« AnteriorContinuar »
Brutus (called Decius in the play) and his power over Cæsar, and mentions it in conjunction with Calphurnia's dream :
"With Julius Cæsar, Decimus Brutus had obtained that interest, as he set him down in his testament for heir in remainder after his nephew. And this was the man that had power with him to draw him forth to his death. For when Cæsar would have discharged the senate, in regard to some ill presages, and especially a dream of Calphurnia, this man lifted him gently by the arm out of his chair, telling him he hoped he would not dismiss the senate till his wife had dreamed a better dream. And it seemeth his favour was so great, as Antonius, in a letter, which is recited verbatim in one of Cicero's Philippics, called him venefica, witch, as if he had enchanted Cæsar."
This is all in the play.
Never fear that; if he be so resolved,
For I can give his humour the true bent,
And I will bring him to the Capitol.
This dream is all amiss interpreted;
Besides it were a mock
Apt to be render'd, for some one to say
'Break up the senate till another time,
When Cæsar's wife shall meet with better dreams.'
Again, in the Advancement of Learning there is an allusion to the meeting of the conspirators :
"Again, we see when M. Brutus and Cassius invited to a supper certain whose opinions they meant to feel, whether they were fit to be made their associates, and cast forth the question touching the killing of a tyrant being an usurper, they were divided in opinion, some holding that servitude was the extreme of evils, and others that tyranny was better than a civil war."1
There is also the following well-known parallel in this play:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
1" Chandos Classics" edition, p. 239.
"In the third place I set down reputation, because of the peremptory tides and currents it hath; which, if they be not taken in their due time, are seldom recovered, it being extreme hard to play an aftergame of reputation.”
Advancement of Learning 1
Generally, there is the same admiration of Cæsar in the play and in Bacon's works. Cæsar as a man of action and affairs was Bacon's great hero and he is never tired of alluding to him. Thus in the Advancement he adduces him and Alexander as the two greatest examples in the world of the concurrence of military virtue and learning:
"Alexander the great and Cæsar the dictator whose virtues and acts of war there needs no note or recital, having been the wonders of time in that kind; but of their affections towards learning and perfection in learning, it is pertinent to say somewhat."'*
In the play Cæsar is described by Anthony as
the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.
There is a manuscript in the British Museum of an Elizabethan play called Sir Thomas More" which has exercised the ingenuity of many critics. Its interest in the present connection is that it contains a scene which bears a close resemblance in its general tone with the Forum scene in Julius Cæsar. The play had been submitted to Sir Edmund Tilney, the Master of the Revels, and on the front page of it he has written, "Leave out ye insurrection wholy and the cause thereoff att your own perilles. E. Tyllney." Some one has thereupon written in a new scene drawn on lines which would be allowed by the authorities. The hand in which this is written is known by experts as "Hand D." and is supposed by some to be Shakespeare's, because the lines are very Shakespearian in character and the writing appears, from the corrections, to be the handwriting of the author of the scene, not of a copyist.
I have examined the manuscript of this play on a good many occasions, but I do not feel able to express an opinion about the problem of the several handwritings; in fact, I can add nothing to what is said about it in the introduction to Mr. C. F. Tucker Brooke's Shakespeare Apocrypha, where the reader will find it fully discussed. But it is to be noted that the harangue of More to the crowd is on lines of high prerogative, and that it supports Burghley's policy, which was very unpopular, of encouraging foreigners to settle in England with a view to the development of handicrafts in which they far excelled the English at that time. It seems hopeless to settle this question by the test of the handwriting; it must be determined, if at all, by the internal evidence. I admit that the scene is very Shakespearian in tone; it is also designed to support the policy of the government, and I rather lean to the view that it was supplied by Shakespeare (by whom I mean Bacon), but I do not feel certain about it.1
The scene in Julius Caesar of the mob tearing to pieces the poet Cinna in mistake for Cinna the conspirator (III. iii) is taken from Plutarch's Life of Brutus, but the grim joke thrown in,"Tear him for his bad verses," is the author's own, and adds to the horror of the scene. Not content with this, he brings in another poet at the close of the quarrel between Brutus and Cassius, the greatest scene of the play (IV. iii). The writing here shows animus against poets, because the scene is quite superfluous and is designed to show the literary man in a ridiculous light beside the men of action :
Poet. For shame, you generals! What do you mean ?
