This faulty reasoning only shows how dangerous it is for a professor to copy his teacher slavishly: in "Coriolanus," too, we have the "one dominant figure," and all the rest of it. The truth seems to be that in the "Third Part of Henry VI." Shakespeare had been working with Marlowe, or, at least, revising Marlowe's work; in either case he was so steeped in Marlowe's spirit that he took, as we have seen, the most splendid piece of Richard's self-revealing directly from the older poet. Moreover, the words of deepest characterization in Shakespeare's "Richard III.,"
"Richard loves Richard—that is, I am I,"
are manifestly a weak echo of the tremendous
"I am myself alone"
of Marlowe's Richard. At least to this extent, then, Shakespeare used Marlowe in depicting Richard's character. But this trait, important as it was did not carry him far, and he was soon forced to draw on his own experience of life. Already he seems to have noticed that one characteristic of men of action is a blunt plainness of speech; their courage is shown in their frankness, and, besides, words stand for realities with them, and are, therefore, used with sincerity. Shakespeare's Richard III. uses plain speech as a hypocritical mask, but already Shakespeare is a dramatist and in his clever hands Richard's plain speaking is so allied with his incisive intelligence that it appears to be now a mask, now native shamelessness, and thus the characterization wins in depth and mystery. Every now and then, too, this Richard sees things which no Englishman has been capable of seeing, except Shakespeare himself. The whole of Plato's "Gorgias" is comprised in the two lines:
"Conscience is but a word that cowards use, Devised at first to keep the strong in awe."
The declaration of the second murderer that conscience "makes a man a coward ... it beggars any man that keeps it; it is turned out of all towns and cities for a dangerous thing; and every man that means to live well endeavours to trust to himself and to live without it," should be regarded as the complement of what Falstaff says of honour; in both the humour of Shakespeare's characteristic irony is not to be mistaken.
The whole play, I think, must be ascribed to Shakespeare; all the memorable words in it are indubitably his, and I cannot believe that any other hand drew for us that marvellous, masterful courtship of Anne which Coleridge, naturally enough, was unwilling to appreciate. The structure of the play, however, shows all the weakness of Marlowe's method: the interest is concentrated on the protagonist; there is not humour enough to relieve the gloomy intensity, and the scenes in which Richard does not figure are unattractive and feeble.
One has only to think of the two characters—Richard II. and Richard III.—and to recall their handling in order to get a deep impression of Shakespeare's nature. He cannot present the vile Richard II. at all; he has no interest in him; but as soon as he thinks of Richard's youth and remembers that he was led astray by others, he begins to identify himself with him, and at once Richard's weakness is made amiable and his sufferings affecting. In measure as Shakespeare lets himself go and paints himself more and more freely, his portraiture becomes astonishing, till at length the imprisoned Richard gives himself up to melancholy philosophic musing, without a tinge of bitterness or envy or hate, and every one with eyes to see, is forced to recognize in him a younger brother to Hamlet and Posthumus. "Richard III." was produced in a very different way. It was Marlowe's daemonic power and intensity that first interested Shakespeare in this Richard; under the spell of Marlowe's personality Shakespeare conceived the play, and especially the scene between Richard and Anne; but the original impulse exhausted itself quickly, and then Shakespeare fell back on his own experience and made Richard keen of insight and hypocritically blunt of speech—a sort of sketch of Iago. A little later Shakespeare either felt that the action was unsuitable to the development of such a character, or more probably he grew weary of the effort to depict a fiend; in any case, the play becomes less and less interesting, and even the character of Richard begins to waver. There is one astonishing instance of this towards the end of the drama. On the eve of the decisive battle Richard starts awake from his terrifying dreams, and now, if ever, one would expect from him perfect sincerity of utterance. This is what we find:
"There is no creature loves me; And if I die no soul shall pity me; Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself Find in myself no pity to myself?"
The first two lines bespeak a loving, gentle nature, Shakespeare's nature, the nature of a Henry VI. or an Arthur, a nature which Richard III. would certainly have despised, and the last two lines are merely an objective ethical judgement wholly out of place and very clumsily expressed.
To sum up, then, for this is not the place to consider Shakespeare's share in "Henry VIII.," I find that in the English historical plays the manly characters, Hotspur, Harry V., the great Bastard, and Richard III., are all taken from tradition or from old plays, and Shakespeare did nothing more than copy the traits which were given to him; on the other hand, the weak, irresolute, gentle, melancholy characters are his own, and he shows extraordinary resource in revealing the secret workings of their souls. Even in early manhood, and when handling histories and men of action, Shakespeare cannot conceal his want of sympathy for the practical leaders of men; he neither understands them deeply nor loves them; but in portraying the girlish Arthur and the Hamlet-like Richard II., and in drawing forth the pathos of their weakness, he is already without a rival or second in all literature.
I am anxious not to deform the truth by exaggeration; a caricature of Shakespeare would offend me as a sacrilege, even though the caricature were characteristic, and when I find him even in youth one-sided, a poet and dreamer, I am minded to tell less than the truth rather than more. He was extraordinarily sensitive, I say to myself, and lived in the stress of great deeds; he treated Henry V., a man of action if ever there was one, as an ideal, and lavished on him all his admiration, but it will not do: I cannot shut my eyes to the fact; the effort is worse than useless. He liked Henry V. because of his misled youth and his subsequent rise to highest honour, and not because of his practical genius. Where in his portrait gallery is the picture of a Drake, or even of a Raleigh? The adventurer was the characteristic product of that jostling time; but Shakespeare turned his head away; he was not interested in him. In spite of himself, however, he became passionately interested in the pitiful Richard II. and his untimely fate. Notwithstanding the praise of the critics, his King Henry V. is a wooden marionette; the intense life of the traditional madcap Prince has died out of him; but Prince Arthur lives deathlessly, and we still hear his childish treble telling Hubert of his love.
Those who disagree with me will have to account for the fact that, even in the historical plays written in early manhood, all his portraits of men of action are mere copies, while his genius shines in the portraits of a gentle saint like Henry VI., of a weakling like Richard II., or of a girlish youth like Arthur—all these favourite studies being alike in pathetic helplessness and tender affection.
It is curious that no one of the commentators has noticed this extraordinary one-sidedness of Shakespeare. In spite of his miraculous faculty of expression, he never found wonderful phrases for the virile virtues or virile vices. For courage, revenge, self-assertion, and ambition we have finer words in English than any that Shakespeare coined. In this field Chapman, Milton, Byron, Carlyle, and even Bunyan are his masters.
Of course, as a man he had the instinct of courage, and an admiration of courage; his intellect, too, gave him some understanding of its range. Dr. Brandes declares that Shakespeare has only depicted physical courage, the courage of the swordsman; but that is beside the truth: Dr. Brandes has evidently forgotten the passage in "Antony and Cleopatra," when Caesar contemptuously refuses the duel with Antony and speaks of his antagonist as an "old ruffian." Enobarbus, too, sneers at Antony's proposed duel:
"Yes, like enough, high-battled Caesar will Unstate his happiness, and be staged to the show Against a sworder."
Unhelped by memory, Dr. Brandes might have guessed that Shakespeare would exhaust the obvious at first glance. But the soul of courage to Shakespeare is, as we have seen, a love of honour working on quick generous blood—a feminine rather than a masculine view of the matter.
Carlyle has a deeper sense of this aboriginal virtue. With the fanatic's trust in God his Luther will go to Worms "though it rain devils"; and when in his own person Carlyle spoke of the small, honest minority desperately resolved to maintain their ideas though opposed by a huge hostile majority of fools and the insincere, he found one of the finest expressions for courage in all our literature. The vast host shall be to us, he cried, as "stubble is to fire." It may be objected that this is the voice of religious faith rather than of courage pure and simple, and the objection is valid so far as it goes; but this genesis of courage is peculiarly English, and the courage so formed is of the highest. Every one remembers how Valiant-for-Truth fights in Bunyan's allegory: "I fought till my sword did cleave to my hand; and when they were joined together, as if a sword grew out of my arm, and when the blood ran through my fingers, then I fought with most courage." The mere expression gives us an understanding of the desperate resolution of Cromwell's Ironsides.
But if desperate courage is not in Shakespeare, neither are its ancillary qualities—cruelty, hatred, ambition, revenge. Whenever he talks on these themes, he talks from the teeth outwards, as one without experience of their violent delights. His Gloucester rants about ambition without an illuminating or even a convincing word. Hatred and revenge Shakespeare only studied superficially, and cruelty he shudders from like a woman.
It is astounding how ill-endowed Shakespeare was on the side of manliness. His intellect was so fine, his power of expression so magical, the men about him, his models, so brave—founders as they were of the British empire and sea-tyranny—that he is able to use his Hotspurs and Harrys to hide from the general the poverty of his temperament. But the truth will out: Shakespeare was the greatest of poets, a miraculous artist, too, when he liked; but he was not a hero, and manliness was not his forte: he was by nature a neuropath and a lover.
He was a master of passion and pity, and it astonishes one to notice how willingly he passed always to that extreme of sympathy where nothing but his exquisite choice of words and images saved him from falling into the silly. For example, in "Titus Andronicus," with its crude, unmotived horrors, Titus calls Marcus a murderer, and when Marcus replies: "Alas, my lord, I have but killed a fly," Titus answers:
"But how, if that fly had a father and mother? How would he hang his slender gilded wings, And buzz lamenting doings in the air? Poor harmless fly! That with his pretty buzzing melody, Came here to make us merry! and thou hast killed him."
