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sense of their reality than could ever would it be before we so accustomed be inspired by what is left of these ourselves to the grotesque sight as to personages in history, now that the realise that it was no pantomime but fierce storms of professorial contro- an English classic that was in question? versy have done their utmost to reduce No, depend on it, in this case author them to shreds and fragments. Shake- and archäologist, however anxious to speare, at least, lived before the days claim partnership the latter may be, of Niebuhr and Cornewall Lewis, and are inevitably at odds; and if one of knew his own mind.
the two must needs go to the wall, most On these two or three plays, then, of us, it is to be hoped, would rather the latest discoveries in classical it were Schliemann than Shakespeare. antiquity may perhaps be lavished Besides, mount a piece as carefully harmlessly, and may possibly even as you will, still it will go hard with help the action. Yet, here too, there us but we will make shift to find some is some danger. If our antiquaries joint in your armour, some detail for are permitted to revolutionise even which no respectable authority is on the stage all the ideas of old
guarantee; and for such as have come fashioned people, they may end by to witness a complete living picture of making Cæsar and Cassius unfamiliar a bygone age, the whole evening will figures to us, and with that would
straightway be spoiled. A friend of disappear a large part of the fas- ours told us a short time ago that cination of the drama in which when he went to see the recent revival they move. We cannot afford just of 'As You Like It,' at the St. James's yet to give up, at all events at the Theatre, he looked on at the first two theatre, those stately white-robed im- acts with the greatest pleasure, but in mortals to whom high-sounding phrase the third act he made the fatal disand proud sentiment seemed pure covery (as he took it to be) that nature. We should not, I think, hear Orlando had carved his mistress's with the same contentment that fine, name in characters that could not old-world reproach, “Et tu, Brute ? possibly have occurred to a gentleman Then fall, Cæsar," if it came from the of his cut. Thereupon a cold distractlips of a quaint, over-dressed starvel- ing doubt got possession of him ; was ing of the stamp offered us by Mr. the whole representation a sham was Alma-Tadema and others; while a he really in his ignorance breathing freely picturesque treatment would a “stifling atmosphere of anachronbe altogether unbearable applied to isms ?” and had his applause been that
well - reputed, Cato's gained by sheer imposition ? Perhaps daughter."
his apprehensions were unfounded As for • Troilus and Cressida,' that, and, it must be confessed, he was no as a play, would surely be ruined by deeply read archæologist—but what, the very touch of the archæological in the name of common-sense, are theorist. Who would not a thousand we to say of a system by which times rather have Shakespeare's Gre- our enjoyment of a dramatic performcians, toga-clad anachronisms as they ance depends on a question of Roman may be, than any outlandish warriors characters or black letter? For let from Hissarlik or Mycenæ, though the us add that our friend had more than British Museum's stores of prehistoric once witnessed a performance of the art were never so carefully ransacked same play without a thought of its to supply precedents for their antique inconsistency afflicting him for a bravery? Before such figures as those moment; in this case it was the which some of our precious vases of parade of archæological precision, the the archaic period show us, what emphatic profession of a love for ordinary theatre-goer would have ears historical truth, that had given his for the play itself? and how long thoughts this pestilent turn, and, by
No. 320-VOL. LIV.
striking that vein of criticism which historical, more than in any other of every one has in him, deprived him Shakespeare's plays, the truism with of all chances of quietly enjoying the which we started is apt to be overplay.
looked. If a man take in hand the It is only with great caution, then, carrying out of Shakespeare's intenthat the realistic method
tions, he must carry them out in applied to Shakespeare's classical Shakespeare's way, not in his own. plays. Does it fare better in the case If in any play Shakespeare's purpose of the historical drama ? Here, if was to present as complete a picture nowhere else, do we not see history as possible of a bygone age, then by made “ to move in a pageant”? Have all means let us summon the resources we not here a kind of
of of archaeology to do him honour. national life, unfolding picture after Doubtless his own powers
way picture of England's struggles and were small ; we know that scenery in England's triumphs, painted, as it his time was almost entirely wanting, were, in a transport of patriotic fer- and as for costume, his writings cervour, and consequently raising our tainly do not give one the impression enthusiasm to a higher pitch, speaking of a man “who had at his disposal,” to with a livelier utterance to our hearts, use the words of a recent upholder the more
actuality” and historical of the realistic theory, “a most elabosubstance is given to the representa- rate theatrical wardrobe, and who tion ?
could rely on the actors taking pains In three or four plays, perhaps-in about their make-up," but rather of such a military pageant as Henry one who, being obliged to trust much the Fifth,' in Henry the Eighth,' to his audience's imagination, is willing or in the three parts of Henry to help them as far as he is able. the Sixth,' supposing any manager
Those vivid touches of description, bold enough to venture on its revival, by which we learn to know some of this may be true; but in the great Shakespeare's characters almost by majority of Shakespeare's historical sight, were surely designed rather plays, once carefully examined, very to supply the short-comings of the great difficulties will be found incident actors than to illustrate and call to the theory.
