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Shakespeare began the work of life as a lyric poet. It was to be expected therefore that when he took up playwriting he would use the play from time to time as an opportunity for a lyric, and in fact this was his constant habit. From the beginning to the end of his career he was as much a lyric poet as a dramatist. His first comedies are feeble and thin in character-drawing and the lyrical sweetness is everywhere predominant. His apprenticeship period may be said to have closed with his first tragedy, "Romeo and Juliet." I am usually content to follow Mr. Furnival's "Trial Table of the order of Shakspere's Plays," in which "Richard II.," "Richard III.," and "King John" are all placed later than "Romeo and Juliet," and yet included in the first period that stretches from 1585 to 1595. But "Romeo and Juliet" seems to me to be far more characteristic of the poet's genius than any of these histories; it is not only a finer work of art than any of them, and therefore of higher promise, but in its lyrical sweetness far more truly representative of Shakespeare's youth than any of the early comedies or historical plays. Whatever their form may be, nearly all Shakespeare's early works are love-songs, "Venus and Adonis," "Lucrece," "Love's Labour's Lost," "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," and he may be said to have ended his apprenticeship with the imperishable tragedy of first love "Romeo and Juliet."

In the years from 1585 to 1595 Shakespeare brought the lyric element into something like due subordination and managed to free himself almost completely from his early habit of rhyming. Mr. Swinburne has written of Shakespeare's use of rhymed verse with a fullness of knowledge and sympathy that leaves little to be desired. He compares it aptly to the use of the left hand instead of the right, and doubts cogently whether Shakespeare ever attained such mastery of rhyme as Marlowe in "Hero and Leander." But I like to think that Shakespeare's singing quickly became too sincere in its emotion and too complex in its harmonies to tolerate the definite limits set by rhyme. In any case by 1595 Shakespeare had learned to prefer blank verse to rhyme, at least for play-writing; he thus made the first great step towards a superb knowledge of his instrument.

The period of Shakespeare's maturity defines itself sharply; it stretches from 1595 to 1608 and falls naturally into two parts; the first part includes the trilogy "Henry IV." and "Henry V." and his golden comedies; the second, from 1600 to 1608, is entirely filled with his great tragedies. The characteristic of this period so far as regards the instrument is that Shakespeare has come to understand the proper function of prose. He sees first that it is the only language suited to broad comedy, and goes on to use it in moments of sudden excitement, or when dramatic truth to character seems to him all important. At his best he uses blank verse when some emotion sings itself to him, and prose as the ordinary language of life, the language of surprise, laughter, strife, and of all the commoner feelings. During these twelve or fourteen years the lyric note is not obtrusive; it is usually subordinated to character and suited to action.

His third and last period begins with "Pericles" and ends with the "Tempest"; it is characterized, as we shall see later, by bodily weakness and by a certain contempt for the dramatic fiction. But the knowledge of the instrument once acquired never left Shakespeare. It is true that the lyric note becomes increasingly clear in his late comedies; but prose too is used by him with the same mastery that he showed in his maturity.

In the first period Shakespeare was often unable to give his puppets individual life; in maturity he was interested in the puppets themselves and used them with considerable artistry; in the third period he had grown a little weary of them and in "The Tempest" showed himself inclined, just as Goethe in later life was inclined, to turn his characters into symbols or types.

The place of "Twelfth Night" is as clearly marked in Shakespeare's works as "Romeo and Juliet" or "The Tempest." It stands on the dividing line between his light, joyous comedies and the great tragedies; it was all done at the topmost height of happy hours, but there are hints in it which we shall have to notice later, which show that when writing it Shakespeare had already looked into the valley of disillusion which he was about to tread. But "Twelfth Night" is written in the spirit of "As You Like It" or "Much Ado," only it is still more personal-ingenuous and less dramatic than these; it is, indeed, a lyric of love and the joy of living.

There is no intenser delight to a lover of letters than to find Shakespeare singing, with happy unconcern, of the things he loved best--not the Shakespeare of Hamlet or Macbeth, whose intellect speaks in critical judgements of men and of life, and whose heart we are fain to divine from slight indications; nor Shakespeare the dramatist, who tried now and again to give life to puppets like Coriolanus and Iago, with whom he had little sympathy; but Shakespeare the poet, Shakespeare the lover, Shakespeare whom Ben Jonson called "the gentle," Shakespeare the sweet-hearted singer, as he lived and suffered and enjoyed. If I were asked to complete the portrait given to us by Shakespeare of himself in Hamlet-Macbeth with one single passage, I should certainly choose the first words of the Duke in "Twelfth Night." I must transcribe the poem, though it will be in every reader's remembrance; for it contains the completest, the most characteristic, confession of Shakespeare's feelings ever given in a few lines:

"If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it, that surfeiting The appetite may sicken, and so die. That strain again;--it had a dying fall: Oh, it came o'er my ear like the sweet south That breathes upon a bank of violets, Stealing and giving odour.--Enough! no more 'Tis not so sweet now as it was before."

