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Various attempts have been made to arrange the plays 
of Shakspeare, each according to its priority in time, by 
proofs derived from external documents. How unsuccess- 
ful these attempts have been might easily be shewn, not 
only from the widel}^ different results arrived at by men, all 
deeply versed in the black-letter books, old plays, pam- 
phlets, manuscript records and catalogues of that age, but 
also from the fallacious and unsatisfactory nature of the 
facts and assumptions on which the evidence rests. In that 
age, when the press was chiefly occupied with controversial 
or practical divinity, — when the law, the church and the 
state engrossed all honour and respectability, — when a 
degree of disgrace, levior qucedam infamicB macula, was 
attached to the publication of poetry, and even to have 
sported with the Muse, as a private relaxation, was sup- 
posed to be — a venial fault, indeed, yet — something 
beneath the gravity of a wise man, — when the professed 
poets were so poor, that the very expenses of the press 
demanded the Uberality of some wealthy individual, so that 
two thirds of Spenser's poetic works, and those most highly 
praised by his learned admirers and friends, remained for 
many years in manuscript, and in manuscript perished, — 
when the amateurs of the stage were comparatively few, 
and therefore for the greater part more or less known to 
each other, — when we know that the plays of Shakspeare, 
6o Order of Shakspeare's Plays 
both during and after his Ufe, were the property of the stage, 
and pubUshed by the players, doubtless according to their 
notions of acceptability with the visitants of the theatre, — ■ 
in such an age, and under such circumstances, can an 
allusion or reference to any drama or poem in the publica- 
tion of a contemporary be received as conclusive evidence, 
that such drama or poem had at that time been published ? 
Or, further, can the priority of publication itself prove any 
thing in favour of actually prior composition ? 
We are tolerably certain, indeed, that the Venus and 
Adonis, and the Rape of Lucrece, were his two earliest 
poems, and though not printed until 1593, in the twenty- 
ninth year of his age, yet there can be little doubt that they 
had remained by him in manuscript many years. For Mr. 
Malone has made it highly probable, that he had com- 
menced a writer for the stage in 1591, when he was twenty- 
seven years old, and Shakspeare himself assures us that the 
Venus and Adonis was the first heir of his invention.^ 
Baffled, then, in the attempt to derive any satisfaction 
from outward documents, we may easily stand excused if 
we turn our researches towards the internal evidences 
furnished by the writings themselves, with no other 
positive data than the known facts, that the Venus and 
Adonis was printed in 1593, the Rape of Lucrece in 1594, 
and that the Romeo and Juliet had appeared in 1595, — 
and with no other presumptions than that the poems, his 
very first productions, were written many years earlier, — 
(for who can believe that Shakspeare could have remained 
to his twenty-ninth or thirtieth year without attempting 
poetic composition of any kind ?) — and that between these 
and Romeo and Juliet there had intervened one or two 
other dramas, or the chief materials, at least, of them, 
although they may very possibly have appeared after the 
success of the Romeo and Juliet and some other circum- 
stances had given the poet an authority with the pro- 
prietors, and created a prepossession in his favour with the 
theatrical audiences. 
1 But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble 
a godfather, &c. 
Dedication of the V. and A. to Lord Southampton. 
Order of Shakspeare's Plays 6i 
First Epoch. 
The London Prodigal. 
Henry VI., three parts, first edition. 
The old King John. 
Edward III. 
The old Taming of the Shrew. 
AH these are transition-works, Uehergangswerke ; not his, 
yet of him. 
Second Epoch. 
All's Well That Ends Well ; — but afterwards worked 
up afresh (umgearbeitet) , especially Parolles. 
The Two Gentlemen of Verona ; a sketch. 
Romeo and Juliet ; first draft of it. 
Third Epoch 
rises into the full, although youthful, Shakspeare ; it was 
the negative period of his perfection. 
Love's Labour's Lost. 
Twelfth Night. 
As You Like It. 
Midsummer Night's Dream. 
Richard II. 
Henry IV. and V. 
Henry VIII. ; Gelegenheitsgedicht. 
Romeo and Juliet, as at present. 
Merchant of Venice. 
Fourth Epoch. 
Much Ado About Nothing. 
Merry Wives of Windsor ; first edition. 
Henry VI. ; rifacimento. 
Fifth Epoch. 
The period of beauty was now past ; and that of dimrrjs 
and grandeur succeeds. 
62 Order of Shakspeare's Plays 
Timon of Athens ; an after vibration of Hamlet, 
Troilus and Cressida ; Uebergang in die Ironie, 
The Roman Plays. 
King John, as at present. 
Merry Wives of Windsor.^ ... 
Taming of the Shrew. j ^^^^<^^^^^^^^' 
Measure for Measure. 
Winter's Tale. 
Shakspeare's earliest dramas I take to be. 
Love's Labour's Lost. 
All's Well That Ends WelL 
Comedy of Errors. 
Romeo and Juliet, 
In the second class I reckon 
Midsummer Night's Dream. 
As You Like It. 
Twelfth Night. 
In the third, as indicating a greater energy — not merely 
of poetry, but — of all the world of thought, yet stiU \vith 
some of the grov/ing pains, and the awkwardness of growth, 
I place 
Troilus and Cressida. 
Merchant of Venice. 
Much Ado About Nothing. 
Taming of the Shrew. 
In the fourth, I place the plays containing the greatest 
characters ; 
And lastly, the historic dramas, in order to be able to show 
Order of Shakspeare's Plays 63 
my reasons for rejecting some whole plays, and very many 
scenes in others. 
I think Shakspeare's earliest dramatic attempt — ^perhaps 
even prior in conception to the Venus and Adonis, and 
planned before he left Stratford — was Love's Labour's 
Lost. Shortly afterwards I suppose Pericles and certain 
scenes in Jeronymo to have been produced ; and in the 
same epoch, I place the Winter's Tale and Cymbeline, 
differing from the Pericles by the entire rifacimento of it, 
when Shakspeare's celebrity as poet, and his interest, no 
less than his influence as manager, enabled him to bring 
forward the laid by labours of his youth. The example 
of Titus Andronicus, which, as well as Jeronymo, was 
most popular in Shakspeare's first epoch, had led the 
young dramatist to the lawless mixture of dates and 
manners. In this same epoch I should place the Comedy 
of Errors, remarkable as being the only specimen of 
poetical farce in our language, that is, intentionally such ; 
so that all the distinct kinds of drama, which might be 
educed a priori, have their representatives in Shakspeare's 
works. I say intentionally such ; for many of Beaumont 
and Fletcher's plays, and the greater part of Ben Jonson's 
comedies are farce-plots. I add All's Well that Ends 
Well, originally intended as the counterpart of Love's 
Labour's Lost, Taming of the Shrew, Midsummer Night's 
Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and Romeo and Juliet. 
Second Epoch. 
Richard IL 
King John. 
Henry VL, — rifacimento only. 
Richard in. 
Third Epoch. 
Henry IV. 
Henry V. 
Merry Wives of Wmdsor. 
Henry VIII., — a sort of historical masque, or show 
64 Notes on the Tempest 
Fourth Epoch 
gives all the graces and facilities of a genius in full posses- 
sion and habitual exercise of power, and peculiarly of the 
feminine, the lady's character. 
As You Like It. 
Merchant of Venice. 
Twelfth Night. 
and, finally at its very point of culmination, — 
Last Epoch, 
when the energies of intellect in the cycle of genius were, 
though in a rich and more potentiated form, becoming 
predominant over passion and creative self -manifestation. 
Measure for Measure. 
Timon of Athens. 
Julius Caesar. 
Antony and Cleopatra. 
Troilus and Cressida. 
Merciful, wonder-making Heaven ! what a man was 
this Shakspeare ! Myriad-minded, indeed, he was. 
There is a sort of improbability with which we are shocked 
in dramatic representation, not less than in a narrative of 
real life. Consequently, there must be rules respecting it ; 
and as rules are nothing but means to an end previously 
ascertained — (inattention to which simple truth has been 
the occasion of all the pedantry of the French school), — 
we must first determine what the immediate end or object 
of the drama is. And here, as I have previously remarked, 
I find two extremes of critical decision ; — the French, 
which evidently presupposes that a perfect delusion is to 
be aimed at, — an opinion which needs no fresh confutation ; 
and the exact opposite to it, brought forward by Dr. 
Notes on the Tempest 65 
Johnson, who supposes the auditors throughout in the full 
reflective knowledge of the contrary. In evincing the 
impossibility of delusion, he makes no sufficient allowance 
for an intermediate state, which I have before distin- 
guished by the term, illusion, and have attempted to 
illustrate its quality and character by reference to our 
mental state, when dreaming. In both cases we simply 
do not judge the imagery to be unreal ; there is a negative 
reality, and no more. Whatever, therefore, tends to 
prevent the mind from placing itself, or being placed, 
gradually in that state in which the images have such 
negative realitj^ for the auditor, destroys this illusion, and 
is dramatically improbable. 
Now the production of this effect — a sense of improba- 
bility — will depend on the degree of excitement in which 
the mind is supposed to be. Many things would be intoler- 
able in the first scene of a play, that would not at all 
interrupt our enjoyment in the height of the interest, 
when the narrow cockpit may be made to hold 
The vasty field of France, or we may cram 
Within its wooden O the very casques 
That did affright the air at Agincourt. 
Again, on the other hand, many obvious improbabilities 
will be endured, as belonging to the groundwork of the 
story rather than to the drama itself, in the first scenes, 
which would disturb or disentrance us from all illusion in 
the acme of our excitement ; as for instance, Lear's 
division of his kingdom, and the banishment of Cordelia. 
But, although the other excellences of the drama besides 
this dramatic probability, as unity of interest, with 
distinctness and subordination of the characters, and 
appropriateness of style, are all, so far as they tend to 
increase the inward excitement, means towards accom- 
plishing the chief end, that of producing and supporting 
this willing illusion, — yet they do not on that account 
cease to be ends themselves ; and we must remember that, 
as such, they carry their own justification with them, as 
long as they do not contravene or interrupt the total 
illusion. It is not even always, or of necessity, an objection 
to them, that they prevent the illusion from rising to as 
great a height as it might otherwise have attained ; — it is 
enough that they are simply compatible with as high a 
66 Notes on the Tempest 
degree of it as is requisite for the purpose. Nay, upon 
particular occasions, a palpable improbability may be 
hazarded by a great genius for the express purpose of 
keeping down the interest of a merely instrumental scene, 
which would otherwise make too great an impression for 
the harmony of the entire illusion. Had the panorama 
been invented in the time of Pope Leo X., Raffael would 
still, I doubt not, have smiled in contempt at the regret, 
that the broom-twigs and scrubby bushes at the back of 
some of his grand pictures were not as probable trees as 
those in the exhibition. 
The Tempest is a specimen of the purely romantic 
drama, in which the interest is not historical, or depen- 
dent upon fidelity of portraiture, or the natural connexion 
of events, — but is a birth of the imagination, and rests 
only on the coaptation and union of the elements granted 
to, or assumed by, the poet. It is a species of drama 
which owes no allegiance to time or space, and in which, 
therefore, errors of chronology and geography — no mortal 
sins in any species — are venial faults, and count for 
nothing. It addresses itself entirely to the imaginative 
faculty ; and although the illusion may be assisted by the 
effect on the senses of the complicated scenery and decora- 
tions of modern times, yet this sort of assistance is danger- 
ous. For the principal and only genuine excitement ought 
to come from within, — from the moved and sympathetic 
imagination ; whereas, where so much is addressed to the 
mere external senses of seeing and hearing, the spiritual 
vision is apt to languish, and the attraction from without 
will withdraw the mind from the proper and only legitimate 
interest which is intended to spring from within. 
The romance opens with a busy scene admirably appro- 
priate to the kind of drama, and giving, as it were, the 
key-note to the whole harmony. It prepares and initiates 
the excitement required for the entire piece, and yet does 
not demand any thing from the spectators, which their 
previous habits had not fitted them to understand. It is 
the bustle of a tempest, from which the real horrors are 
abstracted ; — therefore it is poetical, though not in strict- 
ness natural — (the distinction to which I have so often 
alluded) — and is purposely restrained from concentering 
the interest on itself, but used merely as an induction or 
tuning for what is to foUow. 
Notes on the Tempest 67 
In the second scene, Prospero's speeches, till the entrance 
of Ariel, contain the finest example, I remember, of retro- 
spective narration for the purpose of exciting immediate 
interest, and putting the audience in possession of all the 
information necessary for the understanding of the plot.^ 
Observe, too, the perfect probability of the moment chosen 
by Prospero (the very Shakspeare himself, as it were, of 
the tempest) to open out the truth to his daughter, his own 
romantic bearing, and how completely any thing that might 
have been disagreeable to us in the magician, is reconciled 
and shaded in the humanity and natural feelings of the 
father. In the very first speech of Miranda the simplicity 
and tenderness of her character are at once laid open ; — 
it would have been lost in direct contact with the agitation 
of the first scene. The opinion once prevailed, but, happily, 
is now abandoned, that Fletcher alone wrote for women ; — 
the truth is, that with very few, and those partial, excep- 
tions, the female characters in the plays of Beaumont and 
Fletcher are, when of the light kind, not decent ; when 
heroic, complete viragos. But in Shakspeare all the 
elements of womanhood are holy, and there is the sweet, 
yet dignified feehng of all that continuates society, as sense 
of ancestry and of sex, with a purity unassailable by 
sophistry, because it rests not in the analytic processes, 
but in that same equipoise of the faculties, during which 
the feelings are representative of all past experience, — not 
of the individual only, but of all those by whom she has 
been educated, and their predecessors even up to the first 
mother that lived. Shakspeare saw that the want of pro- 
minence, which Pope notices for sarcasm, was the blessed 
beauty of the woman's character, and knew that it arose not 
from any deficiency, but from the more exquisite harmony 
of aU the parts of the moral being constituting one living 
total of head and heart. He has drawn it, indeed, in all 
its distinctive energies of faith, patience, constancy, forti- 
1 Pro. Mark his condition, and th' event ; then tell me, 
If th\^ might be a brother. 
Mira. I should sin, 
To think but nobly of my grandmother ; 
Good wombs have bore bad sons. 
Pro. Now the condition, &c. 
Theobald has a note upon this passage, and suggests that Shakspeare placed it 
thus :— 
Pro. Good wombs have bore bad sons,— 
Now the condition. 
Mr. Coleridge writes in the margin: 'I cannot but believe that Theobald is quite 
right,'— ^<^. ^ 
68 Notes on the Tempest 
tude, — shown in all of them as follov/ing the heart, which 
gives its results by a nice tact and happy intuition, without 
the intervention of the discursive faculty, sees aU things in 
and by the hght of the affections, and errs, if it ever err, in 
the exaggerations of love alone. In all the Shakspearian 
women there is essentially the same foundation and prin- 
ciple ; the distinct individuahty and variety are merely 
the result of the modification of circumstances, whether in 
Miranda the maiden, in Imogen the wife, or in Katherine 
the queen. 
But to return. The appearance and characters of the 
super or ultra-natural servants are finely contrasted. Ariel 
has in every thing the airy tint which gives the name ; and 
it is worthy of remark that Miranda is never directly 
brought into comparison with Ariel, lest the natural and 
human of the one and the supernatural of the other should 
tend to neutralize each other ; Caliban, on the other hand, 
is all earth, all condensed and gross in feelings and images ; 
he has the dawnings of understanding without reason or 
the moral sense, and in him, as in some brute animals, this 
advance to the intellectual faculties, without the moral 
sense, is marked by the appearance of vice. For it is in 
the primacy of the moral being only that man is truly 
human ; in his intellectual powers he is certainly ap- 
proached by the brutes, and, man's whole system duly con- 
sidered, those powers cannot be considered other than 
means to an end, that is, to morality. 
In this scene, as it proceeds, is displayed the impression 
made by Ferdinand and Miranda on each other ; it is love 
at first sight ; — 
at the first sight 
They have chang'd eyes : — 
and it appears to me, that in all cases of real love, it is at 
one moment that it takes place. That moment may have 
been prepared by previous esteem, admiration, or even 
affection, — yet love seems to require a momentary act of 
vohtion, by which a tacit bond of devotion is imposed, — 
a bond not to be thereafter broken without violating what 
should be sacred in our nature. How finely is the true 
Shakspearian scene contrasted with Dryden's vulgar 
alteration of it in which a mere ludicrous psychological 
experiment, as it were, is tried — displaying nothing but 
Notes on the Tempest 69 
indelicacy without passion. Prospero's interruption of 
the courtship has often seemed to me to have no sufficient 
motive ; still his alleged reason — 
lest too light winning 
Make the prize light — 
is enough for the ethereal connections of the romantic 
imagination, although it would not be so for the historical.^ 
The whole courting scene, indeed, in the beginning of the 
third act, between the lovers, is a masterpiece ; and the 
first dawn of disobedience in the mind of Miranda to the 
command of her father is very finely drawn, so as to seem 
the working of the Scriptural command Thou shall leave 
father and mother, Sec. O ! with what exquisite purity this 
scene is conceived and executed ! Shakspeare may some- 
times be gross, but I boldly say that he is always moral and 
modest. Alas ! in this our day decency of manners is 
preserved at the expense of morality of heart, and delicacies 
for vice are allowed, whilst grossness against it is hypo- 
critically, or at least morbidly, condemned. 
In this play are admirably sketched the vices generally 
accompanying a low degree of civilization ; and in the first 
scene of the second act Shakspeare has, as in many other 
places, shown the tendency in bad men to indulge in scorn 
and contemptuous expressions, as a mode of getting rid of 
their own uneasy feelings of inferiority to the good, and 
also, by making the good ridiculous, of rendering the 
transition of others to wickedness easy. Shakspeare never 
puts habitual scorn into the mouths of other than bad men, 
as here in the instances of Antonio and Sebastian. The 
scene of the intended assassination of Alonzo and Gonzalo 
is an exact counterpart of the scene between Macbeth and 
his lady, only pitched in a lower key throughout, as de- 
signed to be frustrated and concealed, and exhibiting the 
same profound management in the manner of familiarizing 
a mind, not immediately recipient, to the suggestion of 
guilt, by associating the proposed crime with something 
ludicrous or out of place, — something not habitually matter 
of reverence. By this kind of sophistry the imagination 
1 Fer. Yes, faith, and all his Lords, the Duke of Milan, 
And his brave son, being twain. 
Theobald remarks that no body was lost in the wreck ; and yet that no such character 
is introduced in the fable, as the Duke of Milan's son. Mr. C. notes : ' Must not 
Ferdinand have believed he was lost in the fleet that the tempest scattered ? '—Ed. 
yo Notes on the Tempest 
and fancy are first bribed to contemplate the suggested 
act, and at length to become acquainted with it. Observe 
how the effect of this scene is heightened by contrast with 
another counterpoint of it in low life, — that between the 
conspirators Stephano, Caliban, and Trinculo in the second 
scene of the third act, in which there are the same essential 
In this play and in this scene of it are also shown the 
springs of the vulgar in politics, — of that kind of politics 
which is inwoven with human nature. In his treatment 
of this subject, wherever it occurs, Shakspeare is quite 
peculiar. In other writers we find the particular opinions 
of the individual ; in Massinger it is rank republicanism ; 
in Beaumont and Fletcher even jure divino principles are 
carried to excess ; — but Shakspeare never promulgates any 
party tenets. He is always the philosopher and the 
moralist, but at the same time with a profound veneration 
for all the established institutions of society, and for those 
classes which form the permanent elements of the state — 
especially never introducing a professional character, as 
such, otherwise than as respectable. If he must have any 
name, he should be styled a philosophical aristocrat, delight- 
ing in those hereditary institutions which have a tendency 
to bind one age to another, and in that distinction of ranks, 
of which, although few may be in possession, all enjoy the 
advantages. Hence, again, you will observe the good 
nature with which he seems always to make sport with the 
passions and follies of a mob, as with an irrational animal. 
He is never angry with it, but hugely content with holding 
up its absurdities to its face ; and sometimes you may 
trace a tone of almost affectionate superiority, something 
like that in which a father speaks of the rogueries of a child. 
See the good-humoured way in which he describes Stephano 
passing from the most licentious freedom to absolute 
despotism over Trinculo and Caliban. The truth is, Shak- 
speare's characters are all genera intensely individualized ; 
the results of meditation, of which observation supplied 
the drapery and the colours necessary to combine them 
with each other. He had virtually surveyed all the great 
component powers and impulses of human nature, — had 
seen that their different combinations and subordinations 
were in fact the individualizers of men, and showed how 
their harmony was produced by reciprocal disproportions 
Notes on Love's Labour's Lost 71 
of excess or deficiency. The language in which these 
truths are expressed was not drawn from any set fashion, 
but from the profoundest depths of his moral being, and is 
therefore for all ages. 
The characters in this play are either impersonated out of 
Shakspeare's own multiformity by imaginative self-position 
or out of such as a country town and schoolboy's observa- 
tion might supply, — the curate, the schoolmaster, the 
Armado, (who even in my time was not extinct in the 
cheaper inns of North Wales) and so on. The satire is 
chiefly on follies of words. Biron and Rosaline are 
evidently the pre-existent state of Benedict and Beatrice, 
and so, perhaps, is Boyet of Lafeu, and Costard of the 
Tapster in Measure for Measure ; and the frequency of 
the rhymes, the sweetness as well as the smoothness of the 
metre, and the number of acute and fancifully illustrated 
aphorisms, are all as they ought to be in a poet's youth. 
True genius begins by generalizing and condensing ; it 
ends in realizing and expanding. It first collects the 
Yet if this juvenile drama had been the only one extant 
of our Shakspeare, and we possessed the tradition only of 
his riper works, or accounts of them in writers who had not 
even mentioned this play, — how many of Shakspeare's 
char»acteristic features might we not still have discovered 
in Love's Labour's Lost, though as in a portrait taken of 
him in his boyhood ? 
