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parson in “ The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Sir Oliver Martext in “ As You Like It," and Sir Topaz (or his personation rather) in “ Twelfth Night,” the latter of whom is made to say,
66 I would I were the first that ever dissembled in such a gown.” Referring to Wolsey and his brother Cardinal, Queen Katherine says
They should be good men, their affairs are righteous,
But all hoods make not monks. Indeed, Shakspere's summary of the whole matter appears to lie in the lines spoken by Bassanio :
Will bless it and approve it with a text ? In his fourth volume of Modern Painters," Mr Ruskin states the opinion that 6 Shakspere almost always implies a total difference in nature between one human being and another; one being from the birth pure and affectionate, another base and cruel ; and he displays each in its sphere as having the nature of the dove, wolf, or lion, never much implying the government or change of nature by any external principle. This is a true and happy generalisation ; for although certain of the inferior characters drawn by Shakspere, as Edmund and Iachimo, repent of their wickednesses, by far the greater number of his men and women who are brought prominently forward to play their parts in the dramas are entirely and consistently true to themselves and their own original dispositions. Shakspere's philosophy would therefore appear to have been coloured by the idea of Fate or Necessity, as indeed is expressed in so many words by Biron (“ Love's Labour Lost”) :
For every man with his affects* is born ;
* Affects—a word which we take to be analogous to the expression of Shylocksenses, affections, passions," the whole predispositions, in short, of the individual. The expression is one of the many adapted by Shakspere from the Bible-Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.”—Zechariah, iv. 6.
CHAPTER SECOND-THE SONNETS AS A KEY
TO THE CHARACTER.
I.-GENERAL VIEW OF THE SUBJECT.
Contrary to the method usually pursued, we have taken the Dramas, in preference to the Sonnets, as materials from which to attempt to draw some outline of the mental features of the man Shakspere. We are not without hope that results of somo little value have been thus obtained ; but whether or not, the reasons for abandoning the Sonnets as a groundwork for the elucidation of personal character have of late years, as it appears to us, become more and more pressing. At all times an idea has been prevalent that much of the man Shakspere, much of his secret and inner life, lay hidden in these productions, and inquirers have striven to make out from them a living likeness of the man. In this endeavour infinite pains, learning, and ingenuity have been expended at different times and to remarkably little purpose, the main result being an utter contrariety of opinion amongst the critics. What do the Sonnets mean? is a question which as yet has received no perfectly satisfactory solution. Are they autobiographical or only fanciful-snatches of personal history, or simply, as the phrase runs, “ poems on occasional subjects ?” the exercitations of a vagrant and discursive fancy? The balance of authority, we are sorry to confess, is in favour of the first hypothesis, and these authorities include the great names of Hallam and Wordsworth. But opinions regarding their purport are almost as numerous as the Sonnets themselves —80 numerous and so diversified that except to an enthusiastic Shaksperian the record would be intolerable to read. Some have scrutinised these productions with an eye of discernment; others with a most literal and most fatuous idea of the meaning of the print lying before them. What we most of all wonder at is that
any poet should misinterpret these effusions. Natural enough it was that a Dryasdust, such as the antiquary Chalmers, should imagine they had been addressed to Queen Elizabeth, but that Wordsworth should make a mistake almost equally absurd in believing them to be a key with which “ Shakspere unlocked his heart,” is not so easily credited. In so far as we can judge, both opinions are nearly divested of all truth and probability. Another poet has sinned in a similar way. Coleridge's belief was that the Sonnets came “ from a man deeply in love, and in love with a woman," it being all the time as plain as language can find expression that upwards of one hundred out of the one hundred and fifty-four Sonnets are not addressed to a woman at all but to a man. When one hears such opinions as these, the idea is apt to occur that a book may be closely criticised and yet very carelessly read.
