« AnteriorContinuar »
Shee to the virgin sayd, thrise sayd she itt;
Come, daughter, come; come, spit upon my face;
That sayd, her round about she from her turnd,
But the whole episode, and what follows it in the next canto, should be read; the relations between Glauce and Britomart in the poem and the Nurse and Juliet in the play being the same and similarly treated.
In the anonymous book called The Arte of English Poesie (1589) to which I have referred above, there is an autobiographical passage in which the author alludes to an "old gentlewoman "-" My mother had an old woman in her nurserie The good gentlewoman", etc., and describes her as asking an indecent riddle. On this Haslewood, in his preface to Ancient Critical Essays edited by him in 1811, remarks: "One passage in this work introduces him in the nursery, where the acuteness of the child is improperly exercised by an old woman, to discover a riddle, which, in matter and manner, betrays the ignorance and want of decency which characterises Juliet's loquacious nurse, and the words 'My mother had an old woman in her nurserie' gives no faint idea that the family establishment was not unlike that of the wealthy Capulets." I have little doubt that Haslewood was right, and that the establishment was not very far from York House at the foot of what is now Villiers Street at Charing Cross.
All's Well that Ends Well.
The most striking thing about this beautiful play (which is said to belong to 1595) is the tone of high breeding which
pervades the dialogue and the impression which it conveys that the writer is moving in his natural social element. tone of it is also more simple and serious than that of the other early comedies and there are fewer of those rather feeble jests of an indecent character which bring us up with a jolt, as it were, in some of those plays. No doubt the discourse of Parolles with Helena in the first scene on the demerits of virginity is rather strong meat, but it is in character and helps to bring out the beautiful portrait of Helena. It may therefore perhaps be considered to be justified by the art. Beyond this there is nothing to which exception might be taken even by the most fastidious, except that the denouement of the story is indelicate to a modern taste, but for that the author, who makes use of an Italian story, is not responsible. It almost, however, makes the play impossible for the modern stage, but for purposes of reading it is quite without offence. To my mind it is one of the most exquisite of Shakespeare's compositions, and particularly lovely are the rhymes with which it abounds.
The study of the countess and of the old lord, Lafeu, have all the appearance of being taken from life, probably from French life-though it is in vain now to try and identify them. The swaggerer Parolles is splendidly drawn, and it is to be noticed that instead of producing an unpleasing impression, as such characters in works of fiction generally do, he is invested throughout with a certain fantastic charm. "The soul of this man is his clothes" (II. v.); but that does not deprive him, with the author, of the rights of humanity. Though utterly disgraced, he is re-instated in another character :
Captain I'll be no more;
But I will eat and drink, and sleep as soft
being fool'd, by foolery thrive !
There's place and means for every man alive.
and old Lafeu, who has helped to expose him, says:
Though you are a fool and a knave, you shall eat.
Shakespeare treats Falstaff in a similar way. His feeling seems to have been that all men had weaknesses and he never presses them too hard. This arises from a universal tolerance in the author's own disposition and it was one of the most marked features in Bacon's character.
A notable example of the author's psychological instinct is found in the unexpected reflection of Lafeu on the Clown: A shrewd knave and an unhappy.
The Merchant of Venice.
This play is thought to have been written about 1594. According to Sir Sidney Lee the novel on which it is founded was not accessible in Shakespeare's day in any language but the original Italian. Prof. Sonnenschein (cited in the introduction to the play in the "Arden" Shakespeare) mentioned that the whole of the famous speech of Portia on mercy is based on Seneca, De Clementia. There is a curious parallel with Nashe, which, as far as I have observed, has never been noted. In The Unfortunate Traveller, published in 1594, Nashe describes a visit by his hero to Rome, and, among the things which he saw," the rare pleasures" of their merchants' gardens:
"To tell you of the rare pleasures of their gardens, theyr baths, their vineyards, their galleries, were to write a second part of the gorgeous Gallerie of gallant devices. Why, you should not come into anie mans house of account, but hee had fish-ponds and little orchards on the top of his leads. If by rain or anie other meanes those ponds were so full they need to be sluste or let out, even of their superfluities they made melodious use, for they had great winde instruments instead of leaden spoutes, that went duly in consort, only with this waters rumbling discent. I saw a summer banketting house belonging to a marchant, that was the marvaille of the worlde, and could not be matct except God should make another paradise. It was built rounde of greene marble, like a Theatre without: within there was a heaven and earth comprehended both under one roofe, the heaven was a cleere overhanging vault of christall, wherein the Sunne and Moone, and each visible Starre had his true similitude, shine, scituation, and motion, and by what enwrapped arte I cannot conceive, these spheares in their proper orbes observed circular wheelings and turnings, making a certain kinde of soft angelical murmering musicke in their often wind
ings and going about; which musick the philosophers say in the true heaven, by reason of the grosenes of our senses, we are not capable of."
