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I think it hardly necessary to extend this review of Shakespeare's historical plays by subjecting the Three Parts of "King Henry VI." and "Richard III." to a detailed and minute criticism. Yet if I passed them over without mention it would probably be assumed that they made against my theory, or at least that I had some more pertinent reason for not considering them than their relative unimportance. In fact, however, they help to buttress my argument, and so at the risk of being tedious I shall deal with them, though as briefly as possible. Coleridge doubted whether Shakespeare had had anything to do with the "First Part of Henry VI.," but his fellow-actors, Heminge and Condell, placed the Three Parts of "King Henry VI." in the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, and our latest criticism finds good reasons to justify this contemporary judgement. Mr. Swinburne writes: "The last battle of Talbot seems to me as undeniably the master's work as the scene in the Temple Gardens, or the courtship of Margaret by Suffolk"; and it would be easy to prove that much of what the dying Mortimer says is just as certainly Shakespeare's work as any of the passages referred to by Mr. Swinburne. Like most of those who are destined to reach the heights, Shakespeare seems to have grown slowly, and even at twenty-eight or thirty years of age his grasp of character was so uncertain, his style so little formed, so apt to waver from blank verse to rhyme, that it is difficult to determine exactly what he did write. We may take it, I think, as certain that he wrote more than we who have his mature work in mind are inclined to ascribe to him.

The "Second Part of King Henry VI." is a poetic revision of the old play entitled "The First Part of the Contention betwixt the Two Famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster," and so forth. It is now generally agreed that Shakespeare's hand can be traced in the old drama, and with especial certainty in the comic scenes wherein Cade and his followers play the chief parts. Notwithstanding this, the revision was most thorough. Half the lines in the "Second Part of Henry VI." are new, and by far the greater number of these are now ascribed to Shakespeare on good grounds. But some of the changes are for the worse, and as my argument does not stand in need of corroboration, I prefer to assume nothing, and shall therefore confine myself to pointing out that whoever revised "The Contention" did it, in the main, as we should have expected our youthful Shakespeare to do it. For example, when Humphrey of Gloster is accused of devising "strange torments for offenders," he answers in the old play:

"Why, 'tis well known that whilst I was Protector, Pitie was all the fault that was in me,"

and the gentle reviser adds to this:

"For I should melt at an offender's tears, And lowly words were ransom for their fault."

Besides, the reviser adds a great deal to the part of the weak King with the evident object of making his helplessness pathetic. He gives Henry, too, his sweetest phrases, and when he makes him talk of bewailing Gloster's case "with sad unhelpful tears" we catch the very cadence of Shakespeare's voice. But he does not confine his emendations to the speeches of one personage: the sorrows of the lovers interest him as their affection interested him in the "First Part of Henry VI.," and the farewell words of Queen Margaret to Suffolk are especially characteristic of our gentle poet:

"Oh, go not yet; even thus two friends condemned Embrace and kiss and take ten thousand leaves, Leather a hundred times to part than die. Yet now farewell; and farewell life with thee."

This reminds me almost irresistibly of Juliet's words when parting with Romeo, and of Imogen's words when Posthumus leaves her. Throughout the play Henry is the poet's favourite, and in the gentle King's lament for Gloster's death we find a peculiarity of Shakespeare's art. It was a part of the cunning of his exquisite sensibility to invent a new word whenever he was deeply moved, the intensity of feeling clothing itself aptly in a novel epithet or image. A hundred examples of this might be given, such as "The multitudinous seas incarnadine"; and so we find here "paly lips." The passage is:

"Fain would I go to chafe his paly lips With twenty thousand kisses and to drain Upon his face an ocean of salt tears, To tell my love unto his dumb deaf trunk And with my finger feel his hand unfeeling."

