Mosca, in order to flatter his master, continues the speech of the latter in the same strain:—
... No, sir, nor devour Soft prodigals. You shall have some will swallow A melting heir as glibly as your Dutch Will pills of butter, and ne'er purge for it;  Tear forth the fathers of poor families Out of their beds, and coffin them alive In some kind clasping prison, where their bones May be forthcoming, when the flesh is rotten: But your sweet nature doth abhor these courses; You lothe the widow's or the orphan's tears Should wash your pavements, or their piteous cries Ring in the roofs, and beat the air for vengeance.
We have here an allusion to Hamlet,  where he asks the Ghost why the sepulchre has opened its 'ponderous and marble jaws' to cast him up again; also to the Queen and whilom widow; and, furthermore, to the orphans, Ophelia and Laertes, and to the tears shed by the latter at his sister's death. The cry of vengeance refers to the similar utterances of the Ghost, of Hamlet, and of Laertes, who all seek revenge.
Mosca, with a view of preparing for his master a pleasure more suitable to his taste than that which a play like 'Hamlet,' we suppose, could afford him, brings in the three gamesters:—Nano, a dwarf; Castrone, a eunuch; and Androgyne, a hermaphrodite.  The latter is meant to represent Shakspere; for he is introduced by Nano as a soul coming from Apollo, which migrated through Euphorbus and Pythagoras (Meres uses these two names in his eulogy of the soul of Shakspere).  After having recounted several other stages in the migration of Androgyne's soul (we shall mention them further on), the latter has to give an answer why he has 'shifted his coat in these days of reformation,' and why his 'dogmatical silence' has left him. He replies that an obstreperous 'Sir Lawyer' had induced him to do so. From this it may be concluded that Bacon had some influence on Shakspere's 'Hamlet.' Are not, in poetical manner, the same principles advocated in 'Hamlet,' which Bacon promoted in science? 
After the Hermaphrodite has admitted that he has become 'a good dull mule,'  he avows that he is now a very strange beast, an ass, an actor,a hermaphrodite, and a fool; and that he more especially relishes this latter condition of his, for in all other forms, as Jonson makes him confess, he has 'proved most distressed.' 
Let us now quote from this Interlude some highly-spiced satirical passages.
Nano, the dwarf, coming in with Androgyno and Castrone, asks for room for the new gamesters or players, and says to the public:—
They do bring you neither play, nor university show; And therefore do intreat you that whatsoever they rehearse, May not fare a whit the worse, for the false pace of the verse.  If you wonder at this, you will wonder more ere we pass, For know, here  is inclosed the soul of Pythagoras,  That juggler divine, as hereafter shall follow; Which soul, fast and loose, sir, came first from Apollo.
It is explained how that soul afterwards transmigrated into 'the goldy-locked Euphorbus who was killed, in good fashion, at the siege of old Troy, by the cuckold of Sparta;' how it then passed into Hermotimus, 'where no sooner it was missing, but with one Pyrrhus of Delos  it learned to go a-fishing;'  how thence it did enter the Sophist of Greece, Pythagoras. After having been changed into whom,
she became a philosopher, Crates the cynick, as itself doth relate it:  Since kings, knights and beggars, knaves, lords, and fools get it, Besides ox and ass, camel, mule, goat, and brock,  In all which it has spoke, as in the cobbler's cock. 
Nano's present intention, however, is not to refer to such things:—
But I come not here to discourse of that matter, Or his one, two, or three, or his great oath, BY QUATER,  His musics, his trigon, his golden thigh,  Or his telling how elements  shift: but I Would ask, how of late thou hast suffered translation And shifted thy coat in these days of Reformation.
Androgyno. Like one of the reformed, a fool, as you see, COUNTING ALL OLD DOCTRINE HERESIE.
Nano. But not on thine own forbid meats hast thou ventured.
Androgyno. On fish, when first a Carthusian I entered.
Nano. Why, then thy dogmatical silence hath left thee?
Androgyno. Of that an obstreperous lawyer bereft me.
Nano. O wonderful change, when sir lawyer forsook thee! For Pythagore's sake, what body then took thee?
Androgyno. A good dull mule.
Nano. And how! by that means Thou wert brought to allow of the eating of beans?
Nano. But from the mule into whom didst thou pass?
Androgyno. Into a very strange beast, by some writers called an ass; By others, a precise, pure, illuminate brother, Of those devour flesh, and sometimes one another; And will drop you forth a libel, or a sanctified lie, Betwixt every spoonful of a Nativity  pie.
Nano then admonishes Androgyno to quit that profane nation. Androgyno answers that he gladly remains in the shape of a fool and a hermaphrodite. To the question of Nano, as to whether he likes remaining a hermaphrodite in order to 'vary the delight of each sex,' Androgyno replies:—
Alas, those pleasures be stale and forsaken; No 't is your fool wherewith I am so taken, The only one creature that I can called blessed; For all other forms I have proved most distressed.
Nano. Spoke true, as thou wert in Pythagoras still. This learned opinion we celebrate will,...
With a song, praising fools, the Interlude closes.
In act ii. sc. 2, after Mosca and Volpone have erected a stage upon the stage, Volpone enters, disguised as a mountebank, and abuses those 'ground ciarlatani' (charlatans, impostors) 'who come in lamely, with their mouldy tales out of Boccaccio.' Then there is a most clear allusion to Hamlet (act iv. sc. 6), where he informs his friend Horatio, by letter, of his voyage to England when he was made prisoner by pirates, who dealt with him 'like thieves of mercy.' A further remark of Volpone on 'base pilferies,' and 'wholesome penance done for it,' may be taken as a hit against Hamlet's 'fingering' the packet to 'unseal their grand commission;' for which, in Jonson's view, he would be forced by his father confessor, in a well-regulated Roman Catholic State, to do penance.
