Algernon Charles Swinburne.

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inference thus eloquently expressed in a strain of thrilling and exalted
poetry;

Undoubtedly, then something is amiss.

Who can read this without a reminiscence of Sir Christopher Hatton's
characteristically cautious conclusion at sight of the military
preparations arrayed against the immediate advent of the Armada?

I cannot but surmise - forgive, my friend,
If the conjecture's rash - I cannot but
Surmise the state some danger apprehends!

With the entrance of the King the tone of this scene naturally rises - "in
good time," as most readers will say. His brief interview with the two
nobles has at least the merit of ease and animation.

_Derby_. Befall my sovereign all my sovereign's wish!

_Edward_. Ah, that thou wert a witch, to make it so!

_Derby_. The emperor greeteth you.

_Edward_. Would it were the countess!

_Derby_. And hath accorded to your highness' suit.

_Edward_. Thou liest, she hath not: But I would she had!

_Audley_. All love and duty to my lord the king!

Edward. _Well, all but one is none_: - What news with you?

_Audley_. I have, my liege, levied those horse and foot,
According to your charge, and brought them hither.

_Edward_. Then let those foot trudge hence upon those horse
According to their discharge, and begone. -

_Derby_. I'll look upon the countess' mind
Anon.

_Derby_. The countess' mind, my liege?

_Edward_. I mean, the emperor: - Leave me alone.

_Audley_. What's in his mind?

_Derby_. Let's leave him to his humour.

[_Exeunt_ DERBY and AUDLEY

_Edward_. Thus from the heart's abundance speaks the tongue
Countess for emperor: And indeed, why not?
She is as _imperator_ over me;
And I to her
Am as a kneeling vassal, that observes
The pleasure or displeasure of her eye.

In this little scene there is perhaps on the whole more general likeness
to Shakespeare's earliest manner than we can trace in any other passage
of the play. But how much of Shakespeare's earliest manner may be
accounted the special and exclusive property of Shakespeare?

After this dismissal of the two nobles, the pimping poeticule, Villon
manque or (whom shall we call him?) reussi, reappears with a message to
Caesar (as the King is pleased to style himself) from "the more than
Cleopatra's match" (as he designates the Countess), to intimate that "ere
night she will resolve his majesty." Hereupon an unseasonable "drum
within" provokes Edward to the following remonstrance:

What drum is this, that thunders forth this march,
To start the tender Cupid in my bosom?
Poor sheepskin, how it brawls with him that beateth it!
Go, break the thundering parchment bottom out,
And I will teach it to conduct sweet lines

("That's bad; _conduct sweet lines_ is bad.")

Unto the bosom of a heavenly nymph:
For I will use it as my writing paper;
And so reduce him, from a scolding drum,
To be the herald, and dear counsel-bearer,
Betwixt a goddess and a mighty king.
Go, bid the drummer learn to touch the lute,
Or hang him in the braces of his drum;
For now we think it an uncivil thing
To trouble heaven with such harsh resounds.
Away! [_Exit_ Lodowick.
The quarrel that I have requires no arms
But these of mine; and these shall meet my foe
In a deep march of penetrable groans;
My eyes shall be my arrows; and my sighs
Shall serve me as the vantage of the wind
To whirl away my sweet'st {261} artillery:
Ah, but, alas, she wins the sun of me,
For that is she herself; and thence it comes
That poets term the wanton warrior blind;
But love hath eyes as judgment to his steps,
Till too much loved glory dazzles them.

Hereupon Lodowick introduces the Black Prince (that is to be), and
"retires to the door." The following scene opens well, with a tone of
frank and direct simplicity.

_Edward_. I see the boy. O, how his mother's face,
Moulded in his, corrects my strayed desire,
And rates my heart, and chides my thievish eye;
Who, being rich enough in seeing her,
Yet seeks elsewhere: and basest theft is that
Which cannot check itself on poverty. -
Now, boy, what news?

_Prince_. I have assembled, my dear lord and father,
The choicest buds of all our English blood,
For our affairs in France; and here we come
To take direction from your majesty.