I'll know his humour, when he knows his time:
1 The question of the handwriting was discussed in a correspondence which took place in the Literary Supplement of the Times, in the spring of 1919.
How are we to account for this? Perhaps as an example of the deference paid by men of thought to men of action. Goethe, for instance, is said to have envied Napoleon. In Bacon's case, there was a perpetual conflict between the desire for a life of action and a life of contemplation. The latter was his true bent, but he was dissatisfied with it and thirsted for a life of action, for which he was less fit. He admitted this himself, especially towards the close of his life. Thus, in the prayer written at the time of his fall, he speaks of his " talent of thy gift and graces," how that he had "misspent it in things for which I was least fit; so as I may truly say, my soul hath been a stranger in the course of my pilgrimage." He makes the same remark again and again, and (as an example of it) even as early as 1605 he writes thus to Sir Thomas Bodley in sending him a copy of his Advancement of Learning:
"I think no man may more truly say with the Psalm Multum incola fuit anima mea, than myself. For I do confess, since I was of any understanding, my mind hath in effect been absent from that I have done; and in absence are many errors which I do willingly acknowledge; and amongst the rest this great one led the rest; that knowing myself by inward calling to be fitter to hold a book than to play a part, I have led my life in civil causes; for which I was not very fit by nature, and more unfit by the preoccupation of my mind.”
We have an earlier example of dissatisfaction with the very course of life which later on Bacon regretted having missed. Thus to his uncle, begging for State employment:
"And if your Lordship will not carry me on, I will not do as Anaxagoras did, who reduced himself with contemplation to voluntary poverty: but this I will do; I will sell the inheritance that I have, and purchase some lease of quick revenue, or some office of gain that shall be executed by deputy, and so give over all care of service, and become some sorry book-maker, or a true pioner in the mine of truth, which (he said) lay so deep."3
We are reminded of Shakespeare's
With what I most enjoy contented least.
But there is another aspect of the scene with the Poet. It is an expression of intolerence of the literary performance of others; perhaps also of a great artistic temperament seeing its own infirmities reflected in its meaner brethren. In my book on Spenser I gave a number of examples of abusive criticism of contemporary "rhymers," all I believe by Bacon, but under other names. See the Index under "Poetry—I.” But the most striking one occurs in the comment by Alcibiades on Timon's epitaph, as to which the reader is referred to the remarks below under the head of that play.
Hamlet. Brilliant and interesting as it is, Hamlet is a depressing play. This is partly due to the story, but more to the treatment. The conversations of Hamlet, for instance, with Ophelia seem to me almost unendurable. On the other hand the author created Ophelia, and perhaps this could not have been done in any other way. The play is also full of bitterness and complaints. To what then is its peculiar fascination due? Partly to the language, with its almost miraculous felicity of phrase and imagery, partly to the wealth of worldly observation, but most to the fact that through the character of Hamlet the self-element finds such strong expression at a time when the author had reached a ripe maturity. Just as in Lear, at a later stage, the author takes advantage of the old king's madness to express his own mind, so he does in the case of Hamlet, though with less irrelevancy. I think the "complexity" of the character has been exaggerated. Masterly as the method of exposition is, the ideas discussed are neither subtle nor very profound. They embrace the great commonplaces of life, expressed in the most wonderful language; hence the universal appeal. As to the motives, which are often puzzling, it must be remembered that Shakespeare found his character ready-made, and followed the original in making the hero pretend madness as a means of effecting his purposes. He also drew him as genuinely distraught and oppressed by the task laid on him for which he was unfitted by nature. Therefore he had to picture him as saying and doing strange things.