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Now that we have found the story of the sonnets repeated three times in the plays, it may be worth our while to see if we can discover in the plays anything that throws light upon the circumstances or personages of this curious triangular drama. At the outset, I must admit that save in these three plays I can find no mention whatever of Shakespeare's betrayer, Lord Herbert. He was "a false friend," the plays tell us, a "common friend without faith or love," "a friend of an ill fashion"; young, too, yet trusted; but beyond this summary superficial characterization there is silence. <i>Me judice</i> Lord Herbert made no deep or peculiar impression on Shakespeare; an opinion calculated to give pause to the scandal-mongers. For there can be no doubt whatever that Shakespeare's love, Mistress Fitton, the "dark lady" of the sonnet-series from 128 to 152 is to be found again and again in play after play, profoundly modifying the poet's outlook upon life and art. Before I take in hand this identification of Miss Fitton and her influence upon Shakespeare, let me beg the reader to bear in mind the fact that Shakespeare was a sensualist by nature, a lover, which is as rare a thing as consummate genius. The story of his idolatrous passion for Mary Fitton is the story of his life. This is what the commentators and critics hitherto have failed to appreciate. Let us now get at the facts and see what light the dramas throw upon the chief personage of the story, Mistress Fitton. The study will probably teach us that Shakespeare was the most impassioned lover and love-poet in all literature.

History tells us that Mary Fitton became a maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth in 1595 at the age of seventeen. From a letter addressed by her father to Sir Robert Cecil on January 29th, 1599, it is fairly certain that she had already been married at the age of sixteen; the union was probably not entirely valid, but the mere fact suggests a certain recklessness of character, or overpowering sensuality, or both, and shows that even as a girl Mistress Fitton was no shrinking, timid, modest maiden. Wrapped in a horseman's cloak she used to leave the Palace at night to meet her lover, Lord William Herbert. Though twice married, she had an illegitimate child by Herbert, and two later by Sir Richard Leveson.

This extraordinary woman is undoubtedly the sort of woman Shakespeare depicted as the "dark lady" of the sonnets. Nearly every sonnet of the twenty-six devoted to his mistress contains some accusation against her; and all these charges are manifestly directed against one and the same woman. First of all she is described in sonnet 131 as "tyrannous"; then in sonnet 133 as "faithless"; in sonnet 137 as "the bay where all men ride ... the wide world's commonplace"; in sonnet 138 as "false"; in 139, she is "coquettish"; 140, "proud"; "false to the bonds of love"; "black as hell... dark as night"--in both looks and character; "full of foul faults "; "cruel"; "unworthy," but of "powerful" personality; "unkind--inconstant... unfaithful... forsworn."

Now, the first question is: Can we find this "dark lady" of the sonnets in the plays? The sonnets tell us she was of pale complexion with black eyes and hair; do the plays bear out this description? And if they do bear it out do they throw any new light upon Miss Fitton's character? Did Miss Fitton seem proud and inconstant, tyrannous and wanton, to Shakespeare when he first met her, and before she knew Lord Herbert?

The earliest mention of the poet's mistress in the plays is to be found, I think, in "Romeo and Juliet." "Romeo and Juliet" is dated by Mr. Furnival 1591-1593; it was first mentioned in 1595 by Meres; first published in 1597. I think in its present form it must be taken to date from 1597. Romeo, who as we have already seen, is an incarnation of Shakespeare, is presented to us in the very first scene as in love with one Rosaline. This in itself tells me nothing; but the proof that Shakespeare stands in intimate relation to the girl called Rosaline comes later, and so the first introductory words have a certain significance for me. Romeo himself tells us that "she hath Dian's wit," one of Shakespeare's favourite comparisons for his love, and speaks of her chastity, or rather of her unapproachableness; he goes on:

"O she is rich in beauty, only poor That, when she dies, with beauty dies her store."

which reminds us curiously of the first sonnets. In the second scene Benvolio invites Romeo to the feast of Capulet, where his love, "the fair Rosaline," is supping, and adds:

"Compare her face with some that I shall shew, And I will make thee think thy swan a crow."