attention to their actual make-up. An ordinary actor will surely find Still, whenever he points the way it hard to thrill his audience with to a realistic and historical treathorror or melt it in compassion, if he ment, we may go forward with a light has to play the part of Richard the heart; it will not matter though we Second with one leg red and the other go eyond the extremest limit he green; or to inspire the character of ever dreamed of, so only that we are Richard the Third with real dread so continuing the course on which he long as the tips of his shoes are started. But if we have mistaken the chained to his knees. These particu- signs, the further we push our theories lar eccentricities, it will be answered, into practice, the more widely we shall need not be insisted on; and a dress miss the mark; and infallible signs may be devised for each part which are not to be found in the mere names shall be historical without being ab- of the characters or the period in surd; but then the inference seems to which they lived. be that the costume becomes more Because Falstaff is
Prince tolerable exactly in proportion as it Hal's comrade, it does not is less obtrusively historical, and the sarily follow that he belongs to the realistic method will be most success- fifteenth century. Who in reading ful just where it is least recognisable. "The Merry Wives of Windsor' does Besides there are more serious diffi- not place the date a full century and a culties than these to be faced. In the half later than the only possible date
for the historical Falstaff ?
It is a
be presented in such a manner as pure comedy of manners, and the chief inevitably and irresistibly to suggest characters must have unquestionably the thirteenth century and nothing presented themselves to Shakespeare's but the thirteenth century, we shall mind as contemporaries of his own, surely miss half the force of the passuch as he might meet of an evening sages which are most familiar to us, in any Warwickshire ale-house. The and have to submit into the bargain very tradition that the part of Justice to an inconsistency as great, dramatiShallow was meant as a libel on an cally speaking, as though Constance obnoxious neighbour, and the frequent were to be tricked up in powder and use throughout the play of slang patches. For it is not too much to terms, move in the same direction. say that the England of Shakespeare's Indeed, the point is scarcely worth • King John' bears as close a relation arguing : Falstaff and his boon com- to the England of the eighteenth panions, Shallow and Slender and century as to the England of the Mrs. Quickly, are true Elizabethans historical Constance. in the historical plays quite as much The Romantic Drama has next to as in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor;' be considered, and with regard to this and to dress them in costumes that class it will, we think, appear that the should proclaim them undeniably and realistic theory is by no means less unmistakably as of the Middle Ages open to exception than is the case would be mere cruelty to the actors with the historical plays. who played their parts, as well as There is, at least, some colourable felony against the poet who conceived excuse for giving historical characters them.
a historical costume, even though it It has been said by the critic sit somewhat awkwardly on them; already quoted
quoted that Shakespeare but when we have poetical comedies "gives to each play the social atmo- whose most powerful fascination lies sphere of the age in question ;” but in their ideal and imaginative characwhen he wrote those stirring lines ter, treated as if they were transcripts which have ever since rung in the from some dry French or Italian mouths of British orators, we may take annalist, when we have “As You Like it for certain that he was thinking of It' and 'Much Ado About Nothing the England of his own day, “hedged brought to the level of the historical in with the main, that water-walled romance, when the highest praise that bulwark still secure and confident can be given to the actors is that they from foreign purposes," against which look as though they had walked “the proud foot of the conqueror straight out of an illuminated missal, was ever turned in vain. He was then it is surely time to raise some thinking of the England of the Re- protest against the theory that is at venge,' and the Spanish Armada ; of the bottom of it all. the little island for the possession of To think of Rosalind, the very which Englishmen and Spaniards had type of gracious womanhood, warm so recently been at deadly strife, with ever-changing emotions and inrather than of the England of the stinct with the charm of a halftwelfth and thirteenth centuries, ruled tender, half - ironical waywardness, by an alien king and a foreign no- whose moods are as various as the bility, half of whose possessions lay many-twinkling smile of ocean," on the other side of the Channel, rent yet always winning and always asunder by dissension and prostrate indescribably human, to think of under the yoke of papal tyranny. her, we say, walking out of an illu
• King John'should not on that minated missal! Possibly there were account be made a purely Elizabethan Rosalinds in the Middle Ages, but spectacle ; but on the other hand, if it we who know them chiefly by the grotesque workmanship of the time, esque indeed, but scarcely less subfind some difficulty in admitting it. stantial than the men and women If Rosalind's exquisite ease and en- we pass in the street to-day. And chanting vitality can by any means what in the name of mischief has be taken from the character, it quaintness and picturesqueness to would be by assimilating her to a do with it? For our own part, we mediæval missal. Happily in the doubt if any of Shakespeare's chalast revival of "As You Like It,' racters are, strictly speaking, to be however unkindly some of the char- called quaint, unless it be his fools ; acters were treated, Rosalind herself and from the dramatic point of view was not sacrificed to the modern it is of no consequence how picturpassion for quaintness; but next time esque and even how beautiful we it may not be so, and we may have make our stage, if we have gone the Shakespeare's most delightful heroine wrong way about to carry out the translated into something which in its poet's intentions. lovely colours and archaic forms can For the matter of that, if we make only be likened to the figures in a of Miranda and Imogen women who painted window.
