Montaigne and Shakspere
by John M. Robertson
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- Transcribers note: Old spellings of the words have been retained as well as the doubtful use of colons instead of semicolons in many places for the sake of fidelity to the original text. -







For a good many years past the anatomic study of Shakspere, of which a revival seems now on foot, has been somewhat out of fashion, as compared with its vogue in the palmy days of the New Shakspere Society in England, and the years of the battle between the iconoclasts and the worshippers in Germany. When Mr. Fleay and Mr. Spedding were hard at work on the metrical tests; when Mr. Spedding was subtly undoing the chronological psychology of Dr. Furnivall; when the latter student was on his part undoing in quite another style some of the judgments of Mr. Swinburne; and when Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps was with natural wrath calling on Mr. Browning, as President of the Society, to keep Dr. Furnivall in order, we (then) younger onlookers felt that literary history was verily being made. Our sensations, it seemed, might be as those of our elders had been over Mr. Collier's emendated folio, and the tragical end thereof. Then came a period of lull in things Shaksperean, partly to be accounted for by the protrusion of the Browning Society and kindred undertakings. It seemed as if once more men had come to the attitude of 1850, when Mr. Phillipps had written: "An opinion has been gaining ground, and has been encouraged by writers whose judgment is entitled to respectful consideration, that almost if not all the commentary on the works of Shakspere of a necessary and desirable kind has already been given to the world."[1] And, indeed, so much need was there for time to digest the new criticism that it may be doubted whether among the general cultured public the process is even now accomplished.

To this literary phase in particular, and to our occupation with other studies in general, may be attributed the opportunity which still exists for the discussion of one of the most interesting of all problems concerning Shakspere. Mr. Browning, Mr. Meredith, Ibsen, Tolstoi—a host of peculiarly modern problem-makers have been exorcising our not inexhaustible taste for the problematic, so that there was no very violent excitement over even the series of new "Keys" to the sonnets which came forth in the lull of the analysis of the plays; and yet, even with all the problems of modernity in view, it seems as if it must be rather by accident of oversight than for lack of interest in new developments of Shakspere-study that so little attention has been given among us to a question which, once raised, has a very peculiar literary and psychological attraction of its own—the subject, namely, of the influence which the plays show their author to have undergone from the Essays of Montaigne.

As to the bare fact of the influence, there can be little question. That Shakspere in one scene in the TEMPEST versifies a passage from the prose of Florio's translation of Montaigne's chapter OF THE CANNIBALS has been recognised by all the commentators since Capell (1767), who detected the transcript from a reading of the French only, not having compared the translation. The first thought of students was to connect the passage with Ben Johnson's allusion in VOLPONE[2] to frequent "stealings from Montaigne" by contemporary writers; and though VOLPONE dates from 1605, and the TEMPEST from 1610-1613, there has been no systematic attempt to apply the clue chronologically. Still, it has been recognised or surmised by a series of writers that the influence of the essayist on the dramatist went further than the passage in question. John Sterling, writing on Montaigne in 1838 (when Sir Frederick Madden's pamphlet on the autograph of Shakspere in a copy of Florio had called special attention to the Essays), remarked that "on the whole, the celebrated soliloquy in HAMLET presents a more characteristic and expressive resemblance to much of Montaigne's writings than any other portion of the plays of the great dramatist which we at present remember"; and further threw out the germ of a thesis which has since been disastrously developed, to the effect that "the Prince of Denmark is very nearly a Montaigne, lifted to a higher eminence, and agitated by more striking circumstances and a severer destiny, and altogether a somewhat more passionate structure of man."[3] In 1846, again, Philarete Chasles, an acute and original critic, citing the passage in the TEMPEST, went on to declare that "once on the track of the studies and tastes of Shakspere, we find Montaigne at every corner, in HAMLET, in OTHELLO, in CORIOLANUS. Even the composite style of Shakspere, so animated, so vivid, so new, so incisive, so coloured, so hardy, offers a multitude of striking analogies to the admirable and free manner of Montaigne."[4] The suggestion as to the "To be or not to be" soliloquy has been taken up by some critics, but rejected by others; and the propositions of M. Chasles, so far as I am aware, have never been supported by evidence. Nevertheless, the general fact of a frequent reproduction or manipulation of Montaigne's ideas in some of Shakspere's later plays has, I think, since been established.

Twelve years ago I incidentally cited, in an essay on the composition of HAMLET, some dozen of the Essays of Montaigne from which Shakspere had apparently received suggestions, and instanced one or two cases in which actual peculiarities of phrase in Florio's translation of the Essays are adopted by him, in addition to a peculiar coincidence which has been pointed out by Mr. Jacob Feis in his work entitled SHAKSPERE AND MONTAIGNE; and since then the late Mr. Henry Morley, in his edition of the Florio translation, has pointed to a still more remarkable coincidence of phrase, in a passage of HAMLET which I had traced to Montaigne without noticing the decisive verbal agreement in question. Yet so far as I have seen, the matter has passed for little more than a literary curiosity, arousing no new ideas as to Shakspere's mental development. The notable suggestion of Chasles on that head has been ignored more completely than the theory of Mr. Feis, which in comparison is merely fantastic. Either, then, there is an unwillingness in England to conceive of Shakspere as owing much to foreign influences, or as a case of intelligible mental growth, or else the whole critical problem which Shakspere represents—and he may be regarded as the greatest of critical problems—comes within the general disregard for serious criticism, noticeable among us of late years. And the work of Mr. Feis, unfortunately, is as a whole so extravagant that it could hardly fail to bring a special suspicion on every form of the theory of an intellectual tie between Shakspere and Montaigne. Not only does he undertake to show in dead earnest what Sterling had vaguely suggested as conceivable, that Shakspere meant Hamlet to represent Montaigne, but he strenuously argues that the poet framed the play in order to discredit Montaigne's opinions—a thesis which almost makes the Bacon theory specious by comparison. Naturally it has made no converts, even in Germany, where, as it happens, it had been anticipated.

In France, however, the neglect of the special problem of Montaigne's influence on Shakspere is less easily to be explained, seeing how much intelligent study has been given of late by French critics to both Shakspere and Montaigne. The influence is recognised; but here again it is only cursorily traced. The latest study of Montaigne is that of M. Paul Stapfer, a vigilant critic, whose services to Shakspere-study have been recognised in both countries. But all that M. Stapfer claims for the influence of the French essayist on the English dramatist is thus put:—

"Montaigne is perhaps too purely French to have exercised much influence abroad. Nevertheless his influence on England is not to be disdained. Shakspere appreciated him (le goutait); he has inserted in the TEMPEST a passage of the chapter DES CANNIBALES; and the strong expressions of the ESSAYS on man, the inconstant, irresolute being, contrary to himself, marvellously vain, various and changeful, were perhaps not unconnected with (peut etre pas etrangeres a) the conception of HAMLET. The author of the scene of the grave-diggers must have felt the savour and retained the impression of this thought, humid and cold as the grave: 'The heart and the life of a great and triumphant emperor are but the repast of a little worm.' The translation of Plutarch, or rather of Amyot, by Thomas North, and that of Montaigne by Florio, had together a great and long vogue in the English society of the seventeenth century."[5]

So modest a claim, coming from the French side, can hardly be blamed on the score of that very modesty. It is the fact, however, that, though M. Stapfer has in another work[6] compared Shakspere with a French classic critically enough, he has here understated his case. He was led to such an attitude in his earlier study of Shakspere by the slightness of the evidence offered for the claim of M. Chasles, of which he wrote that it is "a gratuitous supposition, quite unjustified by the few traces in his writings of his having read the Essays."[7] But that verdict was passed without due scrutiny. The influence of Montaigne on Shakspere was both wider and deeper than M. Stapfer has suggested; and it is perhaps more fitting, after all, that the proof should be undertaken by some of us who, speaking Shakspere's tongue, cannot well be suspected of seeking to belittle him when we trace the sources for his thought, whether in his life or in his culture. There is still, indeed, a tendency among the more primitively patriotic to look jealously at such inquiries, as tending to diminish the glory of the worshipped name; but for anyone who is capable of appreciating Shakspere's greatness, there can be no question of iconoclasm in the matter. Shakspere ignorantly adored is a mere dubious mystery; Shakspere followed up and comprehended, step by step, albeit never wholly revealed, becomes more remarkable, more profoundly interesting, as he becomes more intelligible. We are embarked, not on a quest for plagiarisms, but on a study of the growth of a wonderful mind. And in the idea that much of the growth is traceable to the fertilising contact of a foreign intelligence there can be nothing but interest and attraction for those who have mastered the primary sociological truth that such contacts of cultures are the very life of civilisation.


The first requirement in the study, obviously, is an exact statement of the coincidences of phrase and thought in Shakspere and Montaigne. Not that such coincidences are the main or the only results to be looked for; rather we may reasonably expect to find Shakspere's thought often diverging at a tangent from that of the writer he is reading, or even directly gainsaying it. But there can be no solid argument as to such indirect influence until we have fully established the direct influence, and this can only be done by exhibiting a considerable number of coincidences. M. Chasles, while avowing that "the comparison of texts is indispensable—we must undergo this fatigue in order to know to what extent Shakspere, between 1603 and 1615, became familiar with Montaigne"—strangely enough made no comparison of texts whatever beyond reproducing the familiar paraphrase in the TEMPEST, from the essay OF CANNIBALS; and left absolutely unsupported his assertion as to HAMLET, OTHELLO, and CORIOLANUS. It is necessary to produce proofs, and to look narrowly to dates. Florio's translation, though licensed in 1601, was not published till 1603, the year of the piratical publication of the First Quarto of HAMLET, in which the play lacks much of its present matter, and shows in many parts so little trace of Shakspere's spirit and versification that, even if we hold the text to have been imperfectly taken down in shorthand, as it no doubt was, we cannot suppose him to have at this stage completed his refashioning of the older play, which is undoubtedly the substratum of his.[8] We must therefore keep closely in view the divergencies between this text and that of the Second Quarto, printed in 1604, in which the transmuting touch of Shakspere is broadly evident. It is quite possible that Shakspere may have seen parts of Florio's translation before 1603, or heard passages from it read; or even that he might have read Montaigne in the original. But as his possession of the translation is made certain by the preservation of the copy bearing his autograph, and as it is from Florio that he is seen to have copied in the passages where his copying is beyond dispute, it is on Florio's translation that we must proceed.

