Literary Remains, Vol. 2
by Coleridge
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It is a painful truth that not only individuals, but even whole nations, are ofttimes so enslaved to the habits of their education and immediate circumstances, as not to judge disinterestedly even on those subjects, the very pleasure arising from which consists in its disinterestedness, namely, on subjects of taste and polite literature. Instead of deciding concerning their own modes and customs by any rule of reason, nothing appears rational, becoming, or beautiful to them, but what coincides with the peculiarities of their education. In this narrow circle, individuals may attain to exquisite discrimination, as the French critics have done in their own literature; but a true critic can no more be such without placing himself on some central point, from which he may command the whole, that is, some general rule, which, founded in reason, or the faculties common to all men, must therefore apply to each,—than an astronomer can explain the movements of the solar system without taking his stand in the sun. And let me remark, that this will not tend to produce despotism, but, on the contrary, true tolerance, in the critic. He will, indeed, require, as the spirit and substance of a work, something true in human nature itself, and independent of all circumstances; but in the mode of applying it, he will estimate genius and judgment according to the felicity with which the imperishable soul of intellect shall have adapted itself to the age, the place, and the existing manners. The error he will expose, lies in reversing this, and holding up the mere circumstances as perpetual to the utter neglect of the power which can alone animate them. For art cannot exist without, or apart from, nature; and what has man of his own to give to his fellow-man, but his own thoughts and feelings, and his observations so far as they are modified by his own thoughts or feelings?

Let me, then, once more submit this question to minds emancipated alike from national, or party, or sectarian prejudice:—Are the plays of Shakspeare works of rude uncultivated genius, in which the splendour of the parts compensates, if aught can compensate, for the barbarous shapelessness and irregularity of the whole?—Or is the form equally admirable with the matter, and the judgment of the great poet, not less deserving our wonder than his genius?—Or, again, to repeat the question in other words:—Is Shakspeare a great dramatic poet on account only of those beauties and excellencies which he possesses in common with the ancients, but with diminished claims to our love and honour to the full extent of his differences from them?—Or are these very differences additional proofs of poetic wisdom, at once results and symbols of living power as contrasted with lifeless mechanism—of free and rival originality as contradistinguished from servile imitation, or, more accurately, a blind copying of effects, instead of a true imitation of the essential principles?—Imagine not that I am about to oppose genius to rules. No! the comparative value of these rules is the very cause to be tried. The spirit of poetry, like all other living powers, must of necessity circumscribe itself by rules, were it only to unite power with beauty. It must embody in order to reveal itself; but a living body is of necessity an organized one; and what is organization but the connection of parts in and for a whole, so that each part is at once end and means?—This is no discovery of criticism;—it is a necessity of the human mind; and all nations have felt and obeyed it, in the invention of metre, and measured sounds, as the vehicle and 'involucrum' of poetry—itself a fellow-growth from the same life,—even as the bark is to the tree!

No work of true genius dares want its appropriate form, neither indeed is there any danger of this. As it must not, so genius cannot, be lawless; for it is even this that constitutes it genius—the power of acting creatively under laws of its own origination. How then comes it that not only single 'Zoili', but whole nations have combined in unhesitating condemnation of our great dramatist, as a sort of African nature, rich in beautiful monsters,—as a wild heath where islands of fertility look the greener from the surrounding waste, where the loveliest plants now shine out among unsightly weeds, and now are choked by their parasitic growth, so intertwined that we cannot disentangle the weed without snapping the flower?—In this statement. I have had no reference to the vulgar abuse of Voltaire [1], save as far as his charges are coincident with the decisions of Shakspeare's own commentators and (so they would tell you) almost idolatrous admirers. The true ground of the mistake lies in the confounding mechanical regularity with organic form. The form is mechanic, when on any given material we impress a pre-determined form, not necessarily arising out of the properties of the material;—as when to a mass of wet clay we give whatever shape we wish it to retain when hardened. The organic form, on the other hand, is innate; it shapes, as it developes, itself from within, and the fulness of its development is one and the same with the perfection of its outward form. Such as the life is, such is the form. Nature, the prime genial artist, inexhaustible in diverse powers, is equally inexhaustible in forms;—each exterior is the physiognomy of the being within,—its true image reflected and thrown out from the concave mirror;—and even such is the appropriate excellence of her chosen poet, of our own Shakspeare,—himself a nature humanized, a genial understanding directing self-consciously a power and an implicit wisdom deeper even than our consciousness.

I greatly dislike beauties and selections in general; but as proof positive of his unrivalled excellence, I should like to try Shakspeare by this criterion. Make out your amplest catalogue of all the human faculties, as reason or the moral law, the will, the feeling of the coincidence of the two (a feeling 'sui generis et demonstratio clemontrationum') called the conscience, the understanding or prudence, wit, fancy, imagination, judgment,—and then of the objects on which these are to be employed, as the beauties, the terrors, and the seeming caprices of nature, the realities and the capabilities, that is, the actual and the ideal, of the human mind, conceived as an individual or as a social being, as in innocence or in guilt, in a play-paradise, or in a war-field of temptation;—and then compare with Shakspeare under each of these heads all or any of the writers in prose and verse that have ever lived! Who, that is competent to judge, doubts the result?—And ask your own hearts,—ask your own common-sense—to conceive the possibility of this man being—I say not, the drunken savage of that wretched sciolist, whom Frenchmen, to their shame, have honoured before their elder and better worthies,—but the anomalous, the wild, the irregular, genius of our daily criticism! What! are we to have miracles in sport?—Or, I speak reverently, does God choose idiots by whom to convey divine truths to man?

[Footnote 1: Take a slight specimen of it.

Je suis bien loin assurement de justifier en tout la tragedie d'Hamlet; _c'est une piece grossiere et barbare, qui ne serait pas supportee par la plus vile populace de la France et de l'Italie._ Hamlet y devient fou au second acte, et sa maitresse folle au troisieme; le prince tue le pere de sa maitresse, feignant de tuer un rat, et I'heroeine se jette dans la riviere. On fait sa fosse sur le theatre; des fossoyeurs disent des _quolibets_ dignes d'eux, en tenant dans leurs mains des tetes de morts; le prince Hamlet repond a leurs 'grossieretes abominables par des folies non moins degoutantes._ Pendant ce temps-la, un des acteurs fait la conquete de la Pologne. _Hamlet, sa mere, et son beau-pere boivent ensemble sur le theatre; on chante a table, on s'y querelle, on se bat, on se tue: on croirait que cet ouvrage est le fruit de I'imagination d'un sauvage ivre._

(Dissertation before Semiramis.) This is not, perhaps, very like Hamlet; but nothing can be more like Voltaire. Ed.]


In lectures, of which amusement forms a large part of the object, there are some peculiar difficulties. The architect places his foundation out of sight, and the musician tunes his instrument before he makes his appearance; but the lecturer has to try his chords in the presence of the assembly; an operation not likely, indeed, to produce much pleasure, but yet indispensably necessary to a right understanding of the subject to be developed.

Poetry in essence is as familiar to barbarous as to civilized nations. The Laplander and the savage Indian are cheered by it as well as the inhabitants of London and Paris;—its spirit takes up and incorporates surrounding materials, as a plant clothes itself with soil and climate, whilst it exhibits the working of a vital principle within independent of all accidental circumstances. And to judge with fairness of an author's works, we ought to distinguish what is inward and essential from what is outward and circumstantial. It is essential to poetry that it be "simple" and appeal to the elements and primary laws of our nature; that it be "sensuous" and by its imagery elicit truth at a flash; that it be "impassioned," and be able to move our feelings and awaken our affections. In comparing different poets with each other, we should inquire which have brought into the fullest play our imagination and our reason, or have created the greatest excitement and produced the completest harmony. If we consider great exquisiteness of language and sweetness of metre alone, it is impossible to deny to Pope the character of a delightful writer; but whether he be a poet, must depend upon our definition of the word; and, doubtless, if every thing that pleases be poetry, Pope's satires and epistles must be poetry. This, I must say, that poetry, as distinguished from other modes of composition, does not rest in metre, and that it is not poetry, if it make no appeal to our passions or our imagination. One character belongs to all true poets, that they write from a principle within, not originating in any thing without; and that the true poet's work in its form, its shapings, and its modifications, is distinguished from all other works that assume to belong to the class of poetry, as a natural from an artificial flower, or as the mimic garden of a child from an enamelled meadow. In the former the flowers are broken from their stems and stuck into the ground; they are beautiful to the eye and fragrant to the sense, but their colours soon fade, and their odour is transient as the smile of the planter;—while the meadow may be visited again and again with renewed delight, its beauty is innate in the soil, and its bloom is of the freshness of nature.

The next ground of critical judgment, and point of comparison, will be as to how far a given poet has been influenced by accidental circumstances. As a living poet must surely write, not for the ages past, but for that in which he lives, and those which are to follow, it is, on the one hand, natural that he should not violate, and on the other, necessary that he should not depend on, the mere manners and modes of his day. See how little does Shakspeare leave us to regret that he was born in his particular age! The great aera in modern times was what is called the Restoration of Letters;-the ages preceding it are called the dark ages; but it would be more wise, perhaps, to call them the ages in which we were in the dark. It is usually overlooked that the supposed dark period was not universal, but partial and successive, or alternate; that the dark age of England was not the dark age of Italy, but that one country was in its light and vigour, whilst another was in its gloom and bondage. But no sooner had the Reformation sounded through Europe like the blast of an archangel's trumpet, than from king to peasant there arose an enthusiasm for knowledge; the discovery of a manuscript became the subject of an embassy; Erasmus read by moonlight, because he could not afford a torch, and begged a penny, not for the love of charity, but for the love of learning. The three great points of attention were religion, morals, and taste; men of genius as well as men of learning, who in this age need to be so widely distinguished, then alike became copyists of the ancients; and this, indeed, was the only way by which the taste of mankind could be improved, or their understandings informed. Whilst Dante imagined himself a humble follower of Virgil, and Ariosto of Homer, they were both unconscious of that greater power working within them, which in many points carried them beyond their supposed originals. All great discoveries bear the stamp of the age in which they are made;—hence we perceive the effects of the purer religion of the moderns, visible for the most part in their lives; and in reading their works we should not content ourselves with the mere narratives of events long since passed, but should learn to apply their maxims and conduct to ourselves.

