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STANZAS CXXVII TO CLII.
TO HIS MISTRESS, ON HER INFIDELITY.
All the stanzas in the preceding poems are retained in their original order; the printers, without disturbing the links, having done no worse than the joining together of five chains into one. But I suspect the same attention has not been paid to this address to his mistress. Indeed I farther suspect that some stanzas, irrelevant to the subject, have been introduced into the body of it. For instance, stanzas 135th and 136th, containing a string of puns upon his own name, Will, may very well have been addressed to his mistress prior to her infidelity, but they are contradictory to his resolution to leave her for ever. If it be urged that he is constantly, as in these stanzas, confessing his love for her in spite of her infidelity, I answer that it is no more than the confession, by no means in a playful mood, of an acknowledged weakness, which he is resolute to overcome; the whole tenor of his confession being,
“Love is my sin, and my dear virtue hate,–
Hate of my sin, grounded on sinful loving."
However he may waver, and, for the moment, seem to return to his former thraldom, indignation at her faithlessness, and at her having been, through treachery, the cause of his estrangement from a friend, at the last completely conquers his “sinful loving." In the concluding stanza he leaves, her in the bitterest language that could be framed for the occasion. On this account, the stanzas containing the puns on his name, appear to me out of keeping with the rest, being altogether of too playful a character.
Stanza 145th strangely comes upon us in the octosyllabic measure ; and stanza 146th is an address to his own soul, the solemn nature of which cannot be regarded as congruous with the rest. These two stanzas should be expunged from the poem. It is remarkable that they are placed exactly where there seems to have been a pause or division; the first part being written in doubt and jealousy, and the after part in certainty of the woman's infidelity. Another division of the same kind may indeed be pointed out; and both, or the three parts, taken together, may be well likened to the struggles and love, each overcoming the other by turns, till finally such love is utterly destroyed as worthless. But the octosyllabic stanza, and the address to his soul which follows, can, neither of them, for different reasons, belong to the poem.
Allowing these exceptions, the poem may be read with a tolerable continuity of feeling, possibly as much as the subject will admit. It is a stormy feeling, buffetted to and fro, and presents an admirable picture of pain and distraction, caused by an almost overwhelming passion for a worthless object.
The stanza, containing the anatomy of an evil passion, is perfectly in its place. I give it as a masterpiece, and as a specimen of grand moral writing. It speaks fearfully home to the worst part of our nature:
“ The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
Before a joy proposed; behind a dream :
I repeat that the two sonnets, printed at the end, about Cupid and a nymph of Diana, belong to nothing but themselves. This poem must have been written just before the second one to his friend; or soon after, in dramatic retrospection.
I fear some readers may be surprised that I have not yet noticed a certain fault in Shakespeare, a glaring one,—his having a mistress, while he had a wife of his own, perhaps, at Stratford. May no persons be inclined, on this account, to condemn him with a bitterness equal to their own virtue ! For myself, I confess I have not the heart to blame him at all,-purely because he so keenly reproaches himself for his own sin and folly. Fascinated as he was, he did not, like other poets similarly guilty, directly or by implication, obtrude his own passions on the world as reasonable laws. Had such been the case, he might have merited our censure, possibly our contempt. On the contrary, he condemned and subdued his fault, and may therefore be cited
as a good rather than as a bad example. Should it be contended that he seems to have quitted his mistress more on account of her unworthiness than from conscientious feelings, I have nothing to answer beyond this: I will not join in seeking after questionable motives for good actions, well knowing, by experience, that when intruded on me, they have been nothing but a nuisance to my better thoughts.
DID HE VISIT ITALY
ABOUT the period of his writing the first, or the two first poems to his friend, (for both might have been written without much intervening time) or a few years previous to his production of the Merchant of Venice, did he visit Italy?
In order that my examination of this question may be appreciated according to its bare merits, and no more, in fairness I commence by stating that nothing can uproot my belief of his having been there; a belief grounded on a variety of internal evidence, which I shall point out in the works he produced after 1597. Consequently the reader may regard everything urged as matter brought. forward to establish a favourite theory; though, in justice to myself, let me declare that I am unconscious of a wish to omit or weaken any circumstance tending to invalidate the evidence.
If in the judgment of others, capable of judging, this belief should be pronounced reasonable, it would add an interesting portion to his biography, explain some allusions in his writings hitherto not understood,