Romeo replies that there is none fairer than his love, and Benvolio retorts:

"Tut! You saw her fair, none else being by."

This bantering is most pointed if we assume that Rosaline was dark rather than fair.

In the second act Mercutio comes upon the scene, and, mocking Romeo's melancholy and passion, cries:

"I conjure thee, by Rosaline's bright eyes, By her high forehead and her scarlet lip...."

This description surprises me. Shakespeare rarely uses such physical portraiture of his personages, and Mercutio is a side of Shakespeare himself; a character all compact of wit and talkativeness, a character wholly invented by the poet.

A little later my suspicion is confirmed. In the fourth scene of the second act Mercutio talks to Benvolio about Romeo; they both wonder where he is, and Mercutio says:

"Ah, that same pale-hearted wench, that Rosaline, Torments him so that he will sure run mad."

And again, a moment later, Mercutio laughs at Romeo as already dead, "stabbed with a white wench's black eye." Now, here is confirmation of my suspicion. It is most unusual for Shakespeare to give the physical peculiarities of any of his characters; no one knows how Romeo looked, or Juliet or even Hamlet or Ophelia; and here he repeats the description.

The only other examples we have as yet found in Shakespeare of such physical portraiture is the sketching of Falstaff in "Henry IV." and the snapshot of Master Slender in "The Merry Wives of Windsor," as a "little wee face, with a little yellow beard,--a cane-coloured beard." Both these photographs, as we noticed at the time, were very significant, and Slender's extraordinarily significant by reason of its striking and peculiar realism. Though an insignificant character, Slender is photographed for us by Shakespeare's contempt and hatred, just as this Rosaline is photographed by his passionate love, photographed again and again.

Shakespeare's usual way of describing the physical appearance of a man or woman, when he allowed himself to do it at all, which was seldom, was what one might call the ideal or conventional way. A good example is to be found in Hamlet's description of his father; he is speaking to his mother:

"Hyperion's curls, the front of Jove himself, An eye like Mars, to threaten and command, A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill."

In the special case I am considering Rosaline is less even than a secondary character; she is not a personage in the play at all. She is merely mentioned casually by Benvolio and then by Mercutio, and even Mercutio is not the protagonist; yet his mention of her is strikingly detailed, astonishingly realistic, in spite of its off-hand brevity. We have a photographic snapshot, so to speak, of this girl: she "torments" Romeo; she is "hard-hearted"; a "white wench" with "black eyes"; twice in four lines she is called now "pale," now "white"--plainly her complexion had no red in it, and was in startling contrast to her black eyes and hair. Manifestly this picture is taken from life, and it is just as manifestly the portrait of the "dark lady" of the sonnets.

As if to make assurance doubly sure, there is another description of this same Rosaline in another play, so detailed and striking, composed as it is of contrasting and startling peculiarities that I can only wonder that its full significance has not been appreciated ages ago. To have missed its meaning only proves that men do not read Shakespeare with love's fine wit.

The repetition of the portrait is fortunate for another reason: it tells us when the love story took place. The allusion to the "dark lady" in "Romeo and Juliet" is difficult to date exactly; the next mention of her in a play can be fixed in time with some precision. "Love's Labour's Lost" was revised by Shakespeare for production at Court during the Christmas festivities of 1597. When the quarto was published in 1598 it bore on its title-page the words, "A pleasant conceited comedy called 'Love's Labour's Lost.' As it was presented before Her Highnes this last Christmas. Newly corrected and augmented By W. Shakespeare." It is in the revised part that we find Shakespeare introducing his dark love again, and this time, too, curiously enough, under the name of Rosaline. Evidently he enjoyed the mere music of the word. Biron is an incarnation of Shakespeare himself, as we have already seen, and the meeting of Biron and his love, Rosaline, in the play is extremely interesting for us as Shakespeare in this revised production, one would think, would wish to ingratiate himself with his love, more especially as she would probably be present when the play was produced. Rosaline is made to praise Biron, before he appears, as a merry man and a most excellent talker; but when they meet they simply indulge in a tourney of wit, in which Rosaline more than holds her own, showing indeed astounding self-assurance, spiced with a little contempt of Biron; "hard-hearted" Mercutio called it. Every word deserves to be weighed:

"<i>Biron</i>. Did not I dance with you in Brabant once?

