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IT may be said, slightly
paraphrasing the words of Scripture, that of making many books concerning the great writers of the world there is no end. Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Milton, Molière, Cervantes, to name but a few of the elect, seem to attract the commentator, the elucidator, the essayist, as the flower attracts the bee. At times we are inclined to feel impatient concerning this tendency, and the wish arises that folk should comment great authors less and would read them more; would more take to heart the lessons that these mighty ones have been called to teach. But a moment's calm reflection forces us to recognise the injustice of our impatient attitude. A great writer and thinker is like a well-cut highly polished diamond-that is to say, he presents a number of facets from each of which is reflected an intense ray of that light which is itself a subdivided emanation from one vast central source. Now the ordinary reader, as a rule, resembles the single facet. He perceives only one section of the matter presented to him, either from lack of previous knowledge of the theme treated, or from idiosyncrasy, which causes him to be more attracted to one aspect of his author's character than to another. Our meaning can be easily illustrated by a reference to Dante. There are those who read the sombre Italian purely, with an eye to his theology. Others attach more importance to his political views, and cre in him a precursor of Italian unity. Others again read him only on account of the stories he relates; and yet others seek in his pages for materials concerning the scandals of his time. Nor is the list ended herewith.
Shakespeare, the great English poet, does not perhaps present such crassly opposed facets as Dante, but he too, to use his own words, has “an infinite variety," and can be studied under many different aspects. And each such careful study devoted to the poet enlargcs our vision and comprehension regarding him, and causes us to appreciate more fully his mental vastness. Now, of Shakespeare's dramatis persona, his women are perhaps the most attractive, and also, in a sense, his most original creations, so different are they, as a whole, from the idcals of the feminine type prevalent in the literature of his day. Dr. Lewes is not the first to write of Shakespcare's women; the ground has been gone over before, a fact he frankly acknowledges; but of the few who have written of Shakcspcarc's licroines, as apart from the male characters and tlic dramas as a whole, only Mrs. Jameson's book, "Characteristics of Wonen," can really challenge comparison with that of the German author. Lady Martin's "Some of Shakespeare's Female Characters" is not exhaustivc. It only deals with a few, and with these rather from a histrionic than a critical point of view. In her essays on Shakespeare's women, embodied in the form of letters to various friends, Lady Martin furnishes us with recollections of her own theatrical life, and of her personal impressions when personating the various types, impressions interesting, and often suggestive, but scarcely to be ranked as critical studies. Dr. Lewes, like a thorough-going German, leaves no female character unnoticed or unexamined. What is especially interesting in his work, and endows it with a pronounced originality, is its chronological method. The book is conceived in an eminently modern spirit. Dr. Lewes does not, like Mrs. Jameson, classify Shakespeare's women under the more or less arbitrary heading of Historical characters, characters of Intellect, of Passion, of Imagination, of the Affections. He analyses Shakespeare's own life and character from the evolutionary point of view, and demonstrates from this how the characters created by the poet were also of necessity subjected to this psychological process. He begins with the Venus of“ Venus and Adonis," Shakespeare's youthful poem, and ends with Queen Catherine, perhaps one of the ripest and most wonderful of Shakespeare's portraits, the very queen of earthly queens, reproduced in all her womanhood, wisdom, nobility, and gentleness, to quote King Henry's own assertion.
It is not, however, my province here to analyse Dr. Lewes's book. It speaks for itself, and will surely excite the same interest and meet with the same favour in Shakespeare's native land that it has met with in Germany, the country where he has always been so lovingly and accurately studied, and where more has been written about him than in England itself. The extracts from Shakespeare quoted in these pages have been taken from the text of the Globc edition, published by Messrs. Macmillan, whose kind courtesy in permitting this is herewith gratefully acknowledged.
FLORENCE, June 1, 1894.
women to a cultivated circle of German readers, is at one and the same time easy and hard. The task is easy,
because whoever writes of Shakespeare for cultivated readers, does not treat of a stranger to strangers, but of a friend to friends, of a favourite whose name is as dear and familiar to such readers as those of their own great masters; because he writes for readers to whom the word Shakespeare is identificd with the memory of hours consecrated to the noblest enjoyment; for readers who greet in Shakespeare a faithful and proved friend, a true confident and adviser. In the same manner as the English made our great musical genius, Handel, their own, and unselfishly granted to him the first place in the kingdom of sound, so have we Germans given to the great Englishman the right of citizenship in our hearts as well as in our literature, and made him ours. Shakespeare has been born again on German soil, to extended honour and to powerful influence. German minds have promoted the deeper comprehension of the most deepsoulcd of all dramatists even among his own countrymen. His immortal dramas are the intellectual property of all cultivated Germans. We are accustomed to look upon the masterly translations they have found in our tongue as classic, belonging to our own literature. But if the thought of treating a subject which is certain to arose the most sympathetic attention of the reader renders our task on the one hand easy and pleasant, there exists on the other a