Page images

The apparent exception is Love's Labour's Lost, which furnishes the greatest number of all; but in further counting I have examined separately the first three acts and the last two, for all are agreed that the revision of 1597–98 involves Acts iv and v only, to any appreciable degree. The result is interesting: Love's Labour's Lost, Acts i-iii, 38; Acts iv and v, 97. It was with some satisfaction that I noticed that the great majority of the references, including all of genuine significance, were in those portions of Love's Labour's Lost that I had picked out as belonging to the revision. There is, then, no implication in the numbers cited above that Much Ado contains a large amount of early work, as has been suggested by some recent critics. The play which stands next in the number of references is As You Like It; then, among the comedies, come Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives, then the Shrew and the Merchant. Of the histories, it is of course the two parts of Henry IV that lead, then Henry V. The tragedies and the poems follow about the sequence that might be expected, except in the case of Julius Caesar.

It is interesting to note that the plays of Shakespeare's part authorship, and these only, furnish in each instance less than 40 references. The surprisingly small number from Julius Caesar may be of comfort to those who believe that this play also was Shakespeare's only in part. The comparatively large number in Coriolanus, Cymbeline, and A Winter's Tale may be due to the fact that the plays of Shakespeare's latest period are particularly rich in analogies to many of the earlier dramas. In this connection the fact that Henry VIII has less even than Titus Andronicus may lend an argument to those who deny Shakespeare's authorship of the former. I suggest these considerations, some of them in opposition to my own beliefs, as showing some of the ways in which Mr. Newcomer's results may be of interest to scholars, and in the hope that his dream of a Parallel Passage Edition of all the plays may sometime be realized. STANFORD UNIVERSITY, CALIFORNIA

H. D. G. September 15, 1927

2 See The Original Version of Love's Labour's Lost," with a Conjecture as to Love's Labour's Won," by Henry David Gray, Leland Stanford Junior University Publications, University Series, No. 31, 1918.


This volume has been prepared in pursuance of a plan which I have sometimes had the boldness to think would do more toward the further elucidation of Shakespeare's text than anything that yet remains to be done. It may be doubted whether even a comprehensive Elizabethan dictionary would add very much to what we already know of Shakespeare's English. Elizabethan writers have been diligently searched, with the more notorious of Shakespeare's cruxes in mind; and for the minor archaisms and obscurities of usage, the New English Dictionary will generally be found a sufficient guide. What remains is something that really lies outside of the province of a lexicon, namely, the characteristic, or, as one may say, the idiosyncratic way of dealing with ideas and situations and of selecting or molding the symbols used for the expression of them. Every man, including even Shakespeare, has his own angle of vision, and grows peculiarly free of certain ranges of thought and imagination, the mastery of which is essential to any right understanding of the man. Thus there is no sounder canon of criticism, nor one more thoroughly established, than that which declares a writer to be his own best interpreter. Definition and paraphrase are often inadequate either to capture or to convey the precise meaning of the author, when, if he be allowed to speak for himself, his meaning becomes instantly clear. Take, for example, even so slight a matter as Beatrice's declaration in regard to Benedick's desert, iii. 1.116: “I believe it better than reportingly.” The meaning is close enough, yet the last word is sufficiently anomalous to seem like affectation or pedantry. But put beside it the words in All's Well (i.3.255), “Dost thou believe it ?-Ay, madam, knowingly," and the familiar adverb knowingly normalizes at once the unfamiliar word reportingly. We have recovered the original psychological process, and all is clear. Or take Antonio's description (v.1.96) of the swaggering young blades of the time, who

lie, and cog, and flout, deprave, and slander, Go antiquely, and show outward hideousness.

The purport of hideousness is not at all clear, and the word seems scarcely to fit into the general description. But it is immediately cleared up by citing “the hideous god of war” from 2 Henry IV (ii.3.35). It is quite certain that if, among the score of examples of Shakespeare's use of the word hideous, there had not chanced to be this parallel instance, we should have been left unable to determine just what he meant by this attribute "outward hideousness."

The general purpose of my task is therefore apparent. It is not only to clear up as many obscurities as possible, but to determine more precisely the shade of meaning and to grasp more fully the extent of connotation that often lurk behind passages which already seem fairly clear.

There is no truth in the glib saying that Shakespeare never repeats. Not once or twice only, but it may be even a dozen times, his thought will follow a given path to the selfsame conclusion. Ideas or words that have appeared once in conjunction are very likely to appear so again. Similar images start up under similar circumstances and clothe themselves in similar phrases or rhythms. The extent of this is perhaps not generally recognized, because of the enormous variety that still remains and tends to obscure it.

