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LEI.

SHAKSPEARE-SOCIAL CULTIVATION OF HIS AGE,

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Congrats bis female parts worked out! When we see the liberties

taken by other dramatic poets in England in his time, and

even much later, we must account him comparatively chaste doghe and moral. Neither must we overlook certain circumstances take in the existing state of the theatre. The female parts were

ahem not acted by women, but by boys; and no person of the fair 11608 eit: sex appeared in the theatre without a mask. Under such a entre carnival disguise, much might be heard by them, and much u tome might be ventured to be said in their presence, which in hat there other circumstances would have been absolutely improper. appeaIt is certainly to be wished that decency should be observed ca te vid on all public occasions, and consequently also on the stage. vral But even in this it is possible to go too far. That carping at the ** censoriousness which scents out impurity in every bold sally, to break is, at best, but an ambiguous criterion of purity of morals; , alude and beneath this hypocritical guise there often lurks the con

sciousness of an impure imagination. The determination to tolerate nothing which has the least reference to the sensual relation between the sexes, may be carried to a pitch extremely oppressive to a dramatic poet, and highly prejudicial to the boldness and freedom of his compositions. If such

considerations were to be attended to, many of the happiest creat a parts of Shakspeare's plays, for example, in Measure for Mea(ictr.

sure, and All's Well that Ends Well, which, nevertheless, are stress handled with a due regard to decency, must be set aside as discoure sinning against this would-be propriety. lificatie

Had no other monument of the age of Elizabeth come down -n. for til to us than the works of Shakspeare, I shonld, from them spriety alone, have formed the most favourable idea of its state of

vocial culture and enlightenment. When those who look rude and

through such strange spectacles as to see nothing in them but oth were

rudeness and barbarity cannot deny what I have now histori. mes

, the cally proved, they are usually driven to this last resource, in the and demand, “What has Shakspeare to do with the mental kuperare

culture of his age? He had no share in it. Born in an infe

rior rank, ignoraut and uneducated, he passed his life in low in it society, and laboured to please a vulgar audience for his TL bread, without ever dreaming of fame or posterity.”

In all this there is not a single word of truth, though it has titud

been repeated a thousand times. It is true we know very little of the poet's life; and what we do know consists for the most part of raked-up and chiefly suspicious anecdotes, of such

ages

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SHAKSPEARE-CIRCUMSTANCES OF HIS LIFE.

a description nearly as those which are told at inns to inquisitive strangers, who visit the birthplace or neighbourhood of a celebrated man. Within a very recent period some original documents have been brought to light, and among them his will, which give us a peep into his family concerns. It betrays more than ordinary deficiency of critical acumen in Shakspeare's commentators, that none of them, so far as we know, have ever thought of availing themselves of his sonnets for tracing the circumstances of his life. These sonnets paint most unequivocally the actual situation and sentiments of the poet; they make us acquainted with the passions of the man; they even contain remarkable confessions of his youthfnl errors. Shakspeare's father was a man of property, whose ancestors had held the office of alderman and bailiff in Stratford, and in a diploma from the Heralds' Office for the renewal or confirmation of his coat of arms, he is styled gentleman. Our poet, the oldest son but third child, could not, it is true, receive an academical education, as he married when hardly eighteen, probably from mere family considerations. This retired and unnoticed life he continued to lead but a few years; and he was either enticed to London from wearisomness of his situation, or banished from home, as it is sail, in consequence of his irregularities. There he assumed the profession of a player, which he considered at first as a degradation, principally, perhaps, because of the wild excesses* into which he was seduced by the example of his comrades. It is extremely probable, that the poetical fame which in the progress of his career he afterwards acquired, greatly contributed to ennoble the stage, and to bring the player's profession into better repute. Even at a very early age he endeavoured to distinguish himself as a poet in other walks than those of the stage, as is proved by his juvenile poems of Adonis and Lucrece. He quickly rose to be a sharer or joint proprietor, and also manager of the theatre for which he * In one of his sonnets he says :

O, for my sake do you with fortune chide,

The guilty goddess of my harmless deeds,
That did not better for my life provide,

Than public means which public manners breeds.
And in the following :-

Your love and pity doth the impression fill,

Which vulgar scandal stamp'd upon my brow.

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SAAKSPEARE AT COURT-BRILLIANT SUCCESS.

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wrote. That he was not admitted to the society of persons of distinction is altogether incre lible. Not to mention many others, he found a liberal friend and kind patron in the Ear) of Southampton, the friend of the unfortunate Essex. His pieces were not only the delight of the great public, but also in great favour at court: the two monarchs under whose reigns he wrote were, according to the testimony of a contemporary, quite “taken“ with him* Many were acted at court; and Elizabeth appears herself to have commanded the writing of more than one to be acted at her court festivals. King James, it is well known, honoured Shakspeare so far as to write to him with his own hand. All this looks very unlike either contempt or banishment into the obscurity of a low circle. By his labours as a poet, player, and stage-manager, Shakspeare acquired a considerable property, which, in the last years of his too short life, he enjoyed in his native town in retirement and in the society of a beloved daughter. Immediately after his death a monument was erected over his grave, which may be considered sumptuous for those times.

