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live in the world as Goethe did. His chase away his legitimate son and take occupation was an absorbing one, his to his arms the bastard to whom he had social world limited, his friends mostly always turned the cold shoulder? He of one class. Goethe, on the other does it, and we are made to feel most hand, had travelled extensively, was intensely that he does it, else Shakethe prime minister of a German duchy, speare would not be Shakespeare; but petty, it is true, but the intellectual the why remains unanswered. Similarcentre of the nation; he had nobility, ly, in Cymbeline, Posthumus' credibility artists, literati, savants, men and women surpasses the ordinary limits of good of every grade of society and culture, sense. In Romeo and Juliet, the plan for his life-long friends and companions. proposed by Father Lorenzo to prevent We cannot follow the life of a single Juliet's marriage with the County Paris celebrated personage of that era with- exceeds the power of imagination to out stumbling, sooner or later, upon understand it. Why does not Juliet some point of contact with the inevita- confess her previous marriage and brave ble, the omnipresent Goethe. What can the consequences ? Or why does she not we offer in Shakespeare's life as an offset ? flee directly, without first locking herWe know that Shakespeare lived and self up in a coffin? In Les Misérables, died comparatively unknown outside Jean Valjean has a most excellenè reason the narrow limits of the theatre-world. for escaping from the monastery in a Law, politics, art, knew him not. He coffin. But we cannot say as much of had not the means, then, of judging Juliet, who, on every other occasion, men and events with that sweep of vis- seems to have enjoyed perfect freedom ion which we admire so much in the of movement. great German poet. Goethe's charac- In his analysis of Hamlet, Rümelin ters, when contrasted with Shakespeare's, advances the opinion that Shakespeare, appear at first sight cold and somewhat in writing the play, had one purpose dull; their lines are fainter; they do steadily in view, namely, to ventilate not carry us away. The more we study his own reflections upon life in general, them, however, the more our eyes open and upon the stage. It is thus the most to the fact that they are wrought most subjective, we may say the only subjecfaithfully, not a line too many or too tive, Shakespearean drama. Hence the few; nothing strained, unnatural, im- delay, the dragging of the entire piece. probable. They act and express them- Had Hamlet acted as Shakespeare's other selves in accordance with every rule not heroes act, on the spur of the moment, merely of sentiment, but of society. In the play would have speedily come to Goethe, the causal nexus between char- an end, and no room would have been acter and action is always evident; in lest for such utterance. Whereas, in the Shakespeare it is often wanting. The old Hamlet-saga, the delay is perfectly action is powerful, the words are inim- motived. Again, in altering the deitable; but we may have to ask our- nouement, Shakespeare has again spoiled selves in vain, why the personage acts the consistency of the saga. The Hamand speaks as he does.
let of the play impresses us as a sensiFor instance, the opening scene in tive, uncertain nature; yet he succeeds King Lear is simply absurd. As Rüme- in killing two or three innocent persons, lin
says, a father may gather his chil- en passant, as it were, without seeming dren around him and promise the best to be very deeply affected thercat. How piece of cake to the one that loves him comes it that the same Hamlet who rethe most.” But that an aged monarch frains from killing the king at his deshould assemble his grown-up (laugh- votions, in order that the soul of the ters, and divide his kingdom among latter may not ascend into heaven-who them upon the same principle, is incon- has himself seen and conversed with a ceivable. Again, why does Gloster all at spirit from the nether world-how can once, upon the flimsiest of suspicions, he deliver himself of the celebrated
monologue, “To be, or not to be ?” istence of that hard hand-to-hand strugThese and many other points that puz- gle whereby the English people gained, zle us and make the play, as a whole, a inch by inch, its social and political mystery or a riddle, are to be explained, freedom? Where is any allusion made upon Rümelin's theory, by this double to the weakening of the military power nature that Shakespeare has given to the of the feudal nobility by the introducprincipal character. He is at once the tion of hired and trained foot-soldiers dramatization of the Hamlet-saga and from the folk ? the mouthpiece whereby the poet pro- All this, says Rümelin, lies wholly claims to us his own choicest reflections. outside the ken of our poet. The charOur Hamlet ends tragically, because, acters of the plays are kings and noblelike Werther, Clavigo, Eduard, he is the men, with their dependents taken from form into which the poet has poured the lowest classes. Wherever a characthe outflowings of his own diseased ter from the middle classes appears, & soul. He dies as an expiatory offering judge, or a teacher, or a clergyman, he for the poet himself.
