Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

Lyly's
Euphues.

I cannot tell; but we have scrambled up
More wealth by far than those that brag of faith:
There's Kirriah Jairim, the great Jew of Greece,
Obed in Bairseth, Nones in Portugal,
Myself in Malta, some in Italy,
Many in France; and wealthier every one,-
Ay, wealthier far than any Christian.
I must confess we come not to be kings:
That's not our fault: alas, our number's few!
And crowns come either by succession,
Or urg'd by force; and nothing violent,

Oft have I heard tell, can be permanent.
Shakespeare was indebted for much to Marlowe,
and for something also to Lyly the Euphuist, both of
whom he subsequently satirized. The braggadocio
of Glendower and Hotspur reads like a parody of
Tamburlaine's. In the early comedies, especially
Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare pokes fun at
Lyly, and he is still doing so when in Hamlet he puts
a string of platitudinous euphuisms upon the lips of
Polonius. Yet he remained something of a Euphuist
himself. His memory of Marlowe was affectionate
and respectful,4 and he was quick to apply the les-
sons he learned in Marlowe's school.

4 See, for example, the reference in As You Like It (Act III, scene v, line 80):

Dead Shepherd now I find thy saw of might:

“Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?"
The saw” in question is from a beautiful passage in Mar-
lowe's Hero and Leander: -

It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is over-ruld by fate.
When two are stript long ere the course begin,
We wish that one should lose, the other win;
And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect.
The reason no man knows; let it suffice,
What we behold is censur'd by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
Who ever lov'd, that lov'd not at first sight?

The development of the Elizabethan drama is Sources from the semi-ecclesiastical morality play, with its of the

Elizabethan puppet personifications of abstract virtues and vices, drama. to the living human music of comedy and tragedy in Shakespeare's maturest period. The secular spirit of the classic drama was a powerful element in the transformation. The widespread study of Seneca and Plautus, who were popularized in translations and adaptations, goes far to determine the course of the rapid evolution. Gorboduc, or Ferrex and Por- Gorboduc. rex, is an interesting example of the mechanical imitation of classic models. It was first acted by the gentlemen of the Inner Temple in 1560–61. It is as mechanical and lifeless as Plautus at his woodenest; hence it is easy to understand why it never succeeded on the stage. The demand was for action, not for narration and moralizing. Survivals of the old morality-play abstractions are still to be found in Marlowe — they doubtless suggested the good and evil angels that hover through the popular tragedy of Doctor Faustus. The very theme of that Doctor play is an ecclesiastical legend of the struggle of the Faustus. superhuman powers of light and darkness for possession of the soul of man. Similar echoes from the past are to be detected in the masques of Beaumont and Fletcher, and even of Ben Jonson. Gorboduc attempted to naturalize the GraecoRoman chorus in Elizabethan England, but the attempt was a clear enough failure to warn later practitioners against repetitions of it.

The worst fault of Shakespeare's dramatic con- Vicious temporaries is their unrestrained pandering to the tendencies

in the drama. licentiousness of popular taste. Even Beaumont and Fletcher went to most regrettable lengths in their concessions to this vicious propensity. It is easy to

But not in Shakespeare.

understand by reading them why the later Puritans raged so furiously against the theatre. They are the forerunners of those comic dramatists of the Restoration period, who called forth the grave and memorable rebuke of Jeremy Collier." I mention this defect here only in order to emphasize Shakespeare's astonishing freedom from it. Undoubtedly there are many passages in his plays which, on account of the change of taste if not of moral standards, cannot now be given verbatim upon the stage, and constitute an embarrassment to the reading aloud of his works in mixed companies. We also find occasionally, at the close of a scene, an irrelevant obscenity that is probably due to a practice he complained of viz.,“ those who played the clowns” speaking “more than was set down for them.” There are at least two such interpolations in King Lear. The wonder is, however, that there should be so little of this. The study of his women characters, especially when it is possible to compare them with the originals which suggested them to him, gives a conclusive proof that he fought against the taste of his age in this matter. From Juliet to Miranda, he gives us a gallery of girls and women not approached in the works of any other writer, and all distinguished for a virtue by no means “fugitive and cloistered." He does not paint the mincing, bread-and-butter miss of early Victorianism. His women are in general alert, resourceful, thoroughly aware of the meaning of life and the dangers of the world. They are not prudish,

5 Collier's Short View of the Immorality and Prophaneness of the English Stage (1697), though it makes no reference to the Elizabethans, achieved a victory, the completeness of which was attested by the public contrition of Dryden. It well deserves disinterring.

and their speech does not pretend to ignorance. But they are without exception chaste, delicate, refined and charming

It would, however, be grossly unjust to leave the “The impression that the dramatic predecessors and con- morally temporaries of Shakespeare are on the whole vicious. sound in Their works show a vivid sense of the deathward general. tendency of evil, and of the natural nemesis which it brings upon the heels of those who, by inflicting it upon others, inflict it also upon themselves. Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is there to testify to this. His Edward the Second is a forerunner of Shakespeare's matchless pictures of the evil monarch who by wrongdoing destroys himself. Beaumont and Fletcher in their most salacious plays insist upon the suicidal tendency of sin. The Custom of the Country and The Maid's Tragedy bear, for those that have eyes to see, a lesson as impressive as that of Measure for Measure or Hamlet.

But, after all, the chief importance of the predecessors is that they staked out the field for Shakespeare, and provided some of the raw material which his genius was to transmute. Tamburlaine's chief honour is that he is the forerunner of Richard III and Macbeth. Barabas is memorable as the prototype of Shylock. The chronicle plays gave Shakespeare the hint for his histories and defiances of history, as well as for such things as Julius Caesar and Lear. We value the forerunners for what they did, but more for what they promised. They are the “august anticipations, symbols, types of a dim splendour ever on before.”

CHAPTER II

THE BACON MYTH: SHAKESPEARE'S LIFE AND

EDUCATION

Misunderstandings due to the Baconian theory.

Our knowledge of Shakespeare.

'HE great mare's-nest of the Bacon-Shakespeare

school has been re-discovered, as one might naturally have expected, in connection with the tercentenary of the poet's death. The long discussion to which it gave rise, moreover, has left certain misunderstandings in the minds of many people who have never travelled so far from the path of sanity as to believe that Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays. One of these is the idea that little or nothing is known of the actual life of the man from Stratford. Another is the impression that Shakespeare was a person of particularly scanty education, and that this fact constitutes a difficulty in the way of a convinced belief in his authorship of the plays.

It is of course true that we know less of the life of Shakespeare than we know of that of Queen Elizabeth, or of Burghley or Walsingham or Sir Walter Raleigh, or any of the great figures who stand in the full blaze of the light of history. But it is not true at all that we know nothing of Shakespeare, nor yet that we know less about him than about any of his contemporaries with whom his case may fairly be compared. We know more of him, to begin with, than we do of any other dramatist of his time. We may leave out of the question all that is

« PředchozíPokračovat »