The Critics Versus Shakspere Part 5

and that "the resemblance ... is unmistakable ... and on the stage even more than in print" these characters "must have seemed to all intents identical."

The only parallel to this in Shakspere's "romances," as drawn by Professor Thorndike, is that the "wicked Queen in 'Cymbeline' is very like the wicked queens of Beaumont and Fletcher," and that "there are other characters ... who show resemblances to Beaumont and Fletcher's stock types." What the resemblances are we are not told, and we need not inquire until we learn which "type" is the original, which the "imitation." Meanwhile, we may rest upon the fact that, so far as queens are concerned, there is no "stock type" in Shakspere; they differ from each other as widely as Hamlet's mother from Imogen's mother-in-law. If any of them resemble Beaumont and Fletcher's queens, it is clear that Beaumont and Fletcher were the "imitators," not Shakspere.

Further similarities are suggested between the "type" of the "faithful friend" as shown in five of Beaumont and Fletcher's "romances" and Gonzalo in "Tempest," Camillo in "Winter's Tale," and Pisanio in "Cymbeline." The "lily-livered heroes" and the "poltroons" are left out of the laborious comparison, perhaps because none of either can be found in Shakspere sufficiently like the original types in Beaumont and Fletcher. The examples of the "faithful friend" are not happy. For Gonzalo sets Prospero adrift in a crazy boat and Camillo betrays one patron to save another.

Still following the a.s.sumption that "Philaster" was earlier than "Cymbeline," we find Professor Thorndike a.s.serting that "Cymbeline"

"shows a puzzling decadence" in style, "an increase in the proportion of double endings," "a constant deliberate effort to conceal the metre"; "the verse constantly borders on prose"; "Shakspere's structure in general is like Fletcher's, particularly in the use of parentheses and contracted forms for 'it is,' 'he is,' 'I will.'" There is a "loss of mastery" in "Cymbeline," "an apparently conscious and not quite successful struggle to overcome the difficulties of the new structure."

An apologetic phrase that all this does not impute any "direct imitation" of Fletcher does not redeem it from the imputation that Shakspere was not content with copying Fletcher's plot, characters, situations, but he deliberately departed, when "Philaster" met his eye, from the methods he had used for more than twenty years, and carefully copied the mannerisms of a contemporary who, according to established chronology, had been known to the public hardly three years. The merits of the charge, whether of direct or indirect imitation, must be determined solely by the priority in date of the two plays. Meanwhile, the critic's argument would have more force if he had told us how "Cymbeline" shows a "puzzling decadence," how "the structure is like Fletcher's," how the struggle to overcome the difficulty of its novelty appears. As the argument stands it reminds one of Lowell's remark in relation to this style of criticism: "Scarce one but was satisfied that his ten finger tips were a sufficient key to those astronomic wonders of poise and counterpoise ... in his metres; scarce one but thought he could gauge like an ale-firkin that intuition whose edging shallows may have been sounded, but whose abysses, stretching down amid the sunless roots of Being and Consciousness, mock the plummet."

Professor Thorndike takes the further point, in his review of the Drama from 1601 to 1611, that during that period "There are almost no romantic tragi-comedies"; that in fact, including "Measure for Measure," there are only five which offer the slightest generic resemblance to the heroic tragi-comedies like "Philaster" and "Winter's Tale"; that when "Philaster" appeared, there had been "no play for seven or eight years at all resembling it"; and draws the conclusion that Shakspere, who had been writing "gloomy tragedies" for several years, suddenly left that style and wrote "Cymbeline" in imitation of "Philaster," because "Philaster" had "filled the audience with surprise and delight." The uncomplimentary and uncritical remark is added that perhaps "Timon" and "Coriola.n.u.s" had not achieved great success on the stage--at any rate the success of "Philaster" aroused his interest.

"Timon" is a.s.signed by most critics to the last of Shakspere's life, by many to the year 1612. "Cymbeline," as we have seen, was acted before May 15th, 1611; it is therefore difficult to understand, if the date a.s.signed to "Timon" is correct, how its failure could have "influenced"

the production of "Cymbeline."

