PROFESSOR HALES ON SHAKESPEARE.*
WE must confess to a considerable amount of disappointment in reading Professor Hales's book. Learning and good-sense are there, it is true ; but there is wanting, except in two instances, that alloy of literary artifice which can alone make criticism such as he attempts readable. Notes on how a particular word is used in Shakespeare, or a display of parallel passages to. show how Shakespeare borrowed, or was borrowed from, may,. even in their nakedness, be found of value for the specialist ; but if they are to interest and attract the general reader, they must be touched with' some of the fire of the imagination. We must, then, express our opinion that it would have been better for Professor Hales not to have reprinted his short papers from the Academy and Athemeum, if he was not able to work them up into a more interesting shape. For instance, when Professor Hales writes as below about a series of German illustrations to Shakespeare, we cannot help feeling that he has not been well advised to reprint his remarks. Take the following• passage, for example :—" Quite different, but not more successful,. we think, is Makart's portrait in his illustration to the Merry Wives; It is, indeed, something repulsive, and such as to make the whole affair incredible. [Mrs. Ford's left foot in this design seems to stand in a very odd relation to her body.] As to sprightliness, take Adam's Beatrice. It is a somewhat solid figure, with lack-sparkle eyes, so far as can be seen, sober, steadfast, and demure,' la peusierosa, not l'allegra." With such passages must, of course, be taken the author's• frank admission in his preface,--" The austerest and grimmest critics will not feel more keenly than their author that they might be, and, indeed, ought to be, much worthier of reproduction." Still, without desiring to appear either grim or austere, we cannot help repeating that the book has been injured and made disappointing by reprinting the dull and weak work along with the good. The admirable articles on Lear and on " Chaucer and Shakespeare" ought to have been in better company. Before coming to a criticism of these works, however, we must say something of the topographical and historical articles,— " From Stratford-on-Avon to London," and "Round about Stratford in 1605." These are both full of matter, and of matter which it was well worth while to put together. We only wish that the style of the two articles had been somewhat less irregular and confused. For want of care, a very good thing is sometimes said very badly. It is said truly and well that the great characteristic of the Shakespearian age was "the unfettered movement of nature ;" but when the critic goes on to show ns how deeply and with what clearness Shakespeare looked into things, he falls into a bad use of quotations. Nothing is more effective than a judicious interweaving of striking quotations ; but such is not the way in which they are used in the following :—" Shakespeare saw' the very pulse of the machine.' The springs of action were disclosed to him. He
looked into the inmost heart of things. Off, off, you lendings ;' and nature stood revealed before him disgniseless, not sophisticated.' " The article reprinted from the Cornhill on Shakespeare's Greek names puts in a curious light the question of whether or not the poet could read Greek. Professor Hales certainly gets some interesting evidence together to show that Shakespeare, in his adaptations, would go out of his way to put in a Greek name, and that these names, if read in the light of their derivation, seem critical of the character to which they belong. Is not Ltesdemona of all women ill-starred ; and so, ought she not to bear her fate in her name, Eva: apse, ? That the name of Caliban's mother, Sycorax, may
have been taken from vs); and 2apect we regard as a not unreasonable theory ; but it is more difficult to follow Mr. Ruskin's fanciful suggestion as to Ophelia. The idea of the irony con
veyed in the name is, however, by no means un-Shakespearian in spirit. She who was " of ladies most deject and wretched," .and who could bear little aid to herself or to those she loved, .might perhaps ironically deserve a name from help.
