far from it: he has a throne and is bound
to defend it, and therefore will punish the assassin. Yes, but when he
has caused more blood to flow, he will find new and greater hatreds
surrounding him, new and more dangerous plots. It is better, then, to
die? But wherefore die? Why should he not enjoy revenge and triumph
once again? This is the tumult of irresolution, which, while felt as a
hard, a desperate torment, and although it seems to hold the will in
suspense, in reality sets it in motion, insensibly guiding it to its
end. _"O rigoureux combat d'un cœur irrésolu!..."_ The more properly
deliberative process enters his breast with the appearance upon the
scene of Livia, to whose advice he is opposed, for he disputes and
combats it, yet listens and weighs it, seeming finally to remain still
irresolute, yet he has already formed hi:; resolve, he has decided in
his heart to perform an act of political clemency, so thunderous, so
lightning-like in quality, as to bewilder his enemy and to hurl him
vanquished at his feet.

The two brother princes in _Rodogune_ are conversing, while they await
the announcement as to which is the legitimate heir to the throne.
Upon this announcement also depends which shall become the happy
husband of Rodogune, whom they both love with an equal ardour. How will
they face and support the decision of fate? One of the two, uncertain
and anxious about the future, proposes to renounce the throne in favour
of his brother, provided the latter renounces Rodogune; but he is met
with the same proposal by the other. Thus the satisfaction of both,
by means of mutual renunciation, is precluded. But the other course
is also precluded, that of strife and conflict, for their brotherly
affection is firm, and so is the sentiment of moral duty in both. This
also forbids the one sacrificing himself for the other, because neither
would accept the sacrifice. What can be saved from a collision, from
which it seems that, nothing can be saved? One of the two brothers,
after these various and equally vain attempts at finding a solution,
returns upon himself, descends to the bottom of his soul, finds there
a better motive and is the first to formulate the unique resolution:
"_Malgré l'éclat du trône et l'amour d'une femme, Faisons si bien
régner l'amitié sur notre âme, Qu'étouffant dans leur perte un regret
suborneur, Dans le bonheur d'un frère on trouve son bonheur...._" And
the other, who has not been the first to see and to follow this path
asks: "_Le pourriez, vous mon frère?_" The first replies: "_Ah; que
vous me pressez! Je le voudrais du moins, mon frère, et c'est assez; Et
ma raison sur moi gardera tant d'empire, Que je désavoûrai mon cœur,
s'il en soupire."_ The other, firm in his turn replies: "_J'embrasse
comme vous ces nobles sentiments...._"

Loving as he did, in this way, the work of the deliberative will (we
have recorded two only of the situations in his tragedies, and we could
cite hundreds), Corneille did not love love, a thing that withdraws
itself from deliberation, a severe illness, which man discovers in his
body, like fire in his house, without having willed it and without
knowing how it got there. Sometimes the deliberative will is affected
by it and for the moment at least upset, and then we hear the cry of
Attila: "_Quel nouveau coup de foudre! O raison confondue, orgueil
presque étouffé..._." as he struggles against its enchantments: _"cruel
poison de l'âme et doux charme des yeux."_ But as a general rule,
he promptly drives it away from him, coldly and scornfully; or he
subdues it and employs it as a means and an assistance in far graver
matters, such as ambition, politics, the State; or he accepts it for
what it contains of useful and worthy, which as such is the object and
the fruit of deliberation. "_Ce ne sont pas les sens que mon amour
consulte: Il hait des passions l'impétueux tumulte.._.." Certainly,
this attitude is intransigent, ascetic and severe: but what of it?
"_Un peu de dureté sied bien aux grandes âmes._" Certainly love comes
out of it diminished and humiliated: "_D'Amour n'est pas le maître
alors qu'on délibère_;" love deserves its fate and almost deserves
the gibe: "_La seule politique est ce qui nous émeut; On la suit et
l'amour s'y mêle comme il peut: S'il vient on l'applaudit; s'il manque
on s'en console..._." It manages as best it can and becomes less
powerful and wonderfully ductile beneath this pressure, ready to bend
in whatever direction it is commanded to bend by the reason. Sometimes
it remains suspended between two persons, like a balance, which awaits
the addition of a weight in order to lean over: "..._Ce cœur des deux
parts engagé, Se donnant à vous deux ne s'est point partagé, Toujours
prêt d'embrasser son service et le vôtre, Toujours prêt à mourir et
pour l'un et pour l'autre. Pour n'en adorer qu'une, il eût fallu
choisir; Et ce choix eût été au moins quelque désir, Quelque espoir
outrageux d'être mieux reçu d'elle ..._." On another occasion, although
there might be some inclination or desire, rather toward the one than
the other side, it is yet kept secret, beneath the resolve to suffocate
it altogether, should reason ordain that love must flow into a contrary
channel. Not only are Corneille's personages told to their face: _"Il
ne faut plus aimer,"_ an act of renunciation to be asked of a saint,
but they are also bidden thus: "_Il faut aimer ailleurs,_" an act
worthy of a martyr.

He did not love love, not because it is love, but because it is
passion, which carries one away and which, if it be allowed to do so,
will not consent to state the terms of the debate clearly, and engage
in deliberation. His dislike for the inebriation of hatred and of
anger, which blind or confound the vision, and which, as passion, is
also foreign to his ideal, also appears in confirmation of this view.
"_Qui hait brutalement permet tout à sa haine, Il s'emporte où sa
fureur l'entraîne.... Mais qui hait par devoir ne s'aveugle jamais;
c'est sa raison qui hait ..._." His ideal personages sometimes declare,
when face to face with their enemy: "_je te dois estimer, mais je te
dois haïr._" On the other hand, we perceive clearly why Corneille was
led to admire the will, even when without moral illumination, even
indeed when it is actively opposed to or without morality; for it has
the power of not yielding to and of dominating the passions, of not
being violent weakness, but strength, or as it was called during the
Renaissance, "virtú." In that sphere of deliberation there existed a
common ground of mutual understanding between the honest and dishonest
man, between the hero of evil and the hero of good, for each pursued
a course of duty, in his own way and both agreed in withstanding and
despising the madness of the passions.

And we also see why the domain towards which Corneille directed his
gaze and for which he had a special predilection, was bound to be that
of politics, where "virtú," in the sense that it possessed during the
period of the Renaissance, found ample opportunity for free expansion
and for self-realisation. In politics, we find ourselves continuously
in difficult and contradictory situations, where acuteness and long
views are of importance and where it is necessary to make calculations
as to the interests and passions of men, to act energetically upon
what has been decided after nice weighing in the balance, to be
firm as well as prudent. It has been jocosely observed by William
Schlegel that Corneille, the most upright and honest of men, was more
Machiavellian than any Machiavelli in his treatment and representation
of politics, that he boasted of the art of deceiving, and that he
had no notion of true politics, which are less complicated and far
more adroit and adaptable. Lemaître too admits that in this respect
he was _"fort candide."_ But who is not excessive in the things that
he loves? Who is not sometimes too candid regarding them, with that
candour and simplicity which is born of faith and enthusiasm? His very
lack of experience in real politics, his simplicism and exaggeration
in conceiving them, is there to confirm the vigour of his affection
for the ideal of the politician, as supremely expressed by the man who
ponders and deliberates. He always has _la raison d'état_ and _les
maximes d'état_ upon his lips. We feel that these words and phrases
move, edify and arouse in him an ecstasy of admiration.