actually lived at some definite period And what, after all, is the ten- with which historians have made us dency that leads to such an issue ? familiar, it matters not at all, from Confessedly the romantic drama, as the dramatic point of view, whether handled by Shakespeare, is purely that period is the fifteenth or the ideal ; not only is it full of anachron
nineteenth century. Lions in the isms, and historical and geographical forest of Arden, and Ariel and the absurdities, but it is, in a word, inde- magician's wand, we feel to be as pendent, as far as may be, of time impossible in 1486 as in 1886; and and space altogether. And it is the only thing to be said for the one surely just this far-offness that is one date more than for the other is that of its greatest charms. But this, the costume of the earlier century as it seems, we of to-day may not does not, as far as most of us are realise; we cannot apparently con- concerned, point irresistibly to one ceive of a poet writing except with special historical period, while the his ear attuned to Science's last word; full-bottomed wig, or the frock-coat and we
are to suppose, according and silk hat, do. to the theory we are now examin- To be sure, in some of Shakeing, that Shakespeare, while writing speare's romantic dramas, especially his most fairy-like conceptions, must those which are founded on Italian needs have had a definite period and novels, strong local colouring is absoa definite country in his mind. We lutely indispensable; but then it is are to take an infinite amount of the local colouring which he himself pains to discover what these were, has suggested, and not that which a till at last it is demonstrated amid later generation foists on him. Thus general satisfaction, that the story it is impossible, to our mind, to trace would be perhaps least impossible if in "The Merchant of Venice'any it were assigned to some particular feeling whatever for the peculiar date which one or two mere chance fascination of the famous Republic; allusions seem in our judgment to indeed, one would be distrustful of point to. That fixed, the drama must evidence that enthusiastic critics could be presented as though it were of the produce of such a feeling in a man, stamp of Queen Mary' or Philip who, as far as we know, gained all van Artevelde.' The exquisite ima- his experience of foreign climes from ginations of the poet are turned into English translations and adaptations. common mortals eating of the fruits To make «The Merchant of Venice' of earth, more quaint and pictur- a picture of the city's ancient splendour as it catches the fancy of the in which the native English temtourist of to-day, may not, perhaps, per does not play a conspicuous hinder the action of the drama, but it part; and where that comes in, concertainly does not aid it, and any sistency must necessarily go overimpression that is made thereby, board.
board. Some of us, it is true, may however delightful, is essentially non- still enjoy the conceits of Elizabethan dramatic.
England without concerning ourselves So, too, with “Romeo and Juliet.' overmuch about the incongruities they Half of its beauty would be lost in involve; but for one who has studied any stage representation that was the variations in costume in different not pervaded through and through by climes, and can distinguish the fashion the Italian passion and romance ; a of the shoe worn at the beginning of Northern Juliet would be ridiculous, the fifteenth century from that in but there is no reason in the world to vogue at the end, it must be gall and insist on her being not only Italian, wormwood to have a rude country but Veronese into the bargain. It is fellow of the true Elizabethan breed, true Shakespeare lays the scene in whose very name is racy of our soil, Verona, but that is only because his parade the stage in a dress that could authorities did so; and as for any- only have been possible for an Italian thing further, unquestionably Verona of a century earlier. had for him no special associations There is one more class of plays that it should be preferred above of which something should be said. Padua or Milan; and for a candid No one, perhaps, would have the mind there can be no doubt but that plays of Cymbeline' or 'King Lear' while "Romeo and Juliet' lends ad- mounted with very great archæoloditional interest to Verona, Verona gical precision ; and yet the realistic can add but little to “Romeo and theory, if it is good for anything, Juliet.'
should logically be applicable to these. Scenery painted in the very streets But what is to be said of Hamlet?' of that dream-like city is delightful in how are we to represent this type of itself, but it has no particular dramatic modern Europe, compacted of doubts value; and indeed the associations and scruples and fiery impulses, astray that are only too apt to gather round among the incongruous surroundings the English traveller's remembrance of a half-barbaric Northern court? of the place, with its railways and its It is here that the problem meets hotels and its unnumbered beggars, are us with the most emphatic persistnot such as it is altogether safe to call ency. Shakespeare took his fables up unreservedly when a great imagi- from every age
every clime, native drama is in question. In fact,
In fact, transfusing them all to a greater or one is strongly tempted to believe that less degree with the humours of his an artist who had breathed the air of contemporaries. He wrote, as we are Italy, and saturated himself in her often told, for all time; his greatest romance, could paint purely ideal land- creations are doubtless everlastingly scapes that would recall the sacred true ; but his minor characters, which soil far more forcibly than any literal yet do so much to give body and life to transcripts from even the most beau- his dramas, and help, by the very contiful of her towns.
trasts they afford, to illustrate and And yet ‘Romeo and Juliet,' take intensify, after a fashion unrivalled it all in all, is fitter for realistic in any other literature, the lights and treatment than most of Shakespeare's shadows of the larger natures round adaptations of Italian novels; for whom they are grouped—these are it is more consistently pervaded by for the most part drawn from the the spirit of Southern romance than experience the Warwickshire any of them.
We should find few yeoman's son.