Even in his earliest plays in the noontide of lusty youth, when the heat of the blood makes most men cruel, or at least heedless of others' sorrows, Shakespeare was full of sympathy; his gentle soul wept with the stricken deer and suffered through the killing of a fly. Just as Ophelia turned "thought and affliction, passion, hell itself" to "favour and to prettiness," so Shakespeare's genius turned the afflictions and passions of man to pathos and to pity.
SHAKESPEARE AS LYRIC POET: "TWELFTH NIGHT"
Shakespeare began the work of life as a lyric poet. It was to be expected therefore that when he took up playwriting he would use the play from time to time as an opportunity for a lyric, and in fact this was his constant habit. From the beginning to the end of his career he was as much a lyric poet as a dramatist. His first comedies are feeble and thin in character-drawing and the lyrical sweetness is everywhere predominant. His apprenticeship period may be said to have closed with his first tragedy, "Romeo and Juliet." I am usually content to follow Mr. Furnival's "Trial Table of the order of Shakspere's Plays," in which "Richard II.," "Richard III.," and "King John" are all placed later than "Romeo and Juliet," and yet included in the first period that stretches from 1585 to 1595. But "Romeo and Juliet" seems to me to be far more characteristic of the poet's genius than any of these histories; it is not only a finer work of art than any of them, and therefore of higher promise, but in its lyrical sweetness far more truly representative of Shakespeare's youth than any of the early comedies or historical plays. Whatever their form may be, nearly all Shakespeare's early works are love-songs, "Venus and Adonis," "Lucrece," "Love's Labour's Lost," "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," and he may be said to have ended his apprenticeship with the imperishable tragedy of first love "Romeo and Juliet."
In the years from 1585 to 1595 Shakespeare brought the lyric element into something like due subordination and managed to free himself almost completely from his early habit of rhyming. Mr. Swinburne has written of Shakespeare's use of rhymed verse with a fullness of knowledge and sympathy that leaves little to be desired. He compares it aptly to the use of the left hand instead of the right, and doubts cogently whether Shakespeare ever attained such mastery of rhyme as Marlowe in "Hero and Leander." But I like to think that Shakespeare's singing quickly became too sincere in its emotion and too complex in its harmonies to tolerate the definite limits set by rhyme. In any case by 1595 Shakespeare had learned to prefer blank verse to rhyme, at least for play-writing; he thus made the first great step towards a superb knowledge of his instrument.
The period of Shakespeare's maturity defines itself sharply; it stretches from 1595 to 1608 and falls naturally into two parts; the first part includes the trilogy "Henry IV." and "Henry V." and his golden comedies; the second, from 1600 to 1608, is entirely filled with his great tragedies. The characteristic of this period so far as regards the instrument is that Shakespeare has come to understand the proper function of prose. He sees first that it is the only language suited to broad comedy, and goes on to use it in moments of sudden excitement, or when dramatic truth to character seems to him all important. At his best he uses blank verse when some emotion sings itself to him, and prose as the ordinary language of life, the language of surprise, laughter, strife, and of all the commoner feelings. During these twelve or fourteen years the lyric note is not obtrusive; it is usually subordinated to character and suited to action.
His third and last period begins with "Pericles" and ends with the "Tempest"; it is characterized, as we shall see later, by bodily weakness and by a certain contempt for the dramatic fiction. But the knowledge of the instrument once acquired never left Shakespeare. It is true that the lyric note becomes increasingly clear in his late comedies; but prose too is used by him with the same mastery that he showed in his maturity.
In the first period Shakespeare was often unable to give his puppets individual life; in maturity he was interested in the puppets themselves and used them with considerable artistry; in the third period he had grown a little weary of them and in "The Tempest" showed himself inclined, just as Goethe in later life was inclined, to turn his characters into symbols or types.
The place of "Twelfth Night" is as clearly marked in Shakespeare's works as "Romeo and Juliet" or "The Tempest." It stands on the dividing line between his light, joyous comedies and the great tragedies; it was all done at the topmost height of happy hours, but there are hints in it which we shall have to notice later, which show that when writing it Shakespeare had already looked into the valley of disillusion which he was about to tread. But "Twelfth Night" is written in the spirit of "As You Like It" or "Much Ado," only it is still more personal-ingenuous and less dramatic than these; it is, indeed, a lyric of love and the joy of living.
There is no intenser delight to a lover of letters than to find Shakespeare singing, with happy unconcern, of the things he loved best—not the Shakespeare of Hamlet or Macbeth, whose intellect speaks in critical judgements of men and of life, and whose heart we are fain to divine from slight indications; nor Shakespeare the dramatist, who tried now and again to give life to puppets like Coriolanus and Iago, with whom he had little sympathy; but Shakespeare the poet, Shakespeare the lover, Shakespeare whom Ben Jonson called "the gentle," Shakespeare the sweet-hearted singer, as he lived and suffered and enjoyed. If I were asked to complete the portrait given to us by Shakespeare of himself in Hamlet-Macbeth with one single passage, I should certainly choose the first words of the Duke in "Twelfth Night." I must transcribe the poem, though it will be in every reader's remembrance; for it contains the completest, the most characteristic, confession of Shakespeare's feelings ever given in a few lines:
"If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it, that surfeiting The appetite may sicken, and so die. That strain again;—it had a dying fall: Oh, it came o'er my ear like the sweet south That breathes upon a bank of violets, Stealing and giving odour.—Enough! no more 'Tis not so sweet now as it was before."
Every one will notice that Shakespeare as we know him in Romeo is here depicted again with insistence on a few salient traits; here, too, we have the poet of the Sonnets masquerading as a Duke and the protagonist of yet another play. There is still less art used in characterizing this Duke than there is in characterizing Macbeth; Shakespeare merely lets himself go and sings his feelings in the most beautiful words. This is his philosophy of music and of love:
"Give me excess of it, that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die";
"Enough, no more; 'Tis not so sweet now as it was before."
—the quick revulsion of the delicate artist-voluptuary who wishes to keep unblunted in memory the most exquisite pang of pleasure.
Speech after speech discovers the same happy freedom and absolute abandonment to the "sense of beauty." Curio proposes hunting the hart, and at once the Duke breaks out:
"Why, so I do, the noblest that I have. O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first, Methought she purged the air of pestilence. That instant was I turned into a hart, And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds, E'er since pursue me."—
Valentine then comes to tell him that Olivia is still mourning for her brother, and the Duke seizes the opportunity for another lyric:
"O, she that hath a heart of that fine frame To pay this debt of love but to a brother, How will she love, when the rich golden shaft Hath killed the flock of all affections else That live in her; when liver, brain, and heart, These sovereign thrones, are all supplied and filled— Her sweet perfections—with one self King!— Away before me to sweet beds of flowers, Love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers."
The last two lines show clearly enough that Shakespeare was not troubled with any thought of reality as he wrote: he was transported by Fancy into that enchanted country of romance where beds of flowers are couches and bowers, canopies of love. But what a sensuality there is in him!
"When liver, brain, and heart, These sovereign thrones, are all supplied and filled— Her sweet perfections—with one self King!—"
Of course, too, this Duke is inconstant, and swings from persistent pursuit of Olivia to love of Viola without any other reason than the discovery of Viola's sex. In the same way Romeo turns from Rosaline to Juliet at first sight. This trait has been praised by Coleridge and others as showing singular knowledge of a young man's character, but I should rather say that inconstancy was a characteristic of sensuality and belonged to Shakespeare himself, for Orsino, like Romeo, has no reason to change his love; and the curious part of the matter is that Shakespeare does not seem to think that the quick change in Orsino requires any explanation at all. Moreover, the love of Duke Orsino for Olivia is merely the desire of her bodily beauty—the counterpart of the sensual jealousy of Othello. Speaking from Shakespeare's very heart, the Duke says:
"Tell her, my love, more noble than the world, Prizes not quantity of dirty lands; The parts that Fortune hath bestowed upon her, Tell her, I hold as giddily as Fortune; But 'tis that miracle and queen of gems That nature pranks her in attracts my soul."
So the body wins the soul according to this Orsino, who is, I repeat again, Shakespeare in his most ingenuous and frankest mood; the contempt of wealth—"dirty lands"—and the sensuality—"that miracle and queen of gems"—are alike characteristic. A few more touches and the portrait of this Duke will be complete; he says to the pretended Cesario when sending him as ambassador to Olivia:
"Cesario, Thou knowest no less but all; I have unclasped To thee the book even of my secret soul; Therefore, good youth,"—
and so forth.
It is a matter of course that this Duke should tell everything to his friend; a matter of course, too, that he should love books and bookish metaphors. Without being told, one knows that he delights in all beautiful things—pictures with their faerie false presentment of forms and life; the flesh-firm outline of marble, the warmth of ivory and the sea-green patine of bronze—was not the poop of the vessel beaten gold, the sails purple, the oars silver, and the very water amorous?
This Duke shows us Shakespeare's most intimate traits even when the action does not suggest the self-revelation. When sending Viola to woo Olivia for him he adds:
"Some four or five, attend him; All if you will; for I myself am best When least in company."
Like Vincentio, that other mask of Shakespeare, this Duke too loves solitude and "the life removed"; he is "best when least in company."
If there is any one who still doubts the essential identity of Duke Orsino and Shakespeare, let him consider the likeness in thought and form between the Duke's lyric effusions and the Sonnets, and if that does not convince him I might use a hitherto untried argument. When a dramatist creates a man's character he is apt to make him, as the French say, too much of a piece—too logical. But, in this instance, though Shakespeare has given the Duke only a short part, he has made him contradict himself with the charming ease that belongs peculiarly to self-revealing. The Duke tells us:
"For such as I am all true lovers are, —Unstaid and skittish in all motions else, Save in the constant image of the creature That is beloved."
