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(d) It cannot be denied, further, that in many of Shakespeare's plays, if not in all, there are inconsistencies and contradictions, and also that questions are suggested to the reader which it is impossible for him to answer with certainty. For instance, some of the indications of the lapse of time between Othello's marriage and the events of the later Acts flatly contradict one another; and it is impossible to make out whether Hamlet was at Court or at the University when his father was murdered. But it should be noticed that often what seems a defect of this latter kind is not really a defect. For instance, the difficulty about Hamlet's age (even if it cannot be resolved by the text alone) did not exist for Shakespeare's audience. moment Burbage entered it must have been clear whether the hero was twenty or thirty. And in like manner many questions of dramatic interpretation which trouble us could never have arisen when the plays were first produced, for the actor would be instructed by the author how to render any critical and possibly ambiguous passage. (I have heard it remarked, and the remark I believe is just, that Shakespeare seems to have relied on such instructions less than most of his contemporaries; one fact out of several which might be adduced to prove that he did not regard his plays as mere stage-dramas of the moment.)


(e) To turn to another field, the early critics were no doubt often provokingly wrong when they censured the language of particular passages in Shakespeare as obscure, inflated, tasteless, or 'pestered with metaphors'; but they were surely right in the general statement that his language often shows these faults. And this is a subject which later criticism has never fairly faced and examined.

disadvantages. (Since this lecture was written I have read some remarks on Shakespeare's soliloquies to much the same effect by E. Kilian in the Jahrbuch d. deutschen Shakespeare-Gesellschaft for 1903.)

(ƒ) Once more, to say that Shakespeare makes all his serious characters talk alike,1 and that he constantly speaks through the mouths of his dramatis personae without regard to their individual natures, would be to exaggerate absurdly; but it is true that in his earlier plays these faults are traceable in some degree, and even in Hamlet there are striking passages where dramatic appropriateness is sacrificed to some other object. When Laertes speaks the lines beginning,

For nature, crescent, does not grow alone

In thews and bulk,

who can help feeling that Shakespeare is speaking rather than Laertes? Or when the player-king discourses for more than twenty lines on the instability of human purpose, and when King Claudius afterwards insists to Laertes on the same subject at almost equal length, who does not see that Shakespeare, thinking but little of dramatic fitness, wishes in part simply to write poetry, and partly to impress on the audience thoughts which will help them to understand, not the playerking nor yet King Claudius, but Hamlet himself, who, on his side,—and here quite in character— has already enlarged on the same topic in the most famous of his soliloquies?

(g) Lastly, like nearly all the dramatists of his day and of times much earlier, Shakespeare was fond of 'gnomic' passages, and introduces them probably not more freely than his readers like, but more freely than, I suppose, a good play-wright now would care to do. These passages, it may be observed, are frequently rhymed (e.g. Othello, i. iii. 201 ff., ii. i. 149 ff.). Sometimes they were printed in early editions with inverted commas round them,

If by this we mean that these characters all speak what is recognisably Shakespeare's style, of course it is true; but it is no accusation. Nor does it follow that they all speak alike; and in fact they are far from doing so.

as are in the First Quarto Polonius's 'few precepts' to Laertes.

If now we ask whence defects like these arose, we shall observe that some of them are shared by the majority of Shakespeare's contemporaries, and abound in the dramas immediately preceding his time. They are characteristics of an art still undeveloped, and, no doubt, were not perceived to be defects. But though it is quite probable that in regard to one or two kinds of imperfection (such as the superabundance of 'gnomic' passages) Shakespeare himself erred thus ignorantly, it is very unlikely that in most cases he did so, unless in the first years of his career of authorship. And certainly he never can have thought it artistic to leave inconsistencies, obscurities, or passages of bombast in his work. Most of the defects in his writings must be due to indifference or want of care.

I do not say that all were so. In regard, for example, to his occasional bombast and other errors of diction, it seems hardly doubtful that his perception was sometimes at fault, and that, though he used the English language like no one else, he had not that sureness of taste in words which has been shown by some much smaller writers. And it seems not unlikely that here he suffered from his comparative want of 'learning,'—that is, of familiarity with the great writers of antiquity. But nine-tenths of his defects are not, I believe, the errors of an inspired genius, ignorant of art, but the sins of a great but negligent artist. He was often, no doubt, over-worked and pressed for time. He knew that the immense majority of his audience were incapable of distinguishing between rough and finished work. He often felt the degradation of having to live by pleasing them. Probably in hours of depression he was quite indifferent to fame, and perhaps in another mood the whole business of play-writing seemed to him

a little thing. None of these thoughts and feelings influenced him when his subject had caught hold of him. To imagine that then he 'winged his roving flight' for 'gain' or 'glory,' or wrote from any cause on earth but the necessity of expression, with all its pains and raptures, is mere folly. He was possessed: his mind must have been in a white heat: he worked, no doubt, with the furia of Michael Angelo. And if he did not succeed at once—and how can even he have always done so?—he returned to the matter again and again. Such things as the scenes of Duncan's murder or Othello's temptation, such speeches as those of the Duke to Claudio and of Claudio to his sister about death, were not composed in an hour and tossed aside; and if they have defects, they have not what Shakespeare thought defects. Nor is it possible that his astonishingly individual conceptions of character can have been struck out at a heat: prolonged and repeated thought must have gone to them. But of small inconsistencies in the plot he was often quite careless. He seems to have finished off some of his comedies with a hasty and even contemptuous indifference, as if it mattered nothing how the people got married, or even who married whom, so long as enough were married somehow. And often, when he came to parts of his scheme that were necessary but not interesting to him, he wrote with a slack hand, like a craftsman of genius who knows that his natural gift and acquired skill will turn out something more than good enough for his audience: wrote probably fluently but certainly negligently, sometimes only half saying what he meant, and sometimes saying the opposite, and now and then, when passion was required, lapsing into bombast because he knew he must heighten his style but would not take the trouble to inflame his imagination. It may truly be said that what injures such

passages is not inspiration, but the want of it. But, as they are mostly passages where no poet could expect to be inspired, it is even more true to say that here Shakespeare lacked the conscience of the artist who is determined to make everything as good as he can. Such poets as Milton, Pope, Tennyson, habitually show this conscience. They left probably scarcely anything that they felt they could improve. No one could dream of

saying that of Shakespeare.

Hence comes what is perhaps the chief difficulty in interpreting his works. Where his power or art is fully exerted it really does resemble that of nature. It organises and vitalises its product from the centre outward to the minutest markings on the surface, so that when you turn upon it the most searching light you can command, when you dissect it and apply to it the test of a microscope, still you find in it nothing formless, general or vague, but everywhere structure, character, individuality. In this his great things, which seem to come whenever they are wanted, have no companions in literature except the few greatest things in Dante; and it is a fatal error to allow his carelessness elsewhere to make one doubt whether here one is not seeking more than can be found. It is very possible to look for subtlety in the wrong places in Shakespeare, but in the right places it is not possible to find too much. But then this characteristic, which is one source of his endless attraction, is also a source of perplexity. For in those parts of his plays which show him neither in his most intense nor in his most negligent mood, we are often unable to decide whether something that seems inconsistent, indistinct, feeble, exaggerated, is really so, or whether it was definitely meant to be as it is, and has an intention which we ought to be able to divine; whether, for example, we have before us some unusual trait


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