This is what Volpone says:—
'No, no, worthy gentlemen; to tell you true, I cannot endure to see the rabble of these ground ciarlatani, that ... come in lamely, with their mouldy tales out of Boccaccio, like stale Tabarine, the fabulist; some of them discoursing their travels; and of their tedious captivity  in the Turks' galleys, when, indeed, were the truth known, they were the Christians' gallies, where very temperately they eat bread and drunk water, as a wholesome penance,  enjoined them by their confessors for base pilferies.'
Shakspere, as we have already explained, got a 'pill' in 'The Poetaster,' whereupon 'our fellow Shakespeare,' as is maintained in the 'Return from Parnassus,' 'has given him' (Jonson) 'a purge that made him bewray his credit' Now Ben, clearly enough, calls this answer of the great adversary—a 'finely wrapt-up antimony,' whereby minds 'stopped with earthy oppilations,' are purged into another world.
Volpone says:—'These turdy-facy, nasty-paty, lousy-fartical rogues, with one poor groat's worth of unprepared antimony, finely wrapt up in several scartoccios (covers),  are able, very well, to kill their twenty a week, and play; yet these meagre, starved spirits, who have stopt the organs of their minds with earthy oppilations, want not their favourers among your shrivelled sallad-eating artizans,  who are overjoyed that they may have their half-pe'rth of physic; though it purge them into another world, it makes no matter.'
Jonson then continues his satire against 'Hamlet' by making Volpone, disguised as a mountebank, sell medicine which is to render that 'purge' ('Hamlet') perfectly innocuous. He calls his medicine 'Oglio del Scoto:'  good for strengthening the nerves; a sovereign remedy against all kinds of illnesses; and, 'it stops a dysenteria, immediately.'
Nano praises its miraculous effects in a song:—
Had old Hippocrates, or Galen, That to their books put med'cines all in, But known this secret, they had never (Of which they will be guilty ever) Been murderers of so much paper, Or wasted many a hurtless taper; No Indian drug had e'er been famed, Tobacco, sassafras not named; Ne yet of guacum one small stick, sir, Nor Raymund Lully's great elixir. Ne had been known the Danish Gonswart, Or Paracelsus, with his long sword.
Is not HAMLET here as good as indicated by name?
The Danish Prince appears on the stage in his 'inky cloak.' No doubt, Jonson picked up the word 'Gonswart' (gansch-zwart, in Flemish) among his Flemish, Dutch, and other Nether-German comrades of war in the Low Countries. Surely, the Danish Prince 'All-Black' is none else but Hamlet clad in black.
In the same scene, the connection between Hamlet and Ophelia also is satirically pulled to pieces. In 'Eastward Hoe' (1605), Jonson and his party do the same in the most indecent and most despicable manner.
Nano, praising the sublime virtues of the 'Oglio del Scoto,' sings:—
Would you live free from all diseases? Do the act your mistress pleases, Yet fright all aches from your bones? Here's a medicine for the nones. 
The scene of the action in 'Volpone' is laid in Venice. During the whole scene above-mentioned, Sir Politick Would-Be and a youthful gentleman-traveller are present Others have already pointed out that, by the former, Shakspere is meant.  The traveller, Peregrine, is a youth whom the jealous Lady Politick once declares to be 'a female devil in a male outside,'—again an allusion to Shakspere's 'two loves' which he himself describes in Sonnet 144.
The words, also, with which Hamlet (act iii. sc. 3) praises his friend Horatio (the Shaksperian ideal of a Horace) are ridiculed by Jonson in this scene. Sir Politick Would-Be says to Peregrine:—
Well, if I could but find one man, one man, To mine own heart, whom I durst trust, I would—
When the stage is raised on the theatre for Volpone, who is disguised as a quacksalver, Sir Politick wishes to enlighten Peregrine as to the fellows that 'mount the bank.'  We need not explain that this is directed against the 'so-called stage-poets' and players. It will easily be perceived that the meaning of the subsequent conversation is the same as in the Preface of 'Volpone,' where Jonson says that 'wis and noble persons 'ought to' take heed how they be too credulous, or give leave to these invading interpreters to be over-familiar with their fames.'
Sir Politick (describing the fellows, one of which is to mount the bank) says:—
They are the only knowing men of Europe! Great general scholars, excellent physicians,  Most admired statesmen, profest favourites, And Cabinet counsellors to the greatest princes; The only languaged men of all the world!
Peregrine. And I have heard, they are most lewd  impostors Made all of terms and shreds, no less beliers Of great men's favours, than their own vile med'cines...
In act iv. sc. 1, Sir Politick gives counsels to the young Peregrine, which are a manifest satire upon Polonius' fatherly farewell speech to Laertes; and here again, let it be observed, religious tendencies are made the subject of persiflage.
Sir Politick. First, for your garb, it must be grave and serious Very reserved and locked; not tell a secret On any terms, not to your father; scarce A fable, but with caution; make sure choice Both of your company and your discourse; beware You never speak a truth—.... And then, for your religion, profess none, But wonder at the diversity of all; And, for your part, protest, were there no other But simply the laws o' th' land, you could content you. Nic Machiavel and Monsieur Bodin, both Were of this mind.
In act iii. sc. 2, it is openly said that English authors namely, such as understand Italian, have stolen from Pastor Fido 'almost as much as from MONTAIGNIE' (Montaigne). In vain we have looked for traces of Montaigne's Essays in other dramas that have come down to us from that epoch. That Shakspere must have been conversant with the Italian tongue, Charles Armitage Brown has tried to prove, and according to our opinion he has done so successfully. 
The talkative Lady Politick wishes to offer some distraction to the apparently sick Volpone. She recommends him an Italian book in these words:—
All our English writers, I mean such as are happy in the Italian, Will deign to steal out of this author mainly; Almost as much as from Montagnie:  He has so modern and facile a vein, Fitting the time, and catching the court-ear! 
When Sir Politick (act v. sc. 2) is to be arrested (he is suspected of having got up a conspiracy, and betrayed the Republic of Venice to the Turks), he asserts his innocence; and when his papers are to be examined, he exclaims:—
Alas, Sir! I have none but notes Drawn out of play-books— And some essays. 
