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I have no doubt, too, that he estimated very highly
the art of Ben Jonson and his cimibrous learning,
and it would seem that, in some measure at least,
he was influenced by him to use broken lines in
his later blank verse to a very large extent. But
the person who most influenced him in style, as
well as in method, was a much greater man than
Ben Jonson, and, in my opinion, the greatest of
all the old dramatists after Shakespeare himself,
and that was Christopher Marlowe. I found my
judgment, indeed, not so much on what he accom-
plished, as for the immense promise it contained ;
but what he accomplished was most remarkable.
It was he who gave the grand rhythmic flow to


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English blank verse, and built the mighty line be-
fore Shakespeare. For mere versification, there
is almost nothing of that period that can be placed
beside some passages, — as, for instance, the open-
ing scene in his " Jew of Malta." The play of-
fends good taste and is full of horrors. The Jew
is the old Jew of the day, exaggerated and some-
what grotesque even in his crimes ; but there is a
great poet at work in it all. Shakespeare, I doubt
not, knew every word by heart ; and in the open-
ing scene of the " Merchant of Venice " one can
feel that the sound of its verse was in the ear of
Shakespeare constantly. But what a stride he
made beyond it in the conduct and character of
the play ! Nothing better shows the superiority
of Shakespeare to all his contemporaries and
predecessors than the use he made of materials
already existing. Still he owed a great deal to
Marlowe, at least in the form of his versification,
as well as in the method of his historical plays.
Take, for instance, Marlowe's " Jew of Malta "
in its opening passages, and compare it with the
writing of any other dramatist, and you will find
it quite different in style from anything that pre-
ceded it ; but in its versification there is a strong
resemblance to that of the '' Merchant of Venice."
Thus Marlowe in the " Jew of Malta " says : —

** This is iihe ware wherein consists my wealth ;
And thus methinks should men of jud^^ent frame
Their means of traffic from the yulgar trade^
And, as their wealth increaseth, so enclose
Infinite riches in a little room.


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Bat now how stands the wind ?

Into what comer peers my halcyon's bill ?

Ha ! to the east ? yes. See how stand the vanes ?

East and by south : why, then, I hope my ships

I sent for Eg^ypt and the bordering^ isles

Are gotten up by Nilus' winding banks ;

Mine argosy from Alexandria,

Loaden with spice and silks, now nnder sail,

Are smoothly gliding down by Candy shore

To Malta, through the Mediterranean Sea."

I cannot but think that Salarino, in the first
scene of the " Merchant of Venice," remembered
that " argosy loaden with spice and silks " when
he spoke of Antonio's " argosies with portly sail,"
and thought of " dangerous rocks," —

*' Which, touching but my gentle yessel's side,
Would scatter aU her spices on the stream ;
Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks,'' etc.

So, too, compare these two passages. Barabas,
Marlowe's Jew, says : —

** Thus trolls our fortune in by land and sea,
And thus are we on every side enriched :
These are the blessings promised to the Jews,
And herein was old Abram's happiness :
What more may Heaven do for earthly man
Than thus to pour out plenty in their laps ?


** This was a way to thrive, and he was blest :
And thrift is blessing, if men steal it not.

** This was a venture, sir, that Jacob served for;
A thing not in his power to bring to pass,
But swayed and fashioned by the hand of Heaven.'^

Or take these : —


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'* Well, then, my lord, say, are yon satisfied ?
Tou haye my g^oods, my money, and my wealth.
My ships, my store, and all that I enjoyed ;
And, having all, yon can request no more,
Unless yonr unrelenting, flinty hearts
Suppress all pity in your stony breasts,
And now shall move you to bereave my life ;

Tou have my wealth, the labor of my life,
The comfort of mine age, my children's hope.


** Content thee, Barabas, thou hast naught but right."
And then hear —


*' Nay, take my life and all ; pardon not l^iat:
You take my house when you do take the prop
That doth sustain my house ; you take my life
When you do take the means whereby I live.

*' Art thou contented, Jew ? what dost thou say ? ''

Again, Barabas says : —

*' I learned in Florence how to kiss my hand.
Heave up my shoulders when they call me dog,
And duck as low as any bare->f oot friar ;
Hoping to see them starve upon a stall.
Or else be gathered for in our synagogue,
That, when the offering-bamn comes to me,
Even for charity I may spit into 't.*'

Shylock says : —

*' Still have I borne it with a patient shrug;
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe. ^
Tou caU me misbeliever, cut-throat, dog.
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine. . . .

