Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

was still keenly sensitive and he was hard enough upon himself for failure to respond to its warnings. But he could as yet take a light view of his shortcomings and ease his mind in the process of confession. The treatment therefore is light and the end of the play, if somewhat artificial, happy and irresponsible. The period which follows shows less sincerity and more worldliness and is characterised by an exuberance of wit. By that time the writer had passed through the acuter phase of love-sickness of which the present play affords indications, and he was therefore able to portray its effects more objectively and in consequence with greater art. Thereafter the shadows fall and we pass into the gloom of the tragic period in which the moral element confronts us in the most formidable shapes. All this will, I think, be found to correspond in strict sequence with the development of Bacon's life and story. We should like to think that a period of “reconciliation" followed in which the last plays, generally supposed to be The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline and The Tempest, were produced. But I am afraid I cannot accept that theory, now so generally in favour, as a final explanation of the author's life, because I believe that there was one play later than these. But I shall come to that point in due course.

It is remarkable how under the light touch of this play the author already gives indications of his marvellous power of psychological analysis which reaches to such depths in the later plays. How clearly, for example, he divines that sexual fidelity takes its sanction not from any external prohibition but from the very nature of the soul, for which the complexity of phenomena is abhorrent. It seems that unity is a passion of the soul, and that its sense of unity is violated by a dispersal of the affections, especially in sexual relations. In this matter women are less tempted than men because their physique is more closely correlated with their affections; hence the poet, by a sure instinct, places his analysis in the mouth of a woman :

Pro. : 0, 'tis the curse in love, and still approved,

When women cannot love where they're beloved !
Sil. : When Proteus cannot love where he's beloved.

Read over Julia's heart, thy first best love,

For whose dear sake thou didst then rend thy faith
Into a thousand oaths; and all those oaths
Descended into perjury to love me.
Thou hast no faith left now, unless thoud'st two;
And that's far worse than none; better have none
Than plural faith which is too much by one :
Thou counterfeit to thy true friend !

In love
Who respects friend ?

All men but Proteus.

Pro. :

Sil. :

The final conclusion is put into the mouth of Proteus :

Than men their minds ! 'tis true. O heaven were man
But constant, he were perfect. That one error
Fills him with faults ; makes him run through all the sins ;
Inconstancy falls off ere it begins.

a

Valentine is a foil to Proteus, a valiant, honourable man of simple character in contrast with the complex nature of the other. This is the type which Shakespeare admires and envies. This admiration comes out strikingly in the description of Eglamour and of Silvia's confidence in his honour :

Sil. : 0 Eglamour, thou art a gentleman

Think not I fatter, for I swear I do not-
Valiant, wise, remorseful, well accomplish'd :

a description of an English gentleman at his best, moulded by Christian influences far more than by continental schools of gallantry. The writer's admiration for this type appears in other examples and in the lift which the rhythm takes on when he refers to them. A notable example is found in Hamlet, where the author appears to be contrasting with his ideal his own deficiencies :

Ham. : Horatio, thou art e'en as just a man

As e'er my conversation coped withal.
Hor. :

O, my dear lord-
Ham. :

Nay, do not think I flatter;
For what advancement may I hope from thee
That no revenue hast but thy good spirits,
To feed and clothe thee ?

.

Dost thou hear ?
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath seal'd thee for herself; for thou hast been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,
A man that fortune's buffets and rewards
Has ta'en with equal thanks : and blest are those,
Whose blood and judgment are so well co-mingled,
That they are not a pipe for fortune's finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.

(III. ii.)

And the author never forgets that he is living in the world, to which an ever-serious vein is ill-adapted, he breaks off characteristically with

Something too much of this.

It is surely a very remarkable fact that all the deep reasoning in this passage, from “ Dost thou hear ? ” onwards, only appears for the first time in the first Folio of 1623.

