A Study of Shakespeare - Part 6

Part 6

the moral is, What mighty men misdo, they can amend--

these are the fresh and original types on which our little poet is compelled to fall back for support and ill.u.s.tration to a scene so full of terrible suggestion and pathetic possibility.

The king will in his glory hide thy shame; And those that gaze on him to find out thee Will lose their eyesight, looking on the sun.

What can one drop of poison harm the sea, Whose hugy vastures can digest the ill And make it lose its operation?

And so forth, and so forth; _ad libitum_ if not _ad nauseam_. Let us take but one or two more instances of the better sort.

_Countess_. Unnatural besiege! Woe me unhappy, To have escaped the danger of my foes, And to be ten times worse invir'd by friends!

(Here we come upon two more words unknown to Shakespeare; {256} _besiege_, as a noun substantive, and _invired_ for _environed_.)

Hath he no means to stain my honest blood But to corrupt the author of my blood To be his scandalous and vile soliciter?

No marvel though the branches be infected, When poison hath encompa.s.sed the roots; No marvel though the leprous infant die, When the stern dam envenometh the dug.

Why then, give sin a pa.s.sport to offend, And youth the dangerous rein of liberty; Blot out the strict forbidding of the law; And cancel every canon that prescribes A shame for shame or penance for offence.

No, let me die, if his too boisterous will Will have it so, before I will consent To be an actor in his graceless l.u.s.t.

_Warwick_. Why, now thou speak'st as I would have thee speak; And mark how I unsay my words again.

An honourable grave is more esteemed Than the polluted closet of a king; The greater man, the greater is the thing, Be it good or bad, that he shall undertake; An unreputed mote, flying in the sun, Presents a greater substance than it is; The freshest summer's day doth soonest taint The loathed carrion that it seems to kiss; Deep are the blows made with a mighty axe; That sin doth ten times aggravate itself That is committed in a holy place; An evil deed, done by authority, Is sin, and subornation: Deck an ape In tissue, and the beauty of the robe Adds but the greater scorn unto the beast.

(Here are four pa.s.sably good lines, which vaguely remind the reader of something better read elsewhere; a common case enough with the more tolerable work of small imitative poets.)

A s.p.a.cious field of reasons could I urge Between his glory, daughter, and thy shame: That poison shows worst in a golden cup; Dark night seems darker by the lightning flash; _Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds_; And every glory that inclines to sin, The shame is treble by the opposite.

So leave I, with my blessing in thy bosom; Which then convert to a most heavy curse, When thou convert'st from honour's golden name To the black faction of bed-blotting shame! [_Exit_.

_Countess_. I'll follow thee:--And when my mind turns so, My body sink my soul in endless woe! [_Exit_.

So much for the central and crowning scene, the test, the climax, the hinge on which the first part of this play turns; and seems to me, in turning, to emit but a feeble and rusty squeak. No probable reader will need to be reminded that the line which I have perhaps unnecessarily italicised appears also as the last verse in the ninety-fourth of those "sugared sonnets" which we know were in circulation about the time of this play's first appearance among Shakespeare's "private friends"; in other words, which enjoyed such a kind of public privacy or private publicity as one or two among the most eminent English poets of our own day have occasionally chosen for some part of their work, to screen it for awhile as under the shelter and the shade of crepuscular laurels, till ripe for the sunshine or the storm of public judgment. In the present case, this debatable verse looks to me more like a loan or maybe a theft from Shakespeare's private store of undramatic poetry than a misapplication by its own author to dramatic purposes of a line too apt and exquisite to endure without injury the transference from its original setting.

The scene ensuing winds up the first part of this composite (or rather, in one sense of the word, incomposite) poem. It may, on the whole, be cla.s.sed as something more than pa.s.sably good: it is elegant, lively, even spirited in style; showing at all events a marked advance upon the scene which I have already stigmatised as a failure--that which attempts to render the interview between Warwick and the King. It is hardly, however, I should say, above the highest reach of Greene or Peele at the smoothest and straightest of his flight. At its opening, indeed, we come upon a line which inevitably recalls one of the finest touches in a much later and deservedly more popular historical drama. On being informed by Derby that

The king is in his closet, malcontent, For what I know not, but he gave in charge, Till after dinner, none should interrupt him; The Countess Salisbury, and her father Warwick.

