Shakespeare and the Nobility. The Negotiation of Lineage

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Maria Kirk drew my attention to Prof. Helen E. The transcription is by J. Lyle, Librarian at Hatfield House at the time. Sandison effectively provides a context for the letter. She argues convincingly that the date of the letter is probably January Maybe Earl Percy intends to remind his reader that the Percy earldom is centuries older than the Cecil title. Moreover, the Percies have been the focus of highly-regarded entertainment, something that the Cecils cannot claim.

Percy implies that the second Earl of Salisbury should have shown greater deference to the representative of a more established, more celebrated noble family. Henry was a simple and sincere, a morally courageous and genuinely religious man and king. As he himself reminds us, he was only nine months old when he came to the throne, and the situation in which he found himself later was not of his making.

That he was frequently bewildered by the problems thrust upon him and willing to shed political responsibility is true. But he was childlike —not childish, as Richard was. No other king in Shakespeare had the good of his kingdom so at heart or suffered so keenly at the sufferings of his subjects.

When he declares that he would give his life to save them, we do not doubt his word for a second. We get a taste of his quality in such lines as. Had it not been for that Amazon, Margaret of Lancaster, and that fiend in human shape, the younger Richard of York, he would have. They are possibly the three most significant lines in these plays. Henry came close to prevailing through just that force. And here is perhaps the first bit of evidence in Shakespeare, evidence that goes on accumulating, that he too had faith that innocence might yet prove to be the force that would overcome the world.

Henry was a shining example of the truth that even in a palace life may be lived well. His final words of forgiveness to his murderer,. Doubtless Henry was better fitted for the role of saint than of king. But as Plato declares that the perfect state will not be attained until philosophers are kings, so Shakespeare may be intimating that in a happier time than the fifteenth century the ideal ruler may have more of the characteristics of the saint than then seemed feasible. It is a startling thought that Henry VI had every one of these virtues.

Is there another king in Shakespeare of whom that may be said? What wonder that so untypical a monarch should have elicited from his Amazonian wife the puzzled exclamation on the battlefield:. Henry is the first of a long line of Shakespearean characters who, born to power or having power thrust on them, have a strong distaste for it and a corresponding longing for the simple life. Even the misanthropic Timon and the deposed King Lear have bonds of kinship with the rest. This group of characters carries a political implication of especial importance for our day.

One of the weakest aspects of democracy as it has so far worked out is that under it the aggressive type that desires power and likes to rule tends to gain power and so does rule—whereas genuine democracy is the art of getting those who are naturally averse to holding power to accept it. He demonstrates—in an almost Chinese fashion—that there is such a thing as being as well as doing, such a thing as doing through being. In this respect Henry is a prophecy, and in a sense a progenitor, of the most saintly character Shakespeare ever created—the divine Desdemona.

C hapter V. T itus A ndronicus. All lovers of Shakespeare would be glad to relieve the poet of responsibility for that concentrated brew of blood and horror, Titus Andronicus. From an outline of the story one would think that the play itself must be a waking nightmare. But it fails completely to produce any such effect on the modern reader for the reason that its piled-up cruelties and brutalities follow one another with such crudity and rapidity that it produces no conviction of reality, though it doubtless produced more of that conviction in its own day when men were notoriously given to permitting instant way to their passions and impulses.

In spite of wide reluctance to attribute the play to Shakespeare, the evidence that it is his seems decisive. The tradition referred to by Ravens-croft, who himself adapted the play during the Restoration, to the effect that Shakespeare contributed merely a few master-touches to a play written by somebody else, is generally discounted.

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The play as a whole has a kind of passionate strength and vehemence that may well indicate it was the work of a genius just becoming aware of his capacities. It contains passages of natural beauty that, taken by themselves, are not unlike Shakespeare. Several of its leading figures, notably Titus, Tamora, and Aaron, might be considered rough first drafts of later Shakespearean characters. Of these last the most striking is the memorable couplet:.

How came the young Shakespeare to indulge in such an orgy of atrocity as the plot of this piece is? The obvious answer is that he probably inherited much of it from an earlier play. But that still leaves us with the question: Why did he choose this story rather than another? There seem to be two possible reasons, one of which will appeal to most people as much more plausible than the other.

The earlier the date of Titus and nobody knows when it was written , the easier it is to believe that Shakespeare the dramatic apprentice was bent on doing, even more thoroughly and successfully if possible than anyone else had done, what was meeting popular acclaim at the moment in the theatrical world.

His early verse shows how capable he was of imitation. He seems to be an example of the truth that the poet who is ultimately to prove most original may—as in the case of Keats—begin by a. It would be in keeping with such a tendency for a juvenile Shakespeare to strive in his first theatrical enthusiasm to exceed popular examples of the Senecan tragedy of blood just as in The Comedy of Errors he exceeded Plautus in comedy. Yet, even so, it is hard to account for the immense inferiority of Titus Andronicus to Richard III, the former a work that retains almost no intrinsic as distinct from historical interest, the latter, in spite of crudities, still an unsurpassed masterpiece in its kind.

