The Anatomizing of William Shakespeare


IF Shakespeare had but known what he was doing ! Not the greatness of his work; which, even if he had suspected it, would not have pleased him much, and would have troubled him little. But had he been able to foresee the load of labor which he was laying upon the shoulders of many worthy men, poets, scholars, and critics, and of more who, not poets, are neither scholars nor critics; and could he, with all his imagination, have imagined the sort of literature and the quantity with which he would cause the world to be afflicted, in the one case his easy good nature when his interests were not at stake, and in the other his supreme and ever-present sense of humor, would have led him to leave his plays unwritten, — if he could have got the money that he wanted by any other writing or doing. The shadow never falls toward the light, and Shakespeare only knew that he was shining, — how brightly and how warmly he was as careless and as ignorant as the sun in the heavens, — and could not see what lay beyond those who rejoiced in the beams of his intellect.

More inflated nonsense, more pompous platitude, more misleading speculation, has been uttered upon Shakespeare and his plays than upon any other subject but music and religion. The occasion of which calamity is that of all subjects which are of general interest, these are the most remote from reason, the most incomprehensible. Wherefore it is that certain men wish to show the world that they are the high-priests of this mystery, and can prophesy of it, and utter fine sayings about it, apocalyptically, by way of revelation. And there be literary scribes and pharisees, whose function it is to stone prophets, and, by a sort of reverse action of nature, to build their tombs when they are dead and buried. Of which the result in this case is a mountain cairn of rubbish above the poet’s remains, which tells little but of the multitude who have thrown their missiles there. Each, however, has written his name upon his stone; as who should say, Lo, it is I who have glorified the name and perpetuated the memory of this prophet.

Less than two hundred years ago it was that this began ; and at first there was no threatening of what has come of it. Shakespeare, the favorite playwright of his day, but not regarded by the critics and the other playwrights as king among them by the grace of God (“ Oh, no! A clever writer, who has done some remarkably good things, — one of us, you know ; has a way of entertaining his audience that makes him popular ; and a pleasant fellow enough, were it not for an overweening notion of his own superiority,” — the cause of offense being not that be thought much of himself, but that he thought little of them), — this man grew year by year to be more and more the intellectual delight and comfort of thinking Englishmen. But some obscurity was found in his writings. Of which there were two causes manifest: first, the lapse of time (for a century was longer then than now ; thicker, too, and not so easily seen through) ; next, the very inaccurate way in which his plays had been printed. Whereupon editors set themselves to work to explain the obsolete and obsolescent phrases and allusions, and to correct, here and there, an obvious typographical error. This done, there remained, however, not a few passages which still seemed dark and perplexing, although there was no odor of antiquity about them, nor any reason to suspect corruption of the text. Then as this writer of plays began to tower above all other writers who had used the English tongue, and to overtop the classics and overshadow with a clear-obscure the whole field of English literature, little literators began to take their abode beneath his spreading branches, and to live little literary lives and make little literary reputations by being guides to others who came to worship and admire ; and Shakespeareanism became a profession with all grades of function, from the higher literary criticism to pedantry and quidnuncery.

What was done for Shakespeare and his readers by scholarship, by painful investigation, by comparison of texts, by research into the social fashions and intellectual habits of the past, although it often degenerated into literary pettifoggery, was on the whole of real worth and no small service. For most of these critics sought only to discover what it was that Shakespeare had actually written, and what there was in the history and the literature of his time that would make his meaning clear ; and although they had their little pride in their little excavations, they were truly modest, and sought to illustrate their subject rather than themselves. They seemed to work in a moleish fashion ; but after all, moles have a way of getting at the roots of things. We can forgive much pedantry for the sake of what some pedants have done for us.

Besides these critics, and beside them, there arose enthusiasts who began to found a new literary religion, and to proclaim, Shakespeare is Shakespeare, and I am his prophet. Unlike the prophets of other religions, however, they did not accept and proclaim their divinity pure and simple, but set themselves to dissecting and anatomizing him, and telling the world what a marvelous mystery they had discovered this Shakespeare to be: how he saw more than eyes could see, and said more than words could mean; how wise he was, how great, how good ; how grand in purpose, how absolute in execution ; how perfect, how blemisliless, because what would be blemish in others in him was beauty. Deliberately they gave themselves up to that most degrading manifestation of human capacity of smallness, hero-worship, and, unsatisfied with the manly homage of intelligent admiration, sought their own applause and that of others by the groveling antics of intellectual abasement before their idol. They would do for the sibylline Shakespeare the contortioning that he neglected. Their studies and their pleasure led them beyond the bounds of reason and of nature. Shakespeareanism became a cult, a religion, — in which becoming there is always death at heart and withering at root, — a cult and a religion, with priests and professional incense-burners, who lived, at least in literature, by his worship. And these shrine-makers have shouted forth continually the greatness of their god, and his veiled ineffability. Wherefore, although Shakespeare wrote to please a miscellaneous and uncultivated public, and succeeded, it has come to be believed, as they wished, that the reading of Shakespeare is an art, and the editing him a mystery.

They attained their end, and were able to do so the more readily because this Shakespeare was the most potent spirit that ever cast a spell upon the minds of men. Moreover, he was a miraculous manifestation of the power of the human mind. He did not work according to any known law; nor did he reveal the law of his action, or leave behind him the evidence by which that law could be discovered. In Shakespeare, nature produced as nearly as possible the supernatural. Springing from nearly the lowest social level, without education, without instruction, without discipline of any kind, with limited means of obtaining knowledge, at twenty-two years of age a povertystricken vagabond, by the time he was forty years old he had done that which places him at the intellectual summit of the human race. This he had done with no strong impulse to literary art, no social aim, religious or political, no motive of intellectual ambition, but merely at first to earn his bread, and afterward in the furtherance of an almost sordid desire for money, and for the poor sort of consideration which is awarded to the possessors of money. In all he had his heart’s desire. The outcast of the dirty little village returned to live in its largest and handsomest mansion; to have the profitable investment of his money in parish “ securities ” accepted, and even solicited, as if it were a favor; to take his place among the notables of the neighborhood, where the meagre annals of his life give us our last glimpse of him standing against the interests of the poor, and on the side of grasping privilege. The world’s history has no record of a similar achievement.

Such a marvel is Shakespeare in reality, and so abnormal, that endeavors to find in him something that is not there, to attribute to him motives and purposes which he did not know, and which indeed it would seem that he never felt, even as hidden impulses, and to discover meanings of portent in words that dropped from him, many of them, almost without consciousness, and connected, some of them, only with a semblance of thought, are perhaps natural and pardonable, although they often lead to what is laughable. There is no road through literature that is strewn with more rubbish of shattered absurdity than Shakespeare avenue ; which, once a narrow path through the brambles of confusion and the thickets of obscurity, has become a great highway, along which throngs a motley crowd, of all tongues and peoples, bearing gifts and babbling praises, wise or otherwise. The efforts to laud and magnify the name of Shakespeare have too often been of a sort to make both the deity and the worshiper ridiculous. Nor have these efforts always been those of the least mentally gifted of his critics. That witness of the meanest, saddest trait of human nature, the disposition — a constant moral force — to give, in Shakespeare’s own phrase, the “ sum of more to that which hath too much,” has never been exhibited more flagrantly than in the eagerness of his professional admirers to decorate his solar splendor with their satellite praises, and to repay his careless bounty with their parasite acknowledgments.

