Algernon Charles Swinburne.

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of despatching him at once on his immediate errand. This was universally
accepted as proof positive, and the reading concluded amid signs of
unanimous assent, when

Mr. B. had nothing to urge against the argument they had just heard, but
he must remind them that there was a more weighty kind of evidence than
that adduced by Mr. A.; and to this he doubted not they would all defer.
He could prove by a tabulated statement that the words "to" and "from"
occurred on an average from seven to nine times in every play of Chapman;
whereas in the play under consideration the word "to" occurred exactly
twelve times and the word "from" precisely ten. He was therefore of
opinion that the authorship should in all probability be assigned to
Anthony Munday.

As nobody present could dispute this conclusion, Mr. C. proceeded to read
the argument by which he proposed to establish the fact, hitherto
unaccountably overlooked by all preceding commentators, that the
character of Romeo was obviously designed as a satire on Lord Burghley.
The first and perhaps the strongest evidence in favour of this
proposition was the extreme difficulty, he might almost say the utter
impossibility, of discovering a single point of likeness between the two
characters. This would naturally be the first precaution taken by a poor
player who designed to attack an all-powerful Minister. But more direct
light was thrown upon the subject by a passage in which "that kind of
fruit that maids call medlars when they laugh alone" is mentioned in
connection with a wish of Romeo's regarding his mistress. This must
evidently be taken to refer to some recent occasion on which the policy
of Lord Burghley (possibly in the matter of the Anjou marriage) had been
rebuked in private by the Maiden Queen, "his mistress," as meddling,
laughable, and fruitless.

This discovery seemed to produce a great impression till the Chairman
reminded the Society that the play in question was now generally ascribed
to George Peele, {278} who was notoriously the solicitor of Lord
Burghley's patronage and the recipient of his bounty. That this poet was
the author of _Romeo and Juliet_ could no longer be a matter of doubt, as
he was confident they would all agree with him on hearing that a living
poet of note had positively assured him of the fact; adding that he had
always thought so when at school. The plaudits excited by this
announcement had scarcely subsided, when the Chairman clenched the matter
by observing that he rather thought the same opinion had ultimately been
entertained by his own grandmother.

Mr. D. then read a paper on the authorship and the hidden meaning of two
contemporary plays which, he must regretfully remark, were too obviously
calculated to cast a most unfavourable and even sinister light on the
moral character of the new Shakespeare; whose possibly suspicious
readiness to attack the vices of others with a view to diverting
attention from his own was signally exemplified in the well-known fact
that, even while putting on a feint of respect and tenderness for his
memory, he had exposed the profligate haunts and habits of Christopher
Marlowe under the transparent pseudonym of Christopher Sly. To the first
of these plays attention had long since been drawn by a person of whom it
was only necessary to say that he had devoted a long life to the study
and illustration of Shakespeare and his age, and had actually presumed to
publish a well-known edition of the poet at a date previous to the
establishment of the present Society. He (Mr. D.) was confident that not
another syllable could be necessary to expose that person to the contempt
of all present. He proceeded, however, with the kind encouragement of
the Chairman, to indulge at that editor's expense in sundry personalities
both "loose and humorous," which being totally unfit for publication here
are reserved for a private issue of "Loose and Humorous Papers" to be
edited, with a running marginal commentary or illustrative and
explanatory version of the utmost possible fullness, {279} by the Founder
and another member of the Society. To these it might possibly be
undesirable for them to attract the notice of the outside world.
Reverting therefore to his first subject from various references to the
presumed private character, habits, gait, appearance, and bearing of the
gentleman in question, Mr. D. observed that the ascription of a share in
the _Taming of the Shrew_ to William Haughton (hitherto supposed the
author of a comedy called _Englishmen for my Money_) implied a doubly
discreditable blunder. The real fact, as he would immediately prove, was
not that Haughton was joint author with Shakespeare of the _Taming of the
Shrew_, but that Shakespeare was joint author with Haughton of
_Englishmen for my Money_. He would not enlarge on the obvious fact that
Shakespeare, so notorious a plunderer of others, had actually been
reduced to steal from his own poor store an image transplanted from the
last scene of the third act of _Romeo and Juliet_ into the last scene of
the third act of _Englishmen for my Money_; where the well-known and
pitiful phrase - "Night's candles are burnt out" - reappears in all its
paltry vulgarity as follows; - "Night's candles burn obscure." Ample as
was the proof here supplied, he would prefer to rely exclusively upon
such further evidence as might be said to lie at once on the surface and
in a nutshell.

