Algernon Charles Swinburne.

A Study of Shakespeare online

. (page 16 of 17)
Online LibraryAlgernon Charles SwinburneA Study of Shakespeare → online text (page 16 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


obviously too bad to be attributed to any other known writer of the
period. Eminent among these was the tragedy of _Andromana, or the
Merchant's Wife_, long since rejected from the list of Shirley's works as
unworthy of that poet's hand. Unquestionably it was so; not less
unworthy than _A Larum for London_ of Marlowe's. The consequent
inference that it must needs be the work of the new Shakespeare's was
surely no less cogent in this than in the former case. The allusion
occurring in it to a play bearing date just twenty-six years after the
death of Shakespeare, and written by a poet then unborn, was a strong
point in favour of his theory. (This argument was received with general
marks of adhesion.) What, he would ask, could be more natural than that
Shirley when engaged on the revision and arrangement for the stage of
this posthumous work of the new Shakespeare's (a fact which could require
no further proof than he had already adduced), should have inserted this
reference in order to disguise the name of its real author, and protect
it from the disfavour of an audience with whom that name was notoriously
out of fashion? This reasoning, conclusive in itself, became even more
irresistible - or would become so, if that were anything less than an
absolute impossibility - on comparison of parallel passages,

Though kings still hug suspicion in their bosoms,
They hate the causer. (_Andromana_, Act i. Sc. 3.)

Compare this with the avowal put by Shakespeare into the mouth of a king.

Though I did wish him dead
I hate the murderer. (_King Richard II_., Act v. Sc. 6.)

Again in the same scene:

For then her husband comes home from the Rialto.

Compare this with various passages (too familiar to quote) in the
_Merchant of Venice_. The transference of the Rialto to Iberia was of a
piece with the discovery of a sea-coast in Bohemia. In the same scene
Andromana says to her lover, finding him reluctant to take his leave,
almost in the very words of Romeo to Juliet,

Then let us stand and outface danger,
Since you will have it so.

It was obvious that only the author of the one passage could have thought
it necessary to disguise his plagiarism in the other by an inversion of
sexes between the two speakers. In the same scene were three other
indisputable instances of repetition.

Mariners might with far greater ease
Hear whole shoals of sirens singing.

Compare _Comedy of Errors_, Act iii. Scene 2.

Sing, siren, for thyself.

In this case identity of sex was as palpable an evidence for identity of
authorship as diversity of sex had afforded in the preceding instance.

Again:

Have oaths no _more validity_ with princes?

In _Romeo and Juliet_, Act iii. Scene 3, the very same words were coupled
in the very same order:

_More validity_,
More honourable state, more courtship lies
In carrion flies than Romeo.

Again:

It would have killed a salamander.

Compare the _First Part of King Henry IV_, Act iii. Scene 3.

I have maintained that salamander of yours with fire any time this two
and thirty years.

In Act ii. Scene 2 the hero, on being informed how heavy are the odds
against him in the field, answers,

I am glad on't; the honour is the greater.

To which his confidant rejoins:

The danger is the greater.

And in the sixth scene of the same act the messenger observes:

I only heard the prince wish
. . . . . . .
He had fewer by a thousand men.

Could any member doubt that we had here the same hand which gave us the
like debate between King Henry and Westmoreland on the eve of Agincourt?
or could any member suppose that in the subsequent remark of the same
military confidant, "I smell a rat, sir," there was merely a fortuitous
coincidence with Hamlet's reflection as he "whips out his rapier" - in
itself a martial proceeding - under similar circumstances to the same
effect?

In the very next scene a captain observes of his own troops

Methinks such tattered rogues should never conquer:

