Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

those we noticed in “Love's Labour's Lost"; mistakes which show that he is thinking of himself and his own circumstances. At the beginning of the play the only difference between Proteus and Valentine is that one is in love, and the other, heart-free, is leaving home to go to Milan. In this first scene Shakespeare speaks frankly through both Proteus and Valentine, just as he spoke through both the King and Biron in the first scene of “ Love's Labour's Lost," and through both Ægeon and Antipholus of Syracuse in “ The Comedy of Errors.” But whilst the circumstances in the earliest comedy are imaginary and fantastic, the circumstances in “ The Two Gentlemen of Verona” are manifestly, I think, taken from the poet's own experience. In the dialogue between Valentine and Proteus I hear Shakespeare persuading himself that he should leave Stratford. Some readers may regard this assumption as far

fetched, but it will appear the more plausible, I think, the more the dialogue is studied. Valentine begins the argument:

“Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits,”

he will see the wonders of the world abroad " rather than live “ dully sluggardiz’d at home,” wearing out “ youth with shapeless idleness." But all these reasons are at once superfluous and peculiar. The audience needs no persuasion to believe that a young man is eager to travel and go to Court. Shakespeare's quick mounting spirit is in the lines, and the needlessness of the argument shows that we have here a personal confession. Valentine, thèn, mocks at love, because it was love that held Shakespeare so long in Stratford, and when Proteus defends it, he replies:

“ Even so by Love the young and tender wit
Is turned to folly; blasting in the bud,
Losing his verdure even in the prime,
And all the fair effects of future hopes.'

Here is Shakespeare's confession that his marriage had been a failure, not only because of his wife's mad jealousy and violent temper, which we have been forced to realize in “ The Comedy of Errors,” but also because love and its home-keeping ways threatened to dull and imprison the eager artist spirit. In the last charming line I find not only the music of Shakespeare's voice, but also one of the reasons—perhaps, indeed, the chief because the highest reason—which drew him from Stratford to London. And what the “ future hope” was, he told us in the very first line of “Love's Labour's Lost.” The King begins the play with:

[ocr errors]

Let Fame, that all hunt after in their lives.”

Now all men don't hunt after fame; it was Shakespeare who felt that Fame pieced out Life's span and made us “ heirs of all eternity”; it was young Shakespeare who desired fame so passionately that he believed all other men must share his immortal longing, the desire in him being a forecast of capacity, as, indeed, it usually is. If any one is inclined to think that I am here abusing conjecture let him remember that Proteus, too, tells us that Valentine is hunting after honour.

When Proteus defends love we hear Shakespeare just as clearly as when Valentine inveighs against it:

* Yet writers say, as in the sweetest bud
The eating canker dwells, so eating love
Inhabits in the finest wits of all."

Shakespeare could not be disloyal to that passion
of desire in him which he instinctively felt was, in
some way or other, the necessary complement of his
splendid intelligence. We must take the summing-
up of Proteus when Valentine leaves him as the other
half of Shakespeare's personal confession:
“He after honour hunts, I after love:

He leaves his friends to dignify them more;
I leave myself, my friends, and all for love.
Thou, Julia, thou hast metamorphosed me, -
Made me neglect my studies, lose my time,
War with good counsel, set the world at naught;
Made wit with musing weak, heart sick with

thought.” Young Shakespeare hunted as much after love as after honour, and these verses show that he has fully understood what a drag on him his foolish marriage has been. That all this is true to Shake

speare appears from the fact that it is false to the + character of Proteus. Proteus is supposed to talk

like this in the first blush of passion, before he has won Julia, before he even knows that she loves him. Is that natural? Or is it not rather Shakespeare's confession of what two wasted years of married life in Stratford had done for him? It was ambitiondesire of fame and new love—that drove the tired and discontented Shakespeare from Anne Hathaway's arms to London.

When his father tells Proteus he must to Court on the morrow, instead of showing indignation or obstinate resolve to outwit tyranny, he generalizes in Shakespeare's way, exactly as Romeo and Orsino generalize in poetic numbers:

“O, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day.

Another reason for believing that this play deals with Shakespeare's own experiences is to be found in the curious change that takes place in Valentine. In the first act Valentine disdains love: he prefers to travel and win honour; but as soon as he reaches Milan and sees Silvia, he falls even more desperately in love than Proteus. What was the object, then, in making him talk so earnestly against love in the first act? It may be argued that Shakespeare intended merely to contrast the two characters in the first act; but he contrasts them in the first act on this matter of love, only in the second act to annul the distinction himself created. Moreover, and this is decisive, Valentine rails against love in the first act as one who has experienced love's utmost rage:

“ To be In love: when scorn is bought with groans; coy looks, With heart-sore sighs; one fading moment's mirth, With twenty watchful, weary, tedious nights.” The man who speaks like this is not the man who despises love and prefers honour, but one who has already given himself to passion with an absolute abandonment. Such inconsistencies and flaws in workmanship are in themselves trivial, but, from my point of view, significant; for whenever Shakespeare slips in drawing character, in nine cases out of ten he slips through dragging in his own personality or his personal experience, and not through carelessness, much less incompetence; his mistakes, therefore, nearly always throw light on his nature or on his life's story. From the beginning, too, Valentine, like Shakespeare, is a born lover.

As soon, moreover, as he has gone to the capital and fallen in love he becomes Shakespeare's avowed favourite. He finds Silvia's glove and cries :

“Sweet ornament that decks a thing divine” the exclamation reminding us of how Romeo talks of Juliet's glove. Like other men, Shakespeare learned life gradually, and in youth poverty of experience compels him to repeat his effects.

Again, when Valentine praises his friend Proteus to the Duke, we find a characteristic touch of Shakespeare.

Valentine says:

“His years but young; but his experience old;

;
His head unmellowed; but his judgement ripe.”

[ocr errors]

In “ The Merchant of Venice" Bellario, the learned doctor of Padua, praises Portia in similar terms: “I never knew so young a body with so old a head.”

But it is when Valentine confesses his love that
Shakespeare speaks through him most clearly:
'Ay, Proteus, but that life is altered now,
I have done penance for contemning love;

.

For in revenge of my contempt of love
Love hath chased sleep from my enthrallèd eyes
And made them watchers of my own heart's sorrow.
O gentle Proteus, Love's a mighty lord,”—

66

and so on.

Every word in this confession is characteristic of the poet and especially the fact that his insomnia is 7 due to love. Valentine then gives himself to passion

ate praise of Silvia, and ends with the She is alone” that recalls “ She is all the beauty extant” of “ The Two Noble Kinsmen.” Valentine the lover reminds us of Romeo as the sketch resembles the finished picture; when banished, he cries:

« VorigeDoorgaan »