I can never sufficiently admire the wonderful activity 
of thought throughout the whole of the first scene of the 
play, rendered natural, as it is, by the choice of the char- 
acters, and the whimsical determination on which the 
drama is founded. A whimsical determination certainly ; 
— yet not altogether so very improbable to those who are 
conversant in the history of the middle ages, with their 
Courts of Love, and all that lighter drapery of chivalry, 
which engaged even mighty kings with a sort of serio-comic 
interest, and may well be supposed to have occupied more 
completely the smaller princes, at a time when the noble's 
or prince's court contained the only theatre of the domain 
72 Notes on Love's Labour's Lost 
or principality. This sort of story, too, was admirably 
suited to Shakspeare's times, when the Enghsh court was 
still the foster-mother of the state, and the muses ; and 
when, in consequence, the courtiers, and men of rank and 
fashion, affected a display of wit, point, and sententious 
observation, that would be deemed intolerable at present, 
— but in which a hundred years of controversy, involving 
every great political, and every dear domestic, interest, had 
trained all but the lowest classes to participate. Add to 
this the very style of the sermons of the time, and the 
eagerness of the Protestants to distinguish themselves by 
long and frequent preaching, and it will be found that, 
from the reign of Henry VIII. to the abdication of James 
II. no country ever received such a national education as 
Hence the comic matter chosen in the first instance is a 
ridiculous imitation or apery of this constant striving after 
logical precision, and subtle opposition of thoughts, to- 
gether with a making the most of every conception or image, 
by expressing it under the least expected property belong- 
ing to it, and this, again, rendered specially absurd by being 
applied to the most current subjects and occurrences. The 
phrases and modes of combination in argument were 
caught by the most ignorant from the custom of the age, 
and their ridiculous misapplication of them is most amus- 
ingly exhibited in Costard ; whilst examples suited only to 
the gravest propositions and impersonations, or apostrophes 
to abstract thoughts impersonated, which are in fact the 
natural language only of the most vehement agitations of 
the mind, are adopted by the coxcombry of Armado as 
mere artifices of ornament. 
The same kind of intellectual action is exhibited in a 
more serious and elevated strain in many other parts of 
this play. Biron's speech at the end of the fourth act is an 
excellent specimen of it. It is logic clothed in rhetoric ; 
— but observe how Shakspeare, in his two-fold being of 
poet and philosopher, avails himself of it to convey pro- 
found truths in the most lively images, — the whole re- 
maining faithful to the character supposed to utter the 
lines, and the expressions themselves constituting a 
further developement of that character : — 
other slow arts entirely keep the brain : 
And therefore finding barren practisers, 
Notes on Lovers Labour's Lost 73 
Scarce shew a harvest of their heavy toil : 
But love, first learned in a lady's eyes, 
Lives not alone immured in the brain ; 
But, with the motion of all elements, 
Courses as swift as thought in every power ; 
And gives to every power a double power. 
Above their functions and their offices. 
It adds a precious seeing to the eye, 
A lover's eyes will gaze an eagle blind ; 
A lover's ear will hear the lowest sound. 
When the suspicious tread of theft is stopp'd : 
Love's feeling is more soft and sensible. 
Than are the tender horns of cockled snails ; 
Love's tongue proves dainty Bacchus gross in taste ; 
For valour, is not love a Hercules, 
Still climbing trees in the Hesperides ? 
Subtle as Sphinx ; as sweet and musical, 
As bright Apollo's lute, strung with his hair ; 
And when love speaks, the voice of all the gods 
Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony. 
Never durst poet touch a pen to write. 
Until his ink were temper' d with love's sighs ; 
O, then his lines would ravish savage ears, 
And plant in tyrants mild humility. 
From women's eyes this doctrine I derive : 
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire ; 
They are the books, the arts, the academes, 
That shew, contain, and nourish all the world ; 
Else, none at all in aught proves excellent ; 
Then fools you were these women to forsweaj* ; 
Or, keeping what is sworn, you will prove fools. 
For wisdom's sake, a word that all men love ; 
Or for love's sake, a word that loves all men ; 
Or for men's sake, the authors of these women ; 
Or women's sake, by whom we men are men ; 
Let us once lose our oaths, to find ourselves, 
Or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths : 
It is religion, to be thus forsworn : 
For charity itself fulfils the law : 
And who can sever love from charity ? — 
This is quite a study ; — sometimes you see this youthful 
god of poetry connecting disparate thoughts purely by 
means of resemblances in the words expressing them, — 
a thing in character in lighter comedy, especially of that 
kind in which Shakspeare delights, namely, the purposed 
display of wit, though sometimes, too, disfiguring his 
graver scenes ; — but more often you may see him doubhng 
the natural connection or order of logical consequence in 
the thoughts by the introduction of an artificial and 
74 Notes on Love's Labour's Lost 
sought-for resemblance in the words, as, for instance, in 
the third line of the play, — 
And then grace us in the disgrace of death ; — 
this being a figure often having its force and propriety, as 
justified by the law of passion, which, inducing in the 
mind an unusual activity, seeks for means to waste its 
superfluity, — when in the highest degree — in lyric repeti- 
tions and sublime tautology — (at her feet he bowed, he jell, 
he lay down ; at her feet he bowed, he fell ; where he bowed, 
there he fell down dead), — and, in lower degrees, in making 
the words themselves the subjects and materials of that 
surplus action, and for the same cause that agitates our 
limbs, and forces our very gestures into a tempest in states 
of high excitement. 
The mere style of narration in Love's Labour's Lost, 
like that of ^Egeon in the first scene of the Comedy of 
Errors, and of the Captain in the second scene of Macbeth, 
seems imitated with its defects and its beauties from Sir 
Philip Sidney ; whose Arcadia, though not then published, 
was already well-known in manuscript copies, and could 
hardly have escaped the notice and admiration of Shak- 
speare as the friend and client of the Earl of Southampton. 
The chief defect consists in the parentheses and parenthetic 
thoughts and descriptions, suited neither to the passion of 
the speaker, nor the purpose of the person to whom the 
information is to be given, but manifestly betraying the 
author himself, — not by way of continuous undersong, 
but — palpably, and so as to show themselves addressed to 
the general reader. However, it is not unimportant to 
notice how strong a presumption the diction and allusions 
of this play afford, that, though Shakspeare's acquirements 
in the dead languages might not be such as we suppose in 
a learned education, his habits had, nevertheless, been 
scholastic, and those of a student. For a young author's 
first work almost always bespeaks his recent pursuits, and 
his first observations of life are either drawn from the 
immediate employments of his youth, and from the 
characters and images most deeply impressed on his mind 
in the situations in which those employments had placed 
him ; — or else they are fixed on such objects and occur- 
rences in the world, as are easily connected with, and seem 
to bear upon, his studies and the hitherto exclusive subjects 
Notes on Love's Labour's Lost 75 
of his meditation. Just as Ben Jonson, who applied 
himself to the drama after having served in Flanders, fills 
his earliest plays with true or pretended soldiers, the 
wrongs and neglects of the former, and the absurd boasts 
and knavery of their counterfeits. So Lessing's first 
comedies are placed in the universities, and consist of 
events and characters conceivable in an academic life. 
I will only further remark the sweet and tempered 
gravity, with which Shakspeare in the end draws the only 
fitting moral which such a drama afforded. Here Rosaline 
rises up to the full height of Beatrice : — 
Ros. Oft have I heard of you, my lord Biron. 
Before I saw you, and the world's large tongue 
Proclaims you for a man replete with mocks ; 
Full of comparisons, and wounding flouts, 
Which you on all estates will execute 
That lie within the mercy of your wit : 
To weed this wormwood from your fruitful brain. 
And therewithal, to win me, if you please, 
(Without the which I am not to be won,) 
You shall this twelvemonth term from day to day 
Visit the speechless sick, and still converse 
W^ith groaning wretches ; and your talk shall be, 
With all the fierce endeavour of your wit, 
To enforce the pained impotent to smile, 
Biron. To move wild laughter in the throat of death ? 
It cannot be ; it is impossible ; 
Mirth cannot move a soul in agony. 
Ros. Why, that's the way to choke a gibing spirit, 
Whose influence is begot of that loose grace. 
Which shallow laughing hearers give to fools : 
A jest's prosperity lies in the ear 
Of him that hears it, never in the tongue 
Of him that makes it : then, if sickly ears, 
Deaf'd with the clamours of their own dear groans, 
W^ill hear your idle scorns, continue then, 
And I will have you, and that fault withal ; 
But, if they will not, throw away that spirit, 
And I shall find you empty of that fault. 
Right joyful of your reformation. 
Act v. sc. 2. In Biron's speech to the Princess : 
— and, therefore, like the eye. 
Full of straying shapes, of habits, and of forms — 
Either read stray, which I prefer ; or throw full back to 
the preceding lines, — 
like the eye, full 
Of straying shapes, &c. 
76 Notes on Midsummer Night's Dream 
In the same scene : 
Biron. And what to me, my love ? and what to me ? 
Ros. You must be purged too, your sins are rank ; 
You are attaint with fault and perjury : 
Therefore, if you my favour mean to get, 
A twelvemonth shall you spend, and never rest, 
But seek the weary beds of people sick. 
There can be no doubt, indeed, about the propriety of 
expunging this speech of RosaUne's ; it soils the very page 
that retains it. But I do not agree with Warburton and 
others in striking out the preceding Hne also. It is quite 
in Biron' s character ; and Rosaline not answering it 
immediately, Dumain takes up the question for him, and, 
after he and Longaville are answered, Biron, with evident 
propriety, says ; — 
Studies my mistress ? &c. 
Act i. sc. I. 
Her. O cross ! too high to be enthrall'd to low — 
Lys. Or else misgrafted, in respect of 3'ears ; 
Her. O spite ! too old to be engag'd to young — 
Lys. Or else it stood upon the choice of friends 
Her. O hell ! to chuse love by another's eye ! 
There is no authority for any alteration ; — but I never 
can help feeling how great an improvement it would be, 
if the two former of Hermia's exclamations were omitted ; 
— the third and only appropriate one would then become 
a beauty, and most natural. 
lb. Helena's speech : — 
I will go tell him of fair Hermia's flight, &c. 
I am convinced that Shakspeare availed himself of the 
title of this play in his own mind, and worked upon it as a 
dream throughout, but especially, and, perhaps, unpleas- 
ingly, in this broad determination of ungrateful treachery 
in Helena, so undisguisedly avowed to herself, and this, 
too, after the witty cool philosophizing that precedes. 
The act itself is natural, and the resolve so to act is, I fear, 
likewise too true a picture of the lax hold which principles 
Notes on Midsummer Night's Dream 77 
have on a woman's heart, when opposed to, or even 
separated from, passion and indination. For women are 
less hypocrites to their own minds than men are, because 
in general they feel less proportionate abhorrence of moral 
evil in and for itself, and more of its outward consequences, 
as detection, and loss of character than men, — their 
natures being almost wholly extroitive. Still, however 
just in itself, the representation of this is not poetical ; 
we shrink from it, and cannot harmonize it with the ideal. 
Act ii. sc. I. Theobald's edition. 
Through bush, through briar — 
SfC 9|C SfS «|C S|C 
Through flood, through fire — 
What a noble pair of ears this worthy Theobald must 
have had ! The eight amphimacers or cretics, — 
Over hill, over dale, 
Thoro' bush, thoro' briar, 
Over park, over pale. 
Thoro' flood, thoro' fire — 
have a delightful effect on the ear in their sweet transition 
to the trochaic, — 
I do wander ev'ry where 
Swifter than the moones sphere, &c. — 
The last words as sustaining the rhyme, must be considered, 
as in fact they are, trochees in time. 
It may be worth while to give some correct examples in 
English of the principal metrical feet : — 
Pyrrhic or Dibrach, u u = body, spirit. 
Tribrach, u u u = nobody, hastily pronounced. 
Iambus, u — = delight. 
Trochee, — u = lightly. 
Spondee, = God spake. 
The paucity of spondees in single words in English and, 
indeed, in the modern languages in general, makes, perhaps, 
the greatest distinction, metrically considered, between 
them and the Greek and Latin. 
Dactyl, — u o = merrily. 
Anap^st, u u — = a propos, or the first three syllables 
of ceremony.'^ 
1 Written probably by mistake for " ceremonious." 
yS Notes on Comedy of Errors 
Amphibrachys, u — o = del'tghtful. 
Amphimacer, — u — = over hill. 
Antibacchius, u = the Lord God. 
Bacchius u = Helvellyn. 
Molossus, = John James Jones. 
These simple feet may suffice for understanding the 
metres of Shakspeare, for the greater part at least ; — but 
Milton cannot be made harmoniously intelligible without 
the composite feet, the Ionics, Paeons, and Epitrites. 
lb. sc. 2. Titania's speech : — (Theobald adopting 
Warburton's reading.) 
Which she, with pretty and with swimming gate 
Follying (her womb then rich with my young squire) 
Would imitate, &c. 
Oh ! oh ! Heaven have mercy on poor Shakspeare, and 
also on Mr. Warburton's mind's eye ! 
Act V. sc. I. Theseus' speech : — (Theobald.) 
And what poor [willing] duty cannot do, 
Noble respect takes it in might, not merit. 
To my ears it would read far more Shakspearian thus : — 
And what poor duty cannot do, yet would, 
Noble respect, &c. 
lb. sc. 2. 
Puck. Now the hungry lion roars, 
And the wolf behowls the moon ; 
Whilst the heavy ploughman snores 
All with weary task foredone, &c. 
Very Anacreon in perfectness, proportion, grace, and 
spontaneity ! So far it is Greek ; — but then add, O ! 
what wealth, what wild ranging, and yet what compression 
and condensation of, English fancy ! In truth, there is 
nothing in Anacreon more perfect than these thirty lines, 
or half so rich and imaginative. They form a speckless 
The myriad-minded man, our, and all men's, Shakspeare, 
has in this piece presented us with a legitimate farce in 
exactest consonance with the philosophical principles and 
character of farce, as distinguished from comedy and from 
Notes on As You Like It 79 
entertainments. A proper farce is mainly distinguished from 
comedy by the Ucense allowed, and even required, in the 
fable, in order to produce strange and laughable situations. 
The story need not be probable, it is enough that it is 
possible. A comedy would scarcely allow even the two 
Antipholuses ; because, although there have been instances 
of almost indistinguishable likeness in two persons, yet 
these are mere individual accidents, casus ludentis naturcB, 
and the verum will not excuse the inverisimile. But farce 
dares add the two Dromios, and is justified in so doing by 
the laws of its end and constitution. In a word, farces 
commence in a postulate, which must be granted. 
Act i. sc. I. 
OH. What, boy 1 
Orla. Come, come, elder brother, you are too young in this. 
OH. Wilt thou lay hands on me, villain ? 
There is a beauty here. The word 'boy' naturally pro- 
vokes and awakens in Orlando the sense of his manly 
powers ; and with the retort of * elder brother,* he grasps 
him with firm hands, and makes him feel he is no boy. 
lb. OH. Farewell, good Charles. — Now will I stir this gamester : 
I hope, I shall see an end of him ; for my soul, yet I know not why, 
hates nothing more than him. Yet he's gentle ; never school'd, 
and yet learn' d ; full of noble device ; of all sorts enchantingly 
beloved ! and, indeed, so much in the heart of the world, and 
especially of my own people, who best know him, that I am al- 
together misprized : but it shall not be so long ; this wrestler shall 
clear all. 
This has always appeared to me one of the most un- 
Shakspearian speeches in all the genuine works of our poet ; 
yet I should be nothing surprized, and greatly pleased, to 
find it hereafter a fresh beauty, as has so often happened 
to me with other supposed defects of great men. 1810. 
It is too venturous to charge a passage in Shakspeare 
with want of truth to nature ; and yet at first sight this 
speech of Oliver's expresses truths, which it seems almost 
impossible that any mind should so distinctly, so hvehly, 
and so voluntarily, have presented to itself, in connection 
with feehngs and intentions so malignant, and so contrary 
8o Notes on Twelfth Night 
to those which the qualities expressed would naturally 
have called forth. But I dare not say that this seeming 
unnaturalness is not in the nature of an abused wilfulness, 
when united with a strong intellect. In such characters 
there is sometimes a gloomy self-gratification in making 
the absoluteness of the will (sit pro ratione volurJas /) 
evident to themselves by setting the reason and the con- 
science in full array against it. 1818. 
lb. 5c. 2. 
Celia. If you saw yourself with your eyes, or knew yourself 
with your judgment, the fear of your adventure would counsel 
you to a more equal enterprize. 
Surely it should be 'our eyes' and 'our judgment.' 
lb. sc. 3. 
Cel. But is all this for your father ? 
Ros. No, some of it is for my child's father. 
Theobald restores this as the reading of the older 
editions. It may be so : but who can doubt that it is a 
mistake for 'my father's child,' meaning herself ? Accord- 
ing to Theobald's note, a most indelicate anticipation is 
put into the mouth of Rosalind without reason ; — and 
besides what a strange thought, and how out of place, and 
unintelligible ! 
Act. iv. sc. 2. 
Take thou no scorn 
To wear the horn, the lusty horn ; 
It was a crest ere thou wast born. 
I question whether there exists a parallel instance of a 
phrase, that like this of 'horns' is universal in all languages, 
and yet for which no one has discovered even a plausible 
Act i. sc. I. Duke's speech : — 
— so full of shapes is fancy. 
That it alone is high fantastical. 
Warburton's alteration of is into in is needless. 'Fancy* 
may very well be interpreted 'exclusive affection,' or 
'passionate preference.' Thus, bird-fanciers, gentlemen 
of the fancy, that is, amateurs of boxing, &c. The play of 
Notes on Twelfth Night 8i 
assimilation, — the meaning one sense chiefly, and yet keep- 
ing both senses in view, is perfectly Shakspearian. 
Act. ii. sc. 3. Sir Andrew's speech : — 
An explanatory note on Pigrogromitus would have been 
more acceptable than Theobald's grand discovery that 
* lemon' ought to be * leman.' 
lb. Sir Toby's speech : (Warburton's note on the 
Peripatetic philosophy.) 
Shall we rouse the night-owl in a catch, that will draw three 
souls out of one weaver ? 
O genuine, and inimitable (at least I hope so) Warburton! 
This note of thine, if but one in five millions, would be half 
a one too much. 
lb. sc. 4. 
Duke. My life upon't, young though thou art, thine eye 
Hath stay'd upon some favour that it loves ; 
Hath it not, boy ? 
Vio. A little, by your favour. 
Duke. What kind of woman is't ? 
And yet Viola was to have been presented to Orsino as a 
eunuch ! — Act i. sc. 2. Viola's speech. Either she forgot 
this, or else she had altered her plan, 
Vio. A blank, my lord : she never told her love 1 — 
But let concealment, &c. 
After the first line, (of which the last five words should be 
spoken with, and drop down in, a deep sigh) the actress 
ought to make a pause ; and then start afresh, from the 
activity of thought, born of suppressed feelings, and which 
thought had accumulated during the brief interval, as 
vital heat under the skin during a dip in cold water. 
lb. sc. 5. 
Fabian. Though our silence be drawn from us by cars, yet peace. 
Perhaps, 'cables.* 
Act iii. sc. I. 
Clown. A sentence is but a chevetil glove to a good wit. (Theo- 
bald's note.) 
Theobald's etymology of 'cheveril' is, of course, quite 
right ; — but he is mistaken in supposing that there were no 
82 Notes on All's Well that Ends Well 
such things as gloves of chicken-skin. They were at one 
time a main article in chirocosmetics. 
Act V. sc. I. Clown's speech : — 
So that, conclusions to be as kisses, if your four negatives make 
your two af5rmatives, why, then, the worse for my friends, and the 
better for my foes. 
(Warburton reads 'conclusion to be asked, is.') 
Surely Warburton could never have wooed by kisses 
and won, or he would not have flounder-flatted so 
just and humorous, nor less pleasing than humorous, an 
image into so profound a nihility. In the name of love 
and wonder, do not four kisses make a double affirmative ? 
The humour lies in the whispered 'No !' and the inviting 
'Don't !' with which the maiden's kisses are accompanied, 
and thence compared to negatives, which by repetition 
constitute an affirmative. 
Act i. sc. I. 
Count. If the Hving be enemy to the grief, the excess makes it 
soon mortal. 
Bert. Madam, I desire your holy wishes. 
Laf. How understand we that ? 
Bertram and Lafeu, I imagine, both speak together, — 
Lafeu referring to the Countess's rather obscure remark. 
Act ii. sc. I. (Warburton' s note.) 
King, — let higher Italy 
(Those 'hated, that inherit but the fall 
Of the last monarchy) see, that you come 
Not to woo honour, but to wed it. 
It would be, I own, an audacious and unjustifiable 
change of the text ; but yet, as a mere conjecture, I 
venture to suggest 'bastards,' for "bated.' As it stands, 
in spite of Warburton's note, I can make little or nothing 
of it. Why should the king except the then most illus- 
trious states, which, as being republics, were the more 
truly inheritors of the Roman grandeur ? — With my con- 
jecture, the sense would be ; — 'let higher, or the more 
northern part of Italy — (unless 'higher' be a corruption 
Notes on Merry Wives of Windsor 83 
for 'hir'd,' — the metre seeming to demand a monosyl- 
lable) (those bastards that inherit the infamy only of 
their fathers) see, &c.' The following 'woo' and 'wed' 
axe so far confirmative as they indicate Shakspeare's 
manner of connexion by unmarked influences of associa- 
tion from some preceding metaphor. This it is which 
makes his style so peculiarly vital and organic. Likewise 
'those girls of Italy' strengthen the guess. The absurdity 
of Warburton's gloss, which represents the king calling 
Italy superior, and then excepting the only part the lords 
were going to visit, must strike every one. 
lb. sc. 3. 
Laj. They say, miracles are past ; and we have our philosophical 
persons to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and 
Shakspeare, inspired, as it might seem, with all know- 
ledge, here uses the word 'causeless' in its strict philo- 
sophical sense ; — cause being truly predicable only of 
phenomena, that is, things natural, and not of noumena, 
or things supernatural. 
Act iii. sc. 5. 
Dia, The Count Rousillon : — know you such a one ? 
Hel. But by the ear that hears most nobly of him ; 
His face I know not. 
Shall we say here, that Shakspeare has unnecessarily 
made his loveliest character utter a lie ? — Or shall we 
dare think that, where to deceive was necessary, he thought 
a pretended verbal verity a double crime, equally with the 
other a lie to the hearer, and at the same time an attempt 
to lie to one's own conscience ? 
Act i. sc. I. 
Shal. The luce is the fresh fish, the salt fish is an old coat. 
I CANNOT understand this. Perhaps there is a corruption 
both of words and speakers. Shallow no sooner corrects 
one mistake of Sir Hugh's, namely, 'louse' for 'luce,' a 
pike, but the honest Welchman falls into another, namely, 
'cod' [haccald], Camhrice 'cot' for coat. 