a touch that could only be due to the pencil which had drawn Falstaff's
ragged regiment. In both cases, moreover, it was to be noted that the
tattered rogues proved ultimately victorious. But he had - they might
hardly believe it, but so it was - even yet stronger and more convincing
evidence to offer. It would be remembered that a play called _The Double
Falsehood_, formerly attributed to Shakespeare on the authority of
Theobald, was now generally supposed to have been in its original form
the work of Shirley. What, then, he would ask, could be more natural or
more probable than that a play formerly ascribed to Shirley should prove
to be the genuine work of Shakespeare? Common sense, common reason,
common logic, all alike and all equally combined to enforce upon every
candid judgment this inevitable conclusion. This, however, was nothing
in comparison to the final proof which he had yet to lay before them. He
need not remind them that in the opinion of their illustrious German
teachers, the first men to discover and reveal to his unworthy countrymen
the very existence of the new Shakespeare, the authenticity of any play
ascribed to the possibly too prolific pen of that poet was invariably to
be determined in the last resort by consideration of its demerits. No
English critic, therefore, who felt himself worthy to have been born a
German, would venture to question the postulate on which all sound
principles of criticism with regard to this subject must infallibly be
founded: that, given any play of unknown or doubtful authorship, the
worse it was, the likelier was it to be Shakespeare's. (This proposition
was received with every sign of unanimous assent.) Now, on this ground
he was prepared to maintain that the claims of _Andromana_ to their most
respectful, their most cordial, their most unhesitating acceptance were
absolutely beyond all possibility of parallel. Not _Mucedorus_ or _Fair
Em_, not _The Birth of Merlin_ or _Thomas Lord Cromwell_, could
reasonably or fairly be regarded as on the same level of worthlessness
with this incomparable production. No mortal man who had survived its
perusal could for a moment hesitate to agree that it was the most
incredibly, ineffably, inconceivably, unmitigatedly, irredeemably,
inexpressibly damnable piece of bad work ever perpetrated by human hand.
No mortal critic of the genuine Anglo-German school could therefore
hesitate for a moment to agree that in common consistency he was bound to
accept it as the possible work of no human hand but the hand of the New
Shakespeare.

The Chairman then proceeded to recapitulate the work done and the
benefits conferred by the Society during the twelve months which had
elapsed since its foundation on that day (April 1st) last year. They had
ample reason to congratulate themselves and him on the result. They had
established an entirely new kind of criticism, working by entirely new
means towards an entirely new end, in honour of an entirely new kind of
Shakespeare. They had proved to demonstration and overwhelmed with
obloquy the incompetence, the imbecility, the untrustworthiness, the
blunders, the forgeries, the inaccuracies, the obliquities, the utter
moral and literary worthlessness, of previous students and societies.
They had revealed to the world at large the generally prevalent ignorance
of Shakespeare and his works which so discreditably distinguished his
countrymen. This they had been enabled to do by the simple process of
putting forward various theories, and still more various facts, but all
of equally incontrovertible value and relevance, of which no
Englishman - he might say, no mortal - outside the Society had ever heard
or dreamed till now. They had discovered the one trustworthy and
indisputable method, so easy and so simple that it must now seem
wonderful it should never have been discovered before, by which to pluck
out the heart of the poet's mystery and detect the secret of his touch;
the study of Shakespeare by rule of thumb. Every man, woman, and child
born with five fingers on each hand was henceforward better qualified as
a critic than any poet or scholar of time past. But it was not, whatever
outsiders might pretend to think, exclusively on the verse-test, as it
had facetiously been called on account of its total incompatibility with
any conceivable scheme of metre or principle of rhythm - it was not
exclusively on this precious and unanswerable test that they relied.
Within the Society as well as without, the pretensions of those who would
acknowledge no other means of deciding on debated questions had been
refuted and repelled. What were the other means of investigation and
verification in which not less than in the metrical test they were
accustomed to put their faith, and by which they doubted not to attain in
the future even more remarkable results than their researches had as yet
achieved, the debate just concluded, in common with every other for which
they ever had met or ever were likely to meet, would amply suffice to
show. By such processes as had been applied on this as on all occasions
to the text of Shakespeare's works and the traditions of his life, they
trusted in a very few years to subvert all theories which had hitherto
been held and extirpate all ideas which had hitherto been cherished on
the subject: and having thus cleared the ground for his advent, to
discover for the admiration of the world, as the name of their Society
implied, a New Shakespeare. The first step towards this end must of
course be the demolition of the old one; and he would venture to say they
had already made a good beginning in that direction. They had disproved
or they would disprove the claim of Shakespeare to the sole authorship of
_Macbeth, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Hamlet_, and _Othello_; they had
established or they would establish the fact of his partnership in
_Locrine, Mucedorus, The Birth of Merlin, Dr. Dodipoll_, and _Sir Giles
Goosecap_. They had with them the incomparable critics of Germany; men
whose knowledge and judgment on all questions of English literature were
as far beyond the reach of their English followers as the freedom and
enlightenment enjoyed by the subjects of a military empire were beyond
the reach of the citizens of a democratic republic. They had established
and affiliated to their own primitive body or church various branch
societies or sects, in England and elsewhere, devoted to the pursuit of
the same end by the same means and method of study as had just been
exemplified in the transactions of the present meeting. Still there
remained much to be done; in witness of which he proposed to lay before
them at their next meeting, by way of inauguration under a happy omen of
their new year's work, the complete body of evidence by means of which he
was prepared to demonstrate that some considerable portion, if not the
greater part, of the remaining plays hitherto assigned to Shakespeare was
due to the collaboration of a contemporary actor and playwright, well
known by name, but hitherto insufficiently appreciated; Robert Armin, the
author of _A Nest of Ninnies_.



