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NOTES AND ILLUSTRATIONS TO
NOTE I, p. 123. “ The historical examination of Shakespeare's plays explains why they were necessarily the product of the English mind, and of a particular period in the life of the English nation. It was the aim of Shakespeare not only 'to hold the mirror up to nature,' but to show the age and body of the time his form and pressure'; his poetical design was at once universal and particular. Two causes external to himself made his dramas possible ; the state of English society as contrasted with that of other nations in Europe, and the continuity of tradition on the English stage. England alone presented such social conditions at the close of the sixteenth century as allowed all the great contemporary tendencies of human action to be reflected in the drama. She alone, while preserving the catholic and feudal foundations of society, had given full play to the new impulses of life, derived on the one side from the Renaissance in Italy, on the other from the Reformation in Germany. Like France and Spain, she had developed her institutions round the central principle of Monarchy ; but while she had encouraged every form of enterprise both in speculation and action, she had not obliterated the old traditions of honour and chivalry. Nowhere else could the dramatist find such matter for stirring political situations as in the chronicle histories of England since the reign of King John ; nowhere else could he study with equal advantage the effects produced on the lives of men by the contending forces of materialism and religion, or watch so well the struggles of
sensuality and ambition, checked by conscience on the one hand, and the sense of vanity on the other” (Courthope, “History of English Poetry,” vol. iv. p. 198).
NOTE 2, p. 125. “Literary Studies,” by Walter Bagehot, vol. i. p. 84. To this testimony of Bagehot I should like to add the following passage from Professor Dowden's “Mind and Art of Shakespeare.” It occurs towards the close of his book, in a passing criticism of the sonnets, at p. 396. No one has written, I venture to say, with deeper insight than Dr. Dowden of the ethical significance of Shakespearean drama.
“In the sonnets we recognise three things—that Shakespeare was capable of measureless personal devotion; that he was tenderly sensitive, sensitive above all to every diminution or alteration of that love his heart so eagerly craved ; and that when wronged, although he suffered anguish, he transcended his private injury, and learned to forgive. There are lovers of Shakespeare so jealous of his honour that they are unable to suppose that any grave moral Alaw could have impaired the nobility of his life and manhood. Shakespeare, as he is discovered in his poems and his plays, appears rather to have been a man who by strenuous effort, and by the aid of the good powers of the world, was saved, so as by fire. Before Shakespeare zealots demand our attention to ingenious theories, which help us to credit the immaculateness of Shakespeare's life, let them prove to us that his writings never offend. When they have shown that Shakespeare's poetry possesses the proud virginity of Milton's poetry, they may go on to show that Shakespeare's youth was devoted, like the youth of Milton, to an ideal of moral elevation and purity. When we have been convinced that the same moral and spiritual temper which gave rise to the Comus' gave rise to the Venus and Adonis,' we shall think it probable that Shakespeare could have uttered the proud words about his unspotted life that Milton uttered.
“ Assuredly the inference from Shakespeare's writings is not that he held himself with virginal strength and pride remote from the blameful pleasures of the world. What no reader will find anywhere in the plays or poems of Shakespeare is a cold-blooded, hard, or selfish line; all is warm, sensitive, vital, radiant with delight, or a-thrill with pain. And what we may dare to affirm of Shakespeare's life is that, whatever its sins may have been, they were not hard, selfish, deliberate, coldblooded sins. The errors of his heart originated in his sensitiveness, in his imagination (not at first inured to the hardness of fidelity to the fact), in his quick consciousness of existence, and in the self-abounding devotion of his heart. There are some noble lines by Chapman, in which he pictures to himself the life of great energy, enthusiasms, and passions which for ever stands upon the edge of utmost danger, and yet for ever remains in absolute security.
• Give me the spirit that on this life's rough sea
Loves to have his sails filled with a lusty wind
That he should stoop to any other law.' “Such a master-spirit pressing forward under strained canvas was Shakespeare. If the ship dipped and drank water, she rose again, and at length we behold her within view of her haven, sailing under a large calm wind, not without tokens of stress of weather, but if battered, yet unbroken by the waves. . . . The Shakespeare whom we discern in the sonnets had certainly not attained the broad mastery of life which the Stratford bust asserts to have been Shakespeare's in his closing years. . .. Besides, life was not exhausted. The ship righted itself, and went ploughing forward across a broad sea. Shakespeare found ever
more and more in life to afford adequate sustenance for man's highest needs of intellect and of heart. Life became ever more encircled with presences of beauty, of goodness, and of terror ; and Shakespeare's fortitude of heart increased."
Note 3, p. 128. “During all the modern period the Western mind in art must be regarded as having less and less religious guidance for its energies. It has had no faith. The old guidance was continually failing, while the new, though often admirably felt, was not yet visible. Having to find pleasant food for an unstable and increasingly revolutionary society, the artist, according to his genius, might amuse, delight, instruct, or even exalt, but the first characteristic of every work was that it was apart from religiona special product. Art was thus degraded from its religious rank, and put among miscellaneous things. Hence it was often trivial in subject and hasty in execution, often addressed to a limited class, not seldom licentious—in a word, irreligious. Such spots may sometimes be seen in Shakespeare's sun ; nor is it strange when we remember his occasional purpose and the base surroundings of his theatre. How wonderful rather that he should have been so good and pure! This was due to his great and affectionate character, but also to his neighbourhood to mediæval order. His intellectual apprehension of scepticism was extraordinary, and scepticism had not got possession of his heart” (Vernon Lushington, “New Calendar of Great Men," p. 428).
NOTE 4, p. 131. “ The first phase of the modern Revolution, transmitting the mediæval influence, produced an impulse which gave rise in the second phase to a truly admirable poetic movement, in which all the nations of the west took part. ... The general poetic activity derived its source from the profound inspiration which had been imparted to all the West by the poem of Dante
and even by that of À Kempis, which, by their pictures of the Middle Age, co-operated, each in its own way, in inaugurating modern civilisation. . . . The general tendency of the West towards a rational and pacific mode of life had now become predominant enough to call forth an indirect and preparatory idealisation of it. The art thus evoked naturally found its chief subject in private life : but it succeeded in embracing public life also, by drawing its themes from the past, as the present was too unsettled for such a purpose. In both these fields of poetic activity Protestantism was an obstruction, disturbing the domestic relations, and inspiring dislike to the Middle Age, the memories of which were alone able to stir the popular heart. ... The profoundly original genius of Shakespeare sought to represent the union of private and public life, assigning its due preponderance to the latter, and breaking free from the trammelling distinction between the epic and dramatic forms, a distinction which is more seeming than real, and will in the end be given up. The Protestantism, however, in the midst of which he lived, made him turn away from the Middle Age, and even hindered his attaining a due appreciation of Antiquity, so that this free thinker was obliged to devote his chief pieces to the illustration of periods that were too near his own time to admit of being satisfactorily handled” (Comte's “ Positive Polity,” vol. iii. pp. 485–86 ; cf. also vol. ii. ch. v.; and “ Positive Philosophy,” vol. ii. pp. 327-33).
NOTE 5, p. 133.
“The religious exordium (of Shakespeare's will) is in conventional phraseology, and gives no clue to Shakespeare's personal religious opinions. What those opinions were, we have neither the means nor the warrant for discussing. But while it is