But Professor Thorndike's statement is incorrect. During the decade named, "Measure for Measure" was acted at Court in 1604; his conjectural date of "Philaster" is 1608. As we have shown, "Measure for Measure"

fully answers his definition of the "romance" or "heroic tragi-comedy,"

and he admits that it bears a generic resemblance to "Philaster." His statement that for seven or eight years before "Philaster" "no play had appeared at all resembling it" is therefore without support, and contradicts his own admission. He a.s.sumes much more, and to support his conclusion argues that "Philaster" was perhaps produced before 1608. The importance of the point justifies deliberate attention. Against the opinion of most scholars, against the express statement of Dryden, he a.s.signs "Pericles" to the year 1608; credits Shakspere with the authorship of the "Marina story;" admits that "the plot is ... like those of the romances, and particularly like that of the 'Winter's Tale,' in dealing with a long series of tragic events leading to a happy ending," but endeavors to escape the inevitable conclusion, by the statement, utterly inconsistent with his own chronology, that, "if the play was as late as 1608, there is a possibility of Beaumont and Fletcher's influence just as in the romances."

"Pericles" contains a sentimental love story, the plot is like that of the "romances," the variety of the emotional effects is similar, and there is a contrast of tragic and idyllic elements. The play is founded upon a "romantic story." All this is admitted, but Professor Thorndike thinks the love story is not sufficiently prominent, the idyllic elements are not treated as in the romances, and Marina is therefore not like any of the heroines of Beaumont and Fletcher, but, while "something like Portia, more like Isabella." And so "Pericles" is distinguished from the romances because the "treatment" is "different," and finally, because Professor Thorndike is committed to the theory that Beaumont and Fletcher "created" a new type of drama, he a.s.serts that "'Pericles' is doubtless earlier than Shakspere's romances, but there is no probability that it preceded all of Beaumont and Fletcher's." Dryden in his Prologue to Davenant's "Circe" says: "Shakspere's own muse his Pericles first bore," and the great weight of opinion is that it was a very early production. The "Story of Marina" is as romantic as "Cymbeline," and is of the same "type" as "Philaster," and therefore, if Dryden is right, there is a strong probability that "Pericles" preceded all of Beaumont and Fletcher's romances, and that in "Cymbeline" Shakspere did not imitate them.

We come at last to the end of the argument. Professor Thorndike, premising that the historical portion of "Cymbeline" and the exile of Posthumous have no parallels in "Philaster," inst.i.tutes a detailed comparison between the plots, characters, and composition of the two plays, and shows that they are so strikingly similar as to justify the positive conclusion that "Shakspere influenced Beaumont and Fletcher or that they influenced him." We may admit more than this: If "Cymbeline"

followed "Philaster," he was not only influenced by them, he not only imitated them, he was a plagiarist; and no apologetic words that, upon the a.s.sumption stated, "Cymbeline" did not owe a very large share of its total effect to "Philaster," can make less the gravity of the charge, and if the a.s.sumption is groundless or even probably groundless, no excuse remains to the critic who makes it.

Let us see: After all his learned review of dramatic chronology, after all his statements conveying the a.s.surance that "Philaster" was the original "type" of the "romance," Professor Thorndike says in so many words, which for accuracy we quote: "Some such statement of the influence of 'Philaster' on 'Cymbeline' could be adopted if we were certain of our chronology. But the evidence for the priority of 'Philaster' is not conclusive, and its support cannot be confidently relied upon. Leaving aside, then, the question of exact date, and only premising the fact that both plays were written at about the same time, we must face the questions,--which is more plausible, that Shakspere influenced Beaumont and Fletcher or that they influenced him? Which on its face is more likely to be the original, 'Cymbeline' or 'Philaster'?"

If "Cymbeline" was first written, then "Philaster" becomes not an original but a copy, adaptation, imitation, plagiarism, if you will. The similarities remain the same, the argument is reversed. We have shown that the evidence is conclusive, in the opinion of the best critics, that "Cymbeline" preceded "Philaster." Coleridge, Ulrici, Tieck and Knight think that "this varied-woven romantic history had inspired the poet in his youth" to attempt its adaptation to the stage; that having had but a temporary appearance, Shakspere long afterwards, near the end of his career, may have remodelled it, and Malone, Chalmers, and Drake a.s.sign "Cymbeline" with "Macbeth" to 1605 or 1606. Our argument might be safely put upon this point alone. Professor Thorndike's is placed solely upon "plausibility" and "likelihood." To support it, he a.s.sumes again the certainty of "the priority of Philaster"--which he had just admitted to be uncertain--in order to show "the nature of Shakspere's indebtedness," and then concludes from "the nature of the indebtedness,"

