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jealousy of Shakespeare. Shakespeare being the foremost dramatist and Jonson almost as unquestionably second, would be of itself sufficient ground to some for such suspicion. But there was some little excuse for it in his criticism of Shakespeare. He tells us in his 'Timber' that such criticism had been thought 'malevolent':—' I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been "Would he had blotted a thousand," which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this but for their ignorance who chose that circumstance to commend their friend by wherein he most faulted; and to justify mine own candour, for I loved the man and do honour his memory (on this side idolatry) as much as any.' In all probability he had also, before the date of the 'Poetaster,' criticised Shakespeare's dramatic methods, highly calculated as these were to upset such a stickler for the observance of the classical canons as Jonson was. But such criticism was perfectly legitimate, and quite consistent with much admiration; and while he was quarrelling with other dramatists, who charged him with self-love, arrogance, impudence, &c.,' was just the time for him to say to his contemporaries what in the above words from his 'Timber' he said afterwards to posterity. He first causes himself (Horace) to be charged with being likeliest to envy or to detract' Virgil (Shakespeare). That charge, he says, is false:
'For what I know is due I'll give to all.
and then, incidentally giving a hit at Dekker and Marston by pointing to Shakespeare-who had taken no part in the quarrel-as one
'In his bright reason's influence refined
From all the tartarous moods of common men,'
he gives a complete statement of his view of the man and his work.
The value of the passage does not end even here. This Virgil scene probably embodies the true interpretation of Meres' reference in 1598 to Shakespeare's 'sugared sonnets among his private friends.' They were probably only among his private friends in the sense that they were occasionally read to those friends by Shakespeare himself, who alone (both the writer and a practiced reciter) could do them justice. That would account for the fact that, though they were begun in 1594 and were not published until 1609, the hungry wolves of piratepublishers only succeeded in securing two, and those in such a garbled form as would result from their having been carried in the memory. When Shakespeare wrote
in Sonnet 48::
'How careful was I, when I took my way,
That to my use it might unuséd stay
we cannot but believe that he was thinking of his papers. Is not Shakespeare's novel use of the sonnet collection eminently characteristic ? Was not something very different from mere empty imitation to be expected of
him? While for him to emptily imitate, and for him to prostitute his genius, would be contrary to all we know of his character, that he should fall in with a vogue such as that of the sonnet and turn it and the prevailing conceits to a nobler use, is exactly in keeping both with his character and with his practice: to thus fall in with fashion and transmute borrowed material was his constant occupation, and he was but following his strongest instinct when, purposely preserving largely the appearance of a sonnet collection, he imposed on his sonnets a dramatic unity.
And not ill would a collection of sonnets suit his purpose to show the moods of mind of one divided between Love of Beauty and Love of Fame. For note the many conceits relating to Love and Beauty that were ready to his hand: note the great freedom such a collection would be allowed in accordance with established practice to finish a subject in one sonnet or carry it through a sequence; to address various persons or ideas in any order; to return to a subject and treat it in different mood; to apply great praise and great blame without being singular ;-and note, besides, the advantage of being able to veil under the current conceits the very private matters he wished to express-but to express for a later time.
None of the many instances in which Shakespeare used a plot of another author and turned it to account a hundred fold can compare with the example of the exercise of this faculty presented in the Sonnets. There is no instance in which he turned unvalued ore' into 'pure gold' so triumphantly; nothing more in keeping
with his genius than that his never-sleeping dramatic instinct should see this opportunity and seize upon it.
Our conception of the meaning of Shakespeare's Sonnets renders easy the identification of the rival poet; and in connection with this, light is thrown on the question of the date of writing. From evidence in the Sonnets themselves we are able to get a more definite idea of the date of writing than we get from Meres' mention in 1598 of Shakespeare's 'sugared sonnets among his private friends,' and from the appearance of Nos. 138 and 144 next year in that piratical miscellany the so-called 'Passionate Pilgrim.'1 In several instances there is allusion in the Sonnets to an event we can recognise. In Nos. 78-86 Shakespeare shows himself jealous of a rival; and in Nos. 80, 85, and 86 we find clues which enable us to identify that rival. Shakespeare in these Sonnets is giving a picture of his inmost self to posterity: his better part is Love of Beauty, and in this first group he is expressing his love, and praising Beauty, in every possible way. He says to Ideal Beauty:
SON. 80. O, how I faint when I of you do write,
Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,
To make me tongue-tied, speaking of your fame!
1 Was there not connection between Meres' notice and Jaggard's publication? Meres' "Palladis Tamia. Wits Treasury," in which the notice appeared, being, in part, a sort of "Directory of Authors," Jaggard would be almost certain to see it; and fancy the effect on a pirate-publisher of such words as "Shakespeare's sugared sonnets among his private friends"! The two sonnets which Jaggard managed to secure from the collection, he placed first; they are from the second group, and Jaggard's title, "The Passionate Pilgrim," would represent his informant's idea of the man of that group-indeed of the man of the Sonnets; -his expression being equivalent to that of Professor Dowden describing the Shakespeare of the Plays, viz., one "tempted to passionate extremes" striving to "bring into harmony with the highest facts and laws of the world his spiritual being."
But since your worth, wide as the ocean is,
And later he says that his rival's praise is given in Hymns:
SON. 85. My tongue-tied Muse in manners holds her still,
And precious phrase by all the Muses filed.
I think good thoughts whilst other write good words,
To every Hymn that able spirit affords
There are also references that we must notice in
SON. 86. Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,
That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inherse,