It was free determination and complete submission to reason, duty,
objective utility, to what was fitting--and not a spirit of courtly
adulation--that led him to look with an equal ecstasy of admiration
upon personages in high positions and upon monarchs, the summit of
the pyramid. He did not therefore admit them because they can do
everything, still less because they can enjoy everything, but on
the contrary, because, owing to their office, their discipline and
tradition, they are accustomed to sacrifice their private affections
and to conduct themselves in obedience to motives superior to the
individual. Kings too have a heart, they too are exposed to the soft
snares of love; but better than all others they know what is becoming
behaviour: "_Je suis reine et dois régner sur moi: Je rang que nous
tenons, jaloux de notre gloire, Souvent dans un tel choix nous défend
de nous croire, Jette sur nos désirs un joug impérieux, Et dédaigne
l'avis et du cœur et des yeux._" And elsewhere: "_Les princes out cela
de leur haute naissance, Leur âme dans leur rang prend des impressions
Qui dessous leur vertu rangent leurs passions; Leur générosité soumet
tout à leur gloire ..._." They love, certainly, as it happens to all
to love, but they do not on that account yield to the attractions of
the senses. "_Je ne le cèle point, j'aime, Carlos, oui, j'aime; Mais
l'amour de l'état plus fort que de moi-même, Cherche, au lieu de
l'objet le plus doux à mes yeux, Le plus digne héros de régner en ces
lieux._" His predilection for history, especially for Roman history,
has the same root, and had long been elaborated as an ideal--even in
the Rome of the Empire, yet more so at the time of the Renaissance and
during the post-Renaissance, and even in the schools of the Jesuits.
It was thus transformed into a history that afforded examples of civic
virtues, such as self-sacrifice, heroism, and greatness of resolve. We
spare the reader the demonstration that this tendency was altogether
different from, and indeed opposed to historical knowledge and to the
so-called "historical sense," because questions of this sort and the
accompanying eulogies accorded to Corneille as a historian, are now to
be looked upon as antiquated.

The historical relations of Corneille's ideal are clearly indicated or
at any rate adumbrated in these references and explanations, as also
its incipience and genesis, which is to be found, as we have stated,
in the theory and practice of the Renaissance, concerning politics and
the office of the sovereign or prince, and for the rest in the ethics
of stoicism, which was so widely diffused in the second half of the
sixteenth century, and not less in France than elsewhere. The image
of Corneille is surrounded in our imagination with all those volumes,
containing baroque frontispieces illustrative of historical scenes,
which at that time saw the light every day in all parts of Europe.
They were the works of the moralists, of the Machiavellians, of the
Taciteans, of the councillors in the art of adroit behaviour at court,
of the Jesuit casuists Botero and Ribadeneyra, Sanchez and Mariana,
Valeriano Castiglione and Matteo Pellegrini, Gracian and Amelot de la
Houssaye, Balzac and Naudée, Scioppio and Justus Lipsius. They might
be described as comprizing a complete and conspicuous section of the
Library of the Manzonian Don Ferrante, the "intellectual" of the
seventeenth century.

Such literature as this and the history of the time itself have been
more than once given as the source of the poetical inspiration proper
to Corneille, and indeed they appear spontaneously in the mind of
anyone acquainted with the particular mode of thought and of manners
that have prevailed during the various epochs of modern society. It
is therefore unpleasant to find critics intent on fishing out other
origins for it, in an obscure determinism of race and religion, almost
as if disgusted with the obvious explanation, which is certainly the
only true one in this case, pointing out for instance in Corneille "an
energy that comes from the north," that is to say from the Germany that
produced Luther and Kant, or from the country that was occupied for a
time by their forefathers the Normans, those Scandinavian pirates who
disembarked under the leadership of Rollo (if this fancy originated
with Lemaître, they all repeat it); or they discover the characteristic
of his poetry in the subtlety and litigious spirit of the Norman, and
in the lawyer and magistrate whose functions he fulfilled.

The customary association of his ideal with the theory of Descartes is
also without much truth. Chronological incompatibility would in any
case preclude derivation or repercussion from this source, the utmost
that could be admitted being that both possessed common elements, since
they were both descended from a common patrimony of culture, namely
the stoical morality already mentioned, and from the cult of wisdom in
general. In Descartes, as later in Spinoza, the tendency was towards
the domination of the passions by means of the intellect or the pure
intelligence, which dissipates them by knowing and thinking them,
while with Corneille the domination was all to be effected by means of
an effort of the will.

The historical element in the ideal of Corneille does not mean that its
value was restricted to the times of the author and should be looked
upon as having disappeared with the disappearance of those customs and
doctrines, because every time expresses human eternal truth in its
forms that are historically determined, laying in each case especial
stress upon particular aspects or moments of the spirit. The idea of
the deliberative will has been removed in our day to the second rank,
indeed it has almost been lost in the background, under the pressure
of other forces and of other more urgent aspects of reality. Yet it
possesses eternal vigour and is perpetually returning to the mind and
soul, through the poets and philosophers and through the complexities
of life itself, which make us feel its beauty and importance. The
history of the manners, of the patriotism, of the moral spirit, of
the military spirit of France, bears witness to this, for one of its
mainstays in the past as in the present has been the tragedies of
Corneille. The heroic, the tragic Charlotte Corday gave reality in her
own person to one of Corneille's characters, so full of will power
and ready for any enterprise: she was one of those _aimables furies,_
nourished like the tyrannicides of the Renaissance on the _Lives_ of
Plutarch, whom her great forefather had set on paper with such delight.

It is inconceivable that such heroines as she, sublime in their
meditated volitional act, should have been audaciously classed and
confounded with those weak and impulsive beings extolled by the
philosophers and artists of the will for power, from Stendhal to
Nietzsche, who freely sought their models among the degenerates of the
criminal prisons.

The whole life of Corneille, the whole of his long activity, was
dominated by the ideal that we have described, with a constancy
and a coherence which leaps to the eye of anyone who examines the
particulars. As a young man, he touched various strings of the lyre,
the tragedy of horrors in the manner of Seneca (_Médée,_) eccentric
comedy in _L'Illusion comique,_ the romantic drama of adventures and
incidents in _Clitandre,_ the comedies of love; but we already find
many signs in these works and especially in the comedies, of the
tendency to fix the will in certain situations, as will for a purpose
and choice. After his novitiate (in which period is to be comprehended
the _Cid,_ which is rather an attempt than a realisation, rather a
beginning than an end) he proceeded in a straight line and with over
increasing resolution and self-consciousness. It is due to a prejudice,
born of extrinsic or certainly but little acute considerations, that
an interval should be placed between the _Cid_ and the later works,
though this was done by Schlegel, by Sainte-Beuve and by many others,
both foreigners and French. They deplored that Corneille should have
abandoned the Spanish mediaeval and knightly style, so in harmony
with his generous, grandiose and imaginative inclinations, so full of
promise for the romantic future, and should have restricted himself to
the Graeco-Roman world and to political tragedy. It is impossible (as
we have shown in passing), to assert the originality and the beauty of
the _Cid,_ when it is compared with and set in opposition to the model
offered to Corneille by Guillen de Castro. Now if there is not to be
found beauty, there is certainly to be found a sort of originality in
the personality of Corneille, who eats into the popular epicity of the
model and substitutes for it the study of deliberative situations. The
harmonious versification of these explains in great part the success
which the play met with in a society accustomed to debate "questions
of love" (as they had been called since the period of the troubadours
at the Renaissance), and those of honour and knighthood, of challenges
and duels. But on the other hand, the reason of its success was also
to be found in what persisted scattered here and there of the ardour
and tenderness of the original play, which moved the spectators and
made them love Chimène: "_Tout Paris pour Chimene a les yeux de
Rodrigue._" Yet these words of tenderness and strong expressions,
though beautiful in themselves, show themselves to be rather foreign
to the new form of the drama, and there is some truth in the strange
remark of Klein: that "there is not enough Cidian electricity, enough
material for electro-dramatic shocks in that atmosphere full of the
exhalations of the _antichambre,_ to produce a slap in the face of
equally pathetic force and consequence" with the _bofetada_ which
Count Lozano applied to the countenance of the decrepit Diego Laynez
in the Spanish drama. And there is truth also in the judgment of the
Academy, that the subject of the _Cid_ is "defective in the essential
part" and "lacking in verisimilitude"; of course not because it was
so with Guillen de Castro, or that a subject, that is to say, mere
material, can be of itself good or bad, verisimilar or the reverse,
poetic or unpoetic, but because it had become defective and discordant
in the hands of Corneille, who elaborated and refined it. Rodrigue,
Jimena the lady Urraca, are simple, spontaneous, almost childlike
souls, in the mould of popular heroes. Chimène and Rodrigue and the
Infanta are reflective and dialectical spirits, and since their novel
psychological attitude does not chime well with the old-fashioned
manner of behaviour, Rodrigue and the father sometimes appear to be
charlatans, Chimène sometimes even a hypocrite, the Infanta insipid and
superfluous. Also, when Corneille returned to the "Spanish style," in
_Don Sanche d'Aragon,_ he charged it with reflections and ponderations
and deliberative resolutions, without aiming at the picturesque, as the
romantics did later, but at dialectic and subtlety. It must however be
admitted that all this represents a superiority, if viewed from another
angle: but this superiority does not reside in the artistic effect
obtained; it is rather mental and cultural and represents a more
complex and advanced humanity.