In the midst of such brilliant success, and with such distinguished proofs of respect and honour from his contemporaries, it would be singular indeed if Shakspeare, notwithstanding the modesty of a great mind, which he certainly possessed in a peculiar degree, should never have dreamed of posthumous fame. As a profound thinker he had pretty accurately taken the measure of the circle of human capabilities, and he could say to himself with confidence, that many of his productions would not easily be surpassed. What foundation then is there for the contrary assertion, which would degrade the immortal artist to the situation of a daily labourer for a rude multitude !—Merely this, that he himself published no edition of his whole works We do not reflect that a poet, always accustomed to labour immediately for the stage, who has often enjoyed the triumph of overpowering assembled crowds of spectators, and drawing from them the most tumultuous applause, who the while was not dependent on the caprice of crotchety stage directors, but left to his own discretion to select and determine the mode of theatrical

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* Ben Jonson :

And make those flights upon the banks of Thames,
That so did take Eliza and our James !

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354 SHAKSPEARE--HIS MANUSCRIPTS-FELLOW MANAGERS.

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representation, naturally cares much less for the closet of the solitary reader. During the first formation of a national theatre, more especially, we find frequent examples of such indifference. Of the almost innumerable pieces of Lope de Vega, many undoubtedly were never printed, and are consequently lost; and Cervantes did not print his earlier dramas, though he certainly boasts of them as meritorious works. As Shakspeare, on his retiring from the theatre, left his manuscripts behind with his fellow-managers, he may have relied on theatrical tradition for handing them down to posterity, which would indeed have been sufficient for that purpose if the closing of the theatres, under the tyrannical intolerance of the Puritans, had not interrupted the natural order of things. We know, besides, that the poets used then to sell the exclusive copyright of their pieces to the theatre*: it is therefore not improbable that the right of property in his unprinted pieces was no longer vested in Shakspeare, or had not at least yet reverted to him. His fellow-managers entered on the publication seven years after his death (which probably cut short his own intention, as it would appear on their own account and for their own advantage.

LECTURE XXIII.
Ignorance or Learning of Shakspeare—Costume as observed by Shak-

speare, and how far necessary, or may be dispensed with in the Drama
-Shakspeare the greatest drawer of Character—Vindication of the
genuineness of his pathos—Play on words—Moral delicacy-Irony-
Mixture of the Tragic and Comic—The part of the Fool or Clown

Shakspeare's Language and Versification. Our poet's want of scholarship has been the subject of endless controversy, and yet it is surely a very easy matter to decide. Shakspeare was poor in dead school-cram, but he possessed a rich treasury of living and intuitive knowledge. He knew a little Latin, and even something of Greek, though it may be not enough to read with ease the writers in the original. With modern languages also, the French and Ita

* This is perhaps not uncommon still in some countries. The Venetian Director Medebach, for whose company many of Goldoni's Comedies were composed, claimed an exclusive right to them.-Trans.

SHAKSPEARE-CONTROVERSY ON HIS SCHOLARSHIP. 355

lian, he had, perhaps, but a superficial acquaintance. The general direction of his mind was not to the collection of words but of facts. With English books, whether original or translated, he was extensively acquainted: we may safely affirm that he had read all that his native language and literature then contained that could be of any use to him in his poetical avocations. He was sufficiently intimate with mythology to employ it, in the only manner he could wish, in the way of symbolical ornament. He had formed a correct notion of the spirit of Ancient History, and more particularly of that of the Romans; and the history of his own country was familiar to him even in detail. Fortunately for him it had not as yet been treated in a diplomatic and pragmatic spirit, but merely in the chronicle-style; in other words, it had not yet assumed the appearance of dry investigations respecting the development of political relations, diplomatic negotiations, finances, &c., but exhibited a visible image of the life and movement of an age prolific of great deeds. Shakspeare, moreover, was a nice observer of nature; he knew the technical language of mechanics and artisans; he seems to have been well travelled in the interior of his own country, while of others he inquired diligently of travelled navigators respecting their peculiarity of climate and customs. He thus became accurately acquainted with all the popular usages,

opinions, and traditions which could be of use in poetry. X The proofs of his ignorance, on which the greatest stress is laid, are a few geographical blunders and anachronisms. Because in a comedy founded on an earlier tale, he makes ships visit Bohemia, he has been the subject of much laughter. But I conceive that we should be very unjust towards him, were we to conclude that he did not, as well as ourselves, possess the useful but by no means difficult knowledge that Bohemia is nowhere bounded by the sea. He could never, in that case, have looked into a map of Germany, who yet describes elsewhere, with great accuracy, the maps of both Indies, together with the discoveries of the latest navigators*. In such matters Shakspeare is only faithful to the details of the domestic stories. In the novels on which he worked, he avoided disturbing the associations of his audience, to whom they were known, by novelties—the correction of errors in secondary

* Twelfth Night, or What You Will-Act iii, scene ii.

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