and from the fact that "Philaster" "was followed immediately by five romances of the same style in plot and characters" "which mark Fletcher's work for the next twenty years," that "these facts create a strong presumption that 'Philaster' was the original," "a strong presumption that 'Cymbeline' was the copy," and finally ends the argument as it began, with these flattering words: "We may, indeed, safely a.s.sert that Shakspere almost never invented dramatic types." And this is the argument which Professor Wendell thinks "virtually proves that several of their plays (Beaumont and Fletcher's romances) must have been in existence decidedly before 'Cymbeline,' 'The Tempest' or 'Winter's Tale,'" "that the relation commonly thought to have existed between them and Shakspere is precisely reversed."

Let us answer both Teacher and Pupil. Suppose, to follow the Thorndike method, that "Cymbeline" appeared before "Philaster," that six romances by Beaumont and Fletcher followed in rapid succession, while only two by Shakspere appeared, but differing essentially from each other and from "Philaster." Suppose that "Cymbeline" upon its first night "filled the audience with surprise and delight," that Beaumont and Fletcher, perceiving "its dramatic and poetic excellence," copied in "Philaster" a portion of its plot and attempted to copy some of its characters and situations. Suppose their experiment with this copy took the crowd by storm--Isn't it reasonable to suppose that they would repeat the profitable attempt as many times as the applause warranted? Isn't that just what they did, repeating and imitating themselves over and over, until Beaumont died? Does the number of repet.i.tions and imitations increase the "plausibility" or "likelihood" of the theory that "Philaster" was the original of the type? If Shakspere found his gain increasing by copying the fable, character, style, and denouement of "Philaster," why did he not continue to copy in "The Tempest" and "Winter's Tale," and why is it impossible for Professor Thorndike to deny originality to either of these plays, except by his careless error as to Miranda's "proposal" and the reference to Lady Amelia gathering flowers at Oxford in 1566? Professor Thorndike's argument comes to this and only this: If Shakspere wrote "Cymbeline" before Beaumont and Fletcher wrote "Philaster," then Shakspere was the "creator of the heroic romances." If the question of priority is doubtful, it is just as impossible to prove the "plausibility" or "likelihood" of priority as it is to prove the date. There is no proof, therefore, no presumption, strong or weak, that "Cymbeline" was influenced by "Philaster" or was a "copy" of it. But there is proof that Beaumont and Fletcher repeatedly and habitually imitated Shakspere, and we cite it mostly from Professor Thorndike's essay.

In "The Two n.o.ble Kinsmen" there is a "distinct imitation of the circ.u.mstances of Ophelia's madness and death in Hamlet." In "The Woman Hater," a.s.signed conjecturally to 1605 or 1606 by Professor Thorndike, there are "several burlesque imitations of Hamlet."

In "The Knight of the Burning Pestle" (1607-1608) there are burlesque imitations of pa.s.sages in "Henry IV." and in "Romeo and Juliet."

In "Philaster" occurs this line:

"Mark but the King, how pale he looks with fear,"

--a distinct parody of the similar line in "Hamlet"; but it will be remarked that Professor Thorndike calls it an "echo," not an imitation.

In "The Woman's Prize," improbably a.s.signed to 1604, the whole play is imitated from "The Taming of the Shrew,"--is in fact an attempted sequel to it, and Professor Thorndike wanders from chronology to indulge a sneer, by the remark that "The Woman's Prize" was "very well liked,"

the "Taming of the Shrew" only "liked." Possibly that was because then, as now, some people preferred imitations.

In "The Woman's Prize," there is also a burlesque on "Hamlet" and a parody on "King Lear." In "The Triumph of Death" these lines occur:--

"No, take him dead drunk now, without repentance, His lechery enseamed upon him,"

and Professor Thorndike says "it sounds like a bit from an old revenge play." It is a distinct imitation from "Hamlet" where the King is seen at his prayers.

In the "Scornful Lady" there is one certain and one possible slur at "Hamlet."

In "Cupid's Revenge" there is an imitation from "Antony and Cleopatra."

In "Philaster" Arethusa imitates Lear when he awakens from insanity to consciousness.

