Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

NOTE 8, p. 139.

of every

“Note broadly in the outset, Shakespeare has no heroes ;-he has only heroines. There is not one entirely heroic figure in all his plays, except the slight sketch of Henry the Fifth, exaggerated for the purposes of the stage ; and the still slighter Valentine in "The Two Gentlemen of Verona.' In his laboured and perfect plays you have no hero. Othello would have been one, if his simplicity had not been so great as to leave him the

prey base practice round him; but he is the only example even approximating to the heroic type. Coriolanus—Cæsar—Antony, stand in flawed strength, and fall by their vanities; Hamlet is indolent and drowsily speculative; Romeo, an impatient boy ; the Merchant of Venice languidly submissive to adverse fortune ; Kent, in King Lear,' is entirely noble at heart, but too rough and unpolished to be of true use at the critical time, and he sinks into the office of a servant only. Orlando, no less noble, is yet the despairing toy of chance, followed, comforted, saved, by Rosalind. Whereas there is hardly a play that has not a perfect woman in it, steadfast in grave hope and errorless purpose : Cordelia, Desdemona, Isabella, Hermione, Imogen, Queen Katherine, Perdita, Sylvia, Viola, Rosalind, Helena, and last and perhaps loveliest, Virgilia, are all faultless ; conceived in the highest heroic type of humanity.

“Then observe, secondly, the catastrophe of every play is caused always by the fault or folly of a man ; the redemption, if there be any, is by the wisdom and virtue of a woman, and failing that there is none. The catastrophe of King Lear is owing to his own want of judgment, his impatient vanity, his misunderstanding of his children ; the virtue of his one true daughter would have saved him from all the injuries of the others unless he had cast her away from him ; as it is, she all but saved him.

“Of Othello I need not trace the tale ; nor the one weakness of his so mighty love ; nor the inferiority of his perceptive intellect to that even of the second woman character in the play, the

Emilia who dies in wild testimony against his error :-'Oh murderous coxcomb ! what should such a fool do with so good a wife?'

“In Romeo and Juliet,' the wise and entirely brave stratagem of the wife is brought to ruinous issue by the reckless impatience of her husband. In Winter's Tale' and in 'Cymbeline,' the happiness and existence of two princely households, lost through long years, and imperilled to the death by the folly and obstinacy of the husbands, are redeemed at last by the queenly patience and wisdom of the wives. In Measure for Measure ' the injustice of the judges, and the corrupt cowardice of the brother, are opposed to the victorious truth and adamantine purity of a woman. In 'Coriolanus,' the mother's counsel, acted upon in time, would have saved her son from all evil ; his momentary forgetfulness of it is his ruin ; her prayer, at lastį granted, saves him-not indeed from death, but from the curse of living as the destroyer of his country.

“And what shall I say of Julia, constant against the fickleness of a lover who is a mere wicked child ?-of Helena, against the petulance and insult of a careless youth-of the patience of Hero, the passion of Beatrice, and the calmly devoted wisdom of the 'unlessoned girl' who appears among the helplessness, the blindness, and the vindictive passions of men, as a gentle angel to save merely by her presence, and defeat the worst intensities of crime by her smile?

“Observe, further, among all the principal figures in Shakespeare's plays there is only one weak woman-Ophelia ; and it is because she fails Hamlet at the critical moment, and is not, and cannot in her nature be, a guide to him when he needs her most, that all the bitter catastrophe follows. Finally, though there are three wicked women among the principal figures, Lady Macbeth, Regan, and Goneril, they are felt at once to be frightful exceptions to the ordinary rules of life; fatal in their influence also in proportion to the power for good which they have abandoned.

“Such in broad light is Shakespeare's testimony to the

position and character of women in human life. He represents them as infallibly faithful and wise counsellors—incorruptibly just and pure examples—strong always to sanctify, even when they cannot save" (Ruskin, “Sesame and Lilies," pp. 126-131 ; cf. also Mrs. Jamieson's “ Characteristics of Women,” introduction, and p. 214; and Dowden's “Mind and Art,” pp. 110-13). Dowden quotes from Rümelin, “Shakespeare Studien,” pp. 288-92, a statement “ that in consequence of his position as player, Shakespeare was excluded from the acquaintance of women of fine culture and character, and therefore drew upon his fancy for his female portraits. At the same time Shakespeare shared with Goethe, Petrarch, Raphael, Dante, Rousseau, Jean Paul (a stra assemblage !) a mystical veneration for the feminine element of humanity as the higher and more divine.”