Mosca (act i-v. sc. 2), spurring on his counsel, says:—
Mercury sit upon your thundering tongue, Or the French Hercules  and make your language As conquering as his club, to beat along, As with a tempest, flat, our adversaries.
Hamlet, when asked by the King how he 'calls the play, answers:—'The Mouse-trap.' Mosca calls his own cunningness with which he thinks he can overreach his master, the 'Fox-trap.'
If our intention were not to restrict this treatise to desirable limits, many more satirical passages might be pointed out in 'Volpone,' which are manifestly directed against 'Hamlet' and Shakspere. Those who take a deeper interest in the subject, will discover not a few passages of this kind in 'Volpone.'
In 1605—we believe, a few months before 'Volpone' —'Eastward Hoe' came out, a comedy written by Ben Jonson, Chapman, and Marston, in which, as already stated, the connection between Hamlet and Ophelia is derided in a low, burlesque manner.
Shakspere, in order to flagellate Montaigne's mean views about womankind, puts into the mouth of Ophelia, when she has no longer the control of her tongue, the hideous words:—'Come, my coach!' and 'Oh, how the wheel become it!'  This is a satirical hit, rapidly indicated, but only understood by those who had carefully read Montaigne's book. Ben Jonson, Chapman, and Marston try to make capital out of these expressions, by deriding and denouncing them to the crowd, in order to defame Shakspere.
Girtred (Gertrud, name of Hamlet's mother, the Queen,) is the figure under which Ophelia is ridiculed in 'Eastward Hoe.'  The first is a girl of loosest manners. Her ambition torments her to marry a nobleman, in order to obtain a 'coach.' To her mother (Mrs. Touchstone) she incessantly speaks words of most shameless indecency, which cannot be repeated; more especially as regards her 'coach,' for which she asks ever and anon. A lackey, called Hamlet, must procure it to her. We will give some fragments of that scene. The remainder cannot be offered to a modern circle of general readers.
Enter Hamlet, a Foote-man, in haste.
Hamlet. What coachman—my ladye's coach! for shame! Her ladiship's readie to come down.
Enter Potkinne, a Tankard-bearer.
Potkinne. 'Sfoote! Hamlet, are you madde? Whither run you nowe? You should brushe up my olde mistresse!
Thereupon neighbours come together, all impelled by the greatest curiosity 'to see her take coach,' and wishing to congratulate her.
Gertrud. Thank you, good people! My coach for the love of Heaven, my coach! In good truth, I shall swoune else.
Hamlet. Coach, coach, my ladye's coach! [Exit Hamlet.
After a little conversation between mother and daughter, which we must leave out, Hamlet enters again:
Hamlet. Your coach is coming, madam.
Gertrud. That's well said. Now Heaven! methinks I am eene up to the knees in preferment.... But a little higher, but a little higher, but a little higher! There, there, there lyes Cupid's fire!
Mrs. Touchstone. But must this young man (Hamlet), an't please you, madam, run by your coach all the way a foote?
Gertrud. I by my faith, I warrant him; hee gives no other milke, as I have another servant does.
Mrs. Touchstone. Ahlas! 'tis eene pittie meethinks; for God's sake, madam, buy him but a hobbie horse; let the poore youth have something betwixt his legges to ease 'hem. Alas! we must doe as we would be done too.
That is all we dare to quote from this comedy; but it quite suffices to characterise the meanness of the warfare which Jonson's clique carried on against Shakspere.
However, the lofty ideas contained in 'Hamlet' could not be lowered by such an attack; they became the common property of the best and noblest. Those ideas were of too high a range, too abstract in their nature, to be easily made a sport of before the multitude. A few pleasantries, used by Shakespeare in a moment of easy-going style, were laid hold of maliciously, and caricatured most indecently, by his antagonists, in order to entertain the common crowd there with. Innocent children, moreover, were made to act such satires: 'little eyases, that cry out on the top of the question, and are most tyrannically clapped for't: these are now the fashion, and so berattle the common stages.'
Not less than in 'Volpone,' the tendency of 'Hamlet' as regards religious questions is, in the most evident manner, ridiculed in John Marston's 'Malcontent.' Although this satire (so the play is called in the preface 'To the Reader') appeared before 'Volpone,' we yet thought it more useful first to speak of Jonson's comedy being the work of Shakspere's most formidable adversary.
'The Malcontent' was printed in 1604; and soon afterwards (in the same year) a second edition appeared, augmented by the author, as well as enriched by a few additions from the pen of John Webster.  The play is preceded by a Latin Dedication to Ben Jonson, which sufficiently shows that a close friendship must have existed, at that time, between the two.  The satire is replete with phrases taken from 'Hamlet' for the purpose of mockery; and they are introduced in the loosest, most disconnected manner, thus doubly showing the intention and purpose. Marston's style is pointedly described in 'The Return from Parnassus;' and we do not hesitate to say that the following criticism was written in consequence of his 'Malcontent:'—
Methinks he is a ruffian in his style, Withouten bands or garters' ornament: He quaffs a cup of Frenchman's  Helicon, Then roister doister in his oily terms, Cuts, thrusts, and foins at whomsoever he meets... Tut, what cares he for modest close-couch'd terms, Cleanly to gird our looser libertines?... Ay, there is one, that backs a paper steed, And manageth a penknife gallantly, Strikes his poinardo at a button's breadth, Brings the great battering-ram of terms to towns; And, at first volley of his cannon-shot, Batters the walls of the old fusty world.
Who else can be indicated by the 'One' but Shakspere? To Marston's hollow creations, which drag the loftiest ideas through the mire to amuse the vulgar, the sublime and serious discourses of Shakspere are opposed, which are destined to afford profoundest instruction. Is not the whole tendency of 'Hamlet' described in the last two lines just quoted, in which it is stated that under this poet's attack the walls of the old fusty world are battered down? 