Upon the Wendell-Thorndike theory, we have a few undisputed facts bearing upon the "plausibility" of the conclusion that Beaumont and Fletcher "influenced" Shakspere, the likelihood that "Philaster" was the original, "Cymbeline" the "copy." Shakspere at the age of forty-six, long after he had portrayed the real insanity of Lear, the simulated insanity of Hamlet, the confessional dream of Lady Macbeth; long after he had "filled the audience with surprise and delight" by the romantic realities of Hero and Portia, of Viola and Rosalind; years after he had antic.i.p.ated the heroic "romance" in the romantic adventures of Marina; long after he had depicted the heroic triumph of Isabella over the l.u.s.tful Angelo--this man, Shakspere, condescended to imitate a youth of twenty-two, whose name was Beaumont, to steal from him much of the plot, characters, action, and denouement of "Philaster" and to make the theft more open and unblushing, presented "Cymbeline" upon the same stage within a year of the original "type," and a.s.signed the parts to the same actors who had won remarkable popular applause for the drama from which he had "cribbed" his imitation. And this imitation was not from friendly authors, but from those of a hostile school, who had during their whole career borrowed from his plots, parodied his phrases, and ridiculed his masterpieces by slurs and burlesques. We respectfully dissent from the a.s.sertion that these facts "create a strong presumption that 'Philaster'

was the original," "Cymbeline" the "copy." On the contrary, it seems to us that they are utterly inconsistent with any such presumption, and with the whole theory and teaching of Professors Wendell and Thorndike.

That theory, as we have shown, is based upon the a.s.sumption that Marlowe, or Greene, or Peele, or somebody else, wrote most of "Henry VI"; the a.s.sumption that Fletcher helped Shakspere write "Henry VIII"; the a.s.sumption that Shakspere a.s.sisted Fletcher in the composition of "The Two n.o.ble Kinsmen"; the unsupported, the admitted conjecture that "Philaster" was written before October 8th, 1610; the unwarranted a.s.sertion that Beaumont and Fletcher "created the romance" in spite of the admission that the date of creation depends upon the priority of "Cymbeline" or "Philaster," which is likewise admitted to be wholly uncertain; the suppression of the proof from "Measure for Measure" that, years before "Philaster," Shakspere, within the proposed definition, had produced a romantic tragi-comedy; the guess as to priority in favor of Beaumont and Fletcher, in spite of repeated imitations by them from previous plays of Shakspere. And so the argument in support of the theory is a pyramid of _ifs_, supporting an apex that vanishes into the thin air of an invisible conclusion.

To us, after all this latest effort to depose the sovereign of English literature from the throne where he has worn the crown for more than three centuries, and seat there a pretender, having no t.i.tle, either by divine right or the suffrages of mankind, Shakspere is the sovereign still.

He needed and he sought no allies to win his realm; he imitated no fashions of other courts to maintain his own; he took good care that the records of his universal conquests should be kept,--written by his own hand, and fortunately preserved by his friends,--secure from the interpolations and imitations of his contemporaries and successors.

Much has been written of Shakspere's impersonality, and we have been taught to think that his dramas are utterly silent as to his own experience. But now and then one finds in them a glimpse of it, as the lightning flash in the darkest night for an instant shows the heavens and the earth. That others attempted to imitate him is clear enough; that he imitated others, and least of all Beaumont and Fletcher, n.o.body can reasonably believe who reads his opinion of the imitator in "Julius Caesar":

"A barren spirited fellow; one that feeds On objects, arts, and imitations, Which, out of use, and stal'd by other men, Begin his fashion."

Matthew Arnold's verdict has not been reversed.

"_Others abide our question. Thou art free._ _We ask and ask--Thou smilest and art still,_ _Out-topping knowledge. For the loftiest hill,_ _Who to the stars uncrowns his majesty,_

"_Planting his stedfast footsteps in the sea,_ _Making the heaven of heavens his dwelling-place,_ _Spares but the cloudy border of his base_ _To the foil'd searching of mortality;_

"_And thou, who didst the stars and sunbeams know,_ _Self-school'd, self-scann'd, self-honour'd, self-secure,_ _Didst tread on earth unguess'd at.--Better so!_

"_All pains the immortal spirit must endure,_ _All weakness which impairs, all griefs which bow,_ _Find their sole speech in that victorious brow._"

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