The pedants, the poor idea-less scholars, the painful grubbers among musty parchments and mouldy books in blackletter, have done Shakespeare and his readers some good, and very little harm. It is from the philosophers (so called) ; from the men who pose as seers and sages; from the critics who, failing as professional beauties, set up as professional beauty-finders ; from the psychological anatomists, from the makers of metaphysical systems, and from the very profound folk who are ever diving into mud in hope of finding hidden treasure ; from the seekers of the " inner life,” and generally from those who, according to the old proverb, would have finer bread than is made of wheat, that he and they who are content to delight in him untransfigured, and to love him with all his faults, have most sorely suffered. The vast expanse of the thin flood of addled adulation which these have poured out upon him is known only to those whose lot it is to labor in this field of literature; and fortunately they need not know it all.1 A part of this proceeds from simple, honest selfdelusion ; a part from the feeling that in the treatment of such a subject it is becoming to say, or at least to endeavor to say, something worthy of it (the cause and motive of more literary folly than can well be estimated) ; and a part from an ambition to seem profound and subtle.

Now although this anatomizing and glorifying of William Shakespeare has been going on and increasing for more than a hundred years, and although men of mark in literature, not only of Shakespeare’s own race, but Germans and Frenchmen, have presented themselves in crowds, scalpel in one hand and pen in other, before the great cadaver, it still remains to be said, in truth and soberness, that at the present day the higher Shakespearean criticism has not advanced one step beyond where it was during Shakespeare’s life. It has spread, but it has neither mounted nor penetrated. It has proclaimed, but it has not revealed. The character of his genius; the source and secret of his wonderful, delightful, but not always admirable style ; the unequaled charm and suggestiveness of his writing (when he was not writing literature), were as thoroughly understood and appreciated in the reign of Elizabeth as they are in the reign of Victoria. Beyond what was then known of him, and even beyond what was then said, we have little that is other than not very articulate cries of O wonderful Shakespeare ! O mysterious! O divine! protracted sometimes through hundreds of pages, or philosophic systems of Shakespeare’s art which are hardly more than formulated folly. Enough of this hereafter.

The tendency of deliberate eulogy of Shakespeare toward absurdity has striking exemplification in more than one passage of Emerson’s essay on him as the representative poet. Of these, the following, of early occurrence, is typical : —

“ I remember I went once to see the Hamlet of a famed performer, the pride of the English stage ; and all I then heard, and all I now remember, of the tragedian, was that in which the tragedian had no part, — simply, Hamlet’s question to the Ghost: —

“ ‘ What may this mean,
That thou, dread corse, again in complete steel
Revisit’st thus the glimpses of the moon ? ’

That imagination which dilates the closet he writes in to the world’s dimension, crowds it with agents in rank and order, as quickly reduces the big reality to be the glimpses of the moon.”

There could not be a more characteristic or impressive example of the preposterousness of much of the most pretentious Shakespearean criticism than is afforded by this passage. The writer, in his character of sage, philosopher, and friend of humanity, seemed to wish to say something subtle, and he simply said something which showed that in his endeavor to see through a millstone he failed to see the palpable peter before his eyes. In a phrase which, on examination, will be found almost nonsensical he brushes aside the poor tragedian, who doubtless understood what he was speaking better than one, at least, of his hearers Hid; and then tells us he has discovered that this wonderful Shakespeare was so very wonderful that he could regard the earth as something that existed merely as glimpses of the moon.

In the first place, the plural form “ glimpses ” (in which the rhythm shows there is no error) should have prevented such a misapprehension. With all his recklessness in the use of language (for which let us be daily on our knees with thankfulness), Shakespeare would never have called the earth “ glimpses.” But next, and finally, a consciousness of the scene, which possesses every reasonable reader, — to wit, Hamlet and his two companions of the watch, in a clear, cold night on the platform of the castle, passing to and fro from light to shadow, — makes it needless to say, for mere purposes of explanation, that the Prince asks simply, although with picturesque beauty of phrase, why his father thus returns to sight under the glimpses of the moon, which in his life had glanced, and now glance again, upon his steel as well as upon theirs. Had Shakespeare’s wonder-hunting critic continued Hamlet’s speech but one phrase further, he would have shivered his own fantastic fancy by a single touch,—

“ Revisit’st thus the glimpses of the moon,
Making night hideous.’’

Hamlet asks the Ghost why it is that his horrid apparition mars the beauty of the moonlit night. The thought is not akin to that in Antony and Cleopatra,—

“ And there is nothing left remarkable
Beneath the visiting moon,”—

where by the word “ visiting ” the earth is presented as something to which the moon returns from time to time; but in Hamlet it is the light (that is, the glimpses) of the moon which is visited — by the Ghost.

Now this extravagant exposition follows directly upon an equally extravagant eulogy, which it is intended to justify and illustrate. The critic, speaking of the efforts of such men as “ Betterton, Garrick, Kemble, Kean, and Macready ” to put Shakespeare’s work to the use for which it was intended, thus proclaims : —

“ The genius knows them not. The recitation begins : one golden word leaps out from all this painted pedantry, and sweetly torments us with invitations to its own inaccessible homes.”

This passage has found admirers. It could not fail to do so; for it is rhetorically pretty, and it seems to mean more than it says. But all of it that is not commonplace is simply highsounding nonsense. That Shakespeare’s words are golden, and that they are immortal, we all know ; we have been told it long ago. But when, looking into what is left of this judgment, we ask what it means, we find that it means nothing; that it is empty, pretentious rhetoric; fine language well ordered, but nothing more. For what is the painted pedantry out of which the word leaps ? As to pedantry, the actor is merely reciting what Shakespeare wrote to be recited; and as to paint, the actor might he painted, and the scenery: but in what possible way or by what imaginable figure of speech can painting be connected with pedantry upon the stage? And what are the inaccessible homes of this word ? Or how can a word or a man have more than one home ? The criticism is intended as a eulogy of Shakespeare’s inimitable felicity of phrase; but the effort to be fine has ended in the fact of extravagance. The homes of Shakespeare’s words are never inaccessible: that is, the germ of the thought of which they are leaf and flower is never hidden out of sight, unless he perverted their meaning or his heedlessness has wrought confusion. It is quite in keeping that laudation like this should be illustrated and enforced by such a monstrous misapprehension as that of taking the phrase “ the glimpses of the moon ” to mean the earth.