Compare with this Merchant of Venice, V. i. :
There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young ey'd cherubins ;
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
There is another remarkable parallel with Nashe, in the rather far-fetched joke about a "civil (Seville) orange" in Much Ado About Nothing, II. i.: "The count is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor well; but civil count, civil as an orange, and something of that jealous complexion." In his Strange Newes Nashe writes in reply to an attack by Harvey on his way of life: "For the order of my life, it is as civil as a civil orange: I lurk in no corners, but converse in a house of credit," etc.
In my book on Harvey and Nashe, I have discussed this and many other parallels; "Nashe" being, in my opinion, an "Impersonation" under which Bacon wrote in the vein of a pamphleteer on matters of contemporary interest. Under his rude disguise (as I regard it) Nashe was really an artist of great refinement.
The Merry Wives of Windsor.
In the vein of broad humour Shakespeare's genius seems to reach its highest point in this comedy. The characters are numerous, each as near perfection as possible in its way, and the plot, though intricate, is managed with such dexterity that it seems quite simple. The play is said to have been first acted in 1598 and was probably composed in that year. Tradition says it was written to the order of the Queen, who wished to see Falstaff in love. The lines at the end in compliment of the royal house at Windsor suggests that it was performed in the presence of the Sovereign. There are two allusions in it which would undoubtedly remind a Court audience of Ralegh's voyage of discovery to Guiana, the account of which was published by him in 1596, and would in consequence
be fresh in their minds, especially as the voyage had created much interest and had been the occasion of a great deal of misrepresentation.
In I. iii. Falstaff says of Ford's wife: "She is a region in Guiana, all gold and bounty"; and in IV. v. the Host says of Falstaff, "He'll speak like an Anthropophaginian unto thee," an allusion which would recall the travellers' tales of the book. The generally accepted date therefore looks very probable.
One of the most astounding of the many legal metaphors is to be found in this play; where Mrs. Page says of Falstaff : "If the devil have him not in fee-simple, with fine and recovery he will never, I think, in the way of waste, attempt us again (IV. ii).
The gentle seriousness of the author's real nature emerges for a moment at the end in the little homily in verse put into the mouth of the fairies:
Fie on sinful fantasy!
Fie on lust and luxury !
Shakespeare's genius as a writer of comedy reached its culmination in the three plays, Much Ado about Nothing, As you like it, and Twelfth Night, all written about the same time, namely, 1599-1600. There is not much to be said about them from the point of view of this book, except to note that they are all written from the same aristocratic standpoint. A specimen of a judicial charge, the form of which is followed in the ludicrous charge of Dogberry, is to be found among Bacon's remains in his charge to the Grand Jury on the setting up the new Court of the Verge (precincts of the sovereign) in 1611, which to a humorous mind might present many points for parody.1
1 Spedding, Letters and Life, iv. 265. An interesting reference to the condition of London at that time appears in this charge. Speaking of the duty of enquiring into the state of highways and bridges, the judge says: Wherein it is strange to see the chargeable pavements and causeways in the avenues and entrances of the towns abroad beyond seas; whereas London, the second city (at the least) of Europe, in glory, in greatness, and in wealth, cannot be discerned by the fairness of the ways, though a little perhaps by the broadness of them, from a village."