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The critics are nearly equally divided in their estimates of Ophelia. Flathe is extravagantly hostile to the Polonius family. Mr Ruskin (Sesame and Lilies) may be mentioned among English writers as forming no favourable estimate of Ophelia; and against Mrs Jameson's authority, we may set the authority of a lady writer in Jahrbuch der Deutschen Shakespeare-Gesellschaft, vol. ii., pp. 16-36. Vischer chivalrously defends Ophelia, and Hebler coincides. The study of Hamlet, by Benno Tschischwitz, is learned and ingenious. H. von Friesen's "Briefe über Shakespeare's Hamlet" contains much more than its name implies, and is indeed a study of the entire development of Shakspere. Sir Edward Strachey's "Shakspeare's Hamlet," 1848, interprets the play throughout in a different sense from the interpretation attempted in this chapter. See especially what is called "Hamlet's final discovery," pp. 91-93.
Werder's "Vorlesungen über Shakespeare's Hamlet" 1875, presents with remarkable force the view that Hamlet's was not a weak nature. Mr Frank Marshall's "A Study of Hamlet" if less brilliant is, I think, more sound. Last must be mentioned Mr Furness's magnificent Variorum edition of the play in two volumes, 1877.
THE ENGLISH HISTORICAL PLAYS.
THE historical plays of Shakspere may be approached from many sides. It would be interesting to endeavour to ascertain from them what was Shakspere's political creed.* It would be interesting to compare his method as artist when handling historical matter with that of some other great dramatist, with that of Schiller when writing Wallenstein," or Goethe when writing 'Egmont," or Victor Hugo when writing "Cromwell." Shakspere's opinions, however, and Shakspere's method as artist are less than Shakspere himself. It is the man we are still seeking to discover-behind his works, behind his opinions, behind his artistic process. Shakspere's life, we must believe, ran on below his art, and was to himself of deeper import than his work as artist. Not perhaps his material life, though to this also he contrived to make his art contribute, but the life of his inmost being. To him art was not, as it has been
* See on this subject Shakspere-Forschungen by Benno Tschischwitz, III.-Shakspere's Staat und Königthum. The writer dwells on the moral and religious character of the relation between king and people as conceived by Shakspere. He says well, "Für Shakspere nämlich ist das Königthum durchaus nicht die gekrönte Spitze einer Pyramide, sondern der lebendige Mittelpunkt eines organischen Ganzen, nach welchem zu das Gesammtleben des Organismus pulsirt," p. 84. See the subsequent chapter in this volume upon "The Roman Plays," pp. 276-336.
to some poets and painters and musicians, a templeworship; a devotion of self, a surrender which is at once blissful and pathetic to some presence greater and nobler than oneself. Of such pathos we discover none in Shakspere's life. He possessed his art, and was not possessed by it. With him poetry was not, as it was with Keats, or as it was with Shelley, a passion from which deliverance was impossible. Shakspere delivered himself from his life as artist with quiet determination, and found it well to enjoy his store of worldly success, and learn to possess his soul among the fields and streams of Stratford, before there came an end of all. The main question therefore which it is desirable to put in the case of the historical plays now to be considered is this-What was Shakspere gaining for himself of wisdom or of strength while these were the organs through which his faculties of thought and imagination nourished themselves, inhaling and exhaling their breath of life? That Shakspere should have accomplished so great an achievement towards the interpreting of history is much, that he should have grasped in thought the national life of England during a century and upwards, in her periods of disaster and collapse, of civil embroilment, and of heroic union and exaltation,—this is much. But that by his study of history Shakspere should have built up his own moral nature, and have fortified himself for the conduct of life, was, we may surmise, to Shakspere the chief outcome of his toil.
And certainly not the least remarkable thing about these historical plays is that while each is an effort so earnest to realise objective fact, at the same time they
disclose so much of the writer's personality.
If the outline of Shakspere's character sketched in these pages be at all a genuine likeness, we shall not think of him merely or chiefly as the gay, genial quickwitted haunter of the Mermaid, careering in light defiance around the bulk of Ben Jonson's mind; we shall not remember him as the Shakspere about whose deer-stealing expeditions in the country, and less innocent adventures in town, stories of dubious authority have come down to us. We shall rather think of him as a man possessing immense potential strength, but aware of certain weaknesses of his own nature; resolved therefore to be stern with himself and to master those weaknesses; resolved to realise all that potential strength which lay within him. That his sensitiveness to
pleasure and to pain was of extraordinary range and delicacy we are certain; we are certain also that he determined he would not leave himself to be the plaything, the thrall or the victim of that sensitiveness. We are accustomed to speak of the tenderness, the infinite tolerance of the genius of Shakspere. The impartial student must surely be no less impressed by the unyielding justice of Shakspere, his stern fidelity to fact; and by the large demands he makes upon human character. By much of our passionate intolerance founded upon prejudice, and personal or class-feeling, Shakspere remained wholly untouched. When we come to Shakspere and miss our own little bitterness and violences, and find him so large and human, we naturally describe him as tolerant. Shakspere's tolerance, however, is nothing else but justice, and even his humour, the humour of a man framed for abundant joy and sorrow, has in it something of severity; because he employs it to recover himself from the narrowing intensity of his enthusiasms, and to restore him to the level of everyday fact. In the characters of the weak or the wicked whom he condemns, Shakspere denies no beautiful or tender trait; but he condemns them without reprieve.
The characters in the historical plays are conceived chiefly with reference to action. The world represented in these plays is not so much the world of feeling or of thought, as the limited world of the practicable. In the great tragedies we are concerned more with what man is than with what he does. At the close of each tragedy we are left with a sense of measureless failure, or with