This is a characteristic specimen of the extravagance in the wonder-seeking school of Shakespearean criticism. For an example of the trite in the same school, we have only to turn back a scene or two in the same tragedy to find (in Singer’s beautiful and valuable Chiswick edition) the lines,

“ The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine,” —

over which no person who should be allowed to read Shakespeare, or any other poet than Tupper, would pause an instant, unless in enjoyment, — illustrated with a note that takes up half a page, and gravely tells us that “ extravagant ” means wandering, and “ erring ” straying. To this it is added that “ Mr. Douce has justly observed that the epithets extravagant and erring are highly poetical and appropriate, and seem to prove that Shakespeare was not altogether ignorant of the Latin language.” That learned and serviceable antiquary might have as “ justly ” and as pertinently remarked that when, in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Armado says that deuceace “ doth amount to one more than two,” and Moth rejoins “ which the base vulgar do call three,” the words one, two, and three are highly numerical, and seem to show that Shakespeare was not altogether ignorant of arithmetic.

Of the platitudinarian style of comment, this example (which I find, to my surprise, quoted in Mr. Rolfe’s excellent edition of Antony and Cleopatra) is typical. Pompey says, —

“ Though I lose
The praise of it by telling, you must know
When Cæsar and your brother were at blows
Your mother came to Sicily, and did find
Her welcome friendly.”

Upon which we have the following exhibition : —

“ The historical fact of Sextus Pompey’s having courteously received Antony’s mother in Sicily, when she fled from Italy, is recorded by Plutarch ; but the touch of delicacy in sentiment — declaring that to remind or reproach another with a benefit conferred is to forfeit the merit of it — is the dramatist’s own exquisite addition. Shakespeare has more than once taken occasion to enforce this refinement in social morality ; he has made that noble-minded, warm-natured, delicate-souled being, Antonio, the sea-captain in Twelfth Night (whom we can never help associating. in strange closeness of analogy, with Shakespeare himself in character and disposition) say, —

“ ’ Do not tempt my misery
Lest that it make me so unsound a man
As to upbraid you with those kindnesses
That I have done for you.’ ”

And this feeling, which is one of the veriest commonplaces of the minor morals, and the expression of which in literature is as old as Homer, is set down to Shakespeare as “ a touch of delicacy ” and an “ exquisite addition.” It well becomes such a maundering critic to find in that kind-hearted fellow, Captain Antonio, a likeness to Shakespeare. Shakespeare and Antonio were, either of them, about as like Julius Cæsar as they were like one another. But of such exquisite drivel is not a little of the eulogistic comment on Shakespeare composed.

Editors and commentators, however, are not responsible for all the current misapprehensions and perversions of Shakespeare’s meaning. The general reader has done his part. I shall not apologize for referring once more to a monstrous misapprehension and perversion of a passage in Troilus and Cressida, which is so common as to be universal, and so deeply rooted that it seems to defy eradication. Shakespeare, in one of the wisest and most thoughtful but most cynical and scornfully satirical passages in all his plays, makes Ulysses say to Achilles that there is one petty trait of human nature which shows that all men are akin, and that this trait is,

“ That all, with one consent, praise new-born gauds,
Though they are made and moulded of things past.
And give to dust that is a little gilt
More laud than gilt o’er-dusted.”

He introduces this by saying, —

“ One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,” —

that touch being this petty trait. The meaning is so plain that no man wdto was capable of editing a spelling-book could mistake it ; but some reader, incapable of Shakespeare, having seized upon this isolated line, and having misapprehended it as meaning that one natural touch will unite the whole world in the bonds of conscious kindred, it has gone with this meaning over the civilized earth, and is used by hundreds of thousands of people who never read a line of Shakespeare, by millions who never read a line of Troilus and Cressida, in a wholly different and almost opposite sense to that in which Shakespeare wrote it. This perversion has been pointed out by others as well as by me ; it was done years ago, — but in vain. The world prefers its mumpsimus to the authentic sumpsimus, and will have it that there is Shakespeare’s authority for saying that one touch of nature makes the whole world kin. Nay, I do not doubt that the world rather resents the truth, and would fight against deprivation of the error, as a robbery of something precious. Just so it still clings to what it calls the aphorism, “ The exception proves the rule ” (which never was an authentic aphorism), although its absurdity has been clearly shown. But the world is sometimes its own Shakespeare; and in this line, having found a formula of words which expresses tersely a sentiment that it wishes to believe, it insists upon using it to serve its needs. If Shakespeare did not mean that one touch of nature makes the whole world kin, so much the worse for Shakespeare. In such a case as this, one blunderer is sure to be followed by all that are behind him. No man can see a flock of sheep follow one of their number over a fence or into a ditch without strong leaning to belief in the theory of evolution.

Sometimes the antiquaries, who have on occasion done good service, have blundered sadly in their attempts to glorify Shakespeare. In the first act of King Lear, the Fool, gibing his master for stripping himself of his royal authority, points at him, and says, “ That’s a shelled peascod.” Tollet, on the authority of the great antiquarian Camden, a contemporary of Shakespeare, pointed out, in illustration of this passage, that the effigy of Richard II. in Westminster Abbey “is wrought with peascods open, and the peas out; perhaps an allusion to his once being in full possession of sovereignty, but soon reduced to the empty title ; ” intimating that Shakespeare had found in this sad typical presentation of the dethroned Richard the thought which he had skillfully put into the mouth of the wisest of his Fools. Tollet’s notion was adopted by many editors and solemnly set forth as their own. But alas for antiquarian lore and Shakespearean glorification ! On examining the effigy, Aldis Wright, the principal editor of the Cambridge edition, who is conspicuous among Shakespeare’s editors for his union of scholarship, poetic sense, and common sense, discovered that the peascods were no peascods at all, but the planta genista, the badge of the Plantagenets; and, moreover, that although the pods are open the seeds are indicated ; and — “ what becomes of all their supposes ? ”

To mention one in ten of all the noteworthy blunders and perversions and extravagances (omitting the uncountable multitude of the insignificant) into which editors and critics and other anatomists of Shakespeare have been led by the desire to see and set forth some hidden fact, or motive, or purpose, or wonderful manifestation of insight or wisdom on his part, would be to fill half this number of The Atlantic with their wise saws and modern instances. Let these suffice as typical examples in their various sorts ; and let us now turn to broader and more general misapprehensions of our subject.

No trait of Shakespeare’s mind has been more strongly insisted upon, or more frequently set forth as his great intellectual distinction, than that he is the most objective of writers. This has been so generally adopted that it has become one of the commonplaces of Shakespearean criticism. But it is not true. It is true, in fact, that in the writings on which his great fame rests, he is impersonal and objective, quite self-forgetful. This, however, is not at all to the purpose. For how could he, in those writings, have been otherwise than impersonal ? They are dramas ; he is the great dramatist. He was not speaking for himself ; nor was he telling stories in which he could have introduced an expression of his personal thought and feeling. His business was to give utterance to the thought and feeling of others, his personages. And as we shall see, those thoughts and feelings, or at least the controlling occasions of them, were in general already prescribed for him; set down before he took up his pen. There was nothing about William Shakespeare in the old stories that he dramatized and the old plays that he worked over. Other dramatists are, of necessity, just as impersonal and objective as he, — Beaumont, and Fletcher, and Jonson, and Corneille, and Molière, and Congreve, and Sheridan, and Bulwer, and Boucicault. When Shakespeare came to write his Sonnets, he so filled them with subjectivity, with his own personality, that they have been called his autobiographical poems, and that they torment us with a perplexing, fascinating problem of his personal experience and feeling, in the maze of which we delight to lose ourselves, as we strive in vain to reach his heart. In one of them he tells us plainly how he loathed his profession, acting, and how he scorned his occupation, play-writing. This commonplace of Shakespearean criticism is one of its absurdities.