Every one will notice that Shakespeare as we know him in Romeo is here depicted again with insistence on a few salient traits; here, too, we have the poet of the Sonnets masquerading as a Duke and the protagonist of yet another play. There is still less art used in characterizing this Duke than there is in characterizing Macbeth; Shakespeare merely lets himself go and sings his feelings in the most beautiful words. This is his philosophy of music and of love:

"Give me excess of it, that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die";

and then:

"Enough, no more; 'Tis not so sweet now as it was before."

--the quick revulsion of the delicate artist-voluptuary who wishes to keep unblunted in memory the most exquisite pang of pleasure.

Speech after speech discovers the same happy freedom and absolute abandonment to the "sense of beauty." Curio proposes hunting the hart, and at once the Duke breaks out:

"Why, so I do, the noblest that I have. O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first, Methought she purged the air of pestilence. That instant was I turned into a hart, And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds, E'er since pursue me."--

Valentine then comes to tell him that Olivia is still mourning for her brother, and the Duke seizes the opportunity for another lyric:

"O, she that hath a heart of that fine frame To pay this debt of love but to a brother, How will she love, when the rich golden shaft Hath killed the flock of all affections else That live in her; when liver, brain, and heart, These sovereign thrones, are all supplied and filled-- Her sweet perfections--with one self King!-- Away before me to sweet beds of flowers, Love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers."

The last two lines show clearly enough that Shakespeare was not troubled with any thought of reality as he wrote: he was transported by Fancy into that enchanted country of romance where beds of flowers are couches and bowers, canopies of love. But what a sensuality there is in him!

"When liver, brain, and heart, These sovereign thrones, are all supplied and filled-- Her sweet perfections--with one self King!--"

Of course, too, this Duke is inconstant, and swings from persistent pursuit of Olivia to love of Viola without any other reason than the discovery of Viola's sex. In the same way Romeo turns from Rosaline to Juliet at first sight. This trait has been praised by Coleridge and others as showing singular knowledge of a young man's character, but I should rather say that inconstancy was a characteristic of sensuality and belonged to Shakespeare himself, for Orsino, like Romeo, has no reason to change his love; and the curious part of the matter is that Shakespeare does not seem to think that the quick change in Orsino requires any explanation at all. Moreover, the love of Duke Orsino for Olivia is merely the desire of her bodily beauty--the counterpart of the sensual jealousy of Othello. Speaking from Shakespeare's very heart, the Duke says:

"Tell her, my love, more noble than the world, Prizes not quantity of dirty lands; The parts that Fortune hath bestowed upon her, Tell her, I hold as giddily as Fortune; But 'tis that miracle and queen of gems That nature pranks her in attracts my soul."

So the body wins the soul according to this Orsino, who is, I repeat again, Shakespeare in his most ingenuous and frankest mood; the contempt of wealth--"dirty lands"--and the sensuality--"that miracle and queen of gems"--are alike characteristic. A few more touches and the portrait of this Duke will be complete; he says to the pretended Cesario when sending him as ambassador to Olivia:

"Cesario, Thou knowest no less but all; I have unclasped To thee the book even of my secret soul; Therefore, good youth,"--

and so forth.

It is a matter of course that this Duke should tell everything to his friend; a matter of course, too, that he should love books and bookish metaphors. Without being told, one knows that he delights in all beautiful things--pictures with their faërie false presentment of forms and life; the flesh-firm outline of marble, the warmth of ivory and the sea-green patine of bronze--was not the poop of the vessel beaten gold, the sails purple, the oars silver, and the very water amorous?

This Duke shows us Shakespeare's most intimate traits even when the action does not suggest the self-revelation. When sending Viola to woo Olivia for him he adds:

"Some four or five, attend him;
All if you will; for I myself am best When least in company."

Like Vincentio, that other mask of Shakespeare, this Duke too loves solitude and "the life removed"; he is "best when least in company."

If there is any one who still doubts the essential identity of Duke Orsino and Shakespeare, let him consider the likeness in thought and form between the Duke's lyric effusions and the Sonnets, and if that does not convince him I might use a hitherto untried argument. When a dramatist creates a man's character he is apt to make him, as the French say, too much of a piece--too logical. But, in this instance, though Shakespeare has given the Duke only a short part, he has made him contradict himself with the charming ease that belongs peculiarly to self-revealing. The Duke tells us:

"For such as I am all true lovers are, --Unstaid and skittish in all motions else, Save in the constant image of the creature That is beloved."

The next moment he repeats this:

"For, boy, however we do praise ourselves, Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm, More longing, wavering, sooner lost and won, Than women's are."

And the moment after he asserts:

"There is no woman's sides
Can bide the beating of so strong a passion As love doth give my heart; no woman's heart So big, to hold so much; they lack retention. Alas! their love may be called appetite, No motion of the liver, but the palate, That suffers surfeit, cloyment, and revolt!"

