18 DECEMBER 1909, Page 19


EARLY in this year Mr. A. C. Bradley, sometime Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford, published his Oxford Lectures on Poetry, and in a note to the lecture "Shakespeare the Man" he drew the attention of his readers to a series of articles on Shakespeare by Mr. Prank Harris, which had appeared originally in the Saturday Review for 1898. Mr.

Bradley wrote that he could not share a great many of the views expressed in those articles, though he had found in them

some valuable ideas which were quite new to him, and which

would probably be so to many of his readers, and he suggested that the articles should be collected and published in a book.

It is of course immaterial whether Mr. Harris was or was not acting upon this suggestion when he decided to collect and republish these articles ; but the suggestion itself, coming from such a quarter, was sufficient to arouse expectation and interest in the minds of those who had not studied Mr.

Harris's articles when they appeared. Mr. Harris's position is that

"Shakespeare's purpose in writing, was the same as Montaigne's, to reveal himself to 1113 Shakespeare has painted himself for us in his green youth with hardly any knowledge of life or art, and then in his eventful maturity, with growing experience and new powers, in masterpiece after masterpiece ; and at length in his decline with weakened grasp and fading colours, so that in bini we can study the growth and fruiting and decay of the finest

spirit that has yet been born among men. It is possible from Shakespeare's writings to establish beyond doubt the main features of his character and the chief incidents of his life."

Treating these assertions as axiomatic, though they are in feet highly controversial, Mr. Harris proceeds to the work of synthesis.

We are unable to assent to these propositions. Mr. Sidney Lee in a lecture delivered to the members of the English Association has put very effectively the case against the theory that Shakespeare reveals a tangible personality in his plays, and we are in complete agreement with his views on this subject. But we think that in dealing with Mr. Harris's book the question might be treated with advantage from another side. Mr. Harris tells us that "Shakespeare's purpose

is surely the same as Montaigne's," and that "it would be hasty to decide that his skill is inferior " ; but it is quite impossible for us to admit that the dramatic form used by Shakespeare offers the same facilities for self-revelation as are offered in the essays. The one is bound about by rigid con-

ventions, by the demands of character, of action, of plot ; the other is a conversation with one's self, pleasantly discursive, wandering in any direction which offers novelty or adventure. The question is not whether Shakespeare's skill is inferior to Montaigne's, nor whether Shakespeare's verse and prose are better vehicles of expression; it is entirely a question as to the relative objects of different arts. When we consider further that Shakespeare took the material of his plays from previous plays, or from novels, or from histories, the limits in which self-revelation is possible become even more straitened

and confined ; but granting that there is still room for it, there remains the question of its precise character and value. And as regards this question, we are grateful to Mr. Harris for his reference to Montaigne, who recognised character as

something " ondoyante et diverse," difficult of apprehension, and essentially transient :—

"Cheque homme porte In forme entikss de l'humaine condition.

• The Man Shakoweare and his Tragic Life Story. By Fronk Harris. L011411/2:

Prank Palmer. [7s. 6d.]

La premier, Jo me communique an monde par mon etre universal.

Je no vise ici qu'a deconvrir moi-meme, qui semi, par aventure, antra demain. Je no peins pas l'etre, Jo pems le passage."

The phrase "par mon tire nniversel " is curiously like Coleridge's description of Shakespeare as "the myriad- minded man," a description which Mr. Harris considers "fantastically absurd" in itself, and one which leads to "the most ridiculous conclusions." His refusal to accept Coleridge's phrase is natural. On the next page he says :—

" If a dozen lovers of Shakespeare were asked to name the most profound and most complex character in all his dramas it is probable that everyone without hesitation would answer Hamlet. The current of cultivated opinion has long set in this direction. With the intuition of a kindred genius Goethe was the first to put Hamlet on a pedestal. Coleridge followed with the confession

I have a smack of Hamlet myself, if I may say so.'

Hamlet is the most complex and profound of Shake- speare's creations, and therefore probably the character in which Shakespeare revealed most of himself if one could show that whenever Shakespeare fell out of a character he was drawing he unconsciously dropped into the Hamlet vein, one's suspicion as to the identity of Hamlet and the poet would be enormously strengthened."

Mr. Bradley also finds that "certain speeches sound peculiarly

personal," and he mentions the Duke's speech in Measure for Measure, "Be absolute for death," adding in a footnote that "the suggested inference is, that this speech, thus out of character, and Hamlet's To be or not to be' (though that is in character) show us Shakespeare's own mind." At this

point Mr. Bradley hesitates, and then adds :—" The topics of these speeches axe, in the old sense of the word, common-

places. Shakespeare may have felt : Here is my chance to show what I can do with certain feelings and thoughts of

supreme interest to men of all times and places and modes of belief." We think that Mr. Bradley has missed the truth by a hair's-breadth. The general opinion as to Hamlet's peculiar appeal, the admiration of Goethe, the admission of Coleridge, the statement of Mr. Harris that "whenever Shakespeare fell out of a character he was drawing he uncon- sciously dropped into the Hamlet vein," unquestionably strengthen us in our opinion that in this particular character, far from revealing the secret of his own personality, Shake- speare created a protagonist of humanity, a type of human impotence. How is it possible otherwise to explain the fact that an intellect so keen and subtle as Mr. Bradley's should say of the same speeches, in almost the same breath, that they are at once "peculiarly personal," and that they deal with "feelings and thoughts of supreme interest to men of all times and places and modes of belief" ? Every man who thinks has at some moment of his life experienced

"Those obstinate questionings Of sense and outward things."