The second title of this play, by which the first title was in a few
years totally superseded, ran thus: _A Woman will have her Will_. Now
even in an age of punning titles such as that of a well-known and
delightful treatise by Sir John Harrington, the peculiar fondness of
Shakespeare for puns was notorious; but especially for puns on names, as
in the proverbial case of Sir Thomas Lucy; and above all for puns on his
own Christian name, as in his 135th, 136th, and 143rd sonnets. It must
now be but too evident to the meanest intelligence - to the meanest
intelligence, he repeated; for to such only did he or would he then and
there or ever or anywhere address himself - (loud applause) that the
graceless author, more utterly lost to all sense of shame than any Don
Juan or other typical libertine of fiction, had come forward to placard
by way of self-advertisement on his own stage, and before the very eyes
of a Maiden Queen, the scandalous confidence in his own powers of
fascination and seduction so cynically expressed in the too easily
intelligible vaunt - A Woman will have her Will [Shakespeare]. In the
penultimate line of the hundred and forty-third sonnet the very phrase
might be said to occur:

So will I pray that thou mayst have thy Will.

Having thus established his case in the first instance to the
satisfaction, as he trusted, not only of the present Society, but of any
asylum for incurables in any part of the country, the learned member now
passed on to the consideration of the allusions at once to Shakespeare
and to a celebrated fellow-countryman, fellow-poet, and personal friend
of his - Michael Drayton - contained in a play which had been doubtfully
attributed to Shakespeare himself by such absurd idiots as looked rather
to the poetical and dramatic quality of a poem or a play than to such
tests as those to which alone any member of that Society would ever dream
of appealing. What these were he need not specify; it was enough to say
in recommendation of them that they had rather less to do with any
question of dramatic or other poetry than with the differential calculus
or the squaring of the circle. It followed that only the most perversely
ignorant and aesthetically presumptuous of readers could imagine the
possibility of Shakespeare's concern or partnership in a play which had
no more Shakespearean quality about it than mere poetry, mere passion,
mere pathos, mere beauty and vigour of thought and language, mere command
of dramatic effect, mere depth and subtlety of power to read, interpret,
and reproduce the secrets of the heart and spirit. Could any further
evidence be required of the unfitness and unworthiness to hold or to
utter any opinion on the matter in hand which had consistently been
displayed by the poor creatures to whom he had just referred, it would be
found, as he felt sure the Founder and all worthy members of their
Society would be the first to admit, in the despicable diffidence, the
pitiful modesty, the contemptible deficiency in common assurance, with
which the suggestion of Shakespeare's partnership in this play had
generally been put forward and backed up. The tragedy of _Arden of
Feversham_ was indeed connected with Shakespeare - and that, as he should
proceed to show, only too intimately; but Shakespeare was not connected
with it - that is, in the capacity of its author. In what capacity would
be but too evident when he mentioned the names of the two leading
ruffians concerned in the murder of the principal character - Black Will
and Shakebag. The single original of these two characters he need
scarcely pause to point out. It would be observed that a double
precaution had been taken against any charge of libel or personal attack
which might be brought against the author and supported by the
all-powerful court influence of Shakespeare's two principal patrons, the
Earls of Essex and Southampton. Two figures were substituted for one,
and the unmistakable name of Will Shakebag was cut in half and divided
between them. Care had moreover been taken to disguise the person by
altering the complexion of the individual aimed at. That the actual
Shakespeare was a fair man they had the evidence of the coloured bust at
Stratford. Could any capable and fair-minded man - he would appeal to
their justly honoured Founder - require further evidence as to the
original of Black Will Shakebag? Another important character in the play
was Black Will's accomplice and Arden's servant - Michael, after whom the
play had also at one time been called _Murderous Michael_. The single
fact that Shakespeare and Drayton were both of them Warwickshire men
would suffice, he could not doubt, to carry conviction with it to the
mind of every member present, with regard to the original of this
personage. It now only remained for him to produce the name of the real
author of this play. He would do so at once - Ben Jonson. About the time
of its production Jonson was notoriously engaged in writing those
additions to the _Spanish Tragedy_ of which a preposterous attempt had
been made to deprive him on the paltry ground that the style (forsooth)
of these additional scenes was very like the style of Shakespeare and
utterly unlike the style of Jonson. To dispose for ever of this pitiful
argument it would be sufficient to mention the names of its two first and
principal supporters - Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (hisses
and laughter). Now, in these "adycions to Jeronymo" a painter was
introduced complaining of the murder of his son. In the play before them
a painter was introduced as an accomplice in the murder of Arden. It was
unnecessary to dwell upon so trivial a point of difference as that
between the stage employment or the moral character of the one artist and
the other. In either case they were as closely as possible connected
with a murder. There was a painter in the _Spanish Tragedy_, and there
was also a painter in _Arden of Feversham_. He need not - he would not
add another word in confirmation of the now established fact, that Ben
Jonson had in this play held up to perpetual infamy - whether deserved or
undeserved he would not pretend to say - the names of two poets who
afterwards became his friends, but whom he had previously gibbeted or at
least pilloried in public as Black Will Shakespeare and Murderous Michael