It must be noticed, too, that in this "Second Part" the reviser begins to show himself as something more than the sweet lyric poet. He transposes scenes in order to intensify the interest, and where enemies meet, like Clifford and York, instead of making them rant in mere blind hatred, he allows them to show a generous admiration of each other's qualities; in sum, we find here the germs of that dramatic talent which was so soon to bear such marvellous fruit. No better example of Shakespeare's growth in dramatic power and humour could be found than the way he revises the scenes with Cade. It is very probable, as I have said, that the first sketch was his; when one of Cade's followers declares that Cade's "breath stinks," we are reminded that Coriolanus spoke in the same terms of the Roman rabble. But though it is his own work, Shakespeare evidently takes it up again with the keenest interest, for he adds inimitable touches. For instance, in the first scene, where the two rebels, George Bevis and John Holland, talk of Cade's rising and his intention to set a "new nap upon the commonwealth," George's remark:

"Oh, miserable age! virtue is not regarded in handicraftsmen"--

an addition, and may be compared with Falstaff's:

"there is no virtue extant."

John answers:

"The nobility think scorn to go in leather aprons,"

which is in the first sketch.

But George's reply--

"Nay, more; the King's Council are no good workmen"--

is only to be found in the revised version. The heightened humour of that "Oh, miserable age! virtue is not regarded in handicraftsmen," assures us that the reviser was Shakespeare.

What is true of the "Second Part" is true in the main of the "Third Part of King Henry VI." Shakespeare's revisions are chiefly the revisions of a lyric poet, and he scatters his emendations about without much regard for character. In the Third Part, as in the Second, however, he transposes scenes, gives deeper life to the marionettes, and in various ways quickens the dramatic interest. This Third Part resembles "King John" in some respects and a similar inference can be drawn from it. As in "King John" we have the sharply contrasted figures of the Bastard and Arthur, so in this "Third Part" there are two contrasted characters, Richard Duke of Gloster and King Henry VI., the one a wild beast whose life is action, and who knows neither fear, love, pity, nor touch of any scruple; the other, a saint-like King whose worst fault is gentle weakness. In "The True Tragedie of Richard," the old play on which this "Third Part" was founded, the character of Richard is powerfully sketched, even though the human outlines are sometimes confused by his devilish malignity. Shakespeare takes this character from the old play, and alters it but very slightly. Indeed, the most splendid piece of character-revealing in his Richard is to be found in the old play:

"I had no father, I am like no father, I have no brother, I am like no brother; And this word <i>Love</i>b, which greybeards call divine, Be resident in men like one another, And not in me:--I am myself alone."

The Satanic energy of this outburst proclaims its author, Marlowe. [Footnote: Mr. Swinburne was the first, I believe, to attribute this passage to Marlowe; he praises the verses, too, as they deserve; but as I had written the above before reading his work, I let it stand.] Shakespeare copies it word for word, only omitting with admirable art the first line. Indeed, though he alters the speeches of Richard and improves them, he does nothing more; he adds no new quality; his Richard is the Richard of "The True Tragedie." But King Henry may be regarded as Shakespeare's creation. In the old play the outlines of Henry's character are so feebly, faintly sketched that he is scarcely recognizable, but with two or three touches Shakespeare makes the saint a living man. This King is happier in prison than in his palace; this is how he speaks to his keeper, the Lieutenant of the Tower:

"Nay, be thou sure, I'll well requite thy kindness, For that it made my imprisonment a pleasure; Ay, such a pleasure as encagèd birds Conceive, when, after many moody thoughts, At last by notes of household harmony They quite forget their loss of liberty."

Just as the bird runs a little before he springs from the earth and takes flight, so Shakespeare often writes, as in this instance, an awkward weak line or two before his song-wings move with freedom. But the last four lines are peculiarly his; his the thought; his, too, the sweetness of the words "encagèd birds" and "household harmony."

