22 SEPTEMBER 1944, Page 16

Seeing Shakespeare Plain

IT is well known that about a hundred and fifty years ago, wh a group of Shakespeare scholars were discussing who should the immortal works, a sepulchral voice—which everyone intuitir recognised as Shakespeare's—uttered from beneath the floor " m'alone." So they let Malone. But had Sir Edmund Cham been at the gathering he would not have misinterpreied the pee groans. He is a restorer, fighting the "disintegrators " with Eh own weapon of scholarship, which in his hands is often sh than theirs, the whetstone he uses being common sense. The difficulty with the disintegrators, from Fleay (or each through J. M. Robertson to Professor Dover Wilson, is that th have a theory of how Shakespeare ought to have written, and increasingly certain what he did write. This is to over-state fessor Wilson's position, which is rather that of discovering wh Shakespeare had been tampered with. Robertson's was the ex case: nothing that he himself would not have written as good non-conformist Victorian liberal could possibly have written by Shakespeare, nor those passages which did not cool to a rather too rigid doctrine of what blank verse is. Anything which he did not approve was probably written by Chap whom, for ' some reason, he most cordially detested. Mr. W

is more detached, though he rides his prompt-copy horse with perhaps excessive zeal, and has a horror of broken lines, which, however, Shakespeare seems rather to have liked. One of the great troubles is that close consideration in the study reveals " difficulties " which on the stage are none at all. We need the constant cor- rective of playgoing to bring us back to a perspective lost in the close atmosphere of the little room. The plays were meant to be listened to and seen, not to be pored over. Sir Edmund Chambers, however, though he pores, does so to negative the porings of other scholars, and his work has a fine astringent quality, urbanely fitted to cool the warm romantic visions, .the red-hot detective stories, of the adventurous disintegrators. Many of the essays here collected have been printed before, and we are glad to have them together in accessible form. There are five new ones, including three on the sonnets, in one of which Sir Edmund ventures on the perilous seas where the bold mariners hope to discover the right order: but even here he is more con- servative than. say, Sir Denys Bray. The most entertaining of the old ones are " The Disintegrators of Shakespeare" and " The Unrest in Shakespeare Studies " ; the most profoundly interesting one, per- haps, as it is in many ways the most crucial, is " The Integrity of The Tempest.' " This deals mainly with all the bother that has arisen over the masque ; some hold strongly that the great " cloud-capp'd towers " speech is a brilliant make-time, thrown in to allow Ariel to change his clothes. There seems to be no need to postulate this ; life on the slue need not be so much more logical than life in the raw. Here, perhaps, each devotee must suit his own fancy. Sir Edmund, however, can be more definite when dis- agreeing with Dr. Caroline Spurgeon in " William Shakespeare : An Epilogue." Dr. Spurgeon noted surprisingly few pieces of imagery drawn from the stage, whereas Sir Edmund suggests with a wealth of quotation that these are almost all-pervasive. This is, of course, a book which no Shakespearean scholar can afford to miss, and which no Shakespearean playgoer should ignore. When so noted a scholar in this field as Sir Edmund tells us some- thing, we are all glad to listen. Especially so, perhaps, the more humble Shakespearean addict, who would rather see difficulties re- moved than added to, who will put this work on his shelf beside Abercrombie's " A Plea for the Liberty of Interpretation," and who may possibly wish for that subterranean voice to be. heard once