84 Notes on Measure for Measure 
Shal. The luce is the fresh fish — 
Evans. The salt fish is an old cot. 
'Luce is a fresh fish, and not a louse ; ' says Shallow. 
'Aye, aye,' quoth Sir Hugh ; ' the fresh fish is the luce ; 
it is an old cod that is the salt fish.' At all events, as the 
text stands, there is no sense at all in the words, 
lb. so. 3. 
Fal. Now, the report goes, she has all the rule of her husband's 
purse ; she hath a legion of angels. 
Pist. As many devils entertain ; and To her, boy. say I. 
Perhaps it is — 
As many devils enter (or enter'd) swine ; and to her, hoy, say I : — 
a somewhat profane, but not un-Shakspearian, allusion to 
the 'legion' in St. Luke's 'gospel.' 
This play, which is Shakspeare's throughout, is to me the 
most painful — say rather, the only painful — part of his 
genuine works. The comic and tragic parts equally border 
on the /jbiGrjTov, — the one being disgusting, the other 
horrible ; and the pardon and marriage of Angelo not 
merely baffles the strong indignant claim of justice — (for 
cruelty, with lust and damnable baseness, cannot be for- 
given, because we cannot conceive them as being morally 
repented of ;) but it is likewise degrading to the character 
of woman. Beaumont and Fletcher, who can follow Shak- 
speare in his errors only, have presented a still worse, 
because more loathsome and contradictory, instance of 
the same kind in the Night-Walker, in the marriage of 
Alathe to Algripe. Of the counter-balancing beauties of 
Measure for Measure, I need say nothing ; for T have 
already remarked that the play is Shakspeare's throughout. 
Act iii. sc. I. 
Ay, but to die, and go we know not where, &c. 
This natural fear of Claudio, from the antipathy we have to 
death, seems very little varied from that infamous wish of Msecenas, 
recorded in the loist epistle of Seneca : 
Debtlem facito manu, 
Debilem pede, coxa, &-c. Warburton's note. 
I cannot but think this rather an heroic resolve, than 
Notes on Cymbeline 85 
an infamous wish. It appears to me to be the grandest 
symptom of an immortal spirit, when even that bedimmed 
and overwhehned spirit recked not of its own immortahty, 
still to seek to be, — to be a mind, a will. 
As fame is to reputation, so heaven is to an estate, or 
immediate advantage. The difference is, that the self- 
love of the former cannot exist but by a complete suppres- 
sion and habitual supplantation of immediate selfishness. 
In one point of view, the miser is more estimable than 
the spendthrift ; — only that the miser's present feelings 
are as much of the present as the spendthrift's. But 
ccBteris paribus, that is, upon the supposition that whatever 
is good or lovely in the one coexists equally in the other, 
then, doubtless, the master of the present is less a selfish 
being, an animal, than he who lives for the moment with 
no inheritance in the future. Whatever can degrade 
man, is supposed in the latter case, whatever can elevate 
him, in the former. And as to self ; — strange and generous 
self ! that can only be such a self by a complete divestment 
of all that men call self, — of aU that can make it either 
practically to others, or consciously to the individual him- 
self, different from the human race in its ideal. Such self 
is but a perpetual religion, an inalienable acknowledgment 
of God, the sole basis and ground of being. In this sense, 
how can I love God, and not love myself, as far as it is of 
lb. sc. 2. 
Pattern in himself to know, 
Grace to stand, and virtue go. 
Worse metre, indeed, but better English would be, — 
Grace to stand, virtue to go. 
Act i. sc. I. 
You do not meet a man, but frowns : our bloods 
No more obey the heavens, than our courtiers' 
Still seem, as does the king's. 
There can be little doubt of Mr. T5n:whitt's emendations 
of 'courtiers' and 'king,' as to the sense ; — only it is not 
impossible that Shakspeare's dramatic language may aUow 
of the word, 'brows' or 'faces' being understood after the 
86 Notes on Cymbeline 
word 'courtiers,' which might then remain in the genitive 
case plural. But the nominative plural makes excellent 
sense, and is sufficiently elegant, and sounds to my ear 
Shakspearian. What, however, is meant by 'our bloods 
no more obey the heavens ? ' — Dr. Johnson's assertion 
that 'bloods' signify 'countenances,' is, I think, mistaken 
both in the thought conveyed — (for it was never a popular 
beUef that the stars governed men's countenances,) and 
in the usage, which requires an antithesis of the blood, — or 
the temperament of the four humours, choler, melancholy, 
phlegm, and the red globules, or the sanguine portion, 
which was supposed not to be in our own power, but, 
to be dependent on the influences of the heavenly bodies, — 
and the countenances which are in our power really, though 
from flattery we bring them into a no less apparent de- 
pendence on the sovereign, than the former are in actual 
dependence on the constellations. 
I have sometimes thought that the word 'courtiers' was 
a misprint for 'countenances,' arising from an anticipa- 
tion, by foreglance of the compositor's eye, of the word 
'courtier' a few lines below. The written r is easily and 
often confounded with the written n. The compositor 
read the first syllable court, and — his eye at the same time 
catching the word 'courtier ' lower down — he completed 
the word without reconsulting the copy. It is not unlikely 
that Shakspeare intended first to express, generally the 
same thought, which a little afterwards he repeats with a 
particular application to the persons meant ; — a common 
usage of the pronominal 'our,' where the speaker does not 
really mean to include himself ; and the word 'you' is an 
additional confirmation of the 'our,' being used in this 
place, for 'men' generally and indefinitely, just as 'you do 
not meet,' is the same as, 'one does not meet.' 
Act i. sc. 2. Imogen's speech : — 
— My dearest husband, 
I something fear my father's wrath ; but nothing 
(Always reserv'd my holy duty) what 
His rage can do on me. 
Place the emphasis on 'me ; ' for 'rage' is a mere repetition 
of ' wrath. ' 
Cym. O disloyal thing, 
That should' st repair my youth, thou heapest 
A year's age on me 1 
Notes on Cymbeline 87 
How is it that the commentators take no notice of the 
un-Shakspearian defect in the metre of the second Une, and 
what in Shakspeare is the same, in the harmony with the 
sense and feehng ? Some word or words must have sHpped 
out after 'youth,' — possibly 'and see :' — 
That should'st repair my youth ! — and see, thou heap'st, &c. 
lb. sc. 4. Pisanio's speech : — 
— For so long 
As he could make me with this eye or ear 
Distinguish him from others, &c. 
But Hhis eye,' in spite of the supposition of its being 
used hixrixug is very awkward. I should think that 
either 'or' — or 'the' was Shakspeare' s word ; — 
As he could make me or with eye or ear. 
lb. sc. 7. lachimo's speech : — 
Hath nature given them eyes 
To see this vaulted arch, and the rich crop 
Of sea and land, which can distinguish 'twixt 
The fiery orbs above, and the twinn'd stones 
Upon the number' d beach. 
I would suggest 'cope' for 'crop.* As to 'twinn'd 
stones' — may it not be a bold catachresis for muscles, 
cockles, and other empty shells with hinges, which are 
truly twinned ? I would take Dr. Farmer's 'umber'd,' 
which I had proposed before I ever heard of its having been 
already offered by him : but I do not adopt his interpreta- 
tion of the word, which I think is not derived from umbra, a 
shade, but from tcmber, a dingy yellow-brown soil, which 
most commonly forms the mass of the sludge on the sea 
shore, and on the banks of tide-rivers at low water. One 
other possible interpretation of this sentence has occurred 
to me, just barely worth mentioning ; — that the 'twinn'd 
stones' are the augrim stones upon the number'd beech, 
that is, the astronomical tables of beech-wood. 
Act V. sc. 5. 
Sooth. When as a lion's whelp, &c. 
It is not easy to conjecture why Shakspeare should have 
introduced this ludicrous scroll, which answers no one 
purpose, either propulsive, or explicatory, unless as a joke 
on etymology. 
88 Notes on Titus Andronicus 
Act i. sc. I. Theobald's note. 
I never heard it so much as intimated, that he (Shakspeare) had 
turned his genius to stage-writing, before he associated with the 
players, and became one of their body. 
That Shakspeare never 'turned his genius to stage-writ- 
ing,' as Theobald most Theohaldice phrases it, before he 
became an actor, is an assertion of about as much authority, 
as the precious story that he left Stratford for deer-steal- 
ing, and that he lived by holding gentlemen's horses at the 
doors of the theatre, and other trash of that arch-gossip, 
old Aubrey. The metre is an argument against Titus 
Andronicus being Shakspeare's, worth a score such chrono- 
logical surmises. Yet I incline to think that both in this 
play and in Jeronymo, Shakspeare wrote some passages, 
and that they are the earliest of his compositions. 
Act V. sc. 2. 
I think it not improbable that the lines from — 
I am not mad ; I know thee well enough ; 
* 4: * « * « « 
So thou destroy Rapine, and Murder there, 
were written by Shakspeare in his earliest period. But 
instead of the text — 
Revenge, which makes the foul o-ffender quake. 
Tit. Art thou Revenge ? and art thou sent to me ? — 
the words in italics ought to be omitted. 
Mr. Pope (after Dryden) informs us, that the story of Troilus and 
Cressida was originally the work of one Lollius, a Lombard : but 
Dryden goes yet further ; he declares it to have been written in 
Latin verse, and that Chaucer translated it. — Lollius was a historio- 
grapher of U rhino in Italy. Note in Stockdale's edition, 1807. 
* Lollius was a historiographer of Urbino in Italy.' So 
affirms the notary, to whom the Sieur Stockdale committed 
the disfacimento of Ayscough's excellent edition of Shak- 
speare. Pitv that the researchful notary has not either 
Notes on Troilus and Cressida 89 
told us in what century, and of what history, he was a 
writer, or been simply content to depose, that LoUius, if a 
writer of that name existed at all, was a somewhat some- 
where. The notary speaks of the Troy Boke of Lydgate, 
printed in 15 13. I have never seen it ; but I deeply regret 
that Chalmers did not substitute the whole of Lydgate's 
works from the MSS. extant, for the almost worthless 
The Troilus and Cressida of Shakspeare can scarcely be 
classed with his dramas of Greek and Roman history ; but 
it forms an intermediate link between the fictitious Greek 
and Roman histories, which we may call legendary dramas, 
and the proper ancient histories ; that is, between the 
Pericles or Titus Andronicus, and the Coriolanus, or Julius 
Caesar. Cymbeline is a congener with Pericles, and dis- 
tinguished from Lear by not having any declared pro- 
minent object. But where shall we class the Timon of 
Athens ? Perhaps immediately below Lear. It is a Lear 
of the satirical drama ; a Lear of domestic or ordinary 
life ; — a local eddy of passion on the high road of society, 
while all around is the week-day goings on of wind and 
weather ; a Lear, therefore, without its soul-searching 
flashes, its ear-cleaving thunder-claps, its meteoric 
splendours, — without the contagion and the fearful sym- 
pathies of nature, the fates, the furies, the frenzied elements, 
dancing in and out, now breaking through, and scattering, 
— now hand in hand with, — the fierce or fantastic group 
of human passions, crimes, and anguishes, reeling on the 
unsteady ground, in a wild harmony to the shock and the 
swell of an earthquake. But my present subject was 
Troilus and Cressida ; and I suppose that, scarcely know- 
ing what to say of it, I by a cunning of instinct ran off to 
subjects on which I should find it difficult not to say too 
much, though certain after all that I should still leave the 
better part unsaid, and the gleaning for others richer than 
my own harvest. 
Indeed, there is no one of Shakspeare's plays harder to 
characterize. The name and the remembrances connected 
with it, prepare us for the representation of attachment no 
less faithful than fervent on the side of the youth, and of 
sudden and shameless inconstancy on the part of the lady. 
And this is, indeed, as the gold thread on which the scenes 
are strung, though often kept out of sight and out of mind 
90 Notes on Troilus and Cressida 
by gems of greater value than itself. But as Shakspeare 
calls forth nothing from the mausoleum of history, or the 
catacombs of tradition, without giving, or eliciting, some 
permanent and general interest, and brings forward no 
subject which he does not moralize or intellectualize, — so 
here he has drawn in Cressida the portrait of a vehement 
passion, that, having its true origin and proper cause in 
warmth of temperament, fastens on, rather than fixes to, 
some one object by liking and temporary preference. 
There's language in her eye, her cheek, her Hp, 
Nay, her foot speaks ; her wanton spirits look out 
At every joint and motive of her body. 
This Shakspeare has contrasted with the profound affec- 
tion represented in Troilus, and alone worthy the name 
of love ; — affection, passionate indeed, — swoln with the 
confluence of youthful instincts and youthful fancy, and 
growing in the radiance of hope newly risen, in short 
enlarged by the collective sympathies of nature ; — but 
still having a depth of calmer element in a will stronger 
than desire, more entire than choice, and which gives per- 
manence to its own act by converting it into faith and 
duty. Hence with excellent judgment, and with an ex- 
cellence higher than mere judgment can give, at the close 
of the play, when Cressida has sunk into infamy below 
retrieval and beneath hope, the same will, which had been 
the substance and the basis of his love, while the restless 
pleasures and passionate longings, like sea- waves, had 
tossed but on its surface, — this same moral energy is repre- 
sented as snatching him aloof from all neighbourhood 
with her dishonour, from all lingering fondness and languish- 
ing regrets, whilst it rushes with him into other and nobler 
duties, and deepens the channel, which his heroic brother's 
death had left empty for its collected flood. Yet another 
secondary and subordinate purpose Shakspeare has in- 
woven with his delineation of these two characters, — 
that of opposing the inferior civilization, but purer morals, 
of the Trojans to the refinements, deep policy, but duplicity 
and sensual corruptions of the Greeks. 
To all this, however, so little comparative projection is 
given, — nay, the masterly group of Agamemnon, Nestor, 
and Ulysses, and, still more in advance, that of Achilles, 
Ajax, and Thersites, so manifestly occupy the fore-ground. 
Notes on Troilus and Cressida 91 
that the subservience and vassalage of strength and animal 
courage to intellect and policy seems to be the lesson most 
often in our poet's view, and which he has taken little 
pains to connect with the former more interesting moral 
impersonated in the titular hero and heroine of the drama. 
But I am half inclined to believe, that Shakspeare's main 
object, or shall I rather say, his ruling impulse, was to 
translate the poetic heroes of paganism into the not less 
rude, but more intellectually vigorous, and more featurely, 
warriors of Christian chivalry, — and to substantiate the 
distinct and graceful profiles or outlines of the Homeric 
epic into the flesh and blood of the romantic drama, — in 
short, to give a grand history-piece in the robust style of 
Albert Durer. 
The character of Thersites, in particular, well deserves 
a more careful examination, as the Caliban of demagogic 
life ; — the admirable portrait of intellectual power deserted 
by all grace, all moral principle, all not momentary im- 
pulse ; — just wise enough to detect the weak head, and 
fool enough to provoke the armed fist of his betters ; — one 
whom malcontent Achilles can inveigle from malcontent 
Ajax, under the one condition, that he shall be called on 
to do nothing but abuse and slander, and that he shall be 
allowed to abuse as much and as purulently as he likes, 
that is, as he can ; — in short, a mule, — quarrelsome by 
the original discord of his nature, — a slave by tenure of 
his own baseness, — made to bray and be brayed at, to 
despise and be despicable. 'Aye, Sir, but say what you 
will, he is a very clever fellow, though the best friends 
will fall out. There was a time when Ajax thought he 
deserved to have a statue of gold erected to him, and hand- 
some Achilles, at the head of the Myrmidons, gave no 
Uttle credit to his friend Thersites !' 
Act iv. sc. 5. Speech of Ulysses : 
O, these encounterers, so glib of tongue, 
That give a coasting welcome ere it comes — 
Should it be 'accosting ?' 'Accost her, knight, accost !* 
in the Twelfth Night. Yet there sounds a something so 
Shakspearian in the phrase — 'give a coasting welcome,' 
('coasting' being taken as the epithet and adjective of 
'welcome,') that had the following words been, 'ere they 
land,' instead of 'ere it comes,' I should have preferred 
92 Notes on Coriolanus 
the interpretation. The sense now is, 'that give welcome 
to a salute ere it comes.' 
This play illustrates the wonderfully philosophic im- 
partiality of Shakspeare's politics. His own country's 
history furnished him with no matter, but what was too 
recent to be devoted to patriotism. Besides, he knew 
that the instruction of ancient history would seem more 
dispassionate. In Coriolanus and Julius Caesar, you see 
Shakspeare's good-natured laugh at mobs. Compare 
this with Sir Thomas Brown's aristocracy of spirit. 
Act i. sc. I. Coriolanus' speech : — 
He that depends 
Upon your favours, swims with fins of lead, 
And hews down oaks with rushes. Hang ye ! Trust ye ? 
I suspect that Shakspeare wrote it transposed ; 
Trust ye ? Hang ye ! 
lb. sc. 10. Speech of Aufidius : — 
Mine emulation 
Hath not that honour in't, it had ; for where 
I thought to crush him in an equal force. 
True sword to sword ; I'll potch at him some way. 
Or wrath, or craft may get him. — 
My valour's poison'd 
With only suffering stain by him for him 
Shall fly out of itself: nor sleep, nor sanctuary, 
Being naked, sick, nor fane, nor capitol, 
The prayers of priests, nor times of sacrifices, 
Embarquements all of fury, shall lift up 
Their rotten privilege and custom 'gainst 
My hate to Marcius. 
I have such deep faith in Shakspeare's heart-lore, that 
I take for granted that this is in nature, and not as a mere 
anomaly ; although I cannot in myself discover any germ 
of possible feeling, which could wax and unfold itself into 
such sentiment as this. However, I perceive that in this 
speech is meant to be contained a prevention of shock 
at the after-change in Aufidius' character. 
Notes on Julius Caesar 93 
Act. ii. sc. I. Speech of Menenius : — 
The most sovereign prescription in Galen, &c. 
Was it without, or in contempt of, historical information 
that Shakspeare made the contemporaries of Coriolanus 
quote Cato and Galen ? I cannot decide to my own 
lb. sc. 3. speech of Coriolanus : — 
Why in this wolvish gown should I stand here — 
That the gown of the candidate was of whitened wool, 
we know. Does 'wolvish' or 'woolvish' mean 'made of 
wool' ? If it means 'wolfish,' what is the sense ? 
Act. iv. sc. 7. Speech of Aufidius : 
All places yield to him ere he sits down, &c. 
I have always thought this, in itself so beautiful speech, 
the least explicable from the mood and full intention of 
the speaker of any in the whole works of Shakspeare. I 
cherish the hope that I am mistaken, and that, becoming 
wiser, I shall discover some profound excellence in that, in 
which I now appear to detect an imperfection. 
Act i. sc. I. 
Mar. What meanest thou by that ? Mend me, thou saucy 
fellow ! 
The speeches of Flavins and Marullus are in blank verse. 
Wherever regular metre can be rendered truly imitative of 
character, passion, or personal rank, Shakspeare seldom, 
if ever, neglects it. Hence this hne should be read : — 
What mean'st by that ? mend me, thou saucy fellow ! 
I say regular metre : for even the prose has in the highest 
and lowest dramatic personage, a Cobbler or a Hamlet, a 
rhythm so felicitous and so severally appropriate, as to be 
a virtual metre. 
lb. sc. 2. 
Bru. A soothsayer bids you beware the Ides of March. 
If my ear does not deceive me, the metre of this line was 
94 Notes on Julius Cassar 
meant to express that sort of mild philosophic contempt, 
characterizing Brutus even in his first casual speech. The 
line is a trimeter, — each dipohia containing two accented 
and two unaccented syllables, but variously arranged, as 
thus ; — 
u — — u I — o u — I o — o — 
A soothsayer | bids you beware I the Ides of March, 
lb. Speech of Brutus : 
Set honour in one eye, and death i' the other, 
And I will look on both indifferently. 
Warburton would read 'death' for 'both' ; but I prefer 
the old text. There are here three things, the public 
good, the individual Brutus' honour, and his death. The 
latter two so balanced each other, that he could decide for 
the first by equipoise ; nay — the thought growing — that 
honour had more weight than death. That Cassius under- 
stood it as Warburton, is the beauty of Cassius as con- 
trasted with Brutus. 
lb. Caesar's speech : — 
He loves no plays. 
As thou dost, Antony ; he hears no music, &c 
This is not a trivial observation, nor does our poet mean barely 
by it, that Cassius was not a merry, sprightly man ; but that he 
had not a due temperament of harmony in his disposition. Theo- 
bald's Note. 
Theobald ! what a commentator wast thou, when thou 
would' st affect to understand Shakspeare, instead of con- 
tenting thyself with collating the text ! The meaning here 
is too deep for a line ten-fold the length of thine to fathom. 
lb. sc. 3. Casca's speech : — 
Be factious for redress of all these griefs ; 
And I will set this foot of mine as far, 
As who goes farthest. 
1 understand it thus : 'You have spoken as a con- 
spirator ; be so in fact, and I will join you. Act on your 
principles, and realize them in a fact.' 
Act ii. sc. I. Speech of Brutus : — 
It must be by his death ; and, for my part, 
I know no personal cause to spurn at him. 
But for the general. He would be crown'd : 
How that might change his nature, there's the question. 
Notes on Julius Caesar 95 
And, to speak truth of Caesax, 
I have not known when his afiections sway'd 
More than his reason. 
So Caesar may ; 
Then, lest he may, prevent. 
This speech is singular ; — at least, I do not at present see 
into Shakspeare's motive, his rationale, or in what point of 
view he meant Brutus' character to appear. For surely — 
(this, I mean, is what I say to myself, with my present 
quantum of insight, only modified by my experience in how 
many instances I have ripened into a perception of beauties, 
where I had before descried faults ;) surely, nothing can 
seem more discordant with our historical preconceptions of 
Brutus, or more lowering to the intellect of the Stoico- 
Platonic tyrannicide, than the tenets here attributed to 
him — to him, the stern Roman repubUcan ; namely, — that 
he would have no objection to a king, or to Caesar, a 
monarch in Rome, would Caesar but be as good a monarch 
as he now seems disposed to be ! How, too, could Brutus 
say that he found no personal cause — none in Caesar's past 
conduct cLs a man ? Had he not passed the Rubicon ? 