I. In order to keep all the evidence in view, we may first of all collate once more the passage in the TEMPEST with that in the Essays which it unquestionably follows. In Florio's translation, Montaigne's words run:

"They [Lycurgus and Plato] could not imagine a genuity so pure and simple, as we see it by experience, nor ever believe our society might be maintained with so little art and human combination. It is a nation (would I answer Plato) that hath no kind of traffic, no knowledge of letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate, nor of politic superiority; no use of service, of riches, or of poverty; no contracts, no successions, no dividences, no occupations, but idle; no respect of kindred, but common; no apparel, but natural; no manuring of lands, no use of wine, corn, or metal. The very words that import lying, falsehood, treason, dissimulation, covetousness, envy, detraction, and passion, were never heard of amongst them. How dissonant would he find his imaginary commonwealth from this perfection?"

Compare the speech in which the kind old Gonzalo seeks to divert the troubled mind of the shipwrecked King Alonso:

"I' the commonwealth I would by contraries Execute all things: for no kind of traffic Would I admit; no name of magistrate; Letters should not be known; no use of service, Of riches, or of poverty; no contracts, Succession; bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none: No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil: No occupation, all men idle, all; And women too: but innocent and pure: No sovereignty...."

There can be no dispute as to the direct transcription here, where the dramatist is but incidentally playing with Montaigne's idea, proceeding to put some gibes at it in the mouths of Gonzalo's rascally comrades; and it follows that Gonzalo's further phrase, "to excel the golden age," proceeds from Montaigne's previous words: "exceed all the pictures wherewith licentious poesy hath proudly embellished the golden age." The play was in all probability written in or before 1610. It remains to show that on his first reading of Florio's Montaigne, in 1603-4, Shakspere was more deeply and widely influenced, though the specific proofs are in the nature of the case less palpable.

II. Let us take first the more decisive coincidences of phrase. Correspondences of thought which in themselves do not establish their direct connection, have a new significance when it is seen that other coincidences amount to manifest reproduction. And such a coincidence we have, to begin with, in the familiar lines:

"There's a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will."[9]

I pointed out in 1885 that this expression, which does not occur in the First Quarto HAMLET, corresponds very closely with the theme of Montaigne's essay, THAT FORTUNE IS OFTENTIMES MET WITHALL IN PURSUIT OF REASON,[10] in which occurs the phrase, "Fortune has more judgment[11] than we," a translation from Menander. But Professor Morley, having had his attention called to the subject by the work of Mr. Feis, who had suggested another passage as the source of Shakspere's, made a more perfect identification. Reading the proofs of the Florio translation for his reprint, he found, what I had not observed in my occasional access to the old folio, not then reprinted, that the very metaphor of "rough-hewing" occurs in Florio's rendering of a passage in the Essays:—[12] "My consultation doth somewhat roughly hew the matter, and by its first shew lightly consider the same: the main and chief point of the work I am wont to resign to Heaven." This is a much more exact coincidence than is presented in the passage cited by Mr. Feis from the essay OF PHYSIOGNOMY:—[13] "Therefore do our designs so often miscarry.... The heavens are angry, and I may say envious of the extension and large privilege we ascribe to human wisdom, to the prejudice of theirs, and abridge them so much more unto us by so much more we endeavour to amplify them." If there were no closer parallel than that in Montaigne, we should be bound to take it as an expansion of a phrase in Seneca's AGAMEMNON,[14] which was likely to have become proverbial. I may add that the thought is often repeated in the Essays, and that in several passages it compares notably with Shakspere's lines. These begin:

"Rashly, —And praised be rashness for it—Let us know Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well When our deep plots do pall; and that should learn us There's a divinity" etc.

Compare the following extracts from Florio's translation:—

"The Daemon of Socrates were peradventure a certain impulsion or will which without the advice of his discourse presented itself unto him. In a mind so well purified, and by continual exercise of wisdom and virtue so well prepared as his was, it is likely his inclinations (though rash and inconsiderate) were ever of great moment, and worthy to be followed. Every man feeleth in himself some image of such agitations, of a prompt, vehement, and casual opinion. It is in me to give them some authority, that afford so little to our wisdom. And I have had some (equally weak in reason and violent in persuasion and dissuasion, which was more ordinary to Socrates) by which I have so happily and so profitably suffered myself to be transported, as they might perhaps be thought to contain some matter of divine inspiration."[15]

"Even in our counsels and deliberations, some chance or good luck must needs be joined to them; for whatsoever our wisdom can effect is no great matter."[16]

"When I consider the most glorious exploits of war, methinks I see that those who have had the conduct of them employ neither counsel nor deliberation about them, but for fashion sake, and leave the best part of the enterprise to fortune; and on the confidence they have in her aid, they still go beyond the limits of all discourse. Casual rejoicings and strange furies ensue among their deliberations."[17] etc.

Compare finally Florio's translation of the lines of Manilius cited by Montaigne at the end of the 47th Essay of the First Book:

"'Tis best for ill-advis'd, wisdom may fail,[18] Fortune proves not the cause that should prevail, But here and there without respect doth sail: A higher power forsooth us overdraws, And mortal states guides with immortal laws."

It is to be remembered, indeed, that the idea expressed in Hamlet's words to Horatio is partly anticipated in the rhymed speech of the Player-King in the play-scene in Act III., which occurs in the First Quarto:

"Our wills, our fates do so contrary run That our devices still are overthrown; Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own."

Such a passage, reiterating a familiar commonplace, might seem at first sight to tell against the view that Hamlet's later speech to Horatio is an echo of Montaigne. But that view being found justified by the evidence, and the idea in that passage being exactly coincident with Montaigne's, while the above lines are only partially parallel in meaning, we are forced to admit that Shakspere may have been influenced by Montaigne even where a partial precedent might be found in his own or other English work.

III. The phrase "discourse of reason," which is spoken by Hamlet in his first soliloquy,[19] and which first appears in the Second Quarto, is not used by Shakspere in any play before HAMLET; and he uses it again in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA;[20] while "discourse of thought" appears in OTHELLO;[21] and "discourse," in the sense of reasoning faculty, is used in Hamlet's last soliloquy.[22] In English literature this use of the word seems to be special in Shakspere's period,[23] and it has been noted by an admirer as a finely Shaksperean expression. But the expression "discourse of reason" occurs at least four times in Montaigne's Essays, and in Florio's translation of them: in the essay[24] THAT TO PHILOSOPHISE IS TO LEARN HOW TO DIE; again at the close of the essay[25] A demain les affaires; again in the first paragraph of the APOLOGY OF RAIMOND SEBONDE[26]; and yet again in the chapter on THE HISTORY OF SPURINA;[27] and though it seems to be scholastic in origin, and occurs once or twice before 1600 in English books, it is difficult to doubt that, like the other phrase above cited, it came to Shakspere through Florio's Montaigne. The word discours is a hundred times used singly by Montaigne, as by Shakspere in the phrase "of such large discourse," for the process of ratiocination.

IV. Then again there is the clue of Shakspere's use of the word "consummation" in the revised form of the "To be" soliloquy. This, as Mr. Feis pointed out,[28] is the word used by Florio as a rendering of aneantissement in the speech of Socrates as given by Montaigne in the essay[29] OF PHYSIOGNOMY. Shakspere makes Hamlet speak of annihilation as "a consummation devoutly to be wished." Florio has: "If it (death) be a consummation of one's being, it is also an amendment and entrance into a long and quiet night. We find nothing so sweet in life as a quiet and gentle sleep, and without dreams." Here not only do the words coincide in a peculiar way, but the idea in the two phrases is the same; the theme of sleep and dreams being further common to the two writings.

Beyond these, I have not noted any correspondences of phrase so precise as to prove reminiscence beyond possibility of dispute; but it is not difficult to trace striking correspondences which, though falling short of explicit reproduction, inevitably suggest a relation; and these it now behoves us to consider. The remarkable thing is, as regards HAMLET, that they almost all occur in passages not present in the First Quarto.

V. When we compare part of the speech of Rosencrantz on sedition[30] with a passage in Montaigne's essay, OF CUSTOM,[31] we find a somewhat close coincidence. In the play Rosencrantz says:

"The cease of Majesty, Dies not alone; but like a gulf doth draw What's near with it: it is a massy wheel Fix'd on the summit of the highest mount, To whose huge spokes ten thousand lesser things Are mortised and adjoined; which, when it falls, Each small annexment, petty consequence, Attends the boisterous ruin."

Florio has:

"Those who attempt to shake an Estate are commonly the first overthrown by the fall of it.... The contexture and combining of this monarchy and great building having been dismissed and dissolved by it, namely, in her old years, giveth as much overture and entrance as a man will to like injuries. Royal majesty doth more hardly fall from the top to the middle, than it tumbleth down from the middle to the bottom."

The verbal correspondence here is only less decisive—as regards the use of the word "majesty"—than in the passages collated by Mr. Morley; while the thought corresponds as closely.

VI. The speech of Hamlet,[32] "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so"; and Iago's "'tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus,"[33] are expressions of a favourite thesis of Montaigne's, to which he devotes an entire essay.[34] The Shaksperean phrases echo closely such sentences as:—

"If that which we call evil and torment be neither torment nor evil, but that our fancy only gives it that quality, it is in us to change it.... That which we term evil is not so of itself." ... "Every man is either well or ill according as he finds himself."

And in the essay[35] OF DEMOCRITUS AND HERACLITUS there is another close parallel:—

"Therefore let us take no more excuses from external qualities of things. To us it belongeth to give ourselves account of it. Our good and our evil hath no dependency but from ourselves."

VII. Hamlet's apostrophe to his mother on the power of custom—a passage which, like the others above cited, first appears in the Second Quarto—is similarly an echo of a favourite proposition of Montaigne, who devotes to it the essay[36] OF CUSTOM, AND NOT TO CHANGE READILY A RECEIVED LAW. In that there occur the typical passages:—

"Custom doth so blear us that we cannot distinguish the usage of things.... Certes, chastity is an excellent virtue, the commodity whereof is very well known; but to use it, and according to nature to prevail with it, is as hard as it is easy to endear it and to prevail with it according to custom, to laws and precepts." "The laws of conscience, which we say are born of nature, are born of custom."