The chief character in 'The Malcontent' is a Duke of Genoa. Marston, in his preface 'To the Reader,' lays stress on the fact of this Duke being, not an historical personage, but a creation of fiction, so 'that even strangers, in whose State I laid my scene, should not from thence draw any disgrace to any, dead or living.' After having complained that, in spite of this endeavour of his, there are some who have been 'most unadvisedly over-cunning in misinterpreting' him, and, 'with subtletie, have maliciously spread ill rumours,' he goes on declaring that he desires 'to satisfie every firme spirit, who in all his actions proposeth to himself no more ends then God and vertue do, whose intentions are alwaies simple.' Those only he means to combat 'whose unquiet studies labor innovation, contempt of holy policie, reverent comely superioritie and establisht unity.' He fears not for the rest of his 'supposed tartnesse; but unto every worthy minde it will be approved so generall and honest as may modestly passe with the freedome of a satyre.'
That this satire could only be directed against 'Hamlet,' every one will be convinced who spends a short hour in reading Marston's 'Malcontent.' Here, too, we must confine ourselves to pointing out only the most important allusions; especially such as refer to religion. Indeed, we would have to copy the whole play, in order to make it fully clear how much Marston, with his undoubted talent for travesty, has succeeded in grotesquely deriding the lofty, noble tone of Shakspere's drama.
The chief character in 'The Malcontent' is Malevole, the Duke of Genoa before-mentioned, who has been wrongfully deprived of the crown. With subtle dissimulation, disguised and unknown, he hangs about the Court. Against the ladies especially, whom he all holds to be adulteresses, he entertains the greatest mistrust. He watches every one; but most closely women. He is the image of mental distemper; and Pietro, the ruling Duke, describes him in act i. sc. 2 by saying that 'the elements struggle within him; his own soule is at variance within her selfe;' he is 'more discontent than Lucifer.' In short, he confers upon him all the qualities of a 'Hamlet' character.
Whenever religious questions are addressed to Malevole, we have to look upon him as the very type of Shakspere himself, whom Marston takes to task for his spirit of 'innovation' and his 'contempt of holy policie and establisht unity.' Shakspere, it ought to be remembered, had scourged Ben Jonson under the figure of Malvolio. Marston, who dedicates 'The Malcontent' to Jonson, no doubt wished to please Jonson by calling the chief character, which represents Shakspere, Malevole.
The play opens with an abominable charivari. ('The vilest out-of-time musicke being heard.') This is partly a hit against the Globe Theatre where—as we see from Shakspere's dramas—music was often introduced in a play; partly it is to indicate the disharmony of Malevole's mind.
Only a few travesties may be mentioned here, before we quote the treatment of religious questions.
In act i. sc. 7 (here the scene is ridiculed in which Hamlet, with drawn sword, stands behind the King), Pietro enters, 'his sword drawne.'
Pietro. A mischiefe fill thy throate, thou fowle-jaw'd slave! Say thy praiers!
Mendozo. I ha forgot um.
Pietro. Thou shall die.
Mendozo. So shall Ihou. I am heart-mad.
Pietro. I am horne-mad.
Mendozo. Extreme mad.
_Pietro. Monstrously mad.
Pietro. Why? thou, thou hast dishonoured my bed.
Hamlet's words: —'O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!' are so often ridiculed because Shakspere, instead of the word 'bed,' uses the more unusual 'sheets.'
Aurelia  speaks of 'chaste sheets,' Malevole  prophesies that 'the Dutches (Duke, Doge) sheets will smoke for't ere it be long.' Mendozo  'hates all women, waxe-lightes, antique bed-postes,' &c.; 'also sweete sheetes.' Aurelia, parodying the words Hamlet addresses to his mother, asks herself: 'O, judgement, where have been my eyes? What bewitched election made me dote on thee? what sorcery made me love thee?'
The counsel which Hamlet gives to his mother 'to throw away the worser part of her cleft heart,' Pietro ridicules in act i. sc. 7:—
My bosome and my heart, When nothing helps, cut off the rotten part.
The splendid speech of Hamlet: 'What a piece of work is man!' sounds from Mendozo's  lips thus:—'In body how delicate; in soule how wittie; in discourse how pregnant; in life how warie; in favours how juditious; in day how sociable; in night how!—O pleasure unutterable!'
Hamlet's little monologue:  'Tis now the very witching time of night,' runs thus with Mendozo:—
'Tis now about the immodest waste of night; The mother of moist dew with pallide light Spreads gloomie shades about the mummed earth. Sleepe, sleepe, whilst we contrive our mischiefes birth.
Then, parodying Hamlet as he draws forth the dead Polonius from behind the arras, Mendozo says:—
This man Ile (I'll) get inhumde.
Thus, all kinds of Shaksperian incidents and locutions are brought forward, wherever they are apt to produce the most comic effect. Several times, from the beginning, the 'weasel' is mentioned with which Hamlet rallies Polonius. We also hear of the 'sponge which sucks'—a simile used by Hamlet (act iv. sc. 3) in regard to Rosencrantz. Nor is the 'true-penny' forgotten—a word used by Hamlet  to designate his father's ghost as a true and genuine one; nor the 'Hillo, ho, ho.'
In all these allusions, of which an attentive reader might easily find scores, there is no systematic order of thoughts. Only in the religious questions we meet with a clear system: they are all addressed to Malevole, who is represented as a kind of freethinker, similar to the one whom Marston, in his preface, wishes to be outlawed, and of whom he says that he fully merits the 'tartness' and freedom of his satire. In the very beginning of 'The Malcontent,' Pietro asks Malevole:
I wonder what religion thou art of?
Malevole. Of a souldiers religion. 
Pietro. And what doost thinke makes most infidells now?
Malevole. Sects. Sects! I have seene seeming Pietie change her roabe so oft, that sure none but some arch-divell can shape her pitticoate.
Pietro. O! a religious pllicie.
Malevole. But damnation on a politique religion!
In act ii. sc. 5 we find the following:—
Malevole. I meane turne pure Rochelchurchman.  I—
Mendozo. Thou Churchman! Why? Why?
Malevole. Because He live lazily, raile upon authoritie, deny Kings supremacy in things indifferent, and be a pope in mine owne parish.
Mendozo. Wherefore doost thou thinke churches were made?