ADDITIONS AND CORRECTIONS.


The humble but hard-working journeyman of letters who was charged with
the honourable duty of reporting the transactions at the last meeting of
the Newest Shakespeare Society on the auspicious occasion of its first
anniversary, April 1st, has received sundry more or less voluminous
communications from various gentlemen whose papers were then read or
announced, pointing out with more or less acrimonious commentary the
matters on which it seems to them severally that they have cause to
complain of imperfection or inaccuracy in his conscientious and
painstaking report. Anxious above all things to secure for himself such
credit as may be due to the modest merit of scrupulous fidelity, he
desires to lay before the public so much of the corrections conveyed in
their respective letters of reclamation as may be necessary to complete
or to rectify the first draught of their propositions as conveyed in his
former summary. On the present occasion, however, he must confine
himself to forwarding the rectifications supplied by two of the members
who took a leading part in the debate of April 1st.

The necessarily condensed report of Mr. A.'s paper on _A Midsummer
Night's Dream_ may make the reasoning put forward by that gentleman
liable to the misconception of a hasty reader. The omission of various
qualifying phrases has left his argument without such explanation, his
statements without such reservation, as he had been careful to supply. He
did not say in so many words that he had been disposed to assign this
drama to the author of _The Revenger's Tragedy_ simply on the score of
the affinity discernible between the subjects of the two plays. He is
not prone to self-confidence or to indulgence in paradox. What he did
say was undeniable by any but those who trusted only to their ear, and
refused to correct the conclusions thus arrived at by the help of other
organs which God had given them - their fingers, for example, and their
toes; by means of which a critic of trained and competent scholarship
might with the utmost confidence count up as far as twenty, to the great
profit of all students who were willing to accept his guidance and be
bound by his decision on matters of art and poetry. Only the most
purblind could fail to observe, what only the most perverse could
hesitate to admit, that there was at first sight an obvious connection
between the poison-flower - "purple from love's wound" - squeezed by Oberon
into the eyes of the sleeping Titania and the poison rubbed by Vindice
upon the skull of the murdered Gloriana. No student of Ulrici's
invaluable work would think this a far-fetched reference. That eminent
critic had verified the meaning and detected the allusion underlying many
a passage of Shakespeare in which the connection of moral idea was more
difficult to establish than this. In the fifth act of either play there
was a masque or dramatic show of a sanguinary kind; in the one case the
bloodshed was turned to merry-making, in the other the merry-making was
turned to bloodshed. Oberon's phrase, "till I torment thee for this
injury," might easily be mistaken for a quotation from the part of
Vindice. This explanation, he trusted, would suffice to exonerate his
original view from any charge of haste or rashness; especially as he had
now completely given it up, and adopted one (if possible) more
impregnably based on internal and external evidence.