We have all that sense of personal isolation, of our own impotence to withstand the blind forces which impel us

toward certain actions, or the irresistible march of circum- stance which thwarts our purpose; and we have all to steer our own way among conflicting currents or dangerous shallows toward a future which we cannot discern, while at every tack we are hampered by our own disorderly appetites and desires, and are as often the victims of our virtues as of our vices. If Shakespeare reveal himself to us in the character of Hamlet, it is entirely " par son etre tmiversel,"

entirely through emotions not only common to all poets—one finds precisely the same note in Virgil and in Wordsworth— but common to all men at certain moments in their lives. It is not at all extraordinary or significant, therefore, that "the Hamlet vein" should reappear in many of Shakespeare's characters; it would be far more extraordinary if it did not. Machiavelli saw that no man was either altogether good or altogether bad, and he attributes the failure of had men to their good qualities quite as impartially and as often as he attributes the failure of good men to their bad qualities. Shakespeare saw mankind in the round with the same impartial eye; and when he gives us a

thoroughly bad man, without one redeeming quality or a single scruple, like [ago, he makes him succeed. Iago always

seems to us, in consequence, superhuman. Macbeth, as Mr. Harris points out, lapses into "the Hamlet vein," but he does not thereby "fall out of character" ; and, when the Bastard in King John declares: "I am amazed, methinks, and lose my way Among the thorns and dangers of this world,"

surely he is only expressing that natural and spontaneous loathing of a crime which is implicit in every one of us, and is the chief asset of society at all times. Mr. Harris merely tells us that the phrase "suits the weakness of Richard II. or Henry VI. or Shakespeare himself better than the hardy Bastard." The supreme art of Shakespeare shows us that at some moments the limits of human personality are trans- cended, and the individual is merged in the general conscience of humanity. It is simply a shallow or cynical indifference to the ideals which are necessary to mankind, and a wilful ignorance of the realities of life itself, which describe such transcending moments as faults in art. Wherever we touch "the personal revelation" we feel under our hand merely the common heart of humanity beating as it always has beaten. Shakespeare would not be the supreme artist that he is if it were not so.

Another of these "portraits," according to Mr. Harris, is Brutus : "Brutes is Shakespeare at his sweetest and best." The character of Brutus does not seem to have been grasped intelligently by the majority of the com- mentators, and a book might be written about Shakespeare's irony. Coleridge was perplexed by the speech, "ft must be by his death." "I do not at present see into Shakespeare's motive, his rationale, or in what point of view he meant Brutus' character to appear." But it seems clear to us that his character is revealed in the speeches of Cassius, who says to him : "I, your glass, will modestly discover to yourself " ; and we find the best criticism of that character in the fact that Cassius immediately tempts him into the plot, by playing on his jealousy; and in the speech of Brutus to which Coleridge referred it is obvious that Brutus is seeking not so much a reason as a colourable pretext for the murder of Caesar. If the character of Brutus be examined in the way we have indicated, it loses a great part of its apparent charm. The final speech of that scene, uttered by Cassius :

"Well Brutus, thou art noble ; yet I see, Thy honourable metal may be wrought From that it is disposed : "

is a piece of malevolent satire essentially true. "Honourable" and " noble " are used ironically, as might be gathered later when Cassius says : " 'tis meet That noble minds keep ever with their likes," and prepares to ensure that Brutus shall have more of his own company. We remember that Antony in the same play refers to them all as "honourable men." Cassius also boasts that "If I were Brutus now and he were Cassius He should not humour me." Indeed, Shakespeare never lets us forget that vanity and jealousy are striking features in the character of Brutus. "The Hamlet vein" in this case resolves itself into a mere idiosyncrasy of style, and we think that another of Mr. Harris's portraits becomes air, into which they all melt. We deny absolutely that he has extracted from Shakespeare's writings "the main features of his character and the chief incidents of his life " ; his theory is totally unrelated to fact, and he brings in support of it no evidence which a competent historian could accept. His tone towards previous students of Shakespeare is Objectionable: if he could not reverence them as his masters, he might have tolerated them as his precursors. The book resembles more those scandalous memoirs which have a certain vogue at the present time than a work of criticism ; and we regret that it should have been heralded by Mr. Bradley's distinguished eulogy.