<i>Ros</i>. Did not I dance with you in Brabant once?

<i>Biron</i>. I know you did.

<i>Ros</i>. How needless was it, then, to ask the question!

<i>Biron</i>. You must not be so quick.

<i>Ros</i>. 'Tis long of you that spur me with such questions.

<i>Biron</i>. Your wit's too hot, it speeds too fast, 'twill tire.

<i>Ros</i>. Not till it leave the rider in the mire.

<i>Biron</i>. What time o' day?

<i>Ros</i>. The hour that fools should ask.

<i>Biron</i>. Now fair befall your mask!

<i>Ros</i>. Fair fall the face it covers!

<i>Biron</i>. And send you many lovers!

<i>Ros</i>. Amen, so you be none.

<i>Biron</i>. Nay, then will I be gone."

Clearly this Rosaline, too, has Dian's wit and is not in love with Biron, any more than the Rosaline of "Romeo and Juliet" was in love with Romeo.

The next allusion is even more characteristic. Biron and Longaville and Boyet are talking; Longaville shows his admiration for one of the Princess's women, "the one in the white" he declares, is a most sweet lady...."

<i>Biron</i>. What is her name in the cap?

<i>Boyet</i>. Rosaline, by good hap.

<i>Biron</i>. Is she wedded or no?

<i>Boyet</i>. To her will, sir, or so.

<i>Biron</i>. You are welcome, sir: adieu."

This, "To her will, sir, or so," is exactly in the spirit of the sonnets: every one will remember the first two lines of sonnet 135:

"Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy <i>Will</i>, And <i>Will</i> to boot, and <i>Will</i> in overplus;"

That, "To her will, sir, or so," I find astonishingly significant, for not only has it nothing to do with the play and is therefore unexpected, but the character-drawing is unexpected, too; maids are not usually wedded to their will in a double sense, and no other of these maids of honour is described at all.

A little later Biron speaks again of Rosaline in a way which shocks expectation. First of all, he rages at himself for being in love at all. "And I, forsooth in love! I, that have been love's whip!" Here I pause again, it seems to me that Shakespeare is making confession to us, just as when he admitted without reason that Jaques was lewd. Be that as it may, he certainly goes on in words which are astounding, so utterly unforeseen are they, and therefore the more characteristic:

"Nay, to be perjured, which is worst of all; And, among three, to love the worst of all;"

The first line of this couplet, that he is perjured in loving Rosaline may be taken as applying to the circumstances of the play; but Shakespeare also talks of himself in sonnet 152 as "perjured," for he only swears in order to misuse his love, or with a side glance at the fact that he is married and therefore perjured when he swears love to one not his wife. It is well to keep this "perjured" in memory.

But it is the second line which is the more astonishing; there Biron tells us that among the three of the Princess's women he loves "the worst of all." Up to this moment we have only been told kindly things of Rosaline and the other ladies; we had no idea that any one of them was bad, much less that Rosaline was "the worst of all." The suspicion grows upon us, a suspicion which is confirmed immediately afterwards, that Shakespeare is speaking of himself and of a particular woman; else we should have to admit that his portraiture of Rosaline's character was artistically bad, and bad without excuse, for why should he lavish all this wealth of unpleasant detail on a mere subsidiary character? He goes on, however, to make the fault worse; he next speaks of his love Rosaline as--

"A whitely wanton with a velvet brow, With two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes; Ay, and by heaven, one that will do the deed; Though Argus were her eunuch and her guard: And I to sigh for her! to watch for her! To pray for her! Go to! it is a plague."

