« AnteriorContinuar »
“Some have thought these sonnets are arranged according to a definite, although shadowy, plan, while others maintain they are quite disjointed and fragmentary; some that they are all addressed to one individual, and others that they are addressed to various persons; some that they are substantially real, and others that they are entirely fictitious. It is most singular how the mystery, which more or less shrouds Shakspere's entire history, should have intensified into a very blackness of darkness over the only work of his, which partakes of an autobiographical cha
Many of the sonnets naturally form little poems or fragments; and Mr. C. Knight, in his illustrations of the sonnets in the Pictorial Shakspere, has made an arrangement according to the leading idea in the different pieces; but has, unfortunately, been misler by the supposition, that the sonnets were principal fictitious, and written in imitation of the Italia poetry.
Having a wish to read the poems of Shakspere once again—not having read them since more than thirty years ago, I resolved, “with regard to the reality po unreality of the sonnets, or as to the occasion their being written,” to examine them carefully a minutely, merely as an amusement or mental exercis and certainly not with the idle vanity of supposing I could start fresh game on such a well-beaten field,
After having read the Venus and Adonis and the
| Poctical Works of Shakspeare and Surey, ed. 1856.
Lucrece, it again seemed to me strange, as it did formerly, that Shakspere should have dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, æt. 20, two poems of such an opposite character. Mr. C. Knight has justly observed, " there is to our mind the difference of eight or even ten years in the aspect of these poems;” and why?-because Shakspere, during the twelve months which elapsed between their publication, passed through one of those convulsions, as purifying to the moral atmosphere of the soul, as a storm in the dog-days is to the world without; from the sonnets, however, may be extracted the following explanation :
It would appear, that Shakspere, some months after the publication of the Venus and Adonis, discovered, that his Adonis had succumbed to the assaults of his Venus; as soon as he had recovered from the shock of this discovery, having received his repentant friend again to his heart, and remembering his promise about "some graver labour," he selects the story of Lucretia, as peculiarly applicable under existing circumstances, and as an excellent vehicle for delivering a lecture on morality-not only to his young friend, but especially to the lady. It is also highly probable, that the Venus and Adonis yras written with the good intention of rousing the dormant feelings of his chaste and virtuous friend, and stimulating him to marriage; but, unfortunately, the poem was published after the Earl had become acquainted with Marlowe, and subject to the influence of his immoral character.
Having looked over the sonnets the first time merely for the general impression, I again took up the book one evening for a more minute inspection; and after reading the first six or seven sonnets it struck me, that as marriage was being recommended under various images, there must be some meaning, some thread of connection, though invisible as in a lady's bracelet. I therefore recommenced at the beginning, and soon caught the train of ideas; charmed and delighted with the beautiful imagery and increasing elevation of tone, I hurried on, carried away by the enthusiasm of the poet, to the end of the 20th Sonnet; —the Rubicon was passed, -and I found myself in possession of a most sweet poem-not a mere collection of isolated sonnets, having only a "leading
or general reference to the same object---but a perfect poem with the stanzas following in successive order.
It is evident, that the connection of the 20th Sonnet with the preceding one has never been perceived; it has always been regarded as a sonnet by itself, and separated from the 19th, with which, however, it is most intimately and essentially connected; there is, from the 15th, a gradual rise in the strength of feeling and splendour of declamation, 'till in the 19th,“the poet's eve in a fine phrensy rolling," and "suiting the action to the word,” he bids defiance to Time,
'Yet do thy worst, old Time, despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young," then, still full of poetic fervour, rapt, inspired, he
describes the beauty of his love in the 20th Sonnet, being the culminating point, the Corinthian capital, the complement of the whole preceding stanzas, which without it would be tame and lifeless—a body without a head.
The portrait of his love has also been greatly misapprehended, the connoisseurs apparently dazzled by the richness of the colouring; but on a close inspection, it reveals itself as a poetical conception of the highest order of art; nothing material, all expression' a woman's face, a man in hue; a woman's gentle heart, a man's bright eye; and then with a few magical touches he paints an ideal face of the most exquisite beauty, the master-mistress of his passion, the love of the beautiful, that intense feeling or passion, that sits crowned in the soul of every artist, be he painter, poet, or sculptor; but so true to nature does the poet paint, mingling the real and ideal, and the ideal and real, as only Shakspere can, that some ivriters have considered it, as merely the description of a beautiful youth, an Adonis, a British cadet hoyiunting, or an immaculate middy; well, each to his taste ; there is in them also a divinity that stirreth.
Shakspere's mind appears to have been as practical las poetical; and a mind so constituted may readily hare caught the ridiculous side of sonneteering in general, and of the Delias and Amoretti in particular, many of which, though not yet published, were no doubt floating about in private circles; and thus the prigin of his taking a beautiful youth for his poetical lady-love may have been a quiz on those follies, just as Pamela gave rise to Joseph Andrews.
It may here be remarked, that 'my love' means 'my friend'; but the expression always carries with it a high degree of respect. It should also always be borne in mind, that these sonnets were not written for publication, were given, it is presumable, to the youth himself, by himself distributed amongst his own personal friends, and were preserved as precious jewels with such care, that they were not even surreptitiously printed, 'till ten years after it was known, many 'sugared sonnets' by Shakspere were in circulation amongst private friends'; and further, it should be remembered, that the gist of the story runs, marry and transmit a copy of your beautiful face to posterity, or you must live in my immortal lines; so that the poet naturally, and of necessity, swaggers up his own rhymes; yet parties, mistaking this healthy and cheerful vein, accuse him of a presuming and boastful strain.
In the 58th Sonnet, the “better spirit” is supposer to be Spenser or Daniel ; and the 63rd is supposed to refer to Dr. Dee; but it is not probable, that Spenser living in Ireland, could have been a rival for the favou) or friendship of Southampton or of any other lord and Daniel's versification does not correspond with "the proud full sail of his great verse"; nor could he "write above a mortal pitch”; but Marlowe is the man-Tamburlaine and Faustus; the familiar ghost, Mephistophiles; Marlowe was also just the splendid