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sonnet to “ Toussaint l'Ouverture” was quite beyond him. He could never have written:
Thou hast left behind
It is time to speak of him frankly; he was gentle, and witty; gay, and sweet-mannered, very_studious, too, and fair of mind; but at the same time he was weak in body and irresolute, hasty and wordy, and took habitually the easiest way out of difficulties; he was ill-endowed in the virile virtues and virile vices. When he showed arrogance it was always of intellect and not of character; he was a parasite by nature. But none of these faults would have brought him to ruin; he was snared again in full manhood by his master-quality, his overpowering sensuality, and thrown in the mire.
SHAKESPEARE'S LIFE- continued
HAKESPEARE'S life seems to fall sharply
about 1597, he must have been happy and well content, I think, in spite of his deep underlying melancholy. According to my reckoning he had been in London about ten years, and no man has ever done so much in the time and been so successful even the world counts success. He had not only written the early poems and the early plays, but in the last three or four years half-a-dozen masterpieces : “ A Midsummer Night's Dream,” “Romeo and Juliet," “Richard II.," “ King John," “ The Merchant of Venice," " The Two Parts of Henry IV.” At thirtythree he was already the greatest poet and dramatist of whom Time holds any record.
Southampton's bounty had given him ease, and allowed him to discharge his father's debts, and place his dearly loved mother in a position of comfort in the best house in Stratford.
He had troops of friends, we may be sure, for there was no gentler, gayer, kindlier creature in all London, and he set store by friendship. Ten years before he had neither money, place, nor position; now he had all these, and was known even at Court. The Queen had been kind to him. He ended the epilogue to the “ Second Part of Henry IV.," which he had just finished, by kneeling “ to pray for the Queen.” Essex or Southampton had no doubt
brought his work to Elizabeth's notice: she had approved his “Falstaff ” and encouraged him to continue. Of all his successes, this royal recognition was surely the one which pleased him most. He was at the topmost height of happy hours when he met the woman who was to change the world for him.
In the lives of great men the typical tragedies are likely to repeat themselves. Socrates was condemned to drain many a poisoned cup before he was given the bowl of hemlock: Shakespeare had come to grief with many women before he fell with Mary Fitton. It was his ungovernable sensuality which drove him in youth to his untimely and unhappy marriage; it was his ungovernable sensuality, too, which in his maturity led him to worship Mary Fitton, and threw him into those twelve years of bondage to earthy, coarse service which he regretted so bitterly when the passion-fever had burned itself out.
One can easily guess how he came to know the self-willed and wild-living maid-of-honour. Like many of the courtiers, Mistress Fitton affected the society of the players. Kemp, the clown of his company, knew her, and dedicated a book to her rather familiarly. I have always thought that Shakespeare resented Kemp's intimacy with Mistress Fitton, for when Hamlet advises the players to prevent the clown from gagging, he adds, with a snarl of personal spite:
a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it.”
Mary Fitton's position, her proud, dark beauty, her daring of speech and deed took Shakespeare by storm. She was his complement in every failing; her strength matched his weakness; her resolution
his hesitation, her boldness his timidity; besides, she was of rank and place, and out of pure snobbery he felt himself her inferior. He forgot that humble worship was not the way to win a high-spirited girl. He loved her so abjectly that he lost her; and it was undoubtedly his overpowering sensuality and snobbishness which brought him to his knees, and his love to ruin. He could not even keep her after winning her; desire blinded him. His love was too fleshly-coarse to be perfect. He would not see that Mary Fitton was not a wanton through mere lust. As soon as her fancy was touched she
herself; but she was true to the new lover for the time. We know that she bore a son to Pembroke and two daughters to Sir Richard Leveson. Her slips with
I cannot sing
Cressida. Do you think I will?
Troilus. No: but something may be done that we will not.”
The first lines show that poor Shakespeare often felt out of it at Court. The suggestion I have put in italics, is unspeakable. Shakespeare made use of every sensual bait in hope of winning his love, liming
himself and not the woman. His vanity was so inordinate that instead of saying to himself, “it's natural that a high-born girl of nineteen should prefer a great lord of her own age to a poor poet of thirty-four": he strives to persuade himself and us that Mary Fitton was won away from him by“ subtle games," and in his rage of wounded vanity he wrote that tremendous libel on her, which he put in the mouth of Ulysses :
"Fie, fie upon her! There's language in her eye, her cheek, her lip, Nay, her foot speaks; her wanton spirits look out At every joint and motive of her body. O, these encounterers, so glib of tongue, That give accosting welcome ere it comes, And wide unclasp the tables of their thoughts To every
ticklish reader! set them down . For sluttish 'spoils of opportunity And daughters of the game."
His tortured sensuality caricatures his mistress : that “ticklish reader” reveals him; Mary Fitton was finer than his portraits; we want her soul, and do not get it from him even in Cleopatra. It was the consciousness of his own age and physical inferiority that drove him to jealous denigration of his mistress.
Mary Fitton did not beguile Shakespeare to“ the very heart of loss,” as he cried; but to the innermost shrine of the temple of Fame. It was this absolute abandonment to passion which made Shakespeare the supreme poet. If it had not been for his excessive sensuality, and his mad passion for his
gipsy,” we should never have had from him “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” “Othello,” “ Antony and
” Cleopatra,” or “Lear.” He would still have been a
.a poet and a dramatic writer of the first rank; but he