Malevole. To scowre plow-shares. I have seene oxen plow uppe altares: Et nunc seges ubi Sion fuit.
Then there is again what appears to be an allusion to Hamlet, act i. sc. 4, resembling that in 'Volpone':—
I have seen the stoned coffins of long-flead Christians burst up and made hogs troughs.
In act iv. sc. 4, Mendozo says to Malevole, whom he wishes to use for the murder of a hermit:—
Yea, provident. Beware an hypocrite! A Church-man once corrupted, Oh avoide! A fellow that makes religion his stawking horse. He breeds a plague. Thou shalt poison him.
From the many hints in 'Volpone' and in 'The Malcontent,' it clearly follows that Shakspere was to be represented, in those dramas, before the public at large, as an Atheist.  According to Jonson, he counted 'ALL OLD DOCTRINE HERESIE.' According to Marston, he had an aversion for all sects, and 'CONTEMPT OF HOLY POLICIE, REVERENT COMELY SUPERIORITIE, AND ESTABLISHT UNITIE.' We hope we have convinced our readers that Shakspere spoke in matters of religion as clearly as his 'tongue-tied muse'  permitted him to do. Above all, we think of having successfully proved that the controversy of 'Hamlet' is directed against doctrines which assert that there is nothing but evil in human nature.
Shakspere's prophetic glance saw the pernicious character of Montaigne's inconsistent thoughts, which, unable to place us in sound relation to the Universe, only succeed in making men pass their lives in subtle reflection and unmanly, sentimental inaction. Shakspere, intending to avert the blighting influence of such a philosophy from the best and foremost of his country, wrote his 'Hamlet.' As a truly heaven-born poet he bound for ever, by Thought's enduring chain,
All that flows unfixed and undefined In glimmering phantasy before the mind.
In spite of the powerful impression his master-work, 'Hamlet,' has made upon all thinking minds, the deepest and most serious meaning of Shakspere's warning words could not have been fathomed by the many. The parables through which a Prophet spoke were cast into the form of a theatrical play, not easy to understand for the mass of men; for 'tongue-tied' was his Muse by earthly powers. And Shakspere deeply felt the disgrace of being compelled to give forth his utterances in so dubious a manner.
His Sonnets  express the feeling that weighed upon him on this account. Had he not 'gor'd his own thoughts,' revealed his innermost soul? Yet, now, his narrow-minded fellow-dramatists—but no! not fellow-dramatists: mere contemporary playwrights, immeasurably far behind him in rank—eaten up, as they were, with envy and jealous malice, meanly derided everything sacred to him; holding up his ideals to ridicule before a jeering crowd. It has long ago been surmised that Sonnet lxvi. belongs to the 'Hamlet' period. But now it will be better understood why that sonnet speaks of 'a maiden virtue rudely strumpeted;  of 'right perfection wrongfully disgrac'd, and strength by limping sway disabled;' of 'simple truth miscall'd simplicity.'
These are the full words of this mighty sigh of despair:—
Tir'd with all these, for restful death I cry— As, to behold desert a beggar born, And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity, And purest faith unhappily forsworn, And gilded honour shamefully misplac'd, And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted, And right perfection wrongfully disgrac'd, And strength by limping sway disabled, And art made tongue-ty'd by authority, And folly (doctor-like) controlling skill, And simple truth miscall'd simplicity, And captive Good attending captain ill: Tir'd with all these, from these would I be gone, Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.
'Purest faith unhappily forsworn' was Shakspere's faith in God—without any 'holy policie' and without 'old doctrines'—trusting above all in the majesty of ennobled human nature. He was a veritable Humanist, the truest and greatest, who ever strove to raise the most essential part of human nature, man's soul and mind, yet by no mean supernatural, but by 'mean that Nature makes.'
Shakspere's 'Hamlet' appears to us like a solemn admonition to his distinguished friends. He showed them, under the guise of that Prince, a nobleman without fixed ideal—'virtues which do not go forth' to assert themselves, and to do good for the sake of others—noble life wasted, letting the world remain 'out of joint' without determined will to set it right: this was the poet's prophetic warning.
One aspiration of Shakspere clearly shines through his career, in whatever darkness it may otherwise be enveloped—namely, his longing to acquire land near the town he was born in. When he had realised this ambition, he cheerfully seems to have left the splendour of town life, and to have readily renounced all literary fame; for he did not even care to collect his own works.
He was contented to cultivate his native soil: a giant Antaeus who, as the myth tells us, ever had to touch Mother Earth to regain his strength.
1: Volpone is stated to have been first acted in the Globe Theatre in 1605. It is simply impossible that this drama, in its present shape, should have been given in that theatre as long as Shakspere was actively connected with it. We therefore must assume that Shakspere—as Delius holds it to be probable—had at that time already withdrawn to Stratford, or that the biting allusions which are contained in Volpone against the great Master, had been added between 1605 (the year of its first performance) and 1607 (the year of its appearance in print). We consider the latter opinion the likelier one, as we suspect, from allusions in Epicoene, that Shakspere, when this play was published, still resided in London. However, it is also probable that in 1605 he may for a while have withdrawn from the stage.
2: In this enumeration, Jonson seems to have the various Qualities of the Essays in view which Florio calls 'Morall, Politike, and Millitarie.'
3: Against Montaigne, 'the teacher of things divine no less than human,' Shakspere's whole argumentation in 'Hamlet' is directed.
4: Here we have the noble Knight of the Order of St. Michael, as well as the courtier and Mayor of Bordeaux.
5: Montaigne was Knight of the Order of St. Michael, and Chamberlain of Henry III. He was on terms of friendship with Henry IV. Both Kings he had as guests in his own house. In his Essai de Vanitie, Montaigne also relates with great pride and satisfaction, that during his sojourn at Rome he was made a burgess of that city, 'the most noble that ever was, or ever shall be.'
6: In spite of Gifford's protest we do not hesitate to maintain that Jonson's Epigram LVI. (On Poet-Ape) is directed against Shakspere, and that the poet whom Jonson—in the Epistle XII. (Forest) to Elizabeth, Countess of Rutland—abuses, is also none else than Shakspere.
