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Shakespeare, the man : an attempt to find traces of the dramatist's personal character in his dramas online

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Entered according, to" Act of Parliament of Canada,
in" the year one thousand eight hundred and
ninety-nine,, by, GOLD WIN SMITH, in the Office of
the Minister of Agriculture.


An attempt to find traces of the
personal character of Shakespeare un-
der the dramatist is, it need hardly
be said, a different thing from an in-
terpretation of Shakespeare's art. In
making it the writer does not trespass
on the ground occupied by Coleridge,
Gervinus, Dowden, and Hiram Corson.

An apology may seem necessary for
quoting in full some well-known pas-
sages of Shakespeare ; but the writer
does not feel sure that "in these most
brisk and giddy-paced times," when a
tidal-wave of popular and sensational
fiction is flowing, familiarity with
Shakespeare is so common as it was
in former days.




SUCH materials as there are for
Shakespeare's personal history, or for
the history of anyone connected with
him, have been gathered with the
most loving and persevering indus-
try. Unhappily, they amount to very
little. Entries in municipal records,
names in a will, a lease, or an in-
ventory, tell hardly anything of the
life or character of the man. That
orange has now been squeezed dry.

It would seem better worth while
to consider under what general influ-
ences social, political, and religious
the life was passed.

Shakespeare: The Man

Shakespeare was a poet of the
Renaissance and of the Elizabethan
era. Of the Renaissance, with its
passion for beauty and art, its joy-
ous release from asceticism, and not
only from asceticism, but from strict
morality, its tendency to scepticism
in religion ; of the Elizabethan era
with its spring-tide of national life,
its heroic struggle against the powers
of the past, its love of adventure, its
galaxy of active and aspiring spirits
in every sphere.

Born in 1564, he would by 1580
be observant and open to impressions.
Between 1580 and his death there are
thirty-six years full of momentous
events ; the struggle with Spain ; the
proclamation of the Papal curse against
England in her Queen ; the Armada ;

Shakespeare: The Man

the conflict in France between the
League and the Huguenots ; the insur-
rection and tragic end of Essex; the
death of Elizabeth ; the accession of
James ; the union of the Crowns ; the
Gunpowder Plot ; the opening of the
contest between the Stuart King and
his Parliament ; the marriage of the
Princess Elizabeth with the Elector
Palatine ; the beginning of the Thirty
Years' War. During the last two
decades the scene had been changing.
Tudor monarchy and the Renaissance
had been passing away, Puritanism
had developed its force, and the
struggle between a Puritan Parlia-
ment and the Crown for supreme
power had begun.

Surroundings must tell, and in the
work even of the most dramatic of

Shakespeare : The Man

dramatists the man can hardly fail
sometimes to appear. There are things
which strike us as said for their own
sake more than because they fit the
particular character ; things which
seem said with special feeling and
emphasis ; things which connect them-
selves naturally with the writer's
personal history. There are things
which could not be written, even
dramatically, by one to whose beliefs
and sentiments they were repugnant.
Any knowledge which is displayed
must of course be the writer's own ;
so must any proofs of insight,
social or of other kinds. Inference
as to the writer's character from such
passages are precarious, no doubt;
yet they may not be altogether futile.
Thoroughly dramatic as was the gen-

Shakespeare: The Man

ius of JEschylus and Sophocles, we
do not doubt that the character of
each, as depicted by Aristophanes in
The Frogs, is shown. In Corneille
and Racine we see little beyond the
fall-bottomed wig ; but in Moliere
character, sympathies, and antipathies

It must be remembered that Shake-
speare had been a poet before he be-
came a playwright.

Lorenzo. How sweet the moon - light

sleeps upon this bank !
Here will we sit, and let the sounds of

Creep in our ears ; soft stillness, and the


Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Sit, Jessica : Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold ;
There's not the smallest orb, which thou

behold' st,

But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-ey'd cherubins :
Such harmony is in immortal souls ;


Shakespeare : The Man

But, whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear

Merchant of Venice, V., ii.

These lovely lines in The Merchant
of Venice have no special connection
with the characters of Lorenzo and
Jessica or with the action. They are
a poetic voluntary. Some things in
Shakespeare transcends any stage, and
would utterly transcend the stage of
the Globe theatre. The Midsummer-
Night's Dream is a supreme creation
of aerial fancy, which no gross com-
pany of actors and actresses can ever
worthily present. In Hamlet there is
a philosophic poem. All actors fail
in the leading part. The man who
had the sensibility to feel the part
would hardly have stage assurance
to act it. The boyish and girlish

Shakespeare : The Man

passion of Romeo and Juliet, again,
is poetry. No mature actor or
actress could feel the passion or pre-
sent it on the stage.