Before entering any further on this debateable ground, of which every inch has been keenly contested—the latest combatant, Mr Gerald Massey, seeking to cover the whole space with a new theory of his own, of which more anonit
may be well to glance slightly backwards at the plays, and also to look at two other undoubted pieces of Shaksperian writing. In our notice of the probable character of Shakspere, as educed from his plays, it was maintained as likely, that a certain class of virtues adorned his character, from the circumstance of these virtues being so prominently brought out in the actions of others, and, independently of inference altogether, we know from undoubted sources that he was “gentle” in disposition, inferring a quiet, modest, retiring spirit. Now, it happens that in two documents penned by Shakspere, the nature and purport of which have been generally overlooked, we discover the identical characteristics just referred to. These documents are the only writings in which, so far as can be now ascertained (unless his last will and testament may be excepted), Shakspere was ever known to have used the first personal pronoun. We refer to his dedications to the poems of " Venus and Adonis" and “The Rape of Lucrece." Both are addressed “ To the Right Honourable Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Tichfield,” and being, as it humbly appears, of some influence towards the determina
, tion of this autobiographical theory of the sonnets, the interested reader should carefully weigh the import of these dedications. The first, prefixed to the “Venus and Adonis," runs as follows:
To the Right Honourable Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton,
and Baron of Tichfield. Right HONOURABLE -I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burthen; only, if your honour seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour. But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, and never after ear [till] so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest. I leave it to your honourable survey, and your honour to your heart's content; which I wish may always answer your own wish, and the world's hopeful expectation.—Your honour's in all duty,
WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE. The second, from the “ Rape of Lucrece," ,
is also given :To the Right Honourable Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton,
and Baron of Tichfield. The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end ; whereof this pamphlet,
l without beginning, is but a supercilious moiety. The warrant I have of your honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours ; being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater ; meantime, as it is, it is bound to your lordship, to whom I wish long life, still lengthened with happiness.— Your lordship’s in all duty,
WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE. What is evident enough in both of these dedications is the sober manly modesty of the author. What is not so easily seen, however, is quite as important to our purpose. The ordinary dedicatory epistles of Shakspere's days, and for a century after his death, were, as is well known, deformed by the most fulsome adulation and the most disgusting servility. Spenser, the greatest of Shakspere's poetical contemporaries, sinned in this respect to an incredible degree, prostituting his Muse under the feet of the great and cringeing on all who could favour his aspiring fortunes. We acknowledge, then, at once the superior manliness of Shakspere, and feel quite prepared to believe that, like our own Burns,
He kept his honesty and truth,
His independent tongue and pen. But the dedications prove more than this, albeit to be independent in an age notorious for the servility of its literary men was something to the credit of the most distinguished of the brotherhood—they tend to prove, further, that the Sonnets are not autobiographical. The tone of the dedications is perfectly consistent with the deductions to be drawn from the plays as to the personal character of the man Shakspere, but these documents are mostly out of keeping with the sentiment of the Sonnets. Granting that
a slight touch of depreciation might be thought advisable on the part of Shakspere in speaking of his own productions to an Earl, we yet hold that the difference in style between the two classes of writings—the first being unquestionably personal—is so great as to deprive the latter of all value as autobiography. In his dedications he speaks of his “unpolished lines" and his “ untutored lines.” The character of the Sonnets is in this respect generally different. They occasionally breathe the language of diffidence-more frequently, however, that of lofty and assuming egotism. Look at the expression in Sonnets 18 and 19:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
My love shall in my verse ever live young. When we come to Sonnet 55, the poet bursts out into this strain of exultation :
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of Princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme. And a similar sentiment is repeated in Sonnets 17, 60, 63, and 81.
This much for one side of the question. On the other hand, it has to be admitted that several of the Sonnets speak in a style more characteristic of the habitual modesty we attribute to Shakspere. In Sonnet 72 it is said
For I am shamed by that which I bring forth,
And so should you, to love things nothing worth. Again, in Sonnets 32 and 38, the verses are spoken of as poor rude lines” and “
66 very slight muse. Inconsistencies of thought and feeling such as these seem to point in only one direction, namely, that the Sonnets are in form and substance essentially dramatic, the poet speaking not from or of himself so much as in the character of others. An honest analysis would, we believe, prove this conclusively, and show that only by an indirect and forced inference could they be made to yield up any part of Shakspere's experience of life. With the unequalled facility he possessed of throwing himself into and identifying himself with human beings of every shade of mental calibre and in every position of life, the composition of the Sonnets became the easiest of tasks. The incidents referred to may have either been real or imaginary-springing from the ever-living fancy of the poet, or known to him from the experience of others. We deem it in the highest degree unlikely that the retiring and self-possessed Shakspere would of his own free will make such confessions of himself