« ZurückWeiter »
way. In Sonnet 37, the writer states that in the abundance of his patron he is sufficed, and in the 40th
I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty. In the 112th Sonnet he speaks of the 'vulgar scandal' of which he was the object, and expresses his unconcern at it.
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
To know my shames and praises from your tongue. That many vulgar scandals were repeated against Marlowe is but too evident from contemporary literature ; but that no similar aspersions were ever cast on the character of Shakespeare is equally certain. There were never any charges made against Shakespeare for his vices or his loose life; although there were a few envious charges made against him, by unsuccessful authors whose plays were presented to him as manager of a theatre, because he corrected their crude compositions and fitted them for representation, and by his masterly touches turned their common brass into gold by the wondrous alchemy of his genius; and got credit for the whole work, and not for the emendation only. But this was all. His moral character was absolutely unassailed ; and even professional jealousy found him without a chink or flaw in the armour of his high and pure
character. It was not so with the unfortunate Marlowe, one of whose contemporaries—the author of the Return from Parnassus-wrote of him and his genius :
Pity it was that wit so ill should dwell,
Wit sent from heaven, but vices sent from hell. Marlowe, who was unsuccessful, may have been discontented with the unprofitable vocation of a writer of plays—the successful Shakespeare had no reason to be so. Marlowe may have complained of his profession as an actor, more especially after bis accident at the Curtain Theatre, which partially disqualified him; but Shakespeare was never disqualified from acting. Moreover, he did not need to be an actor, but acquired a competent, and even a handsome, fortune by his success as a manager and proprietor of theatres. For these and other reasons that might be cited, the unconnected sonnets scattered through the third series may well be ascribed to Marlowe, whose position they so faithfully portray, and not to Shakespeare, into whose character and circumstances they do not fit in the slightest respect.
In this group of sonnets may be included several that seem to refer to the jealousy excited in the minds of inferior poets by the success of the greater dramatists of the time, in which Shakespeare must, and Marlowe may be, included. The attacks upon Marlowe and Shakespeare were led by a scurrilous dramatist of the day, named
Robert Greene, an utter Bohemian of the most disreputable class, without a tithe of the genius or character of Marlowe, or without a tithe of the tithe either of the genius or the character of Shakespeare. Greene, shortly before his death-1593-wrote a tract, pamphlet, or libel, entitled A Groatsworth of Wit bought with a Million of Repentance, in which he disparaged and calumniated all who wrote plays, and especially held up Marlowe and Shakespeare to the reprobation of their contemporaries. He spoke of Shakespeare as having “ a tiger's head wrapt in a player's hide,' as a 'Johannes Factotum,' as a 'Shake-scene,' and as an upstart crowe;' and of Marlowe as 6a broacher of diabolical Atheism,' of the two as buckram gentlemen.' This pamphlet was afterwards published by Henry Chettle, another play-writer of inferior mark. Both Marlowe and Shakespeare very naturally took offence at Chettle's publication, and are reported to have been convinced that these attacks were not really written by Greene, but were the forgeries of Chettle, foisted by him into Greene's ill-written manuscript in copying it after the author's death. Chettle, however, denied the charge, and publicly regretted the imputations which Greene had made, and which he, Chettle, had allowed to be published.
With neither of them (he said in the preface to Kind-Hart's Dream) was I acquainted, and with one of them (Marlowe) I care not if I nerer be. The other (Shakespeare) at that time I did not so much spare as I wish I had. ... because myselfe have seene his demeanor, no less civil than he excellent in the qualitie he professes. Besides, divers of worship hare reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing that approves his art.
Ben Jonson, afterwards the firm friend of Shakespeare, had at an early period of his career joined the pack of curs that were jealous of the great dramatist's success, so far surpassing theirs, and yelped at his heels, as is the fashion of curs—writing even more scurrilously than Greene had done, in his lines to A Poet Ape':
Poor poet ape ; that would be thought our chief,
Whose works are e'en the fripperies of wit;
As we, the robbed, leave rage, and pity it.
Buy the reversion of old plays ; now grown
He takes up all, makes each man's wit his own;
The sluggish gaping auditor derours.
May judge it to be his, as well as ours.
There can be no doubt that when Ben Jonson, twenty years the
junior of Shakespeare, wrote these lines, which he evidently meant to apply to Shakespeare, he was infected with the jealousy of the minor dramatists of his day, against one who was not alone their superior in poetry, but their master as an employer of poetic and dramatic labour, and that he spoke the feelings of the smaller fry. But he came to know Shakespeare better by-and-bye, recognised the superiority which, in his ignorance, ne had decried, was his boon companion in many a joyous bout; and, after his death, wrote the wellknown and beautiful tribute to his memory which reflects honour alike on his head, his heart, and his repentance. That Shakespeare forgave the spiteful attack cannot be doubted, and that Ben Jonson was sincere in his recantation is equally certain, when, after Shakespeare's death, he addressed him as
Soul of the age,
and declared in the same poem that
He was not for an age but for all time.