The second possible way of taking the play, if we could accept it, would resolve this difficulty. This interpretation amounts to much the same as the one already offered, but allows for a more conscious purpose, and even for some humor, in the imitation—as if Shakespeare, however fascinated himself, were astounded by the relish of the public for the tragedy of blood and said to himself: Tll make an experiment. There is blood and there is horror in those plays, but they are always subordinated, as they are not here, to some high poetical end.

C hapter VI. It is another and more impressive one when taken as the climax and conclusion of the eight English History Plays that begin with Richard II—nine if King John is included as a sort of overture to the others. Of these nine, five were written after RichardIII. By itself, the play impresses us especially through its extraordinary theatrical quality. As the last one in a series, it becomes predominantly a study in nemesis.

RichardIII, from beginning to end, is marked by juvenility and genius. Nothing Shakespeare ever wrote was apparently done with more gusto. The destructive energy of Richard himself is a measure of the constructive energy that went into his making. The zest of the poet in fashioning his villain-hero accounts for our zest in following his machinations.

Except toward the end, there is little evidence, as there is in Macbeth, that the author was awed by his own creation. What we feel is a sense of triumph in power, an exuberance of invention and excess of wit accumulating into a tidal wave of theatrical effect. Take the one matter of irony. It is as if the youthful Shakespeare had just discovered the fun of making words mean two or more contradictory things at once.

He is like a boy with a new toy. Richard fairly exudes expressions that are innocent on the surface and diabolic—no, not underneath, but on the surface also. For they are so broad and obvious that you cannot miss them. You can almost see Richard wink at the audience and Shakespeare with him as he utters such lines as.

One searches this play in vain for the subtle ironies of Macbeth which can be taken in only at a tenth reading and which no theater audience could conceivably catch. Richard III fairly dazzles as a theater piece and even more than The Comedy of Errors measures the self-restraint Shakespeare must have exercised, in view of its success, to save himself from prostituting such gifts to popularity. But in stressing the immaturities of the play there is danger of overstatement. Indeed, a time like our own that has out-Machiavelled Machiavelli has turned into sober realism much in this play that to a reader of forty years ago sounded like sheer invention.

The world is forever catching up with Shakespeare—only to fall behind him again. In Richard we see what results from a union of ambition, intellect, and unlimited faith in force, from a mixture of blood and brains. It is a pity our own age did not take warning from him The play is a sort of biography of Force, of the tyrannical, or, as we call it, the totalitarian principle.

To take. The way force, having disposed of its foes, turns on its friends and kind, then on itself M O! The weak, self- indulgent, and lascivious King Edward affords an effective contrast to Richard and permits Shakespeare to imply that violence and lust are brothers. Historically and politically, the play shows that despotism is the inevitable result of anarchy.

Ethically, it proves the futility of a moral code that leaves the past, as accumulated in the unconscious, out of account. Psychologically, it renders superfluous most modern treatises on the inferiority complex. It implies all that they say. Though they are not narrated in the play, we cannot help imagining the taunts and insults Richard Crookback must have submitted to as a child and boy because of his broken body. He suppressed the love instinct in favor of the power instinct, balanced his sense of inner weakness by a show of outward strength.

Quanto, tanto. So little within—so big without. The play is the story of how his imagination gradually gets the better of his will. This particular touch of genius is to be attributed to history rather than to Shakespeare, but Shakespeare makes the most of it. The death of the two boys is the final strangulation of his soul—of the child within himself. Catesby Aside to another : The king is angry: see, he gnaws his lip. King R. Descends from his throne : I will converse with iron-witted fools And unrespective boys: none are for me That look into me with considerate eyes.

And his intellect, the other of the two pillars on which his power rests, slips at the same time. In his anger, he asks the first person on whom his eye falls—a page! The profound transformation in the man is confirmed in the next scene but one. Back in the first act, in a situation seldom surpassed for sheer audacity, Richard woos for his wife the widow of a man he has just murdered, choosing for the occasion of that wooing the funeral of her father-in-law, whom he has also killed.

And he carries it off successfully. Now, at the end of the play, he attempts something even more incredible. Why should Shakespeare have permitted himself two such preposterous scenes in a single play? Was not one enough? The answer is that the two scenes are not alike—they are precise opposites. In the first, Richard turns a woman around his little finger. In the second, he does the same—apparently. Actually it is the woman who turns him around her finger by pretending to assent when in her heart she is refusing. Scarcely ever is the scene taken in this way.

Yet every consideration, moral, psychological, and aesthetic, demands this interpretation. The undoing of this master of irony by such a stroke of irony is so fitting as a measure of the depth of his descent from the throne of his former self-possession and supremacy that, even if it could be proved that Shakespeare never consciously intended anything of the sort, actors and readers would still be justified in so interpreting a scene the text of which offers no obstacle to such a construction.

But that Shakespeare did so intend it is all but proved by what follows. Richard, thinking he has accomplished his purpose, kisses the Queen as she goes out and then unbosoms himself in the characteristic line,. The formerly imperturbable Richard thereupon falls into a veritable panic. He dispatches messengers without telling them what to say or do, rebukes one for not departing with no orders, and forgets what he told another a moment before.

