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Lear, or the Juvenalian satire of the Athenian misanthrope.
There is in every man of passionate genius a revol against the insufficiency of the world, a revolt against the base facts of life. Most of us surrender to the world, sign a treaty of alliance with engagements of mutual service, and end by acquiescence. It is remarkable that Shakspere's revolt against the world increased in energy and comprehensiveness, as he advanced in years. When he was thirty or five-and-thirty years of age, he found less in the world to arouse his indignation, than when he was forty. Neither by force or fraud, by bribe or menace, did the world subdue or gain over Shakspere. If he attained serenity, it was by some procedure other than that of selfish or indolent acquiescence. No mood of egoistic laissez faire succeeded Shakspere's mood of indignation.
Serenity Shakspere did attain. Once again before the end, his mirth is bright and tender. When in some Warwickshire field, one breezy morning, as the daffodil began to peer, the poet conceived his Autolycus, there might seem to be almost a return of the light-heartedness of youth. But the same play that contains Autolycus, contains the grave and noble figure of Hermione. From its elevation and calm Shakspere's heart can pass into the simple merriment of rustic festivity; he can enjoy the open-mouthed happiness of country clowns; he is delighted by the gay defiance of order and honesty which Autolycus, most charming of rogues, professes; he is touched and exquisitely thrilled by the pure and vivid joy of Perdita among her flowers. Now that Shakspere
is most a householder he enters most into the pleasures of truantship.* And in like manner it is when he is most grave that he can smile most brightly, most tenderly. But one kind of laughter Shakspere at this time found detestable-the laughter of an Antonio or a Sebastian, barren and forced laughter of narrow heads, and irreverent and loveless hearts. The sly knavery of Autolycus has nothing in it that is criminal; heaven is his accomplice. "If I had a mind to be honest, I see Fortune would not suffer me; she drops booties in my mouth." Whether Schiller's Franz Moor made many robbers may be doubtful. But certainly no person of spirit can read A Winter's Tale without feeling a dishonest and delightful itching of the fingers, an interest not wholly virtuous in his neighbour's bleaching-green, and an impatience to be off for once on an adventure of roving and rogueing with Autolycus.
* Readers of Mr Browning's "Fifine at the Fair" will associate an esoteric sense with the word "householder," and will remember his admirably bright and vigorous study of the causes of our love of truantship in the opening sections of that poem.
SHAKSPERE'S LAST PLAYS.
IN these chapters we have been chiefly concerned with observing the growth of Shakspere's mind and art. The essential prerequisite of such a study was a scheme of the chronological succession of Shakspere's plays which could be accepted as trustworthy in the main. But for such a study it is fortunately not necessary that we should in every case determine how play followed play. It would for many reasons be important and interesting to ascertain the date at which each work of Shakspere came into existence; but as a fact this has not been accomplished, and we may safely say that it never will be accomplished. To understand in all essentials the history of Shakspere's character and Shakspere's art we have obtained what is absolutely necessary, when we have made out the succession, not of Shakspere's plays, but of Shakspere's chief visions of truth, his most intense moments of inspiration, his greater discoveries about human life.
In the history of every artist, and of every man, there are periods of quickened existence, when spiritual discovery is made without an effort, and attainment becomes easy and almost involuntary. One does not seek for truth, but rather is sought for by truth, and found; one does not construct beautiful imaginings,
but beauty itself haunts, and startles, and waylays. These periods may be arrived at through prolonged moral conflict and victory, or through some sudden revelation of joy, or through supreme anguish and renouncement. Such epochs of spiritual discovery lie behind the art of the artist, it may be immediately, or it may be remotely, and out of these it springs. Among many art-products some single work will perhaps give to an unique experience its highest, its absolute expression; and this whether produced at the moment or ten years afterwards, properly belongs to that crisis of which it is the outcome. Lyrical writers usually utter themselves nearly at the moment when they are smitten with the sharp stroke of joy, or of pain. Dramatic writers, for the purity and fidelity of whose work a certain aloofness from their individuality is needed, utter themselves more often not on the moment, but after an interval, during which self-possession and self-mastery have been attained.
Now, although we are not in all cases able to say confidently this play of Shakspere preceded that, the order of his writings has been sufficiently determined to enable us to trace with confidence the succession of Shakspere's epochs of spiritual alteration and development. Whether Macbeth preceded Othello, or Othello Macbeth, need not greatly concern us; the question is one chiefly of literary curiosity; we do not understand Shakspere much the better when the question has been settled, than we did while the answer remained doubtful. Both plays belong, and they belong in a equal degree, to one and the same period in the
history of Shakspere's mind and art, to which period we can unquestionably assign its place. In the present chapter Timon of Athens is placed near The Tempest, although it is possible that a play, or two, or three plays in the precise chronological order may lie between them. They are placed near one another, because in Timon of Athens Shakspere's mood of indignation with the world attains its highest, its ideal expression, while in The Tempest we find the ideal expression of the temper of mind which succeeded his mood of indignation,-the pathetic yet august serenity of Shakspere's final period. For the purposes of such a study as this we may look upon The Tempest as Shakspere's latest play. Perhaps it actually was such; perhaps A Winter's Tale or Cymbeline, or both, may have followed it in point of time. It does not matter greatly for the purposes of the present study, which preceded and which succeeded. These three plays, as we shall see, form a little group by themselves, but it is The Tempest which gives its most perfect expression to the spirit that breathes through these three plays which bring to an end the dramatic career of Shakspere; and therefore for us it is Shakspere's latest play. We have been endeavour
* Professor Ingram, in his paper "On the 'weak-endings' of Shakspere," arranges the plays of the weak-ending period in the following order :-Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Pericles, Tempest, Cymbeline, Winter's Tale, Two Noble Kinsmen, Henry VIII. From an æsthetic point of view Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus seem to me connected with the plays that immediately precede, not with those that follow them. Prof. Ingram is disposed to place Macbeth immediately before Antony and Cleopatra. I had independently arrived at the same opinion. Timon cannot be far off, and must, I think, come before The Tempest. Observe that Pericles, Two Noble Kinsmen, and Henry VIII. are Shaksperian fragments. Thus the Tempest, Winter's Tale,