_Edward_. Still do I see in him delineate
His mother's visage; those his eyes are hers,
Who, looking wistly {262a} on me, made me blush;
For faults against themselves give evidence:
Lust is a fire; and men, like lanterns, show
Light lust within themselves even through themselves.
Away, loose silks of wavering vanity!
Shall the large limit of fair Brittany {262b}
By me be overthrown? and shall I not
Master this little mansion of myself?
Give me an armour of eternal steel;
I go to conquer kings. And shall I then
Subdue myself, and be my enemy's friend?
It must not be. - Come, boy, forward, advance!
Let's with our colours sweep the air of France.

Here Lodowick announces the approach of the Countess "with a smiling
cheer."

_Edward_. Why, there it goes! that very smile of hers
Hath ransomed captive France; and set the king,
The dauphin, and the peers, at liberty. -
Go, leave me, Ned, and revel with thy friends. [_Exit_ PRINCE.
Thy mother is but black; and thou, like her,
Dost put into my mind how foul she is.
Go, fetch the countess hither in thy hand,
And let her chase away these winter clouds;
For she gives beauty both to heaven and earth. [_Exit_ LODOWICK.
The sin is more, to hack and hew poor men,
Than to embrace in an unlawful bed
The register of all rarieties {263a}
Since leathern Adam till this youngest hour.

_Re-enter_ LODOWICK _with the_ COUNTESS.

Go, Lodowick, put thy hand into my purse,
Play, spend, give, riot, waste; do what thou wilt,
So thou wilt hence awhile, and leave me here. [_Exit_ LODOWICK.

Having already, out of a desire and determination to do no possible
injustice to the actual merits of this play in the eyes of any reader who
might never have gone over the text on which I had to comment, exceeded
in no small degree the limits I had intended to impose upon my task in
the way of citation, I shall not give so full a transcript from the next
and last scene between the Countess and the King.

_Edward_. Now, my soul's playfellow! art thou come
To speak the more than heavenly word of yea
To my objection in thy beauteous love?

(Again, this singular use of the word _objection_ in the sense of offer
or proposal has no parallel in the plays of Shakespeare.)

_Countess_. My father on his blessing hath commanded -

_Edward_. That thou shalt yield to me.

_Countess_. Ay, dear my liege, your due.

_Edward_. And that, my dearest love, can be no less
Than right for right, and render {263b} love for love.

_Countess_. Than wrong for wrong, and endless hate for hate.
But, sith I see your majesty so bent,
That my unwillingness, my husband's love,
Your high estate, nor no respect respected,
Can be my help, but that your mightiness
Will overbear and awe these dear regards,
I bind my discontent to my content,
And what I would not I'll compel I will;
Provided that yourself remove those lets
That stand between your highness' love and mine.

_Edward_. Name them, fair countess, and by heaven I will.

_Countess_. It is their lives that stand between our love
That I would have choked up, my sovereign.

_Edward_. Whose lives, my lady?

_Countess_. My thrice loving liege,
Your queen, and Salisbury my wedded husband;
Who living have that title in our love
That we can not bestow but by their death.

_Edward_. Thy opposition {264a} is beyond our law.

_Countess_. So is your desire: If the law {264b}
Can hinder you to execute the one,
Let it forbid you to attempt the other:
I cannot think you love me as you say
Unless you do make good what you have sworn.

_Edward_. No more: thy husband and the queen shall die.
Fairer thou art by far than Hero was;
Beardless Leander not so strong as I:
He swom an easy current for his love;
But I will, through a helly spout of blood, {264c}
Arrive that Sestos where my Hero lies.

_Countess_. Nay, you'll do more; you'll make the river too
With their heartbloods that keep our love asunder;
Of which my husband and your wife are twain.

_Edward_. Thy beauty makes them guilty of their death
And gives in evidence that they shall die;
Upon which verdict I their judge condemn them.

_Countess_. O perjured beauty! more corrupted judge!
When, to the great star-chamber o'er our heads,
The universal sessions calls to count
This packing evil, we both shall tremble for it.

_Edward_. What says my fair love? is she resolute?

_Countess_. Resolute to be dissolved: {266} and, therefore, this:
Keep but thy word, great king, and I am thine.
Stand where thou dost; I'll part a little from thee;
And see how I will yield me to thy hands.
Here by my side do hang my wedding knives;
Take thou the one, and with it kill thy queen,
And learn by me to find her where she lies;
And with the other I'll despatch my love,
Which now lies fast asleep within my heart:
When they are gone, then I'll consent to love.