Mr. E. then brought forward a subject of singular interest and
importance - "The lameness of Shakespeare - was it moral or physical?" He
would not insult their intelligence by dwelling on the absurd and
exploded hypothesis that this expression was allegorical, but would at
once assume that the infirmity in question was physical. Then arose the
question - In which leg? He was prepared, on the evidence of an early
play, to prove to demonstration that the injured and interesting limb was
the left. "This shoe is my father," says Launce in the _Two Gentlemen of
Verona_; "no, this left shoe is my father; no, no, this left shoe is my
mother; nay, that cannot be so neither; yes, it is so, it is so; _it hath
the worser sole_." This passage was not necessary either to the progress
of the play or to the development of the character; he believed he was
justified in asserting that it was not borrowed from the original novel
on which the play was founded; the inference was obvious, that without
some personal allusion it must have been as unintelligib1e to the
audience as it had hitherto been to the commentators. His conjecture was
confirmed, and the whole subject illustrated with a new light, by the
well-known line in one of the Sonnets, in which the poet describes
himself as "made lame by Fortune's dearest spite": a line of which the
inner meaning and personal application had also by a remarkable chance
been reserved for him (Mr. E.) to discover. There could be no doubt that
we had here a clue to the origin of the physical infirmity referred to;
an accident which must have befallen Shakespeare in early life while
acting at the Fortune theatre, and consequently before his connection
with a rival company; a fact of grave importance till now unverified. The
epithet "dearest," like so much else in the Sonnets, was evidently
susceptible of a double interpretation. The first and most natural
explanation of the term would at once suggest itself; the playhouse would
of necessity be dearest to the actor dependent on it for subsistence, as
the means of getting his bread; but he thought it not unreasonable to
infer from this unmistakable allusion that the entrance fee charged at
the Fortune may probably have been higher than the price of seats in any
other house. Whether or not this fact, taken in conjunction with the
accident already mentioned, should be assumed as the immediate cause of
Shakespeare's subsequent change of service, he was not prepared to
pronounce with such positive confidence as they might naturally expect
from a member of the Society; but he would take upon himself to affirm
that his main thesis was now and for ever established on the most
irrefragable evidence, and that no assailant could by any possibility
dislodge by so much as a hair's breadth the least fragment of a single
brick in the impregnable structure of proof raised by the argument to
which they had just listened.