It is, of course, a blot upon the play for Biron to declare that his love is a wanton of the worst. It is not merely unexpected and uncalled-for; it diminishes our sympathy with Biron and his love, and also with the play. But we have already found the rule trustworthy that whenever Shakespeare makes a mistake in art it is because of some strong personal feeling and not for want of wit, and this rule evidently holds good here. Shakespeare-Biron is picturing the woman he himself loves; for not only does he describe her as a wanton to the detriment of the play; but he pictures her precisely, and this Rosaline is the only person in the play of whom we have any physical description at all. Moreover, he has given such precise and repeated photographs of no other character in any of his plays:

"A whitely wanton with a velvet brow, With two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes."

This is certainly the same Rosaline we found depicted in "Romeo and Juliet"; but the portraiture here, both physical and moral, is more detailed and peculiar than it was in the earlier play. Shakespeare now knows his Rosaline intimately. The mere facts that here again her physical appearance is set forth with such particularity, and that the "hard-heartedness" which Mercutio noted in her has now become "wantonness" is all-important, especially when we remember that Miss Fitton was probably listening to the play. Even at Christmas, 1597, Shakespeare's passion has reached the height of a sex-duel. Miss Fitton has tortured him so that he delights in calling her names to her face in public when the play would have led one to expect ingratiating or complimentary courtesies. It does not weaken this argument to admit that the general audience would not perhaps have understood the allusions.

It is an almost incredible fact that not a single one of his hundreds of commentators has even noticed any peculiarity in this physical portraiture of Rosaline; Shakespeare uses this realism so rarely one would have thought that every critic would have been astounded by it; but no, they all pass over it without a word, Coleridge, Mr. Tyler, all of them.

The fourth act of "Love's Labour's Lost" begins with a most characteristic soliloquy of Biron:

"<i>Biron</i>. The king he is hunting the deer; I am coursing myself: they have pitched a toil; I am toiling in a pitch--pitch that defiles: defile! a foul word."

Here Biron is manifestly playing on the "pitch-balls" his love has for eyes, and also on the "foul faults" Shakespeare speaks of in the sonnets and in Othello. Biron goes on:

"O, but her eye--by this light, but for her eye, I would not love her; yes, for her two eyes. Well, I do nothing in the world but lie, and lie in my throat. By heaven, I do love: and it hath taught me to rhyme, and to be melancholy; and here is part of my rhyme, and here my melancholy. Well, she hath one o' my sonnets already: the clown bore it, the fool sent it, and the lady hath it: sweet clown, sweeter fool, sweetest lady!"

This proves to me that some of Shakespeare's sonnets were written in 1597. True, Mr. Tyler would try to bind all the sonnets within the three years from 1598 to 1601, the three years which Shakespeare speaks about in sonnet 104:

  "Three winters cold

Have from the forests shook three summers' pride, Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn'd In process of the seasons have I seen. Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn'd, Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green."

Lord Herbert first came to Court in the spring of 1598, and so sonnet 104 may have represented the fact precisely so far as Herbert was concerned; but I am not minded to take the poet so literally. Instead of beginning in the spring of 1598, some of the sonnets to the lady were probably written in the autumn of 1597, or even earlier, and yet Shakespeare would be quite justified in talking of three years, if the period ended in 1601. A poet is not to be bound to an almanack's exactitude.

In the fourth act of "Love's Labour's Lost," when Biron confesses his love for "the heavenly Rosaline," the King banters him in the spirit of the time:

"<i>King</i>. By heaven, thy love is black as ebony.

<i>Biron</i>. Is ebony like her? O wood divine! A wife of such wood were felicity. O, who can give an oath? Where is a book? That I may swear beauty doth beauty lack, If that she learn not of her eye to look: No face is fair that is not full so black."

Here we have Shakespeare again describing his mistress for us, though he has done it better earlier in the play; he harps upon her dark beauty here to praise it, just as he praised it in sonnet 127; it is passion's trick to sound the extremes of blame and praise alternately.