Again, in the essay OF CONTROLLING ONE'S WILL[37] we have: "Custom is a second nature, and not less potent."

Hamlet's words are:—

"That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat Of habits devil, is angel yet in this That to the use of actions fair and good He likewise gives a frock or livery That aptly is put on.... For use can almost change the stamp of nature."

No doubt the idea is a classic commonplace; and in the early TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA[38] we actually have the line, "How use doth breed a habit in a man;" but here again there seems reason to regard Montaigne as having suggested Shakspere's vivid and many-coloured wording of the idea in the tragedy. Indeed, even the line cited from the early comedy may have been one of the poet's many later additions to his text.

VIII. A less close but still a noteworthy resemblance is that between the passage in which Hamlet expresses to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern the veering of his mood from joy in things to disgust with them, and the paragraph in the APOLOGY OF RAYMOND SEBONDE in which Montaigne sets against each other the splendour of the universe and the littleness of man. Here the thought diverges, Shakspere making it his own as he always does, and altering its aim; but the language is curiously similar. Hamlet says:

"It goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory: this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire, why it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a God! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet to me what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me."

Montaigne, as translated by Florio, has:

"Let us see what hold-fast or free-hold he (man) hath in this gorgeous and goodly equipage.... Who hath persuaded him, that this admirable moving of heaven's vaults, that the eternal light of these lamps so fiercely rolling over his head ... were established ... for his commodity and service? Is it possible to imagine anything so ridiculous as this miserable and wretched creature, which is not so much as master of himself, exposed and subject to offences of all things, and yet dareth call himself Master and Emperor of this universe?... [To consider ... the power and domination these (celestial) bodies have, not only upon our lives and conditions of our fortune ... but also over our dispositions and inclinations, our discourses and wills, which they rule, provoke, and move at the pleasure of their influences.] ... Of all creatures man is the most miserable and frail, and therewithal the proudest and disdainfullest. Who perceiveth himself placed here, amidst the filth and mire of the world ... and yet dareth imaginarily place himself above the circle of the Moon, and reduce heaven under his feet. It is through the vanity of the same imagination that he dare equal himself to God."

The passage in brackets is left here in its place, not as suggesting anything in Hamlet's speech, but as paralleling a line in MEASURE FOR MEASURE, to be dealt with immediately. But it will be seen that the rest of the passage, though turned to quite another purpose than Hamlet's, brings together in the same way a set of contrasted ideas of human greatness and smallness, and of the splendour of the midnight firmament.[39]

IX. The nervous protest of Hamlet to Horatio on the point of the national vice of drunkenness,[40] of which all save the beginning is added in the Second Quarto just before the entrance of the Ghost, has several curious points of coincidence with Montaigne's essay[41] on THE HISTORY OF SPURINA, which discusses at great length a matter of special interest to Shakspere—the character of Julius Caesar. In the course of the examination Montaigne takes trouble to show that Cato's use of the epithet "drunkard" to Caesar could not have been meant literally; that the same Cato admitted Caesar's sobriety in the matter of drinking. It is after making light of Caesar's faults in other matters of personal conduct that the essayist comes to this decision:

"But all these noble inclinations, rich gifts, worthy qualities, were altered, smothered, and eclipsed by this furious passion of ambition.... To conclude, this only vice (in mine opinion) lost and overthrew in him the fairest natural and richest ingenuity that ever was, and hath made his memory abominable to all honest minds."

Compare the exquisitely high-strung lines, so congruous in their excited rapidity with Hamlet's intensity of expectation, which follow on his notable outburst on the subject of drunkenness:

"So oft it chances in particular men, That for some vicious mode of nature in them, As in their birth (wherein they are not guilty, Since nature cannot choose its origin), By the o'ergrowth of some complexion, Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason; Or by some habit that too much o'er-leavens The form of plausive manners; that these men,— Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect; Being nature's livery, or fortune's star,— Their virtues else (be they as pure as grace, As infinite as man may undergo) Shall in the general censure take corruption From that particular fault...."

Even the idea that "nature cannot choose its origin" is suggested by the context in Montaigne.[42] Shakspere's estimate of Caesar, of course, diverged from that of the essay.

X. I find a certain singularity of coincidence between the words of King Claudius on kingship:

"There's such divinity doth hedge a king, That treason can but peep to what it would, Acts little of his will,"

and a passage in the essay[43] OF THE INCOMMODITY OF GREATNESS:

"To be a king, is a matter of that consequence, that only by it he is so. That strange glimmering and eye-dazzling light, which round about environeth, over-casteth and hideth from us: our weak sight is thereby bleared and dissipated, as being filled and obscured by that greater and further-spreading brightness."

The working out of the metaphor here gives at once to Shakspere's terms "divinity" and "can but peep" a point not otherwise easily seen; but the idea of a dazzling light may be really what was meant in the play; and one is tempted to pronounce the passage a reminiscence of Montaigne. Here, however, it has to be noted that in the First Quarto we have the lines:

"There's such divinity doth wall a king That treason dares not look on."

And if Shakspere had not seen or heard the passage in Montaigne before the publication of Florio's folio—which, however, he may very well have done—the theory of reminiscence here cannot stand.

XI. In Hamlet's soliloquy on the passage of the army of Fortinbras—one of the many passages added in the Second Quarto—there is a strong general resemblance to a passage in the essay OF DIVERSION.[44] Hamlet first remarks to the Captain:

"Two thousand souls and twenty thousand ducats Will not debate the question of this straw: This is the imposthume of much wealth and peace;"

and afterwards soliloquises:

"Examples gross as earth exhort me: Witness, this army of such mass and charge, Led by a delicate and tender prince, Whose spirit, by divine ambition puff'd, Makes mouths at the invisible event; Exposing what is mortal and unsure To all that fortune, death, and danger dare, Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great, Is not to stir without great argument, But greatly to find quarrel in a straw. When honour is at stake.... my shame I see The imminent death of twenty thousand men, That for a fantasy and trick of fame, Go to their graves like beds; fight for a plot Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause...."

Montaigne has the same general idea in the essay OF DIVERSION:

"If one demand that fellow, what interest he hath in such a siege: The interest of example (he will say) and common obedience of the Prince: I nor look nor pretend any benefit thereby ... I have neither passion nor quarrel in the matter. Yet the next day you will see him all changed, and chafing, boiling and blushing with rage, in his rank of battle, ready for the assault. It is the glaring reflecting of so much steel, the flashing thundering of the cannon, the clang of trumpets, and the rattling of drums, that have infused this new fury and rancour in his swelling veins. A frivolous cause, will you say? How a cause? There needeth none to excite our mind. A doting humour without body, without substance, overswayeth it up and down."

The thought recurs in the essay, OF CONTROLLING ONE'S WILL.[45]

"Our greatest agitations have strange springs and ridiculous causes. What ruin did our last Duke of Burgundy run into, for the quarrel of a cart-load of sheep-skins?... See why that man doth hazard both his honour and life on the fortune of his rapier and dagger; let him tell you whence the cause of that confusion ariseth, he cannot without blushing; so vain and frivolous is the occasion."

And the idea in Hamlet's lines "rightly to be great," etc., is suggested in the essay OF REPENTING,[46] where we have:

"The nearest way to come unto glory were to do that for conscience which we do for glory.... The worth of the mind consisteth not in going high, but in going orderly. Her greatness is not exercised in greatness; in mediocrity it is."

In the essay OF EXPERIENCE[47] there is a sentence partially expressing the same thought, which is cited by Mr. Feis as a reproduction:

"The greatness of the mind is not so much to draw up, and hale forward, as to know how to range, direct, and circumscribe itself. It holdeth for great what is sufficient, and sheweth her height in loving mean things better than eminent."

Here, certainly, as in the previous citation, the idea is not identical with that expressed by Hamlet. But the elements he combines are there; and again, in the essay OF SOLITARINESS[48] we have the picture of the soldier fighting furiously for the quarrel of his careless king, with the question: "Who doth not willingly chop and counter-change his health, his ease, yea his life, for glory and reputation, the most unprofitable, vain, and counterfeit coin that is in use with us."

And yet again the thought crops up in the APOLOGY OF RAYMOND SEBONDE:

"This horror-causing array of so many thousands of armed men, so great fury, earnest fervour, and undaunted courage, it would make one laugh to see on how many vain occasions it is raised and set on fire.... The hatred of one man, a spite, a pleasure ... causes which ought not to move two scolding fishwives to catch one another, is the soul and motive of all this hurly-burly."

XII. Yet one more of Hamlet's sayings peculiar to the revised form of the play seems to be an echo of a thought of Montaigne's. At the outset of the soliloquy last quoted from, Hamlet says:—

"What is a man If his chief good and market of his time, Be but to sleep and feed? A beast; no more. Sure He that made us with such large discourse, Looking before and after, gave us not That capability and godlike reason To fust in us unused."

The bearing of the thought in the soliloquy, where Hamlet spasmodically applies it to the stimulation of his vengeance, is certainly never given to it by Montaigne, who has left on record[49] his small approbation of revenge; but the thought itself is there, in the essay[50] ON GOODS AND EVILS.

"Shall we employ the intelligence Heaven hath bestowed upon us for our greatest good, to our ruin, repugning nature's design and the universal order and vicissitude of things, which implieth that every man should use his instrument and means for his own commodity?"

Again, there is a passage in the essay OF THE AFFECTION OF FATHERS TO THEIR CHILDREN,[51] where there occurs a specific coincidence of phrase, the special use of the term "discourse," which we have already traced from Shakspere to Montaigne; and where at the same time the contrast between man and beast is drawn, though not to the same purpose as in the speech of Hamlet:—

"Since it hath pleased God to endow us with some capacity of discourse, that as beasts we should not servilely be subjected to common laws, but rather with judgment and voluntary liberty apply ourselves unto them, we ought somewhat to yield unto the simple authority of Nature, but not suffer her tyrannically to carry us away; only reason ought to have the conduct of our inclinations."