The next moment he repeats this:
"For, boy, however we do praise ourselves, Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm, More longing, wavering, sooner lost and won, Than women's are."
And the moment after he asserts:
"There is no woman's sides Can bide the beating of so strong a passion As love doth give my heart; no woman's heart So big, to hold so much; they lack retention. Alas! their love may be called appetite, No motion of the liver, but the palate, That suffers surfeit, cloyment, and revolt!"
Hamlet contradicts himself, too: at one moment he declares that his soul is immortal, and at the next is full of despair. But Hamlet is so elaborate a portrait, built up of so many minute touches, that self-contradiction is a part, and a necessary part, of his many-sided complexity. But the Duke in "Twelfth Night" reveals himself as it were accidentally; we know little more of him than that he loves music and love, books and flowers, and that he despises wealth and company; accordingly, when he contradicts himself, we may suspect that Shakespeare is letting himself speak freely without much care for the coherence of characterization. And the result of this frankness is that he has given a more intimate, a more confidential, sketch of himself in Duke Orsino of "Twelfth Night" than he has given us in any play except perhaps "Hamlet" and "Macbeth."
I hardly need to prove that Shakespeare in his earliest plays, as in his latest, in his Sonnets as in his darkest tragedy, loved flowers and music. In almost every play he speaks of flowers with affection and delight. One only needs to recall the song in "A Midsummer's Night's Dream," "I know a bank," or Perdita's exquisite words:
"Daffodils, That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty; violets dim, But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes Or Cytherea's breath; pale primroses, That die unmarried ere they can behold Bright Phoebus in his strength, a malady Most incident to maids; bold oxlips, and The crown-imperial; lilies of all kinds, The flower-de-luce being one";
or Arviragus' praise of Imogen:
"Thou shalt not lack The flower that's like thy face, pale primrose, nor The azured harebell like thy veins; no, nor The leaf of eglantine, whom not to slander Outsweetened not thy breath."
Shakespeare praises music so frequently and so enthusiastically that we must regard the trait as characteristic of his deepest nature. Take this play which we are handling now. Not only the Duke, but both the heroines, Viola and Olivia, love music. Viola can sing "in many sorts of music," and Olivia admits that she would rather hear Viola solicit love than "music from the spheres." Romeo almost confounds music with love, as does Duke Orsino:
"How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night, Like softest music to attending ears!"
"And let rich music's tongue Unfold the imagin'd happiness that both Receive in either by this dear encounter."
It is a curious and characteristic fact that Shakespeare gives almost the same words to Ferdinand in the "Tempest" that he gave ten years earlier to the Duke in "Twelfth Night." In both passages music goes with passion to allay its madness:
"This music crept by me upon the waters, Allaying both their fury and my passion With its sweet air"
and Duke Orsino says:
"That old and antique song we heard last night, Methought it did relieve my passion much."
This confession is so peculiar; shows, too, so exquisitely fine a sensibility, that its repetition makes me regard it as Shakespeare's. The most splendid lyric on music is given to Lorenzo in the "Merchant of Venice," and it may be remarked in passing that Lorenzo is not a character, but, like Claudio, a mere name and a mouthpiece of Shakespeare's feeling. Shakespeare was almost as well content, it appears, to play the lover as to play the Duke. I cannot help transcribing the magical verses, though they must be familiar to every lover of our English tongue:
"How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank! Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music Creep in our ears; soft stillness and the night Become the touches of sweet harmony. Sit, Jessica: Look how the floor of heaven Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold. There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st But in his motion like an angel sings, Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubims. Such harmony is in immortal souls; But, whilst this muddy vesture of decay Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it."
The first lines of this poem are conceived in the very spirit of the poems of "Twelfth Night," and in the last lines Shakespeare puts to use that divine imagination which lifts all his best verse into the higher air of life, and reaches its noblest in Prospero's solemn-sad lyric.
Shakespeare's love of music is so much a part of himself that he condemns those who do not share it; this argument, too, is given to Lorenzo:
"The man that hath no music to himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; The motions of his spirit are dull as night, And his affections dark as Erebus: Let no such man be trusted."
That this view was not merely the expression of a passing mood is shown by the fact that Shakespeare lends no music to his villains; but Timon gives welcome to his friends with music, just as Hamlet welcomes the players with music and Portia calls for music while her suitors make their eventful choice. Titania and Oberon both seek the aid of music to help them in their loves, and the war-worn and time-worn Henry IV. prays for music to bring some rest to his "weary spirit"; in much the same mood Prospero desires music when he breaks his wand and resigns his magical powers.
Here, again, in "Twelfth Night" in full manhood Shakespeare shows himself to us as Romeo, in love with flowers and music and passion. True, this Orsino is a little less occupied with verbal quips, a little more frankly sensual, too, than Romeo; but then Romeo would have been more frankly sensual had he lived from twenty-five to thirty-five. As an older man, too, Orsino has naturally more of Hamlet-Shakespeare's peculiar traits than Romeo showed; the contempt of wealth and love of solitude are qualities hardly indicated in Romeo, while in Orsino as in the mature Shakespeare they are salient characteristics. To sum up: Hamlet-Macbeth gives us Shakespeare's mind; but in Romeo-Orsino he has discovered his heart and poetic temperament to us as ingenuously, though not, perhaps, so completely, as he does in the Sonnets.
SHAKESPEARE'S HUMOUR: FALSTAFF
Shakespeare's portraits of himself are not to be mistaken; the changes in him caused by age bring into clearer light the indestructible individuality, and no difference of circumstance or position has any effect upon this distinctive character: whether he is the lover, Romeo; the murderer, Macbeth; the courtier, Hamlet; or the warrior, Posthumus; he is always the same—a gentle yet impulsive nature, sensuous at once and meditative; half poet, half philosopher, preferring nature and his own reveries to action and the life of courts; a man physically fastidious to disgust, as is a delicate woman, with dirt and smells and common things; an idealist daintily sensitive to all courtesies, chivalries, and distinctions. The portrait is not yet complete—far from it, indeed; but already it is manifest that Shakespeare's nature was so complex, so tremulously poised between world-wide poles of poetry and philosophy, of what is individual and concrete on the one hand and what is abstract and general on the other, that the task of revealing himself was singularly difficult. It is not easy even to describe him as he painted himself: it may be that, wishing to avoid a mere catalogue of disparate qualities, I have brought into too great prominence the gentle passionate side of Shakespeare's nature; though that would be difficult and in any case no bad fault; for this is the side which has hitherto been neglected or rather overlooked by the critics.
My view of Shakespeare can be made clearer by examples. I began by taking Hamlet the philosopher as Shakespeare's most profound and complex study, and went on to prove that Hamlet is the most complete portrait which Shakespeare has given of himself, other portraits being as it were sides of Hamlet or less successful replicas of him; and finally I tried to complete the Hamlet by uniting him with Duke Orsino, Orsino the poet-lover being, so to speak, Shakespeare's easiest and most natural portrait. In Hamlet, if one may dare to say so, Shakespeare has discovered too much of himself: Hamlet is at one and the same time philosopher and poet, critic and courtier, lover and cynic—the extremes that Shakespeare's intellect could cover—and he fills every part so easily that he might almost be a bookish Admirable Crichton, a type of perfection rather than an individual man, were it not for his feminine gentleness and forgivingness of nature, and particularly for the brooding melancholy and disbelief which darkened Shakespeare's outlook at the time. But though the melancholy scepticism was an abiding characteristic of Shakespeare, to be found in his Richard II. as in his Prospero, it did not overshadow all his being as it does Hamlet's. There was a summer-time, too, in Shakespeare's life, and in his nature a capacity for sunny gaiety and a delight in life and love which came to full expression in the golden comedies, "Much Ado," "As You Like It" and "Twelfth Night." The complement to Hamlet the sad philosopher-sceptic is the sensuous happy poet-lover Orsino, and when we take these seeming antitheses and unite them we have a good portrait of Shakespeare. But these two, Hamlet and Orsino, are in reality one; every quality of Orsino is to be found or divined in Hamlet, and therefore the easiest and surest way to get at Shakespeare is to take Hamlet and deepen those peculiarities in him which we find in Orsino.
Some critics are sure to say that I have now given a portrait of Coleridge rather than a portrait of Shakespeare. This is not altogether the fact, though I for one see no shame in acknowledging the likeness. Coleridge had a "smack of Hamlet" in him, as he himself saw; indeed, in his rich endowment as poet and philosopher, and in his gentleness and sweetness of disposition, he was more like Shakespeare than any other Englishman whom I can think of; but in Coleridge the poet soon disappeared, and a little later the philosopher in him faded into the visionary and sophist; he became an upholder of the English Church and found reasons in the immutable constitution of the universe for aprons and shovel-hats. Shakespeare, on the other hand, though similarly endowed, was far more richly endowed: he had stronger passions and greater depth of feeling; the sensuousness of Keats was in him; and this richness of nature not only made him a greater lyric poet than Coleridge and a far saner thinker, but carried him in spite of a constitutional dislike of resolve and action to his astounding achievement.
But even when we thus compare Shakespeare with Coleridge, as we compare trees of the same species, showing that as the roots of the one go deeper and take a firmer hold of earth, so in exact measure the crest rises into higher air, still there is something lacking to our comparison. Even when we hold Hamlet-Orsino before us as the best likeness of the master-poet, our impression of him is still incomplete.
