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one of them so indispensable to our object as that close familiarity with the plays, that native strength and justice of perception, and that habit of reading with an eager mind, which make many an unscholarly lover of Shakespeare a far better critic than many a Shakespeare scholar. Such lovers read a play more or less as if they actors who had to study all the
parts. They do not need, of course, to imagine whereabouts the persons are to stand, or what gestures they ought to use; but they want to realise fully and exactly the inner movements which produced these words and no other, these deeds and no other, at each particular moment. This, carried through a drama, is the right way to read the dramatist Shakespeare; and the prime requisite here is therefore a vivid and intent imagination. But this alone will hardly suffice. It is necessary also, especially to a true conception of the whole, to compare, to analyse, to dissect. And such readers often shrink from this task, which seems to them prosaic or even a desecration. They misunderstand, I believe. They would not shrink if they remembered two things. In the first place, in this process of comparison and analysis, it is not requisite, it is on the contrary ruinous, to set imagination aside and to substitute some supposed 'cold reason’; and it is only want of practice that makes the concurrent use of analysis and of poetic perception difficult or irksome. And, in the second place, these dissecting processes, though they are also imaginative, are still, and are meant to be, nothing but means to an end. When they have finished their work (it can only be finished for the time) they give place to the end, which is that same imaginative reading or re-creation of the drama from which they set out, but a reading now enriched by the products of analysis, and therefore far more adequate and enjoyable.
This, at any rate, is the faith in the strength of which I venture, with merely personal misgivings, on the path of analytic interpretation. before coming to the first of the four tragedies, I
propose to discuss some preliminary matters which concern them all. Though each is individual through and through, they have, in a sense, one and the same substance; for in all of them Shakespeare represents the tragic aspect of life, the tragic fact. They have, again, up to a certain point, a common form or structure. This substance and this structure, which would be found to distinguish them, for example, from Greek tragedies, may, to diminish repetition, be considered once for all; and in considering them we shall also be able to observe characteristic differences among the four plays. And to this may be added the little that it seems necessary to premise on the position of these dramas in Shakespeare's literary career.
Much that is said on our main preliminary subjects will naturally hold good, within certain limits, of other dramas of Shakespeare beside Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. But it will often apply to these other works only in part, and to some of them more fully than to others. Romeo and Juliet, for instance, is a pure tragedy, but it is an early work, and in some respects an immature
Richard III. and Richard 17., Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus are tragic histories or historical tragedies, in which Shakespeare acknowledged in practice a certain obligation to follow his authority, even when thai authority offered him an undramatic material. Probably he himself would have met some criticisms to which these plays are open by appealing to their historical character, and by denying that such works are to be judged by the standard of pure tragedy. In any case, most of these plays, perhaps all, do show, as a matter of fact, considerable deviations from that standard ; and, therefore, what is said of the pure tragedies must be applied to them with qualifications which I shall often take for granted without mention. There remain Titus Andronicus and Timon of Athens. The former I shall leave out of account, because, even if Shakespeare wrote the whole of it, he did so before he had either a style of his own or any characteristic tragic conception. Timon stands on a different footing. Parts of it are unquestionably Shakespeare's, and they will be referred to in one of the later lectures. But much of the writing is evidently not his, and as it seems probable that the conception and construction of the whole tragedy should also be attributed to some other writer, I shall omit this work too from our preliminary discussions.
THE SUBSTANCE OF SHAKESPEAREAN TRAGEDY
The question we are to consider in this lecture may be stated in a variety of ways. put it thus : What is the substance of a Shakespearean tragedy, taken in abstraction both from its form and from the differences in point of substance between one tragedy and another ? Or thus What is the nature of the tragic aspect of life as represented by Shakespeare? What is the general fact shown now in this tragedy and now in that ? And we are putting the same question when we ask : What is Shakespeare's tragic conception, or conception of tragedy?
These expressions, it should be observed, do not imply that Shakespeare himself ever asked or answered such a question ; that he set himself to reflect on the tragic aspects of life, that he framed a tragic conception, and still less that, like Aristotle or Corneille, he had a theory of the kind of poetry called tragedy. These things are all possible ; how far any one of them is probable we need not discuss; but none of them is presupposed by the question we are going to consider. This question implies only that, as a matter of fact, Shakespeare in writing tragedy did represent a certain aspect of life in a certain way, and that through examination of his writings we ought to be able to some extent, to describe this aspect and way in terms addressed to the understanding Such a description, so far as it is true and adequate, may, after these explanations, be called indifferently an account of the substance of Shakespearean tragedy, or an account of Shakespeare's conception of tragedy or view of the tragic fact.
Two further warnings may be required. In the first place, we must remember that the tragic aspect of life is only one aspect. We cannot arrive at Shakespeare's whole dramatic way
of looking at the world from his tragedies alone, as we can arrive at Milton's way of regarding things, or at Wordsworth's or at Shelley's, by examining almost any one of their important works. Speaking very broadly, one may say that these poets at their best always look at things in one light; but Hamlet and Henry IV. and Cymbeline reflect things from quite distinct positions, and Shakespeare's whole dramatic view is not to be identified with any one of these reflections. And, in the second place, I may repeat that in these lectures, at any rate for the most part, we are to be content with his dramatic view, and are not to ask whether it corresponded exactly with his opinions or creed outside his poetry—the opinions or creed of the being whom we sometimes oddly call Shakespeare the man.' It does not seem likely that outside his poetry he was a very simple-ininded Catholic or Protestant or Atheist, as some have maintained;
cannot be sure, as with those other poets we can, that in his works he expressed his deepest and most cherished convictions on ultimate questions, or even that he had any. And in his dramatic conceptions there is enough to occupy us.