Having intimated that times and manners lend their form and pressure to genius, let me once more draw a slight parallel between the ancient and modern stage, the stages of Greece and of England. The Greeks were polytheists; their religion was local; almost the only object of all their knowledge, art and taste, was their gods; and, accordingly, their productions were, if the expression may be allowed, statuesque, whilst those of the moderns are picturesque. The Greeks reared a structure, which in its parts, and as a whole, fitted the mind with the calm and elevated impression of perfect beauty and symmetrical proportion. The moderns also produced a whole, a more striking whole; but it was by blending materials and fusing the parts together. And as the Pantheon is to York Minster or Westminster Abbey, so is Sophocles compared with Shakspeare; in the one a completeness, a satisfaction, an excellence, on which the mind rests with complacency; in the other a multitude of interlaced materials, great and little, magnificent and mean, accompanied, indeed, with the sense of a falling short of perfection, and yet, at the same time, so promising of our social and individual progression, that we would not, if we could, exchange it for that repose of the mind which dwells on the forms of symmetry in the acquiescent admiration of grace.

This general characteristic of the ancient and modern drama might be illustrated by a parallel of the ancient and modern music;—the one consisting of melody arising from a succession only of pleasing sounds,—the modern embracing harmony also, the result of combination and the effect of a whole.

I have said, and I say it again, that great as was the genius of Shakspeare, his judgment was at least equal to it. Of this any one will be convinced, who attentively considers those points in which the dramas of Greece and England differ, from the dissimilitude of circumstances by which each was modified and influenced. The Greek stage had its origin in the ceremonies of a sacrifice, such as of the goat to Bacchus, whom we most erroneously regard as merely the jolly god of wine;—for among the ancients he was venerable, as the symbol of that power which acts without our consciousness in the vital energies of nature,—the 'vinum mundi',—as Apollo was that of the conscious agency of our intellectual being. The heroes of old under the influence of this Bacchic enthusiasm performed more than human actions;—hence tales of the favorite champions soon passed into dialogue. On the Greek stage the chorus was always before the audience; the curtain was never dropped, as we should say; and change of place being therefore, in general, impossible, the absurd notion of condemning it merely as improbable in itself was never entertained by any one. If we can believe ourselves at Thebes in one act, we may believe ourselves at Athens in the next. If a story lasts twenty-four hours or twenty-four years, it is equally improbable. There seems to be no just boundary but what the feelings prescribe. But on the Greek stage where the same persons were perpetually before the audience, great judgment was necessary in venturing on any such change. The poets never, therefore, attempted to impose on the senses by bringing places to men, but they did bring men to places, as in the well known instance in the 'Eumenides', where during an evident retirement of the chorus from the orchestra, the scene is changed to Athens, and Orestes is first introduced in the temple of Minerva, and the chorus of Furies come in afterwards in pursuit of him. [2]

In the Greek drama there were no formal divisions into scenes and acts; there were no means, therefore, of allowing for the necessary lapse of time between one part of the dialogue and another, and unity of time in a strict sense was, of course, impossible. To overcome that difficulty of accounting for time, which is effected on the modern stage by dropping a curtain, the judgment and great genius of the ancients supplied music and measured motion, and with the lyric ode filled up the vacuity. In the story of the Agamemnon of AEschylus, the capture of Troy is supposed to be announced by a fire lighted on the Asiatic shore, and the transmission of the signal by successive beacons to Mycene. The signal is first seen at the 2lst line, and the herald from Troy itself enters at the 486th, and Agamemnon himself at the 783rd line. But the practical absurdity of this was not felt by the audience, who, in imagination stretched minutes into hours, while they listened to the lofty narrative odes of the chorus which almost entirely fill up the interspace. Another fact deserves attention here, namely, that regularly on the Greek stage a drama, or acted story, consisted in reality of three dramas, called together a trilogy, and performed consecutively in the course of one day. Now you may conceive a tragedy of Shakspeare's as a trilogy connected in one single representation. Divide Lear into three parts, and each would be a play with the ancients; or take the three AEschylean dramas of Agamemnon, and divide them into, or call them, as many acts, and they together would be one play. The first act would comprise the usurpation of AEgisthus, and the murder of Agamemnon; the second, the revenge of Orestes, and the murder of his mother; and the third, the penance and absolution of Orestes;—occupying a period of twenty-two years.

The stage in Shakspeare's time was a naked room with a blanket for a curtain; but he made it a field for monarchs. That law of unity, which has its foundations, not in the factitious necessity of custom, but in nature itself, the unity of feeling, is every where and at all times observed by Shakspeare in his plays. Read 'Romeo and Juliet';—all is youth and spring;—youth with its follies, its virtues, its precipitancies;—spring with its odours, its flowers, and its transiency; it is one and the same feeling that commences, goes through, and ends the play. The old men, the Capulets and the Montagues, are not common old men; they have an eagerness, a heartiness, a vehemence, the effect of spring; with Romeo, his change of passion, his sudden marriage, and his rash death, are all the effects of youth;—whilst in Juliet love has all that is tender and melancholy in the nightingale, all that is voluptuous in the rose, with whatever is sweet in the freshness of spring; but it ends with a long deep sigh like the last breeze of the Italian evening. This unity of feeling and character pervades every drama of Shakspeare.

It seems to me that his plays are distinguished from those of all other dramatic poets by the following characteristics:

1. Expectation in preference to surprise. It is like the true reading of the passage;—'God said, Let there be light, and there was light;'—not there was light. As the feeling with which we startle at a shooting star, compared with that of watching the sunrise at the pre-established moment, such and so low is surprise compared with expectation.

2. Signal adherence to the great law of nature, that all opposites tend to attract and temper each other. Passion in Shakspeare generally displays libertinism, but involves morality; and if there are exceptions to this, they are, independently of their intrinsic value, all of them indicative of individual character, and, like the farewell admonitions of a parent, have an end beyond the parental relation. Thus the Countess's beautiful precepts to Bertram, by elevating her character, raise that of Helena her favorite, and soften down the point in her which Shakspeare does not mean us not to see, but to see and to forgive, and at length to justify. And so it is in Polonius, who is the personified memory of wisdom no longer actually possessed. This admirable character is always misrepresented on the stage. Shakspeare never intended to exhibit him as a buffoon; for although it was natural that Hamlet,—a young man of fire and genius, detesting formality, and disliking Polonius on political grounds, as imagining that he had assisted his uncle in his usurpation,—should express himself satirically,—yet this must not be taken as exactly the poet's conception of him. In Polonius a certain induration of character had arisen from long habits of business; but take his advice to Laertes, and Ophelia's reverence for his memory, and we shall see that he was meant to be represented as a statesman somewhat past his faculties,—his recollections of life all full of wisdom, and showing a knowledge of human nature, whilst what immediately takes place before him, and escapes from him, is indicative of weakness.

But as in Homer all the deities are in armour, even Venus; so in Shakspeare all the characters are strong. Hence real folly and dullness are made by him the vehicles of wisdom. There is no difficulty for one being a fool to imitate a fool; but to be, remain, and speak like a wise man and a great wit, and yet so as to give a vivid representation of a veritable fool,—'hic labor, hoc opus est'. A drunken constable is not uncommon, nor hard to draw; but see and examine what goes to make up a Dogberry.

3. Keeping at all times in the high road of life. Shakspeare has no innocent adulteries, no interesting incests, no virtuous vice;—he never renders that amiable which religion and reason alike teach us to detest, or clothes impurity in the garb of virtue, like Beaumont and Fletcher, the Kotzebues of the day. Shakspeare's fathers are roused by ingratitude, his husbands stung by unfaithfulness; in him, in short, the affections are wounded in those points in which all may, nay, must, feel. Let the morality of Shakspeare be contrasted with that of the writers of his own, or the succeeding, age, or of those of the present day, who boast their superiority in this respect. No one can dispute that the result of such a comparison is altogether in favour of Shakspeare;—even the letters of women of high rank in his age were often coarser than his writings. If he occasionally disgusts a keen sense of delicacy, he never injures the mind; he neither excites, nor flatters, passion, in order to degrade the subject of it; he does not use the faulty thing for a faulty purpose, nor carries on warfare against virtue, by causing wickedness to appear as no wickedness, through the medium of a morbid sympathy with the unfortunate. In Shakspeare vice never walks as in twilight; nothing is purposely out of its place;—he inverts not the order of nature and propriety,—does not make every magistrate a drunkard or glutton, nor every poor man meek, humane, and temperate; he has no benevolent butchers, nor any sentimental rat-catchers.

4. Independence of the dramatic interest on the plot. The interest in the plot is always in fact on account of the characters, not 'vice versa', as in almost all other writers; the plot is a mere canvass and no more. Hence arises the true justification of the same stratagem being used in regard to Benedict and Beatrice,—the vanity in each being alike. Take away from the Much Ado About Nothing all that which is not indispensable to the plot, either as having little to do with it, or, at best, like Dogberry and his comrades, forced into the service, when any other less ingeniously absurd watchmen and night-constables would have answered the mere necessities of the action;—take away Benedict, Beatrice, Dogberry, and the reaction of the former on the character of Hero,—and what will remain? In other writers the main agent of the plot is always the prominent character; in Shakspeare it is so, or is not so, as the character is in itself calculated, or not calculated, to form the plot. Don John is the main-spring of the plot of this play; but he is merely shown and then withdrawn.

5. Independence of the interest on the story as the ground-work of the plot. Hence Shakspeare never took the trouble of inventing stories. It was enough for him to select from those that had been already invented or recorded such as had one or other, or both, of two recommendations, namely, suitableness to his particular purpose, and their being parts of popular tradition,—names of which we had often heard, and of their fortunes, and as to which all we wanted was, to see the man himself. So it is just the man himself, the Lear, the Shylock, the Richard, that Shakspeare makes us for the first time acquainted with. Omit the first scene in Lear, and yet every thing will remain; so the first and second scenes in the Merchant of Venice. Indeed it is universally true.