This demonstration being thus satisfactorily concluded, Mr. F. proceeded
to read his paper on the date of _Othello_, and on the various parts of
that play respectively assignable to Samuel Rowley, to George Wilkins,
and to Robert Daborne. It was evident that the story of Othello and
Desdemona was originally quite distinct from that part of the play in
which Iago was a leading figure. This he was prepared to show at some
length by means of the weak-ending test, the light-ending test, the
double-ending test, the triple-ending test, the heavy-monosyllabic-
eleventh-syllable-of-the-double-ending test, the run-on-line test, and
the central-pause test. Of the partnership of other poets in the play
he was able to adduce a simpler but not less cogent proof. A member
of their Committee said to an objector lately: "To me, there are the
handwritings of four different men, the thoughts and powers of four
different men, in the play. If you can't see them now, you must
wait till, by study, you can. I can't give you eyes." To this argument
he (Mr. F.) felt that it would be an insult to their understandings if he
should attempt to add another word. Still, for those who were willing to
try and learn, and educate their ears and eyes, he had prepared six
tabulated statements -

(At this important point of a most interesting paper, our reporter
unhappily became unconscious, and remained for some considerable period
in a state of deathlike stupor. On recovering from this total and
unaccountable suspension of all his faculties, he found the speaker
drawing gradually near the end of his figures, and so far succeeded in
shaking off the sense of coma as to be able to resume his notes.)

That the first and fourth scenes of the third act were not by the same
hand as the third scene he should have no difficulty in proving to the
satisfaction of all capable and fair-minded men. In the first and fourth
scenes the word "virtuous" was used as a dissyllable; in the third it was
used as a trisyllable.

"Is, that she will to virtuous Desdemona." iii. 1.

"Where virtue is, these are more virtuous." iii. 3.

"That by your virtuous means I may again." iii. 4.

In the third scene he would also point out the great number of triple
endings which had originally led the able editor of Euclid's Elements of
Geometry to attribute the authorship of this scene to Shirley: _Cassio_
(twice), _patience_, _Cassio_ (again), _discretion_, _Cassio_ (again),
honesty, _Cassio_ (again), _jealousy, jealous_ (used as a trisyllable in
the verse of Shakespeare's time), company (two consecutive lines with the
triple ending), _Cassio_ (again), _conscience, petition, ability,
importunity, conversation, marriage, dungeon, mandragora, passion,
monstrous, conclusion, bounteous_. He could not imagine any man in his
senses questioning the weight of this evidence. Now, let them take the
rhymed speeches of the Duke and Brabantio in Act i. Sc. 3, and compare
them with the speech of Othello in Act iv. Sc. 2,

Had it pleased heaven
To try me with affliction.

He appealed to any expert whether this was not in Shakespeare's easy
fourth budding manner, with, too, various other points already touched
on. On the other hand, take the opening of Brabantio's speech -

So let the Turk of Cyprus us beguile;
We lose it not so long as we can smile.

That, he said, was in Shakespeare's difficult second flowering manner - the
style of the later part of the earlier stage of Shakespeare's rhetorical
first period but one. It was no more possible to move the one passage up
to the date of the other than to invert the order of the alphabet. Here,
then, putting aside for the moment the part of the play supplied by
Shakespeare's assistants in the last three acts - miserably weak some of
it was - they were able to disentangle the early love-play from the latter
work in which Iago was principally concerned. There was at least fifteen
years' growth between them, the steps of which could he traced in the
poet's intermediate plays by any one who chose to work carefully enough
at them. Set any of the speeches addressed in the Shakespeare part of
the last act by Othello to Desdemona beside the consolatory address of
the Duke to Brabantio, and see the difference of the rhetoric and style
in the two. If they turned to characters, Othello and Desdemona were
even more clearly the companion pair to Biron and Rosaline of _Love's
Labour's Lost_ than were Falstaff and Doll Tearsheet the match-pair
(_sic_) of Romeo and Juliet. In _Love's Labour's Lost_ the question of
complexion was identical, though the parts were reversed. He would cite
but a few parallel passages in evidence of this relationship between the
subjects of the two plays.