Thus the _Cid_ is to be looked upon as really a work of transition,
a transition to the _Horace,_ which has seemed to a learned German,
to be substantially the same as the _Cid,_ the _Cid_ reconstructed
after the censures passed upon it by his adversaries and in the
Academy, which Corneille inwardly felt to be, in a certain measure
at any rate, just. But another prejudice creates a gap between what
are called the four principal tragedies, the _Cid,_ the _Horace,_
the _China_ and the _Polyeucte_--"the great Cornelian quadrilateral"
eulogised by Péguy in rambling prose,--and the later tragedies, as
though Corneille had changed his method in these and begun to pursue
another ideal, "political tragedy." Setting aside for the time being
the question of greater or lesser artistic value, it is certain that
he never really changed his method. In the _Horace,_ there is no
suggestion of the ferocious national sanctity of a primitive society,
in the _Cinna,_ there is no trace of the imagined tragedy of satiety
or of the _lassitude,_ which the sanguinary Augustus is supposed to
have experienced. The _Polyeucte_ does not contain a shadow of the
fervour, the delirium, the fanaticism, of a religion in the act of
birth, but as Schlegel well expressed it, "a firm and constant faith
rather than a true religious enthusiasm." In the four tragedies above
mentioned, _le cœur_ is not supreme, any more than _l'esprit_ is
supreme in the later tragedies, but "political tragedy" is present more
or less in all of them, in the intrinsic sense of a representation
of calculations, ponderations and resolutions, and often too in the
more evident sense of State affairs. He pursues these and suchlike
forms of representation, heedless, firm and obstinate, notwithstanding
the disfavour of the public and of the critics, who asked for other
things. They divest themselves of extraneous elements and attain to
the perfection at which they aimed. This may be observed in one of the
very latest, the _Pulchérie._ The author congratulated himself upon its
half-success or shadow of success, declaring that "it is not always
necessary to follow the fashion of the time, in order to be successful
on the stage." Just previously, he was pleased with Saint-Évremond
for his approbation of the secondary place to be assigned to love in
tragedy, "for it is a passion too surcharged with weaknesses to be
dominant in a heroic drama." Voltaire was struck with this constancy
to the original line of development, for he felt bound to remark at
the conclusion of his commentary, not without astonishment and in
opposition to the current opinion, that "he wrote very unequally,
but I do not know that he had an unequal genius, as is maintained by
some; because I always see him intent, alike in his best and in his
inferior works, upon the force and the profundity of the ideas. He is
always more disposed to debate than to move, and he reveals himself
rich in finding expedients to support the most ungrateful of arguments,
though these are but little tragic, since he makes a bad choice of his
subjects from the _Oedipe_ onwards, where he certainly does devise
intrigues, but these are of small account and lack both warmth and
life. In his last works he is trying to delude himself." But Corneille
did not delude himself; rather he knew himself, and he himself the
author was a personage who had deliberated and had made up his mind,
once and for all.

The vigour of this resolution and the compactness of the work which
resulted from it, are not diminished, but are rather stressed by
the fact that Corneille possessed other aptitudes and sources of
inspiration, which he neglected and of which he made little or no
use. Certainly, the poet who versified the delicious _Psyche,_ in
collaboration with Molière, would have been able, had he so desired,
to enter into the graces of those "_doucereux_" and "_enjoués,_" whom
he despised. There are witty, tender and melancholy poems among his
miscellaneous works, and in certain parts of the paraphrase of the
_Imitation_ and other sacred compositions, there is a religious fervour
that is to seek in the _Polyeucte._ His youthful comedies contain a
power of observation of life, replete with passionate sympathy, which
foreshadows the coming social drama. We refer especially to certain
personages and scenes of the _Galerie du Palais,_ of the _Veuve_ and
of the _Suivante;_ to certain studies of marriageable girls, obedient
to the resolve of their parents, and to mothers, who still carry in
their heart how much that submission cost them in the past and do
not wish to abuse the power which they possess over their daughters.
There are also certain tremulous meetings of lovers, who had been
separated and are annoyingly interrupted by the irruption of prosaic
reality in the shape of their relations and friends ("_Ah! mère, sœur,
ami, comme vous m'importunez!_") and certain odious and painful
psychological cases, like that of Amaranthe, the poor girl of good
family, who is made companion of the richer girl, not superior to her
either in attractiveness, or spirit, or grace, or blood. She envies
and intrigues against her, attempts to carry off her lover and being
finally vanquished, hurls bitter words at society and distils venomous

_"Curieux," "étonnant," "étrange," "paradoxal," "déconcertant,"_ are
the epithets that the critics alternately apply to the personage
of Alidor, in the _Place Royale,_ and Corneille himself calls him
"_extravagant_" in the examination of his work that he wrote later.
All too have held that uncompromising lover of his own liberty to be
very "Cornelian" or "pure Cornelian," who although in love, is afraid
of love, because it threatens to deprive him of his internal freedom.
He therefore tries to throw the woman he loves and who adores him,
into the arms of others, by stratagem. Failing in this endeavour, and
being finally abandoned by the lady herself, who decides to enter a
convent, instead of sorrowing or at least being mortified at this, he
rejoices at his good fortune. Indeed, Corneille, despite the tardy
epithet of _"extravagant,"_ which he affixes to this personage,
does not turn him to ridicule in the comedy, nor does he condemn or
criticise him. On the contrary, in the dedicatory epistle, addressed to
an anonymous gentleman, who might be the very character in question,
he approves of the theory, which Alidor illustrates. "I have learned
from you"--he writes--"that the love of an honest man must always be
voluntary; that he must never love in one way what he cannot but love;
that if he should find himself reduced to this extremity, it amounts
to a tyranny and the yoke must be shaken off. Finally, the loved one
must have by so much the more claim to our love, in so far as it is
the result of our choice and of the loved one's merit and does not
derive from blind inclination imposed upon us by a heredity which we
are unable to resist." But the disconcertion and perplexity caused
by the play in question, have their origin in this; that Corneille
had not yet succeeded in repressing and suppressing the spontaneous
emotions, and therefore throws his ideal creation into the midst of a
throng of beings, whose limbs are softer, their blood warmer and more
tumultuous, who love and suffer and despair, like Angélique. This would
render that ideal personage comic, ironical and extravagant, if the
poet did not for his part think and feel it to be altogether serious. A
subtle flaw, therefore, permeates every part of the play, which lacks
fusion and unity of fundamental motive. This is doubtless a grave
defect, but a defect which adds weight to the psychological document
that it contains, proving the absolute power which the ideal of the
deliberative will was acquiring in Corneille.



The ideal of the deliberative will, then, formed the real, living
_passion_ of this man devoid of passions; for no one that lives can
withhold himself from passion: he is only able to change its object by
passing from one to the other. The judgment that holds Corneille to
be an intrinsically prosaic, ratiocinatory and casuistical genius is
therefore to be looked upon as lacking of penetration. Had he been a
casuist, it seems clear that he would have composed casuistical works.
Nor did he lack of requests and encouragement in that direction in the
literature that was admired and sought after in his time. Instead,
however, of acceding to them, he dwelt ever in the world of poetry
and was occupied throughout his life, up to his seventieth year, with
the composition of tragedies. He was not a casuist, although he loved
casuistry: these two things are as different as the love for warlike
representations and accounts of wars and the being actually a soldier,
the perpetual dwelling of the imagination upon matters of business,
commerce and speculation (like Honoré de Balzac for instance), and
being really a man of business. Nor can his gift be described as merely
that of a didactic poet, although he often gives a dissertation in
verse, because he was not inspired with the wish to teach, but rather
to admire and to present the power and the triumphs of the free will
for admiration. Those philologists who have patiently set to work to
reconstruct Corneille's conception of the State into a _Staatsidee_
have not understood this. Corneille's conception of the State, of
absolute monarchy, of the king, of legitimacy, of ministers, of
subjects, and so on, were not by any means in him political doctrine,
but just forms and symbols of an attitude of mind, which he caressed
and idolised.