Mr. C. was not unnaturally surprised and indignant to find his position
as to Romeo and Lord Burghley barely indicated, and the notice given of
the arguments by which it was supported so docked and curtailed as to
convey a most inadequate conception of their force. Among the chief
points of his argument were these: that the forsaken Rosaline was
evidently intended for the late Queen Mary, during whose reign Cecil had
notoriously conformed to the observances of her creed, though ready on
the accession of Elizabeth to throw it overboard at a day's notice; (it
was not to be overlooked that the friar on first hearing the announcement
of this change of faith is made earnestly to remonstrate, prefacing his
reproaches with an invocation of two sacred names - an invocation peculiar
to Catholics;) that the resemblance between old Capulet and Henry VIII.
is obvious to the most careless reader; his oath of "God's bread!"
immediately followed by the avowal "it makes me mad" is an unmistakable
allusion to the passions excited by the eucharistic controversy; his
violence towards Juliet at the end of the third act at once suggests the
alienation of her father's heart from the daughter of Anne Boleyn; the
self-congratulation on her own "stainless" condition as a virgin
expressed by Juliet in soliloquy (Act iii. Sc. 2) while in the act of
awaiting her bridegroom conveys a furtive stroke of satire at the similar
vaunt of Elizabeth when likewise meditating marriage and preparing to
receive a suitor from the hostile house of Valois. It must be
unnecessary to point out the resemblance or rather the identity between
the character and fortune of Paris and the character and fortune of
Essex, whose fate had been foreseen and whose end prefigured by the poet
with almost prophetic sagacity. To the far-reaching eye of Shakespeare
it must have seemed natural and inevitable that Paris (Essex) should fall
by the hand of Romeo (Burghley) immediately before the monument of the
Capulets where their common mistress was interred alive - immediately,
that is, before the termination of the Tudor dynasty in the person of
Elizabeth, who towards the close of her reign may fitly have been
regarded as one already buried with her fathers, though yet living in a
state of suspended animation under the influence of a deadly narcotic
potion administered by the friends of Romeo - by the partisans, that is,
of the Cecilian policy. The Nurse was not less evidently designed to
represent the Established Church. Allusions to the marriage of the
clergy are profusely scattered through her speeches. Her deceased
husband was probably meant for Sir Thomas More - "a merry man" to the last
moment of his existence - who might well be supposed by a slight poetic
license to have foreseen in the infancy of Elizabeth her future
backsliding and fall from the straight path "when she came to age." The
passing expression of tenderness with which the Nurse refers to his
memory - "God be with his soul!" - implies at once the respect in which the
name of the martyr Chancellor was still generally held, and the lingering
remains of Catholic tradition which still made a prayer for the dead rise
naturally to Anglican lips. On the other hand, the strife between
Anglicans and Puritans, the struggle of episcopalian with Calvinistic
reformers, was quite as plainly typified in the quarrel between the Nurse
and Mercutio, in which the Martin Marprelate controversy was first
unmistakably represented on the stage. The "saucy merchant, that was so
full of his ropery," with his ridicule of the "stale" practice of Lenten
fasting and abstinence, his contempt for "a Lenten pie," and his
preference for a flesh diet as "very good meat in Lent," is clearly a
disciple of Calvin; and the impotence of the Nurse, however scandalised
at the nakedness of his ribald profanity, to protect herself against it
by appeal to reason or tradition, is dwelt upon with an emphasis
sufficient to indicate the secret tendency of the poet's own sympathies
and convictions. In Romeo's attempt at conciliation, and his poor excuse
for Mercutio (which yet the Nurse, an emblem of the temporising and
accommodating pliancy of episcopalian Protestantism, shows herself only
too ready to accept as valid) as "one that God hath made, for himself to
mar," - the allusion here is evidently to the democratic and revolutionary
tendencies of the doctrine of Knox and Calvin, with its ultimate
developments of individualism and private judgment - we recognise the note
of Burghley's lifelong policy and its endeavour to fuse the Protestant or
Puritan party with the state Church of the Tudors as by law established.
The distaste of Elizabeth's bishops for such advances, their flutter of
apprehension at the daring and their burst of indignation at the
insolence of the Calvinists, are significantly expressed in terms which
seem to hint at a possible return for help and protection to the shelter
of the older faith and the support of its partisans. "An 'a speak
anything against me, I'll take him down an 'a were lustier than he is,
and twenty such Jacks;" (the allusion here is again obvious, to the
baptismal name of John Calvin and John Knox, if not also to the popular
byword of Jack Presbyter;) "and if I cannot," (here the sense of
insecurity and dependence on foreign help or secular power becomes
transparent) "I'll find those that shall." She disclaims communion with
the Protestant Churches of the continent, with Amsterdam or Geneva: "I am
none of his flirt-gills; I am none of his skains-mates." Peter, who
carries her fan ("to hide her face: for her fan's the fairer face"; we
may take this to be a symbol of the form of episcopal consecration still
retained in the Anglican Church as a cover for its separation from
Catholicism), is undoubtedly meant for Whitgift, Archbishop of
Canterbury; the name Peter, as applied to a menial who will stand by and
suffer every knave to use the Church at his pleasure, but is ready to
draw as soon as another man if only he may be sure of having the secular
arm of the law on his side, implies a bitter sarcasm on the intruding
official of state then established by law as occupant of a see divorced
from its connection with that of the apostle. The sense of instability
natural to an institution which is compelled to rely for support on
ministers who are themselves dependent on the state whose pay they draw
for power to strike a blow in self-defence could hardly be better
expressed than by the solemn and piteous, almost agonised asseveration;
"Now, afore God, I am so vexed, that every part about me quivers." To
Shakespeare, it cannot be doubted, the impending dissolution or
dislocation of the Anglican system in "every part" by civil war and
religious discord must even then have been but too ominously evident.