He is utterly rattled. That from the man who just twenty-five lines before had cried:. If Shakespeare did not intend that line to flood with illumination the preceding scene with Queen Elizabeth, his genius did. It is a growing habit of his to throw back a sudden light on a scene from the one that follows it. Repeated quotation, out of its context, has staled and reduced to a combined banality and jocosity what is perhaps the subtlest and profoundest line in the play. It is the final irony that this master of irony utters, as his last words, a Delphic cry of the undermeaning of which he could have had not the remotest intimation.

To understand that undermeaning we have to go back to the soliloquy into which Richard breaks as he wakes from the dreams in which the ghosts of his former victims have visited him. In this soliloquy Shakespeare achieves for a moment the miracle of transforming the melodramatic monster he has created into a genuinely tragic figure who excites our sympathy, and we feel the presence of the future author of Macbeth.

What wonder that, when he has partly recovered, the King confesses that. Have struck more terror to the soul of Richard Than can the substance of ten thousand soldiers. He has fortified his waning spirits with wine. But his supreme degradation comes with his declaration:. To such a skulker by night has the former proud king been reduced. This is symbolic as well as literal nemesis.

Like all but one of the kings in these History Plays, Richard has failed to come to terms with the nocturnal world—the other side of life—the unconscious. Of that unconscious world, from the myth of Pegasus to the White Horses of Rosmersholm, the horse has been a symbol, standing for the. Consciousness must guide it or it will run away with consciousness. But, unknown to him, those final words are also the expression of an anguished yet hopeless desire to exchange the hell within himself, the dark world into which he has all his life been forcing down his fears and scruples, for another world, not less deep, of love and pity.

Another horse! In spite of its immaturities, Richard III remains one of the most powerful presentations of the idea of nemesis in any literature. All infractions of love and equity in our social relations are speedily punished. They are punished by fear. The play is the story of the fulfilment, one by one, of her curses. The action concludes with the union of Richmond and Elizabeth, the fusion of the Houses of Lancaster and York in the new House of Tudor. And so this group of History Plays of which this is the last has a happy ending.

Yet the endings of the majority of them, taken separately, put us on guard. More always remains to be said. So far, if the future be taken into account, there has never been a happy ending in history. But poetry is more than history. York may be united with Lancaster. The union of the Red Rose and the White is another and more difficult matter. Shakespeare at the time could have realized only partially the symbolic character of his theme. But looking back we can see that all the rest of his works are a study in how the red rose and the white rose may be united.

For the red and the white— blood and spirit—are the indispensable ingredients of life. So far, history has been little else than an account of the warfare between them. It is the function of the poet to marry them, to bring peace between them Shakespeare was at first dimly, then clearly, aware of this function. It must have been some prophetic poetic instinct that led him to choose for his presentation of English history the period of the Wars of the Roses. C hapter VII. T he T wo G entlemen of V erona.

And such lines as. In Julia we have the first of a long line of Shakespearean heroines who disguise themselves as boys. This device is an obvious way of producing those misunderstandings which, as we saw in The Comedy of Errors, elicit most easily the specifically theatrical emotion. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona one feels the author reveling in this contrivance like a child who has just learned to play hide and seek. In one scene, for instance, we have a boy actor playing the part of a girl, who, disguised as a boy, tells how he disguised himself as a woman in a play.

The head swims in the attempt to keep it straight. The young Shakespeare evidently delighted in this artifice of disguise within disguise, as did his audience. But by the time we reach As You Like It and Rosalind, he has refined and lifted it from stagecraft into poetry. And when in Twelfth Night we find Viola saying. At bottom, there seem to be just two ways of taking The Two Gentlemen of Verona:. We may consider it far and away the most juvenile work among the plays whose authorship has never been seriously questioned. There is much to back up this view.

The play does reveal a certain skill in plotting, and, as we have just seen, an effective use of disguise, though what is essentially the same situation is so much better exploited in Twelfth Night that the handling of it here seems relatively poor and thin. The two heroines, Julia and Silvia, redeem it to a slight extent. But how about Launce? How did such a masterpiece of characterization get into this early play?

It is a question that must be confronted, unless we adopt the improbable hypothesis that he is a later interpolation. He could walk into any play the author ever wrote and not jar us with any sense of immaturity in either conception or execution. Perhaps in this paradox we may find a clue to how Shakespeare wanted his play taken, how so apprentice-like a piece could have been produced so close chronologically to works that so utterly surpass it. Launce has more sense, humor, and intelligence in his little finger than all the other men in the play have in their so-called brains combined, and it happens that in the course of it he gives his opinion of each of the two gentlemen of Verona.

We have his own word for it that he is a sly trickster, and the story proves him to have been not only that but a perfidious friend, a liar, a coward, a slanderer, and a ruffian and would-be ravisher of the woman for whom he had deserted his first love. He is complete in feature and in mind With all good grace to grace a gentleman. Now if Launce had reached the same conclusions about these two gentlemen that the action of the play forces on us independently, it is hard to believe that Shakespeare himself was not in the secret.