1 "For through our sufferance of your hateful Utos," says


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ShaU I bend low, and in a bondman's key,

With bated breath and -whispering humbleness,

Say this : Fair sir, yon spit on me on Wednesday last ;

Ton spumed me such a day, another time

You called me dog ? "

Is it not plain that Shakespeare, in writing this,
had Marlowe's play in his ear and mind? You
have, beside the general resemblance of rhythm,
such corresponding phrases as " duck as low," and
"shall I bend low," "heave up my shoulders,"
" with a silent shrug," " they called me dog," " you
called me dog," and the spitting as an indication
of scorn: as for the rhythm, one passage reads
after the other with scarce a break of movement.
Or compare, again, " his daughter and his ducats "
of Shylock, with "O girl, O gold," of Barabas.
But take another passage of a later date from
Marlowe's " Edward II.," and a grand passage,
too, worthy bi Shakespeare. Edward says : —

** The griefs of private men are soon allayed,
But not of kings. The forest deer being struck
Runs to a herb Ihat closeth up the wounds ;
But when the imperial lion's flesh is gored,
He rends and tears it with his wrathful paw ;
And, highly scorning that the lowly earth
Should drink his blood, mounts upward to the air.
And so it fares with me, whose dauntless mind
The ambitions Mortimer would seek to curb."

Compare in " Henry VI." (act v. sc. 6), —

** What, will the aspiring blood of Lancaster
Sink in the ground ? I thought it would have mounted.''

Or from " Richard II." (act v. sc. 1), —

** The lion, d3ring, thrusteth forth his paw

And wounds the earth, if nothing else, with rage."


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Or, again, in Richard's death, —

'^ Exton, thy fierce hand
Hath with the kmg's blood stained the king's own land.
Mount, mount, my souL Thy seat is up on high,
While my gross flesh sinks downward here to die/'

Op, again, compare the rhythm of such passages as
these, and I think you must feel how strongly in-
fluenced in his versification Shakespeare was by
Marlowe. In "Faust" Helen appears, and he
says : —

'* Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And fired the topmost towers of Bium ?
Sweet Helen, make me inmiortal with a kiss.
Oh, thou art fairer than the eyening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars I
Brighter thou art than flaming Jupiter
When he appeared to hapless Semele.''

Romeo says : —

" Oh, speak again, bright angel, for thou art
As glorious to the night, being o'er my head,
As is the wingM messenger of heayen
Unto the white, upturned, wondering eyes
Of mortab that fall back to gaze on him.
When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds,
And sails upon the bosom of the air.''

Are they not apparently out of the same mint?
Or, again, compare Marlowe's Edward with Shake-
speare's Romeo in these two passages : —

** Gallop apace, ye fiery-footed steeds.
Towards Phoebus' lodg^ing. Such a wagoner
As Phseton would whip you to the west.
And bring in cloudy night immediately.


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'' Gallop apace, bright Phoebus, through the sky,
And dusky Night, in rusty iron car,
Between you both shorten the time, I pray,
That I may see that most desired day.''

Or, once more, compare this passage from Mar-
lowe's " Edward II." —

*^ But stay ! -what star shines yonder in the East ?
The load-star of my life, — of Abig^."

with Shakespeare's

*^ But see ! what light from yonder window shines ?
It is the East — and Juliet is the sun.''

But to leave this question, which might be illus-
trated very much farther until it got to be a bore,
have you read Marlowe's translation of Lucan ?

B. Yes, and it is wonderful Lucan in his
hands becomes a poet such as he never was in his
native tongue. Take, for instance, this extraordi-
nary passage : —

" Strange sights appeared, — the angry threatening gods
Filled both the earth and seas with prodigies.
Great store of strange and unknown stars were seen
Wandering about the north, and rings of fire
Fly in the air, and dreadful bearded stars,
And comets that presage the fall of kingdoms.
The flattering sky glittered in often flames,
And sundry fiery meteors blazed in heaven,
Now spearlike long, now like a spreading torch.
Lightning in silence stole fortJi without douds.

The Earth went o£P her hinges ; and the Alps
Shook the old snow from off their trembling laps."