There remains a host of creations from Launce to Autolycus, and from Dame Quickly to Maria, which proves that Shakespeare was something more than the gentle lover-thinker-poet whom we have shown. It is Shakespeare's humour that differentiates him not only from Coleridge and Keats, but also from the world-poets, Goethe, Dante, and Homer. It is this unique endowment that brings him into vital touch with reality and common life, and hinders us from feeling his all-pervading ideality as disproportioned or one-sided. Strip him of his humour and he would have been seen long ago in his true proportions. His sympathies are not more broad and generous than Balzac's; his nature is too delicate, too sensitive, too sensuous; but his humour blinds us to the truth. Of course his comic characters, like his captains and men of action, are due originally to his faculty of observation; but while his observation of the fighting men is always superficial and at times indifferent, his humorous observation is so intensely interested and sympathetic that its creations are only inferior in artistic value to his portraits of the poet-philosopher-lover.
The intellect in him had little or nothing to go upon in the case of the man of action; he never loved the Captain or watched him at work; it is his mind and second-hand knowledge that made Henry V. and Richard III.; and how slight and shallow are these portraits in comparison with the portrait of a Parolles or a Sir Toby Belch, or the ever-famous Nurse, where the same intellect has played about the humorous trait and heightened the effect of loving observation. The critics who have ignorantly praised his Hotspur and Bastard as if he had been a man of deeds as well as a man of words have only obscured the truth that Shakespeare the poet-philosopher, the lover quand meme, only reached a sane balance of nature through his overflowing humour. He whose intellect and sensibilities inspired him with nothing but contempt and loathing for the mass of mankind, the aristocrat who in a dozen plays sneers at the greasy caps and foul breaths of the multitude, fell in love with Dogberry, and Bottom, Quickly and Tearsheet, clod and clown, pimp and prostitute, for the laughter they afforded. His humour is rarely sardonic; it is almost purged of contempt; a product not of hate but of love; full of sympathy; summer-lightning humour, harmless and beautiful.
Sometimes the sympathy fails and the laughter grows grim, and these lapses are characteristic. He hates false friends and timeservers, the whole tribe of the ungrateful, the lords of Timon's acquaintance and his artists; he loathes Shylock, whose god is greed and who battens on others' misfortunes; he laughs at the self-righteous Malvolio and not with him, and takes pleasure in unmasking the pretended ascetic and Puritan Angelo; but for the frailties of the flesh he has an ever-ready forgiveness. Like the greatest of ethical teachers, he can take the publican and the sinner to his heart, but not the hypocrite or the Pharisee or the money-lender.
It does not come within the scope of this essay to attempt a detailed criticism of Shakespeare's comic characters; it will be enough for my purpose to show that even in his masterpiece of humour, the incomparable Falstaff, he betrays himself more than once: more than once we shall find Shakespeare, the poet, or Shakespeare, the thinker, speaking through Falstaff's mouth. Yet to criticize Falstaff is difficult, and if easy, it would still be an offence to those capable of gratitude. I would as soon find fault with Ariel's most exquisite lyric, or the impeccable loveliness of the "Dove Sono," as weigh the rich words of the Lord of Comedy in small balances of reason. But such considerations must not divert me from my purpose; I have undertaken to discover the very soul of Shakespeare, and I must, therefore, trace him in Falstaff as in Hamlet.
Falstaff enters and asks the Prince the time. The Prince answers that unless "hours were cups of sack and so forth, he can't understand why Falstaff should care about anything so superfluous as time." Falstaff replies: "Indeed you come near me now, Hal; for we that take purses go by the moon and the seven stars and not by Phoebus, he, 'that wandering knight so fair.'" Here we have a sort of lyrical strain in Falstaff and then a tag of poetry which gives food for thought; but his next speech is unmistakable:
"Let us be Diana's foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon; and let men say we be men of good government, being governed, as the sea is, by our noble and chaste mistress, the moon, under whose countenance we—steal."
This is Shakespeare speaking, and Shakespeare alone: the phrases sing to us in the unmistakable music of the master-poet, though the fall at the last to "—steal," seems to be an attempt to get into the character of Falstaff. It is, of course, difficult to make the first words of a person sharply characteristic; a writer is apt to work himself into a new character gradually; it is only the sensitive self-consciousness of our time that demands an absolute fidelity in characterization from the first word to the last. Yet this scene is so excellent and natural, that the uncertainty in the painting of Falstaff strikes me as peculiar. But this first speech is not the only speech of Falstaff in which Shakespeare betrays himself; again and again we catch the very accent of the poet. It is not Falstaff but Shakespeare who says that "the poor abuses of the time want countenance"; and later in the play, when the character of Falstaff is fully developed, it is Shakespeare, the thinker, who calls Falstaff's ragged regiment "the cankers of a calm world and a long peace." In just the same way Hamlet speaks of the expedition of Fortinbras:
"This is the imposthume of much wealth and peace, That inward breaks."
But though the belief that Shakespeare sometimes falls out of the character and slips phrases of his own into Falstaff's mouth is well-founded, it should nevertheless be put aside as a heresy, for the true faith is that the white-bearded old footpad who cheered on his fellow-ruffians with
"Strike.... Bacon-fed knaves! they hate us youth: down with them! fleece them!"
and again: "On, bacons, on! What, ye knaves! young men must live!"
is the most splendid piece of humorous portraiture in the world's fiction.
Who but Falstaff would have found his self-justification in his youth?—splendide mendax! and yet the excuse is as true to his sack-heated blood when he uses it on Gadshill as it was true also to fact when he first used it forty years before. And who but Falstaff would have had the words of repentance always on his lips and never in his heart? I ascribe these illuminating flashes to Falstaff, and not to Shakespeare, for no imagination in the world has yet accomplished such a miracle; as a miracle of representment Falstaff is astonishing enough, as a miracle of creation he is simply unthinkable. I would almost as soon believe that Falstaff made Shakespeare as that Shakespeare made Falstaff without a living model. All hail to thee, inimitable, incomparable Jack! Never before or since has poet been blessed with such a teacher, as rich and laughterful, as mendacious and corrupting as life itself.
I must not be taken to mean that the living original of Falstaff was as richly humorous, as inexhaustibly diverting as the dramatic counterfeit who is now a citizen and chief personage in that world of literature which outlasts all the fleeting shows of the so-called real world. It seems to me to be possible for a good reader to notice not only Shakespeare's lapses and faults in the drawing of this character, but also to make a very fair guess at his heightening touches, and so arrive at last at the humorous old lewdster who furnished the living model for the inimitable portrait. The first scene in which Falstaff appears talking with Prince Henry will supply examples to illustrate my meaning.
Falstaff's very first speech after he asks Hal the time of day gives us the key; he ends it with:
"And I pr'ythee, sweet wag, when thou art king,—as, God save thy grace—majesty, I should say, for grace thou wilt have none,—"
Here he is interrupted and breaks off, but a minute or two later he comes back again to his argument, and curiously enough uses exactly the same words:
"But, I pr'ythee, sweet wag, shall there be gallows standing in England when thou art king? and resolution thus fobbed as it is with the rusty curb of old father Antick, the law?"
Now, this question and the hope it expresses that justice would be put to shame in England on Prince Henry's accession to the throne is taken from a speech of the Prince in the old play, "The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth." Shakespeare would have done better to leave it out, for Falstaff has far too good brains to imagine that all thieves could ever have his licence and far too much conceit ever to desire so unholy a consummation. And Shakespeare must have felt that the borrowed words were too shallow-common, for he immediately falls back on his own brains for the next phrase and gives us of his hoarded best. The second part of the question, "resolution thus fobbed," and so forth, is only another statement of the famous couplet in "Richard III.":
"Conscience is but a word that cowards use, Devised at first to keep the strong in awe."
These faults show that Shakespeare is at first unsure of his personage; he fumbles a little; yet the vivacity, the roaring life, is certainly a quality of the original Falstaff, for it attends him as constantly as his shadow; the pun, too, is his, and the phrase "sweet wag" is probably taken from his mouth, for he repeats it again, "sweet wag," and again "mad wag." The shamelessness, too, and the lechery are marks of him, and the love of witty word-warfare, and, above all, the pretended repentance:
"O, thou hast damnable iteration, and art, indeed, able to corrupt a saint. Thou hast done much harm upon me, Hal,—God forgive thee for it. Before I knew thee, Hal, I knew nothing; and now am I, if a man should speak truly, little better than one of the wicked. I must give over this life, and I will give it over; by the Lord, an I do not, I am a villain; I'll be damned for never a king's son in Christendom."
In this first scene between Falstaff and Prince Henry, Shakespeare is feeling his way, so to speak, blindfold to Falstaff, with gropings of memory and dashes of poetry that lead him past the mark. In this first scene, as we noticed, he puts fine lyric phrases in Falstaff's mouth; but he never repeats the experiment; Falstaff and high poetry are anti-podes—all of which merely proves that at first Shakespeare had not got into the skin of his personage. But the real Falstaff had probably tags of verse in memory and lilts of song, for Shakespeare repeats this trait. Here we reach the test: Whenever a feature is accentuated by repetition, we may guess that it belongs to the living model. There was assuredly a strong dash of Puritanism in the real Falstaff, for when Shakespeare comes to render this, he multiplies the brush-strokes with perfect confidence; Falstaff is perpetually repenting.
After the first scene Shakespeare seems to have made up his mind to keep closely to his model and only to permit himself heightening touches.
In order to come closer to the original, I will now take another passage later in the play, when Shakespeare is drawing Falstaff with a sure hand:
"Fal. A plague of all cowards, I say, and a vengeance too! marry and amen!—Give me a cup of sack, boy.— Ere I lead this life long, I'll sew netherstocks, and mend them, and foot them, too. A plague of all cowards!— give me a cup of sack, rogue.—Is there no virtue extant? [Drinks.]"