6. Interfusion of the lyrical—that which in its very essence is poetical—not only with the dramatic, as in the plays of Metastasio, where at the end of the scene comes the 'aria' as the 'exit' speech of the character, but also in and through the dramatic. Songs in Shakspeare are introduced as songs only, just as songs are in real life, beautifully as some of them are characteristic of the person who has sung or called for them, as Desdemona's 'Willow,' and Ophelia's wild snatches, and the sweet carollings in As You Like It. But the whole of the Midsummer Night's Dream is one continued specimen of the dramatized lyrical. And observe how exquisitely the dramatic of Hotspur;—

Marry, and I'm glad on't with all my heart; I had rather be a kitten and cry—mew, &c.

melts away into the lyric of Mortimer;—

I understand thy looks: that pretty Welsh Which thou pourest down from these swelling heavens, I am too perfect in, &c.

Henry IV. part i. act iii. sc. i.

7. The characters of the 'dramatis personae', like those in real life, are to be inferred by the reader;—they are not told to him. And it is well worth remarking that Shakspeare's characters, like those in real life, are very commonly misunderstood, and almost always understood by different persons in different ways. The causes are the same in either case. If you take only what the friends of the character say, you may be deceived, and still more so, if that which his enemies say; nay, even the character himself sees himself through the medium of his character, and not exactly as he is. Take all together, not omitting a shrewd hint from the clown or the fool, and perhaps your impression will be right; and you may know whether you have in fact discovered the poet's own idea, by all the speeches receiving light from it, and attesting its reality by reflecting it.

Lastly, in Shakspeare the heterogeneous is united, as it is in nature. You must not suppose a pressure or passion always acting on or in the character;—passion in Shakspeare is that by which the individual is distinguished from others, not that which makes a different kind of him. Shakspeare followed the main march of the human affections. He entered into no analysis of the passions or faiths of men, but assured himself that such and such passions and faiths were grounded in our common nature, and not in the mere accidents of ignorance or disease. This is an important consideration, and constitutes our Shakspeare the morning star, the guide and the pioneer, of true philosophy.

[Footnote 1: For the most part communicated by Mr. Justice Coleridge. Ed.]

[Footnote 2: AEsch. Eumen. v. 230-239. 'Notandum est, scenam jam Athenas translatam sic institui, ut primo Orestes solus conspiciatur in templo Minerva: supplex ejus simulacrum venerans; paulo post autem eum consequantur Eumenides, &c.' Schiitz's note. The recessions of the chorus were termed 'peravaoraneu'. There is another instance in the Ajax, v. 814. Ed.]


Various attempts have been made to arrange the plays of Shakspeare, each according to its priority in time, by proofs derived from external documents. How unsuccessful these attempts have been might easily be shown, not only from the widely different results arrived at by men, all deeply versed in the black-letter books, old plays, pamphlets, manuscript records and catalogues of that age, but also from the fallacious and unsatisfactory nature of the facts and assumptions on which the evidence rests. In that age, when the press was chiefly occupied with controversial or practical divinity,—when the law, the church and the state engrossed all honour and respectability,—when a degree of disgrace, 'levior quaedam infamiae macula', was attached to the publication of poetry, and even to have sported with the Muse, as a private relaxation, was supposed to be—a venial fault, indeed, yet—something beneath the gravity of a wise man,—when the professed poets were so poor, that the very expenses of the press demanded the liberality of some wealthy individual, so that two thirds of Spenser's poetic works, and those most highly praised by his learned admirers and friends, remained for many years in manuscript, and in manuscript perished,—when the amateurs of the stage were comparatively few, and therefore for the greater part more or less known to each other,—when we know that the plays of Shakspeare, both during and after his life, were the property of the stage, and published by the players, doubtless according to their notions of acceptability with the visitants of the theatre,—in such an age, and under such circumstances, can an allusion or reference to any drama or poem in the publication of a contemporary be received as conclusive evidence, that such drama or poem had at that time been published? Or, further, can the priority of publication itself prove any thing in favour of actually prior composition.

We are tolerably certain, indeed, that the Venus and Adonis, and the Rape of Lucrece, were his two earliest poems, and though not printed until 1593, in the twenty ninth year of his age, yet there can be little doubt that they had remained by him in manuscript many years. For Mr. Malone has made it highly probable, that he had commenced a writer for the stage in 1591, when he was twenty seven years old, and Shakspeare himself assures us that the Venus and Adonis was the first heir of his invention.[1]

Baffled, then, in the attempt to derive any satisfaction from outward documents, we may easily stand excused if we turn our researches towards the internal evidences furnished by the writings themselves, with no other positive 'data' than the known facts, that the Venus and Adonis was printed in 1593, the Rape of Lucrece in 1594, and that the Romeo and Juliet had appeared in 1595,—and with no other presumptions than that the poems, his very first productions, were written many years earlier,—(for who can believe that Shakspeare could have remained to his twenty-ninth or thirtieth year without attempting poetic composition of any kind?)—and that between these and Romeo and Juliet there had intervened one or two other dramas, or the chief materials, at least, of them, although they may very possibly have appeared after the success of the Romeo and Juliet and some other circumstances had given the poet an authority with the proprietors, and created a prepossession in his favour with the theatrical audiences.

[Footnote 1: But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, &c.

Dedication of the V. and A. to Lord Southampton.]


First Epoch.

The London Prodigal. Cromwell. Henry VI., three parts, first edition. The old King John. Edward III. The old Taming of the Shrew. Pericles.

All these are transition-works, 'Uebergangs-werke'; not his, yet of him.

Second Epoch.

All's Well That Ends Well;—but afterwards worked up afresh, (umgearbeitet) especially Parolles. The Two Gentlemen of Verona; a sketch. Romeo and Juliet; first draft of it.

Third Epoch

rises into the full, although youthful, Shakspeare; it was the negative period of his perfection.

Love's Labour's Lost. Twelfth Night. As You Like It. Midsummer Night's Dream. Richard II. Henry IV. and V. Henry VIII.; 'Gelegenheitsgedicht'. Romeo and Juliet, as at present. Merchant of Venice.

Fourth Epoch.

Much Ado About Nothing. Merry Wives of Windsor; first edition. Henry VI.; 'rifacimento'.

Fifth Epoch.

The period of beauty was now past; and that of [GREEK (transliterated): deinotaes] and grandeur succeeds.

Lear. Macbeth. Hamlet. Timon of Athens; an after vibration of Hamlet. Troilus and Cressida; 'Uebergang in die Ironie'. The Roman Plays. King John, as at present. Merry Wives of Windsor. }'umgearbeitet' Taming of the Shrew. } Measure for Measure. Othello. Tempest. Winter's Tale. Cymbeline.


Shakspeare's earliest dramas I take to be,

Love's Labour's Lost. All's Well That Ends Well. Comedy of Errors. Romeo and Juliet.

In the second class I reckon

Midsummer Night's Dream. As You Like It. Tempest. Twelfth Night.

In the third, as indicating a greater energy—not merely of poetry, but—of all the world of thought, yet still with some of the growing pains, and the awkwardness of growth, I place

Troilus and Cressida. Cymbeline. Merchant of Venice. Much Ado About Nothing. Taming of the Shrew.

In the fourth, I place the plays containing the greatest characters;

Macbeth. Lear. Hamlet. Othello.

And lastly, the historic dramas, in order to be able to show my reasons for rejecting some whole plays, and very many scenes in others.


I think Shakspeare's earliest dramatic attempt—perhaps even prior in conception to the Venus and Adonis, and planned before he left Stratford—was Love's Labour's Lost. Shortly afterwards I suppose Pericles and certain scenes in Jeronymo to have been produced; and in the same epoch, I place the Winter's Tale and Cymbeline, differing from the Pericles by the entire 'rifacimento' of it, when Shakspeare's celebrity as poet, and his interest, no less than his influence as manager, enabled him to bring forward the laid-by labours of his youth. The example of Titus Andronicus, which, as well as Jeronymo, was most popular in Shakspeare's first epoch, had led the young dramatist to the lawless mixture of dates and manners. In this same epoch I should place the Comedy of Errors, remarkable as being the only specimen of poetical farce in our language, that is, intentionally such; so that all the distinct kinds of drama, which might be educed 'a priori', have their representatives in Shakspeare's works. I say intentionally such; for many of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays, and the greater part of Ben Jonson's comedies are farce-plots. I add All's Well that Ends Well, originally intended as the counterpart of Love's Labour's Lost, Taming of the Shrew, Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and Romeo and Juliet.

Second Epoch.

Richard II. King John. Henry VI.,—'rifacimento' only. Richard III.

Third Epoch.

Henry IV. Henry V. Merry Wives of Windsor. Henry VIII.,—a sort of historical masque, or show play.

Fourth Epoch

gives all the graces and facilities of a genius in full possession and habitual exercise of power, and peculiarly of the feminine, the lady's character.

Tempest. As You Like It. Merchant of Venice. Twelfth Night.

and, finally, at its very point of culmination,—

Lear. Hamlet. Macbeth. Othello.

Last Epoch,

when the energies of intellect in the cycle of genius were, though in a rich and more potentiated form, becoming predominant over passion and creative self-manifestation.

Measure for Measure. Timon of Athens. Coriolanus. Julius Caesar. Antony and Cleopatra. Troilus and Cressida.

Merciful, wonder-making Heaven! what a man was this Shakspeare! Myriad-minded, indeed, he was.


There is a sort of improbability with which we are shocked in dramatic representation, not less than in a narrative of real life. Consequently, there must be rules respecting it; and as rules are nothing but means to an end previously ascertained—(inattention to which simple truth has been the occasion of all the pedantry of the French school),—we must first determine what the immediate end or object of the drama is. And here, as I have previously remarked, I find two extremes of critical decision;—the French, which evidently presupposes that a perfect delusion is to be aimed at,—an opinion which needs no fresh confutation; and the exact opposite to it, brought forward by Dr. Johnson, who supposes the auditors throughout in the full reflective knowledge of the contrary. In evincing the impossibility of delusion, he makes no sufficient allowance for an intermediate state, which I have before distinguished by the term, illusion, and have attempted to illustrate its quality and character by reference to our mental state, when dreaming. In both cases we simply do not judge the imagery to be unreal; there is a negative reality, and no more. Whatever, therefore, tends to prevent the mind from placing itself, or being placed, gradually in that state in which the images have such negative reality for the auditor, destroys this illusion, and is dramatically improbable.

