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such an epitome of her environment as in real life she must have been,- we should have had no Winter's Tale. We must take her as we find her, manifesting both in joy and grief the same stately savoir faire, the same serenity of surface, denoting
soundless depths below, as we see in her mother. Her passion She is wholly given to her lover; but the passionate is consist
affection she feels for him does not in the least cnt with prudence. blind her judgment. In this she contrasts com
pletely with Florizel, who is swept off his feet by the tide which leaves her unshaken, though it submerges her. Shakespeare has shown in many characters how thoroughly he had observed the phenomena of the sex attraction. He knew that it is generally far more rationalized, and far more sub
ject to volitional control, in women than it is in men. IV iv 16-24 Perdita has warned Florizel of the probable conseand 35-40.
quences of his constancy to her. She is by no means unwilling to accept the sacrifice, but she insists that he shall realize beforehand how great that sacrifice may have to be; and she will not accept him until
he is completely ready to make it. The impres
In Florizel's praises of her we may suspect the sion she
exaggeration of passionate love, — as when, for excreates on others. ample, he declares that her hand is Ibid. 349 f. As soft as dove's down and as white as it,
Or Ethiopian's tooth, or the fann'd snow that's bolted
By the northern blasts twice o'er. Scarcely less restrained is that earlier wonderful tribute of his to the grace and charm of her
actions : Ibid. 135 ff.
What you do
Pray so; and for the ord'ring your affairs,
Ibid. 156 ff.
But if Florizel is an untrustworthy witness, there
This is the prettiest low-born lass that ever
Too noble for this place.
The character of Florizel.
like Imogen, Rosalind, Miranda and Portia, and his heroines generally.
Prince Florizel is a gallant and rather headstrong youth, much like Ferdinand in The Tempest, and placed in similar circumstances. Greene, in his novel, has presented a situation which had a great attraction for him,- that of a prince falling in love with a country girl who turns out to be a princess. We have the same romance in the courtship of Prince Edward and Margaret in his play of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. Shakespeare's Florizel is as austerely honourable as Perdita herself, but, being a young man in love, and therefore in a hurry, he displays a headlong precipitancy which is markedly opposed to her prudence. He is ready to abandon his position and career for her sake, but one cannot quite escape the feeling that “ for her sake" means for his own. He is acting upon a passionate impulse which may lose all its force when the passion has spent itself; whereas Perdita's impulses, though none less passionate than his, are perfectly controlled by rational foresight. We cannot be sure but that Florizel may repent of his decision if things turn out badly; whereas we are quite certain that, come what will, Perdita will remain not only outwardly loyal but inwardly contented with the lot which she has chosen.
Many lovers of the supreme in poetry will concur with philosophic students in thinking the words of Polixenes, in reply to Perdita's objection to the “streak'd gillyvors,” the deepest note of cosmic insight in the whole of Shakespeare's work. Perdita dislikes the "gillyvors” because they are not the handiwork of unaided nature. Herself a wildflower, owing nothing to art, she cannot love the
Profound philosophy mingled with poetry in the Pastoral scene.
blooms that art has favoured. But to this Polixenes
IV iv 89 ff.
It has become the fashion for some modern critics Shaketo dispraise Shakespeare for lack of ideas, while speare's al
leged paucity admitting that as regards mere verbal felicity he is of ideas.” an unapproachable master. This I take to be the gist of Mr. Bernard Shaw's frequent criticism. Mr. Mr. G. B. Shaw has never perpetrated the tasteless absurdity, Shaw's criti
cism. with which he is often charged, of pretending that he is a greater dramatist than Shakespeare. He does, however, plume himself upon the wealth of ideas which his plays contain, and he does think that Shakespeare is in this respect deficient. Mr. Shaw has few sincerer admirers than I may claim to be. Yet I cannot but find in this attitude of his a curious instance of the way in which men are prone to misinterpret themselves, and to value themselves for qualities or powers in which they are by no means conspicuously gifted. It is no disrespect to Mr. Shaw to say that, after reading with the closest care every play and every preface he has written, I cannot remember meeting in all of them with one single idea that had not been made current by previous writers. Why Mr. Shaw cannot be content with combining, as he does, the finest genius of Molière (not to mention Aristophanes) with the finest skill of Voltaire, is hard for his admirers to
understand. But it is more germane to my present theme to insist that Shakespeare is not at all deficient in ideas, and that whoever asserts him to be so
perpetrates a dumfoundering misjudgment. Instances of Shakespeare, who in all probability had never his power as
read Plato, gives us in his tragic world a living a thinker.
dramatization of Plato's ethical philosophy. It is also probable that he had not studied with close attention the works of Nietzsche or of John Stuart Mill. Yet in Richard III his colossal villain utters in one pregnant sentence a thought to which Nietzsche devoted elaborate volumes, and in which Nietzsche was so original that, to the best of my knowledge, he had been anticipated (apart from Shakespeare) only by Plato. And here, in these words of Polixenes in The Winter's Tale, we have summed up in unapproachable phrase the essential philosophy of nature worked out with such relentless logic by John Stuart Mill and the evolutionists, and indeed underlying, as a regulative principle, the entire philosophy of science, from Bacon to Karl Pearson. Yet it is the effortless vision of the poet, not the intellectual labour of the systematic thinker, which enables Shakespeare to overleap the centuries
and anticipate the slow results of thought. The Pas- In these pastoral scenes Shakespeare frankly toral scene abandons even the pretence of historical consistis contemporary War- ency. The mental world of all the characters bewickshire.
comes that of rural England in Elizabethan or early
2 Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
– King Richard III, V, ïïi, 309 f.