7: Montaigne died in 1592.
8: We can only quote the most striking points, and must leave it to the reader who takes a deeper interest in the subject, to give his own closer attention to the dramas concerning the controversy.
9: Gentlemen of Verona; Comedy of Errors; Love's Labour Lost; Love's Labour Won (probably All's Well that Ends Well); Midsummer Night's Dream; Merchant of Venice. Of Tragedies: Richard the Second; Richard the Third; Henry the Fourth; King John; Titus Andronicus; Romeo and Juliet.
10: As the words that follow seem to contain an allusion to Shakspere's Hamlet, it is to be supposed that by the 'melting heir' Jonson points to some protector of the great poet. Whether this be William Herbert, or the Earl of Southampton, we must leave undecided.
11: Act i. sc. 4.
12: Jonson probably calls Shakspere an hermaphrodite because, having a wife, he cultivated an intimate friendship at the same time with William Herbert, the later Earl of Pembroke. Jonson's Epicoene, or The Silent Woman (1609) satirises this connection. We are not the first in making this assertion. (See Sonnets of Shakspere Solved, by Henry Brown: London, 1876, p. 16.)
In Epicoene a College is described, which is stated to be composed of women. Instead of women, we may boldly assume men to be meant. Truewitt thus describes the new Society:—
'A new foundation, Sir, here in the town, of ladies, that call themselves the Collegiates: an order between courtiers and country madams that live from their husbands, and give entertainment to all the wits and braveries of the time, as they call them: cry down, or up, what they like or dislike in a brain or a fashion, with most masculine or rather hermaphroditical authority; and every day gain to their College some new probationer.
Clerimont. Who is the president? Truewitt. The grave and youthful matron, the Lady Haughty.'
Shakspere at that time was in the 'matronly' age of forty-five. We have seen how a 'dislike in a brain' has been expressed in Hamlet.
13: The name of Ovid, likewise used in that eulogy, Jonson assigned, in his Poetaster, to Marston. (See note 22 at end of Section V.)
14: It would have been most strange, indeed, if the two greatest geniuses of their time had not exercised some influence on each other; if the greatest thinker of that age had not given some suggestive thoughts to the poet; and if the poet had not animated the thinker to the cultivation of art, inducing him to offer his philosophical thoughts in beautiful garment. Hence Mrs. Henry Pott may have found vestiges of a more perfected and nobler style in Bacon's Diaries, on which she founded her wild theory. Had not Kant and Fichte great influence on their contemporary, Schiller? Does not Goethe praise the influence exercised by Spinoza upon him? Let us assume that the latter two had been contemporaries; that they had lived in the same town. Would it not have been extraordinary if they had remained intellectual strangers to each other, instead of drawing mutual advantage from their intercourse? Why should Bacon not have been one of the noblemen who, after the performance of a play, were initiated, in the Mermaid Tavern, into the more hidden meaning of a drama? Is it not rather likely that Bacon drew Shakspere's attention to the inconsistencies of Montaigne?
15: The advocates, in festive processions, made use of mules. Maybe that Jonson calls Shakspere a 'good dull mule' because in Hamlet he champions the views of 'Sir Lawyer' Bacon.
16: This notion, that Shakspere has mainly distinguished himself in the comic line—in the representation of Foolery—harmonises with Jonson's opinion, as privately expressed in Timber; or, Discoveries made upon Men and Matter (1630-37), in a noteworthy degree. There he says of Shakspere:—'His wit was in his own power. Would the rule of it had been so, too.'
17: An allusion to Shakspere's unclassical metrics, and his great success among the public, although in Jonson's opinion he brings neither regular 'play nor university show.'
18: In Androgyno, whom he brings in.
19: This is Jonson's answer to the question raised in Twelfth Night (act iv. sc. 2), when Malvolio is in prison, in regard to Pythagoras.
20: We can nowhere find any clue to such a personage of antiquity, and we take it to be a reference to Pyrrhon of Elis, the founder of the sceptic school.
21: Bacon was a friend of this sport. Mrs. Pott points out some technical expressions which we find both in Bacon's works and in Shakspere. Perhaps we might stretch our fancy so far as to assume that Bacon is Pyrrhus of Delos, and that gentle Shakspere sometimes went a-fishing with him on the banks of the Thames.
22: 'As itself doth relate it.' Yet the soul does not relate anything, except that it is said to have spoken, in all the characters it assumed, 'as in the cobbler's cock.' We must, therefore, probably look in plays—in Shakspere's dramas—for that which the soul has spoken in its various stages as a king, as a beggar, and so forth.
23: 'Brock' (badger)—a word which Shakspere only uses once; viz. in Twelfth Night (act ii. sc. 5). Sir Toby's whole indignation against Malvolio culminates in the words:—'Marry, hang thee, brock!' We know of Jonson's unseemly bodily figure, his 'ambling' gait, which rendered him unfit for the stage. The pace of a badger would be a very graphic description of his manner of walking. Now, Jonson sneers at the word 'brock' in a way not unfrequent with Shakspere himself, in regard to various words used by Jonson against him. In The Poetaster, Tucca falls out against the 'wormwood' comedies, which drag everything on to the stage. We are reminded here of Hamlet's exclamation:—'Wormwood, wormwood!' when the Queen of the Interlude speaks the two lines he had probably intercalated:—
In second husband let me be accurst! None wed the second but who kill'd the first.
24: 'Cobbler's cock' refers most likely to a drama by Robert Wilson, entitled: Cobbler's Prophecy. In Collier's History of the English Drama (iii. pp. 247-8) it is thus described:—
'It is a mass of absurdity without any leading purpose, but here and there exhibiting glimpses of something better. The scene of the play is laid in Boeotia which is represented to be ruled by a duke, but in a state of confusion and disorganisation.... One of the principal characters is a whimsical Cobbler who, by intermediation of the heathen god Mercury, obtains prophetic power, the chief object of which is to warn the Duke of the impending ruin of his state unless he consents to introduce various reforms, and especially to unite the discordant classes of his subjects.' Jonson may have looked upon Hamlet in this manner from his point of view. It is for us to admire the prophetical spirit of Shakspere who in Montaigne perceived the germ of the helplessly divided nature of modern man.