Finally we have a third parallel, with a slight coincidence of terms, in the essay[52] OF GIVING THE LIE:

"Nature hath endowed us with a large faculty to entertain ourselves apart, and often calleth us unto it, to teach us that partly we owe ourselves unto society, but in the better part unto ourselves."

It may be argued that these, like one or two of the other sayings above cited as echoed by Shakspere from Montaigne, are of the nature of general religious or ethical maxims, traceable to no one source; and if we only found one or two such parallels, their resemblance of course would have no evidential value, save as regards coincidence of terms. For this very passage, for instance, there is a classic original, or at least a familiar source, in Cicero,[53] where the commonplace of the contrast between man and beast is drawn in terms that come in a general way pretty close to Hamlet's. This treatise of Cicero was available to Shakspere in several English translations;[54] and only the fact that we find no general trace of Cicero in the play entitles us to suggest a connection in this special case with Montaigne, of whom we do find so many other traces. It is easy besides to push the theory of any influence too far; and when for instance we find Hamlet saying he fares "Of the chameleon's dish: I eat the air, promise-crammed," it would be as idle to assume a reminiscence of a passage of Montaigne on the chameleon[55] as it would be to derive Hamlet's phrase "A king of shreds and patches" from Florio's rendering in the essay[56] OF THE INCONSTANCY OF OUR ACTIONS:

"We are all framed of flaps and patches, and of so shapeless and diverse a contexture, that every piece and every moment playeth his part."

In the latter case we have a mere coincidence of idiom; in the former a proverbial allusion.[57] An uncritical pursuit of such mere accidents of resemblance has led Mr. Feis to such enormities as the assertion that Shakspere's contemporaries knew Hamlet's use of his tablets to be a parody of the "much-scribbling Montaigne," who had avowed that he made much use of his; the assertion that Ophelia's "Come, my coach!" has reference to Montaigne's remark that he has known ladies who would rather lend their honour than their coach; and a dozen other propositions, if possible still more amazing. But when, with no foregone conclusion as to any polemic purpose on Shakspere's part, we restrict ourselves to real parallels of thought and expression; when we find that a certain number of these are actually textual; when we find further that in a single soliloquy in the play there are several reproductions of ideas in the essays, some of them frequently recurring in Montaigne; and when finally it is found that, with only one exception, all the passages in question have been added to the play in the Second Quarto, after the publication of Florio's translation, it seems hardly possible to doubt that the translation influenced the dramatist in his work.

Needless to say, the influence is from the very start of that high sort in which he that takes becomes co-thinker with him that gives, Shakspere's absorption of Montaigne being as vital as Montaigne's own assimilation of the thought of his classics. The process is one not of surface reflection, but of kindling by contact; and we seem to see even the vibration of the style passing from one intelligence to the other; the nervous and copious speech of Montaigne awakening Shakspere to a new sense of power over rhythm and poignant phrase, at the same time that the stimulus of the thought gives him a new confidence in the validity of his own reflection. Some cause there must have been for this marked species of development in the dramatist at that particular time: and if we find pervading signs of one remarkable new influence, with no countervailing evidence of another adequate to the effect, the inference is about as reasonable as many which pass for valid in astronomy. For it will be found, on the one hand, that there is no sign worth considering of a Montaigne influence on Shakspere before HAMLET; and, on the other hand, that the influence to some extent continues beyond that play. Indeed, there are still further minute signs of it there, which should be noted before we pass on.

XIII. Among parallelisms of thought of a less direct kind, one may be traced between an utterance of Hamlet's and a number of Montaigne's sayings on the power of imagination and the possible equivalence of dream life and waking life. In his first dialogue with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, where we have already noted an echo of Montaigne, Hamlet cries:

"O God! I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space; were it not that I have bad dreams;"

and Guildenstern answers:

"Which dreams, indeed, are ambition; for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream."

The first sentence may be compared with a number in Montaigne,[58] of which the following[59] is a type:

"Man clean contrary [to the Gods] possesseth goods in imagination and evils essentially. We have had reason to make the powers of our imagination to be of force, for all our felicities are but in conceipt, and as it were in a dream;"

while the reply of Guildenstern further recalls several of the passages already cited.

XIV. Another apparent parallel of no great importance, but of more verbal closeness, is that between Hamlet's jeering phrase:[60] "Your worm is your only emperor for diet," and a sentence in the APOLOGY: "The heart and the life of a great and triumphant emperor are the dinner of a little worm," which M. Stapfer compares further with the talk of Hamlet in the grave-diggers' scene. Here, doubtless, we are near the level of proverbial sayings, current in all countries.

XV. As regards HAMLET, I can find no further parallelisms so direct as any of the foregoing, except some to be considered later, in connection with the "To be" soliloquy. I do not think it can be made out that, as M. Chasles affirmed, Hamlet's words on his friendship for Horatio can be traced directly to any of Montaigne's passages on that theme. "It would be easy," says M. Chasles, "to show in Shakspere the branloire perenne[61] of Montaigne, and the whole magnificent passage on friendship, which is found reproduced (se trouve reporte) in HAMLET." The idea of the world as a perpetual mutation is certainly prevalent in Shakspere's work; but I can find no exact correspondence of phrase between Montaigne's pages on his love for his dead friend Etienne de la Boetie and the lines in which Hamlet speaks of his love for Horatio. He rather gives his reasons for his love than describes the nature and completeness of it in Montaigne's way; and as regards the description of Horatio, it could have been independently suggested by such a treatise as Seneca's DE CONSTANTIA SAPIENTIS, which is a monody on the theme with which it closes: esse aliquem invictum, esse aliquem in quem nihil fortuna possit—"to be something unconquered, something against which fortune is powerless." In the fifth section the idea is worded in a fashion that could have suggested Shakspere's utterance of it; and he might easily have met with some citation of the kind. But, on the other hand, this note of passionate friendship is not only new in Shakspere but new in HAMLET, in respect of the First Quarto, in which the main part of the speech to Horatio does not occur, and in view of the singular fact that in the first Act of the play as it stands Hamlet greets Horatio as a mere acquaintance; and it is further to be noted that the description of Horatio as "one in suffering all that suffers nothing" is broadly suggested by the quotation from Horace in Montaigne's nineteenth chapter (which, as we have already seen, impressed Shakspere), and by various other sayings in the Essays. After the quotation from Horace (Non vultus instantis tyranni), in the Nineteenth Essay, Florio's translation runs:

"She (the soul) is made mistress of her passions and concupiscences, lady of indigence, of shame, of poverty, and of all fortune's injuries. Let him that can, attain to this advantage. Herein consists the true and sovereign liberty, that affords us means wherewith to jest and make a scorn of force and injustice, and to deride imprisonment, gyves, or fetters."

Again, in the essay OF THREE COMMERCES OR SOCIETIES,[62] we have this:

"We must not cleave so fast unto our humours and dispositions. Our chiefest sufficiency is to supply ourselves to diverse fashions. It is a being, but not a life, to be tied and bound by necessity to one only course. The goodliest minds are those that have most variety and pliableness in them.... Life is a motion unequal, irregular, and multiform....

" ... My fortune having inured and allured me, even from my infancy, to one sole, singular, and perfect amity, hath verily in some sort distasted me from others.... So that it is naturally a pain unto me to communicate myself by halves, and with modification....

"I should commend a high-raised mind that could both bend and discharge itself; that wherever her fortune might transport her, she might continue constant.... I envy those which can be familiar with the meanest of their followers, and vouchsafe to contract friendship and frame discourse with their own servants."

Again, la Boetie is panegyrised by Montaigne for his rare poise and firmness of character;[63] and elsewhere in the essays we find many allusions to the ideal of the imperturbable man, which Montaigne has in the above cited passages brought into connection with his ideal of friendship. It could well be, then—though here we cannot argue the point with confidence—that in this as in other matters the strong general impression that Montaigne was so well fitted to make on Shakspere's mind was the source of such a change in the conception and exposition of Hamlet's relation to Horatio as is set up by Hamlet's protestation of his long-standing admiration and love for his friend. Shakspere's own relations with one or other of his noble patrons would make him specially alive to such suggestion.

XVI. We now come to the suggested resemblance between the "To be or not to be" soliloquy and the general tone of Montaigne on the subject of death. On this resemblance I am less disposed to lay stress now than I was on a first consideration of the subject thirteen years ago. While I find new coincidences of detail on a more systematic search, I am less impressed by the alleged general resemblance of tone. In point of fact, the general drift of Hamlet's soliloquy is rather alien to the general tone of Montaigne on the same theme. That tone, as we shall see, harmonises much more nearly with the speech of the Duke to Claudio, on the same theme, in MEASURE FOR MEASURE. What really seems to subsist in the "To be" soliloquy, after a careful scrutiny, is a series of echoes of single thoughts; but there is the difficulty that some of these occur in the earlier form of the soliloquy in the First Quarto, a circumstance which tends—though not necessarily[64]—to throw a shade of doubt on the apparent echoes in the finished form of the speech. We can but weigh the facts as impartially as may be.

First, there is the striking coincidence of the word "consummation" (which appears only in the Second Quarto), with Florio's translation of aneantissement in the essay OF PHYSIOGNOMY, as above noted. Secondly, there is a curious resemblance between the phrase "take arms against a sea of troubles" and a passage in Florio's version of the same essay, which has somehow been overlooked in the disputes over Shakspere's line. It runs:

"I sometimes suffer myself by starts to be surprised with the pinchings of these unpleasant conceits, which, whilst I arm myself to expel or wrestle against them, assail and beat me. Lo here another huddle or tide of mischief, that on the neck of the former came rushing upon me."

