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the facility with which affectionate expressions came to his lips. Moreover, it must not be forgotten that while the sonnets were being written he was in rivalry with Chapman for this very patron's favour, and this rivalry alone would explain a good deal of the fervour, or, should I say, the affected fervour he put into the first series of sonnets; but now for the decisive and convincing argument for Shakespeare's innocence.
Let us first ask ourselves how it is that real passion betrays itself and proves its force. Surely it is by its continuance; by its effect upon the life later. I have assumed, or inferred, as my readers may decide, that Shakespeare's liking for Herbert was chiefly snobbish, and was deepened by the selfish hope that he would find in him a patron
more powerful and more liberally disposed than Lord Southampton. He probably felt that young Herbert owed him a great deal for his companionship and poetical advice; for Herbert was by way of being a poet himself. If my view is correct, after Shakespeare lost Lord Herbert's affection, we should expect to hear him talking of man's forgetfulness and ingratitude, and that is just what Lord Herbert left in him, bitterness and contempt. Never one word in all his works to show that the loss of this youth's affection touched him more nearly. As we have seen, he cannot keep the incident out of his plays. Again and again he drags it in; but in none of these dramas is there any lingering kindness towards the betrayer. And as soon as the incident vas past and done with, as
as the three or four years' companionship with Lord Herbert was at an end, not one word more do we catch expressive of affection. Again and again Shakespeare rails at man's ingratitude, but nothing more.
Think of it. Pembroke, under
James, came to great power; was, indeed, made Lord Chamberlain, and set above all the players, so that he could have advanced Shakespeare as he pleased with a word: with a word could have made him Master of the Revels, or given him a higher post. He did not help him in any way. He gave books every Christmas to Ben Jonson, but we hear of no gift to Shakespeare, though evidently from the dedication to him of the first folio, he remained on terms of careless acquaintance with Shakespeare. Ingratitude is what Shakespeare found in Lord Pembroke; ingratitude is what he complains of in him.
What a different effect the loss of Mary Fitton had upon Shakespeare. Just consider what the plays teach us when the sonnet-story is finished. The youth vanishes; no reader can find a trace of him, or even an allusion to him. But the woman comes to be the centre, as we shall see, of tragedy after tragedy. She flames through Shakespeare's life, a fiery symbol, till at length she inspires perhaps his greatest drama, “ Antony and Cleopatra,” filling it with the disgrace of him who is “a strumpet's fool," the shame of him who has become “the bellows and the fan to cool a harlot's lust."
The passion for Mary Fitton was the passion of Shakespeare's whole life. The adoration of her, and the insane desire of her, can be seen in every plays he wrote from 1597 to 1608. After he lost her, he went back to her; but the wound of her frailty cankered and took on proud flesh in him, and tortured him to nervous breakdown and madness. When at length he won to peace, after ten years, it was the peace
of exhaustion. His love for his gipsy-wanton” burned him out, as one is burnt to ashes at the stake, and his passion only ended with his life. There is no room for doubt in my mind, no faint
est suspicion. Hallam and Heine, and all the cry of critics, are mistaken in this matter. Shakespeare admired Lord Herbert's youth and boldness and beauty, hoped great things from his favour and patronage; but after the betrayal, he judged him inexorably as a mean traitor, “a stealer” who had betrayed “ a twofold trust”; and later, cursed him for his ingratitude, and went about with wild thoughts of bloody revenge, as we shall soon in “Hamlet” and “ Othello," and then dropped him into oblivion without a pang.
It is bad enough to show that Shakespeare, the sweetest spirit and finest mind in all literature, should have degraded himself to pretend such an affection for the profligate Herbert as has given occasion for misconstruction. It is bad enough, I say, to know that Shakespeare could play flunkey to this extent; but after all, that is the worst that can be urged against him, and it is so much better than men have been led to believe that there may be a certain relief in the knowledge.
THE FIRST-FRUIT OF THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE:
THE HE play of “ Julius Caesar" was written about 1600 or 1601. As
Twelfth Night last of the golden comedies, so “ Julius Caesar" is the first of the great tragedies, and bears melancholy witness to us that the poet's young-eyed confidence in life and joy in living are dying, if not dead.
66 Julius Caesar is the first outcome of disillusion. Before it was written Shakespeare had been deceived by his mistress, betrayed by his friend; his eyes had been opened to the fraud and falsehood of life; but, like one who has just been operated on for cataract, he still sees realities as through a mist, dimly. He meets the shock of traitorous betrayal as we should have expected Valentine or Antonio or Orsino to meet it-with pitying forgiveness. Suffering, instead of steeling his heart and drying up his sympathies, as it does with most men, softened him, induced him to give himself wholly to that " angel, Pity.” He will not
“ believe that his bitter experience is universal; in spite of Herbert's betrayal, he still has the courage to declare his belief in the existence of the ideal. At the very last his defeated Brutus cries:
“My heart doth joy that yet in all my life
I found no man but he was true to me."
The pathos of this attempt still to believe in man
and man's truth is over the whole play. But the belief was fated to disappear. No man who lives in the world can boast of loyalty as Brutus did; even Jesus had a Judas among the Twelve. But when Shakespeare wrote “ Julius Caesar” he still tried to believe, and this gives the play an important place in his life's story.
Before I begin to consider the character of Brutus I should like to draw attention to three passages which place Brutus between the melancholy Jaques of “As You Like It,” whose melancholy is merely temperamental, and the almost despairing Hamlet. Jaques says:
Invest me in my motley; give me leave
This is the view of early manhood which does not doubt its power to cure all the evils which afflict mortality. Then comes the later, more hopeless view, to which Brutus gives expression:
“ Till then, my noble friend, chew upon this;
Is like to lay upon us."
The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,
But Shakespeare is a meliorist even in Hamlet, and believes that the ailments of man
can all be set right.