Had he not entered Rome as a conqueror ? Had he not 
placed his Gauls in the Senate ? — Shakspeare, it may be 
said, has not brought these things forwards — True ; — and 
this is just the ground of my perplexity. What character 
did Shakspeare mean his Brutus to be ? 
lb. Speech of Brutus : — 
For if thou path, thy native semblance on — 
Surely, there need be no scruple in treating this 'path' 
as a mere misprint or mis-script for 'put.' In what place 
does Shakspeare, — where does any other writer of the same 
age — use 'path' as a verb for 'walk ?' 
lb. sc. 2. Caesar's speech : — 
She dreamt last night, she saw my statue — 
No doubt, it should be statua, as in the same age, they more 
often pronounced 'heroes' as a trisyllable than dissyllable. 
A modern tragic poet would have written, — 
Last night she dreamt, that she my statue saw — 
But Shakspeare never avails himself of the supposed 
license of transposition, merely for the metre. There is 
always some logic either of thought or passion to justify it. 
96 Notes on Julius Caesar 
Act iii. sc. I. Antony's speech : — 
Pardon me, Julius — here wast thou bay'd, brave hart ; 
Here didst thou fall ; and here thy hunters stand 
Sign'd in thy spoil, and crimson' d in thy death. 
O world I thou wast the forest to this hart, 
And this, indeed, O world ! the heart of thee. 
I doubt the genuineness of the last two lines ; — not because 
they are vile ; but first, on account of the rhythm, which is 
not Shakspearian, but just the very tune of some old play, 
from which the actor might have interpolated them ; — 
and secondly, because they interrupt, not only the sense 
and connection, but likewise the flow both of the passion, 
and, (what is with me still more decisive) of the Shak- 
spearian link of association. As with many another 
parenthesis or gloss slipt into the text, we have only to read 
the passage without it, to see that it never was in it. I 
venture to say there is no instance in Shakspeare fairly 
like this. Conceits he has ; but they not only rise out of 
some word in the lines before, but also lead to the thought 
in the lines following. Here the conceit is a mere alien : 
Antony forgets an image, when he is even touching it, and 
then recollects it, when the thought last in his mind must 
have led him away from it. 
Act iv. sc. 3. Speech of Brutus : — 
What, shall one of us, 
That struck the foremost man of all this world. 
But for supporting robbers. 
This seemingly strange assertion of Brutus is unhappily 
verified in the present day. What is an immense army, in 
which the lust of plunder has quenched all the duties of the 
citizen, other than a horde of robbers, or differenced only 
as fiends are from ordinarily reprobate men ? Caesar sup- 
ported, and was supported by, such as these ; — and even so 
Buonaparte in our days. 
I know no part of Shakspeare that more impresses on 
me the belief of his genius being superhuman, than this 
scene between Brutus and Cassius. In the Gnostic heresy 
it might have been credited with less absurdity than 
most of their dogrnas, that the Supreme had employed 
him to create, previously to his function of representing, 
Notes on Antony and Cleopatra 97 
Shakspeare can be complimented only by comparison 
with himself : all other eulogies are either heterogeneous, 
as when they are in reference to Spenser or Milton ; or they 
are fiat truisms, as when he is gravely preferred to Comeille, 
Racine, or even his own immediate successors, Beaumont 
and Fletcher, Massinger and the rest. The highest praise, 
or rather form of praise, of this play, which I can offer in 
my own mind, is the doubt which the perusal always 
occasions in me, whether the Antony and Cleopatra is not, 
in all exhibitions of a giant power in its strength and vigour 
of maturity, a formidable rival of Macbeth, Lear, Hamlet, 
and Othello. Feliciter audax is the motto for its style com- 
paratively with that of Shakspeare' s other works, even as 
it is the general motto of all his works compared with those 
of other poets. Be it remembered, too, that this happy 
valiancy of style is but the representative and result of all 
the material excellencies so expressed. 
This play should be perused in mental contrast with 
Romeo and Juliet ; — as the love of passion and appetite 
opposed to the love of affection and instinct. But the art 
displayed in the character of Cleopatra is profound ; in 
this, especially, that the sense of criminality in her passion 
is lessened by our insight into its depth and energy, at the 
very moment that we cannot but perceive that the passion 
itself springs out of the habitual craving of a licentious 
nature, and that it is supported and reinforced by voluntary 
stimulus and sought-for associations, instead of blossoming 
out of spontaneous emotion. 
Of all Shakspeare' s historical plays, Antony and Cleo- 
patra is by far the most wonderful. There is not one in 
which he has followed history so minutely, and yet there 
are few in which he impresses the notion of angelic strength 
so much ; — perhaps none in which he impresses it more 
strongly. This is greatly owing to the manner in which the 
fiery force is sustained throughout, and to the numerous 
momentary flashes of nature counteracting the historic 
abstraction. As a wonderful specimen of the way in which 
Shakspeare lives up to the very end of this play, read the 
last part of the concluding scene. And if you would feel 
the judgment as well as the genius of Shakspeare in your 
98 Notes on Antony and Cleopatra 
heart's core, compare this astonishing drama with Dryden's 
All For Love. 
Act i. sc. I. Philo's speech : 
His captain's heart 
Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst 
The buckles on his breast, reneges all temper — 
It should be 'reneagues/ or 'reniegues/ as 'fatigues/ &c. 
Take but good note, and you shall see in him 
The triple pillar of the world transform' d 
Into a strumpet's fool. 
Warburton's conjecture of 'stool' is ingenious, and would 
be a probable reading, if the scene opening had discovered 
Antony with Cleopatra on his lap. But, represented as 
he is walking and jesting with her, 'fool' must be the word. 
Warburton's objection is shallow, and implies that he 
confounded the dramatic with the epic style. The 'pillar' 
of a state is so common a metaphor as to have lost the 
image in the thing meant to be imaged, 
lb. sc. 2. 
Much is breeding ; 
Which, like the courser's hair, hath yet but life, 
And not a serpent's poison. 
This is so far true to appearance, that a horse-hair, 
*laid,' as Hollinshed says, 'in a pail of water,' will become 
the supporter of seemingly one worm, though probably 
of an immense number of small sUmy water-lice. The 
hair will twirl round a finger, and sensibly compress it. 
It is a common experiment with school boys in Cumberland 
and Westmorland. 
Act. ii. sc. 2. Speech of Enobarbus : — 
Her gentlewomen, like the Nereids, 
So many mermaids, tended her i' th' eyes, 
And made their bends adornings. At the helm 
A seeming mermaid steers. 
I have the greatest difficulty in beheving that Shakspeare 
wrote the first 'mermaids.' He never, I think, would have 
so weakened by useless anticipation the fine image im- 
mediately following. The epithet 'seeming' becomes so 
extremely improper after the whole number had been posi- 
tively called 'so many mermaids.' 
Notes on Timon of Athens 99 
Act i. sc. I. 
Tim. The man is honest. 
Old Ath. Therefore he will be, Timon. 
His honesty rewards him in itself 
Warburton's comment — *If the man be honest, for that 
reason he will be so in this, and not endeavour at the 
injustice of gaining my daughter without my consent' — is, 
like almost all his comments, ingenious in blunder ; he 
can never see any other writer's thoughts for the mist- 
working swarm of his own. The meaning of the first line 
the poet himself explains, or rather unfolds, in the second. 
'The man is honest !' — 'True ; — and for that very cause, 
and with no additional or extrinsic motive, he will be so. 
No man can be justly called honest, who is not so for 
honesty's sake, itself including its own reward.' Note, 
that 'honesty' in Shakspeare's age retained much of its 
old dignity, and that contradistinction of the honestum 
from the utile, in which its very essence and definition 
consists. If it be honestum, it cannot depend on the utile. 
lb. Speech of Apemantus, printed as prose in Theo- 
bald's edition : — 
So, so ! aches contract, and starve your supple joints ! 
I may remark here the fineness of Shakspeare's sense 
of musical period, which would almost by itself have 
suggested (if the hundred positive proofs had not been 
extant,) that the word 'aches' was then ad libitum, a 
dissyllable — aitches. For read it, 'aches,' in this sentence, 
and I would challenge you to find any period in Shakspeare's 
writings with the same musical or, rather dissonant, nota- 
tion. Try the one, and then the other, by your ear, reading 
the sentence aloud, first with the word as a dissyllable and 
then as a monosyllable, and you will feel what I mean.^ 
1 It is, of course, a verse, — 
Achfes contract, and starve your supple joints, — 
and is so printed in all later editions. But Mr. C. was reading it in prose in Theobald; 
and it is curious to see how his ear detected the rhythmical necessity for pronouncing 
' aches ' as a dissyllable, although the metrical necessity seems for the moment to have 
escaped him. Ed. 
lOO Notes on Timon of Athens 
lb. sc. 2. Cupid's speech : Warburton's correction 
There taste, touch, all pleas' d from thy table rise — 
Th' ear, taste, touch, smell, &c. 
This is indeed an excellent emendation. 
Act. ii. sc. I. Senator's speech : — 
— nor then silenc'd when 
• Commend me to your master' — and the cap 
Plays in the right hand, thus : — 
Either, methinks, 'plays' should be 'play'd/ or 'and' 
should be changed to 'while.' I can certainly understand 
it as a parenthesis, an interadditive of scorn ; but it does 
not sound to my ear as in Shakspeare's manner, 
lb. sc. 2. Timon's speech : (Theobald.) 
And that unaptness made you minister, 
Thus to excuse yourself. 
Read your ; — at least I cannot otherwise understand the 
line. You made my chance indisposition and occasional 
unaptness your minister — that is, the ground on which 
you now excuse yourself. Or, perhaps, no correction 
is necessary, if we construe 'made you' as 'did you make ;' 
'and that unaptness did you make help you thus to excuse 
yourself.' But the former seems more in Shakspeare's 
manner, and is less Hable to be misunderstood.^ 
Act iii. sc. 3. Servant's speech : — 
How fairly this lord strives to appear foul ! — takes virtuous 
copies to be wicked ; like those that under hot, ardent, zeal would 
set whole realms on fire. Of such a nature is his politic love. 
This latter clause I grievously suspect to have been an 
addition of the players, which had hit, and, being con- 
stantly applauded, procured a settled occupancy in the 
prompter's copy. Not that Shakspeare does not elsewhere 
sneer at the Puritans ; but here it is introduced so nolenter 
volenfer (excuse the phrase) by the head and shoulders ! — 
and is besides so much more likely to have been conceived 
in the age of Charles I. 
Act iv. sc. 2. Timon's speech : — 
Raise me this beggar, and deny't that lord. — 
Warburton reads 'denude.' 
1 ' Vour ' is the received reading; now. Ed. 
Notes on Romeo and Juliet loi 
I cannot see the necessity of this alteration. The 
editors and commentators are, all of them, ready enough 
to cry out against Shakspeare's laxities and licenses of 
style, forgetting that he is not merely a poet, but a dramatic 
poet ; that, when the head and the heart are swelling 
with fulness, a man does not ask himself whether he has 
grammatically arranged, but only whether (the context 
taken in) he has conveyed, his meaning. 'Deny' is here 
clearly equal to 'withhold ;' and the *it/ quite in the 
genius of vehement conversation, which a syntaxist ex- 
plains by ellipses and suhauditurs in a Greek or Latin 
classic, yet triumphs over as ignorances in a contemporary, 
refers to accidental and artificial rank or elevation, implied 
in the verb 'raise.' Besides, does the word 'denude' occur 
in any writer before, or of, Shakspeare's age ? 
I HAVE previously had occasion to speak at large on the 
subject of the three unities of time, place, and action, as 
applied to the drama in the abstract, and to the particular 
stage for which Shakspeare wrote, as far as he can be said 
to have written for any stage but that of the universal 
mind. I hope I have in some measure succeeded in 
demonstrating that the former two, instead of being rules, 
were mere inconveniences attached to the local peculiarities 
of the Athenian drama ; that the last alone deserved the 
name of a principle, and that in the preservation of this 
unity Shakspeare stood pre-eminent. Yet, instead of 
unity of action, I should greatly prefer the more appro- 
priate, though scholastic and uncouth, words homogeneity, 
proportionateness, and totahty of interest, — expressions, 
which involve the distinction, or rather the essential 
difference, betwixt the shaping skill of mechanical talent, 
and the creative, productive, life-power of inspired genius. 
In the former each part is separately conceived, and then 
by a succeeding act put together ; — not as watches are 
made for wholesale — (for there each part supposes a pre- 
conception of the whole in some mind) — but more like 
pictures on a motley screen. Whence arises the harmony 
that strikes us in the wildest natural landscapes, — 
in the relative shapes of rocks, the harmony of colours 
I02 Notes on Romeo and Juliet 
in the heaths, ferns, and Uchens, the leaves of the 
beech and the oak, the stems and rich brown branches of 
the birch and other mountain trees, varying from verging 
autumn to returning spring, — compared with the visual 
effect from the greater number of artificial plantations ? 
— From this, that the natural landscape is effected, as it 
were, by a single energy modified ah intra in each com- 
ponent part. And as this is the particular excellence of 
the Shakspearian drama generally, so is it especially 
characteristic of the Romeo and Juliet. 
The groundwork of the tale is altogether in family life, 
and the events of the play have their first origin in family 
feuds. Filmy as are the eyes of party-spirit, at once dim 
and truculent, still there is commonly some real or supposed 
object in view, or principle to be maintained ; and though 
but the twisted wires on the plate of rosin in the prepara- 
tion for electrical pictures, it is still a guide in some degree, 
an assimilation to an outline. But in family quarrels, 
which have proved scarcely less injurious to states, wilful- 
ness, and precipitancy, and passion from mere habit and 
custom, can alone be expected. With his accustomed 
judgment, Shakspeare has begun by placing before us a 
lively picture of all the impulses of the play ; and, as 
nature ever presents two sides, one for Heraclitus, and one 
for Democritus, he has, by way of prelude, shown the 
laughable absurdity of the evil by the contagion of it 
reaching the servants, who have so little to do with it, but 
who are under the necessity of letting the superfluity of 
sensoreal power fly off through the escape-valve of wit- 
combats, and of quarrelling with weapons of sharper edge, 
all in humble imitation of their masters. Yet there is a 
sort of unhired fidelity, an ourishness about all this that 
makes it rest pleasant on one's feelings. All the first scene, 
down to the conclusion of the Priace's speech, is a motley 
dance of all ranks and ages to one tune, as if the horn of 
Huon had been pla5dng behind the scenes. 
Benvolio's speech — 
Madam, an hour before the worshipp'd sun 
Peer'd forth the golden window of the east — 
and, far more strikingly, the following speech of old 
Montague — 
Many a morning hath he there been seen 
With tears augmenting the fresh morning's dew- 
Notes on Romeo and Juliet 103 
prove that Shakspeare meant the Romeo and Juliet to 
approach to a poem, which, and indeed its early date, ma^r 
be also inferred from the multitude of rhyming couplets 
throughout. And if we are right, from the internal 
evidence, in pronouncing this one of Shakspeare's early 
dramas, it affords a strong instance of the fineness of his 
insight into the nature of the passions, that Romeo is 
introduced already love-bewildered. The necessity of 
loving creates an object for itself in man and woman ; and 
yet there is a difference in this respect between the sexes, 
though only to be known by a perception of it. It would 
have displeased us if Juliet had been represented as already 
in love, or as fancying herself so ; — but no one, I believe, 
ever experiences any shock at Romeo's forgetting his 
Rosaline, who had been a mere name for the yearning of 
his youthful imagination, and rushing into his passion for 
JuHet. Rosaline was a mere creation of his fancy ; and 
we should remark the boastful positiveness of Romeo in 
a love of his own making, which is never shown where love 
is really near the heart. 
When the devout religion of mine eye 
Maintains such falsehood, then turn tears to fires ! 
♦ * « * 
One fairer than my love ! the all-seeing sun 
Ne'er saw her match, since first the world begun. 
The character of the Nurse is the nearest of any thing in 
Shakspeare to a direct borrowing from mere observation ; 
and the reason is, that as in infancy and childhood the 
individual in nature is a representative of a class, — just as 
in describing one larch tree, you generalize a grove of them, 
— so it is nearly as much so in old age. The generalization 
is done to the poet's hand. Here you have the garrulity 
of age strengthened by the feelings of a long-trusted 
servant, whose sympathy with the mother's affections 
gives her privileges and rank in the household ; and observe 
the mode of connection by accidents of time and place, and 
the childHke fondness of repetition in a second childhood, 
and also that happy, humble, ducking under, yet constant 
resurgence against, the check of her superiors ! — 
Yes, madam ! — Yet I cannot choose but laugh, &c. 
In the fourth scene we have Mercutio introduced to us. 
! how shall I describe that exquisite ebullience and 
104 Notes on Romeo and Juliet 
overflow of youthful life, wafted on over the laughing waves 
of pleasure and prosperity, as a wanton beauty that dis- 
torts the face on which she knows her lover is gazing 
enraptured, and wrinkles her forehead in the triumph of 
its smoothness ! Wit ever wakeful, fancy busy and pro- 
creative as an insect, courage, an easy mind that, without 
cares of its own, is at once disposed to laugh away those of 
others, and yet to be interested in them, — these and all 
congenial qualities, melting into the common copula of 
them all, the man of rank and the gentleman, with all its 
excellences and all its weaknesses, constitute the character 
of Mercutio ! 
Act i. sc. 5. 
Tyh. It fits when such a villain is a guest ; 
I'll not endure him. 
Cap. He shall be endur'd. 
What, goodman boy ! — I say, he shall : — Go to ; — 
Am I the master he*re, or you ? — Go to. 
You'll not endure him ! — God shall mend my soul — 
You'll make a mutiny among my guests ! 
You will set cock-a-hoop ! you'll be the man 1 
Tyb. Why, uncle, 'tis a shame. 
Cap. Go to, go to. 
You are a saucy boy ! &c. — 
How admirable is the old man's impetuosity at once 
contrasting, yet harmonized, with young Tybalt's quarrel- 
some violence ! But it would be endless to repeat observa- 
tions of this sort. Every leaf is different on an oak tree ; 
but still we can only say — our tongues defrauding our eyes 
— 'This is another oak-leaf!* 
Act ii. sc. 2. The garden scene : 
Take notice in this enchanting scene of the contrast of 
Romeo's love with his former fancy ; and v/eigh the skill 
shown in justifjdng him from his inconstancy by making 
us feel the difference of his passion. Yet this, too, is a love 
in, although not merely of, the imagination. 
Jul. Well, do not swear ; although I joy in thee, 
I have no joy of this contract to-night : 
It is too rash, too unadvis'd, too sudden, &c. 
With love, pure love, there is always an anxiety for the 
safety of the object, a disinterestedness, by which it is 
distinguished from the counterfeits of its name. Compare 
Notes on Romeo and Juliet 105 
this scene with Act iii. sc. i. of the Tempest. I do not 
know a more wonderful instance of Shakspeare's mastery 
in playing a distinctly rememberable variety on the same 
remembered air, than in the transporting love confessions 
of Romeo and JuHet and Ferdinand and Miranda. There 
seems more passion in the one, and more dignity in the 
other ; yet you feel that the sweet girHsh lingering and busy 
movement of Juhet, and the calmer and more maidenly 
fondness of Miranda, might easily pass into each other. 
lb. sc. 3. The Friar's speech : — 
The reverend character of the Friar, hke all Shakspeare's 
representations of the great professions, is very delightful 
and tranquillizing, yet it is no digression, but immediately 
necessary to the carrying on of the plot. 
lb. sc. 4. 
Rom. Good morrow to you both. What counterfeit did I give 
you ? &c. 
Compare again, Romeo's half-exerted, and half-real, 
ease of mind with his first manner when in love with 
Rosaline ! His will had come to the clenching point. 
lb. sc. 6. 
Rom. Do thou but close our hands with holy words. 
Then love-devouring death do what he dare, 
It is enough I may but call her mine. 
The precipitancy, which is the character of the play, is 
well marked in this short scene of waiting for Juliet's 
Act iii. sc. I. 
Mer. No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church 
door ; but 'tis enough : 'twill serve : ask for me to-morrow, and 
you shall find me a grave man, &c. 
How fine an effect the wit and raillery habitual to Mer- 
cutio, even struggling with his pain, give to Romeo's 
following speech, and at the same time so completely 
justifying his passionate revenge on Tybalt ! 
lb. Benvolio's speech : 
But that he tilts 
With piercing steel at bold Mercutio's breast. 
This small portion of untruth in Benvolio's narrative 
is finely conceived. 
io6 Notes on Romeo and Juliet 
lb. sc. 2. Juliet's speech : 
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night 
Whiter than new snow on a raven's back. — 
Indeed the whole of this speech is imagination strained 
to the highest ; and observe the blessed effect on the purity 
of the mind. What would Dryden have made of it ? — 
Nurse. Shame come to Romeo. 
Jul. Blister' d be thy tongue 
For such a wish ! 
Note the Nurse's mistake of the mind's audible struggles 
with itself for its decision in toto. 
lb. sc. 3. Romeo's speech : — 
'Tis torture, and not mercy : heaven is here. 
Where Juliet lives, &c. 
All deep passions are a sort of atheists, that believe no 
lb. sc. 5. 
Cap. Soft, take me with you, take me with you, wife — 
How ! will she none ? &c. 
A noble scene ! Don't I see it with my own eyes ? — 
Yes ! but not with Juliet's. And observe in Capulet's 
last speech in this scene his mistake, as if love's causes 
were capable of being generalized. 
Act iv. sc. 3. Juliet's speech : — 
O, look ! methinks I see my cousin's ghost 
Seeking out Romeo, that did spit his body 
Upon a rapier's point : — Stay, Tybalt, stay ! — 
Romeo, I come ! this do I drink to thee. 
Shakspeare provides for the finest decencies. It would 
have been too bold a thing for a girl of fifteen ; — but she 
swallows the draught in a fit of fright. 
lb. sc. 5. 
As the audience know that Juliet is not dead, this scene 
is, perhaps, excusable. But it is a strong warning to 
minor dramatists not to introduce at one time many 
separate characters agitated by one and the same circum- 
stance. It is difficult to understand what effect, whether 
that of pity or of laughter, Shakspeare meant to produce ; 
— the occasion and the characteristic speeches are so 
Shakspeare's Historical Plays 107 
little in harmony ! For example, what the Nurse says is 
excellently suited to the Nurse's character, but grotesquely 
unsuited to the occasion. 