If there is anything in this suggestion, we may have to revise our opinion of its juvenility and consider whether some of its apparent flaws are not consciously contrived ironical effects. This is the second of the two possible ways of taking the play. No one who knows Shakespeare can doubt for an instant the high regard in which he held genuinely noble and aristocratic character and background, nor the ease with which he detected their counterfeits. Make this simple assumption, and most of the crudities and difficulties of the play disappear like mist when the sun comes out.

There is much in the piece to support this hypothesis. Leaving out a minor servant, an innkeeper, and a band of outlaws, there are eight men in the cast. We have taken a look at the two gentlemen themselves and at Launce. The other clown, Speed, though he is intelligence itself compared with the gentlemen of the play, impresses us mainly as a mere trifler and trickster with words. The fathers are a typical pair of patriarchal tyrants. In Sir Eglamour, whom Silvia engages to help her escape, we think at first that finally we have come on a truly chivalric figure.

Shakespeare was nothing if not thoroughgoing in this play. If there is anything in this ironic way of. Catch that thrust, and you see how delightfully the story of the clowns is integrated with the rest of the play. Launce, the gentleman! Or we might, without stretching it too far, include Speed and have the two gentlemen of Verona! Compared with their crew of attendant gentlemen in the other sense, the two women are epitomes of virtue and intelligence. Therefore it must with circumstance be spoken By one whom she esteemeth as his friend.

It would seem impossible to go beyond that. But Shakespeare does go beyond it—far beyond—in the closing scene of the play. Since it is too long to quote, I will condense and paraphrase its salient points. If the effect is that of parody, I invite anyone who does not remember it to inspect the scene as Shakespeare wrote it and to see whether I have not been faithful to both thought and action. Proteus has rescued Silvia from the band of outlaws, who, he tells her, would have ravished her but for him:.

You faithless man, you are a counterfeit friend. She faints. Then she comes to and the rings reveal her identity. But it is better for a woman to change her clothes than for a man to change his mind. What did I ever see in Silvia anyway that you do not surpass her in? Duke: Good for you, Valentine!

You are a well-born gentleman. Others have tried to squirm out of the absurdity by talk about the Renaissance conception of friendship as transcending love. But the notes of disgust or apology on the part of the critics are too nearly unanimous to escape the inference that nobody likes the ending. Why, then, try to make ourselves think that Shakespeare liked it, except in an ironical sense, any better than we do? The two possibilities are plain. Take your choice. For myself, I prefer the alternative implying that one of the greatest geniuses of the ages was not quite a fool even as a young man.

The play, taken thus, is not satire in the usual sense. The satirist so hates the custom, institution, or human type he is exposing or deriding that he ceases, like any man in a passion, to see truly. In lashing his victim he lashes himself into blindness. But Shakespeare is like Chaucer. He is so full of humanity, humor, and poetry that it is easy to miss the cutting edge of his condemnation. If we reread the play in the light of this hypothesis, we see how full it is of hits at the education of the young Renaissance gentleman.

It is about his wisest remark. One of the best strokes of all is the fact that the outlaws pick Valentine as their captain because he is a great linguist! This interpretation of the play, I believe, both prophesies and is borne out by what Shakespeare did in the rest of his works. He will be surprised, I think, to find how often the situation or context shows it to be used with ironical intent. C hapter VIII. Its tone is that of farcical parody of a sort and on a scale that Shakespeare seldom used elsewhere. It is plain that he could count on the intimate acquaintance of his audience with the affectations he was pillorying.

Indeed, a great many of its members were probably themselves unconscious embodiments of these affectations. The fact that a number of the characters are stock types from the Italian Commedia delVArte does not detract from the effect, and Shakespeare imparts to each of them an individual flavor. No pedant such as Holofernes, for instance, ever was before or since on sea or land.

But in so far as the play is satirizing excesses of language, these things are signs not so much of immaturity as of an outgrowing of immaturity, and betray such remarkable knowledge of the social life of the time as to preclude as early a date as was once assigned it. It is a fair conjecture that it may have been written during or immediately after the period in , when the theaters were closed and when the author was presumably busy on his poems or his sonnets or both.

The play is packed with topical allusions, many of which would be incomprehensible today without the notes that generations of scholars have accumulated, and the reader suspects the presence of others that never have been and probably never will be uncovered. Every age has its own brand of wit and wisecracking. Whoever wishes to know how the wise-cracking of our age will sound a little later may observe how the wise-cracking of this play sounds now. And be certain that Shakespeare was well aware how transient much of it was.

Much of this, but for one thing, would be of extra-literary interest. That one thing is the fact that Biron in the course of the play proposes an astronomical revolution compared with which the shift from Ptolemy to Copernicus was a minor adjustment. But this concerns the culmination of the play and should be left to the last.

It is a bit odd that this seemingly verbose and somewhat inconsequential work should state its theme with a clarity and brevity unsurpassed by any other the author ever wrote, and that the truth underlying this largely ephemeral piece should be so universal that there is no indication Shakespeare. The answers are mainly negative and consist simply of sorry specimens of what human nature can be perverted into when either or both of those central urges of life toward love and truth go awry, the implication being that, whatever else the end of study may be, it is at any rate not the production of such deformities and sterilities as these.