_Love's Labour's Lost_, iv. 3. _Othello_.
1. "By heaven, thy love is black 1. "An old black ram." i. 1.
as ebony."
2. "No face is _fair_ that is not 2. "Your son-in-law is far more
full so black." _fair_ than black." i. 3.
3. "O paradox! Black is the 3. "How if she be black and
badge of hell." witty?" ii. 1.
4. "O, _if_ in black my lady's 4. "_If_ she be black, and thereto
brows be decked." have a wit." id.
5. "And therefore is she born 5. "A measure to the health of
to make black fair." black Othello." ii. 3.
6. "Paints itself black to 6. "For I am black." iii, 3.
imitate her brow."
7. "To look like her are 7. "_Begrimed_ and black." id.
_chimney-sweepers_ black."

Now, with these parallel passages before them, what man, woman, or child
could bring himself or herself to believe that the connection of these
plays was casual or the date of the first Othello removable from the date
of the early contemporary late-first-period-but-one play _Love's Labour's
Lost_, or that anybody's opinion that they were so was worth one straw?
When therefore by the introduction of the Iago episode Shakespeare in his
later days had with the assistance of three fellow-poets completed the
unfinished work of his youth, the junction thus effected of the Brabantio
part of the play with this Iago underplot supplied them with an evidence
wholly distinct from that of the metrical test which yet confirmed in
every point the conclusion independently arrived at and supported by the
irresistible coincidence of all the tests. He defied anybody to accept
his principle of study or adopt his method of work, and arrive at a
different conclusion from himself.

The reading of Mr. G.'s paper on the authorship of the soliloquies in
_Hamlet_ was unavoidably postponed till the next meeting, the learned
member having only time on this occasion to give a brief summary of the
points he was prepared to establish and the grounds on which he was
prepared to establish them. A year or two since, when he first thought
of starting the present Society, he had never read a line of the play in
question, having always understood it to be admittedly spurious: but on
being assured of the contrary by one of the two foremost poets of the
English-speaking world, who was good enough to read out to him in proof
of this assertion all that part of the play which could reasonably be
assigned to Shakespeare, he had of course at once surrendered his own
former opinion, well grounded as it had hitherto seemed to be on the most
solid of all possible foundations. At their next meeting he would show
cause for attributing to Ben Jonson not only the soliloquies usually but
inconsiderately quoted as Shakespeare's, but the entire original
conception of the character of the Prince of Denmark. The resemblance of
this character to that of Volpone in _The Fox_ and to that of Face in
_The Alchemist_ could not possibly escape the notice of the most cursory
reader. The principle of disguise was the same in each case, whether the
end in view were simply personal profit, or (as in the case of Hamlet)
personal profit combined with revenge; and whether the disguise assumed
was that of madness, of sickness, or of a foreign personality, the
assumption of character was in all three cases identical. As to style,
he was only too anxious to meet (and, he doubted not, to beat) on his own
ground any antagonist whose ear had begotten {291} the crude and
untenable theory that the Hamlet soliloquies were not distinctly within
the range of the man who could produce those of Crites and of Macilente
in _Cynthia's Revels_ and _Every Man out of his Humour_. The author of
those soliloquies could, and did, in the parallel passages of _Hamlet_,
rise near the height of the master he honoured and loved.

The further discussion of this subject was reserved for the next meeting
of the Society, as was also the reading of Mr. H.'s paper on the
subsequent quarrel between the two joint authors of Hamlet, which led to
Jonson's caricature of Shakespeare (then retired from London society to a
country life of solitude) under the name of Morose, and to Shakespeare's
retort on Jonson, who was no less evidently attacked under the
designation of Ariel. The allusions to the subject of Shakespeare's
sonnets in the courtship and marriage of Epicoene by Morose were as
obvious as the allusions in the part of Ariel to the repeated
incarceration of Jonson, first on a criminal and secondly on a political
charge, and to his probable release in the former case (during the reign
of Elizabeth=Sycorax) at the intercession of Shakespeare, who was allowed
on all hands to have represented himself in the character of Prospero
("it was mine art that let thee out"). Mr. I. would afterwards read a
paper on the evidence for Shakespeare's whole or part authorship of a
dozen or so of the least known plays of his time, which, besides having
various words and phrases in common with his acknowledged works, were

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Online LibraryAlgernon Charles SwinburneA Study of Shakespeare → online text (page 15 of 17)