NOTE 9, p. 141. In regard to this point, the following criticism from the Spectator of July 29, 1905, is pertinent. It occurs in a review of a book by Mr. J. W. Gray, entitled “Shakespeare's Marriage.” The reviewer writes :

“ After stating that Shakespeare subordinated his genius to the attainment of objects among which the making of a great name in literature formed an insignificant part," Mr. Gray goes on to say that he shared with Richard Burbage and Edward Alleyn the business ability that enabled them to amass wealth by catering for the amusement of the public,' and adds : ‘Lyric and Epic poetry were probably neglected for this more profitable occupation, and indulged in merely as a pastime or out of deference to the prevailing fashion of writing sonnets.' Imputations of this sort have been common enough since the days of Pope's famous couplet. Shakespeare, 'for gold, not glory, winged his roving fight'; his motives were mercenary; he took up writing as his profession; and, as he was a good man of business, he made it pay.

From the nature of the case, it is extremely difficult to rebut such charges; but there is at least one con

L

sideration which seems to point to a very different conclusion. Every one knows that the dramatic work of the great majority of Shakespeare's contemporaries was habitually marred by grossnesses which appealed directly and strongly to the bad taste of Elizabethan audiences. On Mr. Gray's theory, we surely ought to find these blemishes scattered as profusely in the plays of Shakespeare as in those of Fletcher or Middleton. But this is precisely what we do not find. Errors of taste there may be, but there is not a trace of that systematic vulgarisation of thought and word which we know was the surest road in those days to popular success. It is difficult to resist the inference that Shakespeare deliberately avoided that sort of applause and that sort of profit which was incompatible with the nobler interests of art.”

NOTE 10, p. 143. Especially would I commend Professor Bradley's first lecture on the substance of Tragedy, in which he discusses with fine balance of judgment and keen analytic insight the problem of Shakespeare's ethical attitude towards his “tragic heroes," as to whether the ultimate power in his tragic world was regarded by him as fatalistic or providential, as a fate blind and indifferent to human happiness and goodness, or as a law which can be said to be just or benevolent, as to whether his view of the tragic fact can be thought of as Christian or simply agnostic. Professor Bradley holds the balance very evenly. His final summary of argument is this :

“ Thus we are left at last with an idea showing two sides or aspects which we can neither separate nor reconcile. The whole an order against which the individual part shows itself powerless seems to be animated by a passion for perfection ; we cannot otherwise explain its behaviour towards evil. Yet it appears to engender this evil within itself, and in its effort to overcome and expel it, it is agonised with pain, and driven to mutilate its own substance, and to love not only evil but priceless

good. That this idea, though very different from the idea of a blank fate, is no solution to the riddle of life is obvious ; but why should we expect it to be such a solution? Shakespeare was not attempting to justify the ways of God to men, or to show the universe as a Divine Comedy. He was writing tragedy, and tragedy would not be tragedy if it were not a painful mystery Nor can he be said to point distinctly, like some writers of tragedy, in any direction where a solution might lie. We find a few references to gods or God, to the influence of the stars, to another life; some of them certainly, all of them perhaps, merely dramatic—appropriate to the person from whose lips they fall. A ghost comes from Purgatory to impart a secret out of the reach of its hearer—who presently meditates on the question whether the sleep of death is dreamless. Accidents once or twice remind us strangely of the words 'There's a divinity doth shape our ends. More important are other impressions. Sometimes from the very furnace of affliction a conviction seems borne to us that somehow, if we could see it, this agony counts as nothing against the heroism and love which appear in it and thrill our hearts. Sometimes we are driven to cry out that these mighty or heavenly spirits who perish are too great for the little space in which they move, and that they vanish, not into nothingness, but into freedom. Sometimes from these sources, and from others, comes a presentiment, formless but haunting, and even profound, that all the fury of conflict, with its waste and woe, is less than half the truth, even an illusion, such stuff as dreams are made of.' But these faint and scattered intimations that the tragic world, being but a fragment of a whole beyond our vision, must needs be a contradiction, and no ultimate truth, avail nothing to interpret the mystery. We remain confronted with the inexplicable fact, or the no less inexplicable appearance, of a world travailing for perfection, but bringing to birth, together with glorious good, an evil which it is able to overcome only by self-torture and self-waste, and this fact or appearance is tragedy (pp. 37-39).

« ÎnapoiContinuați »