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genuity. Portia outwits everybody; and no doubt, like her fellow-Christians, she even outwits herself. I have indicated the hypocritical irony of her speech in praise of mercy, but I would not suggest that the irony and the hypocrisy were fully present to her consciousness at the moment of delivering it. The power of self-deception is one of the most universal, as well as one of the most effectual, safeguards of human self-respect. What we really pray for is the gift of not seeing ourselves as others see us, and as we insist on seeing them; and our prayer is by no means in vain! We can now see readily enough the absurdity of assuming that everything is right for the Christian and wrong for the Jew. Yet this assumption underlies every action of Antonio and his associates, as well as every word and deed of Portia in her relentless pursuit of Shylock. Still, we cannot doubt that they made it unwittingly, and never advanced so far in self-criticism as to become aware of the real nature of their conduct.

But it is not seriously to be supposed that, whatever the laws of property and the accepted theory of the relation of man and wife might be, women of the type of Portia and Nerissa were ever really the slaves and tools of such men as Bassanio and Gratiano. Just as the Jew, under stress of an artificial struggle for existence, had evolved qualities of character that secured his survival, so women in general, and our ladies of Belmont in particular, had developed in their legal and social servitude a subtlety which enabled them to twist their dullerwitted lords and masters round their little fingers. So be of good cheer, ye feminists. Bassanio will not be permitted to squander Portia's heritage, nor shall he indulge on his own account in a second crop

“ Slavery" of women countered by bamboozling men.

of those wild oats which he had sown before he found his salvation in the leaden casket. Law and ordinance may say what they will, yet, as Huxley puts it, “ Witless will serve his brother.” Still more certain is it that Witless will serve his wife. Sir James Barrie has given us a famous perversion of The Taming of the Shrew, wherein he represents Petruchio as the hoodwinked fool of a gentle Katherine, who pretends to be a shrew in order to entrap him. Shakespeare knew, we may suspect, that when Katherine absolutely obeyed the will of her lord, it was only because she had first, against his knowledge, imposed her own will upon him. Certain it is, at all events, that, in the partnership of Bassanio and his lady, the "little body" who has professed herself “a-weary of this great world” will to the end have freshness and initiative enough to steer him on the course she wants to follow; and, when she is most completely having her own way, will most easily convince him that he is having his.

CHAPTER V

TWO POINTS IN HAMLET'S SOUL

Vogue of Hamlet and its discussion.

TH

HERE is not in secular literature another com

position so universally known and so interminably discussed as the tragedy of Hamlet. While it is certainly not Shakespeare's best play, and does not contain his greatest poetry, it is indubitably today, as it has been for three centuries and in every land, the most popular of his works. All the extravagances of idolatry are illustrated in the multitudinous commentaries upon it. Yet even these extravagances bear indirect but potent testimony to the living force of the dramatist's work. One of the sanest utterances which comments upon it have evoked is that of Edgar Allan Poe. In his Marginalia, Poe warns us against the attempt to expound the characters of Shakespeare, to account for their actions, and to reconcile their inconsistencies

not as if they were the coinage of a human brain, but as if they had been actual existences upon earth. We talk of Hamlet the man, instead of Hamlet the dramatis persona — of Hamlet that God, in place of Hamlet that Shakespeare, created. If Hamlet had really lived, and if the tragedy were an accurate record of his deeds, from this record (with some trouble) we might, it is true, reconcile his inconsistencies and settle to our satisfaction his true character. But the task becomes the purest absurdity when we

deal only with a phantom. It is not (then) the
inconsistencies of the acting man which we have as a
subject of discussion (although we proceed as if it
were, and thus inevitably err), but the whims and
vacillations, the conflicting energies and indolences of

the poet.
This radical error, as Poe calls it, has given rise to
an entire literature, wherein Hamlet is treated as
though he had been an historical personage, and
theories of his character are discussed with portent-
ous and rather ridiculous solemnity. But perhaps
Poe may be answered by saying that the “phan-
toms" of Shakespeare are more real than most his-
toric characters, few of whom we know so well as
we know the dramatis persona of Elsinore.

Now there is scarcely a play of Shakespeare in The strucwhich carelessnesses of construction and inconsist- ture of the

play. encies both of characterization and of episode are so glaring as in Hamlet. A careful reading of the accepted text (which is the result of a close revision of the version in the Folio of 1623 and that of the second quarto, published in 1604) betrays a series of evidences of headlong haste, and of the incongruous combination of elements from the sources with Shakespeare's own inventions and reconstructions. The duration of the action is impossible to determine precisely, as is also the age of Hamlet (for we can scarcely trust the accuracy of the First Grave-Digger's chronologizing); while, as to the hero's character, there is an entertaining variety of opinions.

In this connection I must insist upon the ele- For whom it mentary considerations to which I have elsewhere was written. alluded. We must set out with such a criticism as would have been passed upon the play by the grocer's apprentice who is introduced to us in The

The First
Quarto
(1603).

Knight of the Burning Pestle; for it was he and his kind that Shakespeare had prominently in mind in furbishing up the antiquated materials of which in Hamlet he availed himself. He chose the theme because it was a tale of intrigue, incest, murder and usurpation, a tale with two appearances of a ghost, a tale of “occulted guilt" at last made apparent, a tale that ends with an orgy of poisoned swords and wine-cups and a stage full of corpses. These are the things that attracted the groundlings, and it was the fact of the story's attractiveness to them that induced Shakespeare to make use of it. He wrote Hamlet because a previous play on the same theme had been a popular success.

How much of this older play he took over is not known, because its text is lost. The first quarto, which appeared surreptitiously in 1603, to the great indignation of the author and his fellows, is a mass of absurdities, which can best be explained on the hypothesis that its text was not based upon a MS. copy (unless possibly of some of the smaller parts), but upon notes taken by an incompetent shorthandwriter, and supplemented by the disastrous efforts of his memory or invention. To none of the quartos probably do the angry words of Heminge and Condell “To the Great Variety of Readers,” in their preface to the Folio, apply so unreservedly as to this mischievous perversion of Hamlet: “You were abus'd with diuerse stolne, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of iniurious impostors, that expos'd them.”

The tale of Hamlet goes back to the Historia Danica of Saxo Grammaticus, who “flourished” in the latter half of the twelfth century, and even by him was retold from Scandinavian sagas of inde

Sources.

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