Ben Jonson says that Shakespeare
had " small Latin and less Greek";
Milton says of him that he " warbled
his native wood notes wild " ; in other
words, was not, like Ben Jonson,
classically cultured. He had in fact
received a common grammar school
education, and knew something of
Latin and the Latin poets; as in
Love's Labours Lost and elsewhere

In Sonnet No. CIV.,

Three winters' cold

Have from the forests shook three sum-
mers' pride,

is probably a version of Horace's

Shakespeare : The Man

Sylvis honorem decutit. Shylock's
injunction to Jessica recalls the in-
junction of Horace (Odes, III., 7)
to Asterie; and the description of the
horse in Venus and Adonis is evi-
dently suggested by a passage in the
third Georgic. Of the "small Latin"
there is abundant proof. Of the " less
Greek " there is not a trace. Noth-
ing can be less Hellenic than Troilus
and Cressida or Timon of Athens.
French, Shakespeare evidently under-
stood. He had read Rabelais, at
least he mentions Gargantua. It can
hardly be doubted that he under-
stood Italian. But the knowledge
which he had practically acquired and
carried with him to Town was mainly
that of country occupations, of horses
and hounds, and of all the flowers

Shakespeare : The Man

upon the bank where the wild thyme
grew. To this in Town and after-
wards at Court he added a thorough
insight into the social world, which
shows itself in the well-known advice
of Polonius to Laertes, and other
passages, such as the advice of Bert-
ram's mother to Bertram in All's
Well that Ends Well

Love all, trust a few,
Do wrong to none : be able for thine

Rather in power than use ; and keep thy

Under thy own life's key : be check' d for

But never tax'd for speech. /., i.

The advice of Polonius to Laertes
may be more certainly set down to
the credit of Shakespeare himself,
because it really does not well suit
the character of Polonius, who is gen-

Shakespeare: The Man

erally represented as a pompous old
fool. A manual of manners and social
conduct might almost be gleaned out
of Shakespeare ; and Shakespeare's
social teaching is not like that of
Chesterfield ; it has for its basis gen-
uine qualities,

This above all, To thine own self be true ;
And it must follow as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Hamlet, I. , Hi.

That Shakespeare had a cultivated
taste for music, if he was not him-
self a musician, appears not only from
his anathema upon the man who has
no music in his soul, which would
have borne hard on Dr. Johnson, but
from passages such as the speech of
the Duke in Twelfth Night and
that, already mentioned, of .Lorenzo
in The Merchant of Venice. Fine

Shakespeare: The Man

music seems to have been Shake-
speare's acme of enjoyment.

The attempts to make out that
Shakespeare knew law come to noth-
ing. Living in London, he no doubt
mingled with Templars as well as with
other people, and might easily pick
up some phrases. There is no proof
of anything more.

It is deemed by the biographers im-
probable that Shakespeare had trav-
elled. In Love's Labours Lost, Act
III., Scene i., the old reading is

This Signior Julio's giant-dwarf,
Dan Cupid.

For this has been conjectu rally sub-
stituted by critics who did not
understand the allusion,

This senior-junior, giant-dwarf,
Dan Cupid,

which is nonsense.

Shakespeare: The Man

Julio Romano, in a fresco in the
Vatican, introduced the figure of
Gradasso, "a giant-dwarf" of pigmy
stature but great muscular power,
thus resembling Cupid in the com-
bination of diminutiveness and might.
To this fresco Shakespeare evidently
refers. Had he seen it ? In the
Winters Tale, Act V., Scene ii., he
expresses his admiration of Romano,
though, curiously enough, not as a
painter but as a sculptor

Third Gentleman. No : the princess hear-
ing of her mother's statue, which is in
the keeping of Paulina, a piece many
years in doing, and now newly performed
by that rare Italian master, Julio Romano;
who, had he himself eternity, and could
put breath into his work, would beguile
nature of her custom, so perfectly he is
her ape.

