general, they will call you the little corporal. The
antithesis of Shakespeare is the universal antithesis,
present always and everywhere ; it is the ubiquity
of opposites, ā life and death, cold and heat, just
and unjust, angel and demon, heaven and earth,
flower and lightning, melody and harmony, spirit
and flesh, high and low, ocean and envy, foam and
slaver, hurricane and whistle, self and not-self,
objective and subjective, marvel and miracle, type
and monster, soul and shadow. It is from this
sombre, flagrant quarrel, from this endless ebb and
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 205
flow, from this perpetual yes and no, from this
irreconcilable opposition, from this vast, perma-
nent antagonism, that Rembrandt obtains his clare-
obscure, and Piranesi his vertiginous effects.
Before removing this antithesis from Art, we
should begin by removing it from Nature.
" He is reserved and discreet. You may trust
him; he will take no advantage. He has, above
all, a very rare quality, ā he is sober."
What is this ā a recommendation for a domestic?
No. It is a eulogy upon a writer. A certain
school, called " serious," has in our days hoisted
this motto for poetry: sobriety. It seems that
the only question should be to preserve litera-
ture from indigestion. Formerly the device was
" fecundity and power ; " to-day it is " barley-gruel."
You are in the resplendent garden of the Muses,
where those divine blossoms of the mind that the
Greeks call " tropes " blow in riot and luxuriance
on every branch ; everywhere the ideal image,
everywhere the thought-flower, everywhere fruits,
metaphors, golden apples, perfumes, colors, rays,
strophes, wonders : touch nothing, be discreet.
It is by plucking nothing there that the poet is
known. Be of the temperance society. A good
critical book is a treatise on the dangers of drink-
ing. Do you wish to compose the Iliad, put your-
206 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
self on diet. Ah! thou mayest well open wide
thine eyes, old Rabelais!
Lyricism is heady ; the beautiful intoxicates, the
noble inebriates, the ideal causes giddiness. One
who makes it his starting-point no longer knows
what he is about. When you have walked among
the stars, you are capable of refusing an under-
prefecture ; you are no longer in your right mind ;
they might offer you a seat in the senate of Do-
mitian, and you would refuse it; you no longer
render to Caesar what is due to Caesar ; you have
reached such a point of mental alienation that you
will not even salute the Lord Incitatus, consul and
horse. See what is the result of your having been
drinking in that shocking place, the Empyrean !
You become proud, ambitious, disinterested. Now
be sober. It is forbidden to haunt the tavern of
Liberty means libertinism. To restrain yourself
is well ; to emasculate yourself is better.
Pass your life in holding in.
Sobriety, decorum, respect for authority, irre-
proachable toilet. No poetry unless it is fashion-
ably dressed. An uncombed savannah, a lion which
does not pare its nails, an unregulated torrent, the
navel of the sea which exposes itself to the sight,
the cloud which forgets itself so far as to show
Aldebaran ā Oh ! shocking. The wave foams on
the rock, the cataract vomits into the gulf, Juvenal
spits on the tyrant. Fie !
We like too little better than too much. No
exaggeration. Henceforth the rose-bush is to be
required to count its roses ; the meadow to be
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 20/
requested not to be so prodigal of daisies; the
spring to be commanded to calm itself. The nests
are rather too prolific. Attention, groves ! not so
many warblers, if you please. The Milky Way
will have the goodness to number its stars; there
are a good many.
Take example from the big Cereus serpentaria
of the Jardin des Plantes, which blooms but once
in fifty years : that is a flower truly respectable.
A true critic of the sober school is that garden-
keeper who, to the question, " Have you any night-
ingales in your trees?" replied, "Ah ! don't mention
it; during the whole month of May these ugly
fowls have been doing nothing but bawl."
M. Suard gave to Marie Joseph Chenier this
certificate: "His style has the great merit of not
containing comparisons." In our days we have
seen that singular eulogium reproduced. This
reminds us that a great professor of the Restora-
tion, indignant at the comparisons and figures
which abound in the prophets, put a crusher on
Isaiah, Daniel, and Jeremiah, with this profound
apothegm: "The whole Bible is in like'' An-
other, a greater professor still, was the author of
this saying, still celebrated at the ficole Normale :
" I toss Juvenal back upon the romantic dunghill."