Here is surely the true Falstaff; he will not lead this life long; this is the soul of him; but the exquisite heightening phrase, "Is there no virtue extant?" is pure Shakespeare, Shakespeare generalizing as we saw him generalizing in just the same way in the scene where Cade is talked of in the Second Part of "King Henry VI." The form too is Shakespeare's. Who does not remember the magic line in "The Two Noble Kinsmen "?
"She is all the beauty extant."
And the next speech of Falstaff is just as illuminating:
"Fal. You rogue, here's lime in this sack, too; there is nothing but roguery to be found in villainous man: yet a coward is worse than a cup of sack with lime in it—a villainous coward.—Go thy ways, old Jack; die when thou wilt, if manhood, good manhood, be not forgot upon the face of the earth, then am I a shotten herring. There live not three good men unhanged in England, and one of them is fat and grows old: God help the while! A bad world I say——"
At the beginning the concrete fact, then generalization, and then merely a repetition of the traits marked in the first scene, with the addition of bragging. Evidently Shakespeare has the model in memory as he writes. I say "evidently," for Falstaff is the only character in Shakespeare that repeats the same words with damnable iteration, and in whom the same traits are shown again and again and again. When Shakespeare is painting himself in Richard II. he depicts irresolution again and again as he depicts it also in Hamlet; but neither Hamlet nor Richard repeats the same words, nor is any trait in either of them accentuated so grossly as are the principal traits of Falstaff's character. The features in Falstaff which are so harped upon, are to me the features of the original model. Shakespeare did not know Falstaff quite as well as he knew himself; so he has to confine himself to certain qualities which he had observed, and stick, besides, to certain tags of speech, which were probably favourites with the living man.
In another important particular, too, Falstaff is unlike any other comic character in Shakespeare: he tells the truth about himself in a magical way. The passage I allude to is the first speech made by Falstaff in the Second Part of "Henry IV."; it shows us Shakespeare getting into the character again—after a certain lapse of time:
"Fal. Men of all sorts take a pride to gird at me; the brain of this foolish-compounded clay, man, is not able to invent anything that tends to laughter, more than I invent or is invented on me: I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men—"
Just as in the first act Shakespeare introducing Falstaff makes him talk poetically, so here there is a certain exaltation and lyrical swing which betrays the poet-creator. "Foolish-compounded," too, shows Shakespeare's hand, but the boast, I feel sure, was a boast often made by the original, and thus brings Shakespeare into intimate union with the character; for after this introduction Falstaff goes on to talk pure Falstaff, unmixed with any slightest dash of poetry.
Who was the original of Falstaff? Is a guess possible? It seems to me it must have been some lover of poetry—perhaps Chettle, the Chettle who years before had published Greene's attack upon Shakespeare and who afterwards made amends for it. In Dekker's tract, "A Knight's Conjuring," Chettle figures among the poets in Elysium: "In comes Chettle sweating and blowing by reason of his fatnes; to welcome whom, because hee was of olde acquaintance, all rose up, and fell presentlie on their knees, to drinck a health to all the louers of Hellicon." Here we have a fat man greeted with laughter and mock reverence by the poets—just such a model as Shakespeare needed, but the guess is mere conjecture: we don't know enough about Chettle to be at all sure. Yet Chettle was by way of being a poet, and Falstaff uses tags of verse—still, as I say, it is all pure guesswork. The only reason I put his name forward is that some have talked of Ben Jonson as Falstaff's original merely because he was fat. I cannot believe that gentle Shakespeare would ever have treated Jonson with such contempt; but Chettle seems to have been a butt by nature.
That Falstaff was taken from one model is to me certain. Shakespeare very seldom tells us what his characters look like; whenever he gives us a photograph, so to speak, of a person, it is always taken from life and extraordinarily significant. We have several portraits of Falstaff: the Prince gives a picture of the "old fat man,..." that trunk of humours "... that old white-bearded Satan"; the Chief Justice gives us another of his "moist eye, white beard, increasing belly and double chin." Falstaff himself has another: "a goodly portly man, i' faith and a corpulent; of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a most noble carriage." Such physical portraiture alone would convince me that there was a living model for Falstaff. But there are more obvious arguments: the other humorous characters of Shakespeare are infinitely inferior to Falstaff, and the best of them are merely sides of Falstaff or poor reflections of him. Autolycus and Parolles have many of his traits, but they are not old, and taken together, they are only a faint replica of the immortal footpad.
Listening with my heart in my ears, I catch a living voice, a round, fat voice with tags of "pr'ythee," "wag," and "marry," and behind the inimitable dramatic counterfeit I see a big man with a white head and round belly who loved wine and women and jovial nights, a Triton among the minnows of boon companions, whose shameless effrontery was backed by cunning, whose wit though common was abundant and effective through long practice—a sort of licensed tavern-king, whose mere entrance into a room set the table in a roar. Shakespeare was attracted by the many-sided racy ruffian, delighted perhaps most by his easy mastery of life and men; he studied him with infinite zest, absorbed him wholly, and afterwards reproduced him with such richness of sympathy, such magic of enlarging invention that he has become, so to speak, the symbol of laughter throughout the world, for men of all races the true Comic Muse.
In any case I may be allowed one last argument. The Falstaff of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" is not the Falstaff of the two parts of "King Henry IV."; it is but a shadow of the great knight that we see, an echo of him that we hear in the later comedy. Falstaff would never have written the same letter to Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page; there was too much fancy in him, too much fertility, too much delight in his own mind- and word-wealth ever to show himself so painfully stinted and barren. Nor is it credible that Falstaff would ever have fallen three times running into the same trap; Falstaff made traps; he did not fall into them. We know, too, that Falstaff would not fight "longer than he saw reason"; his instinct of self-preservation was largely developed; but he could face a sword; he drew on Pistol and chased him from the room; he was not such a pitiful coward as to take Ford's cudgelling. Finally, the Falstaff whom we all know could never have been befooled by the Welshman and his child-fairies. And this objection Shakespeare himself felt, for he meets it by making Falstaff explain how near he came to discovering the fraud, and how wit is made "a Jack-a-Lent when 'tis upon ill employment." But the fact that some explanation is necessary is an admission of the fault. Falstaff must indeed have laid his brains in the sun before he could have been taken in by foppery so gross and palpable. This is not the same man who at once recognized the Prince and Poins through their disguise as drawers. Yet there are moments when the Falstaff of "The Merry Wives" resumes his old nature. For example, when he is accused by Pistol of sharing in the proceeds of the theft, he answers with all the old shameless wit:
"Reason, you rogue, reason; think'st thou I'll endanger my soul gratis?"
and, again, when he has been cozened and beaten, he speaks almost in the old way:
"I never prospered since I forswore myself at primero. Well, if my wind were but long enough to say my prayers, I would repent."
But on the whole the Falstaff of "The Merry Wives" is but a poor thin shadow of the Falstaff of the two parts of "Henry IV."
Had "The Merry Wives" been produced under ordinary conditions, one would have had to rack one's brains to account for its feebleness. Not only is the genial Lord of Humour degraded in it into a buffoon, but the amusement of it is chiefly in situation; it is almost as much a farce as a comedy. For these and other reasons I believe in the truth of the tradition that Elizabeth was so pleased with the character of Falstaff that she ordered Shakespeare to write another play showing the fat knight in love, and that in obedience to this command Shakespeare wrote "The Merry Wives" in a fortnight. For what does a dramatist do when he is in a hurry to strike while the iron is hot and to catch a Queen's fancy before it changes? Naturally he goes to his memory for his characters, to that vivid memory of youth which makes up by precision of portraiture for what it lacks in depth of comprehension. And this is the distinguishing characteristic of "The Merry Wives," particularly in the beginning. Even without "the dozen white luces" in his coat, one would swear that this Justice Shallow, with his pompous pride of birth and his stilted stupidity, is a portrait from life, some Sir Thomas Lucy or other, and Justice Shallow is not so deeply etched in as his cousin, Master Slender—"a little wee face, with a little yellow beard,—a cane-coloured beard." Such physical portraiture, as I have said, is very rare and very significant in Shakespeare. This photograph is slightly malevolent, too, as of one whose malice is protected by a Queen's commission. Those who do not believe traditions when thus circumstantially supported would not believe though one rose from the dead to witness to them. "The Merry Wives" is worthful to me as the only piece of Shakespeare's journalism that we possess; here we find him doing task-work, and doing it at utmost speed. Those who wish to measure the difference between the conscious, deliberate work of the artist and the hurried slap-dash performance of the journalist, have only to compare the Falstaff of "The Merry Wives" with the Falstaff of the two parts of "Henry IV." But if we take it for granted that "The Merry Wives" was done in haste and to order, can any inference be fairly drawn from the feebleness of Falstaff and the unreality of his love-making? I think so; it seems to me that, if Falstaff had been a creation, Shakespeare must have reproduced him more effectively. His love-making in the second part of "Henry IV." is real enough. But just because Falstaff was taken from life, and studied from the outside, Shakespeare having painted him once could not paint him again, he had exhausted his model and could only echo him.
The heart of the matter is that, whereas Shakespeare's men of action, when he is not helped by history or tradition, are thinly conceived and poorly painted, his comic characters—Falstaff, Sir Toby Belch, and Dogberry; Maria, Dame Quickly, and the Nurse, creatures of observation though they be, are only inferior as works of art to the portraits of himself which he has given us in Romeo, Hamlet, Macbeth, Orsino, and Posthumus. It is his humour which makes Shakespeare the greatest of dramatists, the most complete of men.
