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circumstance which makes it extremely difficult. The writer finds himself confronted on the part of most of his readers by preconceived complete and final conclusions concerning his theme, and on the part of all by a mass of recollections and theories which make it arduous, if not impossible, to furnish them with something new. The greatest German historians, critics, and poets have devoted their highest powers to the appreciation, explanation, and translation of this most many-sided of all dramatists, so that it becomes a heavy task in this field, where such rich harvests have already been reaped, to glcan enough to give a satisfactory answer to the question, what purpose is served by adding yet another to the alrcady numerous books on Shakespeare ? Not to lose courage under such circumstances; the writer needs the reader's kind indulgence, which he hopes to win as his modest due, if he states from the outset that he cannot promise to say much that is new, or to tell his readers much they do not already know. He prefers to imagine that he has undertaken in their company a delightful voyage, rich in enjoyment, of which he wishes to refresh and bring into mutual relation their common memories. He wishes to bring before them the principal female characters created by the poet, as they live in the memory of each one, and he will have attained his aim if those who have read his book are convinced that the most profound of dramatists, who left hardly a note in the life of the soul and mind of man untouched by his consummate skill, was equally able to explore the heart of woman to its inmost depths, and to set before us not only all that is noble and beautiful, but also all that is frightful and terrible in female humanity, in the shape of figures full of life and truth to nature. But the writer of this book has still another aim. He desires, namely, that the reader, on closing it, may have arrived at the conviction that Realism and Idealism are no irreconcilable contradictions; that it is rather the task of true and real genius to bring them into exalted union.
Shakespeare was certainly the most powerful realist among poets of all times and of all peoples; his characters are true-humanly true to their inmost marrow, and even the most incarnate realist will not find it easy, if he is discerning and sincere, to reproach him with the favourite stock phrase concerning "conventional falsehoods." Nevertheless Shakespeare was also one of the greatest idealists known to the literature of the world. He shrinks from no theme, let it look never so ugly, from no truth, let it sound never so hard, but, with few exceptions, of which I shall mention and criticise one of the ugliest, he clothes his figures in the garb of artistic beauty. A comparison will show what I inean.
The old Greek fables tell us that man was created out of one of the commonest of materials, clay. But he who made him was Prometheus, the same Prometheus who robbed the gods of the heavenly spark of fire and was able to breathe it into his creations. Herein, it seems to me, is symbolised that union between Realism and Idealism which is the highest aim of true genius, and which has raised up such a dust-storm in modern literature. Out of mere clay nothing can be made; some of the Promethean spirit is needed beside. Clay abounds in this world, but the Prometheuses are rare, and noi every one is a Prometheus who holds himself one. This book, however, will have something to tell of such a Prometheus in the highest and truest sense of the name.
But whil: the writer does not flatter himself that he will bring forward much that is new, still he believes that the manner in which his material is presented, and, if he may say so, in that which he does not and will not touch upon, he will have trodden a new and therefore suggestive path. Two quotations from our own Goethe seem to him to define the methods that have been followed by even the ablest commentators and interpreters of Shakespeare, though in quite different ways and different degrees, in their explanations and characterisations. One is written in the first act of “Faust," where the Master answers the remark of the scholar Wagner, how elevated an enjoyment it is to transport oneself into the spirit of the time:
That which you call the spirit of the time
These same methods with which Faust here reproaches the student of the spirit of the time have been applied in various ways by critics and literary historians to the poets whom they explain and annotate. They transplant their own thoughts, their own theories and impressions, into their author's work, believing that they have followed him into the innermost sanctuary of his thoughts and experiences, while making him say or suppose things that perhaps never once in his whole life crossed his brain, attributing to him motives which never entered his thoughts; in a word, they proceed, as is described in the other passage from Goethe which I have in mind. The ragged demagogue Vansen says, in the fourth act of "Egmont," to the burghers of Brussels, in order to show what dangers await a man who is threatened with political prosecution, no matter how innocent he be: “When there is nothing to be got out of a man's words, they read a meaning into them."
Many, and among them some of the most celebrated exponents of Shakespeare, interrogate the poet in this wise. They approach him with certain preconceived judgments ready formulated in their brains; they believe that they have discovered a precise fundamental idea, as they call it, in each play, for the sake of whose development it was written, and they give themselves infinite trouble to bring all the divisions and characters of the drama into agreement with this fundamental idea, proving that these arguments serve to establish it. It is inevitable that, with such a procedure, violence should sometimes be done to the poet, and that allusions and intentions should be fathered upon him which exist only in the mind of the critic, and were quite foreign to the poet commentated.
Now it is in contradiction to that free flight of fancy which is inseparable from any distinguished poetical performance that such works should be used to carry out any fixed and sharply limited fundamental idea. Think, for instance, of the “Merchant of Venice." Is it probable, nay, is it conceivable, that the poet undertook this work, so endlessly rich and full of the emotions and feelings of the human heart, a work which sets forth the most terrible passions as well as the noblest and purest manifestations of human nature, with the preconceived idea that he would this time set forth the relations in which certain classes and characters stand to each other, as has been attributed to him by one of the most renowned Shakespearian commentators ? Is it conceivable that the poet had in view, in such a work, purposely and consciously so narrow and limited a scope, thus reducing, one may almost say crushing, the highest poetic fancy and invention into a didactic argument ? Impossible. Obviously certain universal truths and teachings come to the front in every important poetical work, and hence also in the “Merchant of Venice" as in Shakespeare's other dramas, so that the incidents which are represented in the same scem to be to a certain point conclusive. But the poet has not set himself to work with the settled didactic intention of pointing out these truths or of developing those so called fundamental ideas. These arise naturally and spontaneously from the manner in which his characters are developed, the methods whereby the conflicts between them arise and are disentangled, and this the more clcarly and effcctually the greater is the genius of the poet, the more the single characters created by him, their works and actions, approach the universal truths of humanity, the more they are in agreement with the fundamental and eternal foundations of human knowledge. It is, however, impossible, except by means of contorted or unnatural interpretations, to bring all the divisions of a drama, all the features which conduce to the presentation of its separate characters, into agreement with and relation to this fundamental idea, as has been so often tried with Shakespeare and with other dramatists; and this is particularly the case with Shakespeare. The manner in which he has put together the material of his dramas is quite opposite to the theory that he set himself the task with the intention of carrying out some philosophical or moral conception through its medium. Hence at the very outset, the attempt to discover any such aim is a thankless, nay, indeed, an impossible job, unless violence is done to the poet and his work. The source of his Roman tragedies is Plutarch, whom he follows with the greatest accuracy and precision, osten literally transcribing his words. In the plays drawn from English history, he follows as accurately, and often as textually, the Chronicles and historical narratives in which are related the events of which he wishes to treat. Finally, in the plays which we call imaginative, he rarely uses absolutely new material, but takes for the foundation of his poem some older narrative, drama, or tale, whose contents and actions he transforms artistically. Besides this, he also inclines to let several distinct fables develop themselves side by side, entwining them with each other. This, which is an aspect of his technique that has been often noted, of itself suffices to show plainly that the didactic aim falsely attributed to him has no existence. On this account the author of this book will never scck to discover the fundamental idea of any single play, or force its various arrangements and characters into agreement with such a preconceived idea. He will ncver scck to inspire the poct or read out his own thoughts from between Shakespeare's lincs, but will ever be occupicd with his proper aim, that of developing and illustrating the female characters who are his theme, touching, however, on the other personages, and the whole tenor and nature of the play, wherever this is required for thcir morc complete comprehension. He will take pains not to asscrt anything which