There arises here the difficulty that Shakspere's line had been satisfactorily traced to AElian's[65] story of the Celtic practice of rushing into the sea to resist a high tide with weapons; and the matter must, I think, be left open until it can he ascertained whether the statement concerning the Celts was available to Shakspere in any translation or citation.[66]

Again, the phrase "Conscience doth make cowards of us all" is very like the echo of two passages in the essay[67] OF CONSCIENCE: "Of such marvellous working power is the sting of conscience: which often induceth us to bewray, to accuse, and to combat ourselves"; "which as it doth fill us with fear and doubt, so doth it store us with assurance and trust;" and the lines about "the dread of something after death" might point to the passage in the Fortieth Essay, in which Montaigne cites the saying of Augustine that "Nothing but what follows death, makes death to be evil" (malam mortem non facit, nisi quod sequitur mortem) cited by Montaigne in order to dispute it. The same thought, too, is dealt with in the essay[68] on A CUSTOM OF THE ISLE OF CEA, which contains a passage suggestive of Hamlet's earlier soliloquy on self-slaughter. But, for one thing, Hamlet's soliloquies are contrary in drift to Montaigne's argument; and, for another, the phrase "Conscience makes cowards of us all" existed in the soliloquy as it stood in the First Quarto, while the gist of the idea is actually found twice in a previous play, where it has a proverbial ring.[69] And "the hope of something after death" figures in the First Quarto also.

Finally, there are other sources than Montaigne for parts of the soliloquy, sources nearer, too, than those which have been pointed to in the Senecan tragedies. There is, indeed, as Dr. Cunliffe has pointed out,[70] a broad correspondence between the whole soliloquy and the chorus of women at the end of the second Act of the TROADES, where the question of a life beyond is pointedly put:

"Verum est? an timidos fabula decepit, Umbras corporibus vivere conditis?"

It is true that the choristers in Seneca pronounce definitely against the future life:

"Post mortem nihil est, ipsaque mors nihil.... Rumores vacui verbaque inania, Et par sollicito fabula somnio."

But wherever in Christendom the pagan's words were discussed, the Christian hypothesis would be pitted against his unbelief, with the effect of making one thought overlay the other; and in this fused form the discussion may easily have reached Shakspere's eye and ear. So it would be with the echo of two Senecan passages noted by Mr. Munro in the verses on "the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns." In the HERCULES FURENS[71] we have:

"Nemo ad id sero venit, unde nunquam Quum semel venit potuit reverti;"

and in the HERCULES OETAEUS[72] there is the same thought:

"regnum canis inquieti Unde non unquam remeavit ullus."

But here, as elsewhere, Seneca himself was employing a standing sentiment, for in the best known poem of Catullus we have:

"Qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum Illuc, unde negant redire quemquam."[73]

And though there was in Shakspere's day no English translation of Catullus, the commentators long ago noted[74] that in Sandford's translation of Cornelius Agrippa (? 1569), there occurs the phrase, "The countrie of the dead is irremeable, that they cannot return," a fuller parallel to the passage in the soliloquy than anything cited from the classics.

Finally, in Marlowe's EDWARD II.,[75] written before 1593, we have:

"Weep not for Mortimer, That scorns the world, and, as a traveller, Goes to discover countries yet unknown."[76]

So that, without going to the Latin, we have obvious English sources for notable parts of the soliloquy.

Thus, though Shakspere may (1) have seen part of the Florio translation, or separate translations of some of the essays, before the issue of the First Quarto; or may (2) easily have heard that very point discussed by Florio, who was the friend of his friend Jonson, or by those who had read the original; or may even (3) himself have read in the original; and though further it seems quite certain that his "consummation devoutly to be wished" was an echo of Florio's translation of the Apology of Socrates; on the other hand we are not entitled to trace the soliloquy as a whole to Montaigne's stimulation of Shakspere's thought. That Shakspere read Montaigne in the original once seemed probable to me, as to others; but, on closer study, I consider it unlikely, were it only because the Montaigne influence in his work begins, as aforesaid, in HAMLET. Of all the apparent coincidences I have noticed between Shakspere's previous plays and the essays, none has any evidential value. (1) The passage on the music of the spheres in the MERCHANT OF VENICE[77] recalls the passage on the subject in Montaigne's essay of CUSTOM;[78] but then the original source is Cicero, IN SOMNIUM SCIPIONIS, which had been translated into English in 1577. (2) Falstaff's rhapsody on the virtues of sherris[79] recalls a passage in the essay OF DRUNKENNESS,[80] but then Montaigne avows that what he says is the common doctrine of wine-drinkers. (3) Montaigne cites[81] the old saying of Petronius, that "all the world's a stage," which occurs in AS YOU LIKE IT; but the phrase itself, being preserved by John of Salisbury, would be current in England. It is, indeed, said to have been the motto of the Globe Theatre. Thus, while we are the more strongly convinced of a Montaigne influence beginning with HAMLET, we are bound to concede the doubtfulness of any apparent influence before the Second Quarto. At most we may say that both of Hamlet's soliloquies which touch on suicide evidently owe something to the discussions set up by Montaigne's essays.[82]

XVII. In the case of the Duke's exhortation to Claudio in MEASURE FOR MEASURE, on the contrary, the whole speech may be said to be a synthesis of favourite propositions of Montaigne. The thought in itself, of course, is not new or out-of-the-way; it is nearly all to be found suggested in the Latin classics; but in the light of what is certain for us as to Shakspere's study of Montaigne, and of the whole cast of the expression, it is difficult to doubt that Montaigne is for Shakspere the source. Let us take a number of passages from Florio's translation of the Nineteenth Essay, to begin with:

"The end of our career is death: it is the necessary object of our aim; if it affright us, how is it possible we should step one foot further without an ague?"

"What hath an aged man left him of his youth's vigour, and of his fore past life?... When youth fails in us, we feel, nay we perceive, no shaking or transchange at all in ourselves: which is essence and verity is a harder death than that of a languishing and irksome life, or that of age. Forasmuch as the leap from an ill being into a not being is not so dangerous or steepy as it is from a delightful and flourishing being into a painful and sorrowful condition. A weak bending and faint stopping body hath less strength to bear and undergo a heavy burden: So hath our soul."

"Our religion hath no surer human foundation than the contempt of life. Discourse of reason doth not only call and summon us unto it. For why should we fear to lose a thing, which being lost, cannot be moaned? But also, since we are threatened by so many kinds of death, there is no more inconvenience to fear them all than to endure one: what matter it when it cometh, since it is unavoidable?... Death is a part of yourselves; you fly from yourselves. The being you enjoy is equally shared between life and death ... The continual work of your life is to contrive death; you are in death during the time you continue in life ... during life you are still dying."

The same line of expostulation occurs in other essays. In the Fortieth we have:

"Now death, which some of all horrible things call the most horrible, who knows not how others call it the only haven of this life's torments? the sovereign good of nature? the only stay of our liberty? and the ready and common receipt of our evils?...

" ... Death is but felt by discourse, because it is the emotion of an instant. A thousand beasts, a thousand men, are sooner dead than threatened."

Then take a passage occurring near the end of the APOLOGY OF RAYMOND SEBONDE:

"We do foolishly fear a kind of death, whereas we have already passed and daily pass so many others.... The flower of age dieth, fadeth, and fleeteth, when age comes upon us, and youth endeth in the flower of a full-grown man's age, childhood in youth, and the first age dieth in infancy; and yesterday endeth in this day, and to-day shall die in to-morrow."

Now compare textually the Duke's speech:

"Be absolute for death: either death or life Shall thereby be the sweeter. Reason thus with life:— If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing That none but fools would keep: a breath thou art, (Servile to all the skiey influences) That dost this habitation, where thou keep'st, Hourly afflict: merely, thou are death's fool; For him thou labour'st by thy flight to shun, And yet run'st towards him still: Thou art not noble; For all the accommodations that thou bear'st Are nursed by baseness: Thou art by no means valiant, For thou dost fear the soft and tender fork Of a poor worm: Thy best of rest is sleep, And that thou oft provok'st; yet grossly fear'st Thy death, which is no more. Thou art not thyself; For thou exist'st on many thousand grains Which issue out of dust: Happy thou art not; For what thou hast not, still thou striv'st to get, And what thou hast forget'st: Thou art not certain, For thy complexion shifts to strange effects, After the moon: If thou art rich, thou art poor; For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows, Thou bear'st thy heavy riches but a journey, And death unloads thee: Friend hast thou none; For thine own bowels, which do call thee sire, Do curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum, For ending thee no sooner: Thou hast no youth nor age, But, as it were, an after-dinner's sleep, Dreaming on both: for all thy blessed youth Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms Of palsied eld; and when thou art old and rich, Thou hast neither heat, affection, limbs, nor beauty, To make thy riches pleasant. What's yet in this, That bears the name of life? Yet in this life Lie hid more thousand deaths: yet death we fear, That makes these odds all even."[83]

Then collate yet further some more passages from the Essays:

"They perceived her (the soul) to be capable of diverse passions, and agitated by many languishing and painful motions ... subject to her infirmities, diseases, and offences, even as the stomach or the foot ... dazzled and troubled by the force of wine; removed from her seat by the vapours of a burning fever.... She was seen to dismay and confound all her faculties by the only biting of a sick dog, and to contain no great constancy of discourse, no virtue, no philosophical resolution, no contention of her forces, that might exempt her from the subjection of these accidents...."[84]

"It is not without reason we are taught to take notice of our sleep, for the resemblance it hath with death. How easily we pass from waking to sleeping; with how little interest we lose the knowledge of light, and of ourselves...."[85]

"Wherefore as we from that instant take a title of being, which is but a twinkling in the infinite course of an eternal night, and so short an interruption of our perpetual and natural condition, death possessing whatever is before and behind this moment, and also a good part of this moment, "[86]

"Every human nature is ever in the middle between being born and dying, giving nothing of itself but an obscure appearance and shadow, and an uncertain and weak opinion."[87]

Compare finally the line "Thy best of rest is sleep" (where the word rest seems a printer's error) with the passage "We find nothing so sweet in life as a quiet and gentle sleep," already cited in connection with our fourth parallel.

XVIII. The theme, in fine, is one of Montaigne's favourites. And the view that Shakspere had been impressed by it seems to be decisively corroborated by the fact that the speech of Claudio to Isabella, expressing those fears of death which the Duke seeks to calm, is likewise an echo of a whole series of passages in Montaigne. Shakspere's lines run:

"Ay, but to die, and go we know not where, To lie in cold obstruction and to rot: This sensible warm motion to become A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit To bathe in fiery floods or to reside In thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice, To be imprisoned in the viewless winds, And blown with restless violence round about The pendent world; or to be worse than worst Of those, that lawless and incertain thoughts Imagine howling!—'tis too horrible!..."