Shakespeare is an extremely accurate thinker. That he is an obscure writer is not to be denied—it is an old charge of the classicists against him. He pours forth the riches of his mind in a glittering heap, not stopping to sort them. The passion of his characters often seems to choke their utterance, and even in calm passages language is stretched to the utmost bounds of license. Yet he himself knows just what he is saying; there is no suspicion of confusion or haziness in his own mind. Such sureness is an essential part of his greatness. This is one of the firmest conclusions to which every student of the dramatist comes—it is proved true so often that one has little hesitation in saying it will prove true always. A perplexing passage that in another writer might be dismissed as probably having no very clear meaning cannot be so dismissed if the writer is Shakespeare. Either the passage is corrupt, or there is something yet to be discovered.

Commentators have long been in the habit of citing parallels, but they have done it mostly in a haphazard fashion; no one apparently has thought of subjecting every line and word of Shakespeare's text to exactly this kind of scrutiny. Here again, an illustration is pertinent. Commenting on the "jade's trick" which Beatrice charges Benedick with in the first scene of our play (1.1. 145), Dr. Furness cites two other instances in which Shakespeare uses the phrase; then, finding no help in them, he has recourse to Ben Jonson and so works out a very ingenious explanation. But the right meaning lay all the time in Shakespeare himself, and a very little further use of the Concordance would have brought it to light. "But," says Brutus of hollow men, "when they should endure the bloody spur They fall their crests, and, like deceitful jades, Sink in the trial” (Julius Caesar, iv.2.25).

Dr. Alexander Schmidt, in the preparation of his Lexicon, has done far more in this particular direction than anyone else, and I know not how to add anything to the praise which has been so often and so deservedly given to that monumental work. More than once it has put me on the track of parallels which I might not myself have detected, and even in the more obvious ones it has often saved me the labor of culling them out of the concordances. But the lexicographical character of Dr. Schmidt's work almost necessarily limits his parallels, like those to be obtained from the Concordance, to instances in which the same word is used. The parallels of thought couched in different language do not ordinarily come within the scope of his labor. For an example of these, take Macbeth, i. 3. 96:

Nothing afеard of what thyself didst make,
Strange images of death.

Probably every reader has wished to regard these lines as elliptical, understanding the fear referred to neither as fear of the living enemy nor as fear of their ghostly corpses, but as fear of death itself— fear of becoming like those “strange images of death.” At the same time one may doubt whether he is warranted in thus making this interpretation. Fortunately there is a parallel which sets these doubts at rest. It is where Romeo, in the tomb of the Capulets (Romeo and Juliet, v.3.59–61), begs Paris to leave lest he slay him:

Good gentle youth, tempt not a desperate man.
Fly hence, and leave me; think upon these gone,
Let them affright thee.


Parallels have for the most part been found independently, even though many of them have been noted before. Of course many are extremely obvious, and it is both impossible and unimportant to tell who noted them first. Usually, therefore, no attempt has been made to credit sources. But wherever I have been conscious of a special debt for something that I might not myself have observed, I have been glad to give due credit, as—for minor instances—to Steevens for the comparison of “better bad” with “ill-well,” in ii. 1.122.

I know well that the great danger in this kind of work is the danger of not being able to see the forest for the trees. When one begins to scrutinize narrowly each separate word and phrase, dwelling it may be for an hour on a line, he almost inevitably loses sight of the larger train of thought. A dozen possibilities of interpretation start up between him and the right one, until he finds himself so bewildered that reason quite forsakes him, and he falls into the wildest fallacy. The only check upon this danger is to return to the text often and afresh, and read it rapidly for its larger purport and spirit; then often what was obscure becomes luminous as day. Perhaps I may be permitted to illustrate this danger from another's commentary, leaving it to others to detect instances of the same folly in my own. In Macbeth, iv. 2.29, Ross, in commiserating with the apparently forsaken wife and child of Macduff, says:

[ocr errors]

I am so much a fool, should I stay longer,
It would be my disgrace and your discomfort.
I take my leave at once.

Mr. Liddell, ever on the watch for lurking Elizabethan shades of meaning in the language, comments on the word discomfort: "Discomfort seems here to have its Elizabethan meaning of 'undoing as well as 'inconvenience'.” He seems to think that Ross implies that it would be perilous for him to remain longer, lest they be suspected of conspiracy. But read the passage rapidly and it is very plain that Ross is merely afraid that his feelings will overcome him until he shed tears, which would be unmanly in him and distressing to Lady Macduff. Thus do we constantly throw sand in our own eyes, and if the spirit of Shakespeare has the privilege of looking over the shoulders of his commentators, what an endless source of amusement he has with which to while away the ages!

A few such examples almost make us reverse our common judgment, and declare that Shakespeare is very simple to the man in the street, and that only scholars find him difficult.

A. G. N.

« PreviousContinue »