Such genuinely good wine as this needs no bush. But from this point
onwards I can find nothing especially commendable in the remainder of the
scene except its brevity. The King of course abjures his purpose, and of
course compares the Countess with Lucretia to the disadvantage of the
Roman matron; summons his son, Warwick, and the attendant lords; appoints
each man his post by sea or land; and starts for Flanders in a duly moral
and military state of mind.

Here ends the first part of the play; and with it all possible
indication, though never so shadowy, of the possible shadowy presence of
Shakespeare. At the opening of the third act we are thrown among a
wholly new set of characters and events, all utterly out of all harmony
and keeping with all that has gone before. Edward alone survives as
nominal protagonist; but this survival - assuredly not of the fittest - is
merely the survival of the shadow of a name. Anything more pitifully
crude and feeble, more helplessly inartistic and incomposite, than this
process or pretence of juncture where there is no juncture, this
infantine shifting and shuffling of the scenes and figures, it is
impossible to find among the rudest and weakest attempts of the dawning
or declining drama in its first or second childhood.

It is the less necessary to analyse at any length the three remaining
acts of this play, that the work has already been done to my hand, and
well done, by Charles Knight; who, though no professed critic or esoteric
expert in Shakespearean letters, approved himself by dint of sheer
honesty and conscience not unworthy of a considerate hearing. To his
edition of Shakespeare I therefore refer all readers desirous of further
excerpts than I care to give.

The first scene of the third act is a storehouse of contemporary
commonplace. Nothing fresher than such stale pot-pourri as the following
is to be gathered up in thin sprinklings from off the dry flat soil. A
messenger informs the French king that he has descried off shore

The proud armado (_sic_) of King Edward's ships;
Which at the first, far off when I did ken,
Seemed as it were a grove of withered pines;
But, drawing on, their glorious bright aspect,
Their streaming ensigns wrought of coloured silk,
Like to a meadow full of sundry flowers,
Adorns the naked bosom of the earth;

and so on after the exactest and therefore feeblest fashion of the Pre-
Marlowites; with equal regard, as may be seen, for grammar and for sense
in the construction of his periods. The narrative of a sea-fight ensuing
on this is pitiable beyond pity and contemptibly beneath contempt.

In the next scene we have a flying view of peasants in flight, with a
description of five cities on fire not undeserving of its place in the
play, immediately after the preceding sea-piece: but relieved by such
wealth of pleasantry as marks the following jest, in which the most
purblind eye will be the quickest to discover a touch of the genuine
Shakespearean humour.

_1st Frenchman_. What, is it quarter-day, that you remove,
And carry bag and baggage too?

_2nd Frenchman_. Quarter-day? ay, and quartering-day, I fear.
_Euge_!

The scene of debate before Cressy is equally flat and futile, vulgar and
verbose; yet in this Sham Shakespearean scene of our present poeticule's
I have noted one genuine Shakespearean word, "solely singular for its
singleness."

So may thy temples with Bellona's hand
Be still adorned with laurel victory!

In this notably inelegant expression of goodwill we find the same use of
the word "laurel" as an adjective and epithet of victory which thus
confronts us in the penultimate speech of the third scene in the first
act of _Antony and Cleopatra_.

Upon your sword
Sit laurel victory, and smooth success
Be strewed before your feet!

There is something more (as less there could not be) of spirit and
movement in the battle-scene where Edward refuses to send relief to his
son, wishing the prince to win his spurs unaided, and earn the
first-fruits of his fame single-handed against the heaviest odds; but the
forcible feebleness of a minor poet's fancy shows itself amusingly in the
mock stoicism and braggart philosophy of the King's reassuring
reflection, "We have more sons than one."

In the first and third scenes of the fourth act we may concede some
slight merit to the picture of a chivalrous emulation in magnanimity
between the Duke of Burgundy and his former fellow-student, whose refusal
to break his parole as a prisoner extorts from his friend the concession
refused to his importunity as an envoy: but the execution is by no means
worthy of the subject.