In none of the sonnets in which Marlowe certainly, and Shakespeare possibly, appear to complain of slanders, do they appear to show enmity towards traducers. The great soul of Shakespeare, if not too great to express personal annoyance, was much too great to take vengeance or damn the ill-natured snarlers to immortal disgrace, as he might easily have done.
The fourth group of the sonnets can only be claimed as Shakespeare's work on the supposition that these love-poems were written in an assumed character, and as exercises of his fancy, rather than the expression of his feelings, towards a real person or persons of the female sex. At what period, before their publication in 1609, they were written cannot be ascertained by internal evidence; but, whatever the period may have been, between the years 1586 and 1609, the writer, if he were Shakespeare, cannot have truly described himself as an old man. Taking the earliest date, he was only twenty-two, and at the latest no more than forty-five. The writer of Sonnet 62 says:
But when my glass shows me myself indeed
Shakespeare cannot have so written of himself; and again in Sonnet 63:
Against my love shall be, as I am now,
With Time's injurious hand crushed and oerworn. What young man of twenty-two, or what middle-aged man of fortyfive, would, without hypocrisy, or scarcely veiled depreciation, so exaggerate his infirmity or his age ? Two beautiful sonnets, numbered 73 and 74, describe the writing person and his thoughts :
That time of year thou may'st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
But be contented: when that fell arrest,
Without all bail shall carry me away,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
The very part was consecrate to thee.
My spirit is thine, the better part of me;
The prey of worms, my body being dead;
Too base of thee to be remembered.
The foregoing sonnets bear unmistakably the impress of Shakespeare's genius, but quite as unmistakably they prove by internal and conclusive evidence that the portrait sketched was not that of himself, nor of any imaginary person, but a careful study from the life, which aimed at expressing the feelings, aspirations, sorrows, disappointments, and hopes of a real person. Who that person was may be surmised from the following facts.
In the year 1588 there died in London, at the age of fifty-seven, one of the most distinguished noblemen of his time. He was very rich, very powerful, very famous, very fascinating in his manners, and had played a conspicuous, though not a great, part in contemporary history. In his youth he had been eminently handsome, and basked in the full sunshine of Royal favour in the early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. This high personage was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the principal territorial magnate of Shakespeare's native county of Warwick, and Lord of Kenilworth, a princely palace, standing within a few miles of Stratford-upon-Avon. Elizabeth, who was but two years younger than the Earl, visited Kenilworth as his guest no less than three times : first, in 1565, when she was in the flower of her early womanhood, and the Earl was in his thirty-fourth year, and was known to be high in her favour, so high as to aspire to her
hand in marriage. Elizabeth is stated to have left the roof of her noble host on that occasion greatly offended with him, perhaps because he had been either too timid or too bold in pressing his suit, or perhaps because she had heard dark rumours of his secret marriage with Amy Robsart that hurt her feelings as a woman and her pride as a queen. The second visit took place seven years afterwards, when the Earl had made his peace with his sovereign, and regained some portion at least of her forfeited favour. The third occurred in 1575, when Shakespeare was a schoolboy at Stratford, and must have heard of, and perhaps been witness of, the pomp and ceremonial of that great occasion, when the magnificent noble of forty-four entertained with almost regal splendour the mighty queen of forty-two. The politic, calculating, and deep-scheming Earl was bold and ambitious enough to think, notwithstanding the suspicious and ugly rumours relative to the luckless Amy Robsart, that he might yet, if he played his cards well, and soothed the ruffled temper of a proud and jealous woman—and that woman his sovereign-become the King of England. The world believed at the time that he did not indulge in this dream without some degree of encouragement from the Queen, who, though not particularly comely herself, had an almost too obvious admiration for handsome men.
The youthful Shakespeare must have heard of these rumours, familiar as they were to all Warwickshire and to all England. When Shakespeare left his native town, at the age of twenty-two, to try his fortune in London, the great Earl, who had sometimes in the interval been out of favour with his Royal mistress, was after many vicissitudes again high in her esteem, and was entrusted with a mission to the Netherlands or Low Countries, with the rank of lieutenant-general and direct vicegerent of Her Majesty. He was a politician only, no diplomatist, no soldier, nothing but a schemer and plotter, who always cherished the hope that the Queen, who in her young days had been more or less enamoured of his handsome person, still retained in her heart a lingering affection for the bold bad man whose brilliant personal qualities in a bygone day had thrown a spell over her judgment and shed a fairy glamour over her imagination. That Shakespeare from his boyhood was well acquainted with Leicester's history and career cannot be doubted, both from his local connections and his keen observation of the world, the more especially as this great noble was a patron of the stage, and maintained at his own cost a company of players, and was therefore peculiarly an object of interest to all players and dramatists. That on his death, in disgrace with the Court, after the termination of his inglorious career in the Netherlands, Shakespeare may have thought the great Earl's character, career, and ambitious pretensions a fit subject for a poem, perhaps for the drama, is, if not certain, extremely probable. The series of sonnets commencing with 49, 57 and 58, and ending with 140,