Of what crime was Juvenal guilty? Of the same
crime as Isaiah ; namely, of being fond of express-
ing the idea by image. Shall we return, little by
little, in the walks of learning, to metonymy as a
term of chemistry, and to the opinion of Pradon
One would suppose, from the demands and
208 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
clamors of the doctrinaire school, that it had to
furnish, at its own expense, the whole supply of
the metaphors and figures that poets may use, and
that it felt itself ruined by spendthrifts like Pin-
dar, Aristophanes, Ezekiel, Plautus, and Cervantes.
This school puts under lock and key passions,
sentiments, the human heart, reality, the ideal, life.
It looks with dismay upon men of genius, hides
from them everything, and says, " How greedy
they are ! " It has, accordingly, invented for wri-
ters this superlative praise: "He is temperate."
On all these points, vestry-room criticism frater-
nizes with doctrinaire criticism. The prude and
the devotee are cheek-by-jowl.
A curious bashful fashion tends to prevail. We
blush at the coarse manner in which grenadiers
meet death. Rhetoric has for heroes modest vine-
leaves termed " periphrases." It is assumed that the
bivouac speaks like the convent; the talk of the
guard-room is a calumny. A veteran drops his eyes
at the recollection of Waterloo, and the Cross of the
Legion of Honor is given to these downcast eyes.
Certain sayings which are in history, have no right
to be historical ; and it is well understood, for
example, that the gendarme who fired a pistol at
Robespierre at the Hotel de Ville rejoiced in the
name " The-guard-dies-and-never-surrenders." ^
From the combined effort of the two schools of
criticism, guardians of public tranquillity, there
1 It is said that an indecent word of Cambronne (a commander
of the Old Guard at Waterloo), in answer to the summons to sur-
render, was translated by some big-wig historian into this bit of
heroic claptrap. ā Tn.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 309
results a salutary reaction. This reaction has al-
ready produced some specimens of poets, ā steady,
well-bred, prudent, whose style always keeps good
hours ; who never indulge in an outing with those
mad creatures, Ideas ; who are never met at the
corner of a wood, solus cum sold, with Revery, that
gypsy girl ; who are incapable of having relations
either with Imagination, dangerous vagabond, or
with the bacchante Inspiration, or with the grisette
Fancy; who have never in their lives given a kiss
to that beggarly chit, the Muse ; who never sleep
away from home, and who are honored with the
esteem of their doorkeeper, Nicholas Boileau. If
Polyhymnia goes by with her hair floating a little,
what a scandal ! Quick ! they call the hairdresser.
M. de la Harpe comes hastily. These two sister
schools of criticism, that of the doctrinaire and
that of the sacristan, undertake to educate. They
bring up little writers. They keep a place to wean
them, ā a boarding-school for juvenile reputations.
Thence a discipline, a literature, and art. Fall
into line, ā right dress ! Society must be saved
in literature as well as politics. Every one knows
that poetry is a frivolous, insignificant thing, child-
ishly occupied in seeking rhymes, barren, vain ;
consequently nothing is more formidable. It be-
hooves us to tie up the thinkers securely. To the
kennel with him ! He is dangerous ! What is
a poet? For honor, nothing; for persecution,
This race of writers requires repression ; it is
useful to have recourse to the secular arm. The
means vary. From time to time a good banish-
210 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
ment is expedient. The list of exiled writers opens
with ^schylus, and does not close with Voltaire.
Each century has its link in the chain. But there
must be at least a pretext for exile, banishment,
and proscription. Exile cannot be applied in all
cases. It is rather unhandy; it is important to
have a lighter weapon for every-day skirmishing.
A state criticism, duly sworn and accredited, can
render service. To organize the persecution of
writers is not a bad thing. To entrap the pen by
the pen is ingenious. Why not have literary
Good taste is a precaution taken to keep the
peace. Sober writers are the counterpart of pru-
dent electors. Inspiration is suspected of love for
liberty. Poetry is rather outside of legality ; there
is, therefore, an official art, the offspring of official
A whole special rhetoric proceeds from these
premises. Nature has in this particular art but a
narrow entrance, and goes in through the side-
door. Nature is infected with demagogism. The
elements are suppressed, as being in bad form and
making too much uproar. The equinoctial storm
is guilty of trespass ; the squall is a midnight row.
The other day, at the School of Fine Arts, a pupil-
painter having caused the wind to lift up the folds
of a mantle during a storm, a local professor,
shocked at this disordered apparel, said : " Style
does not admit of wind."