The limp loquacity of long-winded rhetoric, so natural to men and
soldiers in an hour of emergency, which distinguishes the dialogue
between the Black Prince and Audley on the verge of battle, is relieved
by this one last touch of quasi-Shakespearean thought or style
discoverable in the play of which I must presently take a short - and a
long - farewell.

Death's name is much more mighty than his deeds:
Thy parcelling this power hath made it more.
As many sands as these my hands can hold
Are but my handful of so many sands;
Then all the world - and call it but a power -
Easily ta'en up, and {269} quickly thrown away;
But if I stand to count them sand by sand
The number would confound my memory
And make a thousand millions of a task
Which briefly is no more indeed than one.
These quartered squadrons and these regiments
Before, behind us, and on either hand,
Are but a power: When we name a man,
His hand, his foot, his head, have several strengths;
And being all but one self instant strength,
Why, all this many, Audley, is but one,
And we can call it all but one man's strength.
He that hath far to go tells it by miles;
If he should tell the steps, it kills his heart:
The drops are infinite that make a flood,
And yet, thou know'st, we call it but a rain.
There is but one France, one king of France, {270}
That France hath no more kings; and that same king
Hath but the puissant legion of one king;
And we have one: Then apprehend no odds;
For one to one is fair equality.

_Bien coupe, mal cousu_; such is the most favourable verdict I can pass
on this voluminous effusion of a spirit smacking rather of the schools
than of the field. The first six lines or so might pass muster as the
early handiwork of Shakespeare; the rest has as little of his manner as
his matter, his metre as his style.

The poet can hardly be said to rise again after this calamitous collapse.
We find in the rest of this scene nothing better worth remark than such
poor catches at a word as this;

And let those milkwhite messengers of time
Show thy time's learning in this dangerous time;

a villainous trick of verbiage which went nigh now and then to affect the
adolescent style of Shakespeare, and which happens to find itself as
admirably as unconsciously burlesqued in two lines of this very scene:

I will not give a penny for a life,
Nor half a halfpenny to shun grim death.

The verses intervening are smooth, simple, and passably well worded;
indeed the force of elegant commonplace cannot well go further than in
such lines as these.

Thyself art bruised and bent with many broils,
And stratagems forepast with iron pens
Are texed {271} in thine honourable face;
Thou art a married man in this distress,
But danger woos me as a blushing maid;
Teach me an answer to this perilous time.

_Audley_. To die is all as common as to live;
The one in choice, the other holds in chase;
For from the instant we begin to live
We do pursue and hunt the time to die:
First bud we, then we blow, and after seed;
Then presently we fall; and as a shade
Follows the body, so we follow death.
If then we hunt for death, why do we fear it?
If we fear it, why do we follow it?

(Let me intimate a doubt in passing, whether Shakespeare would ever have
put by the mouth of any but a farcical mask a query so provocative of
response from an Irish echo - "Because we can't help.")

If we do fear, with fear we do but aid
The thing we fear to seize on us the sooner;
If we fear not, then no resolved proffer
Can overthrow the limit of our fate:

and so forth. Again the hastiest reader will have been reminded of a
passage in the transcendant central scenes of _Measure for Measure_:

Merely, thou art death's fool;
For him thou labour'st by thy flight to shun,
And yet runn'st toward him still;

and hence also some may infer that this pitiful penny-whistle was blown
by the same breath which in time gained power to fill that archangelic
trumpet. Credat Zoilus Shakespearomastix, non ego.

The next scene is something better than passable, but demands no special
analysis and affords no necessary extract. We may just observe as
examples of style the play on words between the flight of hovering ravens
and the flight of routed soldiers, and the description of the sudden fog

Which now hath hid the airy floor of heaven,
And made at noon a night unnatural
Upon the quaking and dismayed world.

The interest rises again with the reappearance and release of Salisbury,
and lifts the style for a moment to its own level. _A tout seigneur tout
honneur_; the author deserves some dole of moderate approbation for his
tribute to the national chivalry of a Frenchman as here exemplified in
the person of Prince Charles.

Of the two next scenes, in which the battle of Poitiers is so
inadequately "staged to the show," I can only say that if any reader
believes them to be the possible work of the same hand which set before
all men's eyes for all time the field of Agincourt, he will doubtless die
in that belief, and go to his own place in the limbo of commentators.