is made the object of ridicule. The Great stress has been laid by critics plays are, it is true, national in their upon the so-called historical sense, as tendency: they exalt England, its rulone of the prominent desiderata in the ers, its achievements. But the England dramatic poet. By historic sense they that is presented to us is not the Engunderstand the ability to conceive and land of the Magna Charta, but the embody in concrete forms the character- England of the Plantagenet and Lanistic features of some one epoch of na- casterian dynasties. If we bear in mind tional life—to carry back the spectator for whom the plays were composed, for bodily, as it were, into some half-forgot- the young noblemen of the times of ten golden age. This historic sense has Queen Bess and King James, we shall been, almost unanimously, ascribed to readily understand why they should be Shakespeare in the highest degree. His conceived in such a spirit. The Puritan historical plays have been regarded as element, which we now know to have the
panorama upon which rolls on be- underlain all that is truly great in Engfore our vision all that is great and glo- lish civilization, was altogether foreign rious, horrible, fascinating; all that con- to, in many respects hostile to, Shakestitutes the pride of England from the speare and his surroundings. There is days of King John to Queen Elizabeth. not, in all the English dramas summed Within the compass of a few brief plays, together, any warrant for supposing what wealth of character and incident that Shakespeare was capable of seizing what pomp and pathos, what virtue and the characteristic spirit of our age and infamy! And yet, quietly observes our transferring it to the boards of the critic, let us not be carried away by theatre. We have no good reason to their feverish action and magnificent believe that he was gifted with the diction beyond the reach of sober judg- means or the patience to sift carefully ment. Does Shakespeare reveal to us the the false from the true, to weigh coolly real sources and growth of that national the respective merits of parties and character which distinguishes England ? opinions amid the shock of armies. France and Germany can point to equal- Shakespeare was, by his nature, a cavaly great and valiant kings and barons, lier. He wrote for cavaliers, he depicted equally fair women, like scenes of blood the cavaliers of English history. But and pageantry. What word, what the life of the English middle classes, thought has Shakespeare for the fusion those fathers whose sons were to fight of the Norman stock with the Saxon, and conquer under Cromwell, was, for that slow tempering which was to ren- aught we know, wholly a stranger to der the English metal so weighty and him. Moreover, the Evglishmen of yet so keen-edged ? Does Shakespeare King John's age are essentially the same lead us to suspect for a moment the ex- as those of Henry VIII. There is no trace of any change in character or cir- fairy-land. Again, while giving, on the cumstance. This fact alone should make one hand, no self-satisfying, healthily us hesitate before putting too much faith introspective characters, he gives, on the in those who exalt Shakespeare as a de other hand, none whose efforts are dilineator of national life.
rected toward a practical vocation in This consideration, however, as Rüme life. There are no characters taken lin himself observes, need not diminish from the producing classes, but only at all our admiration of Shakespeare's from the ruling and consuming classes. dramatic genius. Granting that the Moreover, he depicts only the conflict poet does not depict English history as of passion with passion, or passion with we would look to find it in the work of duty; the bitter struggle between duty a professed historian, granting that he and duty is sometimes touched upon, was deficient in historic sense, even but never elaborated or made the main granting that there is more of that his- theme. His characters think clearly toric sense in Goethe's single play of and act energetically, but within a cirEgmont than in all the English histor- cumscribed range of idea and emotion. ical dramas together-we can merely Shakespeare never alludes to the power change our admiration without abating of poetry to console and soothe the it. Indeed, we may claim that Shake- soul; scarcely even in his sonnets does speare, had he been more historically he speak of the inward happiness concorrect, might have run the risk of be- ferred by the poetic faculty. In the few coming less universal. Under the mask instances where he has put a profesof this or that court, he has presented sional poet upon the stage, it has been to us certain of the eternally recurring only to make him a butt. Finally, forms of human life. Titles and dynas- Shakespeare represents the love of solities are with him but trappings; the man tude as something morbid, gives no exis the same yesterday, to-day, and to pression to the pleasure attendant upon
As we all know, Shakespeare search after knowledge, and seldom, if was not of an age, but for all time. ever, moves the purely touching, senti
The last three chapters are entitled mental chords of the heart. respectively, "Shakespeare's Individual- As an actor and a dramatist by pro ity and the Process of his Develop- fession, gifted by nature with the rarest ment;” “Shakespeare's Views of Life;' powers of utterance and the sharpest and “The German Shakespeare Cult and insight into the souls of men, writing a Comparison of Shakespeare with Schil- for a lively, clamorously applauding ler and Goethe.” They constitute one audience of gay youth, no wonder that half of the entire volume. Instead of Shakespeare's plays are full of life. They attempting to take them up separately, tingle with emotion. The dramatist I shall give, as briefly as possible, their finds the models for his heroes among salient features, without strictly follow- his aristocratic young patrons and his ing the author's order.
