« AnteriorContinua »
admit that there is a greater tendency to rhyme in the earlier plays than in the later ones, but the reason for rhyme in this case is that the play is a farce, for which blank verse would be too heavy. In fact blank verse never shows at its best unless it is compact with thought. Shakespeare realised this in making so large a use of prose.
The play, though having all the features of Shakespeare's work, is quite unlike any other of his plays. I put this down to the fact that it is based on the Plautine comedy and was written for a special audience, that is, for the students of the Inns of Court. It is more in the line therefore of the Latin school play than of the popular drama. It is very cleverly constructed, and, of its kind, very amusing. In all probability it is the play which was performed under Bacon's auspices at Gray's Inn in 1594, an account of which will be found in Spedding. It may be said that the man who wrote this play could not have written the “ device " which Bacon wrote for the same occasion, or the one which he wrote for the Earl of Essex for Queen's day in 1595! Do not let us be too sure. Of their kind they are very good, but they are painfully didactic. But Bacon had a political object to serve in writing them, and in politics he was a very different man from what he was in private life, and he had a style for each. Indeed, even on his acknowledged record, the variety of his style is very remarkable ; how much more so when he was writing under a disguise ! The second device contains a sonnet which is altogether in the Shakespeare manner :
Seated between the old world and the new,
The editor of this play in the “Arden " Shakespeare (Mr. Cunningham) has some remarks about the legal allusions in it, and says that they and other similar allusions elsewhere, indicate no mere nodding acquaintance with the law but that it was “part and parcel of the writer's intellectual equipment." He mentions, for example, that there are “not far short of 150 legal references in the poems and sonnets alone." I gave an example of this in Love's Labour's Lost. There is another, even more prodigious, in Romeo and Juliet, where at the crisis of Romeo's passion and death he is made to say:
1 It is given in Spedding's Letters and Life.
and, lips, O you The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss A dateless bargain to engrossing death.
It is done without the smallest effort, and we simply accept it !
I do not propose in this book to draw much attention to verbal similarities in Bacon and Shakespeare, partly because I am content to rely on a different class of evidence, partly because it has been done by other writers. But there is one in this play which is worth noting because it points to a scientific habit of mind. Hair is described as an excrement” (II. ii), and the same comparison is made, in a disgusting though ludicrous form, in Love's Labour's Lost. The idea occurs again in Hamlet :
Your bedded hair, like life in excrements,
(III. iv. 121).
The same idea is found in Bacon's Natural History (Experiment 58) "hair and nails, which are excrements, and no parts"; and again in his History of Life and Death, "and put forth nothing new except hair and nails, which are regarded as excretions" (excrementis)".
There is a book entitled A Paradoxe of Baldnesse by Synesius, a translation of which was published in 1579. Though nominally by Abraham Fleming, I have attributed it, from the style, to Bacon, and this is rendered the more probable from the inclusion in the same volume of Hermetes the Heremite, which is supposed to be by Gascoigne. In the Paradoxe occurs the following: "For haire, being but an excrement, or needlesse thing." The idea is derived from Aristotle.
1 Spedding's translation, Works, v. 226.
During all this period, and for long after, Bacon was practically unoccupied, and in 1595 he wrote to the Earl of Essex :
“I am purposed not to follow the practice of the law and my reason is only because it drinketh too much time, which I have dedicated to better purposes."
Again, writing to his brother from Twickenham in 1594,
“One day draweth another and I am well pleased in my being here ; for methinks solitude collecteth the mind, as shutting the eyes doth the sight."
And to Essex in 1595 :
Desiring your good Lordship nevertheless not to conceive . . that I am either much in appetite or much in hope. For as for appetite, the waters of Parnassus are not like the waters of the Spaw, that give a stomach ; but rather they quench appetite and desires."
All the evidence goes to show that, while never relinquishing hopes of state employment, Bacon was engaged in literary pursuits.
The Taming of the Shrew.
Another play in the genre of farce. It is not known when it was written, but the boisterous humour of it suggests that it belongs to the early period, though probably somewhat later than the Comedy of Errors. It is held by some critics to have been written in collaboration with someone else, but I can see no sign of this. There is a unity of tone, and the tone is Shakespearian throughout, though here and there the author may have made use of an old play. The scene between the servants at Petruchio's country house (IV.i), for instance, looks like a snippet from another document, as it is not in Shakespeare's manner ; but beyond this I see little to cavil at.
In the machinery scene at the opening, Shakespeare is supposed to have presented some of his Warwickshire friends and neighbours, Christopher Sly and others. If this be so it is not very complimentary to them. It is very funny, but the fun is entirely at the expense of humble people, and the standpoint of the writer is aristocratic throughout; surely a strange thing for a man who had been brought up among the people and who must have been still living with them.
The lecture at the end on the relations between the male and the female which the author puts into the mouth of Katherine discredits the view that Shakespeare's art is always objective. Though no doubt the moral follows logically on the action, yet the speech is not in character, for no woman could talk in such a way. It is a speech in which the author dons his cap and gown and gives his own views magisterially, just as he does in relation to politics in some of the speeches of Ulysses in Troilus and Cressida. It is worthy of notice that they agree with those of Spenser on the same subject in the episode of Radigund and the captured knight in the Faerie Queene :
Such is the crueltie of womenkynd,
(V.5.25.) The description of Petruchio's sorry steed in III. i. has been quoted as an example of Shakespeare's extraordinary command of technique, and I would refer the reader to what I have written on that subject in the article printed in Appendix I.
Romeo and Juliet.
This is one among the plays of Shakespeare's early maturity when he had found his style. It was probably composed in 1592. The subjective element, which is so apparent in Love's Labour's Lost and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, no longer obtrudes itself; the treatment is detached and the art in consequence reaches a higher point. The play is based on an Italian tale which, except in minor details, it follows throughout. As an English translation was available in Painter's Palace of Pleasure it may be that Shakespeare made use of it, but as there are other Italian tales which he dramatised, notably the story of Othello, of which no English translation existed in his day, it is not possible to assert that in this case he did not go to the Italian of Bandello.
i The word "base" here is used of relativity and is the French bas, soumis.
The nurse is an original creation. In the tale she is only mentioned once and that incidentally. The character is identical in all its features with Glauce, the nurse of Britomart in Spenser's Faerie Queene. I mentioned this in my book on Spenser, and it is a marvel to me that this identity has never (so far as I have been able to discover) been noticed. It is almost the only instance in which the grave muse of Spenser betrays a sense of humour. Thus, in his description of the efforts of the nurse to exorcise the infatuation of Britomart for the image of the knight which she has seen in the magic mirror, he has the following lines :
Earely, the morrow next, before that day
Retourned home, the royall Infant fell
Then, taking thrise three heares from off her head,