SHAKESPEARE'S EARLY ATTEMPTS TO PORTRAY HIMSELF AND HIS WIFE: BIRON, ADRIANA, VALENTINE
In the preceding chapters I have considered those impersonations of Shakespeare which revealed most distinctly the salient features of his character. I now regard this part of my work as finished: the outlines at least of his nature are established beyond dispute, and I may therefore be permitted to return upon my steps, and beginning with the earliest works pass in review most of the other personages who discover him, however feebly or profoundly. Hitherto I have rather challenged contradiction than tried to conciliate or persuade; it was necessary to convince the reader that Shakespeare was indeed Hamlet-Orsino, plus an exquisite sense of humour; and as the proofs of this were almost inexhaustible, and as the stability of the whole structure depended on the firmness of the foundations, I was more than willing to call forth opposition in order once for all to strangle doubt. But now that I have to put in the finer traits of the portrait I have to hope for the goodwill at least of my readers. Even then my task is not easy. The subtler traits of a man's character often elude accurate description, to say nothing of exact proof; the differences in tone between a dramatist's own experiences of life and his observation of the experiences of others are often so slight as to be all but unnoticeable. In the case of some peculiarities I have only a mere suggestion to go upon, in that of others a bare surmise, a hint so fleeting that it may well seem to the judicious as if the meshes of language were too coarse to catch such evanescent indication.
Fortunately in this work I am not called on to limit myself to that which can be proved beyond question, or to the ordinary man. I think my reader will allow me, or indeed expect me, now to throw off constraint and finish my picture as I please.
In this second book then I shall try to correct Shakespeare's portraits of himself by bringing out his concealed faults and vices—the shortcomings one's vanity slurs over and omits. Above all I shall try to notice anything that throws light upon his life, for I have to tell here the story of his passion and his soul's wreck. At the crisis of his life he revealed himself almost without affectation; in agony men forget to pose. And this more intimate understanding of the man will enable us to reconstruct, partially at least, the happenings of his life, and so trace not only his development, but the incidents of his life's journey from his school days in 1575 till he crept home to Stratford to die nearly forty years later.
The chief academic critics, such as Professor Dowden and Dr. Brandes, take pains to inform us that Biron in "Love's Labour's Lost" is nothing but an impersonation of Shakespeare. This would show much insight on the part of the Professors were it not that Coleridge as usual has been before them, and that Coleridge's statement is to be preferred to theirs. Coleridge was careful to say that the whole play revealed many of Shakespeare's characteristic features, and he added finely, "as in a portrait taken of him in his boyhood." This is far truer than Dowden's more precise statement that "Berowne is the exponent of Shakespeare's own thought." For though, of course, Biron is especially the mouthpiece of the poet, yet Shakespeare reveals himself in the first speech of the King as clearly as he does in any speech of Biron:
"Let Fame, that all hunt after in their lives, Live registered upon our brazen tombs, And then grace us in the disgrace of death; When, spite of cormorant devouring Time, The endeavour of this present breath may buy That honour which shall 'bate his scythe's keen edge, And make us heirs of all eternity."
The King's criticism, too, of Armado in the first scene is more finely characteristic of Shakespeare than Biron's criticism of Boyet in the last act. In this, his first drama, Shakespeare can hardly sketch a sympathetic character without putting something of himself into it.
I regard "Love's Labour's Lost" as Shakespeare's earliest comedy, not only because the greater part of it is in rhymed verse, but also because he was unable in it to individualize his serious personages at all; the comic characters, on the other hand, are already carefully observed and distinctly differenced. Biron himself is scarcely more than a charming sketch: he is almost as interested in language as in love, and he plays with words till they revenge themselves by obscuring his wit; he is filled with the high spirits of youth; in fact, he shows us the form and pressure of the Renaissance as clearly as the features of Shakespeare. It is, however, Biron-Shakespeare, who understands that the real world is built on broader natural foundations than the King's womanless Academe, and therefore predicts the failure of the ascetic experiment. Another trait in Biron that brings us close to Shakespeare is his contempt for book-learning;
"Small have continual plodders ever won Save bare authority from others' books. * * * * * Too much to know is to know nought but fame; And every godfather can give a name."
Again and again he returns to the charge:
"To study now it is too late, Climb o'er the house to unlock the little gate."
The summing up is triumphant:
"So, study evermore is overshot."
In fine, Biron ridicules study at such length and with such earnestness and pointed phrase that it is manifest the discussion was intensely interesting to Shakespeare himself. But we should have expected Shakespeare's alter ego to be arguing on the other side; for again and again we have had to notice that Shakespeare was a confirmed lover of books; he was always using bookish metaphors, and Hamlet was a student by nature. This attitude on the part of Biron, then, calls for explanation, and it seems to me that the only possible explanation is to be found in Shakespeare's own experience. Those who know England as she was in the days of Elizabeth, or as she is to-day, will hardly need to be told that when Shakespeare first came to London he was regarded as an unlettered provincial ("with little Latin and less Greek"), and had to bear the mocks and flouts of his beschooled fellows, who esteemed learning and gentility above genius. In his very first independent play he answered the scorners with scorn. But this disdain of study was not Shakespeare's real feeling; and his natural loyalty to the deeper truth forced him to make Biron contradict and excuse his own argument in a way which seems to me altogether charming; but is certainly undramatic:
"—Though I have for barbarism spoke more Than for that angel knowledge you can say."
Undramatic the declaration is because it is at war with the length and earnestness with which Biron has maintained his contempt for learning; but here undoubtedly we find the true Shakespeare who as a youth speaks of "that angel, knowledge," just as in "Cymbeline" twenty years later he calls reverence, "that angel of the world."
When we come to his "Life" we shall see that Shakespeare, who was thrown into the scrimmage of existence as a youth, and had to win his own way in the world, had, naturally enough, a much higher opinion of books and book-learning than Goethe, who was bred a student and knew life only as an amateur:
"Einen Blick in's Buch hinein und zwei in's Leben Das muss die rechte Form dem Geiste geben."
Shakespeare would undoubtedly have given "two glances" to books and one to life, had he been free to choose; but perhaps after all Goethe was right in warning us that life is more valuable to the artist than any transcript of it.
To return to our theme; Biron is not among Shakespeare's successful portraits of himself. As might be expected in a first essay, the drawing is now over-minute, now too loose. When Biron talks of study, he reveals, as we have seen, personal feelings that are merely transient; on the other hand, when he talks about Boyet he talks merely to hear "the music of his own vain tongue." He is, however, always nimble-witted and impulsive; "quick Biron" as the Princess calls him, a gentleman of charming manners, of incomparable fluent, graceful, and witty speech, which qualities afterwards came to blossom in Mercutio and Gratiano. The faults in portraiture are manifestly due to inexperience: Shakespeare was still too youthful-timid to paint his chief features boldly, and it is left for Rosaline to picture Biron for us as Shakespeare doubtless desired to appear:
"A merrier man, Within the limits of becoming mirth, I never spent an hour's talk withal. His eye begets occasion for his wit; For every object that the one doth catch, The other turns to a mirth-moving jest, Which his fair tongue, conceit's expositor, Delivers in such apt and gracious words That aged ears play truant at his tales, And younger hearings are quite ravished, So sweet and voluble is his discourse."
Every touch of this self-painted portrait deserves to be studied: it is the first photograph of our poet which we possess—a photograph, too, taken in early manhood. Shakespeare's wit we knew, his mirth too, and that his conversation was voluble and sweet enough to ravish youthful ears and enthrall the aged we might have guessed from Jonson's report. But it is delightful to hear of his mirth-moving words and to know that he regarded himself as the best talker in the world. But just as the play at the end turns from love-making and gay courtesies to thoughts of death and "world-without-end" pledges, so Biron's merriment is only the effervescence of youth, and love brings out in him Shakespeare's characteristic melancholy:
"By heaven, I do love, and it hath taught me to rhyme, and to be melancholy."
Again and again, as in his apology to Rosaline and his appeal at the end of the play to "honest plain words," he shows a deep underlying seriousness. The soul of quick talkative mirthful Biron is that he loves beauty whether of women or of words, and though he condemns "taffeta phrases," he shows his liking for the "silken terms precise" in the very form of his condemnation.
Of course all careful readers know that the greater seriousness of the last two acts of "Love's Labour's Lost," and the frequent use of blank verse instead of rhymed verse in them, are due to the fact that Shakespeare revised the play in 1597, some eight or nine years probably after he had first written it. Every one must have noticed the repetitions in Biron's long speech at the end of the fourth act, which show the original garment and the later, finer embroidery. As I shall have to return to this revision for other reasons, it will be enough here to remark that it is especially the speeches of Biron which Shakespeare improved in the second handling
Dr. Brandes, or rather Coleridge, tells us that in Biron and his Rosaline we have the first hesitating sketch of the masterly Benedick and Beatrice of "Much Ado about Nothing"; but in this I think Coleridge goes too far. Unformed as Biron is, he is Shakespeare in early youth, whereas in Benedick the likeness is not by any means so clear. In fact, Benedick is merely an admirable stage silhouette and needs to be filled out with an actor's personality. Beatrice, on the other hand, is a woman of a very distinct type, whereas Rosaline needs pages of explanation, which Coleridge never dreamed of. A certain similarity rather of situation than of character seems to have misled Coleridge in this instance. Boyet jests with Maria and Rosaline just as Biron does, and just as Benedick jests with Beatrice: all these scenes simply show how intensely young Shakespeare enjoyed a combat of wits, spiced with the suggestiveness that nearly always shows itself when the combatants are of different sexes.