25: 'Or his great oath, by Quarter.' No doubt, this is an allusion of Jonson to Shakspere's 'quarter share,' the fourth part of the receipts of his company. The Blackfriars Theatre had sixteen shareholders. It is proved that Shakspere at that time, when a valuation of the theatre was made, had a claim to four parts, each of L233 6s. 8d. (Chr. Armitage Brown, Shak. Autobiographical Poems, London, 1838, p. 101). In The Poetaster (act iii. sc. i), Tucca says to Crispinus the Poetaster:—'Thou shall have a quarter share.' In Epistle xii. (Forest), which Jonson addresses to Elizabeth, Countess of Rutland, and which, in our opinion, also contains an allusion to Shakspere, as well as to his protector, William Herbert, Ben speaks of poets with 'their quarter face.'
26: Shakspere often introduced music in his dramas. Jonson ridicules this; so did Marston, as we shall see. (Twelfth Night, for instance, opens with music.)
27: 'His golden thigh.' The shape of the legs, the 'yellow cross-gartered stockings' of poor Malvolio in Twelfth Night are here ridiculed.
28: Malvolio says to his friends:—'I am not of your element.' In the same play, great sport is made of this word, until the Fool himself at last gets weary of it, when he says (act iii. sc. i):—'You are out of my welkin—I might say element, but the word is overworn.'
29: Blackfriars, where Shakspere first acted, was a former cloister. 'On fish, when first a Carthusian I entered,' no doubt means that from the beginning he had preferred keeping mute as a fish, in regard to forbidden matters of the Church.
30: I.e., Christmas-pie. In the Prologue of The Return from Parnassus, this comedy is called a Christmas Toy. Shakspere is therein lavishly praised by his brother actors, whereas Jonson is spoken of as 'a bold whoreson, as confident now in making of a book, as he was in times past in laying of a brick.' A veritable libel!
31: Hamlet (act v. sc. 2):—
Methought, I lay Worse than the mutines in the bilboes
32: Through Jonson's satire we always see the sanctimonious Jesuit peering out.
33: These are the parables in which Hamlet speaks. Many a reader will understand why Shakspere could not use more explicit language.
34: So the envious Jonson calls Shakspere's public who are satisfied with 'salad;' that is, with patchy compositions, pieced together from all kinds of material.
35: Jonson had Scottish ancestry.
36: In a moment of fanaticism, Hamlet wishes Ophelia to go to a nunnery. Jonson, in most cynical manner, means to say that Hamlet had been impotent as regards his innamorata. Though 'for the nones' may be taken as 'for the nonce,' it yet comes close enough to a double-entendre—namely, 'for the nuns.'
37: Dramatic versus Wit Combats. London, 1864. Ed. John Russell Smith.
38: To mount a bank = mountebank.
39: From one of them poor Ben received a vile medicine: a purge.
41: Shakspere's Autobiographical Poems.
42: Karl Elze (Essays on Shakespeare; London 1874) thinks this passage is intended against Shakespeare's alleged theft committed in the Tempest, the composition of which he, therefore, places in the year 1604-5, while most critics assign it to a much later period. It must also be mentioned that Karl Elze draws attention to the more friendly words with which Jonson, in his own handwriting, dedicates his Volpone to Florio.
In the opinion of the German critic, it is not difficult to gather from this Dedication the desire of the meanly quarrelsome scholar Jonson to give his friend Florio to understand that, among other things, he would read with considerable satisfaction how he (Jonson) had made short work with this 'Shake-scene' and this 'upstart Crow.'
43: Dekker tells Horace that his—Johnson's—plays are misliked at Court. According to the above-quoted words of Jonson, Hamlet seems to have pleased at Court on its first appearance.
44: The following passage in Jonson's Epicoene is also interesting, though in the play itself it is not made to refer to Montaigne but apparently to Plutarch and Seneca: 'Grave asses! mere essayists: a few loose sentences, and that's all. A man could talk so his whole age. I do utter as good things every hour if they were collected and observed, as either of them.' May not such words have fallen from Shakspere's lips, in regard to Montaigne, before an intimate circle in the Mermaid Tavern?
45: This may point either to Montaigne or to Dr. Guinne, the fellow-worker of Florio in the translation of the Essays, whom the latter calls 'a monster-quelling Theseus or Hercules.'
46: The reasons which induce us to this opinion are the following: The three authors of Eastward Hoe were arrested on account of a satire contained in this play against the Scots; James I., himself a Scot, having become King of England a year before. The audacious stage-poets were threatened with having their noses and ears cut off. They were presently freed, however; probably through the intervention of some noblemen. Soon afterwards, Jonson was again in prison; and we suspect that this second imprisonment took place in consequence of Volpone. We base this view on several incidents. In a letter Jonson addressed in 1605, from his place of confinement, to Lord Salisbury (Ben Jonson, edited by Cunningham, vol. i. xlix.), he says that he regrets having once more to apply to his kindness on account of a play, after having scarcely repented 'his first error' (most probably Eastward Hoe).' Before I can shew myself grateful in the least for former benefits, I am enforced to provoke your bounties for more.' In this letter, Jonson uses a tone similar to the one which pervades his Dedication of Volpone. We therefore believe that both letter and Dedication have reference to one and the same matter. In the letter, Jonson addresses Lord Salisbury in this way:—'My noble lord, they deal not charitably who are witty in another man's work, and utter sometimes their own malicious meanings under our words.' He then continues, protesting that since his first error, which was punished more with his shame than with his bondage, he has only touched at general vice, sparing particular persons. He goes on:—'I beseech your most honourable Lordship, suffer not other men's errors or faults past to be made my crimes; but let me be examined by all my works past and this present; and trust not to Rumour, but my books (for she is an unjust deliverer, both of great and of small actions), whether I have ever (many things I have written private and public) given offence to a nation, to a public order or state, or any person of honour or authority; but have equally laboured to keep their dignity, as my own person, safe.'
