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plays, where, indeed, its introduction is a grave fault in art and its treatment too peculiar to be anything but personal. Here in the plays we have, so to speak, three views of the sonnet-story; the first in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona," when the betrayal is fresh in Shakespeare's memory and his words are embittered with angry feeling:
“ Thou common friend that's without faith or love."
The second view is taken in “ Much Ado About Nothing" when the pain of the betrayal has been a little salved by time. Shakespeare now moralizes the occurrence. He shows us how it would be looked upon by a philosopher (for that is what the lover, Claudio, is in regard to his betrayal) and by a soldier and man of the world, Benedick, and by a Prince. Shakespeare selects the prince to give effect to the view that the fault is in the transgressor and not in the man who trusts. The many-sided treatment of the story shows all the stages through which Shakespeare's mind moved, and the result is to me a more complete confession than is to be found in the sonnets. Finally the story is touched upon in “Twelfth Night," when the betrayal had faded into oblivion, but the poet lets out the fact that his ambassador was a youth, and the reason he gives for this is plainly insufficient. If after these three recitals any one can still believe that the sonnet-story is imaginary, he is beyond persuasion by argument.
THE SONNETS: PART II
OW that we have found the story of the son
nets repeated three times in the plays, it may be worth our while to see if we can discover in the plays anything that throws light upon the circumstances or personages of this curious triangular drama. At the outset, I must admit that save in these three plays I can find no mention whatever of Shakespeare's betrayer, Lord Herbert. He was “a false friend,” the plays tell us, a “common
common friend without faith or love," " a friend of an ill fashion”; young, too, yet trusted; but beyond this summary superficial characterization there is silence. Me judice Lord Herbert made no deep or peculiar impression on Shakespeare; an opinion calculated to give pause to the scandal-mongers. For there can be no doubt whatever that Shakespeare's love, Mistress Fitton, the “dark lady” of the sonnet-series from 128 to 152, is to be found again and again in play after play, profoundly modifying the poet's outlook upon life and art. Before I take in hand this identification of Miss Fitton and her influence upon Shakespeare, let me beg the reader to bear in mind the fact that Shakespeare was a sensualist by nature, a lover, which is as rare a thing as .consummate genius. The story of his idolatrous passion for Mary Fitton is the story of his life. This is what the commentators and critics hitherto have failed to appreciate. Let us now get at the facts and see what light the dramas throw upon the chief
personage of the story, Mistress Fitton. The study will probably teach us that Shakespeare was the most impassioned lover and love-poet in all literature.
History tells us that Mary Fitton became a maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth in 1595 at the
of seventeen. From a letter addressed by her father to Sir Robert Cecil on January 29th, 1599, it is fairly certain that she had already been married at the age of sixteen; the union was probably not entirely valid, but the mere fact suggests a certain recklessness of character, or overpowering sensuality, or both, and shows that even as a girl Mistress Fitton was no shrinking, timid, modest maiden. Wrapped in a horseman's cloak she used to leave the Palace at night to meet her lover, Lord William Herbert. Though twice married, she had an illegitimate child by Herbert, and two later by Sir Richard Leveson.
This extraordinary woman is undoubtedly the sort of woman Shakespeare depicted as the “ dark lady" of the sonnets. Nearly every sonnet of the twentysix devoted to his mistress contains some accusation against her; and all these charges are manifestly directed against one and the same woman. First of all she is described in sonnet 131 as “ tyrannous"; then in sonnet 133 as “ faithless ”; in sonnet 137 the bay where all men ride
the wide world's commonplace”; in sonnet 138 as “ false”;
" in 139, she is “ coquettish”; 140,“ proud”; 142, “ false to the bonds of love"; 147, "black as hell
dark as night”-in both looks and character; 148, “ full of foul faults”; 149, “ cruel”; 150, “ unworthy,” but of “powerful ” personality;
” 152, unkind-inconstant
Now, the first question is: Can we find this “ dark lady” of the sonnets in the plays? The sonnets
tell us she was of pale complexion with black eyes and hair; do the plays bear out this description? And if they do bear it out do they throw any new light upon Miss Fitton's character? Did Miss Fitton seem proud and inconstant, tyrannous and wanton, to Shakespeare when he first met her, and before she knew Lord Herbert?
The earliest mention of the poet's mistress in the plays is to be found, I think, in “Romeo and Juliet.” “Romeo and Juliet” is dated by Mr. Furnival 15911593; it was first mentioned in 1595 by Meres; first published in 1597. I think in its present form it must be taken to date from 1597. Romeo, who, as we have already seen, is an incarnation of Shakespeare, is presented to us in the very first scene as in love with one Rosaline. This in itself tells me nothing; but the proof that Shakespeare stands in intimate relation to the girl called Rosaline comes later, and so the first introductory words have a certain significance for me. Romeo himself tells us that “ she hath Dian's wit,” one of Shakespeare's favourite comparisons for his love, and speaks of her chastity, or rather of her unapproachableness; he goes on: “O she is rich in beauty, only poor
That, when she dies, with beauty dies her store.” which reminds us curiously of the first sonnets.
In the second scene Benvolio invites Romeo to the feast of Capulet, where his love, “ the fair Rosaline," is supping, and adds :
Compare her face with some that I shall shew,
And I will make thee think thy swan a crow.' Romeo replies that there is none fairer than his love, and Benvolio retorts :
“Tut! You saw her fair, none else being by."
This bantering is most pointed if we assume that Rosaline was dark rather than fair. In the second act Mercutio comes upon the
scene, and, mocking Romeo's melancholy and passion, cries:
“ I conjure thee, by Rosaline's bright eyes,
By her high forehead and her scarlet lip.
This description surprises me. Shakespeare rarely uses such physical portraiture of his personages, and Mercutio is a side of Shakespeare himself; a character all compact of wit and talkativeness, a character wholly invented by the poet.
A little later my suspicion is confirmed. In the fourth scene of the second act Mercutio talks to Benvolio about Romeo; they both wonder where he is, and Mercutio says:
“Ah, that same pale-hearted wench, that Rosaline,
Torments him so that he will sure run mad.”
And again, a moment later, Mercutio laughs at Romeo as already dead, “stabbed with a white
a wench's black eye.” Now, here is confirmation of my suspicion. It is most unusual for Shakespeare to give the physical peculiarities of any of his characters; no one knows how Romeo looked, or Juliet or even Hamlet or Ophelia ; and here he repeats the description.
The only other examples we have as yet found in Shakespeare of such physical portraiture is the sketching of Falstaff in “ Henry IV." and the snapshot of Master Slender in “ The Merry Wives of Windsor," as a “ little see face, with a little yellow beard,-a cane-coloured beard.” Both these photo