Moreover, reaction does not despair. We get
on ; some progress is made. A ticket of confes-
sion sometimes gets its bearer admitted into the
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 211
Academy. Jules Janin, Theophile Gautier, Paul
de Saint- Victor, Littre, Renan, please to recite
But that does not suffice ; the evil is deep-
rooted. The ancient Catholic society and the
ancient legitimate literature are threatened. Dark-
ness is in peril. To arms against the new gen-
erations ! To arms against the modern spirit !
And down with Democracy, the daughter of
Cases of rabidness ā that is to say, works of
genius ā are to be feared. Hygienic prescriptions
are renewed. The public high-road is evidently
badly watched. It appears that there are some
poets wandering about. The prefect of police, a
negligent man, allows some spirits to rove. What
is Authority thinking of? Let us take care. There
is danger lest men's minds may be bitten. Indeed,
the rumor is confirmed that Shakespeare has been
met without a muzzle on.
This Shakespeare without a muzzle is the pres-
If ever a man was undeserving of the good
character, " he is sober," ^ it is most certainly Wil-
liam Shakespeare. Shakespeare is one of the
1 The Complete Works of Shakespeare, translated by Fran-
jois Victor Hugo.
"^ See the beginning of the preceding chapter. ā Tr.
212 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
worst cases that serious aesthetics ever had to
Shakespeare is fertility, force, exuberance, the
swelling breast, the foaming cup, the brimming
trough, sap in excess, lava in torrents, the univer-
sal rain of life, everything by thousands, everything
by millions, no reticence, no ligature, no economy,
the inordinate and tranquil prodigality of the
creator. To those who fumble in the bottom of
their pockets, the inexhaustible seems insane.
Will it stop soon? Never. Shakespeare is the
sower of dazzling wonders. At every turn, an
image; at every turn, contrast; at every turn,
light and darkness.
The poet, we have said, is Nature. Subtle,
minute, keen, microscopical like Nature, and yet
vast. Not discreet, not reserved, not parsimoni-
ous; magnificently simple. Let us explain this
word '* simple."
Sobriety in poetry is poverty; simplicity is
grandeur. To give to each thing the quantity of
space which fits it, neither more nor less: this
is simplicity. Simplicity is justice. The whole
law of taste is in that. Each thing put in its own
place and spoken with its own word. On the sin-
gle condition that a certain latent equilibrium is
maintained and a certain mysterious proportion is
preserved, simplicity may be found in the most
stupendous complication, either in the style or in
the ensemble. These are the arcana of great art.
The higher criticism alone, which takes its starting-
point from enthusiasm, penetrates and compre-
hends these profound laws. Opulence, profusion,
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 21$
dazzling radiancy, may be simplicity. The sun is
Such simplicity evidently does not resemble the
simplicity recommended by Le Batteux, the Abbe
d'Aubignac, and Father Bouhours.
Whatever may be the abundance, whatever may
be the entanglement, even were it perplexing, con-
fused, and inextricable, all that is true is simple.
The only form of simplicity recognized by Art is
the simplicity that is profound.
Simplicity, being true, is artless. Artlessness is
the countenance of truth. Shakespeare is simple
in the grand manner ; he is infatuated with it : but
petty simplicity is unknown to him.
The simplicity which is impotence, the simpli-
city which is meagreness, the simplicity which is
short-winded, is a case for pathology. A hospital
ticket suits it better than a ride on the hippogriff.
I admit that the hump of Thersites is simple;
but the pectoral muscles of Hercules are simple
also. I prefer this simplicity to the other.
The simplicity proper to poetry may be as
bushy as the oak. Does the oak happen to pro-
duce on you the effect of a Byzantine and of a
delicate being? Its innumerable antitheses, ā
gigantic trunk and small leaves, rough bark and
velvet mosses, absorption of rays and lavishness of
shade, crowns for heroes and mast for swine, ā are
they marks of affectation, corruption, subtlety, and
bad taste? Could the oak be too witty? could the
oak belong to the Hotel Rambouillet? could the
oak be a finical prude? could the oak be tainted
with Gongorism? could the oak belong to an age
214 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
of decadence? Is it possible that all simplicity,
sajtcta sintplicitas, is concentrated in the cabbage ?
Refinement, excess of wit, affectation, Gongorism,
ā all that has been hurled at Shakespeare's head.
They say that these are the faults of littleness, and
they hasten to reproach the giant with them.
But then this Shakespeare respects nothing ; he
goes straight on, putting out of breath those who
wish to follow him. He strides over proprieties, he
overthrows Aristotle, he spreads havoc among
the Jesuits, the Methodists, the Purists, and the
Puritans; he puts Loyola to disorderly rout, and
upsets Wesley; he is valiant, bold, enterprising,
militant, direct. His inkstand smokes like a crater.