The enquiry as to the nature and degree and tone of that passion
differs altogether from the fact of Corneille's powerful passionality,
as to which there can be no doubt. The problem, that is to say, is,
whether passion, which is certainly a necessary condition for poetry,
was so shaped and found in him such compensations and restraints as
to yield itself with docility to poetry and to give it a fair field
for expression. It is well known that the sovereign passion, the pain
that renders mute, the love that leads to raving, impede the dream of
the poet, they impede artistic treatment, the cult of perfect form
and the joy in beauty. There is too a form of passion, which has in
it something of the practical: it is more occupied with embodying
its favourite dreams, in order to obtain from them stimulus and
incentive, than with fathoming them poetically and idealising them in

It seems impossible to deny that something of this sort existed in
the case of Corneille, for as we read his works, while we constantly
receive the already mentioned impression of seriousness and severity,
there is another impression that is sometimes mingled with these and
suggests the disquieting presence of men firmly fixed and rooted
in an ideal. When faced with his predilection for deliberation and
resolution, the figure of the Aristophanic Philocleon sometimes returns
to the memory. This Philocleon was a "philoheliast," that is to say
he was the victim of a mania for judging, τοὔ δικάζειν. His son
locked him up, but he climbed out of window, in order to hasten to the
tribunal and satisfy his vital need of administering justice!

The consequences of this excess of practical passionality in the case
of Corneille, of its exclusive domination in him, was that he either
did not love or refused to allow himself to love anything else in the
world, and lost interest in all the rest of life. He did not surpass
it ideally, in which case he would have remained trembling and living
in its presence, although it was combated and suppressed, but he drove
it out or cut it off altogether. He acted as one, who for the love of
the human body, should eliminate from his picture, landscape, sky,
air, the background of the picture, upon and from which the figure
rises and with which it is conj nected, although separated from it
in relief, and should limit himself to the delineation of bodies and
attitudes of bodies. Corneille, having abolished all other forms
of life, found nothing before him but a series of situations for
deliberation, vigorously felt, warmly expressed, sung with full voice,
and illustrated with energetic yet becoming gestures.

What tragedy, what drama, what representation, could emerge from such a
limitation of volitional attitudes? How could the various tonalities
and affections and so the various personages, unite and harmonise
among themselves with all their shades and gradations? The bridge
that should give passage to this full and complete representation was
wanting or had been destroyed. All that was possible was a suite of
deliberative lyrics, of magnificent perorations, of lofty sentiments,
sometimes standing alone, sometimes also taking the form of a duet
or a dialogue, a theory of statues, draped in solemn attitudes, of
enormous figures, rigid and similar as Byzantine mosaics. Here and
there a writer such as Lanson has to some extent had an inkling of this
intrinsic impossibility when, writing about the _Nicomède,_ he remarked
that Corneille "in his pride at having founded a new kind of tragedy,
without pity or terror, and having admiration as its motive, did not
perceive that he was founding it upon a void; because the tragedy will
be the less dramatic, the purer is the will, since it is defeats or
semi-defeats that are dramatic, the slow, difficult victories of the
will, incessant combats." But he held on the other hand that Corneille
had once constructed, in _Nicomède,_ a perfect tragedy, on the single
datum of the pure will, _par un coup de génie_; but this was the
only one that ever could be written, the reason that it could not be
repeated being "that all the works of Corneille are dramatic, precisely
to the extent that the will falls short in them of perfection and in
virtue of the elements that separate it from them." The beauty, he
says, of the _Cid,_ of _Polyeucte_ and of _Cinna_, "consists in what
they contain of passion, cooperating with and striving against the will
of the heroes." But "strokes of genius" are not miracles and they do
not make the impossible possible and the other dramas of Corneille that
we have mentioned do not differ substantially from the _Nicomède,_ for
in them passionate elements are intruded and felt to be out of harmony
(as in the _Cid_), or they are apparent and conventional.

Apparent and conventional: because the lack of the bridge for crossing
over forbade Corneille to construct poetically out of volitional
situations representations of life, to which they did not of themselves
lead. It did not however prevent another kind of construction, which
may be called intellectualistic or practical. He deduced other
situations and other antitheses from the volitional situations and
their antitheses that he had conceived, and thus he formed a sort of
semblance of the representation of life. At the same time he reduced it
to the dimensions of the drama that he was originating mentally, partly
through study of the ancients and above all Seneca, partly from the
Italian writers of tragedy of the sixteenth century, partly from that
of the Spanish writers and of his French predecessors, but not without
consulting, following or modifying the French and Italian casuists and
regulating the whole with his own sense for theatrical effect and for
the forms of it likely to suit the taste of the French public of his

This structure of tragedy, with its antitheses and parallelisms, its
expedients for accelerating and arresting and terminating the action
has been qualified with praise or blame as possessing great "logical"
perfection. Logic, however, which is the life of thought, has nothing
to do with the balancing and counter-balancing of mechanical weights,
whose life lies outside them, in the head and in the hand that has
constructed and set them in motion. It has been also compared to
architecture and to the admirable proportions of the Italian art of the
Renaissance. But here too, we must suspect that the true meaning of
the works thus characterised escapes us, for attention is paid only to
the external appearance of things, in so far as it can be expressed in
mathematical terms. We have said exactly the same thing, without having
recourse to logic or to architecture, when we noted that the structure
of Corneille's tragedies did not derive from within, that is, from his
true poetical inspiration, but rose up beside it, and was due to the
unconscious practical need of making a canvas or a frame upon which to
stretch the series of volitional situations desired by the imagination
of the poet. Thus it was poetically a cold, incoherent, absurd thing,
but practically rational and coherent, like every "mechanism."
This word is not pronounced here for the first time owing to our
irreverence, but is to be found among those who have written about
Corneille and have felt themselves unable to refrain from referring
to his _"mécanique théâtrale"_ and to the "_système fermé_" of his
tragedies, where _"s'opère par un jeu visible de forces, la production
d'un état définitif appelé dénouement."_

When this has been stated, it is easy to see that anyone who examines
this assemblage of thoughts and phrases with the expectation of
finding there a soft, rich, sensuous and passionate representation of
life, full of throbs, bedewed with tears, shot through with troubles
and enjoyments, such as are to be found in Shakespearean drama and
also in Sophoclean tragedy, is disappointed, and thereupon describes
Corneille's art as false, whereas he should perhaps describe his own
expectation as false. But it is strange to find, as counterpoise to
that delusion, the attempt to demonstrate that the apparatus is not
an apparatus, but flesh and blood, that the frame is not a frame
but a picture, like one of Titian's or Rembrandt's, and now setting
comparisons aside, that the pseudo-tragedy and the pseudo-drama
of Corneille is pure drama or tragedy, that his intellectualistic
deductions, his practical devices, are lyrical motives and express the
truth of the human heart. Such, however, is the wrong-headedness of
the criticisms that we have reviewed above. The mode of procedure is
to deny what is evident, for example that Corneille argues through the
mouths of his characters, instead of expressing and setting in action
his own mode of feeling, in such a way as the situations would require,
were they poetically treated. Faguet answers Voltaire's remarks upon
the famous couplet of Rodogune: _"Il est des nœuds secrets, il est des
sympathies..."_ to the effect that "the poet is always himself talking
and that passion does not thus express itself," by saying that people
are accustomed to express themselves in this way, that is to say, in
the form of general ideas, when they are calm, as though the question
could be settled with an appeal to the reality of ordinary life,
whereas on the contrary it is a question of poeticity, that is to say,
of the tragic situation, which by its own nature, excludes _couplets_
in certain cases, however well turned they be.