M. That certainly is very fine. StiU, in my
opinion, the greatest of his plays is his last, the


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" Edward II.," which Shakespeare to a certain ex-
tent imitated in his " Richard II." The last scene
of the death of the king in Berkeley Castle is mas-
terly, — at once simple, powerful, natural, and pas-
sionate, — and loses nothing in comparison with the
death of Richard. It led the way to those great
historical plays of Shakespeare, and placed dra-
matic history on a new and higher plane than it
ever before had occupied.

B, Have you a copy of Marlowe here ? If you
have, pray read you this scene, if you are not al-
ready tired.

M. Oh, yes I here is a copy ; I 'U read it with
pleasure. Lightbom, you remember, is sent to
murder Edward, while Matrevis and Gumey await


'* Fob I here 's a place indeed, with all my heart !


*' Who 's there ? what light is that ? wherefore com'st thou ?


** To comfort you, and bring yon joyful news. •


*' Small comfort finds poor Edward in ihy looks.
Villain, I know thou com'st to murder me.


^* To murder you, my most gracious lord I
Far is it from my heart to do yon harm.
The queen sent me to see how you were used,
For she relents at this your misery.
And what eyes can refrain from shedding tears
To see a king in this most piteous state ?


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** Weep'st iihou already ? list awhile to me,
And then thy heart, were it as Gumey's is.
Or as Matrevis', hewn from the Caucasus,
Yet will it melt ere I have done my tale.
This dungeon where they keep me is the sink
Wherein the filth of all the castle falls.


**0 yillainsl


" And there, in mire and puddle, have I stood
This ten days' space ; and lest that I should sleep.
One plays continually upon a drum.
They give me bread and water, being a king, —
So that, for want of sleep and sustenance.
My mind 's distempered, and my body 's numbedy
And whether I have limbs or no, I know not.
Oh, would my blood dropped out from every vein
As doth this water from my tattered robes I
Tell Isabel, the queen, I looked not thus.
When for her sake I ran at tilt in France,
And there unhorsed the Duke of Cleremont.


" Oh, speak no more, my lord ! this breaks my heart,
Lie on this bed and rest yourself awhile.


** These looks of thine can harbor nought but death I
I see my tragedy written on thy brows.
Yet stay ; awhile forbear thy bloody hand.
And let me see the stroke before it comes.
That even then, when I shall lose my life,
My mind may be more steadfast on my God.


*' What means your highness to mistrust me thus ?


' ' What meanest thou to dissemble with me thus ?


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'* These hands -were never stained with innocent blood,
Nor shall they now be tainted with a king's.

'' Forgive my thought for having such a thought.
One jewel have I left ; receive thou this.
Still fear I, and I know not what 's the cause,
Bnt every joint shakes as I give it thee.
Oh, if thou harbor'st murder in thy heart,
Let this gift change thy mind and save thy soul I
Know that I am a king : oh, at that name
I feel a heU of grief ! Where is my crown ?
Gone, gone, — and do I remain alive ?


** You 're over-watched, my lord ; lie down and rest.


'' But that grief keeps me waking, I should sleep ;
For not these ten days have these eyelids closed.
Now as I speak they fall, and yet with fear
Open agun. Oh, wherefore sit'st thou here ?


** K you mistrust me, I 'U begone, my lord.


*' No I no I for if thou mean'st to murder me.
Thou wilt return again ; and therefore stay.


** He sleeps.

EDWABD (awakes)*
** Oh, let me not die yet ; stay, oh, stay awhile.


* How now, my lord ?


*^ Something still buzzeth in mine ears.


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And tells me, if I sleep, I never wake.

This fear is that which makes me tremble thus ;

And therefore tell me wherefore art thou come ?


'* To rid thee of thy life. Matrevis, come.


'' I am too weak and feeble to resist :
Assist me, sweet God, and receive my souL"

B. Certainly that is a very powerful scene.

M. When one thinks that that was written be-
fore Marlowe was twenty-eight years of age, and
probably before any play of Shakespeare, — unless,
perhaps, his very earliest, — we may realize what
we have lost by his early death. After all, the
promise of Marlowe was as great as that of Shake-
speare. And had Shakespeare died at the same
age, there would have been little difference between
them. But Marlowe was only just gathering to-
gether his powers, and learning to guide them
steadily to great ends, when death overtook him,
and in so ignominious a manner as to make our
grief for his loss still greater. Nothing in all his
life became him so little as his leaving it, if tradi-
tion be true.