fellow-actors and theatre-folk. No mean Rümelin endeavors to ascertain what field of character, we may be assured. Shakespeare was, by first determining For those gay men are the flower of the what he was not and could not have court at a time when life ran high. And been ; what his beliefs and views were, the theatre is, and ever will be, a microby what he has not expressed. Shake- cosm of passion and intrigue, youthful speare has not depicted any characters hope and decayed ambition. On the that strive after culture, knowledge, or other hand, the disadvantages of such a truth, none who are actuated by zeil position are not small. In our days, for the public good, or even the good when society is undergoing a levelling of others, He has, furthermore, no process, the actor and the dramatist may gemüthliche characters in real life, no obtain much wider views of life than comfortable, harmless natures. His were possible in the times of Shakeidyllic personages are all located in speare. To prevent any misconception,
I shall quote Rümelin's own words on the halo with which we have surrounded this point: “Shakespeare stood, as we
the man. Were Shakespeare to appear have seen, outside the pale of society, bodily among us, every heart would beat the parish, the church, the state; he in welcome, every door would be thrown had not access to respectable and cul- open. Was such the case, however, three tivated families; he was denied inter- centuries ago? In our day, the social course with noble women; he became position of theatre-managers and actors acquainted with only certain classes of has been greatly advanced, and still, the people. It is conceivable that, in even now, there are many prejudices yet all the course of his life, he never once to overcome. Of Shakespeare we must became clearly conscious of what was say, in candor, that the doors of what at bottom separating him from the ker- we call first-class society were not open nel of the nation, what ideas were really to him; or, if open, scarcely more than agitating his contemporaries most pro- ajar. If we wish to realize the disadfoundly, what the then men of the fu- vantages under which he labored,—and ture, those Puritans whom he knew only this, again, may serve to heighten our to ridicule as hypocrites, what they real wonder at his genius—we have only to ly wished. The true world of society, compare him for a moment with Goetbe, in its manifold ramification and conca- or, to make the antithesis still more tenation, always stood afar off from striking, with that prodigy of our cenhim. He knew men most thoroughly tury, Lord Byron, before his downfall. as they are, but not as they act; to The general character of Shakespeare's speak more accurately, he knew how composition may be set down as intense, they would like to act and would act, if not feverish. If we except the editor were it not for a thousand opposing in- of the daily newspaper, what literary fluences; but he did not know the form character could we find whose life comthat their real action would take upon pares, for worry and excitemert, with the solid footing of society. Hence the that of the dramatist-manager
r His want of motive and the uncertainty brain, that should be relaxed after the whenever an action is located within labor of composition, is stretched to social and historical limits, and, on the new energy by the thousand minutiæ contrary, his brilliant success when his of theatre-life. Scarcely an hour of the Pegasus, with eyes turned heavenward, day or the night can he call his own. bears us into the world of pure fancy. With rehearsals and performances, setFrom the theatre it is possible, at least tling the jealous quarrels of the most it was possible at that time, to gain a irritable class of mortals in the world, knowledge of men, indeed, but not the and pleasing the public, he leads what experience of the world.”
