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And so of the world in which they move. It is not the real world, but a world just raised above it. Yet never far, for the author's is no aspiring spirit. It might be described as a great earth-spirit, looking down, from no great height, with affection and interest on human affairs. In certain moods, when he seems to conciliate the grosser element, there is a forced and rather unscrupulous worldliness about his writing, to which he descends from the heights which are his natural habitat. Occasionally, and notably with the advance of life, the presence of decay and death, and the mutability of things, breaks in upon his projects and contemplations. The equilibrium, which is the normal condition of the poet's mind, is then violently disturbed, and this finds expression in clamorous outcries of helplessness and pain. The same effect is produced by the moral problem and the difficulty of reconciling pleasure with duty, ambition with conscience, the world of action with the world of thought. But these moods are not long-lived, and they give place, sooner or later, to that passionless calm which is at once the mystery and the fascination of Shakespeare. In this mood he is sheer spirit and seems to belong to another world.
I fear I am undertaking a thankless task, but I mean in this book to try to follow the track of Bacon's life and to find the reflection of it in these plays. At the same time I shall offer some remarks about the plays which have occurred to me in the course of reading and reflection. This will not be an erudite commentary. The author having, as I believe, wisely suppressed his own erudition, would, as it seems to me, be the last person to wish it dug up, and, except in so far as it may enable us to identify him and understand his ideas, what object can it serve to burden our minds with useless information ? The plays were written for popular hearing and still more (in a future foreseen by their author) for general reading. His attitude is that of a great teacher who addresses himself primarily to his own class, the upper classes of England, who in his day were for the most part rude and uncultivated. For the people as he knew them he has a kindly tolerance, and to some extent an affection, provided they keep within the bounds of obedience and do not aspire to authority in the
State. That he foresaw their efforts in this direction in the future seems certain, and he does all in his power, by precept, example, ridicule, scathing denunciation and contempt, to prevent such a catastrophe. But he also foresaw the extension of education and enlightenment, and valued his own plays as a means to this end and as likely to prove a blessing to humanity far beyond the bounds of his own class and country. To all this great and growing audience, and especially to Englishmen, he seems to say: Do not trouble overmuch about learning, but strive in action to improve the conditions of your life and to live like reasonable beings. Learn wherein a well ordered State consists and fit yourselves for the destiny which awaits you. Here are examples. I have shaped them for you as touchstones of feeling and guides for conduct out of the deeds of the present and the memorials of the past. How I have done it and the way in which I have used my documents need not concern you. It is enough that you have the fruits of my labour for your use and enjoyment. As for the learned they are men apart, and if they realise their mission they are high priests and leaders. Only let them pursue their learning to useful ends, for learning not so applied is dross and vanity.
It will be said that this is more Bacon than Shakespeare ; but I cannot distinguish between them.
We will now proceed to an examination of the several plays in so far as they bear on the purpose of this book.
THE EARLIER PLAYS
LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST: THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA : THE COMEDY OF ERRORS : THE TAMING OF THE SHREW : ROMEO AND JULIET : ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL : THE MERCHANT OF VENICE : THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR : MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING : AS YOU LIKE IT :
Love's Labour's Lost.
This is supposed to be Shakespeare's earliest play. I have argued, however, in my book on Spenser that Bacon began to write plays as a boy, and that his earliest surviving effort in this form is The Glasse of Government, published under the name of Gascoigne. It is significant that the
1 theme of that very immature effort is the education of youth, a subject which to the last was among Bacon's dearest interests. Love's Labour's Lost deals largely with the same theme, but less didactically. It is also French in manner and setting. A truly remarkable phenomenon if it sprang, as a first effort, from the brain of a man brought up in a humble situation in the heart of Warwickshire !
Now this writer, as I believe, when once behind his mask, was the most candid of men. Cunning as a fox in his relations with the world, from himself he had no secrets. He revels in self-expression, all the more as he feels himself secure from observation and censure.
1 I have also argued in my book on Harvey and Nashe that Bacon was the author, at a very early age, of the anonymous play Maydes Metamorphosis," and of the plays—some of them evidently the work of a youth-attributed to Lyly.
Invest me with in my motley; give me leave
In Biron of this play the author manifestly gives an idealised presentment of himself. There is no character in the plays in which self-portraiture is more plainly evident, And as the picture is that of a youth of position emerging from his studies under the first impression of feminine attractions, and as in such a nature that event would occur at a comparatively late stage of development, we may take it that the age depicted was at about his nineteenth year. The picture drawn, moreover, suggests this. That this age was also not much earlier than the time when the play was composed is suggested by its preciosity, strained conceits and ostentatious display of verbal wit. It belongs, in short, to the period when the author was immersed in book-learning and had not yet learned to make use of his information without parading it. There is also throughout a note of extreme selfsatisfaction and a sort of boastful self-confidence indicative of a spirit not yet tried by the disillusionments of the world. The light-hearted gaiety of the piece points also to the same stage of development in a character naturally serious and given to brooding and discontent.
This play was the first of the plays which appeared in print under Shakespeare's name. It was published in 1598 as "newly corrected and augmented.” Most authorities seem to be agreed that it was composed in its original form about 1590 or 1591—a few people indeed place it earlierthe ground for this conclusion apparently being that the names of the French lords seem to have been formed from those of the leaders of the civil war in France which was in progress from 1589 to 1594. There is, however, no certainty that these were the names adopted in the original draft. But of course, such a date, or indeed any date earlier than 1590, would be impossible for Shakespearians, as the actor could not have come to London from Stratford before about 1587, and it is necessary to allow him a few years for self-education. On this assumption the man who wrote this play had arrived
at the mature age of twenty-seven. How is it conceivable that a man who had been brought up in poverty and suffered all its trials could have displayed such immaturity as this play indicates at such an age ? Moreover men in those days grew up much earlier than they do now. Iago, in the play of Othello, is represented as being only twenty-eight. At twenty-seven a man of William Shakespeare's class would have been a hard-bitten man of the world, not a callow youth.
On the other hand the conditions exactly fit the life of Francis Bacon. He went to France on the staff of the English embassy at the age of sixteen, travelled with the court in France, and probably on other missions to Italy1 and Spain, and returned to London to settle in chambers at Gray's Inn in his nineteenth year, that is in 1580. In my view he composed this play within a very few years of that date, for I do not believe that it could have been written by a man who was over twenty-five. Of course it may have been considerably altered later.
The play may be described as a court or drawing room comedy and was evidently written for private performance by young people of quality. The scene is laid in a royal park in France, the characters bear French names, the play of verbal wit is French. Especially noticeable is the tendency to indecent double entendre. This is foreign to the genius of the English language which in such matters is frank and coarse rather than subtle. What we meet with in this manner
1 There is evidence, amounting to absolute proof, in Bacon's Essays, that he had travelled in Italy. See later at p. 179. It is possible that Bacon may have made a second tour abroad in 1582-3, and by some a letter to him at Orleans from Sir T. Bodley, published originally in Parr's Life of Archbishop Usher, and later in Reliquiæ Bodleianæ, has been cited in support of this suggestion. But the letter is undated, and I can find no evidence for it belonging to 1582. The internal evidence rather suggests to me that it belongs to the first journey abroad, as it gives advice on travel, with reference to France, as though to a young novice. At the same time in this letter Bodley sends Bacon £30 in reply to " a request in your letter dated the 19th October at Orleans, I received here the 18th of December," from which, of course, it may be argued that Bacon's father was no longer alive and that therefore the period is subsequent to the first journey.