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ATTEMPTS TO PORTRAY
HIMSELF AND HIS WIFE:
BIRON, ADRIANA, VALENTINE
N the preceding chapters I have considered those
impersonations of Shakespeare which revealed most distinctly the salient features of his character. I now regard this part of my work as finished: the outlines at least of his nature are established beyond dispute, and I may therefore be permitted to return upon my steps, and beginning with the earliest works pass
in review most of the other personages who discover him, however feebly or profoundly. Hitherto I have rather challenged contradiction than tried to conciliate or persuade; it was necessary to convince the reader that Shakespeare was indeed Hamlet-Orsino, plus an exquisite sense of humour; and as the proofs of this were almost inexhaustible, and as the stability of the whole structure depended on the firmness of the foundations, I was more than willing to call forth opposition in order once for all to strangle doubt. But now that I have to put in the finer traits of the portrait I have to hope for the goodwill at least of my readers. Even then my task is not easy. The subtler traits of a man's character often elude accurate description, to say nothing of exact proof; the differences in tone between a dramatist's own experiences of life and his observation of the experiences of others are often so slight as to be all but unnoticeable. In the case of some peculiarities I have only a mere suggestion to go upon, in that of others a bare surmise, a hint so fleeting that it may well seem to the judicious as if the meshes of language were too coarse to catch such evanescent indication.
Fortunately in this work I am not called on to limit myself to that which can be proved beyond question, or to the ordinary man. I think my reader will allow me, or indeed expect me, now to throw off constraint and finish my picture as I please.
In this second book then I shall try to correct Shakespeare's portraits of himself by bringing out his concealed faults and vices—the shortcomings one's vanity slurs over and omits. Above all I shall try to notice anything that throws light upon his
life, for I have to tell here the story of his passion r and his soul's wreck. At the crisis of his life he
revealed himself almost without affectation; in agony men forget to pose. And this more intimate under
standing of the man will enable us to reconstruct, partially at least, the happenings of his life, and so trace not only his development, but the incidents of his life's journey from his school days in 1575 till he crept home to Stratford to die nearly forty years later.
The chief academic critics, such as Professor Dowden and Dr. Brandes, take pains to inform us that Biron in “Love's Labour's Lost” is nothing but an impersonation of Shakespeare. This would show much insight on the part of the Professors were it not that Coleridge as usual has been before them, and that Coleridge's statement is to be preferred to theirs. Coleridge was careful to say that the whole play revealed many of Shakespeare's characteristic features, and he added finely, “as in a portrait taken of him in his boyhood." This is far truer than Dowden's more precise statement that