Imágenes de páginas

who read and admired Hamlet or Othello deserved to lose his head.

With such sentiments as these in vogue regarding the Plays themselves, how much value should we attach to the concurrent belief in the authorship of them? Why should men look upward for a star, when they are content to see it reflected in the dirty puddles of the streets? And how natural, under a law of moral mechanics, the swinging of public opinion, from blind detraction at one time to equally blind idolatry at another!

2. It is hardly conceivable that Bacon, if the author of these works, would not have claimed the credit of them before he died, or, at least, left posthumous proofs that would have established his title to them.

Bacon had one great aim in life, an aim that, it seems to us, gave a fine consistency to all that he did. He sought to instruct in better ways of thinking, not his own generation alone, but those that were to come after. "I feel myself born," he says in one of his letters, "for the service of mankind." Accordingly, we find him in his will bequeathing sets of his philosophical works and his essays to the chief public libraries of the kingdom. He even translated them into Latin, for the avowed reason that our modern languages are ephemeral, while Latin will last as

long as human speech. In his will, also, with the sublime confidence that is inseparable from genius, he left his name and memory to the " next ages."

At the same time, he showed no anxiety for personal credit. His mind was bent on grander results. In the introduction to one of his books, unpublished at the time of his death, he asks his executors to leave some parts of it unprinted, in order that they might be passed in manuscript "from hand to hand." He had the curious conception that in this impersonal way certain truths might take deeper Then follow these noble words:


"For myself, my heart is not set upon any of those things which depend on external accidents. I am not hunting for fame. I have no desire to found a sect, after the fashion of the heresiarchs; and to look for any private gain from such an undertaking as this, I should consider both ridiculous and base. me the consciousness of well-deserving, and those real and effectual results with which fortune itself cannot interfere."

Enough for

The ring of these words three centuries have not dulled. They will ring through all time, for they are of pure gold.

It should be remembered, too, that Bacon had an ambition to occupy his father's seat on the woolsack, and that to be known as a writer of plays for money would have been fatal to his advancement. After his downfall, he had not the heart, if he had the will, for the exposure.


may well have hesitated to make another invidious confession in the face of a frowning world.*

"The question why Bacon, if he were the composer of the Plays, did not acknowledge the authorship, is not difficult to answer. His birth, his position and his ambition forbade him, the nephew of Lord Burleigh, the future Lord Chancellor of England, to put his name on a play-bill. In the interest of his family and of his political career, the secret must be so strictly preserved that mere anonymity would not be sufficient. A live man-of-straw, a responsible official representative known to every one, was required. No person could be better fitted for such a purpose than an actor, wise enough to understand and appreciate what was to his own advantage. Perhaps this 'Johannes Factotum ' of Greene's did not know the name of his benefactor. But even if he did know the name, it was obviously to his interest to keep from the world, and particularly from his gossiping companions, a secret which brought him money and fame."-Allgemeine Zeitung.

3. The Plays contain anachronisms and other errors which Bacon," who took all knowledge for his province," could not have committed.

Chief among the errors in question, of sufficient importance to be noted here, are the following:

* A French critic has conjectured that Bacon may have left instructions to his executors to divulge the secret at some opportune time after his death, but that the alarming growth of Puritanism, culminating in its complete ascendency under Cromwell twenty-five years later, rendered such a step inexpedient. Holding his reputation in trust and knowing what a fierce popular storm the announcement would cause, they may have deemed it their duty to let the Plays remain as " Mr. William Shakespeare's," until such time as these writings might reveal by their own light the name and genius of the author.

1. The famous one in the quotation from Aristotle :

"Young men whom Aristotle thought unfit to hear moral philosophy."-Troilus and Cressida, ii., 3.

It was political philosophy that Aristotle referred to; but Bacon makes the same mistake. He quotes the Greek as


"Young men are no fit auditors of moral philosophy."

Even in their blunders, our two authors were not divided.

2. The curious conception of heat in its "mode of motion," one flame pushing another by force out of its place. Shakespeare:

"Even as one heat another heat expels, or as one nail by strength drives out another.- Two Gentlemen of Verona, ii., 4. "One fire drives out one fire; one nail, one nail."-Coriolanus, iv., 7.


"Flame doth not mingle with flame, but remaineth contiguous.”—Advancement of Learning.

"Clavum clavo pellere." [To drive out a nail with a nail.]— Promus.

The materiality of heat was a dogma of the ancients. It held almost absolute sway over mankind till long after the time of Francis Bacon; but this nail illustration, found in Bacon's intellectual work-shop and reproduced in the

Plays, is startling. It may fairly be said to clinch the argument.

3. Mark Antony tells the Romans that he comes

"To bury Cæsar, not to praise him,"

knowing that the Romans did not bury the bodies of their dead.

The play was written for an English stage, and for an audience to whom cremation was practically unknown. The reference to burial indicates the art, rather than the ignorance, of the dramatist. What would our critics say of a famous actor of modern times who always armed the Roman guard in the play with Springfield muskets!

[ocr errors]

Shakespeare turns his Romans into Englishmen, and he does right, for otherwise his nation would not have understood him.”Goethe.

4. A Trojan hero quotes Aristotle, Cleopatra plays billiards, and a clock strikes the hours in Ancient Rome.

Historical perspective is not necessary to the drama. The poet sees the world reflected on a retina that ignores time and place. He idealizes facts. Egypt, Greece, Rome, Pericles, Cæsar, are so many stars set in his firmament and shining apparently in one plane. This illusion extended even to the accessories of the stage in Shakespeare's day. There was no scenery to help the

« AnteriorContinuar »