It is almost certain that "Love's Labour's Lost" was wholly conceived and constructed as well as written by Shakespeare; no play or story has yet been found which might, in this case, have served him as a model. For the first and probably the last time he seems to have taken the entire drama from his imagination, and the result from a playwright's point of view is unfortunate; "Love's Labour's Lost" is his slightest and feeblest play. It is scarcely ever seen on the stage—is, indeed, practically unactable. This fact goes to confirm the view already put forth more than once in these pages, that Shakespeare was not a good playwright and took little or no interest in the external incidents of his dramas. The plot and action of the story, so carefully worked out by the ordinary playwright and so highly esteemed by critics and spectators, he always borrows, as if he had recognized the weakness of this first attempt, and when he sets himself to construct a play, it has no action, no plot—is, indeed, merely a succession of fantastic occurrences that give occasion for light love-making and brilliant talk. Even in regard to the grouping of characters the construction of his early plays is puerile, mechanical; in "Love's Labour's Lost" the King with his three courtiers is set against the Princess and her three ladies; in "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" there is the faithful Valentine opposed to the inconstant Proteus, and each of them has a comic servant; and when later his plays from this point of view were not manufactured but grew, and thus assumed the beautiful irregular symmetry of life, the incidents were still neglected. Neither the poet nor the philosopher in Shakespeare felt much of the child's interest in the story; he chose his tales for the sake of the characters and the poetry, and whether they were effective stage-tales or not troubled him but little. There is hardly more plot or action in "Lear" than in "Love's Labour's Lost."
It is probable that "The Comedy of Errors" followed hard on the heels of "Love's Labour's Lost." It practically belongs to the same period: it has fewer lines of prose in it than "Love's Labour's Lost"; but, on the other hand, the intrigue-spinning is clever, and the whole play shows a riper knowledge of theatrical conditions. Perhaps because the intrigue is more interesting, the character-drawing is even feebler than that of the earlier comedy: indeed, so far as the men go there is hardly anything worth calling character-drawing at all. Shakespeare speaks through this or that mask as occasion tempts him: and if the women are sharply, crudely differentiated, it is because Shakespeare, as I shall show later, has sketched his wife for us in Adriana, and his view of her character is decided enough if not over kind. Still, any and every peculiarity of character deserves notice, for in these earliest works Shakespeare is compelled to use his personal experience, to tell us of his own life and his own feelings, not having any wider knowledge to draw upon. Every word, therefore, in these first comedies, is important to those who would learn the story of his youth and fathom the idiosyncrasies of his being. When AEgeon, in the opening scenes, tells the Duke about the shipwreck in which he is separated from his wife and child, he declares that he himself "would gladly have embraced immediate death." No reason is given for this extraordinary contempt of living. It was the "incessant weepings" of his wife, the "piteous plainings of the pretty babes," that forced him, he says, to exert himself. But wives don't weep incessantly in danger, nor are the "piteous plainings of the pretty babes" a feature of shipwreck; I find here a little picture of Shakespeare's early married life in Stratford—a snapshot of memory. AEgeon concludes his account by saying that his life was prolonged in order
"To tell sad stories of my own mishaps"
—which reminds one of similar words used later by Richard II. This personal, melancholy note is here forced and false, for Aegeon surely lives in hope of finding his wife and child and not in order to tell of his misfortunes. Aegeon is evidently a breath of Shakespeare himself, and not more than a breath, because he only appears again when the play is practically finished. Deep-brooding melancholy was the customary habit of Shakespeare even in youth.
Just as in "Love's Labour's Lost" we find Shakespeare speaking first through the King and then more fully through the hero, Biron, so here he first speaks through Aegeon and then at greater length through the protagonist Antipholus of Syracuse. Antipholus is introduced to us as new come to Ephesus, and Shakespeare is evidently thinking of his own first day in London when he puts in his mouth these words:
"Within this hour it will be dinner-time: Till that, I'll view the manners of the town, Peruse the traders, gaze upon the buildings, And then return and sleep within mine inn; For with long travel I am stiff and weary."
Though "stiff and weary" he is too eager-young to rest; he will see everything—even "peruse the traders"—how the bookish metaphor always comes to Shakespeare's lips!—before he will eat or sleep. The utterly needless last line, with its emphatic description—"stiff and weary"—corroborates my belief that Shakespeare in this passage is telling us what he himself felt and did on his first arrival in London. In the second scene of the third act Antipholus sends his servant to the port:
"I will not harbour in this town to-night If any bark put forth."
From the fact that Shakespeare represented Antipholus to himself as wishing to leave Ephesus by sea, it is probable that he pictured him coming to Ephesus in a ship. But when Shakespeare begins to tell us what he did on reaching London he recalls his own desires and then his own feelings; he was "stiff and weary" on that first day because he rode, or more probably walked, into London; one does not become "stiff and weary" on board ship. This is another snapshot at that early life of Shakespeare, and his arrival in London, which one would not willingly miss. And surely it is the country-bred lad from Stratford who, fearing all manner of town-tricks, speaks in this way:
"They say this town is full of cozenage; As, nimble jugglers that deceive the eye, Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind, Soul-killing witches that deform the body, Disguised cheaters, prating mountebanks, And many such-like liberties of sin: * * * * * I greatly fear my money is not safe."
This Antipholus is most ingenuous-talkative; without being questioned he tells about his servant:
"A trusty villain, sir; that very oft, When I am dull with care and melancholy, Lightens my humour with his merry jests."
And as if this did not mark his peculiar thoughtful temperament sufficiently, he tells the merchant:
"I will go lose myself, And wander up and down to view the city."
And when the merchant leaves him, commending him to his own content, he talks to himself in this strain:
"He that commends me to mine own content, Commends me to the thing I cannot get, * * * * * So I, to find a mother and a brother, In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself."
A most curious way, it must be confessed, to seek for any one; but perfectly natural to the refined, melancholy, meditative, book-loving temperament which was already Shakespeare's. In this "unhappy" and "mother" I think I hear an echo of Shakespeare's sorrow at parting from his own mother.
This Antipholus, although very free and open, has a reserve of dignity, as we see in the second scene of the second act, when he talks with his servant, who, as he thinks, has played with him:
"Because that I familiarly sometimes Do use you for my fool, and chat with you, Your sauciness will jest upon my love, And make a common of my serious hours. When the sun shines let foolish gnats make sport, But creep in crannies when he hides his beams."
The self-esteem seems a little exaggerated here; but, after all, it is only natural; the whole scene is taken from Shakespeare's experience: the man who will chat familiarly with his servant, and jest with him as well, must expect to have to pull him up at times rather sharply. Antipholus proceeds to play with his servant in a fencing match of wit—a practice Shakespeare seems to have delighted in. But it is when Antipholus falls in love with Luciana that he shows us Shakespeare at his most natural as a lover. Luciana has just taken him to task for not loving her sister Adriana, who, she thinks, is his wife. Antipholus answers her thus:
"Sweet mistress,—what your name is else, I know not, Nor by what wonder you do hit of mine,— Less in your knowledge and your face you show not, Than our earth's wonder; more than earth divine, Teach me, dear creature, how to think and speak; Lay open to my earthy-gross conceit, Smother'd in errors, feeble, shallow, weak, The folded meaning of your words' deceit. ..."
He declares, in fact, that he loves her and not her sister:
"Sing, siren, for thyself and I will dote: Spread o'er the silver waves thy golden hairs, And as a bed I'll take them and there lie; * * * * * It is thyself, mine own self's better part, Mine eye's clear eye, my dear heart's dearer heart."
And as if this were not enough he goes on:
"My food, my fortune, and my sweet hope's aim, My sole earth's heaven, and my heaven's claim."
The word-conceits were a fashion of the time; but in spite of the verbal affectation, the courting shows the cunning of experience, and has, besides, a sort of echo of sincere feeling. How Shakespeare delights in making love! It reminds one of the first flutings of a thrush in early spring; over and over again he tries the notes with delighted iteration till he becomes a master of his music and charms the copses to silence with his song: and so Shakespeare sings of love again and again till at length we get the liquid notes of passion and the trills of joy all perfected in "Romeo and Juliet"; but the voice is the voice we heard before in "Venus and Adonis" and "The Comedy of Errors."
Antipholus' other appearances are not important. He merely fills his part till in the last scene he assures Luciana that he will make good his earlier protestations of love; but so far as he has any character at all, or distinctive individuality, he is young Shakespeare himself and his experiences are Shakespeare's.
Now a word or two about Adriana. Shakespeare makes her a jealous, nagging, violent scold, who will have her husband arrested for debt, though she will give money to free him. But the comedy of the play would be better brought out if Adriana were pictured as loving and constant, inflicting her inconvenient affection upon the false husband as upon the true. Why did Shakespeare want to paint this unpleasant bitter-tongued wife?
When Adriana appears in the first scene of the second act she is at once sketched in her impatience and jealousy. She wants to know why her husband should have more liberty than she has, and declares that none but asses will be bridled so. Then she will strike her servant. In the first five minutes of this act she is sketched to the life, and Shakespeare does nothing afterwards but repeat and deepen the same strokes: it seems as if he knew nothing about her or would depict nothing of her except her jealousy and nagging, her impatience and violence. We have had occasion to notice more than once that when Shakespeare repeats touches in this way, he is drawing from life, from memory, and not from imagination. Moreover, in this case, he shows us at once that he is telling of his wife, because she defends herself against the accusation of age, which no one brings against her, though every one knows that Shakespeare's wife was eight years older than himself.
