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- Shakespeare, Bacon and the Great Unknown - 10/37 -


classics in the Greek text." {71a} In that case, how did Shakespeare's English become contaminated, as Mr. Collins says it did, with Greek idioms, while he only knew the Greek plays through Latin translations?

However this is to be answered, Mr. Collins proceeds to prove Shakespeare's close familiarity with Latin and with Greek dramatic literature by a method of which he knows the perils--"it is always perilous to infer direct imitation from parallel passages which may be mere coincidences." {72a} Yet this method is what he practises throughout; with what amount of success every reader must judge for himself.

He thinks it "surely not unlikely" that Polonius's

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be: For loan oft loses both itself and friend,"

may be a terse reminiscence of seven lines in Plautus (Trinummus, iv. 3). Why, Polonius is a coiner of commonplaces, and if ever there were a well-known reflection from experience it is this of the borrowers and lenders.

Next, take this of Plautus (Pseudolus, I, iv. 7-10), "But just as the poet when he has taken up his tablets seeks what exists nowhere among men, and yet finds it, and makes that like truth which is mere fiction." We are to take this as the possible germ of Theseus's theory of the origin of the belief in fairies:

"And as imagination bodies forth The FORMS of things unknown, the poet's pen Turns them to SHAPES, and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name."

The reasoning is odd; imagination bodies forth FORMS, and the poet's pen turns them to SHAPES. But to suppose that Shakespeare here borrowed from Plautus appears highly superfluous.

These are samples of Mr. Collins's methods throughout.

Of Terence there were translations--first in part; later, in 1598, of the whole. Of Seneca there was an English version (1581). Mr. Collins labours to show that one passage "almost certainly" implies Shakespeare's use of the Latin; but it was used "by an inexact scholar,"--a terribly inexact scholar, if he thought that "alienus" ("what belongs to another") meant "slippery"!

Most of the passages are from plays (Titus Andronicus and Henry VI, i., ii., iii.), which Mr. Greenwood denies (usually) to HIS author, the Great Unknown. Throughout these early plays Mr. Collins takes Shakespeare's to resemble Seneca's LATIN style: Shakespeare, then, took up Greek tragedy in later life; after the early period when he dealt with Seneca. Here is a sample of borrowing from Horace, "Persicos odi puer apparatus" (Odes. I, xxxviii. I). Mr. Collins quotes Lear (III, vi. 85) thus, "You will say they are PERSIAN ATTIRE." Really, Lear in his wild way says to Edgar, "I do not like the fashion of your garments: you will say they are Persian; but let them be changed." Mr. Collins changes this into "you will say they are PERSIAN ATTIRE," a phrase "which could only have occurred to a classical scholar." The phrase is not in Shakespeare, and Lear's wandering mind might as easily select "Persian" as any other absurdity.

So it is throughout. Two great poets write on the fear of death, on the cries of new-born children, on dissolution and recombination in nature, on old age; they have ideas in common, obvious ideas, glorified by poetry,--and Shakespeare, we are told, is borrowing from Lucretius or Juvenal; while the critic leaves his reader to find out and study the Latin passages which he does not quote. So arbitrary is taste in these matters that Mr. Collins, like Mr. Grant White, but independently, finds Shakespeare putting a thought from the Alcibiades I of Plato into the mouth of Achilles in Troilus and Cressida, while Mr. J. M. Robertson suggests that the borrowing is from Seneca--where Mr. Collins does not find "the smallest parallel." Mr. Collins is certainly right; the author of Troilus makes Ulysses quote Plato as "the author" of a remark, and makes Achilles take up the quotation, which Ulysses goes on to criticise.

Thus, in this play, not only Aristotle (as Hector says) but Plato are taken to have lived before the Trojan war, and to have been read by the Achaeans!

There were Latin translations of Plato; the Alcibiades I was published apart, from Ficinus' version, in 1560, with the sub-title, Concerning the Nature of Man. Who had read it?--Shakespeare, or one of the two authors (Dekker and Chettle) of another Troilus and Cressida (now lost), or Bacon, or Mr. Greenwood's Unknown? Which of these Platonists chose to say that Plato and Aristotle lived long before Homer? Which of them followed the Ionic and mediaeval anti- Achaean view of Homer's heroes, as given in the Troy Books of the Middle Ages, and yet knew Iliad, Book VII, and admired Odysseus, whom the Ionian tradition abhors? Troilus and Cressida is indeed a mystery, but Somebody concerned in it had read Ficinus' version of the Alcibiades; {75a} and yet made the monstrous anachronism of dating Aristotle and Plato before the Trojan war. "That was his fun," as Charles Lamb said in another connection.