Chief among these absurdities, however, is the discovery in his dramatic works of moral plan and purpose, of an intention to teach, of a systematic setting forth of a philosophy of life, — the discovery of a central informing thought in his dramas (at least in the greater of them), of a conscious or unconscious revelation of an inner life (whatever that may be) ; the regarding him as a great sage, prophet, vates, inspired and sent upon the world to teach the dwellers on it the solution of the sad mystery of life. The most reasonable defense of this theory is that, as all the processes of nature are unconscious, Shakespeare unconsciously worked in accordance with ethical laws, which it is the task of criticism and philosophy to discover, it can be shown by facts, and by the evidence of Shakespeare’s way of working, that this supposition is impossible, this theory quite untenable. The course of the action of Shakespeare’s dramas, and the motives of his personages, by which alone can ethical purpose and moral teaching work through the drama, were prescribed for him ; and he very rarely varied from his instructions or went beyond his brief, and still more rarely did any change that he made affect the moral aspect or the ethical significance of the action. He was the first to introduce true character into modern fiction, and, as sometimes happens with a great inventor, he has never been surpassed in this highest department of literary art ; never, indeed, approached except by Walter Scott, Robert Browning, and George Eliot.2 But, with very few exceptions, the quality of the characters of his personages, involving all their distinctive moral traits, was marked out for him ; and although this was done in a cold, rude, lifeless way, it nevertheless necessarily precludes the possibility that his character painting had in it any ethical purpose, even unconscious.

Of all Shakespeare’s dramas, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth have been the occasion of the most extravagant and unreasonable comment, of the greatest straining for effect in the effort to say something fine, of the most agonizing violence of critical contortion, and the longest disappearances out of wholesome air and light into profundity, in search of Shakespeare’s central thought and hidden purpose. The first of these, because of its entrancing charm as well as of its representative character in its history and construction, offers itself instructively for our examination.

We are told by one of the most distinguished of Shakespeare’s commentators, who is also neither the least sensitive of beauty nor the least apprehensive of truth in his class, — himself a poet, — Thomas Campbell, that “ the general, the VAGUELY general,3 conception of two young persons having been desperately in love had undoubtedly been imparted to our poet by his informants ; but who among them had conceived the finely depicted progress of Juliet’s impassioned character ? ” etc., etc. Notwithstanding all that is known to those who have studied the origin of the tragedy and considered its construction, this is the general notion on the subject; and not only so ; it is assumed as groundwork by the æsthetical critics and the profound philosophical critics who talk straight on, as if we owed to Shakespeare the design of the tragedy and the characters of its personages, with their experience, their passion, and their fate. We owe him nothing of the sort. The plot is certainly not his, either in its outline or its detail ; and there is reason for believing that it is not even of his accepting, but that it was adopted by another playwright, with whom, or after whom, he worked. The characters, the distinguishing traits, of every one of the leading personages down to Mercutio, Friar Laurence, the Nurse, Tybalt, and old Capulet, and even Benvolio and the invisible Rosaline, were blocked out and sketched in with firm hand, although in dead, neutral tints, by bis predecessors. Coleridge, who, amid much that is finely penetrative and soundly reasonable, has uttered more hysterical ecstasy about Shakespeare than any other writer of distinction, discovered and declared that “ it affords strong instance of his [S.’s] insight into the nature of the passions that Romeo is introduced already lovebewildered. The necessity of loving,” he continues, by way of exposition, “ creates an object for itself in man and woman ; ” and he remarks upon Romeo’s easy forgetting his Rosaline that she “ had been a mere name for the yearning of his youthful imagination.” A much later writer of the same school will have it that ‘’in Romeo’s love of Rosaline we find represented the dreamlife as yet undisturbed, the abandonment to emotion for emotion’s sake.”

Now the truth is that this incident, quite needless and altogether without significance in relation to the dramatic action, but just as we find it in the tragedy, is in the old story as it was told before Shakespeare was born by half a dozen dull, prosing writers of novelli and so-called poems, whom no one ever suspected of insight into the nature of the passions, or insight into anything else. In the old story and the old play Shakespeare found Romeo in love with Rosaline, and he left him as he found him, — that is all. And so far is this love of Romeo’s from being a yearning of youthful imagination, or an abandonment to emotion for emotion’s sake, that the young Montague is simply enamored of Rosaline, without any pretense, even to himself, of a higher or tenderer feeling. She is merely a beauty who has stirred his passions, and whom he wishes to possess without marriage. He fails to get her, not because she is cold, but because she is chaste. Nay, this very Romeo, Shakespeare’s Romeo, who, we are told, is abandoning himself to emotion for emotion’s sake, complains in set terms that he cannot buy this beauty, who the great philosophical critic, and the little philosophical critics after him, must have it is a mere name for the yearning of his youthful imagination.” He plumps it straight out, this grief of his that she will not yield even “ to saint-seducing gold ; ” these words being preceded in the tragedy by a very significant euphemistic phrase that Shakespeare uses elsewhere, and always with one meaning, — which indeed is a little plainer speaking than we find either in story or in poem. Shakespeare, at least, meant to have no misunderstanding: and yet with what profound and penetrative perversity he has been misunderstood !

Coleridge’s error as to matter of fact has received passing remark heretofore; but his blind plunge into the bottomless blackness of empty space should be displayed here, because there could not be a more typical or significant example of the way in which the ecstatic and wonder-seeking school of philosophical criticism blunders into mare’s-nests in its search for the birthplace of Shakespeare’s Pegasus.

Schlegel, who, sweeter in his expression of a finer feeling for the tragedy, had also a more reasonable apprehension of it, recognizes the importance of the old story; which, however, he seems to regard as no more than a sculptor’s straddling wire, upon which the poet moulded his clay into forms of beauty, endowed with the spirit of life. The much-read German critic says that " it was reserved for Shakespeare to unite purity of heart and the glow of imagination, sweetness and dignity of manners and passionate violence, in one ideal picture ; ” and the subsequent passages of his pleasingly picturesque criticism imply that the quick, fierce advance of the loves of the young Italians, their storms of rapture and despair, and the mingling throughout the tragedy of “love and hatred, festivity and dark forebodings, tender embraces and sepulchres, the fullness of life and self-annihilation,” is due to the power and the purpose of Shakespeare. The criticism means this, or else, so far as Shakespeare is concerned, it means nothing. But the truth is that the purity of heart, the sweetness and dignity of manners, the passionate violence, the tender embraces and the sepulchres, and so forth, and many etceteras, are all in full completeness in the old story ; where, indeed, they are much more exactly and copiously set forth than in our tragedy.

