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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
SHAKESPEARE'S PERSONAL OPINIONS
adapted to them as to show no one quite undisputed sign of their creator's personality.
Yet there are occasions when, without detracting from the omnipotence of Shakespeare's dramatic instinct, one may tentatively infer that Shakespeare gave voice through his created personages to sentiments which were his own. The Shakespearean drama must incorporate somewhere within its vast limits the personal thoughts and passions of its creator, even although they are for the most part absorbed past recognition in the mighty mass, and no critical chemistry can with confidence disentangle them. At any rate, there are in the plays many utterances ethical utterances, or observations conceived in the spirit of "a natural philosopher"which are repeated to much the same effect at different periods of the poet's career. These reiterated opinions frequently touch the conditions of wellbeing or calamity in civilised society; they often deal with man in civic or social relation with his neighbour; they define the capabilities of his will. It is unlikely that observations of this nature would be repeated if the sentiments they embody were out of harmony with the author's private conviction. Often we shall not strain a point or do our critical sense much violence if we assume that these recurring thoughts are Shakespeare's own. I purpose to call attention to a few of those which bear on large questions of government and citizenship and human volition. Involuntarily, they form the framework of a political and moral philosophy, which for cleareyed sanity is without rival.
Shakespeare's political philosophy is instinct with the loftiest moral sense. Directly or indirectly, he defines many times the essential virtues and the inevitable temptations which attach to persons exercising legalised authority over their fellow-men. The topic always seems to stir in Shakespeare his most serious tone of thought and word. No one, in fact, has conceived a higher standard of public virtue and public duty than Shakespeare. His intuition rendered him tolerant of human imperfection. He is always in kindly sympathy with failure, with suffering, with the oppressed. Consequently he brings at the outset into clearer relief than professed political philosophers, the saving quality of mercy in rulers of men. Twice Shakespeare pleads in almost identical terms, through the mouths of created characters, for generosity on the part of governors of states towards those who sin against law. In both cases he places his argument, with significant delicacy, on the lips of women. At a comparatively early period in his career as dramatist, in The Merchant of Venice, Portia first gave voice to the political virtue of compassion. At a much later period Shakespeare set the same plea in the mouth of Isabella in Measure for Measure. The passages are too familiar to justify quotation. Very brief extracts will bring out clearly the identity of sentiment which finds definition in the two passages.
These are Portia's views of mercy on the throne (Merchant of Venice, IV., i., 188 seq.):
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
MERCY IN KINGS
Mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
That in the course of justice none of us
Here are Isabella's words in Measure for Measure (II., ii., 59 seq.) :—
No ceremony that to great ones 'longs,
Not the king's crown, nor the deputed sword,
How would you be
If He, which is the top of judgment, should
O, it is excellent
Mercy is the predominating or crowning virtue! that Shakespeare demands in rulers. But the Shakespearean code is innocent of any taint of
1 In a paper on “Latin as an Intellectual Force," read before the International Congress of Arts and Sciences at St. Louis in September, 1904, Professor E. A. Sonnenschein sought to show that Portia's speech on mercy is based on Seneca's tract, De Clementia. The most striking parallel passages are the following:
The throned monarch better than his crown. (M. of V., IV., i., 189-90.)
Nullum clementia ex omnibus magis quam regem aut principem decet. (Seneca, De Clementia, I., iii., 3.):—
"Tis mightiest in the mightiest.
sentimentality, and mercifulness is far from being the sovereign's sole qualification or primal test of fitness. More especially are kings and judges bound by their responsibilities and their duties to eschew self-glorification or self-indulgence. It is the virtues of the holders of office, not their office itself, which entitles them to consideration. Adventitious circumstances give no man claim to respect. A man is alone worthy of regard by reason of his personal character. Honour comes from his own acts, neither from his "foregoers" (i.e., ancestors) nor from his
Eo scilicet formosius id esse magnificentiusque fatebimur quo in maiore praestabitur potestate (I., xix., 1):—
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
-M. of V., IV., i., 193–5.
Quod si di placabiles et aequi delicta potentium non statim fulminibus persequuntur, quanto aequius est hominem hominibus praepositum miti animo exercere imperium? (I., vii., 2):—
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
-M. of V., IV., i., 196–7.
Quid autem? Non proximum eis (dis) locum tenet is qui se ex deorum natura gerit beneficus et largus et in melius potens? (I., xix., 9):
That, in the course of justice, none of us
-M. of V., IV., i., 198–200.
Cogitato quanta solitudo et vastitas futura sit si nihil relinquitur nisi quod iudex severus absolverit (I., vi., 1).
This remarkable series of parallelisms does not affect the argument in the text that Shakespeare, who reiterated Portia's pleas in similar phraseology in Isabella's speeches, had a personal faith in the declared sentiment. Whether the parallelism is to be explained as conscious borrowing or accidental coincidence is an open question.