Mr. Collins, it is plain, goes much further than the "small Latin" with which his age (like myself) credited Shakespeare. He could read Latin, Mr. Collins thinks, as easily as an educated Briton reads French--that is, as easily as he reads English. Still further, Shakespeare, through Latin translations, was so saturated with the Greek drama "that the characteristics which differentiate his work from the work of his contemporaries and recall in essentials the work of the Greek dramatists are actually attributable to these dramatists."

Ben Jonson, and all the more or less well-taught University wits, as far as I remember, like Greene, Marlowe, and Lyly, do not show much acquaintance with Euripides, AEschylus, Sophocles, and do not often remind us of these masters. Shakespeare does remind us of them--the only question is, do the resemblances arise from his possession of a genius akin to that of Greece, or was his memory so stored with all the treasures of their art that the waters of Helicon kept bubbling up through the wells of Avon?

But does Mr. Collins prove (what, as he admits, CANNOT be demonstrated) that Shakespeare was familiar with the Attic tragedians? He begins by saying that he will not bottom his case "on the ground of parallels in sentiment and reflection, which, as they express commonplaces, are likely to be" (fortuitous) "coincidences." Three pages of such parallels, all from Sophocles, therefore follow. "Curiously close similarities of expression" are also barred. Four pages of examples therefore follow, from Sophocles and AEschylus, plays and fragments, Euripides, and Homer too (once!). Again, "identities of sentiment under similar circumstances" are not to be cited; two pages ARE cited; and "similarities, however striking they may be in metaphorical expression," cannot safely be used; several pages of them follow.

Finally, Mr. Collins chooses a single play, the Aias of Sophocles, and tests Shakespeare by that, unluckily in part from Titus Andronicus, which Mr. Greenwood regards (usually) as non- Shakespearean, or not by his unknown great author. Troilus and Cressida, whatever part Shakespeare may have had in it, does suggest to me that the author or authors knew of Homer no more than the few books of the Iliad, first translated by Chapman and published in 1598. But he or they did know the Aias of Sophocles, according to Mr. Collins: so did the author of Romeo and Juliet.

Now all these sorts of parallels between Shakespeare and the Greeks are, Mr. Collins tells us, not to count as proofs that Shakespeare knew the Greek tragedians. "We have obviously to be on our guard" {77a} against three kinds of such parallels, which "may be mere coincidences," {77b} fortuitous coincidences. But these coincidences against which "we must be on our guard" fill sixteen pages (pp. 46- 63). These pages must necessarily produce a considerable effect in the way of persuading the reader that Shakespeare knew the Greek tragedians as intimately as Mr. Collins did. Mr. Greenwood is obliged to leave these parallels to readers of Mr. Collins's essay. Indeed, what more can we do? Who would read through a criticism of each instance? Two or three may be given. The Queen in Hamlet reminds that prince, grieving for his father's death, that "all that live must die":

"That loss is common to the race, And common is the common-place."

The Greek Chorus offers the commonplace to Electra,--and here is a parallel! Again, two Greeks agree with Shakespeare that anxious expectation of evil is worse than actual experience thereof. Greece agrees with Shakespeare that ill-gotten gains do not thrive, or that it is not lucky to be "a corby messenger" of bad news; or that all goes ill when a man acts against his better nature; or that we suffer most from the harm which we bring on ourselves; or that there is strength in a righteous cause; or that blood calls for blood (an idea common to Semites, Greeks, and English readers of the Bible); or that, having lost a very good man, you will not soon see his like again,--and so on as long as you please. Of such wisdom are proverbs made, and savages and Europeans have many parallel proverbs. Vestigia nulla retrorsum is as well known to Bushmen as to Latinists. Manifestly nothing in this kind proves, or even suggests, that Shakespeare was saturated in Greek tragedy. But page on page of such facts as that both Shakespeare and Sophocles talk, one of "the belly- pinched wolf," the other of "the empty-bellied wolf," are apt to impress the reader--and verily both Shakespeare and AEschylus talk of "the heart dancing for joy." Mr. Collins repeats that such things are no proof, but he keeps on piling them up. It was a theory of Shakespeare's time that the apparent ghost of a dead man might be an impersonation of him by the devil. Hamlet knows this -

"The spirit that I have seen may be the devil."

Orestes (Electra, Euripides) asks whether it may not be an avenging daemon (alastor) in the shape of a god, that bids him avenge his father. Is Shakespeare borrowing from Euripides, or from a sermon, or any contemporary work on ghosts, such as that of Lavater?

A girl dies or is sacrificed before her marriage, and characters in Romeo and Juliet, and in Euripides, both say that Death is her bridegroom. Anyone might say that, anywhere, as in the Greek Anthology -


Shakespeare, Bacon and the Great Unknown - 10/37

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