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third act of Troilus and Cressida, which for dramatic purposes is far too long and involveda modern manager would certainly have insisted on large 'cuts' in it is an opportunity for Shakspeare to deliver himself of his healthy and strenuous moral :
Perseverance, dear my lord,
The cry went once on thee,
The will—the will is to triumph over obstacles whether of fortune or of temptation; that is Shakspeare's creed : the lesson is spoken through the mouths of far less worthy personages than Ulysses ; that good-for-nothing loafer Lucio can encourage Isabella with the stirring reflection :
Our doubts are traitors,
and the typical villain, Iago, comes down on the puling Roderigo, who whines that it is not in virtue to amend it':
Virtue ? A fig! 'Tis in ourselves that we are thus, or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners ; so that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop or weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many; either to have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry; why the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills.
Curious talk to come from the lips of Iago; who, however, was at all events a capable and determined scoundrel, like Edmund the bastard in Lear, who is made to sing the same tune :
This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune (often the surfeit of our own behaviour), we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars ; as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion ; drunkards, liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on. . . . An admirable evasion of whore-master man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star.
And in spite of 'There's a divinity that shapes our ends,' I think the poet's own scorn spoke in Iago and Edmund, and that Shakspeare was not altogether a believer in the insistance of environment. Among other weighty thoughts on the morale of life, which flash out in unexpected quarters, is that advice to the too staid and self-righteous Angelo :
Thyself and thy belongings
Again, with what weight there comes out that stern answer of Angelo, when Escalus suggests that he should put himself in the place of Claudio—that he might have sinned likewise under the same temptation :
'Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus,
A still more striking passage on temptation is that which surprises us suddenly from the lips of Troilus, when he exhorts Cressida not to be tempted to disloyalty, and the hussy answers, ‘Do you think I will ?'
But something may be done that we will not ;
I can never forget the impression that passage made on me on first reading it, the weight and solemnity of the warning coming with double force for its unexpectedness in the mouth of the amorous Troilus, merely anxious that his light mistress should not throw him
It is quite too weighty for Troilus ; it was Shakspeare who could not resist having his say in his own way.
The retribution that comes on wrongdoers in most of the plays is of course only the conventional poetical justice of the stage ; but in Lear, where the sacrifice of Cordelia has been thought by many to be too harsh a tragedy for the stage, Shakspeare gives us something more than the conventional retribution in that reflection which has passed into a proverb:
The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
clenched by the still more ominous and fateful reply of Edmund :
'Tis true ; The wheel is come full circle ; I am here :
an imagery which recalls the relentless fatalism of the Greek drama. And how are we to reconcile this with the case of Falstaff ? Certainly, in the words of the Prayer-book, 'a notorious evil-liver.' We can hardly judge of Falstaff, however, because we do not know his whole career; we do not know how he came to this. He has somehow lost, or blunted, all moral sense, yet without seeming really to mean much harm, for that affair of the highway robbery was more of a lark than anything else. He is simply the most audaciously amusing old rip one ever met, with a kind of remnant of the gentleman about him ; one has not the heart to judge him hardly ; Shakspeare has indeed drawn a moral from him, remarkable as the only direct and obvious moral in the plays which is purely dramatic in conception. The manner of the death of Falstaff was the natural end of his manner of life; there is no pretence of preaching over him; and yet-Falstaff babbling of green fields (I believe in the existing reading), and comparing the files on Bardolph's nose to a black soul burning in hell fire -could there be any more keenly pathetic end of a dissolute life?
