« ZurückWeiter »
cuts away all the cobwebs, all the illusions, all the delusions, of formulæ. His untutored insight goes down to the root of things; his king is not Philosopher Bacon's "mortal god on earth"; his king is "but a man as I am," doomed to drag out a large part of his existence in the galling chains of "tradition, form and ceremonious duty," of unreality and self-deception.
Shakespeare's intuitive power of seeing things as they are, affects his attitude to all social convention. Not merely royal rulers of men are in a false position, ethically and logically. "Beware of appearances," is Shakespeare's repeated warning to warning to men and women of all ranks in the political or social hierarchy. "Put not your trust in ornament, be it of gold or of silver." In the spheres of law and religion, the dramatist warns against pretence, against shows of virtue, honesty, or courage which have no solid backing.
The world is still deceiv'd with ornament.
Shakespeare was no cynic. He was not unduly distrustful of his fellow-men. He was not always
suspecting them of something indistinguishable from
THE DUTY OF OBEDIENCE
fraud. When he wrote, "The world is still deceived with ornament" which "obscures the show of evil," he was expressing downright hatred-not suspicion —of sham, of quackery, of cant. His is the message of all commanding intellects which see through the hearts of men. Shakespeare's message is Carlyle's message or Ruskin's message anticipated by nearly three centuries, and more potently and wisely phrased.
At the same time as Shakespeare insists on the highest and truest standard of public duty, he, with characteristically practical insight, acknowledges no less emphatically the necessity or duty of obedience to duly regulated governments. There may appear inconsistency in first conveying the impression that governments, or their officers, are usually unworthy of trust, and then in bidding mankind obey them implicitly. But, although logical connection between the two propositions be wanting, they are each convincing in their place. Both are the outcome of a robust common-sense. Order is essential
to a nation's well-being. There must be discipline in civilised communities. Officers in authority must be obeyed. These are the axiomatic bases of every social contract, and no question of the personal fitness of officers of state impugns their stability.
Twice does Shakespeare define in the same terms what he understands by the principle of all-compelling order, which is inherent in government. Twice does he elaborate the argument that precise orderly division of offices, each enjoying full and unquestioned authority, is essential to the maintenance of a state's equilibrium.
The topic was first treated in the speeches of Henry V.'s councillors:
Exeter. For government, though high and low and lower,
Therefore doth heaven divide
-Henry V., I., ii., 180–9.
There follows a very suggestive comparison between the commonwealth of bees and the economy of human society. The well-worn comparison has been fashioned anew by a writer of genius of our own day, M. Mæterlinck.
In Troilus and Cressida (I., iii., 85 seq.) Shakespeare returns to the discussion, and defines with greater precision "the specialty of rule." There he approaches nearer than anywhere else in his writings the sphere of strict philosophic exposition. He argues that:
The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Human society is bound to follow this celestial example. At all hazards, one must protect "the unity and married calm of states." Degree, order, discipline, are the only sure safeguards against brute force and chaos which civilised institutions exist to 'hold in check:
How could communities,
Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities,
THE "DUE OF BIRTH "
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
And the rude son should strike his father dead:
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Deprived of degree, rank, order, society dissolves itself in "chaos."
Near the end of his career, Shakespeare impressively re-stated his faith in the imperative need of the due recognition of social rank and grade in civilised communities. In Cymbeline (IV., ii., 246-9) "a queen's son" meets his death in fight with an inferior, and the conqueror is inclined to spurn the lifeless corpse. But a wise veteran solemnly uplifts his voice to forbid the insult. Appeal is made to the sacred principle of social order, which must be respected even in death:
Though mean and mighty, rotting
That angel of the world,-doth make distinction
"Reverence, that angel of the world," is the ultimate bond of civil society, and can never be
defied with impunity. It is the saving sanction of social order.
I have quoted some of Shakespeare's avowedly ethical utterances which bear on conditions of civil society-on morals in their social aspect. There is no obscurity about their drift. Apart from ethical declaration, it may be that ethical lessons touching political virtue as well as other specific aspects of morality are deducible from a study of Shakespeare's plots and characters. Very generous food for reflection seems to be offered the political philosopher by the plots and characters of Julius Cæsar and Corio1. lanus. The personality of Hamlet is instinct with ethical suggestion. The story and personages of Measure for Measure present the most persistent of moral problems. But discussion of the ethical import of Shakespeare's several dramatic portraits or stories is of doubtful utility. There is a genuine danger of reading into Shakespeare's plots and characters more direct ethical significance than is really there. Dramatic art never consciously nor systematically serves obvious purposes of morality, save to its own detriment.
Nevertheless there is not likely to be much disagreement with the general assertion that Shakespeare's plots and characters involuntarily develop under his hand in conformity with the straightforward requirements of moral law. He upholds the broad canons of moral truth with consistency, even with severity. There is no mistaking in his works on which side lies the right. He never renders vice amiable. His want of delicacy, his challenges of modesty, need no palliation. It was characteristic