« EelmineJätka »
point by Gervinus, I feel I must abide by my nay.
It may not have been Shakspeare's intention to give his great cycle of English histories a fitting conclusion; he may, as Gervinus * thinks,“ have meant his poem to be a monument to the House of Tudor and to its great Queen Elizabeth, inasmuch as it was under their rule that England first enjoyed the tranquillity which gave scopo for mental culture, and Elizabeth's reign which brought about all that which first encouraged and developed Shakspeare's art and which established his celebrity.' It may only have been to mark the contrast between the Tudor dynasty and the houses of York and Lancaster, that Shakspeare placed Cranmer's prophetic speech at the close of Henry VIII. as a parallel to that at the end of • Richard III. He may, accordingly, have given decided prominence to the fall of Buckingham 'as the last representative of the decaying nobility whom Henry VII. had systematically kept in check,' simply in order to recall the proceedings during the supremacy of the houses of York and Lancaster ;' and, on the other hand, may have made Wolsey's fall the centre of the action and of the dramatic interest because his endeavours, had they attained their object, 'would have newly established the papal throne (which, in fact, was his reason for plotting the ruin of Queen Katherine) and have spread Roman Catholicism in England. Lastly, it may have been for the same reason
even though not on account of merit' as opposed to " precedence of birth, of which history tells us nothing and of which we also hear nothing in the drama—that the poet gives prominence to the rise of persons of low birth, to Henry's condescending manner towards those inferior to him in rank, and to his (in reality, despotic) harshness towards those of high birth—who boasted of their descent and thwarted his desires.
But if these were Shakspeare's intentions, this very glorification of the House of Tudor has led him to commit offences against historical truth in a way that he should not have done, because they are so many offences against poetical beauty and the laws of dramatic art. Shakspeare has, it is true, not spared Henry's character: he appears everywhere as the obstinate, capricious, selfish and heartless man that he was—a slave to his favourites and to his passions. That Shakspeare has not expressly described him as such, that he has rather characterised him tacitly through his own actions, and no doubt sedulously pushed his good points into the foreground, could not—without injustice-have been expected otherwise from a national poet who wrote in the reign of Henry's daughter, the universally honoured Elizabeth. Further, that he does not describe Anne Boleyn exactly as she was—she who, indeed, at first rejected Henry's advances, but afterwards lived with him in adultery for three years—is also excusable, seeing that she was Elizabeth's mother, and her doings had not in Shakspeare's time been fully disclosed, at all events they were not publicly narrated in the Chronicles and popular histories.
* The remarks of Dr. Ulrici on the following points refer to opinions expressed by Gervinus in the first edition of this work on Shakspeare; in his subsequent editions Gervinus altered his views.-[TRANSLATOR'S NOTE.]
Some inaccuracies may be left out of consideration; for instance, that the opinions expressed by the most eminent theologians in regard to Henry's divorce were not in his favour, and that Thomas Cranmer was not quite the noble, amiable Christian character he is here represented. These are secondary circumstances which the poet was free to dispose of as he pleased. But one point, where he certainly is open to censure, is, that he has not given us a full and complete account of the lives of Henry and Anne, but simply a portion of their bistory; the representation therefore becomes untrue from an ideal point of view as well. Not only does this offend the justice which proceeds from human thought, but it likewise offends poetical justice. Moreover, it is opposed to the true and actual justice of history when a man like Henry—the slave to his selfish caprice, lusts and passions, the play-ball in the hands of such a favourite as the ambitious, revengeful, intriguing Wolsey-a man who condemns the Duke of Buckingham to death without cause or justice, and who for his own low, sensual desires repudiates his amiable, pious, and! most noble consort, whose only fault is a pardonable pride in her true majesty--when, I repeat, such a man is rewarded for his heavy transgressions with the hand of the woman he loves and by the birth of a fortunate child; and again, when we see Anne Boleyn-who even in the drama seems burdened with a grievous sin, inasmuch as she forces herself into the place belonging to the unjustly banished Queen-leave the stage simply as the happy, extolled mother of such a child, and in the full enjoyment of her unlawful possession. This is not the course takeu by history. We know, and it was always well known, that Henry died while still in the prime of life and after much suffering, in consequence of his excessive dissipations—a wreck in body as well as in mind; we know, and it can never have been a secret, that Anne, after a short period of happiness, and not altogether unjustly, ended her frivolous life in prison, into which she was thrown at her own husband's command.