Now, let us compare the following verses from the second Prologue of Epicoene (the plural here becomes the singular):—
If any yet will, with particular sleight Of application, (Occasioned by some person's impertinent Exceptions.) wrest what he doth write; And that he meant, or him, or her, will say: They make a libel, which he made a play.
Nor will it be easy to find out who was the cause of Volpone having been persecuted at one time—that is to say, forbidden to be acted on the stage. (Perchance by the 'obstreperous Sir Lawyer' who is mentioned in it?)
We direct the reader's attention to the eulogistic poems composed by Jonson's friends on Volpone. (Ben Jonson, by Cunningham, vol. i. pp. civ.-cv.) First there are the extraordinary praises written by those who sign their names in full:—J. DONNE, E. BOLTON, FRANCIS BEAUMONT. Then follow verses, probably composed somewhat later, which are cautiously signed by initials only—D. D., J. C., G. C., E. S., J. F., T. R. This is not the case with any other eulogistic poems referring to Jonson's dramas. The verses before mentioned, which are only signed by initials, all speak of a 'persecuted fox, or of a fox killed by hounds.'
47: 'Come, my coach!' means: 'I value my honour less than my coach.' The expression, 'O, how the wheel becomes it!' is of such a character that we must refer the reader to Montaigne's Essay III. 11.
48: Eastward Hoe< was acted in the Blackfriars Theatre by 'The Children of Her Majestie's Revels.'
49: Until now it has been assumed that The Malcontent was acted by Shakspere's Company in the Globe Theatre. This conclusion was based on the title-page of the drama, which runs thus:—
THE MALCONTENT Augmented by Marston With the Additions played by the Kings MAIESTIES SERVANTS Written by JOHN WEBSTER.
It is, however, to be noted that in regard to all other plays of Marston, whenever it is mentioned by whom they were acted (so, for instance, in regard to The Parasitaster, the Dutch Courtesane, and Eastward Hoe), the title is always indicated in this way (designating both the Theatre and the Company):—'As it was plaid in the Black Friars by the Children of her Maiesties Revels.' Again, the mere perusal of the 'Induction' of The Malcontent (not to speak of the drama itself) shows that this play could not have been acted 'by the Kings Maiesties servants' during Shakspere's membership. For, in this Induction there appear four actors of Shakspere's company: Sly, Burbadge, Condell, and Lowin. They are brought in to justify themselves why they act a certain play, 'another Company having interest in it.' One of the actors excuses their doing so by saying that, as they themselves have been similarly robbed, they have a clear right to Malevole, the chief character in The Malcontent. 'Why not Malevole in folio with us, as Jeronimo in decimo sexto with them? They taught us a name for our play: we call it: "One for Another."' (That is to say, we give them 'Tit for Tat.')
Sly. What are your additions? Burbadge. Sooth, not greatly needefull, only as your sallet (salad) to your greate feast—to entertaine a little more time, and to abridge the not received custome of musicke in our theater. I must leave you, Sir. [Exit Burbadge. Sinklow. Doth he play The Malcontent? Condell. Yes, Sir.
Our explanation of the Induction is this: Marston has committed satirical trespass upon Hamlet. Shakspere, on his part, made use of the chief action and the chief characters of The Malcontent in his Measure for Measure ('One for Another'); but he did so in his own nobler manner. From the wildly confused material before him he composed a magnificent drama. Once more, in the very beginning of act i. sc. I, Shakspere makes the Duke utter words, each of which is directed against the inactive nature of Montaigne:—
Thyself and thy belongings Are not thine own so proper as to waste Thyself upon thy virtues, them on thee. ...For if our virtues Did not go forth of us, 't were all alike As if we had them not.
Shakspere's contemporaries were not over careful as regards style. 'With the additions played by the Kings Maiesties Servants, written by John Webster,' means that the additions, in which the servants of His Majesty, in the 'Induction,' are brought on the stage, were written by John Webster.
Read the 'Extempore Prologue' which Sly speaks at the conclusion of the Induction—a shameless travesty of the Epilogue in As You Like It. Read the beginning of act iii. sc. 2 of The Malcontent, where Malevole ('in some freeze gown') burlesques the splendid monologue in King Henry the Fourth (Part 11. act iv. sc. I). Read act iii. sc. 3 of The Malcontent, where Marston sneers at the scene in act iv. of King Richard the Second when Richard says:—
Now is this golden crown like a deep well, That owes two buckets filling one another.
50: Is it imaginable that Shakspere could have allowed his own most beautiful productions to be thus leered at, and mocked, in his own theatre? Our feeling rebels against the thought.
Beniamini Jonsonio Poetae Elegantissimo Gravissimo Amico Suo Candido et Cordato Johannes Marston, Musarum Alumnus, Asperam Hanc Suam Thaliam DD.
51: Who else can be meant by the 'Frenchman's Helicon' than Montaigne? He is satirically called 'Helicon,' as he is taken down from his height in 'Hamlet.'
52: In meaning alike to Jonson's: 'Counting all old doctrine heresie.'
53: Act i. sc.2.
54: Act iv. sc. 5.
55: Act i. sc. 4.
56: Act i. sc. 7.
57: Act i. sc. 6.
58: Act iii. sc. 2.
59: Act ii. sc. 5.
60: Act i. Sc. 5 in Hamlet; Malcontent, act iii. sc. 3.
61: Perhaps an allusion to the conclusion of Hamlet, when the State falls into the hands of a soldier (Fortinbras). —Soldaten-Religion, keine Religion ('a soldier's religion, no religion'), as the old German saying is.
62: Rochelle-Churchman—that is, Huguenot.
63: See Bacon's Essay, Of Atheism: 'All that impugn a received religion or superstition are by the adverse part branded with the name of Atheists.'
64: Sonnet lxvi. lxxxv.
65: xc. xci. xcii.
66: In Eastward Hoe, his most delicate poetical production, Ophelia, is most abominably parodied—'rudely strumpeted.'