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Shakespeare were a conscious artist, and not rather a writer who constructed in obedience to an extraordinary dramatic instinct, as he composed mainly by inspiration. And a brief explanation on this head will enable me to allude to a few more points, chiefly of construction, which are not too technical for a lecture.

In speaking, for convenience, of devices and expedients, I did not intend to imply that Shakespeare always deliberately aimed at the effects which he produced. But no artist always does this, and I see no reason to doubt that Shakespeare often did it, or to suppose that his method of constructing and composing differed, except in degree, from that of the most conscious' of artists. The antithesis of art and inspiration, though not meaningless, is often most misleading. Inspiration is surely not incompatible with considerate workmanship. The two may be severed, but they need not be so, and where a genuinely poetic result is being produced they cannot be so. The glow of a first conception must in some measure survive or rekindle itself in the work of planning and executing; and what is called a technical expedient may 'come' to a man with as sudden a glory as a splendid image. Verse may be easy and unpremeditated, as Milton says his was, and yet many a word in it may be changed many a time, and the last change be more 'inspired' than the original. The difference between poets in these matters is no doubt considerable, and sometimes important, but it can only be a difference of less and more. It is probable that Shakespeare often wrote fluently, for Jonson (a better authority than Heminge and Condell) says so; and for anything we can tell he may also have constructed with unusual readiness. But we know that he revised and re-wrote (for instance in Love's Labour's Lost and Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet); it is almost impossible that he can have

worked out the plots of his best plays without much reflection and many experiments; and it appears to me scarcely more possible to mistake the signs of deliberate care in some of his famous speeches. If a 'conscious artist' means one who holds his work away from him, scrutinises and judges it, and, if need be, alters it and alters it till it comes as near satisfying him as he can make it, I am sure that Shakespeare frequently employed such conscious art. If it means, again, an artist who consciously aims at the effects he produces, what ground have we for doubting that he frequently employed such art, though probably less frequently than a good many other poets?

But perhaps the notion of a 'conscious artist' in drama is that of one who studies the theory of the art, and even writes with an eye to its rules.' And we know it was long a favourite idea that Shakespeare was totally ignorant of the 'rules.' Yet this is quite incredible. The rules referred to, such as they were, were not buried in Aristotle's Greek nor even hidden away in Italian treatises. He could find pretty well all of them in a book so current and famous as Sidney's Defence of Poetry. Even if we suppose that he refused to open this book (which is most unlikely), how could he possibly remain ignorant of the rules in a society of actors and dramatists and amateurs who must have been incessantly talking about plays and playwriting, and some of whom were ardent champions of the rules and full of contempt for the lawlessness of the popular drama? Who can doubt that at the Mermaid, Shakespeare heard from Jonson's lips much more censure of his offences against 'art' than Jonson ever confided to Drummond or to paper? And is it not most probable that those battles between the two which Fuller imagines, were waged often on the field of dramatic criticism? If Shakespeare, then, broke some of the 'rules,' it

was not from ignorance. Probably he refused, on grounds of art itself, to trouble himself with rules derived from forms of drama long extinct. And it is not unlikely that he was little interested in theory as such, and more than likely that he was impatient of pedantic distinctions between 'pastoralcomical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable or poem unlimited.' But that would not prove that he never reflected on his art, or could not explain, if he cared to, what he thought would be good general rules for the drama of his own time. He could give advice about play-acting. Why should we suppose that he could not give advice about play-making?

Still Shakespeare, though in some considerable degree a 'conscious' artist, frequently sins against art; and if his sins were not due to ignorance or inspiration, they must be accounted for otherwise. Neither can there be much doubt about their causes (for they have more than one cause), as we shall see if we take some illustrations of the defects themselves.

Among these are not to be reckoned certain things which in dramas written at the present time would rightly be counted defects. There are, for example, in most Elizabethan plays peculiarities of construction which would injure a play written for our stage but were perfectly well-fitted for that very different stage,—a stage on which again some of the best-constructed plays of our time would appear absurdly faulty. Or take the charge of improbability. Shakespeare certainly has improbabilities which are defects. They are most frequent in the winding up of his comedies (and how many comedies are there in the world which end satisfactorily?). But his improbabilities are rarely psychological, and in some of his plays there occurs one kind of im

probability which is no defect, but simply a characteristic which has lost in our day much of its former attraction. I mean that the story, in most of the comedies and many of the tragedies of the Elizabethans, was intended to be strange and wonderful. These plays were tales of romance dramatised, and they were meant in part to satisfy the same love of wonder to which the romances appealed. It is no defect in the Arthurian legends, or the old French romances, or many of the stories in the Decameron, that they are improbable: it is a virtue. To criticise them as though they were of the same species as a realistic novel, is, we should all say, merely stupid. Is it anything else to criticise in the same way Twelfth Night or As You Like It? And so, even when the difference between comedy and tragedy is allowed for, the improbability of the opening of King Lear, so often censured, is no defect. It is not out of character, it is only extremely unusual and strange. But it was meant to be so; like the marriage of the black Othello with Desdemona, the Venetian senator's daughter.

To come then to real defects, (a) one may be found in places where Shakespeare strings together a number of scenes, some very short, in which the dramatis personae are frequently changed; as though a novelist were to tell his story in a succession of short chapters, in which he flitted from one group of his characters to another. This method shows itself here and there in the pure tragedies (e.g. in the last Act of Macbeth), but it appears most decidedly where the historical material was undramatic, as in the middle part of Antony and Cleopatra. It was made possible by the absence of scenery, and doubtless Shakespeare used it because it was the easiest way out of a difficulty. But, considered abstractedly, it is a defective method, and, even as used by

Shakespeare, it sometimes reminds us of the merely narrative arrangement common in plays before his time.

(b) We may take next the introduction or excessive development of matter neither required by the plot nor essential to the exhibition of character: e.g. the references in Hamlet to theatre-quarrels of the day, and the length of the player's speech and also of Hamlet's directions to him respecting the delivery of the lines to be inserted in the Murder of Gonzago.' All this was probably of great interest at the time when Hamlet was first presented; most of it we should be very sorry to miss; some of it seems to bring us close to Shakespeare himself; but who can defend it from the point of view of constructive art?

(c) Again, we may look at Shakespeare's soliloquies. It will be agreed that in listening to a soliloquy we ought never to feel that we are being addressed. And in this respect, as in others, many of the soliloquies are master-pieces. But certainly in some the purpose of giving information lies bare, and in one or two the actor openly speaks to the audience. Such faults are found chiefly in the early plays, though there is a glaring instance at the end of Belarius's speech in Cymbeline (iii. iii. 99 ff.), and even in the mature tragedies something of this kind may be traced. Let anyone compare, for example, Edmund's soliloquy in King Lear, i. ii., 'This is the excellent foppery of the world,' with Edgar's in ii. iii., and he will be conscious that in the latter the purpose of giving information is imperfectly disguised.1

1I do not discuss the general question of the justification of soliloquy, for it concerns not Shakespeare only, but practically all dramatists down to quite recent times. I will only remark that neither soliloquy nor the use of verse can be condemned on the mere ground that they are 'unnatural.' No dramatic language is 'natural'; all dramatic language is idealised. So that the question as to soliloquy must be one as to the degree of idealisation and the balance of advantages and

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