Shakespeare's pictures of Italian life
seem to show familiarity with it, and

Shakespeare : The Man

his epithets, such as "old Verona,"
are apposite. Looseness about Italian
geography, if it can be proved, would
not be a strong argument on the
other side. If an Englishman had
travelled anywhere in those days,
it would probably have been in

In history Shakespeare was not
learned. He makes the Duke of
Austria responsible for the death of
Richard I. He follows the chroni-
clers blindly. On the other hand, he
had a wonderful eye for historical
character. He dresses his Romans in
cloaks and hats ; but his delinea-
tion of Csesar, Brutus, Cassius, and
Marc Antony cannot be surpassed.
" Speak ; Caesar is turned to hear " ;
and "I rather tell thee what is to

Shakespeare: The Man

be feared, Than what I fear; for
always I am Caesar."

He sometimes betrays what seems
strange ignorance. He introduces
artillery in the reign of John ; gives
Bohemia a sea-coast ; and introduces
nunneries at Athens. But may not
this rather be said to be simple dis-
regard of the limitations of time and
place ? Athens in the Midsummer-
Night's Dream, is not the classic city,
but an Italian Duchy of which
Theseus is the Duke. When the
fashion was introduced of a spectac-
ular representation of Shakespeare's
plays and the manager aimed at
being strictly historical, some of the
results were grotesque. In the Mid-
summer-Night's Dream Lysander and
Demetrius were represented as going

Shakespeare : The Man

to fight a duel, a thing wholly foreign
to Hellenic ideas, with their Hellenic
swords; and Theseus, in classic attire,
threatened to put Hermia, also in
classic attire, into a nunnery. In
Macbeth, Shakespeare's idea of the
Scotch monarchy no doubt was some-
thing magnificently royal, such as
might tempt ambition. But the spec-
tacular manager thought he was
showing his fidelity to history by
introducing the barbarous simplicity
of primeval Scotland, and Macbeth
was represented as climbing through
regicide and crime to the dazzling
elevation of a king enthroned on a
wooden stool and banqueting on

The mystery of Shakespeare's Son-
nets will never be solved. What is

Shakespeare: The Man

certain is that the series is a product
of the Renaissance, sometimes burning
with intense and irregular passion.
Morals of the Court of Elizabeth
were loose, like those of other Courts
of Europe at the time, the vestal vir-
ginity of the Queen notwithstanding.
It seems to be proved that the poet's
marriage with Anne Hathaway took
place not before it was necessary ;
that it was enforced, and that he
afterwards saw little of his wife
and children for eleven years, so
that he might write with feeling,

War is no strife

To the dark house and the detested wife.
AW 8 Well that Ends Well, II. , Hi.

Prospero's injunction to Ferdinand
in The Tempest is so strange and
apparently gratuitous, that we can

Shakespeare: The Man

hardly help regarding it as an out-
pouring of the poet's bitter experi-

Prospero. Then, as my gift, and thine

own acquisition
Worthily purchased, take my daughter :


If thou dost break her virgin knot before
All sanctimonious ceremonies may
With full and holy rite be minister' d,
No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let

To make this contract grow ; but barren


Sour-ey'd disdain, and discord, shall be-
The union of your bed with weeds so

That you shall hate it both : therefore,

take heed,
As Hymen's lamps shall light you.

The Tempest, IV., i.

All this considered, we have reason
to be thankful for the essential sound-
ness of Shakespeare's morality, especi-
ally with regard to marriage. There

SJiakespeare : The Man

is not in him anything of the evil
spirit of the Restoration drama. Ma-
trimony with him is always holy, and
though attacks upon its sanctity form
the subject of more than one of his
plots, he carries it through them
inviolate. There is no Don Juan
among his heroes.

It must be owned that in Measure
for Measure, in some of the Falstaff
scenes, and elsewhere, Shakespeare
plays with certain subjects in a
way suggestive of looseness in sexual
morality. There is a curious passage
in Hamlet (II., i.), where Polonius
seems to think " drabbing " would
not disgrace his son, but that incon-
tinence, by which appears to be meant
illicit intercourse with other than
courtesans, would. Opinion on these

Shakespeare : The Man

points has greatly advanced since
Shakespeare, though governments still
bow to supposed necessity.

Too often the poet stoops to obscen-
ities. This is partly the vice of the
Renaissance, which shows itself to an
extreme extent in Rabelais. Partly,
it is the mark of the ages before
delicacy, which gave birth to Boccac-
cio. Partly, perhaps principally, it is
a condescension to the tastes of the
audience of the Globe Theatre. From
Hamlet's advice to the Players, we
see that there was a great demand
for buffoonery. Perhaps it would be
charitable to surmise that Shake-
speare sought to embrace the whole
of human nature as it presented
itself in his time. His obscenity is
mere grossness; it is not provocative

Shakespeare: The Man

of lust. At worst, in him all is
nature. He is never procurer to the
lords of Hell. There is nothing in
him so disgusting as the laborious
filth offered by Massinger as a
tribute to the taste of a vulgar
audience in the comic scenes of
The Virgin Martyr.