Finally, Henry is not only shown to us as gentle and loving, but as a man who prefers quiet and the country to a King's Court and state. Even in eager, mounting youth this was Shakespeare's own choice: Prince Arthur in "King John" longs to be a shepherd: and this crowned saint has the same desire. From boyhood to old age Shakespeare preferred the "life removed":

"O God, methinks it were a happy life To be no better than a homely swain; To sit upon a hill, as I do now,
To carve out dials quaintly point by point, Thereby to see the minutes how they run; How many make the hour full complete; How many hours bring about the day; How many days will finish up the year;

How many years a mortal man may live.
* * * * *
So minutes, hours, days, months, and years,
Passed over to the end they were created,
Would bring white hairs unto a quiet grave."

All this it seems to me is as finely characteristic of the gentle melancholy of Shakespeare's youth as Jaques' bitter words are of the deeper melancholy of his manhood:

"And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe, And then from hour to hour we rot and rot And thereby hangs a tale."

The "Third Part of Henry VI." leads one directly to "Richard III." It was Coleridge's opinion that Shakespeare "wrote hardly anything of this play except the character of Richard. He found the piece a stock play and re-wrote the parts which developed the hero's character; he certainly did not write the scenes in which Lady Anne yielded to the usurper's solicitations." In this instance Coleridge's positive opinion deserves to be weighed respectfully. At the time when "Richard III." was written Shakespeare was still rather a lyric than a dramatic poet, and Coleridge was a good judge of the peculiarities of his lyric style. Of course, Professor Dowden, too, is in doubt whether "Richard III." should be ascribed to Shakespeare. He says: "Its manner of conceiving and presenting character has a certain resemblance, not elsewhere to be found in Shakespeare's writings, to the ideal manner of Marlowe. As in the plays of Marlowe, there is here one dominant figure distinguished by a few strongly marked and inordinately developed qualities."

This faulty reasoning only shows how dangerous it is for a professor to copy his teacher slavishly: in "Coriolanus," too, we have the "one dominant figure," and all the rest of it. The truth seems to be that in the "Third Part of Henry VI." Shakespeare had been working with Marlowe, or, at least, revising Marlowe's work; in either case he was so steeped in Marlowe's spirit that he took, as we have seen, the most splendid piece of Richard's self-revealing directly from the older poet. Moreover, the words of deepest characterization in Shakespeare's "Richard III.,"

"Richard loves Richard--that is, I am I,"

are manifestly a weak echo of the tremendous

"I am myself alone"

of Marlowe's Richard. At least to this extent, then, Shakespeare used Marlowe in depicting Richard's character. But this trait, important as it was did not carry him far, and he was soon forced to draw on his own experience of life. Already he seems to have noticed that one characteristic of men of action is a blunt plainness of speech; their courage is shown in their frankness, and, besides, words stand for realities with them, and are, therefore, used with sincerity. Shakespeare's Richard III. uses plain speech as a hypocritical mask, but already Shakespeare is a dramatist and in his clever hands Richard's plain speaking is so allied with his incisive intelligence that it appears to be now a mask, now native shamelessness, and thus the characterization wins in depth and mystery. Every now and then, too, this Richard sees things which no Englishman has been capable of seeing, except Shakespeare himself. The whole of Plato's "Gorgias" is comprised in the two lines:

"Conscience is but a word that cowards use, Devised at first to keep the strong in awe."

The declaration of the second murderer that conscience "makes a man a coward ... it beggars any man that keeps it; it is turned out of all towns and cities for a dangerous thing; and every man that means to live well endeavours to trust to himself and to live without it," should be regarded as the complement of what Falstaff says of honour; in both the humour of Shakespeare's characteristic irony is not to be mistaken.

The whole play, I think, must be ascribed to Shakespeare; all the memorable words in it are indubitably his, and I cannot believe that any other hand drew for us that marvellous, masterful courtship of Anne which Coleridge, naturally enough, was unwilling to appreciate. The structure of the play, however, shows all the weakness of Marlowe's method: the interest is concentrated on the protagonist; there is not humour enough to relieve the gloomy intensity, and the scenes in which Richard does not figure are unattractive and feeble.

