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THE NON-PERSONALITY OF SHAKESPEARE.
The non-personality of Shakespeare's dramatic works, the absence of everything which can in any way throw light upon his individuality, his “Ego," must strike all who read him with ordinary love and intelligence. In this respect, it is impossible to help comparing him with other great writers. We then find how rarely any rise to the level of that high inspiration-when the “Ego” disappears, when the God speaks through his instrument, and when the oracle is untainted by self-consciousness. With all other authors, one gathers some idea, right or wrong, of the man. Whether it be Chaucer, Bacon, Milton, Dryden, Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, or even the perfect poets, Keats and Herrick, the individuality peeps out; the reader may detect the man and much of his mental idiosyncrasy underneath his various disguises, and can, according to his own insight, lay his finger on this or that weakness or greatness, and say, "here speaks the man egotistically.” With Shakespeare this cannot be said. With all the characters he created, and upon which he has conferred immortality, there is no trace of himself. He would be still, but for his sonnets, the great unknown! a wonderful mystery! unlike all other men, not only in his knowledge and power, but in his inscrutability. In these sonnets only, and at last, we see the man, but still inscrutable, propounding, no doubt, most deliberately, and with what success we all know, a riddle to posterity. Who has yet answered the question he implies in his first 126 sonnets ? That question being, “To whom do I address these verses ?” And yet, with consummate art, he has left the answer hidden in the sonnets themselves! To those who are amateurs of our poet, rather than to professed Shakespearians, do I look for a verdict. “ Die Menschheit hat ein fein Gehör," Goethe said; and I confess I appeal to “ Die Menschheit,” and not to that jealous, envious being, the Shakespearian. The latter is confessedly in the dark, and not the less dangerous to the luckless individual who VOL. III.- No. 14.
brings him light. The secret of the sonnets, of the one hundred and twenty-six in question, is simple. They were addressed to his son. Not a son by Anne Hathaway, but to an illegitimate one by some other woman—the evidence would go to show, by some woman of high rank. In those days, when blue blood was a reality, when the belief in rank and caste was more deeply rooted than in religion even; an intrigue between a poor player and some charming, appreciative, clever, great lady, no doubt, happened more often than the immense gulf between them, would at first permit us to believe But, as he makes Suffolk say
“She is beautiful, and, therefore, to be woo'd.
She is a woman, therefore to be won." When, according to Mr. Palgrave, “our great and gentle Shakespeare submitted himself to these passions” and “ really endured them,” can we imagine that any mere woman could resist him? The higher her intellect, the less capable of resistance. On the other hand, can we not readily imagine his adoration and gratitude, carried on and translated to the child ? This mixed adoration and deep love, which shine out in each sonnet, is thus accounted for. We must remember the age in which he wrote. He was proud of his conquest, but above all proud and passionately fond of its fruits.
Beyond his relationship as son, the question “Who was W. H.?" matters little. Though Shakespeare knew that he was writing for all time, he recked little of posterity and its fame; he cared really only for the present. His son, his son's mother, if alive (and there is evidence here and there that she was dead when most of the sonnets were published—see sonnet xxxi.), perhaps, also, one or two dear friends and confidants—these were for whom he wrote those immortal and perfect words.
To the proofs, however. They are not many, but can never be set aside, or sneered at, and they speak for themselves. In sonnet III. we find in the 9th and 10th lines:
“Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime.” When this was written, not published, the mother was, therefore, alive!
In sonnet XIII.:
“ You had a father, let your son say so." Coupled with what follows, this will be found to be an appeal from the father to his son.
“ And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.”
"My glass shall not persuade me I am old
“How many a holy and obsequious tear
“Thou art the grave, where buried love doth live,
Hung with the trophies of my lovers gone,
This is difficult to interpret, not from my view of the theory; for, it is evident that he addresses his son; but from the subtle, metaphysical implication of the reaction of his dearest friends and lovers on his inner self, and powers of reproduction.
Sonnet xxxIII. is conclusive, even if we did not know Shakespeare's love of the pun, or play on a word.
"Even so, my Sun one early morn did shine
“Yet him for this, my love no whit disdaineth;
The above must be read together with Sonnets xxxiv. and xxxv. They belong to each other, and refer to some wrong done him by his son. What this wrong was, may be that which is indicated in Sonnets XL., XLI., XLII. But it is not the less plain that it is his son he addresses. The license of the age must be remembered.
“Let me confess that we two must be twain,
“In our two loves there is but one respect,
“I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.” To analyse this sonnet, full of paternal anguish and remorse, is beyond my powers. It is all of it profoundly touching. The father addressing his bastard son; not his son before the world, but none the less his son—and bastard-appreciating as only Shakespeare could, their mutual relations, and his son's feelings. It is wonderful how it could have escaped even the bat-like Shakespearians. If there were no other evidence, this sonnet alone suffices.
“ As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth.
any of these all, or all, or more" Corroborative, but no more.
“0, how thy worth with manners may I sing,
When thou art all the better part of me?
And what is't but mine own when I praise thee?
And our dear love lose name of single one,
That due to thee which thou deserv'st alone."
“To leave poor me, thou hast the strength of laws,
Since why to love I can allege no cause."
Sonnet LXII. The whole must be read. I give it, therefore, entire:
“Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye,
And all my soul, and all my every part;
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
“But when my glass shows me myself indeed,
Beated and chopp'd with tann'd antiquity,
Self so self-loving were iniquity.
"0! if I say, you look upon this verse
When I, perhaps, compounded am with clay,
And mock you with me after I am gone."
“O, lest the world should task you to recite
What merit lived in me, that you should love,
For you in me can nothing worthy prove;
To do more for me than mine own desert,
Than niggard truth would willingly impart;
you for love speak well of me untrue,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you:
And so should you, to love things nothing worth.”
“But do not so, I love thee in such sort,
As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.” In the above quotations, I have singled out only such as afford direct evidence; read by their light, many of the other sonnets bear corroborative testimony. I am happy in thinking that the above remarks cannot possibly be classed among the ordinary Shakespearian criticisms, The question here is not, “What is his, Shakespeare's?” or, “What is Marlowe's or Fletcher's, Jonson's or Beaumont's?” This is no question, as Swinburne would put it, for “critics of the finger-counting, or syllabic school.” It is the simple solution of a riddle, put to posterity; a matter in which the nonShakesperian one of the “oi polloi,” untroubled by too much study, by too much published criticism, has a singular advantage; and, with a little Einsicht and much love of his author, can see