If further confirmation could be needed of the underlying significance of
allusion traceable throughout this play, it might amply be supplied by
fresh reference to the first scene in which the Nurse makes her
appearance on the stage, and is checked by Lady Capulet in the full tide
of affectionate regret for her lost husband. We can well imagine Anne
Boleyn cutting short the regrets of some indiscreet courtier for Sir
Thomas More in the very words of the text;

Enough of this; I pray thee, hold thy peace.

The "parlous knock" which left so big a lump upon the brow of the infant
Juliet is evidently an allusion to the declaration of Elizabeth's
illegitimacy while yet in her cradle. The seal of bastardy set upon the
baby brow of

Anne Boleyn's daughter may well be said to have "broken" it.

The counsel of the Nurse to Juliet in Act iii. Scene 5 to forsake Romeo
for Paris indicates the bias of the hierarchy in favour of Essex - "a
lovely gentleman" - rather than of the ultra-Protestant policy of
Burghley, who doubtless in the eyes of courtiers and churchmen was "a
dish-clout to him."

These were a few of the points, set down at random, which he had been
enabled to verify within the limits of a single play. They would suffice
to give an idea of the process by which, when applied in detail to every
one of Shakespeare's plays, he trusted to establish the secret history
and import of each, not less than the general sequence and significance
of all. Further instalments of this work would probably be issued in the
forthcoming or future Transactions of the Newest Shakespeare Society; and
it was confidently expected that the final monument of his research when
thoroughly completed and illustrated by copious appendices, would prove
as worthy as any work of mere English scholarship could hope to be of a
place beside the inestimable commentaries of Gervinus, Ulrici, and the
Polypseudocriticopantodapomorosophisticometricoglossematographicomaniacal
Company for the Confusion of Shakespeare and Diffusion of Verbiage
(Unlimited).

CHIMAERA BOMBINANS IN VACUO.


NOTE.


Mindful of the good old apologue regarding "the squeak of the real pig,"
I think it here worth while to certify the reader of little faith, that
the more incredibly impudent absurdities above cited are not so much or
so often the freaks of parody or the fancies of burlesque as select
excerpts and transcripts of printed and published utterances from the
"pink soft litter" of a living brood - from the reports of an actual
Society, issued in an abridged and doubtless an emasculated form through
the columns of a weekly newspaper. One final and unapproachable
instance, one transcendant and pyramidal example of classical taste and
of critical scholarship, I did not venture to impair by transference from
those columns and transplantation into these pages among humbler
specimens of minor monstrosity. Let it stand here once more on record as
"a good jest for ever" - or rather as the best and therefore as the worst,
as the worst and therefore as the best, of all possible bad jests ever to
be cracked between this and the crack of doom. Sophocles, said a learned


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16

Online LibraryAlgernon Charles SwinburneA Study of Shakespeare → online text (page 16 of 17)