One has only to think of the two characters--Richard II. and Richard III.--and to recall their handling in order to get a deep impression of Shakespeare's nature. He cannot present the vile Richard II. at all; he has no interest in him; but as soon as he thinks of Richard's youth and remembers that he was led astray by others, he begins to identify himself with him, and at once Richard's weakness is made amiable and his sufferings affecting. In measure as Shakespeare lets himself go and paints himself more and more freely, his portraiture becomes astonishing, till at length the imprisoned Richard gives himself up to melancholy philosophic musing, without a tinge of bitterness or envy or hate, and every one with eyes to see, is forced to recognize in him a younger brother to Hamlet and Posthumus. "Richard III." was produced in a very different way. It was Marlowe's daemonic power and intensity that first interested Shakespeare in this Richard; under the spell of Marlowe's personality Shakespeare conceived the play, and especially the scene between Richard and Anne; but the original impulse exhausted itself quickly, and then Shakespeare fell back on his own experience and made Richard keen of insight and hypocritically blunt of speech--a sort of sketch of Iago. A little later Shakespeare either felt that the action was unsuitable to the development of such a character, or more probably he grew weary of the effort to depict a fiend; in any case, the play becomes less and less interesting, and even the character of Richard begins to waver. There is one astonishing instance of this towards the end of the drama. On the eve of the decisive battle Richard starts awake from his terrifying dreams, and now, if ever, one would expect from him perfect sincerity of utterance. This is what we find:

"There is no creature loves me; And if I die no soul shall pity me; Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself Find in myself no pity to myself?"

The first two lines bespeak a loving, gentle nature, Shakespeare's nature, the nature of a Henry VI. or an Arthur, a nature which Richard

  1. would certainly have despised, and the last two lines are merely an objective ethical judgement wholly out of place and very clumsily expressed.

To sum up, then, for this is not the place to consider Shakespeare's share in "Henry VIII.," I find that in the English historical plays the manly characters, Hotspur, Harry V., the great Bastard, and Richard III., are all taken from tradition or from old plays, and Shakespeare did nothing more than copy the traits which were given to him; on the other hand, the weak, irresolute, gentle, melancholy characters are his own, and he shows extraordinary resource in revealing the secret workings of their souls. Even in early manhood, and when handling histories and men of action, Shakespeare cannot conceal his want of sympathy for the practical leaders of men; he neither understands them deeply nor loves them; but in portraying the girlish Arthur and the Hamlet-like Richard II., and in drawing forth the pathos of their weakness, he is already without a rival or second in all literature.

I am anxious not to deform the truth by exaggeration; a caricature of Shakespeare would offend me as a sacrilege, even though the caricature were characteristic, and when I find him even in youth one-sided, a poet and dreamer, I am minded to tell less than the truth rather than more. He was extraordinarily sensitive, I say to myself, and lived in the stress of great deeds; he treated Henry V., a man of action if ever there was one, as an ideal, and lavished on him all his admiration, but it will not do: I cannot shut my eyes to the fact; the effort is worse than useless. He liked Henry V. because of his misled youth and his subsequent rise to highest honour, and not because of his practical genius. Where in his portrait gallery is the picture of a Drake, or even of a Raleigh? The adventurer was the characteristic product of that jostling time; but Shakespeare turned his head away; he was not interested in him. In spite of himself, however, he became passionately interested in the pitiful Richard II. and his untimely fate. Notwithstanding the praise of the critics, his King Henry V. is a wooden marionette; the intense life of the traditional madcap Prince has died out of him; but Prince Arthur lives deathlessly, and we still hear his childish treble telling Hubert of his love.

Those who disagree with me will have to account for the fact that, even in the historical plays written in early manhood, all his portraits of men of action are mere copies, while his genius shines in the portraits of a gentle saint like Henry VI., of a weakling like Richard II., or of a girlish youth like Arthur--all these favourite studies being alike in pathetic helplessness and tender affection.