"His company must do his minions grace, Whilst I at home starve for a merry look. Hath homely age the alluring beauty took From my poor cheek? then he hath wasted it ... ... My decayed fair A sunny look of his would soon repair: But, poor unruly deer, he breaks the pale, And feeds from home; poor I am but his stale."
The appeal is pathetic; but Luciana will not see it. She cries:
"Self-harming jealousy! fie, beat it hence!"
In the second scene of this second act Adriana goes on nagging in almost the same way.
In the second scene of the third act there is a phrase from the hero, Antipholus of Syracuse, about Adriana which I find significant:
"She that doth call me husband, even my soul Doth for a wife abhor!"
There is no reason in the comedy for such strong words. Most men would be amused or pleased by a woman who makes up to them as Adriana makes up to Antipholus. I hear Shakespeare in this uncalled-for, over-emphatic "even my soul doth for a wife abhor."
In the fifth act Adriana is brought before the Abbess, and is proved to be a jealous scold. Shakespeare will not be satisfied till some impartial great person of Adriana's own sex has condemned her. Adriana admits that she has scolded her husband in public and in private, too; the Abbess replies:
"And thereof came it that the man was mad."
And she adds:
"The venom clamours of a jealous woman Poisons more deadly than a mad dog's tooth."
Again, a needlessly emphatic condemnation. But Adriana will not accept the reproof: she will have her husband at all costs. The whole scene discovers personal feeling. Adriana is the portrait that Shakespeare wished to give us of his wife.
The learned commentators have seemingly conspired to say as little about "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" as possible. No one of them identifies the protagonist, Valentine, with Shakespeare, though all of them identified Biron with Shakespeare, and yet Valentine, as we shall see, is a far better portrait of the master than Biron. This untimely blindness of the critics is, evidently, due to the fact that Coleridge has hardly mentioned "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," and they have consequently been unable to parrot his opinions.
"The Two Gentlemen of Verona" is manifestly a later work than "Love's Labour's Lost"; there is more blank verse and less rhyme in it, and a considerable improvement in character-drawing. Julia, for example, is individualized and lives for us in her affection and jealousy; her talks with her maid Lucetta are taken from life; they are indeed the first sketch of the delightful talks between Portia and Nerissa, and mark an immense advance upon the wordy badinage of the Princess and her ladies in "Love's Labour's Lost," where there was no attempt at differentiation of character. It seems indubitable to me that "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" is also later than "The Comedy of Errors," and just as far beyond doubt that it is earlier than "A Midsummer Night's Dream," in spite of Dr. Furnival's "Trial Table."
The first three comedies, "Love's Labour's Lost," "The Comedy of Errors," and "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," are all noteworthy for the light they throw on Shakespeare's early life.
In "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" Shakespeare makes similar youthful mistakes in portraiture to those we noticed in "Love's Labour's Lost"; mistakes which show that he is thinking of himself and his own circumstances. At the beginning of the play the only difference between Proteus and Valentine is that one is in love, and the other, heart-free, is leaving home to go to Milan. In this first scene Shakespeare speaks frankly through both Proteus and Valentine, just as he spoke through both the King and Biron in the first scene of "Love's Labour's Lost," and through both AEgeon and Antipholus of Syracuse in "The Comedy of Errors." But whilst the circumstances in the earliest comedy are imaginary and fantastic, the circumstances in "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" are manifestly, I think, taken from the poet's own experience. In the dialogue between Valentine and Proteus I hear Shakespeare persuading himself that he should leave Stratford. Some readers may regard this assumption as far-fetched, but it will appear the more plausible, I think, the more the dialogue is studied. Valentine begins the argument:
"Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits,"—
he will "see the wonders of the world abroad" rather than live "dully sluggardiz'd at home," wearing out "youth with shapeless idleness." But all these reasons are at once superfluous and peculiar. The audience needs no persuasion to believe that a young man is eager to travel and go to Court. Shakespeare's quick mounting spirit is in the lines, and the needlessness of the argument shows that we have here a personal confession. Valentine, then, mocks at love, because it was love that held Shakespeare so long in Stratford, and when Proteus defends it, he replies:
"Even so by Love the young and tender wit Is turned to folly; blasting in the bud, Losing his verdure even in the prime, And all the fair effects of future hopes."
Here is Shakespeare's confession that his marriage had been a failure, not only because of his wife's mad jealousy and violent temper, which we have been forced to realize in "The Comedy of Errors," but also because love and its home-keeping ways threatened to dull and imprison the eager artist spirit. In the last charming line I find not only the music of Shakespeare's voice, but also one of the reasons—perhaps, indeed, the chief because the highest reason—which drew him from Stratford to London. And what the "future hope" was, he told us in the very first line of "Love's Labour's Lost." The King begins the play with"
"Let Fame, that all hunt after in their lives."
Now all men don't hunt after fame; it was Shakespeare who felt that Fame pieced out Life's span and made us "heirs of all eternity"; it was young Shakespeare who desired fame so passionately that he believed all other men must share his immortal longing, the desire in him being a forecast of capacity, as, indeed, it usually is. If any one is inclined to think that I am here abusing conjecture let him remember that Proteus, too, tells us that Valentine is hunting after honour.
When Proteus defends love we hear Shakespeare just as clearly as when Valentine inveighs against it:
"Yet writers say, as in the sweetest bud The eating canker dwells, so eating love Inhabits in the finest wits of all."
Shakespeare could not be disloyal to that passion of desire in him which he instinctively felt was, in some way or other, the necessary complement of his splendid intelligence. We must take the summing-up of Proteus when Valentine leaves him as the other half of Shakespeare's personal confession:
"He after honour hunts, I after love: He leaves his friends to dignify them more; I leave myself, my friends, and all for love. Thou, Julia, thou hast metamorphosed me,— Made me neglect my studies, lose my time, War with good counsel, set the world at naught; Made wit with musing weak, heart sick with thought."
Young Shakespeare hunted as much after love as after honour, and these verses show that he has fully understood what a drag on him his foolish marriage has been. That all this is true to Shakespeare appears from the fact that it is false to the character of Proteus. Proteus is supposed to talk like this in the first blush of passion, before he has won Julia, before he even knows that she loves him. Is that natural? Or is it not rather Shakespeare's confession of what two wasted years of married life in Stratford had done for him? It was ambition—desire of fame and new love—that drove the tired and discontented Shakespeare from Anne Hathaway's arms to London.
When his father tells Proteus he must to Court on the morrow, instead of showing indignation or obstinate resolve to outwit tyranny, he generalizes in Shakespeare's way, exactly as Romeo and Orsino generalize in poetic numbers:
"O, how this spring of love resembleth The uncertain glory of an April day."
Another reason for believing that this play deals with Shakespeare's own experiences is to be found in the curious change that takes place in Valentine. In the first act Valentine disdains love: he prefers to travel and win honour; but as soon as he reaches Milan and sees Silvia, he falls even more desperately in love than Proteus. What was the object, then, in making him talk so earnestly against love in the first act? It may be argued that Shakespeare intended merely to contrast the two characters in the first act; but he contrasts them in the first act on this matter of love, only in the second act to annul the distinction himself created. Moreover, and this is decisive, Valentine rails against love in the first act as one who has experienced love's utmost rage:
"To be In love: when scorn is bought with groans; coy looks, With heart-sore sighs; one fading moment's mirth, With twenty watchful, weary, tedious nights."
The man who speaks like this is not the man who despises love and prefers honour, but one who has already given himself to passion with an absolute abandonment. Such inconsistencies and flaws in workmanship are in themselves trivial, but, from my point of view, significant; for whenever Shakespeare slips in drawing character, in nine cases out of ten he slips through dragging in his own personality or his personal experience, and not through carelessness, much less incompetence; his mistakes, therefore, nearly always throw light on his nature or on his life's story. From the beginning, too, Valentine like Shakespeare is a born lover.
As soon, moreover, as he has gone to the capital and fallen in love he becomes Shakespeare's avowed favourite. He finds Silvia's glove and cries:
"Sweet ornament that decks a thing divine—"
the exclamation reminding us of how Romeo talks of Juliet's glove. Like other men, Shakespeare learned life gradually, and in youth poverty of experience forces him to repeat his effects.
Again, when Valentine praises his friend Proteus to the Duke, we find a characteristic touch of Shakespeare. Valentine says:
"His years but young; but his experience old; His head unmellowed; but his judgement ripe."
In "The Merchant of Venice" Bellario, the learned doctor of Padua, praises Portia in similar terms:
"I never knew so young a body with so old a head."
But it is when Valentine confesses his love that Shakespeare speaks through him most clearly:
"Ay, Proteus, but that life is altered now, I have done penance for contemning love; * * * * * For in revenge of my contempt of love Love hath chased sleep from my enthralled eyes And made them watchers of my own heart's sorrow. O gentle Proteus, Love's a mighty lord,"—
and so on.
Every word in this confession is characteristic of the poet and especially the fact that his insomnia is due to love. Valentine then gives himself to passionate praise of Silvia, and ends with the "She is alone" that recalls "She is all the beauty extant" of "The Two Noble Kinsmen." Valentine the lover reminds us of Romeo as the sketch resembles the finished picture; when banished, he cries:
"And why not death, rather than living torment? To die is to be banished from myself; And Silvia is myself: banished from her, Is self from self; a deadly banishment. What light is light, if Silvia be not seen? What joy is joy, if Silvia be not by? Unless it be to think that she is by And feed upon the shadow of perfection. Except I be by Silvia in the night There is no music in the nightingale,"