Now the production of this effect—a sense of improbability—will depend on the degree of excitement in which the mind is supposed to be. Many things would be intolerable in the first scene of a play, that would not at all interrupt our enjoyment in the height of the interest, when the narrow cockpit may be made to hold

The vasty field of France, or we may cram Within its wooden O, the very casques, That did affright the air at Agincourt.

Again, on the other hand, many obvious improbabilities will be endured, as belonging to the ground-work of the story rather than to the drama itself, in the first scenes, which would disturb or disentrance us from all illusion in the acme of our excitement; as for instance, Lear's division of his kingdom, and the banishment of Cordelia.

But, although the other excellencies of the drama besides this dramatic probability, as unity of interest, with distinctness and subordination of the characters, and appropriateness of style, are all, so far as they tend to increase the inward excitement, means towards accomplishing the chief end, that of producing and supporting this willing illusion,—yet they do not on that account cease to be ends themselves; and we must remember that, as such, they carry their own justification with them, as long as they do not contravene or interrupt the total illusion. It is not even always, or of necessity, an objection to them, that they prevent the illusion from rising to as great a height as it might otherwise have attained;—it is enough that they are simply compatible with as high a degree of it as is requisite for the purpose. Nay, upon particular occasions, a palpable improbability may be hazarded by a great genius for the express purpose of keeping down the interest of a merely instrumental scene, which would otherwise make too great an impression for the harmony of the entire illusion. Had the panorama been invented in the time of Pope Leo X., Raffael would still, I doubt not, have smiled in contempt at the regret, that the broom-twigs and scrubby bushes at the back of some of his grand pictures were not as probable trees as those in the exhibition.

The Tempest is a specimen of the purely romantic drama, in which the interest is not historical, or dependent upon fidelity of portraiture, or the natural connexion of events,—but is a birth of the imagination, and rests only on the coaptation and union of the elements granted to, or assumed by, the poet. It is a species of drama which owes no allegiance to time or space, and in which, therefore, errors of chronology and geography—no mortal sins in any species—are venial faults, and count for nothing. It addresses itself entirely to the imaginative faculty; and although the illusion may be assisted by the effect on the senses of the complicated scenery and decorations of modern times, yet this sort of assistance is dangerous. For the principal and only genuine excitement ought to come from within,—from the moved and sympathetic imagination; whereas, where so much is addressed to the mere external senses of seeing and hearing, the spiritual vision is apt to languish, and the attraction from without will withdraw the mind from the proper and only legitimate interest which is intended to spring from within.

The romance opens with a busy scene admirably appropriate to the kind of drama, and giving, as it were, the key-note to the whole harmony. It prepares and initiates the excitement required for the entire piece, and yet does not demand any thing from the spectators, which their previous habits had not fitted them to understand. It is the bustle of a tempest, from which the real horrors are abstracted;—therefore it is poetical, though not in strictness natural—(the distinction to which I have so often alluded)—and is purposely restrained from concentering the interest on itself, but used merely as an induction or tuning for what is to follow.

In the second scene, Prospero's speeches, till the entrance of Ariel, contain the finest example, I remember, of retrospective narration for the purpose of exciting immediate interest, and putting the audience in possession of all the information necessary for the understanding of the plot.[1] Observe, too, the perfect probability of the moment chosen by Prospero (the very Shakspeare himself, as it were, of the tempest) to open out the truth to his daughter, his own romantic bearing, and how completely any thing that might have been disagreeable to us in the magician, is reconciled and shaded in the humanity and natural feelings of the father. In the very first speech of Miranda the simplicity and tenderness of her character are at once laid open;—it would have been lost in direct contact with the agitation of the first scene. The opinion once prevailed, but, happily, is now abandoned, that Fletcher alone wrote for women;—the truth is, that with very few, and those partial, exceptions, the female characters in the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher are, when of the light kind, not decent; when heroic, complete viragos. But in Shakspeare all the elements of womanhood are holy, and there is the sweet, yet dignified feeling of all that 'continuates' society, as sense of ancestry and of sex, with a purity unassailable by sophistry, because it rests not in the analytic processes, but in that sane equipoise of the faculties, during which the feelings are representative of all past experience,—not of the individual only, but of all those by whom she has been educated, and their predecessors even up to the first mother that lived. Shakspeare saw that the want of prominence, which Pope notices for sarcasm, was the blessed beauty of the woman's character, and knew that it arose not from any deficiency, but from the more exquisite harmony of all the parts of the moral being constituting one living total of head and heart. He has drawn it, indeed, in all its distinctive energies of faith, patience, constancy, fortitude,—shown in all of them as following the heart, which gives its results by a nice tact and happy intuition, without the intervention of the discursive faculty,—sees all things in and by the light of the affections, and errs, if it ever err, in the exaggerations of love alone. In all the Shakspearian women there is essentially the same foundation and principle; the distinct individuality and variety are merely the result of the modification of circumstances, whether in Miranda the maiden, in Imogen the wife, or in Katharine the queen.

But to return. The appearance and characters of the super- or ultra-natural servants are finely contrasted. Ariel has in every thing the airy tint which gives the name; and it is worthy of remark that Miranda is never directly brought into comparison with Ariel, lest the natural and human of the one and the supernatural of the other should tend to neutralize each other; Caliban, on the other hand, is all earth, all condensed and gross in feelings and images; he has the dawnings of understanding without reason or the moral sense, and in him, as in some brute animals, this advance to the intellectual faculties, without the moral sense, is marked by the appearance of vice. For it is in the primacy of the moral being only that man is truly human; in his intellectual powers he is certainly approached by the brutes, and, man's whole system duly considered, those powers cannot be considered other than means to an end, that is, to morality.

In this scene, as it proceeds, is displayed the impression made by Ferdinand and Miranda on each other; it is love at first sight;—

at the first sight They have chang'd eyes:—

and it appears to me, that in all cases of real love, it is at one moment that it takes place. That moment may have been prepared by previous esteem, admiration, or even affection,—yet love seems to require a momentary act of volition, by which a tacit bond of devotion is imposed,—a bond not to be thereafter broken without violating what should be sacred in our nature. How finely is the true Shakspearian scene contrasted with Dryden's vulgar alteration of it, in which a mere ludicrous psychological experiment, as it were, is tried—displaying nothing but indelicacy without passion. Prospero's interruption of the courtship has often seemed to me to have no sufficient motive; still his alleged reason—

lest too light winning Make the prize light—

is enough for the ethereal connexions of the romantic imagination, although it would not be so for the historical. [2] The whole courting scene, indeed, in the beginning of the third act, between the lovers is a masterpiece; and the first dawn of disobedience in the mind of Miranda to the command of her father is very finely drawn, so as to seem the working of the Scriptural command, 'Thou shall leave father and mother', &c. O! with what exquisite purity this scene is conceived and executed! Shakspeare may sometimes be gross, but I boldly say that he is always moral and modest. Alas! in this our day decency of manners is preserved at the expense of morality of heart, and delicacies for vice are allowed, whilst grossness against it is hypocritically, or at least morbidly, condemned.

In this play are admirably sketched the vices generally accompanying a low degree of civilization; and in the first scene of the second act Shakspeare has, as in many other places, shown the tendency in bad men to indulge in scorn and contemptuous expressions, as a mode of getting rid of their own uneasy feelings of inferiority to the good, and also, by making the good ridiculous, of rendering the transition of others to wickedness easy. Shakspeare never puts habitual scorn into the mouths of other than bad men, as here in the instances of Antonio and Sebastian. The scene of the intended assassination of Alonzo and Gonzalo is an exact counterpart of the scene between Macbeth and his lady, only pitched in a lower key throughout, as designed to be frustrated and concealed, and exhibiting the same profound management in the manner of familiarizing a mind, not immediately recipient, to the suggestion of guilt, by associating the proposed crime with something ludicrous or out of place,—something not habitually matter of reverence. By this kind of sophistry the imagination and fancy are first bribed to contemplate the suggested act, and at length to become acquainted with it. Observe how the effect of this scene is heightened by contrast with another counterpart of it in low life,—that between the conspirators Stephano, Caliban, and Trinculo in the second scene of the third act, in which there are the same essential characteristics.

In this play and in this scene of it are also shown the springs of the vulgar in politics,—of that kind of politics which is inwoven with human nature. In his treatment of this subject, wherever it occurs, Shakspeare is quite peculiar. In other writers we find the particular opinions of the individual; in Massinger it is rank republicanism; in Beaumont and Fletcher even 'jure divino' principles are carried to excess;—but Shakspeare never promulgates any party tenets. He is always the philosopher and the moralist, but at the same time with a profound veneration for all the established institutions of society, and for those classes which form the permanent elements of the state—especially never introducing a professional character, as such, otherwise than as respectable. If he must have any name, he should be styled a philosophical aristocrat, delighting in those hereditary institutions which have a tendency to bind one age to another, and in that distinction of ranks, of which, although few may be in possession, all enjoy the advantages. Hence, again, you will observe the good nature with which he seems always to make sport with the passions and follies of a mob, as with an irrational animal. He is never angry with it, but hugely content with holding up its absurdities to its face; and sometimes you may trace a tone of almost affectionate superiority, something like that in which a father speaks of the rogueries of a child. See the good-humoured way in which he describes Stephano passing from the most licentious freedom to absolute despotism over Trinculo and Caliban. The truth is, Shakspeare's characters are all 'genera' intensely individualized; the results of meditation, of which observation supplied the drapery and the colors necessary to combine them with each other. He had virtually surveyed all the great component powers and impulses of human nature,—had seen that their different combinations and subordinations were in fact the individualizers of men, and showed how their harmony was produced by reciprocal disproportions of excess or deficiency. The language in which these truths are expressed was not drawn from any set fashion, but from the profoundest depths of his moral being, and is therefore for all ages.

[Footnote 1:

'Pro'. Mark his condition, and th' event; then tell me, If this might be a brother.

'Mira'. I should sin, To think but nobly of my grandmother; Good wombs have bore bad sons.

'Pro'. Now the condition, &c.