Yet the very same critics, who are thus guilty of sophistry in their
attempts to defend Corneille, are capable of observing on another
occasion that if not all, at any rate many or several of Corneille's
tragedies are "melodramas," and that the author tended more and more
to melodrama, in the course of his development or decadence, as we
may like to call it. Perhaps in so saying, they are making a careless
use of the word "melodrama," and mean by it a drama of intrigue, of
surprises, of shocks and of recognitions. If on the contrary they
have employed it in its true sense, or if their tongue has been
instinctively more correct than their thought, since "melodrama" means
precisely a melodrama, that does not exist for itself, but for the
music, and is a canvas or frame, they have again declared the extrinsic
character of the Cornelian tragedy.

Another confirmation of this character of the tragedies is to be found
in that suspicion of I comicality, which lurks so frequently in the
background as we read them, and occasionally makes itself clearly
audible in the course of development of their pseudo-tragic action. It
has been asked whether the _Cid_ were a tragedy or a comedy and inquiry
has resulted in no satisfactory answer being arrived at, because
involuntary comicality is present there, akin to what is to be found
in certain of the pompous and emphatic melodramas of Metastasio. It
is true that Don Diego's reply to the king has been cited as sublime,
when he does not wish the new duel to take place at once, in order
that the Cid may have a little rest, after the great battle that he
has won against the Moors, which he has described triumphantly and at
great length: "_Rodrigue a pris haleine en vous la racontant!_" But
are we then to regard as sinful the smile that gradually dawns upon
the lips of those who are not pledged to admire at all costs? And
consider the case of the furious Emilia, who at the end of the _Cinna_
gets rid in the twinkling of an eye, of all the convictions anchored
in her breast, of that hatred that burned her up, much in the same
manner as a stomach-ache disappears upon the use of a sedative, and
declares that she has all of a sudden become the exact opposite of what
she was previously? _"Ma haine va mourir, que j'ai cru immortelle;
elle est morte et ce cœur devient sujet fidèle, Et prenant désormais
cette haine en horreur, L'ardeur de vous servir succède à sa fureur."_
And Curiace, who finds himself in such a situation as to deliver
the following madrigal to his betrothed: "_D'Albe avec mon amour
j'accordais la querelle; je soupirais pour vous, en combattant pour
elle; Et s'il fallait encor que l'on en vint aux coups, Je combattrais
pour elle en soupirant pour vous."?_ But we will not insist upon this
descent into the comic, for it is not always to be avoided, being a
natural effect of the "mechanicity" of the Cornelian drama and is for
the rest in conformity with the theory which explains the comic as
_"l'automatisme installé dans la vie et imitant la vie"_ (Bergson).

Another form of the comic, discoverable in him, must also be insisted
upon; but this is not involuntary and blameworthy, but coherent and
praiseworthy. The form in question is that which led to the comedy
of character and of costume, to psychological and political comedy.
Brunetière even said between jest and earnest: "The _Cid, Horace,
Cinna_ and _Polyeucte,_ give me much trouble. Were it not for these
four, I should say that Corneille is fundamentally and above all a
comic poet, and an excellent comic poet; and this is perfectly true;
but how are we to say it, when the _Cid, Horace, Cinna_ and _Polyeucte_
are there? These four tragedies embarrass me exceedingly!" And he
proceeds to note and illustrate the "family scenes" scattered among
his tragedies, the prosaic and conversational phraseology, which so
displeased Voltaire, and the complete absence in some of them of tragic
quality, even of the external sort, that is, scenes of blood and death,
and the prevalence of the ethical over the pathetic representation,
in the manner of the comedy of Menander and of Terence. Despite all
this, his definition of Corneille as a comic poet will be admired as
acute and ingenious, but will never carry conviction as being true:
none of those tragedies is a comedy, because none is accentuated in
that manner. For the same reason that Corneille could not attain to the
poetical representation of life, because he was not able to pass beyond
the one-sidedness of his ideal, by merging it in the fulness of things,
he was unable to present the comic or ethical side of them, because
he did not pass beyond the spectacle of life and so of his ideal, by
viewing it _sub specie intellectus,_ in its external and internal
limitations. The attempt to do so in the Alidor of the _Place Royale_
had not been successful, and it never was successful, even assuming
that he attempted it. He did not indeed attempt it, and the ethos
that so often took the place of the pathos in the structure of his
tragedies, was itself a natural consequence of their mechanicity. Owing
to this, when they had lost the guidance of the initial poetic motive,
they often fluctuated between emphasis and cold observation, between
eloquence and prose, between stylisation of the characters and certain
realistic determinations.

This hybridism, which has sometimes led to the belittling of Corneille
to the level of a poet of observation and of comicality, has more often
led, from another point of view, to his being increased in stature and
importance, to his being belauded and acclaimed as possessing "romantic
tendencies," or as a "French Shakespeare," although but "a Shakespeare
in trammels." There is really nothing whatever in him of the romantic,
in the conception, that is to say, and in the sentiment of life; and
there is less than nothing in him of Shakespeare, whose work had
its origins in a far wider and certainly a very different sphere
of spiritual interests. But since "romanticism" and "Shakespeare"
perhaps stand here simply for poetry, it must be admitted that he is a
poet, who does not explain himself fully, or explains himself badly,
without the liberty, the sympathy, the abandonment of self necessary
for poetry. He harnesses his inspiration to an apparatus of actions
and reactions, of parallelisms and of conventions, which may be well
described as "trammels," when compared with poetry.

But they are in any case trammels which he sets in his own way,
trammels which he creates and fixes in his soul and are not imposed
upon him by the rules, conventions and usages, which were in vogue
at the time he wrote, as is erroneously maintained, coupled with
lamentations as to the unfavorable period for the writing of poetry,
which fell to his lot. What poet can be trammeled from without? The
poet sets such obstacles aside, or he passes through them, or he goes
round them, or he feigns to bow to them, or he does bow to them, but
only in secondary matters that are almost indifferent. For this reason,
disputes and doctrines as to the three unities, as to the characters
of tragedy, as to the manner of obtaining the catharsis or purgation,
have considerable importance for anyone investigating the history of
aesthetic and critical ideas, of their formation, growth and progress,
by means of struggles that seem to us now to be ridiculous, though
they were once serious; but they have no importance whatever as an
element in the judgment of a poem. Corneille did not rebel against the
so-called rules, because he did not feel any need for rebellion; he
accepted or accustomed himself to them, because, having treated tragedy
mechanically, it suited him, or did him no harm, to take heed of the
mechanical rules, laid down by custom and literary and theatrical

For this reason, his method of theatrical composition was not only
susceptible of being tolerated, but even of pleasing and receiving the
praise, the applause and the admiration of the contemporary public,
which did not seek in them the joy of poetic rapture, but a different
and more or less refined pleasure, answering to its spiritual needs and
aspirations. It could later and can now prove insupportable, because
the delight of a certain period in dexterity, expedients and clever
devices, in the fine phrases of the courtier, in certain actions that
were the fashion, in the gallantries of pastoral and heroic romance,
in epigrams, antitheses and madrigals, are no longer our delights.
Passionate or realistic art, as it is called, flourishes everywhere,
in place of the old scholastic, academic and court models. But for us,
everything that concerns Corneille's composition and the technique of
his work is indifferent, since we are viewing the problem from the
point of view of poetry. We shall not therefore busy ourselves with
discriminating those parts of it that are well from those that are
ill put together, nor his clever from his unsuccessful expedients,
his well-constructed "scenes" from those that suffer from padding,
his "acts" that run smoothly from those that drag, the more from the
less happy "endings," as is the habit of those critics, who nourish a
superstitious admiration for what Flaubert would have called _"l'arcane
théâtral."_ We care nothing for the canvas, but only for what of
embroidery in the shape of poetry there is upon it.