Shakespeare is said to have died
of the effects of a drinking bout.
But if the tradition is true the
drinking bout was probably an ex-
ception, for he evidently abhors excess.

Horatio. Is it a custom?

Hamlet. Ay, marry, is't :
But to my mind, though I am native here,
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honour' d in the breach, than the


This heavy-headed revel, east and west,
Makes us traduc'd, and tax'd of other

nations :

They clepe us, drunkards, and with swin-
ish phrase


Shakespeare : The Man

Soil our addition ; and, indeed, it takes
From our achievements, though perform' d

at height,
The pith and marrow of our attribute.

Hamlet, I. , iv.

He refers to the same national dis-
grace in Othello, Act II., Scene iii.
In the same scene we have

Cassia. Not to-night, good lago ; I have
very poor and unhappy brains for drink-
ing : I could well wish courtesy would
invent some other custom of entertainment.

Cassia. O thou invisible spirit of wine,
if thou hast no name to be known by, let
us call thee devil !

Cassia. I remember a mass of things, but
nothing distinctly ; a quarrel, but nothing
wherefore. O, that men should put an
enemy in their mouths, to steal away their
brains ! that we should, with joy, revel,
pleasure, and applause, transform ourselves
into beasts !

" I will do anything, Nerissa," says
Portia, "ere I will be married to a



Shakespeare : The Man

Let me be your servant ;
Though I look old, yet I ain strong' and

lusty ;

For in' my youth I never did apply
Hot and rebellious liquors in my blood :
Nor did not with unbashful forehead woo
The means of weakness and debility ;
Therefore my age is as a lusty winter,
Frosty, but kindly.

As You Like It, II. , Hi.

What were Shakespeare's political
sentiments? In his time, during the
early part of it at least, everybody
was royalist. Domestic dissensions
were suspended by the struggle with
Catholic powers, and the Queen was
idolized as impersonating the na-
tional cause. Supremely royalist, of
course, were the Lord Chamberlain's
or the King's Players. In three plays
probably, in the Midsummer- Night's
Dream, in Henry VIII., assuming
the genuineness of the passage, and

Shakespeare : The Man

in The Tempest, the courtier is dis-
tinctly seen.

The Midsummer-Night's Dream was
apparently performed at some Court
marriage, at what marriage we can-
not now tell, though the author of
the excellent article on Shakespeare in
the Dictionary of National Biography
conjectures that it was either that of
Lucy Harrington to Edward Russell,
third Earl of Bedford, on the 12th of
December, 1594, or that of William
Stanley, Earl of Derby, at Greenwich,
on the 24th of January, 1594-5. There
cannot be a doubt that Elizabeth was
present and heard the well-known com-
pliment to the " fair vestal throned by
the West." But she also heard :

" Thrice blessed they, that master so their


* A R y

Shakespeare: The Man

To undergo such maiden pilgrimage.

But earthlier happy is the rose distilled

Than that, which, withering on the virgin

Grows, lives and dies, in single blessed-
ness. ' '

Midsummer-Night's Dream, /., i.

Was not this advice, most, delicately
given, to the fair vestal to marry, and
thus fulfil the desire of all loyal and
Protestant England ?

The Tempest was acted before the
Court when Frederick, Elector Palatine,
afterwards the luckless King of Bohemia,
came over to claim his bride, the Prin-
cess Elizabeth, darling of all Protestant
hearts. It embodies a Masque, such as
was fashionable at weddings, and which
was perhaps performed, not by the Play-
ers, but by lords and ladies of the
Court. There cannot be a doubt that
these lines refer to England :

Shakespeare : The Man

Iris. Ceres, most bounteous lady, thy

rich leas
Of wheat, rye, barley, vetches, oats, and

peas ;
Thy turfy mountains, where live nibbling

And flat meads, thatch' d with stover, them

to keep ;

Thy banks with peonied and lilied brims,
Which spongy April at thy hest betrims,
To make cold nymphs chaste crowns : and

thy broom groves,

Whose shadow the dismissed bachelor loves,
Being lass-lorn ; thy pole-clipt vineyard ;
And thy sea-marge, steril, and rocky-hard,
Where thou thyself dost air :

Tempest, IV., i.