A slight, but possible significant touch may be noticed in the description of Silvia's picture by Julia :

Her hair is auburn, mine a perfect yellow :

Her eyes are grey as glass, and so are mine : It may of course, be only a coincidence, but it is a fact that these are the features of the picture of Sidney's sister, Mary, Countess of Pembroke, in the National Portrait Gallery. As the picture has not been visible during the last five years owing to the War, I have been unable to verify my recollection of it, but Scharf, who is sure to be correct, says in his catalogue that the eyes are “slaty grey” and the hair a "dark brown.” As the picture was taken when the Countess was far on in life, the hair had probably darkened, and Aubrey's account (Brief Lives) confirms this, and also gives a description of the lady which goes far to establish the view that she was the inspiration of the typical heroine of Shakespeare's early period :

a

“ Sister to Sir Philip Sidney; married to Henry the eldest son of William, Earle of Pembroke aforesayd; but this subtile old Earle did foresee that his faire and witty daughter-in-lawe would horne his sonne and told him so and advised him to keepe her in the countrey and not to let her frequent the court.

She was a beautifull ladie and had an excellent witt, and had the best breeding that the age could afford. She had a pretty sharpe ovall face. Her haire was of a reddish yellowe.”

Scharf also says of her picture that the complexion is fair and the cheeks pink, which may account for the frequent use of the expression “red and white ” in Spenser and Shakespeare as a term for feminine beauty.

I have discussed this question very fully in my book on the Arcadia, where I have argued that the real heroine of that story, presented under a variety of characters, was this lady, and that she is the “Rosalind” (a name formed from the letters of Mary Sidnei) of Spenser and Shakespeare alike. It may be objected however, that the "Rosaline" of Love's Labour's Lost had black hair and black eyes. But a writer who wished to preserve his disguise would be very unlikely to give a description from the life in such a connection (with Biron obviously representing himself), whereas in the present passage the connection is different (Valentine evidently not standing for the author), and the writer might therefore safely indulge his fancy. It will be noticed also how adroitly he duplicates the description of the eyes and makes those of Julia as well as of Silvia grey; and grey eyes are not a common feature. They occur also in the Arcadia as a feature of one of the female characters who, as I have attempted to show, clearly stands for the Countess of Pembroke.

This play is perhaps best known for the exquisite lyric included in it, “Who is Silvia ? ” Following Milton we have become accustomed to talk about Shakespeare's “ woodnotes wild.” But this lyric is as literary as any of the early poems of Milton, and in my view therefore it betrays an early origin. The woodnotes wild ” came later, when the author had digested his learning and was more sure of his style. But

[ocr errors]

1 Olivia, in Twelfth Night, is also described as having“ grey eyes" (I. v.)

what of the two lyrics at the end of Love's Labour's Lost? Well, I suspect that these are later insertions and belong to the period of revision. This, however, is conjecture. The point I wish to bring out is that the apparent spontaneity of Shakespeare's lyrics is deceptive, and that they took their origin, like other perfect things, in exercise and study.

The Comedy of Errors.

The two plays which we have just discussed stand alone among Shakespeare's plays as being the only ones which suggest immaturity. Even they, however, cannot be called 'immature' absolutely, but only relatively to the rest of his work. This is one of the remarkable things about Shakespeare, that he seems to have begun with almost fully developed powers; and this is contrary to all experience. In my view of the authorship however, we are confronted with no such difficulty, as I believe Bacon had been writing poetry as well as some drama, for fifteen or twenty years before he began to produce the body of work which appeared under the name of Shakespeare. Great genius is always precocious. It is recorded of Tennyson that he wrote verses when he was only eight years old, and records of similar juvenile performance survive in the case of Milton, Pope and others. Why should the greater genius have been an exception? In my book on the Spenser poems I have given reasons for thinking that the author composed poetry at a similar early age. In this view the Shakespearian drama represents a comparatively late development. According to the generally accepted dates, it did not begin until about 1591, when Bacon had turned thirty. Judging from the internal evidence I put Love's Labour's Lost and The Two Gentlemen of Verona earlier, for reasons which I have given, but I am content to accept the date of 1591-2 for The Comedy of Errors because I do not regard that as a less mature play than any of the others which immediately followed it. It has been argued that the number of rhyming lines indicate that it should be grouped with the two early plays rather than with the next group, but it seems to me that it would be as reasonable to argue that a writer of pantomine must be young because the lines rhyme. I quite

a

« AnteriorContinua »