He is always laborious, ready, spirited, disposed,
pressing forward. Pen in hand, his brow blazing,
he goes on, driven by the demon of genius. The
stallion is over-demonstrative; there are jack-
mules passing by, to whom this is displeasing. To
be prolific is to be aggressive. A poet like Isaiah,
like Juvenal, like Shakespeare, is, in truth, exorbi-
tant. By all that is holy, some attention ought
to be paid to others ; one man has no right to
everything ! What ! virility always, inspiration
everywhere; as many metaphors as the meadow,
as many antitheses as the oak, as many contrasts
and depths as the universe; incessant generation,
pubescence, hymen, gestation ; a vast unity with
exquisite and robust detail, living communion, fe-
cundation, plenitude, production ! It is too much ;
it infringes the rights of neuters.
For nearly three centuries Shakespeare, this
poet all brimming with virility, has been looked
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 2 1 $
upon by sober critics with that discontented air
which certain bereaved spectators must have in the
Shakespeare has no reserve, no restraint, no
limit, no blank. What is wanting in him is that
he wants nothing. He needs no savings-bank. He
does not keep Lent. He overflows like vegetation,
like germination, like light, like flame. Yet this
does not hinder him from thinking of you, specta-
tor or reader, from preaching to you, from giving
you advice, from being your friend, like the first
good-natured La Fontaine you meet, and from
rendering you small services. You can warm your
hands at the conflagration he kindles.
Othello, Romeo, lago, Macbeth, Shylock, Rich-
ard ni., Julius Caesar, Oberon, Puck, Ophelia,
Desdemona, Juliet, Titania, men, women, witches,
fairies, souls, ā Shakespeare is the grand dis-
tributor ; take, take, take, all of you ! Do you
want more ? Here is Ariel, Parolles, Macduff,
Prospero, Viola, Miranda, Caliban. More yet ?
Here is Jessica, Cordelia, Cressida, Portia, Braban-
tio, Polonius, Horatio, Mercutio, Imogen, Panda-
rus of Troy, Bottom, Theseus. Ecce Deus ! It is
the poet, he offers himself: who will have me ?
He gives, scatters, squanders himself ; he is never
empty. Why ? He cannot be. Exhaustion is
impossible with him. In him is something of the
fathomless. He fills up again, and spends himself;
then recommences. He is the spendthrift of genius.
In license and audacity of language Shakespeare
equals Rabelais, whom, a few days ago, a swan-like
critic called a " swine."
2l6 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
Like all lofty minds in full riot of omnipotence,
Shakespeare decants all Nature, drinks it, and
makes you drink it. Voltaire reproached him for
his drunkenness; and was quite right. Why on
earth, we repeat, why has this Shakespeare such a
temperament? He does not stop, he does not feel
fatigue, he is without pity for the poor weak stom-
achs that are candidates for the Academy. The
gastritis called " good taste " does not afflict him.
He is powerful. What is this vast intemperate
song that he sings through the centuries ā war-
song, drinking-song, love-ditty ā which passes from
King Lear to Queen Mab, and from Hamlet to
Falstaff, heart-rending at times as a sob, grand
as the Iliad ? "I am stiff all over from reading
Shakespeare," said M. Auger.
His poetry has the sharp tang of honey made
by the vagabond hiveless bee. Here prose, there
verse ; all forms, being but receptacles for the idea,
suit him. This poetry mourns and jests. The
English tongue, a language little formed, now
serves, now hinders him ; but everywhere the deep
mind makes itself seen and felt. Shakespeare's
drama moves forward with a kind of distracted
rhythm ; it is so vast that it staggers ; it has and
gives the vertigo : but nothing is so solid as this
palpitating grandeur. Shakespeare, shuddering,
has within himself winds, spirits, magic potions,
vibrations ; he sways in the passing breeze, obscure
effluences pervade him, he is filled with the un-
known sap of life. Thence his agitation, at the
core of which is peace. It is this agitation which
is lacking in Goethe, wrongly praised for his im-
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 217
passiveness, which is inferiority. All minds of the
first order have this agitation. It is in Job, in ^s-
chylus, in Alighieri. This agitation is humanity.