So far as I know, the only idea in this passage which belongs to the current English superstition of Shakspere's day, apart from the natural notion of death as a mere rotting of the body, is that of the purgatorial fire; unless we assume that the common superstition as to the souls of unbaptised children being blown about until the day of judgment was extended in the popular imagination to the case of executed criminals. He may have heard of the account given by Empedocles, as cited in Plutarch,[88] of the punishment of the offending daemons, who were whirled between earth and air and sun and sea; but there is no suggestion in that passage that human souls were so treated. Dante's INFERNO, with its pictures of carnal sinners tossed about by the winds in the dark air of the second circle,[89] and of traitors punished by freezing in the ninth,[90] was probably not known to the dramatist; nor does Dante's vision coincide with Claudio's, in which the souls are blown "about the pendent world." Shakspere may indeed have heard some of the old tales of a hot and cold purgatory, such as that of Drithelm, given by Bede,[91] whence (rather than from Dante) Milton drew his idea of an alternate torture.[92] But there again, the correspondence is only partial; whereas in Montaigne's APOLOGY OF RAIMOND SEBONDE we find, poetry apart, nearly every notion that enters into Claudio's speech:

"The most universal and received fantasy, and which endureth to this day, hath been that whereof Pythagoras is made author ... which is that souls at their departure from us did but pass and roll from one to another body, from a lion to a horse, from a horse to a king, incessantly wandering up and down, from house to mansion.... Some added more, that the same souls do sometimes ascend up to heaven, and come down again.... Origen waked them eternally, to go and come from a good to a bad estate. The opinion that Varro reporteth is, that in the revolutions of four hundred and forty years they reconjoin themselves unto their first bodies.... Behold her (the soul's) progress elsewhere: He that hath lived well reconjoineth himself unto that star or planet to which he is assigned; who evil, passeth into a woman. And if then he amend not himself, he transchangeth himself into a beast, of condition agreeing to his vicious customs, and shall never see an end of his punishments until ... by virtue of reason he have deprived himself of those gross, stupid, and elementary qualities that were in him.... They (the Epicureans) demand, what order there should be if the throng of the dying should be greater than that of such as be born ... and demand besides, what they should pass their time about, whilst they should stay, until any other mansion were made ready for them.... Others have staved the soul in the deceased bodies, wherewith to animate serpents, worms, and other beasts, which are said to engender from the corruption of our members, yea, and from our ashes.... Others make it immortal without any science or knowledge. Nay, there are some of ours who have deemed that of condemned men's souls devils were made...."[93]

It is at a short distance from this passage that we find the suggestion of a frozen purgatory:

"Amongst them (barbarous nations) was also found the belief of purgatory, but after a new form, for what we ascribe unto fire they impute unto cold, and imagine that souls are both purged and punished by the vigor of an extreme coldness."[94]

And over and above this peculiar correspondence between the Essays and the two speeches on death, we may note how some of the lines of the Duke in the opening scene connect with two of the passages above cited in connection with Hamlet's last soliloquy, expressing the idea that nature or deity confers gifts in order that they should be used. The Duke's lines are among Shakspere's best:

"Thyself and thy belongings Are not thine own so proper as to waste Thyself upon thy virtues, them on thee. Heaven doth with us as we with torches do, Not light them for themselves: for if our virtues Did not go forth of us, 'twere all alike As if we had them not. Spirits are not finely touched But to fine issues: nor nature never lends The smallest scruple of her excellence, But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines Herself the glory of a creditor, Both thanks and use...."

Here we have once more a characteristically Shaksperean transmutation and development of the idea rather than a reproduction; and the same appears when we compare the admirable lines of the poet with a homiletic sentence from the APOLOGY OF RAYMOND SEBONDE:—

"It is not enough for us to serve God in spirit and soul; we owe him besides and we yield unto him a corporal worshipping: we apply our limbs, our motions, and all external things to honour him."

But granting the philosophic as well as the poetic heightening, we are still led to infer a stimulation of the poet's thought by the Essays—a stimulation not limited to one play, but affecting other plays written about the same time. Another point of connection between HAMLET and MEASURE FOR MEASURE is seen when we compare the above passage, "Spirits are not finely touched but to fine issues," with Laertes' lines[95]:

"Nature is fine in love, and when 'tis fine It sends some precious instance of itself After the thing it loves."

And though such data are of course not conclusive as to the time of composition of the plays, there is so much of identity between the thought in the Duke's speech, just quoted, and a notable passage in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, as to strengthen greatly the surmise that the latter play was also written, or rather worked-over, by Shakspere about 1604. The phrase:

"if our virtues Did not go forth of us, 'twere all the same As if we had them not,"

is developed in the speech of Ulysses to Achilles[96]:

"A strange fellow here Writes me that man—how dearly ever parted How much in having, or without, or in— Cannot make boast to have that which he hath, Nor feels not what he knows, but by reflection; As when his virtues shining upon others Heat them, and they retort their heat again To the first giver."

I do not remember in Montaigne any such development of the idea as Shakspere here gives it; indeed, we have seen him putting forth a contrary teaching; and looking to the context, where Ulysses admits the thesis to be "familiar," we are bound to infer a direct source for it. In all probability it derives from Seneca, who in his treatise DE BENEFICIIS[97] throws out the germ of the ideas as to Nature demanding back her gifts, and as to virtue being nothing if not reflected; and even suggests the principle of "thanks and use."[98] This treatise, too, lay to Shakspere's hand in the translation of 1578, where the passages: "Rerum natura nihil dicitur perdere, quia quidquid illi avellitur, ad illam redit; nec perire quidquam potest, quod quo excidat non habet, sed eodem evolvitur unde discedit"; and "quaedam quum sint honesta, pulcherrima summae virtutis, nisi cum altero non habent locum," are translated:

"The nature of a thing cannot be said to have foregone aught, because that whatsoever is plucked from it returneth to it again; neither can anything be lost which hath not whereout of to pass, but windeth back again unto whence it came;"


"Some things though they be honest, very goodly and right excellently vertuous, yet have they not their effect but in a co-partner."

Whether it was Shakspere's reading of Montaigne that sent him to Seneca, to whom Montaigne[99] avows so much indebtedness, we of course cannot tell; but it is enough for the purpose of our argument to say that we have here another point or stage in a line of analytical thought on which Shakspere was embarked about 1603, and of which the starting point or initial stimulus was the perusal of Florio's Montaigne. We have the point of contact with Montaigne in HAMLET, where the saying that reason is implanted in us to be used, is seen to be one of the many correspondences of thought between the play and the Essays. The idea is more subtly and deeply developed in MEASURE FOR MEASURE, and still more subtly and philosophically in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA. The fact of the process of development is all that is here affirmed, over and above the actual phenomena of reproduction before set forth.

As to these, the proposition is that in sum they constitute such an amount of reproduction of Montaigne as explains Jonson's phrase about habitual "stealings." There is no justification for applying that to the passage in the TEMPEST, since not only is that play not known to have existed in its present form in 1605,[100] when VOLPONE was produced, but the phrase plainly alleges not one but many borrowings. I am not aware that extracts from Montaigne have been traced in any others of the English contemporary dramatists. But here in two plays of Shakspere, then fresh in memory—the Second Quarto having been published in 1604 and MEASURE FOR MEASURE produced in the same year—were echoes enough from Montaigne to be noted by Jonson, whom we know to have owned, as did Shakspere, the Florio folio, and to have been Florio's warm admirer. And there seems to be a confirmation of our thesis in the fact that, while we find detached passages savouring of Montaigne in some later plays of the same period, as in one of the concluding period, the TEMPEST, we do not again find in any one play such a cluster of reminiscences as we have seen in HAMLET and MEASURE FOR MEASURE, though the spirit of Montaigne's thought, turned to a deepening pessimism, may be said to tinge all the later tragedies.

(a) In OTHELLO (? 1604) we have Iago's "'tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus," already considered, to say nothing of Othello's phrase—

"I saw it not, thought it not, it harmed not me.... He that is robb'd, not wanting what is stolen, Let him not know it, and he's not robb'd at all."

—a philosophical commonplace which compares with various passages in the Fortieth Essay.

(b) In LEAR (1606) we have such a touch as the king's lines[101]—

"And take upon's the mystery of things As if we were God's spies;"

—which recalls the vigorous protest of the essays, THAT A MAN OUGHT SOBERLY TO MEDDLE WITH THE JUDGING OF THE DIVINE LAWS,[102] where Montaigne avows that if he dared he would put in the category of imposters the

"interpreters and ordinary controllers of the designs of God, setting about to find the causes of each accident, and to see in the secrets of the divine will the incomprehensible motives of its works."

This, again, is a recurrent note with Montaigne; and much of the argument of the APOLOGY is typified in the sentence:—

"What greater vanity can there be than to go about by our proportions and conjectures to guess at God?"

(c) But there is a yet more striking coincidence between a passage in the essay[103] of JUDGING OF OTHERS' DEATH and the speech of Edmund[104] on the subject of stellar influences. In the essay Montaigne sharply derides the habit of ascribing human occurrences to the interference of the stars—which very superstition he was later to support by his own authority in the APOLOGY, as we have seen above, in the passage on the "power and domination" of the celestial bodies. The passage in the thirteenth essay is the more notable in itself, being likewise a protest against human self-sufficiency, though the bearing of the illustration is directly reversed. Here he derides man's conceit: "We entertain and carry all with us: whence it followeth that we deem our death to be some great matter, and which passeth not so easily, nor without a solemn consultation of the stars." Then follow references to Caesar's sayings as to his star, and the "common foppery" as to the sun mourning his death a year.

"And a thousand such, wherewith the world suffers itself to be so easily cony-catched, deeming that our own interests disturb heaven, and his infinity is moved at our least actions. 'There is no such society between heaven and us that by our destiny the shining of the stars should be as mortal as we are.'"

There seems to be an unmistakable reminiscence of this passage in Edmund's speech, where the word "foppery" is a special clue:

"This is the excellent foppery of the world! that when we are sick in fortune (often the surfeit of our own behaviour), we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and traitors by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by divine thrusting on...."