Hamlet contradicts himself, too: at one moment he declares that his soul is immortal, and at the next is full of despair. But Hamlet is so elaborate a portrait, built up of so many minute touches, that self-contradiction is a part, and a necessary part, of his many-sided complexity. But the Duke in "Twelfth Night" reveals himself as it were accidentally; we know little more of him than that he loves music and love, books and flowers, and that he despises wealth and company; accordingly, when he contradicts himself, we may suspect that Shakespeare is letting himself speak freely without much care for the coherence of characterization. And the result of this frankness is that he has given a more intimate, a more confidential, sketch of himself in Duke Orsino of "Twelfth Night" than he has given us in any play except perhaps "Hamlet" and "Macbeth."

I hardly need to prove that Shakespeare in his earliest plays, as in his latest, in his Sonnets as in his darkest tragedy, loved flowers and music. In almost every play he speaks of flowers with affection and delight. One only needs to recall the song in "A Midsummer's Night's Dream," "I know a bank," or Perdita's exquisite words:


That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty; violets dim, But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes Or Cytherea's breath; pale primroses, That die unmarried ere they can behold Bright Phoebus in his strength, a malady Most incident to maids; bold oxlips, and The crown-imperial; lilies of all kinds, The flower-de-luce being one";

or Arviragus' praise of Imogen:

"Thou shalt not lack
The flower that's like thy face, pale primrose, nor The azured harebell like thy veins; no, nor The leaf of eglantine, whom not to slander Outsweetened not thy breath."

Shakespeare praises music so frequently and so enthusiastically that we must regard the trait as characteristic of his deepest nature. Take this play which we are handling now. Not only the Duke, but both the heroines, Viola and Olivia, love music. Viola can sing "in many sorts of music," and Olivia admits that she would rather hear Viola solicit love than "music from the spheres." Romeo almost confounds music with love, as does Duke Orsino:

"How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night, Like softest music to attending ears!"

And again:

"And let rich music's tongue
Unfold the imagin'd happiness that both Receive in either by this dear encounter."

It is a curious and characteristic fact that Shakespeare gives almost the same words to Ferdinand in the "Tempest" that he gave ten years earlier to the Duke in "Twelfth Night." In both passages music goes with passion to allay its madness:

"This music crept by me upon the waters, Allaying both their fury and my passion With its sweet air"

and Duke Orsino says:

"That old and antique song we heard last night, Methought it did relieve my passion much."

This confession is so peculiar; shows, too, so exquisitely fine a sensibility, that its repetition makes me regard it as Shakespeare's. The most splendid lyric on music is given to Lorenzo in the "Merchant of Venice," and it may be remarked in passing that Lorenzo is not a character, but, like Claudio, a mere name and a mouthpiece of Shakespeare's feeling. Shakespeare was almost as well content, it appears, to play the lover as to play the Duke. I cannot help transcribing the magical verses, though they must be familiar to every lover of our English tongue:

"How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank! Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music Creep in our ears; soft stillness and the night Become the touches of sweet harmony. Sit, Jessica: Look how the floor of heaven Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold. There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st But in his motion like an angel sings, Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubims. Such harmony is in immortal souls; But, whilst this muddy vesture of decay Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it."

The first lines of this poem are conceived in the very spirit of the poems of "Twelfth Night," and in the last lines Shakespeare puts to use that divine imagination which lifts all his best verse into the higher air of life, and reaches its noblest in Prospero's solemn-sad lyric.

Shakespeare's love of music is so much a part of himself that he condemns those who do not share it; this argument, too, is given to Lorenzo:

"The man that hath no music to himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; The motions of his spirit are dull as night, And his affections dark as Erebus: Let no such man be trusted."

That this view was not merely the expression of a passing mood is shown by the fact that Shakespeare lends no music to his villains; but Timon gives welcome to his friends with music, just as Hamlet welcomes the players with music and Portia calls for music while her suitors make their eventful choice. Titania and Oberon both seek the aid of music to help them in their loves, and the war-worn and time-worn Henry IV. prays for music to bring some rest to his "weary spirit"; in much the same mood Prospero desires music when he breaks his wand and resigns his magical powers.

Here, again, in "Twelfth Night" in full manhood Shakespeare shows himself to us as Romeo, in love with flowers and music and passion. True, this Orsino is a little less occupied with verbal quips, a little more frankly sensual, too, than Romeo; but then Romeo would have been more frankly sensual had he lived from twenty-five to thirty-five. As an older man, too, Orsino has naturally more of Hamlet-Shakespeare's peculiar traits than Romeo showed; the contempt of wealth and love of solitude are qualities hardly indicated in Romeo, while in Orsino as in the mature Shakespeare they are salient characteristics. To sum up: Hamlet-Macbeth gives us Shakespeare's mind; but in Romeo-Orsino he has discovered his heart and poetic temperament to us as ingenuously, though not, perhaps, so completely, as he does in the Sonnets.

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