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astronomers, who pursue the most imposing of all branches of scientific speculation.

Small have continual plodders ever won,
Save base authority from others' books.
These earthly godfathers of heaven's light,
That give a name to every fixed star,

Have no more profit of their shining nights
Than those that walk, and wot not what they are.
-Love's Labour's Lost, I., i., 86-91.

This is a characteristically poetic attitude; it is the antithesis of the scientific attitude. Formal logic excited Shakespeare's disdain even more conspicuously. In the mouths of his professional fools he places many reductions to absurdity of what he calls the "simple syllogism." He invests the term "chop-logic" with the significance of foolery in excelsis. Again, metaphysics, in any formal sense, were clearly not of Shakespeare's world. On one occasion he wrote of the topic round which most metaphysical speculation revolves:

We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded by a sleep.

-The Tempest, IV., i., 156-8.

1 The speeches of the clown in Twelfth Night are particularly worthy of study for the satiric adroitness with which they expose the quibbling futility of syllogistic logic. Cf. Act I., Scene V., 11. 48-57:

Olivia. Go to, you're a dry fool; I'll no more of you: besides you grow dishonest.

Clown. Two faults, Madonna, that drink and good counsel will amend: for give the dry fool drink, then is the fool not dry: bid the dishonest man mend himself; if he mend, he is no longer dishonest; if he cannot, let the botcher mend him. Anything that's mended is but patched: virtue that transgresses is but patched with sin; and sin that amends is but patched with virtue. If that this simple syllogism will serve, so; if it will not, what remedy?



Such a theory of human life is first-rate poetry; it is an illuminating figure of poetic speech. But the simplicity with which the theme is presented, to the exclusion of many material issues, puts the statement out of the plane of metaphysical disquisition, which involves subtle conflict of argument and measured resolution of doubt, rather than imaginative certainty or unconditional assertion. Nor is Hamlet's famous soliloquy on the merits and demerits of suicide conceived in the spirit of the metaphysician. It is a dramatic description of a familiar phase of emotional depression; it explains nothing; it propounds no theory. It reflects a state of feeling; it breathes that torturing spirit of despondency which kills all hope of mitigating either the known ills of life or the imagined terrors of death.

The faint, shadowy glimpses which Shakespeare had of scientific philosophy gave him small respect for it. Like the typical hard-headed Englishman, he doubted its practical efficacy. Shakespeare viewed all formal philosophy much as Dr Johnson's Rasselas, whose faith in it dwindled, when he perceived that the professional philosopher, who preached superiority to all human frailties and weaknesses, succumbed to them at the first provocation.

There are more things in heaven and earth
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.1

For there was never yet philosopher
That could endure the toothache patiently.2

1 Hamlet, I., v., 166–7.

2 Much Ado About Nothing, V., i, 35–6.

Such phrases sum up Shakespeare's habitual bearing to formal philosophy. The consideration of causes, first principles, abstract truths never, in the dramatist's opinion, cured a human ill. The futility of formal philosophy stands, from this point of view, in no further need of demonstration.


But it is permissible to use the words philosopher and philosophy, without scientific precision or significance, in the popular inaccurate senses of shrewd observer and observation of life. By philosophy we may understand common-sense wisdom about one's fellow-men, their aspirations, their failures and successes. As soon as we employ the word in that significance, we must allow that few men were better philosophers than Shakespeare.

Shakespeare is what Touchstone calls the shepherd in As You Like It-"a natural philosopher" -an observer by light of nature, an acute expositor of phases of human life and feeling. Character, thought, passion, emotion, form the raw material of which ethical or metaphysical systems are made. The poet's contempt for formal ethical or metaphysical theory co-existed with a searching knowledge of the ultimate foundations of all systematised philosophic structures. The range of fact or knowledge within which the formal theorist speculates in the fields of ethics, logic, metaphysics, or psychology, is, indeed, very circumscribed when it is compared with the region of observation and experience, over which Shakespeare exerted complete mastery. Almost every aspect of life Shakespeare portrays



with singular evenness of insight. He saw life whole. The web of life always presented itself to him as a mingled yarn, good and ill together. He did not stay to reconcile its contradictions. He adduces a wealth of evidence touching ethical experience. It may be that the patient scrutiny of formal philosophers can alone reveal the full significance of his harvest. But the dramatist's exposition of the workings of virtue or vice have no recondite intention. Shakespeare was no patient scholar, who deliberately sought to extend the limits of human knowledge. With unrivalled ease and celerity he digested, in the recesses of his consciousness, the fruit of personal observation and reading. His aim was to depict only conscious human conduct and human thought. He interpreted them unconsciously, by virtue of an involuntary intuition.

Shakespeare's intuition pierces life at the lowest as well as at the highest level of experience. It is coloured by delicate imaginative genius as well as by robust and practical worldliness. Not his writings only, but the facts of his private life-his mode of managing his private property, for example— attest his alert knowledge of the material and practical affairs of human existence. Idealism and realism in perfect development were interwoven with the texture of his mind.

Shakespeare was qualified by mental endowment for success in any career. He was by election a dramatist and, necessarily, one of unmatched versatility. His intuitive faculty enabled him, after regarding life from any point of view that he willed, to depict through the mouths of his characters the chosen phase of life in convincing, harmonious accord

with his characters' individual circumstances and experiences. No obvious trace of his own personal circumstance or experience was suffered to emerge in the utterances of his characters, who lived for the moment in his brain. It is a commonplace to credit Shakespeare with supreme dramatic instinct. It is difficult fully to realise the significance of that attribute. It means that he could contract or expand at will and momentarily his own personality, so that it coincided exactly, now with a self-indulgent humorist like Falstaff, now with an introspective student like Hamlet, now with a cynical criminal like Iago, now with a high-spirited girl like Rosalind, now with an ambitious woman like Lady Macbeth, and then with a hundred more characters hardly less distinctive than these. It means that he could contrive the coincidence so absolutely as to leave no loophole for the introduction, into the several dramatic utterances, of any sentiment that should not be on the face of it adapted by right of nature to the speaker's idiosyncrasies. That was Shakespeare's power. It is a power of which the effects are far easier to recognise than the causes or secret of operation.

In the present connection it is happily only necessary to dwell on Shakespeare's dramatic instinct in order to guard against the peril of dogmatising from his works about his private opinions. So various and conflicting are Shakespeare's dramatic pronouncements on phases of experience that it is difficult and dangerous to affirm which pronouncements, if any, present most closely his personal sentiment. He fitted the lips of his dramatis persona with speeches and sentiments so peculiarly

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