The poetry of Corneille, or what of poetry there is in him, is all to
be found in the lyrical quality of the volitional situations, in those
debates, remarks, solemn professions of faith, energetic assertions of
the will, in that superb admiration for one's own personal, unshakable
firmness. Here it is that we must seek it, not in the development of
the dramatic action or in the character of the individual personages.
For it is only an affection for life, that is to say, penetration of
it in all its manifestations, which is capable of generating those
beings, so warm with passion, who insinuate themselves into us and take
possession of our imagination, who grow in it and eventually become so
familiar to us that we seem to have really met them: the creations of
Dante, of Shakespeare, or of Goethe. Certainly, Corneille's lyricism,
which seems to be exclusive and one-sided, would not be lyricism and
poetry, if it were really always exclusive and one-sided and although
it cannot give us drama in the sense we have described, owing to its
driving away the other passions, yet it does not succeed in doing so
in such a complete and radical manner that we fail to perceive their
fermentation, however remote, in those severe and vigorous assertions
of the will. The loftiness itself of the rhythm indicates the high
standard of the vital effort, which it represents and expresses. To
continue the illustration above initiated, Corneille's situations may
be drawings rather than pictures, or pictures in design rather than
in colour; but these pictures also possess their own qualities as
pictures, they too are works of love and must not be confounded with
drawings directed to intellectual ends, with illustration of real
things, or concepts with prosaic designs.

And indeed everyone has always sought and seeks the flower of the
spirit of Corneille, the beauty of his work, in single situations, or
"places." The commentators who busy themselves with the exposition and
the dégustation of his works have but slight material for analysis of
the sort that is employed by them in the case of other poets, whose
fundamental poetic motive furnishes a basis for the rethinking of
the characters and of their actions. Here on the contrary they feel
themselves set free from an obstruction, when they pass to the single
passages, and at once declare with Faguet, one of the latest _"Il y a
de beaux vers à citer"_ The actors too, who attempt to interpret his
tragedies in the realistic romantic manner, fail to convince, while
those succeed on the other hand who deliver them in a somewhat formal
style. In thus listening to the intoned declamations of the monologues,
exhortations, invectives, sentiments and _couplets,_ one feels oneself
transplanted into a superior sphere, exactly as happens with singing
and music.

Corneille's characters are not to be laid hold of in their full and
corporate being. It is but rarely that they allow us a glimpse of their
human countenance, or permit us to catch some cry of scorn, and then
rapidly withdraw themselves into the abstract so completely that we
do not succeed in taking hold of even a fold of their fleeting robes,
although a long-enduring echo of their lightning-like speech remains in
the soul. The old father of the Horatii strengthens his sons in their
conflict between family affection and their imperious duty to their
country, with the maxim: _"Faites votre devoir et laissez faire aux
Dieux."_ The youthful Curiace murmurs with tears in his voice, to the
youthful Horace, his friend and brother-in-law _"Je vous connais encore
et c'est ce qui: me tue,"_ but Horace is as inflexible as a syllogism,
having arrived at the conclusion that the posts assigned to them in the
feud between Rome and Alba have made enemies of them, and therefore
that they must not know one another in future. Curiace, when at last
he has become bitterly resigned to their irremediable separation and
hostility, exclaims: _"Telle est nôtre misère_ ..."--Emilia, another
being with nerves like steel springs, reveals her proud soul in a
single phrase; when Maximus suggests flight to her, she exclaims as
she faces him, in a cry that is like a blow: _"Tu oses m'aimer et tu
n' oses mourir!"_ She is perhaps more deeply wounded here in her pride
as a woman, who fails to receive the tribute of heroism, which she
expects, than in her moral sentiment. The noble Suréna holds it an
easy thing, a thing of small moment, to give his life for his lady: he
wishes "_toujours aimer, toujours souffrir, toujours mourir!_"; and
Antiochus, in _Rodogune,_ when he discovers that he is surrounded with
ambushes, decides to die and in doing so directs his thought to the
sad shade of his brother, who has been slain in a like manner: "_Cher
frère, c'est pour moi le chemin du trépas_..."; and Titus feels himself
penetrated with the melancholy of the fleeting hour, the sense of human

    Oui, Flavian, c'est affaire à mourir.
    La vie est pen de chose; et tôt ou tard qu'importe
    Qu'un traître me l'arrache, ou que l'âge l'emporte?
    Nous mourrons a toute heure; et dans le plus doux sort
    Chaque instant de la vie est un pas vers la mort.

Words expressive of death are always those whose accent is clearest
and whose resonance is the most profound with Corneille. It is perhaps
as well to leave the _Moi_ of Medea and the _Qu'il mourrait_ of the
old Horace to the admirative raptures of the rhetoricians; but let us
repeat to ourselves those words of the sister of Heraclius (in the
_Heraclius_), mortified by fate, ever at the point of death and ever
ready to die:

    Mais à d'autres pensers il me faut recourir:
    Il n'est plus temps d'aimer alors qu'il faut mourir....

And again:

    Crois-tu que sur la foi de tes fausses promesses
    Mon âme ose descendre à de telles bassesses?
    Prends mon sang pour le sien; mais, s'il y faut mon cœur,
    Périsse Héraclius avec sa triste sœur!

And when she stays the hand of the menacing tyrant suddenly and with a

     ... Ne menace point, je suis prête a mourir.

Or, finally, those sweetest words of all, spoken by Eurydice in the

    Non, je ne pleure pas, madame, mais je meurs.

These dying words form as it were the extreme points of the resolute
will, of the will, fierce _usque ad mortem._ But the others, in which
the volitional situations are fixed and developed and determination to
pursue a certain course is asserted, are, as we have said, the proper
and normal expression of the poetry of Corneille, which can be fully
enjoyed, provided that we do not insist upon asking whether they are
appropriate in the mouths of the personages, who should act and not
analyse and define themselves, or whether they are or are not necessary
for the development of the drama. Their poetry consists of just that
analysis, that passionate self-definition, that arranging of the folds
of their own decorous robes, that sculpturing of their own statues.

Let us examine a few examples of it, taking them from the least known
and the least praised tragedies of Corneille, for it is perhaps time
to have done with the so-called decadence or exhaustion of Corneille,
with his second-childhood (according to which, some would maintain that
he returned to his boyish, pre-Cidian period in his maturity), and
with the excessive and to no small extent affected and conventional
exaltation of the famous square block of stone representing the four
faces of honour (the _Cid_), of patriotism _(Horace),_ of generosity
_(Cinna)_ and of sanctity _(Polyeucte)._ There is often in those four
most popular tragedies a certain pomposity, an emphasis, an apparatus,
a rhetorical colouring, which Corneille gradually did away with in
himself, in order to make himself ever more nude, with the austere
nudity of the spirit. It was perhaps not only constancy and coherence
of logical development, but progress of art on the road to its own
perfection, which counselled him to abandon too pathetic subjects. In
any case, unless we wish to turn the traditional judgment upside down,
we must insist that those four tragedies, like those that followed
them, are not to be read by the lover of poetry otherwise than in an
anthological manner, that is to say, selecting the fine passages where
they are to be found, and these occur in no less number and in beauty
at least equal in the other tragedies also, some of which are more and
some less theatrically effective.

Pulchérie is the last and one of the most marvellous Cornelian
condensations of force in deliberation. She thus manifests her mode of
feeling to the youthful Léon whom she loves:

    Je vous aime, Léon, et n'en fais point mystère:
    Des feux tels que les miens n'out rien qu'il faille taire.
    Je vous aime, et non point de cette folle ardeur
    Que les yeux éblouis font maîtresse du cœur;
    Non d'un amour conçu par les sens en tumulte,
    A qui l'âme applaudit sans qu'elle se consulte,
    Et qui, ne concevant que d'aveugles désires,
    Languit dans les faveurs et meurt dans les plaisirs:
    Ma passion pour vous généreuse et solide,
    A la vertu pour âme et la raison pour guide,
    La gloire pour objet et veut, sous votre loi,
    Mettre en ce jour illustre et l'univers et moi.