Those who love the father of English song only second to Shakespeare himself will find in Professor Hales's Essay on Chaucer and Shakespeare much pleasant reading. The writer's love for the older poet is sound and strong, and he speaks truly when he says :—" It is certain that this Chaucerian revival is not the result of any mere antiquarianism, but of a genuine poetic vitality." That Shakespeare had read Chaucer Professor Hales seems to show clearly ; but this is the least interesting part of the article. His comparison of the two poets, and his description of Chaucer's power of seizing character, is admirable, and well deserves quotation :
" We have said that his genius exhibits a remarkable affinity to that of Shakespeare,—a closer affinity, we think, than that of any other English poet. To.Chaucer belongs in a high measure what marks Shakespeare supremely—a certain indefinable grace and brightness of style, an incomparable archness and vivacity, an incessant elasticity and freshness, an indescribable ease, a never-faltering variety, an incapability of dullness For skill in characterisation, who can be placed between Chaucer and Shakespeare ? Is there any work, except the `theatre' of Shakespeare, that attempts with a success in any way comparable the astonishing task which Chaucer sets himself ? He attempts to portray the entire society of his age from the crown of its' head to the sole of its foot,—from the knight, the topmost figure of medimval life, down to the peasant and the cook; and the result is a gallery of life-like portraits which has no parallel anywhere, with one exception, for variety, truthfulness, humanity. These are no roughly-drawn, rudely-featured outlines, without expression and definiteness, only recognisable by some impertinent symbol, or when we see the name attached, like some collection of ancient kings, or of ancestors where there prevails one uniform vacuity of countenance, and, but for the costume or the legend, one cannot distinguish the first of his house from the last. They are all drawn with an amazing discrimination and delicacy. There is nothing of parleature, but yet the individuality is perfect. That the same pencil should have given us the Prioress and the Wife of Bath, the Knight and the Sompnour, the Parson and the
Pardoner ! " •-•
All who reed the Essay on King Lear, which appeared nearly ten years ago in the. Fortnightly, will welcome its republication. Professor Hales has seized the true spirit of the characters, and of the moral atmosphere in which they move, and with strength and clearness puts before his readers the motives of the play. Lear needs this kind of apology more
than any other of Shakespeare's plays. It is on a different earth from ours that Lear and Cordelia, Goneril and Regan move. Shakespeare wished to show us the workings of human nature in isolation, unbound by the complicated ties of Christian society. Therefore, the scene is laid in " a far-off pre-Christian -century," where the men and women for good and evil are strong, untamed, and fiery spirits. Cordelia herself is stern and unbending in her refusal to bid in that auction of love promises. The old faithful courtier and follower does not spare his master, but ".returns wrath for wrath." In all critical considerations of the play, one great question stands prominent. Was Shakespeare right to end the play as he has done? Ought Cordelia to die? Is there obtained in her death any solution of the
passions of pity and terror aroused by the action P In answering -these questions, some critics, indeed, have cried out with indignation that the end is too dreadful, and that Shakespeare, if he
has not failed as a poet, has placed before us What is unbearable, and therefore bad in art. But yet, how could it have been other wise P Lear, as Professor Hales says, is the play that deals, above all others, with the idea of " piety "in the Roman sense. When Lear has, in his madness and want of self-control, trampled on all the pieties of the hearth, and has abandoned a daughter
because she would not flatter him, he has done what cannot be expiated by his own death alone. To let him have the rest of death would be no expiation. He can only be touched through Cordelia. When he has felt the bitterness of her death, but not till then, the poet may resolve that he will not,— "Upon the rack of this tough world Stretch him out longer."
" Let Lear bemoan his folly as he may, yet alas ! alas ! be cannot cancel it. By all means let the wicked man repent ; let him turn away from his wickedness, and let him save his soul alive, as best he may, but not let him flatter himself that he can certainly undo his crime."
Before taking leave of his book, a word must be said concerning the paper "The Porter in Macbeth," read by Professor Hales before the New Shakespeare Society. Here, as in the other papers, we find the critical conclusions far more worthy of
praise than-the manner. that Quincey showed by his keen flash of imaginative criticism that the incident of the knocking, and the Porter's part, were vital to the play. Professor Hales has strengthened this position by much that is sound and good in argument and observation. If Professor Hales had found an
opportunity to rewrite this paper, we have no doubt that he might have vastly improved a passage in which he dwells on Shakespeare's delight in contrasting tragedy and comedy. The thought of the passage is sound; but the style is turgid and bombastic. We do not wish to be " grim and austere " again ;. but we cannot help thinking that fine words may sometimes be dangerous friends, as, for instance, when they are thus set out :—
" He does not trouble himself about the labels that are placed by conventional persons on the various departments of existence. He laughs everywhere and he cries everywhere. It is all infinitely sad, and infinitely comic. Heraclitus and Democritus meet in him. As yeti look at him you cannot say whether his eyes are filled with tears or with smiles. The beauty of summer and the bleakness of winter, the gaiety of youth and the torpor of age, the gladness of life and the dullness of dehth,—these are omnipresent with him. And so to him there is nothing shocking. or abhorrent in the interproximities of things apparently alien to each other. For him the very jaws of death are capable of laughter."