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more important, is the manner in which the play was interpreted on the stage of Pepys's time.
Pepys is not the only owner of a prosaic mind who has found satisfaction in Shakespeare's portrait of the Prince of Denmark. Over minds of almost every calibre, that hero of the stage has always exerted a pathetic fascination, which natural antipathy to poetry seems unable to extinguish. Pepys's testimony to his respect for the piece is abundant. The whole of one Sunday afternoon (November 13, 1664), he spent at home with his wife, "getting a speech out of Hamlet, 'To be or not to be,' without book." He proved, indeed, his singular admiration for those familiar lines in a manner which I believe to be unique. He set them to music, and the notes are extant in a book of manuscript music in his library at Magdalene College, Cambridge. The piece is a finely-elaborated recitative fully equal to the requirements of grand opera. The composer gives intelligent and dignified expression to every word of the soliloquy. Very impressive is the modulation of the musical accompaniment to the lines— To die, to sleep!
To sleep, perchance to dream! ay, there's the rub.
It is possible that the cadences of this musical rendering of Hamlet's speech preserve some echo of the intonation of the great actor, Betterton, whose performance evoked in Pepys lasting adoration.1
It goes without saying that, for the full enjoy
1 Sir Frederick Bridge, by permission of the Master and Fellows of Magdalene College, Cambridge,, caused this setting of "To be or not to be" (which bears no composer's signature) to be transcribed from the manuscript, and he arranged the piece to be sung at the meeting of the Pepys Club on November 30, 1905. Sir Frederick Bridge believes Pepys to be the composer.
BETTERTON'S RENDERING OF HAMLET 101
ment of a performance of Hamlet by both cultured and uncultured spectators, acting of supreme quality is needful. Luckily for Pepys, Hamlet in his day was rendered by an actor who, according to ample extant testimony, interpreted the part to perfection. Pepys records four performances of Hamlet, with Betterton in the title-rôle on each occasion. With every performance Pepys's enthusiasm rose. The first time he writes (August 24, 1661): "Saw the play done with scenes very well at the Opera, but above all Betterton did the Prince's part beyond imagination." On the third occasion (May 28, 1663), the rendering gave him "fresh reason never to think enough of Betterton." On the last occasion (August 31, 1668) he was "mightily pleased, but above all with Betterton, "the best part, I believe, that ever man acted."
Hamlet was one of the most popular plays of Pepys's day, mainly owing to Betterton's extraordinary faculty. The history of the impersonation presents numerous points of the deepest interest. The actor was originally coached in the part by D'Avenant. The latter is said to have derived hints for the rendering from an old actor, Joseph Taylor, who had played the rôle in Shakespeare's own day, and had been instructed in it by the dramatist himself. This tradition gives additional value to Pepys's musical setting in recitative of the "To be or not to be" soliloquy. If we accept the reasonable theory that that piece of music preserves something of the cadences of Betterton's enunciation, it is no extravagance to suggest that a note here or there enshrines the modulation of the voice of Shakespeare himself. For there is the likelihood that
the dramatist was Betterton's instructor at no more than two removes. Only the lips of D'Avenant, Shakespeare's godson, and of Taylor, Shakespeare's acting colleague, intervened between the dramatist and the Hamlet of Pepys's diary. Those alone, who have heard the musical setting of "To be or not to be" adequately rendered, are in a position to reject this hypothesis altogether.
Among seventeenth century critics there was unanimous agreement—a rare thing among dramatic critics of any period-as to the merits of Betterton's performance. In regard to his supreme excellence, men of the different mental calibre of Sir Richard Steele, Colley Cibber, and Nicholas Rowe, knew no difference of opinion. According to Cibber, Betterton invariably preserved the happy "medium between mouthing and meaning too little"; he held the attention of the audience by "a tempered spirit," not by mere vehemence of voice. His solemn, trembling voice made the Ghost equally terrible to the spectator and to himself. Another critic relates that when Betterton's Hamlet saw the Ghost in his mother's chamber, the actor turned as pale as his neckcloth; every joint of his body seemed to be affected with a tremor inexpressible, and the audience shared his astonishment and horror. Nicholas Rowe declared that "Betterton performed the part as if it had been written on purpose for him, as if the author had conceived it as he played it." It is difficult to imagine any loftier commendation of a Shakespearean player.
There is little reason to doubt that the plays of Shakespeare which I have enumerated were all seen
ADAPTATIONS OF SHAKESPEARE
by Pepys in authentic shapes. Betterton acted Lear, we are positively informed, "exactly as Shakespeare wrote it"; and at the dates when Pepys saw Hamlet, Twelfth Night, and the rest, there is no evidence that the old texts had been tampered with. The rage for adapting Shakespeare to current theatrical requirements reached its full tide after the period of Pepys's diary. Pepys witnessed only the first-fruits of that fantastic movement. It acquired its greatest luxuriance later. The pioneer of the great scheme of adaptation was Sir William D'Avenant, and he was aided in Pepys's playgoing days by no less a personage than Dryden. It was during the succeeding decade that the scandal, fanned by the energies of lesser men, was at its unseemly height.
No disrespect seems to have been intended to Shakespeare's memory by those who devoted themselves to these acts of vandalism. However difficult it may be to realise the fact, true admiration for Shakespeare's genius seems to have flourished in the breasts of all the adapters, great and small. D'Avenant, whose earliest poetic production was a pathetic elegy on the mighty dramatist, never ceased to write or speak of him with the most affectionate respect. Dryden, who was first taught by D'Avenant "to admire" Shakespeare's work, attests in his critical writings a reverence for its unique excellence, which must satisfy the most enthusiastic worshipper. The same temper characterises references to Shakespeare on the part of dramatists of the Restoration, who brought to the adaptation of Shakespeare abilities of an order far inferior to those of Dryden or of D'Avenant. Nahum Tate,
one of the least respected names in English literature, was one of the freest adapters of Shakespearean drama to the depraved taste of the day. Yet even he assigned to the master playwright unrivalled insight into the darkest mysteries of human nature, and an absolute mastery of the faculty of accurate characterisation. For once, Tate's literary judgment must go unquestioned.
It was no feeling of disrespect or of dislike for Shakespeare's work it was the change that was taking place in the methods of theatrical representation, which mainly incited the Shakespearean adapters of the Restoration to their benighted labours. Shakespeare had been acted without scenery or musical accompaniment. As soon as scenic machinery and music had become ordinary accessories of the stage, it seemed to theatrical managers almost a point of honour to fit Shakespearean drama to the new conditions. To abandon him altogether was sacrilege. Yet the mutation of public taste offered, as the only alternative to his abandonment, the obligation of bestowing on his work every mechanical advantage, every tawdry ornament in the latest mode.
Pepys fully approved the innovations, and two of the earliest of Shakespearean adaptations won his unqualified eulogy. These were D'Avenant's reconstructions of The Tempest and Macbeth. D'Avenant had convinced himself that both plays readily lent themselves to spectacle; they would repay the embellishments of ballets, new songs, new music, coloured lights, and flying machines. Reinforced by these charms of novelty, the old pieces might enjoy an everlasting youth. No spectator more