B. He was, if I recollect right, killed in a
drunken tavern brawl, when he was only twenty-
eight years old. And all the great works that he
might have written were lost to us forever. Sup-
pose we had lost Shakespeare at that age ?

M. I cannot suppose it. There is no other life
we could not better blot out in all English history.


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Other losses migtt have been repaired, but his
never. He holds together all our literature. Our
language is embedded in his works; we speak
Shakespeare, even when we know it not.

B. You remind me of a story I heard the other
day of an English swell, whose education, what-
ever it might have been in Greek and Latin (as
much perhaps as Shakespeare's, according to Ben
Jonson's sneer), was not liberally endowed with
English literature. Some of his friends persuaded
him to go and hear "Hamlet," which was then
playing in London. On his return he was asked
how he liked it, and he said, "Very nice, very
nice, but awfully full of quotations."

M. Faith! I don't wonder he thought so. It
was a very honest criticism. But think what a
hold Shakespeare has upon all our life and lan-
guage when such a story is possible even in jest I I
sometimes wonder, if a play of Shakespeare should
now be discovered quite equal to his best, and pub-
lished anonymously, what effect it would produce.
Do you think that the critics would accept it ?

B. Who can say ? Of course, they would find
it full of defects, and wanting utterly in origi-
nality; but they might pat it on the head and
patronize it.

Jf. In my native town, some years ago, there
was a man poorly educated, and utterly ignorant
of Shakespeare. Don't smile. There are a great
many quite as ignorant of his works, who talk a
great deal about him, and use his name constantiy.


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But this man was not familiar even with his name,
or at all events did not know that he was not still

B. Well, so he is.

M. Tme, but not in that sense. Well, it hap-
pened that, at the time of which I speak, Dickens
was publishing his novels in parts ; and an edition
of Shakespeare's plays also was coming out in
numbers, and my friend (every man is my friend
who likes Shakespeare) took in both, thinking
them contemporaneous writers. One day he went
to the publishers, and in rather an excited tone
said, " When is the next number of Shakespeare
coming out ? " " Not for a fortnight," was the
answer. " Well," he replied, " I wish you 'd be
in a hurry about it, — I 'm tired of waiting. You
see you 've left me in a most interesting part in
the middle of ' Othello ; ' and I want to know how
the whole thing ends. So hurry up the thing as
fast as you can."

B, An honest admirer, — a thousand times more
honest than many a one who praises with his lips.
This was a real interest. I wish I could read
" Othello " for the first time.

M. Oh no, you don't. That would be too great
a loss.

B. True : I take it back. I never said so.

M, It provokes me to be told, as I am con-
stantly told, that the Germans appreciate Shake-
speare more than the English, and that they have
taught us of late truly to estimate him. I am sick


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of hearing of Schlegel, and Goethe, and the rest,
and what they say. We might just as well tell the
Italians that we English understand Dante better
than they do. Some of the German criticism on
Shakespeare is as bad as Voltaire's. Dr. Roderick
Benedix, himself a dramatist, has perhaps even
surpassed him. He thinks that none of Shake-
speare's creations are equal to many by the Ger-
man play-writers, as, for instance, to Lessing's
" Nathan the Wise," or Schiller's " Karl Moor,"
" Wallenstein," and " Philip 11." But the very
best of their criticism is not worth much. Even
Goethe's "Analysis of Hamlet," much as it has
been praised, seems very poor to me — not to be
mentioned for insight and sympathetic sense with,
for instance, Lamb, Coleridge, or Hazlitt. The
single phrase of Hazlitt, " We are all of us Ham-
let," is worth all that Goethe and Schlegel ever
wrote. Not that I count for much the English
criticism on Shakespeare, which is very traditional
for the most part, and greatly overshadowed by
stage influences. For instance, Macbeth, and
Lady Macbeth are one thing in Shakespeare, and
quite another thing in the public mind, where they
take the form and shape of Mrs. Siddons and the
Kembles. But the Germans have the vice of
anatomizing Shakespeare, and laying him out into
parts and pieces, and admiring the worst as much
as the best. They find admirable reasons to show
that the notoriously ungenuine parts of his plays
are as admirable as the others. When they once


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go in to praise, they praise everything. They se-
lect " Cymbeline " for public performance at his
anniversary, as one of his great plays, and admire
it throughout, the interpolated passages as much
as the genuine ones.