(d) Again, in MACBETH (1606), the words of Malcolm to Macduff[105]:

"Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak, Whispers the o'erfraught heart and bids it break"

—an idea which also underlies Macbeth's "this perilous stuff, which weighs upon the heart"—recalls the essay[106] OF SADNESS, in which Montaigne remarks on the

"mournful silent stupidity which so doth pierce us when accidents surpassing our strength overwhelm us," and on the way in which "the soul, bursting afterwards forth into tears and complaints ... seemeth to clear and dilate itself"; going on to tell how the German Lord Raisciac looked on his dead son "till the vehemency of his sad sorrow, having suppressed and choked his vital spirits, felled him stark dead to the ground."

The parallel here, such as it is, is at least much more vivid than that drawn between Shakspere's lines and one of Seneca:

Curae leves loquuntur: ingentes stupent[107]—"Light troubles speak: the great ones are dumb."

Certainly no one of these latter passages would singly suffice to prove that Shakspere had read Montaigne, though the peculiar coincidence of one word in Edgar's speech with a word in Florio, above noted, would alone raise the question. But even had Shakspere not passed, as we shall see cause to acknowledge, beyond the most melancholy mood of Montaigne into one of far sterner and more stringent pessimism, an absence or infrequency of suggestions of Montaigne in the plays between 1605 and 1610 would be a very natural result of Jonson's gibe in VOLPONE. That gibe, indeed, is not really so ill-natured as the term "steal" is apt to make it sound for our ears, especially if we are prepossessed—as even Mr. Fleay still seems to be—by the old commentators' notion of a deep ill-will on Jonson's part towards Shakspere. There was probably no such ill-will in the matter, the burly scholar's habit of robust banter being enough to account for the form of his remark. As a matter of fact, his own plays are strewn with classic transcriptions; and though he evidently plumed himself on his power of "invention"[108] in the matter of plots—a faculty which he knew Shakspere to lack—he cannot conceivably have meant to charge his rival with having committed any discreditable plagiarism in drawing upon Montaigne. At most he would mean to convey that borrowing from the English translation of Montaigne was an easy game as compared with his own scholar-like practice of translating from the Greek and Latin, and from out-of-the-way authors, too.

However that might be, the fact stands that Shakspere did about 1604 reproduce Montaigne as we have seen; and it remains to consider what the reproduction signifies, as regards Shakspere's mental development.


But first there has to be asked the question whether the Montaigne influence is unique or exceptional. Of the many literary influences which an Elizabethan dramatist might undergo, was Montaigne's the only one which wrought deeply upon Shakspere's spirit, apart from those of his contemporary dramatists and the pre-existing plays, which were then models and points of departure? It is clear that Shakspere must have thought much and critically of the methods and the utterance of his co-rivals in literary art, as he did of the methods of his fellow-actors. The author of the advice to the players in HAMLET was hardly less a critic than a poet; and the sonnet[109] which speaks of its author as

"Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,"

is one of the least uncertain revelations that these enigmatic poems yield us. We may confidently decide, too, with Professor Minto,[110] that the Eighty-sixth Sonnet, beginning:

"Was it the full, proud sail of his great verse?"

has reference to Chapman, in whom Shakspere might well see one of his most formidable competitors in poetry. But we are here concerned with influences of thought, as distinct from influences of artistic example; and the question is: Do the plays show any other culture-contact comparable to that which we have been led to recognise in the case of Montaigne's Essays?

The matter cannot be said to have been very fully investigated when even the Montaigne influence has been thus far left so much in the vague. As regards the plots, there has been exhaustive and instructive research during two centuries; and of collations of parallel passages, apart from Montaigne, there has been no lack; but the deeper problem of the dramatist's mental history can hardly be said to have arisen till our own generation. As regards many of the parallel passages, the ground has been pretty well cleared by the dispassionate scholarship brought to bear on them from Farmer onwards; though the idolatry of the Coleridgean school, as represented by Knight, did much to retard scientific conclusions on this as on other points.

Farmer's Essay on the Learning of Shakspere (1767) proved for all open-minded readers that much of Shakspere's supposed classical knowledge was derived from translations alone;[111] and further investigation does but establish his general view.[112] Such is the effect of M. Stapfer's chapter on Shakspere's Classical Knowledge;[113] and the pervading argument of that chapter will be found to hold good as against the view suggested, with judicious diffidence, by Dr. John W. Cunliffe, concerning the influence of Seneca's tragedies on Shakspere's. Unquestionably the body of Senecan tragedy, as Dr. Cunliffe's valuable research has shown, did much to colour the style and thought of the Elizabethan drama, as well as to suggest its themes and shape its technique. But it is noteworthy that while there are in the plays, as we have seen, apparent echoes from the Senecan treatises, and while, as we have seen, Dr. Cunliffe suggests sources for some Shaksperean passages in the Senecan tragedies, he is doubtful as to whether they represent any direct study of Seneca by Shakspere.

"Whether Shakspere was directly indebted to Seneca," he writes, "is a question as difficult as it is interesting. As English tragedy advances, there grows up an accumulation of Senecan influence within the English drama, in addition to the original source, and it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between the direct and the indirect influence of Seneca. In no case is the difficulty greater than in that of Shakspere. Of Marlowe, Jonson, Chapman, Marston, and Massinger, we can say with certainty that they read Seneca, and reproduced their readings in their tragedies; of Middleton and Heywood we can say with almost equal certainty that they give no sign of direct indebtedness to Seneca; and that they probably came only under the indirect influence, through the imitations of their predecessors and contemporaries. In the case of Shakspere we cannot be absolutely certain either way. Professor Baynes thinks it is probable that Shakspere read Seneca at school; and even if he did not, we may be sure that, at some period of his career, he would turn to the generally accepted model of classical tragedy, either in the original or in the translation."[114]

This seems partially inconsistent; and, so far as the evidence from particular parallels goes, we are not led to take with any confidence the view put in the last sentence. The above-noted parallels between Seneca's tragedies and Shakspere's are but cases of citation of sentences likely to have grown proverbial; and the most notable of the others that have been cited by Dr. Cunliffe is one which, as he notes, points to AEschylus as well as to Seneca. The cry of Macbeth:

"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red:"

certainly corresponds closely with that of Seneca's Hercules:[115]

"Quis Tanais, aut quis Nilus, aut quis persica Violentus unda Tigris, aut Rhenus ferox Tagusve ibera turbidus gaza fluens, Abluere dextram poterit? Arctoum licet Maeotis in me gelida transfundat mare, Et tota Tethys per meas currat manus, Haerebit altum facinus"

and that of Seneca's Hippolytus:[116]

"Quis eluet me Tanais? Aut quae barbaris, Maeotis undis pontico incumbens mari. Non ipso toto magnus Oceano pater Tantum expiarit sceleris."

But these declamations, deriving as they do, to begin with, from AEschylus,[117] are seen from their very recurrence in Seneca to have become stock speeches for the ancient tragic drama; and they were clearly well-fitted to become so for the mediaeval. The phrases used were already classic when Catullus employed them before Seneca:

"Suscipit, O Gelli, quantum non ultima Thetys Non genitor Nympharum, abluit Oceanus."[118]

In the Renaissance we find the theme reproduced by Tasso;[119] and it had doubtless been freely used by Shakspere's English predecessors and contemporaries. What he did was but to set the familiar theme to a rhetoric whose superb sonority must have left theirs tame, as it leaves Seneca's stilted in comparison. Marston did his best with it, in a play which may have been written before, though published after, MACBETH[120]:—

"Although the waves of all the Northern sea Should flow for ever through those guilty hands, Yet the sanguinolent stain would extant be"

—a sad foil to Shakspere's

"The multitudinous seas incarnadine."

It is very clear, then, that we are not here entitled to suppose Shakspere a reader of the Senecan tragedies; and even were it otherwise, the passage in question is a figure of speech rather than a reflection on life or a stimulus to such reflection. And the same holds good of the other interesting but inconclusive parallels drawn by Dr. Cunliffe. Shakspere's

"Diseases desperate grown By desperate appliance are relieved, Or not at all,"[121]

which he compares with Seneca's

"Et ferrum et ignis saepe medicinae loco est. Extrema primo nemo tentavit loco,"[122]

—a passage that may very well be the original for the modern oracle about fire and iron—is really much closer to the aphorism of Hippocrates, that "Extreme remedies are proper for extreme diseases," and cannot be said to be more than a proverb. In any case, it lay to Shakspere's hand in Montaigne,[123] as translated by Florio:

"To extreme sicknesses, extreme remedies."

Equally inconclusive is the equally close parallel between Macbeth's

"Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?"

and the sentence of Hercules:

"Nemo polluto queat Animo mederi."[124]

Such a reflection was sure to secure a proverbial vogue, and in THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN (in which Shakspere indeed seems to have had a hand), we have the doctor protesting: "I think she has a perturbed mind, which I cannot minister to."[125]

And so, again, with the notable resemblance between Hercules' cry:

"Cur animam in ista luce detineam amplius, Morerque, nihil est. Cuncta jam amisi bona, Mentem, arma, famem, conjugam, natos, manus, Etiam furorem."[126]

and Macbeth's:

"I have lived long enough: my way of life Is fallen into the sear, the yellow leaf; And that which should accompany old age, As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have."[127]

Here there is indeed every appearance of imitation; but, though the versification in Macbeth's speech is certainly Shakspere's, such a lament had doubtless been made in other English plays, in direct reproduction of Seneca; and Shakspere, in all probability, was again only perfecting some previous declamation.