Critics of this outcrying sort, feeling, doubtless, the necessity of saying something to palliate Juliet’s unrestrained although natural and exquisitely expressed ardor, — these critics (among them a very distinguished and estimable actress) even laud her modesty ; — the modesty of a young girl who not only accepts a kiss, not of compliment, from an enamored man on her first sight of him, but coquettishly provokes a second, — and he a young fellow whose very name she did not know ! What folly to demure upon such a girl, or to affect to misunderstand the meaning of her soliloquy when she is expecting Romeo, in the third act! Juliet is perfectly chaste, — as chaste as that fair, calculating icicle Isabella ; but as to modesty, she has less sexual reserve than any of Shakespeare’s women out of the class of Cressida and Cleopatra. Indeed, as not unfrequently happens in such cases, the wanton Trojan has in this respect the advantage of the pure Veronese.

One other exhibition of the results of the effort to find some marvelous hidden purpose in Shakespeare’s management of his personages in this tragedy must suffice us before we turn to more general considerations. Every reader regrets the extinction of Mercutio, that witty, rakish cavalier, keen, bright, and flexible as the blade of his ready rapier ; and there has been much wonder at Shakespeare’s sacrifice of such a splendid fellow in the middle of his drama. At last some wise-profound, bursting into brilliancy, declared that " Shakespeare was obliged to kill Mercutio, lest Mercutio should kill him ; ” which, although it was a clever antithetical way of saying that Shakespeare could keep up Mercutio’s wit and gayety no longer, was not a very wise conclusion. But the fact is simply this : that Mercutio vanishes early in the old story, in which he appears only in connection with the meeting of Romeo and Juliet at Capulet’s house; and as he was to disappear, it was almost an obvious dramatic disposition of him to kill him in that fight between the Montagues and Capulets, which is the pivot upon which turns the whole action of the tragedy.

The facts about the origin of this tragedy (well known to all students of Elizabethan dramatic literature) are briefly these : Luigi da Porto told the story in or about 1530 ; Bandello retold it, with a variation of the catastrophe, in 1554; Boisteau translated Bandello’s version into French in 1559 ; not long afterward, certainly before 1562, an English play written on the story had been performed; in 15G2 Arthur Brooke published it in the form of verse; in 1567 Paynter gave an English prose version of it in his Palace of Pleasure. In 1574, as we learn from Barnaby Rich, the story was so widely known as to be the subject of the designs for tapestry hangings ; in 1582 we find Juliet mentioned in the same line with Dido and Cleopatra ; before 1597 yet another English play had been written upon it, of which our Shakespearean tragedy is a rewriting and a modification, containing, I think, without a doubt, as we have it, some of the work of Shakespeare’s predecessor, which was not of very poor quality. The point of interest for us at present, however, is that in all these several versions by tale-tellers and verse-writers and playwrights there was no variation in the course of the story, or in its personages, or their characters, their motives, their actions, or their fate (although every one of the writers made some slight changes) ; and consequently there was in all the same moral and artistic purpose that, in this regard, there is in our Romeo and Juliet. That is, there was none at all; except, indeed, in the dullest and most prosaic of them, the so-called poem Romeus and Juliet, by Arthur Brooke, who does point his moral and adorn his tale with a revolting perversion of the spirit of the story, and a puritanical attack upon the Church of Rome in the person of Friar Laurence; which the author or authors of the play that Shakespeare worked over entirely disregarded, although both consulted Brooke’s poem, as they also did Paynter’s prose version, during the performance of their task. But our tragedy is not founded upon Brooke’s version alone, I am sure; rather upon an older play, with the additional help given by Brooke’s poem.

The probability of this is shown by one incident (amongst others, of which I must spare the mention here) that is of singular interest. Juliet’s age has always been a puzzle to the commentators and the psychologists, and a stumblingblock to the actresses. That a mere child, even in Italy, should act and speak as she does is phenomenal, indeed monstrous; and all sorts of intellectual squirmings have been gone through to prove that it is the properest thing in the world for a chit like her to feel the passion, to think the thoughts, and to do the deeds of a fully developed woman. But I do not remember any remark upon a very striking fact in regard to this question. In Bandello’s early version of the story, which was that which came into England, Juliet, although he told the story in Italy of an Italian girl, is in her eighteenth year ; an age at which our Juliet’s feeling and action would be quite proper to a somewhat precocious and highly imaginative girl. But in Brooke’s version of this very story, written in England for cold-blooded English folk, Juliet’s age is reduced two years : he says, “ Scarce saw she yet full xvi yeares.” In our tragedy, however, her age diminishes yet two years more : she is only thirteen, in her fourteenth year. This change, if we accept it as intentional, is certainly very remarkable, quite unaccountable, and indeed unreasonable; affronting nature and defying probability. No one who believes in Shakespeare’s “exquisite judgment” (as I do) will also believe that he exercised it in this case. The age of Juliet is given in a passage which appears in the earliest version of the play (1597), and which bears unmistakable marks of Shakespeare’s hand. But this version is made up (as I showed in 1861) of the old play and the rewritten version of 1596. Now if it was Shakespeare who determined what should be Juliet’s age, he showed not only an extraordinary lack of good sense, but a disregard of essential consistency of which he has never yet been suspected.

The facts are these : Juliet’s mother says she is only thirteen years old : this the Nurse confirms with circumstance. Juliet was therefore one of the most precocious of children. But, on the contrary. the circumstances mentioned, and repeated by the Nurse, as establishing Juliet’s age, show that she was among the most backward of children; that she was not weaned until she was three years old, and that at that age she could just stand alone and toddle. From these facts, the conclusion seems unavoidable that Shakespeare either adopted this childish age of his heroine from a play already upon the stage, and adapted his Nurse’s talk to it, as an accepted fact of the story, or that he committed the very grave indiscretion of choosing a boldly loving, boldly thinking, boldly acting, and still more boldly speaking heroine of thirteen, and then with open defiance of consistency, very elaborately making her out to be of notably backward physical development. As to her acts and her speech, she acts and speaks boldly in the play simply because she does so in the old tale and poem. The play subtracts five years from her age; but Shakespeare did not give a trait to her character nor an impulse to her soul.

In connection with this important trait of Juliet’s personality, it seems quite impossible to pass by one more striking manifestation of Coleridge’s ability to see what was not to be seen. Upon Juliet’s speech, Act IV. Sc. 3, ending,

“ O, look! methinks I see my cousin’s ghost
Seeking out Romeo, that did spit his body
Upon a rapier’s point. —Stay, Tybalt, stay! —
Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee! ”

he remarks, “ Shakespeare provides for the finest decencies. It would have been too bold a thing for a girl of fifteen ; but she swallows the draught in a fit of fright.” The speech is indeed one of its writer’s most marvelous and admirable exhibitions of dramatic and poetic power. But when it is made the occasion of declaring that Shakespeare provides for the finest decencies, we can only smile at the critic’s extravagant ingenuity of eulogy, and at his ignorance. In the first place, the girl who utters this tremendous explosion of frenzy is not fifteen years old, but, as we have seen, only thirteen; in which the psychological inconsistency amounts to monstrosity, impossibility. Nor was there the least provision for decency or for probability. Juliet’s fright, and not only her fright but her speech (as we shall see), is taken right out of the stupid old poem, and transmuted into splendor : —

“ And whilst she in these thoughtes doth somewhat dwell too long
The force of her ymagining anon did waxe so strong,
That she surmysde she saw out of the hollow vault,
(A griesly thing to look upon) the carkas of Tybalt.
As she had frantike been, in hast the glasse she cought,
And up she dranke the mixture quite, withouten farther thought.”