Theobald has a note upon this passage, and suggests that Shakspeare placed it thus:—

'Pro'. Good wombs have bore bad sons,—Now the condition.

Mr. Coleridge writes in the margin: 'I cannot but believe that Theobald is quite right.'—Ed.]

[Footnote 2:

'Fer'. Yes, faith, and all his Lords, the duke of Milan, And his brave son, being twain.

Theobald remarks that no body was lost in the wreck; and yet that no such character is introduced in the fable, as the Duke of Milan's son. Mr. C. notes: 'Must not Ferdinand have believed he was lost in the fleet that the tempest scattered?—Ed.]


The characters in this play are either impersonated out of Shakspeare's own multiformity by imaginative self-position, or out of such as a country town and a schoolboy's observation might supply,—the curate, the schoolmaster, the Armado, (who even in my time was not extinct in the cheaper inns of North Wales) and so on. The satire is chiefly on follies of words. Biron and Rosaline are evidently the pre-existent state of Benedict and Beatrice, and so, perhaps, is Boyet of Lafeu, and Costard of the Tapster in Measure for Measure; and the frequency of the rhymes, the sweetness as well as the smoothness of the metre, and the number of acute and fancifully illustrated aphorisms, are all as they ought to be in a poet's youth. True genius begins by generalizing and condensing; it ends in realizing and expanding. It first collects the seeds.

Yet if this juvenile drama had been the only one extant of our Shakspeare, and we possessed the tradition only of his riper works, or accounts of them in writers who had not even mentioned this play,—how many of Shakspeare's characteristic features might we not still have discovered in Love's Labour's Lost, though as in a portrait taken of him in his boyhood.

I can never sufficiently admire the wonderful activity of thought throughout the whole of the first scene of the play, rendered natural, as it is, by the choice of the characters, and the whimsical determination on which the drama is founded. A whimsical determination certainly;—yet not altogether so very improbable to those who are conversant in the history of the middle ages, with their Courts of Love, and all that lighter drapery of chivalry, which engaged even mighty kings with a sort of serio-comic interest, and may well be supposed to have occupied more completely the smaller princes, at a time when the noble's or prince's court contained the only theatre of the domain or principality. This sort of story, too, was admirably suited to Shakspeare's times, when the English court was still the foster-mother of the state and the muses; and when, in consequence, the courtiers, and men of rank and fashion, affected a display of wit, point, and sententious observation, that would be deemed intolerable at present,—but in which a hundred years of controversy, involving every great political, and every dear domestic, interest, had trained all but the lowest classes to participate. Add to this the very style of the sermons of the time, and the eagerness of the Protestants to distinguish themselves by long and frequent preaching, and it will be found that, from the reign of Henry VIII. to the abdication of James II. no country ever received such a national education as England.

Hence the comic matter chosen in the first instance is a ridiculous imitation or apery of this constant striving after logical precision, and subtle opposition of thoughts, together with a making the most of every conception or image, by expressing it under the least expected property belonging to it, and this, again, rendered specially absurd by being applied to the most current subjects and occurrences. The phrases and modes of combination in argument were caught by the most ignorant from the custom of the age, and their ridiculous misapplication of them is most amusingly exhibited in Costard; whilst examples suited only to the gravest propositions and impersonations, or apostrophes to abstract thoughts impersonated, which are in fact the natural language only of the most vehement agitations of the mind, are adopted by the coxcombry of Armado as mere artifices of ornament.

The same kind of intellectual action is exhibited in a more serious and elevated strain in many other parts of this play. Biron's speech at the end of the fourth act is an excellent specimen of it. It is logic clothed in rhetoric;—but observe how Shakspeare, in his two-fold being of poet and philosopher, avails himself of it to convey profound truths in the most lively images,—the whole remaining faithful to the character supposed to utter the lines, and the expressions themselves constituting a further developement of that character:—

Other slow arts entirely keep the brain: And therefore finding barren practisers, Scarce shew a harvest of their heavy toil: But love, first learned in a lady's eyes, Lives not alone immured in the brain; But, with the motion of all elements, Courses as swift as thought in every power; And gives to every power a double power, Above their functions and their offices. It adds a precious seeing to the eye, A lover's eyes will gaze an eagle blind; A lover's ear will hear the lowest sound, When the suspicious tread of theft is stopp'd: Love's feeling is more soft and sensible, Than are the tender horns of cockled snails; Love's tongue proves dainty Bacchus gross in taste; For valour, is not love a Hercules, Still climbing trees in the Hesperides? Subtle as Sphinx; as sweet and musical, As bright Apollo's lute, strung with his hair; And when love speaks, the voice of all the gods Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony. Never durst poet touch a pen to write, Until his ink were temper'd with love's sighs; O, then his lines would ravish savage ears, And plant in tyrants mild humility. From women's eyes this doctrine I derive: They sparkle still the right Promethean fire; They are the books, the arts, the academes, That shew, contain, and nourish all the world; Else, none at all in aught proves excellent; Then fools you were these women to forswear; Or, keeping what is sworn, you will prove fools. For wisdom's sake, a word that all men love; Or for love's sake, a word that loves all men; Or for men's sake, the authors of these women; Or women's sake, by whom we men are men; Let us once lose our oaths, to find ourselves, Or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths: It is religion, to be thus forsworn: For charity itself fulfills the law: And who can sever love from charity?—

This is quite a study;—sometimes you see this youthful god of poetry connecting disparate thoughts purely by means of resemblances in the words expressing them,—a thing in character in lighter comedy, especially of that kind in which Shakspeare delights, namely, the purposed display of wit, though sometimes, too, disfiguring his graver scenes;—but more often you may see him doubling the natural connection or order of logical consequence in the thoughts by the introduction of an artificial and sought for resemblance in the words, as, for instance, in the third line of the play,—

And then grace us in the disgrace of death;—

this being a figure often having its force and propriety, as justified by the law of passion, which, inducing in the mind an unusual activity, seeks for means to waste its superfluity,—when in the highest degree—in lyric repetitions and sublime tautology—'(at her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down; at her feet he bowed, he fell; where he bowed, there he fell down dead)',—and, in lower degrees, in making the words themselves the subjects and materials of that surplus action, and for the same cause that agitates our limbs, and forces our very gestures into a tempest in states of high excitement.

The mere style of narration in Love's Labour's Lost, like that of AEgeon in the first scene of the Comedy of Errors, and of the Captain in the second scene of Macbeth, seems imitated with its defects and its beauties from Sir Philip Sidney; whose Arcadia, though not then published, was already well known in manuscript copies, and could hardly have escaped the notice and admiration of Shakspeare as the friend and client of the Earl of Southampton. The chief defect consists in the parentheses and parenthetic thoughts and descriptions, suited neither to the passion of the speaker, nor the purpose of the person to whom the information is to be given, but manifestly betraying the author himself,—not by way of continuous undersong, but—palpably, and so as to show themselves addressed to the general reader. However, it is not unimportant to notice how strong a presumption the diction and allusions of this play afford, that, though Shakspeare's acquirements in the dead languages might not be such as we suppose in a learned education, his habits had, nevertheless, been scholastic, and those of a student. For a young author's first work almost always bespeaks his recent pursuits, and his first observations of life are either drawn from the immediate employments of his youth, and from the characters and images most deeply impressed on his mind in the situations in which those employments had placed him;—or else they are fixed on such objects and occurrences in the world, as are easily connected with, and seem to bear upon, his studies and the hitherto exclusive subjects of his meditation. Just as Ben Jonson, who applied himself to the drama after having served in Flanders, fills his earliest plays with true or pretended soldiers, the wrongs and neglects of the former, and the absurd boasts and knavery of their counterfeits. So Lessing's first comedies are placed in the universities, and consist of events and characters conceivable in an academic life.

I will only further remark the sweet and tempered gravity, with which Shakspeare in the end draws the only fitting moral which such a drama afforded. Here Rosaline rises up to the full height of Beatrice:—

'Ros'. Oft have I heard of you, my lord Biron, Before I saw you, and the world's large tongue Proclaims you for a man replete with mocks; Full of comparisons, and wounding flouts, Which you on all estates will execute That lie within the mercy of your wit: To weed this wormwood from your fruitful brain, And therewithal, to win me, if you please, (Without the which I am not to be won,) You shall this twelvemonth term from day to day Visit the speechless sick, and still converse With groaning wretches; and your talk shall be, With all the fierce endeavour of your wit, To enforce the pained impotent to smile.

'Biron'. To move wild laughter in the throat of death? It cannot be; it is impossible; Mirth cannot move a soul in agony.

'Ros'. Why, that's the way to choke a gibing spirit, Whose influence is begot of that loose grace, Which shallow laughing hearers give to fools: A jest's prosperity lies in the ear Of him that hears it, never in the tongue Of him that makes it: then, if sickly ears, Deaf'd with the clamors of their own dear groans, Will hear your idle scorns, continue then, And I will have you, and that fault withal; But, if they will not, throw away that spirit, And I shall find you empty of that fault, Right joyful of your reformation.

Act v. sc. 2. In Biron's speech to the Princess:

—and, therefore, like the eye, Full of straying shapes, of habits, and of forms.

Either read stray, which I prefer; or throw full back to the preceding lines,—

like the eye, full Of straying shapes, &c.

In the same scene:

'Biron'. And what to me, my love? and what to me?

'Ros'. You must be purged too, your sins are rank; You are attaint with fault and perjury: Therefore, if you my favour mean to get, A twelvemonth shall you spend, and never rest, But seek the weary beds of people sick.

There can be no doubt, indeed, about the propriety of expunging this speech of Rosaline's; it soils the very page that retains it. But I do not agree with Warburton and others in striking out the preceding line also. It is quite in Biron's character; and Rosaline not answering it immediately, Dumain takes up the question for him, and, after he and Longaville are answered, Biron, with evident propriety, says;—

Studies my mistress? &c.


Act i. sc. 1.

'Her'. O cross! too high to be enthrall'd to low—

'Lys'. Or else misgraffed, in respect of years;

'Her'. O spite! too old to be engag'd to young—

'Lys'. Or else it stood upon the choice of friends;

'Her'. O hell! to chuse love by another's eye!