Act V. sc. I. Romeo's speech : — 
O mischief ! thou art swift 
To enter in the thoughts of desperate men 1 
I do remember an apothecary, &c. 
This famous passage is so beautiful as to be self-justified ; 
yet, in addition, what a fine preparation it is for the tomb 
scene ! 
lb. sc. 3. Romeo's speech : — 
Good gentle youth, tempt not a desperate man. 
Fly hence and leave me. 
The gentleness of Romeo was shown before, as softened 
by love ; and now it is doubled by love and sorrow and 
awe of the place where he is. 
lb. Romeo's speech : — 
How oft when men are at the point of death 
Have they been merry ! which their keepers call 
A lightning before death. O, how may I 
Call this a lightning ? — O, my love, my wife ! &c. 
Here, here, is the master example how beauty can at 
once increase and modify passion ! 
lb. Last scene. 
How beautiful is the close ! The spring and the winter 
meet ; — winter assumes the character of spring, and spring 
the sadness of winter. 
The first form of poetry is the epic, the essence of which 
may be stated as the successive in events and characters. 
This must be distinguished from narration, in which there 
must always be a narrator, from whom the objects re- 
presented receive a colouring and a manner ; — whereas in 
the epic, as in the so called poems of Homer, the whole 
is completely objective, and the representation is a pure 
reflection. The next form into which poetry passed was 
io8 Shakspeare's English 
the dramatic ; — both forms having a common basis with 
a certain difference, and that difference not consisting in 
the dialogue alone. Both are founded on the relation of 
providence to the human will ; and this relation is the 
universal element, expressed under different points of view 
according to the difference of religion, and the moral and 
intellectual cultivation of different nations. In the epic 
poem fate is represented as overruling the will, and making 
it instrumental to the accomplishment of its designs : — 
Albs S^ TeXetero jSouXij. 
In the drama, the wiU is exhibited as struggling with fate, 
a great and beautiful instance and illustration of which is 
the Prometheus of iEschylus ; and the deepest effect is 
produced, when the fate is represented as a higher and 
intelligent will, and the opposition of the individual as 
springing from a defect. 
In order that a drama may be properly historical, it is 
necessary that it should be the history of the people to 
whom it is addressed. In the composition, care must be 
taken that there appear no dramatic improbability, as the 
reality is taken for granted. It must, likewise, be 
poetical ; — that only, I mean, must be taken which is the 
permanent in our nature, which is common, and therefore 
deeply interesting to all ages. The events themselves are 
immaterial, otherwise than as the clothing and manifesta- 
tion of the spirit that is working within. In this mode, the 
unity resulting from succession is destroyed, but is supplied 
by a unity of a higher order, which connects the events by 
reference to the workers, gives a reason for them in the 
motives, and presents men in their causative character. 
It takes, therefore, that part of real history which is the 
least known, and infuses a principle of life and organization 
into the naked facts, and makes them all the framework of 
an animated whole. 
In my happier days, while I had yet hope and onward- 
looking thoughts, I planned an historical drama of King 
Stephen, in the manner of Shakspeare. Indeed it would 
be desirable that some man of dramatic genius should 
dramatize all those omitted by Shakspeare, as far down as 
Henry VII. Perkin Warbeck would make a most interest- 
ing drama. A few scenes of Marlow's Edward II. might 
be preserved. After Henry VIII., the events are too weU 
Historical Plays 109 
and distinctly known, to be, without plump inverisimili- 
tude, crowded together in one night's exhibition. Where- 
as, the history of our ancient kings — the events of their 
reigns, I mean, — are like stars in the sky ; — whatever the 
real interspaces may be, and however great, they seem 
close to each other. The stars — the events — strike us and 
remain in our eye, little modified by the difference of dates. 
An historic drama is, therefore, a collection of events 
borrowed from history, but connected together in respect 
of cause and time, poetically and by dramatic fiction. It 
would be a fine national custom to act such a series of 
dramatic histories in orderly succession, in the yearly 
Christmas holidays, and could not but tend to counteract 
that mock cosmopolitism, which under a positive term 
really implies nothing but a negation of, or indifference to, 
the particular love of our country. By its nationality 
must every nation retain its independence ; — I mean a 
nationality quoad the nation. Better thus ; — nationality 
in each individual, quoad his country, is equal to the sense 
of individuality quoad himself ; but himself as subsen- 
suous, and central. Patriotism is equal to the sense of 
individuality reflected from every other individual. There 
may come a higher virtue in both — just cosmopolitism. 
But this latter is not possible but by antecedence of the 
Shakspeare has included the most important part of 
nine reigns in his historical dramas — namely — King John, 
Richard II.— Henry IV. (two)— Henry V.— Henry VI. 
(three) including Edward V. and Henry VIII., in all ten 
plays. There remain, therefore, to be done, with the 
exception of a single scene or two that should be adopted 
from Marlow — eleven reigns — of which the first two appear 
the only unpromising subjects ; — and those two dramas 
must be formed whoUy or mainly of invented private 
stories, which, however, could not have happened except 
in consequence of the events and measures of these reigns, 
and which should furnish opportunity both of exhibiting 
the manners and oppressions of the times, and of narrating 
dramatically the great events ; — if possible, the death of 
the two sovereigns, at least of the latter, should be made 
to have some influence on the finale of the story. All the 
rest are glorious subjects ; especially Henry ist. (being 
the struggle between the men of arms and of letters, in the 
no Shakspeare's English 
persons of Henry and Becket,) Stephen, Richard I., 
Edward II., and Henry VII. 
Act i. sc. I. 
Bast. James Gurney, wilt thou give us leave awhile ? 
Gur. Good leave, good Philip. 
Bast. Philip ? sparrow I James, &c. 
Theobald adopts Warburton's conjecture of 'spare me.' 
true Warburton ! and the sanota simplicitas of honest 
dull Theobald's faith in him ! Nothing can be more 
hvely or characteristic than 'Philip? Sparrow!' Had 
Warburton read old Skelton's 'Philip Sparrow,' an ex- 
quisite and original poem, and, no doubt, popular in 
Shakspeare's time, even Warburton would scarcely have 
made so deep a plunge into the bathetic as to have deathified 
'sparrow' into 'spare me!' 
Act iii. sc. 2. Speech of Faulconbridge : — 
Now, by my life, this day grows wondrous hot ; 
Some airy devil hovers in the sky, &c. 
Theobald adopts Warburton's conjecture of 'fiery.' 
1 prefer the old text : the word 'devil' implies 'fiery.' 
You need only read the line, laying a full and strong 
emphasis on 'devil,' to perceive the uselessness and taste- 
iessness of W^ar burton's alteration. 
I HAVE stated that the transitional link between the epic 
poem and the drama is the historic drama ; that in the 
epic poem a pre-announced fate gradually adjusts and 
employs the will and the events as its instruments, whilst 
the drama, on the other hand, places fate and will in 
opposition to each other, and is then most perfect, when 
the victory of fate is obtained in consequence of imperfec- 
tions in the opposing will, so as to leave a final impression 
that the fate itself is but a higher and a more intelhgent 
Historical Plays iii 
From the length of the speeches, and the circumstance 
that, with one exception, the events are all historical, and 
presented in their results, not produced by acts seen by, 
or taking place before, the audience, this tragedy is ill 
suited to our present large theatres. But in itself, and 
for the closet, I feel no hesitation in placing it as the first 
and most admirable of all Shakspeare's purely historical 
plays. For the two parts of Henry IV. form a species of 
themselves, which may be named the mixed drama. The 
distinction does not depend on the mere quantity of 
historical events in the play compared with the fictions ; 
for there is as much history in Macbeth as in Richard, 
but in the relation of the history to the plot. In the purely 
historical plays, the history forms the plot ; in the mixed, 
it directs it ; in the rest, as Macbeth, Hamlet, C5nTibeline, 
Lear, it subserves it. But, however unsuited to the stage 
this drama may be, God forbid that even there it should 
fall dead on the hearts of jacobinized Englishmen ! Then, 
indeed, we might say — -prcBteriit gloria mundi ! For the 
spirit of patriotic reminiscence is the all-permeating soul 
of this noble work. It is, perhaps, the most purely 
historical of Shakspeare's dramas. There are not in it, 
as in the others, characters introduced merely for the 
purpose of giving a greater individuality and realness, 
as in the comic parts of Henry IV., by presenting, as it 
were, our very selves. Shakspeare avails himself of every 
opportunity to effect the great object of the historic 
drama, that, namely, of familiarizing the people to the 
great names of their country, and thereby of exciting a 
steady patriotism, a love of just liberty, and a respect for 
aU those fundamental institutions of social hfe, which bind 
men together : — 
This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle. 
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, 
This other Eden, demi-paradise ; 
This fortress, built by nature for herself, 
Against infection, and the hand of war ; 
This happy breed of men, this little world 
This precious stone set in the silver sea. 
Which serves it in the office of a wall, 
Or as a moat defensive to a home, 
Against the envy of less happier lands ; 
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England, 
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings, 
Fear'd by their breed, and famous by their birth, &c. 
112 Shakspeare's English 
Add the famous passage in King John : — 
This England never did, nor ever shall, 
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror, 
But when it first did help to wound itself. 
Now these her princes are come home again, 
Come the three corners of the world in arms. 
And we shall shock them : nought shall make us rue. 
If England to itself do rest but true. 
And it certainly seems that Shakspeare's historic dramas 
produced a very deep effect on the minds of the EngUsh 
people, and in earUer times they were familiar even to the 
least informed of all ranks, according to the relation of 
Bishop Corbett. Marlborough, we know, was not ashamed 
to confess that his principal acquaintance with English 
history was derived from them ; and I believe that a large 
part of the information as to our old names and achieve- 
ments even now abroad is due, directly or indirectly, to 
Admirable is the judgment with which Shakspeare 
cdways in the first scenes prepares, yet how naturally, and 
with what concealment of art, for the catastrophe. Observe 
how he here presents the germ of all the after events 
in Richard's insincerity, partiality, arbitrariness, and 
favoritism, and in the proud, tempestuous, temperament 
of his barons. In the very beginning, also, is displayed 
that feature in Richard's character, which is never for- 
gotten throughout the play — his attention to decorum, 
and high feeling of the kingly dignity. These anticipations 
show with what judgment Shakspeare wrote, and illustrate 
his care to connect the past and future, and unify them 
with the present by forecast and reminiscence. 
It is interesting to a critical ear to compare the six open- 
ing lines of the play — 
Old John of Gaunt, time-honour' d Lancaster, 
Hast thou, according to thy oath and band, &c. 
each closing at the tenth syllable, with the rhythmless 
metre of the verse in Henry VI. and Titus Andronicus, in 
order that the difference, indeed, the heterogeneity, of the 
two may be felt etiam in simillimis prima siiperficie. Here 
the weight of the single words supplies all the rehef afforded 
by intercurrent verse, while the whole represents the mood. 
Historical Plays 113 
And compare the apparently defective metre of Boling- 
broke's first line, — 
Many years of happy days befall — 
with Prospero's, 
Twelve years since, Miranda ! twelve years since — 
The actor should supply the time by emphasis, and pause 
on the first syllable of each of these verses. 
Act i. sc. I. Bolingbroke's speech : — 
First, (heaven be the record to my speech !) 
In the devotion of a subject's love, &c. 
I remember in the Sophoclean drama no more striking 
example of the ro Trpivov %ai 6ifjjvov than this speech ; 
and the rh57mes in the last six lines well express the pre- 
concertedness of Bolingbroke's scheme so beautifully 
contrasted with the vehemence and sincere irritation of 
lb. Bolingbroke's speech : — 
Which blood, like sacrificing Abel's, cries. 
Even from the tongueless caverns of the earth, 
To me, for justice and rough chastisement. 
Note the bimv of this 'to me,' which is evidently felt by 
Richard : — 
How high a pitch his resolution soars 1 
and the affected depreciation afterwards ; — 
As he is but my father's brother's son. 
lb. Mowbray's speech : — 
In haste whereof, most heartily I pray 
Your highness to aissign our trial day. 
The occasional interspersion of rhymes, and the more 
frequent winding up of a speech therewith — what purpose 
was this designed to answer ? In the earnest drama, I 
mean. Deliberateness ? An attempt, ais in Mowbray, 
to collect himself and be cool at the close ? — I can see that 
in the following speeches the rhyme answers the end of the 
Greek chorus, and distinguishes the general truths from 
the passions of the dialogue ; but this does not exactly 
justify the practice, which is unfrequent in proportion to 
the excellence of Shakspeare's plays. One thing, however. 
114 Shakspeare's English 
is to be observed, — that the speakers are historical, known, 
and so far formal, characters, and their reality is already 
a fact. This should be borne in mind. The whole of this 
scene of the quarrel between Mowbray and Bolingbroke 
seems introduced for the purpose of showing by anticipa- 
tion the characters of Richard and Bolingbroke. In the 
latter there is observable a decorous and courtly checking 
of his anger in subservience to a predetermined plan, 
especially in his calm speech after receiving sentence of 
banishment compared with Mowbray's unaffected lamenta- 
tion. In the one, all is ambitious hope of something yet 
to come ; in the other it is desolation and a looking 
backward of the heart, 
lb. sc. 2. 
Gaunt. Heaven's is the quarrel ; for heaven's substitute. 
His deputy anointed in his right, 
Hath caus'd his death : the which, ii wrongfully, 
Let heaven revenge ; for I may never lift 
An angry arm against his minister. 
Without the hollow extravagance of Beaumont and 
Fletcher's ultra-royalism, how carefully does Shakspeare 
acknowledge and reverence the eternal distinction between 
the mere individual, and the symbolic or representative, 
on which all genial law, no less than patriotism, depends. 
The whole of this second scene commences, and is anti- 
cipative of, the tone and character of the play at large. 
lb. sc. 3. In none of Shakspeare's fictitious dramas, or 
in those founded on a history as unknown to his auditors 
generally as fiction, is this violent rupture of the succession 
of time found : — a proof, I think, that the pure historic 
drama, like Richard II. and King John, had its own laws. 
lb. Mowbray's speech : — 
A dearer merit 
Have I deserved at your highness' hands. 
O, the instinctive propriety of Shakspeare in the choice 
of words ! 
lb. Richard's speech : 
Nor never by advised purpose meet, 
To plot, contrive, or complot any ill, 
'Gainst us, our state, our subjects, or our land. 
Already the selfish weakness of Richard's character 
Historical Plays 115 
opens. Nothing will such minds so readily embrace, as 
indirect ways softened down to their quasi-consciences 
by policy, expedience, &c. 
lb. Mowbray's speech : — 
' All the world's my way.* 
' The world was all before him.' — Milt. 
Baling. How long a time lies in our little word ! 
Four lagging winters, and four wanton springs, 
End in a word : such is the breath of kings. 
Admirable anticipation ! 
lb. sc. 4. This is a striking conclusion of a first act, — 
letting the reader into the secret ; — having before impressed 
us with the dignified and kingly manners of Richard, yet 
by well managed anticipations leading us on to the full 
gratification of pleasure in our own penetration. In this 
scene a new light is thrown on Richard's character. Until 
now he has appeared in all the beauty of royalty ; but 
here, as soon as he is left to himself, the inherent weakness 
of his character is immediately shown. It is a weakness, 
however, of a pecuhar kind, not arising from want of 
personal courage, or any specific defect of faculty, but 
rather an intellectual feminineness, which feels a necessity 
of ever leaning on the breasts of others, and of reclining on 
those who are aU the while known to be inferiors. To this 
must be attributed as its consequences aU Richard's vices, 
his tendency to concealment, and his cunning, the whole 
operation of which is directed to the getting rid of present 
difficulties. Richard is not meant to be a debauchee ; 
but we see in him that sophistry which is common to man, 
by which we can deceive our own hearts, and at one and 
the same time apologize for, and yet commit, the error. 
Shakspeare has represented this character in a very 
peculiar manner. He has not made him amiable with 
counterbalancing faults ; but has openly and broadly 
drawn those faults without reserve, relying on Richard's 
disproportionate sufferings and gradually emergent good 
qualities for our sympathy ; and this was possible, because 
his faults are not positive vices, but spring entirely from 
defect of character. 
Act ii. sc. I. 
K. Rich. Can sick men play so nicely with their names ? 
ii6 Shakspeare's English 
Yes ! on a death-bed there is a feeling which may make 
all things appear but as puns and equivocations. And a 
passion there is that carries off its own excess by plays on 
words as naturally, and, therefore, as appropriately to 
drama, as by gesticulations, looks, or tones. This belongs 
to human nature as such, independently of associations 
and habits from any particular rank of hfe or mode of 
employment ; and in this consists Shakspeare's vulgarisms, 
as in Macbeth' s — 
The devil damn thee black, thou cream-fac'd loon ! &c. 
This is (to equivocate on Dante's words) in truth the nohile 
volgare eloqiienza. Indeed it is profoundly true that there 
is a natural, an almost irresistible, tendency in the mind, 
when immersed in one strong feeling, to connect that 
feeling with every sight and object around it ; especially 
if there be opposition, and the words addressed to it are 
in any way repugnant to the feeling itself, as here in the 
instance of Richard's unkind language : 
Misery makes sport to mock itself. 
No doubt, something of Shakspeare's punning must be 
attributed to his age, in which direct and formal combats 
of wit were a favourite pastime of the courtly and accom- 
plished. It was an age more favourable, upon the whole, 
to vigour of intellect than the present, in which a dread of 
being thought pedantic dispirits and flattens the energies of 
original minds. But independently of this, I have no 
hesitation in saying that a pun, if it be congruous with the 
feeling of the scene, is not only allowable in the dramatic 
dialogue, but oftentimes one of the most effectual in- 
tensives of passion. 
K. Rich. Right ; you say true : as Hereford's love, so his ; 
As theirs, so mine ; and all be as it is. 
The depth of this compared with the first scene : — 
How high a pitch, &c. 
There is scarcely anything in Shakspeare in its degree, 
more admirably drawn than York's character ; his religious 
loyalty struggling with a deep grief and indignation at the 
king's follies ; his adherence to his word and faith, once 
given in spite of all, even the most natural, feelings. You 
see in him the weakness of old age, and the oven.vhelming- 
Historical Plays 117 
ness of circumstances, for a time surmounting his sense of 
duty, — the junction of both exhibited in his boldness in 
words and feebleness in immediate act ; and then again 
his effort to retrieve himself in abstract loyalty, even at the 
heavy price of the loss of his son. This species of accidental 
and adventitious weakness is brought into parallel with 
Richard's continually increasing energy of thought, and 
as constantly diminishing power of acting ; — and thus it 
is Richard that breathes a harmony and a relation into all 
the characters of the play. 
lb. sc. 2. 
Queen. To please the king I did ; to please myself 
I cannot do it ; yet I know no cause 
Why I should welcome such a guest as grief, 
Save bidding farewell to so sweet a guest 
As my sweet Richard : yet again, methinks, 
Some unborn sorrow, ripe in sorrow's womb, 
Is coming toward me ; and my inward soul 
With nothing trembl-es : at something it grieves. 
More than with parting from my lord the king. 
It is clear that Shakspeare never meant to represent 
Richard as a vulgar debauchee, but a man with a wanton- 
ness of spirit in external show, a feminine friendism, an 
intensity of woman-like love of those immediately about 
him, and a mistaking of the delight of being loved by him 
for a love of him. And mark in this scene Shakspeare's 
gentleness in touching the tender superstitions, the 
tence- incognitce of presentiments, in the human mind ; and 
how sharp a line of distinction he commonly draws between 
these obscure forecastings of general experience in each 
individual, and the vulgar errors of mere tradition. Indeed 
it may be taken once for all as the truth, that Shakspeare, 
in the absolute universality of his genius, always rever- 
ences whatever arises out of our moral nature ; he never 
profanes his muse with a contemptuous reasoning away of 
the genuine and general, however unaccountable, feelings 
of mankind. 
The amiable part of Richard's character is brought full 
upon us by his queen's few words — 
.... so sweet a guest 
As my sweet Richard ; — 
and Shakspeare has carefully shown in him an intense love of 
his country, well-knowing how that feeling would, in a pure 
ii8 Shakspeare's English 
historic drama, redeem him in the hearts of the audience. 
Yet even in this love there is something feminine and 
personal : — 
Deax earth, I do salute thee with my hand, — 
As a long parted mother with her child 
Plays fondly with her tears, and smiles in meeting ; 
So weeping, smiling, greet I thee, my earth. 
And do thee favour with my royal hands. 
With this is combined a constant overflow of emotions 
from a total incapability of controlling them, and thence a 
waste of that energy, which should have been reserved for 
actions, in the passion and effort of mere resolves and 
menaces. The consequence is moral exhaustion, and rapid 
alternations of unmanly despair and ungrounded hope, — 
every feeling being abandoned for its direct opposite upon 
the pressure of external accident. And yet when Richard's 
inward weakness appears to seek refuge in his despair, and 
his exhaustion counterfeits repose, the old habit of kingU- 
ness, the effect of flatterers from his infancy, is ever and 
anon producing in him a sort of wordy courage which only 
serves to betray more clearly his internal impotence. The 
second and third scenes of the third act combine and 
illustrate all this : — 
A umerle. He means, my lord, that we are too remiss ; 
Whilst Bolingbroke, through our security, 
Grows strong and great, in substance, and in friends. 
K, Rich. Discomfortable cousin ! know'st thou not. 
That when the searching eye of heaven is hid 
Behind the globe, and lights the lower world. 
Then thieves and robbers range abroad unseen. 
In murders and in outrage, boldly here ; 
But when, from under this terrestrial ball. 
He fires the proud tops of the eastern pines, 
And darts his light through every guilty hole. 
Then murders, treasons, and detested sins, 
The cloke of night being pluck' d from off their backs. 
Stand bare and naked, trembling at themselves ? 
So when this thief, this traitor, Bolingbroke, &c. 
* * * * 
Aumerle. Where is the Duke my father with his power ? 
K. Rich. No matter where ; of comfort no man speak : 
Let's talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs, 
Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes 
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth, &c. 
* * * * 
Aumerle. My father hath a power, enquire of him ; 
And learn to make a body of a limb. 
Historical Plays 119 
K. Rich. Thou chid'st me well : proud Bolingbroke, I come 
To change blows with thee for our day of doom. 