Not the difference of an act or a thought, nor of the variation of an act or a thought, between the poem and the drama.

To see completely the real worth of the assertion as to the “vaguely general” conception of this story, its action, and its personages which Shakespeare received from others, let us briefly remark some only of the correspondences between the play and Brooke’s poem, published two years before Shakespeare was born. In this we find the cold Rosaline, and Romeo’s warm love for her, and his consequent languishing ; a sober, elder friend and confidant (Benvolio), who advises him to give up Rosaline ; the feast at Capulet’s house, to which guests were invited by having their names written down on a paper, and at which Romeo, masked, first sees Juliet; Mercutio, a courtier, a wit and a bold gallant ; the sudden mutual love of Romeo and Juliet; Juliet questions her nurse about Romeo; he sees her wakeful at her chamber window on a moonlit night, “ leaning hir head upon hir hand ; ” she reproaches him for exposing his life to his deadly foes, her kinsmen ; she stipulates very precisely that she requires to be married, but says if his intentions are honorable she yields herself at once ;4 they plight faith ; Romeo consults Friar Laurence, who is half botanist, half magician; the Friar hopes their marriage may appease the mutual wrath of the two households ; Juliet sends her nurse to Romeo, who tells her that if Juliet will come to Friar Laurence’s cell “she shall be shrived and married ; ” 5 the Nurse is a garrulous, foolish, but unprincipled and crafty old family servant; returning to Juliet, she praises Romeo highly, but is curtly interrupted by Juliet, who says she would rather know what she has to say about the marriage ; 6 the lovers are married at Friar Laurence’s cell, and Romeo visits his wife by means of a rope-ladder ;7 Tybalt, a strong, courageous, combative young Capulet, cousin of Juliet, is killed in a fray by Romeo, who is banished ; Juliet bewails almost equally the death of her cousin and the banishment of her husband, whom she bitterly reproaches for taking her kinsman’s life, and then censures herself severely for these reproaches;8 old Capulet proposes the marriage of Juliet to the County Paris; Juliet resists; she consults the Friar, who gives her a sleeping potion to take before the day of her wedding to Paris, tells her that she will be entombed as dead, and that he will send to Mantua for Romeo to rescue and carry her off when she wakes ; the Nurse counsels her to marry Paris, whom she praises highly;9 Juliet takes the potion, but before doing so she is filled with horror at the thought of what she may encounter in the tomb, and in her excitement fancies she sees the ghost of Tybalt; 10 by the neglect of a friar, Romeo does not receive Laurence’s message, but he does hear of Juliet’s death and burial ; he buys poison of a poverty-stricken apothecary, in whose shop the “boxes were but fewe,” writes a letter to his father, telling his story and his intended suicide,11 and sets out for Verona; he goes to the tomb with his servant, enters it, dies there ; Friar Laurence comes in too late, and Juliet, waking to find Romeo dead, stabs herself with his dagger; Prince Escalus enters, and in their conclusion poem and play are essentially the same, even to the Friar’s long confession of what readers and spectators know already.

It has seemed to me desirable to set forth with some approach to closeness of detail these salient incidents of the poem, which ought to be known to every critic who undertakes to comment upon the plan and purpose of this tragedy. Yet needs it be said that this recital and the considerations previously presented show that, contrary to the assumption of most of those critics, Shakespeare could have had no share in that plan and purpose (supposing any to exist), and that he is not responsible, as a creator, either for the dramatic motive or even for the very characters of the personages of this play, which he simply transferred from the old play and poem in the most perfunctory manner. None the less is it true that we owe to him in Romeo and Juliet the most entrancing and intoxicating picture in all literature of youthful love between the sexes ; and a tragedy so sad, and yet so sweet and so beautiful in its sadness, that our hearts dreamily ache over it in a luxury of mingled woe and pleasure.

Of one conception of genius (a very low one. in my judgment) Shakespeare’s work is totally destructive. Genius has been defined as the ability to take great pains. Genius is rather the ability to conceive and to do, with or without pains, that which is admirable and which is peculiar to the doer. The former definition seems as if it were contrived for the comfort and countenance of that large body of men who regard themselves as undeveloped, or at least possible, geniuses, — men who could have written King Lear “ if they had a mind to do it,”and who have been prevented from elaborating that tragedy, or one equal to it, by adverse circumstances. Nevertheless, it has been growing in favor, of late ; probably because of the daily increasing importance of science, which proceeds by the careful collection and comparison of facts, and which demands that the most daring and imaginative theories shall be advanced by the slow and patient steps of toil and caution. However true this conception of genius may be in science, it is not true in art, in literature, the annals of which are studded with splendid lights, which have been spoken into existence by the creative will, if not by the creative word, of omnipotent genius, exercising its native powers almost unconsciously. Of Shakespeare, at least, it is to be said that great pains were no condition of the working of his wonders. On the contrary, the achievement of this genius was always in directly inverse ratio to the height of his aim and the greatness of his endeavor. When he toiled, when he wrought with deliberate effort, when he set up for himself a high standard of attainment, he was comparatively feeble and dull and insignificant, with no fire in his prophecy, no truth in his fable. It was when he was doing his journey work, with small trouble to himself, with the lowest purpose and the least possible labor either in planning or in finishing, that he was splendid and beautiful and strong, with a splendor, a beauty, and a strength that are beyond the conception of any other man who has left the mark of his hand upon the ages. When he set out to be a poet, to do something that would bear criticism and give him a place in literature, he produced Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, which would have been utterly forgotten long ago had they not been his. When, with lower purpose, he undertook only to please “his private friends,” he evolved the marvelous mystery of his fascinating Sonnets. But when, grinding in his daily mill, he blindly put out his hands, and took for grist almost any old play or old tale the story of which he thought would interest a miscellaneous London audience, he turned out such job work as Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra. Nothing is made clearer by a study of his work than that at the times when he wrote those dramas it was in him to write them in the way in which they are written, and in no other. It was just as easy for him to turn them off as he did as it is for any minor journalist of nowadays to elaborate his little paragraph. They were mere “pot-boilers,” the chief value of which in his eyes was that they boiled his pot to some purpose ; and when his mess was cooked they were turned out as refuse upon the world, which finds in his leavings a store of splendid treasure.