There is no authority for any alteration;—but I never can help feeling how great an improvement it would be, if the two former of Hermia's exclamations were omitted;—the third and only appropriate one would then become a beauty, and most natural.

'Ib.' Helena's speech:—

I wilt go tell him of fair Hermia's flight, &c.

I am convinced that Shakspeare availed himself of the title of this play in his own mind, and worked upon it as a dream throughout, but especially, and, perhaps, unpleasingly, in this broad determination of ungrateful treachery in Helena, so undisguisedly avowed to herself, and this, too, after the witty cool philosophizing that precedes. The act itself is natural, and the resolve so to act is, I fear, likewise too true a picture of the lax hold which principles have on a woman's heart, when opposed to, or even separated from, passion and inclination. For women are less hypocrites to their own minds than men are, because in general they feel less proportionate abhorrence of moral evil in and for itself, and more of its outward consequences, as detection, and loss of character than men,—their natures being almost wholly extroitive. Still, however just in itself, the representation of this is not poetical; we shrink from it, and cannot harmonize it with the ideal.

Act ii. sc. 1. Theobald's edition.

Through bush, through briar—... Through flood, through fire—

What a noble pair of ears this worthy Theobald must have had! The eight amphimacers or cretics,—

Over hill, over dale, Thoroe' bush, thoroe' briar, Over park, over pale, Thoroe' flood, thoroe' fire—

have a delightful effect on the ear in their sweet transition to the trochaic,—

I do wander ev'ry where Swifter than the moones sphere, &c.—

The last words as sustaining the rhyme, must be considered, as in fact they are, trochees in time.

It may be worth while to give some correct examples in English of the principal metrical feet:—

Pyrrhic or Dibrach, u u =body, spirit. Tribrach, u u u =nobody, (hastily pronounced). Iambus u ' =deli'ght. Trochee, ' u =li'ghtly. Spondee, ' ' =Go'd spa'ke.

The paucity of spondees in single words in English and, indeed, in the modern languages in general, makes, perhaps, the greatest distinction, metrically considered, between them and the Greek and Latin.

Dactyl, ' u u = me'rrily. Anapaest, u u ' = a propo's, or the first three syllables of ceremo'ny. Amphibrachys, u ' u = deli'ghtful. Amphimacer, ' u ' = o'ver hi'll. Antibacchius, u ' ' = the Lo'rd Go'd. Bacchius, ' ' u = He'lve'llyn. Molossus, ' ' ' = Jo'hn Ja'mes Jo'nes.

These simple feet may suffice for understanding the metres of Shakspeare, for the greater part at least;—but Milton cannot be made harmoniously intelligible without the composite feet, the Ionics, Paeons, and Epitrites.

'Ib.' sc. 2. Titania's speech:—(Theobald adopting Warburton's reading.)

Which she, with pretty and with swimming gate Follying (her womb then rich with my young squire) Would imitate, &c.

Oh! oh! Heaven have mercy on poor Shakspeare, and also on Mr. Warburton's mind's eye!

Act v. sc. 1. Theseus' speech:—(Theobald.)

And what poor [willing] duty cannot do, Noble respect takes it in might, not merit.

To my ears it would read far more Shakspearian thus:—

And what poor duty cannot do, yet would, Noble respect, &c.

'Ib.' sc. 2.

'Puck.' Now the hungry lion roars, And the wolf behowls the moon; Whilst the heavy ploughman snores All with weary task foredone, &c.

Very Anacreon in perfectness, proportion, grace, and spontaneity! So far it is Greek;—but then add, O! what wealth, what wild ranging, and yet what compression and condensation of, English fancy! In truth, there is nothing in Anacreon more perfect than these thirty lines, or half so rich and imaginative. They form a speckless diamond.


The myriad-minded man, our, and all men's, Shakspeare, has in this piece presented us with a legitimate farce in exactest consonance with the philosophical principles and character of farce, as distinguished from comedy and from entertainments. A proper farce is mainly distinguished from comedy by the license allowed, and even required, in the fable, in order to produce strange and laughable situations. The story need not be probable, it is enough that it is possible. A comedy would scarcely allow even the two Antipholises; because, although there have been instances of almost indistinguishable likeness in two persons, yet these are mere individual accidents, 'casus ludentis naturae', and the 'verum' will not excuse the 'inverisimile'. But farce dares add the two Dromios, and is justified in so doing by the laws of its end and constitution. In a word, farces commence in a postulate, which must be granted.


Act I. sc. 1.

'Oli'. What, boy!

'Orla'. Come, come, elder brother, you are too young in this.

'Oli'. Wilt thou lay hands on me, villain?

There is a beauty here. The word 'boy' naturally provokes and awakens in Orlando the sense of his manly powers; and with the retort of 'elder brother,' he grasps him with firm hands, and makes him feel he is no boy.


'Oli'. Farewell, good Charles.—Now will I stir this gamester: I hope, I shall see an end of him; for my soul, yet I know not why, hates nothing more than him. Yet he's gentle; never school'd, and yet learn'd; full of noble device; of all sorts enchantingly beloved! and, indeed, so much in the heart of the world, and especially of my own people, who best know him, that I am altogether misprized: but it shall not he so long; this wrestler shall clear all.

This has always appeared to me one of the most un-Shakspearian speeches in all the genuine works of our poet; yet I should be nothing surprized, and greatly pleased, to find it hereafter a fresh beauty, as has so often happened to me with other supposed defects of great men. (1810).

It is too venturous to charge a passage in Shakspeare with want of truth to nature; and yet at first sight this speech of Oliver's expresses truths, which it seems almost impossible that any mind should so distinctly, so livelily, and so voluntarily, have presented to itself, in connection with feelings and intentions so malignant, and so contrary to those which the qualities expressed would naturally have called forth. But I dare not say that this seeming unnaturalness is not in the nature of an abused wilfulness, when united with a strong intellect. In such characters there is sometimes a gloomy self-gratification in making the absoluteness of the will ('sit pro ratione voluntas!') evident to themselves by setting the reason and the conscience in full array against it. (1818).

Ib. sc. 2.

'Celia'. If you saw yourself with your eyes, or knew yourself with your judgment, the fear of your adventure would counsel you to a more equal enterprise.

Surely it should be 'our eyes' and 'our judgment.'

'Ib.' sc. 3.

'Cel'. But is all this for your father?

'Ros'. No, some of it is for my child's father.

Theobald restores this as the reading of the older editions. It may be so; but who can doubt that it is a mistake for 'my father's child,' meaning herself? According to Theobald's note, a most indelicate anticipation is put into the mouth of Rosalind without reason;—and besides, what a strange thought, and how out of place, and unintelligible!

Act iv. sc. 2.

Take thou no scorn To wear the horn, the lusty horn; It was a crest ere thou wast born.

I question whether there exists a parallel instance of a phrase, that like this of 'horns' is universal in all languages, and yet for which no one has discovered even a plausible origin.


Act I. sc. 1. Duke's speech:—

—so full of shapes is fancy, That it alone is high fantastical.

Warburton's alteration of is into in is needless. 'Fancy' may very well be interpreted 'exclusive affection,' or 'passionate preference.' Thus, bird-fanciers, gentlemen of the fancy, that is, amateurs of boxing, &c. The play of assimilation,—the meaning one sense chiefly, and yet keeping both senses in view, is perfectly Shakspearian.

Act ii. sc. 3. Sir Andrew's speech:—

An explanatory note on Pigrogromilus would have been more acceptable than Theobald's grand discovery that 'lemon' ought to be 'leman.'

Ib. Sir Toby's speech: (Warburton's note on the Peripatetic philosophy.)

Shall we rouse the night-owl in a catch, that will draw three souls out of one weaver?

O genuine, and inimitable (at least I hope so) Warburton! This note of thine, if but one in five millions, would be half a one too much.

'Ib.' sc. 4.

'Duke'. My life upon't, young though thou art, thine eye Hath stay'd upon some favour that it loves; Hath it not, boy?

'Vio'. A little, by your favour.

'Duke'. What kind of woman is't?

And yet Viola was to have been presented to Orsino as a eunuch!—Act i. sc. 2. Viola's speech. Either she forgot this, or else she had altered her plan.


'Vio'. A blank, my lord: she never told her love!— But let concealment, &c.

After the first line, (of which the last five words should be spoken with, and drop down in, a deep sigh) the actress ought to make a pause; and then start afresh, from the activity of thought, born of suppressed feelings, and which thought had accumulated during the brief interval, as vital heat under the skin during a dip in cold water.

Ib. sc. 5.

'Fabian'. Though our silence be drawn from us by cars, yet peace.

Perhaps, 'cables.'

Act iii. sc. 1.

'Clown'. A sentence is but a cheveril glove to a good wit.

(Theobald's note.)

Theobald's etymology of 'cheveril' is, of course quite right;—but he is mistaken in supposing that there were no such things as gloves of chicken-skin. They were at one time a main article in chirocosmetics.

Act v. sc. 1. Clown's speech:—

So that, conclusions to be as kisses, if your four negatives make your two affirmatives, why, then, the worse for my friends, and the better for my foes.

(Warburton reads 'conclusion to be asked, is.')

Surely Warburton could never have wooed by kisses and won, or he would not have flounder-flatted so just and humorous, nor less pleasing than humorous, an image into so profound a nihility. In the name of love and wonder, do not four kisses make a double affirmative? The humour lies in the whispered 'No!' and the inviting 'Don't!' with which the maiden's kisses are accompanied, and thence compared to negatives, which by repetition constitute an affirmative.


Act I. sc. 1.

'Count'. If the living be enemy to the grief, the excess makes it soon mortal.

'Bert'. Madam, I desire your holy wishes—.

'Laf'. How understand we that—?

Bertram and Lafeu, I imagine, both speak together,—Lafeu referring to the Countess's rather obscure remark.

Act. ii. sc. 1. (Warburton's note.)

'King'. —let higher Italy (Those 'bated, that inherit but the fall Of the last monarchy) see, that you come Not to woo honor, but to wed it.

