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nunciation, can be demonstrated to be the stock-intrade shared in common at the time among a host of English writers, who were consciously imitating the poets of France and Italy, from Petrarch down to the third quarter of the sixteenth century. It is amazing to find how many of Shakespeare's thoughts, and even his words, in these poems are but repetitions (however enhanced in beauty or splendour) of what others had thought and said. The philosophy is an echo from Ovid, Shakespeare's lifelong favourite. The pretence that the sonnetteer is old, and the man he addresses youthful, is common form with most of the exploiters of the prevailing fashion; we find it adopted by one writer at the mature age of twenty. So, too, is the promise of “immortality” through the poems to their subject. Such expressions as

Not marble nor the gilded monuments

Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme, and

Thou in this shalt find thy monument

When tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent, - which Mr. Bernard Shaw construes as proof that Shakespeare's modesty was of the same novel variety as his own, prove nothing but that Shakespeare was following the fashion with almost slavish consistency. He was, in fact, avowedly “keeping invention in a noted weed” when he used such phrases; and that his modesty was not of the peculiar Shavian cast is shown where, departing from the fashion, he flatly contradicts his claim of immortality, and depreciates his own work, in words which, being less conventional, have less the air of unreality : If thou survive my well contented day,

When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover,

Son. lv.

Son. cvii.

Son. xxxii.

And shalt by fortune once more re-survey

These poor rude lines of thy deceased lover, Compare them with the bettering of the time;

And, though they be outstripp'd by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rhyme,

Exceeded by the height of happier men.
Oh, then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:

“ Had my friend's Muse grown with this growing age, A dearer birth than this his love had brought, To march in ranks of better equipage:

But since he died and poets better prove,

Theirs for their style I'll read, his for his love." A further point to be remembered in connection with the Sonnets is that there is no reason for supposing them to have been arranged by Shakespeare in the order in which Thorpe printed them. We cannot discover from internal evidence how many different people they were addressed to, and there is no external evidence on the subject. Instead of one friend and one “mistress," they may have been addressed to half a dozen men and as many women. Several of them, in all probability, were written singly. The glorious Sonnet cvII, which there is strong reason for believing the latest of them all, was almost certainly written by itself. It congratulates the Earl of Southampton on his release from prison, and refers unmistakably to the death of Queen Elizabeth and the accession of King James in 1603:— Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul

Shakespeare did not arrange the Sonnets in the order in which we have them,

Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,

Suppos'd as forfeit to a confin'd doom.
The mortal moon 3 hath her eclipse endur'd,

2 Unless, indeed, we take Meres's phrase, “sonnets among his private friends," to imply that they were addressed to a number of people; but this would be to overstrain the words.

31. e., Queen Elizabeth, perpetually compared to "chaste Luna” by contemporary poets.

And the sad augurs mock their own presage; Incertainties now crown themselves assur'd,

And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time

My love looks fresh,5 and Death to me subscribes,
Since, spite of him, I'll live in this poor rhyme,
When he insults o'er dull and speechless tribes.

Most of these 154 Sonnets were probably composed not later than 1594. They were circulated in MS. among Shakespeare's personal friends, in accord with what we know to have been the fashion of the time; for this we have the explicit testimony of Meres in 1598. The fact that they were published with a dedication not from the author's hand is proof neither did positive that he had nothing to do with their appear- them.

he publish ance in printed form. The publication (in 1609), like that of the quarto editions of the plays, was a speculation on the part of the “stationer" (in this case Thomas Thorpe), who, by fair means or foul, had become possessed of a MS. copy. Under these circumstances, and in view of the vagueness and generality of most of their expressions, it is fantastic to attempt to construct from them a record of actual experience of friendship, betrayal, guilty love and repentance on the part of Shakespeare. On the other hand, it would be equal folly to affirm Possible

touches positively that there is nothing at all reminiscent of personal experiences in the Sonnets. I am not seek- biography. ing to maintain that Shakespeare was a saint. There is a definite likelihood that the “W. S." of Willobie's Willobie and

“ W. S.Avisa was Shakespeare; and the thesis of that poem

4 King James succeeded peacefully and with unanimous acceptance, whereas a revolution had been foreboded.

5 Southampton had been imprisoned for life, owing to his participation in the Earl of Essex's rebellion in 1601, but was released after two years, by one of the first acts of James as King of England.

of auto

Shakespeare's life and professional associates.

is that “W. S.," having himself vainly sought to conquer the stubborn virtue of Avisa," afterwards egged his friend Willobie on to make the like attempt, in order that he might laugh at his failure. If this is a genuine episode of Shakespeare's life, however, it has none of the tragedy suggested by the sonnets addressed to the Dark Lady. We must remember that the poet, after some years of married life, was condemned to a decade of grass-widowerhood in London. He belonged to a profession which, even in that none too precise age, was considered exceptionally lax; and not without reason. The fate of Greene and Marlowe and the anecdotes of Peele are there to remind us of the kind of society he shared, and the temptations to which he must have been subjected.

But, whatever may have been his actual trips in life, we have no warrant for drawing up an indictment against him on the strength of histrionic utterances, made in confessed imitation of a literary fashion, and almost certainly understood, by those for whom they were written, to deal with imaginary incidents.

Poetry (espe-
cially dra-
matic) not a
suitable ve-
hicle for
systems of
or theology.

Neither a rounded system of philosophy nor a definite body of theological teaching is reasonably to be looked for in the work of a creative poet. Such men as Milton, Wordsworth, Browning and Tennyson are to some extent exceptions to this rule, but those who know them most intimately are least ready to offer us with confidence, from their poems, the organic formulation of their thinking. It is certain that Milton's personal beliefs did not correspond exactly with the theology of Paradise Lost. If it be true that even epic and lyric poets cannot give full

and satisfactory expression in song to their thought on the fundamental issues of life and destiny, still more difficult is it for such doctrine to be incorporated in systematic fashion in the work of the dramatic poet. The very nature of his medium forbids it. The necessity for dialogue to be in character, and to explain and justify action; and the requirement that the ideas expressed must be those which the persons described may be supposed to have entertained, make it impossible for a play to serve as the vehicle for the author's convictions. However emphatically he may speak, we cannot easily determine when he is speaking for himself as well as for his characters. The less the author's private views are obtruded through the personages of a play, the better play is it likely to be; and vice versa.

Didacticism has, indeed, been carried to such failure of lengths as are possible, and to some that are not, in Ibsen and

Shaw to many modern plays, notably those of Ibsen and Mr. preach Bernard Shaw; yet even here the philosophy and through

plays. religion of the authors are not clearly set forth. One cannot learn from the Doll's House, for example, how Ibsen thought the relations of the married should be modified, or from the Enemy of the People what he considered the real duty of a man in Dr. Stockmann's position. Mr. Shaw's failure to express his gospel through his plays is so complete that he has to write enormous prefaces, often much longer than the plays themselves, to tell us what he intends them to mean; and, even so, he frequently fails to make himself understood.

The difficulty of determining the opinions of a Variety of dramatic author, when we have no other of his guesses at

Shakewritings with which to compare the views expressed speare's by his characters, is brought vividly home to us by religion.

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