Such violations of the truth of history committed by poetry are necessarily avenged in the poetry itself. Hence, the drama of Henry VIII.' is also poetically untrue, devoid of real life, defective in symmetry and composition, because wanting in internal, organic construction, i.e. in ethical vitality. It is not a complete whole, but a showy piece of patchwork, and consequently devoid of true mind, a mere apparent reality, because the substance of the representation is wanting in every ethical motive, and hence the body has no living soul to form and to arrange it organically. Where the conclusion—as in the present case—stands in such sharp contradiction with the beginning and the middle of the play, there cannot exist a living whole, for such a whole is merely the internal unity of all the various parts, and where this internal unity is wanting (which unity takes the outward form of an harmonious arrangement of the parts, delineation and colouring, and thus charms both ear and eye), then the first requisite of all beauty cannot be fulfilled. Accordingly, however excellent, lifelike, and effective may be the delineation and the development of the characters of Wolsey, of Katherii e, of Henry and of the other personages in their position in the play,
still we here again have a proof that characters and their delineation alone do not make a dramatic work of art. In whatever light the drama be viewed -- whether, for instance, the life of the Cardinal or of Katherine be regarded as the centre of interest-it will be impossible, unless with violence and untruth, to discover that first requisite of art just spoken of, and without which it is no work of art.
The great defects of the play have also been recognised by Gervinus; he says, “In no other play has Shakspeare accumulated so much pageantry, ceremony, and pomp: we have banquets and masques, lawsuits, visions, and coronation and baptismal festivities.' 'No play,' he adds, seems so loosely united in its various parts, none so wholly wanting in a fundamental idea connecting the individual parts. We first have Buckingham's wily intrigues against Wolsey, which turn against himself; in the second act, however, he has already retired from the scenes. Then in the Queen we discover a new enemy of the Cardinal's, and his machinations which rob her of her throne and her husband. Thus far the actions and the figures are externally at least grouped round the person of the Cardinal, but he too disappears in the third act and is not seen again. The external threads of the continuation of the play-the marriage of Anne Boleynare only accidentally connected with Wolsey, and the enmity between Cranmer and Gardiner has nothing to do with him. The birth and baptism of Elizabeth, lastly, comes in like a new appendage, which certainly may be said to be a natural, but not an æsthetic result of what has gone before, and again seems only to be connected with the person of Cranmer by the christening gift which, as a godfather, he had to present to the
a infant. Accordingly, the external threads do not even unite these external actions among one another, and the internal threads seem to be even more opposed to every attempt that would seek to point out some connection. Although the threads cannot be brought to a unity of action, still externally they can be referred to the one figure of Henry VIII.; and yet, as regards mind, Henry seems to have the least claim of all to be regarded as its soul. The plastic, lifelike, and animated course of the first three acts, which turn round three sharply delineated and interesting figures, evaporates in a strange inanner ; the two last acts proceed at first in motionless descriptions, but end in a regular kind of dramatic spiritualism. The fourth act contains nothing but the coronation of the new, and the death of the old Queen. The fifth takes up a short spell of action in the proceedings between Gardiner and Cranmer, but this soon breaks off ; the main incident is Cranmer's prophetic speech about the infant.
Gervinus nevertheless maintains that the unity of the idea and of the dramatic action is to be found in the intentional exaltation of the House of Tudor, and then endeavours to justify the poet from this point of view. But when compared with the above-mentioned defects in the composition, Gervinus's justification, after all, only proves that such an intention, introduced from without and contradictory to the subject, is, in reality, incapable of giving the drama any unity, and, moreover, could be done only by violating the laws of dramatic art. Even Shakspeare, the greatest dramatic poet of all ages, had to experience that art cannot flatter with impunity, not even, as in the present case, where it had so good an excuse, in Elizabeth's character, and in her happy and glorious reign.*
* Charles A. Brown (Shakspeare's Autobiographical Poems, p. 184) indeed maintains that the dead cannot be fattered,' and there certainly can be no doubt that the play was not brought forward till after Elizabeth's death. But the flattery is not only addressed to her, but likewise to James I., and Brown is therefore obliged further to maintain with Malone, that the lines," nor shall this peace sleep with her,' etc., were inserted by Ben Jonson and addressed to James at a time when Shakspeare was absent. Collier, it is true, contradicts this view, but, as I think, it cannot be denied that Brown has made his supposition appear rather probable by the instances he has adduced of similar lines, expressions, and images from Ben Jonson's masques. But even granted that these lines were written by B. Jonson, a supposition which however is not proved, the case itself is but little altered. Shakspeare did not flatter as a court servant, in order to purchase a friendly glance from his gracious sovereign, but as a poet, that is, not the individual, transient person, but his imperishable nature which continues to exist in history. Besides, the word itself has nothing to do with the question. Whether we say