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against it. And this prejudice in him had an obvious root. Chapman had just translated and published the first books of his Iliad, and Chapman was the poet whom Shakespeare speaks of as his rival in Sonnets 78-86. He cannot help smiling at the “ strained touches ” of Chapman's rhetoric and his heavy learning. Those who care to remember the first scene of “ Love's Labour's Lost” will recall how Shakespeare in that early work mocked at learning and derided study. When he first reached London he was no doubt despised for his ignorance of Greek and Latin; he had had to bear the sneers and
1 flouts of the many who appraised learning, an university training and gentility above genius. He took the first opportunity of answering his critics:
“Small have continual plodders ever won,
Save bare authority from others' books.”
But the taunts rankled, and when the bitter days came of disappointment and disillusion he took up that Greek life which his rival had tried to depict in its fairest colours, and showed what he thought was the seamy side of it. But had he known anything of Greek life and Greek art it would have been his pleasure to outdo his rival by giving at once a truer and a fairer presentation of Greece than Chapman could conceive. It is the rivalry of Chapman that irritates Shakespeare into pouring contempt on Greek life in “ Troilus and Cressida." As Chapman was for the Greeks, Shakespeare took sides with the Trojans.
But why do I assume that “Troilus and Cressida” is earlier than “ Antony and Cleopatra?” Some critics, and among them Dr. Brandes, place it later, and they have some reason for their belief.
The bitterness in “ Troilus and Cressida,” they say rightly, is more intense; and as Shakespeare's disappointment with men and things appears to have increased from “Hamlet” to “Timon," or from 1602 to 1607-8, they put the bitterer play later. Cogent as is this reasoning, I cannot believe that Shakespeare could have painted Cressida after having painted Cleopatra. The same model has evidently served for both women; but while Cleopatra is perhaps the most superb portrait of a courtesan in all literature, Cressida is a crude and harsh sketch such as a Dumas or a Pinero might have conceived.
It is more than probable, I think, that “ Troilus and Cressida” was planned and the love-story at least written about 1603, while Shakespeare's memory of one of his mistress's betrayals was still vivid and sharp. The play was taken up again four or five years later and the character of Ulysseş deepened and strengthened. In this later revision the outlook is so piercing-sad, the phrases of such pregnancy, that the work must belong to Shakespeare's ripest maturity. Moreover, he has grown comparatively careless of characterization as in all his later work; he gives his wise sayings almost as freely to Achilles as to Ulysses.
“Troilus and Cressida ” is interesting because it establishes the opinion that Chapman was indeed the rival poet whom Shakespeare referred to in the sonnets, and especially because it shows us the poet's mistress painted in a rage of erotic passion so violent that it defeats itself and the portrait becomes an incredible caricature—that way madness lies: “ Troilus and Cressida points to “Lear” and Timon.”
DRAMAS OF LUST: PART II
Antony and Cleopatra
speare's maturity, to the drama in which his passion for Mary Fitton finds supreme expression.
Antony and Cleopatra” is an astonishing production not yet fairly appreciated even in England, and perhaps not likely to be appreciated anywhere at its full worth for many a year to come.
But when we English have finally left that dark prison of Puritanism and lived for some time in the sunlight where the wayside crosses are hidden under climbing roses, we shall probably couple “ Antony and Cleopatra” with “Hamlet” in our love as Shakespeare's supremest works. It was fitting that the same man who wrote “Romeo and Juliet,” the incomparable symphony of first love, should also write “ Antony and Cleopatra,” the far more wonderful and more terrible tragedy of mature passion.
Let us begin with the least interesting part of the play, and we shall see that all the difficulties in it resolve themselves as soon as we think of it as Shakespeare's own confession. Wherever he leaves Plutarch, it is to tell his own story.
Some critics have reproached Shakespeare with the sensualism of “Romeo and Juliet”; no one, so far as I can remember, has blamed the Sapphic intensity of “ Antony and Cleopatra,” where the lust of the flesh and desire of the eye reign triumphant. Professor Dowden indeed says: “ The spirit of the
play, though superficially it appear voluptuous, is essentially severe. That is to say, Shakespeare is faithful to the fact.” Antony and Cleopatra kill themselves, forsooth, and thus conventional virtue is justified by self-murder. So superficial and false a judgement is a quaint example of mid-Victorian taste: it reminds me of the horsehair sofa and the antimacassar. Would Professor Dowden have had Shakespeare alter the historical facts, making Antony conquer Caesar and Cleopatra triumph over death? Would this have been sufficient to prove to the professor that Shakespeare's morals are not his, and that the play is certainly the most voluptuous in modern literature? Well, this is just what Shakespeare has done. Throughout the play Caesar is a subordinate figure while Antony is the protagonist and engages all our sympathies; whenever they meet Antony shows as the larger, richer, more generous nature. In every act he conquers Caesar; leaving
. on us the gorgeous ineffaceable impression of a great personality whose superb temperament moves everyone to admiration and love; Caesar, on the other hand, affects one as a calculating machine.
But Shakespeare's fidelity to the fact is so extraordinary that he gives Caesar one speech which shows his moral superiority to Antony. When his sister weeps on hearing that Antony has gone back to Cleopatra, Caesar bids her dry her tears,
This line alone suffices to show why Antony defeated; the force of imperial Rome is in the great phrase; but Shakespeare will not admit his favourite's inferiority, and in order to explain An
tony's defeat Shakespeare represents luck as being against him, luck or fate, and this is not the only
even the chief proof of the poet's partiality. Pompey, who scarcely notices Caesar when Antony is by, says of Antony:
“his soldiership Is twice the other twain.”
And, indeed, Antony in the play appears to be able to beat Caesar whenever he chooses or whenever he is not betrayed.
All the personages of the play praise Antony, and when he dies the most magnificent eulogy of him is pronounced by Agrippa, Caesar's friend:
“A rarer spirit never
Antony is even permitted at the last to console himself; he declares exultantly that in the other world the ghosts shall come to gaze at him and Cleopatra, and:
* Dido and her Aeneas shall want troops.”
Shakespeare makes conquering Caesar admit the truth of this boast:
“No grave upon the earth shall clip in it
To win in life universal admiration and love, and in death imperishable renown, is to succeed in spite of failure and suicide, and this is the lesson which Shakespeare read into Plutarch's story. Even Enobarbus is conquered at the last by Antony's noble