Faulconbridge in King John written, it may be, not far from the same time as this play declares that the tmthfiul man must study the ways of deceit for the express purpose of being able to avoid them in practice. He beats at their own game the people he is making fun of. Only a lover and master of language who was at the same time something of a skeptic about it could have exposed the linguistic manias of his day so devastatingly and at the same time so merrily and genially. What is the matter with these creatures, one and all?

The trouble is that they have either divorced their heads from their hearts or their hearts from their heads. And so, as foil for them and as sun and. Biron never really believed in the Academe of Navarre. He subscribed reluctantly to its ridiculous terms only because he knew in his heart that it would be bound to disintegrate before it was fairly founded. In Biron we catch a glimpse of Shakespeare as it were in the very act of shaking off some of his juvenile extravagances and resolving on a greater simplicity.

If our enthusiasm for Biron seem excessive, it is perhaps because we are reading back into one speech of his things which it prophesies in the later Shakespeare. Nearly all commentators have seen that this speech is the key to the play. We do so at our peril. Anyone thinks he understands it, but few probably even begin to. Shakespeare, through Biron, shows that he would have understood Thoreau. Indeed, at bottom, he is saying the same thing, even down to the same metaphor. They are the ground, the books, the academes From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire.

For where is any author in the world Teaches such beauty as a womarfs eye? Here we have ideas that stem from what is at the same time the most ancient and the most seminal and prophetic doctrine of love and the sexes to which human thought has given birth. The Upanishads tell us that man, originally one, fell in two, became man and woman. Ever since then the two sexes have sought reunion. Eternal wisdom shall not depart from him and he shall return to the state of an infant. Woman is continually saying to man, Why will you not be more loving? It is not in their wills to be wise or to be loving; but unless each is both wise and loving, there can be neither wisdom nor love.

An idea or a feeling, if it is to live and survive, must have two parents. The sterility of most of the so-called ideas and feelings in this play comes from the fact that they are not begotten through any intercourse of heart and mind. Wit, the intellect, is. And the same is true of learning. And once more we are reminded of Thoreau:. Her by her sight; her pure and eloquent blood Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought That one might almost say, her body thought.

This is indeed the wedding of blood and spirit, a prophecy of the ultimate miracle, the complete union of soul and body, a miracle forecast on a tiny scale whenever the heart turns wit into humor or knowledge into wisdom. Its denouement is as satisfying as that of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, unless taken ironically, is unsatisfying. At the end the honors pass from Biron to the Princess and Rosaline, who, with an appropriate feminine practicality and concreteness, subject his lofty theories to the test of life. As a trial of his fidelity, the Princess sentences the King, if he still wishes to win her, to a year in a hermitage far from the pleasures of the world.

And Rosaline orders Biron to j est a twelvemonth in a hospital in an attempt to make the sick smile at his wit. But Rosaline sticks to her guns:. If the sick, for all their groans, will listen to your idle scorn, she declares, continue it; otherwise, if you would have me, renounce it forever. Shakespeare leaves to our imaginations the sixth act of this play.

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But somehow we have faith in Biron. The two songs at the very end, of Spring and Winter, echo the same theme.

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In Spring life is easy, but the Cuckoo is the bird of infidelity; in Winter it is hard, but the Owl is the bird of wisdom. Of how much in Shakespeare is this prophetic. And, above all, those academic elucidations of them that aspire to be purely objective and scorn the introduction of any personal element in their interpretation come under its specific condemnation of sterility. C hapter IX. T he P oet- P laywright I. Compared with many poets, Shakespeare was a master from the beginning.

Compared with what he became, he had his apprenticeship. Here, near the end of that period, is a natural place to pause and glance back. When we do, it seems as if his genius and the obstacles that beset it were conspiring to one end. The love of watching or taking part in a dramatic performance may doubtless be traced, both biologically and psychologically, to the mimetic instinct of the child and to the sense of freedom and omnipotence that play imparts. Historically, in Greece, it has been attributed by Nietzsche to the double identification of chorus and audience with a god, Dionysus.

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The theater has wandered far from its religious origins, but its function remains the same. As The Comedy of Errors reveals, it is a place of illusion. Whatever other ends it serves, its basic purpose is to transform the spectator into a god in the sense of allowing him for an hour or two to look down from above, in comedy on the very errors and blunders he himself commits, and in tragedy on the sufferings he is compelled to undergo in real life. It lets him exult in the fact that he is not being that fool or that victim he sees below him, and take pride in identifying himself with that hero.

To bring this about there must be all sorts of mistakes and misunderstandings among the puppets on the stage.

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And the easiest way of creating these is through disguise and the mistaken identity to which disguise gives rise. Just as the child begins his play by pretending he is someone else, dressing up in imagination if not in fact, so the playwright has no safer way of beginning his play than by introducing the same ingredient. For what is acting but being someone else than yourself, and so disguise? Hence the importance of costume. In achieving his end, so long as he maintains the illusion of life, playwright or actor may depart to any degree from life itself, may invent with utter license.