This ague-fit of fear is over-blown ; 
An easy task it is to win our own, 
* * * * 
Scroop. Your uncle York is join'd with Bolingbroke. — 
* * * * 
K. Rich. Thou hast said enough, 
Beshrew thee, cousin, which didst lead me forth 
Of that sweet way I was in to despair ! 
What say you now ? what comfort have we now ? 
By heaven, I'll hate him everlastingly, 
That bids me be of comfort any more. 
* * ♦ * 
Act iii. sc. 3. Bolingbroke's speech : 
Noble lord, 
Go to the rude ribs of that ancient castle, &c. 
Observe the fine struggle of a haughty sense of power and 
ambition in BoUngbroke with the necessity for dissimula- 
lb. sc. 4. See here the skill and judgment of our poet in 
giving reality and individual life, by the introduction of 
accidents in his historic plays, and thereby making them 
dramas, and not histories. How beautiful an islet of 
repose — a melancholy repose, indeed — is this scene with 
the Gardener and his Servant. And how truly affecting 
and realizing is the incident of the very horse Barbary, in 
the scene with the Groom in the last act ! — 
Groom. I was a poor groom of thy stable. King, 
When thou wert King ; who, travelling towards York, 
With much ado, at length have gotten leave 
To look upon my sometimes master's face. 
O, how it yearn'd my heart, when I beheld. 
In London streets, that coronation day, 
\^^len Bolingbroke rode on roan Barbary ! 
That horse, that thou so often hast bestrid ; 
That horse, that I so carefully have dress'd I 
K. Rich. Rode he on Barbary ? 
Bolingbroke's character, in general, is an instance how 
Shakspeare makes one play introductory to another ; for 
it is evidently a preparation for Henry IV., as Gloster 
in the third part of Henry VI. is for Richard III. 
I would once more remark upon the exalted idea of the 
only true loyalty developed in this noble and impressive 
play. We have neither the rants of Beaumont and 
I20 Shakspeare's English 
Fletcher, nor the sneers of Massinger ; — the vast import- 
ance of the personal character of the sovereign is distinctly 
enounced, whilst, at the same time, the genuine sanctity 
which surrounds him is attributed to, and grounded on, 
the position in which he stands as the convergence and 
exponent of the life and power of the state. 
The great end of the body politic appears to be to 
humanize, and assist in the progressiveness of, the animal 
man ; — but the problem is so complicated with contin- 
gencies as to render it nearly impossible to lay down rules 
for the formation of a state. And should we be able to 
form a system of government, which should so balance its 
different powers as to form a check upon each, and so 
continually remedy and correct itself, it would, neverthe- 
less, defeat its own aim ; — for man is destined to be guided 
by higher principles, by universal views, which can never 
be fulfilled in this state of existence, — by a spirit of pro- 
gressiveness which can never be accomplished, for then it 
would cease to be. Plato's Republic is like Bunyan's 
Town of Man-Soul, — a description of an individual, all of 
whose faculties are in their proper subordination and inter- 
dependence ; and this it is assumed may be the prototype 
of the state as one great individual. But there is this 
sophism in it, that it is forgotten that the human faculties, 
indeed, are parts and not separate things ; but that you 
could never get chiefs who were wholly reason, ministers 
who were wholly understanding, soldiers all wrath, 
labourers all concupiscence, and so on through the rest. 
Each of these partakes of, and interferes with, all the 
Act i. sc. I. King Henry's speech : 
No more the thirsty entrance of this soil 
Shall daub her lips with her own children's blood. 
A MOST obscure passage : but I think Theobald's inter- 
pretation right, namely, that 'thirsty entrance' means the 
dry penetrability, or bibulous drought, of the soil. The 
obscurity of this passage is of the Shakspearian sort. 
lb. sc. 2. In this, the first introduction of Falstaff, 
Historical Plays 121 
observe the consciousness and the intentionality of his 
wit, so that when it does not flow of its own accord, its 
absence is felt, and an effort visibly made to recall it. 
Note also throughout how Falstaff's pride is gratified in 
the power of influencing a prince of the blood, the heir 
apparent, by means of it. Hence his dishke to Prince John 
of Lancaster, and his mortification when he finds his wit 
fail on him : — 
P. John. Fare you well, Falstaff : I, in my condition. 
Shall better speak of you than you deserve. 
Fal. I would you had but the wit ; 'twere better than your 
dukedom. — Good faith, this same young sober-blooded boy doth 
not love me ; — nor a man cannot make him laugh. 
Act ii. sc. I. Second Carrier's speech : — 
.... breeds fleas like a loach. 
Perhaps it is a misprint, or a provincial pronunciation, 
for 'leach,' that is, blood-suckers. Had it been gnats, 
instead of fleas, there might have been some sense, though 
small probability, in Warbur ton's suggestion of the Scottish 
*loch.' Possibly 'loach,' or 'lutch,' may be some lost 
word for dovecote, or poultry-lodge, notorious for breeding 
fleas. In Stevens's or my reading, it should properly be 
'loaches,' or 'leeches,' in the plural ; except that I think 
I have heard anglers speak of trouts hke a salmon. 
Act iii. sc. I. 
Glend. Nay, if you melt, then will she run mad. 
This 'nay' so to be dwelt on in speaking, as to be equiva- 
lent to a dissyllable -u, is characteristic of the solemn 
Glendower ; but the imperfect line 
She bids you 
On the wanton rushes lay you down, &c. 
is one of those fine hair-strokes of exquisite judgment 
peculiar to Shakspeare ; — thus detaching the Lady's 
speech, and giving it the individuality and entireness of 
a little poem, while he draws attention to it. 
122 Shakspeare's English 
Act ii. sc. 2. 
P. Hen. Sup any women with him ? 
Page. None, my lord, but old mistress Quickly, and mistress 
Doll Tear-sheet. 
» * 4: * 
P. Hen. This Doll Tear-sheet should be some road. 
I AM sometimes disposed to think that this respectable 
young lady's name is a very old corruption for Tear-street — 
street-walker, terere stratam (viam.) Does not the Prince's 
question rather show this ? — 
' This Doll Tear-street should be some road ? * 
Act iii. sc. I. King Henry's speech : 
Then, happy low, lie down ; 
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. 
I know no argument by which to persuade any one to be 
of my opinion, or rather of my feeling ; but yet I cannot 
help feeling that 'Happy low-lie-down !' is either a pro- 
verbial expression, or the burthen of some old song, and 
means, 'Happy the man, who lays himself down on his 
straw bed or chaff pallet on the ground or floor ! ' 
lb. sc. 2. Shallow's speech : — 
Rah, tah, tah, would 'a say ; bounce, would 'a say, &c. 
That Beaumont and Fletcher have more than once been 
guilty of sneering at their great master, cannot, I fear, be 
denied ; but the passage quoted by Theobald from the 
Knight of the Burning Pestle is an imitation. If it be 
chargeable with any fault, it is with plagiarism, not with 
Act i. sc. 2. Westmoreland's speech : — 
They know your grace hath cause, and means, and might ; 
So hath your highness ; never King of England 
Had nobles richer, &c. 
Does 'grace' mean the king's own peculiar domains and 
legal revenue, and 'highness' his feudal rights in the 
Historical Plays 123 
military service of his nobles ? — I have sometimes thought 
it possible that the words 'grace* and 'cause' may have 
been transposed in the copying or printing ; — 
They know your cause hath grace, &c. 
What Theobald meant, I cannot guess. To me his point- 
ing makes the passage still more obscure. Perhaps the 
lines ought to be recited dramatically thus : 
They know your Grace hath cause, and means, and might : — 
So hath your Highness — never King of England 
Had nobles richer, &c. 
He breaks off from the grammar and natural order from 
earnestness, and in order to give the meaning more 
lb. Exeter's speech : — 
Yet that is but a crush' d necessity. 
Perhaps it may be 'crash' for 'crass' from crassus, 
clumsy ; or it may be 'curt,' defective, imperfect : any- 
thing would be better than Warburton's "scus'd,' which 
honest Theobald, of course, adopts. By the by, it seems 
clear to me that this speech of Exeter's properly belongs to 
Canterbury, and was altered by the actors for convenience. 
Act iv. sc. 3. K. Henry's speech : — 
We would not die in that man's company 
That fears his fellowship to die with us. 
Should it not be 'live' in the first line ? 
lb. sc. 5. 
Const. O diable I 
Orl. O seigneur ! le jour est perdu, tout est perdu t 
Dan. Mart de ma vie ! all is confounded, all ! 
Reproach and everlasting shame 
Sit mocking in our plumes ! — O meschante fortune I 
Do not run away ! 
Ludicrous as these introductory scraps of French appear, 
so instantly followed by good, nervous mother-English, 
yet they are judicious, and produce the impression which 
Shakspeare intended, — a sudden feeling struck at once on 
the ears, as well as the eyes, of the audience, that 'here 
come the French, the baffled French braggards !' — And 
this will appear still more judicious, when we reflect on 
the scanty apparatus of distinguishing dresses in Shak- 
speare's tyring-room. 
124 Shakspeare's English 
Act i. sc. I. Bedford's speech : — 
Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night I 
Comets, importing change of times and states. 
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky ; 
And with them scourge the bad revolting stars 
That have consented unto Henry's death ! 
King Henry the fifth, too famous to live long ! 
England ne'er lost a king of so much worths 
Read aloud any two or three passages in blank verse even 
from Shakspeare's earUest dramas, as Love's Labour's 
Lost, or Romeo and Juliet ; and then read in the same 
way this speech, with especial attention to the metre ; 
and if you do not feel the impossibility of the latter having 
been written by Shakspeare, all I dare suggest is, that you 
may have ears, — for so has another animal, — but an ear 
you cannot have, me judice. 
This play should be contrasted with Richard II. Pride 
of intellect is the characteristic of Richard, carried to the 
extent of even boasting to his own mind of his villany, 
whilst others are present to feed his pride of superiority ; 
as in his first speech, act ii. sc. i. Shakspeare here, as in 
aU his great parts, developes in a tone of sublime morality 
the dreadful consequences of placing the moral, in sub- 
ordination to the mere intellectual, being. In Richard 
there is a predomincince of irony, accompanied with 
apparently blunt manners to those immediately about 
him, but formalized into a more set hypocrisy towards the 
people as represented by their magistrates. 
Of all Shakspeare's plays Macbeth is the most rapid, 
Hamlet the slowest, in movement. Lear combines length 
with rapidity, — hke the hurricane and the whirlpool, 
absorbing while it advances. It begins as a stormy day 
Historical Plays 125 
in summer, with brightness ; but that brightness is lurid, 
and anticipates the tempest. 
It was not without forethought, nor is it without its due 
significance, that the division of Lear's kingdom is in the 
first six hues of the play stated as a thing already deter- 
mined in all its particulars, previously to the trial of 
professions, as the relative rewards of which the daughters 
were to be made to consider their several portions. The 
strange, yet by no means unnatural, mixture of selfishness, 
sensibility, and habit of feeling derived from, and fostered 
by, the particular rank and usages of the individual ; — 
the intense desire of being intensely beloved, — selfish, and 
yet characteristic of the selfishness of a loving and kindly 
nature alone ; — the self-supportless leaning for all pleasure 
on another's breast ; — the craving after sympathy with a 
prodigal disinterestedness, frustrated by its own ostenta- 
tion, and the mode and nature of its claims ; — the anxiety, 
the distrust, the jealousy, which more or less accompany 
all selfish affections, and are amongst the surest contra- 
distinctions of mere fondness from true love, and which 
originate Lear's eager wish to enjoy his daughter's violent 
professions, whilst the inveterate habits of sovereignty 
convert the wish into claim and positive right, and an 
incompliance with it into crime and treason ; — these facts, 
these passions, these moral verities, on which the whole 
tragedy is founded, are all prepared for, and will to the 
retrospect be found implied, in these first four or five lines 
of the play. They let us know that the trial is but a trick ; 
and that the grossness of the old king's rage is in part the 
natural result of a silly trick suddenly and most unex- 
pectedly baffled and disappointed. 
It may here be worthy of notice, that Lear is the only 
serious performance of Shakspeare, the interest and situa- 
tions of which are derived from the assumption of a gross 
improbability ; whereas Beaumont and Fletcher's tra- 
gedies are, almost all of them, founded on some out of 
the way accident or exception to the general experience 
of mankind. But observe the matchless judgment of our 
Shakspeare. First, improbable as the conduct of Lear 
is in the first scene, yet it was an old story rooted in the 
popular faith, — a thing taken for granted already, and 
consequently without any of the effects of improbabiUty. 
Secondly, it is merely the canvass for the characters and 
126 Shakspeare's English 
passions, — a mere occasion for, — and not, in the manner 
of Beaumont and Fletcher, perpetually recurring as the 
cause, and sine qua non of, — the incidents and emotions. 
Let the first scene of this play have been lost, and let it 
only be understood that a fond father had been duped by 
hypocritical professions of love and duty on the part of two 
daughters to disinherit the third, previously, and de- 
servedly, more dear to him ; — and all the rest of the 
tragedy would retain its interest undiminished, and be 
perfectly intelligible. The accidental is nowhere the 
groundwork of the passions, but that which is cathohc, 
which in all ages has been, and ever will be, close and 
native to the heart of man, — parental anguish from filial 
ingratitude, the genuineness of worth, though confined in 
bluntness, and the execrable vileness of a smooth iniquity. 
Perhaps I ought to have added the Merchant of Venice ; 
but here too the same remarks apply. It was an old tale ; 
and substitute any other danger than that of the pound of 
flesh (the circumstance in which the improbability lies), 
yet all the situations and the emotions appertaining to 
them remain equally excellent and appropriate. Where- 
as take away from the Mad Lover of Beaumont and 
Fletcher the fantastic hypothesis of his engagement to cut 
out his own heart, and have it presented to his mistress, 
and all the main scenes must go with it. 
Kotzebue is the German Beaumont and Fletcher, with- 
out their poetic powers, and without their vis comica. 
But, like them, he always deduces his situations and 
passions from marvellous accidents, and the trick of bring- 
ing one part of our moral nature to counteract another ; 
as our pity for misfortune and admiration of generosity 
and courage to combat our condemnation of guilt, as in 
adultery, robbery, and other heinous crimes ; — and, like 
them too, he excels in his mode of telling a story clearly 
and interestingly, in a series of dramatic dialogues. Only 
the trick of making tragedy-heroes and heroines out of 
shopkeepers and barmaids was too low for the age, and 
too unpoetic for the genius, of Beaumont and Fletcher, 
inferior in every respect as they are to their great pre- 
decessor and contemporary. How inferior would they 
have appeared, had not Shakspeare existed for them to 
imitate ; — which in every play, more or less, they do, and 
in their tragedies most glaringly : — and yet — (O shame ! 
Historical Plays 127 
shame !) — they miss no opportunity of sneering at the 
divine man, and sub-detracting from his merits ! 
To return to Lear, Having thus in the fewest words, 
and in a natural reply to as natural a question, — which 
yet answers the secondary purpose of attracting our atten- 
tion to the difference or diversity between the characters 
of Cornwall and Albany, — provided the premisses and 
data, as it were, for our after insight into the mind and 
mood of the person, whose character, passions, and suffer- 
ings are the main subject-matter of the play ; — from Lear, 
the persona patiens of his drama, Shakspeare passes without 
delay to the second in importance, the chief agent and 
prime mover, and introduces Edmund to our acquaintance, 
preparing us with the same felicity of judgment, and in 
the same easy and natural way, for his character in the 
seemingly casual communication of its origin and occasion. 
From the first drawing up of the curtain Edmund has 
stood before us in the united strength and beauty of earliest 
manhood. Our eyes have been questioning him. Gifted 
as he is with high advantages of person, and further en- 
dowed by nature with a powerful intellect and a strong 
energetic will, even without any concurrence of circum- 
stances and accident, pride will necessarily be the sin that 
most easily besets him. But Edmund is also the known 
and acknowledged son of the princely Gloster : he, there- 
fore, has both the germ of pride, and the conditions best 
fitted to evolve and ripen it into a predominant feeling. 
Yet hitherto no reason appears why it should be other 
than the not unusual pride of person, talent, and birth, — 
a pride auxiliary, if not akin, to many virtues, and the 
natural ally of honourable impulses. But alas ! in his 
own presence his own father takes shame to himself for 
the frank avowal that he is his father, — he has 'blushed 
so often to acknowledge him that he is now brazed to 
it ! ' Edmund hears the circumstances of his birth spoken 
of with a most degrading and licentious levity, — his 
mother described as a wanton by her own paramour, and 
the remembrance of the animal sting, the low criminal 
gratifications connected with her wantonness and pro- 
stituted beauty, assigned as the reason, why 'the 
whoreson must be acknowledged !' This, and the con- 
sciousness of its notoriety ; the gnawing conviction that 
every show of respect is an effort of courtesy, which recalls, 
128 Notes on Lear 
while it represses, a contrary feeling ; — this is the ever 
trickling flow of wormwood and gall into the wounds of 
pride, — the corrosive virus which inoculates pride with 
a venom not its own, with envy, hatred, and a lust for that 
power which in its blaze of radiance would hide the dark 
spots on his disc, — with pangs of shame personally un- 
deserved, and therefore felt as wrongs, and with a blind 
ferment of vindictive working towards the occasions 
and causes, especially towards a brother, whose stainless 
birth and lawful honours were the constant remembrancers 
of his own debasement, and were ever in the way to prevent 
all chance of its being unknown, or overlooked and for- 
gotten. Add to this, that with excellent judgment, and 
provident for the claims of the moral sense, — for that 
which, relatively to the drama, is called poetic justice, and 
as the fittest means for reconciling the feelings of the 
spectators to the horrors of Gloster's after sufferings, — 
at least, of rendering them somewhat less unendurable ; — 
(for I will not disguise my conviction, that in this one 
point the tragic in this play has been urged beyond the 
outermost mark and ne plus ultra of the dramatic) — Shak- 
speare has precluded all excuse and palliation of the guilt 
incurred by both the parents of the base-born Edmund, by 
Gloster's confession that he was at the time a married man, 
and already blest with a lawful heir of his fortunes. The 
mournful alienation of brotherly love, occasioned by the 
law of primogeniture in noble families, or rather by the 
unnecessary distinctions engrafted thereon, and this in 
children of the same stock, is still almost proverbial on 
the continent, — especially, as I know from my own observa- 
tion, in the south of Europe, — and appears to have been 
scarcely less common in our own island before the Revolu- 
tion of 1688, if we may judge from the characters and 
sentiments so frequent in our elder comedies. There is 
the younger brother, for instance, in Beaumont and 
Fletcher's play of the Scornful Lady, on the one side, and 
Oliver in Shakspeare's As You Like It, on the other. 
Need it be said how heavy an aggravation, in such a case, 
the stain of bastardy must have been, were it only that 
the younger brother was liable to hear his own dishonour 
and his mother's infamy related by his father with an 
excusing shrug of the shoulders, and in a tone betwixt 
waggery and shame ! 
Notes on Lear 129 
By the circumstances here enumerated as so many pre- 
disposing causes, Edmund's character might well be 
deemed already sufficiently explained ; and our minds 
prepared for it. But in this tragedy the story or fable 
constrained Shakspeare to introduce wickedness in an 
outrageous form in the persons of Regan and Goneril. 
He had read nature too heedfully not to know, that courage, 
intellect, and strength of character are the most impressive 
forms of power, and that to power in itself, without re- 
ference to any moral end, an inevitable admiration and 
complacency appertains, whether it be displayed in the 
conquests of a Buonaparte or Tamerlane, or in the foam and 
the thunder of a cataract. But in the exhibition of such a 
character it was of the highest importance to prevent the 
guilt from passing into utter monstrosity, — which again 
depends on the presence or absence of causes and tempta- 
tions sufficient to account for the wickedness, without the 
necessity of recurring to a thorough fiendishness of nature 
for its origination. For such are the appointed relations of 
intellectual power to truth, and of truth to goodness, that 
it becomes both morally and poetically unsafe to present 
what is admirable, — what our nature compels us to admire 
— in the mind, and what is most detestable in the heart, as 
co-existing in the same individual without any apparent 
connection, or any modification of the one by the other. 
That Shakspeare has in one instance, that of lago, 
approached to this, and that he has done it successfully, is, 
perhaps, the most astonishing proof of his genius, and 
the opulence of its resources. But in the present tragedy, 
in which he was compelled to present a Goneril and a 
Regan, it was most carefully to be avoided ; — and there- 
fore the only one conceivable addition to the inauspicious 
influences on the pre-formation of Edmund's character is 
given, in the information that all the kindly counteractions 
to the mischievous feelings of shame, which might have 
been derived from co-domestication with Edgar and their 
common father, had been cut off by his absence from home, 
and foreign education from boyhood to the present time, 
and a prospect of its continuance, as if to preclude all risk 
of his interference with the father's views for the elder and 
legitimate son : — 
He hath been out nine years, and away he shall again. 
130 Notes on Lear 
Act i. sc. I. 
Cor. Nothing, my lord. 
Lear. Nothing ? 
Cor. Nothing. 
Lear. Nothing can come of nothing : speak again. 
Cor. Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave 
My heart into my mouth : I love your majesty 
According to my bond ; nor more, nor less. 
There is something of disgust at the ruthless hypocrisy 
of her sisters, and some Httle faulty admixture of pride and 
sullenness in Cordelia's 'Nothing;' and her tone is well 
contrived, indeed, to lessen the glaring absurdity of Lear's 
conduct, but answers the yet more important purpose of 
forcing away the attention from the nursery-tale, the 
moment it has served its end, that of supplying the canvass 
for the picture. This is also materially furthered by Kent's 
opposition, which displays Lear's moral incapability of 
resigning the sovereign power in the very act of disposing 
of it. Kent is, perhaps, the nearest to perfect goodness 
in all Shakspeare's characters, and yet the most in- 
dividualized. There is an extraordinary charm in his 
bluntness, which is that only of a nobleman arising from 
a contempt of overstrained courtesy, and combined with 
easy placability where goodness of heart is apparent. 
His passionate affection for, and fidelity to, Lear act on 
our feelings in Lear's own favour : virtue itself seems 
to be in company with him. 
lb. sc. 2. Edmund's speech : — 
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take 
More composition and fierce quality 
Than doth, &c. 
Warburton's note upon a quotation from Vanini. 