Here we have clearly the lyricism of a soul which has achieved complete
possession of itself, of a soul overflowing with affections, but
knowing which among them are superior and which inferior, and has
learned how to administer and how to rule itself, steering the ship
with a steady and experienced hand through treacherous seas, and
feeling its own nobility to lie in just what others would call coldness
and lack of humanity. Note the expressions _"folle ardeur"_ and _"sens
en tumulte"_ and the contempt, not to say the disgust, with which they
are uttered and the hell that is pointed out as lying in that soul
which allows itself to be carried away _"sans qu' elle se consulte."_
Note too the vision of the sad effeminacy of those affections, so blind
and so egotistic, which consume and corrupt themselves in themselves,
and how he enhances it by contrast with her own rational passion, so
_"généreuse et solide,"_ with those solemn words of _"vertu,"_ of
_"raison,"_ of _"gloire,"_ and the final apotheosis, which lays at the
feet of the man she loves and loves worthily, her person and the whole

And Pulchérie, when she has been elected empress, again takes counsel
with herself and recognises that this love of hers for Léon is still
inferior, not yet sufficiently pure, and decides to slay it, in order
that it may live again as something different, as something purely

    Léon seul est ma joie, il est mon seul désir;
    Je n'en puis choisir d'autre, et je n'ose le choisir:
    Depuis trois ans unie à cette chère idée,
    J'en ai l'âme à toute heure en tous lieux obsédée;
    Rien n'en détachera mon cœur que le trépas,
    Encore après ma mort n'en répondrai-je pas,
    Et si dans le tombeau le ciel permet qu'on aime,
    Dans le fond du tombeau je l'aimerai de même.
    Trône qui m'éblouis, titres qui me flattez,
    Pourriez-vous me valoir ce que vous me coûtez?
    Et de tout votre orgueil la pompe la plus haute
    A-t-elle un bien égal à celui qu'elle m'ôte?

She thus concedes to human frailty the relief of a lament, such a
lament as can issue from her lips, full of strength and charged with
resolution in passion, but at the same time noble, measured and
dignified. After this, she follows the direction of her will with
inexorable firmness. Léon shall not be her spouse, because her choice
must be and seem to be dictated by the sole good of the State, and fall
upon a man whom she will not love with love, but who will be for Rome
an emperor to be feared and respected. A conflict had been engaged
between one part of herself and another, between the whole and a part,
and she has again subjected the part to the whole and has assigned to
it its duty, that of obedience.

    Je suis impératrice et j'étais Pulchérie.
    De ce trône, ennemi de mes plus doux souhaits,
    Je regarde l'amour comme un de mes sujets;
    Je veux que le respect qu'il doit à ma couronne
    Repousse l'attentat qu'il fait sur ma personne;
    Je veux qu'il m'obéisse, au lieu de me trahir;
    Je veux qu'il donne à tous l'exemple d'obéir;
    Et, jalouse déjà de mon pouvoir suprême,
    Pour l'affermir sur tous, je le prends sur moi-même.

Thus love is subjected to the mind, or as it used to be expressed in
the language of the time, which was of Stoic origin, to the "hegemonic
potency." She would desire to raise her youthful beloved to the
lofty level of her intent, by removing him from the sphere of weak
lamentations and assuring his union with herself in a mystic marriage
of superior wills. What contempt is hers for sentimentalism, which
wishes to insinuate itself where it is not wanted, for "tears," for
"the shame of tears"!

    La plus ferme couronne est bientôt ébranlée
    Quand un effort d'amour semble l'avoir volée;
    Et pour garder un rang si cher à nos désirs
    Il faut un plus grand art que celui des soupirs.
    Ne vous abaissez pas à la honte des larmes;
    Contre un devoir si fort ce sont de faibles armes;
    Et si de tels secours vous couronnaient ailleurs,
    J'aurais pitié d'un sceptre acheté par des pleurs.

When we read such verses as these, our breast expands, as it does
when we are in the company of men whose gravity of word and deed
induce gravity, whose superiority over the crowd makes you forget
the existence of the crowd, transporting you to a sphere where
the non-accomplishment of duty would appear, not only vile, but
incomprehensible. On another occasion our admiration is about to
shroud itself in pity, but soon shines forth again and displays itself
triumphant, as in the young princess Hiedion of the _Attila,_ who is
accorded to the abhorred king of the Huns by a treaty of peace--were
she to refuse the union, immeasurable calamities would fall upon her
family and people. She too observes a sorrowful attitude but hers is an
erect and combative sorrow:

    Si je n'étais pas, seigneur, ce que je suis,
    J'en prendrais quelque droit à finir mes ennuis:
    Mais l'esclavage fier d'une haute naissance,
    Où toute autre peut tout, me tient dans l'impuissance;
    Et, victime d'état, je dois sans reculer
    Attendre aveuglement qu'on daigne m'immoler.

The heart trembles and restrains itself at the same moment before
that _"esclavage fier,"_ that proud and sarcastic _"qu'on daigne
m'immoler"_ the victim has already scrutinised the situation in
which she finds herself, the duty which is incumbent upon her, the
prospect of vengeance which opens itself before her and her race, and
has already conceived her terrible design. In like manner with Queen
Rodolinde in the _Pertharite,_ when she is solicited and implored
by the usurper Grimoalde, who wished to espouse her and promises
to declare himself tutor to her son and to make him heir to the
throne,--suspecting that in this way he will deprive her of the honour
of marriage faith and may then put her son to deatii--she decides upon
a horrible course of action, proposing to him that he should put her
son to death on the spot:

    Puisqu'il faut qu'il périsse, il vaut mieux tôt que tard;
    Que sa mort soit un crime, et non pas un hazard;
    Que cette ombre innocente à toute heure m'anime,
    Me demande à toute heure une grande victime;
    Que ce jeune monarque, immolé de ta main,
    Te rende abominable à tout le genre humain;
    Qu'il t'excite par tout des haines immortelles;
    Que de tous tes sujets il fasse des rebelles.
    Je t'épouserai lors, et m'y viens d'obliger,
    Pour mieux servir ma haine et pour mieux me venger,
    Pour moins perdre des vœux contre ta barbarie,
    Pour être à tous moments maîtresse de ta vie,
    Pour avoir l'accès libre à pousser ma fureur,
    Et mieux choisir la place où te percer le cœur.
    Voilà mon désespoir, voilà ses justes causes:
    A ces conditions, prends ma main, si tu l'oses.

Her husband Pertharite, who had been believed to be dead, is alive:
he returns and is made prisoner by Grimoalde, and Rodolinde, fearing
ruin, decides to avenge him or to perish with him. But he sees the
situation in which he finds himself with his consort in a different
light objectively: he sees it as a conquered king, who bows his head
to the decision of destiny, recognises the right of the conqueror and
holds ever aloft in his soul the idea of regal majesty. So he asserts
it with firmness and serenity, going beyond all personal feelings, in
order that he may consider only what appertains both to the rights and
duties of a king:

    Quand ces devoirs communs out d'importunes lois,
    La majesté du trône en dispense les rois;
    Leur gloire est au-dessus des règles ordinaires,
    Et cet honneur n'est beau que pour les cœurs vulgaires.
    Sitôt qu'un roi vaincu tombe aux mains du vainqueur,
    Il a trop mérité la dernière rigueur.
    Ma mort pour Grimoald ne peut avoir de crime:
    Le soin de s'affermir lui rend tout légitime.
    Quand j'aurai dans ses fers cessé de respirer,
    Donnez-lui votre main sans rien considérer;
    Epargnez les efforts d'une impuissante haine,
    Et permettez au Ciel de vous faire encor reine.

The courageous and sagacious Nicomède speaks kingly words of a
different sort, well calculated to arouse him and make him lift up his
head, to the vacillating father, who wishes to content both Rome and
the queen, establish agreement between love and nature, be father and

    --Seigneur, voulez-vous bien vous en fier à moi?
    Ne soyez l'un ni l'autre.--Et que dois-je être?--Roi.
    Reprenez hautement ce noble caractère.
    Un véritable roi n'est ni mari ni père;
    Il regarde son trône, et rien de plus. Régnez;
    Rome vous craindra plus que vous ne la craignez.
    Malgré cette puissance et si vaste et si grande,
    Vous pouvez déjà voir comme elle m'appréhende,
    Combien en me perdant elle espère gagner,
    Parce qu'elle prévoit que je saurai régner.

Let us listen also for a moment to the Christian Theodora, who has been
granted the time to choose between offering incense to the gods and
being abandoned to the soldiery in the public brothel:

    Quelles sont vos rigueurs, si vous les nommez grâce!
    Et que choix voulez-vous qu'une chrétienne fasse,
    Réduite à balancer son esprit agité
    Entre l'idolâtrie et l'impudicité?
    Le choix est inutile où les maux sont extrêmes.
    Reprenez votre grâce, et choisissez vous-mêmes:
    Quiconque peut choisir consent à l'un des deux,
    Et le consentement est seul lâche et honteux.
    Dieu, tout juste et tout bon, qui lit dans nos pensées,
    N'impute point de crime aux actions forcées;
    Soit que vous contraigniez pour vos dieux impuissans
    Mon corps à l'infamie ou ma main à l'encens,
    Je saurai conserver d'une âme résolue
    À l'époux sans macule une épouse impollue.