The temptation to surrender to a pleasing illusion is an almost irresistible one. Hence the appeal of the theater to the young and inexperienced, and hence its evil influence when unmitigated. Those who give in to it, as millions of movie fans do in our day, are destined to remain children, not in the sense of keeping their innocence but in the sense of staying content with pretense, of never growing up. Harmless or even helpful as this kind of illusion may be for occasional purposes of relaxation and escape, only the weak-minded can be satisfied with it as a steady diet.

He felt the attraction of history. It may have been history that saved him from the theater. How can a man be both playwright and historian? The world and the stage: how shall they be reconciled? Here is an antinomy: the theater with its dedication to illusion, history with its reverence for fact. But it is the mark of a brain that is not dull that it will not rest content with an antithesis but will seek a synthesis on a higher plane:.

From the outset Shakespeare must have perceived that history, on the stage, must have more form than it is generally given in the old chronicles, and that intricate plots and thrilling situations in the theater must have real people, like those in history, to give them body and vitality.

Here was the basis for a genuine fusion, a fruitful marriage. It is a commonplace of criticism that in the main Shakespeare gave the first decade of his dramatic activity to the exploring and mastering, side by side, of comedy and history. But there is little evidence that he was interested, as scholars are, in dramatic types for their own sakes. Life is not neatly divided into categories with no crossing the lines between them, and dramatic art, to be true to life, cannot be either. There is plenty of evidence that that is precisely what Shakespeare came to think.

This does not mean that there is no meaning in these distinctions or that Shakespeare was not interested in what underlies them. If history saved Shakespeare from the theater, the theater saved Shakespeare from history. But it was a forced marriage a tour de force in more senses than one , and the theatrical partner so predominated that it was not a genuine or lasting union. Meanwhile, Shakespeare was finding subtler and less drastic ways than those employed in Richard III of bridging the gap between the theater and life.

It was too much like amusing or scaring a child with a mask or a jack- in-the-box. In seeking a refinement of these primitive devices all he had to do was to look around him Disguise is no monopoly of the stage. Life is full of it. Disguise, indeed, is the very link he was seeking between the realm of illusion and the domain of fact. If the stage is a world where every kind of pretense and its exposure are fascinating to the onlooker, the world no less is a stage whereon men. Life will show you masks that are worth all your carnivals.

Shakespeare began low with coarse masks. But even so early these stage devices are beginning to be emblems and metaphors of what is everywhere. What is the face but a mask to conceal the man behind it? What is social position, what are offices, titles, dignities, degrees, but mantles in which men wrap themselves to hide, from themselves even more than from others, the banality of their lives? What is a human life but a role a man enacts, as different from his hidden self as the role of an actor is from his part in ordinary life?

What are words but means of disguising thought? What is life itself but a play for which most of the players are miscast, a masquerade at which only a few of the rarest and most heroic, or of the most brutal and cynical, ever unmask? As these last four adjectives imply, to all these statements there are exceptions. But the point is that they are exceptions. Being versus seeming! Shakespeare found it unendingly meet to set it down that one may smile and smile and be a villain.

He condenses his idea of complete regeneration, through the mouth of Posthumus in Cymbeline, into the words,. Now words as well as actions are the medium of drama, and because words are the garments of thought, they are indispensable instruments for obtaining and maintaining the effect of duality in life and on the stage.

Like clothes, they are used oftener to conceal than to express. Shakespeare is saturated with the idea of their hypocrisy. An anthology from his works could be made on this subject. Clown: To see this age! A sentence is but a cheveril glove to a good wit: how quickly the wrong side may be turned outward! Puns are the farce and comedy of words, irony their tragedy, both being the product of that faculty in virtue of which they can say two things at once, one to the superficial, the other to the interior, intelligence.

But what is that but disguise on the verbal level? Like the life out of which it has grown and which it seeks to express, language is dual. And here lay a third danger that threatened Shakespeare, the danger that besets anyone who grows too conscious of this duality there is in everything. It is a. This critic is invaluable. He permits us to see things for a moment as they are from the outside. But the man who lets this bystander develop unduly runs a fatal risk, the risk of becoming detached from life, the risk of superiority, of pride.

It was Lucifer, the angel of light, who fell. He who looks down as from above on the pettinesses and hypocrisies of life may escape them, but in doing so he may cut himself off from nothing less than life itself. He may have the satisfaction of perpetual attendance at the theater of existence but he will never have a part of his own in the play. At the worst he will become a satirist or cynic; at the best a philosopher. The theater and history saved Shakespeare from history and the theater. What saved him from philosophy? To that perhaps the only answer is, his humility and his warm heart—a sympathy that told him he must do more than observe and analyze foolish and weak men, that he must come down and enter into them.

Luckily for himself, and for us, Shakespeare could confess in one of his Sonnets:. He had the dramatic instinct, as we say.

