Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors]



rank in society. "Good alone is good without a name.' This is not the view of the world, which values lying trophies, rank, or wealth. The world is thereby the sufferer.1

The world honours a judge; but if the judge be indebted to his office and not to his character for the respect that is paid him, he may deserve no more honour than the criminal in the dock, whom he sentences to punishment. "A man may see how this world goes with no eyes," says King Lear to the blind Gloucester. "Look with thine ears; see how yond justice rails upon yond simple thief. Hark, in thine ear; change places, and, handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief? Thou hast seen a farmer's dog bark at a beggar? And the creature run from the cur? There thou mightst behold the great image of authority; a dog's obeyed in office." "The great image of authority" is often a brazen idol.

Hereditary rulers form no inconsiderable section of Shakespeare's dramatis persona. In Macbeth (IV.,

From lowest place, when virtuous things proceed,
The place is dignified by the doer's deed:
Where great additions swell 's, and virtue none,
It is a dropsied honour: good alone

Is good without a name) vileness is so:

The property by what it is should go,

Not by the title; . . . that is honour's scorn,
Which challenges itself as honour's born,
And is not like the sire: honours thrive
When rather from our acts we them derive
Than our foregoers: the mere word 's a slave,
Debauch'd on every tomb; on every grave
A lying trophy; and as oft is dumb
Where dust and damn'd oblivion is the tomb
Of honour'd bones indeed.

-All's Well, II., iii., 130 seq.

iii., 92-4) he specifically defined "the king-becoming graces":—

As justice, verity, temperance, stableness,
Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness,

Devotion, patience, courage, fortitude.

But the dramatist's main energies are devoted to exposure of the hollowness of this counsel of perfection. Temptations to vice beset rulers of men to a degree that is unknown to their subjects. To avarice rulers are especially prone. Stanchless avarice constantly converts kings of ordinary clay into monsters. How often they forge

Quarrels unjust against the good and loyal,
Destroying them for wealth.

-Macbeth, IV., iii., 83-4.

Intemperance in all things-in work and pleasure -is a standing menace of monarchs.

[ocr errors]

Boundless intemperance

In Nature is a tyranny: it hath been

Th' untimely emptying of the happy throne
And fall of many kings.

-Macbeth, IV., iii., 66-9.

[ocr errors]

A leader of men, if he be capable of salvation, must delight no less in truth than life." Yet "truth,' for the most part, is banished from the conventional environment of royalty.

Repeatedly does Shakespeare bring into dazzling relief the irony which governs the being of kings. Want of logic and defiance of ethical principle underlie their pride in magnificent ceremonial and pageantry. The ironic contrast between the pretensions of a king and the actual limits of human destiny is a text which Shakespeare repeatedly clothes in golden language.

It is to be admitted that nearly all the kings in



Shakespeare's gallery frankly acknowledge the makebelieve and unreality which dogs regal pomp and 1 ceremony. In self-communion they acknowledge the ruler's difficulty in finding truth in their traditional scope of life. In a great outburst on the night before Agincourt, Henry V.-the only king whom Shakespeare seems thoroughly to admire-openly describes the inevitable confusion between fact and fiction which infects the conditions of royalty. Anxiety and unhappiness are so entwined with ceremonial display as to deprive the king of the reliefs and recreations which freely lie at the disposal of ordinary men.

What infinite heart's-ease

Must kings neglect that private men enjoy!
And what have kings that privates have not too,
Save ceremony, save general ceremony?

And what art thou, thou idol ceremony?

What kind of god art thou, that suffer'st more
Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?
What are thy rents? what are thy comings-in?
O ceremony, show me but thy worth!

What is thy soul of adoration?

Art thou aught else but place, degree, and form,
Creating awe and fear in other men?

Wherein thou art less happy being fear'd

Than they in fearing.

What drink'st thou oft, instead of homage sweet,

But poison'd flattery? O, be sick, great greatness,

And bid thy ceremony give thee cure!

Think'st thou the fiery fever will go out

With titles blown from adulation?

Will it give place to flexure and low bending?

Canst thou, when thou command'st the beggar's knee,
Command the health of it? No, thou proud dream

That play'st so subtly with a king's repose:

I am a king that find thee; and I know
'Tis not the balm, the sceptre, and the ball,
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,

The farced title running 'fore the king,

The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That beats upon the high shore of this world,—
No, not all these, thrice gorgeous ceremony,
Not all these, laid in bed majestical,

Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave
Who, with a body fill'd and vacant mind

Gets him to rest, cramm'd with distressful bread.

-Henry V., IV., i., 253–87.

Barely distinguishable is the sentiment which finds expression in the pathetic speech of Henry V.'s father when he vainly seeks that sleep which thousands of his poorest subjects enjoy. The sleepless king points to the irony of reclining on the kingly couch beneath canopies of costly state when sleep refuses to weigh his eyelids down or steep his senses in forgetfulness. The king is credited with control of every comfort; but he is denied by nature comforts which she places freely at command of the humblest. So again does Richard II. soliloquize on the vain pride which imbues the king, while death all the time grins at his pomp and keeps his own court within the hollow crown that rounds the prince's mortal temples. Yet again, to identical effect is Henry VI.'s sorrowful question:

Gives not the hawthorn-bush a sweeter shade,
To shepherds looking on their silly sheep,
Than doth a rich-embroidered canopy

To kings that fear their subjects' treachery?

-3 Henry VI., II., v., 42-5.

To this text Shakespeare constantly recurs, and he bestows on it all his fertile resources of illustration. The reiterated exposition by Shakespeare of the hollowness of kingly ceremony is a notable feature ' of his political sentiment. The dramatist's independent analysis of the quiddity of kingship is, in



deed, alike in manner and matter, a startling con-V tribution to sixteenth century speculation. In manner it is worthy of Shakespeare's genius at its highest. In matter it is for its day revolutionary rationalism. It defies a popular doctrine, held almost universally by Shakespeare's contemporary fellow-countrymen, that royalty is divine and under God's special protection, that the gorgeous ceremony of the throne reflects a heavenly attribute, and that the king is the pampered favourite of heaven.

Bacon defined a king with slender qualifications, as "a mortal god on earth unto whom the living God has lent his own name." Shakespeare was well acquainted with this accepted doctrine. He often gives dramatic definition of it. He declines to admit its soundness. Wherever he quotes it, he adds an ironical comment, which was calculated to perturb the orthodox royalist. Having argued that the day-labourer or the shepherd is far happier than a king, he logically refuses to admit that the monarch is protected by God from any of the ills of mortality. Richard II. may assert that "the hand of God alone, and no hand of blood or bone" can rob him of the sacred handle of his sceptre. But the catastrophe of the play demonstrates that that theft is entirely within human scope. The king is barbarously murdered. In Hamlet the graceless usurping uncle! declares that "such divinity doth hedge a king," that treason cannot endanger his life. But the speaker is run through the body very soon after the brag escapes his lips.

Shakespeare is no comfortable theorist, no respecter of orthodox doctrine, no smooth-tongued approver of fashionable dogma. His acute intellect

« ZurückWeiter »