Artois, and all, look underneath the brows;

on receiving, I say, this ominous intimation, the prompt and statesmanlike sagacity of Audley leads him at once as by intuition to the inference thus eloquently expressed in a strain of thrilling and exalted poetry;

Undoubtedly, then something is amiss.

Who can read this without a reminiscence of Sir Christopher Hatton's characteristically cautious conclusion at sight of the military preparations arrayed against the immediate advent of the Armada?

I cannot but surmise--forgive, my friend, If the conjecture's rash--I cannot but Surmise the state some danger apprehends!

With the entrance of the King the tone of this scene naturally rises--"in good time," as most readers will say. His brief interview with the two n.o.bles has at least the merit of ease and animation.

_Derby_. Befall my sovereign all my sovereign's wish!

_Edward_. Ah, that thou wert a witch, to make it so!

_Derby_. The emperor greeteth you.

_Edward_. Would it were the countess!

_Derby_. And hath accorded to your highness' suit.

_Edward_. Thou liest, she hath not: But I would she had!

_Audley_. All love and duty to my lord the king!

Edward. _Well, all but one is none_:--What news with you?

_Audley_. I have, my liege, levied those horse and foot, According to your charge, and brought them hither.

_Edward_. Then let those foot trudge hence upon those horse According to their discharge, and begone.--

_Derby_. I'll look upon the countess' mind Anon.

_Derby_. The countess' mind, my liege?

_Edward_. I mean, the emperor:--Leave me alone.

_Audley_. What's in his mind?

_Derby_. Let's leave him to his humour.

[_Exeunt_ DERBY and AUDLEY

_Edward_. Thus from the heart's abundance speaks the tongue Countess for emperor: And indeed, why not?

She is as _imperator_ over me; And I to her Am as a kneeling va.s.sal, that observes The pleasure or displeasure of her eye.

In this little scene there is perhaps on the whole more general likeness to Shakespeare's earliest manner than we can trace in any other pa.s.sage of the play. But how much of Shakespeare's earliest manner may be accounted the special and exclusive property of Shakespeare?

After this dismissal of the two n.o.bles, the pimping poeticule, Villon manque or (whom shall we call him?) reussi, reappears with a message to Caesar (as the King is pleased to style himself) from "the more than Cleopatra's match" (as he designates the Countess), to intimate that "ere night she will resolve his majesty." Hereupon an unseasonable "drum within" provokes Edward to the following remonstrance:

What drum is this, that thunders forth this march, To start the tender Cupid in my bosom?

Poor sheepskin, how it brawls with him that beateth it!

Go, break the thundering parchment bottom out, And I will teach it to conduct sweet lines

("That's bad; _conduct sweet lines_ is bad.")

Unto the bosom of a heavenly nymph: For I will use it as my writing paper; And so reduce him, from a scolding drum, To be the herald, and dear counsel-bearer, Betwixt a G.o.ddess and a mighty king.

Go, bid the drummer learn to touch the lute, Or hang him in the braces of his drum; For now we think it an uncivil thing To trouble heaven with such harsh resounds.

Away! [_Exit_ Lodowick.

The quarrel that I have requires no arms But these of mine; and these shall meet my foe In a deep march of penetrable groans; My eyes shall be my arrows; and my sighs Shall serve me as the vantage of the wind To whirl away my sweet'st {261} artillery: Ah, but, alas, she wins the sun of me, For that is she herself; and thence it comes That poets term the wanton warrior blind; But love hath eyes as judgment to his steps, Till too much loved glory dazzles them.

Hereupon Lodowick introduces the Black Prince (that is to be), and "retires to the door." The following scene opens well, with a tone of frank and direct simplicity.

_Edward_. I see the boy. O, how his mother's face, Moulded in his, corrects my strayed desire, And rates my heart, and chides my thievish eye; Who, being rich enough in seeing her, Yet seeks elsewhere: and basest theft is that Which cannot check itself on poverty.-- Now, boy, what news?

_Prince_. I have a.s.sembled, my dear lord and father, The choicest buds of all our English blood, For our affairs in France; and here we come To take direction from your majesty.