But a yet more flagrant effect of contrast is thrust upon our notice at
the opening of the fifth act. If in all the historical groundwork of
this play there is one point of attraction which we might have thought
certain to stimulate the utmost enterprise and evoke the utmost
capacities of an aspiring dramatist, it must surely be sought in the
crowning scene of the story; in the scene of Queen Philippa's
intercession for the burgesses of Calais. We know how Shakespeare on the
like occasion was wont to transmute into golden verse the silver speech
supplied to him by North's version of Amyot's Plutarch. {273} With the
text of Lord Berners before him, the author of _King Edward III_. has
given us for the gold of Froissart not even adulterated copper, but
unadulterated lead. Incredible as it may seem to readers of the
historian, the poeticule has actually contrived so far to transfigure by
dint of disfiguring him that this most noble and pathetic scene in all
the annals of chivalry, when passed through the alembic of his
incompetence, appears in a garb of transforming verse under a guise at
once weak and wordy, coarse and unchivalrous. The whole scene is at all
points alike in its unlikeness to the workmanship of Shakespeare.

Here then I think we may finally draw bridle: for the rest of the course
is not worth running; there is nothing in the residue of this last act
which deserves analysis or calls for commentary. We have now examined
the whole main body of the work with somewhat more than necessary care;
and our conclusion is simply this: that if any man of common reading,
common modesty, common judgment, and common sense, can be found to
maintain the theory of Shakespeare's possible partnership in the
composition of this play, such a man will assuredly admit that the only
discernible or imaginable touches of his hand are very slight, very few,
and very early. For myself, I am and have always been perfectly
satisfied with one single and simple piece of evidence that Shakespeare
had not a finger in the concoction of _King Edward III_. He was the
author of _King Henry V_.


NOTE.


I was not surprised to hear that my essay on the historical play of King
Edward III. had on its first appearance met in various quarters with
assailants of various kinds. There are some forms of attack to which no
answer is possible for a man of any human self-respect but the lifelong
silence of contemptuous disgust. To such as these I will never
condescend to advert or to allude further than by the remark now as it
were forced from me, that never once in my life have I had or will I have
recourse in self-defence either to the blackguard's loaded bludgeon of
personalities or to the dastard's sheathed dagger of disguise. I have
reviled no man's person: I have outraged no man's privacy. When I have
found myself misled either by imperfection of knowledge or of memory, or
by too much confidence in a generally trustworthy guide, I have silently
corrected the misquotation or readily repaired the error. To the
successive and representative heroes of the undying Dunciad I have left
and will always leave the foul use of their own foul weapons. I have
spoken freely and fearlessly, and so shall on all occasions continue to
speak, of what I find to be worthy of praise or dispraise, contempt or
honour, in the public works and actions of men. Here ends and here has
always ended in literary matters the proper province of a gentleman;
beyond it, though sometimes intruded on in time past by trespassers of a
nobler race, begins the proper province of a blackguard.



REPORT ON THE PROCEEDINGS ON THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY SESSION OF THE NEWEST
SHAKESPEARE SOCIETY.


A paper was read by Mr. A. on the disputed authorship of _A Midsummer
Night's Dream_. He was decidedly of opinion that this play was to be
ascribed to George Chapman. He based this opinion principally on the
ground of style. From its similarity of subject he had at first been
disposed to assign it to Cyril Tourneur, author of _The Revenger's
Tragedy_; and he had drawn up in support of this theory a series of
parallel passages extracted from the speeches of Vindice in that drama
and of Oberon in the present play. He pointed out however that the
character of Puck could hardly have been the work of any English poet but
the author of _Bussy d'Ambois_. There was here likewise that gravity and
condensation of thought conveyed through the medium of the "full and
heightened style" commended by Webster, and that preponderance of
philosophic or political discourse over poetic interest and dramatic
action for which the author in question had been justly censured.

Some of the audience appearing slightly startled by this remark (indeed
it afterwards appeared that the Chairman had been on the point of asking
the learned member whether he was not thinking rather of _Love's Labour's
Lost_?), Mr. A. cited the well-known scene in which Oberon discourses
with Puck on matters concerning Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth, instead


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Online LibraryAlgernon Charles SwinburneA Study of Shakespeare → online text (page 14 of 17)