Parallel with Shakspeare's contempt for the crowd is his contempt for servants and followers—the sort at least who serve only for hire, and are content to sell their souls, their individuality, their selfrespect (if they ever heard of such a thing) for wages. His finest exposé of these creatures is in Coriolanus, where the servants of Tullus Aufidius are quite unable to recognise the greatness of Coriolanus under his disguise, but are penetrated with admiration for him when they discover that he is so great a man: 'What an arm he had ; he turned me about with the finger and thumb, as one would set up a top.' 'Nay, I knew by his face there was something in him: he had a kind of face, methought, I could not tell how to term it.' Shakspeare would have enjoyed the London flunkey. For his reverence for sincere and faithful service it is only necessary to name the sketch of old Adam in As You Like It; but there is a still finer passage, less familiar, in Antony and Cleopatra, where Enobarbus realises that nothing further is to be looked for from Antony :
Yet he that can endure
This sentiment, again, is quite above the ordinary level of Enobarbus, it is rather Shakspeare's own reflection; Enobarbus is a good sort of rough soldier, but he says nothing else in the course of the play that would lead us to expect that he could rise to so noble a sentiment. Remarkable too is Shakspeare's perception of the half-and-half morality of commonplace natures, as exhibited in the character of Emilia, of whom Johnson (whose Shakspeare criticisms are worth more attention than they receive) observes : The virtue of Emilia is such as we often find; worn loosely, but not cast off ; easy to commit small crimes, but quickened and alarmed at atrocious villainies.' In conversation with Desdemona she speaks lightly of conjugal infidelity : 'Wouldst thou do such a thing for the whole world ?' says Desdemona. .. 'Marry,' is the answer ; ‘I would not do such a thing for a joint-ring, nor for gowns, petticoats, nor caps—but for the whole world! The world is a huge thing, 'tis a great price for a small vice.' But when Iago's villainy comes out, she is the noisiest of all : * Villainy, villainy ; I think on't, I smell it.' As Philip van Artevelde says :
Stupidity is seldom soundly honest.
As to purity in women, Shakspeare gives ample evidence of his reverence for it, even in giving an elaborate portrait of the 'horrid example' in the person of Cressida, his one unchaste heroine. It is notable how, when this baggage is taken off to the Grecian camp, and forthwith sets about making herself agreeable, Ulysses, the wise man of the party, diagnoses her at once : 'She will sing any man at first sight,' he says contemptuously. The sensitive delicacy of Desdemona is beautifully indicated in her shrinking from even repeating the term which her husband had used to her in his jealous raving. My lord hath so bewhored her,' says Emilia in her coarse way:
DESD. Am I that name, Iago ?
What name, fair lady ?
But the most beautiful instance is perhaps in the answer of Posthumus after first hearing Iachimo's lie:
Me of my lawful pleasure she restrained,
It is certainly rather a poor comment on this that when Iachimo makes his scandalous wager on the wife's chastity, her husband, instead of kicking him on the spot, takes up the wager and gives the scoundrel a letter of commendation to the wife, in order that he may have a fair chance ! A curious example of what an audience of that day would swallow as a possible or probable plot; in this respect one might have hoped to find Shakspeare a little more in advance of his time.
Rosalind and Beatrice are two very lively and outspoken young women, yet we are conscious that through all their mirth they are as good and chaste as can be, and there is something especially charming and healthy in Celia's advice to Rosalind 'to love no man in good earnest; nor no farther in sport neither, than with safety of a pure blush thou may'st in honour come off again.' On the other hand, there is no more characteristic trait in Iago than his constant coarseness in speaking of women. 'I cannot believe that in her,' says that half-baked rogue Roderigo, when he is told Desdemona is in love with Cassio ; she is full of most blessed condition.' 'Blessed fig's end,' retorts Iago, the wine she drinks is made of grapes ’; and though he knew that she had not committed herself with Cassio, he would have thought it quite possible :
It is the low man thinks the woman low.
As to the general question of sexual immorality, Shakspeare, however, is by no means strait-laced ; there is a sort of healthy animalism about him, so far as healthy passion is concerned. In the case of Claudio and Juliet, however, he puts a very false moral into the Duke's mouth ; when poor Juliet owns that their 'offenceful act was mutually committed,' i.e. that she had not been very unwilling, the Duke takes on him to say:
Then was your sin of heavier kind than his :
a conclusion one must repudiate utterly. Unless the girl were radi. cally bad—and clearly Juliet was not, surely the heavier sin lies with the seducer; there can hardly be two opinions on that point, and Shakspeare made a slip there, if he seriously intended to back the Duke's view. But on marriage and its higher ideal Shakspeare is noble—for the age he lived in, wonderful. No higher stand could be taken than in that speech of Portia to Brutus :
Am I yourself
We may notice also the protest (far in advance of the general feeling of the time, or even of two or three centuries later) against marriages de convenance, in the speech of Fenton at the close of The Merry Wives of Windsor, in excuse for his eloping with Ann Page :
The offence is holy that she hath committed ;
Fenton's is a very insignificant part in the play, he is a mere piece of the machinery of the plot; and here evidently it is Shakspeare himself who speaks. Mere amorous passion, on the other hand, he shows as a clog to the greater business of life. Antony is ruined by his passion for Cleopatra, his judgment completely muddled by it;
ed by it; one is