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And so—if we may beg the question and at the same time give it its best answer—what saved Shakespeare from philosophy was that he was born a poet. The poet is both above life and in the midst of it at once. Hence the superiority of poetry to both history and philosophy, as Aristotle saw. A handsome admission from a philosopher! But the thinker in Shakespeare did not succumb to the poet without a struggle.

Shakespeare had such intellect that the temptation to become a satirist, to surrender to the bastard type of poetry that satire is, must have been terrific. Even after it the foe arose to smite him But he smote it. Here, however, we are getting ahead of ourselves, and long before Shakespeare won this battle he had a more immediate one to win as a practical man of the theater. But the minute it begins to grow subtle, to involve the finer hues and shades, to become imaginative, quite the opposite is true.

For the demands of drama and poetry are not identical. Drama is the most democratic of the arts in the sense that a play must have a wide and almost immediate appeal to a large number of people of ordinary intelligence if it is to have success enough in the theater to permit the author to go on writing plays.

2 William Shakespeare

The playwright must be nothing if not lucid. As we have seen, he must keep no secrets if he is to feed that specifically theatrical emotion which resides in the sense of omniscience. There is no going back and rereading in the theater. Poetry, on the contrary, is an aristocratic art.

The poet is bound to please himself and the gods rather than the public—to tell the truth regardless of its popularity, to seek the buried treasure of life itself. In that sense he cannot help having a secret, and, even if he would, he cannot share it with the populace. When the moment of inspiration passes, he may not even comprehend it fully himself.

What wonder, if this is so, that, among innumerable playwrights and many poets, there have been so few poet-playwrights. The poet-playwright is a contradiction in terms. Yet a poet-playwright is exactly what the young Shakespeare was. Plainly, if this paradoxical being is to survive, he must practice a little deception himself. And it is not just his audience that he must fool. If he must please the public, he must also placate the powers- that-be. If the crowd does not want the truth lest it disturb its animal contentment, those in authority do not want it lest it undermine their power.

Between the upper millstone of the powerful and the nether millstone of the crowd the lot of the poet-playwright is not an easy one. No wonder that in the situation he resorts to a practice life had already evolved to deal with this problem long before there was either poetry or theaters. Almost from the beginning the biological device of protective coloration is testimony to the necessity of deception for the survival of all but the dominant types of life.

A few saints and heroes have always taken the first way. The common people generally the second. The poets the third—not always, but more often than not. They have ever delighted in palming off on the oppressor as harmless what from his own point of view, if he only knew, is deadly poison. Oppressors seldom understand humor and never understand poetry. If they did, they would not be oppressors. The powerful suppress the protests of the rebel and stifle the cries of the distressed. But even the Nazis did not ban the music of Beethoven. Poetry might be defined as the speech that tyrants do not understand.

Think, for instance, of the revolutionary implications of the story of Cinderella! Shakespeare, in his early days, created no more true-blue character than the Bastard, Philip Faulconbridge, in King John.


Over and over Faulconbridge gives the impression of seeing things eye to eye with his creator. His great speech on expediency, for example, is vouched for as Shakespearean doctrine by several of the Sonnets. Now it happens that Faulconbridge gives utterance to the precise belief of which we have been speaking: that the man who seeks the truth must know the ways of deceit. At any rate, they express his practice. Sweet poison! But all the while it shall actually be something as different from their ordinary diet, and more divine, as poison is different from food, and more diabolic. There is a letter of the musician-playwright, Richard Wagner, that confirms all this in the most extraordinary fashion.

This last act! I am afraid the opera will be forbidden—if the whole thing is not to become a burlesque through bad production. Only mediocre production can save me. Too good would make people crazy. I cannot imagine it otherwise. I have been driven as far as this. Not that he had any revolutionary purpose in writing the play, or even a polemic one. He was interested in life and character, not in political abstractions. But what can be more revolutionary than that? There were plenty of dangerous implications in the play for anyone who wanted to find them there. The next time he tried a kindred theme, in Julius Caesar, he was more circumspect—and subtle.

Many people seem to have the notion that Shakespeare gave specific explanations and directions to the actors in his plays, even coaching them perhaps in their parts, so that, if theatrical tradition had not been broken by the closing of the playhouses during the Puritan ascendancy, we would know just how all of them should be acted. The idea reveals a curious misunderstanding of genius. Why trouble to create such characters if he had a formula for them? Only the character itself can explain itself. Would not the play become unendurable?

The sensitive ones in the audience would swarm across the footlights to rescue her from Iago and Othello. And so the poet has not only the crowd and the police to beware of;. Poets in this world are always that. So utter was his harmlessness that it has been mistaken for mere neutrality. Those who take it so have recognized the dove but have failed to perceive the serpent.

Nor is protective coloration confined to the animal and human worlds. Mythology confirms biology in asserting that disguise is intrinsic in life. From Zeus down, the divinities as well as the devils always have hidden and always will hide themselves in human form when they would communicate with humanity. How else could they communicate? Homer did not think it a disgrace to let Athena appear to Telemachus in lowliest human guise. Apollo became a shepherd to Admetus.