Of all his dramas, that which shows the peculiar traits of his genius in their highest manifestation, their most unapproachable splendor and beauty and strength, is Antony and Cleopatra. It is not the greatest of his works in dramatic interest, although it is dramatically great; and although wise and profound, it is not the wisest of them nor the profoundest. But in mere dramatic interest Shakespeare has been approached, if not equaled, even in Othello; and in wisdom, in deep, strong, subtle thought, we can at least conceive him as approachable. In that utterance of thought and feeling, however, which blends, without a perceptible combining, imagination, fancy, wisdom, and passion, welding them at white heat into phrases that leap straight from his brain to the world’s heart.—the trait of style which, in the conscious poverty of words to which it reduces us, we call Shakespearean, and which no other man has attempted, and no sane man would attempt, — Antony and Cleopatra is supreme among his dramas. So, too, in the portraying of character with a pen that seems dipped in the blood and guided by the brain of the personage he has created. Now the study of this supremest manifestation of the peculiar Shakespeare faculty in connection with the materials of which he built it shows him — nothing can be clearer—sitting down with his Plutarch before him, and taking a scrap here and a scrap there, with little care for continuity or connection, or even for consistency, and turning them with heedless ease into a dramatic form, so that the story could be told and its personages presented on his stage. Plutarch filtered drop by drop through Shakespeare’s brain, and not only purging thus of prose and dross, but taking tint and quality and force and fire from the medium through which it passed, issued in that dazzling, flaming flood of gold and jewels.

To see this clearly it is only necessary for any student who is thoroughly well acquainted with the play to read those passages of North’s Plutarch which it represents in action.12 Do the Shakespeare anatomists tell us that in his Cleopatra we receive an impression of perpetual and irreconcilable contrast? True enough; but the same perpetual and irreconcilable contrast is found in Plutarch. Is Shakespeare’s Cleopatra a compound of passion, and craft, and vanity, and love of power ? So is Plutarch’s. And when we are solemnly told that the best proof of the individual truth of the character is “ the admission that Shakespeare’s Cleopatra produces exactly the same effect on us that is recorded of the real Cleopatra,” what empty, pretentious platitude it is ! The same effect is produced simply because the same thing produces it. Shakespeare sought nothing but a faithful representation in his dramatic blank verse of the Cleopatra whom he found in Plutarch. To that character in its essence he added nothing, not a single trait. Must we remark, as one anatomical demonstrator points out to us, waving the scalpel with rhetorical grace, that “ the idea of this frail, timid, wayward woman dying with heroism from the mere force of passion and will takes us by surprise,”and that “ the Attic elegance of her mind, her poetical imagination,” and so forth, ‘‘ predominating to the last, and the sumptuous and picturesque accompaniments with which she surrounds herself in death, carry to its extreme height that effect of contrast which prevails through her life and character”? Well enough; but what mean all these words ? We remark the same in Plutarch. Of the reality and the essence of all this Cleopatra owes nothing, we owe nothing, to Shakespeare. In Plutarch she dies with heroism from the mere force of passion; in Plutarch we see her assuming the same sumptuous and picturesque accompaniments of her death which Shakespeare shows us, following his original with what, had he not been Shakespeare, would have been rightly called plodding faithfulness, and sometimes hardly varying in phrase from Plutarch in his setting forth of the action of the scene. Just so it is, too, as to Antony : nothing of lordliness and littleness, of courage and conduct, and waywardness and passion, in Shakespeare which was not before in Plutarch. For illustration we have little space or time ; but this one passage is typical. Read first what Plutarch, and then what Shakespeare, wrote.


— “and moreover, sent Hircius and Pomsa, then Consuls, to drive Antonius out of Italy. These two Consuls together with Caesar, who also had an army went against Antonius that beseiged the city of Modena, and there overthrew him in battle: but both the Consuls were slaint there. Antonius, flying upon this overthrow, fell into great misery all at once ; but the chiefes want of all other, that pinched him most was famine. . . . And therefore it was a wonderful example to the soldiers to see Antonius, that was brought up in all fineness and superfluity, so easily to drink puddle-water, and to eat wild fruits and roots; and moreover it is reported that even as they passed the Alps they did eat the barks of trees, and such beasts as never man tasted of their flesh before.”


When thou once

Wast beaten from Modena where thou slew’st
Hirtius and Pansa, consuls, at thy heel
Did famine follow, whom thou foughtst against
Though daintily brought up, with patience more
Than savages could suffer: thou didst drink
The stale of horses, and the gilded puddle
Which beasts would cough at ; thy palate then did deign
The roughest berry on the rudest hedge;
Yea, like the stag when snow the pasture sheets,
The barks of trees thou browsed’st: on the Alps
It is reported thou didst eat strange flesh
Which some did die to look on.

Thus it is all through the tragedy. Shakespeare followed his original so closely, and worked up the material before him so savingly, not because of any such profound judgment and feeling as his eulogistic anatomists discover, but simply because he did follow it, and wasted no labor in doing over what he found done to his hand well enough to serve his purpose. Even all the little incidents which give life and color and truth-seeming to the action are taken bodily right out of Plutarch. And in the first scene of the fifth act, not only is Dercetas’s entrance with the bloody sword with which Antony has wounded but not slain himself an incident furnished by the great Greek biographer, but Cæsar’s consequent lament over Antony— as “ profound ” in its indication of character as any passage of its kind in the tragedy — is a mere versification of Plutarch.

Perhaps, however, the purely perfunctory and almost mechanical way of Shakespeare’s work (perfunctory and mechanical so far as his purpose was concerned) on this drama may be best appreciated by an examination of the third and fourth acts, and a comparison of them with Plutarch. In these acts the incidents are merely huddled upon the stage. There is no failure in constructive art; for there can be no failure where there is no attempt. Not the slightest effort is made at grouping, at perspective, at dramatic movement, or even at dramatic effect. The story is told by little patches ; patch being tacked to patch. Not only are there no changes of scene announced in the text (according to the general fashion of the day), but none are indicated, and the dramatic story runs right on, like that in the history; jumping (as Dr. Faustus’s pupil jumped out of France into Spain) from Syria to Rome, from Rome to Alexandria, from Alexandria to Athens, then to Rome again, then to Actium ; and there we have our Romans, dying. Kirby-like, all over the plain, in different spots in scenes of a few lines (in one case only six). But when modern editors come, as they must, to divide these acts according to real changes of place and action, there are no less than thirteen clearly defined scenes in the former, and fifteen in the latter, of which one consists of but four lines; and some are of no dramatic or character-showing value whatever.

Shakespeare, as I have said before, plainly sat with his copy of North’s Plutarch before him, and picked out here and there the incidents which he thought suitable to his purpose, — some because they told the story, some because they might be made effective by the actors, others because they appealed to his poetical and reflective powers ; and then he worked them up piecemeal as he picked them out. In this, his most transcendent and his most characteristic production, he is even more closely adherent to his original, more parsimonious in the use of material, and less constructive and purposeshowing than in Romeo and Juliet.

If any other man, even any other man of his day, had done this, — Jonson, Beaumont, Chapman, or even Fletcher, — instead of the most splendid dramatic poem that exists, we should have had one that would now allure as few readers as Sejanus, or Philaster, or Cæsar and Pompey, or Evanthe and Demetrius do. It is not to Shakespeare’s ability to take great pains, not even to a high art aim, not even to a purpose of any kind, that we owe the stupendous difference, but to his thought-teeming, beautyblooming brain, to his intuitive perception of the semblances and affinities of things and acts, to his ability to think and feel as the best minds of the world and the best hearts would see that the personages that he presented would have thought and felt under the circumstances in which they were placed ; and above all it was owing to his ability, unconscious, spontaneous, to express all this in words charged with meaning as no other man ever charged them, — words loaded down, sometimes, with wealth of thought to their destruction,— to his ability to do all this because lie was reckless of rule and careless of criticism.