She really does _balance_ herself mentally at the parting of the ways
placed before her, analyses it and formulates her determination,
rejecting as cowardly both the choice of the sacrilege and of the
shameful punishment and casting it in the teeth of her unworthy
oppressors. It is the only answer that befits the Christian virgin,
firm in her determination of saving her constancy in the faith and
modesty, which resides not only in the will, but also in desire itself.
The expression of her intention has just such a tone and adopts just
the formulae of a theologian speaking by her mouth--_"le consentment,"
"l'époux sans macule," "l'épouse impollue."_

In _Theseus_ of the _Oedipe_ the poet himself protests against a
conception that menaces the foundation of his spirit itself, because it
offends the idea of free choice and makes unsteady the consciousness
that man has of being able to determine upon a line of conduct
according to reason. He is protesting against the ancient idea of fate,
or rather against its revival in modern form, as the Jansenist doctrine
of grace:

    Quoi! la nécessité des vertus et des vices
    D'un astre impérieux doit suivre les caprices,
    Et Delphes, malgré nous, conduit nos actions
    Au plus bizarre effet de ses prédictions?
    L'âme est donc toute esclave: une loi souveraine
    Vers le bien ou le mal incessamment l'entraîne;
    Et nous ne recevons ni crainte ni désir
    De cette liberté qui n'a rien à choisir,
    Attachés sans relâche à cet ordre sublime,
    Vertueux sans mérite et vicieux sans crime.
    Qu'on massacre les rois, qu'on brise les autels,
    C'est la faute des dieux et non pas des mortels:
    De toute la vertu sur la terre épandue
    Tout le prix à ces dieux, toute la gloire est due:
    Ils agissent en nous quand nous pensons agir;
    Alors qu'on délibère, on ne fait qu'obéir;
    Et notre volonté n'aime, hait, cherche, évite,
    Que suivant que d'en haut leur bras la précipite!
    D'un tel aveuglement daignez me dispenser.
    Le Ciel, juste à punir, juste à récompenser,
    Peur rendre aux actions leur perte ou leur salare,
    Doit nous offrir son aide et puis nous laisser faire....

What indignation, what a revolt of the whole being against the thought
that _"quand on délibère, on ne fait qu' obéir"_! How he defends the
liberty, not only of the _"virtus,"_ but also of the _"vices,"_ the
liberty _"de nous laisser faire!"_ This eloquence of the will and of
liberty, this singing declamation, is the true lyricism of Corneille,
intimate and substantial, and not the so-called "lyrical pieces," which
he inserted into his tragedies here and there. These are lyrical in the
formal and restricted scholastic sense of the term, but they are often
as affected as the monologue of Rodrigue, which is accompanied by a
refrain. Others have demonstrated in an accurately analytical manner
that he lacks lyricism or poetry of style; that the construction of his
phrase is logical, with its "because," its "but," its "then," that he
over-abounds in maxims and altogether ignores metaphor, the picturesque
and musicality. But the same writer who has maintained this, has also
declared that his poetry is to be found, if not in the coloured image
and in the musical sound, then certainly "in the rhythm, in the wide
or rapid vibration of the strophe, which extends or transports the
thought" (Lanson): that is to say, in making this admission, he has
confuted his previous mean and narrow theory concerning poetry and
lyricism. The other judgment is to the effect that Corneille is not a
poet by style, but by the conception and meaning of his works--that
he is a latent poet or one who dressed up his thought in prose. But
it is unthinkable that there should exist latent poets, who do not
manifest themselves in poetic form. The truth of the matter is that
where Corneille felt as a poet, he expressed himself as a poet,
without many-coloured metaphors, without musical trills and softnesses
of expression, but with many maxims, many conjunctive particles,
declaratory and expressive of opposition. He employed the latter
rather than the former, because he had need of the latter and not of
the former. His rhythm too, which has been so much praised and owing
to which his alexandrine rings out so differently from the mechanical
alexandrines of his imitators, the rhetoricians, is nothing but his
spirit itself, noble and solemn, debating and deliberating, resolute,
unafraid and firm in its rational determinations.

Corneille's keenest adversaries have always been compelled to recognise
in him a residuum, which withstood their destructive criticism.
Vauvenargues said that "he sometimes expressed himself with great
energy and no one has more loftly traits, no one has left behind him
the idea of a dialogue so closely compacted and so vehement, or has
depicted with equal felicity the power and the inflexibility of the
soul, which come to it from virtue. There are astonishing flashes
that come forth even from the disputes and upon which I commented
unfavourably, there are battles that really elevate the heart, and
finally, although he frequently removes himself from nature, it must
be confessed that he depicts her with great directness and vigour in
many places, and only there is he to be admired." Jacobi, in an essay
which is an indictment, was however, compelled to excogitate or to
beg for the reason of such fame; he found himself obliged to praise
the many vivacious scenes, the depth of discourse, the loftiness of
expression, to be found scattered here and there in those tragedies.
Although Schiller did not care for him at all, he made an exception for
"the part that is properly speaking heroic," which was "felicitously
treated," although he added that "even this vein, which is not rich in
itself, was treated monotonously." Schlegel was struck with certain
passages and with the style which is often powerful and concise and De
Sanctis observed that Corneille was in his own field, when he portrayed
greatness of soul, not in its gradations and struggles, but "as nature
and habit, in the security of possession." A German philologist, after
he has run down the tragedies of the "quadrilateral," judges Corneille
to be "a jurist and a cold man of intellect, although full of nobility
and dignity of soul, but without clearness as to his own aptitudes, and
without original creative power." This writer declares that "nowhere
in his works do we feel the breath of genius that laughs at all
restraints," but he goes on to make exception for the splendour of his
"language." It seems somewhat difficult to make an exception for the
language, precisely when discussing the question of poetical genius!

NOTE. I draw attention to it in this note, because I have never seen it
mentioned: it is to be found in the _Charactere der vornehmsten Dichter
aller Nationen.... von einer Gesellschaft von Gelehrten_ (Leipzig,
1796), Vol. V, part I, pp. 38-138.

We certainly find monotony present in the figures that he sets before
us, repetitions of thoughts and of schemes, analogies in the matter
of process. A _concordantia corneliana,_ explicatory of this side of
his genius could be constructed and perhaps the sole reason that this
has not been done is because it would be too easy. Steinweg, whom we
have quoted above, has provided a good instance of this. But even the
monotony of Corneille must not be looked upon altogether as a proof of
poverty, or a defect, but rather as an intrinsic characteristic of his
austere inspiration, which was susceptible of assuming but few forms.

I cannot better close this discussion of Corneille than with the
citation of a youthful page of Sainte-Beuve, which contains nothing
but a fanciful comparison, but this comparison has much more to say to
us, who have now completed the critical examination of his works, than
Sainte-Beuve was himself able to say in his various critical writings
relative to the poet, for he there shows himself to be at one moment
inclined to be uncertain and to oscillate, at another inclined to yield
to traditional judgments and conventional enthusiasms. This affords
another proof, if such be necessary, that it is one thing to receive
the sensible impression aroused by a poem and another to understand
and to explain it. "Corneille"--wrote Sainte-Beuve,--"a pure genius,
yet an incomplete one, gives me, with his qualities and his defects,
the impression of those great trees, so naked, so gnarled, so sad and
so monotonous as regards their trunk, and adorned with branches and
dark green leaves only at their summits. They are strong, powerful,
gigantic, having but little foliage; an abundant sap nourishes them;
but you must not expect from them shelter, shade or flowers. They put
forth their leaves late, lose them early and live a long while half
dismantled. Even when their bald heads have abandoned their leaves to
the winds of autumn, their vital nature still throws out here and there
stray boughs and green shoots. When they are about to die, their groans
and creakings are like that trunk, laden with arms, to which Lucan
compared the great Pompey."

INDEX (not retained for this text version)

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