Poor Vanini ! — Any one but Warburton would have 
thought this precious passage more characteristic of Mr. 
Shandy than of atheism. If the fact really were so, 
{which it is not, but almost the contrary,) I do not see why 
the most confirmed theist might not very naturally utter 
the same wish. But it is proverbial that the youngest son 
in a lai'ge family is commonly the man of the greatest 
talents in it ; and as good an authority as Vanini has said 
— incalescere in vetierem ardeniius, spei sobolis injuriosum 
Notes on Lear 131 
In this speech of Edmund you see, as soon as a man 
cannot reconcile himself to reason, how his conscience flies 
off by way of appeal to nature, who is sure upon such 
occasions never to find fault, and also how shame sharpens 
a predisposition in the heart to evil. For it is a profound 
moral, that shame will naturally generate guilt ; the 
oppressed will be vindictive, like Shylock, and in the 
anguish of undeserved ignominy the delusion secretly 
springs up, of getting over the moral quality of an action 
by fixing the mind on the mere physical act alone. 
lb. Edmund's speech : — 
This is the excellent foppery of the world ! that, when we are 
sick in fortune, (often the surfeit of our own behaviour,) we make 
guilty of our disasters, the sun, the moon, and the stars, &c. 
Thus scorn and misanthropy are often the anticipations 
and mouth-pieces of wisdom in the detection of super- 
stitions. Both individuals and nations may be free from 
such prejudices by being below them, as well as by rising 
above them. 
lb. sc. 3. The Steward should be placed in exact 
antithesis to Kent, as the only character of utter irredeem- 
able baseness in Shakspeare. Even in this the judgment 
and invention of the poet are very observable ; — for what 
else could the willing tool of a Goneril be ? Not a vice but 
this of baseness was left open to him. 
lb. sc. 4. In Lear old age is itself a character, — its 
natural imperfections being increased by life-long habits 
of receiving a prompt obedience. Any addition of in- 
dividuality would have been unnecessary and painful ; 
for the relations of others to him, of wondrous fidelity and 
of frightful ingratitude, alone sufficiently distinguish him. 
Thus Lear becomes the open and ample play-room of 
nature's passions. 
Knight. Since my young lady's going into France, Sir ; the 
fool hath much pin'd away. 
The Fool is no comic buffoon to make the groundlings 
laugh, — no forced condescension of Shakspeare's genius to 
the taste of his audience. Accordingly the poet prepares 
for his introduction, which he never does with any of his 
common clowns and fools, by bringing him into living con- 
nection with the pathos of the play. He is as wonderful 
132 Notes on Lear 
a creation as Caliban ; — his wild babblings, and inspired 
idiocy, articulate and gauge the horrors of the scene. 
The monster Goneril prepares what is necessary, while the 
character of Albany renders a still more maddening 
grievance possible, namely, Regan and Cornwall in perfect 
sympathy of monstrosity. Not a sentiment, not an image, 
which can give pleasure on its own account, is admitted ; 
whenever these creatures are introduced, and they are 
brought forward as little as possible, pure horror reigns 
throughout. In this scene and in all the early speeches of 
Lear, the one general sentiment of filial ingratitude pre- 
vails as the main spring of the feelings ; — in this early 
stage the outward object causing the pressure on the mind, 
which is not yet sufficiently familiarized with the anguish 
£or the imagination to work upon it. 
Gon. Do you mark that, my lord ? 
^. Alb. I cannot be so partial, Goneril, 
To the great love I bear you. 
Gon. Pray you content, &c. 
Observe the baffled endeavour of Goneril to act on the 
fears of Albany, and yet his passiveness, his inertia ; he is 
not convinced, and yet he is afraid of looking into the thing. 
Such characters always yield to those who will take the 
trouble of governing them, or for them. Perhaps, the 
influence of a princess, whose choice of him had royalized 
his state, may be some little excuse for Albany's weakness, 
lb. sc. 5. 
Lear. O let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven ! 
Keep me in temper ! I would not be mad ! — 
The mind's own anticipation of madness ! The deepest 
tragic notes are often struck by a half sense of an impend- 
ing blow. The Fool's conclusion of this act by a grotesque 
prattling seems to indicate the dislocation of feeling that 
has begun and is to be continued. 
Act ii. sc. I. Edmund's speech : — 
He replied, 
Thou unpossessing bastard ! &c. 
Thus the secret poison in Edmund's own heart steals 
forth ; and then observe poor Gloster's — 
Loyal and natural boy ! 
as if praising the crime of Edmund's birth ! 
Notes on Lear 133 
lb. Compare Regan's — 
What, did my father's godson seek your life ? 
He whom my father named ? 
with the unfeminine violence of her — 
All vengeance comes too short, &c. 
and yet no reference to the guilt, but only to the accident, 
which she uses as an occasion for sneering at her father. 
Regan is not, in fact, a greater monster than Goneril, but 
she has the power of casting more venom, 
lb. sc. 2. Cornwall's speech : — 
This is some fellow, 
Who, having been praised for bluntness, doth affect 
A saucy roughness, &c. 
In thus placing these profound general truths in the 
mouths of such men as Cornwall, Edmund, lago, &c. 
Shakspeare at once gives them utterance, and yet shows 
how indefinite their application is. 
lb. sc. 3. Edgar's assumed madness serves the great 
purpose of taking off part of the shock which would other- 
wise be caused by the true madness of Lear, and further 
displays the profound difference between the two. In 
every attempt at representing madness throughout the 
whole range of dramatic literature, with the single excep- 
tion of Lear, it is mere lightheadedness, as especially in 
Otway. In Edgar's ravings Shakspeare all the while lets 
you see a fixed purpose, a practical end in view ; — in Lear's, 
there is only the brooding of the one anguish, an eddy 
without progression. 
lb. sc. 4. Lear's speech : — 
The king would speak with Cornwall ; the dear father 
Would with his daughter speak, &c. 
« * « * 
No, but not yet : may be he is not well, &c. 
The strong interest now felt by Lear to try to find 
excuses for his daughter is most pathetic, 
lb. Lear's speech : — 
Beloved Regan. 
Thy sister's naught ; — O Regan, she hath tied 
Sharp-tooth'd unkindness, like a vulture, here. 
I can scarce speak to thee ; — thou'lt not beUeve 
With how deprav'd a quality — O Regan ! 
134 Notes on Lear 
Reg. I pray you. Sir, take patience ; I have hope. 
You less know how to value her desert, 
Than she to scant her duty. 
Lear. Say, how is that ? 
Nothing is so heart-cutting as a cold unexpected defence 
or palliation of a cruelty passionately complained of, or so 
expressive of thorough hard-heartedness. And feel the 
excessive horror of Regan's *0, Sir, you are old!' — and 
then her drawing from that universal object of reverence 
and indulgence the very reason for her frightful con- 
clusion — 
Say, you have wrong'd her I 
All Lear's faults increase our pity for him. We refuse to 
know them otherwise than as means of his sufferings, and 
aggravations of his daughter's ingratitude. 
lb. Lear's speech : — 
O, reason not the need : our basest beggars 
Are in the poorest thing superfluous, &c. 
Observe that the tranquillity which follows the first 
stunning of the blow permits Lear to reason. 
Act iii. sc. 4. O, what a world's convention of agonies 
is here ! All external nature in a storm, all moral nature 
convulsed, — the real madness of Lear, the feigned madness 
of Edgar, the babbling of the Fool, the desperate fidelity of 
Kent — surely such a scene was never conceived before or 
since ! Take it but cLS a picture for the eye only, it is more 
terrific than any which a Michel Angelo, inspired by a 
Dante, could have conceived, and which none but a Michel 
Angelo could have executed. Or let it have been uttered 
to the blind, the bowlings of nature would seem converted 
into the voice of conscious humanity. This scene ends 
with the first symptoms of positive derangement ; and 
the intervention of the fifth scene is particularly judicious, 
— the interruption allowing an interval for Lear to appear 
in full madness in the sixth scene. 
lb. sc. 7. Gloster's blinding : — 
What can I say of this scene ? — There is my reluctance to 
think Shakspeare wrong, and yet — 
Act iv. sc. 6. Lear's speech : — 
Ha I Goneril 1 — with a white beard ! — They flattered me like a 
dog ; and told me, I had white hairs in my beard, ere the black 
Notes on Hamlet 135 
ones were there. To say Ay and No to every thing that I said ! 
— Ay and No too was no good divinity. When the rain came to 
wet me once, &c. 
The thunder recurs, but still at a greater distance from 
our feelings. 
lb. sc. 7. Lear's speech : — 
Where have I been ? Where am I ? — Fair daylight ? — 
I am mightily abused. — I should even die with pity 
To see another thus, &c. 
How beautifully the affecting return of Lear to reason, 
and the mild pathos of these speeches prepare the mind for 
the last sad, yet sweet, consolation of the aged sufferer's 
death I 
Hamlet was the play, or rather Hamlet himself was the 
character, in the intuition and exposition of which I first 
made my turn for philosophical criticism, and especially 
for insight into the genius of Shakspeare, noticed. This 
happened first amongst my acquaintances, as Sir George 
Beaumont will bear witness ; and subsequently, long 
before Schlegel had delivered at Vienna the lectures on 
Shakspeare, which he afterwards published, I had given on 
the same subject eighteen lectures substantially the same, 
proceeding from the very same point of view, and deducing 
the same conclusions, so far as I either then agreed, or now 
agree, with him. I gave these lectures at the Royal 
Institution, before six or seven hundred auditors of rank 
and eminence, in the spring of the same year, in which Sir 
Humphrey Davy, a fellow-lecturer, made his great re- 
volutionary discoveries in chemistry. Even in detail the 
coincidence of Schlegel with my lectures was so extra- 
ordinary, that all who at a later period heard the same 
words, taken by me from my notes of the lectures at the 
Royal Institution, concluded a borrowing on my part from 
Schlegel. Mr. Hazlitt, whose hatred of me is in such an 
inverse ratio to my zealous kindness towards him, as to be 
defended by his warmest admirer, Charles Lamb — (who, 
God bless him ! besides his characteristic obstinacy of 
adherence to old friends, as long at least as they are at all 
136 Notes on Hamlet 
down in the world, is linked as by a charm to Hazlitt's con- 
versation) — only as 'frantic' ; — Mr. Hazlitt, I say, himself 
repHed to an assertion of my plagiarism from Schlegel in 
these words ; — " That is a lie ; for I myself heard the very 
same character of Hamlet from Coleridge before he went 
to Germany, and when he had neither read nor could read a 
page of German ! " Now Hazlitt was on a visit to me at 
my cottage at Nether Stowey, Somerset, in the summer of 
the year 1798, in the September of which year I first was 
out of sight of the shores of Great Britain. Recorded by 
me, S. T. Coleridge, 7th January, 1819. 
The seeming inconsistencies in the conduct and character 
of Hamlet have long exercised the conjectural ingenuity of 
critics ; and, as we are always loth to suppose that "the 
cause of defective apprehension is in ourselves, the mystery 
has been too commonly explained by the very easy pro- 
cess of setting it down as in fact inexplicable, and by 
resolving the phenomenon into a misgrowth or lusus of the 
capricious and irregular genius of Shakspeare. The shallow 
and stupid arrogance of these vulgar and indolent de- 
cisions I would fain do my best to expose. I beUeve the 
character of Hamlet may be traced to Shakspeare' s deep 
and accurate science in mental philosophy. Indeed, that 
this character must have some connection with the common 
fundamental laws of our nature may be assumed from the 
fact, that Hamlet has been the darling of every country in 
which the literature of England has been fostered. In order 
to understand him, it is essential that we should reflect on 
the constitution of our own minds. Man is distinguished 
from the brute animals in proportion as thought prevails 
over sense : but in the healthy processes of the mind, a 
balance is constantly maintained between the impressions 
from outward objects and the inward operations of the 
intellect ; — for if there be an overbalance in the contem- 
plative faculty, man thereby becomes the creature of 
mere meditation, and loses his natural power of action. 
Now one of Shakspeare' s modes of creating characters is, 
to conceive any one intellectual or moral faculty in morbid 
excess, and then to place himself, Shakspeare, thus muti- 
lated or diseased, under given circumstances. In Hamlet 
he seems to have wished to exemplify the moral necessity 
of a due balance between our attention to the objects of 
our senses, and our meditation on the workings of our 
Notes on Hamlet 137 
minds, — an equilibrium between the real and the imaginary 
worlds. In Hamlet this balance is disturbed : his thoughts, 
and the images of his fancy, are far more vivid than his 
actual perceptions, and his very perceptions, instantly 
passing through the medium of his contemplations, acquire, 
as they pass, a form and a colour not naturally their own. 
Hence we see a great, an almost enormous, intellectual 
activity, and a proportionate aversion to real action, 
consequent upon it, with all its symptoms and accom- 
panying qualities. This character Shakspeare places 
in circumstances, under which it is obliged to act on the 
spur of the moment : — Hamlet is brave and careless of 
death ; but he vacillates from sensibihty, and procrasti- 
nates from thought, and loses the power of action in the 
energy of resolve. Thus it is that this tragedy presents a 
direct contrast to that of Macbeth ; the one proceeds with 
the utmost slowness, the other with a crowded and breath- 
less rapidity. 
The effect of this overbalance of the imaginative power is 
beautifully illustrated in the everlasting broodings and 
superfluous activities of Hamlet's mind, which, unseated 
from its healthy relation, is constantly occupied with the 
world within, and abstracted from the world without, — 
giving substance to shadows, and throwing a mist over all 
common-place actualities. It is the nature of thought to be 
indefinite ; — definiteness belongs to external imagery alone. 
Hence it is that the sense of sublimity arises, not from the 
sight of an outward object, but from the beholder's re- 
flection upon it ; — not from the sensuous impression, 
but from the imaginative reflex. Few have seen a 
celebrated waterfall without feeling something akin to 
disappointment : it is only subsequently that the image 
comes back full into the mind, and brings with it a train 
of grand or beautiful associations. Hamlet feels this ; 
his senses are in a state of trance, and he looks upon ex- 
ternal things as hieroglyphics. His solfloquy — 
O ! that this too too solid flesh would melt, &c. 
springs from that craving after the indefinite — for that 
which is not — which most easily besets men of genius ; 
and the self-delusion common to this temper of mind is 
finely exemplified in the character which Hamlet gives 
of himself : — 
138 Notes on Hamlet 
— It cannot be 
But I am pigeon-livered, and lack gall 
To make oppression bitter. 
He mistakes the seeing his chains for the breaking them, 
delays action till action is of no use, and dies the victim 
of mere circumstance and accident. 
There is a great significancy in the names of Shakspeare's 
plays. In the Twelfth Night, Midsummer Night's Dream, 
As You Like It, and Winter's Tale, the total effect is 
produced by a co-ordination of the characters as in a 
\\Teath of flowers. But in Coriolanus, Lear, Romeo and 
Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, &c. the effect arises from the 
subordination of all to one, either as the prominent person, 
or the principal object. Cymbeline is the only exception ; 
and even that has its advantages in preparing the audience 
for the chaos of time, place, and costume, by throwing the 
date back into a fabulous king's reign. 
But as of more importance, so more striking, is the 
judgment displayed by our truly dramatic poet, as well 
as poet of the drama, in the management of his first scenes. 
With the single exception of Cymbeline, they either place 
before us at one glance both the past and the future in 
some effect, which implies the continuance and fuU agency 
of its cause, as in the feuds and party-spirit of the servants 
of the two houses in the first scene of Romeo and Juliet; 
or in the degrading passion for shews and public spectacles, 
and the overwhelming attachment for the newest success- 
ful war-chief in the Roman people, already become a 
populace, contrasted with the jealousy of the nobles in 
Julius Caesar ; — or they at once commence the action so 
as to excite a curiosity for the explanation in the following 
scenes, as in the storm of wind and waves, and the boat- 
swain in the Tempest, instead of anticipating our curiosity, 
as in most other first scenes, and in too many other first 
acts ; — or they act, by contrast of diction suited to the 
characters, at once to heighten the effect, and yet to give 
a naturalness to the language and rhythm of the principal 
personages, either as that of Prospero and Miranda by the 
appropriate lowness of the style, — or as in King John, by 
the equally appropriate stateliness of official harangues 
or narratives, so that the after blank verse seems to belong 
to the rank and quality of the speakers, and not to the 
poet ; — or they strike at once the key-note, and give the 
Notes on Hamlet 139 
predominant spirit of the play, as in the Twelfth Night and 
in Macbeth ; — or finally, the first scene comprises all these 
advantages at once, as in Hamlet. 
Compare the easy language of common life, in which 
this drama commences, with the direful music and wild 
wayward rhythm and abrupt lyrics of the opening of 
Macbeth. The tone is quite familiar ; — there is no poetic 
description of night, no elaborate information conveyed 
by one speaker to another of what both had immediately 
before their senses — (such as the first distich in Addison's 
Cato, which is a translation into poetry of 'Past four 
o'clock and a dark morning !') ; — and yet nothing border- 
ing on the comic on the one hand, nor any striving of the 
intellect on the other. It is precisely the language of 
sensation among men who feared no charge of effeminacy 
for feeling what they had no want of resolution to bear. 
Yet the armour, the dead silence, the watchfulness that 
first interrupts it, the welcome relief of the guard, the cold, 
the broken expressions of compelled attention to bodily 
feehngs still under control — all excellently accord with, 
and prepare for, the after gradual rise into tragedy ; — 
but, above all, into a tragedy, the interest of which is as 
eminently ad et apud intra, as that of Macbeth is directly 
ad extra. 
In all the best attested stories of ghosts and visions, 
as in that of Brutus, of Archbishop Cranmer, that of 
Benvenuto Cellini recorded by himself, and the vision of 
Galileo communicated by him to his favourite pupil 
Torricelli, the ghost-seers were in a state of cold or chilling 
damp from without, and of anxiety inwardly. It has 
been with all of them as with Francisco on his guard, — 
alone, in the depth and silence of the night ; — "twas 
bitter cold, and they were sick at heart, and not a mouse 
stirring.' The attention to minute sounds, — naturally 
associated with the recollection of minute objects, and 
the more familiar and trifling, the more impressive from 
the unusualness of their producing any impression at all 
— gives a philosophic pertinency to this last image ; but 
it has hkewise its dramatic use and purpose. For its 
commonness in ordinary conversation tends to produce 
the sense of reality, and at once hides the poet, and yet 
approximates the reader or spectator to that state in 
which the highest poetry will appear, and in its component 
140 Notes on Hamlet 
parts, though not in the whole composition, really is, the 
language of nature. If I should not speak it, I feel that 
I should be thinking it ; — the voice only is the poet's, — 
the words are my own. That Shakspeare meant to put 
an effect in the actor's power in the very first words — 
" Who's there ? " — is evident fromt he impatience ex- 
pressed by the startled Francisco in the words that follow 
— " Nay, answer me : stand and unfold yourself." A brave 
man is never so peremptory, as when he fears that he is 
afraid. Observe the gradual transition from the silence 
and the still recent habit of listening in Francisco's — " I 
think I hear them " — to the more cheerful call out, which 
a good actor would observe, in the — " Stand ho ! Who is 
there ? " Bernardo's inquiry after Horatio, and the 
repetition of his name and in his own presence indicate a 
respect or an eagerness that implies him as one of the 
persons who are in the foreground ; and the scepticism 
attributed to him, — 
Horatio says, 'tis but our fantasy ; 
And will not let belief take hold of him — 
prepares us for Hamlet's after eoilogy on him as one whose 
blood and judgment were happily commingled. The 
actor should also be careful to distinguish the expectation 
and gladness of Bernardo's 'Welcome, Horatio !' from 
the mere courtesy of his 'Welcome, good Marcellus !* 
Now observe the admirable indefiniteness of the first 
opening out of the occasion of all this anxiety. The 
preparation informative of the audience is just as much as 
was precisely necessary, and no more ; — it begins with the 
uncertainty appertaining to a question : — 
Mar. What, has this thing appear'd again to-night ? — 
Even the word 'again' has its credihilizing effect. Then 
Horatio, the representative of the ignorance of the 
audience, not himself, but by Marcellus to Bernardo, 
anticipates the common solution — "tis but our fantasy !' 
upon which Marcellus rises into 
This dreaded sight, twice seen of us — 
which immediately afterwards becomes 'this apparition,* 
and that, too, an intelligent spirit, that is, to be spoken to ! 
Then comes the confirmation of Horatio's disbelief ; — 
Tush ! tush ! 'twill not appear ! — 
Notes on Hamlet 141 
and the silence, with which the scene opened, is again 
restored in the shivering feeUng of Horatio sitting down, 
at such a time, and with the two eye-witnesses, to hear a 
story of a ghost, and that, too, of a ghost which had 
appeared twice before at the very same hour. In the 
deep feeUng which Bernardo has of the solemn nature of 
what he is about to relate, he makes an effort to master his 
own imaginative terrors by an elevation of style, — itself 
a continuation of the effort, — and by turning off from the 
apparition, as from something which would force him too 
deeply into himself, to the outward objects, the realities 
of nature, which had accompanied it : — 
Ber. Last night of all. 
When yon same star, that's westward from the pole 
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven 
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself. 
The bell then beating one — 
This passage seems to contradict the critical law that 
what is told, makes a faint impression compared with 
what is beholden ; for it does indeed convey to the mind 
more than the eye can see ; whilst the interruption of the 
narrative at the very moment when we are most intensely 
listening for the sequel, and have our thoughts diverted 
from the dreaded sight in expectation of the desired, yet 
almost dreaded, tale — this gives all the suddenness and 
surprise of the original appearance ; — 
Mar. Peace, break thee oflE ; look, where it comes again ! — 
Note the judgment displayed in having the two persons 
present, who, as having seen the Ghost before, are naturally 
eager in confirming their former opinions, — whilst the 
sceptic is silent, and after having been twice addressed by 
his friends, answers with two hasty syllables — 'Most like,' 
— and a confession of horror : 
— It harrows me with fear and wonder. 
O heaven ! words are wasted on those who feel, and to 
those who do not feel the exquisite judgment of Shak- 
speare in this scene, what can be said ? — Hume himself 
could not but have had faith in this Ghost dramatically, 
let his anti-ghostism have been as strong as Sampson 
against other ghosts less powerfully raised. 
142 Notes on Hamlet 
Act i. sc. I. 
Mar, Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows, 
Why this same strict and most observant watch, &c. 
