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is referred to by Florio, by Marston, and by Jonson. It is cast in dialogue form, and rises to its highest pitch in the fourth book, where is discussed the nature of Love and Beauty. 'Of all Plato's work the Dialogues concerning Love and Beauty were strongest in their appeal to the mind of the Renaissance.'
The author puts the chief speech into the mouth of Bembo, who says: 'I saye therefore that accordinge as it is defined of the wise menn of olde time, Love is nothinge elles but a certein covetinge to enjoye beawtie. And it may be said that Good and beawtifull be after a sort one selfe thinge, especiallie in the bodies of men of the beawtie whereof the nighest cause (I suppose) is the beawtie of the soule . . and first consider that the body, where that beawtye shyneth, is not the fountaine frome whens beauty springeth, but rather bicause beautie is bodilesse and (as we have said) an heavenlie shyning beame, she loseth much of her honoure whan she is coopled with that vile subject and full of corruption, bicause the lesse she is partner therof, the more perfect she is, and cleane sundred frome it, is most perfect . and to enjoy beawtie without passion, the Courtier by the helpe of reason muste full and wholy call backe again the coveting of the body to beawtye alone, and (in what he can) beehoulde it in it self simple and pure, and frame it within in his imagination sundred from all matter, and so make it frindlye and lovinge to hys soule, and there enjoye it, and have it with him daye and night, in every time and place, without mystrust ever to lose it. And thus in steade of goinge out of his witt with thought, as he must do that will consider the bodilye
beawty, he may come into his witt, to behoulde the beatwy that is seene with the eyes of the minde, which then beegin to be sharpe and thorough seeinge, whan the eyes of the body lose the floure of their sightlynesse. Therfore the soule rid of vices, purged with the studyes of true Philosophie, occupied in spirituall, and exercised in matters of understandinge, tourninge her to the beehouldyng of her owne substance, as it were raysed out of a most deepe sleepe, openeth the eyes that all men have, and fewe occupy, and seeth in her self a shining beame of that lyght, which is the true image of the aungelike beawtye partened with her, whereof she also partneth with the bodye a feeble shadowe: therfore wexed blinde about earthlye matters, is made most quicke of sight about heavenlye. Let us therefore bende all oure force and thoughtes of soule to this most holye light, that showeth us the waye which leadeth to heaven: and after it, puttynge of the affections we were clad withall at our commnige downe, let us clime up the stayers, which at the lowermost stepp have the shadowe of sensual beawty, to the high mansion place where the heavenlye, amiable and right beawtye dwelleth, which lyeth hid in the innermost secretes of God, least unhalowed eyes shoulde come to the syght of it: and there shall we fynde a most happye ende for our desires, true rest for oure travailes, certein remedye for myseryes, a most healthfull medycin for sicknesse, a most sure haven in the troublesome stormes of the tempestuous sea of this life.'1
1 The Courtyer of Count Baldessar Castilio divided into foure bookes. . . done into Englyshe by Thomas Hoby, 1561 (These extracts will be found on pp. 342, 350, 353, 357, 359, 361 of the reprint, 1900).
No sooner is Bembo's long rhapsody (to which our extracts do scant justice) finished, than we also see reflected, in this book which is a mirror of the age, Shakespeare's figure of his better part as a man right fair' and his worse part as 'a woman coloured ill':—
'Then the LORD CESAR GONZAGA: The way (quoth he) that leadeth to this happines is so stiepe (in my mind) that (I beleave) it will be much a do to gete to it.
The LORD GASPER said: I beleave it be harde to gete up for men, but unpossible for women.
'The LADY EMILIA laughed and said: If ye fall so often to offende us, I promise you, ye shall be no more forgiven.
"The LORD GASPAR answered: It is no offence to you, in saiynge, that womens soules be not so pourged from passions as mens be, nor accustomed in behouldinges, as M. Peter hath said, is necessary for them to be, that will tast of the heavenly love. Therefore it is not read that ever woman hath had this grace: but manie men have had it, as Plato, Socrates, Plotinus, and manie other: and a numbre of our holye fathers, as Saint Francis, in whom a fervent spirite of love imprinted the most holie seale of the five woundes. And nothinge but the vertue of love coulde hale up Saint Paul the Apostle to the sight of those secretes, which is not lawfull for man to speake of nor show Saint Stephan the heavens open.'' 1 So much for the mirror of the age': let us now return to the poets.
Not only did Shakespeare's great contemporary Spenser, like him, address Ideal Beauty, but Shakespeare was not the only one who addressed it in sonnets. His
1 See pp. 363-4 of the reprint, 1900.
friend Drayton addressed 'Idea' only, and was one of those who condemned the practice that prevailed among sonnet writers of applying the most extravagant expressions of praise, love, and hatred unworthily, 'to their own shames and poetry's disgrace':
'Some when in rhyme they of their loves do tell
Only, I call on my divine Idea.'
In thus addressing 'Idea,' Drayton imitated some French sonneteers, one of the chief of whom, Joachim du Bellay, stated in so many words that the 'Idea ' he addressed and loved was beauty:
'Lâ, ô mon âme, au plus hault ciel guidée,
De la beauté, qu'en ce monde j'adore.'1
And among Spenser's Sonnets is the following:
'Since I have lacked the comfort of that light,
What should Spenser's 'Idea' be, but Ideal Beauty?
1 Olive, No. cxiii. (1569)
Was Shakespeare less likely than his friend Drayton to address his words worthily? If Shakespeare's Sonnets are to be taken literally, as addressed to a man and a woman, either on his own account or on behalf of another, or even if they are to be taken as merely a medley of exercises on conceits, Shakespeare would not only have been open to the censure of Drayton, Chapman, Davies, and others, but he would have sinned far more than any other sonneteer; for though many of the burdens of Shakespeare's Sonnets are those also of the sonnets of other writers, none of those writers express their praise or love or hatred so vehemently or so sustainedly, or convey in anything like the same degree the impression that they were speaking their conviction. Are such views of the Sonnets consistent with what we know of Shakespeare? They are entirely inconsistent. First, they are not consistent with the references to sonnets in his plays. Before he began to write this collection he had condemned the extravagance of sonnet writers. In what is considered his first play, 'Love's Labour's Lost,' attributed to 1591, there are several scornful references: Armado (I. ii. 189-90) in quizzing himself for having fallen in love, cries, 'Assist me, some extemporal god of rhyme, for I am sure I shall turn sonnet.' Later (IV. iii. 16-18) Biron says, 'Well, she hath one o' my sonnets already: the clown bore it, the fool sent it, and the lady hath it.' Again (IV. iii. 74-8) Biron, on overhearing Longaville read the sonnet he was about to send to his mistress, in which occur the lines:
'A woman I forswore; but I will prove,
Thou being a goddess, I forswore not thee-'