It would be, I own, an audacious and unjustifiable change of the text; but yet, as a mere conjecture, I venture to suggest 'bastards,' for ''bated.' As it stands, in spite of Warburton's note I can make little or nothing of it. Why should the king except the then most illustrious states, which, as being republics, were the more truly inheritors of the Roman grandeur?—With my conjecture, the sense would be;—'let higher, or the more northern part of Italy—(unless 'higher' be a corruption for 'hir'd,'—the metre seeming to demand a monosyllable) (those bastards that inherit the infamy only of their fathers) see, &c.' The following 'woo' and 'wed' are so far confirmative as they indicate Shakspeare's manner of connexion by unmarked influences of association from some preceding metaphor. This it is which makes his style so peculiarly vital and organic. Likewise 'those girls of Italy' strengthen the guess. The absurdity of Warburton's gloss, which represents the king calling Italy superior, and then excepting the only part the lords were going to visit, must strike every one.

Ib. sc. 3.

'Laf'. They say, miracles are past; and we have our philosophical persons to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless.

Shakspeare, inspired, as it might seem, with all knowledge, here uses the word 'causeless' in its strict philosophical sense;—cause being truly predicable only of 'phenomena', that is, things natural, and not of 'noumena', or things supernatural.

Act iii. sc. 5.

'Dia'. The Count Rousillon:—know you such a one?

'Hel'. But by the ear that hears most nobly of him; His face I know not.

Shall we say here, that Shakspeare has unnecessarily made his loveliest character utter a lie?—Or shall we dare think that, where to deceive was necessary, he thought a pretended verbal verity a double crime, equally with the other a lie to the hearer, and at the same time an attempt to lie to one's own conscience?


Act I. sc. 1.

'Shal'. The luce is the fresh fish, the salt fish is an old coat.

I cannot understand this. Perhaps there is a corruption both of words and speakers. Shallow no sooner corrects one mistake of Sir Hugh's, namely, 'louse' for 'luce,' a pike, but the honest Welchman falls into another, namely, 'cod' ('baccala') 'Cambrice' 'cot' for coat.

'Shal'. The luce is the fresh fish—

'Evans'. The salt fish is an old cot.

'Luce is a fresh fish, and not a louse;' says Shallow. 'Aye, aye,' quoth Sir Hugh; 'the fresh fish is the luce; it is an old cod that is the salt fish.' At all events, as the text stands, there is no sense at all in the words.

'Ib.' sc. 3.

'Fal'. Now, the report goes, she has all the rule of her husband's purse; she hath a legion of angels.

'Pist'. As many devils entertain; and 'To her, boy', say I.

Perhaps it is—

As many devils enter (or enter'd) swine; and to her, boy, say I:—

a somewhat profane, but not un-Shakspearian, allusion to the 'legion' in St. Luke's 'gospel.'


This play, which is Shakspeare's throughout, is to me the most painful—say rather, the only painful—part of his genuine works. The comic and tragic parts equally border on the [Greek (transliterated): misaeteon],—the one being disgusting, the other horrible; and the pardon and marriage of Angelo not merely baffles the strong indignant claim of justice—(for cruelty, with lust and damnable baseness, cannot be forgiven, because we cannot conceive them as being morally repented of;) but it is likewise degrading to the character of woman. Beaumont and Fletcher, who can follow Shakspeare in his errors only, have presented a still worse, because more loathsome and contradictory, instance of the same kind in the Night-Walker, in the marriage of Alathe to Algripe. Of the counterbalancing beauties of Measure for Measure, I need say nothing; for I have already remarked that the play is Shakspeare's throughout.

Act iii. sc. 1.

Ay, but to die, and go we know not where, &c.

This natural fear of Claudio, from the antipathy we have to death, seems very little varied from that infamous wish of Maecenas, recorded in the 101st epistle of Seneca:

Debilem facito manu, Debilem pede, coxa, &c.

Warburton's note.

I cannot but think this rather an heroic resolve, than an infamous wish. It appears to me to be the grandest symptom of an immortal spirit, when even that bedimmed and overwhelmed spirit recked not of its own immortality, still to seek to be,—to be a mind, a will.

As fame is to reputation, so heaven is to an estate, or immediate advantage. The difference is, that the self-love of the former cannot exist but by a complete suppression and habitual supplantation of immediate selfishness. In one point of view, the miser is more estimable than the spendthrift;—only that the miser's present feelings are as much of the present as the spendthrift's. But 'caeteris paribus', that is, upon the supposition that whatever is good or lovely in the one coexists equally in the other, then, doubtless, the master of the present is less a selfish being, an animal, than he who lives for the moment with no inheritance in the future. Whatever can degrade man, is supposed in the latter case, whatever can elevate him, in the former. And as to self;—strange and generous self! that can only be such a self by a complete divestment of all that men call self,—of all that can make it either practically to others, or consciously to the individual himself, different from the human race in its ideal. Such self is but a perpetual religion, an inalienable acknowledgment of God, the sole basis and ground of being. In this sense, how can I love God, and not love myself, as far as it is of God?

'Ib.' sc. 2.

Pattern in himself to know, Grace to stand, and virtue go.

Worse metre, indeed, but better English would be,—

Grace to stand, virtue to go.


Act I. sc. 1.

You do not meet a man, but frowns: our bloods No more obey the heavens, than our courtiers' Still seem, as does the king's.

There can be little doubt of Mr. Tyrwhitt's emendations of 'courtiers' and 'king,' as to the sense;—only it is not impossible that Shakspeare's dramatic language may allow of the word, 'brows' or 'faces' being understood after the word 'courtiers',' which might then remain in the genitive case plural. But the nominative plural makes excellent sense, and is sufficiently elegant, and sounds to my ear Shakspearian. What, however, is meant by 'our bloods no more obey the heavens?'—Dr. Johnson's assertion that 'bloods' signify 'countenances,' is, I think, mistaken both in the thought conveyed—(for it was never a popular belief that the stars governed men's countenances,) and in the usage, which requires an antithesis of the blood,—or the temperament of the four humours, choler, melancholy, phlegm, and the red globules, or the sanguine portion, which was supposed not to be in our own power, but, to be dependent on the influences of the heavenly bodies,—and the countenances which are in our power really, though from flattery we bring them into a no less apparent dependence on the sovereign, than the former are in actual dependence on the constellations.

I have sometimes thought that the word 'courtiers' was a misprint for 'countenances,' arising from an anticipation, by foreglance of the compositor's eye, of the word 'courtier' a few lines below. The written 'r' is easily and often confounded with the written 'n'. The compositor read the first syllable 'court', and—his eye at the same time catching the word 'courtier' lower down—he completed the word without reconsulting the copy. It is not unlikely that Shakspeare intended first to express, generally the same thought, which a little afterwards he repeats with a particular application to the persons meant;—a common usage of the pronominal 'our,' where the speaker does not really mean to include himself; and the word 'you' is an additional confirmation of the 'our' being used in this place, for men generally and indefinitely, just as 'you do not meet,' is the same as, 'one does not meet.'

Act i. sc. 2. Imogen's speech:—

—My dearest husband, I something fear my father's wrath; but nothing (Always reserv'd my holy duty) what His rage can do on me.

Place the emphasis on 'me;' for 'rage' is a mere repetition of 'wrath.'

'Cym'. O disloyal thing, That should'st repair my youth, thou heapest A year's age on me.

How is it that the commentators take no notice of the un-Shakspearian defect in the metre of the second line, and what in Shakspeare is the same, in the harmony with the sense and feeling? Some word or words must have slipped out after 'youth,'—possibly 'and see':—

That should'st repair my youth!—and see, thou heap'st, &c.

'Ib.' sc. 4. Pisanio's speech:—

—For so long As he could make me with this eye or ear Distinguish him from others, &c.

But '_this_ eye,' in spite of the supposition of its being used [Greek (transliterated): deiktik_os], is very awkward. I should think that either 'or'—or 'the' was Shakspeare's word;—

As he could make me or with eye or ear.

'Ib.' sc. 7. Iachimo's speech:—

Hath nature given them eyes To see this vaulted arch, and the rich crop Of sea and land, which can distinguish 'twixt The fiery orbs above, and the twinn'd stones Upon the number'd beach.

I would suggest 'cope' for 'crop.' As to 'twinn'd stones'—may it not be a bold catachresis for muscles, cockles, and other empty shells with hinges, which are truly twinned? I would take Dr. Farmer's 'umber'd,' which I had proposed before I ever heard of its having been already offered by him: but I do not adopt his interpretation of the word, which I think is not derived from umbra, a shade, but from umber, a dingy yellow-brown soil, which most commonly forms the mass of the sludge on the sea shore, and on the banks of tide-rivers at low water. One other possible interpretation of this sentence has occurred to me, just barely worth mentioning;—that the 'twinn'd stones' are the augrim stones upon the number'd beech, that is, the astronomical tables of beech-wood.

Act v. sc. 5.

'Sooth'. When as a lion's whelp, &c.

It is not easy to conjecture why Shakspeare should have introduced this ludicrous scroll, which answers no one purpose, either propulsive, or explicatory, unless as a joke on etymology.


Act I. sc. 1. Theobald's note:

I never heard it so much as intimated, that he (Shakspeare) had turned his genius to stage-writing, before he associated with the players, and became one of their body.

That Shakspeare never 'turned his genius to stage writing,' as Theobald most 'Theobaldice' phrases it, before he became an actor, is an assertion of about as much authority, as the precious story that he left Stratford for deerstealing, and that he lived by holding gentlemen's horses at the doors of the theatre, and other trash of that arch-gossip, old Aubrey. The metre is an argument against Titus Andronicus being Shakspeare's, worth a score such chronological surmises. Yet I incline to think that both in this play and in Jeronymo, Shakspeare wrote some passages, and that they are the earliest of his compositions.

Act v. sc. 2.

I think it not improbable that the lines from—

I am not mad; I know thee well enough;— ... So thou destroy Rapine, and Murder there.

were written by Shakspeare in his earliest period. But instead of the text—

Revenge, _which makes the foul offender quake.

'Tit.' Art thou_ Revenge? and art thou sent to me?—

the words in italics [between underscores] ought to be omitted.


Mr. Pope (after Dryden) informs us, that the story of Troilus and Cressida was originally the work of one Lollius, a Lombard: but Dryden goes yet further; he declares it to have been written in Latin verse, and that Chaucer translated it.—Lollius was a historiographer of Urbino in Italy. (Note in Stockdale's edition, 1807.)