On earth the divine must be human. It must pro-
pose to itself its own riddle, and be distressed by it
Inspiration being a miracle, a sacred stupor min-
gles with it. A certain majesty of mind resembles
solitude and is blended with wonder. Shakespeare,
like all great poets, like all great things, is ab-
sorbed by a dream. His own vegetation dismays
him ; his own tempest appals him. It seems at
times as if Shakespeare terrified Shakespeare. He
shudders at his own depth. This is the sign of
supreme intelligence. It is his own vastness which
shakes him and imparts to him strange and mighty
oscillations. There is no genius without billows.
An intoxicated savage, it may be. He has the
savagery of the virgin forest ; he has the intoxica-
tion of the high sea.
Shakespeare ā the condor alone gives some idea
of such gigantic flight ā departs, arrives, starts
again, mounts, descends, hovers, sinks, dives, drops,
submerges himself in the depths below, merges
into the depths above. He is one of those ge-
niuses that God purposely leaves unbridled, so that
they may go headlong and in full flight into the
From time to time there comes to this globe
one of these spirits. Their passage, as we have
said, renews art, science, philosophy, or society.
They fill a century, then disappear. Then it is
not one century alone that their light illumines, it
is humanity from the beginning to the end of time;
2l8 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
and we perceive that each of these men was the
human mind itself contained whole in one brain,
and coming, at a given moment, to impart new
impetus to earthly progress.
These supreme spirits, their life ended and their
work done, in death rejoin the mysterious group
of those who are at home in the infinite.
SHAKESPEARE.ā HIS WORK. ā THE CULMI-
THE characteristic of men of genius of the first
order is to produce each a peculiar model of
man. All bestow on humanity its portrait, ā some
laughing, some weeping, others pensive ; these last
are the greatest. Plautus laughs, and gives to man
Amphitryon; Rabelais laughs, and gives to man
Gargantua; Cervantes laughs, and gives to man
Don Quixote ; Beaumarchais laughs, and gives to
man Figaro ; Moliere weeps, and gives to man
Alceste; Shakespeare dreams, and gives to man
Hamlet; .^schylus meditates, and gives to man
Prometheus. The others are great ; .^schylus and
Shakespeare are vast.
These portraits of humanity (left to humanity as
a last farewell by those passing spirits, the poets)
are rarely flattering, always exact, ā likenesses of
profound resemblance. Vice, or folly, or virtue
is extracted from the soul and stamped upon the
visage. The tear congealed, becomes a pearl ; the
220 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
smile petrified, at last appears a menace ; wrinkles
are the furrows of wisdom ; certain frowns are
tragic. This series of models of man is a perma-
nent lesson for the generations : each century adds
in some figures, sometimes done in full light and
strong relief, like Macette, Celimene, Tartuffe, Tur-
caret, and Rameau's Nephew; sometimes simple
profiles, like Gil Bias, Manon Lescaut, Clarissa
Harlowe, and Candide.
God creates by intuition ; man creates by inspi-
ration, strengthened by observation. This second
creation, which is nothing else but divine action
carried out by man, is what is called " genius."
The poet stepping into the place of destiny ; an
invention of men and events so strange, so true to
nature, and so masterly that certain religious sects
hold it in horror as an encroachment upon Provi-
dence, and call the poet " the liar ; " the conscience
of man taken in the act and placed in surroundings
which it resists, governs, or transforms : such is the
drama. And there is in this something supreme.
This handling of the human soul seems a kind of
equality with God : equality, the mystery of which
is explained when we reflect that God is within
man. This equality is identity. Who is our con-
science? He; and He counsels right action. Who
is our intelligence? He ; and He inspires the
God may be there; but this, as we have seen,
does not lessen the crabbedness of critics: the
greatest minds are the ones most called in ques-
tion. It even sometimes happens that real in-
telligences attack genius; the inspired, strangely
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. 221
enough, do not recognize inspiration. Erasmus,
Bayle, Scaliger, St. Evremond, Voltaire, many of
the Fathers of the Church, whole families of phi-
losophers, the whole Alexandrian School, Cicero,
Horace, Lucian, Plutarch, Josephus, Dion Chryso-
stom, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Philostratus,
Metrodorus of Lampsacus, Plato, Pythagoras, have
severely criticised Homer. In this enumeration
we omit Zoflus. Men who deny are not critics.
Hatred is not intelligence. To insult is not to
discuss. Zollus, Maevius, Cecchi, Green, Avella-
neda, William Lauder, Vise, Freron, ā no cleansing
of these names is possible. These men have
wounded the human race in her men of genius ;
these wretched hands forever retain the color of
the mud that they have thrown.
Nor have these men even the miserable renown
that they seem to have amply earned, nor the
whole quantity of infamy that they had hoped for.