There is a quite proverbial quality, finally, in such phrases as:

"Things at the worst will cease, or else climb upward To that they were before;"[128]


"We but teach Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return To plague the inventor."[129]

—which might be traced to other sources nearer Shakspere's hand than Seneca. And beyond such sentences and such tropes as those above considered, there was really little or nothing in the tragedies of Seneca to catch Shakspere's eye or ear; nothing to generate in him a deep philosophy of life or to move him to the manifold play of reflection which gives his later tragedies their commanding intellectuality. Some such stimulus, as we have seen, he might indeed have drawn from one or two of Seneca's treatises, which do, in their desperately industrious manner, cover a good deal of intellectual ground, making some tolerable discoveries by the way. But by the tests alike of quantity and quality of reproduced matter, it is clear that the indirect influence of the Senecan tragedies and treatises on Shakspere was slight compared with the direct influence of Montaigne's essays. Nor is it hard to see why; even supposing Shakspere to have had Seneca at hand in translation. Despite Montaigne's own leaning to Seneca, as compared with Cicero, we may often say of the former what Montaigne says of the latter, that "his manner of writing seemeth very tedious." Over the DE BENEFICIIS and the DE IRA one is sometimes moved to say, as the essayist does[130] over Cicero, "I understand sufficiently what death and voluptuousness are; let not a man busy himself to anatomise them." For the swift and penetrating flash of Montaigne, which either goes to the heart of a matter once for all or opens up a far vista of feeling and speculation, leaving us newly related to our environment and even to our experience, Seneca can but give us a conscientious examination of the ground, foot by foot, with a policeman's lantern, leaving us consciously footsore, eyesore, and ready for bed. Under no stress of satisfaction from his best finds can we be moved to call him a man of genius, which is just what we call Montaigne after a few pages. It is the broad difference between industry and inspiration, between fecundity and pregnancy, between Jonson and Shakspere. And, though a man of genius is not necessarily dependent on other men of genius for stimulus, we shall on scrutiny find reason to believe that in Shakspere's case the nature of the stimulus counted for a great deal.

Even before that is made clear, however, there can be little hesitation about dismissing the only other outstanding theory of a special intellectual influence undergone by Shakspere—the theory of Dr. Benno Tschischwitz, that he read and was impressed by the Italian writings of Giordano Bruno. In this case, the bases of the hypothesis are of the scantiest and the flimsiest. Bruno was in England from 1583 to 1586, before Shakspere came to London. Among his patrons were Sidney and Leicester, but neither Southampton nor Pembroke. In all his writings only one passage can be cited which even faintly suggests a coincidence with any in Shakspere; and in that the suggestion is faint indeed. In Bruno's ill-famed comedy IL CANDELAJO, Octavio asks the pedant Manfurio, "Che e la materia di vostri versi," and the pedant replies, "Litterae, syllabae, dictio et oratio, partes propinquae et remotae," on which Octavio again asks: "Io dico, quale e il suggetto et il proposito."[131] So far as it goes this is something of a parallel to Polonius's question to Hamlet as to what he reads, and Hamlet's answer, "Words, words." But the scene is obviously a stock situation; and if there are any passages in HAMLET which clearly belong to the pre-Shaksperean play, the fooling of Hamlet with Polonius is one of them. And beyond this, Dr. Tschischwitz's parallels are flatly unconvincing, or rather they promptly put themselves out of court. He admits that nothing else in Bruno's comedy recalls anything else in Shakspere;[132] but he goes on to find analogies between other passages in HAMLET and some of Bruno's philosophic doctrines. Quoting Bruno's theorem that all things are made up of indestructible atoms, and that death is but a transformation, Dr. Tschischwitz cites as a reproduction of it Hamlet's soliloquy:

"O, that this too, too solid flesh would melt!"

It is difficult to be serious over such a contention; and it is quite impossible for anybody out of Germany or the Bacon-Shakspere party to be as serious over it as Dr. Tschischwitz, who finds that Hamlet's figure of the melting of flesh into dew is an illustration of Bruno's "atomic system," and goes on to find a further Brunonian significance in Hamlet's jeering answers to the king's demand for the body of Polonius. Of these passages he finds the source or suggestion in one which he translates from Bruno's CENA DE LE CENERI:—

"For to this matter, of which our planet is formed, death and dissolution do not come; and the annihilation of all nature is not possible; but it attains from time to time, by a fixed law, to renew itself and to change all its parts, rearranging and recombining them; all this necessarily taking place in a determinate series, under which everything assumes the place of another."[133]

In the judgment of Dr. Tschischwitz, this theorem, which anticipates so remarkably the modern scientific conception of the universe, "elucidates" Hamlet's talk about worms and bodies, and his further sketch of the progress of Alexander's dust to the plugging of a beer-barrel. It seems unnecessary to argue that all this is the idlest supererogation. The passages cited from HAMLET, all of them found in the First Quarto, might have been drafted by a much lesser man than Shakspere, and that without ever having heard of Bruno or the theory of the indestructibility of matter. There is nothing in the case approaching to a reproduction of Bruno's far-reaching thought; while on the contrary the "leave not a wrack behind," in the TEMPEST, is an expression which sets aside, as if it were unknown, the conception of an endless transmutation of matter, in a context where the thought would naturally suggest itself to one who had met with it. Where Hamlet is merely sardonic in the plane of popular or at least exoteric humour, Dr. Tschischwitz credits him with pantheistic philosophy. Where, on the other hand, Hamlet speaks feelingly and ethically of the serious side of drunkenness,[134] Dr. Tschischwitz parallels the speech with a sentence in the BESTIA TRIONFANTE, which gives a merely Rabelaisian picture of drunken practices.[135] Yet again, he puts Bruno's large aphorism, "Sol et homo generant hominem," beside Hamlet's gibe about the sun breeding maggots in a dead dog—a phrase possible to any euphuist of the period. That the parallels amount at best to little, Dr. Tschischwitz himself indirectly admits, though he proceeds to a new extravagance of affirmation:

"We do not maintain that such expressions are philosophemes, or that Shakspere otherwise went any deeper into Bruno's system than suited his purpose, but that such passages show Shakspere, at the time of his writing of HAMLET, to have already reached the heights of the thought of the age (Zeitbewusstsein), and to have made himself familiar with the most abstract of the sciences. Many hitherto almost unintelligible passages in HAMLET are now cleared up by the poet's acquaintance with the atomic philosophy and the writings of the Nolan."

All this belongs to the uncritical method of the German Shakspere-criticism of the days before Ruemelin. It is quite possible that Shakspere may have heard something of Bruno's theories from his friends; and we may be sure that much of Bruno's teaching would have profoundly interested him. If Bruno's lectures at Oxford on the immortality of the soul included the matter he published later on the subject, they may have called English attention to the Pythagorean lore concerning the fate of the soul after death,[136] above cited from Montaigne. We might again, on Dr. Tschischwitz's lines, trace the verses on the "shaping fantasies" of "the lunatic, the lover, and the poet," in the MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM,[137] to such a passage in Bruno as this:—

"The first and most capital painter is the vivacity of the phantasy; the first and most capital poet is the inspiration that originally arises with the impulse of deep thought, or is set up by that, through the divine or akin-to-divine breath of which they feel themselves moved to the fit expression of their thoughts. For each it creates the other principle. Therefore are the philosophers in a certain sense painters; the poets, painters and philosophers; the painters, philosophers and poets: true poets, painters, and philosophers love and reciprocally admire each other. There is no philosopher who does not poetise and paint. Therefore is it said, not without reason: To understand is to perceive the figures of phantasy, and understanding is phantasy, or is nothing without it."[138]

But since Shakspere does not recognisably echo a passage which he would have been extremely likely to produce in such a context, had he known it, we are bound to decide that he had not even heard it cited, much less read it. And so with any other remote resemblances between his work and that of any author whom he may have read. In regard even to passages in Shakspere which come much nearer their originals than any of these above cited come to Bruno, we are forced to decide that Shakspere got his thought at second or third hand. Thus the famous passage in HENRY V.,[139] in which the Archbishop figures the State as a divinely framed harmony of differing functions, is clearly traceable to Plato's REPUBLIC and Cicero's DE REPUBLICA; yet rational criticism must decide with M. Stapfer[140] that Shakspere knew neither of these treatises, but got his suggestion from some English translation or citation.

In fine, we are constrained by all our knowledge concerning Shakspere, as well as by the abstract principles of proof, to regard him in general as a reader of his own language only, albeit not without a smattering of others; and among the books in his own language which we know him to have read in, and can prove him to have been influenced by, we come back to Montaigne's Essays, as by far the most important and the most potential for suggestion and provocation.


To have any clear idea, however, of what Montaigne did or could do for Shakspere, we must revise our conception of the poet in the light of the positive facts of his life and circumstances—a thing made difficult for us in England through the transcendental direction given to our Shakspere lore by those who first shaped it sympathetically, to wit, Coleridge and the Germans. An adoring idea of Shakspere, as a mind of unapproachable superiority, has thus become so habitual with most of us that it is difficult to reduce our notion to terms of normal individuality, of character and mind as we know them in life. When we read Coleridge, Schlegel, and Gervinus, or even the admirable essay of Charles Lamb, or the eloquent appreciations of Mr. Swinburne, or such eulogists as Hazlitt and Knight, we are in a world of abstract aesthetics or of abstract ethics; we are not within sight of the man Shakspere, who became an actor for a livelihood in an age when the best actors played in inn-yards for rude audiences, mostly illiterate and not a little brutal; then added to his craft of acting the craft of play-patching and refashioning; who had his partnership share of the pence and sixpences paid by the mob of noisy London prentices and journeymen and idlers that filled the booth theatre in which his company performed; who sued his debtors rigorously when they did not settle-up; worked up old plays or took a hand in new, according as the needs of his concern and his fellow-actors dictated; and finally went with his carefully collected fortune to spend his last years in ease and quiet in the country town in which he was born. Our sympathetic critics, even when, like Dr. Furnivall, they know absolutely all the archaeological facts as to theatrical life in Shakspere's time, do not seem to bring those facts into vital touch with their aesthetic estimate of his product; they remain under the spell of Coleridge and Gervinus.[141] Emerson, it is true, protested at the close of his essay that he "could not marry this fact," of Shakspere's being a jovial actor and manager, "to his verse;" but that deliverance has served only as a text for those who have embraced the fantastic tenet that Shakspere was but the theatrical agent and representative of Bacon; a delusion of which the vogue may be partly traced to the lack of psychological solidity in the ordinary presentment of Shakspere by his admirers. The heresy, of course, merely leaps over the difficulty, into absolute irrelevance. Emerson was intellectually to blame in that, seeing as he did the hiatus between the poet's life and the prevailing conception of his verse, he did not try to conceive it all anew, but rather resigned himself to the solution that Shakspere's mind was out of human ken. "A good reader can in a sort nestle into Plato's brain and think from thence," he said; "but not into Shakspere's; we are still out of doors." We should indeed remain so for ever did we not set about patiently picking the locks where the transcendentalist has dreamily turned away.

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