It is curious that no one of the commentators has noticed this extraordinary one-sidedness of Shakespeare. In spite of his miraculous faculty of expression, he never found wonderful phrases for the virile virtues or virile vices. For courage, revenge, self-assertion, and ambition we have finer words in English than any that Shakespeare coined. In this field Chapman, Milton, Byron, Carlyle, and even Bunyan are his masters.

Of course, as a man he had the instinct of courage, and an admiration of courage; his intellect, too, gave him some understanding of its range. Dr. Brandes declares that Shakespeare has only depicted physical courage, the courage of the swordsman; but that is beside the truth: Dr. Brandes has evidently forgotten the passage in "Antony and Cleopatra," when Caesar contemptuously refuses the duel with Antony and speaks of his antagonist as an "old ruffian." Enobarbus, too, sneers at Antony's proposed duel:

"Yes, like enough, high-battled Caesar will Unstate his happiness, and be staged to the show Against a sworder."

Unhelped by memory, Dr. Brandes might have guessed that Shakespeare would exhaust the obvious at first glance. But the soul of courage to Shakespeare is, as we have seen, a love of honour working on quick generous blood--a feminine rather than a masculine view of the matter.

Carlyle has a deeper sense of this aboriginal virtue. With the fanatic's trust in God his Luther will go to Worms "though it rain devils"; and when in his own person Carlyle spoke of the small, honest minority desperately resolved to maintain their ideas though opposed by a huge hostile majority of fools and the insincere, he found one of the finest expressions for courage in all our literature. The vast host shall be to us, he cried, as "stubble is to fire." It may be objected that this is the voice of religious faith rather than of courage pure and simple, and the objection is valid so far as it goes; but this genesis of courage is peculiarly English, and the courage so formed is of the highest. Every one remembers how Valiant-for-Truth fights in Bunyan's allegory: "I fought till my sword did cleave to my hand; and when they were joined together, as if a sword grew out of my arm, and when the blood ran through my fingers, then I fought with most courage." The mere expression gives us an understanding of the desperate resolution of Cromwell's Ironsides.

But if desperate courage is not in Shakespeare, neither are its ancillary qualities--cruelty, hatred, ambition, revenge. Whenever he talks on these themes, he talks from the teeth outwards, as one without experience of their violent delights. His Gloucester rants about ambition without an illuminating or even a convincing word. Hatred and revenge Shakespeare only studied superficially, and cruelty he shudders from like a woman.

It is astounding how ill-endowed Shakespeare was on the side of manliness. His intellect was so fine, his power of expression so magical, the men about him, his models, so brave--founders as they were of the British empire and sea-tyranny--that he is able to use his Hotspurs and Harrys to hide from the general the poverty of his temperament. But the truth will out: Shakespeare was the greatest of poets, a miraculous artist, too, when he liked; but he was not a hero, and manliness was not his <i>forte</i>: he was by nature a neuropath and a lover.

He was a master of passion and pity, and it astonishes one to notice how willingly he passed always to that extreme of sympathy where nothing but his exquisite choice of words and images saved him from falling into the silly. For example, in "Titus Andronicus," with its crude, unmotived horrors, Titus calls Marcus a murderer, and when Marcus replies: "Alas, my lord, I have but killed a fly," Titus answers:

"But how, if that fly had a father and mother? How would he hang his slender gilded wings, And buzz lamenting doings in the air? Poor harmless fly!
That with his pretty buzzing melody, Came here to make us merry! and thou hast killed him."

Even in his earliest plays in the noontide of lusty youth, when the heat of the blood makes most men cruel, or at least heedless of others' sorrows, Shakespeare was full of sympathy; his gentle soul wept with the stricken deer and suffered through the killing of a fly. Just as Ophelia turned "thought and affliction, passion, hell itself" to "favour and to prettiness," so Shakespeare's genius turned the afflictions and passions of man to pathos and to pity.

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