Nothing can be more absurd in many respects
than Biirger's translation of "Macbeth." Poet,
though he was, he seems to have lost all sense of
poetry or reason in this translation, in which, in
fact, he so ludicrously travesties the original, that
one cannot but smile at the absurdities he intro-
duces. The fact is, that Biirger, who was a very
vain man, thought himself far superior to Shake-
speare, and kindly assisted him, and eked out his
shortcomings. Think of this opening in " Mac-

** Soldier. Hold ! not in snch a hurry, good sir.
Guard. Now, then ?

Sold. I prithee, -what is it you will teU the king ?
Guard. That the hattle is won.
Sold. But I have heen lying.

Guard. L3ring rascal I Then thou art indeed with thy wounds
a desperate joker."

This is a literal translation of one of Biirger's im-
provements to Shakespeare.

B* You must be joking.

M. Neither I nor Biirger. This was his notion
of Shakespeare. Schlegel was far better than
this ; but Schlegel was not original in his views,
and took nearly all his notions from Coleridge ;
and as for Tieck, he was ready to think anything
was by Shakespeare — even " Fair Em " and the


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^ Tyrant " of Massinger ; and he also thought
Shakespeare wrote Greene's " Friar Bacon," and
the " Prince of Wakefield," and " Locrine," and
"The Merry Devil of Edmonton," and many oth-
ers. In fact, take the German criticism on Shatke-
speare for all in all, it seems to me to be very com-
monplace. It is vehement and indiscriminate in
its praise as in its blame, without any true critical
sensey^t is the same in their criticism of art.
Look, toi' inslauij^, dl Guulhy'^ critique

B. You mean Lessing's ?

M, No, I mean Goethe's, — Lessing's is quite
another affair. He has written a most elaborate
criticism on this group, in which he finds every-
thing perfect, everything done in t he highest spirit,
with the clearest intelligence and insight, and Wtth
^ Pfi^^Miinr ^^ ^^r.^-^^^^ qg [;f^^?ti r^i thn ^^'"^
tion is wonderful. The ancient Greeks are the
greatest sculptors, and this is the greatest of their
works, and without a single defect. In fact, it is
a cut-and-dried panegyric, by a man who had no^^ — ^
knowledge of his subject, who was determined to
find that '' whatever is, is right," and whose enthu-
siasm \^ g»^1 1it.ArQT»y and second-hand. We are
told to admire, with upraised hands, the defects,
as much as the merits. It was a subtle and ex-
quisite thought to make the serpent, while he
crushed the group with his folds, also bite the
most sensitive part of the father, and so make him
shrink away ; and it is no matter at all that the


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serpent who crushes does not bite. It was an ad-
mirable conception to make the sons two little,
fully-developed men, one third the size of their
father, instead of children. The restored parts
are admirable also, and there is here a good deal
of feeble philosophizing and artistic metaphysics
to round the whole.

B. You are very hard on Goethe.

M. I know I am. I suppose I feel as the an-
cient Athenian did about Aristides : I cannot bear
^ to hear him called the artist, any more than he to )
^ hear the great statesman called the Just. Artist !
Despite his large talent and his many accomplish-

rments, he is utterly without that innate enthusiasm,
^\\i fi^^y ^""f "^'^"j ^^nti f^f^lf iiiiiimlM tu piMfnii
for his work that a lone can make an artist in the
rue sense of the^Ol'd. "*He was essentially cold
of nature, and his work is generally cold. He pre-
pared himself elaborately for all his writings, ar-
ranged his materials with patience, and having got
them all ready, sat down with deliberation to put
them together, and work them into shape in the
most mechanical way. He laid up his observations
as one makes a hortus siccus, and put them into
his work like so many fragments of mosaic. He
could not give way to his enthusiasm, but insisted
on governing it. He never was possessed, rapt,
lifted out of himself, carried away by his theme.
He drove his Pegasus in good German harness ;
Pegasus never ran or flew away with him. I put
aside his " Faust," whidh is far his greatest work.


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This lie wrote in his youth, when he could not sup-
press his genius, which got the better of him, and
in this one sees him at his highest. But this was
before he was an artist in his sense, and while the
enthusiasm of youth was in him, and would have
its sway. Nearly all the rest of his life he was en-
gaged at intervals on the second part of " Faust,"
piecing it out mechanically, and endeavoring to

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Online LibraryWilliam Wetmore StoryConversations in a studio → online text (page 6 of 19)