Late in 1597 then, before William Herbert came upon the scene at all, Shakespeare knew that his mistress was a wanton:

Ay, and by heaven, one that will do the deed;
Though Argus were her eunuch and her guard.”

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Shakespeare has painted his love for us in these plays as a most extraordinary woman: in person she is tall, with pallid complexion and black eyes and black brows, "a gipsy," he calls her; in nature imperious, lawless, witty, passionate-a “wanton”; moreover, a person of birth and position. That a girl of the time has been discovered who united all these qualities in herself would bring conviction to almost any mind; but belief passes into certitude when we reflect that this portrait of his mistress is given with greatest particularity in the plays, where in fact it is out of place and a fault in art. When studying the later plays we shall find this gipsy wanton again and again; she made the deepest impression on Shakespeare; was, indeed, the one love of his life. It was her falseness that brought him to selfknowledge and knowledge of life, and turned him from a light-hearted writer of comedies and histories into the author of the greatest tragedies that have ever been conceived. Shakespeare owes the greater part of his renown to Mary Fitton.

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THE most interesting question in the sonnets, the



all others, has never yet been fairly tackled and de cided. As soon as English critics noticed, a hundred years or so ago, that the sonnets fell into two series, and that the first, and longer, series was addressed to a young man, they cried, “ shocking! shocking!” and registered judgement with smug haste on evidence that would not hang a cat. Hallam, "the judicious,” held that "it would have been better for Shakespeare's reputation if the sonnets had never been written," and even Heine, led away by the consensus of opinion, accepted the condemnation, and regretted" the miserable degradation of humanity" to be found in the sonnets. But before giving ourselves to the novel enjoyment of moral superiority over Shakespeare, it may be worth while to ask, is the fact proved? is his guilt established?

No one, I think, who has followed me so far will need to be told that I take no interest in white-washing Shakespeare: I am intent on painting him as he lived and loved, and if I found him as vicious as Villon, or as cruel as a stoat, I would set it all down as faithfully as I would give proof of his generosity or his gentleness.

Before the reader can fairly judge of Shake speare's innocence or guilt, he must hold in mind two salient peculiarities of the man which I have

already noted; but which must now be relieved out into due prominence so that one will make instinctive allowance for them at every moment, his sensuality and his snobbishness.

His sensuality is the quality, as we have seen, which unites the creatures of his temperament with those of his intellect, his poets with his thinkers, and proves that Romeo and Jaques, the Duke of “ Twelfth Night” and Hamlet, are one and the same person. If the matter is fairly considered it will be found that this all-pervading sensuality is the source, or at least a natural accompaniment of his gentle kindness and his unrivalled sympathy.

Shakespeare painted no portrait of the hero or of the adventurer; found no new word for the virile virtues or virile vices, but he gave immortal expression to desire and its offspring, to love, jealousy, and despair, to every form of pathos, pleading and pity, to all the gentler and more feminine qualities. Desire in especial has inspired him with phrases more magically expressive even than those gasped out by panting Sappho when lust had made her body a lyre of deathless music. Her lyric to the beloved is not so intense as Othello's:

O, thou weed
Who art so lovely fair and smell’st so sweet
That the sense aches at thee ”;

or as Cleopatra's astonishing:

“ There is gold, and here My bluest veins to kiss ";

-the revelation of a lifetime devoted to vanity and sensuality, sensuality pampered as a god and adored with an Eastern devotion.

I do not think I need labour this point further; as I have already noticed, Orsino, the Duke of “ Twelfth Night,” sums up Shakespeare's philosophy of love in the words :

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Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.”.


Shakespeare told us the truth about himself when he wrote in sonnet 142, Love is my sin.” We can expect from him new words or a new method in the painting of passionate desire.

The second peculiarity of Shakespeare which we must establish firmly in our minds before we attempt to construe the sonnets is his extraordinary snobbishness.

English snobbishness is like a London fog, intenser than can be found in any other country; it is so extravagant, indeed, that it seems different in kind. One instance of this: when Mr. Gladstone was being examined once in a case, he was asked by counsel, Was he a friend of a certain lord? Instead of answering simply that he was, he replied that he did not think it right to say he was a friend of so great a noble: “he had the honour of his acquaintance.” Only in England would the man who could make noblemen at will be found bowing before them with this humility of soul.

In Shakespeare's time English snobbishness was stronger than it is to-day; it was then supported by law and enforced by penalties. To speak of a lord without his title was regarded as defamation, and was punished as such more than once by the Star Chamber. Shakespeare's position, too, explains how this native snobbishness in him was heightened to flunkeyism. He was an aristocrat born, as we have

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seen, and felt in himself a kinship for the courtesies, chivalries, and generosities of aristocratic life. This tendency was accentuated by his calling. The middle class, already steeped in Puritanism, looked upon the theatre as scarcely better than the brothel, and showed their contempt for the players in a thousand ways. The groundlings and common people, with their “ greasy caps

” and “ stinking breath loathsome to Shakespeare as the crop-headed, gainloving citizens who condemned him and his like pitilessly. He was thrown back, therefore, upon the young noblemen who had read the classics and loved the arts. His works show how he admires them. He could paint you Bassanio or Benedick or Mercutio to the life. Everybody has noticed the predilection with which he lends such characters his own poetic spirit and charm. His lower orders are all food for comedy or farce: he will not treat them seriously.

His snobbishness carries him to astounding lengths. One instance: every capable critic has been astonished by the extraordinary fidelity to fact he shows in his historical plays; he often takes whole pages of an earlier play or of Plutarch, and merely varying the language uses them in his drama. He is punctiliously careful to set down the fact, whatever it may be, and explain it, even when it troubles the flow of his story; but as soon as the fact comes into conflict with his respect for dignitaries, he loses his nice conscience. He tells us of Agincourt without ever mentioning the fact that the English bowmen won the battle; he had the truth before him; the chronicler from whom he took the story vouched for the fact; but Shakespeare preferred to ascribe the victory to Henry and his lords. Shakespeare loved a lord with a passionate admiration, and when he paints himself it is usually as a duke or prince.

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