How delightfully natural is the transition to the retro- 
spective narrative ! And observe, upon the Ghost's re- 
appearance, how much Horatio's courage is increased by 
having translated the late individual spectator into general 
thought and past experience, — and the sympathy of 
Marcellus and Bernardo with his patriotic surmises in 
daring to strike at the Ghost ; whilst in a moment, upon 
its vanishing the former solemn awe-stricken feeling 
returns upon them : — 
We do it wrong, being so majestical. 
To offer it the show of violence. — 
lb. Horatio's speech : — 
I have heard, 
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn. 
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat 
Awake the god of day, &c. 
No Addison could be more careful to be poetical in diction 
than Shakspeare in providing the grounds and sources of 
its propriety. But how to elevate a thing almost mean 
by its familiarity, young poets may learn in this treatment 
of the cock-crow. 
lb. Horatio's speech : — 
And, by my advice. 
Let us impart what we have seen to-night 
Unto young Hamlet; for, upon my life. 
This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him. 
Note the inobtrusive and yet fully adequate mode of 
introducing the main character, 'young Hamlet,' upon 
whom is transferred all the interest excited for the acts 
and concerns of the king his father. 
lb. sc. 2. The audience are now relieved by a change 
of scene to the royal court, in order that Hamlet may not 
have to take up the leavings of exhaustion. In the king's 
speech, observe the set and pedantically antithetic form 
of the sentences when touching that which galled the heels 
of conscience, — the strain of undignified rhetoric, — and 
yet in what follows concerning the public weal, a certain 
appropriate majesty. Indeed was he not a royal brother ? — 
Notes on Hamlet 143 
lb. King's speech : — 
And now, Laertes, what's the news with you ? &c. 
Thus with great art Shakspeare introduces a most impor- 
tant, but still subordinate character first, Laertes, who is 
yet thus graciously treated in consequence of the assistance 
given to the election of the late king's brother instead of 
his son by Polonius. 
Ham. A little more than kin, and less than kind. 
King. How is it that the clouds still hang on you ? 
Ham. Not so, my lord, I am too much i' the sun. 
Hamlet opens his mouth with a playing on words, the 
complete absence of which throughout characterizes 
Macbeth. This playing on words may be attributed to 
many causes or motives, as either to an exuberant activity 
of mind, as in the higher comedy of Shakspeare generally ; 
— or to an imitation of it as a mere fashion, as if it were 
said — Ts not this better than groaning ?' — or to a con- 
temptuous exultation in minds vulgarized and overset by 
their success, as in the poetic instance of Milton's Devils 
in the battle ; — or it is the language of resentment, as is 
familiar to every one who has witnessed the quarrels of the 
lower orders, where there is invariably a profusion of 
punning invective, whence, perhaps, nicknames have in a 
considerable degree sprung up ; — or it is the language of 
suppressed passion, and especially of a hardly smothered 
personal dislike. The first and last of these combine in 
Hamlet's case ; and I have little doubt that Farmer is 
right in supposing the equivocation carried on in the 
expression 'too much i' the sun,' or son. 
Ham. Ay, madam, it is common. 
Here observe Hamlet's deUcacy to his mother, and how 
the suppression prepares him for the overflow in the next 
speech, in which his character is more developed by bring- 
ing forward his aversion to externals, and which betrays 
his habit of brooding over the world within him, coupled 
with a prodigality of beautiful words, which are the half 
embodyings of thought, and are more than thought, and 
have an outness, a reality sui generis, and yet retain their 
correspondence and shadowy affinity to the images and 
movements within. Note also Hamlet's silence to the 
144 Notes on Hamlet 
long speech of the king which follows, and his respectful, 
but general, answer to his mother. 
lb. Hamlet's first soliloquy : — 
O, that this too too solid flesh would melt, 
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew ! &c. 
This tcBdium vUcb is a common oppression on minds cast 
in the Hamlet mould, and is caused by disproportionate 
mental exertion, which necessitates exhaustion of bodily 
feeling. Where there is a just coincidence of external and 
internal action, pleasure is always the result ; but where 
the former is deficient, and the mind's appetency of the 
ideal is unchecked, realities will seem cold and unmoving. 
In such cases, passion combines itself with the indefinite 
alone. In this mood of his mind the relation of the 
appearance of his father's spirit in arms is made all at once 
to Hamlet : — it is — Horatio's speech, in particular — a 
perfect model of the true style of dramatic narrative ; — 
the purest poetry, and yet in the most natural language, 
equally remote from the ink-horn and the plough. 
lb. sc. 3. This scene must be regarded as one of Shak- 
speare's lyric movements in the play, and the skiU with 
which it is interwoven with the dramatic parts is peculiarly 
an excellence of our poet. You experience the sensation 
of a pause without the sense of a stop. You will observe 
in OpheUa's short and general answer to the long speech 
of Laertes the natural carelessness of innocence, which 
cannot think such a code of cautions and prudences 
necessary to its own preservation. 
lb. Speech of Polonius : — (in Stockdale's edition.) 
Or (not to crack the wind of the poor phrase,) 
Wronging it thus, you'll tender me a fool. 
I suspect this 'wronging' is here used much in the same 
sense as 'wringing' or 'wrenching' ; and that the paren- 
thesis should be extended to 'thus.' ^ 
lb. Speech of Polonius : — 
How prodigal the soul 
Lends the tongue vows : — these blazes, daughter, &c. 
A spondee has, I doubt not, dropped out of the text. 
Either insert 'Go to' after 'vows ' ; — 
1 It is so pointed in the modern editions. — Ed. 
Notes on Hamlet 145 
Lends the tongue vows : Go to, these blazes, daughter — 
or read 
Lends the tongue vows : — These blazes, daughter, mark you — 
Shakspeare never introduces a catalectic line without 
intending an equivalent to the foot omitted in the pauses, 
or the dwelling emphasis, or the diffused retardation. I 
do not, however, deny that a good actor might by employ- 
ing the last mentioned means, namely, the retardation, or 
solemn knowing drawl, supply the missing spondee with 
good effect. But I do not believe that in this or any other 
of the foregoing speeches of Polonius, Shakspeare meant 
to bring out the senility or weakness of that personage's 
mind. In the great ever-recurring dangers and duties 
of life, where to distinguish the fit objects for the applica- 
tion of the maxims collected by the experience of a long 
life, requires no fineness of tact, as in the admonitions to 
his son and daughter, Polonius is uniformly made respect- 
able. But if an actor were even capable of catching these 
shades in the character, the pit and the gallery would be 
malcontent at their exhibition. It is to Hamlet that 
Polonius is, and is meant to be, contemptible, because in 
inwardness and uncontrollable activity of movement, 
Hamlet's mind is the logical contrary to that of Polonius, 
and besides, as I have observed before, Hamlet dislikes 
the man as false to his true allegiance in the matter of the 
succession to the crown. 
lb. sc. 4. The unimportant conversation with which 
this scene opens is a proof of Shakspeare's minute know- 
ledge of human nature. It is a well established fact, that 
on the brink of any serious enterprise, or event of moment, 
men almost invariably endeavour to elude the pressure of 
their own thoughts by turning aside to trivial objects and 
familiar circumstances : thus this dialogue on the platform 
begins with remarks on the coldness of the air, and inquiries, 
obliquely connected, indeed, with the expected hour of 
the visitation, but thrown out in a seeming vacuity of 
topics, as to the striking of the clock and so forth. The 
same desire to escape from the impending thought is carried 
on in Hamlet's account of, and moralizing on, the Danish 
custom of wassailing : he runs off from the particular to the 
universal, and, in his repugnance to personal and individual 
concerns, escapes, as it were, from himself in generaliza- 
146 Notes on Hamlet 
tions, and smothers the impatience and uneasy feelings 
of the moment in abstract reasoning. Besides this, an- 
other purpose is answered ; — for by thus entangling the 
attention of the audience in the nice distinctions and 
parenthetical sentences of this speech of Hamlet's, Shak- 
speare takes them completely by surprise on the appearance 
of the Ghost, which comes upon them in all the sudden- 
ness of its visionary character. Indeed, no modem writer 
would have dared, like Shakspeare, to have preceded this 
last visitation by two distinct appearances, — or could have 
contrived that the third should rise upon the former two 
in impressiveness and solemnity of interest. 
But in addition to all the other excellences of Hamlet's 
speech concerning the wassel-music — so finely revealing 
the predominant ideahsm, the ratiocinative meditativeness, 
of his character — it has the advantage of giving nature 
and probability to the impassioned continuity of the speech 
instantly directed to the Ghost. The momentum had been 
given to his mental activity ; the full current of the 
thoughts and words had set in, and the very forgetfulness, 
in the fervour of his argumentation, of the purpose for 
which he was there, aided in preventing the appearance 
from benumbing the mind. Consequently, it acted as a 
new impulse, — a sudden stroke which increased the velocity 
of the body already in motion, whilst it altered the direc- 
tion. The co-presence of Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo 
is most judiciously contrived ; for it renders the courage 
of Hamlet and his impetuous eloquence perfectly intel- 
ligible. The knowledge, — the unthought of consciousness, 
— the sensation, — of human auditors, — of flesh and blood 
sympathists — acts as a support and a stimulation a tergo, 
while the front of the mind, the whole consciousness of 
the speaker, is filled, yea, absorbed, by the apparition. 
Add too, that the apparition itself has by its previous 
appearances been brought nearer to a thing of this world. 
This accrescence of objectivity in a Ghost that yet retains 
all its ghostly attributes and fearful subjectivity, is truly 
lb. sc. 5. Hamlet's speech : — 
O all 3'^ou host of heaven ! O earth ! What else ? 
And shall I couple hell ? — 
1 remember nothing equal to this burst unless it be the 
Notes on Hamlet 147 
first speech of Prometheus in the Greek drama, after the 
exit of Vulcan and the two Afrites. But Shakspeare alone 
could have produced the vow of Hamlet to make his 
memory a blank of all maxims and generalized truths, 
that 'observation had copied there,* — followed immediately 
by the speaker noting down the generalized fact, 
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain I 
Mar. Hillo, ho, ho, my lord I 
Ham. Hillo, ho, ho, boy ! come bird, come, &c. 
This part of the scene after Hamlet's interview with the 
Ghost has been charged with an improbable eccentricity. 
But the truth is, that after the mind has been stretched 
beyond its usual pitch and tone, it must either sink into 
exhaustion and inanity, or seek rehef by change. It is 
thus well known, that persons conversant in deeds of 
cruelty contrive to escape from conscience by connecting 
something of the ludicrous with them, and by inventing 
grotesque terms and a certain technical phraseology to 
disguise the horror of their practices. Indeed, paradoxical 
as it may appear, the terrible by a law of the human mind 
always touches on the verge of the ludicrous. Both arise 
from the perception of something out of the common order 
of things — something, in fact, out of its place ; and if from 
this we can abstract danger, the uncommonness wiU alone 
remain, and the sense of the ridiculous be excited. The 
close aUiance of these opposites — they are not contraries — 
appears from the circumstance, that laughter is equally 
the expression of extreme anguish and horror as of joy : 
as there are tears of sorrow and tears of joy, so is there a 
laugh of terror and a laugh of merriment. These complex 
causes will naturally have produced in Hamlet the dis- 
position to escape from his own feelings of the overwhelm- 
ing and supernatural by a wild transition to the ludicrous, 
— a sort of cunning bravado, bordering on the flights of 
delirium. For you may, perhaps, observe that Hamlet's 
wildness is but half false ; he plays that subtle trick of 
pretending to act only when he is very near really being 
what he acts. 
The subterraneous speeches of the Ghost are hardly 
defensible : — but I would call your attention to the char- 
acteristic difference between this Ghost, as a superstition 
14B Notes on Hamlet 
connected with the most mysterious truths of revealed 
religion, — and Shakspeare's consequent reverence in his 
treatment of it, — and the foul earthly witcheries and wild 
language in Macbeth. 
Act ii. sc. I. Polonius and Reynaldo. 
In all things dependent on, or rather made up of, fine 
address, the manner is no more or otherwise rememberable 
than the light motions, steps, and gestures of youth and 
health. But this is almost everything : — no wonder, there- 
fore if that which can be put down by rule in the memory 
should appear to us as mere poring, maudlin, cunning, — 
slyness blinking through the watery eye of superannuation. 
So in this admirable scene, Polonius, who is throughout the 
skeleton of his own former skill and statecraft, hunts the 
trail of policy at a dead scent, supphed by the weak fever- 
smell in his own nostrils. 
lb. sc. 2. Speech of Polonius : — 
My liege, and madam, to expostulate, &c. 
Warburton's note. 
Then as to the jingles, and play on words, let us but look into 
the sermons of Dr. Donne (the wittiest man of that age) and we 
shall find them full of this vein. 
I have, and that most carefully, read Dr. Donne's 
sermons, and find none of these jingles. The great 
art of an orator — to make whatever he talks of appear 
of importance — this, indeed, Donne has effected with 
consunamate skill. 
Ham. Excellent well ; 
You are a fishmonger. 
That is, you are sent to fish out this secret. This is 
Hamlet's own meaning. 
Ham. For if the sun breeds maggots in a dead dog, 
Being a god, kissing carrion — 
These purposely obscure lines, I rather think, refer to some 
thought in Hamlet's mind, contrasting the lovely daughter 
with such a tedious old fool, her father, as he, Hamlet, 
represents Polonius to himself : — 'Why, fool as he is, he is 
some degrees in rank above a dead dog's carcase ; and if 
the sun, being a god that kisses carrion, can raise Ufe out 
Notes on Hamlet 149 
of a dead dog, — why may not good fortune, that favours 
fools, have raised a lovely girl out of this dead-alive old 
fool ?' Warburton is often led astray, in his interpreta- 
tions, by his attention to general positions without the due 
Shakspearian reference to what is probably passing in the 
mind of his speaker, characteristic, and expository of his 
particular character and present mood. The subsequent 
passage, — 
O Jephtha, judge of Israel ! what a treasure hadst thou ! 
is confirmatory of my view of these lines, 
Ham. You cannot, Sir, take from me any thing that I will more 
willingly part withal ; except my life, except my life, except my 
This repetition strikes me as most admirable, 
Ham. Then are our beggars, bodies ; and our monarchs, and 
out-stretched heroes, the beggars' shadows. 
I do not understand this ; and Shakspeare seems to 
have intended the meaning not to be more than snatched 
at : — 'By my fay, I cannot reason !' 
The rugged Pyrrhus — he whose sable arms, &c. 
This admirable substitution of the epic for the dramatic, 
giving such a reality to the impassioned dramatic diction 
of Shakspeare' s own dialogue, and authorized too, by the 
actual style of the tragedies before his time (Porrex and 
Ferrex, Titus Andronicus, &c.) — is well worthy of notice. 
The fancy, that a burlesque was intended, sinks below 
criticism : the lines, as epic narrative, are superb. 
In the thoughts, and even in the separate parts of the 
diction, this description is highly poetical : in truth, taken 
by itself, that is its fault that it is too poetical ! — the 
language of lyric vehemence and epic pomp, and not of 
the drama. But if Shakspeare had made the diction truly 
dramatic, where would have been the contrast between 
Hamlet and the play in Hamlet ? 
had seen the mobled queen, &c. 
A mob-cap is still a word in common use for a morning 
150 Notes on Hamlet 
cap, which conceals the whole head of hair, and passes 
under the chin. It is nearly the same as the night-cap, 
that is, it is an imitation of it, so as to answer the purpose 
(*I am not drest for company'), and yet reconciling it with 
neatness and perfect purity, 
lb. Hamlet's sohloquy : 
O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I ! &c. 
This is Shakspeare's own attestation to the truth of the 
idea of Hamlet which I have before put forth, 
The spirit that I have seen, 
May be a devil : and the devil hath power 
To assume a pleasing shape ; yea, and, perhaps 
Out of my weakness, and my melancholy, 
(As he is very potent with such spirits) 
Abuses me to damn me. 
See Sir Thomas Brown : 
I believe that those apparitions and ghosts of departed 
persons are not the wandering souls of men, but the unquiet walks 
of devils, prompting and suggesting us unto mischief, blood and 
vUlany, instilling and stealing into our hearts, that the blessed 
spirits are not at rest in their graves, but wander solicitous of the 
affairs of the world. Relig. Med. Pt. I. Sect. 37. 
Act iii. sc. I. Hamlet's soliloquy : 
To be, or not to be, that is the question, &c. 
This speech is of absolutely universal interest, — and yet 
to which of all Shakspeare's characters could it have been 
appropriately given but Hamlet ? For Jaques it would 
have been too deep, and for lago too habitual a communion 
with the heart ; which in every man belongs, or ought to 
belong, to all mankind. 
The undiscover'd country, from whose bourne 
No traveller returns. — 
Theobald's note in defence of the supposed contradiction 
of this in the apparition of the Ghost. 
O miserable defender ! If it be necessary to remove 
the apparent contradiction, — if it be not rather a great 
beauty, — surely, it were easy to say, that no traveller 
returns to this world, as to his home, or abiding-place. 
Notes on Hamlet 151 
Ham. Ha, ha ! axe you honest ? 
Oph. My lord ? 
Ham. Are you fair ? 
Here it is evident that the penetrating Hamlet perceives, 
from the strange and forced manner of Opheha, that the 
sweet girl was not acting a part of her own, but was a 
decoy; and his after speeches are not so much directed 
to her as to the listeners and spies. Such a discovery in 
a mood so anxious and irritable accounts for a certain 
harshness in him ; — and yet a wild up-working of love, 
sporting with opposites in a wilful self-tormenting strain 
of irony, is perceptible throughout, *I did love you once :' 
— 'I lov'd you not :' — and particularly in his enumeration 
of the faults of the sex from which Ophelia is so free, that 
the mere freedom therefrom constitutes her character. 
Note Shakspeare's charm of composing the female char- 
acter by the absence of characters, that is, marks and 
lb. Hamlet's speech : — 
I say, we will have no more marriages : those that are married 
already, all but one, shall live : the rest shall keep as they are. 
Observe this dallying with the inward purpose, char- 
acteristic of one who had not brought his mind to the 
steady acting point. He would fain sting the uncle's mind; 
— but to stab his body ! — The soliloquy of Ophelia, which 
follows, is the perfection of love — so exquisitely unselfish ! 
lb. sc. 2. This dialogue of Hamlet with the players 
is one of the happiest instances of Shakspeare's power of 
diversifying the scene while he is carrying on the plot. 
Ham. My lord, you play'd once i' the university, you say ? {To 
To have kept Hamlet's love for Ophelia before the audience 
in any direct form, would have made a breach in the unity 
of the interest ;— but yet to the thoughtful reader it is 
suggested by his spite to poor Polonius, whom he cannot 
let rest. 
lb. The style of the interlude here is distinguished from 
the real dialogue by rhyme, as in the first interview with 
the players by epic verse. 
152 Notes on Hamlet 
Ros. My lord, you once did love me. 
Ham. So I do still, by these pickers and stealers, 
I never heard an actor give this word *so' its proper 
emphasis. Shakspeare's meaning is — 'lov'd you ? Hum ! 
— so I do still, &c.' There has been no change in my 
opinion :--I think as ill of you as I did. Else Hamlet 
tells an ignoble falsehood, and a useless one, as the last 
speech to Guildenstern — 'Why, look you now,' &c. — 
lb. Hamlet's soliloquy : — 
Now could I drink hot blood, 
And do such bitter business as the day 
Would quake to look on. 
The utmost at which Hamlet arrives, is a disposition, 
a mood, to do something : — but what to do, is still left 
undecided, while every word he utters tends to betray 
his disguise. Yet observe how perfectly equal to any 
call of the moment is Hamlet, let it only not be for the 
lb. sc. 4. Speech of Polonius. Polonius's volunteer 
obtrusion of himself into this business, while it is appro- 
priate to his character, still itching after former importance, 
removes all likelihood that Hamlet should suspect his 
presence, and prevents us from making his death injure 
Hamlet in our opinion. 
lb. The king's speech : — 
O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven, &c. 
This speech well marks the difference between crime 
and guilt of habit. The conscience here is still admitted 
to audience. Nay, even as an audible soliloquy, it is far 
less improbable than is supposed by such as have watched 
men only in the beaten road of their feelings. But the 
final — 'all may be well !' is remarkable ; — the degree of 
merit attributed by the self-flattering soul to its own 
struggle, though baffled, and to the indefinite half-promise, 
half-command, to persevere in religious duties. The 
solution is in the divine medium of the Christian doctrine 
of expiation : — not what you have done, but what you are, 
must determine. 
Notes on Hamlet 153 
lb. Hamlet's speech : — 
Now might I do it, pat, now he is praying : 
And now I'll do it : — And so he goes to heaven : 
And so am I revenged ? That would be scann'd, &c. 
Dr. Johnson's mistaking of the marks of reluctance and 
procrastination for impetuous, horror-striking, fiendish- 
ness ! — Of such importance is it to understand the 
germ of a character. But the interval taken by Hamlet's 
speech is truly awful ! And then — 
My words fly up, my thoughts remain below : 
Words, without thoughts, never to heaven go, — 
what a lesson concerning the essential difference 
between wishing and willing, and the folly of all motive- 
mongering, while the individual self remains ! 
lb. sc. 4. 
Ham. A bloody deed ; — almost as bad, good mother. 
As kill a king, and marry with his brother. 
Queen. As kill a king ? 
1 confess that Shakspeare has left the character of the 
Queen in an unpleasant perplexity. Was she, or was she 
not, conscious of the fratricide ? 
Act iv. sc. 2. 
Ros. Take you me for a spunge, my lord ? 
Ham. Ay, Sir ; that soaks up the King's countenance, his 
rewards, his authorities, &c. 
Hamlet's madness is made to consist in the free utter- 
ance of all the thoughts that had passed through his mind 
before ; — in fact, in telling home-truths. 
Act iv. sc. 5. Opheha's singing. O, note the conjunc- 
tion here of these two thoughts that had never subsisted 
in disjunction, the love for Hamlet, and her filial love, with 
the guileless floating on the surface of her pure imagina- 
tion of the cautions so lately expressed, and the fears not 
too delicately avowed, by her father and brother, concern- 
ing the dangers to which her honour lay exposed. Thought, 
affliction, passion, murder itself — she turns to favour and 
prettiness. This play of association is instanced in the 
close : — 
My brother shall know of it, and so I thank you for your good 

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