we may forcibly call a dog's life. Let us Here, I apprehend, the reader will then imagine our myriad-minded Shakethink that the critic has gone altogether speare, with his delicately strung fibres too far. It certainly would grate upon of sympathy ready to be played upon the feelings of even the most dispassion- by every passing breeze, his piercing ate admirer, to hear the great dramatist vision from which no secret thought or spoken of as without access to respecta- facial expression could escape-let us ble society or intercourse with noble imagine bim living year in and year women. I suspect, however, that Rüme- out in this superheated, wearing atmolin does not wish his words construed sphere. Can we wonder that he died too literally. It is against all probabil- comparatively young, apparently from ity to suppose that a man of such pro- sheer exhaustion ? Must we not be digious gifts should not find somewhere always on the lookout for traces of fera sweet nook of refuge from the turmoil erish agitation in his plays ? Wonderof the world, some noble and cheering ful as they are for their objectivity, that friends, men and women. Rümelin's is, their freedom from any thing like an object undoubtedly has been to destroy obtrusion of the poet's own views and emotions, we may safely say that Shake- divides it into three stages. In the first speare might have written them better stage, the latter part of the last century, had he been somewhat less driven or Shakespeare was the hammer with which more favored in his surroundings. were broken the fetters that the pseudo
In dealing with a character such as classicism of France had so long imShakespeare's, it is peculiarly difficult to posed upon Germany. To form an apascertain the real thoughts of the man proximate estimate of that influence, we hid so carefully behind the dramatist. need only glance through Lessing's Next to Homer, Shakespeare possesses Dramaturgy, or read Goethe's famous the happy faculty of sinking himself in harangue quoted in Lewes' biography. his creations. Consequently he has been All the literary men of the day read pronounced, by turns, a Protestant, & and enjoyed Shakespeare without stopCatholic, a Spinozist. Like every world- ping to criticize too closely or attemptgenius, he is substantially as his readering to convert his defects into virtues. chooses to find him; and it seems well. Goethe and Schiller profited by him nigh impossible, in our utter want of without suffering themselves to be crushbiographical materials, to read the rid- ed by comparison. Then came the age dle of our English sphinx. What were of the Romantic School. The underShakespeare's views upon so-called poetic standing of Shakespeare was sharpened; justice, human sin and its influence upon the poet was studied more carefully in character, the philosophy of life ? As to relation to his contemporaries and prethe first point, Rümelin shows that Ger- decessors. The standard by which he vinus is mistaken in asserting Shake- was judged, however, was shifted. Inspeare's practical assent to the claims of stead of esteeming him for what really this poetic justice. His entire method made him a classic poet, the school of treatment shows that he possessed an exalted beyond all bounds his disreunprejudiced insight into the ways of gard of rule, the fantastic element in the world rather than a deep-seated his compositions, his mingling of the conviction of a moral order of things. tragic and the comic elements, his Rümelin also finds much to criticize in strained play of wit. This second stage the sudden and unmotived conversion has passed into the present. Partly in of so many of Shakespeare's character3. consequence of the Hegelian philosoNot to speak of such glaring instances phy, which wishes to rule out as much as The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Meas- as possible the expression of individual ure for Measure, All's Well that Ends feeling and opinion, and consequently Well, the wonderful change in the char- to make all poetry dramatic, partly acter of Prince Hal will scarcely bear owing to the political condition of the close inspection. It is too sudden, the country, Shakespeare's position has been steps of transition too imperfectly mark- strangely exalted. Both tendencies, the ed out. Rümelin is disposed to suspect philosophical and the political, have in the play an effort to hold up to the combined to make Shakespeare the ideal young nobility of the theatre a model and the idol of German criticism. He for their guidance, an ideal of what they is the dramatist par excellence, the grand might and should become, if they only patriot-bard of his own land. Schiller would. The character of the Prince is has not his strength or his versatility, such as to induce us to look for some Goethe has not his patriotism. So hidden motive, some in usum Delphini Shakespeare is set above them both as tendency, as Rümelin phrases it, lurking the poet for all times, all peoples, and behind the mask.
we listen to Gervinus, otherwise a coldEvery student of German literature blooded critic, proclaiming without knows that it started under the inspira- hesitation that Shakespeare united all tion of Shakespeare's genius. The sub- the excellencies of Goethe and Schiller sequent career of this influence, how- without any of their defects. As I. ever, is not so well known. Rümelin have endeavored to indicate, the symp