'Lollius was a historiographer of Urbino in Italy.' So affirms the notary, to whom the Sieur Stockdale committed the disfacimento of Ayscough's excellent edition of Shakspeare. Pity that the researchful notary has not either told us in what century, and of what history, he was a writer, or been simply content to depose, that Lollius, if a writer of that name existed at all, was a somewhat somewhere. The notary speaks of the Troy Boke or Lydgate, printed in 1513. I have never seen it; but I deeply regret that Chalmers did not substitute the whole of Lydgate's works from the MSS. extant, for the almost worthless Gower.

The Troilus and Cressida of Shakspeare can scarcely be classed with his dramas of Greek and Roman history; but it forms an intermediate link between the fictitious Greek and Roman histories, which we may call legendary dramas, and the proper ancient histories; that is, between the Pericles or Titus Andronicus, and the Coriolanus, or Julius Caesar. Cymbeline is a congener with Pericles, and distinguished from Lear by not having any declared prominent object. But where shall we class the Timon of Athens? Perhaps immediately below Lear. It is a Lear of the satirical drama; a Lear of domestic or ordinary life;—a local eddy of passion on the high road of society, while all around is the week-day goings on of wind and weather; a Lear, therefore, without its soul-searching flashes, its ear-cleaving thunderclaps, its meteoric splendors,—without the contagion and the fearful sympathies of nature, the fates, the furies, the frenzied elements, dancing in and out, now breaking through, and scattering,—now hand in hand with,—the fierce or fantastic group of human passions, crimes, and anguishes, reeling on the unsteady ground, in a wild harmony to the shock and the swell of an earthquake. But my present subject was Troilus and Cressida; and I suppose that, scarcely knowing what to say of it, I by a cunning of instinct ran off to subjects on which I should find it difficult not to say too much, though certain after all that I should still leave the better part unsaid, and the gleaning for others richer than my own harvest.

Indeed, there is no one of Shakspeare's plays harder to characterize. The name and the remembrances connected with it, prepare us for the representation of attachment no less faithful than fervent on the side of the youth, and of sudden and shameless inconstancy on the part of the lady. And this is, indeed, as the gold thread on which the scenes are strung, though often kept out of sight and out of mind by gems of greater value than itself. But as Shakspeare calls forth nothing from the mausoleum of history, or the catacombs of tradition, without giving, or eliciting, some permanent and general interest, and brings forward no subject which he does not moralize or intellectualize,—so here he has drawn in Cressida the portrait of a vehement passion, that, having its true origin and proper cause in warmth of temperament, fastens on, rather than fixes to, some one object by liking and temporary preference.

There's language in her eye, her cheek, her lip, Nay, her foot speaks; her wanton spirits look out At every joint and motive of her body.

This Shakspeare has contrasted with the profound affection represented in Troilus, and alone worthy the name of love;—affection, passionate indeed,—swoln with the confluence of youthful instincts and youthful fancy, and growing in the radiance of hope newly risen, in short enlarged by the collective sympathies of nature;—but still having a depth of calmer element in a will stronger than desire, more entire than choice, and which gives permanence to its own act by converting it into faith and duty. Hence with excellent judgment, and with an excellence higher than mere judgment can give, at the close of the play, when Cressida has sunk into infamy below retrieval and beneath hope, the same will, which had been the substance and the basis of his love, while the restless pleasures and passionate longings, like sea-waves, had tossed but on its surface,—this same moral energy is represented as snatching him aloof from all neighbourhood with her dishonour, from all lingering fondness and languishing regrets, whilst it rushes with him into other and nobler duties, and deepens the channel, which his heroic brother's death had left empty for its collected flood. Yet another secondary and subordinate purpose Shakspeare has inwoven with his delineation of these two characters,—that of opposing the inferior civilization, but purer morals, of the Trojans to the refinements, deep policy, but duplicity and sensual corruptions, of the Greeks.

To all this, however, so little comparative projection is given,—nay, the masterly group of Agamemnon, Nestor, and Ulysses, and, still more in advance, that of Achilles, Ajax, and Thersites, so manifestly occupy the foreground, that the subservience and vassalage of strength and animal courage to intellect and policy seems to be the lesson most often in our poet's view, and which he has taken little pains to connect with the former more interesting moral impersonated in the titular hero and heroine of the drama. But I am half inclined to believe, that Shakspeare's main object, or shall I rather say, his ruling impulse, was to translate the poetic heroes of paganism into the not less rude, but more intellectually vigorous, and more featurely, warriors of Christian chivalry,—and to substantiate the distinct and graceful profiles or outlines of the Homeric epic into the flesh and blood of the romantic drama,—in short, to give a grand history-piece in the robust style of Albert Durer.

The character of Thersites, in particular, well deserves a more careful examination, as the Caliban of demagogic life;—the admirable portrait of intellectual power deserted by all grace, all moral principle, all not momentary impulse;—just wise enough to detect the weak head, and fool enough to provoke the armed fist of his betters;—one whom malcontent Achilles can inveigle from malcontent Ajax, under the one condition, that he shall be called on to do nothing but abuse and slander, and that he shall be allowed to abuse as much and as purulently as he likes, that is, as he can;—in short, a mule,—quarrelsome by the original discord of his nature,—a slave by tenure of his own baseness,—made to bray and be brayed at, to despise and be despicable. 'Aye, Sir, but say what you will, he is a very clever fellow, though the best friends will fall out. There was a time when Ajax thought he deserved to have a statue of gold erected to him, and handsome Achilles, at the head of the Myrmidons, gave no little credit to his friend Thersites!'

Act iv. sc. 5. Speech of Ulysses:—

O, these encounterers, so glib of tongue, That give a coasting welcome ere it comes—

Should it be 'accosting?' 'Accost her, knight, accost!' in the Twelfth Night. Yet there sounds a something so Shakspearian in the phrase—'give a coasting welcome,' ('coasting' being taken as the epithet and adjective of 'welcome,') that had the following words been, 'ere they land,' instead of 'ere it comes,' I should have preferred the interpretation. The sense now is, 'that give welcome to a salute ere it comes.'


This play illustrates the wonderfully philosophic impartiality of Shakspeare's politics. His own country's history furnished him with no matter, but what was too recent to be devoted to patriotism. Besides, he knew that the instruction of ancient history would seem more dispassionate. In Coriolanus and Julius Caesar, you see Shakspeare's good-natured laugh at mobs. Compare this with Sir Thomas Brown's aristocracy of spirit.

Act i. sc. 1. Coriolanus' speech:—

He that depends Upon your favours, swims with fins of lead, And hews down oaks with rushes. Hang ye! Trust ye?

I suspect that Shakspeare wrote it transposed;

Trust ye? Hang ye!

Ib. sc. 10. Speech of Aufidius:—

Mine emulation Hath not that honor in't, it had; for where I thought to crush him in an equal force, True sword to sword; I'll potch at him some way, Or wrath, or craft may get him.—My valor (poison'd With only suffering stain by him) for him Shall fly out of itself: not sleep, nor sanctuary, Being naked, sick, nor fane, nor capitol, The prayers of priests, nor times of sacrifices, Embankments all of fury, shall lift up Their rotten privilege and custom 'gainst My hate to Marcius.

I have such deep faith in Shakspeare's heart-lore, that I take for granted that this is in nature, and not as a mere anomaly; although I cannot in myself discover any germ of possible feeling, which could wax and unfold itself into such sentiment as this. However, I perceive that in this speech is meant to be contained a prevention of shock at the after-change in Aufidius' character.

Act ii. sc, 1. Speech of Menenius:—

The most sovereign prescription in Galen, &c.

Was it without, or in contempt of, historical information that Shakspeare made the contemporaries of Coriolanus quote Cato and Galen? I cannot decide to my own satisfaction.

Ib. sc. 3. Speech of Coriolanus:—

Why in this wolvish gown should I stand here—

That the gown of the candidate was of whitened wool, we know. Does 'wolvish' or 'woolvish' mean 'made of wool?' If it means 'wolfish,' what is the sense?

Act iv. sc. 7. Speech of Aufidius:—

All places yield to him ere he sits down, &c.

I have always thought this in itself so beautiful speech, the least explicable from the mood and full intention of the speaker, of any in the whole works of Shakspeare. I cherish the hope that I am mistaken, and that, becoming wiser, I shall discover some profound excellence in that, in which I now appear to detect an imperfection.


Act I. sc. 1.

'Mar.' What meanest thou by that? Mend me, thou saucy fellow!

The speeches of Flavius and Marullus are in blank verse. Wherever regular metre can be rendered truly imitative of character, passion, or personal rank, Shakspeare seldom, if ever, neglects it. Hence this line should be read:—

What mean'st by that? mend me, thou saucy fellow!

I say regular metre: for even the prose has in the highest and lowest dramatic personage, a Cobbler or a Hamlet, a rhythm so felicitous and so severally appropriate, as to be a virtual metre.

Ib. sc. 2.

'Bru.' A soothsayer bids you beware the Ides of March.

If my ear does not deceive me, the metre of this line was meant to express that sort of mild philosophic contempt, characterizing Brutus even in his first casual speech. The line is a trimeter,—each dipodia containing two accented and two unaccented syllables, but variously arranged, as thus;-

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ A soothsayer bids you beware the Ides of March.

Ib. Speech of Brutus:

Set honor in one eye, and death i' the other, And I will look on both indifferently.

Warburton would read 'death' for 'both;' but I prefer the old text. There are here three things, the public good, the individual Brutus' honor, and his death. The latter two so balanced each other, that he could decide for the first by equipoise; nay—the thought growing—that honor had more weight than death. That Cassius understood it as Warburton, is the beauty of Cassius as contrasted with Brutus.

Ib. Caesar's speech:—

He loves no plays, As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music, &c.

This is not a trivial observation, nor does our poet mean barely by it, that Cassius was not a merry, sprightly man; but that he had not a due temperament of harmony in his disposition. (Theobald's Note).

O Theobald! what a commentator wast thou, when thou would'st affect to understand Shakspeare, instead of contenting thyself with collating the text! The meaning here is too deep for a line ten-fold the length of thine to fathom.

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