« AnteriorContinuar »
law and daughter. It is not improbable that Dr. Hall wrote it. But however that may have been, it is entitled in one particular at least to our utmost respect. Of Shakespeare's judgment and of his art, we may form an opinion on the same evidence as his contemporaries; of these, we may even, on account of our longer study, think ourselves better qualified to judge,-though none will be inclined to quarrel with their statement that he was in judgment a Nestor,' 'in art a Virgil.' But (they being personally and intimately acquainted with him) on their statement that he was in genius (i.e., in nature, in kind, in disposition of mind) a Socrates, we cannot pretend to sit in judgment. On the contrary, that statement must be our criterion-we can only bring our theories to it as to the touchstone of truth. This we proceed to do.
We have said that in the Sonnets Shakespeare shows himself to be a lover of Ideal Beauty; and that he considers his Love of Fame an infirmity which prevents the perfecting of his intercourse with Beauty, and therefore the perfection of his work, its outcome. Though we have seen what Socrates' Renaissance disciples said, let us recall now what exactly he himself said of Love and Beauty and Ambition.
Being called upon to make a speech in praise of Love, he tells how the wise woman Diotima had instructed him that 'love is of the beautiful '; that'the object which they [lovers] have in view is birth in beauty, whether of body or soul'; that'those who are pregnant in the body only,
betake themselves to women and beget children—this is the character of their love; their offspring, as they hope, will preserve their memory and give them the blessedness which they desire in the future. But souls which are pregnant for there certainly are men who are more creative in their souls than in their bodies-conceive that which it is proper for the soul to conceive or contain. And what are these conceptions?-wisdom and virtue in general. And such creators are poets and all artists who are deserving of the name inventor.'
Having thus laid it down that the ambition of immortality through children of the mind is worthier than that of immortality through children of the body, Diotima continues: These are the lesser mysteries of love, into which even you, Socrates, may enter; to the greater and more hidden ones which are the crown of these, and to which, if you pursue them in a right spirit, they will lead, I know not whether you will be able to attain. But I will do my utmost to inform you, and do you follow if you can. . . . He who has been instructed thus far in the things of love, and who has learned to see the beautiful in due order and succession, when he comes toward the end will suddenly perceive a nature of wondrous beauty (and this, Socrates, is the final cause of all our former toils). And the true order of going, or being led by another, to the things of love, is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these as steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all fair forms,
and from fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is.' 'This my dear Socrates,' said the stranger of Mantineia, is that life above all others which man should live, in the contemplation of beauty absolute . . . the divine beauty, I mean, pure and clear and unalloyed, not clogged with the pollutions of mortality and all the colours and vanities of human life thither looking, and holding converse with the true beauty simple and divine. Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may. Would that be an ignoble life?' ‘Such,' says Socrates, 'were the words of Diotima; and I am persuaded of their truth.'1
We have said of Shakespeare's Sonnets that the true meaning is at the opposite pole to the face meaning: that it was to Shakespeare's lines in the Sonnets Ben Jonson referred when he wrote,
'In each of which he seems to shake a lance
Let us see how this sorts with the statement on his monument that he was 'in nature a Socrates.' Here is
1 The Dialogues of Plato, Jowett's trans., vol. i. pp. 581-2.
what Alcibiades said of that person in his presence:'And now, my boys, I shall praise Socrates in a figure which will appear to him to be a caricature, and yet I speak, not to make fun of him, but only for the truth's sake. I say, that he is exactly like the busts of Silenus, which are set up in the statuaries' shops, holding pipes and flutes in their mouths; and they are made to open in the middle, and have images of gods inside them. . . His words are like the images of Silenus which open; they are ridiculous when you first hear them; he clothes himself in language that is like the skin of the wanton satyr . and he is always repeating the same thing in the same words, so that any ignorant or inexperienced person might feel disposed to laugh at him; but he who opens the bust and sees what is within will find that they are the only words which have a meaning in them, and also the most divine, abounding in fair images of virtue, and of the widest comprehension, or rather extending to the whole duty of a good and honourable man.'1
Two days after his death Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of Stratford church. To this privilege he was entitled through being, as part-owner of the tithes, a lay rector. His grave was covered with a flat stone, forming
The Dialogues of Plato, Jowett's translation, vol. i. pp. 586 and 593.
In view of our opinion, formed from the Sonnets, as to the passionate but selfcontrolled nature of Shakespeare, and of Professor Dowden's opinion derived from the plays, we note here the following words of Professor Jowett's :-" We may observe that Socrates himself is not represented as originally unimpassioned, but as one who has overcome his passions; the secret of his power over others partly lies in his passionate but self-controlled nature." (Introduction to the Symposium.
part of the floor of the chancel, on which the following lines were cut:
'Good friend for Jesus' sake forbeare
Bleste be the man that spares these stones,
The earliest notice we have of the grave is in a letter written in 1693 by a certain John Dowdall, who in that year made a round of visits to places in Warwickshire. He wrote: Near the wall, where his [Shakespeare's] monument is erected, lieth a plain freestone, underneath which his body is buried, with this epitaph, made by himself a little before his death. [Inscription on gravestone follows.] The clerk that showed me this church is above eighty years old. . . . Not one, for fear of the curse abovesaid, dare touch his grave-stone, though his wife and daughters did earnestly desire to be laid in the same grave with him.'1
The next year there is another account, in a letter which was discovered about twenty years ago in the Bodleian Library. It was written by a William Hall, who had just graduated at Oxford, to his friend Edmund Thwaites, a well-known Anglo-Saxon Anglo-Saxon scholar then resident in Oxford: I very greedily embrace this occasion of acquainting you with something which I found at Stratford-upon-Avon. That place I came unto on Thursday night, and the next day went to visit the ashes
1 First printed in 1838 as Traditionary Anecdotes of Shakespeare; afterwards, more correctly, by Halliwell-Phillipps, Life, 1848, p. 87.