The turfy mountains with the nib-
bling sheep are evidently the downs ;
and the pole-clipt vineyards are most
likely the hop-grounds.

The words of Ferdinand,

Let me live here ever ;
So rare a wonder' d father, and a wife,
Make this place Paradise

Tempest, IV., i.

Shakespeare : The Man

would be very apt in the mouth of
the young Elector who had come over
to England to be married to James'

It would have been strange if the
learned King Jarnes had not taken
to himself the character of Prospero,
" reputed in dignity, and for the
liberal arts without a parallel;" or
if he had not seen in the conspira-
tors of different grades the authors
of the Gunpowder Plot and the
enemies of prerogative in the House
of Commons. He could not have
failed to enjoy such satire on
political agitation as

Gonzalo. I' the commonwealth I would

by contraries

Execute all things : for no kind of traffic
Would I admit ; no name of magistrate ;
Letters should not be known ; riches,


Shakespeare: The Man

And use of service, none ; contract, suc-

Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none :

No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil :

No occupation ; all men idle, all ;

And women too ; but innocent and pure :

No sovereignty :

Sebastian. And yet he would be king


Antonio. The latter end of his common-
wealth forgets the beginning.
Gonzalo. All things in common, nature
should produce

Without sweat or endeavour : treason,

Sword, pike, knife, gun, nor need of any

Would I not have ; but nature should
bring forth,

Of its own kind, all foizon, all abundance,

To feed my innocent people.

Tempest, II., i.

Raleigh, who was a courtier, even
to a painful extent, in his Preroga-
tive of Parliaments sums up a highly
royalist history of the origin of the
Great Charter by saying that it " had

Shakespeare: The Man

first an obscure birth from usurpation,
and was secondly fostered and showed
to the world by rebellion." Shake-
speare, in King John, says not a
word about the Great Charter, or
anything connected with it. If the
Barons quarrel with the King, it is
not about political rights, but on
account of the deposition and murder
of Arthur. Even that crime is soften-
ed by reducing it to intention, Arthur's
death being represented as an accident.
The submission to the Pope is managed
in a way as little humiliating as pos-
sible. In the end, John is the nation-
al King, supported by English patriots
against the French pretender and in-

Of Henry VIII., though by no
means the whole play is Shake-

Shakespeare: The Man

spearian, it is pretty certain that the
whole passed under Shakespeare's
hand, and in it Henry is presented
as an august, magnificent and appar-
ently beneficent lord, without a sug-
gestion of the tyrant.

We see, too, where the Merry Wives
of Windsor was performed,

Mistress Quickly. About, about ;
Search Windsor castle, elves, within and

out :
Strew good luck, ouphes, on every sacred

room ;

That it may stand till the perpetual doom,
In state as wholesome, as in state 'tis fit;
Worthy the owner, and the owner it.
The several chairs of order look you scour
With juice of balm, and every precious

flower :
Each fair instalment, coat, and several


With loyal blazon, evermore be blest !
And nightly, meadow-fairies, look, you


Like to the Garter's compass, in a ring :
The expressure that it bears, green let it



Shakespeare: The Man

More fertile-fresh than all the field to see ;

And, Hony soit qui mal y pense, write,

In emerald tufts, flowers purple, blue and
white :

Like sapphire, pearl, and rich embroi-

Buckled below fair knighthood's bending
knee :

Fairies use flowers for their charactery.
Merry Wives of Windsor, V., v.

The strong language about the
divine character of royalty, and the
indelibility of the coronation balm,
put into the mouth of Richard II.,
is in character and may be regarded
as dramatic. On the other hand,
there are pretty strong expressions
about the sacredness of royalty


To do this deed,

Promotion follows : If I could find ex-
Of thousands, that had struck anointed


And flourished after, I'd not do't it : but


Shakespeare: The Man

Nor brass, nor stone, nor parchment,

bears not one.
Let villainy itself forswear' t.

Winter's Tale, I., ii.
And in Macbeth, Act II., Scene iii.

MacDuff. Confusion now hath made

his masterpiece ;

Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope
The Lord's anointed temple, and stole

The life o' the building.

In Macbeth, Act IV., Scene iii., there
is a passage which, if the poet is
speaking, intimates his belief in touch-
ing for the King's Evil.

Doctor. Ay, sir : there are a crew of

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