“ Berowne is the exponent of Shakespeare's own
thought.” For though, of course, Biron is espe-
cially the mouthpiece of the poet, yet Shakespeare
reveals himself in the first speech of the King as
clearly as he does in any speech of Biron:
Let Fame, that all hunt after in their lives,

Live registered upon our brazen tombs,
And then grace us in the disgrace of death;
When, spite of cormorant devouring Time,
The endeavour of this present breath may buy
That honour which shall 'bate his scythe's keen edge,
And make us heirs of all eternity.'

The King's criticism, too, of Armado in the first scene is more finely characteristic of Shakespeare than Biron's criticism of Boyet in the last act. In this, his first drama, Shakespeare can hardly sketch a sympathetic character without putting something of himself into it.

I regard “Love's Labour's Lost” as Shakespeare's earliest comedy, not only because the greater part of it is in rhymed verse, but also because he was unable in it to individualize his serious personages at all; the comic characters, on the other hand, are already carefully observed and distinctly differenced. Biron himself is scarcely more than a charming sketch: he is almost as interested in language as in love, and he plays with words till they revenge themselves by obscuring his wit; he is filled with the high spirits of youth; in fact, he shows us the form and pressure of the Renaissance as clearly as the features of Shakespeare. It is, however Biron-Shakespeare, who understands that the real world is built on broader natural foundations than the King's womanless Academe, and therefore predicts the failure of the ascetic experiment. Another

trait in Biron that brings us close to Shakespeare is his contempt for book-learning:

“ Small have continual plodders ever won

Save bare authority from others' books.

To much to know is to know nought but fames
And every godfather can give a name."

Again and again he returns to the charge:

To study now it is too late,
Climb o'er the house to unlock the little gate.”

The summing up is triumphant:

So, study evermore is overshot.”

In fine, Biron ridicules study at such length and with such earnestness and pointed phrase that it is manifest the discussion was intensely interesting to Shakespeare himself. But we should have expected Shakespeare's alter ego to be arguing on the other side; for again and again we have had to notice that Shakespeare was a confirmed lover of books; he was always using bookish metaphors, and Hamlet was a student by nature. This attitude on the part of Biron, then, calls for explanation, and it seems to me that the only possible explanation is to be found in Shakespeare's own experience. Those who know England as she was in the days of Elizabeth, or as she is to-day, will hardly need to be told that when Shakespeare first came to London he was regarded as an unlettered provincial (" with little Latin and less Greek"), and had to bear the mocks and flouts of his beschooled fellows, who esteemed learning and gentility above genius. In his very


first independent play he answered the scorners with

But this disdain of study was not Shakespeare's real feeling; and his natural loyalty to the deeper truth forced him to make Biron contradict and excuse his own argument in a way which seems to me altogether charming; but is certainly undramatic:

“ – Though I have for barbarism spoke more Than for that angel knowledge you can say."


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Undramatic the declaration is because it is at war
with the length and earnestness with which Biron
has maintained his contempt for learning; but here
undoubtedly we find the true Shakespeare who as a
youth speaks of “ that angel, knowledge,” just as
in Cymbeline” twenty years later he calls rever-
ence, “that angel of the world.”
When we
come to his

we shall see that Shakespeare, who was thrown into the scrimmage of existence as a youth, and had to win his own way in the world, had, naturally enough, a much higher opinion of books and book-learning than Goethe, who was bred a student and knew life only as an amateur:

66 Life

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“ Einen Blick in's Buch hinein und zwei in's Leben Das muss die rechte Form dem Geiste geben.”

Shakespeare would undoubtedly have given “two glances” to books and one to life, had he been free to choose; but perhaps after all Goethe was right in warning us that life is more valuable to the artist than any transcript of it.

To return to our theme; Biron is not among Shakespeare's successful portraits of himself. As might be expected in a first essay, the drawing is

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now over-minute, now too loose. When Biron talks
of study, he reveals, as we have seen, personal feel-
ings that are merely transient; on the other hand,
when he talks about Boyet he talks merely to hear
“the music of his own vain tongue.” He is, how-
ever, always nimble-witted and impulsive; “ quick
Biron ” as the Princess calls him, a gentleman of
charming manners, of incomparable fluent, graceful,
and witty speech, which qualities afterwards came
to blossom in Mercutio and Gratiano. The faults
in portraiture are manifestly due to inexperience:
Shakespeare was still too youthful-timid to paint
his chief features boldly, and it is left for Rosaline
to picture Biron for us as Shakespeare doubtless
desired to appear:

A merrier man,
Within the limits of becoming mirth,
I never spent an hour's talk withal.
His eye begets occasion for his wit;
For every object that the one doth catch,
The other turns to a mirth-moving jest,
Which his fair tongue, conceit's expositor,
Delivers in such apt and gracious words
That agèd ears play truant at his tales,
And younger hearings are quite ravished,
So sweet and voluble is his discourse.”

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Every touch of this self-painted portrait deserves to be studied: it is the first photograph of our poet which we possess—a photograph, too, taken in early manhood. Shakespeare's wit we knew, his mirth too, and that his conversation was voluble and sweet enough to ravish youthful ears and enthrall the aged we might have guessed from Jonson's report. But it is delightful to hear of his mirth-moving words and to know that he regarded himself as the best talker in the world. But just as the play at the


end turns from love-making and gay courtesies to thoughts of death and“ world-without-end” pledges, so Biron's merriment is only the effervescence of youth, and love brings out in him Shakespeare's characteristic melancholy:


“ By heaven, I do love, and it hath taught me to rhyme, and to be melancholy.”

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Again and again, as in his apology to Rosaline, and his appeal at the end of the play to "honest plain words,” he shows a deep underlying seriousness. The soul of quick, talkative, mirthful Biron is that he loves beauty whether of women or of words, and though he condemns “taffeta phrases," he shows his liking for the “silken terms precise ” in the very form of his condemnation.

Of course all careful readers know that the greater seriousness of the last two acts of “ Love's Labour's Lost," and the frequent use of blank verse instead of rhymed verse in them, are due to the fact that Shakespeare revised the play in 1597, some eight or nine years probably after he had first written it. Every one must have noticed the repetitions in Biron's long speech at the end of the fourth act, which show the original garment and the later, finer embroidery. As I shall have to return to this revision for other reasons, it will be enough here to remark that it is especially the speeches of Biron which Shakespeare improved in the second handling.

Dr. Brandes, or rather Coleridge, tells us that in Biron and his Rosaline we have the first hesitating sketch of the masterly Benedick and Beatrice of “ Much Ado about Nothing"; but in this I think Coleridge goes too far. Unformed as Biron is, he is Shakespeare in early youth, whereas in Benedick

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