We have thus far considered Shakespeare’s way of working chiefly in a general study of two of his most lauded and most laudable dramas : one produced at the farther and the other at the hither limit of what has been called his great period, — the ten years from 1596 to 1607, when he was between thirty-three and forty-three years old. We have found that his method of doing his best work did not change in those busy years. We shall see hereafter that this accepted teacher of the world, this beloved master of its heart, was of all writers of high distinction the most lacking in purpose of any kind, the most indifferent to truth and to right, the most heedless both in plan and in the use of language, the most careless of consistency in his own designs, the most flagrant violator of the rules which he himself laid down, the most disregardful of decency,— a writer who, having the finest moral perception that has yet been manifest in words, and being capable of intellectual life in the highest moral atmosphere, could do his daily work as if he, like his own Iago, lacked the moral sense.

Richard Grant White.

“ But if your thought be chaste, and have on vertue ground,
If wedlocke be the end and marke which your desire hath found,
Obedience set aside, unto my parents dewe,
The quarrell eke that long ago betwene our housholdes grewe,
Both me and myne I will all wholl to you betake,
And following you where so you goe, my father’s house forsake.
But if by wanton love, and by unlawfull sute,
You thinke in ripest yeres to pluck my mayden-hode’s dainty frute,
You are begylde, and now your Juliet you beseekes
To cease your sute, and suffer her to live among her likes.”
The play, some twenty-nine years afterward: —
“ If that thy bent of love be honorable,
Thy purpose marriage, send me word to-morrow
By one that I ’II procure to come to thee,
Where and what time thou wilt perform therite;
And all my fortunes at thy feet I ’ll lay,
And follow thee my lord throughout the world.
Nurse calls.] But if thou mean’st not well
I do beseech thee, [Nurse calls]
To cease thy suit, and leave me to my grief.”
“How long these lovers thought the lasting of the day,
Let other judge, that woonted are like passions to assay:
For my parte, I do gesse each howre seemes twenty yere:
So that I deeme if they might have (as of Alcune we heare)
The sunne bond to theyr will, if they the heavens might gyde,
Black shade of night and double darke should straight all over hyde.”
“ She setteth foorth at large the father’s furious rage,
And eke she prayseth much to her the second marriage;
And County Paris now she praiseth ten times more,
By wrong, than she by right had Romeus praised before.
Paris shall dwell there still, Romeus shall not retourne;
What shall it boot her life to languish still and mourne ?
The pleasures past before she must account as gayne;
But if he do retorne, what then ?— for one she shall have twayne.”
“ Faith here it is.
Romeo is banish’d; all the world to nothing
That he dares ne’er come back to challenge you;
Or if he do, it needs must be by stealth.
Then since the case so stands as now it doth,
I think it best you married with the county.
O, he’s a lovely gentleman !
Romeo’s a dishclout to him. An eagle, madam,
Hath not so green, so quick, so fair an eye
As Paris hath. Beshrew my very heart,
I think you are happy in this second match,
For it excels your first: or if it did not,
Your first is dead; or ’t were as good he were,
As living here, and you no use of him.”
“ And what know I (quoth she) if serpents odious,
And other beastes and wormes that are of nature venomous,
That wonted are to lurke in darke caves under grounde,
And commonly, as I have heard, in dead mens tombes are found
Shall harme me yeay or nay, where I shall lye as ded,
Or how shall I that alwav have in so freshe ayre been bred,
Endure the lothsome stinke of such an heaped store
Of carkasses not yet consumde, and bones that long before
Intombed were, where I my sleping place shall have,
Where all my auncesters doe rest, my kindred’s common grave ?
Shall not the fryer and my Romeus, when they come,
Fynd me (if I awake before ystifled in the tombe) ?
And whilst she in these thoughtes doth dwell somewhat to long,
The force of her ymagining anon did wax so strong,
That she surmysed she saw out of the hollow vanlte
  • (A griosly thing to looke upon) the carkas of Tybalt.
  • As she had frantike been, in hast the glasse she Cought,
    And up she drank the mixture quite, withouten further thought.”
    1. Some notion of it may be obtained by an examination of the last three hundred pages of vol. ii. of Dr. Furness’s marvelously complete variorum edition of Hamlet.
    2. Possibly by Thackeray in Henry Esmond ; compared with which Vanity Fair, with all its entertaining qualities, is flimsy surface work.
    3. The strong typographical emphasis is Campbell’s.
    4. It is worth while to compare the very language of the poem and the play in this passage. Thus the poem : —
    5. “And there she shall at Friare Laurence’ cell
      Be shrived and married.”
      (Act II. Sc. 4.)
    6. In the poem thus: —
    7. “ Good newes far thee my gyrle, good tidings I thee bring,
      Leave off thy woonted song of care, and now of pleasure sing.
      For thou mayst hold thyselfe the happiest under sonne,
      That in so little while so well so worthy a knight hast woone.
      The best yshapde is he, and hath the fayrest face,
      Of all this towne, and there is none hath half so good a grace:
      So gentle of his speche, and of his counsell wise:
      And still with many prayses more she heaved him to the skies.
      Tell me els what, quod she [Juliet] ; this evermore I thought;
      But of our mariage say at once what aunswer have you brought ? ”
    8. In the play: —
    9. Nurse. Well, you have made a simple choice; you know not how to choose a man : Romeo! no, not he; though his face be better than any man’s, yet his leg excels all men’s; and for a hand and a foot and a body, though they be not to bo talk’d on, yet they are past compare: he is not the flower of courtesy, but I ’ll warrant him as gentle as a lamb. Go thy ways, wench; serve God. — What, have you din’d at home?”
    10. Juliet. No, no ; but all this did I know before. What says he of our marriage ? what of that ? ”
    11. See the corresponding passage in the tragedy: Act III. Sc. 2, lines 72-105, Riverside edition.
    12. It is worth the while to glance here at the germ of Juliet’s famous soliloquy on the eve of this occasion. (Act III. Sc. 2.)
    13. Shakespeare did nothing but expand and decorate these thoughts and certain others of a very ardent nature which he found in the context.
    14. In the poem : —
    15. In the play: —
    16. In the poem: —
    17. The corresponding passage of the play (Act IV. Sc. 3, Riverside ed.), which is so admirable, is too long to be quoted here. It does not present or suggest a single thought, image, or sentiment which is not in the passage above.
    18. Even this altogether unnecessary incident Shakespeare did not forget or pass over. See the very last speeches of the drama: Act V. Sc. 3, lines 270-290.
    19. This may be done to best advantage by using Mr. William J. Rolfe’s edition of this play, in his admirable series of the single plays of Shakespeare.
    20. In the introduction to his discriminative notes will be found nil of Plutarch that Shakespeare used.