In the time of Elizabeth it was customary for poets and courtiers to praise red hair and a fair complexion as "beauty's ensign," and so compliment the Queen. The flunkeyism, which is a characteristic of all the Germanic races, was peculiarly marked in England from the earliest times, and induced men, even in those "spacious days," not only to overpraise fair hair, but to run down dark hair and eyes as ugly. The King replies:

"O paradox! Black is the badge of hell, The hue of dungeons and the school of night; And beauty's crest becomes the heavens well."

Biron answers:

"Devils soonest tempt, resembling spirits of light. O, if in black my lady's brow be deck'd It mourns that painting and usurping hair Should ravish doters with a false aspect; And therefore is she born to make black fair. Her favour turns the fashion of the days, For native blood is counted painting now; And therefore red that would avoid dispraise, Paints itself black, to imitate her brow."

Our timid poet is bold enough, when cloaked under a stage-name, to uphold the colour of his love's hair against the Queen's; the mere fact speaks volumes to those who know their Shakespeare.

Sonnet 127 runs in almost the same words; though now the poet speaking in his own person is less bold:

"In the old age black was not counted fair, Or, if it were, it bore not beauty's name; But now is black beauty's successive heir, And beauty slandered with a bastard shame: For since each hand hath put on nature's power, Fairing the soul with art's false borrow'd face, Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower, But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace. Therefore my mistress' eyes are raven black, Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack, Slandering creation with a false esteem: Yet so they mourn, becoming of their woe That every tongue says beauty should look so."

There can be no doubt that in this Rosaline of "Romeo and Juliet" and of "Love's Labour's Lost," Shakespeare is describing the "dark lady" of the second sonnet-series, and describing her, against his custom in play-writing, even more exactly than he described her in the lyrics.

There is a line at the end of this act which is very characteristic when considered with what has gone before; it is clearly a confession of Shakespeare himself, and a perfect example of what one might call the conscience that pervades all his mature work:

"Light wenches may prove plagues to men forsworn."

We were right, it seems, in putting some stress on that "perjured" when we first met it.

In the second scene of the fifth act, which opens with a talk between the Princess and her ladies, our view of Rosaline is confirmed. Katherine calls Rosaline light, and jests upon this in lewd fashion; declares, too, that she is "a merry, nimble, stirring spirit," in fact, tells her that she is

"A light condition in a beauty dark."

All these needless repetitions prove to me that Shakespeare is describing his mistress as she lived and moved. Those who disagree with me should give another instance in which he has used or abused the same precise portraiture. But there is more in this light badinage of the girls than a description of Rosaline. When Rosaline says that she will torture Biron before she goes, and turn him into her vassal, the Princess adds,

"None are so surely caught when they are catch'd As wit turned fool."

Rosaline replies,

"The blood of youth burns not with such excess As gravity's revolt to wantonness."

This remark has no pertinence or meaning in Rosaline's mouth. Biron is supposed to be young in the play, and he has never been distinguished for his gravity, but for his wit and humour: the Princess calls him "quick Biron." The two lines are clearly Shakespeare's criticism of himself. When he wrote the sonnets he thought himself old, and certainly his years (thirty-four) contrasted badly with those of Mary Fitton who was at this time not more than nineteen.

Late in 1597 then, before William Herbert came upon the scene at all, Shakespeare knew that his mistress was a wanton:

"Ay, and by heaven, one that will do the deed; Though Argus were her eunuch and her guard."

Shakespeare has painted his love for us in these plays as a most extraordinary woman: in person she is tall, with pallid complexion and black eyes and black brows, "a gipsy," he calls her; in nature imperious, lawless, witty, passionate--a "wanton"; moreover, a person of birth and position. That a girl of the time has been discovered who united all these qualities in herself would bring conviction to almost any mind; but belief passes into certitude when we reflect that this portrait of his mistress is given with greatest particularity in the plays, where in fact it is out of place and a fault in art. When studying the later plays we shall find this gipsy wanton again and again; she made the deepest impression on Shakespeare; was, indeed, the one love of his life. It was her falseness that brought him to self-knowledge and knowledge of life, and turned him from a light-hearted writer of comedies and histories into the author of the greatest tragedies that have ever been conceived. Shakespeare owes the greater part of his renown to Mary Fitton.

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