Jesus—the simple believer holds—may knock at your door any night as a tired wayfarer seeking shelter. It is the universal tradition of the gods. And therefore it is the universal tradition of the poets. Shakespeare is full of it. If his kings and dukes, his priests and prelates—most of them—pass themselves off under the insignia of office for more than they are, if his knaves and villains disguise themselves for sinful or criminal purposes, so not a few of his daughters of dukes and kings, and here and there his men of high estate, pass themselves off for less than they are; and over and over there are those of low degree whose nobility is hidden by their humble station.

This contra-disguise, as it might be called, plays a quantitatively smaller but a spiritually more significant part in life than disguise itself. Shakespeare, like all poets, became a specialist in seeking out rarity of character concealed under plain habiliments or deep humility. Timon of Athens rescued humanity from the indictment of universal depravity by proclaiming. And it was Desdemona, not Iago, who said,.

The angels disguise themselves as well as the devils, the heroes as well as the hypocrites. It was as a mark of her favor that Athena shed a deep mist about Odysseus. The Prince of Denmark sought to pass himself off as a madman. Who are they who rightly inherit the grace of heaven? They, Shakespeare says,. I have enumerated a few of the diverse urges that impel the poet-playwright toward duality; at their root, the mimetic instinct and the nature of play, with the sense of freedom, of omnipotence and omniscience they impart.

The law of protective coloration. The double role of every man as individual soul and fool of time—and so of social imposter. The ambiguity of language. And finally—the first as well as the last—the tradition of mythology and the universal practice of the gods. When so many things point in the same direction, it cannot be coincidence. There must be something there. What is it in this case? What underlies all this duality? Nothing less, surely, than the dual nature of the human mind, conscious and unconscious, and the character of the instrument that seeks to integrate that duality, the imagination.

For the imagination is neither consciousness nor unconsciousness, but both at once. WtLv t to. A symbol is immensely more than a concept, or complex of concepts. It is as much sensation, feeling, and impulse as it is idea. It is bound up with our fears and hopes, our memories and our aspirations. It is generally self-contradictory. Dawn, for example, stands for beginning, youth, hope, but also for the transient, the uncertain, the unrealized. Autumn suggests. This ambivalent character of symbols, especially of the most ancient ones, is a clear mark of their roots in the unconscious, as are the troop of associations that cluster around them with their attractions and repulsions, their power to point to the past and future, to tug unmercifully at the heart.

But their unsurpassed ability to clarify, illuminate, and indicate the way, reveals just as intimate a relation to consciousness. Take, for example, the four elements. Water is this transparent fluid in which I dip my hand. It is the gentle rain, and the flood. It is what quenches thirst, and what drowns. It is the ocean and the brook, the Eternal Depths and the Stream of Life. Earth is this planet on which I stand, and this handful of soil. It is the garden, and the avalanche. It is life, and death; the Mother from which we all come, the Grave into which we all go.

Air is this impalpable substance with which I am surrounded. The soft breeze, and the hurricane. The Sky above, the Breath within. It is Spirit, both good and bad, the Invisible One. But its effects are visible enough. Fire is the sun, and this flame on the hearth. It is what warms, and what burns.

It is the candle that lights, the star that guides, the conflagration that consumes. It is love and hate, Heaven and Hell. From the four elements we might go on to the four seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, or the four points of the compass, North, South, East, and West, and find an antinomy in each. Or we might pick any of a hundred other ancient symbols at random: light—that illuminates, but blinds; night—that brings rest, but brings fear; a road—that penetrates the wilderness, but becomes the beaten track; a rainbow—that is a bridge, but a bridge no man may cross; a bridge itself—that connects, but divides.

And so on, and so on. Such contradictions are calculated to drive a rational mind mad. But they are the very stuff of the imagination. The vocabulary of the imagination consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of such self- contradictory images. If a single one of them can have such polar range, what must poetry, that is a web and complex of them, have?

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Such iridescence is not only beyond definition, it is beyond comprehension. Even a brief sentence of the commonest words can illustrate this Delphic character of the imagination. It all depends. Again, it can be any of the three. He is a man who has never associated anything with anything else. He is a man without metaphors. And such a man is no man at all, let alone a poet. Much of the older criticism, especially that of the romantic period, emphasized the accomplishment of Shakespeare as a poet. Recent criticism has tended to remind us constantly that he was a man of the.

I have offered reasons to suggest that he must be seen as both simultaneously if he is to be understood—though in which capacity he is acting as master and in which as servant should never be obscured. Just as he was emerging from his apprentice period, Shakespeare, if his practice means anything, was beginning to realize fully the paradox of the poet-playwright and the duality of the world that it was his business to depict.

This, rather than its interest as a matter of speculation, is the justification of the stress that we have given the subject here. It certainly was not chance that led Shakespeare to produce at just this time three plays that in three different ways share a common theme: being versus seeming, shadow and substance, appearance and reality, all three emphasizing the contrast between the superficial and the essential, between what is without and what is within. One of them, The Taming of the Shrew, parts of which have sometimes been attributed to another hand, seems to straddle, as it were, the period that was passing and the one that was coming.

Its more farcical scenes could be contemporary with The Comedy of Errors; at its best it compares with Much Ado about Nothing.