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From my point of view the most interesting feature of the play is the character of Polonius. The mannerisms of his speech are so marked and so peculiar that it seems to me that they must have been drawn from life, and, under the character of a Prince, I think the author enjoyed the luxury of mocking a Minister who reminded him of an uncle against whom he had a grudge. "For in the time of the Cecils, the father and the son, by design and of purpose able men were suppressed," is one of Bacon's candid remarks, made when he could make it with safety.1
The directions of Polonius to his servant Reynaldo are full of these tricks of speech, which seem obviously intended for a parody:
Marry, sir, here's my drift;
And, I believe, it is a fetch of wit:
By the mass, I was about to
Say something: where did I leave ?
See you now;
Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth:
And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,
With windlasses and with assays of bias,
By indirections find directions out:
And to the Queen :
And now remains
That we find out the cause of this effect,
Thus it remains, and the remainder thus.
In the device written by Bacon for the Earl of Essex for Queen's day 1595, there is an example of what is almost certainly a covert attack on Burghley in the Statesman's speech:
"But if he will believe Philautia, and seek most his own happiness he must not of them embrace all kinds, but make choice, and avoid all
1 Letter to Buckingham, 1616. Spedding, Letters and Life, vi. 6.
matters of peril, displeasure, and charge, and turn them over to some novices that know not manacles from bracelets, nor burdens from robes Let him not trouble himself too laboriously to sound into any matter deeply, or to execute anything exactly; but let him make himself cunning rather in the humours and drifts of persons than in the nature of business and affairs. . . And ever rather let him take the side which is likeliest to be followed, than that which is soundest and best, that everything may seem to be carried by his direction. To conclude, let him be true to himself and avoid all tedious reaches of state that are not merely pertinent to his particular.”1
The language is not quite the same, but the spirit which animates the attack in each case is identical.
A notable example occurs in this play of that “irrelevancy" to which I have already alluded, where the author attributes words to a character which are inappropriate, for the purpose, as I think, of bringing in an expression of personal opinion. Thus in reply to Rosencrantz's question, Good my lord, what is your cause of distemper?" Hamlet is made to reply "Sir, I lack advancement." (III. ii. 350). The Hamlet of the play was a Prince to whom every deference was paid, and who was heir to the throne. As applied to him therefore the reply is meaningless.
How, again, are we to explain that the poet seems to go out of his way in the grave-digging scene to make Hamlet thirty years of age, which is wholly inconsistent with his description of him at the beginning of the play as a student at Wittenberg? The "thirty" thirty" years is quite precise and follows from the sexton's replies to Hamlet as to his employment. This puzzle has defied the commentators.
There are a few parallels in the play with passages in Bacon's writings, which are worth noting. Polonius to Laertes:
to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
(I. iii. 78).
"And be so true to thyself as thou be not false to others, especially
to thy king and country."
(Of Wisdom for a Man's self.)
1 Spedding, Letters and Life, i. 382.
Ham. For use almost can change the stamp of nature.
"But custom only doth alter and subdue nature."
Again, Shakespeare and Bacon express the same view about the sanctity of kingship. Thus the King in Hamlet:
There's such divinity doth hedge a king,
That treason can but peep to what it would.
(IV. v. 123).
In his speech at the arraignment of Essex, Bacon said:
"For God hath imprinted such a majesty in the face of a Prince that no private man dare approach the person of his sovereign with traitorous intent."1
Even more remarkable is the presence in this play and in Bacon's works of the same idea that the heinousness of murder by poison lies in the fact that it takes a man when he is full of meat, and his soul, as it were, unpurged and unprepared for the spiritual state into which it is hurried.
Thus Hamlet says:
He took my father grossly, full of bread;
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May;
'Tis heavy with him:
(III. iii. 80).
In his charge against the Earl of Somerset in 1616 for his alleged poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury, Bacon, speaking of "impoisonment," said as follows:
"But it hath three circumstances, which make it grievous beyond other murders. Whereof the first is, that it takes a man in full peace; in God's and the King's peace: He thinks no harm, but is comforting nature with refection and food; so that (as the Scripture saith) his table is made a snare.'
1 Spedding, Letters and Life, ii. 225.
a Ibid. v. 309.
Of course it might be suggested that Bacon had lately been seeing Hamlet, but he never once alludes to Shakespeare in his writings or correspondence, though in the Advancement he devotes considerable attention to the nature and uses of the drama.
There is a more specific allusion to the customs of France in this play than a man would naturally make who had not been there:
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous, chief [? choice] in that1.
(I. iii. 72).
Bacon, of course, had lived in France in Court circles. That he was also in Italy is rendered practically certain by some remarks in the Essays:
"For it is strange to see, now in Europe, such huge buildings as the Vatican and Escurial and some others be, and yet scarce a very fair room in them."
"The even carriage between two factions proceedeth not always of moderation, but of a trueness to a man's self, with end to make use of both. Certainly, in Italy, they hold it a little suspect in popes, when they have often in their mouth, Padre commune and take it to be s sign of one that meaneth to refer all to the greatness of his own house."
There are also Latinisms, as indeed there are throughout Shakespeare, which indicate that the author was so familiar with Latin that he sometimes thought in it. The most striking example is in the words spoken by the ghost:
The extragavant and erring spirit hies
To his confine.
(I. i. 154).
What must the unlettered part of an audience make of this? That it means "odd " and "faulty"; whereas, of course, it means "wandering out of bounds" and "straying."
Lastly we come to the evidence from legal knowledge. It was long ago pointed out by Lord Campbell that the dis
1 The reading of this line is uncertain.
cussion between the two Clowns whether Ophelia was entitled to Christian burial (V. i) proves that Shakespeare had read and studied Plowden's report of the celebrated case of Hales v. Petit tried in the reign of Philip and Mary, and that he intended to ridicule the counsel who argued and the judges who decided it. He says that the argument of the grave-diggers upon Ophelia's case is almost in the words reported by Plowden. Prof. Dowden stated that Plowden's Commentaries were not translated from the law-French until the eighteenth century.
The play is thought to have been written by 1602, but a recently discovered note in Gabriel Harvey's 'Marginalia' renders it possible that it was in existence about three years earlier. In the folio text of 1623 passages not to be found in the quartos appear for the first time, and a few others which appear in the quartos are omitted.1
Measure for Measure. First produced at Whitehall in December, 1604, the month following the production of Othello; not printed till 1623. A play which may be called a comedy because of its happy ending and for the very amusing character, though rather grimly amusing, of some of the scenes; but it belongs, nevertheless, owing to the depth and range of the thought, to the maturer and more serious period of Shakespeare's art. There are few of his plays which are more interesting to read and none in which, given certain conventions attributable to the story, there is a more quiet mastery of treatment. The play contains the exquisite lyric “Take, O! take those lips away," in the scene from which Tennyson got the idea for his "Mariana of the Moated Grange." There is little in it which calls for notice from the standpoint of this book. But I should like to note that, at the outset occurs an expression of one of Bacon's favourite precepts, that no gifts of the mind are of any use unless they are exercised for the common good. The Duke is speaking:
1 See Gabriel Harvey's Maginalia by Professor Moore Smith. From the Italian of Cinthio, greatly modified.