« VorigeDoorgaan »
And Posthumus betrays as clearly as ever Hamlet did that he is merely Shakespeare masquerading:
“I'll write against them,
very devils cannot plague them better.”
“ Write against them ” indeed! This is the same threat which Shakespeare uses against his dark mistress in Sonnet 140, and every one will admit that it is more in the character of the poet and man of letters than in that of the warrior son-in-law of a half-barbarous king. The last line here, because it is a little superfluous, a little emphatic, seems to me likely to have a personal application. When Shakespeare's mistress had her will, did she fall to misery, I wonder?
I may be allowed to notice here how intensely characteristic all this play is of Shakespeare. In the third scene of the third act, life in the country is contrasted to its advantage with life at Court; and then gold is treated as dirt by the princely brothers-both these, the love of country life, and the contempt of gold, are, as we shall see later, abiding peculiarities of Shakespeare.
When we come to Posthumus again almost at the end of the play we find that his anger with Imogen has burned itself out. He is angry now with Pisanio for having executed his order and murdered her; he should have “saved the noble Imogen to repent.” Surely the poet Shakespeare and not the outraged lover speaks in this epithet, "noble.”
Posthumus describes the battle in which he took so gallant a part in Shakespeare's usual manner. He falls into rhyme; he shows the cheap modesty of the conventional hero; he tells of what others did, and nothing of his own feats; Belarius and the two striplings, he says: “ With their own nobleness gilded pale looks.”
Unfortunately one is reminded of the exquisite sonnet line:
* Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy.”
Gild” is one of Shakespeare's favourite words; he uses it very often, sometimes indeed as in this case, ineffectively.
But the scene which reveals the character of Posthumus beyond all doubt is the prison scene in the fifth act. His soliloquy which begins :
“Most welcome, bondage, for thou art a way,
I think, to liberty”. is all pure Shakespeare. When he determines to give up life, he says:
“O Imogen! I'll speak to thee in silence,” and Hamlet at his death comes to the self-same word:
“ The rest is silence."
The scene with the gaoler is from Hamlet's soul; Posthumus jests with his keeper as Hamlet with the gravedigger:
“So, if I prove a good repast to the spectators, the ship pays the shot;" and the Hamlet melancholy:
“I am merrier to die than thou art to live; ”
and the Hamlet riddle still unsolved:
“I tell thee, fellow, there are none want eyes to direct them the way I am going; but such as wink, and will not use them.”
When the messenger comes to bring him to the king, Posthumus cries :
* Thou bringest good news, I am called to be made free,”
for there are
no bolts for the dead." Those who wish to see how Shakespeare's mind worked will compare Posthumus' speech to Iachimo,, when he has learned the truth, with Othello's words when he is convinced of his own fatal error and of Desdemona's chastity. The two speeches are twins; though the persons uttering them should be of totally different characters. The explanation of this astounding similarity will be given when we come to “ Othello."
It is characteristic of Posthumus that he should strike Imogen/in her page's dress, not recognizing her; he is ever too quick- -a mere creature of impulse. More characteristic still is the way he forgives Iachimo, just as Vincentio forgave Angelo:
Kneel not to me:
In judging his fellow-men this is Shakespeare's harshest word. Posthumus, then, is presented to us
in the beginning of the play as perfect, a model to young and old, of irreproachable virtue and of all wonderful qualities. In the course of the play, however, he shows himself very nimble-witted, credulous, and impulsive, quick to anger and quicker still to forgive; with thoughts all turned to sadness and to musing; a poet-ever in extremes; now hating his own rash errors to the point of demanding the heaviest punishment for them; now swearing that he will revenge himself on women by writing against them; a philosopher-he jests with his gaoler and consoles himself with despairing speculation in the very presence of the Arch-Fear. All these are mani
festly characteristics of Hamlet, and Posthumus L possesses no others.
So far, then, from finding that Shakespeare never revealed himself in his dramas, I have shown that he pictured himself as the hero of six plays written at widely different times; in fact that, like Rembrandt, he painted his own portrait in all the critical periods of life: as a sensuous youth given over to love and poetry in Romeo; a few years later as a melancholy onlooker at life's pageant in Jaques ; in middle age as the passionate, melancholy, aesthetephilosopher of kindliest nature in Hamlet and Macbeth; as the fitful Duke incapable of severity in “Measure for Measure," and finally, when standing within the shadow, as Posthumus, an idealized yet feebler replica of Hamlet.
1 A hypercritic might contend that Jaques was not the hero of “As You Like It”; but the objection really strengthens my argument. Shakespeare makes of Jaques, who is merely a secondary character without influence on the action, the principal person in the play simply because in Jaques he satisfied his own need of self-revealing.
SHAKESPEARE'S MEN OF ACTION : THE BASTARD,
ARTHUR, AND KING RICHARD II.
T is time now, I think, to test my theory by con
sidering the converse of it. In any case, the attempt to see the other side, is pretty sure to make for enlightenment, and may thus justify itself. In the mirror which Shakespeare held up to human nature, we not only see Romeo, and Jaques, Hamlet, Macbeth and Posthumus; but also the leonine, frank face of the Bastard, the fiery, lean, impatient mask of Hotspur, and the cynical, bold eyes of Richard III. Even if it were admitted that Shakespeare preferred the type of the poet-philosopher, he was certainly able, one would say, to depict the man of action with extraordinary vigour and success. He himself then must have possessed a certain strength of character, certain qualities of decision and courage; he must have had, at least, “ a good stroke in him," as Carlyle phrased it. This is the universal belief, a belief sanctioned by Coleridge and Goethe, and founded apparently on plain facts, and yet, I think, it is mistaken, demonstrably untrue. It might even be put more plausibly than any of its defenders has put it. One might point out that Shakespeare's men of action are nearly all to be found in the historical plays which he wrote in early manhood, while the portrait of the philosopher-poet is the favourite study of his riper years. It would then be possible to suggest that Shakespeare grew from a bold,